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Author Topic: Prince Iroh [T] [Complete]  (Read 47650 times)
Acastus
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« Reply #125 on: Mar 04, 2016 04:48 pm »

His audience murmured acknowledgment. Many faces showed worry and fear, but most showed enthusiasm and eagerness. These were the bitter veterans of Lake Myojin. Nikon was terrified in his mind, but his face and his heart reflected the determination and desire of his comrades.

“So what now, my lord? Why aren’t the tank trains attacking with us? And why’d we get off the Hue Road?” piped in an older tank driver from his left, from one of Tien Shin’s brigades.

“What now?” Nikon responded, addressing the tank driver’s first question with a raised eyebrow. He cocked a thumb over his shoulder and asked, “Do you see that?”

All eyes turned to the dust cloud to the east. The wind was still, so it rose in a massive hazy column towards the sun.

“That, my friends, is Deng Zev Nifong! You remember him, right? Deng the Hammer? The guy who let the snow savages do his dirty work for him at Myojin?”

Several bow gunner hatches popped open at this to reveal the firebenders who manned them. Tankers and infantry all looked at each other as they digested these questions. Several whistled and some shook their heads. Low conversations broke out all over the congregation.

“Excellent, my lord! We’ll attack then, right? Isn’t that the plan?” Su Lin injected after lifting her goggles to get a better view of the dust cloud and her commander.

“Yes, Sergeant, by Agni we will attack, but no, comrades, this wasn’t the plan.”

The disparate conversations ceased and all eyes turned once again to Nikon.

“No, we thought Nifong wouldn’t get here for another day at least,” he turned and looked over his shoulder, then back to his audience, “Guess we were wrong.”

“So what now, daimyo?” an infantryman shouted from far back.

“Well, folks, our options are to stick close to Second Corps’ flank and wait for Nifong’s cavalry to drive into us,” several boos and catcalls erupted at this, but Iroh’s friend plowed ahead, “or, we can leave the road as we’ve done and drive into his flank. Which do you think we’re gonna do?”

“Light’em up!” Su Lin yelled, raising her tiny fist into the air once more. She looked like an angry marionette, but her eyes burned with a fanatical light and Nikon shuddered to think of fighting her himself.

“Burn the sons of bitches!” yelled a young colonial soldier from his right, followed swiftly by a cacophony of agreement from the rest.

Nikon swept his gaze from one end of the line to the other. Not all of them were firebenders, but every one of the burned with the Will of Fire. They might die for the Fire Lord today, but the enemy would pay dearly for it.

As he looked into the faces around him, he remembered once more, as he had at several points over this seemingly endless campaign, how young and innocent they had looked when they had landed at Gela. Laughter, hope, pride, all these had been in abundant evidence. There were no smiles in the faces before him. No laughter. No pride. Not a clean uniform in sight. Now, every one of them was hard, frozen with anger, their eyes simultaneously far away yet bright with desire for battle.

They were going to die today. They knew it and they didn’t care.

Taken aback by the observation, he involuntarily paused for a moment of reflection.

Dear Agni, what’s happened to us?

Then he remembered Lake Myojin, and the destruction reeked on his comrades by Nifong and his pitiless army of green and blue clad murderers. Suddenly the faces before no longer seemed alien or scary. Anger surged within him and his fists burst into blue flame. In an instant, his face mirrored theirs.

“Yes, brothers and sisters!” the daimyo thundered, raising his fists to the sky once more, “We will burn them! Burn them to ashes! Agni as my witness, I swear to you Prince Xian and all who died with him at Myojin will be avenged!”

The whole column erupted in cheers and saluted. After a few moments Nikon motioned for silence, and to his surprise they quieted for him to speak. He doused his flames and raised his voice as loud he could.

“Now listen to me, all of you!” he began once more, “This morning, Commander Shiung and the dreadnoughts did the heavy lifting. Now… now it’s our turn. We are strong, we are brave, we thirst for the blood of our enemy! But we are few. Even with our tanks, we cannot hope to overcome the main body of Nifong’s army alone.”

“No, we can’t beat them ourselves, but we are going to attack! We must! We gotta stop Nifong from making contact with Second Corps before they have a chance to smash the dirties between them and General Iroh! We must do this, or the Fire Nation will lose the battle, Mequon will fall, and the war will be lost!”

He paused a moment to let this sink in. His words were relayed to the rear of the column by those in the front who heard clearly.

“If we succeed, General Iroh, Commander Shiung, and…” even now Nikon couldn’t bring himself to use the hated elder prince’s name, “Second Corps will smash the force attacking Mequon in time to face Nifong with everything we’ve got!”

He ruthlessly put down the sudden urge to acknowledge that even that might not be enough to guarantee victory. At best the odds would be even, for the Army of the Great Divide would be exhausted, whereas Nifong’s army would be relatively fresh.
 
Great Agni, he prayed, don’t let our fire go out for nothing.

“We must delay them. We must strike and withdraw, again and again, and if we are lucky they’ll follow. Target the earthebenders! Kill every damn last one of them you see!”

This was long a standing order, but he knew repetition never hurt. Benders were prime targets on all sides.

“Don’t let them get a chance to flip you over!” he continued in earnest, “The ground is dry, so if we keep moving we should be okay, but if you do get flipped, get out of your machine immediately and jump on a neighbor as fast as you can! You hear me?”

The soldiers murmured their assent. Every tanker present remembered the fate of those who stayed in their machines at the cursed lake.

“They’ll aim for the treads! If you lose a tread you’re going to get flipped! So don’t let them! Remember we are here to disrupt and delay – not to inflict losses! Above all we must… keep… moving, is that clear?”

His voice rang over their heads. They looked at him with feverish eyes.

“Then may Agni ride with us today and bring death to the enemy!”

Nikon brought his goggles down over his eyes and saluted. Without waiting to see his audience’s response, he dropped back down into the turret. He rapped his fist on the cupola where it made a hard clanking sound.

“C’mon, Jin, move us out.”

The Fury roared to life and lurched forward.




One thing I'm interested in are the figures for this battle. Perhaps when it's all done, you can briefly share the strength and losses on each day of the battle. Although the Earth Kingdom army is big, it seems as though only a small fraction of it will at all participate in these final events.

If you provide me an email address I will send you the spreadsheet I've used to track all major aspects of the story after it's all published. It's incomplete in some ways, but it wasn't meant to be a reference guide.

As you will see in upcoming chapters, the entire Army of the Granite Mountains will be committed to this battle. This is not, of course, the sum total of the Earth Kingdom's military resources by any means.
« Last Edit: Mar 07, 2016 12:49 pm by Acastus » Logged
Colonel_Brian
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« Reply #126 on: Mar 04, 2016 05:18 pm »

Obviously, there is more than a single army in a nation! Tongue But that's good to know, nonetheless. I just thought that those toward the back wouldn't have seen combat. After all they are stretched over a hundred leagues, which is like 260 to 300 miles.

Anyway, on to the chapter. It was certainly inspiring to say the least. I wonder if Nikon will survive? He is certainly prepared to go down, but I wouldn't be surprised if he lives long enough to see home (before getting arrested by Tien on some trumped up charge). In addition,  I think it's kind of cool that Master Chen's comment about Tien Shin's life depending on Nikon came true finally.
« Last Edit: Mar 04, 2016 05:58 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
Acastus
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« Reply #127 on: Mar 18, 2016 06:39 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus


Chapter XLIX – Most Hallowed Ground


The soldier was dying. Her face was horribly burned and she stunk of scorched flesh. Her chest armor had melted in places and sunk into her body. Nearby two of her companions had died before they had reached the column.

Desperate for news, Deng had decided to join the vanguard. On the way they had seen three riderless ostrich horses grazing less than a mile from the road and had gone to investigate. There they had found the two bodies, and albeit temporarily, the lone survivor who clung so tenuously to life at their feet.

Nifong knelt on the soft earth of the steppe that would soon be her grave. A breeze had sprung up and the grasses around them now waved gently. Around him were gathered his adjutant and several other members of his staff. Behind them the main body of the Army of the Granite Mountains flowed west along the Silk Road towards Mequon.

He held her hands in his. It was all he could do. His round helmet lay on the grass beside her. Nifong had removed it so that she could see her leader, but he feared the gesture was in vain.

“Sir,” she began again, for she had tried several times to speak through the agony, but failed, “they didn’t… they didn’t even give us a chance… to… to… they burned us… burned us alive…”

She looked up, but did not see him. Her pupils were unfocused, one dilated much wider than the other. She had the wide cheek bones and heavy set body of the hill tribes from the far north. So many like her had left their homes to fight thousands of miles from where they were born, never to return.

“From the sky… fire… from the sky...”

“Could you see them, soldier?” the young captain asked softly from her other side.

“Yes, from the east they came… tanks, sir, many tanks… and those… those things…”

The woman’s breathing had turned staccato and ragged.

NIfong’s heart dropped in his chest. He could guess what she meant.

“Dreadnoughts?” he asked.

“Yes, we saw… them… their shadows… on the horizon… when the sun came up…”

“Colonel Liu, is he…?” the adjutant prompted.

“Don’t know… no one knows… we couldn’t run… it was a trap… a trap…please…General, so… sorry…”

“Rest easy now, daughter,” Nifong soothed, stroking her filthy hair, “there is no shame.”

Then she was gone. One moment she was speaking, the next her jaw went slack, but her eyes had been lifeless from the moment they saw her and they betrayed no difference between life and death. The bodies of her companions lay still and silent around her.

Deng stood, his aide following. He widened his stance in preparation to bury the dead when three new riders appeared. They saluted and dismounted. One was a scout, another a messenger from Wu-Ti’s staff and the last was Colonel Fong.

“Sir,” began the messenger, his eyes wide with fear, “We’ve received some intelligence and Master Wu-Ti bade me bring it you immediately.”

Nifong felt the cold chill of fear tighten his chest. Wu-Ti delivered good news in person. Bad news was delivered by others. The situation was getting worse. He could feel it. Ever since the rains had begun in Ningbo the darkness had whistled through the hallways of his soul.

The scouts sent south and east had either returned with nothing to report or had not returned at all. The messengers sent west had not returned. The dead soldiers before them were the first word they had received from Liu or Jenju in more than a day. Perhaps most ominously of all, early reports of a Fire Nation withdrawal towards the Gulf of Gela had apparently proven false. A message had arrived the day before from the Council of Five that the Nasu had been almost completely liberated with no sign of Prince Iroh.

Doubt gnawed at the aging generals’ mind as they marched resolutely west, hoping to come upon  Liu’s Second Corps. They had seen evidence of his passing and occupied Vyazma as he had without incident. Now, here on the Silk Road west of the town, they had come upon the first of the survivors of the Field of Coins.

Still, the bad news could wait.

“We honor the fallen first,” he admonished gently.

The soldiers, who had paid no heed to the corpses littering the ground, noticed them for the first time. Colonel Fong, his expression shocked, allowed a gasp to escape his lips at the sight of the hideously burned bodies. Sickened and ashamed, they lowered their heads in respect. Nifong’s staff joined them.

He offered a silent prayer and gently lowered each body into the embrace of their mother earth. They left no grave markers as they had at Cam’ron and other battles, for there was no wood. The memory of their lives in the minds of their loved ones would be the only proof that they had ever existed. Soon even that would be gone, for the lives of men are short.

The green clad general stood and turned to the newcomers. He motioned for them to report.

Fong stepped forward, his countenance stricken.

“General, I…”

NIfong cut him off abruptly with a sweep of his powerfully muscled hand.

“Not you, Colonel, you’re last.”

Ashamed, Fong closed his eyes and stepped back.

“Sir,” the messenger began again, “the vanguard reports stragglers just like these from Second Corps… most of them badly wounded. They all say the enemy hit them with some kind of new weapon!”

Nifong and his adjutant shared a glance.

“Describe it,” Iroh’s opponent commanded.

The messenger gave a quick description of the rocket sleds. The words, empty, vacuous symbols, paled in comparison to the charred faces of the soldiers they had just buried. None of them were innocent of the tragedies of war, but devastation reeked on the corpses they had just buried drove home to them just what the Fire Nation could and did do.

“Dear gods in heaven,” the adjutant breathed, “Have these people no pity? No mercy? Will they murder the whole world?”

“No, Captain, they have no mercy,” Nifong answered quietly, “but whether they murder the world or not is up to us.”

“But who are they and where did they come from? Was it the garrison?”

“I don’t think so, Captain,” the scout injected with a shake of his head, “I was with First Corps this morning. The lobster backs holding the city are Fire Nation regulars judging by their uniforms, though I’m pretty sure they had nothing to do with whatever happened to Second Corps.”

“Okay, what about Liu?” the aide asked in confusion and dawning horror, “Where is Second Corps now?”

“I don’t know, sir,” the scout replied, clearly in distress, “I expected to run into them not you… but… on the way here I saw another large enemy column, mostly infantry it looked like, moving north on the Hue-Dalian road. I was hoping to run into Colonel Liu’s outfit around there… instead I just saw the damn fire spitters.”

“How large? As big as the force holding Mequon?” the Captain asked in a small voice.

“I don’t know,” he admitted with a shake of his head, “but big, and I crossed some huge tracks heading northwest… the ground was all torn up… and after what I just heard I think it might have been from whatever they used to hit Second Corps.”

The scout, confused, turned to face Nifong.

“Sir, I don’t understand, the tracks looked just like the tracks from those massive metal things we destroyed at Myojin! How could they be here? We wiped them out, didn’t we!?”

The green clad general did not respond. The scouts questions rang in his ears like thunder.

“Not all of them,” Nifong’s aide replied instead, “a few got away, but we chased them deep into the Ping Tou Mountains. It can’t be them. Look, forget about that, right now we have to make contact with Second Corps and find out what happened!”

“No need,” Nifong responded, for the evidence was clear, “Second Corps has been destroyed.”

The others looked at their commander, stupefied, their mouths hanging open.

“What else?” Nifong prompted after a pause to allow the news to sink in, his expression distant.

The scout shut his mouth with an audible click and produced a message from underneath his vambrace. He handed it to Nifong who took the scroll without opening it.

“Sir,” the scout began more formally than before, as if suddenly remembering his audience, “Colonel Jenju also bid me inform you that First Corps has met and defeated the Fire Nation force defending the outer wall of Mequon. She has placed the city under siege.”

“How strongly is the city held?”

“About three or four divisions.”

“Have we identified them?”

“No sir, they displayed no battle flags.”

Nifong grimaced.

“Prince Iroh?” his aide prompted.

The question hung between them. The aging general turned back to the scout.

“What was the situation when you left?”

“The artillery had reduced the outer wall, but a Fire Nation counter attack burned them down and destroyed them. The counter attack was repelled and the Colonel now asks for further orders.”

Nifong scanned the horizon to the west and south, his expression hollow.

“And what would you have said if you had come upon Colonel Liu, as you expected?”

“I was instructed to ask him to move with all due haste to support Colonel Jenju’s left flank. She hopes to roll up the Fire Nation’s exposed right. They don’t have enough men to extend their line to the river.”

Suddenly, as if the sun had suddenly risen in the middle of night, he saw the situation clearly. He turned sharply and focused his full attention on the scout.

“Has the enemy moving north on the Hue Road cut us off from Jenju?” he asked, unable to hide the intensity in his voice, “Can you get a message back to her?”

“I think I can get back to her, General, but I’m pretty sure the lobster backs I saw on the road will get to her before you do.”

Nifong looked at his aide, then at Fong, before addressing the rider once again. His speech, normally soft, measured and firm, came forth in a rapid stream.

“Go now! Tell Jenju she’s about to be enveloped – if she hasn’t figured it out already! She must abandon the siege and head northeast. She can use the Silk Road if its clear, but above all she has to avoid getting trapped between the two Fire Nation armies.”

The scout confirmed the orders with a dip of his head.

“What if they come in contact with the fire spitters coming up the Hue Road?” the young Captain asked breathlessly.

Nifong closed his eyes and took a deep breath to gather his thoughts. There was an opportunity here to salvage victory from disaster… was he bold enough to take it? He knew the answer.

“Get out the maps.”

Moments later Nifong pored over a large document spread out on the grass. It was a highly detailed geologic survey chart from the library at Ba Sing Se University. The contours of the ground were clearly and expertly shown along with different colors that indicated the types and ages of the rocks exposed on the surface. The roads and towns were indicated in pencil and had clearly been added after the chart’s manufacture.

The area east of Mequon was distinguished by little, save the Silk and Hue Roads and the first of a series of low ridges which became progressively higher as one moved north. These latter heralded the border region between the steppes and the escarpment that marked the edge of the Dune Sea many leagues distant. Nestled amongst these progressively larger folds of earth the trading city of Dalian sat upon the same tributary of the Yangtze which flowed around the western wall of Mequon and was the termination point of the Hue Road.

Using a piece of charcoal, Nifong quickly began to make marks on the map.

“Here we are… and this is where Second Corps should have been, but where we now see enemy forces… and Jenju and her opponents are… here. Does that look about right?

The scout and the messenger agreed.

“All right, then it’s clear. Jenju must pull out of her siege and march northeast, avoiding these ridges if possible. I bet that’s where the Fire Nation dreadnoughts went. Then, she is either to avoid combat entirely and try to rejoin us, or, if we time it correctly and her scouts sight us closing in on the right flank of enemy column moving north on the Hue Road, swing southeast and hit the enemy on their left.”

“Won’t the fire spitters holding Mequon follow First Corps, sir?” the scout prompted.

“Instruct her to raise every earthen and stone obstruction she can as she moves. Earthbend deep trenches as well in zig zag patterns. That will slow them down.”

“We’re going to keep moving then, General?” the aide broke in, “To try and trap the enemy between us and Colonel Jenju?”

“Yes, Captain,” Nifong confirmed, “They’ve already hurt us badly, but we have a chance to turn the tables on them. They’re overextended, and if it is Prince Iroh, they must be exhausted.”

“From what, sir?”

“From crossing the Dune Sea.”

The assemblage once again regarded their commander in shock. He might as well have suggested that they were under attack by aliens.

“That’s impossible,” Wu-Ti’s messenger finally said, completely forgetting the proper address.

“No, it’s not,” Nifong contradicted, “you yourself just delivered word that the Fire Nation has unleashed another dreadful weapon upon us, the evidence of which we just buried moments ago, and our scouts have seen the unmistakable sign of dreadnoughts. Further, we received word yesterday that Prince Iroh is nowhere to be found on the Nasu. So ask yourself, where did these “new” Fire Nation armies come from? Where did these dreadnoughts come from?”
   
No one answered. In the silence Nifong wondered, and not for the first time, whether he had chosen the wrong man to target with Madame Wu so long ago. The thought of her stabbed him and he thrust aside the mental image of the beautiful fortuneteller. He knew her first name, but he dared not even think it. He doubted he would ever see her again.

“Second Corps has been destroyed,” he repeated softly, “and now Prince Iroh intends to trap Jenju in a ring of fire.”

Unable to contain himself, Fong stepped forward.

“We must attack then now, General! Send me back with…”

Nifong turned to face his subordinate, his expression cold. Fong stopped in mid-sentence, hope dying on his face.

“Colonel, you disobeyed my orders and the orders of your Corps Commander.”

Fong looked at the ground in shame.

“Why?”

The young cavalry commander closed his eyes.

“Sir, I... I hoped to capture Mequon by surprise… and end the war once and for all.”

“Colonel,” Nifong replied without a trace of emotion, “I asked you to help me whip these people… instead… you’ve helped them to destroy us."

It was as stern a rebuke as he ever gave.

Fong knelt down on one knee, “General, let me redeem myself in combat, it’s what I’m best at, please…”

“No, Colonel, you have been relieved. You are to stay and bury every soldier who has fallen because of what you’ve done here. You will tend this most hallowed ground for as long as you are able. That is your punishment.”

Crestfallen, Fong bit his lip, but offered no protest, for he knew the punishment was fitting. The disgraced officer looked up and dared a final question.

“Will you attack then, sir?”

“Yes, Colonel… that is mine,” he replied softly, more to himself than to Fong.

Fong bent over and touched his forhead to the earth in a gesture of submission. The others looked at him with a mixture of sympathy and revulsion.

The adjutant turned away, remembering in shame how he had once shared the cavalry commander’s enthusiasm.  

“We must attack now,” Nifong continued, his voice in deadly earnest, “and with everything we’ve got. The enemy has divided in two, relying on surprise and their new weaponry to make up for the dilution of their strength. We have divided in three because of my indulgence and your recklessness. Liu and his men have paid the price for our mistakes, may the Earth Spirit rest their souls… but if we’re lucky, we’ll crush the enemy’s eastern force between us and Jenju. If not, we must at least allow time for her to escape.”

“Sir,” the young captain offered, clearly shaken at the miserable turn of events, “Shouldn’t we send for reinforcements, if not from the Council at least from Ningbo and Amiganza?”

Nifong considered this briefly before nodding and turning to address Wu-Ti’s messenger.

“Yes, return immediately to Wu-Ti. Instruct him to send a Letter of Summons to the governor of Ningbo. Don’t bother with the others. Amiganza is too far and the Council would send no help even if they could.”

The messenger saluted, but lingered a moment longer, an expression of expectation on his face.

“All right,” Nifong reconsidered with chagrin, “Have him send a message to General Xu as well. Inform him of the situation and request his assistance. I doubt he will come, and if he does this battle will already have long since been decided.”

The messenger saluted once again and left. Nifong turned back to the prostrate Colonel.

“Get up, Colonel,” he commanded, “You will bury no dead on your knees.”

Fong rose, his expression stricken, and left to serve his punishment.

As they watched him retreat, they saw another rider break away from the main column advancing along the Silk Road and approach them. Breathless, yet another messenger swung down from her saddle, saluted and addressed Nifong, her eyes wide with fear.

“Sir! We’re under attack! Fire Nation armor on our left flank!”

The effect on the gathering was electric. Every breath came up short and every eye widened in the few moments it took for the news to sink in. The sudden appearance of Fire Nation tanks could have only one meaning.

Nifong clasped his hands behind his back and closed his eyes.

So this is their play.

“Strength and disposition?” the young captain asked, forcing himself to snap out of his stupor.

“Hundreds, Captain! They’ve cut the Silk Road and are driving a wedge between Third Cavalry and Sixth Infantry! It’s bad, sir – we got no warning from any of the southbound scouts!”

“Any markings?”

Deng knew the answer without knowing how.

“Yes, sir! I… I…,” the messenger stuttered, clearly struggling to force the fantastic truth from her lips, “They’re marked Fifth Brigade!”

“Impossible!” the young captain exclaimed, “They were destroyed at Lake Myojin! I saw it!”

Nifong leaned back and exhaled.

“No, Captain, not impossible. Prince Iroh and his friends are here. I underestimated him.”

Finally, he thought with a strange mixture of chagrin and satisfaction, a Fire Nation general worthy of the name…

Nifong picked up his helmet and remembered for the last time the beautiful fortuneteller he had left behind. Pushing thoughts of the woman he loved from his mind he turned to his adjutant as he strapped on his gear.

“The armor is a delaying tactic only,” he continued, “We must disable them and move on as fast as possible. Distribute orders to all commands. Instruct them to aim for their treads and leave them in the dust! This is the battle, Captain, here and now.”

Still, he thought, even if I lose Jenju as well, they will be exhausted and we will still have greater numbers… this is the test, please, Spirit of the Earth, give us the strength to prevail…

They mounted their steeds and raced west to face Prince Iroh and his resurgent Army of the Great Divide.
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Colonel_Brian
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« Reply #128 on: Mar 18, 2016 07:21 pm »

Good to see Nifong again. Props on creating a very interesting antagonist. I like the parallels between him and Xian especially.

I also kept hearing "Story of a Soldier," when reading this. Was that the inspiration for this chapter?

Anyway, this isn't related to the chapter, but what tipped you off that Iroh was older than Ozai. You made this call before Zuko Alone aired.
« Last Edit: Mar 20, 2016 11:28 am by Colonel_Brian » Logged
Acastus
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« Reply #129 on: Apr 01, 2016 11:11 am »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus

Chapter L – Sad Hill

The scene replayed in reverse. Iroh ran forward across the battlefield, his body drenched in sweat beneath his armor. He almost tripped once again, but this time over the corpse of a green clad spearman instead of one of his own, as he and his soldiers pursued the rapidly retreating Earth Kingdom army.

Without warning Jenju’s forces had abandoned their fixed positions, leaving their remaining siege equipment where it lay. A cheer had erupted along the Fire Nation line when sunrise of the third day revealed the enemy’s retreat.

Iroh had immediately ordered pursuit, but since the enemy had remounted it was clear they were rapidly outrunning the invaders. In the distance, the Crown Prince could see the the golden pennants of Rhiannon, whom he had placed in command of the Fire Nation left, leap forward at the signal to advance.

The enemy’s retreat was short lived. As planned, and with horrifying effect, the rocket sleds of the Inferno and the Firestorm erupted in fury from their recently occupied positions on the low hills to the northeast. Iroh remembered sliding to a halt and hundreds of his soldiers doing the same around him as they watched the smoke trails burst forth in the distance. Silent in inception, the smoke trails were followed moments later by the barest sound of screaming on the wind.

What followed was etched in their memories forever. White flowers bloomed incandescent across the steppes once more. Iroh and his troops watched, frozen in horror, as great swathes of earth north of the Silk Road were consumed in the unholy fire. Rapid flashes in the air produced puffs of ink black smoke and were closely followed by booming reports.

In minutes the westerly wind had brought the acrid smelling clouds of white smoke to the Fire Nation line. They had prepared for this possibility as best they could by distributing bundles of wet rags and linens before dawn. Now every red clad soldier breathed through makeshift masks.

The world went white. Those few present who had survived Lake Myojin remembered with claustrophobic fear the fog from that deadly encounter. The reports and tremors in the earth subsided after a few minutes, but the smoke continued to swirl around them. Even through their masks the Fire Nation soldiers now coughed and hacked loudly, but they could nevertheless hear the screams and cries of the enemy far ahead.

Iroh could not tell how much time had passed, it could have been minutes, but it felt much longer. He tried counting, but lost track several times and gave up. Finally, after he thought about twenty minutes had passed; he gave the order to his signalman who blew several sharp blasts on his tsunghi horn.

The Fire Nation army began to move forward slowly at regulation pace. Iroh could hear the signalman’s call relayed northward as other horns repeated the call. He looked ahead, the smoke still swirling, but now there were patches of ground without smoke.

He perspired profusely and not because of exertion.

“Any minute now, come on… come on…” he thought feverishly, his brow creased as he willed the next event to happen.

He did not have long to wait.

This time the smoke from the last attack concealed the exact moment of the second. The dreadnoughts had also retrained their fire, as this barrage landed farther to the east and south than the first. The world erupted again in smoke and flame and the earth quaked under foot.

Iroh’s forces moved inexorably forward. He could hear rather than see a few Earth Kingdom stragglers emerge from the smoky hell before them only to be cut down instantly by the art of the Fire Lord’s finest. These occasional bursts of combat steadily slackened to a trickle and then finally stopped. Farther to north he could hear the same intermittent noises of battle, but these too soon ceased.

The smoke intensified once again, swallowing the army whole. Every eye burned and watered. Even through the dampened rags most had difficulty breathing. The army marched doggedly to the east. Soon they began to feel the heat from the burning ground devastated by the second attack.

Suddenly, unable to see more than a few feet in front of his face, Iroh stepped out on to nothing at all. Next to him three or four other soldiers did the same. He found himself falling feet first through open air. Next to him his companions screamed in surprise and anguish. His mind, on the verge of exhaustion, snapped into sharp focus.

He had just enough time to break his fall with blasts of fire from his feet and an arc of flame from a sweep of his arm. He landed with a lurch, but undamaged at the bottom of an obviously earthbent trench. One of his companions landed as well as he, but the others landed roughly. A sharp crack announced a broken leg for the nearest soldier. To their left and right many other soldiers took the same fateful step into nothing.

Iroh rushed over to the fallen man, the others joining him.

“I’m not a doctor, but that sounded like a break,” Iroh observed

“Yes, General,” the young soldier agreed through gritted teeth, determination not to shame himself by crying glittered in his eyes, “leave me, I failed you.”

He recognized him as one of the organizers of the short lived rebelling on the Nasu. Iroh ignored the wounded soldier’s request and instead called up those standing atop the trench who had stopped short to avoid falling. He issued orders for the engineers to deploy the rope bridges and help all those who had fallen to extricate themselves.

“Nonsense,” he replied, turning back to the injured soldier, “You didn’t fail anyone. You’re not getting any fighting done today though,” he grinned, “So your only punishment is you won’t be able to tell your grandkids how many dirt slingers you killed today!”

The young man forced himself to offer a grin that quickly turned into a grimace.

“That is a heavy punishment, sir. I can’t believe I walked all the way across that desert to fall in a damn hole.”

Iroh left the young man to be cared for by the others.

Soon he was across the makeshift trench with the forward companies. The heat from the ground intensified so that they were all slick with sweat. They marched up a gentle slope to the crest of a low, wide hill.

Within minutes they came to the area devastated by the second attack. Here the remains of another obstacle the defenders had thrown up in their retreat could be seen. What had once been a twenty foot wall of earth and stone had been blasted apart by the outermost projectiles of the rocket sleds’ firing solution.

The scene that lay beyond the obliterated rampart was unlike any Iroh had ever seen. Smoke still billowed in great grey and white swirls from huge patches of raw, blasted earth. Large sections of ground still burned with the white, incandescent fire released by the incendiary rockets. As they approached the fires dwindled, though they continued to liberate vast clouds of acrid smelling gas.

The ground was scarred and wounded, to be sure, but the human remains scattered about the strike zone rendered it truly terrifying. His eyes stung as if by buzzard wasps, but Iroh could not help but scan the battlefield over and over from one end to the other.

Body parts littered the landscape. Large numbers of severed heads, most thankfully obscured by the helmets still attached to them, left the observer with the twisted impression of some sadistic game of croquet. A few had rolled against others in the bottom of the craters. Arms and legs, bloody, burnt and grotesque, were all equally in evidence, as well as the smoldering torsos of both men and ostrich horses.

There wasn’t an intact body to be seen.

“Agni Almighty, General,” a nameless old soldier said from his left, “this is one sad looking hill.”

“Yes, soldier, it is,” Iroh agreed. 

They marched forward, but there was no one to fight. The smoke was dissipating as the fires went out and the westerly wind carried the dense clouds of poison away.

In the distance they could hear the clash and din of serious fighting begin to the east. The ring of fire had closed, and the remains of Jenju’s First Corps now faced encirclement between the converging Fire Nation formations.

Dimly Iroh knew he should be thinking about Nikon and Tien Shin. The fate of the Fire Nation was now in their hands. Instead, he could only see the devastation before him. He remembered it for the rest of his life. The spectacle left a much deeper impression than had their march through the desert. The latter experience had left him weak, disoriented and numb. Crossing the poisoned wasteland east of Mequon, however, he was sharp, his senses unnaturally heightened by the beauty of the rockets in stark contrast to their hellish and unholy effect.

No more missiles were launched. He didn’t expect any. After all, they had planned meticulously. Every set counted. Each set had to count. As Iroh looked around, he was certain each one had. He did not regret the devastation, but it sickened him nevertheless.

He pushed forward into the land of dust and ashes.

Nikon closed the hatch. The response was almost automated and it had saved his life countless times. A fraction of a second later the dull thud of a boulder impact rang clear. The machine barely stuttered as it absorbed the blow. A fine mist of dust and shards of stone rained down around the daimyo.

He popped open the hatch and stood once again in the cupola. He was exhausted. They were all exhausted. They had fought for days now without rest. They had attacked, retreated west, and attacked again. Once they had cut clear across Nifong’s column, turned around and attacked from the northeast. Over and over. Each time the enemy had slowed to parry the attack, hoping to thrust them aside. Nikon’s machines had moved at full speed every moment. Their engines screamed and clanked having run for far too long without maintenance. Now, they struggled, agonized, and crawled to the end of their journey.
 
They had just finished their last charge. Each engagement had cost them. There were less than thirty of them left. Most of the infantry, exposed as they were above deck, had suffered badly in the first battles. Less than a few dozen remained, clinging bravely to their iron mounts and firing almost blindly at anything green that moved. Now they fled west, hoping to reach Tien Shin’s rear before they were overwhelmed.

But they had succeeded, despite the crushing losses, and they knew it. This was their only consolation and it wasn’t much. Nifong had lost another day, perhaps more, but the delay was over. Fifth Armor was finished.

“Fire!”

Two incoming stones, clearly aimed at their treads, exploded seconds before impact, felled almost certainly by Leng. Her aim had become legendary. She had spent as much effort protecting their vehicle as she had attacking the enemy.

“Trench!” Jin yelled from below.   

It was a tactic that had claimed many of their comrades. The earthbenders had raised huge walls of stone and sunk deep trenches at every opportunity. Whenever they succeeded in slowing down the Fire Nation machines, they launched everything they had at the tread guards and then the treads they protected. As Nikon had predicted, blown treads had quickly translated into death.

Two tanks burned in front of them. One of them was Flaming b***h. Su Lin’s broken body lay slumped over her turret where her skull had been crushed.

“Do it, Jin!” Nikon thundered in response.

The tank driver didn’t reply. He knew what to do. Nikon and the gunners rapid fired at the Earth Kingdom cavalry closing behind them. The shots went wild and none found their mark.

Moments later the Fury slammed into the rear of Su Lin’s crippled machine. The engine protested as the daimyo’s tank pushed the wreck into the ditch. Using the flaming corpse as a bridge, the Fury crossed the trench to the western side. The surviving machines quickly followed Nikon’s lead. The trench disappeared as the Earth Kingdom forces approached, raised by the same earthbenders who had created it to allow easy passage for their pursuit.

Nikon turned to look behind them. He had sweat his uniform through long ago and its material slid against his skin in a sickening fashion every time he twisted his body. He ignored it. He knew their time was almost up.

“Swing us ‘round!”

The Fury and her companions slowed, pivoted on their starboard treads and turned to face their pursuers.

“Fire!” he ordered again for what was probably the thousandth time.

The tank commanders and their gunners opened up at once. This volley found its mark, striking dozens of ostrich horses and their riders. They fired again, killing the riders who had their mounts struck from under them, their bodies writhing in agony as they perished.

The second wave came right behind them. Taking advantage of the armor’s reduced speed, two of the tanks were suddenly raised high into the air on pillars of rock raised from the earth. They came crashing down on their sides, smoke pouring from their engine compartments. Several other pillars erupted from the ground, but missed their marks as the drivers of the targeted tanks swerved to avoid the attack.

“Reverse! Reverse!” the daimyo screamed, his voice hoarse.

The shrunken Fire Nation brigade screeched to a halt, shifted gears with audible clanks of protest, and began to move backwards. This time the invaders fired in unison without instruction. The volley was true once again and many members of the second rank of green clad pursuers went down. Two tanks to their left, Great Eastern and Sparkler, launched volleys of flaming pitch from their side catapults, lighting many of the pursuers on fire.

Then it happened.

The Sparkler, seconds after she had fired her catapults, began to buck and stutter. She quickly fell behind. Moments later she was joined by several other tanks exhibiting the same symptoms, as if they had all suddenly been struck by some strange form of group epilepsy.

It was, Nikon knew, inevitable. He had been waiting for it. So had every other tanker. Now, their grim wait was over. They were out of fuel. They’d run for more than thirty six hours straight and had burned the last of the precious resource distributed immediately before the carnage on the Field of Coins.

The other survivors saw it as well. Without instruction, for they had planned for the evil moment, they stopped and reversed direction once again.

The affliction spread rapidly throughout the formation. Half a dozen others began to stutter before they rejoined Sparkler. Still, the double back confused the pursuers who broke wide on either side of the resurgent armor.
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« Reply #130 on: Apr 01, 2016 11:12 am »

Fury smashed into the sides of two mounted spearmen who tried to swing across their path. One of them launched a spear at Nikon but missed, the projectile whistling past the daimyo’s shoulder. He ducked to avoid getting hit, but Leng and one of the side gunners opened fire just as the tank slammed into the animals that carried them. The result was a flaming mass of broken flesh which the mighty machine thrust aside with its still powerful engine.

Nikon stood back up and tapped Leng’s shoulder with his foot in an oft repeated gesture of thanks.
   
Ahead he saw the Sparkler no more than fifty feet away. She was immobile and had obviously been flipped over by a pillar of earth, but she had rolled completely over back onto her belly. Her commander, a scarred middle aged woman he recognized as one of Tien Shin’s, took careful aim at one of her attackers and picked him off with blast of bright orange fire. Several Fire Nation soldiers, infantry who had ridden Sparkler since the Field of Coins, lay dead on the ground, pierced by the long pikes used by the enemy who could not earthbend.

Surrounded by almost a dozen ostrich horse cavalry, Nifong’s vanguard appeared ready for their next attempt. As Nikon watched, several of Sparkler’s tormenters lifted perfect cones of stone neatly out of the ground at their feet, the sharp tips pointing like fingers of death at her flank armor. First used at Cam’ron, this tactic had also claimed its share of victims.
   
“Cones!” he heard someone scream from a tank somewhere behind him.

The Fury bounded forward. To her left Great Eastern reappeared, firing at the enemy around Sparkler. Leng fired twice as well. The sudden reappearance of the Fire Nation armor broke the enemy’s attention on the disabled vehicle.

“Grenade!” Nikon yelled.

As the distance shortened Nikon lifted one of Chieng’s devices from his belt. It felt cold, hard and heavier than it should be for its size. He had no idea what was in it and he didn’t care. All he knew was it meant death for the enemy and life, even if just a little longer, for his comrades.

Leng and her mate on Great Eastern immediately disappeared into their bolt holes. Nikon had only used two of them so far, but that was enough to spread word of their effect throughout the unit.

Just as he twisted the top of the cylinder several more green clad cavalrymen swept over the low rise on which Sparkler was surrounded.

Even better, the thought flashed through his mind in a moment of grim satisfaction.

He threw the device amidst the enemy. The commander of the Sparkler had already disappeared back into her turret. The closest Earth Kingdom defenders actually stopped and looked down at the device in puzzlement, unaware that it was a weapon. They wondered why the enemy had thrown a toy at them, for it was shaped like a pin used in a popular Earth Kingdom game that many of them had played as children.

The explosion was deafening and when Nikon opened his own hatch the Sparkler was alone. The besieging force had been annihilated. The corpses of the ostrich horses and the ghastly, acrid cloud of smoke that was the signature of these devices were clearly seen, but the bodies of their pursuers were more difficult to locate. The daimyo did not bother.

Great Eastern now began to stutter and buck, coming to rest some distance north of their well tenderized sister. Another, bearing the name Victory, came to rest between them.

Nikon quickly scanned the battlefield. To his surprise he could see the thin ribbon of the Hue Road right behind them and the thicker expanse of the Silk Road immediately to their north.

Their zig zag path had brought them to the crossroads of the two mighty arteries.

On the far side of the Hue Road he saw three other tanks firing rapidly on the Earth Kingdom stragglers who had just scored a lucky hit on Victory, blowing off her port side drive wheel. Moments later there were only the tanks that swung slowly around to rejoin their dwindling comrades.

Suddenly the combat, which had raged fiercely only moments before, was over. There was no evidence of enemy activity. The horizons were empty.

The sun shone at a crazy angle over the nearest rise. Sunset was upon them. In the sudden silence they could hear the din of combat to the west. The rapid, dull thuds of artillery could clearly be heard beneath the noise of men and metal. Behind them they could see the nearest ridge was aflame. The remains of the Earth Kingdom First Corps fought grimly to the death, insisting on taking every life they could in return for each taken from them.

“So what now, Commander?” Jin piped from below.

“We wait for Second Corps to show up… or the enemy,” Nikon replied, “Shut her down.”

Jin complied and the Fury’s engine sputtered and died.

“I’m going to see who’s left and get them organized.”

Nikon jumped down from the turret and began to canvas the wreckage around them for survivors and operating tanks.

“We’re not going to make it, girls,” Jin announced gruffly to the rest of the crew, “Make sure they pay for it.”

Grim silence was his only reply.

I also kept hearing "Story of a Soldier," when reading this. Was that the inspiration for this chapter?

No, I'm not familiar with that.

Anyway, this isn't related to the chapter, but what tipped you off that Iroh was older than Ozai. You made this call before Zuko Alone aired.

Nothing, except Iroh seemed to be a little old to be the uncle of teenager, so if Ozai had been older than Iroh he'd had to have been a father at a pretty old age - not that that's unrealistic or anything. Really, I guess I just thought it would be a good twist and it worked well with the story I had planned.
« Last Edit: Apr 01, 2016 11:14 am by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #131 on: Apr 01, 2016 12:36 pm »

It's a piece of music that played during "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," when the Man With No Name comforted that dying Confederate soldier near a place, interestingly enough, called Sad Hill.  Smiley

Anyway, since we are on day three of the battle, I was wondering if you meant to upload the chart for part two of the second day.

As for the chapter, it was action packed to say the least. I thought it was a pretty good decision to show Nikon's perspective, as he survives (for how much longer is unclear), his  encounter with Nifong. I found the first segment of this chapter a little confusing though. Though I might need to reread it in order to visualize Iroh's part a little better.
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« Reply #132 on: Apr 15, 2016 11:48 am »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus


Chapter LI – The Crossroads

The moon had appeared and then been swallowed by a ceiling of low clouds. Soon it would be dawn. Gan had slept fitfully for a few hours while Chieng, Tang and the shift technicians worked feverishly to repair Corona. The engineer had resisted when he came to relieve her, but he had succeeded by pointing out that she herself had formulated the repair strategy and all he had to do was supervise.

Chieng awoke a short while later to find the work almost finished. As the work concluded they climbed out onto the rooftop of the Inferno once again. There they could see the dying embers of combat still burning to their south and east. The remains of the enemy’s vanguard still struggled, but they were trapped, smashed as they had been between Iroh and Tien Shin. Most of all, the rocket attacks had wreaked devastation upon the enemy as they had at the Field of Coins.

“We’re done here,” Gan stated flatly, “If there’s any chance to save Nikon we have to move now.”

Chieng nodded.

“This will make no difference to our decision, but you do realize he may already be dead… and that we may find ourselves alone and unsupported?”

The southeast horizon continued to burn. The outcome was certain, but Iroh and Tien Shin weren’t yet finished.

“Yes,” he acknowledged, “A risk we are both willing to take.”

“We aren’t just risking ourselves, Gan,” she observed with a slight tinge of reproof, “we are risking our crews as well.”

“I’m aware of that,” he replied testily, “but we aren’t risking them just to save Nikon, we’re making a play to help Fifth Brigade do their job. If Nifong slams into Tien Shin’s rear before he’s ready to turn about we’re going to be in major trouble.”

Chieng considered this and nodded once again.

“Let’s move.”


The first streaks of dawn stained the eastern sky. Nikon’s belt was empty. The last of the grenades had been used to repel the attack that had ended only minutes before.

Wave after wave of green clad soldiers had been outright destroyed. The first few, including the one when they had run out of fuel the night before, had been little more than skirmishing parties. These had been killed off to a man such that no word had been passed back of their location, though the light and smoke of the firebender’s art never failed to attract the attention of the enemy and their location near the great crossroads made contact inevitable.

Now, the main body of Nifong’s army was upon them and there was nowhere to run. Exhausted beyond human endurance, they could not run even if they had wanted.

Victory and Great Eastern were now flaming wrecks. Fury had made it to the end, but had finally been flipped when she had run out of fuel. Her exposed belly had been cracked open by a mighty boulder, suffering the same fate as her sisters at Lake Myojin. Nikon, Leng and one of the gunners had made it out alive. Jin, whose bolt hole had been blocked by the ground where the tank had come to rest, and the other gunner, had not.

The grassy steppe lay scorched and burning before them. To the west, perhaps a few leagues past the Hue Road, the landscape had been bright with fire at night and filled with smoke, carried slowly west on the wind, during the day. These tell tale signs of battle had died down hours before. Each of the survivors prayed for deliverance in the hope that the rest of the army had achieved their second objective and was now moving east to rescue them.

None could bear to talk about the possibility of survival, for they knew that hope often proved a merciless cheat. Instead they chose to memorialize their comrades as they fell. Each of them believed it would be the only chance they had to do so and each fully expected their turn to be next. What would their comrades say about them? They would never know.

Nikon and the surviving members of his crew sat, their bodies heavy with exhaustion, their backs resting on the shattered hull of their faithful machine. None of them had liked Jin, but they felt his loss keenly all the same. Tight lipped, faces taut, they waited for the inevitable.

“Jin was a son of a b***h,” Nikon commented after a long silence, “but he sure knew how to drive a tank, didn’t he?”

“I hated him, my lord,” Leng replied without emotion, “but, yeh… he taught me how to drive a tank.”

She meant what she said, but she’d have risked her life to save his just the same, and they all knew it. This was no conjecture, she had saved his life many times and he hers. Out here, if you lived long enough, you learned you fought together or you died. It was that simple.

“I didn’t really know him,” the surviving gunner offered, an older man who’d been with the Army of the Great Divide for many years under General Ho, “but he sure gave more than he got.”

Leng made a noise of grudging agreement.

“We’ll be lucky if any are left to say the same of us,” she observed.

They lapsed again into a melancholy silence, leaving only the sound of the breeze and the burning wrecks. A few moments later a couple survivors from Sparkler and Great Eastern appeared.

“We’re all finished, my lord,” the commander of the Sparkler announced, taking off her goggles and throwing them to the ground, “Looks like we’re all on foot now.”

Iroh’s friend looked up at the newcomers.

“Yes, Lieutenant,” he replied stoically, “so it would seem. Any others left?”

“Yeh, I think there are a few machines running up there,” she jerked her thumb to the north, “but most are in the same position we are.”

Nikon grunted. There couldn’t be more than a couple hundred soldiers left.

“Wenyu, isn’t it?”

He was good with names, especially female. Wenyu was easily twenty years his senior, all of it in the service of the Fire Lord, and she exuded the sort of quiet, kind confidence that sustained others in the direst of battles. She was sorely needed today.

“Yes, sir, and thanks for saving our skins earlier.”

Nikon grinned brusquely and nodded. They both knew the reprieve would be short lived. A few more tankers appeared, sweaty and dirty, from some of the other machines.

“You gonna let’em have it when they find us again, daimyo?” she continued.

The question hung in the air. Leng and the rest of the survivors surveyed their young commander either openly or by casting sidelong glances. Everyone knew of Nikon’s, and for that matter Iroh’s, prowess at the national art.

Iroh’s friend blew out a great breath of air and rose slowly to his feet, his body protesting loudly at the inconvenience. Leng and the old gunner followed suit.

“Yuh,” Nikon replied, “no point in being coy about it now is there?”

“Nope,” she replied laconically, “don’t think so.”

With one smooth motion Nikon removed his helmet and dropped it on the ground, followed swiftly by his breastplate. He would need the freedom of movement.

“Just give me space everyone,” he instructed as he kicked his gear out of the way, “and for Agni’s sake don’t get in front of me.”

Leng stiffened at the instruction, refusing to look at her commander.

“They’ll drop everything and target you the moment they see sparks, my lord.”

Nikon winked at her.

“That’s right, sweetheart, but I’ve got you to protect me, don’t I?”

The words were cavalier, but the sentiment was sober. It wasn’t a come on, it was a gesture of respect.

She met his gaze, her expression sad. She’d fought with him for months before he even learned her name. This wasn’t arrogance, or a rebuke, she had eventually realized, it was self preservation. Only consistent survival showed fellow soldiers that you were worth the risk of attachment. The last moment of joy she remembered was when Nikon first addressed her by name during the nightmare of the Ping Tou.

Now, she would die with him.

The westerly wind soon brought expected and unwelcome news. The sound of galloping feet on well trodden, broken earth heralded the arrival of the enemy once more.

The survivors turned to face east. The light wind rustled the sleeves of their tunics.

daimyo,” Leng began as the sound of their final encounter grew louder, “I just want to say… while I still can, it’s been an honor to serve…”

She was cut off as Nikon stepped forward and crushed her in a bear hug. She returned the embrace, tears streaming down her otherwise stoic face. He lifted her clean off the ground and swung her back and forth like a rag doll before depositing her gently on the ground. His expression never changed.

The commander of the Sparkler smiled grimly at the display of affection. Once separated, she saluted her superior her smartly. The rest did the same. Nikon, his face blackened with soot from hours and days of combat, his countenance expressionless, returned the gesture.

A vast green wall appeared on the low rise directly in front of them.

The time for conversation was over.

As the green tide bore down and the world narrowed once more, he remembered only the grace and beauty of the woman who had captured his heart on the ramparts of the great fortress, yearning in that last moment for the touch of a stranger’s hand in a burning, desperate land.


Tojo once again stood next to the elder prince. They had met only an hour before as their units disposed of the last Earth Kingdom soldiers between them. They faced east atop one of the endless and nameless low rises that comprised the steppe. Exhausted, but victorious, they had commandeered a pair of kimodo rhinos from some scouts to reconnoiter themselves.

Flashes of white light on a cloudless day and the dull thudding of the earthbender’s art telegraphed the battle that now raged very close at hand just beyond the Hue Road that lay in front of them. Thin pillars of black smoke rose to the sky in the foreground, dwarfed in size by the enormous, hazy grey dust cloud that spanned the eastern horizon.

The view through their sight glasses showed the burning wrecks of numerous Fire Nation tanks. North and south of the smoking conflagration, rivers of Earth Kingdom cavalry and heavy infantry, the body of Nifong’s massive Third Corps, moved inexorably westward.

“I don’t see any movement, your Highness,” Tojo observed tonelessly, “but it’s hard with all the smoke. Looks like we’re too late to save the armor… Nikon may already be dead.”

“Don’t be stupid, Commander,” Tien Shin replied instantly, his tone angry and sullen at the forced admission of his usurper’s prowess, “Where do you think that lightning is coming from?”

He hated that the young upstart had mastered the art of producing sky fire almost as much as he envied his ability to produce the coveted blue flames that burned hotter than his own. The whim of Agni in bestowing these gifts on such an unworthy recipient made him only the more determined to have his throat cut in some Shinjuku alley after their return. He had no need of a treason trial to dispose of such a sewer rat. Macro would see to that.

Tojo folded his sight glass and stuffed it in a saddlebag.

“Do we wait then, sir?”

That was the question. The elder prince’s eyes slid over to cast a sideways glance at his subordinate. The question was too probing for his comfort. Tien Shin shared his mind with no one, and those impertinent enough to presume otherwise usually suffered the consequences sooner rather than later. He decided to ignore Tojo’s behavior and concentrate on the dilemma.

He turned back to the view ahead, scanning the battle taking place before their eyes. He considered the options coldly.

Behind them the infantry of Second Corps advanced east at regulation pace to maintain formation. The artillery, pulled now by teams of mighty dragon moose in lieu of the tank trains, came up close behind. At that speed they could reach the battle very quickly, but a single command would halt the army for a much needed rest and to scout out the situation. Who would blame him if they arrived too late? Perhaps Tojo was right after all… Nikon and his men were probably already dead. A little extra time is all that would be needed to make sure…

Tien Shin gritted his teeth and blew out a large breath. He folded his sight glass with a vicious snap and put it in his own saddlebag. The decision made, he acted quickly.

“No, Commander,” he contradicted suddenly, “Order double quick time, now!”

Tojo blinked and did a double take.

“Sir?” he questioned stupidly, surprised by the decision and uncertain if he had heard it correctly.

His immediate answer was a blue enameled war fan poised at his throat.

“I said double quick time, fool!” the elder prince thundered, “Victory for the Fire Nation is all that matters!”

“Yes, sir!” Tojo responded, his eyes wide and holding his body perfectly against the threat at his neck.

“Deploy the artillery immediately, maximum range! Move the archers up with the firebenders, let the blade carriers follow up behind! Now move!”

Tien Shin removed the war fan right before Tojo kicked his mount into a gallop. Moments later the wall of red surged forward.


Note, ignore chapter titles on images, they've all changed since I made them.




« Last Edit: Apr 18, 2016 07:20 am by Acastus » Logged
Colonel_Brian
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« Reply #133 on: Apr 15, 2016 12:27 pm »

Uh? I guess Tien Shin has his priorities straight after all. And it looks like it's been confirmed that he's the hooded figure from chapter 8. I mean, it's obvious, but confirmation is nice.

Anyway, I continue to admire your writing. The battle of Mequon has been going on for almost ten chapters, but you avoid making it boring and repetitious by focusing on the characters fighting it. Though, I think Jin's nastiness is more informed than real. I mean, the first time we see the guy, he's apologizing for running a fellow soldier over and the second he's freaking out over the fog. Surely he can't be that bad, though who knows what he's like when the camera isn't looking?  Wink

Tojo is an interesting one. Although I see him as more functional than a real character (in that he allows audiences to get a closer glimpse at Tien Shin, in much the same way the Captain allows us to get to know Nifong), he does seem to be increasingly unnerved with his boss' antics. Will he stand up to Tien Shin at some point in the future? I wonder.

Lastly, time for the obligatory question that always arises during these kinds of chapters.....Did Nikon just -- die? It was really unclear.  If so, I'd like to laud how you handled his final moments. His final reply to Leng was really in character, and I love that. It's always hard to select final words for characters that fit them. You often run into the problem where their last words are generic and don't really scream "Nikon" or whoever the character is in question, but you achieved something very rare and special in that moment. 

Good work. Though you might want to fix your punctuation in some places. There's nothing too glaring, though I recall a sentence or two that began in lowercase.
« Last Edit: Apr 15, 2016 05:38 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #134 on: Apr 29, 2016 04:23 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus

Chapter LII – Brave Little Soldier Boy

The remnants of the Fifth Brigade had formed a double deep firing line minutes before the enemy had crested the adjacent hill. A screen of Earth Kingdom cavalry swept before a deep formation of heavy infantry. Wary of the field of burning wrecks, the green clad pursuers had reduced speed to survey the situation. Lying prone, the exhausted Fire Nation tankers had stood up when Nifong’s best were less than a hundred feet away. The first line had fired, dropped and rolled followed neatly by the second.

Stunned by the unexpected resistance from the graveyard of flaming metal corpses, a few ostrich horses had thrown their riders, but the majority of the cavalry had charged instantly. Breaking their line, the newly minted firebender infantry allowed the cavalry to pass before firing directly into their exposed flank. Their mounted opponents responded mostly with hand held weapons, many of them blunt as their preferred element, and only the Fire Nation’s steel armor saved the ragged survivors from succumbing right then.

Nikon had detached himself from the small body of his troops and retreated some distance behind with Leng and the older gunner from the Fury. He watched balefully the oncoming mass of enemy cavalry and looked in despair on the heavy infantry following close upon the heels of the mounted vanguard. Hundreds of fresh earthbenders backed, he saw, by densely packed formations of spearmen, meant the outcome of this encounter was certain. Iroh’s friend barely registered the two stones that his crewmates blasted into showers of silicon fragments as he methodically began his windup.

His stance wide, his root solid, the young daimyo drew a single full breath, and then slowly and deliberately swung his left arm out in a wide semicircle. Blue sparks instantly began to dance around his hands and finger tips. As his left arm completed its swing he began the same motion with his right. He felt the raw electic potential jump within his body, a sensation he had always cherished, his chi swelling and exploding inside him, begging to be split. With his arms crackling and popping with the same energy as their opposite, he brought his middle and index fingers of each hand together.

In one swift motion he thrust his right hand forward and released the full charge of lightning from the tips of his fingers.

The effect was catastrophic. One moment the green clad cavalrymen were riding at full gallop, swinging maces, clubs and a few swords at the firebenders who were backing away from them, the next they and their mounts were writhing on the ground, their bodies jerking uncontrollably, their exposed skin smoking and boiling away into the atmosphere around them. Some clawed out their eyes as they liquefied in their sockets. Not one victim screamed, though every mouth was open wide, the sound dying in their throats before it was made. They died shrieking in their heads.

Spent and exhausted, Nikon staggered backwards after the discharge. Leng caught him as he went down, then cried out in pain as a sudden blow from a stone that glanced off her left shoulder. Two ostrich horsemen who had escaped the lightning surged forward, closing the short distance between them and Nikon’s group in seconds.

“Agni, help us!” the young gunner cried.

Her prayer was answered. Xian’s Revenge and another tank Nikon did not immediately recognize suddenly appeared from their left. Amidst the din and clamor of battle they had missed the familiar roar and metallic squealing of the Fire Naton machines as they navigated the scattered remains of their brethren.

The Revenge knocked over one of the ostrich horses, sending its rider rolling over the grass, and forcing the other to wheel around. The older gunner launched fireball after fireball in rapid succession at the cavalryman who had remained seated, but missed as the rider spun away. Nikon recovered his breath and stood up, helping Leng do the same. The commander of the nameless tank shot the ostrich horse out from under the other rider.

The air suddenly whistled with sheets of stone hurled in perfect formation. Nikon looked up to see to see lines of enemy infantry now rapidly closing the distance. Of their comrades who had manned their ragged line just minutes before there was no trace. A large boulder struck Xian’s Revenge, but it exploded harmlessly on its chassis, her commander wisely retreating into the turret.

Nikon took another breath and began his wind up once again. The enemy were close enough that he could he could pick out individual voices. They rang in his ears. He understood them, but they failed to affect him, as if he were seeing a play or a street performance in the capital from a different lifetime.
 
“Lightning bender!”

“Forget the tanks!”

“Kill the sparky!”


A spear whistled over his shoulder. He ignored it. Leng and her partner destroyed the nearest projectiles that came hurtling toward them, but one caught the elder gunner square in the chest. Even through his armor he could hear the crunch of bone. Nikon ignored this too. The remaining tanks had reversed gear and were firing in retreat, giving Iroh’s friend a last opportunity to fire between them into the surging ranks of the enemy.

The heavy set, bearded infantrymen who comprised the guts of the Army of the Granite Mountains were no fools. Lightning benders were rare and powerful, but they had long since learned how to face them in battle. Seconds before Nikon unleashed his next charge the green clad soldiers halted and squatted close to the ground, their bare feet bandy legged to provide a solid connection to the earth beneath them. In unison they smashed their fists into the open palm of their opposite hand and lifted a solid shield of thick stone before them.

His body once again prickling with electric potential, Nikon had no choice but to discharge. The lightning surged out of his body and struck the wall directly in front of him. The impact area promptly vaporized, blasting a hole ten feet wide in the blockade and killing all the defenders immediately behind. Chunks of rock and a cloud of blasted fragments rained down on the survivors.

The Earth Kingdom soldiers cheered, for they knew what it cost even for a master firebender to use the technique, and the defensive wall had prevented the chain lightning from doing precisely what it had done to the cavalry screen.

Nikon staggered, his tongue lolling out of his mouth in utter exhaustion. The world spun around him. He grabbed Leng and pulled her to the ground, inadvertently saving them both from death as the Granite Mountain infantry kicked the wall they had just created and sent it flying in pieces at the invaders. The broken stones whistled over their heads close enough for the concussion of air to blow their hair back.

He lay on the ground, his breath knocked out of him. Days of combat without rest and the extreme effort required to bend lightning had left him incapacitated. Leng had fallen on top of him. She too was spent, but she rolled off and into a crouching position facing the enemy. Quickly she scanned the battlefield back and forth but he could not tell what she saw.

Gasping on the ground and clutching his belly, Nikon rocked slowly from one side to the other, his body in shock as he tried to recover his breath. Overhead he was dimly aware of a hail of objects arcing low across the sky, small thin lines that winked and flashed across his vision in an instant. His mind struggled to name them, for he knew them to be a familiar sight. Sheets and sheets of the projectiles streaked over their heads in the direction of the enemy. These were soon joined by flaming balls of pitch that left oily black smoke trails behind them.

Suddenly he returned to his senses and the world resolved itself around him. Leng was pulling him backwards and trying to get him to his feet.

“Get up, my lord!” Leng shouted hoarsely.

Nikon recovered his breath and staggered to his feet. The Earth Kingdom infantry had withered under the storm of arrows which rained down upon them. Huge gapings holes had opened up in the ranks of the defenders where the balls of flaming pitch had impacted. The two Fire Nation tanks that had appeared minutes before were in turn joined by several others and were taking advantage of the surprise ranged attack to drive directly into the densely packed mass of opponents.

Surprised and elated by the sudden turn of events, Iroh’s friend looked behind them to divine the source of their apparent deliverance. There on the Hue Road stood rank upon rank of red clad archers who fired, knelt and reloaded in quick succession. Between the gaps in their ranks poured solid rivers of skull masked infantry wearing flame emblazoned armor. Behind them catapults obscured by the intervening bodies launched blazing fireballs in lazy arcs over their heads.

The roar of the combat drew his attention back once again.

Maddened by the appearance of the Fire Nation reinforcements, the Earth Kingdom soldiers cried as one in animal fury. Ignoring the losses inflicted by slings and arrows, they surged forward without order.

Nikon began to wind up once more, hoping against hope that one last arc of lightning would allow Tien Shin’s men to reach them in time.



Tien Shin spent only a few seconds atop the Hue Road to scan the carnage before him. The devastation was second only to the soon to be legendary Field of Coins. The wrecks of dozens of Fire Nation tanks, most smoking or on fire, many with their bellies shattered like eggs, littered the battlefield. Had there been pools of blood soaked mud it could have been mistaken for Lake Myojin. The vanguard of Nifong’s main force was forcing its way rapidly through the pitiful band of exhausted Fire Nation soldiers before them. A few tanks, without question the last remnants of Nikon’s column, spun and fired wildly from their gunnery ports at the surging green wave that would soon overwhelm them.

No orders had been given to engage. Such a formality was unnecessary. Contact with the enemy demanded a response. The archers had let loose flight after flight of their black feathered heralds of death. Tien Shin had joined them without hesitation.The elder prince fired his arrows two at a time. He rarely missed a mark.

Gaps had opened up between the companies of archers allowing huge rivers of heavily armored firebenders to pour through to meet their green clad counterparts now only a few feet away. They spread out like a maroon liquid which then instantly hardened to form neat, straight ranks.

Tien Shin kicked his mount, firing as he went, finding a place at the front where the infantry had not yet closed the gap. Beside him he saw Tojo do the same.

In front of them a few last firebenders from Fifth Brigade now engaged in hand to hand combat. Nearby one of the last few tanks in operation came down hard on its back and spit fire out of its guts.

The firing lines on either side of him unleased a wide arc of fire in unison which collided with an incoming hail of rock. Both disintegrated into each other. A stone caught the elder prince in the shoulder, but glanced off his armor.

Suddenly his attention was yanked away from the exchange of fire by a fierce crackling and popping sound from his left. His hair stood on end as his body sensed a dramatic surge of electric potential. One of the ragged Fire Nation defenders, without armor or helmet, let loose a massive bolt of white hot lightening almost the instant Tien Shin identified the source. He covered his eyes as did many of the troops around him. The flash and heat penetrated even the skin of his hand and he was momentarily blinded.

The surge of raw electricity struck the oncoming line of green clad infantry, instantly filling the air with the screams of dying men and the stench of melting flesh.

Still reeling from the afterflash the elder prince was unable to see the immediate effect of the counterattack. While he blinked his eyes to regain his sight, he felt his mongoose dragon shudder and felt the sickening crunch of bone as it staggered underneath a hit from a nearby earthbender. Swearing profusely Tien Shin jumped the ground as the great green beast heaved underneath him in its death throes.

His sight finally restored, Tien Shin drew two arrows across his bow and discharged them into two green clad pikemen poised to throw at him. Even with the afterflash scoring his sight, both fell with an arrow through the heart or the eye.

In a flash nearly as bright as the lightening which caused it, he suddenly remembered who had to be the source of the counterattack. He felt a simultaneous rush of recognition and anger.

Tien Shin pivoted, firing two more sets of arrows into the enemy ranks before once again locating the source of the lightning.

There, amidst a bloody knot of ferocious hand to hand combat, Nikon Orlando, clearly recognizable without a helmet to obscure his features, struggled desperately against several huge Earth Kingdom soldiers who had finally reached his position. A single companion fought by his side, rapidly discharging fire balls from each hand as they fell back.

As he watched they were joined by men from his own formation, but they had no time to rescue the struggling survivors of the Fifth Brigade as they were instantly met with their own enemy to engage.  In front of Nikon and his comrade several more earthbenders lifted chunks of stone from deep under the topsoil in preparation to attack. They were out of reach of his firebending, but not his archery. As he drew an arrow taut on his bowstring he saw Nikon strike down one opponent only to be grabbed by two others, his captors ignoring the burns they suffered from his fists wreathed in blue flame.

Nikon’s companion, seeing the danger, fired several blasts of bright orange fire in quick succession at the earthbenders now aiming for them. One bolt struck an antagonist before he launched, the other destroyed the incoming stone as soon as the earthbender kicked it away.

Tien Shin drew bead on the last earthbender while Nikon and his companion tried desperately to free him.

He let fly his arrow… and missed.



Combat raged at the crossroads. The Earth Kingdom forces had torn both highways to pieces, hurling them with devastating effect at the invaders. The Fire Nation line, exhausted and exposed on the open land, had bent back on itself and then broken. The Army of the Granite Mountains poured through the break, the pikemen and infantry pushing the firebenders south while the cavalry went west, preparing to pivot quickly and strike against the enemy’s flank.

The first envelopment had proven a success and by all reckoning the point regiment had been well nigh destroyed. They now aimed to roll up the rest of the Fire Nation line as they had so effectively at Sun Valley and dozens of other battles.

Nifong and his aide drove through the gap with the lead forces. Using the basic horse stance he and his grizzled veterans had used thousands of times, the aging general himself had dispatched the last operating Fire Nation tank with a massive column of stone taken straight from the Silk Road.

The breach made, Nifong now waited patiently for information to plot his next move. The fog of war had long since descended and he knew that quick responses to rapidly changing conditions often meant the difference between victory and defeat.

“Here comes one now, sir,” the aide shouted over the noise of combat and movement, pointing to another breathless messenger who galloped toward them on horseback.

The young woman saluted. She and her mount breathed heavily from a long, hard ride.

“Hail, General!” she managed to croak.

“Report, Seargent?”

“Not… not good, sir, Colonel Jenju has been defeated… badly.”

“Where?”

“About three hours ride west northwest of us.”

“What did you see?”

The scout shook her head, her jawline hardening.

“Looks like that the same thing that happened at the Field of Coins, sir, the fire spitters left nothing but a smoking hole in the ground. I didn’t get close enough to see much more than that since the enemy was almost on top of me.”

“You didn’t see anyone from Jenju’s outfit at all?” the young captain prompted incredulously.

“Yes, sir, I did. I saw a few big groups of what I think were survivors retreating north and northeast, but they had Fire Nation troops on them as well. I don’t think they’re going to be much help to us now.”

Nifong grimaced. This was confirmation of the first report they had received less than an hour before.

“What now, sir?” his adjutant prompted, “Break off the attack… or press it?”

The aging general considered his options. None of them were good. The path forward had shrunk every hour of every day since they had left Ningbo. Now, there seemed no path at all.

Unable to justify abandoning the only advantage he had, Nifong finally responded.

“Press it, Captain, we have little choice.”

“What about the dreadnoughts, sir?”

“They’ll target us next. Ready or not, the rock sleds have to engage them.”

The aide saluted and withdrew to issue the orders.

The Army of the Granite Mountains around them poured through the gap in the Fire Nation lines into an uncertain future.
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Colonel_Brian
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« Reply #135 on: Apr 29, 2016 04:57 pm »

Hey...you said long ago that we'd never see Tien Shin fire an arrow!

Anyway, happy 10 year anniversary. A day early, but close enough. And once again , congrats on finishing the story.

It looks like we got a taste of how Tien Shin killed Xian. The latter was probably in a tight spot and needed his subordinate's help, only for him to "miss." Though Iroh is going to need some motivation to kill his step-brother, so I'm sure Nikon will survive to tell the tale.

As usual, good work. I feel as though this section made good use of bending in wide-scale battle situations. The rocket sleds have done their job, now it's time for both slides to slog it out.

Now let's see how Iroh snatches victory from defeat.
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Acastus
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« Reply #136 on: May 13, 2016 07:36 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus

Chapter LIII – The Road Warriors

Steam billowed from the vents of the Constellation as she headed northeast, her towage of arms and supplies slowing her down as much as the need to keep pace with the Fire Nation infantry she protected. The Crown Prince stood in the well of the forward siphon, scanning the horizon. He could see the Hue Road, but the intersection with the Silk Road was farther south than he could see.

Excellent,” he thought, “Exactly where we wanted to be.”

The afternoon sun and the engine heat had turned the interior of the dreadnought into a furnace. He let the westerly wind dry some of the sweat from his hair and brow before reluctantly relinquishing his perch to the gunner on duty.

Iroh’s exhaustion and horror had long since been replaced by a growing sense of exhilaration. The Earth Kingdom forces besieging Mequon had been eliminated. Well, a few sizable groups had escaped to the north and east, but this hardly mattered. The victory was complete for all intents and purposes. Then the timely appearance of Tien Shin’s Second Corps had confirmed that the action at the Field of Coins had been decisively resolved in their favor. Most importantly, the messenger hawk they had received had brought news that kindled the greatest hopes they had dared in their hearts to entertain.

He felt slightly giddy as he considered these developments, an alien sensation that he did not altogether enjoy. Despite its disastrous beginning, he felt the battle progressing to his ever increasing advantage and tried desperately to stop himself from imagining a glorious homecoming after achieving total victory. He was not entirely successful, nor was he able to completely expel the image in his mind of Tien Shin’s face at having to acknowledge the feat in front of his father and the War College.

His mind so occupied, he was startled to find Rhiannon waiting for him on the bridge. She was dirty, her red steel armor dented ominously, but was otherwise unharmed. Next to her the elder “map buddy” and several scouts and messengers scribbled furiously on the campaign map before them.

“Rhiannon!” he exclaimed, overjoyed to see her once again.

She smiled wanly and walked over. They embraced.

“We’re winning, Rhiannon!” he breathed into her ear, unable to control his hope and exultation, “I know I shouldn’t say it, but Agni Almighty, we’re winning!”

She understood his elation. The relief was in direct proportion to the fear and anxiety that had hung over them for weeks and months, but she also knew it was a mistake to give in to the temptation.

“Control yourself awhile yet, Iroh, please!” She begged quietly, “Do not tempt cruel Fate any more than we already have!”

They separated and exchanged salutes.

“Greetings, Colonel,” he began again in a louder voice for the benefit of the general staff working around them, “It is good to see you alive and well after such trials. What brings you before us now?”

He used her military title on the battlefield. Seldom did provincial governors command their garrisons in person, for even in these difficult times most were creatures of comfort and privilege, chosen for their loyalty to the Fire Lord rather than their military skill, but to her credit Rhiannon had taken the field herself when her charge had been threatened.

“News, General, and since we’re on the move I thought we could take advantage of the break in fighting to do some planning in person rather than by messenger.”

“Agreed, it’s not as if either of us is getting any sleep.”

She smiled in reply and he saw the dark circles under her eyes. He doubted he looked much better, but he allowed himself the question.

“When was the last time you slept?”

“A few hours yesterday morning.”

He considered ordering her to bed, but thought better of it. She knew her limits and he had learned to trust his friends and rely on their judgment. Perhaps this is what Xian had truly meant by gathering his friends close? Iroh felt a stab of loneliness at the thought of his cousin.

“What news then?” he finally prompted.

Rhiannon bit her lip before replying.

“The Dreadnought Battle Group cut across our front a few hours ago and rocketed off to the east. They picked up the Qing Dao Ridge and then headed south.”

Iroh’s brow furrowed.

“What’s she doing? That wasn’t the plan.”

The governor crossed her arms in response.

Iroh turned to the elder “map buddy” and the others still working on the campaign map.

“What’s their projected heading?” he asked as he and Rhiannon examined the chart.

“One six zero, south southeast, General,” the gaunt, white haired soldier replied, indicating the bright red line they had just drawn on the map.

“Making for the Hue Road?” Rhiannon offered.

“That seems likely, Colonel,” the aide replied, drawing his slender, bony finger along the red projection to where it intersected the artery some distance to the southeast, “it’s not far away.”

“But why?” Iroh cried in a frustrated voice, then turning to the charismatic governor continued, “Did we receive any communication from them?”

“No, nothing.”

He cursed himself for his premature victory fantasies. Things were finally going the right way, why had they done this? He never would have predicted such a deviation from Chieng or Gan given their discipline.

“If they take the Hue Road south that’ll probably put them behind enemy lines, Iroh,” she continued quietly, her voice taut, “…unless we’ve received any word to the contrary from the daimyo.”

Iroh made quick eye contact with the other staff members, suddenly uneasy. His recent elation had rationalized Nikon’s silence with the certainty that he and the armor had survived the Field of Coins just as Tien Shin had. Why hadn’t they seen any tanks in the fight with Jenju though? That had been the plan. He had ignored the question until now.

Rhiannon, as if reading his mind, gave voice to the fear settling like a pall over his heart.

“Iroh, I’ve seen no armor… have you?”

“No,” he admitted.

He felt fear grip his heart like a vice. Chieng was hurtling head long into the middle of Nifong’s army. Nikon was silent. Something must have happened. Something bad.

A few moments of tense silence were broken by the elder aide.

“Forgive me, General, but I believe we have a much bigger problem.”

“What?” Iroh said sharply, grateful for the change of subject despite the ominous nature of the pronouncement.

“We just received word of a major enemy breakout on Prince Tien Shin’s northern flank,” the aide replied as one of the messengers used a wooden cue stick to indicate the most recent addition to the map, a rapidly expanding bulge in Second Corps’ front, “the enemy has control of the crossroads and his ostrich horse cavalry is moving through in great strength.”

There was still a large gap between Iroh’s southern flank and Second Corps’ collapsing northern flank – a gap Nifong was exploiting.

“Damn it!” Iroh exclaimed, slamming a fist down on the operations table.

He cursed himself again. Against his will he knew he had tempted Fate. The punishment was swift in coming.

“If we don’t close that gap, General, Second Corps will be wrapped up pretty quickly,” the old soldier observed calmly.

They had discussed the possibility of this situation in council, but had never developed an adequate contingency. In the end they had simply accepted it as one of the many risks of an extremely bold plan.

“Well what are our options then for Agni’s sake! Do I have to think of everything?” he thundered, suddenly at sea over a situation which seemed to be rapidly spinning out of control.

The bridge crew exchanged worried glances at the raised voices which they could not help but overhear. The “map buddy” and the messengers stood stock still.

“Remember your cousin’s advice, Iroh,” his friend offered gently, “Decisions made in anger seldom lead to victory.”

“Xian lost, Rhiannon, remember that!” he replied hotly, “He’d probably counsel some god damn calming tea too and there’s no time for that either!”

He blew out a breath and wiped his brow which had begun to sweat again profusely. Forcing himself to calm down he addressed them in a more controlled voice.

“All right, let’s go over it again.”

Relief flooding his expression, the old staffer quickly recited the strengths, dispositions and distances of the forces contesting the battlefield. Iroh soon realized the “map buddy” was correct. There was only one course of action to take. The gap had to be closed – and fast.

“Okay, we have to commit the reserves,” Iroh said reluctantly, “I’ll take the Constellation as well. We’ll dump the supplies from the cars and load them with infantry instead.”

“That’s two regiments of rhino cavalry, half an infantry division and the Constellation… that may not be enough, Iroh,” Rhiannon cautioned, “and you know whoever is first to commit their reserves often loses…”

“What choice do we have!?” Iroh roared suddenly in anger, “If you have an alternative, Colonel, name it!”

She remained silent.

“Well, there you are then!” he concluded with no trace of satisfaction. He had made his point.

He saw her begin to wring her hands, the telltale sign of her worry. Instantly softening he addressed her again in a low voice only she could hear.

“Look, don’t worry. I live, remember? Think about it! That means I can do anything I want here and get away with it, right?”

She blanched at this horrifying statement, her hand flying to cover her mouth.

“Okay, okay,” he backpedaled quickly, “that didn’t help, sorry, but there isn’t much choice here.”

“What do I do?” she finally asked in a small voice.

“You’re needed here. You’re in command of First Corps now. Stick to the plan. You know what to do.”

She nodded.

They looked at each other, silently sharing their worries. They hugged once more.

“I’ll be fine and we will win this battle,” Iroh vowed.

“What about… what about… him?” she replied.

He squeezed her tighter, fear gripping his heart once again for his missing friend.

“I don’t know.”

The massive enemy vehicles had appeared with little warning. They had emerged from a shallow valley that opened up east of the Hue road. Crude and obviously modeled on the Fire Nation dreadnoughts, the huge stone leviathans were little more than square boxes of rock rolling on wide granite wheels. The body of each rock train was a series of granite plates that could be lifted and thrown at will. Manned by teams of broad shouldered earthbenders, they alternated trying to ram the Fire Nation machines and hurling slices of their own carriages at the enemy.

One of the dull grey monstrosities had pulled up alongside after ramming Corona a few minutes earlier. The hull of the Fire Nation flagship had rung like a bell with the impact and she rocked back and forth drunkenly before settling once more on her treads.

“Chen Ho!” Chieng barked, “Increase pressure to one fifty! Kill the heat exchangers!”, then turning to the pilot went on, “Continue on one six zero! As soon as you get ahead of them, cut to port, hit the brakes and vent! Then execute escape maneuver sixteen!”

Suddenly they heard the unmistakable sounds of feet on the roof.

“Boarders, Commander!” the Chief Boiler Operator gasped.

“Right!” Chieng acknowledged, “Prime the siphons! First Section, follow me!”

She grabbed her bo staff from its nearby hangar and ran to the forward siphon well, her technicians behind her.

Moments later she emerged onto the roof where the source of the clanking overhead could be instantly observed. The top of Corona swarmed with Earth Kingdom soldiers who had jumped from the imitation dreadnought flying beside them. The two vehicles raced at ever increasing speed across the landscape. Gaps opened up between them only to disappear moments later as they collided again and again. Each time the gap closed more green clad soldiers jumped on Chieng’s flagship.

She quickly panned the scene around Corona. Ahead of them she could see Inferno had attracted the same problem. Behind them Nova remained clear, but was busy dodging massive, coin sized projectiles from another rock train.

Three of them then at least.

She had no time to locate Firestorm before another impact rocked the Corona. Chieng braced herself by grabbing a cleat on the forward siphon well, but the gunner was pitched over the side and lost. It hardly mattered. He was already dead, a green handled short sword protruding from his blood drenched neck.

Before she could stand an exceptionally well balanced Earth Kingdom soldier took the opportunity to punch her head and then kick her square in the belly. Chieng doubled over in pain, barely noticing the two Fire Nation technicians who crawled over her prone body and onto the deck.

Unable to recover, she watched in silent horror as the enemy produced another short sword, no doubt the mate to the one embedded in the dead gunner, and start to swing it down towards her head.

The green clad soldier was suddenly thrust backwards by a thick jet of flaming liquid. He burst into fire and fell backwards, dropping the sword inches from Chieng’s face. Droplets of burning naptha sprayed over her uniform and exposed skin. The pain forced her to react. Launching her body out of the siphon well, she rolled to put out the fires torturing her.

Still smoking, she spun to her feet and stood up, pulling her bo staff into a guard position. The enemy who had almost killed her burned a few feet away. He flailed wildly, trying desperately to put out the flames engulfing his body. She kicked the dying man in the chest, sending him over the edge.

Chieng looked aft to see the rear siphon gunner who had saved her life pouring liquid naptha onto the enemy vehicle adjacent to them. Still gasping, she ducked as a mallet swung over the empty space she had just occupied. Without thinking she swept her foot in a wide arc, tripping her latest antagonist who fell to the deck plate with a clatter. One of her technicians fired several firebending blasts. The mallet wielder dodged the first two only to be caught in the face by the third.

She stood up once more to see her crew cleaning off the rest of the enemy boarders. The Corona had picked up speed and was now outrunning the enemy vessel. She now had the Earth Kingdom scow by more than half a length. Chieng felt the move coming before it happened.

“Hit the deck!” she screamed.

Most of her crew responded. Suddenly Corona swung sharply to port, her bow pulling squarely in front of the stone vehicle. The brakes screamed and Corona slowed rapidly, unceremoniously ejecting the remaining boarders and a few of her own crew. Steam poured from her vents as the the ship dumped energy from the headers.

The earthbenders powering the enemy vessel overreacted. Barely able to control the monstrosity as it was, the attackers locked up the massive granite wheels and attempted to match Corona’s left hand turn. Ponderous, ill shapen and poorly designed, the stone leviathan began to tip over.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2016 07:37 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #137 on: May 13, 2016 07:36 pm »

Chieng slid over the deck plate and into the empty siphon well.

Just a little more… she thought feverishly, just a little more...

She ripped a grenade from her belt, twisted the top, chucked it with all her might, then grabbed the siphon’s gunnery handles and released the pressure triggers. A bright orange jet of flaming naptha arced over the rapidly dwindling distance between the two vessels. Cries of surprise turned almost instantly into screams of pain as the forward section of the enemy vessel was rapidly covered in the burning liquid. Then a massive explosion shattered several of the massive stone plates that comprised the enemy arsenal.

The rock vehicle flipped, the concussion from the grenade pushing its center of gravity far outside its physical form. Green clad soldiers flew in all directions and not all in one piece. The stone leviathan rapidly disintegrated, sending chunks of granite high into the air.

She could hear cheers erupt from the crew below deck. Chieng swung her siphon to its forward position and picked up the intercom tube from its rocker.

“Now!” she bellowed.

Corona’s vents snapped shut and she lurched forward with renewed speed. Swinging sharply to starboard, Corona avoided the spinning wreck and began to close on Inferno and her unwelcome travel companion. The two vessels slammed repeatedly against each other and hand to hand combat raged on their rooftops. Chieng squinted. She recognized one of the figures atop the enemy leviathan.

And the dumbass said he was just an accountant!


She swore silently, angry that Nikon apparently wasn’t the only idiot.

“Pull up alongside!” she barked into the intercom.

“But Commander,” Chen Ho’s voice, tinny and thin, emerged from the speaker, “the road isn’t wide enough for all three!”

She could see he was right. The Inferno and her opponent swerved wildly back and forth, occupying almost the entire causeway.

“Ramming speed!”

Corona rocketed forward. Chieng dared not fire her siphon while heading into the wind, so she grabbed her staff and jumped out of the well. She ran forward and wrapped her free arm around one of the iron radiator veins that sprouted from the roof above the bridge like an ornate headdress. She was joined by two of her technicians who read her intent.

Seconds later Corona slammed into the rear of the enemy train engaging Inferno. Before they could separate Chieng sprang over the gap along with her companions.

Gan had two opponents, one of which stood between her and him. The Captain of the Inferno fired a quick blast of fire at the opponent between them who in turn took a swing with a large broadsword. The accountant dropped and rolled, allowing two actions to happen at once. The sword blow cut the earthbender behind Gan in half just as Chieng brought her bo staff down on the swordsman’s neck. She spun round and neatly swept the swordsman’s legs out from underneath him with the other end of her staff.

The accountant came to his feet, his eyes wide in recognition.

“What the hell!?” he yelled almost incoherently.

“Shut up!” she cried as the stone train slammed back into the Inferno.

Both almost lost their balance. The siphon gunner on the Fire Nation dreadnought opened up and set the front of the Earth Kingdom contraption on fire. Instantly everyone fighting on the roof began choking from the smoke.

“s**t!” Gan croaked.

Chieng felt a movement to her left and turned only to feel an armored fist slam into the same side of her face that had been hit earlier. She felt warm liquid spill down her cheek as she fell to the deck. The world slowed down and her perceptions dulled, but she heard Gan roar and jump over her. The technicians who had jumped with her from Corona were nowhere to be seen.

Time seemed to skip a beat, and next she knew she was dragged to her feet and thrown into thin air. She was caught by something or someone, only to feel the impact of another body slam into her a moment later. She opened her eyes and could see only a bloody haze. Whoever had fallen on her rolled over, grabbed her and pulled her up into a sitting position. Chieng blinked as the person next to her wiped the blood from her eyes with his hands.

“Chieng!” Gan yelled, his voice cracking.

Suddenly she could see him. Liu’s daughter lurched to her feet, pulling the ex accountant with her. The enemy vessel lurched forward beside them as the Corona rammed her from behind a second time.

“One more,” she murmured in a slurred voice.

Chieng unclipped the last grenade from her belt, her movements languid and uncoordinated. She tried to wipe the blood which still flowed freely from her face before attempting to activate the bomb.

“Give me that for Agni’s sake!” Gan cried.

He grabbed the deadly instrument, twisted its top and threw it at one of the empty spaces in the middle of the enemy vessel where a stone plate had once rested.

“Get down!”

The device exploded before he could finish shouting his warning. The effect was catastrophic. Perfectly placed by happenstance, the blow cracked the chassis of the Earth Kingdom leviathan in three unequal pieces. Gan shielded the slight engineer with his body as they were showered with fist sized chunks of granite.

The rock train, or at least the huge pieces it had broken into, immediately lost speed and began to flip end over end as the earthbenders propelling her lost control. Gan and Chieng watched in horror as the Corona swerved out of the way of the flaming wreck, only for the largest piece to fly square off the road and slam head long into the Nova and the last enemy rock sled which had been paralleling her. Both were destroyed instantly in a huge orange flower of flame and death as Nova’s boilers and naptha reserves exploded upon impact.

Gan closed his eyes, sickened at the loss, the wind tousling his dark hair.

He looked down at his superior, blood still flowing from the ugly cut on her head.

“You okay?”

She did not respond at first, transfixed by the rapidly expanding black mushroom cloud falling away behind them.

“He better… be alive… when we get there… god dammit,” she breathed.

Gan stiffened at the thought of arriving too late to help his friend and at the realization that the Nova had just paid the price for his gambit.

Then, realizing what he needed to do, he replied in a comforting tone, “Damn right, Commander, he better be – or we’ll kill him, all right?”

She smiled weakly as he struggled to bring her below deck.

The column rocketed south, leaving behind many dead who would never be buried.
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« Reply #138 on: May 13, 2016 07:58 pm »

Some interesting developments, especially on Iroh's part. I guess he's falling victim to the disease of vanity which Xian warned about long ago. He also seems more angry, though its probably understandable seeing as how stressful the situation is at the moment.

Those rock sleds were really cool. I was confused when I read about them last chapter, so its great to have that clarified.
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« Reply #139 on: May 27, 2016 02:36 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus

Chapter LIV – Götterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods)

Night had fallen. Another frustrating day of brutal combat had passed.

General Nifong, dirty and exhausted, pored once more over the campaign map spread on the ground. A shielded lantern cast a dim light, barely enough to see by. The young captain pointed at the rough markings that had just been added to the chart by a couple of young staffers who hovered at its edge.

“Prince Iroh’s counterattack halted our advance right before sunfall,” the adjutant reported in a sullen tone, “I don’t think we can stage another attack before morning. By that time they’ll have been reinforced with more of Tien Shin’s troops – and probably those tank trains that cut through our lines this afternoon.”

“Yes,” Nifong sighed, “I agree, and I don’t think we want to make another attempt on their center anyway.”

“Why not?”

NIfong looked up at the sound of footsteps approaching. Two older officers appeared and waited patiently at the edge of the map for their leader to acknowledge them. He turned back to answer his adjutant’s question.

“They are focusing all their attention there now. You can understand why, can’t you? If we had succeeded in breaking them there today the outcome would be assured despite their remarkable success so far. Having come so close they will expect us to try again tomorrow. We must disappoint them.”

He looked up again at the two newcomers.

“You’re sure about Tien Shin’s position, Colonel?”

“Yes, General,” the thin man replied, pointing to their south and west, “We drove him off the Hue Road, but we suffered heavy losses killing off the last of their tanks. The attack stalled and both sides held up to reorganize. Tien Shin’s command tent and battle flags were visible from the road right about…” the infantry officer got down on one knee and pointed to a location on the map, “here by late in the afternoon.”

“We heard reports of a sparky?” the adjutant prompted.

“Yes, that’s definitely true.”

“Did we get him?”

“Not sure, the whole situation had gone straight to hell by that point.”

“What about the dreadnoughts?” the aide continued, “Did you see them?”

“Oh yes, they smashed through one of our supply columns then crossed the Hue Road over to Fire Nation lines through a gap in our own. No idea why – they could have done a lot more damage than they did. I guess our rock sleds couldn’t stop them?”

“They got rid of one,” the young officer replied grimly, “but they weren’t prepared to attack and had to wing it when the enemy suddenly appeared out of nowhere.”

“A brave effort,” Nifong observed, “but a failure nonetheless.”

“Did any of ours survive?”

“No, none.”

“That doesn’t matter now,” Nifong concluded with a dismissive wave of his hand, “What’s important is that as the Fire Nation front shortens their southern flank has to thin out or shift north in order for them to close ranks at their center.”

“You propose an attack on their southern flank then, sir?” the other officer speculated.

Nifong nodded in reply.

“Why not the northern flank, General?” the thin colonel asked, “We heard Iroh’s left that girl in charge up there, the daughter of that old slave driver T’Zan. She’s no soldier.”

“Why not?” the aging general retorted with a trace of contempt, “Because unlike you, Colonel Hu, I don’t underestimate her. If I knew her to be a fool I’d have attacked Mequon long ago. Let’s just say there are reasons she succeeded her father.”

Hu’s expression registered his doubt.

“You don’t believe that witch talk, do you? All she did was kill her old man and take his place. The whole fire spitter nobility is like that – thieves and robbers.”

The rest of the group considered this. Governor T’zan’s reputation had preceded her. Whispers from dark corners claimed the young woman had murdered her elderly father using the blackest of arts. Earth Kingdom intelligence had confirmed the elder T’zan had been murdered, but were uncertain of anything else.

For his own part, Nifong was unsure. He had met her once, years before at prisoner exchange, where she had been sent as her father’s legate. There he had witnessed the burning intelligence in her eyes, the power of her personality and her skills of persuasion. He knew then that this person would someday drive the course of events in ways that few could predict or understand.

“I don’t know what to believe, Colonel,” Nifong replied dully, “and it hardly matters. The bottom line is that the weakness is developing on the southern flank, not the northern and the disposition of our forces makes an attack there far more practical than elsewhere.”

“Shall I issue the orders then, sir?”

“Yes, Captain, we must be in position by sunrise.”

“What about the reinforcements?” Colonel Hu continued, unruffled by the rebuffs he had met with so far in the conversation.

“No word, sir,” the adjutant answered, “We’ve heard nothing from the east for more than a day.”

“No word from Master Wu-Ti either,” one of the young staffers observed, fear audible in her voice.

Hu crossed his arms at this, his expression turning suspicious.

“Is it possible the Council is letting us sink, General? Ordering everyone behind us to just back off?”

“No,” Nifong replied instantly, his tone sharp, “I don’t believe that. They’ve denied reinforcements, cut supplies, all of that, but never outright betrayal.”

The evil possibility nevertheless hung in the air. Fear spread cold and deadly amongst them.

“What does it matter anyway?” the other officer injected bitterly, “Even if they sent reinforcements or if the Ningbo garrison set out immediately, they’d never get here in time to affect the outcome.”

“Correct,” the weary general affirmed. He had said as much when the idea of asking the Council for help had first been offered. It had been a foolish hope from the beginning.

The victor of Lake Myojin stood, followed swiftly by the others. The young captain motioned to the staffers to roll up the map. Someone doused the lamp.

“Get a move on those orders, Captain,” Nifong reiterated before turning to the surly colonel, “You’re in charge of the redeployment, Hu. Make it happen.”

“Yes, sir!” Hu responded, snapping stiffly to attention and saluting.

Nifong mounted a nearby ostrich horse and prepared to leave.

“Where are you headed, General?” the adjutant asked in some alarm.

“East, I want to see what’s going on in our rear – I don’t like this.”

“Shouldn’t I come with you, sir, I can get these…”

“No, you coordinate the redeployment with Colonel Hu. I will return to Southern Command before sunrise.”

Emotions warred on the young man’s face and he was unable to reply.

“Don’t worry, Captain,” Nifong continued with a wry smile, “We’ll face our destiny tomorrow shoulder to shoulder, whatever it may be, I promise you.”

The Earth Kingdom hero kicked his horse into a trot and disappeared into the darkness.

Iroh woke with a start. He had snatched a few hours sleep after the last bout of combat, but the nightmares of Sad Hill had robbed him of any real rest. He doubted whether he would ever sleep through the night again. He was unsure, but he assumed there were only a few hours left before sunrise.

Every part of his body ached, but he barely registered the pain. Around him he could the moans and cries of the wounded. The dull thudding of Tien Shin’s artillery echoed near at hand.

After a ferocious cavalry duel in the late afternoon, Iroh’s outnumbered forces had been supported by Tien Shin’s vanguard approaching from the southwest. Between them and the heavy ranged weapons, the gap between the two ragged pieces of the Fire Nation army had been closed.

Behind him the Constellation was under emergency repair. One of her treads had slipped off and her forward siphon had been severely damaged by an earthbending attack. Steam still escaping her vents whispered on the night air. Backlit by the flaming projectiles from Tien Shin’s catapults she looked like a sleeping dragon.

His exhilaration and euphoria from earlier in the day had vanished, replaced once again by fear, anger and doubt that gnawed incessantly at the edges of his mind. They had blunted the enemy advance, but the price he had paid was high.

Iroh sat up and brought his knees to his chin. He knew the position was unflattering. If anyone came upon him they would think he was acting like a scared, lost child.

He looked up at the stars overhead, cold, distant, and beautiful. He remembered his final, bitter conversation with his cousin a lifetime ago on the edge of the Dune Sea. Xian had spoken softly of his memories of his own father and his famous Battle of the Coral Sea. All Iroh had known for certain at the time was that he was losing the man he had loved most, the elder brother he would have chosen. Now he knew what his cousin’s words about his father had really meant.

“I used to dream of him on the bridge that night, looking at the stars, trying to make the best decision he could in such an awful situation… Your father and mine became heroes, just as they should have been. But that night… that night… they were just as afraid and vulnerable as we are now…”

The Crown Prince squeezed back tears as his cousin’s voice echoed in his thoughts. Now, he was alone, as alone as Xian had been, or their fathers before them. The very same stars shined in the sky, but they provided no comfort, as they had provided no comfort to Xian or his father before him. The distant, cold pinpoints of light stood silent witnesses to all their struggles and heartaches without thought, insight or understanding. They could tell him nothing.

He alone had committed the army to the awful risks they had taken. Tens of thousands of Fire Nation soldiers had already paid the price with their lives. Weakened and exhausted, he could feel the Army of the Great Divide struggling around him to ward off final destruction. The surprise had been complete, the technology had worked spectacularly, but he now realized, with mounting horror, that these would not be enough to save them.

Yes, the message of deliverance had come, but would they survive long enough to profit from it? He did not know. The hope and certainty of the morning had dissolved into a chasm of despair and uncertainty. Visions of defeat had swiftly replaced the images of a triumph. He saw the ragged survivors of his army shackled to each other in chains, marching east in filthy rags to the prison camps of the enemy. In his mind the smoking ruins of Mequon loomed high in the shadows of night, the banners of the Earth King flapping in the breeze.

He found to his shame he preferred these thoughts to those of his friends, and he preferred all of these to thoughts of the raven haired engineer. Anger and fear warred in his heart at the thought of Corona flying head long into the heart of Nifong’s army.

Agni Almighty, please… please keep her safe… let me pay the price for my mistakes… not her…


The prayer contained a stinging reproach, the bitter harbinger of guilt and regret. Dimly he recalled Tien Shin’s warning when he had returned from Lake Myojin to find Iroh in command and suspected his hated elder brother had been right.

The certainty that he would live through the defeat that yawned wide before him only made him feel worse. He knew that if his army, his friends and the woman he loved lost their lives in this awful place, he would wear the chains that awaited him willingly, and that he would not long survive the assumption of the exile Rhiannon had foreseen.

Tears escaped and ran down his cheek. Salty and bitter, he could not stop them.

He quickly wiped away the evidence of his shame as he heard footsteps rapidly approaching. Standing up he was almost knocked over by a messenger. Dimly he wondered how anyone knew where to find him before remembering he’d told the Constellation’s Chief Boiler Operator where he intended to crash.

“Yes, soldier, what is it?” Iroh replied a bit gruffly, transferring some of the anger at his own weakness unfairly, he knew, onto the runner.

“Sir! I bring a message from Commander Shiung!”

Without thinking Iroh raised his fist wreathed in flame to illuminate his visitor. He was filthy and had obviously ridden hard for many hours. The Crown Prince grabbed his shoulder and twisted the fabric of his uniform so he could clearly see the patch it bore. The Spaceship and Sun emblazoned on the patch plainly identified him as a crewmember of the Corona.

“How is she!? Is she okay!? Where is she!? Tell me!” he demanded, the questions pouring out in quick succession, the flames in his hands growing with his anger.

“I don’t know, General,” the messenger replied in a terrified voice, “I swear! The Chief gave me the message!”

“What’s going on? What’s happening!? Why did she order the tank trains to cross enemy lines!?”

The questions came rapid fire. He knew the terrified messenger was unlikely to have answers, but he couldn’t help himself.

“I don’t know, sir! Honest! All I know is we had a hell of a time crossing the enemy rear, your Highness, and we lost Nova, but the rest of us made it through!”

“What about Gan? I mean Captain Shu?” he corrected.

“I don’t know, sir, but I do know Inferno survived okay.”

Iroh let out the breath he did not realize he had been holding and forced himself to calm down. It was hard.

“All right, soldier, what is the message?”

The runner produced a scroll case and handed it over. Iroh reduced his flames to provide just enough light for him to read.

The message, written in what he instantly recognized as Chieng’s neat, disciplined hand contained a message that struck fear he had never known into his heart. It read simply,

“Come – hurry.”


Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. He could feel it. What it was, he didn’t know.

He hesitated only a second before acting. He knew he should stop and think, consider the facts and then make a reasoned decision in the best interest of the army and the Fire Nation. He could hear the wise counsels Xian and Rhiannon in the back of his mind, but he could not make out the words. They were drowned in the blackness and heat of his fear and anger.

He grabbed the messenger by the collar and pulled him close to his face.

“Do you know where she is now?” he questioned in a low, dangerous voice.

“Yes! Yes, sir!”

“Show me! Show me now!” he thundered.

He dragged the runner to the Constellation and once inside threw him at the operations table. The pens, instruments and straight edges that littered the campaign map jostled as the unfortunate young man slammed into its edge. The bridge crew and the elder “map buddy” looked up in surprise at the sudden, violent appearance of their superior.

“Show me!” he commanded once more.

Shaking, the messenger looked at the map and hesitated, unnerved by the Crown Prince’s fury.

Realizing the danger, the “map buddy” stepped forward and began orienting him to the chart.

“Relax, son, I’ll explain. North is this direction, here is the Hue Road… the Silk Road… Mequon… Vyazma… and Second Corps last known positions…”

Iroh fumed at the delay. Finally the runner pointed at a location on the map.

“I think about here, sir.”

He turned to the Chief Boiler Operator, “Are the repairs done?”

“Yes, Highness!” the Chief Boiler Operator reported with more than a little fear, “Just a few minutes ago.”

“We move now,” Iroh announced.

“But, General…” the Chief began before he was silenced by a glare from Iroh that could have melted iron.

The Crown Prince stepped up to the flight deck, ordered the driver out of his chair, threw his baton of command on the dashboard, sat down and strapped himself in. Thunderstruck, the crew finally realized that Iroh intended to pilot the dreadnought himself.

Finally recovering, the Chief began shouting orders to the engineers.

“Trim vents! Fire boiler two! Increase pressure to one hundred! Now! Now! Now!”

Duplicating the movements he’d seen dozens of times, Iroh activated the running lights and released the brakes. Around him everyone took their seats and prepared for imminent departure. Before everyone was ready the young general popped the clutch, snapping the drive engines into full gear. The whole chassis yanked forward with a gut wrenching clank before settling in to a steadily increasing rate of forward motion.

The Constellation rocketed south and east under the stars and in the madness of their master’s drive none of them saw the dull red glare of signal rockets bloom on the eastern horizon.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2016 03:04 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #140 on: May 27, 2016 02:37 pm »

Deng moved east on the Silk Road with a small squad of guards for protection. A canter had turned into a gallop when they had seen the red flowers bloom in the eastern sky. The foreboding that had grown every step since they had left Ningbo had turned instantly to certainty.

A messenger soon passed them at breakneck speed in the darkness that could not be flagged down despite the best efforts of the general’s party.

Half an hour later another messenger appeared who attempted to pass them as well, but was stopped by Nifong himself who grabbed the ostrich horses’ bridle and forced the animal to stop.

“Stop,” the green clad general bellowed, “I command you!”

“Who are you!?” the young man remonstrated, “I have urgent news that can’t be delayed, idiot!”

“I am General Nifong.”

The messenger peered at the powerfully muscled man who held his mount at bay. Recognition spreading across his features in an instant, he grimaced and saluted.

“Forgive me, most noble General,” the young man begged, “I have an urgent message from Seventh Division!”

“What is it?”

“Signal flares, sir! Red ones! Multiple sightings up and down the rear! Fifth Division reported them too!”

“Yes,” Nifong agreed, “We saw them.”

“No enemy contact yet,” the messenger continued, “but Colonel Dao believes we somehow have Fire Nation forces behind us!”

No supplies and no reinforcements in more than a day, his adjutant had said. Nifong could hear the steel trap snapping shut around him.

“What do we do now, General?” one of his guards asked.

“We finish what we started. We will see for ourselves what Fate has in store for us.”

They set off again at a hard gallop.

His party reached the rear command center less than an hour before sunrise. The steppes to the east remained dark and silent, but Nifong knew this was deceptive.  Swinging down from his mount he handed the reins to attendants who darted out of the operations tent. Around it dozens of other tents had been erected and in the open area around them lay hundreds of crates and stacks of supplies of every conceivable kind.

Just beyond the camp a neat line of artillery had been patiently awaiting transport to the western front. Now, crews of supply chain workers worked feverishly to turn the machines around to face the opposite direction.

He asked startled sentries for the camp commandant and after receiving proper direction arrived on foot at one of the nearby catapults. There two officers were overseeing the stacking of ammunition for the artillery. Both started at the unexpected sight of their legendary commanding officer. The expressions of shock quickly changed to relief.

“General! Did you receive our messages?” began one, a squat, plump woman wearing infantry armor.

“Yes, Colonel,” he replied, “Do we have any scout reports?”

She shook her head.

“No, sir, I sent a dozen scouts east and south as soon as we saw the flares. Half returned having seen nothing. The other half didn’t return at all.”

Nifong had produced his sight glass and swept the horizon. All was hidden in darkness. The shallow depressions between the low rolling hills of the steppe could hide large numbers of the enemy. He lowered his instrument and turned to the other officer.

“When did the last supply column arrive, Commander?”

“Yesterday morning, General, we were supposed to receive another last night, but it never came. I sent messengers to you and to Master Wu-Ti at army group headquarters, but they’re east of us so…”

The camp commandant let the sentence trail off.

“I don’t understand, sir,” the woman continued, “What’s going on? How can we have anyone behind us? We’ve heard horrible things about the fighting ahead, but how can they be behind us too? Where did they come from?”

Nifong blinked and paused before replying. With crushing certainty his mind suddenly alighted on the only possible answer to the question. He looked to the east and saw the sky beginning to lighten.

“I don’t know, Colonel,” he finally replied in a hushed tone, “but I’m afraid the dawn will show us the answer.”

“If they’re out there, what do we do?”

His reply was brutal as it was honest.

“We die.”

They stood silently and waited for dawn to arrive. Minutes later the sun peaked over the eastern horizon. The new day promised to be beautiful with clear skies, a westerly breeze and warm temperatures come afternoon.

Deng knew then it would be his last.

The newborn day revealed the terrifying truth. The hills behind them ran red with tens of thousands of Fire Nation soldiers, their helmets gleaming in the morning sun, the banners of General Shu and Prince Ozai snapping in the wind.

Nifong sank to his knees and closed his eyes in sorrow. Raising his arms to the sky, he bowed his head and prayed.

O Spirit of the Earth, the Enemy is upon us! Hear my cry come unto thee! By your divine grace help us break the power of our Enemy! Deliver your people, Great Spirit, from the tyranny of Azulon, help us to strike down the noonday devils, tormentors of the world!”


The old general looked up at the bloody sea flowing over the steppe towards them and knew his prayer would not be heard. He was not alone. Every green clad soldier who witnessed the spectacle knew then that the Spirit of the Earth had abandoned them.

The Army of the Song had arrived.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2016 03:02 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #141 on: May 27, 2016 02:56 pm »

Sweet mercy. Just when you thought you had it all figured out Prince Iroh throws another curveball. Rhiannon killed her father? Even if we don't know for sure, that's a chilling rumor. And Ozai coming to save the day? What a chapter. I can't wait for the follow up.

And I suppose Iroh's letter back from chapter 27 had something to do with Ozai's arrival?

Depending on how long it takes for the Army of the Song to mop up Nifong's army, I think it would be appropriate to change Gao's comment about the battle lasting four days to five.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2016 09:49 am by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #142 on: Jun 10, 2016 04:45 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus



Chapter LV – Already Gone

The audience was silent. Gao felt their despair and shared it.

“Though the fighting was not yet finished on the morning of that fourth day, our story must nevertheless withdraw from the bloody affair of combat and bid farewell to the clash of armies and the organized destruction of war. This tale, I might remind you, is the life of Prince Iroh, and now the stage must shrink in the scale and scope to focus now on the players and their fates after the infamous slaughter at Mequon.”

“Yes, most noble guests,” the old storyteller continued in a devastated voice, “Now we must lay to rest the Earth Kingdom’s greatest hero in a generation, the likes of whom we have not seen since, for with the arrival of General Shu and Prince Ozai the Army of the Granite Mountains was doomed. Surrounded on all sides, the valiant soldiers of the Earth Kingdom were slain by the enemy and very few escaped to tell the tale.”

“As for Deng Zev Nifong, he deserved a hero’s death, perhaps in single combat against Iroh himself, but this was not to be. Seldom does real life allow for such poetry and this tale sadly provides no exception. As for the great man’s final fate, let it only be said that he perished on the steppes of Mequon just as Prince Iroh planned and though his final moments are lost to history, it cannot be doubted that he met his end with the skill and honor for which he is justly famed.”

Few guests looked at the storyteller as he spoke. Most looked at the floor or down at their hands.
The story and the events it described had occurred thirty years before and for the greater part of the evening the audience had been content to treat it as a matter far removed from their own experience.

Now, at the end, every guest felt the weight of the present day upon them. Though Ba Sing Se remained unbowed, the Fire Nation had advanced in virtually every other theater. Soon, they knew the enemy would reach them in Shanxi and there would be no Army of the Granite Mountains to stop them.

The storyteller continued.

“Now we are come now the bitter end of our tale, my friends, and though the Battle of Mequon was hailed as a great victory for the Fire Nation, perhaps we should consider instead whether anyone won at all, for the devastating losses on all sides crippled the great powers for years to come.”

“Yet such weighty concerns did not prey on Prince Iroh at the conclusion of this conflict, though the carnage and destruction was surely obvious to all who survived, for now he was consumed by the events driving his own personal drama, events set in motion by the Fire Lord’s decisions at the Harvest Moon feast so long ago, the very same feast with which we began this tale…”



The Constellation’s engines screamed in protest as Iroh slammed on the brakes. He had piloted the ship for hours and it was now midday. After several wrong turns prompted by Iroh’s inexperience and refusal to yield the driver’s seat to those who knew better, they had finally arrived at their destination. In front of them, parked in a neat line, Constellation’s sisters seemed to wait patiently for her arrival. A series of nearby tents flew the banners of Tien Shin.

Sweat poured from Iroh’s brow, but not from the engine heat which had rapidly turned the atmosphere of the bridge into a blast furnace. Chieng’s laconic instruction tormented him.

“Come – hurry.”

This was all she had said. Was she hurt? Dying? She had at least been well enough to write, and though he took some comfort in the thought, it did little to assuage the sense of impending doom that had washed over him like a cold tidal wave upon receipt of her message. Whatever it was, it was important enough for her to demand his presence… and too sensitive to actually address it openly. This realization terrified him most of all.

He thought briefly of Gan and Nikon. The accountant, pushed into a battlefield command role for which he had not been trained, was closest physically to her and was therefore the likeliest cause for concern if she herself was unhurt. Nikon, his best friend, had all but disappeared. Exposed in one of the riskiest parts of their plan, he knew the young commoner was most likely to have paid the price for Iroh’s daring.

Still, it was for the woman he loved that he feared most and he prayed above all for her safety. Against his will he thought wildly of whose lives he would trade to keep her whole. He thrust these evil and unworthy sentiments from his mind over and over. He knew full well that had no control over what had already happened when he had not been present, but the crushing pressure of his anxiety over many hours of travel had allowed them to invade his thoughts with disturbing frequency.

The Constellation slowed to a stop. Before he knew it he had exited the ship at a dead run. Dimly he was aware that he raced towards Corona and some corner of his mind registered that the dreadnought had recently sustained major damage. He did not notice that the makeshift camp seemed unnaturally subdued for an army at war. Sentries kept watch to the east and and men manned the siphons on top of each leviathan.

Iroh’s heart and mind raced as the hatch on the side of Chieng’s machine opened. Relief flooded through him as the slight engineer sprang graceful as a dancer from the opening and sprinted towards him. Her hair had escaped her braid and flew wildly about her shoulders as she ran. Others followed behind her, but he saw only the object of his care.

Without thought or conscious decision Iroh caught her in his arms and, dissipating her forward momentum with a surprisingly graceful half pirouette, kissed her soundly on the lips. She did not stiffen or try to escape, but instead wrapped her arms about him and returned his greeting as enthusiastically as he gave it.

The world receded as he held her and shrank until it held only the two of them. He ran his hands through her midnight locks and found them soft and yielding. She smelled lightly of hyacinth and Iroh was reminded of the smell upon waking up in her bed after the desert crossing. Much later he would wonder how Nikon had known to make a joke of it, but at that moment there was only the woman in his arms.

When he opened his eyes and released her he realized they had both sunk to their knees. He looked her over as if afraid she was an illusion, cupping her face with his calloused hands.

“I have come,” he said simply.

Chieng met her lord’s gaze and found herself unable to deny the devotion that burned there. She blinked and kissed him again. The moment stretched and Iroh wished nothing more than it would go on forever.
   
Suddenly they were aware of an audience. Most of Corona’s bridge crew had stepped out and were now standing in a semicircle around them. Firestorm’s main hatch had opened and Chief Tang had emerged with several others. They each slowly turned their heads in the opposite direction to look at the newcomers. Scanning the faces around them they saw a mixture of shock, awe and amusement in their expressions.

“Oh, how adorable!” Tang gushed, her hand flying to her mouth.

One bystander stood out as the exception. Gan looked down at them with a slack jaw and no trace of mirth.

Iroh felt heat rising in his cheeks, but decided it was far too late to worry about public embarrassment. Ignoring the gawkers he turned back to Chieng.

“Are you all right?” he inquired in a tender voice.

She nodded her head, but did not reply. He saw the wound on her forehead and moved to touch it, but stopped himself.

“What happened?”

“It’s nothing.”

He looked into her golden eyes and saw fear and sadness growing in them. The relief he had felt began to wane. He turned to Gan.

“Gan?”

“I’m okay, Iroh,” he replied, his expression stony.

“Then…?”

He swung round wildly, quickly scanning the faces around him once more. The one he sought now was not there. Suddenly everyone’s expression matched Gan’s. Even Tang looked down in despair. He looked back to Chieng and was shocked to see tears beginning to stream down her face. She tried to squeeze her eyes shut to stop them, but this only made them come faster.

Iroh stood up, his face frozen in expression of dawning horror.

“Where… where is Nikon?” he breathed.

She stood and forced herself to look into his eyes once more.

“What’s… what’s happened?” he pleaded, his voice beginning to break, “Please, you have to tell me!”

“He… he saved us, Iroh, he saved us all…”

“What do you mean?” he demanded, his voice becoming harsh, “Where is he?”

She couldn’t finish the sentence.

“Answer me!” he thundered.

He received no reply. She looked at him mutely, tears flowing freely. Iroh turned in anger and frustration to Gan who met the dark apparition of his friend with an impassive stare.

“Answer me!” he repeated.

Gan held his gaze for a moment more, an expression of empathy spreading over his features, before he stepped aside to once again reveal the open hatch of Corona.

He was running again. Despair and hopelessness threatened to swallow him as the world began to spin. He heard galloping feet behind him, but could not tell whether it was people following him or the blood pounding in his ears. Time seemed to skip and the next thing he remembered he was standing in the doorway between the engineering deck and Chieng’s ready room.

The room was shrouded in semi darkness. A few oil lamps burned on Chieng’s desk and one on the tea dolly he remembered from what seemed a different age of the world.

On the floor a body rested on a pallet. The soldier wore the basic issue maroon tunic and pants. He wore no armor. His head was heavily bandaged obscuring his eyes. The rags were soaked through with both fresh and congealed blood.

The body did not move.

Two women knelt beside the litter. One was Kanjana. The other he did not recognize. Both looked up in response to the sound of Iroh’s sudden appearance. The unfamiliar one was a young soldier who looked at Iroh with anger and despair to match his own. The doctor had just finished writing something on a scroll. She snapped it shut and put it in a bag beside her. She stood and met his eyes with an expression of grim acknowledgment.

Kanjana nodded once at the unspoken question and backed away from the body to allow Iroh access.

The Crown Prince ran to his friend’s side and dropped to the floor.

“No!” he cried through tears which suddenly sprang forth in an uncontrollable flood, “You can’t be! No, no, Great Agni! I forbid it!”

He grabbed his friend’s hand and with the other removed the bandage enough to see the smashed remains of his head. Iroh recoiled as if struck.

“No!” he moaned in agony, “Oh Agni, no, please no!”

Iroh turned to look up at the doctor, his eyes huge, his expression haunted.

“Please, Lady Kanjana! Help him! Please!”

Chieng and Gan had entered the room. Gan stood behind him while Chieng knelt down and took Iroh’s free hand in hers. He squeezed it reflexively, as if the act could somehow banish forever the image before him.

“I cannot, your Highness,” Kanjana replied quietly, placing a hand on his shoulder, “He’s already gone.”

Iroh sobbed. He released his dead friend’s hand and placed it gently over his chest. He leaned over and kissed Nikon’s blood soaked brow.

“Great Agni…” he vowed, “I will avenge you!”

He had thought losing Xian would be the worst anguish he would feel in this life. He had been wrong. With Xian there had been the agony of waiting, an unbearable tension finally broken by the crushing confirmation he had come in his heart to expect.

Here, he knew, he was a victim of his own unconscious belief in his friend’s immortality. Iroh had thought far enough ahead to give his friend instructions in the event he himself had died, but what thought had he given to this awful possibility? None. It was unimaginable. He had not allowed himself to imagine it. The pain of his cousin’s loss was still too great.

Nikon Orlando, the lucky street urchin, the valiant hero, the dashing ladies’ man… he could never die.

The lifeless body laid out before him told a different story. The world was cold, unforgiving, and indifferent to the concepts of justice, fairness, right and wrong, good and evil.

“I…I lost them both!”

Tears soon obscured his vision. His attempts to wipe them away proved futile. He did not know how long he wept. The excruciating pain of loss racked his mind in broad, sweeping convulsions that rapidly exhausted him. At some point they died down enough for him to speak in halting, childish heaves of grief.

“He never asked me for… for anything… not once. It was I who asked sacrifices of him… over and over… he never let me down... he never let us down! Never! Not once!”

Chieng squeezed his hand once again, for she knew Iroh’s observation to be true. Despite her first impression and frequent criticism, she had ultimately thought highly of Nikon and found herself wounded deeply at his passing both for her sake and for Iroh’s.

Gan walked around the pallet and knelt on the other side of Nikon, his expression hard and intense.

“He was a hero to every soldier in the Army of the Great Divide… and a worthy friend in every way… even to the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation.”

“He was, Gan,” Iroh agreed, his voice thick, “I know you loved him too.”

“I did,” the former accountant confessed, tears welling in his steel grey eyes, “and I’d have done… anything to save him.”

They were quiet for some time before Iroh spoke again.

“Oh Agni, I wish… I wish he’d waited…” then, speaking directly to his daimyo, continued, “You didn’t wait, damn you…”

Iroh turned to face the doctor once more.

“When?”

“About a half hour ago, your Highness.”

He closed his eyes and grabbed Chieng’s hand with both of his and felt sure he was going to crush her bones.

So close, oh dear god… so close…

He opened his eyes, wiped them once more, looked back and forth between Gan and Chieng and then back at Nikon.

“Was he… was he in pain? Did he… did he feel it, do you think?”

Kanjana shook her head.

“No, I don’t think so, General. He never woke up after the injury,” she once more laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, “I know it’s no comfort, but you did not miss a farewell.”

Iroh rocked back and forth, tears flowing down now well-traveled, salty channels on his cheeks.

“How?” he finally continued, his voice still thick, “What happened?”

Kanjana withdrew her hand from his shoulder and pointed at the young soldier across from them whom Iroh had seen but then ignored when he had entered the room.

“She knows.”

The Crown Prince refocused on the young woman. Her uniform and insignia identified her as a tanker, her bearing marked her as a veteran, but it was her dark eyes, burning with pain and desire for revenge that marked her both a survivor of Lake Myojin and a friend of Nikon. She had ignored everything since he’d entered. Her eyes had never moved from her commander’s blood soaked head. He could see the devastation writ large on her face. It mirrored his own.

“What’s your name?”

“Leng, your Highness.”

She replied without looking at him. Under any other circumstance this would have been a major offense. Had Nikon been alive he would have disciplined her severely on the spot for such a breach, but he was not. The loss shared was so great that not one of them in the room even saw an insult.

“How did you know him?”

“I… was… one of his tank drivers.”

“How long… how long did you serve with him?”

“Since Cam’ron, sir.”

“What happened… what happened to him?”

Tonelessly she related the story of Fifth Brigade’s last stand. Her eyes burned hot with hatred, but she soon joined her superiors with streams of salty tears as she bared her soul to them. Outside, as if on cue, the sounds battle began to filter through the leviathan’s metal hull. The dull thudding of Earth Kingdom artillery grew louder as she continued her tale, acting as a somber and haunting score for the grim fate of her commander.

“He was held down by two dirties when I saw three more get ready to earthbend. Cowards! Filthy cowards,” she snarled, “None of them could take him alone! They had to kill him like… like a pack of hyena vultures! I killed one and shot the stone out from another… but…but… I couldn’t… that last one… the one I couldn’t stop…”

She broke down and began to sob. Iroh looked on the young tank driver in sympathy. Unconsciously echoing his opponent, he did his best to comfort her.

“There is no shame, soldier, you did everything that could be done.”

“If only… if only,” she continued, her voice thick with grief, “If only Prince Tien Shin had hit the last one… he was so close…”
« Last Edit: Jun 10, 2016 08:33 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #143 on: Jun 10, 2016 04:48 pm »

Iroh froze. He had forgotten entirely about his hated step brother. Now the grief that had shrouded the room suddenly evaporated, replaced by tension so intense it mimicked the tremendous electric potential created before a lightning bolt.

All eyes turned to Iroh.

“Explain,” Iroh commanded, his voice suddenly frigid.

Leng looked up from her vigil for the first time, hearing the sudden change in tone.

“Sir?” she questioned in confusion, wiping the tears from her eyes.

“What do you mean… about Tien Shin?”

“He was there, your Highness. He got there right at the end… he shot an arrow at the… the murderer,” she spat the word out like she had named a demon, “but he missed.”

Iroh turned to Gan and Chieng before turning back to the young tank driver.

“Tien Shin… missed?”

Leng did not fail to miss the importance of the question. She considered her answer before giving it.

“Yes, General, I saw his Highness shoot down a few other dirties, but he missed the one that mattered.”

Iroh’s jaw tightened, his face twisting in rage.

“No, Iroh, wait!” Gan implored, but it was too late. Iroh had risen and left the room before she had finished her sentence.

Chieng and the former accountant rushed after him.

“Iroh, stop!” Chieng commanded his rapidly retreating form.

The Crown Prince ignored them as he exited the leviathan that had become his friends’ tomb and raced toward the largest tent displaying the banner of his hated rival. The sound of approaching battle had become a roar and two boulders landed in quick succession around him. They disintegrated into a hail of fragments and dust. Iroh ignored them and continued his mindless charge.

He burst into the tent to see Tien Shin standing over his campaign desk reading a scroll. A campaign map and dozens of papers, scroll cases and small wooden chests completely obscured its surface. He was attended by several officers including Commander Tojo and several newly arrived messengers. He was in the middle of an intense back and forth with his audience and none of them marked the entrance of the Crown Prince. A dozen lower level servants dashed around the tent trying to pack everything up into crates and storage containers.

“Yes!” the elder prince confirmed, “Issue the evacuation code! This is their last push, we have to survive it!”

“I’ll hold the road until nightfall, Highness,” Tojo vowed.

“You must! Go now! We’ll regroup and press –”

Tien Shin was unable to finish the sentence when, to his utter shock, Iroh vaulted over the desk, thrust Tojo rudely out of the way and placed his hands in a chokehold around his neck. Blinded by rage, the Crown Prince failed even to ignite his fists in flame, preferring instead the animal satisfaction of squeezing the life out of him with his powerfully muscled arms.

“You killed him, you son of a b***h!” Iroh screamed as he shook the object of his rage like a rag doll.

The whole tent froze in horror at the sudden and totally unexpected turn of events. Caught unprepared, the elder prince stared in wide eyed shock at the furious man trying to strangle him. Tien Shin beat furiously, but in vain at hands holding him in an iron grip.

“I’m going to kill you, you… you filthy bastard!”

Gan and Chieng rushed into the tent to see Iroh choking his step brother. Everyone spoke and began moving at once, creating a scene of total confusion. The newcomers repeated their shouted warnings to Iroh while Tojo and two of the nearby servants attempted to save their master by prying him loose from Iroh’s hold.

Chieng reached Iroh before Gan. She appeared at his side, took a deep breath and spoke calmly into his ear.

“Iroh, no, not this way.”

“He let them kill him,” he rasped through gritted teeth.

“This won’t bring him back,” she pointed out gently, placing her hand on his shoulder.

Suddenly, his chest heaving with anger and hatred, Iroh released his grip. The elder prince fell to the floor, gasping for air, but was unable to draw breath. Tojo helped his commander back to his feet as two more messengers entered the tent only to stop short on seeing the extraordinary situation. Outside, the sounds of battle had grown to a deafening roar. The siphons on the surrounding tank trains had begun pouring out jets of flaming naptha. Wherever the enemy was, they were close.

Iroh ignored the situation around them, maintaining his laser focus on the man he blamed for Nikon’s fall.

“Are you satisfied, “brother!” Have you gloated enough over his death!? Or did you waste no time on the smashed body of a wretched animal!?”

“What the hell are you talking about!?” Tien Shin finally roared in reply once he recovered his breath.

“What am I talking about!? My friend is dead, you son of a b***h!”

Still clutching his throat, Tien Shin answered in fury, “You idiot! I tried to save him!”

“You let them kill him!”

“If I had wanted to kill him I’d have done it myself and long before now!” Tien Shin yelled in response, his angular features taut with anger.

Iroh’s body tensed once more, his eyes locked on his rival’s.

“I missed, Iroh! Yes, I saw it was him! Of course I did! The recognition distracted me enough to miss! But if you think I missed on purpose, then you’re more of a fool than I thought!”

The anger drained from Tien Shin’s face as he continued, his voice turning cold and calculating once more.

“You are so damn stupid! Stop and think for once! Ask yourself, how could it possibly profit me to let him die? Did you even stop to consider that? What? Do you think I am stupid enough to believe you’d promote me again to daimyo? Are you stupid enough to believe I would serve under you as daimyo?”

“You did it… you did it because you hated him!”

“If I did it because I hated him, and I did, I don’t deny that! But if I did, why didn’t I kill her?”

Tien Shin pointed at Leng who had entered the tent behind Gan and Chieng. Iroh did not answer. He hadn’t considered this.

“No? This is stupid and you, “brother”, once again, are acting stupidly out of emotion without thinking things through! How can you expect to be Fire Lord when you can’t think anything through?”

The question hung in the air.

“You are a fool, Iroh, and if you weren’t commanding General I would arrest you now for attempted murder!”

“I am commanding General, Tien Shin, remember that!”

“Not for long if you don’t stop weeping over a dead commoner and start paying attention to finishing this battle!”

As if for emphasis a massive boulder fell through the roof of the tent, smashed apart a stack of half-filled crates and embedded itself in the ground. Tien Shin and Iroh reflexively grabbed the campaign desk to steady themselves.

“You see that?” the elder prince questioned sharply, pointing a finger at the impact, “That is the enemy! They’re coming – now!”

Tien Shin picked up a scroll tube from his desk and shook it at Iroh.

“General Shu and your brother are here! Nifong is trapped between us and the Army of the Song, just as you hoped! So what are you going to do, Iroh? Are you going to fight me? Or are you going to obey the Fire Lord and secure victory for the Fire Nation?”

Outside they could hear the sound of battle all around them. Iroh glowered, but knew his rival was right. Addressing everyone in the tent, he gave the order.

“To the leviathans, now!”

No additional prompting was needed. The tent quickly emptied as Fire Nation infantry and Earth Kingdom cavalry broke into the clearing around the tank trains. The burning naptha from the siphons quickly filled the air with huge columns of black, oily smoke.

Iroh grabbed Tien Shin by the shoulder, unable to leave without a parting shot.

“This isn’t over “brother”! You will pay for letting him die! He was worth ten of you!”

Tien Shin batted Iroh’s hand away.

“He died with honor, Iroh, that’s all you’ll get out of me. Now focus or we will join him in death!”

A telltale whistle ended their conversation as another huge rock fell through the roof, tipping over the campaign desk and wreaking havoc on the remaining supplies.

They rushed from the tent and steeled themselves to face the dying lashes of the Army of the Granite Mountains.



And I suppose Iroh's letter back from chapter 27 had something to do with Ozai's arrival?

Yes. More will come of that later.

Also, didn't this drama begin with a Harvest Moon Festival? Unless perhaps, Gao is referring to some other event?

Yes, thanks for the catch. Corrected.
« Last Edit: Jun 10, 2016 08:34 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #144 on: Jun 10, 2016 05:18 pm »

Tien Shin sounds pretty sensible, but I still don't know if I'm convinced. It's the same thing with Xian all over again, the evidence is pointing toward him, but there still remains a lot of doubt. What profit could Tien get from killing Xian or Nikon?  It isn't obvious and maybe we'll never know. It is completely possible that Iroh will kill his step-brother without there ever being solid evidence. If so, that will be quite a twist on my expectations. But, there is still around seven to eight chapters left [apparently there are five left. We are really nearing the end of this tale, are we?], which means that more evidence could surface, such as Rhiannon's ability to see the past. Though that would only be solid proof from Iroh's and the audience's perspective. I don't think Azulon would accept claims about Rhiannon's prophetic abilities as credible, which means Iroh still comes off as a murderer.

Then again, maybe we are being suckered in by his seemingly sound arguments (we know from the storyteller that Tien was considering killing Nikon in the future, since he is a rising star in Fire Nation society who in opposition to him). You're probably thinking (or maybe not) "Wow, you're ready to take your suspicion off Tien just like that? I'm glad none of y'all will ever serve on a jury where he's is the prosecuting attorney; you're much too easily convinced."  Grin

A very entertaining chapter all around. You got romance and a murder mystery.

Also, I like that part about real life nor always allowing for poetry. That felt as though it was addressing my own expectations, for an epic one on one between Nifong and Iroh. The former was probably killed by Fire Nation soldier #3253.

Anyway, I think five days have passed. Sad Hill happened on day three. Tien Shin got to Nikon on the following morning. And Nifong died the morning after that.

Also, didn't this drama begin with a Harvest Moon Festival? Unless perhaps, Gao is referring to some other event?

Lastly, since the battle is over can we get a chart for day four?
« Last Edit: Jun 14, 2016 03:14 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #145 on: Jun 24, 2016 07:41 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus

Chapter LVI – All Glory Is Fleeting

The battle was over. The dead lay rotting in the sun over a battlefield that stretched a hundred leagues in every direction. Fires dotted the horizon, leaving trails of black smoke that filled the air with ash and soot. They would burn for days.

Firestorm came to a halt where she had been parked not two days before when the last enemy attack had driven them from Tien Shin's camp. His tent still stood, though obviously damaged and was now flanked by the tents flying the banners of General Shu.

Tien Shin, Tojo and Gan exited the main hatch of the leviathan. The former accountant made for General Shu's tent while the elder prince and his subordinate began to draw off in the direction of his broken command center.

"My father will expect you," Gan observed coolly.

"I will pay my respects, Captain," Tien Shin replied in his most calculating tone, "when I am finished seeing to my own affairs."

Refusing the courtesy of a salute, Gan continued on to the bright red tent bearing the familiar crest of his family.

"Is that wise, your Highness?" Tojo questioned as they approached their destination, "Why antagonize General Shu?"

"I'm not," Tien Shin replied with a tinge of annoyance, "I need to find something, then I will debrief with General Shu. Go to him now and tell him I will come shortly."

Tojo saluted and withdrew.

The elder prince opened the blackened flap of the tent and entered. There was the campaign desk where they had left it, tipped over with the ground covered in papers, maps and scrolls. The crates and supplies lay strewn about. Surprisingly none appeared to have been looted, but much had been smashed or broken.

A man sat by the remains of the desk reading a scroll. He stood up and looked at Tien Shin with cool and unsympathetic eyes. The elder prince halted with a start.

"Prince Ozai," he greeted cautiously, "Your brother is fortunate indeed that you arrived in time to secure his victory."

The younger son of Azulon regarded his step brother for a moment before replying.

"Yes, Tien Shin, as a natural born son of Agni my brother is fortunate in many ways."

The implied insult was clear, but Tien Shin showed neither anger nor fear. Instead the elder prince scanned the area around the desk, his eyes quickly cataloging its membership. Many things were missing. He looked to what Ozai was holding.

"What do you have in your hand?" he asked in a neutral tone.

"Just a casualty list… why?" the young Prince replied innocently, dropping the scroll onto the desk in a careless gesture, "Are you missing something?"

"No," Tien Shin responded a trifle too quickly, "I don't think so."

"You know, you really should take better care of your headquarters," Ozai lectured, "All these important documents… who knows what might happen to them… could be destroyed… or fall into the wrong hands."

"I'll remember that."

The two men eyed each other, the tension and hidden animosity palpable between them. Both of a kind, each knew that on their present courses they would one day face each other.

Just as the moment seemed to stretch beyond the breaking point, the tent flap snapped open and two figures entered.

"There they are!"

General Shu was built much more broadly than his second son who followed behind him. He approached the two princes with confidence that far surpassed even the most respected members of the War College. As a lord of one the great Houses this was expected.

"You both have a lot to catch up on, no doubt! I don't think you've seen each other since… oh, the summer solstice two years ago?"

"Yes, General," Tien Shin confirmed, though neither he nor Ozai broke their staring contest.

"We kept your headquarters just as we found it, Highness," General Shu assured him, "Hit by artillery, but apparently overlooked by the enemy or…" then with a satisfied laugh, "they all got killed before they had time to loot it!"

Tien Shin turned to face father and son.

"Congratulations are in order, General," the elder prince offered in a neutral tone, "The Army of the Song's timely arrival is responsible for this signal victory."

"Yes, looks like we arrived just in time. We broke our siege and headed up here as soon as we received Governor T'zan's message."

"Siege?" Tien Shin inquired in surprise, his eyebrows disappearing under his clipped bangs.

"We've spent six months in front of Omashu," Ozai supplied.

Tien Shin folded his arms, his eyes narrowing.

"That's almost a thousand leagues away, when did you receive the message?"

Ozai and his superior shared a quick glance.

"Almost six weeks ago," Gan's father finally answered with a shrug, "maybe two months even? Is it important?"

Tien Shin cast a quick glance at Gan who remained impassive.

"Not at all," he replied with a dismissive wave, "Your victory is what is important. The Fire Lord will be pleased."

"I beg to differ, daimyo," the elder Shu contradicted, "This victory is General Iroh's. His leadership and the fortitude of your soldiers prevailed. Nifong is gone and with him the Earth Kingdom's last hope to stave off defeat."

Tien Shin stiffened slightly at the inaccurate use of his former title. Of course General Shu wouldn't know.

"His Highness is no longer daimyo of the Army of the Great Divide, sir," Gan injected smoothly, "he was presumed dead after the disaster at Lake Myojin and a replacement was appointed."

"Illegally," Tien Shin stated matter of factly – of course Gan would offer the correction, "a decision I will take up with the Fire Lord upon our return."

General Shu took the news in stride. Such things happened on the battlefield.

"Oh, who is daimyo then?" Ozai inquired.

Now it was Tien Shin's turn to prosecute, a role he always relished no matter the occasion.

"A commoner of no importance or ability, Prince Ozai, such was the magnitude of the defeat at Myojin that your brother had to turn to such low born creatures for help."

Gan's jaw set and his expression glowered.

"Father, his Highness is mistaken," Gan corrected sharply, "This victory is as much daimyo Orlando's as it is General Iroh's. It was he who delayed General Nifong's advance long enough for you and Prince Ozai to arrive."

The general's eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"Remarkable," the elder Shu observed, "Where is he?"

The former accountant cast his eyes to the earth.

"He died in honorable combat."

Recognition and compassion alighted on the older man's face.

"I see," he said sympathetically, "This was your friend wasn't it? Master Chen's student?"

Tien Shin smirked as Gan nodded.

"A shame. We have need of such men."

"I don't agree, General," Tien Shin replied, "but it's not important."

Ozai cocked his head slightly to one side.

"Hmmm… why didn't you assume command?"

The smirk vanished from the elder prince's face as he turned back to Ozai, replaced by anger and shame.

"Your brother illegally seized control of the army while I led the survivors back from the disaster your cousin created! He refused to accept your father's orders naming me as Xian's successor!"

Ozai's eyebrows rose at this.

"A serious charge, your Highness," General Shu observed quietly.

"General Xian left written orders appointing Iroh to succeed him in the event he was killed or incapacitated," Gan explained rapidly, "There is absolutely no –"

"Xian's orders," the elder prince interrupted, "even if authentic, do not take precedence over the command of the Fire Lord!"

"What, are you going to have Iroh arrested?" the dreadnought captain scoffed, "For winning a massive victory? Is that really your plan?"

"That is the Fire Lord's decision, Gan, I at least know my place."

"Oh, it is my father's decision, Tien Shin," Ozai injected in a knowing voice, "and I am sure your mother will be pleased to understand you have learned your place. The Fire Lord's orders, if I recall, were to destroy the enemy. My brother did exactly that. I'm surprised you would try to argue with success."

Ozai smiled threateningly, nodded once to his superior officer and exited the tent. Gan, not wanting to spend another moment with the Tien Shin, turned to his father to ask for dismissal.

"I must return to General Iroh."

"Of course, my son, I will come soon to pay my respects to his Highness and Governor T'zan."

Gan bowed. His father stepped forward and hugged his son.

"I'm proud of you, Captain. You have brought honor to our House and to the Fire Nation."

Surprised, Gan nevertheless hugged him back. They released each other. Gan saluted, a gesture his father returned, and departed.



Victory was supposed to be sweet, an event to be savored, glorified and remembered. As a child Iroh had fantasized endlessly of fighting huge battles for the Fire Nation, of winning the war his grandfather had started and his father had prosecuted with such success.

How different the actual experienced had proved. The fires had burned out long since, but the battlefield of Mequon would bear the scars of the slaughter for a hundred years. Iroh had toured the steppe with Rhiannon in the weeks since the fighting ended and had seen the destruction first hand. Yes, the victory was complete, but the cost had been higher than Iroh ever thought possible.

Nifong was dead, but there was no celebration. His body had been recovered and, at Iroh's orders, buried according to Earth Kingdom custom under a granite monolith where he fell. He knew Xian would have done the same and in this small way he wanted to honor his cousin's memory.

Iroh sat in his curule chair surrounded by his friends. A black scroll tube lay on the table beside him. There was no laughter or mirth. Each was lost in their own gloomy prisons of the mind.

"Well, this was to be expected," Rhiannon offered after Iroh had read it to them.

"Yes," Iroh agreed quietly.

"Do we come with you?" Gan piped in.

"Yes."

"What about me?" the governor asked in a tense voice.

"No mention of you, Rae, so it's probably best if you stay… for your own sake if not for the province's. We'll just hope another black scroll doesn't show up for you."

Rhiannon considered this briefly, then visibly relaxed, nodded and looked down at her hands.

"May I have permission to remain as well, General?"

Iroh looked up with a jerk to face the source of the unexpected question.

"Why, Chieng? Why… would you want to stay?"

The hurt in his voice was well masked, but nevertheless did not escape notice.

"The fortifications of Mequon must be rebuilt and the tank trains need complete overhauls."

Iroh shook his head.

"Others can candle those tasks. You must return to the capital and accept credit for your accomplishments."

Chieng fidgeted, clearly uncomfortable.

"But –"

"Forget it, Chieng," Gan butted in, "If we're going, you're going."

The slight engineer drew breath to object once again, but was cut off.

"Iroh may need your help back home, Commander," Rhiannon offered laconically.

All eyes refocused instantly on the governor.

"What do you mean?" the engineer queried in a low voice.

"I just think… I think Tien Shin may yet prove a problem."

"The Fire Lord would never betray his first born son," Chieng scoffed, but worry showed in her eyes, "The idea is preposterous."

"Betray?" Rhiannon answered, "No, but based on what Gan said earlier about Tien Shin questioning the timing of my message to Gan's father… I'm worried."

No one offered a reply. Rhiannon wrung her hands.

Chieng had been initiated into Rhiannon's secret after Gan had barged in that day to recount the conversation in question. Had the raven haired engineer been left unaware of the exotic governor's talents she would have dismissed such concerns. After few moments to consider the governor's words, however, she reconsidered.

"I withdraw the request."

Satisfied, Iroh turned to the captain of the Inferno.

"What about the other communication?"

Gan handed him the scroll tube he had been holding in his hand. It was already open. Gan had read it, but despite its tidings found no enjoyment.

The young general looked down impassively at the scroll tube in his hands. He recognized its' provenance instantly. Anyone from the Fire Nation capital would. The cheap, papery covering and the balsa wood stopper revealed it as a copy of one of the daily news rags that was sold in every marketplace each morning for a copper.

"It came with the order from your Father to return home," Gan supplied in a subdued tone.

Iroh handed it back.

"Read it to me then… I can't. I just… can't."

Gan eyes brimmed once again, but he held back the tears. He removed the scroll and read it aloud.

VICTORY AT MEQUON!

Fire, the Superior Element, has triumphed! The capital has just received word from Imperial Governor T'zan that Crown Prince Iroh, having taken absolute command of the Army of the Great Divide after the disaster at Lake Myojin, has inflicted a crushing defeat against the enemy outside the mighty fortress of Mequon.

In a feat unrivalled in history, General Iroh led his army across the dreaded Dune Sea and surprised the Earth Kingdom's vaunted General Nifong on the steppe lands east of Mequon. Over four days of fighting, the Army of the Great Divide, joined by General Shu, Prince Ozai and the mighty Army of Song, inflicted over 90,000 casualties against the enemy. All reports indicate that the Army of the Granite Mountains, smashed between the two Fire Nation armies, has been totally destroyed and that General Nifong himself is believed to have perished during the battle.

The people of the Fire Nation promptly broke out in spontaneous celebration at the news of the victory, many crying out in joy that our Nation's humiliation at the cursed lake had been justly avenged by the most noble Prince.

The capital was instantly awash in rumors that a triumph would be awarded General Iroh for this glorious victory. The last triumph was celebrated sixteen seasons ago by Field Marsh Jeong Jeong for his victory at the Battle of Shi'Lo. The suspense, however, did not last long. This morning the War College decreed a triumph for General Iroh, and the Fire Lord, rejoicing in the honor won by a most pious and faithful son, has fixed the day of the celebration…"


"That's enough," Iroh commanded.

Gan put a hand on his friend's shoulder and Iroh accepted it. He squeezed his eyes shut, desperately trying to hold back the tears that threatened to unman him once again.

"They aren't even mentioned. They risked their lives and lost… we wouldn't be here if it weren't for them… their names aren't even spoken…is honest defeat against a skilled and noble enemy so shameful? Is dying for the Fire Lord such a crime that one's name should be expunged from history? I can't… I can't bear this."

Chieng knelt before him and took his hands in hers. He looked into her golden eyes, filled with sorrow.

"Accept this, my lord, please… celebrate their lives," she pleaded, "Prince Xian and bless him, that fool Nikon, earned it. The thousands of our comrades who shared their fate earned it. Remember that young man who saved your life at Nomura?"

Iroh felt a wave of shame. He had completely forgotten that young man, almost a child, who had sacrificed his life for him during the surprise attack on his headquarters so long ago. Chieng had almost dismissed his sacrifice then, but she had remembered it and he had not.

He squeezed her hands and nodded.

"Yes, that child earned it," she confirmed, turning unexpectedly to an urgent and formal mode of address, "All glory is fleeting, my lord, but we may give thanks to Agni that the sacrifices of the fallen weren't wholly in vain. Let us remember them and be happy that we could share our lives with them for the time that we did. Isn't that a blessing worth celebrating?"

She let the question hang for a moment while she searched his eyes.

"You have won a tremendous victory for the Fire Nation," she continued, "Stand tall and proud in your chariot during your triumph, General, for it has been nobly won."

Tears ran down his cheeks. He could not stop them. Nodding once he raised her hands to his lips and kissed them. She was wonderful and he loved her.

The shrunken circle of friends broke to prepare for the long journey back to the Fire Nation.



Soft rains had come to Mequon. Transports of every conceivable kind choked the Yangtze in preparation to transport the Army of the Great Divide to Yu Dao where they would transfer to the great naval vessels for the journey home.

Iroh and Rhiannon stood on the dock.

"I should come with you."

"No," he disagreed with a shake of his head, "You are better off here."

She wrung her hands.

"Protecting you is more important than avoiding him!"

"You don't know that you can protect me, Rae," he protested, "No matter what we do we'll be wrong, so whatever is going to happen to me I want to at least know you're safe!"

"I'm such a coward! I hate it!" she cried, burying her face in her hands.

He caught her in a crushing bear hug.

"Stop it! Stop it now!" he commanded, "I won't let you run yourself down like this! You aren't a coward! You and Xian taught me how to be brave, don't you remember?"

"That was long ago."

"Yes, but it's true!" he whispered urgently into her ear, "Just as true that your gift, as much as you hate it – for good reason, I know – saved not only your colony but the entire Fire Nation! The Army of the Song would never have arrived in time otherwise! You kept your head and led the army to victory when I ran off in madness! You are good and brave, and I will protect you! As you have protected me!"

"Yes, you will," she agreed, "though you will pay a price."

"Gladly will I pay," he vowed, his voice thick.

They released each other.

Iroh boarded the transport and the crew rapidly untied the moorings. The boat slid out of its berth and gathered speed as it moved into the current. Neither said goodbye nor lifted a hand in farewell. They had already lost more than they could bear. Each watched the other as they grew smaller in the other's eye, only to finally disappear beyond the horizon.

Here is the last image:



It is no longer entirely accurate, but it' not worth correcting.
« Last Edit: Jun 28, 2016 09:09 pm by Acastus » Logged
Colonel_Brian
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« Reply #146 on: Jun 24, 2016 08:15 pm »

Intense! I was theorizing not too long ago that the message Rhiannon sent would inadvertently lead Tien Shin on concerning her prophetic abilities. That moment between Ozai and Tien was also pretty good. Two scheming and wicked men with an unspoken understanding.

Anyway, predictions time! I've been wondering about Tien's demise. Ozai implied that he has some dirt on his step-brother and I wonder what it is? Proof that he killed Xian? Or something...vile? Although I have not watched Caligula (and never will), you mentioned that an upcoming chapter has a scene inspired from it. And though I feel confident that we'll never see Roman-style debauchery  on a family-forum, I do think there is evidence that Tien is wretched in his private life. He accompanied Macro on his night out and they killed and mutilated a prostitute. Rhiannon also called him "mommy's little monster," which sounds pretty suspicious. So maybe Tien will meet his demise following a scandal? Though I recently had an image of him meeting his end like Sejanus. A man accustomed to executing people for treason -- only later to be declared a traitor himself. That would truly be a very fitting and inglorious way for him to die, as Gao promised. He and Iroh will, of course, have their infamous duel; though it isn't clear that Tien Shin will be killed during it.

And though this is a silly question -- does Tien Shin have bangs, or is his hair just unruly because of the fighting? If he does, than he looks a lot different than I thought. I always imagined that he looked kind of like Zhao-- only younger, better looking, and with black hair and a widow's peak. Once again, silly question though that line stood out for whatever reason.

Good chapter. I like the entire middle section. So many have died to make Iroh's victory possible, and the Fire Nation pretends like they don't even exist! It highlights one of the things wrong with their society and why, despite their technology, they are destined to fall like the ancient Earth Kingdom before them.

EDIT: Anyway, if I may, I think that you should probably reduce the distance between Mequon and Omashu by half (or even down to 300-400 leagues; the latter isn't that far away from the former). Though it probably doesn't matter by this point. I don't think any of your other readers are fixated on geography, but it's just something that caught my attention. So make with that what you will.
« Last Edit: Jul 01, 2016 10:34 am by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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Victim of the gelatinous cube.


« Reply #147 on: Jul 08, 2016 09:30 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom
All original content and characters © Acastus
Based in part on a scene from Caligula, screenplay by Gore Vidal, and Patton


Chapter LVII – The Triumph

The storyteller had withdrawn. With the conclusion of the terrible battle and the loss of their great hero, the interest of Trimazu’s audience had rapidly waned. Many now slept soundly at their tables, while others engaged in low conversations with their partners or friends. Even Chen Ho had drowsed while still sitting up, a talent often mastered by the nobility.

The Fire Nation prince and his uncle, however, maintained close attention despite their exhaustion. The former, like a child at bedtime, wanted to hear the end of the story. The triumph of Mequon and the infamous duel that followed were subjects of intense and timeless interest. The latter cared only to escape the detection that had seemed so unavoidable at certain points earlier in the evening.

Iroh had noted the audience’s subdued reaction to Nikon’s death. Perhaps this was out of indifference or emotional fatigue after many hours of gore laden battle description. Their heart strings may simply have been played out. Iroh, prepared for the moment after having shamed himself earlier over the death of his cousin, mirrored the audience’s indifference and betrayed no outward sign that he cared for the man whose life had just ended.

Inside, the memory of storming into the Corona to find his friend’s lifeless body burned more than any other conjured that evening. Only at that moment so long ago, when the world had frozen and his mind had burst into flame, could he truly say he had felt hatred. Anger he had felt many times, but not hatred. Standing over Nikon’s crushed body, he had discovered hatred within him. Hatred for Tien Shin, for the enemy, for the war… for himself.

Those feelings had long since abated. He had had thirty years to consider them. Now there was only the grief, the loss, and the bitter wisdom that hadn’t prevented the loss of his son years later at the lonely gates of Ba Sing Se.

He offered a brief prayer in his mind as the Storyteller took the stage once more, perhaps for the final time that evening.

“I loved you, my friend, and I have missed you terribly…not a day passes that I don’t remember you and wonder what our lives might have been like without war. Wait for me in the Spirit World… I have one great responsibility left… one more duty for this soldier to perform, but then will I come to see you, Xian, my beloved Lu Ten and all our friends who have passed since. Our family will be together again, I promise.”

He opened his eyes to see that Gao had taken up his position once more, his thin frame still erect, his white hair still in perfect place, looking much better than his audience. He bowed low to the master of the house and made the customary motion to ask for permission to continue.

The moment stretched and Gao received no reply. Trimazu was busy. At some point during the last hour servants had brought the obese merchant sack after sack of dispatches. He currently had two scrolls in his hands and was reading both, his eyes darting quickly back and forth between them. Scrolls and tablets littered the table around him. He scribbled notes and instructions using a large quill pen as he went. A larger scroll tube with red stoppers caught Iroh’s attention, but he could not make out the markings.

“Trimazu!” Governor Lin finally exclaimed, expelling the name through gritted teeth, “Answer him!”

The fat man looked up, a look of surprise on his face. He swept the room with his gaze and was apparently unclear where all the people had come from and what they were doing there.

A servant appeared at his shoulder.

“The Planter’s Moon Feast, your Hugeness, the storyteller begs permission to continue,” he quickly supplied in a hushed tone.

“Oh, yes!” the fat man exclaimed, realization dawning on his rounded face, “Of course, of course! Continue my talented friend!”

Gao bowed low.

“Unbelievable,” Tao Lin observed, “that you actually stoop to conduct… business transactions at a high feast, Trimazu, especially when you’re the host. I mean, really, have you no manners at all?”

“None worth keeping, Governor, I promise you!” Trimazu admitted, his voice reverting to its customary volume, “Besides, I don’t know what your problem is, I do it all the time!”

Chen Ho raised a lid and took his shot.

“You can’t have manners when you do whatever you want whenever you want, you feckless toad. Manners by definition is the art of restraint, a subject of which you are entirely ignorant.”

“Yes, yes!” Trimazu agreed jocularly, “I do enjoy freedom you’ll never have, my friend, ‘tis but too true! Now, if you two are quite finished with your rude and barbaric interruptions, we can let Gao finish the story.”

“By all means,” Ho agreed, “at this point I’d set fire to the house to be excused from this ridiculous farce.”

“That too can be arranged! I feel like I need to build a bigger one anyway!” he replied with glee before clapping twice, “All right, Gao, let’s finish up now!”

Gao bowed once as the audience again fell quiet. He scanned the room to see who was awake for the coda of such a long tale. High Feast celebrations at the most opulent households frequently went until dawn the next morning, but many fell asleep before the festivities concluded. He was pleased to see more than half were awake.

“As you command, Master Trimazu,” the storyteller boomed, filling the chamber with his resonant voice, “for now, in parallel to the earlier part of our tale, we will elide the Fire Nation party’s return to their homeland, for very little of note happened, and instead pick up the thread of our story on the day of Iroh’s victory celebration. Here it is worth a brief description of this rare and special event, awarded only to those generals whose victories are deemed worthy of preservation in the annals of time.”

Gao paused and made an extravagant gesture to emphasize what came next.

“For over a thousand years Fire Nation conquerors returning home from the wars have enjoyed the honor of a triumph, a tumultuous parade. In the procession one will see trumpeters, musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rides in a triumphal chariot, dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Often his children or close friends, clothed in white, would ride beside him or on the trace horses. So it was with General Iroh and his friends on their return from Mequon, bloody, but victorious…”



The Golden Road led directly from Showa Field to the Temple of the Sun, the seat of the Fire Nation War College. Eleven miles long, perfectly straight and two hundred and twenty feet wide, the Golden Road was the site of all formal processions in the capital. From coronations to royal weddings, funerals, religious celebrations and triumphs, this was the center of the Fire Nation from which most of the civilized world was now governed.

Today the street was lined with what seemed the entire population of the Capital. Though winter had arrived, Fate had smiled on the procession and provided excellent weather. Tens of thousands of citizens, commoners, warriors and nobility alike, lined the Golden Road from one end to the other.

Many spectators waved standards emblazoned with the symbol of the Fire Nation; others showed likenesses of the Fire Lord and his victorious son. Some held banners with messages for loved ones returning home. Unlike many events in recent years no coercion or even encouragement had been needed to prompt the populace to participate. A victory this large had not been seen in in decades and the people celebrated in earnest what they hoped was the beginning of the end of the war.

A significant portion of the army had returned home to participate and indeed the parade stretched for almost the entire length of the Golden Road. The procession began with the Fire Sages from the Temple of the Sun who blessed the proceedings before they began. They were followed by enormous, colorful representations of the dragons that symbolized each of the Four Corners of the World. Fireworks exploded in cavalcades of rapid snaps and pops behind the paper dragons as they trundled down the Golden Road.

Then marched the victorious Army of the Great Divide. Tien Shin had led with Second Corps, followed by Chieng and Gan with a pair of newly commissioned tank trains, for Corona, Constellation and Firestorm had been left to protect Mequon. Behind them had motored just enough tanks to suggest their importance to the campaign. The machines and the crews manning them, however, had never left the homeland. They were decorations as much as the paper dragons and ceremonial floats.

Next came Iroh’s First Corps, driving before them huge numbers of Earth Kingdom prisoners in chains and vast amounts of spoils taken from the Nasu and the remains of the Army of the Granite Mountains. Most impressively, General Nifong’s armor was mounted on a special covered float and surrounded by piles of captured arms. Some spectators yelled insults at the defeated general’s remains. Others saluted or bowed their heads in respect.

Last of all rode General Iroh, hero of the Fire Nation, basking in the glory of the greatest military victory in a generation. The chariot was enormous, made of precious ebony, painted bright red, finished in gold and trimmed in bright steel. The machine was drawn by four exceptionally rare and beautiful horses. There was only a handful in the whole Fire Nation.  All were owned by the state and used only on such momentous occasions as these.

As tradition dictated, he wore a red cloak bordered in a broad stripe of gold. In his hand he held the red baton of command. He stood tall and proud in his chariot as the woman he loved had bade him, but inside he desperately wanted it just to be over. Pushing aside his feelings, he waved and smiled as the procession advanced towards its termination at the Temple of the Sun.

The citizens shouted his name in endless repetition and many tossed wreaths of orchids and carnations at him. The air was filled with the petals of lotus blossoms and roses thrown by spectators from the second and third stories of the buildings that lined the road. Those who had lost family members in the campaign held up the urns containing the remains of their loved ones and shouted thanks for returning them home.

Beside him in the chariot rode a beautiful young woman dressed in a simple white tunic. She held a golden crown over his head symbolizing the victory that had been won. Iroh only recognized her as Leng, Nikon’s surviving tank driver, after the event began. He wanted to speak with her, for he knew she was one of the few who shared his grief, but he had no opportunity before the parade began and it is was not customary for the conqueror to have conversation with his attendant.

The parade route took two hours to traverse. His outward countenance remained intact, but he could not stop thinking about the friends he had left behind.

At one point midway through the procession an old man in rags burst through the wall of guards that lined the street. He hobbled on arthritic legs, but nevertheless managed to approach the victorious general before he was caught. Iroh stopped the chariot.

The vagabond knelt on one knee, spread his arms wide in a gesture of obeisance and addressed the hero of the Fire Nation.

“Hail, General Iroh!” he warned in a quavering voice, “For your sake and the Fire Nation’s, my lord, do not go in the Temple!

Two guards appeared who instantly thrust the old man to the ground.

“Enough of that you old badger mole!” scolded one, “You’re lucky we don’t run you through for approaching his Highness like this!”

“No,” Iroh reprieved with an indulgent wave of his hand, “it’s all right, but why do you say this old man? What’s in the Temple for me to fear?”

The old man, his hands now bound behind him, looked up with devastated eyes, “Your doom, General… and hers.”

This brought Iroh up short. He looked at the man again, but saw no likeness of the Ainu people in him. The young general hesitated.

“All right you, get up!” the soldier began again, roughly yanking the old man to his feet and shuffling him away.

His heart suddenly cold and tight, he tapped the reigns and the chariot moved forward once more. The press hadn’t noticed the delay and the procession went on as it had before.

He wondered at Rhiannon’s vision described to him at Mequon.

Is today the day?

Finally, when Iroh thought it would never end, the Temple of the Sun came into sight. As he approached the steep set of stairs leading up to the temple the crowd began to quiet.

There on the steps stood Field Marshal Jeong Jeong and an honor guard ready to escort him to the War College. On his left stood, to his instant displeasure, Tien Shin and the Commander of the Guard, Yotaku Macro. Chieng and Gan, resplendent in their dress uniforms, stood on his right. Alone among all participants Tien Shin wore weapons, the twin, blue enameled tessen he wore at his sides, deadly though they were, were unique in that they were considered decorations and therefore permissible inside the temple.

The chariot came to a stop and the spectators fell silent in anticipation. He surveyed the crowd once with a sweeping motion of his head before stepping onto the street. Leng picked up the edge of Iroh’s cloak as he passed and made sure it did not trip him. She stepped forward on the chariot’s runner, placed a gentle hand on his shoulder and whispered in his ear.

“Ye have won the greatest of glory, General, worshipped and loved by all, but remember this,” she reminded him quietly, “that thou art mortal and someday ye will return to the dust from which ye came.”

Iroh looked at the serious girl who had just delivered the famous warning given to every recipient of the Fire Nation’s supreme honor.

“Yes,” he replied in a subdued voice, “If I have learned anything… it is that.”

He looked up the wide, white steps that ran steeply to the foot of the temple.

Xian, dear cousin, you should stand in my place… and Nikon, my friend, you were a better warrior and a better friend than I will ever be…

He began his ascension and soon met the party that awaited him. Jeong Jeong saluted him sharply and bowed low, Macro and his attendants instantly following his lead.

“Hail, Prince Iroh! Your homecoming is a joyous event, indeed.”

“Greetings, Field Marshal.”

“Let me be the first to salute you as General and welcome you as a brother to the War College of the Fire Nation.”

They took each other by the right elbow in personal greeting.

“I am honored.”

“Your actions have brought you honor. I’m sorry for the loss of your cousin. Prince Xian was loved by the people and respected even among our bitterest enemies.”

“I thank you. He was the noblest of us all. Are they prepared for us inside?”

“Yes, the Fire Lord and the Cabinet are assembled in anticipation of your arrival.”

“And how is the Fire Lord’s mood today?” inserted Tien Shin.

Jeong Jeong paused and adopting a guarded expression scanned the skies, “Like the weather.”

Looking about him, the elder Prince replied, “Excellent – the weather’s good today.”

The Field Marshal nodded once and replied darkly, “Changeable.”

“No matter,” the elder prince replied with a wide smile, “This is a day of celebration and I have news that will no doubt interest the Fire Lord.”

Iroh and Gan shared a brief glance at the sinister statement.

Turning his icy stare away from Tien Shin, Jeong Jeong once again addressed Iroh, “I welcome you as a brother in arms, General Iroh, but you may come to regret your elevation. Since you departed for the Earth Kingdom, eleven of our fellow officers have been executed for treason – including Master Chen and General Ho.”

“I am sorry to hear of this, Field Marshal. We cannot afford to waste such talent if we hope to win.”

“They were all good men.”

“If they were all good men, Field Marshal,” Tien Shin questioned with a knowing smirk, “how could our beloved Fire Lord find them guilty?”
 
Jeong Jeong looked at Iroh’s step brother with undisguised disdain.

“You have a gift for logic, Prince.”

Iroh wondered how long it would be before Jeong Jeong himself was accused. Tien Shin’s expression left little doubt it would not be long.

The Field Marshal turned back to Iroh.

“Let us proceed, General, the Fire Lord awaits you.”

They marched up the steps and the crowd began to cheer again. The crowd would not disperse until he entered the Temple of the Sun itself, for this was a rare and wondrous event. The arched, double doors of the Temple were made of pure gold and stretched three stories tall. Only the Fire Lord and the elected members of the College were allowed to pass them and only upon the declaration of war or upon the conclusion of peace.

The only exception to this strict rule was that during the celebration of a triumph the party of the conqueror would be allowed to pass the doors where inside the Fire Lord, the Cabinet and the War College waited to receive him. The last time the doors had been opened was sixteen years before, and tradition dictated that the conqueror was escorted, if possible, by the last victor to win the honor.

They reached the top of the stairs. The golden doors loomed up before them. Huge fire pots blazed on either side.

The crowd had gone silent again. They waited for the signal as did Iroh and his party. Moments later a huge gong peeled loudly from inside the temple.

Iroh spread his legs wide, drew his breath to regulate his chi and swiftly released five separate streams of hot orange flame at the door. The ornate locking mechanism on its frame received the streams of fire. Slowly, but with gathering speed, the intricate keys, circlips and cylinders began to move and spin. Iroh’s river of flame went out just as the lock snapped open.

The great gold doors swung open noiselessly on rhodium hinges. The press erupted with cheering and screaming. Fireworks exploded throughout the capital.

He turned his head to glance at Chieng, her hair a shining stream of midnight in the bright sun, and was rewarded with the most brilliant and loving smile he had ever seen. For a brief moment, he was happy, the happiest man alive.

General Iroh entered the Temple of the Sun in triumph as his father and grandfather had before him.



A/N: Would you believe this is the scene that started the whole story? This was the first image in my mind before I even had a plot. Iroh, returning home from the wars in triumph, his armor burnished and bright in the noonday sun, riding his chariot in glory through the streets of the capital to be received with honor by the Fire Lord…sadder, but wiser on his way to becoming man we knew and loved in the show…

does Tien Shin have bangs, or is his hair just unruly because of the fighting?

No bangs, your description closely mirrors my own.
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« Reply #148 on: Jul 08, 2016 09:56 pm »

No debauchery. Cool.

Anyway, I'm really partial to the Roman references. The tradition of a conqueror returning home in triumph is very fitting for a Fire Nation setting. The old man's warning was likewise well done. Reminds me of Julius Caesar. Though, I doubt it's conclusion will be as bloody.

I wonder if that scroll with the red stoppers on it, are Fire Nation wanted posters. If so, I'm surprised. That suggests Trimazu really doesn't know if Xian and Lee are really Iroh and Zuko. He's probably too drunk to notice, though I won't sell him short just yet. I think he knows, but is either indifferent to the fact (maybe he's a member of the White Lotus? Though that seems unlikely) or biding his time.

I also fear his house might burn down... Shocked That line seemed to forshadow that it will.

I wonder why Tien is so happy though? I'm trying to remember if there is anything from the previous chapters that might give us a clue. He seems very adamant about bringing up the fact that Iroh technically usurped control of the army, but as Iroh has said, it seems very unlikely that Azulon is going to punish his son for saving the Fire Nation. So. I question if that is really his play. I suppose he could also bring up the fact that Iroh tried to strangle him in front of dozens of witnesses, but that doesn't seem damning enough. I don't know, but I'm sure the answer will be good!

Lastly, I like the mood you built here. The Author's note as the bottom provided a nice commentary on this transition in Iroh's life.

This chapter also has an undertone of doom which I find appropriate now that we're at the end of the story. On the surface things can't be better. The Fire Nation is victorious, Iroh is a hero, and has the affections of the woman he loves, but it's all going to come crashing down. By the end of this episode, he'll be in chains. I can't wait for the rest. Three chapters left!
« Last Edit: Jul 09, 2016 09:55 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
Colonel_Brian
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #149 on: Aug 09, 2016 08:25 pm »

I'll post what I wrote on Fanfiction.net for the benefit of posterity:

Chapter 58
--
I don't know whether to be joyful or sad with each successive update. We're almost done here. After that no more Prince Iroh!

Anyway, this chapter contained a number of unexpected twist. I never would have thought that Azulon knew about Rhiannon's gift all along. I bet Tien Shin is disappointed that his plan to bust Iroh didn't go as he probably expected.

It's also confirmed that Chieng is the mother of Lu-Ten? I guess there is a little bit of a happy ending to this tale (at least in that regard). Though I suspect that they won't actually get married until after Iroh returns from his exile.

Though I wonder when Chieng is going to spill the beans about Xian? She withheld her suspicions earlier on because Iroh was preoccupied with the Battle of Mequon, and couldn't afford to spend too much time worrying about Tien Shin's involvement with his cousin's death. The battle's now over, so I guess we're going to see something about that very soon. In addition, Iroh still has to confront his step-brother over Nikon's death.

Overall, this was another enjoyable chapter. The confrontation between Liu and Iroh managed to be both suspenseful, and a little humorous. I feel as though I've seen that scene play out many times before, I don't know where though.

Azulon also comes off as pretty whimsical, which I don't mind at all. He's often portrayed as very morose, but he can play the part he did here very well.

Can't wait for the next update!

Chapter 59
--
I should have known that Ozai would be the one to spill the beans about Xian. He found the encoded message back in chapter 56, didn't he? And he probably took them away, knowing that Iroh would have reacted violently and suffer banishment.

With that said, I found the conclusion of the story in the past very satisfactory. Though the nature of how the duel came to be seemed a bit too perfunctory in my opinion. Iroh killed Tien Shin out of passion, which meant that we didn't get to see him weigh the consequences of killing his step-brother. Though, I feel as though Azulon's comment toward the end was meant to address that. In that had Iroh planned this out, he would have likely been sentenced to death.  

The duel itself, however, was all that it was promised to be. You're manner of describing fast-paced action has gotten very good (not that it wasn't good before) and you did a good job creating the scene, as it spiraled out of control.

Now that we are but a single chapter from being done, I wanted to ask you some more detailed questions about this wonderful story. In what ways has your story changed since you began writing it many years ago? Did certain themes that were prominent before end not being as important? Did new new themes rise up? Did the significance of certain characters changed in any interesting ways?

I'm also kind of interested in knowing more about the relationship between Iroh and Tien Shin. How recent is their parent's marriage? I ask because I always got the impression that the two did not grow up together, which meant that they likely never considered one another family. Though Tien Shin's comment about Iroh being unworthy of his father (along with Iroh's comment about Tien Shin wanting to forget that Azulon was not his natural father) suggest that he likely viewed Iroh as a rival to Azulon's affections.

Lady Ila was also a welcomed presence in this chapter. She is more subtle than her son in her manipulations, though I suppose she is also genuinely sad that her son is dead.

Well anyway, bring on the final chapter. I can't believe this story is done. You've pulled off an amazing feat, by sticking with this story and seeing it through to the end. Prince Iroh has played such a big part in my enjoyment of the Avatar fandom, that it'll be hard to see it go. So I suppose once next Friday rolls around, I'll finally have your permission to die. Wink
« Last Edit: Aug 10, 2016 11:15 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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