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Author Topic: Prince Iroh [T] [Complete]  (Read 47257 times)
wainwright-chan
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hrrrgh!


« Reply #25 on: Sep 06, 2006 11:13 pm »

that was by far my favorite chapter
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« Reply #26 on: Sep 06, 2006 11:20 pm »

I agree with Wainwright!
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Acastus
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« Reply #27 on: Sep 15, 2006 09:26 pm »

Avatar: The Last Airbender Created By: Michael Dante DiMartino, Bryan Konietzko
Avatar: The Last Airbender Owned By: Nickelodeon, a subsidiary of Viacom

Based partly Msgr. James H. O'Neill's Prayer for General George C. Patton
All original content and characters © Acastus


Chapter X "The General"

"The Fire Nation fleet set sail that next morning," Gao concluded in his charming baritone, "I would tell you more of that journey, esteemed guests, but very little of interest happened. After several weeks at sea, Xian's army disembarked as planned in the Gulf of Gela."

Iroh was snapped rudely out of his shared memory of that night by a spray of liquid from his left. The retired general lurched to avoid the spray, startling his nephew who stood up to prevent his uncle's ponderous frame from slamming into him.

The source of the explosion was obvious. Trimazu had spit an entire mouthful of wine onto the table and floor in front of him.

"What? WHAT?" the merchant thundered in fury at the old storyteller.

Gao turned in dismay, his eyes betraying more than a little fear, "I beg pardon, Master. How have I offended?"

"What do you mean, "how have I offended"? Are you out of your mind? You're going to tell me with a set up like that nothing happened? Nothing?"

Gao was flabbergasted, as were most of the guests. Some of the party goers, however, tittered at the merchant's outburst, though whether it was because they understood his complaint or were merely responding to his usual over the top delivery was unclear.

"Set up?" repeated the storyteller as if he'd never before heard the words strung together in such a way.

"Yes, a set up! That Chieng sounds hot. You just know she's one of those sassy, sexy, devilishly smart types who delights in playing hard-to-get! Just like those Genji stories. And now you're going to tell me that she doesn't end up with one of these guys?" His voice increased in intensity as he spoke. Then, pinching his nose he continued, "Please, don't offend my nostrils with such a heaping pile of dung!"

Releasing his nostrils Trimazu continued hopefully, "Come on, she ends up with Iroh, doesn't she? Confess!"

His ears and cheeks burning, Iroh raised his wine glass and drank heavily. Over the rim of his goblet, Iroh eyed his nephew, who returned the look with some surprise. Air accompanied the wine down the retired general's wind pipe and he erupted in a coughing fit, breaking eye contact with the young Prince.

"Uh, no, Master, she doesn't end up with Iroh," Gao replied.

"Okay, she ends up with that rake Nikon then, right?"

"No."

"The noble Xian?" the fat merchant wheedled eagerly.

"No."

"So she ends up with Tien Shin, then?" Trimazu concluded in horror, "How vile!"

"Uh, forgive me, Master, but, no, she doesn't "end up" with anyone," replied Gao, "at least not in this story."

"Yeh, okay, fine," the merchant replied in frustration, "maybe she doesn't get married or whatever, but we're going to get some hot sex, right?"

"No."

"Are you sure?" the merchant questioned in a scandalized voice.

"Yes."

"What?" the Merchant bellowed, "You mean no sex at all? What kind of a crappy story is this? What the hell am I paying you for?"

At this Trimazu picked up a guava fruit from one of the many plates in front of him and lobbed it at the old storyteller, who dodged the fruit with some difficulty.

"Crappy?" Iroh muttered, his eyes wide in dismay at the statement.

"You'll have to forgive him, Master Storyteller," Chen Ho inserted in a slightly slurred voice, "your story was the closest thing Trimazu was ever going to get to actually experiencing sex with a woman."

Few heard this brazen remark, but Trimazu turned to his neighbor, laughed and replied in a normal voice, "At least since your wife died, my dear Chen, but this is neither the time nor the place for me to relate my enthusiastic efforts to alleviate that poor woman's acute suffering!" Trimazu turned back to the Storyteller who stood in fear before him and barked so that the entire hall could hear him, "Gao! What is this crap? I demand an explanation!"

"I apologize for offending, Master," Gao begged, bowing low, "Had I known the requirement was for romance, I assure you I have many tales of the wild at heart whose passions overcome all reason. Do you wish me to stop, Master, and begin another tale more to your liking?"

Trimazu's face contorted with a sour look and with a gesture of frustration replied, "Oh, I don't know. I'll let our honored guests decide." Turning to Iroh he inquired, "What do you say, Xian? Do you want to hear more? Or should we ask for a Genji story?"

A veil of silence descended suddenly upon the audience and all eyes turned to Iroh. He and his nephew had been an object of curiosity among the guests when they had first entered the room, but the fascination had quickly died away. Parading around a couple of day laborers in the middle of a high feast for the nobility was probably neither the first nor the most outrageous stunt the merchant of Shanxi had perpetrated in his time. Iroh was keenly aware of the attention focused upon him. Although most of the faces were smiling, the sensation was most unpleasant and not out of any sense of modesty or embarrassment.

Trying to put the odd sense of mingled fear and shame out of his mind, Iroh's eyes panned around the room. Several audience members cried out for the story to continue. A few others yawned.

Then, to his surprise Iroh found himself replying, "Uh... no, Lord. I'd like to hear more," turning to the storyteller he continued, "Our noble storyteller seems... very well informed. I wonder if he might know something of General Nifong? Is he not the ill fated hero of our story?"

The audience members who had cried out for the story to continue clapped loudly at this response. Trimazu's sour look disappeared instantly. The merchant slapped himself on the forehead and cried, "Of course! An excellent idea! It's not as good as some steamy sex, but it will do! Gao, tell us what you know of old Deng the Hammer, for how can we have Xian without Deng Nifong? The very idea is monstrous."

At this Governor Tao leaned over, smiled and raised his fist in hearty agreement with Iroh, saying, "Excellent choice, Xian! General Nifong is a great Earth Kingdom hero worthy of celebration. I was too young to serve with him, but my brothers did. O that we had such leadership now!"

The old storyteller breathed a sigh of relief and replied to Iroh, "An excellent suggestion, my humble friend, and you make it at exactly the right moment," then in a conversational tone, "Tell me, you seem of Governor Tao's age, is General Nifong your hero too?"

Zuko folded his arms over his chest and surveyed his uncle, restraining the urge to snort derisively. Iroh looked down for a moment before replying, "He always had my respect."

The retired general looked briefly to his left to find the Merchant of Shanxi regarding him steadily, a slight smile on his face.

"Shall he continue, Lord?" Iroh inquired.

Trimazu regarded him a moment longer, made brief eye contact with the young Prince to his right, before replying with a wider smile, "But of course, my lowly friend!" Then in a much louder voice and addressing the wider audience he continued, "I'm paying him a fortune, haven't I said that yet?" Snapping his fingers he bellowed, "Gao, get on with it now!"

The old storyteller bowed, turned to the audience and resumed his tale. With a solemn expression he began, "Lake Myojin was Deng Zev Nifong's greatest victory – and his last..."
The man in green armor stood at the edge of the scrub desert, his back towards the richness of the Nasu plain. Before him on the horizon lay the vast expanse of the Dune Sea. The sun had long since set and the sky was illuminated by myriads of stars. A cold wind blew off the desert floor, ruffling the man's uniform. Crickets chirped loudly in the underbrush as the bushes sighed in the wind above them.

Approaching footsteps alerted the man to the presence of a newcomer. He knew the identity of the intruder by the rhythm of his footsteps.

"Yes, Captain?" he inquired without turning.

"Are you all right, General? You've been out here for awhile and we were beginning to get worried."

General Nifong, for of course that is who he was, continuing to contemplate the desert in the distance, replied, "Your pardon, Captain. I'm fine. I've just forgotten how cold it gets in the desert at night."

The younger soldier shuddered slightly and tugged his cloak more closely about him and replied, "Very cold, sir."

The wind continued to whip by for a few moments before the General continued, "I saw several riders. Have our...guests arrived?"

"Yes, sir. A new Fire Nation army has landed in the Gulf of Gela under the command of Prince Xian."

The aide hesitated, then closed his mouth.

"And?" prompted the General at the pause.

"Well, the reports are confused, sir. Three messengers arrived at the same time. The earliest report is already four days old. The latest is from this morning. Apparently the Fire Nation army has already disembarked, joined up with the Army of the Great Divide from Mequon and forded the Arno."

Deng exhaled and shook his head.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we had been expecting them to arrive much further south, so..."

"Yes, I know. Who's first and how soon, then?"

"This is where it gets confusing, sir. General Jin's infantry held them at the Arno for a day or so, but the Fire Nation troops broke through near Sedan. They've moved with incredible speed. Most of Jin's men were surrounded and overwhelmed within hours." The Captain produced several pieces of paper and began to scan through them, his brow creased in concentration, "After the breakthrough, the enemy divided into several columns." He handed the papers over to his commanding officer and continued, "Looks like they are quickly encircling those parts of General Jin's army that are still fighting."

Nifong flipped through the pages and asked, "Where are their vanguards headed?"

"We don't know," the younger soldier admitted glumly, "All we know is that one column was on the road to Edo and will probably get there sometime tonight. The whole north end of the Nasu plain is afire, General."

"How are they moving so fast?"

The aide hesitated a moment before replying, "They have new machines, sir."

"Describe them to me."

The young Captain described the Fire Nation's latest invention in some detail. The machines spread panic and terror amongst Jin's men. Retreat had turned into a route. Deng said nothing while the younger man spoke.

"I see," Nifong replied, "And how has the general staff reacted to this news?"

"They're concerned, General. I left right after the news arrived, but a huge fight had already broken out between those who want to stick around and defend the Nasu and the rest who want to abandon it and attack Mequon. They're saying that this is the opportunity we've been waiting for to kick the Fire Nation out of the Earth Kingdom and that we shouldn't waste it. Either way, it won't be long before everyone starts asking for orders."

"Of course you're correct." Then turning to face his companion for the first time in the interview he inquired, "So, is she ready then?"

Without blinking an eye or betraying any hint that the question was a non-sequitur, the aide replied, "Yes, sir. She's waiting for you now."

The Earth Kingdom general allowed himself a slight smile and replied, "Thank you, Captain. Tell Madame Wu I will join her in a few minutes. Dismissed."

The young soldier exchanged salutes with his superior and left the way he had come.

When certain that he was alone, Nifong drew a mighty breath and squatted low. Spreading his arms wide with him palms upward he raised a perfectly circular pillar of stone before him. With a twist of his hands the top of the pillar became crenellated and a pattern raised itself on its exposed face. Although the pillar was only a few feet high, he raised a stone to serve as a single step almost as an afterthought. Standing up straight, he then walked up onto the top of the pillar. The pattern on the top of the pillar was the solid, familiar emblem of the Earth Kingdom. He knelt when he reached the center, his arm resting on knee as he began his prayer.

Spirit of the Earth, hear now this prayer from thy most humble servant. Thy divine guidance has ever been the author of my victories and the safeguard of thy people. Yet now the Fire Nation has once again chosen to make war upon us. My heart should overflow with confidence, but it does not. My dreams are dark, and the shadows by day seem so much longer than they used.

I raise my voice now to thee in prayer as I feel the rapid approach of some great turn of events, and beg thee once more for thy divine favor in the struggle to come.

Grant us, O Spirit of the Earth, understanding of our enemy, for courage, strength, determination and skill at arms we hath ourselves in abundance. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon thee that, armed with thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and restore the sacred balance among men and nations.

Deng opened his eyes and stood once more. With a single glance toward the Dune Sea before him, he turned and stepped off the altar of living stone. As he walked back to camp, the pillar dropped back into the earth from which it had sprung.
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 09:56 am by Acastus » Logged
wainwright-chan
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hrrrgh!


« Reply #28 on: Sep 16, 2006 09:30 am »

that was good! excellent!superb!
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Darmani
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« Reply #29 on: Sep 19, 2006 01:01 pm »

Liar there is much sex happening with hot female commander, that or sexual antics.  Its like a physical law.

Okay mebbe not.  This would be after Iroh is likely married and fatherred LuTen (not simultaneously just... ya know)

also ya know the usual, superb, excellent, daring, more more more more, damnit
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« Reply #30 on: Oct 08, 2006 09:08 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 XI "The Reading"

The waxing moon had long since set when Deng arrived at his camp. The sentries saluted as he passed. They, like his aide, had been with him for what seemed a lifetime and they were well aware of their commander's pernoctations. The camp was asleep.

The Earth Kingdom general saw the tent he was looking for. It was the only one made of fabric and not of stone.

He stopped outside of the tent's closed flap. Through its walls a warm light pulsed rhythmically, as if it were the heart of some giant organism. He could feel his own chest tightening as he hesitated. He looked up at the stars in a last, silent appeal for help before ducking into the tent.

Inside a young woman sat on a simple mat before a fire pit. The fire danced and waved wildly as the dry desert wood burned rapidly. A tripod held an iron vessel over the flames. Steam rose in a thick column off the water boiling within.

The woman had long, dark hair, a generous mouth and dark eyes. She looked at the much older man before her with an expression of relief and a concern too pained not to reveal something deeper. She reached up to him, but he waved her off as he dropped down on the mat opposite her.

"You have called, and I have come," she said softly as she dropped her hand into her lap.

The tightening in his chest subsided as he looked at her. He smiled and said equally softly, "As you always have, you have come to help save our people."

"And always will," she replied, looking back up at the Earth Kingdom general with intensity in her voice and despair in her eyes,"– for you."

Their eyes locked for a moment longer before Deng broke contact. Looking down he saw the colorful, wide backs of the cards at her feet.

"We should start," he began apologetically. "Is he asleep?"

She closed her eyes in concentration, and after a brief pause replied, "He is," her voice suddenly calm and certain. She opened her eyes once again, but as she looked at him, he could tell she no longer saw him.

"Have you set your heart on this course, my lord? You know that my gift is revelation, but I cannot control what the cards and the Spirits who speak through them will reveal. Such knowledge can be dangerous, and once revealed it cannot again be concealed." She spoke as if reading from a religious text, though the feeling behind her warning permeated her speech.

Nifong reached behind his back and untied the clasps of his breastplate, which he removed and placed carefully beside him. Turning back to the young woman he replied, "I understand, but you know this must be done."

"Our enemy approaches," he continued, "You have heard the drum beats and seen the fires from afar. Already my commanders wrangle over what to do. Shall we fight them here and now? Shall we bide our time until the winter comes to our aid? Or, shall we dare great deeds and seek to win the ultimate prize? If we were to conquer Mequon, the war might soon be over."

Then, he sighed, and in a softer voice continued, "Ah, if only I could do this, this one thing," he reached out a hand and curled a lock of the young woman's hair back behind her ear from where it had fallen, "to end this war forever. We could all start new lives. The world could wake up from this nightmare and live again. It is all I have ever prayed for, all I have ever wanted," he looked away from her and continued, "For twenty years I've fought, but the war seems to have a life of its own. How strange it seems now that I fight not the Fire Nation, but the war itself."

Nifong shook his head as if to clear such thoughts from him mind and he looked once more at his companion with a slight smile, "See how I drift now in my own thoughts? I think of philosophy, the Spirits and the virtues of a simpler life amidst the maelstrom." Nifong's expression hardened as he continued, "The war has a new face, the face of Prince Xian of the Fire Nation. If I am to destroy him, I must understand him. The Dai Li identified the leader of this new army months ago as the Fire Lord's nephew, the one who grew to fame under General Shu, but that is all. The Dai Li give names and dates, but nothing useful, nothing about the man. They know nothing," he concluded, not without bitterness in his voice.

"That is enough. When was he born?" He told her and she replied, "Then let us begin."

Nifong removed the leather vest and peasant shirt he wore under his armor. Bare chested, he rose to his feet and dragged his mat directly in front of the fire. He dropped the mat and sat down on his knees. Grabbing the two closest legs of the tripod with his hands he leaned over into the steam rising from the iron. Sweat began to pour off him as the heat from the fire and the steam struck his body.

She spoke from somewhere behind him, "You shall be a vessel for your enemy as this iron is a vessel for this water."

The young woman suddenly appeared opposite him. "Close your eyes, my lord, and breath deeply," she ordered calmly. The general complied. He was dimly aware of the woman opening small containers and heard the brief, but unmistakable sounds of glass bottles knocked against each other.

The light of the fire prevented his eyelids from providing complete darkness. The steam, the heat, the sweat and the rosy light that filtered through his eyelids yielded an unpleasant experience. This was compounded by the periodic popping of the dry wood as it burned, which caused small pieces of hot ash to land on his arms and knees. The pit in his stomach had no relation to these uncomfortable sensations, but rather to his fear of what was to come. Though they had done this many times together, it was nevertheless an experience both he and the fortuneteller dreaded.

After some time Deng heard the young woman start dropping things into the boiling water. The steam became acrid and he began to cough violently. The tripod shook as his grip tightened and he fought against his natural instinct to withdraw.

"Breath!" she commanded in an urgent tone.

Deng breathed, but felt no air enter his lungs. His muscles moved, his chest cavity expanded, but he felt nothing fill it. He opened his eyes involuntarily, but his vision was distorted by salty tears.

"Close your eyes!"

Still choking, he closed his eyes once more, this time so tightly that it caused him pain as he tried to drive away salty, acidic tears that burned horribly. He tried to exhale the breath he had never drawn. His chest and lungs shrank in volume, but again he felt no wind pass over his lips.

Then, when the excruciating sensation was finally causing him to panic, something else was added to the vessel and the steam changed once again. The smell turned almost instantaneously from acrid to saccharine. The sensation of breathing returned to him. As he gasped for air he could feel the burning sensation in his lungs smothered as if by a blanket of warm snow. Breathing deeply of the sweet steam, the heat of both the flames and the vapor began to lose their grip on his consciousness. The fire popped, depositing a fragment of burning wood on his arm, but he did not notice.

With great relief he felt himself recede within his own mind and body. He dimly perceived his own breath, but the sensory perception of his extremities was gone. Disconnected from his surroundings, he drifted on a calm internal sea, his body a great hollow shell around him. As if from far away he heard the young woman begin to speak or chant. The words were indistinguishable, but they rose in tempo and power.

As the fortuneteller continued, the serenity of his mind was suddenly broken. In one sickening motion, Deng felt his whole self rush forward at amazing speed. The sensation of acceleration was horrifying as he had no body with which to feel it. He opened his mind's eye and was horrified to see nothing at all. A great blackness rushed at him, the void which terrifies all who fear death.

Then, as suddenly as the acceleration had begun, it was gone. This sensation was replaced by the certainty that he was not alone. A visitor now in his own consciousness, he felt small amidst the caverns of his mind. All about him he could feel the enormity of another being.

His mind's eye suddenly flashed white and then filled with a vision, occupying the void that had so terrified him. An image of an old man with a severe countenance and a finger pointed down at him from a dais was replaced with a startlingly clear visage of the sun setting over a great city. Swept along by the power of these visions, or perhaps memories, Deng had no choice but to allow the sensations of each to wash over him. He felt briefly the soft, warm flesh of a naked woman as the memory of the other's first embrace was replaced by the image of a Fire Nation family, dressed in white. Near them stood a funeral pyre. He saw rather than felt the hand of the other reach out to the figure on the pyre, but he could not touch it.

The vision ended as the young woman began speaking again, and this time Deng could hear the words.

"Can you hear me, Prince?" she asked.

"Yes," his mouth answered, though Deng had not moved his lips, "Where am I?"

"You are safe. Open your eyes."

His eyes opened. Deng saw through them, but could not move them himself.

"Come over here and sit down in front of me."

Without feeling the movement, Deng was aware of his body rising and walking over to where the cards lay. A moment later the young woman faced him once again.

"Show me your hands."

His hands raised themselves of their own accord. Into them she placed the large deck of cards.

"Shuffle these cards and think of what concerns you most. Return them to me when you are done."

His body held the cards, hesitating. "Why do I do this? I am so tired, I must sleep."

"But you are asleep, Prince," she answered in a soothing voice, "this is just a dream. When you finish what I have asked, you will sleep well the rest of the night and wake refreshed."

Slowly his hands began to shuffle the cards. Though Deng could not feel his hands, he felt the thick texture of the cards. In this strange netherworld they seemed to give off a heat of their own. When he was finished he held them out to the fortuneteller, who took them in silence. She looked at the cards for a moment, and placed them before her. Then she stood up and walked behind his kneeling body.

For a few moments Deng simply experienced the odd weight of the double consciousness inhabiting his body. Looking out upon the world as if from the bottom of a well, he was totally unprepared for the sudden, acute pain of two sharp blows that landed simultaneously on either side of his head. The pain was accompanied by an almost audible popping sound as the fortuneteller's cupped palms forced air into Deng's ear canals. In an instant, the other was gone and, like a air bubble rising to surface from the bottom of the ocean, Deng expanded back into his own body. Shuddering uncontrollably he fell over sideways, muscle spasms wracking him as his mind struggled to reassert control.

The young woman walked around Deng's body as he flopped around on the floor like a dying fish.

Carefully she removed the still steaming vessel from the tripod and, opening a flap at the back of the tent, threw out its contents. Turning back to her lordly guest she saw that the spasms were subsiding.

With a final tremble the tremors departed. Deng breathed heavily as relief and a profound weariness swept his body. He was no longer young, and though the life of a soldier had kept him fit, his body made clear each time he was forced to do this that the next might be his last.

He opened his eyes slightly as he felt a damp cloth wipe the sweat off his forehead and saw the young woman staring down at him, her face drawn in concern. He felt her hand slip into his and grip it tightly.

"Don't," she said as he tried to get up. "Just lie there."

He squeezed her hand and replied, "All right."

She leaned over, lifted his head and placed a pillow underneath.

"Tell me, now. What did you see?"

He related to her the visions of the old man, the sun over a great city, the woman and the family in white.

She reflected for a moment before squeezing his hand once and sitting down beside him on her mat. Deng rolled over onto to his side to see the area between them, the wet cloth falling down on the floor. A few feet away lay the deck of cards his hands had shuffled.

"Now I shall cast for him The Tree of Life."

She picked up the deck, drew the first card and flipped it over. The Knight of Cups. Carefully she lay it down before her. She the drew the second card and turned it over. The Two of Swords, and placed it directly above the first card. The third soon appeared, The Five of Cups, which she placed to the right of the second card. Here she stopped and pondered a moment before speaking.

Pointing to the Knight of Cups she explained, "The first card drawn is the Significator card. It represents the person for whom the spread has been made." She looked at the three cards for a moment before beginning her interpretation in a clear, confident voice, "This Prince Xian is a good man in the eyes of all around him, my lord, a decent man in a corrupt age. He is generous, loyal, open and trusting to those he loves. He loves many, and despises few."

Nifong looked down, unhappy at this news, "How can such a man exist among the high and mighty of the Fire Nation? And why has such a man been sent against me now?"

She looked over to him and replied, "I have no answers for those questions. You know well how this must be, my lord," the young woman chided gently. "This reading will tell nothing of the future, only of possibilities. Through these cards the Spirits will speak of his state of mind and consciousness, his hopes, fears and that which defines him. It will not tell you what to do. You can only take what is shown and decide what do on your own."

"I know," replied Nifong with a sigh.

"But that is not all the Spirits tell us with this card. This man sees the true worth of men and takes their measure with ease, but he is also naturally cautious and seldom quick to act or judge. Now, let us hear what the rest have to tell..."

In rapid succession now she flipped over eight more cards and placed them in a pattern before her. The cards all had painted faces on them, the figures wearing elaborate clothing and captured in different poses. Some held scepters and wore crowns, others juggled cups, or wielded swords. A few were dominated by their inscriptions, "The Tower" and "Death".

Nifong exhaled the breath he had been unconsciously holding and pointed at the Two of Swords above the Significator card, "So, what does he want? This position is what he seeks to achieve, right?"

The young fortuneteller looked up at the general and smiled slightly, "You remember much, my lord."

"Doesn't this one represent peace?"

"Yes, my lord, peace, but not necessarily between men or nations. Prince Xian seeks peace of mind. He is torn... tortured by disappointment, so much that he is not as mindful of the present as he should be," she said, indicating the third card, the Five of Cups, "but he is not the one disappointed, another is."

"How can you tell it is not he who is disappointed?"

"The card is inverted, and..." she said, pointing to the crowned figure on the card to the left of the Two of Swords, "The Emperor has appeared. Someone this man holds in high regard has turned against him or...perhaps better to say the connection between them is broken and Xian seeks to mend it."

Suddenly Deng remembered the old man on the dais, "Azulon?"

"Perhaps. The Fire Lord has placed great expectations on his nephew, of that there can be no doubt. Perhaps his father, who fell long ago on the banks of the Song."

Nifong sighed. This was not what he'd expected, but it seldom was.

"What troubles you, my lord?"

"I expected a young hot head, another bloodthirsty, vainglorious monster, burning with hatred and seeking revenge against the man who he'd probably blame for his father's death. Instead, you tell me I face a decent man."

"You expected...?" the young woman questioned.

Nifong, careful not to disturb the cards, swung out his feet and sat up cross legged. Placing his hands together and resting them on his thighs he continued, "I... hoped for that. Yes, I hoped. It's easier that way, to believe you are ridding the world of evil. How much harder it is, when the face of your enemy is kind." Nifong looked down into his lap and continued softly, "We defend our land, our people, our freedom, but I can't help but to think, after burying bodies for twenty years, there is not one shred of justice in this war."
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 09:55 am by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #31 on: Oct 08, 2006 09:08 pm »

[Author's Note: Sorry, had to use two posts for this update, I hit the 20K character maximum for a post!]

The fortuneteller raised a hand to her quivering lip, for the general's confessions disturbed her, "Have you lost faith, then, my lord?"

Nifong looked up, a smile sliding down over his face like a veil, "When in doubt, I'm too well trained in my duty to do anything but go on. Fear not. Now," he said, drawing her attention back to the cards, "what else do you see?"

Still shaken, the fortuneteller returned once more to her cards, "The whole spread speaks of confusion and fear, fear of loss, fear of choice, fear of death. He wants to please, but doesn't see how. His ability to see the truth which has served him so well in life, represented here by The Tower," she said pointing at the card bearing that name below and to the right of the Significator, "is overshadowed... clouded by his fears."

"His friends and subordinates are fiercely loyal, but he is opposed by the Prince of Disks – here," she said, indicating the card of the same name. The figure on this card had one body, but had a face on both sides of its head. It had four hands, each of which held an object, a sword, a bow, a scale and a scroll.

"This person is a man of tremendous ambition and determination, but his path is unclear as well. The Spirits do not reveal in this spread what his fate will be."

Nifong looked down once again and frowned slightly. The fire had begun to burn low. "And the Death card? What is it's meaning here? I know it seldom means physical death."

"Of course he may die, my lord, but you are right to say that isn't what the card means here. The Death card in many oracle decks is called "Rebirth" or "Transformation", and often means some kind of major change. In this spread, it means, in conjunction with the inverted Six of Wands, that during this great turn of events he will win by losing, and all that was before these events will change irrevocably."

"What does that mean? Will I defeat him on the battlefield, then?"

"I don't know, my lord," she replied, "Fortunetelling is an imprecise art, at best."

"It doesn't matter," the Earth Kingdom general replied sternly, getting once more to his feet. "The Spirits have revealed enough. I now know how to beat the man. Now I must learn how to beat his machines."

Deng walked over to his clothes where they still lay neatly on the floor where he had placed them. He picked them up. Still stinking with sweat, he would put them on after he washed.

The young woman got to her feet and stood in front of him. The clear voiced, confident fortuneteller was gone, replaced by the concerned, wide eyed young woman who had greeted him when he had entered.

"Will you let come with you, my lord?" she pleaded, though she knew the answer would be what it had always been. "Please."

He brushed aside her hair once again and shook his head, "No, the time for a new life has not yet come," he replied. As looked into her dark eyes he could not help but feel hope spring forth within him, "Pray for our victory, and perhaps both our prayers will be answered."

Without thinking she stepped forward and kissed him. He hesitated only a moment before putting his arms about her and kissing her back.

He released her and said, "Now go, go tonight. Go far away from the Nasu, for I will fight him here. Find a good place, a safe place and wait for me. I will find you."

He kissed her once more on the forehead as she cried softly in sorrow, clinging to his neck. She hugged him fiercely until he gently disengaged her. She stepped back as he turned to leave.

"I will go, but how long will I wait, my lord?" she asked as he gained the exit of the tent.

He turned once more and replied, "I do not know, perhaps the cards can tell you."

With that he left. Wracked with uncertainty she eyed the cards that had not been used in Prince Xian's reading. They lay in a neat pile a few feet from her. Making her decision, she gathered them to her and cast a reading for the other mind that had shuffled the cards that night. When finished, she cast the spread and wept at what she found.

In the morning she was gone, just as she had promised, but Deng Zev Nifong never saw her again.
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 09:54 am by Acastus » Logged
Sapphira
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« Reply #32 on: Oct 09, 2006 04:21 pm »

I'm surprised no one has commented on this chapter yet...

I loved the mood and scene of this chapter--Nifong's vision-journey must have been difficult to write (or at least, I would think) and you pulled it off wonderfully.

With each chapter, I get more involved!  Acastus you have a great gift for fleshing out your characters, even the smallest ones.  Keep it up!
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« Reply #33 on: Oct 16, 2006 08:40 pm »

I admire your dedication to original characters. Wonderful job on the vision, by the way.
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« Reply #34 on: Oct 20, 2006 06:45 pm »

I'm surprised no one has commented on this chapter yet...

I loved the mood and scene of this chapter--Nifong's vision-journey must have been difficult to write (or at least, I would think) and you pulled it off wonderfully.

With each chapter, I get more involved!  Acastus you have a great gift for fleshing out your characters, even the smallest ones.  Keep it up!

I am also amazed how you wrote the vision...

This story may be based on characters from the Last Airbender, but for me it has become something so much more.
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« Reply #35 on: Nov 01, 2006 06:07 am »

Hello!

I registered to this forum just so I could share a few thoughts with this amazing story.  "Visionary" hardly begins to describe it, no pun intended. Wink

I am a little bothered by the idea of slavery being permitted in parts of the Earth Kingdom, but I suppose this  is something to be expected on a continent as big as it is (I assume that the Earth Kingdom is about as large as Asia and Australia).

[Edit: I must ask, though, if you are on the writing staff for Avatar.  Your writing is simply too good to for you not to be.]
« Last Edit: Nov 01, 2006 06:47 am by arthuroys » Logged
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« Reply #36 on: Nov 20, 2006 09:23 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 XII " The Art of Lightning Warfare"

The echoes of Gao's voice traveled up and down the banquet hall until silence reigned. Zuko looked first at his uncle, who appeared lost in thoughts of melancholy as he stroked his unkempt beard, then at Trimazu, who was looking past Iroh with a similar expression.

After a few more moments the Storyteller concluded, "That morning, after seeing that the young Fortuneteller had obeyed his command, he began to order his army's affairs for the long struggle ahead. Thus did General Nifong prepare for his final conflict with the Fire Nation."

At this the Storyteller broke, as if between the acts of a play. Many audience members used the pause as an opportunity to shift in their seats, motion to a servant for a refill or, as Gao himself did, take a long drink from a nearby glass.

The young Prince turned away from his neighbors to look stonily at the panorama before him. He felt sure the gibberish about Nifong's odyssey was a fool's tale, but this was not the time to question his uncle about it. He brooded silently over the many other questions raised by the Storyteller's tale, but they too would have to wait for a more appropriate time, so he suppressed them viciously.

With no other outlet for his swirling emotions, a question borne of selfish anger erupted in his mind, "Why did he hide all this from me?" The anger converted instantly to shame, however, as another, quieter part of him answered without hesitation, "Because you never thought to ask." Unnoticed by anyone the banished Prince blushed slowly and looked down.

The audience settled as Gao resumed his position and began anew...

"Let us return, noble lords, to the Princes of the Fire Nation. So far these men have been revealed to you as valiant opponents of the corrupt and ambitious Tien Shin, and I have not misrepresented them in this regard."

"But now you must see them in an altogether different light," said the Storyteller as he raised his hand and the power of his voice slowly increased, "See them now as enemies of the Earth Kingdom, enemies whose twin goals were nothing less than the destruction of our nation and the enslavement of our people! For it is a truth of life that good men are often the authors of the most terrible evils. So it was with Prince Xian and Prince Iroh during the Summer of Terror."

"Oh yes, my friends, now we are come to the dark times. The Fire Nation's mighty armored legions made possible an entirely new way of battle. Years of preparation, training and planning had resulted in the lethally precise art of "Go-Shen" or "lightning war", an art which Prince Xian did unleash upon the world in the course of this dreadful conflict. Without pity or mercy, the Fire Nation once again put forth its power to all crush those who stood against it."

"As the armies of the Fire Lord advanced and the great cities of the Nasu fell before them, tens of thousands of Earth Kingdom soldiers resisted magnificently, but to no avail. The Summer of Terror lasted barely four months, but during that time defeat after crushing defeat yielded at last a rout without order and without purpose. It was, to all outward appearances, the beginning of the end, a time when every heart looked into the future and saw only the gathering darkness..."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Nikon removed his helmet as he ducked into the tent housing Xian's headquarters. It was stifling hot inside. The sun beat down relentlessly outdoors, but there was at least a pleasant breeze. The stench from the still burning city of Edo behind them, however, was inescapable. Though damaged, that mighty city of over a hundred thousand had been captured largely intact and with few casualties. The Fire Lord had been pleased.

As usual, Iroh's friend was in an excellent mood. The uncharacteristically dark thoughts that had plagued him after Master Chen's arrest had departed almost as soon as he had set foot in the Earth Kingdom. Though under Tien Shin's nominal command, Nikon had seen little of him since the Battle of the Arno more than three weeks ago, a fact that improved his attitude tremendously.

Most importantly, his men had performed with skill and honor, and the Earth Kingdom defenders had been destroyed with startling ease. Though he himself had ridden in the point tank many a day and night, the unflinching terror which Chieng Shiung's metal monsters inspired among the enemy hardened considerably the young commoner's sense of security. Nikon had often chuckled to himself at this conceit. How much easier it was to be brave when the most you saw of your enemy was his backside!

He wiped the sweat and dirt off his brow with the edge of the black sash around his waist and surveyed the outer chamber of Xian's mobile abode. The two soldiers on guard inside the tent saluted smartly. Nikon returned the salute with a smile on his face and stepped lightly into the interior of the tent.

Two figures in Fire Nation uniforms were hunched over the high, rectangular table that dominated the room. As he approached he could see a large map spread upon it. The two hovered over the map and worked furiously with colored pencils to mark the position of the front lines, the motion of various units and the identity and strength of various enemy formations. The men at the table paid no attention to the newcomer. A messenger squeezed past Nikon on his right and approached the elder of the two figures. A piece of paper changed hands, the messenger saluted and left.

As the messenger raced by him once again, Nikon smiled broadly and proceeded to rush up between the two figures at the table. Laughing loudly, Nikon looped an arm around the neck of both men and squeezed them together.

"Haha! My map buddies!" the young commoner exclaimed merrily. The sentries began sputtering with laughter behind them as both "map buddies" grimaced and tried in vain to extricate themselves from Nikon's iron grip. He gave them both another hearty squeeze as he concluded with both humor and genuine affection, "I love you guys!" The young tank commander, beside himself with suppressed laughter, released them as they began to curse loudly and struggle against him in earnest.

Straightening his uniform after finally freeing himself, the taller of the two rolled his eyes and replied with a sour expression on his face, "Yes, Commander... you know we feel the same way."

The other, far older "map buddy" then entreated in a surly, but strangely tolerant tone, ‘Great Spirits, Commander, must you do that every time you come here?"

"You know it, my old friend," Nikon replied with his trademark toothy grin and an impudent wink. Then, adopting a more serious countenance he approached the map board and enquired, "Okay, so, what's going on with the Fire Lord's march to victory on this glorious day? Any word on Nifong?"

Brushing himself off and approaching the table the elder man replied, "We've received a few unconfirmed reports, but nothing conclusive."

Nikon nodded once and asked, "Okay, has Ryu reached Inchon yet?"

"Yes, but he requested and was granted permission to bypass it and make directly for Shimonoseki. Apparently they were able to reinforce the city via monorail before Ryu could destroy it."

"All right. Do we know how many they've got penned up in there?"

"They estimated between six and eight thousand."

Nikon pointed at a thin line connecting several cities on the map that headed east to end near the headwaters of the mighty Arno, "So, he's headed east using the Jade Highway?"

"Yes, Commander."

"So they should be in position to penetrate the eastern escarpment and reach Lake Myojin within..." Nikon's forehead creased as he tried to calculate the distance. Ryu was the vanguard of the army at this point as he had encountered the least resistance. Still, half the Nasu plain lay between him and the passes of the Ping Tou Mountains.

"Four weeks," supplied the old soldier, "if they continue to get a free ride."

"That's unlikely, though," injected the younger man as he handed several dispatches to Nikon, "We've gotten half a dozen of these in the past few days, Commander. An Earth Kingdom relief army is on its way from the lake region up north."

Nikon glanced through the papers and handed them back, "Excellent, haha! It's about time Ryu and Tien Shin earned their keep!"

"And what about you, Commander?" inquired the elderly man, "You've pushed much farther to the south than called for by the plan, and now there's a lot of action developing behind you near Nomura."

Laughing he replied, "Yeh, but the plan was to make a pocket around that area anyway, right? Besides," he concluded with another wink, "I still made it to Cam'ron before our beloved daimyo, didn't I?"

Allowing himself a slight, uneasy smile the old man replied, "Yes, Commander, that you did."

"Well, I'm glad to see someone around here is still in a good mood," remarked a familiar, patient voice from in front of them.

The three looked up to see General Xian enter the chamber from a flap on the opposite side of the tent. In his armor he looked much taller and more imposing than he had when Nikon had first met him so many months ago. In his right hand he carried the red baton of command, the symbol of his authority over the Army of the Great Divide. General Ho had been relieved to surrender this artifact as soon as Xian had arrived. A broken man, General Ho had thanked Xian profusely for assuming command and departed on the same tide on which the new army had arrived.

Xian returned the proffered salutes by raising his baton to his forehead with a weak smile. Though the gesture was confident, it looked to Nikon as if his best friend's cousin hadn't slept in weeks. His eyes seemed sunken amidst the blue black pits of his eye sockets. A second sweep over his superior revealed that Xian had also clearly lost weight, though the armor did well to conceal it.

"Good to see you, General. Are you well?" he asked, unable to prevent his tone from betraying his genuine concern.

A shadow passed over Xian's face, but it passed quickly as he replied, "I'm fine, Commander. We're all short of sleep these days."

Nikon frowned. This was obviously a lie, but what could be the matter? The war was going much better than planned – or even hoped. The young commoner looked quickly over at the map keepers, saw the concern in their eyes, and turned back to where Xian rubbed his temples in a giveaway gesture of exhaustion.

After a few moments Nikon cleared his throat and said, "You sent for me, General?"

Xian snapped his head up, and as if waking from a dream replied, "Yes, yes I did."

The general walked over to the map table and gestured for the brigade commander to follow him. Xian then turned and indicated the position of the 5th Armored Brigade on the map, some hundred leagues away to the southeast.

"Commander, your drive to Cam'ron has been brilliant. You have proven resourceful, determined, and brave as I knew you would be," he turned to face Nikon, but despite his words he did not smile, "but now I must ask, why have you swung so far south? Your orders were to head due east after Third Corps captured Argento and completed its pivot eastward."

Nikon's smile faltered and then dropped entirely. He suddenly became aware that everyone in the room was watching him.

Abashed, he pointed at a thin line on the map and replied, "Well, sir, uh, the daimyo took the Cam'ron road away from me, so that left my outfit without a job. Then one of our recon units found a mining village on the edge of the Dune Sea southeast of us. More importantly they reported it was actually sitting on an east – west road that wasn't on any of our maps," growing more excited he continued, "There weren't any enemy units around, so I jumped at the opportunity. I mean, we took the town without a fight, captured the other half of General Jin's baggage train that we didn't already have, and still got to Cam'ron two days before Tien Shin!"

The young commoner's hope that this explanation would please his commanding officer was dashed as the General continued to regard Nikon gravely in silence.

"I see," Xian replied softly after a few moments.

Nikon flushed bright red and looked down in shame. Xian's disappointment was painfully obvious. Though he loved Iroh as a brother, somehow the thought of disappointing this man who had more confidence in him than he had in himself was more dreadful than any other possibility.

"So humbling Tien Shin was worth doubling the number of earthbenders Prince Iroh must now destroy in the pocket around Nomura that you and the daimyo have created behind you?"

"What?" the young commoner asked in shock.

Xian shook his head and continued in a tired voice, "To execute "Go-Shen" properly we must control the size of the pockets we create, Commander. You know this. Encircle too few and we fail to maximize the damage done to our opponents. Encircle too many and the hunters become the hunted."

"If you had obeyed orders you'd have split off at least another three divisions of Earth Kingdom infantry – you did not need the Cam'ron road to do that. And now with half your tanks broken down due to the exertion of your ill-advised race to Cam'ron, you are no longer in a position to help Iroh, are you?"

The question hung in the air, leaden and terrifying in its implication. After a moment Xian concluded in a soft and devastating voice, for Nikon knew that no satisfactory reply could be made, "I asked you to help me whip these people, Commander. You have disappointed me."

The words came as crushing blows, more devastating than any stones that rained down from the heavens during the Battle of the Arno. Struck dumb by Xian's rebuke, Nikon sank to his knees and bowed his head. The sentries and map keepers looked upon the young commander with a mixture of pity and embarrassment, for as much as they genuinely liked him; they knew the censure was warranted.

Seeing the young man's pain, Xian's expression softened. He placed a hand on Nikon's shoulder and said, "It'll be all right, Nikon. Learn from your mistake. Vanity is a disease that works tirelessly to destroy even the best of men, and there is no cure for it. Control it as best you are able, and remember that we are all dependent on each other to achieve the goal set for us by the Fire Lord."

Finding his voice, Nikon replied thickly, "Forgive me, General. I want you and Prince Iroh to be proud of me."

"We are proud of you. You will have a long and glorious life, if only you have the good sense to live it."

Xian looked away and seemed to drift once again as he had earlier. Finally Nikon looked up to see his commanding officer staring past them again at nothing in particular. Xian broke the silence and looked back to Nikon, saying, "Nifong's out there somewhere... waiting for me. Will you be there when the time comes?"

Without hesitation the reply came, "Yes, General, I will."

"Then you will have done all that you can. As for Prince Iroh, he will be tested at Nomura. If he falls, we will be in real trouble. If he crushes the pocket, nothing will stand in our way except Nifong himself. We will see what kind of man he is."

Whether Xian was referring in his last statement to Nifong or Iroh, Nikon never knew.
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 09:53 am by Acastus » Logged
Shadowcat
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Thanks Agnikai!

Shadowcat7x
« Reply #37 on: Nov 21, 2006 05:18 pm »

This is too much awesomeness. What a fantastic story! And I've only read the first three chapters. I'm excited to read the rest when I get the opportunity.

I saw on another thread that you said you based your Trimazu character off Trimalchio in Petronius' Satyricon. That is just sweetness right there. You write him so well, and you give him wonderful characteristics that just bring his personality to life. And there's so much hilarity in this piece. I could imagine his rear end near Zuko. That's just too priceless. And then his "liberating" tip....oh my gosh, I could just imagine Zuko's face!!

I love the way you write. You've got an awesome grasp on the characters. Especially Iroh. You've captured his humor and his wisdom exceedingly well.

I can tell that this fic is going to be one of my very favorite fics ever. Great job and keep up the fantastic work! I'm surprised there's not more people commenting on this piece! It really is a gem in the fan fiction world, considering some of the terrible stuff I've read before.

~*~*~*~

Edit: Okay so, I read the first page of your story and I decided to write down my thoughts, hope you don't mind. So here are some of my random comments while reading:

-"As if the enemy isn't enough for us to contend with, we suffer the evils of treachery within our own ranks as well." I love that you alluded to Ozai's treachery in the future, or maybe even foreshadowing in your own fic. So very cool.

-I love your description of Tien Shen., he's so sinister

-Man, your dialogue and dialect just rocks. And the first discussion between Xian and Nikon was a blast. Very sophisticated, and really enjoyable.

-It's fascinating to see Iroh with a temper, must be hereditary trait. Gasp! He didn't want tea!

-Reading about these characters makes me wish we knew more about the fire nation in the show

-Nikon is such a fun character to read

-"The fact is our nation is losing this war, and we are pledging our lives, fortunes and sacred honor to the task of redeeming the blood of our fathers and brothers who have passed before us." It's really interesting to see the war from a point of view on the fire nation's side. That it isn't about controlling the world, but somehow has evolved into some non-ending brutal struggle for different reasons than it started out having

-You've probably seen pictures Isaia on deviantart did of Young Iroh, I thought they go so well with your tale. I like to think of them when I read your story.

-It's interesting how many different friend figures you have that surrounded Iroh when he was a Prince. It makes me think Zuko was kind of isolated under Ozai's reign - he hung out with his younger sister. Tongue

-You have such knowledge for war tactics and strategies. You're such a well rounded writer! I wish I had your skill for capturing the character's speech and mannerisms. Character merged with all the technical writing is terrific.

-Is Jeong Jeong really that much older than Iroh? I always thought they were closer in age than that.

-I love how ominous Lord Azulon sometimes is, it's great with keeping with the show's view of Ozai. I really enjoyed the conversation between Iroh and Azulon, it's something we don't ever get to see.

-Lol at the beginning of chapter 7 I was like who in the world...oh Trimazu haha. MY goodness, he never ceases to amuse or disgust lol

-"How strange and disturbing it was to hear one's life recounted by another in such a public venue." I love your description of Iroh's discomfort

-Oh the drama and court intrigue! I love this: "My dreams are so dark." Azulon is a madman

-This is so interesting - a parallel between Iroh's youth and Zuko's - rumors of rebellion, family members turning on one another. Iroh and Zuko viewed as fugitives. You connect story elements oh so wonderfully.

-I love the discussion about the ancient earth kingdoms. Things like that are what's so cool about your fic. You go beyond the surface of the cartoon and the basic characters. It's like you really get it, you understand the Avatar world, and we're lucky enough to have you share your insights with us. Are you sure you're not Mike or Bryan?

-Cheing Shung, goodness she's fun to read about, lol in small doses albeit. I think she renders your fic into a PG-13 level. Her and Nikon having to work together = win

-I like the way Iroh is referred to as Crown Prince, or your majesty. Sometimes I forget he's royalty in the show.

Your characters are so much fun. I love Nikon, but I also really adore Xian. Of course my favorite is still Iroh.

Oh my gosh, I've polluted your story. Sorry I won't write such long posts again.

Now on to page 2!

~*~*~*~

Edit: More random comments

-Tale of Genji reference! Bonus points!

-I like this NiFong character, he seems very humble and down to earth.

-Yay for connection to the show with Aunt Wu! And the Dai Li!

-Woah! How cool was that séance kind of thing? You must have a good knowledge and passion for that to know so much about it.

-I love how philosophical and deep the characters are, they actually talk about real things. It's actually a lot more intriguing than a shipping fic which is what I'm used to.

-I'm worried about Trimazu, it appears as though he suspects our firebenders

-Lol map buddies

Okay, okay now I'm done.

I'm blown away. Can't wait for more.
« Last Edit: Dec 04, 2006 03:56 pm by Shadowcat » Logged

Yuko
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<3 Chong


« Reply #38 on: Dec 11, 2006 07:58 pm »

Wow, I can't wait to read this all the way through.

-dashes to print it out-
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« Reply #39 on: Dec 15, 2006 09:24 pm »

Deng Zen Nifong is perhaps my favorite character in your story, Acastus.  Although I do adore the Fire Nation cast and Trimazu makes me giggle, Nifong really resonates.  I thought that the chapter The Reading was brilliant - probably my favorite chapter thus far.  I loved the nod to the Delphic Oracle in the tripod and the smoke Nifong breathes in order to summon Xian.  I also thought that the double reading at the end was spectacular!  A wonderful way to foreshadow and a powerful use of the reading.

When I first read this chapter, I could sense echoes bouncing through my brain.  I am ashamed to say it took me much longer than it should have to place those echoes.  I was absolutely delighted when I finally placed the echo firmly in my favorite work of all time, The Iliad.  The reason that Deng Zev Nifong resonates for me is that his frequency is the same as my favorite hero of all times, Hector of Troy.  Both are noble men, both are good men, both are doomed to die.  It was the very simple way in which you described Nifong removing his breat plate that made the connection for me. 
Quote
Nifong reached behind his back and untied the clasps of his breastplate, which he removed and placed carefully beside him. ... Nifong removed the leather vest and peasant shirt he wore under his armor. Bare chested, he rose to his feet and dragged his mat directly in front of the fire.

There is a scene in The Iliad - my favorite non-battle scene in fact - between Hector, his wife, Andromache, and their infant son Astyanax.  Hector has returned to Troy from the battlefield.  He looks for and finds his wife and son.  Andromache begs Hector to fight no longer.  She tells him that neither she nor their son would survive his death as his death would surely signal the fall of all Ilium.  Hector replies that he can do nothing but fight and see this war through to its end.  He then reaches for his son.  Astyanax is frightened by his father whom he does not recognize in helmet and full body armor.  hector removes his helmet.  You will forgive me for quoting the passage almost in its entirety.  The translation is Richmond Lattimore.
Quote
So speaking glorious Hektor held out his arms to his baby,
who shrank back to his fair-girdled nurse's bosom
screaming, and frightened at the aspect of his own father,
terrified as he saw the bronze and the crest with its horse-hair,
nodding dreadfully, as he thought, from the peak of the helmet.
Then his beloved father laughed out, and his honored mother,
and at once glorious Hektor lifted from his head the helmet
and laid it in all its shining upon the ground.  Then taking
up his dear son he tossed him about in his arms, and kissed him,
and lifted his voice in prayer to Zeus and the other immortals:

...So speaking he set his child again in the arms of his beloved
wife, who took him back to her fragrant bosom
smiling in her tears; and her husband saw, and took pity upon her,
and stroked her hand with his hand, and called her by name and spoke to her,
"Poor Andromache!  Why does your heart sorrow so much for me?
No man is going to hurl me to Hades, unless it is fated,
but as for fate, I think that no man has yet escaped it
once it has taken its first form, neither brave man nor coward. ..."

So glorious Hektor spoke and again took up the helmet
with its crest of horse-hair, while his beloved wife went homeward,
turning to look back on the way, letting the live tears fall.

There is something extremely powerful about a man dedicated to war removing his armor.  It signals a return to a more normal and peaceful time - the calm before the storm, as it were.  The parallels between this chapter and the above quoted passage from The Iliad are quite striking and heartbreakingly beautiful.  In both we glimpse a small piece of the men behind the armor - we see what this war will do to the women who love these heroes.  In the taking up again of their armor, we witness the sacrifice Nifong and Hector make.  And, in the tears of Wu and Andromache, we understand the magnitude of that sacrifice - we also understand why they have each chosen to make it.

Bravo, Acastus! 
 
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"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here.  I'm mad.  You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."
 - Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
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« Reply #40 on: Dec 21, 2006 10:42 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 XIII "A Very Bloody Affair"


Iroh choked as he inhaled a lungful of the black, oily smoke that billowed out of the burning headquarters tent. All around him he heard the cries of wounded and dying men, many of them his own. The laments of the forsaken were punctuated only by the clang of metal on metal and the dull thudding of the huge stones that rained down seemingly from the heavens themselves. The wind shifted, blowing the poisonous cloud away, to reveal the bloody knot of ferocious combat before him. The camp and the east west road that ran through it were awash with struggling, swearing, dead and dying soldiers. The smoke, which burned his throat terribly, had at least momentarily covered the reek of the burning corpses that littered the makeshift battlefield. Iroh suppressed the urge to vomit at the overpowering stench of death.

Breathing raggedly, the Crown Prince spun around on his feet and rapidly scanned the scene. The military police and the headquarters staff were now engaged in desperate hand to hand combat with enemy infantry. The melee raged fiercely without order and without mercy. Uncoordinated firebending attacks had set most of the camp aflame. Forcing himself to breathe regularly, Iroh's brain reeled from the realization that less than ten minutes ago the camp had been about its usual business. Now he and his men were fighting for their lives.

Their position was hopeless. The enemy had charged without warning over the low hill behind the camp. After the initial shock had driven back the panicked defenders, the enemy had formed three firing lines at different heights along the slope of the hill. These grim and resolute earthbenders worked in unison to rain boulders down on the camp, killing both Iroh's men and the Earth Kingdom infantry indiscriminately. Their strategy was brutal and effective. Soon, Iroh knew, he and his men would be dead.

Before he could complete his survey or reflect further upon the grim fate that was almost certainly in store for them, Iroh caught sight of a gritty Earth Kingdom warrior removing his sword from the corpse of a Fire Nation soldier a few feet to his right. Sensing eyes upon him even amidst the battle, the earthbender looked up to meet the Crown Prince's gaze. With a roar the rough man lunged at Iroh, who stepped blithely out of the way. He struck the back of his assailant's neck as he passed, knocking him to the ground, limp and unconscious.

The victory proved ephemeral, however, as two other green clad men appeared to take the fallen soldier's place. Both lifted rocks out of the ground and kicked them at Iroh, who rolled to the ground to allow the boulders to pass over him. Certain his prostrate position would cost him his life, the Crown Prince was relieved to look up and see a sword protruding from the stomach of one of the Earth Kingdom soldiers who had just shot at him. The stricken man's companion had only a moment to turn to his dying friend and the young Fire Nation soldier who had dealt the fatal blow before both were killed by the sudden impact of a boulder the size of a mill stone.

The dull thudding of the stones hitting the ground grew to an ear splitting crescendo as Iroh regained his feet. He turned to see an Earth Kingdom soldier take aim at him from a distance with a large stone. He drew a sharp breath in anticipation of the attack, only to catch a glimpse of yet another green clad soldier, this one wearing a fine breastplate of steel, approach him from his left. The newcomer was already in the middle of swinging his sword at him when in a split second Iroh grabbed the man's wrist and pulled him into the path of the oncoming rock. The Earth Kingdom officer's face froze in a twisted mask of horror an instant before his head exploded in a bloody shower of bone and brain.

Ignoring the collapse of the headless corpse, Iroh launched two fireballs in rapid succession from his fists at the soldier who had hurled the fatal rock. Both blasts hit their target, one in the face and the other in the chest. The Earth Kingdom soldier screamed in agony as his hands flew to his face in a vain attempt to stop his skin from melting off his skull.

A Fire Nation soldier approached the burning man with his sword drawn, but was stopped by another who shouted, "No! Let him burn!"

Stepping sideways the Crown Prince turned to see his own death rushing towards him. No less than half a dozen earthbenders jumped gracefully over the fallen bodies of his staff just a few yards away. As Iroh began firing blast after blast at his assailants in a last ditch effort to stave off death, he felt the ground begin to shake beneath him in resonance with the ear splitting thudding that had been steadily building throughout the fight. Both he and his attackers were thrown off balance. As the world wobbled, Iroh could see the green clad men on the hill flail about as well.

He turned to his right to look west down the road and fell to his knees. His assailants did likewise. The last sight they ever saw was the column of Fire Nation tank trains hurtling down the road towards them at amazing speed. Each tank train towed several towering pieces of artillery. Grey smoke belched forth from their smoke stacks as their treads chewed up the surface of the road, leaving the earth scarred and broken in their wake.

In the blink of an eye the lead tank train passed in front of Iroh no more than a few feet away. The sudden passing of such a huge amount of metal created a concussion of air that blew him backwards. Of the earthbenders who had been closing in on him there was no sign at all, they had simply ceased to exist. Struggling to recover, Iroh heard the protest of metal on metal as the tank trains applied their brakes. Soon after the lead tank train and its towage had passed, he saw the second ride up the hill, erasing dozens more of the green clad soldiers. Those who escaped the metal monsters scattered in terror.

Within moments a third and fourth tank train slid into the camp, their treads locked as they tried to slow down. The rear compartments of each machine then swung open allowing Fire Nation soldiers to disembark.

The expressions of the Earth Kingdom warriors still fighting in the camp did not change, even though it was clear the tide had turned against them. Iroh heard a cheer erupt from those of his men still alive. He could not raise his own voice to join them in celebration since he was at that moment knocked rudely to ground by a blunt object across his back. His breastplate protected him from the blow, but he found his face in the dirt once again.

Flipping himself over he saw a tall man in a grey uniform, briefly obscured by a cloud of the oily black smoke, deftly slice in two a fat earth kingdom soldier wielding a mallet.

The man in grey smiled and offered Iroh a hand to get up, remarking, "No more laying down on the job, your Highness, we've got work to do yet."

"Gan!" exclaimed the Prince, happy for the second time that his bookish friend had joined them.

"None other," his friend replied.

Iroh smiled in turn, took the proffered hand and lifted himself to his feet. Somewhere beyond them he heard a female voice as distinct as a signature yell, "Get your asses into this fight! You hear me? Now!"

They both turned to see Chieng, small in the distance atop the lead tank train, push several of her engineers off the top of the machine with a bo staff and into the fight still raging below. A moment later she dropped down after them and was lost from view.

Gan and Iroh turned without comment back to the battle. The fight was not over, but the arrival of the tank trains assured the outcome. The Earth Kingdom soldiers still within the burning camp quickly found themselves trapped. Unable to escape, they fought as men who cared nothing for their lives, but it was not enough to save them. Within minutes the carnage was over, the remnants of the Earth Kingdom infantry was slain.

Some time later, Chieng, her staff bloody and her face smeared with dirt, came upon Iroh and Gan kneeling next the crushed corpse of a Fire Nation soldier. He was young, no more than a boy. His uniform, emblazoned with the symbol of the sun, marked him as a servant of the Crown Prince. Iroh, his head bowed in silent prayer, held the dead man's hand in his own. Beside them lay the massive mill stone sized boulder that had felled him and a nearby earthbender.

The engineer walked up to them and remarked without preamble, "A pathetic performance all around, your Highness," but Iroh and Gan paid her no attention. After several moments of what anyone else would have interpreted as an awkward silence the engineer pointed at the corpse and asked brusquely, "Well, who is this, then?"

"A brave young man," Iroh replied gently, replacing the man's hand on his broken chest, "who saved my life today at the cost of his own. I never even knew his name."

Chieng's gaze swept over the body and she nodded once before stating confidently, "He died with honor then, my Lord, and as long as you live he will not have died in vain."

Gan turned to the dark haired woman in some surprise, for he had not expected such a sentiment from the foul mouthed engineer.

Iroh looked up at her briefly, then back to the corpse and said, "Thank you, Chieng, but I find that I now owe so many brave souls my life, I wonder how I will ever repay them."

"Find our enemies and destroy them utterly, your Highness," supplied Chieng, in an unintentional imitation of the Fire Lord's command to Prince Xian months before.

"I intend to," the Crown Prince replied solemnly. Rising to his feet he queried, "How much do you know of our situation here?"

"Very little," Gan admitted, "as soon as we learned you were pinned down here at Nomura, we left Edo and got here as fast as we could."

"Fine, get me your maps and I will explain," commanded Iroh.

Soon the three sat around a duplicate of the large area map that had burned with the command tent. Two of Iroh's surviving aides-de camp sat in attendance. Using a piece of charcoal Iroh directed the aides to mark the positions of friend and foe. The picture slowly became clear. Several thousand Earth Kingdom soldiers were surrounded in a pocket in the hill country in front of them. Iroh's army in turn was bisected by the remains of General Jin's infantry, much of which had been left unmolested as a result of Nikon's southward deviation. The open plains east of the hills suggested that Jin's infantry was free to counterattack as soon as they could reach the Prince's exposed besieging force.

"So, a pocket within a pocket?" mused Gan after Iroh concluded his description.

"Yes, that is what it will be if we don't act fast. We can't let that happen," stated Iroh firmly. "To prevent a disaster we must crush this pocket immediately. I've used every trick in the book to delay open combat here long enough for you to arrive," then turning to Chieng he said, "however, it may already be too late. You know now why I sent for you. Are you ready to deploy the artillery?"

"I am."

"It must be in place by nightfall, Chieng, do you understand?"

Chieng indicated that she understood and left to carry out her orders.

By sunset a new headquarters had been set up on a nearby hillock. Chieng had provided for this by donating one of the train cars that had been loaded with artillery shells. Secure in their metal abode, the few survivors of Iroh's staff did their best to plan the coming battle. Runners on mongoose dragons pulled up to the headquarters in quick succession and messenger hawks arrived at short intervals to deliver information about the enemy.

The final streaks of sunlight stained the sky to the west as Iroh peered through his field glasses at the enemy lines in front of him. The adrenalin fueled excitement from the morning had long since dissipated, leaving only the angst ridden air of expectation. The enemy, ragged and half starved from weeks of retreat, nevertheless remained a considerable fighting force.

Iroh handed the glasses to Gan, who queried, "How many in this bunch?"

"Brigade strength at least. Maybe three or four thousand."

Gan scanned the low hills in front of them where heavily manned trenches could be seen in the fading light. Close by on their left and right the forward positions of Iroh's infantry sheltered quietly behind their metal shields. The Fire Nation line stretched north and east quickly out of sight.

"How long have they been there?"

"Three days. We trapped and destroyed the greater part of Gao's division in a large ravine three or four leagues that way," replied Iroh pointing west, "while my mongoose cavalry were trapping this group here."

"You've been busy," he commented, handing the glasses back.

"Yes, far busier than a lazy man like me had hoped," the Crown Prince replied with a wry smile.

"How have you held them here for that long without engaging? Let me guess, you had them over for tea?"

"Oh, do you think they'd come?" Iroh quipped, his smile now threatening to break his face, "I have some of that lovely green tea we found in Edo!"

Gan laughed and was soon joined by his friend. As they spoke two mongoose dragons arrived, one behind the other. On the first, a young man with lieutenant bars, dark hair and traditional Fire Nation sideburns dismounted and approached them on foot. The second bore Chieng, now cleaned up with her dark hair pinned in a bun.

The eldest son of the Fire Lord turned and received the young man's salute. Behind the messenger the engineer approached, hands behind her back, apparently interested to hear what news was about to be delivered.

"Good news, your Highness," the young man said, offering Iroh a letter in a dark green envelope, "Colonel Gao has agreed to your terms."

Iroh nodded once, threw a shrewd look at his friend and replied, "Thank you, Lieutenant Diem," then, turning to look over Chieng he asked, "Is the artillery in place?"

The engineer nodded in the affirmative and Iroh declared with grim satisfaction, "Excellent. Then we will attack as planned."

Confused, the young lieutenant offered the message once again to Iroh asking, "What about this, sir? Won't we reply?"

"Oh yes," Iroh laughed, "we surely will! With fire and destruction we shall answer them!"

"But, sir, the enemy has offered to surrender...?"

The Crown Prince regarded the young soldier for a moment before replying, "And just what would we do with them, Lieutenant? The enemy outnumbers us by five to one at least. It is a shame these men must die, but die they will today."

Diem locked eyes with Iroh momentarily before shifting his gaze to Gan, who wore a smile every bit as deadly as Iroh's.

Chieng regarded Iroh calmly for a moment before stating flatly, "You will make an excellent Fire Lord, your Highness."

Iroh turned to her in surprise. A strange mix of pleasure and embarrassment swept over him. A compliment from such a severe judge was indeed a rarity, but if Chieng was blunt in the delivery of her insults, she was no less emphatic when she bestowed her infrequent praise. They looked at each other for a moment before she turned and began to walk back to her dark and silent tank train.

"Aren't you going to stay for the rest of the show?" Iroh called after her, "Your assistance is always welcome," he continued in a hopeful tone, and much to his surprise he meant it.

Chieng turned and replied, "Not a chance, your Highness. I'm late to save Nikon's ass out east. Looks like he took Cam'ron sooner than we hoped, but didn't have any plan for holding onto it."

"What do you mean," Iroh queried with sudden concern.

"Yeh, it's true. I just heard that your buddy broke half of my tanks trying to get to Cam'ron before Tien Shin," she explained with bitterness, "I know he's your friend, but he's also an idiot, and now he's been caught with his pants down."

Infuriated at her attitude Iroh retorted fiercely, "So, instead of hurling insults, why don't you get over there and put that armor back in action?"

Chieng regarded him coolly and replied, "I intend to, your Highness, since he is in as much need of my help as you were this morning."

Understanding dawned on Iroh as he drew a long breath, "They're under attack?"

Chieng nodded and replied, suddenly uncomfortable, "Yes, we received a messenger hawk from Southern Command almost at the same time as yours. Nifong has finally decided to make his move, and has attacked Nikon while he is overextended. I'm sorry."

Iroh turned to Gan for confirmation and saw it instantly in his friend's troubled eyes. Gan nodded and supplied glumly, "It's true, your Highness. After your step brother took the Cam'ron road away from him, he found some other east - west highway not on the map and used it to beat Tien Shin to the city."

His heart instantly aflame, Iroh exclaimed, "I've got to help him!" He turned to yell for his aides, but the engineer's hand on his shoulder stopped him short, her grip firm but strangely gentle. The Crown Prince turned to her, fear and anger visible in his eyes.

"Don't compound your friend's mistake with another, Prince Iroh," advised Chieng in a low voice, "I know you care for him, but you cannot help him now. You have your own fight here, one that you and your men will be hard pressed to win as it is."

She was right, and he knew it. Her hand dropped from his shoulder. Iroh noticed the men nearby react to her inappropriate display of familiarity, but ignored it.

"His best hope," continued Chieng in the same low voice, "ironically enough, lies with Tien Shin, who has wisely advanced without running his tanks into the ground. I've got to round up the rest of my column and get there as soon as possible. I'll salvage what I can."

Iroh raised a hand to his forehead in frustration before replying in a choked voice, "Then go, Chieng, and whatever you do, you mustn't fail!"

A few moments passed before, locking eyes with Iroh, she declared, "I may not be a firebender," she said, rapping the side of her tank train with the palm of her hand, "but I have other weapons the enemy has learned to fear! I will do all I can, my Lord, you have my word."

The Crown Prince's heart swelled with gratitude at the engineer's oath. Her performance that morning gave him more hope of saving Nikon than anything possible from the man who hated his friend with such passion.

Chieng saluted. Iroh returned the gesture before springing forward and surprising her with a crushing bear hug, "I have no doubt about that. May the Spirit of the Sun protect you and bring you success," holding back tears he continued, "Nikon's a good man and a true servant of the Fire Nation." He drew in another deep breath, "Please, don't let him die on me."

The engineer had stiffened on contact, but, after a brief hesitation, relaxed upon hearing Iroh's plea. She hugged him back briefly and replied, "I won't."

With that she climbed up into her tank train. A few minutes later, her train roared to life and was gone, leaving only clouds of swirling dust on the road to Cam'ron.

He watched her leave, then walked back with Gan to where Diem still stood at his mongoose dragon awaiting orders.

"Lieutenant," instructed Prince Iroh, "Order all batteries to fire at will."
« Last Edit: Oct 17, 2015 08:00 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #41 on: Jan 21, 2007 11:46 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 XIV "The Universe of Battle"


The crowd registered its displeasure at the storyteller's admission of Prince Iroh's treachery with boos and catcalls. Gao nodded his head soberly a few times at the audience's response and motioned with his outstretched arms for quiet.

"Yes, friends, it is true," he continued as the disturbance subsided, "That night the catapults and trebuchet of Chieng Shiung turned the grassy downs of Nomura into a sea of fire, and very few lived to tell the tale of the Crown Prince's deceit."

Zuko, transfixed against his will by the storyteller's art, now stole a glance at his uncle. Though he knew his uncle had had a successful military career before his infamous failure, Zuko had always thought of him as soft. Unexpected pride had swelled within Zuko's heart at the recounting of this tale, and the banished Prince felt the intense desire to question his uncle about it, but his hopes quickly faltered.

The retired general looked silently down at his hands, his face an impassive mask. Iroh could feel his nephew's eyes, but he refused to meet them. Locked away deep in the recesses of his own mind, he heard the catcalls of the audience as if from a distance. Or were they the screams of burning men? It was hard to tell. In his mind's eye he saw the hills afire, and rank upon rank of advancing Fire Nation soldiers. He couldn't remember much of his recent history with any clarity, but his memories of those days seemed sharper and clearer than even what he felt at this moment.

Shame washed over him like a cold river, painful and yet strangely comforting. It was not the first time he had felt it, and would not be the last. He had done many deeds he now knew to be dishonorable, and this was but one. It had taken him almost a lifetime to realize that the source of his shame was often not the acts themselves, but the realization that he had believed himself right when performing them, and the years he spent not only unrepentant of those acts, but remembering them with pride.

Not even the death of Xian and all the horrors that Iroh knew were yet to come from the aging storyteller had taught him the truth of his shame at Nomura. Although these memories remained clear, it was not these that welled up now to greet him. Instead, he shut his eyes and winced almost imperceptibly as he pushed the image of his son from his mind. No, he thought, now is not the time to remember you, my son, as I should. That loss is too great, and for your young cousin's sake I cannot risk discovery in this place. Forgive me, my son, that you had to die for me to learn the value of life will ever be my greatest shame.

"Yes!" came a now all too familiar booming voice, "That Iroh! What a bastard, haha! I daresay he will roast in hell for that one!"

Iroh grimaced at the voice, as he had done many times that night, but this time for a different reason.

"Even I leave my opponent's alive after I have skinned them!" Then, turning to his right and looking past Iroh and Zuko continued, "Isn't that right, Chen Ho?"

Chen looked up at his tormentor from where he sat in a wine soaked stupor twirling his mustache and replied thickly, "Oh yes, you're well known for your mercy, Trimazu. Everyone knows you eat what you skin. You don't get a figure like yours eating tofu."

Trimazu laughed genuinely and replied, "Well spoken, my friend," then continuing in his conspiratorial tone, "Trust me when I advise you to be in your cups when next we negotiate. I guarantee you'll do better than you ever have before!"

A contemptuous snort was Chen's only reply.

Gao then addressed the master of the house, saying, "Indeed, my lord, what you have said is true, though what I have described here was just one small skirmish. A complete catalog of the Fire Nation's crimes that summer would surely fill Wan Shi Tong's library past the brim! Unfortunately, Master Trimazu, the night speeds by, and I'm afraid I can offer your noble guests only those events that deal directly with the matters at hand."

"And well you do it, my friend!" exclaimed the merchant merrily, slapping his knee, "Please continue," he commanded, waving one of his heavily jeweled hands, "It sounds as if Deng the Hammer has Nikon in a bad way, and I'd hear more of that!"

The storyteller bowed low and turning back to the audience began, "While Prince Iroh waged war at Nomura and won himself great glory, far to the east the winds of change had begun to blow as the stage was set for the first, great reversal of fortune during the Summer of Terror..."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Nikon ducked the moment he heard the telltale rush of air that immediately preceded a boulder strike. An instant after he closed the upper hatch the stone struck the top of the tank and shattered into a cloud of dust and rock shards. Nikon grimaced as the insides of the machine rang like some enormous bell with the impact. It was the third time they'd been hit.

He opened one eye as the ringing diminished. Beneath and in front of him on his right the tank driver was frantically working the controls and yelling, "Come on! Come on! Damn you!" as he struggled desperately to keep them moving. The gunner on his left was rapid firing volley after volley of fiery blasts, while the gunner on his right was praying. He clearly had something to pray for, since the last boulder strike had caused the armor on his side of the machine to buckle. His firing port was not obstructed, but it was bent grotesquely inwards such that he would need to lean back upon the platform on which Nikon stood in order to have enough room to fire. In the back of the cockpit the rear gunner sat with his back against the engine compartment bulkhead where he'd died at least an hour before. Pale and with a trickle of dried blood from his mouth he looked merely asleep.

Placing his foot on the praying man's shoulder Nikon admonished, ‘Hey, no time for that."

The soldier jerked at the touch, turned and looked up at him. He had an impossibly young face, caked with dust and streaked with tears.

"If you stop firing, it gives them more opportunity to hit your side again," he continued above the fractious noise of the engine, "Don't make it any easier!"

The gunner nodded once and turned back to his firing port. Nikon reached up and grabbed the handle of the inner hatch. He thrust upward with a mighty heave. For a moment the hatch did not move, then slowly and with considerable protest it began to lift. A moment later dirt and rock fell into the cockpit as the hatch swung open, adding to the existing pile at Nikon's feet. With a final clang the hatch came to a rest in its open position, knocking several larger stones and more dust off the top and down the armored siding.

Iroh's friend stood up and surveyed the scene as he quickly excavated the now severely damaged vent that carried his voice commands down to the driver and gunners. The battlefield was cloaked in a haze of dust and smoke. His entire brigade, or that part of it that had not broken down or been destroyed, was engaged in close combat with Nifong's vaunted cavalry. The field was littered with Earth Kingdom dead as well as the occasional shell of a destroyed Fire Nation machine.

He watched as several tanks fired simultaneously at a farm house more than a mile away on the crest of a nearby ridge. Flames leapt to the heavens as the structure was engulfed in fire. To his right he could see no more than a thousand feet due to the smoke and dust of combat.

The battle had raged with varying intensity for days. All semblance of order and identifiable front lines had broken down the day before when Chieng had arrived. The enemy had tried in vain to stop her arrival, but had paid for the attempt with many lives. Nikon's armor had broken dozens of cavalry charges and killed many earthbenders, but each time they had returned.

Chieng had come with a column of the monstrous tank trains that held him in such awe when he had first seen them disembark on the beaches of Gela. Massive blocks of steel and iron powered by engines mightier than the earth, he had been momentarily as terrified of them as no doubt the Earth Kingdom peasants were of his tanks. Only when he learned of the time and energy it took to build and maintain them did he understand why they weren't themselves the primary offensive weapon of the new army.

She had spoken harshly upon seeing him in the main square of Cam'ron the day before. This in itself was nothing new. The difference this time was that the truth of her words hurt as badly as those of Xian's.

Amidst the heat and blood drenched insanity of battle, the memory of his encounter with the blunt engineer flashed across his mind with startling clarity. What had once been a beautiful, if simple, fountain plaza had been turned into a junk yard of mangled, smoking tanks and equipment. The dead and dying lined the square under the awnings of buildings where carts full of produce had been only a week before. The smell of the battlefield was pleasant in comparison, since there at least the wind and the dust covered up the smell of the mutilated carcasses and the heaps of burnt machinery. One side of the plaza was completely blocked with parked and partially unloaded tank trains.

Nikon had dismounted from his tank which had lost both treads to earthbending attacks and approached her. He was filthy, his face weary and heavily lined with cares.

"Did you see Prince Iroh, Chieng?" he had begun without preamble, "What have you heard about Nomura? Is he alive?"

Chieng had turned from where she was supervising several men welding plate armor and looked at him in stony silence.

"He seemed well enough to me when I last saw him, Commander," she finally replied, surveying him coldly, "which is more than I can say for you."

"What the hell do you mean by that?" he'd replied in uncharacteristic anger, "I'm alive!"

Instead of immediately replying she signaled for two of her black clad technicians to come over. Ignoring Nikon she instructed them to install new treads on the young commoner's tank. Behind them he saw half a dozen intact machines lined up for refueling.

Finally she turned to him and remarked, "That's not what your eyes and your face tell me. The shadow of death hangs over you for what you've done here. Pride, rather out of place for a commoner, has lead directly to this disaster. Forget about Iroh, get back in your tank and deal with the situation you've created, you jackass."

She turned and left without waiting for a response, but in truth none was forthcoming. He had been struck dumb. He opened his mouth to scream with the helpless rage he felt welling up within him, but nothing emerged.

This moment of melancholy was shattered as a noise in front of him refocused his attention on the present. The screams of two Fire Nation soldiers in front of them were cut short as Nikon's tank ran them over.

Crouching back down into the well he yelled at the driver, "Damn it, Jin! Those were our men! Watch where the hell we're going for heaven's sake!" Nikon thundered furiously down at the driver.

"I'm sorry, sir!" came the panicked reply, "I'm trying to keep us moving and...," his reply was interrupted as the machine bottomed out over a some irregularity in the ground surface, the source of which Nikon did not want to contemplate. Nikon braced himself on the metal railing to prevent himself from falling over into the cockpit as the driver continued, "I think... I think the steering column's been damaged! I can't..."

Jin was interrupted by the left hand gunner who, transfixed by something outside, exclaimed, "Commander, look!"

Nikon emerged again from the hatch and looked left. Several hundred feet away two of his tanks raced eastward along the embankment of a nearby dry creek. Three ostrich horses and their riders bore down on them, but the first was engulfed in flame by a blast from the lead tank and then all three were simply run over.

Confused, Nikon failed to see what the gunner was talking about until a moment later when half a dozen ostrich cavalry swooped in on the lead tank's right side. Through earthbending they held aloft between them, three riders on each side, a cone shaped rock nearly six feet long and three feet at the base.

Nikon yelled into the severely damaged communication vent, "Left turn sixty degrees! Now! Gunners to forward positions!" Protesting, the left tread sputtered, allowing the tank to turn fitfully to the left as its forward momentum slowed to a crawl.

"Fire!" he screamed as the green clad cavalrymen came into their direct line of sight. Nikon himself breathed deeply and rapid fired half a dozen fire blasts. Beneath him the gunners followed his example and the air itself seemed to explode in flame, but it was too late.

Before the whips of fire could travel the distance between them, Nifong's men thrust the massive stone dagger into the side of the tank. The cavalrymen pulled quickly away and with a series of simultaneous, identical gestures exploded the stone projectile inside the machine. The upper hatch blew off, allowing a shower of stone shards and a shell of expanding gas and dust to escape. Smoke followed quickly as the tank's left tread slowed, turning the tank leftward. The machine lurched in slow motion over the embankment and into the dry creek where it exploded with a plume of fire.

The machine behind them then fired on the cavalrymen, who were hit with the blasts from that tank and Nikon's at once. The Earth Kingdom soldiers and their mounts were engulfed in fire instantly. Most fell off their ostrich horses and writhed in the dust as they burned alive inside their heavy armor, but two remained in the saddle as their mounts, afire from head to foot, bucked wildly.

The rear tank fired two more blasts, hitting two cavalrymen who tried to race by, then swung quickly to avoid the impact of a large stone boulder that fell from the sky. The boulder buried itself in the soft ground, inflicting no damage on the Fire Nation machine.

Nikon looked east and saw another wall of green clad cavalry forming on the ridge where the farmhouse still burned. He ordered his tank to stop and then looked up, calmed his breathing, and shot a plume of blue fire into the sky. Instantly all the Fire Nation tanks still operating in his field of vision turned and began to race toward his position. Another bloody charge was about to begin.
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 09:50 am by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #42 on: Jan 21, 2007 11:46 pm »

[Chapter XIV Continued]

Long after midnight Nikon and his column passed victorious once more through the gates of Cam'ron. Unlike the triumphal entry a week ago, this time his men were filthy, tired and demoralized. Most of his machines had survived, but they too looked haggard and beaten. The battle had finally ended when the moon had set, leaving the landscape in total darkness save for the art of the firebenders. The enemy, finally exhausted, quit the battlefield.

Upon gaining the fountain plaza, Nikon dismounted from his machine. His brigade came pouring in behind him and within minutes the square was drowned in a cacophony of engine noise, squealing metal and the curses and yelling of men. Quickly the machines were parked and preparations were made by all to succumb to the fatigue they all felt.

Nikon scanned the scene, exhausted, but curious. The plaza was alive with lights and activity. Chieng's technicians were as busy as before, though she herself was nowhere to be seen. A row of red lanterns had been hung at the end of the plaza opposite the parked tank trains. Underneath the lanterns a row of clean, black Fire Nation tanks sat in perfect order. Behind the row of tanks, two enormous fire pots burned on each side of one of the large doorways that led from the largest building on that side of the plaza. Next to each of the fire pots a guard stood watch in front of a pair of open picture windows.

After instructing his men to stand down for the night, he grabbed the nearest technician and asked where the tanks had come from.

The technician looked quickly from side to side before replying quietly, "Daimyo Tien Shin arrived a few hours ago, Commander," then pointing to the door between the fire pots he continued in a whisper, "and I think he's waiting for you."

Nikon closed his eyes as if in pain. Weariness swept over him, but he forced himself to open his eyes and walk towards the door despite his leaden feet. The windows were open on either side of the door, for even at night the summer heat was oppressive. Inside he could hear two voices. A few steps closer and he was able to identify them as Chieng and Tien Shin.

"Not as bad as it could have been," Chieng responded no doubt in answer to a question Nikon had just missed, "The plate steel held up well."

"How many confirmed kills?" came the other voice, unmistakably Tien Shin's, but anxious and strained as he had never heard it before.

The guards saluted stiffly without making eye contact as Nikon approached. He returned the salute, opened the door and walked into the building. The entry hall was wooden and unadorned. Overhead an ancient iron lantern hung from the ceiling, casting a dim light which failed utterly to dispel the gloom. The objects of his eavesdropping were in the first room on the left which was accessible through an open doorway. He halted for a moment to listen as the voices from within continued.

"No more than thirty," the engineer replied, "though I haven't received the final figures."

"Have you been to the field yourself?"

"Yes."

"What weaknesses were they able to exploit? Did you examine any of the wrecks?" he asked, his voice maintaining its intensity.

"I only saw three or four close enough to really tell," Chieng replied in a clinical tone, "but from what I could see most of them suffered from catastrophic failures of the flank or rear armor. Front and top proved impenetrable as predicted."

"And the treads?" the daimyo prompted.

"Resisted most attacks, but the plate guards made the treads difficult for them to target. The bottom line is that our tanks were generally mobile enough to avoid the overwhelming majority of earthbending attacks," Chieng paused a moment before continuing with less enthusiasm, "We lost as many as we did because we allowed the enemy to achieve enough local superiority for them to get ten attempts on each tank before we torched them."

Nikon breathed deeply then turned the corner into the room to see Tien Shin and Chieng standing by the picture window he had seen from outside. Tien Shin stood erect in his uniform, his back to Nikon. Though brighter than the hallway, this chamber had only a few fire pots to light it. Most of the illumination streamed in from the plaza. The pair stood by one of the fire pots, the flames casting weird shadows around their figures as they spoke. The daimyo paused as he considered the engineer's assessment.

"If we stop here for a few days I can conduct further analysis," Chieng offered.

Tien Shin shook his head in a decisive gesture, "No, this mess has cost us much of the lead we'd developed in these first two months. We must push eastward again without delay. If Nifong wishes to engage the organized might of the entire Fire Nation forces in this –"

The daimyo stopped speaking as he detected another presence in the room. He turned and faced Nikon, who saluted bitterly.

The heat and noise of the plaza streamed in from the window, but to Nikon it felt as cold and silent as a tomb. Tien Shin regarded his subordinate with dead, dark, unblinking eyes.

"Leave us," he commanded the engineer without breaking eye contact with Nikon.

Chieng complied silently, leaving through the door Nikon had just used to enter. A trace of sympathy marked her face as she passed the young commoner, but he did not notice. A few moments later she exited the front door and she soon disappeared completely from view into the maze of tanks and equipment in the square.

Finally, Tien Shin approached Iroh's friend. He stopped a few paces from Nikon and without a word or change in expression slapped him soundly across the face. The blow stung, but Nikon accepted it. Xian and Chieng had already shamed him for his hubris, now he knew he must face his tormentor for the same offense.

"You deserve to be relieved for what you've done. You know that, don't you?" the daimyo began in a low voice.

"Answer me!" he commanded when it became clear Nikon was unable or unwilling to respond.

"Yes, my lord," Nikon responded in a bitter acknowledgement of the truth, "I do."

"And if I were in command, not that soft hearted imbecile Xian, you would be, you miserable peasant!" thundered Tien Shin suddenly, his eyes seething with anger.

"Don't you see what you've done here?" Tien Shin asked, his voice breaking, "Let me help you! Not only did you lose almost a quarter of your tanks and hundreds of loyal Fire Nation soldiers who deserved better, but you gave him four whole days to probe for weaknesses in our new weaponry! That's what you've done!"

"Yes, my lord," countered Nikon stubbornly, "but for all the bad mistakes I've made to get us here, we were victorious. All Nifong has to show for his effort is a couple thousand dead earthbenders."

"So what? How do you know he didn't learn something worth that sacrifice? He's been waiting for an opportunity like this – right from the start!"

Tien Shin snorted derisively as Nikon dropped his gaze to the floor.

"Oh, Great Spirits," the tall man remarked with an edge of frustration in his voice, "I'll wager Xian never even mentioned this as a consequence, did he? I heard all he talked about was putting his beloved Iroh in danger."

Nikon, fear surging again within him, raised his head and asked, "Have you any news from Nomura, my lord?"

A sharp smile spread across the daimyo's face as he replied in the deadly conversational tone to which Nikon was most accustomed, "It seems Prince Iroh has more leadership potential than his cousin. The outcome in Nomura is still in doubt, but he and his men are apparently fighting well."

"The truth is you are damned lucky," Tien Shin continued in disgust, "I'd bet a thousand gold that Iroh is going to smash that pocket and that the Fire Lord's propaganda machine is going to make you a spirits be damned hero for this tactical disaster."

The smile disappeared completely from Tien Shin's face as he pointed an accusatory finger at Nikon, "And for what reason, exactly, did you put us all in jeopardy?" He paused, waiting for a reply he knew would not come, "So you could beat me to Cam'ron?" he supplied with mock incredulity.

"Petty, costly, unforgivably stupid," he spat, and then concluded in a tone of utter disdain, "and exactly what everyone expected from a low life piece of gutter trash like you."

Tien Shin stepped forward and put his face right up to Nikon's and with his deadly smile returning once more, spoke in a low, threatening voice, "If you make another "mistake" like this again, Orlando, I will have you arrested and executed. Neither Xian nor Iroh will be able to protect you. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, my lord. I understand."

"Excellent, Commander. I advise you to learn from your mistakes and pray for General Xian's health. If either fails your life won't be worth more than the time it will take me to find you. Dismissed."

Nikon, numb from exhaustion and shame, left the building as the first streaks of sunlight stained the eastern sky.
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 09:51 am by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #43 on: Feb 15, 2007 10:46 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 XV "The Killing Fields"

The sun had sunk low in the west as two riders approached the deserted battlefield. A light, hot breeze ruffled the riders' hair and brought to their noses the faintest scent of scorched earth. Both men wore cloaks of grey and rode ostrich horses with simple saddle and bridle. An observer might easily have thought them merely a pair of weary travelers wandering a lonely, broken land, but they were not.

The taller of the two riders looked up momentarily to mark the solitary wall of a building, blackened by fire, that jutted up to the sky a mile or two away. "We're close", he thought silently. Similar signs of ferocious combat had marked their travel now for many miles.

After a few minutes they mounted a low hill. At its crest they were finally able to look down onto the killing fields of Cam'ron. The tall man scanned the scene and drew a sharp intake of breath at what he saw. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of what could only be grave markers littered the wide, flat expanse before them. Scattered amongst these markers lay the twisted remains of a dozen or so of Chieng's mighty war machines. The failing sunlight struck the ominous metal carcasses at an angle, casting weird shadows across the wasted landscape.

The wind whispered a moment longer before the shorter man spoke in an uneasy voice, "Feels haunted, General."

Nifong exhaled slowly and replied, "It is. We should leave before nightfall."

They lingered a moment longer before the taller man nudged his mount forward, his aide following behind. Soon they began to pass grave markers on either side. These were short, iron spikes that stuck in the ground at oddly spaced intervals. On many of them hung dented or smashed Fire Nation helmets.

After some time they came upon three ruined tanks in relatively close proximity. Nifong stopped and dismounted. One of the tanks had been flipped over, its belly cracked wide open by the impact of a large boulder. Another had apparently fallen into a nearby dry creek and exploded, leaving nothing but its treads and flooring intact. Somewhat farther away another looked simply asleep, missing nothing but its treads. Nifong wandered closer and saw that its front wheels had sunk into a pair of deep holes cut out of the living earth.

"Do you see it, Captain?" inquired the general as the younger man dismounted and joined him at the cluster of metal tombs.

"See what, sir?" the younger man replied as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.

Nifong did not reply immediately, instead focusing his gaze on the other wrecks around them one after another. His aide, much accustomed to his superior's frequent reticence, reached out and touched the tank closest to him. Running his hand along its side he felt the smooth, metal surface, cool even in the heat of high summer.

Suddenly, the older man turned and announced, "Come, we must return. I've seen what I needed to see here."

"What did you see that wasn't in the reports, sir?"

"How we will win, Captain," he replied softly, "How we will win."

"Really, sir?"

"Yes."

"I'm glad then, lord," the younger man replied with a small nod of his head in satisfaction, "I was afraid..."

"Of what?" Nifong prompted after a few moments delay.

"...that our men had died for nothing," the aide finished uncertainly.

"That still depends on what we do," the taller man replied, "and what our enemy does."

"What's going to happen, General?"

Nifong paused to consider before answering in a brisk tone, "We will prepare for Xian the opportunity he has been praying for."

"A trap? Won't he be expecting something like that?"

"Yes, but, against his nature, he will take the risk. The shadow of his uncle looms long over him, and longer still the shadow of his father now long since passed."

"How do you know this, sir? Madame Wu?"

The general locked eyes briefly with his subordinate, nodded, and then looking away once again remarked, "Yes. I have my opponent at a disadvantage," suddenly Nifong laughed bitterly, "Not so honorable, is it, my friend? I'm sorry to disappoint you."

"You've never disappointed anyone, my lord," replied the aide without hesitation.

"You're too loyal, Captain," Nifong replied with a mixture of bitterness and affection, "I've done deeds that would brand me a criminal in a different time and place. I don't see how my rank or my nation's blessing makes those deeds any less blameworthy. I wonder how the Spirit of the Earth can stand by someone who is capable of raping the mind of his enemy and sending him to his death without a trace of mercy or compassion."

The younger man looked down, uncertain whether to reply. His brow creased before he looked up, his decision made.

"May I speak, sir?"

Nifong, who had looked back at the nearest tank, turned to look again on his companion, for though his aide had been with him many years now, such a request was rare.

"Of course," he said in surprise.

"You're so hard on yourself, General, and I just don't understand," he began, genuinely confused, "I know you feel responsible for every one who dies, even amongst the enemy, but you didn't ask for this war, none of us did. You speak of fairness and justice in war when there is none. Why do you insist on beating yourself bloody over doing only what you must? What purpose does it serve?"

The aging general sighed and answered, "It helps to remind me that power comes at the cost of total responsibility, Captain. The soldiers' job is to do what I tell them to do or to die trying. My job is to win without making my men sacrifice their lives, but now it seems that even when I succeed in this as a military leader, I fail as a human being. My only choice is whether to litter the field with corpses clothed in red or green. Either way, I leave behind a legacy of ruined lives and cemeteries."

"That choice makes a great difference to us, general. Why should you lament an unfair fight when a fair fight means that many of us, your own people, would lie dead instead of the enemy? Isn't your function to ensure that the odds are in our favor before we ever lift a stone?"

The question hung in the air as the sun began to dip below the horizon. Twilight was upon them.

Finally Nifong replied, slowly nodding his head in glum affirmation, "You speak the truth, Captain, and that is why I will never hesitate in my duty or waver in pursuit of victory for our people. I pray only that the Spirits forgive me for what I've done, and for the sake of the innocents we protect, help to deliver us from the tyranny of Azulon."

Wind whistled through the helmets hung on the grave markers as they mounted their ostrich horses and prepared to depart.

"We must get word to the Council of Five as soon as may be, for I know now what we must do, and where. We will need our allies from the north and the Earth King's most powerful earthbenders to crush this invasion, but crush it we will."

"I'll not be sorry to leave this place, my lord," remarked the aide uneasily as he surveyed the rapidly darkening graveyard.

"Neither will I," the general replied before pushing his ostrich horse into a gallop.

Soon they were gone, leaving the wind and the shadows the only companions of the fallen.
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 10:07 am by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #44 on: Feb 23, 2007 10:42 am »

Jman's review of "Prince Iroh"

Grade: A+

When I decided to begin reading this about three days ago I had high hopes. All of which were met upon completion of these 15 long chapters.

The writing is superb. This fanfiction does exactly what a book should do, it paints a picture in your head about what is going on. You get absorbed into the story.

The interaction between canon characters and original characters is flawless. The original characters are so uniques and well developed.

Its very interesting reading a story within a story. I'm looking forward to Zuko interrogating Iroh after Gao's story is finished.

The action scenes are very well done. This fanfiction shows us what the show isn't allowed to show (being on Nickelodeon). For example the large scale graphic death that we all know would happen if somebody was really engulfed with fire or blasted with a rock.

Poor Nikon. Such a foolhearted mistake that will cost the Fire Nation many lives and has just shown Nifong the weakness of the new machines.

On a personal note I've really been looking forward to the show actually showing us some of Iroh's past. He's my favorite character and I just don't think he gets enough screentime. There's so much that we still need to learn about him. I'm assuming that you feel the same way which is the reason why you decided to write this.

And finally in the words of Hotspur, "We’ve actually found some fiction where we’ve agreed that the story does not suck!"
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« Reply #45 on: Mar 20, 2007 09:42 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 XVI "Alia Iacta Est" (The Die is Cast)

Nikon dug his heels into the sides of his mongoose dragon, urging it forward. He was late, a rare and uncomfortable circumstance for him. Punctuality was a distinct virtue in a society where the smallest insult, whether real or perceived, often resulted in the dreaded agni kai. As a commoner, before he was taken as a student by the illustrious Master Chen, Nikon would not even have been afforded the opportunity to defend himself in such a duel. He would simply have been maimed or executed.

Pushing these thoughts from his mind, he instead focused on the journey. The Nasu plain flashed before him as he and a pair of guards tore across the countryside. Sweat poured down his brow, for though the Summer Solstice had passed more than a month ago, the late afternoon still sweltered in this region of the world. He experienced a brief moment of regret as he realized that, no more than a few weeks ago, this land was covered in a sea of grain. Now it was a wasteland of ash and dust scoured mercilessly by the wind.

Cresting a low ridge, the great fortress city of Nanjing rose in the distance before them. Its fortifications, obviously of great age and in poor condition, were broken badly in a dozen places. Thick, black smoke rose in never ending columns that threatened to blot out the sky. The mongoose dragons closed the gap between them and the fallen enemy stronghold at amazing speed. Soon the Fire Nation flags draped over the lengths of wall still intact became visible.

Iroh's friend looked to his left and saw the remains of the ancient monorail system that had once connected this mighty provincial capital to the rest of the continent. The railway stretched to the north almost as far as the eye could see before turning east along a river that was but a glimmer in the distance. Supported by elegant stone arches, the structure looked as if it had been there since the beginning of time and would be there beyond its end. The architectural perfection of the railway was ruined, however, by its abrupt termination some distance from the city. The intervening expanse was littered with the crumbled remains of this final tract.

The structure captured the young commoner's imagination, and he was reminded briefly of the book Iroh had read during the crossing. He caught himself wondering sadly whether Tien Shin had wrecked this beautiful monument, one of the last, proud vestiges of the ancient world. He dismissed this idea, however, as he got close enough to see the vegetation growing over the stones of the fallen railway. The monorail, whether through decay or as a result of some war that had now long since faded from memory, had obviously collapsed hundreds of years before Tien Shin had arrived to destroy it.

Visions of buildings that touched the sky and underground dams vanished as soon as he saw the bright red tents of Tien Shin's headquarters just outside the city. He had not seen his commanding officer for over a month since his humiliation at Cam'ron, and he was glad of it. Despite Tien Shin's severe warning about the enemy's search for a weakness in their new technology, they had witnessed no change in the enemy's strategy since then. The defenders, outgunned and outmaneuvered, but not out fought, continued to fall back, burning everything they could not take with them. Those encircled by the Fire Nation's rapid advance fought to the death.

Nikon felt again the twinge of unease at Tien Shin's concern. The daimyo had been angry beyond reason, yes, and clearly regarded him with dull hatred and contempt, but the fear in his eyes when he spoke of Nifong had been palpable. He had never seen Tien Shin show fear before that night.

As the cluster of richly decorated Fire Nation tents drew close, the brigade leader saw another small party of mongoose riders arrive from the west and stop in front of the largest tent. As they dismounted Nikon could see that the leader of the other party was none other than Prince Iroh. Suddenly the demons of doubt and indecision that had plagued him the whole journey vanished. The Crown Prince, turning to identify the newcomers as he took off his helmet, smiled broadly and spread his arms wide in a gesture of welcome.

"Your Highness!" exclaimed Nikon, emotion threatening to overwhelm him, "You're alive!"

The commoner embraced the Crown Prince, who smiled and replied, "It is good to see you too, my friend. I feared the worst when Chieng told me of Nifong's attack against Cam'ron."

They released each other, and unable to restrain himself, Nikon rejoined with a mischievous grin, "You helped me out there, Your Highness. As soon as the enemy heard you were sending her over," he said, using the palm of one hand to slap the other and making a take off motion, "they took off like a wolf bat out of hell!"

"Oh, I'm sure of it!" Iroh replied laughing, then, checking quickly from side to side to make sure the foul mouthed engineer wasn't eavesdropping, "My only question is how you stopped your own men from running away too!"

They laughed for a moment before the smile faded from the young tank commander's face.

"I know I let you down," he confessed solemnly, "I let us all down. I lost face in front of Tien Shin, and I know that reflects on you, Your Highness. I'm sorry and I beg your forgiveness."

"Haha! You didn't let me down!" Iroh corrected, "I should thank you for giving me the opportunity to win such a victory for my father. I received a letter from him congratulating me on Nomura not a week ago, "a glorious success" he called it!"

"Really?" the tank commander questioned in surprise. Catching himself he continued, "I mean, yes, of course it was! I'm just sorry I put you in that position," then, lowering his gaze to the ground promised soberly, "I could have blown this whole thing for us. I won't let it happen again."

"I know, my friend," Iroh replied with measured confidence, "but you didn't, remember that. Besides," he continued with a satisfied grin, ‘"The risk was probably worth it. Just think," he said, motioning to the tent in front of them, "when we walk in there, Tien Shin will have to congratulate us on our victories!"

Nikon blew out a breath and smiled ruefully, "Yeh, that's worth something I guess," then, a look of apprehension clouding his face, "Did... the Fire Lord say anything about... Cam'ron?"

Iroh's grin broke in a wide smile as he replied, "Yes, he did, as a matter of fact," but declined to continue. Instead, Iroh's grin expanded to extend nearly from ear to ear.

"Well?" his friend pleaded, "Please, Your Highness, don't torture the low born, we aren't built for it!"

"Ha! Nonsense, anyone who can, quote, "hand Nifong his first defeat in a decade is a servant of special talent and ability", end quote."

"Sweet Agni! Did he really say that?"

"Oh yes, I will show you the letter later," chuckling, Iroh continued, "and here you told Xian you weren't a warrior – shows what you know about yourself, my friend! Anyway, we can talk more about it after the council, but now we must attend to my cousin and our beloved daimyo."

Turning serious again, and checking to make sure none could overhear the familiarity, Nikon warned, "Iroh, I am concerned about your cousin. When I saw him last he'd lost a lot of weight and looked very ill. I tried to find out what was wrong, but he wouldn't tell me."

Iroh's smile dampened, but he brushed off the warning saying, "Don't worry, I'm sure he's fine. Wouldn't we have heard something by now if he were really sick? Besides, Xian worries for everyone and everything. He lets it wear on him more than he should," then, his smile returning, "We'll just have to cheer him up, maybe with one of those nice, hot cups of tea he is always recommending to us."

They entered the tent, returning the salutes of the sentinels as they passed. Inside they saw a nearly perfect duplicate of General Xian's headquarters. The center of the tent was occupied by a high rectangular table. Iroh and Nikon were indeed the last to arrive. The room was full of people, including Gan, Chieng Shiung, Tien Shin, and General Xian. The rest Iroh recognized as Tien Shin's other brigade commanders.

Xian and Tien Shin stood with many of the others around the table, poring over the map. Iroh was startled when he realized one of the sentinels had followed him and Nikon into the tent and announced their names in a formal tone. Everyone turned to the newcomers, but Iroh focused on his cousin. His heart sinking in his chest, he saw instantly that Nikon had been right. Xian looked exhausted, frail, as if he had aged a lifetime since that night the Fire Lord had given him the task of defeating Nifong. No, not just frail, defeated. The relaxed, fatherly disposition that Iroh had loved since he was a boy was gone, replaced by a stony countenance that betrayed a life without hope. Iroh heard Nikon draw in a quick breath as he too looked upon their commanding general.

"Oh cousin, what has happened to you?" Iroh quailed in his mind, "I don't understand, we are winning, yet you look as if we have already lost! What is happening to you?" Iroh surveyed the room quickly, noting Tien Shin's sour look and concluded, "No time to find out now."

Iroh and his friend saluted their general and Tien Shin. Xian returned the salute, Tien Shin did not.

"Welcome, Prince Iroh," Xian said, his voice stronger than his frail frame seemed to allow, "and you, Commander Orlando. Congratulations to you both on your victories. The Fire Lord has written that, despite whatever mistakes we have made," Xian paused briefly here to make eye contact with Nikon, "he is pleased with the success of our campaign and has developed a favorable impression of your performances."

With the ghost of a smile, Xian gestured for Tien Shin to contribute.

"Yes, justified or not," the daimyo said through obviously gritted teeth, "the Fire Lord has bid us congratulate you, Prince Iroh, on your successful liquidation of the Nomura pocket, and...," Tien Shin's dark brown eyes flashed with bitter hate as he focused on Nikon, "you on your... "victory" at Cam'ron."

Nikon saluted once again and, unable to suppress the hint of a smile, replied, "Thank you, my lord... I hope I have made you proud."

Tien Shin's fist tightened over the grip of one of the war fans he wore in his sash.

After allowing a few moments for the tension to continue, during which many in the room began to exchange uneasy looks, Xian began anew.

"Now that everyone is present," he began sternly, "we must turn to the reason I have summoned you. We are here to make a decision, and while the final judgment is mine alone to make, I would hear what each of you would counsel before I choose our course."

Xian instructed the group to gather around the table which was covered in a huge map. Iroh surveyed the map, much larger than any available at his headquarters. This was one of the massive campaign maps that only Xian and Tien Shin's entourages carried. His eyes swept over the enormous chart and recognized the eastern portion of the Nasu plain, the western third of Lake Myojin and the wide spine of the mighty Ping Tou mountains which separated them. To the south he spied the upper reaches of the Dune Sea and the lifeless salt lakes that populated it.

"First, the facts," Xian announced when they had taken their positions around the table. The ailing general produced a thin scroll, and handing the missive to the young commoner, asked softly, "Nikon, would you please read this aloud."

Nikon opened the scroll, cleared his throat and began.

"From the loyal Commander Ryu, 2nd Armored Division, to the noble Tien Shin, Daimyo of the Army of the Great Divide, I send greetings.

My lord, it has been three days since, after meeting token resistance at Highpass Hold, we captured the Meiji Pass and penetrated to the far side of the Ping Tou Mountains. I am pleased to report that after following the Jade Highway for almost five hundred leagues we have finally come to its termination where it joins with the Coast Road. Here, at long last, we caught our first glimpse of the western shore of mighty Lake Myojin. I tell you truly, lord, Lake Myojin is a wonder to behold. If I did not know better, I would swear this was the Eastern Ocean itself.

As planned, we have pivoted southward upon gaining the Coast Road. We briefly occupied two nameless seaside villages, but finding no inhabitants and nothing of value, at once proceeded further south. Yesterday our scouts came within view of our strategic objective for this stage of the campaign, the port city of Amiganza.

Approaching the city from the northwest the scouts found the city overrun with refugees. Both the Coast Road from the south and the road heading west to the southern passes of the Ping Tou Mountains were choked with a living river of men, women, children, wounded soldiers and every conceivable form of transport. All appear to be heading for the harbor in the hopes of obtaining passage to the eastern shore, presumably in an effort to gain the imagined safety of Ba Sing Se.

The road from the north was devoid of refugees, however, and given our experience in the two villages we briefly occupied, we believe that most of the population along the north shore has been evacuated. It seems from this that the enemy has received advance notice of our arrival and acted accordingly. This morning our belief in this matter was confirmed by an event of such importance that I felt immediate communication was necessary.

Last night we sent scouts around the city to try and survey the situation to the south. During the night one of the scouting parties encountered and killed an Earth Kingdom soldier bearing a message scroll from Wu Ti, General Nifong's Chief of Staff, to the Governor of Amiganza Province. I send you this captured communication for your inspection along with this report. I note that the enemy's intelligence is far better than we supposed since his assessment of our supply situation is basically accurate.

Yours in obedience,

Ryu

"Now this one," commanded Xian, handing Nikon a larger green scroll. The scroll's spine was adorned with a wooden cap on each end that bore the symbol of the Earth Kingdom. It was tied with a dark green ribbon. Nikon carefully untied the ribbon, opened the scroll, and began to read.

"I'm afraid the answer to your request, my Lord Governor, is still no. General Nifong is not impressed with your insults or your petty threats. He has bid me to encourage you to go ahead and report this "outrage" to the Earth King for all the good it will do you, and while he is impressed that a member of the Council of Five would ever leave the comfort of Ba Sing Se to see the real war, he would like to point out that General Xu has no more authority over him than you do.

As for the facts of the situation, we are well aware of Ryu's activities to the north. This is not important, however, since our intelligence indicates he has not been supplied in over 10 days. Without additional fuel his ability to threaten either Amiganza or our rear is low. Now that Daimyo Tien Shin has secured the bridgeheads across the Yoshi River, we are certain that the enemy's main thrust will be through the southern passes, and it is there we must concentrate our forces.

Sending troops to Amiganza would be a waste we cannot afford. You and General Xu do not need anymore bodyguards. If you are that afraid, get on the next boat to Ba Sing Se.

Wu Ti


Nikon's voice rose an octave in an expression of surprise as he finished reading the message. He lowered the scroll, his eyes wide in shock, and whistled loudly in spite of himself.

"Yes," remarked Xian as he nodded absent mindedly, "you're not kidding, my friend."

Gan, standing to Nikon's right, motioned for his friend to hand over the scroll.

"All right," asked Gan as he examined the paper closely, "I know what it says, but what does it mean?"

"That, dear colleagues," intoned Xian in a tired voice, "is the question we are here to answer."

The tent flaps rustled in the wind as silence descended on the group. Some exchanged worried glances.

Finally Chieng spoke, raising one hand in a slightly flippant gesture, "So? What's there to debate about? We send the armor and cavalry through the Meiji Pass and catch Nifong with his pants down from the rear. With Prince Iroh's infantry blocking their escape to the west they'd have no chance."

Gan put the scroll down on the table and observed in a controlled voice, "That's one interpretation. The obvious one."

"Again," Xian cut in, "that is the question we must consider. The message contains enough, barely enough, information to make a decision, but only if we believe it to be genuine. Is it real? Or is it a deception?"

Bristling, the engineer retorted, "I think Gan, as usual, overanalyzes. If it looks like a turtle duck and quacks like a turtle duck, then it is, in fact, a turtle duck," her golden eyes narrowing dangerously she addressed Gan, "You believe it's a fake. Why?"

"I think it may be fake. I don't know for sure," the Qu'ai Tau replied cautiously.

"So, the answer to my question is you have no evidence that it is fake?"

Annoyed, Gan replied hotly, "Of course I don't have evidence that it's fake, what the hell do you expect? Instant forensic analysis? Perhaps a bit of soothsaying?"

"Then your conclusion is baseless," she stated coldly.

Tien Shin laughed with quiet malice and said, "You have the makings of a good state prosecutor, Chieng, but the possibility of deceit must be considered."

One of the brigade commanders who Iroh recognized by sight, but not by name, picked up the scroll, read it quickly and commented, "Well, it's interesting to note that the tone is hardly complimentary of anyone. Also, the letter's undated and contains no greeting or preamble at all."

"I agree," Xian injected thoughtfully, "the letter seems genuine if only because it paints no one in a flattering light. Wu Ti comes across as an arrogant ass, the Governor as a whining incompetent, and Nifong as confident enough of his position to feel comfortable insulting a member of the Council of Five."

"Also," Iroh commented, echoing Xian's thoughtful tone, "As Ryu pointed out, they did reveal a key piece of intelligence we know to be accurate. Ryu cannot advance without receiving additional supplies," then, turning to address Xian directly, "If this is a deception, General, it is an exceptional one."

Xian locked eyes with his cousin and replied, "Would you expect anything less from Nifong?"

The question hung in the air, silent and deadly. No one was in doubt of the answer.

Breaking the silence, Gan queried, "Even if it is genuine, how do we know Nifong had anything to do with it? Who is this Wu Ti? He claims that Nifong instructed him to respond in this manner, but his claim isn't proof."

"No, it isn't," Xian agreed, "and all we know of Wu Ti is that he is, in fact, Nifong's Chief of Staff, or was six months ago when I was last briefed on the subject."

"How often does a member of the Council of Five leave Ba Sing Se?" asked Commander Tojo, one of Tien Shin's brigade leaders, "I don't remember that ever happening before."

"It's rare, but it does happen," answered Xian, "General Shu and I defeated one of the Council members on my first campaign."
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 10:06 am by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #46 on: Mar 20, 2007 09:44 pm »

"More to the point," Tien Shin interrupted in an undertone of annoyance, "The message reveals discord and conflict amongst the enemy, which is very credible given Nifong's infamously shaky relations with Ba Sing Se."

"Only if it's genuine," Xian replied.

"Yes," Tien Shin agreed, eyeing his commander, "if it's genuine, though I agree with Chieng, I see no reason to believe the message false other than it is, indeed, quite convenient."

"And that doesn't bother you?"

"It does, but I see no excuse for inaction."

"You seem to have made up your mind."

"I have," Tien Shin replied softly, but firmly after a slight pause.

"Why?"

"Think carefully, General," the daimyo replied in that measured and calculating tone that Iroh feared most, "What realistic choice do we have? What is our alternative? We have overlooked perhaps the most important fact revealed in this letter. Whether it is a fake or not, Nifong clearly knows what our current plan is. He expects me to attack through the southern passes, just as we planned. So, what other options do we have besides using the northern pass? I see two."

Tien Shin pointed to the desert region on the map and said, "One, march through the eastern expanse of the Dune Sea and round the Ping Tou at their termination far to the east of Mequon, and two, end the campaign now and consolidate our gains by pulling back and fortifying the Nasu."

"Neither is practical," he concluded with absolute confidence, "The former is suicide unless we magically develop the ability to drink salt water and can somehow instantly manufacture a dozen more tank trains to service the unbelievably long supply lines we'd create in the process. The latter would be in direct violation of the Fire Lord's order."

Xian sighed, cocked his head to one side and shifted his gaze to his cousin.

"Prince Iroh, what say you?"

Shocked to hear himself say the words, Iroh replied, "I agree with the daimyo. We can't go forward the way we planned, we can't go around, and we can't stay where we are."

"Unfortunately," Iroh continued, pointing to the rabbit's warren of trails that constituted the southern passes, "Even if the letter is genuine, the opportunity presented does not guarantee a swift, easy victory. Even if we succeed in engaging them unprepared from the rear and my infantry blocks the western end of the pass, we will still be fighting in what amounts to an enormous rock canyon. Hardly the most favorable ground. However, if we succeed in trapping Nifong there the probability of destroying him is high, even if our own losses are heavy."

"On the other hand," equivocated the Crown Prince, pointing now at the western shore of Lake Myojin, "if it is a trap, the lake shore is the only place for them to counterattack. The land there is relatively flat for thirty leagues before you get to the foot hills of the Ping Tou, so they'd be attacking us on very favorable ground. We've still got enough time left in the dry season for us to execute the whole operation with time to spare so we shouldn't have to worry about mud."

"Even if it is a trap, who cares?" Chieng asked in an exasperated tone, "They've failed to stop us so far and they've thrown everything they have at us. This is just the opportunity we've been waiting for, so let's not waste it."

"I don't know about that," Iroh objected gently, "Nifong's counterattack at Cam'ron was a failure in part because he did not commit the bulk of his forces to it."

"So what?" the engineer retorted with a curt gesture of dismissal, "The fact remains that he engaged our armor and lost – badly, and if he learned anything from the failure we sure haven't seen it."

Iroh shrugged his shoulders and declined to rebut the argument. After a few moments of silence, Xian turned to Nikon, who had not yet spoken.

"Nikon?"

The young commoner looked quickly over at Iroh, who regarded him with an encouraging smile, then to Tien Shin, who did not.

"Well?" Tien Shin prodded coldly when Nikon did not answer immediately.

Addressing Xian, the young tank commander replied in a slow and deliberate voice, "Cam'ron taught me the value of caution, General, and the daimyo has impressed upon me many times and in many different ways the value of information and the power of deception," he hesitated a moment and stole another glance at Iroh before concluding, "I agree with Gan. I believe the message is false and that this is a trap, but I have nothing more than my intuition to support it."

Chieng made a sound of disgust, while Xian nodded solemnly and said, "Thank you, Commander."

"We have asked the question whether we believe this captured message to be genuine or not," Tien Shin retorted indirectly, "but I submit that this question has no practical value. As Chieng pointed out, we have no reason to believe it is not genuine, and therefore we have no choice, General, but to act upon it," Tien Shin concluded with the cold, deadly finality of a jail cell slamming shut, "If you fail to act, the Fire Lord will hold you accountable for allowing such an opportunity to pass."

Xian turned reluctantly to meet his subordinate's eyes, read the implicit threat that lay there, and accepted his fate.

"The die is cast then," the exhausted General concluded heavily, "We will attack. Tien Shin, prepare the mobile forces for immediate departure. We make for the Meiji Pass."
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 09:48 am by Acastus » Logged
lalalietta
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« Reply #47 on: Apr 01, 2007 08:18 pm »

I just read the entire story, and wow. Your writing is just amazing, and the characters are all portrayed wonderfully. It's especially nice that the canon characters don't act out of character. Trimazu is hilarious, and I feel rather bad for Nifong and Xian. I love it when a story confuses me about which side I should be rooting for, and yours does exactly that.

I especially love the interactions with Tien Shin, he's an incredibly interesting character. While I love Iroh, Nikon is slowly becoming my favorite, even if he is incredably stupid. Your attention to detail is also stunning, like the way you explained the vision and future-telling of Madam Wu.

The way you are able to weave a story within a story is great too, and I love how you can just see the scenes playing out in your head. 

I can't wait for the next installment, I'm pretty much addicted xD
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"This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you've got a moment, it's a 12 storey crisis with a magificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24 hour portrage and an enormous sign on the roof saying 'This is a large crisis.'"
   -Blackadder
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« Reply #48 on: Apr 30, 2007 08:40 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 XVII "Long After Midnight: Part I"


It was long after midnight and Iroh stood alone outside his tent. He looked up with little joy at the waxing moon and then at the camp before him bathed in its pale light. The area immediately in front of the tent was littered with dozens of crates. Some of these were open and contained armor, weapons and other supplies. Others were closed. Chieng's tank train had been loaded with hundreds of these containers before heading northeast only a few hours after the council had concluded. The landscape beyond the camp was still and silent.

After Chieng had gone, the preparations for the departure of Tien Shin's army seemed to Iroh to have created more noise than the fiercest combat at the height of the battle of the Arno, an event which now seemed strangely distant to the Crown Prince. That time of clarity, confidence and hope had now receded into a glooming twilight of uncertainty and dread. Iroh had felt reasonably confident that they were proceeding on the right course when the council had ended, but now he felt uneasy. The doubts expressed so well by his friends echoed stubbornly in his mind.

The sound of footsteps alerted him that he was no longer alone. Turning quickly he was unsurprised to see Nikon, still in his armor and with his helmet tucked under his right arm.

"Up so late, my friend?" Iroh asked, forcing a smile.

Nikon replied, his expression bleak, "I should ask the same of you, Your Highness. But I don't need to ask why you're awake. No amount of tea will make our problems go away, will it?"

Iroh laughed with some bitterness and replied, "No, even my cousin would have to admit that."

The young commoner put his helmet down gently on a nearby crate and continued, "It's a few hours until dawn. Then I must head to the Meiji," he paused, looked away as if embarrassed, then looked back at his friend and concluded, "I wanted to take my leave of you while it was still quiet enough... to say goodbye."

Iroh's chest tightened as he replied more sternly than he intended, "We're not saying goodbye."

The wind sighed among the tents as Nikon stood before him.

"It's a trap, Iroh... and Tien Shin knows it."

"Then why, why did he support the attack?" asked Iroh, his hands spread wide in a sudden, visceral expression of the frustration that had been building inside him.

"I don't know."

"It doesn't make any sense! If it's a trap, what advantage is there in it for him?"

"None that I can see," Nikon admitted with a sigh.

"He's going to be right there, for heaven's sake! If it's a trap, he's going to be trapped too. It doesn't make any sense," Iroh insisted, "My step brother is anything but stupid. He would not participate if he believed it to be a suicide mission."

"But you're still out here thinking about it, aren't you?" the young tank commander countered, "If you were still convinced this was a good idea you'd be in there," he said, pointing his thumb back over his shoulder at the tent behind them, "sleeping like a baby."

"I'm confused," Iroh admitted in turn, "it felt like Tien Shin bullied my cousin into this course of action for some reason I don't understand, but by the same token I don't think I'd have chosen differently if I were in Xian's position."

"It's killing him, Iroh," said Nikon, lowering his voice, "Xian, I mean. You see that, don't you?"

Iroh winced visibly at the statement of this simple truth.

"Yes, I know that now," Iroh admitted after a pause. The shock of seeing his cousin so changed at the council had not yet worn off.

"Is he sick, do you think?"

"No, I don't think so, not his body anyway," answered Iroh after a short pause to consider, "He wouldn't let me see him after the meeting, but... I think it's the uncertainty. The stress of the uncertainty is eating him alive. My cousin worries about everything and everyone. He's been that way my whole life, and everyone has loved him for it, even my father."

"What about your brother?" Nikon ventured hesitantly, for he was terrified of Prince Ozai, and it was rare that Iroh spoke of him.

Iroh smiled and replied, "Yes, even my brother, in his own way."

"Wow!" the young commoner offered involuntarily, "Then your cousin is too good for his own good, isn't he?"

"Yes. He told me as much before we left."

Nikon's eyebrows rose in surprise, "What?"

Briefly Iroh recounted Xian's suspicions surrounding the Fire Lord's motives for appointing him to lead the new army.

"I didn't believe him. I didn't want to believe him," the young Prince said heavily, "Xian has been a pillar of strength and wisdom for me as long as I've known him, but..." Iroh hesitated as he struggled to continue. He did not like criticizing his cousin. It felt like a betrayal. Forcing himself to go on despite the discomfort he concluded, "...maybe he was right to say he was not the best man to lead this campaign. He is wiser than I, but... he is governed by his fears."

Iroh paused and looked down at the broken ground before him, uncertain whether to mention Xian's final comment during their conversation from so long ago.

"And?" his friend asked, cocking his head to one side in response to his friend's hesitation.

"Well, he also told me he was having nightmares... dark premonitions... things like that."

"You don't believe in any of that stuff, do you?" Nikon returned with some surprise, "You remember that Gan made my life hell for spouting that "gutter trash superstition" when we first met. I thought the nobility looked down on all the hocus pocus of the underclass."

"I don't, or I didn't, now I don't really know what to believe. The world seems a bit wider now than it used to. Besides, it doesn't matter what I believe, it only matters what my cousin believes."

"Did he say what his dreams were about?"

"No, but I know he's been dreading a conundrum like we now face for months. It's probably been gnawing at him since before we even left home. He's had to make a very hard decision and the risk he is taking is very large."

"Will he break do you think?" Nikon asked, his eyes widening with fear.

Iroh considered this and replied, "No."

Finding no comfort in Iroh's stubborn expression of confidence, Nikon shook his head in exasperation, "I just don't get it. What the hell's happened to us? How did we go from certain victory to this... this mess?"

"I don't know, my friend. The more successful we've become, the more the uncertainty has seemed to increase. It doesn't make sense, but it is nonetheless true."

Nikon crossed his arms, sighed in frustration, and then, changing the subject asked, "Were you mad at me for disagreeing with you at the council, by the way?"

Iroh laughed and replied, "No, of course not. I was more afraid you and Gan would be mad at me for agreeing with Tien Shin," then, in a more serious tone, "I value your opinion, and I would no more stop you from using your head than I would Gan. You both have an agility of mind that I admire."

Nikon smiled weakly and replied, "Thanks. Guess I need to stop and think more often instead of spending all my time chasing after hookers and trying to humiliate the daimyo, right?"

"I don't blame anyone for trying to humiliate my step brother," the Crown Prince replied with a wry smile, "but we could all do with some more wisdom and patience. I know I could."

Iroh leaned back against the crate behind him and, reading his friends troubled features, asked, "Are you afraid?"

"Yes, yes, I am," Nikon confessed with a single nod of his head, "At the Arno and Cam'ron I didn't have time to be afraid. I just collapsed in a puddle afterwards as soon as I was alone. This time though... it seems I've got all the time in the world."

"We're all afraid," Iroh injected, "Even Tien Shin."

"When the time comes, though, it won't matter," continued Nikon quietly, ignoring Iroh's comment, "just as it didn't matter in any of the battles I've fought until now. When the fighting starts, the world narrows... and everything else except the fighting just... goes away. I always wanted an education – never thought I'd get one like this."

The young commoner began to rub his arms as if he were cold and looked suddenly away.

"And...?" Iroh finally prompted, "Your turn, my friend."

Nikon nodded his head a few times and finally replied in a tone of quiet desperation, "It's selfish, I know, but I wish Master Chen were here. He always knew what to do, but... he's probably been dead for months now, hasn't he?"

Although phrased as a question, there was no doubt as to the young commoner's belief in the answer. Iroh began to utter a protest, but the words died on his lips. He studied his friend in the moonlight and discovered he could no longer offer such false assurances. The young rake who had trained recruits on Showa Field during the day and shamelessly caroused the city at night was diminishing before his eyes, replaced ever more clearly by the visage of the professional soldier that stood before him.

Iroh finally nodded in response.

"Okay, enough of that," Nikon said finally, squaring his shoulders. "Time for me to go."

He picked up his helmet, turned back to his friend and said simply, "Thank you. Thank you for everything you've done for me. I never had a real friend before you, and you've been the best friend –"

Iroh, his eyes tearing up instantly at the proffered goodbye, stepped forward and caught Nikon in a bear hug, "No, stop! I won't listen! We will meet again, alive and victorious in the southern pass, our enemy smashed between us, you'll see! You and Xian have to live," Iroh pleaded, "Please! What would I do without you both?"

The young commoner hugged him back and replied with conviction, "You'd go on, somehow, but no one's giving up, Your Highness, I swear."

They released each other with one final pat on the other's back. Nikon stepped away and saluted, a gesture his friend returned, before turning and walking back the way he had come without uttering another word. Iroh watched him go, his feet kicking up dust as he went. A few moments later he was gone, leaving the camp shrouded once again under the unnatural blanket of perfect silence and leaden expectation.
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 10:06 am by Acastus » Logged
BelleDragon
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« Reply #49 on: May 01, 2007 01:11 pm »

My review is in 'note' style, as I jotted thoughts down, while reading.

I love Trimasu! He's hilarious, boisterous, arrogant, repugnant "obsessed with bodily functions " - Zucko, Chapter 2 - hehe, wise and self-deprecating "I put on airs, to be sure, but I hold myself in no more regard than you or my driver" - Iroh, Chapter 2. You have 'fleshed him out' nicely and given us a way to see more than the obnoxious in him.

The ironic twist of the story teller's tale... Poor Iroh must sit through an agonizingly, detailed blow by blow account of his misfortunes. Excellent plot maneuver.

OMG - Trimasu's opening line ("latest faux pas") in Chapter 7 is absolutely classic! It's so random and completely outrageous! I can just picture the audience, totally engrossed in the compelling story being told, being 'jolted' back to reality with this very crude, unnerving gesture. Very funny! The entire first section is a wonderful, and at times, poignant, interlude.

How does the Gao - The Storyteller, have such intimate knowledge of individual conversations? It makes for a riveting tale, but doesn't seem realistic. It's an excellent vehicle for the storytelling, but I'm wondering if you will eventually tell us how he knows so much.

You have given a warm, human side to the prominent figures of the Fire Nation. It is unexpected and very real.

Trimasu's outrageous 'outbursts' are wonderful respites from the wonderfully, detailed more serious storytelling. He's so inappropriate - I love his character! His barbs with Chen are my favorite.

Poor Iroh has to decide if Gao should continue his story about HIS life... just pathetically, tragic. How revealing these insights into the Earth Kingdom's motives are provided by the storyteller to Iroh and Zuko. Will Zuko gain any new perspectives by the end of the tale?

Chapter 11 - The Reading. Loved this chapter. Unexpected revelations to Nifong regarding the personality of his new adversary Xian. Earth and Fire are each learning the humanity of the other side.

Battle scenes are very, nicely done - not too long or dragged out (which is a bonus for me - I prefer the intimacy of character building passages.)

Your writing style is seamless as we are transported from scene to scene. You are at your best when using sarcasm and, on the other hand, when demonstrating compassion for characters and between characters.

Please update soon - or I'll call to harass you... None of this once a month business hehe (I'm Acastus's sister in RL ) It's bad enough that I have to wait an entire week, every week, for new Naruto manga chapters and anime episodes hehe. Get crackin...
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