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Author Topic: Prince Iroh [T] [Complete]  (Read 60460 times)
Katara360
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« Reply #50 on: May 03, 2007 10:02 pm »

This is a great story Acastus!!!BRAVO!! *Loud Applause* Oh,could you post the next chapter?
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Keeper Katara's new hairstyle, Toph's new wristlets, and Sokka's new sword!

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Celvandil
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« Reply #51 on: May 07, 2007 06:45 am »

I absolutely love your story Acastus.  In the fear of being horribly repetitive, I will state as many others have that your writing is phenomenal!  The dialogue between the characters has to be my favorite part.  It just..works, you know?

Xian and Iroh..it seems to me that Xian is like a role model for Iroh that he will try to become once he 'reforms' after Lu Ten dies.  Maybe I'm just fishing here, but I couldn't help but notice the similarities between Xian and older Iroh.

For some reason Zuko always makes me laugh.  Just picturing his face as he listens to this story, trying to react like an earthkingdom peasant but probably failing and giving way to the indignation is just..funny.

And of course, poor Iroh as he listens to a part of his life he' most likely wish to forget! 

Please update soon...I almost lost hope at one point when this tory just kinda disappeared. Forget what chapter that was...but you wouldn't want to depress me again..would you? Wink
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Acastus
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« Reply #52 on: Jul 01, 2007 08:27 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

A/N: Sorry for the delay folks. As the incredibly cool Kakashi is fond of saying, "I got lost on the path of life."ASN, my job (our fiscal year ends June 30th) and other things have gotten in the way recently. Also, this chapter was hard to write. I think you'll understand. For those interested in seeing this story through to the end, don't worry, I won't stop until it's done.

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

Chapter XVIII "Long After Midnight: Part II"

Iroh turned to resume his lonely vigil, but stopped short as his eyes detected a shadow at the entrance to his tent. His thoughts of melancholy vanished as he shifted seamlessly into a bending stance. Months of high intensity combat had taught him, and every other soldier who had survived this far, to be ready to fight for one's life at a moment's notice.

His body relaxed, but his mind quailed the moment the shadow spoke.

"So, do I need to take a ticket?" came the familiar voice with a trace of amusement, "I don't know anyone else who has a receiving line at four in the morning."

Xian stepped out of the tent and into the moonlight, a tired, but genuine smile on his face. He carried a black scroll tube in one hand. Iroh began to salute, but the gesture died with just a slight movement of his arm. He knew why his cousin was here. Just as Nikon had, Xian had come to say goodbye.

The world dimmed further in Iroh's perception as the adrenalin rush from the sudden intrusion drained away and a sick feeling of shame washed over him. He steadied himself by leaning on a neighboring crate. How much had he heard? Iroh wondered. Xian stepped forward to help, but his cousin waved him off.

"You startled me, cousin," Iroh replied lamely, "Nikon and I were just... exchanging farewells."

Xian nodded, failing to give any hint as to whether he had been privy to their conversation.

"And now, it is our turn," Xian affirmed patiently, "I too leave in a few hours. We will either meet again in the southern pass, or... we won't. Either way, we have a few things to talk about, you and I."

Iroh eyed the black tube in his cousin's hand. Its polished surface reflected the moonlight as Xian turned slightly to face him. A few moments passed, but the tightness in Iroh's chest had returned. He did not trust himself to reply. Anger, fear, shame and frustration warred within him. He squeezed his eyes shut to prevent the tears he felt burning his eyes from falling.

"You're afraid of losing us," Xian stated simply with a nod of his head, "I know."

At this the Crown Prince sank to his knees.

"Please, cousin," Iroh pleaded, his voice thick, "Let me..."

"No," Xian cut him off gently, dropping to the ground in front of Iroh, " I know what you want to ask, but you cannot come with us," he continued, shaking his head, "Don't misunderstand, I would do... anything to have you there with me."

"Then let me come, I can help, I promise..."

"I know you could," Xian assured him, then with quiet pride and satisfaction continued, "You have become a great warrior, and an even greater leader, just as I knew you would. You are feared by your enemies, loved by your friends, your soldiers, and the people. It is because of that, that I cannot let you come with us. If I'm wrong, if it's a trap, you will be needed here."

Looking deep into his cousin's eyes, Xian pressed forward in a firmer voice, "Iroh, if the worst befalls me, I want you to open this and do as it instructs."

One moment Iroh was awash with emotion, seemingly incapable of influencing what he felt, let alone understanding or controlling the situation around him. The next, he felt still, as if the veil of dreadful silence which enveloped the camp had penetrated his very soul. Iroh felt his grip weaken on his cousin's arm, then, a moment later, he felt his hand fall leaden into his lap.

Slowly Xian extended his other hand and offered him the black tube.

"Do you understand?"

The dark cylinder hung between them. Iroh reached out and took the tube. It felt cold and hard, a slice of death.

"Yes," Iroh supplied in a flat tone, his gaze sliding off his cousin and focusing on nothing.

"Good," then, after a few moments of silence continued, "Are you all right?"

Iroh turned slowly back to Xian and said, "All right? You're telling me you're going to die, and you ask me if I am all right?"

"I did not say that, Iroh," Xian reproached with a trace of sternness, "This is a precaution. I do not know why Tien Shin pushed this attack so strongly, but I suspect his motives, as do Nikon and Gan."

"Then call off the attack!" Iroh roared suddenly, his cheeks flushing red, "If you believe it's a trap, whether begat by Nifong or Tien Shin, then why go?"

Xian sighed. It had been less than twelve hours since that question had arisen, and yet he was as tired of it as if it had plagued him his whole life.

Waiting for Iroh to calm himself before he replied, Xian finally answered, his voice rising in intensity as he went, "For two reasons, Iroh. First, because I don't know it's a trap. And if it's not, then this is the opportunity we've been waiting for to turn the war around. Imagine for a moment," he continued, a pained expression twisting his gentle facial features, "if this were our true opening, and we failed to seize it? Could we ever forgive ourselves for wasting what is probably our last opportunity to end this... this... endless, hateful massacre we call a war? And if we fail here now, how will we feel about the hundreds of thousands of our people who surely will die before we are finally conquered?"

"Yes, cousin," Xian continued at Iroh's shocked expression, "conquered. For surely the Fire Nation shall be conquered if we fail. The Fire Lord has summoned the entire strength of the empire for this campaign, and if we suffer the same fate as my father the Fire Nation will not survive long."

"Do you really believe the situation is that bad, cousin?" asked Iroh in barely a whisper.

"Yes, I do, and so does the Fire Lord."

"What is the second reason?" Iroh prompted after a moment of shocked silence.

"Second," Xian continued, "because whether he is plotting or not, I can find no gap in Tien Shin's logic. If I fail to prosecute the war, your father will have me executed for treason when I return. Tien Shin will see to that. You know that, don't you?"

Emotionally exhausted, Iroh nodded glumly and looked at the ground between them.

"Now," Xian continued in a more relaxed tone, "I have some good news for you."

Iroh lifted his head to meet his cousin's eyes. Xian looked old and tired in the pale light of the water tribe's patron spirit, but his gaze was steady.

"Normally the Qu'ai Tau would accompany us on such a venture, to make sure the troops don't take for themselves the spoils of victory that rightfully belong to the Fire Lord, you understand," he said with a quiet laugh, "but in this case I have asked Gan to remain with you. Nikon, of course, must go."

"Thanks," he replied, lowering his head once again. This news failed utterly to provide any comfort to the Crown Prince. It did nothing to lift the pall of dread that had settled on his soul, or limit the anguish he felt at being left behind while his cousin and his best friend went to fight for their lives and the fate of the Fire Nation.

"Don't look so sad, cousin," Xian prodded, his smile widening, "look at the bright side, at least I'm taking Chieng along."

Iroh, jolted briefly from his despair, laughed hollowly and quipped, "Just make sure she's out front, would you?"

"Not a bad idea," Xian mused, "if Nifong has the same reaction to her as everyone else I doubt he'll even show up at all! On the other hand, if he does show up," equivocated Xian, successfully avoiding reuse of the word "trap", "maybe running him over with one of her tank trains is our best hope."

"She certainly has courage," remarked Iroh absently.

Both sighed and lapsed into an uncomfortable silence.

"What are you thinking about now, cousin?" queried Iroh after some time had passed.

Xian looked at the ground and replied without a trace of irony, "Oh, your favorite story, actually, the Battle of the Coral Sea."

Iroh nodded once and looked down as well, for he thought he understood why his cousin's mind would stray to that tale at such a time.

"I know you hate the story after hearing it so many times, but I never stopped loving it," Xian began to explain, "After father died, I couldn't wait for the Harvest Moon feast to come so I could hear it again. No matter how bad the storyteller was, it didn't matter... I just wanted to feel like my father was still alive..."

‘My favorite part, you know, was always the night between the first and second day of the battle, when your father and my father's ships had been separated, and the situation looked bad, really bad. The best storytellers always conjured up for me images of my father's mighty battleship, the Atragon, wounded but unbowed, standing with a hundred other ships of the line blocking the Water Tribe and Earth Kingdom's combined fleet, the wrecks of hundreds of Fire Nation and enemy ships between them."

"I used to dream of him standing on the bridge that night, looking at the stars, trying to make the best decision he could in such an awful situation. Trapped with his ships in the bay, I know your father did the same."

"You know the rest. The night attack turned the battle around and two days later the enemy was destroyed. Your father and mine became heroes, just as they should have been. But that night..." he said wistfully, "that night... they were just as vulnerable and afraid as we are now... or worse."

"I used to wonder at how smart, strong and brave they were, and I wanted to be just like them. Then, not long before he left and never returned, I asked father how he knew to attack that night, and you know what he said?"

"No, what did he say?"

"He said, "I didn't. I took the risk and prayed for victory." I never really believed him until long after he died when I got some experience under General Shu. Now I know," Xian concluded bitterly, "no matter how carefully one plans or how virtuous you are, luck, fate or fortune, whatever you want to call it, rules us all."

Then, suddenly, Xian smiled, slapped Iroh's knee once and stood up. Iroh immediately followed suit.

"Now, cousin, time to part company."

Xian stepped forward and hugged his cousin fiercely.

"You will make an excellent Fire Lord one day. I am so proud of you."

Iroh tried desperately to reply, but he choked. He raised his arms across his cousin's shoulders and the black tube he still held in his hand came to rest across his cousin's back.

"Don't forget me," Xian said finally through gritted teeth in a choked voice of his own.

"Never," Iroh replied thickly, his eyesight obscured by a flood of tears, "Don't you forget me."

"Never, no more than I could forget mother or father," his cousin vowed.

Xian released his cousin and wiped his eyes. He looked over his cousin's shoulder to see the first rosy fingers of dawn staining the eastern sky.

"Time to go," he said quickly, then added, "and remember what I said about the instructions."

Iroh nodded as he wiped his own eyes. A moment later Xian turned and walked away using the same path Nikon had earlier. Miserable, Iroh sat down once again, knowing he had just seen his cousin for the last time.

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

"...and so," the Storyteller concluded, "their miserable hour come round at last, General Xian and Nikon Orlando departed for the Meiji Pass on treads of iron and hearts of lead. The death ride of the Army of the Great Divide began with favorable weather and good spirits amongst the soldiers of the Fire Nation, and ended with everlasting glory for the Earth Kingdom on the blood soaked shores of Lake Myojin..."

Iroh, unable to thrust aside any longer the images of his cousin and his son, realized with horror that he had begun to cry. "Forgive me, Prince Zuko, now I have failed you as well..."
« Last Edit: Jan 06, 2008 10:06 am by Acastus » Logged
Ouroboros
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« Reply #53 on: Jul 01, 2007 09:10 pm »

Finally a new update! I thought it would never come! Glad to see you're still writing Acastus.
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BelleDragon
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« Reply #54 on: Jul 03, 2007 02:45 pm »

Yay! (Clapping...) Thanks so much for the update. I can definitely see why this chapter was so difficult for you to write. It was beautifully done (as always) and the tears were flowing down my cheeks long before Iroh's. My favorite part is when Xian is recounting the story of the 'Battle of Coral Sea' and the poignancy of his father's revelation and it's meaning to their current situation.

(Sorry for the cut and paste from fanfic.net) I wanted your story to get to the top here in hopes that other from avatarspirit will take a chance to discover Prince Iroh's story :-)
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Sokkas sarcasm student
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« Reply #55 on: Jul 04, 2007 01:43 am »

Awesome- I just read the last chapter, but now I'm going to have to read all the rest.  Luckily, I have extreme insomnia in account of my neighbors being drunk hillbillies lighting off fireworks at 1:38am. Yay for Indiana.

Anyways, this story is incredible, and I was glad to see you're going to continue to the end.  Good news for your new readers!

Again, great job, and I'll continue to update myself on this.

your fellow writer and soon to be avid reader,

-s.s.s.
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« Reply #56 on: Dec 29, 2007 10:38 pm »

a strong story. a bit heavy, but beautiful. it'd probably be good enough to exist in it's own right, since you're only (and barely) using some background elements from the show. (although I must admit that I like the little scenes in the present best. very touching.)

you left us with a cliffhanger.
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Acastus
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« Reply #57 on: Jan 22, 2015 10:49 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

A/N: Whatever happened on the shores of mighty Lake Myojin? I have often wondered, as perhaps have those few who read this tale long ago and enjoyed it, but who hoped for a more reliable author than I have proven. So, now, sing in me Muse, and through me tell the tale of the Earth Kingdom’s most glorious victory.  Of men and arms I speak, of deeds both great and terrible…

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


Chapter XIX – "Lake Myojin"


Nikon squinted as he tried in vain to pierce the white shroud that enveloped them. His hands involuntarily gripped the top hatch cleats as his tank crawled at an agonizingly slow pace through the dense fog. On either side only the dim, shadowy outlines of the closest machines could be seen. The rest of the army could be heard, but was otherwise lost in the impenetrable mist.

“This is bad, Commander, bad, bad, bad,” hissed the tank driver through clenched teeth from somewhere below, “First the charts turned out to be trash, and now… now this. We’ve got to get out of here.”

“That’s enough, Jin,” Nikon replied sternly from his position atop the vehicle, “That kind of talk won’t help us.”

Jin grimaced and replied stoically, “Yes, Commander.”

Nikon left it at that. He knew the tank driver was correct. The army’s mood had improved dramatically with the easy investment of Amiganza three days prior, but had then declined steadily as the Ping Tou Mountains drew near. The Fire Nation maps had shown that the foothills never came within ten leagues of the Coast Road, but this intelligence had proven incorrect. As dusk fell the night before the distance between the lake shore and the mountains had shrunk to no more than a few miles. On their right the snowcapped peaks of the Ping Tou now looked close enough to touch and the low slopes of its foothills almost ran down to the beach. On their left the Coast Road was often no more than a few hundred feet from the restless waves of Lake Myojin.

Morale had visibly worsened that morning when the army awoke to a fresh horror. A cold westerly wind from the mountains, initially greeted as a welcome change after the hot dusty months of summer warfare, had sprung up during the night. By dawn the wind had changed direction and a thick layer of fog had rolled in off the lake that obscured everything. The officers had narrowly avoided a panic amongst the men before attending a hastily arranged meeting of the general staff in Xian’s tent. The debate had raged over whether to continue moving forward or to delay.

“This is ridiculous, General,” Nikon offered boldly, “Pardon the pun, but the mountains are literally a stone’s throw away – much closer to our invasion route than we ever anticipated, and now we can’t even see the tops of those foothills with the fog. If this is a setup, can you imagine a better place for a trap than this? I mean, we’ve at least got to hold up until the fog goes away.”

“You speak fluent cowardice, Nikon,’ Chieng replied acidly, “How many times do we have to repeat the same crap over and over for the benefit of fools? We scouted those foothills before the weather went to hell and found nothing - nothing! You’re obviously overcompensating for your stupidity at Cam’ron. Get over it.”

Nikon laughed and, smiling suggestively at the engineer, disagreed, “I’m drawing conclusions based on the facts. Weren’t you the one who was supposed to be good at that?”

Chieng responded with a contemptuous snort and looked away. An uncomfortable silence descended. Xian looked haggard and said nothing. Tien Shin regarded Nikon with an inscrutable expression before turning to examine the map before them.

“The scouts say the mountains pull sharply away from the lake shore about ten or twelve miles ahead,” observed the daimyo as he indicated a spot on the map south of their current position, “and that our westward turn into the southern pass is about thirty miles beyond that,” he concluded, indicating still another point on the map.

“We should run it, my Lord,” insisted Commander Tojo, “We could get the whole column through by late afternoon if we push it.”

“Of course we should,” Chieng added, “We’ve seen nothing more than stragglers and a few messengers since Highhold Pass, none of which have survived to tell any tales. Just move through and be done with it.”

Chieng’s assertion hung in the air for a few moments before Commander Ryu spoke.

“Why? What’s the rush? We’re almost a day ahead of schedule as is. Further, it's worth noting that we are initiating this battle, not Prince Iroh and the infantry. As long as they are in position by the time we engage, which they should be by tomorrow if they’re on schedule, it should work.”

“The reason for the rush, Commander,” rebutted Tien Shin with more than a tinge of annoyance, “is that surprise is absolutely critical to our success. We’re planning a battle in a mountain pass against earthbenders, or had you forgotten? Every hour we delay is a chance for news of our movement to reach the enemy. Our success depends on our ability to move faster than rumor. If they have time to prepare for us it will surely turn victory into catastrophic defeat. We can’t allow that."

“Well,” injected Commander Cho, Tien Shin’s most conservative battalion leader, “do we have any idea how long this fog is likely to last? We passed what, two or three fishing villages on the way here and took hostages. Have we asked them anything about it?”

“Yes,” replied Xian, speaking softly for the first time, “they said the lake shore is often subject to these fogs from now until spring.”

“They’re lying,” Chieng stated flatly, “If that were true how would they feed themselves for eight months of the year? You don’t think you can go out fishing and get back home safely in a fog like this? Not with the primitive pieces of crap these people use for fishing boats, I guarantee you that.”

No one answered.

“Ignorant savages the lot of them,” she concluded.

The daimyo, obviously weary of the discussion, turned and addressed Xian saying, “The truth is we don’t know how long the fog will last. It might burn off by afternoon or it might be days. I agree with Commander Tojo, it’s a risk, but I think we should get through the defile as fast as possible.”


The debate had ended there with Xian quietly acquiescing to the near unanimous, if discomfited, consensus. Within thirty minutes the army was once again moving southward along the Coast Road. The column retained the order that it had used since crossing the Meiji pass, with Nikon and Ryu’s formations in front, Tien Shin and his brigades behind, followed in the rear by Xian’s own troops and Chieng’s tank trains. The Fire Nation right flank was carried by the mongoose cavalry still in service after the army had been reorganized in the spring.

Mulling over these melancholy memories from the morning, however, brought no comfort to Iroh's friend. “At least there aren't any large stones down here near the lake," he observed as the painfully slow advance continued, "Now there’s nothing to do but move, and pray to the Spirits that we pass through the eye of this needle safely."

With conscious effort Nikon forced himself to unclench his fists which had curled up tight with the rising tension. It was now mid-morning and he was certain that the entire Fire Nation army was in the defile. He peered ahead once more. Try as he might, however, he could see nothing but the white, slowly drifting fog banks and hear only the sounds of moving machines and the occasional break of waves against the shore.


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


The green clad general and his aide stood on a promontory that offered a good view of the western shore of Lake Myojin. Below them on the narrow strip of boulder strewn beach offered by the lake’s southern shore stood thousands of Earth Kingdom soldiers. The general’s attention, however, was not directed at the men below.

Nifong carefully surveyed the situation to the northwest through a short sighting scope. The western shore, no more than ten miles away, was completely concealed by a dense fog that rose in steadily thickening wisps from the lake surface. The tops of the foothills leading up to the Ping Tou Mountains beyond could be seen clearly poking through the milky white clouds. Suddenly flashes of light began emanating from two of these low peaks. These were joined moments later by similar flashes from the tops of the other hills.

“That’s the signal, General,” confirmed his aide, seeing the same thing through his instrument.

Nifong offered no reply other than to collapse his scope and replace it in his kit. His aide quickly followed suit.

They were joined a moment later by a tall man with long black hair dressed in the tranquil, cerulean blue of the Northern Water Tribe. His erect posture spoke of discipline and an unyielding nature, the sharp angular lines of his face and sarcastic smile spoke of ego and pride. The newcomer squinted with eagle sharp eyes in the same direction the two Earth Kingdom soldiers faced.

Grunting in approval after a quick assessment, the water tribe man spoke.

“An excellent day for battle, General," he mused approvingly; "You couldn’t have picked a better place or asked for better circumstances. The fog is a great bonus.”

“It is, Master Pakku, though it was always likely at this time of year,” Nifong replied absently, for long ago he had been born on the shores of Lake Myojin and knew much concerning the features and conditions of the region.
 
“Our hill positions haven’t been discovered then?” the water bender asked with a mixture of amusement and curiosity.

“No.”

“I overestimated our enemy,” Pakku concluded with a laugh, then continuing in a conspiratorial tone, “though I shouldn’t be surprised. I hear these machines of theirs were designed by a woman – a woman! Can you believe that?" he asked, shaking his head incredulously, "Absolutely scandalous!”

The Master Waterbender folded his arms across his chest and allowed himself a self-satisfied smile of utter contempt.

“Hiding earthbenders on rocky hills with days to prepare doesn’t take much skill,” Nifong replied evenly before asking, “Are your waterbenders ready?”

“Of course, and I can’t wait to see their faces when we arrive, assuming I can pry some of their helmets off before they die to get the satisfaction. I don’t think they’ve seen waterbenders this far south since my grandfather’s time. I bet they don’t even believe we exist anymore,” his grin growing wider and his expression more dangerous as he spoke, “It will be my pleasure to educate them.”

“Yes,” Nifong remarked thoughtfully, finally turning to face the master waterbender, “I’m sure it will.” Stepping closer to Pakku he continued with sudden intensity, “Just remember, target the machines, forget the men. They will be powerless without their machines.”

“I will remember, General, though that rests more in the hands of your men than mine.”

Nifong regarded his ally for a moment longer before turning back to the scene before him. The flashes of light from the hilltops had ceased.

“Everyone below is ready,” Pakku continued, “How about the men over there, are they ready?” he asked, indicating the hilltops with his chin.

“Yes, Master Pakku,” supplied the aide, “we just saw the signal lights.”

Pakku grunted approval again before looking behind them down the path on which they had come. There a sizable body of Earth Kingdom cavalry had completed their preparations and stood ready to move.

“You sure that’s enough?” he asked, pointing a finger at the rows of ostrich horses behind them.

“Yes,” the Earth Kingdom general responded, “we only need to keep them bottled up. It won’t be hard. If the cavalry have to loose one arrow or lob one stone I’ll be surprised.”

“Then we’re ready,” Pakku concluded, his smug and superior attitude gone, “Let’s get on with it.”

“Yes,” replied Nifong, suppressing a sigh, “go, Master Pakku, and may the Spirits of the Moon, Ocean and Earth be with us.”

The waterbender smiled once more, this time gently, and placed a hand on Nifong’s shoulder in a gesture of friendship.

“I know they will, General. We have everything we need to win. You have made sure of it. Chief Kikluk was right to send us, even though many on the Council had doubts. The Earth Kingdom is not ready to die yet, and neither is the Northern Water Tribe.”

Nifong smiled wryly and nodded once in affirmation. Pakku dropped his arm and his expression became hard. He turned and began walking down the path to the beach.

“This is really it, isn’t it, General?” asked the aide in a small voice when the waterbender disappeared from view.

“Yes, Captain, it really is.”

They both turned their attention to the beach below. Soon groups of blue clad men began winding their way through the earthbender ranks.  Whistles began to blow, prompting the soldiers in green to start moving all at once. Breaking formation everyone climbed onto the nearest stone. The beach was heavily populated with large rocks worn flat and smooth by eons of relentless wave action. Some boulders ended up with dozens of men on them.

Nifong and his aide could hear shouts wafting up from below and feel the exertion of earthbending power as their men began lifting up the boulders on which they stood. With an almost audible hum, thousands of earthbenders squatted atop their chariots of stone and tensed their muscles and wills, commanding their native element to obey them. Moments later every stone large enough to hold more than a few men hovered several feet above the beach.

The waterbenders had formed a line at the lake edge. Nifong watched as Pakku turned his head back and forth in a quick survey of his countrymen. When the Earth Kingdom soldiers were prepared, Pakku thundered in a clear voice that resonated along the lake shore, "Waterbenders of the North, begin!"  

Using graceful moves that belied the strength and fortitude required to manipulate their element, the men of the north began to collect the water around them. The lake retreated rapidly from the shore as it gathered itself into the burgeoning wave. Working in unison they quickly built a solid wall of water from one end of the beach to the other.

In rapid succession the men in green then proceeded to hurl themselves and their rock platforms onto the crest of the stationary wave in front of them. Soon the wall of water was graced with a stone crenellation that bore upon it thousands of the Earth Kingdom's most powerful earthbenders. The men in blue then stepped forward into the lake and ran up the wave's gentler slope, joining their Earth Kingdom comrades on their makeshift rafts of stone.

When all was prepared Master Pakku turned and looked up at the promontory in quiet expectation. Thousands of pairs of eyes joined him. The jostling and yelling that had filled the air with such tumult only moments before melted away to a silence disturbed only by the sound of the wind and water.

The General raised his arm above his head and with a simple sweeping motion brought it down.

"Forward!" Pakku thundered in acknowledgment of the signal.

Once again in near perfect unison the men in blue executed a precise series of fluid motions. With a great heave the stationary wave suddenly began to move towards the northwest, bearing with it thousands of tons of stone and the allied army riding upon it. The moving wall of water, men and mineral quickly accelerated away from the lake shore, gathering both height and speed as it went. Minutes later the gigantic wave disappeared into the swirling vapors that obscured the western shore.

Turning away from the panorama Nifong and his aide marched swiftly back down the path to the waiting cavalry. Once mounted, the Earth Kingdom general addressed his men briefly with some words appropriate to the occasion. He observed dimly to himself as he gave a speech he never remembered that he should feel something. Exhilaration. Anxiety. Nervousness. He remembered these sensations from a hundred other battles he had planned and fought. Instead he felt only a numbness that obliterated everything, even the curiosity born of expectation.

When he was finished he led his men west along the lake shore, quickly covering the few miles between the camp and the place where the last, jutting spur of the Ping Tou began to pull southwest, away from the lake shore.

There they lay in wait, peering into the edges of the cloud banks before them, as the sounds of approaching machinery, still weak in the distance, grew ever louder.

Nifong closed his eyes and offered a last prayer, "O Spirit of the Earth, our course is set. Into thy hands I commit our lives. Smile today upon your children who offer themselves as living gifts upon the altar of freedom. For the sake of the faithful, for the countless souls who have suffered and lost, for all that is good and gracious in this world, grant us victory."

He opened his eyes to the sounds of the first stones falling on the approaching Fire Nation column and knew the prayer was unnecessary. The thousands of earthbenders concealed amongst the foothills had begun their assault a few minutes too early. Unfortunate, to be sure, but it would not change the outcome he knew to be inevitable. The Battle of Lake Myojin had begun.
« Last Edit: Jan 24, 2015 07:07 am by Acastus » Logged
Colonel_Brian
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« Reply #58 on: Jan 23, 2015 12:51 am »

Oh my Koh. I can die now. Bless your heart. Anyway, I liked Pakku's unexpexted appearance. I thought Nifong was talking about Ba Sing Se when he spoke about his allies up north. Anyway I guess I called the allusion to Lake Trasimene. Also Chieng seems a lot more angry than usual. Though I don't know if I can say she is acting in an exaggerated fashion or not as she is a relatively minor character without a lot of screen time.

Anyway, I cannot wait for part two. I love your fight sequences. And this one is starting to look very interesting. With Pakku and his fellow waterbenders aboard, I feel like we are in for some top-notch and creative battle sequences.

Lastly, if you are willing, can you tell me where you imagine cities like Mequon, Inchon (the Jade Highway) and Nanjiing to be? Tien Shin's plan in chapter sixteeen as far as geography goes confused me a bit.
« Last Edit: Feb 02, 2015 09:47 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #59 on: Feb 06, 2015 07:27 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

A/N: Whups, this chapter is too long for one post, will have to cut it in two, sorry! As always, the formatting is better on FF.net, please feel free to read / comment on Prince Iroh there!

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

Chapter XX – "Simply Murder"



Something was wrong. They could all feel it. In the belly of their tank Nikon's crew exchanged tense, worried glances of quiet desperation. The unease was palpable, but the source could not be identified. The fog continued to swirl. The slow, rhythmic drone of the Fire Nation war machines continued to fill the air.
 
Iroh's friend craned his neck forward for what must have been the hundredth time, but saw nothing. He looked backwards and saw the machines behind him for a few moments before they were swallowed by the mist, only to reappear a few moments later. He looked to his left towards the lake. He could see the sand and rock of the beach, but not far enough to see the water. His search revealed nothing.
 
Then he identified it. He hadn't heard a wave against the shore for some time. It had been part of the background noise, but the beach had gone strangely silent. How long it had been that way he couldn’t be certain. Disturbed, but unsure what the realization meant, he bent down to tell his driver to stop the machine. The order was never given.
 
Nikon felt the rush of displaced air before he heard the boulder come crashing down a few feet in front of them. Reacting automatically as he had countless times before, he crouched down and pulled the upper hatch shut behind him. Before he had time to speak their machine crashed into the rubble that just hit the ground in front of them. The impact knocked the gunners out of their seats and slammed Nikon into the hull. The engine whined as the left tread climbed over the crushed remains of the fallen projectile. A second later the machine came back down with another disorienting crash.

“Goddamit!” the young tank commander screamed in his head. Clenching his fist deliberately this time, he struggled to suppress the feelings of rage and impotence that welled up within him.

“Right turn! 90 degrees! Battle speed!” he screamed, his voice cracking.

Outside the ground shook with a dozen other impacts that came in quick succession.
 
Jin yanked the controls savagely. The machine quickly gained speed and lurched to the right.
 
"Stick to the plan! Get us some defilade, Jin!" Nikon instructed the driver before turning to the others and shouting, "Gunners, stand by to convert!"
 
His mind quailed, but he refused to show it. With a twist of the handle and a sudden push Nikon popped the top hatch open once again. Standing up and straining his ears he could tell from the hoarse shouts and sounds of combat that Earth Kingdom cavalry had swept down from the foothills and was now driving into the exposed Fire Nation right. Worse, the huge volume of stones and the storms of arrows dropping on the column and the long, sloping arcs with which they fell spoke eloquently of the large numbers of earthbender artillerymen and archers who occupied the tops of the surrounding foothills.

The fact that his fears had just been proven justified provided no comfort or satisfaction whatsoever.

“Damn them! Damn them to hell!” he clarified bitterly. He never hated anyone at that moment as much as he hated Tien Shin, Chieng, and to his utter surprise, Xian. With an effort beyond any that should be required of a man, Nikon crushed the pointless question of “why?” and forced himself to focus.

The machine now faced west toward the approaching sound of battle, a dull roar which only seemed to increase in intensity all around them. Within a few hundred feet they ran into a shallow depression at the base of a low hill. The driver cut the engine right before they crested so that the firing ports now looked out over open sky. Beside them the other tanks of the Fifth Brigade began to follow suit.

“That’s the best I can do, Commander!” came Jin’s pleading voice up the communication vent, “The main fight seems to be shaping up in front of us and the plan was –”

“Shut up, Jin, it’s good enough!” Nikon yelled in reply. He was right, the angle wouldn’t provide much cover from the overhead bombardment, but it was better than nothing. From this position at least they could begin indirect fire against the enemy hilltop positions.

Below him the crew moved into action. Quickly and efficiently they removed steel plates on either side of the tank’s rear section. Between the openings was a thick metal shaft that ran through a large winch mounted above the engine case. A huge length of rope was coiled tightly around the winch. A simple hand brake locking mechanism prevented the taut rope from discharging its reservoir of energy. With the plates removed and the shaft exposed to the outside, the gunners pulled open lockers at the back and began to pull out more equipment.

Shifting his attention from the work taking place below, Nikon watched with grim satisfaction as three more vehicles pulled up behind them and began the same process.

“If we live through this,” Nikon promised himself bitterly, “I’m going to kill that son of a b***h, I swear it.” At that moment even he wasn’t sure who he was referring to. All he knew is that he wanted to wreak vengeance on someone for the miserable predicament he and his soldiers now found themselves.

A boulder hit the front of the farthest tank. The machine and crew disappeared in the mist for a moment after the impact, but when they reappeared it was clear the projectile had exploded into bits of rock and did no damage. The crew of the stricken vehicle had dismounted despite the blast, which was still undoubtedly ringing in their ears, and were now attaching shaft extensions and catapult arms to each side of the tank as if nothing had happened. Nikon allowed himself a moment of pride in the men who refused to panic in the face what was obviously a wretched position.
 
A single glance below indicated his crew was ready. Nikon hopped lightly out of the hatch and stood on the deck plate. The side gunners climbed out behind him and jumped down to the ground.

On a sudden impulse Iroh’s friend jumped to the ground and mounted the crest of the hill in a few steps. He was joined moments later by the lieutenants from the other tanks now defiladed on the hill.

“We’re ready, Commander,” spoke the youngest of them breathlessly, eyes wide with apprehension, “should we start?”

Nikon did not immediately reply, instead looking intently down the hill towards the sounds of combat. The fog still obscured everything around them, but the sun had risen high enough that everything moving beyond the edge of the misty veil appeared as vast shapes wreathed in glowing nimbuses of light. Through the fog they could see the outlines of the bloody cavalry battle in front of them. Shadows of men, ostrich horses and mongoose dragons could be seen like ghostly apparitions, punctuated by the orange flames of the firebenders and the resounding impacts of the earthbenders’ art.

“Yes, Lieutenant,” their commander finally replied, “get the catapults going as soon as you can, don’t wait for me.”

The lieutenants didn’t move. The pride he felt a few moments ago was instantly replaced with concern at the worry he saw in these faces. “They look like kids, but they aren’t more than a few years younger than me, are they? How did I get here?” he wondered.

Shouting confidently over the tumult he taunted, “Hey, what’s this? The mighty Fifth Brigade afraid of a fight? What will Fire Lord Azulon say if he hears of this?”

The lieutenants shared a glance of mutual shame before turning back to Nikon.

“Come on! Use your heads!” He gestured at his own tank, where the crew was fitting the last catapult arm into place, and then at the tank which had just been hit.

“They’re not doing anything different than before! Those rock bombs can’t touch us. Let the cavalry do its job and fog or no fog we’ll get the hell out of here! So get over there and let’s answer their artillery with our own!”

As if to emphasize Nikon’s point a large stone impacted the hill crest near them, followed quickly by two more. Showered by a hail of rock fragments, the lieutenants needed no further incentive and quickly ran back to their machines. Iroh’s friend did not flinch, but instead watched calmly as all four tanks began to load and launch projectiles of flaming pitch at the hilltops in front of them. Soon the mist to either side of them was alight with flashes of orange and red as his men and Ryu’s farther up the road began to engage.

“This is bad,” he admitted to himself, “but it’s not a disaster – not yet…”

The sounds of combat grew ever louder. The mist, cool and wet before the fighting had started, had become a smoky, dust filled liquid that quickly began to burn Nikon’s lungs. The dull roar of battle had become unbearable, but beneath it, almost beyond his senses ability to detect it, Nikon felt an ominous, low rolling drumbeat, like a peal of thunder stretched over many minutes.

Finally acknowledging the risk of his exposed position atop the hill, Nikon jogged back down towards his men. Just as they had planned in case of an ambush, he could see a third row of tanks now setting up their catapults behind the first two. The fog continued to swirl, but seemed to be dissipating. Nikon felt relief at this new hope, but the ominous sound he identified earlier had only intensified, and now had taken on an additional rushing quality, as if a vast amount of air or liquid were moving around them.

Nikon reached his machine and began to mount, casting a quick glance toward the lake.

He froze in place, stupefied.

At that moment the fog parted to reveal the shoreline. There was no water. The break in the mist might last a few more seconds, but at that moment he could see clearly over hundreds of feet of beach and empty lake bed. Much later he thought he might have had time to wonder whether the tide had gone out. On the other hand, he might have imagined it.

The next moment was burned into his memory for the rest of his life. The fog in the distance turned suddenly dark as the source of the deep, rushing thunder revealed itself in stark silhouette against the mist. Before Nikon could utter an exclamation the tsunami shattered the milky white veil that concealed it.

Stretching from one edge of his vision to the other a wave with a crest higher than the fabled topless towers of Ilium rolled relentlessly toward them. To his thunderstruck eyes it seemed as though the lake itself had risen out of its basin and bore down on them with inhuman fury.

Nikon himself remained frozen, his mouth agape in utter horror, his eyes transfixed on the most glorious and terrifying display of elemental mastery ever witnessed by man. The crown of stone and men could be clearly seen atop the monstrous wave, but Nikon did not notice them. His mind was overflowing with the single, clear thought that rang in his head.

“We’re going to die.”

Ripping himself from the spectacle, he screamed into the open hatch below.

“Move, move, move!”

“But, wha-”

“Now, now, now!”

Hearing panic in his commander’s voice for the first time, Jin obeyed. The tank lunged forward, cresting the hill within a few seconds. Nikon pulled his head out of the hatch to steady himself as the machine accelerated. Nikon screamed and motioned wildly to the crews of all the nearby vehicles, but few heard. As they pulled away he could see the lieutenant of the adjacent machine turn to see what Nikon had been looking at – and freeze. He never moved again until the water hit him less than a minute later.

Speeding westwards down the back of the low hill, Nikon quailed as the air was rent by an earth shattering roar from behind them and to the left. The wave had already come ashore farther north. A moment later the ground began to heave beneath them as the shock of the impact propagated along the surface.

Within seconds the noise and rush of combat was replaced with what seemed a single shriek of terror, as the minds and hearts of many thousands of men were seized at the same moment with the certainty of their own deaths.

Hanging on to the hatch cleats, Nikon bounced back and forth in the well as the shocks reverberated. They had mounted the nearest ridge and were climbing again at breakneck speed. The driver cursed loudly as their machine plowed right over two Fire Nation mongoose cavalrymen who had the bad luck to appear suddenly out of the mist in front of them.

Iroh’s friend saw none of this. Transfixed, he stared backwards in horror as the monstrous wave broke along the shore now a few thousand feet behind them. Soon after he saw the first and second lines of the Fifth Brigade disappear beneath the wall of water, followed swiftly by the tardiest of the vehicles that had heeded his shouted warnings.

He turned right at the sound of tortured engines to see the shadowy outlines of two tank trains and dozens of tanks that had escaped from the disaster on the northern part of the beach racing up the slope of the ridge to their northwest. Closer still he could see that a few tanks of his own command had reacted quickly as well and were now ascending the ridge with them. He could also hear the heavy pounding of cavalry fleeing to the high ground, but could not see them.

Regaining his voice Nikon shouted below, “Faster! Faster! We’ve got to climb! It’s our lives!”

”I know! I know! Please, Sir, I’m doing…” Jin left the sentence unfinished as the controls again demanded his undivided attention.

They reached the top of the ridge, allowing Nikon to look down onto the crest of the looming monster. Without emotion, for shock upon shock had numbed his senses, Nikon finally saw the truth of their predicament. Clearly now he could see the stone battlements of the tidal wave and the blue and green clad warriors who populated them.

“We are beaten then,” he thought with only a touch of sadness, for such was all he could muster. He thought of wily old Nifong and his bogus letter and concluded absently, "A genius after all."

Nikon’s perception of reality wobbled sickeningly as the wave smashed into the base of the ridge. As the water and the allied army borne upon it rose up the slope to meet him, images of his friends flashed before his mind. Iroh. Gan. A childhood friend who had died in the slums long ago. Master Chen. Xian. The prostitute murdered in that Shinjuku alley. A simple summary that he accepted without complaint.

Then, suddenly, the slow motion, nightmarish stupor that had descended upon him the moment he had seen the silhouette of the liquid monster against the fog lifted. A mad rush of action followed. The wave, broken by the front of the ridge, but still powered by tremendous forward momentum, flowed up and over the crest of the top of the long hill as it diminished.

Water swirled around the treads of the tank and within seconds rose up and over the deck plating to slosh against the low sides of the top hatch. He heard panicked sounds from below as water rushed into the hull through the exposed catapult ports. The machine’s engine stuttered and died as the exhaust pipes went under water, but their forward motion barely slowed as the water pushed them down the backside of the ridge.

“Come up top, all of you!” he screamed below as he swung himself out of the manhole and on top of the deck plating. The water came up to his knees, but did not rise farther.

As the crew exited an enormous stone loaded with green and blue clad soldiers flew by at high speed before disappearing into the grey mist that still hung over the deluged battlefield. They were cheering loudly. Moments later two smaller rocks passed by, both equally laden with the enemy.

Nikon turned his attention to the water around them. The dingy brown liquid began to subside almost as suddenly as it had appeared. The tank had stopped moving and was now just another obstruction around which the water flowed.

He looked back up the hill. Evidently the wave had deluged the top of the ridge and was now cascading down the backside, but the wave’s energy had been spent. Only a small portion of the monstrous wall of water had sloshed over the top. Hope sprang within him for survival, but was almost instantly overwhelmed by the painful realization that every one of his men who had stayed put, panicked or fallen behind was now dead. The Fifth Brigade, entrusted to him by General Xian and the Fire Lord himself, was gone, destroyed in the space of a few minutes.

Jin emerged from the top hatch, the last of his crew to do so. The surly tank driver surveyed the devastation around them as the water level dropped below the deck plating once again.

“What now, sir?” he asked, raising his voice above the din of the water rushing down the backside of the ridge.

Nikon did not immediately reply. The sound of more enemy soldiers atop their transports of stone echoed through the rapidly diminishing fog as Nikon stared blankly at Jin. Iroh’s friend was aware of his crew’s terrified eyes upon him. He turned to his left to see if any of the machines he saw moments earlier were still with them.  One was about thirty feet away. There he saw the young lieutenant from before and his crew looking at him with the same huge, devastated eyes.

“Commander?” Jin prompted after more time passed, the worry evident in his voice at his leader’s lack of response.

Nikon turned away from their haunted eyes and looked at Jin. He tried to refocus, but failed. The sun, liberated at last, pierced the mist that had concealed much of the blood, if not the horror of the day. The light and warmth comforted no one. Nikon’s gaze shifted to the pretty young rear gunner who had taken the place of the one killed at Cam’ron. She was clearly in shock.

“Are we going to die?” she asked in a small voice. He didn’t even notice that she’d forgotten to address him correctly.

He didn’t have time to reply. Without warning their tank, abandoned to its fate, seemed to heave itself up off the ground and flipped clean over onto its top. The belly of the tank lay exposed to the now bright sunshine, its surface gleaming, smooth and unpainted.

A moment later another protest of groaning metal attracted their attention farther up the hill. Two other Fifth Brigade tanks that had crested the hill above them were flipped over as the mud and rock underneath shifted of its own accord.

Nikon unfroze. He panned around and saw orderly formations of green clad soldiers advancing up the hill and no less than half a dozen Earth Kingdom artillery positions on the high places around them.

“Run!” Nikon ordered. Sprinting down the muddy backside of the hill without looking behind him he heard the boulders begin to fall on the exposed bellies of the surviving machines.
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« Reply #60 on: Feb 06, 2015 07:34 pm »

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

“Faster! Faster, damn you!” Chieng screamed as she slammed the steering column forward. It hit the dash with such a resounding clang that she was afraid it had broken.

Below them the monstrous wave had broken against the ridge and was now chasing Chieng and her flagship tank train, Corona, up its steep slope. Corona’s mighty engines labored to outrun the watery monster that threatened to drown them.

Behind her the engineers worked feverishly to increase their speed, each trying desperately to avoid looking out the view ports at the aquatic horror rapidly catching up to them, and barking commands through the communication vents to the engine room below.

A massive explosion rocked the train from somewhere behind as it sped up the ridge. The shock loosened the top layer of ground and Corona began to spin her treads. Panic gripped the bridge crew as their ascent slowed.

“No! No! I won’t let you!” Chieng cried through gritted teeth as she cut to the left and then back to the right to allow the metal titan to regain its footing and climb from a different angle.

“What the hell was that!?” yelled the Chief Boiler Operator behind her, “Did we get hit? Station managers, damage report!”

“Moron!” she screamed over the din, “Spitfire's gone! Boiler explosion, she must’ve gone under! Cold water, hot metal, don’t you get it!?”

She thrust aside the images of the other tank trains which had already suffered the same fate. When the fog had parted to reveal the tsunami she and her crew had reacted swiftly to save their lives. Others were not as lucky. Meteor and Starliner had been no more than a thousand feet from the beach and were drowned instantly under many dark fathoms. Rocket had made it halfway up the slope before she was consumed. The rest had been lost in the fog and it was on these missing children that Chieng placed her hope.

“Please,” she prayed desperately as she fought the controls, her mind's voice betraying weakness she would never show the outside world, “Please, if there are spirits in heaven, save the others!”

Foul mouthed, violent and highly critical, she was nevertheless fiercely proud of her people and cared for them more than she ever allowed herself to admit. The thought of losing them terrified her. Worse still her mind teetered dangerously on the brink of facing responsibility for their deaths.

“Look! Look! We beat it! Thank the Elements!” yelled one of the junior engineers.

Everyone turned to look out the port side windows. The tsunami had broken against the ridge, its momentum played out. Corona had outrun the specter of her death.

Jubilation turned swiftly to horror as everyone saw what the wave had been carrying. The water was already receding from the side of the hill, but it left behind hundreds of large stones festooned with thousands upon thousands of Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe warriors.

“Sweet Agni!” cried the Chief in astonishment.

“So that’s it!” exclaimed Chieng with grudging respect, nodding her head in acknowledgment of the blue clad warriors scattered amidst the sea of green.

The surly engineer yanked back on the yolk as the Corona crested the ridge. The machine halted with a single, gut wrenching jerk. Releasing her seat belt and standing up in a single fluid motion she took a quick survey of the situation outside. The fog had burned off at the higher elevations and Chieng found she could see not only the entire length of the ridge but also the tops many of the surrounding foot hills. Many of these were clearly occupied with earthbenders who were now retraining their fire on them.

Chieng’s heart leapt in her chest as she saw two of her warforged children waiting for her. Their markings identified them as the Sunrise and Phoenix. Around them lay a few dozen tanks, the survivors of Tien Shin’s brigades and what appeared to be the bulk of the mongoose cavalry. In a display of iron discipline after such a catastrophe the daimyo’s men and machines were quickly forming a firing line on the edge of the ridge.

Farther south she could see more tanks, probably either Tojo’s or Ryu’s.

"But Nikon must be dead..." she thought, for his unit was closest to the beach in the vanguard formation, "....he was right...and I... I...was..."  

She stiffened, horrified to discover herself suddenly choking back a sob. Refusing to succumb, she wrenched her mind away from the black chasm of despair. She took a deep breath and refocused.

More survivors from Xian’s men might yet lie to their north and east, but she couldn’t see in either of those directions. The blow had been devastating, she admitted, but if the goal had been to destroy them at once the gambit had not succeeded.

"I will make them pay for this!" she vowed silently, using the sudden flush of anger to drive away the self-recrimination that had threatened to incapacitate her a moment before.

"Sir," the communications officer interrupted, "a message from the Comet astern of us!"

The young man handed her a hastily transcribed note which she scanned instantly. Her head exploded in renewed fury and hope, her mind ringing with the thought, "Xian's alive!"

A moment later she whirled around and addressed the bridge crew.

“Listen to me, all of you!" she announced, "This isn’t over yet! Do you hear me? Do you!?

Blank stares were her only reply.

“Stop gaping like a pack of frightened children! General Xian is launching a counterattack against the hills northeast of us! We've got to cover them!"

"Are we going with him then?" asked the Chief.

"No, we've got to keep those filthy savages down there busy, but if we don’t get a perimeter set up now this place is going to be our god damn cemetery – now move! Move!"

She then gave a series of sharp, concise orders and all at once the bridge again became a scene of focused and determined action.

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

It was late afternoon. The leader of the Army of the Granite Mountains looked down onto the beaches of Myojin's western shore directly below him. The fog had burned away across much of the battlefield and the magnitude of the devastation was progressively revealed with each passing moment.

The water from the massive wave was still retreating back into the lake from whence it came. Thousands of bodies in red uniforms floated grotesquely in the surf, many of their limbs bent where no joints could possibly be. Scores of dark shadows scattered amongst the shallows were the only traces of the Fire Nation machines, now reduced to watery coffins.

The amphibious landing was more terrifying than Nifong had ever dreamed. The Waterbenders of the North had summoned a monster beyond all comprehension and it had done their bidding with neither mercy nor discrimination. Many of his men had no doubt perished when the wave had passed over the lowest foothills. Still, hundreds of Fire Nation machines, including many of the massive metal dreadnoughts that haunted his men in their darkest nightmares, had been destroyed.

The Army of the Great Divide lay mortally wounded, but, he knew, the final blow had yet to be struck.

"There is time...," he thought, closing his eyes, "... time enough."

The sounds of an ostrich horse at full gallop caused him to open them once again. There was no need. His aide had returned with the report.

“Sir, best estimate is that the wave wiped out about a third of the enemy machines."

“And the rest?”

“Hard to tell, but at least another third – but probably more like half - has been destroyed by hitting the belly armor. The mud slowed the survivors down as we expected and made them easy to flip, but…” he hesitated uneasily.

"Yes?"

“We can’t account for more than four or five of those metal monsters, General.”

“Not good, Captain, but expected. We were never likely to get them all in one blow.”

"No sir, I guess not,” the aide conceded, biting his lip.

“What else?”

“The enemy has reorganized very fast, they've managed to overrun our positions on hill 103, the long one, 106 and 107. We have a report that at least one of the dreadnoughts is up there, but I haven’t got confirmation of that yet. 106 and 107 overlook the northern and the two northeastern exits, sir. They'll probably try to break out there."

"You sound surprised, Captain," Nifong observed.

"Well," the younger man replied slowly, "You'd think they'd have broken after getting hit with such a disaster. It scared the hell out of me, sir," he admitted, "and I was just watching it from here. Half of them just drowned, the rest are surrounded. How can they go on fighting?"

"Because they are disciplined. Because they are fighting for their lives. Because they are driven by pride, ambition, and fear of surviving only to return home in failure and dishonor. Did you really expect them to simply lie down and die?"

"No, sir,” the younger man replied with some confusion, “but I thought they'd have tried to surrender or just disintegrated. Anyway, it won’t change the outcome, will it?”

“No, it won’t.”

“Then this battle will be your greatest victory,” the younger man concluded with certainty.

“This isn’t a battle, Captain," Xian's opponent disagreed quietly, "It’s simply murder.”






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

Oh my Koh. I can die now. Bless your heart.

Hey! No dying until I'm done!  Wink Honestly, I can't believe you (or anyone!) even remembers this story. I'll keep going because I love to write, and I love writing this story, but it's good to know others enjoy it too.

Anyway I guess I called the allusion to Lake Trasimene.

Yes, well done. Myojin was always heavily influenced in my mind by Trasimene and another famous battle which you will identify shortly if you haven't already.

Also Chieng seems a lot more angry than usual. Though I don't know if I can say she is acting in an exaggerated fashion or not as she is a relatively minor character without a lot of screen time.

She doesn't suffer fools gladly, does she? She hates pointless arguments and wasting time. This exercise in her mind qualifies as both. She's very frustrated that after the undeniable successes to date anyone doubts the power and superiority of her creations. The decisions made on the basis of this belief will rule the fate of many.

Lastly, if you are willing, can you tell me where you imagine cities like Mequon, Inchon (the Jade Highway) and Nanjiing to be? Tien Shin's plan in chapter sixteeen as far as geography goes confused me a bit.

The geography is confusing. I remember doing a screen shot from some sequence in some episode whose title I can't remember that showed Chin the Conqueror's progress of conquering the Earth Kingdom centuries before Avatar. On that still I remember a couple of large interior lakes or seas to the west or southwest of Ba Sing Se. This westernmost I called Lake Myojin. The Ping Tou is a large mountain chain running roughly N/S to the west of Lake Myojin. The Nasu plain lies to the west of the Ping Tou and extends all the way to the western coast. The Jade Highway connects the Gulf of Gela to Amiganza through the Meiji Pass. Many of the cities you mentioned are on the Jade Highway as it runs through the Nasu. The highway generally runs to the south of the Arno River, though it crosses back and forth at a few points. Cam'ron and Nomura are farther south on the plain, Cam'ron in fact lies close to the Dune Sea which borders to the south.

I will describe Mequon and it's location in upcoming chapters, so I won't say too much about it now Smiley
« Last Edit: Feb 06, 2015 08:03 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #61 on: Feb 06, 2015 09:11 pm »

Woah Xian and Nikon are alive? I mean I entertained the second possibility, but the former was something I never saw coming!

I wonder what is going to happen to Iroh's cousin? My guess is that Nifong is going to hold him hostage/ use him for negotiatory purposes.

And while I don't want to claim as certain what is not, it would seem *on the surface* that Tien Shin really was that sure of himself and not a mastermind. Though I will reserve judgement because I figured there was a reason why the Daimyo does not make a formal appearance in this chapter, his men make an appearance but not him. I mean, that guy has got to have a plan he isn't telling anybody, right? Grin

Anyway, I like the realism in your character's reactions. It makes sense that Nikon, at the moment of the ambush, would feel hatred for Xian. Desperation brings out some of man's most savage feelings and I am glad that you portrayed that in your story.

Anyway, can I have a hint on what other battle inspired Myojin? What war was it from? I'll take a wild guess, is it the Seige of the North. That is the only battle I know where a tidal wave wipes an entire army out.

Thanks for the clarification regarding the geography. I can't wait to see the end.

One last comment. How old is Iroh in your story? If I were to take some wild guess it would be around 28, though some confirmation would be nice.
« Last Edit: Feb 06, 2015 10:47 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #62 on: Feb 12, 2015 06:44 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 XXI – "Cemetery Ridge"



Dusk had fallen. An afternoon had passed since the wave had wreaked its destruction upon the invaders, but it felt a lifetime to every soldier who contested the battlefield.

The Fire Nation line now extended along the length of Cemetery Ridge, for so Chieng had inadvertently christened it, and across the southern and eastern edges of the two nearby hillocks known as the Big and Little Round Tops. Four of the eleven tank trains had survived, a fifth, Solaria, had been caught in the crest of the wave at its zenith. She had lost all engine power and was deposited by the wave intact, but immobile, on the Big Round Top.

The surviving tank trains had been placed strategically along the line. Three lay broadside at the edge of Cemetery Ridge, allowing each a clear view of all approaches up the slope. General Xian's leviathan, the Sozin's Comet, could be seen clearly on the Little Round Top. Solaria anchored the Big Round Top where she had come to rest.

The downslope of Cemetery Ridge lay thick with the drowned or exploded corpses of hundreds of Fire Nation tanks and thousands of Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation dead. Water from the wave trapped between the ridge and its lower neighbors lay in thick, rancid pools of muddy blood.

All afternoon the Earth Kingdom catapults and archers on the surrounding hills had pounded the Fire Nation positions. All afternoon the allied army had mounted charge after charge up the ridge towards the thin line of Fire Nation defenders. They never got close enough to launch their stones or, in many cases, for the Fire Nation tank gunners to engage.

The last rays of sunlight drained from the west as the stubborn earthbender columns moved up the slopes once again.

"Fire!" screamed Chieng, as if her will alone could rout the advancing enemy. She was filthy, exhausted and utterly refused to admit defeat. Her golden eyes glittered with anger and determination. Her hair, normally coiled tightly in a bun, had come loose and flailed wildly around her face as she shouted orders.

Behind her the gunners who manned the mighty flamethrowers atop the firing platforms complied.

Flaming jets of liquid naphtha arced across the sky from the massive siphons. Seconds later they rained down burning death on the round helmets of the Granite Mountain infantry. Screams of pain and rage erupted from those caught in the deadly shower. Burning men collapsed, trying desperately to shield their exposed flesh or burning armor, and rolled down the hill writhing in agony. The charge broke and the survivors scurried back down the slope.

Each charge had ended the same way. The first attempt had come closest to succeeding, but here, Chieng recollected with grim satisfaction, the enemy had finally been shown the raw power of her warforged children. Barely had the Army of the Great Divide dug in when the waterbenders of the north summoned from the rapidly retreating lake water half a dozen wide ice bridges. Masters of their element, in seconds the blue clad warriors had connected the tops of the lower hills occupied by the Allies with the crest of Cemetery Ridge.

Glistening in the sun, the blue veined channels arched over several hundred feet each. Instantly allied soldiers had mounted each bridge, moving at double quick time to make contact with the disorganized enemy as fast as possible.

Corona, Sunrise, and Phoenix had opened up simultaneously, revealing to the world yet another Fire Nation technology of destruction.  Under huge pressure, the liquid released from the siphons was ignited upon its exit, resulting in long, elegant arcs of flaming death. As the flamethrowers quickly covered the ice bridges in fire, a cheer rose amongst the Fire Nation ranks, the first of the day. Within minutes the ice bridges collapsed in a mass of melting ice, flame that water could not quench, and hundreds upon hundreds of allied soldiers who fell to their deaths.

As the afternoon waned and the battle continued to rage, the temperature on the bridge of the Corona became unbearable. The crew had long since taken off their uniform jackets and worked the controls in their undergarments. The stench of burnt flesh reeked in the stale and stifling air.

Chieng whirled on a breathless messenger who appeared behind her.

“What!?” she demanded, her hoarse voice cracking.

“Commander! A message from the Comet and one from the Phoenix.”

“Xian’s first! What’s his reply?”

“He confirms the plan, Commander, and,” after a brief pause to catch his breath continued, ”instructs that we begin the bombardment at the eleventh hour as you requested!”

Her expectation confirmed, she turned to survey the scarred terrain downslope once more. The observation port was dirty and covered in soot, but the Earth Kingdom lines on the opposing hillocks were plainly visible. Stern and sullen, the enemy had evidently been dissuaded from mounting another frontal assault. The landscape was littered with the remains of hundreds of Fire Nation tanks that had escaped the wave, but not the enemy. Flipped over, their bellies shattered by the impact of heavy stone, they resembled in the fading light the carcasses of some huge, extinct creature.

Pushing away guilt and shame once again she vowed silently, “Time, just give me a little more time…”

Her silent prayer offered, she turned again to the messenger.

Phoenix?”

“Captain Hideo took two arrows through the lungs and died, Commander,” the messenger reported somberly, “their Chief Boiler Operator is in command and reports that their starboard siphon line has split. Their fuel tank on that side emptied before they detected the breech. At this rate of fire they’ll be dry in an hour.”

She eyed Corona’s own gauges briefly before replying, “Order the Solaria to drum out her reserve, get it over to Phoenix and fill their port tank. Send whatever’s left to the Sunrise. Go!”

It would have to suffice. Solaria couldn’t move anyway and there was no more fuel left to distribute. The messenger saluted smartly and disappeared through the spiral staircase that allowed access to the guts of the leviathan.

“Scope!”

At her command the sighting scope lowered itself silently from the roof down to eye level.  She squinted through the eyepiece. The magnification and targeting hash marks allowed her to take the last measurements she needed. With just a few minutes left before darkness rendered the instrument useless, she carefully surveyed the enemy positions between Corona and the Round Tops.

“We have one chance to breakout,” she thought feverishly, “… one chance…we’re finished if we stay here…”

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

Iroh’s friend and his makeshift platoon, now swollen by a few dozen survivors of other tanks, had taken cover in a shallow, but well forested ravine. After moving for hours and besting more than one enemy patrol the Fire Nation soldiers had sunk wearily to the muddy ground for a few minutes rest. They had at least successfully avoided the larger enemy formations and skirted around the many fortified positions which had continued to fire non-stop during their march.

Nikon observed his followers without emotion in the rapidly waning light. The tired, dirty soldiers he saw before him bore little resemblance to the bright eyed enthusiasts who had debarked months ago in the Gulf of Gela with little experience and boundless confidence. Instant success had swelled their pride and expectations of easy, glorious victory. This was understandable. Wasn’t victory the only possible outcome? They were young, the world was wide, and they were the Fire Lord’s finest.

Now, they looked hollow, vacant, and above all, defeated. They had seen the genius and power of the enemy with their own eyes and suffered in the comparison.

As they had trudged over the low lying hills they had seen the aftermath of the deluge play out before them. Within an hour the hills and vales above the wave crest were filled with the shattered remains of the Fire Nation tanks that survived the water, but had not kept up with the retreating tank trains. These unfortunates had been flipped over, their treads caked with mud that had slowed them down, and their bellies cracked wide open by the Earth Kingdom artillery that had been waiting patiently for them. Some crews had escaped their metal coffins before they were hit, some to join up with Nikon, others to disappear in the forested hills around them. The smashed bodies that hung grotesquely out of many however testified that most had died instantly.

Tien Shin’s words had resounded like thunder at each metal corpse they passed.

“You gave him four whole days to probe for weaknesses in our new weaponry! That’s what you’ve done!”

One wreck had been hit by a boulder so large that the stone had not shattered on impact. An arm and three legs stuck out from beneath the stone at terrifying angles.

“The shadow of death hangs over you for what you’ve done here,” Chieng’s voice rang in his head. She had proven prophetic.

Nikon passed judgment on himself in stony, impassive silence. The wave had done massive damage to be sure, but the enemy had used it to exploit a key weakness of the Fire Nation’s newest weapon. A weakness they had undoubtedly learned at Cam’ron. The realization came to him swiftly and suddenly.

“I am a traitor.”

He had the courage for suicide, that much he knew, but now was not the time for that luxury.

“No, not yet,” he thought coldly, but if he managed to get his charges to safety he knew that neither Xian nor Iroh could deter him from making the final atonement. He had failed them, the Fire Lord, and the Fire Nation. Tien Shin had been right about him all along.

“On your feet everyone,” he said quietly, “We have to keep moving.”

“Where are we going, Commander? We don’t really know where we are,” Jin inquired without rancor.

“No,” Nikon admitted, but pointing toward the long slope that began to their north he replied, “but the enemy has been pounding that ridge all day. If the any part of the army has survived, that’s probably where they are.”

Suddenly the pretty young gunner, startled by her own reply, said, “Then why are we going there!? I don’t want to die!”

Jin grabbed her by the arm and hissed for her to lower her voice.

“No one does,” Nikon answered, “we’re going because our chances of getting out of here alive are much better if we do it together. How long do you think we will last out here on our own? We have no food, no equipment, nothing.”

“Let’s go,” he said when no reply was forthcoming, “there is no other way.”

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

Tien Shin regarded his commanding officer with undisguised contempt.

“You would surrender, General? Is this how you honor your father?”

They faced each other on the wooded crest of the Little Round Top. The General and his second in command had retreated to a small clearing behind the Comet and the ragged line of Fire Nation soldiers who watched and waited for the next enemy charge. The ground was littered with enemy arrows and dozens of impact craters. They were alone.

The wind blew hot and dry from the south as the sunlight faded. The daimyo’s red cloak flapped wildly, held in place by the black bow strapped across his back.

“No, Tien Shin,” Xian corrected in a broken voice that betrayed his expectation, “I will negotiate to buy time if this break out attempt fails.”

The last part of the General’s reply was partially drowned out by a nearby artillery impact that showered them both with dust and shards of stone. Both ignored the interruption, as well as the whistle of half a dozen arrows that planted themselves in the ground just a few feet away.

“You are weak, Xian,” the daimyo continued boldly, “and if you do this you will have earned the death and dishonor that are the inevitable wages of such cowardice.”

“There is nothing else to be done!” Xian cried, stung by the accusation and fearful that it was true.

“Attack with everything we’ve got - now!” the daimyo countered hotly, as if speaking to a child, “The cavalry must be sent into the downs immediately! The archers must cover them! Then the tank trains can spearhead the armor back out! Damn you, it’s our only chance!”

“No!” Xian roared back, “You propose to sacrifice those men, leaving the cavalry and archers to die while we escape! And you speak to me of dishonor? The archers are your own men!”

“I speak of turning certain death for all into a chance for life for as many as we can hope to save,” the prince replied coldly.

“You speak fluently of murder and with such ease!” Xian retorted, his eyes haunted pits of misery, “I am tired of murder! And tired of soulless murderers like you who have turned our country into a filthy sink of corruption and dishonor!  Men like you who have turned our hearts against one another and made us pitiless as stone! We were supposed to bring peace, prosperity and civilization to the world! Look now at what we have become!"

Xian’s words hung heavily in the air.

Tien Shin studied Xian for a moment before replying softly, “You speak treason, Prince Xian, and have lost your right to command.”

Iroh’s cousin stiffened, realizing his mistake, “You have your orders, Tien Shin! You are dismissed. Do as I have instructed and I will forget the insult you have just given.”

Xian turned from his subordinate without another word.

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

Nifong pursed his lips tightly as he lowered his sight glass. Doomed as they were, the remaining Fire Nation forces had fortified the western hills with iron discipline. The Earth Kingdom’s frontal attacks had been costly, but necessary to pin down the rump of the Fire Nation army now fighting for its life.

“They’re dug in, General,” his aide observed, “They cleaned out our positions on the hills behind them, so they have a tight front line. It’ll take days to flank them. Or we could just lay siege and starve them out.”

"Yes, the enemy is resourceful. I have a solution for that problem, though,” he vowed without a trace of satisfaction.  “Please transmit these instructions to Colonel Liu."

The green clad general handed a scroll, still fresh with ink and sand, to the Captain.

His aide scanned the document quickly, “Tonight, then?”

“Yes,” Nifong replied grimly, “tonight.”




++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
One last comment. How old is Iroh in your story? If I were to take some wild guess it would be around 28, though some confirmation would be nice.

That's about right. I never really pinned an exact age on him, but that's a good guess.

Thanks for all your thoughts and feedback, I appreciate it!
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« Reply #63 on: Feb 12, 2015 08:11 pm »

Wow, that was a quick update.

I love the dramatic confrontation between Tien Shin and Xian. If there is one thing you do really well (and you do a lot of things well) it is writing very engaging confrontations and interactions between your characters. The Daimyo is just so dang cold. Hopefully he gets what is coming to him soon. Seriously what a scumbag. Anyway, I fear what Nifong has in mind for our heroes. The next chapter is likely to be Xian's last stand.

As for Nikon, I like how his realization parallels the confrontation I just wrote about. That poor guy has lost all the faith he had worked so hard to build in himself. I wonder what will become of him. Will he snap and kill himself? There has got to be a reason why Iroh never spoke of him to Zuko. You don't just forget to mention a best friend.

I also like the focus on Chieng. She was an old favorite of mine and it pleases me that she is playing a bigger role.  Though I wonder, does the Corona have some sort of voice command feature? That part was very ambiguous, did you mean to say that the scope only seemed to lower itself at her command (but was in fact being lowered by some off screen character) or that it actually lowered itself on its own accord? If it is the latter, then that seems a little too advanced for the Fire Nation.

Anyway, I hope to see Zuko and presend day Iroh pretty soon. They have been strangely absent as of late.

So Myojin is also inspired by  Gettysburg? I suppose that the chapter title and geography confirms this as so, but I wasn't able to tell exactly what other battle inspired it based on the information provided by the last chapter. Anyway, I suppose this is an alternate history Gettysburg, in which the Confederates win. Myojin is Nifong's greatest victory, so if the Fire Nation is acting in the place of the Union, I don't see Nifong taking any major damage. That would be too much of a damper on the greatest victory part. Still all battles have their sacrifies and losses. So I'd understand if there was some defeat mixed with Nifong's victory.

Also, I added your fic to the tvtropes Avatar fanfic recommendation page.
« Last Edit: Feb 22, 2015 05:14 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #64 on: Feb 25, 2015 05:57 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 XXII – "How To Save A Life"


Nikon crested the ridge amidst the deafening impacts of falling stone. Bright arcs of liquid fire streamed across the rapidly darkening sky. Dimly he could make out the black shapes, darker than night, of the steel leviathans that anchored the Army of the Great Divide’s final defense against the united armies of the Earth Kingdom and Northern Water Tribe.

“Oh, thank the Elements!” exclaimed the pretty young gunner, tears welling unbidden in her dark eyes.

“We’re not out of this yet, girl,” Jin replied ominously.

“Shut up, Jin!” she retorted miserably, “You’re just a nasty...”

The crown prince’s friend, filthy and ragged, absently waved off their bickering with a single curt command, “Enough.”

The makeshift platoon streamed into the clearing behind the nearest tank train. Two sentries charged them out of the gloom only to stop short, recognizing another group of Fire Nation stragglers. The ground about them was littered with impact craters and hundreds of green feathered arrows protruded from the broken earth.

“Name! Rank!” barked the closest, his fists raised and his legs spread wide in a classic fire bending stance. The other gripped the hilt of a dagger hung from his belt.

“Nikon Orlando, once Commander of the Fifth Armored Brigade,” Nikon replied quietly. A boulder impacted nearby, showering him and the sentries with a shower of pulverized rock. The sentries flinched. Iroh’s friend did not.

Hesitating only a moment longer, the sentry dropped his stance and saluted smartly. His companion instantly followed suit.

“Hail, Commander!”

“What is the situation?  Is General Xian alive? Which tank train is this?” the former brigade leader asked in rapid fire.

“Not good, Commander,” the firebender sentry replied, obviously exhausted, “We’re trapped up here. We’ve got some of the archers and cavalry, but most of the armors’ gone and a lot of the tank trains…,” then grimacing as he continued, “The men are calling this place Cemetery Ridge.”

Another impact interrupted them, this one right behind the sentries.

“Prince Xian?” Nikon prompted after the ejecta settled.

“He’s alive, sir, on the Little Round Top – that hill over there,” he said, pointing to the northeast, “though you can’t really see it now.”

“I see,” then gritting his teeth he continued, “…and… Chieng?”

The sentry smiled in reply, pride swelling his chest, “Magnificent, Commander. That’s the Corona behind us. We’d be gone for certain by now if it weren’t for her. With all due respect, sir, I think she’s the toughest soldier in the whole Fire Nation.”

Nikon paused before making a reply. Briefly he allowed himself to wonder at the man’s obvious devotion to the foul-mouthed engineer. He had misjudged her after all.

“You are probably right, soldier. She’s earned my respect. I must call on your Commander now. Take these survivors,” he ordered with a gesture to his makeshift platoon behind him, “to the camp commander and deploy them as he sees fit.”

The sentries saluted at the instruction.

“You,” Nikon said, indicating the sentry who had not spoken, “Hand me your dagger, please.”

The sentry saluted again and complied. Nikon hung the dagger from his belt and began to turn away.

“Commander,” Jin protested, “Permission to remain with…”

“No, Jin,” the defeated brigade leader replied tonelessly, “I am no longer your Commander. You have fought with honor, all of you,” he said to the larger group as the dusk finally turned to night, “and I release you to serve those who are better suited to lead than I who have failed you so badly.”

Shocked, his soldiers remained silent.

“That is all.”

Nikon saluted stiffly and turned away without another word.

The Corona loomed ever larger, a sinister shadow in the smoke filled night. The great siphons, discharging bright jets of flaming naptha on their antagonists, had gone silent only moments before. Nikon stopped short in the sweltering darkness as his companions were herded away. Moments later only the sounds of bombardment could be heard, the clearing temporarily deserted.

“Move,” Nikon ordered himself.

As if in a nightmare his legs responded sluggishly, the space between him and the entrance to the Corona seeming to grow longer even as he approached. Finally he mounted the steps leading up to the hatch, his footsteps ringing audibly against the bare metal. Nikon opened the door and stepped inside.

Hot, stale, reeking air blasted Nikon’s senses as he entered, but he barely noticed. Neither did he register the wounded lying about on the deck, many crying softly in pain, nor the unhurt crewmen working their controls in soiled undergarments. No one acknowledged his entrance beyond a few strained glances.

Clear as a bell he heard the voice of the woman he sought ringing from the control deck above him. He looked over to where the spiral staircase ascended to an open hatch in the ceiling. Nikon climbed as her voice died away.

Chieng stood erect, her back to Nikon as he emerged, frozen in a defiant pose with her hands on her hips. Her body was neatly silhouetted against the large observation port through which she studied the battlefield. In the distance several streaks of brilliant orange arced through the sky, framing her head in a wreath of luminescent gold beads. Grim and silent, she could have been the Fire Lord himself. Nikon thought in a distant part of his mind that he had never seen a more beautiful woman. Devoid as it was of desire, the sentiment felt alien and cold, but possessed of the certainty of truth, as though he had been first to discover a law of nature.

Nikon turned slightly to see the source of the jets. Two tank trains, small in the distance, lay broadside on two nearby hills. Their mighty siphons poured beautiful streams of liquid fire on ranks of rapidly retreating assailants, their green uniforms reduced to black or grey in the darkness. The siphons winked out as the attackers completed their withdrawal. The tactical situation became instantly clear.

The observation port went dark. Chieng remained motionless.

“You were right,” he began without preamble.

She did not respond.

“You were right…,” he repeated, “…and Tien Shin was right.”

“About what?” she queried softly without turning.

“Cam’ron.”

“You blame yourself for this situation then,” she stated simply.

Nikon lowered his gaze to the floor and replied, “I hear they’re calling this place Cemetery Ridge. They haven’t seen the rest of the battlefield then. Every hill within ten miles is a cemetery – stinking heaps of wreckage and the broken bodies of our men.”

The silence hung between them for a few moments before Nikon pressed on.

“You saw how they did it now, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes I see now. The belly armor,” she replied dully.

“He sacrificed his men at Cam’ron to learn our weaknesses. I gave him what he wanted.”

Chieng did not reply. Another streak of orange illuminated the night sky and then vanished, leaving a trail of glowing red cinders that wafted slowly down in its wake.

Iroh’s friend took a deep breath and concluded, “Yes, I blame myself.”

She turned to him then, her face impassive. She noticed briefly how his hand rested on the hilt of the dagger at his belt. His countenance was devastated. Only the angularity of his face and the regularity of his features showed him to be the same young rake she’d first met months ago on the observation deck of the Sulaco.

“I understand that if there is any chance at all for survival it’s because of you. You saved Iroh at Nomura, you saved me at Cam’ron. I never thanked you as I should have. For what it’s worth, I wanted to thank you now for doing what I couldn’t in this… this god awful place.”

“And what is that?”

“For turning death into a fighting chance for life. Thank you.”

After a moment’s pause Nikon abruptly saluted, turned and left the way he came.

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

She watched him descend the stairs, gathering speed as he went. Moments later she heard the exit hatch clang shut beneath her. She turned quickly to the observation port. Wisps of reeking smoke rose from the hills, many of which still burned, but the battle had subsided for the moment. Only the occasional impact of Earth Kingdom artillery broke the silence. She read the chronometer on the scope control panel; a little over an hour still until the planned counterattack.

Her decision made, Chieng activated the intercom under the observation port and called for the Chief Boiler Operator.

“Yes, Commander?”

“I’m going to see Xian! Take command until I return!”

“Yes, sir!”

Graceful as a dancer Chieng bounded over to the staircase and slid down the curved handrail all the way to the bottom. Seconds later she exited the stifling interior of her leviathan and into the clearing, now illuminated by a waxing moon that cast the landscape in a ghostly pallor. Somewhere close she could hear the camp commander issuing orders to troops on the front line. Of Nikon there was no trace. The trampled paths leading out of the clearing were empty.

Two sentries came round the farther end of the Corona. Both saluted and stood to attention when they recognized their Commander.

Chieng returned the salute with steely eyes.

“Why weren’t you at your posts?” she burst out menacingly.

“We were ordered by Commander Nikon to take the stragglers he brought with him to the Camp Commander, sir!”

“That is a one person job, Sergeant, and having both sentries retire from their posts without proper relief is a violation of your fifth general order!”

The sentry looked aghast, for of course she was correct. Both dropped to their knees and bowed their heads in shame.

“Yes, Commander, we beg your forgiveness.”

“I don’t have time for this!” she exclaimed with an angry wave, “I will deal with you later. Right now I need to know where Nikon went! He just left Corona – did you see him?”

The sentries looked at each other quickly before the Sergeant replied, pointing to backside of the ridge, “We’re not sure, Commander, but we saw someone going that direction –“

Chieng ran westward, leaving her men to gape at their Commander’s sudden and urgent departure.

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

She stopped the dagger in mid sweep as it plunged downward to Nikon’s chest.

“No! No! You will not!” she screamed into Nikon’s ear.

With one hand Chieng twisted the dagger out of Nikon’s grip and with the other she slapped him hard across the face. With a cry of anguish she spun and slammed the hilt of the dagger into his chest, knocking him to the ground.

Stunned, Nikon blinked up at her. One moment he was alone, prepared to atone for the loss of his men’s lives with his own, the next he was doubled over on the ground facing the full fury of Liu Shiung’s daughter.

“WHAT do you think you think you’re doing, you jackass!?” she cried in frustration, her chest heaving with the exertion.

Nikon could only clutch his throbbing chest in response.

Her eyes brimmed as she watched his struggle to breathe and finally spilled over, tears cascading down her cheeks.

“Do you really think you are the only one responsible for this!? I swear you are the first man I’ve ever met who excelled me in arrogance! It was a trap – right from the start! Just as you and Gan said it was! You aren’t responsible for stripping off the belly armor – that… that was my decision. So now I ask myself, if I’ve saved anyone, was it only to give them up here on the bloody shores of Lake Myojin?”

“No!” she answered herself resolutely, “No! I’m not committing suicide now and neither are you! No matter how much we might want to! Not yet! Not while our people still have the will to fight! Not while Xian and Iroh need us! Yes, Nikon, Xian and Iroh – are you really so stupid to think that they are better off with you dead!?”

Nikon hesitated to reply, shame, guilt and shock retarding his response.

“Answer me!” she thundered.

“I failed them… my brigade is gone… why…” he began lamely.

Chieng bent down on one knee, put the palm of her hand on his shoulder and said, “Agni help me, but you’re the best they’ve got! And so am I! Get over Cam’ron! Xian and Iroh need you! They need us! Our soldiers need us! Our nation needs us! They need us to put forth all our skill, all our effort, and all our power to help turn this around - now!”

“We’re going to go on, Nikon,” the curt engineer vowed, her golden eyes aflame, “no matter how much it shames us! I don’t know yet how, but before we are through with this life we are going to redeem ourselves with the blood of the Army of the Granite Mountains!”

Nikon stared at her in wonder, finally understanding the devotion of the soldiers to the tank train commander.

“You are amazing, Chieng,” he confessed quietly with open admiration, “the Spirit of the Sun burns brighter in you than any firebender I’ve ever known.”

Chieng blinked in surprise at the genuine praise, though her expression lost none of its ferocity.

 “All right,” he finally replied with a small smile, “how are we going to do that?

“I said I don’t know yet, dumbass!” she retorted impatiently, ignoring his compliment, “But right now we’re going to see Xian. I promised Iroh I’d keep you alive – and since you obviously need a keeper that means we go to Xian, because I’m sure as hell not babysitting you! Now move!”

Against his will Nikon broke into a broad grin. Her fiery exhortation and display of willpower had reawakened in him the desire to fight; he’d see it through to the end, but it was clear she wouldn’t take his word for it.

Nikon rose and followed Chieng into the darkness.




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

I also like the focus on Chieng. She was an old favorite of mine and it pleases me that she is playing a bigger role.  Though I wonder, does the Corona have some sort of voice command feature? That part was very ambiguous, did you mean to say that the scope only seemed to lower itself at her command (but was in fact being lowered by some off screen character) or that it actually lowered itself on its own accord? If it is the latter, then that seems a little too advanced for the Fire Nation.

The former. You're correct on both counts, my writing was ambiguous on that point, and it would certainly be too advanced if I had meant the latter.

Glad you're enjoying Chieng. She's one of my favorites too, as you can tell. Her character was planned from the beginning this way and her choices will ultimately rule the fate of many.

Anyway, I hope to see Zuko and presend day Iroh pretty soon. They have been strangely absent as of late.

We will, of course, return to them.

So Myojin is also inspired by  Gettysburg? I suppose that the chapter title and geography confirms this as so, but I wasn't able to tell exactly what other battle inspired it based on the information provided by the last chapter. Anyway, I suppose this is an alternate history Gettysburg, in which the Confederates win. Myojin is Nifong's greatest victory, so if the Fire Nation is acting in the place of the Union, I don't see Nifong taking any major damage. That would be too much of a damper on the greatest victory part. Still all battles have their sacrifies and losses. So I'd understand if there was some defeat mixed with Nifong's victory.

Yes, Gettysburg and Trasimene are the inspirations, though as you can tell Myojin is not a duplicate of either or even a straight up mixture of the two.

It's not really important to the narrative, but yes, General Nifong is willingly incurring significant casualties in the late afternoon / early evening in order to keep the Fire Nation pinned down. This will not dilute the magnitude of the victory.

Also, I added your fic to the tvtropes Avatar fanfic recommendation page.

Thank you, I couldn't ask for higher praise. Really, those comments are an honor.
« Last Edit: Feb 25, 2015 06:23 pm by Acastus » Logged
Colonel_Brian
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« Reply #65 on: Feb 25, 2015 07:10 pm »

Heh, more Chieng.  Cheesy

Anyway, this chapter, while short, was still nice. I liked the intimacy between the characters, especially after the last two chapters which were action heavy. This is not to say the action isn't great (it is, and I look forward to reading about Mequon) only that after experiencing the adredaline rush that was the Battle of Lake Myojin, it is great to wind back and have character-heavy chapters such as these. I liked that as the story progresses so do the characters and their relationships. Nikon coming to have  respect for the foul-mouth engineer was a rewarding journey, as was Chieng coming to respect Nikon. Now that their relationship has strenghtened they should be in a better position to save Xian. Though fate has the Fire Lord's nephew's number, unfortunately.

Anyway press onwards Acastus! I am not sure how far you are in your story, but with Xian's death coming up, it appears you are getting closer to the end. So, I wish you the best of luck.

Also, I am interested in why so much was made about the belly armor being the Fire Nation tank's weakness. I thought Nifong was interested in the fact that the front wheels get stuck when crossing over deep holes.
« Last Edit: Feb 25, 2015 07:16 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #66 on: Mar 07, 2015 08:45 pm »

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

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

Chapter XXIII – "Flights of Angels"

They sped north along the spine of Cemetery Ridge in a commandeered tank, a survivor of one of Tien Shin’s brigades. The driving distance between the Corona and the Comet was no more than a few minutes, but it allowed Nikon the opportunity to survey the Fire Nation lines on his right as they passed. The moon had risen high over the Ping Tou mountains, casting weird shadows from their lofty peaks upon the ridges and foothills below.

Earth kingdom artillery continued to shell the Fire Nation positions, but much less frequently than earlier in the day. The solitary, staccato impacts felt random. The explosions echoed hollowly off the hills and went unanswered by the Fire Lord’s finest. Occasionally a flight of arrows would whistle for a split second overhead before hitting its mark or burying itself in the ground. Impassive, silent, and exhausted, the red clad invaders manned their tanks or scanned the enemy lines from their hastily dug trenches, for the mongoose cavalry had dismounted to dig in once the defensive perimeter had been set.

Sentries and returning pickets saluted as Nikon and Chieng passed. Suddenly the enormous bulk of the Sunrise reared up before them, flames crowning the barrels of the twin siphons mounted on her roof, and quickly fell astern as they raced into the night.

Minutes ago Nikon had been prepared to end his life. Redeeming one’s honor for such a devastating failure demanded suicide. Every Fire Nation officer knew this. Yet Chieng’s words echoed in his ears and not for the first time. He couldn’t deny that he was happy to be alive, once again riding one of the machines he knew in his heart he was born to command. The blunt engineer had been right – better to go down fighting in the vain hope of redemption rather than kill yourself and end all hope of it. Likely as they were to die in this battle, Nikon’s heart felt lighter than it ever had since he parted with Iroh weeks before.

Flaming jets of orange sprang to life on their right, immediately identifying the Phoenix.

“Chieng,” Nikon said, speaking loudly into the voice pipe that passed the tank commander’s orders to the compartment below, “We passed Sunrise and we’re passing Phoenix now, so we should be headed down into the ravines between the ridge and the Little Round Top very shortly.”

Acknowledged,” came the curt reply from below.

Chieng was perfectly comfortable driving a tank, but not taking guidance from Nikon. He grinned at her discomfort.

As the tank crashed into the first ravine however the striking image of Chieng standing in front of Corona’s observation port filled his mind. Unbidden he recalled her former title, “Commander, Strategic Rocket Forces.” What the hell did that mean? She had just saved his life, and proven herself in a dozen other ways over the past few months, yet besides her inventive genius and foul temper he knew next to nothing about her. He felt a touch of shame, an all too familiar emotion of late.

Am I actually growing up?” He thought wistfully, and then with a touch of a smile, “Iroh and Gan will be disappointed.

Suddenly they began to climb and a new shadow appeared above them. Two wisps of orange flame atop the shadow identified it as the next Fire Nation leviathan in the line.

Sozin’s Comet ahead,” he radioed below.  

The engine revved high as Chieng shifted into lower gears to maintain speed up the slope. Nikon ducked to avoid a low tree branch right before the machine crested the western lip of the Little Round Top.

They entered a narrow clearing. The Sozin’s Comet lay ahead and to their right. A couple Fire Nation soldiers carrying lanterns were running towards the Comet while several others ran across their path in the opposite direction.

The soldiers running to the Comet stopped and began excitedly waving down Nikon’s tank. As the tank drew near the runners Nikon recognized the nearest as one of Prince Xian’s adjutants. His white hair and wizened, careworn features marked him as the elder of the two “map buddies.” A lifetime had passed since the tank commander last saw him.

“Commander!” the old soldier cried hoarsely.

Nikon waved him closer and the adjutant swiftly mounted the tank. His companion paused briefly before continuing on towards the Sozin’s Comet.

“Commander, please follow the medics right away,” he pleaded, pointing in the direction of the Fire Nation soldiers rapidly heading away from the Comet.

“Why? I have to see General Xian immediately.”

“Yes, Commander, but that’s why you got to go with them! Please,” the adjutant begged, “you’ve got to go now! They’ll need help to move him!”

Nikon stopped short in his reply as the lantern light revealed the tears glistening on the old soldier’s face.

“What’s happened?” Nikon inquired sharply, his chest tightening instantly.

“Prince Xian is wounded… badly… go to him now, please!” the old man said through tears, “I have to get word to the daimyo!”

The adjutant saluted once more and disappeared into the darkness.

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

Nikon dismounted the tank and landed heavily on the ground. Chieng followed close behind. Together they ran towards the dimly lit figures ahead. Two Fire Nation soldiers stood holding lanterns. Two others knelt beside a prostrate figure.

“What’s going on?” Nikon bellowed as he rushed up to them, anger masking his fear, “Who’s in charge here!?”

No one replied. Nikon heard Chieng’s sharp intake of breath as the wounded figure came into view. The body of the Fire Lord’s nephew lay broken on the dirt before them. Green feathered arrows sprang from his neck and torso.

“Looks like enemy pickets, Commander,” one of the medics finally offered, indicating the arrows.

Nikon ignored the comment. The “how” didn’t matter now. Xian was dying.

The prince breathed still, but the wind rattled in his chest. Xian’s eyes searched out the newcomer. He smiled at Nikon, recognition blooming on his face through the pain. The mortally wounded general looked younger than Iroh’s friend ever remembered him.

Bitter tears leapt from Nikon’s eyes at the sight.

“No! No!” Nikon screamed shrilly.

He dropped to his knees, closed his eyes in grief and reached for the fallen prince’s hand, “You can’t go! Please!”

Through the tears Nikon felt the dying man grasp his outstretched hand. He looked up at Xian. Blood poured through the prince’s teeth and down his cheeks as he tried to speak, but failed. A few bloody bubbles grew out of the prince’s mouth, popped, and slid down the side of his face.

Pain contorting his once gentle features, Xian tried in vain with his other hand to give Nikon the baton granted him by the Fire Lord. It fell, sticky with the dying man’s blood, to the ground. He could see the fallen prince mouthing his cousin's name, but no sound emerged.

Nikon froze for a moment, but then, his benefactor’s intention finally dawning on him, picked up the bloody symbol of power.

Seeing the silent plea in Xian’s eyes, Nikon tightened his grip on his hand and swore in a choked voice, “I promise! I promise, my lord! I’ll find a way! But, please, please don’t…”

He stopped as Xian’s head fell to the side, his eyes still wide open. The spirit of the gentle prince had fled.

Nikon bowed his head in despair, tears dripping from his face.

He felt Chieng drop to her knees beside him.

“Rest now, Prince,” Chieng beseeched, her voice uncharacteristically circumspect as she closed the eyes of the lifeless general, “Too gentle for the task, too noble for this age of blood and iron, in a better world… you would have shined bright.”



+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
I am not sure how far you are in your story, but with Xian's death coming up, it appears you are getting closer to the end. So, I wish you the best of luck.

Closer, yes, but not close. More than halfway, but not much more. Iroh is the main character after all and now (finally!) it will be his time to shine. Thanks for the luck, I can always use some of that Smiley

Also, I am interested in why so much was made about the belly armor being the Fire Nation tank's weakness. I thought Nifong was interested in the fact that the front wheels get stuck when crossing over deep holes.

Almost all armor losses after the wave were achieved by exploiting the belly armor weakness. The mud prevented the tanks from evading the attempts to flip them. They were then vulnerable to the EK artillery. Sorry that didn't come through as well as I'd hoped.

As you probably recall from the series, when FN tanks were flipped their bodies would flip as well, essentially making it impossible to do what Nifong did here. That was one of the original ideas for this story. When I saw season one I thought the flipping tanks were cool and thought about how and why they developed that innovation. My conclusion was they learned the hard way at Lake Myojin. In a later chapter you will see Chieng designing the flipping tanks, though it won't be highlighted explicitly.
« Last Edit: Mar 08, 2015 08:00 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #67 on: Mar 07, 2015 08:57 pm »

Wow, I thought you were like five chapters away from being done.  Well it is good to hear that Iroh will get his chance to shine. If he did't than I would have felt as if Xian and Nikon took over the story quite a bit.

As for your second reply, I was just about to ask that. :

I want to clarify that I got why the belly armor weak point was key to Nifong's success, what I meant was why in chapter fifteen, when he is surveying the wreckage at Cam'ron, does he seem interested in that one broken tank whose fronts wheels were stuck in a deep hole. His epiphany at that moment made it seemed as if that one tank gave him the idea for Myojin, when it was in fact the tank whose belly armor was cracked.

Anyway, I liked how low key this chapter was. Xian's death was short but touching. I theorize that Tien Shin ordered the attack. I also speculate that he and Iroh are going to bump heads. Tien Shin probably thinks that with Xian out of the way he can take the reigns, being second in command and all, and win glory, but unfortunately for him Iroh is Xian's successor. I also think that the Macro and Chen subplot will be brought back fairly soon.

Lastly, I want to ask if the line about it being weeks since Nikon and Iroh parted is a typo. Assuming that Myojin took place over a single day and the investment of Amiganza three days prior, it couldn't have been more than a week since chapters seventeen and eighteen took place.
« Last Edit: Mar 07, 2015 10:36 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #68 on: Mar 20, 2015 11:10 am »

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

Chapter XXIV – "Apocalypse Now!"

The banquet hall fell silent as the storyteller inclined his head at the passing of General Nifong’s great adversary.

Grief, as fresh as the moment he had learned of his cousin’s death, washed over Iroh. Heedless now of the danger, tears coursed freely down his cheeks. The audience, however, mesmerized by the performance, had failed to notice the retired general’s anguish.

The quiet was suddenly broken by the huge and unmistakable sound of someone blowing his nose. The great honking noise, echoing off the hardwood surfaces of the gallery, startled many of the guests, all of whom quickly turned their attention to the predictable source of the disturbance.

“Oh Gao, that was wonderful!” bawled the merchant of Shanxi as he once more evacuated his proboscis. The silk handkerchief he used was heavily embroidered with pearls and it fluttered like a flag in a stiff breeze each time he used it.

Trimazu lowered the handkerchief to reveal tear streaked jowls. Whether they were tears of joy or sorrow no one could tell.

“Truly that is the best retelling of Lake Myojin that I can ever remember!” boomed the merchant, his voice thick with emotion.

“Oh, the Weeping Whale has spoken!” Chen Ho injected before draining his glass and motioning to a servant for a refill.

Ignoring his neighbor’s scorn the fat man continued to address the storyteller in his conspiratorial tone, “I swear you might even be worth the outrageous amount of money you’re extorting from me to entertain these people!”

Shifting his bulk he expelled another mighty blast into the beautiful square of fabric that had been rapidly reduced to a filthy snot rag.

Gao smiled and offered the merchant a deep obeisance.

“You honor me, Lord!”

“Oh yes, I’m honoring you all the way to the poor house, my friend! But…” the party’s outrageous host then stood, spread his arms wide, and cried, “I ask my honored guests, is the great Gao Xingjian not worth every gold piece I am paying him? Does the Master Storyteller not live up to his illustrious reputation?”

The guests responded instantly with a single shout of approval and began to clap thunderously. The storyteller’s eyes swept the room, for he knew he had captured his audience, and proceeded to bow once to each table of guests.

Trimazu motioned for the servants to bring Gao his chair. Clearly the storyteller had earned some refreshment.

“The bard has indeed done well,” Chen Ho remarked grudgingly as the clapping began to subside and the audience began to buzz with conversation, “but do you really feel the need to blubber over the corpse of a Fire Nation villain, Trimazu? I don’t expect anything more from this fool here,” he said, waving his hand dismissively at Iroh, “but you should know better. I at least thought you a patriot. The death of an enemy is cause for celebration, not tears.”

Zuko glowered at the insult to his guardian, but his outward countenance remained as impassive as it had throughout the narration of the disaster. He knew the outline of the history from his tutors, and his uncle had referenced it occasionally as a cautionary tale. Since the banished prince considered defeats dishonorable however he had never wanted, nor been encouraged, to study the event closely. His heart seethed with anger and shame as the tale had unfolded and he silently vowed revenge on the green clad people before him.

“Not so, dear neighbor,” Trimazu disagreed, his expression serious for the first time since the carriage ride, “tragedy should be lamented no matter the color of the clothing worn by its victims – all the more so if they have brought their fate upon themselves. Is that not the very essence of tragedy?”

“As a sophisticated and educated gentleman,” he continued, pausing to punctuate his remark with a thunderous belch, “I have no trouble separating pity for the fall of a doomed man and the slaughter of individual soldiers from gladness that the fascists were crushed and pride in the victory of our countrymen and allies!”

The fat man seated himself and blew his nose obscenely once more.

“I don’t agree either, Lord Ho,” Governor Tao remarked, flatly ignoring his host’s robust flatulence, “Haven’t you learned anything from this war? Maybe you haven’t lost anyone dear to you. I have lost four sons and two brothers. Death should never be celebrated. Victory, always, but death? Never.”

“Well spoken, my friend,” Trimazu boomed in agreement, his expression brightening to its customary ebullience. Turning slightly the merchant addressed Iroh with a wave of his jewel festooned hand, “and Xian here has once again proven wiser than you, Chen Ho, though I daresay that’s not hard!”

“As if the opinion of this ignorant commoner matters,” the gray haired noble retorted coldly.

“Those “ignorant commoners” defend your estates, Lord Ho,” Tao rebuked sternly, “Remember that.”

The former governor turned to address Iroh.

“What do you say, Xian?”

“Yes!” the merchant injected, “Pay no attention to my neighbor’s embarrassing lack of manners! He would do well to take after my example, but, alas, he is ever so stubborn.”

Trimazu leaned in towards Iroh, his glance suddenly keen.

“So, tell us, my friend, do you lament the death of your Fire Nation namesake? Or are those tears of joy for the Army of Granite Mountains’ awesome victory?””

The banished prince was startled to see his uncle’s tears, though Iroh had done his best to wipe them away while the merchant addressed his guests. Realizing the danger, Zuko furtively scanned the faces of the people around him, instantly alert to the possibility of discovery. Anger and thirst for revenge drained away, quickly replaced by anxiety and fear. He knew they could fight their way out if the situation dictated, but it would be bloody, dangerous and the entire province would soon be after them.

While Zuko waited in quiet desperation, Iroh steeled himself to meet his host’s eyes. Drawing upon a lifetime of discipline, the retired general smiled and replied to the question with complete honesty.

“Truly, Lord, I am… just… moved by the master storyteller’s tremendous gifts. Your fortune is truly well spent.”

The master of the house hesitated only a moment before he smiled wider than ever and clapped Iroh’s shoulder once again.

“It is, Xian, it is!” he thundered, “I cannot tell you how gratified I am that at least one of my guests appreciates the enormous expense I am incurring on his behalf!”

“And that is of course the main point,” Chen Ho observed caustically, “why don’t you just go ahead and tell us how much you’re paying him, Trimazu? We all know you want to.”

A few nearby guests tittered at this, for truer words had never been spoken.

“I completely understand your curiosity, good neighbor,” the fat man responded, pouncing on the opportunity, “but that would be dreadfully boorish, don’t you agree? Truly, I am shocked and ashamed that the patriarch of the noble Ho family would ask such a vulgar question.”

The bloated merchant smiled innocently. Chen Ho looked ill and excused himself, presumably to visit the restroom. Tao Lin shook his head in disbelief, shielding his eyes with his hand while Trimazu chortled quietly in satisfaction.

Iroh’s nephew exhaled, barely aware that he had held his breath. The moment of danger apparently passed, he quietly observed his uncle with concern. Xian had died long before Zuko was born and as a defeated general his name was not spoken in the Fire Lord’s household. Only now could Zuko see how much his uncle had loved his cousin.

He found himself pitying Iroh for his loss and himself for his own loneliness. His uncle had loved and been loved both by friends and family. Zuko had loved only his mother and she was gone. Zuko fought down a surge of jealousy and despair. Ugly and unanswerable questions rose unbidden to torture him in the deep places of his mind.

Why can’t father see in me what grandfather saw in uncle? Why can’t Azula and I have a bond like uncle had with Xian or his friends? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get anything right?

At that moment a servant rushed up to the master of the house.

“Forgive me, your Hugeness, but the storyteller is ready to continue!”

With a start the fat man turned his attention to the center of the room. Gao stood ready, his chair removed, the audience rapidly falling silent.

“Of course!” he said smartly, with a single clap of his hands, “Enough farting around, Gao! I guess it’s about time for poor old Iroh to get the bad news, eh?”

Iroh closed his eyes, steeling himself against another display that could jeopardize his young nephew. He knew this time he would not yield.

“Indeed, Lord, we have but one episode to relate before the Crown Prince hears tell of our great victory, for the battle of Lake Myojin does not conclude with the death of Iroh’s ill-fated cousin. Hear now esteemed guests of the final downfall of the Fire Lord’s mighty armored legions…”

The audience cheered.

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

Nikon and Chieng stood up slowly. The others remained frozen in place around the body of their former leader.

“Stay with him,” Iroh’s friend commanded, “We’re going to find the daimyo, he must know immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” the medic replied, “he was on the Comet when we came here.”

Nikon and Chieng remounted their machine and drove at top speed towards the Sozin’s Comet, clearly visible in the distance.

Without warning the Comet suddenly sprang to life. Running lights switched on and the sound of its engines could be heard clearly over the background noise of the low intensity bombardment. Slowly, but with quickly gathering speed, she mounted the crest of the Little Round Top. The Fire Nation tanks around her quickly did the same.

What the hell?” came Chieng’s shocked voice from below.

Moments later a gathering chant rose from the ranks of the enemy and the sounds of intense battle broke out on their left. Solaria’s siphons sprang to life, her flamethrowers illuminating the battlefield around the Big Round Top, for she was aiming direct fire almost immediately in front of her. The slopes of this northeastern most hill were swarming with Earth Kingdom soldiers. Closer still they could see rank upon rank of the enemy cresting the Little Round Top no more than a few thousand feet away from them.

“Dear Agni! A night attack – we’re in trouble!” Nikon reported into the speaker tube.

Right – the daimyo must be moving to support, but I don’t underst –” Chieng’s thought was never completed.

The agonizing sounds of grinding metal began to echo across the battlefield, as if some massive edifice of iron were swaying back and forth in a gale.

Chieng’s eyes bulged in horror as Solaria, glorious, proud and illuminated like a Sun Festival sparkler, began to tip over in silent slow motion. The sound of her impact as she tumbled down the southern slope of the Big Round Top was earth shattering. Many of the attacking formations simply disappeared in the wake of her death throes. After several barrel rolls her siphons winked out, but her belly split wide open in twisted agony. Huge gouts of liquid spewed forth from her innards and exploded. Open flame now engulfed everything within reach. The Big Round Top was instantly transformed into the visage of an active volcano.

Just as the uproar from Solaria’s ignominious death subsided, the awful sound of grinding metal began anew, this time from their right.

“They’re earthbending the ground underneath the tank trains!” Nikon roared in frustration.

We have to evacuate now! No option!

Without instruction Chieng yanked the yolk rightwards and cranked the engine to full speed, driving them back towards Cemetery Ridge.

“What the hell are you doing!?” Nikon thundered while steadying himself against the sudden lurch starboard.

We’re finished here, Tien Shin knows it! He’s trying to break out with the Comet. We have to do the same!

Ahead they could already see the Sunrise teetering at the edge of the ridge line, her siphons firing continually downslope. Her engines roared to life as her crew tried desperately to escape.

Moments later they arrived at the Phoenix, where men were hurriedly mounting their mongoose and tanks. The Phoenix’s flamethrowers were silent as her position remained as yet unassailed.

You take the Phoenix, Captain Hideo is dead anyway! Ha Chang is Chief Boiler Operator – he’s good, let him run the train. Get her over to Corona and bring as much of the army as you can with you!

Nikon swiftly agreed. In one fluid motion he swung his legs out of the machine and jumped down, Xian’s baton still gripped in his hand.

Without turning he heard the slow, thunderous crash and the massive explosion that signaled the final destruction of the Sunrise. The center of Cemetery Ridge burst into flame, black smoke rising in a massive column to the heavens, blotting out the stars.

Chieng’s tank sped south in a desperate race to save her last child.

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

“So, esteemed guests, ended the glorious Battle of Lake Myojin,” Gao concluded triumphantly, the audience cheering once again.

“Tien Shin, Nikon Orlando and Chieng Shiung did indeed escape with their surviving dreadnoughts, though in the interest of time we will touch only lightly on their return to Prince Iroh, but a more complete victory has never been won as on that day.”

“Indeed, the Army of the Granite Mountains was completely unprepared for the scale of the victory. The next day the winds freshened once again, completely lifting the milky veil that had obscured the slaughter, and in the clear morning light hills and shore revealed to their eyes the undeniable and terrifying truth that the Fire Nation army had been totally destroyed...”


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

Lastly, I want to ask if the line about it being weeks since Nikon and Iroh parted is a typo. Assuming that Myojin took place over a single day and the investment of Amiganza three days prior, it couldn't have been more than a week since chapters seventeen and eighteen took place.

You are a close reader, thank you! The answer here though, is no, it isn't a typo. The distance from Nanjing to Highpass Hold must be considered, as well as the distance from Highpass Hold to Amiganza.
« Last Edit: Jul 23, 2015 01:55 am by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #69 on: Mar 20, 2015 11:36 am »

Your solution to the cliffhanger back in chapter Eighteen was quite interesting --much different than the one I had in mind. I was expecting a Zuko-style escape and Iroh taking over as the narrator. And I would like to expound more on the scene in the present day. I think you do amazing job at depicting Iroh and Zuko. Although I like the scenes in the past best, it is good that you have us caring about the present day storyline as well.

Anyway, Nifong continues to be a man of surprises. Iroh and his allies just aren't going to have an easy time against him now are they?

Lastly, I like the conversation Chen Ho and Trimazu had on the nature of tradegy. Once again I would like to say your solution to the cliffhanger was interesting and well done.

Also, I have another geography question, where do you imagine  the Song River and the Granite Mountains to be?

Also, if you are looking for a beta-reader you could ask djinn or some of our prominent fanfiction writers on ASN.

« Last Edit: Mar 23, 2015 06:19 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #70 on: Apr 02, 2015 01:29 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 XXV – General Iroh

He saw them approaching from a great distance, the heat of the last days of summer rising in great hazy waves off the plains. Two distinct dust trails sped toward them at great speed. Behind them a few dozen lesser trails indicated a small escort.

Prince Iroh stood impassively, his eyes locked on the approaching machines, his muscles stiff with days of tension. The battle should have been joined days before, but the scouts had reported no activity in the pass on the appointed day, or the following day, or even the day after that.

The machines grew steadily larger as he watched. They had not come from the southern pass. They had come from above the northern spur. How they achieved this feat he did not know, but that so few approached was very nearly proof enough of the disaster he felt sure had befallen. The approaching column was small, but Iroh felt sure it carried the spirits of many and he could almost hear their voices, the sounds of battle, and the screams of dying men.

He had not changed out of his armor since the day the battle was supposed to take place. He stank horribly. Repeatedly he searched in vain through his sight glass for signs of fire in the pass. He saw nothing. Each day passed in agony.

In his right hand he carried Xian’s black swathed missive, a smooth, silent harbinger of death. He hated it, but could not help but look upon it whenever he was not scanning the horizon.

A crunch of pebbles from behind alerted him to the presence of his one remaining friend.

“Two tank trains, your Highness,” Gan reported, one eye squinting through his sight glass.

“Yes,” Iroh acknowledged dully.

“And about ten or twenty tanks at most,” he added with some bitterness.

Gan retracted the instrument and replaced it in his tunic.

Iroh turned away, resolved to receive the approaching visitors at the camp. There was nothing to do but wait and steel himself against the inevitable. The Qu’ai Tau put a hand on the Crown Prince’s shoulder to stop him.
   
“Your Highness,” he began, unable to meet Iroh’s eyes, “I…”

“No!” Iroh roared suddenly, thrusting his friends hand away roughly, “I won’t hear it!”

Gan let his hand fall back to his side.

“You don’t know a damn thing!” thundered Iroh, shaking his fists at his friend. Tears welled, but did not fall.

The man in grey remained silent, his eyes downcast, sadness etched on his face.

Iroh marched stiffly to the command tent, the pennants of the Crown Prince snapping in the wind.

The black cylinder grew heavy in his hand.

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

The Phoenix finally began to slow, the constant pounding of her engines and high pitched shrieking of her treads waning as they approached the Fire Nation encampment. Six days had passed since the battle of Lake Myojin. Six days since the death of Prince Xian. Six days since the world had fallen to pieces.

Nikon had not come to terms with his own grief. The catastrophic loss on the shores of the cursed lake had instantly transformed into a desperate retreat up and over the Ping Tou. Corona and Phoenix had fought many actions, two in snow and ice at extreme elevation, before descending the sharp western slopes of the range. They had escaped only because the Earth Kingdom vanguard contained no waterbenders to manipulate the vast reservoirs of frozen water that blanketed the mountains. Many of the tanks which had escaped with them were lost to the terrain or cannibalized for their fuel to enable the rest to move on.

When they had not been in combat he could only think of what he must do if he lived to see Iroh again.

What do I tell him?

How can I tell him?

Why has it fallen to me to bear him this awful thing?


There were no answers. Briefly he regretted Chieng’s intervention on his behalf. He had not expected to survive, only to die with some kind of honor. Instead he found himself returning in disgrace to tell his best friend that his beloved cousin was dead and that much of the army was destroyed.

The red baton, still stained with the blood of its previous bearer, gleamed dully in Nikon’s hand.

The warforged titan slowed to a crawl as it entered the camp. On either side an honor guard lined the approach, flags held high. Iroh’s tent and the tank train car that Chieng had loaned him after the Battle of Nomura lay ahead. Nikon could see the entire officer corps of the infantry formed into rank and file. At the center he saw his friend. Next to him a man in grey could only be Gan.

“Kill drive engines,” he commanded tonelessly.

The Chief complied and the Phoenix slowed to a stop.

Nikon rapped twice on the side hatch before it opened, revealing the Crown Prince and the remainder of the Army of the Great Divide. He stepped out onto the running board. Dimly he could hear Corona grinding to a halt behind the Phoenix. The bodies of both dreadnoughts were heavily damaged, the symbols and lettering of their names, once resplendent in gold and red, now barely legible.

Iroh locked eyes with his best friend. The devastation he found there told him all he needed. He squeezed his eyes shut, forcing back the tears. It was a moment before he trusted himself to open them again without shame.

The acting captain of the Phoenix descended, stepping heavily onto the dust of the Nasu Plain. He approached Iroh under the tense and watchful gaze of the infantry officers. The red baton he held attracted every eye.

“Hail, Prince Iroh!”

Nikon saluted and dropped to one knee.

“Greetings, Commander Orlando,” Azulon’s son managed, his voice stilted, threatening to crack, “I thank the Spirit of the Sun for your safe return.”

Chieng emerged from the Corona and stood beside the young tank commander. Without a word she dropped to her knees next to him.

“Greetings, Commander Shiung,” the Crown Prince continued, gratefully acknowledging her presence by placing a hand on her shoulder, “Your return is a blessing as well, and I am thankful that you have once again fulfilled your promise.”

“What promise, Highness?” she asked dully, unable to meet his eyes.

“You didn’t let this one die on me,” Iroh replied gently, though his eyes remained filled with sorrow.

Chieng did not reply, unwilling to take credit even though she had earned it. The guilt of responsibility for the deaths of so many loyal soldiers, her commanding general, and all but two of her children oppressed her.

Iroh knew it was his responsibility to demand an account, but it was hard, perhaps the hardest thing he had done in his life. He hesitated, the wind picking up dust and dirt as it whipped through the camp. Finally, he spoke.

“Commander… what has happened? Where are General Xian and the rest of the army?”

Nikon looked up to meet his friend’s shattered, hopeless eyes. He knows, of course he knows, Great Spirits, I’m so sorry…

“Your Highness, General Xian is… General Xian is dead. What you see before you is all that is left of what we sent over the mountains.”

Nikon spoke loudly so that everyone could hear. The words cracked like thunder. Unable to restrain them any longer, Iroh shed salty tears, but made no sound. He remained at attention as he took the report.

“General Xian died in honorable combat against the enemy on the shores of Lake Myojin.”

He stood now and offered his friend the baton of command.

“I was with him when he passed, your Highness…” at this Nikon began to cry as well, but forced himself to continue.

“His last thought was of you… and the Fire Nation. On my life he asked me to deliver this to your hand.”

Iroh stepped forward, his back straight, tears flowing freely down his face, and took the baton.

“General Iroh, you are now in command of the Army of the Great Divide,” Nikon nearly shouted, his voice finally cracking, “By the Spirit of the Sun I pledge my life and loyalty to you!”

Chieng stood up and saluted, “Hail, General Iroh!”

“Hail, General Iroh!” the officers repeated as one voice.

Iroh stepped forward and hugged his best friend, the baton in one hand, his cousin’s letter in the other.

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

General Iroh sat slumped in his curule chair. He was alone in his tent. Two cups of hot tea rested on the circular table beside him. He could not bring himself to drink his, and the other would never be touched again.

In his hand he held his cousin’s final message. Finally, with a deep breath and wiping the tears once more from his cheeks, he lifted the cap off the tube and removed the scroll inside. He unrolled it carefully to reveal his cousin’s familiar, square lettered handwriting.

Dearest Cousin,

If you are reading this we have lost our gamble in the Southern Pass and a great part of the army has been defeated or perhaps even destroyed. I am dead or incapacitated and you are now locked in mortal combat for the very survival of the Fire Nation.

Hear me now and obey this final command! Whether Tien Shin lives or not, I appoint you Supreme Commander of the Army of the Great Divide.

Forgive me this. I alone know the awful burden I place upon you. I do this not because you are the brother I would have chosen, whom I have watched with love and pride grow from a young firebrand into a wise and resolute warrior, and above all, a good man, but because I believe that should I fall your leadership presents the best and only hope of victory for the Fire Nation.

This advice alone will I offer, if you would accept such counsel from a general disgraced by defeat. Remember the Battle of the Coral Sea and take to heart the lessons of our fathers! The first day of that famous conflict was a huge disaster from which no one expected to escape. How many others would have given up after that first, terrible day? Your father refused, as did mine. Their perseverance produced a victory that changed the course of the world. This is the challenge that lies before you now.

As for me, I have been plagued by my fears and by them I have been undone. Yes, I have known it. I have pressed on for many reasons, but none as potent as the certainty that the fastest way to end this war would be to lose it. Even in death I cannot help but do everything in my power to avoid that fate for the country I love beyond measure.

For this and only this reason could I do this to you, cousin, and I am sorry. You are the best and only choice.

Now, dear Iroh, grieve not for me, for you will carry the best of me inside you for all the days of your life. You will make my strength your own. Steel yourself now for battle, gather your friends close and lead your army to victory.

And now, at the last, I will beg you one final favor, cousin… If you live to see her again, please, tell her I loved her.

May we meet again in the spirit world.

Xian



The letter and its cylinder fell to the floor.

Yes, cousin, we will meet again. Farewell.



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

Also, I have another geography question, where do you imagine  the Song River and the Granite Mountains to be?

There is a description, or at least more information, in a later chapter. The short answer is far to the south and east of where the story has been taking place so far.
« Last Edit: Apr 16, 2015 01:47 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #71 on: Apr 02, 2015 01:53 pm »

I wonder who Xian is talking about?

Anyway, this was an excellent low key-chapter. Iroh's grief was wonderfully depicted, much like Xian's death. Although tears were shed, the scene still came off as very reserved and dignified.

I also like Xian's letter to Iroh. We never really got to see the Fire Lord's nephew's inner-mind so this was a great way to share it with us. I look forward to reading how Tien-Shin will react to his new leader and how Iroh will reverse  the Fire Nation's losing-streak. However he does it, I am sure it will be worth the wait.

I wonder, how far are we into the Summer of Terror? According to the beginning of the chapter, Summer is almost over. So I am guessing three months out of four?

Also, did the Comet not make it?
« Last Edit: Apr 03, 2015 01:59 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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« Reply #72 on: Apr 16, 2015 06:34 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 XXVI – Fortune Favors The Bold


Iroh summoned his friends. It was now evening. They stood before him in a protective semi-circle. Nikon, Gan and Chieng. Xian's message lay on the table, once again enclosed in its protective case.

“Now,” the new general began evenly, “tell me everything.”

The tank commander drew a heavy breath and began the story of Nifong’s ingenious trap. Iroh’s eyes widened at the description of the wave and the allied army it carried. Chieng supplied the particulars surrounding the occupation of Cemetery Ridge and the Round Tops. Once again Nikon recounted the death of Xian, this time in detail. He concluded with a brief description of the retreat over the frigid peaks of the Ping Tou. Iroh’s friend neglected to relate his attempted suicide and Chieng gracefully allowed the omission.

Iroh considered the tale, his brow furrowing in confusion.

“What was my cousin doing out there? Did you ask the guards or the medics?”

Nikon and Chieng exchanged glances.

“We never found out,” Nikon replied, “We didn’t have time to ask before the situation went all the way to hell.”

“And what about Tien Shin?”

“We don’t know. We don’t know if the Comet made it out or not.”

“We don’t even know for sure if he was on the Comet,” the engineer added.

Iroh stroked his chin a moment in thought before continuing.

“Right, now let us consider our situation and options.”

He stood up and walked over to the large table behind him. On it was spread the campaign map of the western Earth Kingdom. His friends followed and spread themselves around the four sides of the rectangular chart.

“Gan, count it off,” Iroh commanded.

The Qu’ai Tau grimaced and produced a small book from his tunic. In a clinical tone he reviewed the losses in men and material at Lake Myojin. He read from the Order of Battle, listing each formation, its strength in men and equipment upon its dispatch over the mountains and its fate at the encounter.

“A complete disaster, General,” Gan summarized unnecessarily, flipping the book closed with a snap, “Over ninety percent of all forces committed destroyed, though the tank trains did a little better proportionally. Three hundred and twenty seven million gold pieces in equipment lost – and that doesn’t even include payload on the tank trains… Twenty three thousand soldiers dead or missing.”

The silence was thunderous.

“Has there ever been such a loss?” Nikon finally asked in a small voice.

“Not in material, no,” Gan answered instantly, “This represents almost six months of total Fire Nation industrial output,” he continued, shaking his head in horror, “I…I…I’ve never seen a price tag this big on anything – ever!”

“Who cares about the money!” Nikon almost shouted in dismay, “Great Agni, I meant our people!”

“I care about the men,” Gan retorted, uncharacteristic anger flashing briefly across his narrow features, “and I care about the money! Those are my instructions from the Fire Lord, Nikon, and I will do it whether it offends your sensibilities or not.”

“Oh bullshit, Gan, are you an accountant or a man!?” Nikon roared, his fists balling in anger, “If you’d been there you wouldn’t give a damn about the money either!”

“I’m not impressed by your profanity, my friend,” the Qu’ai Tau replied, his normal calm restored, “and I’m not ashamed to be called an accountant – that’s what I am. As for combat, I’ve had my share, more than any accountant I know. I don’t remember seeing you at Nomura.”

Nikon opened his mouth to reply, but failed.

“He’s doing his job, Nikon,” Chieng reproved quietly, “Do you really doubt him?”

“No,” Nikon answered instantly, his anger fading as quickly as it had arisen, “No, of course not… I just… I just don’t give a damn about the money when my people are at the bottom of that god damn lake.”

Iroh eyed his friend sympathetically, but reproached him just the same.

“An army is not only made of men, Nikon, but of all the things they need to make war. We must never lose sight of either.”

Nikon forced his fists to uncurl, his body to relax.

“Yes, General.”

“Now,” Iroh continued in answer to Nikon’s original question, “If I remember correctly, the Battle of the Song was much worse in terms of manpower loss, over forty thousand dead. Sun Valley was about the same as this.”

The young general paused before turning his attention once more to Gan.

“What about survivors?”

The Qu’ai Tau sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair before he replied.

“Two dreadnoughts, twenty eight tanks, and two thousand six hundred and forty men. Half of them wounded.”

Iroh nodded once in acknowledgment before making eye contact with Chieng.

“What about Corona and Phoenix, Chieng, can they fight?”

“Yes, General, they need repair and refueling, but I can have them battle worthy in short order.”

The Crown Prince rubbed his chin again thoughtfully.

“The supply chain – how many dreadnoughts are running between here and the gulf of Gela?”

“Four, Highness,” Chieng replied automatically.

“Which ones?”

The engineer recited the names.

“And which types are they?” Azulon’s son queried, the ghost of a smile playing on his lips.

Chieng, until this point her expression an impassive mask, smiled wickedly, her golden eyes narrowing dangerously.

“Two carriers and… two of them.”

Them?” Nikon prompted, obviously confused.

No one answered. The young general looked over to Gan.

“Forgive me, Iroh, but so what?” the accountant finally countered, his tone incredulous, “You’re not actually considering continuing the campaign are you?”

“I am.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” Nikon gushed in horror, “I don’t care what’s in those trains. We have almost no armor or cavalry! We’ve taken tens of thousands of casualties! Nifong is probably on his way right now. We should be getting the hell out of here!”

“Not true,” said Iroh raising a finger in unconscious imitation of his cousin’s expression, “or at least not entirely true.”

“What do you mean? Which part isn’t true?”

“Come with me,” the Crown Prince instructed.

They followed him out the back entrance of the tent. They snaked their way through the camp to one of the main logistic staging areas.

Nikon whistled. Chieng beamed.

“Still not enough,” huffed the accountant.

Parked in front of them were eight rows of twelve tanks each. Obviously brand new, their steel sparkled in the sun.

“Replacements,” Iroh explained, “they arrived two days ago.”

Nikon ran his hand appreciatively along the body of the nearest machine.

“Yes, I’m sure Nifong will wet his pants when he hears we have these,” Gan remarked sourly, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture at the tanks, “So, including what we’ve got here, all told we have about a hundred and thirty working units. We started with well over a thousand. We took eleven tank trains into battle and two survived, for a total of six remaining. No matter how you cut it we are at a severe deficit compared to our starting point.”

“We probably have another fifty tanks in the garrisons at Cam’ron and Nanjing,” Iroh countered.

“He’s right, Iroh,” Nikon agreed, his enthusiasm at the appearance of the reinforcements rapidly ebbing, “No matter how you cut it, not only are the mobile forces a fraction of what we started with, but also based on what we saw at Lake Myojin we’re probably outnumbered… I don’t know… 4 to 3, maybe worse. What do you think, Chieng?”

The engineer considered briefly before answering.

“Yeh, that’s about right. We’re facing pretty crappy odds now, General.”

“That’s even before accounting for the enemy relief armies that have arrived from the lake country,” Gan added.

“Very well, my friends, let’s return to the map.”

They abandoned the neat rows of armor and made their way back to the command tent. Once they were assembled again around the table Iroh continued.

“Nikon, you said earlier that Nifong is probably on his way right now, yes?”

Color rose briefly to his friend’s face at this reminder.

“Yes, well, sorry for the outburst, I just assumed he’d attack you immediately given his success against us.”

“Not an unreasonable thought, but if so, where is he?”

The question hung in the air.

“Yes, General, I see,” Chieng said finally, realization dawning in her expression, “he’d have been here days ago if he came straight through.”

“Right,” the new general agreed with a gentle smile, “but there’s been no sign of him.”

“Maybe he’s coordinating with the armies from up north? A pincer attack?” Gan mused.

“Word is that the relief armies have laid siege to Edo and Shimonoseki,” Iroh countered, indicating several scrolls lying next to him on the map, “Our garrisons are trapped there. If they were going to link up with the Army of the Granite Mountains they’d have bypassed.”

“Still, it’s not good, our rear is threatened,” Nikon observed, “and the supply chain to Gela is in real trouble. How are we going to continue the campaign, Iroh, if we get cut off?”

“Good question,” the Crown Prince replied, eyeing the map, “to answer that, we have to ask ourselves what our enemy’s intention is after his victory at Lake Myojin.”

Silence again greeted this question.

“Chieng?” Iroh prompted.

She hesitated, her face downcast.

“General, my… my judgment has been proven suspect in these matters, so I’d rather not speculate.”

“Nonsense,” Iroh replied with a trace of sternness, “stand up and be counted.”

She lifted her gaze to meet her commanding general’s eyes.

“All right…” she replied, uncharacteristic indecision showing in her voice, “Since he declined to attack immediately… I believe he is after something else, but I haven’t any clue what that alternate objective might be.”

“Relieve Amiganza?” Nikon offered, then with bitterness, “I mean we know now that letter was totally bogus.”

“Not likely,” Gan responded, “If cleaning us up isn’t worth the time then relieving Amiganza would be a complete waste.”

“Okay, then what?” Chieng prompted.

“Oh,” Nikon began, suddenly grimacing, his eyes transfixed on a different area of the map.

Iroh regarded his friend evenly.

“Oh, sweet Agni,” he continued, “You don’t think he’d risk an attack on Mequon, do you?”

They considered this, tension filling the tent. Mequon, the last major Fire Nation colony in the Earth Kingdom, lay over three hundred leagues to the southeast, across the devastated wasteland known as the Dune Sea.

“It’s a really long haul,” Nikon said, answering his own question, and tracing a finger along the lower portion of the map, “almost six hundred leagues, because they have to round the Ping Tou down south, swing out east and then south again around the desert’s eastern escarpment… but we don’t have much in the way to stop him, do we?”

“We appropriated all of the colony’s mobile forces for the Nasu Campaign,” Gan agreed quietly, “If the garrison has to face the entire might of the Army of the Granite Mountains with no support… it will probably end badly.”

“If Nifong brings up proper siege equipment, even the primitive pieces of crap that passes for artillery here, it’ll just be a matter of time before the city falls,” Chieng agreed, “It doesn’t help now, but it was probably a stupid idea to strip Mequon entirely.”

“Leaving Mequon exposed was always one of the risks of the plan,” Nikon admitted, biting his lip, “How large is the garrison? Do we know?”

“About five thousand, but I’m not entirely certain,” Gan replied.

“Who is the governor?” Nikon continued, “A friend, I hope?”

Iroh and Gan shared a quick glance.

“Rhiannon?” the accountant prompted somewhat mysteriously.

 Iroh nodded once, then looked down again at the map, a brooding expression on his face.

“Rhiannon? Never heard of him,” Nikon said, obviously confused.

“Her,” Iroh corrected.

“Her?” Chieng questioned sharply.

“Is she hot?” Nikon injected before he could help himself.

Chieng and Gan shook their heads in identical displays of disgust.

“Yes,” the young general confirmed, kicking his friend sharply underneath the table, “but you would know her only as Governor T’zan. Rhiannon is her given name.”

Grimacing from the well-deserved blow, Nikon continued hesitantly.

“Um… wait a minute, isn’t Governor T’zan a man… like a really rich old man…?”

“Her father,” Gan supplied with a shake of his head, “and when he died a few years ago she was appointed his successor by the Fire Lord.”

“I never heard of this,” Chieng accused, as if Iroh and Gan were to blame for the oversight.

“He didn’t just die, Gan, he was assassinated,” the Crown Prince clarified, “and Rhiannon had been his deputy for two years before that. She is capable and popular, the appointment was natural. The Ministry of War suppressed the news of the assassination of course.”

“It’s part of our function,” Gan observed coolly.

“Assassinated by whom?” Chieng asked.

“Dai Li agents, apparently posing as civil construction workers,” the accountant answered, “Rhiannon had them arrested and executed, but the circumstances were rather mysterious.”

“How do you…?” the engineer began, but was cut off by Iroh’s curt reply.

“We grew up together.”

Chieng observed Iroh closely. She then looked over to Gan who looked troubled. After a few moments of silence Iroh returned to the original subject.

“How long do you think it will take Nifong to invest the city if we are correct?”

Nikon considered this, deciding to leave the subject of the governor of Mequon for later.

“Two months, maybe, if they have reserve mounts and good supply along the way, which they probably do. More important, I think, will be if the weather holds,” Nikon turned to the Qu’ai Tau to ask, “Aren’t we about to enter the wet season for the lower latitudes?”

“Yes,” Gan replied, “My father has told me the weather often turns sharply in the next few months.”

Nikon thought about this a moment. Then, expelling a large breath, concluded dully, “Well, whether he gets there fast or slow, what does it matter? It won’t change the outcome. Chieng’s right, the city is doomed if he decides to attack.”

“We can’t let that happen,” the engineer interjected vehemently, “If Mequon falls our ability to operate large field armies in the western Earth Kingdom will be eliminated. What will happen to the Army of the Song or the Army of the Cree Valley without Mequon to supply them? Supply by sea is acceptable for a single campaign, but not for years at a time. And once that ability is gone, how long will it be until we are driven completely into the sea?”

“Or worse,” Gan added darkly.

“Yes,” Iroh agreed, “It is these very questions that concerned my father when he gave my cousin this task.”

Briefly the young general recalled the Harvest Moon Feast from what seemed another lifetime.

“Yes, I see no other real possibility,” Iroh concluded, “He will attack Mequon. If he succeeds, the war is essentially over and we are finished. Does everyone see that?”

He met each of their eyes in turn. He saw grim realization in Chieng’s, worry in Nikon’s, and cool acceptance in Gan’s.

“Our options are to retreat,” Iroh began, tracing each option on the map as he spoke, “fight our way back to the gulf of Gela and return to the Fire Nation in disgrace. Or, we can attempt to break the sieges of Edo and Shiminoseki in the hopes of smashing the relief armies threatening our rear, but leaving Nifong with the strategic initiative.”

Chieng snorted and looked away, clearly disgusted with both of those options. Nikon and Gan looked downcast.

“We will do neither,” General Iroh stated flatly.

All eyes turned once again to him.

“What will we do then?” Nikon asked.

Iroh straightened before replying, clasping his hands behind his back.

“We will cross the Dune Sea and destroy the Army of the Granite Mountains on the steppes east of Mequon.”
« Last Edit: Apr 16, 2015 06:49 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #73 on: Apr 16, 2015 06:35 pm »

Nikon and Gan surveyed their leader in horror. Chieng’s eyes widened, her head nodding in approval.

“A bold plan, General,” the raven haired engineer offered, clearly impressed.

“Have you lost your mind?” Gan finally choked out, “There’s no water – I mean zero! Even if every tank train carries nothing but water we’d never make it!”

“Yes, my friend,” Iroh replied in a hard voice, “I probably have lost my mind, but that will not change my decision.”

“And I’d have thought you’d have had enough of bold plans after Myojin!” Gan declared, turning to Chieng with an incredulous expression.

"Fortune favors the bold, Gan," she replied, quoting the ancient saying, "besides, we're in a sh**** position, so pretty much any course we take besides laying down to die will require bold action.”

“One thing I am sure of,” the engineer continued, “is that there is no way in hell the enemy will expect us to try to cross the desert.”

“I agree with you there,” Nikon inserted, “but Gan’s right. We can’t carry enough water to get across and there isn’t any to be found in that blasted waste. It’s suicide.”

“There is water in the Dune Sea,” Iroh disagreed, “Plenty, as a matter of fact.”

“You mean the salt lakes?”

“Yes.”

“What good are they? We can’t drink salt water.”

“No, we can’t.”

“So… I don’t get it.”

Iroh turned to Chieng. Her eyes were suddenly apprehensive.

“We need a fast way to separate salt from water.”

Nikon and Gan shifted their gaze to the now visibly uncomfortable woman. A few moments passed in silence as each of them surveyed their chief technician.

“How do you like the plan now?” Nikon asked her quietly, his voice betraying sympathy the barbed question did not intend.

She allowed her fellow Myojin veteran a rueful expression before answering Iroh’s implicit challenge.

“There isn’t any.”

Iroh nodded.

“I understand, my dear,” the Crown Prince acknowledged gently, unconsciously using a term of endearment for the harsh engineer, “It will take a week at least to recall the dreadnoughts and gather the Nasu garrisons that aren’t yet under attack. You have that much time to come up with a solution.”

Indecision, anger, and other emotions warred within her. She lowered her gaze, her fists clenching.

“That’s not really fair, Iroh,” Gan injected, taking pity on the engineer, “You can’t just command miracles, or dictate invention. It just doesn’t work that way.”

“I believe in her,” Iroh replied softly.

Chieng’s head snapped up, confusion evident on her face.

“Why?” she asked, honest curiosity burning in her expression.

“You have a way of inspiring confidence in those around you,” Iroh responded with a smile, “and you haven’t let me down yet.”

She didn’t answer, her face betraying her doubt.

“Iroh’s not alone there, Chieng,” Nikon found himself saying to his own surprise, “I do too. We’ve been through way too much for me to doubt.”

The engineer quailed internally at the impossibility of the task before her, but she could not deny that she was touched by the simple expressions of faith from her companions. When had they become comrades rather than professional acquaintances? Were they actually friends? She was not used to asking these questions. Recoiling at such intimacy, especially in a public forum, she ignored the comments.

“I can’t promise anything, General,” she said finally, crossing her arms across her chest in a gesture of self-protection.

"Yes, I know, but you will do your best. I know you understand that if we fail, all those who passed at Lake Myojin will have died for nothing."

She looked stricken. Feelings of guilt threatened to overwhelm her once again. She dropped her gaze in fear of finding accusation in her leader's eyes.

“I best get started. May I go now, General?”

“Of course, Commander,” Iroh agreed gently with a slight dip of his head.

She walked stiffly from the tent, the weight of the entire Fire Nation on her shoulders.




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

I wonder, how far are we into the Summer of Terror? According to the beginning of the chapter, Summer is almost over. So I am guessing three months out of four?

It's over - it ends at Lake Myojin. The campaign began in early May when they landed in the Gulf of Gela. Myojin is early September.
« Last Edit: Apr 20, 2015 02:21 pm by Acastus » Logged
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« Reply #74 on: Apr 16, 2015 07:23 pm »

That answered a lot of my geographical questions. I thought Mequon was near the Arno River, which explains why I was so confused when Jeong Jeong cautioned Xian that landing in the gulf would put the Dune Sea between the new army and Mequon.

But just to clarify, Mequon is located near that enormous river which runs south of that really mountainous area in the western Earth Kingdom (near General Fong's base, in other words?) Or if you don't remember where Fong's base is located, is the Fire Nation stronghold southwest of the Serpent's Pass?

If true than I wonder, does the Fire Nation have any significant presence in the northwestern Earth Kingdom? It seems as if all their military force are concetrated  in the southern landmass.

Anyway, this was a good chapter. Poor Chieng has to produce a miracle within a few weeks.

I like how you wrote Iroh, he is finally getting his chance to shine (And so does everyone else for the matter!) I also laughed at his inability to cheer Chieng up! I mean, really Iroh?  Grin That poor girl has enough weight on her shoulders!

I also hope to see Tien Shin soon. He always knows how to up the stakes a bit (and the anxiety of whether or not he was involved in Xian's death is killing me!)

Keep up the good work!

And although this is too early to ask, is Mequon also based off a famous, real-world battle?
« Last Edit: Apr 16, 2015 09:05 pm by Colonel_Brian » Logged
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