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|A Deserter's Legacy|
Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster
Chapter 1: A Deserter's Legacy
Shé 04, 139 ASC
My mind turns more and more to the legacy I will leave. Ever since the men brought that physician from one of our villages in to look at me, these thoughts have consumed me. I will die soon. I've been a soldier my whole life. I should have died in battle more times than I care to count. I cannot help but find it amusing that the death of me will be living too long. I have outlasted wars, armies, dynasties, and now my own heart. I have seen death scrape by me and take the next man instead. Now at last we are sitting down. Death and I. Looking each other eye-to-eye before we walk off together.
I do not fear death. Truly. But I look back on the years and I feel a terror that mortality never brought. We all live our lives knowing we will die. We do not all die knowing the world will look back at our lives with loathing. I will not even be able to defend myself. Today I am a controversy. Tomorrow, without the context of today, how can anyone look at what I've done and see anything less than a monster? Not just I, but all of us? Will we not be remembered as a plague on the world?
I don't doubt that we will be blamed, that is assured already. They will blame us, some of us blames ourselves, and perhaps you will blame us as well. But do we really deserve it? Maybe I am but an old man trying to wash myself of the dirt of the past. But maybe not. I cannot say. After all, who does not wish to die with a clear conscience and a light heart? I would like to believe I'd not let such a fleeting and empty solace taint my last thoughts to myself and words to the world, but I have grown old and with that comes fatigue and fear.
I have never been one to deny responsibility for my actions to save face. I accepted culpability for Zhao and the life I misspent serving the Fire Lord's ambitions. I also know that in some small way I am responsible for Avatar Aang ending decades of pointless war. The irony is not lost on me. I helped the pup who ended the war and now what am I? What do they call me? Warlord. I believed with the Phoenix King gone I would never have to use the blade or the flame again. But I digress. My sole comfort, cold it may be, is that I have never been the sort to shirk my accountability. It is the only hope that what I say here has some piece of the truth in it.
I can trust nothing anymore. My heart is weary and weak, my mind is falling out of my head one memory at a time, my men are consumed by their own greed and fanaticism. All I can trust is the man I once was. I remember him. Pieces of him. The protector. The firebrand. The mentor. The recluse. I started this journal, this record of my thoughts and beliefs, this ledger of my crimes and repentances, just before my desertion. My first desertion. I have been fortunate enough to remain the same fierce, honorable man in here at least, even as time has left me wizened and embittered, tempted and corrupted. I do not deserve the blessing of that man I once called myself writing for me any longer, but I ask for it still.
I have gone off topic. I have babbled. It grows harder and harder to keep my mind on course. It meanders, stumbles, forgets and every day I awake knowing that it will be worse than the day before. No matter.
These past forty years and beyond will be laid at our feet like the kill after a hunt. Perhaps that is all we are. Hunters. Archers with dogs at our fore and trumpeters at our backs chasing down a feast. We caught victory, wealth, and power. We supped on each to our hearts' content. Now the table holds nothing but this most bitter fare. It will be fed to us and we will have no choice but to down it.
Everyone tried for what we six titans had, but their failures will redeem them. I know this. They will not be remembered. They will not be reviled. They each took a ration and fell in line when they were told. We were too proud, too strong, and too foolish to drink of such weak tea.
We were born in war. All of us. A century of fighting and killing. You live in peacetime, if you're lucky you might thrive. But wartime? You survive in wartime. What can be expected? What can come of a world that hasn't lived for a hundred years? It was all we knew, it is all we know. After the mad king fell, we had the freedom to live again, but could only remember how to survive. It was chaos. Chaos and opportunity. The Earth King was a puppet without his strings and too inept by half to run his own bedchamber without throwing the realm into crisis. The Fire Lord was young, untested, and trying to rule a country he hadn't called home in years. The Water Tribes were content to close themselves to the world and lick their wounds. Everyone was busy. Everyone was tired. The heroes and the sovereigns were so preoccupied with fixing the center, they never looked to what we were doing at the margins.
It was there. The lot of it. Nigh unguarded. Of course we took everything we could. All of us. Lords from storied families. Pirate kings with nothing but guile and gall. Revolutionaries with lofty ideals in their hearts and rusty blades in their hands. Admirals who have fought for too long. To think I started this new age their enemy, Jeong Jeong the rebellion breaker and the bandit's bane. Now I am Jeong Jeong the Fallen, tyrant and thief.
Can we be blamed? Everyone wanted what we had, what we have. Are we guilty only of winning? The Fire Colonials did just as we did and now the Republic of Nations is a glistening jewel of unity and harmony. Perhaps it is because we were never given permission. We took all we could carry. We didn't say please or thank you. We saw what we wanted. We took it. We damned you to try to make us let go. Our crime was defiance and you will do with the history book what you never could with all your armies and assassins and ships.
I shudder to see these words fall from my pen. I truly feel a weak, old man, too proud to admit his own avarice and foolishness. Still, I sought to write my thoughts before I forget them, all of them. We committed atrocities. I committed them. I believed I was in the right the whole time. Perhaps I was, but it no longer matters.
We did the only thing that made sense. The only thing that could make sense to people forged in violence and war. We did it well.
All of our other compatriots have left us. Their holdings fell to weak successors, overextended armies, and well bought blades in the night. Their fiefdoms were eaten up by anyone close enough to throw lives at them. The game that once included every soldier and hatchet-man with the audacity to play was worn down to six. The six. Abandoned as I am by my superiors, my country, and the White Lotus; they and my Damned battalion are my only comrades. Perhaps this is fate. Or perhaps our tales are nothing but a confluence of circumstance, chance, and geography. I cannot say. It is irrelevant. We succeeded where everyone else failed. We shaped history just as history shaped us. For that we must be punished. Or perhaps it is the opposite. Perhaps if we had taken more, we would be the heroes of this epoch rather than the villains. Even if we could change our stories, I am too old, too tired. I await the end of this tale with bated breath.
I want to say more while my mind can still hold these thoughts, but the sun is rising and I have much to attend to. I turn a hundred today and the men will want to celebrate.
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