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October 31, 2011
Advancement is the first serial of.
From his office in the Earth Kingdom Royal Palace, General How remembers the campaign that earned him a valuable promotion.
The man stares into the green fires lighting his study. In the past month he had received some of the worst wounds he had ever experienced, at one of the most inopportune times. He takes off his armor, wincing as his many injuries are forced to stretch. He looks at the armor's ornate design, a true testament to the rich heritage his Kingdom possessed, as well to his tumultuous life. The scars of war were on both his body and mind, cementing the defining features of General How.
Never before had he questioned himself or allowed anyone to point out a fault in his carefully crafted persona. Within the span of a few hours, a teenage boy had managed to accomplish both. It was not the defeat in battle that haunted the Raging Badgermole, but the words that followed. How had been told that it was his methods that caused not only the death of a soldier on the field, but the defection of a top military official; a man he once called his colleague.
Another troubling facet of the problem was that Beipan's predicament was not a special circumstance. General How had a well-known and carefully maintained reputation for being a man not to cross, something he was proud and currently ashamed of. He knew as a young officer that to maintain order was to create a threat to the Fire Nation's military might, and so he quickly forced his unit into becoming the most disciplined in the Earth Kingdom. The unit was devastating in combat, but a closely guarded statistic showed that his group had the highest number of mental breakdowns in the Earth Kingdom. How always maintained that the soldiers were too weak for service, and that by removing them from service he was doing his Kingdom a service. The day's events made him reconsider.
How began to grow even more confused. He had begun to experience an inner turmoil that easily was more extreme than his rage felt during the Siege of Ba Sing Se. Beipan was more than just a man he worked with; How had literally secured his promotion onto the Council of Five upon the death of its previous leader. That day was the beginning of Beipan's untimely end.
"General How, I can't thank you enough for this opportunity to serve my country," the younger voice of Beipan echoes through the Badgermole's head. As the voice fades, How becomes immersed in his memories of Beipan's journey to the Council.
About three years before the great Siege of Ba Sing Se, General Ban passed away. The powerful Earthbender had led the council for almost twenty years, and had presided over unprecedented victories over the Fire Nation. How, the second most recent member of the council, only had a few years to get to know the figure, but still admired his courage. Even in his rapidly aging state, Ban was a valiant and bold tactician, frequently utilizing tactics such as nighttime ambushes to defeat the Firebenders while they were weakened.
While How truly mourned the loss of his leader, he knew he must remain cold as stone to move forward in his career. In spite of the tragic news, How still left on a mission to stop the Fire Nation's advance on the Impenetrable City. The Serpent's Pass had long been controlled by the Fire Nation, and How was set on that changing. Because the Council had been lowered to four members, How was able to use both his own units as well as some of those formerly commanded by Ban.
How gathered his armies before the Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se, preparing them for battle. Before his speech, he ordered the soldiers formed into their units, with their commanders at the head of each group. How quietly glanced over his troops, watching the firm expressions of his brothers in arms. "Men, today we embark on a mission to secure our capitol. As you well know, the Fire Nation is closing in on Ba Sing Se. They recently began controlling the Serpent's Pass, a narrow strip of land that connects the land near the Outer Wall to parts of the southeastern part of our Kingdom. The pass itself is not our focus today; we are journeying out of our city to ensure that the Fire Nation has no easy access point to the Walls of Ba Sing Se. Good luck men, be as strong as your element, as steadfast as the walls of your city, and as courageous as your fathers before you. For Ba Sing Se! For the Earth Kingdom!"
The crowd erupted in a powerful roar, nearly shaking the walls themselves. How had the officers order the units to exit the city and head for the Serpent's Pass, a few day's journey away. How mounted his Ostrich Horse and snapped its reigns, prompting the beast to stride forward, eventually becoming first in the massive line of troops exiting Ba Sing Se.
After the days of travel required to move the entire army to the Serpent's Pass, How ordered a day's rest. Unfortunately, sunrise arrived too soon. As How predicted, the Fire Nation were prepared to move out, and saw How's army as a simple obstruction. The soldiers were awakened by fire balls raining down upon their camp. How was quick to react, ordering immediate barricades to buy much needed time. General Shu of the Fire Nation had allocated a small number of troops to take out the supposedly small and poorly trained army on the far side of the pass, but the Fire Nation officers, however, had more than underestimated the young General How.
"Rally, men! Wake up any stragglers! Warriors, prepare your weapons! Benders, follow me!" How barks, violently whipping his head round to ensure everyone in the camp heard him. "Over the walls!" How orders, using the ground underneath him to launch himself into the air and into the newly defined battlefield. By the time How made contact with the ground, a legion of Earthbenders were rapidly approaching his rear. Turning his attention to the approaching Fire Nation army, How lets out a powerful bellow, smashing his fist into the ground and sending a massive fissure towards the invaders. The first rows of infantry were decimated, with their bodies obscuring the sunrise behind them. The next rows launched a continuous stream of fire, seemingly converging into a horizontal arc. With another groan, How ripped his hand out of the ground while moving his free hand parallel to the ground, raising a six foot tall wall of earth in front of his army.
By this time, the Earthbenders had caught up, and began using the readily available stone to their advantage. Several soldiers began breaking up the wall and hurling its pieces towards the Fire Nation. As the boulders flew through the air, fire began raining down upon the Earth Kingdom soldiers as well. "Charge!" echoed from the officers behind him. How stood firm as the soldiers flowed through the open portions of the wall. Hours passed like minutes as the battle raged.
How was unable to enjoy the rush of combat, as he knew he must remain focused on the strategic aspect of the battle. As he stood back from the battle, he saw an Earthbender dueling against an elderly Fire Nation officer. Despite his age, the Firebender was attacking fiercely, overwhelming the Earthbender. How leaps off the ground, landing before kicking the air in front of him. A torrent of land emerges from the ground, knocking the Firebender into the dirt. "Who are you?" How demands as he approaches the pair.
"Brigadier General Beipan, sir," the Earthbender replies with a bow.
"Not you," How says, glancing towards Beipan with contempt. "You," he says, turning his head towards the disoriented Firebender.
"I am General Shu. Who do I have pleasure of killing now?" the officer replies with a sneer. How spits on the ground as Shu picks himself up, dusting off his armor.
"Today's not that day," How declares as he assumes his stance. "I won't go down without a fight."
"Then fight we shall," Shu retorts as he creates a fireball in each of his hands. The Firebender hurls the attacks at How, but the Earth Kingdom General raised a defensive wall that blocked the attack. How forces the wall back into the ground and sweeps his arms over the ground, building up momentum for an eventual attack. Stomping the ground, How sends the rotating columns of earth towards the Fire Nation General. The Firebender slipped between the attacks and sent a fire jet towards How. He turned his palms to face the sky and forced them up higher, raising a thin, stone slab the blocked the fire. Reacting quickly, How sprints to the shield and thrusts his fist into it. The rock crumbled towards the Fire Nation General, piercing his armor and entering his body.
The General coughs as he collapses to the ground. "Accursed Badgermole," he says in a fit of fury. "How dare you stand up to the Fire Nation's might!"
"If the Fire Nation is so mighty, let them come and stop me," he says, turning to continue the battle elsewhere. Still barely able to fight from How's attack, Shu refuses to be ignored. He staggers to his feet and begins charging a fire blast.
"General! Watch out!" Beipan calls, panicking and unsure what to do. How, however, knew what course of action to take. How slides to his right and spins around, pushing a column of earth at Shu's chest. Within a moment, the Fire Nation General's ribs collapsed, ruining him within the moment.
The Fire Nation officers nearby watch in awe as their leader was killed by the furious barbarian of a General. "He even moves like a Badgermole," a soldier says as he numbly stares at the battle's aftermath. The officers begin to call retreat orders after the death of their General, as they are unsure of what the next plan of action should be.
The Fire Nation armies turned and sprinted off into the distance, clearly seeing that they had no shot at victory. From the smirks How saw on the soldiers nearby, the General knew that they wanted more. He stepped forward, making sure all the nearby soldiers could see him. "Do you want to make sure they remember you?" he shouts to his soldiers. With a roar, the group of soldiers sprint off into the Serpent's Pass.
With the exception a few brief retaliations, the Fire Nation soldiers abandoned the Serpent's Pass and the area beyond. Knowing not to give further chase to the invaders, the Earth Kingdom soldiers begin congregation around the southern gate to the Pass and wait for How to arrive. When the Raging Badgermole arrives, he observes his surroundings. The soldiers around him seem to be focusing on one of the posts that identifies the Pass. How paces over to the beam and sees a carving in the wood. After reading the inscription a few times, How calmly closes his eyes. "Does anyone want to tell me what this means?" he orders, loudly enough that the inner circle of soldiers can hear him.
"It says for us to Abandon Hope," Beipan's voice calls from behind the General.
How chuckles for a brief moment, having not expected to have his rhetorical question answered. "Abandon hope? Abandon hope? Why would we think of losing it after today's great victory? These Fire Nation vermin believe that a simple message like this will deter us! This should serve as a reminder of what we've been through, and what we did not do. I promise that one day, soon, our sons and daughters will be able to live a life of peace! Their generation will not be scarred by war and they will know true freedom! We will hope for it, and we will make it reality!"
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