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November 13, 2011
Blissfully Unaware is the second serial of.
From his office in the Earth Kingdom Royal Palace, General How reflects on his promotion to Head of the Council of Five and its consequences.
In his study, How regains consciousness to find his head supported by his hands and beads of sweat dripping into his wrinkles. After letting out a sigh, he kneels down and picks up his armor, as it had fallen on the floor. The design had more meaning behind it than the armor of other Generals on the Council, or the armor of other officers. It was the victory at the Serpent's Pass that earned How his promotion to head of the Council of Five.
On a warm day, How was summoned from his home to the Royal Palace. How was waiting for the news on who would become head of the Council, and was noticeably shocked when he was asked to follow a woman named Joo Dee to the King's home. She wouldn't stop mentioning how it was important for him to "Agree with his Highness" and "Appease his Highness." How was tired, and agreed so that he would not have to deal with any more of the woman's badgering. After a brief bump in the road, How is jolted awake just as Joo Dee gives him a specific order. "Be sure not to bore his Majesty with the details of the day-to-day activities of the ongoing conflict. His Highness trusts the Council of Five to make all decisions regarding military matters." How nods to consent, agreeing that the specific tactics of all the battles would be too much for a single meeting.
Upon entering the throne room, How entered a deep bow. "General How," a youthful voice calls from the far side of the hall. How had never seen the King before, and he knew he was young, but didn't know he was an adolescent. How briefly looks up to see a young man flanked by an middle-aged man with a long braid and a sinister look. "I am honored to meet the prodigious leader of the Earth Kingdom defenses!"
"It is my honor to defend your city, my King," How replies, careful to keep the young man happy.
"It is an honor to have someone as noble as you defending the city." the King replies. After a brief moment of silence, he decides to move on. "I assume you wonder why I brought you here."
"Yes, my King; I am. May I ask why?" How asks, adding extra manners he would usually have disregarded.
"I am sure you are aware of the death of General Ban. From what I've heard, he was a great man."
"One of the finest I knew, sir," How replies with reverence.
"Truly tragic. Anyway, his absence leaves a seat on the Council open. And not just any seat, the Head of the Council. My advisor, Long Feng, has assured me that you are a soldier who is worthy of commanding my armies to defend the welfare of our Kingdom. After only knowing you for a few moments, I can see that he is right." Kuei briefly shakes his head, remembering the formalities he must adhere to. "So, General How, do you accept the promotion to Head of the Council of Five?"
How is overwhelmed. He expected someone on the council who is more established to get the position. "Yes, my King. I accept wholeheartedly."
"Excellent!" the King exclaims.
"May I ask why, Sire?"
"The rest of the Generals are probably very capable administrators, but I feel that you are someone who is ready to lead their country to peace. You are unaware of your possibilities for the future. I'd have to be a fool to pass up this opportunity. I expect you will lead the Council for many years to come."
"This is a great honor, my liege. If I may, who will fill the remaining post on the Council?" How knew something was amiss; an Earth King should be up to date on all important proceedings of a century-long war, but the current occupant of the position was out of the loop.
"My advisor has informed me that the custom is that in order to ensure a relative balance on the Council, the head of the Five is to choose a replacement from the army of the deceased General. Ban was a fine leader; I'm sure his army has many suitable candidates. Make sure you pick for the welfare of the Kingdom," the King adds, lightening the room's tone.
How is shocked, not only was the King out of the loop, he was unaware of the customary way the new General should be chosen. How knew that the Earth King was the only one to make appointments to the Council, and that no group of Generals could match his authority. In order to divert his confusion, How decides to ask a simple question. "Who told you about the selection process, my King?"
The advisor in the background, Long Feng, immediately sprang into action. "That would be I, Long Feng, Head of the Dai Li and a personal advisor to the King." The man swoops in, placing one arm on the boy's shoulder while continuing his argument. "My sources say that you were fatigued when you entered; I'm sure you're confusing ceremonies, General. Now, sire, the new animal discoveries have recently arrived from the University. They await your inspection," he says, diverting the King's attention.
"Yes, I will leave now," he says, nodding his head to signal his agreement. "General, Secretariat, I bid you farewell." As the two men bow, the Earth King turns and exits, leaving the two alone in the throne room.
How's rage could no longer be suppressed. "Who do you think you are, manipulating the King like that? He is your King, not a mindless puppet!"
"I realize that the young Kuei is a bright ruler, and I assure you that he makes all of his decisions himself. You see, How, he lost his father when he was a child and is clearly not prepared to run a city of this magnitude on his own, let alone the entire country. I am doing this Kingdom a favor by ensuring its safety. Kindly concern yourself with affairs outside the city and leave the King alone."
"Why should I listen to you?" How demands, his feet creating cracks in the ornate floor.
"I was the one who suggested you for the position. I can just as easily take it away. Instead of worrying about whether or not the King was the one who promoted you, find a suitable replacement for the Council before the King is informed that your promotion was an unwise choice." Long Feng's smirk sent daggers into How's chest, leaving the Raging Badgermole temporarily silenced. "Good day, General," the advisor says, quickly melting into the ground.
How snaps back to his study in a daze. His promotion day was not one he liked to remember, and with his current emotional state it was most unwelcome. As he thought of his appointment to the top of the Council, How began wondering how Beipan felt on his day.
Before the day of his promotion had ended, How ordered the officers beneath him to summon all the officers that made up Ban's army to a meeting the following morning. How was in the building first, meticulously dressed and possessing a regal air. After his confrontation with Long Feng, How was adamant in making sure that his subordinates would respect his leadership. The first batch of candidates were the antithesis of what How wanted; hotheaded young officials who each had their own order-taking flaw. How had asked each hopeful Generals a small number of questions, preferring to take in their personality through their body language as opposed to their words, which were both easily manipulated and sent the same message as everyone else. Their repetitious language had begun to bore How, and the Raging Badgermole did not want to bother sitting through the next interview.
After sending the most recent young officer out of the room, How signaled for the next one to be brought in. Instead of another young man, a middle-aged officer walked through the room, bowing to How in order to show reverence. "General How, I can't thank you enough for this opportunity to serve my country," the man says as he brings his near-glowing face back to How's level, almost childish with his ebullient behavior.
How, on the other hand, decided to play a tough officer in hopes of cracking his facade. "Did I give you permission to address me, soldier?" How barks, allowing a hint of rage into his voice.
The officer's energy vanished, as did his smile. "No, sir, you did not. Please forgive my offense, it will not happen again."
"I expect so," How says, his voice calming and preparing for the typical dull application. "So, how long have you been serving your Kingdom?"
"For most of my life, sir. My father was in the army, as was his father before him. They have both since passed, but I want to live to see the end of this War."
The general cut him off, deciding to ask a tougher question. "If you want to see the end of the War, the Army isn't the place for you. We are here to secure the Kingdom, and force an end to this wretched War. Do you think you have what it takes to force that end?"
"Sir, I am willing to obey every order; decimate every enemy and protect every citizen of this Kingdom from further harm. As Generals we are expected to lead the world towards peace, and I hope to get the opportunity to give my son a life away from the scourge of War."
"So, you have a son?" The officer replied with a simple nod before pausing to begin speaking. How was to impatient, however, and began a similar question. "What is your family situation like?"
"Well, sir, I have only my son left; my wife passed a few years ago. He's joined the army as well, and is actually starting to work his way up through the ranks." How lets a small smile flash across his face, making the officer think he was pleased with his son's performance. In reality, the Raging Badgermole finally thought he had found a suitable officer for the vacant position.
"Do you know which army he is in?" How asks, feigning interest in the General's situation.
"He is actually in your division, sir. His name is Cheng, and has been recently been promoted to Captain."
"A position I'm sure he deserves," How adds. "Now, what is your name, soldier?"
"My name is General Beipan, sir. I was promoted by Ban only months before he passed, but I was one of his officers nonetheless." As soon as How hears the name, he is immediately reminded of the battle of the Serpent's Pass, the day the he believed earned him the promotion to Head of the Council. How remembers how easily Beipan took orders that day and could see that little had changed.
How rises off his seat, his sheer stature intimidating the lower General. "General, I would like to offer you a position on the Council of Five, if you are willing to follow all the orders you are given."
His eyes lighting up, Beipan rises to his feet, giving How another bow. "Thank you sir. I will not let you down, and I assure you that you will not regret my appointment."
The next few years were fairly typical; nothing major occurred within Ba Sing Se, though the same could not be said for the situation outside the walls. The Dragon of the West had been laying Siege to the city's walls for almost a year and a half. Almost two months prior, he had finally managed to make a crack in the Outer Wall that threatened the barrier's stability. Due to the increasing number of threats to Ba Sing Se, How had resorted to a personal low: asking for more funding from the city's Grand Secretariat. How's letter had been humble; a simple note requesting a small sum in order to defend the city. How waited days for a reply, but a letter never came. Eventually, Long Feng feigned mercy, giving How more money than he initially needed in order to get him away from the governmental proceedings. Unfortunately, the money eventually ran out and How was forced to resort to begging once more. The increased strain on the city's budget was beginning to spill over into the already tumultuous relationship between Secretariat and General, and Long Feng decided to make How pay for his funding in a different manor. Over the course of the next few days, the General tried everything possible to break out of Long Feng's trap, but by the time he heard a knock on his door, he had come up with nothing. "Come in," How's already irritated voice called.
A man in Dai Li robes entered the room, taking off his hat and giving a slight bow. "Greetings, High General How," he says while putting his hat on a shelf. "My name is Captain Riku, and I have been sent here by Long Feng to address your request."
Before Riku can elaborate, How grows pessimistic. "Is he going to withhold the funding?"
"Actually, the Grand Secretariat sends a proposition."
"And it would be?" How had shifted from negative to impatient. He wanted to find out why Long Feng had provided such unorthodox support and was anxiously waiting for the answer.
"I was going to try and avoid saying it the way Long Feng put it; I didn't think you needed it," Riku says, trying to remember his place in his preplanned story.
"Go ahead," How demands abruptly.
With a sigh, the Dai Li agent begins. "Long Feng thinks that you have used your fair share of the budget. Your funding has been the same for the past few years, so he doesn't understand exactly why you have asked for more despite your extra expenditures."
By questioning How's character, Riku had inadvertently awakened the beast within. "What doesn't Long Feng understand about the siege? We've been battling so that the city is safe to live in! "
"He realizes this," Riku begins, assuming his damage-control mode. "So he sends the possibility of an extra share of the budget. Long Feng feels that if you are asking for money that comes out of the city's budget, you must do the jobs of a different sector of government."
"What does that conniving weasel-badger want me to do?" How sneers, his rage growing against the bureaucratic monster.
"It is a simple decision on trade routes, but Long Feng did not wish to examine the details. Those were the terms he gave me; do you accept?" Riku, an honorable man, had more backbone than the Serpent guarding its Pass; he stood silently and stared at the Raging Badgermole, who was more than disappointed with Long Feng's plan.
"How does that scheming politician even begin to justify having Generals hearing trade issues?" How booms, causing his office to reverberate and amplify his already deafening scream.
"He says that the routes are a matter of state-security and that it is up to the Council to decide which decision is best for Ba Sing Se."
Seemingly straying off topic, How begins glancing off past Riku, staring at the wall behind him. "Do you know that each member of the Council has cut their own pay to help fund the defense effort? All top-ranking officials have taken lower pay in order to keep this city alive. Over two-thirds of the salary of the Council has gone directly into military financing. I haven't received a single copper-piece out of my own wages in almost six months now. I want to know how Long Feng manages to sleep at night, taking his utopia for granted while others are dying for his despotism! Go on back to your leader now, Captain, and tell him we'll take his issue, but make sure he knows that the time will soon arrive that he will have to make sacrifices of his own!"
"Yes, General. I will make sure he understands," the agent says, bowing in respect before exiting the room. As How sits at his desk, he feels steps on the floor in front of him. "And General," Riku's voice calls from the center of the room. How looks up to see the agent, ready to leave once more, preparing to address him. "I would like to personally thank you for your dedication to our nation's security. May the Spirits continue to bless your cause," he says before quickly leaving. The words somehow calmed How as he waited alone in his office; he may have an oncoming displeasure, but it was all for the betterment of his men.
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