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|The Battle of the Five Armies, Pt. 1|
The Battle of the Five Armies, Pt. 1 is the eleventh chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
Chief Gangtok of the Southern Water Tribe receives a letter from the Liberation Alliance stating their wish of the South's participation in the war against Yi Ming, and - after convincing the other chiefs of his tribe of the necessity of the operation, sails into the Earth Empire with a sizeable force.
Yi Ming, Dalit, chief Harqoon of the Northern Water Tribe and the remnants of the Council of Five decide to finally strike back against the Fire Nation invasion and the Liberation Alliance's mobilisation, resulting in Harqoon aiding Yi Ming on his quest.
Zoruka more or less recovers from her injuries, and is fully accepted into the group of seven.
The Fire Nation forces under Kanyzon, the Liberation Alliance and Gangtok's warriors gather at the Great Divide's mouth, where their leaders hold a council. After being reunited, Gangtok and Senqok propose a plan on how to counter Yi Ming's expected strike, which the others gradually accept.
Chapter 11: The Battle of the Five Armies, Pt. 1
The wagon was concealed beneath a piece of cloth of massive size, which was sewn together from a dozen smaller pieces. Just before it stood a rather corpulent figure with a pair of goggles above his eyes, a satisfied grin displaying itself on his face as he wiped his fingers clean on his uniform, before assuming another stance, and addressed the six people before him.
"Ladies and gentlemen, soldiers of the Liberation Alliance, Generals Anyang and Wei, I have gathered you to- "
"Skado, do us all and yourself a favour and skip that part, you might emerge alive if you do so.", Noki cut him off mid-sentence. Letting out a dissatisfied sigh, though it sounded more like a growl combined with the frown his face shortly wore, he rolled his eyes.
"Alright, Noki, we'll do it your way... " - Noki smiled a bit at that - " ...so, what I was about to say is... yeah... Right. Remember our little construction that's almost levelled the chances for our nonbenders, remember my crossbow?"
"Of course we do, Skado, our entire army is equipped with it! Dammit, what's it you want to tell us!?" Impatience - when it came to speeches - seemed to run in Noki's family - Wei had spoken the harsh words.
"Of course, of course... Now, to get to the matter I was about to address... You see, it only levels the chances almost, and so, I thought, this 'almost' doesn't look nor sound nice... So, I constructed this thing!" Skado had pulled off the piece of cloth to reveal what seemed to be a version of his crossbow, only sized up, with the lever - or rather, in this case, crank - for reloading placed on the weapon's rear end, a narrow and lengthy wooden box mounted atop containing bolts, and finally, two bows with separate mechanisms - all in all, it almost looked entirely differently, the only similarity between both of Skado's weapons were the bows and the basic mechanism. All present ones rose their respective right eyebrows, which Skado realised rather late, just as he was about to demonstrate the weapon. Turning his head to the silent audience, he asked, unassured, "So... what's it you find confusing?"
The other six shrugged, and then exchanged glances, before Kabura answered. "Well, mainly, we're confused about the lever's position, the lack of a trigger, and the fact it's got two bows... Right? Right."
Skado turned to face them completely. "So, shall I explain it to you?" Receiving nods as responses, he then climbed on the wagon and took hold of the weapon's rear end. As it was mounted on some kind of swivel, he could turn it around as he pleased, which eased his explanations. "So... " - he motioned to the crank - "...This one's activated. For the crossbow to be fired constantly, which can be used to mow down advancing enemy forces, it has to be rotated continuously. Now, how does it work? This box above this whole thing contains bolts, which, driven by gravity- wait, no, wrong start. So, the crank operates, making use of a belt, gear-wheels and gear racks, the whole weapon. But actually, all it does is cocking the bows. How are they fired, you may ask. It's simple - as in the ordinary crossbow of mine, the bows have small metal blocks attached to them to ease reloading mechanically, only here, there's a tiny trigger, or rather, release mechanism integrated in those metal blocks, which are activated by a small knob at the case's rear end, which also is the furthermost point the bow can reach. Now, how do the bolts get loaded? As you can see, the two bows are above each other, which would make it difficult. Well, it is difficult, but to make a long story short, the weapon is constructed that in the exact moment one of the bows fires, the other one is being cocked, thus, if the top one is fired, it gives way for a bolt to fall into position to be fired by the lower one." Skado sighed as he filled the magazine with bolts, still facing the six people his audience consisted of. As no reply came, he directed his attention to the magazine. "Very well then. Just so you don't wonder when advancing Earth Empire troops are being cut down like the grass by the scythe... "
The two royals stood at the edge, overlooking the vale the battle was to be fought at. One wore armour, one wore robes, both equally royal judging by their garments, though they were of two different dynasties. Zoruka found the tranquillity that reigned over the valley pleasantly calming, and - as it was silent, despite their proximity to the Fire Nation encampment - thus, she noticed Kanyzon before he had reached her.
"Fleeing from the noise as well, your majesty?" Zoruka's, whose legs dangled over the abyss, voice didn't disturb the surrounding silence, but still there was something of the woman's words that shook everything. The Fire Lord ceased moving for a minute, thinking about what he just had heard.
"Your majesty?", he asked, dumbfounded. He couldn't believe what he just had heard himself.
Herself somewhat confused, the Crown Princess turned around, breaking from her meditation-like trance back into reality. "...yes? What about it?"
Kanyzon shrugged, asking, "May I join you? I think there might be a matter we need to attend to."
"If you want... Go ahead.", Zoruka said, raising an eyebrow. "So... that matter would be... ?"
"I just thought you yourself have the right to claim the title of Fire Lord, and you still are considered the Crown Princess, right?" The Fire Lord's words were at first a bit uncomprehensive, but then, when Zoruka had found out where it was leading, she at last got it.
"Yes, though you're officially crowned Fire Lord, and just walking up into the Fire Nation Capital, sit myself on the throne, and claim the title would make me an usurper, no, even less than that, and for me to claim that title, I'd have to kill you... ", Zoruka trailed off from the original topic.
"Well, I'm just saying that you're the still the heiress to the Fire Nation, but of another dynasty, and all of that just because of your family, you're the only one left... " Kanyzon now too let his legs dangle. "Oh, and I of mine as well... You know the future of the Fire Nation is in our hands?"
"I knew it from my birth on, and that's the difference, you earned your position, you fought for it. I, on the other hand, am just a little fool who happens to have been born into the formerly royal dynasty of Liang." Zoruka turned to Kanyzon with a slight smile. "You know, you deserve the title of yours, I was born with it, without having to do anything to earn it. You are the true Fire Lord."
The Fire Lord answered it with a wholehearted laugh. After he calmed himself, he spoke in a serious tone again. "Well, now I have the Liang Dynasty's blessing, I think I can consider myself Fire Lord indeed." He paused, looked into the distance, where he thought their enemy to be, and spoke rather jokingly, "But we could always join together, you know... "
"I think I've had enough of marriages with older monarchs, no offence." The Crown Princess rose to her feet, as well glancing into the distance, where a cloud of dirt rose from the ground. "Now let's ready our troops and kill this bastard."
Anyang stood on a rock at the edge of the valley, overlooking the place that soon would become the site of a battle. Skado approached the General from behind as the latter seemed to plot.
"So... you called... ?", Skado spoke as he arranged his uniform upon arriving at the rock's base.
"What do you think, will the defensive division become a necessity?" The airbender seemed to draw on the rock with some kind of chalk. "In other words, do you think Yi Ming will attack?"
Skado was surprised at the sudden question, and knew no better than to counter it with an old proverb. "Well... hope for the best, expect the worst, right?"
Anyang chuckled a bit at the nonbender's words, commenting, "Well, that's... wise."
"But... it's just an old proverb, a very widespread one!", Skado protested. He narrowed his eyes as the Air Nomad only retorted with another slight chuckle.
"Oh, don't underestimate the most basic ones' power! Many don't expect the most basic things to happen because they think, 'who would be stupid enough to do that anyway', and some of those then fall by what they neglected." Anyang had risen his right hand's index finger and dunning shook it. "However", he continued, "we shall focus on organising a defence, just for the case. There are two paths down into the valley which are somewhat passable, and a handful, about half a dozen, of routes which can be climbed. There, we must focus our forces."
Skado could only nod as Anyang - now standing beside him - gestured into the direction any of the mentioned locations.
"We need shields, Skado. We need shields, just some bulky rectangular shields to take cover behind.", Anyang stated. Do we possess such equipment in sufficient numbers to equip a whole division?"
"Sir, I think we do, but we'd have to gather them from various units." Skado's voice - once again - hinted confusion. "What is your plan anyway?"
"We form a wall from the shields and position our crossbowmen behind, your swivel-mounted crossbow forming the centre. The wall shall secure our southern edge of the valley." Anyang's plan may have seemed faulty, but Skado refused to speak it aloud.
"So, we need shields... roger that.", Skado repeated. Then, however, he voiced his concern. "Now, what if our offensive operations fail? What if they flee back here? Our shield wall would only, well, lock them out... "
Anyang was ordering another officer to organise the shields, before he replied. "Indeed... We need a system for that... Just... no, wait... " Anyang had stopped walking and was stroking his beard, thinking. "This is indeed a problem, an important one. But let me tell you one thing: if Yi Ming defeats us down there, he'll defeat us, no, he'll exterminate us up here. Understood?"
Skado gulped. "Then why do we bother setting up defences?"
"Because it gives some of our men hope, and never underestimate the power of hope.", Anyang spoke, with a trace of wisdom in his voice, not realising how prophetic his following words would one day be. "It may actually be what will make Yi Ming fall, one day."
"Nice artillery! Ballistae and trebuchets... hauling what, exactly?" Zoruka examined the various projectiles available for the artillery Kanyzon had brought with his army.
"Well, there are certain types." The Fire Lord was quick about explaining, as he intended to get on with the last phase before the battle. "There are solid shots, which are solid balls of stone. Then, there are those to be ignited, and those igniting themselves. Well, we shall proceed, don't you think?"
"Igniting themselves?" Zoruka now had chosen to take a close look on one of the projectiles, which resembled a pot.
"Yes, igniting themselves, it's a incendiary weapon." Kanyzon sounded slightly annoyed, especially as he continued. "Now, could we go through our plan of attack once more?"
"Of course... What was our exact plan, again?" Zoruka had put down the pot-projectile and directed her attention to Kanyzon again - half of it, at least.
"Oh dear spirits... ", the Fire Lord sighed, before he began explaining. "We will heavily shell the Earth Empire's troops, and when they start assaulting the Southern Water Tribe's forces, we come dashing down into the valley. As it would be logical for Yi Ming to break through the Water Tribe forces to face our armies divided, we will not give him a chance to do so. We will head north-east to aid the Water Tribals as soon as possible. Any objections?"
"Not a single- wait. What troops will lead the assault?" Zoruka indeed seemed to deem the kind of which the spearhead would be very important.
"Cavalry, mostly. Both, heavy - Komodo-rhino - and light - ostrich-horse - cavalry, the former to break through potential enemy defences, the latter to widen the breach and to skirmish a bit, to distract the enemy from the then advancing infantry." Kanyzon was on his way to his tent, from where he would command the first phase of the battle, motioning Zoruka to follow. "As for you, I have chosen to give you command of a cavalry unit with the orders to directly support the Water Tribe, would you accept that?"
"Well, why not?", Zoruka spoke, entering the tent with the map laid out before them, smiling slightly. "Let's defeat our dearest Emperor, in whether way possible."
Apart the two, who, combined, looked rather odd, none were present in the tent, Yi Ming and his vassal, Harqoon, were alone with their regional map displaying the entire Great Divide, in the northern region of which they were located. Figurines displayed their troops' and the enemy's troops' approximate location and strength.
"According to our scouts and reports from overrun garrisons, the Fire Nation troops number about two-hundred thousand. The Southern Water Tribe couldn't possibly send more than maybe five thousand warriors, and about the Liberation Alliance, we cannot be sure. Estimates range from one hundred thousand up to a general mobilisation - two million soldiers. Let's just say they've got four hundred thousand soldiers ready.", Yi Ming began, naming the enemies' numbers. "Now, we have got about a million soldiers deployable. A force of such strength is difficult to command and to manoeuvre... How, do you propose, shall we act in the battle?"
The Northern Water Tribe's chief took a look on the map, and then stroked his grey beard, stating, "General Wei is known to employ guerilla tactics on large scale as well, isn't he? We must be careful, for he is known to have defeated forces even twenty times the size of his."
"Ah, that would be a problem indeed... " Yi Ming, overlooking the map, concluded, "We must divide our force, that is for sure. The enemies have set up their camps on the plateau - they know we can't get out of the valley en masse until reaching their positions. It's clearly a set up for an ambush, for a battle of encirclement and annihilation. How goes the old saying?"
Harqoon raised an eyebrow at the last words of the Emperor's. " ...to fight equal with equal or something like that?"
" ...yes, something like that indeed. Now, how do we counter an obvious yet perfectly set up ambush?" Yi Ming smiled slyly as he began moving the figurines on the map. "We divide our forces. One part of them, which I will lead, will count as many as two hundred fifty thousand soldiers, and will serve as bait. The northern wing, numbering three hundred thousand soldiers, will be given yours to command. Take over the Fire Nation equipment and use it against them as soon as possible. The southern wing, well, who shall command it? Anyway, it will do the same to the Liberation Alliance's encampment your northern wing will do to the Fire Nation's. Then, surrounding them, we will annihilate their forces from the outside and the inside. Thus, they will have no chance to flee from their fate. What would you think of this?"
"Given that none of the enemies await reinforcements, we can implement the plan of yours, your majesty, I tend to believe." Harqoon's words were of genuine approval, and not mere obedience. Nodding satisfied, Yi Ming left the table and stepped out of the tent to prepare the mobilisation.
It was a miracle that the troops had found a path upwards at all, in fact, it was impossible, but they had done it. With the earthbenders first, Harqoon's soldiers climbed up the slope, and that en masse.
"If they can climb up to the plateau here, I don't really understand what makes it a problem that the Fire Nation and the Liberation Alliance occupied those spots they did.", Harqoon stated, glancing up at the climbing men, amazed.
"It's not just the ascending - which still partly is a major issue, as hundreds of soldiers have to ascend at once - it's mainly for the complete annihilation of their forces.", Yi Ming explained. "If we would - and we indeed could - attempt to focus all our troops into the centre, then their encirclement would actually work better, and even if they are then defeated, they could retreat into almost all directions, and gather for a new strike. This way, well, it costs us time, sure, but at least victory is guaranteed - we lure them into the valley, and then surround them, thus kind of change position. Is it understood now?"
"Yes, your majesty. But still... ", the chief confirmed his superior's rhetoric question, continuing with a question. " ...I didn't quite understand my role in this whole operation. I shall take the northern wing, yes, I shall use the Fire Nation equipment against them, but how?"
The Emperor decided to make use of a rather folkish gesture, and palmed his face. "What do you not understand!?"
"I fail to comprehend in what way I shall make use of the Fire Nation's equipment, dammit!" The Northern Water Tribe's chief was close to rage.
"Oh, for spirits' sake! You've got the Department of Experimental Weaponry with you, they can use almost any kind of artillery!" Alike his counterpart, Yi Ming was near rage.
"Artillery? How sure can you be the Fire Lord's got artillery with him?" Harqoon began questioning his superior's sources and intellect.
"Of course artillery! Unlike the Water Tribes' or the Rebel Alliance's forces, the Fire Nation's is an ordinary field army, and such usually have artillery to deploy." The Emperor spoke from experience. "The Department of Experimental Weaponry can make use of it, just don't storm down while they're firing."
Defeated, Harqoon decided to change the topic before heading off. "So, what about the southern wing? Found a commander yet?"
"Huh? Oh, yes, Imperial Marshal Sun. However, don't wonder if you're the one to start the bombardment, his troops will take longer, as they're more numerous." Yi Ming made a pause as the chief turned to leave, before laying a hand on Harqoon's shoulder, speaking, "Just one thing: don't leave any survivors, and be quick about it. My reign depends on it."
To wear the traditional wolf armour certainly was an unusual feeling for Senqok, being used to the Liberation Alliance's uniform.
"And? How does it feel to be in your nation's own armour again?" Gangtok's words were spoken with a certain hint of pride as he approached his son, who attached his sword's hilt and the water skin of his to himself, the helmet lying on the floor in front of him.
"Well... " Senqok seemed to have completed his task, as he sprung up, taking his helmet with him. "...the armour hinders quick movement."
Gangtok seemed a bit surprised by the answer as Senqok fought against an imaginary enemy, employing his sword only. "That's only because you're used the Alliance's cloth armour, which can't hold off shi- "
"As a matter of fact, it can. It's very resistant to fire, direct strikes from knifes, swords and other edged weapons, even to spears and halberds." Senqok explained casually as he concentrated himself on his imaginary fight. "Its only weaknesses are, in fact, crossbow bolts, which can somewhat pierce it. Oh, and of course slicing it through with waterbending, and also does it have its problems to withstand pressure, such as by earthbending. It's far from perfect, but it's a try. This, on the other hand, might offer even less protection, and makes you less agile."
"Perhaps", Gangtok sighed, "you should just try to move with more force. Normally, warriors are trained not only to possess a wide set of skills, but also to have a certain strength. Not that you're weak or anything... By the way, how about some traditional Water Tribe weaponry to complete your attire?"
Senqok examined both, the spear and the shield his father offered him, noting, "Too weak for strikes against Earth Empire soldiers. Also is my bending attuned to my sword fighting, so... "
"Well... then not... " Gangtok sat himself in the dirt, motioning Senqok to follow suit. After both sat across each other, the former continued. "So... you seem to grow a bit away from the Water Tribe, hm?"
"I haven't been there in years, what would you expect... ?" Senqok's answer had a somewhat sad tone.
"Well... Want to know anything that's happened down south?" Gangtok's voice too had assumed a sad tone.
"I don't assume mum's come back to life or sis's been found?" A single tear formed in Senqok's eyes, but remained there, before he sniffed and dried it.
Regretting, his father shook his head, mirroring his son's action shortly thereafter, before the latter spoke once again, completely clear. "I don't want to lose you, dad. You're all the family I've got left... "
Bitterly smiling, Gangtok and Senqok leaned to each other for a rather brief hug. After a few seconds, they released each other, the waterbender of them commenting, "Don't think, dad, that you can walk into this battle and leave me behind. I'll see to it that you won't."
"Well, that's nice of you, I guess... " Gangtok looked to his right as he noticed his second-in-command's, Bunak's, arrival, noting, "Perhaps we shall organise the defence against the Earth Empire's forces... "
"Agreed.", Bunak and Senqok spoke almost simultaneously.
"So... this is the spot we shall block the way at?" Senqok seemed rather baffled - the bottleneck they had chosen the Water Tribe to man had looked far smaller on the map.
"Oh, but I think it is." Gangtok was not baffled at all - his eyes wandered from one edge of the valley's to the other, without him having to move his head the least bit. The bottleneck in fact was a very narrow section of the valley with steep slopes, with a long dried riverbed in its centre. At the valley's bottom, the distance between the two slopes was around than five hundred metres, whereas on the maps, it had seemed at least half the size.
"So we are supposed to hold this position... Doesn't look much like of a bottleneck to me, but anyway... ", Senqok somewhat ranted, then hinting a trace of motivation. "Let's see what we can do, shall we?"
"Indeed." That was the first time Bunak spoke since leaving their encampment. "Now, I suggest we better examine the terrain before we make any plans."
"Analysing?" Upon the word, Gangtok had caught attention, and started glancing around. "Two very steep and rocky slopes bordering the area, which is sparsely planted with a few bushes, and has a dried riverbed in its midst, dividing the area in two. Several separate rocks lying around, in no apparent pattern. Enough analysing?"
"Pretty much, I guess." Senqok too had begun glancing around and, once done, made his way to a high rock, up to whose top he climbed to get a bit of an overview. From there, he shouted, "I think I've got an idea! Come up here, I'll show you!"
Bunak rose one of his bushy eyebrows, and hurried to the rock as well, while Gangtok already was climbing up, sighing. Once all three had reached the top, Senqok started explaining, gesturing wildly to point out the approximate locations he was referring to. "Up there, about half a kilometre farther south, the valley widens again. I suggest we build some kind of barricade there, to hold them up for some time. Just as well, and for the same reason, would I suggest building some more barricades or similar at selected points. As they would have to get them out of their way to advance at full force, neither of those would later pose a problem, when we too will be advancing. However, this buffer zone would stretch for about a kilometre, that means half a kilometre to the north, we would form a line of defence. As for this one, I suggest we make full use of our shields and our spears. It might be an ancient technique, but effective nonetheless - to form one single formation, the shields overlapping, the spears sticking out of the formation like spikes. That way, we could also make full use of the terrain - after all, the slopes are impassable even for earthbenders. As for the waterbenders, they'd be to fill up their reserves, to have enough water for a battle, and should hurry to aid, if necessary, in the defence, and - and that isn't optional - in the offence. As for the latter, I would assign the warriors into different units, which then break away from the formation, the shields then also protecting the top and the sides, the waterbenders, and all masters in general advancing in smaller units - in squads, which will fight more individually. Any objections?"
Not very surprised by the boy's knowledge, the two elders looked at each other, and then both shook their heads. Nodding in response, Senqok climbed down the rock, soon followed by the other two, and, just before departing to the camp again, he spoke, facing the south, "Yi Ming will learn to fear the Southern Water Tribe... "
Except for the constant sound of commands being cried all throughout the valley, and the accompanying constant monotonous and synchronised steps, a fraught silence dominated the valley. Everything seemed to be awaiting the one command. Posts were set up for soldiers just to keep watching for the signal from the other side of the valley, and that on both sides. Everything was ready, everything was waiting to open fire upon the cause of the massive cloud of dust that slowly rolled through the valley, always following its cause, slowly dissipating on the way. The sun shone down upon the situation that tensed with each second, upon the calm before the storm, before the bloodshed. The earth would still be coloured red for weeks to come, but whose blood it would be was to be decided. Every few seconds, the sunlight was reflected in the observing posts' telescopes' glasses, before clouds interrupted it again. Then, like a spark to light a wildfire, a single red sky lantern rose up to the heavens, emerging from the Liberation Alliance's encampment. Nothing was written on it, all that distinguished it from an ordinary sky lantern was its crimson colour. Upon noticing the reddish paper ascending, the Fire Nation's observation posts started shouting wildly. At once, the Fire Nation trebuchets and ballistae were fired, in the former case were the projectiles lighted upon being hauled into the air. At the same time, thousands of crossbows were cocked and loaded, aimed into the sky at a certain degree, and fired. The relative tranquillity had broken as thousands of projectiles - boulders, aflame and ordinary, pots containing pyrophoric substances, and, last but not least, crossbow bolts - rained down upon the Earth Empire's marching forces. Volley per volley, the downpour of missiles continued, intensifying and diminishing as it went, reminiscent more of actual rain than of the well-organised attack it indeed was. Cries of pain, of fear, of despair and alike erupted from the valley's bottom as the bombardment continued, and the march gradually came to a halt as more and more soldiers sunk to the ground, pierced by multiple bolts, crushed by boulders or having become human torches. But even so, they still kept marching, though slowing, and - even more surprising, and more than that, worrying - some of the fallen rose again, dragging themselves with the rest of the army. The minutes the bombardment took felt like hours, with each cry intensified, with knowledge of when one's projectile had killed someone, and all felt about it in such a way - yet no one ceased during those fifteen of the longest minutes of their lives, after all, they were fighting for something they believed in, and were willing to go to any lengths to make it reality - a world without Yi Ming's apparatus of oppression. After the quarter of an hour, the bombardment had ended - involuntarily, as the Fire Nation's troops had run out of pyrophoric projectiles.
The cloud of dust was nearing. It - in fact, Yi Ming's soldiers - had barely slowed down, and only temporarily. They kept advancing at their steady pace, having filled up the spots of their fallen ones with soldiers from other units, doing so without uttering a word. Fear struck deep into each and every of the men's minds and they began shivering and twitching, some also chattering their teeth. As - fearfully - expected, it barely took the soldiers any time to destroy the barricade the warriors had set up in the morning upon Senqok's order. All the barricades between were evaded as the massive force parted into its constituent battalions.
"Hold your ground!", some rather youthful voice sounded from the formation's midst, seemingly nobody noticing it. A similar, but older-sounding voice then repeated it, sort of. "STAND YOUR GROUND, YOU HEAR ME!? STAND. YOUR. GROUND!"
Slowly, the dust cloud rolled closer, and the warriors moved closer together, the shields overlapping more, and also increasing the density of spears, the warriors hoping to gain some kind of protection that way. Steadily, with each metre the enemy neared, the warriors tensed up, and found themselves become more and more paralysed. The whole wall of shields and spears became petrified, dangerous, but immobile.
"FORWARD MARCH!" Again, the older of the two similar voices became audible throughout the valley. It took some time, but after a second, the wall of warriors steadily began marching in the direction of the incoming enemy. The enemy battalions were already in clear sight, and only a few metres ahead, thus, the entire first row of the formation took their spears and thrust them forward in underhand position, the second row mirroring the action with an overhand thrust. As the blood - not exactly the first of this battle - sprayed into the direction the spears had come from, the first rows of some of Yi Ming's units sunk to the ground, only to be walked over by the Southern Water Tribe units as they faced row by row, until Yi Ming's skirmishers were all gone. Just then, the warriors realised what awaited them now.
"HALT! ALL ENTRENCH THEMSELVES! STAY IN FORMATION!", the youthful voice was shouted. The warriors obeyed, and the first row went into a kneeling position, the shields - still overlapping - covering their whole respective bodies, while the second row remained standing, and moved in between the first row's ones, to let their shields overlap with the first row one's, and the third row standing as well, with their shields finishing the protective armour by covering at the height of head. The formation proved to be very faulty, however, as the first boulders sent at them cut through the spears and the shields, breaching the defensive line. The breaches blown in soon were widened, and - hearing the cries of dismay, of despair and of pain - Senqok, who had been the one with the youthful voice to order around, quickly hurried out of the zone of imminent danger, and shouted with all his might, "ASSUME ATTACK FORMATION AT ONCE!"
"RETREAT FIRST!", came the correction spoken by an older voice, by Gangtok's. Obeying to his command, the warriors in the foremost dozen of rows broke out of their formation and ran as fast as they could, those behind them already having assumed the attack formation Senqok had proposed. Nodding at each other, Senqok unsheathed his sword and coated its blade with his bent water, while his father took the spear he had stuck into the ground and swung it overhead, before both of them, accompanied by several other squads of their own skirmishers, stormed forward, viciously roaring their battle cries. The sudden attack took Yi Ming's soldiers by surprise, and even more did the water blade of Senqok's - it cut through armour, skin, flesh and bone as if they were butter as its wielder danced along through the Earth Empire units, making use of his enemies' strikes like a true waterbender, such as using an incoming boulder to spin around and thrust his sword into the chest of the boulder's bender. Meanwhile, only metres away, Gangtok was defying the purpose of a shield as a defensive weapon - he used it to slam it into his enemies' faces, whereas his spear, normally of bluish white colour, slowly became crimson. All around, crimson soaked into whatever it could, for spilled it was enough - constantly, Earth Empire soldiers and Southern Water Tribe warriors were slain by their counterparts. In fact, the two armies had turned out equal in all but one matter - the former were far more numerous. That, however, was about to change.
A glance to his right, and a glance to his left, followed by a glance behind himself. That was all what Wei did upon the Empire's troops clashing with the Southern Water Tribe ones. The aging general once again looked to his right, where Noki stood. Briefly laying an arm upon his daughter's shoulder, he concluded his force was assembled at the slope's edge. After letting go of Noki's shoulder, he grabbed a whistle he called his own, and blew in it. The shrill noise penetrated all and everything, and also was the signal - thrice it was repeated, and as those noises began to decay, the force began their climb down the slope, some marching down with great expertise and skill, others struggling to walk two consecutive steps straight. Even so, the thousands crawled the steep down with - given the latter kind's high frequency - surprisingly high speed, managing seventy-five metres of altitude difference in two hours. Once they had reached a more plain part of the valley, many of their nonbenders, waterbenders and firebenders began taking cover behind the rather frequent rocks, some earthbenders ripping such out of the ground themselves for that exact purpose, but all of their Generals leading them in the offensive - Wei, Vikuna, Akol and Ranchi - motioned them to keep moving forward, and so the soldiers obeyed. The nonbenders amongst them crouched forward with loaded crossbows, the benders counted on their respective arts not to let them down as they advanced towards the source of a cloud of dust that hindered sight between the two slopes' edges, and occupied the centre of the valley. The soldiers organised themselves in their squads soon enough, and before entering the cloud of dust, they opened fire, the bolts, icicles, fireballs and earth shards tearing holes into the protective layer of the Earth Empire force. Such an assault from behind was unexpected, and hit the Earth Empire's forces accordingly. From the south and the east, four hundred fifty thousand soldiers began their assault on Yi Ming's forces with an almost simultaneous fired volley, and then charged forward. However, as the - heavily armoured and well-trained - Earth Empire's forces strength laid in organised defence, whereas the - only lightly armoured and mostly only trained in one specific kind of combat - Liberation Alliance's soldiers' advantage was in swift movements, thus in offence, but even with the element of surprise on their side, they didn't achieve the breakthrough they had wished for - too high were either side's causalities. Earth Empire soldiers sunk to the ground by the dozen, impaled by icicles, burnt by fireballs or shot with bolts, and Liberation Alliance soldiers perished in hundreds, impaled by spears, sliced by naginatas or, which was by far the most common, crushed by boulders. Either way, no cries of help, no matter how loud they had been, were ever heard - both sides had entered a state of bloodlust, with horrendous consequences.
Meanwhile, Wei lead a commando of masters of their respective arts through the masses of black, yellow and emerald, by adding crimson, using whether martial art the slayer had mastered.
"Just what are you trying to do!?", Noki shouted over the noise of battle, herself simultaneously sending two enemy soldiers flying at each other.
"Without Yi Ming, the troops will be leaderless and thus lacking orientation." Wei's voice had something in it that made it penetrate even the loudest noise. "We'll do our best to kill him."
Noki nodded, accepting her elder father's brief explanation as she witnessed him impaling an enemy soldier with an earth pillar, coating his ankles with earth and hauling him against three advancing nonbenders, locking them to the ground with the bent earth around their fallen comrade's ankles. Briefly baffled, Noki returned to fighting almost immediately, when her father started moving into a specific direction again, and followed after pulling a massive boulder with the radius of about three metres out of the ground, which she hauled into the opposite direction she was heading off to.
For a few minutes, the commando unit fought their way through the masses of Earth Empire troops, and suddenly, Wei stopped, doing nothing in particular except staring. Fear ran through his tensing body, and anger, that Noki could certainly feel. Even though there were dozens of enemy elite soldiers around, none of them attacked her father, only the commando.
"So you have come to join your father?", a taunting voice sounded. The sentence transformed almost all fear within Wei's into anger.
"It seems you want a rematch against him... ", Wei retorted, ignoring the battle around him. "Yi Ming, let's settle this like the honourable men we purport to be... "
"A duel it is then... " Yi Ming's voice carried something in its tone, something arrogant, something narcissist. The certainty of victory it was.
Wei cracked his knuckles. "Ready when you are, your majesty... "
Yi Ming intended to launch his first strike, but Noki chimed in all of sudden, speaking to her father. "Dad... you don't have to do this alone! I can help you, please, let me- "
"Noki, no. This is between Yi Ming and myself." The General then nodded at the Emperor, who returned the gesture, after plunging his daughter back into the battle, while he himself started his own battle by sending forth a fissure to destabilise Yi Ming, but the Emperor countered quickly enough with an earth bomb to distract his adversary, who then sunk himself into the earth. Being preoccupied with their own battles, no one paid attention to the duel that would likely determine the battle's outcome.
The slope on the northern side of the valley was far less steep than in the south, in fact, it was more of a smooth transition from the valley to the plateau. The crimson flags, banners and standards flew in the wind that also helped the Earth Empire's forces to create such a massive cloud of dust, and also was it what propelled the clouds - the proper clouds - with such a speed that every five seconds, the sun was covered and shining brightly. She shook her head to get the thoughts about winds out of her head, and instead attempted to seat herself comfortably in the saddle of her ostrich horse, but - having tried the entire previous hour - she found the uncomfortableness while sitting in the saddle a small price for not having to strangle the poor animal with the reins and alike. Originally, she had expressed the want of riding a komodo rhino into battle, but after trying to ride only ten metres on such a mount, she decided against it. Once again, she shook her head to clear her mind of those trivial thoughts. To her right, the Fire Lord and his unit, all riding komodo rhinos, were about to dash downwards, to befall the Empire's troops, whereas she, Zoruka, herself hadn't even taken a closer look on her unit, thus she glanced over her shoulder. The unit of hers was standing ready, waiting for her to lead the way. She glanced over to Kanyzon, who seemed to go through the last details of attacks, before the officer he had been speaking with retreated to his position - the infantry - and the Fire Lord blew a horn, before cracking the reins and - Zoruka couldn't believe her eyes - accelerating to - approximately - lightning speed, or so it at least seemed compared to what Zoruka had previously seen of komodo rhinos. Thus, she cracked her reins and took off to the north east. Halfway between the camp and the Earth Empire soldiers, she looked over her shoulder again, and saw a breathtaking sight - two hundred thousand infantrymen and forty thousand cavalrymen advancing in perfect formations. Having reached an enormous speed, she directed her attention back to her mount, before she - mirroring Kanyzon - released a firebending barrage of hers upon the Earth Empire soldiers. One single fireball of hers knocked down two soldiers at once, of whom one tried to rise again, but was prevented to do so by Zoruka's ostrich horse's foot, which was planted in the soldier's face. She sped past the two, into the mass of soldiers, and released her full firepower, her unit behind her - in wedge formation - mirrored her action, and continuously fired fire balls in the area that would come to be taken as their way, also cleaning out the adjacent few metres - that way, not even spearmen and wielders of naginatas could harm the unit. As she saw blue shields and armours, Zoruka smiled mischievously. Mission accomplished., she thought, Southern Water Tribe troops reinforced.
Notes and Trivia
- The Battle's name was shamelessly taken from the battle of the same name in J. R. R. Tolkien's Hobbit, and refers to the Liberation Alliance's forces, to those of the Fire Nation, to the warriors of either Water Tribes, and to the Earth Empire's troops.
- Skado's stationary repeating crossbow is a more automated version of the Polybolos, combined with early mechanical machine guns, such as the Gatling, Gardner and Nordenfelt guns.
- Bunak has what I call "eyebrows à la Brezhnev".
- The Southern Water Tribe's defence formation is an ancient Greek Phalanx formation, the attack formation is an ancient Roman Testudo formation.
- Sky lanterns were used in Ancient China for strategic purposes, somewhat like they're used here for communication.
For the collective works of the author, go here.