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|The Battle of the Five Armies, Pt. 2|
The Battle of the Five Armies, Pt. 2 is the twelfth chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
The joint forces of the Liberation Alliance under General Wei, the Fire Nation under Fire Lord Kanyzon and the Southern Water Tribe clash with the Earth Empire's forces under Yi Ming, who plans to surround and annihilate his adversaries with the help of the Northern Water Tribe.
Senqok fights with his father amongst Water Tribals, Zoruka joins Kanyzon's forces for the battle, while Noki accompanies her father, who later challenges Yi Ming to a duel, into battle, whereas the others of the seven remain with Anyang at the Alliance's defensive positions.
Chapter 12: The Battle of the Five Armies, Pt. 2
The Liberation Alliance's soldiers kept streaming into the battlefield, right in their midst, three of their generals, coordinating the chaotic movements with gestures and almost incomprehensible shouts. After the initial difficulties encountering the Earth Empire's peripherally positioned spearmen, the generals had ordered them to make use of their weaponry - their crossbows - to keep the enemy soldiers at some distance. Standing, in open field or covering behind rocks, crouching and even from prone position, which brought difficulties reloading the crossbows, the scattered, relatively unorganised, but numerous rebels fired their weapons on the cautiously advancing rectangular formations of spearmen, mowing them down much like a scythe cuts down weeds. However, the Earth Empire soldiers kept advancing steadily, but eventually, each of their soldiers had fallen, only to make way for the next unit of them to march into the volleys of bolts. Those came to advance further than the previous, and had covered the next unit, which consisted, much to the dismay of the rebels, of earthbenders, who almost immediately began lashing out against their foes. What had been a cover providing security from potential Earth Empire archers now became a deadly trap - rocks behind which many soldiers had cowered were those that now buried them. What the commanding officer of the battalion had not considered were the flanks, and that now came to haunt the earthbender company. The rocks they had used to bury enemy soldiers underneath were lifted, and erected as monstrous shields almost simultaneously, icicles, fireballs and bolts raining from the gaps between the shields. The well-trained and experienced earthbenders all had fallen to the ground, dead, within the following minute. Within less than the quarter of an hour, the blood of the soldiers of three Earth Empire companies and several Liberation Alliance squads tinted the ground crimson. After a brief break, the rebels advanced, led by the three generals personally. The three of them formed the spearhead of the offensive, Ranchi burning down all adversaries he encountered in his path, Akol freezing or impaling such, whereas Vikuna was bound to use a crossbow. With each metre they advanced, the Earth Empire's soldiers' will to fight, their morale, seemed to diminish, and with each metre they advanced, they seemed to resist less and less. With a quick gesture of his hand, Ranchi halted the entire advancing force. After having whispered something into Akol's and Vikuna's ears, he swung himself up on a small rock to address the troops briefly.
"SOLDIERS OF THE LIBERATION ALLIANCE! SOLDIERS OF THE FOUR NATIONS STRUGGLING AGAINST TYRANNY!"
"Today is the day we all have striven for, today, we have the greatest chance thus far to fulfil our goal, today, we can - and we will! - take revenge for all the atrocities and all the injustice we had to suffer - all the atrocities and all the injustice Yi Ming committed! From Serpent's Pass to his coup d'état, up to the Wedding of Omashu, from his road-building programme to the enslaving of entire towns and even cities to modernise the walls of Ba Sing Se! Remember what we are fighting for, now and forever!"
His shouts were carried across half the valley, and, satisfied with his work, he leapt down from the rock. Once he had reached the ground again, the two other, Water Tribe generals hurried to his side, nodded at each other, and, all three together, finished the brief address with raising their fists into the air while shouting, "DOWN WITH SLAVERY! DOWN WITH TYRANNY! DOWN WITH THIS REIGN OF TERROR! DOWN! WITH! YI MING!"
As if it were possible in any way, the rebels' morale was boosted. Most of them were, fuelled by their own experiences with the Earth Empire's troops and also the collective memory of the cruelties mentioned, enraged, and stormed ahead when Vikuna gave the signal. With a will of steel and bolts and blades of iron, the Liberation Alliance's troops stormed forward into what they would realise only minutes later to be their damnation. Instead of fighting their speedy advance in any way, their enemies simply retreated. After several minutes of continuous flight, rage had brought complete chaos into the rebels' rows, and out of the mass of Earth Empire soldiers, such denoted as earthbenders by their uniforms emerged, always in groups of five, and - evading, or knocking forward as many Liberation Alliance soldiers as they could - thrust their arms upwards simultaneously. Some were knocked over by the sheets of rock that now emerged from the ground, but most were trapped between a wall of solid rock and thousands of their enemies, amongst them also the three generals. They had more space between themselves and enemy soldiers than anyone else, as they had managed to eliminate those near them, and had to watch as their soldiers were pinned to the wall with spears, thrust through their stomachs, the earthbenders amongst their soldiers attempting to escape, but suffering a perhaps even worse fate than their comrades, their hands and feet being cut off before being tossed into the caves they had been able to create in the wall, and almost immediately afterwards, they were immured. As the firebender, the healer and the waterbender turned their attention to what lay before them, they noticed they were surrounded by a wall of spears, behind whose bearers stood earthbenders. In the middle, an officer stood in an earthbending stance, speaking, "Generals! Surrender immediately and you will not be harmed!"
Ranchi looked to his right at the two aging companions of his, Akol mirroring the action mirror-inverted, while Vikuna's eyes darted from right to left. After a minute, Vikuna broke the silence between the three. "Gentlemen... It's been an honour fighting by your side."
The other two nodded. While Vikuna loaded her crossbow, they assumed their bending stances, Ranchi shouting, "For freedom!"
Vikuna continued, aiming her crossbow at the enemy officer, "For equality!"
Finally, Akol concluded, drawing his water. "For brotherhood!"
Before any of their attacks had begun, the three Generals were impaled by a dozen spears and crushed by a dozen boulders.
Far into the enemy lines, the cavalry had already cut. Much like arrows, with the heavy komodo rhino-mounted riders being the arrowheads and the light ostrich horse-mounted ones forming the shafts, the several attacks struck into the enemy units, trampling and crushing most of the soldiers before them, the riders burning some alive. Of all units, the one with one of the mightiest firebenders alive, the Fire Lord, leading it, the one to have advanced the farthest was the first to be stopped. As the spear had dug deep into the beast's flesh, it ceased its movement, knocking its rider, Kanyzon, off. Careful not to hit anything that could injure him, he landed right in front of his - now dying - mount on the spear of yet another attacking enemy soldier. Seeing as he had to hurry, he punched his enemy into the stomach with a fireball, sending the soldier flying backwards and buying himself some time. It indeed was needed, as more soldiers came hurrying towards him, their spears and swords ready. Just before the spearheads were about to impale him, he ducked beneath, only to thrust himself upwards with a flame of his. The enemy soldiers were confused and their reaction time too slow for them to save themselves from their own comrades' weapons. Although none were harmed lethally yet, Kanyzon was about to change that - after a brief time of ascent, he propelled himself downwards again to make use of a massive fire bomb, which sent the soldiers flying a few metres into all directions. Only little time remained for the Fire Lord to catch his breath before he encountered the Earth Empire's famed earthbender units, and his expression very briefly changed to the one of fear. His heart began pounding and he began feeling prone in a way as if he was swimming in the sea alone and attacked by a dozen of hostile waterbending masters. As the squad of earthbenders approached, stepping over the corpses of their slain comrades, he frantically began looking for a way of stopping them. In the moment they stopped, he assumed his bending stance, and as did they, but either side remained dormant, fearing the other side, and at once also waiting for the other side to make a mistake. Kanyzon then decided to begin the fight, not being able to bear the nervousness any longer, and thus propelled himself skywards again. With a mighty flame having thrust him up, he concentrated on conducting a move he had always failed to execute successfully - he extended his index and middle fingers and began moving them in circular motions, gathering electricity around his fingertips, before he directed it in two bolts at two of the soldiers, respectively. Almost instantly, the two were hit and dropped, not dead but unconscious, whereas their comrades ripped boulders from the ground and hauled them at Kanyzon, who landed ducking, before being struck by an earth pillar into the belly from below himself. He was flung up half a metre before hitting the ground. There, he barely suppressed the need to vomit and struggled to breathe, rolling away from a boulder, which was about to be dropped upon him. As he reopened his eyes after he had closed them to shield them from dirt, he screamed upon the sight of the face of a soldier he killed, and jumped up, which his blood pressure didn't appreciate. In one motion with jump, he also generated a flame, with which he struck the nearest enemy soldier, knocking him over and causing his boulder to make sure that he wasn't getting up again. The other boulders were thrust against him, and, trying to evade them, he turned for his side to face them, and got hit into the shoulder by one of them, rendering his right arm useless for some time. The strike sent him back to the ground, and he decided to make the fight end, and, basing himself on his left arm, spun around, generating fire with his feet. The earthbenders were preparing for their final strike, intending to use earth shards to kill the Fire Lord, however, the latter's wave of fire knocked all of them down, and when he had risen again, he struck his adversaries with swift but precise fire jabs into the heads, which almost instantly killed them, except for one, who had stood up before Kanyzon could reach him, and who instead got his throat burned. As he had finished, he, much to his dismay, noted the earthbender units breaking his forces' lines, before erecting a thick and relatively high wall to separate several thousands of his soldiers from the rest to annihilate them, and to guard the Earth Empire troops beyond. Unable to effectively do something to aid his troops - crestfallen - he looked over his shoulder, to see the equally surprised, baffled and somewhat demoralised troops of his, and then directed his attention back to the earthbent wall. He hit it with his head, discouraged and angry, before striking it with his left, unharmed fist, before he started generating a fire dagger in it, which began breaking up small portions of the wall's material. Then, he stabbed the wall multiple times with it, completely disappointed by himself, screaming, "This battle is over for us! We're defeated!"
Noki punched forward with the approximate frequency of a hummingbird's wing beat, sending shards of earth towards her foes with each strike. Sweat rolled down her forehead as enemy after enemy fell, surprised by the sheer number and frequency of her strikes - she shot the shards in great numbers and at such a frequency to outweigh her relative inaccuracy in the heat of battle, and it indeed took her toll. Noki always had been an enduring one, but as for physical endurance, as for fitness, she did have her limits. Deciding to need a break, she submerged herself, letting the adversaries of hers, or those of them who still were alive, more baffled than before. Deeper and deeper beneath the surface, Noki bent herself downwards in her small chamber. When she was sure no one could reach her, she sat herself cross-legged on the ground, and began to inhale deeply, followed by exhaling in the same manner. Her heavy breaths, which continued for two minutes to come, however, didn't cloud her seismic sense. After another minute in which she managed to breathe heavily but silently, she, although unseeing, closed her eyes and began focussing on the tiny vibrations in the earth she could trace. As she noticed just how far she had gone underground, she let go of a silent laugh, not hailing from amusement, but from bafflement. Then, she resumed her previous state of concentration, of focus, and began tracing back the vibrations from the battle above. From the picture she made in her mind, she slowly made a plan, and started smirking. She remained seated in her current position, and erected her right arm, clenching her fist. In the very same moment, her little chamber started shifting upwards, at first only a few millimetres, after a few seconds, she felt as if she were already beyond lightning speed - then, the noises of battle hit her, the smell of blood, the risen dust invading her mouth with every breath, and the sun's beams - although interrupted by clouds - warming the little of her exposed skin. Within a split second, she reacted, and formed, from the shards she had taken with her upon shooting up above the soldiers' head, an earthen armour for herself, afterwards letting herself fall into what she had determined to be an agglomeration of Earth Empire soldiers, forming a ball during the swift descent. The shock wave she created upon impact threw the rather baffled soldiers down, and made it easier for her to deal with them. Raising boulders from the ground, she shot one at each of the fallen soldiers' heads', until a few had stood up again themselves, and started preventing her from continuing her series of executions - they were earthbenders. Noki's smirk wore off, and turned into a frown as she was urged to think of a new way of overcoming the enemy force that confronted her. The soldiers, however, merely knocked her over - believing to have knocked her out - as she had begun to ponder over her array of techniques to overcome them, and decided to leave the blind girl be, as they arranged into groups of five and started advancing into a certain direction. Only minutes later, the indeed a bit dazed Noki noticed them erecting a wall in some distance, but, as she struggled to stand, had other problems in that very moment. In a similar distance, she located a ferocious duel going on that could only be the one between her father and Yi Ming, and, motivated to aid her father, she walked a few steps into the direction, but then stopped in her tracks, her unseeing eyes widened with fear - one of the duellists had fallen to the ground, and it sure wasn't the mighty body of Yi Ming's laying there.
The Southern Water Tribe defence could've been organised and conducted far better, no doubt, but it was sufficient the way it was. Senqok and Gangtok, and all other advancing units of masters on that part, had more or gone their own ways, turning their battles into duels with their opponents continuously being replaced. The masters slew the Earth Empire soldiers en masse, they slaughtered them like animals, but as all too often, appearances are deceptive - the masters were far above the average soldiers' level, but the Water Tribal warriors were far beyond the Earth Empire's soldiers in terms of both, equipment and training. Senqok allowed himself a brief glance backwards, and what he saw was all but assuring - from the first line of defence they had set up and advanced to, the troops were retreating again to the second line of defence, and without aid from the two allies, the Southern Water Tribe would lose a tenth of its inhabitants that day. Then, he was forced to direct his attention to the advancing Earth Empire troops, only to almost face a spearhead. Barely dodging it in the last second, he impaled the one who had wielded it with his sword, only to face two spearmen who decided to charge at him at once. Ducking under their respective spears, one of them attempted to spear him in his lower position, which the warrior avoided by leaping up and onto the spear, only to then thrust his sword into the chest of the spear's wielder, the other spearman tossing his spear aside to access his shortsword, but by then his throat was already cut by Senqok's technique of using bent water as the extension of his sword's blade. A short break for catching his breath and looking over to his father, Gangtok, who was fending off enemies with the same techniques Senqok had learned for using the sword applied to spears. His shield had broken when the chief had stabbed a man with it, the sight of whose corpse being a rather surreal one, and the shield the spear now followed. Gangtok, however, refused to let a broken spear dictate his demise, and used the remainder of the shaft as a bludgeon for a few seconds, before he resorted to his battle club and machete. Wielding one in each hand, Gangtok displayed forms Senqok would never have been able to master, and even more so when he had ceased watching his father fighting. The sword of Senqok's coupled with his bending outweighed his lack for mastery of tribal weapons, Senqok found as he finished fighting four soldiers, one of whom had been an earthbender, at once - one of them lacked hands and a connection between head and body, another one bore numerous cuts, some deep into his flesh, whereas yet another one, the earthbender, had various stabs from icicles and bruises from water whips, and the last one having been impaled through the left eye of his. The worst part, however, was not the cruelty Senqok had slain them with, but their number. The corpses began lining up around them Southern Water Tribe masters, yet it failed to demoralise the Earth Empire's soldiers, on the contrary, it motivated them. More and more of them poured on the battlefield, too much for the Southern Water Tribe to bear. Senqok, having incorporated a few accents of other bending arts into his own, managed to avoid the lethal and most of the non-lethal strikes, however, his father was less lucky and talented in evading. Senqok decided to aid his Gangtok, to guard his back, but the next glance he caught of his father alarmed him - a spear was thrust through his back and emerged again just below the chief's heart, before a second one followed from his left side. As Senqok hurried up, hoping he might be able to safe his father, the latter's own stubbornness became his damnation - as he carried the fight on, one of his hands was cut off, before the very same soldier took the spearhead of Gangtok's spear, and thrust it directly into his heart. Senqok's eyes teared up as he ran towards the collapsed figure of his father, carelessly cutting down everyone standing between him and his father. By the time he reached him, tightly embraced him, the armours of both had turned crimson.
Kanyzon lifted his head from the wall to take a glance behind him. From his expression of a broken man, one of anger formed. Fuelled by his growing rage, his voice became loud enough to be carried across half the battlefield, for the whole of his troops to hear. "Nonetheless, we mustn't give up! We shall stand- "
There were few things that Kanyzon let interrupt himself when speaking, and even fewer when he was angry as he spoke. And one of those things it was that he now observed, unable to do anything against it. One after another, the trebuchets of the Fire Nation artillery launched their deadly projectiles, the ballistae soon following. Fear now joined his desperation and fury, and it also was what made him interrupt his speech. Some of the projectiles shot into his troops' midst, some - over the heads of the Earth Empire troops - into the masses of Liberation Alliance troops. Cries of pain, cries of fear and cries of despair began to reign the battlefield as the artillery continued its fire. Panic followed the confusion of the first seconds, and just then, Kanyzon decided to take control again.
"NORTH! OUT OF THEIR RANGE!" he cried at the top of his lungs, and indeed, it seemed to show some kind of effect. Those not wounded began to march northwards, as Kanyzon had ordered, some running out of fear, some slowly breaking away from wounded friends, but all had begun to move. Slowly but steadily, they began to reorganise. As the process had been finished, masses in black and gold, led by a few units exclusively in blue, began streaming down into the valley, massacring those attempting to keep up with the main Fire Nation force, and one last rush of fear drove the remainders of an army to their allies. Smashing through the enemy attacks, the Fire Nation and the Southern Water Tribe troops aided each other with their flight, and that although either side organised none of it. The Liberation Alliance now stood alone against three armies of Yi Ming's.
From Skado's position, the beginning of one of the two paths, he had an excellent view over the whole valley and its surroundings within the radius of a dozen kilometres. But what had been a blessing at first, an advantage, now became but a proof of his helplessness, a curse indeed. While the shields the troops of his had equipped themselves with - in fact, nothing more than rectangular boards with an attached stand - could hold off an attack from the valley, they certainly couldn't effectively aid their defence against what was to come from the south, let alone what had occurred at the Fire Nation's encampment. The cliff overlooking the only actual passage from the valley onto the plateau was the exact location, a cliff forming more or less the highest elevation around the battlefield, where the Fire Nation artillery had been positioned. First, he had had to watch as the Earth Empire army encapsulated themselves from the Fire Nation and Liberation Alliance forces, and then, without any possibility of warning either, the Fire Nation and the Liberation Alliance troops, as Northern Water Tribe forces took over the artillery single-handedly, let alone warning the troops of the bombardment. Now, the Fire Nation and Southern Water Tribes were retreating in ordered chaos, the Liberation Alliance troops massacred on their up the slope, and on top of it, something to the south caused a massive cloud of dust, and that could in now way mean something good for the Liberation Alliance. Skado started thinking aloud, talking with himself, panicking even, until Anyang arrived. As the airbender General made his way up to his subordinate, who, as to deal with his nervousness, had started to fiddle on his crossbow. Once standing in front of him, his mighty, intimidating even, yet soothing appearance looming over the slightly corpulent figure of Skado, the latter simply handed the General his telescope, and gestured into the directions from where the Liberation's Alliance's doom approached. After having observed each of them for a few seconds, Anyang handed the telescope back, sighing. "Well, to express it colloquially, well... We're quite fucked, Skado, quite fucked. See it through that the defences are set up properly. At least against those from the valley, we still have a chance."
With a salute of Skado's, the mostly conversation was over as soon as it had begun. Ordering to set up carriages ready to depart certainly didn't lift up the soldiers' mood, as they themselves had seen what had occurred. Yet, something arose in them that still made them fight - grim determination.
Senqok couldn't believe his father was gone, but the multiple spears in his body were the ultimate proof. That any nearby enemy soldiers had yet to attack him mattered little to him in his blood soaked armour, not that he noticed anyway. What he did notice was the sudden clapping of ostrich horses' toes, dozens of them. Yet he refused to let go of his father, of all what was left of his family. Clinging onto a dead body perforated by spears, a dead body disfigured beyond recognisability, was how Zoruka had found the warrior. Despite feeling an urge to vomit at the sight, she approached him, attempting not to step on the corpses in between, and then, when she had reached him, laying her hand on his shoulder. Slowly, and shivering heavily, he turned his head to look at her, who she faced him with an understanding mimic. Steadily, he loosened his grip on his father's dead body, and stood up. Almost falling to the ground again, he was caught by Zoruka, who aided him on the way to her ostrich horse, and helped him up, before she sat herself just behind him, ensuring Senqok leaving little room on the animal's back. Cracking the reins, the animal took off into a direction the waterbender was certain of in which their deaths laid. However, the Earth Empire's troops' rush prevented them from wasting attention on the cavalry unit that cut through, right to the heart of the army.
A sound not unlike a distant thunder met their ears as the wall keeping the Empire's army safe was torn down and thrust against whatever and whoever laid beyond, in the very same moment they came across a situation much like the one Senqok had been in only minutes earlier. Kneeling by her father's corpse's side was Noki, her eyes filled not with tears but with fear and shock. Little movement aside her heartbeat and constant heavy trembling Zoruka could find when she neared her, even shook the blind girl. No reactions followed apart Noki resuming her previous position. When Zoruka decided to kneel down beside her and opened her mouth to speak, Senqok ceased her attempt of speaking by simply shutting her mouth with his hand, and, when she nonverbally asked for the reason, shaking his head. Without saying anything, he simply took the stubborn and unresponsive earthbender around the midsection, lifted her on Zoruka's ostrich horse's back to sit and then continued with strapping her to the animal with some kind of band. After Zoruka, who answered his way of dealing with such stubbornness with a reproachful yet positively surprised look, too had ascended on the mount of hers - atop which no space remained between the three - Noki uttered the only words either of them spoke in the past hour. "I'm sorry, father. I have to leave."
Cries of pain, cries of dismay, cries of commanding tone and content were what reigned the battlefield, between the slopes' edges and beyond. That, and, at the sound of an ostrich horse racing up a slope which ostrich horses weren't born for climbing. The barrier Anyang had ordered to be built was not effective against this particular ostrich horse - its jump, aided by fire jets and earth pillars, made it rise up about five metres into the air. There, its passengers, three of number, parted ways on their unpleasant descent - Senqok managed to land rolling near Skado's position, while Zoruka shot a continuous fire stream to the ground to slow her landing, but worst of all had it Noki - she landed on a carriage, missing the haystack just by its side only by half a metre. The - now truly - blind girl attempted to drag herself to her feet, but failed the second she intended to erect her upper body, for the holding of whose position she found herself to have too little strength. Attempting to crawl down the carriage in prone position, she noticed a blood stain on the wood where her belly had just been. She let herself fall down on the wood again and, with the eyes wide from fear, began searching for the blood's source - other than she had hoped, it originated in her stomach, and stained her uniform. Within seconds, two uniformed, familiar figures were at her side, and laid her in a supine position, immediately beginning to rip off the clothes around the blood's source, only to uncover a quite extensive graze. Kabura and Ranju were joined by Senqok, who immediately began cleaning the wound of splinters and shards, and ordinary omnipresent dirt, before the healer amongst them began healing it, before Ranju dressed the wound. After the two girls returned to their posts at the barrier, Senqok and Noki were left alone. Senqok helped Noki to sit upright, and grabbed her shoulders to look her into her unseeing eyes, knowing just how futile it was. "Noki, you need to stay safe now, you mustn't fight, you understand?"
Noki obviously protested, shaking the waterbender's hands off her shoulders, only for her upper body to fall back afterwards. She sat up again, and spoke, "I can and I will fight. I'm sure father would've wanted it this way."
"Your father would want you safe!" Senqok hissed cynically, knowing that his case actually was the same, as he was willing to fight to his last breath. "I'm going to get this haystack on the carriage, and you will hide in it, all right?"
"No buts. You do it and stay safe." Senqok dropped the first portion of the haystack Noki only barely had missed, and then dropped the next one on it, and more and more hay was there for Noki to hide in, but she refused to hide in it as Senqok had ordered. The Water Tribal was about to repeat his order just as a command was shouted, "LOAD!"
"Applies to you as well, Senqok! Get your arse here!" Shizon shouted at the barrier, making room for Senqok to join them.
"TAKE AIM!" Anyang's voice sounded all over the encampment's vicinity, and all arbalists obeyed to the order, however, when it resonated the next time, no one did. "FIRE!"
For a minute, everyone remained silent, and Shizon dropped his crossbow, followed by Senqok, Kabura and Ranju. Not defiant, but still resisting, the firebender spoke, "With all due respect, sir, no."
At first taken aback by the disobedience, the airbender hurried to those striking, and demanded, "Just what is going on here!?"
"Do you honestly believe we would conduct friendly fire?" asked Ranju rhetorically, motioning to the climbing soldiers.
Just as the General glanced over the barricades, the other soldiers resumed more comfortable positions to stand in, while Anyang wondered, "Why are they retreating? I though Wei, Gangtok and the whole bunch thought offence to be the best defence... "
Zoruka, who had eyed the happenings from afar, bolted towards them to answer Anyang's question. "Sir, actually... " She interrupted her speech to briefly glance at Senqok, who nodded approvingly. " ...General Wei and Chief Gangtok were killed in action. And given the fact Generals Vikuna, Akol and Ranchi were leading the last charge in person, it is likely that they were caught beyond the wall, and perished as well. Not only are they running for their lives, but also are they awaiting orders. From you, I dare to presume."
Obviously, the General was surprised by the news, but then, after letting out a sight, commented, "It was only a matter of time... "
Meanwhile, Skado, having positioned the wagon with his crossbow on his lookout point, took the chance and did the job Anyang was meant to do - commanding. "Earthbenders, reinforce the- oh, screw it, just erect a new barricade with your earth slabs and alike. Arbalists, stay alert and shoot any Earth Empire soldier at sight! Everyone else, get some ropes and rope ladders! We need to get those comrades of ours up!"
Dumbstruck from the occurrences in the past minutes, Anyang simply shook his head, motioning Ranju to come with him. Handing her the glider of hers, the two took off, only to return seconds later, each carrying two Liberation Alliance soldiers, while Skado's commands created an ordered chaos in execution. Letting his crossbow remain at ground, Senqok decided to shove himself through the hurrying soldiers all around, to the carriage he had left Noki at. When he got there, he noticed, much to his dismay, her lying there in foetal position, sobbing. Her sobs were silent, but still audible through the surrounding noise, and it started making Senqok feel guilty. Sitting himself right next to her, his own eyes tearing up, he laid his left hand on her shoulder. After an initial shock, Noki ceased her heavy sobbing, and sat herself upright, her feet only barely touching the ground. She then turned to face him, and pulled him in - or did he pull her in? - for a tight embrace that followed. They sobbed into each other's shoulder, attempting to help each other through the rough time they were experiencing. Blending everything else out, they remained in their intertwined position until Senqok received a tap on his unoccupied shoulder. Slowly and unwillingly breaking away from Noki, he turned to face Zoruka, who looked concerned and understanding.
"You should come to the barricade. We need every available arbalist, or warrior in general." the Crown Princess answered his nonverbal question after a minute of silence. Nodding understandingly, the waterbender ran to Shizon, who handed him the crossbow of his, while Noki intended to follow them, but was stopped by Zoruka's surprisingly strong arm. "You should rest for the remainder of the battle, rest and hide. Otherwise, all you will receive will be pain."
Although not ordered to do so, all the arbalists at the barricade took aim simultaneously. Skado too had loaded his massive crossbow, and taken aim, before Senqok was the first to fire, all others following as a reaction of it. Only after all the triggers had been pulled, anyone could see just how many Earth Empire soldiers had streamed there, to the slope, to climb it up. While most soldiers were following the wound and curvy paths, there were many who prepared to shoot up grappling hooks for them to sow the seeds of chaos in the Liberation Alliance's rows, only that in most cases, Skados ingenious repeating construction prevented it, or rather, the dozens of bolts ejected by it each second. The high rate of fire caused the projectiles to stray, and thus, the effect Skado's crossbow was not unlike the one of a scythe. However, like all of the arbalists, he had to focus more on the two paths, as those were preferred over ropes by the Earth Empire troops. Tens of thousands were on their way up using either of those, and with each volley of bolts, thousands were struck, and with each volley, the enemy troops focussed more on the grappling hooks. After a few minutes in which Skado - supported by several other low-ranked soldiers refilling his magazine - had continuously fired his crossbow, easily slaying a hundred foes, almost all hope seemed to be put into the grappling hooks, for the Empire's nonbender soldiers at least, as the benders continued to march up the paths, using earth slabs as shields against the bolts. As the enemy's reorganisation had ended, the Liberation Alliance soldiers too redistributed themselves, fire- and waterbenders focussing on the grappling hooks and earthbenders fending off enemies of their own kind. Senqok had just cut through a hook's rope with half a dozen soldiers on it, sending them falling to their certain deaths, Shizon sending a stream of fire after them just to make sure, while Kabura tried to act as a sniper and medic at once, attempting to stop the earthbenders with precise shots, whereas Zoruka and Ranju dealt with the grappling hooks as well, waiting for the first ones to almost reach the top, only to then toss the hook down again, the Crown Princess sending a barrage of fireballs after it. Noki had come to obey Senqok's and Zoruka's orders, and had curled herself up in the carriage's platform's corner, praying for the nightmare to be over soon. Another array of hooks was shot up, several impaling Liberation Alliance soldiers and pinning their slowly dying forms to the barricade, and one each separating Shizon from Senqok, Kabura from Zoruka, and Ranju from everyone else. Who now started climbing did so with fierce determination, and as he had caught a glance on them, Senqok's blood first froze before boiling with rage. Northern Water Tribe warriors had begun scaling the cliffs and the barricade. Any attempt, anywhere, of cutting, or somehow destroying the hooks, failed, even pulling them out and tossing them over - the rope was merely coated with strings, its core was made from iron. Not knowing another way of holding them off, Senqok, much like many others, took his crossbow and leaned over the barricade to fire it, but the warriors managed either to avoid the bolt or the falling body. The quivers that had been laid at the barricade's bottom in wise anticipation were almost empty, and as the minutes dragged on, the arbalists missed more and more shots. In the very moment the very last of the bolts was fired, the first warriors leapt onto the barricade. Which wouldn't have been much of a problem, had not at the same time the Earth Empire's earthbender soldiers penetrated the barricade twice and the Earth Empire's right flank started its charge on the Liberation Alliance troops from the south. Ranju, herself immobile into almost all directions, took her glider staff, and, as to escape the warriors who had lifted themselves upon the barricade, opened, leapt upwards and sore over the battlefield. Anyang, previously fending off earthbender units, did alike, only that he flew to Skado, only to take control of his carriage. Thousands, tens of thousands, in fact almost all of the surviving Liberation Alliance soldiers started to flee to the carriages to escape the deadly encirclement, and thus, Noki's carriage too was driven away. Into the midst of Senqok's drive for fighting, a splinter struck him - fear. All of sudden, he was afraid, and as such, he drew his sword, wielding it in his right hand, his left hand controlling his water, only to attempt to get out of this battle alive. As soon as the first enemy soldiers started charging at him, he saw it failing, and started swinging his sword as precise as he had never before, and faster than he had thought it possible, cutting through flesh and bone to the left and to the right, always moving forward, the speed of his blade preventing any actual resistance - from the front. Behind him, an earthbender had took notice of his devastating escape attempt, but just as he intended to haul his boulder upon the waterbender, Zoruka, having leapt upwards to escape encirclement, crushed his skull after burning it with her feet during her descent. However, Senqok was soon met with raw power, and received an earth column in the stomach, knocking him back, only for Zoruka to answer it with a stream of fire hotter and mightier than Senqok had ever seen Zoruka generate.
Meanwhile, Kabura faced certain problems with her lack of ammunition and charging enemy troops. Alone, with a crossbow without bolts, and her short sword, she faced the masses of soldiers streaming up the path, flooding over the barren ground. As the attackers were earthbenders, they attempted to attack Kabura with all kinds of earthbending attacks, from mere boulders to earth fissures. Kabura fell, as anticipated, but miraculously stood up again before even touching the ground - Ranju had bent the air beneath her. With her short sword unsheathed and one of her closest friends by her side, Kabura dared to start a counterattack, together with Ranju. Both dove under the earthbending attacks, over the pillars, bringing upon the fall of dozens of soldiers with only a few slight cuts in the lower legs or air swipes. Their superior speed and their inferior height made them hard for the massive and bulky earthbenders to catch, and so, the two had to make use of the endurance both of them had come to earn during their years as freedom fighters, as everything else would've been their certain death. Thus, they ended up in the space between several units, where also Shizon fought valiantly and skilfully, using both his dual dao swords and his firebending as a mere extension of his body, and so he danced deadly through the many rows of adversaries, before being knocked down by an earth line actually aimed at Kabura. Without any second thought, both Kabura and Ranju hurried to him to help, but thanks to the distance between themselves and the enemy soldiers, their help was not needed. As Shizon had moved into a fighting stance again, they were being charged at from all sides, by Northern Water Tribe warriors and Earth Empire soldiers alike. The healer and the firebender both ducked under most initial attacks, only Ranju had to ascend into the air to escape three spears that would've impaled her. As the former two were on the ground, Shizon decided to let his hands support him as he spun around, firebending with his feet. The strike brought most of the nearer attackers down, and Ranju did the rest. As all three of them were standing again, Kabura noticed, "Ranju, your right arm's bleeding!" As the enemy started charging at them again, she didn't leave the Air Nomad a chance to speak, instead she ordered, "You won't last long 'round here with this, fly! Fly, you fool!"
Ranju briefly saluted, before opening her glider and vanishing into the skies. Shizon took Kabura by the hand after sheathing his swords, and ran off into a direction he noticed where fewer soldiers came from. Only a second later, two powerful fire blasts joined forces against those soldiers - Zoruka and Shizon both had simultaneously launched blasts to break through in that direction, and succeeded. Beyond the fire blast, Senqok was fending off soldiers, using his water to flood their lungs with it before freezing it, while his sword sliced through throats, impaled or sometimes even met another blade. Now, the four of them were fighting side by side and back to back, but there was one thing all of them noticed, one thing that would mean their certain death - they grew tired. Just as they were completely surrounded by spearmen ready to strike them from all sides, and about to as well, however, something none of them had anticipated happened.
"MORONS! STOP TRYING TO KILL THEM!" A soldier clearly denoted as an officer stepped into the circle of spears. "They may have had contacts with high ranking officers." He raised four boulders from the ground, which the four all eyed suspiciously, but only with the black-and-white vision that came with their exhaustion. Then, all that they noticed was a quick flash, and them falling. "We need them alive." was the last sentence they could hear before all went black.
Notes and Trivia
- The last words of Ranchi, Vikuna and Akol are, quite obviously, the national motto of France since the French Revolution, translated into English, naturally.
- ...I should stop writing such massive text walls...
- Five deaths in one chapter? Game of Thrones IS indeed rubbing off on me...
For the collective works of the author, go here.