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May 7, 2015
Without a doubt, Tooru's arm would be marked for the remainder of the afternoon from the iron grip that Ratana inflicted upon his wrist. Ordinarily, Ratana was the slightly faster runner of the two, though Tooru had challenged her on it before, and now met his retribution for it. After his partner dragged him away from the tea shop she had wrenched him from and toward the monorail station, Tooru's feet scurried on the street desperately.
"Ow!" Tooru complained, tripping onto the ground before being promptly yanked up once again. "Ratana, you're being unreasonable. I had everything under control. No one inside there looked like they were onto us. They were just enjoying a good performance. We were on our way out of town anyway, so I didn't see any harm in-"
"Just shut up, Tooru!" Ratana cut him off, not turning to look back. "I've just about had it with you today. We are going straight for the train station and we are catching the very next ride back to the Outer Wall. Not another-"
But Ratana found herself cut off soon afterwards, not by Tooru, but by a flying projectile. It was made of earth, and by the way it flew it was clearly made by an earthbender. The shape was exactly the carve and size to resemble a human hand. Instinctively, Ratana released the arm of her partner, who stumbled a few more steps and nearly crashed into the side of a building, and brought her own fist to collide with the rock hand, smashing the rock into hundreds of harmless pebbles, which crumbled to the ground in defeat. Turning back to where the hand-projectile had come from, Ratana saw a man dressed in dark green robes with a similar conical hat to those that the Terra Team wore. His left hand was bare, but his right was covered in earth, and resembled that hand he had just attacked her with.
Another rock glove projectile flew her way from down one of the side alleys, which Ratana ducked under as it flew past her and Tooru blocked it with his own punch. She now knew that they had more than one opponent, though she could not see clearly how many more there were that lurked around them. Once they had blocked the next pair of rock glove projectiles, Ratana and Tooru turned tail and ran down the streets of the Lower Ring, frantically attempting to reach the monorail station that would take them back to the Outer Wall as soon as possible. For a few moments, they did not encounter any more attackers and it looked like they may actually have been in the clear. Then, they encountered two more men in similar uniforms, with rock gloves on their hands. They were blocking the Terra Team pair's escape.
Ratana and Tooru gathered close together, as they had huddled back on the Raid on Gujuhmin and many desperate situations before that, so that each of them could watch out for themselves as well as each other. They lifted rough, crudely shaped stones from the pavement of the Ba Sing Se street and sent them flying toward the two Dai Li agents. These men were obviously of the Dai Li, the infamous secret police cultural protection group that watched over Ba Sing Se. And what a dark organization. Through the eyes of their spies stationed throughout the city - including the possessed, brainwashed tour guides known as Joo Dees - they held the Earth Kingdom capital in a stranglehold and apprehended dissenters to their order. Soon, however, Ratana and Tooru sensed a few more stony hand projectiles firing their way from behind their heads and it became clear that there were more on their tail than there were out in front. Without having to utter a word of communication to each other, the Terra Team partners shifted their stances. Ratana stepped forward and Tooru turned around and faced the other way, so the two partners literally stood back-to-back.
Under ordinary circumstances, the two experiences earthbenders were able to hold out against a multitude of opponents almost indefinitely in this formation, but the Dai Li were unconventional and they did not bother with fighting fair. Plus they were on their home ground, so to speak. After a couple minutes of blocking and trading pieces of earth back and forth, Ratana and Tooru could sense that the Dai Li were growing impatient. Since it was their duty to preserve order within their city, they likely did not want to drag the engagement out in case civilian bystanders wandered their way into the area and they would have even more work to do to contain the disturbance that Ratana and Tooru had already caused.
Seeing that the Dai Li were about to take their own desperate measures, Ratana and Tooru stole a quick glance and a nod at one another. After firing two more pieces of pavements each, they both thrust their arms down, then unbent their knees in a swift motion, throwing their arms in the air and erecting two earthen barriers on either side of them. The rock gloves from each group of Dai Li agents subsequently flew over and smashed into the rock walls, crumbling to pebble shards and sinking to the ground.
Ratana took a deep breath. "That will hold them off...for a little less than a minute."
Tooru gasped at the scenario and nodded in agreement. "What should we do now, Ratana?"
The Captain of the Terra Team stroked her chin for a few seconds, thinking deeply. "Hmmm...well-"
Suddenly, her trail of thought was cut out, when, unexpectedly, the ground beneath the two Terra Team members' feet moistened and their bodies were submerged up to their chests, with their forearms and hands buried underground as well. "What?!" Tooru yelped in astonishment. "How-"
"That shouldn't happen," said Ratana, also bewildered. "They can't even see us."
"What do we do now?"
Before they could react any further, two identically shaped slabs of earth from the pavement popped up from in front of their faces and wrapped themselves around their head, near the eyeline, blocking their sight. Then, Ratana and Tooru each felt something firm whack them in the back of their cranium.
And then, there was darkness...
"Fire is a careful tool that must be managed carefully," said a begrizzled veteran with a pointed goatee. "We have been used to expanding our territory through conquest, but we cannot allow for victory to go to our heads. Fire is most dangerous of all to the wielder, and if we are to take Ba Sing Se and even the entire world for the Fire Nation, we cannot allow ourselves to become fully consumed by the fire and its destructive nature."
"Truer words have scarcely been spoken, Jeong Jeong," chimed in General Iroh. "However, it is important to note that fire has many forms and that not all of them are destructive."
"Fire can be used for ends other than destruction, yes," Jeong Jeong admitted. "But the destruction is in its very nature, and that is what it will do if left unchecked."
"It also provides warmth, life and light," said Iroh, who then turned to notice the Grand Sima entering his tent. "Welcome, Lizen," Iroh said to his cousin. "You're just on time." This was clearly a lie, and the rest of the faces in the room were obviously less cheerful than that of their supreme commander. The entirety of the officers on the Dragon of the West's staff had been waiting for him.
"I do hope I'm not a nuisance," said Lizen, being no oblivious fool. "Since it was occupied, Munn has been an indispensable outpost to our operations here, but keeping it under a firm grip is a twenty-four hour job."
"Indeed," nodded Crown Prince Iroh.
Jeong Jeong was not so easily won over. "If it's a twenty-four hour job, as you say, then how did you find the time to be here?"
Lizen narrowed his eyes as he faced his challenger. "I left the Princess Jaya in charge for now. She'll keep everything running while the Grand Sima is away."
"I would think a Grand Sima would be serving at the forefront of an invasion, rather than attending to occupied territory," said Jeong Jeong.
One of the other generals rolled his eyes, evidently tired of listening to this. "With all due respect, my good sirs, perhaps it is time we got back on track toward the purpose of this meeting. That is, coordinating the siege and resolving upon our next approach toward taking Ba Sing Se."
"Excellent idea," said Prince Lizen.
"Very well, then, Grand Sima," conceded General Iroh. "Let us concentrate ourselves on the matter at hand. The elite earthbenders have been more resilient than we originally calculated. Not that we hadn't figured they would be formidable before, as these earthbenders we fight here at the capital of their nation are among the fiercest."
"That's no surprise," commented Lizen.
"Indeed," added Jeong Jeong. "That is to be expected.
Iroh nodded in acknowledgment. "And now, gentlemen, Shinu has brought up a report."
"I heard that Colonel Shinu earned us a decisive victory in the Southern Earth Kingdom," said Jeong Jeong.
"That's why they promoted him to general," added Iroh.
"Thank you, sir," Shinu extended a small bow toward his commanding officer. "I have completed this report based upon my own analysis, supplemented by the intelligence gathered from the homeland by War Minister Zhou and Deputy War Minister Qin. It appears that the Earth Kingdom capital has received help from the outside, which may strengthen its durability against our offensive efforts."
"There was a word of ships traveling across the Northern Seas," interrupted Jeong Jeong. "Northern Water Tribe ships."
"Yes, but from what we gather, only a small number of travelers were on board," continued Shinu. "They will not pose a threat by themselves, as most of them seem to have been healers. The only aid that they can provide is to tend to the wounded soldiers while we continue out assault. However, both the West Lake and the East Lake are currently under the control of the so-called free Earth Kingdom forces. Furthermore, there is a supply line running from the lakes to the southern end of the capital city of Ba Sing Se."
"Ah," said Iroh. "So, the people of Ba Sing Se have been getting outside help. How did this come to be?" he asked.
"It appears that someone from inside the city as of now is signalling them on a regular basis," said Shinu. "There is a lack of overall coordination from the outside. They have someone on the inside directing them. It is most likely under the direct orders of the high command and the Council of Five."
"General How," Iroh mused. "I should have known that he would come up with a strategy to prolong the battle and give Ba Sing Se more strength from the outside."
"Is this really that big a concern?" voiced another general from behind Crown Prince Iroh. "After all, Ba Sing Se is capable of holding nout on its own, supply line or not. Whether it falls to us in the end will not be decided by this."
"On the contrary," countered Iroh. "An active supply line will make an already difficult job for us all but impossible. The Earth Kingdom capital is practically made for withstanding sieges, and this will make it so we attack the crust repeatedly, without ever reaching the core, which is a hard enough obstacle to tackle on its own."
"This is problematic, isn't it," chimed in Grand Sima Prince Lizen. "General How cannot be allowed to subvert our every move. He has maneuvered against our strategies multiple times so far. This is only the latest from him. We must take action against him directly. Furthermore, General How is an expert commander and a great leader to his men. He cannot be pushed aside so easily and swiftly like General Sung and the rest of those earth commanding officers we are used to facing. We may have time in our holding out with our camp south of Munn, but we do not have all the time in the world. Sooner or later, our time will run out and that moment will not give sufficient time to overcome both How and the walls of Ba Sing Se. We must take out General How. No more How, no more problem with How."
"That is impossible the way things are now," said Iroh, gloomy. "Besides, going after someone in such an underhanded way is neither fair nor honorable."
"Will a minute detail like that really be what people look back on when generations of Fire Nation citizens look back to you as the one who conquered Ba Sing Se?" questioned Lizen.
"The manner in which a battle is won does matter," stated Iroh, now even more solemn than before. "There's no pretending that it does not. And there are more immediate worries of ours than General How, before we get to the Inner Wall. Think of the Terra Team, who we fight now."
"What threat do they pose?" asked Prince Lizen, skeptical.
"They can pose quite the threat," said Iroh. "They caused some trouble in our latest skirmish, and despite our victory, we cannot overlook that. The female among them is supposedly the most formidable."
"Bah!" scoffed Lizen. "Whatever that earthbender lady thinks she has to bring, let her bring it. The forces of the Fire Nation will crush her!"
"It is not a virtue to always be sure of oneself," Prince Iroh cautioned his cousin. "Overconfidence is usually shortly followed by the feeling of stupidity when you realise you were not as good as you thought you were. Sometimes this is a good dose of humility, other times it can be disastrous..."
- Shinu is the officer who held command of the Yuyan Archers, and also gave the report to Ozai in the first part of Sozin's Comet. Here, he is a general, but certain events between now and ATLA will result in his being demoted to colonel once again, before being promoted again for Sozin's Comet.
- The East and West Lakes are where The Serpent's Pass took place. At the beginning of ATLA, the West Lake was under Fire Nation control while the East Lake remained under Earth Kingdom control, though it was seized after The Crossroads of Destiny. At this point in DSV, they are both under Earth Kingdom control.
For the collective works of the author, go here.