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|The Master Plan|
The Master Plan is the twenty-first chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
With Senqok's aid, Skado designs a new class of warships for use against the Earth Empire, after which Skado, Senqok, Shizon, Anyand, Kabura, Ranju, Zoruka and Noki dine together. During this, Skado and Noki almost start a fight over an insult, which they manage to avoid by forgiving.
Zoruka and Shizon discuss reasons for Kanyzon to send the latter Royal armour, concluding that Kanyzon sees Shizon as a potential heir. Senqok teaches Kabura waterbending moves involving ice, which she at first struggles with, later succeeding. The two end up kissing when Noki, intending to confess her affection to Senqok, bursts in. Noki runs off, heartbroken, only to be comforted by Senqok and, later – and more effectively – by Skado.
Yi Ming gathers his and his vassals' naval and his own ground forces with the intent of invading the Fire Nation, however, not to conquer. While discussing plans with Dalit, Bunak, the new Chief in the South, and Harqoon, he loses his temper, gets into a brief fight with Dalit and afterwards has a conversation about their respective pasts, deciding the airbender to be a lunatic.
Chapter 21: The Master Plan
"All rise!" Luna cried out from her protruding seat. All conversations in the session hall ceased, as the sixty-one people having occupied seats in the hall fell silent and stopped moving, until they realised what the Lord Protector had ordered them to do. Standing up, the fifty-two councillors laid their right fists atop their hearts and extended their left hands towards the octagonal hall's centre. Luna nodded after noticing that, unsheathed one of her swords, pointing it toward the same point the others extended their hands to. "We are to be united henceforth." she began, in the style of a prayer, the councillors repeating her words, some aloud, some merely mumbling. "United in blood, united in war, united in peace, united in land, united in leadership. We are to be one people, a people of equals – not one of us shall rise beyond the rest. We are to be free, like our fathers and their fathers, and our mothers and their mothers were, remaining unbowed, unbent, unbroken as ever. We are to aid the needy and weak in whatever way possible, we shall defend them until our last man, our last breath, our last drop of blood. Such shall we do with all our ideals! To uphold this oath I swear, to free, to unite, to defend. To these I pledge my life and honour." Solemnly, Luna finished the oath's last few words alone, speaking them like a mixture between a prayer and a battle cry. "May the spirits punish those who break this vow. So say we all!"
When the blade returned into its sheath, the councillors sat down again. The eight comrades sat on empty benches behind Luna's seat, Anyang in their middle. "They recite the ancient Oath of Rongshen, the legendary founding pact of the Confederacy at the beginning of every council session." He explained, "Now comes- oh, nevermind. You'll see soon enough. Hear, actually."
Luna too sat down again, and laid out several documents, one of which seemed suspiciously tattered. "Hereby, I, Lord Protector Luna of the Shire of City and Shore, open the eight-thousandth and fifty-second session of the Council of Lords. In this session, the Council shall deal with violent protests in the Shire of Yachen due to supposed corruption and over-taxation, avalanches and landslides cutting off most of Niukasu Shire, and, first and foremost for this is a matter concerning the Confederacy's security, news relevant for the war with the so-called Earth Empire."
Anyang rose from his seat and was handed the tattered document by Luna, before descending into the hall's centre. "More by luck than anything, we have managed to acquire a document of vital importance. It contains orders for the Southern Water Tribe, under their new chief, Bunak, who apparently bows to Yi Ming, and the Air Empire under its tyrant Dalit, and comes from Yi Ming's own hand. It is no more than a mere letter, indeed, but it allows the conclusion that the naval forces of both Water Tribes, most of Yi Ming's Imperial Grand Navy, reinforced by Air Empire soldiers, are to sink the Fire Nation and our navies for reasons unknown as of now."
A councillor sitting in the place where just a week ago Lord Sun would've sat, representing Dawosi Shire, rose to his feet, and shot the first question at Anyang. "How exactly did you manage to acquire this... document, General?"
"We found it in a Water Tribe ship washed ashore on the east coast. It was part of the Southern Water Tribe fleet that sailed northwards to meet with the Northern Water Tribe and the Imperial fleets. We had increased our presence there as fishermen had sighted Water Tribe vessels repeatedly." he elaborated. "Is that sufficient, Lord Luyi?"
"It is for that question." The councillor didn't sit, however. "I'd have another question still... I've noticed that, in the inland, where my shire happens to be situated, fewer and fewer soldiers have been going about their duty. We've had an exorbitant increase of crimes there! Well, my question is... where have you increased your presence to be forced to decrease it elsewhere?"
"Bigger harbours all over the Confederacy are now crawling with my soldiers, and for good reasons. I turns out that the Water Tribes' mission was due half a month ago, and since then, single ships of theirs had been sighted creeping into our harbours, their crews about to sink any vessel they could reach, but every time so far, watchful – and armed! – citizens have prevented that. To take that duty off their shoulders, I have done this." Anyang had to do a lot of explaining, and more to come if he let any of the councillors time to speak, he realised, so he spoke on without waiting for a response from Lord Luyi. "That is why I'm here today. Inevitably, the day they strike nears, and we need to stop them before that happens. Lord Protector Luna already has commissioned Skado, a talented engineer, to design standardised warships for a fleet, but we need your approval to build it, and of course support. I am not speaking of support we need from you, but all of us need from any ally – Kanyzon and his Fire Nation. Together, we could win even this entire war!"
"Well, all nice and whatnot, but even so we should exercise caution, even in the little time we have now." Lord Luyi spoke, neither him nor Anyang giving the other councillors opportunity to speak.
"I'm a general and have been one for ten years. You don't have to tell me this." responded Anyang, rolling his eyes, and earning light chuckles from all over the hall.
"Yes, I know, but what I mean is, that you, general, shouldn't be the one bearing the entire weight of this." came Luyi's words softly, concealing what he truly meant almost perfectly. "We need to choose people fit for commanding a navy, and people to treat with the Fire Lord."
"For both I have a solution ready, Lord Luyi." Anyang countered in a tone not unlike Luyi's, shooting him a smirk that said I speak your language. "The overall command of the Navy would be our honoured Lord Protector's, with two vice-admirals to aid her. For this role, I would suggest Senqok, son of the late Chief Gangtok, and Colonel Skado, engineering corps. As for the envoy we are to send to Kanyzon, or who at least should keep written contact with him, we have the perfect person sitting in this hall as well. Who would be fit better than Crown Princess Zoruka, daughter of the late Fire Lord Tokai?"
As they were called forth, they followed. Looking as splendid as they could without fidgeting massively, Senqok and Skado presented themselves, whereas Zoruka looked quite indifferent, if not the tiniest bit arrogant. The councillors began discussing, arguing, louder and louder, before, at once, they quieted down, after exactly fifteen minutes, at least according to the clock Skado had built himself.
"I know ask the Council for a decision." declared Luna, her voice piercing the silence like a quarrel piercing armour. "All councillors voting against General Anyang's proposition shall raise their hands... " And Luna began searching for risen hands, having to stop for none did raise their hands in opposition of Anyang. "Now, all councillors voting in favour of General Anyang's proposition!" She counted fast, and thus was finished fast as well, having stopped at twenty-seven in favour, zero in opposition, and twenty-five abstentions. With one quick strike of a gavel, Luna set the topic aside, and while Anyang, Skado, Senqok and Zoruka left the hall's centre, a councillor began to hold a speech about agriculture affecting erosion. The eight comrades of the Liberation Alliance decided to simply leave in silence. Once outside the building and out of the guards' earshot, Senqok and Skado both blurted out simultaneously.
"What did you think when you proposed us to be admirals?!" Their tone was the verbal equivalent to a fireball.
"I needed to improvise. I needed someone capable they thought they'd be able to control." he defended himself, "Besides, Luna and I are going to do most of the work, don't worry."
"Oh, this is going to be a great few weeks... " sighed Shizon, earning agreement from all the others. And indeed a time of labour it would become.
"Have you ever been here?" Zoruka's voice was carried to Shizon with the wind that came from the land, with the wind that blew right into their faces. Ahead lay one of the world's greatest metropolises, infamous for being situated within a volcano with two calderas.
"No. Have you?" Shizon glanced right and left. They passed into the harbour, the entry of which was flanked by the caldera walls, between which there was a gap no further than a hundred metres. The currents were treacherous there, their captain had warned them, but they wanted to come the usual way, and no other one.
"Me neither." The Crown Princess too glanced around, finally fixating the point the caldera emerged from beneath the floods, where buildings, mostly warehouses and basilicas, seamed the quay on the one side, and berths on the other. Around the caldera walls, berths too shot forth, however, these were reserved for ships under command of the Fire Lord, directly and indirectly. Warships, mostly junks, as well as a few galleys and treasure ships, were docked there, whereas the other berths were mostly empty, except for Fire Nation trading vessels and fishing boats. Red, brown and gray were the colours seen everywhere, and so the junk that steered westwards, towards the berths, formed a stark contrast to these, with its hull of white, sails of green, blue and red, and, most importantly, the flag it flew. The red lotus on blue disk before green background with white lining flew proudly in the wind, signalling that this was a ship in service of the Confederacy of Whaletail Island.
"No? Well, that's interesting... " Shizon was rather surprised by what Zoruka had answered, but nonetheless let his gaze wander all over the city before them. The outer caldera was about six kilometres across, a third of which was flooded and thus formed the harbour, the rest being heavily built-up. Within lay another caldera, with an approximate diameter of one-and-a-half kilometres, the so-called Royal Caldera. There, the two unwilling envoys were headed.
"You heard correctly. I rarely even left the palace, and the Capital was part of the Huang marches until Kanyzon reunified the nation, so I never got here." answered Zoruka truthfully. "Until now."
"Oh... that does make sense... " admitted Shizon, taking his hands from the railing and putting them onto his swords' hilts as he noticed just how close they were already. The boat made a sharp turn, and suddenly, she – the Sea Ram – was docked, thus skilled was her crew. A plank was laid out so the two would have an easy descent, and the Captain awaited them there.
"With all due respect, Your Excellencies, uh... My crew has asked you to, er, contain your acoustic expression of, uh... " The Captain sweated, as if he feared the two of them. They appeared fearsome enough, to be sure – Zoruka with her eye patch, Shizon with his swords, both in their armour – but that a grown man with whom they had shared a ship for the ten days it took to sail to the Fire Nation from Whaletail Island would be that reluctant of naming what he referred to was simply unbelievable.
"Don't worry- " Shizon waved him off with a smile. " -we'll shag more silently on the way back!"
For that, he earned a smack on the back of his head from an almost enraged Zoruka, who then hissed, "Don't you dare name it!"
The two then descended on the quay, from where Zoruka pressed Shizon onwards, for the sun was already sunk low. Rather, she dragged him, who should actually should've acted as a kind of bodyguard, along all the way. From the quay, they ascended again, for all the streets climbed up ever so slightly. First, they passed through the curtain of warehouses and basilicas, after which taverns and inns took their places amongst the houses of the simple citizens, whereas some of these buildings might've housed a bit more than just taverns and inns, as the red lanterns hanging before them implied. The streets were far from empty and far from crowded, so they made good time in these areas. The noises coming from inside the houses and establishments implied that there might've also been a lot more people on the streets had most of them not been too drunk to even walk properly. They passed through that area soon enough – after ten minutes, they were through, and in the next area of the city, which not only consisted of higher houses which all were at least partially built from stone, but also was far cleaner and, obviously, wealthier. The two passed through a rather extensive market place smelling of all kinds of spices, the smell itself already burning. It was surrounded by banks, warehouses and small stores and filled with all kinds of small stalls, however, Zoruka urged them onwards, and Shizon complied. After the market place, the ground beneath began ascending more than any before, and the buildings around had soon disappeared when the street began curving up the caldera walls in serpentines. Up they walked, up and up, and soon, they had to pause to rest their legs for a some while, time they took to let their gazes wander about, to take in the Capital.
"We've got to come back some time and make a tour around here." found Shizon as he tried to make out what was going on in the harbour. "I mean, it's- "
"A metropolis, nothing more." cut him am unimpressed Zoruka off. "Ba Sing Se is the same, without a harbour, bigger and with a different culture. In the end, they're all more or less the same, the metropolises."
"Omashu wasn't like this." protested Shizon, getting on his feet again.
"That's because Omashu is a huge war-ravaged backwater." declared the Crown Princess as she too got on her feet and walked further, Shizon following after sighing. They continued a minute or two, before three soldiers on komodo-rhinos rode down the serpentines.
"Your Majesties! Or is it Your Excellencies... ? Well, either way, His Majesty the Fire Lord has sent us to bring you to him as fast as possible upon learning of your presence in the city. Please, do mount." The words spoken by the three riders' leader, his uniform denoting him as a colonel, sounded rather improvised yet official, and the two decided to trust him. And indeed did the three ride the two envoys up the serpentines and through a tunnel into the Caldera City, through the boulevard that divided the few and wide estates owned by the nobility. Not only did the palace tower over them, but also over the entire city, thus high was the Fire Lord's palace they approached. The gates opened, and only right before the entrance did the two have to dismount and continue on foot. The soldiers guarding each door and gate recognised the armours, or rather, their type, immediately and didn't dare to hesitate with opening for them. And so, the two envoys only took half an hour from disembarking to Throne Room. The light shone brightly even in the palace's heart, even with the sun setting, and reflected on the gold of the enormous throne. Like a halo, the light spread around the figure occupying the throne, and blinded those who entered. The two approached the throne slowly and humbly before stopping three metres from it, and bowing to its occupant.
"Rise, my heirs!" declared Kanyzon, descending from his throne. Only then did the two envoys realise he bore a smile that at least seemed genuine. He patted both on the shoulder, inquiring, "What brought you here?"
"Our mission, Your Majesty." replied Zoruka. "As you may or may not know, we arrived on board of a diplomatic vessel of the Confederacy of Whaletail Island. We are here to negotiate with you in the Council's stead."
Kanyzon spun around, and began pondering. When he turned around again to face the two, he looked more suspicious than before. "Come. Let's have a walk."
Knowing nought else to do, Shizon and Zoruka obeyed, while Shizon laid his hands on his swords' hilts again, virtually ready to draw them at any given time. Wordlessly, they followed Kanyzon through a hidden door behind the throne, and walked seemingly endless and windowless corridors, lit only by torches, which were only present near doors, of which there were many, but many of these rarely used. Upstairs, downstairs, and upstairs again, left, right, slightly ascending all the time, they followed Kanyzon, exchanging looks when the light allowed it, not daring to carry flames to light their path. Finally, the Fire Lord stopped at an often used door, opened it, and ascended the winding stairs beyond. Attempting to keep up with Kanyzon at all times was an impossible thing to do after ten days at sea, with heavy storms and half an hour of running through a city without stopping but with shoving, but the two managed, somehow. Slowly, a shimmer natural light, with heavy yellow, orange and red tones in it, became noticeable ahead, and all three sped up. After another few turns, the three of them arrived atop the palace's highest tower. They had emerged from the floor directly on the top, directly onto the roof. It was flat there, and an iron railing surrounded it, but still, neither Zoruka nor Shizon seemed all too comfortable up there. Kanyzon, on the other hand, went to the westward side and leant on the railing.
"Tell me what you see. Start with the east." ordered Kanyzon, his voice calmer than water could ever be.
"The Lower Caldera City. The harbour, market places, both bustling... the sea, seemingly calm, and empty but for a few boats. That's all, right?" Zoruka looked to Shizon, shrugging. He shrugged, nodding, and both waited for Kanyzon to speak again.
"To the south. And the north. What's there?" spoke the tranquil Fire Lord.
"Hills, mountains, most of them likely volcanoes, dormant, most likely. Land overgrown with grass, with some few trees and bushes, more in the further distance, where- I'd say those are villages, right? Right. And the two roads leading through the caldera walls, one northwards and one southwards. I think I even see a bit of sea to the north... that's all." Shizon too gave it a shot, and the reaction was similar as to Zoruka's.
"And to the west?" As Kanyzon had finished, the two moved to his side, Shizon closer to him.
"More hills and mountains, higher and with steeper slopes that the others, more barren land. One, or perhaps even two villages. A very high mountain range much further... " Shizon was faster than Zoruka with starting, and so he stated his observances.
"Yes. And what else?" Kanyzon seemed unsatisfied with the answer, but only let his tone make it obvious, else he remained in his state of tranquility.
"Of course, the setting sun!" exclaimed Zoruka as the glowing orb she spoke of vanished behind the very high mountain range Shizon had observed. Their surroundings had darkened in that very moment, darkened enough so they all may as well had become blind, however, that was only for they had stared into the sun before.
"Exactly." Kanyzon stepped away from the railing. "Before the war, ships were coming and going at any hour in the harbour, it was always crowded, the entire city was crowded. Now, trade with most of the world has subsided, and the only ones who still come here are smugglers, fishermen and Fire Nation traders, and Whaletail Islanders, apparently. If we continue on our current path, the sun will set on us forever. Yi Ming would overrun us, and the world would be his, de facto."
"But I thought you were one of Yi Ming's staunchest opponents! One of our most reliable and valiant allies!" Shizon looked rather shocked as Zoruka interrupted Kanyzon.
"I wasn't finished." replied Kanyzon quickly before continuing. "That would be a dark era. But we have decided to fight him. Why are we not doing it, then? Well, a more important question is, why did the Confederacy of Whaletail Island declare war upon the Earth Empire? The most neutral country the world has ever seen... save your breath, I know why. And I know how. So it comes down to this alliance again, it seems... an alliance that was already shattered in the Battle of the Five Armies. Only less powerful this time. Tell me, though – what do you plan to do when Yi Ming invades your home?"
"The Whaletail Islanders have never been defeated in defence! Never have they been defeated on their own ground!" shot Shizon back, remembering what he had learnt in the past months.
"Which doesn't mean that it has to stay this way." Whereas Zoruka and Shizon did nothing to hide their emotions, Kanyzon simply hid them, he was completely stoic.
"He'd have to cross the sea to invade either. That makes him vulnerable." stated Zoruka, having her patience tested. "Listen, Your Majesty, all you've got to do is to sign this- "
"The Imperial Grand Navy is the greatest naval force in history so far. My navy is a ragtag fleet, and don't even get me started on the glorious naval militia of Whaletail Island." Even his tone was calm as he spoke such choleric-sounding words.
"We're on it to change that." Shizon seemed a bit proud about what he said. "Skado and Senqok are designing and overseeing the building of a new navy."
That took Kanyzon by surprise. "Skado? Senqok? I know these names, wait, these two were... "
"Colonel Skado, head of the engineering corps of the Liberation Alliance, who designed the crossbow we use, our arrow-proof and fireproof uniforms, our gas masks, and many more, and the second one is Senqok, son of the late Chief Gangtok of the Southern Water Tribe, brother to the Lord Protector of Whaletail Island, Luna." Shizon explained, while Zoruka prepared her papers to present them to Kanyzon, who seemed indeed rather taken aback. "The two are building a navy more modern than any other in existence, I'd bet. And we'll have fifty ships, not just any ships, but battleships, and some minor ones in addition."
"And besides," cut Zoruka right in, handing Kanyzon the movement orders Anyang had captured, and a treaty between Whaletail Island and the Fire Nation, where all he had to do was signing. "we already have a treaty here, and captured enemy movement orders."
"So you're telling me... there's an actual chance of us winning?" Kanyzon didn't speak these words playfully or sarcastically, but indeed did he speak them in sheer disbelief. Zoruka dug into another hidden compartment in her armour, and handed the Fire Lord yet another document, one about the prospected strength of the naval forces. He had to smile slightly at the numbers, and looked back and forth between the documents. "I was about to pay reparations and to surrender myself to Yi Ming's rule for the sake of peace, but you just changed my mind. You'll have my swords and flames and my sails as well, and my word that we stand side by side till the end! But first, you'll have rooms to- "
"One room will suffice." stated the Crown Princess with a wicked smile before following Kanyzon down the stairs again. Their alliance was a settled matter, and so was a longer war.
"So... you really think I can be of help?" Ranju rose an eyebrow as she spoke, strolling through the harbour with Anyang. "I might be great in battle, but I haven't proven all too useful in... some office."
"I don't mean to have you stuck in office all day, looking through dusty documents." Anyang never made as much as eye contact with her as he spoke, walking ahead. "I mean to let you fully develop your potentials. I have certain plans for after the naval confrontation... "<br/
" ...yes?" Ranju was unsatisfied with his answer, obviously, but she would remain unsatisfied. "What plans?"
"Regarding the Air Empire, that's all." Ranju had sped up to Anyang's speed, and so he decided he would face her as he spoke. Her expression basically said, You've got to be kidding me. That's all?, so he added, in a mere whisper, "It's not safe to talk about such plans here. Too high is the risk of us being overheard."
That, however, Ranju understood. She nodded in agreement, when she suddenly seemed to have forgotten her reason to even be where she was. "Wait... what are we even doing here?"
"Getting ingredients for some fruit pie and dumplings and other traditional Air Nomad dishes. How could you forget!?" Anyang seemed more than just slightly angered by that, which resulted in a hissing tone. "I'm trying to reintroduce you to the Air Nomad way of life and you... FORGET IT!?"
"Anyang, please... wait... there's a ship racing in the harbour!" Ranju tried sounding alarming with the second part after spotting the vessel cutting through the waters, but failed.
"Bad try, really." replied Anyang, far from calmed down. "Now, tell me, girl, why don't you want to learn about your- "
"There's a bloody ship racing bloody fast into the bloody harbour! If I'm not mistaken, it's propelled by bloody waterbenders and has bloody blue sails! You know what that means!" Ranju had to shout to drown both him and the crowds all around out, startling not only Anyang, but also those around, who were trading, gambling, docking, loading, unloading, and so forth. They all stopped what they were doing as they comprehended what Ranju had seen, and most of them fled, while some stayed and took out weapons of all sorts, from swords and spears to crossbows and bolas. Anyang shifted into a stance when he himself spotted the vessel, before he remembered his position, general. Enhancing his leaps with his bending, he jumped up to the closest building's roof, and took a look around, before speeding – again, enhanced by his bending – towards the closest tower he could glance within seconds, and rung its bell. Meanwhile, the ship had not only rammed into and sunk three massive trading junks and was about to ram a fourth, but also had it turned so its starboard side faced the quay. Ranju decided it was her chance, and so she took a run-up, and jumped on board the ship. It was a catamaran galley with two rams and masts, a fragile, fast warship of the Northern Water Tribe, manned by – according to Ranju's estimate – about fifty men, at least a dozen of these benders, who had at least partially propelled it. In an instant, Ranju realised it was a mistake to land on deck, and almost instantly, the waterbenders lashed out. Their water streams met in the centre, when Ranju had already shot up with a gust of air. She grasped onto one of the masts and, aided by her bending, pulled herself upwards, where the lookout would've done his duty on any ordinary ship. The water cut into the wood as she managed to avoid it, quickly turning to her right, to her left, ducking, jumping upwards, whatever it required her not to be hit and not to move all too much. Still, she climbed up, only to jump to the other mast the catamaran had. It had smashed into six ships already, five of which had been merchant ships, laden with metals, spices and textiles, whereas the sixth had been a fishing vessel, although not a small one. Ranju decided to strike before the nonbenders with their bows and spears would get her, and strike she did. She gathered air around her to compress it as much as she could, and leapt, knowing that she wouldn't reach the other mast. She dove downwards with her sphere of compressed air in front of her, sending it right at the planks, herself causing a shock-wave at her impact on the planks. The planks themselves were shaken heavily by the winds, throwing those standing on them off, to the ground, or over the rail and thus into the water. Some got up again rather quickly, but she didn't give them time to strike her, for she was quick to spin around on her hands only, sending a powerful air swipe all around the ship, one which threw almost everyone on board off board. However, those still on board didn't last long themselves, for suddenly, grappling hooks stopped the ship and pulled it to the quay, before Anyang and a good dozen of soldiers got on board.
"If I may, I'll take over now." announced Anyang with a hint of sarcasm, as he walked towards the aftercastle. With a kick, he opened the door leading there, and waved to Ranju, signalling her to come with him. The room was dimly lit, and the man cowering on the floor, chanting "I surrender, I surrender... " didn't mind them, or rather, they didn't mind him. A table was set up in its centre, with a few chairs or similar somewhere in the room, hidden in darkness – and under scrolls. Scrolls were all over the place, on the floor, on the table, and likely on the invisible chairs as well. "This is rubbish. None of these are recent. Some of these even belong into a museum! These orders are ancient!" complained Anyang.
Ranju approached the table and wanted to lean on its edge, but broke off a part of the table, and commented, "This whole ship seems to be rubbish. I think they're using up their worst ships for such raids, and saving the others for battle." She looked at the wooden floor, and at the table again – no matter the material, it was rotting in some way. "This ship will fall apart soon enough."
"Nice work." commented Anyang in regard to Ranju's conclusion, "That's why I wanted you working with me, amongst other reasons."
"Wait. I think this scroll's more recent... " stated Ranju as she moved towards the only scroll still furled, which was in the table's centre. "Even its seal is unbroken!"
"Not anymore." With a quick move of his hand, Anyang parted the wax and rolled the scroll out, furrowing his brow more and more with every line he read. "This is bad. This is very bad."
"Why? What is it?" Ranju moved to Aynang to read the movement order as well. "So what? Four more ships are not that hard to deal with."
"It's not these four you know I fear." stated Anyang as he took the scroll, "It's the fifth you don't know about." And with that, he left both the aftercastle and the ship, while the soldiers escorted captives.
"What for spirits' sake... " wondered the airbender aloud as she too made her way back to the Lord Protector's palace, " ...is the Air Empire's fifth warship?"
"Just what do you think you're doing?!" The shout came from behind, from the exceptionally slightly corpulent figure wearing boiled leather over his uniform. "The first of our ships is going to be launched in half an hour! We need to be there!"
"You're Vice-Admiral just like me, Skado! You attend in my stead!" shouted Senqok back, not even looking up from his blueprints. Beyond the table was a rather small dry dock, in which a dozen workers were doing their best to work according to his commands, to construct a very certain, small, fast and versatile kind of ship.
"Yes, but as head of the engineering corps I order you to attend in person!" Skado went over to Senqok, and took a look at the dry dock and the blueprints, asking him, "Why are you building this... ridiculous-looking boat anyway?"
"I'm not part of the engineering corps and that- " began Senqok, slightly infuriated by Skado, however, cut off by him.
"Yes you are." stated Skado as-a-matter-of-factly, laying his extended index finger upon Senqok's lips to shut him up.
"This ship doesn't look ridiculous!" snapped Senqok after shoving Skado's hand away, but before he could start his next sentence, Skado cut him off again.
"Yes it does." Skado tried to repeat his previous gesture, but this time Senqok pushed him away so he wouldn't reach him by a few centimetres.
"It has to look like this to be as versatile as it is!" defended Senqok himself and his creation, adding, "And it has to be versatile because we need a shock force in our fleet! And what ship could possibly be faster and more versatile than- "
"Junks, for example. It's impossible to steer that thing! I mean, almost half of the hulk don't even touch the water!" Skado cut him off again, and was wrong with his assumption on top of it.
"NO! AND SHUT UP, SKADO!" shouted the Water Tribesman, making Skado shrink away. "It's a Southern Water Tribe cutter sailing ship! No ship is known to be faster – in relation – nor more versatile! And they'll float, no matter what! That the kind of ships we were missing in our fleet! The kind we needed to support our battleships! And no, I can't attend the ceremony, I need to oversee the construction!"
"Oh, but I could do that for you... Though I ought to be at the ceremony, too." Out of nowhere, Luna had appeared in their midst, and made her offer to Senqok. "Or you could let the workers have a second lunch break and come... "
"I. Am. Not. Coming!" spoke Senqok with the tone of a shout, emphasising every single syllable.
"I'll let you name the ship." offered Skado, and saw that Senqok had ignored him. Meanwhile, Luna had walked down to the workers and talked to each of them, convincing one after the other to take a break. Skado moved to Senqok's side and offered again, "I'll let you name the whole class and the first- no, the first two ships!"
Senqok looked down to the workers, and to Skado and Luna who just had returned from below. He sighed, "Fine, I'll go, if you two just have to conspire against me... "
"Not that hard, was it?" Skado poked Senqok, but before he could speak any more, Senqok had his sword drawn, looking the engineer dead in the eye, which – in combination – made him inch away as they walked across the enormous shipyard. They passed countless huge docks most of which were occupied by unfinished ships of Skado's and Senqok's joint design, the ships being closer to completion with each dock they passed, nearing their destination. Noises surrounded them as they almost casually strolled westwards, towards the setting sun, noises of intense labour filled the air. Beats of hammers onto iron and bronze, of these metals being cast, of wood being sawn, and planks and wooden beams being joined, of canvas being woven, of masts being erected, even of the ballistae's relatively filigree loading mechanisms' production, noises were heard of anything that had to do with the battleships' construction. They passed one that looked almost finished, had it not been for the lack of sails and lacquer. Then came their destination, at last. She stood proudly in her dry dock, the ship, with two enormous junk sails, three square sails and a lateen one, with her bridge standing out right after the two main masts, with her roofs of iron, her forecastle and aftercastle of bronze, and her hull in crimson, emerald, gold and ultramarine. Despite her design's utter functionality, neither Senqok, Skado nor Luna could deny that she wasn't a beautiful ship. A small crowd had gathered around it. Someone who could've been a priest greeted them all upon their arrival, and after the three had chosen to hid themselves in the crowd, he began a rather boring ceremony of blessing the ship against demons and ill-willing spirits and, of course, enemies, a ceremony neither of the three, and apparently, none of the audience, paid all too much attention to. In truth, some seemed to had mastered the art of sleeping in a standing position. That was, until the priest in his Earth Kingdom attire decided not to murmur, but to shout louder than his age should've allowed.
"SPIRIT OF THE MOON, GRANT THEM GUIDANCE! SPIRIT OF OCEAN, GRANT THEM CURRENTS! AND SPIRIT OF WAR, GRANT THEM VICTORY!" The gates of the dry dock were opened, and the ropes holding the ship in place cut as the priest finished his prayer "SPIRITS CAST YOUR GRACE UPON THIS SHIP, AND ALL CREWS TO MAN HER! UPON THIS SHIP, THE- "
"CHIEF GANGTOK!" With the highest volume his lungs permitted, Senqok shouted out his will for the ship's name, "Chief Gangtok of the Rebel Class!"
Cheers went through the crowd as the name was bestowed upon the ship and as her first crew began manning it. But the few, pathetic-sounding cheers subsided suddenly when a streamer joined the two flags of the Confederacy or the Liberation Alliance, a streamer bearing the Water Tribe insignia. Senqok stepped forth to the edge and waved his arms in a circle once, before holding them in place and letting out an icy breath. Then, he ascended the ship on his stairs of ice, not too closely followed by his sister and his friend. He went straight for the bridge, the small tower right behind the second main mast – of these, there were two, of which the taller one was the foremost actual mast. He went up two sets of stairs barely even worth the name and over the small bridge connecting the aft parts of the Chief Gangtok and the iron-roofed structure on the main deck, upon which the bridge was situated. Remembering Skado's drawings, he then went around the tower structure and opened a door to ascend a ladder, before finally reaching the square room housing multiple pipes for communication, a map table, a sextant and other instruments for determining the ship's position, and of course the ship's wheel. After half a minute, his sister and Skado arrived, the latter immediately taking out a map to lay on the map table. It was a detailed map of the entire Mo Ce Sea, which Senqok rolled out and fixated with his extended arms.
"Well, I guess... " spoke Luna, watching the sails unfold from the ship's wheel, "Time for planning the inevitable confrontation, eh?"
Notes and Trivia
- The legendary founding pact of the Confederacy was inspired by the Rütlischwur, and includes the motto of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire House Martell – Unbowed, unbent, unbroken.
- The Fire Nation Capital is by far not the same as in the series. The reason for that will be explained in the finale.
- The Northern Water Tribe catamaran war galley is a combination of Polynesian catamarans and late medieval/early modern Venetian war galleys, plus the ram of ancient Greek galleys.
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