The Point of No Retreat
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A Tale of Rebels



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Chapter 25: Last Preparations

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Chapter 27: The Last Stand

The Point of No Retreat is the twenty-sixth chapter of Sep0815's A Tale of Rebels.

Previously in A Tale of Rebels

The allied fleet arrives in the Fire Nation Capital, but is faced with major civil disagreement towards Kanyzon's policies. While most of the fleet flees the harbour and Yi Ming's attack is imminent, it is decided for the city to be evacuated and tactically burnt down once Yi Ming breaks the defences.

Chapter 26: The Point of No Retreat

To have described the flight as exhausting would've been an understatement, Anyang found as he landed as he landed upon the beach of the main island of the Southern Air Temple archipelago. By the time he arrived, night had fallen. The second time since he had set out from the Fire Nation. With every muscle and every joint aching, and his eyelids heavier than ever before, he also found himself not to exactly be picky about choosing his roost – from the point he landed at, he merely walked till the vegetation surrounded him, and collapsed on the ground, soon beginning to snore slightly. The first minutes were an almost orgasmic recovery from days of flying, but that was before his dreaming started.

He found himself at the Eastern Air Temple again. All around were short people, children in fact, all of approximately his age. A few fearful adults in robes of elders herded the children to the stables, but just as they reached them, Dalit descended upon them. He, and four of his followers, stopped them.

"State your name, intention, and affiliation." came the simple order from one of Dalit's followers, a young woman with a sinister look about her, mainly because of her dark robes, her almost white skin and a seemingly eternal smirk.

The name and intention he couldn't hear, for the speaking elder, likely the mother superior of the temple, spoke softly at best. Then, however, her ever soft voice became louder, but softer still. "But, child, I beg of you, you were such a good student, stop this madness... We are Air Nomads, we fight rarely, if at all! You know this, don't you!"

"Too bad we're Air Empire... " she replied, her smirk having turned into a frown. A single tear could be seen glistening on her cheek, lit by the moonlight, as she formed a sphere of air around the elder's head, and withdrew the air from her lungs. As she did so, the other elders intended to intervene, but Dalit and his other followers wouldn't allow that. They mirrored the young woman's motions, and within seconds, the elders all had dropped to the floor, suffocating.

"Please, I beg of you! Leave the children alone! They didn't do anything, they're innocent... !" pleaded a remaining adult, a woman wide of chest and hip, and short on top of that. "Take me instead! Take all of us, just leave the children alone... !"

"I will take you when I'm done with these." decided Dalit, "And don't presume to know what's best for the children! They're still young and have their entire lives before them, and you wouldn't want them to be defenceless like they've been under you Air Nomads!"

The remaining adults, the short woman, and an elderly man, attacked Dalit, he heard, but as dead bodies dropped to the floor, he knew it was over. "No! We won't come with you! You killed the elders!" screamed he, noticing something queer in his voice. And suddenly, with his body as well. He wasn't Anyang, but a young girl.

Dalit, who had prepared to herd the children away, spun around in his wroth. He sent an air slice through the children that decapitated the first few and cut the throats of those following. His followers began asphyxiating the children, some of whom tried to run, some of whom were frozen in fear, some of whom tried to defend themselves or even strike back, all of whom perished, some swiftly, some slowly. Either way, he had dropped with the first, keeping an air sphere around his body. It went on for about a minute, then all were dead, allegedly including him. He rose, and saw his peers all around. Friends and foes, companions and enemies, associates and neutrals, he missed them all. Tears ran down his cheeks uncontrollably, accompanied by sobs. Blood was all around, the bloody of children. Corpses of children, death and destruction lay all around as Dalit's forces took the temple. The tears only increased, as did the sobs. All of sudden, a man appeared from the shadows, and took him with him. Only then did Anyang realise from whose point of view he had dreamt the happenings. Only then did Anyang fully understand Ranju.

"I'll bloody kill Dalit." he stated, still half in his sleep. The words echoed in the cavern, and made everyone inside stop for a second.

"While that is what the Avatar would do should he have any interest of dealing with him, it is not the way of an airbender." The voice was old and full of wisdom. Anyang opened his eyes, and found himself within a cave such as the Air Nomads tended to inhabit when travelling. It was more a house within a mountain than a cave, but that mattered little.

"I doubt there's much difference between me and my brother now, so it matters little." Slowly, ever so slowly, Anyang spoke with a raspy voice as he sat up. "One abomination would eliminate another."

"But while he is forever lost you at least strive for a righteous, a just cause." The man looked him in the eyes. Slowly, other Air Nomads gathered around. "For him, there never was hope. For you, there always was."

"I too love euphemisms." Anyang believed these words as little as he had Dalit's claims of their ancestry.

That made the elder chuckle slightly, although no one joined him. "I hope you can forgive me for my black humour." he explained his chuckle. "But you're not here for atonement, are you, General?"

"I aim for atonement in the sense that today, or in the following days, I do something I should've done long ago." answered him Anyang, gladly taking the piece of bread he was offered by an elderly woman whom he seemed to recognise. He knocked the silly thought aside, and began his meagre meal, before realising he was offered more than just bread. He took rice and tarts and pieces of vegetables, and more, until he could eat no more. "How do I, one who treats ou- your traditions the same way Dalit does, deserve this?"

"You are the one to depose Dalit." stated the elderly woman. "You are the one to lead us back to the old way."

"But that can't be done without violence. Blood must be shed." Anyang's years in the Liberation Alliance had changed him, all heard.

"Not if the masses do it. Not if you lead it. Dalit himself, though... he shall indeed become a problem." the elder mused, continuing, "But what is important is your presence. We need you. We need a leader, we need someone to march in front as we storm the temple."

"To storm sounds very... militant." Anyang found himself wondering who these Air Nomads were. "And who are you?"

"We are those who follow the Air Nomad way despite the enforcement of Dalit's policies. There's thousands of us. And we do not mean to storm, we merely mean to march to Dalit's location, and let you deal with him." Someone new, a young person Anyang couldn't exactly identify as either male of female for the shadows it stood in, spoke.

"Indeed. We are gathering our kind at the foot of the Patola Mountain Range." affirmed the elder. "We have prepared for this for years, working out our ways to be successful. You must cooperate if you want it to work."

"I will. It's what I came for." agreed the General. He had stood up, and taken his staff, marching towards what he believed to be the exit. "Ready for a revolution?"

Barely visible, being thin and of a light grey colour, plumes of smoke arose from thousands of spots beyond the city. The sun was visible merely as a light grey disk in dark grey clouds, the sea was a dark bluish grey at best, and the lands either greyish basalt and alike, or greenish grey meadows and groves and woods. On this day, all colour seemed to have retreated to the Fire Lord's palace, within which everything, from skin to the throne room's very walls, which actually were a dull black, sported a red tone. Heavy winds blew the smells of wildfires into the city, and, other than the camp fires', their plumes of smoke were clearly visible to the north. Thick black clouds continuously swirled into the skies and drifted southwards. Then and now, some would even glimpse a flame in the grey all around. But that was not the threat. The unattended camp fires which had caused the wildfires were, in a way, the problem, or rather, their creators. Every night, the guards had recorded, as to be expected, the camp fires nearing, and with it, the army they had prepared to face. They had prepared everything according to their plans, but they were far from ready, the ragtag army of a few hundred Liberation Alliance soldiers and a few thousand Fire Nation soldiers. All, from the generals and the Fire Lord down to every last private, had their doubts, and rightly so – the army nearing, Yi Ming's army, was experienced, well trained, well armed, well supplied and, most of all, numerically superior. Other than the defenders. They had experience indeed, and most had more than they would've liked, and they had more weaponry than soldiers, but everything else, they lacked. Even with strict rations, their food would not feed them all for two more weeks, and fewest had ever received a proper training. Their only advantage was holding the high ground, fighting from defensive positions, but walls, towers and alike built from rocks or bricks would be as much a use against earthbenders as pottery would. They still had an ace in the hole, thanks to Luna – wildfire spread across the city to burn it down once Yi Ming's troops controlled the better part of it. But if they wouldn't defeat them immediately afterwards, they would be doomed, their defeat inevitable. Kabura contemplated such possibilities as Yi Ming's host, an army of tens, if not hundreds of thousands, spread out to the north. The tower gave an overview over the area around, but that only served to diminish her already crushed hopes for victory. Senqok was with her, at least. That gave her the tiniest bit of a feeling of security. Not that she required his protection, but two warriors rarely fare worse in combat than a sole one. Her gaze wandered from the sea to the east, to her right, to the mountains to the west, her left, and the more often it did that, the more often it stopped ever so briefly at the immense host before them. She took one of Skado's telescopes and let her gaze wander over the first rows of their enemy to study their battle order. She attempted counting the banners they flew, but she already knew that one sole row of units was enough to take the city, if deployed correctly.

"So? How did they deploy their forces?" Senqok tried his best not to sound hopeless, but, as often, he failed concealing it.

"The first few rows of units are identical... they'll attack in waves, I'd say." Kabura thought she had found a tiny bit of hope. Multiple waves would exhaust both sides, but they themselves could still retreat swiftly and lure the rest into their trap.

"That's good. I guess." And with that, she knew Senqok had shared her thoughts. The two shot each other somewhat reassuring, but also sad smiles, and Senqok departed to other parts of the defensive system again.

It wasn't hard for Noki to look pale. She had raven hair to augment her already pale skin, and in the given light and the general mood in her surroundings, she seemed the colour of old snow, or of a pale sort of marble. The enemy's drums were a faint sound in the background, but Noki's hearing was far stronger. The sole fact ordinary people such as Skado could hear it at several kilometres' distance was enough to make one shudder, and to feel the beat of hooves and feet against the ground on top of it, of thousands of such, was something Skado dared not to imagine. His sight granted him escape from that, but instead showed him how vast Yi Ming's host was. By then, it spanned from the mountains' foot to the coast, still consisted of several rows of units and even could boast a reserve. Skado knew of their own exact numbers and knew, a comparison of their own numbers with the enemy's would be enough for half their own army to desert. They had won a victory only to suffer a defeat greater than any before, it seemed to him, at least after taking a closer look at the battle order of the enemy. All they could hope for was that Yi Ming would attack in waves, and than in intervals just barely enough for them to recuperate. But likely, Skado thought to himself, Yi Ming would attack immediately subsequent and mercilessly as to annihilate their troops and secure the city before Kanyzon and Zoruka could think of fleeing. He let out a sigh.

"You're tensing up." stated Noki plainly, the same true for herself.

"Indeed." affirmed her Skado.

"We all are." claimed the blind one, and rightly so. "And we should be, I guess. Though it makes fighting properly a pain in the arse."

"It's a battle for survival for most of us, you, Kanyzon and Zoruka most of all. We've got nowhere to run now, no troops but those, no ships but the dozen or something in the harbour, and almost no supplies... I looked into it. If we're lucky, we won't run out of food next week, but the one after." Skado stopped his account of the odds that stood against them and sighed again. He ran his hand through his hair, murmuring, "How did we get into this?"

Noki had heard the last part, but ignored it. "In other words, we're quite fucked."

"Hard. In the arse. With a bloody war hammer." In another context, that might've been taken humorously, but given the imminent defeat, and with it, likely demise of most of the defenders, it was simply a figurative truth.

Nonetheless, Noki chuckled. "So what? We were in similar situations before. And we're not exactly dead yet. It's not like we're giving them half a chance to win."

Skado had to smile at her resolution, half for admiration, half for her idealism. "I wasn't going to give them one, if that's what you mean. They're just going to overwhelm us. But we're going to make it bloody hard for them."

"That's more like it!" Noki laid her hand on his shoulder and nodded, her unseeing eyes full of life and determination. Skado took the opportunity and swiftly spun around with unexpected grace and planted a brief kiss upon Noki's lips. He savoured this final moment of peace. And rightly so. When he pulled away again, horns were sounded on all the other towers, all across the caldera wall. And so were the horns the enemy carried. And with that, the first wave dispatched itself from the main host and stormed forwards with a cloud of dust behind.

"Brace yourselves!" called out Shizon, unnecessarily. The men had had their swords, spears, bows, crossbows, fireballs, boulders and streams of water ready just before he had shouted the desperate command.

"Benders and archers ready! Notch! Draw! And... loose!" ordered Zoruka. "Notch! Draw! Loose! Notch, draw, loose!" At her command, fire, rock shards, icicles, and arrows, most of all arrows, rained down upon the enemy host. The same order seemed to have been commanded by the others, as each of their units rained their projectiles upon the charging troops. "NOTCH! DRAW! LOOSE!"

Their tower was identical to the others. A square, ten metres on each side, bordered by merlons two metres tall and a metre thick, with the walls making it a tower thirty metres high and a fourth of that thick. The towers, situated upon the caldera wall, each giving a commanding view, were the ideal commanding posts. While the caldera wall with its trenches would soon fall, the towers could be held for hours, and still provide an easy flight to the second, the high caldera. Another order of Zoruka's ended Shizon's thoughts of such unrealistic cases. "Ballistae! Notch, draw, loose! Crossbows! Notch, draw, loose! Come on! We need every arrow, bolt, dammit, every last pebble thrown out there! NOTCH! DRAW! LOOSE!"

And bolts rained down upon the ascending troops like hail upon a field full of crops. The ballistae, all mounted in the towers, loosened explosive bolts at the cavalry, with limited effect. Shizon had sworn not to watch for his extreme acrophobia, but nonetheless did he hear the shouts. Bellowed commands, groans of pain, shouts of dismay, battle cries were only some of the only partially articulated sounds he heard, and were always interrupted of Zoruka's clear chant of "Notch, draw, loose!", and the corresponding sounds. The silence of notching, the slight hissing of drawing, and finally, the explosions, hissing, rumble, flickering of loosening. Now, as a last effort to keep them from the caldera walls, Zoruka addressed the catapults set up on the towers and in the city. "Come on! Artillery, catapults, notch, draw, loose! We'll have them bathing in wildfire if we need to!"

"Zoruka, we've got no wildfire left for such a manoeuvre." informed her Shizon, who had taken to inspecting his twin blades before their hosts would join battle upon the caldera wall. "Oil will have to suffice."

"Then so be it! Just see you bath them in it before the firebenders strike!" Zoruka shot back, not considering she had just spoken to Shizon. Not that it would've mattered. "CATAPULTS! LOAD OIL! NOTCH! DRAW! LOOSE! NOTCH! DRAW! LOOSE!"

The artillery obeyed her. The gigantic trebuchets in the city and the smaller ones on the towers were loaden with barrels of oil, and some also with rocks coated in such, with the latter being ignited before being launched. Barrels rained down upon them and burst skulls open before themselves suffering the same fate upon the basalt of the caldera, and oil soaked soldiers by the dozen. For the brief moment it took for the firebenders to open fire, Shizon could hear as the entire battlefield became the least bit more silent as the soldiers realised their doom. And afterwards, even though his gaze was averted, Shizon could see the entire battlefield light up the least bit. However, suddenly, Zoruka's chant stopped, and her expression shifted from a simply hard one to a truly hateful one as she exchanged her strolling around for a march to the merlons. "You bloody fucking damned bastard... " she spit through her gritted teeth.

"What is it?" Shizon had the insolence not to address Zoruka properly as she was infuriated, but she seemed not to mind.

"See that?" She pointed out a third of Yi Ming's remaining army, the foremost third, which just then had begun advancing, though not simply forward, towards the city, as the first wave had, but more to the shore. "He's moving his second wave. To the shore. Where his ships lay at anchor. And to the city. Where we're shattering his first wave. Oh, damn him! Bloody damn him!"

"Madam— er, Your Majesty! Your orders?" a captain had decided to ask, not sure how to feel about her sudden shift of attitude.

"Notch, draw, loose." she stated, before drawing a piece of paper and one of coal from her sleeves to scratch a brief message upon the paper, which she then handed the captain. "And see that the other commanders receive this."

"Yes, your majesty. I shall." He bowed and left to speak the orders to his colleagues and subordinates.

"So... what does Yi Ming want with the second wave already now?" Shizon wasn't the best of tacticians, but perhaps he also simply lacked the overview.

"We're shattering— " Zoruka glimpsed down upon the caldera wall, which was filled with dead and dying and soon to be dying ones, and corrected herself. "We have shattered his first wave, and he doesn't tolerate cowards in his army, so he slaughters those who flee. Or takes them captive and forces them into the first row or whatever." She saw her assumptions proved as the massive unit divided itself into two. "The other part he means to land in the harbour. That way, we need to divide our forces to drive him back there, and then— " She struck her fist into her open palm. " —he crushes us with the remaining two waves. He is brilliant, you see... "

"We have ships to prevent his landing, warships... " thought Shizon aloud, but was proven wrong in his assumption by Zoruka.

"But no men to man them, and not near enough besides." Zoruka lifted the eye patch off her left eye and picked a speck of dust out of it, before returning the eye patch to its place. "Unless we fight valiantly, to the very last man, and that with some tactic as well, he's got us."

The casual way she spoke in made Shizon laugh, though the thoughts she had shared sobered him soon enough. "You can tell that from two movements?"

"Them, and experiences." agreed Zoruka. "I can't guarantee anything. We might still win."

Hers was the harbour. Hers were the ships, as they had always been, and hers were those deemed unfit to fight upon the caldera wall. No matter what way she looked on that fact, no matter how she considered it, it was an insult. Other women, and such of similar position as herself were commanding on the caldera walls, while she was stuck with cripples. She sharpened her dao-sized jaw blades with her feet dangling just above the water, and her gaze fixed on the eastern horizon. Fog limited her sight, but it was far off, and her sight wouldn't have been all too far anyway, for the light was not sufficient. Her subordinates were busy on the Chief Gangtok and the Dragon of the Seas and the other remaining ships, gambling, betting who of them would die first. It was silent in the particular spot she sat in, though the noises of battle still reached her, muffled and far less intense overall. Them, and the nearing rataplan of an ostrich horse.

"Lord Protector? Madam Luna?" addressed her someone all of sudden. She jumped up, startled, with her blades in her hands, only to find herself facing the wrong way. After spinning around and sheathing her blades, she faced the source of the rataplan – a messenger. He handed her a piece of paper. "From Her Majesty, Crown Princess Zoruka. It is very urgent, especially for you."

With that, he turned and galloped back to the caldera wall, leaving Luna with her blades and the piece of paper. She took a look at it and instantly knew that not only Zoruka had written it, but also that she had done so with a piece of coal. If she was right, she knew, it was a very urgent message indeed. "First wave defeated. Second wave advancing, likely to land in harbour. Be ready for defence." was scratched there with thick, black lines. She took a look at it, and had to laugh aloud. How ridiculous of anyone to expect a decent defence from me and my band of cripples... she couldn't help but think, before she headed to the ships. She had no time to lose, no matter how hopeless they would be. When she came upon them, she found the cripples, some with lost legs, some with lost arms, most with hideous scars on their heads, as she had left them.

"Hey, you bloody cripples! We've got a mission we're not exactly like to fulfil." The words 'mission' and 'cripples' had been enough to get their attention. "Yi Ming thinks he can land in the harbour and take the caldera wall from behind. Let's show him what we think of that idea!"

She had expected no applause and received none. Instead, there were hard, cold stares. One sailor, a Whaletail Islander, judging from the accent, replied, "I joined this mission because I had debts I didn't want to bother my family with. I've got family, and a pregnant girl back home! BUT FUCK IT! We've come so far! What does it matter if we die now!?"

Another man, whose accent cried out 'Omashu', shot back, "Yi Ming killed my father and mother, and their parents, too! I've got nothing to lose! We've come so far, why not sail forth and meet them!"

Yet another, who, irritatingly, had lost his nose in battle, with a clear Fire Nation accent, shouted, "WHY NOT? What can possibly happen? Well, it's not like to get any worse, is it? I say we sail!" That caused many to rise, to shout insults, to fling bottles and whatnot. "Yi Ming's henchmen murdered my children! The worst can happen is we survive!"

Before anyone else could shout a single opinion, a sole insult, Luna intervened, her voice proving she once had been a privateer captain. "SHUT UP! WE SAIL! You take crossbows and man catapults or ballistae or whatever, you can do that! WE SAIL! NOW!"

As far as they could, the men – and some, though very few, women, too – hurried the best they could to their posts, as did those on the other ships. Slowly, ever so slowly, the ships began to move, towards the only entrance into the harbour, the gates, where they would have the greatest chance of defeating them. The cripples had done as they had been told. The few bits of heavier weaponry and bendable material they still had on board was ready to be used by them, and the rest wielded crossbows or alike weaponry. None were unarmed, Luna saw, which she deemed very good. She was on the Chief Gangtok's bridge, and observed the surroundings, before she had an idea. "Wait." she told the helmsman and the interim captain. "Arrange the ships as a reverse wedge at the gates, like a funnel."

The order was given to the other ships, and so, the few ships she could man were ready at the gates, just as the first of the junks transporting the enemy troops appeared through the thickening veil of fog. "FIRE! OPEN FIRE!" as the only order Luna had to shout, and it was one of the few ones that would be obeyed to. Bolts, fireballs, icicles and rock shards rained upon the first ship, which immediately caught fire. The ships behind only barely evaded collision, and were greeted equally, before those behind them attempted to avoid these as well, only to be pulled in by the treacherous currents at the gates, and smashed against the cliffs and burnt by the cripples. After that, Luna rearranged her ships so she could fire broadsides as the approaching foes, should they still penetrate the forming blockade. The few catapults they had sunk ships, and thus let new ones come forth to be burnt, and most did exactly that upon seeing an opening. The currents and the broadsides of explosive bolts, fireballs, icicles, ordinary bolts incendiary bolts, rock shards and alike punctured hulls and burnt down ships, smashed them, but in any way, no troops with sufficient morale would reach the harbour. The fog, if possible, thickened still and obscured their blockade of wreckage even more, but after the slaughter had gone on for almost an hour, Luna decided it was over and ordered the ships to return to harbour. The fleet of cripples left nought behind but a watery, burning death trap and graveyard.

The silence was deafening. Yet the abrupt explosion was even more deafening. A single earth coin had struck a stack of wildfire, it seemed, and somehow made the substance burn instantly, explode even. Somehow, this united the defenders more than anything else, even more than Zoruka's already infamous "Notch, draw, loose!", but it was unlike said command, which had made their movements uniform and well-coordinated. The explosion, however, startled the entirety of the defenders, be them the expert benders of Zoruka's or Luna's cripples. All jumped at the sound's unexpected source, for it lay within the city, and shifted into fighting stances, or something close to such anyway, and, seemingly at once, turned to face the other direction again, only barely calming. This had not excluded the commanders, Ranju found proven by herself. She was slightly shaking and her teeth were chattering by the time the second earth coin struck, penetrating the ground unharmed some ten metres before her. Her eyes widened as she saw, but she soon had to squint her eyes because of the dust swirled up by the projectile. With one swift move of both hands, she made the dust descend again, and had the courage to speak, believing there wouldn't be a third one all too soon.

"Is anyone hurt? Any catapult damaged? What about the ammunition?" Her questions were short as they were important, for hers was the artillery within the city.

"Doesn't seem so, ma'am. Ev'rythin' seems a'ight." spoke one of her subordinates, an officer bearing the creative name Li. He took a quick look from one end of the row of catapults to the other. "Nah, don' think so."

"That's... good. Very... good, I guess." stuttered Ranju, as she saw another incoming. She yelled as much, and at once, an earthbender was by her side, shifting in his stance as though ready to deflect it, but suddenly, she saw what the projectile was aimed at. Without uttering a single word, she opened her glider and leapt off instantly, flying faster than she had ever known she could. The caldera wall was the primary defence of theirs, reinforced solely by her artillery. The coin-like projectile was aimed at Zoruka's tower, commanding post of the centre, and most undersupplied in earthbenders. The projectile had long begun its descent upon the tower, and was now clearly aimed for said structure. From then, her vision slowed, all around seemed to slow. Thus, she flew faster, ever faster, always faster, until she could do no more to accelerate. For a split second, she forgot about the earth coin. She forgot about the tower, about her artillery, about the fact she could see dozens, if not hundreds of more earth coins launched in the corner of her eye. She forgot about the battle altogether, and saw that if she wouldn't start her deceleration immediately, she would surely die, squashed by her own velocity. Thus she created an air cushion with a quick strike of her fist and rotation of her glider. And indeed it worked. She shot through the air cushion and collapsed safely on the ground with her glider above her, just as she remembered the projectile. Almost too late, she did that, for it was aimed for the exact spot she occupied now. She began spinning her glider, and formed the air cushion into an air funnel, one which barely, but still did stop the earth coin. It levitated there, and slowly, shifting the focus of her funnel from one point to another, Ranju laid it down, breaking a few merlons in the process. Even by the time Shizon, Zoruka and the rest had noticed the threat they had attempted to flee from was over, she was still breathing heavily, that, and despairing, for she didn't fail to notice the volley the enemy artillery had launched only seconds ago. She was about to take off again when Shizon stopped her in her tracks.

"Wait. What shall we do about these?" He pointed out the projectiles still in ascent.

"Excellent question." Ranju, still exhausted from her unexpected act, turned away again, and, when standing on a merlon, was held up again.

"I'M SERIOUS!" Shizon shouted, despair in his voice.

"So am I." Ranju kept calm as almost ever, and turned before offering actual advice. "Hide from them as best as you can, and keep earthbenders about."

She leapt off, leaving Shizon dumbstruck, before Zoruka grasped his arm and dragged him below the tower. Ranju decided to fly back more unhurriedly than there, but needed only to hear the whistling of something descending at a high velocity to know she was right in the area the enemy artillery aimed at. No, not artillery. Just specialised infantry. Ranju had time to muse as she avoided the earth coins. With an airbenders grace, she evaded left and right, dove under and hurried over, even flew through one coin's hole, though more by luck than prowess. When she finally returned to her artillery, she gave clear orders to the first one she saw. "Aim at the enemy's first rows! If necessary, bathe them in wildfire and oil and whatnot, just see them to their graves!" She walked a few metres from the slightly surprised private before turning and adding, "Just see that you don't use rocks all too much... "

And so it was done, despite all the odds standing against them, despite being shelled themselves, despite lacking the ammunition after Zoruka's orders, "Notch, draw, loose!", and despite lacking knowledge of the exact distance to the enemy, it was done. The officers calculated the approximate positions to shell, and the metal trebuchets were turned and loaded, and after whatever other preparation seemed necessary, they flung what they had to fling. Tonnes of rocks coated in oil meant to replace fireballs were flung, hectolitres of oil, on rocks and in barrels, and even several barrels of wildfire, to, as Ranju phrased it, "heat things up a bit." Volley after volley, they flung, interrupted by nought but direct strikes against their positions. After the tenth volley their stock of ammunition didn't suffice for another full volley, but by then, the attacks had become something unilateral – in fact, the Earth Empire's bombardment had ceased after the sixth volley of theirs. Instead of their artillery, or rather, specialised infantry, the relative silence was broken by a horn blown louder than even an airbender could have, for it was not merely one horn, but hundreds. When Ranju decided to have a look what it was all about, she found one of the terrifyingly most beautiful sights she had ever seen. Regiments advanced in perfect order, all with the same speed, all coordinated perfectly, the battle order even was symmetrical. But even so, it was the greater part of Yi Ming's remaining host.

Notes and Trivia

  • The Earth Empire's artillery would basically be earthbending infantry specialised on long-ranged strikes involving large projectiles such as earth coins and surface-to-surface rocks.

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