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|Aftermath of Conquest|
June 21, 2014
Back at the Terra Team compound, Heidze congregated with Tooru as well as Ratana and their former comrade-in-arms Shun Ping. Since Shun Ping was representing Ratana, she had been allowed to come out to meet with him in a stuffy room not far from her cell. Heidze and Ratana's earthbending partner were guests she had asked Shun Ping to vouch for.
Tooru let out a deep yawn, for real this time. "What is it, two or three in the morning? I wish I could sleep in tomorrow, after this long day." Unlike Heidze or Ratana, Tooru was not an early riser by nature, and only forced himself to be with difficulty when he had to be.
"It's good to see you again, Shun Ping," Ratana shared an embrace with him.
"Likewise," Shun Ping held his walking stick away from his body briefly as he leaned into the hug, before bringing his arms back down again. "I do wish it was under different circumstances. Thanks, Tooru, for escorting us."
Ratana twisted her head in confusion. "Us?"
"Shun Ping insisted that his wife travel with him." answered Tooru.
"Is it because she's pregnant?" questioned Ratana. "I heard she was."
"Yes, Seda accompanied me," confirmed Shun Ping. "In such perilous times, I didn't feel right leaving her alone. You can meet her when this is all over, but time is short now. We should break up the small talk and discuss your defense."
"It still seems odd that you're in this line of work now," said Tooru. "No offense, I just never pictured it when we were on the battlefield together."
"We all have our lives to lead."
"Alright, well get to it, then," Tooru said with a wave of his arm. "Maybe by some miracle we'll be able to sleep at a nearly-reasonable hour."
"How can you be going on about sleeping when your partner's life is in danger?" Shun Ping angrily flashed his eyes at his former Terra Team comrade.
"Nevermind, Shun Ping," Ratana interrupted. "It's quite alright. Tooru's just being himself."
"Let me see the document," Shun Ping held out his hand in Heidze's direction, while the latter placed the scroll in his palm.
"Here it is," said Heidze.
"How did you get it?" asked Shun Ping. "I heard they weren't allowing access to the documents in there. Colonel Quan Jing's orders."
"I steal things."
"He does," added Ratana. "That's how I met him. First he stole my bag, then I chased him and had him help me get it back later."
"You shouldn't get too involved in that, lad," Shun Ping warned to Heidze. "Or you'll also need the help of someone like me someday. Anyway, Ratana, there are two main parts to your case. It's quite clear that you attacked Quan Jing in plain sight, so the ultimate goal is to show that you were justified in doing so, by recounted what really took place at Gujuhmin and Quan Jing's responsibility there. The next part is that he set you up for dead on this mission, which is pretty tricky to prove."
"Basically you're saying that proving my innocence means proving Quan Jing's guilt?"
"It's hard to do one without the other," said Shun Ping. "We'll be better off trying to do both."
Heidze agreed. "My guess is this general guy won't let it slide if you get off the hook after this and you're both still around."
"He's a colonel, actually," corrected Shun Ping. "And no, he wouldn't."
"So how are we going to clear my name?" asked Ratana.
"This document is helpful," stated Shun Ping. "It gives a good account for the raid and refers to the collapse of the earth lines that we all know Quan Jing caused. The language is vague, and we'll need to rely on witnesses to supplement our case. Unfortunately, many of the Terra Team resent that you were sent on a rather unorthodox solo mission instead of them and think you're just bitter for having failed and not getting any glory from it. In other words, they believe Quan Jing's side of the story."
"What about the tank driver?" asked Ratana. "The man who drove our tank at Gujuhmin was nearby. He'd make a good witness to call to testimony."
"That's not an option," Tooru informed her solemnly.
"What happened to him?"
"He was killed in an earthbending training accident."
"But that doesn't make any sense, Tooru," said Ratana. "He wasn't even an earthbender..."
"Geez, this Quan Jing guy is brutal!" exclaimed Heidze. "He puts the Huoxilong triad bosses to shame."
"He's gone to great lengths," stated Shun Ping. "Ratana, what happened with that assassin you mentioned?"
"She was hired by Quan Jing, but we aren't able to reach her for being a witness. She did travel with me for a while in the Fire Nation."
"Let me get this straight," Tooru sat up and stretched himself out, having just realized something. "Brawki, then Heidze and now this assassin? This is why we need to get you out more, so you can start meeting people less violently."
"That's a discussion for later, Tooru," retorted Ratana. "If I have a later."
"I'm sure you will," a sleepy-eyed Heidze forced some energy into his voice. "But...this sounds like it'll be hard."
"Justice is on our side," the injured Shun Ping pounded his fist on the table, causing his walking stick to slide to the ground, which Heidze bent over to grab and hand back to him. "We can't lose."
"I don't believe I've ever heard that kind of talk from one of your current profession," remarked Tooru.
"If you can't be high-minded, whatever you do, there's no point in it," answered Shun Ping.
Ratana nodded. "I agree."
The palace of the Kingdom of Munn lay deserted, those who guarded it having been slain or captured. Into the throne room marched the portly, victorious general in royal army regalia, a rusted hue of maroon from the Fire Nation. As the conquering warlord, he took a few moments to himself to look at the surroundings that lay before him, the mossy, glass-like and turquoise columns, emerald sides, and array of ancient symbols that lined the architecture.
"Sir, the perimeter is secure now," came the voice of one of his subordinates, giving an update from behind. Han Shui cleared his throat yet again. "We are in full control of the city, and the port from which we came in."
"That's good news," Iroh turned around, noticing that the Dragon of Water clutched a damp, leather-skin bag in his right hand. "This way, we have somewhere to store our provisions and supplies, as well as an access route to the sea close to Ba Sing Se, one that they won't deprive us of in a hurry. We can hold out in an attack on the Earth Kingdom capital practically indefinitely. They won't be able to wait us out as they have on past attempts."
"Ingenious, Sir," said Han Shui, his lip curling.
At that instant, the door to the throne room opened on both sides and in marched three figures familiar to the Dragon of the West: Prince Lizen, followed closely by Prince Lu Ten and Princess Jaya.
"Ah, Grand Sima Lizen," Iroh welcomed the new arrival jovially and jubilantly. "I was just about to summon you. Have you seen King Aisin? I want to meet with the plenipotentiary of the surrendered state."
"I have," said Lizen. "As a matter of fact, the Dragon of Water has him now," he added, bringing some confusion to the Dragon of the West's expression.
Grinning, Han Shui turned the bag upside down with his left hand and a rounded object with eyes and hair tumbled out. It was a severed head lined with messy brown hair and beard. Energetically, Han Shui kicked the head across the floor and it rolled across the floor before stopping in front of the commanding general's feet, not too far from the throne it's owner had once sat on.
The smile on General Iroh's feet was now completely faded. "I see..."
"Why are you so disappointed, Sir?" questioned the Dragon of Water.
"Yeah," added Lizen, laughing along with Han Shui. "You said that you wanted to see him, and now you do."
"Well, I planned on talking with him, but I can see that won't be possible now," said Iroh, his voice growing more stern. "For the remainder of our time here in the Earth Kingdom, no executions of prisoners of war are to take place without the authorization of the commanding general, meaning myself. Are we clear?"
"Yeah," said Han Shui, scowling.
"Crystal," said Prince Lizen.
"Odd to think he was a king here not too long ago," continued Iroh. "Munn used to be a rival of Ba Sing Se when the Earth Kingdom was fractured into warring independent states. There is a Temple of the Avatar in this city. It's for Doru Kun, not the most recent airbender who disappeared at the time of Sozin's Comet."
"Enough with the history lesson," Lizen rolled his eyes, disinterested.
"Watch your tongue, non-bender!" snapped Han Shui, the Dragon of Water. "You may be a prince, but he's your commanding officer. Don't forget that."
"And don't you forget that I'm your Grand Sima," barked Lizen. "Therefore, I outrank you."
"A phony title," scoffed Han Shui. "How much military experience do you have again?"
"Quiet you two," Iroh rose his voice from the head of the chamber. "It's always important to remain in good understanding of where one is, including who the enemies are. Earthbenders, with their connection to the earth, are formidable foes. The world itself is an earthbender, maybe a slow one that takes ages to make changes to itself, but with an earthbender's connection to it, they have access to all its powerful forces. Ba Sing Se is symbolic of this."
"We conquered Munn, another great stronghold, in less than three days and two nights," Han Shui pointed out.
"Munn was a stubborn place."
"That's what they say about Ba Sing Se."
"In a different way," corrected Iroh. "Ba Sing Se is strong and stubborn, like an impenetrable barrier of rock, the fiercest and toughest form of earth. Munn, on the other hand, was stubborn, ungrowing, unchanging. It would've looked much as we see it now a thousand years ago or more. Munn clung to its old ways, refusing to be flexible refusing to adapt itself in the slightest, and its defenses crumbled quickly. Ba Sing Se will not be like that."
"But now the territory of Munn can serve our purposes," stated Grand Sima Lizen. "It's within our grasp."
"Indeed," nodded Iroh. "Prince Lizen, Grand Sima, you will not be continuing on with us now. Instead, you will remain here in Munn and take charge of our operations here. Our supply lines from Ba Sing Se will maintain access to the northern sea and sustain us should taking the Outer Wall be a long struggle. Unlike in the past, our troops won't eventually run out of steam. In the heat of battle, sending messenger hawks close to Ba Sing Se will be hard, so there will be curriers bringing messages back and forth to here to relay them to the homeland and our other bases and strongholds."
"I am honored to accept this duty, General Iroh."
"Come Lu Ten and Han Shui. We have work to do." With that, Prince Lizen and Princess Jaya were left alone.
"Now that the channels of communication are under our control, our position is secure," stated Lizen. "With Princes Iroh and Lu Ten in Ba Sing Se and away from the homeland, we can begin setting our larger plans in motion."
"Yes, Father," agreed Jaya.
"As for now though, I think that we can make ourselves comfortable here," Lizen took in his regal surroundings in the Munn throne room.
- One might deduce from what's being said by members of the Terra Team that Quan Jing would share some blame for sending Ratana on the mission in the first place, but so far, he's been pretty successful at keeping the attention off himself in that regard.
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