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|The First Day of Many|
June 22, 2014
When one took a first glance, they would find the day looking just like any other day, but it would not take long for them to get past that uninformed misconception. The mounds of the Earth Kingdom landscape had their grass strands blowing in a breeze, presumably caused by some new arrivals. From the north, the same direction that Munn lay in, there was a host of red-colored objects that stained the usually nature-green background.
Rows upon rows and columns of skull-masked firebenders formed ranks in a block formation, the sides of the square ten men by ten men. There were several similar formations nearby, as well as many others without the iconic skull masks, the soldiers in these groups instead clasping spears, swords and axes. These were the non-benders that served under the Fire Nation Armed Forces. Each unit was a formidable force on its own, but today there seemed to be an army of armies. In between each lineup were siege towers, smaller archery forces, and tundra tanks. Even more amazing than the strength of the fighting force and how swiftly it had been mustered was that it was entirely made up of volunteers.
Within one of the tundra tanks in front of the rest was the man responsible for it all. General Iroh, the first-born son of the Fire Lord, the Dragon of the West, was on his way to accomplishing something he had held ambitions for his whole life. Having left his Grand Sima Lizen in charge of the recently-conquered Kingdom of Munn, Iroh now found himself accompanied by his fellow firebending master and veteran soldier, Han Shui, the Dragon of Water.
"The Outer Wall of Ba Sing Se is in sight, General Iroh," announced Han Shui, peering out the hole of the tundra tank with one sharp eye, for a more focused look.
"Excellent, my good Han Shui," said Iroh, genuinely happy to hear the news from his military advisor. "Sound the horn to signal the men in our brigades. Let us ready ourselves for reaching the sight of our eventual victory."
"Very good, Sir," a somewhat disgruntled Han Shui extended a bow to his Crown Prince and superior officer, before complying with the orders as directed.
As the Dragon of Water's footsteps faded into the background, General Iroh stole one last moment to be alone with his own thoughts before the impending and inevitable battle for the capital of the Earth Kingdom began. Soon the siege would be underway, and for all the confident words he had spoken at times, the heir to the throne of the Fire Nation had no delusions. Of course the engagement would be a long-drawn out one. Many restless days and nights lay ahead; no one could predict exactly how many. It went without saying that many lives would be lost on both side and there would be a high price and no small amount of stress and sweat involved for his army in the conquest of Ba Sing Se. It would be far more difficult a feat than Munn had been, or any other battle that he had ever fought, for that matter, but in his deepest spirit, and in his courageous heart, the Dragon of the West simply knew that he was destined for success. Ever since he was merely a boy, Prince Iroh had visions of himself victorious at the Earth Kingdom capital and standing in front of the palace of the Earth King himself in triumph. He had proclaimed this to his parents, the Fire Lord and Fire Lady, at the dinner table.
Once Ba Sing Se was under the rule of the Fire Nation, there would not be many hard battles left in the so-called Neverending War, which at last would have more of an end in sight. Sure, Omashu and the great cities of the Northern Water Tribe would be left, but the hardest part of the Fire Nation imperial conquest would be over and done with. Iroh would return to Royal Caldera City on a blaze of glory, and would have established enough credibility as a ruler to be a strong Fire Lord once his father Azulon's time was past. Then, he could begin to build the world he dreamed of, and spend more time with his son Lu Ten, who would then become Crown Prince Lu Ten, to train him to eventually take over as Fire Lord himself.
Iroh had another vision, of many more years down the road, after the Neverending War had ended and his work as Fire Lord was done. In his latter golden years, Fire Lord Iroh would at last be able to retire and allow for Lu Ten to take over, after decades of tutelage. By then, his son would be long-settled down and with a family of his own. As for Iroh, he would spend the rest of his days at a tea shop he would open near the palace. The old soldier chuckled at the idea of an ex-Fire Lord running a tea shop and what the commoners would think. Stranger things had happened in the world. While watching Fire Lord Lu Ten rule and become everything that he had raised him to be, the elderly Iroh could entertain prancing, laughing grandchildren at his tea shop, keep secrets from their parents and share stories with them. The Dragon of the West would be well-stocked on all varieties of tea, especially jasmine.
And he would be playing Pai Sho every day. That was a given.
Ba Sing Se had two giant impenetrable walls, as though one was not enough. One was the Inner Wall, which separated the main city - which itself was divided by walls - from territory outside. Then there was the Outer Wall, which separated Ba Sing Se from the rest of the Earth Kingdom, nominally under its rule, though most provinces generally self-governed. From atop the Outer Wall, the elite platoon of earthbenders known as the Terra Team stared out at the horizon. It was like their precious green country was being burned by the creeping red current created by the approaching army. It was as though it stretched from one end of the horizon to the other and went back at least as far. The destructive fire of the dreaded Azulon's forces was finally knocking at their doorstep, a more unwelcome guest not possible to imagine.
"I've never seen so many Fire Nation soldiers in all my life," Tooru voiced aloud, sweating into his brand new uniform already. He had gotten it at the new base that the Terra Team and General Sung had set up right behind the Outer Wall.
"At the end of the day, it'll be more of what we've dealt with in the past," his partner Ratana told him with a deep breath. "They're almost here, so for a little while we stand here and wait until, you know...it starts."
"I've never encountered any threat this large," said Tooru. "There's no way the Terra Team can handle all of them on their own."
"We don't have to," Ratana looked him in the eye, raising her voice. "We have most of the rest of the army to help us here."
"We'll be alright, right?" said Tooru, gradually assuming his earthbending stance.
"I think we'll be just fine, Tooru," Ratana looked into his eyes with a faint trace of a smile, before sharply turning away and focusing her attention back on the approaching army. "And I'm about to see Lu Ten again," she added in a mumble under her breath.
END OF BOOK ONE
- Now that I'm a third of the way through this thing, I'd like to thank Bryke for creating Avatar, whose universe I've set this story in. Those guys are the men! I'd also like to thank the readers for continuous feedback that allows me to improve my writing, to my editors and for helping me shape the story up before posting and finally , for saving me the trouble of many message wall edits.
- Book 1 - Dragon concluded with 65 chapters and a total word count of 139,098. As of June 22, 2014, Book 2 - Siege has several chapter ideas mapped out, but its overall plot structure is still being developed.
For the collective works of the author, go here.