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|Assassins, Pt. 2|
Assassins, Pt. 2 is the seventh chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
Noki, Senqok, Kabura, Skado, Ranju and Shizon are assigned to assassinate Imperial Marshal Han, a leading figure in Yi Ming's oppressive apparatus, during the Victory Day festivities in Ba Sing Se, under the leadership of General Anyang.
Upon order from Imperial Marshal Han, Zoruka decides to redistribute her agents, deploying all of them, including those guarding Ba Sing Se, to oversee the Victory Day festivities in the provincial capitals.
The assassins can infiltrate Ba Sing Se under false identities, and decide to take a room in a Middle Ring Hotel, where they decide to plan their assassination.
Chapter 7: Assassins, Pt. 2
Spinning around with her arms spread in the middle of the square, Noki seemed to feel better than any before - since entering Ba Sing Se, that was. She spun around her own axis for about a minute, before she toppled over nothing and fell to the ground. Ranju, who had stood near, giggled a bit, but Noki failed to care. Anyang crooked a smile, and, walking over to her, helped the fallen earthbender up. Other than on Noki, the massive square triggered a rather overwhelming feeling, due to the relatively high buildings surrounding it, of whose existence Noki's blindness had kept her in ignorance of. His eyes darting back and forth, Senqok felt the urge to break the silence, when in fact the surrounding noise was deafening.
"We should get a good look on the area, don't you people think? I'd say we split so we can cover a greater area and thus, obtain more information." He still was extremely nervous, and also paranoid, as it his - rather shaking - voice made obvious.
"Indeed, perhaps we should also divide the tasks, shouldn't we?", Skado chimed in, still pushing around his cabbage cart.
"Hm, how about we go in pairs? And then meet up around... at that... building up there, the statue there, I mean, in, say, one and a half hours?" Shizon too had joined the conversation, and his proposal met wide acceptance, as the seven immediately formed three pairs, Senqok and Shizon jointly spreading chaos, Skado and Anyang both deciding to part ways, the girls sticking together, Kabura later breaking off. The square, named Emerald Square, was about six hundred metres long, measuring a hundred metres in its width, stretching from the massive town hall's adjacent buildings up to the huge - it was about twenty metres tall - statue commemorating Yi Ming's victory at Serpent's Pass. It was flanked by numerous apartment buildings, each and every of them making the overall picture of Emerald Square more chaotic than it should be. At the top of all that, the square seemed to almost constantly be crowded with merchants of all kinds, soldiers patrolling it from time to time to keep order, and people rushing through, carriages getting stuck in the masses, in other words, it was an utterly lively place. Too lively for the taste of the seven visitors who attempted to find their way through, but in the end, as all gathered at the base of the Monument to the Battle of Serpent's Pass, all had managed to get a quite good look on the surroundings - except of course Noki - without too many incidents - except Noki, who almost got herself killed at several occasions. The cloudless sky allowed the sun to burn down mercilessly, and said star fully made use of that possibility, much to the dismay of the seven - quite exhausted - undercover assassins. They spent five minutes trying to find some shadow to stay in not to sweat as much as they did, but inevitably failed after having circled the monument once, when Anyang decided to speak again.
"Anybody got valuable information? I mean information aside the obvious like the existence those balconies near the monument?" The disguised Air Nomad tried to face all of the unit, but his relative exhaustion got the better of him, and he decided to rather look down.
As to answer his question, the whole unit slowly, one after the other, sat down at the base of the monument, somewhat downcast, the shaking of Ranju's head serving as the ultimate answer in proxy of all. That was when the - now himself sitting - General noticed someone was missing. "Wait a second, where's Kabura?!"
"I've got a plan! I've. Got. An. Actual. Plan!", was the answer to the second of the General's questions, coming from the - at least when facing the square from the monument - right, from where Kabura came running, a victorious smile amongst the sweat on her face. "I've... got... a... plan!"
Upon noticing her arrival, everyone looked at her, and Skado asked, "A plan for the Victory Day celebrations or... or a plan on how to conduct our mission?"
Kabura caught her breath again after a few seconds, and answered him triumphantly, "Both! C'mon, back to the hotel. we've got much to discuss!"
Unwillingly, everyone lifted and began their voyage through the chaotic sea of people, heading back to their temporary home.
The clicking sound was unbearable after having been heard for a hundred times in a single minute, but assembling the crossbows was of utmost importance. Even though, Noki was unsure if she could keep herself from committing serial murder should she hear the sound only one more time. Her tensing up was something unnoticed to the others, as it seemed, but after a few more seconds, everyone had fully assembled their crossbows - whose parts they had carried inside concealed in their clothing. Then, everyone shifted their attention to the big map of the Emerald Square and surroundings - even including the hotel they were staying at and the monorail line near the monument - Kabura had managed to obtain that day. Printed on the sheet its content it was were not only the - very detailed - map, but also a rough schedule for the Victory Day celebrations, which aided them in their planning. "So?", Noki began, having calmed herself, "What's your plan, Kabura?"
"So... well... yeah. What's the plan? That's an excellent question. Alright, let's start with the parade. It is scheduled to take about an hour, followed by a speech. That one's to take a mere twenty minutes, according to this schedule. That's where my plan comes in. By then, Senqok, Shizon, Skado, Ranju and I have to have reached those few balconies surrounding the stage the speech will be held at - a stage about to be built at the base of that monument. Then, well, that's- "
"What role will I have?" Noki sounded rather annoyed at the seemingly little role she would receive.
Kabura smiled warmly at the blind girl, answering, "I was about to get to that part. As the speaker, in our case Imperial Marshal Han, has finished his speech, he will descend the stage, and have more or less direct contact with the crowd. That's Noki's role here. the crowd will likely part to form a corridor, you Noki, act as if you were completely blind, and hold him up for some time, a minute ought to be enough, maybe with some heart-warming story. Whatever keeps him occupied with you. By then, those on the balconies will have aimed at the Marshal's head, as the scopes ought to allow, and open fire."
"Why the head? I mean, wouldn't it be easier to aim at any other part that's not so... relatively small?" Ranju's question sounded frank, yet Kabura rose an eyebrow.
"His head will be exposed most. That aside, Noki will be close to him, and as she isn't exactly the tallest one 'round, shooting him into his chest might harm or even kill Noki, completely aside of course his chest would be heavily armoured. However, once the five bolts pierce the Marshal's skull, chaos will ensue, at least for a few minutes. That must be enough for us to escape. Thankfully, there's a monorail track not too far from the monument. Noki, you have the wonderful gift of earthbending." - Noki grinned broadly at the mentioning - "Fucking use it. Tunnel to the track, and wait for the others. That's where, if you allow, sir, you come in. So, while Noki, and also Ranju will have it relatively easy, the rest of us would be trapped on the balconies. Anyang, sir, it would be your mission to aid us on our way to the monorail track, to guarantee our safe way to our ride out of Ba Sing Se proper. On how to get up to the track, well, we've got a Skado, 'nuff said, eh? Well, anyway, once up, we'll stop and hijack a train cart and ride our way to the Ferry Port. Once there, we'd have to hijack a ferry, or maybe we could just steal some boat or whatever. Maybe we'll travel faster than the message of the assassination and could get to and on the Ferry completely legally, without having to face any complications, on that part we must improvise, I believe. So... what do you think?"
No one dared to oppose the smiling girl's plan. Only one decided to reply, Anyang. "Sounds completely fine, you really came up with this during the information hunt earlier? Hm, anyway, I'd have to leave immediately after leaving Ba Sing Se, to inform General Wei of our success, but whatever. As Victory Day is tomorrow, we lack any alternative and this plan frankly is one of the best ones I've ever heard for an assassination, I'd say, we'll do it your way, Kabura!"
A huge crowd had gathered for the celebration of probably the bloodiest battle in Earth Empire, or rather, Earth Continent history. Each of the seven tried to estimate the number of them, but all were simply overwhelmed by the attendees' number and mass. Conversations were going on all around them as they snaked through the masses, but they all ceased when marching music was starting. The masses of people were not formed in a single blob, but rather in two of such, divided by a "street" through the middle, about fifty metres wide. The marching music sounded, but, surprisingly, the first units to march from the town hall complex to the monument weren't the marching band, but rather an infantry unit, dressed in the ordinary black uniforms with yellow lining, officers bearing golden lining. Each of the soldiers wielded naginatas, except a number of officers, ensigns to be exact, who were bearing the unit's flags. Emerald with yellow lining they were, in its centre the Earth Empire emblem, black with golden lining - the unit was from Ba Sing Se. As they marched by, flags of the Empire were hoisted at the monument and the town hall, far to see from half of the Middle Ring. As the march continued, the first nonbender unit passed, only to be relieved by a barefoot-marching unit, obviously earthbenders, flying the same flags as the unit just before. The unit gave way to another one of nonbenders, this time flying a different flag, one with olive green lining and khaki instead of emerald - soldiers from the Omashu province. Aside the flag, one would've been able to tell by one important difference - those soldiers actually looked battle-scarred. Again, a bender unit of the same origin followed - a battalion, as it turned out, as all units marching were at the strength of battalions or their equivalents. The crowd had begun to cheer enthusiastically at the soldiers marching by, the latest as the soldiers flying leaf green - with yellow lining - flags: the Gaoling province. These were, at least according to the official schedule, the soldiers who had recently secured Gaoling for the Earth Empire, once again being represented by two battalions. The next province the infantry originated from was the Taku province, flying yellow-lined turquoise flags. After the first six battalions of ordinary infantry, a rather unexpected branch of the forces was represented: marines. Their imperial emblem on a deep ultramarine danced out of the line, as did their blue-lined black uniforms and white helmets. The two battalions of them seemed to march past the seven quicker than those before them. Then came the cavalry. After the first battalion of mounted spearmen, or rather, naginata-wielders, had passed on their ostrich horses, the next one, of mounted earthbenders, came on theirs, all flying the imperial war flag - the imperial emblem on black, with golden lining. Then, however, came the next surprise for that day. An entire battalion of camelephant-mounted soldiers, two on each, passed. The flag they flew was not rectangular like those of the other units, but rather a pennant-version of the Imperial war flag. The soldiers mounted on the strange beasts of burden wore an adapted derivative of a typical sandbenders' garb, which made them stand out almost as much as the marines. After the three battalions of cavalry, artillery followed. Mainly consisting of carriages - two each - pulled by ostrich horses, transporting surface-to-surface rocks in the rear carriage and the crews, all bulky earthbenders, in the front one. However, after a first battery of such artillery passing, came ostrich horses hauling ballistae after them, another having to pull the crew and ammunition, before, after a battery of such, rolled the trebuchets past, though only few. Each and every of the seven were baffled already at the marines, and at the camelephant cavalry, but the - relatively portable - trebuchets indeed did their part in the game of psychological warfare. However, after the display of artillery, the parade was far from over. Even though still only carriages were rolling, the flags they bore were others, and also was the load of them. The flag was the imperial war flag, only with a crest of flames surrounding the emblem, whereas the load was, on the one hand, crews, while on the other, at least in most cases, small, portable catapults, and ammunition for those. At one occasion, Ranju could get herself to recognise the ammunition, and informed the others, "The Department of Experimental Weaponry, the ones with the poison gas!"
Just as she had uttered the sentence, the last of the carriages had rolled past and the Imperial guards who had restrained the crowds were themselves gathering to march to the monument. Everyone's attention was directed to the march trail's beginning, where a - judging by his uniform - high-ranking officer, likely Imperial Marshal Han, began riding an ostrich horse. To close off the parade, the guards and the later speaker slowly neared the stage built on the day's morning, the Imperial Marshal dismounting and ascending it alone. As the last remnant of the parade had marched past the monument, he stepped forth to the podium and silenced the crowds with a swing of his hand. Little of his speech could be understood, but the seven nodded at one another, and parted ways, only Noki remaining in the masses.
Senqok had little luck. The door before him was locked, but he, after making sure everyone around him wasn't looking at him, filled the lock with water and froze it, unintentionally destroying the lock instead of just unlocking it as planned. Nevertheless, the waterbender proceeded into the building, and found a staircase leading far up before him, which he then began to climb, storey by storey, ascending for dozens of metres, until reaching the point he had been assigned to, a balcony. However, he had to go through a flat to reach it, but having already destroyed the front door's lock, and about to assassinate one of the highest-ranking military officers of the Earth Empire, he decided to simply smash the door in front of him to the ground, and then bolted to the balcony. The incomprehensible booming voice could still be heard delivering the speech, thus Senqok had enough time to properly assemble his crossbow. He took the stock, the mechanism, out of his knapsack, then the metal cover with the already adjusted scope, and then the bow itself. First attaching the bow to the stock before attaching the bowstring to some hook being part of the mechanism, he then could proceed with affixing the metal cover, just when he heard the voice making a full stop. As then applause followed, Senqok sighed, cocked the bow, loaded the weapon with a bolt, and then, sighing again, leaned over the balcony's balustrade, and aimed, following the Imperial Marshal's head with the three-hundred-metres marking on the scope, awaiting the right moment.
Maybe it wasn't his best day - he had seen better ones - but this indeed seemed ridiculous. First, the house's front door was unlocked, then the flat's door was as well, and then Skado realised he still had about ten minutes to prepare for the task of his, having reached the roof terrace within fifteen minutes, even though he should've been slower due to his weight. He couldn't get the smile off his lips as he assembled the crossbow with only a few handle grips, and then searched the victim of their mission with the aid of the scope of his, only to realise he forgot to load. Cocking the weapon, he desperately searched for the quiver he had taken with himself, only to realise it was missing. Now panicking, he hurried from the roof terrace back to the staircase, only to find his quiver laying on the steps about four storeys down. Downwards he now raced, only to almost be unable to stop when he had reached the object to recover. Once he had fixed it to his belt again, he inhaled deeply before flying the stairs upwards again, only to stop after two storeys, when he continued walking normally, until he heard clapping from outside, after which he accelerated, and with lighting speed, he was by his crossbow's side again, and loaded it, finally aiming at the Imperial Marshal, only hesitating because of, on one hand, his exhaustion-caused trembling, itself causing woeful inaccuracy, and on the other because the signal had not been given yet. Even so, he couldn't keep his finger from the trigger.
Kabura liked the idea of her being luckier than others, like in the case of hers. First, the fact that the door through which she had entered the building wasn't even closed, it was wide open, then her making use of an apparently existing primitive lift in the building, and finally, the vertical proximity of her assigned position, a jutty, which was only at the third storey, whereas the others all had been assigned positions at least at the fifth. But then again, this also meant that, should she be compromised, soldiers could get up easier and faster as well, and also hindered the type of her position the escape as it was planned, whereas an escape from a balcony was no problem. Shrugging about whether to feel good or bad about this problem, she sat on the jutty's floor, and started assembling the crossbow, before loading it, and opened one of the jutty's windows, and let the light breeze that was blowing outside refresh herself, before the thunderous applause from outside snapped her out of her trance. Immediately, she aimed her crossbow at the man whose uniform distinguished as the Imperial Marshal, and almost pulled the trigger, but then realised Noki hadn't given the signal yet. Thus she waited.
Quite frankly, for Ranju, it was easy to reach her position, at least given there was some narrow, therefore likely shady, alleyway, where she could jump up from wall to wall, and reach her assigned position, which was some kind of tower belonging to the house, likely a rich bourgeois' residence, she was supposed to enter. Amused by the thought of it being necessary for her to do so, she simply laughed, which didn't match at all with the surroundings. Then, she found she indeed had an even easier way of reaching her position, and opened her glider. It took her less than a minute to get up, and once at the correct height, she simply broke through the window, and there then crouched down to assemble the crossbow of hers, before loading it and then looked outside, noticing the speech was still to continue, therefore, she thought it to be interesting to have a look around. She had circled the structure in the tower's centre, and, after finding a winding staircase, she was about to descend it, but then enthusiastic applause called her back to the window, where she waited for the signal to be given, always ready to shoot the Imperial Marshal.
Shizon had to admit, some days were going better than others. The others all had found unlocked doors to the buildings he had been assigned to, while Shizon, unable to break down the door in front of hundreds of people, had to climb the house's wall from a dark alleyway, not like he had to assassinate anyone and afterwards escape. Ramming one sword after the other into the wooden beam, he slowly ascended, the house, while clearly hearing the speech continuing, with or without him being ready to commit assassination. After having climbed up three storeys, Shizon noticed, as he was about to let go of his swords, a window in reach and hooked his legs into the windowsill, pulling the swords out of the wood, and swinging himself into the building. He found himself in a room which obviously belonged to a flat, thus, he exited it as quickly as possible, soon finding himself pacing up the staircase. After about another five minutes, he had reached his position, a roof-light, from where he climbed out onto the roof, and assembled his crossbow, loading it afterwards. He sighed as he looked at his position and how far it was above Emerald Square, and thus retreated to the roof-light, where he then took aim.
Noki almost deafened as the applause erupted all throughout the crowd. She would've sunk into the earth to not having to hear the thunderous noise. Great, she thought, now I'm gonna be deaf as well. As if being blind isn't enough. The hands she pressed against her ears helped little to contain herself from the noise she had to endure for the following two minutes, when it slowly began to decrease in intensity. Sighing relieved, she then decided not to shield her ears anymore, only to regret her decision a few seconds later, when she realised the hands had helped, even though only little, as she now almost was deafened again. Cursing under her breath, she felt the slowly falling silent crowd parting to clear a way for the now descending Imperial Marshal. The heavily armoured man paced swiftly over Emerald Square, managing to walk half the way to Noki - about a hundred metres - within half a minute without truly running. Noki simply rose an eyebrow in wonder and stepped forth into an area about to become part of the way for Imperial Marshal to walk through. As the commoners around retreated, she attempted as well, and fell to the ground. As she landed on her stomach, she let out a loud groan of dismay, which sounded, although the whole part was faked, sounded surprisingly real. She faked to struggle getting up, before then collapsing once more and attempting to crawl out of the way, but instead - intentionally - blocking the way for the now arriving Imperial Marshal. Seemingly shocked by the happening, the man ordered his eight guards to let him handle it, and kneeled at Noki's side, asking, "Well, girl, what's happened? No Earth Empire citizen is mean to fall on Victory Day!"
Noki's unseeing eyes widened as she realised the man's identity, and stuttered, "I- I'm sorry- Er, I mean, sir, I- I had no idea you, sir, were already here, I didn't mean any disrespect or- uh- er... "
"Well, you're welcome! It seems you've injured yourself and, well... Let me help you up, come on... " The Imperial Marshal seemed incredibly nice for a man who was proven to have slaughtered thousands, and spoke with a kind and calm voice. He then proceeded helping the seemingly struggling girl up, and then even supported her when she struggled to stand, patting her on the shoulder afterwards. "Here you go, girl."
Noki was baffled at how well her plan had worked. In thanks, she then bowed deeply to the Imperial Marshal, who smiled somewhat warmly at the gesture. However, not for long. The signal had been given, the deep bow. At once, five triggers were pulled, and at once, five bolts penetrated the man's skull, shattering its bones. By the time Noki had resumed an ordinary standing position, the faces around bore expressions of pure shock. The guards hurried to the body, pushing Noki aside, which made her fall for real, and the following gawping crowds almost trampling her, had she not taken the chance and unnoticed submerged herself in the ground. Once underground, she tunnelled her way towards she was instructed to, the monorail track.
Ranju had hit the target perfectly, and now, immediately after making sure of that, she strapped her crossbow to her back, and jumped out of the window, opening her glider in the process, flying directly towards Skado's position, the roof terrace, noticing how said slightly corpulent inventor struggled with reaching the roof. Stopping in the air, Ranju asked him rhetorically, "Need a lift?"
Skado's face had relief written all over it as Ranju's sentence had ended, and, full of newfound energy, Skado jumped up at the descending glider, and gripped onto its top side. Ranju screeched, surprised, but then flew, despite the complications Skado's position caused, off to the meeting point, the monorail track.
Kabura had just strapped her crossbow to her back, and now hurried up the staircase, right up into the attic, from where she climbed out onto the roof, where she was surprised from a voice from behind.
"Oh, there you are. Already started wondering. So, well, grab on, haven't got much time!", Anyang spoke, opening his glider. Kabura decided to obey instantly, noticing just how chaos ensued on Emerald Square below.
All Shizon had to do was to run fast enough not to fall into the alleys between the buildings, but since he had a frantic acrophobia, a fear of heights, that little to no problem, except of course getting him to jump across. And in this one case, his fear had been justified, unlike in the previous ones. He hung on one hand, slowly loosing grip on the roof tiles, the heavy weight of his equipment pulling him downwards, be it his sword or his crossbow. Then, however, a familiar voice he could hear.
"Hey there, take my hand, I'll pull you up!" Unsurprisingly, it was Senqok, who had shot from one of the balconies of the building just below the roof's edge. Not thinking much, Shizon swung up his left, free hand to grab Senqok's but that moment, he lost grip, and couldn't catch Senqok's hand. Senqok, however, acted quickly, and pulled out his water, closely gripping the falling Shizon's left, extended hand, and pulling him up with the waterbending of his. "Thanks, lad.", were all the thanks the Water Tribal received before they departed to the monorail track together, onwards using Senqok's water - frozen, of course - as bridges between the rooftops, while the chaos, which slowly but steadily consumed all of Emerald Square, covered their escape perfectly.
Noki emerged from the ground, and dusted herself off, when she already heard someone calling out for her, "NOKI!"
She listened more closely, and, after it was repeated, she realised it was Ranju, who then continued, shouting, "NOKI! DAMMIT, GET OUT OF THE WAY! I CAN'T SLOW DOWN!"
Noki was a bit surprised, and decided to step a few metres to her right, just when she felt someone unpleasantly touch the ground, Skado, as it turned out. Just a split second later, another one, presumably Ranju, landed in a similar manner, only that she could spin around enough not to land face-first like Skado had, but with her stomach - or back? - first instead. Moans of pain followed as both the airbender and the nonbender attempted to get up, both briefly assisted by Noki. Once they stood, Noki noticed someone behind her, at the monorail track's base, who had been standing there for almost a minute.
"Well, quite beaten up, you two look. Shall I heal you, maybe, or do you prefer us to get out alive?" Kabura's words were of a certain level of sarcasm, spoken while she crept out of the shadows, Anyang following her, raising an eyebrow at the bad state of Ranju, asking rhetorically, "Skado's quite a weight to carry, eh?"
Skado, annoyed as he was, shot Anyang a murderous glance, before turning to examine their surroundings, then briefly turning his attention towards the crossbow of his, before, after having made sure the weapon was unharmed, stated plainly, "So, is anyone gonna get Senqok and Shizon from that roof?"
Surprised, everyone spun around to the row of buildings to their left, atop whose rooftops the two aforementioned ones were stuck, as no structures alike balconies were present. Almost immediately, Anyang took off, landed directly before the two boys, briefly spoke with them, and, after a total of about half a minute, landed again at the rest of the group's. Anyang then decided to take lead of the operation again, and, after once again making sure there were no bystanders, called all six others to decide how to reach the monorail track.
"Alright now, we've got three here who can transport others, and- ", the General began, cut off by the only other airbender present, "Two. My landing was a bit too rough for me to carry someone else right now."
"Oh well... so it's just two, and Skado with his brilliant invention, a rope ladder shot from two crossbows. Noki, how many people could you take up swiftly enough not to be noticed?"
"Just one, if it really is not to be noticed." Noki's response was delivered without hesitation.
"Alright, you'll take Kabura. I'll take Shizon, then. As Ranju is, uh, disabled, she'll have to make use of Skado's ladder, I guess, as well. So, once up there, we'll hijack a car, and burst through everything between us and the ferry port, from where we'll return home. So, anyway... everyone's okay with that plan?" The Air Nomad waited briefly, and after receiving no responses, continued, "Very well then, onwards now!"
Noki took position at the base of one of the track's pillars, Kabura just by her side, and ripped out the piece of rock beneath their feet, bending it in a way that allowed them to ascend on their platform, whilst Anyang took a more gentle approach, readying his glider, letting Shizon hold onto its back, and then starting with an upward leap. Skado, on the other hand, readied his crossbow, urging Senqok to do the same, before taking out something that consisted of two crossbow bolts, which apparently also had a rocket propulsion, whose tips were alike those of a harpoon's, seemingly extendable, the two bolts being connected by a thick bunch of ropes. Taking his crossbow, Skado inserted the left bolt - his crossbow was built inverted. Senqok then seemed to understand, and followed suit, only with the right bolt, before both of them aimed their respective crossbows upwards from their hips, then firing. With a swooshing sound, the bolts' propellant was ignited, and the small rockets they formed ascended, leaving a thin but robust rope connected to the crossbows, rungs made from the same material forming a primitive rope ladder. Once all of the rope had been unwound, the bolts' massive tips separated into four segments, which formed - in combination with the ropes - a grapnel, which relatively firmly grappled the rope, followed by the two shooters cutting the rope from the crossbow, wherever it had anchored itself.
"You're damn brilliant, you know that, you cunt?", Senqok commented, then gesturing Skado to go first, afterwards also offering the same gesture to Ranju, whose jaw only slowly resumed its previous position, before himself starting to climb the ladder. Just then he noticed a mob nearing their position, supported by soldiers - from the parade. However, noticing they were far from reaching their group in time, he redirected his attention to climbing the provisional rope ladder, and reached the top, the monorail track, within a minute. Once up, he noticed a train incoming, but found another matter more pressing. "Lads, they found out we're the shooters and- "
"WE KNOW! SHUT UP AND MAKE YOURSELF USEFUL, WE TRY TO STOP THAT TRAIN!" Noki's shouting was deafening, despite her being exhausted. Her, Shizon and the two airbenders all had assumed bending stances, and tried to stop the train incoming with their respective bending arts, thus far with little success. Deciding he couldn't do much to help them, the Water Tribal walked back to the rope ladder, took the bolts, and threw them from the edge of the track, down into the mod of enraged people, before he spun around, noticing a screeching sound from his right, the direction the train had been coming from. Had been. It seemed indeed like Noki had stopped it herself, as she was grinning triumphantly, despite the sweat droplets on her forehead. "Well, wasn't too hard, was it?"
The others all shook their heads in defeat, while Noki continued over-fulfilling her task, and kicked down the wall of the monorail car, but before she herself could start her verbal bombardment, Skado chimed in, "For your own safety, highly honoured passengers, please leave this train and walk along the track, towards the Upper Ring, preferably, oh and get those from the other cars do the same, please, for your own safety. Thanks."
As he had ceased talking, Noki kicked down the back of the car as well, almost proceeding with the next car's front, before noticing it was the last car, and thus, the only smashed the doors to both sides of the car, with a chunk of the other car's back, scaring the passengers out, and the earthbenders at its back away. Once the passengers of both cars had some considerable distance between themselves and the assassins, the other members of the group joined Noki, who refused to push the car all by herself, thus Ranju suggested, "How about we airbenders create a low pressure before the car, in other words, bend the air to its back, while you push, and Shizon creates a permanent stream of fire, to propel us like a rocket? Sounds like a plan, maybe?"
"It doesn't at all, but we lack alternatives. Alright... whatever gets us out of here... ", Shizon stated, climbing out to the car's back, waiting for the earthbender amongst them to start. Once the car had moved even so slightly, Ranju's plan was enacted, and the car doubled its speed by the second. However, their first obstacle wasn't a long time coming - the gate from the Lower Ring into the Middle Ring had been barricaded with a loose dry stone wall made from rough boulders.
"Ranju, to get through this one, we'll have to face it, eh?" Anyang's voice was barely hearable through the wind.
"Yeah, very un-airbender-ish. But let's give it a shot." Ranju's wasn't all too intelligible either, but both understood what the respective other had meant. Therefore, instead of bending the air to the back of their vehicle, they summoned it to breach the barrier before them, and thus, created a strong shockwave, one whose power was concentrated on the barrier's centre, and broke through it. However, the next barricade wasn't all too long to be waited for. As they still kept accelerating, though it being limited by the aerodynamically disadvantageous design of the car, they approached the nearest station, the one they had switched over to the Middle Ring several days before, where a platoon of Imperial soldiers had gathered to hold them up, and were about to let a section of the track cave in. Noticing this, Ranju decided to inform Noki immediately and climbed over to her, where she then screamed, "They're gonna let part of the track collapse, you need to keep us on one level, we'll do what we can, but you... get it?"
Noki only nodded, a trace of fear flashing over her face, before Ranju returned to the front, where she saw the soldiers having made it reality, and so, seeing they were about to reach the caved-in section, started bending air beneath the car to keep it at one level, seeing Anyang join her in doing so. However, that they would even rise into the air a bit was unpredicted. Upon realising their plan had failed horribly, the soldiers in the station hurried out of the way to prevent getting hit by the - now somewhat flying - car, which then continued on its path previously chosen, the badly-aimed rocks flung at it from afar not being able to change its course in any way. Their speed had somewhat stabilised at what Ranju estimated to be the maximum speed of an ostrich horse, and made the Lower Ring around them seem passing at a relatively high speed. Meanwhile, they inevitably approached the Inner Wall separating the Agrarian Zone from the Lower Ring, at whose entry a massive barricade had been erected, consisting of a wall with a thickness of one and a half metres, being backed by a quickly carpentered, solid timber construction. Upon noticing just how massive the barricade they approached after the first hour of their flight, Anyang climbed around the car to Noki and Shizon. "Hey there! You better get inside, we're approaching a proper barricade, and Noki - you need to hold this car of ours together while we're breaking through, which ought to be no problem at our current speed. Just get inside!"
The two obeyed without question, and followed their General inside, where the rest had gathered, already preparing their crossbows to fend off potential resistance after breaking through the barrier. Anyang was the one standing foremost, the rest, except for Noki, being gathered in the car's back. "Noki, I'll tell you when to get ready for it... " Anyang's words sounded dire yet courageous. "Ready... " He dropped to his knees, and crawled back as well, shouting, "NOW!"
Inside the car, breaking through such a massive and properly-constructed barrier felt like experiencing an earthquake. The only one remaining standing was Noki, who, displaying a grim expression, prevented any cracks from appearing in the car's structure the whole time. After half a minute, the car had broken through, but also was too slow to escape the now approaching soldiers. Noki, Shizon, Anyang and Ranju climbed out, while the other three fired their crossbows from the permanently open doors, and could suppress the soldiers a bit, whereas the greater part of that job was done by Shizon, whose stream of fire - enhanced by the constant stream of air coming from the car's front - prevented the soldiers from coming close enough to the car for it to be in range as it slowly accelerated. The fire burnt enough of them during the acceleration to teach the others not to risk coming near the car, and also aided greatly in the process of acceleration. After a few minutes, they had managed to resume their previous speed, and passed through the Agrarian Zone within an hour, before they faced their greatest problem thus far - the monorail station at the ferry port, where a whole battalion of earthbending soldiers had gathered to hold them up.
"That's gonna be a rough ride... EVERYONE IN AGAIN!" This time, it was Ranju again who informed the others of nearing danger. After she herself got in again, she turned to Noki. "I'm sorry to once again disturb you, but we'll need your service for what is coming. Could you create a second rail track leading down to the port? We ought to be fast enough to escape most of the projectiles, but that's it, once we're in, there's no way back, therefore- "
"Shut up now, and I think I couldn't do that, and even if, I'd need someone to by my eyes, because, well... warning from incoming dangers and stuff... Oh, here come the rocks!" Noki rather ignored Ranju, and, while previously standing, now ducked to avoid getting hit by one of the rocks which now were flung en masse at their vehicle. Although she did her best to keep the car in one piece, Noki couldn't prevent the projectiles penetrating the car's sides - too many rocks were flung at them, too high was the pressure on Noki. At last, they entered the port-station building, now being shelled from all directions. Nothing could she do against the rocks now, but at least one task she could fulfill, though in a different way than it was expected. To their right, there were the counters for passport control and monorail tickets, whereas to their left, more than half of the Imperial battalion had gathered, and now fired a volley of rocks. Noki could keep the car in one piece, but couldn't keep it from derailing, and it slowly turned to stand on its roof, before another volley made it roll over again, before it, having shattered numerous booths, rolled down the massive stairs down onto the port's platform. Once down, the car's roof collapsed, but Noki could crush it into a thousand pieces, before Anyang blew it up into the air for cover.
"Is everyone alright? Noki? Skado? Senqok? Shizon? Ranju? Kabura?" Anyang's concern was, despite his voice being hushed, clearly audible. The responses came quickly.
"Yeah, feelin' great." Shizon got up and climbed out into the port's central corridor.
"Only if everyone stops demanding me to do everything." Noki sounded clearly angry, stood up, collapsed the roof above the staircase, only to then talk louder and relieved, "Couldn't feel better."
"Quite so indeed... ", agreed Senqok as he stumbled out of the wreck and accidentally bumped into Noki, causing both of them to fall, just as the previously created cloud of dust began to settle on the relatively wet floor.
"Well, could be better, but I'm not complaining." Skado too had picked himself up, and now attempted to help the two fallen ones up, who he noticed lying atop each other, both embarrassed. "Oh well... "
"Oh, come on! Seriously? I mean, really?" Kabura sounded annoyed as she noticed at how incompetent the two fallen were when it came to standing up, always managing to slide back into the initial position due to the slippery floor, also signalling herself to be rather alright.
"What are you guys talkin- oh." Ranju too gathered in the circle around them, and was the only one to successfully help the two stand again, and also was the only one wise enough to take a look around. "Lads, you think we can hijack- er, steal one of those ferries?"
As, as the last of them, Anyang too got to his feet and took a look around. "No, we shouldn't, I mean- Just no! It'd be a little far too obvious, don't you think? What we could steal, however, is one of those fishing boats there, they look big enough for all of us, after all. Come on, I'll get you the boat, but that'll be all, afterwards, I'll have to fly to Omashu, to report our success. Come on now!"
The six of his subordinates followed, and all got on board the fishing boat he had shown them - which was actually built like any other, just a simple junk. There, the General opened his glider, and, as the six cast off, spoke, "Farewell, guys and gals!"
As their commander ascended into the sky and their boat slowly drifted out of the port, Shizon spoke a legitimate question, "Does anybody here actually know how to sail?"
All eyes, except of course Noki's, who currently was experiencing the joys one experiences when not being used to sailing, namely vomiting, were turned to Senqok, who answered the unspoken demand with a slight laugh, "And what would you do if I refused?"
The stomping had been audible for more than a minute, and with every second it continued, and increased in volume and proximity, the people in the Grand Secretariat's office became more and more frightened of what awaited them. At every stomp, which was about three times per second, the whole room shook a little, although it could as well have originated from the trembling of all present ones, agents and secretaries alike. But most of all, the Grand Secretary herself, leaning over the table displaying a map of the Earth Empire, trembled. Aside from the assassins themselves, she held the most responsibility for the Imperial Marshal's demise, as she had ordered her agents away from Ba Sing Se. She breathed heavily, and, judging from her hands, she might as well have come down with Parkinson's disease, but in fact, she was merely trembling. But nothing was worse than what followed the nervous trembling, a fearful numbness, that was. Everyone remained in their exact position as the doors were kicked open and an infuriated Earth Emperor stormed inside.
"Incompetent idiots! Fucktards! Turdheads, all of you!", the verbal assault of Yi Ming's began with an arry of swear words. "Explain why you let this happen! IMMEDIATELY!"
Feeling like being the only one in the room able to obey, Zoruka looked up and gathered all her courage. "Sir, Imperial Marshal Han himself- "
"DO NOT MENTION HIS NAME!"
Zoruka gulped. "Of course, Sir, I beg your forgiveness... The hero who recently became victim to a terrorist action personally ordered me to guarantee the safety of the Victory Day parades in the provincial capitals, and given the limited number of agents at disposal, I had to redistribute, and trusted in a mental barrier keeping anyone from infiltrating Ba Sing Se, as it's the Impenetrable- "
Anger now took courage's place. "ALRIGHT THEN, HIGHLY FUCKING HONOURED SIR!" She gritted her teeth. "I deemed the idea of infiltrating rather idiotic, how's that explanation?! Therefore, trusting Ba Sing Se's incompetent safety personnel, I decided to redistribute the agents from Ba Sing Se, what can I do if half of Ba Sing Se's military personnel are pure idiots?!"
Yi Ming seemed, despite Zoruka's display of anger towards him, to have calmed. Even though, he narrowed his eyes. "As a matter of fact, they are ordinary customs officers, not trained to detect disguised commando units, that's what your agents were trained for! However, the rebels must bleed for this! WE MUST CONDUCT VENGEANCE!"
"Sir, I advise you not to make rash decisions, you might regret them when it's too late." Zoruka too had calmed herself, and already made some space between herself and Yi Ming as a safety margin, but her fears were proven unfounded soon enough.
"You're right. Vengeance, yes, but we must keep cool, as some peasants would say. I presume you have prepared something?"
Zoruka resumed leaning over the map table, only this time being far less nervous. Numerous locations throughout the Earth Empire's south were marked with red pins. "Well, we've worked out - basing on accounts from army reports and our own reports as well - where we presume the Libera- the Rebel Alliance to have their bases and outposts, two of which are surprisingly close to Ba Sing Se, possibly reached by the assassins in one or two days' time, two ordinary farming villages, relatively close to each other, named Li Di Ce, and Rejaki, respectively. They're only a dozen kilometres south Serpent's Pass, and, according to reports, house a dozen to three hundred rebel fighters in total, therefore might be the first, uh, haven they would head for."
Yi Ming followed suit and too leaned over the map, finding the two villages Zoruka was referring to almost immediately, mumbling, "...yes, I remember them... passed through after Serpent's Pass's battle... ", before clearing his throat and continuing louder, "You seem not to understand my way of vengeance... Collective punishment, that is. Striking near ones instead of the, in this case, assassins themselves. However, the villages really gave me an idea... Prepare your agents, be ready to depart at midnight."
Notes and Trivia
- Emerald Square is *sigh* yet another reference to the Moscow Victory Day Parade, though only an indirect one, referring to Red Square, to be exact.
- The title of Imperial Marshal is derived from the title Grand Marshal, which, translated into German, would be, although a literal version too is sometimes used, Reichsmarschall, which translates into English as Imperial Marshal.
- The villages of Li Di Ce and Rejaki are based on the Czech villages of Lidice and Ležáky (whose Chinese and Japanese names, respectively, have been taken for the fictional villages), whose populations were exterminated and interned and the villages razed to the ground following the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.
For the collective works of the author, go here.