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|Raid on Gujuhmin: Part 1|
April 30, 2013
The members of the Terra Team lined the walls of the briefing room at forefront of their cave base when their commanding officer informed them of the designated assignment ahead of them. "We have a dangerous, but decisive mission ahead of us, men," Quan Jing addressed his troops in a commanding tone. "And woman," he added upon noticing Ratana raising an eyebrow at him from the back row with her arms crossed and her hips resting on the earthen wall behind her. "The task ahead of us is to reclaim the long lost city of Gujuhmin from the Fire Nation." At these words, whispers and mumbles filled the room and were accompanied by a tide of heads turning to one another. Gujuhmin was one of the oldest and largest colonies held by the Fire Nation. Having been taken twenty years after Sozin's Comet, it was by no means the oldest of all, but scarcely anyone alive remembered it as part of the Earth Kingdom.
The whispers stopped as Colonel Quan Jing cleared his throat and quieted the room down again. "Gujuhmin was a great trading town before the war began, and it was well known for the giant badgermole tunnels that lay beneath. In the old days, earthbenders from all corners of the nation used to take pilgrimages there and meditate." Ratana cringed at these words as she thought of such a beacon for earthbenders under the thumb of the Fire Nation.
"Thus far in the war, the Fire Nation has always taken land faster than we can take it back on a good day," Quan Jing continued. "But with our recent victory, it's high time seize the opportunity while we have the tide on our side and take back Gujuhmin!" Colonel Quan Jing articulated himself well, and always appeared fit for his role.
Quan Jing had showed early signs of unique potential in his childhood. His approach to bending was as mental as it was physical. As he lacked the gifts of some to be able to sense an opponent's every move through vibrations, he relied on his quick-thinking and fast reaction time to anticipate and respond to what was coming. Through his eyes, bending duels were like strategic games of Pai Sho, with an analytical approach to how to move the pieces. A calculator on the battlefield, he excelled and became the pride of his village.
His family was well-regarded in the area, but not especially rich. After his father and older brother perished fighting Fire Nation army, Quan Jing went on to command the same local militia his father had. Due to the circumstances in which he attained the position, he had to work hard to justify it in the eyes of others once he had it, and there were a few missteps along the way. A couple years after he took over, there was a corruption scandal in his unit and three of his men were convicted of embezzlement of Earth Kingdom public funds. Naturally, Quan Jing was not found to have been involved, but merely in the wrong place at the wrong time. The colonel had a way with words similar to how he had a way with other forms of strategy. With a dedicated practice of strict discipline and tactical leadership, he was very proud of how far he had come in his life. Quan Jing now oversaw several battalions. Nowadays, many thought him more capable than General Sung whom he served under, though some would counter that that wasn't saying much.
Since the Terra Team was the most elite of the groups under Quan Jing's leadership - his own pride and joy - he gave them the most extensive briefing of the situation before their expedition. "The colony is fortified and heavily-guarded at all hours of the day, with archers lining the top walls," he continued. "Breaking past the city's defenses will not be an easy task. That's precisely why the Terra Team will be leading the charge. You will all ride to Gujuhmin in two long tanks, and you'll be approaching from the opposite side your partner is on. It's crucial that you neutralize the archers and other hostile defenses before the regular army earthbenders and warriors are ready to storm in with their own brigades, because after we've penetrated the perimeter, there will still be the soldiers inside the colony itself to deal with; and the Fire Nation garrison stationed at Gujuhmin is formidable. Once inside, you must be careful that the subjugated Earth Kingdom civilians living in Gujuhmin are not harmed in the process of taking it. Remember that these are our own countrymen under rule of the enemy. Sung ordered us to take this colony back at all costs. Either we accomplish this, or we all fall down trying," he concluded, waving his clenched fist in the air. "Move out!"
The ride to Gujuhmin in the interior of the metallic-plated Earth Kingdom military tank was stiff and bumpy. Half of the Terra Team were sitting on the sides of this vehicle, and all of their corresponding partners were in another one right behind it. Ratana had found herself next to Taigang, and at a time like this she much preferred it be Tooru there. Indeed, the whole mood was tense, as waiting for a battle like this could be much harder than the fight itself.
Looking around, Ratana noticed that the face across from hers, unlike the rest of those around her, was not hardened, nor was it that of someone ready for combat. "Is something on your mind, Shun Ping?" she asked her comrade, who was staring off to the side, his mind clearly elsewhere.
Nearly startled by her breaking of the silence, Ratana's thin, astute comrade looked up at her. "Oh, nothing, Ratana," Shun Ping said as he fondled a small object in his hand. "I just had a couple things I was hoping to take care of before we left that I didn't get around to."
"Like what?" Ratana inquired, curiously raising both her eyebrows. In a way, she envied him for being able to concentrate on something else, though when the time came, she couldn't allow him to lose his concentration on the battlefield.
"Nothing really," he added, breaking eye contact. "Don't worry about it."
"What's that you're holding?" Ratana asked, pointing to the small object in Shun Ping's possession. Her outstretched hand was met by his as he reached over and dropped a string of wooden beads into her palm. "Where'd you get this, Shun Ping? And what's 'Seda' mean?"
"I didn't buy it," Shun Ping told her meagerly, elbows resting on his kneecaps. "I made it."
"Is Seda your girlfriend?"
"Fiance," he clarified. "Even though we're already engaged, I was going to give her a betrothal necklace as her present. She's from the Earth Kingdom, but one of her grandparents was from the Water Tribes." Shun Ping added the last part in a hush, with his fingers curved over his mouth. There were some who did not accept mixed bloodlines between the four nations.
Those some did not include Ratana. "I think that's sweet," she told him with a smile, reaching over to hand the brown likeness of a Water Tribe betrothal necklace back to him. Shun Ping, however, held up his hand, indicating for her to hold onto it longer.
Finally, the metal tank came to a halt and the soldiers that counted themselves as part of the Terra Team rose to their feet and took fighting stances. Standing at the forefront near the operator's seat, Colonel Quan Jing signaled for them to take their positions in line. Ratana was right by the cutoff point, so she ended up being last and Taigang first.
Now standing, Shun Ping glanced back over to Ratana. "Listen, Seda was going to come see me soon. That's when I was going to give her the necklace. If I don't make it back today, tell her-"
"Shun Ping, don't talk like that!" Ratana snapped in the heat of the moment. She did not like to be so sharp in cutting off her comrade, but she knew that he needed to get his focus back, and there was now no more time to delay. As the metal doors slid apart and the blinding light of the sun shone inside the previously-darkened tank interior, Ratana thought again of what lay before them. For close to three quarters of a century the seven Fire Nation flag had flown over this place. She could only imagine how the repressive rulers had subjugated her people in that time.
"Ready...attack!" yelled Quan Jing. At his command, Taigang and two earthbenders near the front of the tank and charged towards the gates of Gujuhmin. From the opposite side of the gate, Zan Xun and the other earthbenders' partners approached and the six of them shook their arms in unison and pushed upward. Six enormous, diagonal spires of earth shot up from the ground and pierced the walls of the colony at the lower point.
After Quan Jing raised his arms once again, three more earthbenders left the tank and three more from the opposite side came to join them. Ratana tensed her fingers in anticipation; she and the rest of those inside were waiting to see which position they were to go to. She smirked to herself as she thought of Tooru in the same position as her now.
The Fire Nation archers atop the wall had become aware of their presence and fired down upon the Earth Kingdom battalion. Following the echoing sound of bows being pulled back came a harsh, brown shower of pointed arrows. Half a dozen more members of the Terra Team - Shun Ping among them - were in place by this point, and they twisted their ankles and shifted their feet in a similar motion, bringing identical, slanted slabs of earth from the ground to shield them from above. Meanwhile, Taigang and those at the front had erected more spikes on top of one another to create an earthen ramp on which they could run up and storm the city from above, and the benders and warriors from the regular army were marching forward. As for Ratana, she had not left the tank yet, being in the back line of the Terra Team, but she could see that it was all going well for them.
That was when everything began to fall apart.
- Gujuhmin is in the southern Earth Kingdom, just a little ways away from the Si Wong Desert.
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