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|The Fall of Ba Sing Se|
Foundations of Stone
27 February, 2012
"Foundations of Stone"
It really is unfair on you, my extremely dedicated readers, if there really are any of you left, how long I make you wait for the next chapter in such a plot driven series. I don't blame you if you've forgotten everything that's happened in the past three chapters. If you have, feel free to read them again - that's what they're posted for! Please enjoy, the long-overdue fourth and second-last chapter of the Foundations of Stone serial, "The Fall of Ba Sing Se". -
Teru is on the run, with the entire Earth Kingdom Royal Guard in pursuit, and he is forced to put his trust in the only person he can, Lin, subsequently throwing her into the middle of the conspiracy too. But however hard he fights, the result is inevitable, Ba Sing Se will fall...
The Earth King sat slumped in his throne, his throne room lay in disarray. Swords, spears, pillars of earth, all sprawled across the gold and green carpet, now ripped, which ran from the palace stairs right through to the King's feet. It had been two hours since Teru's escape from the palace, two hours since dozens of the King's men had been thrown from one side of the room to the other, two hours since Huang-Fu had left the palace in search of the Avatar's imposter, and he now returned with no luck.
"No sign of him, my King," Huang-Fu said bowing, as a procession of Royal Guards followed suit behind him. Huang-Fu raised his head. "I take it you haven't heard anything on the boy?"
The Earth King shook his head.
"The level of damage Teru caused, the amount of innocent soldiers that he injured, he's dangerous, my liege." Huang-Fu stared up into the King's eyes. "An example must be set." The King nodded, giving Huang-Fu permission to continue. The advisor turned his back on the King, signalling for the Royal Guards to stand. "The boy known as Teru has made a direct attempt on the life of your Majesty the King, and the dozens that were gathered in the palace this afternoon. He is a traitor to the state, and a threat to the stability of the Earth Kingdom. Find him. Hunt him down. And when you catch him, kill him."
Lin sat on her mattress, leaning upright against the wall behind her, a soft breeze blew through the open window, picking up pieces of parchment and carrying them across the room. Lin climbed up off of her bed, picking them up and laying them down again on the chipped wooden table as she heard her front door slide shut. Racing downstairs, she found her father leaning over the kitchen stove, boiling water for tea.
"Are you alright?" she asked, panting. "I heard there was some kind of explosion at the Palace."
"Yes, I'm fine, but no, not an explosion," her father replied without taking his eyes from the boiling pot. Lin was confused.
"A failed arrest," Lionel said, carrying the pot to the bench, "ordered by a power hungry advisor," he finished. Realising what he had said, he shot his head towards the window. "I'm afraid someone might overhear me," he said in response to Lin's puzzled look.
"Dad, what's going on?" Lin said, shaking in fear. Her father pulled her close and embraced her in his arms. Holding her there, he began to explain.
"Huang-Fu, the King's advisor, is plotting to take the throne for himself. So far, we have no evidence, so we can't charge him with anything, and no one wants to arouse him to our suspicions. We believe, that the King's advisor is responsible for the recent killings taking place, and his connection to an underground organisation known as Haipa. Haipa has one purpose and one purpose only, to bring about the fall of Ba Sing Se." Lin left her head resting on her father's shoulders, listening intently.
"But who did Huang-Fu attempt to arrest then?" she asked. Her father let out a sigh.
"The Avatar, or at least, the boy we thought was-" Lionel started, as Lin lept out of his arms.
"Teru?" she exclaimed. "Why!"
"It appears, Teru is not the Avatar, as we thought. Although it's more likely that an honest mistake was made, Huang-Fu is playing it as if Teru has been a knowing imposter all along."
"Why didn't you stop him?" Lin pleaded.
"Because any act against Huang-Fu without evidence of his treachery gains the accuser one thing, a one-way ticket to the gallows." Lionel and his daughter stood apart from one another in silence, the curtains on the kitchen window dancing on the breeze. "Teru escaped on a stolen Ostrich Horse, and Huang-Fu has given the order to have him killed on sight."
"But he's innocent in all this! Isn't he?"
"There's no evidence for either case, and that's what Huang-Fu wants. Well, that, and Teru's lifeless body," Lin could feel the conspiracy close around her as her father imparted each word. Even though she wasn't, she couldn't help but feel like she was at the middle of it all.
"What are we going to do?" Lin asked, hoping for her father to have some plan to find Teru, leave the city, find safety. She met no such luck.
"You, aren't going to do anything. I will continue the investigation, and just hope to the spirits that some of the Royal Guards aren't on Huang-Fu's side, and won't kill Teru. Now, go upstairs, do whatever it is you were doing when I came home. Your mother will be along soon, and she can't know about any of this, especially not this late in her pregnancy. Understood?" Lionel stared at her daughter. She didn't agree, but for now, she would submit. She turned from her father, somewhat disapprovingly, though she knew there was nothing he could do without compromising her mother and her own safety. Closing her bedroom door behind her, she found something waiting for her on her mattress.
A roll of parchment lay neatly placed on her bed. Unrolling it, she found a riddle of sorts, scribbled hurriedly across the page;
The outer wall, where we first met,
I have found the origins of silhouettes,
If return I do not, run you should faster,
And deliver this letter, to my old master.
On first glance, it meant nothing to her, and Lin contemplated whether it had just blown in through the window on the breeze by mere accident. She was about to call her father, when she found something enclosed in a roll of the parchment. A feather. Its tip was splattered with ink, and had obviously been used to write the riddle. Then she remembered something.
Jumping to her feet and pushing her head out the door, she shouted downstairs to her father.
"How did you say Teru escaped?" she yelled.
"He fought off the guards, then rode off with an Ostrich Horse," he replied. "Why?"
"No reason," she lied, pulling her head back inside her room. The feather was that of an Ostrich Horse, and by the looks of the situation, its owner was the Ostrich Horse that Teru stole. He was still alive.
Reading through the letter one more time, she made her decision. She pulled off her nightgown, climbing into her brown leather jodhpurs and an elaborate green kimono-like top which drifted to her thighs. She slipped into the black boots that she only ever wore when in the agricultural districts, and tightened them up as best she could. Stuffing the parchment and the feather into her jodhpur pocket and tying her hair back into a braid which ran down her back, she climbed out the open window onto the slanted tiled roof. Slowly nudging down it on her bottom, she reached the edge. Peering over it to make sure no one was watching, she placed each leg over the ledge one at a time, slowly lowering herself towards the ground, only, the tiles couldn't hold her full weight any longer.
Several tiles dislodged themselves from the roof, and Lin crashed into the ground, collapsing onto her side. She was sore, but not seriously injured she found as she climbed to her feet. The sound of the tiles smashing on the ground echoed through the street, and she ran down an alley before anyone discovered her.
Racing through the empty market square, the only light she had left to guide her was that of the full moon. Ba Sing Se officials no longer lit the lampposts that lined the street, it became pointless as no one came out after dark anymore, not since the Haipa murders.
Being the only sounds in the night, the tread of heavy boots echoed down the narrow streets, and as fast as she came, she was gone. Darting in and out of alleys and climbing over fences, taking a direct route to her destination.
The sight of the Tiger Lilly Tea House told her she drew near, and so now she crept along the backs of walls, making sure no one was watching her, knowing that they were anyway. She reached the front door of a small house in the Upper Ring, small for the Upper Ring anyway. Jiaoshi never had any family that Lin knew of, so no large house was in need. She knocked on the door three times. There was no reply. She knocked again. No reply. Instead trying the door, she found it wasn't locked. In fact, it wasn't even secured on its hinges.
As she pushed through it, the door fell, crashing into the wooden floor. The sound no doubt loud enough to wake all of Ba Sing Se. Light spilled into the house through the open doorway, illuminating the room to Lin's eyes. Devastation was the only word that came to her mind, as she observed the broken table, smashed in walls, pillars of stone holding up the roof from which small pieces of debris was falling. Something had happened here, a fight, a fire. She didn't know, but Lin knew she had to leave.
Turning to leave, a figure stood in her way. Tall and brooding, the silhouetted man leant under the cracked doorway to enter the home, where he dominated the room with the shadow cast by his body. Bending down, he picked Lin up by the neck, squeezing the air out of her.
"Who are you?" the man asked, each syllable booming from his mouth. Lin gathered what strength she could to reply.
"Li- Lin," she stammered, air struggling to fill her lungs.
"Where is the Earthbending master?" the figure asked once more, raising Lin above his own head, arms outstretched, fingers closing around her throat.
"I- I. I," Lin struggled, unable to fill her lungs, enclosed in her lungs' pain, unable to think or talk.
"Tell me," the man grumbled. "Where. Is. He?" Lin gasped for air, none filling her chest. A small gasp was all she could manage, before her eyesight began to fade. "In the Crystal Catacombs, by the city of old, foundations of stone will be destroyed, and Ba Sing Se, will, fall," the man recited rhythmically. "Now, where is the master?"
"Over here," a voice called from outside the house. Lin looked, and sure enough, in the middle of the training quadrangle, stood Jiaoshi. With one swift stomp forward, he pulled a pillar of Earth out of the ground at the silhouetted man's feet, throwing him upwards through the roof. Lin collapsed to the ground, filling her chest with as much air as each breath would allow. Her insides stung, as she looked up to see the hole in the roof where the man had been thrown through, and the rest of the roof collapsing around it.
Tiles and wooden support beams fell to the ground, as Lin climbed to her feet and sprawled out the door, turning to see the single story house collapse in on itself. Panting, she heard Jiaoshi run up behind her, picking her up from under her arms.
"You're Lionel's kid, right?" he asked from behind, his warm breath running over Lin's neck. She nodded. "What're you doing here?" he grunted. Lin turned and pulled the piece of parchment out of her jodhpur pocket. "What's this?" he asked, unrolling it. His head moved from side to side, reading each line carefully, then re-examining it.
"It's from Teru," Lin explained. "It came with a feather off the Ostrich Horse he stole to escape the Palace. He's been charged with treason, impersonation, and he's been sentenced to death!"
"I know," he said, staring at the parchment. Then he looked up at Lin. "I was there." Lin couldn't believe it.
"And you did noth-!" she started to yell, as Jiaoshi covered her mouth violently, pulling her into an arm lock.
"If I did anything, the King would have thought I was involved," he muttered through gritted teeth. "To the King, Huang-Fu is his stubborn, hostile advisor, nothing more. He wouldn't dare believe that he was involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the Earth King. If I had assisted Teru in his escape, the King would have expected that I was involved. Apparently Huang-Fu is after me anyway, judging by the fact that he ransacked my house and sent an assassin to finish me off." They stood together, in silence, until Jiaoshi broke it. "Trust me?" Lin nodded, and Jiaoshi removed the hand from her mouth. She took a few steps back, rubbing her arm where Jiaoshi had held her. "So," he continued. "What's this?" he said looking at the letter.
"A letter, or a riddle, or something like that," Lin started. "I found it in my bedroom earlier tonight, judging by the Ostrich Horse feather, I think it's from Teru.
"What does this mean then?" Jiaoshi asked, pointing at the first line. "The outer wall, where we first met?"
"Ugh," Lin thought. "Must be something about the outer wall, near Mushi's farm, where he worked. That's where we first met."
"No doubt the second line means he's found the-" Jiaoshi stopped midsentence, looking at Lin. "Never mind," he finished.
"He's found the location of Haipa, the gang that's been terrorizing the city?" Lin asked confidently, she already knew the answer. Jiaoshi looked at her both shocked and puzzled. "My father, he told me what's been going on."
"Then return to him," Jiaoshi said, stuffing the letter into his coat pocket. "I'll find Teru."
"No!" Lin protested. "I'm coming with you!"
"No," Jiaoshi ordered. "You are of no use to me. You'd only be in the way. Go home. Go back to your father and pregnant mother."
"NO!" Lin screamed. "Teru sent that letter to me, because he knew I'd be the only one who'd understand it. If that letter was found by the authorities, they'd have no idea what he was talking about, they don't know where we first met. What if Teru's left more cryptic messages for me? You won't be able to figure them out! You need me." Lin and Jiaoshi stood together in silence for at lest five minutes, Jiaoshi thought. "Well?" Lin asked.
"What if there aren't anymore messages? Then you'll be risking your life for nothing."
"Not for nothing," Lin started. "For Teru." Jiaoshi thought about it more for a minute, when Lin interrupted. "In any case, there will no doubt be guards looking for me, now that I've told you this. They'll kill me, and my father, and my pregnant mother. Will you be able to live with that?" Jiaoshi gave in.
"Fine," he said, walking to Lin and wrapping his arm around her tightly. "Let's go." With that, a pillar of earth shot out of the ground beneath their feet, throwing both of them into the air. Soaring high above the city, Lin screamed as her hair whipped behind her, while Jiaoshi prepared to land and perform the Earth-cannon again. Lin let out a higher-pitched scream as they began to fall to the ground, plummeting to what Lin thought would be their deaths.
Teru ran his hand across the hard earth surface, searching the base of the great wall for any kind of breach. He knew it was here, he'd seen it hundreds of times before, he just never knew what he was looking at. There was a segment of the wall that was a darker colour than the rest of it, and it was the entrance to the Haipa underground headquarters. Teru may not be the Avatar, but that wasn't his fault. He was still an earthbender, a powerful one, and that meant he wasn't giving up without a fight.
After fleeing the palace, Teru had escaped to Jiaoshi's house for help, only to find it empty and dark. He had searched through his master's vast collection of evidence and research on the Haipa killings, when Teru realised that the Outer Wall was a place of interest. He sent the message to Lin, picking his words carefully so that if the message was intercepted, the interceptor would have no chance of understanding it, before racing on the Ostrich Horse to Mushi's farm to find the entrance.
It was early morning, at least three o'clock, so spotting the darker section of the wall in the dead of night was impossible without a light. And to add to the list of issues, Earth Kingdom Guards were scouring the city for any sight of him.
Finally. His hand had run over a crack on the wall. Squinting at it in the darkness, he softly brushed his hand along the entire length of the crack, revealing the crack to be of an arched shape. Now he placed both hands on the wall, expecting to sense the complete thickness of it, but he did not. This segment of the wall was barely a foot thick. Pushing, his hands moved into the wall, creating a small doorway through which Teru could pass through. After taking several steps, Teru tripped down a set of stairs which had appeared out from beneath him. Tumbling to a halt, he regathered his breath, and climbed to his feet.
He was in a large dark underground hallway. No doors, no adjacent corridors, just a long, empty, earth doorway. There were however, torches burning all the way down the hall, creating dim light as far as the eye could see. Teru started down the slowly descending hall, each step echoing and bouncing off the walls for miles. He had been walking for at least an hour without reaching anything. It was the same expanse of corridor, stretching on forever. Listening to the echoes of his footsteps, Teru realised something.
His weren't the only ones.
He stopped, and peered back down the miles of corridor when he heard them. Two sets of echoes coming from the crack in the wall, bouncing from wall to wall, roof to floor. Teru turned away from the footsteps and ran, sprinting downhill into the darkness, where he could see a bright green light spilling into the hall. He ran faster, his footsteps like sirens in echo. He finally made it to the end of the corridor, and ran out onto a rock ledge overlooking an enormous catacomb.
It was filled with pillars reaching from the ground to the ragged roof, encompassed with glowing green crystals, clinging onto the pillars like a virus, spread throughout the catacomb. In the middle of the catacomb was a pool of water, as blue as the sky, it glimmered in the light of the crystals, and light reflected upon its surface, dancing on the walls.
The beauty of the catacomb was overwhelming, yet it was plagued by the presence of a group of people, all dressed in ragged attire, scraps of clothing laying on their dirty bodies. In the centre of the group of people was a man in clothes of considerably greater wealth. He was tall and muscular, wrapped in a robe of black, his face covered in a green scarf, the same green as his gloves and explosive-lined belt. He addressed his audience with a deep and loud voice, which Teru tried to escape by crouching behind a boulder.
"The time has come, to bring about the end of Ba Sing Se as we know it." The crowd cheered in response to their leader's address. "In the Crystal Catacombs, by the city of old, foundations of stone will be destroyed," the crowed cheered again, as the man finished, "and Ba Sing Se, will, fall." Now came the loudest cheer Teru had heard in his life; it filled the catacomb, it seemed as though the combined volume could have forced the walls to widen, even though it made it feel smaller, and closed the distance between the crouching Teru and the cheering group. "Begin!" the man ordered, and the group dissipated into the furthest reaches of the cavern, and formed circles around each pillar, when they began to chant rhythmically as they stomped their feet on the ground.
"Ba Sing Se will fall. Ba Sing Se will fall. Ba Sing Se will fall." Each time the chant became louder and louder, as their stomping feet became harder and harder. Then Teru understood.
He jumped out from behind the boulder, launched by a pillar bent from the ground. Flying through the air, the separate groups ceased chanting and froze as Teru landed on the edge of the pool of water, launching boulders in every direction, taking out several Haipa members at a time, until he turned to see several running towards him. As they neared, Teru pushed his hands out forward, fingers apart, and then pulled his arms back to his side. Instantly, pillars of earth sprang out of the ground, throwing the men across the catacomb. Now the black robed man ran at him, Teru was ready for any earthbending maneuvers he threw at him, only there weren't any.
The man launched four huge fireballs at Teru, all four circulating each other. Teru pulled a wall of rock out of the ground to block the power of the train-sized fireballs, but instead it crumbled. Teru was thrown back by the force of the following explosion, and when he next looked up, it was to see the man throw another ball of fire at Teru, which hit.
Teru felt his body scream in pain, as every inch of it was engulfed in fire. He let out a scream, as his flesh burnt. It was the fastest he'd ever moved as he jumped to his feet and dived into the pool of water, the relief was immediate. The water soothed his aching body, and healing began immediately. He felt the waters purify him, and for a reason he could not explain, he felt lighter and cleaner than he ever had before. He swam to the surface, gasping for air, to find he was unscarred and uninjured.
He also found that the chanting had continued, and members of Haipa had each and every pillar of earth surrounded, stomping their feet in rhythm to their chant. He crawled out of the water, where he had seconds to see a metal clad shoe kicking his face. His nose broke, and blood began seeping out. The black cloaked firebending man was standing over Teru, his bloody foot now pressing down on Teru's chest, keeping him from moving.
"You understand what's happening, don't you!" he teased. "In the Crystal Catacombs, by the city of old, foundations of stone will be destroyed, and Ba Sing Se, will, fall." Teru nodded in reply. "Explain to me," the man taunted, as the chanting became louder and the stomping harder.
"You -" Teru started, wincing in pain. "You mean it - you mean it literally. Ba Sing Se will fall." The man laughed manically as the chanting grew louder than before.
"Yes," he replied. He then bent down to Teru's ear. "And this, is where it begins!" he whispered as the chanting and stomping came to a sudden halt. Teru looked around as the men plunged their hands into the foundations of stone, bringing the pillars to collapse to the ground. Around him, earth was falling from the top of the cavern, then came the rumbling of the earth and the sound of screams from above. Ba Sing Se was falling in to the underground cavern, and so were its people. Civilians going about their morning shopping were falling into the appearing holes in the street, and to their deaths in the vast cavern below. Then came the homes, which fell inwards, crashing into the hard earth. The Haipa men began their escape, as homes and sidewalk and people and animals all over Ba Sing Se, fell into the earth, as the ground crumbled around their very feet.
Above him, Teru then saw a mass of rock dislodge itself from the roof, falling to the ground where it would crush him, and leave his lifeless body in a grave of death and destruction.
Ba Sing Se, had fallen.
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