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6 July 2015
Fire Navy communications towers were scattered throughout the Fire Nation, each remaining updated on all recent fleet movements and operations. Granted, many of them were shut down, and with the demobilization of the military, the accuracy and efficiency of the communications towers unfortunately declined quite a bit. Another one of that usurping brat's mistakes, he thought. But nonetheless, they were a good way of obtaining information, especially for someone who hasn't seen his country in nearly three years. And if the information that this particular tower provided was to be believed, then much had changed over the past few years they've been gone.
Captain Tang Li sighed. Much has changed for the worse, clearly, he thought.
They heard about the end of the war and the ascension of Fire Lord Zuko, of course. The fleet occasionally stopped at remote ports in the eastern Earth Kingdom, or sometimes, the eastern Fire Nation. Their little group got its news from these small places, which themselves were largely out of the loop due to their remote locations. He figured that not all of the information they received was accurate, but Captain Li was able to decipher what was and wasn't. What they heard in multiple ports, for instance, was probably more accurate than something they only heard in one place
Fire Lord Ozai had sent them on a scouting mission. Officially, their job was to guard the eastern frontiers of the Fire Nation from a possible Earth Kingdom and/or Water Tribe attack. A useless, dead end task, most people would assume. No one would be foolish enough to make such an attempt, one would think. It must be a way for the Fire Lord to get rid of those who had lost his favor. And that was what the royal court believed.
But that was the whole point, of course.
Unofficially, the job of this fleet of twelve Fire Navy cruisers was to find a way to invade Ba Sing Se from the east. Scout out the eastern Earth Kingdom, determine which points would be used for such an assault, determine the strength of the enemy garrisons. That sort of thing.
Since Ozai considered this task to be of prime importance–with the Ba Sing Se coup having not taken place yet–he gave command of the fleet to not just a normal commander, but one of his five Grand Admirals. The top men in the fleet, the Grand Admirals were the best and brightest commanders that the Fire Nation had to offer. The new flag rank of Grand Admiral was created by Ozai specifically for these five men, giving them complete authority not only over the Navy but also over the Army. Technically, they had absolute authority over everyone in the military, and their orders were treated as an order from the Fire Lord himself.
Of these Grand Admirals, the one selected was a man named Shojiro. A brilliant strategist and tactician, Shojiro proved himself by leading the Fire Navy to total victory over the remnants of the Earth Kingdom fleet. That was how he gained prominence, way back under Fire Lord Azulon. His son, Ozai, met with Grand Admiral Shojiro on several occasions. Captain Li did not know the details of their relationship but he assumed it was generally positive. Although the Grand Admiral occasionally complained about some of the decisions that the Fire Lord made in regards to the war, he seemed to remain loyal to him.
The other four Grand Admirals were also prominent officers, but they were below Shojiro's skill in the art of war (at least in Captain Li's opinion). That was why Ozai had assigned Shojiro to this mission, because he trusted no one else to do the job. But the Fire Nation royal court viewed this assignment (due to its official purpose remaining a state secret) as a punishment. They assumed that the Grand Admiral had fallen out of favor with Ozai.
If only they knew how wrong they had been, Captain Li thought. They will see their mistake soon enough.
Tang Li was drawn back from his thoughts to reality at the voice of one of his officers. He turned from the window of the ship's bridge and faced the man, a young black-haired officer.
"We have word from one of the advance scouts that a task force of several hostile ships is on its way here," he stammered. "A message from Wraith has also arrived to confirm this."
Captain Li's look turned serious upon the mention of that name. 'Wraith' was the codename of their secret source in the Fire Nation Royal Palace. They had made contacts in the Fire Nation shortly before their return with those who they thought could be allies of theirs in the coming struggle. Wraith was their most important one, perhaps, due to his connections in the Palace. He had kept them updated periodically and his information appeared to be reliable.
But Grand Admiral Shojiro did not let him know any more than that.
"Inform the Grand Admiral immediately!" he ordered.
The officer saluted. "Right away, sir!"
As he rushed to carry out the task, Tang Li looked back out at the ocean ahead of them. Their small advance flotilla of three cruisers was docked at the small, craggy island that was home of one of the easternmost Fire Navy communications towers. The enemy task force would most likely come from the west, if it is on its way here from the capital. Sure enough, he could see it approaching in the distance.
The sound of boots walking across the metal floor behind him caused the captain to turn around from the window.
Grand Admiral Shojiro entered the bridge. All chatter immediately stopped; all men stood at full attention for orders from their commander, standing silently at their stations. Having served for three years with the Grand Admiral, they respected him more than anyone else.
"Your orders, sir?" Li asked him as he approached.
The man's long greying hair and beard, as well as the crease lines on his head, were a testament to his old age. But nonetheless, he stood tall and had a muscular frame, which was hidden under the black cloak and the yellow epaulettes that were on his shoulders. The metal armor that he wore under those also gave him a bit of an exercise to carry around.
But it was not his physical appearance that intimidated those who knew him. Grand Admiral Shojiro was a better thinker than fighter.
"Captain, have the Musashi begin an approach towards the flotilla. Also, order the Yamato and the Nagato move back to the other side of the island and wait there," the Grand Admiral said quietly.
Captain Li nodded. The Musashi was their flagship, while the Yamato and the Nagato were some of the best ships in their fleet. He gave the order to the bridge crew, who immediately began bustling about to carry out the command.
The Fire Navy flotilla that approached grew bigger in the distance, being composed of four cruisers. The Grand Admiral watched silently along with the Captain.
"This is our first contact with the Fire Nation since we left three years ago. Let's give them a good impression, shall we?"
Tang Li smiled. "As always, sir!"
The old man smiled back at him. "Very good."
As the two commanders stood watching, the two cruisers back at the small island moved out and behind it, waiting on the far side for the command to join the battle. The enemy's view had been blocked by their flagship, so their two other vessels have not been spotted. And with the battle beginning now, it was unlikely that they would.
The Musashi began moving slowly towards the approaching flotilla. They didn't want to get too far away from the island for this plan to work most effectively.
"Sirs!" came an officer's voice. "We received a messenger hawk from their commander."
Shojiro and Tang Li both turned around.
"What does it say, lieutenant?" asked the Grand Admiral.
"The enemy commander requests that we identify ourselves and explain the situation," he said. "He also wants us to tell him what we are doing here, since no fleets are supposed to be in this area."
Shojiro nodded with what Captain Li thought was amusement in his eyes. "Ignore it, of course. But it was interesting to hear."
The lieutenant nodded and went back to work. Captain Li continued to watch the approaching flotilla.
"Are they in range, captain?" Shojiro asked. When the man nodded, he continued. "You may fire when ready."
The captain passed the command along to his men. The Musashi stopped and opened fire from its trebuchets, sending flaming pieces of stone flying at the approaching flotilla. The lead ship (presumably their flagship) was caught completely off guard and took several direct hits, including to the bridge. Other projectiles hit its deck, tearing pieces of metal apart like a glass bottle being shattered by a rock, while sending men and equipment flying out into the sea. The bridge was hit head on in the command deck, flame erupting from its windows and eating away the insides. Screams of agony and horror from the enemy fleet's unfortunate crewmen could be heard in the distance. Three years of drilling their trebuchet gunners (and all of their other crewmen) to perfection was definitely worth it.
As if reading Tang Li's thoughts, Shojiro nodded approvingly.
"I think we have their attention," he said.
As the first cruiser burned and began sinking, with its bridge destroyed, the two other nearest cruisers (located on the each side of their commander's flagship) took action. They turned to meet the Musashi and opened fire, sending volley after volley of flaming rocks at the Grand Admiral's flagship, which then replied with its own trebuchets. Tang Li could swear that the ships were like living people, with one of them getting killed enraging his friends, who were now angrily throwing all they could to avenge their comrade. Shojiro turned to look at the captain.
"Send the signal," he told him. "It's time."
Tang Li nodded. "Understood, Grand Admiral."
As the two enemy cruisers approached, the Musashi took a several hits to the bow, but the damage appeared to be minor. Clean up crews dispersed around the area of the deck that were damaged, beginning to clean up and cover the area as they had drilled to do hundreds of times. The wounded were being taken away by the medics.
Meanwhile, the pair of cruisers had to turn wide in order to avoid the wreckage of their commander's doomed flagship as they approached the enemy vessel, exposing their flanks to it. The gunners aboard the Musashi were happy to take full advantage of this. But the Musashi itself, on the other hand, remained facing them directly, giving the trebuchets on the two cruisers a harder target to hit while the Musashi's own gunners were reaping in the benefits of the enemy's confusion.
While this was all going down, one of the trebuchets on their deck turned around and sent a single shot up over the nearby island for their two other ships to see and join the fray.
After another couple of minutes, a volley of projectiles suddenly flew from behind the Musashi, making contact with one of the unsuspecting cruisers. It was hit hard, and while half of the flaming rocks missed their target, the other half hit the starboard side of the ship. The trebuchets on that side were mostly destroyed, battered to pieces by the sudden assault, with that half of the enemy vessel being set aflame. It was practically neutralized, but not completely out of the fight yet, as the surviving gunners would soon overcome the shock and resume firing.
"The Yamato and the Nagato have joined in, sir," the captain told Shojiro.
"Good," he said quietly. "Signal them to concentrate their fire on the cruiser to the port side, we'll handle the other one."
"Right away, sir," Tang Li said as he moved to carry out the command.
One of the Grand Admiral's innovations was to create flags with different symbols on them, each symbol meaning a different action. The flags were large enough to be seen from a distance. The rest of the fleet's officers had been told the meaning of each flag, and were given their own sets. This way, the ships were able to communicate with each other without having to rely on messenger hawks, which took more time and could be intercepted by the enemy.
The second cruiser had taken damage earlier from the Musashi and had begun burning up, with half of its trebuchets being destroyed in the fire that the two vessels exchanged. The flagship's most recent wave of flaming projectiles tore up what remained on the deck of the cruiser and effectively ended its resistance. Tang Li looked on with approval. Both of the enemy cruisers gradually were forced to stop firing as the began sinking. Their crews were scurrying around on badly burned and destroyed decks, carrying the dead and wounded off, trying to clear some of the wreckage, and preparing for the inevitable.
However, there was still the fourth and last cruiser, which was now moving away.
"Let that one go," Shojiro said. "They will carry the message of today's events to the usurper."
"Yes, Grand Admiral. It appears this battle is over," Li told his superior. He paused. "Shall we check the wreckage for survivors?"
"Yes, captain. Tell the ships to collect as many crewmen as possible, so that we can replace our losses and get new recruits to our cause," Shojiro said. "This is a good day. The beginning of our triumph over the usurpers."
Captain Li saluted. "As you command, Grand Admiral."
- This chapter's main purpose was to give the reader some insight into the two antagonists, and to give a demonstration of some of their skill.
- The Musashi, Yamato, and Nagato were some of the Imperial Japanese Navy's most prominent battleships during the Second World War.
For the collective works of the author, go here.