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Chapter 16: First Strike
One Week Ago
Yuan Chong stepped out of the ship, one of the many captured Fire Nation vessels, onto the beach. Admiral Zhuo Long walked beside him. "Chin Village is to the east, but it is small and unimportant. The Fire Nation hasn't touched it."
The former Earth King closed his eyes. "Ignore it and move toward Omashu. We will set up a temporary base of operations there in order to take Ba Sing Se."
The admiral smiled as the tanks rolled down from the small transport; they had been designed by a strange man known only as the Mechanist. After the Day of Black Sun, Yuan Chong had ordered that several be captured back from the Fire Nation and studied. Those, in addition to the over one-hundred ships in their arsenal, varying from modified Empire Class to modified Scout vessels, made Yuan Chong's ragtag force into a fighting machine to be feared.
"And once Ba Sing Se is taken?"
Yuan Chong grinned. "Then we shall cripple the Fire Nation."
Zuko waited at the Airship Base for the Kyoshi Warriors; they were due to arrive before Aang, Sokka, and Katara. Mai slid into his arms. "What's this about Zuko?"
"The Dai Li killed Bujing, and they attempted to kill me. I want to meet with the Avatar and his friends before the big meeting in Ba Sing Se; I need their input."
Mai scowled. "This is all so wrong. Why can't people accept that the War is over?"
Zuko's eyes darkened. "That's what I want to find out."
The airship carrying the Kyoshi Warriors and Yun Zhen landed, and they began to disembark. Ty Lee bounded out of the machine and hugged Mai. "It's so great seeing you again!"Mai smiled. "How's being a Kyoshi Warrior?"
"It's great! I'm having so much fun."
Yun and Suki came down the ramp, each carrying their belongings. Zuko walked over. "I am Fire Lord Zuko." He smiled. "I know Suki, but you I don't know."
Yun gave the customary Fire Nation bow, something he didn't think he remembered or wanted to remember. "It's an honor to meet you, Fire Lord Zuko." He choked out those words. "I am Yun Zhen."
"I'm assuming that you're from the Earth Kingdom."
"I am." Yun did not view that as a lie; as far as he was concerned, the Earth Kingdom was his home. It had been for six years.
"Well, we are honored to have you as a guest." Zuko turned. "The same goes for the Kyoshi Warriors."
Yun squeezed his sword hilt, suppressing the urge to hate the Fire Nation; it wasn't working. Ty Lee sensed his discomfort and walked over. "How're you doing?"
Yun expelled the breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Pretty good, considering the circumstances." He looked at her. "It must be nice for you to be able to come back here and see familiar faces."
"I am sorry about your parents, Yun."
Yun smiled. "It's not your fault. I know that." He glanced at Zuko and saw Mai boring holes in him with her eyes. "Come on, let's go with the others. I want to see what's changed."
Ty Lee grinned. "Okay."
Three Days Ago
Ri Wu sat in the now empty throne room of Omashu. He buried the Old King in the crypt beneath the city, and he now awaited the arrival of his King, Yuan Chong. He did not wait long; several hours later, the 51st Earth King stepped into the throne room, closed his eyes, and exhaled.
"The King of Omashu was powerful; I can feel it."
Ri Wu stepped forward and knelt before his master. "Indeed he was. Fung Chu and one of his men did not survive the battle. The other is still recovering from his wounds."
Yuan Chong glowered. "Fung Chu was weak; I only wish that this great Earthbender, Bumi, did not have to pass.""As did I."
"I suppose this means that Long Feng will take his place." Yuan Chong growled. "I will have to ensure that mistakes like the Coup do not happen again."
"Of course, sire."
"We shall wait here while our ships move into their positions. The Serpent's Pass needs to be ours if we are to move portions of our army to Ba Sing Se. I will have my city."
Yun watched as Appa flew down into the palace courtyard. They had all been given the best accommodations as guests of the Fire Lord, and Yun was at that moment standing on the balcony accompanying his quarters. He smiled as he watched Aang, Katara, and Sokka embrace Zuko, but his smile faded as he heard someone enter. He whipped around, pulling his sword out of its hilt and coming face to face with Mai.
"Who are you?!"
Her voice betrayed nothing of the fire in her expression. "I'm a friend of Ty Lee's."
Yun knitted his brow. "Oh." He sheathed his sword. "And?"
"She likes you, more than any other guy she's ever met. I've never heard her actually talk about a guy like she does about you." She jabbed her finger in Yun's chest. "If you do anything to hurt her..." She whipped a three-pronged chai out of her sleeve. "...I will be here to make sure you suffer far worse than she does."
Yun raised his hands in surrender. "You don't have to worry; I wouldn't do anything intentional to hurt her."
"You'd better not."
Commander Yu clutched his side as he fell. The Kolau Mountain Range was under attack by Earth Kingdom soldiers, and the Fire Nation could not hold against them. Their tanks were impervious to flame, and they had a virtually unlimited supply of ammunition.
His lieutenant ran up to him. "Sir, we can't hold the mountains; we have to surrender!"
Yu coughed and saw flecks of blood when he brought up his hand. "We shouldn't have tried to hold here in the first place... these Earthbenders... they are a far greater fighting force than anything the Fire Nation ever faced. Give the order; we surrender." The lieutenant turned away as Commander Yu breathed his last.
He turned to another soldier. "You heard him."
Ri Wu and Long Feng stood observing the battle. "This is almost too easy." Long Feng grinned wickedly.
"It will become far more difficult when we enact Phase Two. Do not celebrate yet."
The former Grand Secretariat glanced at Ri Wu. "I hear a rumor going around that I am to be a part of Yuan Chong's War Council once again. It is a pity that Fung Chu was unable to survive the battle of Omashu."
"Tread carefully, Long Feng," he replied. "The King was hesitant to bring you back on as it is; do not give him any reason to regret it."One of Ri Wu's men met them. "They wish to surrender and discuss terms."
Ri Wu folded his arms. "They showed our land no mercy; we will return the sentiment." He glanced at Long Feng and cocked his head.
Long Feng's grin widened. "Kill them all."
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