|By The Bos||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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|Impentrable, Part 1|
November 26, 2011
Impenetrable, Part 1 is the third serial of.
How recalls the difficulties of the Siege of the Outer Wall.
Through a corrupt bureaucratic manipulation, the Council of Five had been forced to hear debates on a matter about trade routes, something How cared little about so long as they remained open. As the hearings went on, the delegations kept coming, somehow managing to divide the Council over such a relatively minor issue.
Since the Council unintentionally given full dominance over the issue, How had begun to envision another source of funding. He quickly brought up the faltering military funds, and decided to use this new area of control to keep the military's faltering finances afloat. The few remaining trade routes were an asset to the Impenetrable City, but How realized that they held another, currently untapped, value. He planned on using the dominion to help save the Kingdom, so he prepared his address. When the Council arrived, How began his speech. "Men, we are here on this day to discuss a matter other than tactics." With a grin he continued, preparing for a lighter anecdote. "I'm sure we could all use a break from this at the moment." How calmed himself to prevent an unscripted outburst, as he was approaching a touchy matter. "Anyway, through his corrupt politics, Long Feng has forced us to make a decision on trade policy. The only routes we have left are of vital importance, and I believe they must be kept open. But, as we all know, the strains of the War are evident in all places. We have cut everything from our expenditures that is deemed even mildly inefficient, and yet we still are coming up short. From this issue, we are given the opportunity to let the citizens of Ba Sing Se help us more. Our morale is getting lower every day, and so we need to let the soldiers know that the city is behind them, just as the walls are in front."
The Raging Badgermole's words were powerful, but one General remained unmoved. He sat in his seat stroking his moustache, waiting for a moment to speak. At the end of How's speech, he felt the need to give a rebuttal. "General How, we are a Council of military matters. We were formed millennia ago in order to help streamline military policy, not to usurp power from the government! And, since this body is solely for military matters, I will limit its power to controlling the defense of our nation!"
Within moments of the debate, How revealed himself to be an able politician. "General, I believe this extension is a necessary measure. This is entirely related to military affairs; if we do not continue to receive funds, we will not be able to defend our city!"
"At what cost, General?" his opponent quickly fired back.
"We have made sacrifices," How began. "Our soldiers have made sacrifices. I believe it is due time that others help bear our nation's burden."
The debate continued for hours between How and two Generals, with Sung and Beipan sitting idly and adding nothing to discussion. Since none of the Generals wanted to spend another day on the same pointless matter, the three vocal Generals decided to call the matter to a vote. As per the customs, How cast his vote, in favor of his proposal. The next two Generals, the men vehemently opposed to How's plan, swiftly voted against. Before Sung stepped forward to vote, How shot him a glare. Sung agreed with How, casting his vote in favor of the raised taxes proposal.
The burden of the decision fell to the rookie General. Because Beipan and How were so close on many of the previous issues, How was not expecting that his vote would defeat his plan. "After carefully examining the positives and negatives of each proposal, I have decided that the imposition of taxes on civilians is beyond the appointed authority of the military. I cannot support such a policy."
General How left the chamber that day seething with rage. He expected the other Generals to oppose him, but not Beipan, the man he appointed to obey his orders. Entering his office and slamming the door closed, he sits at his desk, staring blankly at the requests placed on his desk. After a few calming moments of reflection, he decides to go through the papers. The first few were of little significance, simply a report of the previous proceedings of the Council and asking him for his opinion. He felt that he had given his opinion more than enough, so he threw the paper into the fire behind him. The next item, however, was a request by Sha-Mo of the Sandbender tribes.
How had never heard of Sha-Mo, but knew of the Sandbenders of the Si Wong Dessert. The burning sandpit was a true torment for anyone who passed through, let alone for people who lived there. Curious, How opens the letter and skims it quickly. Sha-Mo was a chief of a tribe in the dessert, requesting that supplies be sent to help his men survive. He claimed that the Fire Nation had damaged most of their normal food supply and that they needed only a few months of aid before their survival was no longer threatened. How grinned: he had finally made a plan to teach respect to those who cross him. He reached to a pad of paper on the side of his desk, writing up a formal order and putting it on the opposite side of his desk. How knew better than to give Beipan this order minutes after opposing him, so he decided to delay it for a few days. Nonetheless, he would learn to never again cross this General.
General How sat in a tent within the Agrarian Zone, his eyes drooping from the lack of sleep. The Siege had been going on for nearly a year now, and it had taken its toll on the city's inhabitants, soldiers, walls, and chief protector. An intelligence report stated that Prince Iroh was planning a strike at some point in the near future, so the General had resolved to remain vigilant until that fateful moment arrived.
On one particularly long night, a messenger entered the tent, bowing in order to show respect to the General. "Sir, several officers wish to see you."
"Let them in," How says, coming off more irritated than he actually was.
A group of several officers entered the tent along with guards who are restraining a young man, who, despite his entrapment, is not fighting back. "Sir, my apologies for bothering you, but we have captured a thief," the leader says, bowing in reverence.
"Where did you find him, Sergeant?" How asks, planning to use as little of his time as possible for this matter.
"He was found near the meal rations, sir. He had days' worth of meals in a bag on his shoulder."
"Your name, soldier?" How demands, having found an interest in this thief.
"Cheng, sir," stammered the soldier. Despite the clear symptoms of an intimidated soldier, How noted that the boy had the voice of a true leader.
"What's your rank, Cheng?" the General asks, sizing the man up before he can determine what course of action to take.
"Captain, sir," he says proudly, clearly having worked to attain that level.
As an official, Cheng's position was vital to remaining order. From moments of knowing the young man, How knew that his men respected him, and that he deeply cared for them. In spite of this, the military was an organization built on maintaining order. Because he had violated a crucial rule and was caught, How knew he had no choice but to punish the rising star. "Captain Cheng, your rebellion will not be tolerated," How says sternly as he approaches the young officer.
"General, forgive me. I had only my men's best interests at heart, I never meant-"
"To get caught?" How interrupts. How knew he must not appear too emotionally involved, so it was vital for him to keep his distance. "No criminal desires to be discovered, Captain, and all criminals must be brought into line. As a role model, you will be made into an example." It pained How to say it, but due to the presence of the other officers, the Raging Badgermole had to act steady and strong, upholding the regulations that kept the under-funded Earth Kingdom military able to fend off the Fire Nation's constant threats.
"Sir, I was only getting enough food for my men. I was not going to have any myself; I was just going to take enough for their needs to be met. Forgive my rash actions," Cheng replies calmly, falling to his knees in his plea.
How was now offended; he always made sure that his troops were as well maintained as was feasible. He had even taking to living in a tent instead of having a house rented out for him. To be spoken to as if he was trying to ignore the soldiers was simply intolerable. "I have always trusted my men to come to me with any issue they have. I have heard nothing about rationing problems."
"Sir, with all due respect, I have been begged for food by the starving men in my regiment; I have turned to my superiors, but nothing ever changes."
Cheng had made his second error. By blaming the superiors, Cheng was directly blaming the Raging Badgermole himself. "I can guarantee that my men are satisfied under my command. You will not disrespect my leadership in this fashion!"
"Yes, sir. I will never question your commands again. Allow me to serve my country," he begs.
"I will be merciful," How begins, stroking his beard in contemplation. "Twenty lashes in front of your regiment." Cheng continued staring at the How's feet as the General handed down his verdict, unable to utter another word in his own defense. "Now."
The soldiers surrounding the young man immediately took hold of his arms and led him out of the tent, with the curtain flowing closed following their departure. After several moments of minor administrative tasks, the Raging Badgermole exits the tent through the dividing tapestry.
After looking around his surroundings and seeing that the soldiers were in commotion over their summons in the middle of the night, How decided to take his chance. Finding an officer that wasn't in his tent a few minutes before, pulls him aside. "Begin giving the soldiers higher rations," he orders.
"But sir, since the beginning of the Siege conditions have been harsh."
"Are you questioning me, soldier? If the men aren't fed, they can't fight! What use is there keeping the city fed if its inhabitants are killed the next day! Are you willing to sacrifice Ba Sing Se for a bowl of rice?" How was nearly yelling, though the pair were far enough away from the main group that no one heard. The man saluted in submission before quietly vanishing into the shadows in order to fulfill his order.
Throughout the night, the lashes could be both heard and felt across the Agrarian Zone. As the slices continued to sound, the Raging Badgermole grew increasingly restless. What was it about the young officer's eyes that bothered him so? Something about his demeanor and gestures was troublingly familiar, yet he was unable to make the connection.
Expect the Unexpected
The following day would prove to be a decisive one, if not on the day of the battle. Finally realizing that it would be highly illogical for the Fire Nation to attack without the sun, How gets a half-night's sleep, refreshing the Badgermole ever so slightly. At the crack of dawn, How woke up, covered in a cold sweat despite the summer heat. As he wiped the few beads of moisture from his forehead, he heard commotion outside. Quickly putting on his basic protective armor, he exits his tent and see the sun rising. How assumes the ruckus around the camp is simple sunrise preparations, but he feels the need to check the telescope anyway. How passes through the camp, with several soldiers stopping their activities in order to salute their leader. Brushing them off, the general arrives at the base of the wall, guarded by several soldiers.
The Earthbenders raised a small square at the base of the wall while motioning for their leader to step atop. "Don't worry, men, I'll make it on my own," he says calmly while stepping onto the block. Widening his stance, How thrusts his arm into the air, raising the earth beneath him until he was at the top of the wall.
The first soldier who met him was an older man, clearly an officer. "I'm glad you're here, sir. We have a situation that requires your input." While How nods in agreement, the soldier motions to a telescope pointed towards the Fire Nation's base of operations. Looking through the lens, How sees dozens of catapults in an attack formation. He sees more barracks than he remembers, proving a daunting fear: reinforcements.
"This is a dire situation, soldier," How says, calmly but with an angry undertone. "Why was I not alerted?" How asks while setting off towards the Outer Wall's base.
The soldier struggled to keep up while forming his answer. "We were about to go and wake you, sir."
"Has one of the generals gave the soldiers defense orders?" How asks, beginning to wonder if anyone was on top of things.
"Not as far as I know, sir."
Incompetence in such a dire mission was something How could not tolerate. "Then make sure that the soldiers know what's coming!" How screams, the very wall trembling with his rage. "See to it!" As How turns to continue towards the Wall's leadership, the soldier sprints off in the other direction, down towards the descending mechanism. Upon reaching the door, How barges into the room, coming across several officers grouped around a battle map. "How could you leave the soldiers out of this?" How screams while approaching the map, pushing the soldiers in his way until they no longer obstructed him.
"Sir, we thought we needed a definite plan before we gave the soldiers orders. We felt that getting the soldiers worked up beforehand would we counter-productive," the first soldier says.
"Do you not realize that this is probably the most dangerous threat these walls have ever faced? We have been under siege for over a year now, and because you couldn't at least tell the soldiers to be ready, all of these lives lost may be in vain!" How stomped the ground, shaking the building and causing a few tiles to slide off the structure's roof. "Now, do any of you have a plan that could even possibly save the Kingdom?"
After moments of silence, a younger officer, Sergeant Xi, who already had a reputation for irritating How with his ideas, spoke up. "Sir, since we need large projectiles from the top of the wall, have you considered using the wall itself as a source of earth? It would-"
In How's eyes, Xi's suggestion nearly amounted to surrender. "Absolutely not! This siege has been ongoing for 482 days, and as you should all well know, the wall has been damaged more than we can repair. Now is not the time to begin tearing it down ourselves!"
Xi continued, despite his plan being shot down. "But sir, there is no other feasible option!"
"Then we will endure! These walls are a symbol of our Kingdom, and if nothing else, they represent our refusal to let the Fire Nation beat our spirits! They are a reminder of our generations of ancestors who have seen the walls withstand anything! Our forefathers wouldn't let these walls fall, and I will not tear down the Kingdom's hope! Your plan is rejected, Sergeant!" After looking at the blank stares, How decides to go to the most centralized authority figure within his reach. "Where is Sung?"
"He should be at the next building, in that direction," Xi replies, pointing at an exit on the other side of the room.
"Stop dawdling in here! I'm going to find him, all of you start working with the soldiers to prepare our defenses!" How orders as he storms around the group in the middle. The officials begin scrambling before leaving the room in fear of the Badgermole's trademark rage.
How, in turn, briskly walked out of the room towards the next outpost. How's strategy was designed to balance his defense with offense; attacking to protect his prime defensive asset. And he would be sure to cover his tracks as well; these men were a trained unit of Sung's conception. Because they were Sung's pet project, they were part of his army, easily his pride and joy. Sung had always believed that a small platoon of heavily trained Earthbenders were the best possible weapon in a crisis situation, but for whatever reason, he had been unable to form such a group in his entire career. It was the trade route debate that gave How the timing he needed. How had heard from a boasting General that Sung was about to tip to their side, having previously been undecided. How's actions were a swift bribe; Sung got his Earthbenders and How got his vote. How now realized that it must have been the Spirits intervening, as Sung's folly were going to be put to the test.
Halfway to the other office, How noticed Sung walking towards How's initial position. "General Sung!" How says, alerting the nervous General to How's presence.
"General How! Excellent, I was going to have the officers summon you. Now-"
"We have no time for that, Sung. Have you ordered your men to prepare for combat?"
"I had my officers in the outpost coming up with definite orders. They said they'd send them out within five minutes."
"They hadn't when I got there. I sent them out to get the men ready. Anyway, I need the Terra Team. It's of dire importance."
"But, General, they aren't ready! We haven't had the chance to apply them on the battlefield!"
"Now is their chance."
"I still don't think-"
Having grown tired of being challenged, How grabbed Sung by his armor and pulled him close to the wall, pointing in the direction of the catapults. "Do you see those weapons, General?" How asks rhetorically. Before Sung can stutter his answer, How continues. "Those are dozens of Fire Nation catapults. There are nearly twice as many now as there were yesterday. The Fire Nation has received reinforcements, and they are preparing to destroy the weakened section of the wall! Your group is to be used to neutralize the catapults before the walls crumble! If they're not ready, then it's you and I that are going to do their job! Am I making myself clear?" How was essentially yelling into Sung's face by this point, intimidating the General to the point of cowering. "Now where are they?"
"They are located towards the rear of my army's camp, sir," Sung replies. "Do with them what you wish."
How gave the formal salute before briskly walking towards the descent system in silence. With a gesture of his hand, the column began retracting into the ground beneath. How ignored the stunned soldiers at the base of the wall, instead immediately setting off for Sung's divisions. Upon his arrival, How swiftly discerns the Terra Team's dwellings, a massive stone compound draped in black, brown, and gold tapestries. "Terra Team! Fall into line!" How orders from the outside.
Within moments, a group of about thirty men assemble in front of the Badgermole. From the middle of the line, a man sharply steps into the forefront, preparing to address the Raging Badgermole. "Sir, Corporal Onu, commanding officer of the Terra Corps, at your service," he says with a bow.
How silently motions for him to return into the line before letting out a sigh. "As you were, Corporal. Men, as you well know, the Fire Nation is laying siege to our walls. What you may not know is that now they have twice as much firepower. From the reports I've read, you are talented at demolishing the Fire Nation's mechanized weapons. To be blunt, now is not the time to prove the records wrong. If we don't act swiftly and decisively, the Fire Nation will soon breach the walls that have kept our Kingdom safe for generations. I, for one, will not be remembered as the General who presided over Ba Sing Se's fall. This mission is of the utmost importance. We must drastically reduce the numbers of the catapults or we risk our own destruction. Do you accept your mission?" How's stern stare panned from one end of the line to the other side, stopping briefly to try and sense a hint of disloyalty. From the stares alone, How could tell that Sung's men were ready for anything. With a nod, he continues their briefing. "Now, you will divide into two groups, flanking the catapults from each side. Approach as subtly as possible, but if you are noticed, focus on causing collateral damage. Dismissed, and may your efforts make your country proud."
For the collective works of the author, go here.
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