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|Impentrable, Part 2|
December 2, 2011
Impenetrable, Part 2 is the fourth serial of.
How recalls the pain caused in the aftermath of the battles.
How's move was risky by any military definition; he was, in effect, putting a group of thirty against a massive siege engine. If any blunder was made, the entire mission was put in jeopardy, along with Sung's prized unit. After ensuring that the troops were properly armored, How could do nothing more than wait for the outcome of the mission. It was already past sunrise, and the typical time of Iroh's bombardment was to arrive within the next hour. How made it to the top of the Wall, preparing to make his stand as a defensive asset. As he looked over his supply of defensive boulders, How realized he was at a severe disadvantage. While How would quickly run out of ammunition for his protective role, the Dragon of the West had access to more weaponry than he could use in a day.
How recognized the need to fortify his position, and began thinking of how he could get boulders from the ground to the top of the wall. As he contemplated his options, How saw soldiers rising to the top of the wall on columns of earth. How sprinted to the soldiers who had just arrived on top of the wall, getting onto their column and forcing it back down to the ground. Looking around the inside of the wall, How sees the housing structures built on the inside surface of the wall. Because this particular area of the wall had been put under the most stress, its residents evacuated when their houses began feeling the stresses of the wall's bombardment. The homes that had once crisscrossed the wall were gone, giving How an opportunity to try a different strategy. His entry alone had gathered a crowd of soldiers, giving him the metaphorical platform he needed to unveil his idea. "Men, the top of the wall is the base of our protective endeavors. The boulders housed there provide us with the ability to stop the fireballs that attack the wall on a daily basis. The Fire Nation has doubled the number of catapults, and so we must be prepared for double the number of attacks on the wall. This means we must bring earth to the top of the wall so that we can stop them. Right now, we are going to make a way to get the rock to the top." Noticing the front row was comprised mainly of Earthbenders, he motioned for them to approach the wall. "Soldiers, stand in a line along the wall."
"Yes, sir!" the entire group said in a passionate unity.
"You will each be raised to a different level on the wall. Once there, you will wait for a boulder to be passed to you, and you will send it to the next person up. When it reaches the top, we will divide them up from there. Ready?" How didn't wait for an answer. He raised the soldiers in a pyramid up the wall, with the center soldier reaching the top while the two on the outside were not far off the ground. "Those of you at the bottom, raise boulders from the ground and hand them off to the soldiers bringing them up. On the double, men! We don't have time to loose!" How orders while moving back towards the base of the wall. The General bends himself to the top of the wall just in time to see the first projectile hurled towards the wall. Finding the first boulder available, How deflected the Fire Nation attack. "Men! Prepare to defend!" he orders to the soldiers on the top of the Wall. Running to the other side of the Wall, How fiercely tells the soldiers raising rocks to "Pick up their pace."
"More fireballs incoming!" a soldier from the front of the wall calls.
General Sung, who had recently arrived at that section of the wall, began taking charge. "Then block them!" he states, reflecting the Raging Badgermole's simplistic brilliance. How knew from years of experience that it paid to trust his instincts; now was not the time to stray from time-tested strategies. How turns from the inner side of the wall in order to focus on the Outer side. How begins launching boulders into the fray, hoping to both stop the fireballs approaching and turn the tide of the battle. How's attack stopped many fireballs, but several still damage the already frail barrier. Glancing from the wall to its greatest threats, How receives a vision of hope.
A smoke cloud erupted near the two catapults on the ends of the line. How's plan seemed to be working, as more catapults began going up in smoke. As the dust settled on the original targets, How became elated. The catapult lay mangled and unusable, with the crew spread across the ground. While the crew celebrated, How watched as the mission continued.
Just as How saw a catapult rendered useless, the plan unraveled. The Lightningbenders were always Iroh's first option, the leading piece in his golden strategy. The merciless team focused their lightning bolts on the same catapult, just as the Terra Team had conquered it. The resulting explosion seemed to turn the tide of the battle. Half of the division set to attack the weapon were killed within two minutes, while the others managed to evade the attacks and flee.
On the other side of the line, Fire Nation soldiers were swarming the catapults, lining up in barricades between the metal weapons. While not quite outmatched, the half-Terra Team was more than outnumbered. If each Earthbender killed ten soldiers before he perished, Iroh's army would still prevail.
While the outside catapults were being dismantled, the inner weapons continued their attacks. After the Lightningbenders had defeated the remnants of the Terra Team, they began focusing their lightning strikes on the Wall itself. How's boulders became little more than distractions when the two attacks began pressuring the Wall simultaneously. Eventually, the legendary walls could withstand no more. A single fire ball, having made it through the minefield of boulders, was the final blow; taking down a massive sheet of rock. How watched in despair as the wall's deafening crash was drowned out with a cheer from the Fire Nation soldiers. Quickly How's overwhelming feeling of failure was overcome by a sudden shift in purpose. How realized that it was not the Walls that were keeping the Fire Nation out, though they were certainly a prime asset; it was the soldiers.
How sprinted towards the hole in the wall, leaping into the open section and plummeting towards the ground. As he fell, he became immersed in the thought of repelling the invasion force again. It consumed him, giving him such a burning ambition that he felt as if he could defeat the entire army on his own. When he reached the ground, How met it with his fist and feet, sending a fissure that killed the few Fire Nation soldiers who had approached the crack in the wall. How began clearing the rubble, hurling the pieces of the broken wall into the battlefield. He turned around, seeing that his men had begun swarming around the fallen section of the Wall, prepared to fight to defend the city. "The Wall may have been broken, but our Spirits remain strong! That is what the Fire Nation should fear! Let us remind them that we will never surrender! We will fight for our homeland! Our walls are not what defended our city! You did and you will again!" How's orders resonated in the vacant pocket between the wall. How turned and lead the soldiers forward, with Earthbenders using the sections of the Wall How had moved earlier to block incoming fireballs form the catapults.
Victory at a Cost
As he charged along with the soldiers, How unintentionally fell into the middle of the Earth Kingdom line. This did not stop him from finding enemies to battle, however, as the lines quickly broke as the opposing armies clashed. How began fighting four soldiers at once, three Firebenders and one spearman. He barely had time to breath in between dodging several consecutive fire blasts and the occasional spear jab. Eventually, the General decided that the field must be cleared. He ducked to avoid a fire blast, simultaneously plunging his hand into the ground. As the shockwave spread, How watched as the nearby Fire Nation soldiers became disoriented. This allowed not only How to seize the upper hand, but the Earthbenders around him as well. Within a minute, the surrounding Earth Kingdom soldiers decimated the Fire Nation, freeing most soldiers to continue their battle elsewhere.
One soldier, however, failed to take advantage of his opportunity. How became transfixed by the battle. The Firebender seemed to move much quicker than the soldier could handle, adding to his already numerous advantages. The soldier's form was shaky, at best, and his defenses were flimsy sheets of rock that could be pulverized by a single focused attack. How could do nothing but watch as the Firebender began launching dozens of fire blasts; each somehow managing to catch the soldier off guard.
The Earthbender struggled to block the Firebender's relentless onslaught, but to no avail. As he gestured to make an earth wall, the ground simply refused to budge, giving the Firebender the opening he desired. A simple blast of fire left the Earthbender sprawled on the ground, putting a smile on the invader's face. In a rage, How smashed the ground beneath him, lifting his adversaries into the air and removing their threats to the General. The massive Earthbender sprinted towards the battered soldier, hurling a boulder at his opponent to buy some time. The invader ducked in order to dodge the rock, but he recognized its sender. "The great General How," the Firebender says as he rises from his crouched position. "I'm certain that killing you will not only hand Ba Sing Se to us, but earn me a swift promotion to General."
"What's your name, wretch?" How snaps, buying more time to approach the defeated soldier's body.
"Gin, and I'm going to be the last Firebender you ever see!"
"After I've beaten you, I hope you're right!" How snaps, twisting his hands and pushing his heel into the ground. Half a dozen pillars erupt from the ground and converge on Gin, shocking the Firebender, who barely had time to dodge. Though he managed to dodge most, he was unprepared for the next pillar How subtly created. Striking him in the shoulder, Gin staggered back while glaring at How. "If you're all this pathetic, I might want to fight a few more Firebenders!" How taunts as Gin launches a fire blast. Deciding to put an end to the struggle, the Raging Badgermole dug his hands into the ground. With a mighty roar rivaling that of any savage creature, How raised a miniature wall, at least ten feet tall, that extended far beyond Gin's immediate comprehension. At the same time, a fissure burrowed towards the Firebender, who rolled out of the way to dodge.
Quickly turning towards the defeated soldier, How kneels before him, bowing in reverence. "May the Spirits bless you and your sacrifice, son. You have made your country proud." Raising his head, a single tear fell from the General's right eye. "As a member of my army, you have honored me with your final act of devotion, and you have indeed made your commander proud. Rest in peace, little soldier boy."
With a cough, the soldier struggled to raise himself to a sitting position, eventually stopping halfway. From his reclined position, he signaled a desire to continue fighting, but also a sad inability to breathe. Raising his arm slowly, he motioned for How to draw closer, a small request the General quickly obliged. "Please tell my father that Captain Cheng died serving the country we loved," he said in between labored inhales. "And that I love him. I'll be waiting... with... mom..." he mutters as his head begins falling back. Extending his arm, How catches the boy's body before it touches the ground, but not before his death. Clutching the boy close, he lamented the boy's patriotic spirit; a true hero who deserved nothing more than to have been able to have seen his father a final time.
I'll be sure he knows, How thinks solemnly. As his sorrow fades into rage, How ornately lies the soldier's body flat while placing his arms across his chest. How raised earth in a box around him while motioning for a slab of earth to cover the top. "Your sacrifice will not be in vain, Captain Cheng. Your father will be proud, but these savages will pay!" How bellows rising and sprinting off into battle.
The feeble Fire Nation foot soldiers stood no chance against the infuriated Badgermole. How felt a rush that he hadn't felt in years; he knew he was fighting for the soldiers around him and that they were doing the same for him. How stepped forward, prompting a weak-willed soldier to immediately flee to the back of the Fire Nation ranks. With various waves of his hands and slides of his legs, earth moved to suit his will, decimating the soldiers before him. With an intimidating scream, How punched the ground, lifting the nearby soldiers off the ground. As their bodies twirled in midair, How moved on to other pressing matters: the catapults.
The General sprinted through the carnage; the sight of the Earth Kingdom bodies fueling his onslaught. Every Firebender that came before him was met with a true animal; a man worthy of both fear and his nickname. How immediately located the nearest weapon and set his course. The soldiers who attempted to intercept him were quickly incapacitated; each opponent immediately regretted challenging him. How stopped at the base of the catapult, spending no time marveling at its sheer destructive potential before moving to destroy it. How thrust his foot into the ground, widening his stance while moving his hands slowly in opposite directions perpendicular to his body. He quickly reversed the motion with a sudden jerk, lifting the metal weapon off the ground and towards the next weapon. The Fire Nation soldiers manning the nearby catapult didn't even see the attack coming until it was too late. The resulting explosion took out at least twenty Fire Nation soldiers, but that was not enough for How. He turned and ran towards a third weapon, preparing to destroy his next obstacle.
How continued in the mass chaos of battle for hours that day, entirely unaware of an important strategic aspect: the weather. The General paid little attention to the rapidly approaching looming clouds that had recently appeared behind the Fire Nation lines. Though he was growing tired from his grueling endeavors, How was still noticing that the Firebenders were growing less bold with their attacks; one ran at the very sight of him. The turn of events would be a welcome change from his daunting mission.
How was in battle with the last of a group of Firebenders. With a swift motion, How raised a pillar of earth that struck the insurgent right below his chin. When How left his stance, he felt something small strike the top of his head. Looking into the blackening sky, How rejoiced at the sight of rain. Rain meant not only that the weapons would be harder to operate, but that the sun was completely obscured: the Firebenders were at their weakest.
From the center of the lines, How heard a terrifying voice calling out orders. The voice clearly belonged to a powerful man, even How could not deny such a fact. The tone, however, signaled a deeper understanding of strategy; a blessing few tacticians ever received. "Men! Fall back as you were instructed! Hold your lines! We will make it through the rain! Stand your ground!" The orders were small, short, and simple, but meant more on the battlefield than an epistle. The soldiers promptly obeyed, breaking away from How's men and entering an atypical retreat.
Despite their fall back, the Fire Nation had not lost their will. They remained close to their original positions, but were slightly wary about advancing. How remained vigilant, but understood that the Fire Nation knew that an attack through the rain was military suicide. With an elite section of Earthbenders, How returned to the wall, intent on expediting the reconstruction. How gave out orders to rebuild the wall as quickly as possible, making sure that it will stand firm. As he goes to move the first boulder, the General met his most daunting foe: his humanity.
How sometimes forgot that he was as limited as any other soldier was in how diligently he could serve his country. With half a night's sleep, barely enough food to feed a small child, and an exhausting brawl, How was overstretched. As a man he had limits, but he refused to let himself know them. His arrogance was, in this case, his literal downfall. With a groan, General How collapsed face first onto the muddy ground in front of his men, having borne the burden of the city's defense effort.
When How awoke in the infirmary, the doctors and nurses were surrounding him. "General How, good afternoon," the nearest man says.
"Where am I?" How says, sitting up and turning to get off his bed.
"Please, General, lie back down. You are in the infirmary; you were wounded in battle," the doctor replies, placing his hand on How's shoulder and pressuring him to recline.
The Raging Badgermole, on the other hand, had different plans. Pushing the medic away, How rises onto his feet, ignoring the faint feeling that caused him to stagger. "I'm going to my men," he staunchly declares as he begins leaving the room.
"General, you won the battle! The Fire Nation was pushed back!"
While How was elated with the pleasant outcome, he had other issues that hid his joy. "How many men did we lose?"
"Sir, are you sure that now is the proper time-"
How's resolve had not faltered. "How many men did we lose?" he asked again, more stern than before.
"We don't know, sir. Our estimates are high, but they are currently inconclusive."
"Then find out," How coldly orders as he exits the room. How leaves the tent to find a makeshift infirmary spread across the vast plains bound by the Outer and Inner Walls. He sees soldiers coming from the front lines carrying bodies and assisting their wounded comrades. Deeply saddened by the devastation, How presses forward, his dizziness paling in light of his determination to see the battle through to the end.
Upon reaching the tattered Wall, How notices that there is no longer a battle raging. Both armies are gathering their fallen, with soldiers from the Fire Nation assisting the defenders in bringing wounded soldiers to the base of the Wall. Finding the nearest officer, he quickly took hold of his armor. "What happened here? Why are they helping us?"
Regaining his composure, the officer begins recounting the end of the battle. "Sir, after you retreated, we followed. The Fire Nation stopped their attacks entirely, and eventually sent a messenger over offering a temporary armistice. Since you were incapacitated at the time, we just kind of went along, never accepting or declining the offer. While we were cleaning up, the Crown Prince sent some of his soldiers to assist in keeping our soldiers alive. He gave them one order; don't go through the Wall. And so, they've been helping us keep our soldiers alive, moving them closer to our doctors. It's actually a good arrangement."
How recognized an opportunity. "What did he say about this peace agreement?"
"The messenger said that the commanding General is offering a temporary end to fighting. He said you don't have a while to accept, but that if you don't, the fighting will resume tomorrow."
While How listened, he allowed his gaze to drift to the battlefield. From his position, he could see exactly where he was running hours before and where he met his first battle of the day. His thoughts sharpening, How begins ignoring the officer in order to search for the body he buried earlier. He found the area and saw that the makeshift tomb had been opened. Cutting off the officer he had begun questioning, How spoke his mind. "What happened to the soldier that was buried over there?"
"You knew about him?"
"Vaguely. Fill me in."
"After the battle, his unit went regrouped and found the last place they saw him. They recognized that the ground was out of shape and found his body. They all pitched in, carrying the body all the way to the doctor. They all looked up to him. He was under my command; he was a great soldier. I'll miss him."
"See to it that he is given a proper burial for his service."
Message from Far Away
That night, How sat at his tent's small shrine. "Spirits, bless these walls so that they may protect those within'..." he concludes, aptly timed for the messenger who arrived.
"General How, you have a message from the Dragon of The West, General Iroh."
"What is it?" How says, his eyes still closed, having not moved an inch.
The soldier motions in a Fire Nation soldier, who bows in respect to How. The three wait in silence, as neither How nor the messenger wish to say the first word. Eventually, the Fire Nation soldier relents. "Prince Iroh sends High General How a temporary armistice offer," he says with a timid voice. "His Highness says that when men are tired, they need rest, and that nothing is more tiring than the passing of a loved one."
"I didn't know that boy," How mutters, standing up and pacing to his desk. "He was just one of many brave souls your campaign of terror has smothered."
"Either way, sir, Prince Iroh heard of your sorrow and realized that all men eventually reach their breaking points. He is allowing you to properly mourn your dead while we do the same with ours. He is suggesting a period of five days."
"Tell the Dragon this: I will accept his offering, but it changes nothing." How says. "You may leave." The messenger and soldier bowed and quietly exited the tent, leaving How to his administrative duties.
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