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Chapter 8: Old Wounds
Zuko stared out on what had been a battlefield minutes earlier, astonished at the sheer amount of bodies. Flames, stones, and arrows littered the battlefield. He turned back toward Aang and General Shinu. "So much devastation..."
General Shinu spoke up, "Fire Lord Zuko, they are at this moment heading to the Fire Nation; if we are to meet them, we must move quickly."
Zuko nodded. "Tell Captain Li Teng to prepare to take the Airship Fleet, along with the 5th and the Yu Yan Archers, to Capitol Island and set up a defense. We move as soon as we can."
General Fong staggered in, two soldiers propping him up. "What of my men?"
Aang's eyes widened. "How many survived?"
Fong hung his head. "Less than fifty..." He glared at Zuko. "We may have driven them away, but thanks to the cowardice of the Fire Nation, it was a victory the Earth Kingdom could not afford."
Zuko lunged forward, stopping short of the general when Aang gripped his shoulder. "Cowardice! I saved your men!"
"But not a single one of yours were down there; they all sat up here while my men died!"
Zuko waved him off. "I had good reason for that. I suspected that they'd still push through. I needed all of the men I could spare so that we can stop them when they reach us."
General Fong spat at Zuko's feet as he shrugged off his supporters. "So you intend to use my men to defend your home? No. No more will die for you."
Zuko's eyes bored right into Fong. "No. Your men have suffered far too much already; I intended to leave them here from the beginning."
The general turned away. "Then our business is concluded. Go; defend your home."
Aang stepped in between them. "It doesn't have to be like this. Please, we can—."
"Go make sure your friends are alright, Avatar. What's done is done," Fong replied.
Aang nodded sadly as he made his way to the infirmary.
Yuan Chong removed his armor as his officers made council. Upon removal, it revealed not a thin, weak old man, but a powerful, muscle and fire Earthbending master. A burn was evident all along his right side up to his face. He scowled. "How many?"
Ri Wu simply closed his eyes.
"The number is not impor—."
The Earth King's top general winced, visibly affected. "One quarter..."
His master's face contorted with rage, but he was utterly silent.
"It was my fault; I did not think..."
"That is correct; you did not think. Twenty-five hundred men we lost."
Ri WU winced once more, but this time out of pain as the servants removed his upper armor and tunic to begin repairing his wounds. A blotchy scar covered his chest, but it was an old wound. From a different time.
The Siege was going poorly, and the Outer Wall had fallen to this General Iroh. Ri Wu had been incensed when he heard that General Lee had surrendered. So he killed him. On what was to be one of the final days of that horribly long battle, Ri Wu encountered a Firebender unlike any he had ever fought. The man wielded a fearsome blue flame and ripped through the Defense Force as if they were children, but a child Ri Wu was not. He and the Firebender fought a fierce duel, and still more Earthbenders fell before the general could finish the fight. Even he had not been unscathed.
"Ri Wu! Pay attention!" Yuan Chong's anger was palpable. "We will spread our remaining forces accordingly, and Captain Yung will take Long Feng's position. Permanently."
He nodded. "I never much liked the coward anyway."
For the first time in days, Yuan Chong laughed. "Neither did I! But that matters little now. We must plan our targets carefully."
Ri Wu's mind went back to that fight once more. He raised the rock to crush his opponent's head, but the Firebender had gotten up and launched a massive blast at Ri Wu's chest. The general launched the projectile regardless before putting up an earth barrier, and it struck home. His foe collapsed face first in the dirt, dying instantly while his last fire blast partially broke through Ri Wu's defense and struck him in the chest, still hot enough to scorch through his armor.
He rubbed the scar, still feeling the pain. Soon after that, General Iroh had given up and abandoned his attack. That had been when Long Feng brought him the message, the message that changed everything.
Katara and the other Northern Water Tribe healers moved through the infirmary, treating as many patients as they could. Aang walked in and saw Hakoda and Sokka both sitting up. He grimaced as he watched one of the medics break the arrow in the warrior's left arm and removed it, but the Southern chief didn't bat an eye.
Katara turned to see Aang and gave him a small smile before returning to her duties. Sokka, who only had a few bruised ribs, got up and made his way to the young Airbender.
"What happens now?"
Aang shook his head. "I don't know. Zuko and his forces are completely pulling back to the Fire Nation."
"Where does that leave us?"
Aang shrugged. "Speaking of 'us', where are the others?"
"Yun, Ty Lee, Mai, and Haru are all packing."
"To go with Zuko."
Sokka nodded. "Based on what you just told me, yes."
Aang turned to leave. "Then that's where we're going. I'll get Appa ready; grab Suki and Toph and tell them."
Sokka grinned. "Man, it really is like old times."
Aang half-smiled. "Except fewer people died then."
Yuan Chong observed as his best tacticians marked targets on their map. "This small island here will make an exceptional launching point for our full scale invasion, and the rest of our fleet can meet us here from Home Base."
The Earth King nodded. "What of the Southern Raiders on Whale Tail Island? Have they noticed our equipment or had any run-ins, seeing as the islands are relatively close?"
Admiral Zhuo Long shook his head. "No, we have kept ourselves hidden."
"Good. Now there is a port for the Fire Navy at Shu Jing." He looked at His Tank General, Zhiang Li, "Can you recommend anyone ruthless enough to utterly destroy that port?"
The general flashed an evil grin. "I have just the man. Gow!" An Earthbender with twin war hammers strode in.
"How may I be of service, General?"
"Shu Jing is the site of a recently built Fire Navy port. Our King wants it destroyed completely. See to it."
Gow sneered. "Yes, sir."
Piandao stepped out of the War Balloon that Iroh and Jeong Jeong had brought him in. "Thank you, General Iroh. Today, we prepare in our own way to defend the Fire Nation."
"May your home be spared from catastrophe, my old friend." Iroh replied.
"You two will head to the Capitol?"
Iroh nodded. "Where we shall see to the defeat of this new threat."
Yuan Chong, the meeting long over, spoke with Ri Wu. "The Earth Kingdom rebels will not bother us any longer; we saw to their end at Pohuai Stronghold. However, the Yu Yan Archers decimated our troops and will do so at the Capitol if we do not take care of them."
Ri Wu leaned back in his chair. "Sire, our tanks will make short work of them. That's what we've been saving them for anyway."
Yuan Chong stroked his beard. "You, General Yung, and myself will lead the strike on the Capitol..."
Something was wrong. "You're worried about leaving Long Feng behind?"
Yuan Chong closed his eyes. "No, that fool had his chances."
"He was inept. Why did you even use him in the first place?"
"I suppose I saw in him something of myself. At first. He was a middle class citizen, but a visionary with dreams. I thought that he might make something of my kingdom while I was away."
"You planned this?"
The old king chuckled. "Ri Wu, I have been planning this for over thirty years! My father was weak and let those filthy Fire Nation wretches run amok in his kingdom, in our glorious kingdom. When he died, I took hold of my reign and intended from the start to stage a massive counterstrike."
Ri Wu nodded as he rubbed his scar. "I suppose old wounds do run deep."
"That they do..." He scowled. "But Long Feng grew greedy. He ignored my orders."
"It took the Avatar to set things straight."
Yuan Chong nodded. "Indeed. But he should have finished it. Just as I should've seen Long Feng's flaws." A small, mirthful laugh emanated from the Earth King. "When he agreed to keeping my true purpose hidden and fake my death, I should have seen the hunger in his eyes."
Ri Wu stood. "Shall we finish what we started then, Sire?"
"Yes...we shall, and then the world can rest at long last."
Zuko watched as Aang, Sokka, Toph, and Katara sat on Appa, ready to do their part. Yun Zhen and the Kyoshi Warriors, along with Haru, would accompany him and the Airship Fleet. "I hope this all goes according to plan..."
Aang grinned. "What could happen?"
Toph grimaced. "Don't say that; don't even think it!"
Zuko grinned. "Uncle said, back when the Comet was coming, that destiny was our friend. I have a feeling that hasn't changed. Good luck."
Sokka hugged Suki. "Meet you at the Jasmine Dragon when this is all over?"
She smiled as tears filled up her eyes. "Wouldn't miss it."
Team Avatar parted ways; to each his own.
The storm was coming.
- This chapter gave a little bit of background for Ri Wu and Yuan Chong
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