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|By Rachelthedemon||Part of thecontinuity.|
Underneath Ba Sing Se
Large, stocky, and muscular
Shen Lei is an original character in. He appears at the end of Chapter Seven of Book I, and remains somewhat of a minor character until the second half of Book II, where he figures in prominently at the battle for Omashu.
When Aang and Toph, accompanied by Jin, first meet him in the tunnel network beneath Ba Sing Se, he attacks them out of panic when they discover his battalion's secret camp. Jin gets him to reveal his true nature as a member of the White Lotus after telling Aang to run. He becomes the Avatar's ally once it is revealed that his men found and had been caring for Appa underground.
Shen Lei was born to a middle-class military family, entering the Navy when he was fifteen as was expected of him. While being treated for severe wounds incurred in battle eight years later, he met and married his future wife, Mien. He was called off to fight again less than six months later, and left not knowing Mien was pregnant. Nor did he find out until much later that she died in labor.
Shen was a classmate of Commander Zhao, both trained in Firebending by Jeong Jeong, who would later desert the Fire Nation. The complete polar opposite of Commander Zhao, Shen's style involves far more critical thinking and surgical strikes rather than flashy pyrotechnics and collateral damage.
While in the Navy, he became acquainted with the future Captain Jee, head of Prince Zuko's crew when he was banished. This connections proved to be crucial to Zuko's survival in Book III when Azula's plan to usurp the throne very nearly succeeded.
His last time of service before joining Zuko's rebellion was at General Iroh's siege of Ba Sing Se, as leader of the Taifeng Infantry. At the time, Shen's battalion included Iroh's son, Lu Ten. Receiving direct and top secret orders from General Ozai, Shen was commanded to make sure Lu Ten was killed in battle if they "wanted families to return home to." Thinking of his wife at home -- whom he did not know was already dead -- and his sister, as well as the wives and children of his men, he carried out the order.
Unable to live with what they'd done, Shen and the rest of the Taifeng deserted once the siege broke under Iroh's grief, fleeing into Ba Sing Se's massive network of underground tunnels. For nearly a decade they lived down there, mapping the gigantic labyrinth as both a necessity and a favor to the man who made their survival possible.
Involvement With the White Lotus
The man in question was a sage named Jiu Zhu, a high-ranking member of the White Lotus Society. After learning Shen's story, Zhu granted him political asylum in the tunnels in exchange for his help in the mapping project, as the Lotus intended to use Ba Sing Se once more as a central headquarters. Shen agreed, not having much of a choice, and was initiated on the spot.
As a member, he was fed information along with other operatives. Thus, he knew what it meant when he found Appa wandering the tunnels. He and his men cared for the bison until Aang himself stumbled upon their camp. Though their first meeting was tense, he became Aang's solid ally once he reunited him with his lost companion.
Personality, Strengths and Weaknesses
Shen Lei is reserved and wise, being old and battle-hardened. He knows plenty about tactics and strategy and commanding, yet his combat training was not supplemented with broadswords as Zuko's was. Thus, he relies solely on Firebending in battle.
Yet he is somewhat of a "gentle giant," having a very good idea of when to turn off the soldier switch and act as a civilian. This is due mostly to the White Lotus, and the years he spent underground away from the fighting.
Socially, he's awkward and stumbling when he isn't discussing strategy or goals, because he doesn't perceive his own life as being interesting enough to talk about, and the interesting parts he does acknowledge, he does not want to revisit.
All in all, he's a rounded character. A generally good man who is tired of the war, and of the madness his country has perpetrated. Alongside Zuko, he is the military spearhead for the first stage in the fight against the Fire Nation: the takeback of Omashu.
For the collective works of the author, go here.