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|The Battle at Pohuai Stronghold, Pt. 1|
Chapter 5: The Battle at Pohuai Stronghold, Pt. 1
Kuei stood next to Zuko as they surveyed the troops. "This is quite a force... but it is not enough."
Zuko smiled sadly. "We still have two advantages: surprise..." Kuei looked at him, eyebrow raised. "And Waterbenders."
Kuei was not surprised. "I know you sent out messenger hawks for some purpose. How many?"
Zuko folded his arms. "Chief Arnook has offered half of his Waterbenders, and Chief Hakoda has supplied us with a small force as well, including Master Pakku. The Foggy Swamp tribe has also sent men."
"Good. We'll need all the help we can get." He exhaled slowly. "Fire Lord Zuko, our previous estimates were off."
The young Fire Lord glanced at Kuei. "By how much?" He winced visibly when he heard the answer.
"Nine thousand. My father," He spat out the word, "Has about ten thousand soldiers under his command, not including what he took from the Council of Five."
"He wouldn't bring them all at once, would he?"
Yuan Chong stood on the deck of his flagship, The Immovable, as it journeyed down the Pohuai Strait. He stroked his beard as the scouts told him what they had seen.
"Sire, the largest force yet has assembled in the Pohuai Stronghold! The Earth Kingdom rebels and the Fire Nation have holed up inside, waiting to ambush us."
"So be it."
There would be blood.
"Dad!" Katara and Sokka both hugged their father.
Hakoda laughed as he embraced his children. "It's good to see that you still miss me!"
Sokka looked around. "Who'd you bring?"
The chief leaned in. "Everybody. But I wasn't supposed to, so don't tell Zuko."
Hakoda turned when Bato walked over. "We've helped the Northern warriors set up tangle mines, but our men, not being Waterbenders, are going to aid the ground force."
"Excellent! I'll be with them in a second."
Hakoda turned back to his children. "Pakku is here and wishes to see you both before the battle starts." They nodded and began to search. "Sokka?"
The warrior turned. "Yeah, Dad?"
"I'd be honored if you'd fight by my side today."
Sokka beamed. "Yeah, I mean... of course!" He ran to catch up with his sister.
Hakoda sat down cross-legged. "You can stop eavesdropping now, Avatar."
Yun sheathed his sword and checked to make sure that all of his armor functioned properly. He stuck his hands into the ground and pulled out his earth gauntlets. Ty Lee and Suki both put on their Kyoshi Warrior gear, and Toph decided to only wear a helmet. Mai checked every knife and sharp object on her person to ensure that she wouldn't run out.
Yun looked around before stopping to stare at the smoke in the distance. "I hope we're ready for this..."
Katara and Sokka came to the ship Pakku would be stationed on. "Our Northern Tribe ships will give us a speed advantage, while our Waterbending will keep their fleet occupied." He put a hand on Katara's shoulder. "I would like my best student to accompany us."
Katara beamed. "You can count on me Master!"
Sokka stepped forward. "So why did you want to see me..." A massive grin split his face from one end to the other. "...Grampakku?"
The old man sighed. "Just Pakku. And I never sent for you."
Sokka knitted his brow. "Then why did—?" Aang!
"Hey, Mr. Katara's Dad, sir..." Aang stepped out from the shadows. "How did you...?"
"I'm old, not dead."
Aang nervously rubbed his head. "Right..."
"What do you want to ask me?"
The Avatar sat down in the grass, across from Hakoda. "I wanted to ask you if....well..." He shook his head and began again. "IknowthatWaterTribecustomissixteenandI'mwillingtowaitbutIwantedtoseeif—!"
Hakoda held up his hands. "Whoa, whoa, slow down! I can't understand you when you talk that fast."
Aang began breathing almost meditatively. "I know that marrying age for a Water Tribe girl is sixteen, and I will wait. But I want to know whether or not you...um...approve of me."
Hakoda laughed. "Aren't you a little young to be worried about this?"
Aang looked out in the port's direction. "I'm the Avatar. Everyday I risk my life to keep this world safe, and I live with the knowledge that I may not survive."
"I guess you're not." Hakoda got up. "At least you're better than that Hahn kid." He glanced back at Aang, a twinkle in his eye.
Aang whirled. "Wait, what?"
I love my job. Hakoda thought as he walked away.
Yuan Chong looked on as some of his force disembarked earlier than previously planned. "Ri Wu, I want you to accompany them."
"Of course, sire."
The force marched until Pohuai Stronghold was in sight. Ri Wu whistled and thrust his arm forward. The army surged toward the fortress.
Sokka stood next to Bato as they prepared their forward defense. "Be aware that there is no eclipse this time!" Bato began. "This is different! This time, we fight to defend the Fire Nation!"
Sokka drew his jian sword as Hakoda ran up. "Are we ready?"
Sokka shrugged. "As ready as we'll ever be..."
Fong stood front and center as his men formed up behind him. "Today, we get to repay them for our earlier defeat! Today we fight for our brothers who died."
Yun, Ty Lee, Suki, and Toph all rode up to Fong on a slab of earth created by Toph. "We'll fight at the front with you." Yun said.
Fong nodded. "By the looks of the men coming toward us, we'll need it."
Zuko and Mai walked alongside General Shinu. "The 5th Regiment is split half and half; the same goes for the Yu Yan Archers. Some defend the Capitol; the rest are here."
Zuko nodded. "Mai, I want you to—."
"I'm not hiding!"
"—stay with Ty Lee." Mai nodded. "If there are Dai Li among them, she'll be in trouble. From what you've told me, anyway."
"You know about as much as I do, but you do have a point." She replied as she went to meet with the others.
Fong stood firm as Ri Wu strolled up to him. "Call off this poor attempt at an ambush; we saw it coming. You can't win."
The Earth Kingdom general smiled. "Then you know about the Water Tribe?"
Ri Wu scowled. "What—?" He jumped aside as Fong sent a boulder his way.
"Attack, men! For the true Earth Kingdom!"
Ri Wu let out a battle cry as he charged.
Yun slid through the massive charging army, swinging his sword for precision strikes while Suki and Ty Lee jumped from bender to bender, disabling them with chi blocking. Toph, sensing the movements of each soldier, redirected their strikes so that they'd cause more harm than good.
A large Earthbender barreled toward the group, a murderous look in his eye. Toph grinned. "This guy's mine!"
As he launched multiple rock slabs at his tiny opponent, she let one of the rocks wrap around her, encasing her in a suit of earth armor. She ran at the man, dodging his projectiles and sliding under him, kicking at his knees as she passed. He collapsed to his knees as she sent three large pillars into his back, sending him into the air. He landed on his back with a grunt before passing into unconsciousness.
Toph grinned maniacally. "I love doing this!"
Hakoda and Sokka ripped through nonbenders and benders alike without much effort, and Bato pushed his men forward. Arnook whipped his lance around with surprising effectiveness for a man over fifty.
"Hakoda, how are we faring!" The Southern chief looked back.
"We have managed to hold the line; if we can prevent them from reaching the fortress, we're golden!" A spearman charged, but the chief sidestepped, grabbed the spear, and elbowed the man in the face.
Sokka held three Earthbenders at bay, cutting clean through the rocks they fired at him. "It seems Jerkbending isn't exclusive to the Fire Nation after all..." One stepped too close and found himself with a large gash in his chest. Another thrust forward with his arm only to find a stump. "I don't want this any more than you do, so stop fighting!" Sokka yelled as he jumped over a rock slab from the third.
"For Yuan Chong!" The Earthbender let loose a torrent of small pebbles aimed at Sokka's head.
Sokka slid under the barrage on his knees, slicing across the man's midsection. "I'm sorry..." He said as he stood up. "I didn't want to do this."
Arnook spun as two more Earthbenders fell, but found himself face to face with Long Feng. "I don't know who you are, but you would do yourself a favor by standing aside." He pointed his lance at him.
"I know of you, Chief Arnook, and my superiors would reward me greatly for your death." A smirk lined his still-bruised face as he sent an earth pillar at the chief.
Aang was distracted. Hahn! That brat from the Northern Water Tribe doesn't deserve her! He was shocked back to reality as a boulder flew his direction, which he dodged by angling his glider. "Focus, Aang..."
He landed in the middle of a large group and spun his staff, air blasting many of the soldiers away. He turned to see Fong's men slowly being pushed back by a large force of Yuan Chong's men. "Great..." He sighed as he redirected a fissure aimed for him and hit its owner with a sphere of air.
Long Feng did not stop with that one attack, but kept launching boulder after boulder at the older man, though he was forced to favor his left leg, so his attacks lacked power. Arnook, for his part, broke up the stones launched his way. One boulder, however, broke his lance. Long Feng used the opportunity to swing around a spin-kick his opponent in the face, following up by digging his hand into the ground and dredging up a blast of sand that blinded the chieftain. He grimaced as pain lanced through his left knee.
Perhaps the kick was a tad overzealous...
"Augh!" Arnook tried to rub the substance out of his eyes, but Long Feng cruelly kicked a rock into his stomach. As he doubled over, the head of the Dai Li raised another large boulder into the air and brought it down.
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