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|The Battle at Pohuai Stronghold, Pt. 3|
Chapter 7: The Battle at Pohuai Stronghold, Pt. 3
General Shinu grimaced as he watched Fong's two battalions gradual retreat; it was time. He turned to Colonel Xu Ping. "Tell the 5th and the Yu Yan Archers to prepare themselves to reinforce the Earth Kingdom general."
Xu Ping saluted. "Yes, sir!"
Shinu turned toward the strait and observed a lone figure scaling the flat metal of the Intimidator, Liang's flagship. "So the Avatar defeated the false Earth King but did not kill him; such a shame..."
Yuan Chong climbed up the side of the ship, digging his earthen claws into the metal and pulling himself up. His face burned, a combination of his burn and the salty water, but the pain only served as a reminder of the task at hand. As he reached the deck, he kicked off of the side to land on Admiral Zhuo Long's ship.
The admiral bowed. "What are your orders, King Yuan Chong?"
As servants came and draped a cloak over his shoulders, Yuan Chong stared at the fortress. "Inform Ri Wu that Captain Yung and the Terra Team are to form up on him and stay close. They will be our initial strike force once we enter the stronghold."
"Of course, sire, at once."
Yun Zhen and the others fought with a ferocity that the Dai Li could not have anticipated. Haru, still brimming with rage over his father's death, shattered bones and crushed limbs with his attacks while Suki and Ty Lee focused on disabling in a non-lethal fashion. Mai, however, held no reservations as she realized that she couldn't afford to merely disable them, and many fell under her numerous blades and darts. Yun slid on his earth boots, cutting down agent after agent with his sword.
Soon, all twenty-five were either dead or injured, bested by the five warriors. As they all stopped to catch their breath, Suki looked back at Fong's army. "Uh, guys... we might have a problem..."
They stared as Ri Wu's expert force systematically crushed Fong's men. "We should help them retreat into the fortress." Yun said.
"Not without him." Haru nodded toward the still unconscious Long Feng. "He needs to be imprisoned so he can't hurt anyone else.
Yun and Ty Lee nodded. "Let's restrain his arms and legs so he can't bend if he wakes up."
Sokka and Hakoda led their warriors in defending their beleaguered allies. Sokka, for his part, ripped through countless benders and non-benders with his swordmastery while Hakoda led both tribes as they flanked left and smashed into the enemy's side, breaking their defense.
"Form up! We have to be through those gates! Quickly!" Hakoda waved his men back, but not before Ri Wu strolled up, knocking away anyone foolish enough to attack him. The Terra Team moved forward, with siege machines designed to break through the doors of the stronghold.
Sokka looked back, realizing that if they could hold them back for a minute or two, their plan could be put into action. "Dad, we have to hold them back."
Hakoda looked at his son. "You realize this means we may not survive."
Sokka nodded. "It's their only chance."
Hakoda put his fingers into his mouth and whistled. Bato heard and began ordering the remaining warriors back. "Are you ready?"
Sokka smiled grimly.
Captain Yung stepped forward; Sokka recognized him from their time in Omashu as Bumi's Captain of the Guard. "Water Tribe! You have fought valiantly, but this should not be your fight! You have lost too much at the hands of the nation you now defend; stand aside so we do not have to harm you!"
Sokka stepped forward as Bato got the men through the door, leaving only him and Hakoda. "My name is Sokka, and I am from the Southern Water Tribe. The Fire Nation took my mother from me, and I used to hate them for it. But I came to realize something: good, bad, it doesn't define a nation. Everyone is capable of great good or great evil." Ri Wu began to scowl. "I have seen the Fire Nation attempt to right their wrong, but I see you as a new evil." He drew a line with his sword. "I'm no longer afraid like I once was! Bring your men, all at once or one at a time! I. Do. Not. Care!" He readied himself. "None of you will get passed me!"
Ri Wu waved his men forward. As they rushed, Sokka and Hakoda stood firm, ready to meet them.
Aang and Katara landed with Appa near their allies, helping them get Long Feng onto Appa while Ty Lee made sure his chi was completely blocked. "We need to get back to the fortress, now!"
Yun looked down on the battlefield. "Where is everyone?"
Aang looked back. "In the stronghold, Sokka and Hakoda are the only people keeping them at bay; they need help!"
All of them nodded while Suki interjected. "Mai and Ty Lee can get Long Feng inside while the rest of us help Sokka and Hakoda."
Katara kissed Aang on the cheek. "We'll save Sokka and Dad, just get Zuko to initiate the plan."
Sokka cut down soldier after soldier, moving his sword as an extension of his own will. Yung backed away as each man that neared the Water Tribe warriors fell. Ri Wu moved forward regardless and sent a large rock at Sokka. His look of triumph moved to one of incredulity as the young swordsman cut it clean in half, completing the motion by cleaving an unfortunate Earthbender in two at the waist.
"Enough!" The general lifted a slab up and fired that at Sokka, who had his back turned as he spun, ripping apart any soldier foolish enough to get within range of his blade. The slab was shattered when the warrior realized it was coming, but it still knocked him back. Ri Wu launched a pillar up into his gut, knocking the wind out of him.
"No!" Hakoda whipped his lance around striking an opponent that stood between him and his son. As he charged Ri Wu, the Earthbender struck him with a backhand across the face. Hakoda cried out as he was pulled up by his hair and kneed in the stomach. His humiliation was completed by another strike that sent him into the dirt.
Katara's cry echoed her father's as she watched from Appa. "Dad! Sokka!"
Aang stood, ready to intervene. "Take Appa's re—!" He was stopped short when he saw the Yu Yan Archers pull their bows back. The Plan! "Everybody hang on!" He pulled up sharply, causing Appa to rapidly ascend. The archers let loose their barrage as Katara cried out.
Sokka opened his eyes, vision blurred. "Ugh..." He looked over at his father, who at that moment was struggling to get up. He looked at Ri Wu and Captain Yung, who both stared at him while Yuan Chong's army moved forward.
"Sir, what shall we do with them?"
Ri Wu waved Yung off. "The Water Tribe has suffered enough. We will keep them under arrest until our campaign is complete; then we shall send them home."
Sokka shook his head; there was something—The Plan! He looked up and saw the arrows as soon as the general. "Dad! The Plan!"
Hakoda looked up and smiled before rolling behind a nearby rock. Sokka did the same. Ri Wu only had time to defend himself and Captain Yung as the arrow barrage ripped through their ranks.
Zuko looked on as the Yu Yan Archers did their part. "Prepare the second phase, Captain Li Teng."
The Airship Fleet commander bowed and gave the Fire Nation salute. "Yes, Fire Lord Zuko."
Zuko grinned as he saw Aang and the others fly in on Appa, using the barrage as cover. As happy as he was to see them, one face had his mind's attention. When he saw her, his heart leapt with joy. "Mai, you're safe!"
She entered his embrace. "Yeah, I missed you too."
Aang ran up to Zuko. "As soon as the archers stop, we're going out to get Sokka and Hakoda."
"You are aware—?"
Aang nodded. "I know about the rest of the plan; that's why we have to get them out."
"Then good luck, and hurry. We can't afford to wait."
Sokka watched as countless soldiers fell under the assault, but still more came to take their place. Ri Wu pushed forward with a massive rock shield, but even that would not save them for long. The archers notched a special explosive arrow in each of their bows and launched several of them into the barrier while the others waited. The projectiles lodged in the wall and exploded, knocking the Earthbenders back. The other archers took the opportunity to launch another barrage, killing more of them.
"Order a temporary—!" Ri Wu's order was left unfinished as the Airship Fleet appeared in full force over the mountains and began raining fire down. Ri Wu saw his assault crumble as the soldiers began to scatter under a barrage of arrows and fire.
Sokka beamed as Suki ran up and helped him onto his feet. "Come on, Great Warrior! You're going to get yourself killed!" They ran toward Appa as Aang helped Katara carry Hakoda, who had multiple arrow wounds in addition to his previous bruises.
Appa roared as Aang and the others got on. "Go, buddy!" Appa roared again as they took off to the safety of the fortress.
"Order the retreat..." Ri Wu, Captain Yung and the Terra Team made their way to the small scout ship that would allow them to rendezvous with the fleet. "I hope King Yuan Chong made it through."
As they approached the flagship, he noted that the Fire Nation fleet was in disarray and nearly split down the middle. Ri Wu smiled. They had lost the fortress, but now they would move to the Fire Nation.
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