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April 14, 2017
Three years later...
Dust begins to settle along the fresh spring air after a powerful collision between two boulders shrouds the battlefield. A forming a wave of earth, which he rides due north, the ground shaking as he moves. When the wave is just a few feet away from the woman, she opens her eyes and bends an earth column, striking the tall mass of earth with enough force to penetrate through. The multitude of stones making up the wave is taken down by gravity, while the soldier jumps from stone to stone to ease his own decent. The woman, however, doesn't let his return to solid ground go smoothly, and she leaps up to join him amongst the melee of rocks before grabbing a cantaloupe-sized rock and striking him square in the stomach. The solider can only let out a weak gasp as the wind is knocked out of him and he is sent down before landing on the floor on his back, stunned. After about twenty seconds of regaining his composure, the soldier stands and limps away from the battlefield to join the onlookers to the right of the battlefield.closes her eyes and remains standing, surrounded on all four cardinal directions by a soldier clad in green armor. The man to her south makes the first move, raising his hands to his sides and
Afterwards, the two soldiers to the woman's east and west—Xin Bo and Dan—bend large stones and send them towards the woman; the sound of earth scraping harshly against the floor resonating in the woman's ears. Just as the two stones are about to collide, the woman bends a hole in the ground beneath her and falls in, the stones meeting with a loud CLARUNK! There is a lull in activity, during which the three remaining soldiers close their eyes and focus, trying to pinpoint the Avatar's location underneath them.
"She's moving south!" Sen announces.
A few seconds later, the ground beneath them begins to shake back and forth, forming a dust cloud, which shrouds the battlefield. Despite their vision being obscured, the three soldiers focus to the south, ready for their opponent's next move. Soon enough, under the cover of the dust cloud, she emerges from below ground and bends two large boulders towards Xin Bo and Dan. With the two distracted by the incoming masses, the woman races towards the two stones they had initially sent her way and separate them before sending them back from whence they came. Dan and Xin Bo manage to stand their ground and shield themselves from the initial projectiles, but fail to react quickly enough to the second set of earth mounds, sending them back a few feet before they signal their defeat.
With only Sen remaining, he widens his stance and raises his fists, starring down the female in eager anticipation. Smirking, she conjures a small collection of stones and circles them around her before directing them towards Sen's left and right sides. He responds quickly by encasing himself in a makeshift earthen tent, shielding himself from the onslaught.
"That's exactly what I wanted..." she notes to herself.
Thinking back to's boisterous playing with Qiú, the woman runs towards Sen before leaping into the air and curling herself in tightly as she ascends. As she begins her descent, inching ever closer to Sen and his hideaway, she sticks her feet out before slamming them onto the ground, causing an earth pillar to jut out from beneath the final soldier, breaking his protective tent and sending him shooting out into the air. After a few seconds, Sen manages to land on the ground on his feet, but with such a force that a searing pain shoots up from his ankles. Letting out a yelp of pain, Sen winces before he addresses his opponent.
"Alright, I yield. I still need to be in good form for training the rest of the day."
With that, she sighs a breath of relief, resting her hands against her waist. As most of the onlookers cheer at her success, a steady clap coming from one member of the audience soon punctuates the noise. Smiling,steps forward.
"Well done, Avatar Singi. You've bested some of my men with some excellent displays of earthbending. But... your mastery test is not done yet."
With that Dao shields himself in armor before racing towards Singi at a quickened pace. She stands her ground, outstretching her arms forward before she meets her earthbending instructor, firmly placing her hands against a portion of the general's armor and grunting as she tries to maintain her stance, sweat building along the brim of her forehead. As she struggles to push Dao back, the general raises his hands to meet Singi's and encases her arms from the elbows down into his armor. Stunned, Singi does not have much time to react before she is hoisted and flung a few feet away, her arms becoming unbound to Dao's armor in the process.
After skidding to a halt, Singi groans as she slowly gets herself to stand once again. Dao complicates this by bounding diagonally towards Singi, causing the ground to shake with each landing as he tries to keep the Avatar off-balance. Singi attempts to counter this by conjuring earth pillars at the points where Dao is projected to land, but the general simply breaks them down as he goes whilst edging closer to Singi. Singi changes her tactic and bends two streams of earth towards Dao, causing the general to divert his attention towards manipulating the waves while Singi send an earth line straight towards him. The line ends with a single earth column which strikes Dao in the stomach, sending him back a couple of feet, stunned slightly, but managing to land on his feet and maintain his overall composure.
Singi next bends and sends to Dao an onslaught of stones and earth slabs. With the general fixated on breaking down the barrage of earthen items, Singi takes time to bend a large rock up from the ground before she shoots into the air, the boulder levitating above her arms. With the assault to Dao finished, Singi begins her descent and lets out a battle cry. Glancing up, Dao widens his eyes slightly before he bends a shield before him just as Singi releases her "hold" on the massive boulder. Using airbending to quicken the boulder's descent, the earth bomb slams onto the ground a meter-and-a-half away from Dao, the impressive impact breaking down Dao's shield and sending the general back a few meters. As Dao's tumbling begins to lessen, Singi sends over another earth line, causing the general to once again ricochet a few times against the ground, his topknot becoming undone. After finally coming to a complete stop, Dao pants heavily as Singi begins to ride an earth wave towards her instructor. Catching a glimpse of his student, Dao swings one of his legs over to his right, causing a series of small ripples to form and meet with Singi's wave, throwing her off course and sending her lurching forward before she makes contact with the ground.
Exhausted, Singi slowly eases herself up, only to see Dao walking towards her. By the time he arrives to face her, she just manages to get to her feet, only to be met with Dao outstretching his right arm, hand open and ready for hers.
"I think you've proved yourself enough," Dao acknowledges smiling.
Hesitant, Singi looks back and forth momentarily between Dao's hand and face before the two shake hands, smiling. With the battle over, the audience once again erupts into a roar of applause while the two earthbenders turn to face the crowd.
"Let it be known that as of today, I certify that after five rigorous and difficult years of training, Avatar Singi has mastered earthbending!"
The next thing Singi knows, she is happily embraced by Guilin, who now stands equal to her height of five feet five inches.
"I knew you'd master earthbending eventually," he warmly states, his voice slightly deeper compared to just a few years ago, while Singi returns his hug, smiling.
Once the two release from their embrace, the remainder of Dao's army,, and Qiú, surrounds them. Jamyang places a hand on Singi's shoulder and smiles, nodding approvingly once, to which Singi places a hand on top of his and smiles back, relief washing over her.
"Everyone, let's take a break back at the village," Dao says, "eventually, we'll commence training again with a specific focus on you, men. Singi can take the day off should she choose. She's earned it."
With that, the group begins to make their way back to the village, an air of happiness and satisfaction emanating from the crowd.
Outside the walled city of Gai Chan, a massive crowd slowly descends upon the main entrance of the community.
"The famed city of Gai Chan..."marvels, "its people are so well-to-do, they won't know what hit them once we make ."
"C'mon!"utters in an excited whisper, "let's storm in and make ourselves known."
At this, Maku draws out his dao and takes a few steps forward, to which Gaza grabs the energized warlord by the arm and ushers him back.
"Are you mad!? Your audaciousness may have worked for you and your men back on the Islands, but for a settlement such as this, we need to be meticulous and calculative."
"Fine..." Maku rolls his eyes, slightly annoyed, sheathing his dao before he and Gaza turn around to survey and address their men.
"Everyone, divide up into three groups," Gaza orders.
The one-hundred-and-fifty followers comply and await further instruction. Gaza turns his head back towards the city and makes a few observations, running his right hand down his short stubble and tugging ever so slightly on his rounded goatee. After a moment, he turns backs towards his and Maku's forces before pointing toward the right group.
"You. Use your grappling hooks and scale the walls. Make sure you slip in unnoticed and wait until Maku and I have made our way inside. And you," he points to the left group, "I want you to accompany those who will be scaling the walls. You, however, will be looking for other means of entering the city. Loose wall stones, tunnels, additional entryways, whatever else you can find. Feel free to use puma goats if necessary."
Maku then steps in and addresses the middle crowd.
"The rest of you will join Gaza and I and charge in the old-fashioned way! My way!"
As "the brawn" of the warlord duo laughs confidently, "the brains" rolls his eyes ever so slightly before addressing the crowd once again.
"Correct. The remainder will accompany us and infiltrate from the main entrance. Once Maku and I along with a few select men reach city hall, you may then gather everyone to the main square to bear witness to what I am sure will be a monumental triumph for our campaign," Gaza states with a confident glimmer in his golden eyes.
The soldiers salute before the outer-most groups move out, while Maku and Gaza stand watch, waiting.
"After some time has passed, two of you will survey the perimeter to make sure everyone has made it inside. If any other entryways other than tunnels or loose stones are found, I want two at each one. The rest of you will proceed with us," Gaza states.
"This will be too easy.isn't even an earthbender!" Maku states.
"By later today, the entire world will know about us and our campaign, and in due time, we will live on in infamy as the warlords who successfully changed the world—our world—for the better of humanity," Gaza smirks, while Maku snickers in excited anticipation.
Twenty minutes pass before two soldiers are sent out to survey the surrounding area. Devoid of other men, but finding three other entrances, the remaining men make their necessary adjustments before Maku and Gaza mount their puma goats and direct their mounts and remaining followers into the city with a battle cry. With the roar of the approaching army, the residents of the city turn their attention to the main entrance and in a mixture of worry and surprise, make their way to hiding away or retreating indoors. Their attempts are rather futile, however, as most of the men who accompanied Maku and Gaza begin to forcefully usher anyone they can find towards the main square, while the warlords quickly make their way to city hall alongside ten selected men. Upon reaching the main steps, four of the soldiers immediately begin to clash with the two men guarding the entrance, while Maku and Gaza dismount their puma goats and barge into the building with the remaining six soldiers. As the noise of the clash outside grows louder, four of the men accompanying the warlords fan out across the ground floor of the complex, while Maku and Gaza find their way to Gaogui's office, guarded by a lone man. Gaza signals to the two soldiers, who immediately rush towards the guard and immobilize him, holding him down to the ground while one draws out his weapon. Maku forcefully swings the doors open into Gaogui's office to find the city leader looking down at the chaos in the streets below him; the lower half of a messenger hawk can be seen just exiting the window Gaogui is looking down from. Realizing he is no longer alone, Gaogui turns his attention to calmly fix his gaze on the approaching warlords, who are grimacing in anticipation.
"Nice morning, isn't it, Gaogui?" Maku asks, snickering as he and Gaza approach the elder, drawing their swords out.
Fifteen minutes later, Singi, Guilin, Jamyang, Dao, his men, and the animal hybrids are making their way west when something catches Jiefeng's attention, and she calls loudly. Directing their attention skyward the group takes notice of a messenger hawk diving down towards them, to which Dao reaches an arm out to allow the animal to perch. He takes note of the black ribbon protruding from the hawk's canister, and his eyes widen slightly in concern.
"Something requires my immediate attention."
He removes the letter from the canister and skims through the short message before his eyes noticeably widen.
"Gai Chan is under attack! It's no wonder this messenger hawk arrived here so quickly. Men, we must hurry back to the village and suit up before heading over to the city. Jamyang!"
The elderly monk is already on the job. He blows his bison whistle, and a couple of minutes later, Lychee arrives to carry them back to the village. Once back in the village and the general and his twenty men are in full uniform, Dao approaches Guilin.
"Son, I know you are a master earthbender, but I want you to stay here."
"There's no time to argue! I want you safe from whatever or whoever is attacking Gai Chan. I don't want you to get seriously injured, if not killed by whatever is going on over there. You are to stay here, and that's an order."
At this, Guilin reluctantly relents.
"Alright. Just.. come home, okay?"
Guilin steps forward to embrace his father, who returns the gesture.
"I will, son. I promise."
After releasing from their hug, Guilin sorrowfully watches his father mount Lychee beside Jamyang and eight soldiers. Singi, standing not too far away, looks at Guilin sympathetically, who jogs over to the Avatar.
"Singi! Um... you be careful, okay? If it's those two warlords, you show them what you can do, earthbender style!"
Gulin gives a thumbs up and chuckles slightly, to which Singi smiles and nods once.
"No matter who or what it is, I'll do the best I can. Stay safe, Guilin."
Singi reaches a hand out, to which Guilin accepts, shaking it gently. Afterwards, Singi makes her way back beside Lychee, opening her glider.
"I'll airbend the rest of your men on a cloud and guide them to the city. Dao, you'll need to take Lychee's reins and direct him."
With that, Jamyang begins to airbend a massive cloud below the remaining twelve soldiers, who are not used to being suspended in mid-air on nothing but a cushion of air.
"Don't worry, the cloud will be thick enough so none of you will fall through," Jamyang chuckles.
"Lychee, rise and fly straight ahead, quickly," Dao commands to which Lychee complies. The flying bison takes off, closely followed by Singi, Jiefeng, and the other soldiers as Guilin can only watch as the party disappears from sight, heading into the thick of danger.
Eventually, the party lands just outside the main entrance to Gai Chan. Two of the Fire Islands soldiers guarding the southern doorway to the city take notice of the landing party and immediately rush towards the group, firebending. Singi immediately swivels her staff at the fire blasts, disintegrating them, before the two soldiers are subdued in earth shells by two of Dao's men. The group—minus the animal hybrids—quickly but quietly make their way inside the city. They cautiously meander around the multitude of buildings before hiding away alongside two neighboring buildings by the main square, which by now is filled with the city's residents, surrounded on all sides by Fire Islands soldiers standing at attention. As Dao, Jamyang, and Singi peer around the corner of their hiding place, the doors of the city hall burst open, and out steps an expressionless Gaogui being held hostage by Maku and Gaza. At this revelation, Singi gasps.
"Maku and Gaza..." Singi whispers to Dao, to which the general glances at Singi before turning his attention back to the warlords he had heard so much about from the Avatar. As Singi and Jamyang take a moment to glance at one another, visibly nervous, Dao takes in the situation before them, realizing the mounting concern, and while starting to become nervous himself, shows no signs of it.
Gaogui's wrists are bound together behind his back, and each shoulder gripped tightly by one warlord—Maku to Gaogui's left, Gaza to the leader's right. In addition, Maku has his dao placed along Gaogui's neck. The two lead the elder to the top of the steps leading down to the main square before pushing him down to kneel before his people. The man simply keeps his eyes to the ground, showing no emotion whatsoever. Maku takes a moment to look down at Gaogui before removing his dao from the man's throat and releasing his grip from his hostage's left shoulder, while Gaza maintains his grip on the opposite shoulder. Taking a step forward, Maku addresses the crowd before him.
"People of Gai Chan! Your home is known by earthbenders throughout the continent as one of peace and prosperity, and your leader, Gaogui, a man from humble beginnings, as a beacon for the future; a future that is tolerable to the spirits—life forms that should no longer have anything to do with our world—a world which as of eighty-seven years ago, was separated from that of the spirits by the late Avatar Wan! As I know you are aware, the spirits are able to cross into our world around the time of the solstices, despite the closure of the spirit portals by Avatar Wan nearly ninety years ago. How this is possible, I do not know, but with that, it seems clear that the Avatar is a failure to mankind, for not being able to fully prevent the spirits from crossing paths with us yet again. I applaud that your people do not worship the spirits like almighty entities, unlike the waterbenders and airbenders. However, during my travels throughout this land, my partner Gaza and I had requested that your people join us in our mission to put these people in their place, and you have refused! I had hoped that the intelligent and successful citizens of this city may have proved otherwise, but it seems that you earthbenders are all the same—sympathizing with those who mindlessly admire the very creatures that had killed some of our ancestors for countless years! We come here today to teach you a lesson, and to demonstrate what happens to those who refuse to join forces with us to ultimately better our world!"
Maku turns his head one last time to glance at his hostage, whose head hangs low, his mint green eyes focused on the stairs before him, and his breathing steady. While the next few seconds appear to play in slow motion, in one swift motion, Maku grasps his dao with both hands before bringing it over his head, and, with his adrenaline kicking in, lowers it with great force as the vain cries and gasps of protest by the onlookers pervades the city's main square.
- This is the last chapter of Book Two: Conflict, and at 3,496 words, it is also the longest chapter of the Book.
- Maku and Gaza's roles as "the brawn" and "the brains", respectively, are shown through their tactics of storming Gai Chan. Whereas Maku prefers to storm the city by force, Gaza prefers to tactilely infiltrate from multiple directions and wait for the right moment to strike.
- It is not directly stated how Maku and Gaza came to know of Gai Chan and Gaogui. It is possible that, through their travels along the continent, they heard word of the two and their prominence.
- The black ribbon attached to the messenger hawk's canister is akin to the fact that the canister ribbon color is indicative of the message's level of importance, or the intended receiver.
begins in this chapter, which is immediately preceded by Gaogui's execution by Maku and Gaza.
- Gaogui's execution is the first (confirmed) death of a named character in the trilogy.*
- Both events are the namesake for the title of this chapter.
- Gaogui is directly confirmed as a non-bender.
*The ultimate fates of Haja, Koji, and the remaining pirates fromwere never revealed; Ta Ying and Adak were both deceased prior to the beginning of the trilogy.
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