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|The General's Hand|
2-The General's Hand
The General's Hand is the second chapter of.
The Gaang has parted ways. Aang has headed north to deal with some spirits, Toph to see her parents, Zuko back to the Fire Nation, Sokka around the Earth Kingdom with Suki, and Katara remains in Ba Sing Se.
Aang landed near the village under a gray sky as the father and his son ran out to meet Aang. "Hello, Avatar! My name is Gin, and this my son Wooho. Thank you for coming out to our small village on such short notice."
"You're welcome, it's my job to protect people, especially when spirits are involved."
"Please follow me to the town hall. The village elder is there, and he will explain all to you."
As they walked to the center of the town, Aang noticed that several of the houses on the forest's edge had collapsed, but the rest of the houses closer to the center of the village had been spared. Aang thought back to the first time he had confronted a spirit. Hei Bei had attacked the village because the Fire Nation had burned down his forest. What could possibly make the mountain spirits angry? The villagers looked like they only took what they needed from the mountains, which was hardly anything. Most of what they lived on came from field that they cultivated in the foothills several miles south of the village.
He jumped down from Appa and lightly landed on the ground. 'These thick monks robes are too heavy,' he thought, 'I'll need to change into that jump suit that Katara made for me.' He walked with Gin into the building as a man walked out and lead Appa into a nearby stable.
Gin lead Aang over to a bent old man sitting near a fire. Even though it was early fall, it still got cold near the mountains. Aang sat down across from him as the old man introduced himself, "Hello young Avatar. I am the Elder of this village. Most people just me call Pops."
"Hello. So what is it exactly that has been going on?"
"Let me start at the beginning. Almost 75 years ago, years after the War started, this place was a rich valley, with 5 or 6 more villages like this one dotting it, with most of them higher up the mountains. Then one morning my father, who was a young man, went to visit the one highest up the mountain. When he got there he found it in ruins, with no survivors. He ran back as fast as he could and told the rest of the villagers. Thinking that it was the Fire Nation, because we knew that they had already attacked the Air Temple north of here 25 years before, they set out guards at each of the villages. The next morning only one of the guards stationed at the next village down the mountain saw the sun rise. The tale he told was of creatures running out of the woods faster than any human could, like the wind itself, and then they let out piercing cries that shattered all of the boulders that the guards could throw at them. When the creatures reached the men, some of them punched the guards, sending them hundreds of feet in any direction, while others seemed to pull the very breathes from their lungs. The lone survivor died the next morning. After the creatures destroyed the other villages, they vanished, sparing us for some unknown reason. Then, a week ago, Gin was looking for his son in the woods, and came across some of them. He only saw 3 of them, but a century ago, there were at least a hundred."
Aang listened in silence. "If you don't mind," he started, "I have flown as fast as I could for the past 2 days from Ba Sing Se, and I need some rest. Unless they have been actively attacking the main part of the village, then they pose no immediate threat, and I would rather deal with them after a hot meal and a full nights rest."
"Of course. Gin, show him to his room and have some food sent up. I'll have some of the others bring in your things."
"Thank you," said Aang as he stood up and followed Gin up the stairs at the back of the large common room.
Katara walked into the Earth Kings throne room with Momo on her shoulder. As she bowed, Momo flew over to land on Bosco's head, and started playing with Bosco's little hat. The Earth King smiled at the two animals that sat just to his left as he waved for Katara to sit. She sat near the Council of Five and looked around at all of the other Earth Kingdom officials. On the Earth Kings right sat the Fire Nation's Ambassador, who was also the happy proprietor of the Jasmine Dragon.
"Thank you for coming," began the Earth King, "now that we have finally gotten through the politics of my coming back to power, we need to start the process of rebuilding the Kingdom. The War left much of the Earth Kingdom in ruins. We have decided that the Army should lead the way on this long road to recovery. Each member of the Council of Five will be in control of different regions of the Earth Kingdom. After the Avatar and his friends," here he looked at Katara, "opened my eyes to the fact that Ba Sing Se is more of a ruin than the rest of the Kingdom, I have come to realize that we need a police system for the city. Not like the Dai Li, who were both police, judge and executioner, but a system that will be fair for everyone. Part of this system will include new judges. I have assigned Pong to this duty. I was going to have the Avatar help with the law enforcement side, but he is away. Thus, I have decided to put Katara in charge. General Shu will assist her in any way he can. Now..."
Katara stopped listening after that. How could SHE be in charge of something so important? Sure, she had trained the Avatar, but putting together a police force for a city as huge as Ba Sing Se? That wasn't something that a 14 year old could do, was it? She would have Shu to help her, but she had never even heard of him before. She wondered how she would be able to do this without her friends. The meeting dragged on into the afternoon.
Before she realized what had happened, she was awoken by Momo.
"I must say that these meetings can be very boring at times," said the Earth King, "and I don't blame you for dozing off. You weren't the only one," both looked over his shoulder at the snoring figure of "Ambassador" Iroh. "Several months ago I would have done the same thing. I can't thank you enough for opening my eyes. You've helped me mature and become the king the Earth Kingdom needs." He paused before continuing, "I'm not that good at reading people's faces, but I can tell that something is bothering you."
"I, well, I mean..."
"You don't think that I should've put you in charge of setting up the police force, do you?"
"No I don't."
"Well, General Shu will be there to help you out in any way he can."
"She will do fine," said the now awake Iroh, "she has done things that most people my age wouldn't of ever dreamed of being able to do. But you don't need to do it on your own, you have people with years of experience to help you."
"Thank you General Iroh," said the Waterbender as she bowed to the men.
As they bowed in return, Momo flew past them and landed on a servant who had arrived with food. "Is it lunch already?" asked Iroh as he wiped the drool from his mouth.
"Yes sir. It is your favorite."
"Come, let's go to the dining hall and enjoy a nice lunch," said the Earth King.
"Yes, lets!" yelled Iroh as he ran ahead with Momo and Bosco on his heels.
Zuko walked into the command room of his airship and looked around, thinking how different it was compared to the little ship that he had called his home for so long. 'Has it not even been a year since then?' he thought. The Airship Captain came to attention as the young Fire Lord walked up to him. "At ease," he said, "how much longer until we get home?"
"Well, sir, the winds are favoring us. We are making much better time than we expected. We should have you back to the palace in a week and a half."
"A whole 2 weeks ahead of schedule?"
"Thank you Captain."
"Anytime, sir." The Captain bowed and went about his duties.
Zuko walked back to his cabin, thinking about what he was going to do when he returned to the Fire Nation. 'First things first, I need to get those trials out of the way,' he thought, 'but most of the men going to trial are important figures. This is going to be a political nightmare.' He chuckled to himself, thinking how odd it was that he would be thinking along those lines. He stopped chuckling as the next thought came into his head. 'Then there is the matter of my father not talking. And that my mother's missing. And that my sister has lost her mind. Why is my family so messed up?' Thinking about that always put him in a bad mood. As he rounded a corner he bumped into a young man several years younger than himself in the clothes of a messenger boy. He instinctively snapped "Watch where you're going!" When he saw the teens face he immediately apologized, "I'm sorry, here I'll help you up."
As the boy stood up, he said in awe, "But, you're the Fire Lord! I'm so sorry I wasn't more careful, sir! I'll pay more attention next time!"
"It's okay. It was an accident. Now, go about your duties."
"Yes sir!" the boy said as he scurried off.
Zuko started walking again. For so many years he had wanted the respect that he deserved, respect that he thought was earned with an iron fist. Now that people were genuinely scared of him, he realized that that wasn't respect, it was terror. Terror of doing something wrong and getting killed for it. Terror that had been instilled by the last three Fire Lords. He intended to change that. But first he had to figure out how to deal with those generals.
Now that the first 4000 troops had been brought across the ocean to the airfield, the very generals that Zuko was worrying about were getting the soldiers to believe that it was their duty to fight against the Fire Lord.
"He has no love for the common soldier," began Qin, "He wants all of us to pay for the so called wrongs that we committed in the War! He plans to have all of your officers killed and he wants to leave the rest of you to starve in the gutter! That is why he tried to strip you of your weapons! He wanted to weaken you first, and then take everything that you have! That is why we must act now! We must get rid of him before he gets rid of us!" Anything else that he said was drowned out by deafening cheers of the 4000 soldiers. He turned to Gangshou and said, "Excellent work Gangshou. Your Airships have proven most useful. We will begin transporting them by boat from here to the palace tomorrow. Has there been any word on Zuko?"
"Good." Qin turned to walk away, while Gangshou looked out over his base, at the four thousand men that had been transported by his airships. This would be a most successful campaign.
Toph walked up to the gates that had kept her locked away her whole life. They were opened at her first knock. As she walked through the gardens, she could feel her parents running to the front door of the house. But something was different in the way her mom walked.
She was greeted by her mother saying "Oh, Toph, it's been so long!" Toph could feel her mom's stomach starting to swell from a baby as she hugged her.
"Well, Toph, I have heard about your exploits with the Avatar. I must say that I am proud," said her father.
"Have you come back to stay? Oh, do say you will, it's not the same without you. It wouldn't ever be the same without you."
"No, I'm not, I only came to visit."
"It's alright dear; she has shown that she can make her own decisions. But let me tell you, Toph. If you leave here now, you will never be allowed to return, I will not allow my daughter to go tramping around the world like a commoner and getting into stupid fights! It's not right."
"I had hoped I would be able to stay for a few days first, but if that's how it's gonna be, then I might as well leave now."
"But Toph!" cried her mother.
Toph cut her off, saying "You'll forget about me after you have the baby and have something else to ruin."
She turned and walked out the door, not stopping to hear her mother crying on the floor as her father yelled after her "You're no longer my daughter! You are no longer a Bei Fong!"
A single tear rolled down Toph's cheek as she catapulted herself over the wall that had kept her a captive for so many years and onto the green grass beyond. It would be many years before she would next visit her parents.
Somewhere above the Earth Kingdom, "Face it Sokka, we're lost," started Suki "you don't even know what mountain that is!" she said, pointing to a land mass on the horizon.
"Yes I do! We just haven't gone far enough. See we're right here." He pointed to the map, "And there should be a village right around in here." Again he pointed to the map.
"Yes there should be."
"Well, we better find it fast, cause we need food and water. At this rate, we'll never get to Kyoshi Island."
"Oh, we'll get there. Just be patient. Besides, I thought we were gonna go all over the Earth Kingdom first."
"You're telling me to be patient? Who is it that always has to ask when his dinner is going to be ready?"
"Whatever. Hey look! There's the village!"
"Good, take us down."
After they got out of the balloon, several of the villagers came out to meet them. One of them asked suspiciously "Who are you?"
"I'm Sokka, and this is Suki."
"Sokka? THE Sokka? Oh thank goodness! You must help us! Our village has been attacked by a gang of Earthbending bandits. They will return tomorrow. They have been taking whatever they want, and there is nothing we can do to stop them!"
Sokka looked at Suki, who nodded, "We'd love to help," he said, "but first we'll need some food, you got any of that?"
"Yes, of course, right this way."
The Dai Li had split up into a few smaller groups. The largest had 16 members, including Long Feng, and was headed towards Ba Sing Se. The other three groups had 5 members each. 2 of these smaller groups had been sent to visit the villages near the mountains that usually housed Earthbender bandits to get new recruits for their cause. The last group had been sent to the Si Wong Desert to recruit the Sandbenders.
No one knew how many Sandbenders there were, but they knew that there were enough to be able to help. First they would visit the Hami tribe. This tribe was the most hostile to outsiders, so they hoped that they would join the Dai Li if the Dai Li promised that they would be left alone if they sided against the Earth King.
This group had just reached the desert, and was preparing to go in. Another of the groups was going to go around the western Earth Kingdom, but they would skirt around Omashu. The last group was heading towards the very village that Sokka and Suki had landed at.
Toph was standing about 20 miles away from where that group had entered the desert, and she had decided that she should work on her Sandbending. 'I know that I'm good at actually bending it, but it makes it so hard to see. I had better make sure that I can at least see in it before the tournament.' she thought. The tournament was still 2 and a half weeks away. She could afford to take a little detour into the desert. 'Besides,' she thought, 'maybe I'll be able to fight some of them Sandbenders and show 'em who's boss!' With that final thought, she began to make her way into the desert.
In the woods south of the Northern Air Temple, in the gathering dusk, five figures moved in the brush at the edge of the forest surrounding the village. They moved swiftly from tree to tree, making sure that they weren't seen. One of them virtually flew up a nearby tree to see if there was any movement in the village. He leapt the 20 feet to the ground and said in a voice as soft as a summer breeze, yet as cold as a winter gale, "The Avatar has arrived. He will be trouble. Tell the others to prepare to fight him, should he try to enter our woods."
Two of them melted into their surroundings and were gone into the night.
The leader turned to the remaining two, "Kill anyone who enters these woods."
"And the Avatar?" said one of them, a female.
"If he tries to enter these woods, leave him to me. I want to kill him myself. It is because of his existence that we are forced to live like this." As he said this, the wind around them began to blow with increasing force, kicking up fallen leaves, obscuring the figures.
When he stopped talking, it returned to normal, and they had vanished.
Gangshou was sitting at his desk when there were 2 short knocks at the door. "Enter."
A man walked in and handed the general a scroll saying "Sir, this intelligence report just arrived by hawk from General Shinu." The man bowed and left the room.
Gangshou read the parchment: "Airship spotted coming from the direction of the Earth Kingdom. We believe it is Zuko's. He is 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Please advise."
He angrily crumpled up the paper and threw it against the wall. He scribbled something on a piece of paper and rolled it up, as he called his aide into the room. "Send this to the War Minister by hawk immediately."
"Yes sir." His aide backed out of the room as he bowed.
Gangshou's plan would be ruined if he didn't act fast enough. 'How could he be 2 weeks ahead of schedule? He didn't leave early, Zuko saw the Earth King's re-coronation. Unless there is some mistake, but no, all of the other airships are being used by us at the moment.' His mood had gone from good at one minute to horrible the next. He looked at the ball of paper sitting on the ground near to the wall. He waved one hand at it and it burst into flames, without him making any fire come from his hand. 'That was how I killed all of those old fools in those Agni Kai's. I did something no one expected. I just hope that same kind of strategy will work against Zuko.' With another wave of his hand, the flame went out. He pulled a rope that was hanging from the ceiling next to his desk. Within several minutes the airships captain came in.
"Sir?" he asked.
"There has been a change of plans; we're going to have start moving on the capital. How soon can we leave?"
"It will take us about 2 hours to take off, but we would need at least 6 hours to load up. And what about the rest of the troops in the Earth Kingdom? And the other 2,000 we have here that won't fit on the fleet?"
"I have taken care of that, we need to leave as soon as possible."
"Yes sir," the captain saluted the general by hitting his right fist on his open left hand across his chest and left the room. 'Only a week into it and we have to change plans, this could be a disaster,' he thought as he took off his armor to prepare for bed.
A messenger ran up to a group talking on a pier several miles from the airship fleet, "War Minister, this messenger hawk just arrived from Gangshou." Qin quickly took the scroll from the hawk back and read the words written on it. 'Zuko is ahead of schedule, start moving the troops out. Gangshou.' Qin began issuing orders, "Get the men up! Get them into the airships! Get the rest packed up and into the ships! You, send a message to Admiral Chan telling him to meet us at the Gates of Azulon, instead of here! GO!!" he bellowed at those assembled.
The plan had been to get the troops here, march on the capital, then capture the Fire Lord when he landed. They would have to make do with only a third the troops. With any luck they would still be able to get to the palace before him. Everything now counted on the speed of the airships, whether Gangshou's or Zuko's would win.
"So you say that you found out why we're moving so fast?" asked the young ruler. He was standing on the airships bridge along with several engineers and the airships captain.
"Yes sir!" said a young engineer, "It appears that the air moves faster in a westerly direction at certain levels, as opposed to others. It is like an extra engine, pushing us along."
"It's making us move faster, kinda like we're on a jetboat," said another. "That's why we decided to call this phenomenon the jet stream! It also only seems to happen at certain latitudes, if we moved farther south or north, we would slow down."
"Interesting," said Zuko, "How much longer until we're back home?"
"Another week or so," said the captain.
'Just one more week,' thought Zuko, "Good, if anyone needs me, I'll be in my quarters." The others bowed as he left the room. 'Now I only have a week left to think of what to do with the generals.' He hadn't told anyone, not even Mai about what was troubling him, but everyone could tell that something was bothering him. 'If only there was an easy way to deal with them.' Zuko thought as he headed back into his room.
TO BE CONTINUED...
This chapter is called The General's Hand, because this chapter shows how much power Ganshou has, both in Firebending and among the rebels.
I know that the real jet stream goes west to east, and is much higher (like 30,000 feet and higher) than an airship could go, but this is a fictional world, so it can go anyway it wants.
For the collective works of the author, go here.