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|The Wall, Part 1: Daedalus|
June 21, 2010
Iroh breaks the outer wall.
A Call to Arms Edit
Tengu would never forget the first time he laid eyes on the wall. It was the single most impressive thing he had ever seen. His sense of awe had not yet peaked when he saw The General ride out in front of the troops on his rhino:
“My Children! Son and Daughters of the Great Fire Nation! There will be times in life where we will be faced with unconquerable obstacles: we will be set against insurmountable odds – things that are simply impossible to achieve by the hands of men! Let me assure you that this is NOT one of them! This great wall that stands before you was made by the hands of men, and that only means it can be brought down the same way! Believe this – believe in yourselves. Have faith in the power that the Universe has placed in your hands! From now on, you will speak courage to one another! You will give strength to the tired hand and to the knee that trembles with weakness. You will tell everyone who is discouraged to be strong and not to be afraid! We will breach the Impenetrable City! We will do it for our sons and daughters! We will do it for our mothers and fathers! We will do it for our sisters and our brothers! We will do it for the FIRE NATION!!!”
A huge, exuberant roar rose from the troops – even from Tengu himself. Like a tsunami, their war cry sped across the plain and crashed mercilessly upon the wall. Destiny was upon them and they were well aware. As morning advanced, they marched into their battle stations, covering most of the visible part of the valley that lay at the Southern Face of the great Outer Wall. It goes without saying that the element of surprise is nearly an illusion after 90 years of war, but General How had never seen such a massive force come near the city before. Surely, he thought to himself, the last time such a force had been amassed must have been when Sozin attacked the Air Nomads. Assessing the threat, he immediately called upon his fastest runner:
“Send word to minister Long Feng immediately! We need the Dai Li on this wall NOW!!”
The Raging Badgermole Edit
General How was completely on edge, and that was dangerous. He was a monster of a man: he stood at almost seven feet tall, was incredibly strong, driven and courageous. He had been a natural fighter and leader his whole life. His tempestuous demeanor, coupled with his size, earned him the nickname “The Raging Badgermole”. He had always been naturally fierce, but there was something else fueling his zeal: a deep anger and frustration provided a nearly unending source of energy for battle. And he was angry, since he was expected to repel a massive force led by a top-tier strategist while at the same time, he was being denied the Kingdom's top resources. Ever since he had earned his position within the Council of Five, he had spent his time and effort looking for ways to get past Long Feng and seek the Earth King's support in recruiting the Dai Li to assist in the War effort, but it all proved futile. Long Feng's web of influence and deceit was woven tight – it was almost as impenetrable as the Wall itself, if not more.
The situation was clearly dire. However, one of his men was foolish enough to try to underplay it:
“Sire, their numbers are large, but we have withstood 90 years of war within these walls. I don't think we really need the Dai Li.”
General How stomped on the ground and the man flew towards him. He caught his breastplate with his right hand, and then dragged him towards the edge of the wall.
“Sargent Xi, tell me: what is that banner they are carrying?” the General's angry hiss burned the soldier's ear like acid.
“It's an emblem of royalty sir...” The Sargent was shaking. How had thrown others over the wall before. Why not him?
“But that's the position of the Top General, is it not?” Asked How, his voice nearing a snarl.
“Yes sir,” exclaimed the surprised Sargent, after a closer examination, “I believe you're correct!”
“Put two and two together for me, Sargent” the General saw the Sargent's eyes suddenly fill with fear.
“It's the Dragon of The West! It's Iroh, the Crown Prince himself!”
“Excellent!!!” he threw the man against his personal escort.
The runner had frozen in place, looking at the exchange between his two superiors.
General How roared: “WEEELLL?!?!?!?”
The startled soldier took his cue and sped off on his ostrich horse.
The Dai Li Edit
“I'm sure the General is overreacting, corporal.” Long Feng's words were as terse and cold as ever. “Besides, there's more people to supervise and protect within the walls than enemies to fight outside them.”
“Sir, it's a massive force, there're over 10,000 foot soldiers, nearly a hundred tanks, dozens of fire catapults...it's unlike any other situation we have ever seen before.” The runner replied diligently.
“Maybe you haven't, private, but these walls certainly have and they have stood steadfast. I see no reason to risk the city's order just to assuage General How's fears.”
“Sir, perhaps if we could inform the King...” the runner tried a different angle.
“His Royal Highness will not be disturbed over another inconsequential raid. Now, private, if you will excuse me, I must go tend to my duties. Dai Li, please escort the private outside the palace.”
The young runner shrugged off the Dai Li's hands. “That won't be necessary...”
The private ran off back to the outer wall, shamed by Long Feng's selfishness and greed.
“That General How is nothing more than a hot-headed brute. It's the way he has always managed things: yielding to impulse and anger instead of using reason. It's been the same way ever since we were in the military academy.”
Only one of the men in black robes dared to speak up. “If I may speak freely sir.”
Long Feng was not surprised, since Captain Riku had recently developed a nasty habit of disagreeing with him in front of the other men.
“In my chambers, Captain...”
Long Feng had found a way to diminish the problem, but felt more and more compelled each time to try and find a definitive solution. He could not risk having dissent among the ranks.
Riku followed Long Feng into the dimly lit library. Once the door was closed behind them, Long Feng motioned for Riku to speak.
“I do not wish to upset you, sire – but there are many stories of this Prince Iroh.”
“Stories always do manage to capture our imagination, don't they Captain?” retorted Long Feng.
“True, sire, they do” Riku had become quite adept at managing Long Feng's sarcastic rhetoric “Especially when they have names and faces. As you very well know, refugees keep pouring in from all over the Kingdom at an alarming rate. At least half of them in the last 10 months are related to campaigns run by this Prince Iroh.”
“Interesting survey, Captain! How do you come up with the figure?”
“Why, it was your idea to keep a registry of all new refugees and their reasons for immigration, sire. It's all right there, on the fourth shelf from the right.”
Long Feng gave Riku a cold, angry stare. He did not approve of his subordinates of meddling with his records. However, they both knew that him rebuking Riku would disprove his “open doors” policy towards his senior leadership.
“As I was saying, sire: this name is famous all over the lower ring. He is said to be a brilliant strategist, as well as a fierce combatant. He even has a nickname: 'The Dragon of The West'.”
“Captain, would you be so kind as to tell me where you're going with this?” Long Feng was growing impatient. It was the one little thing he had never learned to conceal.
“Maybe we risk too much by underestimating this attack. Perhaps we are needed at the wall...”
“Nonsense! General How has plenty of resources. Let him be concerned with protecting the city's walls. We must protect its people.” Long Feng replied, a hint of anger showing in his voice.
“I can only imagine how hard it will be to maintain order once the walls have been breached, sire.” Riku replied assertively.
“Captain Riku!” Long Feng interrupted, visibly upset. “Make no mistake: your skills are needed here, and it is here where they shall be put to use. Do we understand each other?”
“Good. You are dismissed.”
Riku hid his emotions, well aware of how dangerous it was to upset Long Feng. He convinced himself to keep his cool, since the moment for redemption would arrive – sooner or later...
The Battle for the Outer Wall Edit
Without the Dai Li on his side, General How found it hard to resist the pervasive Fire Nation offense – yet he managed to keep the wall unbreached for 16 months. During the first few weeks of the battle, General How deployed a number of elite teams outside the wall (none as good as the Dai Li, of course, but his best men, nonetheless). However, they proved no match for Iroh's terrifying squad of lightning-benders: whatever boulders were launched against them they made explode in mid air like fireworks, and once their offense was gone, the earthbenders no longer had any defense – most were killed instantly, since the electrical discharges simultaneously caused both severe internal burns and cardiac arrest.
As the outcome of the ground skirmishes began proving consistent, How eventually decided that short-range combat was no longer feasible. He then placed his best benders atop the wall and had them bend the ground facing the base of the wall into quicksand. Iroh lost many infantrymen and quite a few tanks to the treacherous terrain, so he decided to wear the wall down from afar, using long-range attacks. He concentrated lighting and fireballs every single day from dusk till dawn at a single place on the wall. Tengu, as most non-benders, was tending to the catapults, where he had to load the fireballs, retract the catapult mechanism, signal the bender to light them up and fire. Sometimes he would spend six to eight hours since sunup preparing fireballs to have enough ammunition for during the day, and then relieve the previous shooter until dusk. . It was grueling work and, since his station had become the key offensive, he was always busy and had little to no time to work on his targets. Most nights he would just drop exhausted on the sand, not even having the strength to dig the little trench soldiers dug to sleep in.
Iroh was aware of the strain he was putting on his troops, but he trusted his plan too much to give up anytime soon. He was focused and relentless. Meanwhile, earthbenders did their best to maintain the wall, repairing cracks and holes as soon as they emerged. Eventually, human fatigue and sheer structural shock was too much for How's forces to try to keep up with. Finally, on day 493 of the siege, a fireball was launched at the same point of impact that had been the focus of the attack for the last 83 days. A loud crack was heard and a huge fissure began traveling down the face of the wall, roaring like a beast as it sped towards the base. Stone began to collapse along the gigantic fracture, killing dozens of soldiers from both camps in its downfall. When the dust settled, it revealed a small gap, roughly 10 meters in width at the bottom, traveling the entire height of the wall, to where it widened to about 50 meters. The Fire Nation camp broke in cheers and celebration: the outer wall of the Earth Kingdom capital had been breached for the first time in history.
The Badgermole & The Dragon Edit
Iroh's tenacity and persistence had prevailed, so How and a small group of his closest leaders chose to meet with him to officially surrender the outer wall to The Fire Nation Army. The meeting lasted for several hours, as How and his people worked to secure peace for the farmers that lived and worked in the agrarian district, between the two main outer walls of the city. A treaty was signed in which the civilians would be warranted peace and property, so long as they chose to remain neutral and not partake in the conflict, either by engaging the Fire Nation directly or by hosting Earth Kingdom militia. The meeting was adjourned and, before leaving for the city, How addressed Iroh for the last time:
“General Iroh, this dagger was a gift from my father. He gave it to me the day I enrolled in the Military Academy. I want you to have it, as a token of respect, from one leader to another.”
Iroh admired the elaborate designs and the quality of the materials. “This is a very valuable keepsake, General. Are you sure about this?”
“Of course, General. My entire life has been the military, so I really have no one else to pass it on to.”
“That's too sad General. There is no greater joy in life than that of being a father.”
“I had heard you have a son. Lu Ten is it?”
“My Pride and Joy.” Iroh's eyes shone like the sun. Lu Ten smiled a quiet smile in one corner of the tent. He usually avoided being next to Iroh in these situations, as they tried to keep their relationship separate from military affairs. However, General How was a perceptive man, and caught, not only the gesture, but the unmistakable shape of the eyes which ran in the Royal Family.
“I see. If you enjoy your family's company, perhaps we could strike a deal in which you claim partial territories outside the inner wall. This way you can return home to them and we could all avoid more bloodshed.”
Tengu was able to catch How briefly staring at Lu Ten across the tent. He had earned Lieutenant Gin's trust with his exemplary performance at the catapults, so he was now his shadow - kind of a personal guard. This new arrangement worked out much to his advantage, since he was now generally at striking distance from his targets. He was now just waiting for the right moment to make his move. Having How identify Lu Ten as a potential target gave him yet another alternative to carry out his orders. He just had to find a way to expose him at the right place and at the right time.
“I am not in a position to do things halfway, General” Iroh's tone remained jovial, but his words carried enough weight. “Besides, did I not spend nearly three months outlining our proposal for a peaceful takeover of Ba Sing Se to your city's officials? All of our offerings were rejected. Your King chose not to attend the meetings, even when he was being petitioned by a member of the Fire Nation's Royal Family – the Prince, next in line to the throne!”
How felt the cold trickle of shame in his core. “Some things in our culture may seem strange to you, but they have allowed us to stand so far.” He tried his best political line, but the emptiness of his own words were a bitter taste in his mouth.
“Nonetheless, General How – you must be aware that our intention was always the entire and complete surrender of the city to the Fire Nation. This we are doing today is just intended to protect innocent civilians. Our intention to conquer the city remains unchanged.”
These words managed to stir General How's carefully controlled emotions. Every fiber, every muscle, every nerve was set on fire by his opponent's arrogance – he was boiling inside. The Raging Badgermole trampled over the polite statesman and came face to face with The Great Dragon of The West: “This land belongs to the People of the Earth – it is our land, my land – and that is exactly how it's meant to be! Your people have already destroyed the Air Nomads, for all I know you have wiped out the Southern Water Benders, and now you are here, at the gates of the Earth Kingdom Capital, and you dare ask us to make way while you just parade in here and take over? The last beacon of hope and freedom for all mankind, willfully surrendered to the Fire Nation!?!? You must be crazy if you think I will stand for it!! You have already thrown the world out of balance out of sheer greed and lust for power, and now you seek to plunge it into total chaos! But know this, General: I have made a holy vow to our Father, Jian Lao, that I will stand against this present darkness to my very last breath! I know what I stand for: I stand for righteousness, peace and order. I hope you know what part you are playing!” General How's face was red and stricken with hot, angry tears.
The atmosphere had become as taut as the string on a bow. General How, was up in Iroh's face, who was visibly upset by his adversary's abrasive and hostile tone. How had started gesturing with his hands, so Gin's guards were expecting to see earthbending any second. How's guards saw that the firebenders were on a half-stance and to the ready, so they all took their hands to their Earth Hammers.
“Will that be all, General How?” Iroh responded, his strained cordiality all but gone from his voice.
How was hot-tempered, but he was no fool. He would not start a brawl in the middle of Iroh's base camp. He caught his breath and dried his tears, but he did shoot a last omen at his adversary:
“You are a smart man, General Iroh. You know the Fire Nation has willingly and knowingly upset the entire balance of this world. The Spirits keep track of these things and they will not let these crimes go unpunished. If you continue to taunt them, they may end up punishing your pride in ways that no mortal can. You have a good day, General.”
Second Thoughts Edit
As General How and his men walked away, Iroh felt the conflict build up in his spirit. He asked to be left alone to collect his thoughts. He was conquering Ba Sing Se, but why was he doing it? He was waging war against the Earth Kingdom – but was it the right thing to do? And once victory was achieved, what would the final cost be? Was it enough to hope being able to fix things once he became Fire Lord? Would the World ever come to willingly accept his rule, after having caused so much devastation and destruction? He took the wrinkled parchment out of his coat pocket, sat down in his desk and read it once more:
- My Dearest Iroh,
- I am writing you these few words to let you know that, even though many things have kept us apart, my thoughts are always with you. I know our last encounter was less than agreeable. Treachery is never a pleasant subject and war can make enemies of even the closest of friends.
- However, let us pretend for a moment that you still think of me as you once did, which is how I, still to this day, think of you. Let us pretend that you would still sit down and enjoy tea with this crazy old man as if he was your great old comrade. I would once again praise your courage and strength, not only in leading your Father's Army, but in raising such a fine boy on your own (as we both know, it is harder to love and care, than it is to fight and conquer). And, precisely because I know that you understand and appreciate these higher truths, I would once again stray from pleasant discourse and urge you to reconsider your part in this War.
- In my eyes, you have always been more than a General and a Warrior: you are also a gentleman with noble instincts. Therefore, I am certain that there must be a part of you that disagrees with this madness. How is it that men such as ourselves – because I still believe we are more similar than different – end up willingly causing so much pain and anguish? I do understand the special predicament you are in, being the crown prince. However, I believe that we all answer to powers that are higher than any earthly king's court, willing and able to punish transgressors with a fury that no mortal man can wield. I bear witness to this truth and carry the scars to prove it. I can only pray that light will reach you in the midst of this present darkness, and guide you towards you own, true destiny.
- As always, Your Friend,
- Jeong Jeong
Production Notes Edit
- When your fiercest enemies start using the same words of caution as your closest friends, it is a time for reflection.
- The name is inspired in the famous Greek story of Daedalus and Icarus.
- I hold high standards for my work. Only now do I feel the series has reached the maturity for me to push it into the limelight. This chapter took a great deal of effort to produce and it would probably would have not seen the light of day if it were not for the help of my "Fanon Coaches", Twilitlink & The Bos. I am grateful for their ideas, rapport, critique, and encouragement.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|My Own Savior Chapters|
|Colonial Childhood - The Tailor of Gaoling - Jailbird - Ember Island - The Contract - Corporal Lu Ten - General Iroh - The Wall, Part 1: Daedalus - The Wall, Part 2: Icarus - The Wall, Part 3: Apollo - The Wall, Part 4: Minos - The Lady Of Death - The Last Airbender - The Pursuit of Peace - Stengah - The Northern Air Temple, Part 1: Arrival - The Northern Air Temple, Part 2: Rebirth - Pride - Prejudice - Freedom|