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|The Wall, Part 3: Apollo|
July 01, 2010
The end of the Great Siege of Ba Sing Se...
General Iroh began deploying his reserve tanks against the Earth Kingdom's infantrymen. How had people at the base of the wall, so he was now prevented from bending the ground into sand again. This allowed Iroh to use the war machines to put the pressure on the earthbenders at close range. Some earthbenders were good enough to neutralize some of the tanks at close range, but cavalry eventually began to single them out and dispose of them.
Battles stretched from dusk till dawn. None of the armies would risk fighting through the night: firebenders were weaker without the sun and earthbenders were unable to calibrate distances properly without light. Previous attempts to wage war during the nighttime had hurt either side badly. The disadvantages had outweighed the benefits every time. Consequently, it would often be a contest of who would strike first at sunrise each morning. Both armies would stand at the ready, completely silent and still, wrapped in the darkness that precedes dawn. Hostilities would begin as soon as the tiniest sliver of sunlight became visible in the east.
Since there was now an Earth Kingdom camp at the base of the Inner Wall, Fire Nation soldiers would no longer start the day with their eyes on the top of the wall, as they had done before, but straight ahead – waiting for first impact. On day 587, however, a small group of the Fire Nation army noticed a strange robed figure, standing atop the very edge of the inner wall. Iroh asked Gin for his telescope. The man wore no armor, just a long black, silken robe with an Earth Kingdom emblem embroidered at the height of the chest. His face was partially covered by a large, conical hat. The hat too, was black.
Iroh would have been better prepared if he had known about a "meeting" that had taken place the previous day...
"Come in," said Long Feng, expecting one of his senior Dai Li officials.
The door was kicked open by a sweaty, grimy, bloody General How. He was dragging two unconscious Dai Li agents, which he threw on Long Feng's desk. The desk collapsed under the sudden stress.
Six Dai Li agents quickly poured into the room, ready to subdue the General.
Long Feng was about to speak, but How would not let him get one single arrogant, sarcastic, useless word in edgewise.
"Either your little black meat puppets come help me and Lao at the wall or we're all going to kill each other right here, right now."
Long Feng knew he could no longer afford to ignore How. He knew very well that The Raging Badgermole had no problem snapping treacherous necks – and he imagined, according to their previous exchanges, that he would certainly enjoy snapping his... Luckily for him, the solution was at hand, and he did not have to think long.
Riku stood at attention, tingling with anticipation: "Sir!"
"You and your unit will henceforth report to General How, until you have managed to rid us of this Fire Nation plague. Go and serve your Kingdom."
Riku smiled "My pleasure, Sir."
As the sun emerged from the horizon, more and more Fire Nation eyes began to notice the mysterious man in the black robe. A fireball was launched, aimed directly at him. He merely raised his right hand, and two other similar characters jumped on the wall, to his left and to his right. Right before the fireball hit the man, he spun around and sent a boulder crashing into the fireball. The three men then did a spinning jump simultaneously and bent themselves into the wall, as if drilling along its surface. The Earth Kingdom army roared as if they had just won the war.
Gin was no genius, but he was no fool either:
"Sir, your orders?"
Iroh screamed "Catapults – Cut them off!! CUT THEM OFF!!"
Fireballs began to rain on the wall, trying to stop the three Dai Li from reaching the base, but it was like trying to hit an object on free fall. Iroh was expecting to see them emerge at the base of the wall, however, his eyes widened in horror as he saw them continue to go underground. He knew they were advancing under the Earth Kingdom base camp and into their territory – completely unseen.
"When those men come out to catch their breath, they'd better be breathing fire!" Iroh yelled out to his troops. Everybody scanned the ground intently, looking for the black-robed earthbenders.
Riku came out first. He took out two tanks, three rhinos and three infantrymen in under 30 seconds. His two men, Hou and Wei, did similar damage when reaching the topside. Iroh was still wrapping his head around these characters when the rain of boulders began pouring from the wall. The boulders' trajectory had been calculated to land near the Dai Li. Each agent would take control of the falling boulder mid air and do a violent spinning swing, not unlike a hammer throw, and change the boulder's trajectory at will to destroy specific targets. The first obvious victims were the catapults and the tanks.
It was a sight to see. This was surely not earthbending, but some kind of magic. The Dai Li seemed to float and dance around the enemy, cutting off rhinos, disabling tanks, doing boulder hammer throws against the catapults. Fire Nation soldiers who survived the battle would for years remember in horror the sight of the black robed sorcerers: twirling, smashing, sweating, kicking, screaming, laughing... Oh yes: the Dai Li laughed. They had never felt more alive...
Riku's enthusiasm was contagious. The more skilled earthbenders in How's regiment began trying to emulate his movements. They would not always succeed, but when they did, it was devastating for the Fire Nation: catapults, tanks and rhinos were being obliterated at an alarming rate. Iroh and Gin quickly noticed that their technological edge was thinning and the battle was on its way to become an all out brawl. Even the two of them would not be able to do anything from atop their rhinos but watch their troops become slaughtered.
Iroh rode out to the front line and sought out Riku. He had to somehow neutralize the leader. A stone pillar thrashed his rhino from underneath him. Wei smiled and bowed to his opponent. Iroh charged with all of his fury at the Dai Li, but he was a very hard target to hit. Between kicks, spins and punches, he could see Gin engage Hou hand-to-hand. He kept at Wei for a few seconds, but was still trying to see where the leader had gone. The distractions would always cost Iroh a blow with the stone gloves, so he decided he would focus on the task at hand. With a low, spinning kick, he managed to break Wei's root and send him to the ground. He then blasted him at point-blank range. One down, two to go...
Tengu, who had been finally seeing some action on the field, had been looking for ways to get close to either of his targets. However, he would always be ordered around by Gin to stay close and fight beside him. This time, however, things were different: Hou gave him more trouble than he had ever had facing an earthbender, so his attention was fully devoted to him. Tengu took the opportunity to fight his way towards Lu Ten, who was handling several of How's men at the same time. It took Tengu and his staff a few minutes to fight their way through. He used the heat of the battle to mask the fact that we was obliterating anyone who stood in his way: earthbender or firebender. Tengu never underestimated an opponent's skill, but even this methodical frame of mind did not prepare him for what he was just witnessing.
He was fighting two of How's earthbenders simultaneously. They found him impossible to corner or defeat from the flanks, so one of them eventually got behind him, on all fours, and tripped him to the ground. The facing opponent then bended earthen cuffs around his hands and feet. He was effectively trapped and bent over the rear assailant's back. Tengu said to himself "this is it – it's now or never...". Tengu was about to move in for the kill when, in the blink of an eye, Lu Ten took a deep breath, blasted a powerful jet of fire from his feet, breaking the earthen restraints. Then, levering himself on his rear assailant's back, he propped up his legs and sent another blast from his feet to the front attacker. He then did a somersault over the other earthbender with his hands still cuffed to the ground. They were both on all fours on the ground on equal level. Then Lu Ten opened his mouth and fire came out, burning the man alive. Then, with a huge battle cry, Lu Ten used a powerful stroke of lightning to break his stone handcuffs. He then bolted to his feet and smiled to Tengu "Hey buddy, don't bother to help, I got it...!!!"
Tengu was still trying to get his dropped jaw back into place, when Lu Ten's face changed: "DUCK!!"
Tengu dropped to the ground and Lu Ten blasted lightning above him. Tengu felt the small shower of rock pieces fall on his body. When he looked behind, he saw a man in a black robe applauding Lu Ten... It was Riku.
"Nice, little Dragon, nice..." How had made sure all men under his command memorized the pictures of the General and his son.
Lu Ten and Riku circled each other for a few seconds. Tengu stood at the ready beside Lu Ten. In reality, he was waiting for the Dai Li to strike so he could join the attack and get this finally over with. He was now sure he could have never taken a bender this powerful on his own. In a split second, Tengu found himself on the ground. A stone pillar had shot up from the ground beneath Lu Ten. Riku had not made it big enough to fit Tengu, since he really was not focused on him.
Lu Ten jumped off the pillar and did a front somersault, blasting fire from his feet down on Riku as he came down. Riku bended a boulder up from the ground and shot it at Lu Ten, who ducked under the boulder, doing a spinning round kick. Tengu and Riku both had to jump to avoid being burned. When Riku came down, Lu Ten had already put himself in position to throw a flaming uppercut at Riku. Riku was surprised and lost his footing.
Lu Ten was about to move in for the kill when a boulder got him square in the middle of his breastplate. Hou had come in to assist Riku, having left Gin (whom he had been fighting earlier) to deal with three cracked ribs. Lu Ten fought bravely, but two Dai Li agents proved quite a handful, and he was soon overwhelmed. Tengu was frozen in place. Lu Ten was throwing him all kinds of supplicating glances, but he did not move a muscle. From now on, it would just be a matter of time – Riku landed a stone-clad fist to Lu Ten's jaw – and he would be able to focus on Iroh – Hou sent a stone pillar into Lu Ten's back – who was a seasoned fighter – Lu Ten tried to retaliate with an erratic fireball – but older and slower...
He would get the job done...Riku kicked Lu Ten's stomach with his stone covered shoes
He would...Hou laughed at Lu Ten doubled over in pain
...the job...Lu Ten looked at him...
Riku recoiled in pain as Tengu's staff hit him on the shoulder. As Hou was temporarily distracted, he managed to land a spinning roundhouse kick to his jaw. He then returned to Riku and placed a knee to his stomach. He flexed back and landed another kick in Hou's chest. Riku was still doubled over when Tengu whacked him full force on the back of his head with his sansetsukon. Hou momentarily regained control of his movements and sent a series of rocks flying towards Tengu, who deflected them with his staff. Riku took longer to get back in it, but eventually managed to come to his senses.
Riku decided this non-bender guy was too much to deal with right now, so he decided to raise both himself and Hou above the crowd on two large pillars. He saw Iroh quickly approaching, Wei's body not far behind. He looked around the Fire Nation camp: all catapults and tanks had been taken out. Only a handful of Rhinos remained. Their job was done. He signaled to Hou and both went flying off their pillars, rocketing towards the wall. Lu Ten wanted to go after them, but Iroh stopped him:
"Let them go! There's more to attend to right now!"
Iroh was right: the Dai Li were climbing the wall at an unnatural speed. Curiously, at the same time, the earthbenders began to retreat towards the wall. The firebenders let out a cry of victory, thinking they were winning. Iroh began to redo Riku's assessment of the situation. He saw most of his tanks taken out, and dozens of rhinos lay dead between him and the catapults, most of which had been utterly destroyed.
Iroh was perplexed at the sight. Tengu snapped him out of it, shouting at the top of his lungs:
"They've removed all of of our long-range weapons and our cavalry! They're leaving us alone on the field so they can start raining rocks on us – we need to get out of range fast!"
No sooner had Tengu uttered the words, he heard a horn go off atop the wall. General Iroh got up on a broken down tank and screamed at the top of his lungs: "RETREAT! FALL BACK EVERYONE!" The voice quickly spread across the battlefield. The Fire Nation forces started running away from the wall, but not all were far enough from the wall when the boulders started coming down – including them. A huge boulder fell on top of the tank Iroh was standing on, sending him to the ground. Lu Ten bolted to where he had fallen and helped him up. They started running, scarcely avoiding two more boulders. They had a whole row of broken down tanks blocking their way away from the wall, so they found themselves running west, trying to get an opening. They were running as fast as they could, but they had already been targeted by the artillery atop the wall, so it was literally raining blocks around them.
Another boulder fell from the wall. Lu Ten saw it just in time and pushed Tengu out of harm's way. Tengu turned around to see an image that would forever change his life. Tengu saw everything was as if happened in slow motion. Lu Ten was facing him, his right shoulder still dropping because of the push, the boulder caught him right on the middle of his torso. His left leg broke under the boulder's weight, and as he fell on the ground, the huge rock just rolled over him, crushing him completely.
This was the only time in his life when Tengu wished he had learned to control his earthbending. He would have been able to stop the boulder, make it explode into a million tiny pieces, or even deflect it. Now all he could do was remove Lu Ten from under it, pretending to push a rock which was obviously too to heavy for him. Tengu was holding Lu Ten's body in sheer horror, full-blown chaos all around him in every direction.
He called with all of his strength: "IROH!" "IROOOOOH!!!!!"
General Iroh turned around and ran over to where his Tengu and his son lay. The General took Lu Ten and sensed for a pulse. He removed his son's bludgeoned armor and saw his torso had been crushed beyond salvation.
Immediately Iroh's eyes welled up with tears, as he mumbled beneath his breath:
"No, no, no..."
Lu Ten was coughing up blood, his pupils completely dilated. He raised his left arm and touched Iroh's face.
"Daddy...I did it Daddy...I finally saved a friend..."
Iroh burst into tears. Holding his son's body as tight as he could without further crushing it...
"Did you see me Daddy? Did you see me fight? How was I...?"
"Oh Son, you were a Dragon – you stroke fear into their hearts..." He could barely muster the words.
Atop the wall, Sargent Xi addressed General How "Sir, we have a clear shot for Prince Iroh."
General How stood silent.
How looked at the scene, remembering his words to Iroh, which now had a prophetic ring about them.
"Leave him be – the spirits have cast their judgment."
"Sire?? Are you serious?"
He took another look at the heartbroken father, clutching his doomed child "Yes, Sargent. I am more than certain that he's had enough."
On the ground below, Lu Ten made his last amends with his father:
"Daddy, I'm so sorry...you were right...forgive me..."
"Oh son, forgive your father for dragging you into this death trap..."
"I'm going Daddy...I'm meeting Mom on the other side"
Iroh felt the words stab at his heart.
"Sing to me Daddy – sing to me one last time..."
Iroh, as best as his sobs would allow it, sang his dying boy one last lullaby:
Leaves from the vine
Falling so slow
Like fragile, tiny shells
Drifting in the foam
Little soldier boy
Come marching home
Brave soldier boy
Comes marching home
Lu Ten closed his eyes. Forevermore.
The General then clutched his lifeless' son body to his chest and broke into tears. The sight brought a chill to the bone. Nobody had ever seen the Great General Iroh of the Fire Nation ever shed a single tear. The fierce warrior, the seasoned strategist, the calm, iron-willed leader, The Dragon of The West, was gone. In his place lay a heartbroken father, mourning his fallen, only son. The men stood silent while Iroh howled in pain like a wounded beast, rocking Lu Ten's corpse as if he was still a baby. Tengu was frozen in place. He did not know how to react: he did not cry, he did not scream... He just stood there...watching. Lu Ten, his target, his only true friend in over a decade, died trying to save him. He was only 19.
Lieutenant Gin had witnessed the entire scene in silence. He was hurt, but still standing:
"Sire, I am deeply sorry for your loss."
General Iroh stopped crying. For a moment, it seemed as if he were heeding his second-in-command's voice. Then, the unexpected happened: "Sound the retreat...we are going home"
"You heard me..."
General Iroh got up and screamed at the top of his lungs: "THIS IS OVER! WE ARE GOING BACK HOME!"
He took off his breastplate and threw it on the ground. His men were puzzled. He then took off his white undershirt and waved it high in the air where General How could see it. "NO MORE!"
His voice broke as he began sobbing again
As it became clear that the Fire Nation forces were receding, a loud roar was heard atop the inner wall. Earth Kingdom troops were exuberant. After almost 600 days, the Fire Nation had finally sounded the retreat. They had saved the city by the skin of their teeth.
Only one man was silent. He stared at the depleted Fire Nation army – the dead rhinos, the broken tanks and the wasted catapults. He surveyed the hundreds of dead soldiers outside the wall. He let his gaze travel to the broken outer wall. Finally he looked at the heartbroken father, mourning his now fallen only son.
"No more. How I wish it were true."
General How then turned away and joined his men's celebration...half-heartedly.
It was clear to me early on that I wanted to have Tengu be a part of Lu Ten's death - a very selfish excuse to do my own version/portrayal of what I think is one of the key events underlying all of the original canon's drama. I knew it would be hard from an aesthetic point of view: stay true to the characters, make a believeble storyline, blah, blah, blah... What I wasn't prepared for was the emotional burden of the whole thing. As a father, I cannot imagine a steeper price to pay for taking the wrong path than having to sacrifice a child. Having to go and dig there to get the piece right was very hard - I was not willing to go all the way. However,and (my "Fanon Coaches") kept pushing me to keep it real and make it better. I thank them deeply: the outcome I believe was worth it.
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|