|More from Sep0815||Hurt, comfort, adventure||PG-13||Here||n/a - one-shot|
|The War to End All Wars|
Hurt, comfort, adventure
28th July, 2014
Avatar Wiki Fanon
The War to End All Wars is a one-shot written byto commemorate the First World War's beginning on its hundredth anniversary. It deals with two war veterans revisiting a battlefield as well as their memories.
You know, sometimes, it isn't easy to determine whether you're awake or not, at least it's hard for me at my age, sometimes. My age... you know, being beyond one hundred years doesn't make life easier, especially if you remember things you thought, you hoped you would forget. I still had seen peace and never thought it would return, with this catastrophe my generation, the one before it, and just as well the one after it had brought upon the world- I'm trailing off. Another side effect of old age...
Where was I? Right. Getting up. I most certainly was aware of my... returned consciousness. It was a date I would always remember. I had remembered it for a hundred years, and I'd remember it for another hundred years if I'd live long enough... I get out of bed. It isn't exactly big enough for two people, but money was short after- Oh, never mind. It's a mattress on the floor with some blankets on it, accompanied by two pillows, of course. Comfy, but not exactly the healthiest place to sleep at. There's a number of reasons for this- oh spirits, it's happening again, right? Hm... My wife is an early riser, which poses a rather stark contrast to me. The sun shines through the window and reveals once again that the water pipes in this damn house aren't the only thing that's leaking... The joys of old age. So, I change my pants and continue with covering myself with my old red coat. With a few fast hand movements, I wear my old belt as well and am ready to get out of this damn room without giving everyone beyond traumatic experiences. The door slides open easily and back into closed position again after I have gotten through. Downstairs, many steps are heard - my birthday was some days ago, and all my children's entire families visited me. If my hearing and my recent memory unexpectedly don't fool me, the last descendant of mine in this house is my sweet great-granddaughter, who's ninety... ninety eight years younger than me. She's twenty and the only one in my family who still cares about me. Well, who still is in condition to care for me. As I make my way down the staircase - a feat every time, at my age! - her parents leave the house. My dear wife is in the... kitchen? Living room? That's all one room here... she's making my favourite meal, komodo sausage with lettuce, and a cup full of jasmine tea. Oh, I sure made the right choice to marry her - she's no younger than me, after all!
"But I thought he already had this last week on his birthday!" My great-granddaughter seems to lack knowledge of the days I celebrate. Though this one is not one I like to celebrate. She doesn't complain, she just doesn't understand.
"Yes, but today too is a... special day." My wife... Private Arisawa Guo- oh, wait, she's married to me for more than ninety years now, so she's Arisawa Anlong now. Right. She saves me in whatever misery I am, and even here.
"Morning." I yawn, stretching my arms and legs as far as I can, my wife's and my great-granddaughter's answers I don't hear through my yawn. Both smile as the former gives me my breakfast with a slight kiss. Some people would call it gross at such an age, which it is, but it's the thought that counts. My great-granddaughter, she's always a rebel, except when around us, interestingly... And always curious, always inquisitive.
"Why? Why is it a special day again?" She paced around much like I myself had once used to. To reply, I devour my delicious meal as quickly as possible, but not without savouring it. I dry my lips' immediate proximity with my coat's sleeves, much to my wife's displeasedness. Despite her rather playful scolding, I rise to look into my great-granddaughter's eyes.
"You see... I was a soldier, and- " I begin my speech, but my slow talking makes it easy for the young woman vis-à-vis to interrupt me.
"Yes, I know, Captain Chao Anlong of the- " she speaks while making a slightly annoyed face, but this time, I strike back and interrupt her.
"You know about the Twelve Battles of Golichi, right? Because that's where I saw my first action, when I still was a private... and things happened there, things I want to settle now, now that the war's over." My explanation seems to surprise her, and also surprises my wife a bit, and if that just didn't do it, then what comes now will certainly. "I'm going to wander to the ruins of Golichi and settle things."
Both seem to understand, my wife because she knows what I'm talking about, and my great-granddaughter because she seems to guess what kind of experience I mean. As I walk to the stairs to get ready for it, she runs up to me and- oh dear, if anything, except for senile of course, I've become more jumpy over the years. Dammit girl, you can't scare me like this!
"I'll come with you." It's a statement, not a question or anything, she means it. It would be nice, but... no. I don't think it'd be good for her.
"No... it's better if I go alone, trust me. It's not exactly nice to... to... " I struggle to formulate it in an evasive way, so I face it head-on. " ...to see an old man cry."
"Oh... " She seems downcast by my reply, but understands. I hope, at least. The last thing I'd want to do would be to hurt my children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren. So I walk up the stair, which, though more exhausting, actually is easier than walking down. I enter the sleeping chambers again and open the wardrobe. Digging through the pieces of cloth that don't fit anyone in the family any more brings back memories, and also provides me with certain accessories I require for my journey, but takes long to reveal what I'm actually looking for. Minutes pass, and I find a basket to fill with teacups, incense sticks, a teapot, some firewood and tea. But to pick up that, well, I'll have time later. Now, at last! The first part of my old uniform! My grey trousers- oh, they're joined together with my old boots forever now, great. At least it saves me some time searching... wait. Is it good or bad that they fit me perfectly after one hundred years? Well, anyway... Finished. Onwards with- excellent! My - whatever that is. Well, you know, the chest-covering thing. Fits too! I guess the money a captain earns isn't enough to make a decent living, or at least not enough to make one fat. Well, that belt too isn't a problem now, nice. This one's actually too long... hm. Oh, the tassets! Covering the upper legs as usual... and- why in Koh's realm do soldiers need two belts, anyway? Well... Just put it on, old moron, before you drown in the sink or something... On with... that... shoulder pad-collar armour thing. Well... no questioning, just wearing. Oh, damn, who knew I still could put it on after all that time? Hm... Oh, the cuirass! And... dammit, you bloody thread, make a- good. And here a knot and here another one and... fine. Now all that's missing is the... Helmet! There you are, you! Oh, how often did you save my life, hm? Well, often enough... Damn, these dents never are going to vanish completely, eh? Of course not... and... complete. Now I look like the captain I once used to be, if- oh, wait I never had one of these ugly faceplates. Now all I need- oh, never mind. Arisawa shall provide it, I mean, she knows what it's for...
This choice of attire might not be the best idea, actually. Especially not in a mixed city as this one, Yu Dao... The people's stares remind me of all these small villages we once conquered in the name of Fire Lord... Sozin? Azulon? Oh, what does it matter. They stare at me with disgust, displeasedness, with curiosity. Perhaps they think I'm... oh, to Koh with what they think! If Fire Lord... Azulon? Iroh? Wait, no, he never was Fire Lord... Ozai? No, if Fire Lord... Zuko! If he continues on the current road, we'll all be forced to go home anyway, and then they can't stare at me like this because... oh, what AM I thinking? Good thing Yu Dao isn't an all too big city, that way I'm right out of it in no time- well, as long as half an hour counts as no time. From here, I remember the road exactly, the road my entire division took that day... Oh dear... they're coming back, the memories...
Yes, this is the route we took then, it's the fastest and shortest to Golichi, the only crossing of the Song Chan River passable for units with heavier equipment. Once this was the furthest outpost of the Earth Kingdom military, the potential base for many invasions of the old colonies along the coast... I should pay more attention to the road, I guess. This isn't what it used to be, I mean, ever since the front is- was, the war's over now, far from here, the road has become a dirt path. It used to be cobbled! This used to be one of the most important roads out of Yu Dao, dammit! Now look what- Oh, I think I'm here. Golichi, or what still is left of the town at both sides of Song Chan river after twelve bloody battles and some eighty or ninety years. Well, considering it's all overgrown with vines now, I guess it isn't exactly surprising to see almost all of the buildings' walls still standing. Damn, this was a town once! I remember when we tried to take it for the first time... the people here thought we were just visitors here, they showed us around and all! Then they found out Fire Lord Sozin had declared war... Damn. I think I know this place better than my own house. Oh, what was that? Raindrops? Good thing I know where to find shelter in all these ruins, these mere shadows of the buildings they once were... Oh, how lively this place used to be! But then we just had to declare war... dammit. So... the warehouse just by the river's ravine, where the bridge leads over it, on the road's right side... Here it is! The ruins I- What in Koh's realm? There's still everything left, everything but the corpses! The old, rust spears, the swords to accompany them, lost pieces of equipment, everything! ...good thing I didn't find my old- oh, wait, I never got a faceplate! Good thing, this indeed is! Else I wouldn't be able to breathe under this- oh, finally, the place I was looking for! The old field kitchen! ...well, a glance upwards isn't exactly calming, I mean, what keeps rain from this place are the rather frowsty remains of a ceiling, but... well, the field kitchen's made from three centimetres-thick sheets of solid steel, so... that should keep it from falling down for the few hours I'll spend here, I guess... That's how that stuff is opened, right, I remember that causing problems with providing food during battle... So... firewood... check. Firebending... give me a second... to catch my breath. I thought I'd be more powerful as a firebender, but noooo... Oh, there it is! Careful now... Well, I'm not going to burn down this whole build- former building. And here we go! Fire... check. Now, let's see... The teapot's still full of water? Nice. Now... Nice, the tea into it and ready the- SPIRITS! WHAT WAS THAT!? I THOUGHT THIS HASN'T BEEN A WARZONE FOR EIGHTY YEARS!
"Who in Koh's realm are you!?" He asks, no, demands an answer, as if I was his captive. His uniform is the one of an earthbender in the Earth Kingdom Army, that's for sure, the green helmet makes it unique, but he doesn't seem to be hostile. The ruins and trees around cast shadows that make it difficult to see his face, though, so he might as well be a young, well indoctrinated recruit ready to kill me. Well, what do I have to lose? I might as well answer his surprised-sounding question.
"Captain Chao Anlong of the Twenty-First Mixed Regiment of the Fifteenth Infantry Division of the Fire Nation Army. That's who I used to be, eighty years ago anyway." I let out a small chuckle at the end, and the other soldier seems to smile as well. He steps into the light and I see that he certainly is of an age not all too far from my own.
"Captain Cao Yang, One-hundred First Earthbender Battalion, Sixth Division, Earth Kingdom Army. Pleased to meet you." He smiles and extends his hand for a handshake, which I, smiling, accept. Then, I realise something, besides of course that the tea is finished.
"Wait... You're from the Dragonslayers! The Division that killed more Fire Nation generals than all other forces combined!" I point at him with a trace of amazement, after all, his unit is the one mine had to face for twenty years, before both were disbanded. He seems unfazed.
"So what? You're from the Red Army, right? The Division named for the blood you've spilled and the fire you've used to do so." He is indeed right, that's something I can't deny. Whether we like it or not, we're from the most feared units of the early Great War. Then, I remember the one thing that unified the two divisions, I remember...
"The oath!" My exclamation surely doesn't go unnoticed, as he is somewhat taken aback by it. Then, he seems to understand, and nods.
"I hereby swear to never give in, not in great or small, not in times of victory and not in times of defeat. I swear to always keep fighting whoever opposes the- " Initially, we speak in unison, but then, we have to speak different words.
"-the Earth King-" Cao speaks, waiting for me to speak my words.
"-the Fire Lord-" I continue after hesitating, and afterwards, we continue to speak our oath as if we in fact only were one.
"-no matter who forms this opposition. I swear my life and honour to my nation, and will never, never ever surrender, never ever give in, and never ever, as long as I breathe, yield land to the enemy, I shall make not one step backwards. I hereby swear to serve my nation to the fullest of my abilities, and that I will go to every length to do so, and if necessary, I will go further, and if necessary, I will go alone. Hear my words, spirits, that you may punish me if I break them!" We finish our almost shared oath, the one which led to far too much bloodshed in the past, and I walk over to my teapot, only to pour its contents into the cups I've prepared before. I hand him a cup, which he eyes suspiciously, before we both sit by the old field kitchen and take off our helmets.
"So... what's an Omashu Badgermole, a Dragonslayer doing here after all these years?" I'm asking out of pure curiosity, nothing more. I have my reason, that is sure, and I want to know his.
"I could ask you the same!" He laughs before he takes a sip from the tea, after which he resumes a serious tone. "Well... It's because I wanted to settle with my past. I've done dishonourable things in the Battles of Golichi, and want to- "
"Interesting." I cut him off mid-sentence. "I'm here for the same reason. That, " I laugh slightly. "and because I've met my wife here almost exactly a hundred years ago."
"Is that so?" He seems surprised, not the first time today. "More than we thought binds us together, you know?" He too lets out a slight laugh. "So... your wife? How'd you meet her?"
Beyond a mental point of no retreat, I begin to remember and to tell the story behind it. It fills me with joy and dread at the same time. Joy because I met my amazing wife, and dread because of the circumstances.
The almost constant rain wasn't the problem, and neither was the attack we were facing. It was the mud that made moving for everyone almost impossible, mud that came from the hills farther inland and flooded every last corner of the damned town, of Golichi. We had dug trenches to move in, but to no avail, the mud always found a way. So there I was, an eighteen-year-old captain in the Fire Nation Army, wading through the knee-, at times even waist-deep mud, struggling to get my soaked wet feet out of it at every step, as did my subordinates who followed behind me. The slow stream of mud took everything with it that dared oppose it and wasn't fixed in its place by anything, such as the numerous barrels and crates full of supplies of either side. The bridge, however, stood still, no matter what. That was what we aimed for - the bridge over the murderous floods, though the crossing itself too was flooded. My company, formerly numbering around one-hundred fifty soldiers, had shrunk to a strength of seventy-eight battle-hardened soldiers. Trying to always keep near the former house walls at the street's left side as to prevent to be taken away by the slow yet strong stream. So we made our way, stopping at the warehouse to our left right before the bridge, stepping into its almost dry and clean interior to catch our breath. We flooded into the building, and went up to the second floor, from where we could observe the other side of the river, to where we'd been sent. Earth shards found their way even here, but luckily, none struck us. Once up the stairs, I took my small telescope out of its case and leaned out of a window barely enough to get a clear sight.
"Sir... What are you doing?" my Lieutenant, Li was his name, I think, asked, seemingly questioning the action I just had taken.
"Looking for whom we were sent to rescue. That's all." I waved him away from the window and almost at once found the remnants of a platoon of ours, numbering about thirty soldiers, encircled on the other side, no two hundred metres between us and them, yet seemingly a world dividing us. "I mean, it'd be stupid to go over there before knowing where to go to, right?" I stated as-a-matter-of-factly, and by 'over there', I meant beyond the single bridge that was the object of desire for both armies that combated here. Li merely nodded and we were quick to descend again before drawing too much attention towards us. "Come on, moving out again! Follow me, lads!"
And so they did, my seventy-eight men. We escaped through the door again and waited till everyone was present. Then, with a simple gesture of my hand, I gave the command to advance. I ran as fast as I could through the barely liquid mud, and the rest followed me, all headed to the two relatively intact railings that marked the bridge. I was the first to grab onto the rock, and the first to face the earthbenders across. They too faced difficulties with the mud that they didn't manage to bend, but still, they found time to rip out pieces of soil from underneath it and haul them at me and my men while struggling to keep in one position. They and us, too, were hindered too much by the mud to aim properly or deflect blasts - as far as I remember, not a single man was harmed then. I was the first to reach the other side. Houses, all intact, except lacking their former roofs, lined every street and alley, all intact but one. That one, from where plumes of smoke were rising, was our destination. I went first, as always, and sent a stream of fire ahead as a warning, before reaching out for the closest house wall, to which I grabbed tightly. Then, I climbed more than I walked or anything. It was more effective and also less exhausting than wading through the damned mud, and my men followed my example, some forming groups of three to stay in alleys and guard the way back. With sixty-three soldiers, I arrived at the destroyed house block the former platoon still held. Most of them were injured, and blood and, at several particular places in the houses, corpses replaced the mud in this area. They had the place we entered unguarded and defended from an attack that came from all sides. Though not more than the defenders, the earthbenders, then being fresh, well-trained troops, began overwhelming the platoon. In the midst of all, however, I found someone I wouldn't expect there: a nurse. With our superior numbers, now thrice the attackers', we scared them away without much of a fight. Lieutenant Li then took lead and made most of the defenders join us. Most of them - that didn't include a dozen of them who were too weary to walk the way back, and under the nurse's care.
"Miss, it is imperative that we leave immediately!" I urged the nurse as she helped up one of them. "Can't you make them go faster!"
"Well, sir, as a matter of fact, I cannot, unless, of course, your men would aid me." She spoke truly insolently and to my face, spitting as she spoke, though unintentionally.
"Well, private, then please, - " I began, never to finish as she struck me with her elbow. As I regained my ability to breathe, I shouted, "MEN! RETURN HERE INSTANTLY! CARRY THE WOUNDED! COME ON!"
She smiled even though she groaned under the weight of the one she had to carry. "I'm Private Arisawa Guo, by the way, volunteer... nurse... "
"Captain Chao Anlong, pleased to meet you." I replied, leading my unit after it returned to pick up the wounded dozen out of the destroyed house block and out of the immediate danger of an enemy attack. We both smiled awkwardly at each other before I hurried forward to clear the way of potential threats.
"Yeah, that's pretty much how I met my wife." I laugh. Captain Yang seems amused too, but remains silent, seemingly reminiscing about his own wife. I pour both of us tea, suddenly remembering why I chose this day to come here.
"But this isn't the reason why I'm here today... It's something different. Something... darker." I tell him as we both simultaneously take sips from our teacups.
"No? Then what is? And why... 'today'?" He asks, putting down the cup to study me. His emerald orbs stare into my amber ones with a demand for an answer.
"It's something that happened here almost exactly one-hundred years ago. 'Almost' because it's ninety-nine years and a few hours." I reply. The memories already come flooding back, with nothing to hold them. "It was the first battle I saw, the first true battle, and it was the day I met the only person I ever willingly entrusted with my life and vice-versa. The First Battle for Gloichi, also known as The Burning of Golichi."
He gasps, surprised. "You were there?" The Captain looks into the empty cup of his, shaking his hand and muttering, "Unbelievable. And you survived... how?"
"That's the tale that I wanted to tell... " I smile as I think of it, of it, the one occasion I saw an actual act of kindness by a so-called enemy in the war and I didn't answer it with a fireball. "Shall I tell it now or not?"
He merely nods, caught in his own flashbacks, it seems. And so I begin telling.
The flames greedily devoured all that was wood, fabric or alike, all produced from plants was victim to the hungry fires that began to spread. The air was dry and now, in the evening somewhat chilly. Too dry, and too chilly for my taste. I, then a Lieutenant was on guard duty in the centre of east Golichi, in the centre of the town's part we used to refer to simply with 'over there', when it happened. The fire didn't come raining down from the hills around, no, it spread from the - since then depopulated - town's midst, from several places at once. We were merely a company, the company I would come to command, ordered to guard supply lines running through the area, or so we thought. Golichi was to become one gigantic supply depot of the army, it never was meant to become a front on its own, not by either side - our leadership had the plans of a supply depot, the Earth Kingdom leaderships those of an army camp to launch offences against the Fire Nation colonies. No one knows how the fire came to be. But one thing is sure, it began its disastrous spread when the Earth Kingdom soldiers, benders and nonbenders all alike, began their attack on the town. A convoy of fresh troops destined for the front was meant to arrive in Golichi in the late evening, which was all that was on my mind, until of course the stinging smell of fire crept into my nose. That made me suspicious, and so I decided to alter my patrol route to walk through some smaller alleys too, which I did kind of at the wrong time. It was in that moment that the flames truly began burning. They shot out of windows all of sudden, they began to do their work with all the wood within their reach, and sooner or later, all wood in Golichi would be within their reach. I tried to hurry back to the street to get to our headquarters to inform our commander, some colonel named Liang, of the fire, but then did not only a burning wooden beam of one house crash into the wall of the one on the other side, effectively blocking my way, but also did I hear the unmistakable sound of an attack. I tried hurrying the other way, but all the houses around were on fire already, and started to come crashing down, at least their upper storeys. The rubble, much of which burned, blocked my way in every direction and made it unimaginably hard to breathe, thus impossible to firebend, and therefore nullifying any chance of me getting out of this mess. It was impossible to make out anything as the fire consumed almost everything around me, the smoke robbed me air to breathe, the commands shouted all over Golichi made it hard to focus, and falling debris buried my lower body, rendering me utterly immobile. I coughed heavily, slowly giving up any resistance to what seemed to be end. My mind was done with this world, but my body wasn't just yet. I looked up, into the twirling smoke as my vision first was robbed of its colour, then of its more peripheral zones and finally, went black. Or so I thought. When I attempted to make fire with the arm I knew I had laid near my head, I saw that I was merely a piece of cloth over my head, robbing me of my remaining sight in this hell with completely unbreathable air. A few more pieces of rubble fell down, covering up all of me but my head, my left shoulder and the corresponding arm. Just when I finally gave up on everything, someone burst through a pile of rubble to my right. Lying on my stomach and being pressed to the ground hard, I couldn't tilt my head to see them, but I had hopes. The man, dressed in the uniform of an earthbending captain seemed to hesitate to put an end to me as he went over to my left side to face me. No, it was more than mere hesitation, that was sure.
"Can you hear me?" he asked me through the roaring fire and the noise of battle. I nodded, and so he proceeded to do what he intended, ordering, "Don't move!"
He thrust up his arms to rise up the debris already on top of me, but, unintentionally, that also brought the rise of some rubble nearby, rubble that struck my head hard. That would've been almost fatal, had I not worn my helmet, but it merely received a dent and fell from my head as the pile imprisoning me just a second ago rose a metre above me only to be tossed away afterwards. I took my helmet as my vision slowly returned and reached out my hand to thank him, "Thank you, captain...?"
"Captain Yi Haiping, er... " he laughed, too not knowing my name and rank.
"Lieutenant Chao Anlong," I stated, then adding "sir" due to his hierarchical superiority. As I took a look around, a thought crossed my mind, both our minds, in fact, a thought I came to voice. "We need to get out of here."
"Indeed." agreed Captain Haiping, looking for a good way for both of us to go. Suddenly, a flame shot out of the almost intact ground floor of a building to our left that would've burnt him, but I threw myself between him and the flame, deflecting it with my hand. All he could utter in response was, "Thanks... "
I nodded, and, with regained breath and therefore strength, parted the flames opposing our way out of the alley behind him, ushering him through. We found ourselves confronted with a massive pile of rubble immediately afterwards, but he simply shoved it aside, not being able to hold it for long. I ran through and so did he, then it collapsed again, resuming its previous position. The next obstacle was the part of an entire wall, not made from stone, clay or anything, but wood, wood so thick it would take hours to burn through. Lacking an alternative, I climbed up, offered him my hand, which he gladly took, and then slid down on the other side, he following right afterwards. I nodded, smiling, motioning towards the bridge over the Song Chan River right ahead. He too nodded smiling and we raced towards it, until, however, a shout stopped us.
"STOP RIGHT THERE, ASHMAKER!" It was an Earth Kingdom soldier, a nonbender wielding a naginata, who shouted, one who was accompanied by four of his comrades, who slowly began surrounding us two. We turned to run, or at least I did, but as to even worsen the situation, a group of Fire Nation soldiers occupied the bridge's end, and all extended their spears towards me. No, not me, towards Captain Haiping.
"STOP RIGHT THERE!" No one seemed to know what to do. The two groups who had spotted us together both attempted to encircle us but couldn't, as they would have to work with the enemy to do so, and that wouldn't be acceptable. Then, we two had the same ingenious thought.
"It's alright, he saved my life!" we both shouted, pointing at each other. Neither group lowered their weapons, until we two put a distance greater than a metre between us. They both led us away, not attacking each other, but leaving the scene in peace.
"Captain Yi Haiping was indeed my best enemy, so to say." I smile, yet a few tears escape my eyes' edge to roll down my wrinkly, old cheeks. I take my old helmet, with the dent said captain had caused still being visible, and solemnly put right between the old field kitchen and the warehouse's wall. "This is for you, Captain. I have no use for it any more."
"You knew him? You knew Captain Yi Haiping?" Captain Yang seems not to believe it. "That's- I mean- amazing! I knew him since I first served in Taku, and then in Golichi- that man was my best friend in the army!" He seems happy to be with someone who too liked the captain.
I turn around to face him with a smile, and speak, "Well, 'knowing' is a big word, but I did like that lad." I walk back to where I sat before and sit down there again, once again pouring tea into both our cups, before- OH, KOH DAMMIT, NOT AGAIN!
"So that's why you came here!" Both, Captain Yang and I, are startled as my great-granddaughter emerges from the bushes and comes to sit with us.
"DAMMIT, GIRL, DON'T STARTLE OLD PEOPLE LIKE THIS, I MEAN THIS COULD ACTUALLY END BADLY AT MY AGE!" I shout to her, but she seems unfazed. I reach for my basket, take out a third cup, and pour tea in it, handing it to this insane and awesome girl whom I have the luck to be related with. "And no, this isn't what I came here for either... "
"No?" Both her and him ask in unison, only he seems to have a guess what I mean.
"No. I really did like this Captain Yi Haiping. I really liked that lad, like I said, he was my best enemy, my best foe." I smile, not a friendly or happy one, but a bitter one. "The more it hurt when... when... " Oh spirits, these memories hurt more than I thought...
"You do remember you once despised this stuff, Sergeant Wang?" I reminded one of my subordinates after he gladly had taken a bowl of a strangely greyish stew that was served at the field kitchen and began devouring it.
"So what, sir? Now I just love it!" He replied, his mouth full of some stew. I tried to look shocked and somewhat disgusted, but frankly, after more than ten years on the front, I'd seen more disgusting things than this. The cook at the field kitchen never actually learned cooking, and that one was able to taste, and to see - the cook had more scars than any of us. He had served not far from here, in Taku, first, before some general broke through there and the front there became as still and distant as any other. Golichi was different. Even after more than a decade, the Earth Kingdom Army was holding out bitterly, and the Fire Nation was sending only experienced soldiers, so its soldiers too were holding out there rather than attacking, as they - both sides, actually - were ordered to repeatedly. My company counted less than fifty men now. Many were wounded and tended to in nearby Yu Dao, many had died in these very halls we still fought in. It was the old warehouse by the gorge on the road's right side. Our commander, Colonel Hu, had damned my company to defend this spot after the last battle, since then I've lost more men than in the ten battles prior. Eleven battles we had already fought, eleven battles in floods of fire, mud, and also of dust, when droughts came. We held out against all odds - had we not, about which we thought more often than not, we, and our entire families with us, would've been dishonoured and we would've been executed for desertion and refusal to obey orders. Actually, from the few Earth Kingdom soldiers we've had in custody, we could tell that this was the case amongst these enemies that weren't our enemies as well.
"Well, I guess one grows accustomed to the taste, and since nothing else is offered... " Lieutenant Li cut in, ripping me from my thoughts and Wang from his devouring. Just as these other two, I finished my bowl of stew and then was about to go up the still intact stairs to the second floor to keep watching, had not a cry from up there stopped me.
"INCOMING!" it went, repeatedly. Everyone ducked and picked up their helmets, and the nonbenders their weapons, while the rest already got into position below the windows. Rumbling soon filled the air, and I dared to take a look out of the window. What I saw made me a little hopeless - dozens and dozens of Earth Kingdom soldiers, benders and nonbenders alike, all pouring out of every last foxhole of theirs and onto the bridge, which they widened with additional rock slabs to its sides to get across faster. Their sheer number frightened me. Golichi wasn't a big town like Yu Dao, no, by no means, and although it still had a certain not all too little size, it surprised me how so many soldiers could fit into just one part of it. We had no chance against an entire, what, battalion, regiment, brigade? It mattered little, our two former companies at the front, which even together didn't add up to a proper company, had not the slightest chance against these masses, we had to make a stand as the whole unit. Therefore, I decided to stand up and command and, most importantly, lead before it was too late.
"TO YOUR FEET! RETREAT, RETREAT INTO THE TOWN!" No one moved but a few earthbenders, who sighted me and aimed for me in an instant. Well, a few when compared to their entire attacking force - it was surely a company, a proper one, counting fresh, well-trained and equipped troops amongst them, in other words a unit against which we had no chance. The bridge was long enough to give us time to prepare, but none of my soldiers would've budged. Not a single millimetre. They all had seen the force before me, and sat there in a terrible silence. As loud as I could, I shouted, "TO KOH WITH IT, FUCK YOU ALL! FUCK THIS TOWN, FUCK THIS UNIT, FUCK THESE BATTLES, FUCK THE FIRE LORD, FUCK THE EARTH KING, FUCK THIS WAR, FUCK THIS WHOLE WORLD!"
Needless to say, I was done with it all. The anger of more than a decade on the front was too much for me to bear, and none of my subordinates seemed not to grant me this outbreak of anger. I stood, they cowered at the wall, and they seemingly had silently agreed to a plan. A plan that surely was better than mine, I realised. Earth shards suddenly came flying for my head, and I barely avoided them, making me stumble and fall, a hard landing after which I only prevented with my arms. Years of training and service finally paid off, it seemed, as I landed on my hands, keeping my balance just on them, before launching me into the air with them, and landing in low and lurking position, as if I had been some assassin on a rooftop, waiting to lunge at my target below to slice his throat open. But this was war and not a quite assassination. The warehouse's door had long been gone, and so nothing hindered the soldier from entering there. Nothing that was, except a few repeated punches of mine, the fireballs resulting from which sent him flying backwards into a comrade of his, knocking both down. The windows, however, too were gone, and therefore too a potential entrance - had it not been for my ingenious nonbenders who fixed their spears there as spikes that would impale anyone who attempted to enter there. The earthbenders too made use of their abilities. Three of them knocked down the wall by the door and opened the way for their comrades to enter a dozen at a time. From further in the town's centre, we too could hear fighting now, but that was irrelevant as we ourselves had to face a massive threat. I, and my firebenders with me, from every corner of the warehouse's ground floor, punched and punched and punched, sending fireball after fireball, sometimes only weak fire-jabs, and sometimes strong streams of fire, towards the attacking masses, but most of it, they deflected, themselves too landing only few strikes due to our fiery attack that in truth was our only defence. But we couldn't keep that up forever, and that we knew. One after the other, we stopped to catch our breath, and our nonbenders valiantly - or rather, desperately - swung their broadswords, daos, and their straight swords, jians, at every attacking opponent. Slowly, they flooded the room nonetheless, and the battle turned into one huge melee that, whoever won, would end merely in a bitter, a Pyrrhic victory. It was man against man now, and so I, after knocking two supposed foes down more by luck than by prowess, confronted the enemy captain, who just then decided to grace us with his presence. He seemed to be a man who had been on the front for a long time, as scars in his face proved, and he fought appropriately. He struck first with an earth pillar risen just to my left, which sent me staggering into the opposite direction before sending a rock to my right, which I evaded by ducking. I took the chance and thrust my palms forward, sending a fire stream at the man's chest. It knocked him back and gave me time to rise. That, and quite a good look on his face. My eyes widened and I remained standing there, even though he countered my strike with a rock to my belly. This time, as I was thrown upwards, he too sneaked a peek of my face, and reacted quite in the same way I did when seeing his. The world seemed to stand still as we assumed normal stances instead of fighting ones, only to stare at each other in disbelief.
"No way... " we both spoke in unison, " ...it's you!"
We dared not come closer to each other, but what we dared to was to begin chuckling hysterically.
"No bloody way! So it's Captain Chao Anlong now, eh?" he spoke, and I nodded, smiling.
"Well, more than ten years passed, Captain Yi Haiping. A lot can happen in that time." He too began smiling a purely and genuinely happy smile at the mention of his name, as he heard the proof that I remembered him.
"Aye, but not in Golichi." He chuckled bitterly and was about to come closer, to pat me on the shoulder or something, I suppose, as a voice and a corresponding action called us back to reality.
"Captain! Look out!" From directly behind Captain Yi Haiping, a rock came racing towards my head just after the shout of an almost youthful yet rough voice. My instincts kicked in and I had no choice but to duck beneath the strike and strike back. In that short moment, I ignored the enemy captain who had become almost a friend. I struck forward with all my might. For a firebender, that means producing a whole lot of bloody flames and sending them into the direction that is struck in. His eyes widened, crying out the question, "Why?" which I was too slow to answer. The captain fell, and the soldier behind him deflected my next blast with his helmet, before he, teary eyed, seemingly mourning for his captain, fled the scene, as did the remnants of his unit soon thereafter. I stood up as I comprehended what that meant. It merely took a quick glance over my shoulder that my company numbered about thirty men now, and that the floor was covered in blood and corpses, but it would take years and years on end to comprehend what I had done there and then. It was not killing in action, it was a cold-blooded murder of someone close, someone who had saved my life, a friend I dare call him. I looked over my shoulder once more, this time with eyes that began tearing up, before sinking to my knees. The Fire Nation Army scored a great victory that day, in the last of the Twelve Battles for Golichi. I suffered a great loss. And to worsen the pain, it was self-inflicted.
"Not as much self-inflicted for you, though," states Captain Cao Yang with a bitter ring to his voice. I want to inquire him for the reason of this statement, but my great-granddaughter is faster, naturally.
"What do you mean, 'for you'?" she asks somewhat boldly, more demanding than I would ever have dared to.
"Oh... you know, Captain, er... Chao Anlong, this lad who ran from Yi Haiping's body then... that was me." Again, there's this bitterness in his voice. His eyes start tearing up. "I just couldn't- couldn't bear it. I couldn't bear being responsible for his death. He was my best friend! I couldn't cope! I ran from it, like a coward, both literally and figuratively. I didn't face it like I should've."
He goes on complaining about himself being a coward, but little is understood through his sobs. It makes me angry and incredibly sad and sorry at the same time. "No," I reply resolutely, my own eyes about to tear up, "It wasn't you. I killed him. It's my fault."
"I provoked you to do it!" he shouts, now truly weeping.
"Maybe so, but- " I begin, but my dear great-granddaughter interrupts me. Somehow, she reminds me of my wife in her youth.
"You do realise that mourning and taking the blame all on yourselves won't do you any good? Only forgiving will. Each other and yourselves." she speaks. It's wisdom that is far beyond her years, but, to Koh with it, a twelve-year-old ended the Great War, after all. And there indeed seems to be truth, much truth in her words.
"Forgiving each other?" Captain Cao Yang asks, lifting one of his grey eyebrows.
"I guess that's something we've done a long time ago." I finish for him, which makes both of us smile slightly. However, that smile vanishes again as we remember the thoughts from just a few seconds ago, when we blamed ourselves for Captain Yi Haiping's death.
"Then bloody forgive yourselves!" she shouts, not understanding that such a task is impossible. We lower our heads and both sigh. I look to my right, to Captain Cao Yang. He mirrors the action, and nods with a grave expression. My great-granddaughter seems confused, but I understand, and pour all of us another cup of tea, emptying the pot. I rise my cup, the other two too rising theirs, but keeping them lower than I mine.
"I would like to propose a toast, " I announce. I reflect on all that I've done in my life, and start to accept that I have done it. There's no way to change that, and that in some cases, that's a pity, is because of one single, almost everlasting occurrence that changed the world more effectively than almost anything before it - the Hundred Year War. I seat myself as straight as my old back allows it and look resolutely. "To the Great War!"
The two others freeze in their seats with shocked faces. After a few seconds, Captain Cao Yang begins to smile, and nods approvingly. He understands, and shortly after him, my great-granddaughter does, too. In the moment we clink our teacups, all three of us finish in unison. "And may it become The War to End All Wars!"
I believe the introduction-part in conjunction with the title should give you, dearest reader, quite an idea why I wrote this.
More or less exactly one hundred years before I published this, the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, commonly known as Austria-Hungary, declared war upon the Kingdom of Serbia after the latter failed to meet all conditions of the ultimatum the former issued after the assassination of its heir, Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, and his wife in Sarajevo on the 28th of June.
The Russian Empire, allied to Serbia, declared war on Austria-Hungary, and at the latest when the German Empire declared war on Russia on the 1st of August, the war started to escalate.
Driven by irredentist, nationalist and imperialist views, claims and promises, and spread by alliances forged years prior, the war spread from a regional conflict in South-eastern Europe to Africa, Asia, even to the Americas.
At its end, the Entete - the United Kingdom and the Republic of France, at that point - claimed victory, though the true victor were the USA. They imposed a series of unacceptable peace treaties upon Germany, the Ottoman Empire/Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria and Hungary (separately). They believed the disastrous defeat had taught the former Central Powers and that the treaties of Versailles (Germany), Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Austria), Neuilly-sur-Seine (Bulgaria), Trianon (Hungary) and Lausanne (Turkey) would hold them down for good, but they were grave wrong. The First World War, claimed to be the War to End All Wars, was the spawn of many wars more. The Russian Civil War, the Second World War, the Middle East conflict, even the Yugoslav Wars were all, one way or another, consequences of the war that was claimed to be the end of all wars. Wars, genocides and many dictatorships all have their roots in the original catastrophe of the 20th century. Gavrio Princip, the assassin of Sarajevo, may not have been the direct and by far not the only cause of the Great War, and he was merely a youth blinded by nationalism, but he did fire two bullets - that was all it took for Europe to be plunged into darkness, for dictators to rise and fall, for entire peoples to almost be wiped out, for the greatest wars of all history so far to be fought. He shot two people directly. But in truth, he shot dozens, if not hundreds of millions of people.
And the forces that were at work then still are, or are again at work: classical nationalism, irredentism, perhaps even imperialism are all seen at work in Ukraine and Russia, and the Middle East conflict is heating up again.
Now, you ought to know why this one-shot is a thing. Enjoy your calm little life now onwards.
- The events in the characters' past were inspired by real-life events in the First World War, as hinted by the one-shot's title, on the front between the Kingdom of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Namely, these are:
- Golichi is meant to be a rough Signification of Goricia/Gorica/Görz.
- Song Chan River is meant to be a rough Signification as well, namely of the name of the Soča/Isonzo.
- And last but not least, the Twelve Battles for Golichi are a not-so slight reference to the Battles of the Isonzo between 1915 and 1917.
- Furthermore, are the first meeting between Captain Chao Anlong and his later wife, Arisawa Guo, as well as his first meeting of Captain Yi Haiping heavily inspired by certain occurrences in the video game Valiant Hearts: The Great War.
- And finally, the oath sworn by the 15th Infantry Division of the Fire Nation Army, the Red Army, and the 6th Division of the Earth Kingdom Army, the Dragonslayers, heavily inspired by a quote of Churchill's, especially the beginning.
For the collective works of the author, go here.