The General’s tent was dark except for a single candle. There was a storm raging outside tonight and there would be little sleep for the troops. They were encamped just off the coast of the mainland, ready to meet up with the Naval reinforcements. The hour was late, but then again, the Admiral always sailed by the moon.
It was Lieutenant Mako that brought word from the scouts that the fleet was seen offshore. General Beifong put down her scrolls and reached for her uniform jacket. The dark green was laden in metal panels and gold buttons. Three war medals hung from the shoulder. It was more formal than she usually wore in camp, but it had been six months since she had last seen the Admiral. She even slipped the flintlock pistol into its holster at her hip. It had been her mother’s: a renowned sharpshooter in her day.
Corporal Bolin was waiting outside the tent with an umbrella to try to shield her from the worst of the rain. He had to jog to keep up with her hurried pace as she dredged through the camp. It had been raining for three days straight and the mud was getting to be a problem. Tent poles kept slipping and a few soldiers had lost their boots to the unforgiving ground. They had laid panels of wood and loose straw to build pathways, but even those were filthy.
Now that the fleet had arrived, they could get out of this spirit-forsaken place. General Beifong didn’t like to admit defeat, but even she could see that they were pinned in. No use in risking any more lives; their army was threadbare as it was. The only thing keeping the enemy from attacking was the rain. That gave her people time to make a retreat.
Her senior officers were already waiting at the dock as one of the ferry boats made its way from a great navy vessel. When it docked, a seaman jumped off to lay the plank as two of her soldiers helped tie off the boat. First Officer Korra was the first to disembark and the General noted that she was wearing her uniform properly for once. The girl may have been a prodigy, but she was still a girl in the General’s eyes.
But it was the next person off that the General was waiting for. Admiral Kya walked calmly onto the dock. Adorned in her dress blues with a matching naval cap, under which the General knew was a bun of silver gray hair. A long silver sword was attached to her hip and her slender hand rested on the golden hilt. Somehow, it looked as if the rain wasn’t touching her at all.
They met in the middle of the dock, hands clasping the other’s wrist. A quick nod was exchanged, but nothing else, not here in front of the troops. Admiral Kya gave a sly smile and said, “Seems you are having a bit of rain.”
General Beifong didn’t grant the statement a response. Instead she let out a grunt and turned on her heel. The officers gave a salute as the General and Admiral made their way off the dock.
“Colonel Saihkan, please oversee the movement of troops onto the ship. Lieutenant Mako, be sure that the camp is broken down properly and check with Captain Zhu Li to account for all equipment before and after loading. Dismissed.”
Her officers hurried off to see to their posts. Admiral Kya followed her down the muddy path to her tent; they had strategy to discuss. There was too high a risk of their communications being intercepted for General Beifong to send a full report to the Council. They had managed to send the distress call and the fleet had answered within the week.
The General’s personal secretary had lit more candles and tidied up her desk. Opal was smarter than any of the other assistants the Air Nation had sent her before. She knew exactly which papers and maps the General would need before she had to ask. It also helped that the girl was her niece and the daughter of the current Earth Kingdom Matriarch. Like the General, she had been introduced to this life from a young age.
“Thank you, Beifong, that will be all,” dismissed the General.
The Admiral gave the young woman a soft smile and whispered, “Jinora is coming aground on the second set of boats.”
General Beifong rolled her eyes at Admiral Kya’s lack of protocol. She had never been one for proper decorum. Nevertheless, she was a genius Admiral and every sailor that served beneath her was held to the highest standard. There was a rumor that the oceans bent to the will of Admiral Kya. She too had come from a celebrated Wartime family. Her father held the position of Head Magistrate of the Air Nation; her mother, the Chief of the Watertribes.
And her wife was the General of the Army.
So when Opal left the tent, it was Lin she spoke to, not General Beifong. Kya removed her cap and untied her sword to set on the table. Lin stood stiffly behind the desk. Six months was a long time; and every day had been a grueling struggle. Their land campaign had been successful, until eight days ago.
“What happened?” asked Kya, her blue eyes searching her wife’s face. Lin was made of stone sometimes, but Kya could see beneath the rocky surface. “How much land did we lose?”
“We only lost Omashu. The other cities are well protected. We weren’t expecting them…but they were expecting us.” Lin gripped the back of her chair, her knuckles white in anger.
“They knew you were coming?” asked Kya in surprise.
“Varrick betrayed us.” Kya shook her head, not recognizing the name. She could see that Lin was still angry, but she waited for her to explain further. Lin released her death grip on the back of the chair and started pacing behind the desk. “He’s a combat engineer with a chip on his shoulder who apparently would rather make fast money than serve his nation loyally.”
“I’m sorry, Lin.”
“I took care of him.” The thunder cracked ominously after her words. The two women stared at each other for a moment, letting the unsaid words settle between them. Kya often didn’t approve of Lin’s methods, but even she had to admit she got good results. “The good news is that he wasn’t able to leak any information about General Bumi’s Special Forces.”
“At least we didn’t lose too much…”
Lin pulled at her uniform jacket; either she was uncomfortable with the formal coat or anxious about the way the last few days had played out. “Just Omashu and half a dozen men. We were on the run for a while. The rain gave us a break, but my troops are exhausted.”
“We will have them out of here by daybreak,” Kya reassured her. She moved around the desk that separated them to begin unbuttoning Lin’s uniform. “You look like you could use some sleep.”
“I have to get them out of here safely,” came the soft reply. Lin did not protest as Kya stripped the jacket off and gently wrapped her arms around her wife’s waist. After the loss of Omashu and the subsequent retreat, the General had been operating on adrenaline and determination. Now that her wife was here, the exhaustion was setting in.
Kya pressed a kiss to Lin’s cheek with her arms still wrapped safely around her. “You can afford an hour or two. I will go through your reports to catch myself up. I’ll be right here.”
The General hesitated, but the Admiral’s offer was a tempting one. Kya released her wife and settled into the desk chair. She pulled one of the candles closer to her and picked up the top report in a stack on Lin’s desk. Lin eyed the cot across the tent. Just an hour couldn’t hurt.
“Lin. Lin, wake up.” Kya’s voice slipped into her subconscious as Lin awoke. The General was a light sleeper as it was. When she opened her eyes, Kya was leaning over her; gray hair had been released from the tight bun that her uniform dictated. “I think the rain is about to stop.”
“The rain, Lin. It’s about to stop…we weren’t expecting that until the morning. If the rain stops…”
“They will attack.” Damn.
The General was at full alert now. She got off the cot and saw that the majority of her things had been packed up while she was sleeping. Opal was moving silently around the tent, sorting through the last items to be put into trunks. Her uniform coat had been neatly folded on top of her belt and boots that she had discarded before laying down for some quick shuteye.
“How long was I out?”
Kya helped her stand up from the low-lying cot. “Not quite two hours. Opal came in a little while ago to start packing up the tent. I just let her work.”
Lin nodded in approval and began to slip back into her uniform; and back into the General persona. However, she could still hear the rain thundering away on the thick material above her head. “I thought you said it stopped raining.”
“I said it was about to stop raining.” The two women locked eyes from across the tent. Kya had a way with the seas and the skies. If she felt their cover of rain was about to leave them dry and vulnerable, Lin believed her.
“Get me Lieutenant Mako,” ordered Lin and Opal gracefully, but quickly, slipped out of the tent. She nodded to the small chest that had been packed full of scrolls and notebooks sitting on the desk. “What do you think?”
“We can connect with Bumi in four days. The information you extracted before the ambush correlates with the report Specialist Sato brought us.” Lin let out a sound of indignation, but Kya spoke up before she could say anything. “We’re not arguing about this anymore. Everything she has told us since she defected has been helpful and you just proved the last piece of intel was true.”
“We will discuss it when we get back to the base.” The General was done with the conversation. Kya frowned, but didn’t push the issue.
Any disagreement they may have had would have been interrupted by the arrival of Lieutenant Mako. He raised his arm to salute, “General. Admiral.”
“All the armaments have been transferred to the ships. Most of the camp has been broken down and Colonel Saihkan has been evacuating the personnel in shifts.” The Lieutenant stood stock still, not even glancing behind him as Opal swept back into the tent, this time with Corporal Bolin and two Privates. The fours began moving the trunks out of the tent.
Once Lin was back in her uniform, the General and the Admiral stepped out of the tent. Kya had been right; the rain was now a light drizzle. Dawn wouldn’t be upon them for another hour, but the haze of the storm was fading. The enemy could be upon them any moment. The General knew better than to assume they had retreated back to Omashu.
The camp had been mostly disassembled, but there were still troops and equipment to be loaded. Colonel Saihkan and First Officer Korra met them halfway back to the dock. “How much more time do we need to get loaded?”
The Colonel eyed her seriously, trying to judge how she wanted the question answered. They had served together for fifteen years; he knew her as well as her wife. Therefore, he caught on to her urgency and replied, “Ideally, I would want another two hours. But we can do it in one, sir.”
General Beifong’s eyes swept across the camp and then inland to where the steam was flowing off of the mountains in the distance as the clouds dissipated into the dawning morning. Danger was coming, she could sense it. The beach was still crowded with servicemen hurrying to load the ferry boats. The fleet was offshore at a distance that none of the enemy fire could reach, but any boats evacuating the troops would be sitting ducks.
“Colonel, get it done in half an hour.” He gave a quick nod, gave a salute, and then turned on his heel to get the troops moving.
The Admiral gave a little nod to her First Officer and Korra jogged off without another word. Everyone understood what was at stake. General Beifong could feel the tension that had been soothed away by her wife slowly returning to her chest. All of these people were depending on her to get them home safely.
She felt the gentlest of touches to her elbow. Kya was there, by her side, telling her without words that it was their responsibility to get everyone home safely. The General did not stand alone; the Admiral was there beside her.
As the next boats arrived on the shore, General Beifong caught her secretary. “I want you on the next boat out, Beifong.”
“But sir, I still have to oversee-”
“Next boat out. That’s an order.” Opal’s eyes searched her aunt’s face, but only the General stared back at her. But the girl did as she was told; she jumped onto the boat that was carrying the General’s trunks. General Beifong felt her breath hitch until the girl’s boat had reached the ship.
“General!” the cry came from the east and General Beifong whirled around to see one of her scouts sprinting in their direction.
The boy had been sent to them by the Air Nation to serve Colonel Saikhan as a personal secretary, but they had quickly found he made an excellent scout. Somehow, he could get in and out of places without anyone ever noticing. Kai had a talent, and the General needed every helping hand she could get. However, he wasn’t an enlisted member of her army, so sometimes his protocol needed some work.
Kai slid to a stop in front of the General and Admiral, covered from head to toe in mud. He gasped out, “They’re on the move.”
“How much time do you think we have?” His ashen face was all the answer General Beifong needed. “Get on the next transport out. And if you see Colonel Saikhan or Lieutenant Mako, send them my way.”
The General knew most of the armament was already on the ships, but they always had to be prepared for an ambush. A few cannons and long rifles were their last line of defense. She could see Captain Zhu Li organizing her officers to set the line.
“I can have Captain Eska bring the Raava within canon range,” spoke Admiral Kya, her eyes on the horizon that Kai had just alerted them to. “It would provide us with cover.”
“We can’t risk it. If they sink it here, we will have given them a victory.”
The Admiral thought it over for a moment. “What about the Grey Wolf? She doesn’t have the firepower that the Raava or the Yue do, but she’s quick. Admiral Sokka designed her just for this. She’ll be enough to cause them to stop and even if they manage to sink her, the crew compliment is only a hundred, making it an easy rescue operation.”
The General and the Admiral went their separate ways: General Beifong to the makeshift frontline and Admiral Kya to send word to the waiting fleet. The ferry boats were on their way back again, but it would be at least two more trips before they were completely evacuated. Moving the Grey Wolf would provide some cover.
Colonel Saikhan was waiting for her, two rifles in hand when she reached her troops. Down the line was Lieutenant Mako, Corporal Bolin, and Captain Zhu Li. Her nephew, Lieutenant Bataar, held the left flank. First Officer Korra had remained with a few of the Naval Crew to oversee the loading of the last boats. There were approximately fifty men to hold this position.
The Colonel handed her a rifle. Her mother’s pistol still hung on her hip, but she had always been better with a rifle. They said there was no better shot in the Army than General Beifong. And today, every shot would count. They had limited ammo and terrible position. Not to mention they would be abandoning these canons to get off the beach alive.
General Beifong could hear the cries of the approaching army and she ordered, “Hold your fire - wait until they are in range!”
As she looked down the barrel of her long-rifle, she evened her breathing. The General would make sure her people got out of this alive. Footsteps approached to her left and then she heard the scrape of metal as a sword was drawn.
The Admiral had returned to her side.
It was probably a bad strategic idea to have them both here, on the shoddy frontline. But Lin was glad to have Kya by her side. It’s why she married her, after all. Nothing was more beautiful than her wife preparing for battle. Today they would fight together. And tonight, if they made it to tonight, then they would celebrate together.
As the enemy drew closer, the General and the Admiral stood ready to hold the line.