Seige of Ba Sing Se
The Five Wisdoms
In the late summer of 0 AG, all of the Air Nomads, typically dispersed far and wide across the world, returned to the Air Temples for the great Kurultai. Every 10 years the Air Nomads gathered to discuss and debate the management of their nation, in particular selecting new Abbots for the Temples. This year was especially special, as the Great Comet would bless the skies during the Kurultai. Perhaps this was a good omen, and help the abbots of the Southern Temple find the Avatar before word got out that he was missing.
It was not a good omen.
The Fire Nation struck with speed and fury. Powered by the comet they reached the temples with ease, and burned or chased off all of the bison. Then they set to the grisly work of commiting the Genocide. The grisly details are a story for another day, but suffice to say the once proud Air Nomads were reduced to a single boy, frozen in an iceberg.
The Earth Kings and Chiefs of the Water Tribes were not always paragons of morality, but they were horrified by the attacks. They sent a Delegation to the Caldera, demanding an explanation. The High Chief of the North’s second son, several prominent Southern Leaders, the Grand Chancellor of Ba Sing Se, and the crown prince of Omashu all joined this delegation. And all perished in fire.
Sozin promised a quick and easy war, over before the next Avatar was of age. The Water Tribes were divided and the Earth Kingdom had always teetered on the edge of chaos. Similarly the “Allies” as they came to be known, thought they needed to hold out until the new Water Avatar (who would hopefully not be another Kuruk) could be found and trained. Twenty years at most, they said.
The Fire Nation initially made landings in the Northwestern Earth Kingdom, near earlier sites of attempted colonization. Their new metal ships and well trained crews, along with a sluggish mobilization from High Chief Tuuq allowed them to establish beachheads. Attacks in the South were repelled by Omashu and the Southern Tribes, including a major defeat for Sozin himself at Mu. For now, the fight remained in the North.
The early years were characterized by back and forth warfare, mostly in what is now the United Republic of Nations. The Fire Nation controlled the sea lanes to their landing areas, but little else. Sozin’s old age limited his effectiveness as a leader, whereas King Yahui proved a vigorous leader, able to contain the Fire Nation advances. High Chief Tuuq, despite some early missteps, was able to find a balance between creating a unified Water Tribe war effort and not alienating the sometimes proud Southern Chiefs. Several times during the early years, it seemed as though the Fire Nation might be expelled from the Earth Kingdom, notably after the Battle of Tao when Sozin supposedly seriously considered surging for peace. But the Fire Nation held.
However, at the same time it was becoming apparent that the Water Tribes were not in possession of the next Avatar. Despite frenzied efforts from Sages at the North and South Poles, no one could find them. The traditional scrying method was not producing any results whatsoever. Fear began to spread through the allies that Avatar Roku (or the then-unknown Air Avatar) had not been reborn for any reason. Hope sprang eternal in the Fire Nation that this was the case.
The 20s AG were a time of continued stagnation on the front, but important changes were happening internally, as all of the nations received a new leader in a five year time span. Tuuq died in 19, and was succeeded by his nephew Anik as High Chief. Anik was a competent administrator, and a decent tactician, but proved ill-equipped to inspire confidence. He was high handed, provoking dissent from both Southerners and some of the more independent minded Northern Clans, resulting in an at times dangerous lack of coordination among the allied fleets.
In 20 AG Sozin passed away in his sleep, trawling the seas searching for the Avatar. His son Azulon ascended to the throne. Azulon was ruthless and cunning, and a soldier by education unlike his brother. He was perhaps the first man to anticipate the possible length of the war, and made long-term plans accordingly. In war he was aggressive.
Yahui’s untimely death following a fall from his Ostrichhorse in 24 would prove disastrous for the allies in the long term. His son Kun was a drunkard who cared more for women than for fighting a war to preserve his kingdom. Initially he at least made an effort, but as time went on he became less and less engaged with day to day affairs.
Azulon adopted an aggressive posture towards the enemy, favoring bold attacks and massed assaults. In this he proved largely successful. By the late 30s the Fire Nation felt secure enough to begin a formal colonization process in the Earth Kingdom, as the front had been pushed far enough inland that civilian colonies would not be immediately threatened.
Meanwhile he promoted newer, bolder, captains into the Fire Navy and began attacking the Water Tribes in the Polar Seas, even raiding the homelands of the tribes. The battles were fierce and back and forth. To defeat waterbenders at sea is a difficult thing, even for the pride of the Fire Navy, and the seas remained a battleground.
Around this time it became apparent that the Avatar was not going to return anytime soon. Fire Nation propaganda stated that Agni had judged the Avatar unworthy and so had prevented his rebirth. Allied forces alternated between panicked denials and accusing the Fire Nation’s ambitions as having imbalanced the world so much the Avatar spirit had withdrawn from the world.
In the year 42 Anik passed away from what is believed to be stomach cancer, a reoccurring bane of Northern Water Tribe leader, and was replaced by his son Nilak. Nilak was a powerful bender, but with little mind for proper tactics. He wished the respond with boldness to Azulon’s boldness, but lacked the skills to back him up in such a fight. The Water Tribe’s fleet was smashed several times under his personal command, including at the crucial Battle of Whaleantelope Strait in 44, where the Fire Lord personally commanded the Fire Navy to victory over both the Northern and Southern fleets. The Fire Navy was now the most powerful force on the waves, although the days of unparalleled dominance were yet to come.
For a while the competent commanders Yahui had promoted were able to keep the Earth Kingdom’s ship afloat, so to speak. But they aged and died with time, and Kun simply did not care enough to replace them carefully. Soon the Earth Kingdom was backed against two great rivers, the Huang in the north, and the Jiantau further south.
In 51 Nilak was killed in battle, the only world leader who died in such a way save the Abbots killed in the Genocide. His advisers had suggested not attacking several Fire Nation ships at once, but the hot headed chief did not listen and perished for his trouble. His younger brother, Illuq, succeeded him and took a far more conservative approach to the war. The Water Tribes, he announced in 57, would no longer undertake any offensives. Instead they would defend their homelands and that alone
Accusations of cowardice were quick to follow. Even the normally apathetic King Kun sent angry messages. The strategy was, in truth, ill-advised. It totally conceded the seas to the enemy, and left both Water Tribes open to direct raids, which would have disastrous consequences for the South in particular. In addition the Fire Nation could now harry the Earth Kingdom forces beyond the western seas. The realities of logistics prevented anything more than seizing some islands, and occasional raids, but it still stretched the Kingdom’s forces even further.
The decision also inevitably cut the Southern Water Tribe off from the North. The long growing separation of the two had actually been halted by the war initially, since military operations demanded unity. But within a few years of the withdrawal orders, contact had been lost. The Southern Chiefs met in an assembly to select a new Commander-in-Chief. This was not an easy task, as the various tribes of the South were quite defensive of their independence. The chiefdom of the North was as much about keeping power far far away as much as it was about respect for the ancient lineages. Eventually however, the tribes selected Tuktu, Chief of the Aput Tribe, as war leader “until such a time as contact was restored”. Tuktu fought well, but the Southern Tribe was not as well suited to defense as their Northern cousins, and soon the Tribe was collapsing. The Fire Nation Policy of kidnapping or killing any waterbenders they found entered full swing.
In 62, Earth King Kun died aged 67, surrounded by women and wine. His son Jie took the throne. Initially this was met with celebration, particularly when Jie removed several incompetent generals, and ordered a new strategy of aggression against the Fire Nation. However his replacements were little better, and as Crown Prince Iroh, Dragon of the West, proved himself perhaps the most capable general of the war, Jie’s strategy proved inept. In addition, he revealed himself to be a terrible ruler. His father had been lazy and weak, but amiable nonetheless. Jie was cruel in a way that crossed the line into madness. Men were boiled alive for insulting him. Failed generals were thrown to the eelhounds.
The Fire Nation thus secured control of all the land behind the Huang and Jiantau, and soon two great armies were dispatched in 71. Across the Huang went Iroh and General Zhizo was sent across the Jiantau. Iroh would fight a long and hard in the Mountains, having to face Earthbenders in their natural element. Zhizo meanwhile, faced General Tian and proved woefully unprepared. Tian completely obliterated the Fire Nation army both themes Zhizo tried to ford the Jiantau.
This, however, raised the ire of King Jie, who grew paranoid about Tian’s ambitions, fearing a coup was in the works. In 73 he summoned Tian to Ba Sing Se to face trial for his ‘treason.’ However when he arrived, Jie had been killed by an impromptu alliance of the Dai Li, Council of 5, and Palace Guards, and the Crown was offered to Tian, who accepted. Debate still rages about just how much General Tian was involved in this conspiracy. He of course claimed ignorance and issued reprimands to the killers, but at the same time issued no substantive punishments and reportedly was wholly unsurprised when he entered the city to claims of “Hail King Tian!”
After his coronation Tian would cross the Dashe River and fight Prince Iroh amongst the great mountains of the north. Military historians consider this brief window the period of finest generalship in the war,a flurry of manoeuvre and counter-manoeuvre dominated by two generals at the top of their prowess. A grudging respect was formed between the two, and the two would even occasionally exchange tea recipes.
In 75 Tuktu of the Southern Water Tribe was captured by the Fire Nation in a daring nighttime raid led by Commander Jeong Jeong who was later promoted to Admrial for his efforts. Tuktu eventually died in prison in 98 after years of mistreatment. His removal fractured the already precarious unity of the South Water Tribe. The following years would see the once proud nation reduced to a string of villages desperately fighting raids, and see Waterbending nearly eradicated around the South Pole.
The late 70s would also see a change in leadership in the North, as Illuq was succeeded by his non-bender son Arnook. Arnook would mostly follow his father’s example, battering down the hatches in the north to make his tribe an unappealing target for the Fire Nation.
However the duel of armies between Iroh and Tian could not continue forever. Azulon, feeling Iroh needed proper training to become Fire Lord and perhaps fearful that losing the close fought campaign might discredit his favored son, recalled Iroh to the Fire Nation. This was a marked departure from his traditional strategy of aggression. It had might have been a disaster for the Fire Nation, had Tian not suddenly died a few months later in 79. Officially a spideradder bit is too blame, although some suspect fowl play from ambitious officials.
Tian left behind a 4 year-old son, Kuei, and the the various generals and Sages of the Earth Kingdom naturally squabbled over the regency. Eventually it was agreed that the new head of the Dai Li, Long Feng, would be regent as it was generally agreed he had no ambition. This was a mistake.
Long Feng did have a limited scale of ambition, wanting only control over Ba Sing Se, and focused more on preventing any General from replicating Tian’s feat. To this end he gave more discretion to local officials, while limiting the influence of the Council of 5.
Somewhat surprisingly, this worked well initially, and Long Feng continued the policy as he retained control over Kuei long after the regency officially ended. Over the course of his brief reign Tian had encouraged the promotion of commanders who took the initiative and struck hard and fast. Increased familiarity with Fire Nation technology was also a boon.
The 80s were a time of renewed vigor for the Earth Kingdom. General Ye in the South continued to stymie the Fire Nation’s efforts to reach Omashu. Meanwhile renewed offenses in the North led to the reversal of many of Iroh’s gains. By 92, there was serious talk of crossing the rivers again, and taking the fight to the colonies. Thus Azulon redispatched Iroh.
Crossing the Huang and Jiantau however would require more coordination between riverine and army forces, and the lack of a central authority to coordinate them severely hampered any efforts. Fire Nation commanders in the South began using the same roving terror tactics that had worked against the Southern Water Tribe, preventing any force from assembling. Meanwhile Iroh again entered the Northern Mountains, and found that with Tian dead he no longer had a worthy opponent. Within a few years, he had completely occupied the territory between the Huang and the Dashe Rivers.
He then famously crossed the Dashe in 94 and besieged Ba Sing Se for 600 Days. General Ye made an equally daring march and barely beat Iroh to the city, temporarily displacing Long Feng as master of the capital, although the Dai Li head maintained control of Kuei. Ye would perish during the seige, and Iroh would take the outer wall. However the death of his son and supply issues would eventually lead to his withdrawal without conquering Ba Sing Se.
This retreat, and Iroh’s long mourning period for his son, opened the door for his younger brother Ozai to take the throne when Azulon died in 95. Much controversy surrounds the death of the Fire Lord. Some claim Ozai or his wife Ursa poisoned Azulon, others point out that Azulon was 95 years old. Most however dismiss Ozai’s claim that Azulon declared him heir on his deathbed.
The demoralizing retreat from Ba Sing Se and the suspicious succession of Ozai might have provided an opportunity for the Earth Kingdom, had Long Feng not remained in control of Ba Sing Se. His temporary loss of control during the Siege had sent him deeper into paranoia. He now officially banned any discussion of the war inside the city, and further devolved powers to local leaders to prevent any more challenges. He also ceased giving any sort of orders, leaving the Earth Kingdom’s forces rudderless. This allowed for more expansive Fire Nation raiding, and a rapid string of successes for the newly crowned Fire Lord Ozai.
Early efforts were focused on the South, where a new push south of the Jiantau was accompanied by ambitious landings for the sea, which proved a deadly combination. Even in areas where occupation proved impossible, raiding was a powerful weapon for the Fire Lord’s army.
In 93 a Fire Nation raid aimed at further eliminating waterbending in the Southern Water Tribe occured. This alone would not bear noting, save for the impact this raid would have. Firstly it failed to actually kill the Waterbender in question, Katara, future wife of Avatar Aang and master of her element in her own right, instead killing her mother. Her father, Chief Hakoda, was understandably enraged. He spent the next four years traveling to the various Southern Water Tribes and urging them to action. By 97 he had, mostly through his sheer charisma, reassembled the shattered coalition. It was greatly understrength, and possessed no waterbenders, but was filled with competent sailors and seasoned warriors.
Hakoda made the bold decision to abandon the South completely and head to the Earth Kingdom, where he reasoned the war would be won or lost. They would spend most of their days guarding River mouths from Fire Nation raids in coordination with local Earth Kingdom authorities.
By 99 the Fire Nation was making advances back across the Dashe, abilit at a slower pace than under Iroh, and were beginning a series of campaigns aimed at encircling Omashu. Most experts predicted victory would come soon, especially with the comet returning, although how Ozai planned to break Ba Sing Se remained unknown.
Then everything changed when the Avatar returned.
The Avatar’s impact on the war was largely physiological, inspiring fiercer resistance in the hopes of buying him enough time to master the elements. He also occasionally disrupted enemy supply lines, although this seems to be largely incidental to his training.
There were, of course key exceptions.
In early 100, Admiral Zhao tracked the Avatar to the Northern Water tribe and took the opportunity to make the long delayed assault to break the Northerners, just as previous Admirals had broken the South. However this plan backfired when Zhao killed the moon spirit, causing the Avatar to merge with the Ocean Spirit. Zhao was killed and the Fire Navy suffered its worst defeat in 200 years. This defeat more or less prevented any further water based offensives for the duritation of the War. It also roused the Northern Water Tribe from its extended period of isolation. Small aid missions were sent although conveniently by the time any substantial force was assembled the war was finished.
Aang aimed to continue his training in Omashu, only to find the city captured after the surrender of King Bumi. However Bumi was, as ever, playing the long game and the Fire Nation found itself expending more men occupying the region then it had invading it, largely because the Omashu Army had never been totally defeated in battle and was able to start guerrilla activity. The Avatar continued on his quest from here, eventually finding an earthbending teacher in unoccupied Gaoling.
Eventually circumstances that would take too long to explain brought the Avatar to Ba Sing Se, concurrently with a Fire Nation assault based around a large drilling apparatus. Having once again reached the walls, the Fire Nation intended a more direct approach rather than a siege. Had Aang not personally intervened, it is likely that attack would have succeeded. Had the operation included war balloon support as initially planned it probably would have succeeded regardless of Aang’s presence. However military politics had recently led to the war balloon/airship project moving to the Navy, and Minister Qin was unwilling to share the glory.
This defeat was not altogether disastrous however, as Princess Azula and Prince Zuko were able to seize Ba Sing Se weeks later in a coup aided by the Dai Li. Avatar Aang barely escaped with his life, along with King Kuei who was finally alerted to the war existing.
The Avatar’s next move was his most direct effort to win the war yet. A coalition of various Earth Kingdom forces, notably Omashu Units, and the Southern Water Tribe attempted to seize control of the Fire Nation Capital, both harbor and caldera, taking advantage of a solar eclipse occuring over the Fire Nation. However the Fire Nation forces has been forewarned and was able to hold off long enough to secure victory and capture the majority of the invasion force. Aang was able to escape, and would gain a firebending teacher in the process as Prince Zuko would defect to his side shortly thereafter.
The Eclipse also passed over the Southern Earth Kingdom, where it was used to much greater effect by King Bumi to liberate Omashu. This, and other guerrilla activity, was rapidly making the Fire Nation’s recent advances untenable. Azulon had possessed the administrative skills to manage the growing empire, whereas Ozai did not. Rather than address this personal failing, he resolved to commit mass genocide.
His plan was to use the power of the incoming comet to burn the Earth Kingdom to ashes. Although the sheer scale of geography and population precluded a repeat of the Air Nomad Genocide, Ozai hoped that he could destroy any organization that the Earth Kingdom had, reducing the Kingdom to a scattering of scarred nomadic bands, enabling the colonization of the entire region.
While Ozai plotted, his brother Iroh, Dragon of the West did so as well. Iroh had been imprisoned following the capture of Ba Sing Se, but had escaped during the eclipse. He assembled, for the first time publicly, the Order of the White Lotus, with the intent of restoring Kuei to the throne. King Bumi arrived to aid the endeavor, along with Master Pakku and the only significant Northern Water Tribe contingent of the late war. Iroh was joined by a contingent of Fire Nation defectors including Jeong Jeong and Master Swordsmith Piandao. The attack was soon aided by a largely spontaneous uprising of Earthbenders inside Ba Sing Se and succeeded in seizing the city.
Meanwhile the Avatar faced the Fire Lord in single combat and, after a hard fought battle in the Wulong Forest, managed to strip Ozai of his bending. Meanwhile his companions (save Zuko and Katara) were able to disrupt and destroy Ozai’s airship fleet. Other fleets were still able to do substantial damage, before being recalled by orders from the capital.
Said orders were the result of the dramatic Agni Kai between Zuko and Azula, which Zuko won, after which Azula was restrained by Katara. Zuko immediately claimed the throne then sent out orders to stop the attacks and withdraw from the Earth Kingdom.
Spariodic fighting would continue for some time, withdrawing the Fire Army took months and many Earth Kingdom forces were unwilling to let them leave unbloodied. And there were inevitable mutinies from more fanatical Fire Nation soldiers. Despite this the Day of the Comet is considered the end of the Hundred Year War, literally a hundred years since the war began.
There would be crises to follow. Fights over the colonies and over reparations. Internal battles in every nation. But the world has never seen such long lasting brutality since the war ended, and hopefully it never will again.