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|More from Henryjh98||Adventure||PG-13||Positive|
March 26th, 2013
Previously on Avatar: The Sole Woodbender
A colossal rock soared through the air and crashed down onto the front of the bar, smashing the wall down and exploding instantly. Mozu and Sozai were thrown to the ground. Sozai hit the stone pavement hard and felt his head bang against a wall.
Dust and debris flew everywhere, clouding the sky and posing a huge threat. Sozai blinked twice and stood, holding his head with his hand. But once he regained his footing, he slipped right back down and landed on his backside, a searing pain splitting through him.
"They're rocks full of ice!" he cried at Mozu."
|""What's your name?" asked Mozu, looking at her beautiful face.
"Kibozhi," she replied. "My father is a fisherman, a poor one at that. We live here.""
|""Round 'em up!" cried the man holding Sozai, who appeared to be the leader. "They're young and fit; they'll make great slaves!""|
Voice of Akhang.
Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
The monks would tell me how since the time of the first Avatar, there have been four bending elements, and a nation to go along with each one; the Fire Nation, the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Air Nomads.
But everything changed fifteen years ago, when the Earth Kingdom split and a new element rose. On that fateful night, the sky lit up a great white color, the color of my eyes at my most powerful. Nobody knew what it was.
I do. I know. A fifth element has come into this world, granted by the spirits. The element's entry has defied the Avatar Cycle. Defied the world. But the new element is our only hope, our only way to survive. We must protect it. We must.
I believe Mozukai can save the world.
Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
The air reeked of damp wood and mold. Sozai's eyes darted around the cart, taking in the surroundings of his location. Several men marched beside the wagon, their booming and yelling to each other. The wheels beneath the bed of the cart screeched and shrieked, a harsh grating sound that made Sozai want to cover his ears, but his hands were bound together. He shifted uncomfortably as the cart bounced along the uneven road, heading towards the lights of a nearby town. He, Mozu, and Kibozhi had been waylaid by a group of gruff warrior type men and thrown into ropes before being tossed into an open cart. The characters of the men that had taken the trio captive made Sozai dread their destination. Occasional squeals came from the two ostrich horses pulling the cart over the hills.
Kibozhi looked, her eyes wide in fear. "Where are we going?" she asked in a hushed voice with trembling lips.
Mozu shrugged and Sozai shook his head. "I think they are taking us to be prisoners," he replied.
"Hey, shut up back there!" one of the men barked curtly. The cruel tone of his voice made Sozai winced in fear. "No talking!"
Kibozhi cast a nervous glance at her two friends but didn't respond. Her eyes began to dart frantically back and forth as they dragged on to the nearby town.
Sozai's fear and anger grew steadily larger as they continued on towards the city. His hands were shaking in rage and his lip was trembling, on the verge of screaming in frustration and hopelessness. He had finally gotten a chance to escape his confinement in the Fire Nation, only to be captured by these men for who knows what.
After nearly ten minutes, the cart pulled through the gates underneath a huge wall. The city they arrived at was not in very good condition; many of the buildings had been crushed into ruins, and even the others still standing were in terrible shape. There seemed to be metal contraptions and wooden siege engines everywhere throughout the city. It looked as if it had just gone through a war.
The cart turned to the left and pulled them parallel to the only thing in the city that looked in good shape; a huge pyramid at the center of the town. Sozai blinked, trying to tell what the purpose of the pyramid was. The cart was pulling into increasingly uglier parts of town. Wide-eyed civilians lined the streets, staring at Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi as they clunked by; a dog so thin even Sozai's half-closed eyes could count all its ribs, two bodies slumped against the outside of a ruined house, their skin sickly green with flies buzzing around their heads. Sozai shuddered; if they were passing through these living conditions, then where were they heading?
He was answered when they passed through a small field of weeds and tangles towards a wooden wall with at least six towers atop it. A huge metal-bound gate permitted entrance to what lay inside the stockade.
The cart pulled them up to the gate and then stopped. A couple of men called up to the wall and told them to raise the gate. Another two men dragged Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi roughly out of the cart, letting them slam into the ground. Sozai grunted at the impact, and then gasped as he was pulled up off the ground.
"You three are walking from here on out," growled one of the men.
Sozai's legs hit the ground and he fell forward into the dirt. One of the men roughly shoved him back to his feet, shoving him to go forward. He stumbled forward but caught his balance and began to slowly walk on weak and tired legs. They walked under the huge metal gate and into the compound behind the walls. Three wooden buildings, which held another gate, rested against a wall. Right in the center were ten small wooden cabins, raised twenty feet of the ground on huge stilts. A ladder led to the verandas surrounding the cabins. The thin wooden stilts creaked and were covered in decaying wood and mold, making Sozai pray that he would not have to stay in one of those. The cabins looked as if they would fall over any moment.
At the left side of the compound was a tiny door that led out of the walls and the city. Sozai looked out over the wall and saw three tall, soot black smokestacks looming just above the walls. He realized with a dreaded whimper that the city was constructing something by the use of slaves. Tears welled in his eyes as he realized what his life was turning into.
"Welcome to your new home," the leader said, smiling wickedly. "We call it the Slave Haven." He laughed out loud at his own joke and then led the three of them to the nearest cabin, where he shoved them up the ladder and followed them. He pushed aside the curtain and beckoned for them to get inside. "You'll find three beds in there," said the man. "Or maybe not." He laughed again and set off down the ladder, Sozai staring daggers at him. Then his eyes drifted off to where one of the men was standing, not twenty yards away. Their eyes met and the man nodded at him. Sozai turned around for a moment, and then looked back at the man. But he was gone. And the others showed no sign of his departure.
Strange, thought Sozai. Very strange. Shrugging, he turned around and walked inside where he met thirty pairs of eyes, aside from Mozu and Kibozhi, staring at him. Kibozhi and Mozu were sitting in in a corner, next to two small straw mattresses and three raggedy, worn blankets.
He walked over there and said, "Mozu and I will share a bed. Kibozhi you can have your own."
Kibozhi nodded her thanks and then covered herself in the thin blanket. Sozai and Mozu curled up onto their small bed, the blanket only half-covering each of them. Sozai shivered in the cold and wished for his comfortable bed back in the Fire Nation.
This was the first of many nights in hell.
The sharp sound of a klaxon horn woke Sozai from his slumber. He sat up in his bed and was immediately greeted by the thousand aches all over his body. He groaned and stretched as the other slaves in the hut began to stir.
The trio had grown accustomed to the thirty or so slaves in Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi's shack, and the others had gotten used to them too. However, they relationship barely extended beyond sharp grunts and occasional nods, for they'd grown too tired and weak to waste their energy talking and socializing.
Sozai gave two quick nods, one to Kibozhi and one to Mozu, but regretted it as his neck muscles began to scream in agony. He grimaced and then pushed himself off of the ground. Kibozhi helped him up and then looked deeply into his eyes, the fear visible on her face.
"Sozai, what are we going to do?" Kibozhi asked.
Sozai shrugged. "You keep asking this, and I can't answer, Kibozhi," he said. "We've been here for nearly ten days, and there has been no sign of rescue."
Mozu shut his eyes. "Why did this happen to us?" he said, to no one in particular.
Neither of the other two replied, and when the klaxon horn sounded a minute later, two guards appeared inside the raised hut.
"Get out here now, or no breakfast for you!" one of them roared.
Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi shuffled forward, eager to get ahead of the other slaves. Breakfast, as meager as it was, made up a very important part of their day. Sozai and Mozu were used to an endless supply of rich and delicious food. They could eat flaming fire flakes, roast duck, and komodo sausage. Sozai's mouth started to water at the thought of biting into a delicious cone of ice cream. His stomach rumbled, expressing its wants for the wonderful foods. Now, they were constantly feeling sick because of the lack of food, and a few times, Mozu had fainted due to malnutrition. Living on moldy bread, spoiled soup, and horrible, dank water was just about killing the slaves.
The guards hopped down onto the ground and bent earth pillars to catch them in their fall twenty feet below. Then, three more joined and took stances around the ladder to prevent anyone from running away.
Sozai was the first to the ladder and he walked down slowly and shakily, trying to hold on. Mozu followed, with Kibozhi right above him. They gathered together as the rest of the slaves crawled down the ladder. Then the guards formed them all into a single file line and they paraded towards the eating hall.
The eating hall was a small shack against the side of the slave compound, where the spoiled and unused food was used to feed the slaves. Despite how much food they had, the soldiers barely gave the slaves ten percent of it. What else would they use it for? Sozai always wondered.
Sozai looked around and saw other slaves shuffling towards the food hall, and he hoped he got there first. Twice, he made the mistake of being the last one there and all he had was a moldy piece of bread and a small glass of water.
The lead guard turned his head back and chuckled. "You are in for a real treat today!" he said, in his usual mad tone. "And I'm serious. We have fresh bread and even a bit of soup for you!"
Some of the people mumbled excited words to their neighbors, obviously happy about the change in breakfast.
The guard continued. "But don't expect this every day," he said, with a fierce face. "You won't get it. This is a once in a long time experience, scum! So you should feel lucky!"
Sozai felt relieved when they arrived before the other slave groups. They lined up and then a few slaves that had higher standings in the compound came out, holding small trays with a wooden bowl and a hunk of bread.
A slave handed Sozai a tray and the prince accepted it gratefully. He turned and waited for Mozu and Kibozhi to get theirs, and then they walked in a single file line to the area designated for the slaves to eat, possibly the most comfortable spot in the whole compound...and it was still rather uncomfortable.
His muscles stiff and sore, Sozai lowered himself to the ground and sat cross-legged, pain aching through his body. He groaned in discomfort and stretched his shoulders, but it really didn't help to ease the pain.
"I hate this place," he mumbled under his breath.
"Don't we all?" came the gruff voice of a man.
Sozai spun around to see a tall, muscular man standing there. His hair was dark and his skin was tan, very tan. He had bulging muscles, but they weren't muscles created from physical training, but rather they were built from years of strenuous labor. He was garbed in typical Earth Kingdom clothing but it looked ancient and worn, as if it had been worn every day for years. But with all the hems and sleeves torn and shredded, he looked like quite an imposing figure. That is, until one looked at his face. The skin was worn and soft, much like that of an older-than-middle-aged-man, and his eyes were devoid of any hope or joy, gray-blue pits of emptiness.
"Don't complain about this place, boy," said the man, walking past Sozai and sitting down about six feet away, "because you probably ain't ever getting out of it. I've been here three years, I have."
Kibozhi looked at the man. "What's wrong with having hope?" she asked.
The man leaned forward. "Nothin'," he replied. "But let me just tell you; once you are here longer, there is really no reason to have hope. So keep that in mind, girl."
"There is always a reason to hope!" yelled Kibozhi, throwing her hands in the air. "I have hope, and I will keep holding onto my hope until I escape this place or die trying!"
Sozai looked upon Kibozhi with admiration. The spirit and courage she used when she said this was so high, so amazing, that Sozai wondered how it could possibly have stayed inside her for so long. Her words gave him a little spark of hope and a touch of a smile on his face.
The man looked at his bowl of soup. "Suit yourself," he grumbled, shrugging.
Kibozhi sat down, fuming silently while Sozai and Mozu ate their meager breakfast. The girl grabbed her bread and began to pick at it, but pushed her soup away.
"You two have it," she muttered. "I'm used to little food, anyway."
Gratefully, Sozai and Mozu dove forward and began to spoon the soup into their mouths, satisfying their stomachs the slightest bit more.
The two boys quickly finished the remainders of their breakfast, not a moment too soon, because a second klaxon horn sounded. The guards began to walk towards the slaves. Sozai looked at Mozu and Kibozhi, dread on his face. Slave work was about to begin.
Mozu frowned. "I wish I was in the same station as you," he groaned.
"I do too, Mozu," Kibozhi said, "but our work is for benders."
Mozu looked at Kibozhi. "I know!" he snapped, a little too harsh and hasty.
Kibozhi flinched, taken aback, but Mozu stepped forward. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be rude."
Kibozhi dipped her head and then waved her hand at Mozu, grabbing Sozai's arm and pulling him towards the other benders. Sozai smiled half-heartedly. "See you tonight, Mozu," he muttered before turning around.
Mozu raised his hand and then walked away, towards the larger group of slaves. Several guards were beginning to give out orders to the consensus gathered there.
Sozai and Kibozhi were among fifty or sixty benders out of a population of nearly two hundred slaves. Guards surrounded them, ready to act at a moment's notice. A tall man in green armor, with a well-groomed black beard and a well-muscled body stepped forward.
"Slaves," he addressed roughly, "now is the time for you to begin your labor. You'll be divided and sent to different locations around the city to work. All firebenders will be escorted to the forges. Earthbenders, some of you will go to the forges, and the rest to various other locations around Shinu. All the nonbenders are out gathering wood and building siege engines for the forces of Chao Dao, the supreme ruler!"
Chao Dao? Who was Chao Dao? Sozai flashed a confused glance at Kibozhi, who shared the same expression. But several other slaves muttered curse words under their breath, and one even said, "Damn Chao Dao."
The lead soldier snapped his head in that direction. "Who said that?" he spat.
No one responded, but the slave made no reaction, nor did he try to act casual. Several slaves around him stepped away, and the lead soldier pointed at him. "Bring him to the block!"
Three guards rushed forward and barreled their way through the other slaves. The man made no move to resist as they heaved him to the ground and dragged him away. He kept a stoic face as he bumped over the rough ground, sliding to the far side of the compound.
Many of the slaves stepped back in fear of being dragged away themselves, but no moves were made against them, except for looks of contempt and hatred. Sozai flinched at the cruelty towards the slave, even though the man had asked for it.
The head man cleared his throat. "Now, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, you will be distributed out to your various....works places in just a few moments." He said the last words with a malicious grin.
There was a silence and then he continued. "Firebenders, move over here. Now!" he demanded, waving his arms towards a spot to his right. Sozai and Kibozhi shuffled along over to the designated area with the ten other firebenders this city had somehow managed to obtain. The man yelled out more demands and the earthbenders split up into several groups and moved away.
Six guards surrounded the firebenders and began to shove them forward. "If any of you make a move to run, you'll have us six and hundreds of other earthbenders to mess with. So don't try, unless you have a death wish."
The other guards snickered at their comrade's joke, but all the slaves were shaking on the inside as they marched towards the wooden stockades of the slave compound. The gates opened, allowing the group to pass through, heading towards the metal buildings just up the road, where the weapons of the army were forged, and the place where all firebenders were to work.
They walked up a dirt road and a few citizens of Shinu poked their heads around corners to look at them. A couple children ran by, staring at the slaves with wide, nervous eyes. These people were just as oppressed as the slaves, Sozai quickly realized. The hungry, tired looks in their eyes made him want to cringe as they dug into his soul. It was frightening, sad.
The trudged up to the forges and then stopped in front of the huge metal doors. It was still a shock to Sozai at how quickly they could build such a massive, sturdy structure. He was guessing that these forces had only occupied Shinu for about three years, based on other slaves. At least he thought so.
With a loud, grating sound, the huge metal doors of the forces opened as two guards stepped away. A heat wave hit Sozai as he stepped over the threshold; it felt like walking into a furnace. The clang of metal on metal echoed around the medium-sized chamber they had stepped into, in which racks of metal materials and old, broken weapons hung on above forging tables. Newly forged weapons hung on the walls to cool off. Several muscular men worked furiously to get their work done. At one end of the room was a large oven, and not too far down from that was corridor which led to other forge rooms. Sozai knew he would soon be sent to one of the forges to heat the ovens for the blacksmiths.
The guards muttered something and then pushed the slaves into a single file line, shunting them along the side of the room towards the corridor. The smiths glanced at them a couple of times, but they obviously weren't too interested. Clearly, they'd seen this happen countless times, so it was nothing new to the smiths.
As they stepped into the separate corridor, the air immediately got cooler, but Sozai knew it was only a matter of time before he stepped into the sweltering over-rooms, where he would keep the fires roaring for a long period of time. He rolled his eyes in dreaded anticipation.
The pair of guards roughly opened the first door and shoved four firebenders inside. "You know what to do!" one snapped. "And if you delay the progress, you know what will happen to you!"
With looks of resent, the firebenders walked into the chamber and the door slammed shut, metal on metal echoing through the hallway. The small group moved on and group after group was distributed to the various furnaces, until only four slaves were left at one door.
The head guard looked at Sozai, Kibozhi, and the other two benders. "Get on in there!" he shouted, opening the door. Reluctantly, they all shuffled inside and the door slammed behind them. Sweat began to bead on Sozai's forehead in the sweltering heat, and he felt weak and sick.
But luckily he was with Kibozhi. Every day, he was terrified of them being separated and something bad happening to her. Ever since he had first met the girl from the slums of the Fire Nation Capital, he had found her an intelligent, beautiful, and likable girl, and he cared for her more than he realized.
"Let's go, Sozai," said Kibozhi, quickly tying her hair in a croc-pony-tail. "I'll take the coal first."
Sozai snapped out of his reverie and shook his head. He scratched the back of his neck and muttered, "Sorry." He walked up to the left oven and took a bent his knees, firmly planted on the ground. Kibozhi stepped beside him and dumped a shovel-load of coal into the furnace, smothering the few sparks that were still sitting there. He breathed out loudly, flames shooting from his nostrils. The other two firebenders in the room watched in awe as he began his routine. Sozai stuck his left arm out and pulled his right arm back, drawing an invisible bow. Then, after nearly a second's pause, reeled forward and blasted his fist through the air. Flames shot out and immediately ignited the black coals in the oven's belly. He repeated the process until a raging fire was crackling.
"I'll take the bellows," murmured Sozai, stepping over to where the pumpers protruded from the furnace. He grabbed the two handles and began to pump them. The work was very taxing, and it didn't help that he was already weak and feeling sick from undernourishment.
Hours passed as he worked at the bellows, pumping them to keep the fire going. Every five minutes Kibozhi would shovel more coals into the fire and then send an inferno from her hand to ignite the charcoal. It was very tiring work, and after the fourth hour, Sozai felt as if he were going to faint.
"Let's switch," Kibozhi said, the fear all-to-noticeable in her quavering voice. "You look terrible!"
The other two slaves in the room were staring at Sozai. He glared up at them. You don't look much better! Stop staring at me! he snapped in his head as he took a position in front of the roaring flames.
He grabbed the huge shovel and pushed it into the box of sooty coal behind him and scooped up dozens of the rocks. Sozai turned around and shoved the shovel into the fire, flipped it over, and watched the coals drop into the orange and yellow tongues. He then repeated the action he had done so many hours ago to ignite the fire and spiraling flames shot from his hands and straight into the fire.
Kibozhi gave the bellows three strong pumps and soon the fire was as big as it had been the entire day. Sozai relaxed for a little bit, but then soon had to repeat the action of dumping the coals in and then firebending into the furnace.
When five hours had passed, the doors to the furnace room slid open and two guards walked in. All four of the people in the room stopped what they were doing and looked towards the earthbenders. One stepped into the room, his hands behind his back, and then looked with disdain at each of the slaves. "You are all still alive," he said coolly. "Hmmm. . ."
His companion stepped past him and glared towards Sozai. "Break time," he snapped. "Hurry up, or I won't let any of you out of here!"
Sozai staggered out of the room first and pushed past the guards, exhausted. He leaned against the wall and almost fell to the ground, but Kibozhi supported him. "Sozai, are you okay?"
Sozai gulped and then nodded. "Fine," he murmured faintly. "I'm fine." But he really wasn't. His insides were boiling in the intense heat and claws were tearing his stomach to shreds, painfully awaiting food.
Kibozhi nodded, but didn't seem so convinced as the guards shoved them along the hallway and out through a back door.
The cool spring air felt amazing on Sozai and gave him renewed strength and energy. The other firebenders were already sitting on the ground, haggard and weak from the intense work they had just been going through.
Sozai and Kibozhi sauntered over to a corner, their shoulders drooping in exhaustion. After a minute of sitting in silence, a guard brought over two moldy hunks of bread and a piece of cheese to each of them. "Eat up," he ordered in a gruff tone, but there was no cruelty in the words, at least none that Sozai could notice.
The duo lunged at the food and tore into it with inhumane ferocity. Sozai was so hungry it hurt to eat the food, because his stomach had gone so long without a good meal. The guard, still lingering near them, glanced once in either direction and then threw a small loaf of bread and a dropped a bowl of rice onto the ground in front of the ravenous slaves. Kibozhi glanced up at the guard, who turned his head abruptly and strode away, striking out at a random slave as he went. The girl turned her head and looked at Sozai with shock and confusion etched upon her face.
"Don't think about it, Kibozhi," Sozai muttered as he groped for the food. "He just wanted to help us."
"But still. . . " she murmured. "Why?"
"Who cares? The bread and rice are both warm, and our stomachs will only be fuller because of his generosity."
Kibozhi nodded and gratefully accepted when Sozai handed her a chunk of bread. She scooped some rice into her hand and shoved it into her mouth. A few minutes later, all the rice and most of the bread gone, and the two of them felt decently full for the first time in weeks.
The remnants of the bread were hidden in Sozai's tunic; he was saving them for Mozu. He knew his friend would already be jealous that he missed out on extra food, so the two agreed to leave some for him. After all, they were all in this hell-hole together, so they couldn't abandon one another.
Another quick five minutes passed and the guards led everyone back into their furnaces. Sozai and Kibozhi set off to work again. The two people in the same room as them were not looking too good; they were white, shaky, and sweating buckets. Occasionally, Sozai or Kibozhi would step in and help them briefly. The guard and extra food had given them extra faith and more energy, for they knew someone was looking out for them, but why, they did not know.
Minutes passed like hours and Sozai's arms burned in agony. He'd been pumping the bellows and shoveling coal for his furnace and shoveling coal for their neighbors, too. It was grueling work and he was growing weaker with every shovel. Kibozhi, too, was exhausted.
Finally, the klaxon from the slave compound was heard briefly and quietly in the forges and Sozai dropped the shovel he was holding. He collapsed to the ground, his chest heaving in and out as he took great big gulps of air.
"Sozai, get up," said Kibozhi. "We don't want the guards to get mad."
The firebender pushed himself up off of the ground and leaned against the wall for support. Subsequently, the door was thrown open and door guards stepped in. "Lucky you," one grumbled. "You're getting out early tonight."
The four slaves trudged out of the room and joined the other benders in a silent procession out of the sweltering hot forges. Sozai gave a sigh of delight when he stepped into the cool night air. Stars shone above the exhausted slaves as they crawled back to the compound about three minutes away.
As soon as the gates shut behind the benders, Sozai weakly lifted his head and scoured the compound for Mozu, but to no avail. There were simply too many people around. The slaves were grouped into a cluster near the huts, while dozens of guards ran about, shouting orders here and there.
"What's going on?" Sozai asked to no one in particular, however, he saw several others around him shrug.
A deafening boom shuddered across the land. Every head in the compound turned to the epicenter of the noise, only to see a plume of smoke rising in the darkening sky.
"Man the battlements!" somebody screeched. "Get the slaves inside!"
The slaves, befuddled, looked about in confusion as soldiers started to usher them, roughly, to their appropriate stilt-houses. A loud scream rent the air, followed by several others. Even the guards faltered as their attention drifted to the west. Chaos reigned in the compound. Hundreds of guards sprinted around like confused ants in the middle of major tumult.
Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi were shoved into their house and the curtains were throw shut. Three guards remained outside the entrance and ordered the slaves to get to bed.
"What's going on?" Sozai whispered to Mozu.
He shrugged. "Don't worry about it," he muttered. "Get to sleep, or they might punish you."
Sozai sighed and the three friends crawled into their two beds. The shouts of soldiers and pounds of earth rang throughout the city, but finally Sozai managed to fall asleep. He knew he had to or the next day would be even harder than the one today.
His sleep was troubled with dreams of terrible monsters attacking his home. Sozai was barely getting any rest, and he knew he'd be in trouble tomorrow. Finally, he managed to block out the dreams and rest.
Sozai was again woken by the harsh klaxon horn, jolting him out of bed and leaving his heart pounding. The aches returned to his body and he moaned. Kibozhi and Mozu also seemed equally uncomfortable.
He heard Mozu's stomach growl. Then Sozai's own stomach rumbled.
"We didn't have dinner last night," Mozu sighed. "That's why we are so hungry."
Kibozhi nodded. "I can't believe I forgot that. That won't help for the rest of today."
Sozai nodded his head in agreement and then staggered out of the hut. The two guards were still posted outside the entrance. They had dark circles under their eyes and looked ready to fall asleep on their feet. They glanced at Sozai and scowled before weakly jumping down and catching themselves on earth pillars. A few other guards joined and positioned themselves around the ladder. Standard protocol.
Sozai, Kibozhi, and Mozu were the first ones down the ladder. It had come to be a blessing to sleep right by the door, even if it meant they had no real bed. Their position allowed them to be the first ones out of the hut and the first ones in their housing to get breakfast.
As the other slaves joined them on the ground, the trio was shunted forward to allow more space. The guards surrounded the slaves and walked them towards the food hut. About forty other slaves were already there, which caused Sozai to frown in disappointment.
Nasty, gunky slop was thrown into a bowl that was then handed to Sozai. A wooden spoon was thrust into it and then somebody extended some bread towards Sozai, but it was hardly more than a few crumbs.
The smell of the slop hit him like a rock in the head and he almost gagged in disgust. Afraid of asking what exactly was in it, he trudged over to the eating area and sat cross-legged on the floor. Mozu and Kibozhi quickly joined him.
"What. . . is this?" Mozu asked, grabbing a spoonful of it. He lifted it out of the bowl, but the gunk refused to budge from the spoon and a whole pillar of the stuff stretched up. Mozu's face turned into one of extreme disgust and he looked away, gagging.
Kibozhi and Sozai both chuckled. Kibozhi bravely guided her spoon into her mouth and took a tentative lick of the slop. She smacked her lips together and then raised in eyebrow. "You know, if you ignore the taste, it's not that bad," she stated.
Shocked expressions hit Sozai and Mozu's faces, but they too started to eat some of the breakfast. After all, it was the only thing they had to eat. The prince stuck some of the glop in his mouth and, with some difficulty, swallowed it. The taste was horrendous, but one bite had already filled his stomach, in a good way.
It took them several more minutes to swallow the gunk, which they then washed down with the bread and a few sips of dank water. They waited patiently for a few minutes and then the commander called them over. He was standing on a tall wooden platform, his hands folded behind his back. Dark eyes stared out over the compound.
"You are going to be doing something different today," he muttered sternly, looking over the crowd of slaves. "Well, at least the benders are. Some of you lucky nonbenders will get to do this, too."
Curious murmurs arose from the slaves as they began to chatter among themselves.
"SILENCE!" the commander of the slaves bellowed, fuming. "Were you instructed to talk? No, you weren't. So shut up!"
The slaves obeyed without question, forcing their mouths closed.
"Anyway, the forges were. . .uh. . . put out of use in an unfortunate incident last night. Until they can be fixed, the benders will be working on the wheels underneath the construction house. More detail will be added later." He paused for a moment, observing the slaves with narrowed eyes. "However, we will need some nonbenders to help with this, due to the shortage of benders. You will be divided randomly."
The benders gathered together by the base of the platform on which the commander spoke. Sozai and Kibozhi stood a little apart from the group, both silently hoping that Mozu would be selected to go the wheels.
Guards hurried about, ordering slaves here and there. All the benders were separated from the other slaves and a large chunk of nonbenders were shoved along with the benders.
Sozai craned his neck to see if Mozu was part of this group, and sure enough, he was. Mozu wormed his way towards Kibozhi and Sozai and smiled weakly. "Thank goodness I'm with you guys," he said. "I couldn't take another day of being with that supervisor. He was evil."
"I'm glad you're with us too," Kibozhi returned. "We've barely seen you at all since we got here. It's been awful."
"Silence!" barked a soldier, standing at the head of the slaves. "We'll be heading off to the wheels now. Don't even try to run for it."
More and more soldiers surrounded the group and they began to walk slowly forward, out of the compound. Twelve guards stood atop the wall and allowed them to leave, but as soon as the last soldier had stepped through the, the heavy iron doors slammed shut.
"It's like the compound is about to be invaded," muttered Mozu, looking back at the wall. "Why?"
"It probably has to do with the commotion last night," Sozai suggested. "That's the only thing that makes sense."
Mozu nodded and breathed in deeply. A moment later, he keeled over and coughed, black powder shooting from his mouth and nose. He wheezed and spluttered, gasping for fresh air.
"Mozu!" Kibozhi screeched, stooping down next to him. "He breathed in some smoke," she explained to Sozai. "He needs water!"
Sozai turned around in panic, looking for somewhere to get water. But the soldiers didn't care at all about Mozu. They would be no help. In just a few moments, they would be beating all three of the friends for holding up the group. Scanning the ground for a puddle, he noticed a soldier staring at him.
"Hey, you, why aren't you moving?" he inquired cruelly.
Sozai gulped, but decided it was best if he told the truth. "My friend inhaled smoke and needs water!"
The soldier snorted. "Get out of the way," he growled, nudging through other slaves. "Where's your friend?"
Shocked, it took Sozai a moment to respond. He did not think that this soldier would help Mozu. "H-He's over here," he stammered.
When the soldier saw Mozu, he kneeled next to him and took out his waterskin. "Open your mouth," he ordered.
Mozu coughed and titled his head back. Carefully, the kind soldier poured some water down Mozu's mouth. The slave coughed once more and then shook his head.
"All better," he croaked. "Thank you." With a terse grunt, the soldier stood up and looked at Sozai. Sozai gave a nod of thanks and then returned the look His eyes widened as he suspicion hit him. Something was strange about this man.
It was the same soldier who had given him extra food the other day.
The construction house was a massive building made of smooth white stone. Metal chimneys had recently been built on top and a large hole was blasted in one side. A wooden skeleton of a large room leaned against the wall.
Inside the construction building was a single massive room. Crumbled walls were scattered about. Sozai could tell that these people had destroyed all the walls of the building and expanded the ground floor into one large room.
People rushed about, screaming and shouting to each other. Others banged nails with hammers, forcing pieces of wood together. In the center of the room were four huge cylinders. Long black fabric atop flat metal surfaces ran around them and then continued split off from the cylinders and snaked across the room.
"That's what the wheels do," observed Kibozhi. "They make the belts move to transport good across the room."
Sozai and Mozu nodded as they were led across the floor towards a grand staircase at the back of the building. Workers rushed up and down those stairs, carrying supplies and messages.
"This way," said the head guard, opening a door at the side of the staircase. They filed into a narrow dimly lit hallway that began to slope downward.
With every step, the slaves went deeper and deeper. Sozai's ears popped and he began to feel the pressure of the thousands of tons of rock above his head. Finally, they opened up into a large cavern. Several large, horizontal wheels stood with giant pillars reaching high up through the roof, while a few holes in the wall stood off to the left.
The lead soldier stopped in front of the slaves and began to speak. "Welcome to the wheels. Today, you will push the wheels to move the conveyor belt in the work room. Every ten minutes, the firebenders will go to those holes and firebend into them, bringing fire up to the furnaces in the working room. Got it?" he concluded.
Every slave nodded a few times but stood still, unsure whether or not to move towards the wheels.
"THEN GET TO WORK!!" screamed the soldier.
The weak slaves shuffled forward and each one took a position at one of the pegs sticking out of the wheels. Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi got to the first one and picked pegs that were all right next to each other. With a crack of a whip, they were ordered to start pushing and Sozai obliged.
Pushing the wheels was hard and grueling work. It was a nice respite whenever Sozai had to go shoot fire into the furnaces. Cooperating with the other slaves to push it well was also difficult. Several fell at different times, holding up the wheel and getting severely whipped.
Sweat was pouring down Sozai's face and his muscles burned with agony. The woman just in front of him was pushing weakly and stumbling with each step. Finally, the slave's muscles gave up and she collapsed, her arms hanging limply over the peg. The guards nearby jumped up and rushed over to her, ordering the others to stop pushing the wheel.
Sozai gave a sigh of relief as he stopped pushing and began to rub his legs, loosening the tension underneath his skin. He looked back and saw Mozu doing the same thing, while Kibozhi was stretching with graceful flexibility.
A few minutes passed and then the guard shouted for the wheel to continue. Another guard joined him and they picked up the woman. Her eyes fell onto Sozai's and he saw that they were wide open, glazed over, and showed no signs of life.
She was dead.
The shock was a big blow to Sozai. He The woman had died working as a slave. No slaves or guards would care, and her family would never know where or how she died. With frightened eyes, he watched as her body was tossed into a corner then ignored by the guards. His stomach flipped at the brutality and a wave of nausea crashed over him.
He worked harder from then on, trying to drive the memory out of his head. However, it still lingered in the back of his mind and a hatred for those soldiers grew stronger and stronger with each step.
Finally, they stopped for lunch and the trio slumped against the wall, breathing heavily and sweating buckets. A bucket of water was passed around to everyone and each person was given a moldy hunk of bread.
"We need to get out of here," whispered Mozu, looking around in fear of being overheard. "We need to escape."
"How, Mozu?" asked Kibozhi. "How? There are hundreds of soldiers in this city. We wouldn't make it to the gates."
Mozu shrugged. "If we look, we'll find some way to get out. Or maybe we'll be rescued."
"By who?" Sozai retorted. "Our families? They probably thought we died in the invasion."
Sighing, Mozu rested his head against the wall and breathed out loudly. A soldier walked over, his back stiff and his hands folded in his robes. He looked around and then dropped three small pieces of bread in front of Sozai. A fresh scent wafted over to him and he reached out and picked them up.
Looking up to give silent thanks, he saw the guard had already joined the rest of his fellows back in one corner of the room. The rolls were warm and soft in Sozai's hands.
"Kibozhi, Mozu," he said, "take one."
His two friends turned to each other and they both grabbed a roll and quickly ate them. Footsteps sounded near them and Sozai looked up to see the head guard stomping over to him.
"You three!" he roared. "Where did you get those?" His fingers were pointed at the half-eaten rolls in their hands.
Sozai, shaking and nervous, looked from the rolls to the man looming over him. His eyes were wide with fear and he knew from experience that a vicious beating would ensue.
"Answer me before I make you spit it out!"
A guard strode up to them, his face bewildered and his hands patting his pockets. "Sir, listen to me. I had some rolls in my pocket for snacking throughout the day, and I guess a few fell out," he explained. "These poor urchins here probably were so hungry that they said nothing and just started to eat." He flashed a sympathetic glance at Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi.
The man growled and narrowed his eyes. "Well, don't let it happen again!" he barked, turning away from the others.
Sozai's eyes met his savior's and he dipped his head in thanks. The guard's eyes flashed with warm but brief kindness and then he turned and strode away briskly, his arms folded behind his back.
A few minutes passed and then they were ordered back to work. The day dragged on and on with no way to tell the time, for his body had started deceiving him long, long ago, but he couldn't get the guard out of his mind. That was the third no fourth time he had helped them in two days.
Finally, when Sozai felt as if he were about to collapse, the guards halted them and gathered the slaves up. Some soldiers had to heave a few slaves that were on the verge of collapsing along behind them. The body of the woman was left lying in the corner, her eyes still wide open.
Torches mounted on the walls led the slaves up the winding, uneven trail. As they rose, the air grew cooler and fresher and the noise of the work house became louder and louder. The group emerged into the massive work room and shuffled along the edges, trying to stay out of the way of the few workers that were still left.
"Excited to leave?" asked the head guard as he stood right in front of the massive doors that led out of the building.
There was no response and the doors opened. Cool night air washed over Sozai and he breathed in, relishing the feeling after so long in a stuffy cave. Stars shone in the sky and Sozai could tell they'd worked much later than the previous day.
In an organized column, the soldiers led the slaves back towards the compound. Sozai's whole body ached and he was itching to get back in bed and fall asleep for a few hours before returning to hell the next day.
The noisy gates to the slave compound opened up and they were filed in before divided and sent to their appropriate houses. Every slave had trouble climbing up the ladder, but luckily they made it to their beds with no incident. Two guards followed them and stationed themselves just outside the thin curtain.
Sozai and Mozu crawled onto their straw mattress while Kibozhi settled onto hers. Although his muscles were agonizing and nearly kept him up every night, Sozai still managed to fall asleep quickly and without a dream.
He was woken by someone shaking him. It can't be day yet, he thought to himself, groaning in the thought of beginning to labor in the forges again.
But when he opened his eyes and expected to see Kibozhi or Mozu standing above him, he saw the face of the guard who had given them the bread that day.
"Come with me," he whispered urgently.
Sozai, blinking and confused, crawled out of bed and looked around. Two more guards were stirring everyone in the rickety building. Mozu and Kibozhi were huddled over by the entrance, watching everything with wide eyes.
He walked over to them and whispered, "What's going on?"
They both shrugged. "That man just woke us up and told us to come with him," Kibozhi replied. "I think they are taking us somewhere."
The three guards walked next to each other and stood at the front of the room, looking at the gathered slaves.
"Listen," muttered the one who had woken Sozai, "when we tell you to run, run. As fast as you can and don't stop or look back, no matter who has fallen behind you."
Everyone nodded, even though they were dreadfully confused. Beckoning the slaves to follow, the three guards disappeared behind the curtain. Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi were the first to leave.
The moon wasn't even at its highest point yet, meaning Sozai hadn't slept very long. Kibozhi gasped and gave a gurgled cry, pointing at the ground. Sozai looked at his feet and saw two bodies. . . the bodies of the guards who had been stationed outside the hut.
These men are either coming to kill us or rescue us, he said to himself, hoping Mozu or Kibozhi didn't hear him.
Taking his chances, he climbed down the ladder and waited beside the ladder as the other slaves filed down. The three guards, or whatever they were, came down last and looked around warily.
"Follow," the lead one whispered quietly. "And make as little noise as possible."
The slaves now understood that they were possibly being saved and energy flooded into them. Nimbly, every one of them began stepping quietly and watching for guards as if they were burglars robbing a jewel store.
Two tall soldiers on patrol appeared from behind a pile of wood and stopped dead in front of the escaping slaves. They frowned and looked at the three men at the head of the group.
"Where are you taking these slaves?" one asked.
"Uh... the commander ordered us to bring them to him," one of the men replied quickly, obviously not prepared for a situation like this.
"The commander is sleeping right now!" the other guard spat, taking a bending stance. "You're stealing them!" He pulled an ivory horn out of his robes and blew into it before an arrow struck him in the throat. But it was too late. Guards were stirring and flooding out of their stations.
"RUN!" screamed the head man, the fear clear in his voice.
The slaves took off sprinting while the three men waited for all of them to start running before throwing up a wall of rock behind them. The guards chasing them circumvented the wall and began hurling rocks and other projectiles at the fleeing slaves. Others ran out of housing units for guards and began charging at them from the front. Sozai's heart pounded in fear as he sprinted across the battle scene, hoping he, Mozu, and Kibozhi would live to see the next day.
A few slaves screamed in fear, but the head man swerved around an oncoming group of soldiers while the other two kicked a few boulders at them. However, it wasn't enough. There were at least fifty guards heading directly towards them, while even more streamed behind them.
There was a loud cry, followed by a sharp whistling sound. Sozai looked up and saw dozens of arrows falling from the sky and raining down upon the guards charging at the group of slaves. Another volley of arrows flew down and guards collapsed everywhere.
Not all of them died. A dozen of the earthbenders sprinted towards the group and threw rocks into the crowd. Two slaves behind Sozai fell, crushed by a stone, while one near the front of the group was killed by an earth shard.
One of the men helping the slaves turned around and began hurling pebbles towards the oncoming soldiers. After knocking out a few, he turned tail and shot off to catch up with the others. There were simply too many soldiers and Sozai began to fear that he would die here.
Another cry split the chaotic night and more arrows rained down upon the guards. The man leading the fleeing slaves turned in the direction of where they came from and screamed, "Warriors, get out here!"
Thirty men roared as one as they popped out from behind some crates on top of a roof. They jumped down and charged forward, running nimbly around the bodies their arrows felled.
With the thirty warriors running towards the slaves and nearly one hundred guards sprinting after them, the slaves were sandwiched in the middle of the battle. The warriors crashed down upon them and weaved through and around them, while the guards sprinted right through them. Four older slaves were plowed down while two sisters got in the way of some spears.
Watching others die made the slaves run even faster, but it was hard to get through when the warriors slammed into the guards. The brave, outnumbered men swung fists and staffs, knocking guards out with one hit. Some bended earth and one or two even used firebending.
Sozai sprinted through the chaos, keeping Mozu and Kibozhi close by and in sight of him. He could not bear to lose them and not be able to help save them. Horrifying thoughts raced through his mind at the image of them being crushed by rocks or impaled by spears. He shuddered and looked around to make sure they were okay.
The ground shook as the battle raged on and more and more warriors fell. But for every one that died, three guards fell too. The slaves ran through the tumult, trying to avoid being hindered or caught at all costs.
A slave just to the right of Sozai was grabbed by a guard, thrown to the ground, and then trampled by the other fleeing slaves. One near Kibozhi was stabbed by a soldier trying to capture the slave.
The gate to the compound was just ahead and it was wide open as all the guards had left to join the battle. A massive boulder was thrown by three soldiers into the group of slaves. Someone shouted a warning and every slave near where the stone was to hit tried to scatter. However, two weren't fast enough and were flattened by the colossal rock.
The ground shook at the impact and Kibozhi stumbled behind Sozai, collapsing to the ground.
"Kibozhi!" he screamed, spinning around, images of her dying racing through his mind.
By then only eight or so slaves were left in the group. The man leading them to freedom turned around. "Leave her!" he screamed. "Or else you'll never get out!"
Sozai ignored him. Mozu stopped too and ran to help his friend. Together, they dragged Kibozhi up off the ground. "Come on!" Mozu screeched. "We have to get out!"
Kibozhi's ankle was twisted, which slowed the trio down considerably as they ran to catch up with the rest of the slaves. They watched in fear as a small group of guards attacked the slaves, killing two of them. But the three men guarding the slaves easily fought back the guards. After just a few moments, only one was alive, staggering away with several broken bones.
More guards were streaming towards the slaves, ready to stop them from getting to the gate. Sozai turned around and saw several soldiers rushing towards them. Summoning all the strength he had, he punched both fists forward and blasted fire out of his hands. The first two guards collapsed on the ground, their whole fronts singed and burning while the others staggered away, parts of their bodies on fire.
Right as the slaves reached the gate, Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi caught up to them. They passed under the wall and the men threw up a very thick wall of earth, blocking the gate from the soldiers.
"Come on," the lead man whispered. He turned into a dark alley and led the group through a maze of twisting, crumbling streets. Sozai glanced back and saw the wall of the compound hundreds of feet away.
Just when he thought they would get away with no fighting, he saw over a dozen bodies slinking along the walls and roofs of the houses.
"Soldiers!" he hissed.
The lead man spun around and chuckled. "Relax, boy," he said. "They are just the warriors."
His cheeks flushed red in embarrassment as the warriors came out of the shadows. Not a single one had escaped unscathed. They were covered in bumps, bruises, blood, and scratches. Dirt was matted onto their skin and their hair was messy, torn, and askew.
"We lost nineteen, Hanra," one of the warriors said.
Hanra, who was the leader of the group, sighed and hung his head. "Nineteen very good men," he muttered. "We suffered heavy tolls this night."
The warriors mumbled and nodded their agreement.
Hanra looked back up. "But at least we haven't lost anymore. And let's get moving before those scums get a chance to dwindle us down some more."
Sozai was shocked. Nineteen men had died just the make sure a few worthless slaves could get out of slavery. He felt sick and as if their deaths had been his entire fault.
"Down here," said Hanra, standing right next to a moldy crate. He planted his feet in the ground and threw his hands down. The earth next to the crate vanished, replaced by a deep hole. "Just jump. There's water at the bottom and it's not a very far jump."
Sozai stepped forward and looked down the hole. Sure enough, there was dark water sifting at the bottom of the pit. Hesitantly, he slid off the edge and dropped down.
He hit with a loud splash. The water was ice cold, yet very refreshing. He reached his feet down and his toes barely brushed the bottom. With a few strokes, he reached the edge of the pool and pulled himself out. A new splash sounded and he saw Mozu's head surface.
One by one, the soldiers and slaves dropped into the water and crawled out until Hanra closed the pit and stepped to the front of the group. For a moment, the whole group was suspended in darkness. Sozai couldn't even see his hand in front of his face.
Faint rumbles echoed throughout the space and then the light of a torch shone. A space had opened up in the wall. Soft light from torches showed a long staircase heading deep underground.
Everyone filed in and Hanra led them down the stairs. It took them five minutes to reach the bottom until they were in a dark, empty corridor. Hanra took a left and took the group down the hall until he reached a large iron door.
With a loud squeak, the door opened and Sozai stepped into a large cavern bustling with people hurrying to and fro. Hanra stepped beside him and looked out at the cavern. "Welcome to the Shinu Resistance."
"You mean you have gathered hundreds of people down here beneath the city and are opposing the occupation of Shinu?" Kibozhi inquired curiously as Hanra led the three slaves through the secret base. The other slaves that had made it out of the compound had been led off with someone else and now the trio was getting led around by Hanra.
"Yes," answered Hanra. "It has been around for nearly a year. Are you hungry?"
Sozai, Mozu, and Kibozhi all nodded earnestly. Hanra chuckled. "That was a dumb question for me to ask. Of course you are. Don't worry; you'll get fed soon enough."
They walked a little bit farther until they exited the cavern and entered a well-lit hallway. A man walked by and Hanra stuck his hand out, stopping him.
"Would you mind taking these three newlings to the mess hall?" he asked kindly.
The man nodded once, his eyes darting around the trio and drinking them in.
"After they have eaten, show them around the base and then take them to the guest quarter. Thank you."
Without another word, Hanra strode away, deeper into the base. Sozai turned and looked at the man who was supposed to tour them around. He had mostly gray hair and a thin beard. His face was kind but filled with sadness and trouble. Pale, windblown skin stretched across his face, slightly wrinkling.
"Hello," he muttered kindly. "My name... is Gaidan."
|Avatar: The Sole Woodbender Chapters|
|• • • • • • • • The Shinu Resistance • A Brewing Storm • To Flee, or Not to Flee • A Gale for Battle, Part 1-Four Fusion Furies • A Gale for Battle, Part 2-Airship Escape|
|Crash Landing • Imprisonment • When Paper Comes in Handy|
For the collective works of the author, go here.