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|A Feast for Wolves|
15 July 2013
I squinted as a bright light shined down upon me from the sky as if the sun was just a few yards above me. Everything was so clean. So perfect. So... untouched, unharmed by man. Nothing seemed impure in the radiant paradise I found myself in. The grass I walked on felt soft to my naked feet. A familiar scent permeated the air, and with one precious inhale I recognized where I was. I watched as rose pedals floated past me, and I reached out to grab one. I glanced forward, and at the top of the hill stood a once proud general in a brilliant white gown, staring over the cliff as his robes flowed in the breeze. It was just like the last night of his life, and even though his back was turned to me, I could tell a single tear was falling down his face.
"Dad!" I called. "Dad, I don't know what to do! I need you!" He didn't look back at me, but his voice still rang in my ears.
"What do you think I would advise you to do?"
I looked down at me feet and bit my lip. "How should I know? You would probably just tell me to pray to spirits I don't believe in."
"No wonder you have no direction, for you lack faith."
Frustrated, I snapped at him. "You're right, Dad! I don't go to the altar robed in white like you do, okay?"
"No, you don't." I could tell he was much more cross by the sternness of his words. "You only seek power and vengeance, and your pursuit of them is eternal."
"What does that mean? Help me, I'm so confused!" My voice croaked when I started to cry.
"I'm not around for you anymore, Nalia. It's time for you to look deep within yourself for the answers you seek."
"No! You can't just leave me! What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you?"
The man finally turned and looked me in the eye, but, without saying another word, he fell backwards over the edge of the cliff.
"Dad!" I rushed towards him only to see his body plummet through a sea of clouds, his face expressing his typical serenity. I couldn't help but break down on my knees as the perfect world turned dark.
Nightmare startled me awake by licking my face. "Gross!" I squealed, and he jumped off the creaky bed. "Well thanks for getting slobber on me..." Suddenly, I realized the painful irony of experiencing the dream I had while getting up close and personal with something named 'Nightmare.' I would have glared at the creature, except the room was pitch black, which led me to believe it was dead of the night.
Reflecting on the dream I had wasn't something I was too keen on doing, maybe because it forced me to realize some painful truths. What did my father mean by saying my pursuit of power and vengeance is eternal? Then again, why was I being lectured on the pursuit of power by a dead man... I can still hear him saying his favorite expression: "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." Bullshit. The world will never know peace.
I ignited a small flame in my palm to illuminate the damp, confined room, but I put it out as soon as I considered the possibility that anyone walking down the hall could notice a blue glow from under my door. As unlikely as my discovery was, a more convenient source of light was not worth the chance of an entire village rioting to put me to death. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large numbers.
After fumbling around the room for a candle, I placed myself by a small, dusty table to read the instructions entrusted in me by the elderly woman. With my dagger, I tore open a package wrapped carefully in brown paper to reveal yet another map, an enclosed tube containing some sort of clear liquid, more coins, a rope, a bag labeled 'bait,' and parchment detailing my mission.
Shepherd, if you are reading this, then General Quang and General Chang have been confirmed to be members of the Crimson Wolves. If this is not the case, burn this paper immediately. Otherwise, prepare to travel to General Chang's training base, marked on the included map, with the minimum amount of sleep required to complete a potentially dangerous mission. Tomorrow night-
I assumed I was supposed to read the instructions right when I received them.
Tomorrow night, General Chang will be hosting a gala for other influential members of the military, including his treacherous allies. Your mission is to infiltrate the gala, poison Chang with the contents of the flask provided, and exit without being detected. If you are compromised or captured during this task, the Fire Nation government will deny any knowledge of your work and will seek your execution for treason. In the interest of secrecy, the woman who delivered this package has been instructed to commit suicide. Do not seek her, and do not report her death. Destroy these instructions as soon as you are finished reading.
"Well, that kinda sucks for the old woman. At least she seemed like she had a long life... Are you ready to go, Nightmare?" I pretended that he nodded and examined the new map, while bringing the parchment with my orders to the tip of the candle light. I stared as it burned, the orange flames slowly engulfing the crisping paper. I couldn't help but think of my house, an ablaze rooftop collapsing on my helpless father. I kept my focus on my sheer disdain for Fire Lord Sozin as I passed through the inn silently. When I stepped outside into the moonlight, I took off, keeping in mind that every kill would bring me one step closer to avenging General Kun.
It was a good thing I disintegrated the messenger's body with fire, or else he may have been recognized, allowing someone to warn Generals Quang and Chang. I could only hope that I was maintaining the element of surprise.
Luckily, the way to the base in question was a straight shot down a narrow path. It was almost as if I was simply traveling in a line from the palace to the inn to General Chang. At least one part of my mission was straightforward, because there was no way I could navigate a complicated course with only a flicker of blue fire to read the map.
I had no idea what time it was when I departed, but it took hours of riding to reach the spot on the map where I was supposed to wait until the gala had commenced, by which time the sun was beginning to rise. Dawn. The only problem was that I had to wait until the next night to proceed. Far ahead of me stood a colossal metal structure with intimidating guard towers illuminated by an array of torches, and I determined it was best not to get any closer. I was at a complete loss for energy, so I could only imagine how exhausted Nightmare was. We both needed to be fully alert for what was ahead, and I decided to venture a small ways into the surrounding woods to rest while hidden from any passersby or soldiers.
Nightmare located some shrubbery boasting fruits and berries he evidently found appealing, and he inhaled them like a fat man inhales flaming fire flakes. I also noticed the incredible length of his tongue. Damn, if a guy going down on me ever had a tongue that size, I'm not sure if I'd scream of pleasure or fear.
Perhaps it was simply my utter fatigue that made tree bark look particularly inviting, but I couldn't have cared less as I rest my back up against an oak and shut my eyes. I'll only take a short nap, I thought to myself.
When I woke up, the sky was darker than when I fell asleep. "Shit!" I jumped up and glanced around frantically. "What time is it?" My heart skipped a beat, but when I noticed that there still was some light out and that the moon was not all the way in the sky, I figured I was right on time. I eyed Nightmare, and I came to the conclusion that, as helpful as he was in my last encounter, he'd blow my cover when the key to the mission was stealth. With the rope I was given by the elderly woman, I bound him to the oak tree and left a variety of fruits laying in his reach. With that, I threw my hood on, made sure I was equipped with all of my weapons, and tip-toed out of the thick of the forest.
I ducked behind some bushes when I saw the torchlights from the heavily fortified base. Through the thickets, I could spot what appeared to be the front, complete with two guard towers, a monstrous gate sealed shut, and a plethora of armed soldiers keeping watch. Certainly there had to be more security present than usual, confirming that the gala was more than a general get-together. Looking up, I examined one peculiarly placed tree with what appeared to be a thick, sturdy branch jetting out in the direction of the base's side wall. If I could only have found my way to that branch, I may have been able to jump to the outer wall. I got on my knees- go ahead and laugh, you pervert- and crawled through the dirt towards the tree.
When I rose to my feet, I tried to find a way to make the climb. I straddled the base and bent my knees, ready to jump up. That's when a felt a tug on the back of my shirt.
"What do you think you're-" The soldier wasn't able to finish his question because I spun around and slid my dagger into his side without pausing to think. He began to yell out, so I covered his mouth with my sleeve and slowly let him down to the ground.
"Shhhhh," I whispered. "Stop struggling... Nobody can hear you. Nobody cares about you. Nothing will come of this."
It wasn't long before his muffled screams dwindled into weak, tiny coughs. He let out one last breathe as his eyes closed and his body went limp... so I dropped him and proceeded to ascend the tree, employing my now-bloody knife to assist me in the climb. When I reached the conveniently-positioned branch, I perched myself and overlooked my landing zone. I was aiming for the wall just to the left of one of the two guard towers, and there was a soldier with a spear who would undoubtedly notice my entrance... unless he had a distraction. After taking a moment to strategize, I retrieved a coin from my money sack, and then I tossed it to the right of the guard tower, in the opposite direction I was planning to land on. I couldn't see where the coin went, but the guard suddenly jerked his head around and walked in the direction I threw it.
A grin appeared on my face, and I couldn't help but chuckle. Chang could really benefit from investing in some smarter guards. I didn't have much time, so I leapt at the wall. I could only imagine the disappointment on my face when I realized I wasn't going to make it. Instead of landing on the wall, I caught the top of it with my hands and slammed into the side, resulting in a considerable amount of pain. To make matters worse, I could hear the guard walking back. As I hung, I clutched my favorite weapon in my hand, the needle. The man's footsteps approached the edge of the wall, and I lunged up and pierced his throat with my toxic device. He was staggered, but his death was too rapid for him to do anything. It was only seconds before he became completely immobilized. Obviously, I couldn't simply leave his dead body in the open, or else some other guard would notice and tip off the entire base. Fortunately, I saw a large, empty cart and a Fire Nation flag hanging in the guard tower. It wasn't easy, but I managed to drag the soldier's corpse and toss him in the cart, swiftly concealing him with the flag. I couldn't do much else besides hope that no one would check out the mysterious set up any time soon.
I peered over the other side of the wall, into the actual base. It was a wide, open area with several barracks and other small buildings. Near the back wall was a grandiose structure with many bright colors and lights, and I figured that's where the gala was being held. Analyzing the ground directly below me, I found a pile of hay that surely would make for a soft landing, so I checked to ensure nobody was around to see me and made the dive. The impact was harder than I expected, but I remained unharmed. Near me was a dragon moose-drawn closed carriage, so I snuck inside the covered part and realized that it was for transporting food. Excellent. I'll just- uh oh.
I stumbled a bit when the carriage started to move, and a chill of terror ran down my back. There weren't any voices, no warnings, just the knowledge that I was being taken somewhere. When the movement finally stopped, I waited for a couple of minutes to be safe. Just when I was about to hop outside, I could tell someone else was coming in. I held my breath, and suddenly what appeared to be a maid entered the carriage with me. When she spotted me, she seemed more curious than surprised, and she said nothing. Before she could really react, I sprung at her and wrapped my arms around her neck, choking her out. She fell to her knees, and I undressed her as quickly as I could. After seeing her in only her undergarments, I must admit that she was a well-endowed woman, but I had no time to compare boob size. I stripped down and slipped on her outfit... the perfect disguise.
Under the alias of an average maid, I calmly left the carriage with a tray of food and strolled causally into the gala. The scene I walked in on was bizarre: dozens of other women dressed the way I was serving boisterous men in military uniforms who were acting like pigs and hollering at them. So... it's that kind of party...
Is this what the citizens of the Fire Nation pay taxes for? I thought.
"Hey girl, why dontcha come over here and give me some of that?" I had no way of telling if the fat old man who shouted at me was referring to the food I was carrying or some part of my body, so I approached him hesitantly. He licked his lips like an animal, stole an apple off my tray, took a bite out of it, then put it back. Then, he laughed and slapped my ass. I wanted to burn him to a crisp, but instead I reacted just as he wanted me to, as if I liked what he did. After all, that's what all the other girls were doing.
The next half hour went pretty much like that, acting as some sort of toy to almost every man in attendance. It was degrading, I know, but when the tits are that big, everybody gets in line. My biggest concern at the time was that I really had no clue as to which man was General Chang. I would have asked, but I was afraid that it would blow my cover.
I had to wait until a butler tapped my on the shoulder. "Yes sir?" I replied, unsure of exactly what to say.
"General Chang would like for someone to bring him food in his private quarters," he said coolly. "So go."
"Of course, Sir. But uhh..."
"Where exactly are his personal quarters?" He stared at me quizzically. "I'm... new," I explained, which technically was the truth.
The butler pointed to a door. "All the way down that corridor and then to the left."
"Thank you." I bowed and followed his orders. The hall was vacant, so I quickly dumped the contents of the curious flask I was given earlier into the noodle soup on my tray, took a deep breath, and prepared to confront my target.
Chang was sitting as his desk when I knocked and opened the door to his quarters, his back facing me.
"General Chang," I started softly, "You requested some food, Sir?"
He spun around and smiled. "Ah yes, thank you so much." The contrast between his behavior and that of the men in the main room was astonishing, and I noticed it instantly. I would have guessed that the head honcho was the rudest animal of them all, but that clearly wasn't the case.
"How are things back out there?" he inquired. "Are my friends behaving?"
"Well it's interesting," I replied sweetly.
"I'm sorry about that. I really can't stand all of that shit, which is why I typically remain here, alone."
I never thought I'd have so much respect for someone I was about to kill. Oh well. "The noodle soup is delicious tonight," I declared. "Would you like some?"
"Sure, I'll try it."
I brought the dish over to him and watched him eat. "You don't have to stay here," he said with his mouth half full.
"I'll stay just in case you want something else."
The General gulped down the meal like he hadn't eaten for days. "Hmmm. You know, my wife would never approve of me eating something like this. She's very concerned for my health."
My expression turned cold. "Then she'll be even more concerned for your death."
He dropped the dish on his desk and glared at me. "What did you just say?" I didn't reply, and after a few seconds, he brought his hand to his chest and started to wheeze.
"Are you alright?" I asked sarcastically.
"What did you do?" He croaked, as he tumbled off his chair.
"Goodbye, General." I started to make my way out.
"You're..." he struggled with every last bit of energy he had. "You're a Shepherd!"
I raised one eyebrow at him. "No, I'm a maid..." With that, I left the room and the gala altogether.
Once outside, I was relieved to see that the carriage was where I left it. I snatched my own clothes and folded them neatly. They would act as my excuse for walking through the main gates.
Just as I expected, I was halted while trying to leave the base by the front guards.
"Where are you going?" one demanded.
"The General wants me to wash these clothes down at the river."
"Where is there a river?" he asked dubiously.
"You didn't know there was a river?" I rolled my eyes. "How long have you even been here?"
The man looked stupefied. "Um, of course there's a river. Feel free to go."
A delicious smirk took over my face as I went on my merry little way. It was time to find Nightmare and get the Hell out of there.
- "What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you?" is a line from Breakeven by the British band The Script, as is "I'm praying to a God that I don't believe in."
|Prologue - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
For the collective works of the author, go here.