A Taste of Death
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Avatar: The Legend of Rokan



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Chapter 15

A Taste of Death

Rokan was quite tired of fighting, but that didn't spoil the fun of being plowed through a manure cart. A split second after she hit the dirt, she planted her palms on the ground behind her head and sprang up with precision. Once her feet locked her balance, her athletic attacker got a black-gloved fist in his cheek. Now it was his turn to fall in the putrid feces. The onlookers from the tavern cheered.

"When will you just accept the fact that I always win?" Rokan smirked as the youth struggled to rise to his feet.

The boy didn't respond. He grunted in frustration as he lost his footing in the slick manure, sitting down hard on his rear. The small crowd laughed and jeered.

Rokan shrugged and pulled a clump of sludge out of her ponytail.

"If you want a rematch, you know where to find me, she said, her boots squelching as they were freed from the muck. The spectators who had gathered to watch the tussle parted to allow Rokan to pass.

Rokan's current "home" was a crooked sheet of metal propped on crates behind a storehouse. Though she had no income with which to reimburse them, the owners of the storehouse were a kindly couple who gave Rokan at least one good meal every day. Rokan sensed that it was because of their childless home that they allowed her to remain.

Today the storehouse keepers had left a bowl of noodles on a crate near Rokan's shelter. It was still warm, and a note was tucked between the chopsticks: Red meat tonight! Rokan grinned happily and settled down with her noodles. The cloudy sky broke and raindrops began to trickle down like tears, continuing what Rokan affectionately dubbed "The Week of Wet".

It wasn't long before a familiar figure appeared in the mist. Rokan sighed heavily and set down her bowl of noodles.

"When I offered the rematch, I was using an intelligent little language called sarcasm, bud. Are you honestly looking for another fight?"

The youth Rokan had fought earlier twisted his fingers into determined fists. He was still covered in manure and the rain plastered his black hair to his tanned forehead, but his dark yellow eyes glittered with a myriad of emotions that Rokan found hard to interpret.

"I don't want to fight you," he said firmly.

Rokan laughed scathingly. "Oh, really? You totally made that clear when you came out of nowhere and slammed my face into a table for no reason."

The boy tightened his hands even more. "I d-didn't mean to!" he said through chattering teeth.

Sympathy got the better of Rokan and she sighed.

"You've piqued my curiosity." A flame flickered to life on Rokan's palm. "So come dry off while you enlighten me."

The boy hesitated, but he did join Rokan under her shelter, welcoming the heat of her Firebending. He was silent for several minutes, his deep golden eyes staring blankly into the rain.

"So!" Rokan began impatiently, "You clearly want me to start this conversation. Thanks! Thought you'd never ask. And hey, look, I was right. Anyhow, contrary to what you might think, I am in fact NOT an anonymous vagabond with no purpose other than brawling. Rokan's the name, survival's the game, how about yourself?"

The boy took a deep breath and turned to face Rokan.

"My name is Izu. And there's no 'game' for me because it's common knowledge that I'm too pathetic to be given any responsibility."

Rokan raised an eyebrow and coaxed her flame to rise.

"Elaboration please? Why did you fight me?"

Izu picked at the cuff of his tunic.

"The soldiers came yesterday. They make a yearly sweep of the towns looking for new recruits. My father went to war years ago. My older sister left for the homeland border guard last summer. Now they came again and for the second year in a row they said I 'wasn't up to the military's standards'."

Rokan looked Izu up and down. He was rather skinny, but his arms and shoulders appeared to be strong, though not bulky. He was tall and swift; Rokan had seen his superior agility earlier.

"Why didn't they want you? I've fought you, and you're fast and pretty good."

"I'm not a Firebender and I haven't had any experience with weapons," Izu responded glumly.

Confusion and frustration rose in Rokan's mind.

"But you don't need weapon experience! That's why you go to training!"

"I know!" said Izu, throwing his hands up into the air.

"But what strikes me as odd," Rokan continued, "is why you want to go to war so desperately in the first place. Your mother already said goodbye to her husband and her daughter...why force her to let go of you too?"

"I don't want to go for glory. I want to fight for my country and my family."

"So that's why you fought me? You wanted to prove that you're strong enough to go to war?" Izu nodded. The fire Rokan held had nearly dried his dark hair.

"It's not for glory," Izu repeated. He dropped his voice slightly. "I—I have a little sister." Izu swallowed hard and drew his knees into his chest. Rokan urged her flame to grow, as she felt as if the temperature had dropped suddenly.

"She's sick. She was born sick. Her heart, it''s weak. She doesn't go out of the house much; not unless I take her. I was ten when she was born and we've always been close."

Rokan let her eyes rest unfocused on her fire as she considered what to say.

"But if she means so much to you, why would you leave her?"

Izu stood abruptly and hit his head on the metal covering of the shelter. He growled in vexation and stepped out into the rain.

"I'm not weak! I have to be strong for her! She should be proud of me, she should look up to me! Younger siblings should admire their big brothers! Maybe you'd understand if you had one."

Rokan felt as if she'd been kicked in the chest as she watched Izu clap his palms to his temples. She couldn't tell if the rain was streaming down his cheeks or if his emotions had gotten the better of him. An aching feeling pounded at her heart and she rose almost subconsciously. Izu didn't so much as flinch as Rokan slipped her arms around his waist and rested her head on his shoulder.

"I do understand. But my brother was taken away from me and I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy, much less your little sister," she said quietly, closing her eyes against the rain. It was several seconds before Izu draped his thin arms over her shoulders. Rokan felt him rest his pointed chin on the top of her head.

"I didn't expect this to come out of picking a fight with you, Rokan," he said softly. His breath was warm in the cool rain.

Rokan couldn't think of what to say. As Izu relaxed, she tensed. This didn't feel right. The back of her neck prickled as Izu slid his hand down to the small of her back.

"I talked to you for five minutes," Izu whispered, "And you managed to make me see sense as well as make me like you."

Leaning back, Izu put a hand under Rokan's chin and tilted her head upwards. This wasn't right...Rokan had only wanted to comfort him. What if he—

Rokan gasped sharply but quickly relaxed as Izu's lips met hers. Her hands involuntarily ruffled Izu's hair and he pulled her closer. The rain slid down their faces, but that didn't matter. They barely noticed. There was no one in the world but them. Izu turned abruptly, pulling Rokan along with him. Rokan barely knew what was happening. She was in such a daze.

They might have stayed like that for minutes, hours, when Izu tensed and caught a sharp breath. A strange bitter taste filled Rokan's mouth and she pulled away in terror. She recognized that taste all too well. Izu collapsed in her arms, his golden eyes now dull, blood trickling from his mouth. Rokan choked as she lowered him to the ground, a single sai dagger protruding from his back.

"No!" she screamed hoarsely. She gagged and spat out a quantity of Izu's blood. The thick red liquid dripped from the corners of her mouth and down her chin. She would have died right then and there if her instincts hadn't kicked in and caused her to drop to the ground. A black gloved hand slammed an identical sai into the crate where Rokan's head had been seconds before.

Rokan's attacker was a swift man dressed in black with a cloth concealing most of his face. He brutally yanked his dagger out of Izu's back and jerked his knee upwards, catching Rokan under her chin and snapping her head back.

"Why did you do it? What were they to you?"

A chill went down Rokan's spine at the sound of her attacker's voice. She could almost hear the layers of grief and rage resonating with every syllable. With a thrust of her left fist, Rokan sent a stream of fire at the man, forcing him to back away. This bought her enough time to retrieve her katana from her shelter, though in doing so she was forced to step over Izu's lifeless body.

Why did I do it? She thought painfully, I barely knew him...why did I care what he did with his life? If I hadn't—if only I—

"THEY WERE ONLY CHILDREN!" the man screamed.

With extreme agility, he somersaulted in the air and swiped at Rokan with his sais. Rokan dodged him and sliced her hand horizontally through the air, sending out a sheet of orange flames. The assassin leapt backwards and flung his left sai spinning through the air aimed for Rokan's throat. With a sharp upwards movement, Rokan deflected the sai with her katana blade and jumped over the wooden crates behind her. The toe of her boot caught on the tip of one, causing her to crash to the ground amidst the wreckage of the broken boxes. Ignoring the splinters in her hands and arms, she scrambled to her feet and took off running, every so often sending blasts of fire behind her. Civilians screamed and scrambled to the sides of the street as she hurtled by, the assassin in hot pursuit. Rokan was like a wrecking ball the way she crashed through stands and knocked over unwary passerby's, but her attacker was incredibly swift and silent. He had been trained to run. She had been trained to stand her ground and fight. One of them would have to bow to the other's style, and Rokan had a feeling that would be up to her.

I can't run for much longer...I'm not meant for running! Rokan thought frantically as her breathing became labored and her strides slower.

"You can't run forever, murderer!" echoed the assassin's voice.

"I KNOW!" Rokan retorted. Even in her terror and confusion, part of her was still keen to be sarcastic.

Something metal glinted in the corner of her vision. Before she could react, a small throwing star grazed her temple. Taiko's headband protected her from harm, however, and she felt a small strip of the cloth tear.

Thanks for looking out for me, big brother, thought Rokan, smiling slightly to herself.

Crash! Another merchant's stall was knocked over by Rokan. Barely slowing down, she grabbed the handles on a small, man-pulled cart and heaved, swinging it around and letting go. The cart tumbled over itself, pulling up dust and sending splintered wood flying, but the assassin seemed to defy gravity, stepping on the airborne shrapnel and using it to propel himself toward Rokan even faster.

Rokan didn't have much time to admire his skills. She snapped her attention back on the road in front of her and stumbled. A small child was standing in the middle of the street, idly sucking his thumb and looking at the unfolding scene with mild interest.

"Run, kiddo!" Rokan shouted, putting her hand on his head as she sprinted past him.

"Kozu, quickly!" came a voice from the sidelines. The child turned his head and smiled.

"Okay, Daddy!"

Rokan's legs were aching, but she forced herself to continue. After several minutes, she turned her head to see how close the assassin was, but to her surprise he was no longer there. She had no idea that one word out of the mouth of a child had brought her invincible attacker to his knees.

I'd better not take any chances though, she thought to herself, and she sidled into a small dark alleyway. At least now she could catch her breath.

"Where are you, girl?" Rokan froze and held her breath in horror. How had he caught up so quickly? Her lungs felt as if they were being pierced with knives, but she didn't dare make a sound. The assassin's footsteps clacked on the street that had transitioned from dust to cobblestone.

"Don't think that you can escape me. Wherever you are, I'm going to find you and I swear...I swear to Agni that I will rip you apart for what you did to them."

Rokan shuddered as the assassin departed, and she felt something wet drip down her neck. Touching her skin, she realized that she still had the stains of Izu's blood streaked on her face. Her heart turned to ice and she staggered, vomiting what little food was in her stomach.

Oh spirits...oh, what have I done? Why does everyone die because of me?

Author's Note

Sorry for the wait, but the picture for this chapter will be a little delayed. Also, I would really love to know if you all would be interested in a LoR Facebook Page. It would be an easy way to see updates, concept art, and spread the word to your friends who might not be on the Wiki! Let me know in the comments!


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