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|An Untimely End|
August 15, 2013
There are always forces at work in this world. Some are for good, some are not...
Sitting there alone, it was hard to think that he was ever anything but the Black Dragon. The fathomless pits that were his eyes stared into the void, seeing everything and nothing. The eyes are said to be gateways into the soul, and yet they only brought horror to those who sought his soul. Worse than ever, they seemed so empty now, broken and fragmented. Blind to the world, they looked onto a scene that did not exist, neither in the past, present, or future.
Sitting in the dark, the only light was that of two candles. Between them sat a picture of a young boy in black and a smile. With him sat a beautiful woman with a reassuring arm around him, watching him and protecting him.
It was a sad reality, the man that would define his era had never lived his own life. Driven mad before he could understand the world, he never was free, he was a slave. He was never a man, to be that would have meant he had grown up and lived life, but he didn't. Deep down, all there was of him was a broken child and the mask of a master who dominated his every moment.
"Mother? Wouldn't it be nice to go see the Whispering Canyon?" A small voice left the hollow man as it spoke to no one, "Yes, we could all walk that path where you hear the Strait of Hope. Maybe Katsura can come, she is nice," a giggle of embarrassment left as if response to a question.
"Yes, and we could have lunch while listening to the whispers, wouldn't that be nice?" Tears slid down the cheek.
"It is time," a slithering whisper from the void filled the chasm. His soulless eyes blinked and a shine of awareness returned, with the small line of tears leaving, a coldness took him and his eyes narrowed in controlled fury as he echoed his master's call, "It is time."
An Untimely End
Amber eyes watched carefully as the young woman giggled. She had just finished reading her letter from Rishu-senpai. Her cousin always sent hand-written letters to her, just like when he was helping her learn how to read. And just like then, he always ended it with 'Little-Tin'.
She ran off, weaving through the maze of halls that were the Fire Nation's Royal Palace. She wanted to tell father about the letter, that Rishu-senpai would meet them in Republic City if he took her with him. The Fire Lord didn't do much with Ma-Tin because of how busy he was and he had become sick with a bad cold, but he always approved of her talking with her older cousin, a prodigy with potential.
She reached the halls to the throne room but was shocked to see that the standard Royal Procession was dwarfed by men and women in white. They all hurried frantically and bustled about for answers.
One of the guards noticed her and immediately made his way to her, it had to be Kage, her old friend from school. Kage joined the guard, but they would always be friends.
"Kage, what's going on?"
"Tin- Princess Ma-Tin," Kage corrected himself, "The Fire Lord has collapsed, we don't know the situation. Come with me, and I'll bring you to him."
Kage led the Crown Princess through the mob. Normally, they all would have bowed in prostration, but they were busy, the Fire Lord's life was at stake. Kage took her to the back door behind the throne room and to a secret room for just such purposes.
What took her eyes scarred them. Her father lay there, weak and faint. Pale skin that was cold and eyes shut as a mask forced air into his body.
"Father!" She stepped forward when two guards tried to restrain her. She pushed past them and kneeled by father, holding his cold and frail hand. A doctor approached and put two fingers to his throat, his eyes flashed and a sullen look took them as he shook his head in defeat.
"No," she whispered as tears leaked from her eyes.
"I am honestly glad you are here, Rishu-sama," the Guard spoke earnestly to the Black Dragon. He was a childhood friend of Ma-Tin and likewise knew 'Rishu-senpai' the same way as Ma-Tin did. "She hasn't left her room since. I'm worried for her."
The pale hand gripped his shoulder solidly as fathomless eyes stared into his orange ones. He didn't remember the stars of light in the void before, but he knew that face, and it reassured him, "Don't worry, Kage kun, I am here."
He reddened a little that he was addressed to so informally by so powerful a lord, but remembered that among the closest, Rishu didn't act like a snobbish noble like some he knew.
As they reached the door, Rishu entered alone, no one else should see her like this. The room was black from darkness as no light pierced it when the door closed. The black-clad noble held out his hand and brought forth a white flame. Light filled the room and the wreck that was his blood hid in a corner crying silently to herself.
At first, she didn't notice, not even when she could see her own hand, but she eventually felt the flame, as a firebender of her level should. She turned to see Rishu approach her and sit down beside her, "Rishu-senpai?"
She was disheveled as her long black hair was mangled and her amber eyes were bloodshot. Her clothes were torn and tears had caked themselves on her face.
He pulled in the distraught teenager, "It's okay, Little-Tin, I'm here."
"R-r-r-rishu..." She could hold it anymore. The tears flowed without restraint. Screaming and crying into his shoulder as he held her tightly, "He's gone, Rishu, he's gone!"
"I know," his calm voice betrayed no sadness or grief, only the stoic strength of a shoulder to cry on for someone who needed it.
"What do I do?"
"Don't worry for now, I'm here for you."
She kept crying, not able to hold it back.
After a long time, she was finally able to calm down. She spoke to Rishu in a sullen voice, "What am I supposed to do, Rishu? I'm seventeen, how am I supposed to become Fire Lord?"
"Fire Lord Zuko took the throne when he was about your age."
"Zuko had lived in exile! He fought in a war! What have I done?"
"There hasn't been a war to test yourself in, so don't hold that against yourself. You have family and friends around you."
"Friends," she scoffed at the word, "Father said never trust friends in our world. Come to think of it, you never trust anybody. Why should I?"
Rishu smirked, "We live in similar but different worlds, Little-Tin. I cannot trust anyone by virtue of what I am doing. You will be leading a nation, you can't do it alone, you'll have to trust someone."
"I trust you," she rested her head against his shoulder as she dried her eyes, "I trust you to rule better than I. Rishu, you are the next in line after me. Please."
Her eyes had a hope, a sad hope when he answered with his cold black eyes, "No. My destiny is not to take the throne, not now. That is your destiny, to take the hard path when you're not ready for it. It will be harsh and you will suffer, but you will be stronger than anyone who has ruled before you."
"I don't want to be Fire Lord. I don't want this."
"Want has nothing to do with it. There is much I wouldn't want if I bothered to think back, but that is not of concern, it is already decided."
"You're saying its my fate to rule?"
"I'm saying its your fate to fulfill your father's legacy."
Reborn in Fire
Kneeling beside the memorial that was used to cremate every Fire Lord, Ma-Tin could not help but think about her own end here. Would she eventually be placed here? Burned to ash? She didn't like that, she would much rather be buried under one of the beautiful blossom trees in the royal grounds.
In beautiful white silk, Kage commented in a stuttering voice how beautiful she was. Rishu sat beside her as the next of kin, it was his place and he was technically royalty now.
"We are here to honor the passing of Fire Lord Li-Ten, Dragon of the Seas and master of the skies. You ruled our lands and our people for a prosperous reign of forty years."
The old sage spoke with a full and strong tone as his voice spread across the courtyard. He was perhaps the most confident of them, as he had outlived his master and had crowned Li-Ten.
"We lay you to rest and place your sole heir, Crown-Princess Ma-Tin, as Fire Lord."
He took the beautiful crown flame from the head of the past and awaited for the future to step forward. Ma-Tin approached uneasily. She was not the first woman to be Fire Lord, but she was the youngest of them, and the least experienced. She was not a general or soldier, she had no background in politics and business.
Nonetheless, she kneeled, it was her fate. With a swift motion, the sage placed the flame onto her topknot. "All hail Fire Lord Ma-Tin!"
The great crowd of those honoring Li-Ten bowed as their new Fire Lord stood before the fire that burned her father's body, illuminating her as she stood before it. All hail the new Fire Lord.
Ma-Tin walked through the royals halls with new attention focused on her. It was different to be the supreme ruler, one that everyone looked to for the final say. She wasn't ready for it in the slightest.
The throne room was dark as the flames were unlit without their new master to fuel them, her. She walked up the steps as memories flooded her. She had only walked up to them twice in her life, and never to sit on her father's throne.
She was now directly in front and looking down on the seat. Her father once told her that it was immensely uncomfortable, but that it was to remind them of how hard ruling was. It certainly looked that way as the seat was flat and without cushion.
She sat down with her legs crossed and her back straight as the few that were honored to be her council inched closer, waiting for the final step. She reached a hand out to the pathways and sent a small spark to them. Igniting instantly, a wall of fire rose around her and she saw her subjects sit down.
Among them was the now black clad Rishu. As she thought on it, the funeral was the only time she could recall him not wearing black. He seemed to have a fixation for clothes void in color, the only exception being the gold lining to designate his status in society.
"May the fires of our nation burn brighter," she said the words flawlessly, catching the nobles by surprise. It was customary for the new Fire Lord to say these words, but only another Fire Lord would tell his heir the words. None of them ever saw Li-Ten teach Ma-Tin in customs.
She smirked at their shock, Rishu was right, knowledge was a weapon with these people. She needed to be careful. Already, she saw their hopes, hopes to manipulate a young child to rule for themselves. They weren't even hiding it, no doubt they were thinking she was too enwrapped in grief to notice; and she would have been had it not been for Rishu-senpai.
"My lord, with your father's passing, we are in a delicate balance with our place in the world. The Fire Lord had the nation at a specific corner in the world, a cornerstone. To maintain our prestige, we must-"
"-fill your pockets with an underhanded deal with the Breaking Trade Company?"
The Councilor opened his eyes wide in surprise. She continued on, "I may be young, but I am not blind."
Ma-Tin sat there and watched with careful eyes, judging who among them could be trusted. The council was loyal, but like anybody of power, selfish. They had their own views and interests. Most were sincere in their beliefs, but they defied the Fire Lord's own views. Now it was deciding who could be trusted as the new Fire Lord took the throne.
Rishu sat amongst her nest of snakes. He had told her to choose wisely, as the next step was the most dangerous. "It has been made clear from a sound advisor," several looked at Rishu subtly, "that I am not truly ready to rule and lead alone without help."
The admittance received surprise from them, who expected Rishu to exert his influence more overtly. Ma-Tin continued, "As such, I am appointing a Regent to advise and execute law. They will have much power. I am to choose among you, my right hand. I will have that answer by tonight, so think carefully on how you respond to my plans for our home."
Regency and Futures
Minister Ayame listened and watched carefully. As the only woman on the Fire Lord's Council, she had proven herself a cunning and proficient politician to get here. She now had her ruler as a woman, and this woman was offering the most powerful position in the Fire Nation to the one that pleased her.
Sitting next to Rishu, she was aware that any sign he gave could imply future policy.
The Fire Lord began, "It is time that the Fire Nation takes its rightful place in the world again. For too long, we have managed a decline and watched others surpass us. At this rate, there won't be a Fire Nation, just the Republic."
To start with this made it very clear that Ma-Tin had chosen not only a goal, but an enemy for progress. The Fire Nation as a culture believed that progress came through struggle and strife. The Hundred Year War, whether justified or not, made the Fire Nation and its devotion to science unprecedented.
The Fire Lord was now claiming that decline was creeping and the United Republic would seize on this. No one answered at first; some agreed with her, but were not sure what a young child would propose to deal with it.
"Tell me what you would have us do?" Ma-Tin spoke in a controlled manner with such little emotion that it appeared that she had been on that throne for years and not for minutes.
"War Minister Jek," a middle-aged man who had the makings of a once great warrior now old and tired but wise and confident. "What would you have the Fire Nation do to stop the fall of our nation?"
The old war horse stood up and bowed, "Your Majesty, I would rearm our fleet while also withdrawing the large contributions to the United Forces that drain our revenues and manpower. I would then have our fleets move and take back the islands we once held. Taking the coast would be too dangerous and ignite all enemies against us, but islands can be bought with political maneuvering."
The several generals and war leaders nodded their heads in agreement. Most knew they would never be picked and were somehow supported or influenced by Jek when they were lower officers.
"Admiral Kohaku, what say you?" Ma-Tin spoke to one of the generals not under Jek's influence, having worked his way up the chain of command. His amber eyes slowly drew across the map.
"Drawing out from the United Forces is a must. But to truly prepare for anything, we must have experienced men leading. And for that, we need engagements."
"Would you recommend we go to war?"
"No, but we prove ourselves as better enforcers of law than the United Forces by dealing with piracy, crime, and revolt by using our soldiers so that they have actual fighting experience before anything might happen. In the best case, our strong front and the knowledge we have seasoned fighters would be enough to deter any rival. In the worst case, it will give us an edge if we ever do have to go to battle."
The Fire Lord nodded before turning to another, "Councilor Katsuro, what would you recommend?"
The careful strategist looked at the map that made the floor before the throne. "We should target the trade with much of the world. we hold a massive navy, and our trade is vital to the world."
Finally, the nubile Fire Lord looked her way, "Minister Ayame, what would you have us do?"
She inhaled before beginning, "Many of these proposals are good phases, but any one of them would fail without proper planning and use of current events."
Katsuro was the first to object, "And what do you mean by that?"
"For starters, the Avatar. She is in training, she will need to come to the Fire Nation to train at some point, in which we will help influence her to view that helps us. Depending on what is happening in Republic City, we can act aggressively or subtly when we push our agenda to withdraw and regroup our assets."
"War itself should be avoided, however, preparing for every step must be taken into consideration. Our current appointee on the President's council in the United Republic is old and soon to be replaced, we should appoint someone powerful and cunning. Someone with a reputation for power. Someone like our own Prince Rishu."
Rishu chuckled at that. He chuckled at how well this woman had surmised his real plan, the one he turned them to. But to them, he chuckled for another reason, "I am not a prince, Minister Ayame."
"My lord, with the Fire Lord without heir, you are the next of kin and son of a prince, by that, you are Crown-Prince until a legitimate successor is born."
Rishu smirked, it was not in his interest to be associated that closely with being the heir to the Fire Nation. Ma-Tin seemed to ignore this, he had given her a different mission, to choose a worthy advisor.
"Rishu," She turned to him, "What do you think is best?"
"Minister Ayame has the gist of it, but there is more. We need to affect Republic City without them knowing it."
All the council looked on with intrigue as he continued. "Republic City is built to expand on the past. That means us. As a naval power we rely on their trade. For any of our plans to work, we need control of them from within, and control that they don't perceive."
"What do you mean, my lord?" Admiral Kohaku was curious.
"Republic City has rampant crime that makes its sparkling allure a veil over reality. In the outskirts of society, they are surrounded in poverty and trash. The Triads were cut thin when the anti-bending revolt began, they have since recovered. If we could make them act even more aggressively, show corruption in the city for what it is, they will be the laughing stock of the nations."
"Surely there will be defenders of the city who will stop it?"
"Of course, and we must count on that. Republic City's leadership isn't noble in virtue and purpose, the sole goal of the system is the system. No Councilor, President or Chief of Police is a good man."
Rishu continued on as no one opposed him, "They will stall any effort to fix problems, after all, it hurts their pockets if the Triads are no longer there to bribe them. The heroes of Republic City will be younger and naive. They will need to take over and fight when they're not ready for it."
In a cold and bone-chilling voice, Rishu stated, "Young heroes never live long."
"Now, picture this: Republic City has just witnessed a horrific civil event that blatantly showed its corruption to the world, and the noble leaders of the future have died saving the city. Even more vile and corrupt people will flock in to take the power vacuum created."
"By the time the Avatar is ready to do anything, we have made Republic City vulnerable without even including our own policies."
General Jek spoke up, "My lord, the resources involved in this will be enormous. Not to mention, we do not have the espionage or capabilities to do this."
"That is why we will need to restructure our system and centralize power even more. The military is too fragmented with Generals that are too equal and have no one to answer to, it makes the system hard to run when the Fire Lord has to order fifty different generals."
"The Fire Nation's military must be broken down into a system of branches. Our army, our navy, and our air force, which is frankly dismal. Furthermore, we need to act fast. This all has to look like rash actions from a naive Fire Lord taking the reigns and not calculated maneuvering of a rising power. Fast but careful steps are needed here."
Rishu finished in a cold voice, "The dagger must be drawn slowly, but used quickly. We need to look simple and be lethal."
The council was at a loss for words for how to add to that. Ma-Tin smiled to herself. Rishu-senpai always had the last word, always. She clapped unexpectedly, taking some of the councilors out of their daze, "My, my, I am so lucky to have such great advisors to choose from. And yet unlucky that I must pick one."
"Minister Ayame, I believe you had the most rational of the council's plans, and with Rishu's help, I think you would make a fine Regent."
Ayame smiled on the inside but kept her face still, it would not do well to gloat over her fellow councilors, especially Katsuro. "It would be my honor, your majesty."
Rishu walked through the halls of the catacombs like a wraith. Unseen and unnoticed as his presence had no effect on his surroundings. The arts of the shadow were not easily learned nor easily mastered. He had spent a decade learning them, they now served their purpose again.
Finally he met her at the assigned spot. "Were you followed?"
"I would like to say no, but I have a feeling that a Fire Lord is never alone."
"Wise intuition, Ma-Tin. Never trust those around you, and you will never be caught off guard."
"I will remember that, Rishu-senpai." She thought on her cousin's distrust and dislike for others. He was so charming and kind to her, and yet so disconnected to their world, "Now to the matter at hand, why are we here?"
"The Dragon Bone Catacombs hold many dark secrets but not nearly so dark as those hidden in here. These are the royal vaults, home to the ancient treasures of our family's past. Only a Fire Lord has the right to access them."
"And what is it you need in there?"
"Very perceptive," Rishu laughed quietly. He answered honestly, "A weapon. My studies have shown that one is in here, but which is not clear. If I can obtain it, it will serve as a insurance policy when things reach the zenith and the Avatar becomes involved."
Ma-Tin looked toward Rishu. A weapon that could slay the Avatar? She couldn't see his face in the dark but could feel his energy, his inner fire. It seemed odd now that she focused on it. It was as if two hearts of fire resided in him, a cold and dim fire and a bright and burning inferno. It was hard to discern the two and harder to recognize the difference. Was this what made him special?
She asked, "Is there such a thing as weapon like that?"
"Of course, if it could slay Spirits, it can slay men," the Black Dragon walked forward into the shadowy hall as Ma-Tin followed him. She bent a small flame as a light to see ahead in the pitch black, how did Rishu see in this darkness?
Finally, her cousin stopped as great doors opposed them. It was massive, large enough to let some of the greatest beasts on the earth pass through, short of a lion turtle. "How do you open these?"
"With true firebending."
Rishu inhaled as he focused and punched his fists forward. What she saw amazed her. She had never seen Rishu firebend, though she had been told he was a prodigy and a master. She had once even heard the term, Apex of Fire.
It was true. White flames were billowing like a cape as fire so hot it could melt steel rushed for the door. The door glowed unnaturally as if brought to life. Suddenly, an image appeared on the door, etched in flames. A Dragon far larger than any she had seen in real life was sprawled across the door in a beautiful tapestry of fire.
The Dragon then screamed. What was this sorcery? Ma-Tin clapped her hands over her ears as the door shifted and metal creaked. The doors parted and opened for its masters. The dragon on the door faded away, but the flames did not. Instead, if flew out into the new expanse ahead and lit it.
Her eyes glowed at the treasures ahead. Things that she never knew and things that were myths lay before her eyes. "How come I have never heard of this before?"
"Because it is forgotten. Your father didn't even know about it. There was once a time when a small army protected these doors. Now it lies in ruin, forgotten by a new age."
"These treasures are invaluable."
"Yes, but they are dangerous. They belong to the old world, and the old world keeps it. Don't touch anything if you feel something come from it."
Rishu walked in with the young Fire Lord in tow. Magnificent things were here. Gold, silver, gems. Art, books, scrolls, tablets. So much history. It was as if the entire history of the world could be here. Rishu seemed to answer her thought, "Yes, the history of the ancient world is here, but leave it. There are things best forgotten and left dead."
Rishu walked on alone as she perused through the treasure. A finely crafted dragon made of gold and silver caught her eye. As she held it, it even seemed as if the metal felt like scales. She gently put it down and went on to the next item.
After untold time, she came across an item that peaked her interest. It was a statue of some creature she had never seen and could even describe. She stepped forward to touch the smooth stone when something flashed in her mind. A darkness over the night, blood in her mouth, screams in the distance. She stepped away as the statue stood still. Was that what Rishu warned her about?
"Step away from it," Rishu appeared out of nowhere, "That belongs to a time that we have no place in. A time of evil, don't ever touch it."
Ma-Tin nodded. The sick feeling in her stomach and eyes from just being near it was repulsive and yet alluring. As the two walked back to the great doors, she noticed that Rishu had something in his hand.
"What is that?"
He smiled, "What I was looking for." He took it out of the wrappings, it was a sword. On the hilt, was inscribed a name.
"Raven Rose? What is that?"
"This is an Ish Kash, a sword used to slay spirits at a time when we were at war with them."
Ma-Tin looked on in disbelief, "How did it come to be here?"
"Inheritance. This weapon was wielded by Akira, the Snake. A veteran of the war and one of the most dangerous. He is our ancestor then. Odd, I thought it would be the Fire Lily that I would find here."
"What happened to him?"
"His older brother was another great warrior but was driven mad. Akira killed him and earned his other nickname, Kin Slayer. Fitting, our family has been cursed with blood feuds and kin slaying of its own. I guess we are doomed to repeat our forefathers."
Rishu walked away, exiting the vaults. Ma-Tin ran after him and was shocked when the door closed behind her. "How did it do that?"
"The doors only open for their master, it closes when we are done," he continued walking as if that was answer enough for her.
Ma-Tin just stared at her beloved cousin. What was he? To know these things. To be so different and to have such power? Was he human?
- The Fire Lord did die of natural causes, nothing sinister happened.
- Ma-Tin was not raised to the same standard as past Fire Lords and certainly not to Rishu's.
- The Regent of the Fire Nation is a dangerous post.
- Rishu's quotes are italicized to emphasize the impact his words have.
- The two swordsman mentioned are and from .
For the collective works of the author, go here.
Storms of the Future Cycle
|The Journey of Tala|
|Book 1 - Sand and Steel|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 2 - Blood and Swamps|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 3 - Pyres and Storms|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Fates and Vows|
|- - - - - - Ilera - Solace Fade - Scions - Sovereign|
|The Rise of Lirin|
|- In the Morrow - The White Dragon - Faith in Blood - The Great Gates - Lord Avatar - A Red Sun - Faceless - Faction - Tempest - Rally of Crows - Rally of Eagles - Dragons and Serpents - Kings and Men - Storms of a Spirit - Princes - A Battered Land - Seas of Ichor - Arbiter - Return to a Grave - Declination - Disaffection - Epilogue|
|Myths of the Empire|
|Pacification - Assassins - Empire - Red Sun Under The Empire - White Snow - Heirs|
|The Reclamation of Arein|
|Book 1 - Chaos|
|Refugee - Rogue - Ghosts - Dark Roses - Doyen - Divulgence - The Plan - Abscond - Mists of Illusion - Madonna - Syndicate - Playing the Stakes - Purge - Brothers|
|Book 2 - War|
|Alliance - Temple - Tensions - The Fall - Hunters and Prey - Lussuria - Shades of Relevance - Broken Star - Defiler - Strikeforce - Secrets of the Lair - Eminence - Swarm - Wanderer|
|Dreams of Melasa|
|Book 1 - Servant|
| - - - - - - - - - - - - -
|Book 2 - Shadow World|
|Faint but Clear - Ghost in the Steel - Kurotama - Loyalties - Servants of Shadow - Game of Fate - Shadows and Reflections - Tomb of Blood - Broken Blades - Hill of Shadow - Souls and Swords - Home|