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|Answers and Retaliation|
Answers and Retaliation
Rokan couldn't believe it.
It was over.
She had arrived at the Fire Nation, only to discover, through careful investigations, that Zhensu was dead. He had died during the fight on the Day of Black Sun, just after she had escaped him. There was no need to fight. No need to be afraid. She was frustrated that she had come so far for no reason; she should have just stayed at the Western Air Temple with Teo. Still, Rokan supposed it was never too late to start anew, and she began her journey West as quickly as she had come to the Capital.
She would experience peace at last.
Rokan jolted awake from her hopeful dream, hitting her head on the low ceiling of the dilapidated inn. She rubbed her head, cursing, before swinging her legs over the side of the sagging mattress and planting her feet firmly on the splinter-filled floor.
Cursing again, Rokan held her feet in the air and pulled her boots closer. Luckily, she hadn't been turned into a human pincushion yet, so she was able to slip her feet into the worn out boots. Lacing them up the back, however, was a painful ordeal for her heavily bandaged hands. Rokan winced as the strain agitated her blisters. She had been training every day since she returned to the Fire Nation. Preparing. Anticipating.
And yet, Zhensu had not yet shown himself. Not even once.
In the back of her mind, Rokan knew that he was still out there. He hadn't left the city; he hadn't been killed in the battle on the Day of Black Sun. He was just waiting for her. Perhaps even toying with her. Rokan wouldn't stay in hiding for much longer, however; a once in a lifetime opportunity was drawing near and she could not afford to let it slip by.
Sozin's Comet was coming.
It was close now. It was so close that Rokan could feel fire dancing in her veins, desperate to break through her skin. She would be at her most powerful when the comet breached the atmosphere, and by the predictions of the sages that would occur that very day.
She wasn't ready.
But she had no choice.
Though the time was still early in the day, the sky darkened and became discolored. Its hue shifted from serene blue to an ominous red as the great comet drew nearer. Rokan felt as if her very heart were on fire as her Firebending power increased and seared through her veins. She took a deep breath and blinked slowly, taking in her surroundings. She stood at the top of forty stairs that lead to the entrance of an ancient shrine to a past Fire Lord. The shrine itself was well kept, with its gilded columns reflecting the flickering light of ever-burning torches. The courtyard below was cracked with age, giving way to shriveled grasses that had pushed their way through hopefully, only to be smote by the crippling heat of the Fire Nation summer. The walls that had once encompassed the courtyard had long since fallen, leaving only small remnants no more than two feet high. Beyond the walls were dilapidated soldiers' quarters, empty due to the battle being pursued that day. Rokan glanced at the sky once more just in time to see the first hint of the comet streak gold across the corner of the sky.
Suddenly, Rokan knew she was being watched. Her sarcasm seemed to flourish whenever she was afraid, so she did not even draw her katana before speaking.
"I thought you were going to make me wait all day," she said loudly.
Zhensu dropped abruptly from the ceiling where he had been poised, landing in a graceful crouch directly in front of Rokan. Rokan had believed him to be behind her; she flinched violently and stepped back, placing one hand on the hilt of her katana.
"You're hard to find," hissed Zhensu. His voice was cool and harsh, reminiscent to the pale yellow gaze that was fixed on Rokan.
"Really? I wasn't even trying to hide. You must just be losing your touch."
Zhensu tensed and settled ever so slightly into a defensive stance. Rokan drew her katana slowly and willed a spark to grow on her left palm.
"I didn't think you had the guts to face me. Yet the lamb is here, ready for slaughter."
Rokan's flame danced higher. "A lamb, huh? I thought you thought I was a monster."
"It was a mere figure of speech, I assure you!" Zhensu thrust his right arm forward, firing a miniature arrow from an unseen device beneath his sleeve.
Rokan dove to the side and released the stream of fire that had been building in her left hand. It was greater and more powerful than any bending she had accomplished before; it seared white-hot across the steps and even began to melt some of the gild on the columns. When the stream ended, Zhensu was nowhere to be found. Rokan tightened her grip on her katana and pivoted quickly.
"It's probably not in your best interests to fight me during the Comet!" she taunted.
"I attempted to dispose of you during the Eclipse!"
There was a soft thump behind Rokan and one of Zhensu's sais was thrust into her upper arm, piercing the surface of the skin like a misaimed needle. Rokan gasped and kicked her foot like an angry mule, coming into contact with Zhensu's shin. He pulled back, sliding the blade out of Rokan's arm and thereby giving her time to turn and lunge at him. Her katana met the side of his face, drawing blood above his eye, but he in turn aimed a kick at her ribs and knocked the wind out of her.
"I don't suppose you want to tell me why you're trying to kill me!" Rokan grunted, swinging her katana.
Zhensu brought his sais up in an X before his face, catching Rokan's blade between his twin ones. The two warriors pressed with all their might, coming nearly nose to nose. The black cloth over Zhensu's face was sucked in and blown out as he breathed angrily.
"I don't suppose you'd like to tell me why you killed my children."
Zhensu's voice was not cruel or hoarse as it had been before. It was broken, choked with emotion. It took Rokan aback and she released the pressure on her blade, allowing Zhensu to push it from her hands. The katana clattered to the ground and skidded while Zhensu advanced and stabbed with his sais. Rokan began to flip into a back handspring, hoping to strike Zhensu's chin as she had done on the day of the eclipse, but she was thwarted; Zhensu hooked his own foot around hers and stomped it down, bringing Rokan down flat on her back. The impact sent an unpleasant shudder through her body, and she grunted in pain. Before she could get up, Zhensu had his heel on her throat.
Choking, Rokan moved to push Zhensu's foot away, but the assassin slammed his sais into the cloth of her black gloves, pinning them down to the ground.
Rokan's vision was darkening. She couldn't breathe. Was it really going to be over so quickly?
"I eagerly await my meeting with the Fire Lord; it will be a joy to tell him how easily you were defeated."
The Fire L—Zhensu is working for Ozai?
Rokan's eyes widened and rage pulsed through her. Was Ozai at the bottom of this pit of hatred? Was he to blame for this assault? A burning sensation rippled through her throat, and Rokan released a tiny puff of flame with her remaining breath. It wasn't much, but it was enough to startle Zhensu, and he lessened his weight on her throat. With a tremendous grunt, Rokan swug her arms upwards, cutting her skin on the blades of the sais as they tore through her gloves, and clapped her hands over Zhensu's ears. The assassin stumbled, and Rokan was freed. She began to retrieve her katana, but thought better of it. Instead she set both her fists aflame and thrust them forward, releasing two massive fireballs toward Zhensu. He retreated and leapt onto one of the columns, crouching on its nearly smooth surface with unbelievable skill. He remained there, and the two enemies glared at each other.
"So you're working for the Fire Lord? I suppose he sent you to kill me?" growled Rokan.
"He only quickened my attack!" Zhensu snapped, "I would have found you sooner or later had I searched on my own. I wouldn't let my family go un-avenged!"
This time Zhensu moved his left arm, sliding three throwing stars out from his sleeve and hurling them at Rokan. She was ready this time, however; she had prepared her Breath of Fire. With a swing of her katana, Rokan knocked two of the stars out of the air and released a great stream of flame from her mouth, melting the edge of one star that still flew towards her. Zhensu dodged the flames and leapt to the side of Rokan, drawing his sais from his belt and spinning them into a tighter grip.
Millisecond tactics flew through Rokan's mind. She was at a disadvantage under the canopied terrace of the Temple. Zhensu was like an agile cat on the columns, able to poise himself wherever he chose. She had to get him down the steps, out in the open. They would be more evenly matched then.
Not entirely confident that she would succeed, Rokan edged to the top of the stairs and vaulted herself backwards, shooting flames from her feet. Zhensu was delayed, and Rokan crashed into a backward roll on the uneven stone courtyard. Perhaps not the best decision, but it got her where she needed to be. She landed shakily on her feet, her back screaming from the sudden impact. Zhensu landed in a crouch from an acrobatic flip and rose slowly, spinning his sais in his hands.
"Why are you dragging this out so long?" Zhensu taunted, "What do you have left to delay for?"
Rokan deflected a blow with her katana and brought her heel to the side of Zhensu's head.
"You think I'm just going to go down easy when I've still got a fighting chance?"
"A fighting chance? Did you give my children a fighting chance before you burned them alive?"
Zhensu's blade was driven into Rokan's left thigh and she screamed, dropping hard onto one knee. As she struggled to rise, Zhensu struck another blow on her forehead, and another on her shoulder. Anger boiled up inside of her, and a searing heat tore through Rokan's throat. When she opened her eyes, her vision was tainted with red and she breathed out fire from her mouth.
"It. Wasn't. Me."
Her voice scarcely seemed to be her own. The syllables were distorted by the flames that poured out with her breath as she picked up her katana and slashed its blade deep into Zhensu's side.
After that, all was a blur. The power the comet brought to Rokan was overwhelming, and it was not long before all that surrounded them was consumed by flames. Zhensu and Rokan's blood mingled on the courtyard stones as it flowed freely from the numerous wounds which they dealt each other.Finally, Rokan's exhaustion became her downfall. Zhensu threw her into the stone steps of the temple, the crack of her ribs seeming to echo through the air. Rokan tried to bring her katana up to strike Zhensu, but the assassin slashed his dagger down onto her wrist. Such immense pain followed that Rokan blacked out for a moment. When she opened her eyes, she was aware of blood pouring down her arm from her numb hand. Zhensu had his twin sai raised and began to plunge it downward into Rokan's throat, but a final burst of adrenaline enabled her to grip his wrist with her left hand and twist it sharply. The dagger was dropped as Zhensu's bones cracked, and Rokan caught it before it hit the ground. Zhensu clasped his good hand at her throat, but it was too late. Twice Rokan stabbed the blade into Zhensu's side before kicking him off of her and slamming him into the temple staircase. The assassin coughed and sputtered, struggling to draw breath, and Rokan stumbled down the steps and into the courtyard, clutching her wounded arm to herself. But she had lost too much blood to continue, and she fell to her knees. She had to get help. She had t—
A piercing shriek shattered the air as the bloody blade embedded itself in Rokan's stomach. She spat blood out of her mouth and looked around in horror, just in time to see Zhensu's arm drop limply to the ground. She had killed him...but not before he got his revenge. Rokan heaved for breath but could draw little, and she collapsed onto her back in the center of the courtyard and let out a hoarse scream of agony.
Blood...so much blood....
"No...oh, spirits, what have I done?"
"Rokan, it's okay."
There they were. Ghostly white, wispy. A pale light emanated from their beings, obscuring their faces, but Rokan knew their identities immediately. Her hoarse voice could barely come above a whisper. Another person would have thought the apparition unbelievable...Rokan had been expecting it. Hoping for it.
"I'm so proud of you, sweetheart."
"It's alright, Rokan."
"H--how can you say that? It's NOT alright! I'm a monster!"
"No, sweetheart, don't think that. You've done well."
Her mother...her beloved mother...her voice was distant and it echoed as if she were calling from atop a high mountain.
It felt as if fire were burning her eyes. Rokan screwed her lids shut against the brilliant light that glowed from the form of her brother Taiko.
"Rokan, we love you. Don't ever forget that."Somehow Rokan found the strength to lift her hand. Shaking, she reached out to her family in desperation. Was she imagining it or...were they growing clearer?
"Please, take me home...I don't want to stay here anymore...please."
Rokan whimpered like a lost dog, stretching her fingers toward her brother. Through the glow, she thought she saw Taiko smile. His pale hand, still that of the thirteen year old boy who had perished beneath a fallen beam, extended to meet hers. In a collision that sparked both heat and cold in Rokan's body, their hands clasped.
"Yes...I'm leaving...I'm finally...leaving..."
Rokan's breath grew shallow and she felt the weight begin to leave her limbs. The pain in her right arm ceased to exist as her older brother pulled her to her feet. The faces of her mother and father became clear, and they smiled at Rokan with eyes filled with gentle love.
"I missed you so much," Rokan whispered happily. "But you came back for me after all."
Taiko's smile softened and his eyes grew sympathetic.
"I'm sorry, Ro'. But not today."
Words stuck in Rokan's throat and horror consumed her. Her parents were no longer smiling. Taiko's fingers loosened around hers and he let go, sending her crashing back to the hellish ground of life. The agony in her right arm increased tenfold and blood gushed out of the wound in her stomach. Rokan screamed in pain and shuddered in her pool of gore. It was as if she never got up at all.
"No...DAMMIT, TAKE ME WITH YOU! WHY AM I STILL HERE?"
There was no response. The sky paled as Sozin's Comet retreated and a fleet of airships roared through the sky. Zhensu's lifeless body lay broken on the steps of the temple, his sais cast on the ground. They would have no use now.
"I DON'T WANT TO STAY! I DON'T WANT TO LI--"
Rokan's shriek was cut short by a heaving cough that brought an unholy amount of blood and bile up out of her mouth through her lungs. The pool beneath her mangled body became a sea. The strength to speak left her.
I should be dead by now...why aren't I?
As her vision faded, Rokan's life since she shed the guise of Zoai passed before her. She saw her skirmish with Jet, the explosion under the Air Temple, her encounter with Teo--wonderful, wise Teo--the Yu Yan Archers in the Swamp, Baht and Lu Bo, her unexpected romance with Izu, its sorrowful end, and Zhensu's continuous pursuit.
I've made so many mistakes...I've caused so much pain. So why am I even allowed to live?
There was no one to answer her now. Who did she expect? Did she really think that Taiko would come back? He had made it clear that Death did not welcome her. Rokan lost consciousness as the comet streaked overhead. She knew of the Avatar's plans. He would bring justice.
The Avatar was created to maintain balance in the world. But for his existence to have meaning there must also be chaos. Maybe I wasn't made to bring justice...I can only...destroy...
Where was she? It was all just a blur of sound and color. Once she thought she saw a familiar face, but then it all faded to blackness once more and she was no longer aware of the world. At one moment she swore that her mother was with her and that she bent down, brushing Rokan's forehead with a kiss. But Isa was dead. They were all dead.
Rokan whispered these words often without even realizing it. A hum of murmuring voices resonated in her ears, but she could never understand their words. The faint presence of light fluxuated in brightness, so Rokan could only assume that days were passing. She had no idea how long it was before she was fully conscious.
She was lying on a soft bed fitted with pure white sheets. The walls around her were draped in red velvet and the floor was a dark grey marble. The Fire Nation insignia was embroidered in gold on the curtain that obstructed the open doorway. Other beds were lined up beside hers, and Rokan thought she saw a Water Tribe warrior practicing walking with a crutch. She herself was bandaged heavily, and her forehead was void of Taiko's cloth. Wondering where it had gotten to, Rokan turned her head and drew in a sharp breath.
A crippled boy in a wheeled chair was at her bedside, his dark head resting on his arms that he had crossed on the edge of the mattress. Rokan could tell by his breathing that he was not asleep, though his eyes were hidden from view.
"Teo?" she asked weakly.
Her ever-faithful friend from the Northern Air Temple sat up with a jolt. There were dark circles beneath his eyelids, and his dark grey eyes were bloodshot. He seemed unsure whether to smile or grimace as he looked at Rokan.
"You made it...I knew you would," he said quietly.
The corner of Rokan's mouth twitched, but even that was painful.
"Was I that bad?"
Teo's brow furrowed and he nodded, casting his eyes to the floor.
"You—you were pretty much gone when you were brought here. There wasn't much hope of saving you. Whatever it was that was keeping you alive...I'm glad you hung on to it."
Teo's voice broke and he pressed his hands to his face as if trying to block out the memory of all he had seen in the past few days. Rokan blinked slowly, her mind still fuzzy with exhaustion. It was several long seconds before Teo took a deep breath and looked Rokan in the eye with a smile.
"It was stupid of me to worry," he said brightly, though no amount of cheerfulness could hide the emotion in his tone, "you don't give up easily. The first time we met you had just gotten blown up."
Rokan smiled feebly and lifted her left hand. After a moment's surprised hesitation, Teo grasped her hand in his. They looked softly at each other, Teo reaching forward to brush a strand of hair out of Rokan's eye.
"How much do you remember?" he prompted gently.
Rokan sighed and closed her eyes. It was all a blur of fire and hatred. Why did she have to remember?
"After I lost consciousness, not much," she said finally. "I barely even know what happened during...during the battle."
Teo inhaled sharply. When Rokan opened her eyes, Teo was looking down at her with a strange expression on his face. Pity? Anguish?
"Rokan...Rokan do you remember what happened to you?"
A cold feeling settled in Rokan's heart.
"Vaguely," she said tentatively. "W—why, Teo?"
Teo said nothing, but hung his head. His grip on Rokan's hand tightened slightly. Rokan's heart was pounding and she clenched her fists.
A gasp of horror rang through the infirmary, drawing looks from patients and caretakers alike. Ignoring her audience, Rokan wrenched her right arm out from beneath the bed sheets, screwing up her face against the pain. She could feel blood soaking through the bandages on her stomach, but she had to see for herself. Choking back tears, Rokan held her right hand up in front of her face...and saw nothing.
Her arm, still faintly scarred from the explosion at the Northern Air Temple, tapered in a bloody, bandaged stump. A droplet of the red liquid fell from the dressings and onto Rokan's nose.
"No...oh, no," she stammered.
"Rokan—," began Teo, but Rokan shook her head vigorously.
Just when I thought I'd been destroyed as much as possible... With a thud, Rokan let her blunt right arm drop onto the bed as she shut her eyes. Teo retained his grip on her hand as she lay, not crying, not sleeping, but merely wallowing in the aching feeling of utter defeat. Her hand was gone...her life as a fighter was over. Now all she could do was surrender to failure.
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