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Previously on Fire & Ice
|"Shizuka, a Southern Raider who mainly worked on the boats as a navigator and long range machine controller during missions. She was the only real heart the five of them had, the only who really cared for anybody."|
|"Nothing mattered anymore to Kiharu. He walked back to his boat and as he left with his remaining allies, he didn't speak a word. The traumatic scene of him sliding his knife through that innocent man's neck just kept replaying over and over again in his mind. He knew it would never, ever stop doing so. It would haunt him forever."|
July 7, 2013
This is Chapter 3 of
Evening's warmth and color was setting over the oceans of the south, where many different Southern Raiders frigates were anchored around a large metal tower which protruded from the ocean waves off the coast of a small island - their bold red flag proudly waving atop the building. This was the central Southern Raiders Control Station, where each attack was commissioned and every officer took their orders from. All soldiers were required to report back to the station once a year for commissioning and training. This was that time.
Inside of the tower in a large room filled with hundreds of soldiers, Kiharu and his friends sat around a table eating a medley of old meats and vegetables, talking and laughing.
"I tell you," Mozu said, bringing out his arms, "It was this big."
"No," Shizuka stated incredulously.
Jiro shrugged. "There was a badgerfrog that lived in our yard as a kid and I swear it ate one of our flowerpots."
"Now that I have a hard time believing," Kiharu said. "An elephant rat is one thing, but a flowerpot seems a little, uh, over the top."
Ziha shook her head. "You guys are all acting like idiots."
"I'm just trying to stay cool," Jiro said. "Don't tell me you're not as nervous as I am to meet with Yon Rha. That man is insane."
Shizuka nodded. "Last year he burned one soldier."
"Wait, why?" Mozu asked.
"Cowardliness. He didn't want to lead an assassination mission or something."
A small speck of pain stirred inside Kiharu. "That's not cowardliness," he said softly. "It's courageous to stand up against orders."
Jiro scoffed. "You're too soft, kid. That's not the way things work around here."
He wanted to say that's the way it should, but restrained himself. Keeping quiet was the best way to hide his secrets.
"Speaking of cooling off," Mozu said, breaking the silence, "What do you say we go out to the stadium a couple floors down? They said it would be open for soldiers to train in after six."
Ziha stood up. "I could use throwing a couple fireballs around." Her, Mozu and Jiro nodded in agreement and began to walk away, when she turned and saw Kiharu still sitting down on their bench with Shizuka. "You guys coming?"
"Hey, I run the ships," Shizuka said. "I don't need practice."
They looked at Kiharu, who usually trained with them.
"You guys go. I'll come down in a few minutes." He smiled weakly.
They shrugged at each other and headed off, leaving the two soldiers alone at their table.
"Why didn't you go off with them?" Shizuka gently asked. "You always do."
Kiharu looked down. "I need to talk to you about something. Something that happened at the battle last week."
"The battle? You're never phased by fighting."
"Not on the outside." The painful flashback from Blue Moon Camp shot through his mind once again, the knife sliding into the Water Tribe man's neck, the pain on his face, the hurt in his eyes, the crumpling of his body to floor, a blurry, bloody blackness once again consuming everything. He looked at his friend. "Shizuka, I killed a man."
"Oh." She looked down. "Haven't you done that before?"
"Not like this," Kiharu said. "I've thrown our enemies off boats, hit them with our cannons, some I've even took out with my fists. But during that battle I stabbed a man - not even a soldier, just an assistant to the chief, who hadn't done anything harmful to anyone. It was brutal and gruesome and I feel horrible now. Before I felt like a warrior, now I feel like a murderer."
"But they're Water Tribe. Our enemies."
"I know. But we all have the same necks, don't we, the same flesh? Stabbing anyone would hurt me like this."
Shizuka nodded. "That's the pain of a soldier, you see? Your suffering has moved us forward in the war, and as much as it may hurt you, what you did was noble. Azulon would be proud."
"I wouldn't say noble," Kiharu. "That man is dead for nothing."
"Look, I know that this war may seem cruel now that we're soldiers," she said, "But I want you to know something, something I've never told anyone like this. My parents were young when they had me. When I was just four years old my dad, still young and fit, was drafted off to the war against his will, leaving us behind. He never came back."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"Don't be. I don't even remember him, his face, his voice. I don't him, and to tell you the truth, we don't even know if he's dead. He could still be out there fighting, but there's no way to know. Maybe he's out there helping take down the walls of Ba Sing Se. The war pulled us apart."
"So you went off to the war yourself to avenge him," Kiharu said, shaking his head. "That won't do anything."
She gave him a slight, serious smile. "Of course not. Do I seem the the revengeful type? This isn't some sort of personal mission I'm making myself accomplish."
"Then why do you put yourself through this blood and suffering?"
"Look," Shizuka said softly, heart in her eyes. "I just want this war to end. I just want the pain you and me and everyone else out there feels to be gone. We all have to do our part, as violent as it may be at times. I believe that's noble enough of a cause."
Kiharu nodded. It was a lot to take in. This war meant more than just a beast trying to destroy everything. He saw a real, good heart in Shizuka. Everyone in their group knew she cared, but what she cared about, he realized - until now - was never so clear. He saw a heart in the Fire Nation, a side he had never seen.
And on the other hand, he was Water Tribe. He knew many innocent people who once lived beside him in the South Pole. And none of them deserved to die.
Oh, the madness I've brought myself into, he thought himself.
Standing up, Kiharu smiled at his friend. "Thanks for what you said, Shizuka. It opened things up a little for me. Now I'm gonna go down to the stadium with the others. You should come too, watch us. Its a fun time down there."
"I'm good, thanks," she chuckled. "Well, go off now."
He walked away, smiling.
Down in the stadium below, Jiro, Mozu and Ziha were practicing their aim trying to hit targets with fire blasts from across the room with many other soldiers. There were hundreds training in the large dimly lit room, whether they be fighting with each other in an arena or working out. A sweaty, musty feel filled the air.
Jiro, staring at the red of the target fifteen yards or so ahead of him, brought his fist back and then threw a punch forward, flicking out his fingers to send a small, precise burst that landed a few inches away from the bullseye. He shrugged. "Could of done worse."
"Not much worse," Ziha laughed, and stepped up to the end of the range. "Let me show you how its done." She lifted her back foot up and stepped forward, flicking her hand out in a swift movement that sent out a narrow jet of fire whirling straight through the perfect center of the target. She gave her two friends a smug smile. "Bull's eye."
"Whatever," Mozu said. "I've had enough of this anyway."
Jiro stood up, pointing to the center fighting arena in the middle of the stadium, where two soldiers were beginning to fight. "Hey, lets go check that out!" he said, and they followed him over. As they got closer, it was easier to make out what was going on. There was a man in a woman in their armor moving in a circle around the arena, crowds of spectators watching.
"Who do you think's gonna win?" Ziha asked them.
"I don't know either of them," Mozu said, scratching his beard. "They both look pretty strong."
Jiro scoffed. "The guy will, obviously."
The battle was beginning. The two competitors stopped moving in their circle and faced each other, kneeling. As soon as they stood up, the fighting exploded. The man struck first, punching out a strong blast of fire over his opponents way, who knocked the attack away whipped out her own, snapping it towards him. They stared at each other with spirit in their eyes. Both of them leapt forward at the same time, sending two waves of flames out that clashed against one another, blowing up in every direction, sparks flying. In the chaos, the woman kicked out fiery a beam that barely missed, shooting right under the man's arm.
"Hey guys," the trio, watching, heard from behind them.
They turned around and saw Kiharu, who walked over and stood next to Mozu. "I looked all of over this place for you."
The man in the battle was punching out blast after blast in the arena, slowly pushing his challenger towards the edge of the ring. The woman, the first time she had fear in her eyes, tried to attack but if she didn't want to be singed, had to keep blocking.
Jiro gave Kiharu a little nudge. "So what were you talking about with Shizuka, huh?"
He shrugged. "Stuff."
"Stuff? What kind of stuff?"
"Why do you care?" Kiharu snapped, and the group was taken aback by his aggressiveness.
"Somebody's mad," Jiro teased with an obnoxious grin across his face.
Ziha laughed. "Somebody's jealous."
"Shut up!" Jiro and Kiharu both yelled at her in unison.
Mozu poked them on the shoulder. "Guys, watch," he said, pointing at the arena.
In a flurry of fire and sparks, the man had the woman pinned on the floor with one hand, her body wriggling in struggle. He pulled up his other fist, readying a fireball.
Ziha gritted her teeth in excitement.
Suddenly the woman leapt forward and sprung up, shooting out a wave that the man ducked underneath. In the fray, the man kicked forward, sending her backwards and then he whipped out the large fireball he had ignited for before. It whirled out in a blazing sphere, and blasted the woman straight in the stomach, throwing her onto the ground, winning the match. The entire crowd erupted into cheer.
Jiro leaned close to Kiharu again. "So, where are you guys gonna go out to eat?"
"Shut up!" In fury, Kiharu shoved him into a group of crowds, making two fists. "I don't like her!"
"Oh yeah, that's what they all say," he sneered.
"I was talking to her about the battle," Kiharu said defensively.
"Oh, the battle." Jiro smiled dastardly. "I know what you were talking about - that man you stabbed, wasn't it, the one I had to get you to actually kill? Weakling."
"Shut it now!"
He laughed. "Oh, you just needed someone to cry about it with, I see." He pushed Kiharu into the rest of their friends. "You're weak, you know that, you seem tough but when you're actually in the thick of the battle, you don't have the guts to make a move."
"I'll show you what I'm like in the thick of battle," Kiharu said, steaming, fists clenched. He pointed at the arena that the man and the woman who had just fought were exiting. "Me, you, right there, right now. Lets see guts, huh!"
"No!" Mozu said to his friend. "He's just being a bully."
Jiro laughed, ignoring the comment. "Challenge accepted, Kiharu."
They stormed off together to the ring, where the crowds exploded at the sight of two new fighters. Jiro took one end, Kiharu the other. They didn't have any protective gear other than their Southern Raiders uniforms, but they didn't care. Anger burned in each other's eyes.
The arena slowly hushed in volume as the two foes bowed to one and other.
Mozu and Ziha stared in fear together, unsure if they should have done anything about this.
Tension was building in the ring. Kiharu stared into Jiro's eyes. Finally, he could have a fair match against this man who made him so mad. To let it out.
Without much warning, Jiro lunged forward with an uproar from the audience, throwing punches of flame every which way. Kiharu ducked and dodge threw them, knowing that he had to be on the highest alert, as he couldn't use his bending in this battle. Running towards each other, Kiharu leapt over another large blast and then whipped out his knife, slashing it downwards at his opponent who barely avoided the attack. In the fraction of a second he could kill, he cut out his knife again, throwing Jiro off guard and then he threw out his fist, smashing into his cheek, blood and bone cracking together beneath the instantly bruised skin.
"Ouch," Ziha whispered.
Mozu's face was in his hands. "Why did I let the kid out there," he was left, muttering.
Jiro, in intense pain and fury, jumped forward, throwing out his fists, sending a huge wave of flame that caught Kiharu's side, burning his armor and leaving his skin falling apart beneath the hot metal of his shoulder plates. He punched out again, blocked, then threw his knife down to the floor, taking out his opponent's awareness. He lifted his foot and planted a kick straight in Jiro's chest, throwing him to the floor not without an explosion of aimless fire blasts. Jiro rolled over to escape another kick and then leapt up and took the offensive, his body aching. He threw out a few fiery punches that Kiharu ducked between and then sent out a huge ball of flame that his opponent could only run from - with the sudden advantage he sent out a wave of raging inferno at Kiharu who fell flat to the ground in fear, saving himself but letting his back cook beneath the sudden strike. Pain throbbing, he got up to attack, but a loud, cold voice stopped everything in the arena.
"What do you think you're doing?"
Everybody turned and in fear saw Yon Rha, chief commander of the Southern Raiders staring down at all of them. He walked into the now silent ring and looked at the two opponents who stood in terror.
"I told you to train here, not brawl!" he yelled, looking not only at them but at the entire crowds. "What is this, mindless, ruleless fighting here? We want you ready for battle, not scarred!"
"We're sorry," Jiro said in shame.
"You're sorry?" Yon Rha shouted in anger. "I'll make you sorry!" He threw out a kick of fire that threw Jiro to the floor. "You disgust me. Now get up!"
Shaking, he stood up again, knowing now not to dare speaking.
Shaking his head in fury, Yon Rha now moved to Kiharu, bending down and looking at him in the eyes. "Look who we have here. Kiharu the Extinguisher, eh? The Fearless, The Boiler, The Dry from Nowhere, I've heard your legendary feats. Pride of the Battle of the Extermination. You've been doing well lately, I hear as well. I'll let you off because of you're title, but don't think I will be nice forever. Next time you step out of line, I will burn you."
"And you!" he shouted with billowing anger at Jiro. "You will be punished beyond any definitions of pain. I hope you finally learn your lesson."
As Jiro was taken away, he stared at Kiharu with eyes filled with all the wrath and fury in the world, burning up inside him. "Two weeks," he whispered. "I want a rematch." And with that, Yon Rha tugged him back, throwing him to the ground again, where he could be dragged away for a night of torture.
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