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|The Journey Begins|
August 12, 2014
The trek across the North's beautiful landscape is a treacherous one. For the people who live in Severnyy, the land is their greatest fear and greatest respect. Mountain passes are almost always covered in snow isolating villages from each other for months at a time especially during the North's long winter. It is almost essential that a bender of some kind is in a group of travelers when crossing, and this day is no exception. The clouds over Severnyy block out the sun as a deadly spring snowstorm blows like a hurricane through the mountains.
The Marshals chose to leave their polar bear-dogs behind before making the crossing. The narrow mountain paths are too dangerous for their animals that prefer open ground over six-foot wide cliffside trails.
Seven Marshals, including the Captain, escort the brothers in single file through the snow-covered mountains. The lead Marshal uses his earth bending to clear snow drifts from the path, but as soon as the group moves on snow quickly reclaims the ground.
Jaro, used to life in the village, is bundled up to keep as much of the cold out as he can. He wears not only the warm fur cloak his mother gave him for the journey but also an extra cloak that the Marshals managed to procure for him. Kharum also wears the fur cloak his mother made, his green hood covering his head. Each of the Marshals wears a hooded heavy cloak over their black armor.
Wind and snow blow into their faces making visibility nearly impossible beyond a few feet. It is already difficult keeping the lead man in sight, let alone the sheer drop just feet away along the path. Their only security is to press close to the mountain keeping as many inches as possible between them and the edge.
The brothers press forward against the blizzard. Kharum frequently looks back making sure his brother is behind him. He can tell that Jaro is freezing.
Despite the layers of warmth, the cold seems to find a way through and bite at Jaro's skin. Just try to take your mind off it.
Jaro curiously looks down the side of the mountain to try and see how high up they are. As he does so, a freakish gust of wind nearly pushes him off the edge before his older brother is able to grab him and pull him back to safety. Hand gripped tightly around Jaro's cloak, Kharum checks his brother then looks over the side of the cliff. It is impossible to see the bottom through the wind and snow which could be a mere few feet down or a few hundred feet down. Kharum shakes his head at his younger brother as a warning not to do that again.
The Captain, seeing the two brothers have stopped, yells back at them but is barely heard over the howl of the wind. "Are you doing alright?!"
Kharum gives the Captain a thumbs up. Jaro does the same, his thumb hidden under the enormous amount of clothes he's wearing. The Captain, a concerned look in his eyes, turns around and puts his hand on the shoulder of the Marshal nearest him and points off into the blurred darkness. Jaro and Kharum have no idea what the man is pointing to. The Marshal then nods to his captain and trudges past the rest of the group out of sight.
The group continues on sluggishly moving through the howling wind and snow. As the two brothers make their way around a bend, a faint light appears in the grey distance. The light then instantly grows into a massive fireball illuminating the entire mountainside. The fire's source, as the brothers can tell, is the Marshal the Captain talked to as he emerges from the mouth of a cave. Kharum looks at his brother and pats him on the head.
Jaro sighs relief. Warmth.
The quiet of the cave is a welcome change to the howling winds. The cave entrance bends and curves protecting the main chamber from the elements outside. Both brothers' ears are ringing when they enter the tranquil silence of the dark main chamber. The Marshals spread out around the main chamber of the cave and make ready for camp removing their heavy clothes and armor pieces.
Both brothers notice that the cave is surprisingly warm...very warm. Even though he can barely see through the dark, Jaro reaches out to touch the rock wall with his hand. Ouch! The heat emanating off the rock stings his frozen skin.
The Captain's voice echoes in the chamber as he gives his orders to the group. "We'll rest here for the night. Tola, take first watch."
"Yessir." The youngest of the Marshals, removed of his armor, grabs his fur cloak and eagerly heads to the cave entrance to begin his watch.
The Fire Bender Marshal unpacks a stack of wood from one of the group's equipment bags and makes a campfire with his bending. The light of the fire instantly brightens the cave making the cave a little more comfortable. Jaro still curious of the rocks, now can see that the entire cave has been scorched by the Fire Bender.
The brothers find themselves a spot near the fire, remove their outer layers, and get warm. Jaro takes a while longer to remove his gear as he is wearing several more layers than his brother. Once settled the two each have their hands close to the fire taking in the warmth.
Jaro looks over to the Captain who has pulled out a map and is reading it over. "What is this cave? One of your outposts?"
The Captain looks up slowly after realizing the question is meant for him. "It's just a cave. Though we and...'others' have used it before. Luckily, no one was here when we showed up."
Jaro quizzically asks of the Captain, "Others?"
"Brigands, thugs, bandits...whatever you wanna call 'em."
The Fire Bender Marshal throws in his comment as he stokes the fire. "Don't forget ice drakes."
"Oh yes- and that."
"Oh..."Jaro is both awed and relieved at the same time. Growing in the safety of his village, Jaro had heard of the dangers that his homeland contains but never before has it truly hit him. Spending the day with these men has garnered a greater respect for what the Marshals have to deal with on a daily basis for most of their lives.
Life in the wilderness has hardened the Marshals into experienced hunters and warriors. Spread out all across the lands of the North, if all the Marshals were to gather they would number no more than a few hundred. Recruiting is difficult when there are few people who are able and willing to choose a lifestyle of a Marshal. No man in the company is without his scars, external or internal, or a chink in his armor. As soon as they lay down, the Marshals fall asleep, not knowing when the next time they will get some shut eye.
Kharum, warmed from the fire, also lies down to get some sleep however the same cannot be said of his younger brother. The Captain still reading his map, Tola on watch, and the Fire Marshal tending the fire are the only ones still awake with Jaro.
The Fire Bender takes notice of Jaro who is lying on his back and staring up at the ceiling. "Can't sleep?"
Jaro shakes his head and sits up to stare at the flames.
Jaro doesn't answer or move. After spending a day with these men, he doesn't want to appear weak, and the Fire Bender knows this.
"It's alright, kid. Leaving home and everything you know for some far off land is difficult to do. Lucky for you, you have your brother watching out for ya." The Marshal smiles trying to make Jaro feel better.
Jaro glances over at his brother who is resting peacefully.
The Marshal continues. "I remember leaving home. I was about your age, but I didn't have a choice in the matter though. I used to live in a peaceful village on one of the Fire Islands. I had a family...friends...girlfriend."
The man's smile disappears, and his eyes begin to fill with hate. " All that changed though when Sun Warrior Raiders came out of nowhere and attacked our village...killed the men...took the women and children...burned down our homes and the land with it."
Jaro asks curiously, "Why did they attack?" He can see a burning desire in the man's eyes to somehow exact revenge.
"Because they're a dying culture holding on to the past..." The Fire Marshal says these words with a cold hatred before taking a deep breath and continuing in a normal tone. "I was able to avoid capture but they pursued me. Lucky for me, I was able to find an abandoned boat, and I took my chances with the open sea. I prayed night and day to the spirits that the sea would carry me to safety." He pokes his sword into the fire adjusting the logs.
Jaro looks up at the man whose scarred face is lit up by the fire. "Then what?"
"I got caught in the middle of a storm. The next thing I remember is waking up on the beach in the kingdom of Taku...the boat was destroyed...I had no money...no nothing. I came across a small fishing village where I quickly found out that the only way for me to survive was to steal."
"Steal? Didn't anybody want to help you?"
"Sadly, no. People didn't want anything to do with me. The peoples along the coast had been harassed by the Sun Warriors as well. Seeing that I was a fire bender they automatically assumed me to be one. I was too tired and hungry to make my case... Me, a goofy teenager resorting to thievery." The Marshal chuckles to himself.
Jaro smiles curious at what the Marshal is laughing at. "What?"
"I remember they used to call me 'The Fire Demon.'" The Marshal shoots a mini-flame into the air to add effect. "Of course, my full title was 'Why-you-little-demon-get-your-butt-back-here-or-I'm-gonna-hold-it-over-the-fire.'"
Jaro and Tola both laugh. Even the Captain can't help but break a smile.
Jaro, intrigued by the story, wants to hear more. "So how'd you end up in here?"
"I'm gettin' there... So over time, doing what I did, a number of warrants for my arrest and bounties were put on me. It got to the point where my face was so recognizable that everyone and their dog knew to look out for me. And eventually, the guards caught up and I had to run. My plan was to head east to Ba Sing Se and start a new life, but they cut me off. I was forced to either head to the 'dreaded mountains of the North' or be captured and face the executioner's sword. It was in one of these caves, freezing, starving, and dying that the then Captain of the Marshals, your father, found me."
"Wait...WHAT!?" Jaro practically yells and his voice echoes throughout the cave.
At an instant, the sleeping Marshals all get up with swords drawn ready for a fight. Kharum himself sits up, half asleep, and knife missing from his hand. Realizing he's not holding his knife, he checks himself and pulls it from his bag next to him. In an attempt to hide from his blunder, Jaro covers his face with his hand.
The Captain regains order. "Easy now. False alarm."
Jaro, seeing that the Marshals are holding back their anger from being woken up, apologizes in a loud whisper. "Sorry."
The Captain then turns his attention to the Fire Bender Marshal. "Hotaru! Khiril said he would tell them when the time was right."
Jaro looks over at his brother whose rubbing his eyes. "Kharum...did you know that?"
"Know what? Yawwwwn."
"That dad used to be the Captain of the Marshals."
"Yeah. Now, go to bed." Kharum lies back down and tries to go back to sleep.
Hotaru looks back to his Captain. "There, look, they already knew...well at least he did."
The Captain's stern look remains fixed on Hotaru.
"Sorry, it's just...the kid has the man's head band. I kinda just figured."
The Captain shakes his head in a disapproving manner.
Jaro is amazed by this new piece of information about his father. "Why didn't my dad tell me that he was one of you guys?"
The Captain puts his map aside and squares up to Jaro. "I wouldn't have expected him to. I'm sure your father had his reasons for telling Kharum. He never wanted the life of a Marshal, a life of endless hardship, for his family."
The Captain gets up and crouches down by the fire to better look Jaro in the eyes. "Your father was one of the greatest Marshals that have ever lived and I was fortunate to be his second."
Jaro's eyes grow wide in both disbelief and amazement. "What was he like then?"
"That'll be for your FATHER to tell you." The Captain over pronounces 'Father' to make sure Hotaru gets the message. "For now get some rest. We'll be reaching the border tomorrow."
The Captain grabs a log from the equipment bag and tosses it into the fire before returning to his spot. Jaro lies down and closes his eyes. Wow! Dad, a Marshal...
"Wake up...hey...wake up." Kharum nudges his brother with his foot.
Jaro stretches and yawns but remains under his blanket. "Five more minutes..." He waves at his brother to come back later.
"Hey...c'mon now...we're movin' out."
Hotaru pushes Kharum aside. "I got this." Hotaru then proceeds to bend a small flame near Jaro's rear and smoke begins to plume.
Jaro, still with his eyes closed, sniffs the air. "Mmmmmm...pancakes." A big smile comes across his face. Jaro's eyes then suddenly open up wide as he feels the pain in his rear.
Jumping up in a panic, Jaro runs around the cave yelping in pain, a smoke trail following him wherever he goes. The Captain, humored, slams his foot in the ground, loosening the rock floor into a fine soil behind Jaro. Simultaneously, Jaro is then launched backwards in the air and lands with his smoking rear in the loose soil. He lets out a sigh of relief as some of the Marshals laugh and chuckle at what they just saw.
The Captain amused himself greets Jaro. "Hahaha...get your things packed kid, we're moving out."
Jaro, feeling embarrassed, earth bends himself out of the soil and dusts himself off. He walks over to his things and begins to put on his layers of warm clothes.
Outside it is still snowing though the wind has died, and the clouds continue to block out the sun. There is no way of really telling if it is day or not apart from it being slightly brighter than it was yesterday. The Marshals lead the way as the two brothers follow.
Jaro emerges from the cave dressed in excessively too many layers with only a small opening for him to see out of through his hood.
Kharum shakes his head and smiles at his younger brother. "Isn't that a little overkill?"
Jaro's muffled voice breaks through his clothes. "You gotta dress for the weather!"
The clouds are beginning to clear mid-morning and the sun shines brightly over the mountains, its rays glaring off the fresh snow. Moving through the pass this day is a smoother going. The pace is substantially faster than the day before as the storm has completely subsided. The brothers can actually see where they're going but the occasional breeze shuts their eyes from the biting cold.
Coming around a bend after an hour of walking, Jaro and Kharum see the lead Marshal and the Captain laying down staring into the forested valley below. The rest of the Marshals hunker down waiting for their Captain's orders.
The Marshal in front of the brothers motions them to do the same. He whispers, "Stay low. Stay still. Stay quiet."
Jaro and Kharum crouch down and stare in the direction of the Captain. After a few minutes of quiet discussion, the Captain crawls backwards then crouches back to the brothers.
"I'm gonna need you two to stay here and out of sight until we come back to get you."
Kharum is first to ask, "What's going on?"
The Captain points at the Marshals behind the brothers and motions them to move forward. "There is a raider camp in the valley that we need to...pacify."
The two brothers look at each other and then back at the Captain. Two Marshals, cloaks removed revealing their black segmented armor, crouch past with their hands on their swords.
"Just stay here..."
Hotaru runs past. "And watch our stuff."
The Captain winks in a reassuring way to the brothers, and crouches back to the front and motions the six men to follow him down the mountain. Tola breaks off on his own to the right, down the side of the mountain using his earth bending to control himself on the near vertical descent.
Too curious to help himself, Jaro inches forward in a crawl. "Let's go watch."
Kharum puts his hand on his brother's shoulder. "Hey, we're supposed to...whatever."
The two of them crawl to the spot where the Captain and the other Marshal were previously laying down.
In the center of the heavily forested valley below, Kharum and Jaro can see a makeshift camp alive with activity as bandits are at work with their daily routine. A central fire is roaring with their meal roasting over it. Some of the men are sparring, some are chopping wood, and others are tending to their shirshu. Their ferocious steeds are tied up at the edge of the camp roaring with hatred at the cold.
The Marshals surround the camp using the evergreens and snow banks as cover in the utmost of silence. They flank either side of the camp but leave an opening giving the bandits an escape out of Severnyy if they so choose. Taking their positions, they all wait for the signal.
"Look there." Kharum points at the center of the attack where Hotaru stands with the Captain.
The Fire Marshal pumps his arm motioning two Marshals at either side to begin the attack. At that moment, from within the forest four huge slabs of earth rise out of the ground, two on either side of the camp, and crush and bury four of the bandit shelters.
Hotaru then springs into action with his fire bending. Two enormous fireballs erupt from his hands torching everything in their path. In a continuous stream of fire, he then sweeps the flames left to right. The bandits scatter fleeing the flames. A few are not so lucky as they roll on the snowy ground trying to put out the fire burning their bodies.
As Hotaru advances, Tola sneaks around the backside of the camp and frees the stabled shirshu. The large animals take off out of the valley with incredible speed to find true warmth.
A number of bandits flee chasing after their animals, but the remaining draw their weapons to stand and fight the Marshals emerging from the forest. The Marshals accept the challenge with little hesitation and the bandits are easily cut down by the ferocity of the Marshals' swords. In the center of the camp, the Captain can be seen sword-fighting and earth bending with the bandit leader.
The bandit fights launching a fury of boulders at the Marshal Captain while cursing at the man. The Captain easily dodges every boulder and deflects every sword blow with the quickness of his blade. The bandit, exhausted from his fury of attacks, attempts one final swing of his sword.
The Captain knocks the bandit's sword from his hand and points his blade at his opponent's throat. Refusing surrender, the bandit dives for his sword. Blade firm in hand, the man pops back up on to his feet, turns, and collapses. As the man had turned, the Captain swiftly cut him down.
The Captain wipes the blade of his sword clean before sheathing it. He then gestures to his men who proceed to use their earth bending to bury the camp and the bodies. The Captain kneels down to remove the helmet of his foe, and reaches out with his hand to close the eyes of the dead man. After a moment of silence, he stands up and stomps the ground burying the bandit leader deep in the earth. Grabbing a broken pike, the Captain stakes it into the center of the now empty valley placing the helmet on it to serve as a warning.
Jaro and Kharum are both in shock. Seeing the overwhelming power and skill of the Marshals was thrilling for the brothers, but seeing people die disturb the two very much.
When the Marshals return to the path, Jaro is visibly troubled to the Captain. Jaro, his face pale with sickness, sits with his knees tucked into his chest and his arms folded over his legs. The Captain walks over to him and kneels beside him.
The man tries to find the right words to say. "War is an evil thing and should be treated as so, but it is our job to fight to keep our people safe. If you are to take anything from this, remember one thing: all life is sacred."
"But you killed that man. He was no match for you and you still..."
"I gave him a choice to live or die...some choose life...he chose death. For me, I had the choice to act and be sure that our people are safe or not act and hope that these men don't attack any nearby village."
"How do you know when to act?" Jaro looks up at Captain searching for answers.
"It comes down to sometimes you know...and the rest of the time you don't. I don't think it is ever possible to truly know. We can only control what we do, and so all a man can then do is pray to the spirits and hope his decision is right."
The Captain pats Jaro on the shoulder. "C'mon...the border is close." The Captain grabs Jaro's arm and helps him up.
Jaro walks back to his place in the line behind his brother who remains silent.
-I tried to write the ambush scene in a way that showed the Marshals as both ruthless warriors and students of their own history. They know how Severnyy and its people came to be (see Avatar: Brothers main page) that is why they offered the bandits an escape as well as showing no mercy to those who fought.
-The name Tola comes from the Book of Judges in the Old Testament.
-Hotaru is a Japanese name meaning 'firefly.'
-The Captain will be nameless. The Marshals is his life and the Captain of the Marshals is who he is. Khiril was very much the same way before putting down the sword.
For the collective works of the author, go here.