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Warning, there is a reference to sexual themes, strong language, and a lot of violence and gore in this chapter.
Previously on Heiress of the Nile
Five days have passed since Seraphine agreed to train Sami. In that time, the two girls got to know each other better, but the closeness was wearing Seraphine down. Sleep-deprived, she started to remember things about her past that she rather left in the past, the most important memory being that of Siam, her best friend, the girl she looked up to like a big sister. Confused and tired, Seraphine ran away to give herself the space to sort things out. However, while she was confronting Siam's memory, she was interrupted by Hanbao, a desert robber. Anxious to prove to herself that she had not gone weak, she provoked the man into a fight and ended up killing him. However, after Hanbao's demise, she realized that he is a Shrike, part of Tegan's scouting party, the Desert Dwellers. Knowing that the Desert Dwellers always operated in group, she hurried back toward the camp, dreading that something terrible would befall Sami, as she had come to view her as a friend.
With the agility and precision of an experienced mountain guide, Seraphine made her way down the rocky slope. She easily sidestepped a hidden cleft, and avoided walking over the patch of loose stones. As she had turned back to leave three times already, she had gained greater knowledge of the terrain by the fourth time she made her way down. Each time, however, her movements became more urgent and careless; as such, she nearly stumbled when she misjudged her last leap. Flailing forward, she managed to keep herself erect by holding on to the large boulder where she had decided to turn back the last time. Cursing, she stopped once more. The rock was the last obstacle that separated her from the fighting groups below. Once more, Seraphine hesitated to proceed. She knew that if she did not intervene, Sami would be gone, though she also knew that if she were to cross that border, she would betray the Shrikes, her family. If she were to take another step and breach that barrier, not even her favored position with her dad could save her. Crossing that line would mean that she chose Sami over the people she had known all her life. Instinctively, she took a step backwards, recoiling from the idea alone. For the fourth time in the short twenty minutes that had passed since she had learned of the Desert Dwellers' presence from Hanbao, she was having the same debate with herself about what to do, though each time her arguments had become more and more frantic, her thoughts hastened by the ringing clash of bronze as blade struck blade. The raging battle would not go on forever. Her time to decide a course of action was running out, and yet, Seraphine was still a bundle of hesitation and doubt. She cursed inwardly for her pathetic indecisiveness. What was her holdup anyway? Why was this so hard, when it should be the easiest, most clear-cut decision that she would ever have to make? She should just go. Her mind knew that, though her legs had been going back and forth, coming back on her rational decision time and time again.
A part of her reasoned that she owed Sami, that she was in the girl's debt, and should therefore now come to her aid. If she turned her back on her now, that would surely mean the girl's demise, either by being captured and sold as a slave, or perhaps she would even be killed in battle. With either outcome, she would be out of Seraphine's way, as one cannot repay a favor to the dead. Although that reasoning had made her climb up the slope three times before already, the fact that she valued her own word, the promise she made to not leave until Sami send her away, her vow to repay her debt, had made her return each time as well. So there she was again, cursing and muttering to herself, fighting with herself over what to do. The battle sounds that ever so often made their way past the rocks did not help either. She should just go. Yes, that was the most sensible thing to do. She hissed in annoyance when she did not move a muscle; the mighty warrior, the one who knew for sure that she could end the battle raging below, just stood there, frozen like a statue, as motionless as her surroundings.
Make up your fucking mind!
Seraphine turned and headed back up the slope. However, after three paces up, she erected herself, glanced over her shoulder, and cursed. She instantly turned back to the rock barrier, shaking her head and muttering to herself.
"I must be out of my mind ... and not to mention, utterly PATHETIC!"
She peeked around the stone, and felt the ragged edges of it bite the skin of her left hand, as her fingers were firmly holding on to the boulder, not wanting to let it go.
"Yes ... yes, I am out of my mind." And STILL pathetic ...
Seraphine quickly retreated to behind the cover, shielding herself from possible prying eyes on the battlefield. She pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed her eyes shut; a growl of annoyance escaped her, and she promptly squatted down, muttering about the ridiculousness of her actions and indecisiveness. She took a loose rock from the ground, and started scribbling in the dirt before her.
After a few minutes, she stood up again, tossed the rock aside, and looked down upon the list she had just made, moving her hands together to clap off the dust.
"Okay. So ... let's see. Reasons to stay ... I can't believe I'm actually doing this," Seraphine sighed in annoyance, her voice bordering dull irritation. "One," she raised her right thumb, "I promised." She rolled her eyes. You're such the pathetic little bitch, you know that? She looked from the digit to the rest of the pro-list, which stood out by its utter emptiness, and thus raised her left thumb. "Reasons to go. One: who cares that I promised, she'll be dead soon anyway. Reason two," she raised her index finger, "I will betray the Shrikes by fighting against them, killing them ... there is no way Dad will ever understand. Reason three," her middle finger shot up, "I will have to fight the Desert Dwellers. They're good. Okay sure, I'm better, but they're still good. I might risk injuring myself all over again." She rolled her left shoulder; Sami had removed the stitches that morning and ensured her that the wound was looking good, that she was healing nicely. The thought of Sami's soft fingers brushing over her skin gave Seraphine goosebumps, and she promptly, forcefully pushed the memory out of her mind by raising her voice. "Reason four!" Seraphine kept ticking of her reasons to go on her fingers, even having to switch to her other hand to keep up with the count. "And then, reason eleven: the Desert Dwellers will surely recognize me and Sami will hate me for being who I really am. She will think that I lied to her. I will lose her friendship, and –" She blinked and started at the last reason on the con-list. Sami's name was written neatly in the sand, her image, laughing over something in delight, instantly came to mind. "What the ..." In a swift movement, Seraphine wiped away the name with her foot. "Seriously? 'Sami will hate me.' 'I will lose her friendship.' Oh boo-fucking-hoo, that's not a good reason, that shouldn't even be a reason, like at all." She found her voice trailing off as she stared at the now smudged out spot and thought back at the times they had spent together those past days, at how tenderly Sami had cared for her wound. Realizing where her thoughts were going and becoming painfully aware of the fact that she was staring, she shook her head and cleared her throat, running her left hand through her long hair in a casual gesture, as if she had not just been consumed by tender thoughts of friendship. "All right then, going it is. You can't beat pure logic and reason."
The high-pitched scream of distress made Seraphine freeze. Her head snapped back, and her body leapt into action, instantly recognizing the voice. By the time her mind had wrapped itself around the presented facts as well, namely that it was Sami calling out in fear while being dragged out of a tent by two Desert Dwellers, Seraphine found herself already way past the large boulder, her point of no return. Her muscles charged with adrenaline, she kept going, practically blurring as she rapidly bounded down the slope.
The pair of men had thrown Sami to the ground, and the larger of the two kept her arms above her head, pinning her down by kneeling on her biceps, eliciting painful and frightened whimpers from the girl. They were obviously related to one another on some level, as they both sported the same long, angry-looking scar over their right eyes. Though Sami could not care less at that moment about what happened to them or the fact that their wounds looked infected; she was completely occupied with her own thoughts and the fact that she knew what would happen if she caved, though she promised herself she would fight to her very last breath to preserve her dignity and modesty. She locked her thighs together, hooking one leg over the other, preventing a slender-looking, though surprisingly powerful man, from wedging his knee between them. Every muscle in her lower body froze in a rigor of fear and revulsion, rendering her as hard and impenetrable as a statue.
"Oh, I love it when they squirm," the Dweller croaked to the bull-like man holding down Sami's arms, though he suddenly recoiled as if he was stung by a scorpion bee. Disgusted, he ran his left hand over his left eye and removed the saliva Sami had spit into his face. "You ... little ... BITCH!"
Twisting his upper body, he swung a heavy blow, flat-handed, across Sami's face. The contact had her reeling backwards, leaving five perfect red marks on her jawline. She felt a stream of blood well up from her nose, flooding into her mouth, and darkness started to fill her head. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing the stars of dizziness out of her mind, though she knew she could not hold out much longer. Panicked, she prayed to the spirits. "Please, sweet Hapi, don't let this happen! Help me!"
Sami gasped in pain as she felt the sharp tip of a dagger tear through the fabric on her right leg and pierce the underlying flesh of her thigh. The man pried his fingers in the hole of the cloth and pulled, ripping through her trousers and exposing her underwear through the slit. Using the copiously flowing blood as lubricant, he wedged his hand between her legs and pried apart her last defenses, the wound having severely weakened her resistance. He bowed forward, heaving his upper body onto hers, and his hand rapidly trailed upward to the sensitive flesh of her center, rubbing the thin fabric that was now her last defensive barrier. He sucked vigorously on her tightly squeezed shut lips, and enjoyed how Sami squirmed and moaned in disgust underneath him. Holding her head still with his free right hand, he licked her clenched jaw and made his way to her left ear, where he nibbled her earlobe. "The name's Haphiz, actually. Not Hapi. Although I'm not a spirit, I can promise you it will be divine."
The gorilla-man pinning down the girl's arms laughed. "Good one, Haphiz!"
His deep, lustful voice helped Sami reach new levels of disgust, levels she did not even know existed. More terrified than she had ever been, she doubled her efforts to break free, but Haphiz's weight pressing down on her torso was just too much. She felt his warm breath move over her cheek, the coarse hairs of his short beard rasping against her smooth skin, and her entire body screamed out in revulsion as his wet lips scooped up some of the tears that were rolling down her face. She bucked underneath him, writhing in his grasp, in a desperate attempt to keep Haphiz's fingers from probing her center. Her biceps burned in protest under her frantic struggles to break free from the dead weight Haphiz's cousin put on her, as every jerking movement sent a surging pain through her muscles. Out of reflex, she retracted her left leg, aiming to knee Haphiz in the back. However, the warrior sensed her movement and quickly retracted his hand from between her legs, his fingers slipping out of her folds. He blocked the attack, and grunted ever so slightly as he pushed down the limb and straddled her knees, keeping her legs open while preventing any further struggling at the same time. Sami cried out in frustration and helplessness, eliciting amused laughter from both men.
"Thanks for making this easier on me, my dark beauty." He ran a finger down the inside of her right thigh, slid underneath the thin fabric to circle her center, and turned back, trailing the sensitive side of her left thigh. He sucked his finger, perverted lights dancing in his eyes. "I knew that you wanted me." He avoided the blood-streaked spittle of the whimpering girl and just grinned at her, enjoying how the wriggling of her knees made his excitement grow harder. "Now where was I?" His eyes traveled over her quickly rising and lowering chest. "Ah yes, that's a good place to continue."
He lowered his body again, his hands sliding under Sami's clothing and over the warm skin of her flat belly, moving upwards to her breasts. Each hand easily slipped under the protective cloth he found there, and cupped the soft but firm hills; he squeezed them hard and pinched and pulled her nipples until Sami cried out in pain, even though she had promised herself she would not grant Haphiz the satisfaction again. Pleased, he buried his head in the nook of her neck, where he surprisingly-gently nibbled on the tender flesh that covered her right collarbone. He smiled as he felt her pulse pick up its pace, racing underneath her permanently tanned, silkily skin.
Sami felt her head grow light, as if her mind was shutting itself down in an attempt to stop feeling whatever it was that Haphiz was doing, and would do; hyperventilating in fear, she closed her eyes, as the excess oxygen was making her dizzy. She suddenly screamed out in pain when Haphiz bit down hard, his teeth sinking into her flesh. However, as agonizing as that was, she felt a surge of relief wash over her as the heavy weight was lifted off her arms. With fresh blood coursing toward the freed limbs, empowering her biceps, she took hold of Haphiz's arms and yanked them out from underneath her shirt, a trail of goosebumps remaining where his skin had touched her. Propping herself up on her right elbow, she planted her left palm against Haphiz's face and pushed hard. To her surprise, the man easily toppled off her, flopping on his back. She recoiled slightly when she stared straight into his hollow, unblinking eyes, and she realized he was dead; the unconventional angle of his head clearly indicated that his neck was broken, having killed him instantly. Still sitting on the ground, she whirled around upon hearing Haphiz's cousin scream in mortal pain. The sound was cut short by a sickening snap; she gasped at the sight.
Seraphine was a lot of things. She was a master thief, and a ruthless fighter. She was a cold-hearted killer, and an expert liar. She also was a menacing woman who had zero tolerance for sexual assaults, and right now, her full wrath was incurred upon her witnessing one. Seeing Tegan's men so eagerly go down on someone disgusted her. It was not the first time that she had seen such behavior from Haphiz and his perverted cousin, Deven. Last time she had caught them, Tegan had to use all his power to restrain her from burning off their penises, and he ended up punishing them himself by slashing them across the face as a last warning. From that day forth, they both wore the identical scar over their right eye as a mark of shame. Or at least, that was what it was supposed to be, as it seemed clear to Seraphine that the cousins had not learned their lesson. As Haphiz's hands vanished underneath Sami's clothing, making the girl cry out in pain, a feral growl escaped her lips.
Hearing the ferocious noise, Deven tore his eyes away from what he labeled to be a delicious scene and looked up. He barely had registered the rapidly-approaching, vaguely familiar-looking, athletic form of a young woman, when she had already pushed herself off with her right leg, leaping through the air. Coming down, she meticulously planted her left foot on Haphiz's neck, and twisted, the sideways motion and the weight and speed of her landing effortlessly snapping the bones. She barely lost any speed and smoothly brought up her right knee, connecting it hard with Deven's chin. The powerful blow and the weight of the woman crashing against him sent him tumbling backwards, off his prey, who quickly freed herself. Deven rolled over, using his own momentum to immediately rise to his feet again. His face throbbed painfully from the blow, alerting him that his jaw was probably broken. Although still dazed with his vision swimming before him due to the pain, he could make out the rapidly moving form of his assailant. He clenched his massive fist and brought it down to the ground like a sledgehammer; the earth shook and cracked, sending up rock pillars right underneath the feet of the woman. She would not let herself be slowed down, and simply let herself be catapulted into the air, where she kicked out with a powerful leg sweep, showering him with blue flames. Deven protected his face from the fire by bringing up his arms, though his shock upon realizing whom his opponent was allowed her to land smoothly without further obstruction. Seraphine instantly cartwheeled and backflipped toward him, crossing the last meters that separated them, before launching herself up in the air, spinning over him. He felt her nails dig into his shoulders as she used him for support. Deven blanched in that split second he knew would be his last, for he had seen Seraphine perform that move many times before. Although he knew it was coming, he still screamed out in pain as her hands flared up, easily burning through his clothing and scorching his flesh. As her body twisted in the air, her hands moved closer to his neck, her fingers wrapping themselves around his throat. Her right hand slipped further, tightening her entire forearm around his throat. Aided by gravity and her downwards velocity, the pressure Seraphine executed on his cervical vertebrae increased rapidly to the point where the bones could not take it anymore. As she landed on her feet, the shock rippling through her body snapped Deven's neck, instantly silencing his scream of anguish. She released him, his lifeless body slumping to the ground, and turned; she found Sami staring at her, gasping in horror.
"You ... you killed them?!" Sami's traumatized tones and terrified look made Seraphine feel uncomfortable. However, she ignored the gnawing feeling in her heart that emerged because of that, and swiftly made her way over to the wounded girl, squatting down beside her. She inspected the gash in Sami's leg, which was still bleeding.
"You're wounded." She felt stupid pointing out the obvious, but it was all she could think of to say, while avoiding looking directly at Sami.
"You just killed them." Sami was in shock, her mind unable to process what had just happened. The playful training session with Seraphine that morning, although it had ended on shaky grounds, seemed so far away now. It had only been an hour, however, but so much had changed. From out of nowhere, the Desert Dwellers had popped up and surrounded them. Trok had forcefully taken charge of the camp's defenses and had gotten everyone out. She had just been doing a last sweep of the tents to make sure of that, when those two had found and grabbed her. She had gone from being raped to seeing her friend murder two people without even blinking. It boggled her mind.
Seraphine refused to look at Sami, knowing all too well the looks she would find there: disgust; horror; fear. The typical looks she got when people knew who she was or what she was capable of. So instead of facing her, she picked up Haphiz's dagger, ignored Sami's sharp intake of breath in terror, and used it to rip her scarf to shreds, creating some bandages. Tucking away the weapon in her own belt, Seraphine skillfully began to staunch the bleeding and wrap up the wound; she felt a small surge of relief when she noticed that it was merely a deep flesh wound. The actual treatment of the girl proved to be a more daunting task than she had thought, however, as the traumatized woman kept squirming over every finger that caressed her skin. When Seraphine finally finished up, she realized that Sami was still muttering "you killed them" over and over again. She sighed, trying to ignore her growing annoyance over the improvised chant. I killed them to SAVE you, damn it. Shouldn't that mean something? Like, I don't know, severe mitigating circumstances? She looked up, as she really needed to take a look at the severe bite mark in her neck. Their eyes crossed, and Seraphine felt her heart lurch. Although she had expected to see those emotions there, it still hurt to actually see them. Sami did not say anything, but just mouthed the words, "you killed them".
Seraphine steeled herself from the chant and the look, ignoring it to the best of her abilities, and bound up the wound around Sami's neck as swiftly as possible. Although she could understand, it still irritated her when the girl flinched away when she accidentally brushed against her cheek while tying the bandage, and was stared at as if she had just backhanded her across the face. Seraphine sighed and stood up, her every move tracked by big azure eyes. She felt her anger surge. She did not deserve this kind of treatment, to be looked at like that. Not from Sami at least. After all, she did just save the girl. She had killed those men for her well-being and what was her reward? To be looked at like she had just beheaded Sami's favorite doll and set ablaze the body.
A deafening explosion coming from the fighting groups up ahead made Seraphine focus and snap back to attention; two boulders had collided midair and were now showering the combatants with a hail of sharp rocks and a rain of fine dust. There had been few able-bodied men to defend the camp to begin with, so the defenses were spread very thin under the unrelenting assaults of the eight Shrike warriors. Seraphine's eyes widened in alarm and she hastily counted the present Shrikes again. Eight were facing off against the defending campers and two were dead, three if she counted Hanbao.
Seraphine cautiously moved to stand between Sami and the fighting Shrikes. "Sami ... get down." Her voice was soft and calculated, matching the defensive pose she had slid in to. She scanned their immediate area, every fiber in her being on alert, prepared to either lash out and attack, or fall back and defend. She was on edge: the Desert Dwellers were a squad of twelve warriors, and she only counted eleven. A shifting shadow behind a tent cover was all the incentive Seraphine needed to hurl a fire ball at it. A woman, whom she recognized to be Shanti, jumped from behind her hiding place to avoid the lick of the flames and used her roll to sweep up the earth and send three large, sharp spikes flying at Seraphine's head. The firebender twisted and twirled like a professional ballerina between the first two. As the third flew straight at an unmoving Sami, Seraphine grabbed hold of the tip of the would-be lethal projectile with her left hand to guide it away from the Water Tribe girl, and used her body's rotation to firmly plant her right palm against the side of the spike, diverting its course entirely. She kept turning, spinning down to a low crouch and swept her left leg out. The well-aimed fire arc prevented the earthbender from stomping her right foot down to launch another attack, and the time it took Shanti to readjust her balance was all that Seraphine needed to reach for the dagger at her waist and throw; Sami screamed in horror as Shanti fell down, the weapon protruding from her throat.
Seraphine pushed herself upright, and quickly verified everyone's position, making sure no one was stalking toward them. The brief skirmish had infected her with a new sense of urgency. As she had exposed herself too much, she really needed to get out of there. Things were already bad as they were, though they would undoubtedly become much worse if the other Shrikes realized three of their comrades were dead and recognized the now-uncovered face of the Commandant of the Fire Faction, putting two and two together; she preferred not to be there when that happened. The firebender crouched down and grabbed the screaming Water Tribe girl by the shoulders, roughly shaking her to silence. "Shut it, Sami! Just take a deep breath and calm ... down." She ostentatiously breathed in and out in unison with the panicking girl, seeing the terror slowly fade away after a few deep breaths. Her own voice was hushed, though clear and strangely supporting. "That's my girl." She smiled faintly, both at the fact that she had managed to calm Sami down, and at her own thought that she actually just wanted to rough the girl up a bit, smack some sense into her as opposed to all the supportive crap she was doing now. However, Sami had been through a lot already, so Seraphine wanted to avoid upsetting her even more. "Now, you have to listen to me and focus, okay?" She spoke slowly, making sure Sami was completely on the same page as she was; she felt ridiculous doing it. "This is a raid, and those people are trying to do and will do horrible things to you if they get a hold of you. You found that out the hard way already. This is not one of our little sparring matches; this is very real, and this is very serious. So come on, we have to move." And do us both a favor and SHUT THE FUCK UP!
Being so close to Seraphine, having physical contact with the girl, breathing in that intoxicating spicy, citrus scent of her hair, made Sami feel incredibly safe, regardless of their current predicament. The permanently-tanned girl seemed to rouse from her stupor, and she looked at the firebender as if she saw her for the first time that day, a faint smile, against all odds, appearing on her blood-stricken face. "You came back!"
Seraphine smirked. Yeah ... but you don't want to know how much I regret it right now. A small part of her chimed up that she was lying, though she promptly silenced the little voice. "Yeah, sure, I promised, right? Now come on, we need to get out of here."
Sami showed no indication she was about to move whatsoever, and just stared at the girl who had saved her life twice already. "You came back for me."
The wounded girl's passivism irked Seraphine, though not as much as her emphasis of the fact that she had come back for her, as it was something the firebender was trying very hard to ignore and downsize for herself. "Less talking, more moving." She shuffled forward, placed her right shoulder under Sami's left arm, and stood up, hauling the older girl onto her feet. Although Sami was a good ten centimeters taller than her, she was able to effortlessly support her. "Okay, Princess, let's go."
Sami was focused more on the fighting campers than on trying to walk with her wounded leg. After practically being dragged forward a few paces, she began to squirm, forcing Seraphine to stop. "Sera ... wait. We can't go."
"Sure we can, just lean on me and hop, I'll do the rest." She seriously wanted to get out of there, and if that meant carrying the taller girl the entire way, then that was what she was going to do. Spurred on by the risks tied to her exposure, she moved to readjust her grip so she could more easily carry the reluctant girl, but she found her hands being swatted away.
"No, that's not what I meant." Sami's voice was soft and strained from the pain that her leg was causing her. She swayed, and lost her balance. Before she fell down, however, Seraphine quickly grabbed a hold of her and supported her, letting the tall girl lean on her once again.
"Wow, easy there, Doc. I got you."
Beads of sweat started to pearl on Sami's forehead and she heavily leaned on the strong, younger woman. The adrenaline that had coursed through her veins during the assault was wearing off, leaving her panting in pain and exhaustion, though she stubbornly refused to let Seraphine pick her up. "We can't leave, Sera, we need to help them."
Seraphine sighed, realizing that trying to get Sami to move would be futile, and reluctantly looked at the fighting camp members not too far from them. It had surprised her earlier that the fight was still going on by the time she had arrived at the camp; she had figured that the Desert Dwellers would have swiftly annihilated the campers with their usual 'surround and destroy'-tactic. It was only after having observed the fighters' positions that she had realized that she was to blame for that tactic's failure as it had been Hanbao's absence that had left a gap in the Dwellers' trap, allowing the campers to flee; most men, women, and children had managed to escape, and Seraphine gathered that the three remaining campers were just still fighting so the others would not be followed. However, that stroke of luck had only bought them some time, as the last defenders were no match for the trained Shrikes and were being pressed back. Seraphine had to admit though that she was impressed with Trok and Jumoke's earthbending skills, as well as the sword fighting of Nakht, one of the younger, more silent campers; he wielded his dual swords as if he had just really long, sharp arms, and he moved with an agility that would put many airbenders to shame.
Sami squeezed Seraphine's shoulder. "You need to help them. You need to do something. Please, Sera."
Surprised by the soft tone of the request, the Shrike commandant tore her gaze away from where her family was fighting and looked at Sami, her newfound friend. She scoffed, grimacing at the thought of betraying the Shrikes even more than she already had, and shook her head. "No, I don't need to do that. What I do need to do is get you to safety. I'm indebted to you, not them. Trust me, no good will come of me exposing myself to those warriors anyway; it will only make things worse." She moved to pick Sami up and carry her all the way to the horse pen if she had to, but was prevented from doing so, being slightly pushed back.
Sami realized that Seraphine was not going to do anything for her friends, but she was also certain that the girl would not leave her. So if she were to put themselves in harm's way, she just knew that Seraphine would stay and fight; although it had been shocking to see the extent of Seraphine's abilities, it had also left her feeling confident that the girl could take on everyone. "No, I'm not leaving!" Her voice carried clear over the nearly deserted campsite.
Seraphine, visually alarmed, fearing they would be discovered, raised her arms in a hushing motion, trying to get Sami to lower the volume of her voice. "Shhhhh, not so loud. Do you want them to see us?"
Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. The thought instantly crossed Sami's mind, but she knew better than to voice it. "You are a formidable warrior, yet you shy away from helping people in need." She completely ignored the request for silence. "What are you afraid of?"
The Shrike commandant quickly placed a hand over Sami's mouth, and hissed in the muffled tones she wished the other girl would copy. "Shut. Up! We need to be quiet. And I am not afraid of anything. It's just that bad things will happen if I ... if we are discovered." She hoped that Sami had not noticed her pause. "So please, just shut ... UP!" She shifted her stance in order to just blatantly swing the wounded girl over her shoulder and carry her toward Arrow. "You just don't understa–"
Sami wriggled out of her grasp, although she still held on to the reluctant warrior for support. "You're right, I don't understand! What could possibly happen to make this situation WORSE?!"
Seraphine flinched at the volume of Sami's outburst; the girl could barely have been louder if she had tried. As an ominous sign, Sami's last word still echoed over the campsite, while Seraphine cast a dreadful look at the fighters; there was no way that shout had gone unnoticed.
The leader of the attacking Desert Dwellers, Khadashi, who had been at the back of the assault line, looked up upon hearing the strange voice and turned in its direction. Her brow furrowed as her gaze traveled over the slain body of Shanti, lying not too far from a smoldering tent, a blue glow hovering over the remnants, and then over the unmoving forms of the cousins Haphiz and Deven. The surprise in her dark green eyes rapidly changed to pure rage as her look halted on two young women, one whom she recognized instantly; the blood smears on Seraphine's clothing and the dreadful look on her face was all the proof that she needed to draw her conclusion.
The Shrike commandant involuntarily took a step back as Khadashi locked eyes with her, the recognition clearly visible on her features. "Oooooohh ... this is bad. This is very, very bad." Sami looked at her inquisitively, though her unspoken question was answered by the furious outburst of the Dwellers' leader.
"SERAPHINE APEPI, YOU TREACHEROUS BITCH!"
The firebender winced, and sighed. Oh Kha, as subtle as always. A small grunt escaped her as Sami's nails unexpectedly dug into her shoulder. Secret's out, I'd say, and it's here to bite me in the ass.
"BY SETH'S DAMP CROTCH, HOW DARE YOU BETRAY THE SHRIKES LIKE THAT?!" She ground visibly shook in unison with Khadashi's rumbling voice.
"So ... you wondered what could happen to make this situation worse?" The outed Shrike commandant sidestepped to keep her balance when Sami roughly pushed herself away from her, recoiling as if the younger girl had an extraordinarily contagious case of pentapox. "You could find out my full name and allegiance." Seraphine barely noticed Khadashi and four more of her fighters heading toward her, as she was more occupied with feeling, to her own surprise, guilty upon witnessing Sami's tear-stricken face that was contorted in anger. "Aaaaand you could look at me like that. I'd say that would definitely make it worse."
Sami wanted to cry, to scream, to yell, to do anything at all, but she found her voice constricted by a strangling feeling of betrayal. Not again, this can't be happening all over again. She lied to me . . betrayed me ... First Korra, and now ... now Sera-SeraPHINE ... As the shorter girl took a step in her direction, Sami held up a warning finger, though the sudden motion made her lose her balance and she fell. Seraphine was instantly at her side to help her back up, but she could not stand the vicinity of the firebender; as safe as the girl had made her feel before, so betrayed and hurt and so used did she feel now. She pushed her away. "DON'T! Don't touch me, Apepi!"
Seraphine stepped back, looking down at Sami as if the girl had just backhanded her across the face. It was not the first time somebody spat out her name with such disgust, but she never expected Sami to be one of them. She sighed. Reason number eleven to go, check. She shook her head. Everything on her list of reasons to walk away seemed to be coming true. The crackling noise of a boulder being freed from the earth's crust warned her to turn around and pay attention to the vengeful Shrikes as opposed to the crying girl on the ground. She turned, vaguely hoping that at least her 'reason three' would not come true as well, though the murderous glint that played in Khadashi's eyes did not make her feel very confident about that. She took in the identities of the other Shrikes: A buff guy named Phi was levitating a boulder, ready to launch the chunk at her head upon receiving the order. His bulging muscles looked intimidating, though Seraphine was glad to see him, for he had always been more brawn than brain; Tesran, although a short and sinewy-looking girl, packed some serious power when allowed to use her special rapid fire technique. Her aim was impeccable, and she could launch little fragment of earth at such speeds that she could pierce the thick hide of a hippo cow clean through from fifty meters away. However, her effectiveness was entirely dependable on her clear line of sight; Moki was the only nonbender of the Desert Dwellers, but Seraphine knew better than to underestimate him as his skill with blades was infamous amongst the Shrikes; and then there was Lakoni. She was arguably the most powerful of the quartet, but her aggressive way of fighting lacked the finesse and control Seraphine had, making her an easy target for precision attacks. The Shrike commandant's gaze returned to Khadashi, whom she labeled as the only real threat in her immediate vicinity.
Knowing Khadashi's fighting style, Seraphine knew that she would stay out of the initial skirmish, only entering the battle at the end. It thus all came down to getting rid of her four bodyguards as fast as possible without getting injured ... and keeping Sami out of harm's way. Although the odds were against her, being outnumbered, the thrill of the fight coursed through her veins; this was what she lived for. Her lips curled up, baring her teeth in a smug smile while veiling herself in her usual arrogance.
"Hey, Kha. Looking good today. Did something to your hair?"
"Can it, Seraphine!" Khadashi growled, her anger over Seraphine's betrayal emanating from her entire being.
A defiant smug tugged at the firebender's lips. "Now now, Captain, it is at least Commandant Seraphine to you." She could feel Sami stare at the back of her head, though she did not need to turn to know what kind of look the girl was giving her. She inwardly scolded herself for letting her thoughts wonder about Sami's emotional turmoil, as she simply could not afford to be dealing with that now. She had let herself be distracted in battle once before about a friend, and it had cost Siam her life. Seraphine's gaze hardened as her focus increased. No, she was not about to make that same mistake twice. While talking, she moved as far away from the Water Tribe girl as she dared in order to keep her save from possible stray fire, but still close enough to protect her. "Though even with the title, do you really find that to be an appropriate way to address a superior? I'll have to have a word about you with my brother."
Angered by Seraphine's insolent audacity, Khadashi gestured to her men to surround the Commandant. "You talk big for someone who is in a lot of trouble. I doubt that even your favored position with your father can save you from the gallows." Seraphine let the Dwellers' leader talk on, as she was more interested in tracking the movements of her men. "You know as well as I that treachery is punishable by death. So please, do talk to your brother about me, and tell him what a backstabbing piece of scum his little sister really is."
"Ah, but that's where you are wrong, my dear Kha." The Commandant looked at the Captain, tearing her gaze away from Tesran, who had taken position just behind an ash-filled fire pit to her right. "I am no traitor, not today." As Khadashi laughed, Seraphine made a mental note of the position of Moki and Lakoni, directly to her left and diagonally before her, respectively.
"Really now? Oh please do explain why you, who murdered three of our own, would not be –"
"Yeah ... make that four. Hanbao is lying somewhere among the rocks." Seraphine vaguely gestured in the direction she had come from.
The snarl erupting from Khadashi sounded so animal-like that Seraphine could have sworn there was a puma swine nearby, and she involuntarily glanced around to check. With a tremendous effort, the Dwellers' leader managed to compose herself enough to form audible words again, though her tone had nothing left of its previous mocking demeanor, and her facial expression was void of any kind of amusement. "Humor me. Why on earth would you not be considered a traitor?"
"It's simple, really. In order to be a traitor, the act of treachery must be known by the alleged traitor's superiors." She silently thanked Phi for his foolishness after he took position directly behind her, standing between herself and Sami, levitating the boulder above his head. She smirked at Khadashi while subtly sliding into a battle stance. "You're not my superior. And my true superiors will never know what happened here."
Khadashi raised an eyebrow in surprise, wondering if Seraphine really thought they would not alert Tegan or the General about her actions. "You're a fool if you believe that."
"Not really, just a realist. Cause last time I checked, the dead don't talk!"
Before any of the Shrikes could react, Seraphine aimed two fingers of her right hand at the ash-filled pit. The precise shoot made the ashes explode, momentarily blinding Tesran as the hot cinders stung her eyes. Rapid fire ... denied! She simultaneously snapped her left leg back, sending a hot stream at Phi's torso. Taken by surprise, the earthbender crossed his arms in front of his chest, trading control over the floating rock for protection. He staggered backwards, though as the boulder fell down, Seraphine turned and slammed her palms together; the charged blast hurled the rock at Phi, burying his upper body underneath its crushing weight. Idiot. Don't you know that what goes up must come down? Anyway, one down, four to go.
The sun ricocheted off the smooth metal of Moki's bared blades. "Take cover, Sami!"
The rock formed an impromptu barrier for the wounded girl to hide behind, though Seraphine just found Sami staring back at her in fear, while standing completely exposed. Shock. Disgust. Horror. Check, check, and check. Damn it. By the terrified glint in Sami's eyes, the firebender knew that the woman was recalling every horrible fact she had ever heard regarding 'Seraphine Apepi'. There was nothing in those stories that would inspire trust, but that was exactly what she needed to do now, trust 'Seraphine Apepi' with her life; the internal conflict made her freeze over, unsure as to what to do next. As such, Seraphine did the only thing that she could do. She ducked under one of Moki's swords as it whistled at her neck from behind, and neatly kicked against the side of Sami's left leg, stunning the muscle. As Seraphine stepped around the other sword and ploughed her flaming left fist in Moki's side, causing him to fall back while clutching his badly burned side, Sami sagged to her knee. She blinked in surprise when she was gently pushed behind the relative safety of the rock.
"Sami ... just ... listen to me for now, will you?" Seraphine, standing with her back to the wounded short-haired girl, involuntarily clutched her left shoulder and winced as a spike of pain traveled down her arm, the repercussions of her firebending move moments earlier. "I know you're pissed at me, but I'm not —" She twisted to the right, a small earth dagger piercing the open air as she dodged, and retaliated with such a violent fire arc that had Lakoni raising a swift sand shield in panic. "I'm not going to hurt you. So just, please do as I say, so we can deal with ... well, me being me after we're out of mortal danger, 'kay Pumpkin?" Noticing her opponents all preoccupied with either writhing in pain, hiding, or rubbing ash out of their eyes, she cast a quick glance over her shoulder to where Sami was peeking out from behind the rock. She could see the fear being fought back by a more rational side.
Utterly conflicted, Sami stared at Seraphine. She was so mad with the girl, felt so betrayed by her, but at the same time, she realized that the only reason she could still feel those things was her; all that Seraphine had done so far was to save her. The girl could have walked away, left her to be ... the memory of Haphiz's perverted fingers on her skin made her shiver, and she promptly pushed the thought out of her mind. She could have left her to die at the hands of the Shrikes, but instead, she had come back. She had kept her promise to her, and had come back ... for her. She did not know what to do with that information. Although she acknowledged the wisdom in Seraphine's words now, she could not get past the fact that she had been lied to, had been played. Sera, the girl who had so quickly become a source of joy in her life, was now Seraphine, killing people left and right; she was a murderer ... and her savior. Sami clenched her jaws and looked into worried amber eyes. She did not understand any of it. How could a murderer have such compassion? Regardless, she nodded for now in compliance.
Well, she's still prepared to listen to me. Seraphine hated how forced the smile on her face felt, the fakeness obviously shining through, as Sami just rolled her eyes and disappeared behind the rock in response. Sort of anyway. At least she's not running away screaming in fear, that's a step up from the usual reaction.
Even as the thought ran through her head, a small part of her paid attention to her surroundings, and the fact that Tesran had cleared her vision and covered her hands in small rocks was duly noted. Seraphine coated her own hands in fire and promptly slammed them down on the ground, throwing up the sand for instant cover. A bronze blade whizzed down out of the dust and Seraphine only barely managed to avoid losing her right leg; she backflipped into the smoke, her mind reeling due to the near miss. Stupid! Focus, Sera. Remember, they can't see you, but you can't see them either! Her senses sharpened as six rapidly-fired chunks of earth whirred through the cover. Any of the projectiles could puncture her cleanly through, such was the force of Tesran's signature move. However, the curtain of sand impaired the earthbender's aim, causing the chunks to harmlessly pass Seraphine by, ricocheting off the surroundings.
"Get rid of that sand!" Tesran's snapping command urged Seraphine to take action. She leapt forward, orienting herself completely on Tesran's voice. By the time Lakoni dissipated the dust, Seraphine had pulled up right before the markswoman, their faces only centimeters apart.
"Boo." Tesran yelped in surprise, though could not escape the grinning firebender, whose fire-soaked hands grabbed a hold of the earth-covered ones and lit up. The pain flared through Seraphine's left shoulder and arm, making her grunt through her clenched jaws. As the heat intensified, so did her agony, causing her vision to blur. She did not know how much longer she could hold on, though the sudden smell of burning flesh rolling into the air and the high-pitched cry of mortal agony that erupted from Tesran signaled that she had burned through the protective rocks.
Something moved to her left. Lakoni stood there with an outstretched arm, her right fist clenched tight as she guided the speeding rock glove through the air. Yanking Tesran along by the by now burnt stumps that had once been her hands, Seraphine shielded herself with the body of the short woman. The sickening crack produced by the impact of the glove on the skull was a macabre coda to Tesran's dying song. The sudden pressure caused the woman's eyes to bulge out of their sockets when her brain was violently pushed forward against them. As the veins popped, spraying Seraphine with blood, the younger girl hurled the lifeless body of the markswoman at her accidental killer with a mighty heave. And then there were three.
"You never did have any control, Lakoni. You're all power with no guidance! Sloppy, very sloppy."
There was no time to watch Lakoni struggle from underneath the dead weight pressing down on her chest. Seraphine's sandal-covered foot lashed out toward an incoming Moki, her half-moon kick smacking into his left hand; the downwards angle of the attack and his own speed caused the sword to be driven deep into the soil.
Stumbling lightly, Moki nimbly slid underneath the powerful punch aimed at his diaphragm, and rolled out of Seraphine's reach. He erected himself at the same time Lakoni managed to wriggle free, and the two nodded at each other, charging the Fire Faction's commandant simultaneously from opposite side. Lakoni's confidence in her bending had taken a hit, as she stuck to hand-to-hand combat, aiming a fist at the much younger girl.
Seraphine avoided the swing and then the leg that had snapped up. Her reflexes, sharpened by years of fierce combat and the only reason she was still alive to fight that day, tingled in alarm, and she let herself drop to the ground like a stone. As Lakoni backflipped out of the way, Moki's last remaining sword whistled past Seraphine's head, cutting off a lock of her long, flowing, dark hair that landed on the ground next to her. Angered, she tucked her body into an athletic roll, shot her hands out, and pushed herself up in a handstand. Pirouetting for a moment, she found her balance between her two opponents; her legs were stretched out horizontally, straight as an arrow and parallel to the ground, each foot facing a soldier.
Lakoni instantly slid her right foot forward in response; the motion traveled through her upper body and stretched out to her arms, which she snapped up with clenched fists. The earth fissure coursed toward Seraphine's hands, fully intent on sinking them into the ground. However, with a crack of displacing air, the Shrike commandant's sandals erupted into a blue glow and two powerful streams shot out either way. Lakoni twisted to the side, erecting a solid shield by kicking out with her left foot as she fell backwards; the flames caused the rock to shake in place, but left it otherwise unharmed. Moki had not been so fortunate; standing closer than his sister in arms, he caught the blazing heel on his cheek. His sword was thrown free high into the air, as he was hurled into the sand-covered rocks that made up the ground, face first. As his teeth connected roughly with the stone, the dust muffled his cry of pain. Two left ...
Ending her graceful pirouette, pushing herself out of the fissure's way, her flaming sandals extinguished when they impacted on the ground with a thud. "No touchee the hair!"
Combing her locks with her fingers, concluding the damage inflicted to be not as bad as she thought, the reflection of the sun in metal made her take a step back, and Moki's sword embedded itself in the soil where she had been a fraction of a second before. Her smirk evolved into a dangerous smile as she pulled the sword free with her left hand, substituting her ability to firebend with that arm with the weapon. Oeh, I always did like my toys shiny and sharp!
Seraphine looked around to see where Lakoni had rolled to. She quickly noted that the three-on-three battle between the defending campers and the Shrike invaders had changed to a three-to-one fight in the advantage of the defenders, although Jumoke's right arm hung limp next to his body, his elbow twisted in the wrong way, and Nakht was bleeding copiously from a gash across his eyebrow, the blood and dust having coated in a gruesome mask. Khadashi was simply seething with rage, evidenced by several little cracks in the earth starting from her feet. She was obviously prepared to go all out when she would have her go at the Shrike commandant. Warned by the slightest raising of Khadashi's eyebrow, Seraphine twisted in response and stared in disbelief at the fist that flew through the air, empowered by Moki's body weight. The blow set off an explosion of stars in her head, and she reeled backward, stumbling, though managing to keep herself upright. She felt the warm blood ooze out of her nose, its coppery taste instantly discernible in the back of her throat. Through reflex, she jumped out of the path of his second fist, though still dazed by the previous contact, Moki's attack connected with her left hand, knocking his sword free.
"I'll take that back, thank you!" His voice was barely recognizable, his broken jaw and several missing teeth having turned it to a wheezing animal-like sound.
Seraphine hissed, annoyed that her attack had not been enough to end Moki, and even more so that he had managed to land a blow. And where the fuck is Lakoni? Shaking the blimps of dizziness out of her eyes, she ducked sideways under the swing of the sword, and threw herself against him, both toppling on the ground. With a cold snarl, she gripped the sides of his head, and raked her blazing fingers down, her nails instantly cauterizing the wounds as she peeled off his flesh with her nails. The man's agonizing screams echoed in her ears, worsening the splitting headache that he had bestowed upon her. She let go and flipped backwards, her foot connecting hard with his chin, snapping his head up and knocking it to the ground. She snatched up the weapon while flipping upright, and smoothly turned and planted the sword deep in his chest, making sure Moki would not get up again. She could not resist, something had to be said about the situation. "Fine, if you insist, you can have your sword back." So NOW that makes two left.
"You'll pay for that!"
Seraphine stood up, wincing somewhat at the idiocy displayed by Lakoni. The earthbender had tunneled herself out of her previous hiding place, obscuring herself from sight. Seraphine had not been expecting that, and there had been no way she would have been able to predict where the Dweller would surface and be fast enough to stop the incoming warrior ... if it had not been for her ignorant outburst, completely ruining her surprise attack. She avoided the sharp earth daggers Lakoni aimed at her, and let her stumble past her, as the earthbender had counted on the counter-weight of the impact to halt her advance. Seraphine turned and let fly a sweeping kick, its strength perfectly-judged, into the back of Lakoni's spine; the Dweller buckled through her knees and her forehead connected hard with the hilt of the sword protruding from her friend's chest. She bounded backwards, teetering on the brink of unconsciousness, though Seraphine planted the sole of her sandal on her back and firmly pushed, causing Lakoni to slide forward, the weak skin of her neck grazing the razor-sharp edge of the blade; with a gushing sound, her carotid burst open.
And then ... Seraphine faced Khadashi, who was staring at her with renewed fury. There was one.
Panting heavily, the Shrike commandant caught sight of Sami peeking out from behind the rock, staring at her with mingled horror, shock, disgust and ... Seraphine blinked. Was that relief and worry?
"Ammit will enjoy feasting on your heart, I promise you that!" The hissed voice made Seraphine turn slowly, her eyes widening ever so slightly as she took in the sight of the Dwellers' leader. She realized fully well that she had just merely dealt with the appetizer, and the main course, trembling with uncontrolled hate and blind rage, still stood fresh before her. She on the other hand, could feel the exhaustion starting to weigh on her sleep-deprived body; there is only so much energy that can come from adrenaline. Checking herself for battle weariness, she sighed in dismay, as her fingers dabbed at the congealed blood that had trickled from her nose. Ah, damn it! How can I be dangerously sexy when looking like something that escaped from a horror play? She scraped off some of the crimson paint with the back of her hand, and spat out the blood-smeared substance that had dwelled in her mouth. She needed some time to catch her breath.
As by request, a diversion arrived in the form of an exhausted Jumoke, a heavily-panting though still alert-looking Nakht, and a grunting Trok. Seraphine's eyes widened and she involuntarily flinched; was that an earth spike protruding from his shoulder? Bright red blood leaked from the wound, forming a macabre puddle at his feet.
Khadashi knew what the arrival of the three campers meant: she was the last Dweller standing. How could she have miscalculated the situation so badly? Her eyes shifted from the three men to the recovering Shrike commandant; it was hard to believe sometimes that the girl standing defiantly before her, the girl that had just taken out four of her men, the girl who outranked her in the army, was only sixteen. She cursed inwardly. No, she had not miscalculated the situation, as she had never dreamed of having to account for the possibility of Seraphine Apepi turning against them. And for what? Her emerald eyes latched onto azure ones. Khadashi growled, drawing in a deep breath, and gradually letting it out in an attempt to rein in her by now impressive temper. Her voice was low, and her gaze traded the azure for the burning amber eyes. "So ... Commandant ... is that ... little ... bitch ..." She gestured at Sami, needing some time to keep her anger from enclosing her vocal chords, "really worth ... all ... of THIS?" She spread her arms, indicating the scattered bodies of the slain Dwellers.
Seraphine looked around, her gaze hopping from one body to the next, from Trok's contorted face to Jumoke's unreadable one, and from Sami behind her to Khadashi standing before her. She shrugged lightly, her voice carrying a casualness that did not fit the situation. "What can I say? A promise is a promise."
Sami gasped. She had spectated the fight in utter horror, unable to grasp how Seraphine, the girl with whom she had laughed about silly things like Trok tripping over a water bucket in the camp, the girl with whom she had stargazed in utter peace and quiet, the girl with whom she had shared a bed and woken up each morning, unharmed, could have done all the things she had just seen her do with such ease. It was like Sera and Seraphine were two completely different persons. But now, hearing Seraphine say that she had promised, Sami realized that everything the firebender had done, every life she had taken, was because of her. The blood of all those Dwellers was on her hands. She was to blame for their premature end. Yes, they were bad people who had likely done countless of horrific deeds, but no one, no one, deserved to die like that. Her eyes rested on the motionless heaps of cloth that were Haphiz and Deven, and she swallowed, fighting back a shiver. No, she had wished them dead all right ... but seeing Seraphine promptly grant that wish, taking someone's life ... murderers are bad people! She could not like a murderer ... could she? Her eyes returned to the muscled back of her reluctant hero as the firebender was getting her breath back under control, and she felt her resolve about 'Seraphine is a bad person' waver again. Oh, but she could like a murderer all right. Seraphine was practically her best friend. There was more to her than just the killing. She knew that much, though she simply could not wrap her mind around the girl as a whole. She did not know what to do with her. Her hesitation and uncertainty left her feeling more helpless than she had ever felt before. She noticed how Seraphine positioned herself in such a manner that she was completely shielded from any attack. What am I supposed to do with you, Seraphine? You lied to me, betrayed ... whatever you want to call it what we had, you killed and have killed people without so much as batting an eye in remorse, but then ... you also saved our lives. Saved my life. What am I supposed to do with that?
"It's over, Khadashi!" Trok's voice, dripping with pain, made all three women look at him and notice how he had slid into an unstable battle stance. Nakht had gripped his swords slightly tighter, but refrained from taking any further steps. Just as Jumoke beside him, who had not moved at all, he knew that this was a fight between the two Shrike women, not them.
Khadashi rolled her eyes, and casually flicked her right wrist in Trok's direction. The movement elicited a high-pitched shriek of agony from the grown man, as the earthen spike was pushed deeper into his shoulder where it shattered to tiny bits, each shard biting his flesh.
Sami screamed in horror as Trok sagged to his knees, convulsing in pain. She started to stagger in his direction, immediately receiving support from Jumoke's uninjured shoulder, while Nakht moved protectively before the fallen camper.
Seraphine rolled her eyes, shaking her head. Moron. What imbecile challenges an obviously great warrior when he can barely stand? However, the fact that Sami had now joined Trok's side to tend to his injury meant that she could not let Khadashi do what she wanted with the guy. She sighed, part of her ruefully prodding her soul with the fact that she was going soft as she called out to the elder woman, her tone of voice bordering on boredom. "Come on, Kha. Stop messing around with buffoon boy there. You want me, right, not him. So stop making him scream, his voice is incredibly annoying."
Khadashi's calculated gaze fixed itself on Seraphine, appraising the girl. Now this is certainly an interesting development. You couldn't care less about the guy before, but now that doctor girl's there, you suddenly get all warm and caring. It seems like our ever confident Commandant has a weak spot. A cold smile slid over her lips. The fact that your left shoulder is hindering your firebending would already have been a big disadvantage. But this, this protective steak you've got going on? That will be your end, my dear Seraphine. She flexed and stretched her muscles, bending her head to one side, her neck cracking as the bone and muscle resettled themselves. "Very well then, as you wish."
Wasting no further time, Khadashi circled her arms, swinging them inwards in a butterfly movement, while stumping her right foot on the ground and dragging is backward.
The two sand columns that formed impenetrable walls to either side had Seraphine swallowing. She jumped back, intend on avoiding the downwards crash of the loose soil, but the earth pillar that connected right between her shoulder blades launched her forward to be buried under the dirt. In a last reflexive move, Seraphine placed her hands firmly on the ground and lit up, putting enough power in the attack to propel herself in the air. Her back smacked against the incoming sand, the particulates seering her skin, though she managed to plough through and shot high up in the sky. Her escape had come with a price, though, as the raw power she had produced rendered her left arm to be a throbbing container of agony, a sensation akin to having every inch of the limb punctured by pins.
Khadashi followed Seraphine's descent meticulously, and specially-prepared her landing spot by driving her ten fingers deep into the soil, each digit poking out a sharp spike.
Seraphine turned in the air, noticing the bed of nails that awaited her on the ground, and cursed. Avoiding being skewered was not the problem; the crash landing that she would need to perform to do so, the leaving herself unprotected for a few moments, that on the other hand was a problem.
Watching the skilled firebender shoot out of the impaling course with a blast from her feet, Khadashi gathered several small pebbles and loose rocks around her hands and twisted her feet, quickly coating them with sand to form two earthen shoes. The moment Seraphine touched the earth and bounded around, flipping over several times in an attempt to come to a stop, Khadashi bent through her knees and shot forward like an arrow released from a bow, sailing over the surface.
The Shrike commandant was surprised that the wound in her shoulder could withstand the strain of battle, the shock produced by flipping over, the flexing of her muscle after only such a short period of healing time ... but why she then could not firebend, that puzzled her. However, the sight of Khadashi speeding toward her pushed the wonder right out of her mind, and a certain appropriate amount of fear took its place as Khadashi raised her earth-covered hands, ready to fire each small projectile separately.
Oh, come ON!
The young girl leapt, twisted, and turned in every way she knew how, avoiding the high-speeding fragments, but her battered, beaten, and sleep-deprived muscles were quickly tiring out. She blasted several fragments to bits with well-aimed jabs, though without the use of her left arm, there was no way she could keep up the fast pace of the battle. Her chest heaved painfully as her lungs burned for every breath, and it annoyed her beyond words that she had failed to land a single blow in retaliation, her blasts having all missed due to Khadashi's enhanced agility with her earth shoes. She shook her head to prevent her sight from clouding over with the pain that emanated from her shoulder, having been forced to create a fire shield with it; it had been a choice between dealing with the pain of her chi patterns being on fire, or dealing with the pain that came from losing the limb altogether, and she very much liked her arm.
"What's wrong, Seraphine?" The calm and almost sickly sweet voice of Khadashi sent shivers all over the Shrike commandant's spine. "Is your arm troubling you?" The earthbender resumed her rapid fire, focusing most of her aim at the firebender's left side, exploiting the weak spot. However, her particular firing pattern had an ulterior motive, one that she came closer to reaching as Seraphine flipped further to the right, sparing herself more agony by preferring flight to fight. The firebender's roll came to a stop before the group of campers, and a feeling of pleasure curled Khadashi's lips upwards. I got you now, you slippery bitch, cause what are you going to do when you have no more room to run?
Okay, okay, calm down, Sera, just, calm down, think, and breathe. Just breathe. You can't be beaten here, and especially not by a middle-aged earthbender, of all people. If you're going to fall in battle, at least have it be an opponent who isn't about to drop dead from old age herself. She could not help but smirk at the petty insult over Khadashi's age, an action that forced her into a backflip to avoid an earth bullet in her foot.
"Please, do enlighten me what possible reason you could have to smile in your current predicament!" The Dwellers' leader was annoyed that Seraphine still retained a composed posture. Anyone who had endured what she had put the girl through should be writhing on the floor by now, begging for their life. However, a brief look at the campers behind her prey calmed the earthbender, as she knew that would happen soon enough, one way or the other.
"Oh, you know, the usual." Seraphine ignored the sharp stabbing of exhaustion in her side and concealed her heavy breathing behind light laughter, her amusement irritating Khadashi further. "I was just thinking that I if I could prolong this little game of ours just a liiiiiiiiittle bit longer, dance around your attacks like I have been doing most expertly, I might add, your old age would take care of you for me." Judging by the rageful glint that appeared in the dark green eyes, the barb had hit home, though Seraphine had not expected Khadashi to smile it away; it unnerved her, feeding a panic that had welled up beneath her usual cool exterior. What are you up to? What am I missing?
"You can mock my age all you want, little one, but your youthful foolishness will be your downfall." Seraphine quirked a surprised eyebrow, though slid into a defensive crouch nonetheless, prepared to jump out of the way as Khadashi readied herself to fire again. "Cause if you were not going soft, playing around with your little friends here, you might've been able to prevent what is to come."
Seraphine cocked her head in genuine wonder. "What on earth are you talking about?" And I'm NOT going soft!
Khadashi tutted and waved an earth-covered finger. "Ah, the youth these days, so impatient ... and so blind." She brought her hands up, taking aim at the athletic form before her, though making sure the campers were in her line of fire as well. "Look around you, Seraphine. I'll give you three seconds to decide whether you want to see your betrayal through to the end and die with the rest of your pathetic friends now, or run away as the backstabbing little coward that you are and let the object of your betrayal wither and die because of you –before you'll join them later, of course." Her voice was cool. "Three ..."
The Shrike commandant snapped up, her eyes wide, and she looked over her shoulder. She cursed. Sure enough, Khadashi had maneuvered her to stand right before the campers. If she were to dodge the attack, she would leave them unprotected, condemning them to a painful death. Lame! Since when does the safety of others matter more to you than your own?
However, if she were to stay ... there was no way she could stop the projectiles for long, not in her current situation anyway, not without her firebending. She involuntarily rolled her left shoulder, touching it lightly with her right hand.
A cold determination became her at the sight of the panic on Sami's face. Seraphine mouthed the words "GO!" at the girl, and promptly turned back to face Khadashi, ostentatiously stepping forward. Damn it! I'm not going soft, I have GONE soft. Just fantastic. "Bring it, bitch!"
The earthbender smirked at the defiant challenge. "Oh, I was so hoping you'd say that." Without wasting more time, she launched her attack, the multitude of fast-moving projectiles swiftly crossing the distance between the two Shrikes.
The majority cracked under the heated pressure of Seraphine's fire blasts, though the Shrike commandant's moves were too slow and could not keep up with the multitude of hostile objects that flew towards her. The sound of their imminent approach, an angry zooming like a group of scorpion bees, sent a cold ice creeping over her spine, though also conjured a smirk on her face. "Show time."
She clapped her hands, a small heavily condensed fire ball emerging between them, pulsating on a gentle rhythm. Retracting her hands, she shot them out a split second later, connecting the palms with the glowing mass, launching it forward. When the ball reached the first earth bullets, she stretched out her fingers, the tips all pointing in a different direction. As if she was stretching out a ball of dough, so did the fire spread out, forming a seemingly-impenetrable barrier of dancing blue fire; the earthen slugs cracked and vaporized as they connected with the flames.
"That's a beautiful light show you've got going there, Fire Princess," Khadashi's taunting voice easily carried through the roar of the flames. "Must be exhausting."
Seraphine gritted her teeth, her lips curling upward in a bearing snarl, not having the energy to spare to reply to the taunt. Her eyes pricked from the sweat that trickled down her brow. Her left arm was killing her. It felt like the fire that needed to come out of her chi patterns had turned liquid and ran down her arm on the inside. She sagged to one knee, her mind shutting down the energy supplies to the parts of her body that it deemed not vital in that moment.
The gentle waft of jasmine perfume, the soft hands that slid onto her left bicep and under her shoulder, and the ladylike grunt of effort as she was pulled onto her feet made Seraphine groan in annoyance and discomfort; she did not need to turn and see the permanently tanned face to know that Sami had not retreated to safety as she had wanted her to. Seraphine's voice was strained by the effort it took her to fuel the flaming wall and to produce any sound that was discernible from a grunt. "Y'never ... listen ... do yah?"
"Not when I can help you, no." The matter-of-fact tone of Sami's sweet voice brought a smile on the firebender's lips, which faltered when a new wave of projectiles barraged her barrier, forcing her to intensify its density.
"Ha ... think ... y'can ... do this ... better ... than ... me?" Her casual attempt to sound mocking failed miserably, and she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to ignore the throbbing pain that coursed through her body. Upon feeling Sami's skilled fingers on her skin, untying, and eventually just ripping off the bandages over her wound, Seraphine's eyelids slid open. Her vision focusing on the doctor's face, she was surprised to see guilty tears swim in those azure eyes.
"I'm so sorry." Seraphine quirked an inquisitive eyebrow as Sami started to use the loose cloth to wipe away the thick ointment that she had richly applied to the wound that morning. Her wonder quickly evolved to cold rage as each cleansing stroke made her feel better. Much better. More than better, actually; she felt fantastic. As Sami washed away the last of the ointment, removed every last drop from her skin, so did the pain vanish. Seraphine planted her feet more firmly in the ground and flared up her barrier with renewed power, though her gaze remained fixated on Sami, her amber eyes dripping with resentment.
"What ... the ... FUCK ... did ... you ... DO ... to ... ME?" Seraphine's voice was strained, not from utter agonizing exhaustion as before, but from the effort it took to keep her impressive and rapidly increasing anger under control; the blue barrier's height increased, its heat washing over them.
Sami recoiled instantly, if not from the heat, then from the white teeth that came into view as Seraphine's lips drew back into a snarl. "It-it-it wasn't my fault ... I-I-I didn't mean to ... I-I ..." Sami's tenderly worried expression on her face hardened into an angry unjustified one. "I helped you, that's what I did!"
"Helped me?" The firebender's short laugh was dry and humorless, ending in a growl of fury. "Do you have any idea how painful your 'helping' was?"
Sami huffed. She did help ... she just had not exactly told Seraphine from the start how she helped. Her brow furred. Seraphine had no right to speak to her like that. "Do you have any idea how painful it would have been if I hadn't helped you? If it were not for my self-made ointment you might've even lost that arm due to infection!" She felt an absurd need to justify herself. "The aloe took care of your self-inflicted, I might add, burn marks, preventing the formation of any scar tissue; some ginseng extract strengthened your immune system to ward off infection, and the witch hazel helped with the swelling and some pain relief. It was the Red Shepenn, however, that stunned your chi patterns in order to help the iron tree extract to accelerate the healing process; it hurts on purpose, so that the patient is forced to take it slow." Sami's anger matched Seraphine's. Who did that girl think she was? She was the one who had resided in the camp under a false identity. She was the cold-hearted, ruthless murderer. So how dare she strike that tone with her?! "Seriously, you wouldn't even be able to move your arm if it wasn't for my help, let alone fight with it!"
The profanity that escaped Seraphine would have made the most experienced harlot feel like a prude. "I wouldn't have been able to move?! That's IT?! You ... you ... FUCK YOU! Not moving would have been a whole lot better than feeling like every inch of my arm was being skewered by cindering hot needles!" The flaming barricade roared with fierceness as Seraphine's anger fueled it more, though neither girl paid any attention to what was happening around them; neither one registered the absence of the small crackling explosions that indicated the impact of Khadashi's projectiles.
"Oh yeah?" Sami snapped, gesturing to the wreckage of what had been a bustling campsite only a good hour before, but was now a deserted place littered with bodies. "As you so vividly demonstrated today, you wouldn't last a day without your precious ability to kill someone in the most gruesome of ways ever!"
"Well if you don't like me killing people to save your ass, then maybe you shouldn't have tricked me into staying!" Seraphine coldly stared at her doctor.
Sami gasped. "Oh no, you did not just blame me for all this. How DARE YOU?! You cannot truly believe that–"
"They would all still be alive if you would've let me leave for Thebes days ago like I wanted to?" Her voice snapped at the Water Tribe girl, venom adding to the bitter tone. "Well ... GUESS WHAT?"
"Girls ..." Nakht's deep tones were completely drowned out by Sami's indignant shriek.
"You did not have to kill them at all!" While raging, Sami hopped into poking distance, jabbing Seraphine with an accusing finger. "You didn't do that the save ME, you did that to save YOURSELF!"
"Girls ..." Nakht's second attempt to get the raging girls' attention was as successful as his first.
"Oh whatever helps you sleep at night, Princess! Truth still is that I wouldn't have had to save myself in the first place if it wasn't for you, now would I?" Seraphine bit back. "And get your paws off me!"
"I do not have paws!"
"You're lucky I'm holding this barrier erect –you know, the one with which I'm covering YOUR ass again– otherwise I would've –"
"WHAT?!" Nakht recoiled slightly as both women turned to him, their eyes flashing with venom. He knew better than to tangle with fighting pythonacondas and reflexively raised his hands in surrender, though he pointed to his left with his right hand, guiding their attention to the older woman that stood cross-armed not too far from them.
"Yeah ... I really have no idea why you're keeping that barrier erect, Seraphine." Khadashi casually leaned backwards, putting most of her weight on the stone table she had erected. "I honestly don't know whether I should find this amusing, –"
Seraphine instantly jumped forward, swinging her arms down to make the barrier topple over on Khadashi. The earthbender remained unimpressed, raising her own arms in a reversed mirroring motion, crossing them before her head. The earth tent she had created easily deflected the fire, protecting her from any harm. She dropped the stone slabs, and continued talking as if nothing had happened.
"Or if I need to be insulted by the fact that you'd rather bicker about whatever it is you two are spazzing on about. Seriously, what does a girl need to do to get some attention around here?"
For the first time that day, Seraphine was actually glad to see Khadashi, as the loud discussion with Sami had filled her with the need to bash something or someone. The smirk that tugged at her lips was filled with venom and eager anticipation.
"I apologize. You have my full and undivided attention."
The Desert Dwellers' leader attacked soundlessly without warning, kicking up the soil with her foot. The sharp shred of earth sped through the air, though to Seraphine's annoyance, it was not flying towards her, but was aimed at Sami's throat. With nearly inhuman reflexes, timing her movement to the nano-second, she plucked the dart out of the air; a split second earlier, and her hand would have been skewered beyond salvation; a split second later, and Sami would have had some very macabre throat decoration. The Shrike commandant let herself be turned around by the forward power that still came from the projectile, and when she was facing Khadashi again, she launched the object back, increasing its velocity with her own bending. Khadashi remained unfazed, and effortlessly batted the projectile away, pulverizing it into fine dust.
"If you were trying to piss me off, then congratulations, Kha, you've succeeded!" Seraphine growled at the irritatingly smirking earthbender. "As for you," she cast an angry look over her shoulder to Sami, who looked a bit squeamish and slightly paler than usual, "I suppose I did that just for me as well?"
The cold rhetoric question hit home with Sami, and she stared, eyes wide open, at the back of the head of the firebender that intrigued and infuriated her so.
"Just checking that I definitely had your attention, that's all." Khadashi cracked her knuckles.
"Oh, you have it all right." The firebender whispered, though the anger breaking through the suddenly thin crust of her otherwise composed exterior turned the tone to a snarl. "And possibly more than you bargained for!"
With a surprised yelp, Khadashi rolled out of the way of the all-consuming fire blast. She turned to see where she had been moment ago, her eyes slightly widening in horror, as the site had been scorched black and a big chunk of the rock had just splintered and vaporized in the heat. "What the ..." Her train of thought did not go further than that as she needed all her concentration and skill to avoid one powerful blast after the other, the attacks constantly deviating in shape and form. She growled as one of the fire arcs shot past her. The flickering edge screamed close enough to burn the clothing at her side, and barely missed her arm as she managed to pull it out of the way the last second; a few of the hairs on the limb curled to a crisp, the sulfuric smell invading her nostrils. She patted out the smoldering edges of the fabric, her eyes never leaving Seraphine's approaching form, the first beginnings of an animal-like terror becoming her. What the fuck happened behind that barrier?! Sure, Seraphine is fiercely combative when pushed –and I have pushed– but not even she should be able to recover this swiftly! What the FUCK happened?! The displacing air caused by an intense arc shooting overhead made her hair flutter, a small twister of sand dancing around her.
Seraphine knew that the only reason Khadashi had managed to evade her thus far was because her aim was sent wild due to the bearably containable anger inside of her. Never before had she felt so ... so betrayed by someone. Though thinking of Sami, she lashed out at the Shrike captain, sending wave after wave of pulsating flames in her direction, each one more powerful than the last, as more of her hurt feelings seeped into them. I should've known better. She thrust her right palm forward, a ferocious stream leaping out; it barely missed Khadashi's left shoulder. Oh, but I DO know better. Friends only bring pain and suffering, lesson learned. AGAIN! As her right hand moved back to sit at her side, her left palm took its place, sending an even more powerful stream rippling through the air.
Moving too slow, Khadashi felt the fire bite down on her heel, sinking its cindering teeth into her calcaneal tendon, rendering her immobile. With a heavy thud, she crashed down to the hard soil, rolling over several times. Coughing heavily, dust coating her lungs, an expression of sheer horror etched itself onto her face as Seraphine drew closer, a look void of anything but murderous rage deep into her eyes.
Her amber gaze, the coldness in it contradicting the burning hatred that rippled through the rest of her body, fixated itself on the crumpled heap of Khadashi's injured form. The Shrike commandant jumped and twisted sideways, her right foot kicking out; the arc shot straight up, though slammed down to the ground as Seraphine turned her body, guiding the attack to the paralyzed earthbender. Her arms came together before her body in a downward butterfly motion, the streams erupting from her fingertips cradling the initial wall of fire with softness akin to that of a mother holding her newborn baby.
A panic ripped itself through Khadashi's body as the roaring blue cloud grew closer. Her last breath trembled in her throat as the charged air preceding the fire swarmed her, scorching her vocal chords. A tear slipped from her eyes, though instantly dried up and vaporized as the first wave of practically glowing gas reached her. Her mouth, opening to let out a sob, inhaled the superheated air which ended her; her lungs incinerated upon first contact. The pulsating wall swamping over her with a terrifying speed was the last image etched in her eyes, and their lights died out, as her body slumped to the ground.
For a few moments, all that registered to Seraphine was her own harsh panting as she hunched down. It had been exhausting to control that much energy, though not as draining as her thoughts had been. The anger that had flared from her feelings of betrayal, that had fueled her attacks to a level only Mufasa and Siam's deaths had ever made her reach, had largely been washed away, shot out, only to be replaced by a feeling of utter emptiness, which made her wish the rage would return. Rage was a feeling she could deal with; that of hurt and betrayal was not. She was tired.
Seraphine pushed herself up, the muscles in her legs protesting as they craved for rest and a massage, and she turned to the campers. Sami stared at her with an odd mixture of feelings in her eyes, though Seraphine did not bother with an attempt to discern them. She did not care, or rather, could not afford to let herself care, not anymore. She had betrayed her family, made herself a traitor. Her eyes crossed the path of Sami's azure ones. And for what?! A flash of anger returned and kick-started her legs. With a slight stumble in her gait, she walked in Sami's direction, telling herself she was only doing so because Arrow was waiting for her a bit further; she knew that was just a lie, though.
"Sera ... Seraphine ..." The soft voice made her halt. Sami's tone had lost every trace of anger with which it had previously yelled at her. Now, there was a more pleading undertone, an underlying request for clarity; Seraphine was not sure that she preferred this above the furious outburst. "Why? Why didn't you say anything?"
Seraphine scoffed, wishing her voice could contain more disdain than it did. "Yah, as if you would've continued to help me like you did. As if you would've been able to even look at me without disgust and terror after you'd learned my full name and allegiance, after you'd learned what I can do, what I do. As if."
The Shrike commandant grumbled as she twisted her head out of the way of a small rock flying toward her, and turned at the copiously sweating male earthbender with his shoulder neatly tied up, the mark of Sami's handiwork. "Do that one more time, Trok, I dare you. Give me a reason to finish what Khadashi started!" The venom leaked from every syllable she spat out.
"You ... you ... ruined ... my life." The emotion broke through his deep voice. "My village ... you ..."
"Will make you reach new levels of pain if you don't shut up, buffoon boy!" She barked at him, a blue glow surrounding her hands. "Back off!"
Nakht moved himself between the angering soldiers, wedging his person between their conflict that was about to escalate rapidly. His hands rested on the hilts of his dual swords, though he left them in their scabbards. His amber eyes, so similar to Seraphine's, glistened at the Shrike commandant with unbridled hatred. He recognized that he was in her debt, as they would have all perished if it had not been for her –albeit reluctant and forced– intervention. However, to him, that meant she got a free pass for now, not a clean slate.
"Miss Apepi." The formal salutation got Seraphine's attention and a single eyebrow shot perceptibly up as she looked at Jumoke, his right arm cradled in a makeshift sling. The old camp leader's expression left little for her to read, though his tone had made his message crystal clear. Seraphine scoffed and shrugged, snuffing out the fire bubbling over her skin, and she turned her back to the injured earthbender.
She noticed Sami looking at her. Is that accusation? Her brow furrowed. Who does that girl think she is? That ungrateful, little ... Seraphine felt her spine stiffen with indignant annoyance. "What?!"
Sami flinched at the bark, masking it by shaking her head. "Nothing. I just ... I-I-I ..." She paused and looked deep into Seraphine's amber eyes as if she was searching for something. "I wouldn't have turned you away," she said forcefully, though full of wonder if she was lying or not. She was a doctor at heart, she was honor bound to help those in need. Surely, she would not have turned her back on a bleeding patient. Not even ... if her patient was Seraphine Apepi?
Seraphine took in Sami's posture, the feeling of hesitation and uncertainty practically oozing from the tanned woman; she bared her teeth in an unamused smirk. "Liar."
The hard word struck the wrong chord with Sami and knocked open the gate after which she had locked away her anger. "What? Are you calling me a liar?" Her eyes chilled and her voice turned to ice, her tone calm and calculated. "From day one, you have deceived everyone in the camp, skillfully hidden your true colors behind a shield of smiles and light banter. You're a murderer who masqueraded as a lost, friendly girl. You lied to me, Sera ... though really, I should say Seraphine, shouldn't I?"
Staring at the Water Tribe girl, Seraphine's right eye twitched ever so slightly as she clenched her jaws shut and breathed in deeply in an attempt to soothe the furiously roaring beast inside her; she failed. "Ho ho, what's this? Are you going to bitch now about the abbreviation of a name, Asami?" The bitterness in her voice increased with each syllable that she spat out. "You of all people should understand why sometimes people prefer to shorten their name, try to leave a part of their history in the dark." The beast in her chest roared in injustice, gnawing on the last shreds of her ability to put things into perspective. "So fine, I didn't come clean with you by saying 'Hi, the name's Seraphine Apepi, you might've seen me before on the local posters for wanted thieves and murderers, and you are?' So sure, condemn me all you want if that will help you sleep at night. But don't you DARE take on this high-and-mighty bullshit attitude with me, as I am not the only one here who has screwed people over, now am I?" Sami eyes widened in horror, a cold anger that did not befall her etching itself on her face, and she shot the younger girl a warning not to go down that road, though the Shrike commandant defiantly stared back, her amber eyes glowering with mixed emotion as she continued remorselessly. "Cause for all the crimes that I have committed, adultery, screwing someone's partner, is not one of them. I'm not branded with any scarlet letters." Her voice dropped to a cool and calm tone. Her eyes fixated on Sami's, where the tears of outrage welled up in the corners, and the Water Tribe girl was visibly trembling with held back fury. "Can you say the same?"
Seraphine had been submerged in the art of fighting for as long as she could remember; from when she was five, her father had indoctrinated her in every possible skill that would come in handy for a Shrike warrior. Under the tutelage of carefully chosen teachers, she had grown up to be a walking martial arts textscroll with enough fire power to take down a small village. However, it was the more subtle skill that had taken Siam years to transfer to her that now alerted her of what was to come. She watched Sami's body language closely, every ripple of muscle meticulously noted, and knew exactly where the Water Tribe girl was going to strike her on her body; that permanently-tanned hand was heading straight to her left cheek, the fingers stretched out. Dodging it would be as easy as taking candy from a baby.
The sound of Sami's hand striking the skilled warrior across the face echoed over the deserted camp site as loud as a thunder in the clear sky.
Seraphine slowly turned to face Sami again, the throbbing outlines of five red streaks etched perfectly into her skin. The older raven-haired girl was shaking, though the firebender could not discern with what emotion; it was simply with everything. She had expected more screamed abuse to follow the physical outburst, but the blank expression that slid over the otherwise gently sparkling azure eyes unnerved her to her core.
Sami's eyes dripped with silent tears, and her voice was slow, though perfectly clear, speaking with a calmness that Seraphine did not expect. "You are deemed fit to travel. There is nothing more my medical skills can do for you." A flash of raw pain broke through the blank cloud, and that single look stabbed Seraphine through and through. Deep down, something stirred, and it caused a dull ache to quickly swarm her being. "You are free to take Arrow ... and get away from here." Sami's voice trailed off, ending in a whisper.
Even long after the Shrike commandant had taken off, Sami had not moved. While the other campers had returned and were gathering their belongings, scouring every centimeter for anything salvageable before moving on to the next place, she still stood there, her gaze fixated on the horizon. She stared off in the direction Seraphine had taken to ride out of her life, leaving an utterly draining and aching feeling behind.
- I apologize for the length. I might have gotten carried away with the action scenes in this chapter. The length comes from the fact that I tried to follow up on some of the FRS's critiques I got on my action writing. I hope I sort of got it right now, so if those FRS reviewers happen to read this, please let me know if this is the kind of action writing you expected.
- To recapitulate for those who would be confused by the organization of the Shrikes: the Shrikes are an army of robbers led by General Apepi. Colonel Tegan is second in command, and then there are four factions for each element/nation, led by a Commandant. The Desert Dwellers are just a group of the army, comparable to the Rough Rhinos, though different in the sense that they are still under the Shrikes overall command. The Desert Dwellers are directly commanded by Captain Khadashi (much like the Rough Rhinos are led by Colonel Mongke), but they report to and follow the orders of Tegan.
- This chapter was written in five days, though it took nearly 3 months for me to actually get down to the writing.
- This chapter was originally intended to be one chapter together with " ", though was split in two due to the length of both chapters.
- "To be looked at like she had just beheaded Sami's favorite doll and set ablaze the body." This is a not so subtle reference to Azula setting the doll she received from Iroh ablaze in "Zuko Alone".
- Nakht is an original character created by Seliah Jade, who is sort of writing a story of her own that takes place in the HotN universe.
- "No touchee the hair!" Seraphine is vain, what can I say?
- "[...] her ignorant outburst, completely ruining her surprise attack." Another not so subtle reference to Avatar: The Last Airbender.
- Ammit is the name of the female demon who lived near the scales of justice in the Egyptian underworld. Every deceased person had their heart weight against the feather of Ma'at, the goddess of truth, and if the heart was judged to be not pure, Ammit would devour it, and the person undergoing judgment was not allowed to continue their voyage towards Osiris and immortality. Once Ammit swallowed the heart, the soul was believed to become restless forever; this was called "to die a second time". As such, Ammit held the threat of binding Egyptians into eternal restlessness, which was something they all feared.
- "What imbecile challenges an obviously great warrior when he can barely stand?" was originally "[...] when he's wounded?" though Seliah pointed out that was a rather hypocritical thought of Seraphine considering she herself is wounded as well.
- The herbs used in Sami's ointment are real, save for the Red Shepenn I believe, which is a product of Wilbur Smith's imagination, and have the properties I attributed to them. However, the ointment itself is completely made up by me, based on a list of medical herbs I found online and I just threw together the plants and healing properties that I needed.
- For those who missed it, the ointment caused Seraphine's healing to accelerate by stunning her chi patterns, hurting her whenever she tried to use them. The chi patterns can be immediately restored by removing the ointment.
- "The Shrike commandant jumped and twisted sideways, her right foot kicking out; the arc shot straight up, though slammed down to the ground as Seraphine turned her body, guiding the attack to the paralyzed earthbender. Her arms came together before her body in a downward butterfly motion, the streams erupting from her fingertips cradling the initial wall of fire with softness akin to that of a mother holding her newborn baby." This is my attempt to describe the move Azula used in her comet-enhanced Agni Kai against Zuko.
- The scarlet letter Seraphine is referring to is the scarlet patch in the form of a vulture that she found in Sami's clothing trunk in " ". As a recap, a vulture is the Egyptian hieroglyph for "A", and since it is made in a scarlet fabric, it is a reference to the "The Scarlet Letter".
- ARG pointed out that Khadashi did not have to die, as with the other Desert Dwellers out of the way, it would have been her word against Seraphine's and Apepi and Tegan would likely have believed their daughter/sister respectively as opposed to a captain. This option had not crossed my mind... oeps ;-)
- This chapter was featured July 2014.
- This chapter counts 16248 words.
|Heiress of the Nile|
|Book 1 - Lost and Found|
|• • • • • • • • • • •|
|Lostris • Seraphine • Tanus • Sami • Meren • Taita • Naja • Intef • Tegan • Apepi • Kun •|
|Gebel Nagara • Thebes • Palm Spring • Nomads' camp|
For the collective works of the author, go here.