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|Night of Steel|
Pyres and Storms
April 8, 2013
The world is engulfed in war. Blood has spilled as the Nations contest a balance of power. Avatar Tala must guide the world in order to bring stability back, but must deal with resistance and ancient threats that risk to change the course of the world forever.
Chapter 12: Night of Steel
Tala paced quietly yet anxiously for the arrival of her family. This was a dangerous place for all of them. She tucked at the long robes of her Dai Li uniform, worried about the implications it made, but certain that it was the right decision to support her family.
A sharp knock on the carriage door informed her of their arrival. She took a breath and stepped out into the public square, watching as a column of men and women marched to her. The dark green and black of the Dai Li were unmistakable and their effect on the people watching was too.
It was centuries since the infamous secret police had set foot in the city, but their legacy had lived on in their victims and their descendants. The fear in their eyes was as lively as the fear of those who were terrorized by the Dai Li.
Worse, Tala could smell it in the air, not just fear, but hatred. Warm with fury, was that vengeance, so clear and so blind. People only thought with emotion, it was why they were unfit to rule. They let the past cloud them.
This was a dangerous place for her and her people. These walls held no friends for the Dai Li, for her.
The Next Step
The column of low brim hats marched to the Earth King's Palace. The streets were crowded with people as soldiers held them back. Most were silent with fear, but a few began to speak, yell in fact."Death to the Dai Li!"
"Kill the Monsters!"
"Out with the Dai Li!"
Tala and Ustad continued leading the march as the next statements were addressed to her, "Traitor!"
"Die with those dogs!"
"You call them family!?"
"The Avatar is a tyrant!"
Her sense of hearing dimmed when a projectile came for her. Her hand shot up to catch rotten fruit in its stone glove. She crushed the fruit in her hand, forcing the peach to spill onto the ground. Throwing the rotted fruit aside, the column continued marching.
Ustad looked up the massive steps. It had been generations since his ancestor had walked these steps. They were traitors when they left them, now they were- Ustad wasn't sure. They may be guests, but they weren't welcome, of that he was sure.
A colonel spoke to the large party, "We can take the other passes so as to make it up."
Determination and resilience was appropriate, "No, we'll take this pass up. If people did it before, we can do it now."
"Sure, but the Earth King will be expecting us shortly."
Ustad waved two fingers to his men. They walked to the far sides of the steps and leapt to the uplifted sides. Using their earthen footwear, they sped up the great hill of the entrance to the palace.
Landing promptly at the top of the steps, they left the pompous colonel at the bottom to rush to an elevator while they kept walking forward. Resuming their column march, Tala chuckled, "Its best not to irk the Royal Guard the same way we did that colonel, they are not the incompetents that guarded this place when the Dai Li ruled Ba Sing Se."
"Thank you for the warning. I have heard of their skills, impressive but blunt. Our way may be rigid itself, but it was powerful enough to even match the progenitor of Beifong style."
"Pride won't be good here either, Dad, this is Prince The Snowbold's father. Where do you think he got it from?"
"Very well, what should I be expecting."
"Cunning hospitality," Tala smirked at her father beneath the dark hat.
The column waited at the grand door that guarded the throne room of the Earth King. While Iruei had considerably reduced the grandiose of the Palace, still it was quite the show. The doors could not be reduced in size, though Ireui had the gold removed.
The doors opened, waiting on the other side were the Royal Guard. No longer ineffective parade men, these soldiers were ruthless men picked from youth to test and endure great strife. Those who succeeded would become the Royal Guard, dreaded metalbenders capable of anything.
Crown Prince Kuir had received the same training and even wore the same armor, though with gold instead of green. The masks and hats of these men were just as iconic as the uniform of the Dai Li. But where one was known for treachery, the other was known for loyalty.
The Royal Guard and Dai Li stared each other down. Each had masters and deadly power, neither liked the other. The Captain looked at the Dai Li, "Avatar Tala, you, Master Ustad and Master Li are welcome. The others will wait here."
Tala and the Dai Li complied, they were the guests. Walking forward step with step, the three approached the throne, they stopped at the most worn spot of stone, where it was customary for people to wait at the Earth King's wish. The three bowed humbly, as citizens of the Earth King, they ultimately were his subjects, and so his servants.
"Rise, Dai Li."
They did so, well aware that they were at the Earth King's mercy. Tala knew that had Kuei or Iruei's father been the Earth King, they would all have been tried for treason. The Purge had gone on for decades after the Great War ended. Those foolish enough to think they could strike it out on their own were rounded up and returned to the capital and hanged for their crimes. Long Feng was among those. Ustad's grandfather was among those who realized it was unity that would save the Dai Li.
It was now up to the Earth King, a warrior and a brutal tactician. Iruei spoke after a short wait, "Welcome home. I see the ways of the Dai Li haven't changed since my grandfather ruled this kingdom."
Ustad knew this was the time to respond, "But we have, your liege. We have paid the price for our treachery, we have learned from it."
"Indeed. Were it not for the precarious situation of the war, I might have sought a more 'aggressive' approach to your return. But I understand the value of forgiveness. Many of your order were hunted down and paid with blood for their crimes."
The message was clear; Iruei's mercy was for Tala's sake and only because of her. Iruei always had a message in his actions. Sparing the Dai Li was its own about priorities. Ustad and Li gave a slight bow, acknowledging the message.
Iruei turned his attention to Tala, "Avatar Tala, you have formally mastered the elements, yes?"
"I have, but I was relearning firebending when Rishu was wounded."
"Still, you hold a level in all elements rivaled only by masters, I believe this qualifies you to take the next step in your path as the Avatar. Learning to master the Avatar State and mediate the affairs of the world."
"If that is your will, my liege."
"It is. We need a fully realized Avatar to end this great conflict and return the world to balance."
"Where would the Earth King recommend I start this next step?"
"With the Elder Sage who helped you enter the Spirit World. He had known Avatar Korra and learned from her."
"Thank you," she gave a bow as she turned to depart.
"I must give you warning though. Your family's arrival here in Ba Sing Se is unwelcome. The scars and wounds from that time are still deep in this city."
She nodded as she left with her father and uncle.
The trek to the small mountain that held a temple for the Avatar was simple but long. One of the few mountains within the city, it was just within the Great Outer Wall and at its peak could look over it.Tala wondered how many Avatars had studied here. Kyoshi was known for her preference to her homeland, but many Avatars would still have visited, also to learn if they came from another nation.
Tala and her escort looked up the base of the Temple. It was a smooth slide to the top. This was to ensure only earthbenders and those who were permitted could enter. A valid security in the old days. That made Tala wonder how the Elder Sage got up, the old man shook when he spoke, she could hardly imagine him working an earth escalator.
In two groups, they worked their way up to see the frail but wise old man waiting for them. He smiled at her, "It is an honor to have an Avatar grace our presence."
Despite his kindness, his tension could be felt. His eyes gave his story, he didn't care much for the Dai Li either.
"We have a lot of work and little time, Avatar Tala."
Tala sat down in the dark room as two agents waited at the door. Across from her was the decrepit aged man. Sitting down by candlelight, Tala waited for the Sage to speak. The man breathed in heavily before speaking, "As you know, there are several methods for Avatars to reach their past lives and control the Avatar State. I am a personal advocate of self-control."
"How would that help?"
Tala felt the earth shake beneath her she looked to see a massive statue levitate in the air. She didn't even realize that it wasn't part of the ground until it was removed.
"Would you expect me to be able to lift that when I am so frail and old?"
Tala answered honestly, "No, master, I would not."
He smiled, a few teeth missing, "Self control expands your abilities beyond what the eye assumes. Learn to expand your own power, as the Avatar, you will be capable of much more than just lifting a statue." he blinked and the statue dropped back into place.
"Where do we begin, master?"
"We start with emotions. What I have heard and what I have seen corroborates what I judge to be great control of yourself, however, your baser emotions tend to get the better of you. It has worked out for you, but it can be stifling in the future. Taking your anger out on anyone can cloud your sight in more ways than just the physical. You must learn to make those emotions options, like the others you so easily control. Make them docile."
Tala responded with cold detachment, "Curious, I was under the impression that the Avatar was supposed to understand humanity by feeling what men felt. Yet it seems that to complete the journey that you must let go of the very bonds that make you human."
"An amusing contradiction, yes, Avatar Aang declared this the purpose of a human as the Avatar and not a spirit, though he refers this wisdom to a long past Avatar before him. Now to begin."
Street of Steel
The lesson ended late into the night. Tala mused on the impatience of those who had driven them to the temple. Leaving them at the temple with a darkened sky meant they had to walk. From the temple, they were able to navigate a direct route to the Palace. Now they just had to walk it.
Much of the city was dark. Unlike Republic City, most turned off the power when the night came. Tala didn't know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. The column of ten continued on through the dark night.
Tala wondered if this was what it was like for the Dai Li when they patrolled the streets of Ba Sing Se when it was theirs to command. They kept an iron grip on the city and personally kept a check on any threats to their rule.
Now the exiles returned home and were walking the lonely streets in something less than solace but not quite discord.
Silence did not mean isolation. The Street of Steel was a hub of life and industry. It was always alive, even now, but tonight was a special occasion. Abandoned, the long street was taken by the Avatar and her Dai Li escort, eyes watched hungrily, relishing the opportunity that was coming.
Tala's hair was on edge as it stood on the back of her neck. Something made her uneasy, she had been that way ever since she felt better, that is to say, since she really entered the city. When she came with Rishu, she was in a daze, weak and uncaring of her environment, desperate to survive and save her teacher.
Now, with a clear head, she was on edge. Her heritage was public news, and it was used like a weapon to judge her. The people of Ba Sing Se hated her kind and she only received nominal pardon for her status as the Avatar. The lack of rest in her mind, the insecurity was a blaring alarm to get out. If only she had listened to it sooner.
The faint singing of steel was the only warning. Plinks of metal canisters hit the ground and blinding light took the dark street. There were no war cries or furious yelling, just the ring of steel being unsheathed.
The Dai Li had reacted instinctively and shielded themselves from the blinding grenades. They stood at the ready as the shadowed figures rushed in. They wore black suit that were meant for agility and combat. Each used a pair of weapons that almost seemed unique. Most important and identifying were their headgear. Each wore a distinctive mask that had exaggerated and often grotesque features, from wide eyes to fanged teeth. It was the identity of their order, the Spirits.
Tala charged forward, she had never faced these infamous assassins, but she had received reports of their incursions and their styles. Ruthless and deceptive. They always preferred underhanded tactics.
They showed no mercy, neither would Tala. She punched her rock gloves forward to the two first spirits. One blocked with his clubs but the other had his heart crushed with the impact of a stone bullet ripping at his chest.
Tala focused on the one who blocked, a red masked club wielder. Spinning the weapons in hand, he gave a vicious swing that would knock out whoever it hit. Tala ducked under the strike with the tip of her hat just centimeters from the club. An uppercut with her rock glove dove into the screaming mask, denting it.
She went for his ribs in the next flurry of strikes, too close for him to use his clubs and too fast for him to stop her. She heard rib after rib crack but didn't stop until he hit the ground, certain he would fall to his internal injuries.
The fight seemed to go the same for her comrades. Each was facing down multiple opponents, but were she fought alone, they worked in pairs, changing opponents and tactics at a moment's notice.
Tala saw the downside of not being fully immersed in her people's culture, solitude. She had no one to cover her back in it all. Her father, her uncle, all of them could count on another, but not her. She didn't hold it against them, she was the Avatar, it was her destiny to be alone.The high note of metal coming her way came from up high. A leaping attack from a Spirit in a mask of metal swung at her. He carried two large curved blades that were uncharacteristic of Ba Sing Se.
The deep curves of the bladed came searching for her neck in a scissor cut. Tala had no time to summon a wall. She lunged her hands forward and caught the crossing blades with her hands. She winced at the pain, her gloves had mitigated the depth, but still she bled from the powerful strikes with clear lines of blood on each palm.
She would love her grip if she let the assassin take the first move. She gave a vicious kick into his chest continue the tempo of the fight as she came forward. She let the pain in her hands burn, for pain induced fear, and fear induced the instinct to survive.
With inhuman strength, she crashed her rock glove into his chest, but the Spirit still stood and back flipped from her next hit. In a storm of metal, the spinning blades came after her again. Tala created a wall of stone behind her and dove into it with all the force she could muster. She spun sideways as the blades followed her into the stone.
She stepped out of the wall and went on the attack again, only this time covered in an armor of rock. The Spirit of Metal ducked and rolled under the attack and took a step back. Assessing the Avatar, he knew that she was powerful and smart enough to not let her pride get in the way.
The Spirit charged again but tucked low and pun his swords at ankle height. Tala's fists came down like a hammer after the nimble fighter.
Avoiding each other's attacks, they attacked and parried again. Unequal and yet equal in combat, the two carefully assessed each other while a battle raged around them. Circling like birds coming for the kill, they waited for the other to move, to blink.
TO BE CONTINUED...
- As evidenced by the statue, the elder sage is much more powerful than his failing body would imply.
- Tala will have an easy time with the lessons the sage is giving. Her Dai Li past gave her a head start on controlling emotions.
- The curved swords of the Spirit who is fighting Tala best resemble Arakh's of A Song of Ice and Fire, but they also fit the Zhang Tribe leader's sword from TLA, though a bit more refined.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
Storms of the Future Cycle
|The Journey of Tala|
|Book 1 - Sand and Steel|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 2 - Blood and Swamps|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 3 - Pyres and Storms|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Fates and Vows|
|- - - - - - Ilera - Solace Fade - Scions - Sovereign|
|The Rise of Lirin|
|- In the Morrow - The White Dragon - Faith in Blood - The Great Gates - Lord Avatar - A Red Sun - Faceless - Faction - Tempest - Rally of Crows - Rally of Eagles - Dragons and Serpents - Kings and Men - Storms of a Spirit - Princes - A Battered Land - Seas of Ichor - Arbiter - Return to a Grave - Declination - Disaffection - Epilogue|
|Myths of the Empire|
|Pacification - Assassins - Empire - Red Sun Under The Empire - White Snow - Heirs|
|The Reclamation of Arein|
|Book 1 - Chaos|
|Refugee - Rogue - Ghosts - Dark Roses - Doyen - Divulgence - The Plan - Abscond - Mists of Illusion - Madonna - Syndicate - Playing the Stakes - Purge - Brothers|
|Book 2 - War|
|Alliance - Temple - Tensions - The Fall - Hunters and Prey - Lussuria - Shades of Relevance - Broken Star - Defiler - Strikeforce - Secrets of the Lair - Eminence - Swarm - Wanderer|
|Dreams of Melasa|
|Book 1 - Servant|
| - - - - - - - - - - - - -
|Book 2 - Shadow World|
|Faint but Clear - Ghost in the Steel - Kurotama - Loyalties - Servants of Shadow - Game of Fate - Shadows and Reflections - Tomb of Blood - Broken Blades - Hill of Shadow - Souls and Swords - Home|