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Pyres and Storms
April 16, 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 14: Falling Seasons
When the air cools and ice bites more than snow, it is a time to smile and hold your loved ones in the warm fire. When in war, the fire is not so comforting, it brings dismay and loss, for it reminds you of the void.
Still it was the virtue and honor of soldiers to stand their ground in this torment. The motive for holding their posts varied to every man. Some for honor, for love, others for money and power.
The Seasons were such a group. Money was what brought them together, money is what kept them moving. That isn't to say that the Seasons didn't have honor, many times they were offered better contracts than they had made but never had they betrayed their word. It had ensured them the most prestigious jobs and their reputation was unprecedented.
But even an honorable mercenary who took pride in their work and record had his limits. The muttering of men reflected this. Muttering between a waterbender and his lightning generator was just one among many, "Look, I get the whole 'Keep the contract' business, its jacks up the price on the jobs, but we are here freezing to death."
"We've done that in worse, remember Sulon?"
"Yeah, but magic trees weren't killing us either! You ever get hit by a moving tree?"
"Yeah, but a bulldozer knocked it over me that time."
The mercenary chuckled before continuing, "Well, these ones are moving themselves." The waterbender quivered as he kept talking while next to the heater. Even though most of the Seasons had buildings, the outposts for scouts were outside and had to manage in tents. This duo got the short straw that night. "You really want them to sneak up on us while we're out here shivering?"
"We won't have to worry about want, because they'll all hear you bickering!"
Just about to come to blows as friends do, they were interrupted by a man they all feared, "Gentlemen, please, keep the silence down. We don't want to attract them to us."
"Sir," the two were in awe. The Shadow Wind rarely presented himself, and only to the worthy to learn his skills. He personally trained all the captains and commanders of the Seasons. Vurmaq may be the only one capable of beating this assassin, and many had arguments about which would win that fight.
"This was not a well placed outpost. Come on, I think I found a better one up in a corner room."
The two followed after worries about abandoning post, something their captain did not take lightly. He assured them that he had cleared it. Back nearly a block and up seven stories, they took a bombed corner.
While open to the elements, enough buildings were present to mitigate the wind and make the heater effective in keeping the temperature survivable.
The Shadow Wind looked out over the sector of the siege lines. It was previously secure until fiendish creatures appeared out of nowhere and began harassing the invaders of the city. The Seasons had only lost ten to the monsters so far, but they were demoralizing. Hundreds had been injured and the creatures purposefully maimed over killed and ran through the heart of their camps.
He knew that the men were questioning loyalty to a contract that didn't address these monstrosities. That was why he was there. His quiet presence was for morale, because fear was worse than any wound these men could take on the battlefield.
"Sir, think we're gonna finish this soon?" The firebender inquired while making a small flame in his hand to warm them.
"Yes," he breathed the cool air through his keffiyeh, "There is a change in the air. It tells of something great happening. What it is, I am not sure, but I feel that it will be of far greater importance than most of this war has."
Tala smiled as the door opened and two people stepped out. The first was Lieutenant Lira, here to see her husband, the next was Liam, to see her. He had sent letters weekly, but Tala had only begun to read them two days ago after the chaos of her arrival.
Rishu stood beside her to welcome the two. Well, technically one, Liam was head of Lira's security, as she was a Lady and husband of the Grand Marshal. Tala looked at her master, he was still pale even as he recovered from the attack that nearly claimed his life. But his eyes were as alive as ever, with the fury of a wounded animal.
After many useless formalities, Tala jumped into Liams arms, hugging him tightly. "You missed a good fight."
"I heard, too bad. I think I could have given those Spirits a run for their money."
"And then some," she chuckled as she tightened her hug.
Rishu walked Lira alone, "My love, any other woman would not have taken you running off with the Avatar alone so well. My mother made a habit of calling me everyday for a status update when she heard."
"Because you always cared about what she thought," Rishu almost laughed. Lira had a tense relationship with her mother to say the least. The Noble Lady wanted her daughter to marry well, she joined the Air Force instead. The only thing she was happy about since that day was the news that her daughter married the heir to the Fire Nation throne.
Rishu still thought it was odd. Older than his cousin, he was heir by blood. Ma-Tin had yet to marry and still no children, not even illegitimate. He knew what tore at litte 'Tin's heart but had no words or wisdom to heal her, not this time.
Lira slowed her pace, "Rishu, I have felt changes of late. I was not sure at first, and I was hoping not after the injuries I received at Jade Mountain but," she placed a hand on her stomach lightly, "I am with child."
Rishu stopped, looking down. He didn't know how to respond. The master in him knew it was wise to congratulate and celebrate, but it was artificial. Another part, a child almost was near bursting with emotion. A child, a son to raise and hold. To smile and teach and take through the world.
Lira put her hand beneath his chin, lifting it up, "Don't worry, my love. It will be well. Our child, our son, will be beautiful."
Rishu hugged his wife tightly. His fathomless eyes quivered and the stars that possessed them momentarily disappeared.
A Modest Proposal
Qatil sat at his desk in quiet study. He wanted to end this war, his men were on the breaking point. He could personally infiltrate the fortress and end it himself if necessary. He would not let the Company he spent years forming break because of one siege.
Rumbling hit the ground and yelling as well. He heard guards outside call for backup. He stood up and pulled out a Sai, waiting for the inevitable.
The shaking hit the building and wooden claws dug into the doorway. A head burst in soon afterwards. Vile wood glowing a sick viridescent with glowing eyes and maw. Tearing the foundation to make it into the room.
The creature stood now before him, resting three of its limbs like trunks while the fourth held someone.
"Let go of me, you infantile beast!" Vurmaq raged at the beast as he was completely incapacitated by its grip.
"Are you hoping to force me into some kind of deal, creature?" Qatil spoke with no emotion, good or bad.
A faint whisper emanated from the thing before him, "You are a powerful bender and you have the element of life on your side, for none knows you exist."
"Flattery will get you nowhere."
"It is these skills that make your company admirable. You have applied your very core to a group of cutthroats. I have use for such skills."
"Until the Siege of Omashu ends, my services are unavailable."
"Oh, it will end. With your help in breaking it."
"I am afraid that I have a reputation and my honor and a contract on this siege. I will not break that."
"Even for a chance at Hava Jinorra?"
His eyes dilated and narrowed, "What would my uncle matter in this?"
"He abandoned you, just like the rest of them. I have read your life, truly read it. I know what happened that night. Your master discovered you were pretending to be a firebender to learn the forms. When he confronted you, nothing you did could dissuade him. You had no choice but to kill him, but still you were called a murderer and a disgrace to your people. Shunned and exiled by your own mother and the uncle who raised you like a son."
The soft whisper that somehow emerged from the foul beast continued in its captivating tune, "I can give you the moment you have waited for. Hava will come to fight the King of Omashu, he has no choice. He will not expect you, and that will be your great moment to slay him. To prove you are the greatest airbender alive."
Qatil may have been enticed, but he still was wary, "Why would I risk it all for your sake? This is for your benefit, not mine."
"I will give the Seasons their own lands to rule, and affirm your status in history. You will have a great legacy that will not be forgotten."
"Don't think sweet words will work on me, witch. I have been to lands where the living rot and death grows. I have seen your kind enough to know you could care less about me. And I am not so arrogant to think that I could kill Hava and live, it would be my death too."
The beast smiled in a twisted fashion, impressed. This assassin was truly a marvel. Restrained and humble, he didn't let ego cloud his vision. It would take more than that to win him.
"What if I could assure your victory over him?"
"I can give you the power to face the great airbender, one to one, and stand over his corpse."
"How can you guarantee that?"
"The same way I can guarantee that this tree could rip your beating heart out before you could make a single cut. Your powers are infantile to me, amplifying them is simple for my kind."
Qatil breathed in reflection. The power to kill Hava. It would not be his victory then, would it? But what did that matter, if he always hid from him, unsure of success and so avoiding it. What was more important to him? Honor or victory?
Deep Yet Hollow
The deep yet thin cut possessed his entire vision. He rubbed his thumb by it, it was still healing. She never let anything heal properly.
She had to live such a hard life for the sake of others. She told them how she hid how she broke her fingers in order to keep learning earthbending at a fast rate, no matter the pain or damage to her hand. She never told anyone until she told him.
"Liam, it'll be fine!" Tala got his attention.
"I should have been there for you."
"Your presence would not have changed it."
"Yes, I could have, you should never have fought alone or with so few as you did before. Tala, you deserve more."
Tala chuckled lightly as if he were a child, "The Avatar is a lonely and lofty status. It grants great power and great honor, but its luxuries do not afford relaxation and comfort. Pain and forsakenness by the world are my paths."
Liam was about to counter, but Tala put a hand to his cheek, "Words will not change what has passed. You can not change my destiny, no more than I change yours."
Tala leaned in and kissed him, "Don't live for the past, for it only haunts you. Live for now and tomorrow."
Tala sat cross-legged as Rishu entered the green office that had been adapted for him since his arrival in Ba Sing Se. Rishu sat across from her, they were soon joined by Lira. Tala may have not like the Sky Dragon Lieutenant much, but she had earned her respect on Jade Mountain.
"Thank you for seeing me, master."
"The honor is mine, Avatar. What is it you wish to speak with me?"
"I must be blunt. Am I ready to face Lenet if I must alone?"
Rishu did not immediately answer. He looked at the stones that made the floor before looking into her emerald eyes with his fathomless pits, "No."
"As I feared," there was no despair in her voice, she had known the answer before she asked. "I am afraid that I will not learn enough to master the arts necessary to defeat her, not at this rate."
"What can I do to accelerate my learning?"
"There is nothing you can do." He then traded looks with Lira who nodded in agreement, "mastery requires time and practice. There is however an alternative to giving you skills that you have already experienced."
"How is that possible?"
"The same way Avatar Aang and Korra did before you."
Rishu nodded and stood up, "Rise."
Tala stood up facing the Black Dragon. Fear returned where trust was growing. The last time he bent her energy, he gave her visions of things that haunted her so much that she locked them away in a labyrinth.
Just the thought of it was enough to bring terror to her heart. Could she go through that again? The pain, the burning, that face that looked on her so malevolently.
Two hands reached for her. She calmed her breath, it wasn't about what she could or couldn't do, it never was. The Avatar was the role of sacrifice and that meant sacrificing yourself, and your security for others.
Two thumbs pressed against her, one on her chest and another on her forehead. A burning sensation that made her sweat, not for the heat but for the memory, spread from the two points of contact.
Rishu's eyes glowed a dark color that seemed somewhere between purple and black. But all identity of his face disappeared as visions swirled and the world at her feet obscured.
Things flooded through that she hardly had the time to decipher any of it. Visions of things that had happened but from his eyes. Memories, life.
Then came what she needed, the weapon. It came in a cryptic lessons in a cave. "The void is great, but the light will always conquer darkness. It is your light that you harness and wield like a weapon if necessary."
A black tendril came from the dark cave and touched her forehead, or was it Rishu's? White light took her and she saw it. Power, such power. The body was a vessel for the soul, and the soul was the power.
Her vision cleared, and Rishu stood before her. He smiled, but something was off. Lira seemed to notice it too.
"Now I am ready to defeat the witch."
"Perhaps. I may have given you the weapon, but that doesn't mean you're a master. I fear that it won't be enough. That's why I'll be there at your side."
Tala gave a bow of respect. Rishu had kept his word throughout everything she had experienced. He was cunning and manipulative, and yet kind and soft. It was hard to picture the two worlds in one man, but that is what he was.
She hoped they would live long enough for the answer to that riddle. She turned to leave when she looked at Lira, who had remained calm and collective, "By the way, congratulations. I am sure that both of you are very happy."
Neither had told anyone, but Lira suspected it was the powers Rishu gave her that divinated the truth. She smiled widely, "Thank you."
Lira's amber eyes shined. Tala thought on how she had treated Lira all this time. It was wrong, she had her part to play, and she was protective of her love. It was only natural that she feared the Avatar would kill him. Lira was not her enemy, she never was.
Exhaling unsteadily, he put an arm against the desk to steady himself. He had exerted himself too much. He kept up the facade for the others who were already worried about his recovery, he didn't need them to fear relying on him, this was too critical of a juncture.
When Lira left, he finally let his body answer the pain. Grunting and nearly keeling over. He wiped his forehead to find sweat. It was a troubling sign, since the attack, he had been sweating. The last time he sweat before the attack was on the Day of Sozin's Comet.
The danger was severe, and now more than ever. They were in serious straits that they could not turn from. He had a duty to fulfill and he would see it through, if it was the death of him.
Grey eyes looked over the city. This was a dangerous move, the others better do their job or else they would be slaughtered. He looked to his friend and partner, "Are we ready?"
"Yep, just waiting for the signal."
"What about the Wolves?"
"Don't know, they are further back and I assume they are still with them."
"Hmm," he wasn't sure if that was good or bad. The Wolves were a rising company with a record almost as stellar as the Seasons for its short lifespan.
At last, the signal came as roars of demons permeated the street of New Omashu, it was time. The test had come.
The call came in for reinforcements from the Seasons. They answered it. The men and women who formed the Seasons were as various as the cities and nations of the world. Each was a master of their own form or weapon. Firebenders, metalbenders, sandbenders, swordsmen, archers, explosives. Any weapon, they had a master.
As they approached, chaos reigned. In the forefront was a stone beast that razed the siege. Firebenders attacked with futility as the flames just licked and died against the stone carapace of the demon.
A trio of Earth Kingdom soldiers joined the fray and sent damaging boulders after the beast, cracking its body. Their success was halted when a docile tree waving in the night wind became a nightmare that targeted the stone throwers with malicious rage.
Roots speared through one's body with disgusting violence as the beast rose. Stone came crashing onto it to no effect. A foul grin from the grimy green monster could make men sick.
Soldiers were getting demoralized as their efforts were fruitless and they were beat back by the devious monsters. They then saw the Seasons coming from behind the monsters and rallied.
They were horribly shocked when they charged pass the beasts and attacked them instead. Bolas, arrows, darts and the elements came crashing after them. Falling like dominoes, Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom soldiers were cut down by merciless warriors of fortune.
The shock broke the men and they turned to flee. A few held their ground, mostly their best and their officers covering the retreat of their men.
They were strong and persistent and began taking down the vanguards. Now it was time to test her promise.
Sprinting forward to join his brothers-in-arms, he leapt up and gave a kick often used for streaming flames. A wave of sharp air cut after an earthbender who was sending selective burrows to bury mercenaries alive.
Like an ax for the neck, the hit severed its target with clean ease. Indeed, she had kept her promise, while powerful, Qatil would have needed to exert more force for such a hit on any other day. With this power, even Hava would have no chance to stop him.
To further test it, he attacked again. Two firebenders were trading between defense and offense. A high sidekick with a downward slice sent a cross of funneled air at the two. It forced them apart and they easily spotted the threat. Not waiting for ceremony, the first attacked with all he had, a powerful bolt of lightning came after him. Blue and white sparks nearly blinded him as he sent a horizontal cyclone for the attack. Like a barrier, the storm shot crashed with the wind creating a burst of energy that vaporized anything in its radius.
Using the blinding light, he charged forward. His hands reached in his belt for some rarely used but effective weapons. As the stunned firebender got up woozily, he did nothing to stop the flurry of steel stars that passed through his body. When they should have lost momentum and hit the ground, they turned and circled back for their master as if the wind was commanding them, for it was.
The second officer respond with a clearer head. A flurry of fire fists kept Qatil bobbing and weaving. He was able to do so until within reach, where a whip of flames came crashing after the powerful assassin. With the agility known to belong only with airbenders, he danced around the concentrated stream and came in close.
Blocking a punch with one hand, he sent the other into his chest with an orb of condensed air. When it touch the man's chest, a violent expulsion from his back followed as gore covered the few feet behind him.
He let the lifeless body fall to the floor. The power was good, it gave him a thirst to use it. True to the word, the thing that was allied with King Urri had given him power enough to kill anyone, power to kill his greatest betrayer, Hava.
Break of Tide
Tala sat with Liam across from Rishu and Lira. The Earth King sat at the forefront of the table as dinner was served. There was laughter as Iruei regaled them with tales of his youth. Tala laughed when he told them the story about playing earth soccer in the Lower Rings and got mugged.
It was a merrier moment here in Ba Sing Se, which had been tense. Liam's presence made a world's difference. His confidence and certainty brought something she hadn't seen since Hava was training her.
Happiness, that's what it was. It was easily used, but rarely did it so accurately define a state of her life. She was happy, but time was always against joy.
Rishu looked away with a look of forlorn vision. His eyes looked into nothingness and yet saw something terrible. Soon, a trespass on the others' mind stopped them and drew them to Rishu, "What is it?"
"Something is wrong," He looked to the Earth King, "Where is your war room?"
The small group walked to the packed room that coordinated the Earth Kingdom forces of war. Iruei looked to a colonel, "What is happening in Omashu?"
"Nothing, my liege, the siege continues."
"Where is Prince The Snowbold?"
"At Iseran, a day's ride from the siege."
"Get him on, at once. In the meantime, get me General Siil."
"Yes, my lord."
Uneasiness emanated from the Grand Marshal as they waited. The colonel spoke in alarm, "Sir, the line has been cut. We have no communication to the war offices of the siege."
"Get the communications and supply offices."
Another officer answered after about five minutes, "They're not responding either, sir."
"Then get me someone who will. Contact the Fire Lord, get me a line through them."
Rishu joined the officers as he took a line to contact Capital City.
Rishu sat listening as a report came in. Another officer, a liaison for the Fire Nation, spoke, "Sir, the Seasons have betrayed us, they have routed the siege."
"Impossible, they number more than a thousand, how could they rout thousands?"
"The mercenaries companies combined with them, as well as the demons that have been plaguing the siege. The armies of Omashu have marched, the siege is broken."
"Where are the forces?"
"Heading west to Iseran. The reports aren't good, they are broken and slaughtered."
Iruei spoke, "We shall send reinforcements, with the Royal Guard at their head."
Rishu responded, "I shall assemble the Dragons and what forces we have to join you at Iseran, with your leave."
"Be swift, Rishu, we can't let Omashu get out."
The Black Dragon nodded and turned for the doors. Tala, Liam and Lira joined him. As he walked, Rishu gave commands to Liam, "Get all the Dragon Commanders up to speed, marshal them all at Iseran." He then looked at his wife, "Lira".
"I shall head to Iseran at once."
"No," the denial was firm. "You will call the Fire Lord and inform her of the situation, after which, you will then return to Capital City."
"I am a Dragon Lieutenant and an officer of the Air Force. If the Dragons are called to war, I must go," Lira was shocked at Rishu response but was firm in her belief.
"Not this time, my love," he looked her in the eyes before placing a hand on her stomach. Lira relaxed her shoulders in defeat.
The Grand Marshal then looked to Tala, "Avatar, we must go to Iseran with all haste. The Snowbold will need every man if we are to contain this disaster. I ask that the Dai Li join us."
"You will have it," Tala would make it so, even if they disagreed.
"Then we are reaching the end. The war shall soon be decided and the fate of our world with it."
Tala followed with Liam as they shared worried glances. Rishu had been weakened greatly, in the past, she would have had no doubt that he could crush the enemy, but now?
Omashu was unleashed. All the mercenaries had betrayed them, and the witch was at their side. Could they stop them. Rishu had not recovered yet, could he fight? What if he failed? What if she failed?
- The final battle begins.
- Rishu could feel the change of the war all the way from Ba Sing Se, that is not an ability natural to any human.
- What Kuir was doing at Iseran will be revealed in Fates and Vows.
- Tala can now energybend, but as Rishu stated, she is no master.
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|