|More from Sep0815||Adventure||PG-13||None yet||~weekly|
|Into the Desert|
Into the Desert is the fifteenth chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
Near Misty Palm Oasis, the warden attempts to pleasure himself at Kabura's costs, which Shizon prevents. Later, he is punished for it with torture.
In the Northern Air Temple, Senqok and Zoruka make a plan to escape when the latter is taken for interrogation, in which they then succeed. After capturing an official's/officer's wagon near the Air Temple, they decide to journey to Misty Palm Oasis to free their comrades.
Chapter 15: Into the Desert
The three camelephants slowly stepped onto the sand, their wide feet preventing them from sinking all too deep into the loose sand. The middle one differentiated itself from the other two just by its mount: two, instead of just one, sat on the saddle between the humps - Senqok and Zoruka. The other two were mounted by two men, respectively, both clothed in long robes, likely hiding armour underneath, and bore weapons, namely broadswords. Together with their overall appearance, the two locals made a threatening impression. The dunes were all the same - loose sand on the sunny side, sparse bunches of grass, sometimes even dry bushes, on the other. They were ascending a dune's sunny side, and as Senqok looked up in the sky, he noticed, much to his dismay, that the sun was in its zenith, and burned down with all its might, the heat it radiated also being reflected by the soil. Nonetheless, and that was what the waterbender, being born in quite the opposite to such a climate, appreciated, they kept moving.
"See? Far better than if we had killed those two instead of hiring them." Zoruka whispered into his ear. As she had to lean forward for no one else to understand her words in these already tight surroundings, Senqok was reminded why the firebender had decided to sit behind her Water Tribal comrade - too close was the physical contact between the two. He quickly shook those thoughts off before they developed further, and focussed on defending his distrust towards their guides when hiring them instead of killing them and taking their camelephants.
"Just you wait, just you wait... You'll regret trusting them." was what the warrior answered, discreetly pointing at the sword the rider in front of them carried.
"Yes, but why murder them when there's dozens of witnesses around?" inquired Zoruka, once again having to lean forward. She was shushed by Senqok almost immediately, partially because of him being ashamed of his poor decision, partially because the rider in front of them had reached the dune's ridge and signalled the others to halt, himself turning around.
"It's time we get adequate payment, eh?" The rider in his wide and long robes jumped off his mount, and precautiously laid one hand of his on his sword's hilt, his comrade mirroring his actions.
"But... we already gave you the money we got from selling our fairly stolen wagon!" Senqok got ready to leap off the beast and fight immediately as he spoke, knowing it was imminent.
"That's why we're talking about adequate payment." The other of the two rides had joined his comrade, and then added, commanding, "Dismount!"
Looking over his shoulder, Senqok looked at Zoruka, and both simultaneously nodded, before complying. The two stood next to each other, eyeing each other with concern, and their two guides with suspicion. The latter were discussing something silently, before the two parted ways - one headed for Zoruka, the other for Senqok. The former attempted to invade her private space by grabbing her waist, but didn't get any further, as he received a fireball directly into his barely guarded stomach, while his comrade unsheathed his sword, and readied himself to swing it down on Senqok, but once he was ready for this, his assigned victim had impaled him with his own sword. As Senqok dried off his sword's blade and sheathed it, the two headed back to their camelephant.
"You sure the sand will cover this up?" Zoruka asked casually as she resumed her previous place on the saddle.
"You really think someone would miss them, let alone search for them?" countered the waterbender right in front of her, as he cracked the beast's reins for it to proceed with the journey.
"Well... you never know." Zoruka argued, "But then again, we'll be out of here before anyone notices them."
In the very same moment, they passed the ridge, and revealed a sight that lacked any equals - a natural iceberg at the desert's edge, and though being mostly submerged under the ground, its tips still was enormous. The settlement around, consisting merely of some mud brick houses and a mud wall was less spectacular, naturally, but still it was the village that attracted the two comrades. At the gate, they dismounted, leaving the camelephants to themselves, and immediately began looking for some kind of housing. Wordlessly, they then approached the hostelry they had found. Swinging the door open, they found that even the dirtiest cells at the Northern Air Temple were sterile in comparison to the hostelry's interior. The smell of alcoholic brewages and of vomit prevailed inside, and would have been accompanied by mildew's smell as well, had it not been for the arid climate preventing the latter. Glancing at each other, somewhat disgusted and with risen eyebrows, Zoruka and Senqok approached what appeared to be the hostelry's bar. It seemed to be constantly occupied by several drunkards sleeping their intoxication off, amongst them, much to their surprise, an agent of the Grand Secretariat of the Earth Empire. Either way, the two shoved a few of the drunkards aside, and sat themselves on their seats to converse with the bartender more directly.
"So? What do ya want?" asked the bartender with the charm of a potato, himself smelling much like the brewages he served.
"You don't happen to rent rooms...?" asked Zoruka with a hint of fear and disgust.
"Unless ya wanna work for me... " The bartender motioned towards the other end of the quite extensive room, where a bunch of barely dressed people, mainly women and girls, were waiting before a red curtain. " ... 'fraid not. Now order something or get out."
Both shuddered in disgust as they got up from their bar stools and made their way to the door. Senqok was the first to word his surprise. "Misty Palm Oasis looked like a small, innocent village - I had no idea prostitution would spread even to such a place... "
"Well, think about an agent drinking on duty! I guess we're equally surprised, about different matters though." Zoruka decided to inspect the iceberg, speaking as she circled it.
"Speaking of which, we still need to find the prison Shizon and Kabura are held at," stated Senqok as he touched the ice, silently marvelling. "Simply going around and asking everyone would surely attract attention, and given that this seems like a place where everything can be bought, well... "
"We need a reliable source... I mean, we can't search it either, can we?" asked the Crown Princess rhetorically, looking at the waterbender through the transparent blueish ice. "How about the agent? He's all we've got around here of a trustworthy official."
"Well, and how do we get information from him?" Senqok suspiciously let his eyes dart forth and back, and, after assuring himself no one but Zoruka was watching, melted a piece of the iceberg and used it to fill his water skin.
"The same way they get information. Psychological torture." Zoruka's statement made Senqok shudder, but as he lacked any alternative, he decided to agree. The firebender smirked. "It's settled then."
Night had settled, and whereas Senqok had been the one tortured during the day with the enormous heat, it now was Zoruka, as the continental climate allowed a great temperature amplitude, in other words, as it froze at night. The two just had feasted upon the leftovers of the hostelry, which was sufficient for them to erase their hunger, and now had decided to conduct their plan of getting information. The two had masked themselves and further altered their appearance with robes originally belonging to their late guides, and now entered the hostelry. To their surprise, most of the drunkards they had seen sleeping at the bar during the day were most active now, the agent amongst them. He had sat himself in the corner near the red curtain, and had two almost undressed girls sitting on his lap, while he emptied a bottle of some brewage he had been served. The bartender seemed to ignore anything at this time of the day - he simply stood at the bar, stared nowhere in particular and cleaned a glass with a rag which would only make the glass dirtier. The two went right for the agent, aiming to seize him before he would fornicate, else they would barely be able to extract information from him. Senqok was the first to reach him, and immediately drew his sword to force the two prostitutes off the agent's laps. The two girls let out slight screams, and immediately retreated behind the red curtain, when the agent was seized by Zoruka, who simply grasped his arms, bound them together with her own might, forcing him to drop what he held, namely a bottle of alcoholic brewage and a pipe that slowly spread its smoke in the whole room. Without hesitation, but still picking up the smoke's smell, Senqok followed his firebending comrade outside. They led the agent outside the Oasis' wall, where the Crown Princess forced him to sit down with a fire dagger. She slapped the agent, who was shortly before falling asleep, to examine his eyes, before slapping him once more, this time on the left side of the face, as opposed to the previous slap on the right side.
"Now, you're going to tell us where the prison is, or you'll regret it, understood?" ordered Zoruka, pressing her fire dagger closely to the agent's throat.
"What... Prison?" The agent in his dark emerald uniform seemed genuinely confused.
"The prison where prisoners of war are held, prisoners of war captured during the Battle of the Five Armies! UNDERSTOOD!?" Senqok took over questioning him, and then sent a water stream at the agent's face, immediately bending the water back into the water skin of his.
"I know there's one in Gaoling- " Considering what the agent had consumed in the past days, his answers were of amazing accuracy, but unfortunately for him, his two interrogators wanted actual answers.
"There's one around here! But where exactly!?" Zoruka had begun burning the agent's facial hair - if she or the agent were to move abruptly, the latter would have certain difficulties breathing.
"Ah, that one, of course!" Realisation struck the agent. "From the iceberg, it's exactly one kilometre directly to the north. Now, if I may- "
"See? Wasn't too hard, right?" Senqok pressed his sword agains the agent's cheek as he attempted to rise, only barely enough to cut his skin. As his blood ran down his cheek, the agent's fear returned. Then, the waterbender sheathed his sword again, and commanded, "You never met us, understood?"
"You're learning." Zoruka remarked at Senqok's interrogation techniques, pursuing the running agent with a glare.
"Thanks, I guess..?" He was unsure whether or not to take it as a compliment. "Anyway, what was this agent smoking?"
"Oh, that? Opium." Zoruka resumed a serious tone. "We need to find that prison. Can you, uh, navigate using the stars?"
However, Senqok already had started doing his job. "What does it look like I'm doing? By the way- " He pointed in the direction of one of the Oasis' two gates. " -North's in that direction!"
The room was horrible enough when just one was inside, being tortured, but when there were two there it was the purest horror. Especially for Shizon, as he had promised to protect Kabura, and now was unable to do so. His healer comrade cried from pain as she was hit with a kind of club, before she dropped to the ground in a kind of foetal position, with risen arms to protect her face, as the soldiers' heavy boots came racing for her body. Upon each kick, she cried out a little, upon each kick, Shizon flinched. He was bound to a kind of table not unlike a torture rack, and forced to watch as his friend whom he had promised to protect was tortured. A few minutes it lasted, before the firebender was ripped from the table, and instead bound to a kind of chair with spikes on it. Having been whipped before, he was too tired, too exhausted to provide the movement, to provide the imbalance of weight necessary for the spikes to dig into his flesh. Noticing this, one of the five soldiers in the torture chamber took some cast iron object, strapped it to the arm rest, only to reveal it to be basically a screw made to crush the tortured one's hand. Before beginning to use it, he decided to start interrogating the firebender.
"So, ready to give us information already?" was his question. Shizon shot a quick look to Kabura, who was bound to the ceiling with an unclothed back, and surprisingly only the back being exposed, who looked over her almost dislocated shoulder to shake her head in response to Shizon's unspoken question. Looking at the torturer, Shizon shook his head with an emotionless face. The former then replied with starting to screw, speaking, "So be it!"
As the screw began to screw itself through his flesh, the spikes followed suit and, with the pressure from above, penetrated his skin and too dug into his flesh. While Kabura's cries of pain from being whipped already filled the room, Shizon's surely were clearly audible in the whole building. As he, out of reflex, attempted to move his hand away, he shifted more of his mass to his left side, and thus ruined the balance he himself had established, which resulted in the spikes around the area of his left upper leg and buttock too penetrating his skin. His reflexes struck once again, and he attempted to escape from it by straining the left side less, but it had the same effect on the right side. His cry of pain would have been deafening, had he not actually started crying. As he resumed his initial position, he looked at his torturer, who wore a twisted grin, with teary eyes, stating, "I already told you... I know nothing!"
"Wrong answer." spoke the torturer, tightening the screw, as Kabura's back slowly started to resemble a bloody field.
The two comrades' cries of pain joined and made all the soldiers back away for a second, when one of them, apparently their commander, ordered, "I think we can cease the ordinary torture. They really know nothing."
While the soldiers torturing Kabura obeyed instantly, and let her drop to the floor, Shizon's personal torturer decided to allow himself one last bit of malicious joy. He released the firebender from the seat, helped him up and then dug one of his fingers into the wound on his right hand, asking, "One last thing - what's your biggest irrational fear?"
Without hesitating, the red-haired prisoner answered, with eyes wide from pain. "Proximity!"
Without a further word, he was dropped to the ground, Kabura only one and a half metres away from him. He stretched out his hand, and she took it, managing to crook a smile at Shizon. Both of them let out sighs of relief as their wounds were dressed, though inadequate. All of sudden, Shizon was ripped from the ground again, and locked into an iron suit. Surprised, he at first had a brief panic attack, but then managed to normalise - or so he thought. Spikes came through the front and the back of the iron suit, narrowing down his safe space to about thirty centimetres in the middle. Coupled with his weariness, he was about to impale himself. Being aware of this fact, Shizon, whose pulse rose beyond good and evil, decided to bargain. "Please! LET ME OUT!"
His cry was not unheard. A soldier looked at him through the holes at eye height, mocking him by showing him the key to unlock the suit again, then asking, "And what will we get for it?"
Shizon slowly began to panic, but managed to contain it, despite showing it when speaking. "I don't know- JUST MAKE IT STOP! LET ME OUT OF HERE! TAKE SOMEONE ELSE!"
Playing dumb, the soldier outside inquired, "Whom shall we take?"
"ANYONE!" cried the firebender as his legs grew weak, "SPIRITS DAMMIT, TAKE KABURA!"
With a satisfied grin, the soldier unlocked and opened the suit in the moment Shizon fell, both physically and mentally devastated. Kabura, who was heaved on a soldier's shoulder, eyed him confused. "I'm sorry," was all Shizon could utter to the girl he had sworn to protect yet just now betrayed. "I'm so sorry... "
As he himself was lifted on some shoulder, he could see the pity in the healer's eyes. The whole way back to the cell was just more psychological torture, only to finalise in the deafening and gruelling silence in the cell.
The two-storey mud structure struck out of the surrounding desert and semi-desert even at night, despite being located in a small dell, being recognisable as a prison even in the little light the stars and moon provided.
"Well... I guess we could as well have searched for it with our camelephants." Senqok supposed, standing on the ridge of a dune, looking over the dell and the building in it.
"We could have." Zoruka, who appeared by his side, agreed, continuing arguing, "But then, we would've been spotted quite early on, for our beasts' size and the fact it still would've been day. Now, we can sneak in."
"That is," Senqok corrected his firebending companion, "once we've eliminated the guards. Can you take them out?"
"Of course. Give me a second." Zoruka ran ducked along the ridge until she stood facing massive building's entrance, and aimed at the two guards that stood on either side of it. She shot a powerful fireball towards one, the other one blowing some kind of horn before he joined his comrade. Senqok bolted for the door, but halfway there, Zoruka stopped him, ordering, "Follow me!"
They ran to the building's side and scaled the two metres to the lowest window, which the Crown Princess then simply opened with a fireball, then sliding inside, her warrior companion following. Much to the surprise of both, they hadn't entered a cell, but a kind of storage room, with masses of jars of an eerily green viscous liquid inside.
"Wildfire. Better not use fire in here." Zoruka remarked as Senqok decided to open the door with his bent water. He swung the door open, right into a running enemy soldier. He instantly unsheathed his sword, mercilessly swung it down on the man's throat, and left the almost beheaded soldier lying in the hallway, following Zoruka, who had taken off to the entrance, however, both stopped in their tracks and spun around when a cry of war came from behind. A soldier, armed with a naginata, lashed out at them viciously, only stopped by Zoruka's stream of fire, which burnt deep into his lungs, killing him.
"Why didn't we simply walk in?" Senqok asked as he noticed soldiers coming from both sides, swinging their respective weapons in the little space the corridor provided.
"They'd all come streaming to the source of the alarm. By taking another route, we could face the soldiers individually." Zoruka explained. The two fought back-to-back, impaling, cutting throats, burning lungs - whatever the situation called for, only that these soldiers seemed to have trained for fighting in close quarters, and made it hard for the two to cope with them. Thus, Zoruka added, "Apparently that failed."
While Senqok seemed to have less difficulty with his enemies, managing to eventually overcome them with his water-coated sword, Zoruka slowly noticed it was quite a challenge to defeat thus many foes, and therefore became angry. The two were confronted with seventeen soldiers, nine of them facing Zoruka, nine of them dying almost simultaneously - by a fire stream of a colour and power none of them, not even Senqok nor Zoruka herself, had ever witnessed. The blue fire shot through the corridor, consuming everything it could burn, leaving no survivors. Quickly shoving Senqok aside, the Crown Princess repeated her punch into the other direction, again slaying all adversaries in the direction she had aimed. Without further ado, the two then hurried to what seemed to be the entrance.
"Now... we need some kind of register... Oh, would you look at that! The armoury!" Senqok trailed off a bit as he hurried through the wider corridor with a table in its middle, right to the door on the other side, entering. Then, he briefly peered out again, pointing at the table. "That register is this book-thingy on the table."
Zoruka approached the book, and blindly opened it. As if her amazement at her blue fire hadn't been enough, she now was even more amazed at the fact she had opened the correct page of a book she didn't even know. Reading through the page, which was fittingly titled "Prisoners", she noticed something odd. "Senqok! Come have a look at this!"
The Water Tribal came bolting out of the armoury, carrying two Liberation Alliance uniforms, a crossbow with a quiver and Shizon's sword, and immediately hurried to the book. "Yeah? What is it?"
"These are the recently imprisoned... well, prisoners, with the cells they are held in, and well... all those names are just crossed out, but in two cases, the ink is fresh, still wet." Zoruka pointed at the two names, and both of them turned to look at each other, simultaneously saying, "Fuck," before hurrying, down the corridor. The names were "Kabura" and "Shizon".
The silence was yet to be broken when soldiers streamed into the corridor, once again, numbering four. One unlocked it and stayed outside guarding the door, two came in flanking the fourth - the warden. His scarred face was filled with anger and a kind of perverted lust. Shizon realised what he was about to do, and, having already stood up, attempted to shoot a fireball at him, but was stopped by a strong fist, which bound him to the wall. Kabura, now fidgeting as she already was in the firm grip of two soldiers, too recognised this combination, and, as if possible, was filled even more with fear. She was bound to the ground, and when the warden crouched to side, and spread her legs with his earthbending, both she and Shizon shouted, "NO!"
Shizon was dealt with simply by also binding his mouth to the wall, whereas Kabura was silenced by the sobs she let out as the warden began his final preparations. The next seconds were a blur.
"What cell were they again?" Zoruka asked as she jumped down the flight of stairs.
"One hundred one." Came Senqok's answer from in front of her. "Here's ninety one... ninety two... and there's- Oh fuck."
The sound of his sword being unsheathed and thrust at the guard at the only opened cell was all to hear, followed by the guard falling to the ground to drown in his own blood. Both of them hurried to the cell, they ran as fast as their feet allowed it. Senqok, having recovered his sword, was the first to enter, and, without a second thought thrust his sword into the somewhat kneeling soldier. It penetrated his skin at the lower back and, at a small angle, the blade made its way through the digestive system, disrupting it with severe cuts, up to the lungs, even piercing the trachea. Zoruka had picked the two guards this soldier, or rather, officer, had with him, for her list of killed foes, and committed it with two quick fire-jabs. Senqok drew his sword out of the dying officer's body again and took him by the shoulder to lie him on his back so he would die faster. The more he was surprised to find Kabura bound to the ground with earthen shackles, her already shabby dress cut so it would reveal her - still covered - so to say, most private regions. Shizon, who was bound to the wall, was freed by Zoruka with a few cuts of her fire daggers, which busted the earthen shackles, while Senqok used his blade to cut Kabura free. Whereas Shizon almost fell to the ground, only caught by Zoruka, Kabura struggled to stand, just as well as she was sobbing, and so, Senqok supported her by simply hugging her.
"I never thought you'd come to save us... " Kabura stated weakly as her teary of fear became tears of happiness.
"We'd do it anytime, right?" It wasn't Senqok who had answered, but Zoruka, who already had handed Shizon his uniform and weaponry, which Senqok too notice of.
"Of course we'd do it." He let the healer comrade of his lean to the wall, and handed her the uniform he had carried, as well as the crossbow and the quiver. "Now get dressed decently, we've got a prison to burn down!"
"So... that explains why both, this officer and the agent you mentioned, spoke of a third place, Gaoling... " Kabura had recovered enough to walk around, and was reading a letter, standing in the warden's office. Senqok, who had told her his and Zoruka's story before, shot her an inquisitive look as he placed a crate full of wildfire bottles under the desk. Kabura responded, "Ranju didn't make it out. She's in Gaoling Imperial Prison."
"If Ranju didn't make it out... " Senqok began as he opened a bottle of the flammable liquid and began pouring it on the ground as he walked, forming a kind of fuse, and waited for Kabura to follow him to continue. " ...see if you can find something on Noki."
"Already looked. All the information I could find was her supposed location on Fusang peninsula." Kabura followed, partially having to lean on the crossbow of hers. As her waterbender comrade laid out the liquid but viscous fuse down the stairs, having already completed the procedure in the first and second storeys, Shizon had done the same with the cellar and the ground floor, while Zoruka, having went for two camelephants, had made a pile of wildfire bottles where the fuses met, and poured a fuse to the entrance now that she had returned. Senqok's fuse had reached the pile, and as the bottle was nowhere near empty, he simply laid it atop it, and then followed Shizon outside, supporting Kabura so that she wouldn't hold them up. Once they had reached the dunes' ridge, and were overlooking the small dell, Zoruka shot a fireball at the entrance, lighting the fuze. Only seconds later, fireballs flamed up in the whole prison building, and explosions shattered the else robust walls, floors and ceilings, which caused the building to collapse into its former cellar. The fire, bright and of unidentifiable colour, had lighted up the whole surroundings and was what freed Kabura and Shizon of the last piece of imprisonment they still bore. After the dust, which had risen during the building's explosion and the subsequent collapse, had settled, the four turned around to the camelephants Zoruka had allowed to lie only a few metres down the dune. As the two only recently liberated ones were still quite weak, Kabura decided to go with Senqok and Shizon joined Zoruka. In both cases, the tortured one sat in front such as to prevent their fall. As the two couples had sat themselves between the massive beasts' bumps, the beasts rose from the ground again and began walking into the direction they were guided, south that was, to Gaoling.
"Senqok? May I ask you of a favour?" Kabura was the only one to speak as they silently passed through Misty Palm Oasis, the sky's eastern edge already showing a trace of red.
"Of course. What is it?" answered the warrior softly.
"I don't want to be such an easy victim anymore. We're all benders, you all can use your gift, but I - a bender - have to rely on weapons." Her explanation was enough for Senqok to know where she was headed. Kabura turned around as far as she could to face Senqok. "I want to learn to bend properly. I want to learn waterbending. Would you do that?"
Laying a hand on her shoulder, smiling, Senqok merely nodded, then adding, "Of course. You have much potential from what I have seen. You're agile and a great healer, not to think of what you'll be able to do with bending. I will teach you."
"Where are we headed, anyway?" asked Zoruka. She had no idea of the letter Kabura had found.
"Gaoling." came the answer, surprisingly from Shizon, who took out a letter that was just the same as Kabura's, likely a copy. "To free Ranju! We're getting our merry band back together!"
Notes and Trivia
- Dammit... influences from Game of Thrones, go away! No one wants you! And you too, damn Inquisition's influences! Begone, ye filthy ones, henceforth!
- Shizon's "personal" torture was inspired by Room 101 from 1984, set in a kind of iron maiden
- The Wildfire, especially its green colour, is a reference to the substance of the same name in Game of Thrones, and is quite similar to Greek fire.
For the collective works of the author, go here.