|More from Bomochu||Adventure/Drama/Tragedy||PG||None||No Update Page|
5 January, 2015
I sincerely apologize for the length of this chapter o_O ... It is by far the longest thing I've ever written, and it was supposed to also include everything in chapter 18 as well! But consider this and the next chapter like a 'season finale' of sorts, seeing as it marks about 1/3 of the way through book 1, and about 1/9 of the entire series (yes I did just say that... It's going to take me forever to finish SotN :/ haha). But thank you for sticking with it, and I hope you've enjoyed it so far.
"Bravery is not necessarily something that one is born with. Some are born with a tendency to be fearless in the sight of danger, while others must grow to be brave. I suppose I fall into the later; I was not a warrior when I left the Northern Water Tribe but I was a philosopher. However, through my adventures with my good friend Avatar Furuki, I suppose I did become a brave warrior of sorts." –From the Book of Tutorik.
After their brief training session, Miki had joined Saskha in devouring the turkey-gull they had been cooking all morning. Onartok still kept to himself, only eating his own blubbered seal jerky. It seemed even though Miki and the councilman had shared that brief interaction through combat training, he still had some sort of reason to keep away from the sisters. But it didn't matter; soon they would all be trekking up the mountain, and they wouldn't have any energy to spare talking to each other anyway.
Saskha and Onartok both dismantled the ice huts they had created, after collecting everything from inside. Filling all their packs to the brim, the four travelers began heading south once again. Onartok gave one final glance around the plateau, checking in case anyone was lurking behind a snow mound, or the few trees drenched in snow. Once satisfied, he turned and led the way up the mountain.
The air was much cooler the higher the group climbed, and all of them could feel the effects of the lower oxygen levels at higher altitudes. Miki's breaths were short, though she persevered, trailing behind Ulva and then the other two. Saskha herself was struggling to climb, though she turned around to check on her sister every now and again to make sure she was coping. Onartok still managed to keep a steady pace while climbing, though slowed at times to allow the others to catch up.
The first cliff face the four of them came to was three times as high as any they had climbed before. It took both Saskha's and Onartok's waterbending to form an icy platform for all of them to be carried up on, both of the waterbenders having trouble even bending in their tired and oxygen-deprived state. These mountains did rise quite high into the clouds, almost as high as some of the ranges near the Northern Air Temple. But nevertheless, the four adventurers from Manirak pressed on, taking much more frequent breaks than they had on the first day of climbing.
Orange and red sunlight announced their arrival at the top of the mountain range. They hadn't needed to climb to the summit of the largest mountain that they had seen on the first day, but instead chose another mountain that was much lower to climb up. Despite this, the sunset from this view lower down was still breath-taking. The golden bands of swirling clouds reflected the light from the sun so elegantly and beautifully. The obscured sun cast a violet lavender glow over the rolling clouds closet to them, almost like a fabric woven for royalty. The blend of the orange, yellow, red, pink, violet, and blue was truly mesmerizing, and the four travelers took a moment to marvel at nature's spectacular beauty.
Scaling down the mountain was even more treacherous than the way up; the sheer drops and slippery surfaces could easily cause someone to slide and fall down the mountains. Thankfully, the four had made it to a similar plateau to the one on the other side of the range that they had camped at last night. Seeing as it would be night soon, the group started setting up their ice tents again, preparing for some well-earned sleep. This flat stretch of land before the sheer decent of the mountain also harbored a small tarn, and the thirsty travelers were able to get clean water from it.
Miki used the remaining daylight hours to practice her fighting. Onartok had certainly been going easy on her yesterday, and this time employed a range of different attacks. Often he would spin and then strike, and sometimes try a kick or a punch along with the stick from yesterday. The young apprentice was struggling at first with this new difficulty, and still hadn't quite mastered her defensive forms by the end of the practice, but she had nevertheless improved tremendously over the two days of intensive training.
Catching her breath while sitting on a rock, Miki examined the club in her hands. It still felt strange holding it, since she still didn't consider herself much of a fighter. But somehow the weapon was growing on her, and in some ways her teacher too. Though his pan flute tomorrow morning was sure to change that.
The councilman joined his new student on a rock next to her own, "That weapon can disable an opponent, if you need it to," He began. Miki was slightly taken back by his words, though listened as he continued, "The weight of the ball at the end increases the force behind your attacks, and so when striking your opponent you need to make sure no move is wasted. You will tire yourself if you simply fling the weapon around and miss each time. But to disable your opponent, you would simply need to strike his arms or legs, potentially injuring their limbs and stopping them in their tracks." His expression changed into a more solemn one, "But we live in times of war, so if the time comes where you have to do more than just disable an opponent, you mustn't shy away from it. It is a deadly weapon you wield, so do keep that in mind as you practice. But enough of that," He added with a wave of his hands, "You have done very well so far."
Onartok stood up and stretched is arms, taking note of the darkening sky above them, "I might call it an evening. Don't stay up too late since we'll need our strength for tomorrow's descent." The councilman strolled over to his ice tent, using his arms to form another wall once he was inside.
Miki stayed put on the rock, shivering slightly from the freezing temperature. Onartok's words still lingered in her ears; how he had told her to 'not shy away' if she ever had to deliver a lethal blow. She had never thought about killing anyone, even when her father had done all those things to her. But Onartok did have a point; Miki knew she had to wake up and realize that they were in a war. It was a start finally learning how to defend herself, but perhaps she also had to be prepared to do what it took to keep herself alive.
"Hey," Saskha joined Miki on the same rock she sat on. "What's up?" She noticed her younger sister's anxious expression.
The young girl took her time to reply, "I was thinking about what councilman Onartok just said to me now."
Saskha frowned, "Has he said something mean? Man, if he is still acting like a jerk then--"
"No, no it wasn't that. It was just... He told me that if I ever had to kill someone than I shouldn't back away from it. He said that we live in a time of war, and I suppose he meant that killing is justified."
"Well, in some ways he is right."
"But..." Miki felt her eyes growing warm, though no tears had formed yet. "I don't want to have to make that decision. I mean, to take someone's life, enemy or not, it's a big thing."
"But our mission is a big thing too. We're trying to save all of those we left behind at home, and if we want to succeed than perhaps we will need to do whatever it takes. Even if that means taking a life." Saskha tried to reassure Miki.
Her sister sighed, a look of conflict and upset in her eyes. "But taking a life means they will never have a chance for redemption. And I have to believe that redemption is possible for everyone; I have made so many mistakes, people have died because of my powers. I have to believe that one day I will be able to use them for good. I have to believe that redemption is possible for even me."
"Miki," Saskha placed an arm around her sister, "You have done good. You saved Ulva right?"
"And Mom as well."
Miki turned away from her sister's embrace, "Well we both know what happened to her." She responded with a slight anger and frustration creeping into her voice. "She only lived for another two weeks after the accident. I may have pulled her from the water but I still couldn't save her anyway. And then there's what happened with father..."
Feeling her own eyes grow warm with tears, Saskha tried her best to respond to her sister's sorrow, "I can't believe only a week ago our father was still alive." She smiled fondly of his memory, even though his passing was still a raw wound for the girls. "But it isn't your fault that he's gone."
"I know, I know," Miki tried to stop her sister worrying. She turned her eyes back to Saskha's, noticing their icy blue color. Just like their father's. Yet her expressions and mannerisms were just like their mother's. It was almost cruel that Miki could see attributes of both her parents in Saskha, reminding her of her past mistakes that she still clung to the guilt from. But it was more than just feeling guilt for what had happened. With this dream she had, Miki couldn't help but feel that somehow she was meant to do something great, though she hardly felt she deserved to.
"I just... Want to do something good with my powers, not just hurt people. I know that I have, but sometimes I just feel like the bad outweighs the good. And after this vision and all, I just don't feel deserving to help find the Avatar because I'm still never doing anything good with what I have."
Saskha lovingly placed her hand over Miki's, gently squeezing it. "Miki, you're out here, in the middle of nowhere, searching for an Avatar to save a village you don't feel you can call home. That's doing good. It's not about your powers, or using them for good or bad. It's about your heart, and Miki, you have always had a compassionate and loving heart. You can fight for those who have even wronged you. Though if you feel that you haven't done enough good with your powers, than admitting so will only make you stronger. It's just like I told you when we were heading to the east coast; we make ourselves stronger by looking at our own weaknesses."
"I suppose you're right," Miki answered, a slight but saddened smile forming on her lips.
"What do you mean 'suppose'? I'm always right," Saskha jokingly punched Miki's shoulder. She quickly pulled her younger sister into a hug, holding her close to her heart. "But seriously, don't fret over this. I know this is a little scary; being in a war, having to learn how to fight. But you'll get there."
After leaving her sister's embrace, Miki looked out into the distance. It had been a hectic week for both of the girls; first the loss of their father, and now they were marching their way towards enemy territory. But after her sister's words, Miki felt as though some of her pent up feelings and fears had been released.
The sisters eventually made their way over to their ice hut, both of them preparing for bed. Saskha shut the door with a swipe of her arm, though left the roof open for a while to allow them to gaze into the clear and majestic starry sky above. Like scattered silvery-white embers, the stars sparkled against the oil-black sky, and as Miki continued to gaze at them she eventually drifted into sleep.
A woman lay in bed, a raised mattress which barely moved as if the occupant was dead. But she wasn't quite at the end of her journey yet, still clinging to whatever energy she had left like a survivor of a boat crash clinging to broken pieces of wood. A man sat by her left side, clutching her hand until his own knuckles were white. His eyes permanently filled with tears, as if they were a second lens over his pupil. He said nothing, only watching his beloved slowly wither away from her injuries. And then there was a girl, sitting next to the man. She too could not stop crying, her light blue eyes orbs of sorrow and anxiety. Lastly, another girl sat on the woman's right side. She was the youngest there, and she wept uncontrollably at the sight of the woman dying on the bed. Her dark, black hair was a mess, her eyes reddened and burning from the salty tears streaming down her cheeks.
"Mom," The younger girl whimpered like some defeated animal, fatally wounded by a hunter's trap. She repeated it a few times, but all to no avail. This process continued for another week, none of the woman's family members leaving her side. Healers would come into the hut, their hands glowing blue as they tried to guide her healing process. An infection, they had said. Their mother had broken out in a fever, something deadly inside her bloodstream that was slowly killing her. One only had to let their eyes trail down the woman's body to see the means of how the infection could have entered; her lower right leg was nothing more than a stump, the knee cap barely intact and wrapped in foul-smelling bandages.
Finally, the man and the older girl had left the hut, probably only for a short time to grab something to eat. The young girl held her mother's hand in her own, gently sobbing at the bedside. Over the last week, her mother had woken several times. Through her groaning and excruciating pain, they had managed to converse for a few minutes each day.
The girl's mother opened her eyes slightly, turning to see her daughter beside the bed. A small but pained smile formed from her lips, "Miki, you're here."
The girl nodded slightly in reply, holding her mother's hand even tighter. "I'm so sorry Mom."
The woman on the bed was taken back by what had been said. "What do you mean? What are you sorry for?"
Tears clouded the young girl's vision, "I couldn't save you. I pulled you from the water but now you're not getting any better! I can't seem to help you!"
"Oh Miki," The girl's mother wore a loving and warm grin on her face, her eyes radiating with love and affection for her daughter, "You did save me. You did help me. You gave me another two weeks to see your beautiful face. Even in this pained and broken body, seeing you and your sister and father every day brings joy to my heart, and tears to my eyes. Cry no more, my little polar dog pup." She rested a hand on her daughter's cheek, wiping the tears which trickled from her sore eyes. "Thank you for giving me that gift, I love you." After she uttered these words, the girl's mother slowly drifted into unconsciousness again.
The girl sitting next to her mother could only cry, wanting so badly for her to wake up again and speak to her. But her injuries were too great, and once the whole family was present the woman on the bed passed away later that evening.
Once again, Miki awoke to the sound of the pan flute. Though unlike yesterday, this song was one she knew. It was called 'Child of the Moon', a song usually sung for when a loved one had passed away. Though Miki and Saskha's mother had sometimes sung it to them, more because of the soft and beautiful melody of the song.
The woody sound of each note as it left Onartok's flute were like soft hands of a new born baby; once born from the instrument they were untainted and pure, sweet and innocent as they reached not only Miki's ears but also the very depths of her soul. A small but longing smile made its way to Miki's mouth, and she decided to let the councilman off the hook for waking her so early. Only this one time.
"I told him if he was going to wake you he should play something you know," Saskha spoke to Miki as she stirred a pot of rice. "Then you wouldn't be as upset. It seemed to have worked."
"Mom used to sing this." Miki stated as she took a seat next to her sister. It was almost ironic that the morning after she dreamed of her mother, Onartok would choose a song to play which Liena used to sing to them.
Saskha smiled fondly at the thought, staring into the distance, "Yeah she did, didn't she?" The morning sky today was a little cloudier than the one yesterday, though it could not hold back the sun from lavishing their surroundings in warm and vibrant colors. Her attention returned to the pot in front of her, "There isn't anything too exciting to eat for breakfast; just some rice and warm five-flavor soup. The seaweed noodles we can have tomorrow morning."
Her sister nodded in approval. As long as it would give her the energy she needed to continue down the mountain, Miki didn't mind what she ate.
Councilman Onartok strolled his way over to the girls, "We'll need to reach the base of the mountains tonight. There's a storm coming in." He motioned to the far distance, where the end of the valley and beginning of the second mountain range were barely visible. Dark and ferocious clouds loomed seemingly around the indicated position, and the sisters knew that they wouldn't want to be caught in that weather.
"We'll be finished in soon, so maybe we can leave in twenty minutes or so?"
Onartok nodded his head at Saskha's suggestion, and walked over to his own tent to collect his things.
"I'm telling you sir, this isn't a good idea." A soldier muttered, holding his arms out as he continued, "If it really was the 'Spirit of the North' than we shouldn't take that risk."
General Huode frowned, "You saw a wolf running with the group and suddenly you assume that it is that girl with some sort of great power? Hmph. Why are you so quick to believe such ridiculous rumours about the child?"
The first soldier said nothing, while a second moved forward to speak, "But couldn't we at least approach them during the day? I mean, at least than we would be sure that the girl would not be a threat."
Motioning his arms to the guards around them, Huode answered, "There are twenty five of us here, lieutenant. What threat could she pose? So, she immobilizes one soldier, do you really think a young child could do the same to all of us at once if we all attacked her? And this is assuming she even has powers. We need to catch them while they are in the valley; the land here historically has belonged to the city of Jiangcheng, though after being attacked many years ago from an incoming battalion of Southern Earth Kingdom soldiers they have been crippled, and their city is much smaller than it once was. Jiangcheng recently joined the Northern Empire under our rule, and so we can argue that these savages from Manirak are trespassing. Not a serious enough crime for arrest of course, but at least we can argue that they have to state their business for being here. That way, we can uncover what it is Manirak is planning."
Lieutenant Shu nodded his head slowly. He still didn't like this whole plan, but they did need to learn of this group's intentions soon. There was talk that Admiral Akumah the Untouchable was about to lead his own troops from Utadano somewhere into battle, and so they would need to wrap up their mission here and return home to join his ranks again for the looming war. Catching these travelers in the valley seemed like their best bet, though by the time they would reach them it would be nightfall.
"It's settled then," Huode marched between the groups of soldiers sitting on the ground, who were trying to enjoy whatever gruel they slurped into their hungry mouths. He mounted on his ostrich-horse, the animal squealing a little before settling down. "We leave in five."
A small creaking sound was emitted from where Miki placed her next step. Scaling the treacherous mountain had been more daunting than she had though it would be. While the view was rather beautiful from this high, Miki kept her gaze on the ledge below her feet. "Saskha, I can hear it cracking!"
Her sister looked back towards Miki. Raising her arms, Saskha channeled a stream of water up to where her sister trembled. With a slight clench of her hands the stream froze, and Miki ended up sliding down the icy slide towards the ledge where Saskha stood.
"See, that wasn't so bad. That slide kind of looked fun," Saskha teased. She held a hand out to her sister who was seated on the ice.
"Just because you're a waterbender," Miki muttered under her breath, though she quickly smiled.
Saskha turned back to the valley before them, "We're only a short distance away now. No more sheer cliff faces to scale down as far as I can tell." Miki let out an excited cry, "That is, until we get to the next set of mountains."
"One step at a time," Miki mumbled. She felt a soft fur brush against her side, and noticed Ulva snuggling up to her, eyes beaming as usual. He seemed to be having no trouble with the climb down the mountains.
After another hour of climbing down, the group finally made it to the valley. The sky was starting to darken even though it was only late afternoon; the towering mountains on the other side of the valley blocked the setting sun from view. Councilman Onartok watched the rolling dark grey clouds in the distance, slowly meandering their way over the next set of mountains.
"We may have to change our plans." The councilman muttered before turning back to the group.
The sisters and Ulva caught up him, Saskha speaking first, "What do you mean?"
Onartok pointed at the looming clouds ahead, "If we keep pacing ourselves the way we have been – stopping now for the night and continuing across the valley tomorrow – we will be climbing the mountains during that storm." He explained.
"What do you suggest then?"
"We have a short break now, and then press on into the night," At first Miki and Saskha moaned slightly at his suggestion, but he continued explaining anyway. "We don't know how long the storm will last for, and so it would be best if we can get over the next mountain range before it hits. I know we will be exhausted tomorrow, but we can sleep during the day and then set out in the afternoon."
The sisters exchanged a quick glance and then agreed with Onartok's suggestion. It would be a tough night tonight, but it would be better to make their way through much of the valley so that they could climb the mountains before the storm hit.
A quick ice shelter was constructed by Onartok for himself, who simply laid out his sleeping bag and shut his eyes. Saskha did the same with her own hut, though snacked on some of the blubbered seal jerky they had to spare before getting some rest. Both of them had used a lot of energy since they had needed to use their waterbending in many instances while descending the mountain. Miki however picked up her battle club and started practicing her defensive forms. She still hadn't had a lot of practice with the weapon, but she was beginning to feel as though she understood how to move it. It was almost like it had become an extension of her own body, part of her being where she could channel her chi through. After she had enough of training Miki lay down next to Ulva in the snow, the pair snuggling against each other while drifting into sleep.
A few hours later the travelers were back on their feet, trekking across the valley under the darkened sky. Although beginning to hide behind the swirls of clouds approaching, the moon managed to peek through and illuminate the snow in patches. It was a bright night tonight, and so their destination was visible from where they walked.
Miki plodded along with her pal beside her, the wolf peering up at her every so often. Saskha then walked ahead of the pair, and Onartok leading the way. The rest this afternoon had helped prepare the group immensely for the trek tonight, but the fatigue and tiredness of their bodies was beginning to sink in.
Councilman Onartok took one more step before stopping in his tracks. Head turning from side to side, the councilman tried to discern what he was hearing. The wind had picked up in the valley, though the councilman was sure that he had heard ostrich-horses.
His suspicions were confirmed when a rider and his mount appeared on the crest of the next hill, both of them clad in dark green and emerald armor. Eyes widening, Onartok turned back to the others in his group to signal them to duck low. But they too had noticed another group of soldiers approaching from their left, ten to fifteen men on foot at least. When the worried councilman turned back to the hill ahead of them, another four riders had joined the first one he saw. Within seconds the rest of the scouting party appeared around them until the four travellers were surrounded.
"Don't do anything yet," Onartok whispered to the others, though glanced at Saskha in particular. "There's no reason to think that they will attack us. Perhaps I can talk our way out. Though be prepared if things do take a turn for the worst."
Saskha nodded, her hand gripping the handle on her spear. Ulva growled a low sound at the sight of the soldiers, sensing the impeding danger. Miki stared fearfully at the surrounding men, trying to contain her anxiety. It felt like her dream all over again; she had been surrounded by the villagers from Manirak in her dream, but now they were surrounded by these soldiers.
A pair of men made their way on foot into the middle of the circle. One of them wore a dark green cape along with his armor, and the one who trailed behind him wore gold-trimmed armor with his cape instead, and also had a green cloth covering his lower face. Yet something about this man seemed familiar to Onartok; the way he strolled in as if he were dignified and royalty was something the councilman was sure he had seen before, though he couldn't quite remember where.
The man with the cloth over his mouth stayed put, while the other one stepped forward until he was only a few metres away from Onartok. "Greetings, I am Lieutenant Shu of the third division of the United Army of the Northern Empire." After his greeting he removed his wide green hat, revealing his bearded face to the others.
"You say the 'United Army of the Northern Empire', yet your attire indicates you are from Utadano?" Onartok questioned.
Shu nodded, "Indeed. As does your own armor and clothing. Northern Water Tribe or Manirak village?"
"Ah, I see," Shu stroked his chin, pausing to gaze over every individual before him. "Well, you must be wondering what this is about. I do apologize for the soldiers around you, we have been patrolling our borders much more diligently now in case the war gets out of hand."
Onartok narrowed his eyes, "Your borders? We're in the wilderness."
"This land has historically belonged to the people on Jiangcheng, who recently agreed to join our empire." The Lieutenant smiled proudly at his statement, "Which means there are only four cities left to unite before the Northern Empire is truly formed. I believe General Huode visited your village only a few days ago?"
The councilman of Manirak didn't answer straight away, instead thinking about what had just been said. Their whole reason for going to Jiangcheng first even though it was slightly out of the way was to trade with them. Jiangcheng was the closest village to Manirak, and acquiring ostrich-horses and other supplies from them was the first step of getting to the Western Air Temple and back within three weeks. "He did visit us," Onartok replied. He quickly turned back to the mountains they climbed over the last few days, "But we were unaware that we were now trespassing on your borders. Perhaps we could just head back to our village since we don't want to cause any trouble."
Onartok started marching with the others towards the mountains, though the soldiers didn't make room for them. "When we find a group of travelers trespassing through our land, we tend to put all doubts to rest by asking what business they have here." Shu replied.
"A camping trip," Onartok answered while walking slowly into the middle again. "I was simply taking my daughters out to teach them how to survive in the wild." The sisters nearly screamed in protest at Onartok's story, but went along with it to try and back the councilman up.
Shu sighed, "See, I would be inclined to believe that but there are some issues with your story," He stared at Onartok with his dark brown eyes, trying to scrape away the councilman's lies. "Firstly, you should be training with the other warriors should you not? The offer given to you from Utadano included Manirak providing us with their warriors and healers to join our army."
"We are training. I imagine the war will be taking us to some desolate places, which is why a camping trip in the middle of nowhere will help teach them what they need to know."
"Fair enough," Shu had begun to pace now, slowly taking each step as he continued, "But then there's also the issue with that wolf standing behind you." Onartok glanced at Miki, as if to say he knew that bringing Ulva was a bad idea. Miki shrugged, and not long after Shu continued his questioning, "Have you heard of a person known as the 'Spirit of the North'? A young girl who is said to have dark hair as black as night, and powers to move another's body at will without touching them. She is said to have dominion over the wild beasts and monsters in our world, and coincidentally looks and sounds a lot like... Her." He concluded by pointing at Miki, who froze after his gesture.
"You mean the 'Hooded She-Spirit'?"
"Different name, same person. However, if you are indeed sending this girl away from your village rather than keep her there to train for the war, than I can only question whether Manirak really has accepted our offer, or declined and become our enemies."
Onartok shook his head, "I do not know of the final verdict, Lieutenant Shu, but when we left it seemed that our chief was quite happy to join Utadano and the new empire. Like I said, we are just going on a camping trip."
"You don't know the final verdict yet you yourself are a leader of Manirak, Councilman Onartok?"
The councilman sighed while rubbing his forehead. Their plan to talk their way out of this wasn't working, since these soldiers knew who they all were.
"Here's what's going to happen," Shu made his way back to the other man with the face covering, "You can either come with us to Jiangcheng via the Northern Road to tell us what is really going on, or you can tell us while shackled in a prison in Utadano. The Southern Earth Kingdom have already infiltrated our empire before, and so we cannot take any chances on trespassers on our land."
Onartok now knew there was only one thing they could do. He quickly glanced at Saskha, conveying his thoughts to her as well. Saskha nodded, her hand leaving the grip on her spear and returning to hang by her side. Two great swirls of water arose from the ground, one from Onartok's arms and the other from Saskha's, both swirling the water in opposite directions around the group and encasing the four travelers from Manirak within. With a quick finger clench from both the waterbenders the swirls froze, protecting them from the incoming earthen projectiles.
The councilman turned towards the center of their defense, flinching every time it shook or cracked from their attackers. "We don't have much time." His voice rushed and loud as he continued, "I will take care of the towers to the north. Saskha, you need to make an opening in the south."
"Towers?" Miki looked nervously between the councilman and her sister. Onartok pointed towards a hole which had formed in their barrier, through which Miki could see a tall pillar sprouting from the ground with an earthbender on top. With each punch a flat disc was sent from the pillar and collided with the ice protecting them.
"Miki, I want you to take care of any of the soldiers in the middle. We need to be focused on disabling the earthbenders so we can make an escape." Onartok placed a hand on Miki's shoulder.
"But," The girl began to protest, "I don't know if I--"
"You don't have a choice; the ice is breaking around us! Saskha?" He nodded towards the other waterbender.
"Got it," She responded, holding her arms out and ready to charge into battle.
Onartok nodded, "Okay. Three, two, one..."
Shards of ice flew in all directions into the Utadano soldiers, hitting most back and even impaling one or two. Without giving the soldiers a chance to recover, Saskha leapt from the remains of their ice barrier and struck the nearest soldier in the head with her spear. Within seconds the earth discs started flying in her direction, the towers slowly lowering to the ground with each projectile fired from within the pillar. Saskha sidestepped to the right dodging one, and then tried to cut through the other as it flew towards her. It had nearly worked, though her spear hadn't quite cut through the disc and instead the force of the strike flipped her onto her back.
Sensing a group of soldiers running towards her, Saskha pulled her knees to her face and then kicked forwards, giving her the momentum she needed to jump to her feet and dislodge her spear from the earth disc. Continuing this motion, Saskha launched the spear into the shoulder of a nearby soldier, who collapsed in a heap of wailing and pain. Sweeping both arms downward, Saskha propelled herself into the air by launching off an ice pillar, allowing her to pass over the three soldiers who had run towards her when she was lying on her back. With her arms swinging to the front now, Saskha created a path of ice for her to skate along when she landed back on the ground. The path took her past the unfortunate soldier who had his shoulder impaled, and the female waterbender was able to collect her weapon from his wound.
A stone wall rising from the ground announced the end of her path, but Saskha quickly vaulted over and struck both earthbenders with her spear, striking to the left and right to disable them. Knowing that she would need more than her spear to take down the others, Saskha tucked her weapon away next to her backpack, pulling up a ring of water around her body to ready herself for the onslaught.
Onartok was leading his own attack on the troops to the north. He had the benefit of having much of the ice barrier they had made intact, and was able to send hunks of ice hurling into the soldiers ahead. One such chunk slammed into the earthbender atop of one of the stone towers, the man screaming as he fell into the snow. A trio of axe-wielding soldiers were now before the councilman, and swung high and low strikes working like well-oiled machine. Onartok had to back flip to dodge the attacks, and once he landed back on his feet sent a wave of water streaming around his body to encase the three warriors in ice.
Earthen discs continued to be hurled from the towers, and Onartok ducked behind the frozen soldiers. His barrier was compromised however when another earthbender rose large diamonds of rock from the ground around the ice barrier, freeing one of the soldiers in the process. Although still woozy from being frozen, the freed soldier lunged at the councilman with his axe, bringing it into contact with Onartok's arm guard before he had a chance to react. Although he had escaped the worst of the injury, Onartok's forearm throbbed from the attack. He quickly pulled out his machete and dagger in each hand, using the former to deflect the incoming axe and the latter to impale the soldier's shoulder. Grunting in pain, the soldier leaped backwards to avoid further attacks, though Onartok managed to drive his machete into the man's other shoulder, causing him to collapse.
Ulva was doing a good job of keeping the riders and their mounts busy. Many of the soldiers had left their ostrich-horses at the side lines, lest they be killed and the soldiers have no means to escape if need be. Though some kept their companions in the fray, swinging long weapons from on top of their backs. But the wolf was quick on his feet, able to dodge the long spear of an attacker and leap onto the ostrich-horse, tackling the rider to the ground with a feral roar.
For a few seconds since the battle had begun, Miki had just stood still. She could only watch the soldiers attacking the others, unsure what she should be doing though knowing well that she should be doing something. It had meant that almost all the soldiers had gone after the other three seeing as she hadn't moved to attack any of them, though now a few of them were running towards were she stood.
Miki began breathing heavily, her hands trembling as she watched the first soldier approach. She tried to reassure herself. She had her powers so why was she afraid? Miki took a deep breath, allowing the energy inside her to flow. Closing her eyes for a moment, Miki prepared herself for the onslaught.
Her arms shot out in front of her body, the first soldier stopping in his tracks. He tried to resist her powers, but she pulled her fingers inwards to keep him restrained. The man's eyes were wide with terror, and Miki flung his body to the left into a mound of snow. The other two soldiers now ran at her, trying to put on brave faces even after what they had seen the young girl do. Miki responded by clenching her right hand, constricting the soldier on the right, and then tried to do the same with her left hand to the other soldier. She felt her energy draining by the second; Miki had hardly used her powers on multiple targets before, and this act of stopping these two men was taking its toll. Miki clenched her teeth while grunting, trying to suppress the soldiers as they writhed about in the air. There was a movement behind the soldiers to the left, and Miki quickly ducked as she watched something fly through the air towards her. However, she hadn't been quick enough to completely dodge the projectile, and it sent her flying back a few metres after colliding with the tip of her shoulder, releasing the other two soldiers from her grip.
Slightly dazed and with a painful shoulder, Miki tried to sit up. She saw the two soldiers she had been fighting slowly recover, and behind them another was running towards her, throwing hammers in hand. A stifled cry left her mouth as she stood up, the sound partly because of the throbbing pain in her shoulder and partly because of her frustration after she realized that the hammer throwing soldier was the first one she had attacked, who she thought she had defeated. Miki knew now that her powers weren't strong enough to take down these soldiers alone. Mustering up whatever courage and energy she had left, Miki stood to her feet, reaching for her battle club. Miki knew that she wasn't a confident fighter yet, though perhaps she could use all her skills to hold her own.
The first soldier to run at her released a battle cry as he charged, a short axe in his hand. Miki spread her feet shoulder-width apart to prepare for his attack, just as Onartok had instructed. As the man brought his axe down Miki swung her club to block. Her feet skidded back a little from the impact, though she had still managed to keep her ground.
Focus! I need to predict his movements.
Miki could somehow feel the muscles around his right knee extending, realizing he was going to try to launch a kick her way. In the split second she had to realize this, Miki stepped back on her left foot, dodging her opponent's kick, and then used her left arm to push the soldier's upper body backwards with her powers. As the soldier stumbled back, Miki swung her club into his side, forcing the air out of his lungs as he tripped and landed on his back.
After pausing to catch her breath, Miki realized that this was her first take-down. She had actually managed to defeat another person in combat! But the moment didn't last long as the second soldier, clutching a sword, charged at her as well. Swinging his weapon madly from side to side, he forced Miki back as she dodged each of his strikes. Swapping her club into her left hand, Miki then swept her right hand to the left, feeling his leg muscles and causing the soldier's left leg to slip. While his balance was off, Miki ducked under the soldier's next swing coming from the right, and socked him in the jaw with her club. That was enough to knock the man unconscious and collapse in the snow.
A few metres away, the hammer-throwing soldier pulled his arm back to send another weapon her way. Miki leaped to the left, climbing the snow mound on her hands and knees till she reached the top. A rush of air could be heard behind her, no doubt a near miss from a hammer. The soldier took a few more steps forward as Miki retreated, and as she jumped from the top of the hill to dodge she felt something clip the top of her ankle. The handle of the hammer which struck her caused Miki to topple forwards, rolling head over heels down the snow mound for a few seconds.
Her ankle now aching as well as her shoulder, Miki sat up to see her attacker standing proudly on the crest of the hill. Her club sitting in the snow far to her left – she must have let it go as she tumbled down the hill – Miki raised her arms as the soldier pulled his left arm back, ready to throw a hammer. Feeling the muscles in his arm moving, Miki clenched her fingers and swung her left arm to the side. A mere millisecond passed before Miki heard the crunch of snow to her left, the hammer only a few centimeters from her body. She'd managed to redirect his attacks by controlling his arm. The soldier's eyes widened, and with an animal sounding growl he hurled the other weapon, but again Miki moved his arm in such a way that the hammer landed next to her right side.
Now roaring with fury, the soldier ran down the side of the hill, a throwing hammer in each hand. Miki quickly got to her feet, collecting one of the hammers in her right hand and throwing it his way. But the soldier saw this coming and ducked to the left, though Miki countered by extending her left arm and swinging it right once she had a hold over the soldier's body. The movement swept the soldier into the path of the incoming hammer, which collided with his stomach. Just to be sure he wouldn't be a problem anymore, Miki toppled the man over once he stood up again, making him perform several back flips as she sent him flying backwards, and brought her foot to his face to knock him out cold.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Miki ran over to her club and held it in her hands. After turning around however, Miki saw her toughest opponent yet staring her down. He was an earthbender, and raised two large chunks of earth to his left and right. Miki braced herself, though fear gripped her heart at the sight. Redirecting throwing hammers was one thing, but redirecting massive chunks of earth was another. But before she could do anything to the man, a dark shadow flew from her left and landed on top him, accompanied with a familiar ferocious roar. Ulva bit into the earthbender's shoulder, causing him to shriek in pain and release the boulders he was bending.
"Ulva!" Miki called while running over to him, a small grin even making its way onto her face. The wolf looked over and ran towards her, rubbing his head against her side. After their brief moment of affection, Miki glanced to the south, "We need to help Saskha clear a way to the south so we can get out of here. Let's go!" The pair ran over the next hill to once again join the fight, Miki trying to go as fast as she could with an injured ankle and shoulder.
After dealing with the earthbender who had freed the frozen soldier, Onartok now took care of the other one, ducking and diving under his earthen spikes and kicking the man square in the jaw. Another two soldiers bearing swords ran at the councilman, but he pushed his arms down towards the ground, propelling himself into the air from an icy pillar. Swiftly pulling out his weapons once again, Onartok dug the machete and dagger into the side of the earth tower, and flipped himself up on top of the structure. The earthbender who once occupied the tower had been dealt with at the start of the fight, though the one on the other tower to his right was still there, and narrowed his eyes as he sent earthen discs from the middle of his pillar.
From this high up Onartok knew it would be quicker to use the water from his animal skin bag than to pull some from the ground, and only had to dodge three of the discs before hosing the earthbender off the tower, making sure to freeze the ground around him when he fell with a clench of his fingers. The councilman now turned his attention to the non-bender soldiers below him, but before he could strike another earthbender sent a hunk of earth his way from the left. As he dodged the incoming projectile, Onartok recognized this earthbender as the one with the cloth covering his face, the one who seemed slightly familiar to Onartok. He quickly readied himself for another projectile, though the earthbender never sent one. Instead, he raised two fists and sent a trail of pillars ahead towards the tower where the councilman stood. The impact shook the entire structure, and Onartok pulled his machete out to cling onto the side of the other earth tower as he jumped off the toppling pillar.
Grunting angrily, the earthbender didn't give Onartok a chance to climb the pillar, instead launching himself inside the last earth tower. With the pillar he clung to obliterating from the impact, Onartok tried to land but was knocked by hunks of earth which also fell to the ground. His injuries not too severe, Onartok arose to see what this earthbender's purpose was for diving into the earth tower; he was now covered not only in his Utadano armor but also a rock armor of some sort.
Like a boar-q-pine launching its quills, the earthbender fired small shards of earth from his armor in Onartok's direction. The councilman instinctively ducked and raised his arms to form a wall of ice, and it managed to hold even with the hundreds of pebbles flying his way. However, Onartok knew his wall wouldn't hold for long. Swiftly spiking his arms in the air, still with his back to the wall, Onartok caused his wall to expand even higher. Spinning around on the balls of his feet while crouching, Onartok turned to face his opponent. The councilman launched himself into his own wall, spinning his arm to send chunks of it towards the earthbender, but also to coat his arms in ice similar to what his opponent had done. The hunks of ice from the wall which Onartok had sent provided a perfect distraction to allow the councilman to lunge at his opponent, his ice covered gauntlet piercing through the earth armor and gashing the earthbender's arm. His opponent moaned slightly while stepping back, but he was soon ready to defend against Onartok's water whips which he formed by melting the ice on his arms.
Saskha found herself in a tight spot, testing out a defensive maneuver Kesuk had named 'The Bubble'. An orb of water protected Saskha from the three earthbenders and a man with some sort of chain weapon which encircled her now, provided she spun her arms like a windmill to keep the water flowing at a high enough velocity to deflect any attack. But she could feel her energy draining with the attack, and could only occasionally lash out at her opponents from this position, sending a spear of ice every so often. She wouldn't be able to keep this up for much longer. Blocking their attacks had been a good idea at the start, but with the four of them it was wearing her down, especially the chain weapon as it had a heavy metal ball attacked to the end which carried with it a lot of force.
To her surprise, the three earthbenders stopped firing at her and soon after the non-bender with the chain weapon halted as well. Terrified gasps surfaced from their mouths, and their bodies shook yet looked constricted as if they were trying to fight some hold over them. Now knowing what was going on, Saskha let her water bubble dissipate and collected the remains into a massive stream of water, which took a spin of her whole body and a great deal of strength to stream the water around herself to collect the four attackers and slam them into their nearby earth tower. She quickly froze the soldiers where they were, their heads only just peeking out from their imprisonment.
A relieved smile formed on Saskha's face as she saw her sister and Ulva approaching, "Thanks Miki." Miki nodded while panting heavily, clearly worn out from stopping the four soldiers at once. Saskha glanced over to the last few soldiers which blocked their exit route, "I'm going to take care of these guys, you go find a way for us to escape."
Miki nodded and ran with Ulva towards the mountains, but quickly stopped when she noticed what was before her. "Uh, Saskha? Maybe we should switch roles."
Her sister was slightly confused, but soon made her way over to where Miki and Ulva stood. "Oh no."
Before them was a massive canyon, descending so far the three of them could hardly see the bottom. Saskha quickly glanced behind her, noticing the incoming soldiers and the last earth tower manned by an earthbender. Onartok was far in the distance, dueling with what appeared to be a warrior clothed in earth. "I'll go collect Onartok and however many of our packs that I can get," All of the Manirak travelers had left their belongings on the ground at some point during the battle, bar Ulva who couldn't get his off by himself, "You and Ulva need to stop that last tower." She turned to her younger sister beside her.
"I'll do it," Miki answered, though she was still more nervous than ever at the mission tasked to her. She had used a lot of energy already, straining her powers in ways she had never done before. But she had to do this; they would definitely need a way to cross the canyon and get to the mountains, and Saskha and Onartok were the best for that given they could waterbend. But to get them to where they stood now would require someone to take out the last tower, and Miki and Ulva would have to do it.
|Spirit of the North|
|• Chapter 1 - Manirak • Chapter 2 - Memories • Chapter 3 - The Librarian • Chapter 4 - Liberation • Chapter 5 - Guilt • Chapter 6 - A Final Goodbye • Chapter 7 - Reconnection • Chapter 8 - Visitors from the East • Chapter 9 - Avatar • Chapter 10 - The Dream that Led to a Journey • Chapter 11 - Promise • Chapter 12 - The Vote • Chapter 13 - Unspoken Desires • Chapter 14 - Beyond the Borders • Chapter 15 - Foreseer of Futures • Chapter 16 - The Warrior Within • Chapter 17 - First Blood • Chapter 18 - Victories and Defeats • Chapter 19 - Secrets of the Book • Chapter 20 - Entering the Earth Kingdom• Chapter 21 - The Dream Nobody Thought Would Come True • Chapter 22 - The Great River City: Part 1 • Chapter 23 - The Great River City: Part 2|
For the collective works of the author, go here.