The Citadel
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A Tale of Rebels



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Chapter 18: High Seas

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Chapter 20: A Glimpse of Ordinary Life

The Citadel is the nineteenth chapter of Sep0815's A Tale of Rebels.

Previously in A Tale of Rebels

After fleeing a storm that severely threatened their voyage to Whaletail Island, the six companions tell their respective stories, of life on the streets, family that never truly cared, the loss of family altogether and the loss of - almost - all friends. Afterwards, they comfort each other, Zoruka and Shizon first and then Senqok and Kabura, while Ranju attempts to let go of it all by completely detaching herself by opening the chakras, however, she swears to protect her friends and so locks her seventh chakra, whereas Noki chooses Senqok to help her cope, which he does rather half-heartedly. Noki then discovers another ship nearby. During the attack that ensues, all of them except Noki manage to fend off the attackers at first, before a woman arrives who drives them back. Later, she is revealed to be Luna, Senqok's long-lost sister, and promises to take them to Whaletail Island.

Chapter 19: The Citadel

The gentle breeze was barely enough to make the ship move, and just as well were the waves rocking it weakly. The ship was designed to sail no matter what, to cope with winds of all strengths and directions, and so it cut through the sea like a knife nonetheless. Far beyond, on its larboard side, the coast of Whaletail Island was, with just barely enough distance between the ship and the coast so that what lay beyond would remain unrecognisable, not that the setting moon's light, towards whose source they were sailing, would've provided enough light to make out anything beyond the shore. Senqok, who, despite not having slept more than an hour that night, didn't feel a trace of tiredness, leaned over the bulwark, looking out onto the vast sea, and couldn't help but smile. For the first time in months, he was genuinely happy again - he was on good terms with most of his friends, closer to Kabura than he had ever been to anyone, reunited with his long-lost sister and about to enter the only country that successfully had remained out of Yi Ming's sphere of influence within the past century. Things were looking up for him. In all his happiness, he couldn't help but ask himself a question that certainly didn't lack reasoning, What now? Now that he had more than he had striven for in the past months, he didn't know what to do. Would he settle down on Whaletail Island and lead a simple, quiet life, would he take history in his own hands, and set out to assassinate Yi Ming? His thoughts were interrupted just as the relative silence was, when someone dared to join him.

"Hey there... mind if I join you?" Luna's voice - which didn't fit her slight smile at all, with a trace of hurt in it - and footsteps were all that had penetrated the silence as she walked up to Senqok. He spun around in a sloppy fighting stance, but eased and turned around again after he had noticed who had disturbed the silence. He nodded, and Luna joined him, leaning over the bulwark as well, staring off into the vast blue mass before them. The absence of emotions in her expression and the pain in her eyes made Senqok worry.

"So... is there a specific reason you decided to join me at this late- er, early hour?" Senqok made no attempts to hide his concern for his sister, even if only in his voice.

"I know this must sound... weird, queer, or however you call it... but... " Luna's partly forced smile disappeared and yielded to a rather saddened expression. "How... how did he die? How did father die?"

Senqok only sighed. Just like him, his sister wore a more comfortable – even if more revealing – attire, consisting, like her usual, official attire, mainly of a kimono. The waves ever so slightly rocked both the ship and the boat she took with her. "Well... as you can guess... I don't like remembering that... but... as you wish." The words came hard, if at all. Senqok forced them out before sighing again.

"May I join you?" a not unfamiliar voice interrupted them. Kabura walked up to them in the remnants of her old uniform, and laid her hand on Senqok's shoulder, smiling warmly. "It's just 'cause, the last time you recalled it, it didn't exactly go all to well." she explained, and right she was, Senqok saw, and Luna thought. After briefly letting a smile flash over his face, Senqok began telling the bloody tale he hated to remember so much.

"It was in the Battle of the Five Armies, fought near the point where the Great Divide meets the West Lake. He and I, we had proposed the plan according to which we and our allies would act during the battle, and, well, us Water Tribsmen had to hold the line against Yi Ming's forces until Kanyzon and Wei would descend upon them with their armies. It went fairly well at- who am I kidding, we failed from the beginning. We had to push forward in small units to even slightly slow them! Fa- Dad and I, we formed one of these units. With sword, spear, water and club, we fought forward through the mass of enemies, metre for metre, never taking a single step back. Until... until we were separated from each other. We both stood our ground against all, disarming or dismembering all that would dare to attack, but they focussed on dad, and surrounded him completely with no way to strike. They... they... they drove... drove spears through... through... every part of his body." Tears rolled down his cheeks as he found himself walking the battlefield again. As a mere boy, he had stormed forward. As a man, he was taken captive, he realised. Trembling and breathing heavily, he continued. "...spears everywhere... his blood... it streamed out and... and it... "

Luna found her own eyes tearing up as she imagined the scene. Noticing this, Senqok stopped immediately – hurting his sister like this was the last thing he would ever do, so he did what he thought was right. Smiling a teary-eyed and sad smile, he gently shoved Kabura's hand off his shoulder and embraced his sister, whispering, "I still can't believe you're alive... "

Astonished, Luna – too not ungently – pushed her brother away from her and patted him on the shoulder, managing a smile not unlike his. His eyes widened suddenly, and he spoke, or at least intended to, before he was cut off by Kabura. "How did you do that, actually? All I know is you were lost in a blizzard, one would never survive... "

While Senqok silently hissed, "That's what I wanted to ask!" Luna herself now began to recall. The sky above had let go of most stars, and changed its colour from a black much like coal's, to a dark blue, not unlike the sea's, with even a thin line of reddish and greenish tones near the horizon, far in the east. Luna ran her fingers through her curled, shoulder-long brown hair, and sighed. "It all started that one day, shortly after my birthday. I was fourteen that day, when dad took me for a hunting trip, leaving you, Senqok, behind to watch the house, just as he'd do with me when he'd take you out to hunt. So, it was my turn again. Some shaman didn't want us to go, but named no reason, so we went anyway. Not that he could've changed our minds. After the first day of heading east-north-east, we saw the reason this strange shaman had omitted – a blizzard. We were quick to find caves on the second day, when we entered the storm to set up camp in, but afterwards, it became more difficult every day, for every day, we had to put more distance between us and the mountain range we had found the caves in to get closer to the sea, but we managed, finally, on the seventh day, when we thought it to be over, we reached some small inlet with some beaches around, and the ice rising high up all around, protecting us from the storm. We stayed there for some days to refill our supply of blubbered seal jerky. Then, we wanted to head back, but as we climbed the ice, we realised that the storm had only gotten stronger while we had stayed by the inlet. Nevertheless, I, in my foolishness, insisted on it that we return as fast as possible, and dad agreed. After climbing up – which posed no problem, with a harpoon and weapons to be reused for climbing – we found ourselves in a chaos of grey, white and blue shades. Snow swirled all about, and howling wind made communication almost impossible. We intended to tie ourselves to each other with a rope, but before that could happen, a gust of wind knocked us over. We had to keep as close to each other as we could, which was made impossible by the howling wind forbidding verbal communication and swirling snow making visual contact almost impossible. I attempted to follow his tracks, but as soon as he'd left them, the wind made them disappear again. After half a day, I grew hopeless of ever finding the way back home, and sought shelter in any form, which I then found by literally stumbling upon it. Actually, over it. I fell down from a small ridge I had failed to notice, and landed right before the entrance of a cave. I built a crude shelter there, and the next day, the weather had completely cleared up again, as if to say, 'Fuck you, Luna, fuck you and your hopes.'"

Without asking for permission, Shizon simply joined them by using Luna's brief pause to utter, "Hey there, ladies and Senqok." and lean over the bulwark as well to listen to Luna's story, quickly mimicked in his motions by Zoruka in her signature crimson armour. Without caring to greet them, Luna continued.

"I set out again, hoping to find back home again. The world seemed to hate me that day, for as soon as I set foot out of the cave, I tripped and rolled down the slope almost to the ice's edge. By then, I was bruised and sure to have some broken bones as well, but I didn't. What I did have, however, was bad luck. An iceberg broke off the ice, with me on it. Swimming back was no option, so hoping for some fishermen or sailors or whoever to pick me up was all I could do. So I stayed on the iceberg as it drifted north, dwindling in size with every kilometre it put between itself and the South Pole. After surviving two weeks only on blubbered seal jerky, my to-be saviours showed up, this ship with her entire crew. Now, well, you're a fourteen year-old girl, armed with jaw blades the size of dao broadswords, but a fourteen year-old girl nonetheless, and some band of pirates finds you, alone. What is your first thought?"

Senqok and Shizon exchanged glances that indicated that neither would say it, while Kabura and Zoruka too knew, the former wanting the latter to say it, therefore speaking, "Well... "

"Actually... " Zoruka added, also hoping not to be the one to say it.

"I'm fucked, and that quite literally." No one had seen Ranju coming, so her words took everyone by surprise, and even more the almost amused tone she had spoken them with.

Luna only nodded. "But luckily, these weren't and aren't pirates. They are privateers- "

"Not sorry to interrupt, so... what's the difference, seriously?" Last but not least, Noki joined them.

"Privateers are pirates who serve a state," stated a crew-member who passed them, carrying a long rope.

Again, all that Luna did was nod, before continuing, that was. "So they took me in and integrated me in their crew. Soon, they saw my potential and I rose up high, even became their captain. I settled myself in the city of Kenisibao, the de-facto capital of the Confederacy, and was elected its lord soon thereafter, and even the entire Confederacy seemed to think of me highly, so... I was elected Lord Protector. The youngest there ever was, and the first woman to hold that rank, by the way."

"Shouldn't it be Lady Protector then?" Senqok's question was out of pure curiosity, his voice indicated.

"Is a female Fire Lord addressed as the Fire Lady? No. And so I am Lord of Kenisibao and its shire, and Lord Protector of the Confederacy of Whaletail Island." Luna declared. The ship made a sharp larboard turn to steer through a rather narrow strait, into something that some called a river, while others preferred to name it a bay. The first rays of the rising sun penetrated the relative darkness surrounding them.

"So is the husband of a female Fire Lord called Fire Lady then?" Shizon raised an eyebrow as considered his question himself.

"No, that'd be the Fire Lord consort then," replied Zoruka almost immediately. She herself found it amusing, though in fact it was an important part of her nation's history. After the almost ridiculous question had been answered, they all fell silent. The entire ship, except for the ship herself, made no sound. Minutes passed as they slowly sailed past waking fishing villages and vast forests, high cliffs and treacherous little maelstroms in the waters. Minutes in which sunlight slowly flooded the world, replacing the full moon's eerie bluish tones with full colours. On and on they went, the sails making best use of the light breeze that blew, the two vessels' rudders making them stay on course. Then, all too sudden, the river, or bay, began widening, stretching out before them and to both sides like the small ocean lined with forests, villages, fortresses and cliffs it indeed was. All of sudden, after all the silence seeming loud as a sky bison's roar, a whisper was heard, the voice it was spoken with belonging to Senqok. "Why did you never visit, or write at least, if you were alive?"

Luna looked indeed ashamed. Staggering, she explained herself. "You see... I was too low of a position to demand that much before I was a captain... and then, I barely had the time. Though... actually... I wanted to visit the Southern Water Tribe at least now, as a matter of... a matter of... you know, as a state visit, but I encountered you on the way and... " Tears formed in her eyes but she didn't permit them to leave. "And I didn't write because, well... you know dad's attitude towards written communication... "

"Insecure, dishonest, too slow and- oh, to Koh with it, I know... " Senqok replied, joining his sister as well as his companions in his downcast mood. For a few seconds longer, utter silence reigned again, before on the horizon, a mass of brown, grey, red, blue and green came into sight, with a hill, or mountain even, rising up right behind.

"Kenisibao, people, the Floating City, thought it doesn't actually float, but- well, anyway, the capital of the Confederacy of Whaletail Island! This is where I rule it from! So- er, any questions so far?"

"I asked you before but you denied me an answer, so I'll ask you now again." Noki began, "Could you repeat everything about that Confederacy of yours, please?"

"Everything?" Luna sighed. "Oh well, if you want to... very well then. Upon arrival, for first, I need to eat. Who's with me?"

As all of the former Liberation Alliance soldiers joined her, she laughed, not surprised at all. Ahead lay the greatest melting pot of cultures the world had seen yet, and with it, the last safe haven for the Four Nations' Liberation Alliance outside the Fire Nation, yet that would have to wait for after the breakfast.

Kenisibao was truly an odd place, Kabura found. Not only did the metropolis – which was far more chaotic than any other city she had ever seen – rise from the water, but also seemed the buildings, even simple ones such as depots, to attempt outdoing each other in lavishness, height, and everything that had to do with appearances. Goods were not transported in carriages driving on streets, but on canals, using small boats. Furthermore, to make this city even more alien and yet somehow familiar – she was Water Tribe, after all – did it seem that everywhere where space was available, a ship could dock – just ten metres from a mansion, sailors would be unloading their junks. And on top of all that, the building's didn't belong to a single style – there were many built the same way as most buildings in the Fusang Province of the south-western Earth Empire, some – few, she noted – fashioned in other styles of the Earth Continent, while even less, but still hundreds, spotted many reddish and golden shades, denoting something that could only be Fire Nation. Surprisingly many and prominent buildings had the rectangular shapes of Water Tribe architecture, although they were built in stone rather than ice, and, last but not least, did Kabura think she even caught glimpses of temples or monasteries built in a manner she believed to belong to the Air Nomads. The sea of rooftops with its maze of canals stretched for kilometres to their left as they sailed by. After some minutes more, when she realised they now passed a more impoverished area, she found that even most beggars' garbs were in a better condition than her own uniform. Sighing, she was about to walk to the bow, where Senqok talked with a sailor about whatever, but was halted by a hand that suddenly appeared on her shoulder.

"Just where do you think you're going?" came the question, and Kabura turned around. It was weird having to look down upon a head of state and mighty warrior, but Luna simply hadn't been blessed with height.

"Well, uh...?" More Kabura couldn't manage, wondering what Luna meant.

"We're landing in a minute. We'll take a tour through the city from here and I'll fill you in about the history and politics, because, well... " Luna awkwardly scratched the back of her head. " ...I'd need some help. Or rather, Anyang would need some." She turned away, somewhat awkwardly, walked a few steps and opened her mouth, only to shout louder than Kabura had ever heard anyone shout. "WE'RE LANDING IN A MINUTE! YOU BUNCH OF LAZY REBELS BETTER BE ON THE STARBOARD SIDE BY THEN, LEST YOU BE USED AS BOILIES!"

In an instant, almost everyone was there, waiting. What came next was not unexpected at all, but surely an unorthodox way of berthing. While still having several metres between the two ships and the quay, ropes' ends that looked as though to be used for gallows were flung overboard as though they were grappling hooks used to board a ship. Most of these then managed to surround short, column-like structures made of iron. Afterwards, the sailors began steadily pulling the ship closer and closer to the quay, which made it seem even more as though they were boarding a ship.

"...shouldn't we dock the other way? I mean, so that we leave from the larboard side?" Shizon indeed could ask seemingly stupid questions that turned out to be quite justified.

Pondering for a moment during which her sailors put a thick wooden board between the ship and the quay to connect the two, Luna replied dismissively, "Yes, technically, but not all conventions you've learned of are effective around here. Whaletail Island has always been a bit... strange to the rest of the world."

Through the noise all the sailors around made, they descended down on the quay and began glancing around, taking everything in they could, every facet of the metropolis they just had entered.

"Now, welcome to Kenisibao, people!" Luna ridiculously waved her hands as she – somewhat sarcastically – shouted towards those she had taken there. "Welcome to the Floating City! We'll- "

"Oh, sweet goodness, I can see here! This is real stone, rock, EARTH!" cried out Noki as she jumped and almost began kissing the pavement, only to be pulled up by the collar by a dismayed Zoruka.

"Well, actually it isn't exactly a floating city, it's built on millions and millions of oak trunks and on tons and tons of rubble, but... " explained Luna, eyeing Noki somewhat disgusted, amused and surprised. "Anyway, what it is, is the political and economical centre – and therefore, the de facto capital – of the Confederacy of Whaletail Island! Now, let's better get going or we're going to see just how much the lower class residents profit from the city's status... "

After a few nervous laughs of Shizon's to comment Lord Protector Luna's statement, the seven of them set out to walk westwards, towards a small mountain that loomed beyond the buildings' rooftops. The buildings all around them were built from stone, even those of the poorest – as long as these weren't living on the streets.

"Uh, Luna? May I ask a question?" inquired Kabura, glancing at every house, every warehouse, every little shrine and whatever buildings they passed as they slowly made their way through the criss-cross alleys – another major difference to other cities, which all had their order.

"Sure, go ahead." spoke the Lord Protector casually, never turning around or taking her hands off her swords' hilts.

"Why are all the buildings built from stone? How could everyone afford this?" She truly wondered, for the people she say inhabiting the houses seemed anything but masons or rich – yet they all wore simple but robust and neat robes. "And what about the clothing? I mean, even the beggars' rags are in a better condition than my uniform!"

As she was drawing attention towards them with her loud speaking, Luna shot her a brief glare signalling her to speak quietly. "Well, some hundred years ago or so, fires and plagues began to be an actual problem in the city, when it was still mainly built from wood. So, after three fires in a year, the Lord of City and Shore, as the Lord of Kenisibao is also called, decided to have stone houses built in the wooden ones' stead, and also to replace the rags the Lower Class wore then with actual clothing."

"Yes, makes sense... " Kabura found, looking around. The houses were, like the robes, simple, but neatly built. "But still, how was it financed, I mean, where did the money come from?"

"Ah, the Lord just decided to let the Upper Class pay more taxes than the rest, and it all went on its own from then." Suddenly, the Lord Protector stopped in her tracks and spun around, looking much like a teacher with her risen index finger. "To this day, Kenisibao remains the only Shire of the Thirteen, the only territory in the entire Confederacy with a proper welfare system and redistribution of wealth. Yet it still is by far the wealthiest of the Confederacy."

As she turned around again, they continued, and soon, after crossing several canals without noticing it, were in areas inhabited mainly by the Middle Class. The houses – the buildings present were almost exclusively houses – there rose up to third, fourth and some even to fifth floors, and sported some decoration, which was almost all that set them apart from the Lower Class's houses, except of course the inhabitants. In the very moment Senqok smelt the odours of a restaurant, his sister, as if to torture him, began her lecture.

"You see, for centuries, Whaletail Island was different from the rest of the world. This island always had an own culture, which, of course, was influenced by those around, but still retained the essence of its own. Water Tribe legends say this place is the tail of the greatest whale in the world, and that that's why there aren't any whales near this island, but the real reason is that the ancient Whaletail Islanders just loved to whale and kind of brought upon the near extinction of whales in this area. So, well, shit happens, one could say. Now... according to legend, this place was full of Air Nomads before some tribes that left nothing behind settled here and were subjugated by the mythical Kingdom of Emishi, which expanded from its native Fusang peninsula into the Southern Air Temple archipelago. The ancient histories say that this kingdom's lands on the mainland were conquered by Omashu, while Gaoling subdued the insular areas, mainly Whaletail Island. However, the centre of power being far, local government, and with it some form of autonomy, developed, or rather, prevailed from times as old as the peoples settling here. Then, Ba Sing Se unified the kingdoms of the Earth Continent, and so, Whaletail Island- "

"Became independent?" interrupted Shizon rudely as they paused for a short while on a moon bridge over a canal on which boats delivered all kinds of goods and people.

"-not yet. It became part of the Earth Kingdom of old. Over time, this kingdom on the mainland shattered, and Gaoling claimed this isle as theirs once again, but they couldn't hold it. In the Shires of Sulishi, Niukasu and Suoluotuen rebelled against their rule after they intended to raise the taxes only here for the money it cost them governing and protecting the place. The peasants of these Shires overthrew their lords and elected such amongst themselves, but made them rely on the people directly. Every decision of the Lord regarding politics has to be ratified by the Shire's citizens in a plebiscite. The first three Lords allied closely and led their armies up the river in boats to land in Kenisibao, but when they landed in Kenisibao, the city had decided to pledge itself to their cause. Three Shires had become four, and the bay, or river, that surrounds Kenisibao was therefore named Four Shires' Stream. Since then, the Confederacy that was founded so has grown from four Shires to thirteen. These are Kelong, Yachen, Kangqiao, Mosike, Bo'en, Li'ang, Yaxi, Dawosi and Jie'er. Don't worry, I won't test you on these names, it's just important because all these have two representatives each in the governing council and much more rights than the rest. 'The rest' means the territories that are part of the Confederacy but no full members. There are two types: condominiums and protectorates, the former are governed by two or more Shires jointly with little to no say of the local population, while the latter are relatively autonomous in terms of interior politics, but under Confederacy's rule in cases regarding foreign territories and the entire Confederacy. The thirteen of these are Bominghan, Lubeike, Luoma, Shengbidebao, Huasha, Jifu, Lijia, Fangdigang, Talin, Bulage, Gedebao, Yaboding and Bali. These each have one member in the council who rarely are from the region they represent."

"So, in other words, these territories may go fuck themselves?" asked Zoruka cynically. "I mean, if you already have such a system that reliant on the people, why- "

"A political system that reliant on the people is called 'democracy', Your Majesty." interrupted the Lord Protector with her teacher-like attitude and the risen index finger.

"-thanks," replied the Crown Princess with sarcastic gratitude. "Anyway, what's the point in a democracy if not all are represented equally? I mean, seriously!?"

"It developed like this, and all Lords are too staunch conservatives to allow that to be changed. Anyway, there's also a third kind of territory in the Confederacy, the Associates. They are intermediate between the two other groups. They have the rights of a Shire and the autonomy of a Protectorate. There's nine of these, namely Basi, Bolin, Aidingbao, Hanbao, Lundun, Lunebao, Minihei, Weinisi and Yueke. Some of these send two, some just one representative to the council. Don't ask me why, I have no idea why their Lords thought this to be a good idea." She paused and, as they had entered an area inhabited by the Upper Class, apparently, decided to seat herself in the nearest restaurant, weary from the past night. Her companions gradually took the seats. They ordered on Luna's costs, and just as they intended to begin eating, she began her history – and politics – lesson once again.

"Now, the system is simple, really. To become a Lord or even the Lord Protector, one has to pass several state examinations to even be able to run for these offices. The first office one has to be elected for, however, is on a municipal level, only then one becomes eligible as the Lord of the Shire. And from those serving on this second level, the Lord Protector is elected by the people of the thirteen Shires and of the nine Associates, and is – or isn't – ratified in their office by the council. The Lord Protector originally was a military leader chosen in dire times, and limited in duration, but then, the Lords Protector slowly became more powerful and held the office for longer and longer... anyway, now the Lord Protector is head of state and head of government, or rather, of the council, but still, just as any other Lord or municipal official, is just a first amongst equals, these equals being the citizens of the Confederacy, on whom everything relies. They have to ratify any law the council passes, they have to ratify almost anything the council passes in plebiscites. It's slow, but it works."

"What about war? What does the Confederacy do then?" asked Ranju interested, quickly devouring her vegetarian meal as to direct her full attention to the Lord Protector as soon as possible.

"The Lord Protector commands the armed forces as well, and has the general staff aiding them. Till now, a militia consisting of half the entire population – citizens, that is – were the army in theory, and the navy were simply hired pirat- er, privateers. But that's changing now. So many of the Liberation Alliance have fled here that we have passed a law that makes it the standing army of the Confederacy, only supported by militia units when in dire need. And we're working on the navy as well. That's why I need you people. To aid with the building of a competent and modern armed forces." Luna too ate as quick as her mouth allowed it before paying and urged her companions to stand up and get going.

"But you were talking about citizens all the time... wouldn't that pose a problem? I don't recall becoming a citizen of Whaletail Island." Half statement, half question, full wonder was what Noki spoke then, and of interest to all her comrades.

"No." Simple and blunt came the response as Luna led them out of the restaurant again. The building was relatively flat but wide, built in Fire Nation manner, and seemed more like a small mansion than a restaurant. Seeing the glances of her companions, the Lord Protector found herself in a need of explanation. "The latest law we passed says that every Liberation Alliance soldier is granted citizenship upon setting foot on soil belonging to any of the thirteen Shires. You've been walking on the ground of Kenisibao Shire all morning. So, no problem. Now hurry up, there's people waiting for you, come on!"

Not leaving them time to react properly, she dragged her brother away immediately, urging the rest of his comrades to follow, which they did, for they would be lost in the Floating City without Luna. They rushed over plazas and through alleys towards a massive three-storey building known as the Palace of the Lord Protector.

"Hey, is that-?" began Senqok just as they had entered the Palace of the Lord Protector.

"Huh?" was Shizon's first response, but the red-haired firebender continued after spinning around. "Oh, well... I don't bloody believe it! It is! Spirits- "

"Did you actually gain weight?" asked Senqok, poking Skado's belly, who, after initially sporting a joyful expression, had exchanged it for his typical annoyed one.

"...glad to see you guys too." sighed the slightly corpulent young man just before he turned around to escape the poking when Kabura ever so slightly struck his belly with her hand flat. Him wearing an armour made from boiled leather over his uniform, however, made it a bit more hurtful for Kabura than for him. His uniform was more elaborate and coloured differently than the ones they had worn prior the Battle of the Five Armies. Suddenly, Shizon and Senqok broke out into tearful laughter over jokes they had told each other, while Kabura just smiled mildly, equally tearful, before all three of them patted Skado on the shoulder.

"Nice to have you back, laddie." spoke Shizon, while the other two exchanged some words in a mere whisper.

"How dare you!?" blurted Senqok with feigned shock. "You can't use a diminutive for someone that... voluminous."

The three shared a good laugh over an annoyed – but smiling – Skado, which even Zoruka and Noki joined with slight chuckles, despite having seated themselves distant from these three as to signal them being uninvolved with the annoying of Skado.

They calmed down after a few seconds, however, and Kabura decided to inquire, "Why have you got a new uniform, anyway?"

"That I can answer." All of sudden, Anyang had entered the room. It was a big one for sure, but it still was surprising to suddenly have the airbender General in their midst.

"Anyang!" came the shout of joy from Ranju as she ran to her teacher and threw her arms around him briefly before slowly tip-toeing her way back to her seat as she felt the shame rising.

"Skado now is Colonel Skado, head of the military development staff. That's also why he's got boiled leather and" – Anyang pointed at what Skado wore on his head – "safety goggles. They shield him from his own inventions."

"They're not just safety goggles, but also microscopes." pointed Skado out, afterwards putting them on properly before pulling a mask over it that resembled the gas masks he had once constructed. Then, he donned leather gloves, and looked over to his comrades, stating, "This is how I look when I test out my inventions. Someday I'll suffocate in it, I promise."

Zoruka and Noki both shook their heads and went over to Anyang, who seated himself on the floor in cross-legged position. "Come, Ranju. You may come, too."

In his robes of red and yellow, he looked almost like a proper Air Nomad, had it not been for the structure of the armour worn beneath looking through, Ranju found, and approached him again to seat herself next to him. As four of her comrades fooled around, she – and Zoruka and Noki, too – preferred to converse with Anyang.

"So... what have you been up to?" asked the General, seemingly lacking anything else to say.

"We should ask you the same question, Anyang," replied Noki with a slight rudeness in her tone.

"Getting here, mostly, General." Zoruka politely answered and even more politely inclined her head as she said the title.

"I was reorganising the Alliance," stated the General, then explaining, "I sent out hawks to as many officers as possible to bring here as many as possible, and right now, we've got half the Alliance here. Well, not exactly here, but on Whaletail Island."

"Yeah, figures... " found Ranju, then continuing almost excitedly, "So... we'll get to... do what, actually?"

"Paperwork." chimed Luna in, speaking in a tone that could indicate both seriousness and sarcasm.

Anyang raised an eyebrow at the remark, and elaborated, "Recruiting, constructing, overseeing construction and manufacture, mostly. And, should the time come, well- "

"Do you honestly expect the Lords to oppose the idea that much?" asked Luna rhetorically, as well raising an eyebrow at Anyang.

"Well, when the time comes, you" – Luna shot the General a brief glare – "we will have to fight again."

"What are you talking about?" wondered Zoruka aloud, believing to already know the answer, which filled her with a certain dread.

"We plan to declare war on the Earth Empire." the Lord Protector declared her plans, before elaborating them to Zoruka, "To omit popular participation in this decision, I will have to invoke some old laws from the ancient days of the confederacy, which allows me to act only with the council's approval on foreign matters. And since we still are part of the Earth Kingdom de jure, we may declare war on the Earth Empire, for we don't officially recognise their regime as the Earth Kingdom's governing body, and that would make a war against the Earth Empire legitimate. And with Kanyzon's aid, we might even be victorious. Then, the plan is to call a so-called Great Council, including all nobles of the Earth Continent, to elect a new Earth King."

"Which would also include you, Noki" – Anyang poked her lightly – "and would never ever happen. Not. Ever."

"True. For that, we'd have to make Ba Sing Se bow, and that they will never. But it's the plan I will present to the council." Luna decided, walking off, motioning Shizon, Kabura and Senqok to follow.

The three followed the Water Tribeswoman into some chambers that seemed more intimate than the hall they had left which had seemed to be designed for feasts. The chambers indeed seemed to serve exactly one purpose – changing cloths. And for that Luna intended to use it now, not for herself, but rather her brother and his two closest companions.

"Anyang told me about you.... and he told me to expect you to arrive in... rags, basically." Luna explained, taking a quick look at the three who had followed her. "Which you did, apparently."

Shizon was about to protest, but after taking a closer look himself, he found not only many tears and holes, but also bleached colours and dirt, dirt everywhere, thus he decided there was some truth to Luna's statement.

"Therefore, I've had some fitting clothes made for you." She hurried off, and shortly thereafter returned with three sets of clothes, including accessories fit for their respective fighting styles as well as boots. "For Senqok" – she handed him a set of bluish clothes, consisting of brow leather boots, dark blue trousers, arm-guards of boiled leather, a dark blue tunic with long sleeves, much reminiscent of a kimono, another tunic of light blue colour lacking sleeves woven from a rougher cloth, and finally, a belt fit to hold his sword's sheath as well as his water skin – "For Kabura" – the Lord Protector gave her the other blue outfit, which differed from Senqok's only in colour, cut and length of the tunic – "And, last but not least, for Shizon." – what remained was what she handed him, and that was the traditional armour of the Crown Prince of the Fire Nation, black with crimson lining, crimson with golden lining, the robes underneath forming a flexible unit with the heavy scale armour above.

"Why... just why do I get the armour of the Crown Prince?" inquired Shizon, puzzled, eyeing the cuirass somewhat suspiciously.

"What can I say, Kanyzon's got his agents all over the place, and so he heard of this request for your new clothing, and... sent this, for you. With no explanation." told him Luna, herself sounding somewhat baffled.

Shizon sighed in a combination of indifference and want, and took off his clothes except his pants before he began dressing himself in his new garb. Kabura only raised an eyebrow at him, but then found she had nothing to hide from the comrades she had served with for four years, and nothing to fear from Luna, so she mirrored his action, and then robed herself anew, finding joy in basic accessories such as proper footwear. Then, upon noticing the waterbending symbol on her belt, she realised, "That's a waterbending master's garb...!"

"Yes, yes it is. At least the belt is part of it." confirmed Luna, "I heard you started your waterbending training under my brother, so I thought it would be appropriate."

Senqok, who too had just begun dressing himself again after just having undressed, exchanged suspicious glances with Kabura, before finishing garbing himself. "So... " , the Water Tribesman began, then continuing in something that was half joke and half wish, "now give me gloves and a fur coat and I'm ready to go home!"

"You won't be needing such," stated Luna with a hint of sadness in her tone. "And neither will I. A letter from the South arrived some weeks ago declaring both of us personae non gratae. Taking into account that the Air Empire and the Northern Water Tribe likely too have declared you such, you're only allowed to be in the Confederacy or in the Fire Nation."

"WHAT!?" In a moment's notice, Senqok was devastated and infuriated. "None of the chiefs would allow this! This has to be a mistake!"

"But it isn't. And apparently, one of the chiefs certainly would." Luna stated as-a-matter-of-factly, the slight sadness never leaving her voice. "Things are very unclear in the South, but apparently, well... "

Kabura too grew worried, for she had had hopes to someday make a living in the South, as a refugee if necessary. "Well, what!?"

"It's unclear. It's almost as if... as if... " Luna looked for the correct vocable to describe what she intended to say. "It's almost as if there's actual infighting. I fear the South might follow the North on its path... "

Shizon's jaw dropped and his eyes widened in shock, Senqok and Kabura exchanged a brief glance and then shouted in unison, "NO!"

Luna too seemed crestfallen by what she informed them of, and so she quickly directed the topic elsewhere. "We better get ready for the council meeting now, it awaits us."

"This whole island here, the centre of Kenisibao city, is called The Citadel," stated Luna as she led the eight comrades from single three-storey building that was the Lord Protector's Palace – and their new home, too – over the square, into the direction where a mountain rose tall, continuing her explanation. "It houses most of Kenisibao's, and the entire Confederacy's, most important institutions, and serves as refuge for most of the city in times of peril – it may not seem like it through all the forests and rock formations, but The Citadel is dotted with small fortresses – castles, like Wa Castle, actually – and also many old mines and the like that serve as depots as well as living space, if necessary. Also does it contain the Confederacy's biggest single arsenal and the biggest shipyards – or at least the most efficient ones – in all the former Earth Kingdom."

"And keep in mind that there's many other cities and towns in the Confederacy that have shipyards comparable at least in size!" added Skado as they walked through the bow the ground floor of the bell tower, whose bell is meant to be rung on special occasions, such as an attack or elections. The bell remained silent this day, for all that was going to happen now was a mere session of the council. A session that would likely end in Whaletail Island issuing a declaration of war towards the Earth Empire, under the argument it didn't recognise Yi Ming's regime as the rightful government, not to speak of successor, of the Earth Kingdom of old. That, in future near or far, would certainly give reasons to ring the bell.

"I don't get it." blurted Zoruka suddenly as they began ascending the steps up to the octagonal building in which the council usually convened. "First, you were on your way to visit Senqok's – er, your father – in the Southern Water Tribe, and now you need us for a session of the council?"

"The part with the council session was planned all along. Some councillors demanded a session for today I was going to abstain from because I didn't think it was worthy of my attention." Luna explained casually as Skado began puffing slightly with each step. "I wanted to win the South as an ally, and the Fire Nation as well, later on anyway, and then make treaties with both to form a front against Yi Ming. It was my plan all along, but once I learned of... "

Zoruka looked down, feeling a bit guilty and ashamed for having to bring up the topic of Chief Gangtok's death again. "Oh... I understand..."

"No, you don't." spoke the Lord Protector boldly, "I honoured his memory by abiding to one of his principles."

"To be a great leader, one must be a great improviser." completed Senqok the sentence, smiling sadly. A turn came in the stairs, and Shizon had to help Skado a bit, who began sweating. The sun burnt down on them with an intensity else only known in the desert, and the rock all around worsened it.

Sensing their unease with the temperature in conjunction with the stairs' length, Noki though aloud, "I could get us all up here much faster, but nevermind... "

"Yes, please!" shouted Skado, "I'm boiling in this uniform!"

"Fine." Demonstratively, Luna placed her hands on her swords' hilts as she answered the earthbender. "But you repair every damage you make yourself, is that clear?"

"Aye aye, captain!" Noki sarcastically saluted before Luna before dragging the slightly corpulent and slightly boiling figure of Skado close towards her, while the others – except Anyang and Ranju, who nodded at each other and then jumped upwards, enhancing their leaps with their airbending – walked closer to her out of own accord. Then, the blind girl ripped out a part of the stairs, making it shoot upwards by the wall's side, and suddenly stopped upon reaching the top, where a kind of stoa edged the wall as well as the space surrounded by it. "Ding!" was all that Noki spoke upon arrival on the top, while the others all involuntarily jumped upon the sudden cease of motion.

"So... we're up now. That almost-tower there is the Diet, the council's session, uh... quarters. I guess," stated Luna, hurrying off the platform after the others. Noki stayed on the platform of hers a bit longer, jumping off and then sending it back the exact way it came. Luna was quick to lead them over the empty space and into the cool shadow of the Diet. Guards wearing Liberation Alliance uniforms and holding crossbows as constructed by Skado opened the door for Luna and her companions, letting them enter. A few metres through a hallway more – the hallway was these few metres wide – before another door that was opened to them, and they found themselves in an octagonal hall with benches and tables positioned to the wall in risen positions, one seat protruding from the else equal row. The benches were filled by fifty-two men exactly, and one woman soon enough, one woman who instructed them, "You wait here until I call you out."

With a quick pace, Luna walked to the one yet unoccupied seat, and seated herself in it. She struck a gavel, and shouted, "Silence!" Whichever conversations had been held before now had broken down. "Hereby, the forty-second emergency session of the Council of the Confederacy of Whaletail Island is opened!"

"Almost informal. That is very unlikely of you, Lord Protector, madam." muttered one councillor, but with all his colleagues remaining silent and the acoustics of the session hall, the entire council, and the eight comrades at the entrance of the session hall, too, heard it.

"Thank you for sharing your opinion with us, Lord Sun." The sarcastic remark earned Luna a few chuckles. "But if you recall, we're here not to teach courtesies, but to lead the Confederacy."

" you can put a crown on your head and sit a throne?" spoke the councillor referred to as Lord Sun. It earned him agreement from several other councillors.

"No, but to rip a crown off a man's head." answered the Lord Protector truthfully. As Lord Sun lacked a reply, she continued, "De jure – by law – we still are part of the Earth Kingdom. Earth Emperor Yi Ming never claimed to be the Earth King's successor, and even so, he is to be considered a usurper, for he never has been crowned. As we do not recognise his Earth Empire as an actual state, it may be considered rightful – and honourable! – to declare war upon the Earth Empire. We would fight for the Earth Kingdom of old we bowed to. Furthermore, our Confederacy is dedicated to separating civilians and the military to protect the former from the latter in times of war ever since the Battle of Serpents' Pass, is that correct?"

For the time she spoke, nobody dared answer. The councillors all just nodded in agreement as she outlined her plan.

"Rejaki and Li Di Ce should be ringing a bell then. These two villages were completely wiped out with the argument they had aided in the assassination of Imperial Marshal Han. I have a handful of witnesses here. I call forth Crown Princess of Zoruka, dishonoured, exiled and sentenced to death by her husband Yi Ming, the heir to the throne of the Fire Nation, and Shizon of the Fire Nation, a soldier of the Liberation Alliance, to jointly recall the events and aftermath of the Li Di Ce massacre!"

Zoruka stepped forth, but found Shizon somehow walking with greater ease than her. The two paced to the room's centre, and looked around to see the people who they had to face, in a way, now. Zoruka found herself to be slightly nervous, but calmed herself, and demonstratively adjusted the eye patch on her left eye.

"It began on the evening just after the assassination. Yi Ming entered my office – I was Grand Secretariat of the Earth Empire then – and demanded of me to wipe out these two villages to avenge the victim, to teach the Liberation Alliance a lesson. We – I, Yi Ming and our agents – travelled to Li Di Ce in the very same night, having my then second-in-command take care of Rejaki." She took a deep breath and felt herself back in the summer night when she defied Yi Ming. A single tear escaped her eye's corner. "We entered the village, and summoned the entire population to the centre – no matter what they were dragged out of, they were taken as they appeared in the moment they were seized. Yi Ming interrogated them briefly before ordering me to burn down the village. I defied him and he gave me this" – the Crown Princess lifted her eye patch and slowly turned around, letting all councillors see her gift – "and ordered them to be locked in their houses. Afterwards, all I remember is the first fires being laid."

"It was burnt down completely. The houses, the cattle and sheep and whatever animals the people there had, and the people themselves as well. All that was left were mere scorched bones with traces of burnt flesh clinging to them." Shizon seemed indeed better at holding speeches, and hiding his still persistent shock than Zoruka, which kind of ashamed her. "After a brief survey of the entire area, my fears were affirmed – aside from one set of bows and arrows, or rather, just arrows, I found not a single weapon, therefore, it must be assumed the people of Li Di Ce were exclusively civilians. Similar must be assumed of Rejaki." Not knowing how to properly end, Shizon simply ended his speech in its midst, and retreated with hesitant steps.

"An outrage, but not worth a war." found Lord Sun, again earning agreement from several other councillors.

"We have the Fire Nation as an ally, and likely, with Yi Ming busy elsewhere, the Earth Kingdom's south and west would rise in rebellion against him, of that we can be sure." assured Luna the councillors, indicating for her companions to leave with a gesture. "And with the Liberation Alliance's soldiers and the new navy, we could- "

"Win a battle or maybe even two, but not a war!" snapped Lord Sun back, while Senqok, Shizon, Zoruka, Noki, Skado, Kabura, Ranju and Anyang made their leave.

They decided to wait by the door for a result. While at first standing, they sat down because their legs had begun to ache. The shouting continued inside, ever ferocious, and soon, hunger settled in with the eight comrades. Hours passed without anything happening except Skado falling asleep and the others beginning to converse. After several hours, the sound of a gavel awoke them all. Within what seemed to them like a split second after all the boredom, Luna emerged.

"And, how did-?" began Skado, still sleepy, interrupted by Luna herself.

"I got it passed!" With a mixture of pride and sadness, Luna spoke. "We're going to declare war on the Earth Empire."

Notes and Trivia

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