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|Chill of the South|
November 4, 2016
As promised, the first chapter of The Desire for Honor. I was somewhat pleased with the way the chapter went, so I hope you enjoy it as well.
Chapter 1: Chill of the South
The cold bit into Azula's lightly dressed frame. Her thick black boots were the only effective article of clothing against the bitter wind. Aside from that, her robe, tights and gloves were purely for show. Neither the torch in her hand nor the glow of blue fire in her palm could warm her sufficiently.
"Princess Azula, please come inside. You'll freeze to death." The gravelly voice came from ex - Commander Zhao, a ruthless Fire Nation official who was removed from his prestigious position under murky circumstances, although within the deepest of Fire Nation villages you will hear that it was because of his rising power that the Fire Lord sought to have him removed. "I can't believe that there are people who live in such an environment. Wretches and savages, the lot of them."
Azula cooly responded, "I care not for nature. We have a purpose in life. Nature does not. If we are to survive and thrive in this world, we have to put our purposes above that of everything else." Even in the blistering cold, her words cut sharply through Zhao.
Zhao moved forward, until he was right at her shoulder. "We have spent all time, all these resources, for one purpose," he whispered. "I have stood by your side through these three years, and I will not see our goal vanish from our grasp simply because you are too obstinate." Azula balked at the lack of formality, and she turned around. Zhao had his arm extended towards the safety of the control tower.
Against her impressive pride, Azula followed the direction of his arm. Inside, she went directly to the bridge, where the captain resides. "Captain, I want you to head directly towards the Southern Water Tribe. They've grown in numbers since we last visited their tribe, but I assure you, we have the numbers to handle them."
The captain nodded, not willing to argue or even suggest anything to the princess. He knew very well what happened to those who decided to contest the Princess' views.
Azula left the bridge and headed to her quarters. On the way, she ran into Zhao once more. He towered over her, his height giving an imposing figure, but Azula knew that he would not dare attack her. "Tell the captain that I wish to be in my chambers. I better not be disturbed." Zhao steeled himself against her tone.
Azula haughtily walked off, and Zhao felt the extreme need to punch something. However, before he could do that, he had to deliver Azula's pressing matters to the bridge, in order to preserve his safety on her ship.
Thankfully for him, the captain and many of the other soldiers were objecting quite explosively to her iron will and lack of remorse. The downside to his position in this situation meant that unless he wanted to incur Azula's wrath upon himself, he would have to calm them down. He sighed inwardly. What he wouldn't give to be in his old position again.
However, in a slight piece of revenge, in order to calm the crew down, he would reveal a small nugget of Azula's past. In fact, it could be used as leverage. So it was with a manipulative and not friendly heart that Zhao sat down on a barrel and motioned for the others in the room to follow suit.
"I'm going to tell you a story, a story of our Fire Princess. The great firebending prodigy, tumbling from power and forced to travel the world, looking for the only opposition to the Fire Nation. But why? Why would the Fire Princess be banished?" He sighed at this point. "Part of the reason is myself."
All the soldiers began to murmur. Their great commander, playing a role in the banishment of the princess? Zhao quieted them down. "I know what you must think of me," he continued. "You must have all heard the rumors of my termination as commander three years ago. Well, the cause of that is the Fire Lord. He feared my power, my leadership and my support with the people. He feared what I may become. And so, he rescinded my title, and had me forcibly removed from the palace."
Zhao's fists clenched at the thought. "He had me thrown out...his childhood friend..." he whispered. "And that is why I travel with the Fire Princess, hoping to capture the Avatar and restore my position as Commander."
He stood up, shaking the barrel on which he sat. "Now, we shall continue this little fable tomorrow," he growled. "And should any of you tell Azula what occurred here, I'll have your badge, your position and your head. Good day."
Zhao abruptly left the room, leaving everyone in attendance clamoring for more information, and praying to the Fire Lord in the sky, should Zhao unleash his fury on the lot of them.
Azula woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. She couldn't stop the scene from replaying in her head, not even after 3 years of continuous meditation, focus and forgiveness.
Her breathing intensified as she remembered her dreams, even as they noticeably slipped from her memory. She didn't need to remember what was in her dream to know what was on her mind, what had been on her mind for 3 years.
The long hall, filled to bursting capacity with Fire Nation soldiers, officials and public. Azula kneeled at one end, facing away from her opponent, assured in her victory. She smirked, and turned around at the sound of the gong.
At once, she shook with fear. The firebending prodigy looked on in horror as her opponent stalked closer to her.
Snarling, Azula leapt towards the attacker, drawing with her a whip made of pure flames. Without flinching, the shadow grasps the whip firmly, and yanks Azula to his feet.
"This is not of my own will. You have caused this. You have become an embarrassment."
Azula blinks away tears. "No, I haven't. I promise, I will atone for my sins. I can get the Avatar!" The figure stops suddenly, and looks down at Azula's cowering frame. "Return the Avatar to me. Then, you can have your power back. But until then, keep this as a memento."
As Azula looked up, she looked directly into the center of a fireball.
"Princess, wake up! We need you at the bridge." Clumsily, Azula turned on the light near her bed, and looked directly into Zhao's scowling jowls. He motioned to the door, and Azula quickly got dressed and followed him.
At the bridge, the princess began barking orders at any ranking officer who would listen. "Ready the troops, and prepare my armor. It's been a while since we've been here, and from our estimates, the Southern Water Tribe has seriously beefed up their defenses." She paused, and continued, "Some even say they have a waterbender in their midst. If we don't capture the Avatar, or find him in the tribe, then we should at least capture the waterbenders. It will be of pleasure to the Fire Lord."
The ship continued on slowly through the icy waters, occasionally bumping into sheets of ice or glaciers here and there. However, the hull was made of tempered steel, melting to a heating point by the intense fire from master benders. With their spiritual energy within the hull, it was powerful enough to withstand any elemental forces. However, Azula had learned from experience that Water Tribe weapons don't bend against the hull of a Fire Nation ship. She would have to take precautionary measures to ensure their victory.
"Alert! We have a Code Fire, coming in at 62 degrees northeast. All units, take your positions." The alarm blared through the defense wing of the Southern Water Tribe palace. Sokka was sleeping when the alarm went off, but he had been in enough drills to know the procedure when he needed to.
Jumping out of bed, he quickly dressed himself in the Water Tribe armor - a hooded jacket with plating on the inside for vital organ protection, as well as a helmet in the shape of a wolf's head. He grabbed his Water Club, his meteorite sword, and his boomerang, just in case.
Outside of his dormitory, dozens of other warriors were jogging down the hall towards the briefing center. All of them were trained in hand - to - hand combat, weapons and physical training. They were completely prepared for an attack.
Once in the conference room, Sokka immediately went to his father. "Dad, what is going on? Our scouts said that there were no Fire Nation troops in the area. How could they have snuck up on us like this?" he demanded.
Hakoda, Chief of the Southern Water Tribe, shook his head. "I have no idea," he admitted. "It's just a single ship, and it's not a full - class battleship." He nodded confidently. "We can take them."
Hakoda turned to the solders. "This may be the most important battle of our entire lives. We are fighting not only for ourselves, but also for our families and the people of the Southern Water Tribe. Let's save our people!"
The scores of men cheered in unison, prepared for battle. Sokka smiled and turned to his father, only to see a worried look on his face. "Sokka," said his father, "if things don't go the way we planned, we might need to use our secret weapon." A lump rose in Sokka's throat.
"No dad, no way. I'm not putting them in danger." Hakoda rested a hand on his son's shoulder, staring him directly in the eyes. "If we have any luck on our side, we won't need them. Let's get ready."
Sokka clasped his father's hand in his firm grip, and, sheathing his weapons, tackled him a full body hug. This, out of all the training, battles and fights he had been through, was the one he was most afraid for. Hakoda removed himself from the hug, and together, they walked out of the defense wing of the Southern Water Tribe palace.
The defense wing gazed over the entire city of the Southern Water Tribe. The palace itself was set inside of a glacier, with the main officials, soldiers and leaders protected by sheets of thick ice and easy escape into the tundra. The defense wing was the most unprotected, jutting out of the glacier and looking Northwards into the ocean.
Below them, the city was designed in a terraced formation. Different levels of housing, making no distinction between poor and rich, along with other important buildings, were layered, one level atop the other. There was a main pathway directly from the lower levels, where all the defenses were located, all the way to the top of the palace. Congregational locations, such as schools and hospitals, were located near this walkway for easy access.
The proudest, and the crowning accomplishment of the Southern Water Tribe was its use of the surrounding glacial environments, to create a wall. Not as impressive or large as the one in the North, but it served the same purpose: Keep invaders out. However, because of the South's lack of manpower, there was an evasive maneuver that Sokka had thought of.
In the event of a mass attack, there was an option of slightly opening the wall, just to allow one ship at a time to enter. With that narrow opening, attackers from above as well as waterbenders would be able to destroy the ship with ease.
Sokka jogged down the 600 steps down to the wall, where he was tasked with scouting and acting as the first line of the defense. However, he was under strict orders by his own father to retreat. He would not lose his son to any invader, be it at the cost of the first line of defense. Hakoda had planned well.
Sokka peered into the distance. At this time in the morning, the ocean was generally covered in rolling clouds of fog, making it difficult to see much of anything. However, Sokka could make out the faint plume of smoke coming out of the dark shape headed straight for the wall of the Southern Water Tribe.
Azula prepared the men on her ship. There were only a few dozen, but they were al proficient weapons masters or firebenders. They could handle themselves, even against the onslaught of ice, snow and cold that awaited them.
Azula looked at the men arranged in neat rows in front of her. "You know what is most important here. Not you, not your fellow crew members, but attaining a waterbender or the Avatar at any cost. It doesn't matter what that cost may be. Kuzon, Mako, I want you to join me and some of my weapons masters above deck."
The soldiers dispersed, either procuring weapons for themselves and their partners or making sure that the members of the ship knew exactly what the plan would be.
The captain took Azula aside once they were outside of the guards' dormitories. "Princess, are you sure in your plan? If it fails, it could be fatal for all of us." Azula flashed her smile, and glared down the captain. "I know what I am doing captain," she stated, still smiling in that sickly sweet grimace. "I know what I am doing when it comes to insubordination as well. Do you want to learn that firsthand?"
The captain bows meekly, and runs off, with a "No Princess" hanging in the air for seconds after his disappearance. Zhao steps up behind her. "And that is a perfect example of why you are the most ruthless person I have ever met."
Azula smiled once more, and called for Hotaru and Kuzon. "You know your instructions?" They both nodded, fearing for their lives should they say a word out of place. "Then get to work. I want it ready by the time we reach the Southern Water Tribe."
Hotaru grabbed the ropes on one end of the device, while Kuzon secured them with some fancy rope - work. Hotaru grunted as the job was completed, and stood up straight for a moment, breathing in heavily.
Kuzon grabbed his arm and led him over to the other side of the contraption, gazing up at it in the process. "Do you really think it will work?" he asked. Hotaru growled again as he struggled to hold the ropes steady. "I don't know, but I'm certainly going to try to make it work."
Kuzon finished tying the rope down and grasped Hotaru's forearm in his grip. "IF neither of us make it out today, just know that it's been a n honor working with you, Chief." Hotaru tipped his head, and said, "Likewise, sir. See you back on the ship."
Kuzon jogged up to Azula at the bridge, and called out, "Princess Azula! We have prepared our attack! All we need is your signal to launch!"
Azula smiled, this time much more coldly than before, and instructed Hotaru to wait until they could see the Southern Water Tribe markings on their wall.
Minutes after she said this, the gleaming wall of the Southern Water Tribe was visible. The wavy logo, indicating the power of the ocean, was etched onto the front. Barely visible soldiers were walking on the top of the wall.
"Ready the weapon! I don't want any mistakes!"
Hotaru set a large, flammable ball of leaves and oils on fire, igniting it within the clutches of a massive trebuchet. Located in the center of the main deck, the trebuchet was aimed directly at the wall of the Southern Water Tribe.
With one swing of his broadsword, Kuzon cut the lines restricting the trebuchet from throwing the ball of fire. The fireball sailed towards the wall, directly where Sokka was standing. But it was in an odd trajectory, flying directly over Sokka's head and directly onto the houses below him, on the first terrace.
Without hesitation, Sokka immediately ripped a piece of parchment from his belt and a writing utensil. He quickly scribbled out a message to his father, detailing the location of the ship as well as their failed attack. Just as soon as he gave the message to a courier, another fireball sailed over his head and onto the ice below him.
Hakoda received the message just as the third fireball sailed down onto the emptied houses. As he read the message, he began to pale in fear as he realized what Azula was planning.
"Open the wall," he said gruffly to the messenger. "Tell Sokka to open the wall."
"But sire, the strategic maneuver is meant for multiple ships. It won't work against a lone attacker."
Hakoda stared daggers at the man. "I don't need you to tell me how my own maneuvers work. I want all the warriors to stay near the docking bay, and that includes Sokka."
The messenger, frightened by the ferocity that Hakoda rarely displayed, hurried down to tell Sokka, just as the fifth fireball was being thrown. There were sizable craters that were burning the ice, and many of the soldiers stationed within the wall were hard at work putting them out before they spread.
Sokka, upon hearing his father's words, begrudgingly accepted. Calling down both sides of the wall, he instructed the soldiers to leave the wall and stay near the docking bay. At the same time, the waterbenders tasked with opening the wall began their process.
Azula halted the attack once she saw the wall opening up, and waited a few more seconds for a sizable opening. Then, without warning, she called upon the power of lightning to absolutely blast the wall open.
Sokka was fortunate enough to be off the wall when the lightning struck the wall, but some others were not as lucky. At least a dozen soldiers fell off the wall and crashed into the hard ice, and had to be taken away for healing.
Hakoda gripped his weapons and ran down to the docking bay the instant he saw the wall explode with the force of the lightning. He joined Sokka in leveling his spears and weapons at the ship, who slowly creaked to a stop. The tension in the air increased as the front of the ship released steam and drop down onto the ice.
For a second, all was calm. Until a group of firebenders leapt out of the ship and began attacking the dozens of warriors on the ice. Using their shields, designed for protection from firebending, the warriors survived the blast. Following the firebenders, the weapons masters charged the soldiers from all sides, and a battle ensued.
None of the warriors were benders, so defeating the soldiers became a difficult task. However, the soldiers had numbers on their side, able to put two or three on one given soldier. With support from women and children throwing objects and snowballs at the invaders, they were able to push them back to the ship.
Until Zhao emerged. With one strong leap he landed in front of Sokka and Hakoda, who has just disposed of a fallen Fire Nation attacker. Zhao pulled his sword from his belt and lit it on fire with his bending. Hakoda and Sokka prepared their weapons as well, charging Zhao.
Even with advantage of numbers on their side, Sokka and Hakoda found it difficult to land a blow on Zhao. The combination of his flaming weapon and his advanced fighting style made it a real challenge to slip past his defenses. Zhao parried a stab Hakoda's spear, and when Sokka took advantage of the lack of defense, Zhao used the hilt of his sword to knock Sokka down, a bruise forming on his head.
Hakoda yelled in rage, dropping his spear and grabbing his club. However, Zhao was prepared with a fireball of his own. Hakoda saw the ball of fire in Zhao's hand slightly too late, and realized that the club wouldn't make it to Zhao in time.
Just before it left Zhao's hand, ice, seemingly moving on its own, grabbed his hand. As Zhao looked down at his frozen hand, Hakoda's club came crashing into his chest, knocking the wind out of him. Fortunately, the armor blocked most of the attack.
Zhao looked around in surprise, and saw a young girl running towards Sokka. She bent down, removed her glove and created a mitten of water, which she ran over the bruise on Sokka's head.
Zhao's eye twitched, and he barely noticed Hakoda running at him with a spear. With one swift move, Zhao knocked the spear out of his hands and threw him to the ground. He left Hakoda groaning in pain.
Zhao grabbed the girl's arm and dragged her to his ship. He called out, "Fire Nation soldiers, return to the ship!" Without question, all of the Fire Nation soldiers defeated their opponents swiftly and returned to the ship.
"Get away from my daughter!" Hakoda bellowed as he charged Zhao, who handed the girl off to a soldier to be taken inside. Zhao avoided the swing of Hakoda's club neatly, stepped to the side, and rammed the heel of his foot into Hakoda's knee. With a final blow to the side of his head, Hakoda dropped unconscious, as Zhao took his daughter onto the ship.
Azula was somewhat pleased, which was a large step up from "furious" at the beginning of the day. She had captured a waterbender, and the daughter of Chief Hakoda at that. The Fire Lord would be pleased.
"Lock her in the hold," commanded Azula. "And quickly. I don't want her getting ideas about capsizing the ship with a gigantic wave."
Zhao nodded and relayed the commands down to his junior officers. The girl, who was being held belowdecks, was taken to the bridge to meet her captor.
"What do you want with me?" she growled. Azula smiled. "Nothing much, really. All I want is you. You just need to stay alive and civil until we reach the Fire Nation, and then you will be handed over to the Fire Lord. It's simple."
The girl snarled. She began to tense up. Azula immediately sensed something was wrong, but before she could call out any orders, the ship was rocked side to side. "Get her down to the hold before we suffer any more damage!" yelled Zhao. "I'll see what's wrong with the ship."
Zhao leaned over the edge to examine the glacier and the resulting damage. It was large enough to encompass a whole phalanx of soldiers, but it was still dwarfed by the ship. However, it managed to gain enough force to leave a sizable dent in the hull. The damage was of no matter; they could get it repaired in any port they docked into. But what was inside the glacier was what Zhao was interested in.
"Princess Azula! There's something in the glacier that you might want to see." Azula joined Zhao at the rail and peered down at the glacier. Slowly, as she realized who it was, she began to laugh. "This is our lucky day, Commander Zhao." Zhao was taken aback by her use of his full title. "We have a waterbender from the Southern Water Tribe, and now we have the Avatar."
If you read the chapter before my secondary edits, you may remember a different author's note here. One that talked about aging up the characters. I was told, with a very helpful and detailed review from ValkyrianSalad, that it would do no good and would confuse the readers even more. So I have left the ages as is.
I will be writing more chapters for this, but again, I have no schedule. It's really based on how much time I spend on the other chapters. If I have time, I can sneak in a chapter here and there for other fanons.
That's all for now, and see you in the next chapter.
For the collective works of the author, go here.