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Blood and Swamps
November 23, 2012
War and blood have spread across the world again as nations seek to overpower one another. The Avatar is meant to bring balance to the world. But she is enclosed within the great city of Omashu while the Black Dragon plots. Avatar Tala must master the elements and seek a path to continue her journey as the Avatar.
Chapter 1: The Prisoner
The harsh sound of a large muzzle could be heard in the room. Every time the wolf slept, his heavy breathing woke up the floor. Fortunately, he rarely slept. Only as necessary when he couldn't stay awake to watch over his master anymore.
His master was another story. She did nothing but sleep. The She-Wolf, a deadly waterbending mercenary named Ralyn, had taken the most perplexing action and attacked her benefactors, clients who no doubt paid very well for her services in the war on Omashu. And yet she sabotaged most of their mysterious tankers, turning them into fireballs and smoke. She nearly escaped were it not for Grand Marshal Rishu, the Black Dragon. His lightning put her out, she has been that way for the month and a half since.
Three Down, One To Go
Tala weaved through the spinning gates with ease. Making it look like the gates were still and she were merely walking through them. The Elders looked on with pride, she had recovered well from her broken ribs, enough to twist and spin as was required to navigate the spinning gates.
Tala lightly stepped down as she exited the gates, never touching a single one. She waited silently. Hava clapped, "Excellent work, Avatar Tala."
Monk Yilo agreed, "Indeed Avatar. In three years, you have mastered an element that is your natural opposite. A truly remarkable feat. We have agreed with Master Hava that you have learned not only how to bend the element of air but to understand our ways."
Tala smiled slightly, but otherwise gave no sign of the pride she held inside. She brought her hands together and bowed slightly to them. Hava and the council returned the gesture, Hava smiled with pride as his student has achieved such a great thing.
"Congratulations, my pupil, for we are now both masters of air."
As the fashion of Omashu, a feast was held for the Avatar for mastering the element of air. It was a high point that the people needed in the wake of war and more recently the battle on the full moon two months ago. Many were captured by bloodbenders that night. And though a smaller group, those who were lost forever still wounded the city. Amongst them were the twin sons of King Urri, Esas & Kilidi.
Urri was still reeling from the loss compounded with the capture of his brother, Suun. The entire city felt for their leader and his terrible loss.
Several of the kids that Kulek was now training in Simi's absence performed some techniques for entertainment, including air scooters as the kids circled each other. In the midst of the jubilation, a White Lotus sentinel approached Liman, the highest ranking Lotus after Kuel's capture. His eyes narrowed upon the sentinel whispering in his ear. He left and followed the sentinel. She looked to Hava and motioned to Liman, both left as quietly as they could so not to attract attention.
Liman headed to the hospital and made it to a room they all knew too well, Ralyn's. Tala and Hava entered, surprising Liman. But not nearly as much as they were surprised when they saw Ralyn was sitting up, her massive wolf on her lap.
"I figured someone would want to talk to me when I woke up."
"To say the least."
"I'm surprised the King is not here. Unless he is otherwise unable to convene?"
"He is being informed of the situation. But we have more important questions for you, mercenary."
"Why, dear Master Lotus, important questions are the only ones that have any interest." She smiled deviously.
Ralyn's waking from her lightning induced sleep soon spread amongst the elite of Omashu. While a mercenary, she was close to Rishu by all accounts and trusted to protect his wife from the Avatar; yet she betrayed him and fled to the city he was sieging.
Ralyn seemed only slightly hurt from her wound as if she had been healing for months when it was less than two. Liman and Hava began questioning her.
"Lets start with why you turned on your benefactor?"
"Yes," she adjusted how she sat, difficult with a hundred and fifty pound wolf on her lap, "you see, I was given a task to complete. One that would make capture of the Avatar easy for the Fire Nation. If you noticed, I destroyed a set of special containers."
"Yes, what of them?"
"Those containers had a very dangerous substance, called Morpheus. It was a liquid that when turned into gas could induce comas. There was enough of it to make the entire city vegetables."
Hava inquired, "Then what use is it if its in liquid form and not gas?"
"The task was for my Wolves and I to bend the liquid into a gas after it was dropped into the city. Once it had its effect, the army would march in, take the targets they want and give them the serum to wake them up, only they'd be prisoners."
Ralyn continued, "The only problem is that there was a limited supply of the serum, so they wouldn't bother reviving the entire city. This entire city doesn't deserve the fate fit for only its defiant leader."
Liman pressed, "Why did you come to us afterwards, why not flee for somewhere else?"
"Are you kidding? The Fire Nation controls the seas and the Earth Kingdom has control of all the roads between here and anywhere else. There is nowhere to run."
Hava and Liman were silent for a moment, thinking on this.
Tala asked the next question, "What are you expecting for coming to us and what are you willing to give in return?"
"I expect that I will be a prisoner, and likely locked away by your king. I offer my services and knowledge. I am a master waterbender, and I know much in the way of Fire Nation military operations."
"And if those services include fighting for us?"
"So long as I am not fighting the wolves, who will follow their contract with the Grand Marshal, perhaps."
Hava walked to her, "Tala, a word."
The three left Ralyn in the room with the sentries. Hava closed the door and immediately began questioning, "What are you thinking? Fighting? Teaching?"
"She is the best waterbender in the continent, if not the world. We need that skill and expertise on our side."
"If this is about learning waterbending, we have plenty of waterbenders and Liman is the best of them."
"But she's better, no offense." She quickly looked to Liman.
"None taken. Yes, she is more skilled and more powerful, she is also a mercenary for hire. Can we trust her to fight with us?"
"I don't know, but I do know that we need that power, I need that power, if we are to end that army of invaders outside our doorstep." She paused to breathe, "For too long, I was hidden in here and given sub-par training so that Urri could keep me in the city. I need the best to teach me, just like you did. Maybe things would be different if I had learned from Rishu and then you. Perhaps I would have been in a position to broker a peace?"
"You can't know that. Its a stretch of a possibility and a highly unlikely one." Hava did not buy into the reasoning of that.
"But one that was possible nonetheless. The fact is, I need to learn from the best, and she is the best."
Hava looked to Liman, "She can learn just as well from you. We don't need some mercenary to tell her how to waterbend."
Liman was quiet for a moment in serious thought, he sighed and answered, "Yes, I could teach the Avatar to waterbend, and I could teach her well. I could teacher her Northern Style and how to defend against bloodbending. But Ralyn is clearly my superior. She knows much more than I do, is more powerful, and can teach much more to Avatar Tala than I can."
Hava did not like this, why would he at all agree with the idea? In what crazed world did it make sense? "Tala, training with her is not something you can do. She'll be in a cell forever while Urri is King."
"Not if you help me convince him that we need the best waterbender in the city to teach me my final element."
"Convince him? You haven't convinced me."
"Look, I don't trust her either, but I can use an experienced and skilled waterbender of her caliber."
Trouble For Teachers
Tala spent a long time arguing with Hava and then King Urri about having their recently awoken prisoner as a teacher. They remained unconvinced but she was determined, the kind of determined that would persist if they refused, the kind of determined that would do it on her own.
Urri was most opposed of them to her training with Ralyn. She was the one who directly captured Suun, Urri's brother, on the same night both his sons died. Urri was not in the mood to be generous to his prisoner.
But despite Hava's continued resistance, he was willing to let up if it could be guaranteed that she would cooperate and give all the intel she had on the siege.
Standing before her, Ralyn agreed, "I guess if I'm going to be called a traitor that I might as well be one who gets the honors too."
She stood up and stretched, testing how her body reacted and if there was any permanent damage from the lightning. She seemed to make most of the motions without straining or pain.
"First question: what do the invaders want?"
"Depends on who you ask."
"Don't dodge the question."
"Not dodging, it does depend. For what they want: if Kuir, then its you he wants, that way he can take the city. If Rishu, its the Avatar, he's wanted his claws on her since this all started."
She shrugged her shoulders implying she didn't know, "Probably cause it would legitimize the war if she stood with them."
Hava despite opposing it spoke up, "Lets be clear, you are to teach the Avatar how to bend the element of water, that is it. You will train her in the palace and only the palace."
"If that is what you wish, so be it." She looked to Tala, "We'll begin training the day after tomorrow, be there at sunrise."
"Very well, Sifu Ralyn."
Hava and Urri grimaced at her calling the mercenary that. But left it alone as they walked out.
While the city at large was unaware of who Tala would train from in waterbending, it was known amongst the military and other defending troops. Most displeased of all was the Order of the White Lotus, feeling betrayed that they were looked over in favor of a mercenary. Many thought Master Lotus Liman should teach her, given his skill and now recent responsibilities as leader with Kuel's capture.
It was a change that Kulek also disagreed with. He couldn't understand why Tala wanted to learn from her. He asked her. Her response were rhetoric, "She is the best waterbender in the city, if not the world. I would be a fool not to learn from her."
"Liman can teach you everything she can."
"No, actually, he can't."
A creeping fear set in to Kulek, "Are suggesting you want to learn to-"
"No! But there are plenty of moves I have seen her use that put even Liman to shame. The fact is that she is the best available and I need to learn as much as I can."
"But why her?"
She sighed, "The last time I wasn't trained by the absolute best was for firebending and it would have been Rishu. I didn't know, but still; what could have changed if I have learned from him? Would relations between the Fire Nation and this city be better? Could this whole war have been averted?"
"Rishu is a monster. He murdered Esas and Kilidi, he is responsible for this whole war."
"Exactly, a man like that is more than powerful. Imagined if I learned from him. Teachers need to be more than just a trainer, I needed and need more teachers like Hava who will challenge me."
Kulek didn't understand it and didn't think it was worth the trouble to try and find out. She was set on learning in waterbending from the She-Wolf.
Tala walked up the steps slowly, the training grounds had been changed to maximize its use for waterbending. Ralyn had stressed to take advantage of winter before it left. She finished climbing the steps to see new grounds. Fountains dominated the floor as one flanked each side and a massive one centered with tons of water now pumped in.
Ralyn stood in the middle just in front of the central fountain. She wore most of the same armor that she used to fight Tala on both Black Sun and the full moon, minus the wolf-helm.
Along the edges were other waterbenders eyeing the mercenary coldly. Among them was Liman, some Southern Tribe waterbenders and plenty of White Lotus sentries.
Ralyn raised a hand, a good number of sentries readied to strike, "Welcome, Avatar Tala, to your first lesson in waterbending."
Tala bowed respectfully.
"Now to begin. Water is an element of adaptation. While most fail to use that facet, it is inherent, with every wave and tide, with every drop of rain, there is change. This change gives waterbenders great versatility."
She turned to the fountain behind her and reached out her arm. Five pillars stood up, they curved in towards Ralyn, then began circling the mercenary. The circled as steep angles, crossing into each other. Then Tala realized that the water was leaving one stream into the next effortlessly without affecting the whole.
Ralyn next demonstration became clear when she used a new form of movement. The movements of her arms were stiffer and icicles emerged in the small wave before her. Ralyn blew on the form and it turned into a sphere of ice with the icicles still attached.
Tala watched in wonder at the impressive display, and so did the onlookers, most of whom were waterbenders themselves.
"You will, however have one weakness in this element; availability." She sent the water away and back into the fountain, "If you have no water to bend, you have no power. But there are things that can be taught to help you here." She twirled her hand in a circle and water appeared in the palm.
"Now lets begin."
- Ralyn will have a growing role in the story as the Avatar's new mentor. She will also contrast the advice she receives from others in the city.
- Ralyn is not only the most powerful waterbender in the city but in the world, though she is not a prodigy.
- Ralyn may have betrayed her contract, but her mercenary company, the Wolves, have stilled remained fixed to their record of never betraying a contract, and still work for the Fire Nation, despite their commander's breach.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
Storms of the Future Cycle
|The Journey of Tala|
|Book 1 - Sand and Steel|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 2 - Blood and Swamps|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 3 - Pyres and Storms|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Fates and Vows|
|- - - - - - Ilera - Solace Fade - Scions - Sovereign|
|The Rise of Lirin|
|- In the Morrow - The White Dragon - Faith in Blood - The Great Gates - Lord Avatar - A Red Sun - Faceless - Faction - Tempest - Rally of Crows - Rally of Eagles - Dragons and Serpents - Kings and Men - Storms of a Spirit - Princes - A Battered Land - Seas of Ichor - Arbiter - Return to a Grave - Declination - Disaffection - Epilogue|
|Myths of the Empire|
|Pacification - Assassins - Empire - Red Sun Under The Empire - White Snow - Heirs|
|The Reclamation of Arein|
|Book 1 - Chaos|
|Refugee - Rogue - Ghosts - Dark Roses - Doyen - Divulgence - The Plan - Abscond - Mists of Illusion - Madonna - Syndicate - Playing the Stakes - Purge - Brothers|
|Book 2 - War|
|Alliance - Temple - Tensions - The Fall - Hunters and Prey - Lussuria - Shades of Relevance - Broken Star - Defiler - Strikeforce - Secrets of the Lair - Eminence - Swarm - Wanderer|
|Dreams of Melasa|
|Book 1 - Servant|
| - - - - - - - - - - - - -
|Book 2 - Shadow World|
|Faint but Clear - Ghost in the Steel - Kurotama - Loyalties - Servants of Shadow - Game of Fate - Shadows and Reflections - Tomb of Blood - Broken Blades - Hill of Shadow - Souls and Swords - Home|