|More from Minnichi||Romance/Angst/Action||PG-13||Very Positive|
|Chapter 1 - The Peace Orator (SHiE)|
Never forget those who risked everything to help Avatar Aang restore balance to the world. Countless individuals played their part, from royalty, priests, soldiers, merchants, to peasants. They rose from all around the world, facing the wrath of the Fire Nation with impossible courage. Some were imprisoned. Some were tormented. Some lost their lives.
Deep within the heart of Ba Sing Se, sworn to obedience and programmed to disregard emotion, were those gifted with wonderful and terrible capabilities to manipulate the earth. A crowd of identical, grave, and silent assassins bore their vacant faces like masks.
Beneath the mask, however, one soul ached with emotion. One soldier abandoned the rest of the clones, abandoned all reason and logic, until he himself joined the sea of souls lending their hands to Avatar Aang. He alone saw hope.
But hope could not have been enough to change a Dai Li agent. The dark organization could never understand his betrayal, and why it happened despite what was at stake. The dissenter never understood it himself.
He only knew the bleeding of his heart, and how to stop it.
"There is no war in Ba Sing Se."
"THERE IS NO WAR IN BA SING SE." The cold, grey walls of the dreary chamber echoed with the drones of a hundred voices.
"There is no war within the walls." A single, thoroughly trained voice cut through the damp air a few seconds before the rest. Its smooth, captivating tone displayed several years of experience and unmistakable command.
"THERE IS NO WAR WITHIN THE WALLS." One hundred pairs of eyes stared after a glowing, orb-like lantern that emitted an eerie hum as it circled across a thick, rusty rail.
"Here, we are safe."
"HERE, WE ARE SAFE."
Yuhan stifled a sigh and strained to resist covering his ears. The "Fire Warmongers," as named by the Dai Li, had struck with a rather large force this time. It had taken almost every agent in the city to break the riot, to reassure the commoners of their safety - to silence Ba Sing Se once more. It had taken even longer to drag the struggling bodies beneath the shadows of Lake Laogai.
Tonight, Yuhan was (as always) the unlucky nominee for Peace Orator. He'd given up trying to figure out why a long time ago and found it more useful not to complain and move on - which was probably why the other agents liked nominating him in the first place. Some were appreciative of his willingness to take their place, while others smugly assumed that he'd be polite about it anyway; either way, he was always nominated. Yuhan was just the kind of guy who focused on getting things done, and done well. His features were sharp in general, with jagged black hair and chiseled muscles beneath the folds of his uniform. His dark attire shared the same, emerald green of his eyes, which usually found everything beyond what met them. He was generally silent and toweringly tall like the other agents - and yet, whenever he remembered to look up from the glowing lantern, there was the slightest hint of kindness that actually made him approachable. Sometimes.
At the end of the day, a "hint" of kindness never spared the rioters. Yuhan was at it flawlessly every night. But even so, it wasn't as if he actually enjoyed holding a 703 record for the successful delivery of the anti-war speech. It was simply in his belief that he should be appreciative of his honored position and show his respect to his leaders and fellow members - even if that respect sometimes took the lives of innocents.
...But they weren't innocent, he reminded himself. If those people were left untouched, Ba Sing Se would fall into chaos and turmoil... Yuhan shook his head. As usual, the Dai Li's reasoning behind its brainwashing only barely provided enough incentive to stand here in front of Ba Sing Se's bold civilians. To stand here, and force the words from his throat into theirs.
"Here...we are...are..." The young orator suddenly let out a long, drawn out yawn. Startled at himself, he quickly threw his hands over his mouth.
It was too late.
"HERE, WE ARE, ARE...AAAAAUUUUUUUOOWWWHH!" The chamber rang horrifyingly loud with the unnatural, recited noise. The rotating lantern stopped dead in its tracks while the rebels stood in confused, zombie-like silence.
A murderous Long Feng came storming in immediately. "Just what do you think you're doing?" he demanded. The creases in his naturally cross face seemed to dig even deeper and more terrifyingly than usual.
Yuhan grabbed nervously at the folds of his emerald-colored sleeves, his dark green eyes flickering with panic for the briefest moment. I'm dead. Swallowing a gulp, he barely managed to mutter, "I-I'm very sorry, sir. Please forgive me - I'm tolerating my lack of rest very poorly, and it is difficult for me at this hour to -" A snarl started forming on the peeved leader's face. "- but I understand that I must perform my duties to the highest standards of the Dai Li, regardless of the circumstances," the Peace Orator quickly added, his voice automatically taking on a respectful, confident tone. "It was unacceptable for me to let my personal needs interfere with the maintenance of peace, and I only hope that you will pardon me for my failure to recite my speech with poise and clarity. I assure you that it will not happen again." If I even live to see it happen again... Yuhan knelt to the cracked stone floor and bowed, holding his breath.
Miraculously, Long Feng's expression softened into something that almost resembled a smile. "I was somewhat startled of your fault today, for minor faults appear to me like earthquakes when they originate from you, Yuhan, Leader of Peace." His simple tone was as detached as ever, but anyone who knew the Grand Secretariat would've taken the compliment over his usual threats any day. "Your commitment and performance as a Dai Li agent have been commendable without question, so I am sure this mistake will not repeat itself." His tone was a bit colder as he added, "I assume you'll prove to me that my confidence in you is not misplaced. You may rise."
"Thank you, sir." Yuhan let out a great sigh of relief as he straightened himself back up, watching the retreating figure of his leader disappear back into the shadows. Turning around to face the crowd of rebels, still standing and staring like awkward statues, he almost sighed again.
"...There is no war in Ba Sing Se."
At 5 a.m., the tired "Leader of Peace" plopped face-first into his mattress, still in uniform. The familiar room, enclosed by a heavy sliding door of iron, was the same one he'd been assigned since his first day as a Dai Li agent years ago. It was comfortable enough, but Yuhan had kept it quite plain and lifeless - sort of like himself. The dull grey walls of stone were still bare, save for the rectangular cubbyhole carved into the back corner that held the bed he'd just jumped into. The outer edges of this nook were inlaid with jade carvings of badgermoles, and silky green curtains hung across the top, which he often pulled to the sides and kept pinned with his own rock gloves. Inside, the plump mattress and the feathery pillows were the same emerald green, both with silken coverings, and the blankets had a smooth, sea-green sheen to them. It was a cozy little niche, even if Yuhan barely had any time to enjoy it. He spent most his non-brainwashing hours across from his bed at a little desk, which was carved from the same grey stone as the walls, its corners embellished with more jade. The carvings along the upper shelves were somewhat hidden by the piles and piles of earthbending and psychology scrolls stuffed within, and Yuhan's chair was a flat pillar jutting from the ground or whatever else he felt like earthbending; he needed the actual chair that had come with the desk to throw his lazy laundry over. A jagged rock was mounted at the far corner of the desk, yielding a couple of brightly glowing green crystals. Any light only made Yuhan's tired eyes sting even more, who drowsily stuck his arm out of his cubby-curtains to throw his hat over them. The room faded into comfortable darkness, and he dug his face deep into his feathery green pillow. All the aches in his body that he'd ignored earlier seemed to come to life at once, and several minutes passed before he could he could actually feel the cushion of his mattress.
It had taken four more rounds of the anti-war speech to get the cursed yawn out of the rebels' memories. But still, the tired agent had to admit that he'd done a good job. He almost felt proud for still being able to pull it off and for successfully converting over a hundred rebels. And at the end of the day, he was still in Long Feng's good favors. Yuhan deserved this rest. His eyes grew heavy, and his mind began drifting off into slumber.
A loud moan from somewhere outside his room startled the agent back awake. Irritated, he rolled over and pulled a few specially prepared rags from his pockets, stuffing them into his ears. Another difficult prisoner...I'll never get why they'd put the cells right across from the sleeping quarters... Yuhan felt like he knew the answer, but he decided not to dwell on Long Feng's prisoner escape paranoia at the moment.
A sudden image flashed somewhere between his disgruntled thoughts. A distorted figure was peering at him, its looming shadow waiting to drown him, its dark, wrinkled face twisted in a deep, demented fury. "You'll pay for everything..." it hissed. "Just wait...you'll burn...you'll wish you were never alive..."
Yuhan cringed. Curling up on his mattress, he tried to shift his mind back to the comforts of his much needed rest and on the kinds of errands Long Feng might force upon him in a few hours.
Somewhere deep within the crevices of his heart, the sleep-deprived agent could sense that something - maybe everything - around him was horribly wrong. He'd stuffed away this uncertainty long ago, focusing instead on what he was told to do and keeping his family's honor. Still, the awareness would leak out in little streams when his mind was most unstable, during the pause between consciousness and sleep. But, as a devoted agent, Yuhan always managed to chain it back down in the end. Most of it.
I'm more fortunate than the majority of Ba Sing Se's people, he assured himself for the thousandth time. I should be happy that I'm so respected and treated well by citizens, the Dai Li, and even Long Feng. My parents are well. The city is at peace. There's nothing to worry about. No one I care about is getting hurt... Yuhan was still shuddering as he fell asleep. Would those words hold true forever?
"My son! MY son, has been requested to join the Dai Li! I always knew that Ba Sing Se couldn't ignore his Earthbending for long! Didn't I always say that he's got talent? Just picture it - Yuhan, the protector of our walls! The elite keeper of peace! Happiest day of my life, I tell you..."
An adolescent Yuhan covered his face as his father, tears streaming down his aged face, waved the gold and emerald-trimmed letter around the whole shop. Due to the man's outburst, a small crowd had gathered around to congratulate the boy and shake his hand, and some children even requested autographs. He forced a modest smile, throwing out some excuse about "picking up his uniform" while backing slowly towards the door. Honestly, he didn't even know what he'd done to be chosen by the Dai Li. All he knew was that it was a very hard thing to accomplish, even if he couldn't figure it out. Should he be proud?
"Just look at the designs on this thing!" His father was still obsessing over the elegant scroll, the summon from the mysterious organization. The crowd shifted their attention back to the letter, racing to look at it more closely and to hold it in their hands. The young recruit took this chance to slip quietly out of the shop, retreating into the back alley. He leaned against the dusty wall outside and exhaled.
Yuhan nearly jumped when a cold, bitter voice pierced the brief silence.
"So, you're going to add new bars to the prison of Ba Sing Se...You must be proud." An old, ragged man had been sitting against the wall a few feet away. The tattered remains of a faded brown robe hung over his shoulder like a toga, revealing the dark skin of his bony chest. His long, dirty grey hair hung before his eyes but could not hide the horrible scars that marred his face. One of his cheekbones looked oddly out of place as he spoke. Yuhan felt an uneasiness forming within his gut as he looked down at that face. He almost asked about the injury, but the old man spoke up again, his black eyes flashing dangerously. "The Dai Li are quite something..." he remarked. One hand lifted to touch the distorted cheekbone. Yuhan swallowed. "I hope you enjoy yourself in there, boy. It must be so much fun prancing around the kingdom in fancy outfits, forcing everyone to worship you..." The old man appeared to be talking to himself now. "Just you wait, it'll all come back one day..." His eyes were wild and demented as they suddenly fixated upon Yuhan. "You'll pay for taking Yuki from me. All of you bastards, you'll wish you never lived...I'll make sure you burn, every single one -"
Yuhan found himself frozen to the spot, staring in horror as the frail old man's head spun on its axis from the sheer impact of a single, brick-sized slab of stone. The sickening shatter of bone split open the air as his thin frame followed suit, flipping and crashing against the dirt in unnatural angles as the rest of the force carried through. He twisted in agony on the ground, clutching aimlessly at his crushed skull, and his skeleton arms waved about in twitch-like motions before dropping to the ground, sending up small clouds of dust.
The sharp, perfectly cut slab of stone simply fell into the dirt after striking its target, landing quietly next to the still body. It was only after Yuhan noticed the crimson lining of this slab that the scream finally escaped his lips. Without knowing what he was doing, he lunged forward and reached uselessly towards the body as if he could somehow pull it back up to life. However, the ground suddenly shook beneath him and the old man, trembling precariously. Quicksand! Yuhan immediately reacted, jumping into the air for a moment before landing two heavy feet upon the rapidly forming mud, solidifying the surface back into a stable platform. However, the old man a few paces away was hopelessly sinking into the earth. Giving a cry of dismay, Yuhan threw forward his arms from his platform and yanked upon any limbs that were still visible, but a sharp, invisible force was suddenly yanking the back of his collar. He was reeling backwards before he knew it.
The sound of a cold, frightfully calm voice finally caused Yuhan to stop and twist around, huffing angrily. He immediately froze upon sight of long, emerald robes and a pointed hat of the same color, both accented with gold. Not far off, the old man finally sank away from sight as the ground crackled shut.
"I apologize that we had to meet this way. Truly. We're lucky not to have any passersby around, though. You will come to understand all of this very soon." The agent simply lifted his arms, spreading out his fingers as if stretching. Several tiny pieces of rock flew to cover his hands completely, like gloves. Yuhan suddenly realized that these stone hands had been pulling him away from the quicksand this whole time. He glanced back, still horrified, at the patch of dirt that a battered body had occupied only seconds ago. The agent stepped in front of him and blocked it all from view with a quiet shuffle of his robes. He offered an arm with such a cheery, nonchalant smile that it was disturbing. Yuhan reluctantly grasped the stone-covered fingers, allowing himself to be helped back to his feet.
"Sorry that you had to catch me on the job. I was just dispatched to come get you, and this peasant was sitting in the way. Anyway - Yuhan, was it? Welcome to the Dai Li, kid."
Oh, and this is Yuhan ^^
...Okay no, his realistic-ish portrait is linked in the chapter box below. But this was too cute for me to leave out. It came as part of my prize package from arriku's deviantart writing contest ;)
As always, I forever worship the talented artists of deviantart.com who made all the illustrations possible for my fanon.
p.s. There's actually a reason why Yuhan doesn't have the hair braid. It's probably more ridiculous than you think...so don't think about it xP
- Minnichi wasn't sure how to write out the sound of a yawn originally, so the dialogue was literally "YAWNNN!" She decided to search on yahoo questions "what does a yawn sound like?" and copy/pasted the best answer she found! heheheh
- This chapter was originally posted alongside the next 13 chapters simultaneously, to match the story's progress on fanfiction.net. It still undergoes rigorous revision from time to time.
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