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|A Glimpse of Ordinary Life|
A Glimpse of Ordinary Life is the twentieth chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
Luna, Senqok's sister and Lord Protector of Whaletail Island, takes Senqok, Noki, Shizon, Zoruka, Kabura and Ranju to Kenisibao, where she briefly explains the history and political system of the isle. Afterwards, they arrive at Luna's residence, the Lord Protector's Palace, where the six comrades reunite with Skado and Anyang, before they briefly attend a session of the council of Whaletail Island, in which then the Confederacy votes to declare war on the Earth Empire.
Chapter 20: A Glimpse of Ordinary Life
"Just what in Koh's realm are you doing here, seriously?" Senqok, wearing his oh-so-fancy new – actually, two months old – attire, popped in on Skado. The latter, wearing his filthy uniform and having his goggles down, cowered on his chair so he could hover over his entire table, which was quite a big one. His laboratory was messier and yet more orderly than any place Senqok had ever seen, including his sister's workplace, and that was saying something.
"I'm trying to concentrate, to work, fuck off!" answered the nonbender, perhaps a bit too harshly – not that Senqok would've minded. The Water Tribesman just continued exploring Skado's room and annoying him to no end. He dug through scrolls, piles of rubbish – mainly consisting of pieces of metal and wood that have become needless to him – and ended up even searching the pile of screwed up pieces of paper, he did everything to find out about what the engineer was doing without having to ask him directly, and – mostly – to annoy him. As Senqok took one of these papers and took a closer look at what was scribbled on it, and was about to decipher the characters Skado had added to his constructions, Skado had enough of the noise the waterbender made. "Out." spoke he, pointing at the door with a piece of charcoal he used for drawing his technical drawings without turning around. "Whatever it is you're truly here, it can wait."
"Whatever it is you're drawing, it can wait." stated Senqok, rising to his feet from the cross-legged position he had taken, to walk over to his comrade and take a look at what he was drawing.
"Who else is going to design the new ships your dear sister's ordered for her navy? You?" asked Skado, never looking up from his paper, his drawing. He observed it with a face that bore an expression of anger and tiredness, as well as annoyance. Below was a complex technical drawing of a ship that, according to Skado's scribbles, was to have a length of fifty metres, or more even. Senqok found it to be heavily laden with all kinds of weaponry and armour, and mechanics – the entire ship would be steered from the relative safety of the belly.
"So... what's your problem? I didn't make you that... desperate, did I?" Senqok thought to have found Skado's struggle. Not waiting for an answer, he offered his solution right away. "C'mon, let me help you... " He got a bit closer to Skado to have a better look at the drawing, but was halted by Skado, who obviously doubted his idea being a good one. "Hey, I did help you a bit with the crossbow, remember?" To that, Skado had no refusing answer.
"You see, the whole ship is basically a junk. I'm not an expert of this whole naval stuff, but I guess that'd be a good idea to start with the most widely-spread ship type." began Skado, then pointing to the corresponding compartments of the ship when he explained them. "At the bow, I've added a partially open structure at least partially made from bronze or iron, just to make it fireproof. That'd be the firebenders' compartment, where also the anchors are housed. If you think the ship would capsize because of that heavy structure, it won't – it's also there to outweigh the heavy structures near the stern. Anyway, if we continue towards the stern, we've got a double row of cross- er, ballistae, all basically enlarged versions of our crossbow. They're the weapons on the ship with the greatest firepower. Figuratively, naturally, or else, the firebender would be that. Then, at the stern, there's a... an... er, structure, once again made from bronze or iron, or at least partially, once again serving as a fighting platform for firebenders. Anyway, on... deck? Is it? Anyway, on deck, there's the biggest structure of them all. A huge, canopied building-platform-thingy stretches across half the ship. On top of it, the earthbenders can throw their rocks, and within it, the sailors can adjust the sails. Somewhere in the middle of it, a tower rises. That's the bridge. It's just the... yeah, bridge. The commanding and steering and stuff part. Thingy. I know, it's exposed and all, but... it's coated in iron – or bronze – just like the roof of the building below. So, if we follow it further towards the stern, we come to the stern deck, where the steering and sailing and earthbending building-platform-thingy ends. Except for a flag pole and one structure reserves for – again – earthbenders, it's empty. Yeah, that's it."
"Would this thing even float?" asked Senqok, somehow seeming a bit baffled by just how much metal Skado planned to use for his ship. "I mean, seriously?!"
Skado dug up some far smaller pieces of paper which were filled with calculations, which he checked through quickly. "Yes, I think... yes, it'd float. But just barely, which- "
"Don't say a word. I know the solution! Make it leaner! More slim! Get it? And alter its hulk a bit. A bit more like... Water Tribe ships. And the sails, spirits, the sails! Nice and all, but- NO!" Senqok couldn't hold himself anymore and yanked the piece of charcoal out of Skado's hand and began drawing, leaving Skado speechless with shock. He added the alterations he mentioned into Skado's technical drawing with crude, thick black lines. Water Tribe-type sails he added at the bow and the stern, and on top of both masts, only the stern sail differing from the other three in being a lateen sail instead of a square one. After having finished his almost brutal alteration of the ship, he finished, "Furthermore, making the hulk water- and fireproof would be quite a great idea. Just in case. Also might it make the ship, er, float more."
Not knowing whether to thank him or to scold him, Skado gestured around wildly, speaking without saying a single word. After a few seconds, however, he ceased this, and stared at Senqok, shaking his head, smiling. As to distract himself from the fact he could start anew with his drawings once more, he decided to ask, "So, what did you come here for, anyway?"
"Yes." spoke Senqok, as to approve of the question. "Kabura sent me to fetch you. We're going out to some fancy restaurant, and- "
"Food? Wait a second, I'm on my way!" Skado cut off his friend mid-sentence, before taking a closer look at his uniform. "Well, perhaps I need to change my clothes, but... I'm coming!"
To describe the restaurant they had chosen as 'fancy' would've been quite an understatement. The only one of the eight who fit in was Zoruka – she had the manners and the looks to fit into it. Shizon almost fit in, had he not been the former thief and beggar he was. Noki would've fit in had she been in other clothes, but in her – relatively loose – robes, she seemed indeed out of place. Ranju and Anyang didn't seem to fit anywhere but their native Air Temples with their simple robes of red and yellow, but fit even less into that restaurant, especially since it was one specialised on seafood and alike. Skado was a similar case like Shzion, only his uniform – or armour? – was a bit dirtier than Shizon's and there fore more unfitting. Senqok might've once been taught the manners, but had forgot them over time, and no matter what, his attire was too functional for this place. Kabura, on the other hand, almost managed to blend in, but gave up trying for her own attire was not exactly in top condition. Yet nonetheless the stares they received from the other guests – mainly rich merchants, Shizon guessed – were filled not with despise, as all but Anyang had expected, but with curiosity. They followed their every step with an eagerness to learn about these strangers who now were part of the Lord Protector's staff, careful not to badger them, but to let themselves reveal more. Even so, by the time they had reached the table they had reserved for themselves, they felt a certain unease. Having organised everything ahead of time as to let them have more time to get to know each other more again, waiters arrived with their food just as they sat down. Senqok sat with Kabura on his right, next to whom sat Noki. Skado decided to resume a role he had had from a very early stage and so, as to act as Noki's – quite literal – right hand, had sat himself next to her. Anyang overlooked them all from his seat, even though the table was round and most of his former and new subordinates – and friends – had grown as tall as or even taller than him. Ranju sat beside her master, and after a small empty space, or rather, buffer zone, Zoruka sat with Shizon to her right. From various types of dumplings and komodo sausages, roast duck and soups to sea prune stew and noodles, all kinds of dishes from all the four nations were served, with wine, sake, and of course water to be drunk with it. For minutes, few words were exchanged, or at least few words that could be heard by all of them. Ranju and Anyang talked more than they ate – small wonder considering the amount they were served – and Noki attempted to chat with Skado, but he was doing everything in his power to shut her up, stuffing her mouth whenever she opened it, much to her amusement and dismay. Shizon and Zoruka conversed and consumed at once, it seemed. Never were they seen truly stuffing themselves, yet after a five minutes, their massive meals had disappeared and they continued their partly sophisticated chat. Quite the opposite were Senqok and Kabura. These two were completely occupied with lunging at their respective meals and completely devouring them, and that as fast as possible, it seemed. Many animals would've displayed better manners – especially since most wouldn't have eaten a sea prune stew – but that seemed not to matter to these two, who even communicated through their seemingly endless activity, with grunts and mutters that might've been words had their mouths not been permanently stuffed. Yet none seemed to mind the others' weirdness, not only because they weren't truly paying attention to them, but also for they indeed had gotten used to that – in some way, that was what united them. While the eight didn't mind, the other guests soon had ceased staring and turned away in disgust, naturally only after catching a glance of Senqok and Kabura eating and of Skado's treatment of Noki. After ten minutes, all plates were empty, and the flagon of wine as well – Senqok and Skado both had developed quite a taste for it, and now were slightly mellow as a result.
"So... what are we here for? We've been here for some months already. We know each other well enough again, don't we?" The loud question came from Shizon. The wine was refilled, and Kabura decided to have a try.
"I just thought it'd be nice to have all of us together again." Superior in years and position he was, he, who answered, but de facto he was merely a first amongst equals, this Anyang. "It's been half a– almost a– how long has it been since our last common evening?"
"Point taken." admitted Shizon, who faced his ever so slight defeat with a broad grin. "A great idea, I must say, now I think about it. I can annoy Skado without having to stand up and– "
"No need to, it seems I've annoyed him enough." Noki let out a slight snicker.
"How come?" asked Ranju, seemingly oblivious to what had occurred the previous minutes, and ask she did in spite of her uninvolvement with this folly.
"Did you see how he stuffed me?" Noki gave Skado a seemingly light punch on the shoulder before continuing. "It's like he wants to fatten me! I'm not cattle, Skado!"
"You're right. Pig chicken are much more like humans... " came the almost whispered reply, shot back much like a crossbow bolt. Skado had not thought about consequences, but he knew that Noki didn't narrow her unseeing eyes playfully. Afterwards, few dared to raise their voices enough for many others to hear them. The entire restaurant had fallen silent after Skado's rash jest, for which he wanted to blame the wine, but knew he couldn't. Even Senqok, who was more than just a little mellow by now – much to Kabura's dismay – kept his mouth shut, and that clearly without sleeping. Zoruka and Shizon were the first to excuse themselves after figuring out Anyang would pay, and left quickly and silently, like shadows. Afterwards, Skado wanted to apologise, but failed to consider just how stubborn Noki could be – she would simply ignore Skado completely, and began to take sips at first, and before long, gulps of the wine, as to make herself forget, which Skado seemingly too attempted to achieve. Bloody wine. thought Ranju and Kabura at once, Before long, we'll have a fight with Noki in it. Not good. Ranju informed Anyang and Kabura bid her pardons before leaving, dragging Senqok after her.
"Waiter! I'd like to pay!" called Anyang out. Once a waiter approached the table, he took out a few coins of gold – where from, no one truly saw – and handed them to him.
"But sir, that's twice the price, I can't– " began the waiter after counting the coins, being cut off by Anyang himself.
"Deny such a generous gift." finished the General, before adding, "Consider it a reparation for all inconvenience we may have caused."
The remaining four of them left the building as well, in a mood that somehow matched their mood in the later phases of the Battle of the Five Armies. They were downcast in almost every way, and two of them heavily smelt of wine. They were making their way across the square that divided the small library from the – still relatively small – Palace of the Lord Protector, when Skado suddenly snuck up on Noki and threw his hands around her, whispering, "I'm sorry."
And you should be. thought the blind earthbender, ashamed of how he could sneak up on her, Although... "You shouldn't be unless you want to choke me." answered she then aloud, trying to loosen his grip on her. "You were made a fool of and– "
"I'm sorry. Let me be sorry and shut up, please." Skado smiled when Noki submitted, being unable to deny him now. "Thanks."
"Uh... sorry?" replied Noki when he let go again, deeming it the right thing to say. All of sudden – well, not all of sudden, as he did try to hold it back before he couldn't – Skado broke into laughter, an infections laughter only Noki shared, although Ranju and Anyang smiled at the two of them. Peace, at least on a personal level, was restored.
"G'morning!" The greeting was unusually cheerful for Zoruka. With a hint of a smile on her lips, she marched into the dining room of the palace, to sit herself right next to Shizon.
"And you, Your Majesty!" In equally unusual courtesy, Shizon greeted the Crown Princess and even would've bowed had he not been busy with the noodles he had picked for his breakfast. Instead of bowing, he dipped his head before he resumed his eating, with a smile all too equal to Zoruka's. An ever so slight smile that seemed to signal more happiness than any grin ever could. The two murmured to each other, which seemed to displease the three across them somewhat. Skado, Noki and Kabura, Skado sporting the typical features of a hangover, seemed to attempt figuring out what was going on that made even dour Zoruka happy. Ignoring them, the two continued their – to the others incomprehensible – chat while eating as well, not unlike the evening before. The two seemed to spend their breakfast in a world of their own, or so it at least seemed from the outside. All that existed for them then were the food and the two of them. And like the evening before, they were done with their meals quite fast.
"Well, I guess I'll wake Senqok u- aaaah! Shizon!" started Kabura, then startled by Shizon suddenly rising from his cross-legged seat and walking, making her almost bump into him.
"Huh? Oh, uh, sorry, I guess." was all that the firebender in his royal armour answered, suddenly pulled from his and Zoruka's little world.
"I'm going to tell him. I really will. Finally." spoke Noki to Skado, though she might as well have talked to the table or the food or the wall and gotten equally as much feedback. "It's un-earthbender-like to procrastinate like this."
Like the evening before, all Skado did to answer was feed her a bit more than she could eat so she would have to chew before she could talk again, which she took in a rather annoyed way. Shizon, being pulled from his trance-like state with Zoruka, rose an eyebrow at this before following the Crown Princess out. The dining room was opposite to the entrance to the palace, between lay the entire ground floor. They passed through a room that was part throne room and part chamber, used for all kinds of diplomatic meetings and alike, which also served as a staircase, before they entered the closest to a throne room the Palace of the Lord Protector had – the audience hall, with a slightly taller seat for the Lord Protector and the councillors. But none of this stopped the two, or ever would. All that divided them from the outside now was merely a door, and that Zoruka flung open, much to the dismay of the guards positioned outside. The two soldiers eyed the two exiting suspiciously, and one of them called, "Be back before sunset!"
"Oh, nothing like a nice walk, right?" Zoruka smiled at Shizon as she stretched in the middle of the square, with people around, perhaps even looking and listening. Shizon smiled back briefly, but then let his glance wander amongst the people who cared to look at them. Zoruka, most of them payed a brief courtesy, like Shizon had at breakfast, but Shizon they just looked at as if he didn't belong in such an armour, or at least that's what Shizon thought their looks said, for he himself felt so.
" ...or not? Shizon?" started Zoruka, sounding slightly concerned. "What's the matter?" She had not allowed herself to display an feeling much more than just slightly as of late, except at one occasion, and of that no one knew. Except the one she was talking to.
"I don't get it. I still don't." Zoruka seemed to need explanation of Shizon's words, and so he delivered. "Kanyzon sent me the armour of a Crown Prince of the Fire Nation. Why? You're still his heir, aren't you?"
Zoruka sighed, before smiling more than just slightly, and that warmly. "Can't we just go for a walk, find a peaceful place in the woods and... ?"
"In the woods so you'll burn everything down when you scream when I- " Shizon stopped right there as Zoruka was about to smack him on the back of his head, and resumed his seriousness with a slight sigh. "No, I'm serious, I want answers! Why?"
"I see." Zoruka now displayed plain seriousness. "I have an idea... But first, you need to know that the Fire Nation is founded upon authority. The first Fire Lords ruled with absolute power, before that power slowly went back to the regional nobility. Piece by piece, the feudalist system from before the unification was restored, before the last Fire Lord of the old line, the first one, initiated a programme to restore absolute power. He was loved by all, at least the nobility, and stole their power piece by piece back. That made my direct ancestors rebel one said Fire Lord had gotten sick, and with their rebellion, the Fire Nation crumbled away again. Now, Kanyzon's restored the Fire Nation of old. He rules the Nation with an iron grip and yet seems loved enough."
"So what?" asked Shizon as they began walking in the brief pause Zoruka made. They walked past the library and onto the square that only a few weeks past had hosted a market, and there followed the canal. "What does this have to do with me directly?"
"More than you would think, if I'm correct." answered the Crown Princess, carrying her unique crimson armour proudly, in opposition to Shizon. "The love of his countrymen is worth little in the hardships he faces now. He's losing a war against the Earth Empire and its vassals – the Air Empire, and, if we're unlucky, both Water Tribes – with only Whaletail Island standing by his side. He needs allies, and be it even only those who can fight and command well enough. That's what he expects from you. He knows I'm worthy enough, and thinks the same or even higher of you, I'd bet. He needs the best possible input, and you're quite valiant and even though you behave like a moron more often than not, you're also rather bright." She made a pause again, but left no time for Shizon to cut her off. "In short, if you ask me, he wants you – and me, both – as heirs. He wants to make sure the Fire Nation is put into able hands should he fail. So... enough explanation?"
"But... why me? There's dozens, hundreds, thousands better than me!" Shizon truly didn't feel well in his armour, for instead of the power and the easiness coming with it, he saw the responsibility, work and hardships it brought. That Zoruka deemed wise, but also did she think it foolish to fight against it like he did.
"Because he's met you first and doesn't have to expect you to usurp his place now already? I have no idea!" Zoruka herself was at a loss of words at Shizon's questions, thinking, Spirits, how can he question everything like this?! They then continued in silence for a while in which Zoruka thought on, which made her speak again. "What I do know, however, is that though that would make us equal in position, your ancestry makes it impossible for us to... to... be together."
A nervous laugh escaped Shizon. "Well, physically, we can be together until the end of time.... "
This time, Zoruka did smack Shizon on the back of his head. "You know what I mean." she decided, in a tone that brooked no argument. "We just can't. It'd mean we'd have to part ways again before setting foot on Fire Nation soil again... forever, it would seem. I mean, a beggar and a royal? No."
And just as this time Zoruka had smacked him, Shizon was the once to shoot back. "Tell me, where did Kanyzon come from? Er, I mean, uh, which social class?"
Zoruka felt her defeat. "The lowest of the lowest. Rumour has it he was a beggar once, before becoming a thief and then joining the army."
"Exactly." agreed Shizon, then elaborating his point. "In the Fire Nation, authority is all that matters for a ruler. The Fire Lord could be an old peasant's wife, as long as she would keep the nation united under an iron grip. If we're indeed both heirs, then it doesn't matter, as long as we have the people love us and the nobles fear us."
"Damn you." spoke Zoruka, defeated. "You already speak like a noble, or royal." She smiled the same slight smile she had worn at breakfast then. "So... how about we take a walk in the woods and find ourselves an inn or something and... y'know?"
Shizon smiled. "Some inn it is."
And off they raced, together, with one single goal for the following few hours.
The light shining through the grid-like window gave the entire room a yellowish tone, as if that hadn't contrasted to the bluish tones preferred by its occupant. Kabura snuck into the room quiet like a cat, but upon noticing that the person in the bed was unlikely notice her in his state, approached him normally.
"Senqok, wake up." She touched him lightly on the shoulder, to no avail. After sighing, she shook him. "It's three hours past sunrise. Get up."
Much to her surprise, he opened his eyes and stared at her with eyes that might as well have been a dead one's. He straightened himself and stared at her, who had ducked over him a bit.
"Did you know... " began Senqok, still asleep within, " ...that the worst of hangovers comes from wine?"
Not being convinced of him being awake, Kabura shook him again, to which he resisted not a least bit – however, neither did he react. She sighed again and sat down beside him, with one hand at his shoulder, ready to shake him awake should the necessity present itself. "Well... no. But now I do." Despite only having come there to wake him up, she began conversing with him. "Wait, where do you know this from?! I thought this was the first time you got drunk!"
Senqok needed time to process the almost massive information Kabura had flung at him, and almost fell asleep again while doing so. Finally, after almost a minute, the Water Tribesman answered, "Yes." He then closed his eyes again and turned around, with his back towards Kabura. "Must. Sleep. Wake later."
Once again, Kabura sighed. She then stood up and as she walked to the door again, in spite of not believing him to hear, informed him, "I'll come again in an hour. And then I will wake you up."
Senqok, however, couldn't even hear the door closing, for then he already was sleeping again. Sleep seemed like pure pleasure to him, and like many good things, was over all too soon. All of sudden, he was ripped from his happy dreams of nonsense, brutally torn from his sleep, when he all of sudden found his head encased in ice.
"Finally... " spoke an annoyed Kabura, not being able to hide a small smile. She liquefied the water again and bent it back into her water skins. "You do realise I tried to wake you up with this for two hours?" She then thought about it for a short while and added, "Well, thinking about it, I might've repeatedly sent you into unconsciousness repeatedly. Sorry."
It all mattered little to Senqok, who had just shot up to a sitting position. He would've had screamed, but lacking the air to, he hadn't, and even after being able to breathe again, he just sat there, staring deeply into Kabura's eyes in a rather unpleasant way.
"It's about noon. You'll get lunch instead of breakfast. Not that it mattered." Kabura paced around the room and even did Senqok the favour of bringing him his usual attire, but he didn't as much as budge. After another few minutes, Kabura grew tired of silence. "You know why I didn't let you sleep longer? Because I don't want to be woken at midnight because you decide to have breakfast, and because you promised something."
Kabura hinted what she meant by lazily streaming the water all around her with one hand. At last, Senqok moved. He took his clothes and vanished under his blanket, only to emerge a few seconds later, clad in the attire his sister had given him. Though now, he couldn't hide his still prevailing tiredness anymore, and his eyelids seemed to grow heavy as lead, as did his entire head seem to. Nonetheless did he begin walking, or rather, scuffling. With his head heavy, and his eyelids, and his feet just as well, he descended the stairs, and entered the dining room, never once stopping. And neither did he stop there, not for a second, nor walk any path twice or more often. As he walked, he grasped a bowl of sea prune stew, accompanied by a spoon, and immediately afterwards shovelled a few pieces of roast duck into his bowl, before slowly scuffling towards the exit. Herself having already eaten twice that day, Kabura just followed Senqok at every step, eyeing his choice of food quite disgustedly and curiously. She greeted Noki, who only whispered, "I'm going to tell him... ", Skado, Ranju and Anyang, who all sat by the table, eyeing Senqok more confusedly than anything else. The Water Tribesman paid them no heed, and neither did the interesting choice of foods seem to matter to him. As he went, he shovelled contents of the bowl into his mouth, not making a difference between sea prunes and pieces of roast duck. He flung the doors open with his elbows, as not having to cease shovelling, and was finished when he reached the doors leading outside, next to which he put the empty bowl – on the floor. All of sudden, he was halted. Luna had intercepted him, and held him by his shoulders.
"We can't have him walking around like this." stated the Lord Protetor, a bit alarmedly. "Help me, Kabura!"
Kabura quickly took his head and opened his mouth so Luna could pour a cup of tea into it. Steaming hot tea, it was, and accordingly was the reaction. Senqok's eyes opened completely, and widened while he began screaming, and once released, also hopping around, waving air into his mouth as if it would ease the pain, but it did nought. Finally, he remembered the fact he was a waterbender, and so he drew water from his water skin and applied it to his mouth, his tongue mostly. When the water began glowing, he let out a relieved sigh, and after only a few seconds, it was healed. Kabura smiled as now Senqok was finally awake, and asked, "So... will you keep your promise?"
Senqok grasped what she meant immediately. "Of course! There's a nice brook on the island! Come on, and we'll be back before dinner!"
And so they raced off as well, also headed towards the island's interior.
"I know it's not exactly the season for it!" Senqok defended himself. "But you're going to have to learn these techniques if you want to be a proper waterbender!"
Kabura, who was holding a bubble of water in the air before her, directed it at the ground. Rather than letting it splash, she, infuriated by Senqok's speech as well as her own incompetence to change water's phase, thrust her hands downwards, and sent the water with them. Without noticing it, the bubble froze and parted into ice spears which struck the ground. "I realise these are essential moves!" She spun face Senqok, and pointed at him, somewhat angrily, "But that doesn't mean you have to remind me of my failure all the time!"
While Senqok had spoken his defence rather calmly, facing the brook before them – a brook, which, by the way, had cut out quite a big gorge for such a small watercourse – he now turned to Kabura. Too late, he noticed. Kabura screamed at him in all her fury, and that made her words incomprehensible. His eyes widened, and he retreated slightly, which was no use – Kabura began unintentionally bending water, much to Senqok's dismay. With her wild gestures, she sent a stream of water right at Senqok's chest, and one at his back, which both struck him simultaneously. The air was pressed out of his lungs, but Senqok had been in similar situations before, and advanced quickly in the pause Kabura herself needed to catch her breath, his fear never leaving his mind for even a second. Right when she intended to scream at him again, he grasped her by her shoulders, and shook her mildly.
"Dammit, Kabura! Snap out of it, seriously!" he screeched, lacking the air to shout properly. When she donned a regretful look, he inhaled deeply once in fear of blacking out any second, which Kabura noticed. She looked even more guilty than before, but Senqok didn't let himself be angry at her. "How can you waste your waterbending prowess when you've already bent ice?!"
His finger pointing at the icicles she had made in her fury, her eyes widened in astonishment. He let go of her as her expression shifted into one radiating ambition. She began bending the turquoise waters that flowed so quickly in front of her, raising a bubble of water into the air with slightly trembling motions, and then closed her eyes. With a slight grin, she focussed on the water. She felt it, she felt the very motions that went on inside the bubble. With a tiny little command, she ceased the motion, before she unintentionally dropped the bubble. At once, she opened her eyes, expecting another frustrating demonstration of her incompetence of producing ice or mist. Instead, she found a massive ball of ice floating in the water, a ball she rose from the brook again, only to part it with a few well-placed strokes of her hands, to part it into icicles, which she then had descend upon Senqok. Had he been whetting the blade of his a second earlier, he found himself imprisoned by Kabura's icicles. At first alarmed and shocked, he then changed his expression to one Skado had mastered, a mixture which featured mainly annoyance. Giggling, Kabura released him again, and hopped towards him with a smile, stopping a mere metre before him. He rose from his seat – the trunk of a fallen tree – and, in one fluid motion, sheathed his sword and gave Kabura a pat on the shoulder, with a slight smile. "Nicely done. Bloody well done. No, really, with such an accuracy... " The Water Tribesman seemed – and indeed was – impressed by Kabura's prowess and talent. "If you're the autodidact I hope you are, you wouldn't even need me to- "
"Oh, come on, don't fool yourself. Without you, I wouldn't have come thus far at all." The former healer's smile grew wider and wider, before she couldn't help but embrace Senqok tightly. "Sorry I was angry at you... "
Senqok didn't answer verbally, but rather pressed them together even more, thinking, Now or never... before briefly letting go, quickly repositioning himself, and then pressing her tight again.
Now or never. was also what someone else, a spectator to all this, had thought at that moment – not the exact same moment, but anyway. She had hidden from sight behind trees and rocks – of these, there were plenty in the narrow gorge – and followed and approached them with but one goal. I'm going to tell him. Finally. She smiled, and felt a shyness strange to her rising within her all over again. She felt blood rush to her cheeks, reddening them, which she disliked indeed, but could do little about. She went straight towards the one she sought to speak with, thoughts racing through her head, rethinking every single sentence she wanted to say. You can do this. You're great-granddaughter to a king. You can do this. one voice inside her said, while another spoke, A dead king. Nevertheless, she approached them. A shy smile crept to her lips and more and more blood rushed to her cheeks so she thought she would bleed to death would someone have had the idea of injuring her there. She would've laughed about such thoughts at any other time, but couldn't manage to laugh then. All she managed was small snicker no one was like to hear. Each step became an endeavour of its own the closer she came to him. When she was about two metres from him, she decided it was upon time to speak her thoughts, and to make a confession. "Hey Senqok", spoke Noki, perhaps too quietly, while shifting her focus from her thoughts to the world around, "I wanted to tell you somethi- OH BLOODY- NO!"
The scream was heard, that was for sure. Had Senqok and Kabura been indivisible lovers in one moment, they were pretending not to know each other the following. Or something similar anyway. "Noki, I didn't see you comi- " began Senqok, cut off by himself, "Noki, er, I'm so- ugh, dammit! Noki, wait!"
Both Kabura and Senqok had guilty looks on their faces as Noki raced off, sobbing. The two looked at each other, and nodded. While Kabura would follow in some distance, Senqok was to race after Noki and to comfort her, if possible. And thus, he decided to follow her footsteps as best he could. She followed the brook, only that said watercourse continued twenty metres downwards after following the riverbed for a hundred metres. With a pool on the bottom, Senqok decided it would be safe to jump down, and so he did, using the water below to slow his fall. Right next to the pool, hidden behind a rock and a fallen tree, Noki cowered, sobbing, hoping the waterfall nearby would cover up the miserable sound of her at least. When the Water Tribesman had arrived, he sat across her to face her, her blind eyes filled with tears. She turned around so he wouldn't see her like this, but he rose from his cross-legged seat, and walked over to her, laying a hand on her shoulder. For some time, no one spoke a thing. Senqok attempted to seem as confident as he could, but remembered it would have little effect on Noki, so he just remained in his state of confusion, guilt and nervousness.
"I love you, y'know." spoke Noki all of sudden, her voice clearer than her teary eyes may have hinted. "That's what I wanted to tell you. I love you. And then I found you... you two... kissing."
"I'm sorry... Noki, I'm really sorry to put you in such a situation... really, I never wanted to." Senqok couldn't think of anything else to say, but it was better than nothing.
"You shouldn't be. I intruded on you two, and I... it's nice to know that you two are happy together... " Noki grasped Senqok's hand, holding it tight. " ...but it just isn't nice knowing that I won't get that anytime soon... "
Noki's tears had subsided, and instead, she just stared off into nothingness. "Listen", spoke Senqok, lifting Noki to her bare feet and grasping both her shoulders, "I won't let you wallow in self-pity. I won't have that. I know that feeling well, trust me, and I know that it may happen more often, but if you would trust me with anything, then trust me with this – you're Noki, daughter of Wei. You're going to find someone else, or they will find you. And you want to know why? Because you're pretty – what am I saying – gorgeous! You're witty as well, one of the best friends I've ever had, and, damn you, you're likely the most powerful earthbender there is! Noki, someone as gorgeous, as witty, and as good a friend as you and only half the earthbender you are will – no, is going to – find someone else!" He made a pause to catch his breath while he also needed to gather his thoughts again. "And always remember – love is just around the corner."
With an expression of both, shock, and relief, as well as shedding tears of both, Noki embraced him tightly. Kabura approached them just as they broke apart again, and together, they made their way back to the Palace of the Lord Protector.
"May I come in?" asked Noki, ever polite, as she leaned to the door frame, her blind eyes close to tearing up. Not that Skado hadn't anticipated her coming to him, but he would at least allow her the little courtesies she always used.
"You may." He didn't glance up from the paper before him as he allowed her into his room, with a warm tone to it, but he could hear it from her voice that she was near sobbing.
"Thanks." she walked in and slammed the door with such force that might've actually been the end of any other door, but not this one, since it was a massive oaken door reinforced with iron. Skado didn't let himself be disturbed by this, not in his own chambers, and not while he drew the final draft for his ship class. She stormed past piles of scrolls and books, straight to the bed, onto which she threw herself, lying herself so she would stare at the ceiling with her unseeing eyes. Had she been deaf as well, she would've been completely isolated then. That's what I need right now... she thought bitterly when it occurred to her, only seconds before she could no longer hold back the tears that had formed in her eyes. One by one, the drops rolled down her cheeks, leaving salty tracks, as she sat herself upright, before she couldn't hold herself any longer, and began sobbing, silently at first. Only a minute later, she cried into the Skado's pillow, not being able to hide her feelings any longer. After another minute, her tears had subsided again, and so she sat herself on the bed again to feel the earth on her feet, her a complete mess, with her hair a representation of chaos, and her face a simulation of a dried ocean. Finally, Skado looked up from his drawings, laying the brush, the ruler and the compasses aside to focus his undivided attention on Noki.
"You told him, didn't you?" Skado wore a slight smile that had something comforting and worrying about it, and matched his tone to it. When Noki nodded slowly, knowing she had made a mistake, Skado shook his head slightly. "I warned you. These two are indivisible. ...but I guess you know now."
"It's not just that... " Tears formed in Noki's eyes again, but before they got far, Noki wiped them away with her sleeve. "There's a difference if your... crush tells you he doesn't feel the same, he has someone else, or if he shows you... " A few seconds later, Noki let out a laugh. It was a cross between a snicker, a nervous laugh to make an awkward situation less awkward, and an ironic, self-mocking one. "This language wasn't made for blind people."
"Show?" Skado didn't make it a big deal to conceal his feelings – he openly displayed his confusion. "How did he- ?"
"I had followed them and I noticed they'd stopped moving somewhat, so I figured I wouldn't get a chance like this, and... I approached them, and didn't notice them until two metres from them... I was about to empty my heart to Senqok, and he just stood there, kissing Kabura." Noki had mixed feelings about this, clearly. She wept, but her voice sounded upset, while her expression showed something in between. "I mean, it's nice the two are happy together, but... it does hurt... a lot."
"Did they notice you?" Skado knew Noki would tell him anything, and that she could, that he wouldn't let anything get to anyone without Noki's leave.
"Yes... and I ran. Unlike a true earthbender should... " Noki spoke, her expression shifting into a regretting one.
"It's unlike of Senqok to do something like this without putting his oar in." noted the nonbender as regarded what Noki had told him, deciding, "You're letting out something."
Noki's expression couldn't possibly look any guiltier. "Yes. Senqok confronted me about it and tried to comfort me. And he failed on that matter. He... told me I'd surely find someone else and- ah, dammit! I don't want anyone else, I want him!"
"Frankly, " began Skado then, when he noticed Noki was near tears again, "I think he's right. I mean, look at- oh, wait." Both of them then shared a brief, bitter laugh. "I've known you for as long as I can remember and I still make that mistake... What I meant is, that, as beautiful, as wonderfully gorgeous you are, and as clever and humorous, you'll find someone, anyone."
"That doesn't help me at all!" shouted Noki, in a way Skado had never had to face her. He inched back slightly, but then continued anyway.
"Perhaps you should try to be less... earthbender-ish. Take another point of view, and see how it looks from there." Noki looked at him with an expression of annoyance mixed with a sad desperation. "I know, you're blind and all, but these were just metaphors. Just take it differently – like, uh, you still- oh, I might as well bloody damn it."
"Oh." Noki's voice was almost a whisper, but still clearly audible. The tone, surprised and sad tone, however, was what made Skado speak one final thing as he resumed his work on the ship class of his.
"You know what they say, 'love is just around the corner'..." he began, picking up his utensils again, before he turned to Noki again, with a slight smile, and blushing ever so slightly. "'Tis true more often than not. Perhaps you'll see... you'll see it too."
Noki stood up and left the room, simple as that, and Skado resumed his work. Will she notice, however? he thought as he drew on and on, wondering all the time, deciding to leave it to her.
The sea wind, which was quite strong that evening, spread the salty smell for kilometres, and thus also into the rooms that the Emperor, the Head Elder and the two chiefs had occupied. The palace they resided in had held traitors, rebels and outright enemies of theirs alike in not all too distant past, and now served as a base for these four men. The room was built from plain granite, rectangular with no exceptions, save for the tall windows opening to the west, where a densely wooded mountain almost blocked the view to the sea, and the door that they had entered through. The port that was obscured by the mountains north and south was the greatest in the world, and home port of the greatest naval forces in the world – Yi Ming's Grand Imperial Navy. Approximately two thirds of the entire world's naval forces had assembled there, and a – relatively seen – equal number of soldiers had gathered in the city and its surroundings to form the greatest host the world had ever seen. And right in its centre was said palace with said room, where Yi Ming, Emperor of the Earth Continent, Dalit, Head Elder of the Air Empire, Harqoon, chief of the Northern Water Tribe, and Bunak, the Chief in the South. They sat centred around a map of the world, likely the most detailed one the world had seen thus far, Yi Ming towering over them with his elevated seat and tall build.
"As we lack the vessels to bring our host to the Fire Nation, we must capture as many merchant ships and alike vessels, or rather, bring them into our service. I will issue a decree that will put all merchants with Earth Empire citizenship into my service, and I expect you to do the same." The Emperor spoke with his undeniably elderly-sounding but nonetheless booming voice, and that in a tone that brooked no argument. "However, all our military strength will by far not be enough to protect our civil- unarmed vessels. Therefore, we need to- "
"Create a diversion neither Kanyzon nor the Whaletail Islanders can ignore." cut him Dalit off, stroking his beard. Yi Ming eyed him with a deadly stare for it, but did nothing to stop him. "We need to part our fleet."
"A good half to two thirds of our Grand Imperial Navy will shield the unarmed transport vessels, while the remainder of our force will join together and set course for Whaletail Island." Before Dalit could even do as much as breathe, Yi Ming spoke again, moving the tiles representing their forces on the map with his earthbending, and also began moving their enemies' forces once he resumed speaking. "Knowing Kanyzon, he will sail his fleet southwards once he hears of this, and will join forces with the Whaletail Islander privateers, and then sail against the force we'll sen- er, you will lead. Of course, the goal of this operation is not purely diversion – it's also to annihilate the enemy's naval forces, so they cannot endanger our campaign. However, to get Kanyzon to move South and the Whaletail Islanders to rally their forces, we must send movement orders to them and make it appear as though they were lost there."
"We will lead the, uh, diversional fleet? But surely there needs to be a superior officer, an overall commander?" Bunak was inexperienced when it came to addressing Yi Ming, that was for sure, but still his answer was given actual consideration. Yi Ming merely gestured at Dalit, who, after brief shock, donned a wicked smirk.
"Then, our campaign in the Fire Nation will begin. We will land as close to the capital as possible, to, if possible, rule the country." began Yi Ming, leaving the details for later. However, before he could continue, Bunak rose both his thick eyebrows in wonder and asked another question. Bloody fool, the other three thought simultaneously, though with another tone.
"Since we're at the matter of the campaign, well, will it be like your Conquest of Omashu?" The question was as blunt as a centuries-old sword and as bold as some soldiers on the eve of battle. Bloody fool, Harqoon screamed internally, having a certain wish to protect Bunak from himself.
"I'd say more like the Conquest of Taku, since we're at it." answered Dalit, who, like Bunak, only received a narrow-eyed stare full of spite from Yi Ming at his remark.
"Fools." At last, someone – in fact, the most powerful man in the room – spoke the word. "This will not be a conquest, this will be a punitive expedition. We want to defeat the Fire Nation, to annihilate them in the field, but no more. Besides, it's none of your concern – that counts for both of you! You mustn't concern with matters I will take into my hands. You work on your plans for the naval battles!" When he noticed the offended look on Dalit's and Bunak's faces, and the resignated one of Harqoon's, he couldn't help but feel a little bit pleased. "Dismissed!"
Harqoon got up and dragged Bunak, who had stood up already, along, while Dalit didn't dare to budge. Yi Ming rose and stared him dead in the eye, shouting, "Are you deaf?! I SAID DISMISSED!"
"As long as you're breathing air, I am to command you." stated the airbender with the same bluntness and boldness as Bunak only minutes past.
"As long as you're standing on earthen ground, I am to command you!" spoke Yi Ming, ending in a shout. He had had enough of Dalit's insolence, and chosen to confront him about it, in the way he did. What he didn't consider, however, was that the Head Elder possessed the skill of asphyxiation. He began to pull the air from his lungs, but Yi Ming had had enough near-death experiences to know how to handle them – by killing them causing it. So, with a swift, crude movement of his right arm, he sent an earth pillar racing into Dalit's side, throwing him to the window. As the Emperor struggled for breath, the Head Elder struggled to rise. Once he finally had, Yi Ming struck him with his fist straight in his face, not requiring earthbending to subdue him by then. Had Dalit not held himself ever so weakly, he would've toppled over, passed out and fallen to his death, but he did hold himself in the window, and so, all he earned was a broken nose. "You don't have no power over me, fool!" screamed the infuriated Yi Ming at him, making him laugh ever so slightly with his double negation.
"A double negation, oh, a nice sign of low birth... " muttered Dalit, his laugh beginning to sound like one belonging to the lunatic he was.
"You better shut your bloody mouth before I- " was all the Emperor managed before being cut off again.
"Or you'll do what, you son of a- " Yi Ming kicked Dalit in the ribs before he managed to utter the last word he meant to say.
"Butcher." stated Yi Ming resolutely, "I admit it. I'm from the Lower Ring."
"And the son of a whore." Another slight laugh followed his statement of an undeniable truth, and Dalit managed to roll away and get up before Yi Ming's foot struck him again.
"FINE! THEN I AM THE SON OF A WHORE! AND YOU KNOW WHAT?! I WAS ALSO A CHILD SOLDIER AT THE AGE OF TEN! AND A COLONEL AT TWENTY! AND I LOOKED LIKE OUR GENERAL, AND WHEN I DIED, I ACTED LIKE HIM TO GET THE POST! AND YOU KNOW WHAT? THIS ACTING BASTARD AND SON OF A WHORE FOUNDED THE MIGHTIEST EMPIRE THE WORLD HAS SEEN THUS FAR!" Yi Ming had no power over his words anymore, they just came streaming out, and that in the most infuriated tone and the loudest possible, loud enough to make even Dalit flinch.
"So? What was your ambition? Greed? Megalomania?" Dalit was interested in Yi Ming now, and smirked slightly when he looked away, thinking, He's an open book now.
"At first, yes. But then, I saw a chance and took it. I wanted, I needed to found a state with the territory of the Earth Kingdom of old, but united, and with a might that has never been seen before. I won't tolerate any threat against it!" He had calmed down somewhat, although that's phrasing it mildly – he still was screaming. "Although... there's something else... "
"And that would be?" Dalit was truly interested in how Yi Ming's mind worked, should he need it one day. Should he live long enough for me to fulfil my dream...
"The Wedding of Omashu was named for the wedding at the end of the bloodbath, too. I married Lin, the daughter – and first-born – of the last king of Omashu, to myself. I forced her. At first, that was all I made her do, except of course coming to Ba Sing Se." Yi Ming's voice had become almost a whisper, and soft as well. "Then, we began to grow rather close. She wasn't much to look at, well, her face was, but not so the rest, and she was witty, truly witty – not just educated, but also... clever. I loved her. I truly did. I wanted to make amendments to right some of the wrongs I had done in my Conquest of Omashu, and get Wei to join me and his sister at court, but he refused every time, politely at first, then growing more and more harsh. When he refused the last time, he sought his sister out immediately afterwards, and when he emerged from her quarters, his garbs were bloodied, and he held a dagger, also bloody. I hated him, and his death served him right. His spawn, the terrorists who call themselves the Liberation Alliance, shall feel the wrath of the Earth Empire!"
Dalit still smirked, having gotten more than he had hoped to. However, what came now he had not anticipated, or rather, hopen it would not come.
"So... " Yi Ming resumed his usual, booming voice, "What about you?"
"Well... " began Dalit, gathering his memories. "Since childhood, I was ahead of my peers, far ahead of them in terms of airbending. My brother was a similar case, but he was younger, so I didn't really care – he was my brother, the only one whom I ever trusted. When I was... ten, or nine, or eleven- let's just say around ten, I discovered the gift of asphyxiation. It was amazing, the best feeling in the world, to have the power over life and death. I offered my brother to teach him the technique, but he refused, he stayed true to his teachings, to some extent at least. But neither did he tell anybody – likely he didn't realise what this power was capable of. It opened so many doors for me, as long as I didn't use it on those who already had earned their tattoos, and even with some of those, it worked. I got anything I desired with my technique, since most were too frightened of me to tell anybody. So I just took what I wanted, and whom I wanted. There were days I had a dozen girls. I've had Air Nomads, Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation commoners, and Water Tribeswomen, I've had everyone I wanted to have, and more. And not just that. With that technique, I also discovered that air is indeed the supreme element, for all living things breathe it. I convinced a few peers, and together, we overthrew the weak Air Nomads. It was smooth sailing onwards, for they all were too weak, to pacifist to act against me. All except one, my brother. But I broke him and his followers, and everyone thinking of rebellion. And soon enough, we'll widen this from the Air Temples to the entire world!"
"Bloody lunatic." was all that Yi Ming could think of while the Head Elder spoke, and so he responded to his speech ending with these very words. "You're a maniac."
All Dalit had the time to was narrowing eyes, which he did, before an earthen slab hit him square in the chest and knocked him out. Yi Ming stormed out as the sun sunk below the horizon, catching the two Water Tribe Chiefs eavesdropping. "Ready your forces as fast as possible. You'll sail in a fortnight." ordered the Emperor as he walked past, down the dimly-lit corridor. "Oh, and Bunak – you command the expeditionary fleet now."
With that, he was gone. He had spoken too much, that was clear. I'm old, that's all. I just need someone to talk to... were his thoughts only minutes later, when he rested himself – still in his suit of armour – for the night.
Notes and Trivia
- The ship class Skado and Senqok design jointly is basically a cross between Japanese 17th century Red seal ships and the Korean 15th to 19th century Turtle ship.
- Damn, so much character development! I really need to get back to my battles. And I will, in some chapters' time.
- The motivation for Yi Ming's campaign in the Fire Nation – and the upcoming campaign itself, in a way – was inspired by Napoléon's Russian campaign.
For the collective works of the author, go here.