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|More from Sep0815||Adventure||PG-13||None yet||~fortnightly|
|The Battle of Mo Ce Sea, Pt. 2|
The Battle of Mo Ce Sea, Pt. 2 is the twenty-third chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
The fleets of Whaletail Island and the Fire Nation begin their battle against those of the Earth Empire and the Water Tribes – the Water Tribe forces are mostly annihilated, and, under heavy losses – Kanyzon's flagship, the Sun Warrior, among them – the Earth Empire ones as well. However, the Air Empire's forces, consisting of four ordinary junks and a sky-bison-propelled flying treasure ship, and a hundred Water Tribe and Earth Empire ships still remain in prime condition, posing a major threat to the allied forces.
The Battle of Mo Ce Sea, Pt. 2
Nobody in the entire allied fleet had expected air to have such power, nobody except Anyang, who now at last saw he should've told Senqok at least. Like a small typhoon crossed with a gigantic screw, a vortex of air shot downwards in the allied fleet's centre, sucking up and drilling merely into water, thus soon being followed by a second one, which the Chief Gangtok only barely evaded, more by luck than intentionally, for a wave pushed her aside.
"It's the Dauntless! Dalit's pride and greatest weapon!" cried Anyang, terrified just like the rest of the entire allied fleet, if not a bit more. In a murmur, he added, "I never thought I'd ever see it again after the Eastern Air Temple... "
"Nice for you to reminisce, but we got a slight problem, should you not have noticed!" shouted Luna at the general's murmuring, walking off to the bridge.
"Well... I better tell the crew that we're going to and how we're going to fight now... " stated Senqok, his voice carrying an ever so slight hint of desperation and hysteria. "You'd like to hear, too, I think... "
He stepped over the remains of the fallen and parted mast, and was halted by Shizon's cries, "You seriously want to fight this... thing?"
"Airship", Anyang cut in, not taking his eyes off the flying vessel. "It's an airship."
"Thanks, Anyang... " Shizon shifted his glance from Senqok to Anyang and sported an annoyed expression instead of a desperate one, even if only briefly. "So, you want to fight this airship? Seriously?"
"Yes." answered Senqok quickly, entering the bridge's tower. Kabura, Zoruka, Shizon, Skado, Noki, Anyang and Ranju all followed him inside the bridge, where Luna awaited them.
"So... you've got a plan? An actual plan?" asked Skado, after Anyang had briefly described the Dauntless's structure to them.
"An idea, more like, but... it counts doesn't it?" As best he could, Senqok tried to sound confident, but failed, and all noticed. Quickly, he rose and walked to the communication tubes. "Dearest crew... " he began, sighing, gathering all his courage to not fail them in words. " ...as you surely know by now, the Air Empire's sent us a nice present, the Dauntless, an actually flying ship, and also have the Water Tribes and the Earth Empire left us a good hundred ships in prime condition to face. The tides are turning." He left a pause, leaving everyone in wonder why he would speak such defeatist words. "But you know what? Fuck the bloody tides. We haven't sailed here for some days straight and almost got ourselves sunk to be defeated now by a sky-bison-propelled flying piece of wood! Fuck the damn tides! Get ammunition for the ballistae, and get out your crossbows, swords, spears, halberds, whatever. I'll send out General Anyang and his disciple Ranju to deal with the bloody Dauntless, and we down here will get to slaughter some bloody imperials! Prepare for being boarded, prepare for combat!" Again, he left a pause. His own confidence was building up and, after inhaling deeply, he continued. "For all here who've been in the Battle of the Five Armies, this won't be all too much a battle. For all others, prepare for the hour of your lives. And for all – do your bloody duty!"
"So you're telling Anyang and me to get the Dauntless down? How, exactly... ?" Ranju's tone and expression both were a mixture of annoyance and hysteria, and also of a hope for Senqok not being serious. "You're— you're kidding, right? Right?"
"No." Luna answered for her brother, caring neither to elaborate nor to veil the truth. She looked out onto their disorganised forces and onto the enemy forces, which began to approach in a formation. "The enemy's approaching in a tight wedge widening towards its end, with the galleys towards the rear. And... preparing grappling hooks."
"So, your plan is... ?" Kabura was more worried than panicking.
With a blank expression, Senqok faced her and answered, blunter than most of the time, "Fuck their damn arse bloody."
"What an eloquent and elaborate description of what we are going to do concerning the approaching enemy." remarked Zoruka with feigned arrogance, then adding with a sigh, "Now, what is our exact plan?"
"Why is everyone looking at me? I've become a commander half a year ago!" Senqok was obviously in slight distress, especially since the Dauntless's crew seemed to aim better by now, striking right in front of the bridge, leaving a gaping hole in the deck. "THINK OF SOMETHING YOURSELVES!"
"We could do as he says... " found Luna, joining the circle that had formed around the ship's wheel. Before she could continue, however, she was interrupted.
"Fuck their arses bloody?" Noki was the first to speak, and she spoke with disgust. "No, thanks!"
"No, not— well— actually, that's what I was about to propose." Luna's word earned her disgusted and disturbed looks. "We'll let a unit distract the Air Empire's ships, and let the rest form two columns to meet the enemy head-on, with the risk of boarding attempts and the like, and then let the two columns take care of the wedge's wings, fucking their damn arses bloody, as my brother so, er, eloquently said."
"Nice plan, but how will we two fight the Air Empire ships?" Anyang had attempted to ask the question before, but kept being interrupted all the time.
"Skado, get them a bunch of these explosive and incendiary ballista bolts... let's say... two of each per ship should be enough... " Senqok's order was first met with protest, but Skado submitted, rambling, and shortly returned with two thick bundles of ballista bolts, handing them to the two. "Good. Now get your gliders and off you fly!"
The two did as asked, and, always right next to each other, took off the deck and flew southwards, towards the Air Empire's ships, while hawks were sent out with orders for the allied fleet, in which everyone braced for a second turn.
The stump the fallen mast had left made it possible for the two airbenders to start from deck even with their heavy loads, and so they did. Not being able to do otherwise due to the ballista bolts they carried, Ranju and Anyang both thrust forward with their hands on their gliders, the currents they subconsciously bent towards them lifting them off the ship after a few metres, and the two did fast turns, to the left and to the right, as to fly towards the Chief Gangtok's stern and beyond, from where the Air Empire fleet approached and released a shot every now and then, only slowly getting into range again as the Rebel-class and the Fire Nation ships formed a narrow and fast target. Even though the waves still were far taller than even the two airbenders combined, they flew close to the water surface, relying on their reflexes and short reaction time to evade the waves and wrecks. Not a single word was exchanged, they had quickly planned everything before – and besides, they were flying far too fast for that. Even though the smoke of the burning wrecks that spread all over the battlefield and the seawater they inevitably came into contact with stung their eyes, they kept looking out for flags and sails in orange, red and yellow, but sighted none for longer than they had anticipated. Made wary and suspicious, they both scanned the skies for signs of the Dauntless, but found none, and, as they were distracted for too long, were surprised by a wave, which they failed to evade, and thus dove through, accelerating and forming a shield of air in front so they would pass through fast and unharmed, however, they found themselves facing a spike of rock at the other side, the rock black as cloudy night-time sky, and as jagged as an old, rusty blade, and equally sharp. Once again too slow to notice, they couldn't avoid it, and both, with a mere, orally delivered blast of air, thrust themselves skywards so they wouldn't collide. As they ascended, finally sure to have no obstacle in their way, they exchanged insecure, nervous glances. Shrugging in answer, Anyang motioned at the spike, and Ranju nodded, agreeing they would discuss what to do now there. The spike's top was as black, jagged and sharp as the rest, but Anyang's boots were robust and he had an excellent sense of balance, so he had no problem to land there and briefly fold his glider. Ranju decided to make use of a nearby corrie instead, still in earshot of Anyang but with a safer place for take-off.
"So? What shall we do, now we can't even find the Dauntless?" Anyang seemed more clueless than ever before, however, he was always defiant.
"Might be they obscured her. Not hard with all that smoke around." replied Ranju, shrugging and glancing around. She found they had come to a field of rock spikes and other islets, in whose centre several burning wrecks had gathered, these, and many pieces of flotsam that once had belonged to either the Water Tribe, Earth Empire, Fire Nation or Whaletail Island navies. Something moved, she saw, but then, the wind turned and blew the smoke towards them. "Might be we got lost in all the waves." she managed to speak between the coughs. "Reorientate ourselves here, and see where to find the Air Empire ships!"
"Yes. But- " Anyang himself had to cough, and that threw him off balance. He managed to push himself from the spike with a quick punch of his hand, and began soaring again, briefly vanishing into the smoke, before the wind veered again, revealing not only him but also four ships manoeuvring between the rocks, which bore double pennants in red with yellow lining, the top one bearing the airbending symbol, the bottom one displaying the insignia of the Air Nomads – the Air Empire's flag. Immediately, Ranju unfolded the glider and took off, readying two of the bolts she had been given. Anyang, in the meantime, was facing problems – airbenders with glider staffs, which doubled as various pole-arms, took off the four ships, heading for the allied fleet, with Anyang in their way. They weren't all too many, merely six or seven dozens, however, Anyang was alone and had drop almost to the water surface again to evade them. Ranju followed him and, in her descent, shot four bolts at the nearest ships as if they were bigger stilettos, sending air swipes after each to accelerate them. Then, she jumped on top of her glider to surf on it while she shot four more bolts at the ships she passed between in the same manner as before, severely weakening the ships, while Anyang finished them off. Splinters shot forth from the explosions and the incendiary bolts set the splinters and sail and cloth ablaze, striking under the water surface and atop the masts, spreading inferno amongst the four junks the Air Empire had dared to call its navy. Being old ships and having stayed in dry docks for too long, the fires spread fast and were extinguished quickly when waters washed aboard, dragging the ships towards the sea's floor. The two Air Nomads had left the area of Wrath Islet skywards by the time the junks were the Ocean Spirit's. A good hundred metres above the sea, the two found the Dauntless all too soon – all of sudden, they found themselves only metres above the deck of a treasure ship without masts, shouts soon filling the air, signalling them to be spotted. From one second to the other, Ranju's general feeling shifted from confidence to fearful nervousness.
If not the sails – most of the ships didn't have all of them left anyway – then it was grim determination that drove the fleet forward, against the hundred enemy vessels ready to sink them at a moment's notice. It was a risky manoeuvre, reminiscent more of a swordfight than of a naval battle, but with Senqok commanding and no one voicing complaints, not even Kanyzon, what else could one expect. He, however, wasn't as determined as the sailors and soldiers under his command. They had been in many naval battles, perhaps not as great ones as this one, but surely in more than him, they had experience. He, out of all people in the entire allied fleet, felt fear as the waves and winds and oars were diminishing the distance between the two fleets. As he paced back and forth at the Chief Gangtok's bow, right at the tip of his wedge formation, he glanced to the enemy fleet from time to time, knowing the battle would be hard for either side. That was, if Anyang was to succeed. Else... he didn't dare to think about it.
"So everyone's in position, and our dear Vice-admiral seems to be about throw himself over board?" approached him Kabura, part jokingly, part worried. She laid a hand on his shoulder, her tone shifting completely to one full of worry. "You're fearful... "
"Yes." affirmed her Senqok, sounding sorry more than anything as he stopped and looked ahead. "They've now got the technological advantage. And morale. We've got numbers, but what use are three hundred barely floating rafts against a hundred warships?"
"I won't have you despair at that!" spoke she, strict and reassuring at once. "We've endured more than just this, you know that. Besides, I know a bunch of people who won't allow it."
"You can boost the crews' morale with these words, but not mine. We've got barely a chance as it is, and that's without that Dauntless!" The Water Tribesman sighed, and faced Kabura with a face with desperation written all over it. "We'll be— "
"Victorious." From behind, a sharp voice that allowed no opposition cut off Senqok's defeatist lamenting – Zoruka's voice. "We've been through enough to get through this, too. And if Anyang should fail, we can still burn this flying pile of shite down!"
"You know, I wouldn't argue with her if I were you... " commented Shizon, briefly emerging from Zoruka's back, only to vanish behind the Crown Princess again.
"This is different. I'm fighting my own kind, you know what that means?" Senqok was more resolute than before, but still doubted their success. "Water Tribesman have to improvise often, lacking many materials, that makes them, er, us, innovative. Now give them some resources." He shook his head, trying to make his point clear. "Look, it's that I just— "
"Shut up. We'll do this and we'll do this well, bloody well even!" answered Zoruka, grabbing him by his collar. "And I don't think defeatism will help us in this endeavour!"
"ALRIGHT!" snapped Senqok back, scaring even Zoruka away, even if only slightly. "Then get your bloody firebenders all to the front and spirits damn you if you don't burn them to crips! Get the damn nonbenders armed and ready up for boarding and getting boarded! If nothing else, we'll kill them all!" He didn't make an attempt to calm down, in fact, he got even more enraged. "WE'LL BLOODY KILL THEM ALL IF NECESSARY!"
In the very moment the others turned to return to their posts, Kabura slightly disappointed turning away from Senqok after gazing at him, a disk of earth struck Senqok down. All went black to him as he struck the planks, and he failed to comprehend what was going on. He felt nothing except that he was angry, he heard nothing except the seemingly eternal tinnitus, he saw nothing but darkness, before he decided to calm down, and slowly his senses returned. It took him fifteen seconds to recover from this shock, but it had felt like an hour. Screams filled the air, and ahead he saw nought but a blur of colours that slowly formed into a ship, a treasure ship bearing emerald sails, and figures in blue uniforms around. All of sudden, he comprehended what had happened and drew his sword and water both, and in one fluid motion, struck the nearest of the enemy soldiers in the back with an ice blade, knocking him down. With motions quicker than he had thought he could ever make, he swung his sword around, not unlike an insect's wing beat, left and right, high and low, cutting, parrying, stabbing, and all twice at once, once in steel and once in water and ice. As he headed sternwards, cutting through the unsuspecting enemies with the speed and precision of a charging cat, the ship they had almost rammed burst into flames, and the boarders were all either lying dead, dying or knocked out on deck or thrown off board. Realising this, he stopped, and sheathed his sword again.
"So, still defeatist?" asked Shizon, who had helped Noki out against the boarders, as Skado had been busy himself. He leapt down from the earthbenders' platform and approached the Water Tribesman, whose grab now was sprinkled with blood.
"Not the slightest." lied Senqok, briefly breathing heavily from the temporal exhaustion his fast movement had inflicted upon him. He was about to take a glance around to find out about their situation, but had to avoid a fireball his comrade thrust all of sudden, aimed at the sails of a nearby enemy ship, at which the ballistae also fired. Although the enemy ship itself was basically a wreck already, grappling hooks were fired from it, and the two ships were about to be pulled together, however, Shizon and Senqok cut through the grappling hooks' ropes, both making use of a combination of swords and bending. The following ships', the General Wei's, firebenders obliterated the enemy ship, however, earthen disks sunk her immediately afterwards, just as they did to a Fire Nation vessel, however, the ballista shooters and the earthbenders became more and more practised at shooting down the rocks and disks, or directing them right back where they had come from. And thus, the allied fleet slowly but steadily, and with losses greater than before, made their way through the Earth Empire and Water Tribe force.
While passing, and also sinking, or at least damaging the previous ships had posed no problem, Bunak seemed to pursue his objective more ferociously now. The ships got closer and closer, and blocked as many embrasures as the earthbenders and waterbenders aboard could, before crew-members of sunk ships would swing over to board the allied vessels. Such as they did now. Senqok couldn't deny a speck of fear as he noticed his fellow tribesmen and enemies used the rigging of their ship to swing aboard the Chief Gangtok, knives in their mouths, clubs and spears at their backs, but not a single one sported water skins, which gave Senqok hope. The men weren't new to boarding, that was clear. Instantly, they took one heavier weapon in their right hand and the knife in the left one, ready to cut and stab everyone who got near enough, that, or knock them out. Smirking, the Vice-admiral drew his sword and his water at once, shifting into his stance he mixed from a sword-fight and a waterbending one, and saw Shizon do something similar, while his other comrades too got ready to throw their guests off board as roughly as possible. However, just as they were about to strike, the earthbenders at the enemy ship did something no one expected. They took their disks, and had one of theirs hold onto it before flinging it into the air so it would land aboard the Chief Gangtok, and that three of them did, with the massive earthen disk smashing the planks. Instantly, the earthbenders recovered the rock shards, and coated first their arms, then their entire bodies with them, making them virtually immune to strikes of non-earthbenders. Senqok, as all his comrades except Noki and Skado, failed to react to this in time, and instead rose his sword to parry a tribesman's strike with the club, while coating the free hand with water to catch his foe, which worked, and flung him around so he would hit the ground behind, just as the earthbenders started launching their first volley of earth shards. The shards, except one, which cut off Senqok's wolf tail, all struck the body or the planks. Quickly and shocked, the waterbender spun around to strike, in vain, for Noki had descended upon the earthbender already, while Skado took care of the other one with his crossbow, or at least tried to. Noki had jumped down from the platform, aiming for the head, and knocked her opponent down with her bending prowess and momentum, before she compressed the earth shards covering the soldier's head long enough till blood emerged from the makeshift helmet and a loud crack was heard. Skado had aimed his crossbow at the head of the soldier, as it was uncovered, but failed to aim correctly, and was too nervous to reload, so he charged at him, and took something from his belt no one knew could be used as a weapon that effectively – a fire extinguisher, which he used to fill up the soldier's face. The third soldier had the luck of being noticed by Luna before firing his shards, who had no time for elaborate ways to kill, and simply cut his throat, while Zoruka dealt with three boarders at once, firing a barrage of fireballs at them to make them come closer before they surrounded her and she could use a fire dagger and a fist of fire to spin around and knock them out. Shizon was skilled wielding dual swords and a master firebender besides, so he had no trouble parrying with one blade and knocking down, away or out with the other, and a fireball. Kabura was a bit more sneaky with her attacks, freezing a pool of water on the planks as a boarder charged at her, thinking her to be an easy target, and directed a small stream of water forward with her extended arm to knock the man on the ground, before liquefying the ice again only to form ice claws with which she then pierced the man's throat and chest.
However, more boarders had arrived from another ship at the other, starboard of the Chief Gangtok, and heated the battle. Sneaky and strong Water Tribe warriors and well-trained and disciplined Earth Empire soldiers compensated each other and managed to injure the comrades, especially Noki, without losing a man, as the comrades had been busy with the other boarders. The comrades gathered around Noki, whom Skado guarded all the time with his crossbow, to protect her and to coordinate their strikes better.
"It would seem we're confronted with greater numbers and... " Zoruka made a pause the form a fiery shield. "...and skills."
"At least with better coordination." agreed Noki partially, grunting as she failed to rise again. "We can still do this."
"I wouldn't risk the crew for that... " commented Senqok thoughtfully, managing to throw back two warriors.
"Then we'll need to act as a unit!" hissed Noki, still unable to have her feet support her little weight. "Some of you— us, some of us need to defend, and some to attack. I guess Senqok, Kabura and perhaps Luna would do greatly in defence. At least better than Shizon, Zoruka and Skado, right? I could do some to help defend, but I can't do much right no- aah! Dammit! Aargh!"
Noki's idea ended in a cry of pain, and her comrades seemed to agree with her, and quickly swapped positions so they could focus their power but still be defended and defend well enough. Senqok and Kabura intercepted any thrown object, knife or rock, and Luna knocked it aside, while Skado fired bolts at everyone wearing the colours of their enemy, with some success. Shizon and Zoruka had to defend as well, but rarely had the chance to. A squad of soldiers and warriors charged at them with weapons and rocks first, the latter being intercepted by small water streams, whereas fireballs, some orange, some yellow, some slowly changing their colour to blue, took care of the rest, knocking them over each other and into other boarders who were busy finding entrances into the interior and to the bridge, but now, all attention shifted to the comrades, Zoruka most of all. She stood ready in her stance, with fists coated in blue flames, and a slightly angry expression on her face. The soldiers seemed to be frozen in fear, and that moment she used. Being careful to aim precisely, the Crown Princess let her fists shoot forward faster than she had ever before, knocking back, knocking out, knocking over, inuring, wounding, setting ablaze and killing. And spreading chaos. Utter chaos ensued – every of the soldiers and warriors serving under Bunak's command intended to get away from the witch, as they called Zoruka in fear, and her unearthly blue fire. They trampled each other, they threw each other off board, they lost every sense of discipline and obedience, and some jumped over to the ships they had come from, which Zoruka severed from the Chief Gangtok by burning the ropes that held them together with precise fire jabs, and prepared to launch lightnings at the ships, however, in the middle of the motion, she was knocked over by an air swipe, as were most of her comrades, who had stared at her in disbelief and not paid attention. Air Empire soldiers swarmed around and had in mind to eliminate Senqok, Skado and Luna, to leave the Whaletail Islander ships without commanders, however, their comrades, even the heavily weakened Noki, wouldn't have tolerated this, and attacked them in their respective ways. Bolts of Skado's took down two of the airbenders, but only because they merely lost consciousness faster with their wounds, blindly fired shards of earth took down one particular airbender, whom Noki hit every time, no matter where she aimed for, if she aimed at all. However, there still were a dozen of them present, and they wouldn't land, knowing this would give the defenders the advantage. But what they didn't know was that the crew found nothing to be holding them back inside, and two dozens of them emerged, armed with crossbows. Aiming, firing, reloading, aiming, firing, reloading was all it took, by then all airbenders had found their graves in the ocean, not because the arbalists aimed that well – in fact, they were virtually untrained – but because they gave Zoruka, Kabura, Shizon and Skado time to aim properly, while Senqok finally took care of Noki, before Kabura took over. As they glanced around, they knew the worst of their part was over. Until a small but powerful tornado struck the sea to their larboard side.
It was madness to land on the main deck of the mightiest battleship worldwide. Madness and nothing else. Even though Anyang and Ranju both were masters, it was madness. The Dauntless's swarmed with airbenders, all uniformed in armour not unlike the one of the Fire Nation, though lighter, most of whom either kept the ship – or rather, the sky bison propelling it – running, or fired the streams of spiralling air, small and powerful tornadoes, by using bronze tubes that concentrated their bending power and were mounted all around on the ship's rail and in her hull, however, the entire crew were airbenders, thus potential threats, however, what was far worse was Dalit's almost immediate presence. Anyang and Ranju glanced around nervously, back to back, doing their best to hide the bolts.
"If it isn't my dear brother and the traitorous piece of filth who follows him!" greeted them Dalit was he approached, surprisingly not attacking them. Using the brief shift of attention from them to Dalit, Ranju took Anyang's bolts and hid them amongst her own. Anyang flinched somewhat at Dalit addressing him as a brother, which indeed was the truth, and only then realised the missing of his bolt. "What brings you here aboard my wondrous flagship?"
"Business." stated Anyang quickly and truthfully, desperate to let the attention shift to Dalit again, even if only briefly, to ask Ranju for her plan. "Quite bloody business if I do say so myself."
"Is that so? Well, too bad, I already had the tea prepared." answered Dalit playfully and with fiegned disappointment. These few seconds Dalit needed to speak were more than enough time for Anyang to ask.
"What's your plan?" Whispered fast and into the wrong direction, Ranju barely understood the words, and did well to hide them once she had.
"Wouldn't you care to join us? The offer still stands, brother, even after all these years and treasonous acts." Dalit's voice carried indeed the truth, Anyang knew, and for once, he had a speck of hope for his brother.
"Well, I'm sorry to say this even now, but my allegiances lie elsewhere. They lie with most of the original Air Nomad philosophies, freedom most of all." Anyang did his best not to shout angrily, in fact, he sounded fairly polite yet honest.
"My plan? You draw their attention, I sabotage." answered Ranju in a similar manner as he had asked the question before. She was ready to sprint off in a split second, yet had to hide it, which she didn't do all too poorly.
Anyang nodded just as Dalit opened his mouth. "So I have seen and heard, General Anyang, brother. It remains your choice." He turned to leave again, much to everyone's surprise. "But don't you get the idea of attacking my soldiers. If you do, I shall pay it back. Thrice."
"You actually would let me go?" asked Anyang, trying to the attention off Ranju as well as to get answers. "That is unlikely of you, Head Elder Dalit. You didn't even give me that priviledge the first time, if I remember correctly."
"You do remember correctly. I attacked you in rage for you denouncing me, for leading fools and traitors against me, for breaking the same traditions and values you vowed to keep! But brothers aren't meant to fight each other, are they?" Dalit spoke, spinning around to face Anyang again. He then added, "Did you know we're both bastards of the same parents?"
"Quite so indeed." Anyang did his best to sound polite, and overshot slightly. "I was already aware of this. How is it relevant now, of all possible times?"
"I just realised how we both are alike, and how we both are like mother and father, in some ways." Dalit couldn't have possibly hurt Anyang more merely using words, and he knew that. "You're the hypocrite father is, and you want freedom as much as mother did, I'm as cruel as father and we both have the passion from mother. How come you never saw?"
He had to hide just how much the statement had hurt him as best he could. "I was aware we have the same father, but not of his identity." stated he, fighting with tears and anger.
"Oh, a pity. I'm sure you ran across him sometime in your time as a general. Especially with your allegiance." again, Dalit's words struck like an arrow, but this time, all they triggered was the want to learn more and the knowledge of not wanting to know.
As most eyes and ears were busy or fixed on Dalit, Ranju stole away. She rushed to a hatchway she had found and jumped through it, finding herself again in a dimly lit corridor to the ship's starboard side, with sky bison to her left. They were bound like ostrich horses to a carriage, only they were bound to the sides, their reins bound to rectangular frames which prevented them colliding with other bison and the ship's hull. They were not the magnificent beasts they would've been if born and raised free, they were muscular and well trained to obey to spoken and signalled commands alike. Instantly, Ranju felt a pity for the beasts, and was about to begin cutting through the reins, when she realised they were bound with ropes made from wire rather than from hemp or alike – completely aside the fact a group of soldiers was coming her way. She vanished towards the larboard side, using a door she had just found and inside, found even more wire ropes – in fact, all wire ropes from the starboard side ran towards the ship's centre parallel, she presumed, as she saw wire ropes running through the room she had entered. She went through another door in that direction, and another, and found herself before a massive steel beam at which the wire ropes from both sides met. The beam went from bow to stern, she saw, and, being closer to it, decided to take a look at the bow. Even with the little light she had there, she noticed the beam fusing with another one which went from starboard to larboard.
"That means— of course! The ship's held together by wire ropes and a steel frame!" she concluded, noticing this would pose a major problem. "Dammit. This makes this job harder than I thought."
"There she is! Get her! Kill her!" Three soldiers raced towards her, with their combination of guan dao and glider staff in front of them, but Ranju avoided collision easily, and made the three trip with one swing of her staff. Being in quite a hurry to find a solution, she knocked two of them out by smashing her staff's ends against their heads, but realised they all were engineers, responsible for the ship's maintenance, and thus decided to spare the third one, until she got answers at least.
"Where are the ship's weaknesses?" she asked him, picking him up by the collar and pressing him against the wooden wall. "Where? Tell me!"
After being uncooperative at first, the soldier thought about his choice after Ranju pressed him closer against the wall. "Cutting one side's ropes. The beam's too weak to hold one side's pull without the other side's back pull." That was all the soldier could utter before there was no air left in his lungs, when Ranju dropped him to the floor.
"Thanks! That's all I needed to know." she thanked him, picking up one of the pole-arms the airbending soldiers carried. She smashed the blade against a rope, but nothing would happen, so she decided to attempt combining weapon and bending, as Senqok and Shizon always did. With an air swipe and the guan dao blade combined, the blade struck into the wire, halfway through it, in fact. She struggled to wrench the weapon free, and had to use bending again to have it under control again, during which the rope began to tear slowly. She continued her work in this manner until the blade was as blunt as Skado's arguments, after ten ropes, and after fetching the next one, she continued unnoticed, until there were only two left, for which she had to get the last guan dao, for the blades were made of low-quality iron. After she was done, the entire ship began to creak as only wood and metal can, and she instantly saw just what a faulty design the ship was – the larboard ropes began bending the central beam into their direction, destroying the planks between in the process, and slowly bending it further into that direction. Then, after almost a metre, it stopped, much to Ranju's dismay. While it had affected the entire ship and would be almost impossible to repair, the Dauntless still flew. "Oh dammit. Now... what to do now... hm... " Ranju had two ideas, but she wasn't willing to execute either. "Either I kill the bison on one side or I burn this whole thing down with the incendiary bolts... "
Lacking time, and, as soldiers flooded the room by the dozen, she was quick to decide to put the animals out of their misery. She had killed before and she would kill again, and out of spite – this, however, was an act of mercy. The first soldier she saw she knocked down and snatched his staff pole-arm thing, which she thrust into one of the bison's neck, the projectile only fastened by her bending. A squad of five approached her from behind, and she spun around, knocking them down with her staff, only to take their weapons and to proceed. The first one she had knocked down attacked her, and she evaded, only to stumble over those she just had knocked down, almost getting herself beheaded by another soldier who stormed at her, swining his guan dao glider staff, however, she fell faster than he had thought, and so he struck his comrade, and stumbled over Ranju, who then got up and knocked them out with her staff before taking the weapon with which the soldier accidentally had been impaled, and ended another bison, still carrying the five arms taken from the squad. She then was quick to get rid of these in the same way as of the previous two, only to be confronted by another two squads, which had surrounded her, both numbering five soldiers. The men and women – it was the first time Ranju saw women serving one of Yi Ming's vassals – held their weapons first, but Ranju was slightly quicker than them, mostly in reaction time, and knocked their weapons aside, and them out by just spinning around twice. Then, she took as many of the arms as she could carry and fled the scene, again putting bison out of their suffering, as she justified it. By the time she had none left, the Dauntless had developed an undeniable list. This time, Ranju was confronted by a more equal foe, and not mere recruits. This foe was an officer who swung the staff around like a double-edged sword and bent air with it like no one Ranju had ever seen. Every attack of hers he countered or evaded, which gave time for his comrades to assemble. However, she would finish what she had begun, and soon, before the ship would plummet into the allied fleet, thus she gathered her strength and rammed forward, knocking the officer over and, with her feet, out. The soldiers around braced themselves, but all Ranju desired were their pole-arms, which she got with two swipes of her staff and a small funnel of air. Enhancing her leap with her bending, she jumped over those she had just disarmed, and finished off what she had begun, before returning to the room where she had cut the ropes. There, she took the bundle of bolts and, after forming a weak air sphere around herself, she thrust it downwards with all power.
The explosion was not the problem. That, she handled with the air sphere, but the flames that spread in every direction she couldn't. Especially after a blind shell detonated and knocked her against the wall, and knocked her air sphere away. The flames licked at her hair and at her clothes, even at her skin, and with every breath, heat filled her lungs, but Ranju wouldn't give up. Blind, as she intended to protect her eyes, she searched for a door, and slipped through, and ran, blindly. Through doors and over the corridor, and then, without realising, over the rail and between the wires and dead bison, and suddenly, she was falling. Cool, salty air replaced the heat all around, and suddenly, she noticed she would likely die if she wouldn't act fast, and suddenly, she opened her glider. Much to her surprise, Anyang was right next to her as she ceased her descent and together, they flew over the water towards their fleet, with the Dauntless sinking, burning behind them. That much at least had gone well for them.
"Is it over?" The fearful tone didn't fit Noki's voice at all, but she, out of all, had every right to fear, after all she was unable to stand, let alone walk.
"I think... ?" Skado attempted to speak in a reassuring tone, but failed, and thus sounded insecure. He opened the heavy oakwood door and held out his head so he would see. His expression lightened up within a split second.
"What is it?" Kabura too was insecure, and somewhat feared Skado might've lost his mind, and the stuffy air under deck did no good either.
"See for yourselves!" Skado laughed tears, though silently. By then, everyone was sure he had lost his mind, especially as he jumped outside and climbed on the main deck, shouting insults and victorious cries.
"Haha, very funny... " replied Noki silently, and thus with Skado's absence, it was up to the others to describe the scenery.
"Bloody realm of Koh!" Shion, being the first after Skado to look outside, was taken aback and was filled with joy almost instantly. "YES! THEY DID IT! TAKE THAT!"
"Wha- oh, damn, now that's a splendid sight!" Zoruka tried using more sophisticated vocables, however, failed as joy overtook her as well, however, first, she spun around, before seeing her suspicions proven and exclaiming, "That's bloody awesome! VICTORY IS OURS!"
Kabura and Senqok, with Noki between them, too crawled out, more for fresh air than for the sight, but when they glimpsed it, their jaws dropped in amazement. The two embraced each other – with a slightly claustrophobic Noki between them – and kissed, before the blind earthbender between uttered, "Release me!" They didn't obey instantly, but first rose to their feet and repeated, before taking Noki between them and as well climbing up to the main deck, over the iron roof and right next to Skado, who lay there, still laughing tears, and continuously muttering, "They did it!"
They all then climbed up to the bridge, where they marvelled at the sight – well, except Noki, who still didn't know. The burning wreck at the rocks was, to them, the greatest sight they could've expected, for it meant victory, for it meant survival. The enemy fleet seemed to have fled the scene, leaving the allied fleet and the wrecks behind. The sun burnt down upon them, slowly descending towards the west, reflecting itself on the water's surface and nearly blinding those staring at the burning wrecks. Flames and plumes of smoke rose from the wrecks that all gathered around the rocks that formed Wrath Islet, showing just how much this battle had cost. At this sight, everyone was sure the Earth Empire was at last defeated, even if only on the seas. The Chief Gangtok and the Dragon of the Seas both, which sailed next to each other suddenly, had suffered from the battle, both had taken damages to masts, sails, decks and hulls, but nothing that couldn't somehow be fixed for the way back, for which they would take their sweet time, that was sure.
"Hey! You cunts!" Such an eloquent greeting could only herald Luna's arrival. She beamed with joice, and embraced her brother immediately, wordlessly congratulating him.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you for helping us out with the boarders!" stuttered Senqok as the siblings parted again, which was answered by his sister with a mere pat on his shoulder saying, You earned it.
"Excuse me, but WHAT IN KOH'S BLOODY REALM IS GOING ON?" Noki indeed was hurt by basically being ignored, more than by the fact she had required protection before.
"Oh, how should I explain, er... " Skado scratched his head awkwardly. " ...Anyang and Ranju were sent out against the Air Empire, right?" After Noki's nod, he continued. "Well... The BLOODY DAUNTLESS, THIS DAMN FLYING SHIP! IT'S SUNK!"
All that Noki did was letting her jaw drop and her unseeing eyes widen, that was all. After a minute, however, she somewhat repeated, "They... sunk that flying ship?"
Senqok nodded, but then remembered she couldn't see that in any way, and thus answered, after an awkward pause, "Yes."
"They... WHAT!?" The blind girl couldn't believe it, and neither could her comrades. The crews too started flooding out onto deck, praising spirits, Anyang, Ranju, or whoever came to their minds.
"Wait... the last tornado-something struck some... ten minutes ago, and it's barely a kilometre there. Why aren't they back?" Zoruka became worried and spun around to face her comrades rather than Shizon, who himself eyed her with a part worried, part disapproving expression. She noticed this and whispered, "What?", but only received a sigh and a shaken head as an answer.
In that very moment, someone hit the bridge's roof, and slid down it, swearing, "Oh dammit, this wouldn't even happen to Skado, Koh bloody dammit!" While the voice already had said it all and made Noki smile slightly, the others needed confirmation, and indeed, Ranju swung on the bridge from the roof, with glider staff in her hands, and torn robes. "Hey there... " she sighed with a wide grin, collapsing on the floor afterwards from the exhaustion she had faced in the past hours. "Don't mind me, I... I just need some time catch my breath. Yeah. Catch... my... breath."
"Don't fool yourself, Ranju, you know you did more than you should've from a strictly medical point of view." Silently, Anyang had landed and entered the bridge, and was the only one who didn't smile. "You all seem rather... strained. This will do you no good, you know, and— Spirits, Noki!"
"I'll walk again... Right, Kabura?" answered the blind one, at first certain, then less so.
"Only if you let me help you. Daily." Unusually strictly, Kabura spoke her order.
"I see... the rest... What happened?" Anyang glanced around and with everyone he saw, he furrowed his bow more.
"Did you see the ship?" asked him Shizon rhetorically.
"Oh, yes, that does pose a problem... " agreed Anyang after turning to face the deck, which was a mess of intact and splinters of planks framed by iron rails. "But still, what happened?"
"Boarders." Kabura briefly interrupted her conversation with Ranju and Senqok to answer, but then continued without giving Anyang any further attention, just like most of those on the bridge did, and thus, Anyang decided to descend onto the deck together with Luna to intercept Fire Lord Kanyzon, who just had set his foot on board the Chief Gangtok again. Shortly thereafter, everyone was called down to them, for Kanyzon held a distressing message.
"The Southern Water Tribe's chief came to me under the white peace banner, and handed me another movement order of Yi Ming's." stated the Fire Lord, whose nervousness the pearls of sweat on his forehead betrayed, waving a small scroll in front of his allies. "It says... er... Landing fleet will sail northernmost possible way to Fire Nation, to use engaging fleet as shield and diversion. Landing fleet will deploy its entire force in the area of the Gates of Fire before serving as supply line. The main ports of call will be— " Suddenly, Kanyzon stopped. "Do you know what that means?" Blank faces answered the Fire Lord. "Yi Ming's tricked us, and very well he did that. He's landed in the Fire Nation with his army."
Notes and Trivia
- The Dauntless is meant to be, more or less at least, an Avatar version of the Valiant from Doctor Who.
- The Air Empire's flag was inspired by Nepal's.
- The tubes aboard the Dauntless are meant to resemble breech-loading swivel guns.
- The Gates of Fire are meant to be located where the Great Gates of Azulon are in the series.
- While the (average) length and hopefully also the quality of my works, do increase with each chapter, I must apologise for my constant lateness. Seriously, I'm sorry.
For the collective works of the author, go here.