|More from Sep0815||Adventure||PG-13||None yet||~fortnightly|
|The Sand of Ember Island|
The Sand of Ember Island is the twenty-fourth chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
The Battle of Mo Ce Sea reaches its closure – after ramming into the enemy units, defeating boarders and Ranju and Anyang, who confronted his brother Dalit aboard the flying ship Dauntless, sinking that ship.
However, the victory is sour – Bunak, Southern Water Tribe chief and enemy commander, handed Fire Lord Kanyzon movement orders revealing Yi Ming's imminent landing in the Fire Nation.
Chapter 24: The Sand of Ember Island
The entire allied fleet sailed towards the one island whose worth no one knew, except Fire Lord Kanyzon, towards just another island Yi Ming wouldn't consider conquering even for a second, simply because it was poor sparsely inhabited and too small to supply any armed force. They all sailed towards Kanyzon's secret stronghold, where he had spared no expenses to drill tunnels and rooms into the basalt, to fill them with weapons, with spare parts, even parts to build an entire harbour within less than a week, and, most importantly, to provide the stronghold with food. It was his personal stronghold, his last resort, of which only he himself knew all the secrets. Of course, there had been some architects who had known these as well, but these Kanyzon had removed once they had done their parts. It was the one place he felt at home, this island, even though he hadn't seen it until he had proclaimed himself Fire Lord. Standing at the bow of the Dragon of the Seas, he inhaled the salty air deeply as they approached the black, grey and beige beaches of Ember Island. He knew they should just have sailed past and straight to the Capital, but the fleet was in a condition in which even the relatively calm seas on the way there would've been a threat, and also was more or less everyone in the entire fleet in need of a break after what had happened around Wrath Islet, and sailing through stormy waters in which every ship almost capsized at least once was no help either. Revealing his stronghold now would at least boost the morale, even though he'd risk Yi Ming finding out. For that, the Fire Lord cared little for once.
"Your Majesty?" intruded the young man Kanyzon had made his heir, together with Zoruka, and thus ripped the Fire Lord from his reminiscence.
"What is it?" Kanyzon replied, not all too unkind, having spun around to face Shizon, who in his expression alone showed his need for a break, no matter how brief.
"Vice-admiral Senqok and Lord Protector Luna have requested for the flagships to anchor somewhere else than the main fleets." stated Zoruka, keeping her face and tone neutral, "They suggest a small bay about a kilometre east with strong tides that would allow repairs without too much trouble."
"No need to be so formal." The Fire Lord smiled slightly, glancing eastwards, where he indeed noticed an entrance to a bay, navigating through which would be risky, but seclude them as well as give them the chance to, as the Crown Princess had stated, repair their ships. "Is there an entrance to my stronghold anywhere near?"
"In fact, I do believe this bay is one of the main entrances. Well, nearby one anyway." remembered Shizon, not being entirely sure, as his tone indicated.
"Well, I do think I remember those beaches..." replied Kanyzon, glancing off in a childlike manner, and sunk back into memories and other thoughts of his.
"...sire?" reminded Zoruka the Fire Lord finally, "What's your answer?"
"Uh, yeah, whatever, sure." Kanyzon waved dismissively, and his tone as well as him glancing off to the small cliffs and broad beaches indicated very well where his mind had taken him. With a nod, his two heirs spun around and marched off, and at once, the two flagships started heading for the secluded bay.
"I was told the tides would ease repairs, not that they'd leave the ship on the bloody sand!" exclaimed a slightly shocked Luna after she had finally agreed to leave the Chief Gangtok. "I mean, look at where the water's now and— bloody damn you all!"
"Come on, shut up, and let's set up camp." Senqok was only millimetres away from losing his nerves as he passed his sister, some planks formerly forming the ship's deck under his arms, "Zoruka, got some fire?"
"You ask me for fire? Why not go straight for it and ask Kanyzon for some?" Zoruka's tone was strangely calm, but from her choice of words one could easily sense just how tense she was. She hadn't even turned to face Senqok, and simply walked away from him, down the beach, before she would lose her temper, after having bottled up too much for too long.
"Alright... I'll do it myself then." Senqok formed a pyramid with the planks and laid the extra ones to the side, before taking a piece of iron and flint out of one of his uniform's pockets, and was about to smash them together before he realised he lacked some form of tinder. He struck his forehead with his right, free palm, just as a bright orange fireball set his small pyramid on fire. As elegantly as he could, Shizon leapt into the unusually swiftly retreating waters around the Chief Gangtok, and half waded, half swam to the relative dryness of the sands. After briefly nodding at Senqok, he took after Zoruka.
"At least someone's still sane. Somewhat anyway... " Kabura smiled as she approached Senqok, and sat next to him as the fire roared up and spread light while darkness fell all around, although slowly. Neither spoke as the crews of the two flagships either were shown the entrance to the underground stronghold or built camps on the shore, however, they cared little about this, and both stared into the flames.
"May we join you?" came a question, and at once, both whirled around in an attempt to get into a fighting stance as fast as possible, but both tripped over nothing – that, or their own feet – and landed on their stomachs, respectively. An ever so slight chuckle of Anyang's followed as he helped them up, while covering Luna and Ranju, who laughed heavily but silently. "I didn't mean to startle you, sorry. So, may we join?"
Senqok was half asleep, or so it at least seemed, while Kabura's attention was caught by the sight of one of her best friends and Luna laughing about their clumsiness. "With friends like these... " Anyang rose an eyebrow, and suddenly caught her attention. "Uh, why, of course, we were about to leave anyway, right, Senqok?"
"Huh? Uh, yeah, sure... " He looked puzzled and absent-minded. "What are you talking about?"
"I take that as a yes. Come on, there's some forms I'd like to learn... " Kabura dragged Senqok with her, about to head eastwards. Suddenly, he resisted.
"Sorry for before... " he uttered to Luna as Kabura was about to drag him further, interrupting her laughter.
"Don't think I'll forgive you!" Luna spoke, and for a split second, Senqok feared she might've been intoxicated. "I mean, there's nothing to forgive, is there?"
Senqok nodded and turned his head to face Kabura, signalling her to drag him again, but she rose her eyebrow and spun away from him, only to march off. Senqok was quick to follow leaving the four around the campfire of planks virtually alone, had it not been for Noki jumping down onto the damp sands the retreating water had left, where sailors used partially splintered planks and parts of the felled mast to stabilise the Chief Gangtok. The blind earthbender however, having indeed been truly blind for more than a week, and on board a ship on top of it, began rolling in the sand, laughing, and just as Skado had descended from the ship – fallen, more like – she kissed the ground, euphorically screaming, "I can see!"
"Don't do that, you'll get yourself an infection! Noki!" called Skado, then shaking his head and bolting towards her, "Koh bloody damn it!" He then, not too rudely, took her by the shoulder and yanked her upwards.
"Spirits, you can't just enjoy the moment with me, can you?" asked Noki rhetorically, her annoyance merely feigned. She took a few steps forward and muttered, "Well, seeing is relative..." as she noticed she could only approximately make out positions and shapes. Anyang, Ranju and Luna watched the two, Noki most of all, the blind one noticed. "Oh, come on! This place is far too crowded! Skado, come!"
"Noki, Yi Ming's ships and soldiers could be here any moment, are you sure— ?" Skado began, but was cut off as Noki, despite her relatively meagre physical strength, dragged him with herself.
"You just don't get it, do you?" she asked, again, rhetorically, "I said, 'COME'!"
"But— I'm your superior! I'm vice-admiral and colonel and— " Skado decided to launch one more attempt at convincing her, no matter how desperate, and was cut off again.
"Ever since we've known each other, " began Noki, "I've dominated our relationship. I dominate, I reign, I order. Now COME!"
"Alright then... " As all too often, Skado surrendered to Noki's will.
"Phew, for a second I really thought I'd have to drag you along!" Noki laughed as she led Skado westwards, down the beach.
Again, the three by the campfire were left relatively alone as the crews worked on repairing the two ships. Suddenly, the campfire's flames began flickering, until no more than embers remained. As suddenly as this had happened, the flames spread again, and, like greedy arms, reached for the three people around it, spreading on and on and on, before they retreated to their original positions. Anyang, whose robes had caught fire, was numb, and a hand was quick to put out the small fire. Kanyzon hovered over him, and the airbender could utter no more than, "You wicked man... "
"Finally someone finds out." answered Kanyzon as he greeted the other two with gestures.
Luna let out a nervous laugh, and offered, "Come on, sit with us. Someone has to guard the ships."
"That's what I came here for in the first place," replied the Fire Lord, and sat himself in the dark sands.
"Zoruka! Zoruka, spirits bloody dammit! You can't just run off like that!" shouted Shizon as he followed the Crown Princess's footsteps. From the beach over some path that led up the cliffs and into the dense but low jungle. He rushed along some sort of path, leaves and twigs from both sides theoretically hindering travel on the path, had not both of them worn armour and rushed faster than they had thought they could. "ZORUKA! STOP! We don't know what's on that island!"
As if to prove Shizon's point, a snake shot out of the wall of leaves and branches to the left, a snake which Shizon knocked aside as he ran. Ahead, he could make out slight panting, and he himself felt exhaustion slowly creeping in, but he wouldn't stop until Zoruka would. Knocking leaves, twigs, snakes, birds, insects, all kinds of creatures in fact, aside and diving under or jumping over branches and roots while still running at speeds usually not even sprinted was the combination that brought Shizon, even though short of breath, for he attempted inhaling as rarely as possible as he found himself inhaling some kind of insect, closer to Zoruka, in fact, he could clearly see her in front of him.
"Zoruka, please, STOP!" he shouted, out of breath. She, a mere five metres ahead, briefly glanced over her shoulder and then tried to put more distance between the two of them again, and, determined as she was, tried to run even faster, but suddenly, her feet slipped. Her shoes provided no foothold on the mud she had set her feet on, and she noticed a strangely sharp rock where her breast would be would she hit the ground. In the last second, she put her hands between herself and the ground, and began breathing heavily. Shizon noticed this too late and tripped over Zoruka's feet, knocking her down, at least in theory. However, Zoruka managed to roll to the side, so neither would land on the stone she now saw to be an old, rusty knife. Both lay there, Shizon half on top of Zoruka and half next to her, both panting heavily, both somewhat happy the chase was at last over. For minutes, they lay in the mud and water and dust, right next to likely poisonous plants and venomous animals neither cared about, simply catching their breath. Then, Zoruka began laughing almost maniacally all of sudden.
"You got me. Like on Whaletail Island in that inn, remember?" she spoke through her heavy laughs and breaths.
"No, not exactly," replied Shizon, taking some time to realise what she was referring to, and immediately standing up once he had. "Oh... OH..... OH! No. We're both still clothed."
"We both were clothed. We just- " began Zoruka, cut off by Shizon's extended index finger on her lips.
"Shush. We both know what you mean." Shizon sighed, smiling afterwards. He followed the path some more metres down and found himself on a meadow, calling, "Come on! This'll be better than Whaletail Island!"
Zoruka followed him, and gasped. The sun was setting, and illuminated the entire meadow in an orange light. The low trees were replaced by bushes, and these in turn by grass, which grew waist high. The meadow was natural, or seemed to be at least, and with the orange light, its slight slope, not too small rocks lying around, the stars coming out and the sea in sight, the scenery was what Zoruka would describe as perfect. The salty smell of the ocean and the many smells of the jungle mixed. She took in a deep breath, and threw her arms around Shizon.
"Why did you run off?" asked Shizon, looking more concerned than angry for once.
Zoruka shot a glance back that was a mix of pity, concern and disappointment. After a sigh, she explained, "It all got over my head. I've never been on a ship for longer than a few days. And the stress of that particular battle... I overreacted, too." She looked more sorrowful than one would've expected.
Shizon nodded understandingly. The two sat down in the high grass and watched the last rays of direct sunlight vanish from the horizon, and the night's coolness crept in. They waited until the starlight would no longer have a concurrent except for the full moon, and stared off onto the ocean.
"I want something from you, Shizon, if I may ask it." stated Zoruka, breaking the silence. Shizon nodded, and thus Zoruka spoke on, "I want you to keep me from overreacting like this. I want you— no, I need you to stop my when this occurs. I mean, sure, we found this meadow, but— "
"Shut up." There was no anger, no spitefulness in Shizon's voice, it was more playful and yet slightly serious. "You know I'll protect you from yourself, and I know that you'd do the same for me. I know we can trust each other, more than anyone else."
Zoruka smiled slightly. She was simply satisfied, and intended to express it as well. She took in a deep breath of the air there she found simply perfect, and turned her head to face Shizon. With a smile, she rushed in and put her lips upon his, and both pressed themselves against the each other, seemingly never to break apart, which they then still did all too soon.
"I just love you, you bloody wicked woman!" Shizon shook his head as he uttered these few words, smiling. He was satisfied as well, for the moment at least.
"You damn... " Zoruka had planned a witty comeback, but Shizon had left her speechless. After some more time, she found her voice again, full with the satisfaction she felt, "I know." She laid her head on Shizon's shoulder and was about to doze off when she added, "Damn you, I love you too."
"You're fool enough to question me, where did you even get the idea?" Noki couldn't help but smile and shake her head as she walked on the beach, subtly hardening the sand slightly with each step so she would see better.
"Uh, reason?" Skado was unsure yet resolute in his answer – unsure whether she would accept it, and resolute that this was his reason.
"So you finally start thinking like a normal human being!" jested Noki with a silent chuckle, and was about to punch Skado slightly, but tripped over seemingly nothing and fell to the ground face first, but as it would always be when she would fall on earthen ground, the ground gave in. She rolled on her back and Skado knelt next to her, somewhat fearing she might've hurt herself, but she burst into a light, careless laughter as tiny waves surged over her right side. "I do like that, I have to admit. I really like that."
The last rays of sunlight were close to vanishing when she got up, her right side wet to the bone, her right side not even damp. Skado too got up, his concerns proven unfounded, even though he should've known that before it all. "You do? I thought you didn't like being questioned." remarked he as he helped her up.
While he stumbled around until his eyes got used to the darkness around, Noki had no problems of such a kind. "Well... I do like a challenge. And being questioned by someone who normally obeys is a challenge, right?" replied Noki, never once letting her smile turn into a frown. "I have a crazy question... "
His interest caught, Skado rose both his eyebrows in question, " ...which is... ?"
"Well... uh... " Noki stopped in her tracks, and so did Skado. The full moon illuminated them well enough in its cold, bluish light, and seemed to emphasise the expression of satisfaction, joy and, despite it all, insecurity which Noki wore. "I wanted to— to ask whether you'd consider if you'd— you could take me for... " Mid-sentence, Noki cut herself off. She had tried to ease herself into the question, which wasn't all too queer, by using as many words as possible, but that wasn't her way. She inhaled deeply as Skado put his hand on her shoulder reassuringly, and began anew, more insecure than before in expression, but resolute in speech. "I wanted to ask you if... if you could take me for a swim. It's just that I'd like to be— "
"Sure." Though in thoughts he screamed WHY!?, Skado decided to grant her the wish. Noki turned and walked towards the waterfront, feeling lighter than ever before, and began loosening her garb, while Skado stood behind and repeatedly formed the word what with lips and tongue, and was not far from shouting it out loud so the entire Fire Nation would hear, baffled by Noki's request, but that very woman drew his attention towards herself again.
"So?" was all that it took. He had expected her to keep her underwear for swimming, yet there she stood, utterly naked, with her feet in the water, and the moonlight coming streaming from the sea, giving her an eerie gleam from Skado's point of view. He had to narrow his eyes so he would see more accurately what was going on, and then, as Noki had half turned her upper body towards him, he blushed more than he had thought he could, and his cheeks weren't the only region the blood rushed to.
"Uh... " was all he could utter. His breaths came faster and faster, and it took him some time to find his voice. "You, er, I mean, shouldn't I, uh, you— " Then, he found his wits again. "Unless you want me to drown, wait."
Other than her, he decided to remain partially clothed, and not just in his underwear, he kept on his trousers as well, and rushed to Noki. He had to admit, her flowing pitch black hair, her slender yet strong body, her unseeing eyes, her small but not undersized lips – with which she could devour huge amounts of food, he knew – and nose, and especially her wits made her indeed amazing, and so he took her by the hand, which, much to his surprise, trembled, and led her into waist-high water. Then he got behind her and took her arms.
"If you keep your head above the water – especially for you it's important, ALWAYS keep your head above the water! – you'll find yourself having some buoyancy, which is good, but not enough to– " began Skado, but Noki cut him off.
"I didn't mean a swimming lesson, I meant... that you just swim with me, that you, uh... yeah." Noki seemed to suddenly get aware of how exposed she was. "Just help me swim, I'll do the rest... "
"Well, then I'll have to do it in supine position. Fine." Decided Skado and led her a few metres further, until the water had immersed three fourths of her, and then he grasped her around the waist at first, but then, to have a better grip, moved some twenty centimetres upwards, and warned Noki, "I'll now get ourselves in supine position and use the legs for swimming, but I'll have to use the arms too, from time to time. If you want to, you can hold your breath."
Noki nodded, and Skado jumped upwards slightly, before he began to rhythmically struggle with his legs. Noki was terrified and filled with joy as well, as the water streamed around her, even though Skado's hands were not the gentlest. She didn't dare to speak. She even had to remind herself to breathe, thus filled she was with terror and joy, though mostly the latter. After three minutes, they were a good twenty metres from the waterfront, and Skado had stopped. Noki tried to float by stretching out her arms and legs, and it worked. From its previous, almost frantically held position, she let her head loose and closed her eyes, smiling. Skado was quick to find her like this, and dared not to disturb her, but found his own strength dwindling, and thus, he had to cut this swim short, as little as he liked to. Thus, he grasped Noki again, but slightly farther up, and as his hands met softer tissue than anticipated, he looked where he had put his hands, and embarrassedly readjusted them quickly.
"You may have left them there, you know... " commented Noki calmly, subtly pointing at her chest with her chin, making Skado blush all over again.
"Yes, no, thanks. No." was Skado quick to answer, although he failed to sound very convincing, also as he breathed slightly heavier than usually, as he had to keep himself afloat.
"Saving it for later, hm?" With a slightly wicked smile, Noki spoke her comment, finding Skado's face hovering above hers as he breathed heavily.
"What? Why? Why should I? What are you— What is wrong with you?" Skado was tired of keeping the question to himself.
"With me? Well... not too much, except for the eyes," replied Noki. The wits he had praised only minutes ago were Skado's opponent now, or so he thought. "Listen, Skado... There's something I wanted to tell you... "
"For which you have to be floating naked in the sea?" asked Skado rhetorically, "Alright... "
The answer was non-verbal, not that words would've been able to describe what Noki expressed with one simple yet complex gesture, by pressing her lips against Skado's. It was a brief kiss but enough to convey what Noki wasn't able to put into words. Her little offensive had told Skado of how she valued him, of how she longed for him, and his – though at first reluctant, but then more intense – counter-offensive was more than sufficient proof of him having a similar attitude towards her.
"So, shall we head back now, honey?" inquired Skado, once more rhetorically, and emphasising the last word.
"If you call me that one more time, I'll drown you in lava. Drown." answered Noki playfully, letting Skado grasp her and tow her back.
"Love you too, Noki," replied Skado with a sigh and a smile. A satisfied, genuinely joyful smile it was, one that captured very well the feelings of both of them.
The darkness crept in all around, and even the most motivated, energetic sailors decided to retreat in order to rest at last. Slowly, the campfires went out, either did the sailors extinguish them with sand or their bending or alike, or they burnt down by themselves. Darkness and eerily cold moonlight took the secluded bay over, all except for one place. There, a campfire slightly bigger than the others still burnt, and was kept burning. Luna, Anyang, Ranju and Kanyzon sat around it and yearned for sleep which wouldn't come.
"So... " Once more, an attempt was launched to initiate a conversation. This time it was Luna who did so. "What do you people think about the battle we won? You know, around Wrath Islet."
"Uh... " began Ranju, then deciding rather not to speak. She intended to, but she had to organise her slightly confused thoughts regarding the topic.
"It was a slight victory for nought." remarked Anyang, shaking his head with a grim expression. "None of this would've happened had we won the Battle of the Five Armies! None of this!"
"But we didn't and we can't change it. It's useless whining about it now, so enjoy the taste of victory." snapped Kanyzon back, he himself not all too satisfied with the outcome of the two battles they referred to. "So let's enjoy the taste of victory while we still can."
"Excuse me, whining?!" Anyang shouted back in the instant Kanyzon had finished. "It was all an unnecessary loss of lives! Risks we didn't have to take! If would we have been more committed then... !"
"Just think of whom we lost that day... " Luna's previously almost carefree attitude had given in to one that matched the others' all too well.
"Noki lost her father... " Ranju had to dig up all these memories she had attempted to hide, but couldn't. But the battle hadn't been the hard part, captivity, however, had.
"So did Senqok and I." Luna was close to tears. "I just keep losing loved ones, it seems. All the time. Every time I think I've managed to live with it – BOOM! – another one bites the dust." She shook her head as she buried her face between her hands. "It isn't fair."
"That's war... pain and loss and still striving on, hoping to end it in one's own favour. And more loss and pain... " spoke Ranju, staring into the fire with a blank expression. She wouldn't allow herself to weep, she simply wouldn't. " ...and yet we're here, trying to stop someone we know we won't be able to defeat."
"No." Luna defied Ranju's words, even though she knew the airbender was right. "It isn't war. It was just my life. And Senqok's, too. We lost our mother. Then he lost me, he thought, and vice versa, I thought it. And then, we lost our father. And... " Luna was unsure whether or not to reveal her history, such private parts of her history, to the people she sat with.
"And... ? And what?" Anyang was indeed interested.
"You don't have to tell us, you know." whispered Kanyzon, who knew Luna's expression all too well.
"No, no, it's alright. I'll tell it. It was just— oh, bloody fuck it." Luna inhaled deeply and began. "It's just that... I lose everyone I love, but not necessarily to death or something... Sometimes it's enough to realise they indeed despise you, they acted as if they loved you, they... you know, don't you?" All nodded, as expected, even though she was sure that Ranju hadn't been in such a situation. "So, I just had been elected the Lord of Shore and City, or of Kenisibao, and I met this girl when I was out eating. She seemed nice enough, she had a sense of humour, she was pretty, no... sexy, in fact, and so... well... " Luna blushed slightly, and quickly spit out, "I fell in love with her." Before anyone could speak – Anyang had opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off before he began – Luna continued. "You see, I never actually fancied lads. They were nice enough as friends but no more. My first kiss was with a girl, and my father caught as I stole it and left her quite dazzled and yeah... it was our secret, not even Senqok knows of this. And in the Confederacy, it's acceptable – as long as you work well, behave well, defend the Confederacy if necessary, worship the spirits, and alike. At least no one in Kenisibao complained, and there were plenty of other such affairs, and— yeah. Anyway, so... I really loved her. I did. No one warned me of her true nature, and so we continued our game of which I didn't know it was one for some months, before the election of the Lord Protector. I wanted her to live with me, but when she denied, I intended to find out the reasons, simply because it contrasted with her previous behaviour towards me... Long story short – I fell in love with a bloody whore." Luna let out a bitter laugh as a few tears rolled down her cheeks. "I truly loved her, but she hated me, she only loved the money she expected! What a fool I was... I still am... "
"That's... harsh... " Kanyzon uttered. "In my case, it was pure treason I felt, not from my loved one, but... against her... " He forced himself to relive his own painful memories, not those he shared with his younger brother, but those of the reunification war he had started and ended and won. "You see, the line of the first Fire Lords never died out, they lived on, not only in branch lines, such as the one Zoruka's from, but also in the stem, in their original bloodline. They always had much influence, and I knew I'd need their support if I intended to not only win, but also keep the throne. By the way, their founder was likely the only man I've ever fancied. A bit. When I was a boy." Kanyzon let out a chuckle a bit too childish for the mighty monarch he was. "Anyway, so they agreed to support me, and to seal this alliance, I was to marry the only child of theirs, a girl, logically. At sixteen, she was a bit young for my taste, and she was fine enough to look at, but had problems with paranoia and the like. She wouldn't eat much for she thought it poisoned, let alone drink. Well, we did marry between my campaigns against the State of Zhao and the Fire Sages' Theocracy, but my joy wouldn't last. I got to know her well in that time, every centimetre of her body and every little thought according to which she would act, and I let her know me, so she would lose her fear. It did work, partially, and I even won her trust, and she mine, and, well, I would say I loved her." Kanyzon paused and stared into the fire. Suddenly, he narrowed his eyes. "We were happy. And I do believe she was happy for the first time in her entire life. But no, her father wanted a higher position than just an informal one. So I made him my advisor, but his counsel was indeed terrible, so I forced him to resign again. What he must've thought, like, 'That cheeky cunt gets an army and thinks he can do whatever he can! He'll pay the price!' or something it must've been. He didn't know shit about tactics or strategy, but he did know a good part about the dirty games of power he was playing. When I intended to tell my sweet wife my plans of finally unifying the nation, I told her to see me in the bedroom. She was glad about whatever I was going to tell her, and expected something afterwards which I would've given her too gladly, but when I went to see her in the evening, I found her naked, maltreated body matching the rest of the room... in its crimson colour... " Kanyzon allowed himself a few tears. "I did something unthinkable – I killed the last of the line of the first Fire Lords. No one questioned me again, but it wasn't worth it. It wasn't worth it. It. Wasn't. WORTH IT!" Kanyzon seemed to – partially willingly – lose control over himself and broke down weeping. He whispered some woman's name, likely his dead wife's, and swore revenge again and again. It wasn't a nice sight, that was sure.
"So... " A teary-eyed Luna faced the two airbenders. "Want to tell us your story or... ?"
"Not much to tell in regards of loved ones... " answered Ranju, remaining stoically calm but still letting the tears roll. "Everyone I truly loved, I had known from my birth on, is dead. I won't let that happen again. To see them dead or to truly love them. I don't want either. I swore myself to put them before me, and that I will do. I will throw myself between them and their death if it can save them or at least buy them time. I won't let them all die again. No." Ranju was done quickly, and for a split second, it seemed as if she was about to destroy everything around her, but then, she sighed and decided, "I'll go to bed. Good nightmares to you all!"
The way she had spoken the last sentence made everyone shudder, even Anyang, who knew of her background. "And Anyang, what about you?"
"Oh, there were plenty... " he thought aloud with a slight smile. "The first one, at the Eastern Air Temple? Died. At my own hands, even though it was an accident." He had shifted to an almost emotionless stare and tone. "The second one, the farming girl at the desert's edge? Died. Because I couldn't save her. The third one, the noble one from the Upper Ring? Died. For the crime of shagging with me. The fourth one, the beggar woman ten years older than me? Died. The plague. The fifth one, the Northern Water Tribe princess? Died. Hanged, drawn and quartered in Ba Sing Se. The sixth one, a Fire Nation merchant's daughter? Died. In labour. Not my child. After being together for ten months. The seventh one, the peasant girl in the west? Died. The man who she had been promised to stuck a spear through... everything. The eight one? Unacceptable. Immoral. And likely dead too, soon."
"Who is she?" Luna's question was a pure formality.
"Ranju." she was answered, and he rose to his feet, leaving the once more devastated Luna and Kanyzon by the fire with the words, "Good night... mares."
"Oh, spirits bloody dammit!" exclaimed Senqok as Kabura fired a volley of icicles upon him, which he managed to knock aside, shatter or avoid entirely, though only barely. By then, Kabura was raising her next attack from the water all around. The two, clothed only on underwear, stood in the water, illuminated by the full moon that gave them both power. Senqok decided she wouldn't get far with her water jet, and thus he quickly coated his arms with water, which he then froze and sent forward by thrusting his hands into that direction, before jumping out of the way of Kabura's attack, which she then made come at him from behind with greater force than before, only that he evaded it. Kabura realised what he was about to do and coated herself with water, absorbing the water bullet, like it had absorbed Senqok's ice claws. Using the water as an extension of herself, she grabbed Senqok's arm, and was about to toss him into the ocean, but he cut off the watery arm with a quick swing of his free hand and evaded her other arm, only to bend it himself, to freeze it in fact. Kabura let go of it – she intended to scare Senqok, to knock him down or away, but not to kill him – and in the time she required to replace the water, Senqok gathered his strength and froze Kabura's entire suit of water. Senqok called up to her, "Want a rematch?"
"This one's not even over yet!" answered him Kabura with a smirk, and suddenly, she shattered the ice around her into a thousand pieces, only to send them against Senqok. All sharp, all potentially deadly, all aimed at Senqok's upper body. Without his sword, Senqok was defenseless, there was next to nothing he could do against the strike – he didn't have time to stop all of them, nor to redirect them, let alone form a water shield strong enough. Instead of acting, he just stood there dumbfounded, before he realised he would be impaled if he remained standing there. However, Kabura stopped the icicles in time, and dropped them as well. But just when Senqok intended to sigh in relief, his comrade and opponent cast her – and her water spout's – shadow upon him as she slowly immersed him in water, and froze it. Senqok attempted to crack it like she had done, but she countered his attempts with her own bending, and at last, he saw she was indeed a stronger bender than him.
"Alright, you win!" he half sighed, half cried out, and Kabura descended down to him. She was about to burst open the ice that held him, but thought otherwise.
"You let me win, didn't you?" Her voice was filled with a slight wisp of reproach. Her narrowed eyes underlined that.
"Actually not... I did my best. Well, at first, I was going easy on you, but then... well..." replied Senqok, slightly embarrassed, but more proud than anything else.
"So... I actually, legitimately defeated you?" inquired Kabura, unbelieving.
"Yes." answered the Water Tribesman, before adding, "I didn't have my sword, so I was easier to overwhelm. But even with my sword, I'm not sure whether I would've made it... "
"You're not serious... " Kabura was simply unbelieving about what she heard. "...are you?"
"I am." As Senqok saw she still didn't believe him, he added, "You're the strongest waterbender I've ever met. Not in terms of physical strength, but in terms of... bending strength." He left a pause to breathe properly – he still was in the block of ice, after all. "You defeated a waterbending master, you know that... and you know what that means, don't you?"
Kabura merely nodded, and burst the block of ice open, only to embrace Senqok tightly. "Bloddy thank you, Senqok, thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!"
"T'was a pleasure teaching you." stated he, pressing her even closer.
"You know what would be nice as an end?" asked Kabura, something different in her voice Senqok had never heard before, at least not from her.
"Uh... huh?" Senqok was unsure what to answer. Then he found the correct term for that certain something in her voice – dirty.
"We're together and kissing and hugging and all that, why stop there? Besides, it's likely our last night together like this, alone... " She smiled wickedly as she spoke with a somewhat seductive voice, only Senqok already had fallen for her long ago.
Senqok understood. "Oh, you want us to... " He couldn't stop himself from laughing a strange, wicked laugh.
"...yeah." With risen eyebrows, Kabura stated, "You're ruining the moment."
"Just doing what I do best." And they both chuckled.
"Your name's not Shizon!" And they both laughed.
"So, shall we or not?" Senqok was the first one to leave the water again, and Kabura followed immediately afterwards. With a swift hand movement, they both dried themselves, and Kabura nodded, smiling the wicked smile of hers again.
"Let's go." Before Senqok could react, Kabura had taken him and thrown him to the ground, she never being further than a few centimetres. And before he could ask or comprehend what was going on, she kissed him, and as she wanted to retreat again, he kept her there, and they shared a long passionate kiss, right before their greatest display of passion towards each other, before the climax of their relationship. No moment could either remember when they had been happier, and none of such kind would ever come again.
Notes and Trivia
- This chapter's title was inspired by the one of the 1949 film Sands of Iwo Jima, even though they have little to do with each other, except perhaps for black sand.
- Let it be noted that my style is influenced by George R. R. Martin's, and thus I use archaic expressions and meanings. For example, queer is equal to odd, as I use with its almost obsolete meaning.
- The attitude towards homosexuality in the Confederacy of Whaletail Island is a mixture of a stereotypical (Calvinist) Swiss and (Sengoku Era) Japanese attitudes, respectively.
For the collective works of the author, go here.