|More from Sep0815||Adventure||PG-13||None yet||~fortnightly|
Royal Blood is the twenty-eighth chapter of's .
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
The battle for the Fire Nation Capital and the Fire Nation's and the Liberation Alliance's existence continues. After a brief advance of the Earth Empire's, which is foiled by the arrival of dragonriders, whose mounts ignite the wildfire positioned around the city, the allied troops can advance again, only to fall apart when the dragons are shot down. The leaders – Noki, Skado, Shizon, Zoruka, Kanyzon, Senqok and Kabura – are taken captive, whereas Luna is killed in her attempt to slay Yi Ming.
Chapter 28: Royal Blood
Light. Too much light, in fact. Senqok's eyes took long to adjust in his state. He was fine, physically, but his brain still was recovering from the blow Kabura had landed.
"Morning." was he greeted. The voice was familiar, and so were the looks of the person he was addressed by, but, again, his brain failed to make the association.
"What did I miss?" He jumped up, and all around seemed to stir at the sudden, unexpected movement. He would've drawn water and blade at once, but neither he had with him. "KABURA!" He remembered her name, for how could he ever forget? "WHAT DID I MISS!?" He took a quick glance around. The room was rectangular, had two beds, a sink and resemblance of a toilet within, as well as several books. The heavy oak door, reinforced by steel, and the barred windows to the outside and bordering rooms, were the only indications this was a cell and not a poor excuse of a hotel room. " ...where am I?"
"...I think I might've struck slightly too hard, eh?" Kabura's casual, almost playful tone changed to a concerned one with the last word.
"WHAT!?" Senqok was furious. "We can't lose the battle, we need to make a stand and- "
"The battle's over, you imbecile bastard." The harsher the words were, the softer the voice, at least with Ranju, who spoke from the bordering cell. "And given the circumstances, guess who won."
Senqok was at a loss for words briefly, but regained them as he remembered what he had asked Kabura. "What? Struck?"
"You were too stubborn, what else could I do?" Kabura replied, before realising he hadn't memorised the context, and palming her forehead at the realisation. "You wanted us to hold the line at all costs. You would've led us to death, so I struck you with all my strength and surrendered ourselves."
"You did... WHAT!?" Senqok narrowed his eyes and approached the young woman. "WHAT!?"
"I surrendered. We're personal captives of Yi Ming's." Kabura's tone was, again, casual. She took a book and read, as to signalise she was finished with the matter.
"...you know what? I'd rather DIE than LIVE in captivity! And I'm sure I'm not the only one!" The Water Tribesman's rage turned to a kind of helplessness. "I mean, how could you...? You, out of all people, who would've been raped if we hadn't arrived on time then, you must remember that... How? Why?"
"Did you listen? Yi Ming's personal prisoners. He doesn't tolerate rape of people that high of position. He kills such, yes, but rape? Never." Kabura's casual tone made this entire affair sound odd. "Besides, I don't plan on having us killed, let alone executed."
Senqok had managed to calm down. "So what's your plan, if not such?"
"The lad speaks truly." agreed, from the other neighbouring cell, Kanyzon. "What, m'lady, is your plan?"
"You think I'm as stupid to shout it? No." Kabura pulled Senqok close, something that, no matter how infuriated he was at her actions, somewhat aroused him, even though she almost stabbed him with the book she was reading. "I want neither live nor die in captivity." Her voice became a whisper. "What I seek is the same as you, only more efficiently. We shall end Yi Ming's tyranny. And we're closer to it than ever. All we need is a little help from the outside."
"So?" Shizon inquired.
"So what?" replied Skado, uninterested as he had been since the capture.
"How did you end up here?" Shizon rolled his eyes. Zoruka, Noki, and Skado, all had exchanged their willingness to fight Yi Ming with defeatism.
"Oh, that?" Skado lifted his head to show him a little smile. Other than the girls, who used the beds, and Shizon, who claimed the toilet as his throne, he sat on the floor, with his head between his knees. "I revealed Noki's identity and took her hostage."
"And you?" Noki sat on the bed, and motioned for Skado to join her. "Come on, you bastard, sit, or lie. Just get up here and don't sit there like a suicidal child."
"Well... " Shizon began, and was about to continue, then, however, he noticed the glare Zoruka shot him, and stopped. Zoruka fit Noki's brief description of Skado far better than Skado himself, only she lay already instead of sitting, her face turned to the wall. From time to time, a single sob could be heard, but that was all.
"Sorry." Noki stated as she noticed, though only barely, how Zoruka had moved. "I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have— "
"Ha!" The bitter and ironic remark was the first form of more or less verbal communication in hours. "You know nothing, Noki, you know nothing."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have— " she began anew, her sorrow sincere.
"Yes, you shouldn't have! Yet you did!" Zoruka jumped up, and turned to Noki. "You little spoiled brat thought you could have all and— "
In a split second, Noki's sorrow became fury. "What?" The brief pause made all others fall silent as well. "WHAT? WHAT!?" Noki got on her feet as well. "I SAID THAT BECAUSE I FELT SORRY FOR YOU! BUT YOU INSENSITIVE ARSEHOLE HAVE TO— "
"Uh, ladies, please, could we try to— " was Shizon's attempt at mediation, ended by their glares, in Noki's case non-existent but the attitude behind there nonetheless.
However, they ceased all movement when speaking began beyond the cell door, and only moments later, it opened. They had all sat down on the beds, expecting some form of inspection, when in truth, a Fire Nation noble entered. His all red robes marked him as such, as did his amber eyes and pale skin in conjunction with dark hair, though the latter had begun greying, and quite a long time ago, it seemed.
"Sir? Might we inquire your identity?" Skado had risen to his feet and greeted him in proper fashion, with the hint of a bow.
"Indeed you shall." He shut the heavy door of wood and steel. "As well as my purpose." He waited till he had everyone's attention. He kept them waiting, while stroking his not too small beard. At last, he took his hand, and punched in the air, pressing Shizon to his throne. Then, he drew water from the sink, and ripped tiny shards of rock out of the ceiling, before producing flames from his fingertips. All four were speechless, until Zoruka broke the barrier.
"So you're the Avatar. How does it feel leaving the world to a bunch of tyrants?" Her cynical comment was spoken before the man had a chance to do as much as breathe.
"I was blinded by my past and took Yi Ming for something else." he defended himself. "And I am here to ask you to aid me in solving this problem." His voice had become a mere whisper.
"About bloody time." commented Zoruka, a slight smirk appearing on her lips. "Let's go kill some tyrants then."
"The Patola Mountain Range is home to hundreds, if not thousands of airbenders, most of them Air Nomads. Not including Dalit's fortresses, of course."
Before Anyang, a map lay laid out. Depicted were the two central islands of the Southern Air Temple archipelago, dozens of locations marked with stylised characters of what they were, temples, caves, watchtowers, and whatnot. The wind blew across the map, and it almost off the provisional table.
"I take it the red colour symbolises Dalit's command over a position?" It was the first time Anyang spoke a full sentence that day.
"Then we shall follow the river bed of the Tsangpo. As long as we don't have the masses, we're easy targets. And even then... " The General may once have had the peaceful mind of a true Air Nomad, but no more. "There will be blood. Believe me, I've dealt with his kind, or similar enough, he won't hold back."
"He will for you." The elder leaning on the table right next to him was calm, content.
"That might be, but for you he won't hold back." Anyang shook his head, stood up, and took his staff. "But if you are content with marching through blood, then so be it."
"As long as I did not shed it." The elder made him stop and turn around.
"What?" Anyang was thoroughly taken aback. "What did you just say?"
"You heard me." The elder remained patient, content, calm.
"No soldier, no one who has seen the true face of war would say such a thing," stated Anyang, shaking his head and turning away in disgust, "That would mean leaving friends, allies, comrades for death. No. I'll have no part in that. You do as you please, I'll go kill Dalit."
And thus, he took off, leaving the camp they had set up. The traces of the nighttime attacks were still obvious back at the cave, Anyang saw as he flew over it. By then, Dalit was surely aware of his coming, there was hardly a way he couldn't be, and, being wicked as he was, he would start killing off the Air Nomads to force Anyang to a decision, of that the latter was certain. Blood needs to be shed today. Elsewise it's not Dalit. Not Dalit and me, that is. He let his gaze pass over the land. Thick bushes and grass, gnarled, ancient trees, and entire forests of such, rocks always jutting out of the sea of green and brown, always grey, and always craggy. Every now and then, he made out entrances to caves, of which there were many, countless ones indeed. Sometimes, the rocks were adorned with stupas or other places of worship, and sometimes, where he remembered such to have stood, he found watchtowers, built by Dalit to keep his nation in line. The salty air still lasted, and somehow, blowing through every least hole of his armour, made his persistent aches vanish. He even glimpsed humans every now and then, but was unsure of their affiliation, although he was certain they wore no uniforms or armour. After a while, the topography on the way to his destination forced him to ascend, and quickly, which he did. For once, he felt a kind of freedom he hadn't experienced in a long time, if he had experienced it before at all. He closed his eyes for a split second, only to feel the liberty and painlessness, however, in the very same split second, his sense of duty took the former's, and the smarting of grazes, amongst others, the latter's. He reopened his eyes, involuntarily letting out a groan, and found himself lying on a well-built road in the mountainside.
"General, we would very much appreciate it were you slower to ascend. We need to gather all of ours." The very same elder who had taken him in, instructed him in their intentions, and disturbed him with a simple remark it was who spoke to him now. In the time it had taken him to crash into the mountainside, Anyang shot up and slapped the elder as if his life had depended on it.
"It was you who made me land here?" he inquired as the elder got up, aided in doing so by his shocked companions. He nodded. "Well, let me tell you something... " Anyang took the man by the collar and slapped him for every syllable he spoke. "DON'T YOU DARE DO THIS AGAIN!"
He left the elder where he had dropped him and walked through a gate guarded by Dalit's men, whom he simply pushed aside. After walking a few dozen metres, he stopped and shouted over his shoulder, "So you want to be part of a revolution or not!?"
And thus, they marched on the Southern Air Temple, thousands altogether, to bring down a mere one.
"What is the meaning of this?"
The soldiers gave no answer.
"I do believe I have a right to know what is going on." Kanyzon was confronted by more people than he'd liked, in his own cell.
"Just stand up already." ordered one of them, clearly an officer and earthbender. "We'll bind you and bring you somewhere else, you'll realise what I'm talking about soon enough."
"Execution?" Kanyzon was far from defeatism, he was merely a cynic.
"Not necessarily." answered the officer, before correcting his wording, "Actually, no."
"Well then... I can take torture I guess... " The Fire Lord rose, with a sarcastic smirk on his lips. "Let's face my damnation."
"All that is your damnation is your mouth," stated the officer boldly, "And your hands. Whether you damn yourself or not is entirely in your hands."
The rock closed around his wrists, which made him shiver. "Good to know." His smirk was present still. "As if that had ever been different."
"I warn you... " began the officer, leading the soldiers and the Fire Lord off, "Continue with this attitude and— "
"And what?" He let out a hoarse laugh that could've been a dead man's. "I do not fear death!"
"But pain. And defeat." The officer's voice remained calm, but all but casual. And with these words, they silenced him for the rest of the journey through his own palace's corridors, until they arrived before the door, or rather, gate, to the Fire Lord's chambers. The guards next to these heavy, ornate metal doors wore the conical helmets and dark robes of agents, together with the location a clear indication who was to be expected beyond.
"His Majesty will not be disturbed." spoke one agent, his voice somehow fitting his appearance perfectly. "For conquest exhausts and exhaustion requires rest."
"Oh, shut your pretentious little mouth and announce us. We've got the Fire Lord Kanyzon with us." The officer was certainly not of high birth, or otherwise decided not to appear as such. Nor was he a patient man.
"Of course." And with that, the agent vanished in the floor, only to reappear seconds later. Without a further word, the door was opened, revealing the man Kanyzon had feared to face beyond and Kanyzon's own table, sitting cross-legged, hovering over a sheet of paper full with characters. At its end was space for seals.
"Your Majesty!" greeted him Yi Ming. The door was closed, and the shackles dissolved. It was surprising to see Yi Ming honour customs and titles of his conquered enemies.
"Your Majesty." Kanyzon was less enthusiastic about this meeting. In fact, using the word enthusiastic in that particular context without a negation is incorrect. "May I be informed of what business we have here?"
"Of course, always direct." Yi Ming's remark was spoken hinting to something else, but Kanyzon was as wise not to ask. "Read through those lines. Then, tell me what you think."
With nothing else to do, he took the sheet of paper and began reading. By the spirits that watch over us all, the war between the Earth Empire of Yi Ming, the Water Tribes under Chiefs Bunak and Harqoon, respectively, and the combined forces of the Fire Nation of Kanyzon and the Confederacy of Whaletail Island of the late Luna, is declared ended. By agreement of Yi Ming, in stead of his entire alliance, and Kanyzon, in stead of his, the war is concluded by the following terms: The Confederacy disbands all standing forces, restores its neutrality and pays reparations to the Earth Empire. These shall be the worth of thirty talents of silver and be paid annually for fifty years. The Fire Nation shall pay twice that sum annually until a new treaty states otherwise. Furthermore shall the Fire Lord come to the Earth Emperor's aid in times of need, and vice-versa it shall be so as well. The Fire Lord shall henceforth be loyal to the Earth Emperor, and the latter to the former. Such it shall be until the end of time, or a mutual treaty states otherwise. As Kanyzon placed the paper back, he sighed. All that was missing were the seals. An entire minute was spent in complete silence.
Yi Ming cleared his throat. Something that sounded horrid due to his advanced age. "So... what is your decision?" His tone was kind but cold, and had something to it that was also threatening. "Do you accept this treaty or not?"
Kanyzon wordlessly directed his stare, one that was unmistakably meant to say the opposite. Another minute passed silently. Then, Kanyzon broke the silence. "I cannot." Infuriated as he was, despite not letting his voice prove it, he grasped the paper and burnt it.
"THEN I WILL FIND A FIRE LORD WHO WILL!" Had he been kind before, Yi Ming turned to hostile for two words. "I offered you a peace, a generous one that makes us equals of sorts, and you deny it. Then I shall enact another one that makes you a traitor. Be warned, Kanyzon, be warned." He shouted one last time, making Kanyzon shudder again, "GET THIS BASTARD OUT OF MY SIGHT!"
And so he was brought back to his cell.
"What was that all about?" inquired Senqok through the barred window.
"I'm going to die. And soon. Very soon." was all of an answer that he received.
"Close the door, please." The soldier was courteous enough, but the tone was nonetheless icy, and his glare full of fury, hiding behind fear and respect. That was what he enjoyed somewhat about his power. And fear me you shall, lad.
"Sir, please, do close the door." The other guard spoke. His fear was far more obvious as he trembled while speaking. When only the faintest of echoes of his voice could be heard, he added, "Sir, please. In the name of the Earth Empire, the one you are a known friend of, move out of the doorway and close the door."
At last, the elderly man spoke, like before stroking his beard and moustache. "Did you consider that my answer could be 'no'?"
Dumbfounded were the two by such insolence, despite it was the Avatar speaking these words. "Sir... " stuttered the first one, his fear overcoming his fury, "I beg you... We'll— We'll be executed!"
"Then I shall save you from such a fate." And with that, he, having jumped right between the two, thrust his arms to both his sides, drawing water from earth and air, rising rock pillars, launching fireballs and creating small air funnels, all in one smooth, quick motion, eliminating any possibility of defence. The two were impaled in their shock, creating a grotesque sight, but also giving them the element of surprise, for the two were out of sight of their colleagues and unable to warn them. The four in the cell stormed out, shifting into fighting stances immediately, when both Skado and Shizon realised something.
"Wait, I'm useless without a crossbow, or at least a good dagger... " noted Skado, chuckling as silently as possible, amused by his own idiocy.
"And I can't just fight without my dual sword! I've specialised— " lamented Shizon, too loud for everyone's taste.
"Here." The Avatar cut him off, pressing a bunch of keys into his hands, one he had ripped off one of the dead soldiers. "One of them ought to fit the armoury, where they keep the captured weaponry for closer study, and prestige of course. You'll find it."
"Er, are you sure this is a good idea?" Skado had his doubts as he peeked around a corner into the adjacent corridor.
"Absolutely not. Which is why you'll all go together while I free Kanyzon and the rest of you bastards." decided the Avatar in a whisper. When his decision was answered with risen eyebrows, he defended himself, "I'm old, aye, but I'm still the bloody Avatar! I can fight!"
"Whatever. As long as you do something against Yi Ming... " Noki's remark earned her a sad sigh of his as a reply.
"So, farewell you little cynical bastards!" spoke he as he jumped forth from behind the corner, and produced a few powerful, precies fire jabs combined with icicles and earth shards. When he was finished with his first barrage, he added, "Oh, and don't forget to sabotage some!"
After he had left, going down the corridor and taking out soldiers from time to time, Shizon found himself forced to ask, "Where is the armoury?" As he asked he was met by the same risen eyebrows as the Avatar just before. "Zoruka? You don't happen to have memorised it, do you?"
"Nope." was her simple answer.
"Then how will we find it quickly?" Shizon wasn't always the greatest of minds.
"Why? We don't have any rendezvous point or deadline or something," replied Noki, rolling her unseeing eyes.
"I have a strange feeling something is going to happen today. Something that definitely isn't good. Something... " explained Shizon, cut off by Noki.
"Yes, I get it." were her words, spoken swiftly, sounding disregardingly, but meant understandingly. "So, how?"
"Why," began Zoruka, a queer smile on her lips. "we shall ask nicely, of course." She then stood up from her crouching position, with fists clenched and blue fire daggers jutting out, and marched off into the opposite direction of the Avatar's. And it wasn't long till the first scream of pain.
"Your Majesty!" the soldier bowed to Kanyzon, who was seated cross-legged on the floor, and quite low, as the latter's position required.
The flowing red robes stirred not the slightest. Indeed, they appeared to be completely static, thus subtle were the Fire Lord's movements of his brush over the paper, so controlled his breathing. Independent of his surroundings, he looked every bit the Fire Lord, with hair black as night in a not too modest topknot, skin pale enough for him to be mistaken for a corpse, amber eyes alive with fire, and robes of silk in all shades of red, all in perfect order, all completely symmetric. His lips parted only to speak, and they did indeed, but only slightly. "I take it His Majesty has sent you?"
"Indeed." confirmed the soldier. His courtesy was something that would've put a smile on Kanyzon's lips, but the circumstances, and his iron determination to finish the few characters he was still missing on the roll of paper, prevented that. "Your Majesty, I must inform you, it appears. His Majesty the Emperor has called a court Your Majesty is to be brought before, and said court does not consist of patient men."
Kanyzon was unfazed by the soldier's brief description of what he was about to face and continued his artful writing. Each stroke was perfect, and quickly finished, but the text's contents were less beautiful. Character after character he forced upon the paper, and it was not long till the entire roll of paper was full of small and perfectly shaped characters, when Kanyzon stood up, something that startled the soldier at the door. He handed the roll through the narrow, highly situated barred window that connected his with the neighbour cell, and took a stool to stand on and talk through it. "Senqok!" screamed he whispering.
"Huh? What is it?" inquired the Water Tribesman on the other side, speaking in a normal tone.
"Silence!" hissed the Fire Lord, "Be sure to pass this to Shizon and Zoruka at any costs. Understood?"
"...I'm imprisoned?" Senqok's reply was no answer, no doubt.
"Listen, you will pass it to them." Kanyzon put the emphasis on 'will', and then, when Senqok failed to understand the reason, explained, more silent that before, "This is my will. My testament. My last will. I won't survive this trial, and, Senqok, remember, Shizon and Zoruka must know. Farewell."
Kanyzon marched after the soldier, who had benn joined by a good dozen of others, off into his relatively sure death. It was only when the footsteps' echoes had diminished that anyone spoke again.
"He's a dead man, eh?" remarked Kabura.
"He was a dead man the moment he set foot on Earth Empire soil." responded Senqok, understanding only now that their entire struggle had been for nought.
"This is the beginning of the end." Kabura simply ignored Senqok for once, slowly but steadily despairing.
"The Battle of the Five Armies was the beginning of the end." corrected her Senqok once more, sharing her sentiment.
"Hey you gloomy shitheads!" shouted Ranju, enhancing her hoarse voice with her bending, "I don't think we've lost yet. Just not yet." After a second in which Senqok had almost corrected her, she did it herself, "Not completely, at least."
"Why?" The question sounded as stupid as both Kabura and Senqok had meant it sincerely.
All of sudden, the wall to Ranju's cell burst into dust, which cleared itself within seconds. In the midst of Ranju's cell was a hole into the ground, and where the wall had just stood, a Fire Nation noble stood in an earthbending stance. "Does that answer your question?" Ranju almost sounded cheerful.
The noble cleaned his robes and cleared his throat before speaking. "Good day, General Senqok, I am— "
"...the Avatar? I... guess?" finished the addressed one the sentence, and correcting him within the second. "Besides, I am no general, but a vice-admiral, and land officer of unknown rank."
"Is he always like this?" inquired the Avatar of Kabura.
"More or less." Kabura was overjoyed, but unintentionally hid it behind indifference.
"Very well then, follow me. I just freed Zoruka and Shizon and Noki and Skado, and you all need to meet in the square. Come on, I can explain on the way." The Avatar was quick with his words.
"Wait." Senqok's tone, expression and attitude reeked of scepticism. "How do we know you really are the Avatar?"
The Avatar sighed, turning around, and kicked up a pebble which he held in place, he let a flame hover over his palm, he created an air funnel, and drew water from the air. "Better?"
"Better." agreed Senqok, and climbed into the tunnel. Thus, they hurried to the square.
Notes and Trivia
- Imbecile bastard is my favourite insult. Especially because it sounds slightly flatulent in German.
- A Talent is an ancient unit of measurement, a mass of around 30 kilograms to be exact.
- I know it doesn't mean much, but I must apologise for stretching the definition of fortnightly thus much.
For the collective works of the author, go here.