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Admission is the second chapter of
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
Senqok of the Southern Water Tribe arrives in the Earth Empire, and gets attacked by five young members of the Liberation Alliance, who capture him a few hours later. During an interrogation, their superior, an Air Nomad named Anyang, a General, finds out that the Water Tribal may be an ally of theirs.
Chapter Two: Admission
All had been peaceful after Senqok had finally found sleep in imprisonment, that was, until water flooded over his face just long enough for him to awake. He bolted up after the bucket's contents had been spilled over his face, breathing heavily. After a few seconds of relative blindness he had regained sight as his blood pressure was normalising, and took a look around, only noticing to be surrounded by seven uniformed individuals, of whom two wore more ornate uniforms, or rather, armour, identifying them as commanders. He took another deep breath before standing up and speaking. "Y'know, you could've let me another five minutes... "
The eldest of the uniformed ones rolled his eyes, expressing his thoughts verbally as well. "Y'know, you're still our prisoner." He changed his expression into a sly smile. "But that might change today, depending on the amount of information you'll reveal."
"You won't get anything outta me if you awake me like this... ", Senqok stated plainly. His look was empty, but then he blinked and adjusted his hair in his warrior's wolf tail, and looked like the previous day again. He stood up from his bed, to examine the room, which was yet another poorly lit cavern carved into massive rock, before the Water Tribal then took a look at his right, burned hand out of boredom. After he then sighed, he spoke, "Well, get started, shall we?"
The eldest of the uniformed ones rose an eyebrow at first, but then realised what the boy had meant. "Aaah! So you want to be interrogated elsewhere! Well, if you want to... lads, get him to my office or somewhere. NOW."
The five young ones looked at one another as if to ask for their opinion, before one of them, a girl - Senqok identified as the airbender this General Anyang had called Ranju the day before - spoke up. "But, uh, General Wei, sir... should we not blindfold him? He still is our prisoner, as you said yourself... "
"Blindfolding is not necessary. And if his allegiance lies elsewhere than with us, I see myself urged to execute him.", the elder man addressed as General Wei answered calmly. However, General Anyang failed to comply with his superior's opinion. "Sir, I mean, Wei, do you really think this is right? I understand why we kill on the battlefield, but killing a prisoner just because his allegiance differs from ours?"
The five who had attacked and captured Senqok lead him out of his - relatively luxurious - cell into the hallway its door mounded into. Equally poorly lit, Senqok almost tripped several times, until the five had to wait at a massive wooden door beyond which the prison wing ended. Coming up the corridor were the two generals, of whom then the elder - Wei - unlocked the massive door, and swung it open, allowing the prisoner and his guards to get through. The corridor they entered wasn't all too lit either, but already light enough to properly see the path ahead. The two generals argued on and on as they wandered down hallways and corridors with dozens of minor ones branching off. Senqok could only wonder where those went, not to speak of his location, but he was not given an opinion to ask, as they came up to a forged iron door, which separated a special room from all others. Generals Wei and Anyang had ceased their argument by then, and the former unlocked the massive door, and then, aided by the attackers' - or guards' - earthbender, Noki, swung the door open. Beyond laid a properly lit room, with wooden and metal - mostly iron or bronze - walls, floor and ceiling, likely to make it safe from bending attacks. In its midst was a map table and several seats, while further, Senqok could not see. General Wei sat himself on a seat slightly higher than the others after closing the door again, and ordered Senqok to be seated directly across him, just a few metres from the door. Anyang sat to Wei's right, and his guards surrounded him behind his back. After a few seconds of silence, Wei leaned forward and cleared his throat. "You should know that you have two options. Answering them truthfully or lying. The latter will end fatally, for there are two people in this room able to sense it, despite the fact that the floor is mostly made from metal. Anyway, I'm trailing off. I will ask simple questions, and you will answer them immediately."
Senqok sighed and could literally feel the tension that only increased the longer it remained silent.
"Now, let's get down to business... First of all, do you know who you're dealing with?"
"General Wei, founder and commander of the Liberation Alliance, and, to your right, General Anyang, the infamous General from the Southern Air Temple."
"You could actually have skipped that last part, but alright... Now, what is actually more interesting, why do you call our organisation 'Liberation Alliance' instead of 'Rebel Alliance'?"
"Because it is its actual name... maybe? Anyway, it's because my father always called it with that name."
"Hm... interesting... what is a Water Tribal like you doing in the Earth Empire anyway?"
"My father sent me away from the- from home to learn more about the world to become a wise man and warrior like him myself."
"This is indeed becoming more and more interesting... Why did you travel with Steward - and General - Shma Fu?"
"My father sent me to Omashu, for whatever reason, and this Steward was already expecting me to join him from about a week."
"I see... Well, there is an interesting thing everyone here, I think, awaits to be revealed... " General Wei paused, and Senqok took a look around once more. Glancing over his shoulder, he could notice the healer girl - Kabura - narrowing her eyes suspiciously while stroking an imaginary beard, similar behaviour he did also observe from the firebender of the guards of his, and from the nonbender. He then returned his attention to Wei, to whom he spoke. "You may ask, whatever it is."
"Very well then. Who", Wei spoke as he leaned forward, narrowing his eyes as well, "is your father?"
Senqok sighed, and glanced around again, as if to gather support, which he failed to receive. Sighing again, he resumed speaking. "Are you sure you don't want to know where I'm from first?"
Wei rolled his eyes. "Spill it."
"The Water Tribes, that's obvious, but which one?", Senqok spoke, smirking.
"I said spill it. That was an imperative, an order, and you ought to obey. Have you understood?" Wei's voice was utterly calm as he spoke.
"Yes sir... ", Senqok spoke obediently, "Well, I'm from the- "
Everyone rose their eyebrows in wonder as the interrogated one simply ceased speaking mid-sentence, not even leaving a hint of his origin. Disappointed, Wei turned away after a minute of silence, and ordered, angered, "Execute hi- "
What cut off Wei wasn't he himself, nay, it was something spoken utterly calm and clear. "My father is Chief Gangtok of the Southern Water Tribe."
The General turned around to face the Water Tribal again. "Repeat that."
Anyang stood up and left to some other compartment of the - seemingly - enormous room, while the young guards of Senqok's had decided to converse at the metal door, that was, except for Noki, who stayed with the Water Tribal to ensure he was telling the truth. The relative silence made the situation tensing with every second, as Senqok could only think, Till now, that's got me pretty much everywhere... After closing his eyes as to think about what his vis-a-vis has said, Wei once again spoke. "Say it again."
Senqok slowly got annoyed. "Gangtok. Chief Gangtok. Of the Southern Water Tribe."
"You can't possibly have an idea how much your father has made me suffer!" The General's answer was screamed at the waterbender, yet calm, but most of all, unexpected. Cringing, Senqok repeated his previous thoughts aloud, though only whispering, "Well, till now it's got me through everything... "
Ignoring it, Wei shouted at him again, "HE MADE ME WAIT ON A RESPONSE LETTER FOR A WHOLE YEAR!"
He couldn't help but laugh. He laughed out of relief, but also simply because he found Wei's overreaction amusing. It took some time for him to calm down, but when he did, he immediately justified his father's letter's delay. "Well, it's not like there is a post service or something down in the South!"
"Well, you're still the more prosperous of the Water Tribes, so one would at least expect something alike... But you're right. So, well, if you're lucky, and Anyang finds a certain letter and a very certain form, we'll have all of this trouble resolved in a few minutes.", Wei spoke a little more light-heartedly than before, and ordered the guards to seat themselves, while the firebender went off to another edge of the room Senqok couldn't see, only to return with a teapot. Out of nowhere, Anyang popped up and handed Wei a scroll and a flat sheet of paper. Immediately passing Senqok the sheet, he took the - approximately five centimetres-narrow - scroll, and resumed speaking. "This is the last letter your father, Chief Gangtok, sent. In it, he wrote of your oncoming arrival in Omashu, and that, well... let's just say that the reason he sent you here all the way over the Southern Air Temple and the Fire Nation... is to teach you different material arts and philosophical approaches on... stuff... So, in the end, you could return to the South as wise man and probable chief, yes, but that's not the actual point. The actual point... look at that form in front of you... "
Senqok quickly read through the many characters placed from top to bottom, from left to right, and then looked at Wei again. "First, you capture me, and now... you want me to join you!?"
Senqok stood in the middle of the room he had been lead to, and examined every piece in it suspiciously. It contained three bunk beds carved into the rock, two tables, two shelves, of which one was completely filled with scrolls, a wardrobe and an arms cabinet, which he then decided to open and place his recently returned sword in it, before turning his attention one of the tables, which was equipped with writing and technical drawing equipment. Senqok had a swift look over the construction sheet that was lying atop a messy pile of various sheets of paper, with its heading reading "The portable manually-repeating Crossbow", and a signature as well, but before Senqok could decipher the calligraphy, a voice sounded from behind. "Skado's gonna kill you if he sees you touching his blueprints... "
He turned around to see Kabura casually leaning onto the door frame, holding some greenish clothes. She continued after he started surveying the green cloth. "Just your uniform. An ordinary one, without the helmet."
"And... well, why is the helmet not included?" Senqok attempted to get a conversation going.
"Oh, we get those once we've finished training. Which, for us, is still some time. Especially... well, now you're in our squad."
"What do you mean by this... ?" The warrior's suspicion was impossible to hide, however, the more the healer's reply sounded apologetic.
"Hey, I was just stating that we don't know much of your fighting skills and- oh nevermind. So, uh, how do you... " Kabura simply had no idea how to ask Senqok after all those strange happenings in the past days. Senqok used the pause to speak himself. "Kabura, is it? I wanted to apologise for... yesterday? The day before yesterday? Anyway, I wanted to apologise about my attempt of taking you hostage so I could- "
What cut off him was her apology. "I'm sorry I broke your ribs, I shouldn- "
"Don't be sorry, it was your full right at that moment. So... well... "
"Anyway, here's your uniform." She handed him the green cloth, which he then laid on the bed he assumed was his, and she turned to leave, however, Senqok had one last unanswered question. "Wait. Just one question: where am I? Where are we?"
Kabura turned slightly, and looked at him over her shoulder, smirking, the green crystals' light only increasing the effect. "What city has four peaks, is surrounded by a gorge, and only accessible through a dam? What city claims to be founded by the first earthbenders?"
Senqok chuckled a bit at the quite obvious fact, and then returned to the room, before Kabura called him once more. "By the way, your first training unit starts in a few minutes... "
Dragons sore over the Impenetrable City. It was an odd sight, those red beast at the clear skies above the massive, the emerald city. It were five, four flying in a rectangular formation, the fith in their centre. The outer four carried guards, three of the royal guards of the Fire Nation per dragon, and the middle one was mounted by two individuals, a girl past puberty and her elder father. It was the de jure Fire Lord Tokai with his daughter, Zoruka. She let her gaze wander all across the countless buildings below, from the massive walls and the monorail system and over the numerous houses of the Lower Ring, up to the-
"WE'RE PASSING INTO THE MIDDLE RING NOW!"
Her father's shout ended her train of thought. The wind soughed and, despite the fact it was summer, and nothing blocked the sun in any way, Zoruka became uncomfortably cold. She began shivering, however, as she had to grab on tight, as her father commanded the beast they mounted to nosedive, only to then follow the wall of the Middle Ring upwards. Her deep black hair, arranged in a topknot, suddenly got loose in the airstream, and, as they resumed flying at the same height as before, a gust of wind stuck her from behind, knocking her into her father's back. The hair flew into his face, and made him, after his daughter had resumed her previous position, shout enraged. "CAN'T YOU KEEP IT IN A TOPKNOT, AT LEAST FOR YOUR WEDDING?!" He inhaled deeply, continuing calmer, and, if possible, even more serious. "I don't want anything ruining our family's alliance with Yi Ming, and this might as well accomplish it... "
He couldn't have chosen worse words. His daughter narrowed her eyes, and snapped back, "What am I to you, a seal? Nothing more than a seal for your spirits-damned alliance?"
"Zoruka! I was, thus far, tolerant when it came to your rebellious attitude, but with Yi Ming, you will not experience such tolerance. Understood?"
Zoruka sighed. It indeed was her wedding day, completely aside it was an arranged marriage, which was a fact she hated. "Yes, sir.", she spoke defeated, taking out a plain red band from somewhere beneath her royal armour, and formed her hair into a topknot again. They passed the Upper Ring's wall, and the immense Roya- Imperial Palace came into sight. No one of the two royals uttered a single word for the rest of the flight. The four dragons which carried the guards flew to flank the Royals' dragon, two to each side, before the five beasts passed the Palace's walls. Below, the Earth Emperor's guard had marched into formation, and they landed, nosediving downwards at first, before the dragons spun around just above the ground, and allowed their riders to dismount. The twelve guards immediately formed a protective mantle around the two Royals, and begun to march simultaneously with them. Steadily, they made their way to the stairs, and then, having to leave the guards behind, began climbing the thousands of stairs. For half an hour, they did nothing else than taking one stair after the other - anything else would've been disrespectful to the man atop the staircase. Although there stood several men - and, surprisingly, also women - up there, one stood out of the rest, and not simply because of his much more elaborate armour and the fact he was wearing the hat reserved for the Emperor. Also did he have white - not silvery, but white - hair, and an elaborate beard. The two Fire Nation Royals reached the top, and had to follow said man, the Emperor, Yi Ming, into the hall that laid beyond the - now parting - mass of people. All of sudden, her father, who had lead her by her hand, let go of Zoruka, and gestured her to take place beside Yi Ming, who stood in front of some priest. Zoruka had to stand a little behind her - whether she liked it or not - future husband, and, after a few minutes in which the priest yelled some uncomprehensible prayer or whatever, had to kneel to Yi Ming, while reciting some prayer, whose content basically consisted of her promising to do her duty to her future husband, to be submissive to him and alike. The procedure continued for hours, the priest sealing the - in this case only political - bond between the two, her having to repeatedly promise her loyalty and obedience to him, until, somewhat unexpected to her, the whole ceremony had come to an end. She would've sighed out of relief, if she wouldn't have been taken away. In the chaos of people garbed in green, yellow, black and gold, she couldn't make out the one who dragged or pulled her to whatever fate awaited her, but instead found it to be the whole crowd.
She opened her eyes again. She was wearing an Earth Empire equivalent of her Fire Nation Royal armour she had worn before, and was situated in an enormous bedroom - and yet, lying on the floor. She refused to think of what had happened, and, despite her complete ignorance of the happenings, she - having stood up - began to shout as loud as she could - quietly. Had she done it aloud, there would've been a high chance of the Palace being set aflame. She then sighed, and noticed something interesting: her father's voice, coming from beyond the room's massive wooden door. She ceased all activities and only listened - another, elder, and far older person was talking as well. Intrigued by the conversation's topic, she leaned to the door, pressing her ear against it. Her eyes widened at one single word. "Failure."
Notes and Trivia
- Gangtok is the capital of the Indian state of Sikkim.
- Should you not get it, Senqok - and the whole tunnel network on that part - is situated beneath Omashu.
- Tokai is derived from Tokaj, a town in Hungary, known for its wine.
For the collective works of the author, go here.