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Blood and Swamps
November 24, 2012
War and blood have spread across the world again as nations seek to overpower one another. The Avatar is meant to bring balance to the world. But she is enclosed within the great city of Omashu while the Black Dragon plots. Avatar Tala must master the elements and seek a path to continue her journey as the Avatar.
Chapter 2: Heritage
The room was different, it was much more extravagant and bright compared to her own room at home. Also the people answered her every need, where as her family told her to lay low.
She heard yelling and harsh sounds, recognizing her father's amongst the group. He was angry. She was certain she was in trouble, she broke her promise. Mom and Dad told her not to bend in the city and she did. She remembered a crazy old man people called 'Your Liege' seeing her bend and say, "At last!"
The sounds calmed down, as a calmer voice began speaking, it was strong like the crazy old man but firmer, like a fighter. She remembered being taken here as soon as the crazy old man noticed her. She played with two boys earlier but didn't like them much, they always wanted more toys and threw rocks at people who said no.
The door opened and three people entered. A man who she almost mistook for the crazy old man, but she realized he was younger. He had darker hair and a leaner face, with his hair tied up, unlike the crazy man. The others were her parents.
Her mother immediately ran over and grabbed her, hugging her tightly and silently. Her dad put his shoulder on her and looked at her, she let go as he approached. He leveled with her and put his arms over her shoulders.
"Dad! Have you seen this place? Its great, they have all kinds of toys! I know I broke my promise, but they been real nice! Can we come back."
The look in his eyes was not kind. She knew that look and to just listen, "Listen to me my child. You're going to be staying here for a while. We'll come visit you and you'll come home every now and then, but you'll be here most of the time."
"Things have changed. Remember, things always change, but our blood is always there." He leaned in and whispered, "I need you to make a promise that you can't break, not like today."
She heard the stern voice and nodded, "You mustn't tell anyone about home. They can't know anything. This is important."
"Not even Uncle Li?"
"Especially Uncle Li! Promise me, Tala. Promise you will tell no one about home."
He brought her in and hugged her, for the last time in a long time, "I love you."
A ball of water hit her square in the chest, knocking her down. "You're daydreaming. Lack of focus is unacceptable."
"My apologies, Master Ralyn."
"Again." She turned back to her stance and looked on her murderously. Her hands looked clawed as she willed a torrent of water forward against the Avatar.
Tala swung a hand, moving a whip of water around the wave. Her opponent easily dodged it and continued with the wave, blasting her down onto the floor.
"You're throwing water, but you're not bending it. In waterbending, offense and defense are one. You turn an opponents attack against you into an attack against them. Circular motion and flow, not strikes of defiance."
Ralyn continued to pummel Tala for the rest of the lesson. Ralyn let the Avatar go and continued in her own practice. She was still sore from the lightning attack that seemed only days but was months ago. And the mark on her back still bled from time to time. She would have to see a healer for that, even if they didn't want to help her.
She had no illusions, these people hated and feared her. There were likely to be a few attempts on her life, given her bloodbenders were the reasons so many leaders and officers were captured on the full moon. She had reports from the invasion after-action report of a total of seventy-four prisoners, including General Suun and Grand Lotus Kuel. Those people had families, sons, fathers, and brothers.
But threat to life worried her little, she was used to that since she was fourteen. What made her mad was the Avatar's lackluster performance. She was late to her lesson and unfocused. And as soon as she left, she went back traipsing to her little bald, arrow-headed love. She would have to have a talk with the boy and set him straight, for the Avatar's benefit.
A Brusque Talk
Kulek stretched his arm as he left the training grounds. It was taking some time getting used to. With the new fountains, some of the kids he was now training would trip and slip in areas where there was no water before, and he as well.
He walked into his room, about two steps in, he heard the door close. He turned around to see one of the few people he feared in this city, Ralyn. "Sit down and listen boy."
He looked at her defiantly. He might fear her, but showing fear would only make it worse. She stepped forward with a dark look on her face. Her sapphire eyes gleamed with intent.
"When I teach a student, I expect absolute obedience. That doesn't change with the Avatar. If I tell her to arrive at sunrise, she comes as sunrise. If I tell her to stay till sunset, then she'll stay till sunset."
"You will not interfere with the Avatar's training, do you understand?"
"Shut up. She has been late for nearly every lesson, distracted, and tired, then she runs off to you afterwards. She will make it to her next lesson on time, are we clear?"
"As I was saying, I'm not interfering with Tala's training. We meet after her training, not before."
The sapphire eyes did not believe it, but relented at his insistence, "If she is not with you, then you know where she is before hand."
"No, I don't. I wasn't aware that she was late for her lessons, she never told me."
Ralyn exhaled, "Then we got a problem."
She walked through the dark street stealthy as a fox. Staying in the shadows, hugging the wall as she continued. The moon was a thin crescent, giving little light making it easy to sneak through the city.
She reached an outer house in Old Omashu far beneath the palace. She walked down the street casually and then knocked on the third door on the left, she heard it unlock and entered.
The two pairs of eyes watched closely from a safe distance. "So she's sneaking out of the palace."
Kulek's quiet voice answered, "I'm more concerned with that blind spot in the palace window, how could no one have spotted that before?"
"Someone had, she just didn't tell anyone else."
The two left their cover and walked to the door, it was a private home. Knocking and asking about a young girl would ruin the purpose of this tail. The walked past the door and followed the corner of the wall. They followed until a window where they saw several dark cloaked individuals was down a flight of stairs of basements.
"Does this level of a city have basements beneath the city?"
"No, they are built directly on top of the base."
"Then someone has dug themselves a nice little hideaway. Lets go." Ralyn seamlessly rolled into the window. Kulek reluctantly followed while grumbling, "What am I doing?"
The two stopped to look and see if there was anyone still on ground floor, it appeared empty. Ralyn and Kulek lightly went down the flight of stairs to see it turn and curve further down into the earth. It was getting dark save for green rectangular crystals lining the outer side of the stairs that glowed dimly.
They continued down the stairs for a long time. Hearing only slight sounds at the end. As they reached the bottom of the stairs, they saw that it was better lit, more of these luminescent crystals were present. Ralyn looked around warily before she entered the room.The two walked lightly down the wide hallway. There were several paths ahead. As they inched forward, they looked down a doorway and saw several men talking together. The all wore black and dark green robes. On their chest was an insignia of the Earth Kingdom, a green disc surrounding a golden square and a golden lining around it.
They wore conical li hats that were of far superior making than a common hat. At the golden point trailed a green tail of fabric. Most of them had braided their long hair and ended it with an elaborate design of gold and green at the end.
They all stood by a fire. It seemed they were burning a crystal that emitted green flames. They all had their sleeves together, hiding their hands. However, one of them reached out to push the crystal with a tool. His hand was encased in a glove of stone.
Ralyn and Kulek continued past the path before they were noticed. Kulek inquired, "Who are these guys?"
Ralyn rolled her eyes, "Don't you monks study history? This the Dai Li."
"Please, they were hunted down and brought to justice decades ago."
"Obviously not. And apparently they have had kids since then, one of those men was only fifteen."
"How could you tell?"
"Shh." Ralyn pressed herself against the wall immediately and Kulek did so. They heard a much louder conversation coming their way.
"This city is doomed and anyone who is in it. The best choice of action is to get out, and make for the Coastlands."
"Too many will notice such a rapid movement and the center of it all would be chase to the ends of the earth."
"Better that than dead here with this mad king."
"I'm not disagreeing with you Li, but we have my very independent daughter to think about."
"I can take care of that."
The second man laughed, "Ha! I would like to see that!"The voices trailed away and were no longer decipherable. Kulek turned around to continue on the path they were heading when something obstructed him. A man stood motionless, arms crossed for the sleeves to meet. His hat hung over just so that his eyes couldn't be seen.
Faster than the blink of eye, the man shot his hand forward and a glove of earth sped for the Nomad. He rolled back and jumped up. Ralyn pulled water from her pack making a thin whip to cut the glove apart.The man stood there cautiously as thuds could be heard behind them. Two more had dropped from the ceiling covered their escape. Ralyn looked past the first attacker and saw that four more were marching calmly to them and joined. Now they were outnumbered seven to two.
"Ever trained how to fight in enclosed spaces?"
"Cause you're gonna need it."
Kulek punched forward sending a powerful air blast. The power of a storm in a concentrated beam hit the five and sent them reeling. Only one reacted fast enough by latching onto the ground with his earth gloves.
Ralyn used two blades of water to attack the two men behind them. She caught one in the shoulder forcing him to back up while the other block the strike and moved in. Ralyn stepped in stride with the attack as if a dance and countered his strike with fuild movements, by the end the man had several cuts on his back from the whip and hand were frozen to the wall.
Kulek was dodging gloves from the Agent and using palm spheres to counter. The man slid forward on his earthen shoes and sent a powerful punch toward Kulek. Kulek barely avoid the hit in the enclosed hall. But used the closed space to buffet the man forward. The man flew forward further than he expected and rushed into the second agent Ralyn was facing.
Ralyn and Kulek went back to back and confronted the attackers. However, they were soon surrounded by more agents, including those who were climbing on the ceiling. Eventually, there was too many and the were slowly bound to the floor with earthbending and rock gloves.
The two were dragged down the main path to a well lit room with many of the agents. Ralyn noticed there was not only men but women in their ranks. The room was bright compared to the rest of the dark paths because of several burning crystals and their green flames.
The lead of the captors walked to the front while two men dragged each by their arms. "Sir, we have a problem."
"What is it?"
"We have visitors." He stepped back as he motioned his hand to the two prisoners. Before him were two individuals. Both wore the same clothing of the Dai Li. The first was an older man with grey short hair, and had no braid for it. His emerald eyes looked darkly on the two as his arms were crossed in the fashion of his organization.
The second was a woman, lean but strong. Her long black hair was braided and hung back. Like the man, her arms were crossed in fashion. She had pale skin. Her emerald eyes matched that of the elder man, in fact, they looked very alike, as if his child. But it was who she was that shocked Kulek.
"What?" Kulek spoke confounded.
"Well, what do you know?" Ralyn chuckled.
"Tala, do you know these two?"
"Yes," She spoke calmly without moving a single muscle, "This is Kulek and Ralyn is my waterbending master. Ralyn, Kulek, this is my father, Ustad."
"Father, if I may have a moment with them before this continues."
He nodded, "A moment." He looked to the agents who responded by pinning the prisoners to the floor with rock gloves. The agents filed out of the room.
When the door closed, Tala ended the mechanical stance and waved her hand lightly. The gloves dissolved, releasing the two. She stared down at them and whispered, "What are you two doing here!?"
"We were looking for you."
Ralyn stood up, answering, "Because, you have been late to your lessons and negligent in your studies. I assumed it was Kulek here that was the problem until he informed me that it isn't him that you are with before your lessons."
Tala's emerald eyes gave a dangerous look very much like her father's but rarely seen.
The sound of a stone door slid open behind them. Ustad and the other reentered. He waved his hands and the gloves returned. The gloves tied their hands behind their back, letting them stand up uneasily.
"Hmmm. What to do with you?"
In rhetoric that was horrible, Kulek answered, "Violence is never the answer."
Ralyn rolled her eyes, "Clearly you've never been to the Si Wong Desert."
Kulek reddened a little at his ignorance. Ustad continued, "I can't believe my daughter is dating such a moron, but we'll get to that later boy. The question now is what to do with two people who know who we are."
"And how you exist. You were wiped out after the Hundred Year War."
"Only a fool believes the propaganda. Aang by inaction supported our extermination, yes, but he lacked the stomach to truly hunt us down. While the majority of our ranks scattered after our banishment by Princess Azula. We always survive, remember that."
"Most impressive of your people to have survived when the whole world sees you in history as a pariah. Children are still told horror stories of your reign in Ba Sing Se."
Ustad was both impressed and upset by the woman. She was willing to insult a man who had her pinned, but she was willing to stand up to such a man and show admiration.
"I can't trust that either of you will keep quiet about this. A mercenary that works for advantage and a self-righteous monk who can't keep his mouth shut."
"Father, we can't do anything to them, too many would notice, one's a teacher, and most importantly, I won't let anything happen to them."
Another Agent older than some of the others but still younger than Ustad, "I can take care of this."
"It is safe and will ensure our safety, Avatar Tala."
"You will not brainwash them!"
"Li, would it last? I am certain this boy it would work on well, but her," he pointed to Ralyn, "she might be strong enough to resist."
"I haven't met anyone I couldn't break." Tala gave Li a murderous look.
Ustad looked down weighing the options. Ralyn began, "I can't speak for the boy, but if it keeps that guy away from me," she nooded her head to Li, "then I'll keep quiet."
Ustad looked to Kulek, Tala stepped in front of him, "I will vouch for him."
"Tala, this is our people at stake here. You would trust that to this boy?"
Ustad didn't speak for a while, weighing the situation between survival and his trust in his daughter. "Very well."
"Sir, I ask that you reconsider-"
"I have made my mind on this Li. If we should learn anything from our ancestors, its that we can't control everything." He waved his hand and the binds of earth relented against the two. "Go and prove yourselves reliable and trustworthy."
The three walked through the hall in a cold quiet. Tala had changed back to her normal garb, but her murderous look remained. It told a story of power that Ralyn was impressed by. One that Tala could tap into for waterbending, if she knew how.
Kulek then broke the silence, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Why do you think?" She continued her pace without slowing as she answered.
"I don't know, that's the problem."
"I kept it to myself for my own reasons. For one; I made a promise twelve years ago not to tell anyone. For another; I know what the world thinks of us, we have to live in the shadows."
Kulek answered, "'Us'? Tala, you're the Avatar."
"They are my blood and family."
"Who left you to train while they hid."
Tala gave Kulek a look. Had it been action, she would have been locked away for unspeakable crimes. "Don't you dare speak of things you know nothing about!"
"Shut up." Her voice was firm with the air of command, "I am the reason I am being trained here. Because I broke a promise to my parents not to bend and what did I do? I both earthbended and firebended in front of King Urri. I was taken from my family, without ever being asked and my parents were forced to accept it or else. So don't you dare say a word against my family, for that is speaking against me."
Kulek walked to his quarters angrily as the two women continued to theirs' in the women's section of the Nomad's places in the Palace.
"A most interesting tale you have, young Avatar. But the best come from such strife."
Tala was not in the mood for games, "What would you know about these things?" Venom dripped in every word.
"I too have family history, young Avatar."
"I know, your mother was the daughter of the Water Tribe Chieftain and your father was an officer from the Fire Nation."
"That is only the surface, my pupil." She spoke coldly, scolding the young woman. Tala stopped her fast pace at last. "Yes, my mother was the daughter of then-Chief Suruk of the Water Tribe," she looked out into the star-filled sky as she rested a hand on the rail, "and my father was a Fire Navy Commander on Shore Leave."
"My father loved winter, he would strap these two sticks to his feet and slide down mountains, called it skiing. He went to the South Pole for a change of scenery, as he had spent much time in the North before."
"That is when he met my mother. It wasn't love at first sight, but they soon grew to want only each other. But my mother was held by certain obligations. While women of the South are much freer to chose for themselves, she was still expected to marry another man of the Water Tribes. She chose to leave with my father when her own father refused to bless their marriage."
"Suruk would not take such an insult, he sent word that my father kidnapped his loyal wife from the South Pole. None of the Water Tribe ports or Republic port were safe. My parents were forced to stay in the Fire Nation, else someone try to kidnap my mother and take her back to Suruk."
"When I was born, the Fire Nation was all I knew. They were my people. I was different, but I was a citizen of the Fire Nation. Like my mother, I was a waterbender. My parents both trained me. My father's reasoning was that it was best if I knew my element's opposite."
"In time, my brother was born. Alov was a firebender like my father. It was the realization that he had two grandchildren that made Suruk relent in his hunt for them. My family moved to the South Pole. My father took a diplomatic desk job so that he could be there and train Alov in firebending."
"Suruk was pleased to be there to see his grandson grow up, I, however, was not such a welcome presence. I was too much like my father; and since he avoided Suruk for my mother's sake, I was the vent for his hatred of my parents' past."
"In time, I left for the North Pole for better training, I had surpassed the masters of the tribe under the combined tutelage of my mother and father, who would now do the same to teach Alov firebending. I was an outcast in the Water Tribes; a traitor to my people for existing."
Ralyn looked down, thinking back quietly, "I am no stranger to being an exile in plain skin. But it does not hinder me. It strengthens me and makes me better than the rest. If you accept it, it can do the same for you."
Ralyn ended her story and the two continued to their quarters alone. Tala slept uneasily. She had been sloppy; it was the reason Ralyn had caught onto her. Visiting her family so much was making her slip. It could have been worse if Hava was the one who learned of this.
As she thought on Ralyn's tale, a knock on the door sounded. She grumbled sleepily, "Who is it?"
"Its Hava, we need to talk. Its important."
No rest for the weary. Tala was tired and had barely put her clothes on when Hava pulled her through the Palace to the throne room. When she entered, there were several people present, including King Urri, Master Lotus Liman, Chief Arkoda, Uluk, Monk Yilo. But worse was Ralyn and Kulek. Ralyn appeared to be in the same state as Tala, tired and irritable.
Urri looked on Tala as she entered. His look was one of disappointment, one she hated cause of his impossibly high standards for her but for no one else. "Tala, Master Kulek has given us some disturbing news tonight."
"Did he now?"
"I'm afraid so." He looked to his council, "Is it true?"
"Why didn't you tell us before?", "How many of them are there?" questions barraged Tala at the confirmation. She paid no mind and focused instead on Kulek. He was turning away in shame.
Urri spoke, quieting everyone, "Dai Li, here in Omashu! You should have told us!"
"So you could hunt them?"
"So they can face justice."
"Then you'll have to punish me with them." Tala's defiance rang through the throne room over the fountains that ringed the sides, "Let's be clear. Any threat to my family is a threat to me. And any who harm them will answer to me."
Liman answered in a more mild-mannered fashion, "Tala, we have to be practical. The Dai Li are dangerous and disloyal. They betrayed their own people to the Fire Nation before. We can't risk their freedom."
"They're afraid for their own survival. They would do anything to protect themselves. As it is, they left Ralyn and Kulek alone under the promise they would keep their silence." Her look made Kulek keep his distance.
"Kulek was right for telling us of the threat."
"Then you're fools, cause we have been long since before my birth." Tala left at that.
Kulek followed her, grabbing her shoulder as they exited the throne room, "Tala, I had to tell them. I couldn't just ignore the dangers of-"
Kulek didn't get to finish, as Tala sent an elbow into his chest with enough power to put him to the floor, "Don't you dare speak to me! I trusted you, my father trusted you, my family trusted you. And you betrayed that trust, that is unspeakable and unforgivable to our family and our way of life. They're going to be hunted down and murdered now because of you! You filthy hypocrite, you might as well swing the axe when you hear how many die from this."
She left Kulek on the ground as Ralyn soon exited the throne. "She's right you know? Urri will hunt anyone he suspects of being Dai Li and try to kill them quietly away from the Avatar, make it look like accidents and fighting back. An Air Nomad is now responsible for the start of a genocide. Quite an achievement." She continued walking at that, leaving Kulek on the ground, to think on his betrayal of Tala.
Tala saw the immediate change in the Palace. Men were moving and guards were preparing to do searches and raids throughout Old Omashu. Tala gripped the ledge of her window in rage as tears escaped her eyes.
How could they betray her like this? They would hunt her family but spare her for the sake of her status as the Avatar. She made a threat that anyone who harmed her family would answer to her, she meant it.
She went to her closet and kneeled. She opened a small space with earthbending. Out of it, she pulled out some clothes and a hat. She changed and now wore the clothes of her people, the Dai Li uniform.
She exited the room and walked down the hall. Two guards at the corner looked to see who was walking when they turned pale as ghosts. They prepared to attack, clearly just hearing about the Dai Li when they saw it was the Avatar.
"Yes, its me." She walked in the fashion of the Dai Li as she passed through the hall and to the stairs.
"And where are you heading, Avatar?"
"Into the city. To make sure my people are safe."
- It was always planned for Tala to be a descendant of the Dai Li.
- Tala's ancestry binds her to Avatar Kyoshi in the sense that her ancestors learned their art from the last Earth Kingdom Avatar before her. Now in full circle, she is their redemption.
- Tala has kept her promise to tell no one about her home, and so has become secretive, growing from this sprout of change.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
Storms of the Future Cycle
|The Journey of Tala|
|Book 1 - Sand and Steel|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 2 - Blood and Swamps|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 3 - Pyres and Storms|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Fates and Vows|
|- - - - - - Ilera - Solace Fade - Scions - Sovereign|
|The Rise of Lirin|
|- In the Morrow - The White Dragon - Faith in Blood - The Great Gates - Lord Avatar - A Red Sun - Faceless - Faction - Tempest - Rally of Crows - Rally of Eagles - Dragons and Serpents - Kings and Men - Storms of a Spirit - Princes - A Battered Land - Seas of Ichor - Arbiter - Return to a Grave - Declination - Disaffection - Epilogue|
|Myths of the Empire|
|Pacification - Assassins - Empire - Red Sun Under The Empire - White Snow - Heirs|
|The Reclamation of Arein|
|Book 1 - Chaos|
|Refugee - Rogue - Ghosts - Dark Roses - Doyen - Divulgence - The Plan - Abscond - Mists of Illusion - Madonna - Syndicate - Playing the Stakes - Purge - Brothers|
|Book 2 - War|
|Alliance - Temple - Tensions - The Fall - Hunters and Prey - Lussuria - Shades of Relevance - Broken Star - Defiler - Strikeforce - Secrets of the Lair - Eminence - Swarm - Wanderer|
|Dreams of Melasa|
|Book 1 - Servant|
| - - - - - - - - - - - - -
|Book 2 - Shadow World|
|Faint but Clear - Ghost in the Steel - Kurotama - Loyalties - Servants of Shadow - Game of Fate - Shadows and Reflections - Tomb of Blood - Broken Blades - Hill of Shadow - Souls and Swords - Home|