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|Sun Rise, Sons Fall|
Lost and Found
Sun Rise, Sons Fall
The first ray of sunlight crept over the horizon, signaling the return of the golden disc; Ra, the Sun Spirit, had safely made his journey through the Spirit World and now spread his bright arms over the desert, bathing the dunes below in a beautiful yellow glow. The village of Palm Spring, named after the one tree standing near a natural well, slowly woke at his first embrace, and the squeaking sound of a shutter being pushed open startled a few roosting lizard doves.
"Sorry!" The young man laughed at the scaly animals as they flew by, cooing in dismay at having been disturbed from their sleep at dawn. While he briefly let his gaze linger on the bright horizon, a cool morning breeze playfully messed up his shoulder-length black hair. "This is going to be a good day." He pulled back his hair and fashioned it in a lazy top-knot by sliding a green metal ring over it. "Not a cloud in the sky, a faint breeze ..." He took a deep breath, taking in the distinct smell of the desert sand, and could not stop the grin forming on his face. "A blessed day, perfect for hunting!"
He turned on his heels, grabbed his old bow, and swung his quiver over his shoulder, the flint arrowheads and wooden shafts rattling excitedly against the leather as he dashed down the stairs. As soon as he reached the base of the steps, however, his swift exit came to an abrupt end when a quick movement from his left tripped him up. Caught off guard, he lost his balance, and his back connected roughly with the wall behind him, his bow clattering on the ground as it slipped from his grasp. His muscles tensed in preparation to fight off the thief that must have forced his way into his house, though before he could shove his aggressor away from him, his ears registered the sound of laughter, an incredulous notion his eyes confirmed when he looked down and met sparkling, emerald orbs that peered up at him from underneath a curtain of black hair, the same unruly locks as his own.
"Malik, what the ... dude, I thought you were a Shrike bandit or something, I nearly punched you!" The young boy only laughed harder at his big brother's confession, as if he did not believe the statement. Taking a deep breath to relax and get over the fact that his thirteen-year-old brother was laughing at him while holding his legs in a vice grip, the elder freed himself by playfully picking the youngster off the ground and throwing him over his shoulder. "In Geb's name, what are you doing up already anyway? Usually we can't even get you out of bed unless we drag you out."
"You know, for someone who claims to be so ready to take on a 'Shrike bandit', you are pretty blind, Kun."
Hearing his father's voice come from the other side of the small living room that doubled as his parents' bedroom, Kun whirled around to find the rest of his family. His father, a tall and muscled man, rested lazily against the wall while his mother sat on the bed, cuddling with his six-year-old sister, who apparently was not completely awake yet; she tiredly rubbed her eyes, though shot up when Kun walked over and tossed his thirteen-year-old ballast onto the bed.
"Okay, what am I missing here? What are all of you doing up already? The sun is barely up yet."
"You really think that we would've slept through this morning of all mornings?" Kun's father's smile wrinkled his face, his emerald eyes radiating pure happiness at the sight of his son's confusion; except for his black hair, Kun was the spitting image of his father. "Happy eighteenth birthday, my son."
The dark brown pigtails of his little sister wobbled excitedly up and down as she crawled toward her brother; with her left hand, she clutched a cute little doll with a head of painted baked clay to her chest, while the other carried a long, thin package wrapped in green palm leaves.
"Happy birthday, Kun!" Her eyes, gray with a splash of green around the pupil, lit up, and she flashed her teeth as her brother accepted the present and gave her a peck on the cheek.
Loosening the twine that held the palm leaves together, Kun unwrapped a beautiful hunting bow that made his current one look like a modified toothpick. Absolutely stunned by the marvelous piece of weaponry, he let his fingers explore every inch with almost a divine reverence, from the polished wood to the string that gave it its typical curve to the upper and lower limbs that arched back at the tips.
"What is this?" Kun managed to utter.
His father laughed. "Son, if you don't know what it is, maybe we were wrong to get it for you. You want us to take it back?"
"No!" Kun instinctively protected the bow, though lessened his grip on it when he saw his mother smile broadly at his actions. "I mean, I can obviously see that it is the most ..." As he spoke, he discovered a hieroglyphic inscription carved in the bow's center, reading "strong of arm, brave of heart". "The most beautiful hunting bow ever made, and I love it, and I love you for getting it for me, but you shouldn't have; it's too much. This must have cost a fortune, and—"
"Kun, listen to me." Having been freed of her only daughter resting on her lap, Kun's mother shuffled off the bed to stand in front of her son, reaching only to his shoulders. "For once, don't think about the practical side of things. Just think about the fact that you have been given the bow that you've always wanted."
"No, no 'but'." She reached up to gently stroke his cheek. "You have already done so much for this family. When I was forced to quit my job after my accident, you were the one who gave up the most to help take care of things. This bow is from all of us, even Malik and Aryana chipped in. It is our way of saying how much we appreciate what you've done. So please, just let us thank you."
Kun threw his arms around his mother and hugged her tightly. "Thanks, Mom." He widened his embrace and included the rest of his family as well. "Thank you, guys. I absolutely love it!"
His father broke up the hug. "Now, enough of this. Go test that baby out and get us some nice meat for this evening, so your mother can work her magic and make it into a feast!"
Kun grinned as he shouldered the bow next to his quiver. "I'll shoot the biggest buck you've ever seen with this bow. Thanks again. Best birthday present ever!" Kun messed up his brother's hair, kissed his mother and sister goodbye, and shook a firm hand with his father. Opening the door, he glanced back at his family; while his father and sister were still waving at him, his mother was already chasing Malik around, who had claimed the old bow as his own. Kun smiled one last time and closed the door behind him.
The shadows cast by the dunes grew shorter as the sun rose higher in the sky, though the overexcited teen, who left the village in a hurry, did not notice them, not even the moving ones. The company of Shrikes swiftly moved around the village and, with a few well-placed hand signals and bird calls, slowly closed their ranks and sealed off the village entirely.
A thin plume of ocher dust kicked up high in the sky signaled the fast approach of a single rider. Although the face was hidden behind a linnen mouth cloth that was once white though now stained yellow with a thick coating of sand, the elegant fingers grasping the reins, the soft curves of the body, and the slight oval form of the piercing amber eyes, revealed the rider to be female. The loud ring of bronze alarm bells resonated throughout the desert and joined the symphony of labored breathing and heavy thuds of the hooves through the mull sand the woman's horse was making. Hearing the sound, she peeked up, and it was unmistakable that its origin and her destination where one and the same.
"Damn it, I'm so late! The village ... shit. Come on, Arrow, show me the meaning of speed! Hiya!"
Spurred from a canter into a full blown gallop, the dark gray stallion ran at full speed through the ocean of sand. Hunched over the neck of the horse, the woman moved along with every stride of the animal, their movements perfectly synchronized. No longer were they two individuals; they were one perfect being. They were the shadow of the wind itself.
"Faster, boy, faster!" Encouraged by the soft pettings of his neck, Arrow surged forward; despite his flanks heaving greatly, he picked up speed. "The bell is still ringing, not good, not good ... We're nearly there. That's my boy. Come on, run like the wind!"
As they flew over the loose underground, the shapes of a dozen people on horseback, standing atop a desert rock, became discernible. The smallest of the group, having noticed her approach, turned and ran toward the rapidly approaching rider. Making a large turn without losing momentum, the dog barked happily at the newly arrived rider as it bounced the last meters alongside the gray horse.
Without looking at the newcomer skidding to a halt at the side of his entourage, a middle-aged man on a white horse addressed Arrow's rider with a dry, unamused tone. "You're late, Seraphine. Again, I might add. I expected you at sunrise; that was half an hour ago."
As the woman undid her shawl and lowered her face covering, she revealed her youthful and beautiful features; with her sixteen years of age, she was like a rose in bloom, already a magnificent sight to see, though with the prospect of more looming on her horizon. "I'm sorry, General. I—"
"I don't want to hear any of the perfectly plausible excuses you can undoubtedly come up with!" Snapping at her with a voice used to commanding hundreds of men on the battlefield, it was only now that the General deigned to look at her, the anger in his voice also clear on his battle-hardened features. "You are late, period." The rest of his entourage scuffled around nervously, the hooves of their horses scraping the rocks, and some even involuntarily took a few steps back. Sensing the tension, the dog that had so joyfully greeted Seraphine's arrival moments before now whimpered and found cover between the long legs of the dun stallion carrying a man in his twenties, the only one not to flinch at the general's thundering outburst. "Tell me, Captain, was I not clear when I gave my orders? Did I mumble? Did I stutter? Or do you simply not understand the meaning of the word 'sunrise'?!" Seraphine wanted to answer and protest, but the seasoned warrior immediately sealed her mouth shut with a withering glare. Although he held her with a stare that would have caused many a veteran to cower in fear, Seraphine did not flinch or glance away. After a good ten seconds of tense silence, the general sighed, his rage vanishing on the wings of his breath. "You are a talented warrior, Seraphine, perhaps the most talented I have ever had among my ranks, as the only thing rivaling your skill on the battlefield is your lack of discipline. This is the last time you arrive late, understood?"
Clenching her right fist underneath the base of her left palm, Seraphine bowed in respect. "I understand, General. It won't happen again."
The moment the general turned away, releasing Seraphine from his stare, she turned her horse and pulled up at the right of the young man on the dun stallion, who stood at the general's right hand, smirking to himself.
Seraphine appraised him for a few seconds before leaning down and scratching the dog between his ears. "Either spit it out or wipe that smirk off your face; it's creepy and infantile." Despite the harsh dullness of her tone, she made sure her voice did not carry beyond the two of them.
"Now, now, sis, what's with the attitude? Woke up too late on the wrong side of the bed?" Despite erecting herself at the remark to glare at her brother, Seraphine did not deign him with an answer. She rolled her eyes at him and disinterestedly ran a hand through her raven-black hair that reached to the mid of her back, which only spurred him on. "Please, by all means, speak up. It never gets old to hear you say that it was the last time you were late."
"Shut up, Tegan."
"No, seriously, how do you do it? If I'm late so much as a minute, the general has my head, but when you're late for a day—"
"Oh, come on, that only happened once."
"—you get ignored for two hours and then get the pick of the litter of new recruits. How do you do it?"
By now, it was Seraphine's turn to grin at Tegan's half-serious annoyance. "Hoh, I guess you just lack my sparkling personality."
"'Sparkling personality'? Ha! Really, Sera, that's what you're going with? If you're going to make something up, at least make it believable." His clever brown eyes lighting up in amusement, he laughed under his breath, as Seraphine squinted at him and threw a halfhearted punch against his arm.
"Shut it, Tegan, you're just jealous." Joining him in laughter, Seraphine directed her gaze to the town in front of them for the first time since her arrival, but the sight she beheld caused her smile to fade.
Partially blanketed by heavy black smoke, the small desert village was the scene of pure chaos; people ran for cover wherever they could; parents held their children close while every capable villager wielded a weapon or bent the earth itself; the bronze bell that had spurred Seraphine on minutes before now lay dented and forgotten, half-buried in the sand. A black-haired woman, leading two young children by hand, tried to sneak away between two burning houses, while a tall, muscular man protected the family from the rear with his earthbending; a thundering rumble made her stop in her tracks, however, and push her son and daughter out of the way when part of the roof came down upon them.
In between the sounds of the people's pain, fear, and anger merging into a buzzing thunder that terrorized her eardrums, Seraphine could have sworn that she heard the wail of despair from the brown-haired man when he used his bending to uncover the lifeless body of his wife with a mighty heave. Her eyes lingering on the young girl with pigtails who was holding on to a doll with a vigor that seemed to need death itself to part her from it, Seraphine slowly turned to Tegan, who winced nearly imperceptibly when a Shrike hacked into a villager with a sickle blade to the back before being sent off to the Spirit World himself.
"What the ... why are we standing here? They clearly need our help!"
"Yeah, well, my request to interfere was rejected about half an hour ago." All the joy had disappeared from Tegan's tones, making room for accusation.
Seraphine resolutely spurred her horse toward the general. "Sir, with all due respect, we need to do something about this. While we are spectating, people are dying out there. We can save them!"
The general tore his gaze away from a young, black-haired boy wielding an old bow and looked in the fierce amber eyes of his captain. "Do you know how many people can die in a raid like this over the course of half an hour? This was never how I intended things to go, but then again, life rarely works out the way you plan. Everything we do or do not do has repercussions. We make our choices and deal with the consequences."
Realizing that the general was willing to sacrifice lives due to her tardiness, to teach her a lesson, Seraphine bit back her indignation, knowing that an outburst would only make it worse. Focusing on her own heartbeat to calm herself, she respectfully declined her head, though never lost her superior out of sight. "General ... Dad ... Please, let us help. I know that I was late and deserve your anger and punishment because of that. But it is only I who deserve it. Don't take it out on others. They do not deserve to die just because I defied your orders. They are dealing with the consequences of a choice that was never even theirs to make."
The general shifted his hard stare from his daughter to the battlefield; both defenders and aggressors had suffered greatly, the corpses of adults and children alike decorating the sand like macabre desert flowers. As a middle-aged defender took out a Shrike warrior before being killed himself, the general sighed deeply. Turning his head again, he caught the last of a triumphant smirk Seraphine threw at Tegan. Despite taking satisfaction in the fact that her attitude humbled instantly the moment she knew she had been caught, he felt annoyed over her arrogance and desired to teach her discipline; respect. It pleased him that his daughter was visibly straining herself to keep herself from arguing further, knowing fully well that it would harm rather than serve her cause. However, the general knew Seraphine had been right. He could not justify his refusal for help; what he was doing was a mere waste of human life and a punishment of the wrong person. Looking from his daughter to his son and to the rest of his entourage, he rolled his eyes and waved dismissively in the direction of the village.
"Very well then. Those who want are free to go help out."
Seraphine erected herself, the shadow of a smug grin on her face. Without wasting another second, her brother's horse reared and surged forward; the dog that had been hiding underneath the steed barked in excitement and gave chase. Turning her own excited horse, Seraphine saluted her father. "Thank you, General."
Dismissing the gesture with a scoff, the general's features hardened, and he narrowed his eyes as his daughter had the audacity to wink at him as she left. I am going to teach you respect, Seraphine. In need of an outlet for his irritation, he yelled after the dog trailing his children. "Dante! Foot!"
The animal stopped in his tracks and looked pleadingly back, whimpering when the general repeated his command while pointing to the ground next to his horse. Dante took one last glance at Seraphine before retracing his steps, hanging his head and laying down in dismay beside his master.
"Hmpf, at least one of you listens," the general mused softly to himself as he looked down to his pet.
"General Apepi, could I please have a private audience with you?"
Roused from his thoughts, the general turned to the young man who had addressed him. "Captain Hahn." Apepi let his eyes rove over Hahn's dark skin, blue eyes, and dark brown hair, which all betrayed his Water Tribe descent. A powerful waterbender and a second generation Shrike, the twenty-four-year-old captain had made his name in the army as leader of the Water Faction. Glancing back to Seraphine's retreating form, Apepi resolutely turned his horse to leave. "Let's head back to base. Ride with me, Captain."
"Spirits know you're in the wrong profession, Sera." Tegan glanced at his sister as soon as she caught up with him. "You're a great actress; you'd give the Ember Island Players a serious run for their money."
"Thanks?" Seraphine raised a questioning eyebrow, as she had trouble defining his tone; there was definitely a hint of amusement, but it was laced with something else, a more saddened seriousness.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you did it; I was bored too, and spirits know that it was a stupid decision to keep us on the side, but let's be honest, it's not like you care that Dad would punish others for your mistakes. One of these days, he is going to call your bluff, and you'll actually have to deal with the bullshit you create."
Seraphine smirked at the remark. "Oh please, brother, lighten up. What's he gonna do?" She briefly glanced back over her shoulder and saw the rest of the entourage leave, her father and Hahn riding next to one another and locked in deep conversation. "In the end, I do what he wants, so what's there to complain about?"
Tegan could not help but chuckle at his sister's arrogance. "Yah, sure, you do what he wants ... if you want it too, and you always do it your way. That's not really the same. So trust me, he has things to complain about." Seeing his sister about to retort, he raised a hand in surrender, dismissing the remark before it was made. "Look, all I'm saying is that you need to be careful. The general's not really known for his patience and understanding, not even for his own children."
"Well, I thank you for your concern, Colonel, but really, I'll be just fine." Seraphine did not even attempt to filter the amusement out of her voice, while she propped herself up on the saddle as they arrived at the village. "And to tell you the truth, you're kind of putting a downer on our party here. Which is a bummer, because it's going to be—" As Arrow jumped over the corpses of two defenders and a Shrike, she used the momentum to let herself be launched into the air. Executing a perfect twisting layout, she landed with the elegance of a swan cat between two villagers, her arms stretched out at their respective backs, and, with a lazy flick of her wrists, two blue fire blasts sped across the battlefield, engulfing the two defenders. "—a blast!"
Winking at her brother for her lame pun, Tegan could not help but smile and shake his head at her showing off. Not wanting to be bested by his little sister, he unclasped his earthen meteor hammer and launched it with much show at another villager; hitting the unsuspecting defender square in the chest, the blow landed so heavily that bystanders heard more than one of the man's ribs crackle like dry twigs in the flames of a campfire. As the man sagged down to his knees, wailing in agony, his sound was silenced forevermore when Seraphine plunged one of her sai in his throat with such force that it flew cleanly through, the blood-smeared point protruding a hand-span from his neck. She twisted the blade, mincing the trachea and esophagus to pulp, and, pulling the man back by his hair, freed her weapon and wiped it clean on his tunic. With a cold expression, she turned to her audience, Shrike Warriors and defending villagers alike.
"Congratulations to those rookies who are still alive to have witnessed that demonstration." The sentence was heavily soaked in sarcasm. "However, that doesn't mean you actually achieved anything. If you want to make the army, especially the Fire Faction, more is expected of you. Much more. This mission should've been over as soon as it started. So if you think you're worthy of our time, worthy to be a Shrike, prove it and finishing this bloody mess so I can go home!"
Next to her, Tegan somersaulted of his horse and landed heavily, using the momentum of his landing to create a precise earthquake that sunk the four by standing villagers shoulder-deep in the hardened sand. With a mighty heave of his war hammer, he pulverized a rock aimed at his head before wrapping the chain of his meteor hammer around the neck of his aggressor and asphyxiating the woman by dragging her over the ground toward him. Untangling his weapon, he turned to the stunned bystanders. "Well? What are you waiting for, an invitation? Or do you need Captain Apepi and myself to do all the work for you?"
Seraphine watched in mild amusement as the rookie Shrikes doubled their efforts in an attempt to impress their commanders, overrunning the makeshift defense posts in no time and forcing the villagers to fall back. "Oh, what a little encouragement doesn't do for morale, right?" As she spoke, she saw a rookie taking a vigorous swing at a defender with his sword, who sidestepped the attack, causing the Shrike to imbed the weapon deep into the ground. Groaning in vicarious shame, she shook her head and rolled her eyes. "Oh for the love of ... Too bad it doesn't do anything for skill ... or technique ... or even your basic grace!"
As Seraphine left to save the rookie, Tegan could not help but laugh as he heard her mutter that he better not be a firebender, as she was not having that in her regiment. However, his attention was drawn away from the amusing scene by an approaching rumble. With impeccable timing, he hopped on the earth pillar that shot out of the ground before him and jumped off as it reached its zenith. Taking his war hammer from his waistband, his movements were quick and graceful, atypical for an earthbender; as he smashed the pillar thrice, the early sun's reflection on the deadly weapon's head made it sparkle like diamonds.
Two of the villagers that had attacked him had not even noticed that Tegan had landed until they felt the sharp lightning bolt of mortal pain as the hunks of rock he sent back at them penetrated their upper body. The third villager sensed the earth's movement, however, and brought up his arms. His biceps flexed as he caught the rock, and he pulverized it with a grunt; small dust particles swirled down on him.
"Oh and here I thought this was going to be boring, a town filled with weaklings, but you actually show some promise as a bender. Ever thought about joining the Shrikes?"
Enraged by Tegan's casual tone and the murder of his friends, the villager snapped at the young colonel. "Are you insane?! That 'weakling' you just murdered was my best friend, and your men are pillaging my village. Why on earth would I ever want to join your wretched army, you filthy scavenger?!" He swiftly raised and lowered his arms, commanding the earth to follow his movements, and a wave traveled toward Tegan. Not wasting time, the villager swung his right arm up, a rock following in its wake, and quickly push kicked it at his adversary. Swinging his left arm in a horizontal motion, he raised two other rocks, which he sent after the first one with a roundhouse kick. Utilizing the momentum of his landing, he stomped another rock free from the soil and hurled it at Tegan before quickly following with three more. To end his assault, the villager slammed both his fists on the ground, raising a boulder as large as himself, and launched the projectile with a corkscrew kick.
Tegan had trouble maintaining his balance on the shaking earth and only barely managed to knock the first stone to rubble when the two new projectiles already arrived. Swinging his earthen meteor hammer in a horizontal-eight movement, he crushed the incoming boulders, engulfing himself in dust.
When the largest of all slammed into the cloud, the earthbending villager heard a loud collision and saw an object spiraling through the air. Identifying the crashed weapon at his feet as Tegan's meteor hammer, he smirked contently. "Who's the weakling now, huh?"
Where Colonel Tegan once stood rested now a large boulder; the settling dust coated it with a pale film, making the rock seemingly glow when the shafts of the morning sun penetrated the ocher curtain and glittered on the mica particles. The beautiful image was shattered, however, when cracks slithered like snakes over the surface, crumbling the sand coating and causing it to dribble down; the mighty rock crumbled like a sandcastle under the upcoming tide until nothing remained but a sharp spike aimed at the villager. A bang of bronze on earth resonated over the battlefield, and the spike shot forward. Tegan walked out of the sand haze with a jaunty toss of his thick dust-caked, brown curls and coughed lightly as he brushed the sand off his armor. Raising his head, his eyes locked onto the glazed look of the now-impaled earthbender. "Well, by the looks of it, that would still be you." With a grin, he squatted beside his meteor hammer and secured it back to his waist. "You know, just for future reference if you are ever lucky enough to reincarnate, you could have just said 'no'; you didn't have to be so brutal about it." Sensing the ever growing vibrations that could only be attributed to approaching footsteps, Tegan erected himself again, though not before mockingly tapping the fallen man's chest. "Now, if you'll excuse me. I'd love to stay and chat, but it seems like one of your pals is here to avenge you." Before Tegan could even make a move, however, the approaching villager sagged down and remained motionless on the ground. "What the ...?" Noticing the large smoking scorch mark adorning the center of the woman's back, Tegan looked in the direction she had come from and saw Seraphine holding target practice on the defenders. "Yow, Sera! Leave some for the rest of us, will ya? I had this one!"
Her widened smirk and a wink the only signs she had heard her brother's feigned annoyance, Seraphine continued to strike men and women alike with deadly accuracy, her blue fire dancing over the battlefield. However, when Tegan's deep voice called to her, carrying a warning, she turned to the side and was surprised to see the sharp point of an arrow coursing the air toward her. Her senses lulled by its deadly buzz, she moved too late to avoid it entirely. Feeling a warm fluid trickle down her chest, Seraphine dropped her head and was surprised to see that the arrow had grazed her left side, leaving a semi-deep, though clean, flesh wound behind. Tracing the cut as if she could not believe she had just been hit—killed if it had not been for her brother's warning, her gaze traveled from her fingers, coated in her own blood, to the arrow lying on the ground several meters beyond her. Mesmerized by the entire situation, she squatted beside it and immediately noticed the arrow had originated from the hands of a true craftsman. Picking it up, she ran her fingers in admiration over the head, stained with her own blood, and felt that it was made of worked flint, an inferior material compared to the typical bronze arrowheads used by the Fire Nation. However, it was common to see those types of arrows in the Earth Kingdom, as the rock was easier and cheaper to procure in quantity by the earthbenders than the alloy. Although less sharp than bronze, the flint was harder, and if worked right, it was sharp enough to tear through the bronze or hardened leather of an enemy's cuirass, allowing it to snap a person's bone as opposed to be deflected by it. The particular head Seraphine was holding was barbed and loosely bound to the shaft, so when it would lodge itself in enemy flesh, the head would detach from the wood and embed itself deep within the body. Since surgeons could not removed it without causing more damage to the insides of the victim, the alien object would infest the flesh over time, causing it to become infected; even if the shot itself was not deadly, the consequent mortification of the wound would prove to be lethal in and of itself, as that was something not even the best healers of the world could counter. Seraphine's fingers moved on to run over the smooth shaft made from fine wood to the end decorated with green, black, and yellow-painted possum chicken feathers. From the fletching, her gaze eventually traveled in the direction the arrow had come from, and her amber eyes locked onto the emerald ones of the archer.
Seraphine scowled and cursed underneath her breath, as she discovered that her attacker—nearly her killer—was a young boy with black hair who could not have been older than thirteen. A kid? A FUCKING kid! Standing up, she winced and suppressed a growl, gritting her teeth, as a sharp pain shot through her left side. Oh, he's so dead. She removed her light leather cuirass and inspected the sizable tear before angrily tossing the object aside. She yanked her scarf from her neck and, with another grunt, bound it tightly around her chest to stem the bleeding. "Hey, kid! I think you lost something." Venom dripped clearly from every shouted word that passed her lips, as she waved with the arrow at him. "But don't worry, I'll gladly return it to you."
Seraphine kept her eyes fixated on the boy as she started to make her way over to him. Although the child notched another arrow and took aim, she could only smile at the spectacle; the boy's determination and focus faded with every step she took in his direction; his hands started to shake, causing the arrow to rattle against the wooden bow. The evident fear of her victim both pleasured and enraged her, as she could not forgive herself for having been wounded by what more and more seemed to have been a lucky shot fired by an inexperienced child. When the boy released his arrow, Seraphine unsheathed one of her sai and, like an armadillo lioness sharpening her claws on the bark of a tree, splintered the dart with several swift movements coated in blue flames; a smoldering green feather gently floating to the sand was all that remained.
With only two meters left between them, Seraphine's vision on the boy was partially obscured when a broad-shouldered, muscular man protectively positioned himself in front of him. After what seemed like an eternity though were only a few seconds, Seraphine deigned to look up at the man who towered above her by a good twenty centimeters.
"Move." The cold word pierced the air that was slowly heating with the sun's march over the dunes and the fire consuming the houses around them. "You're not the one I'm interested in." As the words left her lips, Seraphine tore her gaze away from him toward the boy cowering behind his back.
"When you're after my son, you better get interested in me!"
"Ah, your son, eh?" Noticing a young girl with pigtails clutching a doll, she recognized the family as the one she saw earlier. "And I guess she's your daughter?"
Briefly glancing over his shoulder at his two children, the man slid into a strong earthbending stance. "Leave my family alone!"
Seraphine scoffed at his order. "Simmer down there, pops. Your daughter just lost her mother—really, it's been what, five minutes?—don't make her lose her father, too. So here's my offer; move out of the way and get to raise your daughter, or stay there and die with your son. It's your choice."
The man's eyes flew open wide, and he instinctively spread his arms, pushing his children back. "You wouldn't ..." As Seraphine raised a mocking eyebrow at that, his shock turned to fury. "You monster!"
"'Monster'? Really? I am the monster?"
"How else would you describe someone who attacks children?" The man spewed the words out like they were something vile-tasting.
"Let me ask you this: who is the real monster here?" Seraphine pointed the arrow she had been shot with at herself. "Is it the one who attacks a child after being attacked by that child?" Her tone of voice grew steadily slower and colder as she slowly moved the arrow from herself to the father. "Or it is the one who provided the child with a weapon, thus making him a target? You see, my dear man, the moment someone picks up a weapon, they become a target. By giving your son that bow, by allowing him to wield it in combat, you have made him a target. I'm not the one responsible for that; I'm just finishing what you started." Seraphine looked the man straight in the eye. "So who's the real monster?" She smirked when the man spit in front of her feet. "Okay, I'll take that as a 'no comment'. Anyway ... You have my word that your daughter will not be harmed. Your son, on the other hand ... he made his decision the moment he attacked me. So what's yours? Move, or die? You get five seconds before I decide for you."
"Five." The man stared at her in horror.
"Four." Breathing in deeply, he reached behind his back to firmly press his son against him, shielding him as much as he could from Seraphine's direct line of sight.
"Three." With his other hand, he did the same for his daughter.
"Two." Taking several steps back, he found himself trapped with no way out by the rubble of the collapsed house that had killed his wife. Seeing the lifeless hand of the mother of his children, he looked back at his aggressor with a renewed fury.
"You're sick! He's just a boy!"
"A boy that was old enough to decide to shoot me. It's basic action and reaction, choice and consequence."
"How can you be so ... so ... heartless?"
"It's what I'm raised to do."
The man scoffed. "Your daddy must so proud."
"You have no idea." Seraphine narrowed her eyes at the mention of her father before her lip curled up to a predator's snarl. "One."
He was panting heavily; his lungs felt like they were on fire with every sharp breath he took. His muscles ached; his legs burned with each extra step they took through the mull sand. Kun did not care. His vision locked on the heavy black smoke hanging over his hometown, he ran as fast as he could.
By the time he reached his village, Ra had already completed a quarter of his daytime journey, and the feeling of imminent desolation threatened to choke Kun.
There was nothing.
No sound of people. No movement.
The only thing that could be heard was the crackling of fire as the flames feasted on the houses.
Kun's gaze traveled over the scorched town plaza that was once the scene of joy and happiness, though now served as a grim graveyard to the fallen warriors. His eyes came to rest on the blackened palm tree near the well; with a loud crack, one of the heavy leaves—lush and green this morning, now black and dead—broke off and crashed to the ground. Hot cinders shot out but were quickly carried away by the gust of wind sweeping through the deserted town.
No, no, no, NO! His strength renewed by desperation, Kun ran toward one of the heavy smoking buildings that he knew as his home. Covering his nose and mouth with his left arm, he pushed his way inside. "Mom?! Dad?!" He desperately ran from side to side. "Is there anyone here? Malik? Aryana!" His eyes watered at the sting of the smoke, and he coughed. "Please! Somebody answer me! Hello?!" As he wanted to dart up the stairs, he was forced back by the roaring tongues of scorching flames that were licking their way down the steps. The heat was so intense that Kun felt his skin blister, and he ducked out of the building when one of his mother's clay pots cracked and exploded under the pressure.
Willing himself to continue with hope, Kun ran further into the village, keeping his gaze off the ground so he would not have to look at the dead paving the sand. When something cracked under his foot, however, he instinctively looked down and felt his heart break as well the moment he did. He had stepped on a small doll with a head of painted baked clay and instantly recognized it as the toy his parents had made for his sister's last birthday; with meticulous earthbending, his father had shaped the figure before baking it in the fire, while his mother had spend the afternoon knitting its tiny green dress. It was Aryana's favorite thing in the world, she would not go anywhere without out. With his hope dashed in an instant, he buckled through his knees and fell next to the doll, his shaking fingers picking it up and cradling it. Despite his valiant effort to hold back his tears, a first droplet trickled down his ash-coated cheek and splattered onto the doll's face, smearing the paint.
"Oh, come. On, where is it?! She was standing around here somewhere."
Kun was startled by the feminine voice coming from the other side of the house. Hopeful to find survivors, he tucked the doll behind his waistband on his back and quickly rounded the corner. A woman with long black hair stood with her back turned to him as she rummaged through the debris of a collapsed building.
"Mom?" The hope radiating from that one word was nearly palpable, though it was shattered once again when the woman glanced over her shoulder to see who had addressed her; Kun did not recognize her, but whoever she was, with an age that rivaled his and amber eyes, she definitely was not his mother. The crushing feeling of loneliness and the dreadful realization that he would not find another living soul in his village encased his heart. "I'm sorry, I thought ... I had hoped that ..."
"I was your mother? Sorry." She turned again to continue her search of the rubble.
"Have you seen her?" The girl tossed away a large chunk of clay that was once part of the outer wall, not deigning herself to turn around again as she muttered a "nope". "She not that tall, black hair ... gray eyes?"
"Look, I'm kinda busy here. I'm sorry, but," she grunted with effort as she rolled over a boulder-size piece of the wall, "I haven't seen anyone."
"What about my father?" Annoyed that he would not leave her alone, the woman rounded on him. "He's a tall, burly man with green eyes, brown hair, and a tanned skin."
"Look, I said that—wait, was he an earthbender?"
Kun's eyes widened at the question. "YES!" Nearly pouncing on her in his enthusiasm, he grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her slightly. "You've seen him? Where is he? Please, tell me where he is!"
"Okay, simmer down there, dude." Shaking herself free from his embrace, she shoved Kun away from her, enabling herself to truly look at him. "Wow, déjà vu ..."
"Nothing, it's just that you look so much like your father. Except for the hair. Your brother was your spitting image, though."
"My brother? Malik! You've seen him, too? Where—wait..." Kun's soaring heart lost altitude when he properly processed the words he had just heard. "What do you mean, he 'was'?"
When she pointed at a silhouette lying on the ground several meters beyond them, Kun let out a wail of despair. He ran over and slid the last meter on his knees in his haste to get to him. Much to his horror, he discovered that his father's bulky, unmoving frame was protectively draped over Malik's body. Sliding his hand underneath his father's shoulder, Kun felt the chill of his spiritless flesh seep through the clothing. He bit back a sob and turned him over, though could not stop the tears from freely streaming down his face when he noticed the arrow, adorned with the same bright green, black, and yellow feathers as the ones in his own quiver, standing defiantly from the middle of Malik's chest. Releasing a mournful lament, Kun buried his head in the blood-stained clothing of his brother and wept freely.
It took a long moment before he remembered he was not alone in the village, and he turned to the girl who had moved from the pile of rubble to search the surrounding sand. Eying her sifting through the soil, his mind raced a mile a minute. Part of him just wanted to run away, to turn back to the desert, and live on in the partial ignorance about the terrible event that he still had; he wanted to live with a glimmer of hope, with the thought that everything might not be as bad as it looked. Another part, however, wanted to know the truth, the complete and uncensored truth, and the only person who could help him with that was not giving him a second's thought, rummaging through debris, completely focused on finding whatever it was she was after, not bothered in the least by all the destruction and heartache that went on around her. Looking from the still face of his father to the pale skin of his brother, Kun made his decision and cleared his throat. "What happened here?"
The broken tone of the question got her attention, and she turned toward him; her gorgeous amber eyes, accentuated with a well-placed kohl line, sized him up, and Kun felt like they could look into his soul and beyond. In turn, his gaze inadvertently traveled over the rest of her face, from the light slant of her eyebrows, to her full lips, her brilliant white teeth that stood out against her sun-tanned skin, and back to the slight oval shape of her eyes. There was something dangerously beautiful about her, frightening and fascinating at the same time. Her limbs were sleek and strong, the ripple of taut muscles visible under smooth skin, and her eyes were intelligent and implacable; with a hunter's instinct, he sensed the cruelty and ruthlessness in them, but at the same time, he was strangely put at ease by a subtle sense of a more gentle tranquility, hidden underneath a hard exterior.
"Do you like surprises?"
The question completely took Kun off guard. "What?"
The girl in front of him crossed her arms, her body language instantly radiating annoyance as if she was talking to a toddler who could not grasp the meaning of a simple question. "Do you like surprises? Because in general, there are two kinds of people; those who love surprises, and those who hate them. Personally, I hate them. I like to be in the know, even though the truth is very often painful. But that's me, I'm sadomasochistic like that. However, most people don't want to hear it, especially when it hits close to home, so they're the people who like surprises; they're the people who're holding on against all better judgment to the belief that they can't be hurt by what they don't know. So ... do you like surprises?"
Kun mulled over the girl's words, as they once again sparked his internal debate of before. He had made his decision, he had asked the question, but did he really want to know the truth? He could try to deny that he was scared, deny how badly he already missed his family, and deny how much it all hurt. He could even deny that he was in denial and believe only what he wanted to believe. His belief could become his life, his truth, and he would be happier for it.
Kun looked at his father's face and felt the dull ache in his heart. The world of pretend was a cage, however, not a cocoon; denial would not change the truth, and the truth was that his father and brother were gone. But the truth was also that he did not know what had become of his mother or his sister, and he would never forgive himself if he turned his back on them because he was scared the truth would hurt too much. If there was even the slightest chance that they were still alive, then he needed to take it, no matter the cost.
With tears rimming his eyes, he breathed in deeply through his nose in order to calm his racing heart. "I like surprises." He cleared his throat, eradicating his voice as much as possible from the broken pain that laced his syllables. "In fact, I love them. Like this morning. My family surprised me for my birthday—I turned eighteen today—and gave me a new bow." The ghost of a smile wafted over his lips upon remembering Aryana's excitement. "But that doesn't mean that I can live with not knowing what happened here, what happened to my family. I want to know—I need to know—if I still have a chance of seeing my mother and sister again in this lifetime." He breathed in deeply and wiped the tears from his eyes. When he spoke again, his voice carried a firmness and decisiveness it had not had since he entered the village. "So please, tell me what happened here."
It seemed like the girl's lips curled slightly upward, almost as if she approved of his decision and respected his courage, though despite her softened body language, her words were as hard as ever. "Today was training day for the new Shrike recruits, meaning that they had an hour to overwhelm the village and take as many people as possible to be sold as slaves in Thebes. Those who resisted or were deemed too ... difficult ... well ..." She never finished the sentence, instead spreading her arms to gesture at the scattered bodies lying all across the village. "That's basically how your father and brother died; Malik was it? Shot Seraphine Apepi, nearly killed her too. Though when she came to return the arrow he fired at her, your father intervened ... briefly."
The revelation hit Kun like a punch to the stomach, and his emerald gaze widened into shock. Clenching his teeth, he stared hard to a point just beyond the girl's shoulder, and his nostrils flared with each deep breath his took. When he spoke again, his words were barely louder than a whisper and packed with fear for the answer. "What about my mother? And Aryana?"
"Your mother got buried when a house collapsed." A silent tear broke free from Kun's eye and the girl stayed silent, closely watching him. "I'm sorry for your loss, she never needed to die. For what it's worth, though, she died while saving your brother and sister. If she hadn't stopped to push them out of the way, they too would've been buried underneath the debris."
Kun lowered his gaze to the rubble the girl had been sifting through earlier and sniffed his sorrow away, swallowing hard. Taking the time to steel his stare and his heart, he locked eyes with the girl. "Aryana?"
Meeting his gaze, the girl was silent for a while before casually tucking a strand of her hair behind her ear. "She's still alive. She's actually also the reason why I'm here. You haven't by any chance found a doll lying around, have you?"
"Why?" Kun was practically seething with fury at the neutral tone of the question. "Who are you?"
The girl narrowed her eyes for just a second at the display, before she smiled softly. "I think you already know."
Kun's biceps, trained by years of archery, flexed dangerously as he tightened his fists; his knuckles protruded white and his fingernails dug deep in his own flesh, leaving half-moon circles behind. He practically spat out the name. "Seraphine."
The warrior nodded. "Now, the doll, have you seen it? 'Cause I'd like to get out of here, but I can't without that stupid toy since your sister won't stop screaming bloody murder, and—"
"Why don't you just kill her then? You obviously don't have issues murdering children!"
Seraphine stared at him in mild surprise. "Why on earth would I kill Aryana? She hasn't done anything to deserve to die. Your brother shot me, that's another story, and your father ... well, I gave him the option to live and take care of your sister, but he chose to die with your brother. That was his decision, not mine." When she noticed how Kun's breathing picked up in enraged bursts and the muscles in his thighs bunched tightly, she slightly shifted her balance in preparation, a hand hovering over one of her sai sheathed on her thigh. "Don't do it, man."
As he pounced toward her, the sunlight bounced off the bronze blade she unsheathed and aimed at Kun's chest. At the last moment, however, she turned the sharp edge of the weapon away, ducked underneath his wide swing, and hit him in the stomach with the hilt. The impetus of his wild charge and the strength of the punch made him double over in agony, and Seraphine snapped her left leg straight up behind her as she leaned over to maintain balance, connecting it roughly with his face.
Kun was thrown and landed heavily on his side, rolling over to his stomach. Noticing the object of her quest tied snugly behind his waistband, Seraphine nimbly plucked the doll free and pushed Kun over to his back as she stood again.
As he gazed up at her, a look of hatred slipped over his emerald eyes, and he spat on the ground in front her feet; the crimson red saliva quickly turned to a ball, heavy with desert sand. "Go on then. Kill me. Kill me like you have murdered my family!" His face was framed with tears of every kind of pain and rage that he did not bother to disguise.
Seraphine looked from the doll in her hand to her readied sai and the broken man on the ground. "I don't kill people who surrender or are beaten. There is no honor in that." She sheathed her weapon and tucked the doll behind her own waistband before whistling sharply on her fingers. A beautiful dark gray stallion came bounding toward his master the moment he heard the signal. She mounted her steed and, stroking the elegant neck of the animal, glanced down toward Kun. "Also, I didn't kill your entire family. Your sister is still alive, and as far as I can help it, she will stay that way. I gave your father my word that she would be unharmed, and I never back out on my word. So get up, bury your loved ones, and come find her in Thebes. Who knows, maybe you'll be the highest bidder." As she rode past him, Seraphine flipped him a golden coin. "Happy birthday."
- Originally, this chapter was meant to be an introduction chapter for all my main characters, though I got sidetracked with Seraphine. To get to know the other characters, read the next one.
- Although I'm using hybridized creatures, I also added horses. Why? I like horses, they're magnificent animals, and I had already thought out the story with horses in it before it became Avatar inspired, so I was hard for me to leave them out. Think about them as "just horse".
- I hate hunting. Unless it's for mosquitoes, in that case, I'd say go for it and kill 'm all.
- Geb, the Earth Spirit, is sort of the patron of the people of the Earth Kingdom and thus often called upon by them.
- The idea for having an inscription on Kun's new bow and its placement came from Disney's Brave, where Merida carves a symbol on her bow.
- The inscription itself and the Egyptian hieroglyphs for it were provided by Seliah. It is to be read from right to left, which she taught would be kind of perfect if Kun was right-handed, because then the charm would be placed on the spot where the arrow would rest upon firing it, which means that it would sort of bless the arrow and the archer in one go. To quote her, it's "spiritual and shit".
- Aryana is not named after Ariana Grande, but after this wonderful waitress I met in Pisa, Italy, at the wine bar MiMi. She could barely speak English, so me and my two friends needed to draw on our Latin we once learned to understand her if she spoke slow enough. Lots of fun.
- The idea for Aryana having a doll came from the Disney movie Mulan.
- Seraphine's horse, Arrow, is a very fast horse, some might even say the fastest there is.
- Seraphine means "burning one", which is obviously why I chose this name for a firebender.
- Seraphine is my favorite character (even though one of my editors *looks at TAD* think she's a troll).
- Tegan's name is inspired by the Canadian indie band "Tegan and Sara". That's right Tegan, you're named after a girl.
- It took me until July 20, 2015 to realize that I had created my own "Tegan and Sara", but then "Tegan and Sera". This was utterly unintentional.
- Dante is the name of the dog of my best friend. He's an Entlebucher Sennenhund, and I completely adore that animal.
- The villager that fought Tegan launched those eight rocks at him in the same manner as Xin Fu launched rocks at Toph in "The Blind Bandit".
- Not really fun, but still a fact: the arrow that protruded from Malik's chest was the same one that Seraphine said she'd return to him.
- Seraphine and Kun's conversation about surprises, the truth, and knowing things is inspired by several Grey's Anatomy quotes from the episodes "Deny, Deny, Deny", "Into You Like a Train", and "Let the Truth Sting".
- This chapter earned Seraphine the Fanon Award of Best Female Main Character in 2012.
- This chapter counts 9204 words.
|Heiress of the Nile|
|Book 1 - Lost and Found|
|☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥ ☥|
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