|More from Skyart||Action/Adventure||PG-13||None||None|
|Chapter 2 - The Cliff (Avatar: The Second)|
"We should be fine here," said Skaï.
"Are you sure your plan will work?" asked Cielle, panting after the long trek they had to do to reach the top of the cliff overlooking the Golden Eaters' camp.
"Not yet. I need to do some scanning first," answered the Avatar.
"Oh! So you mean we walked all this way not knowing if your plan was even possible?"
Ignoring Cielle's whining, Skaï crouched at the edge of the cliff and begun his observation of the bandits' settlement.
It has been a day since he made his deal with the firebending girl, and it was night once again. The area they were actually in was called the Arid Mountains and, as expected from its name, was empty of vegetation. Down there, three big campfires burned heavily, making the area quite clear to see. Skaï noticed that the camp was rather small, counting ten tents and six ostrich horses tied at its outskirt. A small creek nearby served as their water supply and could be used for waterbending in need of a fight, assuming his plan wouldn't go as expected. But what he truly cared about was the earthbenders themselves. At that time of the night, most of them were asleep, but as expected from any sort of group camping in the wilds, two watchmen were guarding the place. His plan could work.
"Alright," said Skaï, breaking out of his concentration. "Here's what we're going to do."
"Where did you learn to do that?" interrupted Cielle.
"What?" replied the Avatar, slightly annoyed.
"You know, coming up with a plan just by seeing the layout of your opponents' basecamp."
"I learned with practice," answered Skaï coldly. "Can we get back to subject now?"
Ignoring his last statement, "Practice? But you're not much older than me! Not only that, you're bending is amazing too. What sort of 'practice' did you have to go through so that you could get that strong?"
"Look, Cielle, it doesn't matter. Just know that when you've seen things... and done things that you don't want to ever happen again, you get stronger so that you can stop it yourself next time. Now, dawn will be here anytime soon, so if we're going to do this, it's now."
Realizing that he had spoken aggressively, Skaï closed his eyes and took discreet, slow breaths to calm himself.
"I'm sorry," the girl apologized, unsure of what to think about his speech. "Let's do this."
"Thank you. Back to the plan. First, we're not going to need the Dragon Fighters. They would attract more attention than we need. What we want is to lure one of the watchmen here, so that we can interrogate him. There's only two of them, and one must remain to guard the camp, so it's almost guaranteed that just one will be coming. When he does, we get him, and you start your questioning. The cliff should prove useful to pressure him. Now, the tricky part is that the other watchman will start worrying if his partner doesn't come back after quite some time. So, as soon as we have the first guard, I'll go down there with airbending and stealthily neutralize him. It shouldn't be hard. Just the time to hide his unconscious body and I'll be right back. But remember, you can't use violence to force our guy to talk. If he screams, we'll have twenty other earthbenders to deal with by ourselves. Any questions?"
Skaï had spoken in a high pace, but being the strategist of her own group, Cielle had been able to follow it.
"What if the watchman start screaming anyway, despite my threats to throw him down the cliff?" asked the girl after having assimilated Skaï's plan.
"You run. Return to where the Dragon Fighters are standing by and prepare them for battle."
"And if you're still down there?"
"I'll be fine, don't worry. You saw what I could do when we first met."
Cielle laughed lightly. "Do you mean when that rock hit you right in the stomach, or when Zan Ji punched you?"
"So his name is Zan Ji," contented to reply Skaï, smiling at the teasing. "Anyway, are you ready?"
After Cielle nodded, the Avatar kicked the earth under him, creating a hole where they could both fit. The firebender girl put her dragon mask on and jumped into the stash, followed by Skaï who, just before closing the hole, raised his arm and launched two very small flares with firebending. Then they waited.
Soon later, they heard the sound of rock cracking and sliding, coming closer and closer as an earthbender climbed his way up by lifting the ground along the cliff side. Then it stopped, and they heard footsteps. Hesitant at first, they began to move faster as the earthbender probably started thinking about a false alarm. When he came right above them, Skaï made a sweep move with his arms, causing the hole to open and the watchman to fall inside. Then, with a surprising agility, Cielle restrained the earthbender whilst covering his mouth. Only a moment later, the man was completely tied up in a solid rope and his mouth was gagged with a thick handkerchief.
Continuing with his plan, the Avatar headed to the void.
"Good luck," whispered Cielle just before Skaï leaped off the cliff.
During his fall, he looked for the remaining watchman and used little air pushes to place himself just above him. Then, with great agility, he landed softly just behind the guard, using airbending to cushion himself, which created a small wind gust. Alerted, the earthbender turned back, but the Skaï had followed his movement and managed to stay behind him. When the earthbender turned back again, the Avatar hit him with a swift and powerful strike of the side of his hand to his neck. The man instantly passed out and fell into Skaï's arms. The boy then made a hole similar to the one he hid with Cielle, put the body in it and closed it, leaving small holes so that the unconscious man could breathe. Then, quick and discreet, he returned to the cliff side and began its ascension by jumping from rock to rock, propelling himself with airbending each time he leaped. When he arrived at the top, the captured earthbender was lay down at the edge of the cliff and Cielle, somehow without her mask, had a foot on him, threatening to make him roll into the void.
"How is it going?" asked Skaï.
"You didn't take long. Is there anything you're not good at?" answered the girl.
"Cielle, how is it going?" insisted the Avatar, ignoring her remark.
"All good. That coward gave me my answers as soon as I got him near the cliff's edge. It was almost too easy."
"Be glad it was. Now come on. We need to get out of there before the guy I knocked out wakes up," said Skaï while starting to head back already. However, when he realized she wasn't following him, he looked back and saw her still in the same position with a conflicted look on her face.
"Cielle, what are you doing? Hurry up," he pressed her.
When she slowly turned her head to look back at him, he knew what would happen.
Too late. With a little kick, she had pushed the tied man who had rolled and fell off the cliff.
"Damn it!" shouted Skaï, running off to where the man fell. With an air outburst, he leaped in direction of the ground underneath. To gain speed, he put his arms behind him and generated four fire thrusters at the end of each of his limbs. At last, he caught up with the earthbender just a few meters before he would have crashed on the hard and dusty ground. To stop their fall without the use of his arms, occupied by the enemy he was trying to save, he inhaled a large quantity of air, and exhaled it violently just before touching the ground, with enough power to break their fall at the last second. His fight with the Dragon Fighters had taught him well.
Taking time to realize that he was still alive, Skaï lay down on his back and stared at the dark sky of the night while taking heavy breathes. Beside him, his near-death-experience comrade had passed out during their fall, utterly terrified.
The Avatar's relief, however, didn't last long. When he raised himself up, about twenty angry looking earthbenders were surrounding him.
"I'm really beginning to regret saving you, you know?" said Skaï ironically at the fainted out man. "Makes me wonder if you guys really are the bad guys in this story. Oops."
Without warnings, the earthbenders had started to attack, raising rocks by kicking the ground and throwing them at Skaï with their fists. Not having any time to riposte, the latter dodged as much as he could, pirouetting, spinning and twirling between the boulders, but there was too many of them. One hit him on the back, another on the right leg before he could stand back up and a last one on the back of his head knocked him down on the ground. At first, there was only silence, then he heard screaming. He had managed to get back on his knees to try to see what was going on when he saw red lights flashing in the darkness of the moonless night. All around him, firebenders were attacking the earthbenders visibly taken by surprise. In the distance, he could heard Zan Ji shouting orders and calling formations. The Dragon Fighters had come to help him. Swept by the intensity of his allies, Skaï got back on his feet and quickly found his way to the rear of the battlefield, where Cielle was giving Zan Ji instructions.
"Why did you save him?" aggressively asked the girl loud enough to cover the battle sounds as soon as Skaï reached her.
"Why did you did this?" replied the Avatar in an even angrier and louder tone.
"Because I could! You have no idea what those rats are capable of!" shouted Cielle with tears to her eyes.
"You had what you wanted!"
"So what? Did you expect me to just let these bastards continue to wreak havoc at every new village they pass by? Someone needs to stop them, and if an overthinking, deductive freak and elements master won't do it, then I will!"
"I wasn't going to let them continue! But killing them off isn't the way! Earlier, I said to you that there was things I regretted for which I became stronger. This is one of those things. Don't do the same mistake."
Suddenly, Zan Ji, who had directed the Dragon Fighters without his leader's help during her heated chat, interrupted them.
"Cielle, they're retreating. What should we do?"
Both she and Skaï stared at each other in the eyes for a while, as if they were debating without the use of words, like they knew exactly how the other felt. Then she suddenly lowered her eyes.
"Call them back..."
The big man complied and the Dragon Fighters, accompanied by the Avatar, began to head back to their forest.
Almost a day of rest later, during the evening, Skaï and Cielle were sitting together at a campfire, discussing what would happen next. Molly had find her master and friend back and was busy eating fishes in the heat of the fire.
"This raven hawk will bring my message directly to a friend of mine," said Skaï by sending the said animal with a red scroll attached to its paw. "He's the leader of a skilled sword masters group that specialize in capturing outlaws. The Golden Eaters are as well as captured with him in charge. See? I always have a plan."
"What are you going to do now?" asked Cielle.
"I'll head east. I heard a large group of earthbenders were building some sort of big wall. It worries the Sun Warriors and the Moon's Children think they are building a new type of earthbending weapon. In any case, it could escalate pretty quickly if nothing is done."
"Can I come with you?"
"What?" replied Skaï, genuinely surprised by the sudden request.
"The info I got says that what I'm looking for is at 'the Great Wall'. It seems like your destination fits with mine, and you got a flying beast to get you there."
"Her name's Molly," said Skaï severely.
"And beside, we made a pretty good team last night you and I, didn't we?"
"Yes, until you kick a man off a cliff."
"Alright, alright. I'm really sorry. I got emotional and lost control. It won't ever happen again, I promise. So what do you say?"
"What about the Dragon Fighters?" asked Skaï, starting to yield to the girl.
"I think that Zan Ji proved last night that he is more than capable of leading them for a while. They're in good hands."
The Avatar, abdicating, sighed. "Fine. Welcome aboard, Cielle the Dragon Mask."
Somewhere, in a dark cavern dug into mountains, a small man kneeled before his master.
"My Lord," said the servant in a scared voice whilst presenting a red scroll with his head bowed. "We intercepted this message, My Lord. The signature, My Lord."
A man raised from his throne and took the scroll. After reading it, he burst in a sinister laughter that resonated throughout all of the tortuous cavities constituting his kingdom.
"He is back," said a deep and imperious voice.
"The Avatar is back."
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