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|The Last Option|
The Last Option is the thirtieth chapter of's .
Previously in A Tale of Rebels
Kanyzon duels Yi Ming and is impaled. Senqok and Ranju decide to hold off Yi Ming, as to cover the Avatar, Zoruka, Shizon, Kabura, Noki, and Skado, who mean to eliminate his army. Meanwhile, Anyang and Dalit discuss their nation, and the former challenges the latter to a duel for the sake of the nation.
Chapter 30: The Last Option
With the ferocity of a firebender, Anyang struck. His fist forced forward a ball of compressed air, aimed for his brother's feet, and too fast for him to react to. Just as he had finished his first strike, he shifted his stance into the one of airbending's opposite and struck forward with both hands, sending an even more powerful strike at Dalit's chest. Last but not least, with the fluidity of a waterbender, he created an air slice to strike the Head Elder's side. All these movements, merged into one, quick motion had their expected effect – the unprepared Dalit was knocked off his feet, somewhat paralysed, and knocked to the side as well. However, Dalit had not become less a master and made his fall a roll, landing on his feet in the end.
With a sly smirk, he first struck the ground to swirl up dust and strike unexpectedly. Creating an air sphere around himself, Anyang saw how his brother grasped a sword, or rather, merely the hilt and cross-guard of one, the blade being bent air. All he could do, however, was gasp, for then the blade struck his sphere, cut through it like through the thin air it was, and wouldn't have stopped when reaching his body, but he managed to blast himself away. He flew through the air and in the meantime produced his own weapon, or rather, first made use of it that day, even if only for the purpose of landing on his feet – his staff. He had expected Dalit storming at him blade first, however, the man was still standing where he had been before, turned away from Anyang, his hilt and cross-guard seemingly unready.
Careful now, no rash action like before. were Anyang's thoughts as he trod warily, careful not to make any sound with his staff. He narrowed his eyes, rooted himself to the ground more firmly than any airbender should ever and began to whirl the lower end of the staff, steadily creating an air funnel. Yet Dalit remained still. Finally, after several seconds, Anyang decided to strike. He threw the funnel at Dalit and leapt. As expected, the latter rushed forward, his sword forming, but was defenceless against the funnel, which staggered him slightly. Anyang landed behind him and struck him into the back of the knee first, and then the back of his head, before bending an air blast that sent Dalit into the wall. Determined not to let his chance fade as Dalit, despite all, regained his footing, he flung himself against his brother.
In the last split second before Anyang's drill-like air funnel would've struck his chest, Dalit drew his air sword and managed to strike the hand the General bent the air in, not with the blade but with the pommel. Thinking quick, he too made use of the moment he had to advance and pushed himself off the ground, propelling Anyang back as well. As the latter staggered, Dalit wouldn't waste a second and sprung to action. He began bending an air sphere around Anyang's head and started drawing the air from his lungs, but made the mistake of approaching him as he did so. Not only did the staff strike his crutch, but also did Anyang's knuckles punch his diaphragm, hindering his breathing. The result of both brothers' attacks was the same – Dalit, just as Anyang, lay on the ground, breathing heavily, in agony in fact. Anyang was the first to rise, aiding his breathing with bending, and as he picked his staff up, he wheezed, "You... little... bastard... are going... going to pay the price. I swear to... to all the spirits, I'll... I'll be the one to kill you."
"I can only return the compliment." was all Dalit could muster at the moment, these words being forcefully ejected, almost coughed up. Neither had the strength to strike the other, and although Anyang could've easily honoured his promise right then, he chose not to make it a murder, but the outcome of a duel. As both regained their breath, and Dalit sat up, four persons, two men and two women, all in their thirties and in uniforms characteristic for Dalit's followers – essentially a leather cuirass, pauldrons and cuisses above an Air Nomad child's garbs, plus a red cloak with a blue arrow on it – approached him, looking all but pleased. Dalit, however, did, which made Anyang frown. His closest and first followers, no doubt. decided Anyang, as he let his view wander from Dalit to the four and back.
"So you let other fight for you in a duel?" he asked his brother rhetorically, shaking his head afterwards. He decided to focus on the four, for they would be the threat easier to remove, and spoke, looking at them, but directed at Dalit, "Reap what you have sown." With that, he made another drill-like air funnel and struck.
They ran as if their lives had depended on it, which they indeed did, but they couldn't run fast enough to outrun the projectiles sent after them, let alone hold the speed – after all, they could only run as fast as their feet would let them, which never seemed to be fast enough when survival depended on it.
"HALT! In the name of the Earth Empire!" cried out one soldier who dared to stand in their way. Just as he began to sweat out of nervousness, others rushed to join him, and readied their weapons. To the group's sides, others stood in lines, ready to bend, cut, pierce, stick them with whatever they had ready. They all agreed to stop, thus giving the soldiers a chance of completely surrounding them. They had fought greater numbers before, indeed, but always ruthlessly, without regard for potential losses. This time, much more was at stake, this time, they had a mission they wouldn't, they couldn't dare to fail.
Their panting breaths and their stature, leaning on their own knees, were a clear signal for their current weakness, and thus a welcome invitation to the otherwise futile hope of defeating them, and thus, the soldiers, gathered without a superior, nodded to each other, and all, readying their weapons, approached them, step by step, everyone closely watching the group of five, to strike them at the least sign of defiance.
"In the name of His Majesty the Emperor, you— " began one of the soldiers, before taking a closer look at their faces, realising. Too often had the lot defied the Earth Empire, too widely known were they. "You! You are under arrest for treason against the Earth Empire!"
"Is that so?" Noki stood up in their midst and answered her own question, "I doubt it." With that, she jumped and, upon landing, sunk herself and her companions into the ground. What the earthbender didn't consider, however, was the fact there were tunnels, and not only sewers and those for defence, below the Fire Nation capital. The power of her strike had sent them thus far further downwards than she had intended.
"What in Koh's bloody realm, Noki? Seriously?" Shizon was the first to complain and also the first one to take a look around. The tunnel itself seemed of natural origin, but there were plenty of alcoves in the tunnel walls, filled with earthenware containments. "You wanted to take us to the sewers! Now we're in the catacombs!"
"Oh. Heh." was all Noki answered, before she realised the others' reactions. "Well, I guess we can still get to the docks from here."
"Yes, but we might as well walk back up there and have ourselves killed," replied Zoruka as-a-matter-of-factly, before walking to one of the alcoves and opening the containment. She coughed and read the inscription behind the urn, before asking, "Does anybody here want the ashes of Fire Lord... Wan Zel?"
"Whose?" inquired Skado, joining her at the urn.
"Those of a Fire Lord called Wan Zel." She further examined the alcove. "Judging from the inscription and the status of his urn and the ornaments, he must've had some tie to the Sun Warriors, when they still ruled a considerable portion of the Fire Nation." Shizon shot her a glare, and she added. "Now, enough of archaeology."
"Exactly. I can't focus on anything you're saying, anyway." Noki pressed her arms to her head in an effort to block out what she was, by the looks of it, hearing. "Not with all that going on."
"Is she losing her mind?" Zoruka's question just blurted out, and usually would've made the others spurn her, but as Kabura and Skado hurried to her, and everyone realised they would be doomed without her, the comment was brushed aside.
"Noki, tell me you're all right... " pleaded Kabura as her healing hands hovered over Noki's swiftly laid down body. " ...because I can't find anything... Dammit!"
"NO!" the earthbender cried out all of sudden, "Don't leave me on the ground, it's driving me insane! It's everywhere, I hear it, I feel it, I can smell it even, not to talk of my seismic sense!"
As she, screaming, leapt to her feet again, and ran a few metres before tripping and falling straight on her stomach and chest, Kabura nodded to Zoruka, agreeing with her previous comment. Only the Avatar, silent thus far, then walked up to her, surprisingly barefoot, and helped her up. "You fools do realise" he spoke, "that she is right? Something made of rock is flowing all around us, indeed, such a substance carved these tunnels. For her, with her extremely sensitive senses, it must be maddening." He punched a wall, by the sound of it cracking his knuckles then as well, and a thus opened a fissure in the tunnel's ceiling. An reddish-orange, glowing substance then slowly dropped from there, solidifying even slower. Kabura, Skado, Zoruka and Shizon all stood before the drop, watching it in awe.
"I believed the volcano the city is built on is dormant...?" Skado was in awe and wonder.
"Dormant does not mean dead, or do you die when you go to sleep?" The Avatar's answer was quick and all they needed to know.
"We need to get out of here, then." decided Skado, eyeing Noki warily.
"No." Kabura's mouth twisted into a smirk. "Yi Ming's army is above us, in the city, isn't it?"
"Yes. As are thousands of civilians." Skado's reply almost instantly took the wind out of Kabura's sails, or would've, had she not for this moment shown ruthlessness.
"So? We prevent further deaths and oppression." Kabura's plan seemed clear to everyone – after all, they had the two greatest living firebenders known to the world, the greatest earthbender, and the Avatar with them, and masses of molten rock all around. "We'll hardly get a better chance, especially if you expect us to succeed."
"Well, what other choice do we have? Suicide in a naval battle?" Noki agreed with the ruthless plan of Kabura's. "We don't have much of a choice, truth be told. 'Tis our last option."
And so, the Avatar and Noki began to bend the masses that Zoruka and Shizon heated.
The crowd dispersed in panic, but a group of eight remained, all either armed or benders, or both, before they parted. Yi Ming's old heart raced like it hardly had before, and he was in a rage unlike any time before, yet he reminded himself, over and over again, to calculate before acting, for else he would yet die this day. He stared into nothingness, when suddenly, one particular individual caught his attention. She wore no shoes, had straight, raven hair, skin pale as paper, and wore the robes of a master earthbender. Noki. Wei's daughter and heir. The realisation hit the Earth Emperor like lightning had earlier that day, and thus he motioned to his soldiers, to stop her, while himself leaping forward, off the platform, chasing her. The rebellion must die today. First the Fire Lord, now her and her rebellious comrades.
What he, in his rage and shock, overlooked were the two who had separated themselves from their other companions, with their sole purpose of eliminating him, Yi Ming. The two raced against him, almost as if to collide head-on, and Senqok drew his blade, as well as his water. Clouds, which had started appearing with the first duel of the day, now covered the entire sky, and the light decreased in intensity as they increased in quantity and density. Thunder rolled across the heavens, lighting the scene for one split second, revealing the Water Tribesman and the Air Nomad charging at him for just as long, but he seemed to have chosen not to notice.
"Hey, you bastard! Peasant! Usurper! Tyrant!" spit Senqok out as Yi Ming sprinted right past them, but to no avail, Yi Ming kept running. While Ranju stopped entirely, ready to fight of soldiers as they would notice them, which they didn't, for they were focussed almost entirely on their remaining comrades, Senqok simply turned, sheathed his sword to catch up to the man he had just addressed, and sprinted after him, faster than he himself had ever thought he could. In his right hand, he readied the water to cast at Yi Ming, but just as he himself almost tripped on the ground, smoothed by thousands and thousands of feet over the years, he had a better idea. Quick, as not to let his foe get too close to his suddenly vanished comrades, he cast the water on the ground and froze it.
All of sudden, the Earth Emperor's feet seemed to betray him. Had they carried him for more than one and a quarter centuries, they now slipped away under him as he hurried to what would've been the fight of his life. He landed harshly, for he had not expected anything of the kind, which confused the raging sovereign, for when he looked the way his target had taken, he no longer could spot her. When he looked at why he had fallen, it made no sense at first, Snow? This is the Fire Nation, in— As he rose to his feet again and saw the lad who had done this, he couldn't help but to smile. A waterbender. A powerful one, but still a mere waterbender. This shall be over in no time. Just as he shifted into stance, however, the waterbender's comrade arrived. Is this—? Impossible! Well, some challenge is good training.
"Don't you dare attack them, tyrant!" shouted Senqok, sweating and shaking from undeniable fear. "At last, you'll— p-pay!" He unsheathed his sword and shifted into his stance, while Ranju locked her eyes on Yi Ming. The soldiers, meanwhile, gathered around, unsure what to do.
"I shan't have need of your assistance. Better find the rest of the rebellious scum. We'll yet have some more executions." half ordered, half threatened Yi Ming, always keeping an eye on his opponents. The men formed their units and began to spread out, to search the city. "Now to you... Senqok, was it?" Yi Ming's voice appeared unnaturally calm, as once more thunder rolled across the skies and raindrops began their descent. "You know can't defeat me, even with your comrade here, er, Ranju, if I am not mistaken, so why bother? All you can do for your comrades is becoming a martyr while buying them a few minutes."
"Pride will have a fall." Even calmer, Ranju spoke, shifting into her stance, with the staff ready. After a quick sideways glance to Senqok, who nodded, the two narrowed their eyes, focussing on Yi Ming. Just as he stirred the least, Senqok slashed at him with his watery blade, a move that could have easily cut him in half, but that could also be easily sidestepped. Unlike the air swipe Ranju sent at him, catching him in his side. The few seconds of partial paralysis that created, Senqok intended to use, creating icicles to launch at him, but before he could attack, a rock slab caught him from behind, knocking him to the ground. Yi Ming intended to crush him with the very same, and almost would've, hadn't Ranju intervened and dispersed the rock with a powerful air kick of hers.
The Earth Emperor narrowed his eyes on her and set up a column where she would land. She merely jumped off it and, upon reaching her leap's apex, dove downwards, aiming right for Yi Ming. He, however, realised she intended to knock him over with an air bomb, and sent up another pillar, not unlike the one he had impaled Kanyzon with, to meet her. Just as she realised this and would've suffered the same fate, however, an arm made of water yanked her away from it, throwing her out of Yi Ming's range. His left arm extended with his element, and his right wielding his sword, also coated with bent water, Senqok seemed a fitting opponent for Yi Ming, who made himself rock armour, with especially thick gauntlets. The Water Tribesman had intended to slash at his adversary then, to batter his defences, so Ranju could strike him down, but to his surprise, the sovereign didn't aim for close combat. Instead, he retreated a few steps and extended his arms and fingers towards Senqok, launching parts of his gauntlets, aiming at stomach, chest and face. Ranju, who lay on the ground in pain, sought to hurry to his aid, but was not required, for Senqok put up a shield of water, the projectiles not making it through the shield that grew with every raindrop that fell. He was quick to retract a part of it, and to freeze the rest into icicles and ice claws. The former of these he launched instantly, aiming at Yi Ming's now partially exposed hands.
As expected, he only coated these in rock again, and the ice was simply shattered upon impact, or simply slid off the gauntlets' sides. This gave Senqok, and Ranju too, time to advance. Yi Ming had realised what hardships this duel could bring for him and saw himself proven. Senqok slashed at him, up and down, straight and diagonally, and every time, he cut pieces out of the earthen armour, each time, he weakened Yi Ming, for the latter had to remain strong. Too late had Senqok realised his saving of Ranju had cost her too much to finish Yi Ming already, and too late had he realised he had to face Yi Ming on three of four sides. He could duck to evade his arms in time, but the pillar he shot up was a different story. He rolled to the side, but his foot was caught between rock coated arms and solid rock. His cry of agony filled the square and reminded Ranju why she had come instead of Kabura.
Yi Ming took Senqok by the collar, raised him in the air, and prepared to execute him, just as he had done with Kanyzon. As the Water Tribesman panicked, Ranju took to the air and ascended, soared higher and higher, until he believed himself abandoned. Then, however, she came down just as she had intended to the first time. She hadn't even touched the ground yet, and the blast already knocked Senqok and Yi Ming from each other, breaking bones of both, though mainly the latter's, also knocking the latter's head against the earthen and wooden platform. As she landed, she collapsed, and Senqok hurried to her, as fast as he could, with twisted, if not broken ankles, and cracked bones everywhere, healing water ready. The enormous blast had cost most the strength she still had had, and it seemed worth it, for the blast's raw power had left its marks even on the square itself.
Cries of pain both bit back as Ranju dressed Senqok's grazes and splinted his fractures, as far as possible, and as Senqok healed her injuries, from her joints' bruises to fractures. As Senqok was finished, Ranju recovered her staff and his sword again, and helped him up. On their way to Yi Ming's unmoving body, they both prepared themselves to end him, to kill him at long last. Once they arrived there, Senqok unsheathed his sword, gathered water around its blade, and Ranju made with her staff what Anyang had once taught her, an air funnel dril. Just as they struck, Yi Ming extended his arms with clenched fists, his gauntlets launching them from him, flinging them several metres before, once more, making both land hard.
"You'll have to do better than that to defeat me," stated Yi Ming, wheezing, for one of Senqok's cuts had struck. However, as the two rose again, beaten and bruised, healed only swiftly, something dangerous settled in with them – desperation, and determination.
Notes and Trivia
- The fist-propelled drill-like air funnels can be seen as a reference to the video game BioShock, where huge drills prominently appear as melee weapons used by the so-called Big Daddies.
- The name of the next to unknown Fire Lord, Wan Zel, is derived from the Germanisation of the Czech name Václav, Wenzel. Also, said character will never reappear.
- Take this, writer's block! TAKE THIS! NOT EVEN A WEEK SINCE THE LAST CHAPTER! WOOHOO!
For the collective works of the author, go here.