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Pyres and Storms
January 23, 2013
The world is engulfed in war. Blood has spilled as the Nations contest a balance of power. Avatar Tala must guide the world in order to bring stability back, but must deal with resistance and ancient threats that risk to change the course of the world forever.
Chapter 3: Ancient Dangers
An ancient book wrapped in a decrepit leather and metal-clasped cover creaked and seemed like it would turn to dust if touched. Rishu carefully turned the pages as he read Ancient Things of the World: What is and Was. It was a book of the powerful creatures and species that men had encountered. An ancient tome of a forgotten history, it had references to creatures no man remembered seeing, except the man who read it.
Rishu poured through the book looking for something, hoping that what he was facing was not new but old. Old and recorded, if it had been faced before, then he could learn how to face it. As he peered through the old book, he saw things that he had either seen or read about; still some of it was beyond him.
She opened her eyes to blinding light. She used her hand to shield herself, but felt intense pain as she lifted her arm. It was as if her veins were on fire. As her eyes adjusted to the light, she saw faint black lining her veins in her hand.
"She's awake!" The voice rang in her ears and sharply clashed with her other senses.
The statement was followed as other stated it beyond her white room. Soon they came filing in. Their dark colors contrasted with the white walls of her room. It was making her sick to look.
"Tala, can you hear me," the voice was familiar, her father? No, Rishu, she wasn't sure, everything was blaring in her head.
"Tala, you've been poisoned. Your senses are severely impaired right now. If you can understand me, lift two fingers," she did so. "Good, you saved yourself when you pulled the dart out, the complete dose would have been lethal."
"It will take some time before you fully recover but you will get your senses back soon."
Tala closed her eyes, it was too much to handle the pain, the light and the noise. She slept a much more restful sleep than what she woke from.
Tala awoke again. The room was still bright and she covered her eyes. She got up and ran to the bathroom, it was so nauseous that she had to throw out anything that was in her stomach. She lifted herself up and realized that she was stronger than the last time. She also noticed the black had receded from her veins.
She stepped out and noticed that the nurse had left to notify the doctor that she was awake. The doctor arrived with a party of powerful people. Ralyn, Rishu, and Kuir were the lead.
"Good to see you awake."
"Its good to be awake. What happened?" Tala looked around and knew this wasn't New Omashu, "And where am I?"
"You were attacked by something. The attacks persisted while your were unconscious, we moved you here beyond the mountains around Omashu, to a secure facility."
"Who was behind the attacks, I was out before I could see them."
Kuir answered, "We don't know. They haven't shown their face to us. That's makes the situation worse because we still haven't figured out how they're attacking us."
"Us?" Tala looked at him and saw that he crossed his arms.
"Yes, us. All three of us have been attacked since you were poisoned. The upside is that the attacks stopped once we moved you beyond sight of the city. So whoever it is, they're taking orders from Omashu, and likely Urri."
Rishu objected, "We don't know that."
"Come on, the Madman of Omashu has done just as many crazy things since the Avatar was out."
Tala looked on confused, Ralyn answered her silent question, "He sent out suicide assaults to try and break the siege."
"He did what?"
"We gained ground against them, but we lost a lot of men," Kuir's description was blunt and unforgiving, "we need to take him out."
Rishu responded dryly, "How? He doesn't lead them, he sends them out while he stays in the palace all day."
"I hear the Seasons have an agent specially tasked to do these kind of things."
"Those are rumors, we don't know for a fact what his capabilities or what his limits are."
Tala was wondering, she had heard whispers, especially since the Seasons were clients of Rishu and no longer enemies. "Is the talks post still standing on the lines?"
"For now, why?"
"I need to talk with Hava."
Kuir and Ralyn both objected, "No, whoever is after you will take this opportunity and you are still not ready to fight yet."
"Hava won't attack me, if anything, he'll likely protect me."
Rishu agreed, "Very well, but you will have a small army around you. The days of you wandering alone are over."
Hava was perplexed at the invitation. The talks between Omashu and the invaders had broken down after the rest made peace. Urri and Suun both thought it was a trap although he knew Tala wouldn't walk him in one, he knew her writing.
He arrived at the tent where a Dai Li agent and an Imperial Firebender were waiting for him. They inspected him and took his staff before letting him enter. These two were particularly invasive as if the greatest treasure in the world was in their care. Across from the entrance and to the right, he saw and was shocked.
She sat on a chair as guards were all around her and the room. She wore her armor but she was paler than usual and looked deathly ill. No wonder there were enough guards to protect the royal palace, they were worried she couldn't defend herself.
"Tala, what happened?"
"Attacked by an assassin. I am fine, the worst is over, but I am still getting the poison out of my system. The assassin stopped their attacks when I was beyond the sight of Omashu."
Hava shook his head, "No. No one has dared to speak of attacking you. Even Urri has kept quiet."
"Hmm," Tala looked at him disbelievingly. "Anyways, I am here for another but related reason. There are those in the siege thinking that if these attacks continue, that we may need to kill Urri now. An assassin is already being mulled over. Given the rumors, I need to know the truth, is there an airbender in the Seasons' ranks?"
"No, there isn't and never was. No Air Nomad would betray their cultur-" Hava stopped in mid-sentence looking away.
He shook his head, "No, its not possible, he's dead."
Tala looked on confused and judgmentally at the same time. Hava sat down and began, "Many years ago, Lio had a son, Qatil. He was an amazing boy, and powerful, just like his mother. He was destined for great things and I was sure he would be a great man some day."
"Qatil was not only powerful, but he was fiercely independent. He wanted to prove that he could earn the tattoos. I don't know when he thought of it, but he decided to adapt firebending forms into airbending."
"He found a firebending master and practiced the forms under his tutelage, including the dragon sets. Unfortunately, the master did not know this. The man was insulted and went to confront Qatil on Air Temple Island one night."
Hava sat back as he continued in a morose tone, "We don't know what happened next, but when the guards arrived, there was Qatil covered in blood and the firebender's dead body. Qatil insisted that it was self defense; that the master attacked him when he refused to stop adapting dragon forms."
"Others within Clan Jinora did not believe him. Some because of the situation; others because of other reasons."
"What do you mean other reasons?"
"Jinora Proper is not unanimously liked by all the Air Nomads, we have been in charge since Tenzin's daughter grew up."
"You're saying they accused him out of bias?"
"I had no place or power to make those accusations; and when a trial came, my sister abstained from presiding so that she was impartial. The trial picked by a large enough margin that Qatil was convicted of murder. But for all their hatred, no one could bring themselves to strike down Qatil, so he was exiled. Not only from Air Temple Island, but from all Air Nomad enclaves."
"Well, if he was abandoned and betrayed by his pacifist people, is it so surprising that he joined mercenaries?"
"But he didn't. He left Republic City for a remote village, I don't know what he did for a living, but he lived in peace."
"How do you know?"
"My sister kept tabs on him after he left. That was how she learned about something. Her contacts came back with news that someone was looking for him, and they weren't friendly. That was where I came in."
"Lio asked me to go and protect Qatil. I went and looked for him, but the others had gotten there first. They were firebenders, friends of the man Qatil killed, they had been searching for him after they heard of the news at a delayed time."
"They got there first, but barely. I got into the fray and fought to try and save my nephew, but the firebenders were reckless. They brought the house down on us. I and one of the thugs were the only ones to get out. I took him back to Republic City to face justice, but it didn't change the fate of Qatil. He never made it out of the wreckage."
Hava had a haunted look on him, "Lio never forgave me for what happened. We were both relieved when I went to train you in airbending."
"Are you sure he didn't survive?"
"No one made it out of that wreckage."
Rishu had spent days reading the ancient tome. He hadn't finished it, but he went back constantly, hoping he hadn't missed some minute detail. He had finished the first volume and found nothing. He had to continue on. The second volume seemed to contain a list of slightly less-ancient creatures than were in the first volume.
The first in the list was an interesting creature, some kind of bird called a Shadow Phoenix. As amusing a creature as it was, it was not what he was looking for. He turned the page, and saw symbols that raced through his mind. He recalled the strange markings that etched themselves into the wreckage of the tent after he set it on fire. Now they were before him in paper.
Rishu kept reading. It was a language, old and strange, only one species was known to use it when the book was written.
Tala sat in the hospital lobby as Ralyn waited with her. The door opened and the massive Kuir bent down to fit in. He looked about and then asked, "Well, where is he?"
She shrugged, "He should be here by now."
On cue, Rishu entered from another door, "Excuse my tardiness, but I decided to make copies."
Rishu handed each a small book that was quickly made, "Keep these safe."
He then went to the wall, where he placed a poster, "I found it. The culprit of the attacks. As I feared, we're in big trouble."
"Who?" Tala spoke the word simultaneously with Kuir and Ralyn.
Rishu placed the poster up for all to see, "They're called Nifrin, or Sehr. In our tongue, we just call them witches. They're old, from when bending was young. A mischievous species, they caused humans no end of trouble. Some of it was for amusement, some of it was very serious. They used magic, or whatever it was that no one understood. It was potent but limited to the range of the creature's sight."
"I've never heard of them. What happened to them?"
"They were wiped out by the Avatars. Or so the Avatars thought. Apparently one survived."
Kuir inquired, "How are you sure that this is the same one behind the attacks?"
"I am sure because the markings that showed up after every attack were the language of the Nifrin. As further proof, the attacks stopped when we left Omashu, which was beyond the range of the city and so she is blind out here. The problem for us is her leaving the city to come for us, cause then she could attack us."
Ralyn asked another question, "What are there other powers?"
"Mostly unknown. They seem to be able to affect you in your sleep, use strange poisons, and possess various objects, both alive and not. It seems that they are practically impossible to kill but there were few of them to start off with. They are fast and resourceful, but if you can get them, a lethal strike will kill them like any other."
Tala was the next to ask for clarification, "So a sword? Lightning, what?"
"Pretty much any of those in lethal quantities, but it has to be her. Anything she possesses will not result in her death, though it might temporarily weaken her if they overstretch their powers."
Kuir asked, "How do you know its a she? We never saw the attacker."
"That's not important," Rishu avoided telling them because it would be discounted, "what's important is not underestimating anything. Her powers are strange to us humans and they haven't been experienced for millennia."
Tala hit the bag as hard as she could. She was put in a rehabilitation program in order to recover from the attack, which required extensive exercise and training to regain her previous physical state.
It was barely tough for her, where is was painful before. The doctors had wanted her to slow down the rate of progression but she and Ralyn pushed it. She didn't have time to wait, she needed to fight and to be out there now to show that she would end this war. That would not happen from a hospital bed.
Rishu and Kuir checked in on her periodically for her status but were still managing the siege and the supply routes, respectively. It was Rishu's next check-in a month after the briefing on what the assailant was that he brought grim news.
"The witch has begun harassing troops. Its nothing we can't deal with for now, but escalation is a problem I don't want to deal with. I am going to be staying at the siege for now to handle things personally. My second, Captain Liam, will be here to do anything you ask. His men are skilled enough, they were the ones that ran through the lines and got into the Omashu Palace."
"That might be a problem since they were turned on by my kin in that same battle."
Rishu nodded admittedly, "True, well, Liam will still be of service and will be more than happy to help."
Liam entered in and bowed to the Avatar, "It is good to see you well Avatar, we were all worried for you. May I say you look stunning," his eyes shone for a moment.
Tala blushed briefly before she realized it and stopped as soon as she noticed. She nodded, "Thank you, Captain."
The bag reeled as another well-placed punch landed. Tala continued throwing everything she had. She was alone as she continued alone in the middle of the night so no one would stop her. She felt that the regimen was too slow, even Ralyn was being too careful.
After a series of jabs, she sent a powerful strike that sent the bag reeling, it came back only because of the chain that tied it up. A clap came from the left. She quickly turned to see Liam there watching.
"But you could use some refinement."
Tala took a scowl for a moment when Liam stepped forward, "Its not all about strength. Accuracy is vital. If you can hit the right spot, it will take less energy and therefore let you last longer in a melee."
Tala took the moment to breathe as her exhausted body drenched in sweat against her tight training clothes. Tala countered, "And what if the opponent is Kuir, a beast that can take any light jab? You'll need the power behind your strikes to stop him."
"Yes, but you can't win a fists-to-fists with Kuir. You need even more accuracy and agility to face him. Chi Blocking is a good alternative and is all about well placed strikes."
"Yes, I know. I also know that if your strike misses its mark, it is useless. If I strike at the muscles on your collarbone to paralyze you, and I accidentally hit your shoulder blade, then the strike is a waste."
"So you're familiar with the art?"
"Enough to know it's strengths and weaknesses."
Liam looked around, surveying the equipment in the training room, "I think you could use a sparring partner."
"Mm-hm, it would certainly be better than a bag of sand."
Tala wasn't sure how to respond. She had a feeling she knew the real reason for this proposal, but at the same time she knew it would help to have assistance. She didn't want to play this game but knew it would help her recover. She mulled it over and decided, "Very well, lets see what you got."
She assumed a stance and waited for Liam to move. He made his signature smile as he lightly stepped forward. He was incredibly light on his feet, like an airbender. He circled around watching and observing before striking.
He came in from the left and sent a left jab out. Tala instinctively blocked it, to which Liam took advantage of. He grabbed her wrist and spun her around, she was pinned between him and the ground. He quickly released her and stepped back, "Don't block something that is going to miss, bob and weave."
She nodded as she stood up. Liam struck again, this time from the right and went for a direct hit. She slid with the hit and sent her elbow in, giving him a light tap on the forehead to show she had made contact. Liam smiled before taking a more serious look.
He crouched slightly as he moved forward. A blindingly fast strike came at her. She barely was able to pat it down when another came, she shielded her chest with her arms when another flurry came.
She countered with a palm strike that pushed him back. She needed space, Liam was even more dangerous in a close quarter fight than she thought. Liam came with an uppercut from the left. He seemed to not favor either side when fighting, which made predicting the next hard.
Her chance came when he sent a straight punch for her. She rolled with the blow, and was now fully on side with it. She grabbed his arm and twisted, she rolled and made him roll with her. After she stopped he was on his back and she was over him. To prevent him from trying to get back up she dropped her knees on his arms and sat on his chest.
He smiled while chuckling, "Very good. Used my own weight and momentum against me and then pinned me down before I could recover. So what are you going to do with your prisoner now?" He asked suggestively.
Tala smirked, he didn't give up. She didn't know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing right now.
Her mulling it over was interrupted when a messenger entered the training room. He had an odd look when he saw Tala sitting on Liam. Tala closed her eyes in frustration, she could only imagine what rumors would go out the minute the man went back to camp.
She stood up and Liam followed suit. He walked over to Liam and handed him a piece of paper, "From the Grand Marshal's office, Captain."
Liam read the note as the man left, "Rishu was attacked by assassins. It seems things are getting pretty bad."
"Is he alright?"
"He's fine, but he says to be careful, he thinks that you will be a target too. He says that I should watch out for you. I guess we'll be spending more time together. Shall we continue?"
"I think that'll be enough for the night."
Liam bowed his head lightly before he left. Tala wiped her face with a towel thinking on what happened. While she was concerned about the attack on Rishu, she was more occupied with Liam.
The handsome captain was certainly taking his chances. She didn't want to think about anything, especially after just ending things with Kulek; but it made her feel good. The way he looked at her, even when she was sweaty and tired, not at all presentable, and still he looked at her and smiled. She smiled just thinking about that feeling, of being wanted. Her, not the Avatar and her powers.
- Lenet's kind has various names based on where the name came from. In real life it is from Azerbaijani, where Sehr mean damnation/spell, and Nifrin means curse/malediction.
- Liam is certainly trying hard to get Tala's attention.
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|