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Blood and Swamps
November 25, 2012
War and blood have spread across the world again as nations seek to overpower one another. The Avatar is meant to bring balance to the world. But she is enclosed within the great city of Omashu while the Black Dragon plots. Avatar Tala must master the elements and seek a path to continue her journey as the Avatar.
Chapter 3: Kin
Fear spread through the city of Omashu. Word spread like wildfire of the Dai Li in the city. People became suspicious of each other. Neighbors who had known each other for years were now accusing each other of being Dai Li in secret. The defenders of the city were performing raids and searches on anyone suspected and imprisoning them if they had anything to guess.
In it all Tala defied the King of Omashu by walking around the city in her spare Dai Li uniform. She consistently patrolled the city to see if any of her brothers or sisters were captured, and if hurt, she made the guards pay for it. Three men had already had hands and wrists broken by the Avatar for their abusive methods.
Urri wanted nothing more than to lock her up. But to punish the Avatar would show how divided the city had become and rob them of their greatest weapon in this siege against the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation.
Ustad walked through the city calmly, dressed as a normal man. Since word spread of his people's existence, problems arose. The old hideaway had to be destroyed and a new one made where most of their people hid.
A problem was that when the war started and all the outlying villages fled to the city, they were placed in specific districts. Omashu correctly assumed they would find their prey there. Two of their number had been caught; a young man who worked in the chute system and a young mother who helped train, the only saving grace was Li was able to get their kids out before they were taken too, and used as leverage.
He had heard of the rumors now in the city as well; that the Avatar was roaming through the districts in a Dai Li uniform. Ustad knew she meant to show her support, but it was inflammatory and foolish. He had given orders to all members to withhold from seeing her so as to avoid association and problems.
He wondered how this fear-mongering would affect the war. More troops were now in Old Omashu than before, searching and raiding houses to find suspects. That meant less troops fighting to protect the city from the siege.
An Overlooked Opportunity
The Grand Marshal sat in his desk writing communiques for the day's command. As he and Liam were discussing logistics, one of the high-ranking officers of the Fire Nation military entered. A colonel, Rishu did not particularly like him and thought little of his bureaucratic ways; however, he was a noble of a powerful family back in Capital City, and he wanted to be in the Air Force.
The proud and vain man strutted forward, "Grand Marshal, sir, I have some important intelligence I have received."
"Very well, speak."
"With all due respect, sir. This should only be between high officers."
"Liam is an officer with a prestigious reputation and a career of exemplary service in our forces, something you lack, Colonel Chan. Speak."
Chan hesitated for a moment, "I have made some contacts and spies within the enemy ranks of the city of Omashu, they have informed me of a developing situation within the city."
"Keep going, because I'm not going to guess."
"The Avatar is a descendant of the Dai Li." That made Rishu pause for a moment, Chan continued, "Her family is in Omashu, they are now being hunted by the city and the Avatar opposes it. She's walking around in a Dai Li uniform."
"Interesting, are they spending resources hunting them down?"
"Yes, sir. They are putting more men into these districts in Old Omashu where they are looking through the refugees. They are imprisoning suspects and raiding houses."
"Good. Lets leave the situation as is then."
"If Omashu wants to waste resources hunting ghosts, let them. The better for us."
"But sir, we can use them to help us invade. Perhaps even take the King of the city captive."
"Lieutenant Liam, what do you think of the colonel's plan."
"I think there are some merits to reaching out to the Dai Li within the city for surveillance purposes and an alliance."
"You see, even-"
Liam continued above Chan, "However, sir. We don't know enough to use this for use beyond this. How many are there? Can they get access to necessary locations. Furthermore, we can't trust them."
"They are an organization known for their treachery. They are being hunted. They are connected to the Avatar by blood. And they have a history with the Fire Nation."
"That's true. Such a dangerous past can leave bitter resentment. We are, after all, the reason for their fall from power in Ba Sing Se." Rishu seemed to prefer Liam's advice.
"Sir, I think we should make the most of this situation." Chan protested.
"Then do so by using them for an alliance for surveillance and safety of their families if they have them."
Chan appeared as if he felt overlooked and under-appreciated for his genius. But he knew the Black Dragon was too dangerous to challenge, his family couldn't protect him from the Grand Marshal, "Yes, sir."
As he left, Rishu turned to Liam, "If we can win over the Avatar or further the doubt in her mind, going through with Chan's plan will be sound. But we should wait for now."
A Tough Pill To Swallow
Hava walked along the courtyard of the training grounds consulting a young man who needed help. "I sympathize with you Kulek, but breaking a promise to Tala that you would keep silent after she vouched for you is not so easily forgiven."
"How could I keep this from the council? Did you expect me to keep this from you? I am a master after all."
"Listen to me, this choice was about what was more important to you. Your duty or your love? For Tala, it appears that you chose duty over her."
Kulek sat there silent, thinking in a new light. His self-reflection ended with the verbal arrival of Ralyn into the training grounds, "Alright, airheads! Out of the grounds time for some ice and water!"
Hava chuckled, "Don't worry Ralyn, we won't intrude on your exercise."
"Lessons you mean, 'Master' Hava. We are training the Avatar today."
Before Kulek could compute the realization, Tala came in. Dressed in her Dai Li uniform, arms crossed in back. Her hat covered her eyes as she silently crossed the fountains to the center of the grounds.
Without heeding the two Nomads, she bowed to Ralyn and stepped back, assuming a stance for combat. Ralyn obliged her, sending three streams of water at the Avatar. Tala's waist and above took circular motions, redirecting one stream and pulling the others around and back at Ralyn.
Ralyn caught the streams, turning them into a water cloak. She struck forward. Tala made a pinwheel of water to catch the attacks. She then counterattacked, sending icicles at Ralyn. Ralyn easily broke the shards of ice with hits from her fists.
Tala spun her body with a blade of water around her. As she stopped, the blade charged forward and struck for Ralyn. Ralyn had to roll back from the attack, which cut into the stone, making deep gouges.
Ralyn stood up, smiling, "Impressive. You took the offensive, turning attacks against you into attacks for you. This is the essence of combat in waterbending."
Tala bowed her response, "Yes, Master."
Ralyn continued the lesson thereafter with teaching her new techniques and understanding how to truly feel the water. After she was finished Tala left as Kulek tried to catch up to her, Tala ignored his calls.
Ralyn taunted him, "Tell me 'Master' Kulek, how many have been captured since you broke your word? Or have you not kept track?"
Kulek turned and charged for Ralyn, who calmly waited. A disaster was averted when Hava stopped him, "No. She wants to bait you, to teach you a lesson in manners and power, do not treat her to it." He then looked at Ralyn, "You should know better than to bait someone."
"If he wants to brag about being a master, then he should be ready to defend such statements of pride."
Hava left with Kulek in tow. "Ralyn can't attack anyone here without reason, if you give her this, she can seriously hurt you and claim defense. Control yourself, or she'll control you."
A New Partnership
New Omashu was relatively calm as the battle lines had not crossed fire with each other for some time. The small party of firebenders entered an abandoned building along the lines in a blind spot. A rickety stair led the group up to a second story where five men waited for them.
The man in the middle of the room spoke, the brim of hit hat concealing his eyes, "Were you spotted?"
"No. Things are quiet today."
The man nodded and sat down at a table away from the windows, the leader of the firebenders joined him and pulled back his hood.
The Dai Li agent spoke, "So tell me Colonel-?"
"Colonel Chan, what exactly are you looking for in this alliance?"
"First, we can make an arrangement for both financial and support as well as offer any of your young safe conduct for help in surveillance of the city. Patterns of patrols, numbers, logistics, weak points."
"I see, so anything that can help you win and we may get some money for our troubles."
Chan pressed beyond his orders, "If a particular group was able to help us capture the rebel king, then perhaps they would have high status within the new leadership of the city when Prince Kuir takes over."
"And if said group made it a condition that it be a joint venture for us?"
"Then we could perhaps agree." Chan smiled.
Tala looked out over the ledge, as the day was coming to an end. Things had been easy on the warfront but harder inside where people were accusing each other of monstrosities of actions and crimes, mostly between bitter neighbors and families, and rarely were the accusations correct.
She was disappointed in the city. They had not suffered under the Dai Li, nor had they been in their presence all that time ago. But yet they insisted on hunting people they never knew, people who tormented themselves over the actions of their ancestors everyday.
She heard the vacuum of flames. And it was too close to be New Omashu. She rushed instantly to the throne of the palace expecting to find someone still there. She found a Lotus Sentry rushing through, "What's going on?"
"We're under attack. Somehow Fire Nation Troops got past the bridges, they being led by earthbenders."
Another voice answered, "Family." The man dismissed the sentry, it was Liman.
"The earthbenders helping the Fire Nation Invaders are wearing the same uniforms as you."
"Yes, and they're cutting through us like butter! We-" Tala began running, "Where are you going!?"
"To their target, trust me!" Tala kept going.
A wedge formation of Dai Li and Fire Nation troops pressed forward at a fast speed, not giving the enemy enough time to react to their attack. The Dai Li struck fast and with deadly force and the firebenders gave no less themselves.Most of the defenders were too shocked to truly hold up and easily broke to the attack, fleeing the intimidating sight of the Dai Li. Ustad led the men with Colonel Chan and Li at his sides.
They easily pressed into the fortress. Ustad recalled his last visit. He had broken in with his wife to take back Tala after King Urri abducted her. They had put several men into the hospital but were eventually captured. They were escorted to the throne room to be read their punishment when the reason for their attack was explained.
Ustad would love nothing more than to send a stone dagger made from an earth glove through the heart of the thief king who took his daughter from him. The trick was to get him as he was there.
They easily navigated the palace with Ustad's memory. Reaching the doors of the throne room. Chan stepped forward and charged a massive blast of flame, destroying the door.
He led the way in as the force entered to take the throne room. The King was on his seat watching in anger, his guard arrayed around him. But ahead of his bodyguards was a lone defender, midway between the two groups.
She stood there calmly and motionless head looking down slightly as her hat covered her eyes.
"Father." She answered stoically.
This was not a good situation. Tala stood there between Urri and his royal guards, and a contingent of Dai Li and Fire Nation Soldiers, led by none other than her father and uncle Li. Some Fire Nation Colonel was presently at lead, having blown open the door.
The Colonel spoke, vanity present, "Stand aside, child, you're not our target here."
"The King is under my protection, colonel. You'll have to get through me to reach him." She put a foot back and prepared a stance for defense.
"A traitor to your own people, who stand with me. Clearly you are a fool. I can't believe Rishu hasn't taken you out yet. I guess that honor will go to me."
As the proud man boasted, the stoic Dai Li looked at each other. Li and Ustad shared glances and then moved.
"You'll be the youngest living Ava- argh!" Chan's hand was twisted at a harsh angle by Li as Ustad turned and sent a wave of stones at the firebenders. The Dai Li with them also attacked, easily subduing the unsuspecting Fire Nation soldiers.
Ustad spoke to the kneeling colonel as he moved forward, trying to resist the grip Li had on him, "Something you should understand about us," he stood side by side with Tala, "we never betray our own."
Tala smiled at her father, he returned the gesture. Urri spoke "Take them away."
His guards moved to take the Fire Nation soldiers and their colonel. As the men were filed out, Liman, Hava, Kulek, Arkoda, Uluk, and Ralyn arrived ready to fight. Urri stepped forward to Tala. She spoke calmly, "King Urri, if you recall, this is my father, Ustad, head of the Dai Li."
"I remember you Ustad. And in hindsight should have guessed, given how powerful you were to take down a dozen of my guards." He reached out his hand.
Ustad looked at his hand for a moment before reaching out and shaking it, "My people have spent the last two centuries keeping it that way."
Hava stepped forward, "Is everything alright?"
Urri responded, "Yes, the Dai Li have saved me from the Fire Nation infiltrators and captured them."
Hava nodded, knowing there was more to the story, "What shall we do with the prisoners?"
"Offer a trade," Ustad spoke, "Their leader is Colonel Chan. His family is powerful in the Fire Nation and will want him back. Trade him for those you lost on the full moon."
Urri smiled, "Yes. We will spare and release the prisoners in exchange for all of our captured."
Chan walked forward as the hood was pulled off his face, he was in New Omashu now, evident by all the metal and steel. He was in the front except for some Omashu Royal Guards. The leader of which then spoke, "Stop here."
"For the people who will pick you up."
A smile spread across his face. A prisoner exchange, he knew he was too important to be left in the hands of the enemy, he knew too much. Soon his rescue arrived, A commander led a battalion and with them was their own set of prisoners. At the head of the prisoners were three particular individuals that have their own reputations. General Suun was King Urri's brother and a powerful earthbender. Grand Lotus Kuel, a master firebender and leader of the Order of the White Lotus. And Simi Rohan, the most troublesome of the three; the Air Nomad easily withstood interrogation due to a high tolerance for pain from his burned side. He also attempted escaped frequently that were annoyances. Chan recalled those, wondering which would be released. Surely not all of them would be traded? But of course, his family had pull.
The Commander of the Fire Nation troops stepped forward, "You have your prisoners?"
The Captain of the Royal Guard answered, "Aye."
"Lets walk them forward at the same time."
The captain untied Chan and beckoned him to continue on. The prisoners on both sides walked forward to their freedom. Chan passed Suun, a stern man. Chan and his men joined their troops. He immediately spoke to the commander, "Good to be back and out of the hands of savages."
The man did not share in his sense of humor. His face was still and calculating, "Grand Marshal Rishu has ordered you to his tent to receive orders."
Chan did as told after being led out of New Omashu. He reached the tent of the Grand Marshal without incident, but heard the whispering of the men. No doubt, he expected they were in awe of how quickly he was returned. Little did he know that their whispers were about the punishment he would receive for angering the Black Dragon.
Chan entered the tent, yet again strutting. Rishu, like before, was sitting at his desk, signing papers and communiques.
"Sir, I have returned."
"I see that, stand at attention." Chan did so, Rishu then continued, "I'll be honest. If not for your family, I would have left you to rot in Omashu, even when we captured the city. However, your family is still important, and for their sake, I traded the most important leaders of the defense of Omashu to retrieve you. You will be reprimanded."
"Yes, sir." Chan smiled smugly, there was little that could be done to him, even when he failed.
"And I am sending you back to the Homeland, along with your men to receive new orders and a new commander."
"I am demoting you to captain for disobedience."
"I had to trade all my prisoners to recover you and your men. You defied my specific orders about the nature of a potential alliance and then you failed and were caught."
"This is an outrage!"
"It is deserved. Of course you could go back to the navy, where your family has pull, or rather did before Grand Admiral Alov took over. He'll likely set you back to petty officer when he hears what you did."
"You would suggest I go to that savage!"
"That 'savage' is a Grand Marshal and a ranking officer over you, 'Captain' Chan. You best remember that."
Chan turned red with anger, "You little-!" He moved for Rishu.
His charge was stopped with a swift hit to the temple with a hilt. Liam stepped up, standing over the unconscious man, "Shall I finish him off, sir?"
"No, send 'Lieutenant' Chan back home and his men shall stay here to follow their new commander."
"I think it is time you showed your new equals, your leaderships skills, Captain Liam."
Liam was stunned, "Thank you, sir." He grabbed the unconscious Chan and dragged him out.
He walked forward uneasily, it had been months now since he had been in the throne. He tugged at the clasp of his cape nervously before the doors opened. When he and the party he led entered, cheering ensued. Many of the various people in the city for its defense were present.
What shocked him was the person standing at the foot of the throne. Tala stood stoically, in dark robes that reminded him of some book he read long ago. He soon realized a group of these people were also present.
Urri was waiting at throne with a smile on his face. But his brother had a sadness about him, he then noticed it, his nephews were missing. They were gone.
Kuel sat down along with the high ranking who were captured, joining them was King Urri, Hava Jinorra, Tala, and Liman. With them was an older man who wore the same outfit that Tala was wearing, and looked a lot like her too.
The council started with greetings and welcome as prisoners were returned. Urri started the deliberations soon after. Eventually it came to a disliked subject of torture and interrogation.
"Who has been interrogated?"
Suun spoke up, "I believe it is safe to say we were all interrogated there."
"Did anyone break?"
They went down the line of leadership captured. All but Suun, Kuel, and Simi, broke for one thing or another. Luckily those three held the most important information.
As deliberations ended, Suun went to Tala, who answered warmly, "Its good to have you back, General Suun."
"Its good to be back." he looked to the older man next to Tala, "And who is this gentleman?"
"Suun, this is Ustad, my father, leader of the Dai Li."
"It seems I have missed much since I was captured."
"You have no idea."
- Ustad has made it clear that the Dai Li serve themselves, but they are loyal to each other, and will not betray a member.
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|