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Blood and Swamps
Novemebr 28, 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 4: The Edge
The air was cold and crisp as it funneled into the large canyon. The breeze hit against the building hanging down off the overhang, also hitting the airships in wait on the other side of the canyon.
Despite the tension and fear, there was calm. The far-seeing hazel eyes reached across the mist of the Western Air Temple. Master Jin Ikki calmly breathed as she stepped back from the ledge and entered the sanctuary.
A Master Lotus waited for her, "Well?"
"They're still there. At least six airships across from us, who knows how many forces wait above in the forests."
"I had hoped something would change after winter ended."
"Not unless we surrender."
"The council has already dealt with this issue. We have children we need to protect. We have the power of air on our side, we can hold out."
"I know."Jin looked at the Master Lotus, he was an airbender and the only Nomad to join the Order of the White Lotus, Tiin Meelo was a close friend of Jin's and led the expedition of aid that helped Clans Ikki and Meelo resettle the Western Air Temple.
She now was unsettled by the turn of events of late. Just last year, the Fire Nation sent a blockade of airships and ground forces in the forests above the temple. Trapped, they were forced to listen as the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom invaded Republic City, sieged Omashu, and other lands friendly to the Air Nomad clans. Both Clan Jinorra and Clan Rohan were stuck either at Air Temple Island, the only refuge of Republic City and Omashu, where they had been training the Avatar along with Hava Jinorra.
Word reached them of an eclipse in which to strike back. Unfortunately they did not have the numbers and only captured two airships, but at least they had supplies. Now it had been months since then and supplies were low. Were it not for fear of the children, they would surrender and risk the consequences.But the same fear for their children was also driving them to make foolish proposals. Someone suggested attacking the enemy in a brutal frontal assault, convinced the ferocity would scare the unsuspecting blockaders. This was insane as they were outnumbered ten to one.
Jin and Tiin entered the hall where they ate. The advantage of the White Lotus joining the settlement was that the earthbenders could dig in and make safe holdings that wouldn't be hurt so greatly like the Temple itself. This made the safety of the children that much easier as was the hope that they could dig a way out to protect themselves and escape.
But at the same time, people had been worrying as earthquakes were coming and going in the deep catacombs they formed. They had been more frequent in the last two months, almost daily.
"We should really check up on that. If those get any worse, we'll have to pull out of these catacombs." The Lotus Sentry eating his lunch said it offhand, but he was right.
Jin asked Tiin, "Who are the best earthbenders here?"
"Shen and his team, they're the ones that made this place."
"I think you should consider asking him to look into these quakes, they are coming more and more often."
Tiin had a look of disagreement, "They are our best earthbenders. If they're digging in the dirt while we're fighting, they'll never come in time."
"If these quakes continue at a progressive rate, which they are, then they'll do the job for the Fire Nation."
"Fine. But if there's a single hint at a battle, I'm withdrawing them and back to fighting here."
Jin nodded reluctantly, "Agreed."
The earth rolled back, against itself, compressing and moving back against the might of the mind of an earthbender. He punched again, pressing the tunnel further.
Three people stood behind him as he pushed forward. The thin man commented, "Why are we on shake patrol?"
"Shut your yapper, Stick" The man made a final motion before standing up and motioning the man, "Your turn."
He grunted and took his place, extending the tunnel. "So Shen, what did they tell you, exactly?"
"To investigate the source of the quakes." He looked to his female partner, "How many backup tunnels have you started?"
"Got one every hundred feet, we should be fine."
Shen looked to his final teammate. He was a nonbender, but his skill in science, mathematics and other attributes easily filled the void as the rest of the team lack his intellect. "How are we doing?"
He pressed his glasses closer as his light was on his notebook, filled with scribbles of notes. "We should be on course to go right to the side of the source of the quake. It should only be one hundred feet away from where we're standing."
"Well isn't that great!" The thin man punched forward again to bend the tunnel a little further; but when he did, the tunnel expanded and a rush of air tripped the earthbender, pushing him forward.
Instantly, a huge clash of sound hit the tunnel and they all gripped for their ears. Shen shouted over the noise, "Stick! You okay!"
A painful and awkward, "Yeah?!" followed.
Shen stepped forward into the expanse, seeing that his friend was laying down backwards over a pile of rocks. "Shen?"
"Next time, you're digging the entire thing."
Shen shook his head and lifted up the man. The other two teammates entered and they looked across the expanse to see the source of the sound and the shaking.
A massive drill, a hundred feet wide and twice as long. The sound of metal crunching the earth pierced the entire area. The four looked at each other and immediately ran for the tunnel. As they entered, "Stick, collapse the spare tunnels, I'll shut this down as we go!"
"Way ahead of you, boss!"
The Council sat solemnly as they listened to Shen and his team's report. Soon, they sat there silent as Shen's team exited the room. "So, the Fire Nation is going to attack, they're just playing a waiting game. And we were just sitting here the entire time."
"We have to act, we have to respond, or we'll just be overrun."
"We can use the past plan to evacuate through tunnels out into the Forests."
"The forests are filled with Firebenders, it'll be a slaughter. And that drill's activity may collapse any tunnels that are in that area."
Soon the council was arguing as Lotus, Ikki, and Meelo leaders were unsure of what to do. Master Lotus Tiin stood up, "Enough!"
The council quieted, Tiin continued, "Our first concern will be for the children. They are the future that this temple was meant for. If we can evacuate them, we can fight here without the same fears we had before."
A Clan Meelo monk stood up, "I agree. The safety of the children must come first."
The council slowly consented with Tiin's decision, "I suggest a small contingent of Lotus Sentries and Monks help escort the children to the North. From there, the Northern Fortress will protect them. I recommend that Sister Jin Ikki lead this escort."
"I can't. I have to stay and help fight."
"We need someone to protect those kids or the Fire Nation will capture them. We don't know what they'll do. We don't have Lio or Hava Jinora to protect them. You need to, or else five monks will need to go in your place."
The Council agreed on Jin and a contingent of five other nomads and ten Lotus Sentries on four sky bison. Jin still was against this but knew that she was one of the better benders in the clan.
Tiin came over as she packed a light bag. "Jin, we need someone powerful to protect the children, that is you."
"I should be fighting here where every bender can be used."
"You're worried that when you leave, there won't be a Clan Ikki or Meelo to return to, aren't you?" If Tiin could do anything, it was read people.
Tiin hugged her, tightly. She let the tears flow, fear consuming her. "I can't go thinking that I could have done something."
"Don't worry cuz, Clan Ikki and Meelo will survive."
The dark of night in the cloudy canyon helped to hide them. The Fire Nation had further prepared to keep the Western Air Temple locked down by setting outposts at the bottom of the canyon so no one tried to escape from below. But in the deep beneath the thick clouds and the dark of a moonless night, they had a plan.
Shen slid effortlessly down the cliffside. The mission was simple, he and the other earth and airbenders would sneak up on the outposts that lined the wall beneath the temple. As the sky bison flew past, no one could report and they would have a long enough lead to escape before the Fire Nation realized anything.
Shen landed and was soon joined by his strike team. An Air Nomad was with them. Shen had only begun to work with airbenders when the attack occurred and was still getting used to the advantages and disadvantages of their bending.
Shen nodded his head for them to move forward. All the teams had synchronized the strikes but couldn't send signals to confirm without alerting the outposts. Shen slid forward until he was two feet from the post. He saw two soldiers sitting down while a third worked on a box.
Shen jumped over immediately. As he landed he stomped his foot. A spinning chunk of rock lobbed forward to the busy soldier while the other two shot up to fight him. One was hit with a powerful gust of wind from above while the other was taken out by a rock to the back of the head.
Making sure there were no others, Shen sent the signal of success and whistled, five more responded, meaning success. He pulled out a flashlight and tapped the light three times in signal that the path was cleared.
The rustling of wind could be heard as four massive creatures flew by. They were shaggy furred with predominantly white and stripes of brown on its back and tail with an arrow on the head. They swept their tails forward, propelling themselves through airbending.
He watched as the four sky bison flew overhead on a clear trajectory for the north of the canyon. By the time anyone knew it, they would have enough of a lead to make it out. He spoke as they left eyesight, "Clan Ikki and Meelo will survive, with you Jin."
He left resigned to his fate, that they may fight to death here in the largest air temple.
Jin led the party as they continued to fly through the cloudy canyon the Western Air Temple resided in. After the sun rose, a Lotus Sentry asked, "What's next?"
"We keep going north out of this canyon. When we reach the end we'll hit a mountain go over it. We'll stop at the coast to rest before making a run for the continent, then we go to the Northern Fortress."
"And what if the Northern Fortress is also being overrun?"
Jin hesitated, "I don't know. Air Temple Island is out of the question. Republic City was the first place attacked. Our options then are the North Pole, South Pole or Omashu. Either way, we'll-"
Any discussion was cut off as a fireball seared through the sky. Jin yanked the reins to the right as the bison roared in surprise. Another fireball came though it was a wild shot. The next projectile was not fire. A capsule came spinning at them in a downward arc.
Jin stood up and fired an air jet at the projectile. The pressure of the hit set the capsule off, a massive explosion followed, blowing the passengers back and even turning the sky bison a little, who persisted forward.
"What was that!?"
"A bomb! The kind airships use!" Jin pulled up on the reins tightly, leading the bison in path that was almost straight up, "Hold on!" The others followed suit. As they continued up, more capsules and fireballs let loose at them. They spun the bison so that they could see the attacks while ascending.
As they pressed up, they heard the mechanical whirl of what could only be an airship follow them. It rose out of the deep beneath them. Jin slapped the reins, "Come on, Nara!"
Finally they escaped the obscured canyon and into light. To their left was mountain they were heading north for. The Lotus Sentry spoke up again, "There's no way we'll outrun that ship in the clear skies like this!"
"We're not heading for clear skies," she looked to the other nomads riding bison also, "To the mountain! We'll lose it in the columns."
"What are the columns?"
The Sky Bison frantically sped for the mountain as the airship ascended out of the mist and into the skies. It rotated around to pursue, resuming fire. The nomads had enough head start to be out of range of these strikes but only just.
Jin finally had a good look at the ship, "Had to be an Interceptor, didn't it?"
One of the kids hunkering down in the saddle spoke up, "What's an 'inspector'?"
"The 'Interceptor' is a type of airship made to overpower sky bison with overlapping fields of fire and multiple net cables. They tire their target out and then catch them."
The talkative Lotus Sentry spoke up again, "How are we going to lose it?"
"Those are meant to chase one or two sky bison, not four. And we give it a path that will make it work too hard to catch us."
The Sky Bison reached the mountain and dove in for a joining between two peaks. The Interceptor followed suit. As they sped over the joining, the found the start to the path they hoped would help them escape the airship. In the highest mountain peak was a massive opening far below, it led to the other side. The Nomads took it. The Interceptor continued straight for a moment while deciding how to proceed. The opening was large enough to fit the airship, but no one was enthusiastic about such a risk. But if they went over the mountain, the Sky Bison would get another head start over them that could get them to the edge of the mountains and lose them.
The Interceptor dove, following the bison into the expanse. The Interceptor followed them through without an incident, and continued to fight as firebenders tried to shoot down the bison before them.
The Nomads finally got out of the mountain and into the very area they hoped would lose the airship. It was a valley with rich green trees and forests below, but out of it came spiraling columns. They were wide enough for the Interceptor to fit but turn at hard angles.
Much like the infamous columns at the Wulong Forest, these columns stretched for miles, though not nearly as large an area as they did. However they were far taller than those in Wulong, presenting a problem that would take the Interceptor too long to ascend over. It pressed through trying to weave a path through while confined.
It opened fire on the sky bison with dozens of capsule. After the first wave, one of the columns was damaged enough to collapse, opening a path for the ship to follow the fleeing airbenders. It fired five cables. They sprung forward at a blinding speed but failed to hit their target.
Jin banked left to avoid both a cable net and a capsule as it spun their way. Still the concussive force of the explosions could be felt. The airship behind them had to turn right when it couldn't go through. The four bison and their riders had a brief respite as the attacks from the other side of the valley were generally too inaccurate.
The respite ended when the columns cleared briefly and the Interceptor gained on them. Jin yelled, "Spread out!"
The four Sky Bison split going different ways. Fast as they could muster they fled to the columns that resumed ahead. These columns were tighter and the Interceptor began scraping the edges as it pressed through.
In a final attempt, the Interceptor fired everything it had at once. With all eight cable-nets and dozens of capsule bombs, it carpeted the skies before it. One cable went searing forward straight to a Sky Bison. At the last second the rider pulled out of the way dodging the cable deftly. But as they turned they bumped a capsule, setting it off.
The Sky Bison fell, lost to the mist as was all that was with it.
The explosion rocked the air, but it was the screams that haunted Jin, before it was all drowned out by explosions from the rest of the capsules. Jin turned the bison, the sentry yelled, "What are you doing!?"
"We have to save them!"
"They're gone, there's nothing you can do!"
Jin didn't make it far as firebender soon sent streams of flame forward. Too much to overcome. Reluctantly, she turned back and followed the other Sky Bison, escaping.
The party of three Sky Bison and their riders were uneasy for some time and unsure if they had gotten away. But after hours, they were sure that the Interceptor had lost them. At dusk, they reached the beaches of the great island. They would rest for the night before making for the continent.
Silence haunted the camp. They had no fire for fear that they would be spotted. The children sat in fear and sadness, not understanding that their friends would never return. Jin sat alone on a ledge, tears flowing. The others had reassured her that nothing could have been done, but still she felt so horrible.
What was next? Would the Western Air Temple fall? Would more be lost along the way? Would they make it to the Northern Fortress only to find it captured?
Fear crept in. Where the light fades, the shadows consume.
- This chapter connects to 'Chapter 11: The Way Out' where Hava learns about what happened.
- Jin is broken by the lost in the columns. Even if unnamed, she knew everyone in Clan Ikki and Clan Meelo.
- Almost a dozen people were on the Sky bison that was hit.
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|