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How many days have passed like this? I'm so alone, so lost inside of me. Yet my journey carries on. Sometimes I dream of you and me simply talking to each other. But now that he's me I know that there's no looking back. As long as I'm alive I'll keep on struggling. Just know that you'll always be a part of me, somewhere deep inside, lying with my broken pieces. I'm sorry I made you cry, sorry that it will be our last memory. I just wish I could have seen your smile a first and last time.
Furiously, Hikari leaped in the air like a bird of prey towards Mayvin, who effortlessly slapped her down like a fly with a water whip. As soon as she hit the ground, the airbender got back up, took an air impulse and charged again, but this time closer to the floor.
As nonchalantly as ever, the waterbender swung his arm from left to right and his whip followed, threatening to strike Hikari on her side. However, just before the water hit her flank, I heard the girl taking out some sort of small blade from her jacket, which she threw at Mayvin with incredible speed, probably boosted by airbending. The whip changed its course and stopped the dagger a few inches before it could pierce into the waterbender's face, but doing so gave Hikari time to get close to him. With swift dexterity, the girl pulled out another blade, but before she could do anything with it, Mayvin quickly raised his left arm and water suddenly appeared from nowhere and then froze around Hikari's arm, stopping her attack. The waterbender then took a stance with his arm behind him, as if he was preparing to punch her. However, his fist was open and a vast amount of water was gathering in his palm in a condensed small sphere. The airbender tried to step back, but Mayvin was quicker; he stroke the girl in the stomach with his opened palm, which made the highly pressurized water sphere explode, sending Hikari flying away.
"She made you use both of your arms," I said stolidly after confirming that the girl was lying unconscious several meters away. Since we began traveling together, she had made a habit of challenging Mayvin to regular duels. Supposedly, they were fights to death, but while the airbender was clearly aiming for just that, her opponent had never decided to kill her.
Oddly, the usually emotionless waterbender chuckled lightly. "Indeed," he then replied. "The speed at which she improves never stops to surprise me. If I hadn't condensed the air vapor to stop her arm, I'd be agonizing on the ground with a pierced lung."
"She may be improving, but she'll hit a wall sooner or later. The way she uses airbending is wrong. It's not supposed to be used in an aggressive way."
"Well, maybe you're right. Or maybe she'll develop a new fighting style more effective than the older one."
I dismissed his suggestion and asked what have been on my mind for quite some time. "If you're this strong, why were you letting the mad earthbender leading Cerberus? After fighting him, I have a hard time believing that he could've defeated you."
"You just caught him off-guard. Considering how your body was, you shouldn't have been able to even stand straight at that time. Beside, you seem to be misunderstanding something. Cerberus had no leader. I just listened to him because he'd get mad if I didn't and it would've been a bother to deal with it."
"So that you're saying that the lightning user tortured me with her electricity out of her own free will? Good to hear. It only means that I'll enjoy it even more when I'll pay her back."
"You shouldn't take Zapp too lightly. Honestly, when it comes to fighting, I've never seen anyone as good as her. Strength, agility, stamina, instinct, intelligence, and especially speed, she has it all. And that's nothing compared to when she combines all of those with her prodigious lightning bending. I've never actually seen her firebend normally, but she uses lightning as easily and as fast as I waterbend, if not better. Her only flaw would –"
"Mayvin," I interrupted him. "You talk too much. It doesn't suit you. Wake the girl up and let's get going."
"Right," he simply replied, unshaken by my rebuke.
"And one more thing," I added as he poured water onto Hikari's face. "The old Cerberus might not have had a leader before, but it has one now, remember that."
How many years have passed like this? I'm so alone, so lost in this broken world. Why did it turned out like this? It was supposed to be a world of peace and prosperity. Children should have been running and playing on vast and fertile lands. Instead, they are digging dry and sterile earth with a collar around their neck. I'm the one who started it all and trying to stop it would only makes things worse. Is there no one out there who could relieve me of my burden?
"How long to our destination?" I asked as we settled a camp fire for the night.
"We should arrive before dusk tomorrow," answered Mayvin.
"You guys do realize that we're being followed, right?" said Hikari as she pulled out a dagger.
"Of course," I replied, assertive. "He begun tailing us since we entered this wasteland."
"That's two days. You knew all this time and did nothing?"
"Don't worry about it," I retorted, unconcerned. "I have plans for him. Mayvin, wait." Disinterested by our conversation, the waterbender had begun to walk away, but sighed of disappointment as I called him back. "Now that we're almost there, I have questions and I need answers."
He let out another sigh, but his time of exasperation. "Alright. Ask away," he said as Hikari moved away to pretend to occupy herself with something else while eavesdropping on us.
"First, about the night when you attacked the rebels' camp. The... mad earthbender said that he had acquired "the objective". What did he mean?"
"I don't know. Don't give me this scary look, it's true. It was his mission. Zapp and I only came because he asked us to create a diversion."
"And you didn't even asked him why?" I asked, incredulous.
"I didn't care why. I still don't, to be honest."
I sighed. "So this 'Zapp' may know?"
"Possibly," he replied, uncertain. "But I doubt it. Zapp didn't like when we meddled in her business, so she refrained to meddle in ours most of the time."
"Alright. Now about your bending abilities." Upon hearing my words, Mayvin's body suddenly stiffened. I was right to ask. "Can you bloodbend?"
For a while, he stared at me in silence, trying to figure me out. "Why is it that you, who must have spent most of your life under the ground as a slave, happen to know about a secret waterbending art?" he finally asked.
"Answer the question," I replied menacingly.
After another silence, he once more let out one of his sigh. "Only during a full moon."
"Good. And are you able to block someone's bending?"
Again, surprise of my knowledge showed on his face, but he didn't try to question me this time. "To some extent. I've work as an Inhibitor in the past, but it's been a while since I've done it, so I might need some practice to get back to the level I was."
"Inhibitor? What's that?"
"You know about bending blocking, but not about the Inhibitors?" he asked in a tone that told me he wasn't sure if he believed me. I kept silent so that he would continue. "Well, alright. Inhibitors are a selected few waterbenders chosen by the Avatar himself who are able to 'inhibit' someone's chi flowing through bloodbending. Because of this ability, they are responsible of removing the slaves' bending and are the highest executives of the slavery system and report directly to the Avatar."
As he told me this, I remembered what I knew of how things worked in the mine I used to work in. There were the Spares, my former family and I, who were slaves forced to work under terrible conditions. Then there were the Skinners who acted as supervisors and punishers. They were always armed with special wooden sticks that often ripped the skin off the bodies of those they hit. Evidently, the Skinners were only just brutes incapable of managing the mine by themselves. That's where the Inquisitors played their role. As executives, they ruled the mine with an iron fist and as master metalbenders, they were the only one capable of opening and closing the massive metal grid marking the only exit that I had so often looked up at in hope of one day escaping to the surface with all of my friends.
Now I knew what would have happen if one of the Spares had been caught bending. One of these Inhibitors would have come to suppress the bending abilities of the slave. That is, if the latter survived a probable beating by the Skinners.
"That's all for now," I dismissed him
Only half satisfied by the answers he gave me, I got up and started walking toward the spy who had been following us for some time. He was quite a distance away from us, far enough to be unseen by standard means, but close enough to see our fire camp from his position. And to be within my reach.
Slowly, I took a long, deep breath and a steady stance. Then, as I exhaled the air from my lungs, I swiftly but firmly stomped the ground with my foot and a scream resounded where the spy had been hiding. I had trapped him in a rock coffin.
Without losing a second in case the man was an earthbender, I ran at full speed toward the improvised prison. When I got there, the spy was hitting the walls from the inside with desperate strength. I studied him.
He was short and thin with long hair tied in a ponytail. From the shape of his body, I deduced that he was quite young; no more than fifteen years old. His muscles were weak, but he didn't seem to be unhealthy from a lack of food or water. In other words, he was too weak to be an imperial soldier, but not enough to be a wasteland brigand here to rob us.
To talk to him, I poked his prison with my fingertip, opening a small hole through it. Startled, the spy suddenly stopped his beating against the earth and tried to look through the hole.
"Let me out!" he cried. His voice was young, as I had expected, and fear was obviously strong in it.
"I'm afraid I can't," I retorted with a calm but intimidating voice. "You'll have to answer a few questions, lad."
"I won't tell you anything, you damn traitor!"
Traitor? So he was a rebel. And not a smart one. That meant that the Rebellion wasn't happy that I left. Or maybe they were after Mayvin for being a member of old Cerberus. But why follow us this far? I thought it didn't make sense but then remembered "the objective". Cerberus had attacked one of the rebels' camp only to leave right after they had acquired it. It must have been important.
"What does Jin want?" I asked him menacingly.
"I'm not like you. I won't tell anything." His voice had changed from terrified to determined. He had guts. But had he enough?
"You will. Because if you don't, I'll make sure not to kill you."
For a while, he tried to understand my words. "You don't make any sense," he then said.
"Really?" I retorted, purposely adding pleasure to my voice. "Tell me, do you know what's worse than dying in horrible pain?" His eyes widened as he realized where I was getting at. "Indeed. It's to live in horrible pain."
Terrified, the boy fell on his knees, convinced that I was serious. And I was. To stay alive in this world, one needed to be the one hurting others rather than the one to be hurt. I had learned this the hard way after experiencing torture for a second time. The countless scars on by body itched as I recalled those suppressed memories.
I suddenly came back to the present when I realized that something was wrong. Inside the earth prison, the boy's breathing and heartbeat were quickly slowing. I swiftly swung my arm, opening the cage, and bent over to examine the boy. His mouth reeked of a poison used by rebel assassins. I had been careless.
He was dead. I gritted my teeth and hit the ground with my fist. Stupid! If I had not been so distracted by my own thoughts, I should have been able to detect the small poison capsule inside his mouth with my seismic sight. Now every bit of information he could have been holding was lost.
Are you angry?
I was angry. At the boy, but mostly at myself. I had let precious knowledge slip me by.
Is that really the source of your anger?
I straightened up. The boy's lifeless body was now lying on the hard ground, with his eyes wide open. He would never become an adult. He would die in this wasteland where none of the people who cared about him would ever find him. His body would decay and be eaten by the wilds. A kid.
I felt nothing at that.
Do you really?
I left his body alone in the dark of the night and headed back to the camp.
Everyone acknowledge that nightmares are only bad dreams. I don't. I believe that it is the dreams that are good nightmares. While it may seem to be saying the same thing in a different way, I believe that this difference changes the meaning of the sentence completely. The same could be said about death being the end of life. It is wrong. Life is the prelude to death. Darkness is always present before light. Something is always empty before it is filled. And the world is first evil before balance is brought to it. That is the answer I have come to believe after living for so many years.
"Here we are," said Mayvin.
I 'looked' at the place. It was a rather small village at the very edge of the wasteland, marked by a small river going through it and a bit of vegetation. I reckoned that no more than a hundred folks lived inside of it. The houses were big, but there were only a few of them. I located a market place at the center, with merchant stands placed a bit everywhere.
I frowned. The people who lived here were living their life so freely it angered me. What have they been doing while my friends and I rotted underground for years? Had they ever wonder where did the metal they were trading came from? Had they ever experience the hardship of working under a whip? Had they ever been so tired from their day's work that all the muscles of their body ached and their head spun so much it prevented any kind of rest and their heartbeat seemed like a hammer pounding their temple every single second? For a moment, I wished I could make them feel all of the pain that I had ever endured, but quickly collected myself. Focus. I had only one purpose for coming here. As soon as I would have ended the lightning bender, we would head for Imperial City. I reminded myself that I also needed to seek answers before doing that.
We had walked all the day before arriving here, so most of the villagers had closed themselves in their house for the night. I tried to approach those who hadn't, but as soon as anyone spotted us, they ran into their home, abandoning whatever they were doing previously. Outsider didn't seem to be welcomed here.
When the last person had fled, Hikari proposed to forcibly open a house and ask our questions and I was about to agree when I sensed someone coming out from their home to meet us. As I looked at her through my seismic sight, I knew that we had found Zapp.
I suddenly understood why Mayvin had been so wary about her. Her gait was balanced and steady and precise. She was about the same height as me and, though she was lighter, seemed much more imposing. The muscles of her body were trained as strong as they could be without having too much mass, offering her the perfect balance between speed and power. Her body was like a weapon in itself. Her facial structure seemed to indicate that she was younger than me. I noticed that her left eye, covered by a strand of hair, was crossed by a scar in the exact same way that both of my own eyes were. Had she been a slave at some point? I decided that it did not matter.
"Isn't that Mayvin? What are you doing here?" she asked. I could feel an unfailing confidence in her voice, which sounded more mature than what I would have guessed.
I spoke before the waterbender could. "We're here for you."
She turned her face towards me and suddenly all my instinct tingled and made me unconsciously take a step backward. I could not even see it, but the single glare she shot at me had achieved to intimidate me. Every muscled in my body stiffened. Her presence was overwhelming and I suddenly knew that I couldn't win a fair fight against her.
Too bad for my questions. I needed to take her out now while I still had the element of surprise.
As swift as a snake, I raised both of my arms and a huge spike of earth rose obliquely from the ground at my feet and flew off at high speed toward my target.
In an instant, Zapp had somersaulted over the spike, generated lightning at her fingertips by circling her arms swiftly while in mid-air, landed steadily on the ground and shot her lightning at me. Almost at me. As the lightning passed right beside me, I felt some of its electricity surged through my body. I stood still, paralyzed both by the shock and my awe. She had missed on purpose.
"If you intend to fight, fine," she said, amused. "But let me ask you this before: Can you move faster than lightning?"
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