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|A Dark Art|
Blood and Swamps
December 24, 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 8: A Dark Art
Water cut into the stone deeply as it rushed for an evasive target. Smooth and flowing, the student rolled gracefully away from the flood of attacks and responded with her own. Two streams of water rushed to the master who defiantly stood against them, the water bent to her will stopping in place and making her shield.
She swung down and a blade emerged form the shield, forcing the student to roll away from it, she responded with a flurry of icicles. The shield caught most of them, but two broke through and were centimeters from the skin of the target.
The master smiled, "Very good, Avatar Tala. You are progressing well."
"Thank you, Sifu Ralyn."
"We are done for the day, we'll continue tomorrow. What?"
"Nothing, I just usually practice airbending with Master Hava when I'm done, but I still can't believe he just left the city with no explanation."
"Master Hava's reasons for leaving while we were in the Swamp are his. Should he wish to share them when he returns is his choice. Now go on, we'll see how well you've mastered a watersprout tomorrow; practice that."
Tala chuckled as she left. It still struck her as odd that Hava left without reason. He had received a communique and then burned it, leaving without explanation to anyone and a note to Tala not to follow him.
Kulek and Simi were both still training young students in airbending. Despite returning, Kulek still taught, though the younger ones, while Simi taught the advanced forms to the older kids who had progressed well.
Ustad sat down, drinking some tea while speaking with Li about patrol placements. Since their vindication, saving the King of Omashu, they were now part of the defense of the city, given patrol routes and paths in the city to protect, mostly in New Omashu, but some were stationed at the north gate.
"We could send Qin and Tao to lead the patrol, they're young and strong."
Ustad frowned, "They lack experience, we need a leader who has experience fighting."
He nodded, Sung was young but skilled having already fought in several fights including the double-cross where they breached the city with the Fire Nation. He showed potential and loyalty.
A knock on the door interrupted their silent planning. An agent nearby answered the door, and let the visitor in. "Hello, father."
Ustad smiled, "Tala." Tala bowed and then hugged him, "I am glad that your wounds from the Swamp have healed."
Tala winced at the mention. Just as she thought they were safe in the swamp, a Mongoose emerged and fired on them as they were leaving the swamp. Tala got some shrapnel in her leg because she wasn't paying attention. It wounded her pride more than her leg. "Yes, I'm fine thank you. I was just checking up, making sure things are fine." The tone was cautionary.
"Yes, everyone is fine. We have not been crossed."
"Okay. So what are you guys doing?"
Li responded, "Planning out our patrol. We're having Sung lead with some veterans and some younger warriors until they're ready to go it alone."
"Sung? He's barely finished training."
"He has fought as much as any of the older men and has a natural talent. We're inclined to give him the chance to lead for himself."
Tala knew Sung as well as any of the Dai Li. He was a year or so younger but as skilled an earthbender as Tala was, a feat for the younger generation of Dai Li. He had spent his life devoted to their ways and the Dai Li style of earthbending.
Ustad beckoned to one of the agents standing guard, "Call in Sung, we have some news for him."
"Yes, sir," the agent answered stoically as he departed to enforce the command.
"Where are you patrolling?"
"The north bridge."
"That's the worst area beside west!"
"And its our turn to patrol it."
As they were discussing the patrol, Sung entered he was a young and handsome man with skin slightly darker than normal for his family. He bowed to the group, "You sent for me?"
"Yes. Sung, you have shown skill and experience beyond your years, I think you have earned the chance to prove your skills in leadership. We are patrolling the north bridge today, you will lead."
Tala then interjected, "I would like to volunteer to join Sung's patrol."
Sung dumbly spoke, "Uh?..."
"A member that can bend elements won't hurt the patrol's chances."
Li agreed, "I think it is a good idea. Sung will have some operating room with the Avatar there to help him."
Tala walked along the rows but apart as they methodically marched in the night. The Dai Li operated best in the shadows and informed Omashu of this. Stealthy as shadows if they wished, half of their numbers were 'in the weeds' as the other marched in the undisturbed fashion that attributed to their mystique.
She reflected on the earthbending of her kin to that of the main styles. Dai Li was speed and lethality, but it was inflexible and lacked creativity, highly different from Beifong Style, which was mostly industriousness. Despite this stifling style, it was powerful, as it once had the most powerful corp of earthbenders in the world who controlled the biggest city on Earth.
Omashu had its own advantages, psychic earthbending namely, but it lacked a certain strength that either Dai Li or Beifong had. Only masters like Suun overcame the disadvantage. Tala was glad she knew two styles. Only combined did they have any chance against an earthbender like Prince Kuir.
At the end of their route they looked across and saw that another patrol, not Dai Li, had been attacked, a group of various fighters were attacking a group of White Lotus sentries. They wore varying colors but worked together in the way trained forces did, yet there was an edge of lone-wolf in each that screamed mercenaries.
Sung assessed the situation, "We'll go and help our 'friends', leave the hiders in place to guard while we're out. Lets go."
The Dai Li marched forward, unseen by the mercenaries until it was too late. Sung led from the front while Tala circled from the ledges observing and send ranged help as needed. Ralyn taught her to assess a fight before joining it. She was doing just that. These mercenaries were dangerous, they had training not only in their styles but in others so as to combat them. They were prepared to fight anyone.
She saw a signal meant for her from Sung, she nodded and leapt down, joining him as he sprinted towards a firebender. Sung and Tala struck forward simultaneously. The attack almost caught the firebender unaware. He fired to defend himself but was surprised at the strength and speed of the attack.
He was sent back like he was a ball hit by a bat. A waterbender and earthbender responded with their own attacks. Tala slid forward to buffet the attacks with air while Sung stepped back and rocketed two projectiles at each mercenary.
Tala spun and slung a blade of wind at the waterbender. It was a powerful strike, one that would obliterate most, especially those who tried to stop it. But the waterbender took the time he had to avoid it, almost expecting the strike. She fired a funnel at the earthbender as Sung fired a sharp spike at the waterbender.
The earthbender rolled under the funnel rather than make a wall, the commonplace stance of an earthbender. Her eyes tightened as she released lightning on the bender. This time he made a wall, the explosion forced the mercenary back while Sung continued to push the waterbending mercenary back.
With the earthbender incapacitated, she and Sung focused on the last mercenary the two were facing. After overwhelming him, they saw that the Dai Li and Lotus sentries had pushed back any remaining attackers.
The Dai Li marched back into Old Omashu as troops watched. Ustad and Li were waiting for them still and calm as untouched water. They inclined their heads, acknowledging their presence as Sung and Tala stopped before the two.
"Our patrol went well, but a neighboring patrol of sentries was not faring as well against some mercenaries. I took half of our forces and pushed back the attackers and then returned to our patrol."
Tala expanded on Sung's description, the two leaders approved and commended Sung for not leaving their route abandoned in the haste to reinforce another. Tala saw Simi was walking down a street and excused herself.
"Avatar Tala, what a pleasure," he bowed to the Dai Li clad Avatar, "how can I help you?"
"I need your insight about something I faced outside."
Tala discussed the fight with the mercenaries and their evasive maneuvers against her airbending. Simi took a moment before answering, "My best guess is those mercenaries you fought were the Seasons."
"The Seasons are the largest and most powerful mercenary company in the world. They recruit from anywhere and amongst anyone who is willing to join, benders and non-benders. You should ask Ralyn about them, they were her previous employers before she started her own company."
"And the airbending, something is wrong. It wasn't that they have just fought airbenders, but that they were prepared for it. Someone with intimate knowledge of airbending taught them how to fight back. Who would teach them?"
"There have been only two airbenders to leave the nomads. One is a Master Lotus in the Order of the White Lotus; the other died years ago."
"Are you sure?"
"Hava was there when he died."
"Then who could be teaching them the fundamentals of airbending and how to combat it, not even the Air Acolytes learn this much."
"Perhaps they are not taught, but the Air Acolytes of Air Temple Island see much." Simi sighed, "The Council will need to learn of this. The Seasons' arrival in Omashu is not a good sign."
Tala sat down in front of the fountain with her master. They had finished practicing forms of the night but Ralyn continued her lessons with philosophy.
"I just don't understand your reasoning, master. Yes, the necessity is clear. But the degree of response? You can accomplish the goal without the wanton violence and loss of life."
"And will your way ensure an end to the conflict later on or just leave remainders to attack later."
"Of course not-"
"If you do not capture, maim, or kill enemies, they are there to attack again. Don't rely on laws or principles to lead people like it does the civilized."
"But killing the enemy? That is just too far in most cases."
"Capturing the enemy is always the best solution, however it is rarely the available one. Most times, there are factors stopping capture. They can be numbers, where you can't risk capturing enemies when your are circled or cornered. But the dangerous one is an enemy who is too skilled or powerful to be captured. They can be as powerful as you or not, but it is sure they can't be captured, only killed or driven back. The unknown is what makes these decisions perilous and hard to make."
"Your enemy may very well be weak enough to capture, but if you can't be sure, then you must protect yourself first. Tell me, Avatar. Is it better that you risk your life and therefore the influence you have on this world for the chance that you can't capture an enemy set on killing you?"
Tala hesitated. She understood the necessity to kill under the most extreme circumstances, but to preemptively fight with this philosophy was not how she was taught, not even by Suun, a general in the military of Omashu.
"Yeah, just taking this in."
"Perhaps we should wait for Hava to return, you are not ready for philosophy."
Tala narrowed her eyes, ready, a term she hated and loved. She was ready for so much more and yet, time and again people stopped from telling her the truth or more because she 'wasn't ready'.
Ralyn smiled slightly in amusement, "Very well."
Tala sat over the ledge looking at the night sky, the moon was almost full. Just under the ledge sat Ilan coiled up and waiting. A strong hand grabbed her shoulder from behind. "Its late Tala and there's a council meeting tomorrow morning."
"I know, I just need time to think. Ralyn and I were arguing different philosophies to fighting." Kulek sat down beside Tala on the ledge, "While Nomads avoid killing at all costs, she would rather kill first, ask questions later."
"Mercenaries are vile, Tala."
"But her reasoning and justification was sound, for all our objection to it, Ralyn was right. She has insight in people this city either lacks or ignores."
"Why would this city ignore insight?"
"I don't know. Fear, stupidity, but they are unwilling to accept the realities of the world or its occupants."
"Realities of the world?"
"That things are dark out there. There is no peace or utopia. The world is in free-fall to chaos, and destruction."
"Tala, don't let her get in your head! She sees such things because she lives in it!"
"And we don't!? The city is under siege and the world is at war!"
Kulek opened his mouth to respond and then stopped. He had been humiliated several times by Ralyn when he responded without two thoughts to his arguments.
Ralyn spiraled the water around the circular cement of the courtyard. She then tossed it to the center letting it fall. The water started a new spiral as it answered the call of another.
"Good," Ralyn looked on approvingly, "It is not just what is put against you that you must be able stop or catch but what isn't thrown your way."
"How long did you spend learning waterbending?"
"I still am." Ralyn walked to the edge of the courtyard and looked up to the rising moon, "There is a saying, 'True masters are true students'. Do you know what this means, Avatar?"
"That even a master has something to learn and so must continue learning."
"Yes, not only must they learn, they must stop from becoming content. Contentment is stifling and weakening. The old man of war is far greater than the old man of peace."
Tala agreed, it was evident on the battlefield who was a master and adaptive and who wasn't. Master Lotus Liman and Grand Lotus Kuel were masters as were the leaders of the siege. But others were not so, Urri hadn't been seen earthbending in over a decade.
"Do you feel it?"
Tala looked up, it was a full moon. How had she forgotten that? She focused on it, just as the sun fed her fire and the wind her breath and the stone her body, she could feel the push and pull, "Yes."
"At the peak of our power, waterbenders can do things beyond their reach, or learn them until they advance enough to no longer need it." Tala looked at her curiously as she spoke, "It was on a full moon that the darkest art of waterbending was discovered."
"Aye. A power so great that when applied correctly, it severs a person's bending, no elemental bending besides can claim that power."
"And it is a horrible unspeakable power. Many have been driven mad by it and have done horrible things while enamored with it."
"Would you say then that Tuo is a monster, doomed to become a madman who will murder unreasonably?"
"No! Tuo is a good man, brave enough to risk his life for both the swamp and his people."
"And yet, he performed the unspeakable to stop my brother's attack on us."
"We didn't prove that."
"You have seen it for yourself. You know what it is and what it looks like. Don't deny it, don't lie to yourself."
They never actually confirmed it. Ralyn shared her own suspicions but never broached the subject again, especially in the company of the others. She thought on what she said then, "We know of only one line capable of what you speak of, and they're all dead."
"Perhaps this is not as great as their power. If you recall, it was night under a moon, not a full moon, but a moon nonetheless. Perhaps he could do this on any night, so long as the source of a waterbender's power is there?"
"It doesn't matter. If anything, that idea should be kept secret, never to be spoken of. Letting others have the potential to do that any night is too dangerous."
"The potential for worse is already there. That is why you must learn more than knowledge of this art."
"NO! I will not!"
"Don't ignore power because it is uncomfortable."
"I will not learn bloodbending!"
"You assume it is a purely dark art for the service of domination. But in the right hands, it can be used to save. Just as Tuo saved us from Alov."
"That was different."
"He didn't try to kill anyone."
"Neither did I when I captured Suun and Kuel. And it would have been easy for all the lightning and psychic earthbending they tried to use to free themselves, I was in power and could have killed them, it would have been easier for my employers. The leader of the White Lotus and the brother of the King of Omashu dead would have been a huge blow to the city, yet I spared them."
"So you could interrogate them for information."
"Then should I have killed them to spare them of that?"
"No, you should have-"
"Let them go?" Ralyn finished for her, "And betray my contract, an oath that I will work honestly as I am paid?"
"You've broken it."
"And it wasn't easy to betray that principle. I have always supported the ethic of loyalty and I betrayed it not out of lust for gold but for the same principle that drove loyalty. Tell me, Avatar, when principles collide, would you hold one over the other?"
"I would fulfill both."
"Truly, you are better than most men then. Then let me present a very real position in this war. The battle is going well for you and you have the enemy on the run at full moon. Now, you have a choice to make; Kulek is in danger, surrounded. You can continue the battle and win at the cost of your love, or you can abandon the battle and save him, possibly costing your forces victory. What would you do?"
Before Tala could answer, Ralyn continued, "Or you could do both, using an art you have self forbidden, continuing the battle whilst saving your love too. Could you live with both victory and love if you have to bloodbend to do it?"
Tala was about to answer when she stopped. If she had to choose between Kulek and the battle, would she make the same choice he made over her about the Dai Li? Or would she save the battle and lose her love?
"And even if you sacrificed the battle for the Air Nomad, that doesn't ensure his survival in what would be retreat. So why save him if the battle is lost?"
"Stop what? Stop challenging you? Stop forcing you to think? To progress?"
"I know what you're doing."
"Good. Because it would be a waste if you were an idiot. I'm making you think about the hard choices, imagine if I made you make the hard choice."
Tala looked on her murderously, "Very well, then I will teach you this lesson by action!" She thrusted her fist forward. Instantly Tala buckled under impossible pressure and pain seared her every nerve. She knelt at her master's feet.
"You could try to use psychic earthbending again to break free, but it is a blunt when precision is best."
She pulled her fist back, Tala lifted up and pulled to Ralyn as he feet dragged against the marble floor.
"There is a way to break free. The White Lotus taught you Chi Blocking, with that comes knowledge of the human body, enough to fight back."
"Then what, every full moon, risk this? Because you are too pious and proud to use a power that is within every waterbender?"
"Men have the power to kill, should we use it wantonly because we have it in us?"
"As is necessary, yes," she pulled her left hand up with an open palm. Tala stood up straight while suspended in the air.
Tala's hands twisted, looking more like talons than fingers as she resisted the pull of her own blood against her body. Agony was all that she felt as she lifted her right arm against the will of another. She splayed the palm out and focused.
Suddenly, the resistance against her had lessened and Ralyn was visibly changed. Her movements felt restricted as her own power was against her. Ralyn did not surrender to it but walked forward, "Good."
Tala pressed both hands forward, the motion mirrored when Ralyn stopped in her tracks, "And one day you will have power over anyone, or anything."
Tala let go, and looked at her own hands in horror. She fell to her knees as she thought about the fact that she used the very art she condemned like all others. How could she look back?
"Accept that, as the Avatar, you have this power. What will make you great is when you choose to show restraint. That is the plight of any master, to avoid arrogance. This art is no different. If you will let me, I will teach you not just control of it, but control of yourself."
Tala felt the power that rushed through her when she commanded Ralyn's body. It was exciting, to be able to have such will over another. It scared her that she felt that way at all, that she wanted more. She could never let the others know.
"Please, master, teach me this power of control."
Ralyn smiled subtly.
- Tala wonders how the Seasons could be prepared to face airbenders without at least one in their ranks.
- Tala has now bloodbent Ralyn.
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|