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|From the Deep|
September 4, 2013
Chapter Six: From the Deep
The calm tranquility of the chilly morning was pierced by a shrill yell from the young Avatar. "Cold!!"
I must say, Aang's first idea for our newly formed group was nothing I expected, but I do believe it had its merits. We were on some island in the southern ocean, that was all he knew. The group, particularly Katara, had thought against stopping, what with the war that still raged on and with other pressing responsibilities. But in the end, Aang was right. We could not afford to tire ourselves to death on the journey alone.
"Aang is really enjoying himself out there," Katara said, speaking for the first time since we had landed.
He had mounted what he had called an elephant koi—a fitting name, as I soon found out. It was indeed giant, but there was a graceful quality to it in the variegated yellows and oranges that melded together to make a glossy hide of scales. Aang looked at ease for the first time in days, laughing and hollering on the giant fish.
"Yes, the relaxation is good for him. I would not have it any other way."
"You wouldn't?" Sokka asked.
"Yes," I said, "I would not. You will find that he who laboriously studies the art of war in hopes of preventing it often becomes the one best suited to wage it. I am deeply thankful that Aang does not naturally lust for violence. He fights to keep himself safe and that is the only way to fight.
"Of course, it is a fairly straightforward rule to live by, however, you will soon find that fighting has an addictive effect on people." I watched as both Sokka and Katara's eyebrows raised in unison. "One day you fight to keep your loved ones safe, the next you pick fights for the sake of fighting. Take mercenaries, for example: their livelihood is based on fighting in the name of the highest bidder. By the White, there is no act more cowardly than substituting your honor for gold and silver."
"I see," Katara said, "and that's why we're taking a break, isn't it?"
"Yes, for I do not want to throw us into the fire so rashly. We need to know where it is we come from before we can know where it is we are headed. It is one in the same with the art of war. He who has no waypoint to first orient himself, lashes out in any and every direction. We must be direct, and most importantly, recognize both paths of the journey. Those who do not look back easily forget their teachings—their morals. They quickly become the beasts that they first seek to destroy. And that is not us."
"Mmm," Katara said. She turned her gaze back out to the sea.
But it was my brother, I thought. Nearly a fortnight had passed since our fateful encounter with Nocturne, and we had not seen him since. We had no reason to see him, for he was only drawn forth by violence like sharks to blood, and at the moment, we were as far from the Fire Nation in this calm cove as could be.
"Atlas, could I ask you a question?" Katara asked.
I had seen her shuffle her way over to me out the corner of my eye, her timid footfalls barely making impressions in the soft, cool sand.
"Sure, Katara," I said. "What troubles you?"
"Um, well," she tugged at her hair loops, thinking of what to say. "Um, I was wondering if you could tell me more about—"
"About, Nocturne," I finished.
"Yes," she said. Her cheeks blushed a brilliant crimson, so she turned her face down at the sand.
"It is alright Katara. It does not trouble me to talk about Him, however evil He may be. Here, sit," I sat her down on a fallen tree trunk and seated myself next to her.
"Nocturne is my brother," I began. "And as you already know, we are the only two offspring of our father, Erebos. But you now know him better as the White." Recognition lit up Katara's face, and she nodded. "Nocturne was the elder, born two thousand years before I, at the tail end of the golden era. Minding that gap, you must know that we were from two different mothers." I took it she did not, seeing her eyebrows rise steadily.
"Well, as is tradition, the son of the White does not take a goddess wife, for there are laws against it. In marriage, he takes a human wife. She is but a vessel for the next generation of offspring. Once she has birthed, the father will do with her what he will. But I digress, Katara, you want to know about Nocturne, not my people's archaic customs."
She gave me a tight-lipped smile. "It's okay, Atlas," she said. "I like hearing about your people."
I was surprised by her curiosity. "Well, I should probably get onto what you asked down for, anyway." I rearranged myself on the rough log, thinking best on where to start. "Nocturne was a good child, for the most part. A good brother too. I remember we used to play and play, until our mothers called us back to the palace wash up. Oh, how calm those days were. Nocturne was a good brother, until he neared the age of which he could take the mantle of authority from my father—the post I hold today. At that point, he had changed from the loving brother we always knew him to be to a foul mouthed, foul minded Red sympathizer. Though we were unaware of his change in allegiance at the time, it was not without signs—signs we should have seen. It was in this time also that the Red movement was escalating. The Tide was gaining followers by the thousands, and I am sorry to say my brother became one of them.
"On the day he was to take up the authority of my father, he revealed his true colors to the full assembly and court—that coward." I felt my fists clench, my anger rising within. It was not until Katara gently grasped my arm did I fall out of my bout of frustration. "I am sorry, Katara, you will soon know the cause of my anger," I gave a long sigh.
"Atlas, you don't have to tell me if it hurts you to remember."
"No, Katara," I said, "I do. I have to rid myself of this. It is only for the best."
She simply nodded. I saw in her a resilience and a compassion for others, something I had seldom seen in those I dealt with. She gave me the strength to continue.
"Once Nocturne was before my father, on his knees and ready to give his pledge, he looked up at his maker, and denounced him and everything our people stood for. It was an upheaval of sound and fury. He lashed out at us all. In the struggle he blinded my father. Many died there, mostly the lesser gods of the realm. I barely escaped myself, being an adolescent. My last memory of that fateful day was a grating laugh rolling through the stone corridors followed by ragged screams. The sound made my skin prickle—by the maniacal nature of it. My brother had lost himself. He had given himself over to the Red in wild abandon. Before he left, I heard his last words to us. I remember them well, Katara, and you heard them too. They were delivered in his serpentine voice. He said, 'Let the Red Tide roll.'"
"That's terrible," Katara said, shaking her head, "I'm so sorry Atlas. I'm sorry you had to experience that." She gently wrapped my hands in hers.
"Thank you, Katara." I returned the gesture. "I am sorry too, that my brother lost his way."
After recounting those memories, the calm waters lapping ashore before me did not look so enticing anymore. The sea, the waves, the tides, they did not elicit feelings of relaxation. They represented my brother and all he stood for: the Red and its damned Tide.
Farther out in the cove, Aang was still riding the elephant koi, enjoying himself. I was no longer sure whether he should be out there, the images that flashed through my mind when thinking about the sea swaying my thoughts. For some reason, I had the strange feeling that he was in immediate danger—a danger from the deep.
"Katara," I turned to her, "look out in the bay, do you see something out there?"
She craned her neck, looking out over the water for any potential danger. "No. I don't see anything."
"Hmmm," I said. "And you do not sense it either?"
"I don't think that's possible for humans, Atlas," Katara said.
"Of course it is," I replied. "It is the feeling you get when your walk through the forest in the dead of night, a moonless night at that, and from somewhere around you, you know for some strange reason that someone or something is following you."
"Well, I can't say I've ever felt that, except maybe when I enter my home and I know that I am not alone in it although I can't see anyone. The feeling makes my hair stand on end."
"That is exactly it. You do not have that feeling right now?" I asked.
"No. Sorry Atlas," Katara said.
"Do not be. It is good you do not feel it, because I find that that sense is wedded with danger itself. Whenever I have that it, nothing good ever follows."
"Hmmm," Katara said, rubbing her chin, "didn't you say you just had that—"
She was cut off mid-sentence by a discordant scream so terrible, it shattered the very flow of our thoughts. It was Aang. Looking out on the bay once more, I was met with the sight of an dark, elongated serpentine beast, easily the length of ten elephant koi if not longer. A row of menacing dorsal fins, rising and falling in an undulating pattern, ran down the creature's back, lending it a streamlined yet frightening appearance. Its two reptilian eyes, the dark slits expanding and contracting in adjustment to the light, locked onto Aang's figure. This was what I had sensed, I knew that now. This monstrosity from the deep, not some perverse follower of the Red. This was worse.
"Aang! Swim away. Swim, in the name of the White. Swim!" I was not sure whether my call reached him, as the beast's occasional roars rendered any chance of communication impossible.
If not from my voice, Aang surely saw it for himself, which scared him more than enough to making him swim. And swim he did, or ran, for that matter. Why, the boy was running on the very water itself, leaving a high wake of water and foam. It would have been quite amusing to watch if it were not for the colossal serpent racing to eat the Avatar. In a matter of seconds, Aang had reached the beach head, bounding ashore and taking out Sokka in his frenzy.
"Ugh," Sokka groaned. He rubbed his abdomen where Aang had tackled him.
The two of them were sprawled out in the sand, nudged up at the edge of the tree line. Katara had run over to them, surprise etched on her face. She shook each of them, checking to see if they were fine, a motherly instinct if I ever saw one. She was much more mature than I gave her credit for, how she always watched the needs of others, rather than her own. She was a rare person.
I was relieved to see that the serpent had gone back to its home in the watery depths, no doubt disappointed at the loss of a meal. The bay was left a calm, tranquil place once more. No one would have suspected its presence, the enticing waters surreptitious as to what lay beneath. There were many secrets of the world, and many of them were malicious in nature, intent, and deed. I could attest to that.
At that moment, something caught my attention. That same sense—the feeling of being followed had not yet dissipated. The danger had left with that leviathan of the sea, meaning all should have been fine. Yet there was something else, something dangerous, and of that I was certain. The three of them were not ready to act if called upon. I had to reach them quickly.
I only managed one step before I saw the upper fringes of the canopy twitch the slightest bit. It was not enough to warrant the average man's suspicion, but I knew it to be what I had sensed. There was no way I could reach Sokka, Katara, and Aang one hundred paces away without the interlopers spotting me. So I did again what I knew best and slipped myself between the currents of Time, relishing in the smooth feel of the ebb and flow of it. It looked as though I would meet these surprise waylayers with their own tactics. Only mine were a bit more...inconspicuous.
|As the Tide Breaks|
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