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September 1, 2013
Before You Read
This one-shot is based entirely on the assumption that the Northern and Southern Water Tribes engaged in a civil war during Chief Unalaq's rule. This may either be affirmed or negated by Book Two of The Legend of Korra.
When another brutal, frigid wave crashed over the side of the bitterly frozen Northern Water Tribe military steamship, delivering yet another vicious blow to the crew, the inflicted men held no reservations shouting profanities and speaking their minds about their superiors. They were used to the arctic cold, but the fierce waters of the South Pole were like nothing they had ever experienced, and it didn't help that the area was undergoing a ruthless, icy storm in the dead of winter.
"We're going to die out here!" cried one of the men, burying himself in his ultramarine blue coat and kicking his feet against the side of the vessel to restore feeling to his toes. The others shared his fear, but their shivers and numbness prevented most of them from engaging in conversation, or doing anything other than cursing under their clearly-visible breath. The man knew he should have been sparing his energy like his friends, but he was far too rampant with fury to stop then.
"It would be nice if there were some waterbenders on the deck to give us some help, but they don't have to be out here, do they? No! They get to be all cushy down below!"
Ignoring this rant was the young, handsome man standing at the bow of the ship, looking over the glacial ocean into the turbulent night sky. A sharp, howling breeze blew by as fragments of ice blistered his windburned, crimson face. Despite the conditions, he remained unmoved, unfazed, his hood down and his hands folded behind his back. His posture was straight, and his dark blue eyes were transfixed, as if piercing through the weather.
In fact, the dark, violent hailstorm had triggered a fond memory of his much earlier years.
A small, six-year-old boy sporting a wolf-tail sat alone in his tiny, freezing tent, patiently waiting with his knees tucked into his chest, shivering. His teeth were chattering, and he began to rock back and forth on his bottom, unsure if he could bare the cold any longer. He stared at the entrance to the tent, praying for one of the flaps to be pulled aside.
"Makwa?" A deep, intimidating voice came from outside just before a large, dark-skinned man appeared before his son, smiling and with gleaming eyes. "You can come see your baby brother now."
The boy sprang up in excitement and followed his father from one tent to another, using his thick gloves to shield himself from being pelted in the face by unforgiving snow. Makwa had wanted a brother more than anything, and he couldn't be happier that the child was a boy.
Upon seeing his mother covered in a blanket and clutching a precious, crying baby, he grinned from ear to ear, and his mother beamed back at him. The father was the first to speak, placing his hand on Makwa's shoulders and declaring to his son "We've decided to name him Tonraq, after me."
Makwa smiled, as he always did when thinking of a Tonraq, either the father he greatly admired or the little brother he loved more than anything else. He couldn't help but reminisce, even on the freezing steamship. Still, the complaints of the crew irritated him.
"Someone should tell the Chief that if he doesn't do anything, he's not going to have any living warriors to attack with!" bellowed the angry shipmate. Those words forced Makwa to spin on his heel and approach the man.
"We're not attacking anyone," he sated confidently. "We are here to make peace. Is that not what you want?"
"Sure," scoffed the man as the others rolled their eyes. "A peace meeting. Right."
The sternness in Makwa's voice was unwavering. "You will do as you are ordered, and that is final." With that, he left the crew to join the chief of the Northern Water Tribe in his personal quarters. Makwa, after training hard his entire life, had fought his way to the position of Captain, not of the ship but of the non-benders of the Northern Water Tribe military. Other than his counterpart, the captain of benders, who many saw as the on with more authority despite the supposed equity of their rank, there was only one superior officer: Chief Unalaq.
Captain Makwa knocked forcefully before entering Unalaq's office. "Chief," he started, "the men outside are barely making it. I'm concerned for-"
Unalaq coughed, which was his way of telling Makwa to shut up. Peering up at him from his desk, the Chief spoke quietly. "Your men were given orders. See to it that those orders are followed."
"The least you could do is provide some hot tea. The conditions are truly-"
"The tea is to be used as one of our peace offerings. You are well aware of this."
"About that... The men having growing suspicions that this meeting isn't all about peace."
The Chief suddenly slammed his fist on his desk. "Then what is it?" he demanded.
Makwa didn't blink. "An attack."
"Is that what you've been telling them?" The Waterbending leader of the tribe was livid.
The captain didn't know exactly what to say. He too was weary of the true intentions regarding the mission to the Southern Tribe. "You know, Sir. Our Southern brothers and sister are no less than we are."
Unalaq knew exactly why his subordinate had chosen specifically to use the words "brothers and sisters." He was fuming, and his face was nearly purple. "Get out!" he boomed. "Get out of my sight if you know what's good for you!"
"As you wish, Uncle." Sighing, Makwa did as he was told, and his initial thought was the recollection of why he despised the chief so much.
Makwa, then fifteen, was nearly in tears. "I don't get it!" he croaked. "Why do you have to go? Why is Uncle Unalaq making you go?"
Tonraq, who was boarding a ship with the younger son with his namesake, knelt before Makwa and rested his hands on his shoulders. "Son, you have to understand that sometimes things in life aren't fair. Sometimes you have to fight for what's right no matter the consequences."
The boy then had tears streaming down his face, and his voice was barely audible. "Take me and Mom with you," he begged "Please!"
"Mom isn't allowed to come with me. That's why you need to stay here and protect her. Can you do that?"
Makwa nodded vigorously, trying to cease his crying. "I love you, Dad."
Even Tonraq could no longer control his emotions. "I love you too son," he whimpered, embracing Makwa for what would be the last time. "I always will."
The teenager then approached his nine-year-old brother and held out his hand, something clutched inside. Makwa unfurled his palm to reveal a shark tooth necklace. "I want you to have this," he whispered softly. "To remember me." The two brothers then shared one final hug.
The grave expression the captain wore sent the wrong signal to his men. "This is an attack!" one of them charged, "Isn't it?"
Makwa's greatest fear was an invasion of the Southern Tribe in which he saw his father or his brother, his "enemies" according to the war. He often speculated that Tonraq may have remarried or possibly even had another child, and that new family was not something he intended on destroying. With that in mind, he opened his mouth to respond, but before he got the chance, a tremendous boom pierced his ears and rocked the entire ship, causing one man to fall over edge into the merciless, choppy sea. A moment later, a second boom preceded an eruption of flames at the stern of the boat. Forced to act quickly, the captain embraced instinct. "This ship's going down!" he bellowed. "Man the lifeboats, now!"
At that moment, a man in his seventies emerged from a lower deck, followed by other benders in their traditional robes.
"Captain Yungsi!" Makwa called.
"What's going on?" shrieked the horrified leader.
"Explosion on the port and stern sides! I suspect mines set by the Southern Tribe."
"Well they wouldn't just set two mines!" He was right. Seconds later, another boom shattered the air, and this time parts of the boat's hull soared up into the sky.
Makwa screamed. "Faster with the lifeboats!"
"There's no time for lifeboats!" exclaimed Yungsi. "Forget them! Waterbenders, take the warriors over to the shore!" The "shore" he was referring to was nothing more than a completely frozen tundra, but their options were limited to one.
"Warriors!" Makwa's voice was thunderous. "Go with the benders, now!"
His partner grabbed him by the arm. "Come with me!" The two captains rushed to the starboard side of the boat, where the leapt over together. Before splashing into the deadly water, Yungsi pulled up a wave with an ice cap at the crest to catch them. They landed with a thud, but Makwa grit his teeth and ignored the shock to his legs.
"Hold on," cautioned Yungsi. He began to make several elegant motions with his wrists, his legs staying completely in place, and soon enough he commanded another wave to form beneath them and speed towards the tundra.
When they crashed hard, the snow stung wherever it touched the flesh, but Makwa hardly had time to think about it. He jumped to his feet and watched the rest of the crew make their way to the shore in a similar fashion, where they attempted to organize while their vessel slowly sunk deeper and deeper, the wrench of smoke permeating the air. For a brief moment, when Makwa noticed that uncle was not present, he hoped that he would never show up, that his body would be a meal for the fish for years to come.
Of course he made it, he thought when Unalaq appeared out of the wreckage to be dancing across the water. When he reached the group, he immediately doled out orders. "We're going to head over that hill and find the nearest village," he stated.
"What will we do when we get there?" inquired Makwa to no response. With the chief in the lead, the small force proceeded to the icy hill ahead of them. The trek through the snow wasn't easy, but adrenaline was pumping through Unalaq's troops. It wasn't long before they were nearing the summit of what could have been snow piled on rocks or ice; there was no way of telling.
Makwa marched beside Yungsi, one of the only benders on the fleet who respected him. "Do you think the Southern Tribe planted those mines for us specifically, or did we just wander into the wrong place?"
The Waterbender narrowed his eyes and, in a sudden instinct, threw his left arm in front of his fellow captain. "Shhhh. Do you hear that?" Makwa paused, and he could make out a faint rumbling that seemed to be growing louder by the second.
One of the warriors gasped and pointed a trembling finger. "At the top of the hill!" At that moment, the rumbling became a sea of deafening roars, and the Northern fleet diverted their attention to the petrifying scene of Southern warriors bursting into sight and charging down the warpath, straight at them, spears drawn, fire in their eyes, hungry to not only kill, but to destroy.
The ear-shattering war cry sounded like the wrath of a god, and with the enemy approaching rapidly in their stampede, Makwa turned to Yungsi.
"My men didn't bring any weapons off the ship!"
The Waterbender made an upwards-striking motion with his right arm in the space in front of him, and a javelin of ice popped up into the air. Makwa caught it, and soon the other benders prepared similar weapons for their allies.
The immediate clash between the two companies of warriors painted the snow crimson red. At first, the Northerns seemed to have the advantage, especially with their benders able to knock down many incoming enemies from far away. Observing this as he sent his pointed ice cleanly through a man's throat, Makwa made an announcement. "They don't have any benders!"
Yungsi nodded in agreement. "Benders! On water sprouts, now!" His men complied, one-by-one shooting fifteen feet above the ice in a spiral of water. "Except for you three." Yungsi singled out a handful of benders. "Take part of the ice and split it from the mainland, offer assistance from and island where they can't get to you!"
Makwa was impressed with his partner's battle plan, but when he looked back at Unalaq, he shuttered to see his uncle sitting comfortably on the ground, meditating. His mind was taken off his fury when a bubble of water whizzed passed his face to encase in ice the bladed boomerang he hadn't see spinning right at him. With an appreciative nod to Yungsi, he hurled his javelin into the heart of his assailer, and the ice only pierced further through the man's chest as he fell to the ground. On a rush, the captain retrieved a scimitar from the corpse's hard grip and surveyed the battlefield. With Yungsi's tactic depleting the Southern Tribe's forces exponentially and the majority of his men still standing, he decided to go on the offensive. "Move up the hill!" he barked. "Turn this ambush into the end of the civil war! End this now!" It was a brief speech, but Makwa could see the adrenaline rushing through the triumphant warriors as they screamed to the sky above, and so he decided to lead the surge against the still-heavy wind up the hill.
The other side revealed another frozen wasteland with a smaller hill to the right and a flat plain all the way to the dark mist off in the distance. Makwa ordered the group to proceed slowly and with caution down the slope. After walking a good distance down the ice field without disturbance, the captain thought that perhaps the day was won. He was wrong.
Makwa glanced at the mist in front of the fleet again, but this time it was closer, and it wasn't stopping. Tightly clutching the scimitar in his hand, he told the others to prepare themselves from the advancing fog. "They're cloaking themselves in mist," he explained. "That means they're benders." Sure enough, as if riding the snow, several robes emerged onto the scene and didn't hold back from flinging ice onto the Northerners.
"Fall back!" Yungsi commanded. He spun around only to see the worst scenario imaginable: a second wave flanking them from behind. The men from the North Pole huddled close, dubious as to if they could take on the Waterbenders on both sides. Some of them were certain that it was the end, until Unalaq reappeared from his meditation. The chief jumped in front of the group and faced the bombardment from the mist and waved his arms in circular motions, his expression strikingly calm. To the amazement of all the eyes that could see, a golden light began to swirl around his body, and with a forceful grunt, he pushed the light at the Southern Waterbenders and continued his motions. Like magic, the enemy slowed down and eventually stopped in their tracks. There was no explanation, no fathomable reason for why that happened, but Makwa wasn't about to complain. He pulled two Waterbenders and one other non-bender aside. "We're going to go investigate that other hill, see if they have any other surprises for us."
Reluctantly, the men followed him. When the group of four reached the hill, before turning running around to the other side, their commander wanted to give them a plan. Before he got the chance, one of the benders sprinted around, and consequently received a metal spear speeding into his stomach. The other three appeared behind him and saw that the attack had come from a wooden launcher, and there was a second. The second blow took out Makwa's warrior, so his remaining bender flipped over the two machines before the Southern ambushers could use them again.
The launchers' operators drew battle axes and charged the Northern team of two, with their own bender there to flip the odds. Naturally, the two Waterbenders engaged each other while Makwa confronted the terrifying men with deadly weapons and even deadlier muscles.
The man on the left was simple. Just as he was pulling back his axe to prepare a powerful swing, the captain kicked snow in his face and used his scimitar to slit the throat of the temporarily-halted enemy. In a split-second, he jumped up and spun around do deliver a forceful back-kick at the other, but his leg was caught. Now in close-combat, the Southern man flashed a small dagger and aimed for Makwa's torso, but a sudden attempt to squirm away led the knife into the side of his calf. Screaming in pain, the captain fell to the ground and looked up at his executioner, ready to drop the guillotine. What actually dropped was the man himself, thanks to an icicle that impaled him through the back of the head. Despite the immense pain, Makwa realized that the cut on his leg was not too deep and that he could fight on. Luckily for him, he stood to see that his bending ally had also taken out the Southern-style master. The two looked at each other with a mix of relief and exhaustion, panting and ready to pass out.
Makwa cleared his throat. "We should- watch out!"
Before the bender could react, a man in the typical Southern Water Tribe warrior's uniform, sporting a helmet shaped after a wolf's head, leapt down from the hill onto the shoulders of his target, then bashing his head in with an iron club bearing his tribe's symbol.
Swiftly analyzing the one-on-one scenario, Makwa quickly understood that his advantage was the fact that he wielded the more fatal weapon. His shortcomings: his injury and his adversary's appearance of an even younger, fitter man.
What Makwa did not expect was a dialogue, but the Southern warrior had some words to share. "When are you going to leave us alone?" he demanded. "When will you let us live in peace?"
"Peace?" Makwa was astonished. "We came here for peace! We came here to end this war before you sunk our ship and attacked us!"
The Southerner laughed incredulously. "Ha! Because your chief would just be fine with letting us determine our own government wouldn't he? He'd finally stop trying to rule our people? I can't tell you how happy I am that-"
"Enough!" Suspecting that he was being played, Makwa stormed his enemy, scimitar pointed outright. It made his stomach churn to take part in what he also believed was an unjust war, but he had no choice. The Southerner had to die. Even if he felt the two tribes should be family, it was time to kill not negotiate.
The harsh sound of the scimitar and club clashing together gave Makwa goosebumps, and he pulled back before attempting a second blow. This one was also deflected, as was the next one, and the one after that. Before he knew it, the captain was on defense, blocking every swing of the club that came at him. The two warriors were seemingly equally matched. Anticipating another block, the Southerner aimed for his opponent's wrist, hoping he'd release his weapon. While his grip remained strong, Makwa pulled back in reflex to the pain. That was his challenger's chance to knee him in the stomach and then shove him into the snow.
The man with the wolf's head stood over the fallen combatant menacingly. "Pretty soon, you'll be buried in snow. Forgotten."
Not in the mood to chat, Mawkwa swiped for the man's legs, but he jumped and landed on the captain's arm, crushing it. The Southerner then knelt down on his chest and drew blood blood from his face, one fist at a time. The beating seemed endless for Makwa, who could see his entire life crashing down on him at once. He could imagine his face, bruised, bloody, defeated, and the punishment wasn't going to end any time soon if he didn't act. Desperate, he mustered every last bit of strength he could find deep in his body and even deeper in his soul. Then, with a godlike roar, he flipped the warrior off his body and retrieved his blade.
The Southerner bounced back quickly, but not fast enough to stop the final blow from Makwa's scimitar, bursting through his side and resulting in a gush of blood.
Victorious, Makwa watched the man collapse on his back, still breathing. The two may have just been in a heated battle to the death, but the Northern Water Tribe citizen was reluctant, unwilling even, to let any of his Southern brethren suffer. As an act of mercy, he readied himself to deliver a quick, life-ending strike.
"Wait..." the barely-audible soldier held up one hand to tell Makwa to stop. "You-" he utilized his dying breaths to speak. "When you go back, you have to give... this to my..." His voice trailed off, but he still brought his glove up to his neck and pulled something off. Seeing him do this made an icy chill rush down Makwa's back, and he prayed that he wasn't witnessing what he thought he was. Sure enough, the man extended his right palm, holding in it nothing but a shark tooth necklace.
- Makwa is derived from the Thai word for older.
- So, as you may have pieced together, Tonraq Sr. is the same man who eventually married Senna and had Korra.
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