|By The Bos||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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April 15, 2012
Crossroads is the eighth chapter of.
Parallel events chronicle the aftermath of The Fugitive's encounter with a Fire Nation ship.
A lone Light
Two Firebenders walk towards a river, their only guide being a massive flare in the sky. "You couldn't shut up, could you Tazo?" Inata bitterly mumbles as he brushes a branch aside.
"You were talking too," Tazo replies. Inata ignores the statement with a grunt, prompting another argument. "Think about it this way, we'll get to the flare, find out it was a misfire, and make it back to the campsite before Jidui even gets there. Plus we won't have to worry about marching in line. I saved you a lot of needless marching and silence." After another grunt, Tazo sighs briefly. "You're welcome."
"Of course the flare is nothing of importance. The Earth Kingdom navy wouldn't dare to attack a ship this close to Yu Dao. Our military is the best in the world and both nations know it."
"A little too true. If they would just give up..."
"These people never give up, even when they should."
"If people gave up when they should, the world would be a different place. The Earth Kingdom would have surrendered decades ago. We'd have far fewer problems." The two Firebenders finally arrive at their destination, getting a closer look the massive ship that had run ashore. "And that would be the problem we have now."
Upon taking a closer look, Tazo notices more. "Look over there Inata. The rocks raised around there indicate some kind of attack. The Earth Kingdom military brought down the ship. This is the kind of thing Jidui would want to know. We've got to get back quickly so that he has time to assign someone to come with us."
"Why can't we just investigate this ourselves?" Inata asks angrily.
"Jidui would have us dismissed for investigating further without his consent. Besides, whatever happened is already over. We need to get to the group as quickly as possible. Who knows what sort of punishment he could come up with to punish us for making him wait? We can't continue wasting time," Tazo asserts. After scoffing angrily, Inata sets off on towards the rendezvous destination, with Tazo hastily overtaking him. "Don't be mad about it, we're simply giving ourselves a break. The rest of the soldiers will thank us later."
Inata presses onward, all but ignoring his friend's statement. "Tazo, you've known me for years. Have I ever been someone who cares about what the other soldiers think?"
The jovial Firebender laughs. "I know you don't care, but it will at least get them off our backs. I don't want anything to ruin this mission."
"Then we need to tell Jidui that the flare was a misfire. If we have to go back, that will be more time we will have to take returning. If you want to find those escaped prisoners, then you need to say something that will get Jidui off the ship's trail. We need to just lay low and get him back on track. Continuing on will just prove to be a detour and reduce our chances of getting vengance."
"What are you talking about? How will an extra trip lose them?"
"Jidui said he'd be waiting for us to be back in a clearing. Getting back to him will already take a while," the calm Firebender says while advancing forward. "Once we arrive, any logical commander, Jidui included, would order an investigation. Then, after he does whatever he wants to do, we'd have to march back to our route to continue on our search. And if we don't find anything after a while, Jidui is supposed to return to the camp as part of Mung's plan. If that happens, I will have no chance at vengeance against those Earthbenders and you will never have the opportunity to restore your brother's honor. If you need, I'll talk, but I want those savages brought to justice." Tazo recognizes the sense behind Inata's argument and has no adequate response, but lets his friend continue. "And by justice, I mean falling dead by my hand."
"And my brother's honor will rise from the ashes of their bodies. You're right Inata; we don't have time to waste. Jidui won't get in the way of Saurin's honor," Tazo says while bowing his head.
"Let's hope that guy didn't feel the same way," Inata says, pointing towards a corpse lying on the ground. The fallen soldier wore Fire Nation armor with a noticeable dent in the back. A few feet behind the body lay what appeared to be his helmet, dirty and cracked from his struggle.
"Who is it?" Tazo asks.
Inata walks up to the body and, using his foot, casually flips the body face-up. "Yep, he was serving under Mung. I recognize him from somewhere."
"Do you think the unit ran into a conflict on the way to the clearing?"
"It's clear that they ran into something more than they could handle. This guy is a ways away from where Jidui said we'd meet."
"Do you think he was retreating?" Tazo asks. Inata simply nods in reply, giving his full answer in silence. "We need to get back!" Tazo exclaims with a sense of urgency that had not been noticeable within the last few minutes. Tazo takes off immediately, vaulting over the soldier's body and continuing towards the rendezvous point. Inata takes off immediately after, but Tazo arrives before his friend. Tazo stops as he reaches the clearing, his eyes widening as he sees another sight of carnage.
Inata, who had stopped running a few yards back, walks up from behind his friend and into the clearing. "This was certainly more than Jidui could handle."
"How could this have happened?" Tazo wonders aloud.
Inata continues to walk around the area, inspecting casualties and looking for more information. "The Earthbenders here were swift and efficient. Their attack was unplanned and made use of the injuries sustained by our already wounded soldiers," he notes while walking around. He stops over a soldier's body with a broken splint on its leg. "Look at this one; the Earthbender could tell that his leg was injured, so he aimed a low strike and struck his weak spot. Most of the soldiers had a substantial weakness that could have been easily exploited by a small group of soldiers and warriors. We need to be careful not to cross them. Look at this one," he notes, finding a soldier whose clothing was clearly stained by blood. "This one already had wounds from a battle with the escaped Waterbender. The deep cuts bruised as they healed; a strike to that area would create debilitating pain and an excellent distraction in a battle. Whoever was leading this expedition was a fearsome commander."
"It doesn't matter who led this group. We need to move on to finding those escaped soldiers. We have the freedom now. Think about it, if this group is ever found, the military will think that everyone was just killed. Most officers wouldn't care enough to do a body count. Mung's order was already unconventional. They wouldn't send that big of a party to come find us. We have the time to go get our revenge. Are you in?" Tazo concludes with a grin.
"Sounds good to me," Inata says while turning away from the bodies. "However, how are we going to get supplies? It seems that the soldiers who killed the rest of the search party also took most of the supplies, only leaving what isn't useful. We've got no food and nothing to use to keep us alive. Hunting will limit our search. We need to find a food supply before we can go after them."
"And we've got one," Tazo replies, having formed an ingenious conclusion.
"Where? I just told you that they looted all the soldiers here and took the food out of our supply cart. We've got nothing!"
"Down at the Yu River we have an empty ship that has more cargo than could be carried off by a unit of soldiers. I'm sure there's something left there that is salvageable. We could also use some of their equipment to get a bearing as to where we are. Let's go, I'd prefer not to stay long enough to find Jidui," he concludes as he begins walking back towards the river.
Inata follows his friend, stepping over soldiers on the way out. "I did find Jidui. He was battered, bruised, and I think he even got stabbed once."
"And he didn't run?" Tazo asks as he steps around a small shrub.
A Different Heading
Cren and Luo run towards the massive light source hovering in the sky. Under normal circumstances, the flare would have been difficult to find, but the sporadic cloud blocked light just enough for the flare to be noticed. The pair remains in silence for their run, partly for lack of a conversation topic and partly out of a need to conserve energy and focus. As they look over the wide river they immediately begin searching for the source of the flare. A cloud of dark smoke coming from upstream gives the duo a clear signal. Turning to look in its direction, the Earthbenders run towards the source, eventually coming across a ship pulled onto the shore. "That's going to have a hard time getting back out," Cren notes as he walks past Luo.
"That won't be much of a problem," the calm Earthbender responds. "As soon as the tide comes in, the ship will be able to make it out. It may be a tight squeeze, but it will be able to make it. That's probably how it got that way in the first place. The Fire Navy is the best nautical force in the world, as far as I know. I don't even think the Water Tribes could defeat their entire navy."
"Well then we'll have to defeat them on land," Cren states as the pair continues to move closer to the ship. After going around a curve the Earthbenders notice the irregular land formations around the ship. "And it looks like Kuro was trying to bring the land battle to the sea." The ground around the ship was raised in several unnatural ways, indicating that the rock was moved in a combative and rushed fashion.
Luo looks around Cren to find the battlefield near the ship. "The fight has been over for a while now," he observes as the duo gets closer. "Where could they have gone?"
Still the first in line, Cren sees the path of ice on the river. "It looks like they're trying to cross the river," he notices. "They must have found a Waterbender."
"Where would they have found one of those?" Luo asks, trying to lead his accomplice away from the truth.
Cren wasn't moved. "Well unless one of the Earth Kingdom soldiers from our unit could suddenly bend water, a Waterbender was here." Having no other possible argument, Luo nods in agreement. "From what I've seen here, the Waterbender was trying to cross the river. Why he couldn't cross faster, I don't know, but the Fire Nation noticed him," he declares while pointing towards the crash site of a Fire Nation vehicle in the river. "We know that the Fire Nation has been after the Water Tribes for over fifty years, so they would stop to catch this person when they came by."
"And he bent the earth? You're saying that this Waterbender is also an Earthbender?"
"There is no Earthbender who can also bend water," Cren replies with a glare.
"Could they have found the Avatar?" Luo wonders, again pushing Cren away from realizing that Shenji and Kuro had met a Waterbender. "Think about it, the Fire Nation spent the first few years of the war killing off all of the Air Nomads. Eventually, he may have been reborn into the Water Tribes. After mastering water, he may have moved here secretly because he didn't want to attract the Fire Nation. After mastering earth, he would have nowhere to go; no one in the Fire Nation would teach him. He may be trying to fight the Fire Nation where he can find them."
"If he is the Avatar, why wouldn't he have attacked on a larger scale?"
"What does he know? The Avatar has only mastered water and earth and would have no one to teach him how to do more. One man can't defeat the Fire Nation. He's probably trying to remain secret."
"Cling to your belief in the Avatar all you want Luo; as far as I'm concerned, he's dead," Cren snaps. "Shenji and Kuro must have found this ship and fought some soldiers before retreating. That's the only thing they could have done. No sensible Earthbender would willingly board a metal ship."
"So what do you propose we do?" Luo asks. His plan had succeeded in getting Cren off the trail of the Waterbender, but has no other plans for getting the pair away from the ship.
"We need to keep chasing them. The only way to the fort they want to find is to go around the river. There is only one way they need to go. We need to keep moving." With a nod of approval from Luo, the duo runs inland and moves further upstream. After a lengthy period of running, each soldier independently decides to stop. "How far could they have gotten?" Cren asks angrily as he doubles over to catch his breath.
"Farther than we have," Luo dryly notes. "We don't know how long ago they escaped from the ship; it may have been a while ago. Either way, they must have gotten tired at some point. We know where they're going and will catch up to them eventually. If we just wait, I know something will come up."
"If I wasn't so tired, I'd say we go on. I'll agree with you now," he says as he sits down, "But we shouldn't stay long. I'm going to rest."
Luo raises a small block of earth and sits down, catching his breath and trying to figure out how to capture Shenji and Kuro while staying away from the Waterbender.
Light in the Darkness
The Fugitives run through the ship, their boots making a recurring echo though the metal halls. Each room in the ship has appeared empty thus far, but it is clear that there are people aboard the ship. A commanding officer had not yet been found, so all three men, trained in combat and having picked up strategy secondhand, recognized that the leader was their most daunting foe. After checking both the command tower and the first level of rooms, Kuro was content with leaving. "If we can't find them, they aren't much of a threat, right?" he asked rhetorically.
"Wrong," Kuan blandly states as he identifies the staircase leading to the lowest level of the ship. "Any good captain knows his ship and can hear us walking around. He'll know if we're still on the ship and can easily send someone to find us as we walk away."
"I don't think we should just try and hurt them, if they're not trying to hurt us," Shenji says softly.
"We're taking preventative measures," Kuan explains. "If he gets the chance, he'll use the soldiers that are bound to see that flair to come right after us. Now, I'm all for taking revenge on the Fire Nation and for making sure those attacking me don't hurt me, but I don't want to fight off a full army unit with a total force of three people. Suicide isn't what I signed up for." Having no better argument, Shenji consented.
The group quickly descends the staircase, finding a dark, dank storage level. The room itself seemed large, yet it lacked a source of light. "Look for a knob," Kuan whispers. "That will activate some lanterns and let us see around here." After several moments of fumbling through the dark, Shenji manages to find the lights. Turning the knob slightly, the room lights up with the eerie glow of several dim lanterns. The group sees several parts of the bottom floor sectioned off; each remaining in darkness, since the rooms were on separate light systems. "Split up and check for them. We're bound to find them, so be ready."
Shenji heads down towards the ship's bow, a hammer in hand prepared to attack an enemy that would emerge from the darkness. "Find anything?" Kuro asks as the group, his voice echoing through the black level. As Shenji passes a door, he turns back to respond to his friend. A fire blast emerges from within the room, momentarily illuminating the room in an orange glow.
Feeling the heat, Shenji has a different answer from just seconds prior. "They're here!" he exclaims as he turns to face the Firebender. A large man dressed in a deep red armor steps into the hallway. His bald head reflects some light from the lanterns, while a nearby flame casts a shadow around his face, revealing the outline of an eye patch.
"Now what do you puny soldiers think you're doing attacking my ship?" the man replies, his deep voice echoing through the ship.
"We're just trying to cross the river. If your men didn't attack us, we wouldn't be here," Kuan announces after arriving at Shenji's side.
"If your nations had simply accepted our superiority the War wouldn't have happened. Are you going to correct the mistakes of your ancestors and surrender now?" the officer asks with a dark smirk on his face. The officer was immediately knocked back several feet, his right shoulder leaning back as if struck by a powerful blow. Several round stones fall to the ground as Kuro comes from behind Kuan.
"I'm going to fix their mistake in letting your ancestors live," he says while pulling the stones back to him. The officer swings his arm in an arc, sending a blazing arch towards the Fugitives. Each soldier dodged in their own way, with Kuan being the first to strike. Condensing water from the air around him, Kuro sends a small flurry of ice spikes at the Firebender. Several icicles impale the soldier's arm, piercing the upper layers of his skin. After sending a retaliatory fire blast in the Fugitive's direction, the officer waves his hand over the wound, melting the icicles almost instantaneously. He sends a fire blast towards Kuro, hoping to catch the Earthbender off guard. Kuro, however, saw it coming and reacted swiftly. Separating his earth gauntlet into a solid block of earth, Kuro positioned it in front of himself in order to block the fire. As he feels the blast weakening, Kuro acts; the shield moves forward towards the attacker as a flat conglomeration of earth. Shenji draws his hammer and follows the earth closely. With a spinning kick the officer deflects the earth, sliding back and nearly losing his balance, yet smug with pride in his deflection. He is shocked to see Shenji on the other side and barely has time to dodge when Shenji swings his hammer at his head. Before the officer can retaliate, Shenji jabs the blunt end of the hammer into his chest.
Kuan is quick to seize the chance for victory. By the time he hits the ground, Kuan froze his limbs to the ship's hull. "You think you can do this to Captain Ba? Guards!" Three Firebenders run out of the room, launching fire from their hands in order to free their leader. From his position near the door, Shenji manages to knock out a soldier as he exits the room. Kuan condenses what water he can from the air and sends the small projectile at his enemy. The Firebender is knocked into a wall, his armor cracked around the impact site before he slumps to the ground. The final Firebender begins sending a flurry of small Fireballs around the room, aiming for Kuan in particular. Kuan dodges as many as he can, but is forced to use his small amount of water to block a nearly maiming flame. He quickly recondenses the liquid, sending it towards the soldier as he rapidly accelerates towards the Firebender. The Firebender dodges the water, which freezes in a circle onto the wall. The soldier sends a fire blast at Kuan, but the Waterbender dodges, continuing to ram the Firebender into the wall. As the Firebender staggers, Kuan places his fist on the ice disk on the wall. The ice molds around his hand, forming a fist-shaped weapon. With a single swing of his fist, the soldier's helmet dents with a clunking sound. The soldier slumps to the ground as Ba watches from the ground.
"We just did that to Captain Ba," Kuro says, walking past the incapacitated officer. Kuan condenses more water and freezes the officer's entire body to the hull, further inhibiting motion.
"What was in that room anyway?" Shenji asks as he walks towards the door.
"Only a retired colonial councilman. Leave him be, scum!"barks, struggling in vain against the thick ice barrier.
"We're not going to do anything to him," Shenji replies. "We just want safe passage."
"Speak for yourself," Kuan says as he walks past Shenji and prepares to enter the room.
Shenji grabs Kuan's shoulder, pulling him back into the corridor. "Just because you're bitter against established and elderly Fire Nation citizens doesn't mean you should kill any you come across."
"Who says he deserves to live?" Kuan snaps back.
"Who says it's his time to die?" Shenji retorts.
Kuro paces between the two. "I say leave it to the Spirits to decide. If we can't determine what's right, we shouldn't do anything. We just need to keep him in here."
Kuan seems to reluctantly agree, entering the room and coming across a feeble man sitting on a metal crate. "Who are you?" he demands as the Earth Kingdom soldiers enter.
"My name is Ruon, please leave me be."
"Why are you sailing on this river?" Kuan replies fiercely.
"This is a usual trade route. I'm from Yu Dao, a city nearby. I helped expand the borders that the city controlled, but now I'm retiring due to injury. I'm on my way to a treatment center in the Fire Nation."
"You mean that there will be ships going up and down this river consistently?" Kuro asks, realizing the problem with the group's plan.
"Yes. Yu Dao is a large metal producing center for the Fire Nation, the wealthiest colony in the Earth Kingdom. Ships are going through this river because we are expanding the city's limits, and they now reach the back river. Having such a port makes the city more accessible."
"If the city is so rich, then why leave?"
"The Earth Kingdom was pushing back. They began using ambushes and one of those set off a case of blasting jelly. I was burned all over my torso and legs and I need to have a chance to recover." Water droplets begin collecting on Kuan's hand, signaling that he was finished dealing with Ruon.
Seeing the imminent threat, Ruon sighs and closes his eyes. "If you're here to put an end to me, I will not fight you. I have lived my life well and I have no regrets. May the spirits have mercy on you," he says as he relaxes his tense body. The water gathering on Kuan's hand begins dripping to the floor.
Shenji walks up to Kuan and places a hand on his shoulder. "It's time to go. We're done here."
Kuan turns and begins leaving the room. "We need to leave anyways. Soldiers could be here momentarily." The Waterbender walks out of the room and towards the door, his new friends shortly behind him.
"You did the right thing," Kuro responds. "I hear the spirits don't take kindly to murderers."
"Now's as good a time as any to get a fresh start," he says, his voice barely audible over the ship's creaking. As the group prepares to leave, Shenji notices a small gleam in a slightly opened crate. Shenji reaches in and finds two dao swords slightly out of their casing.
"What are you doing Shenji?" Kuro asks angrily. "We need to go."
Shenji picks up the weapons and swings the strap around his torso. After adjusting theto the extra weight, Shenji smiles faintly. "I feel like these hammers don't give me enough range. It couldn't hurt to have another weapon," the soldier replies calmly.
"We don't have time to talk about it now," Kuro decides while taking further steps towards the exit. By this time, Kuan was already out of the room, prompting the Earth Kingdom soldiers to make a swift exit. After reaching the deck Kuan finds a ladder and throws it over the side of the ship. Kuan begins his descent down the ladder as the Earth Kingdom soldiers arrive on deck. As the duo reaches at the side, Kuro remembers the earth column used to lift the group up to the deck. "Shenji, get on the rock," he says while vaulting over the ship's protective barrier. When Shenji is firmly on the stone column, Kuro forces the block back into the ground.
When Shenji and Kuro arrive arrive, Kuan pushes himself off the part of the hull he was leaning on. "Good, you're here. We don't have any more time to waste," he says, nudging his head towards the woods. The others heed his warning and take off towards the forest, vanishing between the trees.
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