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Having again been forced to flee from the Isha's might, Brek couldn't help but think of failure as Pumi dashed through the rocky terrain of the Southern Earth Kingdom towards Kekuatan. Berani, predicting the emotional stress her friend must be enduring, wrapped her arms around the Avatar from behind, whispering "Everything is going to be okay. We're finally going home."
Brek, who didn't turn to look at Berani, said nothing, but terrible thoughts ran through his head. What do we tell Kaeta's Aunt and Uncle? Where is he? Onjing wasn't even there and we were still too weak...
Flying in the opposite direction on Ayala's sky bison, Kaeta's mind continued to rerun the image of who he thinks were his parents- the parents who died years ago.
"Zola?" The Waterbender gently nudged the Fire Nation princess, who was drifting to sleep.
"Uh-huh," she gave Kaeta a tired nod.
"When you... saw your parents during that battle... were they-"
"Those weren't my parents." Her voice was cold and stern. "Those monsters disgraced their names by wearing their faces but they are nothing like my parents were."
"I'm sorry. It's just- I think you're really brave with the way you-" He was cut off when Zola's lips met his, and when she finally pulled away, she said, "That's for if neither of us are alive tomorrow."
By the time the exhausted Pumi managed to bring his two passengers to the village of Kekuatan, a dark, full-moon night had fallen. Brek and Berani dismounted their ride cautiously, as they couldn't escape the feeling that something was amiss.
"This place is pitch black," exclaimed Berani in a hushed tone, "I can't see a thing."
Brek decided to ignite a small flame in his palms, illuminating at least part of their surroundings. With the dim light making a nearby building somewhat visible, Brek noticed something odd. He exhaled and the flame augmented, revealing that what he was looking at was no building at all, rather rubble from the bakery Brek used to visit every day. The entire place had been destroyed. Berani gasped at the sight. Nervous, Brek enlarged his fire even more, and to his dismay, he saw an entire row of crumbled walls and shattered glass where shops and apartments once stood. The Avatar turned to speak, but he kept silent when he heard something mechanical approaching. He grabbed Berani, and the two ducked behind a barrier of wreckage, struggling to hide Pumi with them.
They peered just above the debris to see a long, catipilar-like tank with a lantern attached to its rear making it's way down the devastated road. It was followed by an entourage of four men in a straight line, each one in heavy armor bearing the Earth Kingdom insignia.
Brek's first thought was to unleash the three elements he had mastered in an impressive feat of power and anger, but his training under Ayala had taught him to keep his emotions in check. He and Berani waited for a few minutes in silence, but his fury quickly turned to fear when two more Earth Kingdom troops passed by, this time talking amongst themselves.
Brek and Berani could hardly make out what one was saying, "I'm certain, sir. We've found every last Cha Jin De safe-house. By now, every non-bender from Kekuatan has been relocated to the internment camp."
Berani let out a quick gasp before covering her mouth with both hands. There's no way they heard that, she thought desperately, but sure enough, one of the men jerked his head in their direction with a curious look on his face. Slowly, he stepped closer and closer with Brek and Berani sweating harder and harder as they hid behind rubble. Just when the footsteps had reached the other side of their cover, they stopped. Then, they felt the only rock in between them and the soldier being moved by Earthbending.
In a rash, sudden move of desperation, Berani sprung out from hiding and lodged a dagger in the man's throat, killing him instantly as blood splattered on her face and chest. At that moment, the man's partner attempted to call for help, but Brek had already leapt onto the road and sent him flying into a wall with an impressive blast of air. The soldier began to rise quickly, but just as he got up, he fell to his knees, grasping for air. In front of him, Brek stood with clenched fists and a cynical face. Within thirty seconds, the man had curled over and died.
"Brek! What did you just do?" Berani was mortified at the Avatar's disturbing display of might.
"I- I don't know. It just seemed... natural to me." Brek seemed to fall into a deep gaze but briskly snapped out of it and turned to Berani, blood still dripping from her face onto the ground. "We have to get out of here. My house is probably safe since my dad and brother are benders..." his voice trailed off when he realized what he was implying.
"I'm sure my dad and plenty of others could have escaped right?" Brek had never seen Berani so fearful before. He nodded, almost certain that she was wrong.
Cautiously yet swiftly, the duo proceeded through the once tranquil Kekuatan to the Avatar's home, hoping to find it and his family unharmed. When they arrived, Brek could hear whispers from the inside, but the place fell dead silent when he knocked on the cold, wood door. Seconds later, it swung open and the Avatar was embraced by a large, weeping man.
"My son, we need you now more than ever."
The harsh wind blew frigid snow into the faces of Kaeta and Zola as Ayala's sky bison approached the Southern Water Tribe's capital city, and the flying beast landed awkwardly on the frozen dock. While Zola collected her things and her thoughts, Kaeta wasted no time leaping of his ride onto the hard ground below, and ignoring the shock he felt in his legs, he melted the ice in his way and began to jog towards civilization. The Fire Nation princess soon followed.
"Where are you going?" she called into the dark, gelid night.
"Anywhere!" Kaeta shouted back. "Maybe an inn or... anywhere!"
"Are you looking for something in particular?"
At that question, the Waterbender stopped in his tracks, slightly agitated. He looked around across his arctic surroundings, unsure of what to say or if he even knew the answer. "No... just, follow me!"
Without another word, Zola obeyed, taking a breath of fire for warmth.
Five minutes later, the duo and Ayala's sky bison were standing in front of a large ice wall surrounding what looked like a small community or series of igloos. Brushing off the frost on a wooden sign, Zola read aloud "Frozen Dock's Inn-Igloos Always Available." She turned to Kaeta and shrugged. "Let's check it out."
As they entered, an old, frail man no taller than five feet hobbled towards them with his cane. He paused in front of the couple and studied them closely. "What are youngsters like you doing out in this blizzard? And at this time of night?"
"Well," Kaeta began, "we just arrived on our flying buffalo from an Air Temple in the mountains that had been attacked by a group that has tracked us all over the world."
"Hmmm... Do your parents know about this?"
Kaeta was about to shrug off is question until an idea came to his mind. "Actually, my parents have been dead for years. That's why I'm here, actually. Did you ever know a couple Pele and Kallista? They were both Waterbend-"
"You're their son?" The man's eyes were a mile wide and his mouth hung open from shock. "Come with me to that big igloo in the center. That's my house. And errr bring your big fluffy thing with you."
After warming up with a hot, yet disgusting soup apparently home to the Southern Water Tribe, Kaeta was ready to speak with the Innkeeper. The elderly man, who still seemed utterly astonished, stared amazed at his young visitor.
"So you knew my parents?" Kaeta started.
"Knew them? Do you not recognize your own grandfather?"
"Dad, what's happened? Everything's destroyed! Why is the army here?" With each question a new one formed in Brek's head.
"Where's my Father?" Berani demanded.
Kupo turned to her and smiled. "He's with us. He's safe."
To that answer, Berani exhaled a combination of a sigh of relief and a cry of joy.
Kupo continued, "In the back room, you'll find a cabinet. Move it, and open the door beneath it. Climb down the ladder and say "friendly". You'll find your father and the others there." Immediately, Berani followed the man's instructions.
"Why do we have them here, in our house? Hidden?"
"Brek, things have changed for the worse since you left. The soldiers came, and I thought we'd defeat them, but they sent reinforcements. After destroying our town and occupying what remains of it, they ordered the deportation of all non-benders and anyone who had vocally supported Democracy."
"So the Earth King has two enemies, Democratic Revolutionists, and non-benders... But that means-"
"Yes, it means the Earth King is also a member of that Isha group everyone keeps talking about."
"The Isha are nothing to take likely. We've encountered several of them, including their leader, their inhuman leader." The Avatar paused. "Where is Batu?"
"Brek, I need you to listen to me-"
"When he refused to swear his loyalty to the Earth King, they-"
"Where's my brother!"
"They decided to punish him by-"
"They forced him to load non-benders onto their trucks, but he refused."
"And.. they took him away."
Brek sunk to his knees about hearing this, tears pouring down his face. "Is he alive?"
"I- I don't know. But hiding in our basement isn't going to help him or anything else. We've received a message from the Isha resistance, and they're coming here to help."
"Tomorrow. At dawn."
"I'll be ready. Berani will be ready too. It's time we expunge evil from this world."
"My own Grandfather..." at a loss for words, Kaeta sprung from his seat and hugged his aged relative.
"I've missed you so much."
"But you didn't know I was living with Uncle Kooprook?"
"No, they're all the way in the Earth Kingdom!"
"And that's where I was! But why didn't they tell you?"
"You mean, you don't know?"
At that point, Zola cut in. "Kaeta, how many secrets does your family have."
Ignoring her, Kaeta's grandfather answered his question, "They didn't want her to find you."
"Who is she?
"Years ago -you were seven I believe- a Bloodbender attacked our city."
Zola and Kaeta both gasped. "Curly hair? Young?" The Waterbender inquired.
The innkeeper nodded.
"Her name is Kimma," spat Kaeta, seething in anger. She's the one who made them stab each other?"
The grandfather took a deep breath. "Well, if you're correct on who she is, yes."
Kaeta thought of telling his grandfather about the recreations of his dead parents at the Southern Air Temple, but he decided against confusing the poor old man and telling him a terrible fact about his deceased son.
Across the sea, a weak, defeated woman in immense pain and on the verge of death emerged from the rubble of the second most destructive battle in the history of the Southern Air Temple. Her name was Ayala, and now more than ever, she was determined to see the death of her brother. As she rose to her knees trembling and eventually stood to her feet, she scanned the remains of the temple and began to weep. Onjing, where are you?
Miles away, in the mountains of the Earth Kingdom, four powerful benders gathered per their instructions. Among them, a cynical Bloobender named Kimma, a ferocious Lightningbender named Zhouray, a cruel Sandbender named Sangti, and a courageous, half-metal Firebender named Soza.
"So?" Sangti began, "where is he?"
"Don't question him!" Kimma snapped.
"Why do you fear him like that?" inquired Soza. "When you talk about him, you refer to him as if he's greater than the spirits.
"Soza.." Zhouray stuttered. His attention was elsewhere and he pointed beyond a few hills. "I think you're about to get your answer."
The other three turned to see thousands figures marching across the rocky terrain, each one completely emotionless. Each one seeming less than human. Each one following one leader. Onjing. The leader of the Isha did not speak, and he was still far away, yet the other four could hear his thoughts.
My friends, with this army, it's time we silence the place the so-called pride of the Cha Jin De's began. Republic City.
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