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The eighth chapter of Book Two of
January 3, 2011
The Elite fight amongst themselves while Leah and the group return to Xylia to bury the dead.
Adam woke up groggily, lying sprawled on the forest floor next to his companions. He rose up slowly, rubbing his bruised left temple.
What is it with that little brat and decking me with a rock? he thought angrily.
Adam stood up, releasing the shackles on his companions and slapping Jordan and Vayu awake. He moved over to Kumara, gently shaking her. She awoke with a start, slapping Adam violently.
"Dang it! What was that for?" he screamed at her, clutching the pink spot on his cheek.
"Never get that close to me again!" she shrilly screamed.
"Relax Ku, I was just trying to help, right Jordan?" Adam said, turning to him.
"Hey, I'm staying out of this one. Fix it yourself, let's just find the brats."
"Where are they?" Vayu asked.
"I don't know, that little peasant knocked me out before I could get to Leah." Kumara angrily stated.
"And so the all powerful Kumara gets beat by a local." Vayu whispered under his breath.
"What was that?" she yelled, a wild look in her eye.
"I'm only wondering why you haven't been able to detain or kill her yet. You just incinerated an entire colony of master waterbenders, and you can't stand up to a sixteen-year-old girl and a twelve-year-old peasant. Maybe you're showing some sympathy for the two, a touch of compassion perhaps?"
"I'm not showing any mercy on those two."
"Then what is it? Weakness? Losing your touch? Perhaps we should send you back to Uluru to have some training with the Leader." Vayu teased.
"Why don't you try your luck on me then?" Kumara whispered darkly, flames gathering around her hand.
Vayu walked up to her, faces within inches of each other. Air began to swirl around his hand as well.
"Make your move, let's see if you're worthy of being with the Elite."
Adam stepped up them and tripped them both with a small tremor.
"Break it up, we need to get back to work," he said as he helped Kumara up, Jordan helping Vayu.
"Lucky to have Adam looking out for you, huh Ku?"
"Vayu, stop!" Jordan yelled.
"No, let him go. Apparently threat of things getting a little too hot for him isn't good enough to stop him!"
"Then show me what you got, see if you're still good enough to be with us." Vayu snickered.
Kumara leaped forward, flipping over backwards and slamming her heel on the ground, a blade of fire flying barely over the grass. Vayu blew it away with a small flick of the wrist and countered with three air blades of his own while sending a wall of air. Kumara launched herself above the daggers and sliced through the wall, all the while sending a stream of fire.
Vayu ran forward, cutting a hole in the wall of fire, and brushed air currents at the ground, sending dust at Kumara's eyes. Kumara shrieked in anger and blindly sent fireballs in every direction, setting more of the mutilated forest aflame.
"Ah, does little Ku need someone to clean her eyes?" Vayu sneered.
Kumara immediately turned to the source of the voice and sent a fireball, Vayu veering to dodge it.
"So our little flame can hear? Shall we see what else she can do?" Vayu says to Adam and Jordan.
"Vayu, Ku, that's enough! We need to catch up to Leah." Adam warns.
"No, I need to teach this geezer that he should have a little more respect for me!" Kumara screamed, rubbing at her eyes.
"And I need to teach this little brat the meaning of power and what real respect is!" Vayu yelled.
"We can do this later, we need to find Leah and that little brat from the colony." Jordan explained.
Kumara lunged forward to the sound of Vayu's voice, but stopped suddenly. Warily, she slapped her hands on her ears, shock on her face.
"What's going on?" Kumara said, her voice not reaching her ears.
"Adam, what's happened?" Jordan asked.
"Vayu's stopped sound from reaching Ku. He's made her deaf."
Kumara rubbed at her eyes again, trying to get the dust out. Satisfied, she looked around her, only spotting Adam and Jordan standing a good distance away. Becoming frustrated, she began shooting random streams of fire into the forest, trying to drive Vayu out. Vayu looked down on Kumara, floating just ten feet above her. With a smile, he launched down like a rock and slammed on the ground, sending Kumara flying away.
Kumara landed against a tree, sliding down and scratching the bark. Infuriated, she swung her hands in a circle, sparks she could now hear gathering and swarming around her hands. Vayu made an air sword and held it, testing it against a tree, satisfied to see it fall with one swing. Kumara rushed forward on a jet of fire, setting the ground aflame while Vayu rushed forward with a jet of air. Just before impact, Adam stepped in and raised an earth wall, smacking them in the face.
"I said that's enough!" Adam roared.
Kumara and Vayu stood up slowly, groaning and clutching the rapidly forming bruises on their foreheads.
"Couldn't you have just tripped us? Didn't need to crack our dang heads open did you?" Vayu groaned.
"I felt like you both needed a good smack in the head." Adam said.
"Adam's right, you two need to stop this now! We're on a mission now, we don't have time for you two children to be trying to kill each other like this. Vayu, Kumara is very gifted, especially if she's here with us. Kumara, you need to calm down. Understand?"
"Yes." they both responded.
"Let's try heading to the colony first." Adam said.
"Why?" asked Kumara.
"Because if I had just lost everything I ever knew, I would want to say goodbye first. If the boy is with Leah, it's a good bet he'll want to go there first."
"What was it like in the colony?" Leah asked, riding on an earth wave while maintaining a platform carrying Keith and Sierra.
"As close to normal as we could manage." Jacque responded, riding on a jet of water with a path of dead grass in his wake.
"What did it look like, you know, before.." Sierra awkwardly asked.
"There's no need to hesitate Sierra, what's done is done. We've had our mourning, and now we need to try to move on as best we can." Gabe said.
"How can you move on so quickly?" Sierra asked.
"What else can we do? Stay here, moan, and mourn forever? All we can do is move on." Ryan said, an angry tone to his voice."
"I'm sorry, I just was...never mind." Sierra said, hurt.
"Ryan didn't mean to offend you, he's only still a little upset...we all are. It's only we just lost our home, all the people we loved. We came back from a hunting trip to find our home a desolate ruin, all the people we knew lumps of ash. It's a lot to take in in one day." Gabe said.
"It's okay, I understand." Sierra said.
"Well, to answer your question, the colony was absolutely beautiful. We were on a heavily forested hillside, invisible from the air. Surrounded by two mountains and miles of isolated forest, we were at peace; we were free. Whether it was the children running in the knee high grass, or coming home to our earth huts, we were content with our life." Jacque restated.
"Were all of you benders?"
"Most of us. Bending doesn't come as a gene, it is a gift. The majority of us were new arrivals, and most of us were escapees from the Rogues. Or at least the ones who got away with it."
"What do you mean?"
"You said you two lived at the Rogues for nine weeks, and you're telling me you never had a good reason to leave?"
"Well, we had a few here and there, it took a lot of convincing first." Leah said.
"A few? Most want to leave within a few days."
"Did you two never meet the monster who runs the place?"
"No, she was away on an extended mission. Bronson actually sent us away the night she was to return."
"Oh yes, I remember you telling me already. You two are lucky girls. Most don't get away from there alive. And those who do run the risk of being caught by the BDA."
"Yeah. I guess." Sierra said, a sad look in her eyes.
"And he sent you here?" Gabe asked.
"Yeah, we were actually wondering where we were going until we saw the fog wall." responded Sierra.
"Why did you go to the Rogues in the first place?"
"I haven't finished waterbending." Leah stated.
"Really? You seem pretty good at it from what I've seen." Jacque admired.
"Well, I have the basics and advanced level down, but I always felt my teacher was holding something back. Like I never learned to take the water out of plants."
"Oh, this is something we rarely do. As you can see, it leaves only a path of death, and the sacrifice isn't a good reason normally for us to use."
"Then why do it so freely now?"
"How well can the BDA cover this up if there're random swaths of dead grass and destruction all over the place? The colony is destroyed, the only thing we can do is make it harder for them to cover this up to the public."
"But can you teach me to do it?"
"Why wouldn't your master teach you?"
"Her first reason was I hadn't mastered earthbending, but then I did, and she just kept holding it back."
"Who was your teacher?"
"Well that would explain it then."
"Rose was never one to embrace the darker arts of waterbending. Taking water out of living things was one of them."
"Well, she told you she was with the Rogues before she was detained right?"
"Then that explains it doesn't it?"
"So where are we going? I thought we were going to Knoxville, but it looks like we're going back to Xylia." Leah asked, trying to change the subject.
"Or what's left of it." Ryan grumbled.
"Ryan, that's enough please. Yes, if you wish to join us, we will be going to Knoxville. First, however, we'd like to head to Xylia and do a proper burial. Would you mind helping us bury the remains?"
"Me? I don't know, I kind of feel like I'd be intruding." Leah stumbled.
"Leah, you risked your life to save this kid. You're okay with me to help, it's okay. Will you help with the burial?"
Leah was silent for a moment, worry crossing her face.
"Thank you. We're almost to Xylia."
Night began to fall as the Elite walked silently through the forest. As blackness and a small chill in the air arrived, Kumara lit a small flame and increased the heat around them. They slowly came upon the burned hill, smoke still pouring up in small streams from the burned stumps and grass.
"Wow. Nice job Ku, you really destroyed this place." Jordan complimented.
"This isn't something to congratulate," said Kumara, walking ahead of them, taking the warmth with her.
"What's her deal?" Adam asked.
"Long day, I say we just leave her." Jordan stated.
They started to walk up the hill, looking around for signs of life.
"Where're all the bodies?" Vayu asked as he took another step up. Adam suddenly rushed forward and stopped him from stepping down. Vayu looked down, a pile of a grey, sand-like substance below his foot.
"Right there." Adam said, moving him to the left.
"Watch your step. Let's just show a little respect for them, okay?" Jordan said.
"Why? We had good reason to take them out right?" Vayu said.
"This isn't a target site anymore, this is a graveyard. Can you not show a little respect for the dead?" Kumara coldly stated.
"I can." Vayu defended.
"Then watch your step and keep your voice down. Leah and the boy could be anywhere around here."
"Relax, I know how to take care of myself."
"You do? Then you go yourself, you don't need us to protect you, do you?" Kumara dared.
"Ku, that's not the way we work." Adam warned.
"No, she's right. I can do this myself."
Vayu walked up the hill past Kumara, shooting her a dark look.
"The Leader's not gonna like this." Jordan whispered.
"Then we'll tell him it wasn't our fault. Who knows? This might turn out well." Adam responded.
"Leah's kicked us around every time we've seen her, together. And we're sending Vayu against her and a waterbender that got away from Kumara, the woman who slaughtered an entire colony of them. How could this ever turn out well?"
"Then go up there and help him."
"What about you?"
"Someone's gotta keep watch on Kumara."
"Fine." Jordan sighed angrily.
Jordan walked begrudgingly up the hill to Vayu.
"I don't need your help." Vayu accused.
"I know you don't , but why not accept it?"
Vayu only grunted, looking in the distance for Leah and Keith.
"I know this is a matter of pride, you coming up here yourself, but we're a team, and we need to start acting that way. That doesn't mean going off by yourself because Kumara dared you, it means we all work together to finish this mission, okay?"
They stood there at the apex of the hill for a few moments, looking into the forest. Night had totally fallen and the waxing gibbous moon was high in the sky. The night sky was empty, only interrupted by tiny licks of smoke still rising from the ruined colony. A small rustling sound began to penetrate their ears, a tree on the edge of the hill starting to move.
"Is that them?" Vayu asked.
"Yes, but this can't be right. It's not just Leah and the boy, there're three others with them." Jordan pointed out.
"I'm not kidding, there are three other men with her."
"They must be survivors from the colony."
"Then how are we supposed to attack? Do we want to get Adam and Ku?"
"No, we can do this ourselves."
"You know how we each had to have a special ability to be in the Elite, like Ku's contact lightning and my sound bending?"
"I'll show you. Follow me down to the base of the hill, I need living grass for this to work."
The group finally arrived at the ruined colony, pushing through the trees to finally have a view.
"So, how do you want to do this?" Leah asked.
"Well, let's just go around the hill and bury any ashes we see. Simple enough." Jacque said.
"What if the BDA are here?"
"Then we'll have to run that risk. This really needs to be done."
Leah, Jacque, and Ryan walked up the hill, leaving Gabe to guard Sierra and Keith. As they stopped at the first few ash piles, Leah put a hole in the earth and buried the ash. They stood there for a few moments, paying their respects for the unknown victim. They continued along the hill, repeating the process over and over. Along the way, Leah took water from nearby trees and put out the weak fires, stopping the smoke finally.
An hour and a half of the process passed, and they walked to the bottom of the hill, exhausted.
Jordan and Vayu lay in a bush on the edge of the hill, watching the three walk.
"Are they done?" Vayu whispered.
"Looks like it." Jordan replied, peering intently at them.
"If you're going to do it, do it now, if they get back, they'll have the third man and the boy to help them."
Jordan stood up, moving out of the bush and standing in an open area of knee high grass near the edge of the hill. He laid down on his stomach obscuring him from view. He silently put his hands on the forest floor, roots and grass wrapping around his hands at his command. His hands shook violently, gaining control of the roots and plants.
Leah, Jacque, and Ryan neared the area where Sierra, Keith, and Gabe were waiting. Suddenly, Leah tripped, landing on her side.
"Are you okay?" Jacque asked.
"Yeah, something just caught my ankle." Leah explained.
Leah tried to stand up, but left foot refused to move. Leah looked at her foot, and screamed in shock. Wrapped around her foot were several thick strings of grass, braided around her ankle.
"Jacque, Ryan, there's something on my ankle!"
Jacque moved forward to help when suddenly he tripped as well. Grass started to grab hold of Leah's other ankle and wrap up her leg to her thighs, then onward up her stomach. Ryan looked down at his feet and yelled, grass lunging violently at his knees and forcing him down to the forest floor.
Jacque struggled aimlessly and watched, helpless as the grass wrapped up his legs and torso. Gabe heard the struggles and ran towards them, only to be caught be the grass as well. Sierra watched in horror from the earth cart, unsure what to do.
The grass wrapped down Leah's arms to her elbows and started to creep up her neck. Leah tried to sit up, only getting as far as getting on her knees before the grass took hold and stopped her. Jacque was almost entirely covered in the writhing plants, only his nose and eyes visible. Ryan and Gabe stopped moving all together, covered from head to toe.
Vayu looked at the struggling targets from the safety of his bush, a shocked look on his face. He stood up from the bush and walked over to Jordan, concentrating intently.
"I gotta say, I'm impressed." Vayu complimented.
"Can't talk. Go get them. Take out hearing first." Jordan struggled to utter, eyes closed tightly, hands turning purple from the tight hold of the roots.
Vayu walked toward Leah and the men, stopping a few feet before reaching them. Leah was covered up to her neck and elbows, and the three men were mummified in the grass. Vayu formed an air barrier around Leah's ears, creating a makeshift vacuum. Leah started to panic and looked up at Vayu, a look of contempt and hatred on her face. Vayu prepared to suck the air out of her lungs, relishing in the slow, painful death to the young woman who had caused them so much trouble.
Vayu started the motion when he noticed a small change in the grass near Leah's fists. The forest floor near Leah turned a deep, deathly gray, noticeable even in the dark night air. Small tendrils of water started to seep up Leah's fists and cut through the grass freeing her arms and extending to her torso. Within seconds, a great circle of dead grass surrounded Leah, now covered in water and free from the grass' hold.
Leah cut free Jacque, Ryan, and Gabe, them taking water from the trees nearby and assuming offensive positions. Leah made the first move and lashed out at Vayu, smashing him in the chest with a jet of water. Vayu started to recover as the three men pinned him to the ground with ice daggers, taking care to embed them deep in the forest floor.
Jordan felt his hold on Leah fail and tried attack again. Grass lashed out at Leah angrily, snapping at her legs and torso. Leah mercilessly took the water from the grass, advancing toward Jordan's position with a path of death left in her wake. Leah stood above Jordan, all the water from the grass in an enormous orb above her head.
Leah dumped it all on Jordan, soaking him to the bone. Jordan started coughing violently, trying to wrench his hands free from the roots still entangled in his fingers. Leah took the chance and shackled him to the ground, defeating him.
Leah looked back from where she started, a pitiful display of dead grass and plant life in full view before her. Was this necessary? she thought sadly. Jacque walked over to her, followed closely by Sierra, a shocked look still left on her face from the display.
"Are you okay?" Jacque asked, still shaking grass out of his ears.
"No. How can you do this endlessly?" she accused, pointing to the dead plant life.
"Leah, it was necessary, and it's only to help so that the BDA can't cover this up easily."
"But is it worth all this? Is it worth killing all this, only to satisfy our own needs?"
"Leah, Vayu easily could've killed us. You had no other choice, you saved our lives. Isn't that a good reason to sacrifice a few feet of grass?"
Leah looked back sadly at the path of ruin, then back again at Vayu and Jordan.
"Leah, we need to leave. Kumara and Adam can't be far. We need to get Keith out of here, we need to get him to Knoxville." Jacque tried to say, not getting through Leah's shock.
Leah stood there, unmoving, tears starting to gather in her eyes. "I didn't need this power. It isn't worth it."
"Leah, please." Sierra pleaded.
Leah started to move towards Keith, a tear tracing down her cheek to her grass stained clothing. Sierra put an arm around her shoulder, leading her back to Keith and the others.
This chapter was delayed due to unexpected computer maintenance.
The author wanted this chapter to focus primarily on the Elite, as he felt they hadn't had their chance in the spotlight yet
For the collective works of the author, go here.