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Previously on Fire & Ice
|"The soldier's name was Kiharu, age twenty-two. He had been a part of the Southern Raiders for four years. As he walked up the metal staircase, his heavy boots created a low clanking sound each time he stepped. His heavy boots and his heavy burden. Everything takes its toll in some way or another."|
|"He turned around, whipping the water around him and watching it spiral out in beautiful tendrils that glistened under the light of the lamp above him, a refreshing happiness dawning upon him, at last, peace. Yes, he was a waterbender."|
|Heart of Grit|
June 19, 2013
This is Chapter 2 of.
It was a perfect day. Sunny, some clouds, not too hot but not too cold, a small breeze - just perfect. Kiharu sat overlooking the ocean, lightly sweating beneath his full Southern Raiders armor; a thin tunic, full suit of mail and large metal plates guarding his chest and arms. Atop his head was his ceremonial helmet, with intricate, red, wing like spikes shooting out from its sides. Beneath it were two cold blue eyes, physically and mentally prepared to witness the day.
Kiharu was on a small, sleek Southern Raiders battleship which could quickly cut through the seas while not attracting attention with clouds of smoke and roaring engines. They were best for small scale, surprise missions. They were in good use today. Among a handful of other soldiers, Kiharu was sitting on the deck with Mozu and Ziha, the rest of their posse out on a different boat. They could only fit around ten or twelve in each. Both of his friends were dressed alike him in full armor.
"I'm so ready for this," Mozu said quietly, sharpening a knife of his. "All the training, fighting, I'm ready to finally make a strike against the Water Tribe. We've been tracking individual ships of theirs for too long."
Kiharu looked at him, his best friend. "You're really that into this?"
"Its about the adrenaline," he replied, snatching his shiny knife and holding it up in the air. "The thrill of the fight."
Ziha sighed. "Why do you even have that knife? All you ever do is sharpen it."
"It feels good to have a blade. I love this knife. Someday I'll use it."
"Someday?" Kiharu asked.
"Yeah, something like that." Mozu looked back down and continued sharpening his weapon.
Before they could respond, the lieutenant of their ship walked out on the crowded deck. All conversation quieted.
"We should be arriving at the Water Tribe's Blue Moon Camp in the next ten minutes. Everyone, get your act together and be prepared to charge as soon as we touch their banks."
They looked over the side of the boat at sandy, mountainous mass of land slowly coming closer in the distance. Some sparse trees could be seen atop it.
"Where the hell is this place?" one soldier asked. "I thought the Water Tribe lived in the South Pole."
"They do," answered the lieutenant. "And ever since the Battle of the Extermination four years ago, we thought we had subdued them all there. But because of our own Kiharu's bravery last week capturing the last of those rouge waterbenders who attempted attacking us, we were able to track down a Water Tribe rebel base on an abandoned Air Nomad island named Blue Moon Camp. We underestimated them, not thinking they had the will and resources to create their own mobile fighting force."
"They have a military?" another solider questioned.
Kiharu silently steamed. Who do they think the Water Tribe are? Wild animals?
"Luckily," the lieutenant continued, "If they had any means of a rebellion in the works at this camp, today we will crush it."
Well, most of them cheered.
As they neared closer to the rocky island, their ship began to rocket through the waves faster, and the soldiers were given a minute to check out their surroundings. There was a small port with a few canoes and one larger sailboat on the edge of the land. Then there was a gravely shore of sorts which a couple lines of blue tents and a few actual small buildings, some scattered campfire circles. The rest of the island was mountainous and craggy, dotted with trees, sort of hiding the camp within it from passerby ships. That worked until now.
As the three Southern Raiders ships on this mission neared the coast, tension and violence began to quickly build.
"Everyone, prepare to charge!" yelled the lieutenant.
Soldiers began to draw their weapons and stand up, preparing themselves for battle.
By now, the Water Tribe had come out prepared for war as well, arrows already shooting through the air.
Roaring engines, twanging bows, yelling soldiers.
Suddenly, everything seemed to explode in volume, as the deafening sound of three battleships charging full speed ahead into a bank of sand and gravel roared in the air, clouds of dust jetting outward from the landing, water splashing in every direction. All the other noises going on were dwarfed in comparison of this eruption.
Still a little shaken inside, an army of Southern Raiders began to pour out from the boats through the devastation they had made on the rocky beach and they stormed into the Water Tribe camp, a giant wall of violence. The opposing soldiers charged as well, drawing their knives out, and as the two forces clashed, the outcome was only an explosion of blood. Bodies fell on both sides, and everyone seemed to start running their own directions as all hell broke loose.
Kiharu was used to fighting his people by now and it was not emotional pain hurting him, but the physical pain that he and all the other soldiers must have shared. He was a soldier, but this was worse than usual. The crash against the shore was enough of a shock, running into the opposing army got his body even more stressed. Usually the Southern Raiders fought innocent Water Tribe villages and fishing boats, but this was a military camp of their own. They still did underestimate the Water Tribe, he realized. They always would. And it was because of their own ignorance to accept that waterbenders could create a powerful fighting force that was going to make this battle so bloody.
Running towards a large blue tent with a group of other soldiers, Kiharu ducked beneath a throwing knife and ran up to an opposing Water Tribe warrior. He deflected a strike with a metal spear with a quick parry of his own knife, then he jabbed outwards, throwing his enemy backwards. Swiping this way and that, he walked forward, pushing him backwards, towards the blue canvas of a tent. When he hit it, unable to move backward, the warrior, purely out of instinct, lunged at Kiharu and sent his fist hurling towards his face. In surprise, he didn't move out of the way in time and took the blow with a crack of bones, blood and flesh, sending intense pain through his mouth and cheek.
"You asked for it," Kiharu spat, sending his foot up and kicking the wind out of the Water Tribe warrior's stomach, quickly followed by a smashing blow to the head with the back of his knife. The man fell to the sand, life shaking out of him in violent thrashes and spasms. It was a horrible sight to see.
Grieving would have to wait, however. A line of opposing warriors were running up to him, waving spears above their heads. In shock, Kiharu looked around, trying to get the attention of another soldier, but everybody was already occupied in the bloody frenzy of the fight. He looked back at the four enemies coming at him and lowered in his stance, preparing himself. One of the warriors threw his spear at him, which Kiharu quickly ducked beneath and then, pulling out his knife, blocked a second that came at him in a downward strike. Kicking up and smashing the spear out of the next one's hands and straight over his head, he ran up and with one knuckle pointing outwards, struck his fist beneath the man's jaw, sending him hurling backwards and to the ground.
Suddenly, before he could even think, one of the other warriors had lunged at him, and with brute power took the end of his spear and cracked it against the back of Kiharu's skull. Pain rocking through his body, he tried to move away from his three remaining opponents as blurry blackness and the scent of blood clouded his mind. Sensing another spear coming towards him, he instinctively sent out a block that knocked it away while gashing a gory bruise on his arm. Pain, oh pain.
This time, he had no time nor energy to deflect an attack. Another spear came straight at him, smashing up his chest armor and throwing him backwards, landing Kiharu in the bloodstained sand among his fallen foes and allies. Waving his arms in a desperate plea for help, he tried to shield himself from the blade coming straight down towards his neck at full force.
In a sudden explosion of fire and metal the warrior who he thought was about to kill him was blown away from his field of vision, flames clouding his vision for an extremely hot few moments. After the panic subsided, Kiharu sat up, looking around. The man who was just going to kill him was in the sand; a steaming, bloody piece of char. As he stood up, he saw Jiro walk up, putting the flames out around his hands.
"Don't say I never did nothing' for you, kid."
Kiharu wasn't exactly sure how to take that, but he smiled anyway. "Thanks."
"Yeah, yeah." He looked around, grabbing his friend and pulling him behind a tent as a dozen or so opposing warriors ran through the camp. "Wouldn't want to fight them right now."
Both of took a moment to regain their strength and take a few deep breaths in the shadows of the battle.
"So what's the plan?"
"We've definitely taken a huge number of their fighting force out," Jiro said. "All that's left now is to take out whoever's in command."
"And who's that?"
Kiharu shrugged. "Lets do it."
Meanwhile, on the shores of Blue Moon Camp, Mozu and Ziha were running through the shallow water of the ocean, bending over as not to make a commotion. Their task was to take out the camp's ships.
Mozu leapt out of the water, climbing up one of the docks and then helping Ziha up after him. They assessed the situation; there were three canoes and one large sailboat. With a nod to each other, they each blasted a ball of flame at the ends of the first canoe. It cracked apart, burning, and then slowly sank to the ocean floor.
"Hey you!" a shout bolted through the battle air. They looked over, seeing two Water Tribe warriors running towards them. Without thinking, Ziha smashed her fist into the air and sent a whirling blaze straight at first enemy's head, instantly turning it into a blackened ghost of its former self. The man stumbled and then toppled straight off the docks into the ocean. The second warrior, a bit more agile, ducked beneath a wave of fire from Mozu and leapt at them, swinging two short swords wildly in every direction. Cringing, they stepped back and both shot a few flame jets which after he dodged the first few, struck him in the side. Stunned in hot pain, the warrior began to step back, clutching his wound.
Mozu shrugged. "I'll put him out of his misery." He walked up and landed a powerful kick in a very particular region of the man's body which caused him to crumple in agony on the wooden deck before them.
"Well that's one way to do it," Ziha said.
"Hey, it works."
Before any others came to fight them, the duo quickly took down the other two canoes in similar fashion to the first one. Leaping over the water to the next dock, they headed to the single sailing ship anchored at the camp - their next target. Quickly, they headed around to the back of the ship and climbed up the wooden hull.
"Who knew the Water Tribe could build a ship like this?" Mozu said, stepping on the deck.
Ziha shrugged. "I was surprised the first time I saw them in a canoe."
They walked below the deck, checking for anything valuable in the storage area. Only a few bags of gray meat, bones to craft weapons with, and a couple random pieces of wood, cloth and fur. A few barrels were lined up in the corner.
"Destroy it all," Ziha stated without much further thought.
"What's our plan for going about that?"
"I don't know, burn it or something."
Mozu walked over to the group of barrels. He took the lid off one, examined the contents in the shadows of the room, and then bent down and sniffed it, nodding. "Just as I thought. Blasting jelly."
"Oh," Ziha said, smiling. "We could have some fun with this."
"Should we take some to bring back to the Fire Nation?"
"Yeah, sure," she said. "Score us some points with Yon Rha."
Nodding, Mozu rolled one barrel over to Ziha who picked it up, her muscles straining. Then he pulled a coil of rope from his pocket, stuck one end in the already opened barrel, and lit the other side with a small flame as a makeshift fuse. Quickly, he grabbed the last barrel and ran for the stairs. "Get out of here!"
The two of them sprinted back to the deck, and headed for the opening in the boat's railing to jump off.
"Fire Nation!" a voice suddenly announced through the thick of the action. "How dare you!"
They looked behind them as a Water Tribe warrior ran over, wielding a battle club that he swung uncontrollably.
"Damnit!" Ziha cursed. She kicked out with her foot, sending a bolt of flame outwards that struck the enemy in the legs, causing him to stumble in pain.
Mozu began to run. "Its gonna blow!"
In a short, suspenseful frenzy, the two Southern Raiders ran at full speed towards the side of the boat and disregarding the actual exit, just hurdled over the railing, still holding the two extra barrels of blasting jelly. As they fell through the air, a giant glow of yellow and red flashed in the sky accompanied by a giant wave of heat and the violent sounds of cracking wood, scraping of metal versus metal and one long howl of pain jolted the hearts of everyone in the area. Mozu and Ziha landed on the dock, stumbling forward a bit in shock, and looked behind them. There, the cracked up, blazing pieces of the Water Tribe sailboat were slowly sinking to the dark depths of the ocean floor in steamy destruction.
Mozu put down the heavy barrel he had carried and wiped the sweat from his brow. "Holy crap."
Back on the land in the innermost section of the Blue Moon Camp, Jiro and Kiharu were running towards the commander's base, a relatively large stone bricked building in the center of everything. It was the heart of the fort and the lines and lines of tents around it acted as its defending walls. The Fire Nation, while suffering heavily as well, had finally broken through the last wall of defense. Now, they just had to take out the one in charge of the place and the mission was over.
That was Jiro and Kiharu's job. They got up to the large wooden door at the front of the command building which they broke down in an explosion of fire followed by a strong kick at the hinges. Running inside, Jiro blasted apart the first guard they saw in a fiery punch and Kiharu threw the next into the stone wall, probably only knocking him unconscious. They arrived in a medium-sized square room filled with maps, charts, chairs and small tables. Standing there were two men, one dressed in elaborate armor and a wolf head helmet, the other in a blue tunic holding a spear. They instantly got into a fighting stance at the sight of Fire Nation enemies.
"I'm gonna say you're the commander here," Jiro said, giving a slight shake of his head towards the first opponent.
The man nodded. "I am Chief Shikeo of the Southern Water Tribe." He looked at his ally for just a split second. "This is my assistant, Kenshin."
Jiro spat. "Thank you for the biography." He shot Kiharu a quick look, and then they both struck in unison. Jiro stepped forward, throwing a huge wall of flame forward that the chief rolled out of the way of, drawing a short sword that he thrust towards them. Kiharu jumped up and snapped the blade out the way with a quick crescent kick, when a smash of metal threw him backwards, landing him in the other direction, facing the assistant who was swinging his spear straight towards him. Ducking, spinning and leaping up again, he drew his knife and deflected the next strike, lunging at the man at an attempt to trap him in the corner. They smashed their weapons against one another, knife versus spear, and as soon as Kiharu felt his short blade begin to slightly bend he drew it back, throwing off his opponents strength and balance wildly off. In the split second of pure advantage available, he leapt up, smashing his elbow against the man's arm, causing him to let go of his weapon. Kiharu used his other arm to pin his opponent to the wall. There, they locked eyes in wild anger.
What am I doing? It suddenly dawned upon him. Why am I mad?
Shaking, Kiharu looked at Jiro over his shoulder, who had just dropped the chief to the ground, his clothes burning. He must be dead and now Jiro was watching him, waiting for him to finish the off the job. But he couldn't. Not right here and right now. All he could do now was stare into the man's eyes as he held him up against the stone wall.
He could see a clouded mix of madness in those deep eyes. Life. Longing. Love.
But there, in the back of his mind, he knew that was the old Kiharu, the real Kiharu coming back. Right now, he was in his Southern Raiders gear. He needed to act like one. Lifting his knife up, he began to tremble, a billion emotions ripping each other to shreds in his brain.
"Get it over with," Jiro urged. "Come on, you can do it."
Kiharu stared helplessy, knowing what was going to have to happen but begging it wouldn't as he stared into his opponents eyes.
"Do it for the Fire Nation."
The eyes were calling out to him in longing, pleading to be spared. This man didn't want to die.
"Do it for your family."
He shook and stared, trying to transmit some sort of apology or explanation through the deep, horrible lock of their eyes. What sort of chaos had he wreaked upon himself?
"Just do it already, god damnit!"
In a sudden rush of horror and adrenaline, Kiharu took his knife and without a second thought threw it into the man's neck.
To stab a man. To brutally strike out and destroy someone's spirit, personally slicing through their souls and feeling whatever was inside die before you. Kiharu knew what it was really like, as horrible dread and agony took over his mind. It wasn't the clean cut they told him in the songs and stories. There was still life beneath the skin he punctured. Bone, flesh. Blood spilled out like a fountain. He saw the shock and pain in the man's eyes, he saw the horror rush through his face. He saw death - he brought death. He himself dug death deep into his body, and watched it consume him, cell by cell. He saw the truth of death. It wasn't just the man stopping working, it was a horrible curse that took him over and brought him down to the depths of darkness. And this man was Water Tribe. His brethren.
Kiharu stepped back, pulling the knife back out, finishing off the pain, leaving the man there, crumpling down to the floor, perished.
"Good job," Jiro said. "I knew you had it in you."
Stumbling, Kiharu took a few steps back and looked at the corpse he had created in torment. He stared down at his hands, stained with the blood of his enemy and then looked back up. "What sort of monster have I become?" He almost didn't mean to say it aloud, but it was fine.
"It's alright," Jiro said. "You're strong, that's what this shows."
"Yeah, something like that." He sighed. "Lets just get out of here."
They quickly left the building to greet the battle coming to a close outside. The Southern Raiders were beginning to retreat back to their boats, leaving the burning camp behind. They certainly hadn't won, but they had definitely left a mark on the Water Tribe. Dozens and dozens had died on either side of the fray.
Nothing mattered anymore to Kiharu. He walked back to his boat and as he left with his remaining allies, he didn't speak a word. The traumatic scene of him sliding his knife through that innocent man's neck just kept replaying over and over again in his mind. He knew it would never, ever stop doing so. It would haunt him forever.
That day, Kiharu saw the truth.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
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