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|Hooked Swords and Crooked Minds|
Hooked Swords and Crooked Minds
Zoai wandered the forest for hours. Every tree looked the same, every rock was identical. The fact that it was late into the night did not help either. The moon was high in the sky, but the thick foliage of the towering trees blocked what little light the moon shed.
Deciding that it was best to make camp for the night, Zoai gathered together what sticks and vines she could grope out in the dark. Using the shorter vines as ropes, she tied four sticks into two separate X formations. After pushing the sticks deep into the ground, Zoai placed the longest branch across the two pairs of poles. Finally, using the remainder of the vines, she attempted to make a decent covering for her makeshift tent.
Zoai was having a difficult time trying to keep her eyes open when she finally completed her shelter. Though the night was cold, she had neither the means nor the energy to make a fire. Wishing she had something warmer to wear, Zoai curled up in her "tent" and fell into an uneasy sleep. Her dreams were plagued with images of terrible fire and the screams of those unfortunate enough to be caught in the midst of the inferno.
When dawn broke through the trees that morning Zoai was awake, with dark circles beneath her bleary eyes. The dreams of the night had denied her right to a peaceful sleep.
Rolling onto her stomach, Zoai reached for her katana. Grabbing hold of the sheath, she pushed herself up on her hands and knees. After pausing for a yawn, she strapped on her katana and stood up wobbly. Breakfast was not in the picture for her tired mind. She lazily kicked down her shelter and began plodding off through the woods. She did not care where she went. She had no motivation for anything anymore.
Zoai walked deeper and deeper into the trees. More than once a rustling in the foliage made her jump in fear, but it always turned out to be a small rabbit-mole or something of the sort. Soon Zoai became hungry, and she fell to the task of scavenging what food she could find. The forest's bushes yielded little more than tart berries, but her rumbling stomach demanded satisfaction. Miserably, Zoai choked down the tiny fruits.
Just when she thought she was going to die of the boredom that surrounded her, Zoai's sharp eyes spotted something unnatural on the forest floor. Squatting down, she carefully brushed away the dead leaves that partially obscured a looped rope.
"Trappers, no doubt," said Zoai to herself. She covered up the rope without much thought.
A few more steps into the woods, and she was yanked unceremoniously into the air by another trap, left dangling upside-down. Her stifled yell reverberated feebly off the surroundings.
Zoai sighed exasperatedly.
Reaching around awkwardly, Zoai was able to draw her katana. Just as she was about to cut the rope with a single stroke, a blur of a figure leapt down from the trees and knocked her sword away. Zoai was about to scream when a white-gloved hand clamped over her mouth.
"No one's going to want to save you, Fire Nation scum. I suggest you save your breath."
Zoai knocked the hand away.
"For what?" she snapped, "Is there going to be story-time later?"
Another voice laughed.
"Oh, this'll be fun, Smellerbee. Take her down."
The girl who had muzzled Zoai, looked surprised.
"Are you sure?"
"Trust me, 'Bee. I've dealt with Fire Nation before. We don't have to worry about her putting up much of a fight if we scare her enough," said the voice. Zoai could almost hear that the speaker had a sneer on his face.
"Do you have any idea who you're talking to?" growled Zoai.
Swinging her free leg, Zoai did a half flip and kicked the girl called Smellerbee in the shoulder. When she yelped in pain, she dropped Zoai's katana. Zoai hooked her toe under the handle and flipped the weapon up, where she caught it neatly in her hand.
Smellerbee swung a knife, but Zoai blocked it with her forearm, receiving a long but shallow scratch. With the knife avoided, Zoai sliced through the rope with her blade, landing in a tangled heap on the ground. Before she could right her limbs, she felt two pieces of steel grab her ankles and pull her through the dirt. Zoai tried to parry the attack, but a booted foot stepped on her wrist, causing her to release the hilt of the katana. She stared into the face of her attacker with disgust.
"Surprising. I guess we still have some intimidating to do. Smellerbee, tie her up, and then tell Longshot to send a message to the hideout. I might be late for dinner tonight."
The boy who was staring at Zoai so smugly shook his black hair out of his face. A piece of yellowed grass dangled from his mouth. Zoai glared at that face. It was so arrogant, so proud of this assault. Oh, she wished that face could get acquainted with her fist.
Smellerbee handed Zoai's katana to the boy and tied her hands together.
"Better tie her feet too. She's a kicker," said the boy.
Smellerbee gave Zoai a poisoned look and tied her ankles. No doubt she still felt Zoai's kick in her shoulder.
"She's secured, Jet."
"Good. Now go bring my message to Longshot. I'll be back later."
Zoai struggled and squirmed and threw every insult she could think of at this 'Jet', but it didn't stop him from picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder like a bag of flour.
"You're pretty feisty, I'll give you that," he said.
"Yeah, well why don't you untie me and I'll show you just how feisty?" retorted Zoai.
"Nah, I think I get a pretty good idea," said Jet, grunting as Zoai dug her knees into his gut.
"No, you haven't seen anything yet!" muttered Zoai.
Jet brought Zoai to a plateau overlooking Shu Min village. He dropped her to the ground and stood in front of her, fists on his hips, chewing the blade of grass.
"Boy, I'll love to see the look on your face when you hear what I have to say."
Zoai rolled her eyes.
"Bandits don't scare me. Stop trying to act intimidating and powerful and just get to the point."
A glint of steel and the feeling of cold metal on her skin made Zoai look at Jet again. He had drawn to swords, each curving to a formidable hook at the end. And now each hook was wrapped around her throat.
"Are you listening yet?"
Zoai gulped and hoped that her bangs hid the fear in her face.
"Good," said Jet.
Turning back to Shu Min, Jet sheathed his hook-swords and clasped his hands behind his back.
"Look at this village. It's completely overrun with Firebenders," he said, more to himself than to Zoai.
"Are you joking? There are, like, eight guards there, and they're completely useless."
"Quiet! The Fire Nation is sending Its disgusting occupants to take over this village, just like they've taken over dozens of other Earth Kingdom towns! People like you are infiltrating the Earth Kingdom without anyone noticing or caring. Luckily, my team of Freedom Fighters is beginning to rid this land of the intruders."
Turning back to Zoai, Jet drew one of his swords and pointed it to a large wall behind the village.
"Do you see that dam? Once I get enough supplies, I'm going to destroy it, and all the soot and smoke brought by the Fire Nation will be washed away."
Zoai's eyes widened.
"Are you crazy? There are Earth Kingdom people there! Families! Children!"
Her mind immediately went to Mikho and Khomi, adamantly waiting for the Avatar to save the world.
"Their loss is a small price to pay for the freedom we're giving Shu Min."
"You dunderhead, if you blow that dam there won't be a Shu Min left to liberate!"
"We'll rebuild it, and keep it safe from the Fire Nation," said Jet firmly.
Zoai shook her head and struggled against her bonds.
"You're insane. You're killing innocent people just to get rid of a few overweight Fire Nation soldiers. If you're so brave and intimidating, why don't you take your little club and take out the soldiers individually?"
Jet growled in frustration and threw down his sword. Zoai saw in his eyes a strange glint of maniacal obsession that frightened her.
"It's not just the guards! That whole village is infested! But not for long. My Freedom Fighters will save these villages by ridding them of the Fire Nation demons that take them over. We will release Shu Min from its Fire Nation occupation...starting with you," said Jet, his eyes narrowing.
Zoai's heart pounded in her chest. She wasn't afraid of this kid before she had seen this obsessed side of him. Any other day she could've taken him, but now...now with her lack of sleep, lack of weapon, and the incredibly tight knots tied by Smellerbee, Zoai didn't stand a chance.
Jet loomed over her, fingering the hilts of his hook-swords. Zoai closed her eyes, waiting for the final blow, when she heard:
"Jet! You'd better come quick! Someone's found the hideout and they're trying to smoke us out!"
Zoai had never been so happy to hear Smellerbee's voice. She sneaked a peek at Jet's face and she saw worry spreading on his features. He looked back and forth from Smellerbee to Zoai, as if unsure of which task was important.
"Jet, please! It's really bad!"
Zoai saw Jet's knuckles whiten on the hilts of his swords before his fingers relaxed. Walking up to Zoai, he grabbed her by the back of her shirt.
"I wish I could dispose of you myself, but my Freedom Fighters are in danger. Family is most important to us. You probably wouldn't understand that, would you? Power is what you want. Just like your whole nation."
Jet dragged Zoai to the edge of the plateau. He looked her in the eye, black locking in on gold.
"I hope this brings you to justice for all the lives you've destroyed," he whispered bitterly.
Zoai screamed as he pushed her off the edge. The last thing she saw was the dam of Shu Min and the stack of barrels already assembled at its base.
For the collective works of the author, go here.