|By The Bos||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|More from The Bos||Action||PG||Positive|
July 31, 2012
Impasse is the tenth chapter of.
Ba's death impacts everyone involved while Shenji receives an ominous message.
Shenji, Kuro, and Kuan walk calmly through the forest, maneuvering around obstacles they see with the help of the moonlight. Kuan is at the front of the group, holding the map and attempting to gain a bearing on where the group went. Shenji was uncharacteristically at the back of the group, walking slowly and remaining silent. Facing either speaking with Kuan or Shenji, Kuro realizes where his help is needed. Slowing his pace, Kuro arrives in front of his friend. "What's wrong? You haven't said a word since we left that battle."
Shenji's voice is barely audible, weighed down by his turmoil. "I killed that guy, Kuro. With my weapons, I ended his life. I don't quite know how to handle that."
"That's impossible. You were a soldier; you must have killed people in battle at some point. If not as a part of our group, then as a part of your last group. You're just overreacting."
"No, Kuro, I'm not. I haven't killed anyone either. I have either knocked out or otherwise incapacitated my enemies. If not, someone else has always stepped in and finished them. I have never directly killed another man, to the best of my knowledge. I like combat, but I want it to end peacefully; I never want to hurt anyone. I killed this man and watched him slowly die."
"He was going to kill you, Shenji. You had no other choice."
"I've gotten out of that before," Shenji responds.
"We've been in dozens of fights against Fire Nation armies; you must have killed some of them over the course of the battle."
"I didn't. I would always knock them out. You wonder why I'm the highest ranked non-bender on captured soldiers? It's because I don't kill my opponents! I also don't slit their throats! This is like going from petty theft to kidnapping the Earth King!" Shenji says anxiously.
"You just need to relax. This isn't as important as you're making it out to be."
"How is another man's life not important? The spirits gave us life for a reason; what right do we have to take it away?"
"What gave him the right to try and take yours?" Kuro counters.
"Nothing, but his attack gave me no warrant to kill."
"What gives you the right to kill if not someone trying to kill you?"
"I believe murder is never acceptable," Shenji stubbornly responds.
"You murdered no one! You did what you had to survive; you were right to defend yourself and if you didn't intend for the consequences to happen, you should not feel burdened by them."
While looking forward, Shenji recalls his discussion with Kuan on the ship earlier in the day. "How can I convince Kuan not to kill someone if I can turn around and do the same thing moments later?" Shenji angrily asks.
From the front of the group, Kuan stops and turns slightly. "Murder is one thing; killing in self-defense is another. I believe you gave me sound advice on the ship that is not applicable here."
"What if it is?" Shenji responds quickly.
"Then you toughen up and move on," the Waterbender snaps. "Now is no time to take up pacifism. If I had the opportunity to kill the Fire Lord, I would take it. If you were there, with him about to strike you down, I hope you would not think twice about ending him," Kuan explains.
Turning back around, the Waterbender begins moving forward, still speaking to the soldiers. "Civilians do not deserve retaliation, but the Fire Lord has reigned over nearly a century of war. Sometimes the events of our time are under our control and sometimes they are not; accept your actions as part of maintaining peace and let them go," Kuan fiercely concludes.
"I'm not sure if I can do that," Shenji replies.
Kuan stops advancing and turns around to properly address the soldier. "Then you won't need to worry about killing the next Firebender who you come across; they'll finish the job before you need to make the choice," Kuan says, angrily starring towards Shenji.
"I'll figure something out," Shenji states, hoping to get the two to leave him alone.
"Do it fast," Kuan responds. The group walks in silence for a few moments, passing through trees, bushes, and other small plants until they arrive at the shoreline of the Yu River.
"What are we doing here?" Kuro asks. "We are supposed to go straight through the woods to make it to the other side of the river as fast as possible. This part of the river is farther away from where we are going!"
"Relax, I know what I'm doing," Kuan responds. "Rivers have a consistent food source as well as having a lot of clean water. Wouldn't it be best to stay as close to supplies as possible?"
"Alright, you have a point. But from now on, would you let us know if you plan to make a detour?" Kuro asks, clearly not offended but wishing to be forewarned about their daily destination.
"I'll do my best," Kuan replies.
"So, are we going to sleep in the trees or on the river?" Shenji asks sarcastically.
"Earlier, Kuro mentioned that Earthbenders are taught to make a structure for basic shelter. I figured he could muster up a few of those," Kuan responds, gesturing towards the Earthbender.
"Oh, right." The Earthbender stops looking into the sky and widens his legs, thrusting his arms into the air and creating three tents spaced evenly apart. "Sorry for the wait," he says with a small grin.
"I think you're about ready for sleep; we'll have a long trek ahead of us tomorrow. It's getting late anyway."
"Sounds good," Kuro agrees. "Night everyone," he says while moving towards a tent.
"Yeah," Kuan responds, entering the tent closest to the water. Shenji says the same and crawls into the last tent, lying on his back and slowly drifting off to sleep.
Shenji paces through a dark, metal hallway, uncertain of his location. As he walks forward, he reaches a fork in the path. One goes to the right and makes an immediate left while the path to his left makes two left turns, making the paths head in opposite directions. Turning back around, Shenji sees that the hall he was in was now enveloped in darkness, rendering him unable to see where he just came from. "I've got to keep moving," Shenji mutters quietly to himself. Deciding on the path to his right, Shenji slowly moves forward, keeping watch for possible traps or ambushes. He also keeps watch for possible signs of people, remembering how his last dream of wandering through darkness turned out.
After making the left turn, Shenji continues moving forward, making a route down a corridor seemingly off the main pathway. The hall makes a right turn, eventually forking at its end. Shenji follows until the fork, deciding that right was again the best path. After making another turn, Shenji finds himself at an obstructed passage. "Great. This place has dead ends," he exclaims in frustration. The soldier traces his path back to the fork and takes the left path, coming across another block. Angrily looking at the wall, he leans back against the other side of the wall and quickly recoils, having felt something jab into his back. Dragging his hand across the wall he locates the source of his pain, a handle attached to a door. Shenji pulls the door open and immediately stumbles back, reacting to the relatively bright light on the other side of the barrier.
Still squinting but able to see Shenji walks into the room, lit by torches mounted in the corners. Several weapons were attached to the wall in an ornate fashion. Shenji notices spears, knives, bows, arrows, and even a pike before turning his eyes upon two mismatched swords lying in the center of the wall to his left. While he is distracted, a man walks in through a door on the other side of the room. "Who are you?" Shenji asks quickly, moving towards the wall and picking up a knife.
"I mean you no harm, I am simply a messenger," the man calmly replies.
"What do I need to know?" the soldier replies, relaxing his stance and putting the blade back on the wall.
"There is a warrior on the other side of this wall. He has a very good combat record and is seeking a challenge. Since you have made it this far, you are clearly worthy."
"Worthy of what? Where am I?" Shenji frantically asks.
"He only wishes to enjoy a challenge."
"Are you sure there is no other choice?" the soldier asks.
"Of course not, sir. I appreciate your cooperation."
He sighs in acceptance, shaking his head while turning away from the messenger. "Fine," Shenji says while he scans the wall, looking for something to use in the inevitable battle. Finding no match for either sword, Shenji walks over the wall and picks up the single dao, locating the sheath directly below. After casing the blade, he swings it across his back and reaches for the katana. The soldier places the blade inside its case as well, securing the blade around his waist. "Now what?"
"Simply walk through this door and you will find your opponent, my master."
Shenji walks past the messenger and reaches to open the door. Upon grasping the doorknob, Shenji stops and begins turning around. "What's his name?" When Shenji completes his turn, the messenger had vanished, leaving no trace or indication of his presence. "Great," Shenji mumbles as he turns back to the door.
Shenji walks through the door, entering a large room lit by torches suspended from the ceiling around the sides of the room. Despite its light sources, the visibility was poor and Shenji could only see several feet in front of him. "Is anyone here?" he asks into the darkness.
"And so a challenger appears," a voice emerges from the darkness. Reacting instinctively, Shenji draws his dao into his left hand while drawing the katana into his right, crossing the blades defensively in front of his body. "You need not fear immediately," the voice adds.
"Where are you?" Shenji calls into the shadows.
As man walks into the lit area of the room. He is large and dressed in dark armor, possessing an aura of confidence. His face is covered by a mask, only opening to show his mouth. "One could say I am everywhere. I spend a lot of time in here - training, meditating, preparing for my next encounter. I know this room like it is an extension of myself."
"That's good to know," Shenji says in a dry, sarcastic congratulation. "How did I get here?"
"You are here to test your skills," the man calmly replies.
"Who are you?" Shenji asks while moving the blades away from him, eventually holding them at his sides.
"My name is of no value to you. Should you win, you will leave with no need of remembering me. Should you lose, you will again have no need to know my name. Your name is of equal value to me; let us forge memories of each other through our battle rather than our words."
"Nice to meet you too," Shenji dryly responds.
"Are those two separate kinds of swords?" the man asks, gesturing towards Shenji's blades.
"Yeah, they are. You didn't have two of either, so I had to improvise," the soldier responds.
"That is an interesting style you have; I do not often see someone utilizing two different types of swords at a time." When Shenji fails to respond quickly, the warrior moves on. "Do you have any other weapons to use in our duel?"
"No, I don't. These swords are all I have."
"What proof do I have? Many have tried to kill me by concealing a knife and then attempting a kill. How can I trust you?"
"You can't," Shenji calmly responds.
"I believe I can. You made it here for a reason," the man replies with certainty.
"Why do you think that?" Shenji asks.
"Because everything happens for a reason. I may exist for this single fight, or possibly the one after it. Perhaps my purpose is done and yours is to provide me an end. I will not know until it happens and I do not fear my fate."
"Why am I here?"
"That, my fellow warrior, you will have to discover for yourself. The question has more layers than you are recognizing," he adds with a smile. He lifts the chain on his weapon and begins twirling the blade in a circle to the right of his body, turning his gaze first to the weapon and then back to Shenji. From behind him, Shenji hears the shuffling of feet coming out of the room's entrance behind him. Sensing Shenji's fear, the warrior addresses the concern. "Do not fear - I allow spears to be brought into the room should we feel it necessary to use them. It adds an extra dimension of strategy to the battle. Do you have a particular objection?"
"No, I don't," Shenji quickly responds. Hoping to talk his way out of the situation, Shenji begins a dialogue. "I've had problems with fights before; can I please leave?"
"I only require a battle," the warrior replies, shutting Shenji's request down. "As I explained earlier, I do not know why you are here, but you very well may be the challenge I have been looking for. Your style will be an interesting conquest," he explains while walking towards a corner. When he returns, he is holding a long chain with a fan-shaped blade attached to the end, reflecting the torches' light with an eerie glisten. With a dark grin on his face, he walks towards Shenji.
"What are you doing with that?" Shenji stammers while gripping his swords tighter.
"I am going to begin my next challenge. I hope you're prepared."
Slightly tilting his head in confusion, Shenji looks towards the warrior. He begins twirling his chain faster as his mouth curves into a dark smile. The man lets the chain slip from his hands, turning and slashing towards Shenji at a dangerous angle. The soldier steps back, bringing his blades up to guard against the inevitable second attack. While waiting for the bladed portion of the chain to settle, the warrior swings the empty end of his chain towards Shenji. Shenji back steps to dodge and slashes the dao blade towards his opponent's body. The masked warrior, having anticipated the attack, dodges and kicks the blade to the side, knocking Shenji off balance. While Shenji recovers, the warrior rams his shoulder into the soldier's back, making Shenji stumble forward. Once he stops moving Shenji turns and slashes the katana towards his enemy, hoping to put some space between them. The warrior was immediately behind him, crouched to dodge the slash and taking hold of Shenji's hand. Before the soldier can react, the warrior kicks him to the ground.
From the ground, Shenji looks up and sees the warrior adjusting his chain in his hand. When he has established a proper grip, the warrior, with a fierce bellow, whips the blade towards Shenji. The soldier rolls out of the way, landing on his knees and swiftly rising to his feet. The soldier takes a step back, raising the dao sword over his head and holding the katana in front of his body. After quietly snickering to himself in amusement, the warrior swings the blade towards Shenji again, aiming for his upper shoulder. Knowing that he cannot dodge forever, Shenji moves out of the way and swipes his katana towards the chain, attempting to cut the link and sever his foe's weapon. The chain wraps around the blade with an unexpected force, ripping both the chain and the sword from their respective owners' hands. Now the only combatant with a weapon, Shenji goes on the offensive, gripping the blade with both hands while using wide, sweeping slashes. The warrior narrowly dodges each attack while keeping close to his enemy. Shenji raises the sword in an attempt to slash the blade vertically when the warrior sees his chance. He ducks between Shenji's arms as the soldier attempts his attack. As Shenji's arms come down, the warrior strikes his hands against Shenji's forearms, breaking his hold on the dao and setting him off balance. The warrior then reaches into the air and catches the dao by the hilt while slowly turning his head towards his foe. "It was an impressive feat to take my chain from me, but that does not in any way make me helpless," the warrior says as Shenji steadies himself. "Now, we will continue!" he exclaims as he twirls the dao in his hand. The warrior sprints towards Shenji, who ducks under the sword strike. Crouching to the ground, Shenji reaches for the katana, which lay surrounded by the warrior's chains. The warrior slashes the blade towards Shenji, prompting the soldier to raise the sword in defense. Shenji's sword was knocked out of his hand by the force of the warrior's strike, sending the katana twirling into the distance.
The warrior prepares a horizontal strike, attempting to slice Shenji's torso. The soldier reacts by rolling backwards, placing him in front of the warrior's chain. Realizing that the unorthodox weapon is his best hope of victory, Shenji picks up the chain and uses the blade to block another slash from his foe. While the chain's blade and the dao sword were decelerating from their strike, Shenji decides to use a last ditch effort in order to claim victory. Lifting the blunt end of the chain in his other hand, the soldier swings it at his opponent's head. The chain links make immediate contact, stopping the warrior in his tracks and knocking him to the floor. Confident in his victory, Shenji drops the chain and turns away from his foe.
After catching his breath, Shenji begins scanning the room for a possible exit. In the recent battle, Shenji realizes he had forgotten from which direction he entered the room. "How do I get out?" he quietly mutters to himself. In the shadowy room, Shenji manages to see the outlines of the spears the warrior mentioned earlier. "Maybe he mentioned them for a reason," he decides as he walks towards the weapons. Upon his arrival, Shenji picks up a spear, hoping it would trigger a mechanical process that would provide an exit. When nothing happens, Shenji sighs in disappointment. Suddenly, he hears the clanking of chains from behind him. Thinking the sound was from a doorway, Shenji turns around quickly only to find his opponent standing with his weapon in hand.
"Using my own weapon against me was both clever and lucky. You will never have such an opportunity again," the warrior angrily says as he hurls the blade towards Shenji. The warrior quickly sidesteps and prepares for a second round. The warrior runs forward, picking up the bladed end of his chain along the way before throwing it towards Shenji's head. Shenji moves forward and lets the blade pass his face while stabbing the spear's tip towards the warrior. Shenji's enemy blocks the attack with his arm before swinging the blunt end of the chain towards the Earth Kingdom soldier. Shenji catches a chain link with the tip of his spear and pins it to the ground before placing his foot over the metal to prevent another strike. While the warrior tries to pull his chain from under Shenji, the soldier lifts the spear off of the chain and uses the far side to strike the warrior's head. Having not seen the attack coming, the warrior collapses to the ground for the second time.
"Please let that be the end of it," Shenji quietly hopes. Dropping the spear, Shenji retrieves his swords, preparing himself for another battle. While continuing his search for an exit, Shenji sheathes the blades, making sure they could not be taken from him while his attention was elsewhere. Hearing steps from behind, Shenji's senses momentarily heighten. "I don't want to keep fighting," he mumbles while preparing for the inevitable strike. Shenji reflexively draws the katana and begins reaching for the dao when he hears a stir in the room. He turns towards where the warrior's body lays, but he is nowhere to be found. When he gets a grip on the dao's hilt, Shenji's arm is pried from the sword while his hand that was on the katana was twisted behind his back. When the soldier tries to turn around in order to take the blade back, the katana slices upward, severing the dao's sheathe from around his shoulder.
Entirely disarmed, Shenji takes a step back to better prepare himself for the warrior's incoming strike. His foe slashes the sword down, giving Shenji his ideal opportunity. The Earth Kingdom soldier steps to the side, taking hold of his opponent's wrist and bending his arm. The katana blade turns as well, lining up perpendicularly to its holder's torso while Shenji tries to regain control of the sword. The warrior, not expecting the motion, fell into the blade, piercing his torso with a swift cut. Shenji quickly releases the hilt, watching his opponent fall to his knees while coming to terms with his impending doom. "No..." Shenji mutters under his breath. "Not again," he continues. Utterly mortified by his actions, Shenji slowly, unconsciously walks backwards away from the body before tripping over the dao lying on the ground. Initially landing on the ground sitting up, Shenji abruptly reclines onto his back, staring at the ceiling while continuing to feel exasperated. "Am I a killer?" the soldier asks himself. Before he can give the possibility more thought, drops of water fall from the sky and strike his forehead. Confused and distracted, Shenji looks for the source. Since he is indoors, he knows it cannot be rain, but he cannot see any leaking pipes nearby.
Shenji hears the sound of waves crashing, clearly unusual in a dark dungeon. Looking over his shoulder, he sees a ring of water swirling around the room, slowly encircling the warrior. "What's happening?" As his scream echoes through the empty chamber the floor begins flooding. Startled by the sudden influx of water, Shenji turns around and sees a large wave about to crash on him. Before he can even scream in terror, the wave engulfs him, knocking him off his feet and tumbling through the rising water. While being pushed through the water, Shenji notices that the water is beginning to form into a whirlpool, swirling out of control. The current accelerates, whisking Shenji around the room at an alarming speed. Suddenly Shenji realizes that there is a support beneath him. The soldier quickly turns and he is on the back of a large, red dragon that is slowly lifting him out of the water. When he looks up, the ceiling of the building has vanished and the dragon takes him into the sky.
A Rocky Relationship
Cren briskly weaves between trees in his attempt to follow Kuro, Shenji, and Kuan. His partner, Luo, follows behind him, awkwardly realizing how his plan of subtlety crumbled around him. The two have been walking for hours in utter silence; Luo eventually mustered the courage to begin a dialogue about their predicament, but an abrupt change in their path shattered his hopes. "How could this happen?" Cren angrily exclaims. He jerks his head towards Luo, the new object of his wrath. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't take you back for treason," he says, glaring at his partner.
"I can't defend my actions further. I tried to capture them, but I clearly failed," Luo calmly responds.
"Clearly," Cren loudly interjects.
"Let me finish," Luo responds. "My actions were useful in the end. When I found Kuro, Shenji had been taken prisoner. If I hadn't acted, Shenji would have been lost."
"Serves him right," Cren snaps.
"You need to get your priorities straight. Shenji and Kuro are not our enemies. They may be guilty of war crimes, but that isn't our decision to make. We were told to capture them and return them to the base. That is my motive and I stand by it."
"It's clear that we have different perspectives," Cren mutters. "Anyone that does not share my own beliefs on how to deal with the Fire Nation is as at fault as they are. The Earth Kingdom has endured enough suffering at their hands. They should be dealt with swiftly and harshly, on the front lines. We need to fight them, wherever they are, whenever we find them, but there must be order. You seem to value neither."
"I value both order and our orders. I am here reluctantly, but I want balance to return to the world. If it means I need to stay in the army, I will put forward my best effort. I follow my orders, which currently are to bring Shenji and Kuro back to the camp. We are tasked to capture them, not harm them; if they resist, force is required but they are soldiers as much as we are and they deserve basic respect."
"They deserve to receive a severe corporal punishment, delivered by me. As far as I'm concerned, their actions are worse than the Firebenders," Cren snidely remarks.
"They it's a good thing your opinion is irrelevant," Luo quips. "I was taught to follow my superiors, but to seek justice. Shenji and Kuro are fugitives, but they deserve our respect."
"What makes you think your sense of justice is better than mine?" Cren angrily asks.
"The definition of justice," Luo calmly replies. "Your actions and your attitude indicate that the most fitting term for your actions is vigilantism."
"Regardless of my methods and however you wish to define them, I intend to bring them home and I have not lied about anything. How can you deserve my trust if you cannot give me yours?"
Luo calmly remains silent, trying to avoid his partner's question. After several minutes without an idea, Luo finally gives in. "Fine, what will fix this?"
Cren turns his head to look Luo directly in the eye. "I just need to know more about you. I'm pretty good at reading people, but I need a reference on where to begin; what their expressions mean." While slightly widening his eyes, Cren proposes his solution. "Tell me about yourself."
Luo is caught off guard. "Wait, what?"
"I told you, I need a basis to go off of on reading people. This will give me some background on you and will help me know if you are lying."
Luo's thoughts race for a few short moments, trying to come up with a possible ulterior motive. When he is unable to find one, he finally relents. "Fine, what do you want to know?"
"Talk about your family."
"Fine; I've got a mom and a dad. I'm an only child. Is that enough?" the Earthbender asks.
"Not quite," Cren replies while raising a block of earth behind him and sitting down. "I'll need a bit more than that."
"Fine," Luo begrudgingly responds. "My dad is an only child and my mom has a younger brother. I'm an only child."
"Really? In these times? How has there only been one child in your family? It is the duty of families to produce children in order to defend our land! The Earth King issued an edict praising large families!"
"Well, we only had one. My parents couldn't have any more. At least they did better than my uncle's family," Luo defensively snaps.
"What happened to him?"
"His only child died as an infant. It crushed my uncle; the child had remarkably high chi levels."
"Why does that even matter? Who could tell that anyway?"
"My uncle brought in wise men to keep my aunt healthy. Chi is typically indicative of powerful bending potential. The child would have been one of the most powerful Earthbenders alive; one of the strongest in history. We haven't had an Earthbender in my family in generations, excluding me. They haven't tried for another child since," Luo says while dropping his head.
Cren taps the ground with his foot, raising a smaller block beneath his legs, propping them up. "You keep talking about your uncle. What's so special about him?" Cren asks, egging Luo on.
"He's a good man. He's around my age, so we were close friends whenever we saw each other. He's promised to set up my future once I am done with my service. It's the only thing pulling me through here."
"Lucky you," Cren bitterly replies. He turns his head away from Luo, staring at the ground in silence.
After several moments without another response, Luo decides to move on. "Well, is that enough?" Luo says, hoping to put the entire ordeal behind him.
"Yeah," the Earthbender irritably replies. He turns back towards the ground, as if trying to remove himself from the situation entirely.
Instead of producing Cren's desired effect, Luo is instead provoked. After a few moments of consideration, Luo decides to investigate. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Cren coldly responds.
"Come on, I just told you everything about my family; now it's your turn."
"I don't want to talk about it."
After several minutes of silence, Luo again attempts investigation. "Look, if this is going to work, we should know something about each other."
"What's your deal?" Cren remarks. "How do you think this can work? We are different people who are only here because we were both ambushed one night after being randomly assigned to the same post. There is no reasonable person who would have picked us for each other as partners for a minor task, let alone this kind of daunting assignment."
"Look, I think this can work because we are both motivated people. We can do this."
"What makes you think that? Have you been told your entire life that you can do whatever you want? Well, I know from experience that people have limitations. In the end, you're worthless, I'm worthless, and the war will be forgotten to history like what General Shou ate for breakfast last week. I've lived my whole life alone and my life after the war will be no better. You have misguided hope for a better life, something I will never have."
"We are at war. Things can only get better once it's over."
"You're wrong. What do I have to turn to? My father died when I was young. One of my brothers died while protecting me and my other brothers could have died in battle and I will never know! What do you know of my life? Besides, after the war, what will I do? The kingdom is in ruins and more is being destroyed each day. There will be nothing remaining regardless of who ends up winning the war. A conflict of this magnitude can have no real winner, but we will all lose."
Luo briefly pauses, collecting his thoughts before providing a small reply. "I believe that peace and balance will return to the world. The Avatar has never abandoned the world before."
"Then let him emerge, defeat the Fire Nation, expunge the occupation, and make Azulon pay for his nation's crimes. I will believe when I see him and unless he returns, I will not make such a gamble with my future."
"I can't blame your skepticism. Regardless of your lack of faith you know that he's the best chance for the world returning to normal."
"The world may become peaceful, but it will never fit your definition of normal. Too many lives have been lost and our societies have changed. The Air Nomads are all dead an no amount of war settlement will be able to fix that."
"True," Luo admits.
"Exactly. The world will never be the same and I need security."
"While faith will not be unchallenged, it can bring comfort and security. Perhaps the Avatar will be found soon and he will save us all."
"It doesn't matter who finds him. Maybe by now he's been born into the Fire Nation and has been convinced to serve the Fire Lord. Besides, aren't you the one who goes on about how we need to focus on finding Kuro and Shenji instead of getting distracted?" Cren jabs, angrily bringing the conversation back on focus.
"And we will find them," Luo sternly replies.
"How? They have a Waterbender; they could be across the river already!"
After a moment of silence, Luo states his conclusion. "I don't think that happened."
"We heard that their group got stopped while crossing the river. A talented Waterbender would be able to cross that river quickly, even with passengers. There is something wrong with him. Maybe he's injured or sick."
"I'd say there's a lot wrong with him, if you ask me."
"Then it's a good thing I didn't."
"We need to go to water," Cren states, ignoring Luo's sarcasm.
"So we actually agree?" Luo asks, caught off guard by the turn of events.
"Violently, but yes."
"That's better than nothing. So," Luo wonders aloud, "Where is the water?"
Vision of Deliverance
The dragon carrying Shenji soars into the sky, almost losing the soldier as it climbs further into the air. "What is going on?" Shenji screams towards the dragon's head. Seemingly in response to his question, the dragon lets out a puff of smoke from its nostrils and begins slowing down. "Where are you taking me?" he asks over the sound of the wind in his ears. This time the dragon has no reply, leaving Shenji helplessly looking around. "Well, I guess I'll have to settle for 'up'," the soldier mutters to himself. Looking back up, Shenji sees the dragon approaching a cloud. "You don't plan to go through that, do you?" Shenji asks. The dragon speeds through the cloud, much to Shenji's amusement. When he looks back at the dragon, however, he notices that it is glowing an eerie blue color. "What just happened?" Shenji asks. "Oh, right... you can't explain," he says in frustration while continuing to look around. Clouds surround him in all directions, resembling cliffs from a distance. The dragon coils through the sky, finally having reached its destination. The dragon touches down on an elongated plateau while gesturing for Shenji to disembark. "So, this is really happening?" Shenji asks in confusion. The dragon brings its head level with Shenji's and nods slightly, confirming his theory.
"Thank you for bringing him to me Fang," a voice from behind Shenji calmly says. Shenji turns around to see an elderly Fire Nation man with a flowing white beard and deep red robes.
"Who are you?" Shenji asks while reaching for his weapons. When he realizes he doesn't have anything, he begins frantically scanning the area.
"You do not need to worry," the man replies. "You will have no need for your weapons here. I have brought you here to ask for your help. Your assistance will provide me with many future opportunities."
"Why do you need my help?"
"No one can accomplish a task alone. No matter how great a single person is, they cannot perform a task of any value alone."
"Who are you? Where am I?"
"I have missed the introductions," the man says with a soft smile. "I am Avatar Roku, the most recent incarnation of the Avatar, from the Fire Nation."
"You're the Avatar? Where did you go?"
"I was the Avatar over a century ago. The current Avatar is among you. His time will come, but the world must be ready for it. When he emerges, he will have allies but also enemies. The world is out of balance and he will restore it, but the timing must be right. In the meantime, you will have the chance to fulfill your destiny."
"How am I supposed to fulfill my destiny? I don't know what it is! I don't even know who I am, let alone what I need to do! Help me!" Shenji begs.
"Your identity does not shape your destiny. Your destiny is the impact you leave on the world after your time. The Avatar's is to restore balance because that is what all Avatars have strived towards. The next Avatar is destined to defeat the Fire Nation, but how he will do it is of his own choosing. You will discover who you are and your actions will save the Avatar in ways you cannot fathom. Will you help restore peace and balance to the world?" Roku asks with a light tone while making sure Shenji understands the severity of the undertaking.
"I will help you, but what do I need to do?"
"Your choices will be clear as you make them, but for now, you must shape the future you will save by your actions in the present. You are a strong-willed person with compassion and character. You are prepared for this challenge. Thank you for your service, brave warrior," Roku says with a bow.
Shenji customarily responds, bowing in return. As his eyes look down, the surface he is on dissolves. Shenji falls through the sky, eventually waking up in his tent, frantically realizing that he is in no further danger. "What am I supposed to do with my life?" he rhetorically asks himself.
Awakening to Reality
His eyes flickering fiercely, Inata regains his consciousness. After acclimating himself to his surroundings, he places his palms on the ground and lifts himself to his knees. The Firebender scans the area, searching for abnormalities. When he turns his head to look directly ahead he sees Tazo collapsed on the ground, still unconscious from the battle. Steadying himself, he rises to his feet and glances to his right. Sprawled on the ground lies, face down in a pool of his own blood. "Well, he is of no further use," the soldier matter-of-factually notes as he begins walking towards his friend. "Tazo, we don't have time for this; get up," he says while tapping his friend's soldier with his foot.
Tazo stirs slowly, groaning as his pains catch up to him. "Remind me why I'm on the ground again?" the soldier says while rolling onto his side.
"We lost. Now is the time to move on."
"So we're just leaving like that?"
"Yeah. This place doesn't have anything to offer us, nor does it hold sentimental value. We should leave so we can find them by daybreak."
"What about Ba?" Tazo anxiously asks. "Shouldn't we wait for him to get up too?"
With a quick nod over his shoulder, Inata grunts with a subtle hint of pleasure. "Look a little closer; he's not going anywhere."
"I'm not entirely sure, but judging from the pool of blood he's lying in, I'd say we're too late to save him."
"And that's it?"
"What else is there? We were probably out for hours, and based on the blood spilled, no healer in the world could fix him, let alone either of us. We need to accept it and move on."
"So you manipulated him into coming and now are going to leave his body where no one will find it?"
"So what part do you take issue with?"
"How could you do this?"
"The same way those soldiers left your brother dead. Tazo, if we are to seize the justice he deserves, then we must be coarse and unrelenting. Ba's fate is no concern of ours. His body being on the ship will make little difference; the path we took up here is heavily traveled," Inata states as he points towards the small footpath. "His body will be found when the ship is investigated. He was useful, but now we must move on."
"We shouldn't do this," Tazo mutters firmly.
"While you stand idly by taking care of a trivial matter, those barbarians are slipping from our grasp. If you are willing to sacrifice your brother's respect for that, I pity him." After completing his bold accusation, the Firebender begins walking into the forest.
"Where are you going?" Tazo asks.
"Ba said he found the group trying to cross the river. I'm not sure why, but then again I don't particularly care. If he's right, they are likely to try again. If they make it across the river before we catch up, we'll never find them again. With that in mind, I'm going towards water, where I intend to find them. Do what you will, but do keep Saurin's lost honor in your thoughts," Inata says with a cold glare. The soldier walks through several smaller shrubs towards the Yu river. Inata continues for several minutes on his path before coming to an abrupt stop. Closing his eyes to confirm his suspicion, he hears footsteps behind him. "So, you decided to come after all?"
"I am here for my brother. I'm not going to forget my motives," Tazo says slowly. "But you're not going to do this again. I've seen what you can do and from now on, no one else will come with us," he adds with a glare. "I don't want more blood on my conscience," he concludes while walking past Inata.
"If you don't feel guilty, then you don't have to worry about him."
"I'm worrying about the next one."
"Then we need to find them quickly," Inata concludes.
Lying on the ground, a man flutters his eyes as he regains consciousness. He is face down on the floor, trapped by a large wooden beam across his back. Realizing his situation, he begins crawling forward. After freeing himself from his captivity, he staggers to his feet and begins frantically scanning the room. "Seela?" he screams into the scorched ruins of his home. "Bihi?" he follows. "Can someone help me?" he begs while running through the door out of his house. Upon arriving outside, he sees that his town is in ruins. Buildings burn while others crumble under their already sustained damage. Turning to his own house he sees that the roof is burning, but there does not seem to be any further damage that would threaten his home. He races back inside, searching for any indication of life. He begins digging through the rubble around him, eventually coming across a small, bloodied hand under a collapsed board.
With his stress building, he manages to lift the board to find the tattered body of his young son, Bihi. "No..." he mutters. Stomping the ground, he removes the small earthen debris from atop his son's corpse. He kneels to the ground and lifts the body in his arms. After carrying the body outside, he places his son on a soft patch of ground in the sunlight. He solemnly walks back into his house and begins his search for Seela. After looking around his home, he overturns a table in a corner and finds his wife scorched and burnt. While struggling to maintain his composure, a tear falls down his face. He slowly uncovers the rest of her body, moving the remainder of a broken chair off her legs. Lifting her off the ground, he carries her outside and lays her beside her son.
He immediately falls to his knees, overwhelmed by the magnitude of his loss. Averting his gaze from his deceased family to the charred remains of his hometown, he remembers the letter that brought forth its destruction.
"Dalu, because the Fire Nation would gain no tactical advantage by occupying your village, the military has deemed your request of a defensive force for your village to be an unwise diversion of scarce resources. Your request may be reconsidered if there is more credible evidence to warrant such action," the letter read.
"What proof did you need?" Dalu screams in agony, looking into the sky. With no one around, he breaks down into despair, lamenting his great loss.
- The warrior Shenji fought in his dream was modeled off of Miyamoto Musashi, widely revered as the greatest Japanese swordsman. He was known for seeking out challenges in order to prove his skill and test his fighting styles. He mastered many styles of weaponry and, coincidently, died holding a sword.
- The warrior's death was based on how Musashi killed one of his opponents, Shishido Baiken in a depiction of the battle viewed by .
- His weapon was based off the weapon used by Shishido.
- When The Bos read over the chapter, he read the Warrior's lines in the voice of Liam Neeson. The scenes were written prior to The Bos watching both Batman Begins and Taken in a short period of time.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
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