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|Of Water and Earth|
MM DD, 2010
The second chapter of the Village of Anquan series.
Cao battles one of the bandits who came to his village. He knows it won't be an easy fight, but he doesn't know that there are a few surprises in store, both for the bandit, and himself.
It was almost quiet.
The only sound to be heard was that of rain, pattering off any and every surface. The puddles on the ground, the tiles on the roofs, the hair on Cao's own head, and the wide, smooth almost umbrella shaped helmet worn by the large Earthbender just a few yards away from him.
Nobody had made a move since they had prepared to fight. The Earthbender seemed unmoving in the thick, rainy haze between him and Cao. His arms were in different positions, his left was in front of him, parallel to the ground, and palm flat. His right was straight behind him, and also palm flat. His rght leg was bent at the knee, and in front of him, while his left leg was behind, and diagonal from his body, foot facing forward.
Cao's stance was less professional. He was trying to adopt one of the stances from his mother's scrolls. His right leg was before him, also bent, and his left leg behind, foot facing left and away from him. Both of his arms were before him, his wrists loose, and fingers spread slightly. He kept his elbows too close to his torso, and knew it. It wasn't that he was doing it intentionally, but he instinctively kept his arms close in a defensive style, as if he were in a regular fist fight, with no bending.
The man just stood there. Why doesn't he just attack? Cao thought. The man had every advantage, yet he did nothing. Cao knew that couldn't be good.
The rain continued to poor from the sky. It pooled in buckets, barrels, bowls, and various other containers meant to collect clean rainwater. It overflowed in the small canals lining the edges of each street. There were four buildings on either side of the immediate street, and they were all drenched. They looked similar, simple storefronts, stone shingles on the roof, cloth hanging over the carts.
There wasn't another body to be seen. Just about all of the villagers had ran into the surrounding buildings, or their own homes to escape the battle. It wasn't that they were abandoning Cao, rather it was because they had no ability to fight. All were women and children with no weapons, and none were benders. There was little they could do, other than get in the way, or get hurt. Cao was actually happy they'd left.
The other men with the Earthbender were watching from their mounts from across the town. They were barely visible in the haze.
Cao was worried now. His arms were itching to move. His legs were already beginning to ache slightly. How long had he been standing like this? A few minutes? An hour? A week? He had to do something. He began to draw his arms backward, as if to perform one of the movements from the scroll.
The Earthbender saw this. Without hesitation, the man stomped on the ground, sending a boulder slightly smaller than his own body to about torso level. In the split second afterward, he turned his body to punch the rock, sending it flying towards Cao. The boy was taken aback by the suddenness of the man's actions. He jumped to his right, but it wasn't quite quick enough. The boulder grazed his left torso in midair, sending him rolling off to the side.
Cao tumbled in the mud for a few feet, before stopping. He quickly stood up, and assumed what barely constituted a stance. The Earthbender sent another rock his way in the same fashion as the last one, but he was ready this time. Cao threw his arms forward, sending a small, pointed, pillar of water up from one of the pools on the ground. It struck the rock through the center, and then froze into a spike of ice, stopping it completely.
The boy flicked his wrists, causing the ice to instantly melt to water, and the rock to fall. The water remained under his control as Cao brought his arms to his right side, before throwing them ahead of him, causing the water to lunge toward his target. The Earthbender shoved his arms before him, bringing a column of earth diagonally from him, into the jet of water, which collapsed and simply splashed its target.
Another jet of water came rushing toward the Earthbender. Before he could react, it struck him in the abdomen, throwing off his stance slightly. Cao brimmed with an exasperated smile. He tried to launch another while his opponent was off balance. This one didn't catch him off-guard, however, as the man simply raised his arm, and blocked it with another column of earth. He threw his arm to the ground, sending the column back down.
Cao couldn't see his face, but he had a feeling the man was angry now. The smile disappeared.
A broken up wave of rock shot toward Cao as the Earthbender stepped forward with his right foot, and punched with his right fist. It struck the boy squarely in the stomach, sending him flying into a cart of cabbages just a few feet behind him. The vegetables felt soft, soggy, from the rain, and when the cloth above the cart came down, it completely soaked the cart and Cao. The boy could only see the gray sky above him, and cabbages around him. Meaning he had sunk into the cart almost completely. He felt around with his hands. He quickly found the bottom of the cart. There was a pool of water, several inches deep.
The Earthbender approached the cart slowly. There were several yards of ground to cover, and he took his sweet time doing it. He cracked his knuckles, then his neck. He would enjoy this.
Just when he got to about ten yards away, two tendrils of water ripped through the cart, and jetted toward the bandit. He brought his arms before him, facing up, in one strong motion. A wall of stone blocked the sharp jets, causing them to stop and fall to the ground. The Earthbender then kicked the wall, and it tore across the ground, and rammed into the cart, destroying both objects, and sending Cao and bits of cabbages into a nearby canal. He was on his back, his legs resting on the outside of it. Cao looked up.
The Earthbender hadn't broken his stride. Mud and grass squashed beneath bare feet as he walked the canal. Cao, still on his back, swung his arm, and another stream of water streaked toward the Earthbender, who simply raised his right arm, sending a column of rock into the body of it. The boy continued swinging his arms, but was met with the same result. Cao sunk into the canal. This is it... He thought as the Earthbender got within a few yards of him.
The man stopped walking. He assumed his earlier stance, and stomped the ground again, launching a rock into the air. He raised his arm, bringing the rock above, and to the right of him. "You should've just kept your mouth shut, boy. I have little use for a Waterbender in the dry Northern Earth Kingdom." He brought his arm down, and the rock followed. Cao turned his head and closed his eyes--which were swelling with tears--just before hearing a crashing sound. His eyes opened, and he looked up only to find more confusion.
A column of earth had sprang from the ground diagonally from the right of Cao and the rock. The Earthbender looked as puzzled as Cao did, and they both looked to the right to see what could've done it.
Zhan stood in an amateur Earthbending stance, his right leg in front, his left leg behind, and his right arm out, hand in a fist. His left arm was bent at the elbow, and near his torso, hand also clenched in a fist. He was breathing heavily. "Thought you could use some help, Cao." He smiled in the rainy haze.
Cao was shocked. "Why didn't you do anything before!" He shouted. The Bandit had resumed his stance, and waved off his other men who had began moving to help.
"They literally held me down in there." He pointed to the third building on the street. "The guys and a few others refused to let me help. They didn't know I could bend either."
Cao nodded, then turned his attention back to the Bandit. He was watching both boys now. His body was still, but Cao and Zhan could see his eyes moving between the two of them. He was waiting, Zhan knew, for one of them to make the next move. Cao had learned this as well, from the beginning of the fight. Again, the only sound to be heard was the rain, which hadn't let up in the slightest. The street was becoming a river as the canals overflowed. Tarps above kiosks sagged heavily as their cloth desperately held back the falling drops.
Finally, as if bored with the inaction, or seeing something that looked like an opportunity, Zhan stepped forward, and stomped his foot into the ground. A rock about the size of his chest was shot from the ground, which he then kicked with his opposite foot. The Bandit simply stuck out his right hand in a fist. The rock was stopped completely when it made contact. The Bandit then threw his arm toward Cao sending the rock his way. Cao was not expecting this. After missing the rock with a spike of ice from the ground, he was struck squarely in the stomach.
Zhan's eyes widened. He stepped forward with his right leg, and threw his left hand in an uppercut. A broken fissure of earth came from the ground and shot toward the Bandit. He wasn't quick enough to turn, and as the man attempted to block he was met in the left side by an earthen strut. He flew back several feet, and landed on his right. He was just a few inches short of the canal.
Zhan sprinted toward his friend. He was only a yard away when a wall of earth sprouted from the ground in front of him. The Bandit had jumped to his feet, and was now in a new stance, and had erected the wall between the boys. Both his hands were in fists, and bent at the elbows. His right was before him, and perpendicular to the ground, facing up. His left was parallel to the ground, and facing right. His legs were bent at the knees more dramatically, his right before him, and his left facing away.
The wall came toward Zhan as the man directed his body toward the boy. Zhan responded by sticking his hand out, and breaking through the wall with Earthbending, as it passed around him. The Bandit had underestimated the boy again. Angered, he brought down the wall with one motion. He then threw his right arm forward, moving the ground beneath Zhan's feet. The boy lost his footing, and fell over to his right, as the ground beneath him moved left. He tried to get up, but was struck in the back by a lump of rock that came from the ground, before quickly receding back.
Both boys lied there, both conscious, but unable to move. The Bandit wasted no time. He took only three steps forward, before bringing both his arms up above his head. His legs were spread out, bent deeply at the knees, and almost parallel to each other. Six downward spikes of Earth, three on each side of the boys, came up from the ground. He brought his arms closer, and the spikes moved until they were directly above them.
The Bandit brought his arms backward. He felt something on his wrists, but before he could respond, both arms were pulled back by tendrils of water. The spikes, still under his control, fell on their sides, away from the boys, landing harmlessly in the muddy slop that constituted the street. The Bandit turned his head to see a figure in a tattered, dark grey robe.
The face was shadowed, but the hands were clear, as the sagging sleeves dipped a few inches below the wrists. They looked slightly delicate, and the fingers were slim. The skin was lightly tanned, odd for anyone from the Earth Kingdom. Both arms were above the head, and slightly before the figure. The watery tendrils were a few feet to either side, and extended from the figure to the Bandit.
The figure threw both arms down, toward the ground. The tendrils pulled the man off his feet, and caused him to slide across the mud on the ground, stopping a few feet from his assailant. The figure then brought both arms out, straight from the torso. The raindrops stopped in the air, and a dome of water came together a few feet above, enclosing the immediate ten foot radius of the area. The figure brought both arms down, fingers moving all the way.
Water sealed around both wrists of the Bandit, and his neck and forehead. They froze, trapping the man. He struggled, but could not break from the grip of the ice, nor could he bend in the slightest. His comrades raced to his aid. The figure raised one arm, and a wall of ice stretching from one side of the street to the other, stopped them in their tracks.
The figure stepped off to the right, turned to face the Bandit, and then brought both arms in a wide sweeping motion off to the right. The man, still in his restraints, was shoved off on a horizontal slide of ice toward the wall. A hole opened, allowing him through, and causing him to crash into the feet of several of his fellow bandits. Needing no other warnings, the men ran off, one of them carrying the still trapped Bandit on their Ostrich Horse.
The figure turned to the boys. Zhan turned over, and stood, followed by Cao, who was holding his stomach. The figure stopped just a few feet from the boys, and brought a hand to the hood on the robe. The hood fell to reveal the face of a woman with black hair, and blue eyes. She was tan, like Cao's mother.
"So." She began, in a voice that held both authority and maturity. "It looks like I'm not the only Waterbender around here anymore. You're Muji's son, aren't you?" She was facing Cao.
It obviously wasn't a secret that Cao was the son of the town's only former Water Tribe resident, but he had never seen this woman before. "Yes. Did you know my mother?"
The woman nodded. "Yes, I grew up with her in the Northern Water Tribe."
- A hooded figure taking down several enemies with ease and skill, and then removing the hood to reveal a woman was also featured in PiEman's story A Ripple in the Force, which is located on Star Wars: The Old Republic official site's community section.
For the collective works of the author, go here.