|More from LightningStrike24||Alternate Universe||PG-13||NA||Once or twice a month|
April 19, 2013
Book I: Heart
Chapter Two: Resistance
Stars twinkle coldly above the empty room as the chilling wind gusts through the drafty windows, rattling the shutters on their creaky hinges. The inside of the area itself is dank and uninviting. Litter and unwanted items are strewn everywhere; rickety tables and chairs are tossed carelessly in haphazard positions.
There is a thick layer of smoky gray dust covering every observable surface, polluting the air with its itchy, microscopic particles. It is as if this place has not seen the light of day since Avatar Roku's death, well over a century ago.
But if they are to observe the sentencing in secret, there will be no better place to offer them shelter from the elements as well as prying eyes.
Both men are dressed in long black cloaks, although one of them is also sporting a long black sheath on his back, the handles of two swords poking out from the scabbard.
"Ah—choo!" one of them sneezes—the sword-less man—waving at the air around his nose. "Oh, come on! Couldn't you have picked a better place than this? It's so dusty!"
"Shh!" his partner angrily but quietly berates. "We have to be quiet if we want to watch!"
The first man swipes a finger across a wooden table, and his digit comes up with a healthy coating of dust. "I'll die of asphyxiation from this grunge before we even get a chance to see the sentencing," he complains.
His partner ignores him and crosses over to a window, inching it open ever so slightly. He winces as it creaks loudly, but then quickly flings it open anyways to reveal the sprawling square before them.
The first man, still grumbling about the grimy state of the attic, trots over to join his associate. They silently gaze down at the square below them, where a curious event is taking place.
The square is surrounded by flocks of figures in lightweight red armor. It is clear that the mood in the air is somewhat tense, yet a few of the figures are whispering amongst themselves, obviously excited for what is about to happen. There is something that looks like a large wooden pole in the center of the compound, with a rope thrown carelessly down besides it. A tall figure in heavy red and black armor is besides it, unwinding a long cable. The cord's end flares out as the officer finishes his job, the strands separating into five limp lines.
"Is that a whip?" the first man asks, awe and fear evident in his voice. "Zuko—"
"It is going to be a flogging," Zuko abruptly says, his mouth thinning into a white line. "And if I am not mistaken, they'll set it on fire before thrashing the condemned as well."
"What is this? 'Fire whips'?" his friend demands. "That must be agonizing."
"It is," Zuko mutters, his fingers absentmindedly brushing at the scar branded across his face. "The combination of the lash marks and the burns are enough to make the most seasoned warrior break down. It is a form of punishment that is usually reserved for the worst offenses. Absolute felonies."
"I hardly think that co-masterminding a single prison break should be considered as a 'worst offense'," the man grumbles.
"Sokka," Zuko says, his teeth gritted, "just stay quiet and just look on."
Indeed, there is a flurry of activity down in the square now. Two armed Phoenix Empire soldiers, looking quite resplendent in their extravagant and ornate red-and-gold armor (more for show than anything) have arrived, leading a few men in tattered and shabby prison outfits behind them. They roughly push the men into a line while another soldier—a major, by the looks of his armor—picks up the whip. Barking out an order that Zuko cannot quite catch, two soldiers shoot short jets of fire at the lanterns, and flames bloom in the torches lining the sides of the square, throwing the whole area into a soft yellow light, illumination in the darkness of the night.
"To order!" the major shouts, effectively ceasing all of the murmurings among the soldiers lining the square.
"As I am sure that you have all heard," the major announces into the heavy silence, "we have had a breach today into the complex, conducted by the Water Tribe raiders.
We have since discovered evidence of conspiracy amongst the inmates themselves—corresponding with the raiders and such. In fact, if not for Sergeant Mako's quick action on the situation, the break probably would have been a success."
A murmur of approval ripples through the crowd, centering on a tall, young man with black hair near the front of the lines.
"Thus," the major loudly says, overriding all of the other voices in the square, "we will be charging the main conspirators of this breakout for multiple counts of conspiracy, plotting to overtake an official Phoenix Empire compound, and treason."
Treason? They were never loyal to the Phoenix Empire in the first place.
There is a grave pause.
"The sentence will be five lashes with the five-tailed fire whip," the major continues in a strong voice. "Corporal! If you would be ever so kind as to come up here...." He beckons to someone in the throng of soldiers, and a figure breaks out of the line, her features thrown into light by the torches.
Sokka chokes and exclaims loudly, "Her? The Ava—?!"
"Shh!" Zuko snarls, covering the Water Tribesman's mouth with his hand. "We don't want to draw attention!"
The major puts a hand on the Avatar's shoulder, although she looks as if she would much rather hug a starving unagi than have the man touch her.
"Our friend here was the first to encounter the band of raiders and escapees who tried to make their way out of the complex," the major explains. "While it was Sergeant Mako and his soldiers who successfully rounded all of the refugees up, they would have not caught up with them on time if our corporal had not stalled them long enough for the sergeant to arrive. And for that, wouldn't it be fitting that she conduct the punishment for the first of our prisoners?"
"Notice how he's careful not to say the Avatar's name," Zuko mutters, his forehead creasing as he frowns. "But why not? There can't be too much harm done from mentioning it."
"What is her name?" Sokka asks abruptly.
Zuko stares at him as if he has just grown a second head. "What?" the prince asks incredulously. "Are you telling me that after thirteen years of knowing that she could be Aang's successor, you don't know her name?"
"What?" Sokka complains. "I've never had the time to figure it out! I've been busy!"
Zuko is sure that if Sokka's sister was here, she would have made some smart remark about the situation at the moment.
"It's Korra." Zuko ignores him thereafter and turns his full attention back to the punishment before them. The Avatar had somewhat uncertainly picked up the whip, and the prince watches in slight consternation as hot orange flames ripple down its length, setting whatever material the whip is made out of ablaze.
The first prisoner is shoved forwards. He stumbles over his bonds, shuffling towards the long pole in the center of the square. One of his guards roughly ties his hands to the pole, binding his wrists to the wood with several tight knots. The Avatar eyes the prisoner somewhat nervously, and Zuko notices her back stiffen as she hesitantly steps into position.
The major raises his hand. "The punishment shall now commence!"
Zuko watches in barely concealed horror as the major thrusts one finger into the air.
The fire wrapped around the whip crackles menacingly as the Avatar draws her arm back, carrying the whip along with her. After a moment's pause, the whip flies through the air, landing on the prisoner's back with an audible thud.
There's a loud cry of pain.
Zuko sharply takes in a breath while Sokka leans forward so much that Zuko is afraid that someone will either spot him or the warrior would fall out of the window of his own accord.
The Avatar pulls back again, but it is clear this time that she is shaking like a leaf in gale force winds. The whip floats there, trembling, unsure about if it is supposed to strike the prisoner's back again or keep on hovering.
She doesn't do anything beyond that, and it is evident to everyone that she is hesitating.
The major glowers. "Two!" he shouts again.
"...No." Her voice is strong and clear. The fire is extinguished, the whip lowered to rest by the Avatar's feet.
Instantly, a mutter ripples through the line of soldiers, and Zuko tenses. He feels Sokka lean in closer next to him.
"What's she doing?" Zuko hotly whispers. "Just get it over and done with, damn it! She did it once..."
"What was that?" the major slowly asks, his voice edging closer to a snarl.
"I said, no," the Avatar firmly repeats, letting the whip drop to the ground. It hits the ground with an audible thump. "I won't do it."
"You do realize," the major coldly informs her, "that if you refuse to whip him, I can just as easily get another soldier to do the job for me, and I can punish you myself for your disobedience at the sentencing?"
"You do that," the Avatar heatedly retorts, her face twisting up into a half-defiant, half-livid expression, "you do whatever you want to me, but I'm not whipping anyone anymore. In fact, I'll take the lashes for him! I don't care who you are...you can't tell me—or force me, for that matter—to whip my father ten times and expect me to carry through with it!"
A frozen silence follows her words, only punctuated by a muffled sound that is halfway between a choke and a sob from the man tied to the pole; Zuko can almost swear that the temperature in the square, despite the brightly glowing torches, has just dropped by about twenty degrees. He can practically feel the coolness from there.
When the major speaks again, his voice is calm and controlled. "Very well. It shall be as you have requested, corporal." He nods at the guards. "Take the man away, and put the girl in his place."
Zuko doesn't realize that he is moving to jump out of the window until a strong grip closes around his right bicep. He looks back to see Sokka shaking his head frantically. "Zuko, don't. You'll just cause more trouble than there already is."
"She's going to kill herself!" Zuko snaps. "One set of lashes for her, another from her stupid, brash statement. Five tails. Ten times. Fifty strokes on the back. And when that happens, I don't want to spend another thirteen years pursuing the Avatar in the Earth Kingdom colonies!"
"No, Zuko." Sokka is shaking his head, and he increases his hold on Zuko's arm. "She'll pull through. I'm sure of it. You just have to believe it."
Zuko reluctantly steps back, but his fists are clenched tightly at his sides as he watches, seething, while the Avatar is strung to the pole in place of the previous prisoner.
The flames burst into life once more as the major picks up the whip, and there is no hesitation from him whatsoever. Sokka flinches as the sound of the fire whip hurtling through the air strikes the Avatar's back with a snap.
Never in her seventeen years has she ever felt this kind of pain.
And that's saying quite a lot.
It is like what farmers do to forests to get the land cleaned up, ready for planting. Slash and burn, they call it. This is what her back, the hapless forest, is being subjected to. Swinging scythes and blazing torches.
A horribly sharp sensation, an impression of knives slicing deep into her body, rips through her back, the pain cackling loudly as five sizzling whip lines cut long and deep, neat parallel grooves into her flesh. The pain is absolutely excruciating; it is as if a slab of her tissue has been ripped off of her body, and then the raw meat instantly rubbed with salt and then exposed to an open blue flame. (Which was technically what is happening to her at the moment, anyway.) Her blood is boiling, running down her back in thick rivulets and dripping onto the cold stone ground, where the drops hiss silently for a moment before sinking into the cool rock.
She blindly rocks forward, trying hard not to retch as the heat scorches her quivering body. She squeezes her eyes shut and bites her lip until she tastes the metallic tang of blood. A tear runs down her cheek, arriving unbidden.
Don't scream, she chants like a mantra in her head while the flames crackle tauntingly above her. Don't scream don't scream don't scream don't scream DON'T SCREAM—
Zuko's nails bite deep into his palm, drawing blood. Yet, nothing emanates from the Avatar's lips as she stumbles forward a little, the ropes preventing her from running out of harm's way.
Another slap. A tiny groan this time.
The second set rips through her already-mutilated back, and the pain increases tenfold, as if raw, undiluted acid has just been added to the mix. This time, she can't stop the small grunt from bubbling past her lips.
Crack! Five more lines brand their neat way on her shoulders. She involuntarily spasms, spraying drops of thick crimson liquid all around her. She tastes the stuff in her mouth and reflexively retches, lurching forwards, weakly, futilely scrabbling to get out of the way of the whip.
She begins to sag down to the ground. The rope rubs abrasively at her wrists. More tears blur her vision.
Her body bucks involuntarily at the sound of the young voice, sending more arrows of savagery raking down her backside. She weakly claws at the ground, trying to reach the voice.
A familiar, male, quiet voice.
A strangled sound rises from her throat, and she quickly swallows it down, refusing to allow the major feel satisfaction at watching her break down like a weakling.
The ropes cut into her wrists while her knees buckle, but she barely notices the pain as she struggles to stand up again, although she's well aware that for all her efforts, the ropes are the only thing keeping her from crumpling onto the ground.
Well. She wants to plummet to the ground.
She begins to grow woozy, the pain almost like an ever-present normality now. Black spots dance across her vision. Her back is on fire, there's blood everywhere, and it's all she can do to not fall unconscious.
Two more...just two more...
It's no use. The starts of a scream of anguish begin to build up in her throat again, and it escapes her in a guttural, animal-like sound that makes her flinch again, yet the slightest movement sends pain lancing down her back, so it does not help her situation at all.
The acrid and revolting smell of burnt flesh is lazily swirling through the air, creating a thick, nauseating aroma as it mingles with the metallic tang of blood. She has long since stopped trying to stand, letting the rope sink into her wrists as she just hangs there, defeated—but not quite, not quite.
Her mind is swimming. Her world is on fire. The final set of lashes brand themselves firmly across her back, and she is not aware of hitting the ground as someone unties her bonds. She simply lays there, her teeth gritted tightly together to the point of shattering; silent tears are streaming down her face, her blood staining the gray granite beneath her being. She needs air—sweet, fresh, untainted air, but she can't breathe without ragged bursts of pain striking her back, and everything still smells sickeningly bad, nauseating, and disgusting. Everything swirls dangerously in her dimming line of sight; someone's screamingcallingshouting her name, and she feels herself being moved a little—which brings a fresh wave of hurtpainthrobbing to her mutilated backside and a soft moan to her lips—but everythingeveryoneanything is just dissolvingmeltingsinking into a medleymixturerainbow of twirlingspinninglooping colors until it just all spirals
The same murkiness, and the same void once more.
Long, white-hot knives.
Sinking, twisting, burrowing into her skin.
Stripping her bare.
Of her being.
A young boy's voice.
No longer disembodied.
It clicks into her mind.
It resonates to encompass thousands of voices, male and female, young and old.
The Phoenix Empire must be defeated.
We will aid you. For we are one.
We will stand behind you.
Your first master is at the City of the Moon.
You will succeed. Together, we are the Avatar...
A pungent smell drifts its way to her nostrils, and Korra struggles to open her eyes, but immediately shuts them again at the sight of the bright light.
Where am I?
Her next thought:
What the in the name of Agni is an Avatar?
"Careful," a sharp but familiar voice says from a long way off, and Korra stretches her eyes open, blinking furiously to allow her eyes to adjust to the light.
"Ruan?" she starts to croak, but her attempt at speaking one word instantly sinks down into a small choke as heated pain lances down her backside.
Something is shifted on the nightstand next to her, and Ruan waves a small bowl full of translucent green goo, which is what was giving off the sharp scent of herbs and medicine that woke Korra up. The injured firebender instinctively tries to flinch away from it, but her backside doesn't agree with her.
"Oh, come on, Korra, listen to someone for once and stay still!" Ruan berates sharply, digging two fingers into the paste. "I can't apply this while you're moaning and groaning and trying to flop around like a koi fish although you know it'll cause you more pain. You know."
"But—" Korra begins to rasp. Ruan carefully begins to apply the salve, and a sigh of relief escapes Korra's lips instead as the medicine remarkably cools down the angry feeling of the lash marks on her back to a mere throbbing sensation. It still aches fiercely, but it's a remarkable step forward from two seconds ago when she couldn't even speak without having her backside scream its protest.
"The medics told me to put it on after you woke up," Ruan explains as she continues spreading the paste onto Korra's back.
"I see," Korra murmurs from the corner of her mouth, "they wouldn't do it themselves."
The rustle of the wind outside is her only answer, but Ruan eventually speaks again, albeit awkwardly changing the subject.
"There was blood everywhere," she remarks.
"Thank you, Captain Obvious. I truly could not feel it running down my back."
Well, she technically couldn't; Korra really couldn't feel anything for the latter half of the whipping, and she hesitantly whispers, "What happened after?"
Her roommate doesn't reply immediately, taking her time to mull over her words.
"The short or long version?" she asks eventually. "Because I have something to tell you later."
"Hmm. Is it good news, or bad news?"
Ruan ponders it over. "Well, I don't know. It depends on you, I suppose. You may not like it, or you may start squealing at the opportunity. Which I do not recommend."
Korra stares at her for a long moment, a look of slight disbelief etched across her features. "Ruan. You should have known me for long enough to realize that I don't squeal."
"Oh, yes you do," Ruan briskly says, "when you're having a bad dream."
Korra ignores her last statement, because it was probably true. "Fine, then. Long version. Be detailed."
Ruan finishes applying the salve and sets the now-empty bowl back on the table, observing her with calculating, penetrating golden eyes. "You just...fell after they undid the ropes," she softly says after a moment or two. "It was so quiet after the final lashes that everyone could hear you fold to the ground. The stone around you was painted with red, splattered with crimson blotches of liquid. I didn't think you would make it. One guy lost his lunch...spirits, there was just so much blood. And I haven't gotten to your back. An absolute monstrosity. Your backside is a raw, burned, bright red bloody slab of meat. Crisscross marks everywhere. You could see where every single tail landed. It's kind of...um, shredded, to be honest with you. You'll wear those scars for the rest of your life. The healers don't even know if they will ever fully recover. Whether or not you will fully recover.
"The man you called your father was mostly frozen for the whole time the actual whipping happened, but once you dropped, he struggled. He was calling for you, but they led him and the other prisoners away. That sergeant, Mako, ran to get you, but you just let out this weird and horrible animal noise when he tried to pick you up, so a stretcher was called. They took you to the infirmary...and here you are." She spreads her arms helplessly. "The healers say that you won't be moving out of here anytime soon, but given some certain circumstances, I don't think that they will be able to hold on to you."
Korra is silent.
"You'll wear those scars for the rest of your life."
She's marked for eternity.
The marks of failure. The marks of resistance.
"All right," she says after a long time. "Now, what was that other thing that you wanted to tell me? The certain circumstances? The good-slash-bad news that I may hate or may start squealing about?"
"Phoenix Lord Azula put in a request for you and me to come to New Ozai," Ruan bluntly says, her eyes narrowing slightly. "She wants to have a...how did the embassy put it...talk with you regarding your defiance."
Korra's eyes fly open in alarm. "The Phoenix Lord? Wh-what? She—she shouldn't get involved in things as trivial as this!" Even the slight raise in her voice sends a sharper throb racing down her wounds. "And you're coming, too? I mean, believe me, that's totally great and all, but you didn't do anything."
"Don't stress yourself out," Ruan warns her and completely ignoring Korra's last question, while checking her back. "You'll just make the cuts bleed even more. Here, I'll get some bandages, but when I come back, you are to stop venting to me. We're supposed to leave by tomorrow with that sergeant guy. Got it?" She leaves without waiting for an answer, leaving Korra to mull over her racing thoughts. What does the mighty and powerful Phoenix Lord want with her, a lowly corporal who got punished for disobedience less than a day she got inducted? That the Phoenix Lord wants to talk with her? About what? Knowing that Azula never got involved in inconsequential cases concerning disobedient soldiers, it couldn't be anything in the norm.
Her eyelids are drooping, throwing the world into a haze of blurry colors. Ruan hops in again, wielding a massive roll of white cloth, and Korra buries her head in her pillow, shutting herself off from the concerns of the earth. She drifts off into an uneasy sleep once again.
Ruan watches her roommate slumber, her chest rising and falling with each breath, her long dark brown hair spread across the pillow, the clean white bandages Ruan has just wrapped around the girl a stark contrast to Korra's dark skin. The corporal twitches occasionally, a low mumble escaping from her lips; her hands clench and relax, and Ruan wonders what exactly she is dreaming about.
It really isn't the most entertaining thing under the sun, to watch someone sleep under the influence of a nightmare, but Ruan doesn't exactly have anything else to do of importance right now, and truth be told, she has gotten a little protective over the Water Tribe recruit over the past few years.
Just a little. Because Ruan still has her moments with that Water Tribe girl, when she grows unbelievably frustrated with her. The complaints, the bipolar moods swings. And it's been happening more and more often the past week, to the point when Ruan wants to scream at her. She has been scarily woken up no less than three times by her roommate's screaming for the past few nights.
And, yes, Korra could be remarkably self-centered at times. Her rants and pessimistic moods are usually always about her.
Because others have their own problems as well, some even more than family bonds. And they don't complain, do they?
Ruan knows, because she's one of them.
Other Phoenix Empire nationals looked at her with a question in their eyes, a question that asked her why in the name of Sozin she would bother to be friendly with Korra, much less look after her, and she's never answered them, because she doesn't know why herself. Oh, she doesn't regret it or anything like that, but she generally attributes the feeling to her own shifty childhood. That she knows how being shunned by society feels. That she knows how it feels when you're ripped from your family, when one of your own siblings spits on you and grinds you under their foot, whispering lies, deceit, hisses about how you're nothing and will always be nothing.
It comes back to her like a punch straight to the gut.
A burst of hot flame sprouts from her palm, dancing in the air, simply waiting to be released.
His lip curls in disgust, his eyes glittering with cruel intent as he lunges for her neck.
Oh, memories, memories...
And so, she watches Korra sleep. Quietly and alone with nothing and no one to keep her company but her own restless thoughts, until the annoying private from—what's his name?—the sergeant's ship raps on the door.
"Tell the corporal to wake up. It's time to leave."
"She's still sleeping."
"I have realized that, which is why I asked you to wake her up!"
Ruan's mouth becomes a thin line of disapproval, but she turns and gently prods Korra in the arm. "Hey. You've got to get up. We're leaving."
Korra feebly bats her hand away, her hand flopping onto the bed thereafter like a dead fish. "Five more minutes, mom..."
Ruan blinks, her eyebrows bunching together in confusion. "Korra. Wake up. Stop hallucinating. Don't make me shake you."
The corporal's eyes stretch open wearily, and it takes a moment for her to focus on Ruan's face.
"Ruan..." There's a note of obvious yet quiet disappointment in her voice, as if she were expecting someone else. She struggles to sit up, careful not to disturb her back. "We're leaving?"
"Yeah," Ruan nods. "Your stuff is already packed." She holds out a hand for Korra to take, but the Water Tribe girl ignores it, tentatively swinging her legs over the bed to land on her feet. She promptly collapses with a curse, and she probably would have bashed her nose in if Ruan hadn't grabbed her left arm at the last second. Even as she did so, she felt Korra's muscles bunch under her grip, and the tension in her shoulders reaches the cuts on her back, causing her to spit out another swear before she regains control of herself, albeit leaning heavily on Ruan's shoulder.
"Okay, take it easy," Ruan instructs as they take baby steps towards the door. "Um...don't you want a shirt or something?"
The problem was that Korra had to take off—well, the medics had to; the girl in question was bleeding heavily and out like a candle in water—her pretty much already ruined, bloodstained shirt in order to let the wound set so it could be treated and bandaged.
Korra frowns. "Yes, please. I was wondering why everything was so cold."
Ruan stifles a snort as she grabs a fresh set of uniforms from the basket under the railing, shaking the shirt out, helping Korra shrug it on.
They walk out in silence after that, although Korra's labored steps resonate loudly throughout the hall, and her heavy breathing was one like a polar bear dog's. Mako is waiting for them at the ship, and Ruan notes that the sergeant is looking at Korra with a healthy degree of concern.
"Are you alright?" he asks, his golden eyes also betraying the concern that is written all across his face.
"Yep!" Korra smiles, although her response is somewhat marred by the way she is holding herself: ramrod straight while tipped over on a slant on Ruan's shoulders.
"Right," Mako nods, and it is obvious to everyone that he is unconvinced. "It's going to be a rather short trip, okay, so just hold it out until we get to New Ozai."
Korra mockingly salutes to him with her free hand (unfortunately, the pressure on Ruan's chest from Korra's left hand increases and causes Ruan to stumble back, and both of them almost crash onto the floor in an unceremonious heap). "Will do, sergeant."
Ruan resists the urge to roll her eyes at Korra's very cheeky new attitude as she tersely shoves the Water Tribe firebender past Mako, earning herself an annoyed prod on the arm from her detainee for her troubles.
Mako follows them inside the ship, where an easygoing-looking man in his early twenties is waiting for them; a captain, by the looks of his rather extravagant red-and-gold armor.
"Full speed ahead!" the captain calls cheerily, waving at the soldier at the helm of the ship, who promptly salutes back.
Ruan presses back into a wall with a quiet remark of irritation as the ship lurches forwards quickly, the water parting past the ship to allow them to sail into the open seas.
"Hey, by a 'short time'," Korra calls to Mako as Ruan sets her down on a bench, "do you mean, like, five minutes, or five hours, or five days?"
"I...actually don't know," Mako frowns, rubbing at his hair.
Korra tilts her head. "So, why did you tell me that it was going to be a short time?"
"It took us half an hour to get here," Mako informs her, "but that was in remarkably good weather. With those above"—he gestures towards the heavy gray clouds hanging overhead—"I'm not sure."
The captain slaps him on the back. "We'll make it to New Ozai before you know it!" he happily booms. "Don't be all doom and gloom, Mako!"
"But I was just pointing out—"
"Oh, be quiet, you," the captain admonishes, flapping a dismissive hand at him. "By the way, I'm Captain Akira. But just call me Akira!" He crushes Mako in a hug. "We don't bother with titles here on this ship, do we, Mako?"
"Whatever you say, captain," Mako says, his voice somewhat muffled and laced with sarcasm.
Akira, who ignores Mako's use of his title, sits down next to Korra. "So! Now that I've introduced myself...you're Korra, aren't you? That girl who refused to whip that man?"
"Am I really going to be referred to from now on as 'that girl who refused to whip that man'?" Korra asks lightly, her voice not at all forced, but Ruan can see her bright blue eyes darken a shade.
Akira laughs, elbowing her gently. "It's your choice, sweetie."
Ruan's eyebrows shoot up into her hairline as Mako puts a hand to his forehead, his ears turning a brilliant shade of red. "Akira..."
"Oh, uh..." Korra looks rather taken aback. "Just Korra is fine, I guess."
"Great!" Akira grins. He appraises her, looking her from top to bottom. "You seem a little...stiff."
Ruan bites back a snort. If Korra painted herself brown and green, she could have passed as a tree from the way she was sitting.
"Well, yeah," Korra comments, not loosening her stature, "I don't think that I could bend over right now."
"Fifteen minutes out, Akira," the soldier at the helm calls.
The captain nods. "Excellent. Korra, I would give you a pat on the back, but I don't think that it would be a very good idea in the situation you're in. I have stuff to attend to on the ship, so just chill out here and...relax. It'll be great! Phoenix Lord Azula is really cool, trust me."
"Cool," Korra repeats in an undertone as Akira stands up, "considering that she's the Phoenix Lord, shouldn't she be more hot than cool?"
Mako stifles a burst of laughter as Ruan rolls her eyes yet again.
Akira wags a finger at her. "The implications that you set are disconcerting," he grins before trotting away.
Korra has this insanely bemused look on her face before the delayed reaction catches up to her, and when it does, her normally dark face turns a hue of flaming scarlet that Ruan has never seen from her before.
"You look very much like a boiling lobster," Ruan calmly observes.
"I—!" Korra begins to shout, but doesn't get any further than that when her mouth snaps tightly shut on its own accord, her eyes sharpening ever so slightly.
Mako sits down next to her, and Korra turns desperately to him and Ruan. "Look, you two both know that I didn't mean it in that way!"
"Yes, yes, we all know that," Ruan wryly says, "because we all saw that look you were giving Mako."
Korra elbows her in the arm while Mako frowns in confusion. "What?"
"Nothing, nothing," Korra brightly says, still treading on Ruan's shoes, "The poor girl had some cactus juice before coming onto the ship."
"What?" Ruan demands irately, until Korra stamps on her foot even harder and she's forced to stop talking and scoot away.
"Oh, I see how it is," she sarcastically calls to the corporal, "I treat you nicely, semi-heal you, and you try to break my foot as payment."
Korra sneaks her a rather beatific smile. "That's right."
"You are absolutely insufferable," Ruan sighs. "I don't know why I bother with you."
What a lie.
"It doesn't have to be this way!"
"Oh, that's fine. Just let me take care of your little bending problem, and once Mom and Dad are cleansed, we can be a normal family, for once—"
"But that's why you love me, right?" Korra asks from far away.
There is a period of momentary silence.
"What is with you and making the most awkward comments at the most awkward times?" Mako asks, breaking the hush.
Korra petulantly stamps her foot on the ground again, her face screwed up into a peeved pout. "You—know—I—don't—mean—it—that—way! For the last time!"
"Riiight," Ruan smiles, latching on. She blows the seething corporal a mock kiss and says in a ridiculously sappy voice, "Of course, Korra, I love you too." The massive blow of a horn breaks their conversation, and Akira comes bouncing in again. "Ready to see our Lord, Korra?"
"Awesome!" Akira beams. "Let's get you outta here and into New Ozai!"
She slowly looks up from her perch on the throne, glaring at the courtier who is groveling behind the roaring blue line of flames. "What is it?"
"The corporal has arrived. She is waiting outside."
Her red lips twitch up into a cool, malevolent smile. "She is, now isn't she? Let her in immediately."
The courtier sinks even lower onto the ground until his forehead is touching the bronze tiles. "As you wish, my Lord."
Korra takes a shaky breath, trying to steady herself as the courtier nods at her. "The Phoenix Lord will see you now and immediately."
The doors in front of her are pushed slowly open, the maw of the throne room opening hungrily to swallow her whole. Korra swallows and fixes her eyes on the shadowy figure behind the row of blue flames, leaning on Ruan for support as she stumbles in.
"Alone, if you will."
Korra instinctively flinches as she hears the smooth voice, full of slyness and deceit, almost...familiar.
Well, familiar in a bad way.
Lightning strikes. Blinding pain. Resonating screams.
The sense of falling, falling, falling...
She can feel Ruan's worried gaze on her back as she tips over unsteadily, but one does not simply disobey the orders of the Phoenix Lord unless they want to get fried to a crisp. The firebender steps back, letting Korra shakily stand on her own as the doors swing shut behind her with a resounding boom.
"The master at the complex informs me that you blatantly flaunted his orders to whip a prisoner nine more times yesterday night," the Phoenix Lord starts, her voice washing over Korra like an icy wave. "I garner that this is true?"
"Y-yes, my Lord." Korra lets the words tumble out of her mouth as she sinks into a (crappy) bow, her back screaming with protest as she bends over.
"Oh, for goodness' sake, sit up, corporal," the Phoenix Lord sharply chides. "You honestly can't expect me to have you fold over like that with your...ah, mauled backside, hmm?"
"Er...no, my Lord." She forces herself up again, sweat beading across her forehead.
"Good." The Phoenix Lord stands up, her magnificent robes brushing the ground with a swish, swish sound as she does so.
"Look at me, corporal."
Korra raises her head to look into the amber orbs of the Phoenix Lord, and an involuntary shudder passes through her. She clenches her fists at her side to keep her from trembling even more.
"Perhaps you had your reasons for disobeying the master," the Phoenix Lord says softly, "but it was rather out of line, wasn't it?"
"Yes, my Lord." Korra dislikes the feeling of the words in her mouth.
"I wager that you will not do so again," the Phoenix Lord continues, "but I am willing to let this go. Just this once. If, that is, you do a small favor for me." Korra stiffens. "Me?"
"Yes, you," the Phoenix Lord sighs in a bored tone. "I want you to capture one of the Phoenix Empire's most wanted enemies. Dead or alive."
Korra bites at the inside of her cheek, and she grinds out, "And who is this enemy...?"
The Phoenix Lord's eyes glitter coldly. "Have you ever heard of the being known as the Blue Spirit, Corporal Korra?"
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Book I: Heart|
| 1. | 2. | 3. | 4. | 5. Scars | 6. Cosmos | 7. Vortex | 8. Phoenix | 9. Fire|
10. Fallout | 11. Betrayal | 12. Avatar
|Book II: Mind|
|To be announced after "Book I: Heart" has been completed.|
|Book III: Body|
|To be announced after "Book II: Mind" has been completed.|
|Book IV: Soul|
|To be announced after "Book III: Body" has been completed.|