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|More from AtkaSura||Tragedy||PG 13||None|
|Survivors of the Air Nomad Genocide: Chapter 2|
Fire and Air
Fire Nation Capital
Admiral Zheng anxiously paced before the heavy, bronze war room doors, waiting for a break in the muffled voices emanating from within. He closed his eyes and inhaled sharply, attempting to calm the pit in his stomach. Nothing could quell the dread Zheng felt. The atrocities he committed in the name of the Fire Nation slowly consumed his soul, tormenting his sense of morality. Now, he was about to deliver news that would spark a war. How many more lives will be lost as a consequence of this moment? What further horrors awaited? Finally, the voices inside the war room subsided. With a heavy heart, Zheng pushed open the double doors. An unsettling mixture of familiarity and loathing struck Zheng as he entered the room. After a lifetime of service in the Fire Navy, he had grown accustomed to small, cramped spaces. He felt more at home in the confines of his ship than in the luxury of the Royal Palace. However, his duties as an admiral resulted in frequent visits to the war room. Zheng always hated those visits. Despite the war room's spacious layout, he couldn't help but feel suffocated.
Rows of open flame lined the far wall, casting an ominous glow upon the figures seated before the Fire Lord. All eyes turned to face Zheng, amplifying his unease. The gathered generals watched with interest as he approached, their silence broken by the hollow echo of his footfalls. They knew his presence could only mean one thing. War was imminent, and Zheng had lit the fuse.
"Fire Lord Sozin, I come bearing news of the temple raids. The attacks on the Air Temples were a success, but it was a Pyrrhic victory." The weight of his words hit Zheng hard, he struggled to remain stoic. "The Air Nomads are passive by nature, but we gave them no other option. Many of our soldiers did not return."
"Why are you here?"
Sozin turned to face Zheng, hands clasped behind his back, leering.
"If the losses were so devastating, why were you spared?"
Taken aback, Zheng replied, "I was on my ship, sir, enforcing the blockade as you commanded."
Zheng wished he could purge the horrors of that night from his memory. Standing on the ship's bridge, watching the sky burn red with the great comet's fire; its beauty marred by streaks of thick black smoke, the sea aglow with its reflection. As if the world itself had caught fire. He remembered spotting a single bison silhouetted against the flames, fleeing the inferno that was once its home.
The order to fire passed through his lips, but he did not recognize the voice as his own.
He remembered the pitiful sound the beast made as it plummeted from the sky, clipping the bow before crashing into the open ocean. The lingering smell of burnt hair. He remembered the anguished cries of the young girl thrown from its back, now lying broken on the deck below. He remembered her screams as his men grabbed her, dragged her to the deck's edge and tossed her over. The sudden silence as she hit the cold, dark water.
Zheng shuddered; he hoped it wasn't noticeable. Deep down, he questioned why those orders were given, and why he followed them.
"And the Avatar?" Sozin inquired, a hint of malice in his voice.
"There were countless bodies, many of them . . . " Zheng hesitated, "unidentifiable. Whether or not the Avatar was among them is uncertain. Reports from the other temples are equally inconclusive."
So much death, Zheng thought. Should he tell him? Should he mention the one that got away, the bison he saw flying south? No.
Sozin remained silent. After a brief amount of time, he stated matter-of-factly,
"This was a military victory. Our brave soldiers defeated the unruly Air Nomad militias. Their sacrifice shall be honored in our children's textbooks throughout history."
He turned to face one of the generals beside him.
"Gather your troops and prepare to move into the Earth Kingdom as we discussed. Zheng, divide your fleet and send them to the poles. There, you will begin raids on the Water Tribes. Break their will to fight."
Sozin calmly gazed over the map inset into the war room's floor.
"Today, we share our nation's prosperity with the world."
Eastern Air Temple (Several days earlier)
A gentle breeze played across Jin's skin, carrying with it the sweet scent of freshly baked fruit pies. Images of flaky crusts and warm, gooey filling crept into her mind, growing increasingly clear with each drawn breath. The tantalizing aroma threatened to disrupt Jin's meditative state altogether, but nothing could break her concentration. Nothing, that is, but a stifled giggling at her side. A flash of annoyance crossed her furrowed brow as the snickering continued. Irritated, Jin opened one eye and peeked toward the source of the sound. Two beady green eyes stared back at her, framed by black fur and long, pointed ears. The initial shock of finding herself face-to-face with a lemur increased tenfold upon the realization that its head was affixed to the body of a young girl.
Without a word, Jin reached over and pulled down Tami's collar, revealing a head tucked tight against her chest. The lemur scampered off as Tami looked up at Jin, her face maintaining an innocent expression. They locked eyes, each silently daring the other not to crack a smile. Tami, visibly fighting to contain her excitement, couldn't hold it any longer. They both burst into simultaneous fits of laughter.
"You really thought I was a headless lemur-monster, didn't you?" A mischievous grin lit up Tami's face. "And did your stomach just growl?"
"You got me." Jin stood up and ruffled Tami's hair. "Come on, let's practice your bending. I want to show you some new techniques."
For the next few hours, Jin guided Tami through the motions. She saw an improvement in Tami's form; she couldn't help but feel a bit of pride swell up inside her. However, she noticed Tami sneaking furtive glances at her tattoos throughout the lesson.
"You've improved, you'll be a master in no time."
"You really think so?" Tami's gaze drifted toward the blue arrow on Jin's wrist.
"I mean it."
Just then, Tami caught sight of a small group of Fire Nation soldiers escorting an officer across the courtyard toward the temples.
"What are they doing here?" Tami asked, head quizzically cocked to one side.
"I suppose they want to make arrangements for the Avatar's firebending training, figure out if he's staying in the temples or traveling to the Fire Nation. Since Aang disappeared, I guess they hope he'll show up here." She briefly pondered her last statement, "Do they know he ran away?"
"I don't trust them. Outsiders aren't allowed here." Tami folded her arms over her chest disapprovingly.
Jin scoffed, "Don't say that!" She let out an exasperated sigh and changed her tone. "It's going to be night soon, you should get to bed. I'll wake you up early in the morning so you can see the comet."
As they walked toward the dormitories, Jin took one last look at the Fire Nation envoy. In truth, she had no idea why they were here. Sister Iio emerged from the central temple as the group approached and hurriedly ushered them inside. Jin had never seen Sister Iio look so on edge. She couldn't shake the feeling that some terrible fate befell the Avatar.
Stop reading here if you wish to read this story chapter-by-chapter. (It will probably take months or years to reach that point, though, if ever.) If you're interested in where I plan the take the story and don't mind rough/incomplete edits along the way, continue.
(Very rough, unpolished, unedited narrative below. Subject to [and currently undergoing] major changes. Ye be warned.)
(The Fire Nation sent an envoy to the Air Temples under the guise of discussing Aang's firebending training. The Air Nomads knew that a war was brewing between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom, but they would not have suspected a strike against themselves. Even if they did, their customs could not turn down a diplomatic visitor. The envoy was 'concerned' about the Avatar's safety. Traveling to the Fire Nation capital during the possibility of war was unwise and unsafe. They wished for the Avatar to remain at the Air Temples, and that a firebending master be sent to live with him instead. Of course, none of this was true. All it took was that 'envoy' to burn the temple down from inside and, during the following chaos, throw down ropes to the troops waiting below.)
An acrid smell lingered in the air, pulling Jin out of her slumber. Her dulled, groggy senses struggled to process the overpowering stench. Each breath irritated her nose and throat, as if someone had pressed a smoldering rag against her face, smothering her with smoke and ash. A bitter, chalky film coated the roof of her mouth. Gagging from the unpleasant taste, Jin opened her eyes. A smokey haze filled her room, illuminated by an amber shaft of light. Distant shouts and screams echoed faintly from outside the open window. Confused, Jin pulled herself out of bed. Wheezing slightly, she walked toward the window and looked out into the courtyard beyond. Her heart sank as she saw the temple wreathed in flame, thick, black smoke billowing out into to courtyard. Tami.
(She runs to find Tami. A girl peeks her head out of the doorway, standing half-dressed and sleepily rubbing her eyes. "What's going on?" Jin ignores her, sprinting towards Tami's room, coughing and choking as smoke fills her lungs. She encounters a firebender in the hallway. The firebender attacks her, she deflects the blast and retaliates, shunting the soldier against a wall. She finds Tami wide-eyed and hiding in her room, dressed in her nightgown. After asking what is happening, Tami pauses and adds "and where are your cloths?" In the chaos and confusion, Jin hadn't bothered getting dressed, leaving her in a sarashi. She says it doesn't matter and they need to get out of here.)
(Once she finds Tami, she encounters a firebender who's just sitting there with his head buried in his hands. When she moves to place herself between him and Tami, the soldier just looks up at them with a vacant, thousand-yard stare. She rounds the corner and discovers the bodies of children and their caretaker he'd presumably just killed. "Close your eyes and hold my hand.")
(She tries to reassure Tami while instructing her on how to create a pocket of air free of smoke.)
Jin knelt down and gently placed her hands on Tami's shoulders.
"Hey," she said softly. "Remember the time we played airball? You scored against me, but the ball hit that nest of mosquito-ants and they swarmed all over us while you were celebrating."
Tami let out a weak smile. "Yea, I remember."
"I showed you how to create a barrier of air between us and them. I need you to do that with me now." Jin lifted Tami's chin and smiled reassuringly. "Look at me, everything is going to be okay. I promise."
Tami shakily began the motions, creating a weak flow of air around them. "Good, you're doing great. Everything is going to be fine." Jin joined in and soon a protective cocoon of air encircled them both.
(Jin and Tami are attacked. Jin regains consciousness to the sound of screaming.)
Jin found herself floating in a sea of liquid night; an empty void stretching eternally outward. She could only hear a suppressed, unnatural silence punctuated by the sound of someone screaming. Raw, terrible screams. (She realizes the screams are her own. The world comes crashing down around Jin as she jolts awake. She writhes in agony as searing pain consumes every inch of her body. She rolls over and spots Tami lying next to her, her nightgown still smoldering. "Wake up," she pleads, gently shaking her. She grows increasingly hysterical as Tami doesn't respond, pressing her head against Tami's chest and hearing nothing.)
The master pulled Jin away from Tami's lifeless body. "No! I'm not leaving her!" Jin shouted between sobs. "She's gone," the master said, "and you will be too if you stay." She led Jin to her sky bison and commanded they head south. As the master watched Jin's bison fade into the distance, she realized she had sent Jin to her grave, if she wasn't dead already. The poor girl was badly hurt, kept conscious by adrenaline alone. She probably collapsed the moment they went airborne. The South Pole was six days over open ocean, Jin will never make it. But what choice did she have? The Fire Nation have likely blockaded the Northern waters, expecting survivors to flee toward the Earth Kingdom.
The master turned to face her peoples' slaughter. She had sworn an oath to never use these techniques, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Lethal force must be used if any more were going to make it out alive.
Aided by the wind, she charged toward the nearest soldier. In one swift motion, she slammed her palm into the soldier's diaphragm and swept upward, pulling the air up and out of his lungs. The soldier dropped.
Notes and Trivia
- Admiral Zheng is named after the famed Zheng He: Admiral of the Chinese Treasure Fleet. The size of the junks under his command is mind-blowing, making Spanish galleons look like rowboats.
- I'm absolutely sure that the term 'Pyrrhic victory' would not exist in the Avatar world considering there's no Pyrrhus. I can't think of a suitable equivalent, so screw it! Maybe Pyrrhus was an Earth Kingdom general who fought Chin the Conqueror. Yea, let's go with that. (Pyrrhic victory: A victory won with such a devastating cost that all sense of pride/achievement is lost; it may as well have been defeat.)
I never intended for Jin to be the girl that crashes into Zheng's ship, but several readers (both on and off the wiki) have assumed that to be the case. I've taken a liking to the idea and might write a chapter wherein Jin's bison pulls her from the frigid waters. This would better explain how her bison later died midair from overexertion.
I'm having a frustrating mental block regarding the temple scenes. I want it to be powerful, dark, and disturbing, but I just can't seem to get it right. I know exactly what I want to write, but my mind goes blank the moment I begin typing out a narrative even if I've been thinking about it all day, forcing the awkward wording.
For the collective works of the author, go here.