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|Taking Kekuatan, Part 2|
"Welcome to Republic City, ma'am. May you state your reason of business?" The young dock worker yelled from a pier up to the deck the ship that had just arrived in Republic City's harbor.
The woman on board the vessel, dressed as a sailor, smiled sweetly and responded, "Just bringing fresh fish straight from the great Southern Water Tribe! You wouldn't believe how much we caught down there. They're multiplying like rabiroos!"
"That's good to hear. Can I see some identification?"
The woman paused, then tossed down a card with her picture and a name on it, along with the company logo for South Pole Fishing, Inc.
After giving the card a quick examination, the man put a megaphone up to his mouth. "Alright! This one's good for unloading."
The woman thanked the kind gentleman as other workers quickly removed the boxes from inside the ship and placed them on their docks. Then she retreated to inside the boat, skipping all the way to the cockpit. As she entered the room, the captain didn't turn. He simply inquired, "And?"
The woman, mocking the dock worker, replied, "This one's good for unloading."
The captain laughed, to the woman's utter disbelief. This was the first time she's ever seen the man display a sign of joy. "You're a better actress than I thought Kimma," said the captain as he turned, "I believe Captain Zhouray will be arriving with his meat delivery shortly, followed by Captain Sangti and his supplies from Omashu. Soza and her lumber aren't scheduled to be here until later this evening.
Kimma knelt. "Why thank you, my lord. When should we release the Risen Ones from their fish crates?"
"Once we have them all together in a secluded place. We can keep them all in some abandoned factory until we're ready for the moment of truth."
"I'll transfer this information to the others."
The roar of his jet ski filled Brek with adrenaline as he raced through the choppy water alongside five of his closest allies. To his left, he saw Fung Lee and Berani dodge a catapulted boulder, creating a huge wake that almost took them and Kupo out. To his right he saw Krooprook as confident as ever. He may have even been enjoying himself. Kani had her spear in hand, ready to strike.
"Look! Over there!" Kupo was pointing to a fleet of three wooden ships entering the channel. "It's the Isha Resistance!"
Brek was happy to see them but he remained focused. "They're not the only ones setting sail." The Earth Kingdom military had mobilized quickly to prevent any invaders from reaching Kekuatan. Within minutes, four military vessels were prepared to crush any opposition. These ships were metal, powered by some kind of engine, and the most advanced Brek had seen in the Kingdom. Despite the intimidating feel to them, Brek and his friends' objective was to sink anything that interfered with the Resistance's safe arrival.
Three of the naval ships sailed to greet their guests with force as one dropped back to deal with the jet skiers. The Avatar released his grip on his handlebars for a brief moment to shoot two blasts of fire at the bow of the watercraft with quick jabs, all to know avail. The attack didn't cause any noticeable damage, and the defending sailors were quick to retaliate. Berani watched as the top of a catapult swung across the deck and launched a massive coin-shaped rock straight for her. The projectile hit the water hard a few yards in front of her, and her jet ski then rammed it at full speed. As the skilled swords-woman flipped off her vehicle and fell towards the cold river, she was blown upwards by an Airbended gust of wind. Next thing she knew, her chest smashed into the back of Brek's jet ski.
"You okay?" The Avatar shouted back to his girlfriend while forging onward to the sweet sound of his machine.
"I'm fine!... Thanks... I guess..."
The couple could hear Fong Lee shouting behind them. "Military jet skis are on our tail! Get on the ship; I'll hold them off!"
Berani whipped her head around and saw a line of seven jet skis, each one operated by a soldier in a Metalbending uniform, draw closer. She didn't want to leave her father to fight by himself, but she had no choice. Before she could ask Brek what he was doing, he threw his arms up and both of them jolted upward towards the military keel. As the Avatar landed on the deck with an enormous voracity, he pounded the ground with his fist, sending a ring of fire around a 3-yard radius. Berani landed a second afterward on her feet. They were followed by Kani and Krooprook who ascended with the help of grappling hooks designed by Fong Lee.
The sailors on board were quick to attack, and Brek had to dodge rocks, spears, and shards of metal to reach the edge of the deck. He was nearly out of breath when he yelled to his father, still below on the river.
"Dad! Stay down there and protect our jet skis! They're gonna be launching all kinds of things at them!" After Kupo nodded in agreement, Brek spun around and was hit with a stone disc square in the chest. With the wind knocked out of him, he briefly collapsed on the ground. That's when he noticed that there were circular holes across the deck that would periodically pitch the rock discs to be bent by the soldiers. He then rapidly got to his feet before kick-smashing another disc. For the first time, Brek was unsure of what the outcome of this battle would be.
While he sent fireballs into the chests of nearby soldiers, he conducted a quick scan of the chaotic scene. He could see Kani spin and duck under a disc, and, at the end of her spin, hurl her spear at the crotch of a soldier. He also witnessed Kroopook hack up anyone who confronted him with his machete and then chuck his boomerang to the upper part of the deck, where it killed the man working the one ballista on board. That must have been a relief to Kupo, who had just redirected eleven stone disks, smashed two boulders and an earth coin, as well as blocked one of the ballista's missiles with impressive Sandbending.
It then became apparent to Brek that Berani was nowhere in sight. She had already fought her way off the deck and had broken into the interior of the ship. There, she was greeted by a man who shot two metal wires at her with his right fist. She sidestepped briskly and flung her dagger. The knife spun several times before it sliced the man's face directly in between the eyes. As his body fell, a young woman ran down a set of stairs into the corridor and opened fire at Berani with rock pellets. One skimmed the defender's calf but she managed to slip through the door to another corridor without any major wounds. Immediately, she was ambushed by large man with dual dao swords that would have chopped off her head if she hadn't ripped into his side with three of her poison darts. She spun the dead man around and reentered the hallway where she received heavy fire, this time using a human shield to protect her. Holding the man with her left arm, she reached into her pocket for another smoke bomb pellet and flicked it at the ground, providing enough cover for her to slip away.
Within ten minutes, Berani had managed to both sneak and fight her way to the cockpit, where she instantly utilized a third smoke bomb and massacred everyone inside with her katana. By the time the cover had faded, she was the only live person in the room. Although she had no idea what to do, she searched the set of controls for something that might be useful. She saw a lever that read "ANCHORS" and pulled it, thinking that if the ship couldn't move, it would cause less harm. She also found a lit-up button that with the instructions "Press to dispense bending disks", and pushed it, turning it off, to offer some relief to those still fighting on the deck.
"Stop!" A jolt of fear ran down Berani's spine as she spun rapidly to see four soldiers blocking the exit of the room. She glanced around, and with no other options, she smashed part of the cockpit's window with her wrist shield and leapt through, cutting herself in several places in the process. She landed face first in the river below, but was quickly approached by Kupo who helped her up onto his jet ski. The two watched as a roaring fire consumed most of the ship's deck. Both spectators could feel the immense heat, knowing that the others had done their job.
"I guess it's time for the other three," noted Kupo casually.
"Ugh, we've been flying for hours!" Kaeta's grandfather had been waiting for the two hour mark of their travel to fairly make that complaint.
Kaeta, who was sitting atop of the sky bison's fluffy head with the steering reigns in his hands as Zola napped on the saddle, turned to his elderly companion, irritated. "Why do you have to be like that?"
"How long can it possibly take to get there?"
"The United Republic of Nations isn't exactly as close to the Southern Water Tribe as Whale Tale Island. It's all the way over by the Earth Kingdom."
"Yeah, whatever. Why did I come?"
"You begged to come! And this is important! Don't you want vengeance for you daughter? For my mother?"
The man sighed and checked to see of Zola was still asleep. "You said you were friends with the Avatar?"
Kaeta nodded, then turned back around to steer.
"If the Avatar has reached his enlightenment yet, as all Avatar do, then he should know that vengeance is never the answer."
"Stop, Grandpa. You sound like the monks at the Air Temple we visited."
"Then the monks were right. Violence only leads to more violence. Your mother understood that."
Kaeta was puzzled upon hearing this. "What do you mean? What did she do?" Before the old man could respond, the sky bison made a peculiar noise.
"What's wrong buddy?" Almost as if answering Kaeta, the flying beast made another sound, this one much louder and sounded somewhat like a gargle mixed with a startled yelp. It then began to breathe heavily and rapidly.
"Kaeta?" Zola's eyes fluttered open. "What's going on?"
"I- I don't know." The three passengers remained silent and listened attentively to the Air Nomad creature for a moment. Then, without warning, it began to plummet out of the sky. The beast was spiraling downward, with the three travelers hanging on for dear life, screaming at the top of their lungs. Kaeta was sure that this was the end for them until the trio and their ride crash landed into the canvas of a dense forrest and slowly tumbled through branches and leaves to a dirt floor.
"Zola! Zola!" Kaeta embraced his friend when he saw her unharmed. "Grandpa!... Grandpa?" The Waterbender inspected his surroundings in search of his elder, but the man was nowhere to be found.
"Hey Kaeta," Zola's voice was trembling, "Where'd the sky bison go?"
"What?" He looked around, half-furious, half-confused. "They fell with us! Just now! Didn't he?"
"I don't know. I remember hitting the treetops with them, but I don't remember them falling through all the branches."
"So it's... just us here, wherever we are.." Kaeta gawked at the environment he found himself in.
"We're not gonna get anywhere by just standing around," noted Zola. "Let's get moving."
Without any argument, Kaeta complied to begin walking down a dirt hill, calling for his grandfather every fifteen seconds. The duo trudged down their path for an hour before they finally gave up. "It's useless," Kaeta stated without a hint of hope in his voice.
"We'll find them," assured Zola, putting her hand on his shoulder. "At least we have each oth-"
"Did you hear something?" Kaeta put his finger up, signaling for Zola to be quiet, and he listened closely to his surroundings. Suddenly, both heard rustling from the thick leaves on nearby trees. The Waterbender gazed in the direction of the sound and paused. For a moment, everything was still. Then came soaring down from the trees, an angry hog monkey with the intention of ripping Kaeta's face off. Before the ferocious creature reached its target, the startled boy pulled water from a tree and slapped it into his attacker with one swoop of his arm. The hog monkey was knocked on the ground but got to its feet as quick as lightning. That's when Zola stepped forward and punched the air in front of her, sending a blast of fire that incinerated the beast at once.
"That was close," panted a still-frightened Kaeta.
Zola was about to respond, but the pair heard another noise, this time farther off and not as high up. "Another hog monkey?" the Fire Nation princess asked, terrified.
"Zola... I don't think it's a hog monkey," Kaeta's voice was shaky as he pointed at several figures slowly emerging from bushes in the distance. They both squinted, trying to get a better look at who or what was approaching. Eventually, a man wearing only a rag around his lower waist stepped forward, holding a spear.
"Uh... hi," started Kaeta awkwardly.
The man said nothing, he just stared at them, drooling with his eyes a mile wide. Finally, he moved his mouth. "Food!" he bellowed.
"What?" choked Zola and Berani simultaneously.
Without even a second to process what was happening, several other men darted out of the bushes, all wearing the same attire with spears of their own. They were chanting something strange, and running as fast as their bare feet would let them.
"Cani... Cannibals!" Kaeta grabbed Zola's arm and began to sprint. "Come on!" The two bolted through a thicket of trees and plants, occasionally cutting themselves on sharp leaves or thorns. The cannibals raced after them, ecstatic to have found another source of food. A few tossed their spears, but the weapons were either burnt to a crisp by Zola or blocked by a shield of ice. Still running like the wind, Zola's foot got caught under a root, and she stumbled onto the ground, hitting her side on a dull rock. In pain, she struggled to get up, and Kaeta took initiative. He drew all of the water contained in a fallen tree trunk and assembled it into a large blob. Then, he launched his arms forward, and the amorphous figure split into three powerful jets of water, each hitting a different target. Even after this impressive feat of Waterbending, the savages continued their chase, their fear superseded by hunger. Feeling a sense of dire urgency, Zola managed to rise to her feet. Once up, she began to move her arms in a series of circular motions, and electricity started to build up in her fingers. Then, thrusting two fingers on her right hand out like a sword, she shot a bolt of lighting straight into the face of the cannibals' leader.
She smiled, expecting the hunters to retreat. Her smirk vanished; however, as all at once, the cannibals let out a thunderous battle cry. Not only were they in the hunt for food, but now, this chase was about revenge. The brutal natives continued their siege and Kaeta and Zola were forced to escape yet again. In fifty yards, the duo arrived at a straight 30-foot vertical drop. Below was an unnerving river flowing at a tempestuous pace. On the other side was another cliff, but there was no way they could make over by jumping. The gap was simply too wide.
"Look, there!" Kaeta was pointing to a banyan tree on their side of the river with branches that hung over across part of the divide.
Zola understood his thoughts and deducted his plan, but she found flaws. "How are we supposed to get up to that branch. I can't just blast us up! It's too high and that's way too risky!"
Scrambling for more options, Kaeta noticed a thick vine hanging down from the branch, and after firing shards of ice at oncoming attackers, he led Zola closer to the tree. With a few smooth wrist motions, he pulled the vine towards him with Plantbending. When he could grasp it in his hand, he gave it a hard tug to test its sturdiness.
"Kaeta, you don't really think-" Before Zola could finish, Kaeta grabbed her in one arm and threw them both off the cliff. As the two swung, the vine started to show signs of snapping, and a cannibal's spear acted as a catalyst. As their only connection to the branch was broken free, the couple began to plummet down the long drop, narrowly avoiding death and landing into the frigid, violent river they had tried so hard to avoid.
"Kaeta!" Zola's head bobbed out of the freezing water long enough for her to shout the Waterbender's name. Pinned against a rock, he responded, "Zola! Hang on to something." He struggled to stand up on the slippery boulder as a spear zipped over his head. Once on his feet, he attempted to calm the river with his bending, but he soon realized this attempt was no good. That's when he saw her. A bit further down the river was the occasional appearance of read clothing, a limb, or long black hair. Zola was tumbling through the powerful current, and Kaeta risked his life by diving in afterwards. To his dismay, he too was swept up by the undertow, and he failed to grab onto anything. Before he knew it, the draft had carried him all the way to a waterfall, where he dropped screaming into some sort of hole. Everything became dark, and he was still being pushed by a tremendous flow of water. Suddenly, he stopped moving, and his body ached as it was slammed onto a cold, hard floor. Kaeta was certain that he had died, but Zola's voice said otherwise.
"Kaeta? Is that you?"
"Zola!" They fumbled through the dark to embrace each other. "Everything will be fine." Kaeta said this, but he couldn't believe his own words. He heard a flicker of fire, and a small light was generated. Zola held a flame in her palms, and she was using it to scan the area. She gave her bending more juice, and more became visible.
"Aha! I think I see... writing. Over on that wall." She anxiously made her way to the other side of whatever place they were in and read the script engraved in stone. "These are ancient characters. I learned how to read this in my private lessons back home."
"Well, what does it say?"
"It says... Only love can tear down barriers."
"Only love, huh?"
Zola sighed. "I guess that doesn't help at-" Kaeta reached from behind her to swing her around and met her lips with his, engaging in a long wet kiss in the dark. At least he can't see me blushing, thought the princess when they pulled away.
Both of the teenagers flinched when the heard a rumbling noise, then, a big burst of rocks came through the wall, and light filled the area. The couple could see a beautiful landscape outside, and they rushed over the rubble to escape without even questioning the odd nature of the occurrence. All they could do was laugh out of joy. They were finally free.
"Aha! We find you!" Chills ran down their spines as the voice of one of the native savages boomed.
"Please," started Zola, "just let us go and no one else will get hurt."
"Our King pass down judgement!"
A third voice cut in. "Kaeta? Zola? Is that you guys?"
"Grandpa!" Kaeta was ecstatic to see the man unharmed.
The cannibal remained stern. "King! What shall we do!"
Kaeta's grandfather turned to him with a serious face. "We let them go! We all fly on magic buffalo!"
"As you say, King!" The cannibal bowed, as did the others.
Within the hour, the trio had successfully re-boarded the sky bison's back and taken off, away from what turned out to be an island- an island of mysteries, savages, and love.
Zola was flabbergasted. "How did you become their king?"
The man was as proud as ever, wearing a crown of leaves. "Well, I appeared with this creature here and they thought I must have been sent by the spirits. Such simple people..."
The three companions laughed as the real hero of the day, Ayala's pet, continued to fly off into the distance, with the ever-so-lucky passengers still alive and together.
"Today! We earned our freedom!" Brek's victorious call rang through the streets of Kekuatan as the remaining villagers cheered and shouted in triumph. Around them were the corpses of hundreds of soldiers, parts to various machines, and tanks that had been destroyed. The people of this small Earth Kingdom town fought hard, and with the help of the Isha Resistance, they had gained back their hope.
"Now," Brek continued, "It's time we spread the greatness of Democracy across our entire kingdom!" This line was also met by thunderous applause. Brek really wasn't decided on which political system was best, but he knew one thing. A democratic revolution was the only thing that could oust Earth King Flek.
- This chapter was partially inspired by The Cave of Two Lovers.
For the collective works of the author, go here.