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|The Chase and the Letter|
29 June 2013
When I imagined what my years of young adulthood would be like, I must admit that I didn't envision myself whipping down a dirt path through a thick forest riding a slimy lizard on my way to potentially assassinate a few high-ranking Fire Nation generals, yet there I was.
The guard at the Royal Palace was right; the mongoose dragon sure was fast, and it seldom needed to stop for water or rest. Navigating the complex map while trying to steer the incredibly agile creature was no easy task, but I got the hang of it. The route was pretty simple, and the trip was uneventful. My new pet lizard, whose name was, according to his saddle, Nightmare, dashed over rocks and weaved our way through trees and thickets without a single trip or stumble. I had to admit that I was impressed with the glorified snake. It may have looked like a premature dragon with a birth defect, but it got me from A to B. As my partner and I moved deeper into the forest, the shrubbery became thicker and thicker, but that didn't slow down my ride. He tore through leaves, branches, and thorns to get me through.
Finally, I saw a light piercing through a gap in the leaves, and I knew we were at the edge of the forest. I slightly tugged on Nightmare's reins to slow him down, and he calmly marched out of the woods. That's when I realized that I was currently at the top of a large hill, and at the bottom sat houses with red tile roofs and Fire Nation flags- the village I was looking for. Between me and the village was a dirt road cut in about halfway up the hill for traveling purposes, and that was the route the messenger I was hunting was supposed to appear on.
Not sure of how much time I had before he showed up, I plotted my attack. I wouldn't be able to rely on bending, as some of the villagers below could possibly notice the color of my fire. The hill was more of a rock wall than anything, steep and nearly impossible to climb or descend safely. I stood by a stark edge of hill, a cliff. Looking down, I could see that I had a straight drop to the road. When the messenger passed by, I would slide down the cliff onto his Komodo rhino, knock him out cold, and take the letter. Then, I would run into the village and tell someone that he had fainted and fallen off his ride. When they would go rescue him, they'd tell him what I told them, and hopefully he would have believed it. It was the perfect plan; at least I thought it was.
In the meantime, I scoured the forest for a couple of apples, one each for me and Shevine. He ate his in about two seconds, which made me chuckle. "Hungry fella, aren't you? That's a weird name, Nightmare..." He gave me a strange look almost as if he was thinking And Nalia isn't?
"Ha, good point." I was named after a grandmother, who, like my mother, was executed after being turned in by "friends" for blue Firebending. That story explains why my father was so protective of me, but I couldn't stand hiding who I was. Nothing frustrated me more, and the thought of it sent me into deep anger. I stared at the apple core in my hand as it smoldered before it combusted in blue flames. I could feel myself drift into a blank stare, but I snapped into attention when I heard the pounding of four, heavy feet approaching. I peered down, and sure enough, a skinny man in a military uniform grew closer on his trademark Komodo rhino, the nastiest and most unforgiving beast alive. You could tell it was always pissed off by the way it sneered and by how its eyes constantly showed intent to kill.
I stepped to the very edge of the cliff, and it suddenly hit me that I may have been too high up to execute the plan. Still, if I was able to keep my footing and balance on the glide down, it could have gone perfectly. I just needed to wait until the timing was exactly right, just a few more seconds...
The ground crumbled beneath me and tumbled down the rocky side of the hill, landing with a thud just in front of the rhino, whose rider veered out of the way and lurched to a halt.
"Are you alright, Ma'am?" asked the startled messenger with a gasp.
"I, ugh," I gave him puppy eyes as I seethed in pain. "I think I broke something," I replied with an excellent mix of desperateness and innocence. "Do you think you could, ooooh, take me to a medic? Oww..." Good thing I had just enough cleavage showing.
I could tell the man was torn. He had an important and classified task to perform, and he had to ensure that his letter was safely and promptly delivered. However, he also had the chance to be an attractive nineteen-year-old's hero.
"Please, Sir," I whined. "I'll repay you with... anything." I stressed that last word.
"Well I uhh-" the troubled man pondered the situation deeply, clearly at a crossroads. I began to worry about the efficiency of our military if the men they chose to deliver secret messages could be that easily distracted. He looked down on me, about to extend his hand, but then he happened to take a peek of the top of the hill. "What's that?" he inquired of my mongoose dragon, who had appeared looking over the cliff.
My muscled tensed. "I don't know," I assured as I reached to him.
He looked back up at Nightmare, then at me. Suddenly, his eyes widened, and he pulled back his Komodo rhino. He knew.
I sprung to my feet, ready for Plan C: fight and win. Behind me, I could hear Nightmare trying to make his way down, and ahead of me I saw the village that reminded me I couldn't use my Firebending. I retrieved my dagger, but the messenger took off without warning and bolted down the path to the town.
"Damn it!" I barked, throwing one of my darts at him to no avail. "Hurry up, Nightmare!" It took another few seconds before the lizard was by my side, and I made a beeline down the path to the village as soon as I could. People screamed and ran away as we leapt through the crowded streets, occasionally knocking over a fruit stand or shoving people to the ground. My ride being the faster one, I was able to gain considerable ground in the chase. When the mysterious courier looked back at me, I could see the fear in his eyes, his teeth clenching, sweat rushing down from his forehead... his face giving the expression of a fox antelope before it's taken down by an armadillo lion.
I was catching up rapidly, but just when I thought I had him, we both happened to dash by a squadron of village guards. Unfortunately, it was easy for them to decide who the "good guy" was, as a man in a Fire Nation military uniform on the back of a Komodo rhino was much more of an ally to them than the strange cloaked woman chasing him on a mongoose dragon.
"Halt!" one of them ordered, which almost made me giggle. If only he knew who I was and what exactly the man he was defending was part of. I turned around briefly and noticed that among the guards were two spearmen, and they both looked like they were ready to skewer me and make a Nalia-kabob. The first one launched his weapon in the air, and it whizzed over my head by less than a foot. It was followed by another spear that forced me to evade left. Looking ahead, I could see another group of guards stampeding towards me, so I ducked through a small alleyway. I knew the guards would be right behind me, so I had no other choice but to reveal what I really was. I turned to face where the men would come rushing through, and I readied my fists. As soon as I saw the whites of their eyes, I unleashed a wall of blue fire that set them ablaze.
Now where was my target? Who knew what would have happened to me if I had failed my first assignment and let the generals know the government was on to them. I popped out of the alley in an T-shaped intersection, and I looked both ways for clues. Down the left, I could see a boring, quiet park, and down the right, I watched people dive out of a raging rhinoceros's way. It was a tough decision, but I went with right.
That's when Nightmare's speed became most useful, as it didn't take long to be on the messenger's tail, or rather, his rhino's. The distance between us was shrinking, and the gap was closing tighter. I smiled, confident that I was on the verge of catching my prey, but evidently the letter-runner had a trick up his sleeve... and by trick I mean bomb. Suddenly, he pulled something off his person, and when he tossed it back at me, I assumed it was an explosive. I panicked, unsure of what I could possibly due to avoid the blow. I flinched, helpless, but luckily Nightmare knew exactly what he was doing. He eyed the incoming incendiary and whipped around, swatting it with his tail. It soared into what must have been the hundredth fruit stand in that town, and when it detonated, the force blew the rhinoceros and his passenger through a glass window into some kind of warehouse.
"Alright, Nightmare!" I called, tugging on his reins. I hopped off my pet and crawled into the building, where I saw a presumably dead rhino and my target moaning on the ground just a few yards back. I approached him cautiously, withdrawing my precious knife from its holder.
The man's eyes fluttered open, and when he saw me, he sat up against a wooden crate. "Don't..." he whispered, holding another explosive in his hand. "Or I'll kill us both."
"I don't think so," I retorted. "You see, only one of us is about to die, and I'm pretty sure we both know it isn't me." He began to follow through with his threat, but I kicked the bomb out of his hand before he had a chance to light it. I towered over him, my merciless eyes ripping into his mind. "This was going to be so simple," I told him. "I was only going to knock you out and take a letter, but you had to drag us both through this whole mess." As I explained, I rummaged through his person until I found what I was looking for, and he was too weak to do anything as I clutched a sealed envelope. "And now that I have this, I don't really need you anymore." He seemed surprised when fire started flickering from my fingertips.
"Blue fire..." he groaned.
"Yeah, I know. And now the whole village knows thanks to you."
"Please..." He gulped and took a deep breath. "I didn't want any of this. My dad was in the army... he made me join. My mom wasn't even around-"
"Neither is mine."
"I wanted to live in peace. I didn't ask for any part of this."
"Sounds like you've had a rough life... Good thing it's over." With that, I lit him up like a torch and turned around. On my way out of the warehouse, I noticed the rhino's leg twitching, so I reached for the curious needle I was given and jammed it into his thigh. The movement stopped immediately.
"Well," I sighed. "Glad to know that works."
A crowd had assembled outside, and they gawked at me in awe when I emerged from behind the tattered wall. "Hello." I waved to them and once again boarded my mongoose dragon, whipped its reins, and swiftly proceeded down the street as to avoid further encounter with any officials. According to my map, I was in for a quick and easy ride, especially since the pursuit of the messenger brought me to the end of that village and the inn I was looking for was only a town over.
When Nightmare sauntered through the gates of Shaki- at least that's what my map called it- he drew a few stares from passersby and random townspeople. Apparently, he intimidated them, which makes sense given the structure of his face. His name really suited him, because if any monster was going to attack me in some sort of horrifying dream, it would look like him.
The inn was appropriately located near Shaki's entrance, and I decided that I would take my fear-striking pet in through the front door with me. The woman behind the front desk inside screamed and threw her arms in the air upon seeing him, and she backed up against a wall.
I frowned at her. "You're hurting his feelings..."
"Get that thing out of here!" she demanded. I'd say she was in her late thirties, seemingly pregnant.
"This is just my pet," I insisted.
She shook her head. "No! It isn't! My husband just ran home from Mapia, and he said that a woman on a mongoose dragon was wreaking havoc."
Shit... I thought. Of course she'd just so happen to know. It would be too easy if she didn't. Despite my frustration and fear that she might create a scene, I kept my cool. "Listen, I only want a place to stay for the night for both myself and my friend here." With these words, I approached the woman's desk and dropped my impressive sack of coins over the table. She almost drooled over it, and that made me smile. "Now how much will that cost me? As you can see, I have more than enough to make your trouble worth while."
She looked as though she was considering my bribe, but she shook her head again. "I'm sorry, you'll have to leave."
"No. It's already been established that you can be bought. Now, we're just haggling over the price tag... So what do you want?"
After a few minutes of fierce bartering, it was decided that I would pay her four times the usual fee of a one-night stay in exchange for her silence and harboring of Nightmare.
"I suppose your... thing can stay in our cellar."
"Did I not make myself clear? He's staying in my room."
This suggestion seemed to disturb the innkeeper even more. "Oh no, no, no, no, no. He cannot go anywhere near the rooms!"
I slapped two more gold coins on the desk. "Yes he can."
When Nightmre and I finally made it to our room, he jumped on the bed and curled up. I couldn't blame him. The room was rather cozy, albeit it was too small. I sat down at a small table and lit a candle to begin my work. The envelope was sealed not by the Fire Nation insignia but by that of the Crimson Wolves. "Oh this is too obvious." Then again, only a handful of people probably knew what that symbol meant.
"For the eyes of General Chang only," I read aloud. "Whoops."
"General, I hope this letter finds you well. I am happy to report that my latest recruitment efforts have gone stupendously, and the Tigerdillo and Cat Owl have come around to our point of view." I figured those two animals were code for individuals whom the Wolves were trying to turn. "I am sending both to your gala in my absence. I again apologize that I cannot be in attendance, but I am sure it will be a splendid time amongst good, trustworthy friends." Were the "trustworthy" friends fellow members? The message sure wasn't easy to decipher. I'd say that it was just an ordinary letter if the courier didn't try to escape with the use of explosives.
There was a sudden knocking at the door, and I assumed it was the older woman Long instructed me to converse with.
Indeed it was. "Hello, Ma'am," I said softly.
"Do you have any salt to spare by any chance, young lady?"
"Yes, I definitely do. I have no doubts." I saw a spark in her eyes when I replied.
"Oh, thank you honey. And this is for you for your kindness." She handed me a package wrapped in brown paper and left without another sound.
Because I was utterly exhausted, I determined that I would open my "gift" in the morning. I collapsed on the bed, and as odd as cuddling with a reptile may seem, I did. I needed a friend after a day like that. I did what I had to do to the guards, the messenger, and the innkeeper, but that doesn't mean it was easy. It doesn't mean that there wasn't an emotional toll for me. People like Sozin and Long think murdering is simple, like swatting a fly, but that's the furthest thing from the truth. The only thing getting me through it was the idea that each kill brought me one step closer to Ming. That was the sole thought keeping me sane.
- Nightmare's original name was Shevine, aka my favorite shipping in the world: Blake Shelton an Adam Levine. Those two have the strongest bromance in human history, and they display their "brove" for each other constantly on NBC's The Voice.
- Shaki is both a city in Azerbaijan and Shakira's nickname.
|Prologue - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
For the collective works of the author, go here.