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This is the first chapter of Fate's Cold Hands written without. Also, this chapter will focus entirely on Kiama. The next will be centered around Kembar.
A sudden downpour of rain began to drench Omashu as dark, violent clouds covered the city in shadows. On the floor of a small chamber room inside the Royal Palace lay the bodies of King Shan and Queen Yama, motionless. Standing above them with blood dripping from her hands to the carpet was Kiama, who looked as shocked as the couple did. She was shaking, and her mouth was wide open. The Avatar wanted to fall to her knees and weep, but she couldn't. She could hear palace guards about to bust open the door. After one kick, there was suddenly a gaping whole where a door once stood, and the guard who had forced entry flinched when he saw the bodies. A crew of eight guards rushed into the room, some to check the King and Queen, others to look for another person. There was no one there. A guard was about to examine Yama's pulse when the men were blasted with water and frozen in their tracks. In the hallway was Kiama, who had just incarcerated the men assigned to keep her safe.
Without a word, she slipped on gloves to cover her bloody hands, as instructed, and sprinted to her left. She was relieved to see that nothing in the palace seemed to be disturbed. No one was running around urgently, there were no alarms, and it was as if nothing had happened. Kiama eventually ran into the palace's head of security and chief of staff, who were on their way to a meeting, just as planned.
"Guys! It's an emergency!" cried the Avatar. "You have to come with me, right now!" Panicked, Kiama led the two officials in the direction opposite of where the King, Queen, and the eight guards were.
"What is it?" demanded the head guard, who was running with the chief of staff behind Kiama.
"It's King Shan and Queen Yama! They're in trouble!"
"I must alert my men!"
"There's no time!" Kiama stopped in front of a large door. "In here! Hurry!" The head guard burst through the door, followed by the chief of staff.
"What? There's no one in here. Wh-"
Both men where suddenly thrown across the room by a powerful rush of water and pinned to the back wall by ice that crept across their entire body until they were completely immobilized.
"I'm sorry!" called Kiama before she dashed out of the scene.
Right on schedule, a loud explosion could be heard throughout the palace, and the Waterbender made a beeline for the throne room, where she was expected to greet some very unwanted visitors. It wasn't very far, but on her way Kiama saw guards rushing in the same direction. They had no idea that they were operating without the most important members of the palace.
The throne room was dead silent when Kiama entered silently, each footstep echoing throughout the chamber. Her heart sank when she saw the bodies of dead guards scattered across the tiled floor. Just in front of the empty throne was a tunnel into the ground, from which several Baozha Bombers had ascended. Palace guards who weren't dead had their hands up in surrender, backed against a wall. Keeping them in their place were Bombers with interesting bows. Instead of the traditional arrow, their bows were armed with long sticks attached to some sort of cylinder. Kiama assumed they were explosives, and the crumbled column next to a decimated guard was further evidence of that. The hostages glared at her as she made her way to the whole, trembling with every step. She could barely bring her feet to move another inch forward. Something was paralyzing her, but she couldn't tell if it was fear or shame.
Finally, the Avatar heard a familiar yet terrifying voice.
"You there!" spat Yehua at a few imprisoned guards. "Go let everyone in the palace know that they're on absolute lockdown. Nobody gets in or out. The entire perimeter is is encircled with mines, so unless someone wants to get blown to bits, nobody tries to escape. The east and west wings of this palace are ready to explode on my command. If I notice any resistance at all, everyone in those areas is annihilated. Understood?" Without any other options, the guards followed her commands.
Kiama's face turned pale in horror. The Baozhas had effectively taken the entire palace hostage, and she feared that their plans were nowhere near complete.
A dry, evil laugh came from within the tunnel. It was more of a cackle when a figure climbed out into the room. When he saw Kiama, he laughed even louder and licked his lips. "Well done, Avatar!" exclaimed the ruthless Heng Wei as he proudly took his seat on the throne. "Your betrayal has helped us finally secure our grand prize! The city of Omashu is ours!"
The Bombers in the room cheered as Kiama looked down at her feet and shed a single tear. "Where's Palu?" she demanded.
Heng Wei looked confused for a moment. "Oh that's right! I almost forgot about our little deal!" Each word he spoke cut Kiama like a knife, and she knew he was trying to emphasize to the guards the fact that the Avatar had backstabbed them. The twisted man laughed again. "Bring in the boy!"
On cue, two underlings emerged from the tunnel with Palu in their grips. The shoved the blindfolded, gagged, and cuffed teenager at Kiama, who undid his restraints.
"Palu," whispered Kiama, her voice shaking.
The boy refused to look her in the eye. "I can't believe you did that," he said coldly. She moved her lips even closer to his ear and whispered even quieter "I didn't."
"Sir!" A Baozha Bomber rushed into the throne room, panting.
"What is it?" inquired Heng Wei.
"The King and Queen! They aren't in the room!"
"What? Kiama, you did do it in the correct room, right?"
"I did..." said the Avatar with a slight smirk.
The messenger simply shook his head. "They're gone... Sir."
Heng Wei gasped and charged at Kiama. "You insolent-" The wind was knocked out of him when Kiama hit him square in the chest with a speeding rock. She then turned to Yehua and pounded her fist on the ground, sending a line of earth pillars her way. With those two taken care of, the Avatar and Palu attacked the other Baozha Bombers. Palu levitated a boulder and punched it repeatedly, firing rock bullets at as many targets as possible. Kiama intercepted a bomb-arrow with a water whip and flung it straight back at the guy who shot it, killing him and a few other enemies around him. The palace guards jumped in the fight, quickly subduing their former hostage takers. With one final stomp, Palu flipped over the only remaining Bomber, who accidentally shot one of his explosive arrows at the celling, causing a sizable chunk of rock to fall and crush him.
Palu had absolutely no idea what was happening. "Help me move the throne!" Kiama barked at him.
"Help me pull it back!"
Together, the duo ran to behind the throne. "Now grab on and pull," ordered Kiama. Still confused, Palu complied, and although the throne was incredibly heavy, it slowly began to slide backwards revealing a rectangular whole in the ground and a hidden set of stairs. "Down! Now!"
"Not so-" Heng Wei had come out of nowhere to attack, but Palu sunk his waist and down into the ground. With that, the duo stumbled down the dark staircase.
"Where are we going?" asked Palu.
Kiama cleared her throat. "Secret escape route to meet up with Shan and Yama. I'm sorry about how scary this all was. We had to make it look as convincing as possible."
"Make what look convincing? What's going on?"
"I'll explain later! We have to keep moving if we don't want them to catch up with us."
After about ten minutes of fumbling through a narrow, pitch-black maze, Palu and Kiama reached what felt like an iron ladder. Kiama was about to grab on, but Palu stopped her. "Wait. I'll go first," he said. Luckily for Kiama, it was too dark for Palu to see her blush. It was also impossible to see the rungs of the ladder, making it difficult to climb, but Palu knew he had gotten to the top when his head hit something metal.
"I think I just ran into a... manhole covering?" Grunting, he managed to lift the metal, and a glimmer of light poured into the cave, as did rain. When the path was completely cleared, the two teens could arise from the hole to the streets of Omashu.
"It's like a typhoon out here!" declared Palu, trying to scream over the rain thunder.
The heavy downpour was the last thing Kiama was worrying about, although her hair and clothes were drenched within seconds. "Shan! Yama!" It was raining so hard that the two could hardly make out the street. A quick look at Palu told the Avatar that he was just happy to be away from the Baozha Bombers, and she definitely shared that sentiment. Neither of them could help but laugh out of relief, and then they became transfixed on each other's eyes. Laughing, Kiama swung her arms around Palu's shoulders and hugged him, then softly placed her hand on his wet face and brought her lips to his. She pulled away after a second and stared deeper into his eyes. Palu, a good head taller than Kiama, then brought his face down to hers and kissed her passionately. For a moment, time froze. It was as if there wasn't a major crisis.
"Oh we found you!" Startled, Kiama pulled away from Palu and spun around.
"You made it!" Shan and Yama were standing just a few feet away, equally as soaked.
Palu threw up his arms. "WHAT IS GOING ON?!"
"There's no time!" protested Shan. "We captured a Bomber, tortured him. Heng Wei's got this whole city wired. He's ready to blow innocent civilians sky high!"
"What would be the first thing he's blow up?" asked Kiama.
Yama pondered the question for a brief moment. "The bridge! The one bridge leading from the mainland to Omashu! If he destroys it, there's no going in or out of the city!"
The others agree with Yama's assessment. "Let's go!" Shan ordered.
Kiama, Palu, Shan, and Yama were moving hastily through the complex streets of Omashu in the ugliest storm the young Avatar had ever seen. It was hard enough to see the other three figures running alongside her. "Are you sure you know where you're going?" she called out to the King.
The man turned his head back and attempted to shout over the combined cacophony of the rain and thunder. "Yes, if we follow this road, we'll be there in no time!"
An earth-shattering boom forced the group to stop and cover their ears. "I think lightning just hit somewhere near us!" yelled Palu. It seemed like a reasonable conclusion, until there was a second boom, this time even closer. Kiama glanced to her right and saw what had been a small shop reduced to rubble. "No! It's them!" She whipped her head around in search for the Baozha Bombers. She scanned back and forth, but couldn't see anyone through the monstrous precipitation. She feared that whoever was shooting at them would be able to finally make contact before they were discovered, but then she noticed a figure atop some kind of poll. She could only see a shadowy outline of the body, but it looked like it could have been pulling another bomb-arrow from a quiver. With rain as her ammunition, Kiama thrust a strong palm strike in the figure's direction, and spiraling water knocked him from his post.
"Run!" she screamed at the others. Without further delay, the team was bolting down the rest of the road, hoping not to run into the mysterious archer again. They did, however, encounter three more Bombers, one of them armed with bomb-arrows.
The two unarmed men charged at Shan, who effortlessly sprung them out of the picture with rock pillars. Yama pursued the archer, leaping off the ground with the aid of her own pillar. The archer rapidly loaded his bow and took the shot, which Yama had to evade in mid-air. She landed with a stomp, and the man was knocked off his feet. The queen formed a small rod of rock as her opponent was getting up, and the two ran at each other only for Yama to break his jaw with one swing.
Palu and Kiama caught up with the royal couple, more than impressed with their display of fighting prowess.
"There," said Shan, pointing at a massive gate. "Beyond that is the bridge, but I don't see any more-"
As if on cue, a bomb-arrow whizzed right through the group and collided with the gate, exploding on impact. While the combustion cleared the crew's path, it also made them aware that someone was firing bombs at them.
"Keep going!" barked Shan. "Hurry!" As the group sprinted through the demolished gate, Kiama looked back to see a nearby building crumble, but other than that no more bomb-arrows exploded in the vicinity. All four benders made it to the narrow, stone bridge connecting the massive mountain city to the mainland without any further problems.
About half way across the bridge, Palu came to a halt.
"What are you doing?" screamed Kiama. "Let's go!"
Palu was frozen in thought. Where are the other Bombers? Where are the explosions? He gasped. "It's a trap!"
The other three could barely hear Palu's last word over the sudden rumbling. The bridge shook, and then the group watched in terror as bombs went off on both ends. The bridge was soon split by several cracks, and the chunks of rock began to fall into the deep canyon below. For a split second, Kiama was certain it was the end, and she looked at Palu for what she thought was the last time as the couple plummeted alongside the King and Queen. They were rapidly approaching imminent death at the bottom of the abyss when the Avatar's eyes started to glow a bright white.
Falling just underneath of the four bodies were chunks of the rock bridge. Glancing over at Kiama for what he thought would be the final time, Palu saw that she had entered the Avatar State, a power he assumed was a myth all his life. His eyes widened, and he watched as she took a deep breath and punched her fists together. As if obeying their master's commands, the crumbled rocks below the group consolidated into one, flat-surfaced platform. With everything still plummeting down, the Avatar's feet gently landed on the rock, and with her eyes still glowing, she powerfully thrusted her arms in an upward direction. With only seconds to spare, the direction of the plunging rock reversed, at it ascended at such a speed that Palu, Shan, and Yama were stuck to it on their stomachs by gravitational force. Kiama, however stood straight up and carried her team out of the canyon. The platform landed on the mainland side of the trench, which now had no connection at all to the city of Omashu. Rain continued to pour down on the four survivors, three of which were busy catching their breath and celebrating the fact that they were still alive to notice Kiama fainting on the cold, hard ground. She didn't move, completely exhausted of all her energy after the impressive feat of bending she displayed. She laid there unconscious and drifted off into a strange dream.
Kiama's eyes fluttered open, and the pain she remembered soaring through her body had vanished. She rose from the ground slowly, only to realize that she certainly wasn't anywhere near Omashu anymore. She stood barefoot in an unrecognizable terrain of high grass. Her vision was blurry, and all she could make out in front of her was a shady green figure. She blinked a few more times and her surroundings became clearer. The man who stood in front of her was familiar.
"You're the Earth Kingdom Avatar who visited me on the boat! Youke?"
"Your memory serves you well," replied the man coldly.
"What's going on? Where am I? I was just in Omashu and I- I-"
"You used the Avatar State. It is a defense mechanism that is triggered in the Avatar when he or she is in grave danger."
"I didn't even mean to do it. It just happened."
"You'll learn to master the Avatar State over time. In fact, both you and your brother will need to for your quest to be complete."
Kiama sighed and looked sadly at her feet, prompting more words from Youke.
"You haven't forgotten about the task at hand, have you?"
"For a little while I did. I want to forget forever. I want to forget all about Yansu, the White Lotus, Avatar training, all of it!"
"But you don't want to forget about Kembar."
"How could I? He's my brother!"
"Your emotional attachment will not serve you well when the time comes. Think of a boulder. It doesn't waste its time with emotions, and it remains firm regardless of who's trying to budge it."
"I don't think you understand!" snapped Kiama. "You have no idea what I'm going through!"
Youke remained calm. "My brother perished in the bloodiest war my village had ever seen throughout history, so I think I do."
"I-" Kiama immediately regretted her outburst. "I'm sorry. I just don't get why you seem like you're rooting against me."
"Against you?" The elder Avatar was taken aback. "Don't you see that I'm trying to help you win?"
"You are? I just assumed our past lives would remain neutral."
Youke's face turned scarlet, and he suddenly had a panicked look on his face. "Listen, I wasn't supposed to tell you that. You may think the spirits are neutral, and some of them may be- for now. We're all slowly taking sides, and you better work on impressing the others if you want to come out victorious. Avatar Ai of the Air Nomads has already approached your brother. She's-"
"Air Nomads? That's why we decided to learn Airbending first! Why are you telling me all of this? Why did you choose my side?"
"This meeting has to end now. You must go."
"No!" Kiama was desperate. "Please answer me! What's going on?"
"You have a tough road ahead, Kiama. I'll be there with you, remember that."
Out of nowhere, Kiama could hear other voices, and they seemed angry- furious even. She looked around but saw no one. "Youke I-" He had vanished. The there was a sudden rumbling and the Avatar looked up. All she could see were several rocks raining down form the sky right at her. She couldn't move, and she couldn't look away.
Kiama screamed and sat upright.
"Are you okay?" Palu rushed over to his friend and embraced her. Weak, she moaned and fell into his arms. "You saved us," he whispered. She didn't reply. All she could think about was what Youke had said and what it possibly could have meant.
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