|By The Bos||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
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July 4, 2011
The Deserters is the fourth chapter of the series.
and realize that they need to go on their new mission anyway, and encounter some struggles on the way out.
Shenji is lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Despite his exhaustion, he remained unable to fall asleep. He wondered what had caused the dream to take such a violent turn for the worst, but eventually concluded that it was the bloodthirsty nature of the Fire Nation to kill anyone who dared disagree with their motives. He lets out a small yawn, waiting for a moment as his mind slowly goes blank. Closing his eyes, the soldier finally drifts off to sleep.
Shenji finds himself standing in a forest, isolated within the towering rows of trees. He frantically looks around, but can't see anything through the black void around him. When he looks at his own body, he sees he's wearing a black cloak, covering most of his body. A chilling breeze blew through the woods, prompting him to pull up the cloak's hood. The wind continues blowing in the same direction as the soldier sets off through the chaotic scenery, hoping to find someone who can tell him where he is.
Eventually, he comes across a field filled with rolling hills. The trees seem to stop in a line, and the grass flows according to the gusts behind him. "Weird," he mutters as he sets off into the plain. As he approaches a hill, he decides to sit and rest. While most of the area is obscured by the darkness, he can at least see that the hills continue for miles on either side of him. He turns and sits in the grass, with the tall blades tickling his face as it flutters back and forth. He lies back on the ground, relaxing and finally feeling at peace. His lack of identity meant nothing to him since no one was around to ask. He had a relaxed feeling for the first time in a while, not training, not having nightmares; somehow his peaceful situation calmed his inner turmoil as well. He watched the trees wave with the wind, losing track of time as he watched.
Suddenly, he heard a sound from the other side of the hill. Springing to his feet, he begins climbing to discover the noise's source. When he makes it to the top, he sees a group of nearly ten men crouching behind the nearest hill. "There you are!" one whispers harshly, staring at Shenji. "We thought you died out there!"
Despite not knowing the people, he approached them slowly. "Sorry, I got a little lost."
"Well,had to carry your spear," the man says, gesturing towards a large man who is crouching on the ground. "Lucky for you he didn't loose it."
"Yes, sorry Leng." Shenji pauses and glances around the area, trying to see the faces of his new group. He had learned from his previous dream not to blatantly speak out, but he was still curious as to what was happening. "So, what are we here for again?"
A man to the right of Leng is the first to speak, someone clearly irritated with Shenji's blunders. "Weren't you paying any attention?" His voice reminded Shenji of Cren, but he chose not to pursue the man's identity.
"Let it go," the first soldier says. "Anyway, we're here to stop a supply mission. The savages are moving armor and weapons to their soldiers, and the Lieutenant said to stop them before they get there. According to our scouts, they'll never know what hit them. "
"Where are they headed?"
"Does it matter?" As one of the background soldiers smiles, Shenji nods his head in agreement.
"Guys, I think I hear something," Leng announces, rising and looking around the hill slowly. "Here they come," he says, his voice indicating he had a smirk on his face.
"Okay everyone, strike formation!" the first soldier says, tossing a spear to Shenji. "Let's go get them."
The group spreads out over the hills, using the tiered ground to their advantage. The leader and Leng go the furthest ahead, planning to stall the carts so the others can surround them. When the carts arrive in sight, Shenji sees the two soldiers pace into the center of the road that wound between the hills. The carts stopped, and the man who was in charge of the first wagon approaches their obstacles. Even from his distance away, Shenji could see that the leader of the caravan was stabbed by the leader of the ambushing party. At this, the entire escorting party of the three carts emerged, all sprinting towards the two soldiers in the road. The other soldiers spring into action, running behind the escorts and preparing for a sneak attack. Several of the soldiers notice beforehand and begin the struggle for their survival.
The soldiers use various weapons, and Shenji can hear the metal clashing through the darkness. He jabs the blunt end of his spear into an escort's torso, forcing the enemy to double over. A nearby soldier makes a detour and stabs the defeated opponent before leaving to fight someone else. Shenji sees a soldier approaching with two swords and braces himself for a long battle. Shenji blocks the first strike with his spear before spinning it around his back and moving in for a retaliation strike. The soldier pushes the point out of the way, catching the handle between his arm and his body. The soldier pulls the spear out of Shenji's hands before stabbing one of his swords into the ground. He uses his newly freed hand to pick up the spear and begins using it in concurrence with his sword.
Shenji sees the flash of metal as he avoids the attacks, trying to land a blow on the soldier to get access to a weapon. Shenji catches hold of the spear's handle and begins jarring it violently, loosening the opposing soldier's grip and allowing himself to get access to his old weapon. While realigning the blade to face his opponent, Shenji lands a slash across the soldier's arm, causing him to stagger back. While the soldier looks for his remaining sword, Shenji charges forward. Before he arrives, Shenji's opponent realizes his danger. Shenji tries to stab the blade into his foe, but the soldier had other thoughts. The soldier swung his leg into the air, catching Shenji's spear altering its path. With a snap, Shenji's spear blade breaks off its staff, leaving him only armed with an elongated staff. His foe tried to take advantage of his disability, but Shenji was too determined. Shenji raises his staff parallel to the ground, pushing his arms and swords away from his body.
The brief pause gave Shenji the opportunity he was looking for. He jabbed an end of his spear into his foe's stomach before swinging it into the top of his arm. As the arm falls, Shenji lets go of his staff and elbows his enemy in the chest. He quickly grabs the soldier's arm, twisting the sword out of his hand, turning and plunging it into the soldier. As he staggers back, Shenji kicks the soldier onto the ground, sealing his victory.
After a small moment to catch his breath, he turns to see Leng's large figure battling against an opposing soldier. Shenji turns to the body of his foe and finds a knife, picking it up taking aim at the smaller figure in the battle. Hurling the blade, Shenji sees the soldier hunch over, but was unprepared for the next sight. Leng's arm swung from left to right, and along with it, an arc of fire followed. The sudden blast shed light on the valley, which was covered in the bodies of the defeated soldiers. "What have you done?" Shenji blurts out, drawing Leng's attention.
"Exactly what we set out to do. The Earth Kingdom savages are dead, and we have effectively eliminated any chances their forces have of winning the upcoming battle. Sad that the rest of the unit didn't make it, though."
"But..." Shenji is left speechless, prompting a sigh from the large Firebender.
"Looks like we've got another confused one," he says to himself, clearly irritated. "I guess I'll just have to beat some sense into you."
"I'm not confused! I am from the Earth Kingdom, and as far as I can remember, the Fire Nation has destroyed my life!"
"I honestly don't care who you are. I have orders to kill off the Earth Kingdom soldiers here, so looks like you're dead." Leng simply shrugs as he paces closer, nonchalantly moving to kill Shenji. The Earth Kingdom soldier, however, was shocked to see that the previously darkened sky was swirling open. The sky was blue behind Leng as he approached, and Shenji quickly realized that it was no time to wait. Leng acts first, sending a fire ball at Shenji. He barely manages to dodge while looking for a weapon to use against his new foe. Reaching down to the bodies of two defeated soldiers, one of each nation, Shenji picks up two spears. Shenji assumes his stance and waits for Leng to charge, which he does after a few moments of waiting. As he ducks to the side, Shenji tries to stab the spear into Leng, but the Firebender manages to move out of the weapon's range at the last minute. He was not fast enough to avoid injury entirely, however, and the blade left a small cut on his side. "You're going to pay for that, scum!"
Leng quickly aims a fire blast at Shenji, who attempts both to dodge and attack at the same time. Shenji's plan of attack fails, and Leng kicks the soldier to the ground. "I win," Leng says, giving Shenji a look of contempt.
As Leng taunts him, Shenji's determination grows. "I won't let you take another innocent life!" Shenji's rage had caused him to see the broader picture: if Leng continued fighting, he would kill more soldiers and Shenji knew he must risk his life to save another's. Placing his spear between Leng's legs, Shenji twists until the Firebender loses his balance. "The Fire Nation will not triumph!" Shenji exclaims while rising to his feet, aiming a spear at Leng's chest and plunging the blade within. Leng's eyes slowly close as his body loosens up, leaving Shenji alone in a red valley. Looking around, the sight of the carnage is too much for Shenji to bear.
Eye to Eye
Violently jerking up in bed, Shenji realizes that his journey was nothing more than a dream. He writes the dream in his journal, as the second one for the day. He had never had two dreams of such meaning in one night, and was shocked by their detail. After he finished writing their details, he began analyzing the connections. He thought of the soldiers he was forced to be around within the dark room, and the then the darkness filled field in which he killed Earth Kingdom soldiers. He could find nothing tying them together, and was then preoccupied by a slight headache. "What do they mean?" he angrily asks himself. At that, he hears a knock at his door.
Shenji slowly gets up and opens to door, revealing Kuro standing on the other side. "What are you doing here?" Shenji asks, shocked by the untimely arrival.
"We've got to go. I can't take it any more. I'm going to go find a map. I want you to know, that if something happens, I did it for my country." Kuro turns away from Shenji, slowly beginning to pace away.
"Wait!" Kuro stops and turns around. "Why are you looking for a map? What would happen to you?"
"I just know I have to go to that base. I'll try and pick up some other soldiers on my way there. I don't know if I will make it back, but I just know that it's what I need to do," Kuro says, almost choking up at the last word. Kuro begins turning away, but still continues speaking. "I'll remember you."
"Wait," Shenji calmly says. Kuro stops, but still doesn't turn around. "You won't need to." Shenji quickly enters his home, putting on his armor, picking up his hammers, and rolling up his journals and putting them in a bag, which he slings around his shoulders. He walks past Kuro, standing in front of him and placing his arm on the Earthbender's shoulder. "I'm coming with you."
"You didn't agree yesterday, why do you want to help now?" Kuro meant no anger, but his voice failed to deliver the message in his planned tone.
"Yeah, I know. I had two dreams tonight, and both of them are telling me that the Fire Nation is absolutely ruthless."
"Can't you tell that from the War that's been going on for almost a hundred years?" Kuro sharply replied.
"I know, but these dreams were different. I saw a different side; and it showed me that they are too cruel. I have realized that if we have this fort filled with that many Fire Nation soldiers, the entire world will suffer. I'm sorry for not saying it sooner, but I want to go with you. I'd rather die than let that fort terrorize the Kingdom."
Kuro stared at Shenji for a brief moment before a smile cracked across his face. "That's the Shenji I know," he says while motioning for the soldier to follow him.
The pair walk in silence towards the information repository, a room with a single entrance and located near the General's chamber. The only maps in the base were located in a separate building, so both Shenji and Kuro knew to look there. By the time the pair had gotten close enough to the building, they see that there is a posted guard at the door. "Wait, Shenji," Kuro says, putting up his hand to halt Shenji's stride. He kneels onto one knee, and motions for Shenji to do the same.
"What are we waiting for?" the confused soldier asks while complying.
Kuro's initial reply is a simple point, using his finger to show Shenji the guardians of the door. "Them."
"Who are th-" Shenji halts mid sentence as he discerns who is guarding their objective: Cren and. Since the main base was the repository of the center of the information in the area, Shou made sure it was well guarded, always posting several of his top guards in the area. Clearly, the General had gotten a little cocky after the victory over the Fire Nation unit, as only two soldiers were posted. "Come on, really?" Shenji adds in frustration.
"Yeah, of course that's how this has to work," Kuro replies, letting out a small sigh afterwards. "That Generalloves ruining my plans, doesn't he?"
"Pretty much," Shenji jokes back, nudging his friend in jest. "Now what do we do?"
"First, we'll ask nicely. Then, after that, we'll go from there. Let's hope being nice works first," he says while rising from his crouched position. They slowly walk towards the seemingly abandoned intelligence center, ignoring the soldiers and hoping for an easy entrance to the building.
Out of the corner of his eye, Shenji glances over into the clearing where the two soldiers paced around. When they detect that the soldiers noticed them, Shenji leans closer to Kuro to tell him that they'd been spotted. "Kuro, we've got company," he whispers.
"I know," the Earthbender says while stopping. "Play along," he whispers while the two wait for the soldiers to arrive.
"Who goes there?" a voice calls from the center of the street, where the figure of Luo stands illuminated by the moon's rays.
"It's just us, Luo," Kuro replies.
"Oh," he says while getting closer. "What are you doing out here?" he inquires, doing his job.
"We're just hoping we can get a map," Kuro begins. Shenji can barely hide his surprise, as Kuro blatantly told Luo their actual purpose of being there. "You see, all the talk of that fort made Shenji and I curious as to where such a fort could be built."
Luo rolled his eyes as he listened to Kuro's story. Due to his inability to convince the cynical Earthbender, Kuro finally stopped, giving Luo the opportunity to speak. "Even if I believed your story, I wouldn't give you a map. You know the policies as well as I do, Kuro. We're not allowed to just give out maps without officer approval. Who said you could come in and get one?"
", who else?" Kuro replies swiftly.
Suddenly, another voice pierced through the night. "Funny, I was told by the Captain that he had given no one permission to access the information within the building, especially not to take one of the base's few quality maps. And, interestingly enough, he retired to his quarters immediately afterwards. How could he have possibly let you know that you were the exception to his rule?" From across the yard,stepped out into the light, glaring intently at the three soldiers.
"We just want a map. Is that really so much to ask for?" Shenji pleas, hoping to get somewhere.
"Yeah, it kind of is." Cren shoots Shenji a look of superiority, along with a taunting expression.
"What's your deal?" Kuro interjects, cutting into the pair's conversation. "There's no reason to act like you're better than him. We're all fighting for the same cause!"
"After today, I'm not so sure." Cren had been in Kuro's unit long enough to know Kuro's flaw: his patriotism.
Kuro's face went from calm and professional to surprised in a matter of seconds. "Wait, what was that?" A hint of rage permeated his voice and his eyes narrowed, starring Cren down while waiting for a response.
"Guys, calm down," Luo says, deciding to play peacemaker. He first turns to Cren, trying to get him to back down before Kuro acts on his fury. "Cren, that was both unnecessary and untrue. I expect more out of a soldier with as much experience as you." Turning to Kuro, he attempts to calm the infuriated Earthbender. "I want to go with you, I really do. I honestly think this mission you guys keep talking about is really important, but we just aren't allowed to go. If I could change the orders, I would make it so that we could go, but we're all forced to stay here."
All Luo's attempts to make peace were ruined by Cren's next words. "Rightly so. We shouldn't be wasting our resources on a fool's errand."
"Just because you don't want to dishonor yourself by taking up an extra mission doesn't mean that others have as little respect for their country as you!" Shenji quickly snaps back.
Cren turns towards Shenji, seething with rage, and sends a wave of earth towards the soldier. Acting reflexively, Kuro both stops the attack and sends a column of earth at both guards. The two Earthbenders split the columns, and Luo enters the fray. He punches the ground, sending blunt columns of earth towards both soldiers. Shenji rolls out of the way and charges towards Cren, who begins sending small rocks at the soldier. Shenji ignores the projectiles as he approaches, eventually getting within striking distance. Swinging his hammers, he barely misses Cren's ribs before Cren lands a solid kick on Shenji's back. Stumbling forward from the force of the impact, Shenji hurls his hammer at Cren, who was not expecting an immediate response. The dense, metal hammer makes contact with Cren's chest, causing the Earthbender to double over in recoil. Shenji quickly spins, landing a kick across Cren's face that knocks him face down on the ground.
Kuro catches a boulder in mid air, breaking it down the middle before sending each half towards Luo as a separate attack. Luo ducks and slides his foot forward, sending a wave of earth towards Kuro. Kuro leaps over the attack and strikes the ground with his hand, sending a series of raised rocks at the guard. Luo stares as the earth approaches him, deciding that he would not flee from the attack. As the final section of earth rose to strike him, he firmly thrust his hand into the attack, sending the remaining part back into the earth and dust into the air around him. By the time the smoke cleared, Luo had lost sight of his foe. Out of no where, Kuro emerged and landed a blow to the guard's face, knocking him out.
After retrieving his hammer, Shenji glances around, seeing Kuro finally defeat Luo. "I wish we didn't have to do that," he says as he approaches his friend.
"Me too. Pity about Luo though," he says while kneeling down and picking up the guard's key ring. He paces over to the door, unlocking it and entering the room as silently as possible. "Got one," he says quietly as he exits the room and relocks the door. He puts the key back on Luo's body before placing the map within his armor.
"Now what?" Shenji asks.
"We leave." Kuro calmly walks past Luo, motioning for Shenji to follow him. He makes a brief stop at Cren's body to take in the sight before the duo leave the camp without the intention to return.
Production of this chapter began weeks before its completion. Having already conceptualized the idea of Shenji and Kuro leaving from the previous incarnation of the chapter, he only needed to flesh it out and improve its quality. That being said, The Bos did not reference the previous version of the chapter while writing this one. Shenji's dream sequence was entirely new and ended up taking up more of the chapter than previously expected.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
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