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|The First to Fall|
November 4, 2013
Chapter 6-The First to Fall
Azula woke to the sound of jeers, catcalls and screams. She got up and ducked through the low entrance to her shelter. Ever-present Xex looked at her, "Princess, you need to go back inside."
"What's going on?" Azula asked, a sense of dread growing in her stomach, "Are we under attack?"
"No," Xex shook his head, "Nothing is stupid enough to attack ten thousand Kimarehto warriors. Our first raiding party has just returned. We took hundreds of prisoners. We should not risk you being mistaken for one of them."
Azula shuddered as a particularly shrill scream cut through the night, "What's all the screaming about?"
Xex flicked his ears, "They are separating the cubs from those who are old enough to work."
"They're taking the children?" Xex nodded. Azula frowned, "What will happen to them?"
Xex thought for a moment, "They will be kept away from the older slaves and our cub keepers will watch and educate them. We don't like stupid slaves."
"Slaves?" Azula asked warily.
Xex nodded, "What else would we do with them? We don't harm cu-what in the name of the great spirit of chaos is he doing?" Azula turned and saw what had Xex's hackles so raised. Gristle, who had been introduced to Azula the night before by Lycaon as a senior officer, was hauling a struggling form by its feet with a crazed grin on his face. "GRISTLE!" barked Xex, "What are you doing?"
"I got a subject to interrogate! I caught her myself! Had to fly all night but I found a group of them and snatched one! Knocked them all out and picked the one with the best screams! I'll take a raiding party to get the rest of them tomorrow night," Gristle replied cheerfully as Xex started growling in distaste for the chief interrogator.
"How did you get clearance for that?" Xex snarled, "Raiding and scouting parties are MY division. How did you get clearance without passing it by me?"
"Um..." Gristle seemed at a loss. He hadn't had clearance for any action, and now he realized what hot water he was going to be in for going behind Xex's back and risking the revelation of the entire invasion force.
"LET ME GO!" Shrieked the squirming figure in the green robes as she got a foot free of Gristle's grip and kicked him in the wrist. Gristle grunted in surprise as his grip was knocked loose and the green robed figure flipped away from him. The pale faced figure landed and drew a katana, "Stay back!"
Azula blinked, unable to believe her eyes, "Ty Lee?! Is that you?!"
Ty Lee, who indeed it was, was so shocked she nearly dropped her sword, "AZULA?! What are you doing here?!"
"INSOLENT WHELP!" Gristle roared lunging for Ty Lee. He got a katana slashed across his face and a double claw full of nothing for his trouble.
Suddenly Azula advanced on him, both hands ignited, "Leave. Her. ALONE."
Xex looked at her as Ty Lee hurriedly backed toward them, being careful not to turn her back on Gristle for even a moment, "Um, Princess, please don't get us involved in-"
Gristle snapped, "I don't care how much Lord Lycaon's taken a shine to you, you (the rest of Gristle's sentence has been censored due to being so viciously offensive even Xex flinched) That's my prisoner and I'm going to interrogate her!"
Azula's face twitched slightly with fury and then she unleashed a veritable firestorm that startled Xex and Ty Lee into leaping away. Numerous winged Kimarehto swooped from overhead in response to the sudden flash of blue flames. They had seen the Firebenders during the battle and thought there must have been some prisoners trying to escape. Azula kept pumping out the fire, steadily advancing on Gristle despite the whoompfing impacts of Kimarehto landing around her.
She hardly noticed Xex leaping to get between her and every Kimarehto warrior that landed, growling a wordless warning and sending one warrior that tried to protest flying with devastating uppercut. When she was point blank, she saw that she had been right in her assumption that just because Kimarehto could heal quickly from even grievous burns did not mean that they couldn't be burned at all.
Gristle's flesh had been burned off of his now charring bones. He was still holding together and Azula knew that if she stopped he would heal in a matter of minutes. She suddenly stopped, hauled back, and swung a fist at his skull as hard as she could. The punch connected and as Azula had planned, Gristle's skull went bouncing away as she released her concentration and her fire blast dissipated.
There was a stunned silence as the gathered Kimarehto looked on in silence at Gristle's fallen body, little more than bones where his chest and head should have been, and at the Fire Sorceress who had felled him with such ease.
Azula brushed her hair back out of her eyes and looked around at the Kimarehto, a cold look in her eye, "Ty Lee is under my protection, as is every cub in the Fire Nation. You will not harm them, or you will suffer Gristle's fate. Do I make myself clear?" The Kimarehto warriors backed up a step, which gave Azula a rush of confidence until she realized they were looking upward. Then there was a thunderous impact that made the ground shake.
Azula flinched a little, but covered it as best she could. That can't be good, she thought. She turned and saw Lycaon's immense form towering over her. He was in a form that was somewhere between wolf and dragon, but still immediately recognizable by his gray fur, which was silver in the moonlight and red eyes.
Azula put on her brave face, "Lord Lycaon, I demand sanctuary for this girl and all the children of the Fire Nation. You said you would not harm children and that none of your warriors would either. This," she indicated Gristle's remains, "Attempted to violate your orders and torture this girl for information. As you can see, he has been reprimanded."
She crossed her arms and stared at Lycaon, a firm look on her face and a trembling of fear in her heart. Lycaon had called her a friend two nights before. That did not mean he would feel the same now that she had slain one of his senior officers. Suddenly Lycaon raised his front paw and slammed it into the ground hard enough to once again make the ground jump.
"Let it be known," Lycaon said in a voice that would have carried its menace across a battlefield with ease, "that the Sorcerers of the Fire Nation are worthy foes! They and their kin shall be treated as such, so say I, LYCAON STONE-HEART!"
"DISMISSED!" He roared. The assembled Kimarehto took wing immediately.
Lycaon stepped closer and shrunk back into his human form, "I never thought I'd see the day," he said quietly as he walked over to Gristle's corpse. "I never liked you Gristle, but you got information when instructed. You served with distinction in your own way, and for that I suppose you must be honored, but because you were slain by an outsider, I must now take your hide, for it is no longer rightfully yours." He lifted Gristle's blackened skull, "So how am I to give you an honorable burial Gristle? Tell me that."
There was no response, Gristle's empty eye sockets just stared into space. Lycaon shook his head and laid Gristle's skull back where it should have been. Then he seized the shoulders of Gristle's body and heaved. There was a tearing sound and suddenly the fur from the entire upper half of Gristle's body peeled clear of his corpse along with his wings, the torture instruments Gristle had festooned himself with falling away. Lycaon held the grisly pelt in his hand and then he shook it like a rug he was trying to clean.
When he finished shaking it, it had taken the form of a small coat. Gristle's wings had somehow become a cape, joined to the coat at the shoulders. Lycaon sighed as he looked at his handy work, "I never thought I'd see the day when I'd hand over the pelt of one of my own to an outsider. I certainly never thought an outsider would EARN the pelt of one of my warriors in combat." He looked at Azula, "This is now yours by rights as the one who slew Gristle."
He handed her the coat and she was shocked by how soft the black fur was. "Put that on," Lycaon told her quietly, "And every Kimarehto will know you on sight as the first outsider to ever kill a Kimarehto warrior."
Azula looked at him, "What?"
"You wonder how we are so confident of our victory? Not only have we never lost, we've never lost a single soldier to enemy forces, until now." Azula's eyes widened and she hurried to put on the coat.
"My men will take you very seriously now. All Kimarehto will. Your demands of safety for the cubs and this girl will be honored."
"Thank you Lycaon," Azula said quietly. Lycaon stooped to kiss her gently on the cheek before turning and walking away.
Ty Lee whispered to Xex, "What just happened?" Xex whispered back, "Lord Lycaon just made your Princess Azula an Honorary Kimarehto. You should thank her, she just saved your life."
"Yeah, I guess she did," Ty Lee said quietly. Maybe Azula had changed after all.
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