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The fifth chapter of Book Three of.
April 4, 2012
Smoke and Mirrors
Keith meets the leader of the Rogues.
Should've Said No
What have I done?
Keith stood on the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, overlooking the causeway that traversed the lake from the north shore to the south. It was just after twilight, and the lights of the city of Mandeville shined behind them like spotlights. Natalie stood beside him, watching a large cloud of fog slide across the surface of the water towards them.
Keith watched the fog as well, knowing all too well what would come with it.
Natalie is a Rogue.
The fog soon overtook them, shrouding them like they were in the middle of a cloud. A sound that could only be the sound of something landing on the beach pierced through the white mist. Natalie nodded and strolled towards the sound, Keith following in her wake. As they walked, a large shape, looming and dark, began to form out of the fog.
I shouldn't be here. They're murderers, terrorists. Everything the BDA says we are.
Keith's mind flashed back to a day spent at Mesaba. He sat with Jacque on a porch overlooking the lake. They had been sitting there for hours, gazing at the water, not speaking a word. When an opportunity presented itself, Keith turned to Jacque.
"Why do we speak of the Rogues in a bad way? Why are they so bad?"
Jacque kept his gaze on the lake as he answered.
"We do not condone them as a group. Only their choices." Jacque explained slowly.
"Why would their choices be bad? Aren't they Free Benders, like us?"
"Then what could they do that would be so bad? If they're fighting for the same thing we are, why would anything they do be different or bad from us?"
"While they are fighting for the same thing we are, for our right to live, it is how they accomplish their means that sets them apart from us. While we try to stay out of the public eye, keeping our fight only for the BDA, the Rogues see no difference between us and normal society. They are willing to sacrifice the non-benders in order to gain our freedom. And they have done just that on many occasions."
"And why is that bad?" Keith asked, his mind stumped for an answer.
"Are non-benders the reason for the way the BDA treats us?"
"The BDA says that they are controlling us so we won't be used by the non-benders. Doesn't that make it their fault?" Keith countered.
"Does that make all of us bad, because some of us use medicine for wrong purposes? Does that make all of us bad, because some of us choose to offend or oppress others?'
"No," Keith mumbled.
"Then why should all of the non-benders be blamed when only a few would make the wrong choice?"
Keith was lost for words.
"The Rogues use the BDA's rationalizing for their control as an excuse to pit the blame for our persecution on non-benders. That is why we do not speak of them in kinder terms."
"Are all of them bad?" Keith asked.
"No, I'm sure not all of them are bad. But it's the few that are that make the difference." Jacque grumbled, thinking of one woman in particular.
"And who are they?"
Jacque refused to answer.
Keith was brought back to reality as a large cutter ship landed on the beach with a crash. It was a wooden ship and had a large hull, easily twenty or thirty feet taller than Natalie and Keith. Even taller still were the masts, supporting a large sail, painted purple and blue. The colors seemed to be fighting each other on the sail to be the dominant shade. Natalie's eyebrows bunched together and her lips pursed into a thin line. She seemed to be concerned.
"What's wrong?" Keith wondered, his voice shaky.
"I didn't expect them to come." Natalie said, almost to herself.
Before Natalie could answer, a set of stairs, carved out of earth, rose up from the beach and to the deck of the ship. Natalie stood at attention, staring intently at the stairs. Keith's attention was drawn to the top of the stairs as a crowd of figures emerged from the deck and onto the stairs. They were each dressed in a long, black robe that covered their entire body. A hood covered their heads, obscuring any facial detail.
They numbered ten in all. They marched down the stairs in two columns of five. Natalie leaned down to whisper to Keith.
"These are the Silence, the Mistress' personal guard," Natalie's words carried enough of a warning without explicitly saying so.
"Okay," Keith whispered, not taking his eyes off of the robed figures.
They were all off of the stairs now and onto the beach. They split into their two columns and formed a tunnel of sorts, meant for Natalie and Keith to walk through. Natalie put her hand behind Keith's shoulder and led him forward. They walked together between the two columns. Keith glanced at one of the Silence on his right, trying to distinguish some detail of their face. Keith could almost see a pair of eyes before Natalie tightened her grip on Keith's shoulder. Keith took this as a warning to take his gaze off of the Silence and continue forward.
They began to climb up the stairs, ascending towards the deck of the ship. Behind them, the Silence reformed into two columns and marched behind them in step. The sound of their marching echoed off of the side of the ship and the stairs, filling Keith's ears with the drumbeat. Natalie and Keith surfaced at the top of the stairs. Natalie clambered over the railing and onto the deck. She held out her hand for Keith to help him over.
Natalie walked towards the back of the ship, to what looked like a cabin. Keith followed her. The Silence had emerged at the top of the stairs, and began to scale over the railing in twos. After all ten of them were on the ship, they marched to the front of the ship, overlooking the prow. As one, they moved their right arms to motioned to the starboard side of the ship. Keith ran to the starboard side of the ship in time to see water from the lake creeping up the beach to surround the ship. Keith turned and faced Natalie, still standing near the cabin.
"Are they all waterbenders?" he called out.
Natalie nodded, keeping her gaze on the Silence. Keith closed his mouth and resolved not to speak again unless told to. The water surged around the sides of the ship. The ship lurched, and began to move with the motion of the water. The Silence shifted their arms backward, and the water carried the ship into the lake. Keith held tight to the railing as the ship moved into a circle and faced south. Keith jumped as the ship moved forward, into the deeper waters of the lake.
The fog traveled with them, constantly hiding their movement from any watching eyes. The ship was sailing south, parallel to the causeway. Keith could almost make out the headlights of cars traveling on the bridge. They sailed in silence; the only sound that echoed through the fog was the flow of the water as it carried the ship forward.
They had sailed to roughly the halfway mark on the causeway when the Silence stopped moving. The ship stopped as well, bobbing in the calm waters. Keith turned to Natalie and was about to ask what was going on when his answer came. A rumbling sound came from beneath the ship, beneath the surface of the water. Suddenly, Four walls of earth came out of the water, enclosing the ship in a box.
Two members of the Silence, one on the port side and the other on the starboard, motioned towards the water. Two large orbs of water traveled up the sides of the box and stopped at the top. The two members who were bending spread their fingers out. The water thinned out and covered the top of the box. The two people clenched their fists, and the water froze, creating a solid roof to the box.
A rumbling sound began to bounce off of the walls of the box. Keith could only attribute this to the box carrying the ship downwards below the surface of the lake. When they traveled far enough, the water of the lake covered the ice roof, enveloping the ship in darkness. After what seemed an eternity, the rumbling stopped, and the sound of draining water replaced it.
Keith watched as the water drained from the box into an unseen hole. The ship dropped with the level of the water before settling gently on the wet floor. A door appeared at the bottom of the box. Light from a hallway flooded into the box, dimly illuminating the deck of the ship. Another set of earth stairs appeared next to the railing, leading downwards towards the door. The Silence reformed their columns and marched to the stairs. Natalie came to Keith and led him down the stairs, following the Silence.
They trotted down the stairs and into the hallway. They emerged into a large tunnel with rails in the center. The air was surprisingly cold, and Keith found himself shivering more than he had in the middle of the fog. A great rumbling resonated through the tunnel, and Keith could make out a dim shape coming from the left side of the tunnel, traveling on the rails.
Before long, a great earth train appeared. The Silence boarded, followed by Natalie and Keith. Once they were all on, the train moved forward at a surprising speed. Keith grabbed the edge of the train "car", holding on for dear life. Eventually, the train stopped, sending Keith lurching forward. The Silence and company disembarked the train. Keith and Natalie followed the procession as they walked to the end of the tunnel. Suddenly, a large square of the floor began to descend deeper into the earth.
They appeared in another tunnel, larger than the first. Earth rails, three side by side, were also in the center of the floor. Waiting for them was a larger train, also made of earth. They climbed aboard, and the train began to move, albeit a slower speed. As the train began to move, the entry through which they had boarded closed itself off.
The train, Keith found, was significantly warmer than the tunnel. An electric light buzzed to life, illuminating their surroundings. Keith glanced around the room. They seemed to be in a supply room of sorts. Wooden crates lined the walls in orderly stacks. Keith didn't have much time to observe, as the Silence led the way forward through the train.
They crossed through what appeared to be a large training room. Cracks in the floor, long and jagged, were joined by pots of water, lining the walls. Their company passed through the room quickly and emerged in a barracks. Rows upon rows of bunk beds filled the room. Hundreds of people slept in the beds, oblivious to the Silence' arrival.
They marched through the barracks, alerting a few of the sleeping colonists, who quickly stood to attention for the Silence. The walk seemed to take forever, and Keith began to shiver, though not from the cold. Even after they had passed, the awaken colonists still stood, straight as a board, eyes forward. The room was silent, except for their marching and the occasional rustle of the Silence' robes.
The company finally arrived at a single door, opposite to the one through which they had come. A member of the Silence swung it open, and the Silence filed through, single file. Natalie and Keith followed. The first thing Keith noticed was that the room was extremely dark. It seemed to be made of a different material than the rest of the train. The door closed behind them, and a light came on.
The room, an antechamber of sorts, was made of a smooth, almost glass like material. tinted a dark blue. The barracks were visible behind them, but just barely. In front of them, another wall held another door, made of the same material. The room behind the door was flickering barely, just visible behind the tinted wall. The Silence spread out to line up against the wall, facing the door to the barracks.
"The Mistress will want to see you. It'd be best if you go now," Natalie said, eyes on the door in front of them.
"What's behind the door?" Keith asked, his heart beginning to beat quicker.
"Throne room. She'll be at the back of the room, behind the flames. Approach slowly, and don't say anything until She addresses you. She would find it polite if you approached, and then kneel about ten feet from the platform. Only address Her as 'Mistress,' unless told otherwise. " Natalie cautioned.
"What platform?" Keith rambled, trying to remember everything that Natalie had told him.
"You'll see when you go in. Don't take too much time looking around. Get in, see Her, make sure She's done with you, then get out."
"Please, don't make me go. Can't you come with me?" Keith pleaded.
"No, She wants to see you alone. Now go. It's best not to keep her waiting," Natalie urged.
Natalie gently pushed Keith forward to the door. Keith stood there for a moment, heart stuck in his throat. With a will that didn't seem to be his own, he reached forward and opened the door. He shuffled forward into the throne room and shut the door behind him. The darkness overwhelmed his eyes, and it took a moment before he could take the throne room in.
The floor was made of a dark brown hardwood that reflected Keith's appearance. Thick, stone pillars lined the length of the throne room, reaching up to a dark ceiling. Torches hung on each of the pillars, burning an unnatural blue. At the far end of the room stood a wooden platform, raised ten feet beneath the floor. At the edge of the platform and lining the back wall surged a great wall of blue flames. The crackling fire cast blue shadows across the floor, giving the room an unearthly feeling.
Keith's stomach plummeted as he walked forward to the wall of flames, each step a thousand times louder than meant. When Keith was ten feet from the wall of fire, he bowed, eyes watching the reflection of the fire in the hardwood. Nothing happened. Keith peeked upwards, now noticing the logo of the Rogues superimposed on the wall of the platform. Three wavy lines on top of each other. The top and bottom were a dark purple while the middle line was blue.
The sound of someone snapping ricocheted around the room, clear and cold. The wall of flames facing Keith died down, revealing what it had previously hidden. An elevated dais sat on the middle of the platform. On the dais was a simple red carpet, with four golden spikes at the corners of the carpet. On the corners of the dais were four enormous pillars, supporting a canopy of sorts.
Sitting on the mat was the most intimidating woman Keith had ever seen. She sat cross legged on the carpet, wearing a simple red robe with gold trim at the edges and sleeves. Her hair, hanging straight down her back and past her shoulders, was the black that could only be attributed to a deep sea abyss. A single lock of hair hung down her forehead to the bridge of her nose.
Her skin, taut and flawless, was the shade of new paper. The fire cast shadows across her face, illuminating every inch of her face with its irregular heartbeat. But her eyes were what stood out to Keith most. They were the color of faded amber, and they burned with an intensity that the flames surrounding her could not match. Bags of skin hung below them, the only sign of her age.
The Mistress stood and stared down at Keith from her dais. Keith bowed his head as low as it would go, desperate to keep his gaze away from her. He heard the sound of her footsteps as she descended from the dais and to the edge of the platform. Her shadow fell over him, causing him to shudder, though he tried not to show it.
"Natalie instructed you well on how to address me. I am impressed," a cold, clear voice rang out.
Keith's heart yearned to rip itself out of his chest, to escape being in the same room as her. Keith swallowed and said as loud as he could muster, "Thank you, Mistress."
The Mistress leapt off the platform and landed in front of Keith. Keith closed his eyes, trying to regulate his breathing. The Mistress prowled around him like a hungry cat.
"You are Keith, I presume?"
"I thought so. I have heard of your scar. Lift up your head." she commanded.
Keith struggled to raise his head; it seemed as if it were filled with water. As he did so, he felt the Mistress gazing at his scar. She continued walking, and Keith let his head back down.
"Yes, it is you. How do you feel, bearing that mark?"
Keith didn't know how to answer. His thoughts were separated from each other, and he was unable to string them together.
"I don't feel ashamed," Keith mumbled.
"Good," the Mistress replied with a tone of approval. "You shouldn't be. It is a sign of your survival, and your will to fight. You should wear it proudly."
"Good," she said, cutting off the subject. "You were from Xylia, yes?"
"And you are a waterbender, yes?"
"Yes." Keith reaffirmed.
"I am also aware you are a companion of the Avatar, Leah Sanchez?"
Keith gulped. She's not going to like this.
"Was?" The Mistress stopped circling him, stopping behind him.
"She's dead?" the Mistress interrogated.
"How?" she demanded.
"She and I were in New York at the time of the attacks. She was in the North Tower when it was hit, and she stayed when the Elite infiltrated the other tower. They defeated her, and she was unconscious when it came down."
"She died in the collapse?" the Mistress inquired.
"I see..." she paused, lost in thought.
She stayed there, thinking to herself, while Keith waited for her to continue. Several moments passed in silence. Keith's back began to ache from his stationary bow. She finally began to continue her walk around Keith.
"How did you come to be here?"
"I was supposed to be boarding a plane to go to San Francisco, but I had a feeling not to. I stayed at the airport, where I witnessed the attacks. Afterward, I traveled to the home of some friends we had in the city. I stayed there until the police came and arrested them."
"They were benders?" she interrupted.
"I see. Continue."
"I was told to go to Mesaba and stay there. I boarded a plane and was on my way when I was ambushed by two BDA agents. Natalie saved me, and she took me here."
"Is that all?"
"Then you have been through much, haven't you?" she said, an almost mock tone of pity in her voice.
"I don't think so."
"Why not?" she asked, her voice slick with a thin coating of anger.
"Well, I'm still here. I'm still alive." Keith answered. He hoped that he didn't sound rude to her.
The Mistress smiled down at Keith, exposing straight, white teeth.
"Good boy. You are a grateful one. That is a quality I find lacking in many of my soldiers. Gratitude. Gratitude that I have taken them in, given them a purpose, a new life." she ranted to herself.
"I'm sorry, Mistress." Keith said, not knowing what how else to respond.
"For what?" she whirled on him. "It's not your fault, is it?"
"No, Mistress." Keith said, trying to cover his apology.
"You need not apologize for my pathetic excuses of soldiers. Don't."
"It won't happen again."
"Good. Now, the matter of what to do with you. You may sit at ease."
Keith sat cross legged on the floor, stretching his tired muscles. The Mistress climbed back onto her throne and surveyed him.
"I had expected that you would have the Avatar with you. The news of her death is most...unfortunate." she said, spitting out the last word.
Keith waited for her to continue.
"However, I have no doubt that you would prove useful as well. Are you aware of the war?"
Keith shook his head.
"On the night that the BDA raided New York and arrested the benders, I publicly declared war on the United States. They had denounced us as terrorists, us!" she screamed, eyes wild with fury. "The very people who have suffered most while they have let the BDA run free. I decided I had had enough. And so, we are at war. Finally." She seemed to shake on that last word, as if under the influence of a powerful ecstasy drug.
We have already fought much. I myself took part in the assault on Uluru, so many years ago. And now, we have the chance to show the public, and the BDA, who we are, and what we can do. The time has come to act. Are you willing to act for our cause, Keith?"
Keith found himself nodding, entranced in the power of her words.
"Are you willing to fight?"
Keith hesitated for a moment. His heart screamed for him to say no, but his mind could not stop cycling through the images of the past: the burning ruins of Xylia; Kumara, standing over him, casting the flame that would forever disfigure him; the Twin Towers crumbling to dust. His body shook with anger, and he felt his own eyes burning with grief.
"Yes," he answered.
Keith let loose a breath he had unknowingly been holding.
"I am finished with you. Go back to Natalie; she will show you where you will be staying. We will attack soon. Be prepared at any moment to leave. Understand?"
Keith stood up and bowed again.
He turned to leave, mind whirling on what he had just promised. The Mistress sat down on her carpet and leaned against a pole, watching Keith leave the room.
"You have proven to be most...respectful. You may use my name while we speak in private, though I do not appreciate its overuse. It is a privilege I grant to very few."
Keith stopped in his tracks.
"What shall I call you, then?" Keith asked.
- The identity of the Mistress as Katrina was identified by readers from the moment Katrina was introduced, but the author chose not to reveal her identity until releasing this chapter.
- The subheadings are named after songs by Taylor Swift, who the author is a big fan of.
For the collective works of the author, go here.