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|The Mounted Bandits|
04 07, 2010
The Mounted Bandits is the first chapter of the series The Village of Anquan .
"I found it!" Zhi announced as he sprinted back toward the area where the boys had been playing. As he ran, he held a parchment in the air, which flapped vigorously. The sun was shining upon the field, giving it a pristine shine that only occurred during the middle of the day. There were storm clouds in the distance, but nobody seemed to notice them moving.
Xinxin was lying down in the grass, watching some smaller, whiter clouds shift along. He looked up after hearing his friend. He had almost dozed off from the boredom he was suffering while Zhi had been away. "Took you long enough." Xinxin asked, wiping some loose dirt out of his hair. "I thought you only needed one thing."
"I did." Zhi replied as he arrived. "But it was hard to get to. I had to look through all my stuff. It was with the other papers my dad sent me." Zhi's father had sent him many things from the War, including pages from books, along with other notifications and pamphlets. His son had always loved reading, he'd known, but few people in the village could afford reading material. Money was a primary motivation for many men in the poor village to join the army.
Zhi rolled out the parchment. There were few illustrations, but that wasn't a problem. "Okay, so, what did we need to know again?" He asked.
"Well," Xinxin began. "We were trying to figure out if Water beats Fire...I think..." He stared at the sky, trying to be sure what they had argued about nearly half an hour before.
Zhi read along the page for a moment before finding what he was looking for. "It says here that Fire and Water are opposite elements. It says that when they are both used, then it cancels out, and nobody wins."
"That doesn't make any sense." Xinxin said accusingly. "Water puts out fire!"
"Yeah, but it has an explanation too. It says that: 'When a Firebender and a Waterbender send an equal attack at each other, and the elements make contact, then water turns to steam, and the attack is negated. The same occurs here.'" He looked up. "So, we start over."
Xinxin blew a strand of hair out of his face. "I don't like this game. Do you know anything else we can do?"
"No," Zhi replied. "But maybe Zhan does." He pointed off to the distance, where a figure was approaching. He walked slowly, and with his head down. "Looks like the talk didn't go so well..."
"Hey Zhan!" Xinxin shouted. "Is Cao still crazy?" A grin adorned his face. He had taken a liking to poking fun at Cao lately.
Zhan wasn't as amused. "Shut-up." He said nothing more, and shot Xinxin a look that could pierce metal.
"Let's go home. Those clouds are getting kind of close." Zhi chimed in, looking up. The storm clouds were much closer now, and were casting shadows that were visible from the field.
"Is somebody gonna go get Cao?" Xinxin asked. "Or can he can bend lightening now, too?"
The whole pond was swaying now. Cao had been working at it for hours, and had neglected to notice the looming storm clouds, or the setting sun. Working from a hunch, he began to move his arms in an upward movement. The water bulged at some point, until soon-
I've got it! Cao thought triumphantly as a pillar of water began to rise from the pond. It wasn't very tall, only a few feet, but it was a start. He twisted his wrists, and was shocked as the pillar turned instantly to ice. The whole pond, with the exception of the ice, stopped with his astonishment. The surface was clear enough to reflect the sky perfectly. Aside from the floating ice pillar, the whole pond was still.
Cao looked at the at the orange and blue reflection of the sunset. Wow He thought. How long have I been out here? There was a slight distortion in the water. Then another, and another. Soon, the whole pond was riddled with small impacts of raindrops as the looming clouds began to empty themselves into the landscape. Cao wasn't dressed for rain, and knew he would quickly be drenched if he didn't go.
He began to ran off, all the while thinking, Wait till I tell Zhan about this!
"Has Cao come back yet?" Asked Zhan as he held an arm over his head. "We forgot to get him didn't we?" They were about halfway from the field to the town, and the storm was just setting in. There was no lightening yet, but the boys knew that could change.
Zhi nodded, protecting his parchment from the rain. "No, we didn't. Who's gonna go?" He had a look on his face that clearly displayed his distaste for the weather. If anyone went, it wouldn't be him. Ahead of him, Xinxin was shaking his head.
"I'll go." Zhan said, turning back. It's my fault he's still there anyway. He began to sprint off toward the pond. He didn't mind the mud, and he didn't care about the rain in his face. Cao was the closest thing to a younger brother he'd ever had, and he had no intention of having his last words to him being: "Go ahead and splash around in the pond for all I care."
Almost there. Cao thought as he trudged through the slop that was usually a long stretch of dirt in the field. He had been walking for what felt like hours. The sun seemed to have disappeared when the rain started, and he had little light to guide him. He remembered the rough direction of where the town was, and hoped that he was heading the right way. It felt like the mud was up to his knees, though in reality it was only his ankles. Cao had tried to bend the raindrops, but he couldn't muster enough concentration to stop the raindrops.
There was a flash ahead. It lit the sky, and the ground around Cao, revealing how hopeless his effort was. The mud seemed to stretch on forever, and the town was nowhere in site. A moment later, he heard the thunder. It ripped through him, and tore into his eardrums. It was the kind of thunder that shrieks, rather than booms. To Cao, that meant stronger lightening. Closer lightening.
He kept moving, ignoring the warm, stinging rain on his face, the strong winds nearly blowing him off his feet.
The wind was at his back, Zhan could tell that much. The grass beneath his feet was slippery, and was still just showing signs of mud. He nearly slipped a few times, but the ground wasn't quite that slick. A flash cast his shadow across the grass. In the split second it was there, Zhan saw a figure only a few yards away. It was smaller than him, and it looked to be struggling.
The mud sloshed beneath his feet as Zhan tore across the wet field towards him. It was still dark, and for a moment, the only sound that could be heard was the rain. The thunder roared across the field with tremendous volume. Zhan knew that couldn't be good. Another flash lit the field, a longer one this time. He almost ran into Cao as he entered the muddy patch of ground. He grabbed his friend, and shouted: "Cao! Can you hear me?" His voice barely rose above the wind and rain.
"Yes! Where are the others?"
"Home. Where we should be!"
Zhan helped Cao across the patch, and soon, they were both sprinting for the village, against the wind.
When they arrived at the village, the wind had died down to nothing, but the lightening wasn't. It occasionally streaked across the sky, but the thunder wasn't as unsettling as it had been half an hour before. Zhan and Cao found that the entire village was standing in the center square, looking at something. Interested, the boys ran to investigate. After finding Xinxin and Zhi in a spot off to the side with a good view, Cao sat down. Zhan didn't.
"What's going on?" Cao whispered to Zhi as best he could above the rain. "Why is everyone out here?" Zhi simply pointed out to something in the rain. Cao looked closely to see a group of men, some mounted on Ostrich Horses, others simply standing next to theirs. "Who are they?" Zhi simply shrugged.
One of the men was saying something to the village's leader. Cao tried to listen in, and only just made out the words: "That's all we want. Give us that, and we'll leave here, and won't come back...at least, not for another year." He couldn't hear what the village leader was saying, and couldn't see either of their faces.
The one who was talking to the leader stepped onto his mount. In a commanding tone, he bellowed: "Alright, here's what we want: We won't take any money from you people, nor do we want any crops, or goods. The only thing we want, are men above 14, or Earthbenders of any age." Cao couldn't see his face, but he saw his sloped, circular helmet scanning the crowd.
"Now you want them too? The army already took all of them, there's nobody left that meets your standards!" It was a woman's voice, Cao could tell that much.
"Who said that? Come on, speak up!" The Mounted Man said, anger apparent in his voice.
The crowd somehow seemed even more silent now. People looked around, trying to pick out who could've said something so bold at a time such as this. Zhan's mother stepped out.
No. Cao thought, shocked that she would do something like that. Zhan's mother had been raising Cao since his father had left for the War. He was like another son to her, and she was almost like a mother to Cao. Almost
"If you have nothing to offer us, then you people will at least learn respect!" The man announced to the crowd. He raised his arm, and a large rock rose from the earth next to him. He tilted his arm back, and the boulder went back as well. Just as he was going to strike, a cry was heard.
"NO!" Cao was just as surprised as everyone else when he heard his voice, but was even more surprised by what immediately followed it. The boy threw his right arm outward, and a few gallons of rainwater came together, and stretched out as a jet into the Earthbender's torso. It had enough force that it knocked him off his mount, and the rock he was using fell from the air, into the mud.
The man stood, angered by the turn of events. "WHAT'S GOING ON HERE!?" He bellowed. The crowd separated, leaving a path straight to Cao. His friends were shocked as well, but Zhan composed himself, and stepped in front of him. "Stay behind me." He whispered to his younger friend. Zhan had no weapons, and no means of defense...and he knew it.
Cao placed his hand on his friend's shoulder, and gently pushed him aside. "I'm not letting anyone get hurt because of me today." He said, to both his and Zhan's amazement. Where is this coming from? "I'm fighting my own battles."
They were cut off by a rock flying towards the group. Cao reacted, instinctively throwing his arms in front of his face. A thick wall of ice formed from both the water on the ground, and coming from the sky. It shattered when the rock hit it, but it was enough to stop its momentum. Cao assumed a loose stance as his opponent assumed a rigid and experienced one.
This fight would not be an easy one.
For the collective works of the author, go here.