For the series written by the same author, see.
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|The Political Animal|
"Get up! Get up!"
Shen's eyes fluttered open as her body was shaken violently. "Wha... What's going on?" she asked wearily. Suddenly, she jerked forward. It all came back to her. The random crash through the window, the smoke.
"What happened?" She frantically looked around the room to see the others getting up slowly. "Tenang?" she gasped in shock as she saw the boy in front of her. "When did you get here?" His mouth and nose were covered by some kind of cloth.
After Ohk had finished clearing the entire room with powerful gusts of wind, Tenang uncovered his mouth and spoke softly. "I was coming over to the meeting, and I heard the sound of shattering glass. The people in the bakery ran out, and then smoke came out the door. I rushed inside to make sure you guys were okay."
"Well it looks like we're all fine," noted Amber, "which is strange. Why would anyone-"
Hu Li gasped. "Where's Komin?"
Everyone glanced from side to side, but Komin was nowhere to be seen. Shen was distraught. "They took him! Whoever attacked us took him!"
"They couldn't have gotten too far in only matter of minutes," said Amber. "We can still save him." With that, she thrusted her palms towards the shattered window and sent through it a fierce blast of fire, clearing the whole of broken glass. "Let's go!" she barked. Without another word, she dashed for the opening and leapt into the streets, landing on a small shed of the property next door. Hu Li, Tenang, and Shen soon followed. The adults, not nearly as agile as the Rebels, hurried down the hidden staircase and split up once they exited the bakery. Ohk, Dasna, and Tark went right, and Mian went left with Hong.
"How did they find out about the attic?" Mian asked to her husband in shortened breath, struggling to run in her age.
"It doesn't matter," responded Hong. "We have to find that kid!"
There were ordinances against making a lot of noise at night, but Amber couldn't care less. "Hu Li! You and Shen go that way! Tenang come with me!" Shen was stunned by the way Amber was able to compose herself, which perhaps explained why she seemed to automatically assume leadership of the group when Komin wasn't there. Suddenly, Hu Li tugged at her arm and ran down the street. Shen followed, clutching the darts inside her special cloak. She looked back, and to her horror, saw Amber and Tenang be confronted by six Angkara Sentries.
"Hu Li! They're in trouble! We have to help!" she pleaded. The Firebender turned as well and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could say anything, both teens were knocked off their feet by a jet of water. Hu Li, trained for sudden combat, sprang to his feet and summersaulted behind a fruit stand on the side of the road. After assessing that there were two sentries attacking them, he tried to flank one from the side, engaging him in an Agni Kai of sorts. The other one, the Waterbender, approached Shen, who was struggling to get up after her side landed on a rock. Seething in pain, she reached for her darts, and held them in between her fingers. As the sentry got closer, she lashed out and flung them into his chest. To Shen's dismay, the darts merely bounced off his armor, and he smirked. He froze water from a nearby pale into an icicle and shot it at his target, who jumped to the side of the road in a final feat of her remaining strength. The man only walked forward, perhaps planning to kill Shen with his bare hands. She had to think quickly, and she looked for some kind of weapon. There, standing up against a wall, was a rusty rake. Shen reached to grab it just in time to swing it at the sentry's face, who howled in immense pain as blood splattered everywhere. He fell to the floor, and Shen rushed over to Hu Li, who had just subdued his own opponent.
"Is your guy dead?" she asked him, flustered. He shrugged. "Is yours?"
"Well there's a rake sticking out of his face!"
"Right," he said with a chuckle, because apparently that was funny. "Come on!" The Firebender grabbed Shen by the arm and tugged her along the road. She had never run so fast in her life, and she certainly wasn't as in-shape as Hu Li was. Then again, she hadn't been training to fight for years like he had. Still, there wasn't any time to stop and catch her breath. A wave of fire soared right over the two rebels' heads and set a taylor shop ablaze. The attack came from the roof of a schoolhouse just ten yards away, and Hu Li immediately began exchanging fireballs with the sentry who stood on it. Neither Firebender was able to land a hit, so Shen decided to make an attempt at close combat. With the sentry distracted, she made her way to the schoolhouse and climbed to the top of a swing set, using that as a platform to jump to the roof. She charged at the man with a dagger tightly gripped in her right hand, but he turned just in time to block the swipe of her arm and nearly scorch her face. Shen tried to tackle him, but he was too strong. Without much effort, the sentry had one arm around the girl's neck, and he swung her body around to act as a human shield. Seeing this, Hu Li ceased fire at once.
Using his free hand, the sentry created a small flame with two fingers and brought it to Shen's neck as a threat. "So what's it gonna be, boy?" he called down to Hu Li. "You shoot at me, she gets it. You take another step forward, I kill her on the spot. You turn around and get the Hell out of here, you'll live and she'll just wake up in a ditch tomorrow. Your choice!"
In a wild move of desperation, Shen did something neither Hu Li nor the sentry saw coming. She twisted her head around and planted her lips on her attacker's. She kissed him for about two seconds, throwing him completely off guard and making him ease his grip. She then pushed the confused man's arm away and swung at his throat with a dart from her decked-out cloak- a poisonous one. The attack worked perfectly, and the man fell to his knees.
"Nice one, Shen!" shouted Hu Li. "Now come down here, we gotta save Komin!"
Shen leapt from the roof and summersaulted on the ground, displaying another moment of sudden athleticism that took both her and Hu Li by surprise.
"Damn, Shen! Where'd you learn to move like that?"
The girl chuckled. "Well I don't know who my parents are. Maybe it's in my blood!" The two laughed, not even pausing to wonder how they could act so jovially in an emergency. On a street parallel to theirs, however, Amber and Tenang were conducting themselves in the opposite manner.
"Watch out!" Amber yelled to her Earthbending friend in just enough time for him to duck under an arrow then sidestep to the left of an icicle. The duo was charging at a small blockade the Angakara Sentries had formed, indicating to Amber that Komin could't be too far past them. Tenang elevated a small incline for her to run up and spring off, flinging blasts of fire from the air to the enemies below. Her attack was followed by a line of earth pillars, cutting straight through the defense. Amber didn't stop to fight, but instead chased after the racing carriage before her. When she was close enough, she lashed out, and a disc of fire sped from her fingertips. When it collided with the back left wheel of the carriage, the entire thing crashed onto its side and slid ten yards.
Shen and Hu Li whipped around the corner of the block to see a tipped over carriage after a good distance of skid marks. The two wheels on the upright side were still spinning, and the ostrich horses pulling it were yelping and squirming, helplessly stuck on the ground. "I'm getting Komin!" shouted Amber, whom Shen didn't realize was there. She turned to see Tenang not too far back. After giving a nod in his direction, she looked back at the carriage again and gasped. Two Angkara Sentries had engaged Amber, and another two were pulling a boy out of the crashed carriage. "Komin!" screamed Shen, who rushed over to help. She made a beeline for her friend, but was soon knocked off her feet by a speeding rock. Aching in pain, she sat up, only to see that a new figure had joined the scene, some person covered by crimson-red robes. Clutching a dazed and semi-conscious Komin, she started to drag him to a second carriage that had just arrived.
Amber wouldn't let them get away. "Oh no you don't!" She leapt forward and from her fists flowed a magnificent blast of fire unlike anything Shen had ever seen. It spiraled straight towards the robed figure, who had just finished loading Komin into the carriage. It merely turned and faced the attack, then extended one arm and an open palm. As if by magic, when the blast reached the figure's hand, it exploded into a wall of flames, but when the fire had dissipated, the person remained completely unharmed. It then began to move its arms in circular motions, and electricity sparked at its fingers. Behind the figure, the Iluna Rebels could see a gate opening to let the carriage out of the city. None of them could reach it in time. Just as Shen was sure that it was over, a man dashed onto scene from somewhere to the left. It was Tark! With some strange object clutched in his right hand, he sprinted at the second carriage. He just barely managed to reach it when a sentry popped through the sunroof a boy and arrow and took aim at the man clinging on to the carriage. Luckily for Tark, he had not seen the device that was attached to the bottom of the vehicle. He shot an arrow at the brave man's right shoulder and knocked back, forcing him to let go.
"Tark!" Hu Li screamed desperately at his friend. From the looks of it, the inventor was wounded, but not fatally.
The carriage was slipping through the gate, and if it closed with the Iluna Rebels still on the inside, Komin's friends would have little to no chance of rescuing him. Amber, Shen, Hu Li, and Tenang were all hesitant to move, knowing that the figure could easily fry them with lightning in a second. They watched powerlessly as the gate sealed shut, and Komin was gone. That's when the figure unleashed its attack, but it tripped. Tenang and launched a stone at its ankle, and the figure spun around and ended up shooting the gate behind it, obliterating it. The stranger fell to the ground and looked up, but the hood it was using to conceal its face had slipped off, revealing a woman.
Amber was in shock. "Kriyel?" she asked herself quietly. She didn't have time to investigate further, however, as the woman quickly recovered her face and scurried off. "C'mon!" shouted Shen. "The gate's gone, let's go after them!" Amber was still speechless, staring blankly, and Hu Li was tending to the injured Tark.
"Is he going to be okay?" asked Shen of the man.
Hu Li looked up and nodded, then Tark himself muttered something. "The machine I put on the bottom of their ride will help you. Luckily I was keeping it in the storage cellar of that bakery.
"What does it do?" asked the Firebender.
"It will drop black goop every ten seconds or so, leaving a trail as the carriage moves."
Both of the rebels' faces lit up. "That's genius!" gasped Shen.
"You have to go now," said Tark softly. "I'll be fine. Go save Komin."
"Amber, let's go!" shouted her brother. She snapped out of her daze and nodded. With that, the four Iluna Rebels rushed out of their city and into the night.
Within his dark, erie office completed with golden statues of various dragons and sickly green walls, Wang Chao sat comfortably in his ornate, antique armchair, a chalice in his left hand. He stared into the fireplace, listening peacefully to each crackle. Behind him, a door creaked open, and the king let out a heavy sigh.
"Who is it and what do you want?" he said irritated. By the sound of his voice, it was clear he was exhausted.
A older woman's voice replied. "The Senate voted to cut funding for the schools," she said coldly. "Except of course for the one in the first district."
Wang Chao rolled his eyes. "Senator Kiyanu, what a pleasure," he said sarcastically. "The kids in your precious fourth district are smart. What difference are a few mathematics teachers going to make?" He remained gazing at the fire, not even glancing at the angry senator.
"It's not even the schools I'm angry about this time. You bullied elected senators to vote against the people of their own districts so you could increase the amount of diamonds on your fingers!"
"Did I? How so? I didn't force anyone to do anything."
"Yes you did! You used the same scare tactics you always use! This city is supposed to be governed by a limited monarchy, with the king's power restricted by an elected legislature!"
"I always found your work to be useless. I'm not the King so I could take orders from some worn out, lonely, pitiful woman like you!" He sat up straight in his chair, but still refused to turn.
"This is the final straw, Wang Chao! I'm issuing an Amicus to the Court!"
"What use would that do for you? Would the Court possibly take your position?"
"The people will once they find out about what you've been doing for years! I'll expose you!"
"Good luck. Is that all?" Wang Chao smiled, knowing Kiyanu had been defeated. She began to stammer, but surrendered and slowly proceeded to leave.
"And Senator," Wang Chao added. "Don't expect to wake up alive tomorrow."
"I don't," she spat.
Wang Chao grimaced and sunk into his chair after he heard the door slam. He gripped the right armrest so tightly it began to smolder.
A glassy-eyed man with more wrinkles on his face than anyone could count stood behind a podium on an elevated platform in the decorated Kisah Senate chamber, yawning as he spoke. "The Chair recognizes Senator Wang Chao for one minute."
A young, handsome senator made his way down a row of seats to a podium facing the platform from which the older man stood. "Thank you, Mister Senate President," he said. "I rise today disgusted and furious with what I have observed in this legislative body in just my first few weeks in office! I had heard the rumors of this chamber's corruption, but I never imagined that it would be this... abhorrent!" For the remainder of his allotted time, the youthful Wang Chao ranted against his colleagues and the system he had recently become a part of. He pulled no punches, speaking his mind of just about every senator he had come into contact with. When he was finished, his face was red, and he knew exactly what the others were thinking about him, but he couldn't care less. He was being a voice for the people, their only voice. He'd fight tooth and nail every day if he could expose the frauds in his city's government, no matter what the costs.
"The Senator's time has expired," said the irritated Senate President. Wang Chao nodded and turned to march back up to his seat, trying to ignore glares from infuriated Senators. At the time there were thirty-six, two for each district, before the eighteen districts of Kisah were transformed to just six. The future monarch was about to sit down when a man from the seventeenth district stood and grabbed hold of his torso threateningly.
"Look, kid!" he spat. "Every now and then we get a hotshot like you who thinks he's going to fix the whole government and save the day, but they usually come to their senses and knock it off before they do something dangerous. You'd be wise to do the same, before you do something we all regret later." Wang Chao simply stared back at him angrily and let him continue. "Don't be a hero, son. Get in line before we have to make this ugly."
The king flinched in his chair as his memory came to an end. He sat there motionless for a few moments, reflecting on how he had slowly become his worst nightmare.
"I think we should set up camp for the night." Shen broke the silence by making a suggestion she knew might not have been received positively. For the past twenty minutes, Hi Li and Amber had been holding flames in their palms so the group could see the path of goop drops left behind by the carriage holding Komin. Following the trail was difficult in the night, even with the help of fire, because the blobs had been separated by too much space.
"I don't know," said Hu Li. "Who knows when that contraption will run out of goop to drop. I don't wanna lose them."
"We're hardly making any progress if we have too look around for the next mark on the ground. In daylight we'll be able to see them much more clearly."
"Hmmm. Amber what do you think?"
"I never thought I'd say this, but I agree with Shen."
"Tenang?" The Earthbender yawned and nodded.
"Very well. Tenang, I'll stay here with you to give you some light as you make an Earth tent for us. Amber, why don't you go with Shen to find some wood for a fire and get a bearing on our surroundings a bit?"
The two girls ventured off a bit to find anything that could be used to make a fire, and Shen used the opportunity to finally attempt at getting to know Amber.
"So, not even you guys have left Kisah before?"
"Hardly anyone in the city has. I'm not even sure Governor Zhang has. But his wife, Kriyel, something's different with her. I've always felt like she was hiding something and then she shows up out of nowhere tonight..."
"Maybe it was her job to make sure Komin was taken successfully."
"Why would they send royalty to do that? And why did they just take Komin?"
Shen wished she knew how to respond, but she was just as clueless as anybody. "So... if we're not in Kisah. Where are we?"
"The Earth Kingdom, I would assume. Kisah was originally an Earth Kingdom peninsula until the Earth King ceded the land to a wealthy group of families in exchange for money and mercenaries. And- wait."
"They haven't come looking for us. That doesn't make any sense."
Shen was starting to feel uncomfortable. "Well we were walking for a long time. Maybe we're far away now."
"For all we know, we could wake up tomorrow and see that we're only a mile away from those massive steel walls."
"Why are there so many walls?"
"To keep people in, but they'd never admit that."
"It's kinda funny," Shen chuckled. "For me at least. I was kept hidden from the city and anywhere outside that monastery, but the whole city is being blocked from the entire outside world."
Amber grunted, but Shen decided to take it as a laugh. "Does anyone know why they're so terrible? Are they trying to do something?"
"I've heard a few theories." After a silent moment, it was pretty clear to Shen that Amber wasn't going to expand on what those theories were, but she didn't bother to ask. Both girls were content with continuing their search for wood without speaking.
Before too long, they came across a creek with a fallen tree beside it. "Finally," spat Amber. "Go collect as many twigs as possible. I'll gather some leaves for kindling."
"Okay." Shen smiled. She had just gotten one teensy step closer to knowing the real Amber.
But Dad, if it isn't our money we can't just use it!" A little boy around seven years old tugged at his middle-aged father's robes.
"That's enough from you, Zhang."
I don't want to hear it anymore."
The man's wife looked at him, biting her lip. "Wang Chao, don't you have any reservations about using tax money to go on a lavish vacation?"
"When I first met you, you were a champion for the people of this city. Now the underground newspaper groups have you as one of the most corrupt Senators..."
"Oh well." The man looked at his family's faces and almost felt guilty. "Look, in this government, there's no better use of the tax money, so everyone just shut up and enjoy the treat I'm giving you."
Dawn came without any disturbances throughout the night. Yawning, Tenang sat upright and pushed one of the tent's rock "doors" back into the ground. He then noticed that the sun was just piercing the horizon, so he decided to wake up his friends. After nudging the sleeping Amber until her eyes fluttered open, he looked over at Hu Li and Shen, who were much closer to each other than he had remembered when he fell asleep. In fact, Shen's hand was even on his chest. He chuckled lightly and it out to Amber, who responded with a slight smirk.
"Hey love birds, get up!" she snorted.
"Hmmm, what?" mumbled a delirious Hu Li. When Shen opened her eyes, her face immediately turned red and she jumped up, embarrassed.
"That's odd," snickered Amber, "I always thought you'd be more of a sinkhole kinda girl."
"What does that mean?" asked Shen bitterly.
Hu Li leaned into her ear and whispered "It's a term for girls who have sex with Earth Kingdom guys."
"Ew Amber that's gross!"
Tenang looked offended. "Gross?"
The group shared a long laugh before they all remembered that they were on a mission to save Komin. "Speaking of the Earth Kingdom," started Hu Li, "we should be somewhere in the Khoya Province. I guess the only we can do now is look for the goop trail."
It didn't take long to spot the first blot of black ink on the ground by the tent, and the one after that wasn't too far away. "Wait." Shen stopped. "How do we know we're going in the right direction."
Amber thought for a moment, then found the answer in the grass. "See this mud? One of the ostrich-horses stepped in it and left a print. It was facing this way."
"Alright," nodded Hu Li. "We should run." The other three agreed and they began a jog, which slowly morphed into a sprint. None of them could possibly tell how far Komin had gotten, and they desperately wanted to find him before it was too late.
They would never have imagined the kind of place he was being taken to.
"So you see, Wang Chao, I haven't abused taxpayer money. In fact, I've tried to give the people as much of their money back as possible. What have you done for the people?"
Wang Chao, in his fifties, was debating a much younger man in a public forum they both had agreed to. They were considered the top contenders to be elected leader of the city of Kisah, but Wang Chao had no intention of keeping the position an elected office once he took the reigns. The only thing standing in his way was the young, inspiring Senator named Ahmose from the sixth district. Ahmose was a lot like Wang Chao when he was younger, always wanting to "help the people." He hadn't learned yet.
The two men went after each other for just over an hour, and by the end, it was clear that Ahmose had the upper hand. Wang Chao couldn't have been less worried, for his power and influence could defeat three Ahmose's at once. He only need to say the word, and any challenge to his agenda was gone. For this particular setback, he chose to employ his son Zhang's beautiful wife, his daughter-in-law, Kriyel.
"Dear, remember that pact we made not too long ago."
"Ahmose needs to be taken care of. You know where he lives, right?"
"Do it tonight when you're sure he's asleep."
- Khoya is the Hindi word for "lost."
- Trust me, this Ahmose guy becomes much more important. Just wait.
For the collective works of the author, go here.