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Otan adjusts to life with the sulfur merchants, but while going on a walk, they discover some sort of sickness affecting the natural wildlife and that it is spreading to the merchants' workers and bodyguards. Things only get worse when the Waterbending pirates-the Seahounds, show up.
Peace of the World
The sun rose early over the Atoll, baking the sand with its rays. A wind blew in from the west, although it was unlike any wind that Otan had ever felt before-he immediately knew that there was something wrong with it, although he couldn't quite tell what it was.
More troubling were the dead sulfurcrabs that had been washing up on shore over the course of the last few days. Otan had even begun to notice a change in the tropical vegetation on the cluster of islands-the trees and bushes seemed to have lost much of their vibrancy.
"So you've noticed it to," said Zisa behind him, examining the corpse of one of the crabs, "I don't know if it's just the heat, but it's like everything on or around the island is getting sick."
"Are you okay?" said Otan.
Zisa nodded, "Yeah, I'm fine. Daddy's been having everyone drink from our fresh water supply aboard the ship. He says we might be leaving early anyway because the sickness has been affecting the sulfurcrabs so badly that they haven't been surfacing as much. If it keeps going like this we won't be able to supply enough sulfur to give the Fire Nation."
Otan said nothing. The Fire Nation. Fire Lord Sozin. The Avatar. The entire reason he and the others had left the Northern Air Temple in the first place. If the new Avatar didn't receive his training in time, then Sozin would surely make his move on the rest of the world.
"Zisa," Otan began, "What does the Fire Nation do with all of your sulfur anyway?"
Zisa sat down on the beach, drawing her legs up to her chest. "Most likely explosive powder-for their weapons aboard their ships and stuff like that-why?"
Otan sat down beside her, made somewhat uneasy by her candidness "Maybe its better this way-that you won't have any sulfur to give to the Fire Lord's army."
Zisa was taken aback. "How can you say that?" she cried, "My family and friends put our lives into this company and you're saying that what's happened here is a good thing?"
Otan gestured for silence. "I didn't mean it like that," he said, "What I'm trying to say is that weapons and fighting don't always solve everything."
Zisa buried her head in her chest. "That's funny coming from a soldier," she said.
"Well," said Otan, "I guess I'm a funny soldier, then."
Zisa sighed. "It's not like the Fire Nation just goes around attacking people at random," she said.
Otan rolled his eyes.
"The fact is that there are people out there who like to hurt each other,' Zisa continued, "And because of them, everyone caught in between gets hurt, too, whether they deserve it or not. Fire Lord Sozin showed us a world without that kind of senseless violence-and he says that it's his duty to share that vision with everyone. And as a member of the Fire Nation and a Firebender, it's my duty to do everything I can to help that vision become a reality."
Otan said nothing at first and stood up. "I think that the Fire Lord should just leave well enough alone," he said. "I don't know about you, but I'm tired of having someone breathing over my shoulder and telling me what to do."
"Sometimes that's the easy thing to do," said Zisa, "Sometimes it's harder to do the right thing when you don't have someone to tell you-to guide you. All I know is that there are bad people out there in the world-people with power who abuse it-with no-one to stand up to them. The Fire Lord says that if we have the power to stand up to people like that-then we have the responsibility too."
Otan had nothing to say to that. Without another word he stalked off towards the opposite end of the beach, leaving Zisa alone with her thoughts.
Closing the Net
"Southern Water Tribe long-ship spotted off the port bow," said Lahn, looking through a spyglass, "permission to engage, sir?"
General Ghef coughed. "No, wait until they come ashore," he said, "They'll be much more vulnerable once they get close enough to the Atoll."
"Won't they be getting close to the merchant ship, sir?" said Lahn.
"Your powers of observation never cease to amaze, boy," the General said dryly, "Those blasted Seahounds will think that they've found themselves an easy target for a raid." He grinned, steeping his fingers together, "That's when we move in and close the net."
Lahn nodded. "Excellent strategy sir, but what about the Airbenders from a few days ago?"
The General frowned. "According to our source, they're still somewhere on the island. So long as the Shadow Painters continue to sweep the island every day, that should eventually weaken them to where they'll either surrender, or face certain annihilation."
Lahn peered through the spyglass once more at the approaching ship, then turned back to the General, "What should we do for now, sir?"
Ghef grinned. "For now, make sure that all of our men are ready for the attack and that the crew is prepped to move out when I give the command."
Lahn bowed and prepared to leave.
"Oh," the General added, "Make sure our esteemed guest is alerted as well," he said, "Tell him things are about to get a little rough."
"Yes sir. This will be a glorious day for the Shadow Painters," said Lahn.
"Waterbenders!" cried one of the sentries as the long-ship approached the shoreline. Leaping out of the ship came the dread Seahounds; men and women clad in robes of thick fur that made them appear like some sort of nightmarish beasts our of a children's tale.
From some distance away, Otan could see the scuffle between the sentries as they blasted the raiders with flaming kicks and punches. The Waterbenders were ready for them; using their techniques to freeze the bodyguards in place to prevent their Firebending. The fight was over in minutes. Then the Waterbenders spotted Otan, who suddenly realized he was wearing Fire Nation clothes.
"No-wait," he began, but the raiders didn't listen. The foremost of them lifted some surf over his head and sent it spiraling towards the Airbender with deadly force as a frozen spearhead.
Otan instinctively brushed the attack aside with a sweep of his arm, knocking both the projectiles and their originators off to the side. The Seahounds were momentarily confused by Otan's Airbending, giving him time to flee further down the beach where he nearly collided with Zisa.
"Otan!" she cried out, "I'm so glad I found you! I saw the Waterbender ships coming and I couldn't find my dad or anyone!"
Otan's eyes widened. "Did you say ships? As in more than one?" he said, glancing down the beach behind him where a steady fog began to roll its way towards the two of them.
Otan gritted his teeth. "Come on," he said, gripping her hand, "We need to get out of here before they find us." Quickly, he led Zisa into the dying canopy, cutting through bushes and scrub, hoping that the jungle would slow down the Waterbenders as much as it did them. Even so, Otan could hear angry footsteps and shouts of the men pursuing them.
At last, the two of them broke through the canopy back onto the beach where a single dinghy waited. Though barely visible through the Waterbenders' fog, Otan could make out the outline of Jiran's ship. Zisa breathed out a sigh of relief, but Otan noticed man approaching from their left.
"Oh, that's just Tahn," she said, running up to the man, "He works for my father."
The man seemed bewildered and dazed and was rubbing his head, but was relieved to see his master's daughter. "Zisa," he said, "Your mother and father are waiting aboard the ship. They told me to wait here for you while everyone else got away."
Zisa nodded. "Are you alright?" she asked.
"One of those Waterbending pirates tried to hit me over the head," Tahn laughed, "But I guess he didn't take my thick skull into account!"
Otan motioned both of them towards the boat. "We need to get going before they come back."
"Not so fast," came a voice from the fog. Without warning, a watery whip shot out and wrapped around Tahn's legs, freezing on impact and causing him to stumble.
Out of the fog emerged one of the biggest men Otan had ever seen. He was clad in a fur cloak that came down to his knees, the top of it cinched by a Water Tribe-styled clip. He sported a heavy beard visible beneath a metal helmet to which a pair of some sort of tusks or horns were attached to the sides
"I am Captain Hako of the Seahounds, proud warriors of the Southern Water Tribe."
"Warriors?" Zisa spat, "More like pirates-preying on innocent travelers."
Captain Hako grinned as more of the Seahounds began to emerge from all sides.
"All seas belong to the Southern Water Tribe and our northern brothers. If you Fire Nation trash want to make it out of here in one piece I suggest that you surrender all of your cargo to us immediately."
"Try me!" Zisa cried out as she swung her leg out in the air in front of her. A wisp of smoke trailed from her heel.
There was a moment of silence, then the Seahounds burst out laughing. "Was that supposed to hurt?" One woman cried out.
"I'm afraid you'll find that Firebending isn't as effective when the air is full of water vapor!" Hako cried.
"No," said Otan, spreading his hands apart, "But it's perfect for conducting electricity!" Before anyone could react, Otan brought his hands together, sending a trail of lightning streaking towards the Seahounds. However, the bolt went slightly wide of its mark, but the resulting explosion of superheated air sent Hako and his men tumbling to the ground.
"Zisa, run!" Otan cried, shoving her towards the rowboat, "I'll distract them while you get away!"
"What about you and Tahn?"
"We'll be fine," Otan said quickly as they came to the boat, "But you have to get out of here!"
Behind them, the Seahounds were getting their second wind, conjuring up water-whips and more ice spears. Otan sent another bolt of lighting hurtling into their midst. Unlike Firebenders, he couldn't control or generate lightning directly, only replicate the natural conditions of its creation as best he could, resulting in decreased accuracy and control.
Unexpectedly, he felt Zisa's hand on his shoulder.
"I told you to go!" Otan shouted at her, but his face softened when Zisa pulled him into an embrace.
"Come back safely," she whispered in his ear.
With that, she released him and pushed the boat into the water, boarding it just before she disappeared into the fog.
Otan grimaced. The Seahounds had regrouped and were drawing a circle around him.
"It's just you and us now, Firebender." Hako said with a nasty grin.
Otan readied his defense, just as a burning rock struck the ground between them, sending both Otan and the Seahounds flying in opposite directions. When Otan sat up, he could see the fast approaching forms of Fire Nation soldiers in full array as they engaged the Waterbenders. The air was filled with soaring fire and stinging ice and it seemed to Otan that both sides were evenly matched.
But the Fire Nation had the artillery.
Slowly, the Hako and the Seahounds were beaten back and forced to retreat as the battleground was bombarded by flaming debris that burned through their fog cover. When it was over, Otan got to his feet and helped Tahn free himself from his ice-shackles when one of the Fire Nation soldiers approached him. "That was some pretty mean Firebending, Sir," he said with a bow. Taking off his helmet, Otan saw that he was a young man only a few years older than himself. The soldier grinned and extended his hand. "Hi," he said, "Name's Lahn. First Lieutenant."
Otan took it in his own. "Otan," he said, returning with a grin of his own.
A cough rang out from the fleeing mist, and Lahn ran over to the support of an old man in Fire Nation armor. "Ah," said the old man, wheezing, "Otan. I've heard so much about you. Why don't you join me aboard my humble ship for a cup of tea?"
Otan bowed, although it was all he could do to hide the sinking feeling gathering in his gut.
The old man laughed, gesturing towards his men. "Don't look so nervous, boy," he said, "I can assure you that those pirates won't bother us again in the near future. Come, my men will escort us to the ship, we have a bit of a walk ahead of us."
Reluctantly, Otan agreed, nervously eying the twin columns of Firebenders on either side as he walked.
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