Hey everyone! Sorry it's been awhile since my last update, a reading assignment kept me busy throughout the course of the weekend.
Anyway; enjoy the new chapter! Comments would be appreciated.
Roses of the Valley
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Confrontations
The soft silver light poured through the prison entrance, gliding gently over the icy floor. The sun had set, the moon’s radiance filling the horizon.
He had always detested guard duty, the prison boring him practically to tears. The bars of ice were too thick to break. Any waterbender who had found his way to the confines of a cell was secured so that they would be unable to release themselves. It was a boring job, each evening a quiet one.
The sudden arrival of Fire Nation soldiers had changed that, however. He now stood poised at the entrance to their row of cells, granting hawk-like attention to the new inmates. He had heard of their cunning, refusing to allow the Fire Nation to escape on his watch.
They made no such attempt, the majority of the crew sleeping quietly. The captain sat at the center of his cell, his eyes closed as he meditated in silence.
The soldiers were grateful that they had evaded their deaths at the hands of frostbite and starvation. Their treatment by of the Water Tribe had been humane, even considerate. They were thankful enough not to cause needless trouble.
“Shift change,” the second guard entered, bundled tightly in his parka.
“Right!” the first stood rigid, maintaining his careful scrutiny over the prisoners as he made his way towards the door.
“Take care,” the second nodded as he made his way towards the cell.
“Have the door guards been relieved?” he peered over his shoulder as he neared the exit.
“Alright. Good luck,” the guard nodded. He stepped through the door, looking up towards the night sky. A gentle snow fell over the North Pole, a soft sheet of powder coating the ground beneath his feet.
His admiration of the sky above was interrupted by a muffled voice calling out for his attention from behind. He turned quickly, his eyes going wide at the sight.
Ice was draped over their bodies; preventing any movement. It held fast as they struggled, their mouths covered to inhibit sound. The older of the two hinted towards the door with his eyes, signaling that the assailant had entered the prison.
The guard’s eyes went wide, hurrying towards the door with an intense worry. He turned the corner, fumbling wildly as water washed over him. He stared in horror towards the second guard as he motioned his body carefully, the water freezing to pin him just as it had done to the door guards.
Staring hatefully, he screamed out at the guard. The sound was dampened by the ice covering his mouth, his body unable to break free of his confinement.
The second guard walked towards the prison, stopping before the captain’s cell.
He had heard the footsteps, understanding that they had paused just before him. Opening his eyes slowly, he looked up towards the stranger.
He brought his hand to the mask concealing the lower half of his face, pulling it down to reveal himself as his alternate hand removed the hood of his parka. He hoped silently that the motion would permit the captain to trust him in his intentions.
“C’mon,” Yakone instructed. He stepped back carefully, his hands moving quickly as the bars changed to water, washing harmlessly against the captain’s feet as he rose.
The soldier stared, unsure as to how to interpret the waterbender’s action. He recognized the person standing before him, recalling him to be the one who had discovered them on their ravaged ship. The one they had bowed their heads to in thanks. He remained in his cell, pondering carefully.
“We don’t have much time,” the teenager glanced towards the first guard, understanding that someone would happen across them soon enough. He hurried to the next cell, waving his hand towards the captain to rouse him.
The soldiers woke their sleeping cohorts as the bars melted before them, the scene confusing them.
“What, none of you get it? We’re leaving; let’s go!” Yakone stared at the prisoners, their lack of movement agitating him.
“Follow him,” the captain instructed the soldiers as he passed each cell, deciding to invest faith in their rescuer’s actions.
The teenager hurried out of the prison, the soldiers following quickly as he navigated the back alleys of the city. He moved carefully, peering out from every corner to ensure they had not been detected.
It was not long before they had reached a small clearing in one of the most remote sections. A small tunnel stood a short distance from the edge of the ice, water flowing through it calmly. He had spent the past few days using his waterbending to carve it out of the great wall that guarded the Northern Water Tribe, maintaining vigilant watch to ensure it remained undetected. On the other side of the tunnel was the ocean, churning gently beneath the night sky.
The well-stocked raft Yakone had prepared rested idly in the water, someone standing in front of it.
The teenager slowed to a halt, narrowing his eyes as he looked towards the figure between them and the raft.
“I’ve been waiting here, hoping I was wrong. That this raft wasn’t yours,” Miksa glared, gripping his spear tightly.
“Sorry t’disappoint,” he shrugged with a slight grin.
“This isn’t funny, Yakone. You’re going too far this time.”
“These soldiers are no threat to us, you know that.”
“No, I don’t know that!” he hollered, unable to remain patient with his subordinate any longer. “And neither do you! It’s just a matter of luck that one of them hasn’t tried to kill you, yet!”
The captain lifted his arm, motioning his palm towards the soldiers to remain still. He watched the situation attentively, hoping that the waterbender’s motivation for releasing them would be revealed.
“So we should just lock them up because of what they might do?!”
“No! We hold them to ensure the safety of our people! The same people that you insult and ignore by acting on your own like this!” His grip on the spear tightened.
“No, I’m showing them that there’s a greater strength in trust and humanity than in fearful security!”
“Enough!” Miksa yelled, his voice ringing through the dark sky. “This isn’t a debate anymore, this isn’t a matter of me trying to convince you of what’s just. You’ve broken Chief Arnook’s orders, Yakone! You’ve committed a crime!” He stepped back into a stance, brandishing the spear.
The waterbender knew what was to follow. He stepped back into his stance, feeling the ice and water around him.
The captain stared, still sorting through the words that had passed between the two. Understanding that any contribution on his part would only escalate the conflict, he remained silent.
“I have to stop you,” his superior said quietly, his tone hinting at a sorrow.
“No. You’re choosing to stop me,” he glared.
Miksa launched forward with impressive speed, readying the spear as he drew closer.
The waterbender twisted his body, launching his hands up as the ice before the warrior lifted, altering quickly into a strong wave of water.
He dodged skillfully, understanding that any contact with the water would result in Yakone’s victory. He stabbed the spear forward, aiming for the teenager’s arm. He wanted to inflict as little hurt as possible.
He stepped back rapidly, his hands motioning up as he did. Spikes of ice launched up between them, intercepting each of Miksa’s attacks.
The warrior spun with tremendous force, yelling as he lashed the spear out horizontally. It tore through the spike, nearing his subordinate’s torso.
The waterbender leapt back, the tip of the weapon cutting through the very edge of his parka. He spread his legs as he landed, his palms passing one another directly in front of him.
Miksa recognized the technique, stabbing his spear into the ground. He launched himself up as the ground beneath the weapon softened, changing to water. Gripping the end of the instrument, he slammed it down towards Yakone as he fell.
He waved both hands up, water lifting directly in front of him before freezing. It cracked as his superior’s attack fell against it, nearly shattering beneath the force of the blow. Motioning both hands back, he pressed them forward as the shield of ice changed back to water, launching towards the warrior’s gut.
He spun once again, launching his elbow towards the waterbender’s face as his opponent’s attack missed.
Yakone fell back, the attack connecting directly with the side of his head. He pushed himself off of the ground, glaring.
Miksa approached slowly, still gripping the spear as he gazed upon his opponent.
The distant hope of his subordinate’s surrender grew fainter as the teenager turned, ice and snow tearing off of the ground as they shot towards his opponent, altering to powerful streams of water.
Yakone growled, his arms swinging out rapidly as he launched stream after stream at the warrior. Before long, his motions had dug two deep trenches into the ice from either side.
He stepped back, dodging what waves he could while slamming his spear against others to divert them. His stand was admirable, defying nearly all of the waterbender’s attacks. A stream had taken him off guard, the final launching him back to the ground.
Miksa pushed against the ground, glaring as he felt the water soaking him grow colder, stiffer. In almost an instant he was frozen, his gaze following his subordinate as he passed.
“C’mon,” Yakone commanded flatly as he passed the frozen warrior, motioning his hand towards the Fire Nation soldiers.
They passed cautiously, some glancing down towards the frozen Miksa. Without question they followed their captain’s orders, stepping onto the raft.
The waterbender’s hands moved fluidly, motioning towards the tunnel. The water beneath them began shifting, bringing them towards their destination as Yakone manipulated it.
“There’re enough supplies to last you about a month. I’ve packed Water Tribe parkas; wear those ‘til you get to Fire Nation territory,” he instructed calmly as he continued bending the water, his voice echoing gently throughout the tunnel. .
The captain nodded quietly, the situation still shocking him to some degree. He considered that which was happening carefully in attempt to fully comprehend it.
Silence passed as they neared the end, an icy door separating them from the vast ocean. Yakone lifted his hands towards it, breathing deeply as he closed his eyes. He lowered his arms slowly.
The door plunged down into the water before them, the vibrant waves of the ocean disturbing the calm of the water beneath the raft.
“I loaded enough paddles for each of you, and one or two spares. I got you this far.” The teenager turned towards the tunnel, motioning his hands carefully as a small block of ice formed from the water.
“You will remain here?” the captain’s eyebrow rose, understanding the waterbender’s actions to be traitorous to his fellow Tribesmen.
“Yeah,” he shrugged, setting foot onto the ice chunk cautiously. Turning back towards the raft, he gave a gentle smirk. “I don’t regret what I did. I’ll stick around to tell them that.”
The captain nodded. Though he could not understand the source of the teenager’s kindness, he was able to recognize that a great compassion had been demonstrated.
Yakone moved his arms, the ice rotating as he faced back towards the North Pole.
“Waterbender!” the captain shouted out.
“Hmm?” he peered over his shoulder.
“I am captain Shigeo, of the Fire Nation! I thank you for the aid you have given my men and I, and hope that someday, I will be permitted to reciprocate such!” He bowed as he said the words, his soldiers standing to do the same.
“…Hmm,” he smirked slightly as he turned back towards the North Pole, bending the water beneath him to hasten his speed.
“Grab the oars, men. We’re going home,” Shigeo nodded towards the soldiers as he turned towards the horizon. He felt the gentle touch of snow falling against him, looking up towards the distant moon. He smiled, the thought of his family’s reaction to his return warming his body.
The raft cut quickly through the water, disappearing into the distance. The wall of ice separating the tunnel from the ocean rose once more, Yakone bringing it back into place. He balanced carefully atop the ice chunk, motioning his hands constantly to patch the tunnel he had carved. The work exhausted him, needing to catch his breath after freezing over the innermost layer. His makeshift raft floated calmly towards the clearing they had departed from.
He stepped onto the ice, a soft layer of snow coating the ground. Feeling the gentle buckled of snow beneath his boots, he approached before his frozen superior. His hands moved slowly, the ice coating Miksa weakening as it changed back to water.
The moment the ice had lost its hold over him, the warrior sprang forward. He gripped Yakone by the throat, slamming him against the ground. His fist rose towards the sky, poised to strike. His expression grew sterner as he noticed the sight beneath him.
The waterbender smiled softly, confident that he had done what was right.
Miksa glared, wanting more than anything to strike his former subordinate.
A horn cut through the air, interrupting the silence that had passed between the two.
“Ah,” Yakone glanced in its direction as the snow fell over them. “They found the guards.”
The warrior’s grip on the traitor’s throat remained tight, the snow falling softly over them.
Before long other warriors had arrived, making no effort to be gentle as they grabbed Yakone. They carried him away quickly, the satisfied grin never leaving his face.
Miksa stood, watching as he disappeared behind a corner with the warriors escorting him. He sighed slowly, looking up towards the moon.
The snow fell tenderly against his face, bringing him to squint slightly. Silence fell between each flake.
“General Seung! A pleasure to see you once again! I trust your journey went well?” the general stood at the center of the hall, soldiers standing at attention on either side of him.
“General Chul,” Seung offered a polite bow, having not seen his commrade in many years. “I am pleased to report our journey to be a calm one.” His soldiers stood behind him, Yakone standing off to the side beside Xiu with folded arms.
“Excellent; I suspect that you were entitled to such, after reading through your reports.” He took a step back, bowing his head slightly as he motioned for the general to follow.
Seung nodded, grateful for Chul’s notorious hospitality. He walked beside him, the soldiers following carefully as they ensured the safety of the two. “Have the other generals arrived?”
“A few, yes,” he trailed off as he stared back towards his guest’s party. With an amused smile he looked back towards his comrade, laughing heartily. “Such interesting company you keep, Seung!”
“Ah,” he smiled as he peered back towards the group. “Yes, I suppose. I am very grateful for lady Xiu and Yakone’s company, though.”
Chul’s pace slowed as an expression of cautious familiarity filled his face. He glanced back towards the waterbender, turning back towards the hall ahead of them. He whispered carefully, his body rigid for fear of being overheard.
“…I’m sorry, his name again…?”
“Yakone,” Seung’s eyebrow rose slightly as he studied the general’s face.
“Don’t glance back, general Seung.” His tone had taken an edge of harsh command, his eyes narrowing slightly. “Please pay careful attention to what I say here.”
The earthbender said nothing, his expression serious as he stared forward.
“Nearly a month ago, I hosted a small group of Water Tribesmen who had been traveling nearby. They were in need of supplies, and I was more than willing to provide them with such.”
The statement was accurate, reinforcing the general’s hospitality towards all those he considered allies. His critics often interpreted it as a demonstration of weakness.
“One of them….A strong warrior named ‘Miksa,’ he asked if I had ever received a waterbender named ‘Yakone.’ I told him I hadn’t. Of course, I inquired as to the identity of this ‘Yakone’.”
“Of course,” Seung fought the temptation to look back towards the teenager.
“One of the tribesmen grew angry, and then yelled that this ‘Yakone’ was a murderer.”
The earthbender froze, his pace stopping entirely.
“The one named Miksa fell silent. I dropped the topic entirely, feeling it to be a sore point.” Chul drew to a halt, turning to face his fellow general.
“You will pardon me general Chul, for a few moments? There is a matter I wish to discuss with my traveling companion.” His eyes were narrow, his voice low.
“…Of course,” he nodded before taking a final glance back towards the person in question.
Yakone’s eyebrow rose, wondering why their host had suddenly looked towards him.
“I will wait for you in the main hall,” he informed quietly before turning to the others, resuming his broad welcoming smile. “Now then, if you would all be so kind as to follow me as my distinguished guests!” With a quick motion to his soldiers he made his way to the far end of the hall, the group following after.
Seung remained still, his arm rising up slightly to prevent Yakone from passing.
The waterbender looked curiously towards the general, unsure as to his motive for stopping him.
“Please remain here.” His gaze remained fixed on Chul and the other soldiers as they passed through the door, his eyes hinting at a slight agitation.
Xiu glanced towards them, wondering why they had paused. A faint worry crept over her as she caught sight of Seung’s face. The sensation of a soldier placing his hand on her shoulder awoke her from her stare, peering nervously over her shoulder as she continued towards the door.
“Somethin’ wrong?” Yakone squinted slightly as he studied the general.
“A few nights ago,” he began, “I asked you about your origins; what brought you to encounter Bo. It was forward of me, and I apologize.”
The waterbender stared, unable to perceive the slightest hint of the general’s motivation for the statement.
“However, something has occurred that requires me to ask you once again about your background.” He turned slightly, his expression serious as he looked towards the teenager.
Yakone sneered, his eyes narrowing in aggravation at the repeated inquiry.
“None of your business,” he muttered, turning to leave. He stopped as a large sheet of stone tore forth from the wall, obstructing his path.
“This isn’t a request,” Seung glared. Every instance of the waterbender evading the question hinted at the possible accuracy of Chul’s report.
He peered over his shoulder with irritation, staring towards the general. “You really want to do this?”
“No. I would prefer that you trust me enough to answer my question.”
“Too bad,” he turned his head aside, spitting towards the ground before facing towards the earthbender. “Looks like we’re doin’ this, then.”
“You would prefer fighting to peaceful discussion?” his tone grew harsh, unable to understand the waterbender’s reasoning.
“No, I just prefer it to telling some high-and-mighty general all about me,” he glared.
“You’re in an Earth Kingdom base. You can’t possibly think this is the best course of action.” He offered basic reason, hoping to avoid unnecessary conflict.
“Then I’ll just have to get a head start,” he stepped back into his stance as he neared the end of the sentence, moving forward as liquid tore out of his water skin.
Seung noticed the movement of Yakone’s foot, countering early enough to meet the attack. He cupped his hands, lifting his palms as his foot tapped against the ground.
A column of stone shot up quickly between them, intercepting the water whip. The general leaned his body back, thrusting his fists forward as his foot stomped against the ground.
The waterbender turned slightly, his hands moving with speed and fluidity as he formed the water splashing against the stone into a whip once again. His eyes went wide as the ground rose out in front of him, pillars of stone stabbing at him. He dodged back, evading the attack with grace. He glanced back, startled as he felt the sheet of rock the general had obstructed his path with earlier prevent him from moving any further. Looking forward, he stared as the pillars continued towards him.
They slammed into the sheet, a pillar above and beneath each arm. The column nearing his face had stopped just over his chest.
He was pinned.
“There,” Seung announced the end of the match quietly, lowering his hands.
“Lucky,” the teenager muttered in protest, glaring towards the earthbender.
“I’ll ask you again…”
“And I’ll tell you it’s none of your business. Again.” He glared, his emphasis on “again” hinting at the futility of further inquiry into the matter.
“I’m grateful for the aid you provided to us in protecting Ba-Jing; it is for that reason that I chose to ask you about this privately. That privilege was withdrawn when you chose to attack me, rather than speak about it.”
“Why is this so important to you?” his frustration was growing quickly, anger filling every feature of his face.
“General Chul informed me of a group of Water Tribe members who passed through the area,” he began. He hoped that in being forthcoming with information, it would persuade the teenager to do the same.
His eyes went wide upon hearing the news, staring intently towards the earthbender.
“One of them inquired about you, whether you had passed through the area. General Chul answered that he hadn’t, and proceeded to ask about your identity. One of the Tribesmen referred to you as a murderer.”
The anger and wonder had fallen from his face in an instant, as if the word had stabbed directly through his chest. His gaze fell towards the ground, clenching his teeth.
“I would prefer not to trust that report,” he followed. “Personal experience and interaction with you tells me it’s false.”
“It is false!” he yelled angrily, his fists clenching.
Seung watched silently, slightly surprised by the sudden outburst.
“…I didn’t kill anyone.” His tone was low, practically a whisper. “I did the opposite.”
The distant sound of a blue jay cut through the silence, its call easing the discomfort.
“It’s just easier for them to call me that,” Yakone continued quietly as he told his story.
Gousaru turned quickly, his staff slapping hard into Gang’s side, launching him towards a nearby wall. He back flipped high into the air, Bolin’s attack missing as his three section staff cut horizontally against the space Gousaru had occupied a moment earlier.
Boots growled loudly as the spirit landed on his face, balancing carefully as he stabbed the butt of his staff towards the young teenager.
Bolin dodged barely, feeling the staff brush against his hair as he ducked. Scrambling forward, he gripped his weapon tightly.
Wen Lan passed him quickly, leaping up to engage the violent spirit directly. Her feet planted themselves firmly on the protesting rhinos’ snout, her hands stabbing forward in a series of intense strikes.
Gousaru stepped back gracefully, maintaining his balance atop the thrashing beast as he dodged each of her advances. He jumped behind the komodo rhino, his tail swinging out to sweep the young noble’s feet from under her.
She landed awkwardly atop Boots, falling beside him before hurrying back to her feet.
The spirit landed just beside the beast, taken off guard by the sudden swinging of its tail. Launched towards the ground, he screeched as he landed on his hands.
Bolin moved without pause, entering into the pattern of attack he had practiced during each training session.
He brought his staff up to meet each of the youth’s techniques, his terrifying grin enough to counter any soldier’s assault. Screeching slightly in surprise, he stepped back a few paces as the two other humans jumped to aid the teenager.
Wen Lan maintained the intensity of her barrage, hoping to occupy the spirit enough to grant Gang or Bolin an opportunity for attack.
The gruff bodyguard growled as he thrust his fist forward, a wave of fire bursting forth.
Bolin’s eyes went wide as he stared at the fire, instantly recognizing the old guard’s nation of origin. His body stopped, the realization having taken him off guard.
Boots tore forward, lifting his head in another attempt to gore the antagonist.
Gousaru grasped the foremost horn of the beast, flipping himself onto its back. Leaping off of it, he raised the staff, his gaze locking onto the motionless youth.
Zian’s grandson stared up, collecting himself enough to realize the impending attack. Fear gripped him as he tightened his hold over his weapon.
Gang yelled as he jumped, turning his body so as to swing his leg towards the spirit’s throat, flames tearing off of it.
The violent spirit twisted his body, his staff meeting with Gang’s foot to deflect the attack. He jumped back as he landed, screeching as he slapped his staff against the ground wildly. His wild outburst stopped as Wen Lan stepped in for another attack, moving quickly to dodge her.
“You alright?” the old firebender grunted quickly, his gaze fixed on Gousaru.
“Y…Yeah,” he nodded, realizing that a firebender had just saved his life.
“Good! Be more careful!” he scolded as he tore forward.
Bolin watched him move, nodding obediently. Firebender or not, the old guard was risking his own life to protect the village. That made him an ally, one to be depended upon. The teenager focused as he launched himself towards the spirit.
Gousaru screeched loudly, aggravated by the interference of so many opponents at once. He devoted his left side to fending off the young noble’s attacks, his right rising to meet the gruff bodyguard head on.
Gang glared, growling lowly as his attacks became more heated. His eyes went wide as he felt a hand wrap around his palm, realizing the opponent had utilized the hand at the end of his tail once again.
The hand slapped the firebender’s attack aside before shooting up towards his face. The guard’s hands rose up to grasp the tail, feeling the ground disappear beneath him.
Wen Lan and Bolin stared in horror as Gousaru leapt up to the roof of a nearby building, his tail hoisting Gang up with him.
The spirit howled loudly as it twisted its body, launching the bodyguard towards Rou’s estate with incredible force. He screeched, flipping back down to deal with the others.
She silently reminded herself of Gang’s supreme constitution, understanding that worrying about his safety would only stunt her attacks. She instead launched herself forward once again, stabbing her hands out towards the spirit in an intense flurry.
Gang crashed into the room, rolling along the floor until he collided with something soft gathered towards the center. The door had broken his fall for the most part, rendering the pain negligible. Storming towards the now broken entrance, he lifted his hands to dust his armor off. He froze as his fingers brushed over a liquid.
His eyebrow rose, staring down towards his fingers to examine the substance in what little light the broken door provided. He could feel no pain, suggesting it to be something other than blood.
The old guard sniffed at his fingers before taking a quick taste, glancing around the room curiously. Peering back towards what he had collided with, he noticed a large fractured basket, its contents bleeding out over the floor.
The walls of the large room had been lined and stacked with the baskets, a pile of them grouped together in the center. He whispered quietly as he studied the contents further, recognizing the taste.
The distant sound of Boots’ cry broke him from his focus, his feet slamming against the floor as he hurried out of the room.
“Thank you for granting us passage,” Jung bowed towards the fisherman and his apprentice, standing on the same dock they had departed from a day earlier.
“It’s...It’s no problem! Our honor, really!” the fisherman beamed as he bowed anxiously. He and his apprentice had waited at Kyoshi Island since dawn for the chance to escort the Demon of War back to the village, thus securing further bragging rights over the others.
“I wish you well,” the warrior withdrew a few coins from his pouch, handing them to the fisherman before turning to leave.
“Is it…Is it Earth Kingdom money?” the apprentice whispered as he tried to study the coins.
“Of course it’s Earth Kingdom money, nitwit! What else would it be?!”
“I don’t know! Demon money? I was just curious!” he sneered.
“Demon money, feh! Go get the nets ready, we’ve still got fishin’ t’do,” he grunted as he folded his arms.
Grumbling, the apprentice made his way towards the other end of the small boat.
The fisherman peered down into his hand, studying the coins carefully to determine if they were in fact, Demon money.
“I saw that,” the boy muttered.
“Shut up, get to work.”
“You done?” Ryoko withdrew her pipe from her mouth, snorting out two quick bursts of smoke from her nostrils.
“Yes,” he answered calmly as he arrived next to her.
“You still always stop to thank people,” she chuckled. She stepped forward, glancing out over the village to give it a quick study. “So, where to? Bai-Jing?”
“Yes,” he nodded, walking towards the main street.
“Hey, where’re you going?” her eyebrow rose as she watched him walk away, his actions contradicting the answer he had just given.
“This is the way to Bai-Jing,” Jung turned towards her.
“Yeah, if you want to go the long way. Here, I know a shortcut.” She nodded her head towards the mountains, visible in the distance.
He nodded obediently, walking beside her as they made their way down the path.
Hey again, everybody! A couple of things, please bear with me.
-Glad to be updating once again! This chapter marks a couple of points I've been looking to get to.
-This chapter features a cameo! Being that I don't want to spoil it, it'll be creditted at the very end. But I'm very excited about it!
-I've been wondering if the story's worth submitting in certain places. I'd rather not post it somewhere where no one's reading it, so I'm going to ask you this favor: If you read the story here on the Distant Horizon board, PLEASE comment. I'm thinking of cutting down the number of places I submit it in. If I don't really hear anything, I'll pack it up and head out. No harm, no foul.
Thanks guys! Enjoy the new chapter!
Roses of the Valley
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Raging Spirits
Yakone stood at the center of the plaza, guards positioned to either side of him as Arnook stared with an expression of suppressed fury. His wife sat to his side, her eyes revealing a disappointment in the actions of her fellow Tribesman.
Pakku’s arms remained folded as he looked towards his student, scowling silently.
“Have you nothing to say?” Arnook broke the silence, his tone soft as he fought to maintain his civility.
“I shouldn’t have to say anything,” he answered smugly. “I did what was right.”
“You acted of your own volition; you endangered our tribe for the sake of a rash ideal!” his tone grew heated, the waterbender’s manner infuriating.
“Since when is humanity a ‘rash ideal’?” his eyes narrowed.
“Our decision to imprison the Fire Nation soldiers was made after careful consideration; we had every intention of treating them fairly, of ensuring that they were not brutalized. You refused this and risked the safety of all those within our walls!”
“No, I released innocent people who did nothing to wrong us, who had no intention of causing us harm!” He stepped forward, stopping as the guards crossed their spears before him.
“You had no guarantee of their compliance! You violated our customs…”
“Customs don’t take precedence over humanity!”
“Enough!” the Chief’s voice rang through the plaza.
“Fine, whatever. Just toss me in the prison, set me to community service, whatever the punishment is.” Yakone settled himself apathetically, having understood from the very beginning that there would be consequences for his actions.
“No.” Arnook spoke gravely.
The waterbender’s eyebrow rose, the statement taking him off guard.
“This is no longer a difference of opinion. You chose not to trust the will of our people; you knowingly and willingly defied my order. In doing so, you’ve proven only that we cannot trust you.” His tone carried a great sadness.
“What are you saying?” his eyes narrowed, his heart beating faster.
“Yakone. As of this moment, you are banished from our tribe.”
Silence rang through the plaza, all those within its walls understanding and agreeing with the Chief’s decision.
The teenager stared, his eyes wide with horror as shock tore through him.
“No,” he whispered. “No, you can’t just send me away!” he glared, his body tightening with anger.
“I will grant you one hour to arrange your provisions. At that time, the guards will escort you to a raft.” His tone was low, seeming deaf to the waterbender’s protests.
“So this is what it’s come to?! You’ll just get rid of me; shut up the one person who tells you you’re wrong?!” He started forward, struggling against the guards as they held him back.
“My decision is final.” Arnook closed his eyes, a large part of him wishing that the situation hadn’t come to this.
He struggled harder, the guards pushing against him to cease his advance. He fell back, his frame motionless as he lie on the ground. Rising slowly to his knees, he faced stubbornly away from the others.
“Fine,” he muttered as he rose to his feet, the guards stepping to either side of him as he left the hall.
Pakku stared after him, glowering in disappointment at his pupil’s rash decision.
There was little he felt compelled to pack. The intensity of his anger had pushed him to associate everything with bitterness, desiring nothing more than to forget the North Pole. The walk to the raft was a quiet one, people gathering and whispering as they watched him pass.
He could see his raft in the distance, glaring as he recognized the approaching figure of his mentor.
Pakku’s eyebrow rose as he viewed the teenager’s expression, easily reading the anger in it.
“You sealed your own fate; don’t blame others for it,” he warned coldly as they passed one another.
“Shut up, old man.” His response was quick, having suspected the old jerk could not let such an opportunity to be condescending go to waste.
“Even after being banished, you still don’t learn to watch your tongue,” he scolded lightly, pausing as he looked back towards his exiled pupil.
“I don’t need your lectures.” He glared over his shoulder towards the veteran waterbender, slowing his pace slightly as the guards began to move ahead of him.
“I always warned you your arrogance would get you in trouble,” he narrowed his eyes slightly. “You assumed you were right; and did something foolish because of it.” He turned contemptuously, having nothing further to say to the teenager.
Yakone drew to a halt, his frame rigid with frustration. He whipped around quickly, lashing his arm out. A thick burst of water tore out of the ground beside him, rushing towards the pompous mentor.
Pakku’s eyebrow rose up slightly, the approaching water nearly taking him off guard. He twisted his body, leaning back as he motioned his palms towards the incoming water. His hands moved quickly, sending the sudden attack aside. He stood tall as he glared disdainfully towards the waterbender.
“One last treacherous act before you go?” he mocked.
“Just tired of hearing you shoot your mouth off; figure I’ll put you in your place before I go.” He lashed his arm from one side to the other, streams of water thrusting the two guards away from him.
“Fine,” Pakku smirked slightly as he stepped into his stance. “If being exiled didn’t teach you respect, this should.”
Yakone gave the old jerk no chance to initiate, turning his body with tremendous force as his hands neared the ground. He pressed his palms in his opponent’s direction, a strong wave of water tearing towards him.
Pakku met it calmly, bringing his palms forward before bringing them firmly to either side. The wave split in two, moving in rhythm with his body as he brought it to circle around him in two thick streams. He brought them together, combining them into the same attack his former pupil had unleashed upon him a moment earlier.
The calm was matched, the teenager maintaining his focus as he leaned back. His hands lifted quickly, a sheet of ice curling in front of him to deflect the incoming attack. He tightened his arms, narrowing his eyes as the shield of ice melted quickly to water. It tore along the ground towards the veteran waterbender.
He took another step forward, motioning his hands up carelessly as the approach water rose up. His palms faced one another as the water quickly took on a spherical shape. It rose skyward, freezing as jagged slivers of ice rained down around his opponent.
Yakone pointed his hands to either side, each darting towards the sky as two bursts of water rose up over him. They froze instantly, the sound of ice sliding across them ringing through the air. He thrust both hands forward, the ice flowing quickly into water as it raced towards his opponent.
Pakku evaded the basic motion easily, his hands tracing gracefully to either side as the ice around him rose up, changing to water as he began swirling it around them. The wall of water grew thicker as it brought the two closer to one another.
The teenager grinned, his arms waving quickly around him as he pulled a section of the wall towards him, the water engulfing him completely.
The veteran waterbender’s eyes narrowed, having never seen Yakone employ the tactic before. He peered quickly to the side as the wall curved, forming a thick ramp of ice.
Yakone slid along it, focusing carefully as he prepared to strike his former mentor.
The trick did nothing to rouse him, Pakku’s hands moving carefully to remove the ramp from the equation. He waved his hands to the side, the ramp melting as it tore out from beneath the teenager’s feet.
He landed carefully, waving both arms forward as water began to shoot up from beneath his opponent, attempting to encase him in a column of ice.
The old man twisted his body, his palms moving with fluid precision as the liquid rose around him, dispersing suddenly in every direction. He stopped in his stance, grinning as he watched his former pupil.
“A shame; you have the talent, but you lack the discipline.” He dodged to the side as thin shards of ice shot towards him. His hands moved quickly, countering with the same technique.
Yakone evaded each carefully, swatting some aside. He thrust his palms out towards the ground between them, launching another stream of water at his opponent.
Pakku gained control of it, launching it to the side. The maneuver left him unimpressed, having expected something a little more entertaining. His eyes grew wide as he caught sight of the waterbender, rushing in quickly from behind his simple attack.
The teenager stabbed his hands forward in rapid succession, glaring as the waterbending master blocked each.
He moved one hand back as he intercepted another of Yakone’s jabs, a wave of water tearing up towards him.
Taking one step forward, the teenager dodged the technique. Recognizing the opportunity, he brushed both hands towards Pakku.
A burst of water slammed against him, forcing the veteran waterbender back. He lowered his arms, glaring.
“I suppose now is an appropriate time to end this,” he explained with a calm confidence, stepping back into his stance once more.
The teenager’s smirk held fast as he waved both hands towards his opponent. Water rose from the ground to either side of him, combining into one powerful stream.
Pakku turned quickly, gaining control of the attack. He twisted his body, the water flowing around him in a thick circle.
He stepped back, readying his defense as he observed the old man’s maneuvers. A powerful burst of water tore towards him, its unexpected velocity knocking him off guard.
The water surrounding Pakku grew stronger, its momentum increasing as he maintained the technique. Another burst of water shot forward, followed by another.
Each knocked Yakone further back, unable to intercept them at the force they were moving at. He resigned to dodging, hurrying forward to disrupt the flow of his opponent’s moves.
The circle grew closer, wrapping around the waterbending master as he rose slightly off of the ground.
His former pupil simply stared, eyes wide. He had never seen the technique before.
Pakku shot towards the ground, the water spreading out in every direction with tremendous power.
He felt the water slam against his chest, felt the solid ice below slam into his back as he hit the ground. Regaining his senses, he stared hatefully towards the old jerk.
He approached calmly, passing the young waterbender nonchalantly.
“Maybe your travels will teach you to calm that tongue of yours.”
“Get back here,” he growled lowly, gripping the ice. “I’m not done with you!”
Pakku gave no answer, walking away calmly.
“Get back here!” he screamed as he started forward, stopping as the guards rose their spears to his throat from behind.
“That’s enough,” one commanded.
He glared after the victor, punching his fist against the ice. He rose stubbornly, storming towards the distant raft.
The raft had been packed with enough supplies to get him safely to solid ground. Villagers had gathered around it, staring silently towards the exile as he approached.
He grimaced, feeling each of their eyes as if they pierced through him. Throwing what little he had packed onto the raft, he settled himself on it. He turned towards the other members of the Water Tribe, watching as the guards who had escorted him pressed the butts of their spears against the small vessel to send it on its way.
Their cold stares tore through him, each increasing his anxiety as he floated away. Girls who had flirted with him, gossiped when he passed, now watched with an almost pitying distance. Woman and mothers who had scolded him for being so cocky watched with contempt. Men simply sneered, feeling the brat had gotten what he deserved.
“Fine!” he yelled as the raft drifted further away. “You want me gone, I’ll go! You’re all so paranoid about your safety that you’ll get rid of anything you think is a threat, even if it’s one of your own! I’m better off alone!” he turned away, icy walls surrounding him on all sides.
Miksa stared from the distance, his eyes conveying a great sorrow as he watched his subordinate suffer.
The benders lowered the water level, bringing the raft to the entrance tunnel to the Northern Water Tribe. The door rose quickly, the teenager bending to propel his raft.
He stared back towards the North Pole as it grew smaller on the horizon. His face burned as he clenched his teeth. Fighting the urge to look back, he sat facing the South.
Yakone buried his face in his sleeves, tears lining his cheeks as he sobbed quietly.
The two remained silent, the waterbender staring towards the ground as he remained pinned against the stone slab.
Seung closed his eyes, now fully aware of the story.
“…The soldiers were most likely redeployed upon arriving back in the Fire Nation, to enact the will of the Fire Lord. That’s why they called you a murderer,” he guessed quietly.
“Yeah,” the exile stared at the floor, the word just as painful after he had explained himself.
The general motioned his hands firmly, the pillars and slab returning to the points they had originated from.
The waterbender rubbed his wrist, the pin having been uncomfortable. He looked towards Seung, curious as to what came next.
“…Before I was promoted to the rank of general, I served under general Dak-Ho. He was notorious throughout the Earth Kingdom army for his ruthlessness. So much so, that he was transferred to the relatively quiet Kun Valley in the hope that it would curb his brutality.”
Yakone watched curiously, his eyebrow rising as he wondered where the general’s line of thought was going.
“There were many times where he would order the death of someone, when such was far from necessary…I’ve always done my best to follow orders and remain loyal. But in those instances…” he smiled softly, unsure as to whether to be proud of his insubordination or not. “I would help those who were genuinely innocent to escape. In my mind, I regard such as merciful.”
The waterbender studied the general carefully, squinting as he tried to discern whether he was telling the truth or not.
“On one occasion, I was ordered to kill a messenger. He meant no harm, and was young. You might know him,” he smiled.
He looked curiously at Seung.
“He goes by the name ‘Shui,’ now.”
His eyes grew wide, the statement shocking him. He had no idea the firebending idiot had been spared by the earthbender’s hand.
“On another occasion, I spared two bandits from prison. Those two bandits, Feng and Enlai…And Shui. They helped to protect Bai-Jing when Kazuki infiltrated it. In instances such as those, I’m grateful I showed mercy. And though I can understand the reasoning behind your Chief’s decisions...I feel your decision was admirable.” He nodded slightly as he offered the words, dismissing any suspicions he had of the youth.
Yakone paused for a moment, taking in the general’s words. He smirked slightly, Seung being the first to ever give any form of approval to his actions towards the Fire Nation soldiers.
“Thanks,” he nodded, his smug grin returning.
“Now, it’s probably best that we meet with the others. I suspect general Chul will want to review new strategies with me,” he looked towards the end of the hall as he began walking.
“Right,” he walked beside the earthbender, his air of confidence having returned to him entirely. “One question.”
“Hmm?” he glanced towards the waterbender.
“How long’ve you and Xiu been an item?” he grinned.
Seung’s face went red, his pace faltering slightly as he stared hard towards the approaching door.
Yakone laughed as they neared the end of the hall, a blue jay chirping in the distance.
Boots stumbled back, having taken another heavy blow to the skull.
Wen Lan’s breathing grew harder, her arms aching from the attacks she had been forced to block. She hurried forward, clenching her teeth as she tried to take the spirit off guard.
Gousaru’s arms moved with rapid grace as his staff swatted aside each of Bolin’s advances. He lashed out with a low horizontal stroke, moving full circle to take both of his assailants’ feet out from under them.
The teenager fell to his knee quickly, bringing the three section staff up to intercept the motion. His block did nothing to slow the spirit’s maneuver, the force of the blow sliding him back.
The young noble turned her body, kicking off of the ground as the weapon drew nearer. She flipped backwards, lashing both feet out towards their opponent’s head.
Bolin took advantage of the opportunity she had provided, gripping his weapon as he dashed towards Gousaru from behind.
The spirit darted back quickly, readying the staff as he prepared to overtake her. His tail struck out vertically, launching the incoming teenager back.
His evasion did nothing to surprise her, Wen Lan having anticipated the dodge. She landed in a crouching position, turning towards him in one fluid motion. Her muscles tightened as she rushed him, her hands thrusting forward in an intense series of strikes.
Gousaru chattered lowly as he lifted his bracers to intercept each attack. His tail shot towards her throat, the hand at the end of it opening in preparation to strangle her.
Her eyes grew narrow as her focus increased, leaning in to dodge the powerful fingers. She could feel the tail graze roughly against the cloth covering her right shoulder as she stepped in, her hands stabbing towards his throat.
He screeched loudly, flipping back to avoid her. He slapped his staff against the ground wildly, protesting the interference of the unfamiliar humans. A thunderous noise broke his tantrum, powerful footsteps charging towards him.
Boots slammed into the spirit, rearing his head back as he launched him into the air.
Gousaru flipped, landing near the wall that divided Rou’s estate from the rest of the village. His horrific grin gave no indication of the attack’s effect, his body exhibiting no signs of damage.
The komodo rhino slid to a halt, his claws digging into the ground as he growled at the opponent.
Wen Lan’s hands remained in front of her, approaching slowly from the left. She squinted as she studied the spirit, anticipating another violent outburst. Sweat traced softly over her temple.
Bolin gripped the three section staff, stepping in from the right. Pain and fear coursed through his body, Gousaru daunting him even in stillness.
Boots disrupted the pause, snorting as he charged the villager’s tormentor once again. His snout lowered, attempting to gore the resilient enemy.
The spirit stepped forward with incredible speed, both hands gripping the staff as he slashed it up just under the beast’s jaw.
The komodo rhino let out a muffled cry, the attack hitting against his throat. He shook his head from side to side, snorting angrily as he attempted to dismiss the effects.
Gousaru gave him no quarter, stepping in quickly with another hard strike to the snout. His staff whipped through the air rapidly as he beat down on the mighty creature.
Wen Lan darted towards him, her hands tightening as she prepared to defend the komodo rhino.
Bolin rushed forward, readying his weapon.
Boots moaned loudly as he collapsed. He had sustained an incredible amount of punishment at the spirit’s hands. He breathed deeply as he tried to regain his strength, growling lowly in agitation.
Gousaru turned quickly, his arms lifting as the bracers intercepted the teenager’s attack.
He pulled back slightly to offer a second strike, his eyes going wide as he noticed the spirit’s leg rushing towards him.
He balanced effortlessly on his left foot as the right gripped the teenager by the face. His leg moved with incredible speed, slamming the opponent’s head into the wall of Rou’s estate.
Bolin fell to his knees, slipping quickly from consciousness. The three section staff slipped from his grasp, the teenager falling against the ground.
Wen Lan thrust her foot towards Gousaru’s head, her eyes going wide upon realizing herself to be the spirit’s only remaining opponent.
He evaded each of her attacks, his staff cutting through the air with tremendous force in attempt to strike her.
She maintained her focus, sweat falling gently from her face as she twisted her body to avoid his staff. Her muscles burned, the strain of the fight infecting her. A sudden interruption disrupted her concentration, staring up towards the top of the wall of Rou’s estate.
The sound had caught the spirit’s ears, his gaze turning towards the noise.
Gang yelled loudly, his leg ablaze as he neared the ground. The light of the fire illuminated the alley, the flames trailing the earth between them as he slammed his foot against it.
Gousaru screeched, dodging back quickly to avoid the attack.
The old bodyguard refused the opportunity, fire tearing through the air between them as he attacked in a rapid combination of punches. His pace had grown ferocious, the spirit’s power enraging him.
His bracers lifted to deflect each advance, his body moving quickly as he avoided the fire. His tail shot forward, pushing against the gruff firebender’s chest to allow him a momentary pause.
Wen Lan leapt out from behind her old friend, her eyes narrowed as she resumed his rhythm. Her leg cut through the air, her foot striking against the spirit’s jaw. She took no time to celebrate the success of the maneuver, stepping forward as soon as she landed.
Gousaru gripped her by the face with his right hand, turning quickly as he threw her.
She gasped, bracing herself before hitting the ground. She rolled along it, stopping as she collided with what had been a merchant’s stand.
The old bodyguard had collected himself, clenching his fist as he prepared to launch a second assault. His eyes went wide as Gousaru interrupted him, his mighty fist slamming hard against his face.
The spirit continued his barrage, striking repeatedly against the firebender before kicking him back. He had grown weary of the interruptions, unwilling to toy with them any longer.
Gang slid along the ground, shaking his head as he attempted to collect himself. He winced, sitting up quickly to engage his opponent once again. He glared as he realized the alley to be devoid of the spirit’s presence, cursing under his breath.
The top of the archway buckled as Gousaru landed upon it. He sniffed the air, his wild grin constant as he studied the estate. His gaze stopped on the door of the main entrance, the same he had heard click shut earlier. Chattering with quiet delight, he dropped to the ground.
The villagers within could hear the heavy thud as his mighty frame landed, some gasping in horror. They held one another fearfully, praying to be spared of his violent bloodlust.
Rou’s hand moved faster, the fan waving quickly in desperate attempt to conceal her terror.
A cold sweat formed over Zian’s brow, hoping silently that his grandson was alright.
Li Mei stared towards the door intensely, her eyes straining as her hand rested on Zian’s shoulder.
She knew her old friend wouldn’t allow the spirit to harm them.
Gousaru looked up, motionless as he stared towards the shadowed entrance. He leapt towards it, stopping a few feet from the door.
A figure stepped out from the shadows, revealing himself beneath the soft silver light of the moon.
The spirit jumped back slightly, screeching loudly as he beat his staff against the ground. The presence of yet another obstacle infuriated him.
Chin-Hwa stood directly in his path, his frame firm with determination as he stared defiantly at Gousaru.
“…So we come out on the southern end of the Si Wong Desert. We cut through the Southwest part of it and wind up right on track. Shaves a couple days off the trip,” Ryoko explained as they made their way through the Howling Wind Pass.
“What brought you here originally?” Jung studied their surroundings, the unwelcoming terrain hinting that his master had not sought the area out intentionally.
“Eh,” she shrugged. “Some soldiers were after me just north of here; figured I’d lose ‘em in the mountains.” She slipped the tip of her pinky finger into her ear, twisting it slightly as she fished out a particularly irritating bit of wax.
“Hmm,” he noted quietly. The explanation did little to surprise him, such was commonplace for her.
“Oh; we’re stoppin’ at Yon on the way t’Bai-Jing,” she noted as she stepped over a large boulder.
“Why?” He was curious as to what the village had offered that captivated her interest.
“Last time I was there, they had really good sake.” She grinned as she glanced back towards him.
He said nothing as they pressed on, the reasoning also commonplace of his mentor.
“They’re alone,” his lieutenant confirmed in a hushed tone.
Koro stood silently atop the ledge, glaring scornfully towards them as they continued.
Age and anger weighed the old man’s features, years of combat and harsh living shaping his muscles. A large scar decorated his unshaven face, tracing from the bottommost part of his right jaw towards his eye. The eye itself was pale, hinting at its blindness. He proudly wore a Fire Nation do as a trophy, the handprint of the firebender he had taken it from burned into his chest. His pants were simple, his legs wrapped in bandages. A katar was strapped to each of his wrists, the tattoo of a dragon adorning each shoulder.
“Who are they?” His tone was low and gruff, the figures familiar to him.
The young lieutenant approached calmly, squinting as he studied the two travelers.
Small jewels decorating the rim of his finely crafted hat, the trophy of his encounter with an Earth Kingdom noble who had been foolish enough to cross through the Pass. He wore a sturdy pair of gauntlet, a large ruby decorating the right. The lieutenant eagerly awaited the opportunity to secure a match for the left. Upon his waist and legs were the fatigues of an Earth Kingdom soldier, tattered only slightly by the hazards of the mountains. A large gem of onyx was secured to the topmost part of his left greave, furthering the demonstration of his affinity for precious stones.
“The Demon of War.” He answered in an intrigued tone, surprised by the warrior’s unprecedented presence in the region.
“Hmm,” Koro grunted. “The other?”
“Ryoko.” He had recognized the woman from her wanted posters.
“They have bounties?” he considered quietly whether the two were worth bothering with. Criminals wanted by the Earth Kingdom rarely carried anything of value.
“She is. Wanted posters of late show his bounty to be decreasing.”
“How much is she worth?”
“Enough,” he answered simply.
“I said; how much is she worth?” Koro narrowed his eyes, glancing towards the lieutenant impatiently.
“Half of yours plus mine,” he smirked, finding the silent pause as the old man calculated the value to be hilarious. His wit was quicker and sharper than his superior’s; he enjoyed any opportunity to demonstrate such.
The old man was cunning, but incapable of recognizing the taunt. He nodded his head slightly after careful consideration.
“Enough. What other groups have the scouts picked up on?”
“The Emerald Scorpions and the Silver Sparrowkeets.”
“Feh,” he grunted disdainfully. “Take half the men and block the path towards the Northern end. Come in from both sides when they reach it; I’ll come in from the back with the others.” He motioned his hand towards the Northern end as he issued the command.
The teenager felt slight disappointment in the simplicity of the maneuver. He could not argue its effectiveness however, and nodded obediently. He turned to gather the other bandits, stopping as the old man called out to him.
The lieutenant peered over his shoulder.
“Don’t screw it up,” he ordered gruffly. His hand rose, the tip of the right katar tracing lightly over the top edge of the do. It was an unconscious action, one that represented the severe repercussions that awaited failure.
“Of course not.” Hon Yan smirked, turning as he made his way towards the camp.
Hon Yan is copyright Booter Freak. Thank you very much for granting me permission to use him!