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Author Topic: The Avatar Saga: Azula's Redemption [Pg-13] UPDATED 2/25 with ACT II  (Read 48306 times)
flamehead23a
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« Reply #100 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:11 pm »

Wow... I'm pushed back all the way to the second page! either so many writers have started/updated their work, no one's bothering to read/comment on this monstrosity anymore, or I haven't updated in forever.

probably a bit of all three.  Grin

okay, time for act II! but first, I'll reply to some comments. (bare with me..if you've waited a month or so, you can wait another few seconds...)

ATL: thanks for the glowing review! as always, your words keep me happy and productive. ^^ and once again, don't worry about not beta'ing in time...I fully understand your RW constraints and priorities.

FirelordAzula: heh, unfortunately the one person who will never forgive me for my hiatuses (hiatusies? hmm...) is me. I feel guilty as all get-out, but at least now we can finally get back to business! I'm glad you enjoyed the scenework...I've tried to give the entire story (and this chapter in general) a very cinematic feel to it. Good to know it's working, if only for some people here and there. Smiley

NeeNee: I'm glad someone's feeling for Azula--lord knows she isn't getting much love from the Rhino camp right now! Nice catch, btw. You've got good reason to be wary of Hama...as you'll soon see. Just so you know, this entire first season has mostly been designed to re-acclimate you all to the Avatar world and the situation it's facing...the real evolutions are just now beginning. Cheesy

Djinn: I think I remember already PM'ing you about your post, so I'll be short. Hope you've caught up, because this chapter's a doozy. Still glad you caught/enjoyed my little homage, and if you are indeed current, then you should have a good  idea as to how Mat fits into the Avatar-verse events at large.

T-town: I'll answer your question by posting a chapter. how's that sound? ^^

alright, so without further ado...Act II: The Duel.
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flamehead23a
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« Reply #101 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:24 pm »

The Avatar Saga—Azula's Redemption
Finale Act II: The Duel
By Flamehead23a

Disclaimer: All Avatar the Last Airbender characters, locations, and other things of that sort belong to their perspective owners. Matthias, Fenghuang, and other original elements are property me. Flamehead23a. This guy typing right now.

A/N: hyperlink in the first sentence, click, load, hit play, and enjoy!

                                                       …\/…\/…\/…

Midnight, and the Moon had finally ascended to claim her vaulted peak of power. The time was ripe for ceremony in her name—and it was at that moment, before the indomitable Wu Lian and his Dai Li, the silent Vachir and his Yu-Yan, and the teaming Rhino Horde led by Second Captain Kahchi, that Hama and the men and women that made up her Haima Hana, her Blood Edge, began their ancient craft. 

The altar, an amalgam of frigid blue ice and ivory bleached bone, stood frozen above the swaying tides. Atop it sat a massive cast-iron cauldron, the onyx black of its metal shell contrasting sharply with the sickly orange glow of the bone-fueled flames that curled from beneath and the dark carnelian blood that swirled within. Before the cauldron stood Hama, all withered hands, grayed hair, and thick fur cloaks. She waited until she was sure her celestial mistress had climbed to her highest before finally spreading her arms and deigning to speak.

“La and Tui are spirits of duality. Push and pull, yin and yang, ocean and moon. Before the age of the Avatar these two spirits taught the true people, the Water Tribe, how to bend water, the element of life. After their teaching was complete, they shed their immortal coils and joined the true people, guiding them to harmony and prosperity.”

Hama raised her arms skyward. “Though the spirits chose to reside amongst us, they did so at a great cost. Their mortal bodies couldn’t contain the power of such ancient spirits, so Tui and La were forced to place most of their power in the very ocean and moon they had left behind. It’s these vestiges of power that we waterbenders feel around us, ebbing and flowing as the two bodies circle one another in their eternal dance.”

In smooth, flowing arcs, Hama’s arms moved. On the beach, the attention of those near one of the beached Rhino ships was attracted by a sudden, low moan that came from within the vessel’s darkened bowels.

“Just as the moon gives us power, the ocean gives us life. It flows into all living things—plants, animals, the true people—and it’s this life the ocean provides that fuels the moon’s power. That power stirs life within the ocean, and so the cycle begins again.”

Out of the ship a figure staggered onto the beach. It was the gaunt and wispy form of a man—one so virulently disgusting and contemptible that those soldiers nearby actually broke formation to stay out of his way. He stumbled towards the altar, a mass of greasy hair and tattered Fire Nation army rags, of blistered feet and blackened nails. Those whose unfavorable karma deemed them close enough could notice poorly healed scars upon his face, travelling in six thin lines from forehead to chin. As his mouth was gagged, they could not see his missing yellowed teeth, but regardless it wasn’t hard for those who’d served under Kahchi for any length of time to realize that the man lurching towards the altar with fear in his eyes and whimpers in his throat was none other than the leader of the now dead third division. Sog.

“Like all things pertaining to Tui and La, this cycle has its own duality. As the ocean’s water gives the moon power, the moon’s power gives water life. And like any true Waterbending Master can tell you, there is a great amount of water, and power, in human blood.”

With stunted, jerking movements, Sog ascended the frozen steps of the altar. Hama dutifully stepped back once he had reached the top, standing behind him as he took her place before the cauldron.

“In the Southern Water Tribe, life was one cruel tragedy after another. Our people were few, our environment was harsh, and our lives were constantly in danger from our enemies and the very elements themselves. We did not believe. We feared. This fear fostered a strong sense of community among the true people, and during the deepest and darkest of storms our children were taught that survival is always the most important thing, and if even just one of the community could survive to see the next moon, it was enough.”

Sog’s hand dove into the depths of his ragged uniform. He withdrew a knife made of bone, and though his hand grasped it firmly, his eyes widened in terror and he screamed against the thick material of his gag.

“If a community was dying, they would give their inuusiq, their life force, to the strongest of their village so that she may survive beyond their tragedy and emerge from it rejuvenated and stronger than before. Here,” Hama gestured to the cauldron of blood. “Is the collected inuusiq of your brethren, Sog. Now, beneath the moon’s power and light I ask you witnesses gathered here,” she raised her voice to carry over the beach. “Who is the most deserving of this life, this power, this youth?”

“You, Mistress!” the Haima Hana called back to her.

“And do you,” Hama lowered her voice for only Sog to hear. “Beneath the moon’s power and light, give your life and the lives of your men so that I may grow stronger?”

At first Sog did nothing but weep. Then, with the slightest twitch of her fingers and flex of her power, his head jerked up in down in a crude nod of acquiescence. 

“Then sacrifice yourself, and let your inuusiq join with those of your brothers so that I may continue on in honor of your memory.” Hama spoke the traditional words with none of their intended levity. Her voice dripped with caustic sarcasm, and by the end of her speech cackles of mirth were spurting from her mouth without impediment. “I swear, on my honor as a Southern Water Tribeswoman, that I will survive your tragedy and emerge stronger for it.”

Sog’s upper body jerked over the cauldron. His head craned upwards to lock gazes with the silent Moon. Her silver’d light shown down upon the cauldron, and seemed to mix with its contents just as easily as he was about to. Knife in hand, he drew a shaky yet deep line across the hollow of his throat, and his grimy tears raced down his filthy face to mingle with his gushing blood.

Those closest to the altar could hear the muffled gurgles, and all those in attendance could see the flowing blood, illuminated by silver moonlight. As Sog quaked and shook over the cauldron, several blanched. Many more looked away. Hama laughed.

His role in the ritual finally complete, Sog’s body sagged and slipped from the lip of the cauldron to collapse onto the altar. Hama kicked the corpse into the ocean before shedding her massive cloak of furs and stepping naked into the heated cauldron of blood.  The liquid frothed and foamed as she entered, and using deft movements she bent the dark red and bright silver inuusiq around herself. The life force coated her skin, seeping into every fold, crease, and wrinkle her body had amassed over some eighty long years of life.  Hama kept the blood moving, and as the red soaked into her flesh, the silver soaked into her scalp, until what had once been an aged grey became an unnatural shock of pure white.

At the ritual’s end, the final dregs of blood within the cauldron burst skywards in an explosion of crimson mist. Kahchi and the others stood silently, watching as a tangle of white hair rose just barely over the lip of the cast-iron monstrosity. When Hama spoke, her voice sounded with none of the scratchy years it had just moments before. Instead it was svelte, enchanting, and deadly.

“Koluk, my dear little goark, bring me my decency. I entered this world naked once, I’d rather not do it again.”
                                                          …………………………
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flamehead23a
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« Reply #102 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:27 pm »

“Do you know what’s going on down there?” Matthias whispered.

“Do I look like an expert on savage culture?” Azula whispered back, “I’ve never been farther south than Omashu. You’re better off sending a letter to Zuzu.”

“What?” Mat craned his head up from his position on his back, lying on the bluff overlooking the beach. He studied the upside-down figures that dotted the shore with a critical eye. They seemed to be focusing on one in particular, who stood on some sort of platform or altar and was gesturing at the moon like a crazy person. “How can you be sure it’s a Water Tribe thing?”

Azula sighed in irritation. “It’s a full moon, the other savages have a position of prominence amidst the ranks before the altar, and they’re listening to someone other than Kahchi.”

“Yeah…” Mat squinted. “Any idea who that is? I can’t get a good look at him beneath all those furs.”

“Do I really have to remind you of all people where I’ve been for the last five years?” Azula replied laconically, “Besides. That’s obviously a woman, not a man.”

“Hmm,” was all of Mat’s reply. He watched the distant figure’s gestures a moment longer before settling back down to gaze skyward, deep in thought.

“…Well?” The impatience in Azula’s voice was obvious as the moment dragged on. “Are you going to go down there and stop them now, or after the island is refurbished to their liking?”

“There must be almost a thousand troops on that beach, Princess. That’s a stretch, even for me.” Mat could tell she had a retort already on the tip of her tongue, so he tried to assuage her complaint before it could be voiced. “Don’t worry. I could still take them all if push came to shove.”

Like always, she wasn’t satisfied. “Then why don’t you?”

“I’ve already altered enough during this job. Better I let whatever he’s doing down there play out before making my move, then interrupt now and risk changing things more.”

She didn’t say anything, she only looked at him. He could actually feel the icy chill in her glare. He turned his face to stare back at her, his heated gaze just as intense.

“Look,” he stated calmly, “is that pot he’s standing next to a weapon?”

“No, but—”

“And can any waterbender, even a Master with a full moon on his side, wipe out an island this size from its beach?”

“Of course not, but that doesn’t change the fact that—”

“Then I’m not interrupting. Period.” His eyes drilled into her, unblinking. Azula gave just as good as she got, but stare-downs like this were an old hat for him.  After a long, poignant moment, she broke the eye contact to look out over the beach. He might’ve won this round, but he could tell she wasn’t admitting defeat. He didn’t think she ever would.

“That ship, three down from the altar,” Azula said, “Someone’s coming out of it.”

Together they watched as something assumedly human emerged from one of Kahchi’s stolen battleships. Slowly, the mass of dirt and rags and hair made its way to the altar, before ascending the frozen staircase and taking prime position before the cauldron and its mysterious contents.

“That guy,” Mat rolled over onto his stomach and inched closer to the cliff edge. “I’ve seen him before.”

He snuck a glance at Azula, and he could tell she had as well. Her brow knit just barely, and he thought he noticed her chewing the inside of her cheek. These were the only signs of annoyance he could see as she undoubtedly racked her brain, searching for a name to match the filthy face in the distance. It wasn’t until the man on the altar removed a knife from the depths of his rags and gave a jerky nod to the person he stood next to that her eyebrows quickly rose in recognition.

“That’s Sog…the bandit who tried to capture me.”

Mat frowned. This was unexpected. And surprises were never, ever a good thing in his line of work. “If that’s Sog, then where’re his—”

The words turned to ash in his mouth as Sog slowly, deliberately, drew the knife across his own neck. Mat stared in open horror as the man he’d poked fun at, the man he thought an obscure fourth-tier character at best, grabbed the edges of the cauldron and convulsed wildly while the last vestiges of life flowed out from his slit throat and into the churning liquid below him.

“Mat,” Azula breathed, “Go. Now.”

Matthias was on his feet before he’d even realized he was moving. He stood there, his mind racing, before muttering a curse and dropping back down.

“Not yet. That other guy’s going back to the pot.”

“Mat.”

“Not yet.”


The two watched in sick fascination as the last standing figure on the altar shed its furs and stepped into the cauldron. The cliffs were too far away to afford them any sort of detailed view, but still they watched as he bent the blood to and fro, wrapping himself in the red and silver liquid until almost all of it had disappeared within his flesh. It wasn’t until the bloody leftovers were sprayed upwards to the skies that Mat shook himself into action.

“Alright. He’s…it’s…they’re done.” He stood up again while a hulking figure raced to the altar with garments in hand. “Let’s go finish this.”

Azula looked at him, her face openly incredulous. “After all of your watching and waiting you expect me to actually go down there with you? Now?”

Mat looked back. “You were all for jumping down there two minutes ago.”

“Two minutes ago they were distracted and vulnerable. Now they’ve done…something…and it’s you that allowed it to happen.” Azula crossed her arms. “I’m staying up here. You’re going down there. It’s your mess now, and I’ll have no part in cleaning it up.”

Another stretch of silence. Another war of eyes. Another test of wills.  True to her spirit Azula had gotten better fast, and this time he was the first to look away.

“Gah. Spirits you’re annoying. Fine.” Mat locked his elbows and straightened his arms, angling them diagonally downwards behind his back.  “But when I finish this, you’re not getting any of the credit.”

For a beat, nothing happened. Mat stood, legs spread shoulder-width apart and knees bent in readiness, as he tensed his muscles and curled his hands into claws. After a brief moment of concentration, he uttered a single word.

“Κάθαιρείν.”
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flamehead23a
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« Reply #103 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:29 pm »

One ear-splitting blast and two deep craters later, Mat was hurled skyward. The twin explosions combined to form a single deafening reverberation against the towering cliff of stone he’d launched from. Like a clap of thunder it rolled across the blackened beach, and the invader’s attention swiftly turned from what was dressing on top of the altar to what was hurtling through the air above their heads.

“Oi! Bad guys! I’m calling you out!” Mat’s voice carried over the shoreline as he reached his launch’s apex. For several more seconds he freefell, the wind tearing at his haori and his hair looking as if it had been set aflame. As the black sand rushed upwards to greet him, he rotated his body face-down and threw his dangling arms forward.  Two blinding jets of flame burst from his palms and raced to connect with the ground. The twin columns of fire and acted like semi-solid vaulting poles, bending and straightening, propelling him upwards while giving him ample time to flip forward, end over end, before impacting powerfully with the beach surrounded by enemies. The sand that made up his shallow crater melted on contact, and steam curled from his nose and the corners of his mouth. Two or three soldiers took an unconscious step backwards.

Their leaders, however, seemed unimpressed.

“You’re…calling us out?” Kahchi asked, a single eyebrow raised.

Matthias blanched. “Yeah. I’d be more eloquent if I hadn’t just watched a guy slit his own throat, but still. I’m calling all of you who’re in charge of this invasion…sacrifice…ritual…thing…out.”

Haima Hana widened their stances, ready to bend the ocean behind them. Dai Li readied their gloves, while Yu-Yan notched arrows and Rhinos leveled spears and sword points. Mat watched them with a bemused, if slightly annoyed expression, before releasing a steam-filled sigh and shrugging.

“If you all really want to do it like this.” He stretched his fingers out before him and inhaled deeply. The molten sand that surrounded him cooled rapidly as he absorbed its heat into his hands, leaving behind a swath of crystallized, ebony glass. Bringing one sandaled foot up, then down, he stomped into the glass. Stretching fingers of fire rushed in every direction from his foot, splitting the hardened glass into a thousand razor sharp pieces. Closing his eyes and reaching out with his mind, Mat raised his hands level with his shoulders. The shards of glass rose with them, and in moments every lethal piece of crystal had pointed itself directly at a corresponding enemy.

The air between the shards vibrated with psionic energy. Mat grit his teeth. This had to look good. “If you really want to do it like this, then I’m game. It’s just I’d rather not kill a thousand when I only have to kill two or three.”

He moved his eyes over the crowd, waiting for someone to challenge him. None of the men seemed particularly inclined to speak, due to either rage or fear, so as it were a female voice was the first to break the tense silence. She called out from atop the all-but-forgotten altar.

“I agree. It’d be wise to avoid so much useless bloodshed.” Mat’s eyes flicked to the altar. He watched as a woman—a girl really; she couldn’t have been older than him—stepped from behind the bulk of a huge, armored man.  Her skin was deeply tanned while her hair was shockingly white, and she looked at Matthias with cool light grey eyes as she spoke.

“I think a one-on-one fight would be the best way to settle this. Koluk.”

The man at her side bowed stiffly from his waist. With measured, slightly choppy steps, he made his way down the altar. The many thick sections of metal that made up his armor were wrapped so tight around his body that they made no sound when he moved, save for a few small clinks as sections separated by his bare, unprotected joints touched together. His face was obscured by a thick helm of ribbed steel, and the only sound coming from beneath this faceplate was a deep, nasal breathing. The menacing thuds of his heavy metal boots were muffled by the sand as he reached the beach and moved purposefully through the parting crowd.

Mat lowered his arms and the shards of glass dropped with them. “Well hot damn, so you are a woman. An attractive one too, almost a shame I didn’t spawn on your team,” he slid into a relaxed slouch, his hands in his pockets. “Crazy little half-time show back there, by the way. Great special effects.” He flashed a toothy smile, hunting for the inevitable outburst of anger he could then exploit. “And thank the Spirits you took me up on my offer, by the way. I was totally bluffing about that ‘killing everyone at once’ thing. Do you have any idea how hard it is to psychokinetically aim that many projectiles at this many targets? Let alone send them hurtling at—”

His sentence cut off abruptly, replaced by the painful crack of a spiked gauntlet colliding with a still moving jaw. Mat went bouncing backwards, falling on the sand in a heap. He scrambled to his feet, wiping blood from his burst lip and watching warily as the man she had called Koluk advanced again.

He chuckled nervously.  “Heh, alright then. I got caught off guard. It’s bound to happen.” He put his hands back in his pockets and straightened his posture.  “Alright bud, try that again.”

Koluk did just that. The next blow connected with Mat’s stomach, and it drove both the air from his lungs and his body back into the sand. Mat lay there for a moment, stunned. He’d dodged punches thrown faster than that before. Hell, he’d done it easily and with more quipping involved too. Hand-to-hand combat like this had become second nature to him, but somehow this man was suppressing his heat-driven senses. Well, either he was suppressing them, or…

“Is it hard, Fire-Snatcher?” The woman trilled as she too made her way down the altar and onto the beach, “Hard to fight an opponent whose moves you can’t know beforehand?”

“Shut up!” Mat hacked and coughed, forcing the wind that was knocked out of him back into his lungs. He stood, watching the wall of armor approach and muttering, “How are you doing it?”

“Koluk’s unique, just like all our goarks. They don’t need to think about how they’re fighting. The inspiration to just…comes to them.”

Koluk drew his fist back for another blow, and again Mat didn’t move in time. The spiked metal protecting the goark’s knuckles crashed into his side, and his sandals dug into the rocky sand he stood on. This time however, he did not fall.

Mat’s heat shield kept Koluk’s fist from getting too close. As the gauntlet made contact with the thin layer of super-heated air it almost immediately slowed to a stop, instantly glowing a dull red from the heat. Before Koluk could pull back, Mat wrapped both his hands around the goark’s metal-plated arm.

“Let’s see you deal with fifteen hundred degrees Celsius, bastard.” Sweat steamed off Mat’s face. He grinned around a clenched jaw, praying for his tactic’s success. Blistering calidity raced from his palms to wash over Koluk’s forearm, heating the metal bracer until the air above it shimmered and the skin beneath it sizzled.

If the goark felt anything, it didn’t let on. Silently, Koluk grasped Mat’s red obi with his free hand. Now with arms on both sides of Mat’s waist, he lifted the young man up like one would a temperamental child and squeezed.

As he grunted in pain and gasped for air, the pure impossibility of the situation startled Matthias to inaction. Koluk should’ve been passing out from pain or heat exhaustion. He should’ve been sending electric signals to the rest of his body every time he moved, but barring that he should’ve at least been revealing his weakness by now—this was a children’s story for godsakes, not the tale of Ryu Hayabusa. His powers and strategy useless, Mat could only squirm like a kangaroo mouse caught in a viper rat’s bind, struggling for every breath. His eyes futilely tried to pierce the gloomy impenetrableness of the goark’s steel helm.

“What are you?” He gasped.

Koluk said nothing. Instead, he spun several times in a tight circle like an athlete with a heavy weight and heaved, throwing his opponent through the air and towards the solid rock of the cliffside. At the last second Mat managed to produce his twin columns of fire, and instead of splattering against the rock wall he halted his forward momentum just enough to fall raggedly downwards, coming to rest in a crumpled heap of white and red.

If he had looked up at that moment, Mat would have seen Azula acting remarkably like he had during Sog’s sacrifice—on her feet and moving before even realizing it. He didn’t see it though, nor did he see her stop and crouch once more when he made to climb back up yet again.

“Fine. You wanna play rough? I can do that.” Mat staggered to his feet, sweeping his hands along the ground as he rose. A wall of fire, ten feet tall and three feet thick, raced towards the oncoming goark. Mat controlled the fire’s path with his mind, and soon Koluk was surrounded by a thick partition of flame.

“That won’t hold my Koluk, Phoenix!” The woman on the beach shouted. She and the waterbenders, along with the rest of the helmed mutes, were following the fight up the beach. They waited now at a safe distance, reveling in their enemy’s desperation. “You and your flame mean nothing to him! He isn’t allowed a fear of fire!”

Mat turned his back on the jeering crowd. His muttered reply was loud enough for only Azula above him to hear.

“Yeah…it won’t scare him. But it’ll stall him.”

Matthias pressed his left fist against the cliff and expelled heat into the stone. Molten chunks of the island’s mountain range oozed and splashed at his feet as he pushed his arm into the raw, melting ore. Elbow deep in a pulsing, leaking hole of lava, even his trained resistance wasn’t enough to completely protect him, and he hissed in pain as several inches of molten earth coated his arm.

With the same care he’d had pushing it in, Mat extracted his now encased limb. Turning to face the beach, he passed his right hand over the dripping slag and rapidly cooled it back to solid stone. He fell to a knee as the weighty arm re-solidified, and the heavy rock met the ground with a dull thud.

Mat’s attention moved from the desperate gambit that covered his left arm to the fire wall as Koluk emerged, coolly patting at a few flames that still clung determinately to some of the cloth beneath his armor. With his right hand Mat reached out to touch the fire that trailed beside him, retracting the flames on the beach to collect and compact against his fingertips.

“You know what the best part of buckshot is, Boo Radley?” Mat used a knee to level his arm at Koluk’s chest.  “A dragon’s worth of power, with no need to aim it. φωτιά!”

As he slapped his hand against his arm, the five condensed flames that coated his fingertips sank into the volcanic rock. The fire rushed through its porous veins and passageways, filling it with pressure until craggy, serrated pieces of blazing rubble splintered and shot forward with reckless and lethal abandon.

To Mat’s relief, one of his attacks finally provoked a reaction. Koluk hunkered down and crossed his arms over his helm to protect himself, but for every hundred pieces of jagged rock that ricocheted off the thick rolled steel, one found its mark in the cloth-covered flesh of his exposed joints.

Mat kept pumping heat into his improvised Gatling gun, even as the exploding shards of stone tore into his own flesh. Eventually the last chunks crumbled into gravel and fell away, useless. Mat let his left arm drop, mangled and bloody, while Koluk fell to his knees, crimson liquid dripping from every gap his suit contained. For a few moments the huge man twitched and spasmed. Blood spurted in high crimson arcs from his elbows, knees, heels and wrists, before falling flat on his back. The only indicator he was alive was the creak of his chest straining against its now dented and scarred metal prison, along with the infrequent nasally breathing from within the bowels of his helm.

Mat managed to find both his feet and a single shaky breath of respite before two more goarks attacked. One was tall and thin, and wore a helm of animal bone while his hands were fitted with long metal claws. The other was almost as big as Koluk, was crowned with a bird-like mask carved from wood, and hefted a heavy iron hammer in each hand. Like the goark he’d just felled, both were impossible to read or predict, and after only a few devastating blows it was obvious to everyone watching how the fight would inevitably end.

Too soon a full-body heat shield became impossible, the incredible amounts of energy and concentration needed to form the paper-thin wall of superheated air had been completely tapped. Mat was left with backpedalling along the beach, struggling to keep his enemies in front of him while diverting what little strength he had left to blocking their blows and swipes with a smaller heat shield he kept constrained to his good forearm. In desperation, he threw his hands downward and shouted, “φωτιά!” 
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flamehead23a
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« Reply #104 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:32 pm »

As he slapped his hand against his arm, the five condensed flames that coated his fingertips sank into the volcanic rock. The fire rushed through its porous veins and passageways, filling it with pressure until craggy, serrated pieces of blazing rubble splintered and shot forward with reckless and lethal abandon.

To Mat’s relief, one of his attacks finally provoked a reaction. Koluk hunkered down and crossed his arms over his helm to protect himself, but for every hundred pieces of jagged rock that ricocheted off the thick rolled steel, one found its mark in the cloth-covered flesh of his exposed joints.

Mat kept pumping heat into his improvised Gatling gun, even as the exploding shards of stone tore into his own flesh. Eventually the last chunks crumbled into gravel and fell away, useless. Mat let his left arm drop, mangled and bloody, while Koluk fell to his knees, crimson liquid dripping from every gap his suit contained. For a few moments the huge man twitched and spasmed. Blood spurted in high crimson arcs from his elbows, knees, heels and wrists, before falling flat on his back. The only indicator he was alive was the creak of his chest straining against its now dented and scarred metal prison, along with the infrequent nasally breathing from within the bowels of his helm.

Mat managed to find both his feet and a single shaky breath of respite before two more goarks attacked. One was tall and thin, and wore a helm of animal bone while his hands were fitted with long metal claws. The other was almost as big as Koluk, was crowned with a bird-like mask carved from wood, and hefted a heavy iron hammer in each hand. Like the goark he’d just felled, both were impossible to read or predict, and after only a few devastating blows it was obvious to everyone watching how the fight would inevitably end.

Too soon a full-body heat shield became impossible, the incredible amounts of energy and concentration needed to form the paper-thin wall of superheated air had been completely tapped. Mat was left with backpedalling along the beach, struggling to keep his enemies in front of him while diverting what little strength he had left to blocking their blows and swipes with a smaller heat shield he kept constrained to his good forearm. In desperation, he threw his hands downward and shouted, “φωτιά!” 

The semi-solid flames burst from his palms and built against the rocky sand, lifting him rapidly into the supposed safety of the sky.

He managed to make it several yards up before the clawed goark leapt into the cupped hands of his larger partner and launched upwards, his long claws digging their way into Matthias’ legs. The young man screamed in pain, throwing precious heat reserves downwards in an attempt to burn the sudden weight off of him. But even with fire licking his flesh the goark refused to relinquish his grip, and soon the excruciating pain, coupled with the mounting exhaustion, forced Mat downwards. The two tumbled into the sand, landing in a crumpled heap.

The goark was up in a flash. Mat wasn’t. Impotently he lay there, wheezing and gasping for breath, as his enemies resumed their unstoppable approach. It was then, just as all hope was bleeding away, that a voice rang out from its hiding spot on the cliff.

“Matthias, it’s the woman! She’s controlling them somehow! I see her fingertips moving in time with their limbs!”

Mat’s head swung to scan the cliffs at the sound of Azula’s voice. He caught a flash of long black hair disappear behind a boulder as Yu-Yan arrows peppered the spot she’d been yelling from a second before.

It all made sense. The goark’s brains weren’t giving off electrical signals because they weren’t being used—someone else was choosing how their limbs moved and acted. That was why their armor was sectioned; so a bloodbender could easily manipulate the joints necessary for basic locomotion and combat. And Mat knew that the only bloodbender outside of Katara was Hama. Somehow, he realized with a slow churning of his stomach, that ceremony had turned back the clock and gave an ancient witch the looks of a page three girl.

Summoning up his last dregs of strength, Mat pushed his palms against the sand on either side of his head and rocked his legs into the air, making as if to flip onto his feet and continue the fight. Instead, he brought to life two more columns of flame, launching himself over his enemies to where Hama now obviously was watching—and controlling—the fight.

Mat flipped in a high arc, over the mass of silent goarks and their deadly weapons, through the waterbenders’ thin and quickly evaporated whips of water. For the third time that night he dove from the sky. But this time, his goal was neither incapacitation nor intimidation. As he raked his fingertips with his thumb and brought a long dagger of incandescent heat into existence with his good hand, his intent was to kill. 

Hama made no move to stop his dive. She waited until the last possible moment, past the point of no return, before she moved her arms and brought her goark, the one laying useless and discarded just a few feet away, zooming across the sand to defend herself. Any pretence of independent movement was gone; he hung before her limply, his strings cut and his joints bleeding. He was a human shield in the most literal sense, nothing more.

Unable to stop himself, Mat crashed his wounded arm into Koluk’s metal shoulder and drove his weapon square into the forehead of the metal helm, even as he rapidly worked to shrink the blade. He landed on the goark’s body with a solid thud, and as they came crashing against the ground Koluk’s head snapped backwards against a rock, buried half-exposed on the beach. The force of the blow, combined with the damage of Mat’s attack, produced a hairline crack right down the helm’s middle. For a moment Mat stayed hunched over the inert body, his vision doubling and almost fading to black. Then, still panting, he pried the two halves of the helm apart. His hands shook as he did so. 

Beneath his hands, the man’s face was flat and boxy. His nose was broad, and two large nostrils flared in and out with every terrified breath. His long, thin lips were frozen in a pained grimace by his own saliva, making it impossible for him to cry out or otherwise signal for help. Small brown eyes stared upwards from behind a prominent brow, eyes that were filled to the brim with tears and terror.

As he scrabbled backwards off the body like a startled crab, Mat recognized the face through his fog of pain and exhaustion. He was trained to. ‘Third-tier character. Named, but not vital to the storyline. Expendable, but a casualty to be avoided at all costs lest afterstory importance were to arise.’

“No…Pipsqueak?”

“I see you’ve met my darling little Koluk.” Hama followed Mat’s scrabbling with a cool, smirking gaze. “I picked him up while doing some recruiting in the Earth Kingdom. Lovely little pet, isn’t he? Of course he didn’t come quietly at first, and his bounty hunter friends made such a fuss while I was taking him away…”

Mat looked up at Hama, true fear in his eyes. None of this was right; none of this followed the damned story. And worst of all, none of it seemed within his power to fix. “You’re a monster,” he whispered.

Incalculable rage surged across Hama’s face for the briefest of instants. Then, like a body dumped overboard it disappeared, quickly replaced once more by her youthfully smooth and tranquil exterior. Her tone, though, was unmistakable.

“The monsters are the rats that hunted down my friends and family like animals. I won’t stop until they are dead. All of them.” She matched his frantic scrambling retreat with a slow, measured, almost languid pursuit. The hammer and claw goarks fell in line behind her, one behind each shoulder. Two more joined them on either side. “Dead, or playing puppet to the strings I tug.” The Haima Hana fell in step as well, each flanked by their own personal goark. They shared varied levels of proficiency when it came to bloodbending—some using only their fingers, while others resorting to more exaggerated movements—but they all walked together, and with every step forward their numbers swelled like a growing tidal wave. It was only a matter of time before the wave crested and crashed, drowning him in a sea of bodies once and for all.

Mat felt something hard connect with the back of his head. It was the cliff. He stood up on cut and bleeding legs with his back against the cool, unyielding rock. A groan escaped his lips as he cradled his shredded arm. Bloodbending, even to this extreme, wasn’t the worse thing he’s seen during his tenure as Musagetes. Not by far. But what made it so bowel-clenchingly scary was its unexpectedness. Neither Pythia nor the Old Man had known much of anything about this labor, and Mat’s own lack of foresight, coupled with theirs, had proven ultimately fatal. The invasion’s timing, the players involved—they’d all thrown him off in the worst possible way. Soon the Haima Hana and their goarks had him surrounded, and it was all he could do to stay standing.

“This is a new age, Fire-Snatcher. An age where the true people stand highest in the world, while the Fire Nation rats scrape by on trash and table scraps.” Hama’s fingers danced, and one of her goarks stepped forward, a single heavy club in both hands.  “No one will stop us.”

Mat closed his eyes, waiting for the blow that would obliterate his skull and reduce his brain to pulpy soup. A small piece of him grasped wildly for some way to escape the inevitable or, barring that, some biting remark that might at least help him towards a hero’s end, but it found nothing. Instead he could only wait silently for the end to come.

And it was then, at that exact moment, that she finally made her move.
                                                          ……………………
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flamehead23a
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« Reply #105 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:34 pm »

She moved like a woman possessed, her body automatically reacting to Mat’s bowed head and the goark’s heavy kanabō. Without conscious thought she knew, somewhere deep in the bottom of her tumult soul, that now was the time to act.

‘The first rule of acrobatics is simple. Always keep your center.’ Ty Lee’s voice bubbled and bounced from the back of Azula’s mind as she launched herself from the cliff’s small shelter of rock. She vaulted and flipped, leapt and fell, desperate to close the distance in time.

‘The second rule is harder. Always be mindful of your surroundings.’ Her hands and feet were a blur of focused motion, never grasping a crack or pausing on a ledge for longer than a heartbeat before moving again towards the figures below her.

‘The third rule is the easiest, but also the most important. Always know who you’re performing for!’ Though her audience below still had not noticed her, those further down the beach had. And with their sharp eyes and black bows they let fly a volley of arrows with only one purpose in mind—stopping her by any means necessary.

‘All projectiles have one thing in common,’ Now it was Mai’s dry intonation that fired though her as she drew her sword mid-leap. ‘They all arc. As soon as they’ve been launched, whether they’re a huge flaming bolder or a tiny wrist dart, they begin to fall. If you can read that arc, if you can predict its path, then no projectile should be able to hit you. Period.’

Using her free hand to grasp a jutting piece of rock, Azula swung herself onto a ledge and crouched, watching the small cadre of arrows speed towards her. Her mind pulsed and fired, taking in their velocity, trajectory, and numerous other outside variables with a speed born from its parents Genius and Desperation. For an instant her sword flashed silver and white while bits of wood, steel, and fletching fell around her feet.

Below her Hama directed the goark to level its kanabō even with Mat’s temple, taunting him one last time. She didn’t pause to strategize, she didn’t think every possibility through to its fullest—as Azula flipped down through the air, she did something that years before she had made a habit of taunting Zuzu for.

She simply reacted.

Grasping her sword hilt with both hands, Azula stabbed downwards. The blade tip sank deep into the heavy wood that made up the kanabō’s shaft. The momentum of the blow, while not enough to wrench the weapon free of the goark’s bloodbent fingers, brought both the club and its master to the ground. For a beat, there was silence. Then Azula’s face grew a savage, satisfied grin, and she twisted the hilt of her sword with all her strength.

The sharp crack of a deadly war club splitting into two useless pieces of splintered wood was all too audible.

Hama yanked her hands up and the goark rose from the ground. Together the two were fast, but Azula was faster. She withdrew her blade from the wrecked kanabō and sliced shallow cuts against the goark’s knees and elbows. She ended her combination with a solid kick to the chest plate, and the human puppet fell backwards, as useless and broken as the weapon he landed next to. Azula turned face-to-face with Matthias, still mostly supported by the rock wall and still holding his wounded arm with his good one.

“Five hundred paces to our left there’s a bolder shaped like an egg. Can you set it on fire?”

Mat’s eyes were unfocused. He opened his mouth mechanically, and then closed it again without ever having spoken. He looked vaguely towards Azula, but she could tell he didn’t really see her.

The two goarks that had beaten him swooped across the beach, and he flinched. Azula spun to intercept them. The clawed goark reached her first, and she brought her sword up just in time to block its ten long, thin blades. The claws locked with her sword, and she struggled against the mute warrior for possession of the weapon.

From behind the first goark the second one appeared, using its longer reach to swing each of its war hammers around its partner’s body, intent on catching her in the ribs. Azula dropped to the ground still holding her sword, managing to pull the clawed goark’s hands just far enough into the path of the oncoming hammers so that they were crushed by the dual impacts. Hama screamed with rage as Azula swept her feet into the two goarks, sending them to the ground as well. She kept her legs swinging and used the momentum to leap up and at the fallen puppets. Her blade danced across their joints, rendering them useless.

Panting, she spun back to Mat. He was still dazed, as hopelessly useless as the cliff he was up against. “Koh-damn it. Snap out of it Musagetes! I’ve not fought this hard just to let them win now!” He flinched again, and Azula bent her sword behind her just in time to parry the strike of a goark’s jian. She pushed the puppet back and threw herself at it, blade flying.

“Aren’t you the famed White Phoenix? The Fire-Snatcher? Haven’t you just been tip-toeing around us ants this whole time?” Azula disarmed the goark and snatched up its blade, using both it and her own to cut the puppet’s joints. She spun both swords in a tight arc, felling the next attacker before it even had a chance to strike. “Is this how you really want to die? Aren’t you better than this?”

From behind her came a voice, lost and weak. “I… I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I’m not sure if I ever did.”

“Don’t bother with what you’re supposed to do. Know what you’re supposed to be.” Azula blocked an oncoming blow with both blades. This goark’s strength proved too much though, and with only loose sand to brace against she was driven backwards into Mat’s chest. Warmth rushed into her back, and his shaky breath blew hot through her long matted hair to brush against her neck. Still struggling to keep the goark at arm’s length, she twisted her head upwards and to the side, forcing his sullen and terrified eyes to meet hers.

“Mat...Remember!

 Even after she had time to think on it, Azula was never entirely sure if it was her shouted words, her lips meeting his, or how the force of the kiss sent his head cracking against the cliff that jarred him into action. Though regardless of the cause, the effect was immediate. Azula faced the goark she was struggling against to see Mat snap two daggers of fire into existence, drawing the blades against the silent warrior’s wrists and causing twin cuts that, while shallow, were more than enough to produce the desired effect. Crimson arcs spurted from the wounds, and the goark’s hands went limp. Together the Phoenix and the Princess shoved the goark back, and her swords finished the job his daggers had started. 

“The boulder?” She asked.

Mat’s eyes were focused, but half-closed. His breath came in ragged, steamless gasps. He had a busted lip, cracked ribs, injured legs, and an almost useless left arm. “I don’t have enough power left to throw fire that far. I’ll need either ten seconds of undisrupted concentration to spontaneously combust it or I’ll have to transfer heat into it directly.”

“I don’t think these waterbenders will give us ten seconds alone.”

Mat shifted his weight gingerly from one leg to the other, and flattened his daggers into semi-solid shields. “Option two then?”

Azula rolled her shoulders and readied her blades. “Option two.”

                                                                …………
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flamehead23a
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« Reply #106 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:44 pm »

Those not immediately involved in the fighting watched from the shoreline as the two figures not in blood-red furs or segmented armor fought their way across the beach, never more than a body’s width apart. One cut a path through the bloodbenders and their puppets with her two ever-flashing blades, while the other protected her as well as he could with two shields of flame.  They stayed close to one another, and it wasn’t long before they saw a small gap between the walls of fighters.

Kahchi saw it too.

“It seems those two are a bit much for Mistress Hama to handle.”

“Do you want me to take care of it?” His partner asked.

“Vachir, I have near a thousand troops sitting idle on this beach. Do you really think it fair for your comparatively diminutive force to rob them of the glory they have so patiently awaited?”

Vachir narrowed his eyes. Kahchi ignored the look and turned to the silent figure at his side. “Your orders, Wu Lian?”

Wu Lian stood motionless, flanked on all sides by his Dai Li agents. “I have no real need of this island—a beachhead lies mainly within your Master’s interests, not mine. Do as you see fit,” Wu Lian’s featureless stone mask turned ever so slightly, as if affixing Kahchi with a stern eye. “Though I would prefer it if the Princess and the Outsider were…denied their escape.”

Kahchi smiled. “No need to worry, my Horde will clean up the Mistress’ mess,” he gave a signal, and the ranks of assembled deserters prepared to march. “Vachir, let’s make it a race to see who brings them down first, your arrows or my Horde. Bring me Tsuno!”

A roar of approval rang through the Horde at Kahchi’s request. Several officers dashed back into the flagship. After a brief scuffle, followed by a single ear-splitting scream, a Komodo Rhino charged down the ramp, racing to heed its master’s call. Like it’s now deceased brother, Tsuno was specially bred. He was at least twice the size of normal Komodo Rhinos and sported a set of long, wickedly sharp horns—one of which had an officer impaled upon it.  Using his halberd, Kahchi vaulted into the saddle and pushed the corpse off his animal’s horn with the butt of his weapon. Turning to the teaming, pulsing Horde, he shouted.

 “Charge!”
                                                     …………………………

Azula and Mat raced doggedly across the open beach. Sand and gravel sprayed skyward with every step, and their breaths came rough and ragged. Azula caught sight of an arrow aimed for her head just in time to bring a sword up and deflect it. From behind her, Mat cursed. He melded his two shields into a single large one and pumped his legs, ignoring the shooting pain around his shins until he came between her and the arrows that soon flew thick and fast across the sand.

Behind them the Haima Hana and their goarks pursued. And when a javelin suddenly crashed against Mat’s shield, sending them both tumbling into the sand, they didn’t need to hear the bloodlust-induced roars that sounded across the breach to know that on top of everyone else, the Horde was fast approaching.

Cursing again, Mat crawled next to Azula. He wedged his shield into the sand and braced against it with his good shoulder. Arrows peppered the psionic plasma, and with every consecutive hit they pierced deeper and deeper before the shield reduced them to ash. One made it all the way through, the metal arrowhead finally stopping a scant few inches from his nose. “I don’t know if option two is gonna work out, Princess,” he panted.

“Wait,” Azula said, pausing before she spoke again, “listen. What do you hear?”

“What, you mean the sound of a thousand people trying to kill us?”

Azula rolled her eyes. “No, what do you feel?”

“A soul-crushing feeling of hopelessness and despair?”

Azula growled, but said nothing. After a moment of thought, he tried again. “No more arrows?”

Allowing herself a tight, grim smile, Azula nodded. “Kahchi must have moved his men in the archer’s line of fire. He’s using his numbers to make sure he gets to us first.”

“Well let’s not make it easy for him.” Mat hefted his shield, shaking plasma and bits of flame off of it until it shrunk down to a more manageable size. “Come on!”

They took off again. True to her prediction, Kahchi had indeed led his cavalry in such a way that Vachir and his fellow deserters were blocked from safely firing. Azula risked a glance over her shoulder and saw that he hadn’t stopped there—using his fresher foot troops, Kahchi had cut off Hama and her ilk from them as well. It was from behind that he himself came, barreling towards them on a humongous beast of war that looked every bit as bloodthirsty as he did.

Still forty paces away from the boulder, the Horde was closing fast. Baring her teeth, Azula turned on her heel and planted her feet in the sand, swords at the ready. Kahchi grinned at her and reached for his collection of javelins.  Mat stopped as well.

“Go!” She yelled at him, “I’ll hold them off. Get that rock aflame.”

“Not…not without you,” Mat looked ready to collapse. His knees wobbled dangerously while the outermost edge of his fiery shield slowly fell apart, tongues of flame pulled away by the slightest ocean breeze. “We go together, or not at a—”

Azula tackled him to the ground, just in time for a wickedly sharp javelin to bury itself in the spot he was standing on a second before. She lay there on top of him panting for all of half a heartbeat before his eyes grew large with the sight of more projectiles arcing downwards, intent on finding flesh.

“s**t! Hold on!” Mat shouted in her ear. He wrapped Azula up with his good arm and rolled them along the beach. Heavy shafts of assured death fell all around them, churning up sand and gravel with tiny explosions of lethality.

They came to rest with him on top of her, his hot breath steaming once more and clouding her vision. “Stay down, I’ve got this,” he commanded. Before she could argue he was off her, his shield whittled down to the size of a small bracer.

Mat gripped the bracer like a discus and spun in a tight circle, arm outstretched. He spun once, twice, and on the third he let the small enflamed disc go flying. It sped to the boulder, even as a javelin caught his haori and brought him crashing into the sand.

“Phoebus, guide my light!” He exclaimed.

Azula’s eyes followed the discus as it soared through the air, a delicate speeding blur of orange flame and red hope. She watched as it rode the wind, seemingly with a mind of its own, racing closer and closer to its destined target. Then her eyes widened in despair as one of Kahchi’s javelins came crashing down, skewering the tiny disc and pinning it against the beach less than an arm’s length away from the boulder. It sat there, bits of fire flaking off and floating away into the night, feeble flames licking weakly at the thick shaft that had killed its hope and crushed its dream. It lay there, like her without her bending, completely useless. Before her she saw Mat go down, javelins falling all around them. Without really knowing what she planned to do she started crawling forward.

Her eyes bored into the disc, willing it to move. “Bend.”

She threw herself forward on the sand, every muscle in her body shrieking in protest. She filled her lungs and screamed, “Bend!”

 She collapsed, her chin grinding into the black and gritty sand as she struggled to keep eye contact with the disc. With both hands she reached out, one to the discus and one to the boulder. She didn’t notice or feel the pinpricks of chi that coalesced and sprung forward from her fingerstips. “BEND!”

A tongue of fire, so thin and unassuming it could very well have just been a coincidence born of the breeze, bent from its dying home on the discus and extended, tremulously, to lightly make contact with the boulder.  The boulder, or rather the oil it had been soaked in, burst into brilliant ball of orange-red flame.  Refusing to stay contained, the fire raced along a pre-laid path of lantern oil, away from the boulder and up the cliffside. The flames gained speed, zigzagging up the side of the island’s prominent volcano, following the trail that Azula had directed her troops to place hours before the first enemy ships had unsealed their bows. With one last burst of speed the fire crested volcano’s dome, circling the wide lip of the active mountain before diving within its heated depths.

Those on the beach stopped moving, caught off guard by the trail of fire that appeared as if by magic. For a beat, there was complete silence. Mat grunted in pain, tugging his haori free of the javelin that pinned him before subtly squirming away from the one that’d landed between his legs. “So…what now?” He asked.

Azula rolled onto her back, smiling as the ground beneath her trembled and quaked. Above her the stars dimmed, and a great light swelled and grew from within the bowels of the volcano. “Now,” She grinned as a tremendous squall, deafening if not for its distance, echoed out of the broken mountaintop. “I use my last resort.”

Shrilling her fury for all to hear, Fenghuang erupted from the volcano. Her time deep within the island’s magma lakes had enlarged her to enormous proportions, and it was only after she’d cleared the volcano’s dome that she could fully spread her wings—wings that easily spanned the length of an airship, propeller to figurehead. She beat them once, twice, and by the third she was soaring over the beach, beautiful and terrible and deadly all at once. The invaders who’d previously been struck frozen in surprise broke rank and scattered, retreating to the transient safety of their ships and the sea that supported them. Like a true bird of prey Fenghuang honed in on the movement and chased after it, every beat of her wings singeing sand and melting rocks.

Azula grinned, wrapping Fenghuang’s power over the invaders around herself like a smug blanket. Finally, after a night of barely scraping by, the battle was turning in their favor. They—no, she—was crushing the enemy now, defeating them in every conceivable way; just like she’d done during the war. And the best part was the complete justification for her actions. She was only defending her nation’s land, how could she possibly feel guilty about that? Her eyes danced as she watched her animal careen and dive through the skies, screaming bloody murder for all to hear. She was so taken by it all that she didn’t notice Mat had staggered from his spot on the sand until he was shaking her roughly with his good hand.

“What the hell did you do?”  He had to yell over the screams on the beach and the shrills in the air, “What did you do to her?”

Azula’s face soured along with her feeling of gratification. “I had her hide in the volcano to grow and absorb fire as fast as she could until I called for her.” She shook free of his hold, glaring at him. “With you gone, she was the one trump card we had left!”

“Do you have any idea how painful it is to take in that much heat in only a few hours?” Mat pointed up at Fenghuang, who seemed to screech and wail in response. “Constructs aren’t made for such large and rapid amounts of energy absorption. Hell, nothing is! Look at her—she’s barely keeping her body from ripping itself apart!”

Azula watched as Fenghuang banked, turning in a wide soaring arc and then making her way back up the beach. She was a phoenix in every sense of the word, her body almost all fire and no flesh, with flames surrounding her in a nimbus of heat that seemed to hurt her just as much as it terrified the invaders. The feathers on her wings had been burnt away, replaced with solid sheets of flame that shimmered the air and crackled with intensity. Her eyes were the solid dull red of an ember’s glow, devoid of Fenghuang’s normal sparkling intelligence and almost human wit. All at once Azula realized what she’d done. She had taken the one thing that had ever given her unwavering support and attention and forced it to become a mindless animal, one crying in pain and raging at whatever caught its attention. And she did it all for her own needs and desires, without a single thought to be spared for the other party.

In the pit of Azula’s stomach, guilt resurfaced and gnashed its thousand teeth.

Above them Fenghuang opened her beak, and this time her cry was accompanied by a gargantuan stream of molten lava. Gouts of flame struck the rocky beach, melting the sand and stone into a literal lake of fire. Azula watched horrified as Fenghuang raced straight towards them, barely noticing when Mat grasped her wrist and dragged them up a wind-swept dune that long ago had collected against the cliffside. They lurched up the sandy incline, struggling to stay above the rising lava.

Fenghuang banked once more, tearing off as she neared the cliffside to avoid crashing into it. Fire fell off her body in waves, reducing her size and presenting a less intimidating target for the invaders.  Mat and Azula could only stand on their small island and watch as Vachir and his men sent volley after volley at the phoenix, every arrow finding its mark. She tried to fight back, but Kahchi and his soldiers’ javelins kept her from getting to close. Soon the waterbenders were forming large, man-sized shards of ice from their now defunct altar and hurling the shafts in groups of three and four.  Fenghuang dodged and dived away from the jagged glaciers, but once the Dai Li agents added sand-compacted boulders to the volleys, the skies became too thick with projectiles to fly safely in. Stuck full of arrows and javelins she turned tail towards the volcano, her beaten and battered from depleted and rapidly deteriorating.

As she passed overhead, Azula thought she saw a glimmer of intelligence sparking in her phoenix’s eyes once more. Catching sight of her humans at last, Fenghuang gave one single pained trumpet of recognition before what was left of her body burnt to ash, falling out of view behind a darkened bluff.

Mat wasted no time. As the enemies on the other side of the molten lake raced to find a way across, he moved to place his hands over the broiling lava, wincing as he straightened his tattered left arm.

“We’ve got to get out of here. Now.”

Azula tore her eyes away from the bluff Fenghuang disappeared behind. “We’ve got nowhere to go but up the cliffside. You’re in no shape to climb it, and I can’t carry you. Not that far.”

The lava near Mat’s hands cooled and hardened. On the other side of the lake, a team of firebenders and waterbenders were achieving the same effect, albeit by different means.  “You’re right.” He paused, glancing over his shoulder at the cliffside. He craned his neck, checking angles and pathways through the air. “Okay,” he breathed, his breath starting to steam once again, “I got a plan. Hide your swords and follow my lead.”

Azula was about to respond when he raised his hands over his head and shouted across the lake in his most pitiful, defeated voice, “Hey Kaaachi! We sureeeeender!”

“Sear it,” Azula cursed as she stowed her sword in its sheath before tucking it and the other naked blade through the sash on her back. “What in the blazes are you doing?”

“Stay there!” Kahchi’s booming voice drifted across the molten beach. He turned to confer with the other leaders before replying further. “We’ll come to collect you!” From their vantage on the dune, Azula and Mat could make out Hama shouting fiercely at the Rhino Captain before turning and stomping back to the beach. Wu Lian followed, while Vachir stayed with Kahchi, adding his voice in urging the cooling team to work faster.

“Whaaaat? We can’t heeeear you! Here, we’ll come to yooooou!” Mat, arms still raised, walked across his narrow bridge of cooled lava, absorbing more heat and cooling the steps in front of him as he went. Azula stayed glued to his back, still unsure of the plan but knowing that it was her only option at the moment.

The next few minutes were an almost comically tense back-and-forth between Kahchi, who divided his air between yelling at the prisoners to stop and raging at the coolers to work faster, and Matthias, who kept up an ignorant bluff and a seemingly deaf ear while continuing to move forward and absorb more and more heat.

About halfway across the lake, Mat stopped. From here they could easily see the enemy cooling team, about a third of the way across their side, glaring daggers at them. Kahchi and his men stood along the edge of the lava lake with Vachir, who directed his Yu-Yan to ready their bows. Mat brought his right hand to his left arm.

“Stop right there!” Kahchi roared, “Drop any weapons you have and cease moving!”

“I might need you to keep me from falling over.”  Mat whispered over his shoulder. He gripped his left arm at the elbow and, sucking air through gritted teeth, moved his hand down his arm. The faint sizzles and pops of cauterizing flesh hit Azula’s ears, and she watched as the muscles in his back tensed and trembled beneath his tattered haori. The wounds closed and Mat dropped his arms to his sides, teetering on the line of consciousness. Azula reached forward to grip his sides and steady him. The Yu-Yan drew back their bowstrings in response to the movement.

“If you have some sort of master plan,” she growled into his back, hoping he was still awake, “now would be the time to use it.”

Out of the corner of her vision, she saw him slowly clench and unclench his fists; first the right, then the left.  “I couldn’t agree more,” he said.

Mat fell into a crouch. With a hiss he drove his hands into the lava on either side of their narrow bridge and heaved, forcing a large wave of molten rock between them and the invaders. Throwing his hands forward he pulled the heat from the wave, cooling the lava in place and solidifying a barrier large enough to shield them from the Yu-Yan’s arrows and Kahchi’s very vocal ire.

“Hey,” Mat spoke from his crouch, the driest hint of humor in his voice, “I need you to climb on my back.”

Beyond exhaustion, Azula was confused for a moment before she recognized the line from their escape at the Boiling Rock.  ‘Why that little…’ her lips quirked, ‘that little…twerp.’

“Excuse me?” She asked, keeping with the dialog she’d used the first time he had made the request.

“Would you rather try your luck with the cliff climbing?”

She glanced back the way they’d came, as if giving the matter serious consideration. After a moment of listening to the scrambling and shouting from the other side of the slowly sinking rock shield, she sighed.

“Drop me and I’ll haunt you till the day you die.” She growled, her arms circling around his neck and her chest resting against his back.

He chuckled as he turned to face the cliffside and squared his stance. “Princess, I’ve barely got enough energy to stand, and I’ve got no clue how many blasts my arm’s gonna take before it tears loose from my shoulder. At this point, falling is gonna be completely up to you. Now please…well, just don’t let go. Κάθαιρείν!
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flamehead23a
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« Reply #107 on: Feb 25, 2010 09:47 pm »

For Azula, that first blast skyward was unlike anything she’d ever experienced before. It was as if one moment they were on the ground, and then the next they were hanging amongst pure nothingness, almost weightless and incredibly high in the air. Apparently the time and distance in-between those two points had simply ceased to exist at all.

From Mat’s perspective, the act of mentally gathering and releasing massive amounts of explosive heat in a single instant to create a concussive force strong enough to propel him several hundred feet in the air was made substantially more difficult by the relative lack of heat in his system, the wounds to his person, and the secretly yet obviously terrified girl clinging to his back.

As they flipped and hurtled through the air, he saw the Yu-Yan futilely try to track their speed with bows and arrows while she saw them just barely clear the cliff’s solid edge. They continued upwards into the vacant air, though soon their ascent came to its inevitable end. For a brief moment it felt to Azula like the entire world was holding its breath, waiting to see what they would do. 

Very predictably, they fell.

“Hold on!” Mat leaned forward, shifting to meet the quickly approaching island rock head-on. Azula was unable to do anything but keep her eyes open as they rushed back to the earth, furious as it was for their attempted defiance of its laws and rules, and watch as Mat threw his arms forward and birthed fiery plasma from his palms, twin columns of flame that slowed their decent and cushioned their fall.

Mat grunted and pushed harder. The columns thickened and extended, lifting them back into the air and launching them just above the island’s labyrinth-like topography; they flipped and tumbled haphazardly while the cool night wind tore at their hair and clothes. In the distance they caught a brief glimpse of the Temple, besieged by Rough Rhinos and fighting for its very survival. Junior sages bent streams of fire from the windows while apprentices dumped bubbling cauldrons filled to the brim with flaming tar and pitch onto the enemy below.

‘Great…’ he thought, ‘and that’s where we’re supposed to be running to for safety.’

They were zooming earthward once more. Mat was halfway through the process of vaulting them upwards yet again when he felt something in his left arm twitch and spasm. He could almost hear the cracking sound of his charred flesh breaking open in a thousand different places, and his flame from that arm faltered. With a pained shout of desperation he tried to compensate, sending him and his passenger careening at an angle towards the wall of a steep ravine.

Azula shouted southing in his ear. He couldn’t tell if it was a curse, an insult, or an exclamation of her well-hidden fear—probably some mix of all three—but it didn’t matter and he couldn’t divert enough attention to it in order to properly respond. Instead it was all he could do to twist his legs around in time to hit the ravine wall running. He ground his teeth through the pain in his shins until he’d made it to the bottom of the ravine, where he kept running without slowing down.

After he’d hit the bottom of the gully, she shifted on his back.

“Put me down, I can run on my own.”

“Princess,” he panted, “if I stop running now I’m not gonna be able to start again. Besides…” he paused long enough to skirt a deep chasm and hop over a small boulder. “What kinda man would I be if I showed up in front of all those warring Sages and Rhinos on your back?”

“Now’s not the time for you to suddenly adopt a code of chivalry. Ashes, you’ve—look out!”

Azula shoved both her and Mat’s head down just in time to miss a stone-crafted glove in the shape of a fist. The glove curved and bent, rushing through the air to return to its Dai Li master.

‘Sear it all,’ she thought, ‘they’ve improved.’

Azula could see Dai Li agents zooming along both sides of the ravine, skating along the rock with gloves at the ready. Forcing the pain that jumped up and down the left half of his body out of his mind, Mat threw his arms behind him, hopped into the air and pushed two short jets of flame out from his palms. The ground beneath them blurred as they flew only feet above the ravine’s tight twists and turns, but the Dai Li matched their pace with silent ease, bending their gloves out and back in rapid succession and getting closer with every attempt.

Suddenly the ravine opened up into a wide gorge, and Azula’s eyes lit up in recognition. It was one of their firetraps, left unused from earlier in the night! As if sensing her change in emotion, Mat dropped his jets and pushed off the ground with his feet, the momentum carrying them to the middle of the gorge.  Now, with the most distance possible between them and the Dai Li agents that had remained attached to the rock walls, Mat did several things at once. He pumped his legs straight up, propelling him and his royal passenger into the air. He spread his arms wide, fanned his fingers out and spun; crafting ten long lashes of flame that raked the sides of the gorge and stalled the agents for the briefest of moments. Then, before his leap had turned back into a fall, he pushed his arms back down and heaved, creating two more columns of fire and rocketing them back into the sky.

At least, they had started rocketing back into the sky before a stone glove wrapped its unfeeling digits around his right arm and squeezed. From her spot on his back Azula could hear the bone snap and the arm break above Mat’s pained scream. They hit the ground hard, skidding along the volcanic rock before coming to a rest before a large jagged boulder that jutted up from the earth like a defiant gesture.

Azula rolled with the fall, leaping to her feet and drawing both swords in time to deflect an agent’s glove. It glanced off her blades and crashed into the jutting rock behind her, blowing a hole in the boulder. Her instincts told her to turn, and she managed to raise her swords again as the glove zoomed back out of the crater, completely intact and aiming for a second chance at flesh. Again it was denied, and after this attempt it returned to its master’s hand. The agent slowly approached from the gorge’s wall, his stance ready for her to make the next move.

Mat struggled to his feet, his right arm limp at his side. He did his best not to look at the splintered bone as it poked a bloody hole through his skin, and instead he opened and closed his left hand, testing the burnt and bleeding limb for fighting fitness.

“Dai Li, I order you to cease and desist!” Azula’s voice was unwavering, resolute, and altogether imperious. It had little to no effect on the approaching agents. Regardless, she tried again. “Halt!”

“Don’t think you’re top dog at pointy-hat HQ anymore, Princess.” Mat raised his arm and poured all the power he could into one last gout of flame. The fire bathed an approaching agent in a tremendous torrent of heat, but not before he’d crouched to the ground, raised his gloved hand, and bent an armor of earth to protect himself. Much too soon the flames died and the agent rose from his earthen cocoon, almost casually brushing bits of rock from his shoulder and none worse for the wear.



Together the Princess and the Phoenix backed up against the boulder. Dai Li agents had them on all sides, and even though they refused to give up, the very ability to fight back had all but deserted them.

Azula threw a glance to the man at her side. “So is this the end of the battle?” she asked sardonically.

He wasn’t sure what to say until he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. Instead of replying right away, he gave a tired grin and waited for the two bolts of lightning to finish their almost instantaneous journey. The massive arcs of electricity collided against the earth with an explosive fury, directly between the Dai Li and their cornered prey. The agents threw up walls of stone to protect themselves, and sheltered as they were failed to see or hear the six-legged air bison swoop overhead in full war armor.

“The end of the battle,” Mat conceded, “but the start of the counter-attack.”

                                                          …………………………
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flamehead23a
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« Reply #108 on: Feb 25, 2010 10:02 pm »

all right! there you go. as always, comments, critiques, and just about everything else is more than welcomed! While I've got you, I'll take this opportunity to define some of the words I've adopted for my story.

Haima Hana Haima is the greek word for blood. It's also the word Bryke based Hama's original name on. Credit goes to the Avatar wiki for that little tidbit. Hana is Japanese for Edge, so put the two together and you get Haima Hana, the Blood edge. a pretty fitting name for a waterbending organization that captures and breaks people into submission to be bloodbent into dolls, right?

now, onto that... I did extensive research into Inuit culture, faith, and language to come up with a lot of Hama and her organization's dialog and overall jargon. her line "we didn't believe, we feared" is actually a quote from a real Inuit when speaking about their relation with their spirits. Anywho, we'll start at the top:

Goark in the Inuit language, a goark is defined as, “imitation, similitude, play; inungoark (lit. imitation of a man) statue, ect.” Basically, goark is the inuit word for doll, statue, or an almost-man. A pretty fitting word for a human puppet, don’t you think?

Inuusiq is a root word, meaning "To live". It's the basis for several other words, such as “inuusiqarnatuq” which is “what which vivifies, enlivens.  And “inuttupuq—one who eats human flesh, cannibal”

koluk is an Inuit word for "Small." I tried, but couldn't find a direct translation for Pipsqueak, sorry. ^^

alright, moving on from the waterbenders...we've got Kahchi's two Komodo Rhinos, Tsume and Tsuno. Their names are Japanese words for "Claw" and "Horn" respectively, and yes they're sister and brother. hate to see what THEY'RE parents are like, eh?

finally, we've got (the) Wu Lian. The name is direct Chinese for "The Faceless." Fitting, no?

alright, let me know if I missed anything, and I'll edit this post here. until act III, have a good one!
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t-town
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« Reply #109 on: Feb 27, 2010 05:16 pm »

Great chapter again, I can't wait for the act III!
Yay, for Appa!
Does this mean the rest of the fire nation fleet arrived, or only Appa (and rider(s))? (No need to answer this question, I'll see when you post the next chapter)
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optimist rhyme
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« Reply #110 on: Mar 11, 2010 09:18 pm »

This is my first ever post here. I just wanted to say that this is the best fan fic I've ever read. Your writing style is great, your imagery is vivid and your grasp of the characters is exceptional. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of this tale!

I have a few comments and questions.
1) What is your knowledge/ grasp of greek? In the intros you use it and usually it seems like you're transliterating but sometimes I have a hard time making out what you're saying. Are some of the words actually greek while others are transliterations of english words spelled in greek? I ask because I took biblical greek in seminary and don't want to have to go back to my notes.

2) It was a slight adjustment getting used to the more sexual depictions of the gaang but I think you did it tastefully.

3) I like your integration of a non-canon character. I didn't think it would work but it is.

4) I look forward to seeing all of the storyline come to a head in the final act.

5) Finally, Toph is one of my favorite characters. She's also the only member of the gaang who remained single after the great war. I like her relationship with Mat. I think the love triangle (of sorts) between Toph, Azula and Mat is great. I just hope Toph can have a happy anding.

Keep up the great work!
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AvatarStateYipYip
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« Reply #111 on: Mar 12, 2010 11:21 am »

 Shocked THAT WAS AWESOME!!!!!!   Shocked

Just read this thing from start to finish, an excellent story. I love how creative your phoenix character is, the whole guardian of the fiction concept is pretty damn cool, and very well done. The gaang interactions are awesome, Kuzane is awesome (that whole imagination duel was epic!), the Kuzane/Iroh interaction just made me smile (i am a fan of Iroh). This whole epic showdown at the end of your first season is awesome, and now that the gaang's all here, things can only get more awesome, not to mention the white lotus will probably show up as well (a bit late, but hey, old geezers can only go so fast  Grin ).

Also, I originally hated azula (she is an awesome villain), she was such a cold, nasty piece of work that I was really rooting for her death in the season 3 finale, but instead I enjoyed her descent into madness. after watching the series once or twice more, I began to feel sorry for her, and sensed the tragedy of her plight. Your Fan Fic then sealed the deal, ( I sincerely hope your happy) I now root for Azula as I rooted for Zuko (granted Zuko was much easier as there was always obvious good in him). There I said it, I'm growing fond of Azula. Dang.

In conclusion I WANTS MORE!!!!! (keep up the good work, as it is awesome sauce!)
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Throw Down!!!!
Keeper of the shoe Long Feng lost to Appa at Lake Laogai and Meelo's fartbending (c'mon, admit it, you always wondered if airbenders could!) also Bumi's flute shenanigans
optimist rhyme
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« Reply #112 on: Apr 02, 2010 01:43 am »

I hope you can get another chapter to us soon flamehead23a.
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Tongone
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« Reply #113 on: Apr 02, 2010 06:21 pm »

After Calculus homework and icons, I sat down to read the first chapter.

And I do feel very cool for reading this.. you were right.

Your set up of the first chapter reminds me very much of this story I once had in mind a few years back. A time period after the war, where everything was just peaceful and more relaxed... there was also a school involved. Grin

I liked the introduction of Kuzane and how naturally the set up of his character seemed to come. You did a great job showing who he was, not telling it.

I'm interested in learning more about Matthias, but seeing as I have a whole lotta chapters (an entire Act in fact!) to catch up to, I know I'm definitely gonna learn much about him. You shed the right amount of light on him for the first chapter...


And as for this first chapter, I'm officially a Toph/Matthias shipper. Though I doubt that you had any romantic intentions for the two of them.



Curses, I scrolled down and spoiled myself a bit, reading about the "darkness" that's coming.. didn't read that entire chapter, but it ended really dramatically.


I shall continue on reading this.. wish I could draw, I can already see why people like illustrating scenes from your fanfic.
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avgeek
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« Reply #114 on: Apr 25, 2010 08:55 am »

Wow! Such fantastic literature communicated with vivid imagery. Your story has completely captured my interest and given some long-waited closure on Azula's insanity

I hope act III is released very soon as my anxiety is overwhelming and the story's momentum was at its peak.

So please flamehead23a release the next chapter ASAP. From your loyal fan avgeek (representing your British fan base).
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djinn
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Fish genetics is a very small field


« Reply #115 on: Apr 27, 2010 12:08 am »

I did say I would review it when I finished so here it is:

Firstly I want to start on your characters over your story, since Mathias is what makes the fic for me. At first, with Mathias, I was a little put off by this clearly non-avatar character. His speech and his attitude jarred me at the start. But after a few chapters he seemed to ease into the writing. Maybe that was you getting used to the character. One or two people mentioned that Mat could be considered a Gary Stu and I too feared he was heading in that direction. But I think you add enough depth and individual personality to make Mat one of the most enjoyable characters to read about in your fic.

Kuzane, on the other hand, didn’t work for me. I didn’t like his show off nature as I did with Mat. His side of the story too, seemed not as interesting to me as the others were.

Azula was at times your best character and also sometimes your worst. There were moments of sheer perfect writing for her and other times when I felt it wasn’t true to her personality. The main issue is how much has she changed from her time spent in the cooler. She was in there for 5 years, I know, but I just feel that if maybe a little more time was spent expanding her thoughts on that time or maybe getting her to feel more conflicted about the decisions she’s making then I might have bought it all the more. Still, like I said, I really loved a lot of Azula in this fic, especially in the later chapters where I felt you really got a nice balance with her haughty yet wanting to change attitude.

As for the rest of the gang, some worked and others didn’t. The main one that was a sore point for me was Mai. I don’t know, just something about her felt a little off. And Zuko too, but then I’ve never liked him as much as the others.

As for your story, I really like where it’s going so far. The idea of someone having to preside over all fiction is a great concept. You mix Greek fictional ideas well with those based in Avatar. Although this is early days I can see that you’ve got some really epic ideas in mind with this story. I look forward to where you’re going to take it.

Finally I want to talk about my favourite part of your story, that being your writing. For me this was just a joy to read. Your later chapters are definitely better than your earlier ones but they are all written so well and so cleanly that you don’t even really notice. I have to make special mention to your finale which was in itself a work of art. So many times have I read works where the author has rushed the ending just so he can get it out to their audience. I applaud you for taking the time to make sure everything was perfect in the finale. I was literally on the edge of my seat. I would never ever have believed that fan fiction could make me do that. Until now.

Excellent work Flamehead. This is something you should be unashamedly proud of.
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the-second-last-airbender
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^Amazing work by Shira-chan of DA


« Reply #116 on: May 08, 2010 09:16 pm »

hehehehe

Remember a time way back when, when I was your first fan?
Well, due to unfortunate and unforeseen events, I had quite some time snagged away from my life allowing for some of my favourite hobbies to fall to the way side... your story being one of them.

-sigh-

Well, I'm back now and glad to see you are still working on Azula's redemption and even gladder still to see you finally have a fan base which respects your work for what it is! Anyway, sorry for disappearing on ya, hopefully I'll make it up by becoming a loyal reader once more - just gotta fully catch up on everything I missed!

See ya on the next post, Master Flamehead
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^I'm a Photoshop Noob, but havin' fun!
Keeper of: Wait! Hey! Where did all the keepsakes go? Damn Avatards! *Shakes Fist!*
optimist rhyme
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« Reply #117 on: Jun 04, 2010 01:39 pm »

Hey Flamehead232, I was wondering if you were working on the next chapter and if you'll get it out to us soon. I hope you do. It's a wonderful story.
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