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Author Topic: A Man and His Spear; PG-13 [Complete]  (Read 16640 times)
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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A Soulful Brother

« Reply #25 on: Oct 30, 2009 12:55 am »


Three years ago…

“And? Then what happened?” Jakei urged on Norio.

He paused to take another drink, letting the dramatic effect build. “And? Well, I looked him right in his eye. Then I planted a big fat kiss on his girlfriend who was standing next to him.”

The circle of 6 of soldiers broke out into a chorus of “ohhh’s” and laughter. Except me, of course. I wasn’t a part of this particular clique. In fact, they don’t even know I’m in here. I came in here to drink some sake and steal an hour of sleep in private. The army doesn’t like its soldiers getting plastered while on duty apparently. Something about being a danger on the battlefield. Only minutes after I finally closed my eyes, these yahoos came.

Only Norio would choose a place like this to share his stories of personal conquest, I thought, suppressing a chuckle.

It had been 10 days since we landed and at base on this island. Yet another spurned Fire Nation general was trying to overthrow Fire Lord Zuko, and a small regiment of Earth Kingdom soldiers was sanctioned to support the Earth Kingdom base in the Fire Nation to put down the rebellion. It was just another part of the brilliance that was the “World Reborn Act”. I’m no politician or anything like that, but I fail to see how forcing other nation’s military to set up bases and fight on another nation’s soil could be labeled under “Good Ideas.” Oh well.

To tell the truth, I could care less why we were in the Fire Nation. Anything to get away from the house for a few weeks. Then again, I’d almost rather be back there than listen to this crap.

I let out a loud, brapping belch, cutting off the storyteller who responded by letting out a cowardly yelp.

“Who’s there?” he demanded with a shaky voice after clearing his throat.

I stepped from behind the provisions crate I was leaning against. Norio straightened up a bit when he saw me, trying to salvage some of his dignity. “For crying out loud, Norio. Enough with the literary indulgency, eh?”

Norio just blinked his heavy eyebrows at me. Both in shock that I was there the whole time and at my calling him out. “The what?”

“The bull-spider crap. Cut it out,” I dumbed it down. It was a pretty colorful bit of wordplay, though I can’t take full credit for it. I heard it when I was walking past the Ba Sing Se Grand Library once. I think it was some bookworms arguing about the latest Avatar Hoshiro book.

“Accusing me of lying? You got some nerve, Flute Boy.”

Flute boy. I hate that nickname, but only because it was true. I was the Music Night flutist back at home base. Not by choice, mind you. I lost a damn bet to see who got the last instrument, to a girl of all things. I wanted the drums. Drums are cool, manly. Flutes are lame, girly. But, since I’m suck as the flute guy, why suck at it? Turns out I’m pretty good. And what’s even worse is that my spear looks a little like a flute. An oversized, nearly 6 foot long flute with a blade on it, and I don’t suck with that either. So the nickname stuck.

“No, I know you’re lying,” I said simply while taking a sip of the bitter sake. “In fact, I doubt a single thing you’ve said the entire time you’ve been here was true.”

“Oh yeah?” Norio sneered at me. “I’d love to see you prove it.”

I shrugged. “Alright, well for starters.” I gestured blandly towards the swords on his back. “You couldn’t have taken your broadswords from the dying Blue Spirit. Just recently, Fire Lord Zuko formally admitted to being the Blue Spirit to dispel the rumors that the Blue Spirit killed the Earth King’s adjutant. And he said that he’s never worn the mask in over 10 years. But, whatever, you might’ve just thought the dying guy was the Blue Spirit or there could be more than one person using that name. But, hell, if you want to admit to stealing the swords from a pretender, that’s fine.

“But, that isn’t all that was wrong with your story. You said you trained in sword fighting with Master Piandao of the Fire Nation? It’s believable, since I know your father’s in good with some Fire Nation nobles that live in Piandao’s home town. But still it’s a load, since as he only uses jians not broadswords. And I hear he only trains the worthy. Some guy like you? No way in hell.”

His cheeks got redder.

“The trick you say you pulled with the blasting jelly capsules in basic? Those fuses keep the jelly from going boom on you while it’s still in your hands. And you ripped it out?” I feign looking him over. “Looks like you’ve got all limbs present and accounted for there, buddy.”

He opened his mouth to say something, but I didn’t let him say it.

“But none of that was what proves you’re full of it. It was your story about the girl in Yotsuma you slept with and what you did in front of her boyfriend when he called you out? Come on, you really expect us to believe a Yotsuma man would let you do that? I know Yotsuma. One of my exes lived out there. I saw a man’s arm get broke just for looking at his girl the wrong way. And you say boned his girl AND kissed her right in front of him? He would’ve chopped your thing off and stuffed it down your throat for that.” I took up my spear and headed for the door. “But, hell, far be it from me to interrupt the tale. I’m sure the rest of the guys would love it when you get to the part where you took a bath in a volcano while making out with the Moon Spirit and getting a back rub from Avatar Kyoshi’s ghost.”

I stepped out just as the “Aw, you just got jerked, Norio!”s started to come out. The muggy night air swept over me. I always liked the cooler months better than the warm ones. But, in the Fire Nation there seemed to be two seasons: summer and almost summer. I can’t stand the heat. If it’s too cold, you can always throw on another layer of clothes. But if it’s hot, you’re just hot. You can only dress so lightly until you’re naked. Which was why I’m not wearing a shirt right now.

“You nailed him again, Van,” said the familiar voice of Wei Li Wu, a fellow member of the spearman infantry regiment, though he was under a different commanding officer, as he fell in step with me. He was a plucky 17 year old. I wouldn’t say I’m the most mature 19 year old on the planet, but compared to Wei Li, I was Grandpa Van. Wide eyed, energetic, yeah, he still had the look of an idealistic little kid that thinks life is all sunshine and sugar stones. I don’t think a single bad thing has ever happened to him in his life. For some reason, the kid likes to hang around me and I don’t feel like telling him to just buzz off, so…I’ve got a tag along. But, he better not think I’m some kind of babysitter. “He just never learns. How many times have you done that kind of stuff to him? Four?”

I shrugged wryly. “This would be the third time. Some people are just gluttons for self-humiliation, Willy. That or they’re just dumb. I’m just glad that this time I didn’t need to hit him.”

Willy laughed. “But did you really need to do it this time? They didn’t know you were there. You could’ve just scared the heck out of them by casually walking out of the room.”

Was he following me around again? “Maybe you’re right, but…” I swilled the little bit of sake around in my cup so the kid could see. “...when I’m on the juice I get kind of mouthy.”

Willy eyed me. “You don’t sound drunk.”

I chuckled. “I’m real good at holding my alcohol, kid. It’s something of an acquired skill of mine.”

He raised his eyebrows. “Really? You mean like sleeping on your feet?”

I laughed. It was odd how much about me Willy knew. I learned to sleep on my feet while I was under Commander Omonoi and Itsugi’s command during my first tour of duty. That was all before Willy had joined. He must have asked someone about that. “Something like that. You’ll find out when you’re older.” I pitched the cup off in some random direction as we passed some of the barracks and cabins.

“Enough with the ‘kid’ stuff, we’re just-”

“Atten-hut!” someone shouted. We both snapped to attention.

Major Bei Fu strode in front of us with a harsh scowl on her face. She was a woman with sharp features and a long queue of dark brown hair that had faint wisps of grey in it. I don’t know where she keeps any of the muscle. I’ve had to spar against her in basic training and she was almost impossible to overpower in hand to hand. She wasn’t stronger than me, but she was strong enough and had such good technique that I could only stalemate her. It’s only when I’m using a spear do I actually beat her. She was a grizzled veteran of 42 years old. I knew that she’d fought in the war and made a good name for herself. I was surprised she hasn’t risen even higher than Major. She could become one of the first women generals in Earth Kingdom history.

Provided she keeps her vices in check, I thought.

Even though I was staring straight ahead, I could see her wet pants leg. And that she held the same cup I was just holding.

Aw crap.

“1st Lieutenant Van Tsu-Yan!” She held up the cup. “What am I holding, soldier?”

Willy opened his mouth to speak, but said nothing. She was addressing me. So I said, “Sir, a cup, sir.”

Flat eyes leveled on me. “I know it’s a cup, soldier. I mean what’s in the cup.”

Again Willy sputtered. “Sir, there is nothing in the cup, sir,” I said.

Flat eyes became flatter eyes. Her eyebrows didn’t move individually. They sank together like window shutters. “I do not appreciate your attempts at humor, 1st Lieutenant. Neither do I appreciate you getting drunk while under my command! And I certainly don’t appreciate being struck by your errantly thrown cups of sake!” She threw the cup down. “I’d be well within my rights to have you court marshaled!”

Willy finally worked up the moxy to speak. “Sir, we humbly request your forgiveness, sir,” he said.

Major Bei Fu glared at him. “Private Wu, there is no need to act on the behalf of a superior officer. I shall deal with you at another time. You are dismissed. Report to the barracks, soldier.”

Willy hesitated. He looked at me. I gave a little nod to him. He promptly bowed and said, “Sir, yes, sir.” Then he half walked, half ran off.

She followed him off with her eyes, then she looked back at me and her expression had softened. A lot.

Aw double crap.

I shot a quick look behind me and realized that I was standing right in front of her private cabin. When my eyes came back front, she had closed the distance between us by half and was moving closer.

“At ease, soldier,” she purred as she looked me up and down. Yes, she purred. It sent shivers down my spine. It was a good and bad shiver.

I should’ve worn a damn shirt, I thought bitterly.

“Major…” I started. She put a finger on my lips. She was still walking towards me, so I had to back up or else he finger would go inside my mouth.

“Uh-uh,” she chided, wagging her other finger at me. “I didn’t give you permission to speak, did I?

I looked around and couldn’t see a soul. Of all the rotten luck. My foot hit a step and I nearly fell on my ass. I took a step up.

“Yes, it’s just you and me, now, my dear soldier,” she cooed. “You’ve messed up my good uniform, soldier. Now, I’m going to need to slip into something else.”

Another step.

“And I do believe that you…” She slid her finger down off my lips and then walked it back up my chest. “…are going to help me...” She let the word linger. “…change.”

I backed into her cabin door, which creaked open. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath as she all but shoved me inside. I was getting tired of this. Something about it just felt…


The army has rules about relationships between soldiers. But that isn’t what so wrong about this. It wasn’t that Major Bei Fu wasn’t attractive. She was. It wasn’t that she was too old. She wasn’t.

Maybe it was because I’m supposed to call this woman, “Sir.” This was my commanding officer, all over me like a cat in heat. When around other officers she’s all cold and indifferent. Like a typical officer always is. But the second she gets a free moment alone with me, it’s “I’m so hot for you. Take me!”

This is the kind of thing a guy’d kill for. Having frequent flings with his attractive superior officer? Jackpot, right? In fact, when it first started it, that’s how I treated it. Like I was the luckiest S.O.B in the world. It started in basic after the first time I defeated her in the sparing square. She called me up to her office. I thought I’d done something wrong, naturally. I walked in, she locked the door behind me, told me to sit down, and we talked. For a few minutes anyway. It was all fun at first. She was just my drill instructor. I had her to thank for the physical condition I had right now. I didn’t know she’d eventually be my commanding officer at the time. I’d heard she lead a high ranking infantry division that doesn’t admit many people on their first year or even second years of their tour. But, I got the transfer into her division soon after, along with an appropriate promotion.

Maybe my problem isn’t just that I find it wrong. I’m starting to think that the only reason I got assigned to work under her was so I could be her personal plaything. On the rare occasion my division does any actual fighting, I’m always a part of the supporting squad. Or in other words, I get to stare at the backs of everyone else while they do the bulk of the fighting. I’ve still gotten two more promotions afterwards, all on the Major’s recommendation. And I don’t like that at all. If I rise in the ranks, I want it to be for my skills on the battlefield. Not because a superior officer has the hots for me.

I made sure to join the army, and not some homeland gig, to leave this kind of drama back home. Why does an average person like me always get mixed up in these weird situations? I mean, even I can see this gender role reversal thing going on. An aggressive woman pushing a reluctant man into screwing around? How often does that ever happen? It was like somebody out there was toying with me just to watch me squirm. But, I don’t need to be thinking about crazy stuff like that now

I made up my mind. I’m putting a stop to this. And tonight was as good a time as any.

I pushed her up and away from kissing me as she straddled my waist. She gave me a confused and impatient look. “What? What’s wrong?” A small smile appeared on her face. “Am I taking too long to get started? Okay then.” She shifted backwards and reached down for my belt.

I grabbed her hand. “No. Stop. There’s some-“

A man in black clothing crashed through the side window. And before either me or the Major could react, a bright orange stream of fire filled my vision.

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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A Soulful Brother

« Reply #26 on: Dec 13, 2009 12:24 am »

Chapter 9: Fall Out

   The cylinder of flames struck true. Neither of us had time to move. I couldn’t because of the woman straddling me. She couldn’t because of the man she was straddling.

   Major Bei Fu. Served approximately 20 years of duty to the Earth Kingdom Army, 5 years of which in the 100 Year War. Married to Lt. General Kwan since beginning of service until he died from pneumonia 4 years ago. Mother of two.
Major Bei Fu was a decorated warrior. I was just barely able to take her in sparring matches back in basic. But, that was just practice fighting. It wasn’t nearly the same as the real thing. I didn’t doubt for a second she would’ve beaten me in the real thing.

Mother of two.

I’ve seen her on the battlefield. If there was a better person in the army with a pole arm, I’ve never seen them. She was at the level I hoped to reach myself someday. And she wasn’t just a formidable pole arm wielder. She was proficient with a variety of weapons. Any one enemy would be in trouble should they attempt to take her life. Some Fire Nation punk trying to sneak attack her didn’t stand a chance, right?

Mother of two.

But she had a weakness, a flaw. She didn’t take to the loss of her husband well. She missed him dearly. For a time, I thought it was her need for affection that drove her to do what she did with me. But that wasn’t it.

The flame was a vicious one, uncaring, seeking only to destroy. It turned the very attractive Major into a mass of screaming and thrashing humanity. It was like time grew leaden feet. And I could take in everything with vivid details I didn’t want taken in. The acrid smell of burning flesh. The sheer agony of her cries. The pleased look in the assailant’s eyes that were all that were exposed under his assassin’s shroud. The way her skin bubbled before it pealed. And the sudden feeling of her weight disappearing from my waist as Major Bei Fu tumbled off the bed.

I’d seen men burned before. We were fighting rogue Fire Nation soldiers. Burning was to be expected. It was never easy to witness people I considered war pals experience that. I should’ve been somewhat used to it, but none of the other times was anything like this. I was never as close to them as I was to her. Seeing it so close. Knowing how this happened. Knowing that it was because of me that she was caught unawares…

Mother of two.

…it was like someone’s cruel joke that no one would ever think was funny.

And I was left with the punch line.

Mother of two.

I can just barely recall moving. I never moved so fast in my life. I was off the bed and had taken up my spear just as the bastard struck out again, seemingly shocked that someone was under the woman, hidden from view thanks to the bottom half of the mask covering a portion of his vision. The flames scorched into the plush silk bed, missing me. I can just barely recall when I struck and I certainly didn’t recall when or how I took his head from his shoulders.

The sizzling pain of my slightly burned arm snapped me out of whatever daze I was in.  I found myself panting staring down at the body that was just on top of me a moment ago.

She was still alive. Barely. Her eyes were distant and glassy and her breath came in and out in quick, strangled wisps. Nothing about her was recognizable. Nothing. A feeling like despair stole my strength, and gravity took me to my knees.


Three years later, present day…

It wasn’t my fault. That’s what you’d think I’d be told, right?

No one heard her screams. The hit was just a precursor to the raid on our base. Other commanding officers were attacked, several barracks attacked while many slept. I never left her side. I don’t know how long I sat there with her until someone checked up on the Major’s whereabouts after the battle was over.

It was stupid of me, weak of me. I should’ve run to get help, send up an alarm about a possible intruder, or just done anything else but sit there like a pathetic child that lost his mother. That’s what they told me at my court martial.

“I showed dishonorable judgment in controlling my hormones and risking the integrity of the entire installment.”

Yes, they blamed me for the copulations with a fellow member of the armed forces. The Major was absolved of all guilt.

“I abandoned my post and gave the enemy the opportunity to attack.”

Yes, they blamed me for not taking up guard duty that night. Even though it wasn’t my turn that. The sentry on duty, which was killed and hidden in the woods, was also absolved of all guilt.

“I showed shameful weakness in the face of adversity, which flew in the face of the Earth Kingdom Army’s entire creed.”

That much was true at least. I was weak.

It was during that court martial that I realized something. I was making fun of Willy Wu for being so idealistic to the world. It turns out my own view of the world was horribly off too. I wasn’t as grizzled as I liked to think. After all, this was a world where I could be turned into the scapegoat so the military can save some face in the face of the single greatest loss of life since the war. This was enough offense for me to be locked away for the rest of my life, if not outright executed. But, they knew the truth and used me like a piece of paper you wipe your butt with then throw away.

That’s what I was to the Earth Kingdom and nothing I could say or do would matter. I was a discharged, also ran nothing.

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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A Soulful Brother

« Reply #27 on: Dec 13, 2009 12:24 am »


(Also ran is a term that’s like being called spineless, only much, much worse. During the 100 Year War a detachment of troops was moving on a cell of Fire Nation troops in the western Earth Kingdom. The commanding officer didn’t realize that it was a trap. The Fire Nation army had prior knowledge of everything about the detachment thanks to clever use of gathering intelligence, like spying. They knew not only when and where the army was coming from, but the exact number of troops right down to the last soldier. They plotted their course that would take them over a valley pass and attacked them before they could ascend the slope. The Earth Kingdom army was trapped. Determined to wipe the detachment out, the Fire Nation made sure to shoot down any messenger hawks the Earth Kingdom army might send out so that they couldn’t get any reinforcements.

Knowing they were doomed, the CO ordered his troops to make a last stand and take as many troops down with them. But, he knew that the rest of the army needed to know of the Fire Nation’s presence and a message could only be delivered by foot. The Fire Nation was watching for a full retreat, even though the Earth Kingdom’s policy at the time was to never retreat, and would slaughter them before they left the valley. But, the CO gambled that a single soldier might be able to slip through and sent one man to deliver a message.

The soldiers fought bravely through the day and night but ultimately were decimated. Out of a detachment of 600, only 13, including the CO, remained. They found the messenger’s tracks and the Fire Nation CO demanded a count of the Earth Kingdom dead. The Earth Kingdom CO laughed derisively and said, “You won’t find him. I’ve sent a messenger to run back to base. By now reinforcements are on their way.”

But just then, the count came back and they were two short, not one. Unwilling to believe their intelligence was incorrect, the Fire Nation CO said, “You said you only sent one man to run. Why is he not with your dead?”

Without batting an eye, the Earth Kingdom CO simply said, “Also ran.”

Though it was more likely the CO said “He also ran”, the sentence stuck and it came to identify the soldier that ran with the messenger. It became a phrase identifying all men who display shameful cowardice in the face of adversity. No one wanted to be called an also ran. Right now, it’s a military term, but I’ve gotta hunch it’ll be a regular slang term soon enough.)

No longer a part of the great and powerful Earth Kingdom army.

I was just a guy and his spear. Nothing more, nothing less.

But, they were right. I was just an also ran. I stood there the whole time and took it. I didn’t raise a single voice of objection. I just didn’t care anymore. Willy might’ve spoken up for me. If here were there at the time, that is. But, Willy was killed in the raid. I once promised I’d watch his back until the space behind his ears wasn’t so wet. And what was I doing when he lost his life? Nothing.

Even my promises were worthless.

Once it was all over, rather than return home to a family that wouldn’t treat me like I did anything wrong, or anything else for that matter, I left civilized life behind me completely. There just wasn’t any point in it anymore.

But, what am I thinking about any of that mess for? None of that has to do with why a certain woman hates my guts.

Mother of two.

Why didn’t I see the resemblance before? That regal air Lin carries herself with and the staff. Lin didn’t remind me of Commander Omonoi. Not even close. And Siyo, she has the same eyes, same body. Both of them put together were the Major’s spitting image. How didn’t I see it before? Did I just not want to remember? Was I blocking it out?

Siyo. Lin. Both were-

I came to a sudden stop, my eyebrows raised. I backpedaled to the seemingly empty room I just walked by. And then I smiled at myself. I was so caught up in thought, I almost didn’t notice the metal door that was half open. Through it was another room and I could see the metal glinting off a crystal lantern’s light. Taking cautious steps, I pressed myself against the wall, adjacent the door. I noted that the door was textured and painted black. Unless you walked up to it, it would look like the rest of the walls.
It was without a doubt the armory. Racks of swords, knives, arrows, spare uniforms, armor, and other trinkets of battle where in there. And stashed almost as if it was thrown in haphazardly, were my spear and the back holster I seldom use. I couldn’t suppress the smile that came out. I couldn’t find anything when I was trying, but when I trekked down memory lane, I nearly blunder past the very thing I was looking for.

Almost had me there, Fate and Luck, didn’t you?

Satisfied that no one was in there I slipped inside, quietly closed the door behind me, and gathered my things. It was very reassuring to have my weapon back, its familiar weight in my hands. And since no one else was around I perused a bit and, ah, helped myself to a few other items of interest. Like a slight change of clothes, including some new combat footwear that was just my size. I’d been running around in desert sandals and heavy socks for too long now.

Alright. Time to figure someway out of here. I knelt to pick the lock and saw the lock was already cut. My own stupidity made me frown. The other door wasn’t locked either. The pit, it wasn’t even closed. I doubled back to the one I came in. Sure enough, the lock was from the outside. I frowned in stupidity for missing that too.

Then my eyes frowned, er, narrowed in realization. Someone was in there with me and Pretty Boy. With that battle going on outside, it could be more than one someone. They might even be waiting for me on the other side. I could be walking into a trap. But, I’m on some weird military operation’s strong hold that was under attack by a group that I know wants me dead. If I’m getting out of here, I was probably going to have to fight my way out.

I was just about to open it when a shadow flickered by under the door. I pressed my ear to the door and listened. It was faint, but I could hear it. Someone’s breathing from the other side. I pulled the door open as hard as I could and rushed through, ready to cut down whoever it was.

I caught brief glimpse of figure roughly mid-chest level. The world spun around. And then I was on the back of my neck, butt straight up in the air against a wall. A pair of tiny feet just in front of me, seemingly standing on the ceiling. It took a moment to figure out what the pit was happening.

Lyra was stooping over me, hands on her knees and her head tilted slightly, a faintly concerned look in those big blue eyes.

She just flipped me over like a half cooked steak.

Utterly humiliated by a girl half my size and in an even more humiliating position because of it. I had several things I could’ve said to preserve some manly dignity at that moment, ranging from clever nonchalance to a mean spirited scolding to random…playing it off-ness-ness. I settled on the most profound of all the choices.


This feeling. Is it relief? No way. Can’t be. Am I so pathetic I’m pleased that a 4 foot nothing tyke powerhouse with some attachment to me decided to follow me into who-knows-where instead of go straight for Ba Sing Se?

For the sake of my own mental health- what’s left of it, anyway- I won’t answer that question.

I didn’t bother asking why she was here. The chances she would just blink were just too much in my favor. Someway, somewhere, somehow as she followed me here, the girl picked up a black cloak that fit her perfectly. I wanted to ask where could she possibly have found it, but didn’t for previously mentioned reasons. Shaking my head at the sheer “What.”-ness of this, I brought myself back to bear.

On the other side of the door was yet another hallway. I would’ve cursed up a fit for having to walk through more endless hallways, if not for this hallway having windows. Looking out was vaguely familiar to being in the Grand Coliseum. That is if the Grand Coliseum were underground. It was really a massive dome shaped cavern. Strewn about the bottom were various tents, stacks of crates, running tracks, and an occasional grouping of crude tables and stools. The familiarity with the layout was hammering me until it hit me what this reminded me of. It was just like General Fong’s base.

I didn’t take too long looking down because this was where all the activity was. Near an entrance on the far wall, wounded soldiers were being carried on stretchers to waiting medics. I had to be at least 50 feet off the ground, but I could hear orders being shouted as more troops were mobilized and sent topside to keep the Luminous Ones at the east battlement. Someone was demanding for a sitrep about-

I shook my head, trying to clear away the waves of nostalgia all this military jargon was giving me. That’s good ol’ Earth Kingdom conditioning for you. Years off the frontlines, I still flinch at commands.

I glanced at Lyra. Or rather, I glanced at the space Lyra was just occupying. She had moved 20 feet up the curving hallway, being careful to stay low. She was looking back at me. I guess she doesn’t want to stick around and sightsee.  I shuffled after and when I’d gotten to within 5 feet she moved further ahead of me. My eyebrow rose. I moved to close the distance, but she quickened her pitter-pattering steps, staying ahead of me. My other eyebrow rose.

My gut instincts told me to just allow it. It wasn’t like I knew a way out of here. But this just didn’t sit right. Not just her leading. This whole situation doesn’t sit right. Ever since the pirate ship something has nagged at the back of my mind. And I’m finally starting to understand what.

I’ve become both spectator and participant to something so much bigger than me. And probably I shouldn’t have been involved period. It’s like why am I even here? I can’t even find my way out of a stupid hallway. Meanwhile, some little girl is more capable, comfortable, and more focused than I am. I’d damn near say she was more suited to this than I was.

But, no, that isn’t right, is it? I do tie into this. It started weeks before the ship with the very reason I was on that ship in the first place. I’ve gone over everything that’s happened so far dozens of times in my head. But, I keep coming back to the same dead end. I could feel my teeth grinding together. I’m pretty good at putting things together. The pit, my wits were the only thing I had going for me other than being handy with a spear. If I can’t use those to see me out of a tough spot, what else can I do? I can only beat so much ass. I suppose I could try smartass remarking my way out. See how that works.

I felt a bitter smile spread. Is that my contribution in all this? Is that why I’m here? Oh well. Fine. Every battle for the integrity of the Earth Kingdom needs a designated smartass. But I guess you can’t call being dragged along some life sized anthill a battle for the integrity of anything.

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #28 on: Dec 13, 2009 12:25 am »


We made our way along the hallway, moving with the kind of pace more suited to a hunter than someone who didn’t want to get caught sneaking around. We circled around to other side of the chamber and came to stairwell. We took it up about 6 exhausting floors to the top.

This floor just had a simple stone railing that came up to the waist. Lyra’s waist. Looking down was dizzying. It had to be a sheer 100 foot drop. Who the pit designed this place? Were they trying to create a death trap on the top floor? Sure, it had some artistic appeal, I guess. Even though this place felt like it had been around for centuries, it still had that new age look that most of the new buildings had. But it’d be real hard to appreciate the architecture as you’re plummeting to your death cause someone idiot made a hand railing too short.  I’ll give them credit, it was clear this part of the level wasn’t made to be walked on as there were no doors all around the wall, but still.

A short hallway extended past the other side of the stairs leading to double doors. Oddly enough, they weren’t locked either. In fact, there wasn’t even a lock to lock. Inside was a rather lavish room. The two walls on either side were lined with floor to ceiling high bookshelves, containing all sorts of books and scrolls, some of which looked like they’d crumble to pieces if opened. A glass covered display with some ornate dagger was sat in the right corner, closest to the door and another display with a black metal gauntlet in the corner opposite it. Behind the desk was a chair and a fireplace with bright blue crystals burning, casting room with a sky blue haze.

As nice as the room looked, there was nothing else in here. No windows, no other entrances, no nothing. I can’t see any reason she’d lead us here when we should be trying to get out of here. But, all the same Lyra began walking softly down the wall, peering up and down the bookshelf.

I rolled my eyes as I moved to sit in the leather chair behind the desk. Are you kidding me? She brought me up here to thumb through some books like it was a damn library? What if someone-

The room shuddered from a distant, but large, impact shrill bleating like sound rang out.

I should’ve known better than to give Fate a set up line like that. But, I’m something of an idiot, I guess. Lyra looked from the source of the sound to me. I don’t know if she was trying to tell me anything or not, but I got out of the chair anyway. She seemed to have hurried her pace as she looked amongst the books and scrolls. I slipped out of the double doors and crouch walked up to the low railing, peering down at ground level.

The relative peace and calm of the command front was shattered by sudden battle. There were the black and purple members of Siyo’s group vs. giant beetles. These beetles were the source of that bleating sound. I’ve dealt with the beetle headed merchants before and their large insects. Those beetles were domesticated, but even in the wild, they’re docile, harmless to humans. I’ve even ridden on one of the creatures.

These things weren’t those beetles.

They had six legs segmented legs, same as the other kind, and the hard shell. But, instead of one large horn jutting from the middle of two black eyes like the other kind, these beetles had two large mandibles jutting from either side of the head with spikes and jagged edges all long the inside.

I blinked at what I was seeing and reached into the belt pouch I took from the armory and drew out a small pair of binoculars, to look more closely at the beetles.


I’d always known the creatures existed, but never saw them before. Yet, I knew the facts. Those jaws weren’t for show. The beetles were man-killers, man-eaters. But, these giant bugs weren’t just rampaging under their own accord. They had riders. The deadly beetles had riders. Men in apparently plain clothes were sitting atop these beasts with reigns and saddle, directing them around with a simple flick of the reigns and a kick on their hard, chitin shells. And that was by all rights impossible. You don’t domesticate rabid insects. It was one thing to take a peaceful insect and break it to haul heavy cargo, it was another to try and break a creature that wanted to eat you and make it let you ride on top of it. They tended to not get over the “want to eat you” part.

But even as I called it impossible, there they were. Riding the things. I counted 10 in total.

The mounted creatures lurched forward, seizing stunned men between their jaws and slicing them in half, trampling them beneath their feet, or simply goring them on the ends of those horrible jaws and flinging them through the air with a sweep of their great heads. The men and women of Siyo’s group were fighting back and fighting well, considering the staggering odds against them. One of the bugs had already been killed, a large section of its thorax impaled on a large stone spike, dark brown blood oozing from its body, the things jaws still slowly working even in death. They were unprepared for this kind of onslaught. How could they? Typical military combat training doesn’t include a “Giant Killer X” course, though they probably should. The outcome of this battle was obvious. Either they’d retreat, or become beetle food. The ground was quickly splashing with blood, limbs, and other gore as the creatures tore into their ranks. As I kept surveying the scene, I came to one of the mounts attacking a tent of the wounded. I grimaced heavily. The screams easily drifted up to me, high above the mayhem.

The screams brought images of burning flesh began to creep back into my mind, flashing at my mind’s eye like blinking lights. I forced myself to look away from it the beetle massacre, shunning the memories they dredged up.

And that’s what saved my life.

I saw the glint of the blade coming just barely out of the corner of my eye. Instinct took over as I clumsily swung up the haft of my spear, deflecting the thrown shuriken. Its course altered from embedding itself in the back of my head and licked across my face. A line of fire erupted on my cheek, but I couldn’t dwell on it. The hard faced man…no…woman’s arms blurred as she flung two more shuriken at me. I completely knocked away another shuriken and the second-

Oh crap!

My spear met nothing but air.

The second throw was just feint to get my spear out of the way, leaving me open to counterattack. She was rushing in fast with a short sword, reverse gripped in her hands, the tactic of a trained killer. My spear’s off kilter balance and her speedy rush…
I’d never bring my spear back around in time to meet her attack. She was going to gut me! Unless…

I underhandedly threw the binoculars I was still holding in my other hand at her head. The binoculars probably didn’t weigh a pound and weren’t a threat to do her any damage if she just let them hit her, but in the heat of battle, being thrown at your head, they could look like anything. She let out a sharp cry of surprise and dropped down under them as they sailed past, and still tried to slash me. The half second she lost dodging the binoculars was just enough for me to twist and sidestep her swing, but just barely. The blade met cloth and dug in, but missed my skin. She was just starting to recover when I threw my foot between hers and knocked her off balance as she came by. Her momentum took her over the small railing and she started to scream. One of her flailing arms grabbed hold of my shirt.

And I was pulled down after her.

Panic surged through me as I lost my own balance and went over the side, head first. I frantically slapped at anything solid. My hand found something and I clung to it with dear life. All of my body weight went to one arm and my shoulder exploded in so much pain I thought it’d dislocate, and that pain started to make my grip falter. Unable to help myself, I looked down. If I thought the view before was dizzying, this was enough to make me hurl. It didn’t help that I could see the woman I threw over still falling. Her scream, one of rage and hate, not fear. Her arms reaching and grabbing, but finding nothing. I could still see her eyes as she fell. Staring straight back at me and…and…

What in the…

She hit the ground with a sickening splat of red.

I took my eyes off of it. Teeth gritted and panting like a wild animal, I still held on to my spear, but I knew I couldn’t hold on with just one arm. If I dropped my spear…

The pit no! Not even an option. I used what little momentum my spear still had, after I flipped around after grabbing the ledge, and hurled it back up over the rail. I heard something sounding man’s cry of pain above me, but my mind was racing with the desire to live that it could’ve been me. I summoned every spare bit of strength I could muster and hauled myself back up and over the railing.

I rolled onto my back and laid there for a minute, waiting for my breathing to slow and my heart to stop hammering in my ears. I wearily looked to my right and saw a man’s body sitting up against the wall. My spear was lodged blade deep in his chest, a streak of red running down the wall after him.

I was puzzled at first, but then I hit me. When I threw my spear over the side it skewered him by total accident. I couldn’t stop the unbelieving chuckles from coming out. I slowly climbed to my feet as I heard shouts of alarm ring out from below, as well as more of the haunting bleats of the beetles. The last thing I wanted to do was look down back over the railing, but I did.

I didn’t like what I saw.

Everyone that was wearing Siyo’s group colors was either dead or had retreated. The death beetles were coming, climbing straight up the sides of the walkways like it was level ground. They’d be up here in under a minute.

I gulped down a still dry throat and turned. Lyra was there, staring at me.

For the first time, I didn’t jump at her suddenly standing where she wasn’t standing before.

There was another first here too.

She looked scared. She had the look in her face of a little girl that was begging for someone to protect her. Lyra. She was looking like that.

Stupidly, I stood staring right back at her. I’d just dangled a hundred feet from death and was about to be neck deep in deadly monster beetles, but seeing Lyra scared, vulnerable-the same Lyra that so coldly killed a man, that seemed so above all the danger she was obviously walking in- that was the most chilling thing. She didn’t even look down, so she couldn’t know about the beetles, or maybe she did, but still even if she had:

I got the feeling that it wasn’t the beetles she was afraid of.

Then, whispered to me, “Bad men come.”

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #29 on: Dec 13, 2009 09:59 pm »

Wow. OMG. Giant beetles are bad enough, but who the hell are they?

And the woman. Did he know her? Guess we'll have to wait for another flashback to find out.

Update soon. That's one heck of a cliffhanger right here.

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« Reply #30 on: Dec 25, 2009 07:47 pm »

Chapter 10: The Former and the Ladder

Lyra whispered her warning and then spun around and glided back to the room. I pulled my spear free of the dead man’s chest it was lodged in, flicking the blade clean of the most of the blood. A shrill, warbling bleat rang out from far too close and I said screw being quiet and ran in behind her and shut the heavy wooden doors.

Well. We’re royally screwed. Officially. These doors didn’t have any kind of locks whatsoever and it was the only way in. The hallway leading up to the doors might’ve been too narrow for the beetles to fit through, but that didn’t apply to their riders or anyone else on foot like that woman and that man just now.

That woman. Why did her face seem so familiar?

“Van,” Lyra said just barely above a murmur. She pointed at the desk.

I ran to the other side of it and started shoving it. Oof. The thing was heavy. The desk groaned against me and wouldn’t budge until I turned around and put my back into it. And by budge, I mean shoot out from under me like a popped cork. I landed on my back, banging my head. A flash of pain shot through the back of my head.  The desk crashed into the door.

“What the pit!” I spat as I turned over. I saw two long patches of white on the floor. They stretched from either side of me all the way to the door and under the desk. They were ice cold and with good reason.

Ice tended to be ice cold.

I looked at Lyra, comprehending. It was unusually easy to forget the girl was a waterbender, and a extremely good one at that. I never so much as heard a thing. I sighed at looking silly because of her twice in so many tens of minutes, while I climbed to my feet. The doors have been successfully barricaded.

That wasn’t at all reassuring.

We were trapped. Plain and simple. We’d never hold out in here for long, even if the crude barricade held up. It felt stupid that we were even in here. But we didn’t have a choice. Our only other options were head down stairs towards the killer beetles or to stand where we were and fight. I could picture how both choices would turn out. I’d charge right at the beasts, howling at the top of my lungs like a lunatic, only to get my head taken off by a casual twitching of one of those scything mandibles. What would happen to Lyra after that is anyone’s guess. The pit, she might be able to kill one of those things on her own. Or maybe even kill them all.

That is if she wasn’t clearly scared of them, or more specifically, the riders. Unless “bad men” somehow meant the beetles.

But, maybe I’m selling myself short. I’d do better than rushing the bugs wouldn’t I? It wasn’t like I didn’t take a few-

Wait. I’m getting sidetracked here. Where was I? Oh yeah. Rushing to the waiting jaws of the bugs? Bad idea. Waiting for the rushing jaws of the bugs? Bad idea too. Hiding from the jaws of the bugs by locking ourselves in room with only one way out? Also a bad idea, but it keeps me alive for a few more minutes.

An even louder bleating of the beetles came. It was so loud, it felt like it was in the same room, and then something started banging on the blocked doors. The desk was plenty heavy alright, but it didn’t cover the entire doorway and the top of the cherry wood doors started to splinter as something was determined to rip them down or away.

I swung my gaze to Lyra. Maybe I was looking for some kind of reassurance in the little girl, hoping to see her doing something like remaining perfectly calm in the face of this danger. But when I looked at her and saw her staring transfixed at the door like in some kind of trance, needless to say it was a downer. She iced the floor so the desk would slide, but that seemed to be all she would or could do.

I once thought that this wasn’t my scenario. That I wasn’t cut out for any of this and that Lyra was. But now this was the moment for me to do…something. But what?

Was all I could do was wait here? Wait here to be killed? Was there really not a damn thing I could do about it? You mean I couldn’t do anything but wait in this dead end library? I was about to die the bookworm’s dream? That’s how I’d die? Me? The guy that beat 10 firebenders with just a spear, a bamboo forest, rope, and a pit of skinworms (nasty little things that were a mix between earthworms and leeches)? Van the Bandit with as many people who want to see him wiped out was going to finally meet his end without doing a damn thing to stop it?

I get my chance to not be pathetic and I can’t think of a single thing to do but crack self-deprecating jokes?
I threw my hands up in frustration and started to shout every curse I could utter, even invent new ones for the last few moments of my life, when the butt my spear hit the metal glove display just near me.

The display rocked over once and stood like that, leaning over on its side as if frozen in place from falling. An audible click came from somewhere within the walls. Air whooshed from the fireplace. The blue crystals abruptly went out. Then the entire bottom of the fireplace started sliding down, stones grinding against stone. They vanished from view and a stone cover slid over the space from where the crystals once stood. I blinked.

I walked over and could see notches in the back of the fireplace that the fire crystals had blocked. Those same notches went all the way up. I didn’t know how long the shaft went, but a very, very faint pinprick of light was in the distance. It was big enough for a person my size to crawl up through. My mouth gapped open. These weren’t just notches.

These were ladder rungs.

I also heard some ticking noises, each one slightly more rapid than the one before it.

Oh. Well. Okay. A secret ladder on a timer. That’d do the trick, I guess. I started to tell Lyra to come on and climb the ladder. Then I stopped. And I looked back at the door, buckling little by little.
I felt a feeling I hadn’t had in years as an idea formed in my head. I laid my hands on one of the items to relieved the armory of and started eyeing the bookshelves. It was a crazy idea, but sometimes crazy was effective.

Another hard bang at the doors.

They started to cave and I heard another shrill bleat. They were almost through. I could hear shouts as more people gathered and started trying to break the door down. Lyra was still staring at the door. I rushed over and grabbed her hand. Her head snapped around to look at me, almost surprised. As if she’d forgotten I were still in the room.

I don’t know if it was the change in the rooms lighting, but I could swear the tiny diamond shaped stone in the center of her forehead was glowing.

Shaking that off, I more or less shoved her towards the fireplace. “Start climbing and keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t wait for me, no matter what. I’ll be right behind you!”

She still looked dazed, but she did as I told her and ran to the fireplace ladder thing and started climbing. While she did that, knowing I had only seconds to do this, I grabbed the thickest book of the shelf I could find, taking note of the delicious irony involved, and went to work on a little “present” for the bug riders.

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« Reply #31 on: Dec 25, 2009 07:48 pm »


I finished as quickly as possible, taking just 10 seconds as the door began to completely give in and the ticking grew louder and more rapid. I’d made it up the ladder and was well enveloped in darkness when the ticking finally stopped and the fireplace reset itself. The timing couldn’t have been better as I heard the door finally give way, and men rushed into the now empty room.

Their voices echoed up to me. “What? Where is he? You said he was in here?” said bad man #1 his tinny and slightly muffled.

“He’s here. Search the room,” said bad man #2.

“Why’s the floor is all wet. What’s with this book in the middle of the floor?” bad man #3 wondered, he sounded young but it was hard to tell as his voice was growing fainter and fainter as I kept climbing.

Bad man #1 answered, “I have no idea, but it leads to the desk. What book?”

“This one. Just laying here. ‘Avatar Hoshiro and the Mad Bomber’. Weird. It’s pretty heavy.”

Bad man #1 finally realized something was amiss. “Does anyone else smell that? Wait! Don’t open it!”

This was when bad man #3 either opened or dropped the book. The weight of the book pages I didn’t hollow out were pressing down on the 3 primed blasting jelly caps. Blasting jelly caps combined all the explosive force of regular blasting jelly with none of the fear of transporting it. Inside the caps was a total vacuum and blasting jelly only ignites in air. Once the weight was removed oxygen rushed in, disturbing the mixture, setting them off. The real damage isn’t from a fireball or just the concussive force, but from the shrapnel created when the cap goes off. That said, those things still pack quite a punch that can knock a man off his feet with ease even 10 feet away from the detonation zone. And if you’re that close you’re likely to get pieces of metal going at hundreds of feet per second through your body. Anti personnel doesn’t begin to describe those nasty little balls.

Which bad men 1 thru 3 found out for themselves.

There was three rapid thuwumps and the shaft around me shuddered. Warm air rushed up the shaft and I was surrounded by intense noise. It was a blood curdling shriek from inhuman lungs. I was torn at by all senses. I could almost feel the rage clawing at the back of my head. Something rotten and putrid threatened to gag me. It was one of those giant beetles. One of them had pressed itself into the room and was letting out a shrill bleat. At the loss of its rider? Was the thing actually crying out for him? I felt my hands slacking on the notches and forced myself to cling for dear life. Some how feeling as if the thing had stuck it’s head up the shaft and was waiting for me to fall into its waiting-

Something heavy hit the ground.

And then silence.

The bleating just stopped.

What the pit was that? No matter, just climb your ass out of this place. Let someone else sort the what’s and who’s out, I scolded myself.

I kept climbing.

The ladder was ridiculously long and nearly pitch-black. The pinprick of light at the end of the shaft didn’t seem to be getting any closer. It was only through muscle memory that I was able to keep reaching for the next notched rungs. I couldn’t see or hear anything from above me either. I told Lyra to go ahead, but it was more like I was in this place alone. That girl must be able to climb like a hog-monkey if she was so far ahead of me.

It was just as well though. I had time to gather my thoughts about what just happened. Like the appearance of the beetle riders. Were they the “bad men” Lyra’s been going on about since the beginning? They certainly qualify as bad to me, though it was in more of the badass sense. Those things were downright terrifying. I’d hate to have to ever fight one of those beasties. I still can’t figure out how those men were riding them. Whatever the reason, that was a massacre back there. No fight should ever be so one sided.

Siyo and Lin’s group managed to take out one of those beetles, but that wasn’t nearly enough to consider it anything but a slaughter. The bastards didn’t even spare the wounded that couldn’t put up a fight if they tried. I was a bandit that robbed from the elderly once, but that’s lower than low. That ranks right along side child slave traders.

I took an unnecessary risk doing it, but I didn’t feel the least bit remorseful for the “present” trick I left in that room.

And about that room, what was in that room that was so important that Lyra would risk trapping us in there for? Was it some book? And then why’d so go all catatonic for a moment? This girl was always unphased by all the danger, even creepily so, but this was the first time she looked down right scared.

And something about that seemed…weirder than it should have. There was something about the way she was acting now that I should be realizing. It’s kind of like being back in school and the teacher would ask you a question, but you couldn’t figure out the answer. And then the other kids would start snickering at you for not figuring out the totally obvious answer and the teacher would look at you and think to herself “Maybe this one should be in the remedial course…”

Or maybe that was just me.

Either way, I couldn’t finger it, but something about the girl’s demeanor had changed. But at the same time, it didn’t seem that way. She just acting the way any normal girl her age should and-

I nearly head butted the wall in lieu of smacking myself in the forehead at the realization. 

That’s exactly it. She’s acting her age.

When I first met Lyra she seemed and acted more like an adult than even I did. She looked older than her size would suggest, like she was just some malnourished, unthinkably short woman. She regarded me with some detached curiosity a jaded old crone might have for a wise cracking, but capable buffoon like me. But, now…she’s more childlike. She’s showing more emotion. Before her face was an unreadable mask that I couldn’t get a lick out of. Like the mild concern on her face when she accidentally flipped me over. (I’m gonna have to find out how she did that some day.) Before, I’d have been lucky if she had some much raised an eyebrow at anything I did. Little by little, Lyra is changing.

But, what could be the cause of it?

I thought about everything that’s happened since we met, but I couldn’t come up with anything. I’m missing something, something obvious, but this stupid little fact just won’t reveal itself to me.

I let out an exasperated sigh. “Climbing stinking ladders and heavy thinking don’t mix.”

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« Reply #32 on: Dec 25, 2009 07:50 pm »


After what felt like a solid hour of straight climbing and just when I thought my fingers would be worn down to the bone and the muscles in my arms and legs would turn into mush, we made it to the top. Or rather, we made it to the end of the ladder. The shaft continued overhead, ending with some kind of metal cylinder top, but straight ahead was a simple, dimly lit hallway. And standing waiting for me at the top was Lyra.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say she was getting impatient.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, little missy,” I muttered. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of running around through underground hallways for one day.”

The hallway was fairly short and ended in a set of ascending stairs leading to a metal door with no peepholes or windows. I pressed my ear to the cold metal, just like before, and listened. I stood like that for what felt like 5 minutes. When I was sure it was safe, I gave a glance to Lyra, who just looked back at me, and slowly pulled it open.

I must’ve been underground longer than I thought. The sky was gray, overcast. Like I heard through the door, a steady wind was picking up and the air just smelled thick, obviously about to rain. Yet, as ugly as it was out here, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Never thought I’d miss clouds this much. But, I tore my thoughts off scenery gazing to making sure I wasn’t seen and to get my bearings.

The door’s exterior was made up to blend seamlessly into the stone face of a large hill’s base. The ground sloped down from where I was standing right into a liberally spaced patch of trees and shrubs that adjoined a larger forest below in a wide basin. I took out my binoculars and gazed ahead of me. I’d just tracked across a dirt beaten path when I caught some movement. Some birds were disturbed and flew away. It wasn’t too far from where I was standing.

I instinctively dropped down low, and reverse tracked the bird’s flight through my sights. I held my breath when I saw the snapping jaws of the giant beetle. The pit. It was 40 yards away. 50 tops. Which was far closer than I want to be to those things. But, looking through the long range binoculars it was like those jaws were close enough to gut me. I was too well hidden through tree branches and downwind for it to know I was here, but still I had to force myself to let my breath out.

But not too loud. Or too fast.

In more proper lighting, and somewhat closer up, I could see that this beetle was different. For one it looked a bit bigger than the others did. Its size was closer to the giant, but harmless beetles certain merchants use to haul cargo.  Its shell wasn’t completely black. This one had an undertone of green and blue to its hue, and its legs were covered in hairy spines. I didn’t know if it was a trick of the lighting, but it looked like the tips of one of those great jaws was blunted somehow, as if the tip had broken off. Trick of the light or not, what remained of that blunted tip was slicked with red.

It was moving slowly that massive head sweeping left and right as it moved.

“What’s it doing?” I mouthed to myself. It seemed to be looking for something. Or someone.

Its rider sat atop one of those saddles, but the tops of the trees obscured him from view. All I could make out was a leg wrapped thick cloth and a bare foot. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, those clothes look like-

It happened so fast, I barely registered it.

The beast lunged off the dirt beaten path. My heart leapt into my throat thinking the thing was about to come charging at me, but instead it thrust its head into the bushes. As swiftly as it lunged, it backed out dragging out someone by the leg. The beetle’s one sharp mandible was pierced in the thigh, drawing agonizing howls and spurts of blood. The high pitched screams wouldn’t continue for long, because with a deft flick of those jaws it flung the person to the other side of the path. Must have struck a tree or something because at once the yells stopped. I saw the one leg of the rider swing off the beetle’s back. A moment later, the bound and tied captive was slung over the saddle. Then, the rider, now walking on the opposite side of the beetle from me, his feet visible under the great insect’s body, disappeared from site down the road.

Despite my best wishes, I held my breath again and had to again force myself to let it go. I wouldn’t do it though until I was absolutely certain the beetle hadn’t doubled back to pick up a new passenger. I shook my head slowly, my mouth set in a grimace.

I wasn’t just shaking it at my own, perfectly reasonable fears, but about what I just saw. About who was just captured, but before I could think too deeply about it, I decided to just let it go. The sooner I could get away from those big bugs, the better and I wouldn’t get there by worrying about things that weren’t even my problem anyway.

I turned to Lyra who, to my mild surprise, hadn’t pulled a disappearing act on me. She was looking east of where we were. I’d kind of forgotten she was there for a moment, but she seemed to have the same sentiment as I had. Though I couldn’t be sure it was for the same reasons.

I put the binoculars away and started moving in the opposite direction of the big beetle and its unseen rider.

We made it to level ground before the skies finally opened up. The rain was light at first, but was cold and getting colder, which was weird for this time of year. It must have been a strong storm blowing in from up north. This whole time, we were following along the edge of the hill. The ground had risen up in a shelf with nothing but rock face next to us. Normally, I would’ve just made camp under a dense tree, cut some leaves and branches together for loose cover, and ride the storm out, but the storm clouds had other ideas.

A glance at Lyra told me that she wasn’t having any problems whatsoever with the cold rain. She still had her cloak thing and it even had a hood. Weird. This look suits her for some reason. Must be because the whole cloak and hood look just screams, “I’m creepy, mysterious, and stick out in public, but please ignore me.”

But I wasn’t afforded any such luxuries. Damn it all. I wouldn’t mind a mystery cloak right now. It’d make me look a little like an assassin or something, which is sort of cool, but more than that, I’d be drier and warm.
Take it to the pit if that isn’t convenient. It’s handy for keeping however many hidden knives or whatever killing implement you want on you, yet it’s great in the rain and snow too.

I sneezed.

Great. With me and just a simple little tunic on, I was presented with a new, less threatening, but just as real problem besides killer beetles: find shelter or freeze. So, here I was slogging through rapidly muddying ground in a sky that was quickly becoming darker and darker. We couldn’t run. It was too likely I’d trip over a root or some rock, and I don’t feel like breaking my damn ankle right now. We had to fell our way along moving as swiftly as we could, hoping to find a more secure place to set up for the night. It was a bitter experience and my damn feet kept sinking into the muck. We might not have gone one mile yet.

Blowing into my hands as we trudged along, I sputtered, “I-I don’t suppose those c-come in m-men’s sizes, eh?”

Lyra gave me an almost blank look, just as lighting flashed in the air. It cast her face in white. And for the second time, I could swear that stone on her head glowed. Before I could even question it, she stopped moving and looked to her right.

The soundless lightning had just illuminated an opening in the rock face. A cave.
“What are the odds?” I asked no one. But, rather than continue tempting Fate, I unceremoniously filed in with Lyra behind me. No sooner had we entered the cave threshold did the skies let loose the water en masse, as well as driving wind. It was spraying misty water even where I was standing, so we went in deeper before we finally started to settle in.

Irony might get added to the likes of Fate and Luck, for pulling this one one me. Didn’t I say earlier how tired I was of being underground in tunnels, caverns, and caves? And now what so happens to be what saves my freezing ass? I let out a low chuckle at that.

I unstrapped my spear, still in its holster, and everything else I’d taken out of the armory. I could tell from the first revealing lightning strike that the cave cut in at an angle to the face of the hill. A smallish sized fire started in here, wasn’t likely to be spotted unless you were already close enough to know a cave was there. Which was good, by the way. I had the foresight to take a few spark rocks and small kindling sticks with me, all would be sopping wet, but they’d have to do for now. It was nearly pitch black, so I had to fumble around before I found them. I turned my back to the entrance, just in case the wind shifted and blew out the fire once I started it. Just when I was about to strike the rocks together, Lyra grabbed my hand. I couldn’t see her face because she was squatting staring straight behind me. I got a prickly feeling up my spine. And I slowly turned on my haunches.

In the entrance of the cave stood a figure. The figure was using the side of the cave for support with one arm, clutching at its side with the other. Even against the rain, I could hear the panting, labored breaths echoing lightly through the cave. The legs were wobbly and barely looked able to support the weight they carried. Pieces of clothing hung from the body, far fewer remained covering the body than I wore on my own. The figure was soaking wet and had to be freezing cold, yet the figure stood.

For the first time during the storm, lighting weaved web work across the sky and was accompanied by the crack of thunder.

The bright light illuminated the cave and the profile of the figure’s face.

With have a face in darkness the other half in bright light, Siyo, her eye burning with hatred shambled forward, pulling a piece of the cave wall off with her hand. Her bare feet hardly lifting off the floor.

Another silent lightning strike.

Her other hand remained clutching at her belly, which dripped red, a shard of obsidian like material exposed between her fingers.

Lightning strike.

I stood and faced Siyo, leaving my spear where it lay. Lyra had left my peripheral vision, but I wouldn’t look away to find her. I remained, looking at the hatred in Siyo’s eyes.

“All…gone,” Siyo said, her voice a crackling rasp, barely above a whisper. “All…dead. They’re all…dead. Because of…”

Lightning strike. Thunder clap.

A trail of blood followed her from the entrance. Her body was covered with numerous other cuts and bruises. Her right ankle looked sprained, swollen and discolored.

Siyo was within arm’s length of me. She raised the stone in her hand.

Lightning strike. Thunder clap.

“Because of…” Her chest heaved, and blood leaked from her mouth. For a bare instant, the stone in her arm lowered and she began to falter.

Lightning strike. Thunder clap.

You!” she snarled.

All at once, the immense pain that had racked her face, the wobbling legs, the limp. It all vanished. She came down on me with all she had. Her hatred of me so powerful in that instant, I could damn near feel it in my bones. All of the rage was unleashed in feral roar still audible even in the echoing thunder.

The stone came. And the stone fell.

She’d lost consciousness before she’d hit the ground.

The stone smashed into pebbles on the ground next to me.

Lightning strike.

Lyra was standing on the other side of Siyo. When did she ever move? I’ll never know. I don’t even know if Siyo lost consciousness on her own or if Lyra helped her to somehow. She looked at Siyo’s prone body, the smashed stone, then back to me.

Her big blue eyes somehow just visible even though the cave was back in near total darkness, asking me a silent question, I knew.

I had two options. One was smart. The other wasn’t.

I stood there for a long moment.

Damn it to the pit that I choose the other.

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« Reply #33 on: Dec 29, 2009 05:42 am »

Very good chapter again.
(Ps: I'm still reading every chapter, I just don't have the time to comment every time.
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« Reply #34 on: Jan 10, 2010 02:18 am »

Chapter 11: The Cave of Ponders


That was the first thing Siyo felt through the shroud of darkness that enveloped not only her eyes, but her mind. A steady warmth on one side of her body. She tried to move. She couldn’t. She could hardly lift a finger. She could hardly feel her body at all. It lay just beyond the darkness, beyond her mental reach.

More sensation slowly pierced through the shroud that kept her locked in a state of near death that would be frightening if such emotion were possible for her. Yes. She could think to some degree, think about what had happened. Her mind was too exhausted, too fragile. Too broken. A great trauma had all but destroyed her, this Siyo knew.

But, try as she might, she couldn’t pierce the shroud, but she could now move her head. She languidly rolled her head, feeling the tightness of her muscles that ached in a dull, numb pain. Sensation spread down her neck to her chest, and she tried to move different parts of each body as feeling returned. From her chest to her abdomen-

A jolt of intense, electric pain made her whole body convulse. So agonizing. It stole what little strength she had. Her breath caught in her throat and she coughed weakly. She wanted to clutch at her stomach, but couldn’t move her arms. She thought the agony would-

And the pain was gone. It vanished. As if it was never there.

Such a thing made no sense. Siyo’s broken mind her that pain didn’t just end, it faded over time. No true pain would ever simply cease.

And that was because it wasn’t, Siyo reasoned. The pain was a phantom, a vestige of true pain that had long faded, but her mind was still ready to send signals to her brain to warn of it when she tried to move. Before she was in this state, that pain must have been immense.

Siyo must have lost herself to it.

Reluctant to aggravate more parts of her body, she lay still for a moment. She focused on what must be around her, focusing on her five senses on the one outside presence she was aware of. Her eyes were closed, but she decided against opening them. Something told her that the light might cause an intense migraine, but she didn’t know why. Instead, she focused on the warmth through her skin. Her ears allowed her to hear a soft crackling. Her nose smelled acrid and bitter smoke. Where ever she was, a fire was clearly nearby. As Siyo focused on the fire, more things became aware to her.

She was lying down with her head propped up by a pillow of some sort, but it was too hard to be a pillow. Maybe some kind of rolled up piece of clothing? In the distance she heard the sound of rain.
Water. Her throat felt very dry all of a sudden and painfully so. Her lips were so dry. They felt like cracking. Then, her head lolled to one side, but not on its own. Someone was holding her head, turning it. And she felt the rim of frigidly cold cup press to her lips. Water sloshed against the skin of her lips. Without consciously doing it, she started drinking. Tiny sips of the wonderfully cold liquid. The same thing in the back of her mind that prevented her from opening her eyes told her not to gulp it down, lest she vomit it back up. The cold cup was taken away and her head was gently set back down.

Siyo couldn’t place how through the broken sense of touch she had, but she thought the hands felt quite small and they were soft, like a child.

Her lips were still chapped, most likely from sitting so close to the fire, Siyo reasoned, but she felt she had enough strength to speak.

“T-thank y-you,” her voice was alien to her own ears. It was so weak and brittle.

There was no answer from whoever was there with her, but she could hear the soft breathing. The sound struck Siyo as being slightly labored, like panting, but several magnitudes less intense. It was the last thing she remembered

Sensation began to slip away from her, darkness taking hold again. Her body felt so very heavy…

When Siyo awoke another cold cup was pressed to her mouth. She drank. She knew it was okay to drink more deeply this time. The cup was taken away and Siyo could feel the warmth. It covered the whole of her body this time. Someone had placed a blanket over her.

The shroud clouding her mind was still there. She still couldn’t remember what the great trauma was.

Footsteps, thudding boots. Someone was approaching from behind Siyo, the direction of the rain she heard earlier. Or was it on the other side?

She didn’t want to hear her own voice again, but felt she had to thank whoever this person. “H-ello? Is anyone there?”

“Finally awake, eh? Strange. I thought you’d be angrier.”

The shroud cracked.

That voice. That sardonic voice. Siyo knew that voice. And she felt her heart start to race.

She suddenly remembered the pain in her stomach. And more. Being underground with people she knew as friends. Laughing. Smiling. Eating.


Then screaming faces.

Terrifying monsters.





“W-where am I?” Siyo’s voice was frantic. She both wanted to and refused to open her eyes now. To see who this person was, but not willing to look this person in the eye. This person didn’t deserve such respect for reasons Siyo didn’t yet know. That was still behind the shroud.

“We’re in a cave. A dank, cold cave. Must feel like home,” the man said. He let out a low groan and there came the popping of joints. “Mmm. Take it to the pit, I need 3 dozen baths and a 6 hour long backrub.”

The shroud cracked again as if it were slowly solidifying, changing into a stone wall that was crumbling to Siyo’s…

Earthbending. Siyo was an earthbender. A soldier.

An agent.


The more this man spoke, the more it seemed to clear up this wretched mental fog that constrained her. In some way this man was the key to breaking through the shroud. And if just his voice could do this to her…

She steeled herself for what might happen and forced her eyes to open into thin slits. She saw booted feet first. The man was standing facing away from her. A small heap of fur caught her eye. It was some small animal he must have just caught and killed, Siyo figured. She let her eyes track up further, up his beaten and worn leggings. To his waist which bore a utility belt with several pockets lining it. He’d taken off his shirt. His shoulder bore a visible burn scar. He was well muscled, the toned body of someone that’s trained for combat. She saw his slightly matted, brown hair as he wiped it off with a hand towel. She’d seen this man before, most definitely, but she still couldn’t place where. Or why she felt her body tensing and lower jaw started to tremble.

Siyo’s body, her subconscious, was reacting to this man while her actual conscious hadn’t yet caught up.

And then Siyo saw the spear leaning against the opposite side of the cave. She recognized it. The intricate design. The slightly curved, notched blade. The lion-turtle engravings along the haft that made it look like the blade was jutting out of its mouth.

More of the shroud broke away.

Siyo remembered this man attacking her. Attacking her with that spear. And she began to comprehend why her body was reacting defensively to him. He’d tried to
kill her once before. And here he was in the same place?

Siyo tried to stand up, to move somehow, but couldn’t move her limbs more than a few inches. What was wrong with her body? Great spirits, what had he done to her while she slept?

He heard her movements and turned to face her. Siyo forced her eyes to meet his and-

The shroud became nothing.

“Van,” she breathed.


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« Reply #35 on: Jan 10, 2010 02:19 am »

-to be continued-

I really must be crazy, I thought to myself, wiping the mud and grime off my chest. Here I am in a cave with a woman that tried to kill me less than one day ago. But, I have to wonder why she’s not foaming at the mouth trying to-

I heard some movement behind me. I turned and Siyo stared me in the eye. She looked at me for a long moment, her eyes wide as dinner plates. At first I didn’t notice it, but that was because it was growing over the passing seconds.

She was trembling. Her face was contorting, twisting into a snarl. And all at once, she exploded.

A shriek not unlike the one she let out last night tore through the silence. She started thrashing beneath the blanket, which was actually Lyra’s cloak. It was a good thing her arms and legs were bound together. Lyra tied it. I’d never seen anything like it before.

I smiled bitterly. “That’s more like it.”

I let her continue to struggle. She rolled about on the cold ground, the stone beneath my feet rippling like the surface of water. But, as she struggled, the knot went to work. I’d never seen a knot like it. The more someone struggled against it, the tighter the knot went. While she slept, the knot was slacked, but once the detainee tried to break loose, the knot drew taught. Siyo struggled against it for a while, but eventually the strength of the rope combined with Siyo’s own exhausted state and the pain as the rope began to bite into the skin settled her down without me having to do anything. She wound up breathless, still on the floor, her back propped up against the wall.

“You’re tied up. With rope. Just a heads up,” I told her. You know, just in case she didn’t realize yet.

“Untie me,” she snarled between gritted teeth.

I barked out a short laugh “So, you can bash my skull in? No thanks. You’ll stay exactly like that, I think.”

She gave me a death look, her eyes avoiding meeting my own by staring at my forehead. Then she spat a wad of spit the size of a big toe that hit my pant’s leg. “Bastard,” she swore, but it lacked any real bite to it.

“Is that any way for prisoner to speak to their warden?” I said dryly. “Am I going to have to discipline you?”

Her head sank down to her breasts, ah, chest and she was silent for a long moment. “No. Just kill me.”

During the silence I’d started chewing on some bitter, but edible berries I found, and found myself nearly choking to death on it. I hadn’t expected her to say that.  “What?”

“Get it over with,” Siyo said despairingly. “I can’t bare it anymore.”

“Bare what?”

“Being your prisoner. Failing. I’d rather be dead.”

I frowned.

Crap. I hadn’t expected this. I thought she’d stay antagonistic to me the whole way. I didn’t think she’d just…give up. I can jaw back and forth with anyone, but this? “Look, Siyo, I’m not one of the men who attacked you. I know it’s hard to believe-“

“Why are you doing this to me?”


Her voice started rising. “You’ve already taken away everything from me.”

“Listen, I-“

“Are you really so pathetic that you have to play these sick games? To torture me and say you weren’t involved?” She blinked away a single tear from her eye and let out a frustrated sound. “I can’t take it! Kill me!”

I sighed and closed my eyes. She really had been through so much. It was almost hard to blame her for what happened back in The Pit. I just lost a place to stay. Siyo had lost more than that. She’d lost something far less tangible, but just as real.

There was another long silence.

I reached into one of my belt pockets and pulled out the mandible shard that was once embedded in Siyo’s stomach, careful not to cut myself on one of the jagged edges. I tossed over. It landed in the light of the fire. “That was sticking in your abdomen. Along with that, you were a mess of cuts, bruises, near broken bones, a nasty welt on your head, and a twisted ankle. You were bleeding out and what little clothes you had left couldn’t protect you from the icy rain and wind. You might not have been aware just how on the brink of death you were. And in spite of all that, the one thing on your mind was in front of you. That doesn’t sound like the kind of woman that just gives up and begs for death to me.”

No answer.

Change of tactics. “Siyo, if I wanted you dead, I would’ve just let you die on the ground where you fell. But, I didn’t.”

Siyo choked out a weak laugh. “And why is that? What do you need me alive for?” Then she looked up at me, and her face looked horrified. “Unless…no…you’re going to…”

I frowned at her. “To what?”

“No! I’ll never. I’ll never let you come near me! I’ll…I’ll kill you first!” she sputtered frantically. The cave started shuddering again, and she started inching away from me as best she could, while tied up.

It took me a second or two to figure out what she was talking about. I held up my palms. “Wait, you mean? Oh no! Oh, the pit, no! Who the pit do you think I am? You think I want Xin Mao’s sloppy seconds?” The very thought made my stomach twist. “Jeez, girl, you must really think I’m the lowest breed of scum in the world.”

She shot me a nasty look. “No. You’re even lower.” Then she got an indignant look on her face. “And I never did anything with Xin Mao. Never.”

I arched an eyebrow and stepped back to lean on the opposite side of the cave, folding my arms.
“Whatever you say, harem girl.” I put special emphasis on the last part. “Xin Mao never tapped that? Right. And I’m sure Xin Mao let you hang around just because you’re that pretty.”

She stiffened at the backhanded insult. “He never ‘tapped’ anything. I slipped a special drug in his wine that only made him think we-“ She stopped and her lip curled in contempt. “Wait, I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“Good, because…” I fake shuddered. “…that’s a story I don’t want to hear the end to.”

Siyo glowered at me for a moment. Then she looked away, muttering something under her breath, but said nothing else.

I arched an eyebrow in brief question at what she just muttered. “Anyway, back to your wounds…”

“Do you expect a thank you? Don’t hold your breathe. Or on second thought, do hold your breathe.”

I rolled my eyes. “I won’t. And that is not what I was getting at.” I nodded at the shard. “Your people hadn’t ever seen the beetles before, had they? They weren’t at all prepared to fight them. It was a massacre, pure and simple.”

Siyo’s eyes snapped back to me, the intent to kill me was back, and it was actually more comforting than when she was on the brink of crying her eyes out.

“I saw when they broke into the antechamber. I saw the damage they inflicted. And, I saw how fast they moved.”

“Of course you did, you were right with them,” she spat, her anger was bubbling up again. I could see it.

“Then, let me ask you this. If I was with them, why was I walking through the freezing rain on foot?”

The anger faded almost entirely. “What?”

“You were trudging through the woods after me in the rain. If I were on the same side as those beetle riders, why would I be on my foot? Or off alone in the woods for that matter?”

I could see her trying to work it out, then she stammered, “Y-you were trying to lead me away.”

“That doesn’t make a lick of sense and you know it. I don’t know how many times I have to keep saying it; I’m not one of them. I’m no anarchist.”

“So, what? You expect me to believe that them showing up after we brought you back to base was just a coincidence?”

I snorted. “Oh, please. There’s no such thing as coincidence. Just two events connected by the most unlikely circumstances.”

She shook her head, aggravated. “What are you talking about?”

“No, them showing up after I arrived was not a coincidence. Those guys, those Luminous Ones, were already after me when your people captured me. Remember? The red coins I had? Two of their lackeys jumped me. I went through their pockets to figure out who they were after taking them out.”

“Yes, I remember. And you took them out?”

“Well, yeah, I had too.”

Siyo looked at me for a moment then laughed. “I can’t believe I fell for it.”

“Fell for what?”

“You can’t even get your own story straight. You swore earlier, back in the interrogation room, that you didn’t kill them.”

I clenched my jaw, chiding myself for forgetting that part. “Technically, I didn’t kill any of them. I got one to shoot the other and...”

Siyo laughed again. “Please, Van. You’re story gets even less credible the more you go. There’s no way you could’ve defeated two of them all by yourself. You’re good with that spear of yours, but they would’ve set a trap for you. Even their recruits receive a certain level of training to do that.”

It was my turn to laugh. “Are you even hearing yourself right now? Your disputing the credibility of my story by saying I willingly killed two of my own comrades?”

Siyo laughed right back at me, it far too bitter to be true laughter. “You must think I’m ignorant of the twisted methods of your little group, Van. That I wouldn’t know about how part of the recruiting process for the Luminous Ones is open combat with one another to test the recruit’s worth. And that on occasion, recruits and sometimes proctors kill each other. In fact, your group encourages such action because it makes your members tougher.”

My mouth hung open. Take it to the pit. That’s twisted.

“No answer? You truly are pathetic, Van,” Siyo muttered. “Can’t even carry a good lie.”

I shook my head. “That doesn’t prove I’m one of them. That still doesn’t explain why I was in the freezing rain on foot instead of riding away on a beetle. You were delirious with pain and loss then, but now you have to admit that doesn’t make any sense.”

Her face was a rainbow of emotion so far: the color this time was incredulity “Sense? Your group throws sense to the wind. Sense is the very thing your group tramples on. Daring to ride upon those monstrous beetles. Purposefully targeting the wounded. Preying on the weak. Then you claim to stand for what is just and right in the world. Killing yourselves to make yourselves better. And then you claim to be ‘enlightened’, that you have a more knowledgeable view of the world. Even your wretched coins show the ‘sense’ your group employs. The willingness to gouge out your own eyeballs to meet your sick, twisted ends.”

The coins. I’d wondered what the eyeball spitted on a stiletto thing was all about. Guess I know why.

I shook my head and tilted my head back, staring at the ceiling. “Funny, all my life I’ve been trying to make sense of the world around me. I do more thinking about the weird things that happen around me than is likely healthy. Always looking for the reason, putting things together to make. Sense.

“And here we have you claiming that I’d ally myself with such a crazy group? Like the pit I would, girly. From the sounds of it, this group must be run by a freaking child. I’m done trying to convince you of the truth. If you’re too stubborn to believe it, that’s your problem,” I said, stepping away from the wall and moving to prepare the animal I killed. I quasi-muttered under my breath, “And your sister’s.”

“What did you say?” she demanded a breath later.


“No!” Siyo’s voice rose sharply. “What did you just say?”

I stopped myself from letting out a sigh of respite and shrugged. “Just that your own stubbornness is you and your sister’s problem.”

I didn’t look at her, but I could feel her intense gaze on me. I was silent for a long moment. I wanted her to speak next.

“How dare you speak of her,” Siyo seethed. “I swear on her grave, if I ever get free-“

“She’s not dead,” I said simply, as I finished flaying the animal’s skin and put it on wooden spits over the fire. “I’m sure you were nearby and only heard her screams, but I saw it all. They didn’t kill her. The beetle could’ve torn her apart, but it was careful not to. They wanted her alive.”

I hoped that the angle that I was crouching and the dim light of the fire hid my face, but I had to see her eyes this time. I had a battle plan for if she came out fuming and attacking me. The way I had it pegged, this would’ve been my final card to use on her. But, now I had to wing it. I was guessing about if Siyo could see it happening when the big multicolored beetle captured Siyo’s sister, but I was certain her sister was alive. If I couldn’t convince her with this…

I looked and saw it. The small glimmer of hope. But before I could get my hopes up, the rainbow of emotions that was Siyo’s face changed back to hate. “You lying son of a-“

“He’s not lying,” said a soft voice from the shadows.

“Who said that?” Siyo’s head whipped around. Mine did too, though not as fast.

I rolled another shoulder, hiding a smile. “The real person you should thank for not being dead.”

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« Reply #36 on: Jan 10, 2010 02:20 am »

-to be continued-

Lyra really is something else.

She couldn’t be any older than 12, 10 at the youngest, yet not only was she a strong waterbender but a strong healer to boot. For as much blood as Siyo lost, it was pretty close to a miracle there was something to heal to begin with. I’m not 100% on the theory, but what I know is that waterbenders can use their chi to speed up the body’s own natural healing processes, or something like that. Normally, once a healer started the process, the body kicked in and all the healer does is direct the functions. The key component is blood. The body heals itself through blood, though I’m not sure how exactly. So, if a body doesn’t have enough, it can’t heal itself. Not on its own. The only way for Lyra to save Siyo’s life was to individually close each and every single wound. One by one.

For her to pull that off at such a young age…well, like I said, she’s something else.

Though I can’t say she pulled it off without a hitch. The process took up half the night. The girl was absolutely exhausted. But, she still stayed up with Siyo all night, making sure Siyo got enough water to drink. Lyra even gave Siyo her cloak as a blanket, which kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I’m freezing my butt off and the person that tries to commit cold blooded revenge murder gets the blanket? But, I digress, especially seeing as I also gave her my shirt to help Siyo stay even warmer. A full night’s work done, Lyra fell sound asleep and didn’t so much as stir. It took me just as long to finally get a decent fire going. I didn’t think she’d wake up until much longer after Siyo did.

I know. I know. It doesn’t seem like I was doing much to help, but come on, if there’s no fire, even a small one, we all would’ve frozen to death and the fire was the only way our clothes would dry fast enough.

The latest chuckle, in what seemed like hundreds of chuckles I’ve issued forth, issued forth as I sat leaning next to the entrance of the cave.

Get this. Lyra took over for me in turning Siyo from the Let’s Kill Van Union, but she insisted that she talk with Siyo alone for a while. How would the mute-by-default Lyra get this done was beyond me, but she has a talent for doing things she doesn’t seem capable of. It should likely help that Lyra was the one that saved Siyo’s life. There are grounds for trust there, I figure. You know how it goes. “I saved your life.” “Really?”
“Yup. Yup. So hear me out while I tell you about the man you hate more than an ingrown toenail and why you shouldn’t kill him. Probably.” It might also help that Lyra was this big eyed little girl that any woman with an inkling of maternal instinct would feel endeared too.

I scowled at the passing clouds. I really hate waiting.

Gives me time alone with my thoughts. Mostly about how much I hate waiting, but about something Lyra’s newly discovered (to me) healing abilities.

If she can heal, why does she have those scars? Healing yourself should be far simpler than healing someone else, since you’re manipulating your own chi and blood. That means either she didn’t know how to heal when she got those scars, or got the scars and chose not to heal them.

The former makes the most sense, obviously. Lyra doesn’t seem to be that attention grabbing “Hey, dude, want to know how I got these scars?” type. But, with Lyra the first impression is usually half-right. Sweet, innocent girl? Almost. Sweet,  innocent girl that can toss grown men around with (and without) bending? You’re on track. The pit, it makes me wonder if I’m not thinking outside the box enough. Like what if instead of simply learning to heal after getting those scars, Lyra learned how to heal because of getting those scars.

Then, I frowned to myself. That seems to suggest that Lyra taught herself her to heal, or at the least got someone to teach her. But that suggests that someone knew a little girl was hurt, had the knowledge and ability to heal, but didn’t do a damn thing to heal her. Which brings me back to just where does this girl come from? Who would train-

I grabbed the bridge of my nose. Gah. Wasn’t I supposed to be in “Screw it” mode when it came to all this over thinking stuff when it came to Lyra? So far, all my thinking has done is create more questions and there’s too much other stuff to worry about.

I scowled again. I really, really hate waiting.

Lyra magically appeared next to me what seems like hours later. She didn’t say a single word to me. Just blinked at me, and then walked back into the cave. What the pit could have taken so long? Was Lyra blinking some code to Siyo that she had to decode? The image that thought gave me made me have a good laugh as I followed her in.

My laughing stopped as I came 5 feet from the fire.

Siyo was calmly nibbling on a spit of meat by the fire, sitting Water Tribe style, wearing my shirt and Lyra’s cloak wrapped about her waist like a skirt. Untied.

Siyo was untied.

“Van,” she welcomed without looking up at me.

I lunged for my spear. I snatched it up and spun on my heels, leveling it at her. “What the pit have you done, Lyra?” I fumed at the girl that was just looking at me, as if nothing were wrong worth bothering to make a facial expression at.

“She’s exercising intelligence, Van. You should follow her example,” Siyo replied, still not looking me in the face.

I tightened my grip, my brain still not working out what I was seeing. I slowly worked my way around the fire. “Follow example nothing. If you so much as lift a pebble, I’m going to-“

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were afraid of little old me,” she said smugly, taking another nibble. She sounds exactly like she did back in Xin Mao’s tent that night, I realized.

Memories of how an entire mess of bandits turned against me thanks to Siyo came back to me. “Doesn’t matter either way. I’m tying you back up and-“

An eyebrow twitched. Siyo still hadn’t looked up at me. “You? From how I hear, she tied me up. Such a knot is the only way you could hope to restrain me or any other earthbender, and I very much doubt you’re capable of replicating it.” She paused a beat for effect, then added, ”I must admit, you’re taking it just as badly as I knew you would. How…disappointing.”

Damn. She had me there. I watched her, but I’d have to tie the knot a few times myself to get it right, and it still wouldn’t be perfect. A misplaced loop and the entire workings of the knot would fall apart and Siyo would just slip free. And something told me Lyra wasn’t going to tie it again for me.

And then my brain finally kicked in about what she said earlier. Damn it. She was right. I was afraid of her.
How sad is that? What’s wrong with me? I’ve faced earthbenders before. I wasn’t in an ideal spot, but if she attacks, it’s a closed space. I present just as much threat to her as she does to me. But why can’t it get my hands to stop shaking?

Still standing at ready, I let out a slow breath. “Okay then, why did she untie you?”

Siyo sat in silence for a moment, taking a sip from the ice cup. “It was a display of trust,” she said.

I grunted, comprehending. “She let you go so you could believe her story and see we’re not your enemy.”


I relaxed my grip ever so slightly. “Well, that’s good, I guess.”

Siyo had struck before I’d gotten to the 4th word. The stone burst out of the ground and hit me square in the gut. The blow took me from my feet and ripped the air from my chest.

I hit the ground wheezing and coughing, clutching at my stomach. Waves of sudden nausea -and déjà vu- rippled through me. “You damn b-bi-“ I began and tried to rise. I couldn’t. The stone floor had surged over my wrists and ankles, locking me in place like a bug specimen on a dish.

Siyo appeared in my field a vision, standing over me. Her eyes were filled with hate again, though not as intense as before. “I’m convinced she’s not my enemy, but not you, Van. Not you.”

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« Reply #37 on: Jan 12, 2010 09:07 am »

Okay, that was pretty sick. I hope Lyra pins her to the wall now.

And if not, then I hope he leaves the little traitor behind as soon as he gets free. I’m sure he isn’t expecting some undying gratitude, but not luring him into a trap is the least she could do for all he’s done for her.

Then again, with that girl you never know.

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« Reply #38 on: Feb 20, 2010 10:39 pm »

Chapter 12: The Broken Prominence[/i]

I wasn't a happy Van.

I was about as unhappy as a guy that's gotten several uprooting stone pillars to the solar plexus, been tied up or shackled in some way or form twice, been worked over in a pointless interrogation, and stalked in freezing rain by homicidal harem girls can get. Honestly, this situation has given me a newfound appreciation for the resolve of Avatar Aang and his choice not to obliterate Ozai after the whole "trying to kill you with the power of a hundred suns behind every fist" thing.

This crazy bimbo has only moderately tried to kill me, relatively speaking, and I want to go Avatar State on her.

"You're not convinced I'm not your enemy?" I said, my voice a shrill imitation of my real one. "I just saved your life. What more do I have to do?"

"You did nothing," Siyo inclined her head to Lyra, who was sitting on her heels, leaning up against the wall. "She did."

"I did nothing, huh? Well, that's exactly right. She healed you because I did nothing and let her do it. At any point I could've just stuck a blade through your heart or head and no amount of healing would've saved you. You're standing over me right now because of me. And frankly, I'm starting to wonder why I bothered. I mean, I've heard of ingratitude, but this is otherworldly."

Siyo's lip quivered. "I'm supposed to be grateful to you? After all that you've done? Whether I live or die does not change that you are a violent criminal who deserves nothing less than to rot in prison. Or have you forgotten about my…"Siyo seemed to catch herself before she said something she didn't want to. "…the desert already?"

I snorted. "Quite frankly, I've been trying to. But, there's this annoying harem girl that framed me that I can't quite-"

Siyo flinched away from me. "What? Framed you?"

I gave her my best "Are you an idiot?" face as I could while being torture racked to the ground and said, "Yes. Framed me. Or have you forgotten about the desert? You know. The little chit chat I had with Xin Mao about how his riches were stolen? Selling him out to one of his rivals? How I got blamed for it, even though I had nothing to do with it? And how the ensuing chaos started me on my little journey? That jog your memory?"

Siyo just watched me for a moment in silence. Then, she knelt down and felt the earth with her fingertips and closed her eyes. Then her eyes slowly opened, and an astonished look was on her face. "You're…not lying," she whispered. "You…really believe that's what happened."

My eyebrows rose.

She just felt my heart beat through the earth.

It was just like Master Toph Bei Fong could do, except she could do it with just her feet picking up the subtle vibrations through the earth. I remember hearing that Master Toph had been going around training earthbenders to do the same with varying results. Master Toph had spent her whole life reading vibrations, and there were maybe 4 earthbenders in the whole world on the same level as Master Toph. In fact, I heard that the best way to tell was to get a person get in contact with the ground as much as possible and…

Cover their wrists with stone to gauge their pulse.

Siyo rose to her feet, while bending up a small circle of stone and sat upon it. She rested her forehead on her fingertips, her elbow on her folded legs. "You really aren't involved. Just by a bad stroke of fate and luck you were there," Siyo said, but it sounded more like it was to herself than to me.

I smiled bitterly. "A bad stroke of fate and luck? That's actually a pretty good stroke of such for me. My time in The Pit was one of the most peaceful times I've had in a while and-" I stopped as Siyo exact wording suddenly occurred to me. "Wait, involved in what? What the pit could I possibly be suspected of being in besides a bunch of desert bandits? Don't tell me it was for that anarchy thing."

"I was…" She shook her head. "No. The details of my mission are classified."

I quirked an eyebrow at her. "Classified to whom exactly? Your organization doesn't exist anymore."

Siyo took her hand from her face and gave me an angry glare.

Okay, in retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have-

Wait. No. Not in retrospect. I'm still stuck on the pitbegotten floor. I shouldn't be apologizing.

"You'll have to excuse me, but I'm still a little chippy. Being torture racked to the floor and all," I spat. "But, while we're on the subject. Are you finished checking my pulse, doc? Because my nose is starting to itch and I gotta pee."

"No, you'll stay exactly like that, I think," Siyo replied in exactly the same tone I had when I said those same words, more or less, to her.

I was starting to gnash my teeth together in a way that one might chip. "Ha. Ha."

Then, without doing anything obvious enough for me to recall, my attention, and Siyo's, was drawn to Lyra. She was looking at Siyo. Siyo met her eyes, her jaw working slightly, then she swung a hard gaze back to me. She just looked at me. She let out a long breath before reaching out in the air and swept her hand over me, as if drawing back a sheet.

The stone abruptly flowed from my limbs. And I was free.


I sat up and rubbed at my wrists and ankles.

I've been in heated battles as a soldier in the Fire Nation, worked as an enforcer for one corporate thug in Hokashin, got caught up in a turf war in Guan Ju, worked as a blade for hire for another corporate thug in Shobu (there's a slight difference between enforcer and blade for hire, by the way), but none of those incidents involved nightmarish killer beetles and confusing waterbending prodigies.

Needless to say, I had been under some stress and could really use an outlet. And the way I figured, what better one could there be besides wailing a good one upside Siyo's head? It seemed like a pretty good outlet.

Maybe even a great one. Like the pit, the woman probably deserved as much. She's been a pain in the neck since the beginning of all this and treats me like dirt for some stupid reason like obligation to an organization that doesn't exist anymore.

I could hop up right now and let her have it. I should hop up right now and let her have it.

Who could blame me? Who would blame me?

I won't even need my spear. I can fight without it. Get in close, and she wouldn't be able to use her bending on me.

I flexed my wrist and clinched my first a few times. It would make this soreness in my hand worse, but it would be worth it.

And again, without doing anything I can recall, my attention settled on Lyra.

She was looking at me. But she wasn't looking at me. I know that doesn't make sense and sounds like some verse riddle Avatar Hoshiro would have to solve in one of those crappy books, but that's the best way I could describe it.

Take it to the pit, it was just downright freaky.

And yet familiar.

I couldn't place what was freaky or familiar about it. Not right away. Her face was just so…

Then I got why.

Lyra's face was a mask again. The same kind of mask she wore when I'd first met her. It was suddenly obvious, the difference in the face she wore until now, and the one she had when I first met her in that pirate ship hold. Even at her greatest level of emoting, Lyra's face didn't use the full pallet of emotion us normal humans use, besides neutral and…neutrally curious. Unless she wanted to, and when she did it was brief and to the point. And right now, she didn't want to.

I had to fight down the urge to gulp.

Right now. When I'm on the verge of rearranging Siyo's face. Right now. When I wasn't doing a very good job of hiding my intent to rearrange Siyo's face.

Not a coincidence.

Lyra's threatening me.

To protect Siyo.

But why? That's not fair. I don't get some payback for the torture racking, the interrogation room, and the whole reason I'm even out here?

Was Lyra going to kill me if I tried to attack Siyo, even if I had some reason to?

Crap. The more I sat here, the more I felt an invisible vice tightening on my neck.

Damn it. Were my hands shaking?

No time to show this kind of weakness.

I grunted and climbed to my feet, deliberately slow.

Lyra's eyes tracked my movements. Every single one. I could see her subtly sizing me up, keeping the distance between me and my spear within her vision.

I slowly walked past Siyo, not making any kind of eye contact with her, but I never let her leave my peripherals. She was doing likewise.

I walked right past them and retrieved my spear and something else. I saw both females tense up as I did. I could feel the slow, undulating ripples as Siyo reached out with her bending to the earth, readying to attack. I didn't sense a thing from Lyra, but I knew with every fiber of my being that she'd gotten herself ready to strike well before Siyo had. I was a hair's breath away from getting caught between a rock and a dead place. My spear was in hand, ready to bring whatever violence I choose to enact.

And enact I did. I spun on my heels.

And I yawned.

My spear lifted up to rest on my shoulder, so I could start gnawing on the piece of meat I also held in that hand. I needed my other hand free to be safely tucked inside my pants pocket. I was going for a certain image here.

When I noticed there wasn't an ice spear sticking through the gut, I casually strode between them again. "Well, I'm off to rustle up some more grub. I'm sure I saw another one of those critters out there. So, you two ladies can have some more girl talk while I'm out," I drawled between munches. "See ya in a bit."

As I walked out, I did a quick check of my spear, as I normally did when I was sure I'd be using it soon. Except this time, I held it up so could look in the reflection off my blade. And I saw what I was feeling. Siyo and Lyra were both looking at me from behind, Siyo looked especially...stunned, shocked. I mean it. Her mouth was hanging open. She gave a perplexed look at Lyra who then rested her head on her arms, which themselves rested on her knees.

And I nearly dropped my spear.

It was probably just the bad lighting, or a speck of something on the blade screwing up the reflection. But, it looked like…

Lyra just hide a smile.

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« Reply #39 on: Feb 20, 2010 10:41 pm »


I caught two of the critters this time. I also picked up a couple cooking and medicinal herbs I recognized and some berries. The berries taste like garbage, but I know most critters love these things. When I made it back to the cave, I found Lyra sound asleep (apparently) and Siyo sitting on the same circle of stone, silently staring into the fire. Still wearing my shirt, I should say, and little else.

In a different setting, if someone saw this scene, they'd assume we, ahem, did an activity together. And then what would I say against that?

"We did not! She just stalked me through the woods, panting like a wild animal. Then strapped me to the ground, while I desperately wanted to impale her on my lance."



So, I set down the stuff, making sure to kneel down on the other side of the fire, and started getting to work on making critter jerky. Siyo didn't so much as look up at me or say a word, so I didn't look at her or say anything either. For what could've been a solid hour nothing but the sound of chopped meat, soft crackling fire, small exhalations from the "sleeping" Lyra, and dripping water from somewhere. nearby filled the cave

I thought I'd be ready, but when Siyo finally spoke, I jumped anyway. "I'm sorry," she said quietly.

I looked up from the last spit strip of meat I cut, one eyebrow raised. I said nothing.

"For binding you to the floor. I'm…sorry. But, I had to make sure what the girl told me was right. My truth sensing only works when the person's blood pressure is consistently high. A regular pulse is too weak for me, so I needed to make you angry," Siyo explained, still staring into the fire.

Make me angry? That was simple enough, I thought bitterly. I considered saying, "Getting a man angry isn't the only way to make his blood pressure rise." But decided against that.

I set my seldom used combat knife aside and regarded Siyo coolly. "I don't accept your apology."

Siyo was briefly taken aback. "Why not?"

"Because you don't mean it. You're not sorry about that at all. I'm no truth sensor, but I can spot a person speaking from their heart. The part about me being a violent criminal that deserves to rot in jail wasn't something made up just to make me mad. You believe that. Or maybe you were trying to remind yourself that you believe that, but either way it doesn't matter."

Siyo was quiet.

"You don't need to apologize for that. You were only telling the truth, after all," I reworded.

A moment stretched before she said, "What you're really saying is that I should apologize for not believing you weren't anarchist?"

I shrugged "No. I don't need any apologies whatsoever."

"Then what is it you need, Van?"

"For you tell me something, to help me understand. I can hold you to owing me that much."

"Fine, then. What is it?"

"I'm not stupid, Siyo. I know you're the Major's daughter. Captain Lin too. I know you blamed me for what happened. You hated me for it. Maybe you still do. But in the end, you're just stalling hoping the answer comes to you. So I'll save you the trouble." Siyo had turned away, so I couldn't read her eyes. "I just need to know…" I looked at Lyra. "What she could've possibly said to let you…I don't want to say forgive, but to at least not consider me an enemy anymore. What did she say?"

It took Siyo so long to answer, I thought she wasn't going to. "That you're not my enemy," Siyo said. "And that if you attacked me you had a reason. Even if your emotions can get the better of you." She paused, before adding, "And that you're a good person."

That last part caught me off guard. Lyra once told me that I wasn't a "bad man", but I didn't automatically assume she thought I was a good one. That someone paid me a compliment like that? I don't know. It just felt weird. It made me feel… uncomfortable.

I tried not to let it show on my face. Take a wild guess how well that went. I cleared my throat, awkwardly, "Uh. Anything else? That you talked about, I mean."

I could see the corners of her mouth twitch, and though she still looked only at the fire (which can't be good for your eyes, I don't think), reminded me of how they had back in Xin Mao's party a couple millennia ago. "She told me how she met you on the pirate ship you both happened to sneak aboard. How you were both surrounded by crates. How they found you out and how you fought to save her when you got her captured."

I smiled faintly while listening to her, reminiscing on what seemed like simpler times. When my only care in the world was running away from my problems and sitting in stuffy cargo holds, surrounded by stolen swag. But when she got to the last part I flinched. "What? I got her captured? They came down to that hold specifically looking for her," I said, indignant.

Siyo rolled a shoulder. "That's not the story she told. According to her, you revealed your presence when part of your tattered clothes got caught on a crate of provisions while you were sneaking in, but you were so tired and hasty, you didn't notice. She saw them come down and bring the crate above deck. They likely saw the strip of cloth, realized no one on deck wore desert clothes like that, and decided to check out the hold."

My mouth opened to object. Then it closed, and started chewing on my lip. I didn't remember tearing my clothes on anything, but I did remember being exhausted. And the hold was almost pitch black save for certain areas, even if I'd turned to mumble at the crate like I probably did, I wouldn't have seen the strip of fabric stuck to it.

Well, I'll be taken to the pit. I had thought Lyra had messed up and gotten us caught. I never thought for a second that I'd been the one to mess up. But then, when had Lyra ever mess up at anything? She's been better at me at… everything from the beginning. I should've realized it had to be me, but then, I didn't know anything about the girl at the time. I still remember how she scared the crap out of me when she turned up back down deck.

A funny thought occurred to me.

What if she hadn't told me to fight as some secret evaluation, but to make me get my hands dirty for getting her caught? Jeez. I thought only wives and mothers did things like that.

Then a not so funny thought occurred to me. Or maybe I'm thinking too light heartedly.

What if she was planning to use me as a distraction while she escaped?


That unspoken word took on a different meaning when I thought about it like that. A slight shiver went up the nape of my neck at the thought.

Maybe I'm thinking too darkly now.

I shook my head. "And then what happened? What else she tell you?"

"That you fought to protect her. That you didn't have to, but you helped her escape."

I grunted, thinking of the brief tussle, more specifically how that tussle ended. "Have to? Or need to?"

"Both, I suppose," Siyo said quietly, then she looked at the still form of Lyra. "She's a capable girl. More capable than should be possible."

I grunted again.

"After that she mentioned how you took it on yourself to look after her, feed her. She told of how she worked together with you to defeat the Luminous One's assassins too. And after that is what we all know. You were captured, the Luminous One's trailed you, and attacked our stronghold."

I frowned. "And that exposition was enough to convince you that I'm not your enemy?"

"No. Those details of the story had nothing to do with it actually," Siyo said to the fire. "You insisted I tell you what she said."

"Then what?"

"It was what she said about you."

"Me being a good person was enough?" I asked skeptically.

"No, not that either," she said of the flame. And then she looked up and made eye contact. "You talk in your sleep, Van."

I blinked at her. "I what?"

"She heard you talking in your sleep."

I simultaneously frowned, gaped my jaw open, and twisted my lips in disgust. I didn't know how to respond to that, except to ask, "What was I saying?"

Siyo looked at me in silence for a moment. "Many things. Most of it rambled nonsense about fate and luck or you telling someone named Pak to shut up."

She wasn't making this up. I hadn't told anyone about my family, and especially not about Pak. I knew I talked a lot, but while I slept? "Was it loud?"

"Not all the time. The only way she could hear you was to sit close you while you slept. Once you woke up and saw her, she said."

I chuckled. "And here I thought she watched me in my sleep all up close just to be extra creepy. Not to get close enough to hear what I was murmuring in my sleep," I said, then I sobered my tone a bit. "But, that's not all I said is it?"

"No," Siyo replied. "It isn't."

I stayed silent, waiting for her.

She said after another silent moment. "I'm sorry."

"Again? I thought I said you had nothing to apologize about."

"That's what you said the loudest. You said, 'I'm sorry'."

I swallowed heavily. I can think of a lot of people I should probably apologize to, fewer I wanted to, but only one I couldn't.

"And you said, 'I'll make it up to you somehow. I promise'."

I've said those words aloud before, but the person who it was to likely couldn't hear me.

Siyo's voice had become thick, throaty. "And you said…" She shook her head and wiped away a tear that began to stream down a cheek.

My eyes closed as I steeled myself against mirroring her. I still had some measure of manly dignity to uphold.

I wasn't sure if I let myself, only one tear would come out.

And then, as if we had suddenly had one voice, we both said the next line, "'It's all my fault, Major. It's all my fault.'"

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« Reply #40 on: Feb 20, 2010 10:41 pm »


Albeit reluctantly, I told Siyo what really happened those years ago. And she sat there and listened to every word.

It was awkward as the pit. I mean, how do you tell someone that their mom had the serious hots for you without feeling heaping levels of awkward? That conversation ranks right up there in the annals of awkward conversations. Like the birds and the bee-mantis one. Just no smooth way to deliver content like that. Just have to grit your teeth, get through it as fast as possible, and hope it isn't as painful as you think it might be.

Like a root canal. Or an advanced math class.

When I finished, I said, "Alright, that's my story. What's yours?"

And boy did Siyo have a story. It was like we were having a story telling contest, but only Siyo was taking it seriously. So she decided she needed to beat my eighteen minute story with an eighty minuter.

"For so long, I believed the stories about you. That you were just an also-ran," Siyo was saying. "But, I had never seen you in person. I couldn't bear to go to the court martial, though my sister had. So, I only had her word. She told me that you'd just stood there while the charges were levied on you, like you didn't care. The truth is, she might have hated you more than I did. She just is more controlled than I am. Always was." She said, before adding, "Still is."

"She was right. I didn't care," I replied, not able to keep some bitterness from my voice. "Nothing I said would have mattered. I was the scapegoat. I knew that cold. Avatar Aang himself couldn't exonerate me. The court martial didn't matter to me whatsoever."

"Be that as it may, to me it seemed that you didn't care about…about our mother. That she was nothing to you. And I couldn't forgive you for that. After we lost our father, she was all we had. We thought the world of her, of how great a woman she was."

I nodded slightly. "That she was. No one disliked her, much less hate her. She could've become the first female Council of Five member, never mind that she wasn't an earthbender." I let myself smile slightly. "She was someone to look up too. So of course me, a disgrace to the army was made out to be every bad word in the book."

"They were all rumors, but I was willing to believe anything if it was something bad about you. It made it easier to hate you. That you snuck away from your post to seduce her. And other things about the kind of person you were. How you did nothing but crack jokes. Were lazy and disrespectful. That you could only beat her in a sparring match by cheating."

I frowned. Cheating? Now that's a low blow. Last I heard, there was no rule that said you had to use regulation stances and techniques in a sparring match. Just because I used something new and different it's cheating? What a joke.

"That's why I was hesitant to believe it was you in the desert. After all, how many spear wielding men named Van could there be? But, based on what they had been saying, you were actually good with a spear."

I grunted. She was floating around a bit. Talking on thoughts as they came to her. I wanted to get right to the whole framing thing, but I decided not to push anything. This was completely different from that time at Xin Mao's party, but then she was working some an angle on me. (Which is exactly what I wanted to hear about) I guess this is how she normally talks. Why are women like this? Why can't they talk in anything but circles?

This was another lesson in torture, I decided. Because, I'll bet anything that Fate and Luck will have her sprinkle in some key facts in these disjointed series of words at the exact moment I stopped paying attention. Like right now.

Oh, take it all to the pit.

Siyo was saying "… girls would talk about all the different men in The Pit. They usually had interesting things to say about you." She gave me an oblique look, maybe to check if I was still paying attention. "Most importantly that you had never…indulged yourself."

She'd somehow segued to the desert. So, I snorted. "Of course not. I didn't want that fat man's-"

"Yes, I know sloppy seconds," Siyo finished, mildly disgusted, waving her hand dismissively.

"Actually I was going to say 'leftovers', but that still works."

She continued as if I hadn't spoke. "But, the story I'd gotten from everyone else in The Pit was different from the rumors from in the army."

Okay. We're in the right neighborhood. Now to carefully, patiently guide this conversation to the right house. "How so?"

"Everyone in the army spoke of you in bad terms, 'also-ran', 'worthless, arrogant punk'. That sort of thing."

"Bunch of sweet talkers, the army," I drawled.

"Whereas The Pit was different. Only a few people had something bad to say. A few said if they had more like you working there, they'd be the best tribe in the desert. It was a peculiar sort of admiration that made…" She continued on about what she thought about it.

Gah. Screw being patient.

"What were you doing in the desert anyway?"

She hesitated to answer. Probably thinking about how her mission or whatever should be classified, and then about how there's no one to hold her to that classification, like I had said earlier. "There'd been word of anarchist activity from our contact within the desert. When she broke contact, I was sent in undercover to investigate and collect intelligence."

An eyebrow rose. "With your who-ha?"

She rolled her eyes at me. "Yes, if you wish to put it so vulgarly. I should mention that not every rumor I heard was completely false. Like about that mouth of yours."

I raised my hands. "Hey. What can I say? Oh, that's right. A lot." Again, her exact words occurred to me a moment after. And I started putting newly remembered pieces together. "So, this contact, it was…"

Siyo nodded. "Fei Lu. And 'was' is a very good choice of words. That's how we knew something had gone wrong. We knew she wouldn't break contact willingly. Someone had killed her."

"Two consecutive harem girls that were more than harem girls? That's taking a bit of a risk is it? One was already weeded out and eliminated."

"That's the same reasoning we came to, but that Xin Mao's group hadn't broken our contract lines or even moved their location. That told us that whoever killed her, likely did so on a hunch."

True enough. The Pit was so because the sandbenders had made it that way, a discreet hidden location that could be moved by the combined efforts of all the benders working together. If someone close to Xin Mao, or Xin Mao himself suspected someone was leaking information, they would've most definitely changed. The Pit had been in that same location since I'd been there.

Siyo's eyes became somewhat downcast. "Fei Lu came to us, you see. She was a career girl, been working the desert for a long time. She felt a strong attachment to the place. Even though she knew a lot of illegal things happened, she believed it was okay as long as it was relatively minor. But, she saw things changing. Increases in activity in the sandbender tribes. Something big was coming and it worried her.

"During one of Xin Mao's visits to the city, she snuck away and contacted the confidential lines." She paused a moment, clearly remorseful. "We promised that she just needed to keep her eyes open like she'd been doing, not ask questions, and she'd be fine. We never thought she'd get found out, much less killed."

I knew a thing or two about making unkept promises. Though, perhaps I was making good on one of those promises right now. "There was still the possibility her death was accidental or just unrelated," I said, trying to save her some time and let her get by all this. "But, you all would never know and you had just cause to devote extra resources to such a remote place in the desert."

Siyo stared at me, eyebrows raised. "Exactly right." She looked away, shaking her head. "That's why I suspected you at first. Before the party, Xin Mao threw. The way people talked about this new wisecracking bandit that Xin Mao held so highly regarded. It seemed so unlikely that you showed up by sheer coincidence. And when the party came, I watched you the whole time."

I just sat in silence for now, but I let my look harden a bit. We'd finally gotten to the important part, and I wanted her to know that.

Siyo met my gaze evenly. "You sitting apart from the festivities, watching it all with those eyes. I can remember thinking that there was something unmistakable about you, if I wasn't entirely sure what it was. Everything I had been trained to spot in a potential threat was all about you." She lifted her chin. "It was then that I'd decided you were the most likely one to have killed Fei Lu, but I didn't know how or why."

I wish I could say I suspected her of something at the time either, but I was too bored at the party and didn't notice her until she choose for me to. "And you approached me anyway," I said instead, not letting my look waver, even a fraction.

"I had no choice. I wasn't just a simple partygoer, I was a harem girl and we had never met before. I was supposed to introduce myself." She let the next sentence linger on her tongue. "To offer myself."

Even now, she was putting back on the same performance, recreating the exchange. It felt like some kind of challenge. So, I matched her and got back into the same bored, snarky mindset. "But, I wasn't having that, was I?"

"No. I had assumed as much from what the other girls had told me. That's why I brought the drink," Siyo almost purred. The voice, the look in her eyes, it was blending together and making the memory almost come to life before me. She most definitely was showing me that she was indeed working an angle on me and could do it again.

Take it to the pit if she wasn't good at it.

I remembered her little maneuver to take the drinks off of young Mal Kha's tray as he walked by. I arched my eyebrow in the same manner. "Spiked my drink? But you never came near my drink. I made sure of it."

"I didn't need to. If I had a drink and sat down with you, you would get another drink yourself. I know how you men are," Siyo said smugly. "You can't resist holding an empty cup while a lady in your company's cup is full. Besides, I could tell. You like your beer and didn't like where you were. You were going to get drunk that night regardless."

I blinked. I couldn't help it. Damn it. I broke first. "You just let me drink myself into a near stupor? Then how'd you make me forget what happened the next day? I didn't drink that much."

Siyo's smug smile got even smugger. "'You're so tense. How about you lie down while I take it all away'," she mused.

"The massage."

"There's a reason why you never get a drunk massage, Van. A massage stimulates blood flow, and alcohol gets you drunk by spreading through your blood. The more it flows, the more intoxicated you get. If done precisely, a masseuse can control the flow of blood to the brain and put the mind halfway between a coma and a dreamlike state. In this state, I could get any information I wanted, if just for a brief amount of time."

Well. There's something I didn't know. At least I'm not a pillow talker…Wait. What am I saying? I am a pillow talker. Whether it wasn't my fault or not, there's a pillow. I'm talking on it. That's a pillow talker.

Never mind about the talking in my sleep thing.

I could've let her keep toying with me, but I'm no fan of that sort of thing, so I said flatly, "And that's when you found out the man you were giving a sensual massage to indirectly killed your mother."

Siyo's smug look evaporated like Fire Lord Ozai's dignity once he was depowered. A shade of the anger that she once stared at me with flared behind her eyes again. But it quickly faded. "Yes," she said quietly. "Instead of questioning you about the Luminous Ones, I asked if your whole name was Van Tsu-Yan and if you were dishonorably discharged from the army. And you slurred, I'll never forget, 'That would be me, sweet cheeks.' And then you were out like a light."

Sweet cheeks? I had to suppress a snicker. The classics were always the best.

" I seriously considered crushing your skull while you slept. I held the stone of compressed sand above your head for a long time. All it would've taken was a mere gesture and I would have avenged my mother," Siyo said simply, matter of factly.

My desire to snicker disappeared just as quick as her smug smile had.

I've been close to death before. A lot of times in fact. But in all those instances, I'd been wide awake. I'd been able to affect the outcome. If I'd been killed, it would've been because I couldn't do enough to stop it. But while I was asleep I was completely vulnerable. I couldn't do anything. Anyone could be killed in their sleep. And I do mean anyone. That's not a good feeling. That's another part of the reason I taught myself how to sleep with one eye open. I knew I was making more enemies in the army than friends, if someone wanted to rough me up, they sure as hell wouldn't catch me napping, so to speak.

I realized some dark irony in that I vividly remember waking up the next morning with a pounding headache, courtesy of a bad hangover.

My headache could've been a lot worse, although I wouldn't actually have felt it, I thought grimly.

Siyo's voice softened. "But, I couldn't do it. Not like that. Not in cold blood. And especially not after I had already forsaken my mission for my own personal reasons. I was there to investigate and observe, and then disappear. I had no orders to eliminate anyone. At that point, I was certain beyond a doubt you were the one who killed Fei Lu, but I still had to prove it. As wrong and biased as I was, killing the suspect out of revenge for my mother would've been a dishonor. To the oath I swore and to my mother. She always taught me and my sister about keeping level heads, living up to our word, and not letting our emotions rule us. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I just tossed everything she taught me aside in the heat of anger."

"And so you let me live."

"Yes, I did."

"And you didn't frame me so Xin Mao and his goons could rip me apart. Because it would leave you without your honor just as much as if you killed me yourself."

"No, I did not."

I leaned back against the cave wall and stared at the shadows playing along the ceiling. "I just can't believe it."

"Believe what?" Siyo asked.

"That I'd been so wrong too. About you. I filled in the blanks, and just assumed you had set me up as the pasty just for some money. I thought that you had killed Fei Lu yourself so you could replace her. I really thought I had it all figured out," I murmured.

"I won't lie to you, Van, but your deductive and inductive reasoning skills are still remarkable, though easily misguided by circumstantial evidence," Siyo said.

I looked at her blankly. "Uh. Thanks, but…I have no idea what the pit you just said."

She looked at me levelly. Until she realized that I was being dead serious. And then her mouth quirked up at the corners. She tried to stop herself, but the flood gates had been unleashed and she let out a hardy belly laugh that nearly took her off her perch. I'd never seen a woman laugh like that before. She was laughing as hard as I did back when I was bound and gagged. It was the side splitting, tear streaming, cheek hurting, breathe losing kind of laughter that was as pure as it ever got.

And I sat there against the wall, staring at the woman who had wanted to kill me, and nearly had on two separate occasions, have the laugh of her life at my expense.

I sighed. Whatever. She could have her laugh. Take it to the pit if she didn't need it. If it kept her on my side of things, then fine. I more or less figured out one piece of the big "Huh?" that was what went down in Xin Mao's desert. But, I still didn't know everything, but I knew something which was a marked improvement over where I was in the beginning.

I suppose I could pat myself on the back. But I'd be hogging the credit from the real reason I was able to get through to Siyo: Lyra.

I don't have a clue how did she know that telling Siyo about what I said in my sleep would be enough to sway her. Even right now as she stood behind Siyo, holding a large duffel bag, nearly as big as she was and…

I did a literal double take. "What the-?" I spat.

Siyo was just coming down from her laugh high, when she noticed Lyra too and jolted up out of her seat with a funny little "Eep!" sound and stumbled over backwards to near where I was now standing, after I jumped to my feet. Siyo looked at the bags. "That's one of our bags. These came from our armory," she breathed. "When did she…? How did she…?" Siyo looked at me, as if I could answer her question.

Far be it from me to let a woman go wanting.

I shrugged. "Uh. I'd say she left sometime around the part where I robbed two old people, walked to your headquarters, and got back just now."

"Without either of us noticing?" Siyo asked, incredulous.

"Uh. Yeah, she does that sometimes," I explained.

"Then what's in the bag?"

"Hey, what's in the bag?" I asked Lyra.

"Supplies," Lyra replied in that quiet voice of hers.

"She says they're supplies," I clarified. "If you ask me, I'd say she's ready for us get on out of here. Quite frankly, I agree. It feels like I've spent the last couple chapters of my life in this place."

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #41 on: Feb 21, 2010 01:22 pm »

This is one of the most hilarious and intriguing stories I have read in a LOONNNGGG time.

She looked at me levelly. Until she realized that I was being dead serious. And then her mouth quirked up at the corners. She tried to stop herself, but the flood gates had been unleashed and she let out a hardy belly laugh that nearly took her off her perch. I'd never seen a woman laugh like that before. She was laughing as hard as I did back when I was bound and gagged. It was the side splitting, tear streaming, cheek hurting, breathe losing kind of laughter that was as pure as it ever got.
So this definately describes me at many points while reading this.

Update soon  Grin

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Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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A Soulful Brother

« Reply #42 on: Jun 25, 2010 08:36 pm »

Author's Note: Van's baaaaaaack. Sorry for the long layoff. I had a bit of a block. And I got over it. Turns out more characters and an unexpected turn of events is a sweet way to conquer a block. Hope y'all enjoy!

Content warning: This chapter gets...slightly mature towards the end. Not a lot, imo, but more than any other chapter. So yeah. Just FYI.

Chapter 13: The Orchard

A bomb was just dropped on me, the likes from which I fear I will not  recover.

Lyra knows my underwear size.

I've tried to work my mind around that concept and with limited success.

How do I know she knows, you may ask?

Well. Included in the satchel of supplies Lyra snuck out and got was a change of clothes for both me and Siyo. And it was all a perfect fit. My underwear included. I can imagine getting Siyo right. Probably a girl thing, guessing what clothes they wear and what size.

But what about me? Did Lyra get lucky and guess right? Like the pit she did. After what I've seen from the girl, nothing she does can be just attributed to luck.

Him and Fate don't play nice where I'm regarded anyway.

Just imagining that she somehow found some place in that complex where they keep underwear was just too weird. Did specifically go sifting through a pile of underwear until she found my size? She wasn't gone that long. So she probably had to know my underwear size on sight. How is that even possible? How do you just guess what size underwear someone wears?

And I'm not talking about regular stuff. I mean the military grade underwear made for lots of movement. That's not about waist size then. It's about support and comfort. We men have "special" needs when it comes to keeping things manageable in terms of tight fitting underwear. You just can't throw a vice around a man's-

"Hey! Van! Are you listening to me?" Siyo snapped at me. Which involved the actual snapping of her fingers in my face.

We'd left the beautiful, luxurious comfort of the slimy cave behind and were making our way back towards Siyo's underground complex. Since then, Siyo'd began explaining what intelligence they'd gathered on the capabilities of the Luminous Ones, recent activity, and their guerilla style tactics.

You know. Boring stuff.

"Huh?" I said convincingly. "Yeah. Hanging on every word. You were talking about giant blood sucking, killer penguins, right?"

Siyo hissed something mean and hurtful about me under her breath. "Beetles, you dolt."

"Right. Right. Beetles. Penguins," I mumbled with a shrug. "I get those mixed up sometimes. What was it about the beetles again?"

Siyo shook her head at me with a roll of her eyes. "They're similar to the ones a group of merchants use to transport cargo. The same merchants I know Xin Mao had dealings with. I was asking if you'd ever seen them before."

I stuck out my bottom lip with a nod. "Yeah. They're similar alright. Similar the way a calm, gentle thing is similar to a ravenous, deadly thing. They're both things, you see." Siyo leveled a flat look on me that tugged on some strings I didn't want tugged. I swallowed down the memory before it could be dredged up. "Yes. I've seen the merchants and their beetles. But I'd only heard of the kind that attacked you. They don't live near the desert and I'd heard they were extremely rare."

"I see," she said deep in thought.

"That's the thing though. Just seeing one of them is rare, but so many of them? And they're kind of noticeable. I wonder how you move around a battalion of vicious creepy crawlies like that and keep it a secret."

"While that's true and bears later discussion," she said as she waved a dismissive hand. "That isn't what really bugs me about them."

I looked at her with an arched eyebrow.

"That's not what bothers me about them," Siyo quickly amended.

"I gave you a pass that time. Don't let it happen again," I said with a waggle of my finger.

Ignoring me Siyo said, "It's the fact that they were even riding them. That they even could ride them. I didn't know you could tame creatures like that."

I nodded in grim acknowledgment. "The same thing had occurred to me too. Truth is, you don't tame anything unless it was pretty much tame to begin with. The beetles the merchants use just stand around mostly and let anyone climb on them and strap a harness to it. After that they just smack its behind with a whip and off it goes. But you have to break a wild animal. Show it you're stronger, superior, won't get off its back.

"But some animals know us meatsacks are weaker and smaller. And more than that, they know we're food. Those beetles are man eaters. You can break them no more than you can make a badger-mole see." I shook my head as I thought of how those riders controlled the beetles with no problem. "That was beyond breaking them. I've ridden ostrich-horses that didn't respond like that. Those things were terrifying."
Siyo absent mindedly clutched at her stomach and looked a couple shades paler. "I know," she said quietly. "And one of those things took my sister."

I didn't quite know how to respond to that. So I didn't.

But Lyra did.

"Rescue her."

We both looked back at Lyra at the same time.

"Your sister's alive. We'll rescue her," Lyra said again in that tiny voice, that somehow had conviction in it.

I just looked at her. We? Does she mean the three of us?

Siyo drew in a deep breath and recomposed herself. "Yes. We'll rescue her."

"Uh," I said, "not to stomp on the delusions of heroism, but determined or not, we don't we have the man power to take those things on. Also, we haven't a clue where they are. They could be anywhere."

"Not true," Lyra said. "The trains." Then Lyra strode ahead of us, looked back once, and kept going.

Siyo stared blankly for a moment, then she gasped. "Of course!"

I feel in step behind her, feelings of my own stupidity increasing with each footstep. "Trains? Gasp? Of course? What?"

"Van," Siyo said like a teacher might talk to a slow student. "Even I know those beetles can't travel long distances quickly. And like I said, we know the Luminous Ones have no permanent base of operation. They're nomadic."
Crap. Siyo said that? There she goes, sprinkling in actually useful information along with all the other fluff. "Right. I know that already," I lied. "What about trains then?"

"It's how you quickly move deadly creatures that size around without someone noticing."

And then I got it. "So that's how the beetles got to the fight. And how they got back. They couldn't have used a railway. There's no station around for miles, and people would notice an unscheduled train nearby."

"So they have to be using the off rail models."

I snapped a finger. "And they'd leave tracks behind we might be able to follow. Alright then. So I was only half right. So, where do we start looking?"

Lyra had moved ahead of us. "This way."
« Last Edit: Jun 25, 2010 08:39 pm by Eman5805 » Logged

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #43 on: Jun 25, 2010 08:37 pm »


I looked at Siyo and shrugged. Siyo simply nodded. She looked determined now. Lyra had given her hope. Something way more than what I could offer. But of course there was still the matter of how did she keep doing things like this.

I hadn't even thought about that until now, but whenever things seemed the most hopeless, Lyra did something to change it around for the better. And I have no idea how she keeps managing it. I mean, not only did she sneak into Siyo's base and find underwear that was a perfect fit, she somehow located the tracks of the trains the Luminous Ones used to escape? And in the span of what? 20 to 30 minutes tops?

It wasn't normal. Regular humans aren't this…perfect. I can't think of anything the girl had messed up on. And even if she had, I either haven't caught on to it yet or it was so minor, I didn't notice while she was doing something like saving my skin. Lyra was competent, scary competent. It just couldn't last. I'm not or more pessimistic or cynical than I should be, but when your life is as crappy as mine, you come to expect for that other shoe to drop. And I've been going around with one shoe on for a while.

I know Fate and Luck are cooking something up, but I don't know how big it's going to be. It could finally be the thing that puts me down for good.
Heh. Maybe I'm overreacting. In fact, this could be the first mistake Lyra's made. We could get to the tracks and realize they're not tracks at all. Man. This doesn't make sense, does it? I'm hoping against Lyra and for what? Because I'm freaking out because my kismet's been looking good recently? And I'm suddenly a firm believer in karma, yin and yang, and all that metaphysical gobbledygook? I must be getting soft.

But still…

We got to the tracks and realized they weren't tracks at all. Nope. Not tracks. You see a detached tramcar is most definitely not train tracks. And neither is the giant beetle next to it. Those things are not train tracks.

Naturally, the moment we caught a glimpse of it, we dropped into a low crouch and froze in place. A small contest about who could hold their breath the longest erupted between Siyo and me. I won, but only because Siyo gasped when she realized that Lyra had vanished. (It might also have to do with Siyo not thinking of it as a contest.)

How did Lyra keep doing that? She was in front of us for crying out loud. Did she wait for just the right moment when I took my eyes off her by blinking?

But never mind that, if Lyra disappeared then she's caught onto a threat. She did the same when those Luminous hitmen attacked and again just before I got picked up by Captain Lin. Crap. I carefully scanned around the area. Nothing else here but trees and shrubs. Which didn't mean there wasn't anything but the beetle here, just that if there was, I couldn't spot it. Damn it. Why couldn't I ever be attacked in the desert? Or a nice empty warehouse?

Siyo slowly slid next to me, without so much as making a sound. Earthbending then. Using it to soften her movements. She gestured at me, pointed off to the left. Then did the same to her and to the right.

You go this way. I go that way.

Was she serious? She wanted to flank and ambush that thing? She fought them once and nearly got herself killed. And I vividly remember that they can relieve a man of his ability to walk in the most gruesome way possible. I couldn't possibly be interpreting her right. But judging from the look in her eyes…yes, she wanted to flank it. Without even waiting for me to nod an affirmative or even respond she broke off, picking her way through the brush.

I didn't need to do anything.

I could just turn and leave. Siyo's injuries were pretty much healed. She knew what she was getting into. She was still part of an organization sworn to fighting people like the Shiny Freaks, even if she might be the only living member. But me, I'm just a spear carrying civilian, ahem, albeit maybe not the most upstanding of such. And Lyra's just…Lyra. I have no real stake in their little squabble. The Glowing Gang did want me dead. But then, who didn't?

So I should just turn and leave. It made too much sense to leave this mess to the ones who want to clean it up.

So why was I silently picking my way through the woods heading straight towards sudden danger? Don't tell me I've found some kind of inner chivalry that wouldn't let a woman head into danger alone? I thought I killed my chivalrous side by slitting it's throat with a coward's knife while it was taking a nap. Should've cut it up and burned the body. It came back again no matter how much I tried to get rid of it. Like herpes.

I'll have to worry about what was wrong with me some other time. My bigger concern is the giant vicious beetle that was-

Dead. Impaled on a giant stone spike.

I nearly barked out a laugh. But just because the beetle was a non-threat didn’t mean it's rider or any straggling members of the Bright Bunch weren't around.  From this angle I could see that half the train car was blown away. Probably the result of a blasting jelly cap. Must've made the Shimmering Soldiers abandon it.

I kept low and watched the area, waiting. I didn't see Siyo anywhere. I decided to bank on her covering me and stepped into the open.

I looked around me, stepping in cautious circles. My spear held firm. Several trees were down, uprooted. A long fissure issuing from beyond it, straight at the car. One of the treads had sunken into the ground. Several medium sized stones were strewn about. Pot holes of equal amount spread just as liberally about the area, evidences of earthbending. A large swath had been cut through the forest beyond the tramcar.

That must be where the rest of the train went after detaching this car, I figured. Guess we've found that trail. As to how the pit could Lyra have known is a whole 'nother matter. As I continued about, I spotted a dead body. He looked like an ordinary civilian. He had a large, bloody gash in his back. One hit, one kill from behind.

The Sparkling Boys were ambushed.

At least it wasn't a total slaughter on Siyo's side of-

I rolled away from the hurtling stone, which burst into rubble on the car. I brought my spear to bear, keeping as low as possible. I didn't see anyone. Someone above me grunted. My hand flew to my acquired belt and I flung a throwing knife over my shoulder up at the man descending on me with an oversized axe. He let out a startled cry and deflected the knife away. I swung my spear laterally and caught him just above the knee as he landed. He spat out a harsh curse and crumpled. I spun away from him, ready to take the on the hidden earthbender.

The ground disappeared.

I hit the edge of the crevice with my midsection, blasting the air from my chest. Before I could even move, it closed around me, trapping me waist high in the ground. The pressure on my lower body was immense, like I was about have my pelvis journey north to have a heart to heart chat with my face. Coupled with the fact that I was still breathless, I couldn't even cry out in that agonizing moment. It hurt so bad, I hardly noticed that Pretty Boy was about to cleave my head like a cantaloupe.

Pretty Boy let out a low, triumphant roar and swung.

The axe hit the ground behind him with a heavy thunk and Pretty Boy started flapping his hand around, shaking out the little icicle out of his wrist, sprinkling my face with blood.

Pretty Boy roared again. This time in pain, and about several octaves higher.

Siyo sprinted into the clearing with the young earthbender from when I was captured way back when in tow. "Hyung, stand down!"

Even wincing in pain, clutching at his wounded wrist, his eyebrows shot up. "Commander Siyo! You're still alive?!"

"Yes. It's okay," she said, her voice warm, placing a hand on his thick shoulder. "I got away. I survived. Now, step back please." She looked at the young earthbender and gestured at me. "Kensei, get him out."

It made sense why she was making Kensei do it. Siyo didn't know exactly how he closed the hole around me. If she tried to open it herself like it was just regular rock, she could be unaware of lines of constricting stone gripping my legs that Kensei bent in, resulting in something a bit like when you twist chopsticks really hard. So Kensei was the one to undo it.

Even so, I really wished Siyo would try anyway.

Hyung stepped in front of Kensei "What are you doing?! He's one of them!"

Siyo stared hard at Hyung. "I said stand down, Lieutenant Hyung."

He was as bullishly stubborn as he looked. "No! This bastard lead them right to us! At the very least, we have to avenge-"

Siyo squared around on him. "It wasn't a request! I'm issuing you a direct order as a superior officer, lieutenant. Now I'll say it again: Stand down."

Hyung let out a low growl and backed off, retrieving his ax, holding his wrist at his waist.

I was starting to lose all feeling below the belt. It felt wrong on all implied levels.

"Kensei," Siyo said, not looking away from Hyung.

Kensei gestured and the stone flowed away from around me. I let out a gasp of relief. Blood rushed back into my legs and I knew it was all still attached thanks to the big wallop of pain that greeted me. I tried to pull myself out, but failed badly. My legs didn't want to do that standing thing just yet.

"Uh," I whimpered. "Little help? I've got this paraplegic thing going on."

"Help him up," Siyo ordered.

Both of them grabbed an arm and hauled me out of the hole, Hyung being a bit more rough has he wrenched on my arm. I winced. Someone bent up a little flat mound of earth for me to sit on.

"Ah," I breathed as I settled down, rubbing on my legs. "'Preciate the help."

Kensei shrugged, dubious. "Uh…don't mention it."

Hyung growled, "Punk."

"You know, for a big, bruising guy that growls a lot, you sure scream like a little girl," I croaked.

"That's it!" Hyung bellowed. He tried to bring his ax up, but the wound on his wrist made him stop in his tracks and cry out in pain again.

"Hyung! Van! That's enough," Siyo shouted.

"He started it," I said, purposefully letting a bit of a childish whine enter my voice.

"I don't care. This isn't the time or place for childish bickering."

"Fine. Fine," I relented.

Kensei looked from Siyo to me and back. "Uh. Forgive me, sir, but what the hell is going on? Why isn't he in shackles anymore? And why does it seem like you're both working together now?"

"Because we are. More or less," Siyo said.

"You mean he isn't the enemy?"

"No," Siyo said. "He is not."

"How could you know that?" Hyung rumbled. "We can't possibly trust him. For all you know, this could all be an elaborate Luminous One trap, orchestrated by this…man."

I snorted. "Buddy, I don't even know what okra-strafe means."

Kensei stifled a laugh.

Siyo shook her head. "I know because this man spared my life after I tried to kill him when he had no reason to do so."

Both Hyung's and Kensei's eyebrows must be attached to each other by invisible strings because they both rose at the exact same time.

"It's a long story, and it'll have to wait. First, we need to look after that wound, Lt. Hyung," Siyo said.

"I'll be fine, sir," Hyung said glaring at me. The 'no thanks to me' implied.

Gee. I wonder if I should stick out my tongue at him or something, I thought.

I shrugged. "My mistake. Next time someone tries to kill me, I'll warn them to mind their limbs. Wouldn't want them getting hurt, now do I?" I drawled, then held up a placating hand before Pretty Boy went nuts on me. "But, I'm not the one you should be pissed at. My…friend was the one that needled you. And I'm sure she'll be happy to heal that up for you."

"Your friend? Who?" Hyung asked, then turned to see where I was looking.

Lyra was standing behind him, silent as ever.

She blinked her hello.

Hyung and Kensei all jumped out of their skins and nearly attacked her. Siyo responded better, though she did take a shocked step back.

I had to smile. "Gentleman, meet Lyra."

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« Reply #44 on: Jun 25, 2010 08:37 pm »


After assuring Kensei and Hyung that Lyra was no threat, informing them that Captain Lin was captured alive, and getting Hyung's little wound healed up, they related what they knew about the attack and how they got separated from anyone else.

From what he said, once Hyung regained consciousness from our little scuffle he went back to report that I had escaped and was on the loose. He just so happened to make to make it back to the Captain when one of the Gleaming Goons' "covert units" was about to either capture or kill her. From how Hyung talked about them, I have to think it was the same unit of the woman that nearly got me with my back turned. They were forced to fall back once the beetles came and had broken through to the center of the complex. But the Incandescent Individuals had a secondary, apparently even more deadly group of beetles waiting for them. They were forced to scatter. While the beetles could move quickly over open ground, they aren't built to move through dense forest. If they all ran as fast as they could, they could escape. They stuck close by the captain and Siyo for a time, until they were attacked and the captain ordered them to get away.

Neither of them has run into anything of their comrades except corpses.

It was a desperation tactic. Telling your soldiers to scatter into a dense forest with no plan, but to survive. They were totally cut off from the rest of their team. So, the two of them began taking the fight back to the Bright…Guys.

(Crap. I've run out of synonyms for luminous. Incandescent was as colorful as I was going to get.)

I came away a bit impressed. They were running two-man guerilla warfare and for the most part succeeding. It's no small wonder they were about to send me to an early grave, and why I'd gotten captured. I was particularly impressed with Kensei, I should say. He wasn't that imposing. He was a clean shaven kid with a small queue, standing couple inches shorter than me, and less muscular. But he was remarkably efficient. Reminded me a bit of a Dai Li agent.

Siyo looked over the damage to the train car and the dead beetle. "You did well to ambush this by yourselves."

"Well, were mostly by ourselves," Kensei said.

"Mostly? What, where there other people here?"

Kensei shook his head, with a frown. "See, that's the weird thing. They were distracted, but I don't know by who. Someone of their group had disappeared. We thought some of our comrades had survived and was doing the same thing as us. We took advantage of their distraction and ambushed them. Once they were all down, we never found a trace of anyone else." Kensei stifled a yawn. He looked like he hadn't slept much. I could imagine why.

Hyung grunted. "All we found was two of the Luminous' bodies. One's head had been cut clean off by some impossibly sharp weapon. The other was just…dead. Like his heart just stopped beating."

Hey. Did Lyra just flinch?

"Rouge beetle perhaps?" Siyo pondered.

Kensei shook his head and rubbed at the back of his neck. "We should be so lucky. But that cut was way too clean and I don't think those beetles can turn on their riders. It's the craziest thing I've ever seen. I hit a rider in the back once and the beetle seemed to cry out in pain. And they go through great lengths to protect their riders. Taking stones meant for them with those big claws. Those beetles and their riders are…one or something."

Me and Siyo shared a look.

Kensei was a sharp one. "You guys noticed something too?"

I nodded. "Yeah. I know second hand that those beetles shouldn't be acting like that. They're man eaters. Vicious sons of bitches that shouldn't let a human being within 30 yards of them without trying to make a meal out of him, let alone let one ride it, and double let alone go to great lengths to protect those riders. It's like they…" I trailed off.

"No, go on. You have some…theory on why?" Kensei asked.

I rubbed my chin as I thought on it. I made up my mind with a nod. "It's magic gemstones made from the spirit world," I said with absolute confidence.

Judging from their reactions, they all must've thought I was going to give them a real answer.

Silly humans.

Hyung growled, then said, "What's our next move, commander?"

"We're going after my sis-Captain Lin. We're going to rescue her," Siyo said.

Kensei looked doubtful. "I don't know. Hiding out in the forest and picking them off is one thing, but taking on the Luminous with just the four of us? Shouldn't we try to establish a sonicus line with the other branches first or at least with Ba Sing Se? Crush them with better numbers?"
I didn't bother correcting that there was five of us. Wouldn't want him assuming I was going to be helping.

"We sent out emergency calls to all points when this all started," Siyo said somberly. "The call should've reached all the way to Omashu's receiving station. Even to Ba Sing Se. And we even sent all our messenger hawks just in case. The one branch nearest us has an airship docked there. If anyone had gotten the call, they would've made it here by now. We're on our own."

Everyone fell silent. And in the case of Lyra, silenter.

I chuckled. Couldn't help myself.

"Just what the hell is so damn funny, punk?" Hyung rumbled.

"You mean you don't see it? Think about it, big guy." I ticked off points on my hands. "They moved a large assault force on your base without tipping off your sentries until it was too late to properly bring up your defenses. Managed to sneak a covert force in while you're busy fighting the others off. They knew where your escape routes were and set up waiting for you to run right into their snapping jaws. They even took measures to cut your sonicus lines and kill your hawks so you couldn't call for help."

"And what does it all mean?" Kensei asked.

Siyo's eyes narrowed.

"You think they just happened to know exactly how and where to hit you? At first you all just assumed they knew where you were because they were following me and then you when you captured me. They came up with a spur of the moment assault. Which made no sense whatsoever. You don't just scramble that kind of force in such a short time. We're all ex-military. We know how the system works. You don't move troops of that size without loads of planning and intelligence. Loads of prior planning and prior intelligence. And how do you get prior planning and prior intelligence to attack what is literally an underground military instillation?"

Siyo sucked in a sharp breath.

"I'm afraid that your group's been compromised."

"A mole!" Hyung bellowed.

"A traitor!" Kensei said at the same time.

"A cat! A dog! A yellow sea sponge!" I mumbled under a chuckle.

This time even Kensei looked like he wanted to pound my face in. Hyung stuck with his tried and true method of reacting to the things that I say. I held up a placating hand for both of them this time. "Sorry. Sorry. Just seemed appropriate."

Siyo stood up. "Van, I'd like a word with you. Alone." She looked at Lyra who was stooped over in her little sitting fetal position. "Do not follow us."

Lyra actually showed a faint hint of surprise. She met eyes with Siyo and nodded slowly.
Needless to say it caught me off guard a bit. Why'd Siyo feel the need to make sure Lyra wouldn't come? And why'd she think Lyra would listen? Siyo walked around to the other side of the busted tramcar and motioned for me to follow.

"Hyung. Kensei. Keep watch over the area until we're finished," Siyo called out.

"Sir," they both replied in unison, though with some hesitation.

I back looked at the querying Hyung and Kensei. They were murmuring something to each other, but I couldn't make it out. Lyra had stood up at some point and was watching us go, her head tilted a bit to one side. I held my arms out to my sides, palms up. I didn't know what this was about anymore than they did.


Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #45 on: Jun 25, 2010 08:38 pm »


Siyo led us on a silent 20 minute walk beyond the tram into a liberally spread part of the forest. I asked where she was taking me, but she just kept walking. Not one to enjoy being ignored, I went up to her, asked again. She was just staring ahead, blankly, as if in some kind of focused trance. It was a bit eerie.

We finally stopped when we came to an odd little area. It was a small patch of plum blossoms centered around a trickling stream so small I could step over it. The ground was completely covered with blossom petals, and every so often another one would fall and float to the ground. It seemed too scenic to be some random natural growth. There seemed to be some kind of intent here. It was like a tiny orchard that someone grew just so someone could paint it. The air even felt lighter, different. But most jarring was how abrupt it was.

All around was the same old, shabby looking trees. Lots of dead leaves and gnarly shrubs spread about. And then…this little area. There wasn't any gradual fade from grungy forest to this little place. There was a clear and definable border. Like entire this one area was cut out of someone's little garden and dropped here. And the stream was a part of it too. Judging from how it looked, the stream was coming out of a tiny little hole. It looked like a plumbing outlet from some building. Except it didn't stink here at all. It was kind of sweet. The sticky sweet fragrance of fresh fruit. It made me a bit hungry.

Siyo looked over the area. "This should be far enough. Now. Van…" Siyo turned and looked me right in the eye.

"What's this all about, Siyo? If anyone saw us come here, it'd look like we-"

Siyo punched me just below where she was looking.

I've been punched in the face before, but I always knew it was coming and was amply ready for it. My mouth has gotten me in situations like that before, so I'm used to people wanting to hit me. But this? This was the first time anyone's caught me completely off guard before. I didn't see stars like they say. It didn't even hurt as much as I'd expect. I was too surprised for things like pain.

Next thing I knew, I was on the ground looking up at a furious Siyo. The all fallen blossom petals made the ground soft at least, I found myself thinking.

"You son of a b***h," she snarled. "Nearly everyone in my organization is dead. Friends and allies. And maybe even my sister. Dead! You bring up the possibility that one of them could have betrayed us. Someone I trusted. Everything I ever fought for could be for nothing. I could lose everything. And you dare find this funny?"

I rubbed my cheek with the back of my hand as I climbed to my feet. A searing hot coal must've been stuck to it. My eye was watering.

And I was suddenly quite pissed off.

"Yes. I dare. What, you want me to feel sorry? Well. Tough. I'm not going to apologize for being who I am. I wanted you dead after the Pit thing, but the first time I saw you I nearly choked myself on a gag from laughing so hard. You were there. I was strapped to a chair surrounded by a bunch of people that for all I knew were going to fricassee and eat me once it was all over. And I was laughing.

"I can't explain it, and I sure as the pit didn't choose to be like this. And yet, it's who I am. But if you've got such a problem with me…" Not really thinking, I tore off my shirt and threw it on the ground next to my spear. "…then we can throw down here and now. C'mon! Let's see that right hook one more time, mudslinging skank!" I spat out some blood and felt one of my teeth wiggle.

"I'd never degrade myself by fighting a wretch like you," she seethed, having just seconds ago cold clocked me.

I said that part out loud. Her jaw tensed at me catching her trying to act high and mighty. So I added, " Heh. Contradict yourself much? I'm sure you didn't come all this way to give me a stern talking to, now did you?" I'm never one to do things by halves.

"And you're one to talk?" she shot back. "You who have all this knowledge, all this insight, but you waste it by being a law-breaking, smart-alecky desert bandit. Giving nothing. Just content to take what you want. Like you were so wronged. Like some helpless victim. But then you stand back and look at the world around you, can see all the problems, all the trouble. And all you do is laugh and make your smart ass comments. And do nothing. Like you have no responsibility. No obligations. You're one of the worst kind of people. A shiftless, hypocrite with no purpose. You have no right to sit back and laugh at other people and their struggles."

That caught me off guard for a second. Maybe she had brought me here to give me a stern talking to. But I was pissed enough to not care. "You don't know a damn thing about me! How the pit can you call me a hypocrite?"

"When you have the power and knowledge to do something about it, don't, and then piss and moan over the result, it's the same thing as saying one thing and doing another! That's what makes you a hypocrite. A cowardly, weak hypocrite! And you have the gall to laugh about it."

I barked out a laugh, knowing it would make her madder. "You've a lot of damn nerve judging me. Because I turned my back on responsibilities that I never asked for and rejected a world that used me and threw me out the moment it was convenient. A coward? Now that's funny. " I spat, my voice simmering with scorn and bitterness. "I think of myself as the only one in the world brave of enough to walk away once I saw the truth."

"And what truth is that? That you're a pathetic excuse for a human being?"

"That no matter what I could do, no matter what I might accomplish in life. I'd only be a part of a system that uses people up and spits them out without a
care or worry. The system doesn't care about the poor, sick, elderly, or even those not as capable as others. Those the system doesn't need it discards. And those it can get some use out of, will be next in line to be replaced. Like you. Brainwashed little fool."

"You sound just like an anarchist," Siyo said, hate touching her eyes again. "Next comes the part where you talk about overthrowing the 'system'."

"Like the pit. You must be reading a different script, sweet cheeks. But," I smiled and pointed at her. "You hate anarchists. Why?"

"They seek destruction of order and civilization that the system, the government provides. It would bring chaos to the world. I can't forgive anyone that would bring that to be," Siyo said heatedly.

"Wrong. Wrong. Wrong," I crisscrossed my hands over each word. "The government isn't the system. It's just a part of it, a big part, but just that."

"You're not making any sense," Siyo said waving a dismissive hand. "Not that I should expect you to."

Guess I really have to lay it all out for her. "Alright, then I'll break it down. Starting with the governments. Anarchists only seek to bring down 'their' world. 'Their' civilization. But, if the anarchists ever won, nothing would change. Not really. You think anarchy means no order? It means nothing the current guys would call order. Because they'd be dead. There'd be a new regime, but the 'anarchists" would just become the same thing that they fought against. And what would happen next? New 'anarchists' trying to depose the old order and make a new one. There'd be a new government, all operating under the same old system. Using the people and tossing them out. Same sad story. Nothing would really change."

Siyo's resolve wavered briefly, but she bounced back. "No. That's still wrong. How many people would die during the regime change? How much blood would be spilled? Innocents always get caught in the middle of everything. That's who we're really protecting. Not the government. Not some…unseen, omnipresent system. That's-"

I raised a finger. "Notice how you said…innocents not people? There's a big difference."

Siyo just looked at me.

"Anyone in jail isn't an innocent, right? By definition, you go to jail when you're guilty of something. That's how it works. Well, what about the people not in jail who aren't innocent? What happens to them?"

Siyo started to say something, but I cut her off.

"Then they're not who you're protecting. Yeah. Obviously. And it'd be up to the authorities of the world to find those guilty parties that are free and meter out justice. Okay. That's all fine and dandy to say. But…what about the ones in jail who are innocent, wrongly accused of a crime they didn't commit? Who protects them? Aren't they caught in the crossfire? Are they just a casualty of the system? A necessary sacrifice justified because it doesn't happen all that often? They were just at the wrong place at the wrong time? Or maybe they were just used as a scapegoat to protect the system's integrity. And then cast out like yesterday's garbage. You might say that the justice system isn't perfect and nothing in this world is. But that really just ignores a bigger truth."

Siyo just looked at me. Waiting.

"An innocent's just a nameless, faceless figure. You can protect that no problem. It's a vague concept, which means you can change around the details and it's still the same. But you can't change people like that. Because people can be violent, hypocritical, lazy, and all those things the system doesn't like. But most of all, people can't be controlled. People find ways to survive. They fight against what threatens them. An innocent doesn't do that. That's why they say he's innocent. An innocent is passive, stagnant, bad stuff happens to them. And the ones responsible are just deplorable. That's the spin you always get. That's how the system gets you. It's all about the spin. The clever wordplay used to paint the good guys from the bad, so the masses doesn't feel guilty, feel the desire to act out against the system."

I could see the doubt swirling in Siyo. She couldn't look me in the eye anymore, looking down and letting some of her hair slip over her face. She folded her arms like she was cold. She was visibly shrinking away from my words…kneeling down into a fetal position on the ground, not unlike how Lyra does.
Siyo was saying something under her breath, over and over again. I was deeply upsetting her.

And I didn't care.

I could've stopped. I laid in harder.

Something had kind of taken hold of my mouth while I wasn't looking. I was saying things I hadn't even really thought about, even to myself. But I could tell that I meant every word. I was pacing around, even had broken out into a cold sweat. I'd never spoken like this before. It felt…weird. And maybe it was all the anger welling up inside me, but the plum blossoms seemed to be more red than before.

I kept going. "Eventually, it doesn't matter if anyone's really guilty of some serious crime or not. If they really want to destroy order or just want fairer treatment across the board. They're lumped in outside that pretty little label of 'innocent' and you crush them under your heel all the same. But that raises the chance of someone starting to realize the farce, starting to question why they do what they do. The system can't have that now can it? The tools are just tools. Opinions aren't required and have to be tempered. Controlled. Manipulated."

Siyo's murmured mantra rose in volume. "Stopitshutupstopitshutupstopitshutup…"

The pedals were definitely red now. An angry red. The stream was flowing by faster, like a tiny rapid. I knew these things were unusual, but I was just…unable to stop. I had something to say and nothing would stop me from saying it.

"So that's why the system brainwashes people into fighting for it, why it manipulates them into doing what it wants by telling them things like it's for their own good or they'll get to protect people and things that they care about."

The mantra was raising, louder and louder. "StopitshutupstopitshutupStopitShutupStopItShutUpSTOPIT…"

The stream was gushing out in a furious surge, the pedals had shifted from red to black…The trees were wilting…

Anger, guilty, sorrow…every negative emotion grew by waves. I was foaming at the mouth. "The system'll send them to their deaths, and they'll believe that it was for a good cause. And once they're dead, they get replaced just like that, making their lives pointless in the end. All life becomes pointless in the wretched system. The system of people. The system without purpose! The system that resides in everyone! I! AM! THE! SYSTEM!"

"SHUT UP!" Siyo suddenly shrieked.

From around her, the black pedals suddenly became white, and spread out around her in a ripple, each pedal after the next shifting from black to white. The trees going from withered and dead to prominent and strong. The ripple washed around me and I stopped bellowing.

And a fist covered in rock was flying at my face.

I tried to lean out of the way, but the stone made her arm's reach a bit longer and wider. If it had been a cleanly thrown punch, it might've done some serious damage. Instead, it clipped my shoulder, sending me spinning, but I stayed on my feet. Her added momentum to her fist sent her sprawling too. It sent up a cascade of white flower pedals.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she climbed to her feet and rounded on me again. Blood trickling down her lips from her biting down on them too hard. She was lashing out at me wildly, not aiming for anything in particular, but it was furious. I could only dodge and parry. As I backed into a tree, but I rolled around it. Putting some distance between me and her.

The ground collapsed beneath me, tearing me from my thoughts. Acting on pure instinct, I jumped up and grabbed a branch and swung myself over the small pit Siyo had bent. When I landed, Siyo tried to cave my head in again. But I caught her by the wrist this time and stepped under it, wrenching her arm as I did until I'd stepped around to her back, catching her in a standing armbar and choke hold. I didn't apply much pressure around her neck. It was only to restrain her, struggling against her strength.

Her extensive, but still feminine strength.

Siyo kicked me in my shin and elbowed me in the forehead. The pain was sharp  and I lost my grip for a moment. She used that moment to pull away and turn, but held firm onto her hand still. Face to face with me, she threw a blow at me with her other hand. I caught it easily and held on. Still sobbing she let out another furious snarl and tried pushing against me, driving a startled me back. She was using earthbending to give herself better leverage, but it was sloppily done. She was kicking up more dirt than she should've. Still, I could only back pedal to keep from falling over. I backed into the same tree from earlier. Suddenly, Siyo stopped struggling. The rock coating her hand just fell away and I released her. She feebly hitting my chest every now and then.

We both were panting again. Silent otherwise.

I should be angry or making some sarcastic quip, but only one feeling was gripping me. The fight was just a farce. I didn't want to hit Siyo. I wanted to…

By the spirits. What was this feeling?

 The feeble beating had become her slowly caressing my chest, running her fingers over my abs. Her warm body pressed in closer to me. Her hands rose up to my face. I closed my eyes. I should've expected to have my neck snapped, my head pounded against the tree…whatever.

Our lips met.

My eyes should've snapped opened in shock. Siyo just…still is kissing me. How'd we get from attempted murder to making out? That's what I should've been doing. It should fell all sorts of confusing and uncomfortable.

It didn't.

It's right on the tip of my tongue

I grabbed her shoulders, in what should be to throw her off and ask her what the pit was wrong with her. But I didn't. I felt something else. It was like…


That word. I think it means to yearn for the past, something long gone. To desire a moment, a place, a time to happen all over again. I felt that. I didn't know I'd been missing this. The inborn need behind it. The desire. The anticipation. Just surging through me. Like a living thing, the nostalgia. Igniting a fire that had long, long been dormant, almost snuffed out all together. And then I realized what it was. The nostalgia had awakened something. Taking my sudden growing guilt, angry, sorrow, and self loathing and turning into something raw. Something hungry. It was a burning need.

A need to act. I was compelled. To move. To take action. For the first time in  a long time I wanted to be something more again. Thoughts swirled through my head. A jumbled mess that made no sense to me when I tried to make sense of them. But I needed to act on them. I didn't want to run. I wanted to act. I didn't want to just make snide comments. I wanted to act. I wanted to live I had to. And I didn't know why or how. I just did.

This was…


And before I knew it, I was returning the kiss. Pulling Siyo closer and pressing back at the same time.

And it felt amazing. It felt just…right.

When we finally stopped, I didn't want to.

Siyo's breath was a shuddering whisper.  Her eyes burned ardently into mine.

I normally would've said something snide or made some crack, or even thought about where did I pick a word like 'ardently', but instead I leaned down and our lips met again, hot and needy. Hands moved, feverishly caressing over skin and through hair. Legs lifted and curled around other legs. Clothes came off.

And then we…


My back was burning.

I opened my eyes. I found myself laying completely bare on a small bed of white plum blossom pedals. The trees around me weren't plum blossoms. They looked the same they always had. And I don't know why I should think any differently. The stream still gurgled by but it wasn't coming out of the ground, it meandered from around a bend and continued down out of sight around another. And I don't know why I should think the stream was ever any different.

I pressed a hand to my head and tried to remember what the pit just happened. It felt like there was some gap in my memory. And I didn't remember what it was that had been there. I tried to start with something simple. To figure out where my clothes had gone. At least, I was fairly certain I'd worn clothes at some point in my life. Let's see. I remember Siyo. I came here with Siyo and then…

My eyes widened.

I did remember something.

I sat up. I looked over to my left. And saw Siyo, who had woken up at the same time as me apparently, just as unclothed as me.

She looked at me, eyes wide as dinner plates. Her cheeks flushed. She tried to say something but words weren't possible for her.

My mouth still worked fine though. It spread into an…oddly warm smile as an old memory surfaced. "Looks like I got Xin Mao's sloppy seconds after all."

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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A Soulful Brother

« Reply #46 on: Jul 09, 2010 01:39 pm »

Author's Note: I've never updated a chap of this so quick. I hope it doesn't feel rushed. It's just I'm unemployed and inspired. Also, I finally know how I'm going to end a story I start for once. So, please read and comment. Thanks.  Smiley

Chapter 14: The Common Ground

I cupped my hands in the stream and took a sip. It seemed good so I drank a handful, then splashed some on my face and let it run down my naked back. I let out sighs of relief as the water cascaded over the scratch marks. It did good for my raw throat too. Had I been shouting about something?

"What just happened? What did we just do?" Siyo asked me, as she lay on her side.

She'd been like that for a couple minutes now, in total silence. I didn't quite know how she'd react to the sloppy seconds line. I thought it might be to punch my lights out, or even to cover up and scamper away demanding to know what I did to her. The pit, I wouldn't have been shocked if she randomly broke out into song in a show stopping number from a crappy musical. But I never expected that she'd fall back in a peal of laughter. And I don't think she did either.

It was so ridiculous. The whole situation.

The woman who should hate me more than anyone, more than the gangsters and crooks that wanted me dead on principle. The woman that had tried to kill me three times now. The same woman that I myself wanted to kill at one point…

Were now (flower)bed fellows.

It was too much. I started off on my own laughter peal too.

It was different from the time I broke into a laugh before when I was in that interrogation room. It felt better. It was even more pure than that had been. I enjoyed it more. I liked the warmth it gave me. I liked that it didn't make me feel out of control. That hysterical feeling was completely absent. It took me a second, but I grasped the difference. Siyo had been laughing with me.

I guess it feels better to share a good laugh than to just have one all to yourself.

"Uh. I think there's an old book the Air Nomads wrote that calls it the 'Eternal Life Dance'," I said a warmth in my voice that I hardly recognized. "Though the kiddies might called it 'aggressive hugging'."

Siyo breathed out a one syllable chuckle. "Funny guy. But you know what I mean."

I rolled a shoulder. "What just happened, huh? I don't know either. It just…happened."

"It shouldn't have. I'm supposed to be rescuing my sister, avenging my brethren, bringing the Luminous Ones to justice. And instead I do…this? I'm a total disgrace."

I rubbed the back of my neck. "Don't say that. You've been through a lot in the last few days. Nightmarish beetles, death of close allies, very nearly dying yourself, and just about everything else involving me. I'd say you're allowed some sort of reprieve from it all. Though…maybe an unorthodox way of going about it," I said with another smile touching my lips.

"That wasn't a reprieve," Siyo said bitterly. "That was two people indulging their repressed carnal desires in one another in the woods like animals."

"This may be a new concept, but sometimes people do things for no reason other than a whim. No reason or rational thought necessary. Doesn't make us any more or less of a person. Might even make us more so."

I had to take her moment of silence as some kind of concession. Eventually, she said, "I'm not supposed to throw away my duty at a whim. I'm supposed be use reason, be rational, in control of my emotions. I can't believe that just happened. I don't think I can accept that that just happened."

"I can't either on some level," I admitted. "But pretending like it never did is just being denying the truth. We can't lie to ourselves and pretend this never happened."

"What else can we do but pretend this never happened? Accept it? Embrace it? Are we together now? Me, a soldier tasked with bringing down anarchist cells, with you, a bandit on the run from more people than you can count? Live happily ever after like some harlequin romance? It's impossible." Siyo's tone was mocking, incredulous.

I scoffed now. "Impossible? To who exactly? You're talking like we're supposed to make a decision like that based on what other's opinions say. What anyone else thinks shouldn't matter. Whether we never speak of this again, go again here and now, or run away together like whatever a Harley Quinn romance is is entirely up to us. This is our lives, Siyo. No one else should live it for us."

Siyo was silent for a brief moment. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? The second option," Siyo said, small smile evident even through her voice.

I shrugged, though she couldn't see it. "It's possible." I got up and sat down next her by the tree. I winced as I leaned against it. My back was still a bit tender. "And evidently, you would too."

"Entirely up to us. Our lives, hm? It almost sounds like you want us to be together."

I smiled. Then I blinked. Wait. Did I want that? Did I really want that? I had thought about her a lot during the "reprieve", but did that mean something more than just being in the heat of the moment? "Does it make a difference? Even if I do, it's still up to you and me what happens between us."

She was silent for another moment. "Then I decide…that I have to rescue my sister first. She's a part of my life I can't run away from on a whim. She has to take precedence over this. And that's no one else's opinion but my own." Strength had found its way into Siyo's voice now. Fierce determined strength. The kind that endures anything. The kind of mindset Earthbenders were known for.

I nodded. "Wouldn't expect any less from you. But there is a good chance we won't make it back from that, you know."

"I do. But I'm not afraid to risk my life to save family, Van."

"Well, that's family for you."

"Yes," Siyo said quietly. Then after another pause she added, "Thank you."

My eyebrows rose. "For what?"

"Because I never did before. For saving my life. And again just now."

I felt stupid again. "You're…thanking me for good…aggressive hugging?"

She clicked her teeth over a chuckle. "No, you dolt. For what you just said. You said 'there's a good chance we won't make it back' not just that I wouldn't make it back. You really want to help me."

I blinked again. I really did say that. And when I thought about it I…yeah. I  wanted to help her. I didn't care about the danger for myself. I didn't feel the urge to keep running. I actually wanted to act. I had the desire to do something constructive. I had-


What the pit was that?

"Uh. Yeah. I guess I do," I said still not quite believing it.

What in the world happened to me? Maybe I needed that "reprieve" as much as Siyo did. I felt more driven, and my head began swimming. I had goals again. I thought about how might I fight the Luminous Ones, how we might be able to overcome the killer beetles…and something occurred to me about Lyra.

Just. Whoa.

"That must be it," Siyo said softly. At some point during my little mental episode, I'd sank flat on the ground and Siyo'd rolled over for the first time and propped herself up on one elbow, looking down at me.

"What must be it?" I asked her.

"That's why she fell for you. She saw it in your eyes."

She was talking about the major. "What did she see? What do you see?"

"That hidden amongst the family given angst, the cynical, sardonic comments, and the occasional lapses of stupidity, is a man whose eyes see what others can't, but can't bring himself to act. That are filled with such strength and purpose that it belies the man who bears them. They're the eyes of someone with the power to accomplish so much, and yet is painfully unaware of it."

"I'm a living contradiction," I whispered.

"You are. And I think she wanted to help bring out your potential, to help you. That's the kind of person she was. But along the way, got swallowed up by your other redeeming qualities."

"I'm sorry for doing that to her." I frowned. "What other redeeming qualities?"

"Well." Siyo coyly tapped a finger to her lips. "For one thing, you're really not half bad with your spear."

One of my eyebrows rose.

Siyo's brow scrunched briefly, then she laughed. "No. Wait. I didn't mean like that."

I shook my head. "Uh-uh. Too late. You said it."

She playfully hit me on the chest. "I meant the other spear. The big one."

My other eyebrow ventured north to have a powwow with its brother, but he was already coming south. So the Eyebrow Brothers simply shifted positions like two caterpillars rolling around on my forehead.

"Oh, forget it." Siyo shook her head, smiling. "You're really something else, Van."

"Maybe. Any other, ahem, qualities of redemption you care to utter?"

Siyo just looked at me in silence for a bit, eyes scanning over my face. "I suppose you're not half-bad looking either."

Heh. I never really thought of myself as physically attractive. Me? Good looking? Didn't seem right. I guess I don't look in a mirror much enough to really get a feel for how I look. That and I don't really care about my looks anyway. It's why I just let my hair do whatever it wants and only shave because it's easier than keeping a trimmed beard.

Siyo's eyes drifted lower. "Especially with your shirt off. And a girl…tends to like that sort of thing."

I looked down at myself and snorted. "It's not like I tried to get like this. I've had…an active life."

Siyo nodded. "Perhaps, but still that makes it even…better. Not everyone looks like you do, especially not without trying. It might even be why you weren't very popular with the other men in The Pit. Or in the army for that matter. Why do you think the other harem girls talked about that shirtless guy with the spear so much?"

The Fire Nation and the desert got so damn hot at times. Why wouldn't I go around with no shirt on when off duty? I never thought it was out of the ordinary. And here I thought it was just my mouth that got me in so much trouble. "Well. Never even…thought about that." Then a funny thought occurred to me. "Heh. So that's what you meant earlier by 'repressed desires.'"

Siyo shrugged sheepishly. "Aren't I allowed to enjoy looking on the male form if I'm so inclined?"

I smiled. "No wonder you made such a good harem girl."

She rolled her eyes. "I'll never live that down, will I?"

"Of course you will," I said with an encouraging smirk. "Now I've got that spear line. I can get lots of play out of that."

We shared another round of laughs before it died down and we lay in the small bed of petals in silence. It was a nice silence. Not awkward at all. I didn't feel an urge to cough for enhancement purposes or anything.

If we could've stayed like that forever, I wouldn't mind that in the least. But no good thing lasts that long. "So, what happens now?" Siyo murmured, resting her head on my chest.

"Mmm. Now I'd say is the part where we get up, wash off the love stank, and head back to the others."

"They're going to want to know where we went and why." Siyo suddenly lifted her head, a measure of concern on her face. "They can't know about this. Not ever. They'd think I was the traitor, collaborating with you from the beginning."

I thought of making a remark about, given the circumstances, that not being entirely untrue, but something made me think better of it. And kind of felt bad for thinking about making light of her seriousness. "Then we don't tell them a thing. You're their acting superior officer. They can't demand to know anything of you."

"You think that'll work?" Siyo asked dubiously. "I can't afford do anything to lose their trust. It's all we have left."

I rubbed the spot on my head and my slightly bruised cheek. "If we just walk back and make no bones about anything, they'll assume you kicked my ass and waited for me to regain consciousness. I've already got the bruises to show it. Just…make sure they never get a look at my back."

Siyo shook her head and sighed. "Alright, if you think so. But seriously, Van," Then she gave me the warmest smile I'd ever seen on that face of hers, and got a hefty reminder of how damn beautiful she was. "'Love stank'?"

I shrugged. "Well. I was going to call it 'passion funk', but it didn't quite pack the same punch. But anyway. So long as we just walk up nice and easy like everything's normal, they'll be none the wiser."
« Last Edit: Jul 09, 2010 01:43 pm by Eman5805 » Logged

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #47 on: Jul 09, 2010 01:40 pm »


"Bleeding hog-monkeys. What were you two off doing that took so long? What, did you stop and have a private romp in the bushes?" Kensei said the moment we walked back to the tramcar.

I tripped on a rock. Siyo just sputtered for a moment, cheeks slightly flushed. "K-Kensei!"

Hyung saved us by cuffing Kensei on the back of the head. "Watch your mouth, boy!"

"Ow!" Kensei whined.

"See the bruises on the punk's face? It's obvious what happened. Use your eyes next time!"

Kensei kind of shrank away from the fuming Hyung. "Alright. Sorry. Sorry."

"Don't apologize to me," Hyung growled.

Kensei awkwardly bowed to Siyo. "Forgive me, sir. I was only joking."

Siyo rolled her eyes. "I don't need two people around here making bad jokes, Kensei. Keep those kind of comments to yourself next time."

Siyo had recovered quite quickly. But then, she's had practice at acting, I thought with a wry smile.

Hyung glared at me. "Not to mention that she'd never let that also-ran punk come anywhere near her like that."

I mumbled some gibberish under my breath, and continued playing it up like I was loopy from a blow to the head. It helped me hide the smile.

"Okay, we've sat around enough," Siyo said. "Judging from the direction the tramcar is facing, we need to head south."

"That's as specific as you can get, eh?" I slurred. "Just go south?

"In a word, yes. We follow the trail and see if we can't pick up some trace of their movement. There's bound to be something."

"If you say so, fearless leader," I mumbled.

Hyung growled.

Ignoring me, Siyo started off down the swath of crushed trees, "Let's go."

Everyone fell in step behind her. I started to join, and then I felt a tug at the hem of my tunic.

It was Lyra. She had the strangest look on her face. Like…she was trying to understand something confusing to her with just her eyes. Like she was looking at one of those optical illusion things where the picture is two things at the same time.

Then she spoke in that small voice of hers. "Where did you go?"

I blinked. Had she ever asked me a question before? Was she worried? Why?

But never mind that. I couldn't tell Lyra what just happened. Some things a kid shouldn't know. Even one who at times seemed much older. "Me and Siyo had…words. Adult stuff. She didn't want her companions to see it. Now let's go. I don't want to get left behind." I started down the way again.

Lyra didn't let go. "No."

I blinked again. "No? What's wrong?"

"You were gone. Couldn't find you."

"You followed us." I knew she would…but she couldn't find us? That's…hard to believe.

If the girl had any sense of shame or guilt, it didn't show. "Yes," she said simply. I almost got the impression that she was implying it was obvious that she was supposed to follow anyway.

"And why is that? You…you weren't worried about me were you?"

Lyra nodded. "You left your spear. You never went anywhere without your spear before."

My eyebrows climbed again. "You were worried about me?" My eyebrows took another notch up. "I left my spear?!"

I didn't even realize. I actually went somewhere without my spear. That was as unlike me as not liking beer. Or saying my favorite hobby is reading.

"I followed your footprints. And then they stopped. I couldn't find you," the girl said, her voice…breaking?


"I thought you had been…I thought you…" Lyra sniffed.

A tear slid down one of her round little cheeks.

I knelt down to see her at eye level. "Lyra. Are you…crying?"

Then she hugged me.

I was speechless. I was speechless. I couldn't make some hackneyed quip. Or anything. I couldn't say anything about this being a new side of Lyra because…

It wasn't new at all.

I should've seen it immediately when she followed me after I got captured and taken down into that subterranean complex. No. I should've seen it before when I tried to dump her at that orphanage and she snuck out to keep following me anyway. I never gave it a lot of thought about why she went through the trouble. I just wrote it off as the nonsensical actions of some unbelievably creepy girl.

Take me to the pit. I've been so blind. And inconsiderate. I was so caught up in my own problems. I didn't care about who Lyra really was. I just wanted to find the quickest way to be rid of her.

I don't think I've ever thanked her for anything she's done for me since. How the pit did I miss it? I thought I could put stuff together pretty well. But it took me till now to realize that some point during our little journey…

Lyra started to care about me.

And the craziest thing was, this wasn't even the half of it. All this time I've probably been…

Thinking back. I wonder…

I said softly, "Look. Lyra, though that probably isn't your real name-" I could feel her flinch. "-do you have parents? Family? Anyone?"

She didn't answer.

I made some space and tried to look her in the eye, but she wouldn't make eye contact. It was sobering to see her with that sad look. "Are the…bad men responsible? Did they hurt your family?"

The girl shook her head.

I frowned. "Then why are you after them?"

"I…" She began making distressed sounds. I could see the confusion and uncertainty in her face. I couldn't stand seeing her like that anymore.

I let out a slow breath and wiped the tear off with my thumb. "No. Forget I asked. It doesn't matter. In fact, I don't even want to know."

Her big blue eyes lifted to mine.

I rose. "Nope. We've got more important things to worry about in the short term. We've got to Siyo's sister to save, some bad men with ridiculous name's asses to kick, and some big bad bugs to squash. Once that's all said and done, then we'll worry about the who's, why's, and what's. Alright?"

It took her a while to answer. She just looked up at me, that expressionless mask was on. And then it completely shattered.

The girl I knew as Lyra smiled.

Sort of.

I mean, the corners of her mouth rose, but just barely. It was still adorable. The kid even had dimples.

Seriously. Dimples.

I doubt any of the ones before were this cute as kids. She's going to grow up into a knock out, that's for sure.

"Alright. Now let's hurry up and catch up before we get left-"

I turned and realized that I already had company.

Hyung was leaning against the tramcar, arms folded and eyes closed.

Kensei was standing a little right of him, waiting patiently with his arms behind his back. A slightly amused look on his face. He saw my stunned faced and shrugged.

Siyo was standing a bit further back, behind all of them, resting her cheek on her palm held up by folded arms, thoughtful, a warm smile on her face.

I cleared my throat. I felt my face get a little hot. "What the pit are y'all looking at? Are we going to do this or stand around and gawk?"

We left the ruined tramcar behind. Eventually the tracks left the forest and ran alongside a large stream. I got the feeling it was the stream from earlier. It had run into other streams, growing bigger. I also think it was it was a tributary to the Qian Shi He, a river west of Ba Sing Se.

That gave me a pretty good idea of exactly where I was. It was probably a four day journey by ostrich-horse to Ba Sing Se from here, maybe a two and half days away by train. The Loomies were operating awfully close to the capital.

Thinking back to something Siyo said earlier about Fei Lu, Xin Mao's oldest harem girl who wound up getting killed, she said something big was going on. Something about lot's of movement that had the underworld buzzing. I wish I had paid better attention to day to day dealings back in The Pit.

I broke off from my thoughts when I noticed that Hyung had fallen back in the little processional next to me. Until now, him and Kensei had been having a private talk with Siyo. I presume the subject matter had to do with me, given how often Hyung stole hard glances at me.

I looked at him evenly, waiting for him to say what he had to say.

"I do not like you. At all," Hyung rumbled.

I normally would've said something like, "No, seriously?" all mock incredulous style. Yet I kept up the even look.

"I have not forgotten about what happened back at base. And I never will. But it appears we're going to be working together against the Luminous Ones to save our captain. I will work with you as ordered, but no more. Do not mistake willingness to cooperate with trust. I do not trust you, bandit. I will be watching you. Carefully. If you betray us or do anything to jeopardize the safety of any of my comrades, I swear by the spirits that I will kill you. With my bare hands if need be," he told me. Then he added, "Just sure you know where I stand."

I mulled over that. In a bit of a move that surprised me and Hyung, I simply inclined my head and said, with no trace of irony or sarcasm, "Very well, lieutenant."

Hyung grunted then quickened his steps to walk along side Siyo.

Kensei fell back to me next.

"Didn't expect that, I have to admit," Kensei mused. "I thought for sure you'd say something to piss him off."

I shrugged. "I've egged him on enough to turn him into an omelet. No need to keep pushing it."

"That's quite the change from earlier, Mr. Van." Now that I was this close to him, there was something...decoding in his eyes. His eyes were wiser than the face that contained them. It was an odd sense of familiarity to it. I think he must've reminded me of someone.

I smiled. "Mr. Van? Trust me, pal, you don't need to be even the least bit formal with me."

"I'm not so sure. After all, you're basically second in command now," Kensei replied.

I snorted, still smiling. "Hardly. So, have you come to let me know where you stand too?"

Kensei shook his head. "Not exactly. I just wanted to confirm something. And I did."

"Oh? And what's that?

Kensei reached and plucked a strand of hair from my head.

It wasn't mine.

I could only stare.

Kensei held up Siyo's hair between his fingers. "That you're second in command, Mr. Van," Kensei said with a wide smile on his face.

Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #48 on: Jul 09, 2010 01:40 pm »


I slapped at the spot where he pulled the strand from. "What the-what is that?" I stammered, trying to keep my voice down. I had to calm down and think of some way to lie out of this.

"Relax, Mr. Van," Kensei said a breath later, letting the strand go, fluttering away in the wind. "It's quite alright."

I looked at Kensei. "What's alright?"

The smile faded somewhat, his tone somber. "I'm not going to judge you. And I'm not going to judge the commander either. I'm not here to judge."

My eyes narrowed. "Then what are you here for."

"What do you think?"

"You're not here to judge, because…" I gave it a few seconds of thought. "You're here to observe and document something." 

He gave me an empty stare. "Why would I be doing something like that?"

"Because you're a Dai Li agent or you used to be," I replied. "It's what you guys are best at. Watching and observing. Spying really."

Kensei's eyebrows rose as he let out a low whistle. And he seemed to relax a little. "Well. That's pretty good. But…why not think I was a traitor?"

"You wouldn't have stuck it out with Hyung in the forest as long as you had if you were. Same with him. The woods would've been the perfect time to take him out."

"True," Kensei said, then he frowned. "But that wouldn't be proof of me being anything but a loyal soldier."

"Yeah." I rolled a shoulder. "I just followed hunch."

"A hunch?"

"Sure. Just like you did with that strand of hair. Must've plucked it off her when I wasn't looking."

Kensei shook his head with an embarrassed smile. "I should've known better than to play that game with you, Mr. Van. It's telling that you recognized her hair instantly though."

I grunted now.

"Also, I didn't think you'd realize what I was so easily."

"Well. You kind of made it easy for me. I mean, you are walking around with your hands behind your back. Only people that walk like that are criminals under arrest by Dai Li agents and Dai Li agents themselves."

Kensei looked at his arms. "Ah. Old habits, I guess. I have to say, I was fully expectant of you attacking me and accusing me as the traitor."

I smirked. "Well, you should've had some faith in the ex-bandit ex-soldier. I can be rational sometimes."

He returned my smirk. "I suppose I should've."

"So which is it? Current or ex?"

"I suppose it's both. Technically. But you know, you never really guessed what I'm here to observe."

I yawned. "It's not for me to know. So long as we're all on the same side, I don't care what you're real purpose in their group is. I just want to know why you felt the need to bring up me and Siyo."

Kensei looked at Siyo ahead of us. "Because she's why I'm here."

My heart jumped a beat. "What does that mean?"

"You said I'm here to observe. I'm here to observe Siyo and her sister."

My heart played hopscotch again. "Why would you be doing that?"

Kensei smiled again. "I thought you said you didn't care why I'm here?"

I scowled. "I…I don't. I didn't. But you-"

Kensei waved a trivializing hand. "I know. Things get different when your girlfriend's involved."

"Hey! That's-" I stopped as I realized I'd raised my voice. I glanced over and saw Siyo and Hyung look back briefly, shrug to each other then keep looking ahead.

Lyra was with them. She looked back and blinked. From Lyra, that's pretty much the same as being told "You're talking too loud, Van. SHUT UP!"

"Relax, Mr. Van."

I was started to get pissed by the "Mr." stuff. Or maybe it was I'm pissed he was "observing" Siyo. Something about that didn't sit well. It made me feel like I was standing on a tack and couldn't move because someone was clasping onto my shoulders. And that someone was Kensei.

Oh, take it to the pit, was I getting jealous?

"I am relaxed," I said through clenched teeth.

"Good," Kensei said masking his doubt over an empty smile. "I can't permit you all the details just yet, but I noticed something different in her."

"Different how?"

"It's hard to say, but when you've been watching someone closely, establishing patterns, and what not, it's easy to notice a sudden change in demeanor. And it happened in the couple days since I last saw her."

"And I was right there with her."

Kensei nodded. "I don't know many other things that can happen in a short amount of time that can change a person almost overnight. And I know even fewer that involve a man and a woman. So I plucked off a strand of her hair to test you when I got the chance. Then you both disappeared into the woods for a while, so I tested you a bit earlier than planned. You passed it that time. Must've been the afterglow you were basking in that threw me off."

I felt my nostrils flare at the casual way he talked about it. "You're pretty bad at this then," I fumed.

"Why's that?"

"If you're just here to observe, then why tell me? Why not just keep observing? You're interfering, aren't you? Once you interfere you're like a reporter that's making the news."

Kensei's look sobered again. "Looks like I have no choice but to fill you in a bit," he said more to himself. "Things have gotten…complicated. You see, the Northern Branch was supposed to be in a low activity area, charged primarily with overseeing the mountain range. One with little noise that would let me operate without much issue. But the Luminous Ones started up in the desert and-"

I held up a hand. "Not to cut in, but why was a Northern Branch that only saw to the mountains doing sending an agent down to the desert?"
Kensei gave me a bit of an arch look. "I was just about to get to that. Please, let me finish before asking questions, Mr. Van."

My hand sank back down. "Oh. Sorry."

"Not a problem. Now. I know you used to work for the now deceased desert baron Xin Mao, well, the Eastern Branch had long since conducted surveillance there, knowing it was a hotbed for anarchist cells. We were catching on to something major. But just when it seemed like we were about to find something substantial, our experienced informant was killed, by the name of-"

"Fei Lu," I cut in. I couldn't help myself.

"Fei…" Kensei said at the same time as I had. He shook his head with a small smile again. "Right. Of course you know. The organization decided then was the best time to insert their own member to fill the vacancy. But they knew it had to be our best looking female, no one else would do. But no woman in the Eastern Branch met the…physical requirement. But the Northern one did. And Siyo was sent down. An excellent choice I might add. I mean, have you seen her in a silk-"

I didn't consciously glare at him, but it must've been pretty intense.

Kensei cleared his throat nervously. "Right. I appear to have strayed from the topic…"

"You have," I grumbled.

"Though I assumed you would've put it together," Kensei said quietly.

I frowned again.

What could he mean? Put what together? Something he said? He was intentionally involving me when he wasn't supposed to. He was supposed to be keeping tabs on Siyo and Captain-

My heart about stopped cold.

"You were there," I breathed. "You were in the desert. Acting as Siyo's support. So you could keep tabs on her at the same time."

Kensei stared at me.

"And you were all there in that town. Yuan."

"Not all of us at once. But I definitely was there at the same time as you. As well as Captain Lin. Siyo was immediately sent back to the Northern Branch."

I shook my head, disbelieving. "I…I should've known. I saw the Captain in the bar. She was right there. I should've realized it."

"I was in that tavern too, you know. Sitting at the end of the bar. You ordered the beer and talked about ditching a girlfriend with the barkeep."

I did. I remember. I'd just tried to dump Lyra. I didn't even pay attention to anyone else there.

"You know, when I saw your spear and your desert garments, I thought you might be the same. Guy from the desert. But you didn't quite match up with Siyo's description. Plus, we thought even if you were pursuing us, you wouldn't catch up for another three days. But, aside from attacking Siyo, I decided I had no reason to risk our cover. We were waiting for word from another group Hyung was leading back into the desert, hoping to capture Xin Mao's group."

I thought reoccurred to me as I thought about how why I got captured the day after, instead of later that same day. "How'd you get so far ahead of me? I was basically right behind Siyo."

"We commandeered control of a nearby tramline in Shu Min Na, forced an immediate halt to all outbound lines while we extracted. We couldn't risk any pursuing enemy elements endangering the public, risk raising notice by using an airship, and wanted to move quicker than by boat. We made it to the other side of the waters in a few short hours."

"Closed for renovations. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

Well. Take me to the pit. Something that seemed just pure inconvenience at the time had those kind of implications. I was right. I have been in over my head from the beginning.

"So, that's why I'm telling you this now, Mr. Van. You've been caught up in the middle of quite the situation. And you deserve to know. Of course, at the time, we didn't realize you were completely uninvolved. We knew about what happened between you and Siyo, how you attacked her, but at first thought that ended your involvement. But then, Hyung's squad sent a messenger hawk in, reporting on what he found back in Xin Mao's hideout," Kensei said, watching me carefully.

"That they'd all been wiped out."

"Wiped out," Kensei replied. "Not a single person left alive. Not even the harem girls. We only had one person who had been positively ID'd as being a short time resident there. So…"

"You fingered me, but you didn't have any proof."

Kensei nodded slowly. "They charged me with drawing up a crude little wanted poster. We figured we'd circulate it around the area. Raise our chances of finding you. But I don't know much about making posters and made the bounty too big."

A mistake? That's why the bounty was so high? But then...

"Before I could fix it, something happened at an orphanage nearby. I ran to help. Some kid had run away. I decided to help look for him, but never found him.
When I got back, I -best explanation I could come up with at the time- lost it. And never found that either," he said eyeing me slightly.

Don't look at Lyra. Don't look at Lyra. Don't look at Lyra. Don't look at Lyra. Don't look at Lyra. Don't look at Lyra. Don't look at Lyra. Don't look at Lyra.

"And then we got word of suspicious activity sighted nearby and we were sent to investigate. Never could figure out what happened.

"I'd say you were just careless," I muttered with a shrug. "Or I was due one by Fa-" I stopped. My mind blanked out on me.

"Fay? Who is Fay?"

"No. I meant…" I shook my head. What did I mean? I was going to say something or someone was due but I…I couldn't remember why or who. "I was due a break from all the fame."

Kensei didn't buy it, but I was going to drop dead, before I let on that Lyra had somehow taken that poster from him. "In the end it didn't matter, I guess. We found you anyway." Then he smiled again. "It was so awkward when we caught up to you and realized I'd seen you in the tavern. Based on how Siyo talked about you, you were a 6'5" hunk of muscle -not to different from Hyung-, was a violent piece of scum that deserved to be locked away in prison, and carried a pointed stick. Yet, you turned some well toned, I'll admit, 5'9" guy that'd probably be fun to sit up with at a bar and knock back cold ones until we pass out, that carries a pointed stick."

I laughed. Kensei laughed. Everyone in front of us looked back, wondered what we'd been talking about so long, but didn't seem to worry as we'd both come to an understanding.

That was probably one of the first times in a long one someone else had made me laugh like that. I had to admit, aside from the irritating remarks about Siyo, Kensei was good people. He reminded me a lot of myself. We both saw humor in life through keen eyes. And maybe it was these eyes that let us survive on more than just our skills with bending or a spear. Though I'd say Kensei was a bit more submissive than me.

Which is to say, he knows when to shut up.

And though Hyung had all the cuddliness of cacti, he was sincere and honorable. When he said he did not like or trust me, he meant every word. Yet, I could believe him when he said he'd work with me as necessary. I shared that in common with him too. I've worked with plenty of people I couldn't stand since I left the army or even back in the army, but I could set my differences aside to get a job done.

There are times when a man has to set aside personal feelings for the sake of expediency, survival. No sense antagonizing each other when it could wind up getting both of us killed. That was a skill I had to learn the hard way on the battlefield.

I still had a question or two left for Kensei, like about just what was the organization he was working for and why was he sent to observe Captain Lin and Siyo, but I figured those questions could wait.

Well. Figured might be a bad choice of words. It was more like I ran out of time to do anymore talking.

Because two giant killer beetles burst up from the ground on either side of the road, let out those warbling shrieks, and charged at our group, scything jaws poised to rip us to shreds.


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« Reply #49 on: Aug 12, 2010 12:01 pm »

Chapter 15: The Coin Return

I was sandwiched between two giant, man eating stag beetles on open terrain with nothing but a blade on the end of a stick in my hands.

At this point, I should've been terrified. Or I would've been terrified. But lately, I've felt like a different person. I was more aware than I've been. More aggressive. I wasn't more confrontational exactly, but I wasn't so cowardly. I just wasn't automatically ready for the flight part of "fight or flight". It was a very familiar and nostalgic feeling. I was back to the way I used to be. This wasn't the first seemingly hopeless situation I've found myself in. And
I've gotten my way out of it. How? By playing to my strengths. Relying on my wits and ability to observe, to notice things in the heat of battle.

For instance, the first thing I noticed was that these two beetles were riderless. You see, just before charging in, they sloughed off the remaining bits of dirt off their carapace by cracking open their shells and buzzing their tremendous gossamer wings. The second was that they were noticeably smaller (you see I noticed this). Their scything jaws weren't as big either, almost underdeveloped. I got a real good chance to notice that as one of them nearly took my head off.

"Van!" Siyo cried.

I dove down and rolled out of its jaws. I came up running. "I'm fine! Don't let them hem us in! Split up, two against one, and take them out!" Hyung came in, his ax swinging, actually parrying one of the chitinous jaws aside. I stole glance over at the other beetle and saw its jaws close around Siyo, who was looking the other way.


A cold, fear went through me as my heart leapt in my chest. Before I could cry out, Siyo ducked and Kensei's arms struck out and a slab of earth rose between the beetle's jaws, stopping them cold. Siyo didn't miss a beat. She stabbed her foot into the ground at the base of the slab, then struck forward with both fists. The slab surged forward, slanting at an angle as it did. The beetle was wedged up off its front legs. I didn't get to see what happened next as the one on my right swung it's jaws and knocked a charging Hyung off his feet and into the air. He landed in a painful looking tumble. The beetle let out a warbling cry and stalked after him. I ran after it, palming a knife as I went.

Hyung got back to his feet, brandishing his ax. He was favoring his leg, no doubt hurt it in that little tumble. I veered right, taking a wider route path, making sure I wouldn't be in range in case the thing turned on me instead.

There weren't a lot of places where I could've hoped to hurt something like these beetles with just my spear or anything else on me. My spear was made to cut through flesh, to wound people. I could tell with just one look that I would barely put a scratch on the thing's hard carapace. I did have two blasting jelly caps on me and the thought of using them did have an appeal. But these things don't have stable fuses and with so much activity, it could go off early or the beetles could inadvertently kick the cap back at me. I gritted my teeth in frustration. I hate being useless.

But the limitations that prevent me from killing the things don’t apply to two earthbenders or someone with a big honking ax. Or Lyra who could probably kill these things by just blinking at it. I didn't necessarily have to do anything. But that wasn't an option either. I can't just suck my thumb while everyone else takes these things on. But again, battles aren't always won by the strongest. If I can't kill it, I had set my sights lower. Weaken it, cripple it somehow. And speaking of sight…

I ran alongside the beast, found my target, and flung the knife. I'm no Lady Mai, but I can hit my mark from 15 feet out. The blade struck true and sank deep into the black glassy eyeball, drawing a spurt of foul orange blood. The thing reeled way from me, kicking up off ground to the side, letting out a shrill bleat. It started staggering wide of Hyung, took the cue and ran around its blindside. He swung his ax down and further exacerbated the damage to its eye. The beetle bucked and reeled to its side again. I got a good look at the nasty looking underside of the beetle and-

What the pit is that?

Siyo and Kensei jogged up. I looked behind them and saw the other beetle had been skewered in a spike of earth already. The still living beetle let out another shrill bleat. Hyung had just hacked off two of the beetles legs in the brief moment I had taken my eyes off it. The beetle was down and couldn't move, but it was still snarling and thrashing, frantically opening and closing its jaws, even though there was nothing there.

I had a feeling Hyung's ax worked better in an open area, I thought with a smile.

"Alright. Good work, Van. Hyung. Now stand back," Siyo said as she looked over to Kensei and nodded. They started to break down into a loose stance and gesture with their arms.

"Wait!" I said abruptly. "Don't kill it yet!"

They stopped. Siyo gave me an incredulous look. "Why not?"

"Can you turn it over onto its side or back?" I asked.

"What? Why? What for?"

"I thought I saw something. It'll only take a moment."

Hyung grunted as he scanned the distant trees. "We might not have a moment. The Luminous Ones are sure to investigate if they are nearby. We need to distance ourselves from this place. And we can't afford to let the creature live. It could regrow those lost limbs and be a threat to us down the line. We must slay it and withdraw."

I shook my head. "This doesn't seem like a Loomie ambush."

"You mean these are wild beetles?" Kensei asked. "And they attacked us on this road by coincidence?"

I smiled slightly. "No such thing as coincidence. But we might not have a lot of time all the same. That little battle made a lot of noise."

"All the more reason we should leave this place," Hyung asserted. He turned to Siyo. "Commander."

I turned to her as well. "Siyo. This won't take long."

Siyo looked from me to Hyung and back. Then she let out a long breath. "Alright then, Van. But this better be worth the time wasted. Kensei, together."

They gestured and the ground swelled and a block of earth rose up under the beetle, tipping it onto it's big, round back. The slanted slab of earth persisted and pressed down a bit on the beetle, holding it in place. I cautiously walked up the incline. The beetle continued to fight, it's snarling bleats becoming ragged and bubbly, but without a full complement of legs, it wouldn't right itself.

And there it was. I thought I had imagined it, but I was right. It was nestled right between the crooks of all the legs. I took out my seldom used combat knife and tried to pry the thing out. I had to try a couple times, and I was a little afraid the beetle would bend its great head and gobble me up the whole time. The…skin I guess you'd call it had grown around it some, holding it in place, almost like a scabbed over wound. But eventually it popped out. And at once the beetle stopped fighting and snarling. Its great jaws stopped opening and closing. Its snarls became softer and less aggressive. They weren't even snarls anymore. It sounded more like…

"By the spirits. It's whimpering," Siyo breathed. "Van, what did you do?"

I looked from the thing in my hand then looked back at the beetle. "I…I'm not sure."

A crazy thought hit me.

Could that really be it? If so...then how? Or did it really matter given the other things I believed to be true? Logical explanations might be asking for the impossible.

The beetle's whimpering persisted. I grimaced. "You're just like me then, beastie. Caught up and used by something you had no real part of," I murmured.
"Sorry that it has to end this way for one of us." Then I took my spear and stabbed the beetle through the neck. It stopped whimpering at once and went still.
I walked back down to the others, who were all staring at me. Or rather, what I was holding.

"What in the world?" Siyo breathed. "Is that a…"

They drew a sharp breath. They recognized it alright. "A Loomie coin," I said. "Just like the ones I found in the pockets of the men who tried to kill me and what implicated me as being part of their group to all of you."

"But what's it inside of?" Kensei asked.

It wasn't just a coin in my hands. It was nestled in the center of a circular sliver of lime green rock, a little reminiscent of round snake scale about the size  of my fist. Except it was partially see-through and the stone was cut, polished.

"Obviously," I said with no hint of humor in my voice. "It's a magic gemstone from the Spirit World."

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