The Line

Chapter Eight

Noon had long passed and the battle was still going on. With their powers over fire waning with the setting of the sun, the Fire Nation soldiers were becoming less and less sure of their victory with each passing minute. But perspective is a funny thing, one man's potential downfall is another's potential victory.

"When's the sun going to set? How much longer?" Earth Kingdom Forces Commander Kiara asked. She and her fellow commanding officers were standing out on the ridge of one of the Earth Kingdom Fortress's towers, looking out towards the jungles and the battle that was taking place.

"Won't be long…won't be long…" Officer See said, more to himself than to the others. Kiara looked at him as did the other two C.O.'s. Bald, with a small character tattoo on above his ear, and a Buddhist's necklace about his neck, See regarded them as well. While not a true commanding officer, See was revered (read: feared) by all the ranking soldiers beneath him, and by quite a few above him as well. Kiara was one of the few soldiers in this particular regiment to know of See's "eccentricities".

See liked war, a lot. He was, in short, a masochist for it because it caused pain, both for himself and others. And he made no secret of what he did in his off hours. He crushed parts of his body slowly, then quickly, then slowly with rocks, to harden his muscles and toughen his skin. This combined with his battlefield prowess had created a body riddled with scars and lacerations that would just barely heal before being opened again. It was theorized by many of the female soldiers that See got off more on his own agony then he could with any women.

"See, just to make the orders clear we're only defending this base, nothing else." Commanding Officer Lao said, his eyes staring and gripping See like an iron vice. To any other soldier this would be reason enough to fear reprisals. But See was…See.

"What I do, commander, everything I do is for the Earth Kingdom," See said with a smile that even an interrogater would have trouble reading. "Commander." he added with a barely audible sneer.

"Your enemy is the Fire Nation See, I don't want any friendly fire." Kiara ordered. See grinned and straightened his back.

"You're all so paranoid…I promise not to hurt anyone but the Fire Nation," See said waving off the assembled officers. "Now, while you all discuss the philosophy of "proper" warfare, I'll be off winning this war." See leaped over the rail and slid down the fortress wall, using his earth bending to keep him sliding on the building.

"What do you think?" Choji, the shortest of the officers asked Lao and Kiara.

"Of See? I'd think about praying for our enemies." Lao responded. Kiara looked out on the battle and wondered how many of her own troops would suffer due to See's participation.

Night was fast approaching, and Toro could only guess how high the probability of his death would be once the sun disappeared under the horizon.

So far, he had been able to fight off the earth benders surrounding him. And he had even succeeded in cutting off the arms of two of them (one off each). But he was growing tired, quickly.

There were six of them to begin with. Two were out of the fight and had gone limping back into the melee. That left four for him to fight.

Curious. Toro wondered. Fire Nation soldiers wore masked helmets yet the Earth Kingdom soldiers showed their faces completely. Did anonymity matter less to the Earth Kingdom? Or did the Fire Nation just want to represent itself in the death gaze of the collective iron mask?

Toro was quickly brought out of his thoughts when a series of rocks were launched at him. Swinging his sword Toro destroyed most of the rocks with the blade trailing flame behind it. Toro's knowledge of fire bending was basic at best, and fire bending through objects was usually just wishful thinking on his part. But right now, in the field of battle, the intense heat and experience of it, Toro was feeling a high. Anything was possible. Life and death were at the edge of his sword!

Some of the rocks got through however and pelted him in the shoulder and the stomach. The breath knocked out of him, Toro fell to one knee and feebly put up his arms in defense as a wall of earth was propelled towards him.

Slammed and shoved screamingly fast towards a series of trees with hard trunk bases, Toro brought his hands to the wall and pushed himself off to the side of the wall. Falling to the ground and not giving himself time to think, he quickly let out a fire blast in a random direction.

Narrowly missing one of the heads of the opposing soldiers by millimeters. The blast engulfed a tangle of vines, setting it ablaze. Normally this would mean nothing, but in that one moment, two of the four earth benders turned to stare at the sudden fire.

Taking his chance Toro engulfed his blade in flame (Agni knows how) and threw it at one of the soldiers, impaling him through the chest. Turning his head, the other soldier who looked at the fire was able to only able to open his mouth in the time between Toro firing off a burst of flame and he himself being engulfed in it. Thrown back by the fiery projectile he fell to the ground and began screaming and writhing in agony as the fire quickly consumed him.

"Ahh! Help me! Please!" he cried out. Momentarily forgetting Toro, the other two earth benders bent the earth beneath their comrade's body and quickly consumed him in Earth, effectively squelching the flame. However, this victory was to last only a few moments. Before the benders realized, one was stabbed through the back with a spear and the other was gored by a Rhinoceros-Stallion.

"Thanks for the help," Toro said running over to pick up his sword.

"Like to think you had them," the rider of the steed said. Toro smirked.

"My luck's changed as of late," Toro joked, rushing off into the jungles.

The soldier with the spear shrugged and followed his comrade on the steed into battle.

Tompha had kept count. Three dirt pushers, a couple swordsmen, and one idiot on an Ostrich Horse. And so far his injuries had been light, one (maybe two) busted ribs, that's it. Not too bad for a battle that had been going on for roughly four hours now. Wonder what his wife would think?

"Any of you shit kickers married?" Tompha asked as he dodged a spear and gripped the face of one, easily giving him a third degree burn.

"What?" one of the Earth Kingdom soldiers asked. Tompha brought his leg in a sweeping arc spreading a wall of fire over his opponents heads. A few of them were engulfed and took off running. However, one or two of the benders had hastily put up a rock wall to block the rain of fire.

"Marriage, it's a bitch but I think it's something worth coming home to, wouldn't you agree?" Tompha smirked, clearly toying with his enemies, the opposing benders frowned and resumed their stances. Tompha did the same but was quickly shocked when a spear of razor sharp rock pierced a soldier, an Earth Kingdom soldier.

"What the-" the surviving soldier next to the speared one muttered even before the victim of the attack realized what had just happened.

"You're relieved of your duties, now be off," a voice from the depth of the jungles yelled. A few of the Earth Kingdom soldiers froze. Some even shivered, Tompha noticed.

"Y-yes, O-o-ficer See," one of the soldiers spoke for the rest and took off running along with many other soldiers. Tompha, plus the rest of the Fire Nation troops were baffled, now apparently facing only one real enemy.

"You spoke of marriage, yes?" See asked Tompha. The fire benders looked from him to Tompha.

"Yeah, what's it to you dirt push-" Tompha was cut off by a stalagmite through his leg and a boulder simultaneously hitting him square in the chest with a sickening snap. Felled backward, Tompha was ass flat on the ground. The other Fire Nation troops took up their stances as See regarded them cooly.

"I hate to be seen as a man of single dimension. Life is pain. I'm just an agent of life that has acknowledged that," See said. "Come," he said to his opponents. "Let me prove my philosophy and show you the pleasure and purity of horrid agony." he stated as calmly as a teacher to a group of students.

Rushing through the fronds and low hanging vines, Toro cut a path for himself. Running over the prostrate bodies of the dead and dying both friend and foe, he barely had time to realize where he was when it dawned on him that he was in a clearing.

"What happened?" he asked himself. All around the clearing were the strewn bodies of fire and earth benders. Some were hanging from the trees, others were buried in the ground with only the odd hand or leg sticking out, some were simply charred corpses or impaled bodies on rock.

Looking around, Toro was nervously trying to ascertain why this particular clearing was deathly quiet. While the din of war was going on all around, this area was so silent that Toro could hear the scampering of tiny animals going back and forth over the bodies. The Humming Flies were already beginning to settle in on the bodies, slowly consuming them and laying their eggs in the bodies wounds and orifices.

Just then, an object came crashing through the jungle wall and out into the clearing. It landed right at Toro's feet. It was a Fire Nation soldier's body, minus the Fire Nation soldier's head. Before he was cognizant of it, Toro began coughing, then retching, and finally vomiting. It was as if the entirety of this battle, possibly this war had finally caught up with him and was wringing him dry metaphorically and somewhat quite literally.

Heaving, Toro took deep breaths, trying to steady himself.

"Damn it," he thought. "What kind of soldier acts this way?" Toro fell to his knees. His world was spinning, becoming blurrier, less distinct, more abstract in form and shape. The next thing he felt was his head on the hard jungle floor.

Just rest. Shut your eyes. He heard these words from nowhere. All encompassing. Tempting beyond measure. Everything felt heavy.

Another body fell next to Toro's. From his perspective Toro was eye to eye with the body. With a sickening feeing he recognized it, it was Tompha.

"T-tompha?" Toro asked feebly. The body wasn't moving. Toro reached out a hand and touched Tompha's face. He didn't move. Feeling some warmth, Toro guessed, hoped, he was still alive.

Just then, Toro looked up and saw two stone pillars appear from the ground and separate the foliage of the jungle, clearing a path far more efficiently than any blade could.

"What a waste of fire and flesh." the Earth Kingdom Officer mumbled as he walked past the two earthen walls.

Toro shuffled to his feet and unsteadily stood up.

"Well now," See said. Looking at Toro.

"Did you…did you do this?" Toro asked.

See had a long smile on his face. Toro noticed his narrow eyes and the Buddhist necklace around his neck and wrist.

"Either me or your deity…Agni or whatever he's called."

Toro hefted his blade which at that moment seemed to weigh as much as a boulder. Feeling something emanating from this man, Toro felt the now familiar nausea begin to boil up inside of him. The bile began to climb the inside of his throat.

"This man is something different, he's-" Toro couldn't finish his thought as See charged at him with a boulder propelling him. Toro could feel his death fast approaching, a certain relief came over him as he raised his sword.

A body appeared between Toro and See at the last second, bringing its foot around in a high arc spreading a surge of white flame, causing See to pause and jump back.

"He's an enemy ace, Officer See of the Earth Kingdom Elite Earth Benders," Ishe said glancing up at Toro from his stance. "Stand back Toro, I'll take it from here." Toro backed up a few steps and leaned against the base of a tree, his body slowly beginning to recover.

See looked on, taking in Ishe's full appearance.

"I see," he said grinning. "I see." he repeated, taking his stance as the battle around him intensified, his narrow eyes almost looking as if they were closed.

-To Be Continued.