Knives in the Dark.
Alright, my first multichapter Avatar story. This is all kinds of AU, as if you need telling. I'm testing out a new POV, so tell me if it works, please. Time-wise, this starts just pre-season 2 (but peppered with flashbacks), with appropriate changes, of course. Oh, and one character starts off wildly OOC. This was intentional. I'm also trying to make this one longer in the chapters, so updates will probably be slower.
Chapter One: The Daily Grind.
Knives at my belt, hide them under the servant's jacket. Long knife in my sleeve, designed to be hidden there. Gotta be careful how I hold my arm, or I'll slice myself open. Knife on my calf, under my trouser leg. Not ideal, I can't get at it in a hurry, but the uniform demands it. Smoke bombs in my pocket. I won't need them. I almost never do, even on the most difficult jobs, which this one most definitely isn't. No poisons this time, no point, not when there's a perfectly serviceable kitchen right on site. They have a rat problem. I know this because I snuck the rats into the house in the first place.
Makes things easier, I guess. Besides, somehow I found myself with a name to uphold. Who'd 'a thunk it?
Now I wait. Wait for the Bitch Princess to give the word. Wait until she tells me it's time for our friend the Councillor to die.
I never learn their names. It's easier that way. Never ask them for last words, either.
Always close their eyes, though. That's the least I can do, since we're both in this together. They don't want to die, I don't want to kill them. Does that cancel everything out, then?
Where did that come from? Of course it doesn't cancel anything out.
I sat in my room, waiting. Normally, I relish any down time I get, but this was just... frustrating. I have to sit in my crappy little room, perched on the (brown) cot, staring at the (brown) walls, or, for a little variety, staring out the (brown) windows. This wing of the palace is hardly ever cleaned. Probably spend all the money on gilt.
I wished that the order would come, and then felt guilty because it suddenly occurred to me that I was wishing that the Councillor would die sooner, just to alleviate my mood.
I started pacing, trying to shake off my restless energy. I don't have the right kind of room for pacing, though. Two and a half strides one way, a sharp pivot on my heel, two and a half strides the other way, sharp pivot on my heel, and repeat. I'm pretty sure that if anyone came in then I'd have felt completely ridiculous.
Not that that was gonna happen. The only person who ever came in without knocking was-
Don't go there. Just don't go there. Need to think about something that'll keep me diverted for the next ten minutes, not something that'll gnaw at my stomach for the rest of the night.
"The fighting style of the Warriors of Kyoshi is the closest remaining martial art to the lost airbending disciplines. The traditional weapons for the Kyoshi Warriors are twin fans, used mainly for misdirecting the strikes of opponents, or disguising strikes, although the traditional Earth Kingdom swords have been observed as well. The strengths of the Kyoshi style (kyoshitsu) are mainly in using the physical power of their opponent against them, usually by misdirecting momentum or other such techniques. When it comes to aggressive movements, kyoshitsu is somewhat lacking, and as such is most effective when combined with more traditional Earth Kingdom forms. The most effective counter in single combat is to assume an equally defensive stance, such as the Fire Nation Sleeping Mountain stance..."
It took over an hour, by which time I'd gone over everything I knew about how to take down anyone, from the standard Earthbender (roll under their line of sight (Earthbending stances are usually straight-backed for more strength) and break their arms) to an Airbending Master (throw lots of pointy objects at them while running towards them in an erratic pattern, try a knee to the groin, and hope like mad), but eventually there was a knock on my door in a specific pattern and a white slip of paper was stuck under my door. I waited for thirty seconds, then walked out into the empty corridor.
It took an hour to walk to the Councillor's estate, near the edge of the city. I kinda like walking in the city at night. 'Course, it's not exactly what you would call safe, there's as much crime and violence as you'd expect in a city this size, especially then, when all the levied soldiers were gathered, getting ready for another push towards Ba Sing Se, but there's something about the knowledge that I could kill someone in seven different ways without drawing steel (and I had lots of steel, too) that made me feel confident enough.
It was a nice night, too. The factories had slowed, since they'd already churned out most of the new war machines (and I was just itching to have a look at some of them; I don't know what I'd do with them, but I can't help but think that my education these last few years has been severely lacking), so there wasn't much smoke in the air. The moon was pretty bright. I wondered why.
And I don't mean why in any kind of romantic, airy-fairy sense. I actually want to know why the moon shines, and why it shines brighter some nights than others. But, like I said, my education has been pretty limited for the past... past...
Seven years? Has it really been that long? Crap.
I killed my first man when I was eight years old. That kinda set the tone from there on.
I was met at the servant's entrance by a tall, thin man with thinning hair and a tired look.
"You Ji's brother? Thanks for coming."
Ji was a Water Tribe half-caste, employed as a kitchen boy, that had recently come down with a severe case of Money.
"No worries. I owe him anyway," I said. The servant shot a politely interested look, and I elaborated.
"Lost a bet." My tone was pitched to include the unspoken phrase 'you don't want to know'. The man nodded in understanding and I hurried through.
This was a type II job, as I termed it. Type I is sneaky; I break in, avoid any guards, and take out the target. It's simple, but it doesn't always work. Type III is direct- brute force. I don't do that often, but sometimes- when types I and II fall through- I have to. There are other types, but I'll get to them later. Type II is the conman approach. I enjoy planning them the most, although they're hardly practical.
Take this evening for example. I had noted that the servants included someone with a Water Tribe parent. It happens sometimes, either deserters, or former prisoners that have been through the camps. Not important. Anyway, I presented my plan to Princess Bitch, and she had one of her servants approach Ji in a bar, and suggest that is he stayed at home on this particular day, not only would someone cover for his shift, but he would find a bag of gold under his sofa.
I like the idea of helping out my fellow countryman, and that's what it seems like, as long as I don't think about it directly.
Anyway, I made my way through the dark corridors (what is it with Fire Nation rich boys and dramatic lighting? Seriously, it just makes it harder to see, and I've got better night vision than any of these salamanders) and found my way into the kitchen. It was empty, and there was a bowl of soup cooling on the side.
Some kind of spirit had to be with me tonight. Normally, I'd have settled for at least an hour of menial labour just to get to this point.
I flicked through the cupboards until I found a small paper bag of dark grey powder. Perfect. When this stuff mixed with the acids in his stomach, the Councillor would be exhaling poison. Killed by his own breath.
I mixed some into the bowl, then left the room.
Five minutes later I was standing in the shadows of the dining room, watching the Councillor try to breathe, every breath expelling more of the poison into his mouth, where his lungs gulped it down, and before a minute was up, his neck lolled and he fell back into his chair.
I walked over to him, cloth over my face, but I couldn't block out the smell; it was like garlic and rotted fish. Gross.
The man looked like every other one- black hair, long thin beard, no moustache. The clothes were expensive, the one look that never went out of style. I reached out, and closed his eyes.
I felt sick. Every time, every time I did this, I always felt sick, looking at what I had done, what my actions had led to. And I revelled in the feeling. I savoured it. I stared long and hard at this man's face, committing every detail to memory, torturing my conscience with his features.
The pain meant I wasn't numb. The remorse meant I wasn't like them. Nowadays, that was pretty much my only consolation.
'Cause no matter how much I didn't want to, no matter how bad I felt about it, I still killed people.
It was late when I got back to my room. In fact, it was almost early, and I was thinking of nothing but sleep. One of the few perks of this job is the fact that I hardly ever have to get up early.
But there was an old woman in my room, waiting for me.
"Sweeper," she croaked, and I recognised her. Lo. One of Princess Bitch's advisers.
...Or was it Li? I could never tell. Anyway.
"Sweeper," Lo (or possibly Li) croaked, "Princess Azula requires your services. Take your things and come with me."
"I'm fine, thanks, how are you?" Okay, okay, I'll admit I was annoyed. But seriously, where's the harm in common courtesy?
"Is Hong dead, Sweeper?" Li (Lo?) asked.
"Was that his name? Yeah, he's dead. No one saw it, no one saw me tamper with the soup. It looked like good soup, too. Waste of good food." Sorry, Hong. I didn't really want to, you know.
That okay with you?
"Excellent. Now, collect what you need and come with me."
I nodded, tiredly. "Alright, give me a moment."
I walked over to the small cupboard, and opened it. I grabbed my belt, and the small bag of all-purpose clothes.
"Where are we going?"
"The Earth Kingdom," Lo/Li answered. Huh. That was new; but I was prepared for it.
"Okay." I grabbed my Earth Peasant Garb from a peg, and stuffed it in the bag. Checking around, I realised that I was still wearing the servant's uniform.
I coughed. "Err, you mind stepping outside for a second? I need to change."
Li/Lo nodded, and glided out. Once I had my privacy, I changed into the standard uniform that I wore whenever the Bitch called for me. Just a standard palace servant's garb. Nothing unusual about it, except for the addition of a rice hat. And the fact that it had about ten hidden pockets and sheaths. I filled these, and picked up my broom.
Sweeper. I had come up with the codename, in a fit of atrophied creativity, and for some reason the Bitch had liked it. It had come from the design of my main weapon, which was disguised as a broom.
Aforementioned broom over my shoulder, I stepped out into the bare corridor. Lilo nodded at me, and walked off. I followed.
She lead me to the docks, where we boarded a light class warship. The Fire Nation boats are pretty impressive, it's true, but there's no artistry to them. They're big and intimidating, but it's like their builders took no pride in their work. I guess that's pretty accurate, since they're mass-produced. And besides, there are a whole bunch of flaws in the design- like the whole hinge-gangplank thing. Sure, it looks intimidating, when the whole front of the ship just drops forwards, but it gives a massive weak point to the hull. Hinges are always weak points. Someone should slap the guy who designed that.
Anyway, Lola directed me to a cabin near the cell block (gee, it's nice to know I'm appreciated around here) that was a lot larger than my room back in the palace. I supposed it was because I'd have to practice in here, so that meant the crew didn't know about me. This would be fun. Most of the people who knew who I was treated me with at least a little respect, but the crew wouldn't. They'd just assume I was some servant or other, and I wouldn't be allowed to correct them.
"So, what's the deal?" I asked.
"You'll find out soon enough," Lolita replied.
"Eh, alright. I was itching for a holiday, anyway."
Liam said nothing, but smirked in a not-very-nice way, and left me to unpack.
Don't lynch me for putting up another story before finishing anything else. I have a good reason.
This...I have my doubts about this one. The way I have it all mapped out, it could either be the best thing I have written to date, or a great big steaming pile of pretentiousness and shit. Either way, it's not going to be finished for a while. The reason I've put this first chapter is to see if people actually want to see more of it. If I continue, it will represent a lot of effort and time, and if no one wants to read it... well.
So let me know, okay?