THE FIRST BENDER
Book 4: INFERNO
The wind chimes moved ominously in the darkness of the town. Houses were closed uptight, the windows covered with shutters and some with planks. Families sat cowering in the dark recesses of their houses, clutching tightly to each other for safety and hope. One little girl could hold it no longer, letting out a squeak as the desperation set itself upon her. "Shh." Her mother warned her as she drew her close as they sat upon the d in the room, her brothers and father sitting around the room as well. "Be quiet and just stay close to me."
"But it's here." The girl cried as she buried her head into her mother's chest.
Many of the town's occupants had fled a couple of hours before hand, the feeling of the darkness already lingering in the air.
A sudden silence fell upon the area as the darkness settled on its prey. Darting black shapes flew past houses, sending its occupants into violent shivers. Without a sound, black images appeared on top of houses, sling down the roofs and landing lightly on the ground.
There were two of them, moving swiftly through the dark, barren streets in their flowing red cloaks. They had red helmets and black and red armor plating over their mysterious bodies. There was a familiar scuffle behind them as they moved silently down an alley. They turned to meet their new visitors.
Three people stood ready behind at the end of the street. Two were men, Air Nomads based upon the staffs they held firmly in their grasp. The other was a woman wearing a large round green helmet upon her head like an overturned bowl. "Take your darkness and leave this place." One of the men said as he gave his staff a quick flourish.
A large roar filled the night as a wave of fire raged towards the defenders. The two Airbenders leapt onto the roofs as the Earthbender took the blast to the top of her helmet. She fell backwards, straightening and throwing a fissure of earth at the Junsei.
One of the Junsei fell to the ground as the other one flew into the air on a cloud and landed on a nearby rooftop. One of the Airbenders released a powerful gust of wind at the Junsei. It dodged the attack and shot a fast wave of water over the house and washed the man off the building.
The people began to cower in their homes as the sounds of the fight wafted through the silent summer night, darkness growing around them. One of the Airbenders jumped to the ground, throwing hard attacks at the Junsei lying prone. They threw up an earth shield and tossed the wall back at the defender. The Eathbender had recovered, tossing a large boulder straight for the Junsei.
It exploded in mid air as the other Junsei jumped back into the fray, tossing a large whip of fire at the Air Nomad as the other took the Earthbender. The Air Nomad flew upwards, avoiding the flames as the other flew in and dealt a hard strike against the man.
Four more red robed figures jumped down into the square and joined the fight. Chains flew through the air, trapping the Air Nomads and bringing them to the ground. The Earthbender tossed a shield in front of her, causing a large earthquake to drop the other Junsei to their feet. She drew her hand back to strike but it was stopped, a slithering water whip working its way down her arm.
The Earthbender was tossed to the ground and chained along with the other Air Nomads. They struggled against their bonds but it was useless, they had lost. More Junsei poured into the city as the darkness enveloped the tiny town. Sticks began to pound the ground in an almost tribal fashion as the Junsei sank to their knees, bowing low to the ground.
A dark fog seemed to seep into the town as if it were liquid drenching everything in sight. The banging increased as the tension inside of the homes grew to terror inducing levels. Torches were lit to light the area as a tall, dark imposing figure seemed to almost ooze into the street. An unearthly chill spread through the streets and its blanket of darkness.
One woman could take it no longer. She broke free of her husband's grasp and ran out into the street, flinging herself down prostrate in front of the dark figure. "Spare us!" she cried as the dirt mixed into her tangles mess of hair. The man stopped and lowered himself to her level, placing a hand roughly under her chin. Her face was lifted upwards, her glassy eyes met his.
His right side was disfigured, distorted into a thing of terror and sickening flesh. The man lifted the woman's head up and seemed to be looking it over. His face was blank, hard to read because of the abomination. He blinked once and then said, "No."
He got up quickly, his hands digging under her chin. There was a bright flash of blue light as the woman's soul was sucked out of her body. The body crumpled to the ground and lay still as the light vanished from the sky, fear now the only word in the bender's vocabulary. The Air Nomad struggled against his bonds as the man turned to the defenders and strode quickly towards them, his followers still bent down low in respect to heir leader.
The disfigured man placed his hands around the Air Nomads and, in a gut wrenching move, ripped their souls out in another flash of blue light. The bodies fell backwards and seemed to flap with one last spark of life. The man then strutted over to the Earthbender. She was trembling and her mouth was shaking though no words exited. He bent down low to her ear and made an evil grin.
"So, about my offer…" Kan said in a cold, low voice.
"I will join you." The Earthbender said with as much strength as she could muster. Kan smirked and then placed his thumb forcefully on her temple. There was a pulse of red and the bonds released from the Earthbender. Two Junsei grabbed her around the arms and heaved her to her feet. Kan bent his head down and made a quick twitch with his arms.
He reappeared on a cliff outside of the town, his army joining him within moments as well as the new arrival. Kan gave her a look over and then turned back to the town, his hands held behind his back. "Your first test." Kan said loudly as it echoed down into the town where the families sat silent, petrified in their distress. "What do we do to those that wish to fight us? To those that defy us?"
His question was aimed at the Earthbender who was still struggling to make clear words with her fumbling mouth. "You…you…" she was struggling to find the words. "You wipe them…off the map."
Kan gave a small smile as he raised his left hand into the air. He gave one snap as the mother gripped her daughter tightly in the bedroom.
The town exploded in a blaze of fire, a bright crater left upon the earth as all the inhabitants vanished in the dark cloud of smoke billowing up into the even darker sky. The Junsei gave a loud shout, waving their torches and staffs in the air as Kan looked down with a blank look on his face, indifferent to the destruction upon the land.
The black smoke twisted in the air and mixed with the other smoke clouds from the previous towns, still blazing for ten miles around.
The Water Tribe people stood at attention on the deck as the ship docked next to the flag ship. A small, squat Earth Kingdom man was walking up and down the deck in front of Mizu, his arms folded behind him and his guard standing ready at the gang plank. "We lost nearly twelve towns and villages tonight." The man reported to Mizu as he continued to pace. "Funny…no Waterbenders were present as defenders at any of these establishments."
"Well, we have been stationed as navy detail." Mizu responded, having to look down upon the man. "Being Waterbenders for the most part, we do have more power on the water than on the earth."
"Yes, but you are violating your part of the negotiations." The man said as he turned and threw a fat finger towards Mizu. "You are supposed to be the defenders in this mad world. You should have men and women always on the forefront. Just because you are in charge of just one specific section of this resistance does not mean that you are any more special than the Earth Kingdom."
Mizu tilted her head, trying to keep her mouth shut. "Again, sorry, but they still fell. We can't change it now. We just have to start thinking of a smart, effective plan that can go smoothly without any sort of fault."
"That's just what I would expect from the Water Tribe." The Earth Kingdom Man said. There was a notable murmur through the crew as one man had to be restrained.
"Excuse me!" Mizu asked as she took a step forward.
"All you do is make plans and then attack with force. Why wait? A forceful, powerful attack with strong defense can do much more effective damage."
"Better to make sure there are no holes in your plan first and that you have the power and strength to fight than go in rocks flying. But you wouldn't know that, being a non-bender and all." Mizu retorted. A yell of agreement came from her crew. The man grew red in the face, a nerve pulsing violently on his forehead.
"Fine! You've had a month, why haven't you attacked Ba Sing Se? The very nerve center of the Junsei." The man tried to argue.
"Kan abandoned that when he began!" Mizu answered. "He's been moving throughout the continent, he knows that we would attack there. He knows a lot more than any of you would know. Now get off my ship and let me do my job!"
The man tried to make himself seem taller but it failed. He turned on his heel and left in a huff back to his ship and departed off into the night. "Why do we even listen to him?" one of the warriors said.
"Yeah" another agreed. "He's from the Earth Kingdom. The Water Tribe is perfectly fine supporting itself."
"Calm yourselves." Mizu said as she put a hand up to stop the fighting. "Let's just do our jobs."
"Yeah, well how are we going to do that?" a woman said as she walked over to the railing of the ship. "We don't even know where this maniac is." She looked up towards the full moon, dark smoke beginning to pass over its pale beauty.
Jip was wrapped in a blanket, looking out into the night sky and the large moon as she stayed up. There was a familiar shuffle as Jip turned to see the shabby door open into the even worse apartment. It was one room with creaking boards, no cabinets, and barley any room for the two occupants to really move. Aer set her staff up against the wall as she rubbed her forehead, trying to fight off the inevitable sleep.
"How was watch tonight?" Jip asked as she shifted herself around on her small cushioned ledge.
"The same as every night." Aer responded as she walked towards the cracked mirror they used. She looked at the mirror to fix her hair, cut back to show the blue arrow on her head. She looked down at her hands where similar blue arrows had been placed permanently upon her skin. "There was no sign of the Junsei tonight."
"What about Kan?" Jip asked as she let her feet dangle over the creaking boards. Aer turned to her as sighed.
"They're the same." Aer said softly as she settled onto the floor where she had set up a blanket and a bundle of clothes for a pillow.
"I don't believe it." Jip said firmly as she tried to sit straight. "Kan isn't part of those Junsei. He isn't."
"Jip, he started the Junsei. He formed his army to rid the world of non-benders. It is him." Aer said as she tried to set Jip straight. She could see that something was wrong with Jip. "I know that it was sudden and…it doesn't seem like him but it is."
"So, when will he be back?" Jip asked as she turned back to her window and her night sky.
"Be back?" Aer asked. "What do you mean?"
"Well, in all the fairy tales, the lost friend always comes back to his friends." Jip answered. "It's just like the Enchanted Hog-Monkey. He's in his hole now. We just have to bring him back."
Aer hung her head as she suddenly realized the serious tone of Jip's voice. "Jip, those are just stories." Aer said as she shifted the blanket around her. "The world isn't like those made up fables. Jip…" Jip spun around quickly, a look of disbelief on her face.
"No! I know that it is life. Know that Kan is still good. I know that he will be back." Jip turned around again, a brick wall to Aer's protests. Aer sighed deeply and gave up the fight.
"Kan is evil. He will never be good again. And that is my final word." Aer turned on the floor and tried to fall asleep. Jip wiped the tear from her eye, unable to find any peaceful sleep.
She continued to stare up at the moon, the darkness spreading across it like a virus; like the burning earth around her.