This was kindly proofread by clockworkchaos.
"That was a real load."
Most of young Waterbenders gave grunts of agreement. Lu, the sole member of the group hailing from the distant Foggy Swamp, frowned. "I thought it was a nice ol' story. Got a big strong hero innit, a real live evil backside what beat you up!"
The rest of the group pondered what part of that to respond to, and without any communication, all agreed to avoid the phrase, "evil backside." The designated speaker was Kassuq, which was appropriate since it was his assertion that the Swampbender was replying to. "Sure, Lu, it all sounds real impressive, but it obviously can't be real. Anyone who can't bend couldn't be all that great, and besides, his sister is Master Katara, and you know how she talks about him. She's impressed if he can put his clothes on without help!" General laughter met this observation, but this in no way reflected Kassuq's actual talent for humor.
"Maybe Master Katara isn't as smart as she thinks she is," a voice retorted from the nighttime darkness. The group of Waterbenders obviously thought of those as "fighting words," but before they could summon their element, the speaker stepped out into the moonlight filtering between ice-buildings.
Kassuq recognized his younger brother. "Pukiq! I thought you were still on the islands!"
Pukip smiled and joined the group on their way home. "I just got back. Auntie told me you'd gone to listen to the storyteller, so I thought I'd try to catch up. I guess it's over for the night?"
"Yeah. So, before you get us all distracted, you want to explain your disrespect for Sifu Katara?"
Pukiq waved it away. "I meant no disrespect. It's just that, as powerful a master as she may be, I don't think she has a very good handle on her brother. I can't imagine how she can talk about Captain Sokka the way she does."
Kassuq had long ago mastered the derisive laugh, and expertly employed it against his little sibling. "You think you know Sokka better than his own sister?"
"I'm not saying that. But, if you'd seen him the way I have, the way I just did the other day, you wouldn't be so quick to disregard all the stories they tell about him."
Lu perked up. "You done got a good Sokka story? Come on, you gotta be tellin' us all! Is there fightin'? Does it have the bommerangar?"
Kassuq smirked. "You were just hoping it would come to this, weren't you?"
Pukiq shrugged. "I was going to tell it sooner or later, but I couldn't let a good lead-in go to waste."
"Then by all means, regale us."
"Um, I'm done up just fine with the jacket I have, Kassuq."
"I mean he should tell the story, Lu."
Pukiq paused for a dramatic moment. The Water Tribes encouraged all their children to learn proper storytelling techniques, and Pukiq was a good student. "It began in the seas of the Southern Earth Kingdom. That's where new trade has sprung up between the mainland and the Southern Islands. The Kingdom sends down boatloads of salt, and the islands send back preserved fish, delicacies that can be shared across the world now that the war is over. However, salt is quite valuable in and of itself, especially on some of the more militant and isolated islands of the Fire Nation. Our Tribe had been receiving reports of pirate activity, preying on the new trade routes. They came in a stolen Fire Nation warship, and attacked any individual merchant vessels they could find. The islands had been sending out task fleets to take care of the pirates, but with their engine-driven speed, their ship can retreat from any engagement they can't win, and its catapults can discourage pursuit. The islands knew they had one option if they wanted to end their pirate problems once and for all.
"The call went out for Captain Sokka."
The lone ship sailed the flowing waves. On the horizon, a smudge of black smoke sullied the blue sky. The Water Tribe sailors stared at it. They were all armed, but they were also young, and not looking forward to the coming fight. Sokka knew he'd have to rally them, prepare them for the chaos and danger with stirring words of war.
Too bad he didn't have any handy.
"Okay, men, we've found our pirates. Now, I know that pirates seem really cool, but they can be pretty nasty people, too. Especially when they're stealing stuff from you. Or after you've stolen stuff from them, which, while very tempting, I do not recommend unless you have adequate backup. Of course, we're Water Tribe Warriors, and I have a brilliant plan, so all we have to do is not die when the pirates attack and board us."
The new recruit, Pukiq, raised a hand. "I've never been entirely comfortable with that part of the plan. Do we have to let them board us?"
Sokka thought about that. "Yes, I think we do. We're kind of stuck now that we're already in this tub of a boat with a full hold. But no one has to worry! I've taught you all my super secret Wackapow club attack, which will keep you safe if you use it properly. Now, everyone get to your places. We need to look like a bunch of merchant sailors who are completely out of our league!"
"We are a bunch sailors completely out of our league," one of the men noted.
Sokka grinned. "I know. That's why this is going to work!"
"So the pirates done gone and attacked ya?" Lu burst out.
Pukiq nodded gravely. "We put on a show of running, but of course we couldn't get far with a full hold in a ship like that. It wasn't full of salt, of course. In the unlikely event of failure and our death, we didn't want to lose anything really valuable." He broke the tension with a wink. "The pirates caught up with us quickly, in that ship of theirs. It was one of the newer metal warships, the kind that attacked the North Pole during the war. They didn't fire on us, because they didn't want to damage their prize. They chased our wake, and then raced up in front of us. We were dependent on our sails for speed, so we either had to pull to a stop, or ram them, and trust me, it would have hurt us a lot more than them. So we stopped, and prepared to repel boarders."
The young warrior paused, and made sure to look each member of his audience in the eyes. "I don't mind saying that most of us were nervous. Not Captain Sokka, though. He stood on the deck, a club in one hand, and a machete in the other."
Kassuq frowned. "I thought he had a famous sword."
"Naw uh," Lu quickly came back. "He done lost that when he knocked down Ozai's big sky fleet."
"That's right." All eyes returned to Pukiq. "They say that after defeating a whole fleet of flying fortresses filled with Firebenders, he gave up using a sword, because there wouldn't be any challenge left in life if he had one. And he loves a challenge. When the pirates pulled up beside us, and began leaping over, he just stood on the deck, still and confident, staring down the invaders."
Sokka was agog at the pirates. All of them were either Firebenders or were heavily armed, and everyone was wearing armor, even though some of it looked scrounged. Most importantly, one of the pirates was swinging over to Sokka's ship on a rope, with a knife held between his teeth. One side of Sokka's brain was critical of the move, recognizing it as a completely impractical, unsafe, and altogether stupid tactic more likely to injure the pirate than land him where he wanted to go. The other side, however, was quite up front about finding the ploy completely awesome, adding that it always wanted to try that.
Both halves of his brain wished he had a sword with him.
Sokka had a hard time explaining why he never got a new jian to replace Space Sword. Certainly, Master Piandao still had enough Space Earth (it was a good name, whatever Katara said) to forge another blade, and if he didn't, even the most common of the master's swords were implements worth treasuring. Sokka was even better with a sword than he was with the traditional Water Tribe weapons, but something about it just felt wrong, now. Swords were for war, and if he got a new one, it would be like the war had never really gone away. It was silly, of course. Pirates were still pirates, and they didn't care about Sokka's weapon preferences. Any of the people Sokka led to their deaths would still be dead, whether or not they died in a so-called war.
Sokka worked hard to never show how afraid he was of the people he led getting killed.
He still thought that swinging from ship to ship on a rope looked like a lot of fun. He tried not to show that, either. "Water Tribe, prepare to repel boarders!"
"With his voice cutting through our fear, we stood as men and warriors, and the fighting began." The group was entranced by Pukiq's tale. "We were outnumbered, easily five to one, and these guys were no slouches when it came to fighting. I know they make battle sound glorious and epic in the stories, and I could probably tell it that way, but the truth is that it's terrifying and chaotic. The pirates were trained, and half looked like ex-Fire Navy, but the last few years hadn't been kind to them. They were weathered, and nasty, and strong, like a length of rope hardened in the salty winds. We couldn't stand our ground on the deck. We just defended ourselves as best we could, and spent a lot of time running around in what Captain Sokka likes to call 'tactical retreats.' He wasn't running, though."
Even Kassuq had been drawn in by the tempo of the tale. "He wasn't?"
Pukiq grinned. "Of course not. He was up by the wheel, having a one on one duel with the pirate captain himself. The pirates' leader was a big man, nearly all muscle, and he was quick. He used a nunchuck staff, and I think I saw spikes on each end, but it was being wielded too quickly to tell. Captain Sokka was holding his own, though. He probably could have defeated the guy, but Captain Sokka is the type to play with his enemies before dropping the heavy end of the hammer on them."
Sokka scrambled out of the way of another flurry of attacks. The pirate captain was quick with those stupid sticks of his. "Hey, can't we talk this out? Maybe I'd be willing to surrender right about now! You never know until you ask!"
The pirate wasn't reacting to anything Sokka said. He was too focused on bashing the Water Tribe warrior's skull in.
Sokka found himself backed up against the edge of the boat. The wooden wall was waist-high, which was a little low for what Sokka wanted to try, but he could work with it. As the pirate approached, Sokka gave a short hop, swung his feet up so that the soles of his boots were pressed against the wall behind him, and pushed with his legs. Sokka immediately transformed from a trapped warrior to a flying missile with a Water Tribe machete sticking out of the business end.
It was a good move, even if it hadn't worked against Master Piandao. Unfortunately, it only had limited success in this situation.
The pirate captain was alert, and while his retreat looked as undignified as Sokka's earlier scrambling, it was still effective enough to avoid any injury. Sokka turned his landing into a roll, and was back on his feet just in time to see the captain return to the fight with his nunchuck staff whirling.
Sokka wasn't worried, though.
Sokka wasn't worried because he could count, and he trusted in his friends.
"It looked pretty bad," Pukiq summarized. "At any second, we would have a fatality on our hands, and there were even more pirates waiting on their ship to back up their mates." He let that description hang in the air, waiting for his audience to fall into step.
"So what happened?" Kassuq supplied.
"Well, that was when the submarines arrived."
The water exploded around the two boats. Huge metal fish breached the surface of the water, like sleek killer pumawhales coming upon a pod of turtle seals like a hungry warrior at a meat buffet.
Sokka had spent a lot of free time refining that double-simile.
The pirates were in a panic. Sokka actually thought that it was fairly smart of them to ignore the pathetic Water Tribe crew in favor of this new, very scary assault. After all, they hadn't encountered much danger up until now, and things that could kill you always had priority. Sokka wasn't counting on this behavior, but he had accounted for it; the next step in his plan would take advantage of the attention.
The original submarines that Sokka designed for the Day of the Black Sun Invasion were highly focused in function. They were made to get his army past the defense of the Fire Nation's capital island, and quickly deposit them on the ground ready to do battle. However, a boat that could sail invisibly under the surface of the oceans had many possible uses, and with the addition some special equipment, there was little they couldn't do.
The submarines aimed their new grappling launchers, stolen outright from the old Fire Nation tanks, and shot their piercing bolts into the hull of the metal pirate ship. Like a sea beast hunted by the best Water Tribe hunters, it couldn't go anywhere now without dragging its predators behind it. That image had been Sokka's inspiration for mounting the launchers on the submarines, and now that he was seeing them in action, even more ideas came to him for improving and refining the mounting mechanism.
Of course, that didn't stop him from admiring the beauty of the next phase of the attack. The hatches on the top of the submarines opened, and from them streamed forth an increasing number of figures in green dresses, their faces painted white. The women didn't stop to rest on the top of the subs; they climbed up onto the grappling launches, and began running up the lengths of chain and jumping on to the pirate vessel. Golden fans were deployed, and before the pirates could organize any kind of resistance, they were overwhelmed by Sokka's latest invention.
The Kyoshi Marine Corps.
The painted Warriors easily took the deck of the pirate ship, but didn't stop there. They streamed through the ship's hatches, confident in their knowledge of the vessel's layout. After all, Sokka had been given the documentation for this class of ship by the Fire Lord himself. The Water Tribe warrior knew that the enemy ship would be secured within minutes. That just left the pirates on his own boat.
The pirate captain hadn't attacked since the submarines had shown up. He was leaning on the side of the ship, staring at the capture of his own vessel with outright horror. It was a simple matter to take advantage of the man's shock by throwing a boomerang that arced directly into the back of his head.
The pirate captain was knocked overboard by the force of the blow.
Now, it was clean-up time.
Pukiq couldn't keep the satisfied grin off his face. "There were enough Kyoshi Marines to come help us even as the rest captured the pirates' warship. We Water Tribe warriors weren't going to just sit back and let them have all the fun, though. We rallied together and pushed back at the boarders. Caught between our fierceness, and the scary efficiency of the Kyoshi fighters, the pirates didn't last long. There was one incident, though, with an armored pirate wielding a yinyuedao." He saw Lu's face. "That's a long staff with a big chopping blade on the end. Unusual for a foot soldier."
"Sounds like one'a those piratties wanted to be all fancy and scary," the Swampbender laughed. "Did ya give him a good ol' hit on the head?"
"I didn't. When the pirate saw the way the battle was going, he let out this furious scream that rose above the sounds of battle. He went for the leader of the Kyoshi Marines- I guess he saw her fancier headdress- and knocked her off her feat with a spin of his staff. Don't get me wrong, she had been fighting off two other pirates all by herself at the time, and the new attacker rushed her from behind, probably intent on taking the leader with him if he was going to go down. He raised his staff with both hands, and was ready to bring the blade down onto her head!
"That's when Captain Sokka showed up.
"He gave a roar of his own inarticulate battle cry, and dashed at the pirate faster than I've ever seen a man move. It was like he was an Airbender, riding the sea winds! He caught the yinyuedao in his left hand, yanked it out of the pirate's grip with a single tug, and raised his right hand to brandish his own war club. Then he spoke. Everyone on the ship heard him. With a voice powered by generations of strength and frustration, and swinging the club with all the power of his entire tribe, Sokka struck the pirate on the head so hard, his helmet flew into the air and landed on the deck of the captured enemy vessel. His words were simple-
There is no need to examine the incident from Sokka's point of view. Pukiq's account was completely accurate.
Pukiq smiled and shrugged at his audience. "The battle didn't last long after that display. Any pirates who hadn't surrendered by then were much more inclined to when Sokka looked at them. We took them all to the Earth Kingdom, and turned them over to a military base on the coast. Not the ship, though."
"You brought it back here?" Kassuq breathed with surprise.
"Nope." Pukiq's grin took on a toothy element. "We sailed it a distance away from the Earth Kingdom coast, and scuttled it on a shallow. It can serve as a warning to anyone who doesn't have a chart of the sea there. Two warnings, actually. You see, after we stripped the ship of any useful machinery, Captain Sokka had us stain the side of the ship with a message. That hulk won't last long, half submerged in the water like that, but even as it rusts away, everyone in the area will be able to see Captain Sokka's warning.
"It says, in big letters...'Not My Ocean.'"
Pukiq was satisfied with the expressions of awe and approval on his audience. He left out the part where Captain Sokka had specified that the message should end with a frowny-face with angry eyebrows and a Warrior's Wolf Tail. It might give the wrong impression. Pukiq had only served this one mission with Captain Sokka, but he was already beginning to appreciate how dangerous the man could be. That his personality was eccentric, and at times a bit silly, only enhanced that sense of danger. Angry people made sure everyone around them was already on edge, and quiet people were already famous for being surprising when they finally opened their mouths. But who would believe that someone so flighty was going to bring complete peace to the seas within the next decade?
Pukiq could, along with more people every day.
When the need was great for the right mix of strength, genius, and charisma, the call would go out for Captain Sokka.