New Year's Eve.
Jet, aged ten, was alone and trapped and helpless. And he was really fucking pissed off about this turn of events. He's been caught by those firemonsters when he and Smellerbee and Longshot had been pinching their supplies. The winter was bitter and they had run out of everything. A twig snapped under Smellerbee's foot and Jet had told them to run for it. He'd caused a distraction to give Smellerbee and Longshot time to get away. He thought it would be easy to hoist himself up to the branch and make his own get away through the trees. But one of the fire monsters had clobbered him over the head with something and he'd woken up here. He was in a small cell. It was a tiny hopeless little jail cell that Jet hated. His head was pounding. He was colder than he had ever felt in his life.
He thought his situation couldn't get any worse. But then the firemonsters came back.
It was New Years, and Lu Ten was here on the fringes of Gaipan, not in Ba Sing Se with his dear and beloved father. They were going to celebrate the turning of the year together, like they always did. Lu Ten felt a jolt of homesickness for that jovial, kind face. Lu Ten knew that his father would be able to say something to make him feel better. His father could make sense of the world for him again.
But Father had wanted Lu Ten to discover the world for himself and develop his own philosophy. Father had thought that Lu Ten commanding a small squadron from the coast to Ba Sing Se would be a good experience for him. Lu Ten had found so many things along the way that he couldn't just leave, and there were appointments and delays and cock-ups to deal with every single day. They had been delayed in Gaipan region because Lu Ten saw so much that he couldn't let slide.
Atrocities that made him wonder how anyone could do something like that to another person.
Atrocities that made him think disloyal thoughts about his homeland.
Atrocities that made him question what the point to this war even was.
Around a month ago Lu Ten and his troops had come across the charred remains of a village. It was a sad and tragic little place. Lu Ten couldn't forget what they found there – he had tried. The image of those bodies had never really gone away. Lu Ten has just gotten better at not seeing it. They were huddled and piled in the burnt out husk of what was once a barn. The metal padlock, warped and rusted though it was, told the dark truth. These people had been locked in and left to burn. It was sickening
Lu Ten had gone into the woods and promptly lost the entire content of his stomach. It was the first time he'd ever seen a dead body, aside from his mother's at her funeral. And Lu Ten had been so young then and she'd been sick for so long. This sort of death, these pointless, violent village deaths haunted his dreams.
Lu Ten launched an investigation into finding out what happened. The woods were famous for bandits. Bandits were famous for being ruthless. Lu Ten had thought it would all be so easy. He thought the enemy would always be on the other side of the line. But then he and his men had come to the Rough Rhinos camp. They were having a short rest and would stay over the new years holiday. The Rough Rhinos liked to brag. Lu Ten had found out the truth can be so much worse than what you ever expected.
The Rough Rhinos felt no shame over what the had done. They freely admitted that they had travelled through the village and they had wanted to have some fun. Fun. They had locked a whole village of innocent people into a barn and set it alight for sport. The thought revolted Lu Ten. It made him want to kick Colonel Mongke in the teeth, every day for the rest of his life.
Lu Ten had hiked back to the previous watch-tower, just to send a messenger Hawk to his father. He was only a Captain and Colonel Mongke out-ranked him. It wasn't Lu Ten's place to deliver disciplinary action. But he felt like some disciplinary action had to happen if there was to be any justice at all in the world. For now, Lu Ten would go back to the camp and return to his tent and not speak to any of them. He didn't have the will or the energy to even pretend to be polite to the Rough Rhinos right now.
Lu Ten was done for the day. He was done. He was tired in his body. Tired in his head. And so so tired in his heart. He felt like the war had aged him way beyond his eighteen years. Lu Ten felt centuries old. He felt like he was too young for this war. He wasn't ready for it. Wasn't prepared for what it would actually be like. But then again everyone was too young for this war. That was the one constant. Everyone died much too young in war.
But Lu Ten's day was not over yet. When he walked back into the encampment, he heard the distinctive sound of drunken jeers and laughter. But this didn't sound like like the regular new year's revelry. There was a darker, more dangerous edge to the laughter.
It sounded like lynch mob laughter.
Lu Ten heard a young boy's anguished shout.
A child's cry of pain and bewilderment.
Lu Ten ran towards the sound.
The fire monsters were bored. They always did the worst shit when the got bored. Maybe someone should teach them all how to play hoop-a-scoot. Make things much more pleasant for everyone really. It was some sort of holiday for the fire monsters and they were drunk and bored and that was a bad combination for Jet.
Jet very quickly became their source of entertainment. As soon as someone they called Captain No-fun left, they had come for him. They had crowded around his cell, just to terrify Jet. They had pinched and poked and prodded him with their weapons and laughter mightily at all the curses Jet swore at them. They had jeered at him about all the terrible things they were going to do to him. For fun.
Jet had swore at them all and lashed out, but he felt so trapped and confined and terrified. The stone walls of the cell and the leering faces of the men had become his whole world and he could see no escape.
One of them got the keys from somewhere and Jet was dragged out by his hair, kicking and screaming and fighting all the way. The firemonsters stood in a big circle around him. Jet looked around the circle and saw a firemonster her recognised. The one from the village. The one who did the terrible thing to his father. Bind rage filled Jet. He launched himself at the firemonster and clawed and scratched and fought bitterly. The firemonster held him off easy. Jet's rage-filled struggles seemed to amuse the rest of them.
They were just playing with him at the moment. Soon it would get bad. But if this was going to be it, then Jet was going to go down fighting. He could try take this firemonster with him. He wasn't going to give the firemonsters the satisfaction of seeing that he was scared.
The big firemonster from the village suddenly flung him off with surprising violence. Jet landed hard. The big firemonster approached him. A flaming fist held aloft. Jet felt frozen in horror. The fist came towards him. Jet raised his arms to protect himself.
The pain seared across his forearms. It blazed into his flesh and his memory.
What a terrible thing it is to be burned.
Jet did not want to die this way.
Jet did not want to die at all, come to think of it.
Who would take care of Smellerbee and Longshot then?
At least they had gotten far away.
They would be back at the hideout, snuggling to keep warm by now.
Jet thought of them safe and snuggling. They'd survive.
They weren't here. They wouldn't have to see this.
Jet was exhausted. He'd been fighting for so long. The big firemonster struck again (with his foot not his fist – he was still playing). It was a resounding blow to the side of his head. Jet's vision swam. Jet closed his eyes and braced himself for a blow that never came. Right at that moment, a loud, furious voice yelled "STOP THIS AT ONCE".
While Lu Ten had been gone, fucking Colonel Mongke and his men had found some poor Earth Kingdom brat from somewhere. It was a boy with messy hair, bare feet and clothes far too thin to keep out the winter chill. Probably an orphan. There were so many of them in this region.
The boy looked like Zuko's age.
He couldn't possibly be older than tenish.
But he seemed tiny in comparison to the large circle of men that surrounded him. He was sprawled on the ground in front of Colonel Mongke. It looked to Lu Ten like the Colonel was going to strike the child.
A dark anger filled Lu Ten. He would not sit idly by while a child was hurt. That wasn't who Lu Ten was. Rank be damned, Lu Ten was going to stop this madness.
He shouted at the top of his lungs and barrelled through the circle of men. They all gasped at his sudden arrival – they had clearly expected him to be gone for a lot longer. Colonel Mongke shot him a disgruntled look at the intrusion. He knew the Rough Rhinos called him Captain no-fun. Here Lu Ten was again – to spoil the fun.
He went over to the boy who looked at him with wild and angry and very surprised eyes. The boy wasn't critically injured – so at least that was a small blessing. Lu Ten positioned himself between the boy and colonel Mongke and demanded an explanation.
A very bitter scene ensued. Colonel Mongke reminded Lu Ten to remember his place. He may be the Colonel's social superior in a Caldera ballroom, but on the field of battle, the Colonel out ranked him. Lu Ten, who was beyond angry and beyond caring about rank, pointed out that this was not the battle field. This was four grown men against a small, unarmed and underfed boy. What a fearsome enemy indeed. Lu Ten told them all that they should be fucking ashamed of themselves.
He felt am odd pang for swearing in front of the boy. Ursa had always been on at him not to swear in front of Zuko and Azula. You've got to set a good example for them Lu Ten, They both look up to you so much. He'd never be able to face either of his young cousins again, if he knowingly let a child be tormented in this way. What kind of example did that set?
Colonel Mongke wasn't having it. He didn't feel that he had to suffer lip from Lu Ten. He challenged Lu Ten to an Agni Kai. But he was drunk as a skunk. Instead of acquiescing to a formal duel – Lu Ten used his superior skills and agility. He launched himself at Colonel Mongke. A short series of kicks and punches and flips later- Colonel Mongke was well and truly beaten. Lu Ten had gotten a little too into the fight. At one point he head flipped Colonel Mongke over his shoulder, just to see the look on the mother-fucker's face. But he landed near the boy, who scrambled backwards quickly, in surprise and fright.
The Colonel was panting and on his knees in front of Lu Ten. Lu Ten fought the urge to kick him in the face. He wasn't this sort of person. The sort of person who would kick someone when they were down. Enough. Enough now. Lu Ten made his point. Lu Ten was freaking the kind out.
Lu Ten jumped on the Colonel and held him down in a restraining hold, with his knee pressing onto the Colonel's spleen instead. Enough to hurt, but not enough to do permanent damage. Lu Ten told the Colonel that he forgot himself. Lu Ten was his superior in every way except age.
Lu Ten told the Colonel and all the gathered men that they were fucking disgraces to the firenation. They had brought dishonour on themselves tonight. He scolded them furiously, until most of them were looking shamefaced. Lu Ten then ordered all the men to return to their tents and sleep it off. They slumped off in dribs and drabs. Lu Ten let the Colonel up and pointing towards the tents. Colonel Mongke shot his a look of loathing and left.
Then Lu Ten was standing alone in the yard with the boy. The boy was still sprawled on the ground. His lip was bloody and he had the start of a black eye forming. He gazed up a Lu Ten, his face filled with fright and fury.
" Have no fear of me. You're safe now boy." Lu Ten said in what was an attempt at a reassuring manner. He took a step towards the Kid – but the Kid immediately flinched away. It tugged at something deep inside Lu Ten, to see a child react to him with such fear.
Understandable fear. In his uniform and helmet – Lu Ten probably looked no different from the soldiers who had done this to the Kid.
Lu Ten took his helmet off and crouched down on to the kid's level. He could see burns blossoming over the kids arms. They were still fresh. He'd have to get some salve on that quickly. The boy scooted back further from Lu Ten. "It's okay - I'm not going to hurt you." Lu Ten assured the Kid. The Kid did not look reassured.
In fact, the Kid fainted dead away.
Jet didn't know what to make of the new firemonster. The one who had charged in from somewhere and stopped the other men. He reckoned this new firemonster was the most dangerous of all the firemonsters. He was the firemonster that all the other monsters were scared of...that had to mean he was really bad.
But yet, the new firemonster had stuck up for Jet and put himself between him and the big firemonster and protected him. Thanks to the New Firemonster, Jet had now learned that the big firemonster was called Colonel Mongke. New spat the Colonel's name like it was an insult, several times. Jet logged that information, that name, away in his mind. It would come in handy, knowing the big firemonster's name, in the future. New then swore and called the Colonel a few names. Then New shot Jet the oddest look. It looked almost apologetic and it was friggin weird.
The Colonel then challenged New. This was a massive mistake. New was totally Badass! New kicked the shit out of the Colonel – Jet felt a morbid satisfaction watching it . The New one made it look fucking easy. It was like swatting a fly. Even though New was half the Colonel's size – he made short work of him. It was brilliant and it was scary.
Even though he was a firemonster, Jet couldn't help but think that there was something inherently graceful in New's movements. Jet wanted to learn to fight like that, with fliud movements and such confidence.
New flicked the Colonel over his shoulder and he landed with a heavy thud right next to Jet. This surprised the shit out of Jet. Jet wouldn't say he was scared, but he did make a wee noise and scramble back from the shock of the sudden thud. He looked up and caught New's eyes. The friggin weird look from earlier, the almost apologetic one, passed over New's face.
The Colonel was on the ground in front of New. For an odd second, Jet wondered if New was going to kick him in the face. Jet could tell New wanted too. How bad could this get? Did firenation people kick each other in the face all the time? It wouldn't surprise Jet if they did.
New didn't kick the Colonel in the face. Instead he jumped on him and smushed his face into the ground and put his knee into his back. He then shouted some more stuff – but Jet couldn't quite hear it. He was feeling dizzy and the world was blurring. His ears felt like the were filled with water or some other gunk that make everything sound foggy. Then the firemonsters started walking away from the circle. New let the Colonel up and he left too.
It was just Jet and New.
New said something and took a step towards him. Jet scrambled back in fear. Well he would later tell Smellerbee and Longshot that he wasn't scared. But truth be told, he had just seen New beat the shit out of the Colonel – who was the worst and baddest man Jet knew. If New wanted, he would be able to break Jet in half.
New then knelt down in front of Jet and took off his helmet. He was youngish for a firemonster. Jet had never seen a firemonster this young. He had a strong jawline and big sad eyes. If he wasn't a firemonster, it would be a nice face. A kind face. But because he was a firemonster – he couldn't possibly be kind. He said something else, but Jet didn't understand it.
Jet felt like he was swimming deep underwater. All the sounds, everything New said had to get through fathoms before Jet heard it. Everything was swaying. Then New said something else and reached towards Jet. Jet tried to lurch back away from him, but then the whole world lurched and everything went black.
Lovely wonderful readers, this is a little ficlet that is too long for a drabble. It's about an encounter between Jet and Lu Ten. It will fit with the stalking universe. It's not as light hearted as some of my other works. I'm trying for a serious tone here, so this fic is somewhat of an experiement. However this idea crawled into my brain and would not go away.
Anyway in Jet's troubling obsession, I mentioned that Jet had a bad experience in jail. This is the experience he's referring to in that chapter.
Also I just wanted to say a huge thanks to everyone for being patient with me on the NSFZ updates front. Chap 13 is half written. I've been working on it a bit each day - But I'm just a bit time poor. I know that I haven't updated in foreeeeeever. I'm so sorry guys. Teaching has just been really hectic and tiring (I'm loving it though). My writing time has been cut back a little. However, I'll be finishing prac at the end of next week, and then I will have much more time to write.