So, we got the Water warriors all settled in by the lake. They grumbled about it being tiny, but one look from Star told them to shut up, which they did so accordingly. We got them tents and sleeping cots and mats, and then left them there. I assume they are just going to hang out there until we needed them or some thing, because I couldn't imagine them walking through the town looking like freaks and outsiders with their black hair and blue eyes. You can't really call those from the Fire tribe terribly hospitable.
I started thinking that if some one tried to squeeze this entire experience in to a fifty thousand word novel, it would be really boring. I mean, every thing here is amazing and magical and fantastical and what not, but the exciting parts are broken up by really boring parts, and I don't think my life would capture any one's attention. Plus, it would be an entirely unbelievable plot line. No one would go for it.
So I went back to training, fully aware that we would have to do some serious fighting soon. Not that any one tells me any thing that I might want to know, but I am pretty sure that we will soon be paying visit to the Air tribe, to fight or to talk I don't know. I think that part is pretty hazy to every one. I've noticed no body here is all that good at planning stuff out and thinking things through.
I was running out of specific questions to ask Star. I mean, I want to know everything, but I know so little that I don't even know what to ask. So, the day after the Water people got comfy cozy by the lake, I walked up to Starfire and asked "So, is there any thing I should know?"
We were in the sword fighting training center. She had her ruby sword out and was lopping the heads off of every dummy that came before her. It fascinated me how quickly she moved, how accurately she killed. I know she's been doing this for a while, but so have many others here, and they are not nearly as good as she is when it comes to fighting. If I didn't know better, I would also assume that she is nothing but a fighting machine. How ever, I do know that there is a person in there, some one with feelings and hopes, even if there is no mercy to accompany it. She looked up at me after killing the last dummy with a funny look on her face.
"What do you mean to say, Flame?"
"Well, I just mean, is there other things about me, my tribe, and this war that I should know? Weaknesses? Oh, can you tell me some thing about dragons?"
She laughed a bit at that last part, but I didn't care. I mean, come on. Dragons!
"Things about you? Well I think those things can only be figured out by you and you alone. As for the tribe, you would to well to remember that every one here counts on you to get us out of this mess. Our only weakness besides water is Devil's Fire. It will kill you instantly, as it would every other living being, but you don't need to worry, for it has not been seen in years. As for dragons, they keep to them selves. We do not bother them, so they do not bother us. They live forever and are wise, but put them selves above all living beings, so they are never helpful in any way. As for the war, well…
"We will be fighting tomorrow."
I stared at her for a moment. "Well. Gee, thanks for the pre warning, Star. I'm going to go to target practice now."
"Good," she nodded, totally oblivious to my irritation.
I sighed and left. I have got to get my self in to those meetings, and pronto. Because clearly, every one is one step a head of me, always, which I don't think is all that cool.
I thought it was pretty stupid to move all of the Water warriors here so that we could all just go some where else the next day. I mean, they could have just met us there or some thing. But, as I've stated before, my opinion doesn't actually count for any thing. Plus, I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time. Just, you know, not any more. But whatever.
So now we have to go kick ass in the Air tribe. Blaze told me that they live on a cloud. I laughed at him for a while, until I realized he was serious. I looked at him incredulously.
"They live on a cloud? Aren't clouds, you know, made of water? In which stuff would just pass through? Clouds aren't made of air anyway, so how does that even make sense?"
Blaze just shrugged. "Some things have to go unexplained. This cloud is quite solid, and warm, and is holding up a freaking giant amount of people. It also travels often, with out say so of any of its residents, so we are lucky that it is not too far away. Well, you could also say that that is unlucky, but I prefer to look on the bright side of things, generally. So yes, they live on a cloud. Any other questions?"
"Um, yes, actually, I do have a question." I began, remembering all of my science classes learning about evaporation and the atmosphere and all that jazz. "How high up are they? Won't we run out of oxygen at some point, if we go to high up?"
He laughed. "Nah, we don't need the same amount of oxygen that humans do. I mean, we do need it, because with out oxygen the fire goes out, but we can tolerate low quantities of it. And besides, Air people need it too, so when we get close to their cloud, the air will be full of oxygen again. They are good at that type of thing."
I swear, there is some bizarre thing to learn at every twist and turn. I can hardly keep up, lately.
So we flew. We went almost straight up, if not slightly diagonally. I didn't realize how close they really were to us. They could have dropped right in on us and killed us in our sleep. I wondered why they didn't. Maybe they were just waiting for the perfect moment to strike. The Earth tribe would do well to pick up a few tips from them, seeing as it seems that they don't do any planning what so ever, and just strike out of anger or desperation. It never seems to work very well for them, I've noticed. But then, it must have taken some degree of planning to attack us at the party. We never found out how they got in, let alone how they knew I was there, which is, I hate to admit, frightening. Like, severely terrifying.
We flew higher, and higher still, until my lungs hurt and I wanted to nap. We were losing oxygen as we gained altitude, and even though I was fine, it was uncomfortable. But then, we started to get even higher and breathing got easier, and a lot nicer. In fact, it wasn't until I noticed the huge fluffy white thing right above us, that I could breathe completely normally again. Then Starfire steered us away from the giant cloud and towards the top.
We touched down upon a white, swirling mass that was firm and held us just fine, but looked insubstantial and almost see through, like I should be falling through to my death. But I wasn't, so for a moment I just stood there transfixed, staring at the misty ground. Then I looked up.
The gates to the city were a bright, blinding light, not unlike the castle in the Water tribe, but very clearly made of some substance that wasn't marble. Like, they literally took the color white and made a huge, skyscraping (that is quite literal) gate. It was that kind of white. I wanted to touch it, to see if it felt like stone or light or some thing completely beyond my comprehension, but I figured that it would look weird if I did that, so I didn't. It appeared as if Blaze had my same train of thought, but he also refrained from touching the gate. There was a huge white padlock on the gate. It seemed ominous to me, because it made it look as if there was no one going in…
…and no one was coming out.
We all stood there for a moment, an interesting looking group in red and blue armor, not sure what to do. The padlock indicated that we weren't going to get in with some nice words, and that no body was planning on letting us in. There was an awfully long stretch of silence in which we all stood there blankly. Finally, Tamwyn broke the silence.
"Well, there is only one thing we can do, so we might as well do it or just stand here for the rest of eternity."
I turned to him in surprise. "What do you mean, there is only one thing we can do?"
He raised an eyebrow at me. "We have to knock, of course."
Oh. Of course.
He walked up to the gate and rapped smartly right on the padlock. It made a small, insignificant noise, and it was only because it was Tamwyn that we didn't laugh at him. If it had been me, well, that would have ended badly, with people throwing me off the edge of the cloud thing. Yea, it would have gone that badly. I mean, I can fly so it wouldn't kill me, but really it's more about the gesture, if you know what I mean.
We waited for a moment. And when that moment stretched in to a minute, and then in to two minutes, our group began to get a little shifty, a little antsy. Only when about five minutes had passed, and people were clearly ready to speak up, did some thing happen.
A whole horde of Air people came walking slowly, marching perfectly coordinated in two by two lines, looking grim and serious. Before we could do any thing, the gates had swung open and they were upon us. There was a quick clash, and then every one in my party, even Tamwyn and Starfire, had their hands behind their backs and were struggling against an Air captor. It was so quick, and I barely had time to think before they were on us. I had lunged, attempting to slash through the Air warrior before me, but he was impossibly fast, and had disarmed me and tied my hands together before I even got the chance to swing. I stood there, held tight against him, frantically thinking of some way, any way, to get out of this, but my terror stopped all rational thinking from entering my brain. I could hear malicious laughter in my ear.
"That was easy, as we expected, boys." Announced the one who was holding me. I could twist my neck just enough to see his triumphant grin. I seriously hoped Star had some thing up her sleeve to get us out of this. I suddenly thought of how foolish it had been to come here. What were we to gain by it, knowing they would most likely try to fight us? Except their sole purpose (at least at the moment) was not to kill us, but captivity is not all that much better. My captor grinned down at me, and I could see a gold tooth in his wide mouth. He had pale blonde hair, almost white, and ice gray eyes that seemed like a bottomless pit. He was thick and muscled, and I could see veins popping out of his neck. He looked some what maniacal.
"We have been waiting for you, my prince." He growled in my ear. "We have been waiting an awfully long time for you to show up! Thought you could persuade us to fight for you and your idiot views? Think again, little boy. Think again."
They marched us through the city, and the whole way people came out of their houses and shops and laughed at us, cat calling and jeering and throwing stones and small twigs. A few spat at us, and some one tried to punch me, though my captor swung me roughly out of the way and hissed at the person, like I was his to keep and beat up or some thing. It was weird, because if the circumstances hadn't been so dire, then I really would have enjoyed this place. Everything was pastels, and it was light and breezy. I'm sure if I wasn't me, the people residing in the Air kingdom probably would have been much more hospitable. Unfortunately, I am me, so bring on the sticks and stones, and names for that matter. I guess, in their society, being called dragon breath was an insult, but because I was raised a human, it sounded really, really stupid. Like seriously, grow up.
We marched on for a while (I couldn't help but think that we do an awful lot of marching in this society). Once, the man holding me shifted in such a way that I could see behind him, and as he was leading the walk, this was quite use full to me. Directly behind me was Starfire, and though we obviously couldn't discuss any plans at that moment, she gave me a reassuring nod. Her captor was muttering in her ear, and though I could not hear his words, from the look on Starfire's face, I could gather the gist of it. Tamwyn was being dragged next to her, and whether he could read her mind or could hear his words, he knew exactly what her captor was whispering and was giving him a look that clearly wished him a painful, agonizing and drawn out death, nothing less. Like I said, if the situation hadn't been so desperate, I would have found it kind of funny. Though maybe not, because I have done some growing up of late. I mean, I've started saying things like 'of late'. How grown up.
We began to get closer to the castle, which was made entirely of some sort of pale gold material that shimmered in the sun light. But before we reached it, the man holding me took a sharp left and on to an entirely different path, as if the castle had been our initial destination but now he was changing his mind, just for the fun of it. You know, to keep things interesting. Because I don't deserve a break or any thing.
We walked on a little farther, finally coming to a stop at a building that simply didn't look like it belonged in this city at all. It was big, dark gray, and crumbling at the edges. I understood that it was a prison.
Oh my god, more walking ensued. We walked through hall way after hall way, pitch black except for the moment when a torch appeared a long the wall. The slight tilt to the path told me, against all logic, that we were going under ground. It became more and more dank, and eventually I was stepping in puddles up to my ankles. So this is what the inside of a magical cloud is like. Never would have guessed it.
Very abruptly, we stopped. I couldn't see any thing, but I feel like I was right in assuming that we were in a prison cell. The water was up to my calves now, and we were ushered in forcefully and roughly. The man who had been carrying me the whole way wrenched me back before shoving me in with the rest and hissed in my ear.
"I will back you for you, young prince. Then we will see just how brave you are."
Then he pushed me in to the packed cell and bolted the door shut.
We waited until their footsteps and obnoxious laughter faded away, and then instantly Starfire spoke.
"All right, any one who is from the Water tribe needs to move get to one side of the cell and move all of the water with them. Those from the Fire tribe, if you feel that the water around you is deeper, you should relocate to the other side of the cell."
There was a lot of movement and a bit of pushing and shoving, but after a minute or so, the water receded and I felt a lot better. I hadn't even noticed that my face was clammy, or that my shins felt sore, until the pain had passed. Next, every one from the Fire tribe did the logical thing: lit fires. The whole cell was suddenly full of bright red fire light, which we left as balls floating suspended in mid air so we could see our surroundings. The room was barely large enough to hold all of us, but we had enough room to breathe, which was enough for the time being. The walls were solid and concrete, and it did not look as if they could be penetrated. I could see that over on the Water tribe side of the cell, the water was up to their waists, and that they seemed to be enjoying it immensely. It smelled of mildew and rats, two things I am not really a fan of. I turned to Starfire, and I could not keep the fear out of my voice.
"The man, the one who had been carrying me all the way here, he said he was going to come back for me. I don't - " My voice caught, and for a second I thought I was going to cry. "I don't understand why they want me so badly. What am I worth?"
Then, in barely a whisper I asked, "They're going to kill me, aren't they?"
Starfire and the entire group looked at me solemnly. "They are most certainly going to try." She said, sounding awfully business like. "However, they are not with out dignity, and so if they are going to kill you, then they will give you a chance to fight to the death. They want you dead because they believe you are the one thing stopping them from dominating all four elements. They have become jealous and greedy, as well as ignorant. We knew this," She spat, and kicked the wall so hard it dented. "We knew this and we came any way. We should not have come here, it is not worth it, and I do not know how we are going to escape in time to save Flame."
"It's funny." I said in a shaky voice. "How it always seems they think that killing me will fix their problems, when really it is you they need to kill."
She snorted, but she didn't deny it.
"I think," I began, my voice still shaky but a tiny bit stronger. "I think that I will have to fight him. One on one, and win, so as to show them who I really am. Then, maybe, I will get my point across. They will listen, if I win.
I just, you know, have to win."
Blaze looked at me in shock. "Flame, come on man, you can't risk your life to - "
I cut him off. "You risked your life to save me. Why can't I risk mine to save millions?"
He did not answer. I turned back to Starfire.
"The only way for us to get out of here is for me to fight to the death with an Air warrior. You know it's true Star, Tam, I know you guys see it. It's the only option we have here. Unless you guys want to try to punch your way out. That will only take years."
Starfire nodded, and for the first time ever I saw some thing entirely new flash across her face as she looked at me. Sadness? Regret? Pride? I knew better than to ask her about it.
"Flame is right." She announced to the room at large. They all looked at her like she had gone crazy. No body understands that I truly am just decoration, a rallying point but a disposable piece. I am only important if I win, I know this to be true. Starfire looked around at them and continued. "He must battle to the death, and only then will it be possible for us to leave. Flame -" She turned to me, and spoke in a slightly quieter voice, not that it mattered because the room was silent. "Are you ready for this?"
"Not particularly" I replied dryly. "But, hey, with a teacher like you I'll at least maim him before being killed."
She nodded, choosing not to acknowledge the fact that I was making a joke a bout my own death. We were all silent for a couple of minutes, then we heard footsteps coming from far down the hall.
"Quick" Starfire hissed. "Water people, push the water back to every where through out the cell, but make sure it does not touch Flame. Fire people, put out the light!"
We all did as we were told, and not a second later the door opened and in came the first man who had lead the march. He glowered at us all, scanning the room until he found me, where I had been shunted in to the corner. In stead of coming to get me, be beckoned me for ward. I hesitated, but then willingly walked towards him, knowing that either way I would have to leave the cell and fight to the death, whether I was dragged out, or walked out proudly, like the prince that I am. I guess, in the end, it doesn't make much of a difference to the out come of every thing, but if I had to die, then I wanted to die with some dignity. He looked surprised at my willingness, and even more taken aback when I lead the way out of the cell and up the long, up hill hall way.
He shook his head and looked at me. "You are much braver than I thought." He told me.
"Well," I said, and for the first time in my life I sounded like a man, not a scared teen age boy. "That makes one of us."
He narrowed his eyes, but walked on with out comment. He did not even notice that all of the water on the floor was some how avoiding contact with my body, to which I was extremely grate full for. The people who were currently helping me preserve my strength are people that I had once hated, and had been extremely fear full of. Now, they are trying to save my life in the hopes that I can save the world. I suddenly wondered if this was how Eva had felt. She too had been doing some thing scary, life threatening, but for a good cause, the right cause. Was it the case with her, as well, that even though every instinct was telling me to run, to hide, to cower and quiver and hope to wake up from this terrible dream, that determination, and the knowledge that lives depended on my choices, my actions, kept me from running, kept me moving for ward, on ward to face to enemy. I thought of Spark as well. She had a mere moment, maybe half a second, to make a decision that could not be undone. Was it the right choice? She must have thought so. I guess, if she was trying to save some one else, then it is always the right decision. You can counter that, I am sure. But due to the situation, it was the right choice.
I hate how her choice would have ended in disaster no matter what she did. She made the choice to sacrifice herself, but if she had not, then Hannah would have died, and then a small girl with curly brown hair instead of a freckly, straight honey brown haired girl would be following me around. Would it have changed every thing if Spark hadn't died? We will never know, I think, and maybe it is better if we don't. It is not going to save me if I dwell on the past.
I was so lost in thought, thinking about death, feeling every step, every heart beat, that I didn't notice that we were nearing the end of the path until we were completely out of the prison. He did not restrain me or hold on to me, or by any means try to make sure that I did not escape, because he understood that I was not going to run, that I was going to go through with this battle. I understood that I would be fighting this man. I understood that I would have to kill this man, and soon. Very, very soon.
We walked on, eventually reaching a forest that seemed devoid of color but full of it at the same time. Every thing sparkled, and yet didn't, and every thing was white and beautiful and black and haunting all at the same time. It made my head spin, but my eyes and brain soon adjusted to it, and soon I was not seeing it at all, just enjoying the breeze and the light, which never seemed to cease. In the Fire kingdom, by now it must be dark. Children and elders and wives and husbands who had not gone to fight would be going to bed, wondering when we would return, wondering if we would return, wondering if we were fighting a bloody battle or eating at a triumphant feast. Missing us, a waiting our return with bated breath. I could only hope that they were sending us good wishes, even though the logical side of me knew that their good wishes would not help us survive any thing. Hope should be enough for me, because I really have no other advantage.
He stopped walking, so I did too, and looked at my surroundings. We had arrived at an arena, and the fear that had left me for some of this walk returned. The arena was flat, not raised above the ground, but there were seats like bleachers on either side of it. It was made of that same bright white material that the gates to the city were, and it almost blinded me. He turned to me, and I had some how forgotten about his menacing glare, as I had not looked at him once on our walk. His mouth curled in to a smile lacking joy and unsheathed a sword from his side and handed it to me. I accepted it with out question, then looked down at it.
It was Starfire's sword.
I knew it was Starfire's sword not because of the pure gold blade with the silver tip, nor the ruby encrusted hilt, nor the word Flamma engraved at the base of the blade, which I understood was Latin for Fire. No, I knew it was hers because in my hands it felt wild and uncontrolled, and it over whelmed me and excited me at once. I can not even explain it to my self, but the sword felt alive, and energized. It gave me a sense of strength that I did not know with my regular steel sword, and I knew that even though this sword did not know me as it knew Starfire, it would carry me to victory. Victory was definitely some thing I was in desperate need of.
I smiled, because Starfire is unbeatable, and it now felt as if she was here, by my side, a comforting and terrifying thought all at the same time. Starfire is the savior of her people, of my people, and I knew that she would never let me fail. I felt Eva's soft finger tips on my shoulder, and heard the twang of Kathryn's bow, and all of a sudden I was not afraid, not at all. I knew what I had to do, and that I would do it, for the sake of the earth. My captor gave me another scary smile, but now it had no effect on me, for now I was invincible. He marched off to the other end of the arena. I knew I had to wait for a horn to go off before I should enter. I waited patiently, feeling calm and level headed. Soon, people filed in to the arena, sitting in the bleacher like seats, awaiting a good show. One man dressed in the brightest white robes with a pale gold crown and a bright gold scepter took the seat at the very top, next to a woman with a long, flowing, sleeveless white dress and gold bangles up her arms. I knew this to be the king and queen, who had come to witness the death of the Fire Prince.
The stadium was soon packed. I lifted my sword, waiting for my cue. My heart started pounding, not out of fear, but out of anticipation for what was about to happen. A horn blew one sharp, clear note, and before I knew it I was walking straight in to the stadium. Half way in, the two of us stopped, facing each other, trying to gauge each other's weaknesses. I called out to him, hoping to distract him ever so slightly.
"I never got your name, you know." I said loudly, and every person in the arena drew breath as if I had said an offensive taunt or given away some amazing revelation. He narrowed his eyes.
"Being raised the way you are, boy, you must not know that in a battle to the death you do not speak."
I raised my eye brows. "Well. You see sir, I was raised differently than you were, and there fore I play by my own rules, and no any one else's. That's what you learn to do, as a human."
He growled at me. "As an element, boy, you learn to respect your elders and hold your tongue."
I laughed scornfully. "It seems to me as if I should be the one demanding respect. You see, I am royalty here. Maybe not royalty from your tribe, but I believe that I still rank above you, good sir."
He narrowed his eyes. "You are nothing but dirt here, boy, so do not be expecting any special treatment, especially not from me."
He lunged, but I parried easily.
"We don't have to do this you know."
He lunged again, and I blocked him again, though I did not strike back. Not just yet.
"What do you mean, boy?" he growled, looking angry and confused.
"I mean, we don't have to fight. We do not have to kill each other. It's that easy, I swear. You just don't. It's that simple."
He cackled insanely. "This is war boy! This is when you must fight!" He lunged again, and I jumped out of the way just in time. I noticed that even though he was wearing armor, a definite advantage over me, there was a weak spot under his left shoulder, which was definitely poor design.
"You only have to fight if you are defending your self and defending what is good and just. That is what I am doing. You see, I do not pick fights, but if I or any one that care about is attacked, I will not hesitate to strike back. But it is so unnecessary for it to even happen in the first place. You must see it, sir. The death, the anger, the hate and the greed, none of it has to happen, none of it has to exist. Innocent people can live their lives out freely and peacefully, with out worrying that they may be killed tomorrow, or that their husbands or wives or children won't come home. It can be avoided so easily." I couldn't keep a note of pleading out of my voice. I did not want to kill this man, but I knew if he did not listen to me then I would have too.
He glared at me for a moment, not moving at all, and for a moment, I thought I saw his hard gaze soften just the tiniest bit. But then, the moment was over, and he thrust his sword at me and in seconds we were dueling, swords clanging and the crowd was cheering like maniacs, like they weren't watching two brave men fight to the death. We lunged and slashed and blocked and parried, but we were equally matched and it was unclear how long this would last. I knew that this sword would not fail me, and that I could not possibly tire, so he could drag the fight on as long as he wanted. But suddenly, some one threw a rock, large enough to kill a normal man, straight at my head. I fell, and the world went hazy and spotty, and I couldn't focus right. I struggled to stand, but the man was right in my face, his breath hot and smelling of meat.
"This is what happens to little children who do not learn to respect their elders, boy." He hissed, and slashed through my thigh with his sword.
It was agony. I screamed in pain, I could not help it. It was like I was being frozen and at the same time being burned. I wiped tears from my eyes and looked up in to his face full of malicious laughter. I gasped for air.
"You know, sir, due to my unfortunate but entirely human up bringing, I learned specifically to not respect my elders." I choked out, intentionally spitting in his face. It did not faze him in the least. "I learned a certain phrase to say if any older men or women were trying to tell me what to do."
"And what was that boy?" he said still laughing. I knew he thought he was giving me the chance for one final witty remark before he finished me off. He pointed his sword right at my chest, with only a millimeter of cotton to protect me from the deadly tip.
I looked right in to his eyes and gripped my own sword, preparing to strike. I mustered all the energy that I could and screamed out, for every one to hear:
"SCREW YOU, DOUCHE BAG!"
I leapt, right off the ground, and pounced straight for him. In that instant, right before my sword made contact with his body, I saw the fear in his eyes and felt sorry that I had to kill this man, but knowing that I had to do it for the good of the earth, that I had to do it to save the world. The silver tip of my sword plunged straight in to the weak chink in his armor and right through to the other side of his body. I wrenched it out and he collapsed in a heap on the ground, gasping and spluttering, making useless apologies that were far too late.
"No second chances." I spat at him, and turned to leave the arena with as much dignity as when I had entered. Before I got to edge, however, I turned back.
"King of the Air Kingdom." I called, and I saw nothing but blank shock on the king's face, as well as every one else's faces. "I expect that my people and the Water people will be released in the next ten minutes, because I really am not in the mood to kill any one else today, if that is alright with you."
He gave me a curt nod, which I guess was the most I could hope for, for the time being.