It seems, against Jaraiya’s wishes, he is not going to be joining them on the mission, as they cannot risk the Avatar being taken captive. Fow Bang Chow expresses his agreement with the plan and comforts Jaraiya by assuring him that he can be part of the extraction team once they are escaping with the prisoners. This brightens Jaraiya’s mood, and after wishing them a good nights rest he continues on to join the wall guard. The party is brought some Ostrich Horses and ride across the newly built bridge and Temple Fort. The fort has been heavily fortified and well armed Lotus troops rush through with equipment and supplies moving about the fort. The group ride up to the largest Lotus camp, set up on one of the many flat stone surfaces surrounding the temple. Moving through the ranks of war tents they make their way to the largest tent and dismount, passing armed guards who pull back the tent flaps for them. Inside they greet Reibesch and Arhat, as well as a group of varying Lotus troops and Nomads, the only discernible face being that of Higen who gives smiles at them from the corner of his mouth before turning his attention back to the General. Reibesch turns around and greets the party, puffing his thick pipe. His eyes appear heavy with fatigue. He is happy about the overall results of the battle as it turned out better than expected, mostly due to the groups leadership on the field. He is especially thrilled with the felling of the massive Battle Titan which left fierce puncture wounds in Aumanil leg. Even after using his Waterbending skills, they are healing slowly and will leave a scar. Reibesch assures the group that they will receive honorary titles in the alliance for their heroic actions. This would be a war like no other, and Heroes are exactly what would be needed to turn the tide. The general explains that he and Arhat have devised a plan for them to rescue Zimmer with the help of Higen and a Ranger with the army who will navigate them through the mountains behind the enemy position to secretly infiltrate the enemies main camp. Gesturing towards the back of the camp a stern figure steps out of the shadows into the torchlight. He is introduced as Talin, who is nothing short of hideous. An ugly scar stretches from his left temple and across his face to his right jaw, taking his left eye and most of his nose with it in addition to dragging his mouth down into a perpetual snarl. His one remaining eye, a flat gray color, looks you up and down before moving on to scan the environment. He wears a tattered brown longcoat, made of oiled leather to keep dust and rain alike off his clothing. A chain shirt glitters underneath, with a falchion, longbow, and quiver all slung over his back.
laming remnants of the burnt siege towers still smolder in front of the Wall built west of Patola Valley. The group managed to lead the defenders through the battle and they held out the night. The Orders’ massive invasion army, slowed but not stopped, pulls back to the other end of the valley. Tents are set up and troops brought forward from the eastern side of the land mass, setting up a new forward position in the valley. The main camp on the eastern side of the island remains a source of supplies, command, health, food, and other needs of the army. The defenders roatate out with fresh troops as Captain Meriffet, a brilliant strategist, takes over command for the night giving the party a chance for much needed rest. Avatar Jaraiya passes them on the way and is delighted to see his friends unhurt. He appears in a mood however, presumably about a plan devised by High General Reibesch and Monk Arhat to infiltrate the enemy camp and rescue General Zimmer and the other POW’s taken during the valley battle.
They don’t come much creepier than Talin. The ranger’s origins are mysterious, as he’s not very talkative on the subject. What is known is that he came from the small Senju Village, and was there when the Empire attacked and burned everything to the ground. The village would be rebuilt as a fort under control of the Imperial Order and its few survivors shipped of to work as slaves in the mines of The Land of Fire, supplying the Imperial war machine with raw materials for production. Now, Talin works as a mercenary for the Lotus Alliance, unleashing his revenge on Imperial Order troops whenever possible.
After meeting with Talin the General tells them to get a good nights rest and that he would explain the details of the plan tomorrow. He also reminds them guard from nightmares, as the Winter Solstice was approaching, signaling the peek of winter and a time when the veil of the Spirit World was very thin. He also warned them to keep warm as a storm would bring snow within the next few days. Everyone leaves the tent and head to their tents, quickly drifting into a deep slumber.
Tsing Tao drifts to sleep and is hurled into an unusually clear and vivid dream. The young martial artist is suddenly surrounded by darkness. As he looks around he becomes aware of Imperial Order troops surrounding him. He quickly lunges at one with a fist, only to find his arm sink into the mans stomach, becoming stuck in the ooze like substance. He kicks at another man behind him and his foot also becomes stuck, suspending him between the two. Looking up to his left, a giant Battle Titan towers over him and as he screams in fright it lunges down, swallowing him whole. He wriggles within the liquid of the beasts stomach and, seeing a light near the surface, swims up and breaks through the water which seems to now be the ocean. He washes up on a beach as night falls. Alone and without supplies he begins to head for the thick forests until dozens of yellow reptilian eyes appear through the undergrowth. Ferocious predators rush out and amass on him causing him to pass out. Slowly opening his eyes, he stands and finds himself within what appears to be a man carved cave with a wide open area and a few corridors in the front leading out. A waterfall falls in front of the cave. He can tell that he is within the fade, as the distorted green tint of the environment matches descriptions he has read of. He also seems aware of the fact that demons in the rouse of his friends are also here, and that if he doesn’t defeat them he may not ever escape this dream world.
Fang Po Po dreams of flying on his glider, his companion Scylla the Dragon soaring beside him. Suddenly, he loses the ability to bend the air currents and he plummets to the ground. When he hits the ground he believes himself dead. After a few moments he raises his head, and before him stands Dai Long as he uses the mysterious Gem Po-Po found in the crypt below Asloth to suck the Firebending out of Scylla as she shrieks and roars in pain. Tears stream down the Airbender’s face as he blinks, opening his eyes again to see the Northern Air Temple where he grew up burning, an Imperial Order flag mounted on the top. The cliff he stands on crumbles and he falls again, hitting the ground. He opens his eyes to find himself on a forested hillside near a cliff wall, a deep gorge bellow with a river flowing down the cliff to a lake in the center. He can tell that he is within the fade, as the distorted green tint of the environment matches descriptions he has read of. He also seems aware of the fact that demons in the rouse of his friends are also here, and that if he doesn’t defeat them he may not ever escape this dream world.
Aumanil dreams of pith black. He spins around until he is confronted with an exact likeness of himself standing before him. The copy of Aumanil slowly express a disturbing smile, the gem of his golden Headband of Eros glowing brightly. The copy slides a bone dagger from his dark blue sleeves and draws it across his wrist, causing blood to seep out. The blood suddenly absorbs into the headband causing it to momentarily glow red. A blue aura surrounds the copy and, bringing his arms up in the air causes water to rise around all sides of him and Aumanil. The power evoked by the copy was awe inspiring and Aumanil was fascinated. The young waterbender is captivated by the power, his mouth agape, and the copy smiles wider offering Aumanil the dagger. He reaches out to accept the knife with both his hands, and as his sleeves draw back he sees the tattoos of the Moon and Ocean spirit fish glowing on his arms. From the darkness above the moon begins to brightly illuminate Aumanil and a huge wave pushes him away from the copy who roars in anger at the interference. The water engulfs Aumanil and he washes up on a mound of dirt in the center of the lake that lies in the deep gorge Po-Po saw. He can tell that he is within the fade, as the distorted green tint of the environment matches descriptions he has read of. He also seems aware of the fact that demons in the rouse of his friends are also here, and that if he doesn’t defeat them he may not ever escape this dream world.
Fow Bang Chow dreams of facing Adar the Bronze Beserker. Fow smiles, confident in his Earthbending abilities. He raises a fist, calling the ground beneath him to do his bidding, but it doesn’t budge. Confused, he tries again and cannot bend it. He grows nervous, and suddenly Adar laughs and twists his hand, causing Fow to sink to his chest in the dirt. Fow struggles and looks up to see Jaraiya on a stone bridge, a flaming scorch mark on his chest, robes tattered and burned. A bolt of lightning screams towards him. Fow roars in desperation, trying to save his friend The Avatar. A body of air in the likeness of a nomad shields the avatar and the lightning collides with it, causing an explosion. Fow sinks all the way into the earth and finds himself floating in darkness, until it is illuminated by his green crystalline great-sword Valorun. He draws the sword as he becomes aware of a benevolent aura about the sword as if it were alive. The blade lurches in his hand, cutting his hand. The blood soaks into the blade and Fow feels strength coursing through the sword into his body. The sword glows brighter and brighter until the light causes him to close his eyes. He opens them to himself on a rocky hill, opposite the one Po-Po is on, above the deep lake filled gorge. The rocks on the ledge block his view of the other two. He can tell that he is within the fade, as the distorted green tint of the environment matches descriptions he has read of. He also seems aware of the fact that demons in the rouse of his friends are also here, and that if he doesn’t defeat them he may not ever escape this dream world.
Kio lets out a blast of fire at the Imperial Order troops in his dream. As the fire disperses a likeness of his blue spirit mask appears before him, only it is the face of a blue warrior and the face moves with life. He pulls a knife and lunges at Tsing Toa who is now standing besides Kio. The blue warrior plunges the blade into the martial artist and Kio pulls his tiger hook swords free to slash at him. The man turns and looks at Kio at the last second, but now his face is no longer that of the mask, but it is Kio’s face. Kio tries to slow his blade and trips on himself, falling into a puddle. He pushes himself out of the puddle to see his reflection is the face of the blue spirit. He smiles and lunges out of the puddle pulling Kio into the darkness. Kio opens his eyes into a new dream environment, surrounded by trees and a river to his right, a cliff far off in front of him. behind him a waterfall drops over the entrance of a cave of some kind. He can tell that he is within the fade, as the distorted green tint of the environment matches descriptions he has read of. He also seems aware of the fact that demons in the rouse of his friends are also here, and that if he doesn’t defeat them he may not ever escape this dream world.
Talin dreams of hiking through the forests of Western Ba Sing Se near the coast after a successful hunting trip. He smirks with his smooth face as he thinks about how all the arrogant Earthbenders back home would never have been able to catch a meal with their over glorified abilities. He rushes back home to Senju Village and greets his mother, hugging her. She suddenly goes limp in his arms and he pulls her from him to see her burnt body lying in his arms. Beyond her the village is on fire, Imperial Order troops swarming and overwhelming the small group of young defenders. He turns as a blade slashes across his face in slow motion, he can feel every agonizing moment as the skin of his face is torn inch by inch. His eyes bursts in its socket as the blade slices through it and caries on through his face. He can now see his face being sliced apart in third person, his smooth features being grotesquely mangled before him. He turns to see the man attacking him, and it is the young Firebender hero he met with the Lotus forces, Kio, only much younger and wearing Imperial Order armor. Talin shuts his eyes in agony and opens them again in a thick forest. To his left is a river and across it is a figure that appears to be Kio, only it is obviously a demon or spirit projecting the illusion of the Firebender, red eyes glowing. It hasn’t spotted Talin yet. Talin can tell that he is within the fade, as the distorted green tint of the environment matches descriptions he has read of. He also seems aware of the fact that demons in the rouse of his new companions are also here, and that if he doesn’t defeat them he may not ever escape this dream world.
Talin immediately makes himself hidden within the thick trees and draws his bow, readying his aim on the Firebender who destroyed his life. Kio, trying to familiarize himself with the new environment, moves to get a better view of the gorge and is suddenly struck in the chest by two arrows, a third flying past his face. Kio screams in pain, alerting the others in the area. Tsing Tao moves up behind the waterfall to get a better look. Talin pushes himself up against a tree for cover and fires more arrows. Kio sprints and jumps across the river, reaching the other side and unleashing a torrent of fire into the trees where Talin hides. Some of the flames burn his arms and set the undergrowth aflame. Tsing Tao runs out of the cave and prepares to jump the river and join the fray. Talin drops his bow and pulling out his falchion, charges Kio, slashing him across the chest. Fang Po Po, aware of the battle, had made his way close enough to create a cyclone of air around them. Kio and Talin battle fiercely until the cyclone hits, distracting Kio and allowing Talin to make a fatal blow. Kio’s body is suck up into the air as Talin forces is way out of the cyclone confronting Tsing Toa. Tsing Toa dodges and ducks under the swing of the rangers blade, lashing out with his own barrage of kicks and punches that find the mark in the openings left by Talin’s heavy swings. Meanwhile Po-Po, taking flight with his staff, flies around behind Tsing Toa and blasts a stream of air at the two, knocking them into eachother and onto the ground. Talin broke Tsing Toa’s landing and lays broken and bleeding on the ground. Tsing Toa, ignoring him, gets up and rushes the Airbender who is now cornerd by the cave wall. As he does Kio, who was flung into the fire when the cyclone ended, suddenly explodes from the dynamite in his bag. The explosion erupts in their faces wounding both of them as shards of wood fly through the air. Talin, blood dripping from his face, half broken, pulls out his wicked knife and uses it to claw and drag his way up towards the Airbender who blasted him back. Each time he pulls his mangled body forward another few feat, he utters his hatred of his enemy for the world to hear.
Stabs the earth, pulling himself forward
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
Drags himself closer, his broken legs reduced to dead weight
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Each gain in ground causing him to cough up dark blood.
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
As he claws his way forward, Tsing Toa and Po-Po continue to fight. The quick airbender manages to dodge around most of his punches. Feeling the desperate urge to get on the offensive, Po-Po thrusts his hand forward to hit Tsing Toa with a blast of air, but the martial artist takes the opening in is defenses and punches him in the face, stopping the attack. Desperate, the Airbender tries again and Tsing Toa, now expecting his movements, seizes his outstretched wrist and slams his palm into the Airbenders elbow, shattering his arm. Po-Po screams out in pain and stumbles past the Martial Artist only to find the mad ranger with an upraised knife below him, a trail of blood behind him.
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
As he spews the last words, spitting up blood all the while, he plunges his knife into the Airbenders foot. Po-Po is stopped in his tracks and Tsing Toa, running after him, kicks him in the back killing him. Po-Po’s body collapses in the pool of blood around Talin who smiles as he lets out his last breath and falls dead.
Meanwhile, Aumanil and Fow Bang Chow had been being extremely cautious, avoiding and evading eachother around the gorge, until finally they encounter each-other on the bridge across the river. Fow covers himself with thick rock armor and launches himself at Aumanil. The two battle by the river, Aumanil smashing Fow with torrents of water and the resilient Earthbender standing his ground within his thick rock armor, retaliating with his sword. Aumanil, seeing the battle turn against him runs towards the river, but Fow drops his sword and launches out with metal shackles, pulling Aumanil back. Aumanil gets back up and pulls the shackles off as Fow uses Earthbending to bring his sword back and slashed the waterbender with it. Aumanil, wounded and losing his fight, draws a dagger across his wrist. The blood absorbs itself into the headband and, with new power running through him, he uses it to crush Fow under a torrent of water. When th water clears his rock armor is smashed to rubble and Fow disappears from the fade. Tsing Toa at this time jumps from a hill above over the river and lands with a solid kick in the waterbenders back. Both warriors, battered and beaten, face off. Aumanil brings up a defensive wall of tentacles and batters Tsing Toa back until he is able to bring up one massive tentacle and crush him. They both dissipate from the fade like the others.
Each of them wake up from their dream, sweating and shaking in their tents. Kio, his alternate personality the Blue Spirit in control, makes his way to Talin’s tent and confronts him. He offers his condolences for his action in the Order, and also offers his life should the ranger see fit to take it. Talin considers the option for a moment before waving him off, commenting that it wouldn’t be worth the arrow. They both smirk at that and Kio departs back to his own tent.
Fow Bang Chow awakens like the others, and meditates on the life force within his sword, which lightly hums in his hands.
Aumanil, awakens to find the cuts on his wrist are really there, the dream more real than he thought. The headband, pulsing with an energy that tempts him, urges him to take its power. He throws it across the tent and grips his head in his hands, dealing with his own inner demons, questioning that which was once certain.
Much is uncertain in these turbulent times.