Chapter 2: The Southern Raiders
"A hard beginning maketh a good ending." –John Heywood
My head throbbed as I slowly opened my eyes. Before me was nothing, but a complete darkness. I could feel an icy chill from the metal floor beneath me. Moon spirit…Ocean Spirit…No! My feet couldn't rise as I tried to stand. Chains clinked against the ground. My feet were chained to the ground on a metal ring that I felt with my hands. Cold iron embraced my wrists where I also wore chains. I could hear the metal groaning underneath me and the slight sway of the ship being on the sea. …No!...This can't be happening!...
The Fire Nation had captured me.
I had fought the best I could and had lost. What I had feared most in the world had come to pass. I was alone and only surrounded by the enemy.
I don't know how much time passed while I waited in the dark or how long I had been there to begin with. I drifted in and out of consciousness as my head ached. Eventually the door was opened, greeting my eyes with glowing, orange lights from the dark hall. A silhouetted figure stood in the doorway that I could not make out. My eyes watered from the sudden light. A hubris, enticed chuckle escaped the man and I recognized his voice instantly. He was that man!...That man who had led them!
I lurched forward onto my feet, attempting to claw his eyes out. I ignored my head as the shadows spun around me. The chains only rattled and kept me far away from the laughing man. "You're quite the fighter," He commented amused. "What's your name?"
It was my turn to laugh darkly. What kind of question was that? Where was the torture? It had to be coming soon enough. I wasn't going to give the pleasure to this…demon...of knowing my name. I spat out at close to his feet as I could instead.
The man came out of the doorway and into the cell. I stepped back immediately, leaning against the wall. He could bend fire while I…I was defenseless. The cell was suddenly lightened as the man created a ball of fire in his hand. I flinched as he did so, surprise to not feel fire burning my skin or the like. I avoided looking at the glowing death. It had killed my mother. Destroyed my home. Fire terrified me.
The man's face before me was finally revealed for he had on no helmet this time. He still wore the dark armor that frightens so many. The man was older than me by a good portion of years with a hardened face. He was muscular with broad shoulders and ebony hair in a top-knot. He had no facial hair, but several scars on his broad cheeks. He was not handsome, but striking because of strength earned through experience. Through warfare. It was his eyes, the color gold; that I detested that watched me now. Demons with golden eyes. I have always seen varying colors of those eyes through their helmets over the years. These eyes were a shade I hadn't seen before. It reminded me of the sunlight filtering through the ice, the palest touch of yellow. "Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you," He said calmly, noticing my eyes on the fire. "How old are you?" He asked next.
I didn't answer him. What was the point? They would torture me. Imprison me. I was not going to give them any satisfaction at this point! The man let out a frustrated sigh and closed his fist around the fire, letting the room back into the darkness. "I'll be back when you're more ready to answer me," He warned, while walking towards the door. The man paused in the doorway before he closed the door. "Perhaps a lack of food and water will make you more open. Or the need to relieve yourself might do it to." He laughed shortly at his last comment as the door shut with a final bang.
Time crawled in the dark. The only thing I could do was sleep or listen to the sounds of creaking and clanking of the ship. My head ceased to ache soon enough, but my whole body was sore from the metal floor and walls. I tried to pass the time without thinking, but Takao's dead body on the ground haunted my vision. Kanna's face. Hotaka's. My dying mother's cries. The tears I shed when they took my father. Another torment, but of my own creation. It would have been better not to think at all.
I was constantly cold, shivering. I didn't have my parka anymore; they had taken it from me. This was intentional. A form of torture. Funny that I should be cold on a Fire Nation ship when I am Water Tribe. The thought made me laugh harshly.
The door opened once more as I laughed. The same one as before. I could not see the man's face, only his outline, but I knew it was him. He had been right about the food and water. My throat was tight and parched, while my stomach cried for food. As for relieving myself…I am not going to admit what I had done. He stayed by the door with the harsh red light outlining his figure. He did not move. "I'm wondering what you find amusing, considering your current situation," He said jadedly. "It's been three days." The man paused. I could hear the swishing of water in a container. He held it in his hand and moved it about on purpose. "I'm sure you're thirsty, but if I were to give you any, it would have to be with no waterbending coming from you."
Oh, I wanted to…but I could feel the ache in my throat. I barely had the strength to raise my head up to look at him. There was no way I would be waterbending, no matter how much I wanted to. "It stinks in here by the way," He commented coldly. There was a long silence before the man stated simply, "You wouldn't have done it." I almost looked at him in confusion until I realized that he was referring to my attempted suicide! A surge of denial and twisted rage and resentment coursed within me.
I could only stare at him in the forbidding dark with blurred eyes. So thirsty…. hungry…tired…never...moon spirit! I would never give in, but…ocean spirit…forgive me…
I wanted to be able to want to die. I couldn't. He had been right. I…I…I hate them! Especially him! "Rana," I croaked with my voice barely audible.
The man stepped into the room with his feet clanking against the metal. I could feel his hand, warm to my shivering neck, as he tilted my head up. Cool water fell into my open mouth, some of it dripping down my face. I glanced at the man's hidden face by the dark through barely opened eyes. "My name is Katsu," He said as if this were a polite introduction. I could only swallow the water with sputtering efforts. When I was done, the man…Katsu, set the water aside. He still held me up with his arm around my shoulders. I shivered in revulsion. I was letting the enemy hold me!
"Kill me," I whispered. At least he would do it for me. The enemy only lived to destroy my people. It was funny to think only a short while ago I would have preferred to kill myself first.
"No," Katsu said firmly. "I want you to live."
I only felt shock quake through me and then realized that they had gone through all that trouble to capture me and other waterbenders to begin with. He would not let me die because he was probably ordered not to. He did not care what would happen to me when we would arrive in the Fire Nation. He was the enemy. A demon in a human's form.
"I'm the leader of the Southern Raiders," Katsu said. "This unit is under my command." What did that have to do with me? What did I care? "You're not going to go to prison when we reach the Fire Nation," Katsu continued calmly. I blinked in a delayed surprise. What? "I'm going to save you from that fate."
Not go to prison…but what did that mean? He said he wanted me to live…yet was he still going to kill me?...I didn't understand!..My thoughts were crumbling and mingling. A torment of confusion from the ill treatment of my body and the exhaustion it reaped on my mind. "How?" I asked weakly.
Katsu still held me in his arms. I could sense a trace of amusement on his face. "By coming home with me," He answered as if it were the obvious answer.
I gasped and tried to move away from him, but those arms held me like iron. "Think about this!" He urged. "The only other fate you have is imprisonment. I can save you from that!"
"Why?" I asked with disgust. What did he mean by this? I was…so lost and confused. He is the enemy!
Katsu traced the outline of my face with his rough hand. I couldn't see him, but I could feel the heat emanating from his body. "That was the first raid I had let against your people," He began in a placid tone. There was something else though…something… "The war is my part of life. I have seen many die before. Many try to defend themselves. You were one lone girl against more than you could handle. Yet you still tried." He stopped and then said. "I admire you for that."
"Monsters," I breathed out with great difficulty. "All of you…" How I detested him. The Fire Nation. Only hatred and greed thrives in their blood. Nothing but demons in human form. Fear enticed me as I said those words. Would he kill me now?
Katsu moved one of his hands away and I felt him press something into my hand which lay weakly at my side. "Here's something to eat," He said while carefully releasing me from his arms. He stood up and walked towards the doorway. "Be prepared to leave. We are only a day away from the Fire Nation." The door closed with an ominous bang.
Only a day away?
I clenched the piece of bread he had given me, almost crushing it into nothing. Moon spirit! What did this Katsu plan to do with me? What did he want? Would it be better in prison? Or…or should I still try to take my own life. I weakly tried to eat the bread as my stomach growled with strained efforts.
Leader of the Southern Raiders…Katsu…
He was responsible for all of this.
That group of soldiers, the ones with the sea raven on their flag, the Southern Raiders….were the ones who had taken Hama and killed my mother. They had taken my father.
…Ocean Spirit…Moon Spirit…hear my prayer…help me….