Spreading the Seeds

“You have surely accomplished much here, Zuko.” Galek commented as he looked out from his canopy home over the hustle of activity in the factory cathedral below. “Discipline and order are a bit lax, but given your own interests in such matters I am hardly surprised…”

“Why do think I asked you to return with me? Mnemia is a leader of soldiers, not me, and her understanding of subtlety is, well, a warstrider. She is hardly able to create the network of eyes and ears we need. The Cult of the Illuminate can provide us with much information, but I am not sure we can always trust them to tell us everything.” the exalt sighed, running his hand through his short green hair.

Zuko leaned against the safety railing on Galek’s patio, casually tossing a glance over his shoulder at the group of his followers drilling along the branches of the barracks house. The small group had been properly equipped only in the past year, and he was proud to see that their training was proceeding so well. The trees above the workshop were quickly feeling more like the Haltan training camps he grew up in, more like a home.

“But tell me, commander Rohlad, these Haltans have learned to wield the ironwood spears and bolas, but can we actually send them into creation? I’d hate to risk any lives that have chosen to leave their homeland for my sake.”

Galek chuckled, “I am sure that having that group worship the ground you walk on has made that process a bit easier to take. Tell me, how did you convince them that you were so magnificent?”

Zuko frowned and leaned further against the rail, rolling backwards over the wooden beam and nearly toppling to the ground until he grabbed hold of the hand rail with his feet and hung upside down like a bat. He spoke a little louder now that his back was turned and he was a few feet lower than his former teacher. “You should know full well that as a weapon of shadow and silence I do not want to court attention. These good people saw me as a hero who might save them from the Raksha attacks; I don’t want to be a god. I left any who I could convince to stay back in Halta. These are the stubborn ones, though I imagine more will come now that our fame is spreading and it is known I am no longer under Chaltra’s command. We’re going to need Kadon to make more space for us.”

“With such a force, and your skill you could surely lead a group to assassinate the leaders of the Linowans. Why not do so? Rid creation of their kind once and for all. You hate them more than most, and it would surely help ease Chaltra’s concern over you. I would gladly help you in such an endeavor.”

Zuko remained silent for a moment, considering his mentor’s words. His thoughts drifted through his experiences and encounters with the circle he glanced towards the canopy and the fading light that fell through the trees. “No, old friend,” he nearly whispered. “I could not erase an entire country from our borders, though the power to do so is possibly within our grasp. I have suffered their villainy most of my life and I grew to despise them with every fiber of my being, but now my eyes see so much more. I have to see past such petty things now. Did I ever tell you of our journeys through the exile islands?”

Galek grumbled a bit at Zuko’s non-answer and rested his hands on the railing before him. “No, I don’t believe you did. I hardly see why such a trip would make you soft on our enemies.”

“Oh, I don’t mean to be soft at all, for if I meet a Linowan on the battlefield of war, the remaining beats of his heart will be few. I have simply seen too much to hate so strongly. Let me explain; while on a mission to rescue Scarlet, my friends and I came upon an island community of refugees whose overriding law was that all things beautiful are wrong and must be disfigured or purged instantly. As you can imagine I felt little risk there,” Zuko mused. “These people were going to injure a gorgeous woman who had the simple misfortune of being taken to the island against her will. I think our power was the one thing that stopped them from attempting to do so my friends.”

“So they had an odd taste of aesthetics, what’s your point?”

“My point is they believed completely in their laws, and they hated the beautiful. I cannot imagine what would drive a society to act that way, but there they were unapologetic, unabashed, and unwavering in their ways. It worked for them, however, and the island functioned. Who am I to say that Halta is always right? I harbor no love for the Linowans, but their society is theirs, not mine. If they attempt to harm me, or what I hold dear, I will fight back with all my power, but their destruction no longer consumes my thoughts.”

Frowning, Galek stroked his beard and looked down at Zuko’s upside-down face. “Such is the option of the young, but I am too old to change how I see their ilk. Witness the horrors I have and see if you can ever think of them as more than feral beasts.”

“I have witnessed more than I care to say commander, but I bear the weight of the sins of the past and the fate of the future on my shoulders. I have had to alter my perceptions on everything I know in recent years, and there is still much for me to learn. All the more reason I need a trusted group to feed me information from all they can see. Though I do not relish having to ask these people who depend on us to risk themselves.”

“The ten I told you of are ready. They are young, strong, and clever; none have a family and they wish to see the world to serve your cause. I could hardly ask for a better group to act as a backbone to our future network. I would suggest avoiding the northern reaches for now, but sending some into Chiaroscuro or perhaps one or two into the realm itself. They are able, they will not let you down. More importantly, they want to help.” Galek emphasized his final point by cracking his staff across Zuko’s toes almost causing him to lose his grip. Zuko bent at the waist and flipped himself back onto the railing, standing on his hands as his feet still burned from the blow. He examined the thin ironwood cane his former teacher now leaned against. Student’s Folly he called it, the staff bore small etchings infused with green jade that seemed to always catch the sunlight and distract unfocused pupils. Zuko smiled at the familiar feeling of accepting its sting.

“You have made your point, I suppose. I wish it wasn’t necessary, but as you say I did ask for your help here and I am quite glad to have it, my grizzled friend. You have my thanks, “ Zuko hopped up until he was seated on the railing and offered Galek his right hand to shake. His teacher simply shook his head and patted Zuko on his left shoulder.

“I won’t fall for that today, my friend. Let’s go, your wife seemed to indicate she could now turn into a 40 foot tall monster to punish us if we were late for supper. I hardly want to test her patience.”

Zuko sighed and dropped the dropped the vines he held against his right wrist. The small loop at the end would have been perfect for holding Galek’s wrist as he dangled off the platform when Zuko pulled them both off had he taken his hand. It would have been an amusing joke, but perhaps he was becoming too predictable. “You’re right, I hardly want to have her dose my food again. I had to apologize to Scotty for weeks after last time.”

Spreading the Seeds

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