Tending the Roots


Scarlet crouched low to the ground, bracing herself with one hand while the other held aloft Quicksilver Finger of Death, her eyes darted about the bushes and branches of the surrounding forest seeking out her prey.

Tail twitching nervously, the squirrel’s war form was a taunt bowstring ready to unleash itself as soon as its prey made itself known.

“You can hardly hide from me,” the lunar mumbled to herself, closing her eyes and focusing on the forest surrounding her. The silence and stillness everywhere was as palpable as the general ache her body felt from the blows already traded with her quarry. Calming herself, Scarlet reached out with her soul, past her natural senses and into an indescribable void. As she felt beyond, a slight tug at the back of her mind came in a flash and she called upon all her strength as she spun around with the flat of her blade aimed high.

KRACK

Cold hard Moonsilver struck flesh and bone, sending Zuko flying into a nearby tree. The Night Caste’s golden aura left a blazing trail thru the air, ending with a deafening thud. Scarlet wasted no time preparing herself for a counter-attack as she leveled her weapon, blade first, towards her husband as he struggled to his feet.

“Ouch babe,” Zuko strained, rubbing the side of his face where the blow landed. “You certainly aren’t pulling any punches are you? Even I hardly knew you were that strong. Looks like I might have to get a little more involved. Though using our bond to detect me sneaking up on you is practically cheating.”

Zuko stepped towards her, and clapped his hands once, allowing his essence to surge further into his fists. Wisps of sunlight began to seep from his hands to cover the rest of his body in a halo of energy as he shifted into a more offensive stance, “C’mon sweetheart, let’s start round two.”

The two spouses sprinted towards each other, both aglow with the light of their patrons. Scarlet’s weapon, giving her the greater reach, was the first to make a move. The butt of the dire lance made a jab for Zuko’s midsection, hitting only air as he dropped to his knees, bending backwards, and slid into a closer range. Scarlet responded by driving the weapon into the ground past Zuko’s head and pole vaulting to safety, while he slid by astonished at her agility. His confusion lasted only moments as he grabbed the embedded lance with his hands to arrest his movement and kicked upwards, righting himself as she sailed over head.

Wasting no time, the feisty lunar had hardly landed when she uprooted her weapon, casting dirt and grass into the face of her opponent. Zuko sputtered for a moment, giving Scarlet the opportunity to flip the weapon around and swing at his legs with the blade as she channeled her essence into the blow to enhance its speed. Caught unaware, the night caste’s legs shot out from under him as he tumbled to the side. Silently thanking the Unconquered Sun for granting him the resilience to turn such a lethal blow into simple pain, Zuko utilized the energy from the blow to fall onto his left hand and balance himself upside down as Scarlet’s blade continued its arc while the wielder spun in a circle.

As she turned to face her partner, Scarlet prepared to strike at him with a kick when she met his eyes. He was smiling a bemused smile, even while upside down and about to be struck again. A long-forgotten image suddenly flashed into her mind. She was pleading for a respite from some manner of pain to Zoranna, who looked at her with a patronizing smile and patted her on the head. Back then she knew the meaning of her mate’s countenance, that the pain and experimentation would continue, a patronizing, mock affection. Scarlet snapped back and regarded Zuko’s smirk anew; he was toying with her, treating her like a child. Just like Zoranna then and the rest of the Lunars did now.

Fueled by thoughts of past indignities this exaltation had imparted upon her, Scarlet lashed out with Quicksilver’s Finger. Thrusting quickly and purposefully at his abdomen, Scarlet let out a squirrel’s roar that meant business; the surprise it brought from her mate’s eyes did nothing to soothe her temper. As she continued her assault Zuko began performing back handsprings and half-cartwheels attempting to avoid her strikes. Pouring more and more power into his defense, Zuko began to focus his efforts on staying alive rather than responding.

“Scarlet! What- what’s gotten – Yikes! – into you?!” he exclaimed while desperately contorting his body to avoid the blows that came stronger and faster with each passing moment. The font of silver power before him bared her fangs as though lost in a hunt. “It’s me for Yu-Shan’s sake!!”

The memories of what happened after the usurpation started flowing into her mind now. Scarlet remembered herself cold, alone, and furious. She recalled finding a lone Zoranna, bereft of power and newly reincarnated, and exacting due justice for what the “scientist” had done to her. Images of violence and pain sprinted thru her mind, time frame and the role of aggressor changing often. Continuing her onslaught of attacks, Scarlet saw the golden light in front of her glowing and overwhelming her vision. She now struck with raw fury at a figure wreathed in shadows cast from the center of a shining flame. The confusion and concern coming to her from Zuko were overwhelmed by her rage at her treatment and past behavior.

“ENOUGH!” shouted her opponent, his voice booming alongside a great explosion of blinding light. Zuko dodged a blow close to his right side and gripped the weapon with his hand, halting her attacks for a mere moment. He quickly delivered a hard kick to her torso, knocking the wind out of her amid a burst of energy from his foot, before bringing the leg over the haft of the spear. Balanced on his left leg, the night caste brought his right foot down upon Scarlet’s hands, gripping the weapon with his foot and disarming the confused squirrel. She attempted to make a grab at the weapon now at his side, but as she flailed towards it, she left herself open and Zuko wasted no time bringing his open left hand down upon her shoulder with another burst of energy. A strange numbness overcame Scarlet’s right leg and it gave out beneath her, forcing her onto one knee.

A glorious beacon was before her, holding her weapon at its side as flames writhed about its form. Looking behind him she saw the corona of light formed from numerous dancing tendrils of energy. Each arm of essence moved in precise, delicate motions somehow casting shadows across Zuko’s face and body while lighting the area like a sun. All sound was muted around them as he looked down at her, she couldn’t see his eyes but knew they bore confusion and frustration; frustration and reprimand like she had received countless times over in memories far gone. She knew instantly that he had paralyzed her leg, obviously in some attempt to weaken her and make her docile.

The confusion, shame, and bitterness from ages past and present finally welled up in Scarlet as she looked up to Zuko standing before her, holding her weapon. “Why must you continue to treat me like a lesser?! You’re acting just like her!

Scarlet clasped her hands across her mouth the instant those words passed her lips. Looking towards her husband she could see the joy and happiness leave his eyes even through the veil of shadows his anima cast upon his features. She remained kneeled in shock of what she had said when all at once the emotions across their bond ripped at her. Profound loss, inexplicable shame, insurmountable despair and terror assailed her mind from within the portion of herself that made up their link. She shut her eyes as tears began to flow out, but opened them to look again upon Zuko, who had not spoken nor moved a muscle in a seeming eternity of several seconds.

“I’m… I’m sorry,” she squeaked out. “I didn’t really mean it Zuko. Honest!”

He remained silent, dropping his head. She aimed her amber eyes at his, silently begging him to say something to address the magnitude of what she had accidentally accused him of. Shrouded in a golden bonfire of power, the solar weakly dropped the lance, and fell to his knees in front of her; his head hanging like a broken puppet. Finally, he broke the silence, though his voice was barely a whisper.

“I love you,” came his simple response. Not a tirade of furious denials about his behavior, or a fevered reprimand for hurting him as strongly as she could tell she had. His voice was simply quiet, gentle, and struggling to remain calm amidst the typhoon of pain she had caused him.

“Oh Zuko! I am so sorry, I know you don’t think of me that way, I do. I- I’ve just been remembering a lot of things lately about the past, and me, and well the old us, and I really don’t know what came over me. I love you so much more than I thought I would be able to and you prove yourself to be above her and your love for me every single day. I have never been as happy as I am with you. Please forgive me” the squirrel formed woman exclaimed between sobbing and tear-streaked cheeks.

Once again, only silence remained after she spoke. Scarlet had half convinced herself that he would turn away from her forever when she felt the ever-present warmth of Zuko’s love for her thru the bond. Despite everything else he was feeling right now, she could still sense his emotions towards her hadn’t changed at all. Her glee at this realization was obviously not lost on Zuko as he seemed to perk up a bit and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close.

“Scarlet, I know you didn’t mean it. I can read you well enough to know when you’re over-excited or prone to behavior you soon regret. It’s okay. You will always have my forgiveness, I’m sorry I made you worried about my reaction. It was a hard thing to hear you say.” Suddenly he was holding her by the shoulders and locking eyes with hers, “but you have to tell me, was I acting like… Zoranna?”

“No, no, not at all, “ the joyful lunar replied. “I was simply having some memory flashbacks. I took your taking our training lightly and smiling at me as mockery because of them, it was an insane overreaction. I promise.”

“I smile because I am with you, it makes me happy. It is rare we get these opportunities to be alone, and I relish those times. Tell me, though, why the recent focus on my first age self? I have heard you mention her a few times these recent days.”

Scarlet sat back and began to explain to Zuko how she had been thinking on the existence of the woman in Nexus, and how she wished to atone for some sins of her own from the first age. She had come to understand something of how Ephiselle had continued to maintain some memories over her reincarnations. More importantly, she had a plan to free the woman from her burden, though she might need Zuko’s help or at least blessing to do so. The two spoke openly and honestly to each other as their essence displays cooled and disappeared along with their heightened emotions. Scarlet had soon fully explained the situation to her husband, despite his ignorance in the workings of creation while he carefully massaged her leg back to working order.

“It seems an interesting plan, but there are a few concerns. Do not worry, it is not about THAT, though I cannot help but be annoyed at the proposal. Firstly, in her current state Ephiselle represents possibly the best link to the workings of that lab or of the ancient prison. Her information is too valuable to remove at the moment. I do agree with your plans to cease her reincarnations and free her, but not until we have had a long talk. Besides, she is also important to the workings of Nexus right now. Secondly, I want to pursue other avenues of freeing her, not because of your physical… erm requirements, but rather I don’t want to see you take her star upon yourself until we know how that machine works. Who knows what it might do in the process.”

“True, but I feel it must be done. I have remembered much of my time in the darkness beneath the city, and I owe her Zuko, I owe her peace.”

“We shall both grant it to her together when the time comes, my dear. We just need to fully investigate this matter, for I won’t have you running off like when you attuned yourself to the box before. Am I understood? Do I have your promise?”

“That sounds fair. Though I won’t wait forever just because you ask me to, and it’s no use trying to bribe me either.” Scarlet said with a bit of a blush. She sensed Zuko’s mind still reeling at her earlier words, but could tell the joking and affection was bringing him back to his usual roguish self.

“Nor would I expect you to, you are far too like me to wait around for long. Let’s face it, we have so many dangling futures in front of us I sometimes shudder to think if we can accomplish anything. There is much for us to do, my love, but hopefully we will have an eternity together to do it all.”

“Does that mean we should start having kids?” she asked, leaning against his chest. “I think Aly and Kasi would like some friends.”

“Oh geez…”

Tending the Roots

Sins of the First Age ChainsawXIV