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Heart of the Wounded - Chapter 3 Part 1

“Sir, the Fire Lord wishes to speak with you,” someone said from the door. Moltov looked up groggily from his pillow and saw a soldier standing at the door.

Moltov groaned quietly. He was getting used to being woken up at odd times; ever since Ozai had been crowned, he had developed weird sleeping habits. Because Moltov was now an official advisor –probably the only one Ozai could truly trust- he was getting dragged into the sleeping pattern as well.

“One minute. I’ll be right there,” Moltov muttered. It was a warm summer’s night, so he had fallen asleep with a thin blanket over his shoulders, a light pair of pants, and that was it. Once the soldier had left, Moltov looked for a shirt that wasn’t too badly wrinkled. “Must make myself presentable for the Lord,” he whispered sarcastically to himself under his breath.

He was surprised to be called so quickly. Ozai had been livid. The Fire Lord had been laying plans against a small nation that was withholding several troops of Earthbenders. They were at the base of a dam, and Ozai had ordered to have it destroyed. No more Earthbenders. Moltov had spoken up, saying that it wasn’t a good idea. Too many innocents would be killed. Ozai had countered saying that they weren’t innocents because they were lodging enemies. Moltov stuck with his idea that they shouldn’t do that. Ozai had countered, “I am keeping my troops alive by doing this. If you don’t want to deal with war, leave.” That was that. Moltov left, figuring he could finally get some sleep.

Finding a shirt that was suitable, he pulled it on. Moltov ran a hand through his hair to make it look a little less wild, like it does any good, in attempts to look a little more presentable, before leaving his room. He walked briskly down the hall, unwilling to let Ozai get even angrier with him for being too late. Since his new room was closer to the audience chamber, the trip was quick. Moltov made it to the throne room in minutes and was barely breathing hard.

He knocked on the audience chamber doors. “Open. I, Moltov, have come at the behest of the Fire Lord Ozai.” Ridiculous, the kind of formality you had to use when your best friend had suddenly become a ruler.

The doors opened slowly. Moltov walked into the room and the doors shut behind him. Something didn’t feel quite right. Moltov walked forward cautiously.

The Fire Lord smiled his now-typical formal smile of greeting. “Wonderful to see you, Moltov.” Then, he nodded slightly.

Despite his alerted senses, Moltov did not feel the presence of the men who grabbed his arms. He tried fighting back, but the two had a firm grip that he couldn’t break. They put shackles on his wrists and held tightly to his upper arms.

Dejected, Moltov let his head droop slightly. He looked up at the Fire Lord, who was watching with a satisfied look on his face.

“What is this?” Moltov demanded.

“I’m letting you go, Moltov. Cutting you off,” Ozai replied quietly, voice calm, the light smile still there.

Moltov stared at him with a gaze full of confusion. “Huh? Why?”

Ozai’s smile took on a cruel, please edge. He raised one hand and gestured someone forward.

Moltov heard someone behind him step forward, but he couldn’t twist around enough to see who it was. “What did I do, Ozai?” Moltov insisted.

He got no answer.

He felt cold steel against his back. The shirt that he had worked so hard to find only minutes before was slashed cleanly. A sinking feeling filled Moltov. Then, there was a loud sizzling sound. Moltov gasped and closed his eyes against the sudden pain that had blossomed in his shoulder. He could smell burning flesh and was positive that is was his.

“It has many other names, but the most common one is aconite, the six petaled flower. This is what signifies that you, Moltov, are a traitor.”

“A traitor?” Moltov asked weakly.

“It marks you as an outcast of the Fire Nation. This is just a precaution, because I don’t think that you will live much longer after this.”

“What?” Moltov asked. He was getting even more confused, and the fog of pain wasn’t helping matters any.

“Do it,” Ozai ordered.

A chant was struck up. There were easily twelve other people in the room that Moltov hadn’t been able to tell were there, and they all started chanting in a strange language that he had never heard. Moltov started to feel very strange. The room started rocking, but his feet were firmly planted. The sensation made him feel sick, so he closed his eyes. There was a quiet popping noise, and then, an entirely different feeling.

Cautiously, Moltov opened his eyes. He was shocked to discover that he was no longer in the audience chamber of the Fire Lord. It appeared that he was outside in a jungle-like area. The air was very thin, which went against the idea of a jungle. His chest felt heavy and breathing seemed unnatural. The worst part was that it was completely silent. There were no birds, no bugs, no rustling leaves, not even a growl to signify that a predator was near. Nothing, but an emptiness of sound.

“Come on. Let’s get this over with quickly.” Moltov was startled to hear the voice of someone, and was surprised to find that both of the men who had a hold of him were still there.

The two men started to walk forward. Moltov braced himself and refused to move.

“Come on, move,” the one on his left growled.

“Where are we?” Moltov asked.

“It doesn’t matter. Let’s go.”

Still maintaining a strong grip on the captive’s arm with one hand, the man let go with the other and shoved Moltov with the other. He hit directly where the brand had been seared into the skin. With a yelp of pain –that, oddly enough, didn’t echo- Moltov stumbled forward.

Moltov muttered a few obscenities under his breath, but as the men started moving, he reluctantly moved with them.

“What is this?” a voice whispered. It was breathless, barely more than a ripple of wind. Moltov looked around to see the source of the voice, and saw several small pairs of eyes.

“It looks like humans,” a bodiless voice replied. It was of the same quality as the other voice, only a little more high pitched.

“Mm, human. We haven’t had a decent meal in eons,” a third voice mused.

“You will not eat us,” the man on Moltov’s right declared. He pulled out a small pendant and held it high.

The voices shrieked and scurried away. There were no more eyes and the silence descended once more.

“Where are we?” Moltov asked again, now more bewildered than anything else.

“The spirit world.”

“The spirit world,” Moltov repeated quietly to himself. “Why?”

“The Fire Lord ordered us not to tell you.”

The three traveled for a long time. On the natural plane, it felt like several days. In the spirit realm, time was irrelevant. The scenery changed only slightly over the entire time. The jungle turned into more of a forest. Moltov wondered why he wasn’t thirsty or hungry, and was immediately reminded that he was in the spirit world. Why should spirits eat or drink?

Time passed. The world dimmed slowly. The forest disappeared. Moltov looked around.

Suddenly, a large, silver shape loomed in front of the trio. The face looked like an animal, with a long muzzle under the deep purple eyes, a furry ring around the face, and pointed animalistic ears. The body was huge, easily twice as big as a saber-toothed-moose-lion, and covered in the same fur-like appearance as the face. The entire form shone like a moon amidst the blackness.

“What are you doing here, humans? This is not your realm,” the spirit murmured. The voice was soft, though threatening, and as airy as the ones before.

The man on the right spoke. “We have come at the behest of the new Fire Lord, Lord Ozai. He wishes to make a pact with you, in exchange for…”

“A pact with the spirits?” the spirit laughed. “What can humans offer us?”

“For starters, this,” the pendant was pulled out once again.

The spirit looked at it with a look of disdain. “That is how you got in here so far. It means little to us.”

“Also, Fire Lord Ozai wishes to honor you with a yearly sacrifice and a celebration in your honor.”

“What is it that this Lord wishes to have us do? It must be grand to go to such extreme measures.”

“He wishes for you to take this one.” With that, Moltov was prodded forward slightly. He looked down, so he wasn’t blinded by the brilliance.

“Take?” the spirit murmured. “This will take some deliberation. I will send this one back to you with my decision. Tell your Lord his offer is accepted.”

“Thank you, Great Spirit,” both of the men bowed their heads. They turned and left.

“What do they mean by ‘take’?” Moltov asked quietly.

“You would not understand, unversed one.”

Moltov disliked that answer, but couldn’t figure out how to dispute it with something as different from him.

“Look up at me, human.” Moltov looked up at the spirit. “Tell me, do you fear me?”

Moltov looked thoughtful for a moment. “No, I do not.”

The spirit stood and turned as if to leave. In a flash, it turned and snapped at the air just inches in front of Moltov’s face. He didn’t flinch, he only blinked twice.

The spirit backed off. “You did not lie. Foolish human. Do you fear any of the gods, even your own?”

“I do not.”

“If you fear not spirits nor gods, what is it that you fear?”

“I fear loosing my freedom. It is the only thing I have, and I fear loosing it.”

“An interesting answer.” The spirit turned around in a circle before settling down. “I believe I have found you to be interesting, human. Tell me your name.”

“My name is Moltov.”

“Moltov, I am willing to make a deal with you. I have no interest in what goes on in the human’s world. However, the Fire Lord has intruded upon a truce made many, many years ago. He deserves to be punished. He has done you some great harm, has he not?”

Moltov looked down, almost over his shoulder. “He has.”

“Our goal is the same. I will aid you in the completion of this goal. Will you accept?”

“Yes, of course.”

The spirit creature looked down at him with narrowed eyes. “This may entail the confrontation of what you fear.”

“I will face it to settle my score.”

“Very well.” The spirit let out a loud howl. A second spirit materialized from the darkness. This one seemed the opposite of the first, although it looked very similar. It seemed to be one with the darkness, with obsidian black fur. Its eyes glowed a deep blue color that the sky could never compete with. The features of the face were more rounded. It was also much smaller, able to look down on Moltov from only a couple heads distance.

“Mother Oka, I am pleased to be at your service,” the spirit rumbled.

“Ma Lir, you answered quickly. I confess myself surprised. What do you think of this human?”

The new spirit looked at Moltov and started sniffing. “It is a human. What is it doing here?”

“He was one of the ones who broke the treaty, but he is not at fault. It was an order that he be brought here by his Lord.”

“What does this have to do with me, Mother Oka?”

“You were set to punish any who break the sacred treaty, were you not, Ma Lir?”

“A long time ago, back when the treaty was forged, yes.”

“You have gotten lazy, Ma Lir.”

“I believed that the ancient treaty would never be broken. It has been so long, Mother…”

“You have gotten lazy. This human will be your host so that you may travel to the human realm and fulfil your duty.”

“This human?” the spirit half-whined.

“Yes. He seeks the same thing that you do.”

“Well, then, it can’t be helped. Mother Oka, I will not let you down.”

“I wish you the best of luck Ma Lir, and Human Moltov. May you be one with the moon.”

“The moon…” Moltov whispered. A Firebender looses the potency of the flame as the night drew near. It would be the perfect punishment. “I see.”

“I do not believe that this lord will keep his promise. So, I shall not keep mine,” Oka murmured thoughtfully.

“Kneel before me Human Moltov,” the spirit Ma Lir ordered harshly. The spirit walked closer to where Moltov was standing onto an outcropping rock. Moltov walked over to where Ma Lir stood and knelt. The spirit had shrunken so that he was roughly the size of the human.

Quieter this time, with a more soothing voice, Ma Lir ordered, “Bow you head and close your eyes.”

Moltov obeyed. He felt the rough paws of the spirit walk onto his arms. Soft fur touched his forehead as the spirit settled it’s own head against his. Slowly, a warm glow seeped into Moltov’s body. It spread through every inch, slowly consuming him. When he was full to bursting, it suddenly dissipated.

Moltov opened his eyes to examine what had been done. Nothing seemed to have happened.

Moltov’s skin prickled before a horrible pain coursed through his body. He saw a flash of red and white before his eyes before blacking out completely.

……………

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