A/N: The main idea for this was mostly written last winter and any resemblance to any other story is purely coincidental. Everything in here is out of my own stupid head. Except the LEGO Ninjago bit. It's necessary to have read my book Turning-Points to understand some of this, i.e. that my OC is the Green Ninja, and Lloyd is a great little kid, and major plot points.
IF YOU DON'T LIKE THAT, DON'T READ IT.
This story begins about three weeks after TP ends. It is NOT going to have the lightheartedness that much of TP had. This WILL contain a dark theme with some violence and self-injurious behavior, which I AM NOT ADVOCATING, but it'll be part of the story.
This is rated T.
It will also be MUCH shorter than TP.
Not to assume the reader doesn't get it, but just to clarify the meaning of the title, 'champion' is another word for 'knight', and everyone knows how often I referred to Cole as a knight (in shining armor, no less) in TP. A 'bane' is a curse.
And 'Gōrudendoragon' is a phonetic spelling of 'golden dragon' in Japanese.
Hope everyone is doing well, and that you receive this story in kind. Lemme know. R&R!
Chapter 1: O.f
VILLAGE OF SANCTUARY, FOOTHILLS OF GōRUDENDORAGON RANGE
Landing hard on his shoulder, he hit the muddied, worn, wooden floor of the old inn's empty common-room with a grunt, and rolled a couple of times before coming to a stop on his fleshy paunch. Every bone in his middle-aged body protested the rough treatment, not used to anything worse than the occasional, jolting horseback ride to his mistress' home in the next village.
Blood ran from his nose and incised lip, a result of the blow he'd received in the square. Spitting the taste of copper from his mouth, the soncho unsteadily pushed himself up from the floor to a half-sitting position.
The elected head of the village swiped a wet, trembling hand across the lower part of his face and lifted his eyes to the hulking monstrosity entering the building from outside. The grey-and-rainy light of day silhouetted the scaly, thickset object of his fear and loathing.
"Please! You've already ransacked our village twice in the last six months! We have no more to give you in our stores! What more do you want from us?" The imploring tone in the greying man's voice brought derisive hissing from the group of about two dozen raiders which gradually surrounded him as he sat on the floor.
"Yesss…You and your villagers have been very generous with your goods. Too generous to pass up again." Holding his golden staff in both hands, the black-and-orange Serpentine general examined it distractedly. "However, I do have another reason for revisiting your lovely locale."
"I expect you'll want to call for outside help in dealing with our invasion." General Skalidor brought his white-spiked cranium lower to focus his ominous, yellow eyes on the cowering man. "In fact, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so."
Vigorously moving his head to and fro in denial, the soncho lamented, "We're too remote. No one ever comes to help except a few men from the nearest village, and they won't come this time."
"Hmm. It just so happens that a noble group of do-gooders is in the area, and I'm sure the bleeding hearts will be more than happy to rush to your aid." The reptilian chief reared up to his full height, towering over the submissive village leader. "This must be your lucky day. It will certainly be mine."
DESTINY'S BOUNTY, FIFTEEN MILES AWAY
Walking into the bridge at mid-morning, I could tell right away something was up with Nya. She stood at the prow-facing window, leaning on her elbows on the sill, cupping her chin in one hand, staring out into space. Nya never just stood and stared.
Sauntering across the room, I joined her at the windowsill, mimicking her stance. "Hey, sis, whachadoin'?" Yanked from her thoughts, Nya left me at the window and went back to the small pile of nuts and bolts she'd obviously been messing around with at the table.
With her back to me, she stammered, "N-Nothing! Nothing at all. Just checking on the weather."
Through the window, I could see Jay swabbing the deck in the pouring rain under occasional flashes of lightning like he was supposed to have done last week. He hadn't taken care of it then since he was still milking the excuse of having a fractured leg to get out of anything he didn't like doing.
The walking boot had come off yesterday, and, given that there was no training scheduled, Cole had handed him the push broom this morning. Of course, being that it was an unpleasant chore, Jay had protested with a whine, "But it's raining!"
Cole had been stone-faced and pitiless. "You'll be conserving water. Get it done, or I'll do the job with your rear." Understandably, Jay had decided that cleaning the deck in the rain was the pastime in which he wanted to indulge himself this morning.
Not long after that, I had finished my own chores a little sooner than expected, and went hunting for Cole to see if the taskmaster had anything else to pile on me before he caught me loitering.
A half-assed search of the ship had turned up nothing, and by the time I was midway down the below-deck corridor, I was feeling lazy.
Within seconds, he and Arwyn stepped out of the training room we had dedicated to meditation, tai chi, and yoga. She was running one hand through her hair and smoothing her jacket with the other.
Keeping a distance of several feet between them, Cole acted cool as a cat when he answered me, flipping his bangs off of his forehead with a shake of his head. "Wassup?"
Between his cavalier attitude and the skittish way Arwyn glanced away from me, I got the feeling that something was a little off.
Leaning with a hand on the wall, the other on my hip, I carefully looked the pair over with a grin. "I'm done with my assignment. Just wondering if you have anything else to dump on me this morning."
"Nah, you're good." Cole made a dismissive motion with his hand like he was trying to get rid of me. "Go do…whatever."
He didn't break under my scrutiny, but when I didn't move to leave or reply to him, I caught a hint of annoyance in his tone. "What?"
I had pinpointed the problem and loved letting him know I wasn't an idiot. "You know, if you can get Arwyn out of her undershirt, maybe you should learn how to get her back into it. Can't you tell it's on backwards?"
The way he jerked his head over to Arwyn to confirm my observation was priceless. So was the way she sucked in a breath and dashed back into the meditation room to correct her wardrobe malfunction.
"Thanks for that, bro." I could tell Cole didn't mean it from the blistering look I got before he ducked back into the room to ease Arwyn's humiliation and help her redress. Or to undress her again.
"Hey, any time, man! Glad I could be of help!" I laughed all the way up to the bridge about catching my teammates making out, but wondered how they intended to resist temptation if they were always flirting with it.
When I got to Nya, I completely forgot about Cole and Arwyn's amorous playing around after noticing how troubled my sister seemed. Following her from the window to the table, I started my wheedling. "C'mon, Nya. Something's up. What's wrong?"
"Really, I'm okay." She fiddled with the gizmo she'd disassembled without really trying to put it back together.
Dang it. I was gonna have to do the dreaded, caring-brother thing.
"Nya, talk to me. I know something's bothering you, and you know you can unload on me about anything."
Please don't let it be some female problem…
Keeping her eyes on the clutter before her, she made her glossy, ebony bob swing with a shake of her head. "I can't talk to you about this. You don't really want to hear it."
That made a small amount of fear creep into my heart. "Is, um, Jay involved in this?"
If that bonehead has done anything…
I sometimes hated to admit it, but Jay was pretty much my best friend, even though I gave him so much hell over being with Nya. Which was gonna make it really awkward when I had to kill him for hurting or dishonoring her.
Her hand went quickly to my chest. "Yes, but it's nothing bad!" She must have read my mind and rushed to keep me from jumping to the wrong conclusion. "Never mind. You don't want to—"
"Nya…" Putting my arm around her shoulders, I gave her the face she said always reminded her of our father. The one that always got me what I wanted from her.
"Oh, alright, but it's stupid." Dropping the metal plate she held onto the tabletop, she flopped onto the nearest chair and covered her face with a hand. "I guess I'm just…a little envious of Arwyn."
I wasn't expecting to hear that and sat down heavily in the chair next to her, asking tentatively, "Umm…why?"
Her hands waved in a helpless gesture, her expression telling me she was struggling to explain herself. "Because…she's got Cole…and he's so romantic with her…and—"
"And you want Cole?!" The conclusion had been hurdled with a flying leap.
"No, I don't want Cole! That's not what I mean!" From the exasperated glare she gave me, I got the idea she thought I was an imbecile. "I want Jay! It's just that he's so…"
To be helpful, I started a list. "Not romantic, numbskulled, juvenile, immature…heck, in dog years, he's only, like, three—"
"Stop. It's that he's not into planning anything. He doesn't seem to think past this week, whereas Cole plans everything ad nauseam. I love Jay to smithereens, I always will, and I know he loves me, he tells me every day, but…"
"It's the ring, isn't it?"
Why'd you have to go do that so soon?
Her sigh confirmed my guess. "Jay and I've been together for over two years. Cole met Arwyn less than two and a half months ago. She has a ring and a promise, while I…don't."
"Have you tried talking to Jay about this?" I was going out on a rotten limb. "Or…would you like me to?"
"No, Kai, I absolutely don't want you do that!" I didn't think she had to look so damn alarmed at that prospect, but…
Whew! Got outta that one!
"And what am I going to say? 'Set a wedding date, or I'll leave you'? That would be ridiculous, and I'll never do that." She sighed again in resignation and stood from the chair. "I guess I'll just have to be patient and wait until he decides he's ready to commit to something like that. I don't want him to feel forced into anything."
I often saw Jay as being a lot like a puppy, stuck in the 'now' with an attention span shorter than that of a gnat. I could imagine his thought processes being something like an exploring, happy-go-lucky canine sniffing the ground—…whatsthatwhatsthatwhatsthatwha—oops, gotta pee—whatsthatwhatsthatwhatsthat…
However, I had to own up to the fact that he wasn't always that way.
Taking her hands in mine, I decided I ought to help Jay out for a change. "Nya, if it makes you feel any better, I know for certain that Jay's already committed and planning for your future in some way, even if he's too dumb-assed to have given you a symbol of it yet."
She was giving me her full attention. "Over a year ago he told me that if anything ever happened to him, he had an envelope under his mattress with your name on it." A glimmer of hope shone in her eyes, and she squeezed my hands as I let her in on the little secret.
"I don't know what's in it—a letter, money, stupid jokes he wrote—but it's something that's really important to him that he'd want you to have. I think that should mean something. It shows that he is thinking ahead to some degree."
She stared off into space with a concerned, but happier-seeming, air. "He's thinking about giving me something if he dies…Although, it'd mean more if he gave it to me while he lives." Nodding determinedly, she stated, "I think I will talk to him about our future."
"Now that sounds like a plan." Not realizing how tense I'd been through that discussion, I felt like a weight had lifted from me suddenly when Nya let go of my hands and hugged me tightly around the neck.
You so owe me, Jay…
Right then, the communications center buzzed the alert for an incoming call.
"The call's an obvious SOS from the nearest point of civilization, even if they aren't responding to our inquiry." Zane and I were standing on opposite sides of the bridge's table, debating about the necessity of going out to the aid of whomever was calling for help. "Their lack of an answer to us tells me we really need to see about this."
"I understand your desire to assist those in need. I am simply stating that the radar shows nothing out of the ordinary, and Merlin has not picked up anything nearby on his surveillance flights." Zane coaxed the falcon from his forearm to its perch near the radar screen showing everything in a ten-mile radius around the Bounty. "Perhaps it was a false alarm."
Bending to place my hands on the table, I turned my attention to Sensei Wu who stood gazing out of the large, circular window into the dreary, morning sky with his hands clasped behind his hips. "It's ultimately your call, Sensei. But I think we should head in that direction and investigate."
Almost in the middle of nowhere, we were about fifteen miles from the nearest village which was about five miles from the next-nearest hamlet. Ninjago City was almost two days' travel to the west of this site in the shadows of Gōrudendoragon Range, and it took about a day just to get out of the sparsely-settled, rural area no matter which route you took.
We had stayed a few days in the Sea of Sand after returning from our rescue mission at the Castle of Poisoned Dreams, taking time to recuperate from all of our injuries. Over a week ago we had left the desert and begun meandering through areas like this in an effort to keep any pursuing Serpentine from zeroing in on us.
The Fang Blades were still in our safekeeping, awaiting their destruction in a few weeks as soon as the necessary, predicted solar flares occurred. Knowing the sun's magnetic eruptions would exponentially superheat the already-unbearable hellhole of Torchfire Mountain, Sensei and Zane had pinpointed the date on which we would purge the threat of the Great Devourer from Ninjago.
Until then, we were drifting aimlessly, or 'sightseeing', as Arwyn had put it. Not having spent much of her life outside of Miyagi or Ninjago City, she was just fine with experiencing other, scenic environs of Ninjago.
I was also more than happy to be able to share them with her and relate any stories I had about my travels through the areas. Consequently, we grabbed every chance we could to sit side by side on the deck and watch the picturesque countryside glide by, fantasizing about trips we'd take in the future when we weren't being chased by Serpentine.
Now she leaned against the counter in the bridge sandwiched between Kai and Jay, whose soaking-wet uniform dripped steadily on the wooden floor. Lloyd and A-Cappella playfully tussled at their feet, the only two in the place making any noise.
We were all waiting rather impatiently for her Chichi to make the decision about whether or not his team of Spinjitzu masters should be deployed to the closest village Nya had located on her paper map of the area.
Finally, he spoke up with his back still to us. "Nya, set a course for Sanctuary."
"Alright!" Jay and Kai simultaneously jumped away from the counter, eager to be doing something other than training and cleaning. "When ya wanna leave?!"
I stood up straight at the table to direct my team. "Gear up, and we'll meet here in five to go over our tactic." Following Jay, Kai, and Zane, who were exiting the control room, I instructed our Samurai over my shoulder, "Nya, take us as far as this side of Shadowspawn Forest. We'll cross it in our vehicles to get the rest of the way to Sanctuary."
"Aye, aye, Captain!"
From behind me, Sensei announced his plans. "Rather than accompany you, I will remain here to guard the Blades with Nya and Lloyd." I stopped in my tracks.
Uh, he forgot one…
Spinning on my heel, I luckily snagged the ninja in evergreen by the upper arm before she could sneak around me and through the door. "And Arwyn." I said determinedly, weathering the irritated scowl she flung at me.
Without a hint of indecision in my voice, I looked her dead in the eye so she couldn't misinterpret my meaning. "She's staying with you. We don't know what we might be facing."
I'm not taking any chances with her…
I expected Sensei Wu to have my back, so I was unexpectedly floored when he responded, "Actually, I believe she will be going with you today." Even Arwyn looked at him in astonishment.
What is he thinking?
He held up a hand, not letting me counter his proclamation. "She will join the rest of the team since this may be more of a mission of good will than anything else." I know he saw the twitch in my eyelid that I couldn't control.
Regarding Arwyn with a stern look, he continued, "You will, of course, be subject to Cole's command and remain out of any combat that may arise as well as you are able." She nodded in eager agreement.
To me, he added, "She must get the experience she needs, for we know not when the final battle may occur."
My index finger curtly stabbed toward the frolicking A-Cappella. "We don't know when something like that may occur again, either!"
Lloyd grabbed the short-haired puppy from the floor, holding him to his chest defensively. "Hey! It wasn't his fault!"
"I know that!" My retort was tenser and more agitated than I had meant it to be, and I pushed the hair from my forehead while I got myself together. "He's just a constant reminder that no matter how hard I try, I can't protect Arwyn from everything. Or you, for that matter."
Nothing else can make me feel so powerless, and it's gonna be forced on me?!
"We know from past events that we cannot sequester the Green Ninja forever," Sensei intoned evenly, putting his back to me to once again take in the drizzly view. "It may even be a grave disservice to her to be attempting to do that at every turn."
"She has to start somewhere, Cole," Nya chimed in from the helm, adding somewhat wistfully, "I wouldn't mind going myself."
Thanks, Nya. You're just as not helpful as your brother today…
Gently pulling out of my grip, Arwyn moved to stand facing me, seeming a little fretful, instead of victorious. "You said yourself not long ago that we can't sit and worry about every horrible thing that may happen."
She's using my own words against me…
Placing her hands in the middle of my chest, her fingertips slipped under the edge of my jacket's lapels. "We can only seize the day and hope that everything works out and good will prevail. Right?"
I was outnumbered. Thankfully, the guys weren't in there, too, to make it a landslide. My thumb found its way to the pink, arrow-shaped scar under her cheekbone. I closed my eyes to it. "I don't want you with us, but it looks like I have no choice. Much as I'd like to, I can't keep you in a bubble. Gear up."