Yes, I know some idioms are off, but that's on purpose. They might have milk and/or cheese, but it might be too cold for that kind of stuff, so I figured I'd change that and a few other things to fit what they might consider the idiom to be.
Snatching a piece of seal jerky from the storage cubby, I rushed off to morning training before Nikel could object. Sure, she'd raised me, but didn't mean I had to listen to her all the time. Running to the grounds, I skidded to a stop just as Nuko arrived. He quirked an eyebrow but set to work preparing the field.
Setting my gear aside, I grabbed a stiff piece of leather attached to a short pole and started sweeping and scraping the surface even again. If Nuko wanted more terrain like we saw in the wilds, Amaka would bend some of the ice and snow into hills, platforms, and sometimes even mountains if he used the surrounding snow and ice as well.
After a few minutes of working in silence – I supposed he wasn't a morning person after all – I couldn't help but glance over at the chief's son. Any girl would be lucky to have him, but word on the glacier was that he wasn't interested. At least for now. Maybe Nuko was seeing someone in secret? I shook my head, the poor man barely had time to himself as it was.
Not long before training was supposed to start, it started snowing. I arranged a few sets of weapons, paying the dark grey flakes no heed… wait, what? Starting, I caught a flake in my palm, but it didn't melt. In fact, it didn't feel like snow at all.
"Nuko? What is this?" I turned to him, fear bubbling as I saw panic creep into his eyes. He spun on his heels and took off into the village. "Nuko, wait! What's going on?" I call after him.
"Invasion! Everyone take up arms!" Nuko bellowed, black ponytail fanning behind him. I skidded to a stop, spinning to run back to the training grounds. Stupid, stupid! I snatched my spear and hunting knife in a skidding turnabout before scrambling back towards the coast. If this was the Fire Nation, who knows what they were after. We couldn't take any chances, though. The Fire Lord's slaughter – no, genocide – at the air temple seemed all too real now. Men, women, and children alike stumbled from their homes, gathering weapons even as they fought off sleep. Babies started to cry, and toddlers waddled about in the chaos as everyone tried to prepare.
"Black snow?" many wondered, frowning at the odd texture. What even was making this? It almost looked like that time when I accidentally caught that chair on… fire.
"No..." I swore under my breath. "It's ash! The Fire Nation must have brought their whole fleet to make it rain ash!"
Gasps rang out as I kept spreading the message, hoping it would spur people into motion. Finally catching up to Nuko at the tightly packed wall guarding our Northern side, I panted, hands on knees as I tried to spot the ships. All I could see was a strip of black on the horizon. Black sky, black ash, black… "Those are ships, aren't they?" I ask quietly, hear thundering in my ears.
"Yes," Nuko whispered, face hard. "There's no way we can fight them, but we have to try." Turning back to the city, he jumped off the wall, landing hard and rolling to ease the impact. "Everyone, listen! We have maybe an hour before they arrive, less if they have faster ships than the last time their merchants came.
"It's less!" I call down, turning slightly. The ships were slightly more distinguishable now, whereas it would've been about fifteen more minutes for their last merchant ship. Not much under any other circumstance, but now… every second counted.
Everyone scrambled to get children and civilians into their homes, hoping that the Fire Nation would just ask for submission and then leave. They had to know we didn't pose a threat! The Northern Water Tribe would be far more equipped to even deal with an invasion, much less launch an attack. As the steel ships sliced through water like a knife through fresh fish, I kept Nuko posted on how much closer the ships were than before. They would be at our village in fifteen minutes at the most. Older soldiers, benders and non-benders alike, who had reached manhood and womanhood charged up to the gate on polar bear dogs in their full armor, poised to strike with their varied weapons. As they rode up, I noticed with some relief that the wolf warriors had returned from scouting. As elite spearmen, they would a huge benefit in the fight. Behind the adults stood my class of trainees and our bender counterparts mixed in our groups from yesterday.
A water whip tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at my feet. An ice slide, nice! Smiling at Amaka, the source of both, I hopped onto the slide, dragging a mitted hand behind me to slow the sharp descent. I stumbled a bit on landing in the looser snow, but at least I didn't fall on my face. I jogged around the soldiers to my group, latching a shield on my right forearm, shifting my spear in my left.
"So… you're left handed. That's cool," Kaele said, fidgeting with her sleeves. I quirked an eyebrow. How did she not notice that before? "I mean," she blushed. "I noticed before, just figured you were stronger with the knife? I don't know, never mind."
Shaking my head, I shifted my focus forward again. What I knew had to be only a few minutes stretched into what felt like an eternity. To keep my attention and adrenaline from giving my fire away, I focused on just heating up the air in front of me. Right, not feet, breath. Breeathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth with a bit of heat.
BOOM! Packed ice flew towards us in shards! Ducking, I motioned for my benders to cover for us. For a moment, I thought they were in too much shock. I poked them with the butt of my spear, and yelled "The ice! Bend the ice!" That seemed to snap them out of it, and they caught the ice, directing it harmlessly away from the troops. Water spouts cascaded into where the wall was…
"Tui and La…" I dumbly stared at the massive hole. What could… Through the steam and soldiers I caught a glimpse of a charcoal grey wall of armor almost matching the ash still raining from the darkened sky. Fire erupted from the wall, barely contained by the adult benders. Wait, wouldn't that much heat…
"Water bender trainees! Reinforce the ice under the adults! The heat from the fire's melting it," I barked. Who did Nuko put in charge of us? Surely they would give us some kind of direction.
"Ignore that," a sharp voice huffed. "They're doing just fine on their own." I mentally face palmed. The one adult soldier I didn't like in the entire tribe, Makau. Self-centered, egotistical chauvinist. "And you," he poked a finger at my chest, stoking my fire. No, no, not here, not now. "Learn your place or I'll make you." Because of course that would be a brilliant idea to do in the middle of a battle. I just nodded. Better to avoid antagonizing this guy for now.
Just then, the ice gave way under a portion of the water benders, plummeting them into the freezing waters below. A few moved behind the remaining, using water bending to pull their peers out of the water. A small group of soldiers went out next. Makau, what are you doing!
"Fine, water benders five through twenty-five, strengthen the ice beneath the front line. Take ten non-benders with you for support," Makau huffed, motioning for them to hurry. Ten? But there were thirty benders. Nuko said there should always be at least one non-bender supporting each bender. Training was only an exception so we could all get used to working with each other.
Just as our water benders were within range, the main soldiers had to split apart to avoid falling into the water. There was just too much fire!
"Shut up and learn your place!" I deftly dodged a slap. What the heck! Clamping my mouth shut, I swallowed my thoughts. He sent the benders too late, he's about to make the same mistake again. Makau glared at me but turned his attention back to the battle, his features growing more concerned. Maybe now? We technically couldn't move to help without being insubordinate, and Makau's father was on the council. We could get banished!
Fire, water, ice, ash. Clangs of metal and swoosh-es of flame and water filled the ever darkening landscape as even more Fire Nation soldiers poured through the opening. My eyes burst wide. "We're being flanked! Trainees, cover the right and back, the adults will counter the left and front."
"We won't have a village to be banished from if they win. Two water benders on each side, one in the middle."
"Star formation?" one of the benders asked.
I hesitated, "If that's what you learned, yes. Use your training, and try to communicate when you can. Now go!" We spread into a cover, Makau ran off to… I didn't really care at that point.
The new Fire Nation troops rounded on our position, clearly surprised to see defenders at the back. Before they could shoot fire, our benders set up small walls of water covering parts of our lines. Good! That must be what star formation was for them. I smiled grimly, briefly wondering how to adjust our patterns to fit. The fire benders engaged, shooting streams of fire at exposed troops, forcing the benders to move for cover, only for other benders to fire at now exposed troops. I frowned as shield caught fire and had to be dropped. More exposure, so… Shaking my head, I slipped out of the lines, motioning for a few who saw me to stay put. Here goes nothing…
Skirting the edge of the village, I used the houses for cover as I flanked the soldiers. Come on, just a little farther… Peeking around the domed ice wall of Sakura's home, I gasped as our line was buckling. It's now or never.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped out from behind the house and focused as much warmth I could out of my hands. A few sparks, come on, come on! After a few seconds, flames burst from my hands towards the soldiers. No! Down, down! Dragging my hands towards their feet, I managed to weaken the ice for a few seconds before one of the soldiers realized something was wrong and looked about. A shout rang out, I dashed to the side, stream of fire halting as I lost concentration. Damnit!
…this would be a good time to have a few with me. Shaking my head, I dodged a shot of fire, only for another to catch me in the side. Crying out, I wove farther from the village, towards the hills of Akan. Wait, no. Bad idea! I skid behind a hill, ducking as a blast of fire singes my hair. I scrape a bit of ice onto it, just in case. Can't give them another settlement to attack.
Staying crouched, I burst from my cover, running smack dab into one of the soldiers. Shoot! I spun out, feet sliding dangerously on the ice, as he made a grab for me. That's… a lot of soldiers for one girl. Frozen, I stared dumbly at the three benders and five soldiers in front of me. At least they're away from the main force?
"Gotcha!" the man behind me grabbed my arms. No! Sparks flying from my hands, I tried to get another ignition. The benders leaped to right in front of me, licks of flame dancing above their palms, before you could say penguin. Eyes wide, I flinched, mind racing. What would they do? Was I dead? Maybe this was all a sick dream?
"Now, what's a pretty little fire bender like you doing way down here?" One of the benders ran a scalding finger down my cheek, I bit back a scream.
"Don't touch me!" I growled. I tried to bury the panic under anger, but what was I supposed to do? What could I do?
"A little spitfire, good," the bender grinned wickedly. "You'll need that to make it through basic training." What? Stunned, some of my panic turned to confusion. What did he… My eyes widened again. No, no!
"I'm not fighting for you, you monsters," I spat.
"You don't have a choice," the bender said coldly, backhanding me across my burned cheek. I hissed in a breath but refused to give the scream this sadist probably wanted. The torture Nuko described would be much worse. Might as well get used to the pain. Squinting, I saw a rider approaching. Yes! Maybe we… that's not a polar bear dog. My heart skipped a beat as I made out a massive grey lizard. The soldiers in front of me parted as the messenger approached, stopping by the bender who had spoken.
"The battle is won, General Azulon says to take the girl back to the ships," the messenger said curtly, barely sparing a glance my way. As he turned to leave, he added, "Oh, and put her in the pit. Can't have her bending in front of the others." The bender's eyebrows shot up. That… couldn't be good.