It was late. The sun had already set leaving the castle lit and heated by firelight. Torches lit the long and busy corridors as people moved with an air of excitement. It was the summer solstice. One of the rare days in the year, when day and night lasted for the same amount of time. This naturally occurring event triggered an unusual reaction from the people who inhabited the fire kingdom. Everyone's powers were useless for two days and three nights. Leaving the kingdom powerless against the other nations. Often the enemies of the fire nation tried to take advantage of this face. However this solstice, for this castle the situation was different to most years.
This solstice, they had captured the warriors of Atlantis. The only people who might have caused the castle great harm. Especially since if the prisoners had been in Atlantis during the first night of the solstice celebrations, their own magic over water would have remained, but being on the surface during this time meant it had the same effect on them as it did on the fire benders. They lost their powers during the solstice.
As such the people of Londar were free to party and celebrate the changing of the seasons in peace. Something which had not been done in a long time because of the threat of the Atlantis warriors.
While the turn of events was excellent news for the people of Londar, giving them time off to relax and enjoy having no worries, it was not good news for the warriors stuck in the fire nation's cells. Humans of any kingdom weren't exactly known for thinking straight while drunk and the people of the fire nation were no different. If anything they were known for being more unpredictable.
A stereotype which gave great concern to General Darren Blake of the Atlantis army. It wasn't like the fire nation was known for being particularly kind to their captives.
Darren exhaled in an attempt to calm himself as he listened to the noises which filtered down through the high windows of the prison. The prison had high walls and open windows because of the summer heat in Londar, shutting the windows would have been a form of torture. The downside of having the windows open being that it let the captured men hear the festivities which were going on in the plaza below very clearly. Every laugh, joke and song note drifted down into the dark dungeon, almost taunting the men confined there.
The general looked around the dimly lit cell and over his men. Mentally sizing his men up by the state they were in. Most of his warriors were not injured severely or rather had been healed before the solstice's effects had begun to take hold. Without their powers, however, there was no way for them to escape. The fire nation was well equipt to keep prisoners in their cages, regardless of the time of year. Mumbling under his breath, Darren offered a pray to the goddess to protect them. The next few days were going to be difficult and possibly dangerous ones.
The prison they were trapped in was one large cell block. Bars blocked off a small front area where the entrance to the castle was. Double protection to stop the strong warriors breaking free of their confines. Darren knew the fire nation people had individual cells elsewhere, but the fire Prince had commanded they put housed together during this time. A strange kindness from a man known for giving no mercy but Prince Kieran was often acknowledged as being softer than his father.
Light steamed through the cell windows basking the room in a dim orange glow from the firepits in the square. There was hay thrown on the floor, which his warriors had moved to make one of the corners of the chamber a more comfortable sleeping area. In the opposite corner was, for lack of a better word, a troth for waste.
The most violent of the warriors were chained and shackled tightly to the back wall. He, like many of this men, wasn't, but that was because he had been critically injured in the fight which had ended with them captured. Even after being healed by both the fire nation healers and his own medics, he was still struggling to stand and walk, forget being able to fight against the humans. It was pitiful, but his men insisted he not hurt himself further and had forced him to sit on the hay to stop his legs from complaining.
Some of his men were sleeping on the straw around him or were trying as best they could with the noise coming from the windows. It was important that they did so while the celebrations were still early and they were able to get some rest. No one was sure of what to expect later on in the evening, and none of the warriors wanted to be caught unawares. The few who were up and on their feet were standing near the cell door, ready to attack any human who tried to get in the cell who they didn't know or trust.
"Sir," a quiet voice said from beside him. Darren looked down to see the youngest of his men stirring, looking up at him with big blue eyes from where the boy's head was resting on his thigh. Darren stroked the young man's back gently to comfort the clearly scared man. The boy was too young really to be here, but they were running out of options when it came to sharing out who was fighting against the humans and who was fighting against the dark spawn.
At least, the humans could die.
"Hush, you should be asleep kid," Darren softly murmured, being unusually tender towards the child. "You will need your strength for later," he warned, his hand moving to run through the boy's hair fondly. The young man was a pretty one. The men would have to keep him safe if some of the fire nation men turned more unsavoury than normal.
The boy slightly shifted as he shrugged. "Can't sleep," he murmured, clearly tired, "What will happen to us?" he asked his voice quiet, but Darren picked up on the fear in it.
"I don't know. They have treated us well so far, as well as we would have treated them but," Darren paused thinking of the right words to say. He didn't want to scare the boy more than necessarily but he needed to give the young man some warning. His men stirred slightly at his words, but otherwise showed no signs of reacting to them. It was no secret what the nymphs did to their prisoners. They did treat them well but more often than not they ended up breaking them, or worse making them dependent on the nymph because of the side effects of their magic. "You know as well as I do how we use our prisoners and while they haven't touched us while sober... Humans aren't known for keeping themselves controlled while intoxicated."
"Sir…" the boy whispered. Darren could tell his words had weighed heavily on his own men too, though none of them showed it outwardly, strong warriors to the last breathe. Humans were somewhat predictable creatures, however, when drunk they began drastically otherwise. The warriors had no idea what to expect over the next few days and nights. At least they weren't entirely hopeless, after all, the fire nation men were often slender and lean, while the Atlantis warriors were brawny. They could still fight with fists and swords; it was just getting their hands on such weapons.
Then the sound of running came from the corridor next to their cell. Hurried running, which given the place and time of day was very strange. The warriors shifted, instinct telling them something was up. Darren stood, ready in case an attack was being made on them, watching the door into the prison tensely.
The door flew open and a young woman flew into the room, slamming the door behind her. Her hands quickly locking it, pressing her head against the door. She breathed heavily for a few moments, her back visibly rising and falling. Darren glanced at his men, most had a shared look of confusion on their face. Finally, the woman stood up straight, seemingly pulling herself together before turning to face them, only to freeze as she saw them.
Some women may have screamed, some women may have fled back out the door. Possibly even faint if they were particularly weak with faces with a room of half naked warriors known for attacking the castle. This woman reacted in a way none of them expected too. She groaned.
"Trust my luck to run into the cell block instead of somewhere I can hide," she groaned, running a hand down her face.
She dashed to the other side of the small area, not in the cell but to where another door was. The door swung opened it to reveal a dead end. It was just another room with a bed and cupboard in it, most likely where the guard was allowed to rest when not looking over the cell room. "Damn," she cursed fiercely before climbing on a chair to check if she could get out of the windows on the top of the cell.
"There are bars on all of the windows kid," Darren said calmly, noticing her state of distress. Her clothes were torn and there were bruises on her arms. Given how she had entered the room and how she had suggested she was hiding from someone, Darren could only assume someone or more likely some people had attacked her.
"The gods hate me. Perfect place to hide, in a cell with only one way out," she moaned to herself as she confirmed what he had said with her own eyes. "And I'm not a kid, I wish I was! If I was I wouldn't have to deal this crap!" she growled at him while pulling at the bars on the window to test their strength. She grunted but they didn't move.
"Girl, they're are made to withstand more force then you have got," Darren commented dryly as she hit her fist against the bars in frustration.
"Shut up, I'm stronger than I look!" she snarled, sound very unladylike. She hit them one more time, the metal making a clanging sound before the girl exhaled deeply. She dropped down from her perch to pace up and down. "I should have listened to my brother and stayed in, but no. I had to go see the party," she muttered to herself, Darren did not miss how she was beginning to sound more and more scared with every moment.
Darren looked her up and down, feeling a strange sense of familiarly from the girl. She wasn't a fire-nation native, not with her eyes and hair. If anything she looked like she was of mixed blood between earth and air nations. She had the blonde hair of an air nation but the brown eyes of an earth nation. Her skin was closer to the earth nation's typical complexion than the air kingdom's shade. The young woman also had pierced ears which was a common trait of the earth nation. He could only think of a dozen humans in Londar, the Fire Prince of the castle included, who had their ears pierced.
"I guess you promised too much to some bloke and he won't take no for an answer," Darren said snidely, to test her reactions to being insulted. This woman carried herself in a way which suggested she wasn't entirely innocent. Not necessarily someone who slept around but she had calculating eyes which had an edge to them which made Darren cautious if how to treat her. That was not a look weak little girls had, but neither was she broken or a killer.
"Not quite," she growled, glaring at him, clearly angry at his suggestion. "I got jumped on the way to a party by three guys, who decided that because my brother is otherwise occupied with playing bodyguard for the prince, to try to have some 'fun' with me. Is that enough for your curiosity!" She finished by yelled at him, her furious expression reminding him of someone badly but it still wasn't clicking.
"Calm down woman, you don't want whoever they are to find you do you?" commented one of his men dryly.
Most of his men were relaxed again now that it was evident that they weren't being attacked. The few still paying attention to the strange woman were observing her with strange looks on their faces. One or two were looking at her with a look that suggested they were trying to work out who her brother was. Whoever they were, it most likely was someone they fought against regularly if he was currently playing bodyguard to the Prince. So who was it?
"Don't they teach you how to defend yourself girl?" one of the other warriors asked, relaxing on the hay. The water kingdom encouraged their daughters to learn self-defensive, but that wasn't always true of the other nations.
"As if the fire kingdom teaching their women to know how to fight," the woman snorted. "Thanks to my brother and his friends, I know how to defend myself against one guy, maybe two if I have a weapon. That was a long time ago and I'm out of practise. Also, that's if they want to kill or injury me, not trying to drag me off somewhere," she answered, walking around, apparently finding to calm herself, her tone full of disgust aimed at the man.
"Just who is your brother?" Darren said outright; it was really annoying him now. Something was pressing on the back of his mind, something screaming to be revealed but for some reason he couldn't quite work out what it was.
"You know him," the women shrugged, "He's Flame's... Prince Kieran's bodyguard," she explained, correcting herself when she said the wrong name, a slight blush on her face at her mistake.
"Flame's?" his youngest muttered sounding a bit dazed at her slip by saying a nick-name instead of the Princes name. A very fond sounding nickname. More than a few of his warriors taking note of that.
Prince Kieran had only been in control of Londar for a few years. Everyone knew the Prince had only been accepted by his father because he had been forced too. Everyone also knew the Fire Lord was just waiting for the chance to kill off his bastard son. Prince Kieran was a threat to him, a child born out of wedlock who had survived to adulthood and was stronger than his brothers. For this young girl to call a man such as the bastard prince 'flame' meant she was close to him and there was only one person Darren knew who played bodyguard for the Prince for extended periods of time.
"You're Theo Baxter's sister. Which means you're Lauren," Darren said in an incredulous tone. How had he not realised who this girl was? She was Theo's, his rival, sister? Now he knew, the resemblance between the siblings was amazing. Sure Theo's hair was cut short but he had the name air-nation shade of gold and the same earth-nation warm brown eyes. She was younger than her brother by a fair few years but if was clear to Darren that like her brother, she was going to be a heartbreaker with her good looks and would make someone a very happy man one day.
If she let herself take the path of being a wife of course. The look in her eyes when she had said the fire nation don't teach women how to fight showed defiance. This was not a girl who was going to be content with finding a partner, having children and looking after a household. Lauren burned with an energy which showed she was as independent and stubborn as her brother. Darren recognised the expression on her face as she glared at him. He had seen it many times aimed at him over the battlefield.
Her brother was also a strong-willed one, and Darren had no doubt he only stayed and fought for the fire nation because of his loyalty to the fire prince. Such loyalty he admired, if not wondered what the fire prince had done to deserve such loyalty. The fire prince was not a strong fighter, or at least didn't seem to be. There were times when he wondered. Theo had a habit of showing up before the prince could ever really show his skills.
"He mentioned me then?" Lauren said sounding genuinely surprised by this.
"Once or twice when we were stuck fighting the dark spawn together," Darren admitted, vaguely noting the looks of on his men's faces. Their expressions were mostly masked, but Darren could read past that. They were all amazed by this discovery. By their standards, Theo was a strong, handsome man, someone who if captured would be fought over to who would have the honour of being his keeper. For him to have a beauty as a sister as well? If it wasn't for the fact she was still barely older than a child, he had no doubt they would be lusting after her.
"Then you must be Daz," Lauren said looking slightly interested all of a sudden.
She gave him a look with was obviously her looking him up and down, judging him for herself. Darren resisted the urge to shiver at the look. Warriors and fighters he knew he could measure up too well, but the sister of his rival? Darren had no idea what she would be judging him on.
The corners of her mouth smirked upwards into an almost knowingly smile, "He wasn't lying when he said you were a looker but he didn't do your description justice." Lauren's accent came out as air nation despite her talking with earth nation mannerism, either way it a stark different to the fire nation tones she had been speaking in moments beforehand.
Half of his men outright laughed at her comment. Darren fought back a blush. Instead, he returned her smirk with his own. "Thank you I think," he said warmly. Just who were Theo and Lauren? "You're not too bad a looker yourself girl, General Darren Blake at your service." He ducked in a bow customary in all of the courts.
"Nice to meet you General, I wish it was in better circumstances," she replied in formal tones to match his bow, but this time there were much stronger fire-nation tones. Darren could only assume the Prince had taught her how to speak formally and hence she had gained his accent.
"You mean not while I'm in a cell and you're hiding," Darrick said with half a smile.
"Exactly," she smiled slightly, viably calming as he spoke and joked with her. Lauren was still viably scared but she had stopped pacing back and forth. Her words were less clipped and her frightened tone was ebbing away much to his relieve. A panicking girl was not something he wanted to deal with at the moment, especially if she was Theo's sister.
"So what has my dearest rival been saying about me to his little sister?" Darren hummed curiously, putting on a layer of charm. Theo had apparently said he was a good looker, something which gave Darren a happy if not slightly childish buzz at the idea but what else had Theo said to Lauren about him?
"Not much. Just that you make a bad solider," Lauren said still smirking, her eyes twinkling with mirth at the idea. She was no fool. She knew what Darren was doing and the reaction he would have to that statement.
Darren let out an involuntary growl, grimacing at that. Lauren laughed at him, his men looking at her strangely. Most would be scared by a warrior's growl but Lauren was only amused. Still Darren's eyebrows furrowed in concertation. Did Theo not think he was worthy adversary?
"I didn't mean it as a bad thing General Blake," Lauren reassured with a grin on her lips. "He said you're better suited for solo work and giving the commands than following them," Lauren beamed, giving them all a warm smile which they had never seen from any of the humans yet. At least not towards them. "He has a lot of respect for you and your men, which is a lot considering we don't get along with a lot of nation loyalists." A note of distain in her voice while she spoke, her expression twisting into one of dislike at the idea of loyalists.
Darren blinked at that statement. It was his time to be surprised, as were his men. Given how loyal Theo was to Prince Kieran, it seemed a strange idea than the siblings wouldn't get along with loyalist. Darren noticed, however, that when she had said nation, she had inferred all of the nations not just the water or fire nation. He assumed it was to do with her and her brother's apparent mixed heritage.
"That's nice to know," he said lamely, unsure how he should respond to such a compliment. She chuckled but then froze as there were three knocks on the door as it swung open, revealing three burly men.
"Sorry to intrude but we need to talk to you little girl," grinned the lead man. The smell of drink and more dripping off the three grinning men.
Lauren took a step back, her expression scared. Something tightened in Darren's chest at the sight of Lauren's frightened face. Shit. They had found her.