"Life is either a great adventure or nothing." - Helen Keller
It was hot outside. Too hot for most, but for those who live in Zore it was mild. It was a good eighty-nine degrees. His horse's mane was soft under his brush, a beautiful chestnut color. The horse was a gift to him from his father for his fifteenth birthday. She was a strong quarter horse- meant for speed. Nik rode her daily around the farm. The strong young men led her from the old wooden stables that had been built by his father. Nik's golden eyes scanned the surroundings. The day was normal, but he noticed how tense his father was that morning. Something was wrong, and nobody would tell him why. If he had rode into town earlier in the day he would have known. But he didn't- which was his mistake.
he saw his father, a strong and lean man who became immortal at twenty five walk onto the porch. his black hair was slicked back, and he was squinting at the flat horizon. Where they lived was in the middle of no where, there wasn't a residence for miles. It was rare when they had visitors.
"Dad!" Nik called out to him. "Dad!"
A golden gaze turned to his son. The soft thunder of hooves came from somewhere far off. "Get inside!" He shouted, and Nik obeyed. Moving quickly, the fifteen year old led his horse as quickly as he could without alarming her into the stables. The smell of old straw filled his nose as he looked out the cracks between the wood to see if someone was coming. Herds of buffalo were known to pass through this region- but he had never seen any. Stomping of nervous hooves grabbed his attention. The whites of Lady's eyes were showing, and he tried to calm her by petting her nose. Needless to say it was a flunk. Suddenly there was some talk coming from outside. His heart left into his young and strong chest as he scrambled back to the walls where he crouched down and peeked through. Outside he saw his father, and two men with a covered wagon. He saw feet hanging out of the back of the wagon, swaying slightly. Living feet, of course. Young, well-kept feet with black boots. Nik's large watery gold eyes wandered back to the two men. The first one- who was closest to his father- had a very bushy mustache and his long shoulder length hair was dark brown to match. He looked to have become immortal in his late forties and he was too fat to sit correctly on a horse. The man's pants were black and his shirt was white. The second man was shorter and his hair was blonde and eyes were golden. They were talking about something serious, and his father didn't seem to be having any of it. Then Nik heard, "Get off my property." That was when the second man jumped down from his horse.
"We came to collect." Nikolai heard. Next his dad's face was in the dirt, and rocks and chunks of ground went flying. A few men from the wagon turned and watched, some getting out to go help his father. Nik couldn't just sit in there, he had to go stop them from hurting his pa. Bursting from the stable, Nik shouted for them to stop. The only response given were rocks and flames flying everywhere and men shouting. Dust was kicking up and everything became a blur. When the dust settled he was already being dragged to the wagon with rope binding his hands and ankles.
"DAD!" He screamed in fear. "DAD GET UP!" The tall and lean man was lying on the ground, face down. Nik couldn't tell his his chest was rising and falling, or if he had any head injuries. A good punch to the mouth made the young boy silent as he was packed into the wagon alongside other boys and young men. One was blonde with big, sad blue eyes with olive skin, a handsome young boy around his age. Another had curly orange hair and was covered in freckles from head to toe, with hazel eyes and a gap in his teeth. Some had muscle but most were thin and hungry as well as afraid of what would come next for them. Nikolai reached his tied hands up to wipe his bloodied mouth. "Where are we going?"
The orange boy scratched his head and frowned. "I think it's the mountains.. They're taking us to the mountains, right?" he looked from one man to the other.
"The mountains?" Nikolai hissed, leaning fore ward as his eyes narrowed. "Why? Which ones?"
The blonde one sighed. "The only ones around here, dipshit. The Red Mountain. Do you not know why you're here?" That made everyone fall quiet as they eyed the new man on the wagon. "You're not serious. You've never been told about the Debt?"
The Debt? What is a Debt? I don't owe anyone anything. "But.. I don't owe anyone.. right?" He asked.
The one with the blue eyes sighed. "Look, if you're a Zore born man you have to work for five years in the mines. That is if you aren't an Elemental. As soon as we become what we're meant to be they might work you for the full five years if you're an Earth Bender, because you can mine alot easier. Like in my case, I'll be released because I come from a family of Fire Benders."
"But why? Why do we have to work? Isn't that slavery?" Nik asked.
The orange haired one spoke up before everyone would break into a shouting match. "Technically it's not. After we do our time he get a little plot of land and a job and we can have our own lives. They pay us, too. My name is Baibin McLaren. What's yours?" He asked.
"Nik Valeatore." He muttered as he rubbed his face with his dirty hands. He looked at the blonde curiously. "What's your name?"
"Seth Huntingtorn." He muttered as he looked out the back of the wagon. Upon hearing his last name, Nik's eyes widened.
"Is your pops Trent Huntingtorn? the famous Lightning Bender?"
An exasperated look fell over his face. Everyone had to bring up his father, "the one and only". In reality, his dad was an abusive asshole who cared for nothing more than his physical strength and money. A boy from a wealthy family like his shouldn't be sent away to work in the dingy mines. The problem was that Trent Huntingtorn hated both of his children, but Seth the most. He decided to send him away to make Skylar the heir to the family riches. "Yeah. That's him.."
Baibin looked at him with envy. "You shouldn't be here."
"And you should? We should?!" He snapped as his voice grew in volume. He was angry- never make a Huntingtorn angry. All of the men shook their heads. "Of course not!" He shouted and managed to stand up although it was wobbly. "I say we should overthrow the drivers and run! Make a life for ourselves in the East, taste the women and make a life for ourselves!"
"AYE!" the men screamed.
"We don't need this life! We don't need to suffer like the rest!" Seth bellowed. The wagon came to a slow halt. Everyone grew quiet and Seth suddenly sat down as if to act like nothing had happened. Maybe loud motivation wasn't the best way to escape. one of the front men steering the horses walked around the the back and scowled at them.
"What was all that there yellin' about?" He shouted at them. "Huh?!"
"Nothing sir." they all muttered incoherently as they watched their feet. The eyes on them were harsh and cruel and oh-so-cold.
"That's what I thought." And with that he walked back to the front and after a few minutes of discussion between the two drivers the wagon got moving looked at each other and Baibin smirked. The whispering and scheming started.
"I think we should start shouting again and ambush the two." he grinned his gap-toothed smile.
Nikolai shook his head. "Once we get to a stop somewhere we should all sneak out, kill them and take the horses and go."
Seth had to object. "There are six of us and four horses."
"Then share a horse!" A big burly man whispered. "Just share the horses and go!"
Then there was another question; what if they had guns. The men in the wagon were all mortals for now, a bullet could take their lives in an instant. Maybe this plan wasn't going to work after all. "Maybe we should all just go to the mines and escape from there."
The objection to Nik's suggestion was so loud and sudden that itr made him jump. "Do you know how hard it's gonna be to get out of there? They have men with guns at every corner!" Baibin whispered. "Or so I've heard."
Nikolai grinned mischievously. "Or so you've heard." He repeated. "It doesn't mean that it's true."
"But it could be." Seth broke in, starting to have doubts."And if it is then we're done for, boys. We're done."
Baibin rubbed his chin in thought. "I think we should go with Nikolai's plan. We can all get far and hide over in the East. I know we won't be able to blend in over much there, we're too fair skinned and light haired.."
Nikolai laughed. "we can always tan and get hair dye."
"If we can afford it." Seth snapped and sighed. "Think about it- if we do this.. If we work our share we'll get our own little piece of land, pay, and if we'rte all lucky our abilities will come through within a year and they'll let us off and still give us what they owe us. No hassle, no running, no nothin'." Seth then earned a cuff on the back of his head, which made him fall from the bench he was sitting on. "Ow-!"
"Look at you! A big strong fella like you talkin' about runnin' away an' gettin' our hopes up, now you're just tellin' us to forget about it! What kinda guy are ya, huh?! If you're gonna go back on your word you might as well just keep your damn mouth shut, ya bastard!" Baibin shouted, spitting on the floor in anger.
Two bad tempers, one bad mix. Nik thought with a weary look in his golden eyes. "Look about how we all just calm on down and think on things here, okay?" He asked. Seth was glaring wickedly at Baibin, who glared right on back. If they weren't tied there would be a bloody brawl going on in here. "Let's just calm on down, now.."
"He hit me!" Seth wailed and looked at the other men. "Did you just see him hit me, dammit?!"
"Stop actin' like a cry baby-" Baibin started with a feral tone in his deeper voice.
Seth tackled the other boy by sitting on him and trying to strangle him with his binds. Nikolai took action. He grabbed Seth the best he could with tied hand and yanked him back, sending them both reeling and landing roughly on the other side of the wagon with a creak and a loud crash. When Nik opened his eyes Baibin was rubbing his neck and cursing and spitting threats like a machine gun. If anyone was going to kill each other within the next week, it would be these two. A head lock was put on the blonde as he flopped like a fish on the floor, Nikolai holding him by his shaggy curly hair in case he tried to get away and attack Baibin again. "I told you to calm down!"
"I'm not the calm sort of fella in case you haven't noticed." he growled low.
Baibin wiped his mouth with the back of his hand after he spat a loogie on the wood floor of the old wagon. "Well you're gonna have to learn if you wanna survive in those damn mines, because that ain't gonna be tolerated."
"Like your behavior is?!" He fired back.
Nik and the two other guys were getting fed up with this. "Okay, how about we all just shut up until we get to the mines, okay? Whoever talks can't go to the cat house for two months."
"Two months?" A man whined.
"Yup, you all heard me. So sit tight and shut up." He shoved Seth away from him and pulled himself back up by his elbows onto the seat and sat patiently. Everyone stared and glared at each other out of boredom. A few times Baibin would word a few threats at Seth, but he would just set his jaw and look at the ceiling and pretend not to notice. At least they weren't fighting anymore. The ride was long and tiring, and soon enough a golden and orange glow was cast into the wagon. The sun was setting. The vehicle came to a slow stop. Why are they stopping?
"Alright everyone, get out." The driver said. He had a very bushy mustache and thick straggly eyebrows. Nobody moved from their places in the wagon. They needed a good reason to get up from their comfy places. "I said get out." he barked. Nobody moved. "Fine, I guess you're all gonna starve tonight.." Baibin was the first one up and stumbling out of the wagon. He seemed to be starving. The next person up was the big burly man next to Nikolai, who had to turn sideways to get out. Seth and Nikolai weren't moving. Sure, they were hungry but they weren't taking food from people they hated and beat up his father. "Are you two comin'?" The man asked as his eyes narrowed.
"No sir." Seth grunted as he put his hands behind his head and closed his eyes.
"Why the Hells not?" He yelled. "Do you wanna starve, boy?"
Nikolai smirked and spat at him. He had learned to spit from his grandad. "If it means not having to deal with you, then sure. We'll starve. the food you're givin' them is probably bad or spoiled anyways." That earned a bony finger being jutted at him.
"You had your chance."
"We know, sir. Good day." Seth shooed him off like the rich boy he was. The thudding of the mans boots became distant as he stormed off. Nikolai smirked at his new friend. He had a feeling that they might get along just fine.
Nik rubbed the back of his sweaty neck. "Damn, do you talk to your mama like that?" He asked.
Seth shrugged. "My mama was a lyin' whore. What was your mama like?"
That was an interesting question. he had never met his mother, but what his father had told him was that she was a beautiful native that lived in the canyons, with beautiful caramel hair like his. She was the daughter of the chief of the Nopieka tribe. "She was a native." He said simply.
"A savage?" Seth hissed. "is your daddy dead?" He asked as he leaned fore ward on his knees to hear more.
"Hells no. My daddy ain't dead. He's perfectly fine, I think.."
The blonde laughed. "The way those men beat your dad was pretty rough. My dad just told them to take me. What kinda dad does that, anyways?"
A bitter taste rose in his mouth. "A sore bastard of a father, that's for sure. I know I could never abandon my kid like that. Maybe that's because I come from such a small family.."
Seth nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I haven't heard of many Valeatore's on Zore. At least not here. I'm not so sure about the East.."
Nikolai was quick to protest. "We don't have family in the East." He said quickly. It was hard to imagine anyone in his family living in the extravagant lifestyle they had out that ways. All of the gold, the men wearing kilts and the heat.. It wasn't nearly as bad as it was here, but the density of the population and the humidity of the vast lake Awthar was enough o drive anyone nuts. It was filthy there as well, the streets were so narrow that feces and trash would pile up and nobody would know what to do with it, so they would just dump it into the desert to rot. It wasn't good for the enviorment nor for the wildlife- what little there was. "Do you have family in the East?" He asked.
"No, not very many."
"Ah.." Nik leaned back and watched as the wagon became darker and darker as night fell. The smell of smoke and a crackling fire filled his nose, as well as the smell of roasting meat. His mouth watered. "Do you smell that?" he asked Seth.
"I sure do.. I want some." he muttered as he started to stand. "Come with me."
Nik scoffed and drew his face up in a scowl. "I ain't surrendering to them. You shouldn't either. We're just gonna look weak when we go out there askin' for food. Weak and foolish. We said no, so let's not break our word." He muttered.
"C'mon.. it smells so good and you know it."
Nikolai growled and his golden eyes nearly glowed. "I said I ain't going. I'm not gonna make a fool out of myself."
"Fine." And with that, Seth hopped out of the wagon and went to go get some grub with the other men. Nikolai sat alone in the wagon as the colors casted and changed on the fabric walls, going from red to purple to blue, and eventually to grey when the moon rose. he wished he would see it, but he wasn't going to show mercy to any of them. that's not how being brave worked.