“No fear. No pain. No mercy.” 843 whispered the words as soon as her eyes opened.
It was still early. Two hours before sunrise. She rose. Her body moved like clockwork. She rinsed her face in the small basin by her bunk. Donned her uniform. Made her bed. Went to the dining room. Two young potentials, orphans both, served her food, just as she had once served those who were now Weapons. Breakfast was a small bowl of plain porridge and a papaya. There was tea as well–a special blend of ginseng for energy, burdock root to prevent muscle fatigue, and licorice to support healing. It tasted awful, but it had had everything a living weapon needed.
She sat in her usual seat, third table down, second-to-last seat from the exit, beside the other tier one weapons. She sipped her tea, saying nothing. The boy to her right didn’t speak either. He rubbed his forehead as he poked his food.
Lack of appetite. Another migraine, she thought. Third one this week. Pity. She had just gotten used to sparing with this one. But if the headaches kept up he would break, just like the one before him. Then Master would have to make a new weapon to fill the empty chair. One of the kitchen orphans maybe? The girl was just about the right age…
A tremor ran up her hand. She swallowed.
No fear. No pain. No mercy.
She repeated the words again, silently until the feeling passed. She touched her own forehead. Not sure why. She could see the vague reflection of the tattoo in her tea. The third eye was vivid on her skin, red as fresh blood. Her chakras’ path was clear, too. It was years since her last migraine.
Footsteps sounded. Her master’s and another–a older man, she knew from the gait. He was wearing boots. Fire Nation military. And he was wealthy. The kind of wealthy that let their coins jingle on their belt.
The tier twos and threes were standing now–the tier threes already in rigid attention. She rose and turned too, right-ways, so that she would be facing the door when her master entered.
“I admit I’m surprised to see your families still in business, Master Eli. Especially after Lord Zuko took the throne,” said the stranger with the clunking boots. Her master’s footsteps were much lighter, like wind whispering in the night.
“People will always need weapons, Tomas. Even Lord Zuko. I imagine that’s why the young lord never bothered to make an appearance after he came to power. Then again, my father said he always was a coward.”
“True,” said Tomas. “But I doubt Firelord Izumi will make the same choice if she ever finds out the truth about this little operation.”
The two men entered side-by side. The stranger wore fine Fire Nation clothes with gold embroidery but no armor. Ex-military then? A former officer most likely, since he still carried himself with authority. Her master wore his usual flowing robes of orange and yellow.
“And how would she learn that? Are you going to enlighten her, Tomas?” her master asked. He was a soft-spoken man, but his voice was as soothing as eel-hound claws raking slowly down her spine. She sucked in a breath.
No fear, she thought.
Tomas chuckled, making the coins on his belt jingle even harder. “Me? After what her father did to my family? Surly, Eli, you know me better than that. Why do you think I came all the way out here personally?”
“I see.” said Master. “In that case, let’s get right to business.”
He beckoned towards the tier three table. Without instruction, the program’s most powerful weapon stood.
“Weapon number 459, Morter,” Master announced.
Morter was burly and muscled and still incredibly limber for his years. But it wasn’t his combat skills that made him Master’s most prized weapon. Morter had single-handedly leveled more ground, taken more lives with his combustionbending then the rest of them put together. As a sign of his rank, his third eye was slashed with three other horizontal tattoos in matching red.
“Morter will serve you well. Consider it a gift from my ancestors.”
The Fire Nation man didn’t reply. He was too busy making faces at Morter, as if he couldn’t decide whether to be in awe or afraid. Not an uncommon reaction, actually. It took him a moment to realize Master had addressed him.
“He’s magnificent. I promise his talents will not go to waste.”
“Is there anything else?”
The Fire Nation man gave a yellowed smile. “Actually, now that you mention it, I wanted to discuss equipping my associates.”
Her master’s mouth set into a line. “A weapon is only as good as its handler, Tomas. Those glorified bandits you call associates barely have the sense to handle their own bending, let alone command one of my weapons. ”
Master had a point. Apparently his father had made that mistake once and loaned his prize weapon to a warlord. But the weapon, number 613 Pike, tried to break her contract and escape with a rebel called Zaheer. She even had the nerve to give herself a human name. For this treason, Master’s father left her for scrap, refusing to free her even after she ended up in a Northern Water Tribe ice prison. Or so the story went. Master never said what happened after.
Tomas shifted in place. “So you know then?”
“My son informed me. Word tends to spread quickly when the royal palace is invaded by rogue benders who attack the Firelord in broad daylight.” He shook his head. “How utterly sloppy of you.”
He sounded disgusted, and his tone made old Tomas squirm.
“Yes, well, there were some… complications. The Avatar made an unexpected appearance.” He swallowed. “And she has mastered bloodbending.”
Her master’s brows lifted. “Has she now?” He fingered the snowy beard that ran halfway to his chest. “Interesting. In that case, perhaps I will loan you another. A lighter weapon… something even your bandits can handle.” He gestured again, this time to the tier one table. To her. She rose and stepped forward.
“Weapon number 843 Fuse,” said Master.
The Fire Nation man scratched his narrow chin and looked her over with equally narrow eyes.
“This one doesn’t look as powerful as the others…”
“She’s been field-tested and received top marks for agility, combat, and accuracy. She’s more than enough for your bandits, I assure you. Well, provided you pay collateral, of course.”
The Fire Nation man was still eyeing her.
“Wha–? Oh, money. Yes, of course.” He produced an impressive gold box filled with, surprise, more gold.
“Very good,” said her Master. “I’ll have them outfitted and shipped by tomorrow. Just make sure your associates are prepared. This isn’t a toy for them to play with.”
“I’ll make sure they know. Thank you, Master Eli.” The Fire Nation man turned to go.
“Oh, and Tomas? The next time you visit, I expect better news.”