Dark Puck - [Fic]: Terracotta Dawn (Chapter Two) [My FF.net Account] [Ongoing Fic Post] [Wingless Archangel Studios]
October 18th, 2010
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[Fic]: Terracotta Dawn (Chapter Two)

Kouji and Yui stood on a platform overlooking a huge room easily a quarter the size of university grounds. It had been divided into eight corridors, each holding hundreds of statues standing at the ready. The twins stared out over the army in awe.

On a second glance, they could see supports, but the roof they had held was long gone — collapsed or taken away, neither of the twins could say. "Wow," Yui said softly. "This is— this is just— wow."

Kouji nodded dumbly, and silence fell between them.

"You'd think after three years of doing this, it would get old," Yui added after a moment, not liking the quiet.

"Who could get tired of finds like this?" he asked her, sweeping his arm out.

"People with no imagination," she grinned. "Come on, let's go check it out." She started to pull him after her, but he dug his heels into the ground.

"Hang on." He turned back to the doors they had passed through speculatively. After a moment, he padded back to the trick door and pushed it shut, dragging the bolt home.

"Kouji, what—?"

"Just in case whoever found this before us gets territorial," he explained. "Can you get the other door?"

"Yeah, sure." She waited for Kouji to vacate the hallway, then closed the other door and took out her lockpicks again.

While she worked on that, Kouji padded down the stairs leading from the platform to the floor where the stone soldiers stood. As he drew closer, he realised that they weren't just stone — they were terracotta. He peered into the face of the nearest soldier, frowned, and took a few steps back before examining it again.

By the time Yui had the door locked, Kouji had given up on close examination and was moving through the rows, glancing at each face before moving on. "Yui!" he called when he heard/felt her set foot on the stairs. "Come take a look at this."

Yui scampered down the stairs and joined her twin. "What is it?"

"Look at this row of statues," he instructed. "Notice anything?"

She blinked, then passed between some of the statues. "…they're kinda handsome."


She grinned at her brother, then looked again. "—they all have different faces."

Kouji nodded. "We may have found the tomb of the First Earth King."

"…that should have echoed."

"Yui…," he growled.

"What?" she asked. "A discovery like this, there should be some drama!"

"I'm sure it will echo when they write a play about the real finders of this tomb," Kouji informed her, taking her wrist. "Come on, let's see what else is in here."

The twins moved on down the rows, glancing at the faces of each statue they passed in order to find any that were the same. "This must have taken ages," Yui whispered when they were halfway down the current corridor.

"Mm," Kouji agreed, grey eyes shining.

Yui wasn't as thrilled as her brother about their discovery — after all, someone else had been here before them. The finder's fee wouldn't be going to them. And the handsome statues were quite boring after looking at several hundred of them.

She pulled free of her brother and moved ahead, hoping to find scrolls, or anything at all saleable. She reached the end of the row long before he did, and stopped. "Kouji!"

Bare feet slapped against stone, and seconds later he'd caught up. "What is…" His voice trailed off as he took in the tablet that had caught his sister's attention.

It was taller than both of them and decorated along the sides with badgermoles and mountains; at the very top was a warrior in armour that resembled a fierce badgermole.

"The First King," Kouji whispered.

"Didn't we establish that already?" Yui asked.

Kouji slapped her lightly on the arm. "Shush." His eyes drifted from the warrior to the characters etched into the tablet. "This is Old Earth!" He grinned, and Yui sighed. This was going to take a while.

On the other hand, watching her brother's weird little dance as he tried to read the tablet was hilarious. He bounced from foot to foot, moving closer and further from the stone. Aborted words emerged from his mouth on occasion, half-sounds similar to ordinary language but very different at the same time.

After several minutes, he said, "I think I've got it. 'Here lies the sleeping army of Ying Zhen, first Emperor of the Impenetrable City and Conqueror of the Earth Kingdoms.'"

"For three generations, anyway," Yui muttered.

"Shush. 'In a time of desperation, when the Impenetrable City is in peril, call upon the sleeping army, and they will wake to your command.'"

Yui blinked. "Wait. Wait wait wait. Is that thing saying that these statues will wake up if Ba Sing Se is attacked?"

"No, it's saying that you have to wake them up yourself," Kouji explained.

She thought about this, then declared, "The ancients spent too much time in opium dens."

Kouji gave his sister a dire look. "I'm just translating. Though usually this kind of thing is a warning — do not steal the Great Stone of Whatever, or the soldiers will wake up and kill you. But this…"

"Is like an Omashu Li novel," Yui finished for him.

"Pretty much." Kouji sighed, tracing his fingers over the characters. "I wish I'd paid more attention in class. 'Call on the sleeping army', blah blah blah, instructions on how they go, and— huh."

Yui looked over at him. "Huh?"

"I… I think this has the words you need to wake them."

"…it's gotta be a trap," Yui said. "It's never that easy. There's always something guarding the treasure."

Kouji shrugged. "Maybe the people who got here first took care of that."

Wind gusted down the corridor, tugging lightly at their clothes before dissipating.

The twins looked at each other, then both turned to the door to the room. They couldn't see it from there, so Kouji knelt and Yui climbed up onto his shoulders. "Door's still shut," she reported.

"What was that you were saying about drama?" he asked as she climbed down.

Yui didn't answer.

The twins waited several minutes, but nothing else unusual happened. Kouji turned back to the slab. "Okay. Words to wake them—"

"Don't you dare say them!"

"What would we even do with an army of living stone?" Kouji asked.

"Knowing you? You'd sell it to Alak," she replied.

Kouji rolled his eyes. "I'm only going to translate, Yui. The language has shifted since the First King's time. They won't react to modern language."

"How do you know?"

The earthbender paused. "Good point. I'll break up the incantation while I translate, how's that?"

Yui nodded. "Should work."

She didn't really believe that the statues would come to life, but there was no point in taking unnecessary risk.

"'Awaken, warriors of stone,'" Kouji read. "I think that's standard for any spell, really. 'Your emperor's people need you.' Or they're short on players for an earthball game."

Yui giggled, and Kouji continued, "'Come help the city.' I guess Princess Azula's lucky nobody had found these guys when she took Ba Sing Se. 'Hear my words and obey.' Again, standard." He frowned at the tablet. "That line repeats, then the middle two stanzas mix it up, then the first line repeats. Huh."

"Anything else?" Yui wanted to know.

"For the spell? Nope. On the tablet? Also no." Kouji sighed. "I should probably tell Alak about—"

"I knew you were going to sell this to him."

Kouji gave her the Eye. "This is history, Yui. It belongs to the city."

"And you're going to negotiate with Alak for a finder's fee?" she asked.

He sighed. "Yes, Yui. Neither of us is in this for the history."

"I'm just not sure this is the kind of thing we should be turning over to Dai—"

Earth screamed against metal, and the twins froze.

"Was that the—?" Yui began, and Kouji nodded. Someone had unlocked the outer door.

Wordlessly, she adjusted the strap on her bag until it held snugly against her, then wrapped her arms around Kouji's neck and closed her eyes. She couldn't see what it was he did, but she felt his arms and body move, felt the earth pulse beneath them, and then they were no longer on the ground but flying through the air, dropping—

Stopped, as Kouji dug his hands and feet into the wall. He grunted as the sudden stop forced his sister against him, straining at his hold, but he hung on grimly, then began climbing. She opened her eyes when he stopped moving, in time to peer over his shoulder and see the inner door swing open.

Three men entered the chamber, too far away for Yui to make out the details of their faces. One seemed older than the other two, however, and more gaudily-dressed; of the remaining men, one looked to be the size of a professional earthbender, while the other one was quite a bit smaller. "Is this the place?" the older one asked, his reedy voice drifting across the chamber.

Kouji bit back a gasp, and Yui glanced sidelong at him. Did he know the older man?

"Yes, professor," said the smallest man. His voice was rich and carried well. He gestured out at the terracotta army. "As you can see."

"Any earthbender could have made these," the professor scoffed, and the big man rumbled disapprovingly.

"I think you'll find, professor," said the rich-voiced man, "how mistaken you are. Please come this way."

The three men walked down the stairs, the small man in the lead and the big man at the rear, and made their way right down the corridor Kouji and Yui had been in. The professor peered at the statues, and marvelled when he realised that not one of the soldiers shared a face. Yui winced; she had no idea how long Kouji would be able to hold them both up.

"Astounding," said the professor. "This must have taken a lifetime to put together."

"I suspect so," agreed the short man. "Come along, professor, I think you'll like what we have for you…"

Gently he chivvied the old man towards the tablet.

Yui held her breath when they reached it; if she or Kouji had left noticeable traces of their presence…

"My word!" the old man exclaimed. "This is Old Earth, from the reign of King Ying Zhen!" Seeming to forget the other two men were there, he went on to translate the slab much faster than Kouji had.

Kouji hissed softly in annoyance as the professor retranslated the awakening spell:

Awaken, o thou warriors of stone.
Thine emperor's people have need of thee.
Come to the aid of the city.
Heed my words and obey my commands.

Heed my words and obey my commands.
Come to the aid of thy emperor's people.
Thy city has need of thee.
Awaken, o thou warriors of stone.

Fortunately, however, the stone statues didn't move, and Yui let out the breath she hadn't realised she was holding.

The professor turned to the other two men. "Is that all you wanted, Mi Ren?" he asked.

The shorter man — Yui could see now that he was quite pretty — smiled. "Of course not, professor. We would hardly be paying you such an exorbitant sum if a translation was all I was after."

"Then what do you want?"

Mi Ren's smile grew larger. "My dear professor, I have a plan. The Fire Nation has gone without punishment for long enough, wouldn't you agree?"

The professor considered this, resting his hands on his not-inconsiderable stomach. "They say the new Firelord is dedicated to peace," he hedged.

The big man snorted rudely, and Mi Ren reached up to pat him on the shoulder. "Down, Rong," he said consolingly before returning his gaze to the professor. "The Avatar is friends with Firelord Zuko. It is his influence that prevents the Fire Nation from receiving their just desserts for their actions during the war."

Mi Ren spoke with such passion, Yui felt her emotions responding and strongly checked herself. This pretty man was dangerous.

And it was working on the professor. "And how will my contribution assist you?"

Mi Ren smiled, and he tapped the tablet. "I've done some research into the First King and his army. Please — read just the first line of the incantation? In the original language."

Yui's eyes widened. This man couldn't possibly think the terracotta statues would respond, did he?

"'Excito, calx proeliator*,'" read the professor.

A beat of silence, after which both twins relaxed.

Then stone cracked along the room as each and every warrior turned its head towards the professor.

Kouji lost his grip on the wall in his surprise, and the twins tumbled to the floor, rocks clattering in their wake. Yui barely bit back a cry when they landed, Kouji on top of her, but she couldn't keep the air from flying out of her lungs.

"What was that?" she dimly heard the professor ask, voice high-pitched.

"Rockfall," rumbled a new voice, who could only be the large Rong. "Coincidence."

"Are you certain?"

"Of course," Mi Ren intercut soothingly. "Rong is a much stronger earthbender than I am."

"As you say," said the professor dubiously, before seeming to dismiss the issue for the much larger one at hand. "How did they—?"

"This army is as old as the city," Mi Ren explained. "The First King appealed to the spirits of Earth, and they laid power on these statues so they would wake when the spell is used."

"And you— you're going to send them against the Fire Nation."

"Yes," was the simple reply.

Kouji and Yui stared at each other in horror.


"Of course not," Mi Ren said. "Nothing is ever that simple. For example, if these warriors leave the city, they will cease to move. The power will leave."

Kouji frowned, and Yui wondered what wheels were turning in his head.

"Of course," said the professor. "They were meant to guard this city. So how—"

"Need to know, my dear professor," purred Mi Ren. Yui could hear the professor's huff of irritation. "Don't worry; I took this into account. I have a plan to deal with it. Your role will only be in translation. There will be no danger to your person."

"Very well," was the mollified reply. "And the payment…"

"Will of course be factored in with what requires your services. Now, I believe that this is not the best place to discuss business, yes? We should speak of such matters aboveground." The man's tone changed to one of command. "Rong."

This was acknowledged with a grunt, and then footsteps indicated the departure of the three men.

The twins lay motionless, still tangled up with each other, until metal-and-earth screamed once more. "Okay," Kouji breathed, and gingerly they separated and checked one another for injury. On ascertaining that only bruises had been amassed, Kouji got to his feet and peered at the nearest warrior.

"They're— sleeping, I guess. They're not awake, anyway," he reported.

"What the hell," whispered Yui, wide-eyed. "How is — why would — this can't — when did our lives become an Omashu Li novel?"

"Shhh!" Kouji urged. Yui noted his hands were shaking. "I need to think." He began pacing back and forth. "We need to stop them."

"How?" Yui demanded. "This is the craziest plan I've ever heard of!"

"I'm working on it," Kouji replied.

Yui sighed and checked to be sure nothing in their bag had been damaged in the tumble. Her questing fingers encountered some more cheese, which she removed. "Kouji," she said. When he turned to her, she tossed it to him. "Eat. You were holding us up for awhile."

He nodded and continued his pacing. "Okay. First we need to get to that tablet." He sprang to the shoulders of one of the terracotta warriors, took a moment to get his balance, then leapt from the statue to the top of the corridor wall. Yui was just behind him.

From that vantage point, they scanned the room to be sure they were alone, then trudged along the wall until they got back to the corridor that held the tablet again. They dropped to the floor, and Kouji took the bag from his sister. "What are you doing?" she asked as he removed some rice paper and an ink-stick.

"I'm making a rubbing of this." He nodded to the tablet. "We may need the incantation," oh, gods, now he was talking like a scholar, "in order to work out a way of stopping this." His eyes flashed. "And then I'm going to destroy the tablet."

Yui stared at him. "Are you serious?"

He nodded. "I don't want a war any more than you do, Yui. This probably won't stop them — if they're smart, they've already made a rubbing themselves — but it will hopefully delay them."

Yui gestured to the statues. "Maybe you could try destroying them?"

Kouji hesitated. "Maybe. If I have to."

"Try one," Yui suggested, and Kouji flinched.

"All right. I'll try." He handed the rice paper back to his sister, then approached one statue and settled into a ready stance with the majority of his weight on the back foot. He drew both hands back to his hip, then shifted suddenly to a front stance, thrusting his hands before him with a "Ha!"

The terracotta cracked, and dust billowed from it, but the soldier remained intact.

"…well, then," said Yui.

"I'm destroying this tablet," Kouji said, taking the paper back and approaching the tablet. He held the paper up over what had to be the wake-spell, took some graphite from his pocket, and settled in to work.

Yui sighed and took up her brother's pacing. The statues were powered by spiritual power, which she and Kouji likely would be unable to affect. They had to stop the outside force looking to wake the soldiers, then, but Mi Ren was already gone, and with him whatever method he would use to get the warriors beyond the city.

…maybe she was looking at this the wrong way. Maybe what she and Kouji needed was someone who could handle things like this, someone trained to deal with spiritual power and to bargain with spirits.

But where would they find a sage who wouldn't laugh them out of the temple?

"Okay," said Kouji, turning around. "I need you to— YUI!"

Instantly she dove aside, but Kouji's warning had come too late.

A strong hand wrapped around her ankle and yanked her up off the ground.

*I chose to represent Old Earth with Latin, as there is no free resource available on the internet that will translate accurately into any of the Ancient Chinese languages to my knowledge. If anyone wants to help with that, please do so!

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