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Shadows of the Flame

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Jeong Jeong was always a man who liked to hit the ground running. Although he generally didn't mean from the moment he woke up and rolled out of bed. But such was the life of a deserter of the Fire Navy. The newly-crowned Fire Lord Ozai did not take the news of his most effective admiral's extended leave of absence well. So here Jeong Jeong was, running for his life from an array of bounty hunters and Fire Nation soldiers for the third straight day. At least last night he'd had a chance to construct a shelter and get a few hours of sleep.

Jeong Jeong was in his mid-50s, but no less agile than he had been in his 20s, which gave him an advantage over his younger yet inexperienced pursuers. Blasts of fire missed Jeong Jeong by wide margins. Some of the soldiers were riding komodo-rhinos and eel-hounds, and the latter of these were easily gaining ground over the firebender. The soldiers steered their beasts into Jeong Jeong's path, creating a wall and hoping to bring their quarry to a halt. Jeong Jeong smirked as he prepared to disappoint them. He blasted fire from one fist and foot, propelling himself off the ground and over the heads of the soldiers and their mounts. While airborne, the ex-admiral lashed out with fire whips, knocking three soldiers to the ground. He hit the ground on the other side of the blockade, tucked and rolled, and was back on his feet and running before his pursuers could even process what had just happened.

As Jeong Jeong cast a glance over his shoulder, he failed to notice a blue box in front of him where a moment before his way had been clear. The door to the blue box opened, and a man prepared to step out just as Jeong Jeong turned his head back to the path in front of him. Both men could barely give one another a look of surprise as the firebender collided with the stranger, causing them both to tumble into the box.

“OW!! Do you mind?!” The stranger struggled to push Jeong Jeong off of him, outraged at the intrusion. “What's got into your head, bursting into my—”

He was cut off as Jeong Jeong leaped to his feet and turned to face his pursuers. He raised a wall of flame around the box, cutting off most of the soldiers, and causing the stranger's eyes to go wide. Firebenders easily leaped through the wall of flames, but before Jeong Jeong could confront them, the stranger whirled around and punched a button on some sort of round table behind him, causing the doors to swing shut. The dull thud of the Fire Nation soldiers' fireballs lasted for several moments before everything went silent.

Jeong Jeong sighed with relief, then turned to address his rescuer.

“I apologize for the intrusion. My way was clear only moments ago. But I am grateful for your help.” Jeong Jeong bowed to the stranger, his hands momentarily forming the Fire Nation salute before he caught himself. Deserter or not, old habits still died hard. He looked up to identify the other man, and was somewhat shocked at what he saw.

The man was unlike any Jeong Jeong had ever seen before. He was about average height and very pale, with hair somewhere between white and the color of corn. And it was extremely curly. His blue eyes were round rather than almond shaped, and his jaw was sculpted in such a way as to remind Jeong Jeong of the illustrations he'd seen of Air Nomads. Yet nothing about this man seemed to suggest actual Air Nomad ancestry. The man's clothes were another marvel. He wore a multi-colored coat containing mostly reds and pinks, with a stripe or two of green, blue and yellow. On his lapel was what appeared to be a cat-shaped pin. Tied around the man's shirt collar was a blue tie with white dots. The collar itself was bedecked with strange symbols that seemed to convey just how much of a mystery this man was. The man's pants were yellow with vertical stripes. All in all, the stranger was a hodge podge of fashions Jeong Jeong was sure didn't exist anywhere in this world.

The man regarded his guest with a shrug. “Yes, well...I certainly wasn't expecting an attack from elementals when I landed.”

“Elementals?”

“People who can manipulate the elements. You call yourselves 'benders.' Though the humans I'm best acquainted with would take offense to that term.”

Jeong Jeong raised an eyebrow and was about to question the man further when a thud resounded through the walls, and the whole room shuddered. The stranger ran back over to his table, which Jeong Jeong now noted was covered with all manners of buttons and switches. The stranger hit one button, causing a part of the nearby wall to retract, revealing what appeared to be some sort of screen showing them what was going on outside. Jeong Jeong's pursuers were beating on the box with fire blasts and the horns of the komodo-rhinos.

“What say we take our leave before they ruin the paint job, eh?” the stranger said, hitting a few more dials and switches. The column in the middle of the table began to move up and down, and a wheezing sound echoed through the room. Jeong Jeong looked around for the source of the sound, but both he and his rescuer were distracted when everything lurched to one side. A quick glance at the screen showed all the outside firebenders working en masse to blast the doors down. Some chirping and whirring later, and the screen went dark and the portion of the wall that had concealed it slid back into place.

The stranger let out a sigh of relief. “Now then...”

But he was once again cut off as the box began to shudder. He began frantically pounding on buttons and switches, occasionally muttering, “Steady on, old girl,” or, “Just a bit further, now.” The shuddering was slowly replaced by the same wheezing sound Jeong Jeong had heard moments before, and suddenly they were hit with a shock wave that felt as if they'd landed hard on something. The impact threw both men to the floor, and everything went quiet again.

“You alright?”

Jeong Jeong pushed himself partway off the floor before turning his attention back to the stranger. “I am fine,” he responded. “But what just happened? Where am I? What is this place? And who are you?”

The stranger was now on his feet, studying his consul and occasionally flipping various switches. “It seems those pyrokinetics managed to do some damage to the TARDIS before we properly dematerialized, which caused a bit of a bumpy landing. Oh, well, nothing I can't fix. As for where you are, you are on my ship, the TARDIS (yes, it's bigger on the inside), and as to who I am, I'm the Doctor. I'm a Time Lord, and I've taken a particular interest in your world where humans can manipulate the elements, so I've been popping about through your world's history to get an idea of where your fascinating powers come from. Does that about cover it for you?” He glanced at the firebender expectantly.

Jeong Jeong stood, placing a hand on the consul to steady himself. The table seemed to buzz beneath his finger tips, seemingly alive with an inner fire of its own. Everything about this vessel was...alien, for lack of a better term.

“It is alien,” the Doctor said suddenly, surprising Jeong Jeong. The Doctor smirked, then added, “Sorry, it's simply that humans who set foot on my TARDIS tend to all have the same reaction. 'It's bigger on the inside,' 'Is it an alien ship?' 'Are you from another planet?' Statements and questions of that sort. The answer to all of which is yes! And no, I don't actually read minds. At least, not without permission.”

Jeong Jeong suddenly became aware of his mouth hanging open as he regarded the Doctor with a look of incredulity. He snapped his jaw shut and tried to organize the thoughts racing through his head. If this was a ship, it was unlike any Jeong Jeong was familiar with, and it was hardly a sea-worthy vessel. And it had appeared out of nowhere and then vanished out of the clutches of the Fire Nation. To a presently unknown location. “So...where are we now?” Jeong Jeong asked hesitantly.

“Hmm, let's see, shall we?” the Doctor said, hitting the same button that had previously retracted his ship's wall. The screen was revealed again, and on it appeared to be a desert. “Oh dear,” the Doctor said.

Jeong Jeong felt his throat constrict a bit at the sight, realizing that they had moved in space nearly a thousand miles in just a few moments. He came from a long, proud line of naval officers and had rarely, if ever been more than 50 miles from any large body of water. Though he was a firebender he felt more at home on the sea than anywhere else, and had more than once wished he controlled his opposing element rather than the one his lineage had saddled him with. A desert was devoid of any readily available water source, and it held dangers that could require the use of firebending, an act that burned through far more calories and water than any other form of physical activity. Though not at great risk for sunburn, firebenders were more prone to dehydration than any other human being. A desert was a true wilderness to Jeong Jeong, more so than the uncharted waters off the coast of the southern Earth Kingdom Jeong Jeong had frequented during his time in the navy; and he feared that here, among the burning sands, they were stranded.

The Doctor hit a switch on the consul and the TARDIS doors slowly opened. “Come on, then,” the self-proclaimed alien called. “Best assess the damage and make sure it can't be fixed only by something I don't keep on board.”

The Doctor stepped out of the ship and into the desert sun, with Jeong Jeong following close behind. The two men observed that the TARDIS was sticking partway out of a dune, tilted sharply to one side. The wood paneling bore scorch marks and gouges from the attack mere minutes ago. Jeong Jeong was surprised at how superficial the damage seemed.

“Your...ship...is very sturdy,” he complimented the Doctor, still not entirely sure how this blue object qualified as a ship. “Firebenders generally do not sail wooden vessels for obvious reasons. But you seem to have a ship made out of an exceptional type of wood. She's a good vessel.”

The Doctor beamed with pride. “She is indeed. This old girl has been my most faithful companion for centuries. But it's not the wood that makes her strong. That's just a facade. Normally my TARDIS is supposed to change its outward appearance to blend in with its surroundings. But she seems to like that police box shape best.”

Jeong Jeong grunted in response, having given up trying to make sense of the man's ramblings. But he did notice, for the first time, just how small the box's outward appearance really was. His eyes widened as he realized the Doctor wasn't kidding; it really was a lot bigger on the inside.

“Help me start digging her out, won't you?” the Doctor said. Jeong Jeong nodded, and the men set to work clearing the TARDIS of sand.

The sun had warmed the sand to temperatures well above what the average human could withstand, and for the first time in...well, Jeong Jeong couldn't remember...the firebender was grateful for the element in his control. Firebenders could withstand a great deal of heat, and could even diffuse it if necessary. But what was peculiar is that the heat didn't seem to bother the Doctor either, despite his earlier implication that bending of any kind was—for lack of a more appropriate term—alien to him.

“How is it a...Time Lord, as you called yourself, can stand such burning hot sand without firebending abilities?”

The Doctor paused in his digging. “Hmm? Oh, well, Time Lords can withstand a much greater range of harsh conditions than humans normally can. D'you know, I can even take the hard vacuum of space for brief periods of time. Not prolonged exposure, of course. But it's a brief period of time longer than a human can withstand.”

“Huh,” Jeong Jeong said simply, not trying to make sense of what the Doctor had said. Surviving the hard vacuum of space? That he'd have to see to believe.

“Ah, there it is!” the Doctor cried suddenly. He ducked underneath an exposed corner of the TARDIS bottom and began fiddling around with something. After several moments the Doctor's head reappeared. He stood up and backed a few steps away from the TARDIS.

“That could be problematic,” he said.

Jeong Jeong felt the slightest rise of panic. “What do you mean, 'problematic?'”

“Well, from the assessment the TARDIS gave me inside, the rough treatment she received before her last jump did a bit of damage to the helmic regulator and the mesmerglobber. Nothing I can't fix with a sonic lance”

“The what?”

“But what really hurt the TARDIS,” the Doctor continued, ignoring Jeong Jeong's remark, “was the landing. Or really, coming out of the time vortex. Something in the vortex knocked some of the Zeiton crystals clean off. Can't make a smooth landing without those. In fact, if we were to try and make a jump now, we'd risk blowing up completely.”

Jeong Jeong's heart sank. “So we're stranded.”

“Dead in the water, I'm afraid. Or sand, in our case.”

The ex-admiral glared at the Doctor, unappreciative of his attempt at nautical humor in these conditions.

“Unless we can find some more Zeiton,” the Doctor said. “The last time I replaced the crystals was on Varos.”

“What's Varos? Another world?”

“Oh yes, a world far away from yours. Zeiton is rather rare in the universe. It only occurs on a few planets.”

Jeong Jeong buried his face in his hands. They were buzzard-wasp bait, he just knew it.

“Fortunately, I have good reason to believe that your planet is one of them.”

The firebender looked up at the Time Lord, hope written across his face. “How do we find it?”

“Well, we can't go anywhere in the TARDIS,” the Doctor responded, looking around. “We'll just have to start walking until we find some civilization. This way!” He pointed in a random direction and began walking.

Jeong Jeong smacked his forehead before scrambling to catch up with the other man. “You can't just go wandering off into a burning hot desert, thinking help will be over the next sand dune!” he berated.

“Oh, come now, where's your positive attitude...ehm...I don't think I caught your name.”

“Jeong Jeong,” the firebender muttered.

“Hmm. Peculiar name. Sounds a bit Star Wars, if you ask me. Oh well, on to business! And our first order of business is to find other people.”

Jeong Jeong gave a frustrated growl and kept trudging through the sand, trying to keep up with the colorful madman.