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Volume I: earth
27th August 2012
Chapter 6: The Jackal
Isamu thought it would take only a couple of hours to remodel the Flying Lemur before they could take off and head towards Ba Sing Se. It turns out he was wrong: Huangdi needed a lot of metal, plus a couple of tools to work with. They spent hours at the scrap, a dump west of Shiroizen, where there was almost every form of metal you could think off. After a while, he got a little impatient, and when he asked Huangdi if he couldn't finish it any faster, he got an annoyed reaction.
"I'm working as hard as I can, Isamu." He looked at him with a frown on his face. "I only have two hands and the Lemur is very old. I am an airbender, not a metalbender!'"
Startled by that emotional outburst, they left him alone for most of the time. Luckily, Shin was able to entertain them with stories while they were looking for metal at the scrap, or buying supplies at the market. He told Emma and him about their childhood and how they were able to survive, sometimes with the skill of airbending. After the sun had gone down and they were sitting at the warming fire, he and Huangdi sometimes did demonstrations of airbending, which involved the most difficult forms of acrobatics Isamu and Emma had ever seen. In return, Isamu showed them some earthbending, and Emma told them stories about the time she spent with the rebels. Isamu discovered that those night show were a perfect way to train earthbending: after a while, he was not only able to create bigger blocks and stone columns, but he was now also able to bend dust, and even to create small earthquakes which rattled the earth around them. After they finished dinner and their forms of entertainment, they all went to sleep, with Isamu and Emma sleeping in the Hovercar and Shin and Huangdi sharing a tent they found at the scrap.
That next morning, Isamu woke up by some rustling next to him. Startled, he rose up from his unconformable chair, with his hands in a fighting position. He was relieved that the rustling came from Huangdi, who was making his round around the Lemur. He did this almost every day: it was his way to find out if the Lemur still had any things that needed to be fixed. He looked up from the chassis when he saw Isamu waking up, his face calm as always.
"Good morning, Isamu. I didn't want to scare you. I was just making my final round around the Lemur." He inspected the chassis and a satisfying look appeared on his face. "And I think I have good news for you."
"Whazzup?" A sleepy voice came next from Isamu. Emma had also woken up, with a sleepy look in her eyes and her brown hair standing in all directions.
"Ah, you are also awake, Emma. Good." He turned his face towards Isamu. "Like I said, I have good news for you. I concluded from my inspection that the Lemur is almost finished. I only need to finish a couple of things in the trunk, and then we are good to go. If you buy some supplies from the market today –" He smiled at them. "- We can leave this afternoon."
"That's great news, Huangdi!" Isamu hopped out of the Hovercar and patted the one half of the twins on his back. "After breakfast, we head to the market immediately. Do you think you can pick us up in front of the city gate."
"Not a problem." He smiled at them and gazed at the tent, where Shin was still sleeping according to the snoring that came from the tent. "Now, if you go wake my brother, I am going to look for some twigs in the forest."
After a while, they sat at the fire Huangdi had made, and they were enjoying some roasted fish they had brought from the market earlier this week. They told the whole plan to Shin, who was going with them, because "You always could use some extra arms to carry those supplies. Huangdi eats a lot, after all!" Which earned him an annoyed look from his brother. After they had put out the fire and waved Huangdi goodbye, they left for the market. They bought a lot of fish and bread, enough to reach Ba Sing Se without stopping any further for resupplies. Emma, who kept the money with her, looked worrisome at the bag: it was almost empty and if they would run out of food, they wouldn't have enough money to buy any more supplies.
"Hey, don't worry Emma." Isamu tossed her hair to relieve her spirits. "We already survived on berries for a week, remember? Even if we run out of food, we still can try to find some at the places where we stop for the night."
"I hope we don't run out of food, however." Shin shared the look of Emma. "I don't think I'm able to survive on berries for a week."
Emma chuckled a bit. "Oh, I'm sorry, Mr Shin. I forgot we have to deal with a wealthy man here. Do you want a plush cushion while you are enjoying your dinner in the lovely evening?"
Shin couldn't laugh with them. "Oh, shut it, you two."
They bought the rest of their supplies, and started to make their way back towards the city gate. When they turned around the corner and reached the main street, Emma gazed into the distance. "What's going on there?"
Isamu and Shin followed her gaze. There was a big crowd standing in front of the city gate, that almost blocked the entire opening. Something attracted their attention, but it wasn't the curious attention that Isamu was familiar with. It seemed that the group was nervous, and when they gained enough distance to recognize some faces, they saw some expressions of fear.
Shin's eyes became alert. "I don't trust this. Let's find another way out." "There is no other way." Isamu quickly scanned the area in search for another way out of the city. "Let's just wait until the area is clear-"
"Look out!" Emma gasped.
The crowd started to scatter, but not in a calm way: most of them ran away in panic, and started to head towards the end of the main street, running past the trio. Shin reacted quickly and stretched his foot, tripping a young man on purpose. When he wanted to struggle up, Shin grabbed his shoulder. "What's going on?"
"Don't know... Ostrich horses... Tanks... Company... and a masked man..." The man was clearly scared and not able to talk full sentences. Shin took his hold of the man's shoulder, and the man resumed his way towards safety, clearly relieved that the stranger was kind enough to let him go.
"What was that about?" Isamu looked surprised at Shin.
"Does that answer your question?" He pointed towards the city gate. A small amount of armed soldiers in grey uniforms started to march into the city. They were all mounted, and were riding Ostrich horses: the animals were wearing metal harnesses and something white was shining on front of their heads, and on the uniforms of the soldiers as well. When they were close to him, Isamu realized with a shock that the white was a white C in a black circle.
The soldiers of the company were invading Shiroizen.
Emma quickly pulled their shoulders. "Quick, into the crowd!"
Shin and Isamu quickly obeyed her command and pushed the people out of their way, who had came out of their houses to see what was the source of all the commotion. They all got out of the way when the soldiers passed by, and they all had the same, scared look on their faces.
When they were certain they had a safe spot and still had a good view on the scene, Isamu and Shin tried to make themselves as little as possible. Emma (Who was at least one head smaller than them) started to push the people out of her way to get a clear view, but was stopped by Isamu, who shook his head. She pulled on a stubborn face, but was satisfied when she saw a whole to peek through in the crowd, just in time to see the biggest Ostrich Horse passing by. He was mounted by a masked man, who was dressed in a light-brown gown and a hood that almost completely covered his face. His mouth was covered by a black scarf, so that only his grey, cold eyes were visible. To his shock, Isamu saw that he was armed to the teeth: he saw a couple of throwing knives shining in the sun, along with a sheath that probably contained a scimitar, according to curved form it had. He also had strapped a leather belt around his torso, and the bulges on some places assumed that it contained bombs. He was riding his animal with skill, and the determined look in his eyes gave Isamu the impression that he was born to kill.
The soldier who was riding in front of him stopped and pulled out a big piece of parchment. He cleared his throat and started to speak to the crowd. "Citizens of Shiroizen! The Company has given us the order to search the city for two individuals, who are considered as a threat for the peace the Company wants to guarantee. Rumors told us that the criminals are hiding here in Shiroizen. We shall now give you a description of the two individuals..." He pulled out another parchment and started to read them in a tedious voice. "The two individuals are a male and a female, both teenagers, the male slightly older and taller than the female. The male has blonde hair and grey eyes, were the female has brown hair and eyes. If anyone has seen the two individuals I have described, please step forward." He gazed at the audience.
Isamu felt the sweat dripping down in his neck. The Company was looking for them already? Did Hiroto, although he had promised not to, betrayed them? He looked at Emma, who also shared his scared expression. Then, he quickly turned towards Shin, who seemed to be frozen and couldn't take his eyes of the soldiers. He immediately focused his attention back on the soldier, who had resumed his speech.
"No one? That's a shame. I thought we could expect at least one hint. After all the Company has done for you..." He smirked at the audience. "Who knows what the consequences could be for all of you when we find out that someone is lying?" At the moment he had finished his sentence, a man stepped out of the audience and fell on his knees in front of the mounted soldiers. Isamu recognized him as the statue salesman they saw a few days ago. His voice was high-pitched and he was literally begging for mercy.
"Please, Sirs!" He screamed. "Spare us! We don't have the information you require! We are just poor citizens!"
Things happened in a flash: after the man had finished his plea, the masked man jumped off his Ostrich Horse immediately, dashed towards the man, and before Isamu could even blink, the old man collapsed. With a painful expression on his face, he fell on the street, while the blood was streaming out of his sides. An enormous tumult occurred within the crowd.
"Silence!" The voice of the man was cold and without any emotion. The crowd immediately stopped screaming. "Let this be a warning for all of you. For those who don't know me, I'm the Jackal, the one who has the lead in this hunt. And let's put it this way: I never fail my tasks." He quickly gave a kick against the old man on the ground, who was shivering now. "This miserable person is not lethally wounded, so consider this as a warning. However, if I can find – and I will guarantee you I will – those two teenagers, I will show them no mercy. Now, who has any ideas where they could be?"
The crowd didn't say a word. The Jackal quickly looked for any missed individuals, but resumed his speech when he saw that no one had come forward. "Again, no one? Maybe we should bring back their memories." He turned his face towards the soldiers. "Set the city on fire. Maybe that will loosen some mouths."
The Jackal quickly turned around to discover the source of the voice. Isamu had made his way through the crowd, followed by Emma and Shin. They were all standing in front of him, and the look on their faces was determined.
"We aren't going to let you tear down to whole city because of us!" Isamu quickly changed into a battle position. In the corner of his eyes, he saw Shin and Emma do the same. "These people are innocent and shouldn't suffer because you simply want to. So if you want us: here we are, but we aren't going to let you win without a fight!"
A uproar occurred in the crowd. Although the three pair of eyes were focused on the cold grey ones, Isamu could still recognize the voices of the people surrounding them and the soldiers.
"Are they the threat?"
"No way. They are just teenagers."
"That boy seems dead serious, though."
"What is going to happen?"
The Jackal quickly stretched his hand. "Silence! Okay, boy. If it's a fight you want..." His eyes became determined. "Then it is a fight you get. Let this be a lesson for all the fools who want to oppose the company."
Without any warning, he quickly moved to his throwing knives and released them from his hand. Isamu saw the shining metal flying towards their direction, and he was just in time to duck away. He fell on the ground, and when he struggled up, he saw the Jackal heading towards their direction.
"You fool! You really thought you had the power to overwhelm me?" He reached for the sword in his sheet and pulled a silver scimitar out of it. "Prepare to meet your ancestors, Isamu. You will soon join them in the land of the dead!" And with those words, he lifted his sword to prepare the lethal strike.
Isamu, however, wasn't going to give up yet: he made some quick movements with his feet and rose a stone wall, and pushed it towards the Jackal. He tripped and fell on the ground, just in time to see the giant boulder rushing towards him: with the air pushed out of his lungs, he was launched backwards. He collapsed against a house and when he looked up, Isamu could see a little stream of blood on his forehead. "An Earthbender, eh? Fuijimoto already warned me for it. No problem it all." He started to dash towards Isamu and the others. "Everybody, kill them!"
A huge fight occurred between the three and the soldiers: while Shin was able to blast some soldiers and horses away with some powerful air streams, Emma was surrounded by three soldiers, but she quickly dodged when they wanted to strike and was able to hit some soldiers with some quick presses against certain parts of their bodies. It didn't seemed like it had caused any harm, but when she ran away from them and the soldiers want to follow her, they discovered that they weren't able to move their bodies at all. They were just laying on the street, completely paralyzed, while Emma was grinning at them. Isamu focused on the Jackal, but he was unable to strike him down with his boulders: he was indeed a skilled a fighter. He was driven back towards Emma and Shin, who joined them at his sides. Shin quickly made an air swipe to knock the Jackal down, and Isamu added some dust to it to create a smoke screen. When the Jackal disappeared behind the cloud, they quickly duck into an alley, where they pressed their bodies against the wall.
"We can't hit him! He's too fast!" Emma's face was covered in dust and sweat.
"Shin, you know the city better than us. What are we going to do?" Isamu gazed at his new friend. Shin looked back at him in a calm way, but his eyes betrayed him: they were filled with fear. He also had not seen such an enemy before.
"We only have one chance to make our way to the city gate." Shin tried to look around the corner, but quickly returned his head when a throwing knife flew past him. "If I can create a cyclone and Isamu adds some dust to it, it will cause a big sandstorm that should last long enough to escape. Emma, you cover us. Got it?"
They both nodded. Shin turned towards the corner and raised his hand. "One..."
Isamu summoned some boulders, ready to crumble as soon as they would run from their hiding spot.
Emma quickly changed herself into a battling position, ready to dash forward. "Three!"
They all ran out of the alley: Isamu crumbled the boulders and made a dust cloud, while Shin launched an air stream. Emma quickly made her way towards the Jackal. Just as Isamu launched the dust towards the air stream, it stopped immediately. He turned around and was just in time to see Shin collapsing towards the ground.
"SHIN!" He quickly made his way towards them, with Emma following him. When he reached him, he saw that the ground around them was covered in blood and that Shin was shivering. With a shock, he saw that a silver throwing knife was sticking out of Shin's shoulder.
"Nice try, young benders." A voice headed towards them, and Isamu turned around to meet the cold eyes of the Jackal. "But you need many more tricks up your sleeve if you want to trick me. Like I said, nobody escapes me." He pointed his scimitar at them. "Fuijimoto will be glad to hear that you three are gone from this world."
Isamu bowed his head. He knew that they had lost, but he wasn't going to plea for mercy. If he had to die, it would be like a man.
Someone grabbed his hand. When he looked up, he saw that Emma was holding his hand, her eyes filled with fear, but also with acceptation. She stroke his fingers in a comforting way, and he felt the fear being washed off his shoulders. Although he knew there was no way to avoid the pain, Emma's eyes seemed to take his fear away. She also grabbed Shin's hand, although she did it less firmly because she was afraid she would hurt his wounded arm.
"Stay with me." She whispered quietly.
The Jackal laughed scornful and without emotion. "Touching. But holding hands isn't going to save you. Prepare to- aargh!" His voice was cut off.
Surprised, Isamu and Emma looked up. The Jackal seemed to be launched away by an air stream, and when he looked at the city gate, he saw a gesture in a flying car speeding towards him. He felt more relieved than ever when Huangdi stopped in front of him, the motor still running.
"Huangdi!" Isamu and Emma said unison. Huangdi smiled at them.
"You can thank me later. Let's go!" He quickly jumped out of the Flying Lemur to help Shin in the back seat, while Emma quickly took place next to him. Isamu climbed in front on the car, in the passenger seat, while Huangdi took place behind the steering wheel again. It was just in time: the Jackal, who had landed in a stack of crates, had recovered from the surprise and attack and was reaching for his throwing knives, while yelling at his soldiers. "Get them, idiots! Get them!"
"Full speed, Huangdi!" Isamu gazed with a panicked look at the city gate, where the soldiers started to gather. Huangdi obeyed his command and accelerated: they were halfway top speed when they approached the gate. The soldiers didn't move a bit and pointed their swords towards the flying Lemur.
"They are blocking our path!" Emma gazed over Isamu's shoulder.
"Not for long!" Huangdi pressed the accelerator deeper. "This is about who has the guts!"
It turned out that he was right: just before they would crash into the army, the soldiers started to flee, running for the lives. With the soldiers in front of them, they raced out of the city, and Huangdi pressed the button that would switch the Lemur from hover mode into flying mode. "Hold on tight! This will be a bumpy ride!"
With the sound of the rushing wind in their ears, they lifted off the ground. When he thought they had gained enough air, Isamu looked down. Just in front of the gate of Shiroizen, he could recognize a couple of enormous tanks, with the crew helping the wounded soldiers. He was glad that they didn't had to deal with that.
He looked over his shoulder and gazed at Shin, who was incredibly pale and shivering. Emma had removed the throwing knife and pulled off her scarf, who was now wrapped around Shin's shoulder. The white fabric was now filled with red stains.
"What happened to him?" Huangdi gazed over his shoulder, his eyes filled with fear.
"He... He was hit, Huangdi." Isamu put a hand on his shoulder. "When we wanted to escape, he was hit by a throwing knife. A bounty hunter known as the Jackal was trying to kill us."
Huangdi violently shook the hand off his shoulder and gazed at him. "What? Some maniac was trying to kill you?"
"It was really terrifying." Emma shivered when she brought back the memory. "He was calm, but also very... chill. I have never met such a person in my life." Huangdi pulled the wheel. "I'm going back. That bastard will pay!"
"No, Huangdi!" Isamu grabbed his hands. "You won't stand a chance. He was almost able to kill all three of us. If you go back now and fight him, it will be your doom. For all of us!" He forced himself to look into Huangdi's eyes. They were expressionless, but not cold, like the ones of the Jackal. Isamu was almost able to feel the heat of the fury. "Please. Let's just go."
Huangdi looked at him for a long time and seemed to hesitate. After a while, he focused himself on the steering wheel again and started to head north, towards the mountains. "We are going to land soon. We need to check the wound and build a camp for the night."
Isamu was relieved by his reaction. "Thank you, Huangdi. And Shin will make it." He looked at Shin, who was asleep now, but still had a painful expression on his face. "I promise you that."
For the collective works of the author, go here.