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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|"Akio turned around on his chair, and opened his eyes wider when he saw the trio that had just broke into his room. "Ah, is that Shirou in front of me? Well, I'm not sure why exactly you're here, but I'm afraid that I don't really give out my Tribal Seal just when people ask.""|
|— From Special Operation|
|"Shirou dumped eleven hundred of our gold coins into the bottom of the ocean, almost destroying the world's economy, throwing us in debt. We've spent almost a quarter of our remaining funds to solve this matter, planning an intense operation that will be executed in just a few weeks."|
|— Markale from Special Operation|
|"He scowled. "And now you want my help. Goodbye, my friend. We'll meet again in Hell." And with that, Shinji brought his foot of Shirou's hand, and sent him flying down to the dozens of angry Procession members below."|
|— From The Battle at Glacier Cove|
November 2, 2011
This is Chapter 32 in The Avatar Rhythm Series
Shirou shivered. Around him were thick icy walls, the floor plated with stone. A cold morning haze was settling down over the North Pole, and the sea breeze blew a chilling fright into the air.
In the land of ice and fear, this was supposed to be normal. But beneath the land of ice and fear, it was suffering. There Shirou sat, inside his cell, inside The Procession's Northern Headquarters, captured. The stone bench which he sat on was cold, the icy walls which he leaned against on brought shivering to the touch. He only had a thin flannel shirt on, and it wasn't enough to stop the chill. Shirou gazed down at his hands, his corrupted gray skin turning the faintest colors of blue and black, hard, frozen, he was assured that he had gotten frostbite.
For the last day that The Procession was holding him in here, he entertained himself by drawing pictures, scratching his long fingernails on the icy walls. Now he couldn't risk putting his fingers on the ice. They were already numb and dark.
Suddenly, a knock boomed from the stone door across from him, which immediately opened. Out stepped a rather large member of The Procession, into his cell. "We need you," he mumbled.
Shirou shivered out a cold whisper. "For what?"
"Fine." Shirou stepped forward, stumbled, and stood.
"Now follow me."
"Commissioner Markale of The Procession would like to see you. He has a certain... You'll find out."
Meanwhile, Shinji and Takumi walked down the Polar Revolution's main hall with trays of dinner, sad. A week ago, the place was filled with messy men and women of all ages. Now, there were just a couple crippled warriors in the corners of the room. And it was silent. The only members who didn't die during the Battle at Glacier Cove were now in the hospital or a prison. Only a few brave souls survived and were still a part of the rebels. They needed time to rebuild themselves.
Shinji and Takumi stopped by a frosty stone sticking from the floor and sat down on it, munching on a pale chunk of roasted buffalo yak meat, cooked to the point where it was tasteless, and oozed with fat.
Takumi had been chewing on a piece for a while. "We lost. We totally lost that battle."
"Even Asaki's seeming a bit downcast."
"That's saying something."
They spaced out for a couple awkward seconds.
"Nice food, huh," Shinji muttered, taking a bite of his side dish of fried bamboo, which tasted as if it probably shouldn't be fried.
"I know why you're so sad," Takumi said, looking down. "Loosing Shirou to The Procession."
Shinji's eyes widened, but tried not to show anything. "Yeah," he coughed. "That's probably what it is. Good friend, you know."
"I get you, he was pretty cool. Of course, you know Shirou a bit more than I do."
"Yeah." Shinji faked a chuckle.
"We'll get him back, don't worry."
Shinji didn't say anything.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Shinji mumbled.
Back in The Procession's Northern Headquarters, Shirou was being led by the large tax collector through an icy passageway, gloomy and dismal. He looked up as the man dragging him across the rough ground stopped, and put his hand on a large door to the left, which he opened.
Shirou cursed under his breath as The Procession member threw him through the doorway, onto a hard stone floor. He rubbed his bruised side, glanced up, and saw a large desk, with a man behind it.
Shirou stood up, and raised his fists. "What are you doing with me? Who are you?"
The Procession member behind him tried to move, but the man behind the desk motioned him to stop, and he closed the doors, trapping Shirou with the man behind the desk.
"Who are you?" Shirou muttered, still afraid. "Why do you fools want me anymore?"
"Sit down," the man said.
Reluctantly, Shirou obeyed, and sat down the stool that lay in front of him.
"You aren't very bright, I'll tell you that much," he said. "Joining The Polar Revolution when we already wanted you? You practically could have walked straight into a huge city and made a scene of yourself." He laughed.
Shirou didn't. "Who are you?"
"Who am I? My name is Markale, Markale of the Earth Kingdom, head of The Procession."
"You're a terrorist."
"Only terror brings true peace."
Shirou looked at him straight in the eye, almost yelling. "Terror? You killed hundreds! You destroy everything to bring peace, and even if you do collect taxes, you're destroying the world while doing so!"
Markale's calm expression didn't even flicker. "Says the person who almost wiped out Glacier Cove to rid us from the North Pole. There only is pain in peace. To make people happy, others must be unhappy. I'm afraid you just happened to be unfortunate enough to be put in the sad side of society."
Shirou sat back. "I don't know why you do it. Why do you strive to bring hurt to the world? Why do you have The Procession?"
Before Markale could answer, a side door opened and a man, quite plump, walked in with a tray of steaming mugs. "Hello Master. I've made you some exotic Plum Blossom Tea for you and our guest to drink. In case you wanted any."
"We don't," muttered Shirou.
Markale looked up, and grabbed two mugs. "We'd love some, thank you." As the servant left the room, he slid a mug over to Shirou, and continued what he was saying. "If you can believe it, The Procession started as a family business, back in the northern mountains of the Earth Kingdom-"
"This is going to be a long story, isn't it?" Shirou stated.
"I'm afraid so," Markale replied, and cleared his throat. "My grandfather started The Procession just to collect the taxes of our small village, which he would deliver to the official men when his they came. It was just a favor. The other villages around our lands complimented my grandfather for his work, and they hired him to collect their taxes too. Soon, The Earth King had assigned The Procession to collect all the taxes north of Ba Sing Se. That's when we started recruiting people to work for us. Our organization was huge, we had bases everywhere. In almost no time at all, we were in charge of the whole nation's taxes."
Shirou interrupted him, shaking his head. "This story is altered from the truth, isn't it? You're making it sound like your grandfather was a honorable man who did a great thing for the world. He created a monster."
"A monster? If you're talking about worldwide success, that was me who started it," Markale said. "Once my elders were dead I gained control over The Procession, and had my own plans for world success. Around the time when my father died, the Fire Nation was having some frightening rebellions. I volunteered to help collect taxes for Fire Lord Taro, and in time, the rebellion ended. Once my work was praised, I attacked. The New Air Nomad's civilization was growing, and I helped them. Once we were officially hired, we started using the taxes we collected for other things, my own plans, paying my employees. If people didn't give us taxes, they'd pay the price."
"You're not really tax collectors," Shirou said. "You're a military."
"More or less, really. If we ever needed to attack, we'd have the power to do so. Once we had branched out over all four nations, we became the government. We were given power."
Shirou sighed. "So where do I play out into this? I know you didn't bring me in here for a history lesson."
"And I know you haven't forgotten about the incident at the Western Headquarters. You dumped eleven hundred gold coins into the bottom of the ocean, throwing us in debt! That sort money is almost worth as much as the whole city of Glacier Cove itself!"
"You threw me in jail for trespassing on your property. I'm sure that's illegal, too."
"It's called being cautious - obviously a war dud like you can't relate to the concept."
"What's my punishment?" Shirou asked. "Just hang me now and get this over with. Tell my father I'm just a worthless war dud."
Markale chuckled. "Believe me child, I would be more than happy to do that. I cannot, though. I prefer a more, painful punishment. One that will last a long, long, time - inflicted by your own grief."
"I don't get it."
"Me and my officers have been planning a mass operation to solve this - we have a completely unrelated debt which we must pay off by the Summer Solstice, and we need motivation to get this done. We need our customers to pay us."
"Hold it," Shirou said. "The Summer Solstice? That's almost five months away."
"I would rather not discuss these matters with you," Markale replied. "The fact of the matter is that we need money. More recently, the citizens which we work for have been rather disobedient when it comes to paying us what should be given. We need to motivate them to get us the coins we need. You need to motivate them."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Shirou asked. "Want me to ask my father if I can install a billboard for you near the Royal Palace?"
"The Procession has been organizing a new law since you threw us in debt, which will be officially put through very soon. I'm afraid it's a fairly harsh law, but what needs to be done needs to be done."
Shirou raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"We used to force citizens who did not pay taxes to join us, to be a part of The Procession. But apparently that still doesn't work. Soon, anyone who doesn't give us the money we want will be executed. Violently."
"What? That's cruel - you can't kill people to get money!"
Markale smiled. "I'm afraid we can. And it's going to happen. We will get the money which was destroyed back." He looked at Shirou's awestruck face. "You have the power to stop this, though."
"If you can supply us with eleven hundred gold coins, we will stop the executions and go back to our normal punishment policies. If you can't, we will kill every man, women, and child until they give us what we want. You can end this."
"That's just, absurd!" Shirou yelled, pounding his fist on the table, shaking and spilling their cold cups of tea. "There's no way I can possibly scrounge up that much money - most people can't get it their lifetimes! You are a robber, Markale!"
"By giving you the chance of ending this, you are lawfully the man behind the murders we will make," the commissioner stated. "These citizens aren't going to be very happy with you."
"Just let me out," Shirou said. "Let me start collecting coins."
"I would," Markale said. "But you have the quite the mouth, and I'd rather have my plans stay undercover for the moment, thank you. We'll let you out once our new laws are set. You should be savoring the moment."
"Faster!" Asaki shouted across the Polar Revolution training room, an expansive cave with a hard whale bone floor, where the last of the Polar Revolution's members were running laps and throwing knives. Their heat and heavy breathing filled the cold air of the cave, and a layer of sweat seemed to collect on the icy walls.
"We must rebel!" she yelled at the tired men running around the training room track. "We must get stronger! If we get better-"
The rest of The Polar Revolution finished the line, "We will reign longer!" They huffed and wheezed as they ran their sixteenth lap. They gazed at their leader longingly, desperately in need of a break.
"Are you tired?" Asaki demanded. "There shouldn't be panting! We've been training together for months now - some of you have been training with me for years! Is our militaristic failure at Glacier Cove a logical reason why your physical abilities should be decreasing?"
"Well," one of the braver rebels muttered, "We didn't completely fail at Glacier Cove-"
"What is the correct answer to my question?" Asaki asked.
"No mam, it isn't."
"Good. Now get out your swords and practice dueling. If anyone gets hurt and complains about it they'll be doing pushups until their muscles pop." She paused. "Well, get going!"
That night, Shirou was lying on the cold bone bench in his icy prison cell. The cold was catching up on him, as day turned into night, as the sun's warmth disappeared and the chilling moonlight rose over the North Pole.
Suddenly, a low crack erupted from the floor, and Shirou jumped up, watching the ice beneath him fracture. He stepped back, as the frost floorboards burst open, and a masked head popped into the room.
"Who are you?"
The man did not move, and his mask didn't either. "I'm here to rescue you. Now get in the tunnel I made, before The Procession finds us."
It was not a voice Shirou recognized, but he crawled into the icy passageway anyway. It went on for a couple dozen yards, and finally led to a hole, opening into a vast tundra of snow. The fact that he had escaped in such a small time was frightening. "What's happening?"
The rescuer pulled his mask off, and beneath laid the shivering face of Chieftain Akio, the man who Shirou ambushed for The Polar Revolution not too long before. "I can help you."
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