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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|"Shirou nodded. "No one knows what was written in The Fifth Scroll of Kaito. The first ones were on the four elements. You see, Kaito wrote the last one during the Great Battle of Omashu. The only thing anyone heard about the contents were that it held the information to make any man stronger and wiser than one thousand spirits."|
|— From The Stars|
|""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.""|
|— Markale in Eleven Hundred|
|"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.""|
|— From Eleven Hundred|
|The Third Seminar|
November 15, 2011
This is Chapter 33 in The Avatar Rhythm Series
Light grazed the icy land of the North Pole brilliantly and shining, rays of sun bouncing and shimmering off each and every cold blue turn of the landscape. As dawn cracked over the chilling horizon, Shirou blinked and wiped his eyes, strong light clouding into his vision.
For a second he thought it was a dream.
Through the dim morning light he could see a blanket wrapped over him. He could feel it too, it's warm, wooly fabric against his chest. He had no idea if this was real or not, but he was savoring the heated moment, the first he had in weeks. Opening his dreary eyes wider, he took another glance at his surroundings. There blue icy walls all around him, with open windows - that's where the light was coming in from. He was lying on some tough makeshift bed; a thin mattress supported by bones from some sort of whale.
Compared to what he had been living off of for the last couple weeks, this was a luxury. The overly firm pillow beneath his head topped the rocks which he had been using in The Polar Revolution's base, by far.
Curiously, Shirou rolled out of bed, lifting the warm blanket off his stomach. He was a bit surprised to see himself wearing just his thin sarashi loincloth in the icy room, but took the shock to look around his body, gazing at the bruises and blood which stained his chest and arms. Quickly realizing he was shivering violently, he opened up a drawer in the corner of his room, and pulled out a thick pair of fur pants and a polar leopard skin sweater, which he slipped on, feeling the warmth returning to his body.
"That's better," he muttered to himself, and opened a nearby door, leading to a long icy hallway plated with arches and hanging pictures. Wherever he was, it was a house of royalty - his mind was faintly indulged with flashbacks - which he snapped out of quickly.
"You're up early."
Shirou jumped up at the voice which came behind him, even though it was just a whisper. It was startling. He turned around, his heart beating out of shock, and looked into a room, it's door wide open. Inside was large table, a couple benches, and desk, where a man in a thick blue coat was leaning over, merrily drinking a cup of steaming tea. He smiled, and stroked the thin beard on his chin. It was Chieftain Akio, who had just saved him from The Procession. Everything was coming back.
Still tired, Shirou decided to stay simple when it came to conversations. "Am I dreaming?"
Akio laughed. "My boy, sit down and have some tea, I only boiled the water for it a couple seconds ago. It should still be warm."
"Ah. Warmth." Shirou sort of stumbled over to a nearby chair across from the chieftain, and slouched over the desk. He lifted his head. "So, am I dreaming?"
"Decide that for yourself."
"If this was a dream I would wake up in a warm bed, and be greeted by a happy man serving me tea in a shining house of Glacier Cove, smiling through the bright morning haze." Shirou lowered his head in his crossed arms. "Yeah, that's what I thought."
"You aren't dreaming."
"Then why was I saved by a man who I tried to kill from The Procession?"
"Because you're royalty," Akio said. "People care about you."
"I'm not royalty," Shirou scoffed. "What are you talking about? Maybe I used to be royalty but now I'm a rebel. A wanted rebel."
"And are you proud of that fact?"
This was a bit of head-scratcher. "Lets put it this way - I'd rather be a rebel than the Chief's son."
"You are Riku's son, though. I'd rather be a rich jungle explorer in the Earth Kingdom than an old Water Tribe chieftain, but I'm afraid I cannot change those facts. It is what it is."
"And my name is Shirou."
Akio forced back a chuckle, shaking his head. "You're not getting the point, child. A rebel isn't really the best thing to be these days."
"Is that tea ready yet?"
The chieftain sighed, and picked the steaming pot of tea off the counter behind him and poured the beverage into a clay mug. "Is that better? Now can we discuss your life, and where it's going?"
Shirou took a sip of tea. "I don't trust you. You're just some government leader who I tried to kill - Now you're trying to help me."
"You don't trust me? I'm Riku's most trusted chieftain. I meet with him regularly. Back in the old days I knew Kaito too."
"You knew my grandfather?"
Akio nodded. "Back before you were born we were pals. Kaito was my godfather, we had laughs throughout our friendship, fights, we did stupid things together. He was my mentor all my life."
"Did he ever say anything about me?"
"I don't really remember. You were very young when he died. He was always excited for another member of the royal family. He would have liked you if he had lived longer. You remind me of him. It's weird thinking of Kaito. I was his partner, I built his houses and revised his scrolls. We were a team."
"Wait," muttered Shirou, intrigued. "You revised his scrolls? Even his legendary scrolls? Did you read the last one?"
"I only edited the first four, sadly. I was planning on revising the Fifth Scroll of Kaito after your grandfather finished writing it in The Great Battle of Omashu, but, then it-"
"Then the Avatar had to kill him and his scroll. I trust you, Akio. Just barely."
"The will you come with me to the Royal Palace?"
"Because I'm not part of the Royal Family!" Shirou yelled. "I'm part of The Polar Revolution! I've become a new person and I'm freer and stronger than ever! People are scared of me, they walk away when I draw my sword! I'm a Dry Warrior!"
"You haven't become a new person, my boy, you've just forgotten your own self. You think you've evolved because now you're different. Really, you've just lost everything you've earned so far in your life."
Shirou laughed. "What do you mean by that? I'm still as smart as ever! Now I've just got a load more muscle and a girl, if it weren't for you and The Procession I'd be having the time of my life."
"Remember who you are, Shirou. What comes first in life? Your own self or your own satisfaction?"
"Stop with the questions, okay!"
"I'm still the same person I was back when I lived here seven months ago! Leave me alone!"
Akio sat back. "You are, huh? You do remember what it is?"
"What what is?"
"What is today?"
"You have forgotten yourself."
"It's your day to annoy me."
"Yeah, you do that every day."
"You're twenty years old."
Shirou stepped back. He paused. Everything came back and there was no way to hide it. Everything came back and it hit him hard. "It's my birthday," he said. "It's today. I forgot - No - I forgot, I did." He stared at Akio for a long second. There was no way he could contradict this statement. There was no way he could forget his own birthday if he was himself. A couple years ago he would have been waiting for the day anxiously. Now he hadn't even realized it had came.
"Now will you agree with me?"
Shirou didn't know what to say. He had been beaten by his own life.
"I won't go back to the Royal Palace yet, but I'll listen to you. I know I'm lost but it's hard to admit it. The fact that I turned twenty today, I'm just annoyed with myself."
"I have something for you," Akio said, placing a folded envelope onto the table. "It's a card which your father received, addressed to you. I said I would deliver it."
"Is it a birthday card?"
"I don't think so."
Shirou took the parchment envelope, and tore off it's seal, which had a Fire Nation insignia on it, letting a white card drop out and into his hand. He held the paper up to the light, and read, Dear Shirou, I have been wanting to write this letter for quite some time now. You've gotten quite famous back up in the North Pole, managing to make it into more headlines that I have. Royalty Caught in Streetlight, Chief's Son Spotted Gambling, Prince Captured by The Procession, I've seen them all. How you managed to get back home, I'm amazed. Confused, but amazed. When I said goodbye on that day in the end of summer, when you said you were going on an adventure to the Air Nomads, I knew I wouldn't see you for a while. I wanted you to learn and I hope you have. I know you have. Please, Shirou, write back. And don't do anything stupid, that's never a good idea. Kindest regards, Fire Lord Taro. Shirou looked up at Akio. "I'm in trouble." And suddenly, he didn't know what came over himself. But it got to him. "I'm in trouble," Shirou moaned. "Deep trouble. I've always tried to be kind, Kaito's death is the only thing which ever made me do bad, everything always happens bad for me and I never wanted to dump all those coins into the ocean! I never wanted to get tied up with Shinji and I never wanted to betray him!"
The chieftain stopped him. "I know Shirou. But complaining won't solve your problems. Redemption will."
"How could I possibly redeem myself? Because of me, The Procession is planning to kill anyone and everyone who doesn't pay their taxes."
"And I'm afraid in just one week it'll be tax day for Blizzard Point, one of the poorest towns in the North Pole."
Shirou grunted. "I'm never going to be able to collect eleven hundred gold coins in a week - I'd never be able to get that much money in my whole lifetime!"
"Sadly, you're correct," Akio stated. "The Procession will strike and it will be your burden. You have started this and now you must finish it."
"What do you mean?"
"Blizzard Point won't be able to pay their taxes. If what Markale said was true, many of the residents of that town will die. You must defend them, Shirou. You have the spirit, you have the determination. You can show them who is the royalty - who has had authority since birth. Kaito would be proud."
"I don't think I'd be able to win, though. A whole army of earthbenders against one man with just a sword?"
"You've got the soul, Shirou." Akio smiled, pointing to his chest. "You've got a heart which none of those tax collectors could ever have. They have their job on the line, you have your redemption."
"I hope I do," Shirou muttered. "I really I do."
All Shirou could do was hope - little did he know there was a darker curse than he could ever imagine brewing not so far away. It laid in the outskirts of the North Pole where there was only miles and miles of snowy tundra, far from any civilization. There, in the center of the cold and snow of the wilderness, was a stone plated house. Shadows almost seemed to creep out of its old crumbling chimney.
Inside this mysterious shack were people dressed in dark uniforms.
Three men, one women.
From each nation.
The Quadrination Bandits.
They kneeled down in the darkness of the stone house, not daring to look around at the swords and staffs which hung around the walls.
"The cursed one. I can sense him."
The four bandits looked up at a tall figure in front of them. He wore a dark cloak which covered his face, and stood tall. Anil stuttered out a question. "Are you sure?"
The cloaked man nodded. "I am positive. Him and his friend must have escaped here after your failure at the Western Air Temple."
"What if they have left already?"
"I doubt it. I'm assured they don't know we're here, and according to the newspapers which they have been so kindly giving out with all their information, I believe they're a part of a certain band of Water Tribe rebels.
"So what will we do?" asked Zhena.
"We must strike, and we have to strike hard. I want Shinji dead. I want his bounty. I need his life." The cloaked man laughed. "Start training. Learn your way around this place. Kill anyone who questions you."
The Quadrination Bandits looked up. "Yes, master."
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