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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|"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|
|"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." "
|— From The Third Seminar|
|"The crowds gasped. "The Royal Palace? How do you expect to do that? That's heavily guarded and if you get caught we'll be dead meat!" |
This did not phase Asaki. "We've got one weapon that the Royal Palace will never expect. Shinji, hand me the Venomsprout. We're leaving at dawn."''"
|— From Tax Day|
|"Fighting back tears and flashbacks, Shirou didn't say anything. He just walked over to his father, and wrapped his arms around him, tightly and passionate. |
He was home.''"
|— From Tax Day|
|Drowning Hope: Part 1|
December 17, 2011
This is Chapter 35 in The Avatar Rhythm Series.
Hustle and bustle filled the dining room of the Water Tribe Royal Palace, heat and conversation tuning the atmosphere. Shirou sat at the head of the room's large and ornate icy table, on one side of him was his older brother, on the other side was Akio. Glancing farther down the table, the rest of his family was seated and talking, his father to Ken, his other two brothers to each other, and his sister to Hotaru.
Shirou didn't know why his father had invited the Avatar to his "welcome home" celebration, it was as if he was still oblivious of his hatred even after running away because of it. He thought that it was an honor to have a legend like the Avatar at your own dinner table. Shirou was having trouble making eye contact with her, the last time they'd seen each other he knocked a whole building down on top of her. And even after self-declaring he was a better person, he couldn't just go up and tell her that he was good now. It didn't work like that.
"Shirou, pass the seal jerkey please," his father said.
Snapping out of his thoughts, Shirou picked up a small plate of dry dark meat and lifted it over across the table to Riku. Looking down at his own plate now, he reached over and grabbed a piece of arctic koi filet for himself, and poured a spoonful of five-flavor soup into his bowl, a favorite meal of his mother's.
"So Shirou," Ken said quizzically, is it true that you fought of the whole Procession army? With just a sword?"
Shirou nodded. "I had a knife too."
"And I heard you fell with the commissioner at the end of the night off a huge watch tower. Good thing Akio was there to save you. The commissioner didn't land too well, however."
Shirou took a bite of arctic koi. "Is Markale dead?"
Akio shook his head. "We couldn't just leave him in the snow. He was sent to a hospital in Glacier Cove and once treated, will be sent the Earth Kingdom. The Procession no longer will be here in the North Pole."
"Oh." Somehow Shirou didn't believe that.
Ken was still interested in the battle. "How many tax collectors do you think you killed yourself? I mean, you wiped out their whole army, right?"
"Yeah. Probably killed eighty." Shirou chuckled to himself, knowing he was exaggerating, hoping for a humorous reaction from Ken.
"Wow," he said. "That's amazing. Was it harder to fight out in the tundra? Actually, I've never been to Blizzard Point, so, I don't really-"
"It was pretty cold. I managed."
"You're quite the fighter. Is this the first major battle you've been part of?"
Hotaru cut into the conversation. "No. He was in the recent siege of Glacier Cove."
Shirou looked up at the Avatar, but quickly looked away as she turned to him. "Yeah..." He stopped. Why was she at his first big dinner back with his family? he asked himself. He didn't even know her the last time he was with his family - she didn't even exist to him. At least he now recognized Akio and Ken as people who used to meet with his father every once and a while. This wasn't the welcoming he remembered.
All of a sudden, a soldier marched into the dining room, and the whole table of guests looked up.
"What is it?" Riku asked.
The soldier cleared his throat nervously. "Something's wrong. Half of the wall in the lower palace tower is gone. Dead soldiers are strewn across the floor. There's been an invasion."
The chief was instantly stressed. "What?"
"It's The Polar Revolution. They're here."
Riku stood up, sliding his plate of food away. "Shirou, lead these ones out into the palace. Try to stop them while me and Akio send in more troops."
As Hotaru stood up, pulled her coat on, and walked passed Shirou, they shared a glare. "The Polar Revolution," she whispered with wicked cleverness. "Never heard of them, have you?"
Meanwhile, Asaki, Takumi, Shinji, and the rest of The Polar Revolution were climbing up the icy side of a tower inside the palace courtyard, brick by brick. They could start to hear shouting of an invasion.
Beating against the cold wind, Asaki reached the top of the tower and pulled a tight rope from the inside of her belt, dropping down towards her companions who were still climbing, for them to quickly get up to the top. They'd be caught if they didn't move fast.
"Come on, keep climbing. No stopping, no shivering," she said, leading them up onto the rickety ice floorboards. "We need to strike at the chief's room, which is down this bridge." She pointed to a long passage to her left that lead to another complex of towers. "Move quickly and stay low. Lets go." Their line of ten to twenty rebels crouched down and stepped across the bridge, careful not to make much noise. It was getting colder, and a thin blanket of snow was starting to fall from the glistening blue sky.
When they reached the tower across from the bridge, Asaki quickly pinned the guard stationed there to the wall with a dart through his throat, and they opened up the tower door and began sprinting down it's spiral staircase. At the bottom was an empty room with just one locked gate leading in. Shinji took a map from his sleeve and looked over its complex blurred design. "We should be near the throne room now. At least, we're in the right-"
Suddenly, a huge explosion of ice and dust shattered the wall in front of them, a silhouette forming in the destructive haze, walking forward towards them. Asaki smiled, raising her knife to attack.
But when the dust settled, she dropped her weapon.
It was Shirou.
He looked worried, in a hurry, glancing around him to make sure he wasn't followed. Looking around, he somehow entered his old world, just for a second. "Guys, we don't have much time, I'm supposed to leave-"
Asaki didn't want hear that. She walked over and wrapped her arms around him, and Shirou supposed he better enjoy this hug as it would probably be the last one he'd get in a very long time, if ever. While his head was rested on Asaki's shoulder, he shared a glare with Shinji, an understanding glare with more hatred but more depth than ever.
Shirou stepped back from Asaki, smiled, and looked back at the rest of his team. "I fought off a whole Procession army last week, and my family brought me back as an honored war hero. If you guys want to attack, you've got to get out of here and strike from the behind."
Takumi stepped up, and patted Shirou on the back. "You tell us where to go."
"Shirou! What are you doing?"
They looked over at Ken, standing in the doorway, rubbing a large cramped side of his. "You were supposed to lead us and then you ran off and-" he looked at The Polar Revolution, astonished, "-what are you doing with them?"
Shirou cursed under his breath. Everything had happened so fast. This was Ken, who adored him as a fighting saint, a friend of his fathers.
But they had Shinji, who, even after betraying him for being cruel, was his friend and would always be his. They spent so many days with each other on their journey, he couldn't turn away.
"Ken, I'm sorry. But there's more to me than a fighter. There's more to every person. I was born to be free." He turned to The Polar Revolution. "Take care of him. Lets get to the throne room."
They left two rebels to get rid of Ken and the rest kicked down the nearby gate and started running through the palace courtyard, taking out the one guard who was stationed there.
"Which way do we go?" asked Asaki.
Shirou, looked around, in control, analyzing the layout of his past home. "Take the gate to the left. That'll bring you to a foyer, then just run down a couple halls."
No command was necessary, the group turned and ran, one taking out a harpoon gun from his sleeve and knocking down the icy gate before them, allowing the rebels to file into the palace once again. There were two more guards there, wielding spears - before they could even get in an attacking position two members of The Polar Revolution had knocked them out, while Asaki jumped and landed a double front snap kick into the thick door in front of them, shattering it, shooting frost into the air in every direction. They moved forward as one thick mass, and as they stampeded trough the palace halls, Shirou felt lost. What was he doing? What did he just do? It was too late now. It all just happened... Too fast... This was his home, a half hour ago he was eating dinner with his family, as a hero. Now he had just shown them he was a criminal.
Shaking out of his thoughts, Shirou looked at Asaki, who seemed to be trying to get his attention.
"Shirou," she said. "How do we get to the throne room? Quickly."
As strange feeling of the past flashed through Shirou's mind - a mere memory.
"Shirou, we can't go in there. Dad's having a meeting."
It was the same room.
Shirou's big brother was there with him.
"What if they're talking about plans for when Dad dies and you become chief?"
"What? You are up next. Obviously it's not going to happen for a while. You mine as well know what's going to happen."
"Hmm..." his brother considered this. "How will we go in?"
"We don't need to go in. The throne room is behind this wall. You just need to do your magic and drill a hole through the ice."
"My waterbending." His brother was quite proud of it. "I guess so." He stood back and thrust his wrist towards the wall, and a cylinder of ice was pulled out of it, leaving a peephole big enough to fit your ear around.
"See?" Shirou said. "That wasn't so hard."
"I guess so." He pressed his ear against the hole. "I can definitely hear Dad's meeting." He gasped. "How are we ever going to cover this up?"
"Hang a picture up over it. I don't know."
Shirou, back in the present, snapped out of his thoughts. He smiled.
"What?" Asaki asked.
He walked over to the wall, and lifted off a framed drawing of the Water Tribe Royal Plaza in ancient times. He chuckled, it was the same one which he and his brother had found in the basement that day years ago to hide their handiwork. Underneath, just as they left it, was his small tunnel that lead through to throne room. "Throw a bomb in there."
They looked around, and finally, Shinji, scowling as he passed Shirou, dug a small metal ball out of his pocket, pulled a wire from its top, and threw it into the peephole. "Stand back guys. Get ready to charge."
All of a sudden, a burst of fire and ice exploded from the wall, the energy taking advantage of the hole it was in, cracking through the thick cold bricks. As the frost settled around them, The Polar Revolution, Shirou and Asaki in the lead, marched into the side of the throne room.
In front of them was a group of Water Tribe soldiers, with Riku and Hotaru in the crowd as well.
They stared at each other for a second, letting everything that just happened soak in.
"So son," the chief stated, with a bit of dignity that gave away he knew the truth, "Have you brought the criminals to me?"
"No. These are not criminals. We are equal."
"Are they your allies, then?"
Shirou looked around. He saw Asaki - she had a confused "just get this over with" look on her face - she didn't understand, he saw Hotaru, he knew she knew what his truthful answer was, but was still ashamed to talk in front of her, and he saw his father, his father, with a load of shame ready to burst out. He could be a lying hero or a truthful villain. For years to come he'd regret choosing the latter.
"Yes. I am their ally. They're my friends. I am freer than ever before, I no longer feel lonely and different. I'm doing what I love to do!"
"You love to betray your family, country, and morals?"
"If that's what it takes to be happy, then yes."
Fighting back the tears of capturing his own son, Riku turned to the soldiers by his side. "Get my son. We'll teach him a lesson."
The soldiers walked towards him, grasping chains from their belt.
One grabbed a dart from the leather sack on his belt.
Suddenly, a heated burst of realization was sent through Shinji's brain from the back of the crowd of rebels. He stepped forward, an assassin, he knew that dart which the soldier was holding. He knew the design. A shirsu-spit dart - it would cause paralysis. Shirou would be instantly taken. Regaining his friendship and honor, Shinji leaped forward and sent the soldiers away with one flaming kick, throwing Shirou behind him into safety.
As soon as Shinji was out in the open, everything froze.
Everyone looked around, confused and scared. A seemingly invisible dark energy was wafting around them, sending them into suspended animation.
It took a while for everyone, stuck in the air without motion, to realize that they really weren't dreaming, that they were really not moving.
They looked over at a sudden cold chill that swept in from the throne at the other end of the room, singing a low, unheard, cursing darkness towards them. A portal seemed to explode from the icy throne, shooting thick purple shadows into the air. To everyone's fright, out of it stepped four people dressed in dark uniforms.
Three men, one woman.
From each nation.
The Quadrination Bandits.
Out from behind them, though, stepped out another figure. He was dressed in a dark cloak with a hood which hung over his eyes, the fingers of grimy wrinkled hands poking out from his long dark sleeves.
Shinji, suspended in the air, away from everyone else, suddenly took on a look of pure fear on his face. His blood ran cold. He was there, in front of them. The assassins which had ruined his life, and destroyed everything he ever had. Who were ready to kill him - the cursed one - with a bounty of immortality.
Shirou, a few feet away from him, never saw his best friend like this before. Then he remembered. He remembered something Shinji had said when they were traveling to The Western Air Temple. They've been hunting me since I was fifteen. One year after I received the bounty from Koh. They killed both my parents, and I barely escaped to a nearby village. I still have nightmares of that morning my parents were murdered. Though it's strange, whenever I have the nightmares there's always five bandits shown. The fifth bandit was before him, the cloaked one, and by the looks of it and what he had just done to them, he was stronger than any of them.
With the four others by his side, expressionless, the unknown bandit laughed, a low raspy sound emitting from his mouth in some sort of rhythmic chuckle. His voice was even colder. "I've finally found the cursed one. You don't know how long it's taken me to find you." He gave a nod, and Shinji dropped from his motionless barrier, the others staying frozen. He decided to stay put.
"Shinji." The name rolled from the cloaked man's mouth like nails against a chalkboard. "You barely evaded me for the past 9 years. You've grown. You're probably wondering who I am, the one whose been planning attacks on you all this time, who made you an orphan. They call my The Chancellor, the founder of The Quadrination Bandits. As you may have guessed-" he looked around at the crowd of people around him who were frozen in time "-I am an energybender, one of the last in this world." He laughed.
Shinji nodded, hiding his fear. He walked over to Asaki, who was still not in motion, and opened up the black leather pack on her back.
"What are you doing?" asked The Chancellor.
Shinji pulled a glass jar with a flower in it out of the backpack, and held it for everyone in the room to see.
"This plant is one of the most dangerous in the world. When it comes in contact with water, it will excrete a gas that is most definitely fatal. Release my friends back into regular time or I will drop this and the plant will fall onto the wet ice below, being sure to kill you."
"Gephel," The Chancellor stated, instantly sending life back into the earthbending bandit's body, "Take that plant out for me. We don't want this attack to backfire." He twisted his wrist, and a rock seemed to form out of thin air with a burst of dark energy. Gephel took it, and got in position to shoot it through the firebender's heart.
Shirou, frozen, took a deep breath. Shinji had saved his life once again, and it was time he did something for his friend.
Time was running out.
His eyes rotated towards the roof of the palace.
Above it was the night sky - the stars.
The stars. Shining so bright through the dark blue sky.
The stars. The great Water Tribe leaders of the past laid up there.
The stars. Kaito.
"Do what is right."
Shirou didn't know what came over him, but he knew what he had to do. A strange force, surely brought down from the heavens, came down in shining beam of spirituality. The light pierced through the dark barrier keeping everyone in suspended animation, and they fell back to reality.
As chaos and motion once again came to the throne room, everyone struck. Shinji stepped back, Gephel leapt forward, and everyone ran either towards the fight or away from it, but Shirou knew that he didn't do what was right.
For when the high pitched shattering of glass pierced through the air, they all knew that The Venomsprout had already fell and was taking their toll on them.
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