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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|"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. "|
|— From Drowning Hope: Part 1|
|""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.""|
|— From Drowning Hope: Part 1|
|"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.''"
|— From Drowning Hope: Part 1|
|Drowning Hope: Part 2|
December 27, 2011
This is Chapter 36 in The Avatar Rhythm Series.
Shirou was lucky that so much havoc had just broke out, he had the chance to quickly evade the mob of attackers and get out of the throne room. He was running down an icy hall, trying to leave, with Shinji right behind him. There was too much shouting bouncing through the palace, he couldn't tell if it was directed towards him or not. Shinji was the one they were after, but Shirou couldn't manage to show his face to anyone he knew. There was too much shame.
They kept running next to each other, wasting breath, taking out the occasional guard which passed them by. Every time they made it into a new hall or passageway, Shirou would slam the heavy hilt of his sword into the wall, breaking up the doorway and filling it with shards of ice and clumps of snow which fell apart from the ceiling above it.
"You're destroying the palace," Shinji muttered as Shirou broke down a huge ice sculpture and sent it crashing down behind them.
"I don't - Why do you care anyway? If I didn't do this The Quadrination Bandits would be able to catch you."
"I guess so."
He started to say something, but decided to keep his mouth shut. Coming out into the palace courtyard, Shirou and Shinji looked around, sensing something around them - nothing in sight, they could only hear the distant crashes and screams which they had run from.
"Somebody's going to get us," Shirou said. "We can't stand here."
"What about Takumi and Asaki?" Shinji asked. "They're still back there. If we go now we'll never see them again."
"No, I know, I love Asaki and Takumi's my friend, but my father-"
"Your father will be glad to see you come back from being a coward, whether or not you save your enemies."
"You don't get it Shinji! Do you realize the pressure which I have on my back? I just ruined my family's life!"
"Why are you scared to show your face? Is this about being embarrassed? Are you afraid of embarrassment?"
Shirou sighed, beaten. "I guess-"
He never had time to finish. Suddenly, chimes and clangs of metal shook the air from all directions, and twelve Water Tribe soldiers, dressed in chain mail and thick blue leather, some carrying spears, others axes, jumped down into the courtyard below, blocking all exits. "Shirou of the Water Tribe," their leader stated, wielding two long spears, "It is your father's request that you be captured. We can't let you escape."
Shirou nodded. "So be it." In a clash of forces, he leapt forward, drawing his sword, blocking a soldier's spear that was swung around, and he swiveled over it and landed his heel in the man's neck, knocking him out cold for sure. Sensing a strike from behind, Shirou ducked, and watched a soldier who was just running towards his back trip over his rolled up body, smashing his face into the ice floor. On the other side of the courtyard, Shinji was kicking his feet back and forth, spinning crescents of fire through each of their hearts. The leader of the group ran towards him, and before any means of a confrontation thrust his spear at Shinji, who side stepped out of the way, spinning around and smashing the leader's second spear out of his hand with a kick, finishing him off with a flaming punch to the heart.
The duo looked around, and saw an array of dead warriors between them, all twelve.
"Lets get out of here," Shirou said.
"We have to save Asaki and Takumi!"
"They'll find their way out!"
Shinji stared at Shirou but lifted his arm and pointed at the doorway back to the palace. "We released The Venomsprout and it's fumes are in there, taking it's toll on them. Heck, we probably breathed in a good amount of the poison, too."
"We have a cure, don't you remember? The leader of the village we saved from the plant gave us some in a bottle."
"I've got in my pack, I know - but the others don't have some, what about your family, do they have a cure?"
"No! Please, Shinji!"
"Please? Please? How many times have I said "please" to you in the past three months, huh? How many times have I begged you to do what I want? How many times have you not done what I want - I thought betraying you at Glacier Cove would change that, but no, I guess you're still the supreme ruler of our little group! Please, we're a team!"
Shirou shivered in the frosty haze settling over the palace, and thought everything through.
Meanwhile, not far from the throne room, Takumi, Asaki, and the members of The Polar Revolution who hadn't been already killed were fighting with The Quadrination Bandits, trying to escape but not succeeding. Three rebels were attacking Kyong, with no luck. Every time they slashed or whipped, he sent an ice shield or water jet at them, a death machine. Takumi tried coming at him from behind but he could feel the water on the ground moving - instantly raising his pale hands and bloodbending the airbender hard into the wall behind them.
Asaki was going for Anil, trying to find an opening which she could throw a dart at and kill him. She leapt forward, faking a backfist to the head, and where he went to flinch she flicked out a stiletto from her sleeve and shot it for his heart. The bandit smiled without even looking, he knew what she was attempting to pull off and sent a downward gale of wind towards his weakspot, shooting the knife aimed to murder him to and into the icy floor. Asaki, taken aback, only had barely enough time to escape Anil's next strike, a punch with enough wind to blow the few very top hairs off her head. If she hadn't ducked her neck may have not been still attached to her body. While down, she quickly glanced behind her at Takumi, who was slowly crawling at the wall, behind the fighting, making his way towards the exit. She smiled to herself, and got back to the battle. Jumping up, Asaki sent a side kick at Anil, who was ready and sent another blast of air up at her raised leg, toppling her off balance. The more she fought, the more she was hurt, the more she figured out the airbending bandit's strategy. He used the air against their balance, he waited for someone to loose their root and then attacked. Asaki gave her quick deviant smile, and got into a fighting position, without lifting her legs. Years and years of martial arts training had given her a nearly unmovable balance, which she only used when needed, like now. Anil tried sending a gale at her, but she did not move and was not moved. Asaki stepped forward and quickly lashed out her hand, pointing her other behind her, and as the airbender shot a gust at her seemingly unbalanced root, but she was ready now, flipping over, missing the wind, kicking the bandit in the head with her foot and landing on her arm, which she pushed up and launched her body back into the air, letting her fall on Anil's chest, smashing him into the floor.
Suddenly, everyone in the hall looked over at The Chancellor, who in his dark, ominous cloak which literally had a flow of darkness shooting from its old crusted fabric, spoke in his bone-chilling voice. "Fools, all of you! There is poison here and you waste your breath which I can heal fighting the men who will die anyway? Look Kyong, do you not see the cursed one's airbending friend crawling away like a child behind you?"
Everyone looked at Takumi.
"Finish off these peasants," The Chancellor whispered. "I'll figure out where immortality lies." He walked over to Takumi, but Asaki jumped in the way.
"Get out of here, freak," she said.
"So you're the cursed one's ally also. He's quite more clever than I expected when we first attacked his home in the Fire Nation."
Asaki looked confused. "Are you talking about Shinji?"
"You speak the cursed one's name." The Chancellor nodded. "Where is he?"
"I don't know."
The Chancellor swiftly floated towards the head of The Polar Revolution, faster than anyone could record in their own eyes, and wrapped his boney fingers around Asaki's neck. She felt a forbidding chill run through her flesh. "The man cursed by the spirits - blessed with a bounty of immortality. You know where he is."
Asaki's face ran cold. "No I don't."
The Chancellor tightened his grip on her neck, shooting all color from her face, tightening her eyes. "You know where he is."
Without a sign of chocking, Asaki nodded. "I know where he is."
Takumi, suddenly realizing the extent of this bandit's powers, thrust out his wrist and sent the strongest wind he could possibly pull off at The Chancellor, barely knocking him away but making him let go of Asaki - giving them a second to run. He grabbed her hand and ran out, only looking back for a second at the cloaked energybender floating towards them from behind.
Just one floor above, Riku and Ken had locked themselves into a small meeting room, no bigger than the palace kitchen, and were huddling under a pile of snow, staring in awe at the cracks growing bigger in the floor below them.
"The palace," the chief whispered. "It's going to fall."
"If we can survive the fumes of that plant, it'll be a tragedy to see."
Riki nodded. "What did that boy call it? The Venomsprout? I think I've heard of it."
"And to think that Shirou was the one to release it."
"I am ashamed of Shirou."
Ken shook his head. "He's destroyed the whole place - it's tragic, I'm not sure what has happened to him. He wasn't like this at Blizzard Point, he was a hero."
"We can't hide up here forever."
"We can't live up here forever."
"Those bandits," Riku said. Did you see what they did to us? Everything is falling apart - and it's because of my son."
Ken stood up. "We need to find him."
"He's probably already gone."
"The poisons would have killed him already if he's still down there."
"So therefore he's dead, or gone."
"It's hard, I know."
Riku shook his head. "No it's not. Since the second he truly betrayed us he became dead and gone to me."
Meanwhile, Takumi and Asaki were running through the dark winding palace hallway, The Chancellor a good thirty feet behind them, but still filling the place with shadows to scare them. They kept sprinting as fast as they could, paying no attention to the nightmarish illusions being sent through the ice. Shivering ran through each and every vein in their body, and the fumes of The Venomsprout were beginning to build up in their lungs, quickly clogging every breathing passage they had in themselves, losing breath. They couldn't trip, talk, stop, any feet lost on The Chancellor was a foot closer to death.
The hallway was darker than normal, and longer than anything they had seen, it wound around half of the whole palace. As they ran, they heard a voice.
"Hey, guys, stop for a second!"
"It's another energybending trick," Asaki said. "Don't listen."
It spoke again. "Guys, it's Shirou, in the wall, look!"
Takumi glanced over, and saw a crack in the wall with streaming light coming in. "Asaki," he said. "Come over here."
She crouched down to look through the small hole in the wall, and indeed saw Shirou's face in it. "Is that really you?"
"Yes, it's me, and Shinji's right behind me."
"We don't have much time," Asaki said.
Shirou nodded. "I need to give you this." He took a small wooden vile out from his pocket, and rolled it through the hole in the wall. "It's a cure to The Venomsprout."
"Thank you, but we have to leave now. If The Chancellor suspects we talked to you we'll all be dead. Leave, Shirou, take Shinji and leave. Be safe!" Asaki looked behind herself, and heard footsteps. She quickly looked back at Shirou. "Meet us again at Argil Village - I've been there before, it's in the Earth Kingdom, a fairly secluded place. Try to make it there, we will too."
They paused, and looked at each other with faces painted with fear.
"Go," Asaki said. "Before Shinji's found."
They left, and Takumi led Asaki out of the way, getting several feet away from the crack as The Chancellor finally turned around the bend of the corridor - and even though they couldn't see his face through the darkness of his hood, the duo knew he was staring at them. They tried to run, but found themselves once again frozen in energy. The Chancellor smiled. "Who were you talking to you just now?" he asked in a coldhearted voice.
Takumi shook his head. "We weren't talking to anyone."
The cloaked bandit, without hesitation, drifted towards Takumi in a quick flash of dark purple energy and grasped his thin Polar Revolution uniform, lifting up into the air by his collar. "You think I am deaf?! I could hear you speaking, Go, before Shinji's found, you were talking to the cursed one - you know where he is! Where is he?"
Takumi quivered. "I'm not sure, exactly-"
"You're not sure?" The Chancellor whispered, shaking the airbender. "Maybe your memory should be refreshed!" He took his other hand and dragged it's cold fingers across Takumi's face, watching him cringe. "Can you still not remember?"
He shook his head. "Shinji's with his friend, on their way out of the North Pole. They may be gone already, if you want to catch them you better hurry. It's hard finding your way through the halls of the palace."
"Walking through this icy mess is not necessary." The Chancellor threw Takumu to the ground, and swiveled his fingers around, sucking away the walls in front of him in a vacuum of matter, hollowing out a path straight through the palace walls and decor to the outdoors. Asaki and Takumi laid there on the floor, completely aghast, as he walked through his makeshift shortcut, his aura of dread following behind him.
"Why did you tell him?" Asaki asked, once she knew The Chancellor was long gone. "They'll die."
"Because he's too strong - if I lied he'd be able to tell, he'd force the answer out of my throat until I was nothing more than a corpse. I told him before he started to kill me. He's too strong, a monster, I'd say even a thousand spirits couldn't take him on and win."
Outside in the open air, Shirou and Shinji sprinted farther and farther away from the palace they had brought fear and destruction to and closer and closer to the sea, which they would use only for escape purposes and hiding their shame. There was an occasional guard on the sidewalk, but for the most part the streets were clear, if there were any helpless citizens who saw them run down the capital city of the Northern Water Tribe, they were to focused to notice them, powered by adrenaline and the sight of the sea line coming closer to run as fast as they could away from the catastrophe they had created.
There was one waterway before the gate to the main harbor for boat traffic and defense, Shirou jumped over onto a stationed fishing boat in the middle of the canal, and hopped to the other side from there, landing on the ice gracefully. Shinji decided to show a bit more swagger, shooting a wave of white hot fire over a line of the water, which instantly evaporated and for a second, leaving a melted but dry path through the river. He used the moments he had to sprint across the path, and as the water came back down he flipped over, flying into the air and landing next to Shirou on his back.
They stood up, shook the water out of their uniforms, and opened the huge boney gate which led towards the harbor, where dozens of planks of ice jutted out into the open ocean, unique boats on either of their sides.
"There's got to be a hundred of these things here," Shirou said. "One's ought to not be locked up."
"Try to steal a nice one. Our last smelled like possum chicken."
They looked a little at each and every boat, some smaller than canoes, others seeming as if they could hold crews of at least a hundred men.
Finally, they came to one dock, and smiled as they shook the boat next to and it did not bind to any pole or anchor, an unlocked sailboat that was big enough to fit the duo in nicely but small enough not to be easily noticed in the seas - a perfect one to take. Shinji stepped onto it, looked around, and nodded. "This looks nice," he said. "I can make out a bed downstairs, there's two rooms below deck and the sail's in good condition."
"I'm ashamed of you."
Frightened of the familiar voice, Shirou spun around and saw a tall figure on the dock behind them, staring at him with deep, cold eyes.
"No, you don't understand, we're stealing for good."
"Good?" Akio asked. "Good?! You almost killed your own family, you did kill your palace - you betrayed everyone who loved you, who truly cared for you with everything they had!"
Shirou shook his head. "It's complicated, I'm trying to do what is needed but can't! I'm ashamed of myself just as much as you are - I can't just walk back and say hello to my family."
"You can redeem yourself, and you had your perfect chance after your heroic triumph at Blizzard Point. If you had stayed with your family and hadn't walked away with The Polar Revolution, you would have no shame at all."
"I'm sorry, Akio! I'm sorry!"
"Yeah, try telling that to half the Water Tribe once they make it to this harbor, greedy pigs ready for revenge against the prince who let his nation fall. I tried to teach you to do the right thing, I tried to tell you do to what was right, I got you win, but now, you still chose the easy route out. I'm gonna give you one more piece of advice, kid, and you better listen to me this time if you still want a head for the next two hours." He pointed to the gate to the harbor. "I bet you my life that there's a riot out there, that's heard about your failure and wants to pay. If your wise you'll go, you'll set sail quickly and you won't come back for a long time, you hear me? Leave, leave and never return."
As much as it hurt, Shirou nodded, and pulled his almost empty leather pack onto the deck of their new boat, and pulled up the sail, watching the wind carry the boat out into the ocean.
The duo turned to the setting sun before them, casting it's late orange haze onto the water and into their faces, drifting with the wind away from the terror they awakened. This was the first grand escape they had made as criminals, as the villains. Their palace had fallen, The Polar Revolution had fallen, their friendship had fallen, and now Shirou and Shinji and all of their dignity had fallen as the sun fell before them in an ugly dim light.
And they didn't look back.
Asaki sat atop a block of ice near the destroyed entrance to the palace, shaking her head while watching the sunset. Her hair was a tangled mess, her uniform ripped and torn, all of her former glory and beauty had disappeared in the battle, and she no longer cared. The orange light of the sky reflected off the tear falling down her cheek.
"Madam," a voice whispered from behind. "May I speak to you?"
Asaki turned around, and a saw a girl, not much younger than she was, walking towards her. "Yes?"
The girl looked at her with hopeful, sad eyes. "Madam, are you the woman who was leading Shirou around earlier in the battle today?"
"Well... yes. I am, but he's gone."
"Do you know where he's gone off to?"
Asaki shook her head. "They're gone. He's not going to come back. Don't bother."
The girl looked at her pleadingly. "I'm his sister."
"Oh." Asaki forced back a choke. "He's asked me not to tell anyone - but I'm going to find him."
Shirou's sister nodded. "When you find him, will you tell him that our family is really falling apart without him?"
The girl started to walk away, but Asaki held up her hand. "Wait."
She turned around.
"I think Shirou would like you to have this." Asaki dug the wooden vile containing the last of The Venomsprout cure in it out of her pocket. "It will save you from the poisonous fumes released in the palace today. Have your family drink it - you only need a drop for it to work."
"Thank you," she said, taking the bottle, and looked up at Asaki. "You know, I understand why you won't tell me where my brother is going. My parents don't get it, but he's ready to make his own decisions, he's older than most kids are when they move out. I know you like him, and I know you're the rightful person to find him. Don't give up, madam. Please, bring him back safely. I'll keep you in my prayers." With that, she turned around and left.
Asaki stood their, grasping the knife on her belt. Her goals in life had always been shaped off hard luck and betrayal - never off hopes and dreams. Now, there was one light standing, a final mission to get to Shirou. She finally understood him, and knew where he was heading if he continued on the path which he was on - both literally and figuratively.
Now she was going to set things straight.
The End of Book 3
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