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Book 1: The Republic
Previously on 'Gods of War'
Colette was almost assassinated one night at her estate; the only piece of evidence being a dagger made of blue metal.
With the civil war finished two weeks ago Fenn found it hard to stick to his duties when knowing that most of the good the Clandestines did was tainted by the secret affairs of Beyond and the Libertarians. He could not assassinate the Non-bender Councilwoman to make the position available for Larkin, causing Colette to question his loyalty.
Also as a result of the civil war Saffron gained permission from her parents to go on a surprise visit to Otto in the Republic. Here they enjoyed a great time together, despite Otto thinking he was not good enough to deserve such a great girl.
After an attack on some developments in the Green by the growing masses of angry country-folk, Fenn proved his loyalty Colette by joining the firing squad. It was here that a feverish lady mentioned the word 'Avatar,' spurring Fenn to start some detective work at the Beyond database.
Chapter 9: 36 Moor
|"You're my son, I knew it the moment I saw your face."|
|— Councilman Akhil to Otto|
The doors opened. The computer met with Fenn's eyes instantly. It was there. The answer, a lead, something. It'd give him the information he needed to stop the demons, the knowledge to protect the Republic, a way to salvage the damage done to him and the ones he loved. Slowly Fenn made his way through the dark room. A metal path formed before him with each step, leading him ever closer to everything, floodlights flashing on as he made his way deeper into the room.
Keeping his stare on the screen Fenn sat in the chair. Ahead the holographic screen booted up, displaying a swipe area for the key card. Even though he had done this before the thought that Leroux's key card wouldn't work made him hesitate; only briefly. Furrowed brow unwavering Fenn swiped Leroux's smiling picture past the barcode, the screen turning green and granting him access into the database. Delicately touching the hologram Fenn typed.
The database paused as it searched.
"Come on," Fenn whispered, hoping that the Avatar was actually something and not just the ramblings of a deranged villager.
Finally a small paragraph from a newspaper appeared. Tears almost flooded to Fenn's eyes. Slowly he brought his face closer and read.
Being a rational man, basing actions on logic and tactic, Avatar Iorick does not believe the rumors of his origin; that he and all existing airbenders are distant relatives of a century-old bloodline.
Fenn read the words again. Thrice, four times, over and over to make sure he completely understood what he was reading. So the "Avatar" was a name given to a man called Iorick, suspected of being related to ancient airbenders? But that couldn't be right, the article said he and 'all existing airbenders' were rumored to have the ancestry. Then why weren't all airbenders called "Avatar," and what made Iorick such an important airbender? Again Fenn read the sentences, frantically trying to find the link between ancient airbender ancestry and the rebellion he had seen that day in the Green. The old lady had told him that Iorick was responsible for everything, for all his problems too.
Gravely Fenn turned away from the screen. The article had no date on it, meaning Iorick could still be out there. A plan began to formulate in the boys mind, even though all his leads seemed not to link together at all – if he really had any leads at all.
If what the article said was true, and all airbenders were distantly related, then Fenn would have to pay a visit to Otto Tinchen, and the Northern District could hold some more information to why exactly Iorick was the Avatar.
Swiftly Fenn logged out of the database and hurried back to the elevator. There was no time to waste; answers lay ahead for him. Even if the answers he'd receive weren't concerned with the demon attacks Fenn was made certain by the dread in his gut that the lead at hand was directly linked to the safety of the Republic, and for that there was now nothing more important than getting those answers.
"So," Saffron began, blushing as she rolled onto her stomach across the bed. "It's my last night. Where are you going to take me tonight?"
For the majority of the day Saffron and Otto had stayed under the covers watching reruns of top pro-bending battles. Otto liked how into it Saffron got; shouting out at the screen whenever her team, the Ba Sing Se Boa-Bears, took a hit or when they were issued warnings of foul play. They cooked breakfast together, dodging hot spits from sizzling meat, and went out to a market to get some small fish for lunch – all the while keeping their arms linked.
"Well," Otto started, shuffling in the bed to sit up straight.
Exposed from the fallen sheets Saffron examined the boy's chest. It was lean and pale and covered in most parts with scars and abrasions. With a nervous tickle hacking at her gut the earthbender wrapped an arm around Otto's topless shoulders. His skin was warm and the boy huffed out a bashful laugh.
"Do you like dancing?" he wryly smiled, bringing himself in to peck Saffron's dimpled cheek.
"Dancing!" the girl repeated, almost ecstatic. "I love dancing!"
"I know a place," continued Otto, excitement building from hers. "It's really fun! Since this is your last night, how about I send you out with a bang?"
Saffron leapt onto the lovely boy and squeezed his scarred body tight in her arms. Otto, blushing and shutting away the aroused feelings that surfaced in his pelvis, hugged Saffron back, taking handfuls of her beautiful, golden locks and smelling them of their fruity perfume.
"That sounds just perfect!" Saffron giggled, before hoisting herself out of bed to put a fancy top over her bra. "Dinner and dancing, I'm such a Republic girl, haha!"
Suddenly Saffron's stomach churned and the girl started to wheeze and hack. Heaving her chest Saffron was guided by Otto to the bed.
"You alright?" Otto laughed nervously, rubbing the girl's back to help her through the coughs.
"Yes!" she spluttered, coughing up bloody phlegm into a tissue. "I'm – uh huh! I'm fine."
Settling down Saffron smiled reassuringly at the airbender before heading into the bathroom to do her makeup.
It wasn't often that Fenn had dinner with both Colette and Tariq, and even less frequent that Tariq was the one that made the meal. Champagne infused fish atop a watercress bed lay drizzled with a lemon mustard dressing on a precious porcelain plate while a finely-brewed beer bubbled delicately beside Fenn in its pitcher. Colette, clothed finely in a yellow frock and dark cardigan, smiled up at her father as he placed a pot of roast potatoes on the table.
"It looks incredible, dad," she started as Tariq took his seat at the head of the table.
"Well, it's always good to get time off work and spend it with the people you care about," he replied with a grin. "Wouldn't you agree, Fenn?"
"Yes," Fenn spluttered nervously. "Thank you again for having me."
He had never really spent much one on one time with Tariq, his boss and father of his girlfriend, so, putting the nerves aside, now was a good time for them to get to know each other a bit better.
"My pleasure," laughed the man. "Let's toast."
The three of them raised their glasses and clinked them together.
"The last few weeks have been a bit stressful but with everything sorted here's to success in the future and happiness in all our endeavors."
"Cheers!" Colette smiled.
"Cheers," muttered Fenn in accordance.
"Oh, Fenn, I almost forgot," started Tariq after everyone began eating. "Good work out in the Green. It was the first attack from the villagers we've seen in a long time and Colette told me that you handled yourself perfectly."
"It was nothing," Fenn smiled, the flavours of the fish divine in his mouth. "But I think I found something interesting."
"What is it?" Tariq asked, putting his cutlery down to devote his full attention to the boy.
Hesitating briefly, deciding that mentioning the rumor he read of the Avatar's relation to all airbenders may be traced back to Leroux lending him his ID card, Fenn spoke vaguely.
"It might not be much, but one of the villagers mentioned that the Avatar was responsible for everything. I mean I've never heard of an Avatar before, I was just wondering if you two knew anything about it."
He cast a glance over at Colette who shrugged then looked at Tariq. He too seemed puzzled.
"Well you've got me. I'm trying to think if it's come up in some of the old countrymen superstitions but it doesn't ring any bells."
Tariq shrugged as he cut through his fillet, patting it through the dressing.
"It must be nothing."
"You think?" Fenn abruptly added, receiving a faint nasty glare from Colette across the table.
Again Tariq shrugged, apparently not offended by Fenn's subtle hint at doubt.
"Either way, these attacks are something the Republic has never dealt with before. And I'm stumped with coming up with a solution to make both parties happy," the man sighed. "One on hand we're so close to finishing the developments, we could have a new district by the end of the year. But on the other I don't want other villages to follow suit. It could be a real threat to the people I'm responsible for. Fenn, seeing as how you've proven yourself I want you up on the walls as part of the security team."
Fenn looked up from his plate at the man. He had zoned out briefly, but knew now was the time to listen up because it seemed his boss had something for him to do.
"It's a bit of a strenuous job, the hours are pretty long. Do you think you can handle it?"
"Of course, sir," the boy replied immediately. "You can count on me."
Digging back into the meal Fenn let out a subtle sigh. These two were no help, though nevertheless he maintained pleasant conversation in order to not appear rude. If what the undated article with no author was true, and that all airbenders were related, then perhaps Otto could be of some use. He might have something of an answer.
"They didn't even check for an ID," Saffron whispered excitedly into Otto's ear as she clung to his arm.
The two had just entered the front door of The Firelight; one of the city's biggest and most exclusive night clubs. Loud, hefty beats hammered through the flashing, coloured lights while the dank smell of beer and spirits circulated around the masses of young men and women all dressed in their best clothes.
"It helps to know the people at the door," Otto replied, scanning the club like a wolf as he entered with the girl on his arm.
"Do you think everyone can tell I'm sixteen?" she whispered as she ogled at a women passing by in a shining silver vest that barely covered her body. "I feel like I look like a baby."
"Well they will if you shout it out like that," chuckled Otto, giving her a little nudge with his elbow. "I'm just going to say hi to some people then I'll see you back here, yeah?"
"I'll be on the dance floor!" shouted Saffron over the music.
As quickly as he nodded Otto, with a hint of solemnity, disappeared into the crammed crowds. Briefly Saffron stood nervously alone. Groups of drunken boys and shrieking girls bumped past her to get to the bar while a few hefty men were spotted against the walls, bopping their heads and eyeing off the women that went by. Part of what added to Saffron's excitement was the fear. In fact, it made the bulk of it. The people in the Firelight were all fake; ulterior motives could be seen behind all their eyes. Men feigned interest in what the girls had to say in hopes of getting something more, while the girls at the bar laughed at the bartenders' jokes in a bid to get cheaper drinks. When men passed each other they shared a violent intensity, a bloodlust.
Slowly Saffron could feel her innocence dwindling. And as much as she knew it was wrong to be here under age, she wanted to stay. She felt so adult, so mature, so in control of her own life. Since the Libertarian attack in the East, and having to stay cautious with her lung condition it felt good to take charge and see things for herself.
With an increasing grin Saffron pushed her way into the dance floor. All she could hear now was the music, the bass pumping up through her legs and right into her heart. Strobes flashed, and waves of hair and flailing arms rocked back and forth in front of her face. With each beat the crowd surged, knocking up and down and side to side so in tune with each other yet so distinct from the person next to them. Nodding along gently Saffron's legs began to click. Soon she found herself dancing amid a pool of happy strangers. At any point that she got groped by an unseen hand she'd push her way to another spot and continue dancing. The thrill was exhilarating and before she knew it she had worked up quite a sweat, golden strands of her hair sodden and smeared across her face.
Beside her a tall, muscular boy, galumphing his limbs in the confined space he had, gave her a dorky smile, shaking his head to what seemed like his favourite tune. Saffron laughed, happy seeing so many people enjoying themselves, and then he laughed back too. He bent down to her ear and shouted so that she could hear.
"What are you on?" he laughed, continuing to bob and dance to the beat.
Taken back Saffron stopped, laughed nervously then screamed back, "What?"
"What are you on?" the boy repeated again, casually draping his arm around her waist.
"Nothing!" she frowned, shoving his arm off her and shuffling away immediately.
Thankfully Otto spotted her face through the crowds and yanked her close to him. It was exactly where she wanted to be right now.
"It's a bit intense, isn't it?" Otto shouted as he chewed on a piece of gum.
"Yeah, but it's fun too!"
"Well I'm glad!" he smiled childishly. "Do you want a drink?"
"Uh, just a lemonade!"
Understandingly Otto nodded and turned to begin toward the bar. Without seeing he bumped into a giant, almost square man.
"Sorry, man," he said, patting the fella on his beefy back.
The man turned around, noticed Otto and then frowned.
"Oh, hey, Dil," Otto muttered nervously.
"You pay for tonight?" Dil, one of the doormen, grumbled. "Menda said you got on."
"She said I didn't have to. So how've you been?" he tried, hoping to change the subject.
"You still owe me from two months ago!" Dil said louder this time, a fist rising up from beside him.
"As I've said before, I'm still in the process of acquiring the funds, but I'm still-"
"-Like hell you are!" Dil screamed, rearing his arm.
With the full force of his massive fist Dil punched Otto square in the cheek, sending him toppling onto other dancers.
"Hey!" Saffron shrieked as Otto fell to some part on top of her.
Nimbly the boy slapped his hand before him, swiping a gust of air into Dil's chest, barely budging the guy. Grumbling, the man's fist came plummeting down again however, in the split second of the doorman's rage, Saffron heaved her heavy hands up, pulling with her two pillars of earth. Constricting the man's hand in the stone Saffron then sent the pillars back into the ground, slamming Dil's body onto the floor. In a cloud of rubble and dust Otto clutched Saffron and made for the exit.
"Otto, what the hell?" Saffron managed, people and lights whizzing past her in a blur.
Before she knew it the chill of the outside air was filling her lungs and then moments later she found herself in the subway station. In silence Otto bought two tickets and hopped on the first train that pulled up on the platform. The carriage was practically empty and the walls were covered in plastered ads. For a while the two sat in silence, chests heaving from the dash away from the Firelight. Saffron was completely lost for words, she had no idea what had happened or why. She looked worriedly over at Otto who was staring blankly at the passing lights of the subway tunnel, all the while munching hard on his stick of gum.
"What that all about?" she squeaked, holding back a nasty cough.
No reply, but instead just a wry little smile, and a few twitches of the boy's eyes.
Again no reply. It was like he was in another world.
Suddenly Saffron's eyes widened and her stomach churned. She could feel herself freezing up, losing all perception of who she thought Otto was.
"Are you on something?" she moaned furiously.
The airbender looked completely different to her. Under the sterile fluorescent light he appeared ugly. All his blemishes were visible, the pimples on his cheeks, the sweat stains and scars, the grime. It was all there. How did she not notice it before, not know what it showed?
Seeing Saffron's horrified stares in his peripheries Otto's little smile faded. He couldn't take his eyes off the running lights, and the sounds of turbines and heartbeat filled his head. He couldn't come up with anything to say, something to redeem himself. He wanted to, so badly. He had never really thought of the consequences of Adrenalin before, but as the one good thing in his life started doubting him, started to fear him, warms tears amassed in his silver eyes. Finally a single tear burst and trickled down his broken nose.
"I'm sorry," he muttered, eyes still fixated to things in front of him. "I, I-"
"-How many times have you..." Saffron trailed off, hoping Otto would get what she was asking.
Otto paused; he didn't want to tell her that. Knowing wouldn't make it better for her. But he had to comply, tell her everything she wanted to know.
"More than I can count," he replied sheepishly, lowering his head in shame. "More than I can remember."
Saffron's head fell into her hand and she let out a scared, disappointed sigh. She felt sick, and terrified. What had she gotten herself into? Otto seemed like a stranger to her; he wasn't the same boy she fell for in the East.
Finally, after a gruelingly silent train ride the two alighted from the train and walked home, Saffron remaining at least a metre away from Otto's side. The airbender felt awful. He had let Saffron down, scared her. But this isn't who he was, nor what he wanted to be. Otto wanted more out of life than addiction and disappointment. Once they got to his flat Saffron went to the sink and poured herself a glass of water. But instead of drinking it she gave it to Otto.
"Thanks," he muttered, teeth and jaw aching from the rampant chewing.
Saffron could barely reply with a smile and moved away to the couch. She held her arms close to her lap, trying hard to figure out what tonight meant for them.
"Why?" she asked softly.
"What?" said Otto, immediately rushing to her side, happy she was finally talking again.
"Why do you take that stuff? Are you an addict?"
Slowly Otto's goofy smile sank and he too lowered himself into the couch's cushions.
"Yeah," he croaked, "I guess I am."
Shutting her eyes Saffron cringed.
"I just don't understand. Why?"
Unfortunately Otto did not really know the answer. He had never really searched for the cause of his addiction, even if it was pretty clear. He had locked out all his history; it was almost unfamiliar to him. But he had to think back, try and find an explanation to help both of them understand.
"Well, I dunno Saffron," he started, memories of his childhood coming back to him. "I just sort of fell into it, I guess. I mean, when you turn fifteen nobody really wants to adopt you so I was kind of forced to leave the orphanage. I met some people; they took care of me and said I'd do well in the Republic, that I could make some serious cash in the fighting rinks. I suppose it was just the environment I was in. It was in front of me all the time."
Saffron looked over at Otto and their eyes met. Saffron could see it, all of Otto's sadness, the fear, the plight for survival. And she could understand why he did it to himself.
"I'm sorry," she muttered quietly like a frosty wind through a blackened night, eyes wide with the realisation. "I had no idea, I just thought you moved out of home...Do you miss them?"
Otto huffed out a pathetic laugh and shrugged, looking into himself for the answer, or if there was any time that he felt like he missed them. But there was nothing there, just a blank space.
"You can't miss something you've never had."
Swallowing down a hard lump Saffron could hardly fathom what it would be like to not have any parents. They were such an integral part of her life, a sweet and safe constant. They forged her personality, her morals, her entire being. Even if they were a bit over-protective, having them gone seemed almost dystopian. She was speechless. All she could muster were a few croaks, the beginnings of sentences that would try to explain her condolences.
"It's alright," smiled Otto. "I just, I really want to get off the stuff. Bad things always happen when I take them, but when I go cold turkey I can't deal with it by myself."
"You've tried to stop?"
"Yeah, a few times," he sighed. "But it's too hard."
And no wonder, thought Saffron. Without any parents to guide him or aid him he had only himself and presumably a few criminal 'friends' to go to for help.
"You could try and stop for me?" Saffron suggested, hoping to not come across as too entitled.
"Believe me, I want to," Otto shrugged. "But I won't be able to do it by myself."
"It won't be just you. If you ever feel the urge, just call me and we can talk it out."
"Yeah?" said Otto, smiling over at the beautiful girl by his side, admiring the golden tresses that snaked her shoulders.
As the pair smiled at each other, Otto was certain that things would work out between him and Saffron. Though she'd leave in the morning and he'd be all alone to his temptations, he'd have her to help him through it. No parents or teachers, old friends or work mates; he'd have only Saffron to guide him and shape him into a better person. And while he felt confident that Saffron could help him Otto couldn't shake an empty feeling.
Perhaps it was the comedown from the Adrenalin but it had kept him up all night. The mention of his parents had stirred something unfamiliar inside him. It was surreal that two people, completely unknown and faceless, could apparently do so much. Was Otto to blame them for the mistakes he made? Was he angry at them too? A million feelings flurried through his flat body; the bed sheets around him ice cold, he a burning ball of questions and emotion that kept the issue alight. There was, however, a single certainty amid everything that was upturned in his thoughts, something he had never before felt but was sure was with him his entire childhood.
He did miss his parents, whoever they were. If only just a little bit.
Fenn knocked on Otto's apartment door and waited for his friend to answer. He, much like Otto, had not slept much last night, kept up by his thoughts. Though Tariq and Colette were not of much help and seemed to have never heard of the Avatar, perhaps Otto held part of an answer.
"Oh!" came the excited voice of Otto from inside.
Suddenly the door swung open and at a breakneck speed Otto lunged forward and wrapped his arms around Fenn.
"I missed you already!" he cried.
Slowly, as Otto's arms patted down a much more toned back than he had expected, the airbender realised that he was not hugging the girlfriend he had only just recently said goodbye to but a different familiar face.
"Fenn!" he coughed, awkwardly snapping off from the prolonged embrace. "I thought you were someone else."
"Yeah?" the firebender laughed, seeing Otto blush profusely.
"I thought you were my girlfriend."
"Girlfriend, huh?" Fenn humoured as he let himself inside.
It had been a while since he last visited Otto's apartment, but it was exactly the same as he left it; dirty and matted in clothes.
"What's she like?"
"We met in the East just before the war."
"The girl you left a note to? So things are going well?"
"Great, we kissed up in Takeshita Park."
Fenn thought back to the times he spent up at that park; laying down on a grassy hill on the weekends, feeling the air gently push past his tired body. It was a nice park, and a beautiful spot at night.
"And does she know about all that stuff you're involved in, she okay with it?"
Giddy, Otto skipped up to his friend and shook him by the shoulders.
"Better yet, she's helping me through it! Fenn, she's amazing!"
"Well I'm happy it's all working out," Fenn smiled before putting on a more serious expression. "But that's not what I'm here for."
"Oh yeah," Otto coughed, scratching his chin, remembering that he was not expecting Fenn to show up. "Why are you here?"
Thick crowds of people, like mindless robots, surged every direction through the train station. Bleeping of scanned tickets, and stampedes of footsteps roared through the underground halls as street vendors shouted out bargains from their booths. Fenn did not want to be spotted, and kept his collar high above his scar. He had skipped work at the wall to do this and felt sheepish for doing so. Otto, impressed and excited at the cacophony of chaos that was the train station, remained a few steps behind and quickly Fenn flashed his Clandestine badge at the ticket machine and whisked him and his friend through.
"So you're telling me that there is a person out there called the Avatar and that he's related to all airbenders?"
Immediately Fenn pulled Otto close and whispered furiously in his ear.
"Can you keep it down? We don't know what we're dealing with here, try and be as low key as possible," the firebender hissed, surveying the nearby commuters for anything suspicious.
If there was indeed a link between the Avatar and the demons then parading the information around was a perfect way to get into some form of trouble.
"Casual," Otto huffed, shrugging his jacket up his back and shoving his hands into his pockets. "Yeah, I can do casual."
Rigid and tense, Fenn made his way into a train headed for the Northern District. He and Otto had come to the conclusion that the Air Councilman based in the Northern District might have some information to help them, might know a thing or two about airbender lineages. As the train started its rickety glide across the tracks, high rises gently lowering into more suburban architecture, Fenn found himself mesmerized by the scenes that passed by. Split moments blurred at the edges, grey clouds harboring the same caution that Fenn held close. The cushioning on the seat was warm from someone's prior travel and was putting Fenn's tired body at ease, if only just a bit. He had not really noticed it, but he was exhausted. The consequences of the civil war – the assassination of the Non-bender Councilwoman, his strained relationship with Colette, and thoughts of demons and the Avatar constantly plaguing his mind – it had all taken a considerable toll on Fenn. He was almost scared of what was becoming of him.
Was this an effect of the curse, the rotting mark across his shoulder? He hadn't forgotten about it, always stopping to see how fast it was spreading. Before he'd shower Fenn would stare deeply at it in the mirror. It was hideous, and marred his ivory skin. He'd poke it and gently stroke the thin veneer of skin that was left. Under the showerhead he would cringe at the pain every drop sent down his shoulder and across his collarbone, the terrifying night flashing before his flinching eyes.
But all of that was about to change. He knew it. He'd find out something that would connect it all; the demons, his curse, the airbenders, the safety of the Republic. It was a grim feeling, knowing that something dark was brooding out in the world. But Fenn was not going to accept that there was no answer, or no solution; not while the curse still tore away his flesh.
Beneath the tracks the harbor glistened in the grey light. Blue water mottled with boats and yachts passed underneath, Otto pressing his face against the window to get a closer look at the pelican-gulls that flew by.
"You ever been to the Northern District?" he said abruptly in the silence.
Fenn did not reply. In his seat he stared out at the window back at the city centre. His reflection came to view. It bore a solemn expression and angry, tired eyes. He was almost unrecognizable, especially in his Clandestine uniform. Not liking what he saw Fenn turned his gaze back to the inside of the carriage. Millions of small advertisements were posted onto the walls, mostly of Beyond products with gimmicky-looking mascots, and Otto was now reading them all.
Fenn smiled. Was this skinny, pale boy before him, scathed and bruised, his friend? He hadn't really considered it.
Once the train had reached the other end of the harbor it finally stopped at the Northern District station. From his pocket Fenn took his directions and hopped onto the correct bus.
"Pretty nice, huh," Otto mumbled into Fenn's ear as he examined the people and shops that passed.
"Different," Fenn muttered back.
The Northern District was nothing at all like the six districts of the Republic. Buildings were about seven stories high at most and there was hardly any traffic on the streets. For that it took only ten minutes for Fenn and Otto to get to the Air Councilman's estate. It was a Sunday so they had not bothered to try his workplace first and much like the estates in the Republic, this one was ornate and highly vegetated with prim roses and poesies.
Briskly Fenn made his way to the front door and knocked on it.
"Don't say anything, don't do anything," he told Otto. "Just stay behind me."
"Yeah, okay," the airbender replied, rolling his eyes at Fenn's constant serious nature.
Soon the front door opened and the two boys were greeted by a lean, bald man in a yellow shirt. His nose was bulbous and ears saggy, but his eyes were metallic and leaden in colour, almost identical to Otto's.
"Can I help you?" he muttered politely from the door frame.
"My name is Fenn Miyakami and I'm a Clandestine," Fenn began, showing his badge as an attempt to convince the councilman this was important business.
Suspiciously the councilman looked Fenn up and down, and then to Otto, meeting the boys eyes. Suddenly the realisation hit him and he became rigid with discomfort.
"What is this about?" he demanded, keeping his eyes fixated on the now confused Otto.
Sighing, Fenn stepped in front of Otto to meet the councilman's full attention before saying, "It's about the Avatar."
The Air Councilman's face fell grim and worriedly he let the two inside his home.
Councilman Akhil's office was small and cramped. A filling cabinet almost bursting at the seams sat looming in the corner while the man's desk, brown wood covered in a cream tablecloth, acted as the centrepiece. Akhil sat down, still a little concerned, and looked at the two boys before him.
"So what is it?" he said to Fenn, all the while sneaking glances at Otto.
"I found a clipping from an article that talked about a rumour," Fenn started. "It talked about an Avatar, Avatar Iorick, and said that he and all airbenders were from a single bloodline."
"Well if all existing airbenders are part of this bloodline, why aren't they all called Avatars?"
"Yeah," Otto added. "Does that mean I'm related to you in some way?"
Again Councilman Akhil grew tense and stared right at Otto, eyes wide with astonishment, guilt and horror.
"What? What is it?" Otto laughed, trying to laugh away the stares he was getting from Akhil.
"I, I guess there's no point hiding it anymore," Akhil sighed in defeat, glancing up at the door. "This rumour you have found is untrue. There is no single line of airbenders. But, Otto, I must be honest with you. You, you are part of my lineage – directly."
"What do you mean?" Otto smiled, awaiting his reply from the councilman.
Speechless Akhil simply shrugged before Otto gasped at the revelation.
"You're my son, I knew it the moment I saw your face," Akhil smiled nervously, unsure of what to say to his estranged child.
And Otto was unsure what to feel. Was he to be angry, joyous? Was a weight supposed to lift off his shoulders, or his heart to become brighter? Albeit surprised, he was still confused. The idea of seeing one of his parents face to face was something he had never considered, never dreamt about, yet as he sat he could not help but feel that bit more complete.
"So, that was my mum out there? The lady we passed in the hallway," Otto replied, mouth ajar in a dumbfounded expression.
Again Akhil's eyes nervously flitted about the room as he shook his head with discomfort.
"Well, no, she is my wife," the councilman coughed. "But. I made some mistakes a while ago, I was in a pretty dark place and she was the light. She brought me back and we've been together ever since. We've been trying to have kids, but, no, she is not your mother."
Otto could see that his father was reliving something painful in his past; regretful mistakes, bad choices. And Otto knew what it was like having regrets, and having to live with the choices he made, so for that he lowered his smile and politely decided to drop the topic.
"So, anyway, this Avatar thing is just a myth then?" he started.
"That's what we're here for, Councilman Akhil," continued Fenn, getting up from the slouch he had fallen into when Otto and his father had started on their tangent. "If you know anything about the Avatar then I need to know."
"You asked why all airbenders weren't called the Avatar, if there was, in fact, a single descendent," revised the councilman, continuing after Fenn gave him a focused nod. "Well the Avatar is a term not given to an airbender related to all airbenders. No, Avatar Iorick was an airbender, but as the Avatar, he...he had mastered all four of the elements."
Suddenly Fenn's heart dropped, plummeting into his gut like a solid metal anvil. It was impossible. A single human possessing the power to bend all the elements; nothing like that had ever been seen or reported ever. Fenn could barely comprehend it. Now the weight of his discovery seemed more immense than ever; more important than an old bloodline, more important than triads or war. All four elements at your disposal, the power that would come with it. Fenn was sure there was a link there with the demons, surely they were the ones responsible for thrusting such enormous strength into a being. But for what purpose? Why?
"Woah," the two boys muttered, completely struck silent by the news.
Finally the ringing of a phone broke the silence, allowing Akhil and Otto to share another brief, confused glance.
"Oh," Fenn muttered, realising it was his phone that was ringing. "That's me."
Akhil smiled at the boy to take the call, leaving just him and Otto in the office. Poor Otto still had no idea what to say. All his life he never wanted to know anything about his family, but now he had so many questions. There was, however, one question that had remained at the back of his mind all those years. And now was a good a time as any to ask it.
"So," Otto coughed, sending his estranged father back into his rigid, awkward posture. "I'm assuming that I wasn't planned?"
Akhil sighed, not wanting to upset the boy with the story of his origin.
"I had just lost an important bill. I had put my entire career on the line to get it passed through but it was too ambitious. And so was I. I was so disappointed, so miserable, I didn't return home until lunch the next day. A few days after that a woman approached me saying that she was pregnant with my child. Being councilman of the North, and having just failed the most important campaign of my life, an illegitimate child would have definitely cost me my job."
Akhil stopped, head leaning in his palm, to look down at a photo of his wife.
"The woman told me that she could not afford to raise the child, but I too made it clear I was in no position to raise it – um, you, either."
The two shared a pause as Otto's silvery eyes became murky with the onset of tears. He didn't want to cry, he was a man; he wasn't going to cry in front of his father. But he couldn't help tearing up. He had just been told that he was not wanted, like he was a piece of rubbish one could just throw away.
"And?" he muttered.
Akhil looked up at him with surprise, not expecting anything more.
"What happened next? Who's my mother?" the airbender shrugged, not sure if he wanted to hear any more or it yet certain he needed to.
Again Akhil sighed; it pained him to deliver such sad news to an obviously troubled boy.
"Well, your mother decided not to go to the press thankfully. If you don't know who she is I, I assume she sent you to an orphanage. I never had any contact with her," Akhil explained, shrugging in knowing his answers weren't the most insightful. "As for who your mother is...Well...That one night is mostly a blur, it was a very dark time for me, but...I don't really know how to put this but she was a...a, um."
"Oh," interjected Otto, realising that his mother was just a lost, young woman who had made bad choices in her life – that she was a prostitute.
"I'm very sorry, Otto," said Akhil with a gentle smile. "Really I am."
That smile could have been familiar to Otto. He could have seen it when he'd play out in the yard, or across the dinner table, or before he fell asleep as he was getting tucked in. Unfortunately though, Akhil's smile was unfamiliar.
"It's okay I guess," shrugged Otto, trying hard to figure out if this was what he wanted.
What was he expecting was going to happen when he found his parents? They weren't going to take him back. They weren't going to pretend to be a happy family. All that would change now was that Otto would know instead of not knowing. He was happy not knowing, and the ignorance or the bliss, or whatever it was, was something he would not be able to get back.
"I suppose I should keep this under wraps, huh?" the airbender added. "Unless you-"
"-My, my wife doesn't know," Akhil abruptly replied. "We've been trying lately and finding out that I've had a kid with another woman would just crush her. And I can't do that to her after everything she's done for me...You understand don't you?"
"Yeah, I get it."
Suddenly Fenn returned, eyes wide with embarrassment.
"I'm sorry Councilman but I have to wrap this up early."
He had completely forgotten about his lunch arrangement with Colette and she had only just called him to see if he was on his way, of which he was nowhere near.
"Oh," Akhil coughed, stammering up from his seat. "Okay, very well."
"Perhaps were can talk more another time?" Fenn added, knowing that Akhil still had more to tell but was hesitant to meet again.
"Oh, um," the councilman floundered.
His eyes glanced over Otto and his glum expression. He had to make it up to the boy somehow. Maybe seeing them again wouldn't be so bad.
"Yes. You two can come anytime. Although preferably during business hours."
"Understood," Fenn nodded before politely shaking the man's hand. "Thank you very much for your time."
Fenn looked over at Otto, unsure if the boy was going to say goodbye or not.
"Thank you, sir," the boy said, eyes to the ground.
As the two left the office Akhil coughed and then turned Otto around to show himself with pen and cheque-book in hand.
"Otto, wait. If there's anything you need give me a number and I'll write it in. Just something I feel I should do."
Otto looked his father up and down. He still was confused as to how to feel. He was angry and upset that the man had ditched him in his time of need, but was understanding about why Akhil did what he did.
Apathetically Otto shook his head and said, "I don't want your charity."
He turned his shoulder towards the councilman, his father, the coward, and began with Fenn to the front door, holding the tears as butterflies in his stomach.
"Wait!" Akhil added one last time. "Another interesting thing about Iorick you should know. He's your great-great grandfather, Otto. So don't ever think that you're not special. Or that you're not worth it. You have greatness in you."
Gently, like a whisper, a tiny smile appeared on Otto's lips. He could take solace in knowing that he was part of a legend; part of the man who could bend all the elements. Maybe finding his father wasn't so bad after all.
"Thanks," he said as his final goodbye before leaving with Fenn down the street.
"You know," Fenn started after a while of silence waiting at the bus stop. "My dad and I aren't on that good terms either."
"Yeah?" Otto mumbled, lips barely moving a quiver.
A gentle breeze tickled the back of his neck as he looked at his nodding friend.
"Yeah," continued Fenn, looking down at the pavement, the cracks and bits of plastic. "Since he kicked me out I haven't seen him in years."
Otto shuffled on his seat while Fenn, unsure what to say to quell the awkwardness, sat rigidly against the seat.
"But thanks for coming with me."
Otto smiled, cheeks turning a faint rosy.
Colette sat at an outside table, menu resting on her lap, a frosty glass of juice beside her cutlery. Pearl earrings hung beside her black curls while an impatient glare eyed off the passersby. Two bodyguards stood by the street statuesque. Through the crowds she saw Fenn pushing through. Shamefacedly he meandered through the tables and finally sat opposite his girlfriend.
"Sorry I'm late," he puffed, taking the menu and shoving in front of his face to avoid Colette's glowers.
"No that's fine," she replied. "Too caught up in the new job, right?"
Fenn didn't want to lie to her but felt like it was necessary, especially with all the people around; all the possible prying ears.
He lowered his menu and smiled over at Colette, who smiled back.
"It's funny though. I called your manager just to double check that getting you out for lunch was fine and he said that you hadn't even signed in?"
"Really?" Fenn nervously laughed. "Yeah, I didn't know where to sign in but I was told that I could start work and sign in when my shift ended."
He shrugged comically before averting his eyes down at the menu again.
"That's weird. Everyone has to go through security scans in order to sign in. You saying you skipped those security checks?"
Checkmate. Colette had snuffed him out. There was no point at all in trying to play a game with her, Fenn had to come clean.
"I was investigating the Avatar-"
"-He could bend all four elements!" he rebutted, trying to make his point while keeping an eye out on the people around him.
"I don't care," moaned Colette, rolling her eyes at the seemingly constant obsession her boyfriend had with rumours and old tales.
"Well you should because I'm pretty sure there's a link. This could be something big."
"Fenn, listen to me-"
"Listen to me!" Colette icily interjected, not making herself get interrupted. "My father has given you everything; a job, a new apartment, the expedition you wanted in the Green, his blessing towards our relationship. Everything. And you have the nerve to disrespect him by skipping work, ignoring your duties as a Clandestine to pursue something you think is more important. What makes you think you know what's best? What gives you the right to disregard him when he took you off the streets?"
There was a pause as Colette waited for a reply.
"You promised you'd trust me more," Fenn pathetically added.
Colette scoffed at his argument.
"And you promised me no more lies. I can't trust you if you're not honest, if you can't even do your job," she spat, slamming her drink on the table after taking a heated sip. "Where'd you even find this out?"
Suddenly Fenn sat up straight, noticing the crowds all around him. People at tables nearby were obviously listening in and the bodyguards too; could they be trusted? Fenn was still uncertain about what the Avatar meant for the world, what that power could do, but he was sure that if information were to get into the wrong hands nothing good would result. But Colette was right about what she had said. About how Fenn had been taking his new life for granted recently, how he was disrespecting the sacrifices Tariq had made for him. He needed to be honest, but with people everywhere he didn't want to get Councilman Akhil into any trouble.
"Well, maybe we could go somewhere more private?" he suggested, nervously looking across the seemingly sinister faces that passed by in the street, the prying ears of the other patrons.
He was growing paranoid; all the worst scenarios were playing out in his head.
"Come on," Colette replied with a roll of her eyes. "You think something bad is going to happen? You probably heard it from your drug addict friend right? One of his "
She let out an acute laugh.
"Or from another crazy villager? Perhaps it was that savage girl from the Green?" she teased, leaning forward to pretend like she was ready to hear the big secret. "Or, no, or maybe you heard it from a demo-"
"-Councilman Akhil told me!" Fenn snapped, starting to get angry that Colette never took what he had to say seriously. "If you can't even listen to what I have to say without keeping a straight face then what's the point in telling you!"
Fenn stood up, feeling his scar twinge under his body, and huffed. What was he doing? Had he made it out like Colette was in the wrong? Or was she actually?
"Excuse me?" Colette replied, cheeks filling red with embarrassment.
"You wonder why I lie to you but it's because you treat me like I'm stupid, or crazy!" the firebender continued, letting his mouth run wild. "I'm sorry Colette, really I am. I shouldn't have skipped work. But this could be something huge for Tariq, so don't just laugh at my face when I tell you these things. I'm going to work, and don't worry, I'll sign in this time."
Ignoring his apprehensions to sit back down and shut up Fenn stormed out from the restaurant and caught the next bus to the Republic's walls. It had felt good to give Colette a piece of his mind, to get some of his frustration off his chest, but he knew that he could have handled it with much more grace. Everyone around him probably heard it all, and they could do anything with that information. But Fenn didn't care anymore. Tomorrow he'd return to Akhil's estate and find out more, because nobody else would bother.
The hallway of Akhil's estate felt cold, the air stifled and shallow among the floorboards. To get inside Fenn had to flash his Clandestine badge past some policemen. Slowly a body bag was being carried. The muffled outline of Akhil appeared inside and instantly Fenn's heart dropped into his stomach then up his throat.
He never should have acted out yesterday. Somebody did hear. And trouble did come.
In the lounge room Akhil's wife was collapsed on the sofa, cheeks stained with distraught tears, a consoling police officer by her side with a hot cup of tea for her. Again he flashed his badge and entered the councilman's office. In it were a bunch of officers, two had just put something into a plastic bag. Fenn's eyes widened.
It was a blade. Blue metal with a handle inlaid with maroon and gold. It was an exact copy of the one used months ago as an attempt at Colette's life. Fenn was certain. But what did it all mean? What did they want with both Colette and Akhil? Or more importantly, what did they not want Fenn discovering? Flashes of faces from his lunch with Colette yesterday skidded through his head, trying to pinpoint the most sinister-looking person he saw. A bodyguard, a waiter, a patron; suddenly every one of them seemed monstrous, conniving. Even Akhil's wife appeared dark and menacing.
Still in shock Fenn drifted through the office and to the desk. The wood was stained with blood and pens and paper was strewn across the desktop. Fenn scanned the documents, shuffling them with a finger as an attempt to look busy in front of the officers. Almost unnoticed a small piece of paper dropped to the floor. It had only caught Fenn's attention in the last second of its fall. Picking it up and folding it out two words were written out in Akhil's handwriting.
After the 'r' the pen stroke stifled, it must have been then that Akhil was killed. Fenn pocketed the note and giving the officers a grim nod exited onto the street.
He had to pick up the pace if he wanted to find the answers, before they would be stabbed out of sight like the councilman. Feeling the weight of a clue in his pocket and breathing the word 'Avatar' constantly on his lips, Fenn routinely pulled his collar up high. Someone or something was out there watching his progress, following his every move. It was a disturbing feeling being watched but Fenn was not going to quit. There were answers to be found, yet nobody to trust.
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