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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm


Pond in Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se
The Final Seminar
Chapter information
Series

The Avatar Rhythm

Book

Book 4-The Earth Saga

Chapter

42

Written by

BlackMonkey

Release date

August 14, 2012

Chronology
Last chapter

The Lady and the Koto

Next chapter

Bloodshed Shadows

Chapter

This is Chapter 42 of The Avatar Rhythm Series.

Shirou looked up at the huge brick walls in front of him, hundreds of feet high and stained with age. He sat in the back of a carriage, drawn by an ostrich horse ridden by his new friend, Kotone. Her old wooden instrument, the koto, was strung across her back. As far as Shirou could tell, she brought it around with her wherever she was. A strange old woman, he decided upon.
"I haven't been in Ba Sing Se for a very long time," Kotone said. "I was born behind these walls, if you didn't know."
Shirou still gazed at their enormous size, getting closer. "This place is bigger than I imagined."
She nodded as the carriage strolled into a small gate at the bottom of the wall. There were armed guards on either side of the tunnel, who looked up at Kotone. "Identification?"
She showed the man on her left a piece of paper marked with dates and stamps.
He nodded. "Enjoy your visit to Ba Sing Se."
As they moved into the Agrarian Zone of the city, Shirou gazed around at miles and miles of farms, plains, and old downtown parts of the city.
After almost an hour of driving through tall grass and large areas of dirt and stone, they continued through another gate and entered the Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se. Poor suburbs and rundown building complexes surrounded the roads that they drove on.
Soon, they moved along into the Middle Ring of the city. "It should only be an hour at most to get to the Avatar's house from here," Kotone said from her perch on the ostrich horse.
"You know, if you want," Shirou muttered, "You can just drop me off here and I'll make it to Hotaru on my own. I, uh, know how to get there."
Kotone chuckled. "You don't want me to come with you."
"Well, uh..." He looked down. "Yeah. You can just drop me off, I'm telling you."
The old woman pulled the carriage over to the side of the street. "Alright, alright. I'll rent a room somewhere around here for a day or two. If you need me just stop by."
Shirou jumped onto the street and looked around, getting his bearings. "Thank you for all you've done, Kotone."
As he started walking away, Kotone looked up from the carriage. "Be careful out there, my friend! You're still injured."
Shirou turned, smiled, and nodded. He was only a few neighborhoods away from Hotaru. From the Avatar. All his life, he had been working towards this goal. This time, he had no Shinji, no bands of rebels, no bandits to stop him and make him have second thoughts. For the moment, everything was resolved except for Hotaru. It was finally time to end it all.

Back in Argil Village, Shinji was frying himself an egg in the inn room he was now sharing with Takumi and Asaki. They were still asleep, Takumi's bed in the side of the room he was cooking in, Asaki's in the small side room. He had been sleeping on their armchair the past couple of nights. Now well done, Shinji picked up his egg off of its pan and put in on a wooden plate that was in the cupboard. Taking a fork from a drawer, he sat down on his armchair and started eating.
It wasn't long before Takumi woke up too. After rubbing his eyes, he got a good look at the egg that Shinji was eating.
"Want one?"
Takumi nodded, and stood up and walked to the bathroom as Shinji started frying another egg. He made one extra for Asaki, who soon got out of her room too. In about five minutes, they all sat down on the inn room floor with their breakfasts.
"It's a good egg," Takumi said between chomps. "Where'd you learn to cook anyway?"
"One of my old caretakers, this Earth Kingdom lady named Kotone, she taught me."
Asaki looked up. "Oh yeah? Where does she-"
She never finished her sentence, as huge explosive noise suddenly erupted from outside in Argil Village.
Panicked, the trio stood up, dropping their breakfast. "What the heck?" Takumi said in alarm. Another sound of a massive crash bursted through the air.
Shinji looked out the window uneasily. "There's smoke, and screaming, and-" He stopped dead in the center of sentence at the sight of a man in a black uniform running down a street.
"What's happening?" Asaki asked, picking up her satchel of knives, and pulling on her old Polar Revolution uniform.
It wasn't often that Shinji had quivers in his voice, or fear engulfed his face. "The Quadrination Bandits," he said. "They're here."

Shirou walked up the light gravel lane through meadows and past koi ponds up to an ornate house on top of a hill, in the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se. Hotaru is living a life of luxury, he though to himself. Spoiled brat. He brushed some dust of his tunic, feeling to messy too be walking through such a fancy neighborhood. Finally reaching the large house, he took a deep breath, and knocked three times.
The door was quickly opened by a man in a nice suit. "Hello, sir," he said. "Do you have business with Master Hotaru?"
Some snotty butler. "Yeah, we've been friends for a long while. I'd like to talk to her."
He rung a bell attached to his belt. "Master Hotaru, you have a visitor."
Shirou tensed as he heard footsteps from the stairs. This was it. Hotaru, who he had been tracking for so long, the Avatar, stepped down into the corridor. He barely recognized her. She was wearing a new light green and yellow dress, slightly taller, her hair now cut shorter.
"Who is-" She stopped, looking at Shirou, her smile slowly fading. "What are you doing here?"
"The usual," he said, nodding towards the sword on his back, which he was glad the butler did not catch. "It's going to be over so soon, all of this. My life will finally be complete, that hole in my heart will be filled."
"Don't you have better things to be doing?" Hotaru asked. "Where's Shinji? He's in danger all the time. The rest of the world should be your priority."
"Oh, I've helped Shinji, he is my priority." Shirou chuckled. "I jumped off a cliff for that kid. Broke or fractured eighteen bones for him. I did everything I could, and he should be safe now, with Asaki and Takumi. For once, everything was cleared up, so I decided to take a pit stop, to finish off what had I had been striving for all my life."
The confused butler looked back and forth between them, not comprehending what was going on.
"You don't have to do this!" Hotaru spat. "We're friends!"
"We were friends. Normally I would forgive someone due to a past friendship. But avenging my grandfather is too important to me."
"Shirou," Hotaru said. "I've been meaning to talk to you about that."
"What?"
"About Kaito," she continued. "As part of my Avatar journey, I recently met with my past life, Avatar Mikio. The one is said to have killed your grandfather. He brought me back to The Great Battle of Omashu, and showed me what happened."
Shirou grimaced. "That monster - he really does live on in you. And let me guess, now he's convinced you with lies that what he did was right, swayed you to be on his side."
"No. Nothing that we know of in the tragedy is true. Mikio and Kaito became the best of friends during that battle, and Kaito wasn't even in the hospital when it burned down."
"Lies!" Shirou shouted. "That horrible man is feeding you lies, haunting you within your soul, part of you, manipulating you with his own fiction! You know nothing of what happened."
"And you do? I saw the battle with my own eyes, I saw the past clearly, I watched it unfold right there."
Shirou fumed. "My father has everything - newspaper articles on the incident, manuscripts of Mikio's trial, books on the war, and I've read them all, I know what happened!"
"No you don't. No one knows besides Mikio and I. You see, Mikio met Kaito in the hospital before anything was happening, your grandfather in critical condition. He had just finished writing the legendary Fifth Scroll of Kaito, and Mikio promised him to bring it back to the North Pole if he was to die. Later in the war, when the Avatar accidentally started the fire in the hospital, he immediately ran into the burning building and tried to save Kaito from the flames and get the scroll for him."
"But they had already burned to a crisp," Shirou said. "He was too late."
Hotaru hopelessly shook her head. "No, that's not what happened. Mikio got to Kaito's room before it burned down, but he was gone. The hospital bed was empty already, and the Fifth Scroll of Kaito was nowhere to be found in his dresser. No one knows what happened to them, but Mikio didn't kill him! It's impossible! The Avatar isn't responsible for your grandfather's death!"
Shirou screamed with anger. "How dare you! How dare you insult everything I believe in! The Avatar is the reason for all of my troubles, the root of this whole nightmare! You killed Kaito!" Shirou pulled out his sword, and slashed it down towards Hotaru, who barely evaded the quick slice.
The butler on the sidelines leapt forward. "Sir, what are you doing to Master Hotaru!" He yelled. "Stop this at once!" He tried holding Shirou back with surprising strength.
Struggling, Shirou kept swinging his blade, and Hotaru kept dodging. "I'm telling you," she yelled. "The Avatar is innocent!"
The butler put all of his weight (which was quite a lot, actually) onto Shirou, pushing him against the wall, making him finally drop his sword. "I will not tolerate the attempting murder to such an important woman," he said, smashing the swordsman against the wall once more.
"You don't know," Shirou uttered, crumpling in defeat, "What you're talking about..."
With a final blast of water from Hotaru, he was out cold, and she picked him up. "I know you have good inside," she whispered. "But right now, we can't afford to have your corrupt side around here." She looked at her butler, tired from defending her. "Call up the Ba Sing Se police. We need to put this man somewhere where he can't cause any more trouble."

Meanwhile, Takumi, Asaki, and Shinji were running through the back roads of Argil Village, trying to stay away from The Quadrination Bandits, who were causing mass destruction to the city.
"They know I'm here," Shinji said, shivering. "I need to leave."
"We can't risk splitting up," Takumi said, ducking underneath a signpost as the saw Zhena the firebender run down the next street over, burning down a house.
Shinji shook his head. "We can't risk having me here. Anywhere I go, devastation follows. I need to get out of this place, to get safe. Even if they do follow me out, that will at least end the killing of these innocent Argil Village citizens. They know I'm here, and won't stop destroying everything in their paths until they find me. You hold them off, I'm going to the mountains to the north to hide. Meet me at the lake in the small forest up there."
A huge explosion erupted from the next house over. "Are you sure you're going to be okay?" Asaki asked.
"It'll be less dangerous than staying here and risking you two." With that, Shinji scurried into the nearby woods at the side of the town, and almost as soon as he disappeared into the darkness, the shack they were hiding behind crumpled in flames, Zhena in the middle of the horror. "There you are," she cackled. "Friends of the cursed one." She laughed. "Where is he hiding?"
Takumi stepped forward and thrust his hands out, sending a billowing wave of wind that blew out the burning building and knocked the firebending bandit off guard. Then they attacked, she shooting an inferno out of her fist and he a raging tornado out of his palm. When the blasts hit each other, they exploded in a raging fury and shot sparks everywhere. The heat and debris shooting from the clash were immense.
As soon as she saw Zhena's fire start to overpower Takumi, Asaki quickly pulled a knife from her sleeve and whipped it forward at the bandit, who sensed the blade in the air and leapt out of the way, cutting her flamethrower off short and giving Takumi a free second while she was off guard, in which he slammed his wrist into the air and blew her into a column of wood, knocking her out. "Thanks Asaki."
She nodded, and they continued running down the street, horrified at the chaos that had broke out so quickly in the past hour by the Quadrination Bandits. Frightened people ran down streets screaming, only to have dismantled buildings fall on top of them. It was horrible.
"Look, Asaki!" Takumi shouted. "It's the waterbender!"
They turned and looked through the charred frame of a house, seeing Kyong shooting blades of ice at a family guarding their house.
"We have to help them," Takumi said, and they sprinted over, Asaki hurling a trio of darts at the waterbender, one missing completely, one ripping the canvas of his sleeve and skimming his arm, the other striking him right in the center of his hand.
"Look who decided to show up," he said, pulling the small blade out of his palm, blood spilling down his fingers. "Fools. If you had any sense you would be running away from us." He bent water from a nearby puddle around his punctured hand, and with a glow, it was instantly healed. "You can't stop us anyway."
"We'll see about that," Asaki spat, leaping forward, catching him off guard with a throw of a dagger. While he ducked, she turned her hip and snapped out her foot, landing a powerful kick in Kyong's stomach. It's good to be fighting again, she thought as the waterbender gasped for breath and held up his hands, readying to attack once more.
All the while, Takumi was with the family that was attacked, their father with a broken and bleeding arm.
"It's going to be okay," said Takumi, ripping off the sleeve of his brown cloak and creating a makeshift sling for the injured man. "Run to the woodlands beside Argil Village, and stay there until this chaos ends. It's going to be okay." With that he sent the petrified family away towards the edge of the city, and he readied himself to attack Kyong if his fight with Asaki got out of hand.
However, that probably wouldn't happen anytime soon, as Asaki was beating the pulp out of the waterbending bandit. He kept trying to slice her side with blades of ice, but every time she would smash them her forearm, thanks to the plates of metal within the sleeves of her uniform. This time it was something new though, when Kyong spun around her, bringing a whirlwind of water and ice with him and shooting it all at her, freezing her instantly with it. Immobilized, Asaki looked around, while Kyong readied a spear of ice to throw at her, Takumi was coming up from behind, with his staff held high ready to swing down at the waterbender's head. However, behind him was another figure, and as sparks flew into the air, she knew that Zhena awakened, and was ready for revenge upon them. "Takumi, watch out!" she yelled, and it had the right effect. Kyong turned around, giving her time to shatter the ice covering her with a knife still in her fingers, while Takumi turned and dodged the lightning bolt that was aimed towards him.
It was time to take action. Asaki jumped to the side, dodging another lightning bolt from Zhena, and whipped a series of knives over towards her shortly afterwards, which shot through the collar of her shirt and pinned her to a burned wall of the nearby building frame. Kyong tried to run towards her and get her off the wall, but before he was able to start moving Takumi swung his staff at his side, and with the help of a huge blast of air knocked him to the ground.
At the same time, Asaki moved towards the pinned Zhena, getting out a dagger to go for the kill.
"You wouldn't," said the bandit slyly.
"I've done it before. I'm not afraid to do it again." Even so, as she walked into the charred skeleton of the house, she sensed something was not alright.
"Well aren't you a brave little girl," Zhena hissed, and when Asaki leapt forward in anger with her dagger to deliver the final blow, Zhena pulled herself off the wall, the tacks still in her shirt, and shot a roaring flame towards the boards of wood surrounding them, setting the frame of the house on fire again. Asaki quickly leapt away as a burning beam from above fell down to the ground, inches away from her face. Suddenly, more boards and flames fell from the ceiling, and she rolled out of the way of them, landing on her back, where she stared up at a huge burning piece of the roof tumbling down towards her, and she closed her eyes as she felt the heat of it come closer and closer.
Right when she expected to be crushed and singed, she seemed to gracefully be lifted away. Opening her eyes, she saw Takumi carrying her out of the burning building, just as it completely toppled over in an explosion of wood and flame. Asaki stood up, exhausted and amazed, looking at Takumi, who she smiled at. "Thanks for that," she said. He smiled back.
They expected some sort of yell from a bandit or fire blast after that, but nothing came. They looked around, taking a couple double takes at Zhena standing as still as stone some ten feet away from them. They knew something was up at the sight of Kyong also seemingly frozen in time around the corner in the middle of an attack.
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Takumi whispered.
A sudden raspy voice broke out from behind them. "Oh, don't be scared," the voice cackled, rough and somber. "This will be over soon."
The duo turned around, terrified, at the sight of a large shadow coming forth from a destroyed alleyway. As it came into the light, they recognized what it was - a man in a long black cloak sweeping into the battlefield, the hood over his face. It was the dreaded leader of the bandits, the energybender who had destroyed the Northern Water Tribe in the final battle and broke their group apart. The Chancellor. With a snap of his fingers and a flash of purple light, Zhena and Kyong broke out of their frozen states and walked towards their leader as if hypnotized. "Fools," he scowled at the bandits. "Trying to kill these two? How could you be so stupid? They're our only way of figuring out where the cursed one is." Zhena and Kyong nodded, walked to his side, and once again entered a still and emotionless trance. It was unbelievably frightening to see wicked fighters such as The Quadrination Bandits be so easy to be manipulated like that.
"You aren't going to get anything out of us," Asaki said, trying to hide her fear.
The Chancellor quickly strode forward like a sweeping shadow across the ground, and placed his cold, grey hand on Asaki's face, his painful coldness that she felt in the North Pole once again enveloping her body. "You never know. Some find me awfully persuasive." He took his hand away, and life returned to her face. "All I want you to tell me is where the cursed one is hiding."
Asaki nodded. "Shinji? Well, he used to be here with us."
Takumi gasped, terrified that Asaki had been induced by The Chancellor's unreal powers too.
"He's ran away to the North, but I'm not sure if he made it. It could be over for him." She paused. "And for you as well." Like a sudden flash of lightning, Asaki whipped out her signature black dagger out from her belt and swiftly lashed out her arm, letting go the hilt. Before anyone had time to react, the long blade was already through The Chancellor's cloak and imbedded deep into his chest.

When Shirou awoke, he felt dizzy, not sure where he was. Gray surrounded him on all sides. The ground was damp, and a musty smell filled the air. After a minute of blinking and wiping his eyes, he registered where he was, concrete walls behind him and bars in front of him. A prison.
"Great," he muttered under his breath. He stood up, his legs sore, and looked around. There was a door about five feet away from the bars of his cage, a barred window on either side of him, and a plate with a metal mug filled with water and a chunk of bread. He looked at himself, his nice green tunic taken away, now left in his gray undershirt, and he reached towards his shoulder to check - Yep, he thought - his sword had been taken away too. He sat there for a second, taking it all in. He had lost. It was done. Why did I attack her with that butler standing right there? he thought. But something else kept ringing in his mind, what Hotaru had told him. "The hospital bed was empty already, and the Fifth Scroll of Kaito was nowhere to be found in his dresser." It wasn't the truth, was it? "No one knows what happened to them, but Mikio didn't kill him! It's impossible!" It couldn't be. "The Avatar isn't responsible for your grandfather's death!" Those final words echoed in his head, destroying everything. Was he fed lies all his life? It was more than just a lie though - this was everything he believed in. His whole entire life was based around the fact that the Avatar had accidentally murdered Kaito. It was just one of life's truths. He lived around it. He had even started to ignore it, but it was always there, even during times that he had to help Hotaru out. The possibility that all the hate for the Avatar that he had boiled up inside him was for nothing tormented him. He needed what she said to be a lie. He couldn't face such a horrible twist in his life.
Suddenly, there were some quiet knocks on the cell door, and it opened to reveal Kotone, the woman who had healed him and brought him to Ba Sing Se, equipped with the wooden instrument of hers, walk into the room, and look at him from behind bars.
It was only going to get worse.
"When I heard that you had just attempted murder to the Avatar, I was quite surprised," Kotone said. "I thought you said you two were friends. It's really shameful that you would lie and commit a crime that severe. I thought you were a good person inside."
"We were friends at one time," Shirou muttered. "It wasn't always like this. I wouldn't have even attacked her that way if it wasn't for what she said to me."
"And what was that?"
And Shirou told her everything, where he came from, his goals, his past with Hotaru, meeting up with Shinji, The Quadrination Bandits and The Procession. He told her about how they split up and he decided it was the best time to get back at Hotaru, to finally finish his conflict with her, and how she had told him that the hadn't killed Kaito, and how he reacted, what happened in there. She listened, asked a few questions, quietly grimacing or chuckling during parts of the tale. He wasn't sure how long he talked, but he was sure he included everything. What did he have to hide anymore? What did he have to lose? Kotone had helped him, healed him, wasted her time to bring him to the city, all out of the good of her heart. And in return, he tries to murder someone and lands in jail. He couldn't go down any farther. Telling the whole truth was the first step to repay for what he did.
When Shirou was finally finished, Kotone looked at him, in neither a smile or a frown. "So you got angry when she told you that Mikio didn't kill your grandfather."
"Yes," he said. "I'm sorry. It's just that my whole life has been centered around that fact, it's everything I believe in, just a simple reality. Even in times when I learn to ignore it and not fall into my anger and revenge, it's always there. Killing the Avatar has been my goal for all of my life. That's me. What more am I now? When I was a kid, Shirou was the name I envisioned of a hero, the one destined on taking down the Avatar, and bringing balance to the world. How would you feel if everything you ever did was for nothing?"
"You can still be a hero without killing Hotaru," Kotone said. "You've already done so much in your life, and you could become a legend if you just went with it. Help Shinji - him in danger means the world in danger. You're so close to being on the right path."
"I wish it was that easy. But killing the Avatar is my life. You can't just be driven by something for nineteen years and then decide to give up like that. Always will I believe that the world would be better without the Avatar - that's what defines me. We'd be equal. No one overly popular, no one overly strong, and no mistakes like the one made by Mikio, whether it killed Kaito or not. When people get too much power, they get too much confidence. When they have too much confidence they make mistakes. Mistakes from a powerful person like the Avatar cost the world too much."
Kotone nodded. "And in return, triumphs of the Avatar help the world more than anyone could imagine. It's about balance."
"Balance?" Shirou asked desperately. "How is it balanced to have one person in the world stronger and more important than everyone else?
"That I cannot explain. However, the koto may help you understand." She pulled out her signature long wooden instrument, covered in long strings, the koto, and placed it on the ground. She started to pluck it softly, and then louder, and then began to make a more complex melody, using all of her fingers working at different paces. A harmonious song began to echo around them in the cell, a calming feel settling down on them. The notes went up and down, high and low, and Kotone worked it out beautifully, obviously a master of the instrument.
Shirou suddenly felt a lot less angry and relaxed his tense body, listening to the peaceful song overwhelm his tortured mind. "This is the same piece you played for me the day that I found your house and you began to heal me," he said. "What did you call it, The Avatar Rhythm?"
"Indeed. And The Avatar Rhythm means more than you think."
"When I hear it I feel different. It's powerful. What does it mean?"
Kotone continued to play the harmonic song as she explained. "Your ever growing conflict with the Avatar that began since you were a child. This is the answer, the reason why we need the Avatar around, what balance really means."
"Tell me."
"The Avatar Rhythm. The song has been playing since the dawn of time in harmony. When one verse ends, the next begins, and so the melody continues. It's the ever musical spiral of Avatars, always in beat. If anyone was to disrupt it, they'd disrupt every note. That's the way the world works."
Shirou rubbed his forehead and tried to comprehend. "It goes on forever then? The song? And if you break it, it falls out of balance."
"Precisely."
"That makes sense, but what does it have to do with the Avatar?"
"The song is what the Avatar's rely on. It's their eternal rotation, always spinning, always playing. It is represented by the song, and each one of the Avatars are simply the little verses. But when you disrupt one verse," Kotone said, smacking a string on her koto to make a high screeching note and ending the song, "Everything else seems to fall out of place."
"Each Avatar is a verse," Shirou said. "The cycle is the whole growing song."
She smiled at him. "You got it."
"Wait, so The Avatar Rhythm is just The Avatar Cycle? That's it?"
"It's so simple when you think about. So simple but utterly complex at the same time."
Shirou looked up at her, smiling. "The Cycle's like a song, always continuing, every verse a new Avatar, playing their part to help the whole melody. But if you break it, the whole song will fall apart. Break the cycle, break the rhythm. I get it. You can't destroy the Avatar Cycle or everything will fall out of place."
"Once you understand The Avatar Rhythm, it can be applied to any part of life. It's one song that we're all a part of and each of us are notes. One person can destroy everything, and make the others fall out of tune too. Breaking this balance will have consequences everywhere. People must understand that we all share the same place, and feel the echoes of their mistakes. You have to think about the consequences of your actions, and how others, even people you never intended to hurt, will be effected. If we all believed in this rhythm, the world would live in harmony together. Now do you understand why you can't kill the Avatar?"
"Yes," stated Shirou. "But I don't know what to do now. I can't just knock on her door and apologize, especially with that butler around. How will Hotaru react? She'd never buy that I just turned good overnight. What am I supposed to do?"
"We need her, Shirou. The Avatar is the keeper of balance, which the corrupted world requires now. The Quadrination Bandits are a major threat to humanity, and I've been seeing more wanted posters for Shinji lately. They're somewhere out there right now, tracking him down and getting closer. We need something to stop all of this before it's too late, and Hotaru is your best bet. You're a strong kid, Shirou. You've worked your way out of much worse situations."
"I'll try. It's for the best." He paused. "What if Hotaru's not enough though? She's strong, but can't defeat all the Quadrination Bandits and their leader. I'll take care of getting her on our side, but we'll need more forces."
"I know Fire Lord Taro, Mother Superior Sora of the Western Air Temple, Cheiftain Akio of the Water Tribe and Isamu, the King of Omashu well. I'm sure we can get a few backups."
"How do know all these people?" Shirou asked.
"We have no time to talk," Kotone answered. "Time is running out and I have to return back to the Town of Ethos. I know you'll be able to get Hotaru to help out, and I'll request for help from the other nations. If we all play our parts Shinji will live and The Quadrination Bandits will fall. You could become a hero. All you need to do is trust in the Avatar Rhythm."
As she started towards the door, Shirou looked up desperately. "Yeah, The Avatar Rhythm's great, but I need to get out of this blasted cell first!"
"Maybe if heard it again, you'd hear the inner meaning within, underneath the notes." And with the slam of the cell door, Kotone was gone.
Shirou slammed his fist on the concrete floor. "A wise old lady, but you'd think she'd be out of musical riddles after a while," he muttered under his breath. "Maybe if I heard the song again? How would I-" He stopped mid-sentence at the sight of the wooden koto still laying on the floor. Had she left it? No, she brought it everywhere she went like a maniac. He put his hands through his cell bars and plucked a couple strings of the instrument. It sounded nothing near as good as Kotone's playing. "Well, she obviously left it here for a reason," he mumbled, still attempting to play. "The inner meaning within, underneath the notes." He paused and repeated the sentence. "The inner meaning within, underneath the notes."
Shirou flipped the koto over, smiling over figuring out the puzzle, and knocked on its wooden back - just as he thought - it sounded hollow. Excited, he tore off a loose wooden plank from the bottom of the instrument, revealing a long hollow chamber. Resting inside was a sleek, gleaming sword, with a beautiful black blade and leather wrapped hilt. He grinned, taking out the weapon and holding it up so the dying sunlit from his barred window shone off of its magnificent metal body. "Just wait till the guard with the keys gets a load of this badboy," Shirou snickered. "Thanks Kotone."

Everyone was still in shock at the sight of the dagger deep within The Chancellor's cloak, now soaked in dark blood. Asaki had another set of darts in her hand, ready to strike again. "You don't stand a chance to us," she said. "Your only weapon is invoking fear into others, a coward, hiding behind that cloak of yours. In reality, you are nothing."
Hearing nothing from the shadowy villain, Takumi looked towards Asaki. "Did you kill him?"
Suddenly, raspy laughter began to choke out from beneath The Chancellor's hood. "Do you really believe that I could be killed by this scrap of metal?" he chuckled, pulling the dagger out of his chest and in his bare grey hands crumpled it up into a ball, making it look like tinfoil. "Do you really think that I, King of Life, who has spent ages and made sacrifices trying to reach immortality, would allow myself to die this quickly from a human? Fool."
"You're human too," Asaki said. "We're on the same level really - Your ego is what holds you up. King of Life? Seriously."
The Chancellor chuckled. "Oh, the King of Life is much more than a conceited self-image of mine. Want a demonstration?" With a clench of fists, his whole body seemed to glow a dim purple, and when it the light faded the gaping wound in his chest had vanished and the blood had disappeared. "As long as I'm with it and able to energybend, I'll only die when I wish it to be so, which will be never, as you see, I just love to live. There's no way you'll beat me, and once I find the cursed one it will be a complete guarantee." He leaned his hood forward towards Asaki's face, letting her feel his deathly presence. "And you're going to tell me where he is. No tricks this time."
"He really was with us," Asaki stuttered, "And he did leave recently."
"Where, exactly, did he leave to?" The Chancellor croaked.
"I can't tell you," she mumbled, trying to stay strong.
The cloaked bandit quickly lashed his nails across her petrified face, huge bloody slashes instantly appearing on her cheek. "Tell me!"
Takumi, horrified, realized he had to stick up for her. "He went to Ba Sing Se," he lied with convincing stutters and shakes. "He checked in with us but figured that the walls of the capital were his best defense against you, and stole an ostrich horse from the town. He's probably made it up there by now."
"Ba Sing Se?" The Chancellor wheezed. "Now you better not be lying to me."
"This is the truth."
The leader of the bandits leaned over so his hood and Takumi's head were at the same level. "I don't know what you're playing at, airbender, but if you care for any of your friends you'd better to tell me the truth. Because if I make my way all the way up to Ba Sing Se and find out the cursed one is not there, you will regret it. I'm telling you, if you're lying, I will destroy you, everyone you love, and the cursed child on the Summer Solstice in two weeks, when the Spirit World is closest to ours and my powers are strongest, and I will stop at nothing, even if it means tear this world apart to do so. If you're not telling me the truth, I think you should start referring to the Summer Solstice as the apocalypse from now on, because I assure you, I will be immortal by the end of that day, no matter what."
Takumi trembled, but there was no time to think things through. "I swear to the spirits above, Shinji is inside Ba Sing Se right now."
"Good." The Chancellor chuckled. "Well there's no use to staying any longer in this dreaded place, come along, my minions. We have a capital to get to." With that, The Chancellor waved his fingers around and chanted a short line of strange words, creating a dark swirling portal in the air that he, Zhena and Kyong jumped into and vanished shortly after.
"They're gone..." Takumi muttered.
Asaki walked up to him. "Hey, thanks for helping me out there. I didn't know where my voice had gone." She paused. "But why did you lie to him? We can't afford to do that. The world is going to suffer because of it, you heard what he said."
"It was either all going to end today or on the Summer Solstice," Takumi said. "I don't care if that wretched energybender does try destroy the world, we have time now, two weeks to prepare - two weeks to find some hope. At least now we have a chance."
"Even with time it will still be near impossible to win. Look around you at what The Chancellor has done just to find a boy in a village. Imagine what his apocalypse would be like."
She was right. In every direction they looked, they saw a wasteland. Argil Village, a thriving mountain city by the riverside had become a field of ashes, corpses, and frames of where houses used to stand. The only noises were crackling fire over the rubble and the screams of fallen citizens. The busy port had become a field of ruins in a matter of hours.
Takumi put a hand on Asaki's shoulder, and was glad she showed no opposition. "It's going to be tough. It might not even be possible. But we have to try, because everyone out there is depending on us. You, me, Shinji, Shirou, any other allies we manage to scrounge up, we have two weeks to save the world, and counting. Let's start moving."

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