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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|""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."
|— Kotone and Shirou from|
|""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.""|
|"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."
|"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.""|
October 17, 2012
This is Chapter 43 of The Avatar Rhythm Series
It was a clear, silent night night in Ba Sing Se, and the full moon illuminated the fields of the Upper Ring with faint yellow light.
Shirou stood in the fields, looking up at Hotaru's house, and tossed the sword that Kotone had given him in his jail cell between his hands, the moonlight from above shimmering on its sleek black blade. It had gotten him out of the prison, and now it was going to set things straight with him and Hotaru. He swiveled it around in his hand, a beautiful metallic swish slicing through the air. Smiling, he looked up to the house on top of the hill, and started to walk towards the door. When he reached the front steps though, he retracted the hand that he was hoping to knock with, remembering the butler that had caused him trouble on his first visit earlier in the day. For all Shirou knew, that man might have a night job as well. He had to find another entrance. Walking around he building, he found one other door on the side of the house, a sliding screen door that led to a porch of some sort. He tried opening it, but it was locked. Shirou looked around, at his sword, at the screen porch, and back at his sword.
I've already broken out of jail and killed the guard there, he thought to himself. Nothing to lose, really. Shirou took out his sword and cut out a large circle in the canvas screen door, which he walked through and into Hotaru's home. It was dark inside, but the moonlight illuminated enough for him to make out chairs, a table, and the door into the next room. He walked farther, looking around for signs of where Hotaru was. He couldn't tell where it was coming from in the darkness, but the light of a candle was visible somewhere nearby within the house. He began to walk towards it, slowly, afraid of messing up his only chance of reconciling with Hotaru.
A sudden wooden cracking sound emanated from behind him, and Shirou instantly jumped, looking behind him as an involuntary rush of adrenaline exploded through his body.
Nothing was there. Just a blank, dark room. It was probably just my footsteps behind me, he thought to himself, turning back around and continuing to walk towards the mysterious candlelight, trying to stabilize the fast beating of his heart.
Suddenly, a burst of wood erupted from behind him, and before Shirou could even turn around to see what was there, the sight of raging fire had covered his vision.
Shinji, Asaki and Takumi trudged through the wooded path to the Town of Ethos, tired from walking for hours after hours, still sore from their confrontation with The Chancellor. Shinji was still slightly petrified, shivering as he walked and every few minutes looking around to make sure no one was following them. It was strange to see someone as rugged and heartless as him be so scared and out of it.
"Is that the town that your old lady lives in?" Asaki asked, pointing up the path to a tall wooden gate a couple dozen yards down the hill.
Shinji nodded. "She lives in the first house you'll see on the left when you go in."
They sped up a little, quickly reaching the front wooden gate to the small village. Inside was a mesh of small green houses and busy streets filled with smiling townsfolk.
"Cute place," Takumi said. Asaki gave him a look. "What? It's a nice little town."
Shinji sighed, waving his friends over to first house beside them, and knocking on its front door. There was no immediate answer. "That's strange," he muttered to himself.
"You sure this is it?" Takumi asked.
"I lived here for three years, you know."
"Maybe she moved?" Asaki inquired.
"No," Shinji said, "The doormat, the windows, the stuff inside the windows, I know it's still her."
The three of them looked at each other for a minute or two.
Shinji bit his lip. "I'm gonna say we should just - hey, wait," he said, a hint of excitement in his voice, pointing towards the busy system of villagers walking around the town square. "Is that her?"
Asaki and Takumi squinted, making out an elderly women in the crowd, who seemed to be coming closer, and closer, and-"
"Shinji?" the women exclaimed. "Is that you?"
"Kotone!" Shinji ran up to her and they embraced.
"I missed you," she said. "It's been so long!"
Takumi and Asaki looked at each other awkwardly.
"And who are these?"
"They're my friends," Shinji said, "Asaki and Takumi," while pointing to each of them.
Kotone walked up to them and shook their hands. "Thank you for keeping an eye out for this one. Any protector of Shinji is a friend of mine."
They stood there for a few seconds, letting this all soak in.
"Actually, it's funny that I see you few now," Kotone said. "I just met your friend Shirou a few days ago."
"Shirou was here?" Shinji asked her incredulously.
"Shirou's alive?" Asaki asked her excitedly.
"Yes to both," she answered. "I was just giving him a new sword and a lecture at his jail cell in Ba Sing Se so he can break out and reconcile with Hotaru."
All three of their jaws hung open. "You were just doing what?"
"Here here, come inside," Kotone said, opening her front door and waving them in. "We'll have a nice cup of tea and I'll explain everything."
Shirou swiveled back in the darkness of Hotaru's living room, the explosion of fire that he barely avoided illuminating the house for a few seconds, allowing him to make out the walls, furniture, and the Avatar, standing in front of him with a cold face. As the flames faded, the darkness of the night once again creeped into the room, but Shirou and Hotaru were now aware of each other's presence.
"Hotaru," he said. "I don't want to fight you."
She walked forward into a patch of moonlight shining in from her large dining room window, so both of them could clearly see each other. She was wearing a fancy green nightgown, her hands in fists and her face filled with some sour mix of anger and tiredness. "You don't want to fight me?" she asked in a cold voice. Shirou knew it could only go downhill from here. "You break our friendship, chase me for a year, try to kill me every time we meet, try to hunt me down when you have free time in between destroying any other relationships you have with people other than criminals. You travel all the way to where I live and attack me, and even after being taken away by the police, you still break into my house the next night. And now you're telling me you don't want to fight me? You've gotten even stupider than I remembered."
"I thought you wanted to go back to the old days when we're together and don't fight and all is good. I'm ready to forgive."
Hotaru scoffed. "Just this morning you tried to assassinate me. I'm not an idiot, Shirou!"
"You always want me to stop fighting you!"
"I'm tired of you hunting me down. Just let a women rest for once without you constantly on my tail trying to kill me!"
"I don't want to hurt you!"
"Well I do!"
Shirou dodged two whips of fire, not happy with the way things were turning out. He had to fight back if he wanted to live - Hotaru could bend all four elements now and he didn't stand a chance. Drawing his sword, he quickly slashed apart a brick that was launched at him from the wall.
"I promise, I-" he stopped mid-sentence as Hotaru fired a huge blast of wind at him, almost knocking him over and sending him backward out of the patch of moonlight streaming in from outside and back into the shadows of the house. Shirou swiveled around in the darkness, not seeing his opponent and knowing the wrong swing of his sword could be catastrophic if he wanted to both live and convince Hotaru he didn't want to kill her. In a sudden burst of energy in the blackness, he swung his sword at the sound of scraping rocks and felt the blade smash against a brick flying towards him. Half a second later, another brick smashed right into his stomach and he crumpled in agony, but quickly got his bearings again and stepped back a few yards to avoid any more stone that happened to be in the air. Pain still throbbing in his gut, he drew himself farther into the Avatar's large house, trying to escape her powerful bending strikes and desperately trying to find some light, knowing that if he wanted a chance in this duel, the full moon had to be on side. He put his hand up against a wall, trying to feel for a window shade or screen desperately, but didn't find anything. Suddenly, a bright fiery beam shot right in front of him through the darkness. Shirou looked around the shadows in wretched quickness, knowing that he had no chance against the Avatar at the moment. The only weapon he normally had to fight bending was his sword skills, but when he couldn't see those were useless.
"Please, Hotaru!" begged in the blackness of her living room. "Please stop fighting me!"
"You asked for it by breaking into my house in the night," her voice echoed in the silent darkness. "Things add up, Shirou. Think of all the times you've tried to kill me. Whether was on the mountainside of Royal Chaldera city, the Western Air Temple, my training center in the North Pole, Glacier Cove, my house just this morning, you've always been trying to finally kill me, to finally destroy the Avatar spirit that you say ruined your life. It doesn't matter if it was a kind nun or your fellow disgusting army who was telling you otherwise, you'd always want to hunt me down. You want to do all those wrongs and then just make up now? You've been on thin ice for a year, and every time you tried to hunt me the ice below you has cracked more. Eventually it was going to break, you must have known that at some point all you've done was going to pile up and fall back on top of you. Tonight your thin ice breaks, Shirou, and this is the cold water underneath. You've only asked for it."
"Please, I'm ready to be forgiven for all those things, just-"
"I'm tired of you hunting me down!" Hotaru yelled into the shadows. "I don't care what you say! I want an Avatar journey that's not interrupted every month by a madman trying to hunt me down for any crazy beliefs that the world would somehow be better and the death of your grandfather wouldn't have happened if I was dead! I'm fed up with you, Shirou!"
She shot out two more tongues of flame from her palms in the darkness which barely missed Shirou, and he decided that it was time to run. Luckily, the Avatar's firebending had momentarily lit up the room, and had a second to analyze where there were chairs and tables. As another fireball blasted towards him and lightly singed his arm, Shirou quickly ducked behind a nearby armchair and clutched his new burn while trying to hold his breath, as Hotaru searched for him in the shadows of her living room. That brought up one more advantage she had against him in this battle, they were playing in her terrain, her house, and he knew nothing of its interior.
"Where are you?" Hotaru asked into the dark silence. "I know you're in here!"
Shirou did his best to hold his breath and not make a single move behind the armchair, knowing that if he did it would be over.
"Come out and face me!" the Avatar's voice boomed. "You've never been afraid to attack before, have you? You never gave the notion of killing me a second thought back then! Why are you acting like a coward now?" The sound of a nearby piece of furniture crashing to the ground echoed through the house.
Letting out a slow, quiet deep breath, Shirou surveyed his situation. In every way he had the disadvantage, and once Hotaru reached the armchair he was behind, it was over. There was one last chance he had, the good old element of surprise. What else was there to try? Shirou silenty turned around and laid his hands against the back of the chair he was hiding behind. With one strong, solid thrust of his hands, he pushed the armchair forward in sudden speed. In the crucial surprising moment, Hotaru jumped back and combatted the armchair speeding towards her with an earthbending eruption of the brick floor. The clash of wood against stone sent screeching booms and dull sparks into the murky darkness of the now dismantled living room. With Hotaru immobilized in the madness for a few seconds, Shirou had time to jump up from his hiding space, get his sword out and land in a fighting stance facing the general area that he knew she was standing. Hearing quick footsteps and having been in the darkness long enough now to have the faint night vision to be able to shape out Hotaru's body coming towards him, Shirou clenched his fists around his blade and slashed down, breaking apart another brick that was launched at him. She shot out two spirals of whirling air and rocketed another brick forward directly after, but Shirou stood his ground, barely turning and still able to smash the stone aimed at his hip with the hilt of his blade. Stepping back, he put his hand behind him and touched the wall, a smile growing on his face as he did so. The wall was not solid, instead wavy, soft fabric, a window shade. Dodging three bursts of fire from Hotaru as she stepped closer, he quickly spun around, whipping his sword around and slashing through the shade behind him. With a loud sound of tearing fabric, the window shade fell down and the room flooded with faint moonlight.
Shirou's eyes lit up and he gripped his sword in his hand. His biggest disadvantage was up, and he was ready to fight to settle this conflict. Hotaru, obviously angered by the light in the room, shot two bricks, two flames and a huge gale of wind at Shirou, but with light on his side, he was easily able to dodge the attacks or smash them with his sword. He stepped around the living room, around overturned furniture and craters in the brick floor left from the Avatar's earthbending. As he dodged another blast of fire, Hotaru picked up a vase of flowers beside her, taking the flowers out of it and then bending the water inside around Shirou feet and freezing him where he was. In the half second he was immobilized she broke the thin terra cotta vase in her hands and shot the hundred of shards at him in a forward wave. Squirming his feet hurriedly, Shirou broke the ice around them and took a fast roll behind a large table, shielding him from the array of clay missiles shot towards him. Standing back up from the behind table, he shook his head.
"I have the moonlight on my side now," he said. "Your upper hand in this battle is fading quickly."
"Think again," she stated in the faint moonlight, and closed her eyes, whispering "Help me, Mikio." When her eyes opened, they were glowing bright white.
Shirou shook in a mix of fear and surprise, and before he knew it, the battle had once again turned away from his favor.
Asaki, Takumi and Shinji sat around Kotone's kitchen table as the old woman was preparing dinner around them, engaged in conversation.
"So what did The Chancellor tell you two?" she asked while counting leechi nuts.
Takumi shrugged. "Basically that if we didn't tell him where Shinji was he'd destroy the world on the Summer Solstice."
"A solstice," Kotone muttered. "That's when the spirit's world and ours are closest to each other."
"Yeah, I remember him saying something about that," Asaki said. "It was pretty scary, really. Luckily Takumi was there and stuck up for me. He's gotten pretty good at coming up with lies on the spot."
The two of them smiled at each other and Shinji sighed.
"So what'd you tell him?
"I had to come up with something quickly," Takumi replied. "I just said Ba Sing Se, it was the first..." Everyone suddenly looked at him, and he stopped talking. "Oh, no..."
Shinji looked up at his old guardian. "Kotone, didn't you say Shirou is trying to reconcile with Hotaru in Ba Sing Se right now?"
She gave him the trio a slow nod.
"You idiot, Takumi!" Shinji yelled, banging his fist on the table. "Shirou's in there, along with the Avatar, who we're counting on to protect me! The Chancellor will wipe them both out of them now! How could you?"
"It wasn't his fault," Asaki snapped.
Takumi looked down. "I'm sorry, okay? I didn't intend to make it worse for anyone, especially Shirou. The Chancellor was about to kill me and I had to either lie or tell him where Shinji was hiding out. I couldn't have it ended it right then, I couldn't let down the world without a fight. I had to lie, and I knew if I hesitated it would be too easy to tell that I was lying. I had to say something quick to spare everyone for two weeks."
"You did the right thing," Kotone said. "We can only wish best of luck for Shirou and the Avatar when the Quadrination Bandits arrive."
The four of them stood there for a few minutes.
Shinji spoke up first. "I guess now the only thing we can do is prepare for the Summer Solstice. The Chancellor will attack us."
"I've already sent letters to the King of Omashu, the Fire Lord, the Western Air Temple and the North Pole for assistance," Kotone replied.
"Somebody's on top of their game."
She chuckled, but her old face quickly changed to a more serious tone. "We have less than two weeks to prepare for this battle. And it will be a battle to remember. We can only hope Shirou and Hotaru will help, but we need more forces to rely on. Being on top of our game is the only option. If we're not, time will run out."
Shirou leapt out of the way of a huge vortex of air shot at him from Hotaru that shattered every object in its path and threw them around in different directions. She was in the Avatar State now, and there was no room to mess around. She lifted her hands up, bringing up two large blocks of brick from the floor and with two quick punches, sent them barreling into the air at him. Shirou dodged one and tried blocking the other with his sword like he had done before, but this time instead of smashing the bricks, when his blade hit them it knocked him back against the wall with a thud. While he was down, Hotaru whipped out her fingers and sent a dozen little rockets of air that pelted him and left him dizzy. As she blasted fire behind her and swept across the ruins of her living room floor in half a second. Shirou, still a little unsteady, knew if he didn't move at that moment, she would kill him. Heart beating uncontrollably, he rolled out of the way as a spear of fire shot down at him, and then out of instinct began to run from the scene, finding himself moving towards a flight of grand stairs that led to the second floor of the house. Knowing that changing direction would make him loose too much time, Shirou sped up the stairs, into the second floor hallway and once again, into a room full of darkness. He backed away into the end of the hallway, against a door which seemed to be locked, and waited as the sound of Hotaru's footsteps up the stairs came closer.
He couldn't see her body come into the shadowy hallway, but her glowing white eyes stood out in the blackness, coming closer, and closer. Shirou put his hand on the door behind him, trying to open it, but it wouldn't budge. The white eyes in the darkness were getting closer, larger. He tried smashing his whole back against the door, and it definitely shook, but also made a sound of cracking wood echo through the hall. He saw Hotaru's eyes look around and then focus in on where he was crouching, like he was making eye contact with her even though he was hidden in shadows. A flame appeared in the darkness, and then began to grow, and fly right towards him. Shirou, not ready for the attack, pushed his body forward and then slammed backwards against the door behind him with all his might. In a horrible sound of splintering wood and flame, the door crashed down and he fell back onto the floor, splinters imbedded everywhere in his back and his shoulder searing with pain from the fire blast shot at him. The room that he had broken into was the master bedroom, a huge bed perfectly lined with sheets, blankets and pillows, a fuzzy carpet on the floor, and from the ceiling, a large chandelier that was still lit, emanating faint yellow light into the room.
It didn't seem appropriate for the final duel, but there was no time to think. Hotaru sped forward into the lighted bedroom, shooting little blades of fire at him, which he dodged and then whipped out his sword to block a stone wall decoration that was launched forwards. She came closer, shooting two powerful jets of air that knocked Shirou backwards onto the bed in the center of the room, where he rolled backwards over and landed on the other side, Hotaru firing five streams of flame over it and towards him, which he rolled out of the way to dodge. She flew over the bed with a strong gale of wind and turned to face him, raising a huge mix of swirling fire, air, and stone tapestries from around the room, a raging sphere of three elements which she thrust downwards with maximum power. Heart pounding, Shirou swiveled just out of the way of the huge elemental explosion, and out of instinct turning around towards Hotaru, pinning her up against the bed and holding his sword to her face.
For one second, everything seemed to stop, as a flurry of emotions ran through Shirou's mind.
The picture in front of him was imbedded into his brain for years to come, not even comprehendible.
The Avatar, in the Avatar State, pinned down by Shirou with a sword ready.
His hand was two inches away from ending the Avatar Cycle forever, ridding the world of the all powerful balance bringer.
This was the dream that he had been having all of his life, it was what he had always strived for.
To kill the Avatar. It was the goal. It was his life. It defined him.
And here Shirou stood, for only a second or two, the longest seconds of his life, able to finish it all with one thrust of his sword.
Yet for some reason, even though this moment had always been his biggest dream since he was just a child, he just couldn't do it.
Kotone's words echoed in his brain. 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.
It was late at night, and Takumi and Asaki had already gone off to bed. Shinji and Kotone sat around a small wooden table with a candle faintly illuminating the room. They felt cozy, once again together in the house they had spent so much time in from years past. Kotone had a pile of letters she was reading and writing, Shinji putting them in envelopes for her.
"Look at this," she said. "It's a message back from King Isamu of Omashu."
"What's it say?"
Kotone examined the letter. "Isamu is happy to let you stay in Omashu during the Summer Solstice and his armies are willing to help fight against The Chancellor and the Quadrination Bandits." She looked up from the note. "I think that would be our best bet."
"I'd think so," Shinji replied. "A whole stronghold and its armies against four people? They don't stand a chance."
"The Quadrination Bandits are powerful fighters."
He shrugged. "Still though, a whole army. And we've yet to hear back from the Fire Lord or any of the other people you asked for help."
"All we can do is prepare," she said calmly. "The Summer Solstice isn't a day that I'd like to underestimate. As far as I can tell, The Chancellor is a mighty opponent and we've never seen him at his most powerful state. I'm getting as much help as possible to protect you that day, it's just a matter of better safe than very, very sorry."
"No, that's good." Shinji looked down. "It's just that..."
"I feel like a baby. With everyone trying to help me and all that." He sighed. "I'm supposed to be the strong, serious guy, whose been toughened up by tragedy. Until I met Shirou, that's who I've been, a loner. It's who I am. I know it's good to have help from friends, but this is different. I feel like a spoiled little brat, sitting there in the center doing nothing while everyone else makes a big fuss over me and how safe I am. That's not me, it's the exact opposite of the last seven years of my life. I can handle the situation on my own."
Kotone put her hand over his. "What you're trying to say is something that's never really happened before. Nobody's trying to spoil you, Shinji, or do things that you can for you. We love you. People care about you and your future. You don't need to rely on yourself to escape the horrible curse that haunts you every day. You have us. Your friends. And we want to help."
"I don't know, when you say it that way..."
"It's true. You have loving companions that feel your pain and want to heal you. You don't have to work alone anymore."
Shinji nodded. "The last people who have really loved me have been my parents, and they didn't survive when they tried to protect me from The Quadrination Bandits. I just don't want anyone else whose trying to help out in this world to die because of me like they did. That's why I've always been afraid of having people care and work for me. I've always worked alone so no one else has to carry the same curse I do."
"Everyone who is willing to help defend you wants you to live and is willing to die to do so," Kotone said. "Don't feel like it is your burden. People will die in the upcoming battle, I assure you. Some will be soldiers, some will be our friends. But they are going to be dying knowing that they did the right thing, not because of you, but for you. All we can do is be glad about the noble people who are willing to go that far and rest now, while we still can. In fact, we should both be getting some sleep now. It's late."
Shinji stood up. "You're right, I'm going to bed." He paused. "And uh, thanks for what you said. It helped."
Shirou stood in the large bedroom of Hotaru's house, with the Avatar pinned and holding his blade to her neck, his hand trembling as a violent clash between temptation and morals shook in his mind. As a tear rolled down his cheek, he threw the sword away onto the floor beside them, a loud crash echoing through the silent house. He stood up and backed away, as the bright glow in Hotaru's eyes faded and slowly returned to their regular state.
"I'm not going to fight back," he stuttered. "Bend as much as you want, I don't want to hurt you."
Eyes once again dark, Hotaru stood up, still a little unsteady from the Avatar State, and shook herself off. Her fists were still clenched. "Why did you come all this way, try to kill me, go to jail, escape and then break into my house again, if you didn't want to hurt me? Something doesn't add up here. Just this morning you were all about how the Avatar was the root of all of your misfortune, how that it was your duty to your grandfather to kill me."
"No, I've changed, I promise-"
A faint crashing sound reverberated from downstairs, and both of them turned their heads towards the noise.
She looked over. "What did you do?"
"Hey, wait," Shirou mumbled, "I don't know what that was, okay, but I need your help to protect Shinji."
The sound of footsteps up nearby staircase was now very audible.
"Seriously, do you know who that is?" Hotaru asked, and before getting an answer was already heading towards the hallway to face the intruder.
"Hey, wait! I need to talk to you. We need to get the Avatar's help to protect Shinji from the Quadrination Bandits."
"Shut up and stop moving," she hissed at him, the footsteps in the dark hall growing increasingly louder by every step.
Suddenly, the noise abruptly stopped, and the house was left in an eerie silence.
"What just-" Shirou's words came to a halt at the feeling of cold fingers on his neck, a deathly chill running down his spine and his hair instantly standing up on end. Fear taking over his brain, he looked over his shoulder along with Hotaru and they saw a ghostly gray hood in the shaft of moonlight behind them which left the face beneath it in shadows.
"Good evening," The Chancellor said in his raw, forbidding voice. "I believe you have something to tell me."
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