Previously on The Avatar Rhythm

Earth Kingdom house front door
Altogether Now
Chapter information

The Avatar Rhythm


Book 4-The Earth Saga



Written by


Release date

December 2, 2012

Last chapter

What Lies in Darkness

Next chapter

The Death Toll


This is Chapter 45 of The Avatar Rhythm Series

"Shinji, wake up!"
Takumi was standing by the cursed firebender's bed, tapping his pillow. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead."
"Get off me," he grumbled, turning over.
"Come on. The Fire Lord and the rest of our allies are arriving today. And Kotone's making eggs."
Shinji rolled out of his covers, stood up, and rubbed his eyes. "Fine, I'll get up." He looked Takumi in the eye. "But only because of the eggs, you hear me?"
He chuckled. "Sure."
They walked of the bedroom, Shinji going into the adjacent bathroom and Takumi headed downstairs. It was a cloudy, grayish morning in the Town of Ethos. It had rained during the night, and the wet grass outside smelled of the dawn. The serenity outside however, was not present inside Kotone's house. Rattling of pans, unfurling of paper, and clanging of weapons echoed out from the small cottage on the corner of the town's main street. In the living room, Kotone and Asaki were reading a large map of the nearby provinces. They looked up at Takumi walk into the room. "Did you get Shinji up?"
He nodded. "Yeah, but I think he's betting on those eggs for breakfast."
Kotone laughed. "Fine, fine, I'll start cooking. Help this girl with our map though."
As the old woman walked down to the kitchen, Takumi smiled at Asaki and sat down next to her. "What are you doing?"
She turned towards the map. "This is the area surrounding Omashu, the city that we'll be in for the battle. We need to plan out a route to travel there."
"Okay, doesn't sound too hard."
"The catch is that there's only one entrance into Omashu," Asaki said, pointing at a large bridge. "So that means The Quadrination Bandits are entering the same way we are. We need to leave quickly if we don't want to meet them on the road, and what happens if we do? This is what we need to think about."
Takumi nodded. "I doubt that we'll be entering the same time they do, but even if we are are a few days of walking up the road then them, if we're seen Shinji could be spotted out and attacked before we even get inside Omashu's protection. I vote that we get to the bridge into Omashu through a side road."
"Agreed. And one more thing to think about, King Isamu has volunteered to pick us up himself and drive us to the city. So we're guaranteed the protection of a vehicle on the road, but we need to wait for him to arrive here to leave."
"Good to know."
They looked up at Shinji walking down the stairs into the living room, dressed now but still looking tired. He made a quick smile at the two reading the map.
"Morning," Asaki said.
Takumi got to the point. "Eggs are in the kitchen."
"Thanks." He walked out of the room towards the smell of fresh cooking from the other side of the house.
"Likes those eggs, doesn't he?"
They looked at each other for a few seconds, awkwardly attempting to make eye contact.
Asaki cleared her throat, looking back at the map. "So where were we?"
"So when's Isamu coming to pick us up?" he asked. "As long as it's in the next week I don't think we'll have to worry about meeting The Quadrination Bandits on the road.
"I think Kotone said something like three or four days." Asaki shrugged. "I've got to double check, but its definitely in the next week."
"Good. What's next then?"
"Just waiting, I guess," she said. "Waiting till all of our allies get here and then waiting for Isamu to take us all over to Omashu."
After a quick silence, Kotone stuck her head into the living room. "Breakfast is ready, kids. Get it while it's hot!"
They stood up and hurried into the kitchen where a pile of fresh scrambled eggs laid on the counter, tossed with onions, peppers and spices. Asaki and Takumi grabbed plates and threw on hearty servings of the eggs, and then joined Shinji around the table in the adjacent room. He was already well into his breakfast.
"Hello," he muttered between forkfuls of food. "Get out anything from that map?"
"Kind of," Takumi said. "Basically all we have to do now is chill while we wait for the others to get here."
Kotone walked into the room with her own steaming plate. "Or you could plan out our battle strategies and make sure that all of us are prepared to go into war."
"Uh, right, battle strategies," Takumi stuttered. "That's what I meant to say."
Asaki laughed, looking at the airbender. "Sure it was."
The ring of a doorbell broke the silence, and Kotone immediately stood up. "I bet that's Taro and his group." She walked around the hall and opened the front door. "Good gracious, look who it is!" they heard her voice from the other room. "Folks, you'll never believe who's here!"
Shinji, Takumi and Asaki poked their heads into the living room and saw Shirou and Hotaru standing in their doorway. All of their faces suddenly lit up in disbelief and joy. They ran to each other with big grins on their faces.
In Kotone's house, greetings, smiles and laughter were bouncing around the living room as Shirou and Hotaru were welcomed inside.
"Good to see you guys," Takumi said to them, patting Shirou on the back. "I knew we'd get together again."
He smiled. "Yeah, it's been a while."
Asaki was next in line, and before speaking she and Shirou embraced. "I missed you," she said, pulling away. "And I have so much to tell you."
"I could go on for hours."
She smiled. "It's good to be back with the gang," she said, and then looked over at Hotaru, who had once been her enemy in the Polar Revolution days. "Oh, uh, hey," she mumbled.
Kotone walked over and gave Shirou a big hug. "You did it," she said. "You made the right decision, and I am so proud, and so happy, and so relieved that you were able to make it back here in one piece having changed so much from when I dropped you off in Ba Sing Se."
He shrugged modestly. "Don't thank me. You had some pretty good advice."
"My pleasure." She turned to the Avatar. "And it's an honor to meet you."
"Thank you," Hotaru said. "I'm not sure what kind if magic you used, but anyone who could have changed Shirou into the new person he is now has a place in my heart."
"No need for that," she replied. "It's not about any kind of magic or secrets. I'm just old."
As she moved away, Shinji walked over to Shirou. They stared at each other for a few seconds, then burst into laughter and hugged.
"Good to see you," Shinji said. "Still in one piece?"
"Well, I did fall into a ravine, spend a night in jail and was attacked an energybender." He chuckled. "No big deal."
"An energybender?"
Shirou nodded. "It's a long and somewhat disappointing story. How about we sit down and we can all go over our tales?"
"Good idea," Kotone said. "Everyone, sit down and relax. I'll make some tea."

Hundreds of miles to the north, a perfectly rectangular sea of green stood at the bottom of a mountain valley, one man on an ostrich horse in front.
That man was Markale.
That huge sea of green, hundreds of feet long and across, was The Procession, in armor and wielding weapons.
A cool breeze swept through the group, breaking the great silence that was kept among thousands of tax collectors. They had to be disciplined, focused and strong. Just as they were trained.
Markale stood up on his ostrich horse, paying no respect to the straining bird beneath him. Holding up his fist, a loud battle cheer erupted from the army before him. He raised his fist again and again, loud synchronized yells echoing through the valley.
"Men, woman, dressed in green before me!" He shouted out to the once again silent swarm of tax collectors. "You have been called here today to go on a journey - a journey for peace, justice, and the good our nation. You have been called forth today to fix this break of freedom in our world which made our group have to become so powerful. For many of you here, this will be your final mission as a Procession member. And that's all we need. If we can win this battle, we don't have to be vicious and feared anymore, constrained by the power of the evil in this world. Today, we begin the road to freedom!"
A cheer exploded from the crowds.
"Today, we begin the road to justice!"
Another cheer.
"Today, we begin the road to victory!"
The loudest cheer yet.
Markale smiled at his loyal army. "Forward march!"
If anyone was watching from the mountains above, they would have seen a giant mass of green slowly making its way southward, a gigantic sea of armored men moving across a rocky field. Loud organized footsteps of the tax collectors rang through the valley as the army moved onward towards the horizon, ready for whatever was out there.
If only they had known what they were up against.

In Kotone's living room, the six friends, now together, sat around the coffee table sipping their tea and sharing stories.
"I took the sword from the koto and broke out of the jail cell." Shirou was explaining. "Then I headed off to Hotaru's house in the middle of the night."
"When did all this happen?" Takumi asked.
He shrugged. "Two or three nights ago, I think. I broke into the house through the back, and tried to find her in the darkness of the house. It was pitch black inside but the moon outside was really bright."
"You better believe it."
Takumi turned to the Avatar. "And where were you?"
"Already downstairs just by coincidence." Hotaru said. "I heard the footsteps, saw him, and attacked. I know I was being a little stubborn, but even when we negotiated between my blows I couldn't believe he had changed so much since the day before."
"So you two were really fighting each other?" Shinji asked.
Shirou nodded.
"Lets just leave it and say that my butler is going to have a lot of tidying up to do today," Hotaru chuckled. "Furniture was overturned, there's a crater in my living room floor, oh, and depending on when the fire department came a portion of the second floor is burned down."
"What the heck were you doing in there?" Takumi asked incredulously. "And how did it ever end?"
Asaki put a hand on his shoulder. "Why don't you just let them tell the story?"
"If it was just us," Shirou said. "It wouldn't have ever ended. But when it seemed it couldn't have gotten any worse, The Chancellor came into the room."
Kotone frowned in guilt. "We had a feeling he might have attacked Ba Sing Se," she stated. "But be assured, these children led him there only for Shinji's safety."
"I don't doubt that. And us two were the only ones who he hurt, so you didn't put any civilians in danger."
"You two don't look hurt."
He shook his head. "You can't see something that hurts on the inside from the outside. He hurt us with knowledge, with pain and suffering concealed just in a few words."
"What do you mean?"
Shirou shot a quick glance at Hotaru, who gave him a small nod, and looked down. "The Chancellor... The Chancellor is my grandfather."
All four of the listeners' jaws dropped and eyes widened in a mix of confusion and grim surprise. "What?"
"I don't really want to talk about it," he mumbled.
"In short," Hotaru said, "Kaito escaped the hospital in Omashu himself when Mikio set fire to it and to escape his utter death, he used his newly finished Fifth Scroll to temporarily heal himself. But after that, it was too late. He became interested in the scroll's power and ran away, consumed by his newly founded skills of energybending. He only wanted to live, but that desire, now fueled by the magic of the Fifth Scroll, soon seemed very possible, so possible that he needed to take his chance at getting it. His desire for life turned into a desire for power. He entered the Spirit World, learned the ways of the immortal by Koh, and after years and years of training, set off to find Shinji, kill him, and be granted the immortality that he always had dreamed of."
All of them were in stunned silence, thinking over what it meant. A forbidding quietness that no one expected.
Kotone looked at Shirou lovingly. "How could you have, how can you handle this? Can you still help us fighting knowing you're fighting against, against your own-"
He held back tears. "When I first heard the truth from The Chancellor, I thought of how horrible my grandfather must have been, how stupid I had been for believing in that wretched beast all my life. But now I think Kaito did die in the fire that day, and forever I will believe that a different man escaped, maybe he shared my grandfather's body but he isn't the same person. Kaito's up in the stars, looking down and hoping that we don't make the mistakes he did. He's watching his greatest fault, The Chancellor, bring havoc and terror to the world. For my own well being, I need to believe that villain isn't the same person as Kaito, only the corrupted shell left behind after his death."
Everyone just stared in dreadful sympathy.
"Hey Shirou," Shinji said. "I just want to say, I'm sorry for you."
"It's alright."
Another long, uncomfortable silence.
Kotone stood up. "How about we head down to the main gate of the Town of Ethos? Our allies should be arriving soon and I think it would be nice, and maybe a bit uplifting, to greet them when they arrived. What do you say?"
The five kids looked around at each other, nodding in agreement, and stood up.
"Come on," Asaki said to Takumi, who was falling behind. "Lets go."
Lets go? Shirou thought to himself. Lets?
As they walked out of the front door and onto the main street of the Town of Ethos, Shinji and Kotone got caught up in conversation, but their words were near silent to Shirou, who was paying attention to Takumi and Asaki, who were walking slowly in the back of their group, whispering to each other. It was hard to catch what they were saying, but he made a few "I feel so bad"s and "What are we going to do?"s. What are we going to do? What it is going on with them? He reassured himself that it was just a better friendship that they had built on their journey here, but something didn't seem right. Something very odd...
"Here it is," Kotone proclaimed, cutting of his thinking and their talking. They had arrived at a large iron gate where a paved road began. "If our friends come, they'll be coming on this very path."
A ostrich horse pulled cart could be seen coming down the road from afar, getting closer by the second.
"Do you think that's them?" Takumi asked.
Shirou shrugged. "It does look pretty high-end."
The cart made its way towards the iron gate and pulled into the Town of Ethos. An old man who needed to shave and wore baggy clothes jumped out, carrying a sack of goods over his back.
"Fire Lord Taro has changed a lot since the last time I saw him," Hotaru joked.
"There's another cart," Shirou pointed out. This one coming down the road was a little more rustic, and when it arrived a woman in an apron walked out, grumbling something about her pet poodle monkey.
"That's not him either."
A few more carts, wagons and people on animals came in, including a farmer, a cook, a couple in Fire Nation clothes, a child with a backpack and a family of refugees.
"Want me to go get something to eat?" Shinji said. "There's a point where the fun in watching tourists arrive starts to decrease."
Kotone shrugged. "If you want to go grab something, use your own money."
Shinji felt his pockets. He hadn't had coins for days. Giving up on the food plan, he sat down on the sidewalk and tried to relax.
"Hey, look at that one," Asaki said, pointing down the road. There, a beautiful red cart was strolling towards the town.
Shinji looked up. "Is that it?"
The cart pulled in, parked a few yards away from them, and they intently watched a shorter man in a dark blue jacket climb out. When he turned around, all six of them waiting on the street corner instantly recognized the face. It was Chieftain Akio of Glacier Cove. They stood up, walking over with grins on their faces as two other familiar figures climbed out of the cart; Sora from the Western Air Temple and Fire Lord Taro.
In a burst of excitement and conversation, Kotone quickly hugged each of the three visitors between greetings. "It's been so long!" she said.
Taro nodded and looked at Shirou. "It's been a while since I saw you or Hotaru either."
"How do you all know each other?" He asked.
Akio laughed. "All old people know each other. Don't you know that?"
They looked at Taro, Sora, Akio and Kotone lined up next to each other.
"We're all part of the same ancient secret society," Sora said. "A group that transcends the divisions of the four nations."
"And what group is this?" Asaki asked, a little unsure of the newcomers, as the only one she knew was also an enemy of hers in the Polar Revolution days.
Taro laughed. "It wouldn't be a secret society if we told you. It's a group about philosophy, beauty and truth. We're here to make sure Shinji is safe during the Summer Solstice and the balance of the world stays in place."
"Thank you," Shinji said. "I appreciate your help."
"It's an honor to be fighting for such a noble cause. Now Kotone," Akio said. "Where's your place? We have eaten for hours."
She laughed. "Come along, you lot, we have work to do."

In only an hour, the sun was already setting and now all nine of the reunited friends at Kotone's house were well into dinner, passing around second servings of roast duck, leechi sauce, salad and fresh bread. Happily discussing their journeys away from each other, there was a not a moment of silence at the dinner table.
"Wait, so how do you know Takumi?" Kotone asked Sora. "He wasn't there during the battle at the temple."
She shook her head. "He came a month or two afterwords, not knowing of the destruction that had came to our humble home, and wanted to take his airbending master test."
Takumi tapped the arrow on his forehead beneath his new head of hair. "I passed."
"I really did like him," Sora said. "It was just that I knew he wanted an air temple experience, and ours was not in the right condition for one. We gave him a sky bison and told him to come back when the temple was in better shape."
"I'm not exactly sure why I did," Takumi continued his story, "But I decided to go to the Northern Water Tribe, just for a change. After some trouble with The Procession getting in, I met Asaki and joined The Polar Revolution."
"Don't get me started with The Procession," Taro said in disgust.
"Are they bad in The Fire Nation too?"
He nodded. "They're horrible. Little flies always annoying the citizens that you try to swat away but always come back."
"You don't have to tell me," Akio said. "Luckily, we got most of them out this winter with the help of these kids."
Sora looked at them. "You really did that? I'm very proud of the young people in our lives who help make the world a better place."
"I'm 24," Shinji commented.
Ignoring him, Asaki kept on the conversation. "Yes, I started an organization called the Polar Revolution all by myself, a rebellion dedicated from freeing the Northern Water Tribe from unjust powers such as The Procession."
"Now that is initiative," Taro said. "A teenage girl taking action and making a difference on a national scale. Very impressive."
Hotaru looked across the table at Asaki. "Now wait a minute, you're making this seem very different than how I remember the Polar Revolution." She turned her attention to the adults. "See, when she says unjust powers, she's also talking about the Avatar and the government, both of which they planned many surprise strikes on without any real reason."
"Couldn't have said it better myself," Akio chirped. "If there's anyone to give the credit to for exterminating The Procession from the North Pole, it's Shirou, who defeated Markale at Blizzard Point."
"Well that changes up my view towards this rebel group quite a lot," Sora replied.
"Hey, think of it this way," Asaki said, trying to look as respectable as possible. "If it wasn't for Akio guiding Shirou, he never would have decided to fight Markale and defeat The Procession. And Akio would have never given him that advice if he hadn't rescued him from The Procession's Northern Headquarters. And Shirou would have never ended up in The Procession's Northern Headquarters if it wasn't for what happened at Glacier Cove. And he would never ended up in Glacier Cove if he didn't join The Polar Revolution. So really, you owe the national victory to us."
Akio was fuming. "Now that is just absurd!"
Asaki prepared to spit out a line of comebacks and insults, when Takumi put a hand on her shoulder. "Calm down," he said. "It doesn't matter what The Polar Revolution accomplished then, because now that's behind us and we're working towards a new goal."
She sighed, still looking angry. "I guess your right."
As they continued a more pleasant conversation, Shirou was once again in deep though about Takumi and Asaki. Why do they keeping referring to each other as "us" and "we"? he thought to himself. And why is Takumi's hand still on her shoulder? Inside, he furious, staring at Asaki pleasantly talking with the airbender's hand resting there. She's mine!
"Yes, I traveled here after the battle at the Northern Water Tribe Capital with Takumi and his sky bison," Asaki was saying. "We had a few mishaps, but we made it to Argil Village alright."
"Remember the time with the storm?" Takumi laughed.
"Do I remember? I'll never forget that."
Underneath the table, Shirou's fists clenched as he watched the two laugh together.
Akio looked at them. "So, are you two, you know, together?"
The chieftain looked at them sheepishly. "Like, dating?"
Takumi and Asaki went red instantly. "What, no, no, nothing like that, no," they mumbled in embarrassment. "Were just friends."
That was it. Shirou stood up and grabbed his plate, anger showing through his face. "I've suddenly lost my appetite." He left the room, and Asaki quickly stood up and chased after him. The rest of the table was left in an awkward silence.
"Hey, Shirou," she called, catching up to him at the bottom of the stairs to the second floor of the house. "Wait up!"
He stopped, but didn't turn around. "What?"
"Please, listen to me," Asaki said. "I still like you!"
He turned to her, his eyes red. "Yeah, just as a friend. Back at the North Pole we really liked one another. I've been journeying four months on end to try and find you two, fell of a cliff, seen a friend die, lived off of the woods for weeks on end and have to battle my greatest enemies. But want to know what motivated me through the toughest of those times? You. I always dreamed of seeing you in Argil Village, ready to get back together again. I guess I took too long. You gave up on me and had to start up some cheesy romance with Takumi."
"That's not the way it is!" she cried. "I've been living with Takumi for months, of course I would have made a strong friendship by then."
"This is more than just a friendship. You've barely talked to me since I arrived here!"
Asaki stared in sadness. "I'm sorry. Things are just really complicated right now."
"I'd say." With that, Shirou stomped up the stairs.

Markale sat on a rock in the mountains, overlooking the giant field that his army was resting in. They had made a considerable distance since morning, and with the setting sun they deserved a break. At the moment, they were in no rush. As the commissioner of The Procession, the general of this army, Markale was proud. He had trained them well.
He walked over to the fire that he had made, and checked on the pot in the center. The soup inside was near boiling, so he grabbed it and set it on another rock beside him. Taking out his metal travel spoon, he took a sip from the soup broth, and felt its homey warmth soak into his body. That felt good after a long day of barking orders in the heat. He took another sip, and another, hungrily eating up the hot vegetables floating at the surface. In no time it was gone, and he set it aside before leaning back and getting ready for a long nap. Closing his eyes, he let the world around him drift away, thinking about the riches that awaited him in the next few days.
Suddenly, a bone chilling voice cut off his resting. "Looking for me?"
Markale instantly sat up, wide awake, and as soon as he registered who had appeared in front of him, his body froze. There, having materialized on a stone across from him in only the few minutes he was dazing, was a tall, cloaked figure, whose face was left in the shadows of his hood.
"Hello, Markale," The Chancellor said in an icy voice. "It's a nice night, isn't it?"
Charging up the courage to move under the energybender's shadowy glare, he trembled and tried to move backwards. "Get away from me, you monster!"
The Chancellor moved in close, his dark figure seemingly growing bigger and bigger. "Now lets be polite. No need to run and hide."
Markale shivered. "What do you want?"
The ghostly villain moved in close. "You know what I want," he spat. "I want the money you owe me!"
Be brave, the commissioner thought to himself, Be brave and don't give in.
The Chancellor moved around Markale, his cold fingers tip-toeing up his back and neck. "You owe me three thousand gold coins, and I want them now."
"I promise, there is a rather uncooperative client of ours who owes us quite a lot of money and we'll have him hand it over soon. Next Solstice, I promise-"
"Next Solstice?" the energybender bellowed. "You told me the exact same thing last time! You never were going to pay me, were you?"
A sudden burst of courage and adrenaline fueled Markale to fight back. "No, I wasn't. Do you see this army out on the field? They were organized for one reason - to take you down. Each and every soldier is a master of fighting. You'll never defeat us!"
The Chancellor scoffed, striking him in the face with the back of his hand. "Fool. Don't you remember what I did to you? Don't you remember what I did to your brother? Do you forget my potential?"
"I'll never forget, you bastard! You ruined my life! I'm done, I'm not going to live underneath your shadow anymore! I have a right to be free and I have finally created an army that is stronger than you are!"
"I've let this situation get out of control." The Chancellor said in his cold voice. "You've grown too wild and rebellious for you're own good. Someone needs to tear down your power before it becomes to great, if it hasn't already. You lose, Markale. Once again. The Solstice is only a few days away, and my powers are growing immense. You don't stand a chance."
In a final effort, Markale jumped towards the cloaked energybender, pulling up huge columns of earth with him that he morphed into drills and spiraled at his opponent. The Chancellor, without even the hints of a flinch, flicked his wrist and the stone instantly disintegrated in thin air and blew away in the wind. He laughed. "You are a fool. And now, you deserve your punishment." He turned towards the field where the army of tax collectors were resting, bent low, muttered a long and complex string of dark words, and moved his hands around in a complicated pattern. Suddenly, they felt a pulsing wave shoot out across the horizon, an enigmatic energy flowing through The Procession army.
"What have you done?" Markale stuttered.
The Chancellor stumbled over to one of the nearby rocks and leaned up against it, breathing heavily. "I've just used up a considerable amount of my energy, making me substantially weaker now than I was two minutes ago. But look what I have in return." He raised his hands, and there, every single sleeping tax collector out on the field stood up in unison and turned towards them.
Markale's eyes widened. "What the..."
"When I created The Quadrination Bandits, I took ordinary skilled people and then substituted their minds for my own, turning them into mindless puppets. Imagine that, times five hundred. The army that you see before us - it's no longer your army. With my energybending, every one of them just lost their individuality and became representations of my power. This army has just become an army of Quadrination Bandits. I am far weaker now, but that's nothing to be concerned with. I've been needing an army like this, so thank you Markale, for supplying the necessary humans. If you're unhappy with it, maybe you should have thought about getting what you owed." He looked towards his new army of warriors, leaving the commissioner crying behind him. "My new army of power!" The Chancellor shouted out. "Forward march!"

It was late at night and almost all of the visitors at Kotone's house had gone to sleep, whether it be on a bed, couch or armchair. Takumi was walking down the second floor hall to his bedroom, when he noticed the light on in Asaki's room. She was reading a newspaper, obviously frustrated. He stood in the doorway. "Hey," he whispered.
She sat up in her bed and looked at him. "Hey."
He walked and sat on a wooden stool beside the bed. "Can't sleep?"
They stared at each other in the dimly lit bedroom, knowing what the other was thinking.
"I know that you and Shirou are in a rough time right now," he said. "But you'll soften up, I know it." She nodded.
"I just want to say something, you know, because if you and him get back together again, we'll probably be talking to each other less and less."
"Don't say that."
"Well are you going to definitively reject him?"
"No, I'd never do that."
"That's what I mean," Takumi said. "So if you do get back together again, I just want to tell you something in case I don't get another chance." He sighed. "Thanks for the journey. The ride on Artos, all of our stops, living in Argil Village and now here. It was fun. And you're a good friend."
Asaki smiled. "It wouldn't have been the same without you."
They stared at each other emotionally, and then, like drawn by some magic, leaned in close and shared one long, passionate kiss. When they pulled away, their cheeks were red.
"Goodnight," Takumi said kindly, but when he turned towards the door they both froze in shock and embarrassment.
There, standing in the doorway was Shirou, staring in horrific disbelief.

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