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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|""I want you to lift your bounty of immortality off of Shinji, the boy who fooled a spirit." |
"Oh," Koh said, in a long, low voice. "That's the way this meeting will be going."
|— From Apocalyptic Rhythm: Part 2|
|""The other day, when I talked with Shirou in the interrogation room, he told me something, something I'll remember for a long time," Markale continued. "He said that I had no more hands out, so I'd have to get up myself. After that, I finally faced the fact that The Procession was gone and I had no more rank in society. But I also realized that it wasn't over. And for the first time, I decided to pursue my only dream by myself and for myself! I just want to be free!""|
|— From Apocalyptic Rhythm: Part 1|
|"The judge didn't even try to quiet the crowds - he was incredibly happy too. "The court finds Markale guilty of mass murder and town property damage. For his crimes, he will receive the capital punishment. The execution will be held outside the town hall at dusk tonight.""|
|— From Apocalyptic Rhythm: Part 2|
|""I'm going to die," Shinji mumbled to himself. He looked upwards at the sky. "Shirou, please be out there." |
"He's out there," the king said. "I know it."
|— From Apocalyptic Rhythm: Part 2|
|"He looked up. The Royal Palace was in sight, only a few levels above where he stood. Everybody thought he was with the rest of his army, a couple hundred feet down, but really he was right beneath their noses. |
The Chancellor laughed, and then whispered in his low, cold voice at no one in particular. "Shinji is going to be in for quite the surprise.""
|— From Apocalyptic Rhythm: Part 2|
|Apocalyptic Rhythm: Part 3|
December 21, 2012
This is Chapter 49 of The Avatar Rhythm Series.
In the depths of the Spirit World, Shirou was doing all he could to show no emotion as Koh, The Face Stealer, crawled around and above him, speaking in his deep, frightening tone. The mysterious darkness of this cave was beginning to get the best of him. He was getting confused, frustrated, lost in the shadows, not sure what was happening anymore.
"Your grandfather was a dedicated student," the ancient spirit whispered. "The best student I knew."
Shirou was angry but kept a straight face. "My grandfather was a horrible man."
"Under my care, The Chancellor became the strongest, wisest, greatest. He became spirit - not man. He became one of us."
"He's not a spirit until he's immortal."
"And that's why he must kill the cursed one."
Anger boiled up in Shirou's chest, but he knew this was exactly what Koh wanted. He couldn't show what he was feeling inside.
"Are you sad?" the giant insect like spirit cooed in his enigmatic voice with a handsome, proud face on. "Your grandfather's fate is not a tragedy, but a success story. A mortal becoming spirit, maybe there is hope for the physical world."
"Why don't you just give him immortality?" Shirou asked, realizing that there was a hint of fury in his voice, and quickly changed back to a blank face.
"The cursed one must die. An average mortal teenager to be able to trick me and get away with it for ten years. I find it disgraceful to the spirit kind. The immortality bounty on the cursed one is my way of getting all I want done in one fell swoop. Hitting two birds with one stone. Fixing everything. Total completion."
"Your arrogance is destroying our world."
"Your world means nothing to me unless it concerns the spirits." Koh turned around and rushed towards Shirou with a dying, cold face. "Is that clear?"
Fear began taking him over, but he fought against any visible emotion with all his might.
Koh began crawling away. "You have a strong face. I'd suggest you leave now if you don't want it to become mine."
"I'm not going to leave until Shinji's curse is lifted."
"So be it," the spirit hissed, with his original white face on again. "Prepare to be - extinguished."
Omashu was not a pretty sight. A day before, it was the golden city. When it was invaded, it became a green city. Now, it was a red city. Blood poured from each wall down to the next, corpses building up at grates and the bottoms of cliffs. The amount of soldiers on both sides was thinning.
Hotaru, still in the Avatar State, stood in a shallow red pool at the base of Omashu, tax collectors surrounding her on all sides. She was the last one of the defending army still alive in this part of the city. Once down, all the rest would be able to storm upwards. Four of the tax collectors were right in front of her, practically in hand-to-hand combat. They kept throwing punches, guiding rocks with their fists, and she had to blow each strike away with gales of wind. Once all off guard, she'd blast them away with a burst of fire, allowing the next line to march forward. There were too many.
The next group had a more long range attack plan. They'd shoot rocks from different angles at different times in a constant cycle, and Hotaru had to deflect each one individually without any time to wait. In the free moments between attacks, she blasted out streams of fire at the Procession members. After creating a ball of wind around her that bounced all the current oncoming rocks away, she created a waterbending wave of blood from the ground and sent it at the tax collector's faces. While they were stunned, created a long bar of stone and threw it at her six opponents, knocking them down into the line behind them.
Another wave walked in, and putting all of their earthbending powers together, took a huge boulder from a wall and prepared to drop it on the Avatar. Hotaru stepped forwards, shooting a jet of fire at the stone, pushing it away as they pushed it down. The clash between her constant beam upward of flame and their earthbending powers smashing the boulder downwards created a hot molten clash that began to grow in intensity, a flaring red light beginning to grow in the plaza. Suddenly, in an explosion of rock and lava, the giant boulder exploded into pieces, burning everyone in touched, including Hotaru. Molten rock raining on her shoulders, she crumpled backwards, putting out the fires in her clothing with bursts of air and leaving her intense burns out in the open. She could heal fairly well with waterbending, but the only liquid here was the blood of the dead soldiers from the battle and that might not be the most sanitary way to treat her wounds. The only option was to keep fighting.
More tax collectors, some ones that had woken up from her knockouts, had walked up to her. Hotaru put her hands up, ready to fend off whatever they threw. The city was counting on her. The world was counting on her.
The Chancellor walked up the grand staircase of the Omashu Royal Palace. His steps were soft and quick, almost running but with a gentle touch. You could tell the path that he had taken here by the line of guards and servants that he had killed and thrown onto the ground on the way.
"Stop right there!" a man at the top of the stairs shouted. The Chancellor walked up to him, put a hand around his throat and suddenly squeezed as hard as he could, choking him instantly. He chuckled at the sight of the man dropping to the floor so easily, and then, to make sure he really was dead, landed a hard kick on his face that split apart his skull.
No one else in the way, The Chancellor walked to the large door at the end of the staircase and put his hand on the doorknob.
It was time.
He took a deep breath, then swung the giant doors open, and walked into the large throne room. It was a large, yellowish room with a high, ornate ceiling. In the center was a long green rug that led to throne, where King Isamu sat and Shinji stood next to, their faces in horrific disbelief.
"Good afternoon," The Chancellor hissed, walking halfway across the room. "Surprised to see me?"
They backed away as far as they could, taken off guard in fear.
"I've been waiting for this day for a long time."
"You won't win," Isamu asserted confidently.
"Is that so?" he purred in a cold whisper. "There is no Venomsprout to stop me this time - The cursed one is finally in my grasp."
The King stood up from his throne. "Not if I can help it."
"I am much weaker after creating my army," The Chancellor said, purple sparks crackling around his fingers. "But your strength is still nothing compared to mine."
"Does it have to come to this? Fighting an old friend like you, Kaito?"
The energybender stepped back, surprised. "So you know?"
"It was almost twenty years ago," Isamu said. "You, Mikio and I. We were leading the Royal Army in the Great Battle of Omashu as one, unified team. Here we are once again. You've been corrupted, I've grown into a true king and Mikio has died and been reborn as Hotaru. But the three hearts that made up our great trio back in the day have are still in each of us. I believe in redemption. You, Kaito, can still be remembered as a legend."
"Oh, I will be remembered as a legend," The Chancellor replied. "And it's not going to be the legend of a feeble old man. For all time, even if I was to die, people will remember The Chancellor - the mortal who became spirit and freed our world of the disgraceful human race which inhabits it. I will be remembered as a villain, not a hero, and I will be remembered all the same."
"It doesn't work like that," the king spat.
"But it does, it does. It is much easier to take a life than save one, yet both actions will make a person famous. It isn't fair, but the world isn't fair, aren't I right? I am powerful because I accept the fact that this world is an unbalanced, cruel place, unlike you fools who think everything is about peace and equality. So yes, I could throw off this cloak and turn back into the man I once was, but the truth is, my story will be written in more history books, my figure in more paintings, my name will be more feared throughout the world for millennia to come if I choose to kill you and destroy this city today. And that's exactly what I'm going to do."
Isamu stared in a mix of sadness and fury. "What have you done to yourself, Kaito?"
"Kaito is no more. Tell the folks in hell that The Chancellor sent you." He lunged towards the king, sending a blast of energy that was blocked with a thick wall of stone that he rose from the floor.
Watching all this in the corner of the room, Shinji could only stand there and stare. Please, Shirou, he thought to himself desperately, Save me.
In Central Omashu, Kotone, Akio, Sora and Taro were still deep in battle with the Quadrination Bandits. Kyong slashed out a whip of water from his waterskin - smacking it this way and that towards Kotone, who did her best to dodge each swipe. She was old though, and her agility was not what it used to be. The whip of water cracked across her back, and while she stood stunned for half a second the bandit froze the water whip into an icy spear and whipped it at the old lady's face. In the crucial moment Sora stepped forward, blowing the spear away with a gust of wind into Anil, who smashed it with a kick. Angered, the airbending bandit made a stormy whirlwind and sent it flying at Sora, throwing her backwards. Zhena shot out a few tongues of flame towards the dizzy nun, and she barely dodged the attack with the help of Taro blocking the fire.
Zhena lifted her hand up to shoot out another attack, but Akio jumped forward, daringly shooting out his arm and blocking her fist, leaving the firebending bandit stunned. He landed a front snap kick in her stomach, but before he could lay any more damage, Kyong barreled in, taking out the chieftain and tackling him the ground, whipping out a ball of water and streaming it into Akio's throat, gagging him.
Laughing, Zhena shot a lightning bolt at Kotone, but before it could hit the Fire Lord dived into the brawl, taking in the strike and redirecting it into Kyong, who crumpled in painful electric shock, saving Akio from the waterbender's choking attack.
They were finally at an advantage - Kyong would wake up, but for the moment the Quadrination Bandits had no healing powers available.
Taro leapt forwards, sending a flurry of flame towards the two remaining bandits which Anil blew out, letting Zhena whip in a stream of lightning. Kotone threw her metal fan across the battlefield, conducting the electrical attack into it instead one of their teammates, and dodged an incoming stream of fire as she ran over to retrieve her weapon.
Sora deflected an air blade from Anil, and then blasted out a giant gale that almost knocked the airbending bandit over. Akio slid in, kicking him in the side and letting Taro blast out a jet of fire which Zhena unfortunately blocked. She tried sending in another discharge of lightning towards them, but the Fire Lord deflected this strike.
"You'll never win," Taro muttered, panting. "We are stronger than you in every way."
"Ridiculous," Zhena said. "Look at yourself. You are exhausted but we will never tire."
"How is that possible?" Kotone asked. "You're just human beings like us."
"The Chancellor's infinite pool of spiritual energy fuels us, we never are hurt or grow weary."
"And that's your weakness," Akio said.
"Weakness? We're the most powerful benders in the world."
Akio shook his head. "We tire so we know that we're running low on energy. We feel pain so we know something is wrong in our bodies. Because you don't feel these necessary annoyances, you feel invincible. But if you were ever truly hurt, you wouldn't even know until you perished."
"But we are too strong to ever be truly hurt," Anil said proudly. "No one can hurt us."
At that very moment, Taro suddenly leapt forward with a giant wall of fire and threw it at the unexpecting bandit, dousing him in flame. Anil, burning, spun around in shock, and stared, his skin open and charred. He looked towards Kyong, but their healing bandit was still unconscious from the lightning strike that Taro redirected at him. Steaming blood oozing from each every crease in his raw flesh, Anil smiled evilly. "I still feel nothing. You did nothing. Look at my power, I don't feel anything even just a little bit wrong!" The airbender cackled, preparing to shoot out a giant gust of wind, when he keeled over, dead.
The sun was getting lower in the sky as Takumi walked through the streets of The Town of Ethos in stealthy silence. The sidewalks were crowded with police officers and citizens from near and far who had come to witness Markale being executed. He was to be hung tonight at eight thirty - it was five now. Tension and excitement was brewing in the air. Takumi didn't want to go the hanging site, though. His destination was the town jail. It was a large, gray building, barred windows circling the outer walls - a classic unsanitary prison. Takumi climbed up the cement steps to the front door, which he opened. Walking in, he saw a tired secretary at an old metal desk.
"Need something?" the woman asked.
"I'm acquainted with the commissioner of The Procession who's being held here."
She frowned. "I'm sorry, we don't accept visitors."
Takumi slammed his fist on the desk, a loud clang bouncing through the room. "I need to see him."
"I'm afraid I can't let do you that," she quivered.
"He'll be dead by the end of the day, why do you care? I need to talk to him. Now what cell is he in?"
"Number eleven," she said quietly. "Down the hall, take a left."
Nodding in thanks, Takumi walked down the hall and took the first left. Inside was a hall with cells on both sides, mostly empty. Metal labels above the barred doors passed him by, and he stopped at the one with a large eleven on it. He looked inside and saw Markale's figure curled up in the corner of a small gray room, turned away. He was wearing a torn white shirt and pants to match, his skin pale and his hair in a sweaty mess. If Takumi had seen this image a month before, he wouldn't have ever guessed that it was the commissioner of The Procession in there.
"Hey," he whispered through the bars. "It's me."
In the corner of the cell, Markale shook his head, letting out a whimper.
"I need to talk with you."
The deranged commissioner turned his head and glanced at him with tired, bloodshot eyes. "What do you want?" he snapped.
"There's something I need to settle with you."
Markale completely turned around and leapt towards Takumi, clawing at the cell bars that separated them. "You won, I lost, go along now, it's over! Come on, watch me die tonight, bring a friend! What more can you take away from me?"
"I just want to ask you a question before its over," the airbender stated. "I just need to know how you knew The Chancellor before he took away The Procession. You never told us."
"It's over already! Over, over, over! Nothing matters! Two weeks ago I was the most powerful in the world and now I am going to die as a lunatic! Why do you care about me? No one cares about me, poor little me!" He fell down the floor, blubbering nonsense to himself.
"Out there, The Chancellor is waging a war with your army that threatens the entire world," Takumi explained. "I have a feeling that you know something about him we don't, and if we don't learn now, there'll be no other chance."
"There's a place and time for everything," he whispered. "Not now is the time for secrets, dark secrets."
"If you don't tell me now, then when will you?"
Markale stood up from the ground, regaining his composure. "Before they kill and me and crowds cheer, I can say any final words by law. Then, before I am hung, the world will know."
"But what do you have to lose by just telling me now first?" he asked.
"The Procession, a feared name, riches, health, sanity, life, it's all gone besides for one thing. My past, my past is the only thing I have. If I told it now, everything would be gone and I'd still have three hours before my death! I need to wait to give up my last secret until my very last teensy little moment alive because I don't want to know what living without anything else to live for feels like. Living with just one or two things left to your name is bad enough!"
Takumi stared in pity. This man had gone mad on the outside, but when he spoke from the heart, there was still sense and reason, in this case, very sad sense and reason. He was a tragedy. What was there he say?
"Now get out of here!" Markale yelled. "The more I speak the less and less I have inside! Get away before I lose it all!"
He nodded, and did as told.
Koh moved in close to Shirou, the spirit's giant body behind him moving but still always staring into his eyes. They rotated around the dark cave, tension building in the musty air.
"You must be so frustrated," Koh asked in a quiet, mocking voice with the face of a beautiful woman. "Life isn't completely in your favor."
"It never has been like that before," he stated.
"I can feel it in my ancient blood. The cursed one's life is coming to its close today."
Shirou fought back all the anger inside him from showing. "Please, you have to lift his curse."
"A boy who fooled me," he spat in his cold, rhythmic voice. "It made the quietest of spirits laugh, and my power has become less valuable and trusted ever since. No one who does that to me that should live."
"Can we come to some agreement, I representing mortals, you representing spirits?"
"That doesn't seem very fair," Koh said. "You see, spirits are much stronger than mortals, and in turn, I much stronger than you. I don't need to listen to you because if I want, I could destroy you."
"But if we come up with a deal that's good for both sides-"
"I'm never going to lift that boy's curse for all I live!"
Furious, he raised his voice. "Then you truly are a disgrace to the Spirit World! And if you ever-"
Shirou suddenly stopped in horror.
His eyes were wide in rage.
His eyebrows were furled in anger.
His mouth open in fury.
Koh's face lit up.
In the throne room of the Omashu Royal Palace, Shinji watched Isamu and The Chancellor in horror, both of them deep in battle.
The king threw a giant rock from the wall at his opponent, crumbling it into sand at the last moment which The Chancellor blocked with a small shield of energy. He then stepped forward, sending out a crackling purple whip out that Isamu broke apart with a quick flurry of rocks from the ground which he threw at the energybender afterwards. Rolling out of the way of another strike, he punched forwards, shooting a column of stone from the floor that smashed into The Chancellor directly in the stomach, knocking him to the ground. In the spare time he leapt forward, bringing a large boulder with him that his energybending opponent smashed with a crackling punch as he stood up, followed by another punch that sent out a wave of purple fire.
"You can't defeat justice," the king stated, ducking beneath the attack.
The Chancellor stood up, blocked a rock thrown towards him, and then tensed his hand, shooting out a bolt of energy. "Justice is a twisted concept. Never will any part of this corrupted world be fair and equal." He blasted out another attack.
Shinji watched it all from the corner. Time was running out.
Koh stared in success at Shirou's angry face. It was emotion. That's all that was needed. He tensed, muscles buckling, claws flexing, and then all at once, suddenly leaped forwards, ready to take him in. Shirou ran out of the way, taking out his sword. What was there to lose now? Koh lunged again, barely missing a sword strike. "You!" he screamed in his deep, cold voice, slashing this way and that with the claws surrounding his face.
Shirou rolled away from the monster. He began to run towards the cave's entrance, but decided against it. The world was still waiting.
Climbing up onto the ceiling, Koh chased after him from above.
"If you take my face, will you promise to lift Shinji's bounty?"
"Never!" Koh yelled, leaping down and pinning Shirou's chest to the grimy stone floor. Instincts taking over, he took out his sword and swung wildly, the grip around his body suddenly disappearing. Standing up, he saw a long gash in the spirit's side, clumpy dark blood seeping outwards from it and onto the ground.
"What have you done to me?" Koh yelled, fiercely thrashing around his lair and then, after locking onto Shirou, ran forward with all his might and picked him up in his claws, smashing his body against the wall.
He tried struggling, but it was no use. Koh's claws were coming closer, closer, closer...
The Chancellor had taken on the offensive. He slashed one blade of energy outwards after the next, and even though Isamu could stop them, each attack sent him farther and farther backwards, towards the corner. He tried to shoot out a rock from the ground, but as soon as he took his concentration off blocking, one of the energybending strikes skimmed his upper left arm and shoulder, ripping his armor right off and cutting open his flesh. Glaring, the king went back to defense, pulling column after column up from the floor that blocked each of the oncoming attacks.
Suddenly, he hit the wall. There was not a step more he could take backwards, but The Chancellor kept coming forwards.
"Nowhere else to go, eh?" the cloaked bandit laughed.
Isamu pulled his fists over his head, throwing a giant chunk from the wall behind him at his opponent, who smashed it to dust with a snap of his fingers. "What did I tell you? I have power and am the superior here!"
Shinji's face was plastered with horror. "Don't let him kill me, Isamu. Please."
The king put a hand on his shoulder. "It's going to be okay," he whispered, even though he knew it wouldn't. "It's all going to be okay."
The Chancellor moved closer, raising his arm and sending a bolt of energy towards them that Isamu smashed with a rock from the wall, sending out another rock afterwards that was deflected back towards him. He tried cracking the ceiling open, but needed the time to block one more energy attack. The Chancellor flicked out another burst of fiery purple sparks that the king tried to block, and in the chaos let loose a giant swirling blade of power that went right towards Isamu's heart, with barely a second to respond, a horrible sound of tearing flesh, smashing metal and painful screams echoed throughout the palace.
They stared at King Isamu drop to the ground, his arm falling right off after being hit with the powerful energybending attack - leaving a bloody stump behind on his shoulder.
Shinji's eyes widened in panicked horror.
The Chancellor smiled.
This was it.
Shirou writhed in pain as Koh moved forward, his claws coming towards his head to suck his face right out. A dark cloud seemingly began to overcome his brain. The spirit's claws made contact with his skin, and suddenly pushed forwards, protruding into the flesh of his cheeks. He screamed in agony, as a mysterious, tormenting feeling began to take over his features.
Koh smiled, ripping apart his soul from the inside, taking in everything he'd ever had. The pain within Shirou's heart began to grow in intensity, a horrific fire frying up everything he ever knew. He could feel his facial features begin to fade. His sight grew dark. The musty smell vanished. The screaming quieted. It was all falling away.
Shirou appeared in a black hallway. At the end of it, he saw images of his past; the Water Tribe, Royal Chaldera City, the Fire Lord, The Battle at Glacier Cove, Markale, a storm of fruit flies chasing after him, camping in the Earth Kingdom mountains, The Quadrination Bandits attacking him at the top of Mount Sierra, Hotaru battling him inside her house, gambling at the Ice Water Pub, Akio saving him from The Procession's Northern Headquarters, Takumi and Asaki kissing, Akata's mother dying, his brothers and sisters, his father telling him stories of Kaito. Suddenly, he lost his footing and started being dragged backwards down the hallway, the images of his life getting smaller and smaller as he was pulled away. He tried to run forward, but intense pain took over his body, too much to handle. Giving up struggling, he let go, letting himself be dragged away, watching his time on Earth fading away. Storming the Water Tribe Royal Palace, attending Everburn Academy, learning of The Avatar Rhythm in his Ba Sing Se jail cell, escaping from the Black Market near the Western Air Temple. Right as he felt his body fall into the shadowy void at the end of the hallway, one final imaged appeared.
It was of Shinji.
A new energy filled Shirou's body. He faced the pain and began to trudge forward. A dark force tried to pull him back, but he wouldn't let it. Walking towards the light at the end of the hall, he stepped into the flashing images of his life, a bright energy enveloping him as he broke through the barrier.
The sights, sounds and smells of Koh's lair once again surrounded him. He wasn't going to let his face be stolen.
Shinji stared back and forth between Isamu's body on the floor, his arm ripped off and pouring blood onto the floor of the throne room, and The Chancellor, laughing in victory.
"Immortality has never been closer," he whispered, grabbing Shinji and dragging him to the throne. He flexed his fingers. "You don't know how long I've dreamed of this moment."
He tried to fight back, send out a fireball, anything, but his muscles wouldn't budge. This was a nightmare come true.
"Do you want to know what I'll do after I slit your throat and rip your heart out?" The Chancellor asked.
Shinji shook his head, quivering.
"Well, first I'll wipe out every man and woman in this city. Then I'll sit in this throne room, and Omashu will be the capital of my powerful reign. People near and far will bow down to me, and each Solstice when my ultimate powers return, I can make all of my followers into Quadrination Bandits just like I did to The Procession. I'll have nothing to fear, I won't be able to die. I can conquer the entire planet, and from atop this very throne I can govern my empire. People will call my the King of Life."
"You're a wrong," a voice said from the corner of the room, and they turned in surprise to see Isamu, bloody and pale, do his best to heroically stand up from the floor with just one arm. "This is no longer a throne room," he said, blood dripping from his mouth. "This is a tomb for the both of us. A king without compassion does not deserve a kingdom. Omashu will not stand with you as its leader. I will not let it. If this is what it must come to, this is what must happen." Before anyone could respond, Isamu leapt up and with all of his life and energy left inside his body, he crashed to the floor, sending a colossal explosion of earthbending into the stone. Suddenly, walls and floors began to crash together as massive cracks ran down the city's cliffs, houses and buildings toppling down the streets, soldiers in the midst of fighting being crushed by giant stones. Isamu fell to the floor of the throne room, dead, every bit of strength that was once within him transferred into the destructive attack he had unleashed on his own city. It was the only way to stop The Chancellor. The room's ceiling collapsed, the rest of the royal palace caving in above them and crashing downwards. Long streets, tall buildings and giant walls crumbled. Giant sections of mountain gave way. In a final giant eruption of rock, dust and screaming, the great city of Omashu fell to the ground, destroying everything in its destructive path.
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