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|A New Ally|
Book 2: Sound
Chapter 3: A New Ally
Shen's sword glinted in the sunlight as he removed it from its sheath and held it aloft. A sword fit for royalty, it had a red hilt with a gold trim at the end of it, and the guard wrapped into the blade itself, creating a hole where the hilt met steel.
My so called "gift"...this reminder is one that I'd rather not carry. He noted that they hadn't stopped at the nearest port as he had spent some time out on the deck. The Earth Kingdom was actually, as a landmass, to his left. Where are we going, Argho?
The blade sang as he flipped it to a ready position. Several imaginary opponents surrounded him as he grimaced; his gift required the training to use, training he'd neglected as of late. As his body engaged in the fight his mind had built, he made a promise. "Only the blade..."
The first of his foes flipped forward and brought his own sword down, but Shen flipped his sword around and lunged under the blow as opposed to blocking. This was done for two reasons: one, it would be unexpected in a real fight and two, the other attacker—who would inevitably attempt a strike from behind—now ran the risk of hitting his own ally.
As the first's initial blow struck the ground, Shen twisted and slapped his ear with the flat of his blade. For the opening volley, the third and final member of this little imaginary group had yet to attack him, but all good things come to an end. He lunged forward to impale Shen as the distracted young man had focused on the other two. However, Shen's focus would not be broken; he gripped the man's arm and pulled him in the way of the second fighter. They collided and collapsed to the floor.
All figments of the Airbender's imagination dissipated as Shen's focus dissolved, specifically because of clapping.
"A brilliantly choreographed kata, Shen." Kuan Ti smiled. "I enjoyed watching that, but why not try to duel an actual opponent next time?"
He shook his head. "Shut up, Kuan Ti..."
"Anyway..." The Equalist's sardonic smile never abated. "Argho wants all of us, my men included, to meet in the common area."
Rena and Kataon stood before their father's grave as Turi looked on from a distance. Susanowo had not come back, not yet.
Noulaq's daughter turned to the one she loved. "Do you think he will come back for us?"
"I'm...no, I don't think so..." The son of Tunturia came up beside her. "I think Argho diverted his attention from us."
"Rena...Susanowo won't take me then, right?" The young child looked up at his sister with fear in his eyes.
"No, I will make sure he doesn't take you, Kataon." She pulled both of them into a sort of group hug. "Besides...did you see all that smoke? If Argho had anything to do with that, I'm pretty sure the Spirit of Tempests won't have time for us."
"Even if he does," A woman with dark hair, light skin, and deep blue eyes met them. "I will ensure that nothing comes of it. While I am here, no spirit will be allowed to touch you."
All three youths bowed. "Thank you, Milady..." Turi glanced up. "If I may...what should we call you?"
She smiled. "I am just one of a class of Protectors; we were given tasks like this for a reason."
"Where are we going, Argho? I mean...I know that we're headed for the Fire Nation, but I thought that we'd be taking a land route."
"Patience, Shen. I have consulted with Avatar Aang, and he has suggested that we bolster our ranks further for the battle to come. To that end, he pointed me in the direction of a town next to the Earth Kingdom shore."
Zhan narrowed his eyes. "So who are we talking about here?"
Argho grinned. "You'll see; trust me."
"Why is it that such a phrase worries me?"
Kuan Ti clapped his friend on the back. "Experience."
The Airbender steepled his hands and sighed. "So...when will we reach the Fire Nation?"
Argho stroked his beard. "I'm not entirely sure, although we don't have too much time to spare."
"I'd say two weeks at this pace."
Moro looked out over the ocean; they were leaving the Northern Water Tribe, by boat this time. Susanowo was adamant about moving straight to "Phase Two" of his plan, and she needed to know what it was.
He's kinda smart to be so tight-lipped, but I at least thought I could get Kyrie to tell me something... The Bloodbender frowned. "I've hardly seen him...where has he gone off to?"
Voices echoed across the deck as Kenshin and Susanowo came closer to her location.
"But I can go retrieve them for you! Turi and Rena should be yours as well."
Moro smiled sadly. "At least those two got away..."
"I would if not for one small detail: He sent another Protector, and she would freeze your blood in your veins and shatter your bones. You would be outclassed."
Kenshin sneered. "My lord, how can you—?"
"She would have been mine...if not for outside interference. Now, he has put her into a position of great power, much like Lu Ten. He does so enjoy using humans..."
Moro cocked her head. What are they talking about? She narrowed her eyes; every piece of information she could gather would be needed later.
"Can anyone tell me what allowed the Fire Nation to almost wipe out the Air Nomads?" Instructor Hoska glanced around the classroom, which was comprised of any Airbender who had mastered Tiers 19-24. "Anyone?"
Petrine, as usual was the first to answer. "Sozin's Comet...in conjunction with our own incompetence."
"Petrine! I suggest you let go of such thinking promptly!"
She was at Tier 23, and she knew she would move on soon. Shen watched the display, now a Tier 20 and quickly catching up, despite being five years younger.
"Shen agrees with me." All eyes turned toward the eleven year-old sitting next to her.
"Is this true, Shen? Do you believe this nonsense?"
"Well...maybe...I mean..." His face began to turn bright red. "I dunno...we didn't really train for a fight, so..."
"We are Air Nomads; we do not focus on violence."
A haughty laugh sounded from the sixteen year-old girl. "And yet that was our fault, our mistake. If we had trained to defend ourselves, the Fire Nation would not have gotten the better of us, even with the comet!"
Shen shrank back as the instructor twitched, a sign that he was quickly losing patience. "Student Petrine, I demand that you stop this line of inquiry at once!"
"Why? What is there to fear from this; we should learn from this!"
Water from the ocean splashed up in Shen's face, pulling him back to the present. In fact, it appeared as if the boat was moving toward a port town close by.
"Who are we looking for, Argho?"
He turned and reentered the common area below deck. Argho, Kuan Ti, and Zhan all looked up at him as he came down the stairs.
"Ah, Shen, I was just informing Kuan Ti and his men that we will have to move quickly."
The Avatar smirked. "Just trust me; they don't know either."
The light of the noon sun filtered through the bars, and the dark-skinned man sat up in cell. "Today's the day..."
"Yeah, prisoner, it is." One of the guards opened his metal cage and ushered him out, where large metal shackles were strapped around his wrists. "You're finally gonna get it for killing the ambassador."
Though he could only roll one eye—the eye patch obscured the other—the gesture occurred nonetheless. "I'm done trying to fight this, boys; just don't mess it up."
Each of his massive arms was gripped by a guard as they led him out of the cell block, and he grimaced as he noticed the new ambassador smirking at him. The man, with his thin mustache and shifty eyes, had been partially responsible for why the prisoner was such, but he had run away.
"Today, Rioku...you will face justice."
"And you will face yours in the Spirit World, Ambassador." The convicted man smiled as his accuser's face turned bright red.
"Get it over with!"
The guards brought him to the end of the yard and pushed him to his knees as the firing squad readied their weapons. Rioku frowned as the guards tried to blindfold him. "No...they will have to look me in the eyes as they shoot me."
The two shrugged before splitting away from the line of fire. Rioku breathed in, allowing the sounds of rifles being prepared to wash over him.
He could hear their count also taking place. "Ready!"
The crack of rifle rounds caused the prisoner to lurch back instinctively, but he was surprised when he felt no pain, no impact.
Funny...I thought death would be more painful...
When darkness failed to claim him, though, he dared open his eye, only to find the bullets spinning in the air in front of him. He turned his gaze toward the ambassador, who looked shaken as a large man in earthen armor stood next to him, eyes glowing.
The convict sighed. "Just reload and shoot me for real this time..."
Argho smiled. "Nice to see you too, my old protégé."
Shen used his Airbending to give Argho, Kuan Ti, and himself a boost as they ran toward the town's prison. "Why...are we here...Argho?"
"Simple..." Argho, despite his size, ran effortlessly. "Our newest ally is here."
The Airbender and the Equalist glanced at each other. "You sure about this? He's one of the guards, right?"
The Avatar grinned. "No, he is not."
Shen raised an eyebrow. "You're not serious! Argho, we're recruiting criminals now?!"
"That remains to be seen."
"You want us to...release him, Avatar?" The guards glanced at each other. "Not to...question your judgment..."
"Oh, by all means, question it!" Argho grinned. "Just do so as you're releasing him."
"Avatar Argho, I'm not certain you know what—"
"Ambassador Chong, I hope you understand who I am dealing with. I trained him, and what happens next will be on my head, if need be."
"Y-yes...of course, Avatar..."
A clang of metal striking concrete sounded as the guards released Rioku from his bonds, and the large, dark-skinned Earthbender stood.
"Why are you here, Argho? Didn't you get the messenger hawk? I'm a convicted murderer." His one eye narrowed as he gritted his teeth.
"Rioku, you are many things: arrogant, prone to anger, rather selfish at times..."
"Get on with it!"
The Avatar shook his head, smirking. "That anger...but you are not a murderer. What happened?"
"I did kill the ambassador...and everyone will tell you that the case is closed at that." He sighed. "But I will tell you why I killed him."
"Ambassador Jian, the former ambassador, has always abused his power in subtle ways in this province, but a few weeks ago, he attempted to do the unthinkable. A women at one of his parties became...inebriated, and as she was attempting to leave, Jian followed her for a spell, with Chong at his side."
"I don't like where this is going..."
"Neither did I. As a former student of yours, I've enjoyed several privileges in this town, namely getting invited to high end parties. Well...as high end as they get around here..."
"Get to the point, Rioku."
"Of course...I could sense his intentions from across the room as the woman left, so I followed them. They cornered her in an alley with their Earthbending and were going to..." He turned his head and glared at Chong. "I intercepted them before they could do anything to her, and Jian challenged me to a duel. I obliged him and won, but I did so in a brutal manner that...that caused him to die."
Argho laid a hand on Rioku's shoulder, but the larger man pulled back. "I don't need your sympathy! The courts saw that it was my word against Chong's, and I thought my connection with you would've given me some credibility. It did, but Chong...I think he bribed the judge. They sentenced me to death, but apparently the paperwork took a little while to go through, which is why we're here now."
"Wait..." The Avatar held up his hand. "What about the woman? Her testimony should've cleared you!"
"She was afraid of retaliation; Jian had powerful friends...the kind who can make people disappear. So she stayed silent."
Rioku's former master nodded. "I see...well, unless you have a death wish, you can come with me on my mission. Otherwise, you can go free."
The other man cocked his head. "But...how...?"
"You have never been good at lying Rioku, and I can read the Earth better than anyone we know of, remember?"
"I believe you, and I will see you freed." He turned to Ambassador Chong. "Ambassador, my old associate has told me a very interesting story. It seems that you and Jian were involved in something that was...nigh despicable."
All of the blood drained from Chong's face. "He—he is lying! Jian and I never tried to violate her!"
The spike of the weasel's heartbeat was all Argho needed. "Liar...even now you try and spin tales." Argho's eyes glowed. "I could pass judgment right now, but I am content to let this be settled in a slightly different manner!" He ceased the intimidation tactic as Shen and Kuan Ti glanced around, unsure of what was transpiring. "To that end, since you ran as your accomplice was killed...since you ran from the righteous anger of Rioku, my former student...the two of you will finish this like Jian wanted. You two will duel!"
Chong trembled for a moment. "Avatar, please! This case is closed!"
"I'm reopening it." Argho glanced around at those who had come to watch the execution, the representation of law in the town. "Is that a problem?"
Everyone sat, mute, as the ambassador frantically tore his cloak away. "Fine! You want justice? I will prove my own innocence by destroying the murderer!"
Rioku frowned. "Why do you hate me, Argho? I'm not in the mood for two deaths."
"That is entirely up to you."
Chong spread his legs in a traditional Earthbending bow stance, while Rioku breathed in. The ambassador began by lifting a small stone from the ground and launching it toward his opponent, but the convicted man simply laughed and caught it in his hand.
"Is this what you call Earthbending? I've seen better from first-years!" With that, he stomped and ripped out a Satomobile sized boulder and flicked it at Chong with minimal effort.
A squeak of fear and surprise was expelled from the weasel's mouth as he rolled out of the projectile's path; unfortunately for him, Rioku had only meant to use the large rock as a distraction. As he completed his dodge, he sunk into the earth itself, with the Avatar's protégé standing over him.
"I am slightly less enraged than I was that night, so you get to live. But now..." The guards, who had—apart from the ambassador's notice—been conversing with Argho, came over.
"You're under arrest, Ambassador Chong, pending an investigation into this matter."
Argho nodded and smiled. "So...what is your decision, Rioku?"
Rioku looked to the Avatar. "Alright, Argho, I'll bite...where are we going?"
"The Fire Nation...absolutely not!" Rioku shook his head as the four of them—Argho, Shen, Kuan Ti, and himself—watched the, now former, ambassador being shackled and escorted into the prison. "Look...I appreciate that you managed to get a confession from the woman and get me exonerated, but the Fire Nation is not the place for me to be."
"Why not, Rioku?"
The Earthbender grimaced. "Saitei and I do not get along..."
The Avatar grinned wickedly. "I know. It'll be fun."
"I'm not going!"
"Oh, you sound like a child, my friend! What will you do here instead?"
He pondered the question for a moment when Shen interrupted. "We need an Earthbender; we need your power for what comes next, Rioku."
"Heh...where did you find this one, Argho? Another apprentice Earthbender?"
The Airbender allowed the wind to whip around them at an increasing rate. "Not at all. I am saying this because the Fire Nation is being threatened by a power that they can't face alone! Are you really going to sit here, bored to tears, while one nation destroys another?"
Rioku raised his one eyebrow. "An Airbender? You pick up the strangest traveling companions...and get into the strangest situations..."
Argho held out his hand. "Are you in?"
The Earthbender stared at it for several moments before gripping it. "Fine...but if Saitei and I have a confrontation, it's on you."
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