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|A Poisoned Spirit|
Chapter 17: A Poisoned Spirit
The Owl stepped out of the tea shop and sighed. There was a warmth in his stomach, and the taste of white dragon lingered on his tongue. As he sauntered down the sidewalk, He took in his surroundings. People were all around him, moving at their own paces.
It's almost dark. Soon enough, the dark and cold will make sure these streets are all but empty.
"You and I need to have a chat," a low, hoarse voice whispered close to his ear. It was imperceptible to most, the assassin's body jerked ever so slightly in surprise.
"Impressive. I had no idea I was being followed, Aizu," he said.
The Firebender sneered as he matched pace beside the Owl. "You'd be surprised how little you know of being unassuming. I'd chalk it up to ego; a man like you probably doesn't lose often."
"When the stakes are my life, I can't afford to lose," the Owl replied. "Taiko understands this; thus, he ensures he has the advantage."
"He also doesn't know that you called someone an hour ago." Aizu spat on the curb beside them. "Who did you call?!"
The assassin smiled and glanced at Aizu. "My uncle. He worries about me being away, and he has this insane notion that I'm going to carry on the family business. But I don't do circuses anymore; I don't perform."
The Firebender frowned. "What do you want from us?"
The Owl furrowed his brow. "You asked me to join, if I remember correctly."
"No. Taiko asked you to join, and I don't agree with his decision."
"Because I've killed people," he replied. "Your people."
He nodded slowly. "I can see that there is no way to convince you of my sincerity, apart from action. But know that the goals of the Red Lotus are the same as my own. It wasn't my intent to kill anyone, but in the moment, defending myself was all that mattered."
"Liar," Aizu growled. "You lied to us, tried to keep the book. In doing so, you got four of us killed."
The assassin sighed. "Once I found out what it is you were after, I needed to determine the rightness of your cause."
"What are you talking about? Why would a thief feel the need to do that?"
"Because it's my duty. I'm a bit more than a thief."
"I don't think..." A low growl emitted from Liung's throat. "I dunno...it doesn't feel right."
Sukan turned back toward her and raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
The red dragon narrowed her eyes. "Yoriko needs to hear this, too. She doesn't know what's going on, and you can't keep that from her."
"Oh..." Sukan pursed her lips. "You're right, Liung. But we have to...we have to be careful."
The officer frowned. "Whatever is going on with Yoriko...do you know what the Avatar State is?"
Liung inclined her head. "No."
"It's basically a defense mechanism for an Avatar, to use when they're in danger. It increases their power. But Yoriko can't control hers."
"Then she needs to know even more," Liung replied. "There's something wrong; I could feel it."
Sukan sighed. "Alright, then, I think we should all find someplace to talk about this. Away from the crowds."
Yoriko tugged on the officer's shirt-sleeve. "Talk about what?"
Sukan glanced down at her and smiled. "It has to wait until we can get inside the palace. Okay, Honey?"
The Avatar bit her lower lip and furrowed her brow. "It's about the nightmares, isn't it?"
Moro took a step forward. "Nightmares? When were you going to—?"
"Not here, Moro," Saitei said. "Let's not jump to conclusions." She glanced at Galba and slid her hand along his neck. "Do you trust Liung enough to let her come to the palace?"
The large, gray dragon exhaled, and his lips curled slightly. "I do not. She is not in a good state of mind, she is young, and by her own admission, doesn't want to have anything to do with the Avatar. That said, she does know enough that she recognized her mistake. That might count for something."
The Fire Lady scowled. "Not with me, but it doesn't really matter. If Liung saw something, we need to know what it is."
Galba's throat rumbled. "Then why did you ask for my opinion?"
"Because we won't be taking her to the Palace. We don't need to have this conversation there."
"Ah," the old lizard exposed his fangs in an approximation of a smile. "I see."
Saitei turned to the others. "This is what is going to happen: Liung and Galba will return to the island where she came from, and the rest of us will follow in one of the smaller airships."
"Why are we going to this island?" Sukan asked. "Isn't it more convenient to talk here?"
While Moro, Saitei, and Sukan talked, Liung nudged Yoriko's shoulder with her snout, and the young Avatar rested her hand against the dragon's side.
"They don't trust me..." she said. "Master Galba thinks I'm dangerous."
Yoriko inclined her head. "I don't think you're dangerous, Liung. They're just scared." She pursed her lips. "Miss Sukan's afraid, too."
I shouldn't have come here...my life is over..."
Yoriko felt hot air blow over her face as the red dragon exhaled. "I ran from my duty. None of my fellow hatchlings did that...I'll be an outcast. I'll be the one who ran."
"But...you're really nice; you were just scared." Yoriko wrapped her arms around Liung's neck. "I dunno if this helps, but I'm scared, too."
Shen and Nana waited in the hotel lobby, with the latter tapping her foot against the floor over and over. The former leaned back in his chair and sighed.
"Master Taiko seemed worried, Dad," Nana said. "What's going on, exactly?"
"Jimo and I haven't exactly gotten along, but after the disastrous attack on Caldera City all those years ago, he renounced Petrine and her ways." Shen frowned and leaned forward again, resting his elbows on his knees and folding his hands. "Still, I'm not sure if he ever really gave it up."
"So...maybe more like Petrine than I thought?" she asked.
Shen shrugged. "I don't know yet. I want to hear it from him before I make any decisions. Besides, the council will have the final word on this anyway."
The revolving doors spun as three people entered, all wearing the white formal Air Nation uniforms. Shen recognized Jimo immediately, as his bald head bore an arrow tattoo.
"Wow, that's dedication," Nana said. "Don't tell me the guy took a vow of celibacy, too."
Shen smirked. "The women on his left is his daughter, so I doubt it. Besides, would it matter if he did?"
She raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
"So what if he took a vow? That would be his prerogative."
"It was just a joke, Dad."
Shen nodded. "I'm aware. Just remember that he's made his choices for a reason. His dedication to the Air Nomad way, while old-fashioned, should not be taken so lightly."
Nana sighed. "Yeah, you're right. Still...I find it a little weird that a guy who followed Petrine would go all traditional. She wasn't."
The older Airbender furrowed his brow. "You aren't wrong."
As the three approached, Shen offered a slight nod while Nana gave a quick bow.
"Ambassador," Jimo said as he reciprocated Shen's gesture. "I appreciate your willingness to meet and...well, thank you for not assuming the worst."
Shen motioned toward the elevator. "Would you three like to see the rooms we've—?"
"We would like to put things into motion, if you don't mind," Jimo's daughter said.
"What exactly do you want to 'put into motion'?" Nana asked.
Jimo pursed his lips. "Down to business, then. We want to be able to leave."
Fog hung just above the ground as the sky glowed a deep yellow. That same yellow colored the stones beneath the Spirit of Dawn's feet as he approached the Council of Spirits. They had much to answer for. As he came closer, he noticed movement in the sky off to his left; a massive form pressed ever so slightly through the clouds. Lu Ten shook his head; he didn't need distractions now.
The five of them sat or stood haphazardly in the open area that Lu Ten came to, but the Mother of Faces was the first to speak.
"What brings you to us, Spirit of Dawn? What questions wait in the back of your mind?"
Lu Ten gritted his teeth. "Since he," he said as he pointed at Izanagi, "is still here, I thought it'd be a great time for him to undo what was done to the Avatar! She is broken because of you!"
Izanagi raised an eyebrow. "So, you blame me for what Lin Quei did? Sorry, but I had nothing to do with that; I even attempted to stop him before it happened. But the humans got in my way."
"You did put her into a position that made Lin Quei aware of her identity, Spirit of Chaos," the Spirit of Light replied as she shifted slowly on her four large legs.
"Exactly!" Lu Ten cried. "You are responsible for fixing her, seeing as you killed the only other being capable of—"
"I can't," the Spirit of Chaos replied.
Izanagi's brow furrowed. "I can't 'fix' her. The Avatar is no longer the being it once was; it is beyond me to fix."
"What do you mean, Izanagi?" the Mother of Faces asked as she sidled up to his side.
"What Lin Quei did, Order," he glanced at her, "that was his power, not mine. That's what he did with my name."
"What exactly did he do to her?! Answer me!"
Izanagi narrowed his eyes. "Calm down, Spirit of Dawn; don't talk to me like a child!"
Lu Ten took a step forward. "I will talk to you any way I please, Izanagi! Tell me!"
The Spirit of Chaos stood quickly, and in an instant, he was face to face with Lu Ten. "You want to play this out, human? We've fought before, and I won then, too."
"Izanagi," the Spirit of Order sighed before continuing, "Just tell him. It will do no one any good to engage in battle here."
"It would be over in an instant, Order," he replied. "I'd destroy him."
"Then try it big man," Lu Ten said as he stepped even closer. "Let's see what you've got."
"Enough, both of you." The swirling black mass that was the Spirit of Darkness turned its green eye on the two. "You're fighting like children." He turned his gaze on Lu Ten. "Are you so certain you want the answer?"
"If there is a way to heal the Avatar, I can make sure that the humans know about it."
Izanagi frowned. "I already told you, I can't. Lin Quei's power worked differently than mine, differently than Koh's. It was, if what Order's told me is true, like Vaatu's. He could poison a spirit, turn it dark, twist it."
Lu Ten's eyes widened. "...you mean..."
"He cut us off from the Avatar Spirit," a new voice said. It sounded like an old man. The spirits all glanced past Lu Ten, who turned around to see a man with shoulder-length gray hair and a goatee. "He poisoned Raava, and she's going mad."
"Leave?" Shen raised an eyebrow. "I don't understand."
Jimo inclined his head. "We, meaning myself and those closely affiliated with me, want to leave the Air Nation. Collectively."
Nana frowned. "Why? What's wrong with where you are?"
"Let's just say that there are differences, Nana, and leave it at that."
"You could show my daughter a bit more respect, Master Jimo. She isn't going away, so if you want to lay your plans out, she's going to be here."
Jimo sighed. "Apologies. I wasn't aware that we were going to have an audience."
Shen raised an eyebrow, and Jimo's daughter leaned in toward her father.
"Dad, maybe you shouldn't antagonize the ambassador."
Nana smirked. "I would listen, Master Jimo. What we've offered is a courtesy, one that the Council of Elders probably wouldn't have given."
"Yes...I understand," he replied. "All of that aside, what do you think the council will say?"
"You need to outline your plans in less vague terms," Shen said. "As it is, I don't know why you and yours want to leave, how many want to leave, or what you plan on doing when you do."
"We just want to remove ourselves from the convoluted politics of the Air Nation. This farce is a fantastic example of what we don't—"
Nana folded her arms. "So you want to take an unspecified amount of people and leave the Air Nation to reinvent yourselves? What happens if you or your followers get into trouble with a foreign power? Should the Air Nation bear the responsibility of your mistakes?"
Shen chuckled as Jimo's eyes widened. "Easy, tigress."
"I can see that you two aren't taking our grievances seriously!" Jimo growled.
"On the contrary." Shen's smile disappeared instantly. "I took your request seriously, and you're telling me that you want to leave because of what? Political differences?"
"Isn't that enough?"
Shen sighed. "Jimo...anyone can leave the Air Nation; we aren't going to stop you. But if you think that three hundred people just up and leaving aren't going to cause issues, you haven't thought things through."
Jimo scowled. "I see. Well, then I suppose the Council is our only option, then."
"What could even be worth leaving over?" Shen asked. "I thought that we were fairly open to different ideas and teachings."
"This was a mistake," Jimo replied. "It seems that I was wrong to approach you assuming you'd sympathize."
The smaller airship was flanked by Galba and Liung, and Yoriko stared over the side of the airship at the sea below.
Sukan smiled warmly as she glanced over the side to see what Yoriko was staring at. "The sea is pretty, isn't it, Honey?"
Yoriko's head bobbed up and down. "Uh-huh! It's so blue!" She glanced up at Liung, who continued flying a few feet from their craft. "It must be awesome to fly like that, huh Liung!"
The small, red dragon offered a look their way, but since none of them were in contact with her, no reply could be heard.
"If you choose one of the dragons that we introduce you to, you'll learn how to fly as a passenger on one soon enough," the Fire Lady replied.
The young Avatar bit her lower lip. "Uh-huh." She turned toward Saitei. "I know you think Liung's dangerous, but she's not. She's just scared."
"All dragons are dangerous, Avatar Yoriko," she said. "Liung has proven to act on impulse, and for a dragon in her state of mind—"
"Are you gonna lock me up, too?"
Moro furrowed her brow. "What are you talking about?"
"Well...you're gonna keep her on this island because she's scared and dangerous." Yoriko frowned. "I'm scared and dangerous, too."
Sukan's eyes widened. "Yoriko—"
"No! You guys think Liung is gonna hurt me, but she's not! Why do you hate her but not me?!" Tears rolled down her face. "What makes us different?"
"She made a choice," Saitei replied. "You did not."
"Is one mistake really worth the alienation Liung is afraid of?" Sukan asked the Fire Lady. "There has to be some truth to that if she was so terrified, right?"
Saitei sighed. "What the dragons do with those who cannot abide by the rules is their business, something my family has not interfered in over the centuries. I'm not about to start."
Yoriko bit her lower lip. "She'll be the one who ran..." she whispered.
"What did you say, Sweetie?" Sukan asked.
The young Avatar curled up into a ball. "Nothin'."
"Poisoned?" Lu Ten's eyes narrowed. "What...what does that mean?"
The Spirit of Order leaned forward. "Avatar Wan. How do you know this?"
The old man in their midst gritted his teeth. "You don't give us enough credit, Mother of Faces. We were torn from Raava even as Lin Quei's poison entered her being. We were supposed to work together, but without us, he had free reign to control light itself!"
"So that's what he did," Izanagi said. "I told you I had no power to fix things, Spirit of Dawn."
"If you don't, than who does?!" Wan cried. "If Raava is corrupted and we can't stop her or save her, the current Avatar isn't the only one who will be affected!"
"Calm down, Avatar Wan," the Shinigami stood and stretched. "Despair will serve no purpose. In fact, it is likely going to make things worse."
Lu Ten stepped forward. "I don't see how things can get worse, short of the Avatar cycle being broken!"
"I saw that you noticed the thing in the sky when you approached us," Izanagi said. "If you knew what it was, you'd be more concerned."
A ball of fire swirled in Lu Ten's hand. "Start talking, Izanagi, or I'll burn you until you do! We don't have time for any of this!"
The Spirit of Chaos frowned as Wan stepped beside Lu Ten. "So, both of you are fools, then?"
"It is Despair," the Spirit of Darkness replied. When Izanagi glanced at him, he sighed. "Your childish antics haven't completely abated, Izanagi, and now is not the time to annoy for the sake of your own amusement."
"You don't give me orders—"
The Spirit of Order laid a hand on Izanagi's shoulder. "Chaos, that's enough."
The fire ball in Lu Ten's hand dissipated. "What did you mean by despair?"
"A spirit with a face so terrible, even Koh wouldn't take it, and a thing that cannot be destroyed," the black, tentacled spirit replied.
Wan's eyes widened. "What...?"
"We tried," Izanagi said. "We tried to kill it. Karuta fought it when it was small; it got bigger. Then they threw me at it; it grew to almost the size it is now." He glanced at the Mother of Faces. "Order was the only one who could drive it off."
She nodded. "I was able to keep it from growing, keep it slow and sluggish. But it's been moving again."
"It does not feel, does not think. It only devours," the Spirit of Darkness said. "With the Avatar Spirit broken, I think it can sense a return to what was, and it moves to meet that end."
"Because without Balance, what is left but despair..." Wan whispered as he fell to his knees. "Oh, Raava..."
Lu Ten swallowed. "So what do we do?"
"We don't know," the Shinigami replied. "But if the Avatar is not healed, everything will fall out of balance, and the humans will be plunged back into darkness, where Despair can feed."
Wan gritted his teeth and pushed himself to his feet. "So we heal Raava, then. Somehow. And maybe even save this current Avatar, Yoriko." He glanced at Lu Ten. "Can you still give the humans a message?"
The spirit nodded. "Yeah. What do you need me to do?"
- The Council of Spirits doesn't know what to do? It seems Lin Quei really did screw things up.
- Arc 1 should be coming to a close soon (although I did say that a couple of chapters ago, so who knows?)
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