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Book 1: Blood
Chapter 9: Blood Ties
"Two down..." Susanowo paced back and forth, his fury boiling over. "Two of the chosen down..."
"Lord Susanowo," the man in light blue armor stepped forward. "Turi will recover. They were not ready to face the Avatar."
"Perhaps...and perhaps it is time we move on."
The man cocked his head. "On, my lord? I thought your intention was to gather the chosen."
"Oh, it is." The Spirit of Tempests grinned. "But sometimes the pieces anticipate and avoid your movements, so you must make them come to you."
The armored man bowed. "I am ready to play my part."
Susanowo nodded. "Yes...I do believe it is time to bolster the ranks."
The snow-covered hill allowed Team Avatar to look down on their new home, a small village that was untouched by NowoCorp.
"Argho..." An ache grew in the pit of Shen's stomach. "If we stay here, we'll bring the conflict right to their doorstep..."
"Agreed, that is why we are only staying for a day." He kept his gaze forward. "Kuan Ti, are your men any closer to figuring out what Susanowo is up to?"
"They should be back in a couple of hours. Then we'll have an idea of where to go from here."
The Avatar nodded. "In the meantime—."
Shen stood abruptly, one eyebrow raised. "Where'd Moro go?"
"She's down there, one step ahead of us." The Equalist indicated the village.
The tiny village was free. Free from corruption, free from Bloodbending, and free from Susanowo. Moro smiled ruefully; her life was the exact opposite, it seemed. Ever since her father died, she had been running, never truly safe, never truly free.
There were no gates, no walls. It was open and inviting...until someone saw her.
"Bloodbender!" All eyes were instantly aimed at her. They all knew what she was.
She began to back away as they advanced. "No, I—!"
"She's a spy for Susanowo!"
"She's here to kill us all!"
"He's sent her to take our children!"
"I. Am. A. Waterbender!" Moro yelled. "I'm not—!"
"Save it!" An older woman who looked to be in her sixties wore a scowl. "We know what a Bloodbender looks like, and we know what they've done to the other villages!"
"W-what...?" Her eyes widened. He wouldn't...not even he would stoop that low... "No...I'm not here to—."
"Get out!" One of the men of the village stepped forward, an older model NowoCorp rifle in his hand. "You're not welcome here!"
"Put that away, sir, before this gets ugly." Argho walked into the village, followed closely by Kuan Ti and Shen. "We don't want any trouble; we just need a place to stay for the night."
"You're with her?" The man frowned. "Then we don't need you here either!"
A tiny voice echoed from one of the homes, followed by a small boy. "Daddy, I made up a Waterbending trick! Lemme show you!"
The father's eyes widened, but his horror was compounded when the inquisitive child saw Moro.
"Hey! You're new." He ran up to her, childlike curiosity plastered on his face as everyone around him was on the verge of violence. "Are you a Waterbender like me? You're really pretty!"
Moro chuckled and knelt down. "Aw...thanks, little guy."
"Get away from him!" The father leveled the gun at her. "Son, get over here, now!"
The boy cocked his head but still moved toward his father, and Shen noticed his finger beginning to squeeze the trigger. The Airbender's reflexes were slightly more attuned, and he was able to quickly create an Airbending slice that severed the barrel in two.
"Please...let's not resort to violence." He stepped forward. "This is Avatar Argho, and she's with us."
The crowd that had gathered began to murmur, and when they all realized who was standing in front of them, everyone present, with the exception of Argho's friends, hit the snow face-first.
"Well..." Argho blinked several times, clearly taken aback. "This is new."
"Our apologies, we did not realize that you were the Avatar." The old woman, the village's healer, sat with them around a fire. "I also apologize for the lack of...amenities. We don't deal with Susanowo, so he has not provided us with anything."
"I am sorry to hear that..." Argho leaned forward. "If there is anything we can do to make your lives easier, let us know."
The father from earlier opened the door to the healer's home and entered. "Avatar...I know this might make me seem ungrateful, and I am aware that you have every right to refuse this request. But...I would ask that you and your friends leave this village. With Susanowo recruiting, we don't need a Bloodbender here, nice as she may seem."
"Moro has been nothing but kind." Shen appeared behind the man. "She has proven herself trustworthy, so why do you—?"
"Calm down, young man...I am not suggesting you leave because I don't trust her. She seems perfectly normal, to be quite honest."
"But you don't trust her." Kuan Ti raised an eyebrow. "So if that isn't the reason, what is?"
"I don't want Susanowo to come to my village and take our children, our Waterbenders. If she remains here, he will come eventually." He glanced around. "Where is she now?"
"She's entertaining the children; I just came from there." Shen leaned against the doorpost.
As his gaze fell, the Airbender sympathized. They live in a world where everything could go wrong in the blink of an eye...wait... "They've already been here...haven't they?"
The father exited the hovel without a word. A sigh escaped the healer. "They did...and they took his daughter, Rena."
Shen's eyes widened. "When did this happen?!"
"Mere weeks ago..." She turned away. "Susanowo's armored dog, we call him the Ice Man, came and mentioned something about an agreement..."
"And they took her."
Noulaq sat in his hovel; it had only been two months. But she was his daughter, and it felt like an eternity. Truth be told, he didn't need the gun, but he had to keep up appearances. As the Spirit of Rain, he had power beyond belief; unfortunately, it could not compare to that of Kenshin or Susanowo.
That is why I fear...I do not wish the same fate on my boy. I will die before Susanowo takes my son, too. That girl, Moro...she had the mark, even it was hidden. Perhaps the Avatar would not be so inclined to have her as a traveling companion if he knew her destiny.
He sighed. I had hoped that this life of manipulation was behind me...
The Spirit of Rain could feel the storm. If the Avatar did not leave soon, darkness would once more descend upon the village.
The morning sun peeped through the cracks in the door of the men's shared living space; Moro had been given separate quarters. Argho sat up in his bunk and noticed Shen already out of bed.
"Argho...we should probably leave here as soon as possible."
The Avatar stretched, allowing the cracking of several bones. "We will, as soon as we have properly thanked them for their hospitality."
"I'll see if Moro's awake, then."
A smirk appeared on the Earthbender's face. "You jumped to Moro's defense rather quickly yesterday."
Shen shook his head and smiled. "Argho, she saved my life and earned my trust. So, yes, I did defend her." He turned away. "You know there's someone else in my life like that."
As soon as he passed the threshold, he noticed the Rena's father walking toward him. "Sir, I—."
He was sent flying when the man pushed past him, only landing safely due to his own abilities. "Out of my way; I must speak with the Avatar!"
"Noulaq, what is the meaning of this intrusion?!" The healer followed quickly after him, failing to notice her own intrusion, as the man got in the Avatar's face.
"Avatar Argho, I feel that there is a matter of which you should be made aware of."
"Funny...I feel the same way." Shen staggered through the doorway, still awed by Noulaq's strength.
"Mine is more important; I assure you!"
The Airbender decided to continue anyway. "I've seen your daughter..."
Any focus that had been on the Avatar was now entirely on Shen. "If you are misleading me in any way, I—!"
"I'm not, but I thought you should know. She's working for Susanowo."
Noulaq's eyes narrowed. "I know that..." It was part of the deal.
"You know what I'm here for." Kenshin frowned. "You promised Lord Susanowo someone, and when it was time...you ran."
The Spirit of Rain stood in front of his daughter. "Kenshin, I am begging you; don't take her from me!"
"Dad...what's going on?"
"It's all very simple, Rena. You are one of the chosen, as evidenced by the mark you bear, and your entire existence is for the purpose of serving the Spirit of Tempests."
She looked to her father. "What...what is he talking about?"
Tears fell from Noulaq's face. "I am so sorry...I couldn't protect you..."
"Noulaq!" Shen waved his hand in front of the man's face. "What's wrong?"
"I...I have made a terrible mistake..."
The village's primitive warning system sputtered to life and began emitting a high-pitched whine, signaling hostile traffic. One cry echoed from the sentries, a cry that sent chills down everyone's spines.
Susanowo looked down on the small village with a hunger in his eye. Today he would both avenge the betrayal at Noulaq's hand and procure the last of the chosen.
"When we touch down, I want Rena, Muneshige, and yourself..." He glanced at the young man in light blue armor. "...to go and get Moro."
The man cocked his head as recognition flashed in his eyes. "And what of Noulaq?"
"I shall handle him." I will crush you, Noulaq, in the most painful way I can imagine.
He nodded. "I will get the others, then."
Argho watched as the cables embedded themselves in the snow, for once in his life feeling helpless.
"This is my fight, Avatar..." Noulaq grimaced. "I must be the one to stand."
And stand he was. The Spirit of Rain stood, another rifle by his side, alone to meet whoever would come out of the airship.
Four figures slid down the cables as the snow began to kick up and obscure everyone's vision; Noulaq smirked as he took note of Susanowo's long coat flowing as he descended. "It's time you and I finally ended this..."
Snow gave way as they landed, and Susanowo faced his former ally with a smile. "It has been a while since we've seen each other, my friend! Since...well...since you ran and tried to back out of our arrangement!"
"An arrangement I never should have made!" The father raised his rifle. "And I intend to end this."
"I'm sure you do." Susanowo yawned and motioned to his associates, still hidden by the snow. "But I have other plans!"
As the Spirit of Tempests' allies stepped forward, Noulaq's eyes grew wide with despair. "Rena..."
"Father." Her tone was cold and formal.
"Yes, Noulaq, I took the liberty of bringing her here especially for you." He turned toward Team Avatar. "And I brought someone for you to meet as well."
The young man in light blue armor came into view, and Moro could not help but gasp.
He smiled sadly. "Hello, Sister..."
"Yes, yes, it is all one big happy reunion!" The spirit clapped his hands together. "Now...what to do about this?"
"You damn demon!" Noulaq took a step forward. "I'll kill you for this!" His own attempt at a rampage was stopped, however, when his own daughter stepped in front of Susanowo.
Moro's heart nearly beat out of her chest. Brother... "Kyrie...what—why are you with him?"
Kyrie Kenshi lifted his bangs away from his forehead, revealing a Blood Seal. "We have a duty and a destiny, Moro; it's time you realized that."
Her own fingers went to her forehead. "No! I swore that I wouldn't!"
Shen, Kuan Ti, and Argho watched both scenes play out, unsure of how to proceed.
Save him! Korra's voice screamed inside of Argho's head. "Split off!" The Avatar cried. "Now!"
Meanwhile, the two spirits were still having their standoff. "You know, Noulaq, I told Rena exactly the deal you made, and she didn't much like that."
"You gave me away...your own daughter..." Her words were cold, emotionless.
The Spirit of Tempests grinned wickedly. "Kill him."
Rena's eyes glazed over. "Yes, Lord Susanowo."
He turned to Muneshige. "Make sure it gets done and that no one interferes. You know how to get back."
The Bloodbender nodded.
As Argho moved to assist Noulaq, Shen and Kuan Ti ran over to Moro, both of them very confused.
"Kyrie...you can leave this life...please." His sister pleaded with everything she had.
"I am truly sorry...you know I cannot." Kyrie followed Susanowo and returned to the airship, leaving Moro standing in the snow.
Shen reached out to place a comforting hand on her shoulder, but held back at the last moment. "Moro...what is going on?"
"I propose that we wait until things are resolved here, first." Kuan Ti interrupted.
As the airship flew out of sight, they heard a horrible squelching sound and turned to see Noulaq fall, an icicle in his chest.
Argho had attempted to help the Spirit of Rain, but he would have none of it, even as his own daughter advanced on him. "Stay back, Avatar...I have to be the one to set this right."
"Set this right?" Tears formed in Rena's red eyes, which were finally beginning to show emotion once more, but only just. "You used me, used Mom...to gain power!?"
"Yes...I did. And I deserve everything that has happened to me..." His chin quivered. "But you don't, Rena..."
"Shut up!" The snow came up and formed into an icicle, slamming into, and penetrating, his chest.
"I am so sorry, Rena..." Noulaq smiled. "This won't even be enough; my...my crimes warrant a far worse punishment..."
The Spirit of Rain, in the form of a worn-out man, fell into the snow.
Argho looked on as Muneshige spit into the ground before Noulaq's body and began to usher Rena away. Susanowo...you and I...we will have words. And you have made it quite clear how that is going to go.
"Dad...?" The fog lifted from the eyes of Noulaq's daughter, and she twisted away. "Dad!"
She reached the body and began to weep. "Daddy! I'm so sorry...he...I couldn't stop!"
A short laugh, followed by a fit of coughing, caused everyone to temporarily forget their somber moods.
"Pull the icicle out of my chest, if you feel so strongly about it."
She cocked her head, but did as he asked. Argho smiled as the wound began to close.
"Daddy!" Rena wrapped her arms around her father.
"Oh, my darling...there is so much that I need to tell you..."
Muneshige gritted his teeth. "Aren't you forgetting something? You had an arrangement!" He took one step forward, but Argho launched forward with a speed that no one had ever seen from him and wrapped his large hand around the Bloodbender's throat.
"And, as you can plainly see...it is done." The Avatar frowned. "I am giving you a chance. You can and should leave now, and never return."
A sneer adorned the man's face. "We all have a destiny, Avatar, and Rena's is with Susanowo, as with the rest of us. We will never stop, not for any of the chosen."
Sadness filled Argho's features. "Then I am sorry..." The sickening pop accompanying the man's broken neck startled everyone, even Noulaq. "I cannot help you." He turned to the others. "I'll dispose of the body; the rest of you should get indoors. It will be nightfall soon enough."
Night did come quickly, and most everybody was already inside the village's main longhouse. Argho sat at the head of the table, glancing around.
"It has become apparent, at least to my eyes, that Susanowo is no longer content to sit in his own little kingdom. He has decided to continue to attempt to climb a ladder that he already sits on top of, and that ambition is causing such pain and anguish." He slammed his fist down on the table, splintering the wood. "That ends. And I will be sure to end it so that others do not have to suffer!"
Kuan Ti leaned forward. "I'm in, but I do have one important question...who are 'the chosen'?"
"That is the only question that matters..." Noulaq wrapped a blanket over Rena's shoulders. "The chosen are Susanowo's greatest experiment...and possibly his greatest sin. They are the human sons or daughters of five spirits: Tunturia, Hilan, Glaid, Kenshin, and myself. We...made a deal with him. He finds us all a way to enter the physical world in human form, we procreate with humans, and he takes what results."
"Why?" Moro's voice was heavy with anger and sorrow.
"It...it was for territory in the Spirit World. You see...territory there is just as much a source of power for us as it is a place to live."
"So you did all this for power?" Shen ran his hand through his hair. "That is...so beyond selfish, so beyond petty..."
"It was! I saw that when I saw my little girl on the day she was born. I understood, then, why you humans are so willing to die for those you love. But that didn't matter, not to the Spirit of Tempests, so he created the Blood Seal. It is his way of having absolute control over his subjects."
"I thought he could already do that with Bloodbending itself?" Shen gripped his sword hilt. "Why would he—?"
"Because exceptionally strong wills can resist him, unless the Blood Seal is present. No one that I have met has ever been able to resist whatsoever when they had one."
Rena curled up into a ball. "Even me..."
Moro stood without a word and exited the main house, allowing the door to slam shut behind her, and the Airbender glanced at Argho before following.
Noulaq watched them both leave. "You want my advice, Avatar? Keep an eye on Moro Kenshi; I would not trust her."
"She has given me no reason not to. I do not judge based on preconceptions, if I can avoid it."
The spirit nodded. "So...what now?"
"Moro?" Shen noticed her sitting against the wall. "Are you alright?"
Another mirthless laugh echoed, apparently a recurring event for the Waterbender. "I'm surprised you're not screaming about how you can no longer trust me..."
"You've proven yourself, and, unless you show me otherwise, I will continue to trust you." Shen sat down next to her.
"I promised myself two things, Shen. I would find my brother, and I wouldn't be Susanowo's dog." She closed her eyes. "I've succeeded at one only partially; my brother is still a prisoner. And the other...I'm only free because he hasn't ordered me to do anything, apparently."
The young man cocked his head. "You're free because you chose to be; no spirit has control over that."
"For how long? I'm essentially wearing his leash!" She lifted her bangs exposing the Blood Seal on her forehead. "How am I going to rescue Kyrie like this?"
Shen gripped her shoulder. "We'll find a way. I trust Argho to lead us in the right direction. And we will find your brother."
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