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Following a scuffle at the Ron Gal estate, Kensei finds himself in the hands of Ban the Bonebender and the true mastermind behind the kidnappings. Meanwhile, following a frantic prison riot and breakout, Kageshiko and some newfound allies head to Ken's rescue.
The Empty Room
The last rays of the evening sun were disappearing behind the walls of Ba Sing Se by the time Kensei arrived at the Ron Gal estate. He took in a deep breath when he reached the front gate, then knocked on the door with the big brass knocker. He waited several moments, then knocked again. Perhaps Mae wasn't home, although he knew that Tsen certainly would be, if what Mae told him had been correct. He would have his answers soon enough.
Kensei waited a few moments more, then stole into an alleyway where he could enter the estate unobserved. After scaling the outer wall, he quickly ducked into a second-story window into an unlit corridor.
Tsen's room would probably be the largest chamber in the house, although having only been inside once, it took Kensei a few minutes to find it.
However, when he swung open the doors, he found himself staring at an empty room, devoid of any sort of furniture or furnishings. It looked as though no-one had lived in the room for years.
"So," said a ragged voice from the corner of the room, "We meet again, boy. Perhaps you should have given me that box when you still had the chance."
Kensei barely had time to snap his neck to the direction of the voice when three bone-spikes came flying out towards his face. As he dodged, one of them ripped through his shirt and grazed his skin. By the time he was back on his feet, the Bonebender was upon him, a blade of bone extending from his right wrist. Kensei knew from seeing what Ban had done to one of the kidnapping victims during the fire a few nights ago.
Kensei reached for his swords and then remembered he had left them behind at the Jasmine Dragon.
Ban swung his bone-sword in a white arc, trying to take out the boy's leg, but Kensei grabbed hold of a hanging drape and caught the assailant by surprise, kicking him square in the jaw with the full force of both feet as he swung back into the corridor.
The Bonebender was up almost before Kensei, clattering after the boy in a flash of plated exoskeleton and dirty rags. Ken tore down the hallway as fast as he could, knocking over incense braziers, basins and whatever else he could find that would slow his pursuer down.
Ban kept pace easily enough, hacking through obstacles with his bone-sword while the plating on his opposite wrist he had formed into a maul to clear away the debris.
Kensei passed by a window looking out into the courtyard as he ran, where he saw a girl in bright green seated on the rim of the badgermole fountain pool, her back turned to him. Mae. He had to get Mae to safety.
Ban never gave him that chance. As soon as Kensei turned back around, Ban plowed his bone-maul into Kensei's torso, sending him flying out through the open window onto the roof surrounding the courtyard.
"Mae, look out!" Kensei called out as Ban plowed through the wall as though it hadn't even been there. Kensei felt every bone in his body ringing all the way up to his ears, but somehow he managed to roll out of the way of Ban's oncoming strike as the Bonebender planted his sword straight through the roof tiles, leaving him trapped.
Seizing the opportunity, Kensei rebounded off a nearby wall and let his shoulder fly straight towards Ban's head, wrenching him free of his entrapment while also breaking his sword in two as he came crashing to the stone below and didn't move.
Kensei gripped his aching side where he had been hit before and climbed gingerly down to the courtyard to where Mae stood, surveying the carnage. There was a strange sadness in her eyes that Kensei couldn't quite place until she spoke to him.
"Why did you come back, Ken?" she asked, "Why couldn't you just leave well enough alone after everything that's happened?"
"What are you talking about?" said Ken, "Where's your father?"
Mae looked away from him, in the direction of her father's empty room. "I lied to you," she said, "When I told you about how the healers were able to help him-they weren't. He died a few weeks after the fire. I didn't want to believe that it had happened, so I pretended that he was still alive-at the end, he was the only one who he would let into his room. I kept up appearances, though, until pretty soon everyone seemed to believe it as much as I did."
Ken was dumbfounded. "Then who was behind the kidnappings?" he said, "And what happened to all of those people?"
Mae didn't answer, but before Ken could speak again, something impacted the back of his skull, dropping him in an instant.
"I've finally figured it out," said Je, "Your brother's the Blue Spirit-or he thinks he is."
Kage glared up at him from across the table, arms folded and mouth puckered into a defiant frown.
"You're not protecting him by keeping quiet, you know." Je continued, "With that list of kidnapping victims on his arm, we have more than enough evidence to make an arrest."
Kage said nothing.
"I know your brother must have convinced you that he had turned over a new leaf after he miraculously escaped from the Dai Li," said Je, "Maybe it was just an act, or maybe he was even telling the truth, but the point is that whatever he's been doing, he's gotten himself into big trouble by sneaking around the city land breaking into places like that."
"You don't know anything about my brother," said Kage in a small voice.
Je cocked his head to the side. "I've been his friend longer than you've been alive, Kageshiko," he said, "I know how he thinks. When we were your age, we used to watch Jon practice with swords while he wasn't making sandwiches and play guards and robbers in the streets. He was always the guard and I was always the robber-kind of funny, isn't it? After what happened to your parents, I had to look out for him every time he got in trouble-because I knew that he was trying to look after you, even if he didn't know how to do it."
Kage raised an eyebrow. "And you do?" she said.
Je clasped his hands in front of him and lowered his face to her level. "Look," he said, "I've always thought about you and Ken as family. I just want to make sure that he's okay, but that also means I can't look the other way when he does something wrong."
Kage gave him a wry twist of her mouth. "Like stealing your girlfriend?"
Je sat up in his chair, color rising to his face as he clenched his fists. But before he could say anything, two guards came rushing down the hallway. "Sir!" one of them said, "Something's happened!"
"Not now," said Je, gesturing to Kage, "Can't you see I'm busy here?"
"But sir," said the other, "The Blue Spirit just broke into the garrison and started a riot-the jails been busted and the criminals are running loose!"
Je cried out in frustration and reached for his spear as he rose. "Get everyone assembled outside," said Je, "Now!"
The guard seemed confused. "What about the prisoners?"
"I want the prisoners contained," said Je, momentarily forgetting about Kage, "And more importantly, I want the Blue Spirit found and arrested!"
"And the girl?" said the other guard.
Je turned around, but Kageshiko had vanished from her seat-like a shadow. "Just find me the Blue Spirit." He said through clenched teeth.
Captives of a Construction Project
Ken awoke to the sound of scraping metal. There was metal all around him in fact-metal chains digging into his limbs, metal floors, ceiling, walls, gears and beams-as though he were part of a some giant clock.
He wasn't alone, either. There were other people chained up beside him. They were men and women, all of varying ages and status, although some had been there longer than others. The interior of the giant, ruined machine, whatever it was, was lit by glowing green crystal lamps strung haphazardly along the ceiling of the thing.
Ken struggled to rise, but found his bonds too tight. His heart froze when he looked upon the far wall where a Fire Nation emblem stood emblazoned into the metal panel, although the panel itself had been rusted and covered with dirt and grime. What's more, he was fairly sure he could hear water rushing somewhere nearby.
"So, it looks like you're all awake," said Mae as she approached the line of captives, Ban followed close behind, the green light making him seem even more menacing. Mae, meanwhile, wore her usual bright green robes, although her hair was tied back out of her face in a more functional style, allowing Ken a full view of her eyes-bright, bitter amber even under the greenish light.
"Mae," said Ken, "What's going on here? What are you doing?" His outcries were joined by several other angry shouts and threats from the other prisoners beside him, but Mae acted as though she hadn't heard them at all as she made her towards them to speak.
"For those of you who don't know me," Mae began, "My name is Mae Ron Gal. My father was Tsen Ron Gal-he was an Earthbender and a loyal subject of the Earth Kingdom. Unlike you," she swept her hand out as to include each and every one of the prisoner, "You are all Firebenders, or worse, traitors to your homeland," she turned a malicious eye to Ken, "or spies for the Fire Lord himself. Until now, you have managed to escape justice by pretend to serve the Earth Kingdom or by living off of the Earth Kingdom and its people who have already suffered at your hands for generations-but I say, all of that ends now!"
She sniffed in a breath, glancing at the grimy Fire Nation emblem on the back wall. "It seems only fitting-" she said. Kensei noticed that there were tears streaming her cheeks, "-that here, inside of one of the very machines your great and powerful Fire Nation built to try and penetrate the walls of Ba Sing Se, you will be buried for all time!"
No one spoke in the chamber for a long time, with only the faint rushing of water to hold back the silence.
"You don't have to do this, Mae," said Kensei, rattling his chains.
Mae turned around suddenly, but it wasn't to answer him. The ground all around them was shaking. The shaking intensified until without warning, a portion of the ceiling gave way as a fist of earth and debris punched into the chamber alongside a shaft of clear blue moonlight, bringing with it Ron, followed by Zuko, Kage, Je and a small detachment of the city guard.
Unfortunately, the seismic activity must have also loosened whatever had been holding back the water from some underground river or reservoir, as several small streams began gushing out into the main chamber, filling it up at an alarming rate.
Ken gulped down a breath as the water rushed towards him. Now things were getting interesting.
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