Fire Nation merchants
One Last Sale
Chapter information

Dancing Shadows





Release date

April 14, 2012

Last chapter

Sister Dearest

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Horizon Part 1: Stormy Sky

Chapter 10 of Part 1 of Dancing Shadows.


Nekku is chosen to carry out a particularly brutal contract.



Speed was the only thing that mattered. The man ran; he ran for his very life. He had to escape, he had to get away, he had to LIVE!

But it was, of course, not to be.

Nekku raced after the man, speeding through the wet alleyways of Ba Sing Se's Lower Ring. It was raining a hard November rain, and the droplets of water pounded off his skin and clothes. He would have waterbended, but the contractor had specifically asked them to kill the man with that knife. He was breathing heavily, but he wouldn't stop, not until he had hit his mark.

Speed wasn't enough for the man, not this time. All his life he had been fast, but he wasn't fast enough to outrun an assassin.

Nekku ran the man down. He got within three feet of his target, and made a pounce. The man went down with Nekku, who was raising his dagger in the air. Water beat off the man's face, mixing with sweat. He was wild with desperation.

"No!" the man yelled. "No, please, you can't do this!"

Nekku didn't respond with anything except a short jabbing motion with his knife. It came down onto the man, and then sunk in him. Nekku shuddered at the feeling. His knife sank down into the man's heart as he drew his final breath. The young waterbender had just killed a man.

Nekku stood up shakily, then stumbled a bit, supporting himself on one of the walls of the narrow side passage. He would never get used to that feeling. He resisted the urge to keel over, and walked over to the dead body, from which blood was steadily seeping. He quickly pulled the knife out of the body, trying not to dwell on what he had just done. That had always proved to be the best way to get around it; he just needed to ignore it, think about something else.

Wei ran up to him, followed quickly by Feng. Wei walked up to the body, and touched it gently with the tip of her foot.

"Nice work, Nekku. Let's go cash this one in."

Feng nodded, and he followed Wei, with Nekku shakily following behind him.

"Man," Nekku whispered. "She's been taking the grieving process really well."

"Yeah, she has. I guess she took Lily telling her not to be too sad to heart. Although she does pray a lot more often, nowadays."

Nekku nodded. "Good. It's nice to see her up and about."

An Offer that Cannot be Refused

The three friends made their way through the narrow alleyways, and eventually got to the contractor's house. He accepted his knife back from Nekku, and paid the kids in full.

They hurried back to their small house. Wei immediately went inside and fell into bed, falling asleep quickly. Feng and Nekku went over near the small fountain in the middle of their square, and began to practice waterbending and sandbending.

They were out there for a few more hours, practicing their moves. The rain had stopped, leaving a cloudy, gray sky. They were out there for about two hours when the man came.

He was an unassuming man. He was wearing plain clothes and had his black hair in a long ponytail. He walked straight up to the two young assassins, and dropped a bag of money on the ground in front of them.

"That's your first taste," he said. "Come inside if you want to hear my offer." And, with that, he walked inside their house.

Feng looked at Nekku, who shrugged, and motioned to go on after the man, which Feng promptly did. Inside the house, Wei had already gotten out of bed, and was sitting at the table with the man, who turned around as Nekku and Feng entered the building.

"Please," he said, "Take a seat. Hear my offer." They did as he asked.

"Now," he said. "I come as a representative from the Merchant's Guild. You are familiar with us, I take it?"

Feng nodded. "A group of merchants that work together to increase profits and such. Yes, I'm familiar."

"Alright, good. We know of your... Skills. You three are gaining quite the reputation here in the Lower Ring. At any rate, we need a contract. There's been a man, an independent merchant, who's been making a killing. He buys so low and sells at just the right price, we can't hope to compete with him here in the Ring. He's cutting into our profits. On top of that, he's insulted the Guild to our face and in public. He needs to go."

Feng looked at him. "How much."

"Ah, of course. That bag of silver there is only a taste. We can't expect you to take the offer without a sizable sum of gold, of course. Believe me, you will be a great deal richer at the end of this."

Gold ignots

An offer that cannot be refused.

"Alright," Wei said. "We'll take it. Give us the details."

The man produced a drawing from his coat.

"This is what he looks like," he said. "He runs a store on the other side of the Ring. Just ask around for directions to Chang's. Oh, and there is one specific thing I left out. We want it done both publicly and violently. One of you needs to be prepared for this."

He nodded towards Nekku.

"We'd like you to do it, Waterbender."

"Wh... But... Why me?" Nekku stuttered quietly.

"You're the youngest. We need to show them that the Merchant's Guild has the power to kill with only a young man."

"Hey, man, listen. I'm sorry, but of the three of us, Nekku's definitely not the most comfortable with killing. Especially with killing an innocent man in a violent manner," Wei said.

"No," Nekku spoke up. "No, Wei. I'm fine. I'll be fine. I'll do it."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. I'm sure. Mostly."

She sighed. "Alright, then," she said to their contractor. "We'll take the job."

"Excelent. Come to the Merchant's Guild headquarters in the Middle Ring when you're finished, and you'll be paid in full."

The man got up and left the room quietly. When he was out of the house, he ducked into an alleyway quickly. A voice came from the shadows.

"Did you give them the contract, Shao?"

The man looked at the wall, where a man dressed in the garb of the Dai Li stepped out. s "Oh, hey, Jin Lo. Yeah. It's done. We'll see how the boy responds to this."

"You know Long Feng still wants this dealt with."

"I know. I still say we give it just a bit of time. If the Shroud doesn't clean it up for us, we can do it ourselves. Give it a week or so."

"Alright. I'll tell Long Feng your advice. Be careful, friend. Don't let the Guild know you're with the Dai Li."

"I won't. You be careful. as well."

Jin Lo folded back into the shadows, where he tapped the wall, opening a door, which he stepped through, leaving Shao alone in the small alleyway.


Wei took her daggers from her room, and her knives from a dresser. Feng got Shi from the wall. Nekku grabbed his bow and two scimitars from the Si Pan Desert they had taken off a target a few weeks ago. Wei told the boys she had to get something, and walked out of the house, promising to be back in a few minutes.

"Nekku," Feng said. "Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this?"

"I- I am. I'll have to get used to killing sometime, Feng. And with the amount of gold the Guild is offering us..."

"I guess so. If you decide that you don't want to, just let us know. Me or Wei can handle it if need be."

"I said I'll do it, Feng, and I will."

Nekku walked into the kitchen. Feng sighed, and followed him.

Wei was back. When the two boys walked in, she beamed and held up her newest purchase. Two cloaks, with black hoods, complete with pieces of cloth to hide all of their faces but their eyes.

"Pretty cool, huh? I figure since the kill has to be public, we should get some disguises. And these are about as badass as they come."

Feng grabbed one, feeling the quality of the fabric. "Hey, nice thinking, Wei. Man, why did I not think of that?" Wei chuckled.

"Alright, guys," Feng said. "Get ready. We'll be leaving from the back. We aren't going to put our cloaks on until we're ready to make the kill, but we should probably stay out of sight as much as possible nonetheless. Someone might recognize our weapons."

Nekku nodded, and swallowed hard. The three friends quietly and quickly snuck out from the back of their small abode. They made their way through the alleyways. Feng led them to a small corner of the city, and gently kicked the mound on the ground.

"Oy, Joe. Joe. Joe!"

The mound rose slowly.

"Ugh, yeah, yeah, whaddaya want?"

"Directions. You know where a guy named Chang has a shop?"

"Of course. A lotta people are talking about him. Best prices in the city, they're saying. Just head over to that big-ass fountain they got over near Leo Square. It's near there."

"Got it. Thanks, Joe." Feng flipped a silver coin his way.

"Yeah, yeah, no problem. By the way, you know those guys you told me to watch out for? The ones in the black cloaks?"

Feng stopped, then nodded.

"What about them?"

"I've seen them. Talking with the Dai Li."

"What. When? Why? What'd they say?"

"Oh, they never pay attention to us beggars. One of them met with one of the Dai Li right here. Black-cloaked fella called himself Rayu. Dai Li's man called himself Jin Lo. There was a lot of talking about how long Rayu'd stay in the city. Eventually he just said he needed three weeks to get his 'target'. You'd better be careful, Feng."

"Uh... Yeah. Thanks, Joe. You've helped a lot with this information." Feng flipped the old man a gold coin, and walked off with Wei and Nekku.

"One week," Wei said. "One week. Rayu... I guess there's a fourth member we don't know about. We need to be ready for them. The Shroud thinks they only need a week. They're gonna make a push."

Feng nodded. "We'll be careful."

A Violent Death

The trio snuck their way through the alleyways of the Lower Ring. They let no one see them but Joe. When they got just outside of Leo Square, they all donned their cloaks, and walked out into the bright sunlight.

The clouds from earlier in the day had disappeared, though the ground was still wet from the showers. The square was one of the bigger ones in the Lower Ring, and was crowded with people peddling goods, gossiping about someone or another, or laughing together. Nekku felt the light on his face, and sighed.

"You guys ready?" he said. "Go steal from him. Bring him out into the square. I'll... I'll do it when he's out here."

Wei nodded, and she and Feng turned towards the small shop with a sign labeled 'Chang's Change' over it.

They walked into the establishment silently. It had a few lingering customers, but business was slow that day for Chang. The man himself was leaning on the counter, whistling a tune. He smiled at the newcomers. He was naively unsuspicious of their black cloaks. This would prove to be his fatal mistake.

"Welcome to Chang's Change!" he said. "Feel free to browse!"

Wei nodded to Feng. The two of them walked to the counter. Wei quickly grabbed a sack of coin lying near the shopkeeper, while Feng grabbed for an expensive-looking vase. They turned tail and ran with their prizes.

"Hey!" Chang yelled out. "Hey, what the hell are you doing?! Get back here! Guards! Guards!" He dashed out of the shop after them.

When he got out, however, they were gone. In their place was a smaller boy, wearing a similar black cloak. A bit of his blonde hair was showing through the hood.

"The Merchant's Guild says hello," the boy said, loud enough for people around them to hear.

Without pause, without hesitation, with the unthinking efficiency of an assassin, the boy unsheathed his two scimitars, ran up, and drove them through the shopkeeper, so forcefully that he was lifting the man in the air with the swords.

He looked into the man's eyes at that moment. They were surprised. Confused. Sad. They didn't want to die. They weren't meant to die. They were eyes full of life.

Nekku put his foot on the man's chest, and kicked, sending his body sprawling. The life-filled eyes rolled back into his head, and suddenly Chang wasn't so filled of life anymore.


Nekku was shaking. "What... What have I done..." he whispered to himself. "That man was innocent... He did nothing... He never hurt anybody... He helped people..."

He didn't see the guards around him. They were drawing their weapons, pointing them at the boy. "You there!" one of them shouted. "Drop your weapons and come with us! You're under arrest by authority of the Earth King!"

Wei ran up, and grabbed Nekku by the wrist.

"Come on," she yelled, "We've got to go!"

Palace Guard

"You're under arrest by the authority of the Earth King!"

Nekku fumbled along blindly behind her. The guards continued to shout their warnings, but the three assassins paid no mind. Arrows and earth started to fly. When it was finally clear to the guards that they weren't going to yield, they began to earthbend and shoot from bows at them. Feng suddenly turned around, opening a sword-wielding soldier from shoulder to armpit. Wei loosed knives at a bowman, sending him reeling to the ground, bleeding from three new holes in his body.

"Nekku!" Feng yelled. "Wanna help us out a bit?"

"Oh, um... Yeah..." Nekku drew some water from his pouch, but he was shaking. He lost concentration, and the water spilled to the ground.

Feng ran toward him. "Nekku!" he yelled. He grabbed the young boy by the arm, and dragged him behind him, arrows and earth raining behind the two. Wei ran in front of them and skewered two guards running towards them, and Feng stomped the earth, sending out a rock. In addition to leaving a long ditch in the ground, it sent an earthbender flying. He made an upward motion with his arm, bringing up two large boulders, and kicked, sending them both flying. Wei motioned at Feng, who brought a pillar up under her. She propelled through the air, landing perfectly on a rooftop archer, burying a dagger in his neck. Three earthbenders ran up. One launched a pillar from a wall, directed at Feng. He stepped to the side of it, and stomped the ground, sending one of the benders flying. The last sent a boulder at him; Feng punched towards it, and it shattered. The remaining earthbender sent three boulders flying towards Feng. He dodged two of them, and caught the last with his bending, sending it at the enemy. It hit him square in the chest, sending him into a wall.

Wei, still on the roof, watched Feng take down the three benders. She spotted an archer to her left, directing an arrow at Feng. She ran forward, slitting the bowman's neck. She sent a few knives down from her roof, hitting a bender and a large man with an axe, killing them both.

Wei looked on as more guards spilled into the small square.

"Hey!" she yelled down. "We've got to move! Now!"

Feng nodded, as Wei jumped down to join him. He grabbed Nekku by the arm, as the three of them ran.

"Nekku," Feng said. "Please. You've got to get moving!"

He nodded silently.

"Sorry. Yeah, I got it," he said, as he began running alongside them.

The mob of guards ran after them. Fighters armed with swords, axes, hammers, and such weapons ran close behind them, with earthbenders mixed in, and archers following them on the rooftops.

They stopped as a group of five guards popped out suddenly from an alleyway.

"Cut them off!" one man yelled. The guards moved to surround them. Feng saw an opening, and took off through it, Wei and Nekku following close behind. Archers rained arrows around them, while Earthbenders launched boulders.

Nekku was faltering. He kept stumbling over his own feet, nearly tripping. Wei tried to keep him with the group desperately.

On the roof, an archer saw his chance. He took careful aim, and loosed an arrow. It flew through the air, and hit the youngest of the group.

Feng heard the thump as Nekku hit the ground. He turned around, and looked on in horror.

"Nekku... Nekku!" he yelled, running back. There were nearly twenty guards around them. Feng couldn't stop, so he picked Nekku up, and carried him on his back.

"Come on, Wei!" he cried. "We gotta get out of here as soon as we can!"

She nodded. They ran through the city streets, stopping every once in a while to take out a guard or two. They ran through alleyways and small roads that would get most people lost, but they couldn't seem to shake the guards. Nekku was losing a lot of blood.

"In here!" Wei yelled. She kicked open a door. The two of them went through and shut it before any guards came.

Wei looked out through the window quietly, and watched the guards run past the small building they were in. Feng leaned down to Nekku, examining the wound. It had pierced through his upper body, on the bottom right side of his chest. Nekku was moaning in pain.

"Alright, buddy," Feng said. "Just relax. Relax. I'm gonna pull the arrow out. Just relax."

He broke off the head of the arrow, and quickly yanked out the shaft. He put his hand over Nekku's mouth as the young boy screamed out in pain.

"Alright, man, you're doing great. Just let me stop the blood flow. It'll all be good, you'll see."

He picked his cloak up, and ripped a piece off. He carefully spread it out over the wound, stopping the blood as best he could.

Wei turned away from the window and towards Feng and Nekku.

"Alright, guys," she said. "The guards are gone. We escaped. How's Nekku holding up?"

"He's passed out. We need to get him to a doctor, now."

Wei nodded. She ripped off her hood and cloak. Feng did the same, and ripped Nekku's off as well. He carried the young boy out the door, following closely behind Wei.

The two of them wove their way through the streets of Ba Sing Se, until they came to a small house in the middle of the Lower Ring. "Wait here," Feng told Wei. He carried Nekku inside the building.

A man was calmly wiping his blood-stained hands inside. He looked up as Feng entered.

"Hey there, son, what can I-" He stopped when he saw Nekku. "Put him there," he said, motioning to a table in the middle of the room.

Feng went and got Wei, then. They both sat in the room, watching the doctor go about his business. After a long while, he came to them.

"Alright, the arrow missed any vital organs. It went through clean, and you managed to get it out clean. I've patched it up, all Nekku needs now is some rest. By the way, can I ask how he got an arrow shot through him?"

"Erm, you probably shouldn't," Wei said. The man nodded.

"At any rate," Feng said. "Thank you." He gave the doctor a silver piece, and he and Wei carried their injured friend home.

Three Weeks

Two days later, Nekku was feeling much better, though his wound still pained him. Feng and Wei had gotten their reward the day before: Nearly four hundred gold pieces. Feng approached the waterbender during breakfast that day.

"Hey, Nekku," he said. "You feeling okay?"

Nekku took a bite of his apple. "Yeah, I guess so. Still hurts, but I'll be fine."

"Alright. Hey... You wanna talk about... You know. What happened?"

Nekku lowered his apple.

"I killed a man, Feng. An innocent man, who did more good than harm. Why?"

"We're assassins. That's what we do. We don't think, we don't question it. We act. We kill."

"Then what kind of people does that make us?"

"The kind of people who do what we must to survive. The kind of people who serve. Listen, Nekku. I'm no saint. Neither is Wei. Neither are you. We're sinners, all three of us. We've done some horrible things. I won't say it's for the greater good. But it's what we do. Everything dies eventually."

Nekku took a bite of his apple.

"Just don't let it get to ya, okay, buddy?" Feng said.

Nekku nodded. "Alright. Thanks for the pep talk, Feng. I'll try. It'll be hard, but I'll try."

Feng patted him on the shoulder.

"Are you well enough to fight? We know what's coming."

"Not right now. Within three weeks I might be able to."

Feng nodded. "Good. We're gonna need all three of us."

Nekku smiled. "Ha, don't worry. I'll be good."

The two friends settled down for some breakfast, as Wei stumbled out of her room sleepily. They were going to enjoy their last days before the next fight as much as they could.

Ehan mulled over a meal in the building he and the others had made their base. He poked at his fish with a fork, not feeling very hungry.

He shoved it away from him, and looked around. Airan was sharpening his greatsword in a corner. Kayla was throwing spikes of ice at a dartboard.

Rayu was looking at a map of the city. He spoke, without turning his back.

"Three weeks. The Dai Li has given us three weeks."

"So?" Ehan said to him. "Three weeks is more than enough time. I say we bag 'em tomorrow."

"No," Rayu said back to him. "No, we're not ready. Not yet. They've been talking to that beggar. They know we're coming. We'll catch them unawares."

Airan nodded.

"Rayu. The Shadowborn... He's certainly inherited his father's ability," he said. "But he is untrained. Unrefined. A child. The four of us will kill him and his friends." "Let us hurry up and finish with this tedium," Kayla said, falling into a chair. "This constant came of cat and mouse bores me." She threw another dart at the board.

"It will be finished. Rest up. The Dai Li is watching us. We can't afford to attract any more attention to ourselves than we already have. That bombing of the monorail was sloppy, Airan."

"Yes, yes, you've gone over this."

Rayu sighed, and rubbed his temples.

"The Shadowborn will die," he said, walking away from the map. "I will make sure of it."


  • I siriusly doubt someone would be walking around after two days, if they even survived a wound like that. But this is a series where people can randomly jump enormous heights in combat, so whatever.

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