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|Chapter 2: The Nightbirds|
The Spirit Circle
The sunrise that day bathed Air Temple Island in light of utmost beauty. Down by the room's building, a knock sounded on one of the sliding doors to a room in the girls' section. Korra slid the door of her room open and looked out. Jinora was standing there, a book under her arm.
"Hey, Jinora!" she said lightly, sounding quite sleepy as well. She yawned.
"Good morning, Korra," said Jinora.
"So... what brings you here?" She asked casually. "I mean... so early."
"I... sort of heard your conversation with Asami yesterday."
"You what?" Suddenly Korra was more aware and awake.
"I'm sorry. I just passed by and heard..." she said, slightly embarrassed.
Korra nodded to her to get to the point. She was not mad at Jinora, but she knew she did not come here just to tell her about that.
"Listen, Korra... I've spent the past few weeks at the Eastern Air Temple. Most of the time there, I researched in Yangchen's study library. There's one book there that I took home, and it was written by Yangchen herself." Jinora held the book and opened it. She flipped to a page near the middle.
"What did you find?" Korra asked, leaning over to see.
"Here," Jinora said, holding her finger at a word in the middle of the page, and then she started to read out. "'My days as the Avatar had reached fifty two. I had searched the world for the ultimate treasure, but I could not undercover it. I had been asked by many of what I was searching for, but I only answered them subtly. But as my days come close to an end, and the new Avatar is near to be born, I must spill it out on something. I find this book most appropriate for this cause. I must start with this: The four elements are something grand, something to be valued. They center around one spirit circle. It is believed that the circle can be found in the Spirit World, entered in to only in the center of the circle marked on the earth in the material world. When the spirit of light meets with it, it may heal spiritual wounds of any creature in the material world."
"Like my spiritual wound?" Korra questioned immediately.
Jinora nodded. "I'm almost positive. When she was young, Yangchen made a deal with an angry spirit, but she thought that only by using the spirit circle, she may prevent a disaster if humanity was to forget their deal."
"The Yangchen Festival," Korra remembered. "Aang relived it about seventy five years ago, though."
Jinora looked at her meaningfully. "Korra, if you find it, your connection with your past lives will return. You will be the whole Avatar you used to be."
Korra clasped her hands under her chin excitedly. "So I'll be able to restore myself? And I'll be able to communicate with my past lives again?"
There was a pause of silence, in which Both Korra and Jinora's expression became heavy.
"But if Yangchen never found it," Korra thought aloud, saddened, "then what chance do I have of finding it?"
"I'm getting on to that, too," Jinora said grudgingly, her line still skimming the pages of the thick book.
Korra lightened up. "I can help with that."
"But that isn't the problem," Jinora said, looking down. "The question is, how do you use it?"
There was another pause. Suddenly, two kids on air balls zoomed by, shouting with delight. Not far after them, a girl was running like the wind, but she stopped short near Korra and Jinora, causing her to fly a few meters forward.
Ikki turned to them. "I have no idea what you were just talking about," she said brightly. "But mommy says it's breakfast time!"
And Ikki continue running rapidly after her brothers.
* * * * *
Many Air Acolytes and Airbenders were seated in the dining hall next to the low, traditional tables. In the center of the room, a number of guests were sitting by Tenzin's table.
"I say," said Varrick, one of the guests, chewing on his food happily. "These air guys sure know how to make their vegetable dumplings tasty."
"Thank you," Pema smiled at him. "We follow ancient Northern Air Temple recipes to make our dumplings."
"The edges are fried perfectly," said Asami, picking a dumpling off her plate. "Thanks, Pema."
Varrick leaned over.
"No offense, Zhu Li," he said with a lower voice. "But these are more tastier then your dumplings."
"Denied," Zhu Li said with distaste.
Korra and Jinora entered the dining hall together.
"Korra!" Mako cried.
Korra looked up. She saw Mako, Bolin and Asami sitting there and smiled. She came over to the table and settled down on her knees on the edge of the table, next to Asami.
"How did you sleep?" Asami asked her.
"I'm still thinking about our conversation last night," Korra told her.
"Korra," Asami said gently, putting an arm on her friend's shoulder. "It'll be all right. You'll find a solution."
"I'm working on it." Korra said.
Three kids entered the dining hall. Ikki was holding her brothers by the back of their gliding suits so that they won't escape.
"What's going on?" Pema asked immediately as she saw her three children.
"These two," Ikki said furiously, holding on to her struggling brothers. "Just broke half of the Airbending gates off their hinges!"
"They what?" Tenzin got up, looking at Meelo and Rohan irritably.
Meelo laughed awkwardly. Ikki dropped them on the floor, still frowning.
"Uh, we were just playing..." Rohan said with his childish voice, but is trailed off as his father approached, his face red with anger.
"How many times do I have to tell you two? The training grounds are not for games!" Tenzin scolded them hotly.
Rohan and Meelo looked down, ashamed.
"Come on, Tenzin," Korra gestured, standing up. "Don't you think it's wonderful that Rohan has learned Airbending?"
Tenzin turned and looked at her, confused. "Yes, yes. But I-"
Tenzin sighed angrily.
"Well, that settles it," Bolin said.
Rohan and Meelo ran to sit by the table. Tenzin sat back down, followed by a still furious Ikki.
"What are your plans for today?" Korra turned to Mako, retaking her place.
"I'm going to the office at noon," he replied, scraping sticky crumbs off his plate with a stick. "And you?"
"I'm going back to that bar," Korra said.
"What?" Bolin interrupted. "You want to go back to that weird place? I'm still asking myself why Asami took us there in the first place!"
"I wanted to try something different with you three," Asami pointed. "Simply for the fun of it."
"I need to talk to someone," Korra told them.
"Who, that twin swords dude?" Bolin asked.
"He has a name," Korra growled.
"Kiay," Mako put in. "But why?"
"Didn't you see her yesterday?" Bolin said to his brother. "She was looking at him in this weird way! I bet she loves him."
Mako frowned at Bolin.
"No," Asami said. "Korra was having strange visions from one of her past Avatars while watching him, and she's looking for answers."
Mako raised an eyebrow at Korra. "I thought you lost your connection with your past lives."
"I have," Korra said. "But I think these visions just came out of him and in to me."
"Oh, snap," said Bolin, sounding bored, turning his hand as he talked. "Another bit of Avatar mumbo jumbo."
"Sure is," said Korra. "That's why I'm going to see him and his friends again."
* * * * *
The door of the bar swung open, and Korra walked in with a confident step. People turned their heads as Korra walked to the other side of the large main room. At the time, A man and a woman were on the platform, fighting close-combat style. Korra turned to look. The woman side-stepped a punch from the man and came back at him with another hit. The man fell back in pain. He leaped at her, but she swiped a kick under his feet and caused him to fall forward on the ground. He did not get up. The woman raised her hand with triumph. At this, Korra had yet another vision.
A man and a woman stood in front of each other, seemingly arguing, their hands lit with flames. A woman, the same woman that had won the match in the bar moments before, Korra realized, and she jumped in front of them and attempted to cut them from arguing. Korra also noticed that, once again, the man was Avatar Roku.
As soon as her normal vision returned to her, Korra walked right up to Kiay and looked him straight in the eye.
"You're coming to talk," she said decisively. "With me. Right now."
Kiay frowned, but nodded.
* * * * *
The table shook as Korra slammed an empty glass on the table for two.
"I'll start with this," Kiay said with a low voice. "My name is Kiay, I am nineteen years old and I have mastered the dual dao swords, my main weapon."
"You're not really nineteen, are you?" Korra said, determined to find out.
He sighed. "Yes... and no."
She raised an eyebrow. "Explain yourself."
Kiay clasped his hands under his chin as he told his tale. "I was born in the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se to a wealthy family, and at a young age, I started to learn the art of sword-fighting. My mother had passed away around when I was twelve, and I was having trouble coping with my father, so I simply ran away from home, hoping to find a better life somewhere out there. I wandered the streets of the Lower Ring, mainly looking for the exit to the city, but at the same time, searching for food. One man spotted the twin swords strapped to my back and offered high payment if I beat him in a duel, so I agreed. It was a fierce fight in the street, but in the end, I grounded him, and he gave me the money I earned. I bought food and set off to the monorail station. Once traveling on the roads, I figured that I could continue earning money if I would duel other people in bars."
He paused, as though entering a different chapter in his life.
"One day, when I was fifteen, I got to a bar to find new people to challenge. Before I even sat down, a woman offered me a man to duel with, and I accepted. But this opponent... he wasn't like the others I have dueled, I knew it from the start. We dueled hours in to the night, outside, and at some point, a man ran up to us and forced us apart with earthbending. The woman, who did not believe I could stand against my opponent, offered me a drink and a talk of future. I sat with her, and I was introduced to the whole group that called themselves The Nightbirds. The young woman, Midori, heard me out, and surprised me and her friends a lot when she offered me to join them. I agreed. From that day, I was part of their group."
"What a story," Korra said, then she frowned. "But what has that got to do with it?"
"Because that story," Kiay cleared, "Happened two hundred and thirty years ago."
"What?" Korra stared at him in astonishment.
Kiay exhaled. "Once you join, you are by many means... immortal. Midori told me so that day we talked. She said that when I join, I must be sure of myself, for there is no turning back and no connection to the present. Just... living on. No love, no marriage."
"And how exactly does that work?" Korra said with a sing-song voice, still gaping at Kiay.
"Once I joined, a part of my life, the present time of my life, left me and became a spirit in the Spirit World."
Korra widened her eyes. "You have a life spirit in the Spirit World?"
Korra's eyebrow twitched. "But how has that got to do with the flashbacks I've been having?"
"What flashbacks?" Kiay asked.
"When I was watching you, yesterday. Today too," Korra told him. "I was having flashbacks. They had you and the others in them, but they had another person I knew."
He raised an eyebrow.
"One of my past lives," she said. "Roku."
Suddenly, Korra felt someone grip her shoulder.
"Sorry to interrupt your conversation, Avatar," said the woman named June with a bored voice. "But I think you'd want to see this."
Korra turned and got up, Kiay after her.
"What happened?" she asked.
"God, I don't know," said June, raising her eyebrows, and sounding rather sarcastic. "How about you check yourself."
Korra reached a window at the end of the bar and pulled the dark curtain sideways. She looked up and saw a tongue of flames soaring through the sky. It was enough to cause her to rush outside. On her way out, she grabbed her glider form the side.
"What's going on?" asked Midori, walking out after Korra. She was followed by Zeake and Kiay, both with weapons drawn.
"Look!" Korra said, pointing at something flaming in the air around the Republic City spirit portal.
She ran towards the area, which wasn't too far away. Many people were standing around the spirit vines and looking up, astonished. The flaming thing hit the top of a nearby building and caused an explosion, which it flew out of. Korra pushed past the crowd and spun her glider open. She hung on and glided upwards to the balcony of the nearest building. From up close, Korra could see that the flaming thing was humanoid, shaped like a young woman on fire, and was slightly transparent. Meanwhile, Midori attempted to climb the building by holding on to the window bars and using her flexible joints as a main tool. She reached a bar of the window under Korra, but the bar where her foot was broke away and she cried out.
"Hold on!" Korra shouted to her and turned her hands, airbending the air around Midori and raising her safely next to her.
"Thank you, Korra," she said thankfully.
"What is that?"
"Wait a moment," Midori said, squinting hard at the flaming humanoid. "I recognize that spirit."
"That's a spirit?" Korra asked, quite surprised, but as she thought about it, it made sense.
Midori exhaled and stared up in horror. "Oh no," she said with a low voice. "That's Nyha's present spirit."
Korra looked at her. "Nyha what?"
"We have to get it back in to the Spirit World, or it will cause great damage!"
Korra, though confused, looked down from the small balcony. There was a water fountain in the park several stories below, and Korra concentrated hard on it, her eyes closed. She climbed up to the edge of the balcony and opened her eyes. They were glowing in the Avatar State. All the water in the fountain started to rise up in a thin and long spiraling motion, just as Korra was doing with her hands. It did not take long until the water was spiraling around the flaming humanoid spirit, which had stopped exploding things, but instead stared right at Korra, and cried out furiously. As it was half disappeared in light from Korra's bending, it started channeling energy in its body. It aimed a shot at Korra, who was completely concentrated on her spiritbending.
"Korra! Watch out!" Midori shouted.
The spirit shot a beam of energy at Korra, but she was already in the air and met it earlier. For a few moments, her light-tinted figure froze the energy, but after that, it blasted straight through her.
On the ground, many people gasped.
"No..." Kiay said quietly. He turned to the building next to him and cupped his hand around his upper lip, looking up. Zeake was attempting to climb, using his knives as knobs to help him climb the wall.
"Get down here!" Kiay called at him.
Zeake looked at him in surprise, but pulled his knives out and fell to the floor, over Kiay, who caught him at the last second and they smiled as old friends. When they got up, they ran towards the crowd to get under Korra's position.
Korra, still in the Avatar State, was enduring the energy, but it was overwhelming her. The energy started to pass right through her and around her, but she concentrated on ridding the spirit through her spiritbending. The spirit was now almost completely turned with light, but it still had its powers. Then, with one great blast, the energy flashed right through Korra and the spirit disappeared. Korra, in the Avatar State, was drained from her energy and she started to fall freely in the air.
"No!" Midori shouted and jumped far to catch Korra in the air, simply to cushion her fall. She held on to her back, and they fell together.
Down on the ground, Kiay and Zeake watched in horror, but did not lose their marbles and ran to where the two girls were falling at. They attempted to make a safe landing with their arms and the flat of their weapons.
"I fear this won't work!" Kiay cried out.
Midori and Korra were about to crash on the ground. Just then, a sudden spiral of air surrounded the ground right under them, stopping the momentum right before they hit the ground. The spiraling wind swept away and the two dropped to the ground with a thump, Korra's limp body rolling a few meters away.
Korra opened her eyes immediately. They were no longer glowing. She placed her knee in front of her, sitting up. Kiay ran to her, while Zeake hurried to help Midori up.
"Korra!" someone called Korra's name from nearby. She turned and saw her friends. Asami ran forth to hug her, followed by Mako and Bolin. Jinora was standing just by them.
"Wow, you really know your Spiritbending stuff," Bolin said enthusiastically. "I mean, what was that?"
"Long story," Korra said shortly. She was glad to be with her friends at that precise moment.
"I'm so happy you got out of that," Mako said to her, smiling widely. At those words, Korra's stomach performed a backflip, but she wasn't quite sure why.
"Hey, Jinora," Korra beamed at her young friend. "Thanks for saving us."
Jinora blushed slightly. She decided to move away for a bit.
"Um, hey," Kiay said awkwardly. Zeake walked over to the group, supporting Midori with his muscled arms. June joined just behind them.
"I would like to present to you the Nightbirds," Korra said brightly to her friends. "Kiay, Zeake, Midori and June." She gestured at each of them.
Midori walked over to Korra, slowly letting go of Zeake.
"Thanks for getting rid of that spirit, Korra," she said. "Thanks for getting me off that ledge, too."
"Thank you." Korra smiled at her.
"If you wouldn't have destroyed Nyha's spirit just then, it would have destroyed you."
All members of the group looked down.
"Well?" she turned to Kiay, attempting to change the atmosphere. "Where were we?"
Kiay arched his eyebrows, but Zeake answered instead. "Roku was a young Avatar who had just finished mastering Earthbending. He met me one day at my hometown, accompanied by two girls. Their names were Kifei and Nyha. A Firebending teenager from the Fire Nation had come to visit our town, but he used his time there to attack some of the poorer kids there. I saw him threaten a kid that he'd burn his face, so I sprang up in to action and pinned him to the wall with my knives. I threatened to slit his throat if he was to attack anybody else and left him hanging there. The Avatar was amused. He asked to sit down and talk about my background, and I told him all. I was an orphan, see, so Roku offered to travel with me for a bit, and I agreed. Though we ended up going our separate ways, Roku would always return. We had recruited the others, Kiay being the last."
Zeake paused. Mako, Asami, Bolin and Korra were intrigued.
Midori took over. "And then, Roku stopped coming. We knew he had returned home, but it broke Nyha's heart. She was saddened, but we all managed to get on with life together, and sometimes on separate travels. We tried hard to continue fighting for our old causes: serve the Avatar's ideals, fight evil and train to your limits. We lived at peace for many years."
Kiay continued. "That was, until the Fire Nation took over."
Their expressions all darkened.
"We attempted to fight them off, but one by one, we were captured. Overpowered unevenly. The Fire Nation knew of our immortality and kept us locked up for close to fifty years of nightmares. Then came Sozin's Comet. Nyha and Kifei, their powers underestimated, were able to easily break through their prisons and free us all, but just then, strong bending of a kind that has not been seen for thousands of years shuddered our spirits."
Korra thought for a moment. "Aang's Energybeding."
Kiay nodded. "It created around us, spirits with no future, a spirit energy loop. We were trapped inside the Spirit World for a long time."
"Kifei and Nyha had not been there and were not trapped," Midori added. "For a reason currently unknown to us."
Zeake looked at Korra. "When this spirit portal had opened, it slowly melted the loop away. We found ourselves here. About a year since then, and we met you."
"Wow. What a story," Korra said, her eyes wide.
"Of course," June added cheerfully. "Best part, I wasn't part of any of that Fire Nation stuff. Got around fine doing my bounty hunting with Nyla, though I miss that big girl. I got here a few months ago, after the others managed to contact me. Feels just like the old days."
June hit Zeake on the back, and he winced in pain, but managed to stay up.
"Let me get this straight," Asami said at once. "You're saying you're all..."
"Immortal?" Mako finished her sentence.
The Nightbirds looked around awkwardly.
"Oh, boy," Midori said nervously. "I sense this is going to take a long time to explain."
"Seems accurate," said Kiay.
"I have an idea," Korra said to them. "How about you join us on Air Temple Island. I'm sure it would be great if you all stayed there for the time being! What do you think, Jinora?"
She looked at where Jinora was standing, but she wasn't there. The others started walking towards the dock.
"I'll catch up with you," Korra said to them quietly as they passed her.
She turned and looked at the spirit portal. A girl in an Air Nation suit was standing right by it, slashing with her Airbending at the spirit vines.
"Jinora!" Korra shouted and ran towards her.
Jinora took little notice of Korra's worried tone.
"Korra," she said quietly. "Look."
She pointed at a place on the earth that was cleared from spirit vines. The edge of a perfect circle was etched on the ground, its lined faded, but still clear. It had small numerals and symbols near the border line.
Korra frowned. In a moment's notice, she Airbended many vines off the ground and away to the left. The cleared vines had a large ring hidden behind them and around the spirit portal, five meters in diameter. Though faded, the ring was colored in the four colors of the elements. It had large letters to represent the names and another line that circled around the portal.
"Is this-?" Korra started, but stopped.
Jinora was gazing at the circle.
"'Only natural integration may make one whole'," Korra read, tilting her head to follow the line. "What does that mean?"
Jinora got over her surprise, but she was struck by realization and her eyes widened again.
"Oh, God," she whispered.
"It needs double bending for each, and we need to find it for every element," Jinora said. "And it's going to be dangerous. Very dangerous. But I think it's the right thing to do."
"You know what I need to do?" Korra said, grinning from the familiar sound of danger and uncertainty.
"Yes, Korra," Jinora said, turning to her. "You know, I think we're going to need to 'unchain' three people tonight."
* * * * *
It was late at night at Air Temple Island, but Korra laid awake in bed, reading a letter she had received from her mother that afternoon. Someone knocked on her door, but the door did not slide open. Korra looked at the door and sat up. She put the letter down on her bed and grabbed black clothes from the windowsill where she'd left them.
After she was finished dressing with black pants, a black hooded shirt and a red scarf, she opened her door an inch and looked out. The corridor was dark and no one was out there at the late hour. She stepped out and silently slid the door closed. She walked with quick steps to the stairs, just where another was standing. She wore similar clothes, and turned and walked down the stairs swiftly just as she saw Korra following her.
The two reached the back porch. A flying bison lay there, and the two hoisted themselves up onto its saddle.
Jinora, who sat in front, tapped the bison on the side of the head. It opened its eyes and made a low groan. Jinora hushed it.
"Pepper, yip yip," she whispered into its ear, and it took off high into the night sky.
No one had noticed anything of what had happened, but a single dark figure disappeared in the hallway just after.
* * * * *
A girl with a dancing flame in the palm of her hand kicked away remains of a burnt wooden door. She entered a dark room. After only a few steps in, six fire torches blew on, three on each side of the room. They were chained to the stone walls and the flames were black on the right torches and white on the left torches. This did not surprise the girl at all and she did not even flinch a bit.
"Very tacky, Jean," she told the darkness with a low voice. Her voice sounded casual but dangerous at the same time. She seemed to know that someone was there, maybe even more than only one.
To be continued...
- This is the first chapter in which Rohan's Airbending abilities are revealed.
- All the Nightbirds weapons are shown in use in this chapter (except for Kiay, who uses his twin swords for combat only in the previous chapter).
For the collective works of the author, go here.