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|Gathering Storm: Part 2|
March 30, 2014
"Who is this Thandao Zhou exactly?" asked Ratana.
"He's known as the Vaultmaster, whatever that is," stated Heidze.
"Basically he collects and catalogues info on various heroic actions people have done in the past," June told them. "He runs some gallery called the Vault not too far from here. It's like an exhibition hall of fame for warriors who have proven themselves."
"What about Nongkun though?" Ratana wondered aloud. "Even if it wasn't where General Iroh's dragon was where he fought it, that's still where the rumor originated from."
June scoffed at Ratana's comment. "I think that this is just a little bit more reliable than what some random old drunk in a small village saw stumbling his way home at three in the morning."
"You don't know that that was how the Nongkun rumor began!" snapped Ratana. "Anyhow, I thought you didn't believe in this whole dragon thing."
"I don't," June confirmed. "I'm just saying if you have any chance of finding one, which is a mighty big if, you've a much better chance with this than by traveling to that small village."
"Great," muttered Ratana. "We need more to go on than all this. I think we should go to this Vault place that he owns."
After scuffling through the crowd for another hour with onlookers staring in annoyance the whole way, Ratana, June and Heidze had made their way back to the edge of the crowded place. By asking directions, they quickly discovered where the path to the Vault was. They had to travel up a long winding path that led across the outskirts of the capital and up a small hill to the building that they realized must be the Vault.
It was giant, concrete, rectangular and the door to the front appeared to be locked. The sign on the front indicated that the museum was closed for the day. "Great, I guess this Thandao Zhou person - if that's how you pronounce his name - isn't home after all."
Ratana, however, merely shrugged the obstacle off. "No choice." Drawing her arm back in full swing, she jabbed forth and punched the wall of the building, sending sharp, shattered chunks and shards of concrete tumbling and rolling down the hill in various directions. She proceeded to march through the newly formed hole and beckoned for June and Heidze to follow. Inside was a giant hallway lined with dozens of gray statues with tablets over the crimson carpet.
"You're crazy sometimes," said June. "You know that, right? Someday you're going to find yourself in a whole whirl of trouble..."
"I'm trying to minimize collateral damage as much as humanly possible," Ratana defended herself. "But we're on a tight time frame now, and I'll spare no expense when it comes to the capital of my nation. If nothing else, it will provide a distraction while we find what we need to. We should split up again," she suggested.
"I'm the best at being discreet," stated Heidze, his tone similar to June's. "I can poke around while you provide a diversion."
"Sounds good," Ratana resolved. "June and I will provide a distraction for the security guards while you hide behind one of these statues and try to find Thandao Zhou's private quarter when the coast is clear. He must have an office somewhere in this place."
There was not much time left for a lively discussion on their strategy. Heidze heeded her word and ducked for cover right away. Sure enough, footsteps were not far off. Two young men and a woman of about the same age emerged from the front entranceway and spotted June and Ratana. "Hey, what are all you doing here?" the woman questioned. "Don't you know that we're after hours?"
As one of the men stepped forward, Ratana jerked her foot and sent a line of earth toward one of the statues across from her. The seven-foot tall military general clutching a sword fell from his post and the giant figure cracked on the floor below.
"Flameo my good hotmen," she taunted, flashing her teeth at the three security guards who were now her opponents. She had heard that was a popular expression in the Fire Nation once.
The one on the right with curly hair narrowed his eyes. "That'll be Sifu hotmen to you, flamboyant one!"
"She's an earthbender!" exclaimed the other man.
"Well all the cards are on the table now," June rolled her eyes sarcastically. "Why don't you just tell them the whole story about your mission to find dragons while you're at it?"
Out of the corner of her eyes, Ratana glimpsed Heidze crawling between two statues toward a door at the opposite end. Realizing their plans were in motion and that she must keep the trio distracted to buy her younger companion some time, she proceeded to earthbend again, and fortunately she was on top of her game that day. Pulling her arms together, she erected a cylindrical column in the center of the gallery-turned-arena similar to what a water spout would appear as for a waterbender. She soon relented after it was finished, as cramps on either side of her body suppressed the chi in her chakras like a hostile sandwich. Following this turn of events, she and June took off down the other end of the hall, drawing the others down the hall after them.
"Which part of the building are they heading toward?" the curly-haired security guard wondered aloud. As he spoke, he pulled a guan dao pole from his backside and unfastened and unsheathed it, blade facing forward. His comrades did likewise.
"I don't know, Ohr," said the long-haired, bespectacled female. "But I sculpted more than half the statues in here myself, so those ruffians better not wreck them."
"We won't let that happen, Minh," said the other male. "It looks like they're heading to the same hallway that Bray the Slasher's wind sword is displayed in."
"Whoa Tai, do you keep a log of this place somewhere in your head?" asked the curly-haired one, bewildered at how his comrade knew that offhand.
"No, but no one knows this place more than I do," he said simply.
"Don't forget Vaultmaster Tad," scolded Minh. "He's the original nerdling of this place. Besides, aren't we losing track of ourselves?"
"She's right," said Ohr. "We need to find those intruders and get rid of them. Hmmm...I wonder what exactly they were after..."
Meanwhile, Heidze was in another long corridor off by himself, the eerie silence filling the air like smoke. On either side of him was a column of historical warrior statues that had distinguished themselves enough to be featured here in the Vault, with titles like Hasdi the Hammer Thrower and Mibu the Tamer of Wolves. Nearly all of them were Fire Nation, and Heidze could not spot a single one from the other nations. He was still nowhere near the Vaultmaster's office, so he was not close to discovering the location of the mountain with the Crown Prince's dragon atop it.
"I don't mind the collateral damage now," Ratana remarked dryly. "This entire place is a shrine to the Fire Nation and their soldiers, so anyone featured here either set out to conquer innocent people or their descendants did."
"Actually, not all of them are Fire Nation," corrected June. "That one isn't," she indicated to the large statue at the end of the hallway.
This one was of Qin, who built the first major ancient empire on the modern Earth Kingdom's continent. The tablet on the front of the pedestal listed his other three major accomplishments, along with pictures to accompany them:
- Preserving the wings of his sky bison herd when they were under attack.
- Saving his country by warding off a legion of eight-hundred fifteen separatists.
- Usurping the dominion of ninety-eight hostile jackalope hunters.
"Wait, what was he doing with sky bison in the Earth Kingdom?" wondered Ratana.
"Apparently he got them from a companion of his named Yuengling who happened to be one, but the rest of the Air Nomads criticized him for that," explained June. "Qin replied by saying his friend had quadruple the intelligence of the rest of his nation," she added, smirking. "Here's another one from the Earth Kingdom," she added, pointing to a statue of a bearded man with a long sword and the symbols of all four elements on the corners. "It's legendary Avatar Doru Kun."
Ratana gawked at the statue of her ancient ancestor Doru Kun, wondering how exactly a hero from the Earth Kingdom came to be glorified also in the wicked Fire Nation. It just didn't make logical sense. In fact, it was flat-out backwards for an Avatar to be here. "What...how..."
"Calm down, Ratana..."
"Wow, this place really is the embodiment of insanity!" exclaimed a frustrated Ratana. "Sorry, it's just...he's my ancestor..."
June raised an eyebrow. "You're a Dorunian?"
"Whatever, I never really liked that name," Ratana shook her head. "We best get a move-on, because the guards are catching up and we need to buy Heidze more time before any of them realize he's here."
Sure enough, those that the Terra Team spoke of were not very far behind. In fact, the two men and one woman emerged just as she was leaving what would have been their line of site. The trio stood by a statue of Kuir, a unique warrior from the Water Tribe who stood above a kettle on a pot filled with pits of fruit, and an animal on his shoulder. With the rays of sunlight hitting it, the frisky fire ferret appeared as if it was truly one of its kind, and the designs on his armor were elegant, but disorganized, like a storm of leaves in the air. Kuir's statue stood across from one of the largest ones in the building, which was naturally of Fire Nation origin. Manzai the Plasma Mage had been a master of both swordsmanship and firebending, of which he was such a prodigy that he earned his title. Furthermore, his way of speaking was said to be so poetic that he was also known as a "bender of words."
"This woman is evasive," said Minh. "It's like she senses us when we're coming."
"Which one?" uttered Tai in question. "They're both women."
"The earthbender," Minh clarified. "Not the one who travels by her side that has the weird tattoos in strange places."
"No matter," Tai dismissed their concerns. "Tad has a gadget we can use."
"What gadget?" asked Ohr.
"This piece of technology I call Ty's Filter," he grinned through a fully-displayed set of teeth. "It's motion-sensing - a network of small devices I planted throughout the Vault, like weak booby traps. The army was going to make use of the technology, but it never got off the ground and they required too much wiring to make them work properly."
"Excellent," acknowledged his curly-haired ally in affirmation. "She can sense us, so we'll be able to sense her. It'll be the perfect equalizer for the chase."
"Where exactly are the controls for this?" asked Ohr from behind the others.
"They're in old Tad's office," he replied. "Come on!"
Little did they know, that a young adolescent boy in dirty red attire was crouching beneath a statue not too far off from theirs. He knew that he must be careful now that they would be able to see where movements were in the building, so time was of the essence. With this urgency came new opportunity, on the other hand. The place where the controls were was in the very same office that he was attempting to locate himself, assuming that "Old Tad" was the same one that he was trying to find: Thandao Zhou, and that they were one in the same. There was no time to lose. He lurked behind at a safe enough distance so that he could spot which door they entered and stay remaining motionless for several minutes after they went in. Then, once they emerged and took off in the direction of Ratana and June, he could reenter the office and take whatever information or map ideally, that he could find on the mountain with the Crown Prince's dragon. Or rather, he would be entering for the first time, seeing as this was unfamiliar territory to him.
"What's going on here?" June wondered aloud in alarm. "Is that an alarm going off?" she surveyed the area around them, many sirens in either direction.
"Got it!" Heidze declared triumphantly as he scurried onto the scene. "Let's go."
"Got what?" asked June, peering at a crumpled piece of scratch-like paper in Heidze's tiny fist.
"The information on the dragons and the mountain where the Dragon of the West supposedly fought his."
"Great, let's go then," Ratana echoed. She, like June, remained somewhat skeptical of what Heidze had acquired on that crunchy piece of paper, but she did not argue.
As they prepared to charge out the entranceway that they had come in through in the first place, the three determined security guards formed a wall and set themselves to apprehending the opposing counterpart trio of ruffian hooligans that were wrecking their pride and joy. "Get them!" yelled one. Together the trio drew their guan daos in unison. Apparently in the Fire Nation security guards took their job seriously. They slashed and attempted to halt the intruders in their tracks, albeit unsuccessfully. Ratana and June had leapt over it while Heidze had ducked.
"Great..." said Tai. "They got away."
"The Vaultmaster's not going to be happy about this, is he?" said Minh, gazing back at the wrecked section of the gallery where the intruders had broken in.
Panting, Ohr scowled at the others. "I'm telling him...that it was you guys's fault."
When they had all put a safe enough distance between them and their chasing pursuers, Ratana, June and Heidze stopped and took a gander at the small scroll that Heidze had extracted from the Vaultmaster's office.
"What's this?" asked Ratana, a little disappointed. "This is just a map of the mountain itself and where the dragon battle took place. It doesn't even have the name of the place or directions to which mountain it is. There's several mountains nearby and any of them could be the one that the man in the tavern was referring to."
"All is not lost," assured Heidze. "I searched in all the letters and folders within his office that he had organized. One of the other things I found was his personal scheduled itinerary. He's at the rally today. In fact, he's one of those addressing the whole crowd."
"How did you find that?" June asked.
"I knew where to look."
Ratana was pleasantly surprised. She had actually begun to wonder how Heidze could read such complex things, given his background, but she did not dwell on it. They wasted no time in going to the rally to find Thandao Zhou and interrogate him for where the mountain they needed to find was.
- The Vault here is the same location from The Calling Statue in . This chapter includes 30 user references compared to 23 in that one, and some users I would've also included this time but chose not to, because I referenced them in the previous one. Inevitably though, Tad makes a reappearance.
For the collective works of the author, go here.