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Previously on Vortex
The five unlikely allies had to fight through a war zone to reach the vortex that each one hoped would take them home. However, Ursa and Kaddo discovered the destructive potential of the anomalies, and the group decided to dedicate themselves to the destruction of the vortexes.
Meanwhile, Eris stayed behind in her own world and retreated into Wan Shi Tong's Library to find some answers regarding the appearance of the vortex. The Knowledge Spirit tried to stop her, but she quickly disposed of him. However, her quest for understanding proved to be without success so far.
"Ugh!" After a brief fall, Kaddo collapsed onto stiff, cold ground. It had almost reminded him of the Ba Sing Se Museum, except for the wetness and slipperyness which revealed that it was ice rather than marble that he had fell upon even before he could open his eyes.
"Well, it looks like Kaddo and Ursa's theory about the vortexes worked out," Yuhan announced as he rose to his feet and swiftly wiped the snowy shards off his dark green Dai Li uniform. And indeed it had. As soon as the five daring young people had destroyed the vortex, they had been sucked into some strange new land. Now, a cold, dusty white blanket covered the whole of the land around them, and hordes of frozen, crystalline buildings stood out from the barren floor.
"Where are we now?" Ursa wondered aloud. Wherever they were, they were definitely no longer aboard Yuan Chong's flagship.
Yun Zhen curbed his hand above his eyelids and surveyed the area. "It looks like the Northern Water Tribe," he told the others simply. They had fallen near the upper end of the capital city at the North Pole, and the royal palace was just visible to them, guarded by tall, well-built men garbed in aquatic-blue tunics, white armored linings and night-blue helmets.
"Yes, but which Northern Water Tribe?" Ursa voiced to no one in particular. The arctic metropolis could be the one of her own Northern Water Tribe for all she knew. She was just now getting used to the idea of countless foreign parallel lands that resembled where she came from. Did one of their group come from here just like Yun Zhen came from where they were last, or was this place foreign to all of them? At this rate, it was hard to tell if she would ever set foot on her own world again.
"Kaddo!" The calling voice was from a boy unfamiliar to most of them turning around the corner of one of the nearby snowy buildings. He was of younger adolescent age – a few inches taller than Kaddo, and slightly thinner.
"Well, that wasn't too hard to figure out," Ling commented to the rest after the stranger gave his indication of recognition to his companion.
"Right," stated Yun. "It's the Northern Water Tribe in the world where Kaddo comes from."
"Sid, am I glad to see you!" Kaddo greeted his friend with a firm handshake, then pulled Sid closer and patted Sid on the back with his free hand. "How've you been?"
"I've been alright." "You won't believe what I've been through lately."
"I heard your dad was in town in preparation for going to fight in the Fire Nation," Sid told Kaddo matter-of-factly, "but I didn't know that you were with him."
Peeved, Kaddo shook his head and raised an eyebrow at him. "What are you talking about?" he asked, bewildered. "The fighting in the Fire Nation started long ago! The last battle my dad fought there was in the Fire Nation Capital."
Sid mirrored his expression. "No...I think you're confused. The Fire Nation Civil War just began. Your dad was coming up here to meet with our chief about it today."
"Then the battle at the capital hasn't happened yet," said Kaddo, breaking eye contact and blinking his eyes in disbelief. "But...that's impossible."
"No, it's not, Kaddo," Ursa chimed in from beside the young waterbender. "Think about it. After we were all flung into that earlier vortex, we all landed in the middle of a battle – a battle that Yun had experienced before. We were in his past. Now we're in yours."
After blinking his eyes once more, Kaddo stared at the ground, deep in thought. "I see..."
"Well, now that that's settled, we should figure out where to go from here," Yuhan said from behind them. "There may be another vortex around here somewhere."
"Kaddo, this is your world," stated Yun. "Do you know where a vortex might be around this place?"
Kaddo continued to stare blankly into space. "I need to find my dad."
"Do you think Aang would know how to find a vortex here?" asked Ursa.
"No!" Kaddo snapped impatiently. "Screw finding the vortexes – I need to find my dad!" With that, he turned on his heels and dashed down a wide, main street.
The three earthbenders and one firebender batted their eyes in surprise at their young comrades departure. Sid, also surprised, merely shrugged and casually walked off on his own, toward the downtown area of the city.
"What's his problem?" Ling asked the rest of them.
"Beats me," Yuhan responded. "What should we do now?"
"We still need to find a vortex," Yun Zhen told them decisively. "There's another one here. I can feel it."
"Yes," Ursa agreed, tilting her head up toward his. "But I can't sense the direction it's in like last time. It's like the path leads in circles – or something."
"Yeah, I know what you mean," Yuhan added. "I can tell that there's a vortex somewhere, but I can't tell where it is." The Dai Li's most renowned Peace Orator looked about in all directions, at the heavily guarded palace, the street with a sign pointing to the local fish market, the lower section of town and the icy slopes that led into the wild.
"We should try to catch up with Kaddo," Yun Zhen told the rest of them. "This is his world, so if anybody can find a way around this, it's probably him. I guess we should split up and try to find where he went."
"I'll take this route," Yuhan told them, pointing off in one direction with his soil-wrapped finger.
"Then I'll go down to where the ships come in," stated Yun Zhen.
"I'll come with you," Ursa blurted out.
"Alright. Ling, think you can scout out the rest of town?"
"Sure thing," Ling answered with a solemn nod. The peaceful earthbender hesitated, however. He had known Kaddo merely a short while, but it did seem odd that he would bolt so quickly. Something from his world that really impacted the young waterbender must have been on his mind.
Now approaching the lower harbor, Kaddo put one foot in front of the other as quick as he could. This was where the waterbenders on the top of the great opening wall parted the water and allowed friendly boats passage to the city. It was also where his father typically brought Appa on his visits to the North Pole. Kaddo recalled his younger days coming here with his parents, his older brother Tenzin and his younger sister Vameira. Those had been better, simpler times.
Ever since he had been sucked into that first vortex whilst sparring with his cousin in the South Pole, it had been one weird piece of turmoil after another for him. But now there was a silver lining to it all. Somehow, in his coming back here, he had done something seemingly impossible. He had time-traveled. Kaddo was now in his own past, and he had been given an opportunity many would kill for to change his world, and make life for him and those close to him the way it was before. All he had to do was find his father – and warn him not to use Shuten Shogai at the Battle of the Fire Nation Capital.
At last, Kaddo caught glimpse of the furry creature with horns and arrows that was the last known sky bison in existence. Appa was not alone, either. Beside him stood a bald, fully-grown man in orange monk robes, stroking the hair on his life companion's legs. This was Avatar Aang, Kaddo's dad. Standing there with him were a younger man in pale Earth Kingdom garb – Migo, a friend of the family – and a seasoned female waterbending master with flowing dirt-brown hair from the Southern Water Tribe. This was Katara, Kaddo's mother.
It now felt like he was in a dream. His heart pounding, Kaddo ran forth toward the spot where his parents stood. "Dad!" he called out. About fifty feet away from him, Aang had already hopped up onto the saddle of the flying bison and was reaching down an arm to assist Katara in climbing up.
"Dad!" Kaddo repeated. "Mom!" Just forty feet from him, Migo had now gotten onto the saddle as well.
But Kaddo's parents could not hear him. "Yip-yip," came the barely audible sound of his father's voice. As Aang clutched Appa's reins, the enormous creature lifted his tail and pushed off with his six chubby legs.
"Wait!" Kaddo yelled in urgent futility as Appa, carrying Aang, Katara and Migo, flew off into the distance before finally disappearing over the horizon.
Kaddo dropped to his knees, dug his legs into the ground and buried his face in his arms. With his failure to reach them in time, it was as though he had lost something dear to him all over again.
Suddenly, he heard a pair of footsteps approaching from behind him, but Kaddo had no will turn his head to find who they belonged to. Moments later, though, the answer came to him anyway as he found an older male crouching next to him.
"Go away, Ling," Kaddo said abrasively, continuing to stare out at the open water. "I'm not in the mood."
"I think I know why you're upset," said Ling, not in the least put off by the waterbender's words. "Something happened in your past that you wish turned out differently, right?"
"What's it to you?" Kaddo glared at Ling, but then promptly turned his head away once again as he rubbed his arm across his face.
"Listen," Ling told him calmly. "I know that we all come from different worlds – and that none of our worlds are perfect. It's not surprising that you'd want to change something in your life. Ursa, Yun, Yuhan and I would probably all want to change something or other about where we come from."
"My family was happy the way things were before," Kaddo said through a sniffle. "It was after the Battle of the Fire Nation Capital that it all fell apart."
Ling was becoming curious about what had become of Aang and Katara in this world, but forced himself not to press the matter further, as their group was sidetracked enough already. "But you've seen what we're up against," he told Kaddo, a little more stern. "You've seen the power Eris has with her energybending and the vortexes she's created in all our worlds. If any of us are going to stand a chance, we have to be in this together, not off for ourselves."
"I know it's hard for you to hear," Ling told the young waterbender boy with genuine sympathy. "But some things are meant to be changed – and some aren't. The universes are already disturbed enough with the vortexes between them. Meddling with time might make things worse."
Kaddo was not satisfied by this notion. "Easy for you to say..."
"You know," Ling said in reflection as he spread his legs across the snow-covered harbor pathway. "I lost someone once."
Kaddo spun his head to him in surprise, his eyes now drier. "Really? Who?"
"Her name was Ty Lee," Ling confessed.
"That acrobat girl?" Kaddo inquired, astonished. "The chi-blocker?"
"You know of her?"
"Yes," Kaddo confirmed. "She's an old friend of my parents since around the time of the Hundred Year War."
Ling smiled weakly. "I am glad that she lived to a better age in your universe. At the time, I felt like it was something I could panic over, just like you did. However, although I understand what you have been through, we must act now for what we can shape in the future."
Kaddo nodded slowly. "I suppose so."
Yun, Yuhan and Ursa had all arrived on the scene. The Princess of the Fire Nation had her hands wrapped around her hips and was eyeing the young waterbender, who had just gotten to his feet. "Kaddo, promise you won't leave us behind like that again." Although she had only known him a short while, Ursa was disappointed that Kaddo would leave for his own reasons so easily.
"Fine," he said, unusually humbled and not quite meeting her eyes. "I promise. So, where do we go from here?"
"We have to find a vortex, but we're unsure how to go about it since we can't tell which direction to go like we could last time," Yuhan explained. "We were hoping you could help figure out why that is."
"Simple," replied Kaddo. "We found the last vortex because we felt the where the energy was coming from. Here at the North Pole, all energy paths lead into the Spirit Oasis. It was from when some of the first spirits crossed over and bent all the natural energy in this area and concentrated it into one location. My dad mentioned it in one of his boring talks about the history of the world and where bending comes from and all that junk."
"I see," said Yun. "How can we get to this 'Spirit Oasis'?"
"It's at the royal palace on the other side of the city," Kaddo told his friends simply. "Come, I'll show you!"
Kaddo, brought back to his senses, marched back up to the spot where they had come to earlier, with Yun, Yuhan, Ursa and Ling not far behind him. Although it was annoying to go all the way across town just to go back again, they were all glad to be on the right path.
At last, they were at the top of the frozen staircase that led to the grand palace where the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe resided. Sure enough, the same guards were there as they had seen earlier in the day. As they approached, two of them crossed their spears to block the doorway and one of them held his free hand out in front of him threateningly. "Halt – no entry!"
"Relax," Kaddo told the imposing man with a smirk and a roll of his eyes. "We're only going into the Spirit Oasis – nothing big."
"Absolutely not!" the man bellowed. "The Spirit Oasis is an exclusive location. Only the Avatar and members of the royal family may enter. It's been that way ever since that incident at the end of the Hundred Year War."
"I'm the son of the Avatar," Kaddo told the guard with a shrug. "It'll only be for a little bit."
Towering over them, the Northern Water Tribe warrior narrowed his eyes and looked down upon all of them. "Leave now, or I'll place you all under arrest."
"Kaddo," said Yun, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Let's go."
When they were back at the bottom of the steps, Kaddo threw his arms up irritably and widened his eyes. "Now what are we going to do?!"
"We can still go to the Spirit Oasis as planned," Yun said patiently.
"We should've just forced our way in," said Kaddo, crossing his arms.
"No," Yun said firmly. "There were too many of them for us all to take on at once – and we want time in the Spirit Oasis to ourselves once we get there. It's better if we sneak in some other way."
"Is there another entrance?" Ling wondered aloud to the rest of them.
"Of course not," Kaddo said with a scowl.
The refined Princess of the Fire Nation peered across the edges of the layered frozen castle atop a collection of streams flowing down unto the subjects of Chief Arnook. "Look over there," she indicated with a gesture at a fifteen-foot wall about the corner of the palace enclave. "That area looks relatively unguarded. I'd say that's our best bet."
Captain Yun nodded. "I suppose it is."
"That's not much of a path to bet on, if you ask me," Ling said, shaking his head. "What are we going to do if it's heavily guarded on the other side?"
Ursa had to admit he had a point. "Hmmm...if only we had someone with us who was good at climbing walls, sneaking into places and watching other people without being seen."
"That'd be Yuhan," Kaddo stated briskly.
The Dai Li agent now had four pairs of eyes pointing his way. "Well, okay then. It'll be a bit different than usual, since the wall's made of solid ice, but I guess that I can go first and check to make sure the coast is clear. How are the rest of you going to come over it, though?"
"I'll take care of that," Kaddo volunteered, gesturing his hands about and rising a swirling, snake-shaped pod of water out of the snow beneath their feet. The others watched curiously as he molded the shape in front of him and sharpened it's point before breathing a cold breath of air unto it and clutching the icy knife he had made. "I'll break some notches in the wall - not big enough to be noticed by anyone who might come after us, but just large enough to slip part of a hand into."
Once Yuhan had stolen a glimpse over the wall into the easternmost courtyard of the Northern Water Tribe Palace, he beckoned with his rock-covered digits to his companions. After Kaddo had reached the top, the young waterbender shared the full-grown Dai Li agent's view of the way before them. Every minute or so, the animal skin uniformed-guards with bony-pointed spears patrolled the courtyard in threes and fours. They would have to cross their regular pathways in order to get closer to the Spirit Oasis from their present position. Behind Kaddo came Ursa, who felt her fingers slip as she made to climb Kaddo's waterbending-made ladder. She had the urge to use her own bending to melt a portion of the ice around her hands to form larger, more manageable notches and make her climb easier, but she told herself that in this position she might accidentally bring the entire construct down, and stealth was of the essence here. Stealth had been nothing new to Yuhan, of course - and although the wall was not made of his native element, he had been able to manipulate the stone around his hands to garner a firmer grip. Yun Zhen took a more strength-based approach to ascending over the wall as Ling brought up the rear.
After all five of them had scaled the wall, they hopped down one-by-one and broke into a quick run for the entrance to the outer hall encircling the courtyard. But just as they rounded the corner, Yuhan paused in his tracks. Four of the Northern Water Tribe warriors had happened to be standing in the doorway before them.
"Intruders!" the nearest one yelled, raising his long, pointy weaponed and aiming the tusk of it at Yuhan.
"So much for sneaking around," Ling remarked regrettably as he assumed his earthbending stance.
Two of the taller men set their eyes on Ursa, judging that she would be easier to capture and take into custody than the others. They were quick to regret those thoughts of theirs when the Fire Nation princess swung both her arms about and extended them forward, rolling spinning tides of fire toward her adversaries and searing the hairs on their fur-coated armor. Meanwhile, Kaddo gracefully planted his feet and streamed a water whip around the area in front of him, blocking the attacks of the guards in front of them. Smirking, he told himself that this was all to easy and that all their efforts to avoid bumping into the guards seemed silly now.
However, that was before the reinforcements came. When they heard their fellow countryman's call, a small cohort of Water Tribe soldiers emerged from either side of the five heroes from alternate universes - and this time, there were waterbenders amongst them. Sensing the formidability of the newcomers, Yun Zhen and Ling edged behind a pair of columns to their right. The others soon ran in to join them. Their plan to lurk into the Spirit Oasis quietly had not gone so well.
With the impending oncoming tide of waterbenders and warriors coming towards them, Kaddo, Yun Zhen, Yuhan, Ursa and Ling held their ground and used their respective bending arts to repel the oncomers. Kaddo extended a watery tentacle around his left arm and swept his opponent's feet, knocking several of them off balance at once. Ursa had taken to shoving her legs into the air one after the other, kicking arcing lines of fire at the Water Tribesmen. Unfortunately, for every opponent each of them knocked down, two more seemed to arrive in his place.
Unlike the others, Yuhan had taken position behind one of the icy columns and was using the same bending move repetitively. Every couple seconds, he emerged from his spot and opened his hands apart, sending shards of the rock attached to them forth, disarming the guardsmen by pinning their wrists against the wall, leaving them unable to bend. Captain Yun took notice after seeing Yuhan successfully practice the maneuver four or five times, and watched him closely from behind the opposite column for the fifth or sixth, then proceeded to mimic his motions after bending some earth up around his own hands from a rare exposed patch of soil amidst the snow-covered terrain. As two more Water Tribesmen appeared in the passage before them, Yun and Yuhan each used the move to trap them in unison.
The Dai Li agent gave a curt nod to the captain. "Nice bending," he acknowledged.
"Not a bad move of yours there," Yun Zhen admitted.
"Thanks, it's one of the older forms I know. Long Feng teaches it to all the new recruits on their first week of training."
Ursa, Kaddo and Ling all hurried along toward the door at the farther end of the hall, away from the sound of the alarm which had just been sounded. "Sorry about all this," Ling managed to say to the moaning guards who were lying on the floor.
"We just need to get into the oasis," Ursa added as she hopped over their fallen legs. "What's wrong?" she asked Yun, noticing he seemed mildly preoccupied with something.
"Nothing," he muttered. "I merely wasn't fully aware that what I just did was...a Dai Li-style move."
"Hey, if it works, it works!" Kaddo said with a shrug as he pushed open the door and his four friends filed in.
Ling spread his legs apart, curled his fists and erected a barrier of earth blocking the entrance from the outside so that they couldn't be followed. "So, what now?" he questioned to the rest of them. "This is a dead end - it looks like a dressing room or something." The room that they had entered seemed to be the private quarters of somebody important - perhaps not Chief Arnook himself, but certainly someone close to him.
"This looks like a new addition, recently built," Ursa said, noting the distinctive shape of the architecture as she put both her hands on the wall and felt the lengthy sides of the miniature chamber. For a few long moments, Yun, Yuhan, Kaddo and Ling watched her curiously until she grasped the knob beneath a frame of one of the extravagant tapestries and smirked smugly. Yanking down on it like a cord, she revealed a hidden doorway into a roughly, but carefully carved icy tunnel just sizable enough for all of them to fit through. "Come on, everybody in!"
Although amazed at their luck, the others did not need telling twice. Just as the thin, icy sides slid shut again, one of the waterbending guards outside managed to shatter through Ling's earth wall and he made his way into the dressing room, followed by his comrades. They all stared at the empty room before them, bewildered. "Where'd they go?"
Several minutes passed and Ursa continued to lead the way through the hidden tunnel she had stumbled upon, with a ball of fire hovering above her right hand to light the way forward for herself and her four friends trailing behind her. None of them had the slightest idea where the tunnel might lead them, but they all shared a common sentiment and instinct that the path they were on was now the right one.
"Ursa, how did you know to look for a secret passage in that room?" Yun inquired from behind her, batting his eyes as he tread carefully over the icy floor, still impressed at her discovery.
"When I was younger, I found a whole labyrinth of secret passageways beneath the royal palace and the capital of the Fire Nation where I come from," Ursa explained as she continued to light their way forth. "I used to go down there all the time on my own, and then I brought friends along."
"But...this wasn't your royal palace," Ling pointed out. "Not even your world!"
Ursa turned around and waved her left index finger back and forth. "No royal palace is complete without them! Besides, that room looked like it was built recently, and that guard up front said they had taken up extra security measures after the war, so I put two and two together."
The path grew sharper and narrower as they proceeded. Eventually, they were on all fours, crawling their way onward. Ursa extinguished her flame as they saw a light in the distance. Their hearts leapt with excited anticipation, but when the light had grown substantially and they were nearly there, their hands and feet began to slip and slide uncontrollably. Helplessly, they plunged down the slope - getting closer and closer to vertical - until they fell off a cliff-edge on the other side of the tunnel! Plummeting, they were all relieved to find a watery surface barely twenty feet below them. However, that relief did not last long as they all soon realized that, being at the North Pole, that the water they were about to hit would be agonizingly cold.
Five splashes came when they hit the Arctic water. What greeted them, though, seemed a steaming hot bath compared to what they were expecting. The water that surrounded their bodies and drenched their clothes felt almost like spring-time. As they lifted their heads in awe, they found a patch of green landscape in the center of a tiny lake with a thundering waterfall in the background. In the center of the fruitful garden was an arched carving looming over a smaller pond than the one that surrounded it.
They were in the Spirit Oasis.
"So, it looks like we're finally here," Yun announced to the others, staring about at the marvel before him.
"Looks like it," agreed Ursa, now in the process of drying off her body with carefully-controlled heat from her arms. "So...I still don't feel any closer to a vortex than from before. What do we do now?"
Kaddo was already in the process of bringing about the answer to her question as he jumped out from the lake, dried himself off - splashing the water from his previously-soaked clothes onto the grass below - and darted over to the pond in the middle where two koi fish orbited each other repeatedly in a constant motion. Lowering his head, he shouted down to the white one with the black spot positioned atop it's fish-head. "Yue! Yue!" he called out.
At his calling, a foggy-white cloud appeared over the white koi fish and rose up into a large, transparent form hovering above the pond which soon shaped itself into the form of a beautiful young maiden with long white hair and a regal dress from her very own native tribe. "Hello...Kaddo?" Yue greeted him, lifting her ethereal eyebrows in surprise.
Kaddo let a smug grin form widely across his face as he turned his head back toward Yun, Yuhan, Ursa and Ling. "Everyone, this is Yue, the Moon Spirit, former Princess of the Northern Water Tribe and my father's energybending instructor." Kaddo's four companions each had their mouths partially fall open, this being the most unexpected thing yet they had seen after coming to Kaddo's world. While they had heard stories in their respective lands of Yue, the heroic princess who had sacrificed her life to save the Moon Spirit for her people and for the balance of the world, her teaching Avatar Aang energybending was new to all of them.
Yue did not seem any less perplexed than the rest of them, save Kaddo. "What is it that you have come here for, young waterbender?"
Turning back to Yue, Kaddo got right to the point. "We were hoping to find where the vortex we have to get to is located?"
Yue raised one of her transparent eyebrows. "A vortex?"
"Yeah. It's...errr...a chaotic, spiraling hole that appears in a random spot and leads between places. Ummm..." Not knowing where to start, he decided that he might as well start from the beginning. "The other day, I was waterbending near my home in the South Pole and a vortex came out of nowhere and transported me to another world. Well, actually, that world was a lot like ours, but some things are different. This here is Zuko's daughter from another universe, my parents' friend from another universe, my Aunt Suki's friend from another universe and a Dai Li agent from another universe - but that's okay, because I guess he's kind of good and on our side..."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?!" Yuhan called out.
Pretending to ignore the interruption, Kaddo continued telling his story to Yue. "We were all brought together by these vortexes, which were made by this scary woman named Eris who can energybend and is making chaos in all the universes in order to...uhhh...do something really bad. So, now we're all traveling together to stop Eris - and her vortexes. So...if you know anything about what we should do, or what can lead us in the right direction, that'd be great!" Kaddo displayed all his teeth in a cheesy grin not unlike one his dad might make.
The ghostly woman before him stared him down for a few seconds before responding. "Wow," said Yue, narrowing both her eyes. "Just because I'm the Moon Spirit and I know about energies, you expect me to believe anything, don't you?"
"Pretty much," Kaddo told her with a casual nod and a shrug.
Princess Yue pursed her transparent lips, the spirit in her orbs betraying her irritation. "Hmph! I suppose you think you're being amusing. Unfortunately, I'm too busy for these games now..."
"Oh, you're busy, sure," Kaddo interrupted with a roll of his eyes. "Spinning around all day swimming in a tiny pool of water really does look like a lot of work."
"Don't underestimate my job!" Yue snapped as her irritation made its way to the surface. "It may look like that to you when you watch my fish-body, but in the Spirit World, I constantly watch over the moon, protect the balance of the world and act as guardian of the Water Tribes and the whole of the area that surrounds this place."
Kaddo met her exasperation with a simple smirk. "Uh-huh."
Ursa gritted her teeth, as she doubted that Kaddo's approach was the right one for the situation. "Oh, great spirit of the moon," she interjected politely as she stepped slowly toward Yue. "The fate of not only this world, but all worlds is at stake here, and we need to find the vortex to save them. If you have any idea what we should do next, please, lend us your wisdom."
Unfortunately, after Kaddo's start, Ursa's words were too little too late. "I can see that you're all playing the same game now," Yue said as she surveyed Ursa as well as Ling, Yuhan and Yun Zhen behind her. "Sorry, but I can't play along. Leave me be and stop wasting my time."
"C'mon Yue, would I lie to you?" Kaddo asked her slyly. "We're practically family. You're like my almost-aunt."
"Go!" Yue seemed to grow larger as she rose above them. Her face flashed, reminiscent of the spirit power like the infamous Koizilla, which combined the power of the Avatar and Yue's partner La, the Ocean Spirit. The five friends slowly began to back away, not wanting to see her energybending first hand - especially when they also knew solid earth couldn't harm her.
"Wait!" Although momentarily taken aback, Kaddo quickly recovered himself and stared back up at her. "Yue, try reading my energies."
At Kaddo's sudden change in attitude, the Moon Spirit calmed down and lowered herself to a few inches above the pond. "Alright, fine," she said through a grimace. As Kaddo bent his knees and lowered himself onto the soft ground beside her water, the toes of his shoes touching the pond, Yue curved both her hands over his chest. With her eyes closed and her muscles twitching, Yue felt into the young boy's energies twice to make sure what she had found the first time had not been some unseen ruse.
"Oh, Kaddo," she said softly as she opened her eyes once more and looked into his frantically. "Kaddo, your bodily energies have come into contact with things which are not of this world." She turned up to face the rest of them and stared at each for a few moments. "And your friends – their energies are completely not of this world!"
Kaddo raised both his dark eyebrows at this statement. "You figured that out just by looking at energies? That's amazing," he told her sarcastically. "I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I just told you that two minutes ago."
The headstrong waterbender felt the stone-covered hand of his companion Yuhan clamp about his shoulder. "Kaddo, let the spirit woman talk."
Yue's transparent eyelashes flared again at Kaddo's words, but she calmed herself once more after Yuhan's interjection. "Well...your story still sounds pretty crazy," Yue said slowly, staring around at all of them. "But I guess it would explain a lot if it were true."
Yun stepped forth and stood beside Kaddo and Yuhan. "What do you mean? What would it explain?"
"I've noticed a spiritual disturbance that I've been unable to explain," Yue said to him. "It's like the fabric of our cosmos is torn."
"That sounds like a vortex alright," Ling chimed in loudly from in back.
Yun nodded and narrowed his eyes, determined. "Where is it?"
"Once you leave this city, climb up onto the tip of this icy continent and hike up the northern slopes. After a while, you'll start going downhill again and this vortex of yours should be in the center of a frozen plain. It's thin ice, so be careful."
"Thank you," Yun said as he brought his hands together and offered the Moon Spirit a gentle Fire Nation style-bow.
Kaddo, on the other hand, was frowning. "If you already know where it is, why don't you just come show it to us?"
The ethereal spirit princess shook her head from side to side. "My duty lies with this world; I cannot leave behind the bond I share with it, even for a little while. This otherworldly stuff, I'll leave to you people. I'm sure you can do a fine job at it, and I wish you all the best of luck."
Not long after leaving the city and venturing off into the North Pole wilderness, the five companions began to feel the pulling energies of the vortex as they had when they had fought in the battle with Yuan Chong's army. The direction of the energies grew clearer as they got farther away from the Spirit Oasis. Unfortunately for them, that was not the only part of their surroundings which gradually changed along the way. What had begun as a gentle drizzle of descending snowflakes soon became a full-blown blizzard. Even Kaddo, who was used to the polar weather, was shivering. Princess Ursa whisked her arms about to create a tiny fire in the hollow of her hand, which she covered with her free fingers to prevent it from being extinguished by the snowfall. Ling and Yuhan huddled close to this minor, but comforting source of heat. Meanwhile, Yun led up front and scouted the territory up ahead.
When they had reached the plain with the thin ice, they all slowed down and treaded carefully. To Ling's dismay, she allowed her fire to go out as she now needed both her arms to keep her balance. Cracks and patches of water that lined the landscape served as a constant reminder that one wrong step could lead any of them to an icy, watery grave. They hardly spoke at this point, as they each needed all their concentration for each new step. Finally, they reached a tall mound at the middle, like Yue had told them about, where they could all safely regroup for the time being.
"Well, this is it," Kaddo nearly stuttered, looking about. "Or it should be."
"Where's the vortex?" Ling wondered aloud, clutching each elbow with the opposite hand. "I just want to find it and be out of this place as quickly as possible. No offense, Kaddo."
"Cheer up, everyone," Ursa told them all, forcing an upbeat tone to convince herself as well. "We'll be someplace warmer soon, wherever it is."
"I don't see it anywhere," Yun announced, surveying the area around and above them.
Yuhan, on the other hand, was crouching down. "You guys really aren't going to like this," he said loudly as he wiped his rocky fingers along the icy surface and peered down.
"What is it?" asked Yun.
"The vortex is underwater."
Having barely escaped his fate, Kin slumped down against the warm, scaly body of Nagendra, his bodily scars throbbing with pain. The Avatar had torn off a piece of his already-torn pant leg which he now wrapped about his arm as a bandage. As much as he felt his body aching and squirming after being beaten to within an inch of his life by one of those most precious to him, it was nothing compared to the further torment the train of thought tunneling and searing through his mind bestowed upon him. "She's still alive?" His eyes drifted shut and his mind instantly wandered to the four neatly kept graves at his house, the outer left tombstone being that of his beloved daughter Sakura. "How can that be?" Kin uttered to himself aloud, part of him still trying to deny the startling revelation. He remembered Sakura by his side during her early firebending lessons.
The curious little girl looked on in awe as her father twisted his arms and spun the elegant display of flames around in a fiery dance. He proceeded to condense it all together into a rotating red-hot sphere and whipped his ball of fire back and forth between each hand, and then over his head. Then, with another twist of his wrists, he extinguished the flame and turned to his awed daughter. "Now you try," he instructed her calmly.
Sakura stared up at him with her golden eyes, baffled that he expected her to perform a routine like that so soon. Nevertheless, she returned to her father a resolved nod and rooted both her feet in the earth, her little arms and hands mirroring Kin's motions. A flurry a red flames appeared and echoed her own motions. Sakura then shifted her weight to the side and the burning strings wrapped around one another one at a time to form a loose, but definite, ball of fire.
"I did it!" exclaimed Sakura. "Daddy, look!"
"Very good," Avatar Kin acknowledged, smiling. "You catch on very quick. Now, try this," he added as he whipped up another ball of fire, then bent both knees and thrust his arms in front of him, shooting the blazing orb toward the nearby woods and through a distant space between two tree branches.
Determined, Sakura stabilized her still-spinning fire ball and jabbed both her slender arms like her father had done. Sakura's fire ball jetted toward the same tree, but lost some of its steam along the way. It shrank in the last few feet before it reached one of the larger branches about four feet beneath the open space her father had aimed for. The wooden arm burst aflame and the fire rapidly snaked up along the rest of the tree. Sakura gazed up at her father with a guilty grit of her teeth. "Oops."
Fortunately for the tree, Avatar Kin had sprung right into action and snuffed out the flames, limiting the damage to the one charred branch and a small portion of the trunk around it.
"I didn't mean to destroy that tree," Sakura's voice was loaded with the promise of tears. Kin knelt down beside her and gently placed his hands on her shoulders, gripping her small frame.
"Don't worry about it, sweetheart," he reassured her, "it's okay." He lovingly gazed at his sniveling daughter, who slanted her head in defeat. Kin could not help but smile; she was still so full of innocent care for the world around her. "That is just fire for you. It's an energetic, stubborn element. Sometimes, it has a will of its own, but you'll learn to control it. Don't give up. The tree will grow back." He lifted her chin to allow their golden eyes to meet. "You can do anything you set your mind to."
He remembered the joyful fire in her golden eyes when she performed awesome feats with her firebending with him for the first time. Her merry laughter resonating through his memories morphed into an anger-fueled growl and his little, giddy girl changed to the young woman he had faced earlier. She was so different than he remembered, but she was definitely his little girl. Those shiny golden spheres were undoubtedly the same as the ones he had looked into years earlier, thought they were no longer as he remembered. They had grown colder, harder, more aggressive; they were devoid of innocence. You can do anything. The words ricocheted through his being as he thought of his daughter, now alive again and grown up. You can do anything. And indeed she had. Kin always knew that she could, and she had been only six then. You can do anything.
"What have you done, Sakura?" The words floated past his lips like a soft whisper, though his mind was preoccupied with another question, one that he was afraid to say out loud, fearing that it might be the more accurate one, though the guilt of that would be too much for his beaten person to bear. What have I done, Sakura?
He did not want to remember the day he had come home to that empty house years ago, but it was chiseled in his being as a permanent mark of his ultimate failure. He carried it with him, wherever he went, whatever he did. All these years, he had thought her dead, just like her mother and her brothers. It hurt. He was hurt. His body remembered the pain Sakura put him though and a light sparked in his mind. She was hurt, too.
The light pierced the shadows threatening to succumb him. Kin groaned as he tried to stand up. Nagendra offered him his head for support and pulled him up. While gently stroking his dragon's head, Kin was at a loss of how to confront the issue that stood before him. Communing with his past lives would not bring the answers he sought, as this was more a personal issue than a worldly one. No Avatar would be able to offer solace. I sent that feathery spirit back to his own world where he belongs. Sakura's words came to him as thunder and his eyes widened with realization. "Wan Shi Tong. She met him... She must be at his library and sent him back to the Spirit World!" With tremendous effort, he dragged his body onto Nagendra. "Come on, boy, we need to get to the Eastern Air Temple. It's the best place to meditate into the Spirit World."
As Nagendra's strong wings took him high into the sky, Kin thought about the challenge laying ahead of him. Seeking assistance of the Knowledge Spirit was a troublesome notion as it would require him to present a piece of knowledge to Wan Shi Tong, and he had all but shed his possessions of the physical world since his own family departed it. However, he did know of one thing: now that he knew Sakura was alive, he would do whatever it took to find out what happened to her and how he could set things right. If Wan Shi Tong was the one who had the answers, Wan Shi Tong was the one who would help him, whether the spirit liked it or not. Resolve wrapped itself around his battered form and seemingly lifted his pain. I lost you once, Sakura, I'm not doing it again.
"Why don't you try bending the vortex out of the water, Kaddo?" Ling suggested.
"I'm a waterbender, not a vortex-bender!" Kaddo snapped irritably in response.
Ursa was now ducking beside Yuhan to get a look for herself. "It looks about twenty feet down."
"I hear that while you can survive holding your breath for a few minutes in normal water, it's like, less than half a minute when it's this cold," Ling told the rest of them grimly.
"Then we must hurry," Yun stated as he stroked his chin. He did not find this ideal, either, but he found no other choice.
As they braced themselves to take the plunge, Yun, Ling, Kaddo, Ursa and Yuhan felt a tumultuous rumble beneath their feet, like the earth was shaking. They did not have long to wonder where an earthquake might be coming from in the middle of the frozen tundra. The plates of ice around them cracked open and a hole was smashed open in the middle of where the five of them were standing. Each of them jumped back in a different direction to make way for a long, blueish white neck of a giant serpent-like creature, its body the same color as the snowy ground and its eyes matching the dark aquatic color of the water.
"Kaddo, why didn't you warn us about this?!" Yuhan blurted out, bewildered, as he instinctively assumed his fighting stance, almost forgetting that he was still on thin ice like the rest of them.
"I've never seen one of these before - I'm from the South Pole!" Kaddo brought his arms together and rose a thin, slurpy water-whip through the cracks below him, ready to take whatever form of defense he could get. "My dad and I fought a mysterious assassin up around here once, but that's it."
Yun calmly stepped his foot onto the ice and flicked a miniature shard of earth off his arm and toward the beast before him. "We can exchange old memories another time. Our tough situation just got a whole lot tougher!"
The polar creature of the north lunged toward Yun as the projectile of earth approached, breaking apart thin patches of shelter for the feet in its way. Ling, who had been preparing to throw a rock of his own, lost balance and fell into the new opening. A gasp came from Ursa, who had been swirling a stream of flame at the serpent. The Princess of the Fire Nation leapt in after him. Kaddo, Yuhan and Yun eyed one another. Realizing that all five of them might be needed to break the vortex and that Ursa and Ling had already taken the dive, they now only had one way to go.
Yuhan clapped his hands together and pointed his arms up, hurling both of his rock gloves together at once, hitting the creature in the eye. After this moment of distraction, all three remaining persons had done what they would not have considered under any other circumstances and jumped into the arctic waters beneath the sheet of ice. Ursa kicked hard to propel herself forth, Kaddo pushed his arms in and out, using his waterbending to assist him and the rest soon met them at the spot where the vortex hovered, like some yawning, dark underwater whirlpool. While Yun, Kaddo, Ursa, Yuhan and Ling reached their arms toward the vortex together, the North Pole sea serpent dipped its long neck back down and took a dive, eyeing its prey. But as it snapped its icicle-like teeth where the vortex and the five humans had been moments before, it found nothing but emptiness between its jaws.
Even though their clothes were still damp, the water around the five benders withered away and the extreme cold ceased, leaving them spiraling in the darkness and off to someplace else. To where, they did not know.
|Waiting -- Convergence Part 1 -- Convergence Part 2 -- Burning Earth -- Energy Oasis -- Silent Heroes|
|Aftermath and Burning Earth - - Energy Saga - - -|
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