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|Reaping What You Sow|
February 9, 2014
A dinner to forget
It was a lazy Wednesday night, Zhi was eating a bowl of fried chicken-squid at Teuchi's shop. It was almost completely empty, something Teuchi contributed to the new fried shack that had recently opened opposite. Zhi himself wanted to go there, but was wary in upsetting his landlord. Besides he enjoyed the silence the mostly empty shop offered, it helped him think.
He needed a job, again. The money he had earned from his time with the Triad was running out. He had maybe two weeks left before he was out on the streets and penniless. Worst of all, he had to make the money legitimately. A concept that sent shivers down the young water benders spine. That being said, he had no idea how to go about it. He had no marketable skills or education to speak of other than master water bender. The only people who would employ him would be the law enforcement divisions in city hall, and he'll be damned if he becomes another lousy badge thumper. The hypocrisy and morality of it aside, the thought of what his master would do to him in that situation brought a fear out in him that he hadn't experienced since he was ten.
Maybe I should just quit and go home? he thought. There is always work for me, purpose and family. Maybe this ridiculous quest to find your destiny has gone on long enough, if there was any merit to it wouldn't it have presented itself to you by now? A hand smacking his back shattered his chain of thought. A tall man dressed in blue with sleeked hair sat next to him at the counter. Without looking up Zhi asked, "What do you want Shin?" The gangster smiled and leaned close to Zhi.
"What's wrong with a friend visiting?" he questioned innocently.
"What do you want Shin?" repeated Zhi in a much more steely tone.
"Oh that hurts Zhi," he sneered. Zhi remained silently continued to eat his dinner. A flicker of annoyance appeared on the mobsters face but he quickly suppressed and slithered closer to Zhi. "I have a job for you Zhi."
"Not interested" he replied instantly.
Shin raised an oily eyebrow, but his greasy smile did not waver. "I'm not talking about some two penny body guard deal. I'm talking about running our own organisation, make some real money and run this town."
Zhi couldn't help himself, "That's quite ambitious, what would Zolt say?"
Shin scoffed, "Please, that old man is way out of his depth. Mark my words by the end of the month he'll either be in jail or where ever it is Equalists put their captives."
"And you just think that you can swoop in and take over his turf without anyone batting an eye?"
Shin shook his head, "Don't be naive Zhi. Of course there'll be resistance but that's why I want you backing me up. You're practically a force of nature , I've heard what you can do."
So had Zhi, he didn't like all the attention, "Those stories have been greatly exaggerated," he said sternly.
"Be that as it may, I want you on my side when the dust settles. So what do you say?"
Zhi shook his head, it was tempting but a criminal war was the last thing he needed at this point. " The answer is no Shin, I'm not interested in that kind of stuff anymore."
Shin stroked his beard, his eyes wide with surprise, "Don't telling me you're going legal are you?"
Zhi remained silent, he had said too much, the last thing he wanted was a target on his back. He knew what happened to people who tried to back out of the game after playing, especially if they played as well as he did.
The water bender got up from his seat, "That's a real shame there Zhi, but I assume you won't tell anyone about this conversation as long I don't tell anyone you've gone civilian?"
Zhi nearly swallowed his chopsticks, was Shin acting like a decent human being? "Sure, it's a deal" he replied suspiciously, turning slowly to face the notorious criminal.
"What do you say we shake on it?" Shin asked smiling greasily, he extended his hand.
Zhi couldn't see any weapons on Shin, the shop was completely empty now. He shook Shins hand, then the bitter realisation of what was happening hit him like a broken bottle. He turned around, his hand bringing a stream of water from his satchel. Then a literal bottle smashed over his forehead. He collapsed onto the floor, blood streaming from his head. His vision was almost all black and blurry, he could just make out a tattooed man and Shin standing above him. "Get the rope" creaked a voice as the darkness enveloped him like a scratchy blanket.
From bad to worse
Zhi awoke with the Avatar of all headaches. The throbbing in his skull sent shooting pains from his forehead to the base of his spine. Probably not a good sign he thought, everything was pitch black. He could here the rumbling of an engine and the growling of tires beneath him. Blindfolded in a car boot? Thanks destiny for this new personal low .Zhi tried to twist his wrists or do anything but his movements were sealed. A thick, coarse rope was tied his limbs onto his sides. Even his core was restrained by a metal pole that had been firmly connected his neck to his back and heels.
Well at least things can only get better from here said a quiet innocent voice in his head. The car hit a bump and Zhi launched up and fell onto a metal canister with a skull crunching thunk. Fighting the urge to pass out again he felt a cold liquid dribble slowly onto his head. It had a thick choking stench that meant only one thing, Gasoline. It seemed Shin planned to make an example of Zhi, somewhat fitting considering a third of him was made of wood. At least things can only get better from here replied the voice which was grating on Zhi's nerves.
Zhi took a deep breath, trying to bend any water in the air with him. Nothing, he could hear a tiny hum of ventilation system keeping the air dry and hot. He could bend the water out of his arm and use that, but then he'd lose an arm. Keep that as a backup he decided. His only other hope would be that he could find something to bend between being dragged out of the boot and being roasted like a chicken-pig.
The car lurched erratically, he felt himself hover momentarily in mid-air This can't be good he thought. There was a tremendous crash, an immense force collided with the car throwing Zhi against the ceiling. Face down, he sputtered as the bitter gasoline pooled by his head, the car had flipped. He could hear shouting and the radio-like sound of a loudspeaker, then more shouting and the sound of rocks crunching against metal. Then a mighty crash as something large and hard smashed into the side of the car, spinning it wildly across the road. Zhi fought back the nausea and closed his eyes as more gasoline rained across the boot. He couldn't wait, the smallest spark and he'd be up in flames.
He flailed wildly, trying desperately to get some leeway with his ropes, just a tad of room to allow his wooden limbs to stretch. The pole ensured the ropes couldn't yield, Shin didn't underestimate him. Another crash, Zhi smashed into the side of the boot with a crunch. Blood pouring from his nose, he tried one last time to move ANY of his limbs. The strain sent shooting pain through him, he had to stop or black out.
Letting out a defeated sigh, he prepared himself to take water from his arm. He didn't know if it would work in cutting his bonds, or when he would be able to get a replacement arm. It was a gamble at best, but he didn't have much of a choice. He took a deep breathe, preparing himself mentally, frustration and rage boiling inside him, Shin was going to pay for this.
A thunderous crash, dwarfing the previous ones sent the car hurtling in the air. Zhi collided with the side, winding him. He gasped for air, blood dribbled into his lungs. Choking and in pain, he closed his eyes. Dismay and regret griped him with the inevitability of his fate, he thought of his mother and how much he missed her.
The car collided with the ground, sparks flew and in a blink of an eye, flames spread across him. He yelled as fear and horror seized his mind with its burning grip. Flailing, desperately his mind was paralysed by the eye watering brightness of the boot turned furnace. The heat burned and scorched his skin, choking smog stabbed his lungs and the pole became so hot he felt it burn into his back. Part of him knew he needed to be calm to escape but he couldn't focus. The fear had come from deep within his mind, somewhere dark and forgotten, and it was crippling.
Memories flashed before his mind; fire, chains and screams. The memories were slow and painful, like his very mind was ablaze. He tried to think of his family, laughing and singing. His mother and the way she would scold him or his father teaching him to cook. But those memories were being smothered by the flames and shouting.
The shouting became more tangent, like they were just next to him. The sound of waves crashing, the flames went out and the soothing orange lights of the street poured into the car. Someone had pried open the boot with water bending, commented a voice in his mind. He gasped for air, the cooling water had brought him back to reality.
Escape. I need to escape, he thought. With the fear gone he found his mind had become sharp and raw. Plans upon plans solidified out of the fog in his head, other than burned clothes and a few mildly severe burns he was fine. Both his wooden limbs hadn't caught fire thanks to their water content. He wasn't brilliant but he could be a lot worse.
He felt a shadow loom over him. "Hey are you alright?" it asked in a deep voice. He felt the singed ropes being cut, the pole fell away and he rolled onto his back unmoving. Eyes closed, he could feel the shadows eyes survey him. "Medic! I need a medic!" the scuffle of boots, the shadow turned around.
Zhi struck out like a cobra. His wooden fist colliding into the back of the man's head. The figure fell forwards onto the ground. Zhi got up onto his feet, one of his boots had burned down to nothing. The ground felt cold on his burned foot, it was simultaneously cooling and painful. He looked around, there were an at least a dozen men and women. They were dressed in metal and black, their stunned faces all staring at him. He had just made himself a target in the middle of a metal bender raid. Why? Oh Avatars why?. His eyes darted around, he had one option.
He ran, with one arm he took all the water in the boot and in his clothes to his arm. Unfortunately, Zhi was not a very fast man he had not covered more than a meter before someone shouted, "Stop! You are under arrest!". Zhi took no heed of this, the last thing he wanted was to be in chains again. He ran towards a large building, he could see several metal benders advancing on him as a dozen more prepared to launch a wide variety of projectiles at him.
Zhi leapt, about 20cm, placing his wooden foot on top of a fire hydrant. There was a loud creak as metal strained to contain the water pressure. Then the ground erupted in a geyser of water, launching him several stories into the air.
He hovered briefly, the roof of the building directly beneath him. Water droplets hung to the air and shone like glass in the moonlight. With a mighty heave he coated the entire roof in a fine layer of ice. He landed on one foot, and glided across the ice like fog over the ocean. He heard the clatter of falling metal benders and smiled. He leapt off the roof, spinning to look back. All of the metal benders had slipped on the ice, except for one. He landed on top of his colleague and with a wave created a land bridge to race across the roof.
Or so he thought, with another flick of his wrist the bridge swung like a catapult, launching the officer directly at Zhi. Stunned, Zhi began to stretch his arm out to change his own trajectory, too late. The officer collided with him in a mid air tackle, bringing Zhi crashing onto the roof. His burns screamed in agony, he fought the urge to pass out.
The officer pinned Zhi's wooden arm behind his back and spoke in a commanding voice, "You have the right to remain silent..." it was feminine and very familiar to Zhi.
"Jun?" he asked bewildered.
"Zhi?" replied Jun, she loosened her grip on his arm. He sprang out of her hold, and went into a crouched position. She stood above him, a confused look on her face.
"What are you doing?" she asked, she scowled in anger raising her arms to strike, "You said you were going straight!"
Zhi got up, his body in a ready position, "Well first off I never said that, you did." She advanced angrily, Zhi took a couple of steps back. "Second!" he began, "I am, er was. I was kidnapped and on my way to a very painful grave."
Jun lowered her arms slightly, "Why would they do that?"
Zhi lowered his arms in turn, "Because you can't just quit in this line of business," Jun squinted suspiciously. "Do you seriously think I WANTED to be tied in a boot covered in gasoline?" he asked.
Jun sighed dropping her arms by her side. "I believe you Zhi."
"So you'll let me go then?" he interjected eagerly.
Jun let out another, much deeper sigh. Then she raised her arms again, sending a bolt of panic down the experienced water benders spine. "I'm sorry Zhi, its not that simple. The Chief is..."
"Good work officer Jun," said a voice behind Zhi, a commanding, powerful voice that sent shivers of fear down Zhi's back. He swallowed and turned around, there stood before him was none other than the symbol of everything that threatened Zhi, Lin Beifong.
The Chief advanced slowly, "You are under arrest Lee, if that is your real name that is."
"What charge?" asked Zhi, desperately trying to buy time. He had no water on or near him except his arm, and there was no way he could beat the Chief one handed.
"Organised crime, assault, assault of an officer and theft; to mention a few," she replied. "Now will you surrender or are you going to make us take you down."
Zhi looked at Jun who gave a slight nod, Lin Beifong advanced further. Zhi tried to retreat but found himself on the edge of the building. A wide road separating his roof and the next. "I don't think so Chief, I'm afraid you have me mistaken for someone else."
Lin Beifong smiled, not a kind smile, it reminded Zhi of how a bear -wolf smiles to bear its fangs and threaten its foes, there was no love in that smile. "Do you honestly think you could beat both of us Lee?"
Zhi faced the Chief, his face completely blank and devoid of all emotion. "No Chief. Only one." With a whip and a crack, Zhi stretched his wooden arm and punched Jun square in the face. The young officer fell to the ground clutching her nose, somewhat theatrically.
"Jun!" cried Beifong, turning momentarily to ensure her subordinate was okay. Giving Zhi all the time he needed, he leaped out into the street. Then he extended his arm again allowing him to grab onto the ledge of the opposite building. With the sound of creaking branches, his arm shortened taking Zhi with him. Not taking a break to catch his breath, he sprinted as fast as he could and as far away from Lin Beifong.
Behind him he heard a sound like a rock slide, Lin Beifong was pursuing him. He didn't turn around, he knew the slightest loss of focus was the difference between freedom and life in a metal box. He leaped off a roof and grabbed onto a gutter pipe. Sliding down into a dark alleyway, landing on his burned foot. He felt his leg buckle and he fell sprawling head first onto the ground.
He scrambled to get up, his entire body protesting every second of it. There was a loud crash behind him, debris shot past him. He turned around slowly, in front of him, panting and with a look that could scare a Sea monster was Lin Beifong.
Zhi felt a wave of exhaustion hit him, part of him just wanted to give in. To surrender to the force of nature that was Lin Beifong, he was tired and weak, he just wanted to rest. But there was another part of him, pounded into his very core by years of rigorous training and a ruthless upbringing. He was better than this, he was not going to give into the city even if it meant fighting the entire police force single handed even literally.
Lin Beifong rushed him, he tried to side step but his foot barely twitched. Adapting he brought his arms into his centre and pushed his wooden arm out at the Chief of police. She had no such trouble dodging and launched a set of cables at Zhi. He jumped to the alley wall, one cable cut across his face. He grabbed another cable with his bare hands and pulled, Lin pulled harder. Causing Zhi to sprawl off balance, she kicked out and a slab of solid rock smashed him into the alley wall, he felt his arm splinter. Damn it, if I had some water I could get out of here he thought. The slab moved back, causing Zhi to slide down the wall and onto his knees. Lin had her arm raised ready to smash it into him again.
He had one trick, one last hail Kyoshi that he could fall back on. Avatar knows it was probably the worst possible thing he could do at this point, but he was desperate. Zhi took a deep breath, Lin Beifong's eyes widened in surprise and horror as her fist clenched angrily.
A flash and a mighty crash above them, they both looked up. Something cold and wet dripped onto Zhi's face, rain. He smiled evilly, Lin Beifong instantly brought her hand forward. The slab of rock launched itself at Zhi and crashed through the alley wall.
Zhi was not there, he dodged it and was crouching at the end of the alley. Lin Beifong looked at the water bender in horror. All of the rain, literally all of it, was being diverted in mid air. Collecting above the water bender, forming a sinister swirl above the criminal. He smiled and with a few rapid motions sent a raging blast of water at her.
She raised her arms to form a stone shield, but it was too much water moving too fast. Her shield broke and the tsunami hit her like a truck. She flew back, she darted her arms out to the side shooting cables at the alley walls stabilising her in place.
Once the onslaught was over she looked up. The water bender was gone, rain began to fall on her again. She spat out some blood, furious with herself for letting him get away. She had lucked out and the sting had exposed him on route to who knows what crime. She cracked her neck and retracted her cables. It didn't matter, criminals like him cannot evade the law for very long. Regardless she felt uneasy in her gut, he was much more dangerous than she had anticipated. Next time, she would be prepared.
Zhi had used the rain barrage as a cover to flee. It was not the most courageous move, but he wasn't feeling particularly brave. He ran into a populated area, filled with good lawful people going about and enjoying the nightlife Republic City had to offer. Far too absorbed in their own life to pay mind to the battered, burned, one shoed water bender walking among them.
Unlikely turn of events
As soon as Zhi got home he collapsed into this bed exhausted, asleep before his head even hit the pillow. His wooden limbs falling away and slowly planting themselves into the floor.
He was awoken the next day by the screams of agony of his entire body. Grunting, he got up and healed his burns slowly, using water from the tap. It was not as bad as he had initially thought, it wasn't exactly good either, but it was terrible. Once the pain became negligible he went straight back to sleep.
He awoke hours later, it was the mid afternoon and the skies were looking pleasantly cloudy. He got up, there was a tree in the middle of his room. Sighing, and glad the branches hadn't broken through the window he retracted it back into the form of his limbs. Something small and white caught his eye. It was a piece of paper, walking over, he picked it up. It said:
meet us downstairs in the restaurant at sunset.
Zhi sighed, he had hoped to go back to sleep. Then lay low in his room for a day or so to allow this whole thing to blow over.
He got dressed in his only set of non burned clothes, which did not include a pair of shoes. He put the left one on his right, swollen and red foot. And turned his wooden foot into some kind of strange croc. To the casual observer he was just some strange guy with two different shoes and two right feet. Why me?
Zhi made his way downstairs, Teuchi saw him and started apologising or something. Zhi found it hard to keep track of the old man's words, all he knew was he had a free bowl of fried-chicken squid at his own booth. So at least now he could say SOME good came from last night.
As soon as the old man turned his back, Zhi attacked his meal. He wolfed down every last bite. He had not realised just how hungry he was. He was midway drinking the soup from the bowl when Jie and Jun walked in.
Jun sat opposite him and Jie next to him. They quickly ordered something as Teuchi brought a second free bowl. I should get kidnapped here more often.
Zhi looked up, Jun had a look of concern on her face. Like what he imagined a normal mother would have if she saw her child hanging with a bad crowd. "Hey," noted Zhi, "Your nose is better, sorry about that by the way."
Jun gave a half smile, "No worries, you'd be stunned what healers can do these days."
Jie interrupted, "Zhi we are here because we are worried about you," he began.
"I'm alive and free aren't I? he asked.
Jun nodded, worry spreading across her face again. "But for how long Zhi? You're a wanted man now and we both know that it won't take much to push you back to a life of crime."
Zhi cracked his neck," I nearly got killed because I left that life behind. So maybe phrase your words a little better, eh Jun?" There was a deathly silence
Jie spoke up putting his hands on the table, "What she means is Zhi, as soon as you find yourself hit by debt crime might end up being your only option for income. I mean, I doubt you want to work at a factory?"
Zhi nodded, "No sir, I do not."
Jun piped in, "Which is why we asked a few favours and got you a job where you can do some good."
Zhi raised a suspicious eyebrow. On cue a woman in her early twenties, dressed in a red over coat and a black hat walked in and sat opposite him. Her copper eyes stared directly into Zhi's soul. Then in a sleek, authoritative voice she said, "I'm Rina, P.I, and you're new boss."
Zhi stared at Rina, then Jun, then Jie, then back to Rina. Taking a moment, he opened his mouth and expressed every emotion he felt in one word, "What?"
For the collective works of the author, go here.