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"You look preoccupied. What's the matter, Anvy?" Slowly, like a feather gliding on the wind, Sky descended to the ground. Ever since I first came to this Spirit World, my mind, or spirit, occasionally ended up coming back here when I slept. Most of the time, Sky was already here when I came and even when he wasn't, it was never long before he appeared to greet me. When I had asked, he confirmed me that he was indeed human, but every time I tried to know more about anything personal from him, he either dodged the matter or simply remained quiet.
"Anvy?" he repeated as I realized I was staring at him, lost in my thoughts.
"Sorry," I said, looking down. "Things back in the real world are a bit complicated right now and I don't really know how to deal with them."
"The physical world you mean," he replied with his usual friendly smile. "This world is as real as the other one. So, would you like to speak to me about it?"
In fact, that may have been the reason I came here. Every time my spirit came to this world, I had always been troubled by some kind of problem and talking about it with Sky always helped me figuring things out.
"Well, there's two girls," I started, not without noticing the mischievous smile on his face after hearing my words. "There's this one who I don't really get along with, but with whom I'm supposed to form a bond, and there's this other one who I really appreciate, but shouldn't get too close with."
"I see," he said with perplexity, but also with amusement shinning in his golden eyes. He softly laughed. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were mixed up in some kind of tale about a shotgun wedding and a forbidden love."
"What's a wedding?" I asked, confused. From time to time, Sky would use words that I couldn't understand, like this one, and when I would ask him about it, sorrow would always cover his face, just like it did right now. After that, he would always sigh and give me the same answer.
"A word from a lost time." Then, after taking a deep breath, he came back to his usual smiling self and continued on my matter. "So, first tell me why you shouldn't get close to the girl you like. Is she rejecting you?"
"No. In fact, she's the one who always seems to seek me out. At first it was because I was the only one she trusted after I saved her, but as we spent time together we became friends."
"Friends?" he interrupted me with his teasing voice.
"Yes," I replied convincingly. "Anyway, my master saw that and warned me about it. The path that I chose is a very dangerous one. He said that bonds with people who do not share our battlefield would only make me hesitate at the most crucial moments. He also asked me to think about her feelings. What I do could get me killed anytime. If that were to happen, all I would have bring to her is grief." As I finished my story, I looked at his face and was surprised to see a saddened expression. I had thought that he would have teased me like he usually did, but he just stood there, gazing at me with sorrow in his eyes.
"Anvy," he finally said in a deep voice. "You're saying that you shouldn't live your life the way you want it because you might die, but I think that you should do what you want to do exactly because you might die." Troubled by his words, I tried to argue that this would be selfish, but no voice came out of my mouth. I was waking up. Before I completely faded away, Sky gave me a parting smile. But it wasn't the usual bright and cheerful one.
My wife tried to kill me today. I had no choice. I had to kill her. It turned out that she had been an assassin from the beginning. That she never really loved me. Why did she wait this long to try to kill me? If she had tried the first night that we spent together, I wouldn't be in so much pain right now. I'm breaking down. Those who sent her would pay the price of it. Let justice be done though the heavens fall.
"Wake up, brat!" I opened my eyes in a gasp. Of course, unlike in the other world, they saw nothing. "Get up!" said my master's voice. "Faster!"
From his restlessness, I knew something was wrong. Quickly, I got off my bed, put my feet on the hard ground and expanded my seismic sight as far as I could. Everything was blurry, but I could discern a lot of people running in every directions. They were panicking.
"What's happening?" I asked to master Shiryoku as we hurried out of my room.
"We're under attack," he replied in his hoarse voice, while both of us ran towards the center of the commotion. "It's Cerberus."
"Cerberus?" I repeated. I had heard the name before but never lingered on its meaning.
"The Imperial three-headed hound. It's a group of three master benders who hunt rebel camps." I felt a strong nervousness in his voice. If this group could make my master this anxious, then they had to be strong. "Can you locate them?" he asked.
I focused. "Hardly," I answered after a while. "They're too far."
The old man snorted. "You need more training. Anyway, just go meet up with Hikari in the main hall. From what I can sense, she and a couple of other benders are fighting against one of them. I'll go face off the one guarding the exit." Whereupon, my master skewed to the right, opening holes in every wall on his way. Left alone, I did the same towards the main hall, running as fast as I could. Why did this underground camp had to be so big?
As I ran opening wall after wall, I tried to focus my seismic sight ahead of me. The main hall was in my reach now and I was able to perceive what was going on. In the center of the room, a man was standing still, save for his right arm which he was swinging around in fluid motions. I suddenly realized that he was waterbending in a bored, effortless way. Facing him, I sometimes felt Hikari touching the ground and then leaping off again and again, as she was probably trying to fight her opponent in midair, something that would have work perfectly against me, but apparently not against this waterbender. Scattered around those two, five bodies were lying on the ground, breathing but unconscious. They probably were the benders mentioned by my master, except that they weren't fighting with Hikari anymore. I needed to hurry. If this waterbender guy knocked out five benders by himself and then was able to hold his ground effortlessly against Hikari, he had to be extremely powerful and it was only a matter of time until he would decide to end his game against the airbending girl.
When I finally arrived to the hall, I heard something in the air coming towards me, so I swiftly jumped aside just before Hikari entered my sight by hitting the ground where I had been a second before. I hurried to her side and reached out to help her.
"You okay?" I quickly asked her, while keeping an eye – more or less – on the waterbender. However, with obvious disdain, the girl slapped my hand with the back of hers, got up and leaped once again in the air. A second later, I heard two powerful air blasts that the waterbender easily countered by moving his right arm, which made his water rise and splash at the contact of the blasts. Then, he made a few more fluid moves with his arm and I heard the water whipping the air as it stroke Hikari who was propelled back to the ground, hitting it with a worrying strength.
Before the airbender got up to get another beating, I quickly stomped the ground, thus raising an earth boulder in front of me which I stroke with great strength, sending it flying at high speed towards the waterbender. As expected, the latter bent his water without even looking in my direction and hit the boulder with it in a swift sweeping slash. However, instead of just being tossed aside, the rock shattered, releasing a great amount of dust. This trick was actually the first that I had learned from my master. Hiding dust in a fragile shell of earth was the most efficient way to create a surprise smokescreen against overconfident opponents.
I was about to take advantage of the blindness of the enemy and the surprise effect when I heard water whipping the air towards me. I quickly rose a wall to my right, blocking the attack, but another came right after from the left and hit me on the side, propelling me against my own wall.
"That was a good call," said a slow, emotionless voice coming from the waterbender. "Unfortunately, I can feel every last bit of moisture in this dry place. And now that I've wet you, there's nowhere you can hide."
He really had to underestimate me for revealing his ability like that. The best thing to do in those cases was to let the opponent believe in his superiority. With that in mind, I got back up and proceed to send weak attacks at my enemy while barely defending against his. His combat style consisted of using water as a powerful whip able to attack at high speed. Thanks to my seismic sight and my trained earing, I was able to determine where and how he would attack by observing his simple arm gestures and listening to the water as it swept in the air. I was actually glad that he wasn't taking this seriously, because there was no way I could have win if he decided to actually move more than his right arm.
My tactic was simple; pretending to barely resist his attack while moving around and weakening sparse spots of earth on the ground. When I finally finished laying my trap, I let his water whip hit me and fell on the ground. Loudly, the waterbender sighed out of boredom, as if he was disappointed by my weakness. Then, to finish me off, he rose his hand in the air, his water following the motion, but just before he could bring it down to inflict the last blow, I hit the ground with both of my fist, splitting the earth in every direction where I previously weakened the earth. Startled by the sudden earthshaking, the waterbender aborted his attack to maintain his balance, but to no avail, as a small portion of the floor suddenly collapsed just under him. As he fell into the hole, I ran towards a wall and hit it vigorously with my palms and then with the back of my hands. The earth split all the way up to the ceiling, of which a small portion above the hole crumbled and buried the waterbender.
Exhausted and relieved from stress, I let myself go against the wall while I tried to recover my breath.
"Bravo!" exclaimed a jesting male voice somewhere. Quickly, I got back into a combat stance, and probed the place for the source of the new voice. I couldn't find it. In fact, I couldn't find anything. Not Hikari, who was supposed to be lying unconscious somewhere, nor the other knocked out benders or the waterbender buried underground. Not even the tables and chairs that should have been scattered around during the battle or the walls delimiting the hall. Nothing. I was blind. Again.
The voice laughed. A squeaky, mad laugh. "By the Avatar!" he said between two laughs. "That expression on your face! I LOVE it!" He laughed some more, slapping his hands against himself in his hilarity. "If only you could look at yourself in a mirror right now! Oh right! You wouldn't see anything!" He laughed. Laughed and laughed. A demented laugh. Insane. Then he suddenly stopped and I heard a whisper in my ear. "Want me to tell you a secret?" said his sinister voice. Quickly, I tried to hit him with an elbow strike, but he was already gone. He laughed.
"Who are you?" I exclaimed nervously. I was scared. For the first time since I learned to see with earthbending, I was blind. Defenseless, at the mercy of this new unknown foe. Suddenly, I sensed danger coming from behind me, but before I could react, I felt the sharp pain of a foot striking me in the back and propelling me face down on the floor. Immediately, I tried to retaliate by raising earth spikes from the ground where the attack came from, but all I heard afterward was silence. "Who are you?" I asked again in pain. He giggled of satisfaction. "What have you done?" I shouted, completely panicked.
"What have I done?" he repeated, amused. "Now, now, surely you're not THAT ignorant about your own ability?" he said mockingly. Then, he once again kicked me with his barefoot, this time in the stomach. "Do you have ANY idea how easy it is for me to send enough vibrations into the earth to overwhelm you?" he asked furiously before hitting me in the face. I stayed face down on the ground without moving. Overwhelm me? In other words, this guy was using earthbending in the same way that I was with seismic sight, except that the frequency at which he vibrated the earth was so great that it disrupted every other vibrations in the vicinity. "Oh! Your dumbfounded face tells me that you finally understand!" He kicked me and then lost himself in his mad laugh once again when he saw that I wasn't moving anymore, as I pretended to be unconscious. Then, just like last time, he suddenly stopped. But when he spoke again, this time, he sounded like a complete different man.
"But it's too late." His voice was now collected and serious and his mocking, high-pitched tone had become deep and conceited. "Mayvin. Stop slacking off and get out of that hole." A short while after he said those words, I heard the rocks that should have buried the waterbender move and someone climbing out of the hole. My last opponent was alive and well.
"Can't I rest a bit from time to time?" he said in a sigh.
"Later," replied calmly the earthbender. "I've acquire the objective, we're leaving. Zapp already retreated."
"Aye, sir..." let out the waterbender, seemingly unmotivated.
"Oh. Bring the boy faking unconsciousness with you," added the leader. As I heard those word, I immediately tried to get up and flee, but a water whip stroke me down before I could even get on my feet.
"What for?" asked the one who was immobilizing me on the floor.
The earthbender chuckled quietly. Then, with his former silly yet terrifying voice, he replied while barely holding his laugher. "For personal fun." Then, the water got off me, but stroke me again in the back of my neck with ice hardening the hit. As I lost consciousness, I felt the water grabbing me by an ankle as it dragged me along the two Cerberus's members.
I didn't kill them. That would have been far too merciful. Instead, I turned every single rebel into a slave condemned to work for the Empire until they have expire their last breath. And even then, they shall not rest in peace, for their children shall take their place. Every child born from slaves shall be born slave.
What have I become?
I opened my eyes. Darkness. Nothing new. Cautiously, I tried to move, but soon realized that I was hanging above the ground by my wrists. The cold metal of the cuffs holding me chafed my skin painfully as I tried to pull on them, but they were linked to strong metal chains firmly hooked into the ceiling. I had no way out of this. I knew what was coming. Dreadful memories of my time at the mercy of the Skinners came to me. Not again.
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