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|The Scars of Chan Dai|
Book One: Water
April 15, 2013
Heading West, the boys met Anurna; a well-travelled girl who somehow knew the pair of thugs known as McKay and Diego. After questioning her trust, they boys eventually accepted her as a faithful ally.
With that out of the way, Dover and Sedgley can focus on what really matters. That being, who is the Avatar?
~ Chapter Five: The Scars of Chan Dai ~
~ Chapter Five: The Scars of Chan Dai ~
"Eurgh, Chan Dai... Let's make sure our stay here's as short as possible. It's so depressing, I hate it..."
Anurna scornfully observed the derelict houses, their awnings flapping dustily like a half-peeled band-aids, as the group entered the town.
"You've been here before?" Erik asked. Once upon a time he found Anurna's nomadic lifestyle to be untrustworthy, but he had put aside his suspicions and now found it interesting, and often helpful.
"Well, between Haven and Gao Lin there isn't much anywhere else to get a meal. That's why we're stopping here, right?" she explained, "Don't tell me we're here to do a little sightseeing because no, just no..."
"You've been to Haven?" Dover asked incredulously.
"What?" Anurna said, "Yeah, you haven't lived if you haven't been to Haven."
"What's it like?" Sedgley asked, ravenous, "How tall are the buildings?"
All the boys were so eager to arrive in Haven, finally get off the beaten path – sleep in perhaps! – and start to get some proper work done, so Anurna's stories proved far more interesting than the run down neighbourhood of Chan Dai.
The girl sighed, as though reliving happy memories with a distant friend, "Oh, it's amazing. The towers stretch up above the clouds, higher than you can even imagine. Heaven's Crown, the tallest tower known to mankind, stands in the centre of the city, a beacon of prosperity, of hope to the people. It's grand beyond measure."
"I can't wait..." Dover said, awestruck.
"Yeah..." Sedgley breathed, equally as inspired.
"Well," Anurna changed the topic, for not even the grandeur of that great city could distract her long enough from Chan Dai's depressing mediocrity, "the sooner we get out of this hole, the sooner we can climb Heaven's Crown."
After finding a compromise between price and the amount of shattered glass and dust in their rooms, they found a small inn for which they could stay the night. After clearing out all the mouldy food in the loudly humming fridge and managing a scrimmage between Miko and a mangy Maine-racoon, they finally felt they had settled in. That was until they heard a violent crash from the lobby downstairs. They hurried into the hallway, Anurna rolling her eyes, and peered cautiously down the staircase. Hu, the innkeeper, was on the floor shielding himself from the vases and books that were being picked up off his desk and lobbed at him.
"What do you want? I've already payed my dues this week! I have nothing more to owe you!" Hu grovelled.
A maniacal laugh, one that each child could instantly remember, responded, celebrating the innkeeper's misfortune. It was Diego; the thin crook from Gao Lin that longed for bloodshed and indulged in suffering. Sure enough, his boss, McKay, was by his side and commandeering the action.
McKay spoke intimidatingly to Hu, "Old Hu... Hu, Hu, Hu," he picked the fragile, old man off the floor and steered him towards Diego, "Let me explain it to Hu. You have given us our moneys worth, yes, but you certainly are not free of debt. You see, Alphonse has chosen to spare your life, and for that you are eternally indebted to him. Got it?"
Hu gulped, "Okay. But, what does he want with me now?"
Diego sniggered, "A few bric-a-bracs or one of your ears, your choice." He flashed the innkeeper a knife from up his sleeve, and suppressed a gurgling, hysterical desire to slice.
"I don't get it. All I have are some old texts on birds, an atlas and a bunch of out-dated bending scrolls. I don't see the value in it."
"Anything will do, old man," McKay explained, still somehow dauntingly, "Alphonse is a collector of sorts, you see. Anything that can be traded for some gold he just can't live without!" Diego cackled, but was cut short by his master's command, "Diego, fetch the things! Thanks for being so compliant, Hu. You always are so easy to work with."
With one final shove to the ground, the crooks left, Hu's final possessions in tow. Once they were out the door, Dover and Sedgley hurried down to help the old man to his feet. Erik trotted down nervously, his eyes fixated on the front door, while Anurna remained at the top of the stairs, not wanting to involve herself.
"Are you alright?" Sedgley asked, pulling out a stream of water from his pouch and scanning Hu's body for any damage.
"Oh, you kids are just too good. I'm quite fine. One gets used to them after a while, I've actually become quite good at bracing a fall." Hu explained, a little shaken up, Sedgley returning the water to his hips, "The thing that gets hard is making a living when they keep taking my money and my things. That's what I can't get used to."
"Who are they?" Erik asked, knowing their names but not their organisation.
"I don't know their names. But I know they're from the Bloody Knuckles."
"The Bloody Knuckles?" Dover inquired.
"Oh right, sorry," Hu babbled, picking up pens off the floor, "I always forget my customers aren't from around here... The Bloody Knuckles are a horrible gang that run Chan Dai. But don't worry they wouldn't touch travellers! They know that's how I make my money. They wouldn't lay their hands on you unless they knew you were important."
Dover and Sedgley looked at each other and Anurna walked back up to the room, "Well, Miko, let's go to bed, there's nothing we can do."
After helping the old man sweep up any shards of vase and broken flowers, the boys bade Hu their condolences and joined Anurna in their room upstairs. She was leaning back on the kitchenette counter, and was wiping make-up off her cat-like eyes.
Tossing a black curl out of her face, she said, as soon as they entered, "Before you get all Avatar righteous, I'm going to tell you stop, right now. Just stop."
Before Dover and Sedgley could utter a word, Erik spoke up, "I agree. May I remind you two of a pact we made at the Moorbird Inn? To keep our heads down until we got to Haven?"
"This is one of those times where all we can do is feel sorry for him and know that, before we get caught up in righting wrongs, we're better off staying safe until we get to Haven."
They looked at Dover and Sedgley, almost begging with their eyes for them to push past their urges to avenge Hu's, and the whole town's, suffering on the hand of the Bloody Knuckles' corruption. Dover and Sedgley looked at each other, Sedgley raising his eyebrows.
"We completely agree," Dover spoke on behalf of the pair, "We think we should ignore the needs of the people this time."
His words spoke sensibility yet a devious glistening in his river-blue eyes said otherwise. Erik was not convinced, he knew them too well; they were up to something.
"Sedgley..." he interrogated, his wide-rimmed spectacles magnifying his investigative eyes.
"No, I'm the same," Sedgley was good at covering up, "we'll ignore the needs of the people."
"What do you mean, the people?" Erik pried.
"The people means the people, Erik," Anurna jutted in, 'What's not to get?"
"I know what the people means, Anurna! What I don't get is the emphasis on them."
"Because," Sedgley explained, a quivering smile beginning to reveal itself across his cheeks, "we won't be fostering the needs of the people, we'll be fostering the needs of ourselves."
Erik fingers were strewn through his bowl-cut hair. The overuse of the people had already confused him enough, so Sedgley's cryptic response only further plunged him into the depths of misunderstanding. He darted his eyes to the side and back again and raised his eyebrows with a similar speed, as if to ask, "Huh...?"
"If I may?" Dover stepped forward now, "So let's start off by saying that for one of us to be a good Avatar, we need to have mastered waterbending. Correct? Correct. Right now, yeah we've been practicing what we already know, but we haven't learnt anything new, apart from Sedgley's healing, but I mean offensive stuff."
Erik, Anurna and Miko stared at Dover vacantly, having no idea where the talk was going, or, in Miko's case, what the noises meant. Even Sedgley was a bit confused at Dover's choice to drag it all out.
The boy continued, clapping his hands together (much like their friend Galen from the Northern Water Tribe) so as to wake them from their trance of perplexity, "We just saw a bunch of old waterbending scrolls get taken away by those Bloody Knuckles guys. So Sedgley and I want to, say, take them back... for us." He looked away and coughed a little, avoiding eye contact with Erik.
The little boy had trouble digesting the suggestion that they steal a notorious gang's booty and took a double take before talking.
"Are you serious? That is the worst thing I've ever heard. Like... uh, the worst," he was lost for words.
"Yeah, guys, think for a minute," Anurna suggested dryly, "One; these scrolls are probably out-dated. I mean, have you seen how old Hu is? He's older than this building, and that's saying something because this place is literally a ruin, or in ruins..."
As Anurna trailed off, Erik continued the rebuttal, "Second; if they find out one of you is the Avatar who knows what they'll do? Probably sell you to the Clandestines or something horrible like that!"
Sedgley, flicking away some blonde hair and turning away from his friends to lie down on the bed, said, "Well, our minds have been made up. Tomorrow we go get those scrolls. You guys don't have to take part in it."
"Oh, we won't!" Erik huffed, plopping himself defiantly on his own bed.
"Then goodnight!" Sedgley said, passive aggressively, in a cheerful tone.
Each child went to bed with a different emotion. Erik, fuming; Sedgley, determined; Dover, excited and Anurna, indifferent. Miko was the only member of the group who was actually pleased, for, having found himself rid of the troublesome Maine-racoon from before, he could now relax in the warmth and comfort of Dover's open bag.
A drop of water hung from the tap.
Quivering, sparkling, tempting, teasing, welling, drooping, quivering, taunting, glittering, torturing.
It looked as if it was about to drop off, then stopped short, quivered a little, and remained motionless once more.
All that could be seen in the dark room was the grey, rusted tap and the glistening drop of water; a beacon of fear, of madness, of desolation. It hung from the tap, revelling in its own power.
When will it fall?
Will it even fall at all?
Only the drop of water knew that, and it didn't feel much like telling anybody as of yet.
Suddenly, it fell.
Onto the forehead of a man.
It broke up into smaller droplets and ran into his eyes. The man, driven crazy, screamed in agony as the harmless beads of moisture ran down his cheeks. He stopped, just as suddenly as he had started wailing, and became short of breath, concentrating. The next drop would surely fall soon after the one before, right? If he could predict when, he wouldn't be so frightened, so senseless.
But, alas, only the drop of water knew when it would fall, and it didn't feel much like telling anybody as of yet...
"So, where do you think their hideout is?" Sedgley stretched off his sleepiness, too excited and determined for the days' mission to sleep in.
"Seriously, you're asking us?" Anurna said, placing a hand on her hip, "We just said we wouldn't help you with this."
"Exactly," added Erik, exiting the bathroom with a loud flush and an air of superiority, "Good job, Anurna. Tell them nothing." He tussled her hair annoyingly as he walked past her.
Anurna, not fond of Erik's 'master-to-dog' tone (as she coined it), continued, "But, if I were to tell you anything, it would be to look in the biggest, most luxurious, building – if that even exists here. By the sound of it, the leader of the Bloody Knuckles is dumb, greedy and just likes to be the richest guy around."
"Anurna!" Erik shouted.
"What?" she spun to face Erik, grinning mischievously, "that's what I'd say to them if we were supporting them. It was all hypothetical," she turned back to Dover and Sedgley, "right guys?"
"Oh... Yeah!" responded Sedgley.
"Yep," Dover replied, "purely hypothetical. Thanks Anurna!"
And with that they were out the door. Anurna turned back again to Erik.
"So," she said, scratching the back of her head guiltily, "what do you want to do today?"
Erik crossed his arms and looked at her, knowing that trouble was sure to occur soon. "Oh, I don't know," he moaned, "What's there to do in this town, anyway?"
"Well," Anurna started, "besides meddling with dangerous criminals, nothing much else. Not unless you're into boredom. Yeah, this place has loads to offer if it's boredom you're looking for."
"Let's hope that's all we find..." Erik muttered as they headed out the door.
"Argh!' Sedgley groaned, the great noise reverberating through the empty town like the wail of a whale, "Anurna was right! There's no such thing as luxury in this place! All the houses look the same!"
And that they did. Though each dwelling differed slightly in their cause of dilapidation, they all looked derelict and empty, like a vacant husk of some dusty, departed moth. In fact, either the locals had actually left the area or spent most of their time at the very backs of their houses because the boys could spot no signs of life anywhere – apart from the occasional buzz of a fly. They had almost given up on their mission altogether until they spotted McKay and Diego exiting a building and looking behind themselves.
"Hey, Sedgley, look!" Dover shouted and whispered at the same time, "It's McKay and Diego!"
"Shush, shush, shush!" Sedgley pushed his friend down behind a rusty car from which they were conducting their spying behind, "I know! I see them!"
At first they weren't sure if the crooks had just been 'collecting their dues' again but upon noticing that their arms were free of stolen goods they were sure, or, at least, as sure as they could be, that this was the place.
Suddenly the weight of the upcoming operation hit them. Throughout the day, the prospect of stealing bending scrolls from a local gang was nothing more than just that, a prospect; a thought; a distant whimsy. But now that they had found where they were actually going to steal from, the long distance of their whimsy was distant no longer. It was a plan. And for the rest of the afternoon, that was all they had. Not even Chan Dai's mediocrity could distract them from their excited discussions on escape strategies, 24-hour time and the importance of stealth as they wandered bouncily back to their inn, in no worry about the loudness of their discussion.
A metal can crushed under Anurna's foot, her throat swallowing back a smile as she revelled in the destruction, albeit insignificant, that she had inflicted on the town she so hated. She then sighed, realising that her delight was not only somewhat unsettling but also pointless, and kicked the can away.
Erik noticed this and, because there was still some residual tension from their confrontation at the lake a few days ago, tried to pick up some conversation, thought twice and stopped, then finally mustered up the courage to speak through the awkwardness, "Why... Why do you hate this place so much?"
Anurna looked at him, her dark, somewhat wavy hair bouncing against her defined cheeks with the action.
"I mean," he continued, "I get that it's not much. But you're a traveller. You should be used to stuff like this."
She breathed in, looked around, and then responded, "Yeah, I guess. I don't hate this place because it's a little rough around the edges. It's because Chan Dai has just a sad, pathetic story."
"What do you mean?" he enquired, pushing up his glasses inquisitively at the possibility of some new knowledge.
"Jeez, come on Erik, I thought you were the smart one; you should know this. Chan Dai wasn't always like this. It used to be quite an affluent mining town."
Erik had sat down on a bench. He brushed off some dust and signalled for her to sit down too. Anurna, with nothing better to do, sat down and began in the story of Chan Dai.
"So, like I said, Chan Dai was once a wealthy mining town. The mountains around these parts used to hold a bunch of steel and coal; they were very rich in a number of resources, basically. Big businesses would flock here from all over the world to set up a mine and soon Chan Dai was booming. With businesspeople bringing their families along, the tourism sector increased as well and it seemed Chan Dai's wealth would never disappear.
Of course, it did. But not suddenly. For years Chan Dai enjoyed the riches the mountains brought them, but eventually the resources dwindled. Don't get me wrong, Chan Dai was still rolling in big money – tourism and industry was still big and huge amounts of funds were still being poured into finding new materials in the land. So, the larger corporations bought out the smaller ones in hope of making the most of a decreasingly profitable situation and pretty soon the majority of Chan Dai's power was in the hands of a select powerful millionaires. As it happened, these select few were not happy with what they had and eventually there was some pretty full-scale conflict over the remaining riches.
Hit men were hired, backs were stabbed – some pretty nasty stuff happened. To keep it short; no one came out on top. Well, one old guy did but, by the time the fighting had stopped, there was nothing left in the earth for them to mine. Even the land was spoiled so that crops couldn't grow. So he packed up shop or died or something, and Chan Dai was left with nothing. Criminal gangs vied for what was left. That went on for a while, and I guess this Alphonse guy came out on top.
So, I don't hate Chan Dai because it's a bit ugly. I hate it because a bunch of old farts ran it into the ground, and now it's run by dumb thugs."
She was quiet, and defiantly shoved her hands into her pockets.
Erik let the story sink in. It was indeed a sad one; all he could think about was the poor people that had to endure all of it and felt remorseful that the land, once prosperous and unsullied, was now barren and comparable to that of the Wasteland he had seen pictures of. As a matter of fact, the more he let it sink in the more he found that Chan Dai wasn't that much different to the rest of the world – both having lost their way amongst prosperity and left with nothing but perhaps only a skerrick of hope. In thinking this, he agreed that both situations were terribly dire but, if similar measures used to rehabilitate Chan Dai, if or when that should happen, were applied to the world, perhaps the task ahead was not so complicated and gargantuan as he had feared. But then he remembered the Clandestines, and the many other enemies the Avatar most likely had out there in the world – and maybe even here in Chan Dai – and worry returned like a persistent and irksome rash.
And what could he do? Hit them with a stick?
Compared to a bender, or a swordsman, or the Avatar, he was practically useless in defending himself. There had to be other ways of making himself useful in that regard. And, in this day and age, there definitely was. But even the thought of such a defence mechanism shook him and made him very uneasy, so the utterance of it was completely and almost unbearably terrifying.
"Um, Anurna?" Erik muttered shyly.
"Do you think I should buy a gun?"
She looked down at him; he was about a head shorter than her; and watched him stare intently at the gravel below. His eyes fixated on nothing but his ears fixated on her next words. She turned her head back and looked in front of her, exhaling shortly and quickly, almost like a laugh, and slapped her thighs.
"I thought you'd never ask, twerp."
And off they went, in search of a gun, Anurna's arm hanging proudly over Erik's bony shoulders.
"Do you think they'll have any guns?" Dover asked, turning a corner with his back against the wall, remembering how Anurna had taught them the art of sneaking back in Gao Lin.
"I never really thought about it..." was Sedgley's response, which was far from reassuring.
Dover swallowed, keen to push the through fear, while Sedgley blinked and shook his head, attempting to channel his, hoping that their recently-made plan would go on without a hitch.
Their plan was to mess with the air conditioning unit on the ceiling of the Bloody Knuckles' hideout. By condensing the moisture in the circulating air, they hoped they could get enough water to pass through the vents and use it to freeze the security guard right in his tracks. After a whole day's discussion, that's all they had managed to come up with – hopefully it would be enough.
After surprising themselves with the agility they achieved in jumping from the top of a neighbouring house onto their target roof, they silently, with light footsteps, ran to the air conditioning system. Fortunately for them, as they had not yet fully mastered the art of stealth, the machine was humming loudly and bellowed steamy mist which they could use as cover.
"Ready?" Sedgley asked, his eyes wide and his heart pumping faster than it had ever done so before.
Dover breathed in through his nose, and replied, with a sharp nod, "Ready."
As though kneading a flexible ball of dough, the boys contorted their hands and swayed their arms, puffing the white cloud outwards and then imploding it back in on itself so that the steam condensed together to form liquid water. The hypnotic expanding and receding of the steam cloud was enough to render some meek sense of calmness in the boys. After a short while, they had created a sufficient amount of water to serve their purpose.
Having trained with Galen enough to have some control over water without physically seeing it, Dover fed the stream of fluid back into the bellowing vent while Sedgley stood a metre or so away, hands outstretched and grasping for a twinge in his fingers that meant water was nearby. Just as Dover's 'twinge' disappeared, Sedgley's kicked in, and he turned around, pulling his arm to his stomach and pushing out with the other. Dover ran around past his cohort, following the nails on the roof which detailed the presence of the vent, and proceeded to place himself in the same stance as Sedgley had only seconds ago. This was repeated a few times, and the boys were beginning to get the hang of it.
As one turned around, carrying with him, and preparing to dispense, the condensed water, the other, similarly fluidly, moved around to receive it. Soon, if anyone were to actually see them, they truly resembled real waterbenders. Real warriors.
Not only did their form altogether reflect their bending discipline, but the expression on their faces, concentrated, ready for war, was one only too similar to those of the ancient Southern Water Tribe warriors they had read about in Erik's old storybooks.
Sedgley and Dover reminisced – only slightly, a passing thought, for they were too concentrated on the watery dance they were enacting – about one particular story. About a legendary warrior named Sokka the Wise; a resourceful, powerful man who had once aided some long-lost Avatar, whose name they couldn't remember now, in saving the world long ago. Channelling what they had heard of his strength and his determination, they continued their action with newfound tenacity – obviously upholding silence at all costs.
Nearing the edge of the building, Dover stopped, pulling his hands close to him as though clasping an invisible melon, while Sedgley, looking over his shoulder like Anurna, ran lightly over to the edge of the building, knelt down, the gutter digging into his knees, and bent his head over the edge.
Unaware of what was going on, a security guard, cosy and dozy, sat on his swivel chair, staring idly at his phone while his thumb rotated falling blocks. Even if he wasn't engrossed in the game as he so was, he still would not have managed to spot Sedgley's blonde, curly-haired forehead, upside down, peek in from the roof.
Sedgley, noticing, with a sense of dread, an array of monitors televising footage of the surrounding walls and corners of the building, and then relaxing as he saw that the security guard's attention was nowhere to be found, blinked once, then went to hoist himself back up.
Suddenly, the dastardly gutter gave way. Sedgley plummeted to the ground with a calamitous crash, as the whole line of gutter was peeled off the length of the roof and toppled down with him.
He lay still. Frozen, like water.
Dover peered over the roof, still clutching that invisible melon.
"Shit!" he hissed, then looked up, realising he had sworn.
The security guard, having waited a moment to beat his high score, pressed pause and finally looked out the window. Seeing nothing, he returned his gaze to his phone.
Sedgley moved only his eyes upwards to look at his friend for advice.
Dover peered again over the non-existent gutter, his brown hair hanging worriedly over his face, and whispered, "Get up! Go!"
Sedgley, lacking any other alternative action, pushed himself slowly and painfully up off the ground, noticing the metal gutter had cut him up a bit. Crouching now, with his back against the wall, he gathered his thoughts – which, previously, had been running around frantically inside his head. He devised that he would just crawl around the extent of the building, avoiding detection by staying below the bottom pane of the window. Easy! Relaxing in the comfort of a fool-proof plan, he leant his head back and sighed. However, the mood was flipped back to panic mode when his head thudded not against the concrete wall as he had expected but against the glass window instead.
Sedgley's eyes widened.
The security guard looked up.
Dover's heart dropped.
Sedgley turned his head around; a guilty smile spread out from cheek to flustered cheek, and made complete and irreversible eye contact with the guard.
The sentry, confused but coming to terms with the situation, got up off his chair, pocketed his phone, and began striding over to the window.
"Now!" Sedgley screamed.
Quickly, Dover expanded the space between his hands. Moving one arm out in front of him, rotating his shoulder, and swiftly jabbing the other one outwards with fingers splayed out, a torrent of water burst open from the vent in the room and swallowed up the guard. Before the man even had time to think, Sedgley rotated his hands, palms facing out to the side, and opened his arms widely, crouching slightly with the action, and the guard was frozen.
Dover jumped down from the roof, his feet straining with the impact.
"That was a close one," he sighed, "Did you see him alert anybody?"
"No, he didn't do anything like that," Sedgley responded, rubbing his sore cuts, "Come on, lets find out where these scrolls are."
They made their way into the room, walking past the frozen security guard, whose little eyes followed them the whole way, and sat at the computer screens. A few of the monitors displayed a room filled with various objects, including the old scrolls, while many others portrayed hallways and stairwells, giving them a vague idea of how to actually gain access to the room. After consolidating the correct route to the scrolls in their head, and snatching the keys off their immobilised enemy, they set off.
Sneaking through the building, they saw that it was much bigger inside than it appeared to be outside. Following flights of stairs deeper underground, the boys wondered what secrets lurked in each storey, behind each closed, nondescript door.
As each level was descended with stealth, the boys' hearts sank to a new level of anxiety and foreboding. Were they in over their heads? They had managed to defeat the security guard quite easily, but were there more, stronger opponents in the depths of the building?
Each unsettling question that arose in their minds was swiftly subdued with the knowledge that at least they had the element of surprise. They had defeated the security guard, so no one had been alerted of their presence. That fact they could hold on to.
Arriving at the door, Sedgley stood guard, armed with a stream of water from his pouch, while Dover bent over the doorhandle and fumbled with the many keys.
"Hurry up!" Sedgley whispered frantically. They were so close to getting what they came for, he didn't want to risk being caught because the keys all looked the same.
"I'm trying!" Dover whispered back, his hands sweating as he hoped for the same thing.
With a louder-than-was-favoured clunk, the door became ajar and Dover slunk into the room, shutting the door behind him and leaving Sedgley outside to remain vigilant. Sedgley inhaled slowly and clenched his fists. Soon it would be all over.
Anurna turned over the napkin, squinting, hoping that she had just missed something in the moonlight.
Gone to get scrolls. Be back soon
At least that one was a little less disconcerting. She scrunched up the note and threw it in the bin, knowing Erik would only become stressed. She looked up at him.
"Do you want to hold it now?" she asked, leaning on the counter of the kitchenette.
"The gun, Erik." She picked it out from her belt, "Your gun. Do you want to hold it?"
"Oh... I don't know..." He turned and fidgeted with dinner or something.
"Erik," Anurna was getting frank now, "hold the damn thing. You're going to have to use it sometime, maybe even tonight if Dover and Sedgley screw up." She placed the object into his thin-fingered hands, intertwined her fingers with his and curled them over it, then let him be.
"I guess they're still doing that then, stealing the scrolls?"
"I haven't heard otherwise." She turned and actually started fidgeting with dinner.
Erik looked down at his trembling hands. The small handgun inside of them was heavier than he had imagined. He supposed he shouldn't have suspected anything less from a machine used to kill people.
It was cold. He knew it would get warmer, but right now it was cold. And a lump that slowly travelled down his throat and into his stomach told him to keep it cold for a while longer.
He hoped, with a slight sweat moistening his brow, that, somewhere out there, Sedgley and Dover wouldn't run into one of these things.
Dover ran into a gun.
It fell on the floor.
He went to pick it up but knocked over a box of shells with his head, causing it to topple to the ground in a dramatic display of twirls and flips, firing off shells in every direction. Why would this Alphonse character, head of the Bloody Knuckles, need a box full of shells?
There was no time to contemplate. He stepped over his mess and searched hurriedly through all of Alphonse's bounty for Hu's old bending scrolls.
So much treasure the Bloody Knuckles had! Silk scarves and dresses; marvellous, tall pot plants; cigarettes galore; a whole shelf was dedicated to knives and knives only. Dover even glimpsed an Inducer – one of those horrible weapons Erik had taught him about, used by his enemies to induce the Avatar State in one but severe pain in the rest.
Outside, Sedgley was growing restless and considered going inside as well to help search for the lost scrolls. He smiled to himself, thinking that the lost scrolls sounded like something out of a ridiculous fanfic. The smile was soon lost when he heard footsteps. Not just footsteps, but approaching footsteps. And talking.
Before he had time to act, two men, both hefty beyond belief, turned the corner and began walking up to him.
"You there?" called one of them, "What are you doing down here? Alphonse has called a meeting. Apparently the building's been infiltrated by someone."
There went the element of surprise, along with Sedgley's confidence.
Sedgley, with enormous subtlety, returned the water to his skin, and croaked, "Oh, yeah, about that –"
"– It should be starting soon," the other goon said, lifting up a gloved hand to look at his watch, "we should get going."
"Yeah, um, I got the memo," Sedgley bumbled, thinking it would be better to just fight them instead of saying something stupid, "It's just, well, um, Alphonse –"
"– Mister Alphonse," one of them butted in, Sedgley didn't know who, he was looking down.
"Right, yeah – I'm new here, always get that wrong. Anyway, um, mister Alphonse requested I, well, stay here and guard his things in case the intruders are burglars. So, uh, tell me how the meeting goes, I guess." He smiled, as though part of the gang, put his hands behind his back, and rocked back and forth on his feet, hoping his alibi would suffice.
One of the men spoke up, while the other grimaced silently, "And tell us, newbie, what did Alphonse request your friend to do in there?" He nodded at the room.
Sedgley's heart sank. But, before he could do anything, Dover came out from the door behind him.
His back was to the men, closing the door intricately and silently in front of him, "I got them Sedgley! I got the scro... oh no..."
His body tensed, preparing for a fight but the gangsters suddenly thrust their arms out in front of them, shooting off their gloves which, upon contact, the boys realised were made from rock. The earthbenders' gravel gloves wrapped around their wrists, binding their arms together. One of them snatched the scrolls off Dover while the other angrily tore the water skin from Sedgley's belt, and then proceeded to lead them, despite their struggles, down more stairs.
Dover's heart was racing neck-to-neck with Sedgley's. What had they gotten themselves into? What was Alphonse going to do to them? All these questions would soon be answered, reassured the man escorting Sedgley, when the boys would meet Alphonse.
Sedgley looked over at his equally as helpless friend.
"Don't you even think about fighting back, boy," grumbled his enemy.
However, he wasn't thinking of fighting back. That was the furthest thing from his mind. All he could think about was, why?
Why hadn't he and Dover listened to Erik and Anurna? Why had they thought that this would be a good idea?
What if they had never decided to come here and steal the scrolls? What would happen to them now?
Futile questions, he thought. Silly, futile questions.
The two men lead them through a door, locking it behind them, and into a hallway. It was dimly lit and, along its sides, held many other doors, each adorned with tiny, perspex windows. Walking past them, Dover and Sedgley looked into one of the rooms. A man, with shaggy, brightly orange hair, matted with sweat and grime, was strapped to a slab of concrete. A rusty tap was sporadically dripping water onto his head. With each drop that landed on his creased forehead he let out a short, psychotic wail.
"Like what you see?" jeered the goon, twisting Dover's arm just a little bit more.
He gulped back and was hurled into a room alongside Sedgley, and met with two more henchmen who picked them up from the floor and tied them to a chair each.
It was pitch black.
Any residual hope that came with seeing each other's faces, or even the knowledge that they were able to see each other's faces, was lost. Sedgley was alone and, next to him, so was Dover.
Suddenly, a small orange glow presented itself; a match stricken against a matchbox. The little, flickering ball of light was raised, paused, where another one, this time the end of cigar, was born. A man's shadowy face, with rigid cheekbones and a flabby chin, was revealed, puffing on the cigar, by the intimidatingly meek, orange light.
The match was flung to the ground, where what looked like a leather shoe stomped it out, and they were plunged into darkness yet again.
"A little bit of light please," demanded a hoarse voice.
With a snap, the room was bright white. Dover and Sedgley, once unable to see in darkness, were blinded by lightness, the intensity of such multiplied by the large, white tiles that covered the walls. Their eyes squinted, watering a little bit, and then adjusted to the unsettlingly cold, bleak lighting.
The man, who they could only assume was Alphonse, puffed on his cigar, savoured the taste – and the fear he instilled in the boys – then smiled, or, rather, bared his teeth, and let the grey smoke creep out through the cracks between his crooked incisors and jagged canines. His creased face crinkled up like a brown paper bag, the pink scar above his eye stretching.
"Good evening, boys," he spoke, much like an old uncle, "enjoying yourselves?"
He breathed in the smoke again, and then slouched comically, his lips resembling those of a sad clown.
"I'm not," he moped, pretending to kick a rock sadly as the smoke whooshed out his mouth with a sigh, "I've had a lousy night."
Dover and Sedgley knew exactly where this was going.
"Apparently, as I was told by our security guard who, regrettably, is being punished for his incompetence... Poor guy..." he changed the subject, "He has a family, you know? Shame about that..."
By now he was walking slowly behind them, breathing stale breath down their necks.
"Anyway, I digress. Apparently, some fucking waterbenders broke into by home!"
The boys flinched as he screamed this, stomping on the floor and clenching his fists, spit flying angrily from his mouth.
"We're sorry!" Dover whimpered, on the verge of tears, "We won't do it again, we're sorry! Please, just let us l–"
"Oh, no, don't worry," he laughed, "You won't be doing it again. Not by the time I'm done with you. In fact, when I've finished with you two, you probably won't be doing anything again." He smiled, eerily happily.
Dover was lost for words, he had no idea what to say or do.
Sedgley spoke up now, "What are you going to do to us?" he inquired, desperately begging for an answer.
"Don't know yet," he answered, shoving his hands into his pockets and holding the cigar in his teeth, "Maybe sell you to the Clandestines."
And then it hit them.
This was real. Very real.
Their enemies were out there somewhere and wanted to harm them. All this time they had never really faced a proper enemy. They had never really grasped that there were people in the world who wanted them cold and dead. The grotesque man before them was one of these people. If they could even refer to him as a 'person.' What kind of person would want the Avatar dead, and the world to continue in its present state? But there was one other question, that of which could make or break their chances of survival here.
Sedgley sniffed back a running nose, "Wait, how do you know one of us is the Avatar?"
He really could have phrased that in a way that didn't confirm Alphonse's claim, but he was tired and delirious with fear.
"Look at me," the boss responded, "Come on, take a good look! Do I look like a dumbass? Do I look like a dumbass to you?" He splayed his arms out.
"Of course I do" he continued, "I mean, look at this hair, these slacks. Of course I look like a dumbass to you. I look like a dumbass to every goddamn person who sees me. But I'm not." He face turned grim.
"I'm actually really clever," he began pacing around the grimy room again, "Surely you've heard the story of Chan Dai, I'm gonna assume you have. So, after all the backstabbing, the gunning down, well, I had some major enemies. But, no, I wasn't a dumbass like the rest of them. I was clever. I knew their next move, before they even did. And do you know how?" He was on the verge of laughing, his plump body was heaving with excitement like a child revealing a secret.
"Cameras," he finally said, "Everywhere."
He turned around, pulling a remote out of his pocket, and pointed it at the back wall. The tiles, about a foot in width and height, rose up, revealing many monitors. The boys, in terror as Alphonse lead their sight over to one particular monitor, saw Erik and Anurna eating dinner with Miko and conversing peacefully. On the computer screen next to it was Hu, doing some paper work at his desk, and next to that was his front door. The monitors, hundreds of them covering the walls, seemed to display the lives of each and every citizen in Chan Dai. Dover and Sedgley instantly understood that this meant that Alphonse had overheard their conversation back in Hu's inn, and he knew, for sure, that one of them was the Avatar; the ultimate booty.
Alphonse was standing with his hands behind his back, grinning and deranged, feverishly relishing in their horror. He sprinted over to Dover and grabbed him by the cheeks.
Turning Dover's head at a monitor, he hissed into his ear, "See your friends, over there? That's them, wave hello!"
He then went to Sedgley, grabbing his shoulders and pressing his sweaty head against the boys, spitting, "See that one?" a young woman was getting changed, "She's pretty. I bet you like her. What about that one?" The screen displayed an alleyway in which a man was getting mugged by a pair of thugs, "They're my men, doing their work. Aren't they good little hounds?"
He let go and turned the screens off, their covers rolling back down, rendering the monitors invisible yet again. Walking purposefully, clapping his hands as though getting rid of dust, he turned to face them with a masochistic twinkle in his wild eyes.
"Well that was fun. And now you know how I know!"
Dover and Sedgley were silent. Now that, through a despicably theatrical realisation, they knew that Alphonse was sure one of them was the Avatar, all hope was indeed lost. Noticing him flash a nod at one of his prized cameras, probably signalling for one of his minions to contact the nearest Clandestine, Dover found himself with one last option.
"Alphonse, sir – "
"– Oh! You know my name! I love it when they know my name –"
"– please, could you only send one of us to the Clandestines? They only want one of us. Please, an Inducer, I saw one in your storeroom, shoot me with it."
Sedgley snapped his head over at Dover. How could he suggest such a thing? If he weren't the Avatar, the Inducer would surely kill him.
Still, Dover continued, "Then we can find out who the Avatar is, and you can sell off just one of us, and set the other free."
He didn't know why he had asked for such a fate. Perhaps his love, like a brother, for Sedgley shone through, and he couldn't bear to see him get hurt when only one of them had to. But maybe it was his deplorable desire to get out of this place, escape the fear, without regard for his friend's safety. Perhaps he just wanted to know who the Avatar was once and for all, like ripping off a band-aid; the Avatar the bloody wound beneath it. Whatever reason it didn't matter, the words had been said and Alphonse responded.
"Nah, we don't have any Inducer ammo left..." he said, half regretful and half embarrassed, his chin sinking into itself glumly.
Dover was silent yet again.
"But there are other ways to induce the Avatar State!" Alphonse blurted enthusiastically, his face perking up.
Dover and Sedgley looked at each other. Each time they thought they had reached their capacity to be scared and hopeless, they were proven incorrect, falling to new lows in this treacherous, bottomless pit of despair and terror that Alphonse had dug for them.
"And I've got a few guys who have a score to settle with you two," the villainous mobster added, tunnelling for the boys yet another fearful hole, "McKay! Diego! Get in here!"
The door was unlocked, squeaking on its metal hinges as McKay strode in, followed by his crony. Diego was practically beside himself, which was not a good sign.
"Boss?" McKay asked as he stood beside Alphonse.
"Excellent," Alphonse spoke, "Now, I heard you two had a not-so-pleasant run-in with these boys back in Gao Lin, am I right?"
"Yes you are, sir." McKay confirmed, his face stony and unmoving, while Diego had to will himself to contain his excitement.
"I see. As it turns out they've also wronged me. Now, you know very well how I'd like to just stick a knife in their bellies and be done with it, but one of them is the Avatar, so we will do no such thing." The fun and games was torturous for the boys. "No. Instead, we have to find out which one is the Avatar."
"But we're out of Inducers, boss," McKay grumbled, a hint of a smile on his lips.
"That's right. But, like I said there are other ways to induce the Avatar state. Let's see, um...," he feigned thought, "Ooh, there's pain! Physical and emotional!"
Diego was restlessly humming to himself, all limbs twitching uncontrollably.
"Oh contain yourself Diego!" Alphonse snapped, and then looked down at Sedgley, "You boy. Do you think watching your friend suffer, knowing you are unable to help him, would bring on the Avatar state in you? Or do you think pain would do the trick?"
He looked down at Sedgley, who was silently dreading whatever was about to happen.
"I'm waiting for an answer." Alphonse laughed.
Sedgley opened his dry lips, looking over at Dover. What was he supposed to say? Was he to choose between who was to be tortured? Dover's eyes were bloodshot, he noticed, and his bottom lip had been split open somewhere along the way. He looked down. Dover was his friend, his brother. He couldn't let him undergo further suffering. If whatever his enemies were going to inflict, it was to be on him, not his friend.
Swallowing, and answering Alphonse with quivering lips, he responded, "Pain."
"Very well. Your friend shall endure pain." Alphonse stated, sweaty beads of excitement falling off him as he swang around, signalling for McKay and Diego to set onto Dover.
"No!" Sedgley yelled, "I meant me! Hurt me!"
Dover was struggling, writhing around in his chair as the two vindictive goons leered towards him, Diego holding him down as McKay landed a punch in his stomach.
"Stop it!" Sedgley screamed, rocking on his spot, "Stop it!"
Alphonse slapped him across the face with the back of his hand, "Oh, shut up, boy! Nothing you do or say can help him." Sedgley's chest was heaving angrily, terrified, grief-stricken. Alphonse puckered up, "Well, not unless you go into the Avatar state. Kill us all with a flick of the wrist and save your buddy."
The boss shot a glance up at a camera, his smile curling further. He had prepared himself if one of them were to go into the Avatar State; he needn't worry. Next to him, the pleading moans of Dover caught his attention. He grabbed Sedgley's jaw, squeezing it, and forced him to look at his friend.
"Look over there," he teased, "at your friend. Look at what they're doing to him."
To Sedgley's left, Diego had pulled out a knife from up his sleeve and, against all his instincts, tossed it to McKay. The firebender caught it by the blade, yet it did no damage to his tough palms. Setting his hands ablaze, he heated the metal until it was searing hot and glowing red. Diego, whose spindly arms wrapped surprisingly well around Dover's head and shoulders, stabilised their victim as McKay brought the hot knife forward. He tore open Dover's shirt and pressed the point of the blade against his skin, so the boy could just feel the heat of the thing.
Dover gasped, and tried to struggle free, but to no effect.
"Please, no..." Sedgley muttered through gritted teeth, as Alphonse was holding them together.
He wanted to help Dover but there was nothing he could do until he was unbounded. Sedgley closed his eyes tight and searched himself for some great power, a trigger that would let him enter the Avatar State and save his friend. There was a horrible, tense sensation in his chest but that was his heart, beating hard with rage and fast with terror.
Dover moaned, his pained wail just another reminder as to how helpless Sedgley indeed was, as the knife was pushed past his skin and into the side of his belly. The searing hot metal sunk into his flesh, tearing through tissue as though it were a butter knife sliding seamlessly through lard. McKay, grimacing straight at Dover, pulled the knife down slowly, cutting through the boy's torso.
He didn't enjoy cutting flesh. Well, not nearly as much as Diego. McKay preferred to see the pain he inflicted in others – be it through screams, wounds, begging for mercy. And, luckily for him, Dover was exhibiting all three of these.
As the boy, blood only now starting to seep from the gash in his body, cried out in pain, grovelling for the torture to cease, McKay tossed the knife back to Diego. The crazed man's eyes flicked to Dover's ear and back, but he would desperately wait until he was told. McKay then procured a flame from his knuckles. Tightening his fist and pointing the bloody knuckle of his index finger outwards, he concentrated the flames into a precise spout.
"Make sure he doesn't squirm." McKay instructed, Diego putting the dirty knife between his teeth and constricting the boy further.
The big goon lowered his flaming knuckle to the top of Dover's gash and began cauterising the wound, sizzling the poor boy's flesh until the wound was sealed and a throbbing scar lined his torso.
"I didn't say stop," Alphonse said, "This one here chose for him to suffer pain, so that's what he'll get. Go on Diego, have at it."
Diego's murderous eyes dilated and he bared his teeth in a smile so happy that, if he weren't celebrating the opportunity to cut a person open, it would be a nice sight. As the man's mind was frantically transported to a viciously ecstatic place, Dover was in and out of consciousness, the pain – the first of which he had ever actually experienced – having shattered him. He could no longer see. He would occasionally spot the broad shoulders of McKay imposingly silhouetted against the bright walls, or hear the anguished yells of Sedgley, or feel Diego's excited breath on his neck. The majority of his senses were, however, focused on the seemingly endless and inexplicably profound pain that radiated at his stomach. It had indeed overpowered him. His mind pleaded with nothingness to give the Avatar State to him, he asked for death to take him away from the pain, but the intensity was unwavering and the feeling unceasing.
Diego spat the knife into his hand and brought it down fast towards Dover. Stopping, and then timidly poking the tip of the blade into the boy's still sensitive scar then spinning it around to break through the seal, drove the knife down Dover's side, following the exact path as the scar detailed, cruelly tearing up the cauterisation.
Dover yelled out in agony. He thought the pain couldn't possibly get any worse, but this cruel act was immeasurably so.
Sedgley was sobbing now. He was helpless, and so was Dover. Maybe Mother Leliita had been wrong. She was old. There was no telling how senile she was, or how much her brain deceived her. Maybe neither he nor Dover were the Avatar...
"They should be back by now..." Erik muttered, peering out the window as Anurna handed him a plate to dry.
"They've probably gotten themselves into trouble, haven't they." Anurna said, pulling the plug out of the drain and watching the frothy water go down, "Is this something they do often: get themselves into trouble?"
Erik placed the dry plate on the counter, next to the gun he had just bought, and walked over to the table. He sat down and scratched Miko behind the ear, his eyes glossing over, as his thoughts led him back to the past.
"Yeah, it is..." he replied pensively. He then laughed, "I remember, when there had been sightings of beagle bears around the orphanage, Dover and Sedgley went against the sisters' advice and decided to go wandering out over the moors with food stuffed into their pockets. I guess they wanted to see the beast. Knowing Dover, that's probably right. Sure enough it smelled them out and was this close to eating them until I stepped in and threw a leg of ham I pinched from the kitchen into the scene. The beagle bear ate the ham, and we were able to escape just in time. From then on we were best friends, and I've been getting them out of trouble ever since."
Anurna sighed, "I didn't ask for your life's story, shrimp."
Erik looked up determinedly at her through his glasses, "I know. I think it's time I helped them out of a difficult situation yet again."
"That's what I'm talking about!" Anurna, straightening up from her slouch, cheered, "I swore to those boys I'd help the Avatar get to Haven, and I never go back on my promises!" Chucking Erik the firearm, to which he clumsily caught, nervous despite it being on safety, she said, fiercely, "Let's do this!"
Running out the door with a mission, spurred on by nostalgia, one of humankind's most potent motivators, Erik called out, "Miko! Man home base!" before slamming it shut and leaving the fuzzy creature sitting on the table, ears twitching in confusion.
Searing the second gash shut, so that the scar that was just reopened was now resealed, McKay stepped back from the macabre torture scene before him, satisfied, yet growing a little bored. He enjoyed the screams of his enemies, but Dover had now fallen quiet. Even Sedgley was silent, staring down at his knees.
"Hello..." Alphonse said, gently slapping Dover on the cheek, "You alive? Little boy..." He sighed, "Dammit... Throw a bucket of water on him, we can't exactly hand over a dead kid now, can we?"
As McKay left the room to fetch some water, Alphonse crossed his arms, looking over at Sedgley and comically checking his wrist as though there were a watch on it, hoping for a laugh. How could he expect a laugh from Sedgley now? Was this man for real?
Diego burst into hysterics, however, causing Alphonse to cross his arms in actual annoyance. The skinny goon's laughter died down as his large counterpart entered with a bucket of water that was dumped onto Dover's hanging head. He woke from his state, spluttering and coughing before hunching over to look at his scar, grimy tears trickling down his still and lifeless face.
Just as the water stopped dripping from Dover's body, Sedgley muttered, "You idiot..."
Before Alphonse even had time to react, Sedgley, surprisingly masterfully – perhaps due to the dire situation he was in – considering his amount of training, contorted his hands, a stream of water shooting up from the pool below Dover, knocking the knife out of Diego's hand and freezing it to the ceiling. Moving just his fingers, another jet of water was frozen to the rope around his hands, which he shattered immediately after. With his hands, his greatest weapons, free and swiftly moving outwards, the room was suddenly filled with steam.
"D-don't let him get the other one!" Alphonse screamed, backing away from the ensuing violence.
Diego ran towards Sedgley, whose legs were still bound to the chair, screaming loudly with his hands flexing in preparation for some brutality.
Lunging forward and moving into a handstand, the chair now in the air, Sedgley avoided Diego's attack, the earthen pillar shattering the chair on impact.
Unbounded at last and rolling away to dodge some more earth, Sedgley got up and said, firmly, "Now it's a bit of a fair fight."
"How do you know this is the place?" Erik asked, standing outside a building that looked identical to the ones either side of it.
Anurna looked up at the roof before speaking, "Look. An air conditioner and a satellite dish. None of the places around here have those. Come on, it's so obvious."
Kicking open the door, landing a spinning kick right on a guard's neck, pressing him up against the wall with her foot and setting her fists ablaze, the prodigious firebender demanded, "Where are the waterbending boys?"
"Dover," Sedgley called through the mist, "I could use your help!"
There was only a little bit of water in the room, whereas Diego and McKay had all the earth and fire they could ever want and Sedgley, nimbly dodging attacks, was growing tired.
"Take another step and I'll burn his face off!" McKay threatened, shouting somewhere at an unseeable enemy, "I may not be able to see you, but I can hear you move, so choose wisely, boy."
There was a short pause. Sedgley's head was throbbing tensely from being roughed up and the decision he had to make. Was this just a trick they were playing to land an attack on him, or was Dover's life actually in his hands?
Suddenly, flames burst from the doorway as Anurna and Erik came charging through.
"Are you idiots in here?" Anurna shouted.
"Anurna!" Sedgley cried, graciously welcoming an ally into the midst as he condensed the steam into a watery glove and saw that Erik was with her too, while Alphonse was nowhere to be seen.
As soon as the fog had disappeared, Diego charged at Sedgley, tearing up the floor as he went. Anurna shot a stream of fire at McKay, causing him to jump up from his crouch next to Dover and brace himself for a skirmish with the girl.
"Didn't I say if I ever saw you two again I'd singe the skin off of your bodies?" Anurna said chillingly, before firing another line of orange at her opponent.
Sedgley now, with hands facing together, moving them inwards and outwards, and then pushing his open palms in front of him, managed to thrust Diego back with a powerful wave. The man got up onto his feet as Erik took aim, the gun rattling in his arms.
He breathed in, index finger tapping on the trigger. He had never killed someone before, let alone shot someone. If his mother knew what he was doing... Surely, she would be disappointed.
Suddenly he was knocked over by a hurtling piece of rock and landed on the floor, winded, the gun still held tightly in his hand, but his finger far from the trigger.
"Erik!" Sedgley yelled, hoping he was alright, "Anurna, we need to get out of here."
Diego landed a heavy projectile on Sedgley's arm, sending it numb. Using the other arm, the boy swallowed the same rock up in water and swung it right back at Diego, hitting him in the head and rendering him unconscious.
"Dammit..." McKay muttered to himself, "Alphonse, where are you?"
"You go for Dover, I'll handle this guy," Anurna ordered, avoiding McKay's attacks like an airbender, and discharging barrages of her own fire, "and Erik, if you can hear me, guard the door and make sure there aren't any guards coming."
Erik, feeling utterly powerless, followed his orders and walked over to the door, arms flopping sadly by his side.
"I've wanted to do this for a long time, missy..." McKay revealed, pointing a finger up into the air and the other at Anurna, bringing the one above down to his stomach, and releasing a jagged burst of lightning at the girl with an outwards thrust.
Anurna, eyes wide with horror, ducked clumsily as the stream of electricity flew over her. She gulped back her fear and shot fire at McKay's feet. He fell over and Sedgley ran over to Dover, whose head had fallen back limply.
His eyes were open, but crusted together with salty tears and grime. His face was bruised and swollen with being stricken and the smell of burnt flesh was only now noticeable, his fresh scar glowing bright red with sting and sensitivity. Sedgley had never seen Dover like this. He had never seen anyone like this, yet, because he was so close to the poor, tortured boy, it was worse tenfold.
He untied Dover's ropes from the chair and hoisted him onto his back, mumbling, "Don't worry buddy, we'll get you out of here."
Anurna was standing over McKay, about to administer the lethal blow, when Sedgley, moving his arm floppily, froze the man's wrists to the ground.
"What gives?" Anurna moaned.
"We need to leave!" Sedgley begged, messily picking up the empty water skin and the scrolls, the reason they had come here, the reason all these atrocious things had happened.
"Fine," Anurna said, before turning back to McKay, "Don't move."
"Come on guys," Erik called from the doorway, trying to seem more helpful, "we should go while there's still no guards."
"Erik, good to see you," Sedgley panted, rushing over and passing him the objects, "can you hold these?"
"Thanks. Let's go. Now."
Sedgley ran down the hallway and was about to turn into the staircase when Anurna called, "Sedgley!"
They huddled into a lift, going up. It was faster and easier than taking the stairs, especially with Dover on his back, but Sedgley still felt like a sitting duck, unable to shake the feeling that as soon as the doors opened on the ground floor they were goners.
"He doesn't look so good..." Erik said quietly, peering at Dover's messed up body, his glasses fogging up with watering eyes.
Nothing was said for a while until they neared the ground floor and Anurna stepped in front of them all.
As the doors opened, they saw that guards, armed with all sorts of firearms, water whips, earth and fire, were standing by. Anurna had already taken a deep breath in, and had brought her arms up to her chest. Jutting them out and screaming like a warlord, she let loose the greatest expanse of flames the boys had ever seen. The guards, unable to defend themselves from such a brazenly potent attack, were left laying on the ground, groaning in defeat.
Having cleared the path for them, Anurna turned back and said, "That should do it," before pulling a strand of hair out of her face and behind her ear and leading them through the scorched exit.
Running as fast as they could to Hu's inn, Dover was shaken awake. He looked around at the silent town. So they had made it out alive. Anurna in front of him, Erik beside him and Sedgley carrying him on his very back. He smiled; they were alive too.
He then croaked, "Where's Miko?"
All shocked to hear him speaking so soon, Erik looked up at Dover and said, "He's back at the inn, guarding our stuff for us."
And sure enough, he was, sitting on the table under the light of the hanging lamp, where they had left him. Chattering worriedly as they burst through the door, even Miko did all he could to help them hurriedly pack their things, pulling zippers shut or dragging shirts from the feet of beds. As soon as they had packed, Dover convinced them he was fine enough to walk by himself, and they left, leaving Hu a hefty sum of money; their condolences for what the Bloody Knuckles would probably do to him.
Anurna was right from the start – Chan Dai was an awful place – and the boys were just as happy as her when they scurried away and left the town for good, not stopping for hours, until the first signs of daybreak.
Sitting down and catching their breath, Anurna laying on the grass and busying herself with her phone to calm down, Erik looked over at his two friends. At least they were safe for now, and maybe they had learnt a lesson to indeed keep their heads out of trouble until reaching Haven. He lay down, placing the damned gun in his bag out of sight, and dreamt of his mother.
Sedgley lay down too, Miko dozing under his heavy hand, and wondered why the Avatar State presented itself in neither of them, the thought gnawing away at him until he remembered that Dover was next to him, alive, and on his behalf, and could finally drift off.
Dover, however, remained awake, staring out at the path behind them, stroking his scar, the scrolls leaning on the log next to him, expecting Alphonse and his cronies to lurch from the dawn-light shadows. He was traumatised, and would forever be reminded of their cruelty, just the sting of his scar was enough to bring back horrific memories. But next time, he thought to himself, unsure if he would keep this promise, yet certain he'd try to; next time he'd be ready.
The happy screeches of bats returning to their homes for a daylight slumber was enough to send Dover to sleep. Laying down like the rest of his friends, whom he was indebted to for the rest of his life now, Dover, like a child clinging to its teddy after a bad dream, clutched the bending scrolls, for which he had gone through so much to gain, and thought of how much he still had to learn and how much he had to lose. How much the world had to lose, but not if he had anything to do with it.
A stern woman, skin dark as the scorched walls she walked past, accompanied by men carrying Inducers, walked down the staircases on her high heels, each piece of evidence of their escape another reason to get mad.
She was defiant, she was ruthless, she was, "Miss Zaida!" Alphonse welcomed her nervously, accompanying her down the stairs.
"Shut it, Alphonse!" she snapped, "Where are the boys you told me about?"
He was sweating, more so than usual.
"Well, they escaped. And we still don't know which one is the Avatar."
"Of course..." she sighed.
As a Clandestine, she wasn't meant to hate her job. She was required to accept all her responsibilities with pride, but she hated that she had been appointed to the West and had to liaise with this buffoon.
"Do you know where they're headed?" she asked, cut to the chase, straight to the point.
"No..." he said nervously, his chin wobbling, sweaty with fear. He didn't like this woman, but was afraid of being punished if he didn't serve her so continued, "But we do have good surveillance."
She was growing tired of him, so turned and looked into a cell at a man with shaggy orange hair.
"Is this the man from the wasteland?" she asked, walking into his room, his mad eyes snapping to her.
She was the first person he'd seen in... how long had he been here...? Nonetheless, the emergence of something other than those confounded droplets was like a blessing. However, as she neared him, opening a can that hung at her waist with her thumb, lifting up her hand to raise two dozen or so pebbles, and smiling ever so subtly, her eyes glinting unnervingly, he knew something was wrong. She was the first person he'd seen in ages, and the last one he'd see for even longer, as she, moving like a waterbender, riddled his body with pebbles.
Alphonse gulped, stepping back as a pool of blood crept across the floor, "So... Do you think you can find them?"
Miss Zaida turned around, returning the pebbles to the can at her waist, and said, "Of course, Alphonse. You of all people should know the Clandestines don't give up so easily."
- With the word count at 11,587, this is the longest chapter to date.
- There is a reference to Sokka and Aang and the Hundred Year War in this chapter. Dover and Sedgley recall old stories of "Sokka the Wise" (a reference to Bato of the Water Tribe, in which Bato gave Sokka the wise symbol) who helped "some long-lost Avatar, whose name they couldn't remember now, in saving the world long ago."
- There is also a nod that this is fanfic, when Sedgley thinks that "the lost scrolls" sounds like "something out of a ridiculous fanfic." This, however, must mean that television and computers must be around, and fanfiction writing must be a well known thing.
- The recurring characters, Alphonse and Miss Zaida, make their first appearances in this chapter.
- The 'Scars' of Chan Dai, could refer to Dover's scar and the emotional scars that the traumatising experience with the gang left on them all OR it could refer to the toll the mining industry and greed had on Chan Dai, which is now seemingly irreparable and visibly damaged (like a scar).
- The Maine-raccoon is an original animal, based off a Maine Coon (a type of cat [my cat happens to be a Maine Coon and happens to be vicious like the one in the story]) and a raccoon.
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