|More from BlueDagger||Adventure||PG-13||Positive|
January 27, 2012
Feng and his friends set out to finally find out what the Shroud is, and end up visiting a place very familiar to Wei and him.
In Search of Knowledge
Feng, Wei, and Nekku stood in front of the grand Ba Sing Se University. Feng felt that simply by being in its vicinity, he was getting smarter. The entire place radiated an aura of knowledge and wisdom.
The perfect kind of place for obtaining information.
"Well," Wei said. "Let's get to it, then. We'll never find anything out here."
Nekku stretched, yawned, and nodded.
"Yeah," he said. "Today is the day. We're gonna find out what the Shroud is."
The three of them entered the University together.
"So," Feng said. "Where to start?"
"They say their library is the best mortal one in the world. Second only to the Spirit Library. May as well start there."
She led her friends up to a university student, who was leaning against a fountain reading a book.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello," the student responded. "Come looking for knowledge, eh?"
"Yes sir. Would you be able to direct me to your library?"
"Ah, yes, of course. In the west wing, the main room."
Wei smiled. "Thank you!"
"Mmhm." The man returned to his reading.
"Alright, then, let's go," Feng said.
The three of them walked over the western building of the University. It took only a minute to locate the largest room in the building. When they entered the enormous room, they looked around in awe. The room was full of bookcases, lined with volumes and volumes and volumes of books.
"Greeaaattt, how the hell are we going to find anything in this place?"
Feng chuckled a bit. He glanced around, and quickly found a man dressed in green robes. He walked over to him.
"Excuse me, sir, but we're looking for some very specific information. Can you help us?"
"Ah, of course. What is it that you are looking for?"
"Hmm... How to put this... Any books on historical organizations."
"Any in particular?"
"Yes. A group known as the Shroud."
"Hmm. I can't say I've heard that name, myself... Wait! Ah, yes, I filed a book away last week, and it looked fairly interesting, so I flipped through it. I do believe it mentioned shrouds in it somewhere... Here, I'll take you and your friends to it."
Feng smiled. "Thank you very much, sir."
Wei, Nekku, and Feng followed the man over to a large bookcase near the north of the room. The man looked over the shelves for a minute, and soon produced a weathered old book. It was black, with nothing on the cover but its title:
A Historical Catalog of Guilds, Orders, and Organizations
"Wow," Feng said, as the man handed the book to him. "This is exactly what we're looking for, thank you, sir!"
The man nodded. "Any time. Feel free to read over it. Please do not damage or remove it from the library, however."
"Of course. Thank you."
Feng took the book over to a table in the center of the library, with Wei and Nekku following closely behind him. They sat down.
"Well," Wei whispered. "Go ahead."
Feng nodded, and opened the book.
It started with a short foreword, giving a short preview of the information contained in the book. After that was the table of contents. Feng flipped through it.
"Organizations... S... Aha! It is in here!"
He quickly flipped to page four hundred and forty-six, where the information on the Shroud would be.
Then he, Wei, and Nekku, gave a simultaneous groan.
The page where the information on the Shroud should have been was torn out.
"What?!" Wei yelled, slamming the table with her fist. "How could it be gone?! All this time, for nothing... Now we're at a dead end again..."
Feng closed the book and tossed it on the table. "Great," he said exasperatedly. "Now we'll never know what the Shroud is. We're at a dead end again."
He turned around when a man's hand fell on his shoulder. He looked up. The man was wearing simple, black clothing, and had long, jet black hair, that fell down to his neck. He smiled at Feng.
"You're inquiring about the Shroud? I have know nothing of them, myself, but I have heard their name. A girl at my favorite blacksmith's sold me a knife yesterday. When she sold it to me, she told me it was 'sharp enough for the Shroud'. She may know."
"What? Really? Where is this smithy?"
"Down near the wall connecting the Lower Ring to the Outer Ring. Called 'Fire and Steel'. I hope this was of help."
The man smiled, and walked away.
"Huh," Feng muttered. "Nice guy. Anyways, Fire and Steel? Anyone hear of it?"
Wei chuckled, and stood up.
"Mates, we're in good luck. That's Jericho's place. That's where my sister works."
Feng chuckled along with her. "Spirits be good, that is a stroke of luck. Let's go see Lily, then."
Wei led Nekku and Feng out of the University, and through the maze of city streets that they knew would lead them to Fire and Steel.
In Search of Answers
It was almost noon by the time they arrived. Wei nodded at Jericho as they approached the shop.
"Hey, Jericho. We're here to see Lily for a moment, is that alright?"
"Of course, of course. Go ahead."
"Thanks, big guy." Wei walked into the small smithy, with Feng and Nekku trailing right behind her. Lily was shaping a long blade into formation, to be later attached to a wooden pole and made into a spear. She looked up and beamed as they entered.
"Wei, Nekku, Feng! Glad to see you guys. What brings you about?"
Feng stepped forward a bit.
"Lily. A man in the Ba Sing Se University told us that you had once mentioned the Shroud."
"A customer mentioned that? Yes, well, I use them. Why?"
"How do you know about them?"
"What are you talking about? I thought they were common knowledge. There were a bunch of books about them back at the orphanage."
Feng and Wei stopped, wide-eyed, staring at Lily.
"...What?" Feng asked.
"I found a bookshelf one day when I was bored... I started reading. It told me about the Shroud."
"Lily," Feng said. "This is incredibly important. We need to know everything you can tell us about them."
"Alright, sure. Well, basically, what the books said, was that they started out as part of the Church of Balance. Eventually, they got annoyed that the Church didn't do enough to enforce balance. So one man, Zeref Malar, took some members and broke off. They formed an order of assassins, killing in the name of balance. They are said to be the greatest assassins in the world."
"So... Not only are we being hunted by the greatest assassins in the world... But they're some sort of holy order... They're hunting us for a reason..."
Wei sighed. "We're probably screwed, aren't we?"
"Don't say that," Nekku said. "We're skilled assassins, too. We can beat them. All we have to do is fight. That's our best bet right now. We'll just keep going about our business. When they come for us, we fight and end them."
Feng nodded, then turned back to Lily.
"Listen. If there's anything else you can tell us..."
Lily nodded. "Of course. I don't remember too much, but your best bet would probably be going to the orphanage. Starry Skies orphanage. There are tons of books about them there."
"Thanks a ton, Lily!"
"Yup, anytime. And, Feng?"
"Stay alive, all right?"
"Oh come on, Lily. We're the best assassins in this city. Of course we'll stay alive."
And with that, the trio went out of the small shop.
Feng sighed. For the first time in years, they were going back.
Back to Starry Skies.
In Search of the Truth
Feng sighed, looking on the old building again. He felt as if he were meeting an old friend again for the first time in years. It was here that he grew up. Here where learned about life. He where he met Wei.
"Well," he muttered. "Let's go in, then."
As he entered the old building, memories came flooding back to him. The time he had been caught climbing out of the third story window onto the roof. The time he and Wei stole the jar of cookies from the kitchen. The time his friend taught him how to stay hidden in the shadows. The time he and Wei finally got the courage to run away. Never looking back.
Or so they had thought.
The place had been shut down for a year now. The city had done nothing about the old building, and so it still stood, just as it had all those years ago.
Wei sighed as she walked with the two boys down the main entrance hall, into the living room. "Damn, memories were made in this place..." She chuckled a bit. "Hey, Feng, you remember that time someone brought home a reptile bird?"
Feng smiled. "Haha, yeah. It managed to destroy half the pottery in this place before they caught it."
The two friends laughed together.
They got into the living room, and looked around a bit. It was a fairly large room. There were several boxes of toys littered about, couches for sitting, and a large fireplace on the left side of the room. There was a door to the courtyard on the wall opposite them.
"Here are the bookshelves," Feng said. He gestured to the wall near them, where several small bookshelves were, still lined with books.
"Wow," Nekku muttered. "This place hasn't even been touched. What happened to all the children? And why was it shut down?"
"Well," Feng answered, "Most of the children got adopted. Some are just living in the streets. As for the shutting down, no one knows. Not even the headmaster knew."
"Huh," Nekky muttered, as they walked over to the bookshelves. They each took a shelf, and began thumbing through the various books. They flipped through most of them, but they couldn't find a single sign of anything pertaining to the Shroud.
"Nothing over here," Nekku called. "Anything for the two of you?"
Feng and Wei both shook their heads. Feng slammed the wall with his fist.
"There has to be something we're missing here... Look around, both of you. Lily can't have been wrong."
They began closely examining the room they were in. Feng and Nekku started looking more carefully at the bookshelves. Wei, idly, went to the fireplace.
Wei gasped. "Feng. Nekku. Come here."
They went over next to her.
"Yeah?" Nekku asked.
She pointed to it. "Look at those symbols."
On either side of the fireplace, there were three stone swords sticking out from the wall, side-by-side, vertically.
"I have a crazy idea..." Wei said.
She stepped forward, to one of the lines of swords. Gently, she pushed one sword on the left side inwards. It turned, and clicked into place in the center. She did it to the other, as well.
Together, they made a perfect recreation of the symbol of the Shroud. She did the same to the other side, and they also clicked in place.
She stepped back as they did. And as she did, the fireplace rose up, to reveal a set of stairs traveling down.
"Spirits..." Nekku whispered.
"A secret passage..." Wei muttered. "Why?"
"Let's go see," Feng said.
The three friends climbed down into the dark together. There was a torch at the top and something to light it with, they did so, and carried it down, lighting other torches as they went.
They were in awe once they finally hit the bottom. The room they were standing in was as big as the orphanage itself. It had various maps hung up all over the room, with tables with maps around it, and one large table with many seats in the middle. The symbol of the Shroud was painted on the far wall.
"So," Feng mutterd, "This was a base for the Shroud... Come to think of it, I always did see people coming and going from Starry Skies... We never knew who they were..."
"Wow," Wei said, awed. "A Shroud base, in the place we grew up in..." She chuckled. "Oh, the irony."
"Well," Nekku said. "We hit the jackpot. Let's look around. There are some bookshelves over there."
They walked over to a row of shelves near the main table. As Wei lit a small fireplace, Feng randomly picked one book.
Hierarchy of the Shroud
He smiled. "Perfect." He flipped it open.
While Wei and Nekku read their own books, he flipped through his. The book explained the leadership system of the Shroud. It started with Initiates, who were not full members of the Shroud. After they proved themselves and took the Oath of the Shroud, they were made Nighteyes. From that, the ranks were Darkblade, Stormbringer, Seeker, Sender, and Shadowalker. From there, the best of the best were chosen, and became one of ten Elites. Above that, there were six Masters. Finally, there was one Grandmaster.
Nekku was flipping through a book on the history of the Shroud. He found one chapter, entitled 'The War of the Shroud,' and began to read.
However, as he did, the three of them heard a noise from above. A loud rumbling.
"What was that?" Wei whispered.
Nekku stood up from where he was sitting and reading. "I'll go check it out."
He went up the stairs quietly. He got to the top, and exited the fireplace. It was nighttime already. Cautiously, he went into the courtyard.
Cold and Silence
As he stepped outside, he noticed two things immediately.
The cold, and the silence.
It was bitter cold, unnaturally so for a night near the end of Autumn. And not a single thing made sound.
He knew what was coming.
"Kayla," he said simply. "I know you're here. Show yourself."
A voice chuckled from the growing mist around the courtyard. "Now, now, my dear young Waterbender. I was thinking we could have a little fun first."
"What are you getting at..." He hardly had time to dodge what came next. A spike of ice came shooting up from the ground. He stepped back, managing to have it only graze his left leg. He swiped at it with water, destroying it. He jumped back as more and more spikes of ice came up. He did a backflip, narrowly avoiding one that came up under him. He turned his water into a path of ice, and slid up to avoid the spikes.
Suddenly, the air began to fill. With needles of ice. Nekku jumped down from the ice, and put it over his head, moving it to quickly stop any falling needles. He cut some up, and stopped many, but them kept coming.
Suddenly, his ice shield shattered, and splattered him with water. He rolled to the side to avoid some needles, but there were more there. He was desperately dodging, but he was getting hit. Needles were sticking out of him now, and he was getting beaten.
He knew he had to do something, quickly. He mustered all of his remaining strength. He brought his arms back, and, with every ounce of power he had, struck them out.
And the needles stopped falling. They hovered in midair, submitting to the young Waterbender's command.
"KAYLA!" Nekku yelled. "SHOW YOURSELF!"
He brought his arms back once more, and thrust them out again.
The needles flew out in the opposite direction. They pulverized everything around Nekku. He heard a low grunt of pain, and saw the shadow of a figure on the rooftop.
Kayla jumped down. She had three needles sticking out from her body. Placidly, she flicked her finger, and they flew at Nekku. He put his hand up, and they all shattered before they reached him.
"Well," Kayla said, a smile growing on her face. "Time for things to begin in earnest, eh?"
Nekku looked at her plainly. "Aye, I believe so."
He took the water from his pouch, brought it up, and swung it down on Kayla. She quickly moved to the side, and controlled his water, swinging it around her back, and sending it back at him. He took it and swirled it about his head, before turning it into a pointed shape and launching it at her. She jumped into the air, and brought her own water to Nekku from the side.
He put his hand up to it, and deflected it to both sides of him. He took that water and brought it up to both his hands. He swirled it around them, and used it to propel himself at Kayla. He got up to her, and punched her with one water-covered arm. She went flying back, and hit the wall with a resounding smack.
She quickly got up, and took water off the ground. She brought one stream from the top of Nekku, and while he took control of that one, she made the ground under him slick with ice.
He slipped and fell down. As Kayla took the stream of water he had and launched it at him, he quickly took the ice around him and formed a shell around his body, blocking most of the force of the water. He got to his feet, and took the water lying down around him. He brought it up into the air and launched it at Kayla.
She easily took it. She brought it into the air herself, but instead of launching it, separated it into balls. She took them and froze them. With a hand movement, she launched the ice bullets at Nekku.
He took some more water from around his feet, and quickly brought it up in front of him, freezing it as he did. It took some hits, but the bullets broke through. He dodged many. Two hit him in the right leg, however. While he was distracted, Kayla took more water, and put into one large ice ball, which she launched at him. It hit him full force in the stomach.
He was launched backwards, hitting the wall hard. The wind was completely knocked out of him, and he was sure he heard something crack.
He struggled, regained his breath, and slowly stood up, despite the pain. Kayla chuckled.
"You're slipping," she said.
She took more water, and launched it at Nekku. He was hit in the stomach by one stream, launched in the air, and then knocked down by another. She launched him again at the wall.
He winced at the pain, but slowly stood back up.
"Wow," Kayla said. "You're still standing, huh? We'll have to change that."
Nekku coughed, and a bit of blood came out. He wiped his mouth.
Suddenly, he turned some of the water on the ground into a pillar of ice, propelling himself into the air. He took more water, and turned it into two streams following him.
He took one and launched it at the Shroud assassin. She took control of it, and put it behind her back. She reached up for the other as well.
But quickly, Nekku separated the water, and turned it into spikes of ice.
Their own momentum, combined with Kayla's reaching for them, brought them straight into her.
A spike impaled her left shoulder. Two more hit her right leg, and another buried itself in her right arm.
He took more water, and hit her in the stomach with a stream of it.
Kayla fell over, knocked flat on her back. She stood up, then staggered and fell. She coughed up a bit of blood.
Feng and Wei were still reading.
"Hey," Feng said. "Where do you think Nekku is? He's been gone for a while."
"Eh," Wei said. "He'll be back soon."
Feng nodded, and went back to his book.
Suddenly, he heard a noise. A light fizzing sound.
"Wei..." he said. "You hear that sound?"
She nodded faintly.
"You recognize it?"
"From where would I?"
She looked up, wide-eyed.
They picked up only the book they were reading, and ran out of the lair as fast as they could. They hurried up the steps. They just made it up and out of the fireplace, when they heard the explosion.
"Airan's bombs..." Feng muttered.
"But..." Wei said, "that means... The Shroud is here... Nekku!"
They ran out into the courtyard.
Nekku was standing above Kayla, about to finish her.
He smiled when he saw Feng and Wei. "Hey, guys. What took ya?"
"Nekku!" Wei yelled. "Airan is here, too!"
Just then, the courtyard was filled with smoke. They saw a faint figure jump down, pick Kayla up, and jump up again.
"Airan..." Kayla muttered, as Airan sped over the rooftops. "You... You have to get them..."
"No. I can't leave you there. We'll end them later. For now, let's get you to safety."
Kayla smiled, and drifted into sweet unconsciousness as Airan hurried through the sleeping city.
Nekku sat down as the smoke began to clear. "Ugh, that hurts... She almost got the better of me..."
"Yeah, lucky you're a great Waterbender, eh?" Feng said. "Alright, guys. We lost all those books, but I managed to grab one, and so did Wei. Plus, we know who they are. We may not know why they want us dead yet, but at least now we have some idea of who we're up against."
"Yeah," Wei said. "And things aren't looking good."
"We'll pull through," Nekku said. "We'll get the best of them eventually."
The three of them nodded together.
Gently, they all lay down in the courtyard of the place that was once the only home Feng and Wei knew.
And, together, they looked up at the starry sky, hoping for the best, yet somewhere, deep down, expecting the worst.
This fight scene is my favorite yet. Waterbending has a certain fluidity that makes it much fun to write.
I have been reading Fairy Tail a lot lately, so it may show in my writing a bit. Let me know if it does.
That last line there is for Mooneh. :3
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Part 1: Beginnings|
|First Blood - Bar Fights are Fun! - Civil Unrest - What Goes Around - Comes Around - The Shroud - Battle on the Wall - Starry Skies - Sister Dearest - One Last Sale - Horizon Part 1: Stormy Sky - Horizon Part 2: Farewell|
|Part 2: Journeys|
|That Long Road - Morning Never Comes|