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Chapter Eleven & One Half: Night Fire Spectre
Her presence lit the hearts of those whose hopes were long gone. Her beauty calmed those frightened souls that soon would be facing death. Her stare sent shivers down their backs, and gave them the will to cut throats with their bending, and weaponry.
Swords of many designs were part of her people's arms during her time.
The one she carried was a watou: a long, white, straight, flexible, thin yet sharp gold sword she had forged on her own sweat back during her latter firebending training years.
Hidden dancing dragons griped their pawns through the blade untouched as if their presence there were brand newly done. Crimson Rubies encored the handler in the form of a dragon's skull.
The weapon had a name: The Imperial Protector.
This sword alone was capable of serving as the shield to its owner, the former Fire Lord. Now, it would once again serve the nation of pride and fire.
The carrier was well known as the former Fire Princess, and later Fire Lord. However, only one word could summarize all expectations the world settled upon her shoulders, because although her own name would eventually be forgotten by some, what would never be forgotten by anyone was the name of her spirit.
Rèn Liú was the new ruler of an entire nation. She was also the reincarnation of the only spirit in the world who possessed the gift to bend all the four elements.
Although she was far away from the United Republic of Nations, her mind couldn't bear the urge to go back, as the war against the walking dead had already started. Instead, her duties had sent her to the only city in the world she could never stand to be: Ba Sing Se.
This was the city where in a few years, she knew, that another war would take place.
"Welcome back, Avatar Rèn." a special Joo Dee greeted her, bowing.
"Cut the charms, J.D., I need to get down your Crystal Catacombs."
"Fire Lord," she corrected curtly. "You haven't seen the transmission? Did your King not install those devices all around my coronation square, just to show his people how his first girlfriend was beautiful at her ceremony?" Rèn spoke with irony about her childhood relationship with King Zhōu. Very premature had they been.
Very naïve was she.
"The King wants you to see him before that. Would you follow me?"
"I already know all aisles of this castle, J.D. You may rest, I'll take a word with your ruler... alone..."
The technology evolution influenced the architecture of the Earth Kingdom Castle, once a major art of stone and sand, its terrains had changed through the years to concrete and metal; to pure minerals and rough precious stones.
The castle was now one perfect and unique jewel.
"Rèn Liú, how long have you been away from here? One decade?"
"If what your news says is true, then you know I can't let you come down with me; Just tell me: how many?"
"You mean how many 'deaths'?"
"Yes, because I have a number of lows. And that's forty-two in one and a half week time. But even our doctors — and you know that Ba Sing Se's got the best ones — don't know if they're truly dead."
"What became of them?"
"Stone. They've transmuted into pure rock."
"So, you have my final word... I won't let you come down there with me. This once, I hope for you obey."
The guilded Earth King exhaled a loud snort. "How many times have I followed your advice?"
"That's why I said hope."
If they hadn't both been experienced earthbenders, their steps could have been heard. Rèn's airbending surrounded their advance making impossible for the figure lurking in the catacombs to sense them.
At least sense their bodies, but not their souls. Thou this very one wasn't made of flesh and bones to be seen, nor to be touched.
However sensitivity does not have anything to do with material planes, the spiritual bond between that location and its inhabitant was strong.
It was extremely strong, indeed.
Because when someone suffers a punishment and dies on a certain place, it creates a link direct to the condemned soul. So far, many tried to exorcise the Crystal Catacombs. Unfortunate had been their fates.
The only hope left was the Avatar, the most pure bond from the material world to the spiritual one. The only one that could bring it to an end.
Her make-up mask and dress Flourished in Reddish and Purplish colours, hibiscus drawn alongside lilies and orchids. Those flowers were her favourites. And so, she stepped into the darkness, her path only lit by her two-point fingers' fires, like candles in the wind.
The lower Rèn stepped into the catacombs, the darker the shadows became. Her light could barely illuminate her mad grin about what she'd find up ahead. Whatever it was that came next, she wasn't afraid of her destiny.
Thoughts spinning in her head reminded her that the most important thing was already taken, and that wasn't Koh's Realm. She wouldn't find him there. Her mind kept flashing back to the vision, forcing her to be alert at full-time.
Behind her walked a close friend; who was recently made a king.
She would become such a bad girl in later lives...
Oh, of course, she would... She carried the same spirit that Avatar Korra had. And now, Korra's karma followed her around.
The catacombs started to glow with the shimmering lights of crystals when Rèn undid the fire on her fingertips.
"This place still have a connection to Laogai, doesn't it? I can sense water close by..."
"Yes. Shortly after the Dai Li were restored, we expunged all of theirs brainwashing rooms. At least, all that we were aware of... I, myself, had done some of the work."
"You don't need to show me your muscles Dàlù. Your wife wouldn't like you being a womanizer..."
"Come on, Rèn, my 'wife' is still on her way to the city, and we aren't even married yet. Those buffoons from the Oasis think a granddaughter of your previous life would be an honour for me to be husband of... But you do know who is the woman I love..."
"Your mom? Don't patronize me, Earth King. In a few months I will be married too..."
He smirked at her. "You and your psychic ways of knowing the future..."
"What can I do, close the eyes of my mind? Pretend I don't have the gift of clairvoyance? While I'm still a Miko I'll be useful to all nations, then..."
"Then, what, Rèn?"
"Do you remember what I've told you last time we saw each other?"
"That the nations would cease to be in touch, and that a great black cloud would cover the sky?"
"Yes, but all this is only to happen by my next life..."
"Do you still dwell on the Air Zombies genocide?"
"Don't call them that! My master is now one of them!"
A burst of sparkles arose from thin air and dragon breath lit the face of a frustrated woman, bound to kill her own step-father, her master of airbending.
The catacombs were made of tunnels and formed the most perfect human-made maze underground. The greenish lights of crystals, the sounds of pouring water, and the darkened corners of the aisles kept the mood gloomy.
They arrived at a high topped room where lied some skeletons dressed in ancient Dai Li outfits, and marks of a duel risked on the stone floor still glimmered to the dancing of lights.
"What do you think had happened here, Rèn?"
"More duels than I can count; some of them must be caused by this special inhabitant we are here to visit."
"You are good at fighting spirits, aren't you?"
"Now you're giving me some goosebumps. Aren't you the one who's not afraid of the dark?"
"I'm only afraid of the pitch dark, Rèn. Now, this battle is not for mere humans..."
"You're a bender, you're not a mere human..."
"But you're the Avatar..."
Suddenly, Rèn got hit and lifted through the air as if she weighted like a plume. At the back of her mind she recognized that sensation. Her spirit had already fought against that entity before.
Now, her bones ached with the impact to the floor. Imperial Protector — Rèn's shiny gold watou sword — from inside the scabbard clanged to the fall. The touch of the very nature of her enemy chi blocked her immediate reaction. She had never struggled against anything or anyone like them in her lifetime.
Just five seconds later she withdrew the watou, freeing its sharp power, while her fire was burning in circles as a mandala, and drawings of flames ignited and vanished into thin air the forms of devanagari words that said: "You shall not pass!"
She activated a firewall that burnt down half the room they were in, and kept the part in which they stepped as if it was a sauna.
Again, the unseen energy surrounded Rèn's body and grabbed her from her ribs rising up-side-down. She let the sword slip through her sweaty fingers, and heard a loud clatter from it striking the stone ground. Her dress in flames revealed another clothing, silk black tight close to her legs and torso.
Her hands now formed a symbol opened wide with her thumbs and indicators touching immersed in orangey sparks, and closed as if she gripped one shooting gun.
"Fire Soul!" A flash of fire shoot from her fingertips as a bullet and twisted as a rogue soul failing to find its body.
This time, Rèn fell, into Dàlù's arms.
"What should we do now, 'Girl on Fire'?"
"My fire isn't helping, and none of the other elements will. I have to find counselling. I have to meditate..." Rèn spoke while catching her fallen Imperial Protector from the ground.
"You mean you have to speak to one of your previous lives?"
"Yes, I have to talk to Avatar Roku."
"So, let's find a safe place for you to enter the meditation."
"There's a cave nearby where Avatar Aang first died... I know how to find it..."
"How do you know?"
"Would you expect me to forget a place where I've died — what? — three lives ago?"
"Quite funny, you amuse me."
"Don't forget that I give you oogies..."
"Grow up, Rèn!"
A small lake underground, together with tons of greenish rocks, some tiny, some the size of small apartments. The sounds of water pouring came from that room. The quietude reigned, and the lights gave then the drowsy mood to enter in a dormant state. She entered into meditation, and he started gathering energy to bump his central chi, his cosmos was starting to fulfill of sohma.
One life back, an earthbender Avatar, controlled by the earth, the element of materialism...
Two lives back, Korra, the waterbender Avatar, ruled by water, the element of sentiments...
"Hey Girl, long time no see?" Talked a teenaged spirit of Korra.
"I still don't get why do you spirits can show yourselves at any age, any time, sometimes I see you old, and bam!, I see your four year old you saying 'You gotta deal with me'..."
"Now you know from who you've received your spiritual side, Rèn..."
"I have to talk to Roku, He's not this hang loose with me..."
"Be careful, Roku's not in a good mood, I warn you..."
Three lives back, the last airbender Avatar, Aang, mastered by the air, the element of mind...
"Aang, I'm sorry to bother you, but I need to talk to Roku, my fire..."
"Your fire seems quite good enough to me, child," Aang cut her off.
"You don't sound convincing, calling me 'child' having yourself the appearance of one..."
"Why? I like remembering when my wife retrieved me from that iceberg."
"I won't bother you no more, I'll speak to Roku..."
"He's in a bad mood; I think Korra told you that already..."
Four lives back, finally: Roku, firebender, just like Rèn, dominated by the fire, the element of spirituality...
She had no answer...
Like an echo her voice chased her ears back.
The Spirit World seemed quite normal, but the cloudy sky was too orangey.
"Avatar Roku! Where are you?"
And, as a déjà vu, Rèn's spirit was lifted into thin air by her ankles, and she could see the face of the one who was giving her so much trouble.
At least the face of someone else, because the body was of a centipede, and the face was of Jet, the former leader of the Freedom Fighters.
The spirit that was eaten.
"No, that cannot be you? Koh!" thought Rèn.
"Save me," Jet's voice echoed through Rèn's mind.
"I have to find a way to simultaneously search for Roku, and fight here..." Rèn's mind worked at full speed power.
With her right hand she drew a bow of fire in the middle of the air, but nothing came from that movement. She, then, remembered that she was inside the astral plane and bending wasn't allowed.
"What about will strength? And if I think of Roku with all my guts, so he could show up and save me?" Those thoughts were shaming her.
"You could start to relax."
His voice. His calm voice echoed inside her.
"I'll teach you how to firebend here, you'll have only one chance to try it. I'd like for you to use that same movement again, but thinking of bending the life forces, the fire from within, the fire from the life, the prior fire..."
A small pause and:
"You'll learn how to bend the wildfire; that same energy called night fire that glows from the dead. You shall bend your own spirit in exchange for getting this poor soul his peace."
"So, please, Master Roku, teach me how to save him," her mind started a conversation with Avatar Roku's Ghost's presence, the fire Avatar from a full circle back.
"Inhale, Fire Lord, bring the fire from your present life into your soul."
After having taken in a deep breath, she had done as she was told.
"Exhale, child, leave it be, feel the fire of your own spirit burning inside of your essence."
And, again, she felt the same strength flowing through veins that carried sohma — the ether energy — to boost the amalgam of this form of bending no one before her had ever tried.
"Breathe your previous lives ghosts' intentions, and so do the same with my own... Then, craft a materialised energy into this pure ether world, as a fire presence. I won't come to you. You have to discover this power by yourself from now on."
Suddenly the voice of Roku faded away. And so, she was alone, left with no protection. The Avatar of the Flames had vanished from the sight of her mind. There was the noise of the soundless winds of the Spirit World whispering to her ears, telling her words of fear and sadness.
Rèn inhaled who she was: the new Fire Lord, the former Fire Princess, the Avatar. Then, she exhaled, with her eyes closed. Again the inhaling restarted, thinking of the Earth, Water, Air and Fire Avatars before her time.
And the other four before their time.
And another set of four, before.
Her right hand started to cut the air of the Spirit World vertically in a bow-like form. The thin fingertips sparkles started to melt the particles of ether shaping them into pure fire.
Controlling them to obey her and bend to her.
Shades of orange, vermillion, scarlet, crimson, red, bloody colours of fire made that bow almost solid.
With her left hand she passed one more wave of sparks and crafted a golden string, unifying the two edges of its blazing weapon.
When Rèn opened her eyes again she was in the Avatar State, inside the Spirit World. Using her left hand one more time she made a set of eight arrows that started from the middle of her palm.
"八导火矢! — Eight Guided Fire Arrows!" Rèn yelled freeing the power of the fire from the dead; the wild night fire came from spirits that she once was; and they, in turn, were part of her.
Eight vectors stringed from her left palm and imprisoned the centipede spirit, burning it. Jet's face could be seen immersed in fire, not in agony, but relief.
"You did well, young Fire Lord Avatar." Rèn heard the sound of Roku's voice once more, then closed her eyes to reopen them in the material world with Dàlù worried by her side.
"You almost got me killed with that flash of light!" he thundered.
"What flash of light?"
"The one you, I don't know, bended into the Spirit World, if that was what you did there..." He was astonished.
"Don't mock me, big guy. Your problem is solved. I think."
"What do you mean by 'I think'?"
"It happened in a blink of an eye. When that thing was burning, right after when the boy's soul was freed."
"There was a boy's soul imprisoned?"
"Yes, he was controlled by another spirit, like a possession. But what I want to tell you is what that spirit showed me before it disappeared."
"And what it is Rèn?"
"That centipede spirit showed me how I am going to die, Dàlù..."
"And, what's it gonna be like? Everybody dies Rèn!"
"No, not like me... Because this time I'm going to die in the Avatar State..."
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