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|Crushed, Pt. 2|
Book 2: Sound
Chapter 11: Crushed, Pt. 2
The three Airbenders moved silently through the halls, surprised when they encountered no soldiers. Fire Lady Saitei had made the mistake of revealing her location, and she would pay for the sins of her ancestors.
When they finally did encounter guards, it was in front of the door to her bedroom. They were the Royal Guard, so they gave their best.
The one on the left let loose with a barrage of flame while his partner flipped forward and launched a ball of fire from his feet. The Air Nation soldiers, in response, ducked and weaved around the blasts and pressed the whistle contraptions to their lips, watching as the Firebenders crumpled without further resistance.
They glanced at each other for a moment before approaching the door. "Remember, we have to use caution. The others will have locked the balcony doors by now."
They nodded as two of them moved to the vents at either side of the hall, and the other stood directly in front of the door.
He inhaled. "Now."
Wind rushed down the corridor as they sucked as much of the air as they could from the room. Without oxygen, Saitei would be dead within minutes.
Argho smirked as Otokami stepped forward to put himself between the Avatar and Petrine. "You know what this means. It's over."
The Spirit of Sound cocked his armored head as he pulled a large sword from his cloak. "You have no idea what my motives are, Avatar. Assuming will get you nowhere with me."
"It does not matter what your motives are; I will not allow you to kill innocents."
"Uh...Argho..." Kuan Ti furrowed his brow. "Is he...is he saying something?"
"Those we intend to kill are not innocent, Avatar." Petrine narrowed her eyes as she stepped out from behind the spirit. "The royal line of Sozin was responsible for slaughtering our people, and all that they got was a slap on the wrist!"
The Earthbender shook his head as Kuan Ti stared forward. "Sozin killed your people, and his descendants were dealt with. Zuko was the one to make peace and end the war, so—"
"So Avatar Aang...that weakling...let him live when he should've ended things then and there!"
Argho allowed fire to wrap around his hands. "Fool...you don't even know what you're doing."
Otokami once again put himself in between them before sticking the blade in the ground. "Fight me, Avatar. She has no chance against you."
"You are an enigma, Spirit of Sound...you really are." He adjusted his stance and glared at the armored figure before him. "Fine then. You first."
The Avatar and the spirit charged at one another.
Even with their advanced weapons and powerful bending, the Fire Nation soldiers were being ripped apart by the guns on the biplanes and the siege-gongs. Signs that had once advertised products lay fallen in the street, and some buildings had been reduced to rubble.
Moro allowed the water to flow over one of the men's wounds, a bright blue light emanating from the healing power. She and some of the others had gotten out of the street and into one of the buildings, but others were not so lucky.
Corpses littered the street; thankfully, there were few civilians among them. The captain glanced upward.
"Damn...where is that airship fleet!?"
Two Airbenders landed with their gliders, but were almost immediately ripped apart by fire and bullets. Moro grimaced as their bodies dropped.
"Otokami...I can't believe it, but...he's worse than Susanowo..."
A soldier pulled his knees to his chest as explosions cracked against the air. "We can't win...not against this..."
A roar split the air, causing everyone to look to the sky. Moro gasped at the sight of a large gray dragon, surrounded by a dozen other dragons and their riders.
Bullets bounced off of the gray one's scaled hide as a biplane made a beeline for them, but the reptile weaved toward it with a flash of speed. The subsequent explosion made it clear who was the survivor of that conflict. Another roar shook the sky as the dragons and their riders went to work.
Shen did his best to keep in step with Rioku as they made their way to the throne room, but he was still weak. The battle raged outside the palace, and he knew that Petrine and Otokami were inside. Argho and Kuan Ti were already there.
"I can't believe I let you convince me that you were at all ready for this..." Rioku shook his head. "You'd better be able to talk her down, Shen."
"I hope I can too..."
They turned a corner, nearly running into two Air Nation soldiers, as evidenced by their black and white garb. Rioku moved to attack, but Shen stepped in between them.
"Jimo? Seji? Is that you?" The young man asked.
The soldier's eyes widened, as did his companion's. "Gener—er, Shen...? Spirits, where have you been?"
He shrugged, wincing when he realized that he shouldn't have moved. "Long story. Where is Petrine?"
"We...she told us you left. That you...abandoned us. What happened, Shen?"
A pang of guilt shot through his chest. "Where is she, Jimo?" When he didn't receive an immediate answer, he turned to Seji. "What are you two doing in this part of the palace?"
They both turned away. "We...can't tell you."
Rioku smirked. "If you are going after Saitei, take some friendly advice: don't. She will not show mercy."
Shen took a tentative step forward. "I'll ask again..." His stomach rolled in protestation. "Where...is...Petrine?"
Seji sighed. "She's...she's in the throne room waiting for the Avatar."
Jimo glared at him. "Where's your honor? You should've kept your mouth shut."
The young man closed his eyes. "Thank you, Seji...now, please...take Rioku's advice. Don't go after Saitei."
Jimo frowned. "We don't disobey orders. We don't abandon our—"A pillar grew from the floor and struck the Airbender in the stomach, knocking him unconscious.
The Earthbender glared at Seji. "Take him and get out. Now."
The air flowed out of the vents into the hall as the Airbenders pulled it from the Fire Lady's quarters. The line of Sozin was almost completely wiped out.
Two thuds signaled the deaths of both Saitei and her bodyguard, their oxygen gone. The three Air Nation soldiers glanced at each other and nodded. It was time to see the end with their own eyes.
The massive doors into her bedroom creaked open, treating them to the sight of both women lying on the floor. One of them realized something wasn't right, however, when he noticed a large tank on both of their backs.
Saitei didn't even allow him to finish his sentence before flipping up to her feet. All three assassins lurched forward, their attacks slowed by their surprise. That was all the Fire Lady needed, and the closest Airbender was incinerated in a swath of rainbow-colored flames.
The remaining two stood in dumbfounded silence as Nasaki followed suit and got up. "How...?"
The bodyguard's smirk showed through her mask as she charged forward, katana at mid-level. As his ally fell in two pieces, the final Air Nation soldier could only stare. "But...we..."
A snap, followed by a colorful explosion, signaled his end, and Saitei frowned. "They underestimated us. How arrogant."
Nasaki nodded as she pulled off her mask and let the tank fall to the floor. "Yes, Milady."
The Fire Lady whirled and blasted open the balcony door, abandoning her oxygen equipment as she made her way out onto the balcony. The two dazed Airbenders didn't even have time to register what was happening before another burst of colorful flame end their lives.
Saitei gazed down on the chaos below; saddened as she watched her people suffer. "It seems that neither of our cultures respect life's sanctity anymore, Air Nomads."
However, her heart did swell with pride as she saw Galba leading her dragon riders against their air power. She looked on as several of the biplanes were brought down by their larger and more mobile opponents.
Gongs continued to sound, though, drawing her attention to the massive airship hovering over the city.
"Something really must be done about that..."
Argho and Otokami crashed into each other with enough force to shake the room; both pulled away, relatively unscathed. The Avatar followed by kicking up a sizeable chunk of earth and launching it at the spirit, but he didn't stop there. As his foe disintegrated the projectile with a heavy clap, Argho punched out several fireballs in quick succession; those dissipated harmlessly against the Spirit of Sound's black armor.
As Otokami moved in for another attack, the Avatar submerged his hands in the earth and quickly formed rock gauntlets around them, taking care to also coat them in fire as they came up out of the ground.
With speed that belied his size, the bender of all four elements lunged forward and landed into a right cross that rattled the spirit's armored head. He attempted a left-handed uppercut, but he found his attack halted by the uncompromising strength of one of Otokami's hands.
The spirit didn't even pause, and began his counterattack by squeezing down on the gauntlet. Argho stifled a cry as the rock crumbled around his forearm. The second motion was a swift punch to the Avatar's stomach, a punch that sent him into the opposite wall.
Gingerly, the bender got to one knee and catalogued his injuries. He could feel a sharp pain light up his side, and he knew then that he had a few cracked ribs. His breathing also became labored and short; something else was out of place. Nevertheless, he rushed forward, digging his hands into the stone floor as he went. Two pillars shot out of the ground and sped toward the Spirit of Sound, but the armored being simply smashed through them both and charged at Argho.
The Avatar responded to his advance with a barrage of fireballs, but Otokami would not be deterred. As the spirit reached Argho, he brought his right fist down toward his head. Argho cross-blocked with both arms and planted a front-kick into his opponent's midsection, causing Otokami to slide backward slightly.
The bender gritted his teeth as he watched the spirit's hands slam together, and he also watched for a brief moment as the shockwave visibly stemmed from the source. As it was, he barely had time to construct a stone wall to block the oncoming attack.
The waves of pure sound smashed against the earthen barrier, regardless, and it shattered under the strain. Argho slid back and reordered his stance, preparing for any further attacks, grimacing as he felt blood drip from his nose. Otokami resumed his assault by striking the Avatar in his already damaged ribs, a deceptively fast attack for his size. As Argho slapped his hand away and responded with a right-handed, fire-enhanced punch, the spirit gripped his fist in mid-strike and twisted, snapping his forearm.
The Avatar gritted his teeth as fiery pain shot through his entire right arm, but that was soon overshadowed when his opponent struck him hard in the throat and held him aloft. Even his legendary pain tolerance was being tested now, and his vision dimmed as Otokami stood unscathed.
Before he could even process what was happening, he found himself crashing into the stone wall behind him and crumpling to the floor.
The Spirit of Sound glanced down at his broken form before whirling around to make his way back to Petrine's side, and Kuan Ti just looked on in horror.
Impossible...that...that thing just took out Argho!
He grimaced. "I guess it's my turn..."
Petrine chuckled. "You're serious? You aren't worth our Protector's time or energy."
The Equalist smirked as he pulled out one of his revolvers. "Either way..."
He squeezed the trigger several times in quick succession, firing off all six shots in a matter of seconds. The metal projectiles soared toward Petrine, but she twisted completely away from them with the ease and grace of a seasoned Airbender. While she did so, something caught the Equalist's eye.
Kuan Ti shrugged as he let that revolver fall to the floor. "Fair enough." As he brought the second level with her, he narrowed his eyes. "I just have one question...where did you get that cloak?"
The Grand Elder smiled knowingly as she twirled, showcasing a cloak identical to the one that Kuan Ti wore. "I found it, although I suspect you have a clue as to where."
He kept the gun level. "My master was gunned down. What'd you do, loot his body?"
"I'll admit, the holes were rather annoying to sew up, but he deserved what I did to him. Your people tried to wipe us out when we were barely beginning to get back on our feet!" Her voice rose. "Amon tried to take away the bending of Aang's descendants!"
"Lady...if everyone were as obsessed with revenge as you, the world would be burning." He exhaled sharply. "So...you shot my master..."
Her smile dissipated. "Not exactly."
The Grand Elder raised her arm and pointed her index finger at Kuan Ti with her thumb sticking straight up, like a gun. The air around that finger twisted and wrapped around it at an increasingly rapid rate, and Petrine smiled before speaking.
"Bang." The miniature swirling cyclone suddenly leapt from her finger and sailed toward the Equalist with a speed easily matching that of any one of his bullets.
He had but a split second to act, but he wasn't an Airbender. Kuan Ti sidestepped, catching a grazing blow from the 'air bullet'. Petrine, however, simply brought up her other hand and began letting the compressed air loose on the nonbender. He caught the first two in the midsection, crying out as they tore small holes in his stomach; fortunately, he whirled away from the rest as they burrowed into the wall behind him.
The Grand Elder sauntered up to him as he inched back toward Argho's semi-conscious form. "You should've left us alone." She held out her hand again, ready to end his life.
The doors to the throne room were suddenly ripped from their hinges and sent sailing through the air. Rioku and Shen stood in the doorway, and an earth pillar stuck out diagonally from the ground.
"Grand Elder Petrine, I presume?" The large Earthbender took a step forward, eyes widening in surprise as his gaze rested on the fallen forms of Kuan Ti and Argho. "What have you done?"
"Rioku...that wasn't her...I don't think..." Shen staggered forward as his head spun. "Petrine...you have to...to stop this violence. We weren't meant for all of this death..."
Her expression grew grim. "You still don't understand, Shen." She gazed at him with a look of pity. "What happened to you? You look terrible."
He frowned. "The stress of watching too many people I love betray their values kinda took its toll. You can't do this...Petrine."
Moro watched in awe of the dragon riders and their terrible efficiency. Biplanes fell from the sky left and right, and the battle seemed to finally take a positive turn.
However, the airship still lingered above, raining waves of destruction down on the capitol. She hastily constructed another ice wall, feeling the air get even dryer as most of the remaining moisture was sucked from it. She almost wanted to run back to the safety of the building, but they had work to do.
She whirled to face the Fire Nation soldiers. "Any luck with the airship fleet? I'm kinda running out of water to use."
He gritted his teeth and shook his head as one of his men desperately tried to contact someone—anyone—using a mobile military telephone. "We can't even touch that flying death machine with our own air power sabotaged...we just have to hold out and hope that they don't destroy us all. The dragons bought us some time, but I'm not sure if we'll survive this."
Moro narrowed her eyes, but anything she might've said was interrupted by the soldier on the phone.
"Sir! It's the Fire Lady; she survived! You might want to listen to this."
The captain nodded and moved toward the phone. Upon bringing it to his ear, he sighed with relief as Saitei's voice rang through it.
"I say again: all able-bodied Firebenders are to prepare themselves to incinerate falling debris. We are taking back our city!"
He grinned. "What did she mean, soldier?"
"Sir! Fire Lady Saitei broadcasted that order multiple times. Apparently something big is about to happen!"
The man stood. "Alright, men! We have orders directly from the Fire Lady. Let's get ready!"
Petrine lowered her hand. "Shen, I understand your pain...I do. You view this as a betrayal, but try seeing things my way. We've been given the biggest opportunity we've ever had, and the Council would've squandered it. We now have power to bargain for what we are owed, what was never given to us." She pursed her lips. "I'm not about to let our genocide lose its meaning and become forgotten, even if I have to change the way things are done."
"But..." Sweat dripped from his forehead. "...you will destroy what we stand for in the process."
She shook her head. "Times are changing, Shen. If you can't see that, then stay out of my way."
The young man tried to stand tall. "What will you do if I don't?"
"Spirits...Shen." She raised her hand and began creating another compressed air bullet, which she promptly fired into the wall beside his head. "I'm not going to do anything with you in this condition. We were friends...not so long ago."
His face contorted in rage as she turned away. "What are you doing?! Don't turn away from me, Petrine! Face me; don't be a coward!" His breath came out in ragged gasps as he collapsed to his knees. "I can't...can't let you get away again..."
She glanced at him. "When did you become so pathetic and frail...you had purpose once."
Deafening explosions tore the wall on the right side to pieces, and Otokami moved to protect Petrine from the stone and flames.
Two forms stood within the wreckage, and they soon made themselves visible. Lu Ten and Usha stepped into the throne room.
"Well...it looks like I'll finally get that battle I've wanted all along, Spirit of Sound." The Protector cracked his knuckles as Usha move to the three fallen warriors and the Earthbender.
"Goodness...my son appears to have broken the Avatar." She glanced at Shen. "Boy! Can you move?"
The Airbender nodded. "I'll manage."
"Good. Earthbender," She addressed Rioku. "I need you to carry the other one while I take care of the Avatar."
Rioku tensed. "What is it you intend, exactly?"
"No time for questions. I doubt even Lu Ten can hold Otokami for long, and you need to get out of here." She knelt down and glared at Argho. "I hate that I am put in this position, Avatar. And know this; I only have enough power to do this once."
Her hand glowed as she pressed it against his side, and the Spirit of Dawn grimaced. "What a mess...one of your ribs has punctured a lung."
Meanwhile, Lu Ten stood before Otokami and Petrine. "It's time for your people to leave, Spirit of Sound."
Otokami stepped in front of the Grand Elder and inclined his head towards her. She frowned. "But I can—!" He turned his gaze fully on her, and she stepped backward. "Fine..."
The Protector smiled and exhaled. "Finally, I can cut loose!"
Fire coated both of his hands as the two spirits charged at one another. The resulting clash sent energy straight upward, tearing the ceiling down.
Usha removed her hand from the Avatar as the roof began to cave. "Everybody, you have to move, now!"
Argho stood shakily, coughing as he did so. "Thank...thank you, Lady Usha..." Rioku reached under his arm to support him, but the Avatar shook his head. "I can manage...you have to carry Kuan Ti."
The Earthbender nodded, and the four of them made a swift exit from the collapsing throne room.
Nasaki could hear the sound of the collapse, and the bodyguard made her way out onto the balcony. "Milady, the throne room is—"
"Unimportant." Saitei stared intently at the airship. "All of the Firebenders that I could contact are now in place, and I suggest that you get inside."
"Nasaki, this is not a matter for debate." The Fire Lady warned.
She bowed. "Yes...of course."
As she entered the bedroom, Saitei breathed deeply. "It's about to get interesting."
She spread her legs a good distance apart and began to weave her arms in a deliberate pattern. The air around her grew heavy and soon filled with static. White lightning danced on her fingertips as she continued.
"Sorry, Shen, but I have a nation to protect."
The Firebender thrust her hand forward, and the explosion of electricity was deafening. The bolt weaved and bucked as it sailed toward the airship, before ultimately ripping through the metal casing and shooting out of the other side.
Never before had she seen such a massive conflagration, but Saitei didn't have time to marvel. Instead, she jumped over the balcony railing and landed on Galba's back as he flew under her.
Otokami slid backward as Lu Ten pressed his advantage. The Protector drove a flaming fist forward and met the Spirit of Sound's own in mid-strike, causing the remaining few walls of the throne room to be reduced to rubble from the shockwaves.
Fire and debris littered the ground between them, and Lu Ten couldn't suppress a smirk. "Your brother couldn't give me anything remotely close to a fight like this! What's your secret?"
"I am not my brother." He replied.
The sound of creaking, shredded metal filled the space where walls once stood, and it gave Otokami pause.
"Is that your airship?" The Protector's smile disappeared. "I take it our little battle is over."
The Spirit of Sound said nothing before following the way Petrine had gone.
Moro exerted herself to the fullest as she tried to drag every last drop from the air around her to help put out the fires as they sprouted, although most of them managed to dissipate as every Firebender worked to incinerate the debris before it could do any damage.
She looked around and frowned; enough damage had been done already. As the men got things under control and took the few surviving Air Nation soldiers into custody, the Waterbender's thoughts turned toward her former friends. They were likely somewhere in the wreckage that was the Royal Palace, and she had to find them.
"Hey, Waterbender!" The captain waved her over. "The men and I just wanted to say...thank you. We owe you our lives; we'd be dead right now if you hadn't helped us out."
She mustered up a smile. "I was just doing the right thing, but there are some people here that I came to see." She inclined her head toward the men. "I have something I need to do."
"A Waterbender." Fire Lady Saitei and Galba hovered above the group, but her cold gaze was focused on the girl's red eyes. "No, a Bloodbender...you must be the infamous Moro Kenshi."
- Sorry for the wait, this chapter was besieged by writer's block and academic pursuits.
- Apparently Usha's dire warning was well-said. I do believe that this is the first time that Argho's been so defeated.
- The fate of Kuan Ti's master is finally revealed, too.
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