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Chapter 18: Desperate Plans
The island was covered in verdant forests with several wide-open spaces. The airship landed in one of these spaces, and the four women exited the vessel. Liung and Galba landed just after they did, and soon enough, a group of humans approached.
"Noble Sun Warriors," Saitei said, nodding toward them, "It's been awhile since I've had the pleasure."
One of the men stepped forward, and Yoriko grasped onto Sukan's hand. The man wore red face paint and a tan tunic with dark pants, much like the others.
"Our apologies," he replied. "Liung should not have left this island." He approached the young dragon and placed his hand on her snout. Her eyes widened, and she pulled back slightly while averting her gaze from the other Sun Warriors.
Liung trudged past the others, and Yoriko finally noticed that there were seven more dragons waiting.
Waiting for me... A chill shot down her spine; she knew why they were there.
Saitei inclined her head. "To be fair, no one was harmed. Liung was just, as the Avatar has been fond of putting it, scared."
"She is," Yoriko replied as her eyes narrowed.
Sukan squeezed her hand lightly. "Be respectful, Yoriko."
She pursed her lips. "Yes, ma'am..."
As Saitei opened her mouth to speak, Sukan held up a hand. "I hope I'm not stepping on any toes, but I would prefer it if you didn't condescend to Yoriko, either."
The Fire Lady raised an eyebrow. "Very well." She glanced at the young Avatar. "I'm sorry, Yoriko; I know how this must feel. We only want to make sure you're safe."
"S'okay..." She rocked from one foot to the other. "What's gonna happen now?"
The head Sun Warrior approached the Avatar and bowed. "Young Avatar, it is our distinct pleasure to welcome you to the island of the Sun Warriors. You've met Liung already, but we would like to introduce you to the newest group of dragon hatchlings."
Yoriko blinked several times in quick succession as the seven other dragons approached. "Uh, hi..."
The Owl sat in the station as the train pulled in, and he smiled warmly at the thought of getting to see even one member of his family again. He watched the older man step off of the train with two large suitcases in hand and a pack on his back.
"I see you came prepared," he said made his way over.
"What you've asked for takes a lot of prep," the old man replied. "Now, we should probably start talking about what exactly you want made."
The assassin smiled warmly. "I was hoping we could get something to eat first, or perhaps some tea? The work can wait while we catch up, away from prying ears."
"You already have a shadow, and he looks unhappy."
He raised an eyebrow. "Aizu? I don't believe he and I will ever get along. Not since I nearly killed his wife."
His uncle sighed. "Fine, then. We lose your tail, and then we get dinner. After that, we see about a new mask."
"Helmet," the Owl corrected.
The old man nodded. "Helmet."
Liung's heart beat quickly as her fellow hatchlings approached Yoriko. She felt their disapproving glances, and they made no effort to hide their thoughts.
"It's just a little girl...I was expecting someone...different. Dignified."
"At least Liung didn't accidentally hurt her. She looks fragile."
The small, red dragon growled. "I would never hurt a human! And she isn't...I think."
One of them, a dark gray dragon, turned back toward her. "Thank goodness you didn't; it would've made us all look bad. Humans already think we're dangerous."
"Aren't you, though?" a male voice spoke aloud, calling attention to a figure Liung didn't recognize. "Aren't dragons dangerous creatures?"
The dragons' attention was then drawn to the voice of the Fire Lady as she replied.
"Lu Ten, it has been many years," she said, but her features morphed into a frown. "And when you show up, it means something awful is going to happen."
Liung cocked her head. "Lu Ten...I think I've heard Master Galba mention the name, but I can't...."
She could feel the annoyance coming from one of the larger dragons, Xiao. "Way to pay attention, Little Red. Lu Ten was the former Crown Prince way back in the—" His eyes widened. "Shouldn't he be—?"
"Dead?" Lu Ten replied. "I'm the Spirit of Dawn, now. Nice to meet you all."
Liung heard the young Avatar gasp, and she saw her take a step back toward one of the other humans, the one named Sukan.
"You're...a spirit..." Yoriko whispered. "No, no, no, no, no..." She gripped Sukan's arm tightly as tears began to form in her eyes.
Saitei inclined her head as Lu Ten took a step forward. "I think it would be best if we talked in private."
"Yeah, I think it would," Sukan replied as a frown began to form.
The Spirit of Dawn nodded. "Agreed. I'd rather not upset her. Let's take a walk, Fire Lady. The four of us need to—"
"Three," Sukan replied. "I'm not leaving Yoriko alone with a bunch of dragons."
"The dragons are trustworthy," the leader of the Sun Warriors said, "even Liung would not intentionally harm the Avatar."
Sukan shook her head. "Not the point." She knelt down in front of Yoriko so that their eyes were level. "I'm gonna stay right here, okay, Honey?"
Yoriko bit her lip and nodded slowly. "M'kay."
"Well, then," the Fire Lady began, "Moro and I can bring you up to speed later, Officer Sukan." She turned to Lu Ten. "Shall we?"
As the Fire Lady, the spirit, and the other human wandered off, Liung scanned the people that remained. The Sun Warriors were around, but they seemed to want to maintain a distance from Sukan and Yoriko. As for her fellow hatchlings, they simply appraised the Avatar.
"She's really emotional," Xiao said. She cries at every opportunity; a spirit coming here is something to be celebrated, not treated with fear."
"Maybe she has a good reason?" another suggested.
Liung inclined her head. "Her parents are dead; maybe something happened..."
"When did she tell you that?!"
The small, red dragon shrank back as Xiao screamed into her mind. "She came to me...dunno why."
All of a sudden, Liung felt a tiny hand press against her side, and Yoriko's voice echoed through their minds.
"You okay, Liung? You were growling again."
Yoriko's head bobbed up and down. "Uh-huh."
Xiao cocked his head. "We were just curious about your reaction to the Spirit of Dawn, Yoriko. Why were you crying?"
The Avatar's eyes widened. "I don't....don't wanna talk about it."
Xiao's throat rumbled. "Then why tell Liung? She shouldn't be your first choice!"
"Xiao..." one of the other dragons took a step forward. "This isn't the time or place."
"Choice?" Yoriko asked. "Whaddya mean?"
"Liung ran! We hatchlings had a duty, and she ran! And she's the one you talk to?!"
Yoriko pursed her lips. "Well, she is the second dragon I ever met...I was just being nice."
"But you talk to us through her! We don't even get the honor of touching minds with the Avatar directly, and she does?!" the larger dragon roared.
The young Avatar's eyes widened. "I...I'm sorry! I didn't know...didn't know it was wrong to do that! If you want—"
Before she could finish her thought, Sukan stepped in between her and Xiao. "Hold on, Yoriko. Things need to calm down a bit."
"Yoriko, do as I say!" she barked, causing the Avatar to shrink back. "This dragon is clearly not happy, and I won't let anything hurt you if I can help it."
Liung felt Xiao's thoughts ram into her mind again. "You think I'm the dangerous one?! This is crazy; I'm not going to hurt a human!"
"She can't hear you, Xiao," Liung replied, "and I said the same thing. But you gotta stop. Please. Master Galba will—"
"Why do you care, Liung?! You're the one who doesn't have the Avatar in tears!"
The red dragon inclined her head. "Actually—"
"There's nothing I want more than to leave this stupid island, but I can tell I'm not going to be chosen. I can't even speak to the Avatar without terrifying the adult woman, but you can..."
"Xiao..." Yoriko let her right hand slip from Liung's side and offered her left to the gray dragon. "If you wanna...we can talk..."
His orange eyes widened, and Xiao pressed his snout against the palm of her hand.
"It is an honor, young Avatar..."
"Please," she replied with a grin, "call me Yoriko!"
Jing allowed the night air into his lungs as he inhaled deeply; he couldn't sleep. So much had happened, and so much more was going to happen. He wasn't ready.
"I'm still...broken," he whispered.
The door creaked open, but he didn't turn around. Only one person would be out on the balcony with him.
"What's wrong, Jing?" Nana asked as she wrapped her white Air Nation cloak over her shoulders. "Did you just say...that you're broken?"
He sighed. "I've told you everything Karuta did, and everything I did in response. Still...there's so much here, Nana; I can't sort through all of these emotions. I can't tell what's mine and what's left of him. On top of that, the Order has to figure out what to do with Avatar—"
She wrapped her arms around his waist and held him tightly. "Easy, there. What was it I always said?"
"That I'm 'gonna break my brain from thinking too much,'" he said as he rested his hands on hers. "I can't help it. I'm a student of spiritual history who can't get a spirit out of his head. It's tearing me apart."
Nana felt his shoulders jerk, and she heard his sobs.
"I can't even look in the mirror...my eyes aren't...they're always going to be there." He gritted his teeth. "To remind me of what I lost."
She reached around and pressed her hand against his cheek, slowly turning his face toward hers. "Your eyes don't make you a monster, Jing."
"Lyre didn't think so a week ago, and you didn't think so until two days ago," he replied tersely. His eyes widened, though as he watched her countenance fall. "No, Nana! I didn't mean it...I didn't...damn it."
"It's okay," she whispered hoarsely as she choked back her own tears. "We've made a mess of things, huh?"
"I...I love you, Jing. I'm sorry, sorry I wasn't there and Lyre was." The Airbender sighed. "She wanted to make sure you stayed safe, so she stayed. I ran..."
He turned and pressed his forehead against hers. "You're here now, and that matters to me. I love you, too, Nana. More than you know."
She grinned. "I guess it's going to be awhile before things are back to normal, huh?"
"Normal?" Jing raised an eyebrow. "Where in the world have you been living where things are normal?"
Nana chuckled. "You make a good point."
"It's brilliant," the Owl said as he held his new helmet. It was black, with bronze trim above the eyebrows and a bronze plate over the mouth and nose. The eyes were a set of red, circular lenses. "Intimidating."
"The armor's the real kicker," the old man replied. "It'll stop a small caliber bullet, but be aware that the plating only covers the chest and stomach. There wasn't enough material for another plate on the back."
He shrugged. "It will be enough. I doubt I'll be getting into too many direct confrontations anyway."
"So you say, but you already have the others on edge. They still likely view you as a threat." The old man sighed. "Just try to remember that we have similar goals."
The Owl grimaced. "Similar, Uncle. Not the same. They want the Avatar dead, and I can't have that."
His uncle's eyes widened. "What are you talking about? The Avatar—"
"Is a bridge. If we want harmony with the spirits, burning that bridge isn't going to make a great first impression," he replied. "Basically, I'll do what they need me to do, but if they go after the Avatar, I'll do what I have to do." He smiled sadly. "Still think it's smart to put all of our family's tiles on my success?"
The old man shrugged. "It's too late for regrets; just don't die."
"Now, Uncle," he said as he gazed into the red lenses of the helmet, "you always told me not to make promises I couldn't keep."
Sukan watched as Yoriko ignored her and approached the dragon, and a sinking feeling developed in the pit of her stomach. Her hand absentmindedly brushed against Liung's scales.
If I can't even get her to listen to me now...why do they think I'm even qualified to take care of the Avatar? Yoriko deserves better.
"She trusts you, Sukan," Liung said, causing the officer's heart to skip a beat. "From what I could get from Yoriko, you've tried to keep her safe since you met her."
Sukan shook her head. "Hey, Liung...I appreciate your thoughts, but I've failed since—" Her eyes widened as her thoughts went back to the night she met Yoriko, the night Izanagi had stained the snow with the blood of three people. Yoriko's parents and—
"Spirits...Ming!" A light-headedness came over Sukan, and she took a staggered step forward.
"Sukan!" Liung's thoughts echoed in her head. "Are you okay? What was that?!"
Yoriko turned away from Xiao for a moment. "Miss Sukan?"
"I..." The officer's eyes narrowed. "I'm fine, Sweetie..."
The young Avatar frowned. "But—"
"I'm fine," she replied tersely.
Yoriko blinked rapidly. "Uh...okay..."
Sukan's breathing slowed as she attempted to calm down. All this time, I've been so occupied with Yoriko, Izanagi, and the Order that—I forgot about Ming! What about her family? The funeral? What—?
"Are you okay?" Liung asked. "Your thoughts are all over the place!"
The officer sighed. "I'm...not. No." She glanced at Yoriko. 'But my problems aren't important right now."
"I don't think--"
The dragon inclined her head. "I don't think any of us is thinking clearly right now. It's not gonna end well..."
Sukan frowned. "Yoriko?"
"Yeah...?" the Avatar replied, slowly letting her hand slip from Xiao's snout.
"I'm sorry; I shouldn't have snapped. It was wrong."
The little girl smiled. "S'okay." Her smiled quickly turned to pursed lips and a furrowed brow. "When do you think Mrs. Kenshi and the Fire Lady will be done?"
"I don't know, Honey. Why?"
Yoriko placed her hands on her hips and stood up straight. "Cause I wanna say something to them when they get back."
"Out of the question," Moro said. "Yoriko's reaction to you should be all the proof you need; she can't handle being around spirits. And you want her to—?"
"Not right now," the Spirit of Dawn replied. "She needs training and help. Some spirits aren't exactly friendly."
Saitei sighed. "An understatement, Lu Ten, but Moro does have a good point. If the mere sight of a spirit opens up her soul's wounds again, she will not likely be able to handle the Spirit World without her body triggering a self-defense response."
"The Avatar State," he said. "And with Raava the way she is now, Yoriko might just become a weapon of chaos."
Moro folded her arms. "So...our only option is to send her into the Spirit World to meet with—"
"—Avatar Wan, yes. He thinks he and the others might be able to heal Raava."
"He 'thinks'?" Moro asks. "That's a big risk for no guarantee."
Lu Ten nodded. "I know. I suggest that she not come alone; send the Order of the White Lotus with her if you have to. But if this isn't fixed—"
"We understand what's at stake, Lu Ten," Saitei said. "She'll come when we've determined that she's ready, and maybe this will all work out."
- I wonder how many of my readers forgot about Ming, too. :P
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