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Des grabbed Lee's fist as the boy punched for his gut. He lifted Lee off the ground and brought his metal fist back to bash his former apprentice's face in. Before he could finish his attack, he felt something latch on his arm. Shocked Des turned to see Toph holding Des' arm back.
Taking advantage of his distraction, Lee wrenched himself free of Des' grip and kicked his former mentor in the jaw. Des fell to the ground, but Toph never released her grip from Des' metal arm. Using her metalbending, Toph easily tore the limb off. Des scowled as Toph tauntingly waved the arm at Des. His scowl was made even more intimidating due to the fact that Lee's kick had dislocated his jaw, giving his face an almost feral and predatory look to it.
"I'm sorry were you still using this?" Toph almost sang, it seemed. Des grunted as he pushed his jawbone back into place with his remaining hand.
"That's just wrong Toph." Lee said moving next to her. "You don't taunt a man with his own arm. It's just not right."
Before Toph could come up with one of her usual witty retorts, Des howled in rage as he charged forward. Toph stomped her foot, raising a multitude of stalagmites from the ground, angled towards the charging assassin. All rational thought had perished in Des' mind as he charged through the rocky spikes with no hesitation. Everything was replaced by one repeating thought.
Lee recognized the signs of Des' "berserker mode" as he called it. He'd seen it in action only once before, and the results gave him nightmares for three straight months. Des became impervious to almost everything thrown at him, reasoning with him became a lost cause. There was only one thing you could do to survive, run for your life and hope he tires out before you.
But that wasn't an option here. He knew that as he moved to intercept Des before he reached Toph. Moments before he made his move Toph covered herself in rock armor and charged ahead of him. When Toph and Des met, a large explosion of dust surrounded them. Lee watched as he Toph's body fly out of the cloud and land in a crumpled mess a few short feet away.
"Toph!" Lee yelled as he sprinted over to his fallen love. When he reached her, he gathered her in his arms and checked her for a pulse. He couldn't find one. He could feel several of her bones had been shattered like glass, and he thought he felt a collapsed lung in her chest. He quickly repaired her shattered bones, a trained medic would have to see to the collapsed lung. "Come on Toph, you gotta pull through this. I can't lose you too." When no response came Lee felt the hot tears stream down his cheeks as he placed a small kiss on her forehead.
While he mourned, Des came up behind him and grabbed his upper right arm and squeezed. Lee screamed as he felt his humerus bone shatter under Des' grip. Lee squirmed in Des' grip trying to cause as much damage as he could. He finally managed to get a grip on Des' left leg, crushing his femur. Foregoing several rules of civilized combat, Lee bit down on Des' kneecap. Des loosed a savage roar as Lee's teeth shattered his knee through bonebending. Still Des held strong, tightening his grip on Lee's arm.
Enraged Lee slammed his elbow against Des's hip, shattering that as well. Finally Des released Lee, his already blank mind almost passing out. Lee scrambled away, doing a half-assed job of repairing his right arm. Lee yelled out a stream of curses as his bones realigned themselves. Taking a brief moment to glance back to Toph with his blind eyes, Lee balled his fists and brought up his hands, in a stance typically used to bend from a distance.
Des shot a quick glare at Lee before he heard what sounded like a loud popping sound. Des' glare became a look of confusion before an unbelievable amount of pain erupted from his body. The sounds of his bones popping filled his ears, as the devastator's body was thoroughly devastated. Lee's enraged cry joined the sound as he struggled to maintain the pressure.
Soon Des dropped to the ground and started convulsing as the shattered shards of his bones exploded as well. Finally Lee fell to his knees, utterly exhausted. Tears still streaming down his face, Lee just sat there as Des slowly died in front of him. He quietly sobbed as he felt a slight tremor go through the earth around him. Then the most unlikely sound entered his ears, laughter.
"So you've finally become the perfect killer." Des wheezed before coughing blood out of his mouth.
Lee was in no mood to listen to Des speak, With shaky legs he stood and walked over to his fallen master. He grabbed Des' head in his hands and started to squeeze.
"I'll see you in hell." Lee growled.
"I'll be waiting." Des replied before Lee crushed his skull with finality. With Des finally dead Lee fell on his back and screamed his agony into the sky. Strangely the faint tremor he'd felt earlier was still there. He'd thought that Des' convulsing body had been causing them, but Des's body was now still in death.
Lee rolled onto his stomach and rapidly crawled over to Toph's broken body. Taking her in his arms again, he once again checked her for a pulse. There it was, faint, close to nonexistent, but nonetheless it was there. Relief filled Lee as he kissed Toph's forehead again and pulled her in closer to his chest and waited for the medics to arrive.
Kaine plunged his sword into an assassins' side after the being knocked to the ground. Unfortunately the body fell on top of him as he pulled his sword free.
Stupid, stupid. He thought as he pushed the assassin off of him. He'd been lucky that was the last assassin in this group, otherwise he'd very likely be dead. Kaine looked around for his team. He and the other Masked Ones had been separated early in the battle. He wasn't worried, his friends could take of themselves.
Kaine sighed as another group charged towards him. Some brandished swords, others were trying to intimidate him with bending.
"I do not have time for this!" Kaine yelled as he charged forward. The assassins clearly weren't expecting him to rush forward like that because they didn't even try to put up a defense as Kaine cut two of them down. They finally seemed to have recovered as Kaine killed the third one and attacked him. Kaine parried the attack of a swordsman while ducking under a fireball. He countered the sword strike with a cut to the stomach before he spun on the firebender and stabbed him through the heart. Another couple of passes and two more assassins fell to Kaine's blade.
Kaine turned to face the last remaining assassin a fraction of a second to late. The assassin's large machete like blade came down on the forearm of Kaine's sword arm. The attack snapped the bones of his arm, but thankfully not penetrating the bracer he wore. Kaine's sword clanked on the ground, as he stumbled backwards. The assassin slowly approached Kaine, clearly reveling in his hopelessness.
Sadly he took too long, Sky had come up behind him while he brought his blade up. Before the assassin could bring it down, Sky loosed several arrows into his back.
"You alright boss?" Sky called. Kaine gave him a thumbs up with his good arm. Suddenly Sky jerked, locking his limbs, before he fell forward, several shards of rock and ice sticking from his back. Strangely the first thought Kaine had wasn't if Sky was okay, or about avenging his fallen comrade. Instead he found himself laughing at the irony. His laughter echoed across the battlefield, causing several of the engagements to pause for half a second.
Kaine felt disgusted with himself as he removed his mask. With large scowl he approached the two laughing assassins. Killing them with his left arm was actually a challenge.
One assassin contemptibly sidestepped away from Kaine' attack and plunged a fire dagger into his hip. Kaine howled in pain and spun around, leaving his back open for the other assassin to club it with his hammer. But Kaine didn't fall he ran his sword into the firebending assassins stomach and pulled it to the side.
As the Firebender fell dead, the hammer-wielding assassin started choking Kaine with his hammers handle. Kaine reversed his grip on his sword and stabbed behind him. A sick smile came over Kaine as he felt the assassin's blood soak into his clothes. Kaine spun around and with a quick swing, lopped the assassin's head off before he cut the assassin across the gut on the back swing. The man fell to the ground in three pieces.
Kaine loosed a roar as he stabbed the ground and fell to his knees.
"I'm sorry Sky." He whispered. Not long after, Rha and Tien found him and told him the battle had ended. They had won.
Katara breathed heavily with exhaustion as Lian swung her bloody whip in a crazed frenzy. Katara was barely able to keep her adversary at bay as her water supply dwindled. Lian shattered Katara's final water whip, cutting deep into her shoulder in the process.
Katara swore as her own blood spilled down her arm. Lian followed up her attack with a quick slash to her legs, cutting both of them just above the knees. Katara screamed as she fell on her side. She looked up as Lian stood triumphantly over her, her blood whip frozen into a spear.
"I finally did it." She whispered, more to herself than to Katara. "I finally beat you Katara."
"So what happens now Lian?" Katara asked, "Are you going to kill me?"
Lian seemed to ponder the question for a few moments. If Katara was perfectly honest with herself she was confused as to why Lian would even consider pondering. It had been her sole mission for over ten years to end her life. Why would that objective suddenly change?
"No. I'm done." Lian stated, melting the blood spear and bending it back into her body. Lian smiled at the genuinely confused look on her rival's face. "I'm tired of killing, tired of fighting, tired of bathing my hands in blood, I'm just plain tired."
Katara kept a wary eye on Lian as she bent Katara's blood back into her body. Once she finished her "medical" work, she sat down across from Katara.
"Do you know what today is?" Lian asked Katara as she pulled out her small bottle of vodka. Katara stared at Lian, giving her one of those, 'what's so special about today?' looks. Lian chuckled as she took a sip of alcohol. "Today's the day I was recruited into the Black Lotus."
"How did that happen?" Katara asks, curious about the history of her adversary
Lian shrugged before responding, "I was hell-bent on being a hot shot. A northern tribe's girl simple life was too damn boring for me."
"You're from the Northern Tribe?"
"Well I'm sure as hell not from that swamp you and the Avatar discovered in the Earth Kingdom." Lian joked before continuing. "But yeah, I heard you struggled with their stodginess a bit yourself."
The two shared a chuckle, causing to Katara to look at her old enemy in a new light. For the first time she saw Lian as more than a bloodthirsty killer, she saw her as a human being.
"How could you keep doing it?" Katara asked.
"It wasn't so bad. At least not after I found this." Lian replied shaking the bottle, "It was easier to shut out the conscience and kill the fear. Then I met him."
Katara caught on quickly "You mean Nero."
"Yep," Lian confirmed. "Whether he knew it or not, he gave me my emotions back." Then she locked her own sapphire eyes with those of her long time arch nemesis. "And then I met you."
Katara was stumped, "Which means?"
Lian shrugged "You were simple, kind, uncomplicated. Everything a Tribes girl should be."
Katara shrugged off Lian's compliment with a wave of her hand, "I'm far from."
"No. No you're not." Lian interrupted, "That may be what you tell yourself, but you are everything that's good about our people. Kind, warm, caring, all that and one hell of a waterbender."
Katara just let out a dry, small chuckle. "So that kind of rocked your world huh?"
Lian shrugged, "Yeah. Eventually I realized, no need to be bad to be a badass. Hey, um..." Lian struggled with a question, feeling already too exposed and vulnerable.
Katara noticed. "Whatever it is say it."
Lian blushed a bit. "What does it feel like to be a mother?"
Katara smiled. "It's the single greatest feeling on earth, along with the largest pain in the ass of all time." They both laughed for a long time before Katara finally said, "We should get going. I'm pretty sure I know two airbenders who're gonna need our help."
Lian nodded as Katara whistled for Appa. They were both praying they wouldn't be too later. Unfortunately, they in fact were too late to save one Airbender.
The Real Heroes of War
Sokka stood next to an unmasked Kaine for the first time in his life. He almost didn't recognize him without his trademarked blue mask. The skin of his face was pale. His jaw was strong. His black hair was cut military short, and a small stubble of facial hair grazed his chin. The warrior had his right arm caressed in a shoulder sling.
Sokka sighed as he wiped some sweat and blood from his brow. He wore a bandage on his left bicep where an arrow had pierced his arm. His armor bore numerous new scars of battle.
"You never realize how lucky you truly are until you're in a battle like this," he said to Kaine as they took in the amount of casualties they suffered. There were 138 dead, and 42 wounded. Kaine made no response, so Sokka continued. "If your luck holds up you become a praised and celebrated war hero, if not then your just another casualty."
Kaine had a different view, "If you ask me it's the other way around. The ones who fall are the true heroes who die for what they believed in. And the survivors are forever scarred by the horrors they've seen."
Sokka thought on this for moment. He thought of all the men and women he'd known who'd died. The times he had to personally tell the families of those who had fallen. The men and women were more than just another casualty to them. To them they were heroes and role models, people to look up to. While he thought of this he looked at the various scene unfolding around him. Several soldiers were mourning their fallen comrades while being comforted their friends who had survived. Finally his eyes fell on a young girl who was embracing whom he assumed was the girl's mother. He noticed Zuko and his son standing not that far away.
"Some scars can be healed over time." Sokka said. When he noticed Kaine mood still wasn't improving he added. "I'm sorry about Sky, Kaine. He was a good man."
Kaine smirked, "He was an jackass." Sokka looked at Kaine, shock etched across his face. Kaine found Sokka's expression extremely amusing. "But he was our jackass."
Sokka chuckled, "Yeah, he was. Now lets go home."
The Final Defeat
Lu Ming threw countless blades of air at Aang as the enraged Avatar stormed towards him. The sphere of air that surrounded him easily blocked the blades. As Aang rapidly approached him, Lu Ming leapt over the Avatar and blasted another draft of wind at the top of Aang's air sphere, where it should've been its weakest. All it did was piss Aang off even more as he stopped his forward momentum and instead shot straight upward.
Lu Ming had the breath knocked out of him as Aang's air sphere slammed into him, launching him into the air. Blood spewed from the century old airbender as he landed on the ground with a thud. The old man threw a desperate blast of air at the much younger Avatar. With a lazy wave of his hand, Aang blocked the blast and countered with a stream of fire that surged toward Lu Ming. The master assassin rolled out of the blaze's path, while flinging another blade of air at Aang.
The Avatar raised his arm, and blocked the attack with Tengu's air shield. Lu Ming's eyes widened at the sight of the unfamiliar technique. Aang took advantage of Lu Ming's momentary opening and brought up a large rock with one foot before launching it with his other. Lu Ming quickly moved his arms in a quick circle before he slammed them on the ground, with the flying rock, quickly followed suite.
"Not quite as quick as earthbending, but effective none the less." Lu Ming commented as Aang glared with emotionless glowing eyes. The Grandmaster of the Black Lotus smiled as he continued, "Let's see how it affects you."
Aang was brought down to one knee as Lu Ming manipulated the air's pressure around him. Aang roared in frustration as he struggled to return to standing a position. Lu Ming in turned struggled to keep the Avatar down. Dripping with sweat from the mere effort to stand, Aang slowly overcame Lu Ming's pressurebending and stood in a wide stance. Lu Ming's eyes widened in disbelief as Aang moved his arms in wide circular motions, electric sparks shooting out of the tips of his index and middle fingers.
As Aang finished generating lightning, Lu Ming abandoned his efforts and hurled a final blade of air at his nemesis. Aang fired the bolt of lightning and moved to dodge Lu Ming's attack as the assassin did the same. The bolt of lightning struck Lu Ming's shoulder. Lu Ming fell to the ground, convulsing in pain as the nerves in the entire upper left side of his body felt like they exploded. His heart also felt like it was going into burst.
Lu Ming lay motionless as Aang slowly stalked over to his fallen enemy. His eyes and tattoos no longer glowed as he reached the defeated assassin. As the Aang slipped out of the Avatar State, he noticed for the first times the soreness of his body. He looked down at his chest and saw several wounds leaking blood. Aang fell to one knee as dizziness threatened to render him unconscious. The young Avatar forced himself to his feet and turned away from Lu Ming's body. He stopped however when he felt a powerful grip on his ankle. Aang turned to see Lu Ming holding onto his ankle, looking up at Aang with almost pleading eyes.
"Promise me Aang." Lu Ming pleaded, "Promise me you'll keep our people strong. Promise me no one will ever prey on our people again."
"Don't worry." Aang replied, "With you gone, no one will ever threaten us again."
Lu Ming gave a weak smile before he closed his eyes for the last time. Aang sighed before he once again fell to his knees. He was about to fall to the ground next to Lu Ming's body when a stray thought rammed through his brain like a charging saber toothed moose lion.
Aang shot up on his feet again and sprinted over to where Tengu's body lay. Before he could reach him however his legs gave out and Aang fell flat on his wounded chest. Aang then proceeded to crawl towards his fallen friend. He never made it. His vision began to black out as he heard Appa's growl and Katara screaming his name.
For the collective works of the author, go here.