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|Ep.12: Hoof and Horn|
Ep.13: Hall of Tortured Souls
Over in Ba Sing Se, tensions are running high. There wasn't anymore fighting going on, and no one outside at the palace's front steps. It was a sort of odd thing to really see, yet that doesn't mean that nothing had happened by any means. From the fight that broke out, everything got cleaned up, and it all looked good as new for the most part. Inside however, there was someone new on the throne. Tonraq, Wan, Raiko, and Izumi weren't present on the main floor. And as for who was on the throne in question, well, it was quite a hard thing for much of the world to accept so quickly ...
Queen Vintana had taken her throne.
Yes, with the combined efforts of herself, Unalaq, and Amon, they've gotten control over Ba Sing Se, and with the Avatar out of the way, they had nothing to worry about for the time being. Vintana wasn't a fool though, and knew this sudden shift in power wasn't to be taken lightly by her fellow nations of authority. With Vintana ruling over the Earth Kingdom, and Amon now having higher authority over Republic City as promised, things weren't looking so good for the world. The only spot that Vintana had no change towards was the Fire Nation, for she had no one to really have the land just yet. Until she could figure that out, she had to leave it alone, but for the time being, it was relaxation, at last.
As Vintana happily relaxed on her new, comfortable throne, she was soon joined up by Amon. Even if the chi-clocker had control over Republic City as promised, Amon still stuck around with Vintana. After all, the United Republic is Earth Kingdom territory, as others have said before.
"Hello, Queen Vintana," Amon said with a smile. Vintana was pleased to see him, and got to her feet.
"Afternoon, my king," she cooed, giving him a kiss on the lips. These two lovebirds in criminal's paradise weren't hiding their relationship anymore at this point. Amon was happy for what he got out of the deal; not only Republic City, but a hot babe to share it with.
"Say, is Unalaq still around?" Vintana asked.
"No he isn't. He already went off back to the North Pole. He'll notify you once he gets there," Amon said. Vintana was a bit disappointed on how quickly Unalaq had run off back to the North Pole to get his own throne back, but that also meant there wasn't going to be any interruptions between her and Amon.
"Good for him."
"Listen, Vintana. What're we going to do about Zaheer? I know you might not think it's such a danger, but, we're talking about the only group to collapse an entire government overnight. Who's to say that they won't do the same to us?" Amon asked, not wanting the group to be left alone any longer. Vintana still didn't seem too concerned about them.
"What're you so worried about? I'm aware on how dangerous they are, of course, but let's be honest - they're getting old and out of talent. Besides, I was the one who brought three of them back to life, and I can easily send them back at anytime."
"Oh, stop being so worried. You do trust me, don't you?"
"Of course I do," Amon replied, not thinking any different. The two then kissed each other once more.
"Good. Now, how about you and I have some fun?~" Vintana offered. Amon knew exactly what she meant by that, and followed her away. They both knew still that they wouldn't be able to ignore this forever, but they'll handle it later.
Meanwhile, in the Spirit World, Team Avatar and the Red Lotus continued to follow Echidna. It had been going along for hours now, and so far, they really don't know where they're going. Echidna knew exactly what he was doing though, but since he moved a bit slower, so did their trip. It was a long, and overall boring walk, which for some was a bother in of itself.
"So, Echidna? How long did you say this place was?" Ziyou asked, tired and bored out of her mind.
"Step closer from the last time you asked," Echidna replied, continuing to walk with his walking staff keeping him balanced easy. Ziyou just groaned.
"Come on sis, it'll be fine. He's the only one who knows where they are, and we're just going to have to make the best of it," Korra assured her twin.
"Make the best of this long walk? It might take weeks, or even months at the rate we're -"
"We're here," Echidna suddenly announced. That got Ziyou excited, and she immediately rushed forward to see where they ended up. Ziyou skidded to a stop once she was in the open, and they all got a good look on where they had ended up as they followed Echidna down. The area, for starters, was simply ginormous! A huge, flat plain, with rock outcrops in numerous places, each one having tall trees and green grass growing on them. There was no trees, or even grass along the valley floor however, but they did see mounds upon mounds scattered everywhere. When they looked, it turned out that each of these mounds were actually grounded nests, and each one either had eggs or egg shells in them. The eggs were fairly big, about the size of a beach ball, and each nest had about five to seven eggs in them.
"Talk about a baby boom," Ghazan commented.
"My thoughts exactly," agreed Ziyou. Seemed the two had a working mind set. As they were looking though, they didn't see any sort of staff to speak of. All they saw were nests, eggs, and that's all.
"And where's that staff?" Ming-Hua asked. Echidna chuckled.
"You didn't think it'll be that easy, did you? You got a long way to go yet," Echidna answered.
"What?! You better tell us where it is, or -" Ming-Hua suddenly tried to work her water arms ... but, no water came up. They must be in the anti-bending area Echidna told them about.
"Oh, calm down will ya? Now listen; wait until tonight, and these infant Longnecks will start to move off. follow them, and you'll get to where you need to go. Just wait around," Echidna advised, a staff aimed at one of the nests, which the eggs were starting to move. One of these eggs then began to break open, and revealed a newly-born grey animal. The animal looked about the size of a pony upon hatching, with four stubby legs, a rounded head, and a long snake-like tail. It called out a little bit, as it got to its feet as others hatched out. As they were watching, Echidna suddenly turned and started moving away from them. Amongst the group, Kuvira noticed first.
"Where're you going?"
"Head-start. I'll see you tomorrow morning," Echidna said, continuing to go off.
"Wait a minute, why can't we just keep going with you?"
Echidna then gave a chuckle.
"Believe me kid. You don't want to."
With that, Echidna went off, and disappeared before they could change his mind. Guess all they got to do is wait until tonight, and these things will begin off on their own way. They only hoped that it was the same way as they wanted to go ...
Since Echidna left them, the group began to relax, and settle down around the nesting grounds. The activity by the small baby animals didn't bother the others all that much as they waited. They had to tolerate them anyway, since they had to follow them later on anyhow. The more time past, the more eggs hatched out, and the more baby Longnecks began to come out and interact with each other. While the others were doing their own thing, Asami and Korra had some time for themselves. The skies were a nice sight above the nesting grounds, and cloud-watching seemed to be a pretty good pastime.
"What a lovely sky," Asami sighed.
"Yeah," agreed Korra. The silence was occasionally stopped thanks to the calls of the Longnecks around them. The two girls looked over to the little creatures, all which were just interacting with each other, and not scared of the humans nearby them.
"Do you think they'll take us the right way?" Asami asked.
"Well, it's all we have to work with ... Asami?"
Asami looked to Korra.
"I ... I want to apologize again. For what happened. I tried so hard, but Vintana got the better of me," Korra said, but Asami sat up.
"Korra, don't apologize, it's not your fault. I'm just happy you're still here with us ..." Asami made clear. Korra still didn't feel much better, as she sat up herself.
"Yeah, but not entirely; Zikara took away Raava, Amon took away my Bending. I don't have ... anything," Korra sighed gravely. This wasn't exactly true, but Korra didn't had much for defense or offense to even remotely face Vintana on her own terms, or anyone's terms. Being the Avatar - while a blast - meant that bending the elements was Korra's main way of fighting anyone. Yeah, she had combat, but, bending made all the difference in her world, and without that, what can she do. Asami felt sympathetic, but a little peeved that Korra acted like no bending meant no fighting.
"That's not true at all; you got me, your sister, Bolin, Mako, Kuvira, Jinora. We're all here for you Korra, really, and don't forget that," Asami advised, which was more on truth than what Korra had said. Korra turned to Asami, and smiled to her.
"Thanks Asami ..."
Time ticked by for a bit longer, and soon the Spirit World sun started to shift from day to night. The sun was down, and the group had come back together after a while, prepared to take off. Echidna said that the Longnecks will start to move off eventually, and the group was ready to go off when they do. It was hard to really say if, or when for sure, that these babies will start moving off, but the youngsters were still hanging around the nests. Some members were actually asleep, while a few kept their eyes open for the first signs of the movement. At one point, P'Li and Ming-Hua were both awake as the others were resting together.
"Well, didn't think we'd be helping the Avatar this much," Ming-Hua commented at one point.
"Neither did I, but it'll all be better in the long run," P'Li assured.
"Look who's the trusting one," Ming-Hua teased. P'Li turned to her.
"Ming-Hua, do you want Vintana in charge of the world?"
"Course not, but it's hard to work with your own murderer you know," Ming-Hua retorted. Even if they might be on probation, and truce with the others, Ming-Hua still wasn't comfortable with being with Mako; the same person who electrocuted her to death last time she remembered being alive years ago. Not a good memory when the last thing you remember is flashing lights, and your own body going to a sudden stop by a lightning bolt.
"You don't have to stay with them when this is done, you know. This is temporary, remember that," P'Li reminded.
"And when we're done, I'm out of here, and getting the Red Lotus up to speed again," Ming-Hua decided casually. P'Li could easily guess that this was going to be a long trip, so, she'll see what happens at the end of it all. As the two were waiting about, they looked off around the place, still hearing the babies calling out. However, they all began to leave their own nests, and went off in the same direction. They all moved a bit slowly, but it was fairly good enough to get their attention.
"Well, there's our cue," Ming-Hua said. She and P'Li got up, but the noise was enough to wake them up anyway. If that wasn't enough though, then a few Longnecks did end up walking through the empty nest they were in, two of which even stumbling on Asami and Zaheer, waking them up with a startle. Not the best way to do it, but it still got the groups up anyway. The two longnecks were fine, and continued following the others.
"Whoa. Where's everyone going?" Bolin asked on waking up.
"One way to find out. Come on," Asami decided, getting up, and starting to go off. Echidna told them to follow the group of Longnecks, and that's exactly what they were going to do.
"Do we know where they're going though?" Ziyou asked.
"Echidna told us to do this. Do you want those staffs or not?" Ming-Hua replied, also following the groups of Longnecks.
It was strange to see these young creatures do this. All in common course, hundreds upon hundreds of Longnecks all went straight towards the forest where they saw Echidna go through earlier. Exactly why they were going off that way, the team really had no idea on it, but they had nowhere else to really go. Soon, the flat plains turned into thick forests, all the trees far too tall to be any normal tree. It was as if the group had shrunk, or everything had grown a lot bigger. As for the walk, it wasn't too bad; a calm walk with many of the animals not bothering them all that much. With the huge trees, and shadows breaking up the moonlight, it didn't seem like the friendliest place to be. The only one a little bit on edge was Ziyou. Having been out in the wild for a lot longer than these guys, she knows that this sort of situation was a predator's buffet table.
"Hope we find that staff soon," thought Ziyou, keeping on her toes. However, with the Longnecks and their rackets, focusing her ears on a particular noise was too hard to do. She still kept her eyes out as they went, like a sentry would ...
Then the silhouettes started to appear.
"Do you guys see something?" Ziyou asked, keeping her eyes to where she saw the silhouette. The same figure though moved off quickly, and was a little too quick for the others to exactly see. Jinora and Zaheer both did manage to catch it, but the others missed it by seconds. The other Longnecks didn't notice it either.
"What was that?" Jinora wondered aloud.
It didn't take very long before they got their answer.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, something huge walked out into the open. It was a very tall animal. Compared to the humans, it was at least twice as tall, but with a thin build, with two legs that looked like stilts. Its head looked like that of a crocodile, but the jaws were a lot thinner. it didn't had a tail, and overall, it looked like some featherless ostrich with a crocodile head. It looked down to the team first, which were five feet away, but then its gaze looked to the animals running by its feet. It looked down curiously for a little bit before ...
In a swift bite, it grabbed a Longneck by the neck, shook it up, and raced off! It was quick, it was unnerving, and the groups were taken completely off guard. And the worse part - it wasn't alone. Three others suddenly popped up from nowhere, snatching up a baby Longneck, and taking off with it, presumably to eat it. Each screech from the animals got them more and more troubled, and since they couldn't bend or anything, they had to get going.
"Move, move, move," Kuvira said, getting them moving off away from them before they were spotted by any of the predators. They got a good ten yards in their run, but as it turned out, the animals weren't the only predators at this all-you-can-eat buffet. All of a sudden, rushing out from the bushes, something huge blasted through, knocking the group apart! This one was a four legged ambush predator, with a shark-like head and a headgehog-like body with armor plating. One bite, and the Longneck was dead. The beast had split the group in even two; Korra, Ghazan, Kuvira, Jinora, and Ming-Hua on one side. and Asami, Mako, Bolin, P'Li, and Zaheer on the other. It didn't take long before the beast finished up its meal, which took just a few bites and a swallow. The groups both then raced off in the same general direction as the Longnecks were. The more they kept going, the more screams they began to hear. Korra kept trying to keep track of the other group, but found it harder and harder to keep track -
"Korra, look out!" Kuvira yelled. Suddenly, Korra found herself in the jaws of a Crocodile Ostrich! The animal lifted her up quick, shaking her a little bit, and raced away! It didn't kill her, but she was still hurting. Ziyou managed to see her getting lifted up on the ground.
"Korra!" Ziyou called. Suddenly, rushing on all fours, Ziyou raced away from the others, and straight towards her sister. Ziyou managed to catch up, and grabbed Korra. All it took was a quick kick to the bottom jaw to make the Crocodile Ostrich to let them go, both girls dropping to the ground. It took out its frustrations on another Longneck, as both girls went away. The biggest problem now was that Korra and Ziyou had isolated themselves from the others, and they couldn't see them!
"GUYS!" Korra yelled. But they didn't hear any response aside from the killed Longnecks screaming around them. Ziyou managed to get Korra moving, and the two began to run off with the crowd, hoping that the others will be alright. With predators all over the place, it was hard to stay still, and with the Longnecks going in one direction, it was where they had to go. Each scream made them wonder if it was another Longneck, or one of their friends ...
It's going to be a long night.
Even with the morning sun, the nerves were not settled. The voices had calmed down, and the screams had stopped altogether. With the Spirit World sun now waking up the forest, it showed that there was really nothing left, apart from footprints, and the stray areas of blood scattered in various spots. There wasn't any Longnecks, nor Crocodile Ostriches, nor Armadillo Sharks. On the ground remained only small insects sipping up the blood from the dirt. Even with the crowds gone, that didn't mean that everything had just vanished ...
"... GUYS! ... GUYS! ..."
In the distance, the echoes of a call echoed through the forest. It was hard to tell at first exactly where it was coming from at first, but eventually, one person did eventually come out. Jumping up on an old, and huge log, Ziyou had come into view. She and Korra had survived the night, but now their main intention was to find the others, and see what happened to them overnight. Ziyou moved off of the log, with Korra following afterwards. They'd been calling for them all morning, and so far, there wasn't any luck. Each call echoed through the forest, but with no response. If there was any bright side to this, at least they had better vision compared to last night.
"Ziyou? Remind me to Give Echidna what for when we find him," Korra said at one point.
"Oh don't worry, I'll join you even," Ziyou replied. to think that Echidna would call nighttime traveling easier when they witnessed all that, and got separated at the same time. Ziyou began talking again as they went.
"What a sick joke. "You don't want to come with me during the day." HA, okay Echidna. and maybe while we're at it, put us on a plate for all those predators," Ziyou complained. BOY, did they had their words to Echidna once they find him. But still, first thing's first, and the first thing is to find the others.
"Okay, Ziyou. We'll tell him off. BELIEVE me. But we have to see if the others are alright first," Korra said.
"I know, I know," sighed Ziyou. Ziyou continued going around the area ahead of Korra for a good while, both sides looking around as best as they could try to figure out. This constant search kept up for a good ten minutes, the whole time not having very much success until ...
"... Korra ..."
The voice sounded like a call, but was still an echo from Korra's ears. Both her and Ziyou stopped once they had heard it. It sounded very far away, but it did give them their spirits either way. However, it was hard to pinpoint where the direction was coming from. The two looked around in all directions.
Then it came again, and the girls got a better pinpoint on where it was at. Excited, Korra and Ziyou didn't waste any time in running right off in the general direction, avoiding the trees and vegetation as they went along. Ziyou was in front of Korra pretty much the whole time as they kept on going until ...
The two skidded to a stop on Korra's command, when she caught sight of another creature; another Armadillo Shark! The predator hissed once it saw the two all alone, and unlike last night, there wasn't any other targets for the predator to just snatch up and leave them alone. It saw them, it was hungry, and it wanted some breakfast. Korra and Ziyou, even without bending to work with, weren't going to run off again, and the hissing animal began moving over when -
Out of almost nowhere, a gigantic foot slammed nearby, so abruptly and forcefully, it made the predator stumble, and the girls knocked off their feet. Looking up, they then heard a bellowing groan-like roar, and that was all it took for the predator to high-tail it out of there. The gigantic animal easily dwarfed them by many leagues, like staring up at one of those Voronon creatures they faced before, only made up of flesh and bone rather than fur and stone. The animal looked like the baby Longnecks from last night, but as an adult, with a longer neck. However, unlike the other two animals they seen so far, this giant animal didn't look like a predator; with a blunt head, weaker jaws, and a calm attitude towards them. It gave a calmer call to the two, as it started to move off away. When the sisters looked, they also saw what remained of the younger Longnecks staying around the adult animal, so it seemed clear that the adult was friendly - friendlier than the other animals anyway.
"Korra, over here!" The voice called again, as the giant behemoth began moving away, coincidentally towards the direction of the voice. Korra and Ziyou stuck nearby the animal until they found a clearing in the forest. This clearing had at least five other adults, and twenty other babies amongst the herd, and who was at the center of it?
"Guys, you made it!"
Yep, everyone else had managed to make it through the night, and found the herd earlier than the other two had, and it was clear that they made it out okay, if not a bit rattled by what happened last night. Ziyou and Korra wasted no time in getting to them, getting hugs from their friends.
"Thank Raava, you two made it! Are you okay?" Jinora asked.
"Oh, we're fine, are you guys okay?" Korra asked back.
"We're all alright. I gotta say, not the best night ever," Ghazan replied. That remark just reminded Ziyou about Echidna, and she was ready for him.
"Yeah, by the way, where is that Echidna?" Ziyou asked, angry in her voice. Pretty soon, they all heard the very spirit in question walk over to them from some ways away, from a group of baby Longnecks. Of course, ziyou wasted no time in going right over to him.
"You! I want to have a word with you!"
"What's the issue? you made it did you?"
Yeah we made it, but not before going through the worst night of our lives! Seriously, it was a lot easier if we'd just left with you during the day, but instead we left at night, and what do we see? A living buffet and hundred plus massacre of baby Longnecks here, there, and everywhere! All those Crocodile Ostriches and Armadillo Sharks nearly made a meal out of us, and we even got split up from them! And - ... and ..."
"Are you done?" Echidna asked. Ziyou realized that the spirit honestly wasn't taking her seriously. Echidna moved off over to within the group, Ziyou looking ready to explode. Ziyou rushed to Echidna, but since Echidna had his back to her, well ...
"AAHH! ... AAHH! ... AAAHHH!"
Ziyou ended up covered in quills. About ten of them were stuck in her, head to toe, and in obvious pain.
"That's your own fault," sighed Echidna, as he turned to the rest of the group.
"If you went off with me, you'd end up as prime targets for sure. All those longnecks kept those predators busy all night long, so it was a better shot for you hairless monkeys than it would be in the day," Echidna explained. Well, it may not be a very good point, but it was still a point anyway. Ziyou didn't bother to protest since she was dealing with her own quills. Jinora and Bolin of course were there, and tried to help get them out.
"Okay, Echidna. So we're here, and we've made it through the night. So where do we go now to get the staff?" Mako asked.
"Geesh, you humans are impatient, aren't ya? Alright, if you all need to know right away, then listen, because I'm only gonna say it once," Echidna advised, as everyone turned to listen.
"If you head off further west, then you'll find one of the oldest trees in the wood. Just get yourselves inside that thing, and you'll find your first staff. Happy now?" Echidna asked, annoyed with the rush they were doing.
"And you didn't tell us earlier, because ..." Bolin asked.
Echidna shut him up by pulling out a quill, and stabbing it on his nose. Bolin yelped, and yanked it out right away.
"Anyone tell ya to be patient? Seriously, this isn't no rush through the park, you know."
"We know, but we don't have much time to work with," Asami said, trying to not be so rough with him. Echidna sighed, paw over forehead. Echidna, being a spirit himself, didn't care for time too much.
"Yeah, yeah, sure you don't," Echidna sighed, pulling the rest of the quills out of Ziyou, who flinched from the pain. Ziyou had gotten some out, but Echidna got that over with so he can have his quills back. Sensing another question might come up to annoy him, Echidna got the next answer over with.
"Before you ask, you'll figure out where the other staffs are as you go. One staff you gain will give ya the answer on the next one, okay?"
"Really? Well, thanks," Korra said.
"Whatever. Now, you can take it from here, I'm going back home. Here's the map, and, I'll see ya later," Echidna finished, tossing the map he had to them to use. He knew the Spirit World up and down, so, he didn't need it. Besides, he can just make another one. Echidna soon walked away, and as before at the nests, disappeared. Well, unlike before, they weren't told to wait, so, they made tracks from there.
With tracks now met up, they had more of a lead this time around, and with the group back together, they had plenty more protection on their walk. Trying to find a gigantic old tree was a bit of a stretch - all the trees looked ancient and huge. So long as they kept going west, then they should be able to find it soon. Ziyou stayed with the group rather than go off ahead, her body sore and spotted red thanks to Echidna's quills. Leading in front was Korra and Kuvira, and everyone else followed behind, looking around to make sure no more predators tried to take them and pick them off.
"Awfully quiet around here," P'Li noted, looking around. Strange how there wasn't really much predators around this time, despite what Echidna had said earlier as explanation for the nighttime travel. No Armadillo Sharks, or Crocodile Ostriches anywhere.
"That spirit better not had pointed us the wrong way," Ziyou said, slight growl in her voice. It was bad enough getting attacked by a walking pin cushion, but to be lead off the wrong way wasn't any better.
"I don't see why he would," Bolin said. Ziyou looked to Bolin with a "you-got-to-be-kidding" look.
"I do; on my arms, on my stomach, on my chest, on your nose," Ziyou said, pointing to the noticeable red spot on Bolin's face.
"Calm down, Ziyou. We'll find the staff, don't worry. Shouldn't be long now," Zaheer assured her. It didn't seem like such though, as the trees all looked the same. Korra wondered still on where this place would be, but it was getting troubling. If the first task nearly got her eaten, who knows what else awaited her further down. Seriously, it was bad enough they couldn't bend, but on top of that, they had all this trouble thrown at them almost immediately. Just one night, and she almost lost ...
Everyone immediately stopped. The voice was out of nowhere, and coming from apparently nowhere. It took a little bit, but Jinora and Korra were the first to find the source. Farther away, just ahead of them, looked like a boy; twelve years of age, and a pure airbender. There was no mistaking this airbender, as he was waving to get their attention.
One mention of that name, and the figure turned and went off away. Korra ran off after him first, followed by Ziyou and Asami. Everyone else eventually began to follow them along, trying to catch up to what Korra thought was Aang. Aang kept in front of them for a while, cutting corners, and guiding them along, but didn't wait up for them unless he went too far. He was guiding them, but not allowing them to get too close, so to keep them moving.
"Wait! Aang!" Korra called, but Aang didn't respond. Soon, Aang rushed off ahead, and suddenly was out of sight. Korra though kept running forward past another tree. Once she did, she suddenly skidded to a stop, something else catching her eye.
All of a sudden, the group of travelers found themselves in the presence of a different kind of tree. Many of the trees were pretty huge, but this trunk was easily large enough to match up with Republic City buildings. The tree limbs high above covered up every inch of the sky, only a short amount of light going through to the forest floor. Huge roots stretched out in all directions. If this tree can be compared to anything, it was most like the giant tree from the foggy swamp back home. If this wasn't the tree, then what was?
"Well, looks like we found our tree. Let's go on in," Bolin said, already starting on over to it. However ...
"Not so fast!"
All of a sudden, the sound of cloven hooves rang out in the air, as something began to run down from the sides of the tree. Bolin looked up, and was suddenly rammed back by some large animal, landing right in front of the rest. The animal was a large ram, about as tall as a horse. The fur was silver, with dark grey stripes down its lower back. Its eyes were lined with a light grey shadow, The large horns curved around its ears like a true ram, but the horn were a fine shade of green that almost seemed to glow. The chest also had a symbol of a bright green flower bestowed on it. It looked down to them, giving an intimidating snort.
"And just what business do you humans have here?" The animal asked, waiting for an answer out of any of them. They took a moment, but Kuvira went on and spoke up.
"Urgent retrieval. And who might you be?" Kuvira asked firmly. The huge ram leaned in, and snorted in her face.
"Name's Molto. And unless you're looking for trouble, then clear out the lot of ya," Molto warned, lowering his head, horns at the ready. Jinora quickly got in the way before things could get out of hand.
"Please, we're not here to cause any trouble. We're just here to find one of the Staffs," Jinora said.
"We were instructed to find this tree, and the staff inside. So, if you could just let us pass and get the staff, we'll be on our way," Zaheer added. Both sides didn't waver Molto though, his front hooves scraping the ground.
"Is that so? And I suppose you're all traveling to get the other Staffs too?"
"Uh, yeah we are. It'll just be quick," Ziyou said, but trying to pass just got Molto to move in her way. Ziyou tried a number of times, but Molto wasn't letting her through.
"You take me for a fool, are you? I'm not just giving the staff up to just a bunch of humans! This is a sacred area, and no human leaves with this kind of item," Molto made clear. Korra then tried next.
"Look, we need these staffs to stop a crazed women back in the human world. As the Avatar, maybe you can -"
"I don't care."
The answer was blunt and to-the-point, shutting Korra up almost at once. Molto cracked his neck, and readied to charge them.
"Oh, you wanna go, let's go!" Ziyou challenged. However, it was short-lived; Molto charged, and one ram was all it took to send Ziyou flying! The girl was knocked back twenty feet easily, slamming into another tree. Molto turned to the others, and rammed Ming-Hua, Kuvira, P'Li, and Mako all at once, sending them landing close to Ziyou.
"Anyone else?" Molto asked.
"No, no thanks, we'll just be going," Bolin suddenly replied, not wanting to be launched off again. Molto watched them go off, giving another snort before walking back to the tree. Those who weren't rammed helped the others to their feet, as Molto laid down close to the tree.
"Okay, so Echidna didn't mention this part," Mako groaned.
"Oh, you think so?" Ming-Hua replied sarcastically, Ghazan helping her up.
"Well now what? We can't bend him out of here, and he's a spirit anyway, so it wouldn't last too long," Mako said, rubbing his head.
"Oh, don't worry," Ziyou said, looking to the old goat. "We'll get him. Let's get a plan going here ..."
"This is what you came up with?" Asami questioned, as Ziyou stood there, covered in leaves and sticks, muddy from head to toe. Not the smartest idea, but, it was worth a shot.
"Nothing to it; he's just a spirit goat, just gotta look the part, get the staff, and off on our way. Now wait here," Ziyou said, as she started to walk out. The others stayed out of sight Korra felt an odd feeling of Deja Vu, watching the bush spirit walk right into view of Molto.
"Do you really think this'll work?" P'Li asked quietly.
"Not at all," Ming-Hua replied, also quietly.
As Ziyou walked into sight, it didn't take very long until Molto walked right up to her, as intimidating as before. Ziyou kept her composure, and stood boldly.
"Greetings, fellow Spirit. I am the Bush Spirit, and I've come by in word of Raava to relieve you of your guarding duty. I've been assigned to take your place from here on out," Ziyou explained. Surely a word of Raava wouldn't be put against her. However, Molto looked skeptical of this bush spirit, and it was obvious, he wasn't buying a word. Only one good blow of Molto's breath got the leaves and bushes off of Ziyou's head, exposing her. Ziyou was silent ...
"You come up with a plan, and this is your first? ..."
One ram later, and Ziyou was face first in the dirt, stopping right in front of the others. for some, it was expected. Korra helped Ziyou back up.
"... Anyone got a Plan B?"
Molto kept his visual, keeping an eye out a bit more for those pesky humans. The first attempt, though a bit lame, did get Molto on guard a bit more, and he wasn't going to let any human just waltz by him. As for the others, they kept close by, just out of sight. Their next attempt was a bit less straightforward. As Molto kept his eyes forward, he at first was unaware of two particular spirits flying just above him. These weren't ordinary spirits though; Jinora and Zaheer! These two had got their next cause of action in the form of astral projection. If they can get themselves inside and get the staff, then it'll be easy to accomplish. The two didn't make any noise, and Molto didn't seem to be noticing anything. The two made sure to check him, before Zaheer gave the signal, and the two went through the walls of the tree inside.
So far, so good.
Once the two went through, Zaheer and Jinora found themselves floating inside the hollow tree. The interior of the tree itself was very large, light coming from a hole at the very top. Over on the ground, there was actually a smaller tree, only a few branches with small leaves like a bonsai tree. On the top branch, there sat the staff they were trying to get. It was a golden staff, and there was a number of water droplet-shaped gemstones at the tip of it. There didn't seem to be any other staffs to be present, so, it must be one of them ...
Molto found them inside. Almost immediately, Molto began galloping along the walls of the tree, straight towards them. Zaheer flew right to the staff, but Molto made a large jump right at him from the wall, landing down right on top of Zaheer. Since he was just a projection, Molto's impact forced him out of the state, and making him disappear. Jinora didn't had much time to react as Molto turned, and charged her. Jinora phased through the wall before Molto could get her. Of course, the Spirit Ram raced outside, seeing Jinora now outside, her blue body hovering above him.
"You got some nerve," growled Molto. Jinora was more concern than most.
"Molto, this is for the greater good, I promise you!" Jinora pleaded, but Molto wasn't wavering for her. To think that just taking the staff this way was for the greater good. Molto was losing patience.
"And what excuse do you have for me other than a 'crazed women'?" Molto asked, looking to her as Jinora hovered down to his level.
"You don't understand. If you would just let me explain -"
"Then come out here. The least you can do is come out here and say it to my face than this astral projection of yours," molto cut in. Jinora took a deep breath, and the projection disappeared. After just a minute, Jinora then walked out. Molto knew well that the others were nearby, and kept that in mind just in case they tried to sneak by him. Molto looked down to Jinora, and waited for an answer.
"Vintana has done a lot of damage to both the real world and the Spirit World; she took spirits from the Soul Grove, and she's targeting the world leaders. The only way we can undo her damage is the power of these staffs."
"And your 'Avatar' can't do it because?"
Jinora glanced back before continuing.
"Vintana took away Raava from her, along with her bending. She's too weak to face her right now."
Molto checked her face, to see if she was really telling the truth. He was no Beifong, but, there was still ways to tell who was telling the truth and who was telling him lies. Korra nearby felt guilty on hearing what had happened to her as it was, and hearing Jinora recap didn't make her feel any better. The ram raised his head.
"Listen kid, these Staffs were created before Raava and Vaatu even bothered to come around, so, even if Raava was here, it's not her place to decide what happens to these Staffs. And besides, you wouldn't make it anyway; many humans had come and go since the portals had opened up thousands of years ago, and they only made it pass the second challenge, at best. What makes you think you could?"
"... Molto. We don't have any other options. Koh told us this was the only option if we were to fix everything, Echidna had us go through the entire night and nearly getting us killed just to get here. Please, Molto ..."
Molto considered, and checked her again to see if she was lying or not. Jinora just didn't seem like the girl to do so, but it was still a bit of a stretch, especially on meeting with Koh in the first place. He knew Koh, and if they managed to meet with him without him tearing their faces off, then they must be tougher than credited for.
"Hmm ... Well, I'll give you credit where credit is due - humans don't usually face Koh without loosing theirs. But I doubt ALL if you faced him at once. Which one of your group managed to pull that off?"
Jinora turned back to the group, and floated over. Molto, not letting his guard down, walked over to the others. They had heard every word of the conversation, and soon Korra, and Zaheer then showed themselves.
"So it was you two?"
"He explained what the staffs are, and directed us to Echidna to find them. He didn't say anything about you though," Korra said. Molto snorted again.
"Don't know why he would. Now, you heard what I said about the challenges."
"Yes. We're ready to begin whenever you are," Zaheer said.
"What're you talking about - you already passed the first one," Molto said. The others could only assume it was last night's massacre with the baby Longnecks running around getting eaten. What else would it be anyway?
"Then can we have that Staff? We past the first challenge, so, that means that, right?" Ziyou asked. Molto groaned, and began walking away again. Molto was supposed to guard the staff, and he was getting his reasoning messed up. These humans not only had faced Koh, but had survived the entire night even with all the predators running around to eat them. Both those tasks were hard to accomplish, and the Koh visit wasn't even apart of them. Molto thought it over a little bit, before he began heading back to the old tree. The ram went inside the tree for a moment, as Jinora's projection went back to her meditating body. Molto disappeared from sight for a little bit, but he did eventually come back out with the staff in his mouth. Molto can get it later once he sensed that they've failed anyway. Molto stopped himself, and dropped the staff at their feet.
"I'm only going to say this once. If you all are dead set, then let me be clear it's just going to get more challenging here on out. Your night travel was just one of many, and you were let off easy," molto made clear, as Korra picked up the staff herself. Korra looked it over, but she wasn't sure how it exactly worked. Oh well, at least it was with them now.
"Thank you," Korra said. Molto just sighed, and turned away.
"Yeah. Now get on your way before I change my mind," molto made clear. It didn't take long before the group had left with the staff. Molto had no confidence in them, and could only assume the group wouldn't last much longer past the third challenge, most likely ...
Back in the real world, over in the Earth Kingdom city of Ba Sing Se, Vintana was still enjoying the spoils of her new empire. Amon wasn't with her, so, she was alone for the time being for quite a while. Eventually though, Vintana gave a small check to be sure that it was the case, and that she really was alone. sure enough, no one else seemed present. Good. With a nod of the head, Vintana brought her hand up to her mouth, and gave a small whistle. Pretty soon, almost on cue, something began to appear in the same room she was; the astral projection of Zikara now in her presence.
"My dear. What is the state of Korra and her friends?" Vintana asked. Zikara took a moment before answering.
"They're currently in the Spirit world, Vintana. They've found out about the Staffs," Zikara answered urgently. Vintana looked intrigued, but not worried.
"Is that so? Well, did they have any luck on it?"
"They just got the first one."
"Figured as much. Now, Zikara, where're you?"
"I'm trapped right now. El Nino is guarding me, but everyone else had left. I'm in Republic city, but it's no longer having any mist within it," Zikara explained.
"Very well. You remain put, and you'll be freed in a short while. Meanwhile, I'll be sure to send someone after those traitors. It won't be long until they're taken cared of."
Zikara nodded, and the astral projection disappeared ...
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