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The mountains were calm and quiet, a bit more so over the last year. Within one of these mountains, the unmistakable symbolic structure of the prison. While some of the guards, members of the White Lotus, were still present, the activity sensed around the mountains were very much silent, at least that's what it seemed to be. From inside the prison in question, the cell was strictly for one prisoner only. As a pair of White Lotus sentries went off in, working the doors to the room. The entrance into the main prison room had two sets of metalbended doors - never both open at once. After the first door closed, and the second one opened, the set of guards moved in with some food for the prisoner. In front of them, the prisoner was in their presence. He was chained to the floor by his legs, arms and wrists, yet he was shockingly floating in midair! He was in the meditation position, most likely not noticing the guards come in yet.
"Zaheer, here's your food."
No reply. In fact, no change in position in the slightest. Not wanting to talk to Zaheer, the guards just left the food where Zaheer could reach it, and left. Zaheer had been in that prison cell for four years for his previous acts, murder included, yet Zaheer, despite his restrained position, was fine as he would ever be. While his body was confined in place.
In his mind, he is free.
Zaheer's spirit was going about the Spirit World, as he had done for the longest time. While the sight in his prison cell was dark, shined by green crystals, the Spirit World he was i9n was wide open, green grass, slightly pink skies, tall lillypad trees with spirits roaming around freely. One even stayed around Zaheer himself as the man walked around. The area even had a nice cooling breeze, much like a fall breeze actually. His hair and beard flowed in the wind as the man looked around with a look of calming peace. One of the spirits, looking like a flying seahorse with fly wings, and a human face, flew over to him.
"Hi there, you're back," The spirit said.
"Greetings. Sorry I've been gone for a while."
"That's okay, the Spirit World wasn't going so well last time I looked anyway. You want to play aura ball with us?"
"I'll be happy to."
Just a few minutes later, Zaheer was with a group of spirits on two teams, playing a fun game of aura ball. Apparently, the rules matched soccer, even having the goals at each end of the field. Zaheer was on one side for one team, and was enjoying the game, taking to it pretty easily like he was a kid himself. Some other spirits were watching the game happily, applauding their team each time they got a goal, though they didn't badmouth each other while doing so. As Zaheer was busy with his own game, another figure went over to a group of spirits that were watching the game being played. Zaheer eventually, with one kick of the aura ball, got through the goal on the other side, finishing the game for everyone. Despite the loss, the opposing team was glad they played, as Zaheer began walking off.
"Thanks for playing with us," one of them said to Zaheer.
"It's no issue," replied Zaheer, as he went off walking again. After walking a few feet away, that same figure separated herself from the crowd, and began heading to Zaheer, running over even. Zaheer turned back, and saw her catch up to him.
"Can I help you?" Zaheer asked. She calmed down a bit.
"Are you Zaheer, Red Lotus leader?"
"Yes I am, but, the Red Lotus is no more." Zaheer knew the fate of the Red Lotus after his own defeat, eventually splitting up, and ending up no longer doing the main goals they were supposed to.
"Is that so? Well, I have a proposition for you, Zaheer," she offered. However, Zaheer began walking pass her, and heading back to where he was supposed to be.
"Sounds interesting, but my body isn't able to be reached by any spirit or human."
"Even if it meant to bring back your friends?"
Zaheer stopped. The other girl didn't want to pull that card right away, but, she might as well get to the point. The man turned to her.
"Impossible. If you mean my old comrades, then, I'm afraid there's nothing you can't do."
"Who said I'm doing it? My advisor's already on it, she wanted me to get you."
"And who wanted me?"
"She's named Vintana, and she insisted on letting you free, but on one condition - if you agree to help her. Before you say no, she promised that your own goal will be reached if you join her." His own goal? His own goal was to bring true freedom to the world by taking out the world leaders, and the Avatar. He knew how well that ended up ...
"I don't see what you can do. No thank you."
Zaheer started to walk again, but, the girl rushed over in front of him, another offer in her head.
"Hold on, hold on! Korra stopped you right? If you come with us, you can get even with her no problem, what do you say to that?"
"Revenge is nothing more than a blind goal - Once that is accomplished, there's nothing left. The answer is no." Zaheer started to walk again, the girl no longer trying anymore ideas. She was so sure the revenge part was enough to get Zaheer with her. Seemed Zaheer was much harder than she thought. She just sighed.
"I'll be at your prison tonight. If I can get to your cell, then will you agree to come?" She offered. Zaheer still had doubts on if the girl will even come around, nor knew where he was for that matter. The only people that know were the Avatar, and the White Lotus guards (which he doubt that they'll just let him go). Looking down at his wrists, he gave a sigh.
"Very well. I'll see you tonight."
The girl nodded with a smile, but before Zaheer could go back to the real world, suddenly the girl disappeared before he did. Thinking she was just a spirit, Zaheer went back himself. He closed his eyes, and soon, opened them up to his body back in his cell. Same cell, same chains holding him down in midair, same food in front of him. So, gently landing down in front of the food, the man went onto eating his food quietly. He was fully sure that the girl wasn't coming to the rescue, and even if she did, Zaheer wasn't having revenge on mind. Like he said, Revenge isn't a good goal for anyone to have...
Just outside of the prison, within the mountains as a matter of fact, another spirit returned to her body, having a perfect sight of Zaheer's prison front. She looked directly at it, and gave a nod to herself.
Within the Spirit World, more activity was going on that Zaheer wasn't aware of. Within the Spirit World, many of the spirits were going along, but however, looking along the land, a group of figures was going along through the plains as fast as they could. There was about, currently, three people running through the Spirit World plains, two of them apparently following the leading figure. Some of the Spirits saw where they were going, some a bit worried over the group to be honest about it. The reason for their worry was where the three were actually going.
Soon, the trio eventually stopped upon a height in the path, looking on ahead of them. Further ahead of them, the Spirit area began to darken out, despite the bright sky everywhere else. That indication meant that it was an area Spirits try not to go to for the most part (if not, never). From the sight, they could only see the raised mountains surrounding the area. There was a canyon pass, but, that was blocked by a huge stone wall, the door metal. Upon seeing the area, the leading figure, Vintana as it turned out, turned to her other comrades.
"Here we are. They should be just inside pass that gate," Vintana said, pointing to the door in front of them. Both of her comrades, middle aged males, looked on to the area in question.
"You sure about this, Vintana. If they find us again, we won't be able to escape."
"I'm positive - I managed to get you two out, didn't I?"
"But, to go back to the same place?"
"If all goes well, then, no one will be staying, and we'll have more allies to the objective. You two know what to do."
They both nodded. With that, Vintana left them to their objective, as she began running over, as her two subordinates split up from there.
The front main gate to the area in question was huge, and appeared aging for many a millennium. The appearance resembled an aging wooden door, darkened spurs and burn marks all over the front of it. The wood looked like birch or oak, and no exact handle, knob, or any main way to open said door was present on the front. Upon going to the front gate, Vintana sighed, before resting her hands on the front gate. With her comrades taking another route in, Vintana, using all of her strength, began to push the door open. Given the fact that the door was three times bigger than her, it wasn't easy, but, Vintana opened it just enough to squeeze her body through the crack. Soon as she got in, the door shut behind her, sealing her main exit tight. The other side of the door looked scorched away, though not enough for the door to collapse. Vintana turned away from the door, and looked onto the area in question.
The place in front of her look, for a lack of a better word, dead. The skies were darkened by the clouds, much of the ground seemed like coal almost, and many plants were skeletal remains of their former selves. The trees and bushes were stripped away of leaves and pure life in its entirety. Vintana kept a calmer mind as she walked through the barren land for a good hour, trying to calm herself, and not succumb to the land itself. It was hard to for the normal person - being put in such a dead landscape will make any soul dull down after the first few minutes. There was no noise, only the sound of the quieting winds blowing over the land around her. As she was walking, looking around, she suddenly heard something up ahead - a sound which she hoped that she wouldn't hear so quickly.
Further ahead of her, she could see a light flickering ahead, belonging to a torch. The figure was easily spotted about a few meters away, coming ahead of the path. It looked hunched over, one hand with black-nailed fingers gripping the torch. The arms were lined with redstones indented into the skin. It had a huge dark grey cloak covering most of its body, and a number of human skulls were tied on his body for accessories. A bird was on top of the head, tied down to the body by a piece of string around the neck. The figure in the cloak also has a huge, black beak jutting out from the head opening, aimed directly at her. Vintana didn't look directly at the figure, but knew who it was.
"Tzumok," Vintana greeted.
"Vintana. You returned?" Tzumok replied, the crow on Tzumok's head staring directly at Vintana.
"I am, and I humbly request passage into the Soul Grove," Vintana said, as the crow flew around her. Tzumok gave a low sigh, the mouth not moving as he did. Almost as if the crow was his eyes ...
"... You wish to return. Why must you?"
"I have my reasons."
"... Tell me those reasons, child." Vintana was worried of that, but, she didn't have another choice other than to answer him, otherwise she will be in a ton of trouble by the end of it. So, looking to Tzumok's feet, the girl went ahead and answered him, whispering to him.
"Ghazan. Ming-Hua. P'Li."
The crow flying around her eventually landed back on Tzumok's back. Tzumok nodded slowly, expression unchanged. Vintana waited for a reply from the creature in front of her. Eventually, Tzumok spoke.
"... You risk the living being that is your soul. And yet, you show little to no remorse upon sight of my existence ... And at a time when souls of the masked one and the betrayer of the Spirit Realm seeped away from the Grove, no less ... And that same day you'd arrive for the first time." Tsumok walked over to her, inches away from Vintana. The women felt a bit troubled, but, stayed calm nonetheless. "This drive ... It's going to be the failure of you ... Just like all who were sent here ... Yet, it's impossible to control one's motives ..."
"May I enter the grove? Tzumok?"
For an answer, the strange figure turned around, and walked away from her. All Vintana heard was the caw from the crow before Tzumok disappeared in the darkness. Far as Vintana was concern, this was the only right of passage if she would ever get one. After Tzumok left, Vintana continued off ahead herself.
The night began to follow from outside, near Zaheer's prison, as the airbender himself just sat there in meditation. He still didn't think Zikara was able to get him out, but, stranger things had happened in the world. The guards were still around Zaheer's main area, so, the chances of the girl even getting in was pretty low. Zaheer gave a sigh on the thought: he didn't mind that she offered to free him, but, he knew it wasn't possible. It was as possible as the idea of his team mates coming back from the grave.
"We'll see what happens now," Zaheer thought to himself, waiting for something to happen. At first, nothing seemed to happen: not so much a single noise. However, as Zaheer levitated, he began to hear footsteps coming to the cell door. Zaheer expected it to be another guard with his meal, or just checking on him to see what he was doing ... Upon the doors opening, Zaheer went down onto the floor, standing up. The person who showed up made Zaheer a bit surprised, and impressed, that she actually showed up into his cell.
The girl didn't appear to be tired, wounded, or anything on that matter. In fact, she looked to be in peak condition, if anything. Zikara looked up to Zaheer, nodding, as if telling him that the deed's been done. Still, Zaheer wasn't sure how to fully react to Zikara's appearance.
"So, you actually got to me," Zaheer said.
"And now, you will come with me," Zikara replied. Zikara walked over to Zaheer's chains, and began to work them off of the man to get him free. Zaheer didn't bother to stop her, and after a few distinct clicks, the chains got off his body. The airbender was free. Zaheer rubbed his wrist, where the handcuffs were, before talking to Zikara.
"You know what this means, do you Zaheer?" Zikara asked. Zaheer just nodded: his deal for joining Zikara still stuck, and was now sealed. Zikara and Zaheer shook hands, to fully seal the deal, before Zikara and Zaheer began to head off out. As the two went on through the halls to outside, Zaheer could see the number of people, many of which were the guards themselves. The guards looked too weak to react to Zaheer and Zikara's appearance, telling Zaheer that Zikara was a bit tougher than he first expected her to be. Some of them even looked like she killed them, due to their injuries. Zaheer and Zikara both finally walked out of the cell doors, to outside. The night was clear, the moon and stars out for them both to observe the second they got out.
"Well, Zaheer. You are finally free. I'm glad you've agreed to come," Zikara said, turning to Zaheer.
"Okay then. Follow me, we can get to Vintana soon enough," Zikara said. After she said that, Zikara began running off ahead. Zaheer simply floated in midair, and followed her that way, leaving the prison hold behind him. The two quickly became out of sight from the prison hold. However, as they left, only one out of the guards managed to get up, and see them go off out of sight...
Within the Spirit World, Vintana continued going through the Soul Grove, keeping a straight mind and a calm soul as she walked. She hoped that her comrades had gone through a bit easier than her, as she kept walking. Ahead of her, she saw where she hoped to go to. Some ways away, she noticed a small settlement, a few wooden houses that closely resemble those from the Earth Kingdom. Still, the gloomy atmosphere made it look like some ghost town. Vintana quickly arrived into the town, looking around for P'Li, Ghazan, and Ming-Hua within the place. All the buildings looked worn and out of date, just adding to the depressive state of it all. Vintana stopped after a bit, trying to look around for anyone to appear in front of her.
"Worse than it was last time I was here," Vintana told herself. She could see a few souls go around here and there, but, not who she was looking for. She had to figure out where they are soon. After a while of waiting, someone started to show up ahead of her. In front of her, she saw a taller women in front of her. While most of the colors had faded to browns and greys, she seemed to appear Fire Nation, her hair in a ringed ponytail, and a signature eye mark on her forehead. It was the girl she was looking for. Soon, Vintana began walking over to her, the figure noticing her after a bit.
"Greetings, P'Li," Vintana said. P'Li's head and neck seemed a bit darkened up for some reason. However, she didn't say anything to her, even if she tried to say something. Vintana could see her mouth moving, but, no words came out. Vintana crossed her arms, giving off a sigh.
"Come on, let me help you leave the Soul Grove."
P'Li tried talking again, turning to her.
"I promise, P'Li. You just have to follow, and leave everything to me."
P'Li nodded, more mouth movements again. Vintana held her hand, and began to head off to the edge of the village. Despite appearances, she had everyone she needed to find, as she exited the village. P'Li looked legibly confused at what Vintana was doing, as if her memory was gone since arriving. However, after Vintana got about a mile away from the village with P'Li, suddenly she found herself in front of another roaming spirit again.
"You plan to leave with her?"
"All apologies, Tzumok. Permission to use these souls?"
The crow on Tzumok seemed angered, as it cawed out loud angrily at Vintana and P'Li. Tzumok began to move forward to them both, P'Li actually coward behind Vintana upon seeing Tzumok approach: something the real her would never do. Vintana calmed down, but Tzumok was inches away from her. Vintana knew what she had to do, and whispered her reason for such actions. Tzumok remained unmoved.
"Another act at the risk of the souls of the living ..."
"Permission to take her?" Vintana repeated. Tzumok silently walked past them both, but the crow on top of Tzumok flew off at them, the feathers flying off the bird. Vintana quickly pulled P'Li out of the way of the falling feathers, running off as fast as she could.
All Tzumok did was watch, as the crow landed back on him. For he knew what extent Vintana was going through to have this happen.
For the collective works of the author, go here.