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|Equal, Pt. 1|
Chapter 7: Equal
Toph Bei Fong smirked as she sat at her desk. Iran had been lying about everything; not that it had surprised her. She felt that rodent Koruhagi through the wall, and now all she needed to do was get proof, concrete evidence. She grinned; then she could finally end the Equalist threat to the city.
Still...it would be hard to bring down the Governor-General of the United Republic. She would have to ensure that he stayed down.
"I might have something for you," Tao said as he sat across from her. "Provided, of course, that you'll allow me to...procure it."
Toph leaned forward. "Will your actions compromise our case against him? We've worked too hard to have him freed on technicalities."
The officer grinned. "No, that won't be a problem. I just need to revisit the warehouse."
"So you're sure you guys will be okay here?" Sora asked. "I'd hate to leave you—."
"Calm down, Sora." Tenzin shook his head, smiling all the while. "Things aren't gonna fall apart if you and Chikyuu leave."
At the mention of her name, the eleven year-old Earthbender bounded over. "Are you ready to leave, yet, Sora? I wanna surprise Mom!"
The Waterbender smiled warmly. "Okay, okay..." She turned toward her brother. "Make sure Pema's doing alright. We'll be back later this evening."
Tenzin rolled his eyes. "Yes, Mother, I wouldn't have thought of that!"
"Let's go, Chikyuu." Sora said, ignoring Tenzin's remark.
"Okay!" The young Earthbender replied before springing after her.
Tenzin chuckled. That kid...
The Airbender made a beeline for Kyani's room, wanting to see what his cousin was up to. However, upon arrival, he noticed a piece of paper on the door.
I've gone for a walk around the city. I'll be back in a couple of hours.
He shrugged. "Okay, then..." Time to make sure Pema's doing okay.
Pema walked into the Banquet Hall, hunger finally overcoming her fears. A servant was there to greet her, and he bowed.
"Would you care for something to eat, Mistress Pema?"
"Uh...yeah, sure..." What am I even doing here?
"Is there something in particular you had in mind?"
"Um..." Why are they treating me like...like I'm royalty? If anything I've been their enemy...
"We'll have a platter of egg custard tarts, please." Fiora strode into the hall with an air of command.
The servant bowed. "Yes, Princess, of course."
Pema smiled. "Those sound good!" Then she remembered who she was talking to and acted accordingly, biting her lower lip and turning away. This is the princess of the Fire Nation! What am I even doing here?!
The princess smiled. "Are you settling in well? Do you need anything?"
The Equalist shook her head. "No, I'm...fine. Thanks."
"That's good." Fiora sat in the chair next to her. "So, I don't mean to be rude, but what are you doing here?"
"Oh, well...uh...I guess you could say that..."
"Pema, you might as well tell her." Tenzin stood in the doorway. "Because you and I have a meeting with Chief Bei Fong in an hour."
Yun Zhen strode hand-in-hand with his wife as San and Lu Ten walked in front of them, inadvertently mimicking their action.
"I find it interesting that the Crown Prince had no problem with coming with us." Yun grimaced. "I think I'm losing my touch."
Ty Lee giggled. "I think it's sweet. Besides, this way you don't have to be paranoid."
He flashed his wife a cockeyed grin. "I'm not paranoid; I'm prepared."
"Whatever you say..." Ty Lee replied as she pulled him in for a kiss.
"Well, Ty Lee, I think that—." Something stopped him. Something didn't feel right.
"Yun, are you okay?" Ty Lee's face was etched with concern.
It had been a chill almost, but it was gone almost as soon as it had come. "I'm fine." He glanced around. "I thought I felt something."
Ty Lee learned long ago to trust her husband's intuition. "Do you think we should—?"
He shook his head. "No. We just need to keep an eye on..." He stared at the empty space in front of them. "Where did they go?!"
Toph didn't even so much as glance at the three teenagers. "Make this quick, Tenzin. I have work to do, and you and your friends are getting in my way." Not that I didn't like seeing Chikyuu, but it's been a hell of a day, and I don't need any more distractions, especially from Tenzin.
Pema was shaking, and Tenzin gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "Unfortunately Chief Bei Fong, I don't think that this is going to be quick at all."
That got Toph's attention. "What did you do this time?"
Tenzin swallowed nervously. "Uh...well...at the...No, wait, let me start over."
"What he's trying to say, ma'am," Pema interjected, causing Tenzin to sigh in relief. "Is that I'm...I'm an Equalist who managed to escape the warehouse." No going back now...
The Blind Bandit nodded. "I see. And how, if I may ask, did you escape unnoticed?"
Pema glanced at Tenzin before replying. "How did Solf Koruhagi escape unnoticed?"
The police chief smiled ruefully. "Well played, kid, but it's not going to get you anywhere with me. However..."
"If you were able to point me in the direction of Mister Koruhagi, I would be able to commute your sentence." Tenzin and Fiora's jaws both dropped simultaneously.
Pema hung her head. "You're not just gonna let me go, are you?"
Toph frowned. "Sorry, kid, I can't do that. Fortunately, your only crimes were disturbing the peace and evading arrest, so that means—."
"Don't you mean evading slaughter!?" Pema cried. "You used the Brotherhood to wipe us out! Did you actually arrest anybody?"
Toph stood quickly. "The Brotherhood went too far, and I am dealing with that. However, that does not make what you are doing right! Give me one good reason why I shouldn't have my men take you away right now!"
Tenzin shot up. "Mrs. Bei Fong—!"
"Shut up, Tenzin."
Pema did have a very good reason, but it wasn't as simple as just telling her. If I do this, I'd be turning my back on all of them. My entire life, these people were my friends, my home. Her thoughts went back to that first real conversation she'd had with Tenzin.
"What—what do you think such violence will accomplish?!"
He had asked her that question, and, truth be told, she didn't know the answer. She did know that Solf Koruhagi almost thrived on violence. It was in this moment that she knew what had to be done. There was no other recourse.
"Chief Bei Fong, what if I told you that Solf Koruhagi is being hidden and protected by Kiryu Iran?"
Kyani took a bite out of the komodo sausage as he walked down the street. Finally, I have some time to myself! He breathed in the fresh air as the sun began to get lower and lower in the sky, although it was not quite dusk yet.
"There he is!" A child squeaked as three little ones ran up to him. "I told you it was him!"
Kyani smirked and raised an eyebrow. What had he done to earn their attention?
The wide-eyed youths ran up to him. "Hey, aren't you the guy who's friends with the Avatar's son?"
Kyani's smirk vanished. Of course... "Not quite, I'm his cousin." The swordsman replied.
The boy cocked his head. "So you're not his friend?"
What in the world? "No, I guess I am his friend, too."
Massive grins appeared on each face. "Then you can introduce us to him! We've never seen an Airbender before!"
Kyani gave them a sad smile. "Unfortunately, I don't know where he is at the moment. I'm sorry."
A collective sigh of resignation sounded from the trio, but Kyani was focused on something else entirely. Two cloaked men made a beeline towards him, and he could barely make out the hilt of a sword under each cloak.
He turned to the children. "I am sorry that I couldn't help you; maybe it's best if you went back to your parents. Quickly."
The trio hung their heads as they dejectedly ran back to their parents, and Kyani breathed a sigh of relief, turning and coming face-to-face with the cloaked men.
"You should come with us." One of the figures said as he gripped the hilt of his sword. "We wouldn't want to cause an incident in front of all these innocent people."
Kyani grinned. "No, I think that's exactly what I want to do."
Yun Zhen and Ty Lee had since given up on finding Lu Ten and San, at least for the moment. Instead, they just enjoyed one another's company.
"So, how're things coming with Zuko's embassy idea?"
Yun smiled, his golden eyes scanning his wife's beautiful face. "They're coming, I guess. Zuko is still in the planning stages, but he wants an authority figure from the Fire Nation to be present while the details are being smoothed out." He kissed her on the lips. "But enough about work. How about you and I spend some quality time together. No work, no obligations, just you and me."
The Kyoshi Warrior beamed. "I'd like that!"
He pulled her in close once more. "I'm glad to hear it." He pulled away abruptly, causing Ty Lee to glance up at him concernedly.
Yun narrowed his eyes. "You should've known better than to try and sneak up on me. Show yourselves."
Four Equalists stepped out of the shadows and addressed Ty Lee. "You are not a bender; if you step aside, we will not harm you."
It was in this moment that Yun witnessed one of his wife's rare moments when she showed rage. "You think I'm going to betray my husband!? My family!"
Yun smirked. "Let's show them how outclassed they really are."
The revolutionaries charged at the Fire Nation nobles, intent on ending it, but their targets would not take it lying down. One of the Equalists threw a bola at Ty Lee's feet, but Yun dredged up a small rock and used it to intercept the whirling projectile. Immediately afterward, he dug his hands into the earth and quickly formed gauntlets around them, but by that point, the first attacker had already reached Ty Lee.
Unfortunately for him. Yun smiled grimly; the anti-bender stood no chance.
He threw punch after punch at Ty Lee's limbs, an attack that she dodged with minimal effort. When one strike went a little wide, she capitalized on it by quickly attacking the various pressure points in his midsection, rapidly dropping him to the ground in a quivering heap.
The remaining three split off, two gunning for Yun while the last one charged Ty Lee. The Earthbender knew his wife would have no trouble and smiled. Neither would he.
One of the anti-benders threw a precise and blindingly fast punch that he might have had trouble blocking had he not felt it coming beforehand, but block it he did. The Equalist's hand struck his earth gauntlet, and his wrist twisted and popped as the bone shattered. Yun followed up by grabbing his shattered hand and pulling him in for a sideways chop to the throat, causing him to go down gurgling.
His other opponent jumped into the air and came down, intending to strike where he couldn't anticipate, but the Earthbender simply stepped backward and loosened the earth where he would land. Upon landing, the other opponent was immediately submerged in earth up to his head.
Yun turned to check on his wife just as her other opponent fell, convulsing.
"That was easy."
"Yeah..." She grinned. "They really should've done their research." Her eyes widened with fear and realization. "Yun, the children!"
Sora and Chikyuu exited the outdoor market, and the young Earthbender was now playing with a metal bracelet Sora had bought for her, attempting to Metalbend it into various shapes, to no avail.
Sora had to stifle a chuckle as the miniature Bei Fong pouted at her lack of success. "You'll get it one day, Chikyuu; you can't just expect to be able to Metalbend like that."
"But I did it before! Why can't I do it now?"
"Maybe it only happened because of the stressful situation?" Sora guessed.
Chikyuu simply shrugged in response and went back to trying her hand at Metalbending.
Sora smiled and shook her head. She's so different from her mother.
The Earthbender worked at it for a few more seconds and whirled around in elation, intent on showing Sora what she had created. Unfortunately, her elation was replaced by horror. "Sora, look out!" She stomped her foot on the ground, creating a thick wall of earth behind her friend.
Thud! Thud! Thud! The sound of throwing knives embedding in the wall could be heard from the other end, and both girls immediately jumped into action.
Sora ran up the rock wall and kicked herself over it, dragging water out of the two skins at her side as she did so. Chikyuu, for her part, immersed her hands and feet in earth before charging straight through her own barrier.
The two Equalists met their targets, entirely prepared. One, a thin man wielding a hardwood Bo staff, made a beeline for Chikyuu, while the other went for Sora. As she brought two water whips to bear, her opponent flicked out a tiny ball that, upon connection with the ground in front of Sora, disappeared in blinding flash of light. When she was finally able to see, a feeling of icy fear ran through her. The little bauble had evaporated not only the water in her hands, but the water in her skins as well.
"Water, water everywhere..." The Equalist taunted. "...Or nowhere..."
Sora grimaced and began to pull water from the air, but the maneuver took more of her concentration than she could spare, and that concentration was broken when her attacker punched her in the stomach, causing her to nearly double over. The crescent kick that followed sent her spinning to the ground.
Meanwhile, Chikyuu was having problems of her own. The Bo staff whipped around and cracked against her shielded arm. When she reverse-grabbed the weapon, her attempt to bend it failed due to its composition. Capitalizing on the little girl's confusion, the anti-bender flipped his staff around and struck Chikyuu in the side.
"Augh!" She cried as she rolled to the side to soften the blow, but her foe was hot on her heels, jumping after her and bringing his weapon straight down at her head. The young Earthbender only saved herself by bringing up an earth slab that met the staff and snapped it in two, at which point her opponent just thrust forward with the broken end, piercing her shoulder.
Sora watched the scene unfold from her position, horror filling her mind, horror and fury. "Chikyuu, no!"
There was no hesitation, simply action, as the Waterbender thrust her arms forward and ensnared both of the Equalists.
"You will not touch her." She stated simply, almost coldly.
Chikyuu gripped the broken staff and pulled it out of her shoulder, gritting her teeth as tears flowed freely. Fortunately for the young Earthbender, it was hardly a deep wound. Unfortunately, what she saw when she looked up almost made her cry harder. Sora was staring intently at the two anti-benders, a cruel smirk lining her now pale face. And her eyes, they were blood red.
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