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Book 2: Sound
Chapter 6: Ever Onward
"A duel?" Shen furrowed his brow. "And what would that accomplish?"
The Ancient Master flashed a knowing smile. "Oftentimes, I find that a good sparring session clears my head. Shen, you may not want answers or aid from me, but I can at least do this much."
"What makes you think I need your help?" The young man moved toward the door. "I will indulge you that duel, but you have no idea what I'm going through."
"So you say..." His smile reached his eyes as he once more glanced at the photo on the shelf, a picture that featured him and three others, all with their arms wrapped around one another. "I know how Airbenders think, and I know what it's like to feel like you've failed. The trick is moving on, but never forgetting."
Shen nodded. "Then let's have that duel."
Argho followed both of them out into the small courtyard, if it could even be called that, eager to observe the old warrior in action.
The Ancient Master rested on his knees, across from Shen. "The guest has the first move."
Rioku twirled three small rocks above his palm as Kuan Ti sipped on his lychee juice once more. Argho and Shen had been gone for over two hours, and they were quickly succumbing to boredom. That boredom, however, was lessened as they observed the same group of Kyoshi Warriors that had apprehended the thieves making their way toward them.
The Earthbender grinned. "You might want to watch out, Kuan Ti; she could punch you in the face again."
"Yes, thank you for that, Rioku. What would I do without your sage advice?"
A chuckle escaped the large man. "No need to get angry; you'll live longer if you're happy."
"Gentlemen." The leader of the Kyoshi Warriors, the very same one who had floored Kuan Ti, nodded toward them. "We have received word that you are traveling with the Avatar. Is that the case?"
Both men nodded.
"Then you have my humblest apologies for the altercation that took place this afternoon. My name is Hizumi, and we have been told to aid you in whatever your business is. The city of Oyaji is at the Avatar's service."
Kuan Ti rubbed his jaw. "You really pack a punch. You know that?"
Hizumi smirked. "In all fairness, you did impede us in official Warrior business, friend of the Avatar or not."
Rioku stepped forward. "Are Argho and Shen with the Ancient Master now?"
"Yes," she replied, "They are."
The Earthbender exhaled. "Then all we have to do is sit and wait. Our business here consists entirely of meeting with the Ancient Master."
Usually, Moro would've been tired of traveling on trains by now, but seeing as it was the best way to reach Argho and Shen, she didn't hesitate. Usha, with some prodding, had given her both the Avatar's destination and the means to get there.
The Fire Nation...why is he headed there? Susanowo isn't anywhere near them...
The train would take her to a small merchants' port, where she would then take a steamship to the Fire Nation Capitol.
She sighed. "What am I going to do when I get there, anyway? It's not like I can say 'Hey, yeah...sorry I kinda betrayed all of you and stabbed Shen with an icicle...are we good?'" No amount of apologizing would change anything; she couldn't even be sure if Shen was still alive.
The Waterbender noticed her reflection in the window and realized exactly why everyone always reacted to her appearance. She looked like a ghost, and the blood-red eyes did little to alleviate fear and suspicion. That was only part of what Susanowo had done to her, and yet she couldn't help but feel the pangs of guilt. Moro was also responsible, and she wasn't sure that her crimes could be so easily forgiven.
"Even worse...our father did this to us, and he doesn't care..." The Waterbender gritted her teeth. "He used Mom...just to later use us..."
Her heart went out to her mother; the woman was just a shell of her former self, all thanks to Kenshin. Moro knew Kyrie had only gone to keep their father from taking his anger out on her.
All of this...it's your fault, father. You and I...we aren't finished just yet.
"I would ask, Ancient Master, that you go easy on Shen. He was recently—"
"Argho, I can take care of myself." Shen replied. "Besides, it's mostly healed." The wind moved behind him and pushed him forward at an impressive speed.
Their blades locked, and both combatants grinned.
"You see? I told you it was for the best!" The Ancient Master looked as if he was in his element once again as he stepped away from Shen's advance.
They continued their duel with one riposte after another. Shen came from all manner of angles, true to his Air Nomad heritage, but the old man matched him without pressing. Both well-crafted weapons clashed again and again, with the Ancient Master obviously pulling his blows in every possible way.
"Good...keep changing the angle of your attacks!" He pushed the Airbender's sword up and slapped his chest with the flat of the blade, just above Shen's bandages. "Don't become predictable."
The young man smirked. "You ignore your own advice."
The Ancient Master cocked his head before feeling a wind at his back. He turned to find a spinning air disk inches from him. The swordsman grinned.
"Excellent! Had I not just killed you, that would've been a great technique!"
Shen shrugged. "I'm not much of a swordsman; I have to make due."
"You are an excellent swordsman, although I dare say that some of the Kyoshi Warriors—like my great-granddaughter, Hizumi—would defeat you easily. No offense."
Shen laughed, although that brought a slightly painful reminder as to what they were up against. "None taken; I'm sure that anyone you've trained is better than me."
The Ancient Master smiled warmly. "I've trained every single Kyoshi Warrior since my granddaughter joined, Fire Lady Saitei's bodyguard, and a handful of others." He waved his hand dismissively. "But you don't want to hear an old man blather on about his grandchildren. Come, let us head back inside now that we've gotten that bit of business out of the way."
Argho clapped Shen on the back as they made their way inside once more. "I was impressed, my friend. You handled yourself well."
The Airbender smiled. "Good to hear, Argho." He glanced at the photo as he passed by the shelf and stopped when he noticed something out of the ordinary. "Uh...if you don't mind...Ancient Master, but there is an Airbender in this photo." The figure had black hair, gray eyes, and the tattoos of an Airbending master.
The old man nodded, smiling all the while. "Yes, I told you that I know how Airbenders think."
"Who was he?"
A sigh escaped him. "He was my best friend. The spirits may have blessed me with this apparent agelessness for reasons known only to them, but that just means that I've had to watch my wife, my children, and even my grandchildren pass before me."
Both Argho and Shen bowed their heads. "I'm sorry...I shouldn't have brought it up...that must be..."
The Ancient Master smiled and shook his head. "No, you don't need to worry. I do miss them, but I'll see them again. Besides, reminiscing is never a bad thing."
The Avatar picked up the photo. "The four of you look happy here, and yet I can't deny that I feel a certain...familiarity with them."
A chuckle escaped their host. "Yes, that would make sense. Now, was there anything else that you two wanted to ask me?"
Shen stood. "I just have one question. Did you ever know of anyone coming back from Susanowo's influence?"
He nodded. "My cousin did, but it ended up costing her life."
The young man's heart sank.
Rioku, Kuan Ti, and Hizumi met with the Argho, Shen, and the Ancient Master as they reached the bottom of the mountain. The Avatar turned to the old man and bowed, with Shen quickly following suit.
"Thank you for meeting with us, Ancient One; your words were inspiring."
"I'm not so sure about that, Argho, but I do wish you luck in your coming fight, same for you Shen." He smiled sadly. "You will both need it against Otokami. If there is anything I've learned from studying the methods of Usha's family, it is this: they cling to opportunities like starving polar bear dogs to a slab of otter-penguin meat."
"Thank you for all of this; we will use your advice."
The Ancient Master flicked an object into the air, and Argho caught it. "One last thing, if you should see any of the members of the Order...tell them that I have made my final decision."
Argho opened his hand and saw a White Lotus tile; his eyes widened. "Are...are you sure?"
The old man nodded. "Yes. Now go and face your destiny." As Team Avatar turned toward the direction of the port, the Ancient Master spoke once again. "Kuan Ti, is it?"
The leader of the Equalists turned. "Yes...what is it you want?"
"Beware the porcelain balance...the Spirit World has plans for you, and not all of them are...savory."
The steam ship left Kyoshi Island at the sound of a whistle, and all of Team Avatar, Zhan included, stood out on the deck. Kuan Ti twirled one of his revolvers absentmindedly as he mulled over the rather cryptic warning left to him, staring out toward the Fire Nation as he did so. A form leaning against the railing next to him brought him out of his reverie.
"Something on your mind?" Zhan asked. "I mean...it seems like you got what you came for, seeing as we didn't even need to stay the night."
The Equalist leader sighed. "It's that annoyingly vague prophecy..."
"Yeah...that would annoy me, too." Zhan's eyes narrowed. "Listen...I was...an odd man came to me earlier today..."
Kuan Ti nodded, indicating for him to continue.
"He talked about us becoming more aggressive as a group, and I told him to shove off. He knew exactly who we were, though, and that concerns me."
"Agreed. I think it's best that we ignore him for now; we can look into who he is and what he wants after the spirits are dealt with." He turned to his friend. "Thank you for coming to me with this, Zhan."
"What are friends for?"
She looked out over the forest. Her forest. The Fire Nation had taken it all away before; this was her only home. They would not take it away, too. She was a legend to them, a myth to strike fear into their hearts.
For all her abilities, though, she did not hear the footsteps behind her, for the sound was blocked.
"You have fought for years, Ghost Witch of the Mountain."
She whirled around and sent an air blast toward the intruder in her territory, but it dissipated as the being in black armor held up his hand.
"I am not here to fight you; I am here to ask something of you."
She cocked her head and furrowed her brow. "What do you want with me? Who are you?"
The armored being took a step forward. "My name is Otokami; I am the Spirit of Sound and the patron spirit of your people. I ask that you cease fighting the Fire Nation."
The girl eyed him cautiously. "Why? They're trying to take my home from me again!"
"I implore you to heed my advice. The Fire Nation will soon have other concerns, but if you antagonize them further, they may see it necessary to bring an army. If you truly want to protect this village and carry on the legacy of the Air Nomads, live."
"Live? I am living!"
Otokami felt the air current shift around them as she became frustrated.
"If you are our patron, why couldn't you stop them!?" She glared at him. "My mother had to leave me in a cave! I had to fend for myself! And now the Fire Nation wants to take my mountain too, and you're telling me not to fight!?"
"If you continue to fight," Otokami's voice seemed to become softer. "You will lose the village and your mountain. Everything you have fought for will be for naught."
The Airbender pursed her lips. "Where am I supposed to go?"
"That is entirely up to you."
- Okay, so I'm hoping that my loyal readers have connected the dots. Just something for you guys. :)
- The flashback is an idea that I saw go unused and have wanted to include for a while, and IAE provided me with the perfect opportunity.
- On another note, it is the second week in the Advent Season. I will probably say this more than once, but Merry Christmas, Avatar Wiki!
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