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|Examining the Pieces|
Chapter 3: Examining the Pieces
"You need to get here soon, Moro," Hizumi said as she gripped the telephone tighter. "We need you and Shen to help keep order."
"We're working on it, but the last steamship out left yesterday. It'll be a day or two before we can even leave the North. Besides, what about Rioku and Kuan Ti? They can't be far."
The Kyoshi Warrior yawned and glanced out of the window at the crescent moon. The snow fell slowly, creating a deceptive calm.
"I can't get a hold of Kuan Ti, and Rioku's got a trial or something he's overseeing. He'll be on his way once he's done, but that might be too late."
The other end was silent for a moment. "Izanagi's really as bad as Shen said, then."
"Let's put it this way," she replied, "There are four of us that I'd say can actually handle ourselves against Izanagi, and two of those four are basically children. No offense to Lyre."
"Be honest, Hizumi. Can you, if you have to, can you beat him?"
She frowned. "Beat him? No. But we can hold him off. Yari and onikira seem to keep him off-balance well enough, and Lyre's very good at keeping him on his toes."
"Then hold until we get there," Moro replied. "Then we'll take him down, Team Avatar style!"
"About that..." Hizumi inhaled through her nose. "We found the new Avatar, a girl named Yoriko. She...Izanagi killed her parents in cold blood; we barely stopped him from killing her, too."
"Like I said, hold until we get there. We'll get through this; we always have."
As Hizumi hung up the phone, she sighed and sagged in her chair. "Alright...what I wouldn't give for grandfather's blade at our side right now. Time to hope that we can hold the line."
"Here's your room; there's a washroom down the hall."
Sukan nodded back at the man who had shown her to her room. She scanned his face for any peculiar emotions or reactions, but all she could notice was a reserved excitement in his blue eyes.
"Thanks," she replied after a moment.
As the man turned to leave, she held out a hand. "Wait, what's your name?"
He glanced back over his shoulder. "Uzzu, and you said your name is Sukan, right?"
"That's right." She placed her gun belt on the chair next to her bed.
"Sorry that you had to get mixed up in this whole Spirit World thing; it can't be easy losing a friend. And then watching a spirit survive things that no human could—"
Sukan inclined her head. "It sounds like you speak from experience." Ming...
Uzzu smiled sadly. "Yeah...the spirits haven't been kind to me."
"It's comin' down!"
The distinct sound of a cracking tree trunk caught the Uzzu's ears soon after hearing his father's warning. That same cracking noise grew louder and faster as the massive tree fell off to his left.
"Alright, everyone, you know what to do!"
As the men went to work chopping the tree into smaller pieces, Uzzu ran over to his father.
"Can I help, Dad? I wanna use your axe!"
His father chuckled. "When you're older."
A cluster of birds flew from the treeline farther back in the woods, causing all of their heads to look in that direction. A thunderous noise hit their ears at the same time, and Uzzu's eyes widened. His brown hair fell over his eyes as another thundering sound echoed through the woods, and he brushed it aside as a large, dark form stomped toward them.
"What the—!" Uzzu turned as his father stopped speaking and found him simply staring at the creature as it approached.
It was inhuman, a black mass with a shadowy set of ancient looking armor. It's facial features were undefined as it roared at the men in its path.
"Leave this forest, humans! It is MINE!"
Uzzu watched as his father bowed. "Great spirit, we meant you no—"
The crunch was the worst part. That sickening, crumpling noise as his father's skull was caved in by the spirit's fist and his body sent crashing into the bushes. The men scattered in that moment, none willing to challenge the spirit that had killed their leader in one blow.
"I'm sorry; I didn't realize that malevolent spirits were so plentiful," Sukan said as she sat down on her bed.
Uzzu shook his head. "That spirit was only protecting his forest; we were foolish to have not considered where we were conducting business."
"That's a fine excuse," she replied. "But can you honestly say you aren't the least bit angry? I mean, you joined this little crusade."
"Perhaps," he said with a small smile. "So, now it's my turn. Why are you here, Officer Sukan?"
Izanagi frowned as the tinier spirits simply waded by him. While the open portals had allowed him to take physical form again, it raised problems of its own.
"This is what happens when a spirit of chaos does not understand balance. Either this...Koh miscalculated, or he truly did not care."
He glanced around the darkened intersection. Apart from the smaller spirits who paid him no mind, it was empty. It was as good a place for meditation as any.
As he sat down cross-legged on the ground, he closed his eyes and reached out to where he now knew the spirit he was looking for to be.
Rakudo...it's been a long time. The spirit opened his eyes.
The Spirit World looked different than it had in the past, though that might have been because his prison was so dark and constricted. Portals were pocked across the landscape, allowing previously restricted access to the world of mortals to be unfettered.
Fortunately, Wan Shi Tong had spoken true; Izanagi noticed Rakudo trudging toward one of the portals.
"It's been a long time, old friend," he said.
The large, dark spirit turned his gaze toward the Spirit of Chaos, and upon seeing Izanagi's face, he knelt down on one knee.
"Lord Izanagi, it is good to see you alive." Rakudo slowly stood at the behest of his master. "I had given up hope; every spirit who still remembers you thought you dead."
"You cannot kill a force of nature, Rakudo, only hold it at bay," Izanagi replied with a sad smile as his fingers ran over his still scarred face. "I seem to have gotten myself into a bind, what with attacking two Avatars right out of the gate."
The large, armored spirit placed his arm across his chest in salute, accompanying the action with a deep bow. "Anything my lord requires..."
"I need to know where I can find my replacement; he has something of mine."
Rakudo snorted. "Lin Quei is in hiding. It is what he does best."
Izanagi nodded. "I have an idea where, thanks to Wan Shi Tong, but entering Republic City will likely incur the wrath of the Avatar's little squad."
"How would they know that you've entered Republic City, my lord?"
The Spirit of Chaos frowned. "I don't know for sure. All I do know is that they ambushed me as I attempted to buy a bit more time to find Lin Quei."
"By killing the young Avatar?"
He sighed. "Not one of my best decisions. Never was too good at that."
Rakudo bowed his head. "With all due respect, Karuta made his own choice; he chose poorly."
"True, but he made the choice he did because of my fight with Order," Izanagi replied. "At any rate, the past cannot be changed. I must focus on my future, which means finding Lin Quei."
"If it is aid you require, I was just going to meet with the spirit who guards the forest in my absence. I couldn't take any chances once I found those woodsmen."
Izanagi nodded and motioned with his arm in a way that swept his blood red cloak aside. "Very well. Let's go get this friend of yours."
The morning sun shone through the upper windows as Hizumi walked out of her room and into the dining hall. She took note that only two people were also awake.
"Morning, Hizumi," the woman said. Her golden eyes spoke of a withheld emotion that her smile did not convey.
Uzzu, the other person in the room waved. "Good that you're here. Sera and I have something we need to discuss with you."
"Can it wait?" She asked as she massaged her temples. "I just woke up."
Sera shook her head. "It really can't. Sorry."
Uzzu slid a cup filled with liquid down the length of the table, and Hizumi grabbed it. "Ginseng, just out of the pot."
The Kyoshi Warrior sighed. "Out with it. What do I need to know?"
"It's about Sukan," Sera said, "We don't trust her."
Hizumi raised an eyebrow and took a sip. "And what do the others think?"
"Yari could care less; he was a little out of it this morning. Lyre, on the other hand, was busy last night taking care of the Avatar. And Karuta—"
"—is Karuta," Sera continued. "He's all over the place. At any rate, Sukan is a member of the Republic City police, as you well know."
"I do," Hizumi replied.
"What if she decides to report our existence to her superiors?" She asked as her gold eyes shifted toward the door. "Even I can't prevent an investigation at that point, my position on the council notwithstanding, and Shingen—"
"—already knows about us," Uzzu said. "He's not the issue. The issue is that Officer Sukan will likely do what we've suggested."
The Kyoshi Warrior folded her arms. "If Shingen finds out about Yoriko, he will most certainly become an issue, but we can't really stop it either way. Our main priority is ensuring that the Avatar is kept safe from Izanagi, and Karuta can definitely help in that regard."
"But he isn't the end all, be all you've made him out to be," Sera replied. "Yari—"
"When Yari can get out of bed without being hung over, I'll consider what he has to say," Hizumi snapped.
Uzzu raised his hands defensively. "Don't look at me; I'm with you on that one."
The Kyoshi Warrior sighed. "I'm sorry...to both of you, but if he can't be coherent when we need him to be, then his opinion can be taken with a grain of salt for all I care."
Sera nodded. "I get it. You've got a lot on your plate, and this whole situation is another level of screwed up. But Yari does have a good point."
"And what is that?"
"Lyre's preoccupation with Karuta will likely lead to distractions if they fight side by side, which they will do at some point. We need them to be at the top of their game."
Hizumi took another sip of her tea and ran her hands through her hair. "And how's the Avatar this morning?"
"Not awake," Sera replied.
She pursed her lips. "Get Yari, Lyre, and Karuta out of bed. We need to have a meeting as soon as possible."
Sukan backed away from the threshold; none of them had seen her yet. Whoever these people were, they had ties to the council, and the women knew Shingen by name.
An issue...what are they talking about? She didn't know the councilman personally, but Sukan wasn't willing to doubt a man so many others put their trust in.
As she quietly slipped back into her room and shut the door, she exhaled slowly. "What am I worried about?" She whispered quietly to herself. "They don't seem like the type to do anything about this, even if they found me. That said..." The man they referred to as Uzzu had asked her why she was there, and at the time, she hadn't given him an answer. Now, however, she was more confused than ever.
At any rate, Yoriko was cause for concern. Sukan frowned; this group of spirit hunters obviously cared about protecting her.
I need more information. I need to get out of here and back to the police station to make a full report.
A banging noise on the door across from hers roused Sukan from her thoughts.
"Lyre, rise and shine!" The axe-wielder's voice was loud and unmistakable. "Hizumi needs to see you as soon as possible!"
Sukan stood and stretched; it was time to leave.
The knock on her door and the subsequent yelling woke Lyre from her slumber. She sat up in her bed and glanced down at Yoriko, who'd fallen asleep next to her. The slow rise and fall of her chest indicated that she was not at all affected by the noises being made outside of the room.
The Waterbender slid to the edge of the bed and rubbed her eyes. She stole another glance at the sleeping girl and smiled.
"Get all the rest you can, Yoriko," Lyre whispered. "It's not going to get any easier from here."
Another knock sounded on her door. "Lyre, c'mon! It's time to wake up!"
"I'm awake, Uzzu," she replied as quietly as she could manage. "Let me get a shower and change first."
She heard him sigh. "Fine, just hurry it up."
Lyre frowned. If Hizumi wants to meet with us, that means that Karuta... Her eyes narrowed; she didn't need to deal with this today.
The snowball flew right past his head, causing a massive grin to grow on her face. He turned around, eyes widened.
"Fireflakes! That could've hurt!"
His expression brought a giggle bubbling to the surface, and Lyre soon found that she was unable to contain it.
"Oh, don't be such a baby moose-lion! It wasn't like I froze it or anything!"
As she laughed, he attempted to pack together a snowball in response. "Easy for you to say! You've got an unfair advantage!"
"Hey, I can make a snowball with or without my Waterbending," she replied.
His expression lit up for reasons Lyre couldn't understand until she heard a voice behind her. "Then I guess we'll have to take her on together, huh, Jing?"
Lyre whirled around. "No fair, Nana! You can't take his side!"
Her sister brought the air under her feet and lifted off of the ground, flipping over her head and landing next to Jing. "I sure can; he needs all the help he can get!"
"Thanks, Nana!" Jing's grin faltered. "I think..."
Lyre smacked the heel of her hand against the side of her head. Those thoughts couldn't distract her now; they had work to do.
Kenshin's jaw dropped as Lu Ten leaned against the wall. "You cannot be serious?!"
"Deadly," the Spirit of Dawn replied. "Wan Shi Tong told him where to find Rakudo, and I've discovered that his power, even limited as it is, is beyond my own."
"Then I must warn the Order," Kenshin said. "They know not what they face, and I will not have my granddaughter put at risk!"
Lu Ten raised an eyebrow. "I thought Moro forbade you from revealing yourself to Lyre and Nana?"
The Spirit of Ice sighed. "She did, but she also didn't keep the truth from either of the girls when they asked. Lyre sought me out of her own accord; Nana has yet to do the same."
"I suppose it would be prying too deeply if I asked how that initial meeting went."
Kenshin smiled sadly. "She doesn't know what to make of me as of yet, I don't think. She wasn't exactly welcoming of me, but I welcomed the interaction nonetheless."
"Why did she decide to seek you out, anyway?"
"I'd imagine she wanted to see what I was like for herself, although she did have an ulterior motive, as well."
Lu Ten glanced at him. "And that was?"
The Spirit of Ice frowned. "She asked if I could help her friend."
- I do apologize to new readers, as a lot of information I throw at you in my later fanons often reference early characters or events. However, if you're a seasoned reader of mine, that's just icing on the cake. I hope.
For the collective works of the author, go here.