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Book 1: The Republic
Previously on 'Gods of War'
Fenn discovered that Tariq has been using Larkin and the Libertarians to buff his image. Colette revealed that she knew this prior to the civil war.
Otto and Winry's relationship strengthened upon her visit to the Republic.
Fenn heard a crazy rioting woman talk about the 'Avatar.' After reading an article on Avatar Iorick, stating that Iorick was the Avatar because he was related to all airbenders, Fenn took Otto to the Northern District to visit Air Councilman Akhil; a councilman that holds less political power than any of the other Council members.
Here Akhil revealed that he was Otto's father, and that in a dark time in his life he got a prostitute pregnant. He also corrected Fenn, telling him that Iorick was called the Avatar because he could bend all four elements.
Meeting with Colette, who along with her father knew no information regarding the Avatar, her and Fenn argued over priorities until Fenn blurted to everyone around that he was getting his information about the Avatar from Councilman Akihl.
Returning to Akhil's estate for more information Fenn found that the councilman had been murdered with the same dagger used against Colette when she was nearly assassinated. Left with only a note reading '36 Moor' where will Fenn's search take him now?
Chapter 10: Family Ties
|"You need to tell me about the Avatar...There are people coming after you and they don't want me finding out something!"|
|— Fenn to Komala|
Fenn stood tensely at the elevator door opposite another Clandestine. He kept his face blank like the burly man in front of him, but his mind was clicking and trickling through thoughts and superstitions. Since Akhil's death yesterday Fenn had returned to his apartment and searched for more information. There was nothing about the Avatar, or of Iorick. He tried looking up Akhil's history, to see if he could have made any enemies in the past but, again, he came to a dead end. And, if there was someone watching his internet searches, he'd delete his history immediately. It seemed no matter how hard he looked he would always find himself lost stabbing in the dark, grasping at any possible lead. And why?
Was it to protect the Republic, to prove Colette wrong? Or was it for revenge? Fenn rolled his shoulder under his uniform, the black mark sore across his collarbone. It had spread almost an inch over his shoulder, prying over towards his back. Maybe it was for revenge; maybe his search for the Avatar would somehow bring him to the Smiling-Mask demon and he'd finally have a chance to burn its hellish body to the ground.
Maybe it was for closure; his father always did curse at him as a child, said that he was conspiring with the demons to take his mother away. Maybe it was to prove him wrong, wherever he was. Either way Fenn was certain there was a link with the Avatar and the demons. He had no idea how to prove it, but a man given the power of all the elements; it would have to be a demon's doing. Still in his pocket was the note he found at Akhil's estate. 36 Moor. Fenn had no idea what it could mean. He had looked up if there were any swamps nearby, if Akhil had ever visited any moors, but as usual his searches ended in nothing conclusive. The note, as if a crypt begging to be opened by the right answer, had kept the boy up all last night. But it was all beginning to look futile now.
Tariq sat at his great desk, a folder of files in hand. Larkin sat opposite him with a cheeky grin on his face.
"A complete success," Larkin chuckled with his deep, scratchy voice.
Tentatively Fenn listened.
"The police chief is still oblivious, but we made it look like a real bust-up!"
"Good," Tariq mumbled as he cut his cigar. "You'll have your men back in a few weeks."
A bitter taste coated Fenn's tongue. He was still disappointed by Tariq's alliance with Larkin, using those sick triad members to buff his image. As much as Colette told him of all the good Beyond was doing, and could do from the alliance, Fenn still felt as though all that good was scarred. Like it meant nothing if at its base were lies and secrets.
"A few weeks! What about the next bust?" Larkin argued, slamming his fist on his thick thigh. "It's a big warehouse down on Bolin Avenue, we need the numbers to make it look real!"
"We can push it back then. Just change the bust to the Moor Road location."
At that moment Fenn's heart stopped, the dilation of his pupils the only reaction he could allow on his face. 36 Moor wasn't a swamp, it was an address! Fenn knew that he had to leave immediately, he wasn't shifted on for work this afternoon, but he had to stay. He didn't want people to get suspicious of him. He had to be clever about this. He had to calculate his moves correctly, be one step ahead of whoever had killed Akhil. And he had to remember that the killer was the same one that made an attempt on Colette's life. It was like a game of Pai Sho; make moves that would help in the big picture, no rash decisions. Nobody else needed to get hurt.
Once Tariq and Larkin's meeting finished Fenn returned to his apartment and printed out a map of the address, 36 Moor Road. It was in the Northern District. From his closet Fenn got out a large jacket and slung it on. Though it was sunny and warm outside he thought it was best to try and conceal himself a bit. Briskly Fenn entered his lift and made his way to the train station, keeping clear of peoples' shoulders, watching over his shoulder to see if anybody was following him. Flashing his Clandestine card in the scanner the boy boarded the next train to the north without a word.
Solemnly Fenn sat, watching the harbor drift past. Last time he had boarded a train to the north he was met with a murdered councilman. What was he going to find at Moor Road? What if Akhil and Colette's killer had beaten him there? He wasn't even prepared to fight, and if he would find himself in serious trouble he'd have no back up. Fenn had started to question if going alone, or at all, was even a good idea. But it was too late. He had arrived. And a frightening, constant mix of vengeance, intrigue and anger had lifted him from his seat and out onto the whispering streets. Again Fenn checked over his shoulder and scoured the crowds before him for any sinister faces that didn't belong. A cold sweat had started to run down his brow, chilling his back and stinging his curse. He needed to calm down. Nobody was following him. Once he had made his way to the long Moor Road he was definitely alone, aside from the few cars that sped past him.
He had started at the opposite end, house 120. This end of the road was comprised of empty warehouses sprayed with filthy graffiti while as he made his way down the road became more suburban. Fenn would pass more and more old heritage houses, their curtains closed to keep in the haunting, middle class secrets. Slowly the numbers would diminish; 42, 40, 38 and finally 36. The house seemed perfectly normal, except a little worn at the edges. Steps led up to the front door and on the porch was a pile of old, rusty furniture. Fenn was unsure what to do. He was scared, yet somehow he also felt...ready.
Suddenly the door opened. A frazzled lady with silver hair had come out, back facing Fenn, shopping bags hanging around her arms right up to her shoulders. Spinning around she noticed Fenn pop seemingly out of nowhere and shrieked from surprise.
"Who are you?" she squawked before noticing the boy's Clandestine uniform. "What do you want?"
Fenn was confused. Had he gotten the address right? An intense frown was furrowed on his brow as questions neared his lips.
"Do you know Councilman Akhil?" he asked formally.
"Yes," the lady pouted with her chapped lips. "He's my brother."
Guiltily Fenn's solemn frown softened into an expression of remorse. It appeared as though she hadn't heard, and obviously she deserved to. They were family.
"I, uh," Fenn mumbled, glancing away from the lady's eyes. "I'm sorry to inform you that your...your brother died last night."
In disbelief the lady stared up at Fenn, grey eyes filling up with long-lost tears.
Komala held a warm cup of tea close as she sat fragile in her chair. The upholstery smelt sweet and floral wallpaper was cast in a dim yellow from the three-piece light. Fenn had explained to her that Akhil had been murdered last night, and that the police were still investigating who the killer was.
"Did he have any enemies?" Fenn asked softly once he thought the time was right.
Komala looked up at the boy, still confused, still shocked.
"No, I don't think so," she replied, thinking back to the days she spent with her little brother. "His poor wife must be devastated."
"He left me this note," Fenn added, taking the small piece of paper from his pocket. "It's your address isn't it?"
He handed the paper to Komala who nodded her head.
"What do you think he wanted me to find from you?"
Komala averted her gaze to the floor. She knew why Akhil had sent this boy here, and knew that Fenn was not doing this as part of his Clandestine duties. But she was nervous to divulge.
"What did you come here to find?" she asked.
"Akhil told me about your great grandfather Iorick," explained Fenn. "That he was the Avatar and that he could bend all four elements."
Fenn revised the information Akhil had given him, to make sure he had gotten it all right.
"Is there anything I need to know? I mean, someone told me the Avatar's to blame for the state of the world, so I'm just wondering if there's a link between Iorick and the demon attacks."
Komala cleared her throat and looked up over at the curious boy. He deserved to know but she was just about to head out to do her groceries.
"Fenn, I can't talk for very long. I've got a whole day planned," the elderly lady began. "I need to do my groceries then I've got a doctor's appointment to get to."
"I understand," Fenn nodded, standing up as Komala did too.
"You can come back tonight if you wish; I will have some warm soup left over."
Fenn smiled. He could see it in her eyes that Komala wanted some company, and he was happy that she had agreed to talk with him.
"I'll make sure to come over before it gets cold."
Kindly Fenn passed Komala her handbag and led her to the door. Together they strolled down to the bus stop.
"Oh, I'll tell you now Fenn," Komala added, grinning cheekily up at the boy. "Iorick wasn't the only Avatar. There have been many over time."
Fenn tried to keep his mouth closed as his eyes widened, his breath getting pulled out from his lungs.
"What!" he coughed. "How?"
"When one Avatar dies another is born," Komala replied, taking out her ticket as the bus neared. "We can talk more about it tonight, okay?"
Now in his own world Fenn nodded blankly while the bus doors closed and drove off with his human-shaped bottle of answers. He had finally found what he was looking for. He was so close – so tantalizingly close! As Fenn made his way back to the train station he sat down with the biggest smile on his face. It felt so good to finally be heading in the right direction.
Otto was sure he was heading in the wrong direction. He had slipped into a lantern-clad, cobblestoned alleyway and was passing various teppanyaki and seafood restaurants. He had looked up five brothels in the Republic. Akhil had told him that his mother was a prostitute, and while Otto was raised in an orphanage in the Southern Domain, Akhil was from the Republic so it wouldn't hurt to try and find his mother there.
Otto wasn't sure what had compelled him to get up from his couch and begin his search. Before meeting Akhil Otto had never once thought about finding his parents. But now, now something was different. He wanted to see that his mother was, perhaps to some degree, motherly. That maybe if she had not given him up they could have had something of a normal life. He wanted to see what his other life could have been, what he could have made of himself. If things had gone differently there might a different Otto Tinchen out there following a completely different destiny.
But then again, if his mother had kept him he never would have met Saffron. He had called her up and explained the situation; of how he and his friend were looking up information about an 'Avatar' – Saffron couldn't believe such a person existed either – and instead found his father. She had promised not to tell anyone, but she also said for him not to try anything with any of the ladies he'd meet. But why would he? Saffron was perfect in his eyes. Perfectly kind, perfectly understanding, and perfectly beautiful. He missed her skin and the shape of her body, missed kissing the side of her neck while he pressed his body up against her back.
Otto looked down another thin alleyway. A drunken couple was stumbling uphill towards him, the girl twirling a sprig of black hair from her dip-dyed bob. Down at the end Otto could make out a neon sign and somebody out the front of the building. Squinting he could see that it was a lady. She had denim short shorts and her caramel skin accentuated her fairy floss shaven hair. Smacking lips sparkled from under the sign, which Otto could make out read Candy Store. That was one the spots he was trying to find.
As he neared the Candy Store his heart started to flutter. Otto had already visited one brothel but every time he neared one the thought of meeting his mother made him weak in the legs.
"You here for a good time, honey?" the lady said with a deep voice, lips enveloped over a dank cigarette.
"I'm here to see someone," Otto coughed, nervously trying to avoid staring at her obvious bosom.
"Honey, you're gonna see a lot in there," she smiled, a cheeky rosy blush forming under her cheeks.
"Thanks," Otto laughed before sheepishly shuffling himself inside.
The Candy Store was not a nice place. It was dark, music was blaring and the floor was sticky with booze. Laser lights and strobes pumped through the clouds of cigarette smoke and the cackling of lonely, disrespectful men echoed through the wolf whistles and plumes of confetti. Girls walked around in bikinis, or school girl outfits, some even topless, carrying trays of cheap whiskey and beer. It reminded Otto of his days with the triads; how the men seemed to be lacking any decency, how the girls threw a blind eye to the terror within them. It upset him. But he could not let his disgust distract him. Immediately he got to business.
"Excuse me," he muttered to the woman at the door.
Her hair was dyed bright red and freckles were painted on her cheeks made to look real. She had only a glittery two piece on and trotted around in ridiculously high heels.
"Why hello there handsome!" she squeaked. "Welcome to the Candy Store, you looking for something sweet?"
"Uh," he chuckled, taken back by the lady's politeness. "No, actually, I'm here to find someone."
"Oh, okay," the lady replied. "How can I help?"
"Well, um, I was wondering if I could speak to the manager or the, uh, maybe the owner of this place?"
The lady seemed a bit hesitant, almost frightened, but complied.
"You don't have an appointment, but he shouldn't be busy right. Follow me."
Through the dark and smoke Otto followed the kind lady to a large, metal door. She knocked on it three times, a nervous expression painted on her face.
"Mr. Kabuki, there's a man here to see you."
There was a pause and then the door cranked open.
"Thanks girls you can leave," a heavily bearded man said.
Together two topless girls walked around either side of a frozen Otto and then the lady left too, leaving Otto standing in the doorway of Mr. Kabuki's office. Mr. Kabuki had large, shining aviators over his eyes and a gold tooth where an incisor used to be. Cloaked in a black suit he put a bag of Adrenalin into his drawer.
"So what's this?" he spat. "Who the hell are you?"
Otto chuckled, shuffling timidly into the office.
"Uh, I'm Otto and I was just wondering if I could ask you something about your...workers?"
"What do you wanna know?" the man smiled, relishing Otto's fear. "If they do that position? Cause they all do that position."
"What? No," Otto muttered. "I was wondering if you know if any of them had Councilman Akhil's child? Because-"
"-What!" Mr. Kabuki scoffed.
"Because she'd be my mother," Otto finished, flinching from the man's thunderous scream.
"I make it sure that all my girls are in their finest form!" Kabuki boomed. "Not one of them has gotten pregnant! I'd know if they did, they wouldn't be able to hide it from me!"
"Sorry, sir," Otto retorted, understanding that his mother would definitely not be here.
"Get out of here you prick!" Kabuki screamed.
Immediately Otto turned around and walked to the exit, not once looking back at the dirty man in his office, or at the stages where his girls danced shamefully. He wanted to leave and go home and give up. But there were still so many more in the Republic he had to visit. His mother was out there. And though she could be a coward like Akhil, or a pitiful dancer like the ladies in the Candy Store, Otto needed to see for himself. If he didn't it would eat up at him and keep him up every night. It was a necessity to know, an essence, it was like blood. Most of all it would help him understand his own mistakes. He could put the blame on somebody else, and not feel ashamed to have such a nice girlfriend, or to have a good friend like Fenn. It'd make him a child again, and this time he'd have the parent there to deal with everything he had done wrong. Because Otto still wasn't ready to accept his actions as his own. He was not brave enough to walk in his own shoes, to stand tall in his own skin, or to feel comfortable with his own choices. He needed guidance, he needed a parent.
Fenn started his walk to Moor Road. It was past ten. He had finished an awkward dinner with Colette at her house. They didn't talk much, tried a little bit of conversation. Instead they put a movie on and sat on the couch together. Wrapped in the arms of the other the two of them watched in silence. It was nice. Fenn felt bad for shouting at her and embarrassing her at the café, and Colette also felt bad that Fenn felt so underappreciated enough to lash out, but neither of them wanted to be the first to apologise. Before Fenn knew it the night was almost done. Telling her he was heading home they said their goodbyes with a simple, short kiss; yet somehow both their apologies were felt in it, mixed in with the love and affection they would have rather expressed that time at the café.
As Fenn walked down Moor Road he thought about his relationship with Colette. He had no idea how it had become so muddled. On their way to the East during the civil war they had promised to work on it. And Fenn did want to. As much as Colette infuriated him at times, and as much as he just wanted to shake all his sense into her, he understood where she was coming from. He understood that she and her father had a business to run, and that Tariq had given him so much. For that he was grateful.
He remembered back to before they were dating. About how beautiful he found her, and the sweet back and forth they played; where she'd cast him an alluring smile and he'd try his best to hold one back. He remembered how much they shared; the deaths of both their mothers, how demons had each tormented them individually. And he remembered the night in the Green when she had found his mark, that hideous scar that burnt his flesh. She wasn't disgusted or in disbelief, she was worried and she was tender. She wanted to make sure he was safe, and he wanted to make sure she was safe too. The night she was almost assassinated Fenn could not fall asleep at all. He was so scared about losing her. So frightened of the unknown bloodlust that was out there in the city.
That exact same bloodlust was after him too, and Akhil first. It wanted to rid the truth from him, to inconspicuously stab it out from the night. But that wasn't going to happen. He was going to visit Komala again, and find out everything.
Feeling the warmth of headlights on his neck Fenn peered an inch over his shoulder. He couldn't make out who was in it, and he didn't want to turn all the way around and appear suspicious. Instead he slowed his pace, bide his time so he could see what the car wanted. Slowly the car continued behind him and suddenly Fenn heard the ominous sound of footsteps. Again Fenn tried a discreet look over his shoulder. Briefly he saw a man in black, black glasses over his eyes.
Something was not right. Who wore glasses at night? And why was the car driving slowly right behind him? Maybe the people in it were trying to look at the numbers on the houses to find the right address but the man behind him. It put Fenn off, made him nervous. He didn't want to lead them right to Komala. He had to think rationally, keep a casual appearance. At the corner of an intersection Fenn stopped and pulled out his phone, pretending to text someone. Resting against a fence he could look up the street. A few metres up the car parked and turned off its lights while the man in black had slowed his pace. Now Fenn was sure they were following him. He needed to play them, shake them off. As the man neared Fenn could see he was hesitating on whether or not to slow down or pass right by Fenn, his target of interest. The man stopped by the car and pulled out his phone. Now was Fenn's time to make a move.
"Hey, excuse me," Fenn started, walking up to the man with a fake friendly smile. "Do you need some help? You seem lost."
"Uh," the man began, putting his phone away. "Yeah I'm looking for Chestnut Street."
It was obviously made up; Fenn heard it in the man's voice. Fenn had him now.
"Oh Chestnut Street," Fenn smiled back. "That's not far from here."
Around the corner of the intersection Fenn pointed down the street perpendicular to Moor Road.
"Just down here, okay. Then it's the third right and then the first left," he lied, acting so self-assured. "Should take you about five, ten minutes."
"Oh, okay," the man replied, nodding confused. "Thanks."
Slowly the man began down the other street, occasionally looking back to see if Fenn was still at the corner. And he was. He wasn't going to move until he saw the man disappear down the road. He stared back at the car, not wavering his glance, until it started up again and turned the corner opposite Fenn, heading in the complete opposite direction that the man in black took. Again Fenn looked back down the street. The man was small in the distance but had stopped again to look back. Fenn stared at him. He was not going to go home. He was going to get the information from Komala tonight, he was going to shake these people off. Once the man turned around again Fenn bolted.
Even if he watched the man walk right down the street, not long after he'd get to Komala's house he wouldn't have much time to get the information he needed and get the lady to safety if necessary. Swiftly he sucked in cold air. Looking uphill at a street opposite him headlights in the distance flashed his eyes. He was sure it was the car from before. They were right on his tail. He needed a plan; he couldn't afford a screw up.
Quickly he ran into the front garden of Komala's neighbour. Hoisting himself over the side gate he sprinted into the backyard. In a brief moment he glanced at a family having dinner at the table inside before leaping up on the fence. The first screw up. He slipped down it and into a flower bed. Immediately he got back up, ignoring the throbbing in his thumb. Shuffling his shoes against the wood he scrambled up and rolled himself over the fence and into Komala's garden. He burst in through the back door to find Komala at the dinner table. She was immensely confused, shocked at seeing Fenn with such distress in his eyes.
"What's going on?" she croaked with astonishment.
Fenn grabbed her by the shoulders, the creases in her old face accentuated by the yellow kitchen light, and stared feverishly into her eyes.
"You need to tell me more about the Avatar," he screamed, grip tightening on her shoulders.
"Fenn, you're hurting-"
"-Tell me!" he screamed, scared at how terrifying he was being towards the lady. "There are people coming after you and they don't want me finding out something!"
He heaved Komala up and dragged her away from the table and to the hallway.
"You need to tell me everything you know!"
Running for the front door Fenn stopped, seeing two figures emerge from behind the glass like the silhouette of death. He ran back into the kitchen to see that the man with the black glasses had entered through the back door. They were cornered.
"No!" Fenn shouted with Komala still in his clutches, feeling the scar sear as he raised his arm.
As the skin around his arm painfully stretched, becoming bloated with such demonic fire, a blast of flame erupted from his palm and toppled the man to the floor. Closing his eyes Fenn could hear Komala cry from fear and hear the man scorch to death. Panting he spun around and turned into Komala's bedroom, avoiding the hallway as he heard the men try their best at battering the front door down. The kitchen was ablaze and they needed to get out now.
Babbling nonsense Komala was completely delirious from shock. Her room was spinning around her and her white hair fell in ringlets over her forehead.
"Komala. Komala, what is it you need to tell me?" Fenn cried, eyes glistening with scared tears. "Something about the Avatar!"
He had no idea what these men wanted, if they wanted to kill Komala or him too.
Komala looked up at the boy and nodded grimly. She couldn't let the secret die with her.
"Do you wonder why Akhil and the previous Air Councilmen were never given a seat in the Formal Council of the Republic?" she croaked, tears flowing as the blaze heated up her sweet bedroom.
"What, why?" Fenn shrugged quickly, hearing another bash against the front door – they didn't have much time.
"Iorick was responsible for the termination of the Avatar cycle; the process where each new Avatar follows the cycle of the elements!" Komala shouted over the increasing flames. "He was an airbender, and ruined our people's chance of getting any political influence."
"How did it end?" Fenn mumbled, trying frantically to put the pieces together as he looked around the bedroom for a solution. "Wouldn't another Avatar just come after Iorick?"
Komala shook her head, swallowing down sorrowful phlegm.
"The Avatar State can be used by the Avatar by accessing all their previous reincarnations," she explained, shaking upon hearing the final boom of the door coming open. "When the Avatar is killed in the Avatar State the cycle ends, forever!"
Suddenly a barrage of bullets shot down the hallway, tearing the plaster wall into shreds. Fenn watched wide eyed as the bullets continued to come from the front door. It seemed that was their plan – they knew the fire was going to smoke him and Komala out, they just needed to wait.
"Komala we need to leave now!" Fenn said, sniffing his tickling nose, eyes torn open.
They needed to come up with something. He couldn't let Komala die. But he couldn't see a way out. Taking a shoe from Komala's cupboard Fenn hesitated in front of the window. Surely the men at the front of the house would tire of firing aimlessly and come down the hallway to get them. Realising this Fenn smashed the window with the chunky shoe, pulling away any leftover shards.
"Okay, Komala, let's go!"
"No! I can't fit through there!" she screamed, defiantly shaking her head, clutching onto her silky bed sheets. "I'll cut myself!"
"Well what!" Fenn shouted, becoming more and more agitated. "We need to get out now!"
"Th-there's another door!" Komala wailed. "In the room across the hallway!"
"Okay," Fenn nodded, taking her hand in his and leading her frail, shaking body to the hallways edge.
The bullets had ceased and silence had filled the house. Fenn peered around the corner, met eyes with the two burly men, and then the shellfire began again. With the two flinching from the powdery debris that exploded from the wall Fenn let go of Komala's hand and took a jittery breath in.
"Okay," he shouted over the bullets and roaring flames that neared. "They must have a finite amount of bullets with them so we're gonna run across once they stop again!"
It wasn't much of a plan. But Fenn figured if the men had stopped shooting before, probably to reload a sheet of bullets, they would do it again.
"No, no!" Komala cried, tears streaming down her saggy cheeks.
She shook her head again and again, her back stiffly planted right up against the wall. She was completely terrified. She could not handle the fear that was consuming her. Unlike Fenn, she was not ready to let it fuel her. She just wasn't that type of person.
"I can't!" she sobbed. "Fenn, I just can't! I'm not strong enough, I won't be fast enough!"
"Komala, look at me!" Fenn shouted, the sounds of the bullets drumming inside his head as he looked over at the poor, petrified lady. "You have to be brave, you have to be brave! You just have to run! Run when they stop!"
"No, no, I can't!"
Suddenly the gunfire stopped again. Fenn shot a look at Komala who shook her head like a scared child. They only had a few seconds so Fenn tugged her out with him. Quickly she snatched her hand out from his grip, retreated back around the corner as the shooting began like a lightning strike again. Fenn had fallen to the floor and managed to shuffle himself around the corner in a matter of seconds. His heart was racing, punching at his chest so painfully he could hardly breathe. Smoke had filled the ceiling and peaks of violent fire were spurting from the kitchen door. Komala was just standing there, knees buckled, head hidden under her shielding arms.
"Komala!" Fenn screamed, shaking now from desperation. "Komala, come on! Just run!"
"You need to distract them!" she wailed from the opposite side of the hallway, casting the boy a worried glance. "You need to firebend at them so I can get across!"
Fenn ogled at the old lady. It wasn't a good plan but Fenn had run out of options. He could see Komala's white hair was beginning to singe, her shoal glowing at the edges with embers.
"Okay!" he nodded in synchronicity with her. "On three!"
Flexing his shoulders quickly Fenn sucked down the pain that seared his collarbone.
"One!" he screamed, looking over at Komala to make sure she would go through with it. "Two."
Forearm swelling from the oncoming surge of firepower Fenn screamed painfully though clenched teeth before casting his furious fist out into the hallway.
"Three!" he screamed as tumbling locks of burning gold engulfed the entire hallway in a thunderous roar.
In a flash of last minute fear Komala's body blurred past Fenn as bullets continued through the fire. Swiveling himself back around the corner Fenn shoved his burning hand under his armpit. The gunfire had ceased and Komala was on the floor, the carpet skewed ugly underneath her. Fenn gulped down large smoky breaths. They still needed to get out of the burning house. But Komala was motionless and quickly Fenn noticed that flecks of blood were spattered on the wall.
"Komala?" Fenn squeaked as he thrust himself to the floor.
He rolled her over and saw the life fading in her silvery eyes. Her lungs were panting like a pathetic fish on dry land and messy hair was strewn over her face. Two bullet holes were open in her chest, leaking rivers of glossy blood.
"Komala, you'll be okay," Fenn spluttered, guilty tears filling his eyes.
It was his fault this happened. He had gotten her into this.
"I'll get help!"
Weakly Komala shook her head, mouth open only as wide as a keyhole.
"No," she whispered, pausing to feel her lungs collapse. "Fenn, Avatar Iorick..."
Fenn's eyes widened. There was more.
"What?" he gasped, a tear trickling down his nose and teetering on its peak.
"I, I thought you should know," she tried, voice fading. "Avatar Iorick...He was killed by a demon...He was killed by a demon in the Avatar State."
Fenn stared down at the old lady in disbelief, laying her down comfortably on the floor as flames continued to grow. He knew it. He knew there was a link. But hearing it now, hearing that he was right. It was only bittersweet. And he had no idea what to do next.
"I just thought you should know," Komala added with a faint grin.
"Yes," Fenn laughed as tears began to trickle down his face. "Thank you."
Like a slithering whisper Komala's life seeped away, her body becoming rigid a top the wooden floor. Shaken and confused Fenn's mind snapped to the men at the front door. Not a sound had come from them. Cautiously Fenn walked out into the hallway. The walls were singed and fire had clung to the wooden furniture. One man was dead at the door while another, clothes burnt to tatters and skin reddened with scorch marks, held a gun towards Fenn. Layers of his skin were pink and exposed and his lips had almost melted away.
With fury numbing his scar Fenn punched out a final spire of flames. He did not want to question him, ask him why they went after Akhil and his sister, and Colette. He just wanted him dead, to get what he deserved. Stepping out of the house its final scaffolding burst into flames as Fenn walked down the midnight road. People had exited their homes to see and a fire truck had whizzed past Fenn once he was a fair way down. Now that he had his answers Fenn was lost. Was it worth it? How many more people had to die for him to know the truth? Feeling the Smiling-Mask demon's smile taunt him from the shadows Fenn continued home, face devoid of any emotion. He was drained and unsure, scared and upset. Upon instinct Fenn pulled his phone out and called Otto. Since he was related to Akhil and Komala he might be a target. Did he even know what happened to his father?
"Hello?" came Otto's voice on the other side of the phone.
"Hey, Otto, it's Fenn," the firebender started reluctantly.
"Fenn, hi! You never call!" Otto screamed from the other end, Fenn pulling the phone away from his ear. "What's up?"
"Well," Fenn sighed, stopping to pause. "Um, last night..."
He just had to say it. Quickly.
"Last night Akhil was murdered."
There was a pause as a silence had filled Otto. He was unsure how to react, and had stopped walking too as busy traffic zoomed past him in ghostly trails. Fenn could hear the minutest croak come from Otto.
"You okay Otto?" he mumbled, still shaken by the events that had just taken place at Komala's house.
"Yeah," the airbender feigned a laugh. "I only met him yesterday, he wanted nothing to with me."
"I know but-"
"I'm fine, Fenn. It's all good," Otto reassured.
Fenn wasn't going to tell him about his aunt, and how she too was silenced by some unknown men. But he did want Otto safe, they were friends after all.
"Hey are you out?" he asked.
"Yeah," replied Otto. "I, uh, I'm actually looking for my mother..."
Fenn stopped. What was Otto thinking? He was only going to hurt himself more, but if it needed to be done Fenn wasn't going to stop him from looking.
"Just be careful, okay? We still don't know who was responsible for your father's death and since you're related to him you could be a target. Keep your wits about you."
"I've got some street smarts. I'll keep an eye out for you," said the boy. "And you, how are you?"
Fenn paused. There seemed to be no answer. He had just experienced the most traumatising scenario of his life. How was he supposed to feel? He was angry, sad, terrified, confused and relieved all at the same time. There was not a single word to describe what was going on inside his head. But nevertheless he replied to Otto, who could immediately sense that Fenn was lying.
Otto finished his sushi, sitting quietly on a bench watching the traffic go by. A thousand colours and lights danced through the city and groups of friends or husbands and wives strolled past, laughter driving their night. Otto had just received the news from Fenn. It made no sense to him. It didn't make him feel anything. And why should it? He barely knew the man. Of course, any death is a shame, especially someone that young, but there was no personal connection. Perhaps that was the benefit of not knowing his parents. He wouldn't have to deal with grief; sorrow would never be a problem. Nevertheless Otto jammed his rubbish into a bin and continued on, following his directions to the final brothel.
Like all the others it was down a few cryptic alleys but this time there was a lot more light. The streets were clean and outside stood a tall man in a clean suit. He asked for Otto's ID, who complied, before letting him inside the Brass Elegant. Inside was unlike anything the airbender had expected. The lighting was dim and ancient, floral markings patterned the walls. Plump leather seats filled the reception room, a crystal chandelier hung from the ornate ceiling and a neat young lady waited at the reception booth. Otto looked over at her. Her hair was black and a streak of orange swept her forehead in a past attempt to dye it blonde.
"Hello sir, can I help you?" she bowed, face lit up by the computer in front of her.
Otto looked into her silver eyes momentarily and smiled.
Quickly Otto found himself lost in the girl's eyes. He had noticed something familiar, only just, yet it drew him in like a moth to a flame.
"Do I...Do I know you?" he mumbled, mouth gaping open.
No, she couldn't be. The lady was so young – she seemed barely older than him.
"Are you my mum?" Otto uttered, lost for words on what to say.
"Excuse me!" the lady scoffed, offended at the remark, before bending down to speak into a microphone. "Could you get down here? There's a crazy boy saying I'm his mother."
"No!" Otto desperately tried to interrupt her. "You are! I'm Otto! Otto Tinchen!"
"Tinchen?" the lady gasped – so it was true. "Your last name's Tinchen?"
"Yes!" Otto laughed, happy that she was becoming convinced. "Otto Tinchen!"
"Tinchen?" came an elegant voice from a top the staircase.
"Mum, this boy is saying he's my son."
From the stairs an old lady trotted. She seemed to be reaching sixty but her body was curved and shrouded in a large satin gown, a flower crested beside her breast. Smoky eye shadow lined her cat-like silver eyes and a plump beauty spot sat next to her lips, of which were painted a deep burgundy.
As she walked, figured waist swaying sophisticatedly, the lady kept her eyes on Otto, her brow upturning slowly into incredulity. She blinked twice before taking a hand and clasping it over Otto's confused cheek.
"No," she sighed, her fragrant perfume heavy in Otto's face. "It can't be."
Tears came to the forefront of her eyes as a long-lost smile pursed on her lips. She looked back at the receptionist and then back at the boy.
"Otto Tinchen," she whispered, shaking her head in disbelief. "My son."
Suddenly Otto's eyes flashed open and the two of them pulled the other in to a tight, much-needed embrace. Otto had made it. He had found her at long last, and it felt so right.
"With my daughter only two and a business to run, I just couldn't afford to raise another baby," the woman explained as she sat Otto and the receptionist down in her office. "The Councilman said he did not want anybody finding out, that it'd ruin his career, so I went to the Southern Domain and put you into an orphanage there."
Amazed the old lady huffed.
"Isn't it incredible that you managed to find your way here? That the universe had a plan to bring this family back together."
She had introduced herself as Soledad, and Otto's half-sister beside him was Ethel. After Soledad had gotten pregnant with Ethel she had lost her job as a call girl. In order to survive she used her past experience in the industry to open her own boudoir.
"All the dim, dirty places you see out in the city are like that because they are run by men," Soledad explained as she took a sip from her martini. "I thought putting a woman's touch on the industry wouldn't hurt, and it didn't. To be successful you've got to take risks, Otto. Got it?"
Still numb to what was going on Otto blankly nodded.
"Yes ma'am," he replied politely.
Take risks, he thought to himself. He had certainly taken plenty, but could he call himself successful?
"You don't have to be so formal," Ethel smiled over at her younger half-brother.
Though she was oddly mottled with freckles and she bore a slightly crooked smile Ethel was in some way striking. She was tall and slender and the orange streak across her forehead lighted up her eyes.
"Ethel's right, you know," Soledad said, shining Otto a warm smile, wrinkles creasing at the sides of her eyes. "You have a family now."
"I do?" Otto laughed doubtfully. "When I met with Akhil he wanted nothing to do with me..."
Soledad shook her head and got up from her seat. Kneeling down beside Otto she stared deep into his nervous, uncertain eyes. Behind the eyeliner and the blush Otto could see a mother. Part of him was frightened to keep looking into something so beautiful, that maybe he'd screw it all up, while another part had embraced his new family. That part of him felt at home; warm and secure, safe and loved.
"Look at me, Otto," Soledad spoke passionately. "You're a beautiful, strapping young man, with a big heart and a big smile. I know my hands were tied when you were young but now they're wide open. It would make me very happy to have you come stay with us-"
"-What?" Otto gasped, eyes widening.
"I know it's a big ask," Soledad flinched. "And I don't expect you to adjust straight away, or even want to. But...I've made a lot of bad choices in my life, and I'd like to correct some of them. So, what do you say?"
Hidden by the dim lighting of the office were tears in the airbender's eyes. With a fulfilled grin across his chin Otto nodded profusely, again and again until Soledad pulled him in for hug that he had been waiting for eighteen years. Though it was the first embrace he had shared with his mother, it was something Otto knew he had missed his entire life, and only now had he realised that family meant more to him than he thought.
Fenn had changed out of his clothes. A patch of Komala's blood had stained the knees of his pants and his shirt was charred and covered in dust. Washing his face with a wet towel Fenn got into his Clandestine uniform and went back into the elevator and out onto the streets. There was no time to waste, no, time was crucial.
On his silent trip home from the Northern District Fenn had wondered why demons had killed Iorick. Were they just as malicious as always, or was Iorick the root of the demon attacks in the Republic? But what could Iorick have done to cause such an age-old grudge? Fenn knew that using Leroux's key card in the database would not work; he had exhausted all his resources there. Instead Fenn had decided to go back to where he used to work, Lee's Printing Company. He knew that they kept every newspaper issue in an archive there, and if the printing equipment used there was an indicator of how old the company was, perhaps the earliest issues would have something on Iorick. It was a stretch, but Fenn was determined to try.
It was past midnight now and on his way Fenn was trying to picture the layout of the building in order to plan his break in. Maybe there was a vent to climb through, or a window he could smash open. Switching off the security alarm in time would be another problem. As he neared the building front Fenn could see Cale closing up shop.
"Cale?" he said as he neared.
And it was. Turning around to face the firebender was the weedy man with greasy hair Fenn used to work with. His face lit up with astonishment upon realising it was Fenn who had approached him.
"Fenn!" he sniffed, fixing his glasses with curiosity.
"What are you doing at work so late?" Fenn smiled, happy to see the familiar face, and remembering fondly how seriously Cale took his work.
"Well," Cale smiled proudly. "I've been promoted. I mean, yeah I get paid a bit more, but it means I've got to close up shop every night. And that does not go down well with my girlfriend..."
"And you've got a girlfriend!" Fenn exclaimed, happy for the awkward man.
Slowly Cale noticed Fenn's uniform before almost falling over with surprise. Completely in doubt he fixed his glasses and took another look at Fenn's clothes.
"Are you a Clandestine now?" he gawked, mouth ajar a little.
"Yeah," Fenn blushed. "Have been for a few months now."
"No kidding...I guess getting fired was the best thing that ever happened to you, huh?" Cale mumbled to himself.
"That's sort of why I'm here," Fenn started, getting Cale's attention again. "I was wondering if I could have a look through the archives. I've been tasked with an investigation."
Cale's eyes lightened up with excitement. He had never known a Clandestine before, so to be a part of an investigation was incredible.
"Yeah, sure! Just hop under and I'll wait out here!" Cale grinned.
Fenn nodded and shuffled under the garage door. Seeing all the statuesque printing machines brought back memories of working at the company; the profuse sweating on hot days, being toasty warm in winter. Fenn smiled as he continued through the building. His life was so simple before the Smiling-Mask Demon had cursed him, and if he had never been cursed Fenn might still be here printing sheets of paper.
Entering the archive room Fenn laughed. It wasn't much of an archive but rather a bunch of dated boxes filled with newspapers. Following the dates back the number of boxes became less and less until Fenn realised his attempts were futile. None of the boxes dated back to Iorick's time. Fenn sighed – another dead end. Turning around for the exit Fenn caught a glimpse of a box hidden behind the door. It had 'Obituary' written on it, and inside the box were lists of dates and names of people who had passed away on that day. Taking out the long list Fenn flipped back and back to his birthday, wanting to find his mother. He wasn't sure why, he had never known her. But the thought had just washed over him. It was something he wanted to do. Because although they had never met, Fenn did miss her. He missed his father too. At times when his father wasn't blaming him for his mother's death, and scolding him about conspiring with the demons, Fenn remembered the food his father used to make. The smell of tasty soups and glazed meats was almost real in Fenn's senses as he wondered what his father thought of him now – if he had ever forgiven Fenn for something he had no control over. Finding his date of birth Fenn read over the names. But his mother was not there. Checking again, and reading through the days before and after in case the publishers made a mistake, her name was still absent. It was as if she had never died. Fenn's eyes widened with terror. Was his family still out there, both of them alive and well?
That was impossible. It was mistake. Again Fenn checked the date and the names, and again the name was missing.
"What?" he groaned confused through gritted teeth.
It made no sense, he was racking his brain for a reason as to why. Suddenly a scurry sounded from above him and Fenn lurched his neck upwards to try and peer into the dark ceiling above. Another scuttle sounded, this time from behind. Producing a small flame in his palm, feeling the scar thunder quietly across his shoulder, Fenn looked around for his intruder.
"Who's there!" he screamed into the shadows.
Perhaps it was more men like the one's from Komala, or a demon coming to conspire with him. Or what if it was his father, arriving to tell Fenn that he was sorry, and that he didn't mean the hateful things he said. Fenn wasn't ready to face his father. His angry eyes burnt the back of Fenn's memories like a hideous scar.
Then, like a fallen whisper, a note trickled from the ceiling. Pirouetting through the air like an autumn leaf Fenn caught it in the palm of his hand. Written almost illegibly on it was 'Keep looking.' Suddenly Fenn's body started to burn, frozen in his spot on the floor. A rushing tingle shot up his spine and his head started to throb. With his vision blurring Fenn could hear a woman's pain-filled scream. Then as his entire reality started to contort Fenn found himself on the floor of his childhood bedroom, looking over at his younger self.
The child's eyes were glassy with fear as a looming father bared his great big fist. Fenn, somewhere aside the scene playing out, was lost for breath as he watched the fist continue to fall downwards, tears beginning down the face of the cowering boy. Fenn could feel the anger and the fear bleed out from the vision and soak into his own skin. He had never seen the eyes of his father from this angle before. He could so easily see the hatred in them as the curses and screams leeched from the man's lips. As much as Fenn wanted to look away he was paralyzed on the spot, as if someone was clenching his face and forcing him to watch. Fenn was not ready to relive that memory. What his father said to him stuck with him always. Like a snake's sly whisper the voice of his upset father echoed all around him.
"It's all your fault!" the voice came, each syllable seemingly taking up minutes.
Again Fenn's body was sucked from its footing, his muscles shuddering as things swirled past him. Once more Fenn found himself looking on at some memory. With his eyes wide and face falling blank at the realisation Fenn stared over at his mother. As if time had slowed down the woman rose from her bed, coiling up like a dying spider, to give another push on the baby. Fenn could see it; and in the slow motion he could see it all. The beads of motherly sweat that trickled like falling crystals down his mother's face, the adoration and utter disbelief in his father's eyes as he watched a miracle happen before him, and the looming, cloudy fog that seeped in from the ceiling. And powerless to stop it Fenn watched as the fog formed into his worst nightmare. The Smiling-Mask Demon came and bent over the woman, who did not seem to notice. Her cries echoed forever in Fenn's mind as he spluttered for breath.
"Please," he whispered, trying to get the demon's attention, fat tears forming in his eyes.
But the demon did not listen. No. It watched as Fenn's mother strained once more to get her son out, her eyes bulging from the pain. Then the Smiling-Mask Demon raised a tentacle and engulfed the lady with it and with one last cry from his mother Fenn was born. Slowly the demon took its arm away and turned around to look Fenn in the eye. With its evil smile painted on its mask it was if the demon was teasing him, knowing that this would break the firebender.
His father was right. Fenn and a demon, the Smiling-Mask, were responsible. It was his fault. For his entire search for the truth, it was the truth here that hurt so much. Was this what Fenn was supposed to find? Guilt, grief, anger and more vengeance. Was this what the Avatar had in store for him? Surely there was more, there had to be!
Suddenly Fenn's face was thrown into concrete and the boy found himself fallen to the floor of the archive room at Lee's Printing. He sobbed and sobbed until he couldn't anymore, the simple yet beautiful face of his mother burnt onto his vision. Speechless Fenn got up and left, not uttering a word to Cale. What was there to say? He had never felt so numb in his life, or so scared. The Smiling-Mask Demon was not a creature to take lightly. It was not like anything from this world. It had no compassion, no love, and no guilt. That's what made Fenn less frightened, even a tiny smile formed at the edge of his mouth. He was human, and the demon was not. Whatever supernatural power that demon yielded Fenn would prevail. Humans don't give up so easily. For all the hardships they face, the human race always seems to pull through. In knowing this Fenn pocketed the note he had received from the shadows and swore something to himself. He swore he'd avenge his mother, to not let her death be in vain, and he'd make his father proud, wherever he was right now. Fenn swore that next time he'd meet the Smiling-Mask Demon it's be the last, and any other demon that would try and stop would fall too.
If there were more answers out there they'd have to wait. Fenn had a big night. He was drained and still in shock, and needed to rest. There were things at play that he did not understand, but right now Fenn just missed his mother.
For the collective works of the author, go here.