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|Gathering the Army|
Kaine lay on the cot provided for him as he thought about what Rha and the strange lady had told him a few days ago. He couldn't believe that the Avatar was refusing to fight these assassins. Especially since they've already taken out of hit on him. In any case if there was a war coming Kaine and his unit were sure as hell going to fight in it. As he thought the door opened and he and Rha were on their feet, weapons in hand. It was only the woman.
"It's time," she said. "Follow me." Kaine and Rha followed the woman through the base, staying hidden among the shadows. Eventually they found themselves at Sky and Tien's prison cell.
The two stood as they approached and the woman opened their cell.
"What's going on?" Sky asked as the woman handed them their equipment.
"You're leaving." She replied quickly "But first I need to give you something."
The woman then led them to another room. Along the way Kaine asked Sky and Tien how they were standing.
"That big guy kept fixing our legs after each torture session." Tien answered. "Guess they wanted us to survive for the next one."
"Quite." The woman said as they approached another door. Once she opened the door everyone felt a giant wave of heat wash over them. Kaine and the rest of his team immediately started sweating like dogs. Yet the woman didn't seem to notice.
"What's in this room?" Kaine asked trying to shrug off the heat.
"Something very important." The lady said while looking for something. "Even after his death, this room's temperature never went down. I wondered why that was. Eventually I figured out why he was keeping the room this hot, Lu Ming made him its guardian. It was then that I found this." She opened a secret compartment in the floor and pulled out a strange, large, black stone. "Deliver this to your Firelord."
"What about you?" Kaine asked as he took the stone and gently placed it in a pouch. "Won't they figure out it was you?"
"Here, I'm above suspicion." She answered, "Like him, I've played my role well."
"Who used this room?" Rha asked. "Who was the guardian?"
"A man named, Nero." She answered, "Now go."
The Next Step
Aang sat alone in his room thinking about Pakku's suggestion for war. Maybe it was the only way, maybe the Black Lotus Assassins need to be exterminated. But was it right to send the world back into war so soon after the last one ended? Aang wasn't sure, while he considered asking his past lives for help, but he doubted they would be much help. They sure didn't give great advice about Ozai.
While he was thinking Katara walked into the room.
"Hey," she said gently, "How are you doing?"
"Fine, I'm just... confused I guess." Aang answered while staring out a window. "Part of me is horrified about the thought of intentionally starting another war. Yet the other part of me understands why it might be necessary. I can't believe I'm missing when Nero had everything planned out for us."
Katara was silent for a moment unsure if she should tell Aang what was on her mind. "Aang I..."
"Hold on a minute." Aang interrupted as he had an epiphany. "That's it. Nero must have something planned for this. I think it's time for a trip to the Spirit World."
The Master Strategist
Aang and Katara headed to the Spirit Oasis. Along the way they ran into Sokka, who was still carrying Toph around on his back.
"Hey where are you two heading?" Sokka asked.
"The Spirit Oasis." Katara answered as Aang went on ahead. "Aang needs to talk to Nero."
"Why does he need to talk to a dead guy?" Toph asked.
"He thinks Nero had something planned for our current situation." Katara explained as they all started toward the oasis.
"He did," Sokka began, "what Pakku's trying to do."
When they got to the Spirit Oasis, Aang sat crossed legged by the pool of water in the center. His eyes and tattoos began glowing as he entered the Spirit World. Aang opened his eyes and found himself in the dank, musty swamp that made up the Spirit World. Aang looked around trying to find Nero. As he searched, he heard a twig snap behind him. Aang spun around and found himself face to face with a giant panda bear.
"Hei Bai!" Aang cried as he threw his arms around the spirit bear. "I'm glad you're here. I need your help to find someone. Do you know a guy named Nero?" Hei Bai nodded and knelt down for Aang to climb on his back.
Aang hopped on the bear's back and the spirit raced through the Spirit World. Hei Bai took Aang to a sandy hollow where a lone figure was going through a kata. Once they were closer Aang saw that it was Nero. Aang was silent as Nero went through his kata. He couldn't help thinking if they were in the Mortal World that there would be black flames flying around. When Nero finished he slowly turned to Aang, that same emotionless expression on his face.
"What are you doing here?" he asked coldly, "Don't tell me you're already dead."
"No." Aang answered confused at Nero's hostility. "I just needed your help." Aang explained his situation to Nero and asked if he had anything planned that could help him. He was even more confused when Nero started laughing. It was a low chuckle at first but grew louder and louder. When he finished laughing Nero looked at Aang.
"You're actually refusing to fight an order of assassins that is currently dedicated to killing you and your friends?" Nero asked still chuckling a little bit. "Wow I had always heard your people were pacifists, but I never imagined you held on to the belief so tightly."
"Look do you have something planned or not?" Aang asked, slowly loosing his patience.
"I do," Nero began, "but I'm not going to tell you."
"What?!?" Aang cried out.
"There's no point." Nero continued. "Now, no matter what you do or want, you're going to have to fight them again. These assassins won't ever stop, they'll keep coming until either you or all of them are dead. They'll kill anybody who gets in the way too" Nero said almost mirroring what Pakku had told him when he first brought up the idea. "This time, there really is no other way."
Back in the Mortal World, Katara, Sokka, and Toph waited patiently for Aang to return. Finally his eyes, tattoos stopped glowing and he awoke.
"Well, did Nero have some grand master plan?" Sokka asked sarcastically.
"Yeah," Aang answered simply, "Where's Pakku?" The four found Pakku in a meeting with Zuko and Arnook. Aang walked up to the waterbending master and said. "I'll do it. I'll go to war with the Black Lotus Assassins."
Lian walked through the base she, Gao, and Mira arrived at once they had been reassigned. She impatiently waited for Lu Ming to send her new orders. They never came.
As she walked through the base she realized that she hadn't seen Gao or Mira for a while, curious she began looking around the base for them, asking other assassins. One said he saw Gao down at the docks, but no one had seen Mira. Lian eventually stopped searching and rested at a bench at the bottom of one of the bases spires.
As she sat there was a faint dripping sound in front of her. Lian looked on the floor and saw a tiny puddle of red liquid forming on the ground. Lian then looked up and saw Mira, hanging by her neck from the ceiling.
Lian said nothing as she ran to the docks. The moment she saw Gao, she broke into a hard sprint. As Gao turned to her she tackled him onto the railing.
"Whatever it was I didn't do it." Gao said as Lian tried to wrap her hand around his throat. As the two struggled neither of them noticed Des walk onto the docks. "Alright fine I did it. What did I do?" Gao asked.
"You know what you did." Lian growled through clenched teeth. "You little, no good, rotten, son of a..."
"Ahem." Des coughed, causing both Lian and Gao to snap to attention. "Am going to have to separate you two?"
"No Des, but you might have to kill me after I kill him." Lian said while glaring at Gao.
"I didn't do it." Gao defended himself.
"Really so you didn't kill Mira and hang her from the ceiling?" Lian asked her psychotic apprentice.
"No I don't hang people." Gao began, "Sure I'll snap their necks, burn them to crisp, drown, stab, but not hang. Never been much of a hanger."
"Would you two stop it?" Des interrupted "Lu Ming sent me to collect you both."
"What for?" Lian asked her colleague.
"We're at war." was his reply.
A few days later in a valley not far from the gathered forces of the Avatar and his friends, Lian stood beside Lu Ming, Des, and the other high-ranking assassins, as they stood before a massive army. Lu Ming stepped forward and addressed his assassins.
"Our base in the Northern Water Tribe has been wiped out." He began calmly, using airbending to carry his voice. "The Order of the White Lotus, along with the four nations have declared war on us. They stand between our targets and us! We have never failed to kill our targets for as long as we have existed! Our order is as old as the four nations themselves! They think they can end an order that has existed for thousands of years! We will show them not only will we not be destroyed, but also that we will always kill our targets, NO MATTER WHAT!"
As Lu Ming finished his speech the army of Assassins bellowed their war cries.
The United Armies
Aang and Zuko stood on top of a ledge over looking their war camp. The unified armies contained forces from all four nations, as well as the entire Order of the White Lotus.
"Quite a sight isn't it?" Zuko asked Aang. "Seeing all four Nations come together to face a common foe."
"Yeah. It's actually kind of inspiring." Aang commented, having accepted what Nero told him. As they stared out at a rising sun, one of Zuko's generals approached them.
"My lord, one of our scouting parties have located a massive force not far from here." He reported.
"Must be them." Zuko said, "Have they sent someone to offer terms?"
"No my lord." The general answered, "But we found some people who said they needed to see you. They all wore masks."
"The Masked Ones." Aang broke in, "Bring them to us."
A few moments later Kaine, Sky, Tien, Rha stood before them and gave their report. Zuko was thankful that they gathered so much information on their enemies.
"My lord there's one last thing." Kaine said while pulling out a large black stone. "The woman who helped told us to give you this."
"What is it?" Zuko said taking the stone with both hands.
"No idea my lord, but the lady wanted you to have it." Kaine admitted.
"Zuko someone's coming." Aang said having spotted a small group of people approaching their camp.
"It has begun." Zuko said moving to the camp.
Nero saying "This time there really is no other way" was a jab at how Aang kept trying to find another solution to dealing with Ozai
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