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Book 2: Sound
Chapter 12: Lost
Galba landed in the main plaza as the soldiers were continuing to incinerate debris and search for any remaining Airbenders. Saitei slid off of his back and examined the men before her, ignoring the Bloodbender in her midst for a moment.
"It is good to see that you're unharmed." She stepped toward the captain. "What is the status of the clean-up?"
"We're dealing with the debris, but we've only been able to find a few surviving Airbenders. I should tell you, though; our survival was only possible because of the Waterbender." He indicated Moro.
She eyed the girl cautiously. "You have my thanks in regards to my men, although I doubt Argho and his little team will be very happy to see you."
Moro frowned. "Whether they want to or not, I have some things to say...things to do."
Saitei sighed. "Very well, but if things go poorly, it's on you. Argho will have just finished defeating a spirit, so I doubt he'll be in the mood to deal with a mess like you."
The Waterbender cocked her head, but kept silent.
The Fire Lady's cold gaze stayed on her for a moment before she turned away. "Just go, girl. Do whatever it is you have to do."
Argho coughed as he leaned against the wall and slid to the floor while Rioku laid Kuan Ti's semi-conscious form beside him. Shen matched his movements on the opposite wall near Saitei's bedroom. Usha followed closely behind them, and she kept shooting Argho looks of disdain.
"Did I not tell you that this would happen, Avatar? Such arrogance, to think you could outmatch his strength."
He gritted his teeth. "What would you have me do, Spirit of Dawn? Should I have simply...let them overrun the Fire Nation? You know as well as I do that such a thing...ugh..." He leaned his head back as his entire body throbbed. "It would've upset the balance of the world."
"Do not presume to lecture me on balance. I have held to that for all of my incredibly long life."
Rioku scoffed. "And that worked out so well when you alienated yourself from the Avatar Spirit by allowing Aang's daughter to die. You are all presumptuous...the spirits have little use for us puny humans unless we can—"
"Enough!" Usha cried. "I do not have to listen to your drivel! I am beyond your understanding!"
The Earthbender smirked. "But you need our help. You can't stop either of them."
"Both of you...fighting will get us nowhere..." Argho interrupted weakly. "Now...Lady Usha...can you heal me further? I am still not even close to fighting form."
She shook her head. "I only have so much power left, and I used most of it to pull that rib from your lung and stop your internal bleeding. I saved your life."
The Avatar simply nodded in response.
"I thought you...you were the Spirit of Dawn..." Shen cut in. "How can you be out of power?"
Usha turned to him. "The darkness produced by Koh alone was enough to nearly destroy me, crush my soul. My quest for vengeance was proof enough of that. After that, an incredibly powerful spirit decided to limit me and, if necessary, give the mantle of the Dawn to another spirit." She sighed. "A more worthy one than I."
The Airbender's eyes widened. "What kind of spirit has that much power?!"
"None of your concern."
Frantic footsteps sounded down the hall, and soon enough Zhan and several other Equalists came into view, picking up their pace when they saw Kuan Ti.
"What the—what happened?!" Zhan knelt by Kuan Ti. "Are you alright?"
"Not exactly." The Equalist leader replied. "We lost...big time."
His friend whirled on the others present. "Quickly, get some bandages!"
Zhan's eyes widened. "They shot you...but..."
Kuan Ti waved him off. "I'll survive."
His friend grew concerned at his abruptness. "What? What is it?"
"Zhan...she killed...she killed our master. The Grand Elder used a new Airbending ability to kill him, and she nearly killed me the same way."
Zhan's gaze darkened. "You mean...after everything he did to show that we were different, he was still done in by a bender?"
Kuan Ti grimaced. "We can only continue to honor his memory now, but we will get Petrine, one way or another."
"You've got that right." Zhan stood. "I'll get the others in here so that we can tend to your wounds."
The Equalist leader nodded.
Lu Ten sidestepped the stones that still littered the plaza, making his way toward the dragons and their riders, who had all grouped together.
The reptiles all turned simultaneously and lowered their heads, even Galba. The Protector smiled and returned the gesture. "Noble beasts, you carry the future of your nation within you. Safeguard it well."
"Son of Iroh, your presence here is welcome." Galba said as he leaned and allowed Saitei to scratch his snout. "Your father is the only reason we could have been here today."
"Yes...he always did what was right." Lu Ten smiled sadly. "I wish we weren't always on separate paths."
Saitei glanced at him. "Whoever you are, you destroyed my throne room. However, you did save Argho and his foolish team. For that, you have my thanks." Galba turned and gazed into her eyes for a few seconds, and those golden orbs narrowed. "I see. So you are a spirit protector."
Lu Ten smiled. "And your great-great uncle. But that is neither here nor there, Saitei. You will have much rebuilding to do, you know."
She smirked. "Don't think I don't know that, Protector. We will build it bigger and better than it was, all of it."
The spirit bowed. "Then I will leave you to it."
Shen leaned his head against the wall and allowed the weakness that had been a constant to pass over his body once again. He would save his strength for another day.
"Argho...how are we going to beat him?"
The Avatar winced as his forearm still throbbed. "I...have no idea. For once in my life...I encountered something I couldn't talk my way out of or beat down..." He sighed. "I'm not even sure if he had a body under that armor that I could've hit..."
Rioku narrowed his eye. "You'll think of something. I know you; you are more than a simple brute like many Earthbenders. You are the only one who can beat him."
Argho chuckled, but that soon devolved into a cough. "No pressure..."
The Airbender frowned. "That being said...I have no idea what their plans are. Petrine never hinted at anything beyond this...but we have to find them."
"Wouldn't they go home to lick their wounds?" Kuan Ti asked, interjecting for the first time in several minutes.
"Wounds..." Tears formed in Shen's eyes. "Hundreds of Air Nomads...died...in that airship explosion..." He struggled to keep from collapsing in a heap. "We can only come back from something of that magnitude if Petrine would lay down her pride and turn herself over to the Council of Elders...but she won't. Not without a fight..."
"What about the Republic City Council?" The distinctly feminine voice caused all four heads to shoot down the hall, where Moro Kenshi walked toward them.
Rioku jumped to his feet and stomped the ground, causing a crack in the ground that shot toward the Waterbender, an attack that she easily sidestepped.
"Please...don't attack. I don't want to—"
"Don't want to what? Bloodbend me into submission?" The Earthbender's nostrils flared. "From what I've heard, you are little more than Susanowo's lapdog!"
Moro gritted her teeth and drew the water from the air into and ice spear. "Don't call me that!"
A metallic click sounded from behind Rioku as Kuan Ti raised his revolver. "Just don't, Moro."
The wind whipped around the hall, and all eyes turned to Shen, but he was turned away. The many voices of the Avatar State revealed the true source of the disturbance as Argho stood up.
"Have you returned to further burden us with your weakness and destroy our trust?" His eyes soon lost the light of a thousand past lives, but they were no less intense. "Or will you be strong? Decisions, decisions."
Moro pursed her lips. "I know that nothing I say can atone for what I've done, but...I was never...never Susanowo's puppet. I never wanted to hurt any of you."
"You know..." Kuan Ti began. "...at least Petrine, for all her faults, didn't even touch Shen when we got our butts handed to us. She didn't stab him and leave him for dead!" He shakily got to his feet. "So why don't you tell me again who you never wanted to hurt! We all trusted you, Bloodbender, but Shen did so enough to put his life in your hands! And you—!"
"Stop!" Moro clutched her head. "Just stop! I know I messed up—!"
"You did far more than that." Argho interjected. "But..." He hissed as his arm throbbed. "...like I said before...you have a choice."
She frowned. "No...I don't."
The Avatar's gaze darkened. "Then I cannot put the lives of my team at risk again. You will prove to be a risk again."
Moro narrowed her eyes, but she couldn't meet Argho's scrutiny. "I never wanted to hurt anyone...but I understand." She turned to Shen, who had remained silent. "Shen..." Tears rolled down her face. "I'm so happy to see you alive; you have no idea..."
The Airbender didn't even raise his head as she looked down at him.
She forced herself to face the Avatar again. "Very well...if I'm not welcome...so be it. But, you should know...Susanowo is going to Republic City to gather more Waterbenders. He's going to try and rebuild what we destroyed."
Argho nodded. "Thank you, Moro Kenshi. I'll have Saitei arrange transport back to Kenshin Outpost for you."
She shook her head. "I can't leave Kyrie...I'm going after him. I'm going to save him."
Kuan Ti gritted his teeth. "Let us handle that; we are—"
"Not in a position to save my brother. Stop him, yes. But I need to save him. Our mother needs us both, especially since the Ice Man will not care for her. He never did." She began to turn away. "So, maybe we'll see each other in Republic City. Goodbye, everyone..."
As she walked down the hall, Rioku glanced at Shen. "You okay, kid?"
The Airbender's head remained bowed, but the other three men noticed the quivering of his chin.
Zhan held the gauze in his hands as the other Equalists scrambled to get medical attention to the wounded. He stifled a cry as he crushed the fabric in his fists.
"Did I not warn you? Benders will always use their power against you." Lin Quei stood in the shadows, still cloaked in dark purple.
"Did you know?" The Equalist asked pointedly.
The spirit nodded. "I thought it best that you and your friend find out firsthand. It was the only way you'd believe me."
Zhan's chuckle was without mirth. "And you thought I'd suddenly turn and join you?"
The spirit inclined his head. "No. I thought you and Kuan Ti would finally understand. Bending will only continue to bring destruction and pain."
"Maybe so...I'm not sure about that. But I do trust Kuan Ti, and we both trusted our master. So you can take your little conspiracy and shove it up your—!"
Lin Quei held up a hand. "Now...there is no need for that...I understand. You are not ready to accept reality, but when you are, you know how to contact me."
The nonbender threw the crumpled ball of gauze in the spirit's direction, but it hit nothing but wall. Zhan was alone once more.
Argho sat before four of his past lives for the first time in weeks, and though hours had passed, he was glad that he could not feel pain in the Spirit World.
"I'm surprised Usha was actually telling the truth." Aang's expression remained passive. "I suppose there's a first time for everything."
"Frankly," Kyoshi interrupted, "I'm surprised that Otokami let you live. Mercy is not a defining trait of many spirits."
Argho smirked. "Yourself included."
The former Avatars all shared a laugh, and Roku decided to speak. "I see this incident has done little to dull your sense of humor, Argho."
"Yes, well, I suppose there is a proper time for everything as well. And right now...I have something to ask of you that I have not asked since I was a boy."
Korra raised an eyebrow while the others remained stoic, and Aang gestured for Argho to continue.
"I...what do I do?"
The question hung in the air as each of them processed its significance. Roku coughed.
"That is...that is a troubling question, Argho, and one you have not asked for many years. Not like this."
The current Avatar stood. "I have never felt so helpless! Otokami crushed me in combat and nearly brought about the destruction of the Fire Nation Royal Family! What do I do against such power?!"
"Argho..."Aang's calm resolve shook him out of his fearful reverie. "You need physical and mental rest. Come back to us when you are ready to fight again, and we will discuss your path."
Argho bowed, and a subtle smirk grew on his face. "Very well. I'll see you in a couple of hours."
Kyoshi cocked her head. "Now that sounds like you, Argho."
- So, this chapter just kinda came out really fast compared to the last one. I dunno; it was a spurt of inspiration, I guess.
- So, yeah, the reunion was a tad awkward...
- And now all (read:three-ish) of my faithful readers know what the mysterious Lin Quei looks like, at least in my head.
For the collective works of the author, go here.