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Chapter 6: Poor Moves
Lin Quei watched as Kinzoku's men loaded their weapons and checked their cables. The spirit noticed the chief glance in his direction as a scowl grew on his face.
"You don't approve?" He asked, as if he didn't know the answer.
Kinzoku shook his head. "Shingen knows why I don't approve, Varro; if Officer Sukan's report is accurate, I don't think going in like this is a good idea."
"They have no reason to fear," Lin Quei replied. "The councilman just wants to make sure that the Avatar is well cared for." He glanced down at his left hand, which he hid from the Metalbender's sight. Black, twisted spikes grew from the tips of his fingers, and the sight was enough to excite him.
"Yeah? Well, I'm a bit skeptical. Avatar Argho and I didn't always see eye to eye, but he always played fair."
Lin Quei looked at him. "You don't think Shingen plays fair?"
"We'll see," Kinzoku said. "If he does the right thing here, he'll have earned a little bit of respect from me. According to the report, the Avatar is only a little girl, and I won't have him abusing his power to gain a bargaining chip of any sort for the city."
A chuckle left the spirit's lips. "You certainly speak plainly. You don't really think that's Shingen's goal, do you?"
"I hope it isn't, but this little display doesn't fill me with confidence." The chief stepped forward and waved his hands. "Alright, men, time to move out!"
As they began to deploy, Kinzoku stopped Officer Sukan and handed her a piece of paper. "Your orders. Let the men know what's going on; you're in charge on this one."
"Karuta..." Wan Shi Tong cocked his head and lowered himself to better see the armored character before him. "That name is familiar to me, although I have not heard it spoken in millennia. That said, why is a human going by that name and wearing his armor?"
Karuta frowned. "I don't know what you're talking about. This body isn't mine; it belongs to a human named Jing. I can't seem to remember who I am; that's why I came here."
"Interesting," the owl spirit said. "So, how in the world did this happen? By all counts, Karuta is dead, by Izanagi's hand."
That...that explains why he makes me so angry. "What happened?"
Wan Shi Tong narrowed his eyes and moved back toward one of his shelves. "Izanagi severely injured the Spirit of Order, to the point of death, and Karuta saw fit to avenge her."
"You really remember none of this?" Wan Shi Tong asked as he used his foot to rifle through scrolls and books along the shelf. "Peculiar..."
"Why did I see fit to avenge the Spirit of Order?"
The Spirit of Knowledge cocked his head again. "Order had many friends; many spirits considered her to be kind and just. It was her job to curb the childish impulses of her counterpart, Chaos. Izanagi, in other words."
Karuta's frown deepened. None of this was familiar. "Childish? What does that mean?"
"Must I explain to you the definition of the word?" The owl spirit scoffed.
"No," the young man shook his head. "I meant to ask why you called Izanagi childish."
"Ah...that makes sense. My best approximation of what constitutes chaos in living form is a small, human child. That is what Izanagi most closely resembled millennia ago, and his games drove Order to her limit. From there, Karuta saw fit to attempt to avenge her death, to disastrous consequences."
Wan Shi Tong sighed. "The battle destroyed all life in the area, creating what would be known as the Si Wong Desert, the 'Desert of Death.' As for Karuta, he lost the battle, and his life. Izanagi took his head off, armor and all."
Karuta's eyes widened. "What...? That doesn't make any sense..." His eyes narrowed. "Why do you keep speaking as if I'm not right here?"
The owl spirit approached until he was standing directly in front of him. "Because, young one, I do not know who you are, but you are certainly not Karuta."
Sand swirled around Izanagi, dragging his red cloak behind him. He held Karuta's head by one of his helmet spikes, completely in shock. The body lay in the sand next to him.
Why...why didn't he stop? "He should've stopped attacking..."
A series of cracks sounded as a portal opened in front of the Spirit of Chaos, and two humanoid forms stepped out of the construct. One of them had a muted, pale face, and the other seemed to have every color in the spectrum flowing from his body. Both looked around first, and then at the ground beneath their feet. They took a few steps forward and glanced back up toward Izanagi.
"Shi...Seikatsu...what are you two doing here?"
The more colorful of the two took a step forward. "Izanagi, it would best if you stopped this. You need to return to the Spirit World with us."
The other spirit knelt in the sand and ran his long, gray fingers through it. "What have you done? There is no life here."
"Karuta wouldn't stop attacking me!" Izanagi cried. "I tried to tell him it wasn't my fault...is Order really dead?"
The pale one, Shi, spoke again, "She will never be the same, even if she survives. That makes twice that your power unchecked has led to destruction."
"Please, Izanagi," Seikatsu pleaded, "Come back with us; we can sort this out."
The Spirit of Chaos looked back and forth between the two, and his eyes narrowed. "What's gonna happen to me?"
"Since we are the only council members alive who are not being judged, Seikatsu and I will bring you before every sentient spirit in existence," Shi growled.
"Listen to me," Seikatsu said, "we will make sure everything is taken into consideration; this is not—"
"No! It was an accident! And Karuta...he wouldn't stop! Why am I being punished for what happened?"
"It's not a matter of punishment; you are dangerous!" Shi took a step forward, only to have the Spirit of Chaos erect a dark barrier.
"Lord Izanagi," Rakudo's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Once we've arrived in Republic City, all you need do is point us in the direction of your foes, and we will end them."
"I appreciate your concern," he replied. "But my goal at this point is simply to find Lin Quei and take back what is mine."
The lesser spirit bowed. "We are at your service, regardless."
Izanagi nodded. "Good. I am going to need allies no matter the outcome."
Officer Sukan stepped away from the group and toward the door. She sighed; Kinzoku had elected her to lead the operation, as she knew the layout of the warehouse.
"I'm sure I don't have to remind anyone here that this mission is strictly to take the Avatar into protective custody. No violence unless absolutely necessary. Chief's orders."
Her hand brushed against the pistol in its holster as she reached for the doorknob. With a twist, the door opened—an occurrence that surprised Sukan. She immediately took note that Uzzu and Lyre stood in the entryway.
"Hizumi called," the Earthbender said. "She told us you were bringing company."
Sukan frowned. "Sorry it has to be like this, but the Avatar is too much of a wild card to be left with a group like yours."
Lyre took a step forward, causing the men behind Sukan to tense up. "We're not going to stop you, but you have to make sure Yoriko's taken care of." Her gray eyes narrowed. "You have to promise us."
The officer nodded. "I promise. No harm will come to the Avatar; I'll protect her with my life."
Uzzu ran a hand through his hair as Lyre left the entryway and entered the main hall. "Izanagi's going to come after her. Is Republic City's finest prepared for that?"
Not for the first time, Sukan wondered. Could they defend the Avatar against such a threat? The spirit, man, whatever it was, was clearly skilled and powerful enough to face multiple attackers, but to what extent, she couldn't say.
Yoriko was soon led out by Lyre, who knelt down before they reached the officers. "These are the police, sweetheart. They're going to take you to the station and make sure you're safe."
The girl eyed the officers warily. "I...I don't know what's going on...I don't wanna leave..."
The Waterbender smiled sadly. "I'm sorry, Yoriko, but you can't stay with us. They'll keep you safe; I promise."
She nodded slowly and began to chew on her lower lip. Lyre guided her to Sukan, who offered her hand.
"No one will hurt you, Hon," she said with a small smile.
"You saved me." Yoriko's reply was simple.
Sukan shrugged. "I'm a police officer; I did my job. C'mon, we'll see what we can do to find you a home."
As the officers left, without incident, Uzzu grunted. "This isn't good."
Lyre raised an eyebrow. "What exactly did Hizumi tell you on the phone?"
"She said that she and Sera were going to the library. She believes that Argho's will has been tampered with, possibly by members of Republic City's government."
Her eyes widened. "Are you serious? Why would they—"
His frown deepened. "She thinks that Shingen wants to use the Avatar. It's not the most farfetched thing I've ever heard."
"Should we have stopped them from taking Yoriko?" She asked.
He shook his head. "We could've stopped them, but that would've made things incredibly difficult for us, seeing as very few people in the world know who we really are. If something is going on, we'll handle it, but only after we can prove it."
"Or when someone's going to get hurt."
Uzzu sighed. "Hopefully, it doesn't come to that. That girl has been through enough for a lifetime."
Lyre nodded. "Alright. I'm going to grab Karuta and Yari. We need to be ready to meet Hizumi as soon as she needs us."
"Are you sure that I shouldn't be—"
"No," she replied. "I need to do this. I have something to say to both of them. No time like the present."
The file thumped on the wooden table as Hizumi dropped it. Sera stood on the opposite end as they stared down at it.
"I'm glad I was able to catch you in your office before you left," the Grand Lotus said. "Can you tell if the will has been tampered with?"
Sera shook her head. "If it's not obvious, I won't notice. If it is, then you don't even need me here. That's not my department."
Hizumi opened up the file and stared at it for a moment. Sera circled the table and began to scan the document with her gaze.
After a moment, Hizumi slammed her fist on the table. "Damn! It's not here!"
"Did you see this document at any point before tonight, or did you just watch Argho write it?"
"I read it back to him," she replied. "He wanted to ensure that he didn't miss anything." She gritted her teeth. "There's something wrong with all of this."
Sera inhaled slowly. "No kidding."
"No, my great grandfather taught me to read spiritual energy."
The other woman cocked her head. "I thought you weren't very good at that?"
"I'm not," Hizumi replied. "But if I can feel the energy coming off of this document after minimal exposure, something's definitely wrong. We have to convince Shingen to let us take Yoriko back; I don't like this."
"But I thought Shingen—"
"He may be a damned fool, but he's not a dark spirit. I'd have been able to feel that much." She closed the file and wrapped it under her arm. "We need to find out if he's working with something else, or if he's being played too."
As they moved back around the table, Sera glanced at Hizumi. "So, are we calling the others, then?"
She nodded. "First payphone we find, we call them and bring them all to City Hall. Not only do we have Izanagi looking to kill the Avatar, but something or someone else is in play."
Sukan held Yoriko's hand as they approached the massive building that was home to the Republic City Council, and the young Avatar's eyes widened as she scanned the structure from top to bottom.
"I know it's a little overwhelming," Sukan said as she squeezed Yoriko's hand. "But all we want is to make sure you're safe."
The girl frowned. "But..."
"What's wrong?" The officer asked.
"...what about Lyre? She said that it was the White Lotus' job..."
Sukan's eyes widened. "White Lotus? When did she—?" Her surprise gave way to suspicion. The Waterbender could've been lying, using her established rapport with the girl to make the lie convincing. But why? What would they gain by telling a six-year-old that they were the Order of the White Lotus? Sukan furrowed her brow; if name recognition was their goal, they would've told her right away.
"She told me all about 'em while we ate lunch!" Yoriko's countenance shifted as she began to describe the experience with a wide grin, as if it distracted from the discomfort she was currently dealing with. "They used to help train the Avatar, but Lyre said that they had to go into hiding to keep doing their job."
"It's not their job anymore," Sukan replied. "The Republic City Council will know how to help you."
Yoriko's lower lip stuck out as she exhaled quickly. "Yeah...Mommy always said if I was in trouble to find a policeman." She glanced up at the woman. "Where will I live?"
"I..." She pursed her lips. "I don't know. We'll figure something out."
Sukan pushed open the door and ushered the Avatar into the building before turning to her fellow officers. "Stay out here and keep watch. If any of those warehouse guys show up, sound the alarm. If Izanagi shows up, sound the alarm. If someone even acts oddly when walking past, sound the alarm. We need to defend the Avatar at all costs. Understood?"
A chorus of "yes, ma'am's" allowed Sukan to close the door, confident in the twelve men and women who she had put her trust in.
"What are you saying?" Karuta took a step backward. "What do you mean? Answer me!"
Wan Shi Tong brought his face down to the young man's level. "Did I stutter? You are not the spirit who clashed with Izanagi. He had power beyond imagining, enough so that his battle with Izanagi created the Si Wong Desert. You..." The owl spirit backed away. "You have none of that; the only thing I can sense from you is a small amount of foreign spiritual energy."
Karuta felt lightheaded. "Foreign energy?"
"Yes, the only part of you that is of this world is that small sliver of energy. Karuta, even wounded and weak, would have been a torrent of power. The only logical conclusion at this point is that you are merely a human. Now, I am curious. Who are you really?"
"I..." The room spun as realization leaked into his mind. "You...no...you're wrong..."
"Then prove me wrong!" Wan Shi Tong cried. "Tell me of Karuta's life; tell me something he would know!"
The armored human dropped to his knees. "No...I can't remember...I told you that..."
The spirit scoffed. "Exactly my point; you've got nothing that makes you anything like Karuta except for the armor you now wear." The owl stared down on the broken human at his feet. "I feel as if I'll get nowhere with you in this state. My patience is wearing thin, human. Ask your remaining questions of me now, before I decide they aren't worth answering."
"Who am I?!"
"You must know the answer to that question better than I. If you don't, I cannot help you."
Karuta stood and began to back toward the door, all the while never taking his gaze off of the Spirit of Knowledge. The world began to fade as his mind could no longer focus on his meditation. In half a minute, he found himself back in his room at the warehouse. His heart beat quickly, and he could feel sweat rolling down his face. The room still spun, and his stomach rolled as waves of guilt and fear washed over him.
"C'mon, Lyre, I wanna study this stuff."
Lyre's laugh was slightly off-kilter, something he'd always found odd, if not endearing. "You want to...study? If you want to be an archaeologist or a historian, why not study at Ba Sing Se University? It's gotta be easier than dealing with spirits and stuff."
Jing grinned. "That's the thing, though. I want to study that! 'Spirits and stuff' is exactly what I'm looking for, and the Order can offer me the opportunity to see some really cool stuff up close. Plus, I think your parents would go nuts if I didn't hang around."
She chuckled. "Yeah, they'd be bugging me about where their 'adopted son' went." Her laughter slowed, and she glanced at him. "Is this really what you want to do?"
"Yep." He punctuated his response with a nod. "What else is going to let me see cool, weird stuff from another world?"
He gingerly released the clasps holding the mask to his face and removed it. It slipped from his hand and fell to the floor as Jing trembled. He glanced at his hands and looked down at the gray armor that he'd first put on months ago. The memories, the only memories he'd ever had, came flooding back in droves.
Jing grinned from ear to ear as his fingers brushed over the sleek chestplate. The helmet rested just above it, supported by the same set of beams and poles as the chestplate and leg pieces.
"And this is how old, Lord Kyani?"
"Well, my friend says that it's been in his family for centuries, but it appears that it wasn't made for or by any of them. It's an older piece, one that their ancestors used in battle because they believed it would give them strength."
"Fascinating," he replied. As he examined the armor, a frown began to play at the edges of his mouth. "But...why call me in? What's so special about this armor?"
Kyani stroked his graying beard. "The interesting thing is the energy coming off of it. I can feel a little bit of it, and apparently one of the elders of the Oyaji temple could when my friend invited him over for dinner, as well."
Meanwhile, Jing began to examine the helmet, which seemed to have a mask that was designed to disconnect. He found the clasps as Lyre interjected.
"But what makes this a White Lotus issue?" Lyre asked.
The old master looked at her. "Better safe than sorry. I don't sense a presence or anything, but I'd rather not take chances."
As Jing pulled the mask away, he finally felt the spiritual energy that Kyani was referring to. It was a pull; it was anger. He flipped the mask around to try and peer through the eye holes, and his world went dark. Out of the darkness, one word filled his mind.
Tears rolled freely down Jing's face now. He let the mask fall to the floor as everything was brought into sharp focus.
It would've been better if he'd forgotten everything, if the armor had made him forget Lyre and Nana, his best friends.
"It's all my fault...I hurt them...because I wasn't strong enough..."
- No image for this chapter. :( Couldn't find one that fit the mood or a character.
- So Jing remembers...that he's Jing, I guess. I'll be exploring what this means for him and the rest of the Order as the story progresses.
- Sukan is only just starting to see Yoriko as more than an objective, and Hizumi's good and pissed off now.
- I wasn't going to do this, but there is a second arc to this story that'll explore a little further into this eclectic group, as well as Yoriko as a character. Hopefully it'll be as good as my past stories, if not better. :)
For the collective works of the author, go here.