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"Okay Des are you ready to begin?" the doctor asked as Des removed his shirt and lay down on the operating table.
"Just get it over with Doc." Des growled as the doctor's assistants placed a large box next to the table. The doctor carefully opened the box and removed its contents, a stone arm with metal joints and metal plating. With the arms design Des could bend the stone under the metal plates, moving the joints inside the arm. With some practice Des would be able to use his new limb as well as his old one.
Des grunted with pain as the doctor inserted his new limb into its socket. The giant man was covered in scars and burns from Ursa's kamikaze. In addition his arm was completely destroyed. It took time but Lian and the doctors were eventually able to stabilize Des. Now weeks later Des was on an operating table getting fitted for a new metal limb.
"Now I know what Zheng must've felt like." Des joked as the prosthetic was receiving its last few bolts.
"Indeed Master Des, but you'll find we've made various improvements to the mechanics since the one we built for Zheng." The doctor commented as Des got up from the table. "For example you can actually move your new fingers." Des experimented with his new arm, flexing and stretching its mechanized joints.
With a dark smile Des clenched his new hand into a fist, spun around and slammed it into one the doctor's assistant's face. Des listened to the assistant's skull turn to a pulpy mess. The assistant was thrown against the wall as he slumped to the ground, dead.
"Might take some getting used to." Des commented, "Normally I would've knocked him through the wall. Ah well."
Gao laughed as his newest victim slammed against the wall. For the last few weeks Gao had been having the time of his life tormenting many of the other assassins. Lu Ming had locked himself in his chambers, Des had been near death the entire time, and Lian had been too busy trying to keep the two formers breathing. There was literally no one around to keep the psycho in check. Many assassins had to be taken to the doctors outside the base, and some didn't even make it that far.
Today Gao's victim was a teenage girl who'd joined a few months ago. Gao didn't know the full details, nor did he care enough to find out, but apparently her only choices were become an assassin, or prostitution. She chose the former, but was mind numbingly defensive. She took every glance the wrong way. Gao had bumped into her while walking down the hall, and she immediately thought he was trying to cop a feel or something. Acting along these lines she lashed out at him, striking him across the face.
Gao just smiled as he rubbed his cheek before saying, "Oh, so you like it rough huh?" Violently Gao lashed out with his foot, catching the girl in the stomach. As she doubled over Gao grabbed her by the throat and lifted her in the air. As she brought her foot back to kick him he tossed her against the wall. Once again she lashed out with her hands, but this time Gao her by her wrists and pulled them above her head.
"Let go of me!" she screamed in Gao's face.
"What do you think Butcher?" Gao asked his mental companion, not loosening his grip, "Should we let her go?"
"Why would we do that?" Butcher replied, "She already thinks we were harassing her. What's wrong with proving her right?"
"Absolutely nothing at all my old friend." Gao with his typical crazed grin. With no remorse Gao punched her in the diaphragm, forcing all the air out of her lungs. As she doubled over Gao's hands went to his belt.
Before he could pull it off a fireball crashed into his back. Gao turned around to see Nikki facing him.
"Make another move and I'll make sure you never use them again." Nikki threatened.
"Well, well, well." Gao said spreading his arms, "If it isn't the daughter of the great Nero." Nikki said nothing as Gao casually walked over to her, "I hear your father was quite a badass. I wonder if you'll measure up."
"I doubt it." Butcher responded only this time speaking through Gao. "He was supposedly able to face both the Avatar and Fire Lord. This little bitch can't even handle the latter."
"Shut up." Nikki growled.
"Oh what's wrong little girl?" Gao mocked, "Upset that you'll never be able to fill your deceased daddy's shoes."
"I said SHUT UP!" Nikki screamed as she swung her fist for Gao's face. Gao ducked under the blow and swept her feet from under her with a swing of his leg. With a laugh Gao placed his foot on Nikki's neck and pressed down.
"Come on missy," Gao taunted, "You dear daddy could've easily gotten out of this situation. Hard to believe he went out like such a punk."
"Gao! Get off of her now!" Lian's voice yelled from down the hall.
Like Father, Like Daughter
Nikki gasped for breath when Gao removed his foot. She scurried away from Gao as Lian approached the two.
"What the hell is going on here?" Lian asked with a glare that would've scared Lu Ming.
"Just having a little dispute about her father." Gao admitted. "Nothing more."
"Get out of here now." Lian ordered. Gao scoffed before turning down the hall. "Are you okay?" Lian asked turning to Nikki.
"Yeah, I'm fine." Nikki said rubbing her throat. "Thanks Lian."
"Don't mention it." Lian said clapping Nikki on her shoulder before continuing on her way.
"Lian wait." Nikki called after the bloodbender. "I need to ask you something."
"What is it?" Lian asked curiously.
"What was my father like?" Nikki asked. Lian just stared at Nikki, surprised by the question.
"Your father was... uh special." Lian began searching for the right words. "He was different than the other men here. He was quiet, reserved, and strong. Much stronger than many of the people here." 'Including myself.' Lian added to herself. "You actually remind me of him a lot."
"How so?" Nikki asked anxious.
"Well for one thing, you have the same type of fire in your eyes." Lian commented, "A fire that burns with both strength and conviction. Second is the way you fight. You and Nero put your heart and soul into your movements. The styles in even similar." While Lian struggled to find more words Nikki noticed a slight tremble in her lips, in addition to a small buildup of tears in her eyes.
"You cared for him didn't you?" she asked.
"I loved you father." Lian admitted, almost shamefully. "When he died, I was devastated. But I couldn't show it, if I did the others would've thought I had gone soft. So when Lu Ming offered me the chance to go after the ones who killed him, I jumped on the opportunity."
"Sometimes my father talks to me while I'm fighting, gives me advice." Nikki said, avoiding Lian's curious gaze. Nikki thought Lian would immediately start laughing at her, but the waterbender was silent.
Lian stared at Nikki for a few moments before placing her hand on the young girl's shoulder. "You would be wise to listen to whatever he tells you." She whispered before going on her way.
"Wait Lian." Nikki said causing the woman to pause. "My father told me to tell you something."
"What is it?" Lian called over her shoulder.
"He said 'For what it's worth, I'm sorry.'" Nikki answered speaking for her father.
Lian nodded before saying, "Tell him he's forgiven." With that Lian headed for her room.
Lian downed another glass of alcohol in her locked room. So far she was up to 3, 3 out of 10, one for every person to have betrayed the Black Lotus in her lifetime. She downed her fourth glass, the one for Tengu. Tengu wasn't the first one to do it; he was just the first to survive longer than 15 seconds afterwards. She quickly drank the next two, representing Nero and Ursa. By the time she reached the 9th glass, the one for Lee, she was feeling pretty hammered.
Dumbly she stared at the 10th glass, the one representing her. Slowly she picked it up and placed it to her lips. Before she could pour the alcohol down her throat however, she vomited. The contents of the glass spilled all over her floor. Sloppily she bended the alcohol back into the glass.
'Nine glasses.' Lian thought bitterly laying back in her chair, Nine people with more guts and courage than I'll ever have. Nine people who were able to do what I can't She vomited again, this time all over clothes. With a groan Lian made her way to the bathes.
Once she finished cleaning herself, Lian bent all of the water off her and wrapped herself in a towel. She looked down her bare right arm. She stared at the large tattoo that ran down it. An Unagi that coiled up her arm. At first glance it appeared that the serpent was spraying blood from its mouth, but at a closer look it was really a blood red koi fish swimming from the serpent's mouth. The tattoo marked her, both as a predator, and as prey.
Lian threw on some clothes and walked back to her room. Once inside Lian looked at the ten glasses on the table. Nine empty and one full. 'Nine predators, and one prey.' Lian walked over and picked up the glass.
"I know I'm going to live to regret this." She muttered before downing the glass.
Mapping a Plan
Lu Ming sat alone in his chambers while he meditated. For the past few weeks he'd been having a feeling of dread that just wouldn't leave him. He knew the end was coming, he knew it would all be decided at the next battle. And he knew that in the end, one way or another, there was going to be at least one less airbender in the world.
"Hmm. I'm gonna have to meet them on my terms if I expect to live much longer." Lu Ming said pulling out a map. On the map he had marked down all the locations of the Black Lotus Bases in the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom. Several of the locations had been attacked and subsequently destroyed by the Four Nations. Reports claimed that the same five-person team destroyed every base hidden in the Si Wong Desert.
Lu Ming circled a small forest in the Fire Nation. He knew his targets were hiding in there. He only needed a way to flush them out. 'Provided they aren't already on their way here of course.' Lu Ming thought. At that moment a messenger came through the door before dropping to his knees in a low bow.
"What is it?" Lu Ming asked the messenger.
"We just received a messenger hawk from our spies." The messenger reported, daring to look up. "The enemy is on the move."
"Do we know where they're heading?" Lu Ming asked looking over his map.
"It would appear that they're heading for Ba Sing Se. Most likely in order to gather more troops and supplies."
"That can't be the only reason." Lu Ming mused, "It would make more sense for them to go to a closer location if they only wanted more troops and supplies. They're gathering for some reason." Lu Ming put his finger on a spot on the map, just on the edge of the Si Wong Desert. "We'll wait for them here. Gather everyone, we're moving."
A few weeks passed as the Black Lotus mobilized. The based themselves at the very edge of the Si Wong Desert. Lu Ming stood alone as the others waited in hiding. Then he saw them, the large air ships, moving slowly through the sky.
"Hmph. What a pitiful replacement for Sky Bison." Lu Ming commented before holding his open hand in the air. "Might as well have put a giant target on the side of those things." With a chuckle Lu Ming balled his fist, signaling the earthbenders to launch their surface to air boulders.
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