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Book 1: Blood
Chapter 8: Reaching Out
The Tundra Base, as Argho had taken to calling it, had been their home for three days, and all of them were getting anxious. The Avatar shook his head; Shen asked him no less than five times in that one day if he had a plan.
"I am still working on it, my friend, but if we engage him in the wrong place, the collateral damage could be catastrophic. Give me time; I'll think of something."
"And what am I supposed to do with this time?" The Airbender held back a smirk. "I'm not exactly one for sitting around."
"Alright, I've heard enough." Kuan Ti stood and removed his cloak and belt, which held two odd-looking metal devices.
"Uh...what are you doing? And...what are those?" Shen's glance moved from the table to the Equalist and back again.
"Those are guns, Shen..." The non-bender rolled his eyes. "And you and I are going to have a little sparring match."
A grin appeared on Moro's face. "Oh, this should be good."
"But I thought—"
"...that rifles were the only type of firearm that existed. Well, that's mostly true; these are the only two revolvers that have ever been made."
Shen cocked his head. "Revolvers?"
"I'll show you after we let of a little steam." Kuan Ti got into a fighter's stance. "I'm ready when you are."
"Fine." He chuckled. "I won't bend."
"I don't want you to handicap yourself, Shen."
"And I don't want to handicap you; besides, I need to work on my martial arts, anyway."
The Equalist smirked before charging forward, aiming his first strike for Shen's arm as he expected him to block his chest. Unfortunately, the Airbender bent to the side and flipped over onto his hands, moving from there to a spin kick that would've hit his opponent in the chest had he not put forth both hands to block. As the force of the attack pushed Kuan Ti backwards ever so slightly, Shen pushed off with his hands landed solidly on his feet once more, but his foe was ready with clothesline maneuver.
The Airbender knew exactly how to handle it and spun into a windmill movement that, at the same time, allowed him to duck under the attack and strike the Equalist's chest with an upward chop, sending him sliding backwards.
"Impressive..." Shen's opponent barely seemed winded. "No one except my master has ever gotten the better of me." He readied himself once more. "It won't happen again."
The second bout began with a series of quick stomp kicks aimed at taking out Shen's base, but the young man jumped forward and caught one of them with his foot, using the reverse momentum to then bring a dual ridge-handed strike down toward Kuan Ti's neck. When his opponent's response, a double-fisted block followed by a forceful open-handed strike to his right shoulder, caused him to spin, he decided to go with it and whirled around in a circular fashion, ending with an overhand closed punch that hit the non-bender in the jaw.
The man grunted dropped to one knee as his head jerked around, and Shen promptly stopped his assault. "Spirits! Are you alright?"
Kuan Ti turned, revealing a line of blood dripping down his chin and a massive smile. "That was fun! I haven't been challenged like this in a long time, and you...you hit very hard!"
Shen sighed in relief. "Good...I was afraid—"
"What? That you killed me?"
"That I broke something." The Airbender smirked. "My fist on your face, perhaps?"
"Children..." The shake of his head was betrayed by the smile on his face.
"I'm nineteen; that's not exactly a child."
"Really?" Moro eyes widened. "So am I. Interesting."
"Well...that seems to be the only thing you two have in common." Argho chuckled.
"No...really? I thought we shared a lot of interests!" The Waterbender's eyes screamed joviality, despite her attempt at realistic sarcasm.
"Sure we do, Moro. Sure we do."
"These revolvers hold six rounds in this." Kuan Ti indicated the cylinder in the middle. "And the chamber rapidly switches from one round to the next. It's far more efficient than anything Susanowo has out there."
Moro gazed intently at the weapons. "Impressive, I didn't think anyone had the drop on Susanowo, technologically speaking, seeing as he has NowoCorp at his back."
The Equalist leader chuckled. "There is nothing that Susanowo built that I can't beat with my resources."
"Kuan Ti!" Zhan, along with two other Equalists, burst through the door. "NowoCorp soldiers are here!"
His heart stopped in his chest. "How?"
"See for yourself."
The airship launched cables into the ice as Kuan Ti looked out from the well-hidden viewpoint. "I'm going to kick myself, Zhan; of course they would have airships."
"What are we going to do?"
"Order an evac. Argho and I can handle them until you get everyone out."
"It's as good as done."
Kuan Ti turned to find Argho waiting. "Twenty soldiers are moving toward us as we speak, and I noted at least four Bloodbenders. There could be more."
"What about Moro and Shen?"
"Their choice. Evac or stay and fight."
Kuan Ti nodded. "Let's go meet our guests, then."
The rumble reached Shen as the NowoCorp army breached the main entryway. He grabbed his sword, scabbard and all, prepared for a fight.
How did they find us?!
He stopped in his tracks. Or, more accurately, was stopped in his tracks. He could feel the pull...and the helplessness.
"I bet you're wondering how we found you...how we got in." The same girl he had knocked out back when they had been looking for Moro walked in front of him. "Susanowo has all sorts of ways to gain information; he knew of this place even before you all came."
"Sounds...like a pretty cool guy."
Her red eyes burned. "You knocked me unconscious."
"Well..." Shen would've shrugged, had he been able to move. "To be fair, you were going to attack my friend."
"No one gets me like that! I wanted to make sure you paid for it!"
Something's different...I have to tread carefully. "What is it with you people? Why do you keep going after us?"
"It's...not you we're after; it's not even the Avatar."
Her eyes narrowed. "Yes."
Shen winced. "Why are you working for Susanowo? You don't seem...suited...to this."
The look of incredulity she gave was only matched by the ferocity of her response. "And who are you to tell me that!? You don't know me!"
"You're right; I don't. But, in my experience, most Bloodbenders tend to, once they have someone, start playing around with their insides. You seem almost afraid of your powers."
"I never asked for this." She replied softly. "I'm not a killer; I'm not even a fighter! He had to train me, train all of us!" Her gaze snapped back to him. "I don't want to hurt anyone, but I have a duty, a destiny."
"That's funny..." Shen smirked. "So do I. I've been holding back...trying to understand...I guess."
"Holding back? You can't bend while I have you pinned down!"
The young man glanced away. "What's your name?"
"Your name." Shen smiled sadly. "I would kinda like to know who I'm talking to." What am I doing? Is this what Argho meant?
"Rena...and what—what did you mean by 'holding back'?"
"I'm an Airbender; you'd have to stop me from breathing to neutralize me. Now, these...others...you mentioned...are they here?"
"Why are you—?"
"Asking? Because if they're here, but not with me, they are likely fighting the Avatar."
Her eyes widened with fear. "Turi..."
"And they will lose. If you let me go, you can save them, give them a chance."
The Airbender yelled in surprise when he was dropped to the floor unceremoniously. I...what just happened? His focus was shifted, otherwise he might've noticed the man come in.
Shen was lifted off of his feet, and he immediately found his insides being twisted, painfully.
"Preventing you from breathing...good idea." The man sneered. "For being the most powerful of us, one of the chosen, she was weak. I am not."
The life left him in gasps, and Shen knew that he would fall. And fall he did, just before he blacked out...to the ground once more.
"Shen, get up!" Moro's voice permeated the fog in his head. "Now's not the time to be laying down on the job!"
He glanced up to note that she was fighting another Bloodbender in addition to the man who had almost killed him. Her opponent had that odd symbol on the side of his neck.
"Shen..." She seemed strained. "I can't hold him back, but I can stop him from bending." She dropped to avoid a wild haymaker and scissor-kicked her foe's legs out from under him. "I can't fight them both!"
But I can help. The rush came unexpectedly for the young man's once cocky opponent, who promptly took an elbow strike to the face and another to his left collarbone. The snap and subsequent scream did not stop him from trying to attack again, however.
Rena followed the trail of downed NowoCorp soldiers, hoping and praying that she wasn't already too late.
"Turi?! Turi!" Their shared circumstances had brought them together, and each was the only friend the other had.
She did, despite her panic, take note of the fact that none of them seemed to be dead, but a pathetic cough soon grabbed her attention.
"R-rena...help..." The son of Tunturia lay broken and bleeding against the wall.
"Turi!" She immediately brought up some snow to melt it into water and began healing him, which caused him to groan. "What happened to you?!"
"He...he was...ugh...more than anything we were...were ever trained for..." His gaze moved to a body that looked like it had nearly been snapped in two. "The...force of the...Av—huh...Avatar's blow killed Darro. He nearly killed me."
"We have to get you out of here! Where is the Avatar?"
"Gone...they fled already..." His cough brought up more than a little bit of blood.
"I thought—I thought the Avatar was calm..." Rena shook as she brought his head up.
"Darro...made the mistake of killing one of the...Avatar's men..." He pointed shakily at the body of an Equalist. "It...must have set him off, but...he..."
His sentence ended; Turi had passed out.
The Ice Skimmer sped toward the outlying villages in the North, a place where Susanowo's influence was scarce.
"Airships!" Kuan Ti slammed his fist against the metal interior. "Why didn't I think about the airships!?"
"Calm down, my friend. At least most of us made it out alive."
"All but one..."
"Yes, he fought bravely." Argho folded his arms across his chest. "And his death was avenged; I saw to that."
The non-bender chuckled. "Yeah, I noticed...what was that, anyway?"
"I saw that the Bloodbender obviously had no regard for human life and would kill again, so I stopped him."
"What about that other one?" A sigh escaped him. "You let him live...barely."
The Avatar closed his eyes. "Yes...well it wasn't until I had already began my assault that I realized he was one of the lost...I can only hope he made it out."
The Equalist grinned. "Avatar Argho, you are the only man I know who wishes his enemies a speedy recovery."
Shen watched the exchange from beyond the partition separating the one section of the skimmer from the other, his own emotions and thoughts rolling around and creating confusion.
I'm still not sure what happened back there...I guess I have a lot to learn. Damn it! Why can't understanding my enemies come easier?
"Hey, how're you feeling?" Moro sat down in the chair across from him.
"Pretty good, considering I would be dead if..." He couldn't bring himself to finish.
The Waterbender smirked. "Go on?" His further failure to respond caused her smirk to gradually go away. "What's the matter? Don't you trust me yet?"
"Thanks, Moro." Shen stood and moved toward the back of the skimmer.
- Think of the Ice Skimmer like a multi-faceted Tank train designed specifically for use on the ice.
For the collective works of the author, go here.