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Apologies and Revelations
Aang was finding it difficult to focus on steering Appa, with the knot in his stomach growing tighter and tighter. He kept replaying the brutality in his mind. He had replayed his fist landing upon Tengu's face in his head for the umpteenth time when Katara sat beside him. He glanced at her with sad eyes. She took over the reins and signaled for him to go back on the saddle. She knew her husband well.
"Tengu," Aang said as he sat beside him on the saddle.
"Yes, Master," Tengu replied looking up from his sansetsukon as he cleaned it.
"I just..." Aang began wondering how to begin.
Tengu interrupted, "I thought you and the Fire Lord had already apologized quite profusely, Master."
"I still feel pretty bad Tengu. I mean – after all these years, after all we have been through and all you've done for us... I should have never doubted you..."
Tengu looked down on Appa's saddle.
"And neither should I" added a remorseful Fire Lord.
Tengu understood their pain, "The hurt feelings of a misunderstood friend can never compare to the despair of a distraught father. I would have been selfish to place my emotions above your concern."
Aang and Zuko bowed, as they saw the distant pain still alive in Tengu's eyes.
"Master Aang, as long as we are engaged in conversation, I must warn you that we are about to step into very hostile territory."
"I know. Been there before. Not a happy place..." Aang replied with a small smirk.
"Definitely not." added Zuko, remembering his family's kidnapping ten years ago.
"Yes. However, this time we will have no allies like the last time." Tengu said, having a feeling Ursa was in trouble, "At least, it's not something I would expect or count on. There will be no holding back on their part now."
"Tengu, we've been fighting these people for over a decade, we know all of this...where are you going with this?"
Tengu had barked up this tree for years and Aang had always given the same response, only this time Tengu wasn't asking, "I am ready to engage these people on their terms. Kill or be killed."
"Yes, but only when necessary."
Tengu sighed as he looked at the saddle for a brief instant, before resuming eye contact with Aang. When he looked back, Aang felt the pit of his stomach cave in. The meek and pious monk had disappeared. So had the perfect gentleman – the educated foe. Aang found himself staring into the deep, dark eyes of The Demon Bird...
"I really don't know about you Aang, but I have had enough of being chased and haunted by the Black Lotus. I am ready, willing and able to do everything in my power to weed them out of this world right now! I refuse to keep losing people, sleep or blood to those vermin."
Aang was terrified, but he insisted on being the voice of reason.
"You want revenge."
"I got revenge a long time ago." Tengu said remembering how the Black Lotus had taken his wife and unborn child from him, "This time I want justice! What do you think will happen if we die? What do you think will happen if they have their way? I will tell you what happen! Fire Lord, how old are your children?"
Zuko was startled, but managed to issue a response "Thirteen."
"That's close to the age most people are recruited into the Black Lotus."
Zuko's eyes widened.
"Lu Ming likes them young and impressionable. Is he not using Nero's child? I'm willing to bet she's not even fifteen!"
A cold chill ran down both the Avatar and the Fire Lord's spines.
"Have I ever told you how old I was when I was drafted? I was seventeen! I was killing people for money before I had even kissed a girl! Is that what you want for your children?" Tengu said about to drive the point home. "Trust me, Lu Ming would find Sora a vast improvement from his last apprentice. Haven't you ever wondered how I mastered airbending so damn easily? It's because I had prior training, Lu Ming taught me almost every airbending form I know, I was just unable to bend so he never taught me anymore than that. Lu Ming would love to pass his knowledge of his more advanced techniques to a new generation. And trust me when I say what he has to offer would be better off forgotten. And I plan to make sure they are."
A brief moment of silence ensued. Tengu took a couple of deep breaths and recovered his composure.
"You must excuse my passion, Master, but I intend to carry out this mission by whatever means necessary."
Sky Born Plans
The rest of the flight continued in silence until Appa approached Ember Island at full speed. Tengu had Aang steer Appa into the clouds so that the assassins on the ground wouldn't see them coming. Once they were at a safe altitude the four sat in a circle on the saddle and began their planning.
"Okay so how do we get in there?" Aang asked after telling Appa to hover in the clouds.
"Why don't we go through the tunnel we used when we went in to save my family?" Zuko suggested.
"What tunnel?" Tengu asked confused.
"Ten years ago we got into the home base by a tunnel." Katara explained, "We found it in a house that was burned down by Nero."
"We could use it to get inside the base again." Aang said.
"Doubt it." Tengu said shaking his head while reaching into his pack, "By now they probably sealed it up." Tengu pulled two maps out and laid them flat on the saddle. One was of Ember Island's surface, and the other was of the base underground "Now there are several points of entry scattered throughout the island. To be honest it's a miracle you guys didn't get hopelessly lost the last time you were down there" Tengu with a slight smirk on his face. "The best point of entry would be either here or here." He pointed out two buildings, one was located in the slums and the other was in the theater district. "They have a recruiting outpost in the slums and they often use the theater district to disappear in crowds before they enter the base." Tengu moved to pull out three dark cloaks and full face masks from his pack. "You three can disguise yourselves and get into the base from the theater district."
"There are sure to be guards down there how do we get past them?" Zuko asked as Tengu reached into his robe. He pulled out a black lotus tile.
"Show them this," he said tossing the tile to Aang, "They'll let you in."
"What about you?" Katara asked.
"I'll be infiltrating from the slums," Tengu said as he clipped something to his wrists and ankles. "We'll meet up right here. You remember the arena right?" Tengu said pointing at a spot on the map of the base, "Then we'll work our way to the prison cells over here. Once we're there we'll free Toph and get out of there like a wolf-bat out of hell."
"How exactly are we getting out of there?" Katara asked.
"Leave that to me. Land Appa away from the theater district."
"Tengu." Aang said as Tengu stood in the saddle. "Don't let the Demon Bird take over."
Tengu looked at Aang and gave a small but sad smirk. "It's too late for that master. Godspeed my friends." With that Tengu leapt from Appa's saddle while Aang steered Appa towards a landing zone.
Lee woke up in his cell with a throbbing headache. Ever since he'd tried to break Toph out he'd become something of a punching bag for the other assassins. Not much he could do about either since he was strung up by his wrists with steel chains, with his feet cuffed together. Surprisingly Lee's least violent visitor was Gao, unfortunately he was also the most frequent.
Today however he was being visited by Nikki, who held some sympathy for the guy. The two said nothing for a short while as the guy who was supposed to feed Lee held up the morning gruel.
"You know this would probably be easier for all of us if my hands weren't chained up." Lee said as he did every time the food came. The food guy gave him a pity laugh before shoving the spoon into Lee's mouth. Lee swallowed the gruel with a gag, before calling after the food guy. "Give my compliments to the chef. Tell him to cut back on the shit next time."
"Is the food that bad?" Nikki asked.
"No, it's just fun to give them crap about it." Lee said while trying to shrug his shoulders, which is very hard to do when your arms are chained above your head. "Any way what do you want?"
"Mostly I want to know why?" Nikki asked leaning against the door. "Why did you try to get her out? The blind girl I mean."
"You know I'm not sure myself." Lee admitted, "I just felt this compelling feeling to get her out of here, no matter what happened to me. And I still feel as though if I don't get her out before it's too late... then I'll never be able to live with myself." Lee paused as he tried to find the right words before settling on, "I think I'm in love with her."
Nikki stared at Lee for a few moments before she stepped closer to him and whispered in his ear. "You'd better get her out of here quickly. Des is supposed to begin her torture later today." With that Nikki dropped something under Lee's cuffed feet and left. Lee smiled.
The Demon Bird Returns
Tengu stood amongst the crowds that walked throughout the streets of Ember Island's slums. He stood before a dark alley, the same alley he was in years before, the alley where the Demon Bird was born. Tengu smirked at the irony. Tengu walked into the center of the alley and knelt to the ground.
"Spirits of the air, Souls of those I've ended, Shianbou, Shuo, Master Kuen Yin, Sora, Master Aang, my lost brother and sisters, my beloved Xaomian and our child, Mother, Father. Forgive me for breaking my vows." Tengu prayed before he set his eyes on the entrance to the recruiting office. He walked into the office and cleared his throat before declaring, "If you don't want to die you better get the hell out!" Everyone turned to face Tengu and a couple gave him a condescending laugh. One assassin walked up to Tengu and placed a firm grip on his shoulder.
"Look buddy, we'll cut you some slack because that was a pretty funny. Now why don't you get out of here before we..." The assassin started, not noticing Tengu wave his fingers. Suddenly a small spray of blood shot out from the assassin's neck, before his entire head fell to the floor, followed by his headless body. The other assassins all immediately shot to their feet as the new recruits in the building raced past Tengu out the door. Tengu glared at the remaining assassins as air began to flow around him in a condensed sphere, causing his robes to flow with multiple currents distorting his image.
Tengu smirked as the assassin's backed away from him. True, Tengu's air sphere may be a shameless imitation of the one Aang was able to produce in the Avatar State and contained nowhere near the amount of destructive potential, it worked wonders for the intimidation factor. One of the assassins roared as she blasted fire at Tengu. Tengu countered with a blast of air that punched through the fire blast and turned into a blade of air moments before it reached the firebender. The other assassins watched in horror as the female assassin fell in two pieces.
"You're not afraid of the dark are you?" Tengu asked before he made his air sphere explode outward, extinguishing the candles lit around the room, drowning the room in darkness. The following moments were drowned in blood and screams as Tengu cut a bloody swathe through the assassins. After Tengu cut the last assassin down he reached into his robes and pulled out a torch. He lit the torch and searched for the entrance into the Home Base. Once he found it Tengu turned and faced the carnage he'd caused mere moments ago. A few days ago Tengu would've been disturbed by his actions, now he just wished their blood didn't have to stain his robe. Tengu tossed the torch back into the room and sealed the entrance as fire engulfed the building.
"Welcome home Demon Bird." Tengu whispered to himself as he entered the halls of Home Base. Tengu turned as he heard multiple assassins heading his way.
A Taste for Theatrics
Aang and his team stood outside the building Tengu said was the entrance to the Black Lotus base. Their faces were hidden by the hooded cloaks and masks Tengu had given them. With a feeling of apprehension hanging over all of them they entered the building.
"How may I help you three?" a man asked as he approached. His face brought instant revulsion to the three as their eyes adjusted to the dim, light of the room. He was scarred and covered in warts, his teeth were rotten and yellow from smoking too much, and his breath reeked of onion banana juice.
"We're here for the show." Zuko said while showing the hideous man the black lotus tile Tengu had given them. The man eyed the tile for a millisecond, before he turned to the other men and women in the room and nodded. Quickly and precisely the assassins moved the furniture to the sides as an earthbender opened the floor, revealing an entrance to the vast underground tunnels. The ugly man who'd met them at the door led them down the tunnels as the assassins resealed the entrance and reset the room.
"So you here to see the blind girl's interrogation?" the assassin asked as he started peeling off the warts on his face.
"You could say that." Katara said trying to sound as cold and uncaring as she could.
"We're actually taking part in it." Aang said, which in a matter of speaking was true.
"Really?" The assassin muffled as he removed his false teeth. "Isn't that interesting?" The assassin slowly reached for his belt, the movement was not missed by Aang or the others. "Because that's why my friends and I came here."
With that the assassin pulled a dagger from his belt and cut for Aang's throat. But the blade never made it. Zuko's hand was pulling out one of his swords and bringing it down on the assassin's outstretched arm. Before the assassin could react to losing his limb, Aang knocked him out with a compressed ball of air that he slammed against his face, which launched him into the wall. Before the assassin could fall to the ground Katara bended water from her pouch and froze him to the wall.
"Well that was a disturbing turn of events." Zuko said as he sheathed his blade and picked up the disembodied arm.
"We should probably hurry before his friends come down." Aang said, before they rushed down the tunnel. Using the map Tengu had given them the three worked their way to the arena where Zuko had dueled Nero ten years ago. The arena was empty as they waited for Tengu to show up. After about twenty minutes passed, Zuko's patience had run out.
"What's taking him so long?" he asked.
Almost as if to provide an answer several assassins ran passed the other side of the door. One of them said, "How can one man be causing so much trouble?"
"It's the Demon Bird you fool!" another assassin replied.
"Well I guess that answers that question." Aang said once the assassins were out of earshot.
"Well now what?" Zuko asked. "This wasn't part of the plan."
"Apparently the plan's been changed." Aang responded, "Why would Tengu cause this much attention to himself though?"
"Maybe Tengu's being a distraction so we can get to Toph easier." Katara suggested. The other's nodded briefly before they pulled out a map and quickly found the interrogation cells. Once they mapped out a route Aang brought down a wall and they raced off.
Reunion of Assassins
Ursa stared at the group of assassins who stood before her. They all moved cautiously as they approached the famed Lady of Death. The woman who was able to kill with only a scratch of her poisoned daggers. Ursa slowly unsheathed her dagger coated with two headed rat-viper poison. The assassins moved forward as Ursa rushed into the fray.
Ursa was quick and agile as she weaved through the assassins, slicing tendons and leaving seemingly harmless scratches. However the poison quickly spread through their bodies and paralyzed them before eventually killing them. As the last assassin dropped Ursa spun around as a new assassin attacked from behind. She was too slow and the assassin struck her across the face knocking her to the ground. Ursa looked up as the assassin brandished a large hammer and was about crush her skull. Before the assassin could finish his attack however Ursa drew her dagger coated with scorpion-snake venom and threw it into his heart. The assassin was dead before he even let go of his hammer. Ursa stood and removed the dagger from the assassin's chest. Carefully she wiped off the blood, taking great care not accidently cut herself.
"You've gotten much better." A voice from behind said. Acting on instinct Ursa spun while slashing, hoping to cut who spoke across the stomach. Her arm was caught however, and she found herself looking at the very man who'd first brought her to the Black Lotus so many years ago, Tengu.
"You ready for your daily beating Lee?" An assassin asked as he entered Lee's cell. His name was Shǒuwèi if Lee recalled correctly. Shǒuwèi pulled his fist back and punched Lee in the gut as hard as he could. Lee coughed as the air rushed out of his lungs, but once he caught his breath he started chuckling to himself.
"What's so funny traitor?" Shǒuwèi asked grabbing Lee by his hair and yanking his head up.
Lee looked up into Shǒuwèi's eyes and whispered, "I unlocked my feet." Shǒuwèi's eyes widened as Lee brought his feet up to his chest and kicked off the assassin as hard as he could. Shǒuwèi stumbled back as Lee swung backwards from his kick. Shǒuwèi pulled out a dagger and moved to stab Lee. Before Shǒuwèi could stab Lee however something grabbed his wrists in a firm vice grip. Shǒuwèi turned to face a large figure that seemed to be made completely out of rocks.
"How?" Shǒuwèi asked before the rock soldier punched the assassin in the face, breaking his nose and fracturing several points on his skull.
"You have no idea how hard it is to make and control one of these things while suspended in the air and only using your feet." Lee told the either unconscious or dead, Lee couldn't tell, assassin. With that Lee had his earth soldier pick up the key Nikki had dropped in the room and unlock his shackles. Lee dropped to the ground and rushed outside the prison cell.
"I'll get you out of here Toph." Lee panted as he raced towards the interrogation chamber. "No matter what. I'll save you."
Toph hung in her cell as she waited for the torture to begin. Des, Lu Ming, Lian, and Gao had all gathered in there as they waited for another group of assassin to arrive. Suddenly there was a loud rumbling sound, followed by a multitude of screams. Lu Ming scowled as he realized what was happening.
"Lian, you come with me." Lu Ming ordered as he headed towards the door, "Des you may begin. Gao..." he paused as he considered what he wanted the insane firebender to do, "Do whatever the hell you want." He finally decided.
Gao smiled as he kicked back in a seat and said, "I'll just enjoy the show."
Despite her situation Toph also smiled. Took you guys long enough. She said to herself.
My thanks tofor writing most of the first section.
For the collective works of the author, go here.