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Book 2: Sound
Chapter 1: Restructuring Priorities
Argho ran through the corridors, searching for Shen and Moro while Kuan Ti supplied them with a way off of the airship. It was coming down.
The Avatar knew that Susanowo had to be stopped, but his allies needed his help. He had thought about it for a few moments; there were other people on this vessel. But they are Susanowo's puppets...this is necessary. I can only hope they survive...
With that thought, he made his decision. He brought his arms up as his eyes glowed, and he chopped downward. The metal shrieked as it ripped down the entirety of the Blood Moon, and warning sirens began to blare.
His mind moved back to the present; there would be time for regret later. A plaza-like area opened to him as he reached the end of the hallway, and it was there he found Shen, along with about a dozen other unconscious bodies. The blood that was plastered on the wall as well as that which pooled on the floor was not lost on Argho.
"Shen!" He rushed over to his friend's side and began to reach for the icicle planted in the Airbender's stomach, but a hand gripped his.
"No...if...if you remove it...I'll bleed out..." Shen grimaced, his pale face made more so by the blood loss; sweat trickled down his forehead.
"I'm relieved, if not a bit surprised, that you haven't already." He closed his eyes. "Did Moro...?"
The young man's features morphed in pain. "She's not...herself..." He whirled his hands around the spike in his midsection, allowing the air currents to move around it. "I...was able to...to keep cold air circulating around it...so...it wouldn't melt as fast..."
"We have to remove it."
The wounded bender shook his head. "If you do that, I'll die..." He coughed, and flecks of blood sprayed out of his mouth.
"You'll die if we don't." Argho reached for the icicle again. "There is a way, but it will be the most painful thing you've ever experienced."
Shen managed a smirk. "Maybe physically..." He winced. "I know it needs to be done; do it, Argho..."
The Avatar nodded, and fire surrounded his palm, the flames licking away. He moved his other hand and gripped the spike, causing Shen to grit his teeth, and followed by pulling it out slowly. What came next, though, caused Shen to scream as Argho pressed his flaming palm against the bleeding wound, cauterizing it.
The Airbender passed out.
"Another Airbender!" Gyatso grinned as the child sent a gust of wind out from his palm. "I didn't think we would get this lucky, my darling!"
Ula, his wife, smiled back at him as they both observed the boy, who gleefully continued to experiment with his newly discovered abilities. "How is it that our people have been so blessed?"
The child turned to face them, a massive grin spanning his face as his black hair flowed with the very winds he was controlling. "Mommy! Daddy! Look what I can do!"
"That's wonderful, Shen! You're an Airbender, just like your daddy and I!"
The young boy jumped into his father's arms and, in his excitement, accidentally sent a slight flurry of air against his father's face, ruffling the man's beard.
"Shen...don't Airbend your father." Ula chided with a slight smirk.
"Ula, this is wonderful! Four years old and already he has proven himself an adept at it!" Gyatso held the boy up in the air. "You have already made me so proud!"
Shen would've bolted upright, but a burning pain shattered the fog of his semi-consciousness. He remembered the icicle; that part was impossible to forget. However, what came next was blur, at best.
"Moro..." The Airbender took note of the bandages wrapped around his midsection and the splotches that dotted those bandages.
"Miss Kenshi's fate is tragic, to be sure, but I must speak with you about something far more important." The figure had escaped Shen's notice before, but a man with golden eyes sat in a chair in the corner of the room.
The Airbender glanced around. "Where am I?"
"You are on a boat that will take all of us to the Earth Kingdom."
"And who are you?"
The man folded his hands. "I am merely a protector...my name would mean nothing to you."
Shen attempted to stand, pain and nausea spiking through him. "The Earth Kingdom...? But we can't just leave her..." His eyes narrowed. "Where's Argho?"
"I am sorry. Argho is preoccupied, and I cannot see us going back for someone who clearly has no desire to be saved when so much more is on the line."
"Who...who are you to judge who's worth saving!" Shen stood and immediately regretted that decision, nearly collapsing as vertigo overtook him.
"Airbender, I would ask that you quiet yourself." The Protector got up out of his chair. "She betrayed all of you; she is too far gone. Now I ask that you focus on the task at hand."
The young man hung his head. Too far gone... "What exactly is the task at hand?"
"I need to know everything about the Air Nation, Shen."
His stomach began to turn. So the time has come for this, then. "I'll only tell you what you want to know with Argho and Kuan Ti present."
"Very well." He motioned toward the door. "Lead the way."
Shen smirked. "You do know that I have no clue where I'm going, right?"
The Protector blinked several times. "Right. I'll lead then."
The smoking wreckage of the Blood Moon lay as a blight in the snow, and the very sight of it caused Susanowo's blood to boil.
"He destroyed my plans! Dozens upon dozens of my best Bloodbenders and warriors are dead because of Argho!"
"Maybe you shouldn't have made the Avatar angry, Susanowo." Moro glared at the spirit. "Just a thought."
"When addressing me..." The Spirit of Tempests turned toward her. "You will call me Lord Susanowo!"
"Sorry," the Bloodbender almost snarled. "I'm still not your puppet."
"But you will do what I say because I hold the key to your allegiance, and soon you will come to see the rightness of our cause."
She raised an eyebrow. "Our cause? Sorry, I don't subscribe to this willingly."
Susanowo smiled. "And yet you killed Shen...they would never accept you back now. You have cut off the only other group that would accept you, and you stabbed the one who cared about you the most."
She looked away. "He's not dead...he isn't!"
"Then what is this?" The spirit held up a tattered white cloak with blood stains covering it.
"No..." She stepped back. "I didn't...I didn't want this..." Shen can't be dead! No...calm down, Moro; Susanowo would've shown you a body if Shen were dead. I...I have to make things right...but not until I can get Kyrie out of this!
"Get used to it." He turned away. "We're all that's left for you, Moro Kenshi. And now that this phase is shot—he even managed to take two of the biplanes—we must move to Phase Two, but it will take some time."
Moro narrowed her eyes; she would set things right...somehow. "Yes, Lord Susanowo."
"Finally!" Kuan Ti raised his hands in exultation. "I get to learn something about the mysterious Shen!"
"Don't get too excited..." Put on the spot, the Airbender ran his hand through his hair. "You might not like what I have to tell you."
"Go ahead, Shen." Argho ushered him forward. "Lu Ten is the Protector of the Spirit World; you can trust him."
"Fine..." I had hoped to avoid this. "I grew up in the rebuilt Southern Air Temple, a member of the Air Nomads. Everyone in my generation, as well as the two predating it, is an Airbender thanks to the intervention of a spirit named Otokami, or so he claims. He came to us about five years ago, and was welcomed as our patron. Through the Council of Elders, he spoke about the way he allowed all Air Acolyte children, even those whose parents were non-benders, to have the skill he created."
"How many Airbenders are there now?" The Equalist asked.
Shen scratched his head for a moment. "If I remember correctly, there are seven-hundred at the Southern temple, nine-hundred at the Northern Temple, six-hundred at the Western Temple, and four-hundred at the Eastern Temple. And our numbers grow every day as more acolytes come; Otokami blesses them with Airbending if they pass whatever test he gives them."
"Where is he now? Otokami, I mean." Lu Ten folded his arms. "Which temple has he made his home at?"
"Why do you need to know, Protector? What has he done?"
"You would protect him?!"
The Airbender shook his head. "You have no idea what you're dealing with, do you?"
"Of course I do! I'm starting to think you don't!"
"Well...here's my answer: I wouldn't protect that monster. In fact, if he provided an opportunity, I would gladly see him put down!"
Kuan Ti chuckled. "Not very Air Nomad..."
Lu Ten narrowed his eyes. "Enough! Allow me to enlighten you as to our situation, Airbender. In the recon I've been doing on behalf of the spirits, I found out something about your precious Air Nation."
Shen scoffed. "Save it, Protector...I already know what they're planning...that's why I came to Argho in the first place."
"Is that true, Avatar?"
Argho nodded. "It is; he was completely honest with me from the beginning."
"Wait..." The non-bender rubbed his temples. "What is going on?!"
"The nightmare scenario..." The spirit frowned. "Otokami is raising an army to attack the Fire Nation."
"I can't believe it...Air Nomads would go along with this?!" Kuan Ti gritted his teeth before facing Shen. Lu Ten had provided a grim picture. "I'm sorry for trying to...well...had I known..."
"It's not a problem..." Shen grimaced as another fiery bout of pain shot through his stomach. "Nice healing job, Argho..."
The Avatar closed his eyes. "What can you tell me about Otokami, Protector?"
"Nothing. I was never authorized to give out that information."
"Then how are we supposed to prepare for an enemy we know nothing about?"
The spirit stood. "I am needed elsewhere; the spirits have other business for me to attend to. If you have questions..." He let out a breath. "Ask Avatar Aang; he can and will tell you what you need to know." The Protector laid a hand on Shen's shoulder. "I am sorry for my attitude earlier...about everything. A word of advice...you cannot bring her back."
A snort came from the Airbender. "And that's supposed to make me feel better?"
Lu Ten cocked his head. "Trust her."
A flash of light signaled his departure, and all of Team Avatar let out held breaths. The Protector was gone, and his burdens with him. They stayed silent for a while, each contemplating his own fate.
The first to speak again was the Equalist. "Now what?"
"Now...I must meditate...maybe Aang can tell me something useful." He shook his head, a small smile appearing on his face. "Why is the Spirit World never clear?"
Shen sat in his bunk as they waves rocked the boat ever so slightly. It would be a long road home, and he wasn't sure he would like what awaited him there.
"You cannot bring her back..." Twice now, Shen had abandoned someone close to him to a vengeful spirit, and he would fight twice as hard to set it all right.
One thing was certain, Lu Ten knew so much more than the team did, with Shen being the exception. But this development told the young man that something was very wrong.
Very wrong indeed.
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