Chapter 3
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The Blue Spirit Returns!





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After her brother's disappearance, Kage goes looking for Je, thinking he might have some knowledge of Ken's whereabouts, when she is captured by Ibaru and his men who are also looking for Kensei after hearing about the breakout in the Catacombs. This looks like a job for the Blue Spirit!

Kage Alone

Kensei had never been gone three days in a row before. He should never have taken that stupid job-whatever it was. She would ask Je about it as soon as she got to the Lower Ring headquarters when he went off duty. If Kensei had been arrested, Je or one of the other guards would probably know about it. Kage didn't allow herself to imagine any other, less pleasant possibilities floating in the back of her mind.

The sky overhead burned with the late afternoon sun and all of the buildings and people thronging around the girl seemed to be looming up out of the heat to ensnare her. Kage decided she was feeling a bit faint and so she stopped to lean against a wooden support of a nearby awning to rest. The guard station where Je was posted was at a nearby intersection.

"Hey there, girly-girl-haven't seen your brother around lately, have you?"

Kageshiko glanced up and came face to face with a towering man grinning down at her with a rotten smile. "Yao," she said, trying not to gag from the big man's bad breath, "What did you do with my brother?"

Yao knelt down until his face was level with the girl's. "Why don't you leave the questions to me, huh?" he said, all but spitting the words out into her face, "Now I'm going to ask you again; when was the last time you saw your brother?"

Kage glanced over at the guard station. Je! She could see him approaching the intersection! If she could just stall Ibaru's henchman for a little more-

Yao grabbed the girl, yanking her off the ground by her mop of brown hair, covering her mouth before she could cry out and dragged her into a dusty alleyway, out of sight of the guards. "Look at me when I'm talking to you," he hissed so that passersby couldn't hear them. "Now, are you going to tell me where Ken is or am I going to have to put you in a time out?"

"Get off of me, you big creep!" Kage screamed, "I haven't seen Ken in three days! Probably that stupid job you put him up to got him taken away by the Dai Li! This is all your fault!"

Yao raised an eyebrow, "The Dai Li huh?" he said, "Let me tell you something, kid, my boss has it on very good authority that the Dai Li let your brother escape-and if I was him, my family would be the first people I'd try to contact." Kage struggled in Yao's grip. "You don't even know the meaning of the word 'family'," she said, "Besides, Ken knows better than that-he's not stupid like you are!"

Yao gave a cry of fury, but before he could act, a shadow fell across him from the end open end of the alleyway.

"Is there a problem here?" said Je, getting into a fighting stance.

"Je!" Kage shouted.

Yao gave another cry and slammed his great fist into the ground, raising a barrier between them and Je. With that, the big man tossed the girl over his massive shoulder and took off running, quickly ducking the first corner he could find.

But by the time Je and the other guards made to head the big man off, he was nowhere to be found.

Je's Search

"So, first a street-thief disappears and then his sister goes missing." Lord Huei set down Je's report on his desk, "and for some reason, you think that this information is important enough to alert the Head of the Dai Li, is that correct?"

Je gripped his hands in his lap, trying to control his frustration. "Sir," he began, "A young girl was kidnapped in broad daylight-I was there when it happened."

Huei cocked his head to the side. Unlike his cousin, the Earth King, Huei could be difficult to read at the best of times. As a Dai Li, his life hadn't been as sheltered or glamorous, he had been raised to accept and deal with all of the danger and power and responsibility that came with being an Earth Kingdom noble and an Earthbender at that. As such, Huei had in a short time become one of the most dangerous and respected men in Ba Sing Se after the fall of Long Feng. Using his connection to the Royal Family, he had been able to almost single-handedly reform the Dai-Li under his leadership, rooting out corruption wherever he found it. The past few weeks, in fact, had been particularly trying for Lord Huei and he didn't have time to deal with simple kidnappings.

"Look, Je," he said finally, even though he was in his early twenties, the lines in his face suddenly made him seem many years older, "At this moment you are one of the most promising young officers in the city guard,"

Je bowed. "Thank you, sir," he said, "I-"

Huei held up his hand for silence, "I'm not finished," he said, "while your future career is a promising one, I can't help but wonder if you are putting your personal loyalties ahead of those to Ba Sing Se."

The young guard blinked. "I'm not sure I understand."

"I think that you do, Je," said Lord Huei, "and while I admire your sense of duty to your friends, I must remind you that my predecessor became a prime example of what happens when someone in a position of power puts their personal interests before the city."

"With all due respect, sir," said Je, "My duty is to the people of the Lower Ring-whom I was assigned as a city guard to protect-regardless of whether or not they are my friends."

Huei allowed himself a twitch of a smile. "A wise answer," he said, "please continue."

"More importantly," said Je, "I believe that this kidnapping is connected to a gang of street thugs we've been clashing with for the past couple of months, but my captain won't give me the men or the resources for a full-scale investigation."

The Head of the Dai Li nodded. "I see," he said, "And so you ignored the chain of command and came directly to me."

Je nodded. "If I wasn't confident about this, I wouldn't be here right now, sir."

Huei considered the request for a moment, then answered. "Very well," he said, "I will transfer some additional men to your command, although if this investigation falls through, I can assure you there will be consequences."

"Understood," said Je with a bow, "thank you, sir."

The Blue Spirit vs. The Bonebender

"I've got a splinter!" Kage screamed through the wooden bars of her cage, "Is someone going to get it out for me, or what?"

Yao gave the wooden cage a swift kick that nearly upended it along with Kage inside. "Shut up, or I'll give you something to scream about!" he shouted back, "How's a guy supposed to get any sleep around here?"

Kage crossed her arms and stuck her tongue out at the big bearded man, who gave her a nasty grin.

Kage brought her knees up to her chest and turned to the back of the cage so that she wouldn't have to look at her jailer's disgusting teeth and beard. Barring a miracle, there was no way that she was going to escape from the hideout. For one thing, every single surface in the hideout appeared to be wood, metal or some kind of non-earthen material. And even if she did manage to free herself, she had absolutely no idea where she was in relation to the rest of the city. The only thing that gave her any sense of hope was what Yao had said earlier about her brother escaping from the Dai Li.

"Stupid Ken," Kage kicked the wall of her cage, "How could you just leave me like this?"

"Hiya, folks!" Kage turned to the sound of a metal door grinding open at the far end of the room, where she could see the all-too familiar frame of Boss Ibaru illuminated by the dim torch lamps hanging throughout the chamber. The fat man's grin was even uglier than Yao's when he saw the girl. "Well, what do have here," he said, "This your new pet or something, Yao? You know we have strict 'no pets' policy. I hate animals."

"I'm not a pet!" Kage barked, "Let me out of here!"

Ibaru grinned. "That can be arranged, kid," he said, "You just have to tell us where to find that brother of yours and you're free as a bird."

Kage rolled her eyes. "I don't know where he is," she said, glancing at Yao, "I've already told him that."

"So why don't I believe you?" said Yao, getting up off his stool.

"It doesn't matter," said Ibaru, "Soon as Ken finds out we have his kid sister, he'll come charging in head first to save you. Now we just have to wait for Knife to get back from the cabbage merchant and-"

All at once, the floor erupted in a shower of splinters and a rain of wood as something leapt into the room from below. Although human, he was completely covered in what first appeared to be some sort of bone-white armor with wicked spines protruding every which way. On closer inspection, however, it was clear that the armor was actually a part of the man's body-encasing his flesh in a plated exoskeleton. The skin near the joints that wasn't covered by bone plating or ragged cloth appeared to have been badly mutilated or diseased, although it was difficult to tell in the hideout's the poor lighting.

"W-w-who are you?" Ibaru said, leaping behind Yao for protection.

The intruder's joints clicked and clacked with each movement as he approached the three. "I have come for the box-as promised."

"Oh!" said Ibaru, shaking, "The box. Well, you see, the thing is we don't actually have the box."

"B-but we know where to get it," Yao volunteered, holding up Kageshiko's cage.

"The child has it?" said the stranger, incredulous.

"She knows where it is!" said Ibaru, "But we just can't get her to tell us."

"In that case you have served your purpose," said the stranger, extending the bone-spikes from his hands. "Die."

Before anyone could react, however, a flash of steel went spinning past Ibaru and the others like a whirlwind, cutting the top off of Kage's cage and stuck into the far wall.

"Ken?" Kage whispered.

Ibaru paled. "H-holy smokes," he said, pointing up to the rafters, "It's the Blue Spirit!"

Sure enough, the ethereal avenger himself was poised on one of the support beams near the ceiling, nearly invisible except for his mask, which seemed to glow with menace.

The skeletal stranger never hesitated. "Die!" he screamed, letting loose a barrage of bone-spines from all up his left arm. The Blue Spirit dodged the missiles at the last possible moment, leaping from his perch and landing squarely on Yao's enormous belly like a giant cushion, crushing Ibaru underneath.

"Get off me, you big galoot!" the diminutive gang boss crawled out from underneath the big man, "I want the Blue Spirit's head!"

Yao got to his feet just as the Blue Spirit danced away to retrieve his weapon and face the skeleton man, turning in time to see Ibaru heading towards the door of the chamber. "Where are you going, boss?" he said.

"Don't worry about me," said Ibaru, not watching where he was going, "I'm just going to-" At once the fat man ran head first into Je and a full complement of the city guard.

"-Leave?" Je finished for him.

Ibaru's head spun between the battle between the Blue Spirit and his skeletal foe to Je, "How did you get here?"

Je grinned, "Let's just say I persuaded a little bird to give me directions," he said, "A little bird with a long knife."

The gang boss slapped his face. "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!"

"I want the girl found and everyone else in this place arrested!" Je cried. His men leapt into action and seized the thieves before they could make a run for it while the others turned their attentions to the armored man and the Blue Spirit who were battling it out on top of a stack of crates.

"Je!" Kage came running towards him and his men as they surrounded the base of the box pile, ready to arrest both of the combatants.

"Get her to safety," said Je to one of his men.

"No, wait," said Kage as a guard scooped her up into his arms, "What about the box?"

Je didn't hear her. "We have both of you surrounded," he called up to the combatants, "You're both under arrest by order of the city guard!"

"Fools!" the skeleton man hissed, firing a salvo of bone-spikes into their midst. But just as he was about to fire, the Blue Spirit tackled him, causing him to missing and sending them both tumbling into the darkness at the edge of the room, disappearing from view.

Je let out a frustrated snarl. "They can't have gotten far-I want them both found by the end of the night," he said to the baffled guards, "Get moving!"


"Wake up!" Kensei felt another blow land on his aching chest, "Wake up you stupid sleepyhead! I've been worried sick about you for over three days!"

Kensei tried to rise to a sitting position and opened his eyes, then immediately shut them again. He had slept in late, it was almost noon outside of their hovel. Kageshiko was sitting on his chest, glaring at him. "Finally," she said, "I thought you were going to sleep all day."

"Get off of me," Kensei said weakly, covering his face with his hands.

"No," said Kage, "Not until you tell me where you've been for the last three days."

Kensei rifled his hair out of his face and opened his eyes again. "It was a bad job-Dai Li showed up so I had to split and lay low for awhile," he said, "I'm sorry I worried you, but I couldn't risk trying to make contact."

Kageshiko stepped off of her brother's chest, but she was still glaring at him with folded arms. "Well while you were having your little vacation," said Kage, "I was kidnapped, knocked out and put in a wooden cage until I was full of splinters!"

Kensei sat up and began massaging his shoulder. "Sounds like you had a lot more exciting time than I did," he said, "So what happened then?"

"You don't seem very concerned that your gang kidnapped me to get to you," said his sister.

Kensei scratched his head. "Well, you're here now, aren't you, so obviously you're okay."

"No thanks to you," said his sister, "If the Blue Spirit hadn't shown up, I don't know what I would have happened. By the way, he's ten times better with dual swords than you."

Noises from his stomach made him realize suddenly how hungry he was. Before he could say anything, Kage handed him half a sandwich.

"Here," she said, "When I told Jon about you this morning, he gave me the morning off and a sandwich, but I've got to get back pretty soon though before the lunch rush."

She rose to go, but Ken touched her arm. "Wait," he said, "Thank you."

"No problem," said Kageshiko, rolling her eyes, "Wouldn't want my brother to go hungry."

"Not that," Ken shook his head, "I know it's been difficult lately, with the kind of stuff I've been up to lately with Ibaru's gang."

Kage sighed. "No kidding."

"But I want to make it up to you," said Ken, "From here on out, I'm going straight-no more stealing or robbing or anything like that. Soon as I can find an honest job-" he stopped when he noticed Kage staring at him suspiciously, "What?"

"Are you feeling okay, brother?" she said.

"I'm fine," said Kensei, "Really. Now go make some sandwiches."

Kage shot him a sidelong glance and then disappeared down the ladder.

Kensei watched his sister go from the top story window. Just before she got around the corner, she turned back and gave him a smile and a wave. Kensei returned the wave and smiled back, glancing over at the loose brick at the corner of the room where he had hidden the mask after sneaking in the previous night while his sister slept-the mask of the Blue Spirit.

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