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|Spirits and Nightmares|
Warning: This chapter is rated PG-13 for potentially frightening scenarios!
Chapter 3: Spirits and Nightmares
Aang and Appa sped toward the North Pole; the Spirit Oasis would offer the best chance of finding and confronting Usha. He grimaced. I need to know what she saw...
Unfortunately, Appa couldn't travel at such a speed indefinitely, and that meant an overnight stay at a relatively large Earth Kingdom port town, situated between two branching rivers that led into the sea.
The innkeeper offered to let Aang stay the night for free due to his status, but the Avatar declined. "With my bison and I, even one night could cost you, sir. I'm prepared to pay, so, please, allow me to do so."
The man sighed. "Avatar Aang, you gave us hope where none existed before; this is the least I can do."
He smiled. "Sir, I insist. I imagine you have a family, so let me contribute to their livelihood."
The innkeeper chuckled. "Very well, Avatar, but only because you insisted."
"Why do you deprive yourself of a viable technique for battle?" The ethereal, dark voice rang in her ear. "You have a power that would be the envy of everyone, and yet you seek to hide it."
She shook her head. "No...Mom said to only use it in times of dire need!"
"Such a waste...you have talent but insist on allowing those who view themselves your betters walk all over you...sad really."
"N-no...that's not it...I-I'm scared of what I'll become if I use it."
Dark laughter rang in her ears. "You've already begun! Allow me to show you what is coming!"
She turned and noticed a mirror, and she gasped as she noticed one thing: the completely different person standing before her. Oh, sure, the being had the same facial features and hairstyle, but it was...wrong. She was pale, almost like a ghost, and her irises were red as blood.
"Do you see what I have in store? Embrace your heritage. Embrace the tempest."
Sora lurched up in her bed, shivering as a cold sweat formed on her face. She ran to the bathroom as her stomach lurched and rolled, and upon reaching the toilet, began to let loose the contents of the previous night's dinner.
Almost as soon as she stopped, Sora felt a hand on her shoulder. "Sora! Are you alright!?"
The Waterbender whirled around, only to find Tenzin standing there, concern and...another odd emotion etched into his expression.
"Sora...what...what happened?" He asked as he watched her eyes retake their sky blue color. They had been blood red. And his expression: it had been horror.
She just shook her head. The voice...it couldn't have meant—no. That...that's impossible...
"Sora...what happened?" Tenzin asked, this time with a little more force.
"Just something I ate." She looked up at him and managed a half smile. "I think that komodo chicken was undercooked."
Tenzin's expression grew grim. "Please, Sora...what is going on? I know you're lying; it wasn't the food."
Her eyes grew misty. "I...I don't know...the voice seemed to—."
Tenzin's heart sank as he watched his sister curl up into a ball. "It...I think it wanted me to...to Bloodbend..." And it showed me what I would become.
Tenzin offered a light-hearted grin, oblivious as to the exact nature of her dream, his only concern being his sister's demeanor. "Well, if a creepy voice told you to Bloodbend, it's probably not a good idea."
"You don't understand!" Sora cried. "It was trying to corrupt me!"
Tenzin shrank back. This has scared her...badly. "It's going to be alright." He put a hand on her shoulder. "Come on; let's get you back to your room."
As he escorted her back, she turned to him. "Please, Tenzin, don't tell anyone."
The Airbender frowned. "Sorry, but Mom at least needs to know."
Her eyes widened. "No! You can't tell anyone! Especially Mom!" She sat down on her bed. "It's not that big of a deal."
Tenzin turned to leave, glancing back at her as he spoke. "Anything that leaves you literally worried sick is cause for concern."
The cold meant one thing to Aang; he was close. His eyes narrowed. There would be hell to pay if Usha didn't answer his questions. The people of the Northern rose from their slumber to find the Avatar in their midst, and Chief Hahn was called to see to his needs.
"Avatar Aang," He bowed low. "What brings you back to our humble tribe?"
The Avatar's eyes narrowed. "I need to visit the Spirit Oasis. Now."
Hahn swallowed nervously. "Very well, I shall post guards there while you're meditating."
Losing his ability to bend was the one thing Aang hated about the Spirit World. It essentially made him a sitting duck, and considering that at least one powerful spirit wanted him dead...
"Hello, Avatar Aang." A young man, who looked to be in his early twenties, stood ten feet away. "Due to her recent pleasurable demeanor, I take it you're here to see Usha."
Aang raised an eyebrow, noticing the topknot and golden eyes. "Who are you?"
The man smiled. "I'm a...protector."
The Airbender sighed. "I'm really tired of getting the runaround, here. Either give me an answer or take me to Usha. Better yet, do both!"
The protector simply grinned. "Where's that Air Nomad calm and patience I keep hearing about?"
Aang exhaled angrily. "Now is not a good day to test me. Just respect my requests."
"Very well...this way, Avatar."
As they walked through the swamp-like domain, Aang mentally prepared himself as best he could. Usha will probably not attack me, but I don't know anything for sure. He glanced at the protector. Perhaps he is here for that purpose.
"You are wondering what my job entails, aren't you?" The man glanced at him.
"Yes, I am." He increased his step to match the golden-eyed man. "What, or who, is it that you protect?"
"I protect the spirits from each other and, on occasion, their guests."
"From each other?"
He chuckled. "Yes...the spirits can be...dysfunctional. And Usha's family is a source of great worry among the others, for obvious reasons."
Aang stopped. "Family? You mean there's more of them?"
"Well, you killed Koh, but she had two more sons. Otokami, spirit of sound, and his brother, Susanowo round out her merry brood."
The Avatar rolled his eyes. "Great...so I suppose they want to kill me as well."
The man shrugged. "Only if you prove yourself a threat to their power. Truth is...they kinda hate his near success."
"Am I to assume that they were the ones present at my trial?"
"Then why were they—?"
"Simple. They wished to remove you as a threat without physically killing you themselves, so they supported their mother's endeavor." He turned toward Aang. "Think about it. If you died, they would have at least 10-12 years to make their plans and pet projects a reality."
"So it's essentially one big power struggle." Aang said.
"Yep. And I'm smack dab in the middle..."
Aang cocked his head. "I'm sorry. That must be difficult."
The protector shrugged. "Eh...I've only had this job for about fifty years."
Sora devoured the ostrich horse egg the moment the servants set it before her. The sun had barely risen, and those servants were silently cursing the off hours at which these teenagers seemed to operate.
"That's quite an appetite for someone who just got over food poisoning." Tenzin leaned against the wall.
She glared at him. "Shut up, Tenzin."
Contrary to responding with an insult, Tenzin was concerned with getting to the root of the problem. "What's happened to you, Sora? First: your attitude during the fight was so unlike you, second: your little episode last night, and third: your outburst all have me worried."
His twin's eyes widened, but she quickly looked away. "I...I just haven't been feeling well, lately, and, well...you threatened to tell Mom about nothing..."
"Sora, your eyes were blood red!" Tenzin cried. "This has Spirit World written all over it! You know it; I know it. We have to tell Mom and Dad."
"But if Mom finds out that I used Bloodbending, she'll kill me..."
"I think she'll understand. In the meantime, please, don't Bloodbend anymore."
Sora looked away. "You don't have to worry about that, because I'm never using it again."
The darkness in Koh's tree hollow was unsettling, but the darkness in Usha's cave was absolutely soul-crushing. Odd atmosphere for the Spirit of Dawn...
"The darkness that you are currently bearing witness to is caused by her sons and her own turmoil. It isn't usually this bad."
Aang shook his head. "Are you a mind reader?"
"Ha! No, no...nothing that complex...I am simply adept at reading people. I always was."
Aang began to squirm. "How close are we?"
"We'll be entering their presence shortly. Use caution, Avatar; do not allow your emotions to control you."
The Airbender nodded and began to regulate his breathing. I can't let them rattle me. I have to maintain control.
The protector ushered him through the entryway, and upon his admittance, Usha stood.
"Welcome to my humble abode, Avatar Aang." She smiled, and the Avatar found it difficult not to remember what she had looked like on that night. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
Aang tried to take everything in with one glance. Usha stood in front of him, the armored one sat off near an ornate gilded table, upon which a feast sat, and the skeletal, pathetic mass sat in the corner, in the darkness.
"I'm here for answers Spirit of Dawn." He narrowed his eyes. "I will not leave until I have them."
Gareth shook his head. "No. I will not subject you to—!"
"You have no choice." Shira smirked. "That was our deal."
"We never agreed to anything!"
An infuriating shrug accompanied her response. "After your loss to those children, you need my help. Sun Loc has a concussion, and we both know Doma is weak."
"Not if he figures out the secret to whatever that Waterbender did to me." He cupped his wife's face in his hands. "Shira, please...do not insist like this. We have plenty of men going on this raid; Tao is even coming along, assuming he can get away from Toph Bei Fong."
"That's a big assumption..." She grinned. "You're going to need a competent Earthbender if he doesn't show."
The Firebender smiled warmly. "You are the best, most beautiful Earthbender I know."
"Then let us fight together, Gareth." The Earthbender wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him passionately on the lips.
He groaned in annoyance. "That is so far beyond cheating..."
She beamed. "I know."
Tenzin lay on Teela's back; he enjoyed the wind that whipped through the dragon—er...bison quarters. It calmed him. And after the night he'd been through, he needed calm.
He grinned and sat up. "Hey, Teela, let's go flying!"
A contented rumble emanated from the Sky Bison. "I'll take that as a 'yes'!"
The Airbender maneuvered the air currents under her saddle and lifted it onto her back, jumping from one side to the other as he strapped it down.
When all was said and done, he grabbed hold of the reins. "You ready for this, girl? It'll be a nice flight around the city, just the two of us."
Teela let out a loud, celebratory roar.
- I've slightly revised some of the requirements for Bloodbending. They will likely be revealed next chapter.
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