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|Surveying the Board|
Chapter 2: Surveying the Board
Yoriko's bright brown eyes widened. "The...the Avatar?" She tapped her index fingers together. "No, no, no...I can't be the Avatar."
"I'm really sorry about your parents, but that doesn't change who you are," Karuta said as he stood.
"They..." she sniffled. "I didn't get to say goodbye. Why did they have to die?"
"Because some spirits live only to take away what others have," Lyre knelt down and lifted her chin, all the while sparing a short glance at Karuta. "C'mon; let's get you cleaned up."
Yoriko glanced up at her. "O-okay."
As the Waterbender ushered the young girl to one of the other rooms, Karuta looked after them and sighed. "And some of us didn't have a choice."
Sukan watched the Waterbender lead the young Avatar off, and she felt more out-of-place than ever.
"What about me?" Her hand brushed against the pistol in its holster, an absent-minded gesture. "When do I get my answers?"
The armored man glanced at Hizumi, who shrugged. "I suppose it's only fair to give you the information you seek, within reason," she replied as Karuta moved toward one of the rooms.
"Fine, let's start with what you guys are. Is this some kind of spirit-hunting group?"
"You could say that," Hizumi replied. "We're more the keepers of balance and aids to the Avatar in their mission than anything. If that involves dealing with malevolent spirits, so be it."
The officer glanced around at the disparate assortment of individuals and frowned. "So, what do you call yourselves?"
"That's not really something I can discuss with you."
Sukan raised an eyebrow. "Why not? While you did save me, you interfered in official police business."
Hizumi smiled sadly. "When it involves the spirit that killed the previous Avatar, I'm not certain that the police, good as you may be, are equipped to handle it."
A moment of silence passed as Sukan pondered the significance of the older woman's words. "So, this spirit was responsible for Avatar Argho's death, and now he's going after the girl? If she is the new Avatar, we need to protect her at all costs."
"Forgive me for being forward, but we were planning on protecting her regardless of who she was. Anyone Izanagi targets deserves that much."
The officer frowned. "That's not what I meant. She needs police protection, or maybe military intervention."
Both women turned as Yari approached them with a bottle of fire brandy in his hand. "And you think that such force would slow Izanagi down?" He punctuated his question with a quick swig from the bottle.
"You seem to think it can be done with bending and swords, if I'm not mistaken," she replied tersely. "Enough firepower and we can—"
"Die together, as you know nothing of how powerful he is, not that it's your fault."
Hizumi sighed. "Yes, our methods might be a tad archaic, but when we run the risk of getting dragged into the Spirit World by our opponents—where bending is no longer possible—a blade is often the way to even things out."
Sukan narrowed her eyes. "Alright, let's say I take everything you've said at face value, what is your assessment of Izanagi? And, more importantly, why does he want the Avatar dead?"
"He's the Spirit of Chaos, and if he wants the Avatar dead, it's likely for some plan or scheme that we'll need to combat," Hizumi replied.
"And given that he's easily evaded or bested us both times we've faced him," Yari began, "this could be tough."
"Do you and your team have a plan?" The officer asked.
"We have an asset," the older woman replied.
"I was not expecting you to come here," the owl spirit said as he cocked his head. "It's been over ten millennia since last we spoke, old friend."
Izanagi smiled warmly. "To be fair, I've been gone for a long time, locked away."
"By one who seeks to use humans, despite their unreliability," Wan Shi Tong scoffed.
"Now, now, Shikatsu must have his reasons, seeing as humans have prevented the balance from being upset fairly well. At any rate, I need to know if you can help me with something."
The Knowledge Spirit shuffled his feet. "What can I do for you?"
"I need to know the name of the current Spirit of Chaos. He has some of my power; I want it back. I'd hoped that the death of the Avatar might provide me with time to find them on my own, but that seems to have backfired hilariously. Now I have humans after me."
Wan Shi Tong chuckled. "You never were one for plans. Even still, I can tell you who your replacement is, a spirit named—"
The clapping of boots against the ground turned both spirits toward the entrance. "You always did look down on us humans, Wan Shi Tong," A young man with jet black hair and golden eyes said as he stood in the doorway to the library. "Unfortunately, as the Spirit of Dawn, I'm taking matters into my own hands. Izanagi, you will submit here and now for attempting to sabotage the balance of the world, and—"
"You have no idea what you're asking, young one," Izanagi replied as he took a step toward Lu Ten. "I know what balance is and how to keep it, even more than you."
Yoriko sniffled as she clutched onto Lyre's hand tightly. The young girl glanced around as they walked toward the washroom.
"Who...who are you guys?"
The Waterbender smiled at her. "Promise you can keep a secret?"
"Well, we'd have found you and told you at some point anyway. We're the Order of the White Lotus."
"Oh...I...I don't know what that is..."
Lyre shrugged. "It doesn't really matter right now. All you need to know is that we'll protect you."
Yoriko brushed at the tears under her gold eyes with the heels of her hands. Her teeth wrapped around her lower lip.
"Listen, Yoriko," the Waterbender began as she knelt down beside her, "I—" She hesitated as she stared at the girl before her.
The young girl broke down in that moment, and tears fell freely. As her shoulders heaved, an odd sound came from her lips. It was like a short, strangled yelp. Lyre raised an eyebrow. Seconds later, a repeat of the same noise came again. This time, Yoriko's shoulders jumped.
"Are you—?" The Waterbender began to ask before realizing what it was.
She's got...the hiccups?
They came quickly, one after another. As she sobbed and hiccupped at the same time, Lyre wanted to smile, but the girl's predicament prevented her from doing so. Instead, she took part of her blue cloak and used it to dry her tears.
As the young Avatar continued to alternate between sobbing and the hiccups, Lyre just sat down next to her, willing to wait until Yoriko's sobs finally subsided.
"What kind of asset?" Sukan asked. "While you did save lives, this spirit still seems to hold all the tiles. Look, I understand what you're trying to do, and I get that you do it pretty well—"
Hizumi leaned on her steepled hands, and a few strands of her brown hair slipped from their place and fell over her face. "You don't think that we can handle Izanagi."
"I just don't see what you could have that puts you on his level. Personally," the officer inhaled before continuing, "I'm inclined to get the proper authorities involved, especially since the new Avatar has been revealed."
"It's interesting, Officer Sukan, that you would so readily accept Karuta's pronouncement."
Sukan scanned the woman's face for any sign of emotion, any betrayal of what she really felt about her questions, but unlike most people she questioned, Hizumi offered nothing.
"Well, there has to be some reason that Izanagi would go to the trouble of attempting to kill her." Her heart sank as doubt crept into her mind. "Right?" She hadn't considered until that moment that the spirit might be killing for kicks.
"That's an accurate assessment, given that he seemed to care about some twisted form of spiritual balance when he killed Argho."
She breathed an inward sigh of relief; at least she might be able to establish a pattern and prepare for further encounters. "Alright, so what about this asset of yours?"
Hizumi shook her head. "Sorry, that's all you get from me for now. I'm not a foolish woman, Officer Sukan. I know that you intend to deliver a full report, to the best of your ability, when this is over."
Sukan's heart stopped; the woman knew the entire time! "So, when can I expect to be able to leave?"
"You can walk out the door right now, if you want," the middle-aged woman replied with a small smile. "Honestly, though, it would help to get to know some of us; you might reach an understanding as to why and how we do what we do."
"I might just do that. My curiosity isn't quite sated yet."
The armor felt like a second skin, despite its relative thickness. Spines protruded from his helmet, pauldrons, and knees. Karuta breathed slowly and lightly as he held his blade at an angle. With a blindingly swift lunge, he lodged the sharp weapon into the chest of the dummy, just slightly left of center.
"Fireflakes!" He cried out as he pulled the blade from the dummy.
I have the speed and timing, but I can't seem to hit the stupid thing in the correct spot! He frowned, though any observers wouldn't have been able to see it beneath the mask he wore. I can't let them down. Not...
He shook his head and whirled around, catching the dummy with a strike to the left collarbone. The sword buried itself deeply in its chest, ensuring a kill shot as the heart was cut in two.
"Two strikes, five seconds," Karuta moved over to the far wall and slid down to the floor. "Sloppy..."
"I'm not looking to be a fighter, Lyre; I want to study this stuff."
He gritted his teeth. "Get outta my head..."
Karuta twirled the blade in his hand in order to occupy his thoughts, muddled as they were.
"If anyone's got a shot at stopping Izanagi, it's gonna be me. It has to be me."
Fire licked at the bookshelves, mere inches away from them. Thousands of scrolls and tomes were only protected by a powerful energy barrier. Scorch marks covered the floor of the library, and even Wan Shi Tong had to observe the conflagration from the upper levels to avoid incineration.
Izanagi breathed heavily as he gripped the collar of Lu Ten's tunic, preventing the Spirit of Dawn's head from touching the floor. As it was, Izanagi was struggling to stay conscious. As the Knowledge Spirit descended, Izanagi let the unconscious body of Lu Ten drop to the floor.
"That was truly a spectacle," the owl spirit said as he cocked his head and glanced down at the defeated party.
"That...was nothing," Izanagi replied with a rasping voice. "...compared to Shikatsu or Karuta."
Wan Shi Tong cleared his throat. "I feel I must apologize; if you hadn't had to use your power to shield my books—"
The red-cloaked spirit turned to face the owl, causing the latter to jerk back.
Izanagi meant to wave him off, but that gesture was interrupted by a fit of coughing. "It's nothing. Once I've taken my power back, this will be nothing to me. Speaking of..."
"Yes, of course. The name you're looking for is Lin Quei."
"Lin Quei...seems familiar, but I can't place it." He shrugged, which led to another coughing fit. "Not...that I even care who he is. Damn...these injuries. I'm going to have to rest if I don't want to end up losing due to pain and exhaustion. That'd be a stupid way to go." The spirit glanced at Lu Ten as he turned to leave. "Don't do anything with him; you don't need to face the council's wrath."
Wan Shi Tong blinked several times. "If you want, I could point you in the direction of an ally."
Izanagi stopped dead. "Who?"
"Rakudo," the bird replied.
- Fireflakes is my Avatarverse approximation for a word like "fudge." It's used in this instance as a euphemism.
- This chapter was a tad shorter than I hoped, but I really couldn't add anything that wouldn't have been fluff. :/
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