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|Survival of the Luckiest|
Book 2: Sound
Chapter 9: Survival of the Luckiest
Gaoling was a hotbed of activity, partially due to the incredibly wealthy Beifong family. All commerce moved through Fen Beifong and his family, making Gaoling a wealthy merchant town. It was once a small village beneath a mountain, but not anymore. The Fire Nation no longer had any reason to send patrols through the area, now that "the Ghost Witch of the Mountain" was gone.
A woman wandered around the market, examining the produce and meats offered. No one questioned or interrogated her; she had lived in the city for two years now. The butcher smiled as she stepped into his shop.
"What'll it be today, Malu?"
She pursed her lips. "Hmm... I think I'll go with fox antelope today, Ling. They're fresh cuts, right?"
The man shot her a glance. "Always! You know my guarantee!"
"Yes... just checking." Malu smirked. "Can't be too careful; I don't want to get sick."
"Now, I can't believe you would even insinuate something like that! Not only would it damage my reputation, but it would cause harm to a friend of mine! I make sure that my customers, regardless of who they are, get the best!"
"Calm down, Ling. I was only joking."
He offered a small smile. "I wasn't."
Bright light assaulted Shen's vision as he slowly opened his eyes. His head throbbed, and it felt like a massive weight had been placed on his chest. He could hardly move.
What... where am I? What was that... a dream?
"Shen... you're awake." The Airbender craned his neck to see the Avatar standing against the doorframe of the small white room he was in. "You had us all worried; the doctor said that your fever would break soon, but that won't be for a while, at this rate."
"Fever...?" His voice was slight and weak. "What... what's going...?"
"Slow down. With the infection from your wound and the stress, you're in no condition to be doing anything."
Shen gingerly laid his head back on the pillow. "Wound..." A cold spike of pain broke in his stomach, but his addled mind was able to piece together that it was merely a memory. Even still, sweat rolled down his face, and his breathing became labored.
Argho frowned. "They administered medicine an hour ago. You need rest."
"But... the attack..."
Despite the situation, Argho chuckled. "There is no way that you're getting involved, even if they were to attack today. I feel I have lingered too long, as it is; I will leave you to your rest."
The young man's only reply was a knowing look; he did not have the strength to nod. Argho turned a flicked the light switch off, submerging Shen in sweet darkness.
Kuan Ti spun his revolver as he watched Zhan and a few of the other Equalists train in one of the courtyards. He knew that they all had to be in fighting shape; the battle would come soon enough.
"He's not doing well." Rioku walked toward him, with his hands folded behind his back. "Argho just checked, though he did wake up briefly."
"That's good. At least he's not in a coma or something."
The Earthbender stroked his goatee. "Yes... two days is pushing it a bit. Hopefully his fever breaks soon."
"The kid's strong. He'll be fine." The Equalist leader grimaced. "It's this damn Air Nation attack I'm worried about. Me and my men were almost useless against Bloodbending in the North, and I'd rather not have an encore performance with this Soundbending."
"We'll find out, I suppose..." Rioku gazed down on Kuan Ti's men as they practiced. "I have to say, I'm a little surprised that the Equalists still exist."
"It hasn't been easy, and I shouldn't even be in this position. My master always knew how to handle this sort of thing, but I was forced to step up."
"It is good to see that you are at least making an effort to throw off the shackles set on your movement by Amon. He really set relations between benders and nonbenders back."
Kuan Ti scowled. "Don't remind me."
"Why are they here?!" Fen Beifong charged toward the gates of Gaoling, attendants at hand. "The Fire Nation was never supposed to come back!"
"Sir—!" One of them stepped in front of him. "They are just here for a routine inspection; we don't have the means to fight them off. Please..."
The town's patriarch stewed as the soldiers marched through the gate, and Malu, who had seen the entire exchange, knitted her brow.
"Time for the 'Ghost Witch of the Mountain' to make a return appearance." The tiny air sphere grew to life in her hand within seconds, though it had been years since she'd really gotten a chance to use it.
As she moved toward the crowd—in order to get a better shot at the soldiers—she felt a hand grip her shoulder and pull her back. She whirled to find Ling staring at her and pressing a finger to his lips.
"What are you doing?!" Malu whispered harshly. "I have to get rid of them!"
"They'll go away soon enough, when they don't find anything. But if you attack them...if they find out that you're...you're an Airbender, they will kill you. I can't let that happen."
"Ling, what am I supposed to do? They took everything from me!"
The butcher smiled warmly. "Live... Malu, live."
Shen slowly lifted himself out of his bed and was met by complete darkness; the entire day had been consumed in his fever. He pressed his bare feet against the cold floor, breathing heavily as vertigo threatened to send him back into the bed.
What was that? That... that was too real to be just a dream... He staggered out of his little room into the large hallway. "I... I need some air..."
"You need rest, not air." Rioku called out from behind him, arms folded across his chest.
Shen turned slowly. "Yeah... sorry, rest is just making things more confusing..."
"Argho told me about your fight against Moro, and I can't imagine what that kind of betrayal is like." He stepped closer. "That being said, I want to know now...is there any risk of that same kind of thing happening with you?"
The Airbender narrowed his eyes. "I almost wish that were the case..."
"Wait, what is that supposed to mean?" When Shen just turned to reenter his room, Rioku gritted his teeth. "Answer me!"
The young man propped himself against the doorframe to support his weakened body. "Quiet, Rioku, or you'll wake the others."
Moro Kenshi pushed her black hair out of her eyes as the night wind whistled past her window. Ember Island was the final stop before the Fire Nation Capital, and her ship left in the morning.
I'm not ready for this...
She suppressed the nervousness in her stomach. Even if things went wrong, dwelling on the possibilities now would only make things worse. After what had happened, though, she found herself doing exactly that.
She sighed. "Whatever happens, I have to tell them what Susanowo has planned..."
It was not going to be fun.
Argho allowed the night air to flow through his open window as he sat cross-legged on the floor. Aang's spirit form materialized in front of him, a frown growing on his face.
"It's been awhile since you have called upon me, Argho. What seems to be the problem?"
The current Avatar smiled sadly. "It is a pity that our meetings have become problem-solving sessions."
Aang nodded. "How goes the fight?"
"Susanowo escaped our collective grasp, thanks to his influence over Moro Kenshi, and Shen was badly wounded. Now it seems that Otokami is gearing up for an attack against the Fire Nation, and Shen is still feeling the effects of Moro's betrayal, both physically and emotionally."
"Perhaps Kyoshi was right about not trusting a Bloodbender... who knows what Susanowo will do now that you've thrown his plans to the wind. As for Shen, will he be able to talk his fellow Nomads down?"
The Earthbender shook his head. "He can hardly stand, and his emotional state is not much better. I'm afraid that this might've been too much for him."
"If he can't get it together, you have to try and stop them. But...Argho, they are my people; try to be careful."
"Agreed. I will do what I can, but what advice do you have for Susanowo? When we inevitably face him again, he will doubtlessly use Moro against us."
Aang sighed. "I can only say this: Susanowo is the problem that you need to handle. After the current situation, of course."
Argho narrowed his eyes. "Yes, Otokami will not succeed."
A shadow fell over Shu Jing as Lu Ten and Usha looked on, blotting out the morning sun. A massive airship flew overhead, ignoring the island completely.
"It has begun." The Protector remained stoic. "I should get moving."
The Spirit of Dawn frowned. "I don't like any of this, you know. Working with the Avatar is not something I ever wanted to do, even if he isn't the one who killed Koh."
"It doesn't matter what you want in that regard, I'm afraid. Unless, of course, you want your sons to destroy each other and the balance of the world in the process." A small smirk accompanied the remark, and Usha grimaced.
"Just go and do what you must, Lu Ten."
- I am aware that this is a shorter chapter than most, but big things are coming. The next couple of chapters will likely be long enough to compensate.
- Book 2 is reaching its climax! Woohoo!
- For those of you thinking it, Malu was mentioned previously. If you don't remember, well...you'll have to go back and look for it. ;)
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