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Book 3: Dawn
Chapter 14: The End, Pt. 5
Shen twirled his staff around, stirring up the wind around him in order to absorb the air bullets Petrine had begun to fire at him. As she fired, he noticed a delay when she would allow the air to wrap around her fingers. During one such delay, he reversed the direction of his twirling staff abruptly, releasing compressed pockets of air in her direction.
Petrine seemed to notice his switch from defense to offense, so she quickly kicked her own staff up into her hands and spun it back, knocking the pockets of air away. As his staff's spin caused it to rest on his shoulders, Shen bumped it so that it flipped over and pointed at her; he then proceeded to kick the other end, launching the staff at Petrine.
It flew toward her face, but she nimbly twisted away. Shen anticipated the move, however, and was there to meet her with a point-blank air blast to her stomach. Petrine flew backwards, but she eventually caught herself and landed lightly on her feet. Shen was still on her heels, though, and he did something even he did not expect.
As Petrine brought her right hand down toward him for an Airbending chop, he gripped her arm mid-strike and, with his other hand, sent a ball of air into her left knee. The pop caused him to wince, but Petrine did little more than hiss in pain. He then spun around as she staggered and sent another ball of compressed air into her right knee, as well. Shen jumped back as she collapsed, gritting his teeth as she groaned.
"I'm sorry," he said, "It was the only way I could think of to save your life."
Petrine gripped one of her legs and hissed again. "Save...my life? Well...isn't that sweet."
Shen leaned on his glider, and beads of sweat formed on his forehead and at the base of his neck. "This is no time for jokes, Petrine. I nearly broke the last portion of the Air Nomads our nation once held dear; only his resilience saved me from that guilt. I won't go through that again, especially for you."
The Grand Elder propped herself up on her elbows. "Those traditions won't save us, Shen. But you could never see that."
"They may not save us," he replied, "But that last one—life's sacred nature—was the only thing keeping us who we were. Once you abandoned that, it led to death and destruction of our people, as well as the innocents in the Fire Nation!"
Petrine grimaced as she attempted to adjust her position. "I told you, that was not my fault. The Fire Nation—"
"Defended itself. From Otokami's little army."
"You can't beat him, Shen. The Avatar was crushed by him; what chance do you have?"
He chuckled, but it was devoid of mirth. "Is that concern in your voice?"
"He'll kill you."
Shen opened his glider and turned his gaze to the towering skyscraper above. "Don't go running off; I have to take care of something before seeing the Spirit of Sound."
"Share in his fate? No," Lin Quei stepped off of the stage as he spoke, "I'll just kill you and move on. I can always rebuild; there will never be a time where men are not jealous of what others have."
Kuan Ti frowned. "I made the mistake of thinking that Susanowo would fall to simple pressure strikes; I won't hold back with you."
The spirit threw back his purple cloak, revealing shimmering dark blue armor, ornate in its detail. "Then let's begin."
Lin Quei lunged forward with deceptive speed, and his fists flurried with speed to match. Kuan Ti barely managed to twist and turn away from the lightning-quick attacks. As each new strike came, he found himself pushed to the middle of the room, and he was routinely forced to step over the bodies of his former comrades.
The two combatants danced closer to the center, and Kuan Ti nearly stumbled over something. It wasn't a body; it was his gun belt. He didn't even have time to grin as he kicked one of the revolvers into his hand and fired. The bullet ripped through Lin Quei's cheek, and the former Equalist simply continued to fire. Six bullets in total tore through the spirit's body, and he staggered back with each one. When he ran out of bullets, Kuan Ti dropped the gun and charged the still-reeling Lin Quei.
The spirit barely had time to heal before Kuan Ti's fist smashed into his face. The punch crumpled his nose and moved him further off-balance. The Equalist gripped both of his forearms as Lin Quei staggered backward and pulled him back into a heavy knee-strike. The spirit's sternum cracked under the punishing blow, and Kuan Ti took the open opportunity to whip three swift elbow strikes into his face.
Blood poured from the spirit's cracked skull, and Lin Quei reeled for a moment before his injuries began to heal.
"So...is this your plan?" The Judge smirked as his cracked skull sewed itself up again. "You can't beat me to death; it won't work."
"I can try," Kuan Ti replied.
"I'm sure you will."
Lin Quei lunged forward without warning, arm outstretched. Kuan Ti jumped to the side as he breezed past and felt a searing pain lance through his left forearm. As he landed lightly on his feet, he could feel warm blood roll down his arm and fall to the floor in thick droplets.
"Ooh, that does not look good," Lin Quei observed as he smirked. "Shall we call the match now? I'd hate to see you lose that arm."
Kuan Ti moved to his right and quickly kicked his other revolver into his uninjured hand before pointing it at the spirit.
"I could just shoot you."
Lin Quei chuckled. "By all means, empty your last weapon. Then you might finally accept death's embrace."
An unfamiliar sound reached both of their ears, but neither combatant was able to put proper thought to it before a thick rock slammed into Lin Quei's head, splattering blood all over the floor in front of him.
"Is this what Argho feels like," Rioku's voice was a welcome sound for Kuan Ti, "coming to the rescue at the last minute and whatnot?"
Lu Ten looked out toward the convention hall and sighed. Fire rolled across his hands as he narrowed his eyes.
"I am so tired of rebellious spirits..."
"Protector, wait!" Usha's youthful voice echoed as she ran toward him. "I must speak with you!"
"Spirit of Dawn...now is not a good time," he replied.
She shook her head. "It is the perfect time; the Avatar need not see me like this."
Lu Ten furrowed his brow and turned to face her. "What are you talking about? Why are you here?"
Usha pursed her lips. "I am tired, Lu Ten, and he is probably going to ask me to do this anyway..." She brought her hands to her chest, and the Protector's eyes widened.
"Wait! You don't know what you're doing!"
"I do. I want this to be my choice; I want that much." The Spirit of Dawn blinked as tears formed in her eyes. "Ten thousand years ago, I took on this burden, a mere half a millennia before Tui and La went to live among the mortals. I thought that I could bring light, but what has the spirit within me brought but manifestations of darkness?"
"Usha," Lu Ten pleaded, "This cannot happen! You and I both know what will occur if you do this!"
She smiled sadly. "I'll be free, and maybe you can do what I could not."
With that, she pulled a small, glowing orb from her chest and offered it to the Protector. He winced and reached toward it before pulling back.
"You know he's not going to be happy with us."
Her smile never abated. "As if that matters now. Besides, he would have probably picked you anyway."
Lu Ten closed his eyes and grabbed the orb, pulling it close to his chest. It sank into his body, and he inhaled as power and something else surged into him. He opened his eyes, which temporarily glowed with an orange light.
Usha bowed briefly. "Congratulations, Spirit of Dawn. Wear the mantle better than I did." Her form began to fade from view. "Now I can finally rest...and think on my faults."
Lu Ten smiled and laid his hands on her fading shoulders. "Usha, you did what you could for your sons, and then you did what you could to right their wrongs. As far as I'm concerned, you've acquitted yourself well, and you will always be worthy of the title Spirit of Dawn."
Tears rolled down her face. "Thank you, Lu Ten."
As she disappeared, the new Spirit of Dawn turned his attention back to the convention hall.
"Now, Judge, let us see if you fall as easily as Koh and Susanowo have this day."
Argho couldn't help the feeling of relief that washed over him when he saw Shen standing atop a water tower, glider in hand. He met him by manipulating the air currents to hover up to the roof.
"Smart to pick a spot where I can see you. What happened with Otokami?"
The Airbender frowned and leaned on his staff. "I haven't gotten there yet; I have a favor to ask first."
Argho furrowed his brow. "What do you mean?"
"Petrine's on the roof to your lower left," he said. "I've managed to avoid killing her, but I need you to take away her bending."
Argho exhaled. "You're sure? It's not something easily reversed, and I need to be absolutely sure it's the only way."
"Argho...I can't be sure she won't hurt someone once she's healed, and I can't trust her to do what's right anymore."
"You are right on that count," the Avatar replied. "Truth be told, if I'd found her before you did, I probably would've just killed her."
Shen looked out toward the airship. "Call me sentimental, but I think she deserves a second chance. Besides, I'm not going to kill the one person who can answer for our people's crimes in front of the whole world if I can help it."
"And what of Otokami? Do you still want to—?"
"Yes," he said, "I have some things I want to say to the Spirit of Sound."
Argho nodded. "Go on then. And, if at all possible, try not to anger him. I'd hate to have to bury your broken body."
Shen smiled sadly. "You and Petrine both seem to think that I'm going to fight him. That couldn't be further from the truth."
With that, Shen opened his glider and flew toward the airship, and his final trial. Argho, on the other hand, dropped to the roof below. Petrine looked up at him, her expression betraying no emotion.
"Has Shen asked you to kill me? He wouldn't do it himself...something about sacred values."
The Avatar knelt down. "You and I both know that he would never ask that of me. Although, if you want my opinion, I'd rather just end your threat here and now."
She smirked. "So why don't you?"
"Two reasons," Argho replied, "One: I'm not going to give you an easy way out of all this. Two: Unlike you, I actually care about the feelings of my friends."
Her smirk faded. "So, why are you here, then?"
"I'm keeping a promise."
Without warning Argho placed his right thumb and forefinger on Petrine's forehead and his left just below her neck, and his eyes began to glow.
Lin Quei flipped over the fissure that Rioku formed in the floor and rushed toward him, but two pops signaled two bullets, one in his right knee and one in the side of his head. As he fell to the floor, the Earthbender stomped his foot down, forming a spike that launched up into his chest as he dropped. The Judge hacked and coughed as he hung limp on the stone spike.
"So...Kuan Ti...you can't even fight me without a bender at your side..."
The Equalist took a step toward him while he clutched at his wounded arm with the fingers that weren't gripping his weapon. "You're right about that. I've discovered something on this little journey that I might not have otherwise: we nonbenders cannot exist in a vacuum. This world is for both benders and nonbenders, and we have those like you and Amon who would've taken that away." He chuckled. "Really, I'll admit that I can't really do much against you spirits. I run out of ammo eventually, and it's usually before you die."
Lin Quei gripped the spike and began to lift his body off of the earthen spine, hissing and gritting his teeth as he pulled away. Once free, he began to pop his knuckles one by one.
"You think that this is balance? No, what you and the other spirits fail to understand is this: since the creation and permanent use of bending, no one has been equal. I would've set the score back to zero."
"Aren't you a little hypocrite," Rioku said. "You claim to fight bending, but when it came down to it, you needed a bender to fight your battles."
"But he was a bender who believed in the cause of equality; you should do your research. Amon hated his own abilities and what they could do. I merely helped him translate that hatred into something useful."
The Earthbender smirked. "And there it is!"
Lin Quei frowned as his wounds closed up. "What are you talking about?"
"You just proved Kuan Ti's point. You need benders just as much we need nonbenders. That is true equality."
The spirit sighed. "You still don't get it; you cannot possibly comprehend my motives because you are a part of the problem."
"Then maybe you can educate me?" A new voice caused all three heads to turn to the entrance. Lu Ten stood in the doorway, hands in his pockets. "Being a spirit and a bender, I might be able to understand what it is you want."
Lin Quei smiled. "I want to begin again."
The Protector grinned and removed his hands from his pockets. "Begin again? Sorry, the status quo isn't up for changing. Not today."
"I'm afraid you've got no say. As Judge, not only do I outrank you, but I am more powerful, as well."
"Is that so?" Lu Ten's grin widened, and his eyes glowed orange. Blue-white fire wrapped around his hands. "Not anymore."
Lin Quei cocked his head. "Well, that's new; I trust there's an explanation for this, Protector?"
"Not Protector...I am the Spirit of Dawn now, and you have no authority over me directly. Not as you once did. The council has seen fit to revoke your status as Judge, seeing as you misused your title and position, and you are required to come with me, quietly or otherwise."
Kuan TI took a step forward. "Wait, what happened to Usha?"
"Yes, Lu Ten," the spirit began, "what did happen to the emotional wreck of a false spirit?"
In an instant, blue fire tore into Lin Quei's right arm, tearing it from his body with explosive force.
The Spirit of Dawn remained expressionless as the former Judge dropped to his knees, mouth opened in a silent scream. "If you ever dare insult Usha like that again, I will bring your ashes back to the council. She did the best she could, just as I have. It isn't easy for us in this hostile environment, and given what she's dealt with, she deserves the respect of even a bug like you."
"Huh...very...very well, Spirit of Dawn..." He stood shakily as a new arm began to grow. "...I'll come quietly, seeing as you haven't given me much choice."
Lu Ten walked over to the spirit and gripped his shoulder tightly. In an instant, both spirits were gone. Kuan Ti furrowed his brow.
"Wait! Damn it, what about Usha?!"
Rioku folded his arms. "Argho's going to have to explain this one."
"I guess so; these spirits really aren't talkative." He turned toward the door. "Let's go; Argho's going to want an update on Lin Quei."
The Earthbender glanced at Zhan's body before looking at the last remaining Equalist. "What about your group? Your friend?"
"Dead and gone. We're alive; let's go."
Shen noticed something upon entering the airship: He noticed a defeated people. His friends, people he'd known all his life, were sitting around the vessel with the looks of those who had lost much. He also realized that none of them would look him in the eye.
None of that mattered in the moment; the young man had one last piece of business to attend to. His path took him to the cockpit of the vessel, where the Spirit of Sound sat. His sword was pressed lightly into the ground as he leaned against it. Shen heard the heavy voice in his head as soon as he entered the room.
"Welcome, General Shen, I have awaited this moment. One of you had to triumph; please tell me the Grand Elder did not suffer."
Shen inclined his head as he stared at Otokami. "No, she's still alive, but she won't be able to use Airbending to harm life ever again."
The spirit sagged in his chair. "Good. I detest such needless death."
"Then tell me," the Airbender clenched his fist as he spoke, "why you led hundreds of my people to their deaths. What did you think would happen when you challenged the Fire Nation to war?"
"I neither made the challenge nor wished for the fight in which the Air Nation found itself."
"You're kidding me..." Shen gritted his teeth. "Who else is responsible for this!? You can't whitewash what you—!"
Otokami stood and sheathed his blade. "You would do well to remember who you are speaking to, Airbender. That said, I am not entirely without culpability in this. I failed to stop the one responsible; I should have curbed her passion, her ambition."
"So this is Petrine's fault?"
"You know her better than I do. What is the proper answer to your question, then?"
The young man pursed his lips and grew silent.
"I failed to act as patron of the Air Nomads for so long, and when I finally attempted to be a benevolent one, I caused the deaths of many."
"Why didn't you stop her?" Shen spread his arms wide. "Why didn't you stand in her way if you care so much?"
"The day I christened her Grand Elder, I promised to aid her in her leadership of the Air Nomads. Only later did I realize that I had given my word in haste. From there, I could only protect our people, and her, to a small extent as her attitude grew more destructive. I tried to convince her with words that her path was the wrong one, but that was done in vain."
Shen allowed himself a small smile. "Welcome to the club."
The Spirit of Sound nodded. "When Argho came against us in the Fire Nation, I knew he would kill her, so I stepped in and ended things as best I could. The Avatar could thank me for that much."
His gray eyes widened. "You could've killed Argho easily..."
The spirit nodded again. "While it does not excuse what has occurred by any stretch of the imagination, I hope that I was at least able to shed some light on the situation."
Shen frowned. "You shielded Petrine several times, and you've shown care for Air Nomads in the past. When I was sick...I had a vision, I think, of you and an Air Nomad you called the 'Ghost Witch of the Mountain.'"
"Malu," Otokami replied. "A vision, you say?"
Shen nodded. "What about it?"
Something resembling a chuckle echoed through his mind. "Well, Shen, it appears I was wrong once again. Do you know why I made Petrine the Grand Elder?"
He shook his head. "Not really. I assumed it was her ability to lead...and her passion."
"In part. But I ultimately made the choice because I thought that she was from Malu's line, an Airbender with unaltered blood."
"What do you mean?"
"When I ensured that each child born of Aang's new nomads would be a bender, I would often have to create something that was not there. When I discovered Petrine's prowess and natural skill, I assumed that she had been born with the blood of an Airbender, blood that I simply had to bring out again. I was wrong."
Shen furrowed his brow. "How?"
Otokami pointed at him. "It seems that it was you all this time, a more likely scenario given your ability to defeat her. I should have focused my efforts on raising you up as a leader, and then maybe I would not be responsible for so much death...again."
The Airbender took a step backward. "You mean...I'm a legitimate Airbender?"
"Yes," the spirit replied.
Shen ran a hand through his hair. "So, I have one last question, I guess."
"What happens now? My people are in a more precarious position than ever, and with many of us dead, I'm not sure we can survive."
"That...that is up to you."
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