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Chapter 9: Tensions
Aang lurched backward, inhaling deeply. His heart beat quickly in his chest, and a sick feeling occupied his stomach. Sora...
"You see, Avatar? You have lost focus."
The Avatar's eyes burned with rage. "What was the point of that!?"
"How much did you see?"
"Evidently not," Susanowo replied. "Otherwise you would forget your quarrel with me and head back to Republic City with all due haste."
"What are you talking about?"
The spirit chuckled. "I'll tell you what..." He reached out his hands. "I'll heal Appa for you, and you can take that much needed visit to Republic City."
Aang furrowed his brow. "Why would you do that?"
"Think of it as my...apology for what has happened to Sora." He grinned wickedly. "A word of warning, though: if you don't stop every night, Appa's condition will worsen again. My remedy can only do so much."
"Don't think that this changes anything; Sora will never Bloodbend again."
Susanowo smiled pleasantly. "She will not have to."
The armored Equalist lay in a pool of his own blood, and Yun Zhen shoved his blade into the earth to clean it. Meanwhile, Ty Lee left her opponent in a quivering heap of nerves and bunched-up muscles.
Lu Ten and San, for their part, just stared open-mouthed. The fight had taken all of fifteen seconds, and the Equalists had been so outmatched.
Yun turned to his wife. "Will he be able to talk?"
Ty Lee nodded. "Mm-hm, it'll be a while, though." She glanced at the teenagers. "You two okay?"
Sanaki shrugged. "Eh, I've felt worse."
Yun smiled. "Felt worse? You act like this happens all the time." He looked over the bodies. "I see you killed one of them; are you...?"
She offered her father a half-smile. "It was something I had to do. I'll survive."
Yun nodded, understanding her thought process. "And you, Crown Prince, how are you feeling?"
Lu Ten smirked. "Like I've been run over by an ostrich horse, but, at the same time, really good." He glanced at San and winked.
"Good." Yun turned and smiled at his wife; he would let them have their moment. "Now, we need to locate the others. Ty Lee and I were attacked prior to rescuing you two, and we believe that this was a planned assault."
"It was." Kyani strode up behind them. "I was attacked as well, but my opponents had swords." He glanced at the bodies before him. "And it seems yours were suited for Firebenders."
Yun narrowed his eyes. "We have to get back to the tower."
"Get in your cell, Iran; I don't have all day."
Iran shuffled forward, a bemused smile on his face. "You are an impatient one, Chief Bei Fong. I'm going."
"Grandpa, why are you in jail?" The little boy asked, standing next to Fiora. "Is it because of your dream?"
"Yes, my boy...there are those who do not feel like equality is worth the necessary price..."
Toph Bei Fong pushed him into the cell. "Enough, Iran! Someone will be along soon with your representation and the date of your trial." She whirled away. "The details will be discussed between you and your attorney. Come along, Fiora, and bring the kid."
The child ran up to the bars, tears falling from his face. "Wait, Grandpa, I don't wanna leave!"
Fiora laid her hand on his shoulder. "C'mon, we have to go. You can visit him later, 'kay?"
He sniffled and peeked at the former Governor-General one last time. "Okay..."
"You do not need to worry, my child..." Kiryu Iran smirked, a gesture no one saw as they left. "We will be together soon enough."
Chikyuu staggered through the tower's entrance, on the verge of complete collapse. Sora was gone, and she was alone.
"Mom! Tenzin! Fiora!" Tears poured down her face. "Anyone...?"
"You were right, Solf..." An Equalist said as he dropped from the ledge above, followed by the silver-haired man. "Like clockwork..."
"Did you really think you could escape?" Koruhagi snorted. "We'll kill this one, seeing as we already have our leverage."
The Earthbender's eyes widened as they advanced. I'm sorry, Mommy...
As the two anti-benders came closer, Solf Koruhagi whipped out his two shikkars, and his partner unsheathed a katana. "Do not fear, Earthbender; we shall make this swift."
A massive fireball interrupted their efforts and sent both men flying.
"I'm afraid this will be neither swift nor painless." Iroh moved in between Chikyuu and her attackers, his brow furrowed in rage. "For you."
The shikkar-wielding anti-bender was the first to recover, followed quickly by his partner. Upon reaching the old Firebender, Solf thrust his weapon forward. He underestimated the speed and power of his aged opponent, however, and learned the painful lesson when Iroh spun to the side, gripped his wrist, and forced his heel into Koruhagi's ribs. The other Equalist could only watch as the Grand Lotus followed this attack by pulling Solf up and cracking his forehead against his nose.
With all of this happening in the span of a few seconds, the remaining Equalist was unable to reach the old general before a shaft of lightning pierced his heart, killing him instantly.
As the Dragon of the West turned his attention to Solf Koruhagi, his vision dimmed, and he felt as though his chest was on fire. No, not now...
"You're not looking so good, old man." The anti-bender taunted as he shuffled closer. "This one's for Junas."
Iroh attempted to get into fighting form, but throbbing in his head and chest brought him to his knees again. "Why do you fight? This war...it will get you nothing."
"Wrong! It will get me respect!" Koruhagi cried. "I will be feared by all; I will be a nightmare to people like you!" He grinned wickedly as he raised his shikkar. "And I will enjoy every second of it!"
The breath left his lungs as a stone pillar protruded diagonally and struck him in the small of his back, sending him skidding across the floor.
Chikyuu panted, her hand splayed out on the cold floor. "General?!"
"Ngh..." Solf lifted himself off of the ground. "I suppose there comes...comes a time when a battle is over and lost..." He turned and walked toward the door, none of the combatants having any energy to make a move to stop him.
"This isn't over..." He hissed as he felt the cool night air hit his face.
"It's going to be okay; I'm sure of it." Fiora tousled the boy's hair.
He sniffed. "Are you really sure?"
"Really." The Fire Nation princess stood. "I'm going to talk to him now; is there anything you want me to say?"
"Just...just that I'll be waiting for him..."
She nodded. "Okay."
Fiora opened the door and entered. "Why do you do this? Do you enjoy hurting him?" She asked as she closed the door behind her.
"Of course not, my grandson is strong. But he needs to see the message that can only be conveyed through pain."
"What, that all benders are evil?"
Kiryu Iran snorted. "Such shortsightedness...he needs to see the gap...the inequality..."
"There is no such gap!"
The former Governor-General whirled. "And how would you know?! You...the princess of the Fire Nation and a bender...how could you possibly understand the plight of those less fortunate?!"
She shrank back. "I..."
"You haven't seen what I have! This city, this Republic is in need of reform on a massive scale, and if I need to use harsh methods to see people saved, then I will do just that!"
Iran sighed. "I hesitate to call it murder. And though it is sometimes necessary, I try to avoid it as much as possible. After all, it doesn't do one's cause much good if they are known as murderers." He turned away. "Now leave me alone, Princess. I have a nation's fate to contemplate."
Fiora pursed her lips and faced the door. "One more thing, your grandson wanted me to let you know that he'll be waiting for you." With that final dagger, at least in her mind, Fiora exited the cell.
Iroh sat cross-legged in the mist. He did not know where he was; he only remembered what had happened before. He looked at the back of his hand and began closing and reopening his fingers; the Grand Lotus felt better now than he had in a long time.
A shadowed human form made itself known at the edge of the mist, and Iroh stood, ready for anything. Or so he thought.
As the being drew closer, Iroh stepped cautiously forward. "Who's there? Show yourself!"
"Come now, General..." The voice was instantly recognizable.
My beloved Son...
"...I would hope that you would recognize me." Lu Ten stepped into view, a sad smile present on his face. "Father."
"Lu Ten..." Iroh smiled and shook his head. "I must be—."
"Dreaming?" The protector offered.
"Dead." He chuckled. "I knew we'd see each other again, my Son."
The two of them embraced for the first time in decades, and neither one could help the tears falling from their faces. Iroh never wanted the moment to end.
"Father...it's been too long, but..."
"What is it, my child?"
Lu Ten grew serious. "You're not dead, not yet."
Iroh raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean? I died fighting." He closed his eyes and could hear the faintest of voices.
"General! Wake up!"
"They are calling to you to come back to the land of the living, Father." Lu Ten helped him stand. "Your work is not quite done yet."
The Dragon of the West wiped his eyes. "Then I suppose I must return, for now. I look forward to the day when I am finally free and able to reunite with you."
"As do I." His son smiled. "Now go, Father; we shall see each other soon enough. I love you so much."
"And I love you, my son..."
He turned away and found himself facing a bright white light. Time to go home.
The voices that had called him grew louder as the light grew brighter and enveloped him.
"General Iroh, can you hear me?!" Yun Zhen stood over him as he sat up.
"Unh..." He rubbed his head and felt a receding pain in his chest. "Give me a moment, Captain..."
The Fire Nation noble nodded and turned to the group. "Is everyone accounted for? What about Tenzin, Fiora, and Pema?"
"They're with Chief Bei Fong." Lu Ten replied.
Chikyuu couldn't stop the tears from falling. "Sora's gone..."
"What do you mean gone?!" Tenzin and the others, minus Chief Bei Fong, entered the Banquet Hall. His eyes were wide with fear and anger. "Where is my sister, Chikyuu!?"
The Earthbender just shook her head. "Gone...they-they took her..."
"So..." Gareth began. "It seems that, once again, you are asking for my help, Toph Bei Fong."
"Don't push your luck, Gareth; I just need info on Koruhagi's possible location."
The Firebender chuckled. "Not good enough, I want in."
"Absolutely not!" The blind Earthbender stamped her foot, causing the ground to shake. "You very nearly created a public relations nightmare when you went too far the last time!"
He frowned. "I am trying to protect this city, Chief Bei Fong, and the Brotherhood wants to do just that."
Toph sighed. Idiot...he'll never understand. "If you step out of line even once, I will throw all of your butts in jail! Is that understood?"
"Very much so."
"Good, now tell me what you know."
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