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|The Avatar and the Dragon|
Chapter 16: The Avatar and the Dragon
Yoriko's eyes widened as she set them on the small, red dragon that slowly lowered itself to the ground. She also noticed Mrs. Kenshi and Miss Sukan move in front of her.
"Yoriko, you're going to want to stay behind us, alright?" Moro said.
As the dragon touched down, it glanced around quickly, twisting and turning as if searching for something, or someone.
"I thought dragons were friendly?" Yoriko took a step forward. "It wouldn't hurt us, right?"
In an instant, the dragon's yellow, reptilian eyes snapped to the little girl in between the two adults. It took a step backward, but that didn't dissuade Yoriko.
"Hey! My name's Yoriko! It's okay; I'm nice, really!" When she moved to approach, Sukan laid a hand on her shoulder.
"Honey, I'm not sure this one can understand you; it looks young to me. You'd better stick close—"
"—it's okay, Miss Sukan! It won't hurt me," Yoriko replied. She glanced back with a massive grin on her face. "It's gonna be—"
She gasped and whirled back to face the dragon before her as a growl erupted from its throat. It was not happy.
"Yoriko, back away now!" Moro cried.
The young Avatar trembled, but instead of listening to either woman, she slowly reached her hand forward. "It's alright...I'm a friend. I know Galba."
At the mention of the old lizard's name, the small, red dragon kicked up dust when it fluttered its wings and pulled back a few feet.
Sukan took a tentative step forward, trying to reach Yoriko without spooking the dragon in front of her. "Yoriko, Honey, you need to get behind Mrs. Kenshi and I. I don't think this one's friendly."
"I...can feel its thoughts..." Yoriko said absentmindedly. "It's really scared."
Moro frowned. "Feel its thoughts...?"
"All the more reason to back off; we don't want to spook it." The officer glanced at Moro. "What do we do?"
"It's a hatchling," Moro replied with a whisper. "I'm afraid if we lunge for Yoriko, it might attack. It's not supposed to be here, and I think she's right. It's scared. This is not good; we need to hope that Saitei—"
Before she could finish, she noticed Sukan sucking in a quick breath as Yoriko stepped even closer to the hatchling.
"I won't hurt you," she said, "I just wanna talk. What's your name?" The little girl pointed to her palm with her left hand. "If you let me pet you, we can speak, and I can hear you. Please?"
The dragon's eyes narrowed, and it inched closer to the young Avatar.
The phone rang as the Owl held the receiver with his shoulder and cheek; he used his free hands to hold his bronze mask as he gazed at it, captivated once more by the craftsmanship. The red lenses were an especially nice touch, as they added a certain intimidation factor.
And old man answered the phone, "Hello?"
"Sorry, Uncle, I know it's been awhile since I've called."
The other end of line was silent for a moment. "Why now?"
"How's the circus?"
He heard a snort on the other end. "We've been on our last legs for awhile; you know that. I'm beginning to worry about your successor. What will we do if you can't find someone, just let the dream die?"
The Owl smiled. "That won't be necessary," he replied. "Our worries may soon be over."
Another pause. "In what way?"
"I found it. I found Xai Bau's journal."
The other receiver hit the floor, and the assassin's grin widened. He heard shuffling as his uncle picked it up off of the ground.
"You about gave this old man a heart attack. Are you sure?"
He nodded, even though it was an unnecessary gesture. "I've read it through, and it contains everything about the founding of the Red Lotus and Xai Bau's personal thoughts! It's not just a myth, Uncle, not just campfire stories told by my parents, by your parents. It's real, and so is his quest."
"Where was it?"
"Wan Shi Tong's Library. The old spirit was stubborn, but the poison that Kori showed me how to make worked like a charm, even on him."
"Wan Shi Tong's Library..." the old man breathed. "An impressive feat to enter that place, even with the portals open."
His grin evaporated. "Yes, it was fortunate, but my find did not come without cost."
"And what cost was that?"
He sighed. "There seems to be another Red Lotus group running around. It seems that Zaheer's recruits branched off...and forgot where it all started."
"Are they a hindrance?"
The Owl spat on one of the lenses and gripped his sleeve with four of his fingers, using the heel of his hand to clean the lens. "Not yet. I managed to kill four of their 'best' when they attacked me after I retrieved the journal. Although one did—"
"You killed four of them, and they still trust you?" His uncle's accusatory tone was familiar; how he'd missed his home. "It sounds screwy to me."
"I believe them to be desperate, as we are. They have several plans that reasonably coincide with our own goals, for the moment, but I don't think that they have a full grasp of the truth. They might become a problem later, but I'll deal with it if it comes to that."
"Sounds like you've got a lot of work ahead. Do you need anything from our end? We can't afford to lose this chance; it's our last. We'll help you in any way we can."
The assassin pursed his lips. "I'm going to need new headgear if I'm going to war. Maybe some combat gear as well."
"We'll get you what you need; I can be wherever you need me to be in a matter of days, at most."
"Good. Come to Republic City and bring what you need to work with. I can give you all of the details when you arrive."
"So, what's next on the agenda?" Uzzu asked as he glanced around the room. He, Yari, Hizumi, Lyre, and Jing all sat in a circle in the small living room of the apartment that they'd rented near Sukan's.
"With Avatar Yoriko, Moro, and Sukan in the Fire Nation, we have to begin to think about how we can protect and raise the Avatar. Whoever she ends up living with, they'll need help."
"When it comes to hostile spirits, I don't think we should lower our guard," Jing said, causing every head to turn his way. He sighed. "I know firsthand what they can and will do, and we've all seen Izanagi. This world is a hostile one, especially given that any and all spirits have access to our world."
Hizumi pursed her lips. "Argho wanted us to remain in the shadows, but with things the way they are, what do you say?"
"I'd rather wait for all of us to be together again, before we start making decisions," Lyre said. "Kuan Ti and Rioku haven't even gotten here yet, and I think their input shouldn't be ignored."
Uzzu nodded. "Agreed."
"But we will train her, right?" Jing asked, his black eyes scanning the room.
Yari, who had simply been observing, leaned forward. "Why do you care so much? I thought you weren't a fighter."
"Because she's going to need to be strong. Without the Avatar State, she's in a tough spot, and she's going to need to be able to protect herself." The young man frowned. "And because I became a fighter when a spirit stole my mind from me and used me for his revenge."
"You'll get no argument from me," Hizumi replied.
The old swordsman nodded slowly. "Fair enough."
"At any rate," Hizumi began, "when Rioku and Kuan Ti get here and Moro gets back, we'll start talking about permanent living arrangements and such. I hope you all don't have plans; we're in this for the long haul."
Liung stared at the little human girl as she drew closer, her hand outstretched.
"If you let me pet you, we can speak, and I can hear you. Please?"
The two woman near the girl seemed to be afraid of her, and that thought confused Liung. Why are they afraid of me? I'm not gonna hurt a human! But this girl...she said she knew Master Galba. Who is she? She stretched her neck toward the girl, Yoriko, and sighed. Maybe it won't be so bad. I can explain before Master Galba gets here.
As the red dragon edged closer, so did the girl, and she trembled slightly as she did so. Liung let her rest her palm against her snout.
"What's your name?" the girl asked.
"Liung...my name is—"
An image flashed through Liung's mind, a dark blue being with lines of orange arcing through its body. It was flat creature that seemed to glide about, and she could feel its anger...its darkness.
The hatchling pulled away instinctively, hissing as she did so. "What are you?!"
Yoriko just stood motionless for a moment, eyes wide. "Liung...did I do something wrong? I'm sorry; I didn't mean to..."
Didn't mean to....this girl doesn't know?! The dragon shuddered; there was something very wrong. However, before anyone of them could make any further moves, Saitei and Galba dropped down beside Yoriko. The large, gray dragon growled deeply.
"Why did you run, Liung? Why did you endanger human lives by doing this?"
Sukan and Moro took the opportunity to place themselves between the dragon and Yoriko. Liung looked on, in shock as to what was happening. Her life was over; she'd be lucky to ever get off of the island again.
"I...I didn't endanger anyone, Master Galba, not on purpose."
"Then why did you run? What was your goal?"
Liung gritted her fangs. "I want to be free; I don't want to be the Avatar's pet...their trophy! I couldn't live like that!"
"Take a long look then, Hatchling," Saitei replied as she kept a hand pressed against Galba's scales, "because that girl you put in harm's way, the one who went out of her way to try and communicate with you, she's the Avatar!"
Liung's eyes widened, and she glanced back at Yoriko, whose own eyes were fixed on her. Instead of fear, however, Liung saw sadness in those eyes.
"Liung...do you not like that I'm the Avatar...is that why you pulled away?" Yoriko asked, almost in a whisper. "I don't wanna be...you don't have to be afraid of me." She tightly gripped Sukan's hand as tears began to form in her eyes.
The young dragon exhaled through her nostrils. "Please, Master...I've acted too hastily; I judged her without even..." She lowered her head to the ground. "Please...let me at least apologize before you take me back to the island."
"An apology would be appropriate, assuming you can control yourself," Galba replied. "But I will have Fire Lady Saitei ask on your behalf. I do not wish for you to further startle the girl; that would be unwise."
Liung shuffled her front claws and lowered her head slightly in response while Saitei turned to Yoriko.
"Avatar Yoriko, the hatchling would like to—"
"Her name's Liung," Yoriko said as she let go of Sukan's hand and wiped her nose on her sleeve.
Saitei inclined her head. "Liung would like the opportunity to apologize, if that's alright."
The young Avatar nodded slowly and approached the red dragon. Without hesitating, she placed her hand on Liung's snout.
"I apologize, Avatar Yoriko; I didn't know—"
Just call me Yoriko, Liung," she replied. "I don't even wanna be the Avatar..."
Once more, the blue and orange thing flashed in Liung's mind, but this time, the young dragon did not pull away. It was gone in an instant anyway.
"You aren't what I expected, to be honest..." she said as she allowed the air to leave her nostrils. "I thought you would be older, like the Fire Lady; I thought you'd..."
"...you'd just treat me like a pet. A curiosity. I thought you'd use me..."
Yoriko blinked several times in quick succession. "But why? I'm not a mean person..." She sniffed. "Mommy and Daddy always taught me to be nice to other people. Why would I be mean to you?"
Liung raised her head so that she was eye to eye with the Avatar. "Your parents seem like good humans."
Yoriko giggled at the way Liung spoke, even as she wiped the tears out of her eyes with her free hand. "Yeah, they were."
A frigid breeze blew in Lyre's face as she sat on the balcony of her parents' apartment, and she looked down at the street below. People and cars passed by as if they had nothing to worry about. She sighed.
Maybe they don't. They didn't just have a meeting about how to deal with a wounded Avatar.
A knock sound on the glass as the door behind her opened. "Mind if I join you?" Jing asked.
The Waterbender glanced back at him. "No, go ahead." As he rested his elbows on the balcony, she turned her back to the railing and leaned against it. "How are things going with you and Nana? I figured I should ask while she and Dad are dealing with Air Nation stuff."
"Nosy, aren't you?" he replied with a smirk.
Lyre chuckled. "Only a little. C'mon, she's my sister."
"Slowly. She's making me tell her everything. Every single solitary detail."
He shrugged. "She wants to understand, I think, what I went through. She still...still cares." He smiled. "And it makes me happy to see it, really."
Jing glanced at her. "Thank you, Lyre. If you hadn't stuck around, I wouldn't even have this chance to fix things."
Lyre smiled. "I just want you both to be happy; you deserve it."
"I think you and I disagree on that last point, but thanks anyway."
"I don't understand," Liung said, "you're laughing, but you implied that your parents—"
Yoriko pursed her lips. "It was the way you said it...you said 'they seem like good humans.' I thought it sounded funny."
"But...you said they were..." The young dragon narrowed her eyes. "I'm sorry..."
"I miss them. A lot."
Liung blinked. "I can't say I understand; we don't know our parents, really. We're all just collected and raised by the community. Still..." Her yellow eyes jumped to someone behind the Avatar.
Yoriko felt a hand rest on her shoulder, and she turned around. Sukan knelt beside her and smiled. "How's it going? Better, I take it?"
The little girl's head bobbed up and down. "Uh-huh. Liung's really nice!"
"Thank you, Yoriko."
The Avatar grinned and suppressed her laughter. "Do you wanna talk to her, Miss Sukan?"
Sukan looked at the dragon and smiled. "If she's okay with it."
Liung dipped her head as she'd seen the humans do to indicate agreement, and Sukan slowly reached toward her as Yoriko removed hers. When her hand pressed against the dragon's snout, Liung spoke first.
"I am honored to meet you. My name is Liung."
Sukan's eyes widened. "Well, this is pretty cool. My name is Sukan, but I'm sure you already knew that."
The dragon's mouth yawned open. "I apologize; I haven't been getting a lot of sleep lately."
"You're scared, aren't you?" she replied. "You thought Yoriko would be different."
"She's not what I expected," Liung admitted. "She's just as scared as I am...I wasn't expecting that."
Sukan smiled sadly. "She's been through a lot, but it made her happy to talk with you. Thank you for that much."
Liung growled, causing Sukan to jerk back. "Before I have to go back to the island where I came from...there's something you should know. Yoriko doesn't seem to notice, but there's something dark inside of her. I could feel it."
"We know; like I said, she's been through a lot."
Air exited the dragon's nostrils as she sighed. "No...it's not just her...there's something...another spirit..."
Sukan's eyes widened. "What do you mean?!"
Moro, who had been talking with Saitei, snapped her gaze toward Sukan and Liung. "What's going on?"
The officer looked back at the Fire Lady. "I think you, the Fire Lady, and I need to hear what Liung has to say. Privately."
Shen held the door open and let his daughter enter the room, where a group of five men and women sat around a circular table.
"Glad to see you here, Ambassador," one of the women on the right said.
Shen nodded. "It's good to see all of you, and I'm grateful that you've allowed me and Nana to sit in on this."
One of the others, a man with a salt-and-pepper beard, waved him off. "Don't worry about it. You're entitled to this, with all you've done to keep the Air Nation afloat."
"Thank you, Taiko."
Nana took a seat next to her father. "So, what's happening, exactly?"
Taiko folded his hands and sighed. "Master Jimo and his students have decided to leave the Air Nation."
Shen's heart skipped a beat. "Why? Don't tell me he's still sore about Petrine."
"Not exactly," a woman to Taiko's right, closest to Shen, replied. "He thinks that the council is impeding progress."
"So, like Petrine," Nana said, "But without the hatred of the Fire Nation."
"Not exactly," Shen replied. "But this is still a problem. Jimo teaches how many?"
Taiko stroked his beard. "He is the head of teaching at the Southern Air Temple, so his students number around three-hundred in total. If we count only those closest to him, that narrows it to a few dozen, but if he has anything up his sleeve beyond simply leaving—"
"It's a problem either way." Shen sighed. "We need to talk with him; I need to talk with him. If we can stop this before it starts, it'll make my life easier."
Taiko nodded. "You are our ambassador, after all."
- Remember that picture circulating with what looked like Zaheer at a circus? Yep. I do.
- What exactly does Liung see in Yoriko's mind? What else is wrong? Who knows? Well, I do, but that doesn't count.
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