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|The Dragon's Flames|
Book 2: Sound
Chapter 8: The Dragon's Flames
Lu Ten inhaled the crisp sea air as the island of Shu Jing sprawled out before him; Usha walked up beside him. "It was nice of the White Lotus to lend us the castle."
"Piandao would have approved, I believe, of our usage of his old residence. Besides, this way we ensure Otokami does not attack Shu Jing. We can direct him straight to Argho."
The Spirit of Dawn nodded. "I am afraid I was unable to dissuade Susanowo; the last time we met ended with him as the victor."
The Protector frowned. "That does not matter. Nothing would dissuade him now, anyway. He is too caught up in his desire for Water Tribe dominance."
Usha sneered. "He has become as short-sighted as humans; he refuses to see what his actions will cause."
A smirk escaped the other spirit. "Unbridled passion often makes one do foolish things."
"Iroh..." She almost smiled. "One human who could look ahead, to the future. Regardless...what are our options?"
Lu Ten inclined his head. "We are to merely observe; we cannot act yet."
A feast was set before Team Avatar and the Fire Lady, surprising even Argho with its decadence. Gharial hog was the main course, a large one being the centerpiece of the table, but food was last on anyone's mind.
"Saitei, are you really going to wait for the Air Nation to reach your home, your people?" Argho frowned. "For all we know, Otokami could've taught them Soundbending again!"
"He has." Shen began cutting into his meal, and Kuan Ti gave him an odd look.
"I thought Air Nomads didn't eat meat."
The young man shrugged. "Many don't, but our rules have been far less stringent. I, for one, need meat in my diet. There's nothing wrong with eating something that the spirits have given us."
The Equalist blinked quickly. "Right..."
"As important as Air Nomad culture is," Rioku took a large bite out of a roll he had procured. "We need to know exactly what the Air Nation is capable of."
Saitei nodded in agreement. "What should I prepare for? And what is Soundbending?"
Shen stood. "Allow me to demonstrate—"
"Wait, you know how to Soundbend?" Kuan Ti furrowed his brow. "It's...it's not like Bloodbending, is it?"
The Airbender shook his head. "Definitely not. There's nothing inherently dark about this. The idea..." He took a few steps backward. "...is that we don't really 'bend' sound so much as direct and strengthen or weaken it."
He began to spin his hand, causing a gust of wind to lift one of the utensils into the air, doing the same with his other hand to lift a metal dish. "Observe."
Shen brought the two objects together with two opposing gusts, causing a loud clanging noise, but as soon as it occurred, he manipulated the air currents around the source downward and funneled them closer together. The resulting sound wave hit the table and put a crack in it.
"Now that..." He exhaled and lowered his hands. "...was a very slight example, but it actually required more precision. The weapons they use will be more like large gongs, most likely attached to an airship. When the gong is hit, two Airbenders will direct the air flow closely around the sound waves, turning it into a missile, one that can shatter metal."
The Fire Lady remained passive. "I see. So we are up against powerful cannons, then?"
"That are attached to an airship."
Shen raised an eyebrow. "Yes..."
"How many do your people have?"
The Airbender cocked his head. "There is only one, but it is the biggest airship in the world. Unless you have something bigger than two of them put together?"
"Damn..." She stabbed at the food on her plate absentmindedly. "So it's a massive weapons barge...how many people are needed to operate it?"
Shen shrugged. "About the same as a normal-sized vessel. Petrine...the Grand Elder made sure that it was able to operate most of its lesser functions without human aid."
She nodded. "Alright. Is that all I need to know?"
"I think so. It's been a year since I left, but I don't think they would have added anything noteworthy."
Nasaki scowled. "Milady, how many airships do we have present at the capital?"
Fire Lady Saitei didn't hesitate. "Five. But if my plan works, we won't—"
"One more thing, if I may..." Shen interrupted. "We have biplanes loaded with bombs that can easily launch from the airship."
Saitei grinned almost wickedly. "Oh, I don't think biplanes will be a problem." She stood. "Now, with that unpleasantness out of the way, would you like to see a friend of mine?"
Rioku and Argho glanced at each other, taken aback by her nonchalant attitude. Kuan Ti stretched while Shen just stared at the Fire Lady.
"Well...I guess...but aren't you concerned about what's coming?"
Her piercing golden eyes studied the young man. "Do not mistake my focus on something else to mean that I do not care, Airbender. The safety of my people and my nation is priority number one, but as I told you, I have a plan. Now, if you'll follow me..."
The massive chamber was rather empty, with exception of a large pit surrounded by four reasonably large torches, and the smell of roasted meat hung in the air. Apart from the light generated by the torches, the room was dark.
Shen felt a nervousness roll around in the pit of his stomach; something was off with the currents in the room. Meanwhile, Kuan Ti's hands went to his revolvers inadvertently, and Rioku reached into the earth.
"There's no one here...where's this friend of yours?"
Saitei chuckled, but the gesture did nothing except unnerve them further. "Come now, are you really so dense?"
Argho smirked. "Saitei, don't keep them in suspense any longer; they can't take it."
She grinned. "Very well." The Fire Lady held her hand up in the air and launched a small, but bright, fireball into the air.
That's when they noticed it, a writhing dark mass wrapped around the ceiling. Shen's eyes widened, and both Kuan Ti and Rioku's jaws dropped. The dark gray dragon, with glowing golden eyes, landed in front of Team Avatar and displayed its large white teeth, along with a low growl.
"Gentlemen, may I present my close personal friend, Galba. He's been my companion for a good many years, now."
The Avatar walked straight up to the massive creature, which was almost long enough to wrap around the entire chamber, and placed his hand on his snout. "It is good to see you again, Galba."
The dragon inclined his head in recognition, and Argho smiled.
Rioku narrowed his eye. "Wait...how long have you had a dragon?"
She shook her head. "He is my friend, not my pet, Earthbender. And I was his when you were here last, but he was off training some of our best Firebenders. Dragons have taken roles as teachers in recent years, but only to those that they deem worthy."
Shen took a step forward. "Did Galba train you?"
"In part, yes. We bonded when we were both rather young, and he has been the greatest of allies to me."
The Airbender walked up to the reptile as Kuan Ti and Rioku shot him looks of disbelief and mimicked Argho's action, reaching up to touch Galba's snout. "May I?"
The dragon dipped his head, and Shen pressed his palm against the warm scales. "You travel with the Avatar, young one. What is it you seek to gain?"
Shen struggled to keep from jumping backwards and crying out. "Wait...he can...talk?"
"I am speaking to you in another way, a meeting of minds. And yours seems muddled."
Saitei looked on, intrigued.
Shen vocalized his thoughts, not truly understanding what was occurring. "What...is this? Did you speak to Argho as well?"
"I did. He and I share quite a few fond memories, but you...your memories hold little but anguish. You travel with the Avatar seeking an end to it."
Shen pulled his hand away. "I don't like you inside my head."
Galba growled, but it was muffled.
"Shen, that was incredibly rude!" Argho stepped forward, but the dragon turned its gaze toward him. He stopped dead in his tracks.
"You think you can simply step away after our minds have touched, Airbender? I warn you, if you mean harm toward my companion, then I will incinerate you here and now!"
Beads of sweat poured down Shen's face, and that surprised him. I haven't exerted myself at all. He stood his ground as the beast almost glided toward him. "I am not here to cause Saitei or the Fire Nation any trouble, Galba. That's why you should've stayed out of my head; you've seen only pieces of my past. Now you're passing judgment on me!"
Smoke poured from Galba's nostrils. "I may have been rash, but you should not have pulled away. It made you seem guilty. I will defend my friend and her people with my life, and not even a friend of the Avatar will receive any preferential treatment in that regard."
Shen's vision darkened and blurred for a moment as he reached his hand out again. "Fine...heh...you want to see all of it?"
The dragon brought his face close to Shen, with one golden eye facing him that was at least as big as his head. "No. Avatar Argho trusts you; I will not violate the sanctity of your mind again. It obviously set you off, and the last thing my friend needs is a fight in her home."
The Airbender nodded. "Fine..."
Kuan Ti winced as Shen staggered out into the main hallway. "What just happened? And be sure to tell me what to do to make sure not to get on the reptile's bad side."
Saitei remained impassive. "The Airbender is not well, Argho, in many ways. Are you sure that this journey was the best path for him?"
The Avatar frowned. "He chose his own path, and he will see it to the end. My only concern is ensuring that all of my friends make it out alive; the spirits have not been kind."
The throbbing in Shen's head had returned, and his stomach rolled. What in the world...is wrong with me? He suppressed the urge to vomit, and he could still feel the remnants of his near-fatal encounter with Moro.
Moro... The young man slammed his fist against the wall before falling to his knees. Why am I so weak? I can't protect the ones I love because of my cowardice...
The torches in the room seemed brighter, irritatingly so, and a ringing sound would not leave Shen's ears.
Spirits...I just want things to...to be as they were...
As he knelt on the cold floor, he could barely hear Argho's voice over the ringing before everything went black.
- For those of you left wanting an actual dragon's appearance, here ya go! :)
- Hopefully my Soundbending explanation makes sense. Let me know if it doesn't. Actually, y'know what? Scratch that, I don't want to know... :/
- Now that I look at my chapter again, I realized that no actual dragon flames were present...oh well. I will, in my laziness, settle for some off the wall metaphorical situation. Feel free to create your own!
For the collective works of the author, go here.