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|The Guest's First Move|
Chapter 4: The Guest's First Move
"So, what's the issue, Hizumi?" Lyre asked as she entered the dining hall where Uzzu, Hizumi, Yari, and Sera waited.
Yari, who was standing off to the side, blinked rapidly and rubbed his temples with the heels of his hands. "The issue is that it's a little too early in the morning for this."
Uzzu shook his head. "Well, maybe if you considered laying off of the—"
"Are you really going to do this now?" Yari pushed the sunglasses higher up on his nose as his lips curled in a snarl. "Because I sure as hell don't need to take any of this from you!"
"Guys, c'mon, we don't need to do this," Lyre said as she stepped in between them with her hand resting against the water skins on her hips. "Argho wouldn't—"
Yari whirled away. "Don't even start that with me! Argho didn't judge me; he knew I could get things done! And while we're at it, why don't we bring up the camelephant that's not even in the room right now!"
Uzzu frowned as Lyre's eyes widened. "Yari, damn it, don't start this."
The large swordsman threw his hands in the air. "Oh, sure, she can outright hate one of us, but if you and I have a little spat, she's high and mighty!"
"That's it!" Sera stepped forward. "I've had enough of this! Yari, back off!"
"I've got it, Sera," Lyre said quietly, "But thanks."
Yari sighed. "Where is Karuta?"
"Watching the bloodbath," the armored young man replied. "This is ridiculous; Hizumi's been waiting while the four of you have been arguing like children."
Lyre gritted her teeth and glanced over at Hizumi, who simply stared at them sadly.
"No, no, don't mind me. Continue. I'm sure your conversation was far more edifying; I'll wait."
Uzzu frowned. "Sorry," he said.
After taking a short step backward, Yari inhaled sharply. "What did you call us here for?"
The Grand Lotus eyed each one of them. "I called you here because I saw a need to address this...troubling development. I called you here because, since Argho's death, the Order has been falling apart. What I just witnessed is a symptom of that." She folded her arms behind her back. "I am not Argho, but we know he wouldn't stand for this."
Uzzu lowered his head while Sera leaned on one of the tables. Lyre pursed her lips.
"I'm sorry, Hizumi," she said softly.
"Good," the Kyoshi Warrior replied, "because starting today we need to work as a team. Izanagi will likely come after Yoriko again, and I need everybody to be ready for that. That means that this pointless bickering stops. It ends now."
Karuta fidgeted slightly. "Do we know Izanagi's whereabouts?"
Hizumi shook her head. "No, and that worries me. We need to be prepared—especially you, Lyre, and Yari—to take him on together. He's too dangerous one on one."
"Wait," Lyre's eyes widened. "What are you saying?"
Yari snorted. "She's saying we fight together. You, me, and armor boy."
"Yari," Uzzu cautioned.
"No, I get it," the Waterbender replied as her expression soured. "We have to work together."
"Alright, then," the Grand Lotus folded her arms. "Sera will accompany me to the Republic City council building in a few hours, where we'll try to convince them of the danger and possibly avoid the Avatar problem."
Lyre cocked her head. "What does that mean?"
Hizumi sighed. "Any number of things, if we aren't careful."
"We are almost there, Lord Izanagi," Rakudo said. "I apologize for the inconvenience."
The breeze rolled past, lifting up Izanagi's red cloak and brushing across the scarred half of his face. He grimaced.
"It is no matter; all I care about is finding Lin Quei. If your friend can aid me in that regard, so much the better." He smiled sadly. "I only wish I was not as weak as this."
Rakudo sneered. "If you wish, I'll snap that arrogant spirit in two."
Izanagi smirked. "While that would be entertaining, he's likely too powerful for you. With the status as the Spirit of Chaos, his full potential is realized. I am likely the only spirit who could take it from him."
"What of the Council?"
"The only one who might care," he replied, "Is the Shinigami. And I very much doubt he wants to see me free again."
The giant shadow stopped in his tracks. "The Si Wong stands as a reminder, Lord Izanagi. A reminder of the tragedy. Forgive me if I am being too forward, but it was not your fault."
The cloaked spirit lowered his gaze to the forest floor. "That's what I kept telling them. All of them."
The wind felt as if it carried water by the bucket load as Izanagi made his way through the village. It was a sprawling center that seemed to have traffic coming in from all around. Not that he would have known for sure; his stints in the human world were few and far between. However, as he trudged through the town, he remembered why he was here, why he left.
Why he ran.
He remembered her pained gaze as she stared up at him, his hands covered in a sticky red substance that he could not identify.
"I...we were only playing...why did Order stop...? Why wouldn't...why wouldn't she get up?"
He blinked as he continued to walk forward without a care as to where he was going. All Izanagi knew was that his friend Order was hurt. Badly.
"I...what did I do...? We were just..."
A loud crack hit the sky as a portal snapped open. Out of said portal fell a massive humanoid form in a gray, spiked suit of armor. Izanagi's eyes widened.
"Karuta? What are you doing here?"
The massive armored form glared down at him, and the Spirit of Chaos could feel a darkness radiating from him.
"Order is dead. She is dead, and it's your fault!"
Izanagi blinked rapidly. "But...dead? I...I didn't mean to...we were just—"
Karuta unsheathed a massive blade. "It was always just a game to you, foolish child! You never did see that all of your 'games' were Order trying to curb your nature!"
"But..." He took a step backward. "I don't understand...I didn't mean to hurt her!"
"Perhaps you didn't," Karuta growled. "But she is dead nonetheless, and you will answer!"
The spirit took another step backward. "What are you talking about? Stay away from me!"
"You must be punished!"
Izanagi glanced up as the trees rustled around them, dragged from the recesses of his own mind by the knowledge that he and Rakudo were no longer alone.
"So, who is this ally of yours, Rakudo?"
"I call it Yong, as it bears resemblance to what humans know as a 'dragon.'"
The trees directly above them shook, and the canopy they created opened as a gray, almost smoky mass landed in front of them. It hissed and spat, a gesture Izanagi took for a threat.
As soon as the creature noticed the dark, armored spirit, it lowered its head. Rakudo reached down and laid his hand on the top of its head.
"Lord Izanagi, meet Yong."
The Spirit of Chaos grinned as he lifted his hand and awaited the creature's response. The dragon spirit cocked its head before pressing it against Izanagi's hand.
The larger spirit smiled. For all your time spent in the hell created for you, you've still got some of your old sense of wonder, my lord.
Sukan knelt in the snow, where Ming's blood had turned the ground a muted red. A line of yellow police tape surrounded the scene, as did several officers. One of them approached her.
"Officer Sukan, where've you been?! We've been trying to get ahold of you!"
She glanced up at the woman. "I've been preoccupied; I have some very pertinent information for my report on this incident."
"You should've called it in—"
The officer pointed toward the crime scene, where her radio rested near Ming's corpse. "I didn't have time to come back for it. The trail would've gone cold. I have a lead that might let us catch the bastard that killed her."
Her fellow officer pursed her lips. "I'm taking you to the chief. He'll want this report firsthand."
"This is more of an issue for Councilman Shingen than it is the chief."
Sukan sighed and spared another glance at Ming's pale face. "Just take me to Shingen; he's going to want to hear what I have to say."
Karuta allowed the mask to slide over his face and set in place as he heard the knock on his door.
"Come in," he said as he stood and faced the threshold. To his surprise, Lyre slowly opened the door. "Oh...hey..."
She swallowed before speaking, "Hey..."
Both of them stood in silence for several seconds.
"Did...did you need something, Lyre?" Karuta asked.
The Waterbender bit her lower lip and nodded. "I...I wanted to apologize. Hizumi's right; I haven't been acting professionally."
"And you came because Hizumi asked you to?" He cocked his head.
"No." Lyre shook her head. "I came because...I realize that this whole situation probably isn't any easier for you than it is for me, and I haven't been fair."
Karuta slowly sat down on his bed. "Your reaction to all of this is only natural, but you've got to understand, Lyre, that I didn't want—"
"It's things like that," she whispered. "It's when you say my name like that that things get harder to deal with. You know you have his voice, right?"
"Jing..." He folded his hands and rested them on his knees. "I have a lot of things of his that I'd rather not."
Lyre frowned. "You mean...? Do you...do you remember anything?"
"I remember everything," he replied tersely. "I feel like I only have the vaguest connection to myself, but everything of his—memories, personality, emotions—is also mine. It's...overwhelming."
"I can't imagine..." She chewed on her lower lip again. "I don't want to be angry with you, Karuta; none of this was your fault. But I can't—" Her words caught in her throat.
"You can't stand the sight of me, because I took your best friend away from you," the armored young man replied sadly. "I don't even remember anything of the past, only my name, and one other thing." He glanced toward her. "The name Izanagi makes me angry, and I can't remember why!"
"Karuta," Lyre began, as if she hadn't heard the last thing he said.
"Can you...can you take the mask off?"
His eyes widened, but the mask hid his reaction. "I don't think that's a good idea, Lyre."
Her head snapped up. "I need to see his face, Karuta; I need to know something of Jing is left!"
He stared at the Waterbender for quite some time, with neither saying another word. Then, slowly, he gripped at the edges of the mask. As his fingers grasped the sides, the locks slid out of place, and he pulled the mask away from his face. His eyes met Lyre's, and her expression was one of pure horror.
"Jing...no..." She breathed out the words and took a step backward.
He knew why she reacted the way she did. He'd gotten used to it, his once green eyes now replaced by black orbs with white irises.
"I'm sorry, Lyre."
She gritted her teeth and rubbed at her own eyes with her sleeve to dry her tears. "I know...damn it, I know." The Waterbender backed further away as he lifted the mask back to his face. "I want my friend back, spirit. Give him back..."
Karuta tightened his hands into fists. "I can't; you have to accept that. Please, for both our sakes!"
She leaned against the doorframe for a moment before walking out into the hallway. "How can you have his memories and ask me to do that? I can't accept that; I'll never stop looking for a way to save him."
"I know," he replied sadly. "I just wish it wasn't at my expense."
Sukan stepped into the office of Councilman Shingen. She glanced around the spacious room and made note of the large painting that sat on the wall behind his desk.
"You wanted to see me, Officer Sukan?" The Councilman rested his chin on interlocking fingers. "My aid, Varro tells me you have a report regarding the incident regarding Officer Ming's death."
She nodded and placed her report on the desk. "I was there; we responded to cries for help from a young girl. We arrived to find—"
"She was killed by...a spirit?" Shingen ran his hand through his hair as he skimmed the report. "So, the Order was actually responsible for the clean-up..."
Sukan furrowed her brow. "The Order of the—Councilman, what are you saying? The Order of the White Lotus was disbanded by Avatar Argho years ago."
"Not exactly," he replied. "You mentioned a woman named Hizumi; she came to me, along with the Avatar, several years ago."
The officer frowned. "Why?"
He shrugged. "They attempted to recruit me."
Sukan watched as he scanned further down. "Sir, there's one more thing you should know..."
Shingen's eyes widened when he reached the midpoint of the report. "They found the Avatar?"
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