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October 31, 2010
She hurriedly bent her blood back into her left arm and closed the wound. She panted in pain, as she sat with her back leaning against the wall that divided the main bridge and the outer deck. Healing wounds with salt water ain't exactly a walk in the park. Dual swords... Who still uses those?
She got up laboriously and walked over to where most of the dead bodies lay. She was well used to seeing blood, but she did hate the sticky, pasty residue that it became as it got mixed with the dirt and the grime. She cringed at the mess. Someone used to practice with those at the base... Who was it? I think it was Mavado...
Remembering her good friend Mavado immediately brought along some less welcome memories Damn Gao... "You didn't say he had to be alive..."... I really hope he gets on Des' nerves one of these days... See how much he laughs with all his bones broken...
She stood on the deck and bent the sea water below into some tendrils. She used the watery limbs to drag the bodies out to sea and wash away the blood residues. She was careful not to throw the weapons overboard as well. And to think I owe him my life... Ugh!
Raiding the pirate boat was not Lian's best strategic move ever. However, given that she was not really fond of her current entourage, she calculated she could expend them as casualties in the process. She was done working with rookies, nut-jobs, and above all, nut-job rookies... The boat was large and sturdy enough to last the long trip, plus it was loaded with plenty of supplies, and even some gold on the side. Not bad for a suicide mission.
She had been out on the trail for a month now, gathering intel from every known source, but unable to come up with any hard evidence that could give her the location of the Avatar's new hideout. By now, Lu Ming had finally identified the mysterious airbender living in the Northern Temple as Tengu, and had lost no less than three teams to him and the deceptively peaceable tribe. Lu Ming was now raging mad and the pressure was on her to deliver.
She had been traveling South for the past three days on nothing more than a mere hunch, when finally, one fishermen in a remote coastal village of the southernmost tip of the Earth Kingdom confirmed having seen Appa flying South around a month and a half back. The timeframe was large enough so that they could be anywhere, especially given that they could fly, but something told her that this time they were not just avoiding, they were retreating. These people were not the type to back down or back away from a fight. There had to be some sort of compelling event which made them disappear from the face of the Earth. They were hiding something, and she was going to find out what it was...
The Demon Bird
After leaving the Temple, Tengu decided to resume his travels in the least auspicious of ways. He stopped in a remote Earth Kingdom village and bought some standard clothes (he had never really gotten rid of that old blood money). He shaved his goatee, put away his robes in a new knapsack, donned his sugegasa once again, and continued to travel during the day on foot. He was careful to only fly at night, making sure to both take off and land in secluded, remote places.
Tengu thought that his fighting skills by themselves were a negligible contribution to the overall war effort. In fact, he thought that fighting chops were useless without knowledge. Therefore, he decided that he would first gather as much intel as possible on the current status of the Black Lotus before joining the fight. During his travels, he scouted the Black Lotus outposts he remembered. Save for a few relocations, most remained in the same places, although he remained unsure of how heavily they were staffed. He had to leave some blanks in his report in order to avoid attracting attention.
He had been on the road for about three and a half weeks, and was now on the outskirts of Taku. He thought of spending the night among the city ruins, but memories were far too powerful to allow for it. He settled for a cave he found in one of the mountains surrounding the city.
Tengu sat in silence, his back against the wall of the cave; his eyes watching the dancing flames bring his water to a gentle, rolling boil. He took his small pot out of the heat and threw in the jasmine. After allowing the drink to brew for about a minute or so, he tasted it. He thought it asked for a bit more time so he let it sit for a few moments more. After a second tasting he poured himself a cup. He then took out a second cup, filled it halfway and placed it on a rock in front of him.
"If you're here to kill me, please let me have my tea first. If not, I'd rather enjoy the company," he said, as he motioned to the extra cup that was in front of him.
Ursa came in and grabbed the cup. She drank a sip before sitting across the fire from Tengu.
"Always so sharp. Will I ever be able to surprise you?" she said as she removed her hood.
"One day, perhaps. Not today, of course." He raised his cup to hers, and she returned the gesture. They both drank.
The Lady Of Death
Only eight years had gone by since Ursa's nefarious banishment, but assassin years are dog years. She was only 42, yet she looked at least 50. Her once jet-black hair was now interrupted with occasional strands of white. Her soft features had become more rugged, with age spots and wrinkles beginning to invade her fair façade. Also, her expression had become much more severe, lacking the sweet tenderness of yore. Beautiful? Always – even when burdened with the weight of sin and age, her royal profile and her elegant demeanor would never fully vanish. She would always be Fire Lady Ursa.
"Where are they hiding?"
Tengu drank his tea in silence.
Ursa's tone became urgent. "I can only protect them if I know where they are."
Tengu stared intently at the dancing flames. "The order is not operating as I remember. Something has changed. I need to know why this is happening before we exchange any more information."
"Lu Ming's age has made him weak. He cannot maintain discipline like he used to. Nero's trials were the first one held in five years since I had joined. And that was only done because he held a high profile. Any lesser assassin would have probably gone unpunished or would have simply been disposed of."
"So?" Tengu was impatient.
"I've managed to overhear Des. He is the oldest one in the order, along with Lu Ming himself. He often complains that the Black Lotus is not what it used to be anymore: the ranks have become infested with bloodthirsty freaks that have little discipline and no interest in professionalism."
"And the order is crumbling..." Tengu summarized.
"The lower standards have managed to make a handful of the elite assassins grow uncomfortable. Some have even tried to leave – not with any measure of success, of course. Except for the Demon Bird..."
"Well – my break was hardly clean." Tengu stressed.
"But the breach did hurt the order. Lu Ming is furious, since word has gotten around that his most illustrious pupil betrayed him. He is even more furious that the Avatar did not avenge his people by killing the Fire Lord and exterminating the Fire Nation."
Tengu finished his tea without uttering another word.
"Tengu, I need their location."
After a long pause, he asked: "Who's on the trail?"
"Lian. She was with Des when they found you on Ba Sing Se. At least that's what she tells me."
"Can't say I remember her that much."
"She's very dangerous. She's a rogue waterbender from the Northern Water Tribe. She manipulates blood – she can drain a male body through the smallest cut in under a minute."
Tengu stared at Ursa. She had finally managed to capture his attention.
"It's almost full moon, Tengu. There's no telling what can happen if she finds them."
"Where is she?"
"She started to head South yesterday."
"How far South?"
"She should hit the coast tomorrow."
Tengu sprung up and packed his things.
"They're at the South Pole, aren't they?"
"It's supposed to make her more comfortable." Tengu hesitated, but finally opened up. "She's expecting."
Ursa closed her eyes as she let out a deep sigh.
"Can you intercept Lian?" asked Tengu.
"The road she's on will take her to the Merchant's Pier by sunset next day. The only way to beat her is to fly."
Tengu wrapped his belongings about himself in a hurry, almost burning his hands with the pot. Using his airbending, he blew the utensils cold and then resumed in a frantic pace. At the edge of the cave he whipped his glider open. He turned around at the last moment:
No one was there anymore.
When he finally took off, the moon illuminated a hooded figure speeding off in a black ostrich horse among the ruins of the old city.
"Bless you, Fire Lady. Bless You."
He darted south like a wolf-bat out of hell.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Honor Thy Father Chapters|
| Hope Against Hope - A Change of Pace - Tainted Sanctuary - A New Home - Recovered - Empowered - When In Doubt - The Hunt - Full Moon - Reckonings - Sora
The Love of the Daughter - The Wasted Warrior, Part 1: Cycles- The Wasted Warrior, Part 2: Regrets- Daddy - The Charade, Part 1: The Shadow - The Charade Part 2: The Beast - The Charade, Part 3: The Fool - The Breakthrough - Redemption, Part 1: Dejection - Redemption, Part 2: Dominion