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The Hunt Begins
A warm wind blew into the coast while the ocean water lapped against the rocky shore. Scaled feet climbed up a stone, owned by an Iguana Seal who wanted to feel the warm water lap against its body. The Iguana Seal began it's beautiful call into the ocean. Its call, so beautiful that it could bring tears to the most brutish person's eyes, rang out for what seemed like miles. Truly one of the natural beauties of the world: no human could possibly hope to produce such a beautiful sound. A red dot appeared on the Iguana Seal's head, followed by a muffled gun shot. The melodic call ended, and Liwei picked up the corpse of the Iguana Seal by its tail. He pulled his bullet from the head of the Iguana Seal and showed the animal carcass to the rest of the team. "Breakfast," he said flatly.
He has no soul... Ishio and Frost thought in unison, unable to understand how he had been able to shoot the Iguana Seal in the middle of its beautiful call.
The animal's corpse was roasted over their fire, and made a remarkably good meal. Ishio and Frost could not keep defending the animal due to how delicious it was to eat. If it came down to having more than bread and water versus listening to a beautiful call, they would pick having more than bread and water.
"So where do we go about looking for the Corsair, anyways?" Ishio asked between mouthfuls of Iguana Seal.
Liwei had finished eating before Frost and Ishio, so he sat refilling the bullets in his gun. "The next village we'll be passing through is the bounty hunting central in the Fire Nation. If we're lucky, we'll be able to gather some information on where to find the Corsair from listening to mercenaries who have been tracking him for months."
Frost took a bite of Iguana Seal and chewed thoughtfully. "It sounds like the Corsair isn't exactly well-liked."
Her statement was met with a hearty laugh from Liwei. Both Ishio and Frost met him with a look of "he can laugh?". "No," Liwei began after wiping a tear from his eye from laughing, "he is definitely not well-liked." Towards the end of his statement, his voice became serious once more.
"If you and the Corsair were childhood friends, why haven't you tried to help him?" Ishio asked; it seemed remarkable that the two were friends, and yet Liwei did nothing to help the Corsair with his problems.
"Did I say that we were friends?" Liwei inquired, cocking his head sideways.
"You're not friends with the Corsair?" "Quite the opposite," Liwei responded to Ishio's second question.
"The first person you thought of to teach Ishio Firebending is your enemy?" It was Frost's turn to remark on the matter.
With Liwei's response, the others looked at him, as if asking him to please elaborate.
"The Corsair is a great Firebender..." Liwei began, hesitating slightly as he spoke. "And... If I ask him to, he has to teach you Firebending, Ishio."
There was a myriad of questions that the two still wanted to ask, but they knew it was not the time nor the place. For now, they had to keep moving so that they could reach the village and begin their search for the Corsair.
Hearing that a village was the bounty hunting central of a nation was enough to plant some images in people's mind of how it would look. Scary, dangerous streets full of bars and people getting into fights right and left. Thus it was remarkable when the trio entered the village to find it well-maintained and civilized. No more bars than any other village, and the only remotely sketch building being the bounty hunting headquarters where people get assignments and rewards.
Liwei decided to explain the reasoning for the maintenance of the village. "Bounty hunting has become regulated by the police. Thus they patrol this village frequently to make sure that people don't get out of control and captured felons don't escape."
"If this village is regulated by the police, won't we get arrested?" Ishio asked, questioning Ishio like a small child despite the gravity of his inquiry.
"Don't worry," Liwei said, giving an eye-smile towards the Avatar, "they don't patrol the village everyday. And even if they did, I doubt news has spread out from Republic City yet about us... It usually takes about a week for bounties like this to spread."
"Do my lips really look that puffy?" Frost seemed to be looking at a poster. Ishio and Liwei pushed their way over to the sign that she was looking at.
There were two separate signs. Both had different pictures of the three of them, one posted by the police and one posted by an anonymous source, presumably the bending world which they had recently irritated. Quite a bit of money was posted on their heads already. "What was that you said about it taking a week for the bounty to spread?" Ishio asked his friend. Liwei appeared more preoccupied with another wanted poster, one without any picture, from a lack of availability.
'Wanted Dead or Alive: The Corsair
1,000,000 Gold Pieces
For High Treason, Arson, Murder, Theft'
"Looks like the Corsair's price has gone up. We might end up facing some competition trying to get him to join us."
"I think our main problem is the fact that we're in the middle of a village full of bounty hunters and our faces are all over wanted posters," Ishio analyzed the situation. Frost and Liwei gave him a "no-duh" look and began thinking themselves.
A man swung open the door to the bounty hunting headquarters and waltzed in, slamming his elbow on the counter and resting his hand on his fist. The man in charge of collecting and passing out bounties gave the new man a skeptical look. He examined the strange man's face carefully: a mustache very obviously drawn in pen, ridiculous glasses, and a suit that was too big. This strange man was followed by two more bizarre figures. Another man with his hair in a topknot, sunglasses, and his mouth in a firm upside-down V shape and a woman with a hat on the very back of her head and a patchwork dress. Why Team Avatar found those clothes among the things the old man packed, they don't even know. Maybe the old man figured that they would need a disguise? If so, he probably assumed that their incognito skills were better than this.
"Hullo," Ishio began in an extremely deep, fake voice while stroking his mustache drawn in pen, "my name is Leroy Dirty-Money." He gestured to Liwei in his sunglasses and strange expression, "This is my silent colleague Sassy," next he gestured to Frost in her miss-matched clothes, "and this is the lovely Miss Scandalous."
"Hah dja do?" Frost added in an accent so fake that her words were unintelligible.
"We would like to join in hunting the Corsair." Ishio continued, jumping immediately to the point.
The man furrowed his brow at the strange trio. "Get in line. The Corsair's big money and we don't give just anyone the information they need to start hunting him."
"I see. Well, thank you. Come along Sassy and Scandalous." With that sudden departure, Ishio marched out of the building with faux confidence.
"'Sassy' and 'Miss Scandalous'?" Liwei and Frost ridiculed Ishio's name choices. They were on the outskirts of the town, washing off the marker and had changed into their normal clothes once more.
"Shut up." "We didn't even get the information we need to find the Corsair!" Frost declared in an exasperated tone.
"Actually," Liwei began, "that's not entirely true."
Without giving the others a chance to question him further, Liwei departed back to the town and looked around. He found a bounty hunter whom he recognized and approached him.
"Excuse me," he began politely, "my colleagues and I were just assigned to hunting the Corsair. There are so many people hunting him that, unfortunately, we are being put into teams of four to avoid any unnecessary fighting breaking out."
The bounty hunter took a swig of an unknown liquid and sighed. "So like those damned police. I miss the good ol' days when a bounty hunter could hunt without interference. I suppose you an' ya band is with me?"
"That would be correct, sir."
"Dammit... Well, we want to get a head start on the others so we won't have to split the bounty eight ways. I've got a pretty good trail on 'im. Meet me outside the town at nightfall and we can track 'im."
"Thank you; the sooner we find the Corsair, the quicker our alliance is over."
Liwei returned to his friends and reported that they were meeting with an old drunkard bounty hunter, still the best in the business, who had already tracked the Corsair. The bounty hunter was willing to literally lead them to the Corsair, free of charge.
"You're magical." Ishio told the non-bender in a baffled tone.
"I know I am," he responded with a smile.
At nightfall, Team Avatar left to the designated area. Awaiting them was the bounty hunter from earlier. He wielded a large Gatling gun on his back with two smaller handguns in holsters at his side. A bullet belt over his left shoulder fed into the Gatling gun even as it was on his back. While he waited for the trio, he rubbed the messy stubble on his chin with a large, scarred hand. Cutting through his stubble on the left side of his chin was a long scar which extended to the right side of his forehead across his nose. He reeked of alcohol, sweat, and gunpowder: the smell of a man who wouldn't take shit from anyone. When the teenagers approached, the bounty hunter gave them a look of disapproval for their age.
"Leroy Dirty-Money." Ishio introduced himself confidently by his alias.
"Ice Frost," Frost continued, introducing herself by her alias of choice.
"Han," Liwei gave his fake name as well.
The bounty hunter hesitated before responding with his own name, undoubtedly an alias, "August."
August didn't wait for anymore pleasantries as he pulled a map from his coat. "I've been following the Corsair's movements for five years, and have found a pattern in how she targets places." The map he produced held last year's date, and the four gathered to examine it. "Last year was the first time I noticed. She strikes in three places with small crimes before striking a big crime." Three locations were marked. The first was a small fishing village, with theft written in red ink, followed by a market town with the same writing for the crime, and a resort where the same crime was committed. In the middle of the three, an old library was marked. The ink read 'stole ancient documents'.
"The Corsair always follows this pattern. He attacks three different locations in a triangular pattern with the same petty crimes. Then he attacks a location in the middle of the triangle with the same crime, but on a completely different level." August produced another map, with three locations marked "arson" and a final location which said "defiled public monument". "All the crimes occur within a week of each other, and the final crime is two weeks after the other three. Thus occurring within a five week period of time. As you can imagine, I have noted that three crimes have been committed thus far, and I have found where the final shall be committed."
The location to which he pointed on a fresh map meant nothing to Ishio or Frost. It was just the middle of where the other three had been committed.
"That's the capital..." Liwei said, panic visible on his eyes.
The old bounty hunter nodded. "That's not all, kid. Look at the other crimes."
Farm animals slaughtered, being murdered...
"Oh my god..." Frost spoke, but all three of them had connected the dots.
"The Corsair is going to try and kill someone in the capital. My hunch is that the Corsair is going to try and kill the Fire Lord. He's insane, and I think this is his grand finale... To strike a blow the Fire Nation won't be able to recover from."
"It's so like him it's sickening..." Liwei said with a sigh. "If your dates are correct, the Corsair is attacking the Capital tomorrow. You wouldn't happen to have a fast way to get there in less than a day?"
Ishio smiled and grinned maniacally.
Darkness. Engulfed in a choking darkness where one could hardly see his hand in front of his face. Every now and again, a rumbling would resound throughout the area, sending a shiver down one's spine. But a sign that they were still making progress. Despite the fact that this was obviously August's first time traveling on a badgermole, and his first time traveling underground, he seemed unperturbed by the remarkable experience.
"We should be at the base of the volcano holding Caldera City. It would be wisest to find a place to hide your badgermole while we travel up the mountain and into the city by foot. If my watch is correct, we have a couple of hours before the Corsair strikes." August said, having not even ridden Odraz for a day and already navigating better than the others combined.
Odraz didn't wait for a command from Ishio or the others to burrow above the surface. His great feet shifted, and the earth formed a tunnel leading up to the surface before climbing out and waiting for Team Avatar to get off.
Ishio patted his friend, and animal guide, on the side. "You'll find a place to hide, won't you?" The badgermole nodded, and carried his great body away. Once the badgermole created a hole in the ground, burrowed himself in, and sealed off his hiding spot, Ishio turned to the others.
"This damned staircase isn't a walk in the park, so we'd better get moving." August said while beginning up the mountain. The teenagers nodded, and followed his ascent.
"You don't understand!" Ishio shouted at the guards who stopped their progress towards the Palace, "Someone's going to try and kill the Fire Lord!"
"We have plenty of guards to take care of that. You did not hear of anyone who would be coming, and as such we cannot allow you inside," the guard's tone, despite the threat of his leader being killed, was flat an unemotional. Team Avatar knew they wouldn't be able to force their way in with the heavy turrets lining the walls and the guards armed to the teeth, so they would have to try and talk their way in.
"The Corsair will kill the Fire Lord without you even knowing he was in there. You have to let us in." Liwei attempted to add in a voice of reason.
"Look," August pulled something out of his coat. A license of sorts which he showed to the guard, followed by the official paperwork for hunting the Corsair. "Is this enough proof that we're on official business?"
The guards hesitated, but they could not argue with the proof shown, "I suppose we can let you in..."
A crash interrupted their conversation. The sound of fire, electricity, and shouts filled the air. In the distance, one could see an orange glow of a raging inferno. "It's the Palace!" A guard from the wall shouted down.
"Shit!" Liwei sprinted ahead of the rest of the group, running past the guards with such haste that they did not even think to stop him.
"Liwei!" Ishio and Frost shouted as they began running as well. August blinked and began running to follow the teens as well.
A cloaked figure stood at the entrance to the palace. His back was to where the group arrived, but they knew that he must be the Corsair. Around him the ground was black, and charred corpses of guards lay around his feet. The palace was already on fire, but it looked as though the Corsair wanted to kill the Fire Lord before he had a chance to escape or burn to death.
"CORSAIR!" Liwei shouted as he ran towards the Corsair and drew his gun. Three bangs rang throughout the palace, echoing in all five people's skulls.
- "August" as the name for the Hunter is both a jest on "June" as well as a reference to the MI6 Agents in the series "Darker than Black" whom are all named after months.
- If you think it's not believable that August wouldn't recognize Team Avatar, he's always too drunk to notice wanted posters and has been so focused on finding the Corsair for years that he hasn't bothered to look at any other jobs.
For the collective works of the author, go here.