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|The Support of Family|
July 21, 2012
Jo stared over the scene of the slaughter with a grim and stoic expression. Six bodies lay on the ground before him, four ambassadors and two members of their security personnel, each of them from the Fire Nation. One of the bodies was a man who had his face smashed in by a hammer. A woman was laying next him, the way her neck, arms and legs were bent at unnatural angles suggested that she'd been hit several times by the same blunt weapon. The two security guards were both impaled through the chest with stone spikes. A large chunk of earth with a growing pool of blood under only hinted at the carnage that lay underneath it. And the final body was stapled to a wall with five stone spikes, two through the shoulders, two through the shins, and a final one through the heart.
With a sigh of disappointment Jo pulled out a cigarette and searched his person for a lighter. When he couldn't find his lighter he gestured to one of his men, whom promptly lit the cigarette with his firebending.
"Thanks Hideki." Jo said after taking a draft from his cigarette, before turning to the first officer on the scene. "So let me see if I got this straight, Sergeant. The witness claims that our six friends here were walking down the street, not causing anyone trouble when suddenly a group of four men dressed in Earth Kingdom military uniforms attacked them and left us not only this massacre but an entire street full of unharmed and unthreatened witnesses."
"That's correct Chief." The sergeant responded, looking over the notes he took. "And I have at least five other testimonies that all report the exact same thing. Earth Kingdom soldiers attacked and murdered these four Fire Nation ambassadors and their two guards without any provocation or cause..."
"Oh there was a cause Gufang. The question is what was it." As Jo spoke another officer approached him, "What is it Jun?" Jo asked without even turning to the officer.
"We found them." Jun reported, "Four men who match the descriptions of our suspects were sighted in the warehouse district. We have men en route to apprehend them."
"Tell them they're not to make a move until I get there." Jo ordered before he moved towards the truck. While he strapped himself in, Hideki jumped in on the passenger side. Jo sped through the streets of city, arriving at his destination in minutes. The chief of police as pleased to see some of his men were already present. As he got out of his vehicle one of his officers, a captain, approached him.
"Our suspects are inside Chief." The captain reported, "We were just about to go in when you arrived."
Jo was about to respond when another voice cut him off. "Look out!" Just then a boulder flew from the warehouse and smashed into one of the cars. Several more, slightly smaller boulders followed, forcing the officers to take whatever cover they could. Jo stood his ground and punched an incoming boulder causing it to shatter into a million pieces.
"Hideki, let's go in," the chief of police told his lieutenant. With an eager nod, the firebender hopped over the hood of the car he ducked behind and followed Jo into the warehouse. The two went unopposed as they entered the warehouse. Aside from a few stacks of crates the warehouse was largely filled with piles of stones of varying sizes, with no signs of their attackers anywhere, but Jo knew they were in there. The lights were off, understandable due the district's recent power shortage, so several lit candles and lanterns were the only sources of illumination.
"Don't move." A voice suddenly ordered. Before Jo or Hideki could even blink they found themselves surrounded by the four suspects. Like the witnesses said they were all wearing Earth Kingdom military uniforms. Three were holding two small war hammers while the fourth had several large stones floating around him, ready to be thrown.
"So Hideki what do you suggest?" Jo asked his lieutenant.
"Hey shut your mouth!" The man with the rocks yelled.
"Well Chief, I'd recommend that we do the 'Blind Dragon' routine." Hideki replied ignoring the criminal.
"I said SHUT UP!" the same man shouted.
"Really cause I was thinking more something among the lines of 'Weeping Badgermole'." Jo responded in kind."
"I TOLD YOU TO SHUT UP!" The man screamed launching one of the rocks at them. Without even looking at it Jo held out his hand and caught the rock midair and threw it to the ground. The chief and lieutenant both smiled as they said at once.
"Furious Sky Bison."
With that Hideki waved his arms around, causing the burning candles and lanterns to flare up before they died completely, subjecting the room to pitch-blackness. Without being able to see all Hideki could do was listen as the sound of rocks being crushed filled the room followed by the screeching sound of metal being pulled from where they had been welded. When the sound finally died away, Hideki relit the candles and lanterns. He was greeted by the sight of Jo standing a few feet away, arms stretched out while the four suspects were wrapped up in sheets of metal.
"Let's get these men to the station." Jo said pulling out a cigarette.
"Who are you?" the criminal closest to Jo asked. The chief of police looked down at the man while he searched for his lighter, which he once again left in the truck.
"I'm the chief of Republic City's police, Jo Bei Fong. And you're all under arrest." He replied, motioning for Hideki to help clean up the mess.
Mei Li watched intently from her hiding place as Zhong moved to the center of his training yard with ten boulders, and several wooden sparring dummies surrounding him. After taking a deep breath he stomped his foot on the ground, launching the ten boulders high into the air at different heights. In an instant Zhong was in front of one of the dummies, Mei Li stared wide eyed as he snaked his arms between the wooden limbs with lightning speed before he unleashed a barrage of punches to its chest. Zhong then turned away from the dummy while dragging his hand on the sand covered ground. When his hand arose a pillar of ebony rose with it catching the first boulder to descend. The black sand slowed the boulder's descent enough for it to gently land on the ground.
This process was repeated five more times, with the boulder becoming harder to stop each time. When he finished with the sixth dummy and boulder, sweat was falling from him like bullets. The final four boulders all came down at once, so Zhong took a wide stance and thrust both hands into the air. Four columns of sand shot upwards to catch the boulders, but the combined weight of four boulders added on top of Zhong's tired body was proving too much. The boulders were about to crash into the ground when a thought entered Zhong's mind unbidden.
Zhuyi would have no trouble stopping these boulders. The sudden invasive thought sparked a great amount of anger inside Zhong. The earthbender clenched his hands into fists and brought them close to his stomach. In response the boulders exploded before the chunks were slammed into the ground.
Mei Li clasped her hands over her mouth to muffle her surprised yelp. If her uncle heard her he paid no mind to it as he sat cross-legged on the sand. Slowly she emerged from her hiding spot and walked to Zhong before she hugged him from behind. She stifled a laugh when she felt him jump a little in surprise.
"Aren't you supposed to be in school right now?" he asked as he grabbed onto her forearm and gently pulled her to his lap. Mei Li simply smiled as she casually looked away.
In a singsong tone she told him maybe. Zhong chuckled with his niece before she got off him and they both laid down on the sand and watched the clouds go by. A few moments of silence passed before Mei Li ended it. "Uncle, is something wrong?"
"Of course nothing's wrong Mei." Zhong replied after being momentarily stunned by the question, "What gave you that idea?"
"It's just that you've been... different ever since your friend showed up." Mei Li explained, "You've been sleeping in late for almost a week, you haven't been paying any attention to our lessons in class, and then there was that little bit with the rocks about five minutes ago. Hate to break it to you Uncle, but you're much easier to read than you think."
Zhong stared open-mouthed at his niece, amazed that the ten-year-old girl had managed to pick up on all of that. After taking a moment to recollect his thoughts the bewildered uncle smiled and placed his palm on top of Mei Li's head.
"It's nothing. Just tired is all."
Mei Li gave Zhong a skeptical stare, and opened her mouth to retort but thought better of it. Instead she merely hugged her uncle and whispered, "I love you."
The hills outside of Peiqui were bathed in a violet red light as the sun set into the ocean. The grass swayed gently under the breeze as a large beast, a badgermole, strode up the hill. As Huan lumbered her way up the path, Sifa laughed as she tried to peak through Zhuyi's hands placed over her eyes.
"Will you let me look yet?" She asked him, playfully pulling at his hands.
"Not yet." Zhuyi replied, gently keeping his hands in place. "I want this to be a surprise."
"I'll still act surprised." Sifa promised once again pulling.
"No need for that." Zhuyi assured her, removing his hands. "We're here." Sifa looked around the hill for a few moments before she realized where she was.
"Is this?" she started as Zhuyi helped her off of Huan's back.
"Yes." Was his simple response as he wrapped his arms around her waist. "Yes it is." Sifa looked out on the very hill she and Zhuyi were on 12 years ago before he left on his journey. The place he'd given her the heat stone. Sifa gently laid his hand upon the heart shaped stone. It was as warm under her fingers as the day Zhuyi had given it to her. He had said that the stone would stay hot for as long as he loved her.
Sifa knew that the odds of the stone becoming cold were low, but even so she made sure to always have the stone on her person, so she could be sure that it remained warm against her flesh.
"Sifa." The Avatar started, gently removing the stone from the leather strap it was tethered to. "12 years ago I gave you this and asked you to wait for my return." As he spoke, the stone heart began to alter its shape from Zhuyi's earthbending. "Now, as I once again give it to you I have another question." As the stone began to shape itself into a ring Zhuyi dropped to one knee, next to him Huan made a kneeling motion as well. "Sifa, will you marry me?"
It took Sifa all but a fraction of a second to decide, that being said she still had to wait a few moments to catch her breath. Overwhelmed by emotions Sifa dropped to her knees and kissed Zhuyi madly on his lips. "Oh Zhu, yes. Yes, of course I'll marry you."
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