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|More from Firebender896||Action/Adventure||PG||None|
|The Threat of a Shadow|
The Threat of a Shadow
The crack of skin on skin echoed off the darkened, empty marble halls of the Bath House. Lu Bo staggered backwards, shocked, a red mark blossoming on his cheek where his brother had struck him.
"What were you thinking?" hissed a red-faced Baht.
"What did I do?" Lu Bo cried innocently.
Baht planted another strike on his younger brother's temple, casting the youth onto the floor.
"Thanks to your unauthorized 'generosity', I've had my compensation cut in half! Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep this Bath House open? To keep food in your thankless gut?" Baht accentuated this last word with a hard kick to Lu Bo's stomach.
"Wh—what generosity?" the boy sputtered painfully.
"You just handed that girl a disguise without my permission!"
Lu Bo's forehead creased and he coughed hoarsely, still clutching his stomach.
"Girl—I—Who are you to decide whether or not I help someone in need?"
Baht descended on his younger brother and, grabbing him by his thick dark hair, slammed his head into the wall. "Enough of your lip, Lu Bo. Be happy I got the message to the Fire Lord in time, or else things would be much worse for you."
Bashing Lu Bo's head on the wall once more, Baht let the boy slump to the ground. He himself was breathing heavily, his round face flushed.
"That message wasn't meant to go to the Fire Lord, fool."
Baht let out a yelp and spun around, coming nose to nose with a tall figure dressed in black. Three more such figures dropped down from above like massive spider-rats. The figure directly before Baht stepped forward out of the shadows. It was a woman, with grey-streaked hair chopped to her shoulders. She was dressed in form-fitting black clothes with a dark cloth pulled over her nose and mouth. Around her head was a grey band decorated with a red Fire Nation insignia. In the darkness, her pale yellow eyes seemed to glow.
"If you had paid more attention to your orders and less to your own profit, you might have received half your reward. However, I have no choice but to give you but a third of the original sum."
Her voice was cool and slow, sounding too young to be coming from her lips. Baht's eyes widened and a look of rage distorted his somewhat handsome features.
"I—how dare you, I—what do you mean it wasn't meant for the Fire Lord?" he sputtered.
The woman stared at Baht with emotionless eyes.
"You were meant to send a hawk directly to the Jianjun Assassins, you lump. The Fire Lord can't be bothered with minute details."
"I thought—after all, the Fire Lord is the one who ordered this pursuit in the first place. Should he not be informed of his enemy's progress?" Baht countered defiantly.
The woman laughed lightly. "His enemy? The Fire Lord feels no threat from this girl. He just wants to finish the job that should have been completed years ago."
There was a sickening silence that followed these words. The woman's companions stood as still as statues. There was a soft groan as Lu Bo stirred. A vein pulsed in Baht's forehead, and he spun around, ready to strike his brother again. Quick as lightning, one of the slender, black figures stepped in front of him, holding out his fist. Between each knuckle was a small, sharp kunai knife. Two others stepped forward. The smaller one, a woman, helped lift Lu Bo's limp body and the man held Lu Bo across well-muscled shoulders.
"What are you doing?" Baht growled, nearly going cross-eyed looking at the kunai knives that were still thrust in his face.
"You've clearly placed wealth above the safety of your brother. He will be under our care now. Goodbye, Baht. Here is your payment."
The leader of the assassins dropped a small leather pouch filled with gold coins on the floor. She raised a gloved hand and snapped her fingers, and, as quickly and silently as a fox-cat, the entire company of black-clothed figures was gone, seemingly melted into the shadows. Lu Bo was nowhere to be seen. The second wave of storms rolled in and electricity lit up the sky, illuminating Baht as he bent down to retrieve his gold hungrily.
The Fire Lord's cold voice echoed through his throne room. A crumpled, shaking figure was illuminated in the flickering light of the throne of fire. Twin sais were cast forgotten on the cold tile floor as their owner writhed as if he was in pain. "Stop this!"
The Fire Lord rose, towering over the prostrate figure. His velvet robes swished as he threw out his arm, pointing an accusing finger at his subject.
"Cease this pathetic display of weakness!"
"Where are they?"
The figure, who was a young man, snapped his head up to look at the Fire Lord. His voice was hoarse and wracked with fury and pain, tears flooding uncontrollably from pale golden eyes.
"They're dead. Where else could they be? The doors were blocked from the outside and the whole structure burned to the ground in minutes."
The man screamed like a wounded animal, tearing at his face and arms with black-gloved hands.
"Why? Who did this?"
The Fire Lord eased himself back onto his throne calmly, allowing his face to be cast in shadow once more. The flames before him shrunk slightly.
"Why are you so quick to diagnose it as a murder?" he inquired, "It could have just as easily been an acci—..."
"This was no accident!" the man interrupted, shaking his dark head vigorously. "None of them are Fire Benders, you said yourself the doors were blocked, how is that an accident?"
The Fire Lord nodded in agreement.
"Yes, true...so it is apparent that you have an enemy...one heartless enough to burn your wife and children to death without a second thought."
The man wailed and sobbed thickly into his hands once more, his anguish muffled by the black cloth pulled over his nose and mouth. The Fire Lord smoothed his heavy robes and waited for the pitiful cries to cease. Once they did, a cold smile spread on the sovereign's face.
"What are you going to do, then?" he asked in a dangerously soft voice.
"I'll...I'll find it...I'll find whatever monster did this to my—my beloved--," the man put a clenched fist to his mouth and took a deep breath. Before he could continue, the Fire Lord raised a hand to stop the man.
"What if I told you that I know who is responsible?"
The man in black froze and looked up at his Fire Lord with wide eyes.
"You—you know—who?" he stammered.
"Yes, I know."
The Fire Lord paused, enjoying the pained look on the man's face. Seconds that seemed to take hours passed before the man slammed his fists on the ground.
"Tell me!" he screamed.
The Fire Lord stood and descended from his throne. He walked toward the shaking man and bent down till their eyes were level.
"No matter what I say to you, you must promise me that you will not underestimate the threat at hand. Is that understood?"
"Yes, my lord."
The corners of the Fire Lord's mouth twitched ever so slightly.
"The one you seek is a girl. A girl with a white headband."
The man looked at the Fire Lord incredulously.
"I—I know no girl with a headband. Who is she? Why would she--?"
The Fire Lord stood, casting his tall, lean shadow over the man once more.
"She is a child who lost her own family and with them her mind. She has been away from here for many years. The stress of the return was too much for her fragile wits. She saw your family and was reminded of her own, and out of spite she destroyed them. She sees not how anyone could be happy when she herself has lost so much and felt such pain. She wishes to spread her pain. To make all others feel the loss that came about due to her own pitiful weakness. I will not bore you with the details of her wretched past; I will only tell you that despite her woeful state, she is a formidable enemy. Take caution. But have no mercy."
The man took a breath and picked up his twin sais. He stood and bowed to the Fire Lord, and a droplet of sweat rolled off of his brow and onto the shining stone floor.
"Thank you, my lord. Thank you." He turned and began to exit the throne room. Fire Lord Ozai hesitated before returning to his flame wreathed throne.
"Zhensu!" he called.
The man glanced back.
"You know what I mean by no mercy, don't you Zhensu?" said the Fire Lord coldly. "Finish the job that I should have done years ago. Obliterate her."
Zhensu bowed low once more, clasping his fist over his heart. The firelight glinted off of the dark red Fire Nation insignia on the dark band about his head.
"My lord...what is this girl called?"
Ozai's golden eyes narrowed, and he spat out the name with contempt.
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