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|The White Lotus Gambit, Pt. 1|
Chapter 8: The White Lotus Gambit, Pt. 1
Hizumi paused on the steps of City Hall as she heard the roar of a motorcycle's engine. She watched as Uzzu slid to a stop and flipped the kickstand down. He met her gaze and nodded; they each knew what their job was.
She pressed onward, charging up the steps; her hands pressed against the glass doors and pushed them inward. Her boots clicked against the marble floor as she walked down the long hallway toward Shingen's office.
The councilman's door was open, and he noticed her approach. He frowned as she stopped in the threshold.
"That was fast," he said. "I take it that you—"
"You changed it." Hizumi's clenched fists seemed to contain every ounce of her rage, as her voice belied none of it. "You changed his will, or got someone else to do it."
Varro took a step forward. "Now, wait a second—"
"No, Varro," Shingen said as he raised a hand. "Let us discuss this alone, please."
His aid bowed. "Yes, Sir."
He pushed past Hizumi, who still didn't move beyond the threshold. "Why?"
"I didn't alter Avatar Argho's will," Shingen replied as he stood. "I did review it before I made my decision regarding Avatar Yoriko's predicament. I wanted to make sure something like this did not happen."
Hizumi narrowed her eyes. "I read the will back to him; don't tell me that what I saw was a lie."
The councilman sighed. "Hizumi, you have no proof—"
She took a step forward; her nostrils flared. "Don't you dare!"
Shingen moved around to the front of his desk. "Look...I don't want to deal with this now. Nothing I can say will convince you; that's obvious." His frown deepened. "You didn't come to my office just to make baseless accusations."
"They aren't baseless; it's my word against yours." Her eyes narrowed. "And I have a lot more pull than you do. You are either going to hand Yoriko over to the Order, or we will go public."
"I can't believe this," he replied as he shook his head. "You're blackmailing me? I thought Avatar Argho wanted your little group in the shadows?"
Hizumi smirked. "I'll do what I have to in order to keep you from hurting that girl."
Shingen sighed. "I can see that this will become an issue, seeing as you won't listen to me. Until I can get a hold on this, I will have to have Chief Kinzoku arrest you and your Order." The councilman stepped around his desk. "It's to ensure that the Avatar is not harmed; I know why you came to my office."
The Grand Lotus gritted her teeth. "Is there no level that you won't stoop to? You've made the wrong choice, Shingen." She slid her left foot back and got into a fighting stance.
"So, this is what it comes down to..." Fire licked the tips of his fingers. "Fine."
"Rakudo, I need you and Yong to keep the other humans preoccupied. I'd rather my engagement with Lin Quei not be interrupted." Izanagi inhaled deeply. "I've been trying to find you for six years, Spirit of Chaos; tonight, I take what is mine."
The dragon spirit hissed, and its head shuddered. Rakudo nodded slowly and glanced at Izanagi. "How do you want it done?"
"I don't much care. Bloodshed or no, I will face Lin Quei. Whatever gets your job done best."
The shade nodded once more. "Very well." He knelt down at the edge of the roof overlooking City Hall. "Come, Yong."
The reptilian spirit shrieked and rose into the air as Rakudo dropped to the snow-covered ground below. Izanagi watched them rush the complex, much to the surprise of the humans that stood outside.
"Now, my mark...we shall see if I have what it takes."
Uzzu's eyes widened as a dragon lunged for the nearest officer, impaling the man on the end of its tail, and he stepped off of his bike as the other spirit, a massive shadow warrior, ran in front of him toward City Hall.
It can't be...
It was the same spirit that had killed his father in the forest. Uzzu's eyes narrowed; that didn't matter. All that mattered was making sure City Hall wasn't overrun.
Stepping over the bike, he ran forward and jumped up into the air. When he landed, he dislodged a chunk of stone from the road ahead of him, which he promptly kicked toward the shadow spirit. The missile struck its mark and knocked Uzzu's target forward.
Both spirits turned and stared at him, and he unsheathed his ax. "If you're here for the Avatar, you won't find her."
The shade held the dragon back with a raised hand and took a step toward the Earthbender. "The Avatar is not our concern; stand aside, human."
Uzzu frowned and slammed his ax into the ground, creating a small fissure that went between the spirits and the steps. "Cross that line, and I will kill you."
"Kill us?" The shade laughed, and its echo sent shivers down Uzzu's spine. Metalbending and nonbending officers alike flooded out of the doors, and the spirit took a step toward the line. "I'm going, Earthbender; kill me if you can!"
Lyre sprinted toward City Hall, with Jing keeping pace perfectly. She put all of her nervous energy—every question she wanted to ask—into her sprint; Uzzu, Sera, and Hizumi would need help.
"Izanagi's here," Jing said. "I can feel it."
"Are you okay?" she asked.
He glanced at her. "We can talk about this after tonight. Besides, I want Nana to be there; I have...a lot to say to her."
Lyre nodded. "Later, then."
The armored young man frowned. "Lyre, I can get there faster if—"
"Go. I'll catch up."
He picked up his pace, and he could feel the energy rushing through his limbs as he raced toward City Hall.
As his legs—along with a dose of spiritual energy—pushed him forward, Jing couldn't help but feel a sense of anticipation. Izanagi was before him, and he could finally—
No, I have to remember that those thoughts aren't mine!
A voice cut through the wind. "They're mine."
Jing slid to a stop, kicking up loose snow. "Who's there?"
In the corner of his eye, he noticed a man in dark grey armor, an exact replica of his own.
"My name is Karuta, and I am afraid that I've been using you, human."
Uzzu rushed toward the shade with his axe outstretched. The spirit glanced down at him and simply swung one of his massive arms. As the appendage sailed toward him, the Earthbender stomped with his left foot and lifted a thick wall of stone from the steps. It failed to stop the spirit's attack, however, and the wall was shattered. Uzzu moved as stone fragments rained down, and the shade's arm sailed just over his head.
He kept moving and sliced at the spirit's knee with his axe, and the weapon sunk into whatever his foe was made of. The shade sighed and slapped Uzzu away with a vicious backhand, sending him skidding along the street.
The Earthbender flipped to his feet as his opponent rushed toward him. The spirit warrior barreled forward, and Uzzu exploited his charge by loosening the ground before him with a twist of his foot. When his foe stomped down, he found himself stumbling and sinking into the cracked earth. Before the shade could move further, the Earthbender stomped and motioned upward with his hands, dredging up a massive boulder about the size of Uzzu himself. A flip-kick sent the stone flying toward the spirit, and it struck its mark.
His opponent's head snapped backward, but the spirit quickly righted itself and staggered out of the makeshift hole.
"Okay..." Uzzu frowned.
"Step aside; I'll drag Lin Quei out here by his throat!"
The spirit revealed white fangs with a sneer. "He will not hide here for long!"
The Earthbender stomped again, loosing another—smaller—stone. "Who's Lin Quei?"
"My replacement," Izanagi said as he stepped forward. His red cloak billowed away from the cold wind, and half of his face bore the remnants of a scar. "He owes me everything."
Uzzu's eyes widened. "So you're Izanagi..."
He nodded. "I am. Stand aside."
The sound of boots hitting the snow caused Izanagi to flinch, and Uzzu noticed Yari transition from a roll into a lunge after jumping from one of the rooftops. As onikira drove toward the cloaked spirit's back, the shade jumped between them.
"No!" it cried out as it intercepted the blade in its left arm.
"Hmph," Yari breathed out as he quickly twisted his wrists and pulled upward.
With a soft thud, the shadowed appendage fell to the ground, and the spirit growled as it clutched at the missing arm. The loosed limb dissipated in a smoky haze.
"While that hurt, I'll just grow a new one," the spirit replied. "You revealed yourself in vain, human."
Yari grinned. "Then grow it back."
The shade glanced at the stump and narrowed its eyes. After several seconds, it glanced back at the swordsman.
"What game is this?!"
"Onikira." With that, Yari lunged forward and impaled the shade, who cried out in agony.
"What is your name, spirit?" Uzzu asked as he moved to cover Izanagi's flank.
"Well, Rakudo," Yari began, "die well."
He yanked the sword from Rakudo's midsection and whirled it around to meet his neck. Unfortunately, the dragon spirit leapt around Rakudo's shadow form and spun its tail around, knocking the blade aside. It hissed as its tail flew into the air, though, and Yari chuckled.
"You really shouldn't catch the blade with your tail, spirit," he said as an icy vapor left his lungs. He brandished onikira again, but Izanagi flipped over Rakudo's head and landed in between them.
The shade watched as Izanagi stood between him and annihilation. His stomach and stump of an arm were on fire. "Master, no!" Rakudo cried.
"Go, Rakudo," he said without turning to face him. "Both you and Yong have duties, and I will not see good spirits die."
"That sword is evil!"
"I can tell. Now do what I ask."
Rakudo stood shakily, and he noticed the other human tense up as he did so. Yong nursed his missing tail, and the shade cursed the swordsman with every moment that passed.
"We can still—"
Izanagi glanced at him. "I will not let chaos be held in Lin Quei's hands, Rakudo. But I cannot fight if you are distracting me. You and Yong have taken care of most of the guards, so I thank you. However—"
He stopped speaking as he bent over backwards, dodging a swipe from the swordsman. When the human transitioned to a downward stroke, Izanagi lifted his left foot and rolled his body around, allowing the sword to bury itself in the snow and concrete.
Rakudo understood; they were a distraction that could jeopardize the mission. This swordsman had ruined everything.
"Kill him, Lord Izanagi," he said as his shade faded. The Spirit World called, and he noticed Yong fading obediently, as well.
The Spirit of Chaos would win; these humans could not hope to match him.
"Who..." Jing gritted his teeth and drew his sword. "Who did you say you were?!"
"I am a spirit of war, a friend of Order, and a bane to Chaos. I used you to get another shot at the spirit who killed both myself and Order."
"What are you talking about?" He...did he make me...no. He couldn't have; I'm the only one responsible for this!
Karuta took a step toward him. "I was weakened from my loss against him before, so much so that I could only hope to preserve myself in the armor. I awaited his return, and six years ago, he did. When that happened, I reawakened." He stared down at Jing. "But I was still not powerful enough; he had torn everything from me in our battle!"
"You...you used me?"
The spirit nodded. "I made you think you were an amnesiac spirit, one who Izanagi had taken everything from. I thought you would be the perfect weapon, combining my strength with your emotional...drive. Instead, you went to Wan Shi Tong, and he told you the truth!"
Jing gritted his teeth. "It's better than what you forced me into! I hurt two friends of mine, and I haven't spoken to my parents in months!"
"All worth it, if Order is to be avenged!" Karuta took a step forward. "You will continue to serve a purpose, human. I will be using your body to fight Izanagi, and I will kill him this time."
He shook his head. "No! You aren't doing anything! I won't be used like this; it cost me too much last—"
Karuta moved closer to Jing. "My fight nearly cost me my soul! This is not a request; it is a demand, boy! I will use you as a weapon!"
Jing's hands moved to the mask and tore it from his face; he tossed it to the ground. "No. Not again. I can't hurt them again!"
"Izanagi will kill the Waterbender, you know," the spirit replied. "She doesn't stand a chance."
"She'll be fine. I will not be your puppet, but I won't let Izanagi walk away."
Karuta frowned. "This is not a debate, not a negotiation." He took a step toward Jing. "We will defeat him, you and I."
The screams of her fellow officers caught Sukan's ear, as did the unearthly screeches of the creature attacking them. She gritted her teeth and rested her chin on folded hands; if only she could be out there fighting.
"Are they coming after me?" Yoriko asked as she rested against the opposite wall. Her body shook, and her eyes were wide.
"They won't reach you, Avatar; I'll make sure you're safe," Sukan replied. I wish that were true...
Yoriko's breath left in short gasps. "I don't wanna be the Avatar...I don't wanna..."
The officer knelt down beside her. "Alright, Yoriko, is it okay if I call you by your name?"
The girl nodded, and Sukan sat beside her. Her hand brushed against the pistol at her side, a weapon which would prove useless if the spirits found them.
"Mommy and Daddy would be here if I weren't the Avatar..."
She'd said that before, and Sukan had no answer. It was probably true, but that... "It's not your fault, Yoriko, and I don't want to hear you say anything like that again."
The girl glanced up at her with tears pooling in her brown eyes. "W-what...?"
"Izanagi, or whoever he was, is the only one responsible. You have no reason to blame yourself; you can't control something like who you are."
"But...he's still doing...still killing people. All because of—"
"Yoriko..." Sukan chided.
Yoriko stopped talking, but the tears still dripped slowly from her eyes as she sniffled.
"Where will I go?"
Her question didn't catch Sukan off-guard. It was on everyone's minds, and it was why Hizumi and Shingen disagreed like they did.
"I don't know..."
A knock at the door caused Yoriko to flinch and let out a tiny shriek. Sukan, for her part, drew her pistol instantly and trained it on the entryway.
After several seconds, a female voice echoed through. "Officer Sukan, it's Councilwoman Sera."
The officer sighed and holstered the gun. She opened the door slowly and was relieved that it was actually the councilwoman.
"What's going on out there?" Sukan asked.
"It's a mess," she replied. "Spirits are attacking the forces outside, and Hizumi has attacked Shingen."
Yoriko glanced up at them both. "What's happening...?" Her fearful gaze was met by Sera's calm smile, and a voice she didn't recognize screamed in her head.
Her eyes widened as the woman before her faded away to reveal a man with white hair and dark blue armor.
"Who...who are you?!"
Sukan glanced back at her. "Yoriko, you know who she is; it's—"
"Who are you?!" she screamed again.
The officer frowned before slowly turning back toward Sera. Nothing seemed amiss, but Yoriko shivering had intensified.
"Why are you here?" Sukan asked.
"The Avatar needs protection, and I doubt your gun is going to be sufficient. I'm going to take her and try and get to safety before Izanagi and his...allies reach us."
"No..." Yoriko shook her head. "You're not her...not her..."
The councilwoman frowned. "So, you can see me, then? I should've anticipated that."
Sukan gritted her teeth and drew her pistol. "What is she talking about? Who are you really?"
"Come now, Officer," the councilwoman's form and voice both shifted into the form of an armored man. "And put down the gun; it will only get you killed." He grinned. "Like the councilwoman."
Sukan's eyes widened. "You bastard!" Her finger pressed against the trigger, but the glow of a massive flame lit up behind him.
Fire wrapped around his shoulders and launched the imposter into the opposite wall, between Sukan and Yoriko. Sera, the real one, stood in the threshold of the door while clutching her midsection. Yoriko noticed the blood covering her hand and clothes and screamed.
"...sorry, Officer Sukan...got here..." Sera grimaced. "...got here as soon as I could. Take the Avatar and run!"
Before either of them could move, the armored spirit lunged forward. A sword materialized in his hand, and Sera's head fell to the floor.
"Now," he said as he turned back to the two speechless women, "give me the Avatar."
- So, after a long, long hiatus, TWL is back!
- It seems that things continue to go south for our heroes, and they seem just as lost as ever. And Jing just cannot catch a break. :( Poor Jing.
- What does Lin Quei want with Avatar Yoriko? Well, I know, but you'll have to wait and see. ;)
- Oh, and to avoid confusion, a shade is just a spirit with a dark, shadowy form, as opposed to some of the other spirits we've been shown.
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