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Chapter 4: Warehouse Raid
"You brought contractors into this mission?" Toph asked Officer Tao. "You know we don't operate that way."
The Metalbender nodded. "I am well aware of our normal operating procedure, Chief Bei Fong, but we do not have the manpower to adequately conduct a raid like this. We need them."
The Blind Bandit folded her arms behind her back. "And this has nothing to do with your connections to their organization?"
Tao glanced away.
"Do not ever attempt to lie to me again. If you weren't so indispensable, you'd have been fired by now." She narrowed her eyes. "As it is, we'll discuss a proper resolution for all of this later, and I can assure you, it will be a conversation you will not enjoy. Now, we finish this."
"Yes, ma'am." Tao replied as he motioned five Metalbenders forward.
Toph grimaced as the 'contractors' made their way to the staging area. Their leader, a man with a red tunic, black pants, and a gold breastplate, stepped forward.
"Greetings, Chief Bei Fong. I am Gareth, and these," He motioned to a female in standard Earth Kingdom recon garb and another man in a tan, rather drab, tunic. "Are my lieutenants. The rest of my men await my signal."
Toph smirked. "It's nice to finally meet the leader of the fearsome Brotherhood of Elements."
Gareth moved to protest, but the Earthbender held up a hand. "Cut the cow-hippo crap and give me info. I need your numbers and your approximation of how many hostiles are inside. Now!"
"Nothing escapes you, does it, Chief Bei Fong?"
"Kiryu Iran would like a warrant for your arrest, but seeing as you've prevented attacks by the Equalists and have instigated little, I am disinclined to acquiesce to his request. Now, let us begin."
"You are in no position to make demands of me, Avatar Aang." Usha growled. "You are in my home, on my territory, and you have the gall, after what you did to my son, to come here and make demands of me!?"
Aang stepped forward, making sure to keep his voice level. "You threatened my son and supposedly had a vision. I want to know what you saw."
Usha cocked her head. "Now why would I tell you that? It would ruin the surprise."
The Avatar's face coiled in anger, but hoarse, broken laughter from the spirit in the corner caused a diversion in his attentions. "What are you laughing at?"
The spirit lifted his head, stringy brown hair hanging over his pasty white face, his beard thin and unkempt, and his body thin and skeletal. The blood red eyes shown with contempt for the human before him. "Avatar, you forget that your duty is to the world, and now, perhaps, you may have failed in that regard."
"Why do you speak in riddles?! I'm tired of you and your family always speaking in riddles!"
"Avatar..." The spirit continued. "I have been weak for a long time. My art, my darkness has been gone from your world for many centuries. That foolish old hag, Hama, was unable to grant me the power I needed, the nourishment."
"That is enough, Susanowo." The protector warned. "Or do I have to put you down again?"
The chuckle that followed chilled Aang to the bone. "Yes, Lu Ten, try and stop me. You know you can't overstep your bounds."
The protector's eyes narrowed. "So long as you don't overstep yours." He turned. "Come, Avatar Aang, I don't imagine you'll get anything more out of these three."
As they began to leave, Usha frowned. "It never should have come this far, Avatar. If only you'd been found guilty on the day of that trial, none of this would be happening."
Toph pulled the thin metal gloves over her hands and forearms. Today, this conflict ends. That, and Administrator Yung will stop breathing down my neck...
Gareth turned to Officer Tao. "Is your team ready?"
The bald Metalbender turned to his superior, who nodded. "We're good to go."
The Firebender smiled. "Then I suppose it's time." He maneuvered to the warehouse's main entrance and snapped his fingers. The spark hissed before striking the door and exploding inward.
"Knock, knock, Koruhagi..." Gareth launched another spark into the opening. "We've finally come for you."
Toph flashed a feral grin as she rushed forward. This is for my daughter! As three Equalists charged her, she lowered her hands toward the ground, immersing them all up to their necks in earth. Behind her, she felt Tao's drive as he attacked, and she sidestepped as a body went flying past her, chest staved in by the officer's metal chain.
Gareth, meanwhile, had a job to do. That rat, Koruhagi, has to be around here somewhere. He thought as he incinerated an attacker with a point-blank combustion attack.
Just as he finished thinking it, Solf Koruhagi's voice could be heard over the din. "All personnel, Contingency Plan Broel is in progress! You know what to do!"
Toph narrowed her eyes. "Gareth, if you're going to do something, do it quickly!" Unfortunately for the Blind Bandit, she failed to notice the Equalist leaping from the rafters. However, Tao did, and he swung his heavy chain around to meet the man mid-leap, breaking all of the ribs on his left side and smashing his body against the wall.
The Earthbender felt the air displacement and turned. "Thanks, Tao, I owe you one."
He stopped the punch of another attacker and responded by breaking his arm. "Perhaps we can disregard that unpleasant conversation that you warned me about?"
"Let me think about it...no. But I can ensure that you won't be forced to take up the position of department janitor."
Aang's mind was filled to the brim with questions, and he wanted—no, he needed answers.
The protector, now revealed to be Iroh's deceased son, Lu Ten, glanced at the Avatar. "You have a naturally inquisitive mind, Aang, and that is not a bad thing."
"It is when I can't get answers..." He grumbled.
The protector sighed. "I can tell you everything that I have been given authority or say in, but I warn you, you may not like the answers I give."
Aang shook his head. "I don't care; I need to know."
"Very well. Ask your first question."
"I assume you know the inner workings of the spirits and their schemes, right?"
"To a degree, yes."
"Then do you think that Usha will make another attempt on my children?"
The protector closed his eyes. "I don't believe so. It appears that she is genuinely counting on this vision of hers to become a reality. Besides, she may soon have much bigger fish to fry."
Lu Ten chuckled. "That is one of those that I cannot answer. Try again."
Aang exhaled. "Okay...can you explain what Susanowo and Otokami do? What is their purpose?"
He smiled. "That, I can do. Otokami, Susanowo, and Koh were all Usha's children. Believe it or not, she has only taken on this bitterness and hatred within the last four centuries. She used to be a true Spirit of Dawn, complete with the optimism to match."
"But I'm guessing infighting led to her current, um..."
"Predilection? Yes, in a way. I suppose it actually began when Koh stole the face of Avatar Kuruk's bride-to-be." He shook his head. "But you are not here for a history lesson; you can ask Roku for that. Otokami was the patron spirit of the Air Nomads, but he soon grew bold and arrogant. He taught some of the Airbenders, the most volatile ones, techniques which focused on manipulating sound. It was a powerful subset, but not inherently evil." His gaze darkened. "However, those he taught it to were those he knew would bring change, and bring change they did. They turned against their elders and engaged in a bloody and brutal civil war that reduced the collective power of the once respected Nomads."
Aang was taken aback. "Civil war? That's impossible! Neither Gyatso nor the other elders taught us about that!"
Lu Ten smiled apologetically. "I am certain that they didn't even know it had happened. After the horrible event, the ruling council destroyed the records of the war, of Soundbending, and then they forbade anyone from ever mentioning it again. The Air Nomad Civil War was a secret folly that they took to their graves."
Aang's shock was clearly evident to the protector. "You mean...Air Nomads...bringers of peace...brought such war upon each other? To what end?"
"To sate Otokami's desire for power. He wished for the Air Nomads to conquer and rule and he cared little of the cost. That is why detachment from your emotions was drilled into you from the time you could speak. That is why you were taught the sanctity of life."
"But...but neither of those are bad things!" Aang cried. His world, all he had known was slowly being torn apart.
"You are correct, for the most part. The Air Nomads suffered when they locked their emotions away, Avatar; it crippled them. Had they simply taught on life's value, it would have been enough, but they went further. Too far. Thus, they lost a connection to the one thing that could've spared them the fires of destruction."
Aang sat down on a rock, taking in the monumental news. "Y'know...I've heard that before..."
Lu Ten raised an eyebrow. "From who?"
Pema lay on her bed, taking a break after a lengthy and, quite frankly, mind numbing training session. Not that it had been a bad thing; after all, maybe her mind needed a little numbing. Solf had pushed her a little harder than usual when he noticed that she was still in some sort of a mood.
"Well..." She said to herself. "It did the trick, mostly..."
At that moment, a loud boom wracked the warehouse, and cries of shock, panic, and pain began to ring out.
Pema immediately jumped out of bed, slipping her boots and cloak on. Her knife hung at her side, and she rushed out the door, ready for anything. Or so she thought.
It was an invasion. The Brotherhood of Elements had gotten the police involved; she was sure of that. She watched in horror as her friends, her family, was torn apart by the invaders. One of them, a man in a red shirt with gold armor, threw a casual glance in her direction and snapped his fingers. A spark flew from them, and only her reflexes allowed her to jump out of the way of the projectile. However, she hadn't been counting on the explosion.
Gauze filled her head, and a ringing noise occupied her ears. Everything moved in slow motion as her fellow non-benders fell left and right, though the hole in the warehouse wall, courtesy of the Firebender, now occupied her attention. We have to get out! "Everybody! This way!"
Those Equalists that were close enough to hear made a break for the opening, and Solf Koruhagi limped over, blood dripping from his shikkar. "We've been betrayed! Sold out!" He gritted his teeth. "It had to be that boy!! Those children you brought must've reported us to the police!" The silver haired man screamed.
Pema shook her head. "No! It wasn't them; I'm sure of it!"
"How come I don't believe you?!"
It can't be... "Please, Solf...we don't have time for this now."
He narrowed his eyes. "Fine. We'll deal with this...betrayal...later."
The protector stood, eyes wide, for a second before breaking into helpless laughter.
"What's so funny?" Aang asked.
"My father..." He smiled warmly as the memories came flooding back. "He would be the one to figure that out."
Aang turned away. "I'm sorry if I—."
"Don't worry about it. I'll see him again; of that I have no doubt." He exhaled. "Now, I imagine that your curiosity has not been sated just yet."
"Not hardly..." The Avatar's gaze darkened. "You've told me far more than I expected about Otokami, and I would ask that you do the same for Susanowo."
"Avatar..." The protector's eyes narrowed. "This is territory that I'd advise against exploring. Otokami was one thing, but Susanowo...that is a matter that..."
"Just tell me. I can handle it."
He sighed. "Very well...where to begin? I suppose that I will start with the fact that Susanowo, the Spirit of Tempests, sought to be the Water Tribes' patron. However, as you and I both know, that distinction fell to Tui and La. When he saw what had happened, he was...disappointed, but not exactly bitter. He believed that he could still give both tribes the tool necessary to bring about their prosperity. To that end, he introduced to them the art of Bloodbending."
Aang's breath caught in his throat, and he had the sinking feeling that he wouldn't like where this was headed.
"But he failed to anticipate the tribes' unpredictability, and they turned inward, each hating the other. They prepared for a civil war; much like the Air Nomads would centuries later. Fortunately, the first Avatar mediated a truce between the two, and they agreed to maintain healthy relations and trade. Susanowo, stung by what he viewed as betrayal by the rest of the Spirit World for siding with the Avatar Spirit, did something that broke the boundaries and laws of the spirits themselves."
"What did he do?"
Lu Ten leaned forward. "Avatar Aang, he attached a dark portion of his soul, and his life force, to the practice of Bloodbending itself."
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