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Chapter 19: Yoriko's Choice
"Will I see you again, Uncle?" the Owl asked as the old man began to walk toward the train station.
He shook his head. "Not likely, kid. We're going to scatter to the wind, seeing as you'll be drawing a lot of attention soon enough. Who knows? Maybe we'll see each other in the new world, but until then..."
"I understand. Thank you."
As he walked away, the old man simply waved. The Owl sighed and leaned against the wall, all the while clinging to the large case that held his new gear.
"Now, time to see what Taiko has in store for me."
He tightened his grip on the case; it held the last gift his family would ever give him. And with that gift, he might just save the world. But first...
"This Order of the Red Lotus needs to be blinded a bit, and I will end the man who nearly got the Avatar killed."
Yoriko, Sukan, Liung and the others waited for the return of the Fire Lady and her allies, and as they did so, the red dragon couldn't help but wonder what Yoriko had to say.
Is she gonna choose? Will one of us...will one of us have to leave?
Liung growled. No matter how nice Yoriko was, she still didn't want to...
But...what about the spirit inside of her? Sukan says she can't control it. What if she gets hurt? She shook her head. How would I even be able to help anyway?
She watched as the rest of the humans and Master Galba arrived. Sukan and Yoriko approached them, but Liung and the other dragons stood back. She watched as Sukan spoke to the Fire Lady, and while she couldn't hear Sukan's voice, Fire Lady Saitei spoke loudly, for all to hear.
"Avatar Yoriko, do you know why we brought you to this island?"
Liung held her breath for what seemed like ages as she waited for the Yoriko to respond.
"You want me to pick one of 'em," she replied.
Saitei nodded. "As the Avatar, a companion is something that it would behoove you to have, and—"
"What's that mean?" she asked. "Be-hoove?"
Liung did her best to stifle a chuckle as the Fire Lady held back what was surely frustration.
"Most Avatars have an animal companion that helps them through life; it is a good thing. Since you're a Firebender first, we assumed a dragon to be the best choice."
Yoriko pursed her lips. "And I really get to pick?"
"Yes, you do," the Fire Lady replied. "So, which of these hatchlings do you find most suitable?"
Yoriko bit her lower lip and shuffled her feet. "Well...I...I don't wanna."
Liung narrowed her eyes. What is she talking about?
Saitei furrowed her brow. "What do you mean, Avatar?"
"I said I don't wanna."
"We heard you," Moro replied, "but we don't understand why."
Sukan inclined her head. "I might, but I'm not going to assume anything."
The young Avatar glanced around so that her eyes met everyone else's. "I can't pick 'cause they have to choose me, too."
"Ah," the Fire Lady said as she nodded, "I see your point, but you must know that there isn't one among them who wouldn't agree—"
I wouldn't? Liung wondered. I guess not...she's nice, but... She sighed, but not loudly enough for anyone else to hear. I don't know what to do...
"Alright, so that's one of eight—"
"And the others are only agreeing because they think that no one will like them anymore if they don't. Xiao told me..." Yoriko frowned. "He told me it was a matter of honor. They can't even get why I'd talk to Liung. So...they don't really have a choice, not like I do."
The small, red dragon cocked her head. Thank you, Yoriko...someday, maybe I'll be worthy to be a companion for someone like you.
When Yoriko glanced in her direction, Liung furrowed her brow. Did she hear me, or—
"Well, Fire Lady," Moro began, "it seems she's wise beyond her years already."
"Hmph, what you call wisdom, I call foolishness," Saitei said. "She needs protection, and this is the best way to grant it while we train her. This is not a debate."
A glint of something showed in Yoriko's eyes, but only Liung seemed to notice. What came next, however, no one would forget.
The young girl stared at the Fire Lady, and her eyes narrowed. "No, it's not. I'm not gonna pick, not gonna make them do anything they don't wanna do. Not like you."
She's dead... Liung's eyes widened. She's so dead! The Fire Lady's gonna—did she really just—?! What was that?!
In a flash, the Fire Lady lifted her hand, but before she could bring it down to hit Yoriko, Sukan put herself between them.
"Are you insane?! Don't you dare!" The officer gritted her teeth. "Forget for a second that she could go into the Avatar State if she feels she's in danger, she's six years old, damn it!"
Liung watched as the glint had left Yoriko's eyes, which were now wide with horror. The Fire Lady was gonna hit Yoriko! What should I do? Should I...oh, spirits...this isn't what I wanted! I didn't think...
"She is dangerous, yes, but I won't coddle her!" Saitei replied. "She will respect her elders, and she will learn as Argho did that—"
"You aren't touching her," Sukan hissed. "She's been through more than enough, and I won't sit here and watch an entitled Fire Nation royal brat threaten a child!"
Before anything else could be said, Moro stepped in between the officer and the Fire Lady. "That's enough! We're done here. Until we can all discuss this calmly and rationally—like adults—I think there's nothing more to be done."
Saitei stared daggers at Sukan, but her hands unclenched, and she took a step backward. "Fine. We will table this discussion. I...acted rashly." Her eyes narrowed even further. "But make no mistake, we will finish this discussion before you three leave here."
With that, the Fire Lady turned and walked away.
Saitei breached the tree line, where Jogi waited next to the airship. Galba was already speaking to him, and she could guess what they were talking about. Galba had flown above her; he'd likely briefed her nephew already.
"So, it didn't go so well," he said. "You should've let Galba or I do the talking, especially with the situation like it is."
"Are you implying that I'm ill-suited for this?" she asked, making no attempt to keep the venom from her voice.
"For dealing with six year-olds? Yes. She's a child who just lost her parents and was attacked by a spirit in the span of days; that requires a certain kind of tact." Jogi frowned. "Yoriko is not like Argho. He came to you cocky and overly sure of himself; he was an adult. This is different."
"While the girl did speak a bit harshly," Galba began, "that still doesn't explain moving to strike her. What were you thinking, Saitei?"
The Fire Lady sighed. "I don't know."
"Well, she's not making any excuses, Galba." Jogi smirked and shook his head. "I do believe we're about to see an apology in action."
"Well, it has been quite some time since I had a proper laugh," the gray dragon replied, causing Jogi to wince.
"Eh, maybe we ought to skip that part, you old lizard. It creeps me out."
Saitei leaned against her reptilian friend and frowned. "Moro's likely going to have it out for me later, assuming the police officer doesn't try to shoot me." The Fire Lady grimaced. "I've seen the look of murder in plenty of eyes before, and that was it."
"You did threaten her hatchling; that usually—"
Jogi inclined his head. "Officer Sukan and Yoriko aren't related. She's just had the most experience with the young Avatar, and the girl trusts her."
"Interesting. I did not know that."
"An apology is in order, but I don't like the Avatar being without protection," Saitei said. "If she didn't have such a damn good point, I'd be more inclined to choose for her. As it is, she seems to know the hearts of these hatchlings better than I do." The Fire Lady's eyes narrowed. "We'll see where that goes."
"I think we all need time to settle down and discuss this like adults," Jogi said. "I propose we give them an evening to...decompress. Well, give all of us an evening, anyway. We can talk about this tomorrow."
"I agree," Galba replied, "the time could best be spent in serious thought. There is a girl's fate to decide."
The prince shook his head. "We'll need to tone down the 'fate' talk tomorrow, or Yoriko and her current caretaker are likely to shut you out. Remember, this needs to be handled tactfully."
Moro sighed as soon as the Fire Lady was out of earshot. "This was a mistake...she's not ready."
"No, she's not," Sukan said. "But the Order thought it'd be a great idea, so here we are."
"I don't even wanna be the Avatar," Yoriko replied, all the while staring at the ground. "I just want to go home. I wish...I want my mommy and daddy back..."
She clenched her tiny fists and pressed her lips together; Sukan could tell that she was trying not to cry. She moved to comfort her, but Liung had already reached her side and nudged her arm. As Yoriko smiled and wrapped her arms around the dragon's neck, the officer sighed.
We're a mess...all of us. This has not been the best week of my life, not by a long shot.
"Yoriko, Sweetie?" The young girl turned toward her. "When the Fire Lady gets back, I want you to apologize to her."
The Avatar frowned. "Why? She doesn't care about anyone but herself." Her eyes narrowed. "She's mean, and she doesn't listen!"
Sukan nodded. "I know you're angry, but she still deserves your respect."
"She's a big bully!" Yoriko cried, stamping her foot down and releasing tiny jets of flame around the sole of her shoe.
"Calm down, Yoriko," Sukan said as she took a step forward. "You need to calm down, now."
The girl pursed her lips and leaned against Liung, glancing in the dragon's direction. "Yes, Ma'am..." She stared at Liung for a few more seconds before facing Sukan again. "She wants to talk to you."
"Me?" she asked.
Liung approached slowly, and Sukan held out her hand. She felt the dragon's warm scales press against the palm.
"Miss Sukan, I have a...request."
The officer inclined her head. "I'm listening. Relatively speaking."
"I..." Liung gritted her teeth and hissed. "I want to go with her; I want to...be the Avatar's companion."
Sukan furrowed her brow. "I don't understand. I thought you said—"
"I know. I know what I said. Yoriko...she's really nice, but I still didn't want to go."
"So why change your mind now? Did she say something to you?"
"No. But when she's angry or sad...I can feel the other spirit, the Avatar Spirit, moving. It creeps me out, and I don't want her to get hurt. If I can sense it, maybe I can help."
Sukan shook her head. "You don't need to do this; if you don't want—"
Liung growled. "It's not about what I want! She's in danger, and she's the Avatar! If I don't help, I'm worse than a runaway! She needs someone...she needs a friend. And I...I think with everything that's happened...I need to get away from this stupid island as soon as possible."
The sun was low in the sky when they returned to the palace. Saitei and Galba had gone on ahead; the prince had told them as much.
Probably for the best. Sukan held onto Yoriko's hand as they walked through the hall to their room. Her mind raced as she remembered what Moro had said on the airship ride back to the palace.
If the Avatar Spirit really is poisoned, that would explain what Liung felt, what she told me. Even worse, it means Yoriko might never be whole again...
The young girl glanced up at her. "Uh-huh?"
"You haven't asked me what Liung wanted back on the island."
Her eyes widened, and she tugged at her ponytail. "Oh...I guess I just forgot."
"Yoriko," Sukan said as she stopped and turned, kneeling down so that she was at eye level with the girl, "you're a very smart girl; I think you know what she had to say."
The young Avatar furrowed her brow. "But she doesn't wanna. Not really. She's just saying she wants to come with us because it's what she's gotta do."
Sukan raised an eyebrow. "Us? Look, Yoriko, I—"
"I don't have anyone else," she whispered. "My mommy and daddy are gone, and you're the only person who's been nice to me. I mean really nice...."
"That's not true, Honey—"
Tears welled up in her eyes. "Yeah, it is! Everybody else just treats me like a thing! I don't wanna be the Avatar; I just wanna be me!"
Sukan hugged Yoriko tightly. "I can't imagine what it's like, Yoriko; I'm sorry you feel this way." She pulled back and stared eye-to-eye with her. "But I can't even protect you, much less take care of you. That job has to go to someone a lot better than me."
"Please..." the young girl pleaded. "The Fire Lady told me to choose, and I'm picking you."
The officer sighed. "Yoriko...let's—let's put this on hold for now. We can talk about it when we've both gotten some sleep."
The Avatar bit her lip and sniffled. "O-okay...I get it..."
The Owl stepped around the desk and placed the gun down on it. As he did so, he stared down at the man seated before him. He noticed that he was shaking slightly.
"Trying to fight the poison, Shingen? You might as well settle in; you die tonight."
"...w-why..." the councilman whispered hoarsely as his muscles seized.
"Well, because you annoy me, really. Your incompetence nearly got the Avatar in deep trouble. She might've died, or worse, been killed while in the Avatar State." The assassin leaned closer to Shingen's ear. "Do you have any idea how the Spirit World might've reacted if humans were responsible for her death? I've seen it; they already hate our guts!"
The councilman's eyes were wide. "...spirit...was...Varro..."
"Your stupidity nearly ruined everything, and in the end, I think Taiko will thank me for this." He picked up the gun and placed it in Shingen's hand, wrapping each finger around the grip. "You're a disgrace any way you look at things, even to those who don't know you. No one will have any trouble believing you would do yourself in after a public fiasco like that."
The Owl lifted his hand and the gun up to his head. "The beginning of a perfect world is so close; it only needs men willing to fight."
The shot rang out as he pulled the trigger, and Shingen's head hit the desk. As the Owl left the room, he could hear footsteps echoing down the hall.
"Hopefully the spirits are kinder than you deserve, Shingen, but I doubt it. Still, we may meet again on the other side."
Sukan sat in one of the chairs that sat around the small table in her and Yoriko's suite. The dim yellow lights only supplied enough light to see by, but she didn't need to see to enjoy the silence. The truth of it was that she couldn't sleep, a twofold problem.
Yoriko could wake up in the Avatar State again, especially since...
She grimaced and put her head in her hands. Between this and—and Ming...I don't know if I'll be sleeping for a long time.
"How could I forget?" she whispered. "How could I get so caught up in all of this that I forgot her sacrifice?"
Izanagi didn't just kill Yoriko's parents that night; he took her too. In an instant.
The officer felt hot tears running down her face, and she attempted to keep the sobs at bay. But they wouldn't stay buried.
"So much went wrong...one spirit ruined so many lives, and we couldn't even kill him." She grimaced as she wiped salty tears from her cheek with the heel of her hand.
She heard the door to Yoriko's room creak open and mentally kicked herself as she saw the young girl's head peek around the door. "Another nightmare, Sweetie?" she asked.
Yoriko stepped out from behind the door and nodded. "Uh-huh, but I woke up." As she came closer, Sukan could see tear tracks lining her cheeks. "Were you crying, too?"
"Yeah ..." she said. "I was just...thinking."
The officer sighed. "Do you remember the other woman who showed up with me the night that—" She furrowed her brow. "Never mind."
Yoriko inclined her head. "Yeah...she was killed by Izanagi, too..."
She felt sick to her stomach. "I'm sorry, Yoriko; I really am."
Sukan pursed her lips. "Because I can't be what you want. You want a family, and I can't."
The little girl blinked rapidly and chewed on her lower lip, and both of them just sat in silence for a few seconds.
"Where will I go?" she asked.
"I..." Sukan glanced away. "I don't know. The Order will find someone; they'll find you a family--"
"But you care about me!" she cried before furrowing her brow. "Right?"
Sukan's lower lip quivered. "I do. I don't want to see you ever get hurt again, Yoriko. But I can't protect you; I'm just one person."
"...but...I don't..." Yoriko gritted her teeth as she fought back the tears. Can't be a crybaby now! Can't... The young Avatar quickly ran up to the officer and wrapped her short arms around her neck. "Please...Miss Sukan...please."
The officer hesitated before reciprocating the gesture and hugging Yoriko tightly. "I can't do it alone..." She felt the little girl bury her face against her shoulder in protest. "...but—"
Yoriko's head shot up, and her eyes were wide. Sukan closed her eyes and turned away slightly. Spirits...please let me be doing the right thing here.... "—but if the Order is going to be helping us along, that's a step in the right direction."
The young Avatar's eyes grew even wider, and she opened her mouth to speak, but Sukan cut her off.
"The step after that is going to be some extra protection. It's why we brought you here, and Liung is willing to come with us. I know you don't want her to be forced into making a decision, but it's her choice. She made it, and honestly, that's the only way this can even begin to work."
Yoriko grinned and wrapped her arms around Sukan's neck in a surprisingly strong embrace. "Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou! I promise I'll be good; I won't cause trouble or anything! Thank you so much!"
Sukan's heart began beating faster as the weight of what she'd agreed to set in. What have I done?
- Sorry for the long wait, but I've been trying to get this chapter just right, seeing as it's an important one.
- Yoriko and Sukan's relationship wasn't present at all in my initial outline for this story, but I like it. I hope you guys do, as well.
For the collective works of the author, go here.