Tainted Air

Long Feng was wandering down a lone dirt path that wound down a mountain all the way down to the coast. He was wearing his usual Dai li uniform and walking in his usual fashion with his hands behind his back. Trees stood tall with their green leaves at both sides of the pathway, creating a shelter from the rain and a home for birds.

Many thoughts loomed on his mind like a scar. All the things he did for his nation were now meaningless. That Airbender ruined the peace he worked so hard to achieve since he was a young boy. And now, he was a traitor. Banished from Ba Sing Se. Dragged out by his once loyal army.

Had he been lying to himself? Long Feng had never regretted anything before in his life. But now... he wasn't so sure any more. Was it all worth it? The brainwashing, the enslavement of his own agents just to keep the peace? He didn't know. His mind had never been so scrambled and unfocused before.

Through his thoughts, although he did not realise it, his face became knotted and screwed with a frown. It didn't help when a young bald man wearing orange and yellow robes was sitting right in his path. "What are you doing sitting down on the dirt?" He said to the man with his calm yet annoyed voice.

Yinceng kept his eyes closed and his body still. "I am meditating," he simply replied.

"Well can you meditate somewhere else? You're in the way."

Yinceng peaked open one of his eyes and realised where he was. He had been in this situation before where he seemed to drift to places whilst he was meditating. He stood up and made a respectful bow to Long Feng, as it was his usual custom to do so. "Sorry. But maybe if you waited patiently I could of finished my meditation and then we would both be satisfied."

This made Long Feng's frown somehow go deeper. He was being talked down to like he was someone from the outer ring. He shoved past the bald man and continued walking, Letting his arms swing from side to side instead of locking them behind his back. "Can I ask you a question?"

"What!?" Long Feng replied, clearly irritated.

"Do you know where Avatar Aang is? I need to speak to him." Yinceng was polite but Long Feng was disgusted to hear that name, and it was clear on his face.

"He is probably being buried right now. Shame." The thought actually brought joy to him.

"Why do you hate Avatar Aang?"

"Why do you keep bugging me!?" Long Feng was sick of this and dug his toe into the earth which created a small earth pillar that caught Yingceng by surprise and launched him high into the sky. Only for him to gently fly down in a current of air. Long Feng was surprised, but he knew what this boy was. "You're one of them!" Long Feng kicked a rock out of the ground and got ready to launch it. Yinceng's eyes widened and he held his arms out in protest. "Sir please do-" He was cut off when the rock pressed hard into his stomach and carried him into a tree. As Yingcen's back back a sickening crunch and the boulder rolled off his limp form, he tensed up and sent a speedy gust of wind to Long Feng, who was caught off guard by the invisible attack and knocked down onto the ground by its sheer force.

Yinceng got up and brushed of his robe. "Please stand down sir." Long Feng only snarled and slammed both his fists down on the earth, creating two separate earth fissures which cracked the ground as they snaked side to side towards their target. Seeing the protruding earth coming towards him, Yinceng propelled himself up into the air with a spin of his body to dodge the attack and allowed it to continue into the forest.

He had to cut his graceful landing short though when Long Feng took advantage of his vulnerable state and sent another boulder at him. As the airbender dropped the boulder barely missed his head and he landed with too much force, and an uneven stance.

Long Feng took advantage of this and threw two uppercuts in the air in front of him and, as Yinceng couldn't feel the earth he was thrown over when a small earth pillar jabbed into the sole of his foot and push him upwards and off his feet. He landed on a soft cushion of air, and he was blinded by the sun blazing in the sky. But a shadow loomed over him, followed by a large boulder that almost crushed his head if he didn't roll out the way in time.

Yinceng quickly recovered before any more killing blows could be made. Long Feng revealed his earth gloves from his sleeves and began thrusting his hands out rhythmically, launching parts of the finger with every motion. Yinceng took a relaxing breath and began circling his feet and body to dodge the attacks. It was just like passing through the gates at the Eastern Air Temple, just like a leaf in the wind. The earth still whistled past him as he changed directions again and again and Long Feng was getting irritated, which clearly showed on his face as his teeth were shown like a polarbear dog when it was growling.

He continued jabbing the air, but he realised his finger's ammunition was exhausted, instead he trusted his palms forward to release the remainder of the gloves to target Yinceng's hands so he could pin them down. Whilst Yinceng continued to spin on the spot, ready for the next attack, he did catch sight of the brown rocks hurtling towards him. On his next rotation he grabbed the rocks and threw them down to the floor as he exited his evasion, causing the rocks to explode into the path.

Long Feng was beginning to lose his breath. His rage filled attacks were wearing him out, Yinceng on the other hand was still full of energy although he did get the air knocked out of him. He meant Long Feng no harm, but he only saw Yinceng as another Avatar and he could almost see the man shifting into the form of that boy in his mind's eye.

A low toned growl signalled the next wave of Long Feng's attacks and all of his muscles tensed. Yinceng narrowed his eyes, ready for the next attack. He had to finish this fight, but he had to stick to the same teachings he learnt from Won Shi Tong's library all those years ago.

Long Feng raised his right leg high up in the air to trigger a large earthquake attack. Yinceng however swept his leg low and kicked a small air disk at Long Feng's earthed foot, and as it sped across the ground it kicked up dust and dirt behind it, catching the attention of Long Feng who realised it was too late to exit the attack. The air disk took away his leg and made him involuntary flip over and land face-first on the path, leaving a tiny bit of blood from a new cut on his face.

He felt the sting of dust in his fresh wound and he wiped his finger over it, smudging blood over his cheek and his thumb. Nobody had made him bleed his own blood before. The sight of it made him shiver. He had never felt so human before. All the while, Yinceng was observing him staring at his hand on the floor and he took his chance to flee.

Long Feng saw his feet scurry away at the edge of his vision and he grunted whilst using a flick of his wrist to create an earth wall to block the airbender's path. But with Yinceng being nimble he leapt over the wall with a massive push of air, only to be met with an earth pillar that pushed him back over the wall and get launched through the air as fast as the wind itself. He came to a stop when he hit the top of a tree face first and land on an arked branch.

As Yinceng winced from the pain and his vision became clear again the branch that supported his lying position snapped and he was sent in a free-fall down the tree. He cracked his back on a protruding branch before flipping off it and whacking his head on another. The leaves rustled and fell with the airbender as he bounced off branches of the tree. Each snap was a satisfying sound to Long Feng, but each snap sent a large shot of pain through Yinceng's body.

When he finally landed with a large thud in a cloud of dust, his eyes fluttered and he saw Long Feng approaching him with a cold look in his eye. He smirked, ready to land the final blow when Yinceng summoned the last of his strength and created an air funnel with a raise of his arm which picked up the leaves from the trees above and slammed them down on Long Feng to distract him. As his arms flailed around to clear the leaves Yinceng slowly arose with pain taking control of his muscles, but soon the adrenaline of battle took hold and he drew in a large breath of air and closed his mouth with his hands to sustain it.

When Long Feng found his bearings in the mass of leaves his eyes widened when the airbender released his hands and blew a forceful wind at him. He was flung back with immense speed but he dug his feet in the earth and they dragged across the ground, searing with burning pain as the gale continued. When Yinceng ran out of breath Long Feng came to a slow halt and his body was instantly weakened from air blasting the wind out of him whilst entering him just as quick.

His muscles turned to jelly and he toppled to the ground, barely able to keep himself supported with his hand. He took a quick glance behind him and saw the dangerous cliff that dropped behind him. The waves crashed against the cliff and the jagged rocks that lay below, causing mist and spray to fly up its surface and gently reach its peak before dropping back into the sea again. Long Feng struggled to rise and in his attempt his legs gave way and he toppled over again. He had to get away from the cliff.

Long Feng sliced the air with his hand and cut one of the jagged rocks in half. He clenched his fist as if he was grabbing it and whilst he was still knelt on the floor he slammed his fist onto the ground, sending the jagged rock from the base of the cliff over his head and down like a gauntlet. Yingceng's eyes widened in fear when he saw it coming down at him but he jumped backwards to dodge the initial attack, only to be caught by the force of the shock wave and the cloud of dust and rocks that followed it.

He bounced against the ground several times before stopping and steadied himself out with a backwards roll. When he stopped though he did faulter and wobble a bit from a sudden loss of strength and power. He was feeling the exact same way as Long Feng, but neither of them wanted to show it in fear the other one would take advantage. He wasn't the peace loving nomad he was a few minutes ago. Yinceng saw a somewhat straight tree branch and he picked it up in a firm grasp.

He quickly stood up and span around, finishing with an air swipe from the edge of the makeshift staff. Long Feng barely had enough time to react and only managed to create a weak earth shield with a raise of his forearms. His efforts were futile though as the earth shield was cleanly cut in half and almost was Long Feng's head if he didn't hear the mighty gust coming his way in time to duck.

He got up and sidestepped an air blast created by Yinceng's free palm. He countered by launching several pebble-sized bullets at Yingceng. Yingceng flinched as the bullets approached faster with increased speed. He held his staff high up in the air to make an air wall so the bullets would be redirected, Long Feng however smirked and sharply opened his fist to explode the pebbles into dust and fine dirt which went through the shield and hit Yinceng in the eyes.

As the airbender stumbled back and squinted his dirt covered eyes in pain, Long Feng tensed up his body until the veins on his neck were clearly bulging and he threw his arms back whilst Yinceng was trying to get his bearings and execute his next attack. The dirt underneath the tree solidified round its roots to create a hard rock. His arms were put under an immense strain as he raised the tall tree out of the ground, but the snapping of the twigs and leaves as the tree was torn away from its canopy alerted Yinceng, making him cancel his tornado preparation and get in a low stance before the tree fell.

Long Feng let out a roar of effort as he violently threw his arms down and sent the tree plummeting down onto the airbender, who heard the shaking leaves getting closer. He grabbed his branch with both hands and took in a quick breath through his nose before swiping his staff vertically and splitting the tree in half right down the middle with a sharp air swipe, revealing the fresh yellow wood inside. As the dust started to settle from the impact of the tree, Long Feng waited in anticipation to see the airbender's limp body in a pile of broken leaves and branches. Instead he saw the complete opposite; Yinceng standing in a perfect form with his staff still high up in the air and his stance perfect and low. Yinceng slowly opened his eyes through the rock that was scratching them and made a cocky smile.

Long Feng was sure he couldn't end this airbender, but revenge got the better of his senses and made him try. He did a quick stomp on the floor and launched another boulder out of the ground before kicking it with his other foot. Yinceng could not believe this man, he just would not give up. And as Yinceng easily jumped backwards over the rock he thought he did not learn either, that was until his back made contact with a hard wall behind him and shook his head.

When he managed to gain control of his shaken body his only saw another boulder closing in and hitting him in the chest, sending him through the earth wall behind him with a crunch of rock and bone.

It was then Yinceng felt no pain, only numbness as his adrenaline kicked in to combat the immense pain that began to surge through his spine. When he landed he fell on the rock he was sent back on and created an air cone in time before another rock went for a crushing blow. Long Feng was putting all of his effort into trying to crush this insolent man with his boulder whilst Yinceng kept circulating the wind at the base of it with his intricate and circular hand movements. Yinceng felt the weight of the boulder slowly pressing down on him, and struggle was clear on his face with his gritted teeth and and narrowed eyes. Though in the face of certain death, Airbending still seemed like a graceful art.

Yinceng summoned a final gust of air and launched the boulder up high with a strong push of his palms until it was a mere black spot in the sun. Long Feng was left weak and in shock at this airbender's strength and his face finally showed it. His eyes were relaxed and hung low, the crinkles were gone from his frowns and his head bobbed up and down from heavy pants and gasps for breath. He made one more desperate attack and jumped sideways whilst digging his fingers into the ground to try and scoop up a boulder.

This was a mistake.

Yinceng took this advantage and quickly stood up whilst spinning around with circular leg and hand movements, creating an air sphere which cradled in his arms. He threw the air sphere whilst Long Feng was still in mid-leap and Long Feng's eyes widened. He knew he was going down and his heart stopped for a mere second, but that was enough for fear to take over. When the air sphere connected with Long Feng and carried him away he was span around and launched off the cliff that stood behind him.

The airbender's body froze when he realised what he just did. He ran as fast as he could by propelling the air behind his robe and pushing the air away from in front of him. The brown dust kicked up behind him as he ran, almost like it was as desperate to save the man from death as he was.

In the meantime Long Feng was in free-fall and the world seemed to slow down around him. The hands that waved and flew around in front of him disappeared in memories that flashed before his eyes. His rough childhood, protecting the other kids from bullies. Joining the Dai Li as the best recruit. Rising up through the ranks. Meeting his role model; the Earth King and being promoted with the highest of honours. Becoming the head of the Dai Li and bringing the much needed peace to Ba Sing Se.

Betraying his nation by giving it to the Princess. The Princess that came from the nation that killed his wife.

All of the memories disappeared and his vision was blurred by tears in his eyes. They were tears of joy, but also sorrow from happy memories and mistakes. He caught out the orange robes of the airbender and his hand reaching out before he closed his eyes and accepted his fate.

"NO!" No matter how fast Yinceng ran, he couldn't get to the stranger in time. He only managed to shield his eyes with his arm to stop the sight of him landing on the jagged rocks below.

Something had made him look though and he peeked over his arm only to wince and shield his eyes from the gruesome scene that lay before him. Dark clouds quickly shifted over him as if he bent them on purpose. He dropped to his knees and smothered his face in his hands as the rain began falling on him, trying to wash away the sins he committed like the sea washed away the blood of Long Feng. His chest and back involuntarily jerked as he heavily sobbed into his hands. He bent even lower until his face was in the dirt. "I'm sorry," he quietly whispered.

He suddenly arched his back up and looked straight into the sky, letting the rain join the tears falling down his face. "I'M SORRY!" He shouted to the Spirits before falling back down into his hands and sobbing again as the rain continued to pour down on his sodden robes and add to his depression.

He was no longer and Airbender. He did not deserve to be.

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