Chapter 4: Amid the Ruins
Victoria left the White Lotus compound disguised as one of them… still with that evil look in her eyes. She had told us everything, so I used this information to track her down. We were in an alleyway as I approached her.
“Victoria.” She turned, uninterested.
“Great, another dog.” I looked past that, approaching her. She casually tossed pieces of the uniform she stole into the garbage. I was surprised out how easily her easily it had hidden her curves.
“How did your mission to see Fox go?”
“It went fine, tell Silas he’ll show up, now do I really need you to babysit me on my missions, or”-
“No, something else.” Victoria raised an eyebrow, “Silas doesn’t want anyone to know, so he sent me. Your mission to shadow Fox is over, you’ve been assigned to assist me in tracking down two traitors and their friend.” She didn’t seem to care.
“I for one don’t care about Dragon’s policies on traitors.” She stepped past me, “tell him I respectfully declined”- I stepped forward.
“What if I tell you that these traitors are travelling with a Water Tribe boy that looks much like a certain ‘mutt’ who kicked your ass two months ago?” Victoria paused, irritated at the sudden challenge.
“Then I would be very curious… are you telling me this, or is it conjecture?”
“Saren Namakura, Lorik’s son and one of Silas’s targets… he’s working with Ghost and Crow. Even if you don’t think he’ll be much challenge, his companions will.” My words did little… I was saving the best for last.
“I like a good challenge and revenge, but… not enough oomph, if you know what I mean.”
“Alright… following them is a White Lotus agent, a waterbender you’ve met her before.” Victoria raised an eyebrow, “Know how much you hate Angel?” she nodded, “Well this is her baby sister… The half-blood we officially believed to be dead.” I was offering Victoria the chance to kill her rival’s sister. It dawned on me how messed up this was, but I needed her help. The one thing Victoria hated more than water tribe citizens, were halfblooded ones with firenation blood. She had always made it clear that she knew Tanya was a traitor before she became one.
My words on Kokoro Shiki swayed her. “They’re heading to Ba Sing Se, intending to reach Republic City… Mission is to capture him and if need be, kill the traitors, they’ll be sitting ducks.” She nodded, “Do you want me to stop, or”-
“No… go on,” her horrible red eyes remained focused, “You’ve peaked my interest… Nikta.” I smiled.
I did not like the plains of the earth kingdom, I wasn’t exactly use to camping out… so following Connor’s group would be a challenge to my city-girl mindset. Watching them getting chased by armadillo wolves didn’t help either. I don’t know why, only that I was deathly afraid of dogs. I remained focused on the armadillo wolves as Connor and the others escaped, I scanned down, looking from a hill. I pressed my scarf close to my face, breathing slowly. The dogs eventually gave up, and the pack left.
I approached the river, Connor’s group had completely disappeared into the pathway. With my bending, I released a thin mist from my mouth, pulling upwards. Much like Naava’s bridge of stone in the river, I created a bridge of ice, which I was quick to cross, though carefully. With another flick of my hand, the ice melted back into liquid form, and I turned, freezing at the sudden sight of another armadillo wolf sitting back on his hind legs, eying me.
I was close to screaming, but I held it in, noticing how calm and gentle the dog was. He panted, excited, probably expecting me to feed him like Saren did. He remained focused on me, growing slightly more agitated… out of fear, my hand dug into my pocket, tossing a piece of seal jerky I had stuffed there. He caught it and I bolted, running right down the path, while the dog casually sat there. Mountains and trees appeared and vanished before me, all in a sudden swirl of change. I ran for less than two minutes when I found myself tripping… I groaned, irritated at myself, and my fear. When I heard something, footsteps.
“Are you okay?” I paused, turning to see someone, a girl standing there, looking my age, maybe a little younger. Her eyes were a vibrant gray color, skin wasn’t pale, but also wasn’t anywhere near my color… she was clearly earth kingdom. The first thing I actually noticed was her hat, looked something I’d associate with some sort of safari. She wore a short sleeved striped dress shirt, and beige khakis shorts, on top of two open toed sandals. The look was brought together with a thin black tie that was in no ways tight. She looked absolutely adorable.
“I’m fine.” I replied, as she helped me up, the girl eyed my backpack.
“So you’re a traveler… that’s neat.” I turned more, “My dad and I do a lot of travelling.” I nodded, feeling almost drawn to keep talking to her despite my targets being up ahead. “So, what brings you to the Northern Air Temple?”
“Air temple?” I turned my gaze, eyes widening as I saw it… A looming mountain. It etched high above us, with a collection of vehicles and paths leading up it. It looked like an incredible challenge to get into the mountain, almost ridiculous.
“Or I guess… Air Temple Ruins would be the politically correct term.” I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. It was so massive, almost majestic. No wonder airbenders built their temple there. A variety of people and vehicles surrounded the mountain. There were even a couple airships, though they were on the ground, probably used only to travel to the mountain’s top.
“Who are all these people?”
“We’re the Earth Kingdom Excavation Group… EKEG for short.” I turned, noticing her smile.
“What do you do?”
“Anthropology, er… sort of.” I looked back to the temple, “Ever since the temple was destroyed, and the airbenders were too busy helping the earth kingdom, Master Tenzin wanted us to excavate and search for any loss air nomad relics.” I raised an eyebrow, “Eventually he wants to rebuild the temple, but that’ll take a long time. We only just started working on this a few years ago, after the Earth Empire’s collapse. Kuvira didn’t think air-nomad heritage mattered all too much in comparison to the state of the Earth Kingdom.”
“That’s what my dad would say.” She replied, I turned, “I’m Cheryl.” She offered her hand, I shook it.
“Taniki.” I lied. The teenager smiled with a whiff of innocence. “So you work here?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say work.” She shrugged, “I travel with my dad and help him out.” I nodded, while she crossed her arms. “So what brings a traveler like yourself here?”
“I’m just passing through?”
“With some friends?” she then asked, I raised an eyebrow. “Because I just saw a group of three coming through here… they didn’t notice me.” I crossed my arms, “Do you know them? They kinda look like you.”
“That’s too bad… it’s never fun to travel alone.” I sighed,
“No, it sure isn’t.”
As tired as I was, I could walk. Connor and Saren followed me as we asked around, trying to figure out who’s in charge. We were in the main work area, a sort of outdoor cafeteria for these researcher/miner types. We had noticed many of these vehicles had been labeled with the initials: “E.K.E.G.”
“Um, hello sir? What’s Ekeg?” Connor asked.
“I don’t have time for this.” One muttered, walking away from us. Saren sighed.
“Not the friendliest people we’ve ever met.” I shrugged.
“Atleast we know they’re serious about their work,” Connor turned.
“But what kind of work?” We looked to the side, seeing a group of men walking past us, holding pick-axes and shovels… another group passed by us, covered and dirt and moving weird objects… like a sort of cylindrical blade device. “I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and assume research?” We turned again, overhearing a conversation. It was two guys sitting at a bench.
“Look pal, the pay sucks, but if you got a problem with it, talk to Adrian!”
“He’s not even in charge of that, he’s just the guy hired to lead it all… not like he’s gonna last long here anyways.”
“Adrian?” Saren muttered, he stepped towards the two guys on lunch break, he broke into the conversation. “Excuse me, who’s Adrian?” the guys didn’t pay any attention to Saren, not answering to anything polite. I decided to take a crack at it.
“HEY WORKER BEES!” I replied, butting into the conversation, they turned.
“Excuse me miss?” One asked, “Do you talk to your mother with such disrespect?” I cracked swiftly, punching the man in the mouth and grabbing his arm, pushing him to the table violently. People turned, alarmed.
“Spirits Naava!” Saren protested.
“Tell me who Adrian is and I might not break your arm for that comment!” the man shook.
“He’s the guy in charge of us, he-he”-
“Where can I find him?”
“In the green EKEG airship number 1, you can’t miss it!” I nodded, releasing my grip. The man fell forward, fearfully.
“Thanks. Now you kids better play nice now, or I might just come back.” To my amusement, the man whimpered, while Saren stared at me as if I was crazy.
“Well… it worked.” Connor replied, Saren looked away.
“I know, but… never mind.” He sighed, “What was that stuff they said about Adrian not being around anymore?”
“I dunno,” I replied, “Let’s just see him and talk about getting a ride, don’t want to stick around here any longer than I have to.” Connor glanced to me.
“You gonna try and break this Adrian guy’s arm too?” I rolled my eyes. We were quick to get away from the cafeteria, finding a small airship yard that contained three airships… two of them were owned EKEG and were green, but the third was gray with a different logo, with what looked like some sort of sea bird.
“Albatross Oil?” Saren asked, Connor turned.
“They’re an oil chain in the Firenation, they drill until the place is clean and leave… kind of a big deal.”
“Sounds like you know a lot about them.” I replied, Connor shrugged.
“For a mission I once had to pretend to be one of their workers… not the worse kind of employment.”
“Well it’s none of our business.” I replied, making my way towards the #1 airship. As we did so, Ivan was quick to return to me, landing on my shoulder. “Good boy.” I smiled, we walked past some researchers who left the airship, muttering among themselves.
“So,” Connor paused, “If we see this Adrian guy… who are we gonna convince him to help us?” Connor asked, I shrugged.
“We’ll wing it…” Saren smiled.
“I thought Ivan was the only one who could ‘wing it’?” It didn’t even look at the bartender as we approached the airship’s entrance. Ivan flew off of my shoulder, settling on a metal bar as we entered the airship, looking to see a man meticulously studying a table sized map of the Northern Air temple, trailing his finger around it. He was vastly middle aged man with no facial hair, hair was light brown. He wore a beige dress shirt over brown trousers. An un-kept tie led down from his shirt, telling us something. This was a man married to his work.
“Hello, what is it?” he asked, not even looking up to us, “The new recruits? I thought they just left, do you need something or”-
“Slow down.” I replied, “Are you Adrian?”
“Who’s asking? If it’s Albatross, then no… I’m a different Adrian Lyrun, the other one is in Airship #2.” He spoke decisively in a sort of trance.
“Well, we’re not Albatross.” Saren replied, the man didn’t respond. “We were wondering if we could get some assistance, we’re trying to reach Ba Sing Se and”- Adrian paid Saren little attention.
“Mumbling is bad for you, you know.” He ironically mumbled. Saren blushed.
“I wasn’t mumbling! You’re just not listening!” He complained, Adrian remained uninterested.
“And I’m far too busy to talk, so can you and your compatriots please”-
“Hey!” I then replied, hand falling down to his map, causing the man to pause. He looked up at me, and froze, the lamplight reflecting off his spectacles. He knew who I was… which was exactly what I was banking on.
“You’re Naava Chun…” I nodded, “You’ve… you’ve been Shiloh.”
“Shiloh?” Saren whispered,
“Long story.” Connor muttered.
“Er… what can I do for you?” he then asked, setting back.
“Me and my, er…” I eyed Saren for a moment, “Companions need some assistance. Could you give us a little of your time, and in return I can give you some of mine.”
“Of course.” He smiled, “It’s an honor to meet you, Princess.” I couldn’t help but smile a little.
I found myself sticking by Cheryl, she was showing me around the excavation site, telling me all about it, every little detail. I couldn’t bring myself to stop listening, so I paced beside her. The only thing I remained on the lookout for was Connor’s group.
“When they started here, Master Tenzin had lost all hope of any relics surviving the Red Lotus attack, but then they started finding the first artifacts and we’ve been getting more support.”
“It must be a lot of trouble with all the spirits and sky bison around.”
“Not at all, the spirits are helpful, and the sky bison mind their own business… I almost flew on one, then my dad stopped me.” She pouted a slightly on that mention. We found ourselves pausing, looking to see a group of men and women stepping out of one of the large airships, the gray one. They looked different from the researchers, for one they were all firenation. The leader of the group eyed Cheryl with irritated disdain. “What do you want? Zatko?”
“Just wondering when your father will finally man up and resume communication.” He stated, so effortlessly. He did seem somewhat threatening looking, but for some reason somewhat shaken. “We all want the same thing.”
“Pretty sure we don’t want to line your pockets, thank you very much.” The man groaned, eying me before walking away with irritated disdain. “Stupid Albatross, think you own the place…”
“Some hotshot oil company.” She muttered, “When our process of finding more relics started winding down, they show up out of nowhere getting the okay from King Wu.”
“They got royal approval?”
“Master Tenzin promised he’d fight this, but he’s too busy with other matters to work on it. The airbenders we brought with us don’t think he’d make much of a difference either way. Because firebenders drilling on foreign soil is good for business and public appeal… doesn’t help with the oil crisis going on in the Firenation.”
“Long story.” She smirked, “But these jerks are broke, that’s why they’re still here… Tenzin sort of gave them his okay but they’re wrong!” Cheryl frowned, realizing how bad that made her sound. “And we’re holding them up…” I watched as one of the airships began to rise, it was the EKEG #1, Cheryl smiled. “Looks like my dad’s going back up.”
I was surprised how easily Naava made friends with this guy. The moment he knew who she was, she knew he’d help us… but currently he wanted to show us around.
Saren was plastered to the window, staring out as the airship took on altitude, Naava was still with Lyrun, chatting on the bridge. Other researchers were here, waiting to get onto the mountain excavation site. We could see the entire site, the people looked like ants. Ivan was currently outside the window, flying with us and the ship, kawhing downwards at it all.
“Woah…” Saren smiled, “Now that’s a view.” He turned, “You ever been on an air ship?” I paused.
“I never got to have a normal life.” a voice hissed in my head.
“Eh… once or twice.” I didn’t want to give much thought to that question. “So your first time then?”
“It’s awesome, look how fast it takes to get up here!” Saren replied, as we were nearing the tip of the mountain where the excavation was taking place. He glanced to me, with a smirk, “Know I had my doubts about going with you, but I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“That’s the spirit.” I then stepped back, “I’m gonna see what Naava and Lyrun are talking about, you wanna come along?” Saren thought on that, before looking away.
“Nah, I’d rather stay here a while longer.” Clearly he felt awkward about what happened at the river, and then the cafeteria. Might need to be something I should talk to Naava about.
I left the room, walking onto the observation deck. There was a man standing at a wheel and several control mechanisms, the pilot. To his side were Lyrun and Naava, discussing.
“So you’re in charge of all of this?”
“More or less, we’ve been here for over a year and found countless artifacts Master Tenzin believed were lost in the Red Lotus attack.”
“I see, and so you were given this airship?” Of course she didn’t care about the research aspect of this place.
“Makes it easier to get onto the mountain. Before we had to use old revamped methods from the hundred year war to even try and scale it… still do.” I approached them, looking at the mountain and noticing several compact metal cars scaling the mountain like in tundra tanks from the war Lyrun mentioned. They were supported with chain links, it actually looked very effective if also arcane.
“Looks like a fun way to get up there.” I mention, Lyrun turned, smiling.
“It is the first few times, but it becomes tedious and disorienting. It’s because the mountain is such a safety hazard that we don’t get too many recruits. It’s why they sent me this ship three months ago.” He turned, “Future Industries, donated by Asami Sato herself, nicest ship I’ve ever seen land or sea, and Cheryl and I have been everywhere.” Naava raised an eyebrow.
“Is Cheryl your wife?”
“Daughter,” he turned away at that, as we began approaching a built on rock landing site on the mountain. It looked like a combination of metalbenders and earthbenders we needed to erect it to allow the airship to land here. Naava and I glanced to each other, with Naava turning.
“I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but this airship looks like it’s pretty fast and”- I found myself shaking as the ship landed, reaching its destination.
“And we’ve landed.” Lyrun replied with a smile, patting the pilot on the shoulder, “You two and your friend can follow me.” Naava groaned at the mention of Saren.
“He’s not my”- and the guy hurried off, “friend…” she replied as Saren eyed us from the doorway. He remained crossed with Naava with what must have been ten seconds when I stepped in with a fake smile.
“How about we go see what the nice Professor has to show us, eh?”
Cheryl was the most interesting person here. Apparently not only was she a vegetarian and a nonbender, but she was probably one of the most qualified people working here. Apparently ever since she was five years old her father had taken her to research sites all around the world, from firenation ruins to the arctic. The only place she hadn’t been was the spirit world, though that was more because the White Lotus didn’t want researchers going through there just yet.
Cheryl had done everything, helping her father track down a wolf man (turned out to be a huge insurance scheme), wind-surfed on elephant koi(apparently it washed up onto sea and Cheryl saved it, getting a free ride for a reward), and even gone three days surviving alone in a swamp(that was actually an accident). She reminded me a lot of my cousin Aimee. It dawned on me how alone she seemed, never spending much time around kids her own age. She was asking me all sorts of questions, about where I grew up and the sort.
“Is your favorite color blue?”
“I knew it, so you’re a waterbender then? Which tribe, north or south? I’m guessing south so”-
“Judging your face it looks a little curved like Firenation ladies, is one of your parents Firenation?”
“Dad a cop?” I raised an eyebrow, eying her.
“How could you tell?”
“You just seem really polite and withdrawn… whenever I see daughters of cops they’re either crazy and don’t care, a little rebellious, or like you.”
“Thanks?” Cheryl smiled with a quick nod, “Well my dad was a cop, but he died.” I frowned.
“Natural causes or homicide?” I turned at that and she froze, “I’m sorry I didn’t mean…”
“It’s alright, you asked a question.” Cheryl scrunched her nose, frowning a little. “Homicide… it happened three years ago.”
“Did they catch who did it?” I heaved silently, thinking back on Abhik Nishi, when we finally caught him… I knew he was the man responsible for his death, and yet he said it wasn’t him. I didn’t believe him, and I refused to, it just brought me more closure to think that Abhik was lying.
“Yeah, they did.”
“Great…” she then sighed, eying me, “Um… my mom’s dead.” I turned curiously, “just figured I should tell you, seeing I made you talk about your dad.”
“You didn’t have too.”
“It’s okay,” Cheryl replied, “I didn’t even know her so no biggie.” The nonbender looked away awkwardly, before glancing to the food court, “They make the best sweet rolls and I’ll get you one… stay put.” She replied, stepping away, I smiled… before turning and looking to a near alleyway between buildings. I needed to contact Javik.
I swiftly got there, looking back to make sure Cheryl stayed put, I took off my pack, opening it to find the large scale radio transceiver I was kept with me at all times(ever since becoming an agent). Kneeling down I got onto the private white lotus frequency Javik and I communicated on
“Turtle-Duck to Fox, Turtle-Duck to Fox.” I whispered.
“This is Fox,” Javik replied, oddly quick, “Go on Turtle-Duck.”
“I have followed the targets, we are currently at the EKEG Northern Air Temple excavation site, and they’re here in an attempt to get a ride to Ba Sing Se.”
“Do you know where they are?”
“Negative, but I’ll know soon enough. I… actually made a friend.” I could hear his breathing, as he didn’t seem fully interested in that last bit.
“Is this all?”
“Yes… is something wrong?”
“Nothing, just…” he sighed, “Try not to communicate with me for the next couple days, unless it’s an emergency.”
“Just… something’s come up, all I can say.”
“Okay… sir.” Javik sighed.
“Take care, Turtle-Duck.” The message ended and I sighed, irked somewhat by Javik’s response. It was by then I turned, looking to see Cheryl standing there, holding two sweet rolls with her gray eyes wide an open.
“Hi… Cheryl.” I muttered, she blinked.
“You didn’t tell me you were some kind of secret agent!” I sighed, “That is what I heard right, or are you like those striker guys and”-
“Look, I”- before I could say anything, we heard something, chatter from deeper into the alleyway.
“What do you think Zatko wants to talk about?”
“I dunno, sounds big… told me to get everyone.” Cheryl and I went closer, watching as two Albatross guys were discussing their ‘orders’. “Remember, tonight at the airship.”
“Course… if it is what I think it is.” The guy smiled, “Maybe we’ll finally get a paycheck.” They approached us in the alleyway, we hurried out of it, lining by the walls as the guy casually walked away.
Adrian was excited to show us the air temple ruins. We were on the mountain top, following the man into a sort of tunnel, Ivan was busy wandering the entire site, something Naava completely forgot about. Because of course she forgot about him, too busy trying to talk this guy into flying us to Ba Sing Se and getting rid of me.
“It looks like it must have taken some serious earthbending to get in here.”
“It did,” the nonbender sighed, “Heard lots of complaining from the guys we hired, but we made lots of progress.” Connor nodded.
“Must have been a lot of lava-rock.”
“It’s actually called obsidian, after the temple was destroyed by Ghazan, it cooled rapidly because of the climate.”
“Hard to believe people can actually bend lava.” I muttered, Naava turned.
“It’s not a common trait… they say one out of one hundred earthbenders can bend metal, with lava it’s like one out of one million”-
“So am I guessing you didn’t beat the odds?” I replied, Naava grimaced, looking away.
As special as she apparently was, she was no lava bender… she was not one out of a million.
“Actually when we were going to start work on this project, we had some assistance from a friend of the Avatar, showed us how to deal with obsidian… can be very fragile with the right kind of bending technique.” We stepped past an earthbender who rung his hand forward, a piece of obsidian broke apart, Naava grabbed the chunk, interested.
“You wouldn’t mind if I take this with me, right?”
“Of course not… we have more obsidian than we know what to do with.” He added, walking past a group of two earthbenders moving a thick obsidian sheet, groaning under the weight. “It’s essentially volcanic glass, very pretty though not much else… I’ve heard it makes the best arrowheads.” I noticed Naava casually playing with the obsidian, using her bending to break it apart and put it back together. Connor turned.
“How far down have you guys dug?”
“We believe we’re almost 90 percent through the temple and its various tunnels. Just recently we’ve managed to make a major breakthrough after months of no activity.” He continued leading us to a strange floor with major supports erected to protect the place from coming undone. We had reached a massive door which was closed, Adrian pushed it open, some sort of locking mechanism attached to it having been broken. We stepped in, finding an empty hall surrounded with statues… this place was the center of the entire ruin. They all were circular and covered the area.
“Woah...” Naava muttered, staring at it all, Connor nodded, while I was confused. “This room actually survived.”
“What is it?” Adrian smiled.
“This is the Air Temple’s Sanctuary, a place only to be entered by the Avatar and the council of elders back before the war… each of these statues is of a past avatar.” He explained, I looked to the front, seeing a statue of Avatar Aang standing there, he looked tall. Behind him was Roku, and then Kyoshi, Kuruk, and it continued down the line from there, stretching around the room and then upwards.
It was incredible.
“Yeah, there was one like this in Shiloh,” Naava replied, I turned, “I got a glimpse of it when I was fighting Ronin, didn’t think much on it.” Adrian smiled.
“Odd… during the Mirage incident there was a reporting that on the day of the Equinox, the Avatar incarnation statues glowed briefly… at the time we even felt the temple shake.” Naava shrugged.
“Must have been something Aimee did in the temple that caused it.” Adrian turned.
“Whatever you and your friends did in Shiloh caused some sort of spiritual reaction… I believe it must have been the re-awakening of the temple, perhaps it’s still active, despite being under all that sand.” He smiled, while I was confused. “Shiloh is as much an air temple as the one is, not too far-fetched to think… but I’m getting ahead of myself.” He turned. “This is the cornerstone of the air temple, and the fact that it survived is something that excites me… Cheryl hasn’t even seen this room yet.”
“I don’t get it,” Connor replied, we turned, “Wasn’t this sanctuary emptied out during the hundred year war by that mechanist guy and those refugees?”
“It was, but then after the war, the air acolytes set themselves to restoring these halls, finding the lost statues and creating new ones based on the ones within the Southern Temple… Tenzin will be so happy to know this room has survived.”
“So then, now that you’ve found this place,” Naava replied, “What’s next?”
“We’re preparing to transport these statues out of here, to Republic City where the Air Nation can care for them until reconstruction of the temple has finished.” The three of us turned so suddenly at that, surprised he would so clearly say-
“We’re actually trying to get to Republic City.” Naava explained, “By any chance… could you give us a lift?” Adrian turned at that, eying her. “That’s actually what we wanted to talk about and”-
“No.” he replied, stepping away without focusing on that, “It’ll take months to get all these statues out, unless you’re prepared to wait six months and maybe help out… I can’t really do much to help you.” Naava pouted, while Connor crossed his arms.
“Well… guess we’re still going to Ba Sing Se.”
“Yeah…” I muttered, frowning, “Guess we are.” I found myself walking away, no doubt irritated. Adrian noticed our pouty attitude, blinking.
“Was it something I said?”
Cheryl and I were quick to discuss what we heard over sweet rolls.
“You think this means they’re going to get violent, or”-
“I doubt that… they’re an oil company, not the Triple Threats.”
“I know, but it really sounds like they’re going to pull something, and it’s freaking me out.” I raised an eyebrow, “My dad has been really weird lately, I noticed him sending some airbenders to Republic City to see Tenzin, hasn’t said anything.”
“Must be really important.”
“And if Zatko is talking about ruining it, it’s swarming in my mind now.” She muttered, I smiled.
“Alright, then tonight let’s sneak in and listen to their super-secret meeting.” Cheryl turned.
“Yeah, I mean… what’s the point of having a spy for a friend if you don’t get to go out on stakeouts.”
“Thank you so much Taniki!” she smiled, “Oh should I say Turtle-Duck?” I groaned, returning to my sweet-role.
I couldn’t help but be disappointed, finding myself sitting in an unearthed outer courtyard, it gave me a huge view of the surrounding area. It was circular, with a few levels rising in the ground, I noticed holes, likely meant for poles of some sort. There were still random pieces of obsidian and other igneous rock around us, surrounding patches of dirt with dead grass. There was a thin breeze going through, it was almost cold. I casually blew upwards, watching my a few hairs rise and fall with the sunset. I noticed Ivan was perched nearby, as if taking it in as well, I felt insecure, looking down to see almost a mile below us was solid ground. One wrong move and I could die.
I pulled out my dad’s letter again (it was easier to call it my dad’s letter since it was about him). He had always interested in airbenders, I never knew why… so this place reminded me of him.
“You’re not contemplating suicide, are you?” Naava’s voice asked from behind. I stuffed it back into my pocket. She stood there, wearing her short sleeved parka.
“Just needed to check.” She replied, arms crossing. “Con figured I should talk to you about something… not sure why.” I looked away, “If this is about that friend stuff or”-
“No, it’s not…” I sighed, “You’ve made yourself very clear on that.” She stepped closer, “I’m just a little disappointed Adrian isn’t helping us.” she nodded.
“It does kinda suck, but they want to do this the right way… with all kinds of security and that stuff.” I sighed.
“I’m starting to think you were right… that I was an idiot for wanting to go this way.”
“That makes the three of us.” she replied, “You’re an idiot for coming up with this plan, and I’m an idiot for coming along… and Connor’s an idiot for starting all of this.” She sighed, sitting down beside me, overlooking the excavation site. “Still though, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings about… what I said.”
“It’s fine, nothing to worry about.” I replied,
“It’s just I’m not too good at trusting people.” She replied, “I’m not sure if I can trust you quite yet.”
“Sounds like this is a recurring thing with you.” She ignored that. “Guess I’m just figuring a thank you would be nice, for saving you back there.”
“You did not save me.” She countered, “It was that armadillo wolf, not you.” I smirked.
“Really? I remember you leaning on me when we were crossing that bridge”-
“You remember wrong.”
“I must have a really bad memory, if that happened like three hours ago.” She rolled her eyes. “But then, maybe you kinda saved us for making that bridge.”
“You’re welcome.” I sighed. “Would have been more convenient if it was like an ice bridge or something.” She hinted, and I sighed. “What?”
“How many times do I have to say I’m not a waterbender anymore?”
“Well I don’t get it, didn’t Korra do her glowing eyes thing?”
“Then why doesn’t it work on you?”
“I dunno,” I replied, “I’ve tried bending countless times, hasn’t worked once… guess I’m just not a bender anymore.”
“Hell of a way to accept it.”
“I’ve been accepting it for five years.” She sighed at that, turning away and stepping back to the courtyard, pulling something from my back. My sword.
“Hey, what are you”-
“Get off the ledge, and over here.” She ordered, I sighed, “Now bartender.”
“My name’s Saren, you know!”
“Right now I’m pretty sure your name’s Quitter.” I got off the ledge, stepping back to her. Ivan took one look at the sword and flew away, probably not interested in the least of us making fools of ourselves. She held the sword with a confidence that bothered me a little. “It’s so good you brought up those armadillo wolves because when they were attacking, three times you almost took my head off with this thing.”
“I don’t accept apologies, I only accept improvement.” I raised an eyebrow, “I said I’d teach you how to fight with this, I don’t see a better place to start than here.” She metal-bent the blade, casually handing it to me. I caught it, quietly getting use to the blade’s weight.
“Here of all places?”
“Yes,” she pulled upwards towards the rock around us, pulling up a few stones and levitating them around her. She had an effortless charm to the way she earthbent, not thinking about it in the least. “I assume here you’ll think about where you’re standing as to not fall and plummet to your death.” I sighed. “Now when we start you won’t call me Naava, call me Sifu Chun.”
“Really?” She nodded,
“Yes, and along with it, you bow when I bow.” She nudged forward, bowing towards me, and eying me until I did the same. “Believe it or not, when it comes to combat I know what I’m talking about, student bartender.” I sighed, not even knowing how to argue with that.
At this rate I might as well just do as she says.
“Now get into your best stance, what do you assume sword-play is?” I obeyed, holding up the sword with my two hands, right over left. My legs shifted, bending slightly as I remained hunched awkwardly. “Hm… first off you need to stand up straight, no hunching.” I raised an eyebrow, “You seem to do that a lot… must be part of your sad-man-complex.” I tried to ignore that, leaning my spine back, straightening it, quickly rising two more inches taller than her. “Now adjust your stance, your legs need to be bent but not locked like they are, fix it.” I did as she requested, and she scowled, “No… they need to be shoulder length apart”- she bent downwards, and the ground under my feet rumbled, as my leg was quickly pushed three inches to the left.
“Don’t apply earthbending to me”-
“Don’t apply earthbending to me, Sifu Chun.”
“I’m not gonna say it.” She didn’t reply as she then looked to my arms.
“Your arms are locked too, not holding the sword correctly, lower your elbows and”- I did as she said and she grew even more agitated, like I was going out of my way to disobey… which I wasn’t. “No, you…” she grumbled, before stepping forward and grabbed my arms, bending them in certain positions to allow more movement to them. I noticed an irritated reddening to her cheeks, I could feel it as well. “There… that’s the stance.”
“Where’d you even learn this stuff?”
“My mentor taught me to fight with all sorts of weapons,” she explained, “We didn’t do much sword stuff but I did do a lot of knife-play.”
“Yeah, guy named Feron.” She replied so unnervingly, “Now… I want you to practice swinging, but maintain what I did with your arms… keep them together, not locked.” I did as she requested and she micromanaged each of my moves, dictating swift changes which I complied with. This lesson was set to revolve around sword swings, how I was to actually swing it, that’s where the obsidian came in. “Now I’m going to manipulate the obsidian the resemble arcs for you to slash, whenever I do, make the cut as seamlessly as possible.”
She went easy for the first one, having the rock layered on top of one another, I slashed down as she directed and the rock formation changed, turning into a flat arc. I swung from left to right, and she nodded, finally setting the rocks up diagonally, bottom left to top right. I started with bottom left, cutting up, but then she stopped me.
“Never cut from bottom to top, it leaves you open because of the way you’re positioning your sword.” I frowned, “That’s a nice sword, and that’s also a good way of denting it.”
“Alright.” I did as she directed and she nodded.
“Good, you’re not as hopeless as I thought.”
I found myself edging on the entrance leading to the courtyard, smiling as I watched Saren and Naava bonding. I remembered one time Naava tried giving me pointers on how to bend… I thought she was full of crap and it turned out I was right. Thankfully she knew how to handle nonbending combat… I could tell by the way she interrogated that worker that she knew a lot more about this stuff than I did.
“You three look like a new group.” I turned, I turned, looking to Adrian standing there, observing.
“We are… they’re both old friends of mine.” He nodded, “We actually just started our journey.”
“Oh to be young and on a journey… nothing quite like it.” I turned, “Much different from dealing with Albatross and Zatko every day, clawing their way into my work.”
“You don’t seem to like those guys.”
“I don’t… they’re scavengers, I’d argue they were rats, but…” I smirked. “I sent members of the Airnation with messages and photographs of the statues, they’re taking them straight to Master Tenzin himself, with proof of the chamber’s existence, these firebenders will have no choice but to leave.”
“Sounds like a plan.” I replied, “Though I’ve heard about Albatross, that they weren’t doing too well… you sure it’s a good idea to just send them away.”
“If the firenation needs oil they can find it somewhere else.” He looked away, “I’ve had it with corporations trying to key in on my work… on our work.” He sighed, “I’m almost jealous of you and your group, Reina loved going to new places, having adventures.”
“My daughter’s mother… I’m happy to say that streak has continued with Cheryl.”
“You’ve never said much about your wife.”
“Well, for one thing we never got married.” Adrian explained, “We never had time for that sort of thing. We did all sorts of things together, were together for twenty years when we decided to have Cheryl.”
“And what happened to her?”
“She died in childbirth…”
“I’m so sorry.”
“It’s alright… I’ve had a long time to come to terms with it.” He replied, “In a sense, I have spent twenty years with two different women, and have come to love them both equally.” I smiled, “You’re a handsome fellow, I don’t assume you’re seeing anyone?”
“I had a girlfriend, didn’t exactly work out… I’m not focusing on anything like that.”
“And what about them?” Adrian asked, pointing to Naava as she trained Saren further. “Anyone special in their lives?”
“Don’t think so.” I turned more. “Guess it makes this all easier, nothing tying any of us down.”
“Really?” Adrian crossed his arms, “so no family?” I frowned, “Parents?”
“Not really…” he looked away. “Saren and I just came into Su Hiron, and then we were set”-
“Su Hiron?” Adrian turned, “The fishing village?” he seemed urgent.
“Yeah, we left like two days ago.”
“…Hm, well a lot has happened in the last two days.” I raised an eyebrow, confused. “Su Hiron was burned to the ground yesterday.”
THREE HOURS LATER
Saren, Naava, and Connor were staying over for the night, giving me time to entertain Cheryl’s ideas about espionage.
We had figured out an easy way to get into the airship, I used my waterbending to create ice rods sticking into the craft, about to climb when Cheryl simply took hold of a rung and swung upwards, effortlessly gliding through the air and catching another rung. I knew how to do parkour, but nowhere was I as good as she was. She offered her hand, pulling me up to another rung. We continued climbing until finally reaching the top of the airship, going through we discovered a hatch on top… standard make for all Cabbage Corp. vessels like this one was. Using my bending I managed to break the lock open, Cheryl jumped down while I went down the ladder, finding myself on top of a grate, looking down into what appeared to be the main room of the ship, where a lot of the Albatross workers were settled.
Zatko stood there, arms crossed as they looked to him.
“Do we not have permission to be here?” he then asked, everyone agreed, “and yet Adrian Lyrun and his cronies has been refusing to let us do our work, feeling it could be dangerous to his beloved temple…” the others cheered, “I for one, am sick of this anti-firebender paranoia this bull is pulling.”
“Bull?” Cheryl muttered, I sighed.
“It’s a derogatory term for earth kingdom citizen… like how water tribes are dogs and fire nations are rats.”
“But people like cows.”
“And just this morning Adrian Lyrun has sent this!” he directed, showing what appeared to be pictures of something, “Relics found in his temple that are going to slow us down even further.” I could barely see the picture, it looked like a statue.
“What?” Cheryl asked, “Relics?” she turned, “He found the chamber?” she seemed disappointed, “Why didn’t he tell me?” Zatko continued.
“We couldn’t stop other letters being sent, but I refuse to let this stop us!” he explained, “Adrian is stubborn and refuses to let us work here, and he’s going to use these statues as an excuse to keep us away. We have tried to be reasonable for the past three months, but this has gone on long enough! Tonight we’re going into that chamber and trashing every one of them!”
“YEAH!” One man cheered, the others agreed.
“They’re crazy.” Cheryl muttered, I turned.
“They are kind of right.” She turned, “If your father is using this as an excuse to keep them away, even if they could still work here and help the crisis in the firenation, that’s not fair.” Cheryl frowned.
“We have to stop them, before they get into that chamber”-
“I’m going to tell my father, he has to know.” I sighed, agreeing.
“Alright… I’ll get my friends to help.”
“Er, yeah…” I sighed, “I’m kinda spying on those people you saw before me.” I frowned. As we made our way to the top of the airship, I froze, realizing something.
It was moving.
“Agh!” I fell back, hitting the grate, with Cheryl on the ladder, scowling.
“We’re taking off… we’re too late.”
“Really?” I asked, sighing, “And we have no way of telling anyone?” Cheryl didn’t seems so sure, she remained looking out, blinking.
“Wait… my dad’s ship isn’t here, I didn’t notice it.” I turned, “He’s on the mountain, he’s in the ruins!” I looked to her, “and I have no way of telling him.” I frowned, and then she remembered something, she eyed my backpack. “…hand that to me.” She replied, lowering down onto the grate and I sighed, handing the backpack to her. She opened it, pulling out my radio transceiver, studying it.
“Hm… this doesn’t have a set frequency, right?”
“Well, we set up COM equipment all around the site, including in tents on the mountain.”
“Do you know the frequency?” I asked, and Cheryl smiled.
“Yeah, I do.” She adjusted my transceiver, setting it to a set of numbers unknown to me, she breathed into it. “Papa Ape, this is Hog-Monkey, do you roger?”
“Papa Ape?” I asked, she smiled.
“It’s kind of our thing.” She looked back, calling for the same thing again, at least three separate times. On the fifth time, we got a response.
“Hog-Monkey, this is Red Baboon, I read you, what’s wrong?”
“Albatross is approaching the mountain, they’re going after the sanctuary… warn my father, Papa Ape.”
For some reason Connor was off, I didn’t know why. I was quick to fall asleep in the beds Adrian offered on the mountain, usually they were intended for Obsidian benders who were working in shifts, but as Adrian wasn’t moving is airship for the night, we were happy to comply. Ivan was curled up on top of me while Saren and Connor were sharing a bunk bed. I missed sleeping in a bed, no matter how strangely it smelled. Out of nowhere a group of obsidian benders entered, waking us up and causing Ivan to become angry.
“There’s a situation, Lyrun’s called for you three.” We looked to each other unsure but accepted, I pulled on my shirt and got out of the bed, getting my boots on as my companions did the same. Ivan stuck to my shoulder as we exited, finding the Obsidian benders standing around Adrian, who seemed particularly disturbed.
He told us everything… pointing out towards the approaching airship, readying itself to land on the other strip adjacent to the one EKEG #1 sat on.
They were going after the statues.
“I know we all don’t know each other very well… and you’re a new group.” Adrian eyed Connor, “But I need all the help I can get… whether it’s sword, earth, or fire.” I nodded.
“You got it.”
The airship landed, with Albatross workers stepping outside, focused on us with their leader, a firebender named Zatko standing in the center. We approached the landing strip, eying them.
“He doesn’t look so tough.” Connor murmured. Saren rolled his eyes.
“Yeah, he’s making up for it in numbers.” We were clearly outnumbered, with the rest of Adrian’s people being all the way down the mountain… it didn’t help none of them looked like fighters. Adrian had sent a message to people in the camps to fight for the sanctuary, but because there wasn’t a third air strip, they were instead scaling the mountain. Zatko stared at Adrian.
“I’m going to ask you one last time to stand down and let us work, Lyrun!”
“Not a chance!” Adrian yelled, “This land belongs to the Air Nomads, it’s not yours to tear apart for money!” I turned, eying Saren and Connor.
“Wait, that’s what this is all about?”
“Tenzin approved of our drilling, this mountain will be just fine!”
“But for how long? The next hundred years, the next ten-hundred years? The Air Nomads never dared to mess with nature, and you have no right to do it either!” Zatko scowled,
“I’ve tried to be reasonable Adrian… but I’m at wits end with you.” His hand shot forward, a sudden arc of fire went out, Connor jumped in between, deflecting the shot and shooting more flames.
The battle was short and to the point as I pulled up cover for Saren to get behind while Connor, myself, and the obsidian benders tried fighting the off. It went nowhere very quickly as Zatko and his men pushed forward. Nonbenders with pick-axe weaponry hurried forward, attacking us. I pulled up more rock to block while Saren used the techniques I taught him only hours ago. He fought better, not by much though.
A pick-axe clang towards him, and he leaned back, before slashing in a horizontal arc, causing the miner to lose his weapon. It fell down, into the endless abyss bellow.
“Oh that’s a long drop…” I shot more rock at them, tripping them up before three firebenders focused on me, throwing me back with a sudden blast to my cover. I hit the ground and Saren approached me.
“I don’t need your help!” I replied, kicking down and pulling up more cover. I was about to lean upwards when Saren’s hand caught my shoulder, that burning sensation came back.
“Keep your head down, those guys are shooting to kill!” he frowned, “Will maybe not kill but…”
“Excuse me?” I asked,
“Er… Sifu Chun.” I smirked. Connor scowled.
“You guys can mess around later, I need help!” he then replied, shooting more stray shots towards the Albatross groups, falling back and getting help from Adrian who didn’t fight as much as he just stuck to cover. We managed to get more men as the vehicles finished scaling up the mountain, but it was no use as they swarmed us. We hurried into the ruins, well aware that we were not gonna win this fight, and yet Adrian refused to admit it.
We hid on the airship until the fighting started, leading us to swiftly making our way off of it, Cheryl angry that this was happening.
“Even then he refused to listen!” I scowled.
“Wait, you thought the Albatross guys were right?”
“Well… not entirely, but.” She frowned, “I didn’t want my dad to hear anything about what I thought.” I frowned, “We never fight, so… I didn’t want to start now.” I turned, grabbing a tossed away miner hat and shrouding my scarf around my head. Statues or no statues I couldn’t risk my cover.
“I can’t believe Tenzin actually said yes, and your dad’s still refusing, why? Why does he care so badly of what airbenders want?”
“Because my mom…” Cheryl looked away, I turned, “She was an air acolyte, always fought for what she thought was right.” I sighed, “My dad changed a lot for her, becoming a vegetarian, taking better care of himself, even starting to follow some airbender tenants. This is kind of about her, in a way…”
“Well…” I frowned, “Airbenders aren’t like that anymore, they’ve changed, like a lot of the world has, and I don’t think the airbenders would want to see these people desperate so much just to get some oil… especially if a lot of them have families who need money, and the thing keeping them from that is some land nobody’s using.” Cheryl sighed, looking away.
“You’re right.” We approached the ruins, unsure if we could even catch up with the fighting. “It’s only a matter of time before they reach the sanctuary… I know where it is, but…”
“You wouldn’t happen to know a shortcut, would you?” I asked, and Cheryl smiled.
“Funny that you ask, Taniki.” She began to lead me forward, into the ruins.
“Kokoro,” I replied, she turned, “Taniki’s just a fake name.”
“For your spy stuff I’m guessing.” I groaned.
The tunnels made it a little easier to handle these Albatross guys, but not by much, atleast it gave Naava and the obsidian benders more space to work with.
“I got it, they’re ‘Obsidi-Benders’.” Saren replied, watching as they pulled up more volcanic glass and threw it towards Zatko’s men. More pick-axe guys went right towards us, Saren avoided a swift puncture, and slashed into the miner’s protective gear, causing him to fall away as I formed more fire to throw back more and more of Zatko’s men. “I think it sounds kind of classy.” Saren smiled, I avoided another shot of fire, jumping away also from the obsidian being fired by Zatko’s couple earthbenders. More and more of the EKEG group were being defeated, falling down to the ground. Naava remained strong, throwing off more of Albatross’s legion, but it was no good.
“Fall back!” Adrian yelled once more. We obeyed, following and quickly went further into the tunnels, Obsidian benders blocking more of the attacks. We finally reached the sanctuary, Saren and I shut the doors behind us, with Naava pulling up more rock to block it.
“This isn’t gonna last long.” Naava replied, scowling, and eying Adrian, “You couldn’t just let them drill for oil, could you?”
“If you’re expecting some kind of apology, you’re not getting it.” He looked away and I sighed. “The contents of this room are priceless, worth much more than any crude substance found in the ground.”
“And yet these guys are willing to break every statue in this room if it means getting that ‘crude substance’.” Naava replied, Saren sighed.
“She’s right you know.” Adrian looked away, irritated.
“How did we even get swept up into this mess?” Naava asked, and I turned.
“Because you wanted an airship.”
“I know why, but… agh.” She grumbled. We then heard a massive bang into the doors, with Zatko’s voice at the end.
“Adrian, open up, it’s over!”
“I’ll never surrender to you, you RAT!” Adrian yelled back, and I frowned, “No offense.” He whispered.
“Then you leave me no choice… PUSH!” Naava attempted to hold back the doors but it was no use as a sudden blast of earth threw us all back, dust kicked up as the doors opened with Zatko standing there, angered. We and the obsidian benders got back up, along with Adrian staring at Zatko. “We could have shared this mountain, but your arrogance made it impossible.” I watched as Adrian got in front of the statue of Avatar Aang, not moving an inch.
Saren, Naava and I looked to each other, knowing this fight was lost… even if we kept fighting. Zatko glanced to us, realizing we weren’t going to fight, and he looked to Adrian, creating a ball of fire in his hands.
He was about to go for it, and destroy both Adrian and the first statue, when a voice yelled.
“BOTH OF YOU STOP!” we paused, confused. And then out of nowhere, a girl dressed much like Adrian popped out of nowhere, going passed the disgruntled miners, who were confused. She was pretty, and also young… I knew immediately who she was, while Saren and Naava had no clue.
“Cheryl?” Adrian asked, she looked to her father, frowning.
“Stop this now.”
“I can’t do that, I”-
“You have no right to do this dad… to let your pride take you so far that you risked the lives of all our friends and even people we just met.” She frowned, “Master Tenzin said Albatross could drill, they’ve proven it won’t hurt us in any way, so why can’t you just let them?” Zatko nodded.
“Listen to your daughter, Lyrun”-
“And you’re no better!” Cheryl turned, eying the firebender with a sharp tenacity, “Trying to intimidate us! I know you’re desperate but that doesn’t mean you put your own people at risk… that’s exactly what started the Hundred Year War, the audacity to take what isn’t yours to take without any compromise!” Zatko looked down, guilty as charged. She was on fire (figuratively). Cheryl approached her father, kneeling down.
“I know how important this is to you… but mom wouldn’t want any of this. And we have no right to force these people to leave when they have so much depending on it.” Adrian looked down, sighing for a moment.
“You’re right, Cheryl.” He stood up, stepping past us and approaching Zatko, all of his men having stood down. He offered his hand, sighing, “I’m willing to… resume negotiations if you are.” And Zatko smiled, alleviated.
“I’ve been waiting to hear that for three months.” He shook the man’s hand, smiling, the researchers and miners looked ecstatic, being brought together. Naava turned, confused.
“What the hell just happened, I thought we were all fighting five minutes ago.”
“That’s what I thought too…” Saren shrugged,
“Guess we thought wrong.” I added, Cheryl was quick to introduce herself to us, for some reason she seemed awkward, like the three of us were on her mind.
“I um… it’s nice to meet you.” She shook each of our hands, eying Naava, “Hi Princess.” Naava paused, “Thanks for helping my dad, however crazy he was…” I shrugged.
“At least it’s good to know he’s crazy about you.” Cheryl smiled. From the group of miners I noticed one who stuck out like a sore thumb, wearing gray clothing and a yellow miner hat. I was about to pay more attention when Adrian turned, approaching us. “I can’t believe you actually gave in.” Adrian smiled.
“I wouldn’t call that… giving in.” he joked, “but maybe we can come to a certain agreement about their drilling activities.” I nodded, Saren turned.
“We’re happy we could help.”
“Yes… now I need to talk about your payment for assisting me these past few hours.” We turned, “I can’t offer you a ride on our airships, but I can give you a ride through the mountains… give you less distance to Ba Sing Se…” Naava sighed in relief, while Saren turned.
“Yes… I’ve grown rather fond of you three, and the mountains can be very difficult.”
“Thank you so much.” I replied, Naava nodded.
“We appreciate it.”
“We’ll go in two days, give you time to recuperate and me to strike a deal.”
I couldn’t help but feel happy for the arrangement. Thankfully nobody died, and the miners were able to apologize to the researchers… including a certain father apologizing to his daughter.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about the sanctuary Cheryl… I wanted to surprise you.”
“It’s okay… just thank you for listening.” She hugged him. Cheryl returned to me as her father was talking to my friends.
“He’s really excited, he’s even giving them a ride.” I frowned. “I’m pretty sure I could sneak off with a car and get you through the mountains too… might need to wait a while behind them so they don’t notice.”
“You don’t have to”-
“I want to, you’re my friend.” She smiled. “Besides, I want to get to know the real Kokoro since Taniki was a lie.” I smiled.
“Trust me, you’ve gotten to know Kokoro really well.”