❯ Make A Man Out Of You – Part 4 ( Chapter 4 )
Chapter 16: The Necessities of Men and Women
After the train trip, you spent the following night at Republic City, staying at a nice hotel, ready to leave in the morning. You wished you could stay for longer, but you had a mission to accomplish. Your hotel room had two beds, though Eska had silently communicated that she preferred to sleep in the tub, that reminded you of Desna.
It was a bit too early to go to sleep though, so you sat on your bed, flipping through your little agenda. It mostly listed the chores you were supposed to do when you were a maid at the fire palace, but you had not written anything on it for a long time. You would draw a happy face on the dates that corresponded to your days off. You paused as you saw a frowny face on one of the pages of an upcoming day and mentally counted in your head.
« Eska? » She looked up from the magazine she was flipping through, something focused around gyms and training equipment, maybe she was just looking at the pictures of the muscular men, you couldn’t imagine why she would be interested in actually reading the articles. « Do you… Well… » You weren’t sure where the embarrassment came from. You were both girls and it was a perfectly reasonable concern to have. One that you needed to resolve before the date marked in your agenda. « Do you have any… lady supplies packed? »
Eska looked confused, tilting her head to the side in puzzlement, her bangs falling over her eyes, they were getting kind of long.
« You know, lady supplies, time of the month stuff. It’s just that I didn’t pack any and we have a long way to go by ship, » you explained as a matter of fact.
A few seconds passed in silenced until your words were properly interpreted and Eska blushed, then shook her head. You thought she was embarrassed to have forgotten such a vital thing for a woman to pack for a long trip.
« It’s ok, Republic City never sleeps, and it’s not all that late anyway. I’ll run over to a shop and get enough supplies for both of us. Be right back, » you grabbed your purse and left.
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Finding a shop was easy enough and you got some sweets while you were out shopping for necessities as well as a few small souvenirs. You hurried back to the hotel walking down the sidewalk.
A shadow emerged from an alley as you passed by and whispered in your ear, « what are you doing out by yourself, sweetheart? »
You jumped away, startled, and shouted at the top of your lungs, « taxi! »
As if summoned by a magical incantation, a yellow satomobile obediently stopped near the sidewalk next to you. « Where to? » The driver inquired.
« Woah, where are you planning to take me? » Tahno laughed, looking smug.
You pouted, « it’s you. Don’t sneak up on me! What are you doing in a dark alley anyway? »
« It’s a shortcut to my favorite noodle shop, and most girls would be thrilled to have me whisper in their ears, » Tahno laughed. « Not that I have any intentions of stepping on any toes. »
Now that you knew you were not in any danger you couldn’t help it but to blush, even if you knew Tahno was just kidding around, he gave you the impression of being a big flirt. You recalled that Eska would send deadly glares his way whenever he said something flirty to you back at the swamp. Maybe she was upset that he didn’t give her any attention. Focusing on the present, you decided not to mention that there were no toes to step on, since you didn’t have a boyfriend.
« Hey, are you getting on? » The impatient taxi driver interjected.
You shook your head, « I can walk. Sorry, I just called out taxi because that’s what people do when they want to make a quick escape in the novels. » That kind of scene usually led to another character also calling a taxi and shouting ‘follow that satomobile!’ Then the nameless taxi driver, just as obedient as the first, would drive off full speed and a chase would ensue.
« The taxi’s here, so you might as well use it. » Tahno gave the driver some money, « take the lady to her hotel before her prince starts getting lonely. » He held the door open for you.
« It’s not like that, and you didn’t have to do that… » You tried to explain. Did Tahno really think you hooked up with some random guy? Was that how things worked in Republic City? Nah, he must have been kidding around to embarrass you.
« Hey lady, are you getting on or what? » The taxi driver grumbled.
« Alright, alright! » You got into the taxi. « Thanks Tahno, bye. »
Tahno closed the door with an expression as if he was laughing at a private joke that flew over your head. « See you tomorrow, princess, » he winked, emphasizing the word ‘princess’ as if it held a hidden meaning.
You stuck out your tongue at him in an effort to be sassy, which seemed to amuse him.
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You returned to the hotel room where Eska was waiting, still studying the workout magazine as if it held all the answers to the universe. « I’m back! » You announced.
Eska looked up from her reading and smiled, her long bangs falling on her face. She must have cut them often to keep them so perfectly symmetrical and was due for a trim. You put your bags down and dug through one of them, pulling out a pack of time of the month supplies. « Here, » you handed it to Eska, who looked embarrassed. She nodded stiffly and shoved the supplies into her suitcase.
« I also got you something else. » You looked through another of your bags and found a flower hair clip. « You can keep your bangs out of your eyes until you can have them cut, then you can just wear it as a decoration. » You went to put the hair clip on her hair. You and your friends did things like this back home, lending each other hair clips, helping with makeup and sharing beauty tips.
« There you go, » you smiled, though it took some effort to maintain the smile after giving Eska a second look. Without her bangs she looked even more tomboyish, almost like her brother.
You paused, noticing something and went to dig around your suitcase for your bag of hygiene products. You pulled out a bottle of facial moisturizer and offered it to Eska. « Your face is a little rough, right around here. » You pointed at your own chin in indication. « This moisturizer should help. »
Eska received the moisturizer. You observed her hands. Her nails were clean, but they were very short. Her hands didn’t look feminine at all. « Are you sure you don’t want a manicure? » You offered. Friends were supposed to help each other look their best, even if certain defects were impossible to fix, you bitterly mused about yourself, rather than Eska.
Eska shook her head and quickly retrieved something from her bag. You couldn’t see what it was, as she concealed it in her sleeve. Then she ducked into the bathroom, with the mystery item and the bottle of moisturizer. She emerged a short while later with a perfectly smooth face. You knew that moisturizer was good, but you didn’t think it was that good.
While Eska was in the bathroom, you had picked up her magazine and were looking at the pictures of men. « They’re handsome, » you observed, « though a lot of them are overly buff. » You flipped through the pages until you found a model that was toned just right, with muscles that were noticeable but not exaggerated, he had nice abs too. « I like this one, » you showed her the page.
Eska observed the picture as if making a mental note, then took the magazine away. Instead of showing you which model she liked best, she put the magazine in her suitcase and kicked it into the bathroom. Then she tried to pretend like that wasn’t totally strange by smiling and waving good night, before going into the bathroom, to sleep in the tub, you surmised.
You shrugged, everyone had their little oddities and moments of shyness, you had plenty yourself. « Good night! » You called out before turning off the light and going to sleep.
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Chapter 17: Emergency
An urgent message arrived at the Republic City the next morning and your plans changed. By the time you got up, Eska had apparently had enough time to share the news with Tahno because he seemed well informed while talking at a table at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. You decided not to dwell too much on the fact that her throat as supposed to still be out of commission, as there were other ways to communicate, though it was still worrisome. You considered further pushing the idea of going to a doctor, but it was probably best to wait until you were alone to bring that up.
« Look at that, sleeping beauty decided to join us. Your prince has been waiting for you, but didn’t want to disturb your precious slumber. » Tahno’s greeting remark earned him a kick from Eska under the table. The Wolfbats were there as well, snickering in amusement, though Eska’s glare quickly silenced them.
« Um, morning… Sorry I’m late, » you replied uncomfortably. Eska must have a crush on Tahno and there he was calling himself your prince. You mentally kicked yourself for blushing even if you knew he was only teasing you. « You were saying something about a change of plans? »
Tahno proceeded to explain that Valrick had been transported to the Fire Nation capital by airplane, escorted by General Iroh himself. This had happened right after you left the North Pole. « The message from the Fire Nation also said that… » He paused as if searching for the right words. « This twin’s presence is requested by the other twin. »
You frowned, you didn’t like how distant Tahno sounded. It was mean to not even say Eska’s name. Your glare was obvious enough so that Tahno noticed it and unexpected enough so that his expression revealed that he noticed it. « Eska, » you corrected. « Not that twin, their names are Eska and Desna. » Eska buried her face in her hands in frustration, which only made your glare intensify.
Tahno rose his hands in surrender and gave Eska a friendly pat on the shoulder. « I can sincerely say I’m sorry. » He sounded more like he was communicating pity than guilt. Eska made no motion to directly respond to Tahno and instead reached for one of the tea pots on the table and gulped down its entire contents. « Hey, that protein tea is for the Wolfbats! » Tahno protested and was ignored. You thought it was an odd revenge, but were glad that Eska was standing up for herself.
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You headed towards the Fire Nation, wondering what was happening and worrying the whole way. Upon arrival, Eska went off on official business and you had a moment to catch up with your friends and family, but you couldn’t stop wondering what was going on. It had to be something big if Valrick, and most likely Zhu Li, were transported to the Fire Nation capital by air, accompanied by the crown prince himself.
You were home, in a sense that meant that your mission was over, but you weren’t ready to let it go. Since you were a maid at the fire palace, the guards let you move around freely. You used that to your advantage to make your way to the royal guest quarters without any necessity to sneak in. You asked the guards and they informed you where Eska’s room was, possibly assuming that you had gone back to your old job and intended to do some cleaning.
You froze in front of the door when you heard Desna’s voice on the other side. « Tahno said that a real man is so manly that it is impossible to miss, even if he tries to hide it. »
« I will beat him up for you. » Eska offered.
« I am not angry at him, » Desna explained. « He is vexing at times, but has provided a helpful resource with the protein tea recipe that he shared. Do I look any different? »
« I think you put on some muscle, but it is hard to tell with that outfit, » Eska admitted. « The climate here is warm. Why are you wearing a long sleeve coat? It is because of what Tahno said? » There was a pause and maybe a nod that was concealed from you behind the door, then Eska sighed.
Desna then casually mentioned, « I need a haircut. »
« Keep your hair like that, » Eska suggested, « it suits you well. You can tie it back to keep it out of your face. »
« But it is so different from yours, » Desna pointed out and you could almost sense the confusion and disappointment in his voice. « I am your brother, » he stated as if to reassure himself.
« And I have missed you, but I have also been thinking that perhaps you need to be more than my brother. I believe this is what’s best for you, » Eska voiced.
You felt bad for interrupting the sibling moment, even if you were also kind of confused by it. What did it matter that they had different haircuts? You couldn’t really see Desna’s hair clearly with the mask on during the ball, since the front was partially covered by it. You knew he had long hair, but you couldn’t imagine him having the same girly bangs Eska had. You took a deep breath and resolved to stop your eavesdropping. You knocked on the door and waited.
Eska opened the door just enough to peek out, which didn’t give you a good view of the room or of Desna. « (Name), » there were some footsteps and the sound of a door hastily closing before Eska shook her head and opened the door the whole way, stepping aside to grant you passage, « come in. »
You walked in, Desna must be in the adjacent bathroom. You wanted to assume that he coincidentally had to go, but the timing was too perfect. He had retreated as soon as Eska voiced your name, as if announcing your arrival. He was avoiding you and it hurt more than it should. You had been away from him as far as you knew. Maybe spending time with his sister made you feel that your connection to Desna wasn’t truly broken. You thought you could except this, he was a prince, you had no business missing him. Platonic crushes used to be fun, when did they become so painful?
You looked at Eska, who seemed to be waiting for you to speak. She looked very different. You assumed that she had a meeting with a royal stylist and her more princess-like appearance was restored. Her bangs were cut, no longer falling over her eyes, but symmetrically framing her delicate face. She was wearing light makeup, highlighting her eyes, framed by long eyelashes.
She had little ornaments in her hair and was dressed in a way that was appropriate for the climate of the Fire Nation, though she still wore shades of blue, her national color. The dress was elegant and tasteful, though it still hinted at the figure of the one who wore it. The sleeves were short, only covering the shoulders, her arms bare except for the sapphire bracelets that adorned her wrists. Her hands were slender and feminine and her reasonably long nails were perfectly manicured, painted silver.
You tilted your head in confusion, « Eska? You look so different, » furthermore, her very presence felt different. « I mean, not in a bad way. » You stared at the floor. You could never be with Desna and suddenly you felt as if the girl before you wasn’t the same person that you had traveled with. You couldn’t even be friends with the twins, you came from different worlds. It wasn’t a matter of your respective home nations of water and fire, but rather the fact that they were royalty and you were a servant girl who got an inexplicably lucky break.
« You seemed distressed, » Eska observed.
« Yes… » You admitted. « I don’t understand what’s going on and I’m worried… »
Eska motioned towards the small livingroom area in the room. « We should sit down, there is much to tell. »
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Chapter 18: Cat and Mouse
You waited expectantly for Eska to explain what was going on. Part if you wish she’d hurry and a bigger part hoped that she would take her time so that Desna would get tired of hiding. « Remnants of the Red Lotus that didn’t fully fit into the main group have found a way to build devices that create spirit portals. They can go to the Spirit World and create another portal from there that leads to a different location in this world. They have been using this method to get to and away from various crime scenes, mostly around the north and east states of the Earth Republic, for now. »
« The spirit portals close shortly after they are made, but that drains energy from the Spirit World, » Eska explained. « The portals have been described as dimensional rips rather than gateways like the one in Republic City. Kalok was trying to join this new group, but had little to say, since he was not officially in. He did mention that they call themselves the Black Lotus and their goal is anarchy through war. They believe that the elements are natural rivals and nonbenders are unworthy of acknowledgement. Right now, the Avatar is trying to stabilize things in the Spirit World, but it is going poorly. »
« The plan is to have Valrick build a machine that strengthens the dimensional fabric. If he is successful, then the Spirit World should be accessible only through the legitimate gates. » You listened intently as Eska finished her explanation by adding her thoughts at the end. « I find this ironic. The Black Lotus has benders of all the elements working together for their cause. They claim that after the stage is set for the elements to go to war, they will no longer be needed and will disband to join their respective groups. »
You took it all in with shock. You didn’t think things were this serious. « This is… » You let out a heavy breath. « I never would have guessed it was this serious. Has Valrick made any progress? »
« He claims that the theory of his machine is possible, but has not yet produced a functional prototype, » Eska replied. With how calm and collected she was, you’d think the world wasn’t in the tremendous danger that it was. « Even so, it was voted that Valrick’s life should be protected. There have already been assassination attempts. »
« Wait a minute, » your mind quickly worked through the possibilities. « The Black Lotus can essentially teleport by using the Spirit World as a shortcut. If they know Valrick is here, wouldn’t they just come for him? »
« Yes, » Eska answered simply and you waited for an elaboration that never came.
« So why isn’t he hiding? » You asked.
« There are concerns that the Black Lotus could cause significant casualties searching for Valrick. This way, they will focus their efforts here at the fire palace, » Eska explained. « Most of the world leaders left after the plan consensus, but I have decided to stay and personally represent the Northern Water Tribe alongside my brother. »
« You and Desna will be in danger… » You felt helpless. You knew they faced danger before, but that was before you met them.
« Yes, » Eska didn’t deny it. « We will be cautious. You should get ready, you are to leave for the North Pole by airship early tomorrow morning. »
« What? Why? » You exclaimed in disbelief.
« My brother requested it, » Eska explained. « He wishes for your safety. »
You weren’t sure how to feel. You were happy Desna still remembered you, but why was he refusing to see you? Maybe sending you to safety was all Eska’s idea and she was just trying to make her brother sound concerned for diplomatic reasons. You knew he was still hiding in the bathroom, no doubt listening to the entire conversation. « I can’t leave… I won’t leave… » You built up a stubborn determination. « I appreciate your concern, Eska, I honestly do, but if Desna shares it, he can tell me himself. » You pointedly looked at the closed bathroom door, it did not open. « Please excuse me, » you stood. « I pray for your safety and that of Desna and the others who share your mission… But I cannot accept the invitation to return to the North Pole at this time, » you left the room.
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That night you couldn’t sleep. You tossed and turned, unable to make your racing thoughts slow down. Then you heard your name being called by a familiar voice and saw a shadow at the window. It was too dark to get a good look at who it was, but you recognized Desna’s voice. « Desna! »
« Please, go to the North Pole, » he requested.
You were upset before, but you couldn’t stay mad at him. You rushed to the window, but the shadow swiftly moved away. You opened it and watched as a barely discernible shadow disappeared into the darkness and your heart fell. Your hurt emotions returned with stubborn anger. If he was so concerned why didn’t he stay to talk to you? Why did he retreat the second you tried to go near him. You weren’t going anywhere.
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The next morning, you were at the fire palace early, refusing to leave your home country. You went to Valrick’s workshop, determined to make yourself somewhat useful in the task of saving the world, even if it was by doing small menial tasks. The spacious chamber had failed prototypes and scrapped parts all over. Grease and oil stains covered the once pristine floors and you feared you’d get stuck cleaning them. You had refused a direct invitation to the North Pole and you weren’t sure if you could consider yourself a diplomat after that.
You heard Valrick talking behind a pile of spare parts. As you partly walked around it, Zhu Li came into view first. Tinkering with a strange device that looked like the hilt of a large sword, elaborate with circuit boards and wires. The artifact had a spirit vine as the power source and produced a beautiful blade of prismatic light.
« Do the thing! » Valrick cued. Zhu Li swung the sword and it created a cut in thin air. « It’s still not strong enough… » he frowned.
You could barely believe your eyes. It was as if the world was made of paper and the page below displayed a strage land, the Spirit World. That sword must be a replica of the devices the Black Lotus was using to cut through the dimensional fabric.
As the rip healed itself and disappeared, a massive chorus of alarming beeps invaded the room. « It’s overloading! » Zhu Li shouted.
« Stupid lever! » You moved further around the pile of spare parts to get a better view. Valrick was trying to pull down a lever on a large odd looking machine. The device looked more like a junk pile with circuit boards and wires sticking out in every direction. You supposed there was no time for presentation, which was probably driving Valrick insane. The level broke and sent Valrick to fall sitting on a puddle of oil that was leaking from the machine. The contraption glowed red hot and threatened to explode as electric sparks surrounded it. « Use coolant formula number nine! »
A silvery blue liquid flew at the machine, encasing it in goop. The reactions slowed down until the machine stopped shaking and beeping. Everyone let out a breath of relief, only to cover their noses at the pungent smell of the completely charred spirit vine that Valrick pulled out of the fuel compartment of the failed experiment. The vine disintegrated into black sand and Valrick frowned in frustration.
« We’ll get it next time, » Zhu Li placed a comforting hand on her husband’s shoulder. « Maybe you should get some sleep. » It was morning, they must have spent the whole night experimenting.
« I was sure my calculations were perfect! » Valrick pouted. « I can’t quit now, I need to make sure the world isn’t thrown into an endless war or ceases to exist or whatever will happen if the Spirit World runs out of energy. Whatever it is, it won’t be good, and a nonexistent world is not a proper place to raise Valrick Jr.! » He paused and gasped as if recalling something vital. « Zhu Li! What are you still doing here? You should be getting some rest. You said you would go to bed in ten minutes and that was five hours ago! »
You gasped in surprise. Zhu Li was pregnant! She wasn’t showing yet, so she probably found out recently. Even so, she was there, as hardworking as ever. Saving the world could be a dirty job, judging by the stains on Valrick and Zhu Li’s clothes, but it was better than hiding away feeling heart broken and useless.
You approached the group, walking all the way around the big pile of spare parts and coming fully into view. You opened your mouth to ask if there was anything you could do to help, but froze when you saw the person who was gently manipulating the coolant goop off the machine. The water bender placed the odd substance in its container than glanced in your general direction, seemingly with the intention of asking Valrick something. The water bender stopped silently, eyes locked on yours.
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Chapter 19: The Heat of Battle
You stood at Valrick’s workshop at the fire palace, staring at a familiar water bender. It was the tomboyish Eska, the Eska that went with you on the trip. No, that wasn’t right. You saw her just yesterday and she looked very different. The sounds in the background slowly faded. The clings and clangs of engineers working on Valrick’s blueprints became silent in your mind. The voice of someone talking also dissolved and you could hardly hear them say how the new materials should arrive safely this time because they were being escorted by both fire and water benders, the water benders being a pro and a royal. Your whole surroundings became nothing as you focused on the water bender standing before you.
All the oddest moments of the trip flashed before your eyes and everything that had seemed unusual stood out even more. Then there was a flash of light, as the reality in front of you was torn apart and a man came from the clandestine portal.
« We’re under attack! » Valrick shouted. « Run! » He bolted away from Zhu Li, knowing full well he was the primary target.
The large man that came from the portal glared with snake-like pale green eyes and tried to run after Valrick. He was delayed by a strike of coolant to the face, followed by more of the goop wrapping around his hands and legs. That didn’t stop him though, even if it looked like the water bender was putting a great effort into it.
« Coolant formula number nine won’t solidify, » Zhu Li warned. The water bender must have been trying to turn it into ice, working with the only liquid that was readily available at the moment.
A flood of Fire Nation soldiers rushed in, making their way through the cluttered space as quick as they could. Another portal was ripped open and two more enemies appeared, a man who shot lightning and a woman who controlled air.
Valrick slipped and fell and the big muscular man who came from the first portal was resisting the constant hits of coolant that assaulted him. The goop couldn’t be made into much else than a soft dodge ball without the shard edge and weight of ice.
The air bender released a series of small tornadoes at the fire soldier who attacked with their native element. The debris took flight and caught aflame with burning materials and red hot metal raining down. There were too many things that were conductive and if the enemy who wielded lightning attacked or the Fire Nation soldiers retaliated, the whole chamber would be filled with sparks. You realized that the fire soldiers were trying to minimize the damage to Valrick’s prototypes and research, which made them hold back.
The muscular man revealed his element to be earth as he boosted himself with a platform that rose from the floor and escaped the hassle of dealing with the coolant goop. Valrick kept running in place in a puddle of slippery oil, unable to get away. The marble tiles of the floor broke as the man summoned raw materials from the layer below. He fashioned a mallet of stone and held it high over Valrick.
The earth bender was assaulted by the coolant goop again. The water bender was only supposed to be assisting Valrick rather than playing bodyguard, judging by the lack of bending material. The fire soldiers were busy in the cluttered and crowded space, trying to detain the enemy air and fire benders while trying to protect the half finished mechanical components and parts that littered the room. The enemies were doing a good job of keeping the fire soldiers away from Valrick.
The water bender tried to disarm the earth bender, but couldn’t pull the hammer out of his grasp without icing the coolant. A loud bang echoed and the earth bender screamed. Blood poured from his shoulder but the cause was too fast for you to identify. He dropped his stone mallet, but fortunately, Valrick was able to roll out of the way. The enemy demonstrated his ability to metal bend when he pulled out a small piece of metal that had been logged in his shoulder. It was amazing how something so small could cause such damage when it moved so fast.
« Forget the prototypes, just get everyone out of here! » You knew that voice. You watched as Iroh rushed into the room, shooting fireballs left and right without a care for collateral damage. The soldiers began advancing now that they didn’t have machines or a castle to protect and easily overpowered the enemy air and fire benders.
Seeing that his allies were captured and he couldn’t hope to win this battle, the earth bender hastily put a desperate move into action. The soldiers rushed towards Valrick, but the enemy was moving away from him. With another platform boost he jumped and landed right next to you. You tried to get away, but he quickly grabbed you. He held you so tight you couldn’t breathe and it felt like he would literally rip your head off. You mentally berated yourself for not getting away, but the fire bending all around, even if most of it came from ally troops, paralyzed you with anxiety.
The battle slowed as the chaotic fight became a hostage situation. « Let her go and surrender! » Iroh commanded with a flame at the ready in case the enemy made any sudden attacks. The water bender who had traveled with you was at his side in a split second, glaring like death itself.
« How about I trade you the girl for Valrick? » The enemy offered. It didn’t make sense to do it, he couldn’t expect them to actually consider the offer.
« Let her go, » Iroh ordered, growling out every word in frustrated anger. But he knew that he would be ignored if he didn’t at least try to negotiate. « I’ll trade her for you, if you kill her, I’ll turn you to ashes on the spot. »
« Killing me won’t bring her back, » the enemy chuckled. He only had full strength in one arm, but you knew that would be more than enough to snap your neck. « Before our almost member Kalok messed up and got arrested, he informed the Black Lotus that the Northern Water Tribe prince was rather fond of your little diplomat. If you let her die, I wouldn’t put it past Desna to go to war. Either way, it’s a step forward in our cause. »
Iroh looked conflicted, like Zuko and Izumi, he was dedicated to protecting his people, and part of that was also protecting the world they lived in. Iroh fell silent, realizing that no matter what he did, there would be a loss. It was a matter of deciding which was the lesser of two evils. Zhu Li held a metal pipe in her trembling hands with a handle and a little switch attached to it. She was aiming it at your captor, but seemed afraid to hurt you if she used it. You guessed that was the weapon that launched the little piece of metal that saved Valrick’s life before.
The water bender next to the fire prince looked back and forth between you and Valrick. « You’re going to do it, aren’t you? » Valrick quietly spoke, then grinned in grin understanding. « I’d have to kick you if you didn’t, a real man would give up the world for his girl. »
Iroh became more tense, as did Zhu Li. You couldn’t allow this, as a diplomat, you were supposed to be a bringer of peace, not a tool to cause war. « Desna… » You chocked out with difficulty, « understand… » Iroh got the message, you were telling him not to risk Valrick, he was too vital.
The enemy saw the look of defeat in the fire prince eyes’ as he searched for the resolve to convince himself that sacrificing an innocent from his own land was necessary for the greater good and that Desna would understand. « Don’t try to stop me… » Iroh voiced quietly and slowly raised his hand, flame at the ready. The enemy took a step back, but as he expected, the coolant liquid responded to the call of the water bender. Iroh shot the flame, but the goop blocked it, then the enemy howled in pain and dropped you.
You scrambled out of the way in panicked confusion. Iroh had moved too slowly, he knew his flame would be stopped, as did the enemy. But the earth bender was burnt anyway despite seemingly being protected from Iroh’s fire. How was that possible? Then you realized it, that tingling sensation at your finger tips and the warmth in your palms. They had created a distraction and the fire that freed you was your own. You had somehow used it without thinking when you came face to face with an alternative that was more frightening than fire itself.
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Chapter 20: The Secret’s Out
After escaping the hostage situation, you ran towards your ally group. Suddenly, another rip in reality appeared before you. A block of stone sprang up under your feet and threw you towards it. Another loud bang rung out in a failed attempt to stop the man from jumping through the portal, he was wounded but he made it through. The water bender jumped after you, followed by Iroh, but a gust of air from the other side threw the fire prince back to the side from where he came.
« That was General Iroh! » A young girl scolded.
« Sorry! » A younger boy called out.
The portal closed and you were in the spirit world. A boy and a girl who could air bend were fighting a water bender who held a sword of ice and a sword of prism light. The young air benders must be trying to stop the attack from the spirit side, preventing the light sword from being used to dispatch more members of the Black Lotus.
Your water bender ally easily called the sword away from the woman’s hand, the element responding to him more readily than her. The earth bender who had held you hostage was shouting at her that they had to retreat. Another man, also an earth bender, perhaps related to the first arrived on the scene in time to hear the warning and add bigger news. « The Avatar discovered our base! »
The water that had previously answered to the female Black Lotus now wrapped around her in a ring of ice. She dropped the prism sword, kicking it toward the earth bender men. The young air benders tried to intercept the device while the two water benders fought for control of their element. The new arrival stopped him with a wall of stone that blocked their air currents and the prism sword reached him.
« Ikky! Milo! » The Avatar came running over as the earth benders ripped open another portal.
You wanted to do something to help and in the rush of the moment you jumped in after the two men. Your allied water bender jumped in after you, followed by the two young air benders who were trying to confiscate the prism sword. The Avatar was too far to reach the portal on time before it closed, but the female Black Lotus left behind was as good as captured with the Avatar on the scene.
You found yourself at a desert landscape. You were back from the Spirit World, but you weren’t sure where you landed. The earth bender who had held you hostage before had two bleeding wounds, but he still refused to give the other man the credit for exterminating you. He levitated the sand, focusing the particles until they formed a boulder. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have the strength to keep the boulder up and it fell, crushing him. You yelled and jump back as you saw blood come from under the large rock.
The other man, who was also an earth bender, remained unfazed and lifted up the boulder that had killed his comrade to throw it. The two young air benders, whom the Avatar had called Ikki and Milo, simultaneously shot gusts of air at his feet to make him lose his footing. He did throw the boulder as he fell, but it didn’t hit anyone.
You looked at the water bender, he was looking in every direction with unease and that worried you. You tried to shoot a fire ball at the enemy earth bender to help the air bending kids, but your fire manifested in short range. You forced yourself to focus and just as the air benders were entrapped by pillars of sand and another had started to form under your feet, you managed to hit the enemy with a fireball square in the chest. He yelled and you cringed, your hands trembling from the impression of shooting a fire ball.
The earth bender retreated, using the prism sword to open another portal. Ikki reacted and knocked the device out of his hand, though the portal had already been made. « Destroy it! » She yelled.
You realized Ikki was talking to you and reacted automatically to shot another fire ball, this time aimed at the prism sword. With his portal making machine going up in flames, the enemy earth bender jumped into the open portal just before it closed and left you and your three allies stranded in the desert.
You let out a breath and tried to calm yourself. Your heart was racing and you were trying not to look at the crushed remains nearby. You walked over to the water bender who had followed you here, who was breathing heavily.
« It’s too hot! » Milo declared at the top of his lungs and began to pull down the top of his glider uniform. « You okay, man? » He addressed the uneasy water bender. « Here, this should help! » Without pausing to think about his actions any further, he pulled off the water bender’s shirt to reveal a very obviously male torso. Ikki scolded Milo for his rudeness and he defended himself by saying, « the guy was choking! Actually he still kind of is. »
By this point you knew who this water bender was, but that didn’t make the facts any less confusing. « Desna… Did you travel with me? » You felt your voice raise in volume and become accusing, but didn’t stop it. « Was it you all along? Why didn’t you say anything? »
Ikki’s hand on your shoulder made you go quiet. « I don’t know what this is about, but now’s not the time to yell at him. »
« Right… » You agreed. You looked at Desna, at how out of place and stressed he seemed to be. Something was really bothering him and it was more than the obvious situation.
« A town! » Milo announced, pointing to a collection of small structures in the distance. You had a lot of walking to do and would no doubt get a lot of sunburn.
« Desna, » he focused on you and you reached your hand out to him. « You can explain later, let’s go. »
Desna took your hand and apparently noticed for the first time that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. He had been too focused on his panic to notice before, he also noticed that you called him by his name. He tried hard to stay in focus, to regain his usual calm and got at least some of it back, though he was still uncomfortable with his surroundings.
The four of you walked mostly in silence, save for Milo, who felt compelled to comment on everything, even when there wasn’t much to comment on. Upon reaching the town in the distance, you went into an inn to inquire about ways of long distant communication. This was a small town in the middle of nowhere, so telephones were not common. You did hear about the mayor owning some kind of long distance radio that could communicate with another town towards the west, as you had landed on the eastern side of the earth continent. Then maybe the message could be passed on from there.
Ikki offered to go talk to the mayor, dragging his brother along, which left you and Desna to go upstairs to an inn room to try to sort out all the confusion.
To be Continued
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