The First Annual Spirit Competition
"Are you certain this is the best idea?" Two hooded figures walked quietly down the hall. They had just sneaked their way onto Air Temple Island and were headed for Korra's private quarters.
"Master Shi insisted," claimed one of them. He had a face like no other; beast or man, only spirits know the answer to that. His face was stretched beyond normal, leaving a very large and permanent—and incredibly ugly—frown. The part where his nose was supposed to be was nothing more than a smudge. It was like his face was a piece of dough, freshly rolled down.
The other one laughed. "I have difficulty believing that," she said. "Shi has spent far too much time avoiding this family, Yong. Even if she is the Avatar—"
"And she is," Yong reminded.
"—Shi would never approve of such a guest," she continued. "You know how he is... You know how he gets sometimes. I just can't fathom a situation where he would approve of such—"
"Okay, perhaps I lied about his approval," he said, defeated. His lips curled, attempting to smile, while his partner shook her head disapprovingly. "Honestly, Phlox, since when have you known me to get his approval on anything?" He was a short man compared to her; everyone was short compared to her. She was literally a walking vine, and a big one at that. Flowers grew everywhere on her body. The flowers had a special ability where they changed colors whenever her mood changed. In this case, her flowers had changed from a curious purple to an enraged red.
They were now at Korra's door. Yong pulled out a golden rolled-up piece of parchment. There was a single piece of string tied around it, holding it in place.
"She is the bridge between the two worlds," Yong reminded. He thought surely that would convince her he was in the right, but her flowers remained enraged. "It would be rude not to at least invite her—whether she comes is a very different story. What if she hears from some blabber-mouth, high-spirited spirit and gets offended that we did not invite her, the Avatar?"
Her flowers changed to yellow as she considered his argument. "Oh, alright," Phlox said finally, defeated. Her flowers changed to a light brown. "But it will be you who gets an earful when we get back... I will not be blamed for another one of your schemes!"
"Of course," he said. By his tone, she was convinced he would flee and leave her to deal with Shi the moment they arrive back at Mansion's Mallow.
He opened the door, took a quick peak inside, making sure the room was empty, and in they went.
Lin looked up at the night sky. The city lights gleamed, wide awake, and Republic City's finest people were out and about, causing a ruckus, no doubt. The lead had said this area was hot with dealers. She looked around suspiciously at the people around them; it could be any one of them, she knew.
She turned to her left. Then she turned to her right. Bolin had found the fire flakes stand and was gorging down a couple dozen bags of them. His face was red from the spice and sweat dripped from his forehead, but he had no desire to stop.
"Bolin," said Mako firmly. Bolin gripped his bag tightly and ran to his brother's side, standing straighter than normal to make it seem like he was alert.
Mako looked at the Chief, offering an apologetic smile. Lin only snarled, gesturing for them to follow her.
They turned into an alleyway where two men huddled together, whispering quietly. One was wearing water tribe attire, while the other wore Earth Kingdom clothing. The man from the water tribe quietly handed the other one a suspicious looking bag.
"Hey!" said Mako.
The two turned to the cops. The earthbender, startled, let out a terrified scream and tucked the bag safely into his coat pocket. He fled faster than a mongoose lizard.
"What about my money?" the water tribe man yelled after him.
Lin easily metal bent cuffs around his ankles to prevent him from running off too. "Take care of this guy," she ordered. "I'll go grab the other one."
The earthbender had turned onto a busy street. The citizens seemed to have moved their party—wherever it had been before—to the streets, for everyone seemed to be dancing and singing in the street. She had a good mind to order them back inside, but, when spotting the man running from her, realized she had more important matters to take care of. She'll deal with them later, she told herself as she shoved her way through the crowd.
He had entered another alleyway, but when Lin got there, he seemed to have vanished. She looked suspiciously around. There was a dumpster, but upon investigating, she saw that it was empty, therefore no room for anyone to hide. There was also a homeless man sleeping in the distance. He clutched a bottle of some peculiar substance in his hands, determined to hold on to it, it seemed. She scoffed; he would be no help to her.
She looked up. There was a small dirty window high on top of the building in front of her. She looked closely and saw a small child looking down at her. The child—a boy—looked very unhappy; she didn't know why, but the boy made her shiver. She blinked and he had vanished. Still, she stared at the window, hoping the person would return.
"Chief," said Mako, running to her side. Lin payed no attention to him, for her eyes were still fixated on the window. "Er... Chief?" he repeated, awkwardly rubbing his neck.
Lin, finally hearing him, looked away from the window, shaking away the daze, and frowned at Mako. "I thought I ordered you to stay and take care of that other one."
"You... did," he said, shaking. "Bolin's looking after him. I figured you could use some backup." He glanced up at the window. "What'd you find?"
"I thought I saw... I think he's in here," she said. Using her seismic sense, she saw a hidden door underneath the dumpster. She easily kicked it aside with her metal bending and together they entered the building.
The earthbender sat hunched in the corner, holding a lumpy sleeping bag in his arms.
"Alright," said Lin's voice. The man turned to them, shaking. "You're coming with us!"
The man's eyes glistened as fresh tears fell from his eyes. "Please," he said, holding up the sleeping bag and revealing a sickly little boy. Lin stepped back, but Mako moved closer. Half the boy's face looked as if it was made of stone. The bag the earthbender had stolen from the water tribe man was lying on the ground, the illegal chemicals dumped carelessly out. "He said it would work... He said it would make him better."
Mako turned to Lin, looking for guidance. She looked about as stunned as Mako felt.
The boy coughed and the stone on his face expanded, traveling up to his nose and his other cheek. "Please," begged the man. "Please help us."
Back on Air Temple Island, Bumi was telling one of his old war stories to keep the family entertained before dinner. Asami sat along with them, politely listening in. No one seemed too interested in what he was saying, but he was so invested in his story, they thought it rude to change the subject.
He was setting the scene. He and some of his crew were in the desert, investigating a loud ruckus when a group of sandbenders drugged them with cactus juice and captured Bumi's crew. "So there I was, stripped down to my briefs. The buzzard wasps had me cornered…"
Meelo yawned. "I've heard this one before," he said. His finger mindlessly found his nose and pulled out a large, disgusting booger. He looked at it curiously.
"What? You have?" asked a shocked Bumi.
"Yeah, you make friends with the buzzard wasp queen and together you fight the sandbenders to rescue your crew," said Ikki.
"What about the one where—"
"You save the Omashu princess from a giant lizard snake?" said Meelo. "Heard it!"
"Okay… but what about when—"
"You delivered octuplets in the middle of a super earthquake?" said Ikki.
"Heard it!" said Meelo.
Bumi looked shocked for a moment, then let out a slight chuckle. "Okay… okay, maybe you've heard all of those stories, but you haven't heard—"
"Yes, we have, Bumi," said Tenzin with a sigh.
Kya laughed. "Just face it, bro… you're predictable."
Bumi frowned, lost in thought, as Korra entered the room, parchment in hand. Asami slid over to give Korra some room to sit down. As she sat, she noticed Mako and Bolin weren't there. Asking where they were, Asami explained they were working late with Befong doing a drug bust.
Asami looked at the parchment in Korra's hands. "What's that?" she asked.
"A letter… from the spirit world, I think," she said.
"The spirit world?" said Tenzin, intrigued.
"Yeah, I found it on my bed," she said, handing the letter over to Tenzin. "Did we have any guests on the island today? Anyone unusual drop by?"
"I don't think so," he said, thinking back. He could not think of any person who might have sent it. His mind wandered to the spirits and the spirit world; it could be possible for a spirit to send it, he supposes.
"What does the letter say?" asked Kya.
Tenzin cleared his throat and read the letter aloud:
It is with great pleasure that we invite you to the spirit world's First Annual Spirit World Competition. We have created the Spirit Games in hopes to ease the tension between our two worlds.
Attached, you will find a map that will guide you to our location. The competition starts in one week. Come join us at Mansion's Mallow!
"Sounds fun!" Meelo said.
"Yeah, when are we leaving?" said Bumi.
"We aren't going anywhere," said Tenzin, handing the letter back to Korra. "We have duties—Bumi, quit laughing—here as airbenders. And it was Korra who was invited." Both Meelo and Bumi groaned, disappointed.
"So, you think I should go?"
"I don't see why not," he said. "I think it's an excellent idea to have the Avatar participate in such an event. It will certainly help the relationship between us and the spirits."
"Dinner!" said Pema, walking in with a tray full of food. Mako and Bolin followed her in.
"Great, I'm starved," said Bolin.
"We're not here to eat," Mako said. "We're here on official police business."
Pema set the tray down on the table and sat down. Both Tenzin and Korra stood.
"Is Lin okay? What's happened?" asked Tenzin.
"Beifong's fine," Mako assured before turning to Korra. "There was a guy and his son who went on vacation to the spirit world a couple months ago… The son picked up this weird rock and got infected by it somehow, like it was poisoned or something. He's been sick ever since. They've tried everything to cure him, but…" He trailed off, hoping he was making since.
Mako noticed Tenzin looked the most worried—terrified, actually—out of everyone. He was tugging on his cloak nervously as Mako was explaining the conflict. Korra looked concerned, too, but not like Tenzin.
"So, we were thinking," Bolin continued, "since you are the Avatar, after all, you could go in there… do your spirit world magic thingy and save him."
"Oh, well I… I could try," Korra said. "I really wouldn't know… but I'll do everything I can to help."
"If it's alright with you," said Tenzin, "I would like to come along. This seems like a very serious matter."
"But, Tenzin, we're sitting down for dinner," said Pema.
"I'm sorry, dear. I just want to make sure everything's alright," he said. Pema did not looked satisfied, but he wasn't changing his mind. He wanted—no, needed—to go. "If this is an ongoing problem in the spirit world, it could be dangerous for Korra to travel there."
"Are you and Asami going on vacation again?" Mako asked mindlessly.
"No, she's going to the spirit games," said Meelo.
"Oh, how fun!" said Bolin.
"If this is a problem in the spirit world, that's all the more reason I have to go to this thing," said Korra.
Korra carefully approached the boy. His body seemed to be covered in stone. He let out a painful grown as a nurse with gloves touched him. Doctors and nurses had all visited him, attempting to figure out this strange disease, but no one had ever seen anything like it, and no one could cure it. Tenzin, Bolin and Mako all kept their distance, standing in the back as Korra met with the boy.
"I thought Lin would be here?" Tenzin said in a whisper, looking around.
"She's trying to help the man's avoid jail time, lower his charge," Mako explained. "I feel bad for the guy, but he was caught with illegal drugs, we couldn't just let him go. We had to arrest him."
They watched silently as Korra talked to the boy, asking him questions about his trip to the spirit world and the rock that infected him. She then attempted to heal him with waterbending, but the water only seemed to aggravate the disease. She said a few soft last words to the boy, then they left.
"Korra," Tenzin said. They were on Oogie, headed back to the island. "What was the boy's name?" It was a casual question; he had already learned his father's name—Kyo—from Mako at the hospital.
"Shiro," she said.
"Shiro," he repeated back to himself quietly.
They went silent. Both had been too lost in their own thoughts to hold up a conversation. It wasn't until Oogie landed safely on the island did Korra speak up again. "I'm going to the spirit world."
"I agree," said Tenzin.
Korra looked almost shocked that he said it. Just an hour ago he was expressing his concerns about her going. Korra had prepared a whole speech on reasons why she should go, to try to convince Tenzin. She thought he would tell her it was too dangerous, that she should stay in Republic City where it was safe. "Alright, good, it's settled then," she said, trying to contain her shock. "I'm headed for the spirit world."