REVIEW: Since it has been over a year since there was an update, here's a little review of the last few chapters.
ZUKO AND KATARA: Zuko has lost his memory and goes by the name of Korosu. He infiltrated the Fire Nation as an Elite soldier and when the Speaker sensed his impending death, he sent Katara and Zuko back to Misu for safekeeping. They have remained there for the past few days and wait anxiously for the Speaker's return.
HARU AND TASUKI: Haru was traveling with the rebel army, led by Jeong Jeong and Hakoda, when they were attacked by a previously unknown force known as Dhurmasc or Gloatbreath. Little is known of this force except for the knowledge that it consumes one's soul and fills the body with itself. Eimin uses it to create himself an efficient army. Haru and Tasuki, Haku's son, ran from the Dhurmasc as Tasuki was protected by his Ki-Lin blood and Haru protected by the Shou, the Seal of One Thousand Mountains that he received from Kioko. After witnessing the death and corruption of Agni and Shasa by the Dhurmasc, they fled and have rejoined the Ki-Lin army as it camps, waiting for Haku's instructions.
JET, YUE, AND NEN: Jet traveled north to be safe from Eimin and has helped the Northern Water Tribe defend against the Fire Nation's attacks. Yue, brought back to life accidentally by Rou when he saved Sokka, has taken over leadership of the tribe beneath her father. Jet has decided to speak to the Fire Nation commander and try to negotiate a cease-fire.
AANG AND TOPH: After Sokka's death and Katara's disappearance, Skandranon moved to assist Aang and Toph find their places for the upcoming battles. He took them to the Lunar Sanctum and left them there to find the Speaker. After the Speaker's death, he did not return and they have remained at the Lunar Sanctum with the Dhurmasc closing in.
IROH AND NURI: Iroh, after passing through the Swamp of Youth, has regressed to age 17 and has teamed up with the first Fire Lord and Agni and Shasa's son, Nuri, to infiltrate the Fire Nation Elite and try to gain support for the rebels within the Nation.
HARU, SKANDRANON, AND ANTARAM (The Elders), ZIRI, AZULA, MAI, TY LEE, JUN, ROU, SOKKA, SHIROTEN AND ZYPERIS: The Elders met with the Speaker and, leading Ziri and Azula as well, they were attacked by Eimin. The Speaker moved between them and was revealed to be Zyperis, Eimin's son. A fierce battle ensued between Zyperis and Eimin and ended with Zyperis being killed and Eimin being forced to retreat. Shortly thereafter, the Dhurmasc caught up with them chasing Jun and Rou. Tome appeared with the Time Star, a mechanical sanctuary housing the Temple of Origin, and helped them escape. Rou was able to bring Zyperis back to life and since they have been hiding from Eimin within the Time Star.
Thank you for sticking with me, Dears. If you are still there.
Soundtrack for this chapter: On the Rooftop with Quasimodo and Farewell by Apocalyptica, Where is the Edge by Within Temptation.
CHAPTER 18: HARBINGER
Polished marble towers dominated the landscape and nobles dressed to match their elements wandered through the palace. All the tapestries and statues that had marked the place as the central temple of their religion had been removed. The people had taken the usurpation rather well.
Two men walked purposefully side by side down the hallway towards the throne room. One look and one could tell they were full brothers. They bore the same tall stature, light-colored hair, high cheekbones and shapely eyes. One merely stood four inches taller than the other and was dressed in flame red versus dreary gray.
"I don't think this is a good idea, Sypaerys. Are you certain this is your Foretelling?"
The smaller of the two nodded, smoothing his new gray robe. For a moment the fabric seemed to shimmer, to come alive then fell again to simple cloth. The first Speaker in over a thousand years and he seemed to be a bit nervous before the task set him. The elder nodded in return, quickening his step as he took a deep breath.
The guards opened the door for the princes without hesitation. One did not keep the Speaker waiting, even when it was the King he was moving to see.
"Lord Eimin," the Speaker, Sypaerys, spoke as he entered the room.
A dark-haired man seated on what had once been the golden altar looked up and smiled.
"Sypaerys, Arabi, my sons, you don't have to address me so formally. Come here."
The two approached him, one with caution and one with fervor. Arabi knelt as Sypaerys stood standing.
"I come to address a formal issue, Father." Sypaerys said quietly as his father's smile changed from pleasant to indulging. "We must set the Elementals free."
Arabi tried to hide a flinch and Lord Eimin's smile faltered though his voice remained pleasant. "What are you talking about, dear one?"
Sypaerys swallowed. "The Elementals…the Powers That Be were very clear on their point."
Eimin chuckled, waving the servants away with a hand. "The Powers That Be…I thought you of all people would understand. The Powers That Be don't meddle in our affairs anymore."
"I speak for them." Sypaerys reiterated, albeit quieter.
Eimin stood and Arabi stood with him, watching their father carefully as Eimin placed an arm around the young man's shoulders.
"You're new at this, my dear son, so I will be gentle with you. You are new at everything, even life. You're only sixteen, my love."
He turned, spending a moment fixing the boy's hair. "You will learn, what the Powers That Be think no longer matters."
Sypaerys shook his hand away, stepping back and shaking his head. "There must be Balance, father. The Elementals are not inferior to us, they are our equals. They are different and the same and they must be free. Everything must balance or the world will spin out of place."
"Don't speak to me about Balance." Eimin's voice had taken on a sudden darker tone, almost as if someone else were speaking. Sypaerys got a sudden feeling he'd never had before, frightening. He would soon come to recognize it as the presence of an Abyss. "I was born out of Balance."
Eimin reached out again, pulling Sypaerys closer. "Think of what you are doing, my love. Think of what we could accomplish together, all the changes I'm making to lift our race to even greater heights. Sorcyn, Llementai, they are in Balance with one another. The Elementals are so inferior to us; we must oppress them to achieve equilibrium."
Sypaerys shook his head but he didn't step away. "That's not true."
Arabi stepped closer even as Eimin started to lead Sypaerys away from him, taking the young Speaker towards the curtained window. Arabi frowned, resting a hand on the curved blade at his waist.
"Look, Sypaerys, look at them."
Outside the window, far below them, scores of Llementai, or Elementals, worked away at the central market. Eimin smiled as they watched two brothers carrying loads of fish from the carriage to the market. The two were laughing and playing.
"They're happy," Eimin laughed, squeezing Sypaerys' shoulders. "Why would you take that away from them?"
"They don't know better." Sypaerys said darkly, his fists balled at his side. "This is what I have to do. If I have to stand against you, then I will."
"I see," Eimin said simply. "I suppose, you are the Speaker, you must do what you feel is right. But I ask you, one last time…think of all we could accomplish together. The priest and the king…it's an impenetrable duo, time-tested…"
"I…" Sypaerys hesitated and Arabi frowned, knowing that all Sypaerys had ever wanted was approval from their mutual father. Attention from a man with twenty seven children, he might as well be wishing on stars.
"I can't." Sypaerys said firmly. "This is what the Powers That Be want and…they're more important."
"I understand," Eimin said softly.
The clang of metal against metal surprised Sypaery and he yelped stepping back.
"Arabi! Father!" he shouted.
Arabi stood between Eimin and Sypaerys, his sword blocking Eimin's dagger. Sypaerys stared in shock at the two, his gaze fastening on Eimin. "You…would kill me? I'm…I'm your son!"
Eimin gritted his teeth. "Foolish child…"
"Run, Sypaerys." Arabi snapped.
Azula walked quietly through the halls of the Temple, holding a flame in her hand to light her way. Entering the library, she was surprised to see Ziri sitting at a table across the room, nearly concealed by the stacks of books around him. He was engrossed in one massive tome, dust lining every page.
"What are you doing?" she asked and he jumped, startled by the sound of her voice in the quiet sanctuary. He smiled, however, when he saw it was her. Azula felt something in her heart tug. He looked so much like Zuko!
"I'm trying to find out more about the first war against Ei…the Slayer. Haku says it has a lot to do with this one. Maybe we can figure out what Zyperis was planning."
Azula lit the fireplace nearby and then took a seat next to Ziri. "I don't think Zyperis knows what he was planning. It all seems like a jumbled up mess to me."
Ziri nodded. "There's a lot here going on that we don't understand and we don't have the whole story yet. If Haku is right and this war is mirroring the first one, Zyperis could be acting on things we don't even remember."
Azula sighed, picking up a dusty book. "What have you got so far?"
Ziri laughed, shaking his head. "I don't think you understand."
He flicked his wrist and the torches around the room burst into flame, casting away the shadows until every corner was brightly lit. Books were stacked nearly to the domed ceiling filling every inch of the small room except for a narrow walkway between the two nearly equal piles.
"Tome gathered every book about the first war…every single one, ever written. I separated them into versions…"
"Yes," Ziri said, pointing to each pile respectively. "Those are Sorcyan and these over here are Llementai. Those were the two races at war. You should well know…"
"Every war has two sides, two versions." Azula finished for him and Ziri nodded in agreement.
"The Sorcyan and the Llementai differ greatly but they tend to agree on the major things, like the war was being fought because the Llementai wanted independence and the major battle sites and…this."
He set a book in front of her, holding the place with his thumb. One page was filled with a language she didn't understand and across the other was a painting of a blond warrior riding a black stallion, fending off well-armored soldiers.
"Zyperis was leading the Llementai."
"Llementai…" Azula repeated wondrously. "Could that be the same as the Elementals?"
Ziri grinned. "It's Sorcyan for 'those of the elements'. I think it was supposed to be derogatory. They were so named because they were born with their element chosen for them, rather than choosing their own path as the Sorcyan, and the three Great Races, were able. It's for that reason that the Sorcyan thought they were a greater race."
"You mean they aren't?" Azula teased and Ziri smiled weakly.
"Considering we're the descendents of the Elementals and there are only two Sorcyan left, one of which we're trying to kill? I'd say the Elementals got the better end of the deal."
"You're half right."
Both turned to see Skandranon, the Gryphon Elder, standing in the door frame, his eyes dark and smoldering.
"Sorcya had more soldiers, better trained benders, a strong government, and a population that stood as one. The Llementai were a divided group of rebels rallying under the flag that they had the Powers That Be behind them. The Speaker would save them. They trusted blindly and fought an unwinnable war. But even the slightest chance that the rebels could win their freedom wasn't enough for him. He killed his entire population so he could bring them back impenetrable, an army of the damned."
Skandranon shook his head. "In the end, the Llementai didn't win. There were just more of them alive when Zyperis and the original Four managed to Seal the Slayer outside their world. "
Ziri swallowed hard, thinking of the millions of Fire Nation people who lived unwittingly with such a demon. "Could he do that again?"
The Gryphon's gaze was cold and hard. "It's not a question of can he, or even will he, but simply when."
Shiroten worriedly wet a cloth, folding it into a square before dabbing at the sweat on Zyperis' forehead. The unconscious Speaker recoiled and shivered, saying something inaudible before falling still once again. Opposite Shiroten, Rou sighed at Zyperis' actions and ran a hand through his hair. He was in the middle of another growth spurt, his body filling out into the guise of a warrior.
"He's getting worse," Shiroten whispered, flinching when Zyperis mewled in protest of the sound. Rou motioned for them to step out and Shiroten followed him quietly. Outside the closed door, Rou folded his arms over his chest and sighed.
"The only thing I can think of is that I didn't get all of him back. I don't see how that's possible but…he should've been up and bossing us around a week ago."
Shiroten wrapped his arms around himself, trying to suppress the shudders that racked his body. Rou laid a hand on his shoulder.
"What can we do?"
"There had to have been some piece of his soul still alive when I brought him back," Rou said softly. "It has to be returned to him or his soul will shatter. I don't think I'd be able to fix him again."
Shiroten nodded softly and Rou wrapped an arm around his shoulders, walking him downstairs. Halfway down, Shiroten stopped him. "I think…I think I know where the missing piece is."
Rou raised an eyebrow. "You do? Where is it?"
Shiroten took a deep breath, staring at the floor. "In me."
Far beneath the palace of the Fire Nation, rivers of lava ran through black stone. Eimin walked through the darkness; his only light the glow coming from the molten rock. He hummed lightly, flexing his fingers. The light reflected off of the gold trappings of his armor.
"You know, Zyperis, I do believe this is the first time I've been alone in many years."
He then stopped, blinked, and began to laugh raucously. "And rather than talk to myself, I'd still rather talk to you!"
With a twirl, he continued on down the well-worn path, skipping every now and then to a tune in his own head. At long last he came to a vast bowl, natural formed by the flow of the lava. Recently, however, the lava had vacated the area. He flexed his hands again, unclipping the blood-red cloak and letting it fall to the ground. It was with a strange grandeur that he removed his armor and upper clothing, gesturing to an unseen audience.
"I think you'll particularly like this, my old friend," he said with a smile.
With a flicker of his wrist, a section of stone fell away, revealing a tiny prison. One by one, Dhurmasc-ridden children stepped out and into the bowl before Eimin as he orchestrated their movements, humming once again. Once they were all gathered in the center, Eimin laughed lightly.
"Aren't you all the most obedient children ever? So quick to listen and do as your told, so unafraid of your fate. We should fix that."
He reached out towards the children and jerked his arm back quickly. A black mist rose from the children, gathering into a cloud above them. Eimin leaned back, looking at the empty space behind him.
"And you said it was irreversible."
It took a moment for the children to realize where they were, another for one to start crying, and soon they were all in tears. Several bolted for the doors; one nearly fell into the streaming lava. Eimin simply hummed as he extended his hands to each one that ran, gathering them back and holding them in the bowl as they cowered. Eimin stopped humming, closing his eyes briefly as he savored the moment. He extended his hands to the children again and the air around them began to crackle with energy. He stretched and there was a quick flash of light. The crackling energy contained the blood splatter as the light continued to flash, over and over. The screams rang out but it wasn't long before the only sound was Eimin's humming.
The bowl was full of blood. Every bone and scrap of clothing had been ground down into the fluid. Now Eimin turned and grabbed a bag from the pile of his clothes. He tossed it up lightly, laughing, and then poured it into the bowl. The herbs and stones pooled on the surface but almost immediately, the liquid began to boil and froth and Eimin coiled his fingers, causing the mixture to turn, blending all the ingredients together.
"Making a body is almost as easy as destroying one. But this one has to be special. Don't you think?"
The mixture in the massive bowl began to smoke and burn, flickers of flames appearing as it thickened and turned a gleaming black. Bubbles rose through the mass as it continued to turn, guided by Eimin's energy and Shadow. Slowly the fluid burnt away and began to take shape. Out of the blackened tar a skeletal hand reached blindly. By the time it grasped the side of the bowl, the tar had thickened around it into muscle and melted away, revealing pale skin.
"Welcome back." Eimin said gleefully as the new being stood warily on legs still forming themselves out of the black Shadow.
The man let his head fall back and howled.
He hadn't seen sunlight in three days.
Haru woke to darkness again and it was only habit making him get out of bed and start the day. Tasuki had brought him to wear Haku's army of Ki-Lin were preparing for the assault on Eimin's holdings. They all knew him by name now. He was simply bothered by the fact that he was the only one of the Four anywhere around. After the destruction of the human Water and Earth armies, this was their strongest force.
Stepping out of the tent, Haru wrapped his arms around himself tightly. The Dhurmasc churned around them, kept at bay by the Ki-Lin's Light. Still, it blocked out the sun and it was bitterly cold and still within the darkness. What was worse was you could walk out to the edge of the Ki-Lin's shield and see the soldiers taken by the Dhurmasc, steadily trudging on under its command. Every now and again one would fall against the shield and the resulting scream would stop the camp, every head turning to see. Dark tendrils would reach out and almost gently pluck the suffering mortal from its destruction, letting it coil back into the cold depths.
Haru found Tasuki talking with a few other Ki-Lin and burrowed into the stallion's warmth. Tasuki turned and touched him gently with his muzzle.
"We received a communication from my father."
Tasuki bumped him gently and Haru glared, upset as he was jarred away from Tasuki's warm body. Tasuki's eyes glowed warmly. "Ki-Lin can communicate differently than humans."
"So…what did he say?"
"The Speaker is alive."
Haru breathed a sigh of relief. "So we still have hope."
The water gurgled in the brook, happily ignorant of the chaos beyond their island paradise. Katara hummed softly as she washed their clothes, content to enjoy the peaceful winds. She lifted her head, looking off through the trees to where she could just see the cliffs. She knew Zuko would be over there, training, as he always was this time of morning. She was so tired of calling him Korosu but so afraid to let him know who he was. It hurt knowing how much he had forgotten: his people, his friends…her.
Laying the clothes out, she channeled the water out of them and back into the stream, wasting not a drop. Once she was dressed, she began the walk over to the training grounds.
Korosu moved through the motions of the kata, the Qiang lying a few feet away just in case he needed it. Today, however, he didn't want Hiraishin's instruction. The burning need to fight was enough without the Fire Spirit's unquenchable thirst. He burned through the segments without flame, not needing to practice his fire-bending, just his breathing. His anger was getting to be difficult to control.
He sighed and straightened out of his last pose, looking over his shoulder to see Katara coming over the rise. She hesitantly touched the stone and, upon finding it cool, stepped into the circle with him.
"How are you?"
"Do you want to train with me?" he inquired softly.
Katara shook her head. "I was actually hoping you could take the day off and…"
Korosu turned away from her, falling back into stance. Katara sighed. "You don't need to train every day you know."
"Maybe you should train more often."
Her brow furrowed and Katara folded her arms over her chest, settling her weight to one side.
"I have been training. For years, and now I'm a master water bender. I've defeated armies, I've defeated Zyperis, and I've defeated you."
Korosu straightened turning back towards her. "I don't remember that."
"Of course you don't." Katara snapped. "You don't remember anything a day before you woke up next to Jeong Jeong. Maybe I don't want to train. Maybe I want to take the first moment I've been able to be alone with my boyfriend and…"
"There's a bloody war out there, Katara!" Korosu shouted, pointing out over the still waters to where the black fog never ceased. "Out there, beyond the fog, there are people dying every day! My people! And they're counting on me to do something!"
"They're my people too, Zuko!"
She waited for his comeback and it took her a moment to realize he wasn't speaking…or even reacting in anyway. She watched the flurry of emotions cross his face as seemed to be trying to figure out what he wanted to say.
"Wha-what did you call me?"
Katara gasped and covered her mouth as she realized her error. Zuko took a step back, a hand on his forehead as he tried to comprehend.
"I'm…Prince Zuko. I'm…responsible for all this carnage, all this…destruction."
"NO!" Katara shouted, stepping towards him. "You saved the Northern Water Tribe, you saved my life, and Aang's. You're good at heart, you just had a bad beginning but you overcame it. Why do you think I fell in love with you?"
Zuko shook his head. "You shouldn't love me."
Katara grabbed his shoulders. "We've been through this, Zuko. You would've let yourself die before harming anyone. You rejected your fire the last time we were on this island."
"Let me go."
Shaking her hand, Katara only held on tighter. "Think of all the good you've done, all the people you've saved, that is who you are, not what a name says!"
"I said, LET ME GO!"
Zuko pulled away from her sharply, glanced at her stricken face, before turning to run into the woods. Katara stood there weakly as he disappeared before sinking to her knees, quietly sobbing.
Nen stood with Yue above the gates, watching out as the sea rolled in protest of the battles fought on its surface. The two women had clasped hands, the battlements silent despite the many warriors that stood there, watching, waiting…hoping.
Jet stood in front of the gates of the Northern Water Tribe. His white robes blended in with the frigid landscape behind him and it had taken a few moments for the Fire Navy fleet to realize he was there. Still, the cease fire had been called and all was quiet. As he watched, the flagship drew closer and came to a halt with a metallic wail and the front of the ship lowered its ramp onto the ice. Jet frowned as he heard the ice crack beneath his heels but stepped forward as the commander came down the ramp.
"You're not a member of the Water Tribe."
Jet scowled. "Who said I had to be to speak on their behalf?"
He wanted to reach for his Tigers but the Hiketsu glowed warmly against his chest, calming him. Still, the commander laughed. "Proud talk from someone so small."
"I am Jet, Son of Samir, wielder of the Key of One Thousand Winds." Jet snapped. "We are facing a common enemy, a demon who has infiltrated the Fire Nation and spurs this war on. I want to offer you a hand of peace, so that we can combat-"
A strange gurgling sound caught him off guard and he trailed off, staring at the commander who had gone rigid, his eyes staring blankly forward. Jet was suddenly aware of how silent the world was around him, as if all the air around him had been sucked away, forbidding sound. The gurgling repeated itself, a sound as loud as thunder to his ears and he noticed black tar seeping from the side of the commander's mouth.
"Jet!" Nen screamed. "Get away from him!"
Jet stepped back, unwilling to take his eyes off the man. Suddenly, the black tar shrieked forward and Jet fell back, blocking the attack with one arm. He hissed, whatever it was burned straight through his bracers and into his skin. It was agony, he couldn't even see for the pain.
Nen leapt from the wall and landed lightly a few feet behind Jet as he fell to his knees, connected to the commander by the web of black tar. She bent to the ground and brought her hands back up, a massive wave rising and falling on all three of them. She then shifted her stance, sending the commander flying out into the bay. Turning, she gathered Jet's shivering body into her arms, encasing his arm in water.
"Yue!" she called and the princess came running out of the gates, leading dozens of water benders. "Keep his arm surrounded by water. The rest of you come with me!"
She turned and the water benders lined up to either side of her facing the Navy fleet. One could hear the metal works of the machines as they prepared to fire once again. The water benders followed her movements as she bent and drew up a wave in front of the fleet. The wave stretched from one side of the inlet to the other and raised high above the Fire Navy fleet. With one fluid movement, they sent the wave out to sea, carrying the ships with it. One could hear them crash against one another long after they had disappeared from sight.
Nen then ran back after Yue and the other healers, falling to her knees next to Jet. He jerked awake as she approached. Yue had dried him as efficiently as she could while keeping his arm under water. Nen let the water fall away from his arm and surveyed the damage. The Shadow had burned deep into his flesh, leaving black bands of necrotic muscle behind. She gathered up the snow and healed what she could but even under the new skin, she could still see the black bands.
"It burns," Jet hissed and Nen placed a hand on his forehead.
"I know, my love."
Rou tied the cloak around Shiroten's shoulders, laying his hands on the smaller teen's shoulders. "I'll be right behind you with Zyperis. If anything happens…"
Shiroten shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I think this is the way it's supposed to be."
The two turned and walked into the atrium where Haku had been setting up most of the day. The walls were lined with chalk runes and Haku had converted back to his Ki-Lin form.
"Are you ready?"
"The fastest way to determine if the missing piece of Zyperis' soul is with Shiroten is to separate them. Zyperis will immediately wake up and try to reconnect with Shiroten. I don't know what's going to happen when he wakes up…" Rou trailed off and glanced at Shiroten. "If anything happens, I'll do my best to bring you back."
Shiroten shrugged, giving Rou a teary smile as he stepped forward, threading his fingers through Haku's mane.
"Good luck," Rou said softly and Haku bowed his head. A flash of light and they were gone, the chalk lines fading to ash and Rou stood alone.
"The die is cast. What comes of it be on my head," Rou said softly.
The sound of trumpets echoed through the valley and Sypaerys reviewed the map on the table. Coal stood opposite him, his arms folded over his chest as he listened intently to the Speaker's plan. Arabi stood at his shoulder as always and Haku had his head stuck in through the flap, the tent not big enough to house his equine body.
Come to an agreement, they all stood and Coal shook the Speaker's hand. "Thanks for everything, Zyperis."
"Sypaerys," Arabi corrected for the hundredth time and Coal blushed. Sypaerys laughed and clapped his brother's shoulder.
"It's ok, Arabi. It doesn't matter."
The other filed out and soon Sypaerys and Arabi were the only ones left in the tent.
"It does matter."
Sypaerys looked up from where he'd just flopped into an open chair. "Hm?"
"Sypaerys is the name I gave you, not the butchered version they make up because they can't speak properly."
Arabi shook his head, his body shaking with suppressed anger. "And this supposed plan of yours? Is this what the Powers That Be have thought up? To send you headfirst against an army of undead creatures that used to be our people, led by the most powerful force of Shadow we've ever seen? If so, why did we spend all that time gathering the Heiki? Why choose the Four at all?"
"This is the simplest way. Fewer people have to die, if I can defeat Father…"
"If…if you can defeat Father, fewer people will die. Fewer, yes. In fact, only you."
"Arabi…" Sypaerys started sadly before Arabi cut him off.
"No. I have defended you, protected you, from the day you were born but this time…I'm not going to snatch you from the dragon's teeth. If you're going on this fool's errand, you go alone."
"I wasn't expecting you to come." Sypaerys said softly and Arabi turned, pulling the map back out and spreading it across the table.
"I'm taking the Sorcyan forces and moving here."
Sypaerys' gaze narrowed. "Why?"
"Because, if and when you fail, this city is going to be left wide open and the Slayer is going to butcher them…for fun. I'm not going to leave them unprotected."
"If I can't stop them, what makes you think you can?"
Arabi turned and smiled at him. "I can't stop him. But I will not leave those people alone to die."
Sypaerys gave a wordless sound of protest as his brother turned away from and started out of the tent. Arabi pushed the flap back then paused, turning back to Sypaerys.
"Since this is most likely the last conversation you and I will ever have, I must tell you this."
Sypaerys swallowed hard, meeting his brother's gaze, trying to find some way to make him stay.
Arabi shook his head before claiming his gaze with a determined solemnity.
"There has never been a breath that you have taken that I did not despise."
Alone in his room, Zyperis' eyes snapped open and he sat up sharply, staring around the room.
Something's wrong…something's missing…
Where am I?
I must've been captured…the Llementai?
He slowly climbed out of bed, careful not to make a sound. At the foot of his bed lay plain gray robes that shimmered when the light hit them.
Light and Shadow as one…
The Speaker's clothes…am I the Speaker?
Seeing no other clothes, he quickly dressed, glancing around the room. He moved to the door, opening it silently and looking out. The hallway was empty as well and he stepped out. Flashes of memories competed with one another.
The priestess, I remember that…Ana, who's Ana? Ana…Ana died…
The burst of grief threatened to send him to his knees but he pushed on, staying pressed against the wall. The first room he came to was stacked full of books and held two Fire Llementai asleep against one another.
Llementai…I have been captured.
The Llementai went free, made a new world just for them, Haku brought the Ki-Lin too. You helped them.
Zyperis hid his face in his hands, trying to make the constant chatter of voices and flurry of forgotten memories still. Why couldn't he make sense of anything? He could hardly even remember who he was.
"Damn it all," he whispered.
Maybe Arabi was right…
That was it. That's what was missing. Arabi was going to defend the outskirt city, the last outpost of Sorcya that remained and the Slayer was going to tear right through him. He had to move, had to get there and save him. Had to prove that he was worth all the pain and frustration Arabi had been through.
He walked confidently down the hallway but nearly ran into another group of Llementai heralded by a Gryphon and a Dragon in human form. Zyperis hesitated before sliding into a side hall. Somehow, he knew his way perfectly through the maze-like Time Star.
Tome was calmly sitting at the controls of the Time Star, watching the earth fade away to allow for its passage, constantly moving to keep Eimin from getting a lock on them. He was humming an old tune as he shifted the dials before leaning back away from the dials. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he turned to see who it was when a fist connected with his jaw and he fell to the floor.
Zyperis dragged the Llementai to the corner and tied him up with a cord he'd found earlier before taking his place at the controls. For one frightening moment, he didn't know what to do.
"Place your hands on the gold dials."
Zyperis glanced back to see a strange man with white hair and marks around his wrists. Glancing back at the controls, he saw two gold dials at hip height and placed his hands over him. The Time Star lurched to a stop.
"Think about it."
Zyperis closed his eyes, willing himself to remember coherently what he had to do.
"Arabi. I have to save Arabi."
Rou nodded. "Go find him."
Zyperis nodded and the Time Star lurched once again, this time speeding through the earth despite its guide acting blindly. Rou crossed the floor calmly and checked Tome's injuries.
Shiroten and Haku landed in the center of the Ki-Lin camp and Tasuki stepped forward to greet them, touching his father's alicorn.
"All is well, Father."
"Tasuki," Haku purred softly, his voice thick with emotion at the sight of his son, safe and well. "I knew it would be."
Shiroten stepped away from the Ki-Lin pair and looked out to where the Dhurmasc churned against the Light Shield. He shivered in the bitter cold, pulling the cloak Rou had given him tighter around his shoulders.
"I'm right here, brother."
The earth beneath their feet began to rumble and Shiroten fell to his knees, a dark-haired Earth teen at his side and helping him to stand.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"Shiroten. What's going on?"
"I'm Haru and I don't know."
A metallic scream echoed through the small area and the only two humans beneath the Light Shield watched as the Dhurmasc rolled, rising up in a single column. Sucked up from the ground, it revealed its consumed soldiers, waiting in ranks just beyond the Shield, skin ashen and eyes bloodshot. Haru stared and Shiroten found himself reaching for the shadows once again when the scream came again and both men raised their heads as the Ki-Lin raced to react.
The Dhurmasc reached the peak of its climb, folding over on its own weight and in one fluid movement it crashed, drilling into the Shield from above. Shiroten fell and covered his ears at the soul-searing crack that resounded.
"Tasuki!" He heard Haku shouted. "Protect the humans!"
Suddenly Tasuki was at their side and Haru helped him up once again, Shiroten throwing an arm over Tasuki's back.
"You two need to get out of the way. If the Light Shield goes, you two will be most vulnerable. Stay in the center."
The earth rumbled again as the Dhurmasc prepared for another attack, the Shadowed eerily quiet despite the hell wrought around them. With Tasuki shielding them, Shiroten stared out into the darkness, willing Zyperis to get there, to save them.
The Ki-Lin formed a massive circle around the edges of the Light Shield. Light grew in the dismal place as their alicorns began to glow, strengthening the shield. But how long could their strength hold out? Again and again the Dhurmasc rose and crashed against the Shield and cracks began to appear, lengthening down the sides of the dome.
Suddenly, the earth began rumbling again but it felt different somehow. Haru bent and laid a hand on the ground.
"It's coming from underneath!"
Before the words had left his mouth, the ground exploded upwards. For a moment a despairing silence swept over the Ki-Lin before the diamond spires of the Time Star appeared. The ground sealed itself once again beneath the Time Star and it hovered there beneath the Shield, emitting its own glorious light.
Zyperis abandoned the controls, sliding down to the Time Star's entrance. It was barely open before he was sliding out, raising his head to the chaotic turmoil the Ki-Lin were trying to stave off. The Dhurmasc had raised for another attack and Zyperis scowled, running towards where the Shield was weakest.
Shiroten saw him run past and leapt out from beneath Tasuki's shield. "Zyperis!"
Zyperis continued running, skidding to a stop beside the Ki-Lin's line. He placed a hand on the fragile Shield, peering out into the churning depths of the Dhurmasc. Arabi was out there. He had to save Arabi.
"Let me through."
The Ki-Lin closest to him nodded and the Shield shimmered, allowing him to pass through. Shiroten got there seconds after it had closed and he had disappeared into the darkness.
"Let me out!"
"He is the Speaker, he can handle the stress. You are still weak, human."
Shiroten shook his head. "You don't understand! He's not whole! You have to let me through! Zyperis!"
Zyperis treaded slowly through the swirling Dhurmasc, the strong Light of his soul keeping the demon at bay though it churned inches from his body. Even broken, his Light was strong but it could not keep forever as he drew further away from Shiroten.
"So, demon, you will not release my brother to me?" He whispered.
…if and when you fail…
Zyperis frowned. "Watch this, Arabi."
He stood a little straighter and extended his arms out straight to either side, parallel to the ground. He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. His breath began to glow white as he pushed it out. He flicked his left hand, drawing his arm down. As he did, red energy glowed at his fingertips, following his arm. His right arm raised, blue energy gushing down his arm.
Bending, one foot slid against the ground, green energy sparking from the movement.
Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
His left arc completed its downward arc and slid up again, this time taking the green energy with it as his right arm gathered the white energy and he brought his hands together in the center of his chest. The four energies boiled around each other and flecks of Light could be seen in the center.
He closed his eyes, trying to see well beyond the borders of the elemental energy. I can do this.
Shiroten pushed beyond the Shield the moment the Ki-Lin let him through and raced into the darkness, not caring if the Dhurmasc took him. There was enough of Zyperis' soul inside him to give him a little protection and he followed his instincts before coming to a hole Zyperis had cleared inside the Dhurmasc.
He had to shield his eyes from the bright Light sphere coming from between Zyperis' hands. As he watched, the four lights churning inside the sphere finished fusing.
Light flattened the trees around them, burning away the Dhurmasc. All life appeared washed of color in the presence of the brilliant white Light, solid energy. It burned at his skin and he wasn't even in shadow form. Shiroten forced himself up against the backlash waves of searing light and walked closer to Zyperis. Zyperis himself seemed transfixed by the Light emanating from his hands even as it burned his skin and Shiroten was able to draw close without him noticing.
Zyperis turned his head slowly and smiled at him. "Arabi, I found you."
Shiroten smiled weakly. "Yeah, you did."
"Are you safe?"
Shiroten nodded, tears running down his face in the immense heat. "Yes. Yes, I'm safe."
Zyperis turned to him, letting one arm extend out in front of him and the Light Orb began to float on its own, still emitting the soul-crushing waves of Light. Shiroten let himself fall into Zyperis' arms. He stayed there for a moment before raising his head, cupping his hand around Zyperis' cheek.
"I love you," he said softly.
"I love you too," Zyperis agreed, wrapping his arms around Shiroten's waist.
Shiroten ran his fingertips lightly over Zyperis' face, simply taking in the beauty of the moment, the love he'd never thought he'd be able to feel.
"The world needs you," Shiroten said firmly. Zyperis' gaze narrowed, not fully comprehending what he was saying, what needed to be done, or what was being asked of him. Shiroten just smiled, understanding enough for them both. "I know you had to do this and it's okay. I understand."
Shiroten pulled his head down, Zyperis offering no resistance, his eyes wide with confusion as Shiroten spoke his last words into his ear.
"I forgive you."
Before Zyperis could protest, Shiroten rose on his toes, pressing his lips to the Speaker's.
Skandranon and Antaram had led the others out of the Time Star after releasing Tome to man the controls. Both Elders had moved to help the Ki-Lin maintain the Shield when a single beam of light broke through the clouds of the Dhurmasc, piercing into the sky. The Dhurmasc rolled and screamed in agony as the Light grew and pulsed, waves extending out from the source.
"Keep up the shield!" they heard Haku shout.
The Light grew and grew until it was too bright to see and the teens huddled in the center beneath Skandranon's wings. Even through their lids, the Light burned and burned.
Ziri found himself standing alone as the Light passed through him. While the others curled away from the light and hid, it felt like nothing more than a warm breeze, the Light no more bright than cloudless summer day.
Without warning, the heat faded away and the Light dimmed. It took a few moments for the humans' eyes to adjust to the sudden loss of light and even several Ki-Lin were shaking their heads, blinding through the tears to cope.
The Dhurmasc was gone. Only ash remained of the Shadowed soldiers and the trees were blown back, many charred on the side facing the blast. As the damage began to be seen and measured, the Ki-Lin army began gathering once again, checking for injuries and caring for the newly arrived humans. Rou saw Haku and met his gaze, both of them looking for the same thing, the same two people.
A piercing scream broke the silence, harshly different from the metallic sounds of the Dhurmasc. It was a sound broken, despair in and of itself. Haku's head spun and he began running, followed shortly by Rou. The entire group quickly followed.
Haku skidded to a stop and fell to his knees, holding his head in his hands. Jun was brought to a sudden stop as Rou turned, hiding his face in her chest.
"It's my fault," she heard him whisper.
Zyperis had fallen to his knees, wailing as he sobbed brokenly, openly. Cradled in his arms were the ashen remains of a human body, ever crumbling away, all that remained of Shiroten.
It was a long moment before Haku, returning to his human form, got to his feet and moved to Zyperis' side, laying a hand on his shoulder.
"DON'T YOU TOUCH ME YOU OVERGROWN PONY!"
Zyperis vainly tried to gather the crumbling ash, his fingers soaked with his own tears.
"Rou…Rou! You have to bring him back, you have to…"
"I can't…there's not enough…" Rou breathed.
"DAMMIT!" Zyperis shouted, slamming his fists into the earth. Haku wrapped his arms around his shoulders, trying to offer comfort as Zyperis began to flail against him.
"I said don't touch me! Don't you dare touch me! It's all your fault! You brought him here, you knew this would happen! I tried to protect him and you messed it all up! Why…Why would you do this you knew how much he meant to me! Why would you let him…why would you do…why did you…why…?"
Zyperis slowly collapsed into Haku's arms, sobbing openly against him. "Why did you let me try to save everyone? If I had listened, if I hadn't tried…maybe it would've…it's all my fault, everything is my fault…"
Haku sank back, pulling Zyperis more firmly against his chest. "It was supposed to happen this way."
Glancing back at the others, Haku sighed and stood. He attempted to lift Zyperis into his arms but this earned him a sharp jab from the Speaker. Haku squeaked and dropped Zyperis, resulting in the latter latching onto him to remain standing. A shared glare and Zyperis leaned heavily against the Ki-Lin.
"Haku," Zyperis whispered. "You need…"
Haku shook his head. "Hush. Rest. You deserve it."
Zyperis snorted and lurched forward, forcing them both to walk towards the Time Star. "Shut up, pinhead, and summon the Four."
Night had fallen and Zuko had not returned. It was a small island and Katara knew he had to be nearby but she kept herself from searching for him. She trusted her instincts that he would return, no matter what. She built a fire on the beach where he had saved her from the tigress and watched the moon rise over the water. It seemed muted, somehow, and it gave her a chill.
She raised her head from her knees, the wind blowing softly. Zuko was standing a few feet away, hanging his head.
She patted the sand next to her and he took a seat, leaning towards her.
"Tell me everything."
Katara looked at him softly and took a breath. Slowly, she recounted everything they had been through together from the first moment she'd seen him, so long ago now it seemed, until the moment where he'd left her in Tasha and finally with their fight earlier that day. By that time, Zuko had reclined in the sand and she was curled up against his side.
"I wish I could remember it the way you can," he said softly when she was finished. Katara just smiled.
"You will someday. Zyperis said your memories will come back."
"When triggered by the 'right words said by the right person.'" Zuko repeated. "But you left something out."
Katara looked up, not sure what he meant.
"Our marriage, you left that out."
Katara shook her head, propping herself up on an elbow. "No, we're not married. This is the longest we've spent together since Tasha and that was the first time you told me you loved me."
Zuko raised an eyebrow. "But you're so sure of us."
Laughing, Katara tickled him briefly. "I have been from that moment on. I loved you far before then and I love you now. Marriage simply seems to be a luxury we can't afford."
"Yes we can. We can be married, right here, right now."
Katara raised an eyebrow. "That's impossible. There's no priest, no temple, nothing. Just us."
Sitting up, Zuko drew out the Qiang and set it in the sand. "Hiraishin told me that in the old days, in times of stress, two Elementals could say their vows to one another in front of the Spirits and those vows would be just as binding as anything said before a priest."
Katara, resting against him, looked serious for a moment before she brought out the Kun and set it in the sand beside the Qiang.
"I, Katara, Daughter of Nen and Hakoda, do take you, Zuko, Son of Agni and Ursa, to be my beloved husband and I do swear to honor him, to fight beside him, to care for him, and to love him until the day I die and beyond."
Zuko smiled, leaning forward so his forehead rested against hers and he threaded their fingers together.
"I…Zuko, Son of Agni and Ursa, do take you, Katara, Daughter of Nen and Hakoda, to be my beloved wife and I do swear to honor you, to fight for you and beside you, to provide and care for you, and to love you forever more."
"You may kiss the bride," Katara whispered, lost in his golden eyes as he pressed his lips to hers.