And so we've come to the last chapter of Pasts Die Hard :) Unfortunately it is much, MUCH sooner than you or I would have rather it come, but the wrap up will come within the next two weeks or so before I start College. Yeup, little old me is going to College X) Unfortunately though the program I've chosen to go into has left me with little time to have an actual life, let alone time to write. So this is why I'm going to end it now :) Though I do really love this fic and wish to really finish it for real, I don't think I will have any time to do so in the near future. Someday I may return to this, revamp it and make it into the FanFiction it was supposed to be, who knows :) All I know is that I owe a huge debt of thanks to everyone who has ever reviewed or followed or liked, maybe even loved this story :)
Thank you all, you are the people that make FanFiction great, never forget that. And please if you ever see a young, enthusiastic writer struggling with their work, encourage them and be their to help them grow :) Like many of you were with me.
I really hope you enjoy this chapter :) And PS, I'm sorry for leaving you with another sort of Cliffhanger ^^" As well as the lack of line breakers in the last chapter, I had forgotten that FanFiction deleted word document breakers, it has been fixed though :) In the end though, I hope the wrap up does make up for it :)
Disclaimer: I do not own ATLA
Aang sucked in as much air as his pumping lungs could allow him. The more air there was in his lungs the longer he could keep his head on his shoulders. The complete chaos that the sudden attack had rushed in on the Fire Nation civilians was lessening at the absence of another attack.
Most of them had the sense to run to their homes for safety from the attacker. Unfortunately for Aang and Katara, that attack had been for them, why Aang didn't know, but it meant that they had to either run or face their mysterious attacker. And with the fact that they couldn't use their bending thrown into the dilemma, running through the unfamiliar streets in an attempt to lose whatever was after them, seemed like the best decision.
Making another sudden turn, Aang prayed once again that they had lost the shadowy figure. Why would something like that even be after them? Did the shadow figure out that he was the Avatar? Aang's eyes widened as his free hand reached up to brush the spot where his arrow was hidden by the weird dirt.
No. It was impossible for the shadow to figure him out by using his arrow; the others had taken precautions to make sure that he wouldn't be discovered during their stay. They had even created an alias for everyone. Aang bit his lip as he made another turn. It was still a nagging possibility. But, for now he would have to concentrate on getting Katara and him away from the shadow guy. If he was able to do that, he wouldn't have to find out what the shadow wanted.
Beside him, Katara kept up with his random turns, but was beginning to wonder exactly if Aang knew what he was doing. Having enough with, what seemed like, going in circles, Katara tightened her grip on Aang's hand and brought their running to a standstill at the intersection of four streets.
"Kuzon," she said catching her breathe, still using his fake name, in case their attacker was near by. Luckily it also gave her Aang's attention. His large grey eyes bobbed up and down with breath he took. Their eyes inevitably met and Katara continued. "Do you have any idea where we're going?"
Aang's eyes darted over the scenery in front of them. The streets and apartments looked about the same as all of the ones he had passed by during his time in the Fire Nation, but the names painted on the boards perched on the corner of each street, told him that he had never seen this crossroad in his life.
Biting his lip, Aang admitted. "Uh… no"
Katara sighed, "Okay then, did you see who or what attacked us?" she asked, ignoring the fact that the two were lost in the Fire Nation capital, not to mention that they had something trying to kill them right on their tails.
Thankfully, Aang nodded, and Katara's hope swelled if they new who or what it was they would be able to lose it or if worse came to worse, take it down easier. That was until Aang laughed nervously and continued. "Well, some of it. I couldn't see exactly what he looked like from where he was hidden, but it's a pretty big man, and he shoots this fire-energy stuff out of his forehead"
Katara panted for another breath. "Why would he be after us?"
"I don't know…" Aang said as he shook his head. "Maybe he's figured out that I'm the Avatar?" He lowered his tone to ensure no one but Katara heard him.
Now it was Katara turn to shake her head and lower her voice. "No, everyone in the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation should think you're dead after what happened in Ba Sing Se." she said, ruling out that possibility.
Aang sighed and turned his head to look around once more. "So if we don't know who he is or why he wants us in the first place, what do we do? We can't just hide, that guy will eventually find us."
Katara nodded, knowing that their lack of knowledge of the capital had now trapped the two in compromising position. They ultimately had three options: One; find someplace to hide and or run through the streets and wait until the shadowy figure found them and blasted them to pieces, obviously not the immediate choice.
Two; make their way back to the house, if they could, but that would only lead there attacker to where the rest of the gang. And in the end, all of them would be sitting turtle-ducks in the house once he knew where to find them.
Or three; take their chances in the streets, try to find Sokka, Toph, and Airis, wherever those three were, and figure out why that guy was after them.
With the other members of the gang as backup, surely the man wouldn't attack. They might even be able to pick up some information about the guy from Airis; she was bound to know something about someone who possessed such a unique attack.
After going through the notes once more, Katara turned to Aang "I think we should go back to find the others and see if we can dig up anything on this guy. Besides, five is a much safer number than two. What do you think?"
"You're right" Aang contemplated, "It'll be a lot easier to take on and beat a guy like him with all of us around. We'd better go find the guys, before he comes back." Aang said as he stood back up to his full height and began walking silently down the street to his left.
"Wait a minute." Katara called out, quickening her pace to reach him. "Do we even know where the firebending tournament is being held in the first place?" she asked as she placed her hand on Aang's shoulder.
Once again, Aang bit his lip and admitted, "No, all the guys said was that they were going to a firebending tournament… but there has got to be some posters around this city about the tournament. Anyway, I'm sure that we'll be able to find the tournament building soon even if we don't see a poster. How hard can it be to find a building big enough to hold a firebending tournament?"
"I hope so" Katara sighed as she followed Aang down the streets. She loved how optimistic Aang was in almost every situation but sometimes Katara couldn't but wonder if optimism was enough where their lives were concerned. But she was never one to object to any positive thinking, so she went along without much complaint. How long could it take to find a firebending arena while dodging an attacker that they knew nothing about?
Katara and Aang were not left much time to ponder over how they could finding their friends, as the two of them both picked up a heavy stomping of metal on packed earth. The couple stopped dead in their tracks, only the sound of their breaths dared to mingle with the offending sound.
Katara visibly gulped and her eyes turned wide at the unfamiliar sound. "I-is that him?" Katara had never been one to stutter and naturally she wouldn't be so afraid of an attacker, but she had seen what the possible owner of the sound was capable of doing, and unable to use her waterbending, unless she wanted to blow their cover, she ruled this situation as an exception.
Aang nodded still partially froze to the spot where he stood. It took Katara's cool hand grabbing his own to snap out of the shock of how fast the shadow man had found them. Shaking his head, he turned back down the street, pulling Katara along with him.
Aang suddenly felt his breath hitch as a particularly close metal footstep stamped onto the ground. Unconsciously he quickened his pace and fled down the never ending streets. His breath hitched once more as Katara tightened her grip on his hand, in a silent confession that she was scared as well. Attempting to re-steady his breathing for the better, Aang hoped that the other members of the group were having a much better night then his and Katara's.
Airis could have sworn that if she hadn't been so intent on figuring out who exactly was this new fighter her jaw would have hit the floor the moment the host announced the next fighter.
Only moments after the host announced the name of the newest combatant, the massive red doors, on the right side of the stadium, burst open, and the crowd cried out and jumped to there feet.
Through the shadows Airis and Sokka managed to make out the faint outline of a woman fighter; the glowing of the flames in the cauldron giving them their only means of viewing the feminine form. Toph had already gotten as much of the woman's profile as she could gather and was waiting patiently to see the woman's style of fighting.
Airis's immediate smirk was hidden in the shadows of her hood, but Sokka and Toph heard it clearly and jerked their heads in the teenager's direction.
"Well, this is interesting isn't it?" Airis remarked as her gaze returned to the stage. She had not expected that someone would have so quickly picked up her old fighting name. Yes, it had been three years since she had left the Fire Nation, but she had expected since she had left such an 'unwanted' impression with them, that it would have been a decade or so before the name 'Red Death' was used again, if it ever was.
Studying the new fighter, Airis noticed that during her thoughts that the new Red Death had lifted her head proudly and was all but snarling at the idiot who called himself Dragon Thunder.
"Very interesting…" Airis murmured as she nodded. Despite the small sentence, her tone immediately admitted to Sokka and Toph that for now, Airis had no clue as to who this new Red Death was.
The lights in the arena suddenly slammed back on, illuminating three people: the host, Dragon Thunder, and Red Death. Under the intense glare of the firebending controlled lights, Red Death eased her glare at Dragon Thunder, if only a little.
For a moment everything was silent. Red Death nodded slightly at her welcome. Smirking, she moved silently across the stage, until she stood face to face with her opponent.
The woman was fairly tall perhaps six feet, but even so, she was easily dwarfed by Dragon Thunder's height and heavily muscled build. Surprisingly, despite her physical handicap, Red Death made no attempt to relieve herself of Dragon Thunder's menacing stare but yet, matched it with a stronger, fiercer one of her own.
Airis scanned over the new fighter, studying every aspect of her appearance, searching for any clue that would give way to whom she was and why she might have taken the name Red Death. The first thing Airis noted was that it was obvious that she didn't want to be recognized, the red and orange paint that covered her face with abstract flames gave that away.
Second, Red Death wasn't about to give up easily, not just her unforgiving glares told that story, but also her clothing; tight black training pants with a knee length red skirt over them, a simple red sleeveless shirt, and black clothe was wrapped around her wrists showed that she was here only to fight and, perhaps more importantly, only to win.
Airis cocked her head as the host separated the two fighters and sent them both to opposite ends of the platform. Her stride… it wasn't like a normal fighter's. Her strides were longer and flowed gracefully into each step. Airis cocked her head, intrigued. This meant that the woman was from higher in the society, probably sent down for a punishment… but why? And why would she have chose fighting for her new life? Higher society frowned on this so-called 'barbaric' activity, but, sometimes they did accept those who fought as long as they were good at it.
"Hmm…" Airis chewed on this new information like a sabre-toothed moose-lion on marrow. Her thoughts were put on hold as Red Death and Dragon Thunder walked to their separated parts of the platform and crouched on the floor facing away from each other. The crowed jumped to their feet once again, screaming at the top of their lungs. But all of this drowned out to a hum as Airis focused solely on Red Death.
"This is going to be fun" Toph grinned, as she leaned back. Sokka, who had his fists thrown in the air and shouting worthless put-downs toward Red Death, took no notice to Toph's comment directed at Airis.
"You've got that right," Airis murmured softly, her eyes continuously scanning the new fighter. Toph smirked and returned her attention to the platform, where the host was stepping back cautiously before he started the fight.
Dragon Thunder and Red Death were both soundlessly waiting for the signal. It seemed as though the host purposely took his time to prolong the fighters' period stuck in their kneeling position to irk the two more than was necessary.
Taking one last glance at the opponents, the host finally smiled menacingly and slammed his arm down into the air. "Begin!" he shouted before sending out a stream of fire in the air and jumping out of the arena.
As soon as the host left the platform, gas was released underneath the cauldrons of fire in front of the two fighters. The flames exploded and dared to burn them both. The explosion, though, threw off neither fighter. Instead, with one practised movement they both jumped to their feet and faced each other from across the long platform.
Though both of them were able to withstand the explosion, the massive flames and the gas behind them were already beginning to take affect and were starting to throw both fighters off balance.
The flames grew stronger and stronger as more gas was fed to them. Once the actual bending began, there was no telling how wild and uncontrolled the flames would get.
Powerful, unrestrained fire was a near death trap at its minimum and with the added brutality of the fighters themselves, few fallen fighters left the stage unwounded, if they were spared merciful death. But then again that was what kept the audience coming back for more.
Dragon Thunder blinked away the gas that began to force itself into his face and down throat, his movements faltering with each step forward as he tried to regain control of his breathing.
Red Death smirked, swiftly ripping off one of the black clothes around her wrist and tying it over her mouth, filtering the gas that attempted to make its was down her throat. Airis raised an eyebrow. It was clear that this woman had fought in this height of competition before, and many times at that. Resting her head on her fist Airis continued to ponder; this Red Death would be a force to be reckoned with.
Red Death's opponent, clearly infuriated by her act, punched out both of his fists and sent an immense, anger induced fireball. Red Death lit her forearms and cut smoothly through the attack. While she was still covered by the attack's fire, she brought her leg in a high kick and sent a wide arc of fire toward Dragon Thunder. He blocked his chest with his own lit forearms and destroyed the arc with powerful ease.
The man let out an angry cry and charged Red Death, kicking and punching blasts of fire wildly. The gas did its job and strengthened flames that were already frenzied, the strikingly powerful flames lashing out at even the closer parts of the audience. Not letting Dragon Thunder's flames frighten her, Red Death quickly side-stepped each one. Then, taking control she dodged a final and slammed her open palm towards Dragon Thunder, sending out a sharp, swift blast of flames, leaving the man no time for defensive manoeuvre. The precision lived up to its expectations and hit Dragon Thunder square in the abdomen.
Dragon Thunder howled in pain, grabbing his still burning wound. Red Death seized her opportunity and quickly created a chest sized fire wheel; she was saving her energy, knowing that the gas would automatically induce the flames to grow nearly twice their starting size.
Dragon Thunder lifted his head just in time for him to see the growing circle of fire come hurdling towards him. The man jumped to his feet, ignoring the ripping pain of the previous burn. The man let out a strangled cry as he stole control of the fire wheel, the moment the attack reached close enough, he curved his right arm, catching the wheel in mid air, seconds before it hit his open chest. Rolling on the heel of his foot, Dragon Thunder caught the fire wheel and fed even more power into the attack, before sending back at full speed towards its creator.
Noticing every small movement her opponent made Red Death had already jumped into the air to avoid the wheel when Dragon Thunder turned her own attack against her. In the air Red Death took her chance for another attack, sending a powerful stream of fire down to her adversary.
Just as she had thought Dragon Thunder jumped back to avoid the attack, but the man was a little too late in his movements and not firmly back on his feet when the second part of Red Death's attack unleashed itself. The stream of fire, the moment it touched the stone platform, turned into rippling waves of hungry flames and before Dragon Thunder could react to protect himself the fire had already burned his feet thoroughly. As the waves of flames continued Dragon Thunder cried out in pure, unrelenting pain, the cry only ending when Red Death ceased her onslaught and landed back on the platform.
Dragon Thunder fell to his side, clenching the burned flesh of his feet in his tightening grip until his own strength turned on him by opening the wound further. Lifting up his pain stricken torso, he glared over at Red Death, from his pitiful position on the ground "You bitch!" He yelled out accusingly, spitting at the ground near her feet as he used his right hand to tenderly grasp the burn on his torso, flinching at even at the sensitive touch.
Red Death only smirked behind the black cloth as she stared down the near broken man, of whose physical pain had all been at her hand. Those words and that small action were all that were needed to open the possibility of finishing him off honourably. Lighting her right forearm, the woman moved steadily towards the fallen fighter.
Dragon Thunder's eyes widen pass the fear as he realized what her intentions were. "No!" he yelled out as he used his remaining arm in an attempt to scoot himself away from the impending doom. But Red Death's slow merciless pace did not falter until she was but a foot away from the critically wounded man. As she rose her lit hand that was growing increasingly large with each passing heart beat, a swift flash passed over her eyes, like a sharpened dagger ready to plunge into its victim.
Dragon Thunder, in a final attempt to protect his mortally wounded body, instinctively lifted his arm to protect his vulnerable neck from more damage than it could take, but it was too late. Red Death had slammed her lit forearm into his heavily wounded abdomen, and as he dropped his arm away from his neck she ran the lit fist up his chest, giving the final, unforgiving blow to the delicate flesh under his chin, setting in all of the force she could muster to get rid of the idiot for good.
Dragon Thunder flew off of his knees at the force of the impact, landing painstakingly hard on stone floor. Crimson blood spurted out of the man's mouth as the back of his head made contact with the solid ground; his skull creating a sickening crack as the rest of his beaten body followed.
At the sign of her job finished, Red Death slipped out of her offensive stance, taking her time to stand up straight and untie the fabric from around her mouth. Slowly, she ran her icy glare threateningly over the now silent, yet curious audience. The only sounds audible being the mixed gasps and gurgles that came from her wounded opponent.
With smooth, predatory movement, Red Death made her way once more to inspect the extent of the damages she had given Dragon Thunder. Her boots echoing the sound of the platform ground throughout the entire stadium as she demolished the short distance between her and the once great Dragon Thunder. The fighter smirked as she noticed that not a soul dared to even breathe as she stood over Dragon Thunder with a heartless glare.
The idiot had cracked his skull on the landing and a pool of dark blood had begun to form under his head, it was a miracle that he was even awake gasping for the breath he had lost when she had rammed her flaming fist into his upper torso.
The woman smiled at her work; the man's chest, feet, and throat were burned open and blood was already seeping out of the corners and the center of his burns, where the intense fire had left its largest impression. Red Death smirked as she watched his pathetic chest heave. He should have known that brute force would never allow him to succeed completely in this world.
Yet despite this rough and cold appearance, Airis had managed to detect something. The airbender had not been lost in the magnitude of the fight. Yes, watching a grown man get beaten senseless had been one of her favourite pass times for a long while, but she had something bigger to focus on this time. This time she had been able noticed something odd about the new fighter and Airis did not waste her time with this one.
After the droning sounds of the crowd cheering had died away Airis had been able to make a weak connection into Red Death's mind. It was faint and would probably break at the first jerk of movement that either of them made, but for the moment she was able to tap into Red Death's thoughts.
The teenager had actually found an interesting tinge of regret in the seemingly bloodthirsty fighter. It appeared to be an older part of this Red Death that had the trouble of accepting the fact that she had hurt Dragon Thunder so heavily.
He disserved all of it. The fighter that Airis assumed Red Death had built over the years said to her uneasy, older self. He needed to be put in his place.
But so harshly? The kinder version replied.
We gave the crowd what they wanted.
I suppose so…
With that, Red Death's thoughts went silent. The harsh leer on Red Death's face had melted away, during Airis's mind-tapping, and it had been replaced by an emotionless frown.
It didn't take long for the women to correct her show of weakness, though. Red Death sharply turned her back to the man, and Airis lost the weak connection, leaving the airbender with tiny, gnawing tid-bits to ponder on. The last thing Airis had been able to intercept was the woman forcing all of her feelings of regret in the darkest corners of her mind, as she left Dragon Thunder there, coughing, gasping, defenceless.
The running plan was definitely getting them nowhere, and fast. Katara hated to admit it, but they were lost; every street, corner and house were all beginning to look exactly the same. The only thing that assured Katara that they weren't going in circles was the faded out street names labelled at every crossroad.
How far they had made it from the festival, Katara had no clue. And any idea at how long it had been since the then was as fuzzy as Appa. It could have been fifteen minutes ago, half an hour, or even a whole hour, all she knew was the time between running and pauses to catch their breath was rapidly decreasing. Meaning that they had to either loose this guy or face him soon, or else she and Aang would most likely run out of energy.
Also, the two had yet to find a poster that was even remotely linked to the firebending tournament, it seemed as though the festival was a much more popular event than guys burning each other to a crisp, which Katara could agree with on most occasions, but this was not one of them.
Once more the two paused their running for another break, Katara glanced around at the street they were now in. Despite the common look of most of the homes in the capital, it seemed as though she and Aang were in a much seedier part of the city. Most of the buildings were near ruins and not even a sound was heard from anywhere except for their mixed pants and the random call of some stray alley animal. It sent shivers down Katara's spine, this entire town passed off as nearly deserted.
"Any posters?" Aang asked when he noticed the waterbender looking around at the town.
The question brought Katara back to reality, but eerie shivers had yet to leave. "No, none"
Aang let out a deep sigh that brought his shoulders down with it. "We better keep moving then…" he said almost reluctantly, with only a tiny sliver of optimism.
Katara shook her head and reached out to grab his shoulder. "Aang, there is no way we can out run or out manoeuvre this guy. All this running is just using up all of our energy." she said using his real name under the security of the deserted town.
Aang turned, facing Katara "Which is why we have to keep moving, the sooner we find the guys, the sooner we get rid of whoever is following us."
"Aang, for all we know they could all be on the other side of the city! I mean look where we are, this placed is completely abandoned." Katara explained moving her free arm out to show him the uninhabited town.
Aang looked up at the ancient and crumbling buildings, suddenly his face brightened. "Katara, wait here, I have an idea." He said before running across the street, over to a small alley between two of the tallest old buildings.
"Aang what are you doing?" Katara asked in a hushed voice. They were spending too much time in one place right now and they had to decide what they were going to do about the man that was after them.
Aang smiled, "I'm going to finally find out exactly where we are."
Double checking over his shoulder so that he was sure no one could see him, he made a small blast of air that bounced him toward and off one of the buildings and onto the next until he had reached the top.
From his view at the roof of the tall, yet half crumbling building, Aang could see most of the Fire Nation Capital. In the distance, from where he and Katara had run from, he could see that the festival had ended since the explosions and even farther was the hill were their house was, he could easily spot it since it was the only one that had any lights lit inside.
But, he didn't need to know those things right now; he needed to find something, anything that might resemble a firebending tournament. Hardly anything looked like it could house something as large as a firebending tournament. Aang groaned as he scanned the horizon again for something that even remotely looked like a tournament.
Katara, who stood staring up at Aang, as he looked around the city, was kicking herself at not thinking about climbing up on a building and having a look around earlier. Well at least now they could know where they were going, how far it was, and where the heck they were in the first place.
"Do you see anything?" Katara called up to the airbender.
Katara could barely see his shoulders sag from his place on the tall building. "I can see the house," he answered back. "But I can't see anything that looks like a firebending tournament."
Katara sighed, knowing that if Aang didn't spot something and soon, heading back towards home, might be there best chance. At least they could be in somewhat familiar ground there… but there was no way they could run from that guy for too long. The best plan would be to head towards the house and try and find the guys from there.
"Have one last look around and then we might as well head towards the house," she said, knowing that they had better get moving this had already gone far too long and there was no telling how close the man was or, if they were lucky enough, was getting.
Aang was getting uneasy about it as well. Taking one last long look at the city before him, and lingering far too long on the Fire Palace in the distance for his own good, he finally admitted himself defeat and gazed back over to the far off hill where the house was.
"Nothing," he reported to Katara as he sighed in defeat. "Let's head back…"
Aang had barely been able to hop off the building before he heard someone suck in an enormous breath and then the first starter tck of the attack that could only belong to one person.
Like the times before, he hardly had enough time to find out where the attack was coming from. All he was able to see was the familiar large outline of the shadow man, hidden partly on the edge of an alley, before the building burst out from under him. Aang barely heard Katara calling out his fake name through the noise of the collapsing building.
Aang's body seemed to respond before his head, since he propelled himself away from the explosion as quickly as possible. Through the rubble of the aged and destroyed building, and the ashes the attack lifted up, Aang managed to create an air pillow to fall onto safely, without the man seeing his bending.
The air pillow ended up weaker then what Aang had expected and he had to somersault through most of the impact.
Coughing through the dust and debris, Aang set himself up right again with the help of some airbending and looked around trying to find Katara. The dust had begun to settle, but Aang still could see Katara. Aang coughed again, some dust getting caught in his lungs in the process, and walked toward the clearest point of vision.
"Xia!" He called out to Katara, hoping that her fake name would still get her attention. There was no way they could use her really with the explosion guy so close.
"Kuzon!" Katara called back from somewhere not far behind Aang, before giving a small cough. He heard footsteps run the short distance toward him and soon after felt Katara's hand grab out to reach him.
The ashes and dust had finally subsided to something that looked like an ugly brownish mist and Aang was able to see and grasp Katara's hand to help her find him. He felt Katara's hand relax when he took it and pulled the rest of her out of the dirty fog.
Aang felt sweet reassurance wash through his body when he saw that Katara was virtually unharmed. For a terrifying moment he had thought that it had been Katara that the man was aiming at. He was pulled out of his brief thoughts when he heard Katara cough again.
"How was he so quiet?" Katara asked indirectly to Aang, her voice rough with the dust.
The question took Aang aback. It was true they hadn't even heard the smallest footstep or clink of metal that for some reason was a sound that followed the man. And a person that large was bound to make a lot of noise when he moved.
Once again Aang was kicked out of his thoughts, but this time it was by the heavy, metallic footsteps of the explosion man. Aang felt Katara let go of his hand and unsheathe her broadswords from their place at her hip.
Aang himself felt his body slip into a defensive stance and glare straight toward the sound of the footsteps. Finally through the dusty mist he saw the man's moving outline. The man seemed to see their outlines as well, since the moment Aang caught sight of his shadowy figure the man stopped.
For the next few seconds the three of them allowed the dusty mist of ashes and debris to settle around them for the final time. Aang and Katara's ragged breathes mixing in with the quietness of the abandoned town and the man's own strangely smooth breathe.
Finally the standoff was broken when it became clear enough to see the others faces and the man smirked at the two kids and took one step forward, seemingly to test their reaction to the movement.
Before Aang could even open his mouth to ask exactly who he was and why he was after them, the man took another deep and sent a beam of fire-energy directing towards the two of them.
"HA! In. Your. Face!" Toph yelled as she stared in Sokka's general direction and stood up to pound her fists in the air like the rest of the stadium. "Whoohoo!"
Sokka fell back in his seat staring at platform where the healers were now tending to Dragon Thunder's burns and head injury. Mourning at the loss of his fighter, Sokka dragged his fingers down his face; clearly exposing his eye sockets most of the way. "Why? Why?" He sobbed to no one in particular. "He was so good!"
Toph laughed at his misery. "I hate to say 'We told you so' but-"
"We told you so."
Sokka growled. "That wasn't a fair fight. My guy didn't expect it to turn into liquid fire! I demand a rematch!" He yelled out to the host, who couldn't have possibly have heard it.
Toph felt the need to point out the obvious, and poked his arm. "Snoozles, your guy is unconscious. How the heck is he supposed to fight if he can't even do anything? Besides Crazy did say anything goes in these fights. Didn't you Crazy?"
Airis was too busy trying to figure out exactly who Red Death was and trying to re-establish a mind connection with said person, to answer Toph's question immediately. It was infuriatingly impossible to set up a connection now that that the crowd was riled up and not mind numbly focused on the fighting.
She had known that Toph had asked her for back up on her argument, thankfully she had kept the back of her mind connected to her the other two, in case another argument had stirred up, but the airbender decided to stay out of this argument, at least for as long as she could. Besides, Airis knew Toph did not need her for any sort of back up; the earthbender had only wanted her to join in for a double-pounding on Sokka's ego, which was already thoroughly bruised thanks to Dragon Thunder's defeat.
Toph was persistent though, finally tapping her fingers on the side of Airis's skull to make headway with Airis's focus. "Hello! Anybody home?" Airis heard Toph ask from what seemed a mile away.
The airbender inwardly sighed, gave up on her attempt of the mental link and followed her mind back to Sokka and Toph.
When she regained total consciousness of where she was, Airis gazed over at the two, Toph's confident smirk and Sokka's extended pouting lip, and what was happening on the platform, it was all too easy for Airis to figure out exactly what needed to be said.
"Sokka, Toph is right, anything goes. You guy got knocked down and burned; he's out of the tournament. Maybe for good by the looks of things"
Toph's smirk only grew. "Told ya, and once Red Death wins this thing, you owe me five silver pieces."
Sokka fell to his knees, digging the heels of his palms into eyes. "NO!"
Airis rolled her eyes a bit, chuckling under her breath. "Sokka calm down, you can always bet on the next guy who fights. It might be a bit hard to find someone who can beat Red Death, but you never know." Her voice was dry with missing focus as Airis gave her attempt to comfort Sokka.
"Yeah, there are two more fights left! You can't give up now!" Toph said agreeing with Airis and getting both of her companions to do a double take on her words. "Pick some dude that my guy can crush in the last round so I can really destroy your spirit!"
Airis gave a short laugh, before lowering it down to half-covered snickers. "She's right you know. The last round is always the best, especially when it comes to spirit crushing."
Sokka lifted up his head and looked at Airis and Toph "I really do hate you guys, you do know that, right?"
Toph and Airis both nodded. "Yup, we sure do."
"Good." And with that Sokka returned to the pouting he had first come into the stadium with.
Toph nearly immediately switched her attention away from Sokka, since she had been pleased with his return to being the wet blanket of the night, and gave it back to the platform where Dragon Thunder was being lifted away on a stretcher and they were getting ready for Red Death to face the next challenger. Airis followed Toph's lead, leaving Sokka to mope by himself.
"C'mon!" Toph called out with the crowd. "Bring out the next one!"
Down on the platform, the host chuckled deeply at the calls and cheers of the impatient audience. He raised his hands to signal everyone to quiet down and turned to Red Death, who was standing with her arms crossed and with the same impatience as the crowd was rapping her fingers over her arm. As usual she seemed unfazed by the fight she had just won.
"Alright!" The host's voice boomed through the stadium. "It seems as though Red Death has once again wounded to the point of almost no return! Let us hope that our semi-final challenger can at least give her more of a fight than Dragon Thunder and that Red Death will once again reclaim the championship title!"
The crowd roared at his words. The host smirked; there was no need to rile them up any longer.
"Please welcome The Ember Viper… to his doom." His voice lowered menacingly with the words. His hands made a sweeping motion towards the other massive door on the left side of the platform, opposite to the one Red Death had walked out of.
Red Death let her eyes roll to where the new fighter was supposed to come from. Not showing her hopeful expectancy of a good fight through her impatient demeanour.
For a moment there was silence.
"The Ember Viper!" The host called out again, annoyance clear in his voice.
Once again nothing.
Red Death's eyes narrowed and her hands clenched angrily around her own crossed arms. She was here to fight, not to wait. The ignorance of this fighter would immediately put a bad mark on her honour.
After nearly a minute of waiting, a door at the bottom of the platform, meant for those who worked at the tournament, creaked open and a man slipped out. He climbed up the stairs, under the hushed voices of the audience, to the firebending platform and promptly handed the host some sort of document. Turning back the man left the stadium as quickly as he had came.
The host unravelled the document while Red Death began to purse her lips at the prolonged diversion of her next fight.
The crowd waited patiently to see what was going on with the letter. Each person having their own version of what they thought was going on. Toph and Sokka were no different.
"She's being kicked out because of over-kill she did to Dragon Thunder! And they're gonna giving the title to him!" Sokka yelled out.
Toph scoffed. "If that was the case, you're guy would be long gone. My guess is that Ember guy got so scared when he saw Red Death fight you're idiotbender that he ran away with his tail between his legs."
"Yeah, right! We'll just wait and see about that one!"
Airis snickered underneath her breath, using the edge of her hand to cover her smirk. It was almost too obvious that Toph was right, again, but she would let Toph have the pleasure of feasting solo on Sokka's dignity, this round anyway.
As Airis had suspected, Toph was right. When the host finished reading the paper, he burned it in his hand and lifted his arms to the crowd. "It seems as though Ember Viper has a fear of Death and has quit the fight," he said with one of his slight, deep chuckles.
Toph smirked "Told ya-"
Sokka cut her off, lifting a finger "Don't say-"
The audience booed at the fear shown by the dishonourable fighter. Without Ember Viper there would be no semi-finals and the tournament would end earlier than planned; a large disappointment among the crowd of men, who had nothing better to do.
"Fine!" The host called out. "If you wish to have a semi-final than I suggest that one of the audience volunteer to fight Red Death, and possibly, very possibly, win the championship! …Anyone?"
Airis laughed under her breath when the crowd went absolutely silent. They were all like that, ever since Airis had first started fighting. They loved to watch as others got beaten senseless but would back off immediately if they were given a place to fight. Airis scoffed. Bunch a' wimps. If Airis had been alone and did not have the danger of blowing the cover of the other Avatar and his friends looming over her shoulder, she would have jumped at the chance to fight again. Taking this chance to fight would also mean that she would have more time and a better possibility of figuring out who Red Death was.
The ex-fighter gave a lop-sided grin. Plus she would expose herself even more as Phoenix and though that wasn't so bad, it wasn't exactly wanted either. To bad, she would have to sit this one out.
Suddenly Toph flicked her on the side of her head. "Ow," Airis mumbled rubbing the side of her head. "What was that for?"
Toph rolled her sightless eyes. "Go already!"
Airis jerked back. "What are you talking about?"
"Don't 'What are you talking about' me," the earthbender mocked. "You've been leaning towards the fighting arena ever since Red Death showed up and now it's twice that I've had to hit you in the head to get you out of you're thoughts, you're vibrations are really starting to get irritating. So for the sake of my sanity, and you're physical health, go fight Red!" Toph yelled as she pointed down at the platform where the host and especially Red Death were waiting. And Red Death's patience was dwindling by the second.
"Why me? And what if I don't want to fight?" Airis asked, thankfully keeping their need for a low profile in constant check.
"I think that you've noticed that out of the three of us, you're the only one who can firebend. Trust me, if they would allow earthbending in this tournament, it would have definitely been me down there fighting Red, but this is a firebending tournament and you kinda need firebending to fight. Besides, you're the one who wants to know exactly who took you're place in the arena. If you don't find out who's replaced you than you're just a sad fighter, Crazy." Toph tsked in made up disappointment.
Airis gave the other ex-fighter a small smirk. "Low blow, Toph" the airbender said making a hard effort to sound equally disappointed with Toph.
Toph shrugged her shoulders slightly, reclining in her seat. "Enh. It's what I do."
Knowing that it was either a voluntary choice or getting booted into the ring personally by Toph, Airis fixed up her cloak up sharply in defeat before she stood up and turned to Toph. "You had better be cheering for me while I'm down there," she said adding a hint of malice in her voice, her tone telling the blind earthbender that it was more than likely a bad idea and that it was impossible that it would turn out pretty.
Toph tilted her head at the words, but let them slide off casually, "Maybe… if I feel like you're good enough."
Airis chuckled softly before she easily moved down the stairs and disappeared into the massive audience.
For Sokka, who had been entirely too engrossed in a conversation about Dragon Thunder with the man who was sitting behind the small group to notice that Toph had gotten Airis to go down and fight Red Death, it took a good couple of minutes to realize that Airis had picked up and left.
"Hey, Toph, where did she go?" He asked as he checked the seat next to him, over the crowd, behind him and even under his seat for the missing airbender.
"Who?" Toph answered nonchalantly, "Red Death is still on the platform looking as pissed as ever, now that no one will fight her. That who you're looking for?" She offered.
Sokka looked down at the platform sure enough Red Death was still there and was growing more impatient by the second, actually now on the verge of snarling at the gutless crowd. But he wasn't asking about her.
"No, where's uh…Phoenix?"
Toph propped her legs up on an empty chair in front of her. "Bathroom," she answered simply. The only reason she hid the fact that Airis was going down to fight Red Death was because Toph really did want to see his reaction to the ex-fighter fighting again, well in Toph's case, feel his reaction.
"Well she better get back soon, she might miss the semi-final."
As if on cue the host cut off the soft chatter of the audience and yelled out, "If no one has the guts to fight Red Death than we might as well move on to the final round." He was obviously irritated with the spineless audience he had tonight.
"Or she might miss the finale" Sokka suggested to himself.
When another minute of silence passed the host threw up his arms once again. "Well then, Please welcome-"
"I'll fight her, if you don't mind," interrupted an eerie voice, one that made the hairs on the back of Sokka's neck stand.
The entire stadium including Red Death and the host turned toward the left challenger's entrance. The doors finished creaking open and sure enough, there was Airis, cloak tossed aside, arms relaxed next to her, and ready to fight.
"WHAT?" Sokka jumped out of his seat, before he was hauled back down by smirking Toph, who was in fact quite happy with Sokka's response.
"Phoenix…" mumbled the host and most of the crowd in disbelief.
But Airis patiently waited for the words she wanted to hear from the person that mattered most right now.
"Red Death…" The Red Death successor whispered.
Airis smirked. There they are. She gave a short snicker before leaning her weight back nonchalantly. "Well, I said I'd fight her, didn't I?" Then the teenager lowered her eyes darkly. "So let's go."
This time both Aang and Katara knew exactly what was coming for them. The moment the first TCK reached their ears the two of them naturally rolled to the side; Katara and Aang both having fought enough battles in the past to know how to avoid a direct attack. Luckily for them, the man's straightforward explosions now seemed to be his only means of attacking. But by now the two had also figured that to underestimate this man would most definitely be the difference between losing and actually surviving.
Once Katara rolled to a kneeling pose, her hands now instinctively grasping the broad swords at her waits, she looked up to get her first clear view of their mystery attacker. The man was a giant, and merely his presence seemed fully intent on crushing both her and Aang. Most intriguing though, was the tattoo of an eye overtop three vertical crystal shaped bars in the very center of his forehead.
Katara smoothly swept her swords out of their scabbard; there was no more time to wonder about the man's physical characteristics any longer. The only thing that did matter at the moment was what he was capable of doing and how fast Katara could figure out how to predict his next attack.
Seeing an immediate blind spot on the man moments after he had fired at them, Katara charged forward, twirling her wrists to gain powerful momentum with the blades. And the still hovering dust provided her with the exact cover she needed to reach the man before he could notice the attack.
Through the dust, the waterbender could make out an ill-placed, what looked to be heavily gloved hand lingering in mid air. Katara's fighting adrenaline seized the golden opportunity and both of her swords were brought down on the exposed hand, with the ultimate intent of wounding him and then making their escape. It would have never been Katara's first choice of 'distracting' an opponent, but with her limited weapons and lack of bending there was no other choice.
When her blade made contact, Katara braced herself for the sickening sound of steel slicing through flesh and the man's bloodcurdling cry that was sure to come.
The sounds never came.
Instead, her blades retaliated off of his hand with a metallic clang and sent painful shock waves through her wrists and up her forearm. And it was a muffled grunt of pain and surprise that left her lips.
The man had set a trap for her and Katara had fallen for it; hook, line and sinker. Now he had Katara in close enough range to blast her into a million pieces. How could she have been so oblivious?
Using every second to his advantage, the man shoved his metal hand harder into her blades, tossing Katara a good fifteen feet away. Her shell-shocked body hit the ground hard, but from months of fighting experience she forced herself to scramble to her feet as soon as possible.
But the man never gave that chance, knowing from his own years of fighting and killing, never to give a second chance. As the swordswoman clambered back to her feet, he sucked in a breath, feeling his heart beat speed up to unimaginable rates in preparation for the upcoming explosion and he felt almost frightful energy build up in his chi system.
Of course he wasn't aiming directly for the girl; he didn't want to kill her, at least not yet. This was his chance to wound and capture her. After that all he had to deal with was the boy.
As Combustion was letting the lethal amount of energy finally slip through his control and out through its only escape, a blurry shadow flying in from the corner of his eye caught his attention and before Combustion could redirect his blast, the boy had swooped in from a blind spot, slamming his foot firmly into Combustion's cheeks bone.
His thick head lolled to the side and if it had not been for the sturdy pose needed for the explosion Combustion would have been knocked off his feet. The explosion had been safely directed away from the girl and sent into one of the crumbling abandoned buildings, sending another pile of substantial dust and debris into the air.
Combustion corrected himself almost immediately, bracing himself for another surprise impact from the boy. But he felt none. In a rage he scoured the dust covered street, searching for the two twerps. He found both of them where he had thrown down the girl. The boy had apparently rushed to her side; figuring there was more strength in numbers.
Combustion smirked. There was, but not with him, he was rather glad the little firebender had stuck himself to the girl. Two children made a much better target than one.
Once again, Combustion sucked in a breath, his heart beat sped up, the powerful energy charged, and he aimed off from the kids and on the building they were standing under.
The kids were good, but not as good as he had first thought. Their attachment to each other would slow them down considerably. Now it would not take long at all to take down the swordswoman and the little firebender. They were as good as his.
As let the energy escape only one hint of doubt taken from the fight past through his subconscious, it was irrelevant but still, why hadn't the little firebender used his chance, when he had kicked him the face, to burn him past recognition? Was he really that honourable, or did the kid have some sort of defect, was he really a firebender?
Unbeknownst to Combustion, the swordswoman's at the opposite end of his attack was wondering about this fact as well.
AN- Reviews are always welcome. Have a good night/day everyone :)