The knight is standing on the tippy-top of the highest tower in his newly rebuild fortress, as Richard makes hi way up the winding staircase. He turns just as the door opens and greets Richard with a nod.
"It all looks good to me," he says handing over a small stack of papers. "How are they fairing down there?"
"They were actually starting to worry me a little," the knight replies, flipping through the top few pages. Below them scurrying little people are chopping down trees to make siege weapons.
"They're really not wasting any time this update huh?"
"No," the knight muses darkly. "They're hatching Alien eggs over to the east and I'm pretty sure one of them is trying to raise a Basilisk."
Richard laughs. "Well that's what you get for being a year late on updates."
"Stuff came up," the knight tried to explain.
"I hate you."
"I'm here correcting your writing, you're not supposed to like me."
Any reply that the Knight might have had was cut off when a high buzzing filled the air. "What's that?"
"Back-up," Richard said, taking sip from his umbrella drink.
"What's that supposed to ... oh my god." Without another word or warning the Knight dived to the ground just as an impossible disc shaped craft flew over head. The sound of laughter filled the air along with the whirring of strange hidden weapons. Red bolts rain down all around a cowering knight and Richard learns for the first time that an empty suit of armour can in fact call for it's mommy.
"I didn't need to know that."
And I don't care, now shut up before I write you into a pink dress.
Richard cocks and eyebrow and suddenly a cry can be heard from far above. It is garbled and hard to understand, but it seems to be something about Croatoan.
"Ow ow ow ow ow!" the Knight shouts as he runs past, covered in what looks like hundreds of red pens. "What the hell!"
"I though we could use a new beta."
"Well she didn't have to shoot me with pens!"
Richard shrugs. "It seems to have gotten your lazy butt in gear."
"Ahhh! She's coming around for another pass!"
"I AM THE TALLEST! ALL MUST BOW TO ME! MUHAHAHAHA!"
"Couldn't you find a normal one?" the Knight shouts over the amplified voice, as he hides behind Richard. The red pen gun seemed to not be able to lock in on him.
"Probably, but with both of us how long do you expect them to last?"
"ALL BAD SPELLING AND SHORTNESS WILL BE PUNISHED!"
Knights Authors Note: Well that was interesting... yeah. Anyway here is the update like i promised. Its a triple update... yes a little under twenty thousand words – the longest chapter yet. Whoot! I'm uploading it all at once as a peace offering. The next part of the story is going to have to be handled delicately so it might not be up for a little while.
Beta Note: "Hey, this is Maran, the new beta reader. If
you're angry about the delayed update, point your torches and pitchforks at
me, because it took me a few days to search for all the typos. If you find any
errors I missed, let one of us know in a review or pm."
Written and read best in 1/2 format
Sokka: Master of the Black Sword
Author: The Jade Knight
Co-Author: Richard Caine
Beta: Maran Zelde
-The Resistance Saga-
– Suki –
Suki was having a great time at the festival. Sure they were all Firebenders, but most of these people had never even seen battle. They were almost entirely all settlers here to help occupy the city. They lived and laughed and loved just like anyone else, and Suki couldn't help but join in, if only for a few hours.
"Stay close to me and do not look him in the eye," Arc said suddenly, glaring into the shifting crowd. Suki, still holding her newest fluffy prize looked up at him in confusion, until she saw them.
She noticed Sokka and Katara first, their faces sticking out almost painfully against the fairer skinned Fire-Nation people. Next came a small boy with long black hair that she knew on sight. His unique gray eyes swept the moving masses until they stopped on her and Arckon. He had survived! Sokka had told her, but she couldn't dare hope. With him as a rally point, they might be able to break this lethargic depression that most of the people seemed to be falling into!
Her thoughts were suddenly broken when she noticed a fourth person in their group. She was a small girl was walked with a distinctly masculine gait. She had long black hair tied up high, but she let her bangs fall down across her face, making seeing her face difficult. Suki watched her come closer with something between curiosity and morbid fascination. Was this the other girl? The one who could live with him fighting a never ending war?
Suki hated to agree, but if what Sokka had said was true – that he would have to fight for the rest of his life, she could never find peace. She hadn't relaxed at all since she had gotten involved with this war; she couldn't imagine living with it all the time.
But what about this other woman? Suki had learned a long time ago never to underestimate anyone, but this new girl – at first look – seemed weak and tiny; at least until she got closer. She maybe short, but she looked like she was build fairly tough. And … she was blind?
No, she couldn't be. But her eyes were so pale, and they didn't seem to react to anything. She moved around people without looking up. And while everyone else around her squinted into the sun or wore hats to get some shade while going from stall to stall, she never blinked, even when facing the sun directly.
What was going on here?
"Hello!" Sokka called cheerfully, but she detected a ring of something else in his voice. He seemed tense, almost as if he were dreading something. Actually all of them were looking like they were expecting something bad to happen; except for the little blind girl, she looked … well the only word that came to Suki was rock steady.
"Hi," Suki said, shaking the strange feelings off. "It's good to see all of you here."
"Yeah, it was a nice day, so we decided to go for a walk." Suki noticed that Katara and Aang were unusually quiet and morose, and if she wasn't greatly mistaken, they were both looking at Arc like he was about to leap at them and tear out their throats.
I stood stock still, just letting the wind blow through my hair. The Spell Chains all over my body throbbed with barely contained power, and my sword felt heavy on my back. What was going to happen now? I knew the gist of what was supposed to happen, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something I didn't know could easily jump up and bite me in the ass.
The gang stood beside me and we all just watched and waited as 'Arc' took measure of us. I stared into his single blue eye, and traced the scars the surrounded his face, seeing a pattern in them.
"I'm Suki," she said to Toph, bowing slightly in greeting. I could see that it cost her something to open up to Toph – I think she knew. But all I could do was let them talk and get in between if they tried to kill each other.
"Toph Bei Fong." She accepted Suki's bow and returning with one of her own. Their postures were tense and I could see something fighting back and forth between them. I can rightly say that I had no idea what went on between the two of them in the next few seconds, but when they straightened up, Suki smiled and started talking about the Festival and Toph was listening and nodding.
Al–right? Well, at least they're not killing each other. I slowly blinked my eyes, opening my Spirit sight to gaze upon the man who was going to try to kill me.
The sunlight that was so bright began to fade as a cloud drifted across the sun, and like he was hiding there, a wraith appeared in the newly created shade. Time seemed to slow as Arckon's Spark met my eyes.
He was a metal dragon, eyes the color of heated forge coals. Cruel articulated plates glittered in the passing bands of sunlight, as the beast exhaled a cloud of steamy vapors. Iron claws flexed, ephemeral blades digging into the pavement to either side of the warrior. Coils tightened as the great beast opened its maw, dagger teeth spreading taller than the man who stood in front of them.
Arc quickly reached inside his shirt and pulled out something quicker then any of us could see. The beast's soundless roar and its killing fury pounded down on my enhanced perception like an arctic wave. Arc whipped a small green ball at me. I caught it without too much difficulty, and screamed.
The Spirit bound to the ball gripped my hand with tendrils that burned like hot coals. I jerked backwards and fell to my knees as an alien presence invaded my mind. I was dimly aware that I was probably screaming, not that I could hear it. I felt my voice crack and I tasted coppery blood. I began to panic when some part of me recognized what I was holding, but then the pain intensified and I could focus on nothing else.
The Spirit wrapped itself completely around my mind, and squeezed. I clutched my head as the pressure became to much to bear. I couldn't think. I couldn't move. Some part of me was yelling a spell at me; something to shield myself with, but it was already to late. I felt my mind give, and crumple beneath the iron grip of the Spirit. I fell forward, blood dripping from my mouth, but I never felt the impact with the ground.
I was drifting somewhere, slowly and gently. Behind me a wolf howled and I felt a connection between us tighten, but hold.
Sweet colours flitted playfully around me as I fluttered down through the layers of reality like a cherry blossom in the wind. I tried to reach for one of them, but I had no hands. The light seemed to laugh merrily and continued on its way. The concept of a vast gate rose up before me. It felt like iron bars wet from the rain, and hummed with immeasurable power. It was one of the Other Places of the world, and although normally this gate resisted any who approached it, it opened for me.
I didn't feel the weight of my arms, or any pain. I was free. Free of torment, free of hate, and free of that damned war. I was at a place of rest, and I didn't have to fight anymore.
Before me a form rose out of the endless mists. She swirled around, and came to me. She was sad, and her presence brushed mine gently, and I knew it. I hadn't seen her in years, and the memories I did have were old and faded like stories, but it was definitely her. I sank into her presence and felt like I was going to cry. I felt the last great pain lift as she held me.
'Not yet, boy.'
I turned, and there was something behind me. The force of the It slammed into me and broke my connection to the peace I felt. Suddenly the light wasn't so inviting, and the air began to feel abrasive. It was huge and powerful. It didn't have a physical body, nothing could have a physical body in the realm of the dead; It was more feelings and concepts then anything. And I felt fear.
It reached for me with a hand that could stretch the entire length of all the worlds, and gripped me with fingers that none could hide from. I cried out as It ripped me from my mother, but she brushed my mind once more and I felt calmness fill me. It wasn't time yet.
I still had things to do.
Its hands were as cold as an undertaker's, and he kicked open the gates of the dead with such power that I felt the world quake and pull away from him. I was thrown across the back of a huge black steed, and It leaped into the saddle behind me. It shrieked with a voice like a tortured beast. My fear of this demon was far more rational than my usual fears, and it was nothing to be ashamed of.
Every living thing feared Death.
We thundered across the world, following the long line that connected me to the Wolf. I couldn't die yet, at least not this way. I was certain for reasons that I could not explain that I was just... too much to be killed by a some green glowing ball of... whatever the hell that was.
Death reared Its implacable steed to a halt on the edge of the eternity, and cantered around a silver tower that rose up and disappeared into the pink sky. Moons and planets revolved around the tower, and it went on forever. Past the center of this world – this level of reality, and out the other side.
'Remember Incarna, you promised to fight me every lifetime – a fight like no other. I intend to collect.'
I nodded hesitantly to Death, unsure of how to answer as the tinkle of bells sounded with every step the horse took. Apparently satisfied, It threw me head first into the silver tower before I could ask anything further. I thumped through another worldly divide, and came flying out of the Archive, and slammed back into the world with all the force of a falling moon. I groaned and picked myself up off the ground and looked around. There was no one here … except for the ghostly apparition of a Wolf.
Don't do that again.
It wasn't words that it spoke, but more of an idea. I nodded dumbly again, and the feeling of my own body tickled my fingertips. I reach out for it and pulled myself back to it. Damn wolf, always there when something freaky is happening.
My eyes snapped open, and I looked up into the worried face of my sister and Aang. Behind them Toph was crouched dangerously and growling like a bear. Bloody hell this went to crap fast.
"I'm good," I said groggily, getting sounds of relief from everyone except Arc, who looked amazed that I was still breathing. The Archive kicked a little information into my mind and I looked over a schematic and past remembrances of what exactly I still clutched in my hand. They called it a Mind Flayer- technology of the Elder Things designed as a quiet assassination tool. It sucked you into the Dream World, wove illusions around you, and digested your mind like I digested barbeque.
I felt cold fury flowing through my limbs as ice crystals began to form at my fingertips. I was no man's barbeque.
I let Katara and Aang help me to my feet, one under each arm. Let one of the Jenkotsu of the Earth think I was weaker then I was. I idly wondered just where the hell he'd discovered a stash of forbidden weapons from a long past Age. Maybe once we beat the tar out of him, he'd feel a little more obliging. I just hoped he didn't have another one of those things, they really pack a punch.
He probably wouldn't have two, the Spirits inside them react very badly to others of their kind and would possibly self-detonate if close to another for too long. Of course, that was assuming he had their technical specifications in his head. Since he had no way of making something like that himself I highly doubted he knew that they could make him a walking time bomb of non elemental energies. A not too small part of me hoped that he spontaneously combusted.
"Sokka, Are you – Arc? What's wrong?" Suki seemed to be trying to come over to me; to see if I was okay I suppose, but then the Jenkotsu got a hold on her arm and pulled her behind him, as if he was protecting her. Cute.
"In case you forgot, you were the first one to attack," I mentioned. I spat some blood on the dusty stones at my feet. I feel it made the point slightly more eloquently than words. I gently shook off Katara and Aang and moved up beside Toph. She still looked like she was bout to kill someone. Then Prince Charming decided to quote something that sounded like a dry version of a memorized tactical manual.
"Always be on your guard, because when the Incarna comes for your life, you will only know it a moment before he strikes. He will use weapons and tactics to attack from afar whenever he can. But if he ever attacks you from the front, in plain view, prepare for anything, because he will already have a weapon pointed at your back ready to kill you in an instant."
Okay; dry tactical manual, check. Smart and accurate author who probably kicked my butt in another life? Also check. Not quite to the literary level of my haiku- but quite creepy and to the point nonetheless.
"Arc, what are you talking about?" Suki asked, looking confused.
I straightened up slowly, making sure both of my hands were in plain view, and held up the Mind Flayer on the flat palm of my hand. I had a few moments of peace, at least with what Arckon's body language was telling me about how he fought. Muscles still tensed, keeping him from moving too quickly, focus narrowed. When he is faced with an enemy, he will hit it with a precise and deadly first strike. He will not hesitate for an instant. But if that enemy somehow survives, he treads carefully, testing it and keeping an eye out for a trap. Once he is sure the enemy is not trying to lead him into anything, he'll hit with everything again.
Like an avalanche. One that waits and listens.
Bastard already killed me once, I think. I was just lucky he went for my mind; I wasn't going to get another chance. So I decided to talk to him through Suki.
I'm a jerk like that.
"He's hurting, Suki. He has been betrayed so many times by those he trusted that he's closing himself off. But the thing is, he was betrayed again by the leader of his family and he doesn't even know it."
"I know about your mind games," he said, watching me carefully. Poor Suki looked like her whole world was upside down. To be fair she had no clue what we were talking about. So instead of explaining, I went for more mind games.
"Don't worry Suki, I'm here to help him … and make sure he doesn't kill me."
"What?" she asked.
"Enough," Arc said sharply, getting a few strange looked from people around us. "How did you survive that orb?"
"This?" I asked with a grin, holding up the little Mind Flayer. It tried to nibble on my fingers, the little bastard, but I had it in standby mode, so it was safe. You know, as safe as a mind devouring ball of jade constructed by a madman could get. While Arckon looked on I tossed it up into the air with a casual flick of the wrist, but when it reached the top of its arc, it folded in on itself and vanished.
I was beginning to love that trick.
"What was that?" Toph asked, finally speaking up. She had been all poised for a fight when I hit the ground, and I guess she was only now risking a question.
"It's called a Mind Flayer; a very nasty little piece of work that hadn't been used in, oh hell, a good few centuries at least as far as I know. I didn't even know there were any of those things still floating around. It's activated and then thrown at an enemy, and when it latches on, it wraps itself around the mind and spirit of the target and digests it. Sort of like what Aang does to tofu actually... hm, anyway. Without a mind to control the heart and lungs, the target usually dies almost immediately. Say, Arc, where did you get one? I know you couldn't have made it yourself."
"You'd be surprised what weapons my Family possesses."
Suki seemed to be just coming to the realization that Arc had just tried to kill me. "He's not a bad person," I said kindly to her. "He is just operating under a misconception."
"Pretty Boy, you stupid ass, what are you trying to do?" Toph shouted.
"I am trying to stop a murderer, as you well know," he spat at me.
"You're not going to get through to him Toph, he thinks that I did one of those control things on you. Notice how he only responds to me or Suki? He thinks that I have total control over all of you. And if he thinks I have control over Aang back there, he doesn't plan on letting me live."
"So, do you have a weapon pointed at my back?"
"More like your front," I said casually from my spot next to Toph. "But yes, I do have a secret weapon."
Arc smirked. "And what would that be?"
"That would be telling, and where is the fun in that?"
"What's going on?" Suki asked sounding a little angry. She was moving from confused and scared to angry. Good- anger I could use.
"Do you remember what I said before?" I never took my eyes off Arc, he was tensing. I didn't have much time left. "How I said that I was something different? Well I am different, and Arc here has been taught since he was a child that I am a monster; that people like me live only to destroy and kill. On top of that, he thinks I have broken and enslaved the mind of Katara, Toph, and most importantly Aang. I did not do any of those things, but I'm not going to be able to convince him."
"So you're going to kill each other?" she said shrilly. Oh boy... pissed was out the window. She was getting really angry now.
"No," I said, as if I were going for a walkabout on the ice. I didn't feel that calm; but at least my voice didn't break. That would have definitely killed the mood. I have to admit, I was beginning to think that I may be getting that whole 'acting' thing down. There was only one person there who knew that I still had my doubts about how this was going to shake down. And she wasn't going to be telling a soul. "I'm going to survive, and then show him something that will prove him wrong."
"But you just said you can't convince him." Suki was really starting to turn amazing colours. I'd never seen someone's cheeks flare into incandescent rage before. I always thought it was a figure of speech. It took her a few moments, but she was starting to realize how dangerous this situation really is. And it was deeply irritating her.
"Stop deflecting and answer the question. How did you survive!" Arc shouted. Judging from the look Suki gave him, he wasn't a very emotional person; I was getting to him.
"When was the last time an Earth Jenkotsu crossed paths with an Incarna? Almost seven hundred years ago? And even then, I have been told I'm getting stronger at a rate none of them could even touch. So yes, your little fun ball of agonizing death was a good idea. So good in fact, that I'll give you a freebie Beautiful. It would have worked if in fact my mind was still small enough for it to consume."
I got a quick sideways glance from Katara with that one.
"There is a lot about this Incarna stuff I'm still learning, but here's what I got so far." I cleared my throat and got into teacher mode. "How good is the memory of the average person? You for example. You remember today almost entirely, and the day before is pretty clear too. Then you have pretty good recollection for the last few days, maybe a week. After that it get's fuzzy, what do you remember over the last month? A few things here and there. It was rainy this week, or you saw this guy you thought you knew two weeks ago. Even going back a month, I'd be surprise if you can recall ten to fifteen percent of everything you did."
"Now go back six months, a year, two years, five years. What do you remember from when you were ten? Maybe a handful of incidents. How about when you were five? One, maybe two images or memories? What about younger?" I watched his face clearly, as he played with everything he had ever learned about the Incarna.
"Now imagine being able to remember everything – every second of every day. Being able to look back years and remember events like you were there just there minutes ago. How much of that kind of information storage can the mind … the brain of one person hold? One year? Five? Ten? And that's only the life of one person. Remember Arckon, the strength of the Incarna is information, like raw, stupendous, apocalyptic power is the strength of the Avatar. I have sporadic memories going back hundreds, even thousands of years; do think I could fit them all inside my head?"
I laughed mockingly. It wasn't quite up to Admiral Zhou levels; but it was getting there. I smiled at him again. "The strength of the Incarna is Knowledge, and I know many things"
I wasn't going to tell him that I had no freaking clue how my mind was connected to the Archive, but it seemed to make sense. I was able to access the archive directly while I was in the Incarna state, a feat that was thought to be only possible while standing before the Archive itself.
Okay, time to knock his foot out from under him.
"I know a lot," I said smirking in what I hoped was a roguish manner. "For instance, I know how you lost your arm and got your scars."
Arckon, who had been glaring at me with what could only be called righteous hate, suddenly paled.
"Yes, I know," I said softly. "I know that a long time ago the Water Jenkotsu developed a terrible fighting style that was to only be used against the vilest of enemies, but like any weapon, it had an imperfection in it that could cause it to wreak terrible havoc on innocents, or the undeserving. All weapons have this defect, even the Spirit of the Incarna."
"It's user, the one to loose the bowstring."
"I am warning you," he spat through gritted teeth.
"A past Incarna fell to that glorified trick, and others have studied it carefully, hoping to avoid the same fate. I can tell a lot about the day you got those wounds. For instance I can tell, from the pattern of scarring on your neck, that your arm was taken one piece at a time, and you were restrained for it. I can also tell that the hand that took your face was feminine in nature." His face contorted in anger when I said that. "And judging from that look I just got it was indeed a female hand, not just a feminine one."
I watched him carefully, as I felt little tremors in the ground beneath my feet. Beside me Toph gritted her teeth and squared off into a firm stance. Not long now.
"I remember being hit with that power once, and it was agony. The human body is almost seventy percent water, and to have someone manipulate that water could be devastating. She probably took you one finger at a time, boiling the water in it until they exploded."
"Mizuni?" Toph whispered from beside me. Of course she must have met the traitorous Water Jenkotsu if she knew Arckon as well as she claimed.
"When did she take your face?" I asked, watching him carefully. His eyes for the first time looked away from me, in something like shame, before darting back to me. The shame was long gone, now he looked angry – terribly pissed off I would say.
Great, now I had one of the most powerful people in the city pissed off at me, and lets not forget that he thinks that I want to burn everything. Oh yeah, this was a great idea. I tried to smile reassuringly at him, but his body language told me everything I needed to know. Hm. Attempted Homicide by Rock was impending. Idly I wondered if there was a law in Ba Sing Se specifically for someone trying to murder another person with Earth Bending.
"Here it comes," I answered, watching the ground around our happy host beginning to tremble and shake, like last time, only this time it didn't stop. "Three minutes, tops."
"I thought I had more time than that," she shouted back.
"Well..." I drawled a little, tension in my voice that I didn't bother to try to hide."So did I, but that was before I pissed him off, but at least now I know he's on our side. I think."
Toph shot him an incredulous expression. "That makes me feel so much better."
An arm of stone and earth punched its way up from the ground between my feet. I took a step back and tried to still my racing heart when another arm shot from the ground, and began to pull up a head, and then a torso. All around us the bobbing and laughing people were starting to realize that there were stone men crawling their way up from beneath the earth. A few started to panic, but when the stone men started to gently herd them away they went with little resistance.
The Firebenders looked a little panicked when they noticed the Golems, but the people who still wore green and brown proudly seemed to gain strength from them. Piadno-sensei had told me about the Iron Titan and some of his techniques, and I guess they were fairly common knowledge.
One of the stone men picked up Suki and carried her away. I didn't worry too much, Arckon seemed to value her, maybe even call her a friend and he wouldn't hurt her. Though, when four of them closed in on Katara and made to restrain her, it took a lot out of me not to go and rip their heads off. I had to remember that this was going to happen, it was in that damned Prophecy I had made.
'The allies of the Gray Ghost are being held for protection they don't need … '
I stood stiffly, staring at Arckon as he ushered the last of the civilians away from us. He wasn't going to hurt them; he just believed that I was controlling them and wanted to get them out of the way until he can figure out a way of breaking my control … even if that meant killing me.
Katara only had her two water skins to fight with, but even then she was slicing and dicing the stone men quicker than they could reassemble themselves. Well I suppose it was Arckon reassembling them, but that's not the point. He wasn't moving a muscle and it was really starting to freak me out. If he could control nearly … about fifty of these things, with no moments; just thoughts and will?
Well, that couldn't be good for me. Not even the Archive had given me a precise sense of what a true Earthbending master could do. I mean, Bumi and Toph had their own unique skills, why should I be surprised that this guy could bend rocks with his mind. (oh I like this... should have thought of it myself)
Katara cursed using words that made my eyebrows go up when two stone men finally got their arms around her, clamping them to her sides with bands of earth. She kicked them as they carried her away to 'protect' her. Aang went down next, under a full thirty of the things, after blasting and crushing them for as long as he could. He was just being bound and carried away while I watched Toph still fighting and cursing worse than a pirate.
Arckon had sealed off the entrances to the parade grounds with walls of earth, with a flick of the wrist this time – was there a limit to how much he could bend without movements? Or was it a ruse to pull me in?
Now Toph had all the Men on her, but she was still holding her own. She'd crush one under a slab of stone, grab another and throw him through two of his brothers before blowing a couple more apart with a violent punch or – even once – a headbutt. But like the others, she was overwhelmed. She was charged by two stone men with a table cloth held between them as the others kept her attention. They scooped her up, and because she could no longer touch the ground, she was taken away too.
Now it was just me and tall, scarred and stony in the middle of an abandoned festival. The sounds of sizzling as something left on a grill mixed with the grinding of stone as the Men took up formation around both of us. A few steamers and balloons had fallen to the ground in the mad panic to flee, and now they flew around lazily. Way off across the grounds I could see where Suki had climbed up on top of a building, no doubt to try to get back here and talk some sense into us before we killed each other. She froze when she saw what was boiling up from the earth around Arckon
Liquid metal, that looked almost like mercury bubbled up and began to coat his shoes. I had no doubt that he could have summoned this metal up in an instant, but he wanted the psychological advantage. Good thing it wasn't working. I watched the metal crawl up his body, until it oozed over his face, forming to everything, yet leaving no real features. The mask had no mouth, or eyes – nope, it wasn't intimidating me at all.
Okay; maybe a little.
I tried to be cold and cool. I really did, but when the silver armour reached his right shoulder, and continued down, forming a shoulder, and then an elbow, I think I might have whimpered. When he created his fingers, and clenched then into a tight fist I felt sick. Three minutes? I'd be lucky to live one. To be able to manipulate metal to such a degree as to create working fingers was terrifying.
Okay Sokka, stop crying and get down to it, you have to hold out for three minutes. Get to it.
"Alright demon," said the silver Arckon in front of me. "Let's see this great fighter that you're supposed to be."
He didn't sound very intimidated.
I let my mouth form a tight little smirk. Nothing for it now. Alright, you want a fight, lets get to it.
I reached inside of myself, and felt the cold spark of the Void sleeping. I grabbed it, and pulled it to myself. The cups on the tables around me shattered as the liquids in them were flash frozen. Mist poured from my nostrils as my breath froze the air around me. I gripped my sword and pulled it from it's sheath
Green glyphs of the First Tongue flowed by the corners of my vision. Five percent maximum capacity; initial system overrides engaged – stabilizing – stable. All subsystems functioning within acceptable parameters. Up-link with Archive switching to primary channel – connection complete.
The numbers came, and I found a strange peace in them. They were firm and comforting. Cold calculations caused my fears to ebb away. Calculation knew no fear; only equations. Alright, lets get this show kicking.
- Suki -
Arckon was the Iron Titan? She knew he was a powerful Earth bender, but she had always assumed that he was more of a tactician. Suki looked around, trying to figure out a way of dropping down to the ground without hurting herself. The stone man had let her go as soon as the walls had come up around the parade ground, and already people were trying to get in. But none of the Earthbenders could take the walls down, nor could any of the Firebenders.
Suki grumbled as she walked along the high ledge, damn boys, always trying to act all macho. What the hell were those two doing? She understood what Sokka had said; Arc did seem like he was hurting, but what did fighting have to do with anything? And they both had the nerve to warn her about the other. What did they think she was, some pampered princess?
She'd show … what the hell was that?
Sokka was ... smoking? No, it seemed to be a mist. Was he a Waterbender? He wasn't when she had met him last, but things change. She was pretty far away, but she sure noticed when his eyes went completely black, and frost started forming on the tables and chairs around him. Glasses exploded on tables and the vibrant cloth streamers broke like glass as they froze in the hot morning air.
What was going on?
Arc suddenly exploded into action, almost like he was dancing, and began tearing up and throwing what looked like javelins of stone at Sokka. She was scared for a second, but it was needless, as Sokka just slipped around them, ducking and weaving backwards, putting a little distance between them. Arc seemed to be testing him, not really aiming at anything vital, but then Suki gasped when he threw a wicked looking metal spear right at Sokka's chest.
Sokka just smiled, and slashed the flat side of his sword across his body. The silver spear struck the black sword, and instead of anything violent or bloody, it vanished into the blackness with only a small ripple to show for it.
Arc seemed completely unfazed by this and just continued on attacking, getting faster and faster as each second ticked by, until he was a silver blur, and the air was filled with various lethal objects and the ground was churning with energy trying to grab the squirming and still smiling Sokka.
Finally Arc seemed to have enough, and backed up, weaving his arms in an intricate pattern. All the stone men who had been just observers until that point, charged. Suki dropped down, and gritted her teeth in pain as she hit the ground. She had to stop this before Sokka was killed.
But her worries were again unfounded. Sokka easily dances in between the stone golems, striking down one after another after another. He dropped under a fist that could fell an elephant-whale, and cut the legs out from under his attacker. Rolling back, he dodged another hit and popped back up, knocking two of them together and decapitating both of them with a single swipe of his sword.
He was doing well, but was still being overwhelmed. Just when he seemed to be in trouble, and Suki was scrambling to her feet. He vanished from beneath a skull crushing blow. Suki watched a moment longer, thinking that it was just a trick of the light, but when the stone men parted, and there was no sight of Sokka she started to get worried. Even Arc was looking around, trying to figure out how someone had vanished firm beneath his 'eyes'. It should be impossible, if they were touching the ground, he saw them. Where the hell could he have gone?
"Si'vna ghelen ne'ev, divas nim kehelen."
Suki looked up and behind her to see where the strange chorus of whispers had come from, and her mouth dropped open in surprise when she saw Sokka standing on the face of the building looking down on her, like it was perfectly normal for someone to be defying gravity. He motioned for her to back up and she had a pretty good idea of what he said, but why didn't he just speak normaly? And why was he stuck on the side of a building?
"How did you get over there?" boomed Arc's voice.
Suki looked back and forth between Sokka and Arc, as Sokka began to walk down the face of the building, holstering his blade with a loose and unconcerned motion. The chorus of a thousand whispers followed in the wake of his single spoken word. "Ne'vehnem."
"Magic? That's your explanation? Don't look at me like that. Of course we learned your language – can't have the Incarna plotting right under our noses, although I will admit I cannot speak it myself. The human throat cannot easily form many of the sounds necessary, so you can imagine how surprised I am to hear it coming from you."
"Mehelem na le'chenem."
"Indeed, now shall we continue?"
Suki watched as Sokka bolted down the wall, trails of searingly bright green fire unravelling from his wrists. Impossible, she thought, but there it was. He hit the ground hard, and jogged casually back to the fight. He stopped, and the green fire trailing from his wrists began to slither across the ground, and upwards, forming some kind of window.
Suki was pretty sure she was the only one who noticed that when he hit the ground, after running down the face of the building, some of that green fire had come off his ankle and laid coiled on the ground, glowing dully.
The window that Sokka had created with the green fire was finished, and somehow the middle of it was darkening. Sokka was chanting in that same strange language that he had spoken before, while writing more complicated symbols in midair. With one final symbol and a final line of what had to be a spell, the ten foot high vortex of brilliant green and golden light seemed to punch through the world, connection to some other space far away.
At first Suki couldn't see anything inside the darkness, but then something started to move within. The loud banging of massive metal plates being withdrawn echoed into the parade ground. Light filled the space within the window, one hanging row at a time. Suki had never seen anything like it, they weren't oil lamps or even the more complicated city technology. It was something different.
Sokka didn't stop when the window opened, he continued to create a ball of that same green fire that just seemed to come into being on his fingertips. He connected a few chains that he pulled from around his forearms, leaving them bare. Once he was done, he touched it gently, and it unfolded like a paper crane and just hovered there in midair. Very quickly, small orbs of what could only be called white glowing energy began to appear and hover around the device like moths to a flame.
Suki was just beginning to question just how hard she had hit the ground when she saw a sight that would stay in her dreams for the rest of her life.
Inside the window that Sokka had built, ranks upon ranks of black metal … somethings crouched on the dusty floor. Suki had never seen a place like that before, but it looked very old, and she doubted that anyone had been there in a very long time. Sokka waved his hand in a general 'shoo' motion, and the glowing moths fluttered between the metal, before sinking into them.
As one, they all shuddered, and stood on spindly legs. They were built almost like men, but their bodies were made of delicately formed black steel and white ivory. Tubes and whirring pieces came to life as the mechanical beings shook the dust from their shoulders, and opened their yellow eyes. They had no mouths, and in each of their chests, just visible beneath heavy black metal armor was a pulsing green glow like thrum of a hidden metal heart. They quickly formed up like a precise military unit, and marched out of the gateway. Elegant weapons unfolded from hidden compartments, swords and shields sliding into ready metal hands, along with stranger weapons that even a soldier with her experience had no name for. Sokka stood in front of the gateway, and raised his sword, leading the march as the automatons strode forward into the harsh glare of the sun.
Arc, who looked equally as amazed, shook some sense back into himself. He weaved his fingers together, reestablishing the connections he had with the golems, and ran to meet the Incarna. In a matter of moments the parade ground would look like a battle field. Stone and alien metal soldiers clashing and fighting around their two generals.
Suki – oblivious, and stunned from information overload, was staring teary eyed at a sight that almost made her heart stop. Every person who had even a basic education had seen a picture of what people thought the earth looked like, but what she was seeing was beyond words; beyond beauty, and she couldn't look away.
The hanger that the metal soldiers had come from was almost empty now, save for a few machines that had not come online properly. But the metal shields that covered the glass on the back wall was still functioning, and had pulled back with agonizing slowness, revealing an gorgeously clear night sky. And nestled in those countless stars was a breathtaking splash of blues oceans and green continents. Continents whose shape she knew.
Gently rolling across the heavens like it always had, was the World.
- Toph -
Toph was in bad shape. The two golems that carried her here had stopped, and had not moved since. She was pretty sure that Pretty Boy had just set them up and cut off the connection to them to conserve his power for other things; like killing Sokka. Pretty boy was smart too, the way that his little toys were holding her, she couldn't make physical contact with her bare skin. If she had, the suckers would have been dust minutes ago. She spat and clawed at the fabric, but it wouldn't part. She screamed again. One little piece of fabric was all that stood between her saving Snoozle's stupid ass, or him dying, and she couldn't break it! One little piece of fucking fabric!
She was still being held off the ground, and it didn't matter if it was only a few inches away, or a few miles; if she couldn't touch the Earth she couldn't see or fight or do anything! She swore again and started trying to bite her way out.
That's how much time he said he would have. How much time had already passed? Dammit, it wasn't supposed to be this way. She was strong. She was supposed to be strong, and here she was being defeated by a table cloth.
What was she supposed to do!
First of all, calming down would be good. Yes, time is running out – so it will be difficult, but panicking is not going to help anything. Breath in, breath out. It's like that mediating crap that her parents tried to get her to learn once.
Now, she needed to get out of here, and then she needed to be able to subdue Pretty Boy without killing him. For that she needed power, but she had never had the amount of power she thought she would need. She could hear the sounds of fighting coming from the parade ground, and none of it sounded good for anyone, especially Snoozles.
What was it that Sokka had said? Something about rock hands... damn Toph think, she growled at herself. What had he said? Something about her being different, meaning that she was supposed to be powerful – or at least strong enough to stop Arckon. Great, so where was all this power.
'Every other Earthbender I have ever seen has only used the earth by manipulating kinetic energy – physical force. For instance, they stomp down and a piece of stone flies up. Then they kick it in the direction they want. You on the other hand, just gesture and stone moves. The only other benders I have ever seen do something even close to that were Boomie and those Earth-Kingdom guards with the weird stone hands they threw at people. And even then they threw the rocks around. I have never seen anyone able to hold a stone in midair like you can. I looked back through all the memories I have of the Incarna, and I'm not saying I have even a hundredth of them, but there is nothing like it in any of the memories I do have.'
It's like the key, she though. You have to feel the stone, just like the key. You've done it before; just do it again, but bigger. She called the piece of black steel from around her arm, and squeezed it between her fingers, getting a feel for the stone. Then she crushed it down, and ever so slowly, pulled it apart again, forming it into the shape of a star. She concentrated very hard on the sensations and pulls she felt as she formed it, trying to understand how she was doing it. She could see every side of the star all at once, but she wasn't touching it. Then how the hell was she seeing it?
Maybe she was touching it, but just not with her hands?
Toph focused very hard on what was going on between her hands. Sweat was starting to form on her forehead and her head was starting to hurt, but something inside her suddenly shuddered. She gritter her teeth and reached out for whatever it was ... and punched it as hard as she could.
Whatever part of her that she hit, torqued, and then exploded outwards. For an instant she was drowning. This new power didn't feel like it was coming up from inside her – it felt like it was coming from somewhere else. It wasn't like anything she had ever felt before … no, she had felt something like it once.
Back before she had met the gang; back when her parents still babied her too much, her father took them all on a trip to see the ocean. She had begun to get her 'sight' working by then, and although her mother wouldn't let her get too far out into the water – no more then up to her ankles – she was amazed … no that was the wrong word. She was completely lost at the size of the ocean. It was like she was standing on the edge of the world, and out in front of her was a yawning abyss that never ended.
The Earth reached up to her, and she reached back.
The power that she felt was like that; an ocean that had no bottom.
She stretched out her sight, feeling across the ground to where the fight was going on. She could see Snoozles in the middle of a hundred different warriors that were all fighting. Some of then were made of stone, and others were made of the same kind of metal that her armband was.
Arckon was there too, and she could feel his armour. It was smooth and clean; a very pure metal with very few imperfections – but he was using it so inefficiently. He was holding it firmly to his body, and every time he moved, he would bend the metal instead of moving his limbs. Toph was confused. Why was he doing so much extra work. All he had to do was get a firm hold on the metal and hold it at a proper distance from his body, then he could move and it would just stay there, hovering an inch above his skin.
Was this was Sokka meant?
Toph looked closer at how Arckon moved his stone soldiers. Pretty Boy jerked when she looked deeper, but she was sure he didn't understand what he was feeling.
What was he doing?
He was grabbing all of the stone, every single grain of it and moving it separately. That must be exhausting! Why didn't he just move the energy that surrounded the earth, with that he could move a hundred times the earth and metal he does with half the power.
That was it! That was what she did differently.
Toph reached deep into the earth, feeling everything and a plan formed in her mind. She could feel Arckon building something under the parade ground as his stone golems distracted Sokka. It was big, nearly two hundred feet from one side to the other, and it gave her an idea. She pushed deeper, forcing her sight to peer into everything, trying to understand this energy that she controlled. Where did it come from?
Toph started when something touched her senses. As she was looking further into the Earth, trying to find out where the energy she could feel came from, something looked back at her. The Earth moved slowly, like a giant reaching out to her with curiosity, and beneath her feet a endlessly expansive eye opened. It was old, far older then anything she could comfortably comprehend, and it found her curious.
Toph didn't hesitate for a single moment, but pushed forward, searching for that answer that still eluded her. The Being was far bigger then she had expected, and when she tried to push past it nothing happened. Toph supposed that she had been around Aang and Sokka and all their strangeness for too long, because when the Being impressed the thought of laughing in a voice like mountains slamming together on her, she just felt impatient.
The religion of the Earth Kingdom taught that every living thing has a Spirit. Every plant, animal and drop of water in the ocean had an entity within it. Some were as simple as a single idea or feeling, while others were so complicated that no human could ever hope to understand it. Most of this Being was beyond Toph, even if she had a thousand years to watch and learn from it, she would never understand even a fraction of it. But by some random stoke of luck, she was born with an unnaturally strong connection to it.
The Being liked this fearless little human hybrid, and it whispered a few of its secrets to her. In that instant Toph understood; she understood for the first time the energy she used to see and bend, and it ripped though her like lighting, leaving her tingling.
Earth was earth, no matter what state it was in. Move a hundred tons of earth from one continent to another, and it will all still be earth; no bender worth their strength would even notice a difference. Every sensei taught their students this on the first day. Almost every Earthbender knew this, and she was sure there were similar lessons taught to the other elemental benders, but how many of them actually understood what that meant?
Sokka had said that Energy was Energy, whether you called it Chi or Ki or anything else. He also said that people and animals who have a higher 'energy temperature' give off this power, and those who have a lower 'temperature' absorb it. Over the eons some people and even sometimes animals learned how to manipulate this energy. That would mean that there were two kind of energy in the world; internal and external. Internal energy is what 'colder' beings use. They absorb the energy and then manipulate it, bending fire or earth, or in the case of the Gel-Hassad, manipulated spirits. And External energy was power that was emitted by everything, but hadn't been adsorbed by anyone yet.
She could bend both energies, and had been doing it for years. She bend the energies inside her when she 'saw' and during some bending movements; and the rest of the time she was bending the immense and untouched energy around her, using it to bend the stony heart of the planet.
She felt the power flare within her as the forces of the external energy flowed into her, her teeth gritting unconsciously.
- Katara -
Katara fought against her bonds with everything that she had, but she couldn't free her arms; and without her arms, she couldn't bend any water to cut the stone golem that stood perfectly still holding her. To her left Aang fought just as hard against the two that still held his arms and legs tightly. He was shaking his head around wildly, and Katara was pretty sure he was trying to get that face-bending that Boomie apparently had going to work, but it didn't look good.
Toph had gone quiet a few moments ago, but now the sounds of battle filled the silence. Metal screamed as if being torn, and rock shattered as if being thrown from a high place. There were other sounds too; sounds that she could not even begin to understand or name. Strange hisses and a dozen voices calling out an a forced whisper-like shout.
Then there was silence.
For a single heart stopping moment, Katara thought that it was over, her fearful mind conjured up images of Sokka lying broken and bleeding beneath a thousand pounds of rock. She almost cried out in relief when she heart his voice shouting something in that strange language. He didn't sound hurt or crushed.
"Is that all you've got Demon?" That voice was loud, too loud. It was like the Earth itself was shouting. Suddenly and without any warning, the Earth shook like it had been struck by something enormous. Katara thought it might have been Arckon, but it had come from the wrong direction. She turned as much as she could in the grip of the golem, and met two green eyes that burned like hot coals.
Toph was still trapped inside the cloth, and suspended between the two stone men, but her eyes were glowing with power from within. A hollow crunch rolled over Katara as both of the golems were flattened so fast that they were just gone.
Toph, still wrapped up in the white table cloth, seemed to fall, but instead of a thud, she landed lightly on her toes, digging into the dust beneath her feet. A deep humming rose from below, vibrating up through the earth and shaking the buildings all around. Toph started to glow a deep green, but the glow wasn't coming from inside her – it was coming right out of the air, and focusing on her, almost like it was draining into her.
Flares of light arced up away from her and almost fifty feet into the sky. Glass exploded and showered them. Katara screamed as the golems holding her and Aang met the same fate, flattening into the earth in the blink of an eye, and she was left on the ground. Carts of fruit collapsed and cracks crawled up the sides of the buildings.
Toph was flaring ribbons of green light almost fifty feet off the ground when the earth split in front of her spread feet. Heat rose up from the crack, making the daytime air weave and jump. A scarlet light came up from the depths of the earth, followed by flaming molten rock. The magma flew into the air and started spinning around Toph, going faster and faster as paper and cloth that was too close to the inferno-like heat burst into flames.
Katara grabbed Aang and they both ran backwards away from the intense heat. They both cried out and ducked as knives, swords, armour, tools and pretty much any other metal including the cutlery off tables and the nails in chairs flew past them to join the flaming orb that was Toph. She seemed to want this new metal for something else, because it didn't grow red hot and melt when it came too close the that flaming ball, that spun faster and faster. Steel was compacted and molded like sand in a playground, before it formed up around the still spinning ball of lava.
"What's she doing?" Katara shouted over the shrieking winds and grinding metals.
"I don't know," Aang replied, looking as scared and confused as she was.
- Sokka -
Nine point eight percent. All systems holding at red line.
Information and calculations were scrolling down past the sides of my vision, and none of them were telling me good things.
I panted heavily; partly to throw off Arckon, and partly because I couldn't seem to catch my damned breath. My sword had been lost during the fight between our soldiers, and I hadn't had time to retrieve it yet. The parade ground that had looked so inviting and warm only a few minutes ago, now looked like a real battle field. Metal and Stone men lay shattered and torn on the ground, different fluids leaking from my metal soldiers like blood, pooling on the dry ground. Some tents were on fire now where stoves or torches had been knocked over in the confusion, setting flame to the thin fabrics.
Damn, I only had two move moves left in my pocket, and once I played them, it would be game over one way or the other. It would buy me another thirty seconds ... maybe. The final band of my speciality Spirit Shapings thrummed warmly on my ankle, waiting to join it's three brothers. Damn Toph, please work whatever you need out quickly.
"I asked you if that was all you had!" shouted Arckon. I could feel his voice deep in my chest, and knew he had to be doing some bending to make it that loud. I glared at his featureless metal mask and gritted my teeth. There were only two or three of his stone men left, and they were all over near Suki; to 'protect' her no doubt.
Suddenly I felt the air all around me cool. For an instant I was startled, because it wasn't the air temperature that was dropping, it was the earth itself. I'm supposed to be this great Spirit Shaper, and spirits are almost always present in every kind of life, so as a side effect most Shapers could almost feel the life in the world and like everything else, such as sounds, people get used to them and eventually stop noticing them … except when they are gone. I don't know exactly when I started to feel the warmth of life – of chi that was always present in the air, but I sure as hell noticed when it started to flee.
I turned to where it all seemed to be flowing, and was startled to realize that it was in the same direction that Arckon had taken the gang. Bloody hell Toph, what are you doing? I grinned wildly as I felt the power begin to coalesce into a single point and dawning realization hit me; that's my little Warrior Toph.
"Alright metal head, you want to see something else?" I asked, dropping into a low battle stance, both of my feet spaced far apart, in something resembling that horse stance that I had seen Toph use often. I held one hand behind my back and the other was held palm inward, almost like I was calling Arckon out. "You want to see what makes a myth? Do you really want to see what I can do with barely a fraction of my power? Fine. Lets see how you like it when I kick your ass all over this festival."
"And how do you propose to do that?" he asked mockingly.
I didn't give him a chance to continue, and just bolted at him instead. He was expecting it, and shifted into a well executed punch that would probably move my head somewhere down around my waist, but it never connected. I grinned right at his featurless metal face and twisted inward bare inches from his blow, vanishing into the air.
I punched into the spirit world at full speed, not slowing in the slightest, ghosting though the misty body of my opponent. I skidded to a stop on my heels and turned in a random direction, bursting back through to the real world, hoping I startled him. He turned quickly to me, his body still in a defensive posture, but it was all for nothing, because I ran a scant ten feet before launching into the layers of the world once more.
Nine point nine percent. Host body holding in safe zones. All systems holding at red. Beginning full saturation of host body cells – saturation complete.
I felt a warmth spreading through my body as the Incarna bits of me released a cocktail of adrenaline mixed with a hundred other different hormones and amino acids designed to let me touch a fraction of my more – strange abilities. I had to acclimatize myself to the levels of the world before descending all the way past the Spirit World. Yes I had been down that far before, but what I wanted to do called for me to thread my way back and forth between the real world and the Primal Deeps so fast that I could severely injure myself if I didn't prepare first.
I pushed myself faster and faster, fading into the world of Dream, pushing myself to run hard over the sands glittering under the twin moons of Lunarsa and Derenos. I needed to go further; deeper than that… I appeared in the real world again for a second before diving back in and pushing harder.
The Primal Deeps were home of those things more fundamental than even abstract concepts, and was the home of the Archive, but it also had some peculiar features that I needed right now. Time doesn't always flow normally down there; sometimes it flow slower, or faster and on rare occasions, even backwards.
- Suki -
Suki tried once more to push her way past the two hulking golems that held her captive, but like every time before they barely had to exert any force at all to stop her. She blew the hair out of her face and grumbled. Who did Arc think he was, telling her that Sokka was dangerous, and to top it all off he was treating her like a little child – holding her back. She could hold her own in any kind of fight, and so what if he was the dammed Iron Titan; she could beat him down.
But could she still?
Her stomach swooped low and she remembered watching Sokka writing on the air, creating a window out of fire. He summoned up ranks of metal soldiers that seemed to defy all logic. They were metal – just metal. Sokka was not an Earthbender. Suki wasn't to sure about anything anymore, but he was not an Earthbender.
So how did he control them? They were thin as whips and their chests looked like woven strands of silver over a glowing green heart – there was no way that there were people inside; they couldn't be suits of armour.
She moved to the side, and although the golem twitched, it didn't stop her. She needed to see what was going on … she needed to understand.
She could see Arckon still wearing his armour, but she couldn't see Sokka anywhere.
Oh gods, Arc couldn't have killed him could he?
Suki went limp with relief when she spotted Sokka on the other side of the parade ground, running fast as an arrow right at Arc. Suki wanted to get over there and smash both of their heads together – maybe that would make them see sense.
She was just about to make another break for it, when she got the next in the series of shocks that just came coming. Sokka twisted, just like that little orb he flipped like a coin, and vanished in a direction her eyes could only understand as inwards. She froze, and gasped when he almost seemed to fall out of the air right in front of her.
He skidded to a stop, clenched fingers digging deep into the earth before he took off again, only to vanish just like he had before. This time he appeared close to Arc, who took a swipe at him with one spiked fist, missing, before Sokka vanished again.
He appeared again, but this time something was different. It took Suki a few moments, but she eventually realized that his right hand was bleeding; like he had punched a wall. The blood was dripping slowly down his fingers as he moved faster and faster.
When he appeared next, his hand was still bleeding, but now the right leg of his pants was shredded, hanging loosely around his knee. Suki was starting to get sick trying to follow him, and it only doubled when he appeared again.
There were two of him this time. Two Sokkas. How was that possible?
They both looked normal, aside from the fast that one had a bleeding hand and torn pants … and the other did not. Suki blinked her eyes several times, trying to get her eyes and mind to work together, but to no avail. They were both still there, and they were both different.
They were going faster now, and the time they spent between disappearances was getting shorter and shorter. This time three emerged from where ever they went. Two were bleeding, but their clothes looked fine. The third wasn't bloody at all. He seemed normal aside from holding his stomach and looking a little winded.
Faster and faster they went until they only appeared for an instant – and they had multiplied steadily. First there was only one, and before long it was five … then ten … and now it looked like there were dozens of copies of the smiling joker, each slightly different. Some had bleeding knuckles, others had torn clothes … and a few were even carrying what looked like long silver staffs.
"Methenem na hevok," one of them called in that fluid language he had begun speaking. Several others called out, shouting nothing that she could understand.
Arckon was strangely quiet. He turned slowly on his heel, trying to watch as many copies as he could. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he didn't like it. "Your cheap tricks will not fool me."
"Vrai-ne?" one Sokka asked, grinning madly. He didn't seem to agree with Arckon's statement. "Ghelem ne vaneth."
On a signal Suki could not see they all rushed Arc at once, coming in from all sides, phasing in and out of sight like an army of spirits. Arc thrust out a hand, and the metal on his body shifted and contorted, becoming a simple staff in his hands. He began to dance, calling up the earth around him. He created walls and corridors, hoping to channel the incoming unknowns – but they just appeared within the useless walls like specters
"Silineth ne dremechen!" a Sokka screamed and he got in close and deflected two staff thrusts with his palms that just started glowing before he took a hard hit to the stomach and twisted away to escape. As he vanished, three more replicas appeared to take up the fight. Rock and fist flew, some glancing off metal and some striking flesh.
Only Suki saw this frenzied battle for what it was – well, Arc probably suspected, but she knew.
While the chaos ensued, a single version of Sokka appeared over in the far corner, stomped once and then vanished. Suki wasn't sure what he did, but she had her suspicions. She looked behind her to the tiny glowing circle still embedded in a foot print.
"Enough," Arc shouted, causing a huge ripple of earth, nearly ten feet tall to roll out away from him like ripples on a pond. The walls had not held the dozens of Sokkas off, but the move had achieved it's goal. They backed off to a safe distance … at least that's what it seemed like until three Sokkas appeared around Arc.
They all had a band of glowing glyphs in the palms of their hands that seemed to be curling up under their sleeves to their origins on their chests. As one they shouted something, and gave a vicious uppercut. When their fists connected – their knuckles splitting and bleeding – with various pieces of skull the glyphs on their hands pulsed and all hundred and sixty pounds of Arckon and however many more pounds of armour lifted ten feet in the air.
Another Sokka was waiting for him there, and spin-kicked him hard. Arckon had enough presence of mind to try to defend himself, and called spikes up on his armour hoping to deter Sokka from striking again; but they only succeeded in tearing his clothes. Arckon was just getting his bearings when another Sokka ghosted into existence behind him and delivered another glyph assisted hit that rattled teeth and sent him crashing into the ground.
Arckon rose to his feet quickly, gripping his staff tighter. Another Sokka, this one holding a brother staff ghosted into existence above and behind Arc and delivered a hard blow to the back of his plated skull. Arckon was stunned for a moment – just long enough for one of the Sokkas to swipe the staff and vanish away.
One by one the replicas of Sokka vanished and didn't return, until there was only one left standing over a downed Arckon. Blood dripped slowly from his hand and he let the staff in his other hand drop to the ground.
A sharp sound from behind startled Suki, and she turned around. People were everywhere; they were on rooftops and crouched in front of the barricade that Arckon had set up. They must have seen some of what she'd just witnessed, and they were all as stunned as she was. There were a few whispers, but most of them were speechless.
I couldn't help the chilly little smile that fell on my face. He had been stopped the first time, and now he knew that it was just a one time thing. I had no real way to stop him without outright killing him. Hell I was lucky to hold him off for this long.
Green glyphs scrolled down the sides of my vision and my mind settled for the first time. I had gone into all of this blind. Oh, I got feelings now and again, but it wasn't anything solid; and so I splashed around like I was in the shallows, when there was an ocean below me. The White Wolf had told me all that I needed to know, but poor stupid Sokka hadn't understood, at least not at first.
I was a piecing dart.
I was never meant to attack anyone head on. No one worthy of consequence anyway. Yasuragi was a one in an infinity long shot. She hadn't expected me to come in head first, so she had been thrown off. While I was pushing with everything I had forward, she was expecting an attack from below.
I looked around at all the people watching us. This was how I fought. They were my weapons, and Arckon didn't suspect a thing. It had been too long since one of the Jenkotsu fought a real Incarna.
Arckon took a cautious step toward me, and I just watched him. This was it; the most delicate step. If I was going to die it would be here.
"That was your best, wasn't it?" It was a rhetorical question, so I didn't answer. "My father was wrong about you … you aren't powerful. You're a little boy who found a knife. You think you're smart; poke what you don't understand, and somewhere down the line you got lucky. That's all that this was, wasn't it? Luck? No matter, you have nothing left except your thralls."
All around us the ground began to quiver. I shot one last glance over to Suki and motioned for her to back up a little more.
Suddenly and with all the grace of a feather on the wind Arckon slipped beneath the earth as if was nothing more then water. I took a few steps in a slow circle, watching for anything. He had figured out that I didn't have anything else hidden, and now he was going to give one last hit. He had been toying with me ever since he used the Mind Flayer. He could have killed me at any time, but he was being cautious. He waited and watched. He wanted to see if I was trying to lure him into a trap. Now that he suspected that wasn't the case he was going to use his ace.
The ground exploded upwards, raining down rock and dust. I was blinded for a moment, and when I could see again, I got a very bad feeling. It was an arm, stretching nearly thirty feet into the air. It looked crumbly at first, at least before the surface of it hardened with a sound like cracking ice. I backed away as a second arm broke the surface, and they both began working together to pull first a head and then the beginnings of a body up out of the earth.
It wasn't long before it stood before me, in all its terrifying glory. It was nearly fifty feet tall, and was coloured a mottled brown and gray. Some of it seemed to be made of stone while other parts seemed to be compressed dirt; but all of it looked like it could kill me quite easily.
Several tons of stone that wish to step on you can drain the blood from anyone's face.
I ran swiftly to where my sword had fallen, grabbing it up as I passed. Now that it rested in my hands, a helplessly giddy feeling passed over me. How the hell was I supposed to hold off a fifty foot tall monstrosity with a sword that couldn't even cuts it's nails? I had used up all my prepared Shapings, and there was nothing I could create on the spot that would hold it. Everything I had left was laying in wait on the ground around us, and I couldn't use it without some kind of distraction. I needed Toph. He would see it coming otherwise and just slap me down.
Dammit Toph where are you!
"Are you praying to any Spirits or deities?" His voice was oppressive and thunderous, seeming to come from everywhere at once and making my ears bleed. "No? I didn't think so. You think you are a god don't you? You think that they should pray to you, don't you?" He laughed in a voice like shifting stone.
He stepped forward, and the earth quaked beneath his steps. All the stands and festival decorations that were still standing fell, and the people who were still watching from their vantage points gasped and shrieked as the colossus lunged for me. I gripped my sword hard, opening it's pathway into the void. I screamed along with the howling coming from the sliver of pure nothing in my hands, and charged to meet him.
I had been hoping that he would be slow; being as big as he was. I had calculated that I would be able to get three good dodges in before he caught me and it was game over.
I slipped through his pillar like fingers twice and skittered away from a falling hand. I even managed to slice off one of his fingers, but another formed out of the stone almost immediately, and I was snatched up.
He lifted me up to the chest of his titan, and it opened up like a lotus flower, peeling away just enough for me to see him buried in all the stone and earth. He didn't have his silver armour on anymore. It was probably too much work to keep the armour and this thing going at once; like it would matter anyway. There was no way I could hope to cut this thing deep enough to be any kind of a threat.
"That's it. Really?" Arckon asked in an exasperated voice. "I had expected so much more. You scared me at first; I can admit that. The way you threw off that Mind Flayer was astounding. But I can see now it was all just a ruse. Where are all these great feints and distractions Incarna? Where is the pin point precision plans so complicated that the target never sees them until the very end?"
Just when captain airbag seemed to be getting into his stride a cry filled the air and cut him off. It sounded terrible, like tearing metal overlaying a scream of total rage. The sound reach deep inside my stomach and almost seemed to jerk everything around. I knew exactly who and what it was, and even I was scared.
Arckon would never let the enemy know that he didn't understand everything that was going on, so he closed up his chest and vanished from my view; but I knew. He could feel her. He had been so suspicious of me that he had ignored Toph.
Mistake number one. If he really did know Toph, he should have remembered that.
He thought that I was the only threat, because I had apparently 'enthralled' her. He had her clamped down by some of his stone, and even if I would be able to access some of my 'thralls' elemental power, elemental bending was more about the soul of the person than the body. To get the kind of connections I would need to preform magics that would completely enslave and cripple her Spirit. It was nearly impossible for any Shaper to use anything more then simple commands or imperatives when controlling someone; even he had to know that.
The people on the rooftops saw it first, and they cleared out of the way very quickly. The earth trembled under footsteps that pounded faster and faster. Dust rose into the air as something huge ran toward us. It was big, and there was nothing here that could stop her.
I smiled in pride as Toph vaulted over a three story building.
She slammed into the ground, and I felt Arckon stumble for a moment. Jaws opened – teeth made of out shards of torn metal parted, giving way to a bellow that I felt. She had managed to construct a body, nearly as big and tall as Arckon's toy soldier, only she made hers out of all kinds of metal. It was a serpentine land dragon of interlocking plates and none of it seemed to be really physically attached to any other part. I was almost going cross eyed trying to understand what I was looking at.
The skin of her machine flowed and boiled constantly, never staying in one form for very long. Metal shifted into the shapes of blades, pots, cups and a thousand other little things before reverting to liquid and boiling down into the … well, Dragon.
And even that wasn't the strangest part.
Wrists, knees, shoulders … anyplace where there would be a joint, the metal just stopped. There was nothing holding any of this together. Even her fingers seemed to not really be attached. Instead a brilliant green energy arced back and forth between the steel parts – almost like lightning. Somehow this energy was holding all that together. Amazing.
Toph charged in a lopping amble – she didn't seem to understand the finer points of controlling her beast, but it worked just fine because Arckon was still shocked to motionlessness. She reeled back and a vicious right hook from a taloned hand shattered Arckon's head. I gaped for an instant before metal fingers closed over me and with the sound of crumbling rock I was torn out of my stony prison.
I was slapped hard into the boiling metal of her chest, but instead of being crushed, or at the least burnt, the metal parted for me and I was carried in surprisingly gently. I was blind for a time, but I could still feel the Colossus moving. I didn't think decapitation would stop Arckon. I hissed when I was passed through something very hot, but got the feeling that all the heat was being held back, and if it wasn't I'd be fried instantaneously.
The next thing I knew I felt something mostly soft, and a little tough wrap around me from behind and growled possessively in my ear. "Hi Toph," I said rhetorically into the darkness, knowing she couldn't understand me. She just held me tighter as I felt the fighting outside intensify. "Your feel different, what did you do?"
Something very much like a purr answered me, and since she was fighting the last thing I expected was to feel her lick and then nibble on the back of my neck. "Okay, this is strange ... and very inappropriate for the situation."
A playful growl answered me. Okay something isn't right. I looked inside myself and tried to ignore the fact that Toph seemed to be cuddling closer. A very hard feat indeed, but eventually I got something.
My powers came back to me with a cold that caused Toph to shiver against me. Data scrolled past me. Nine point nine percent maximum capacity. Switching connection to the Archive to Primary channels – complete. Entering cardinal concepts – search completed.
My mouth dropped open, at least until I felt a curious digit coming to investigate. I released my hold on the Incarna state and it faded away from me. "Toph, you have to get control." I said trying to turn around. There was very little space, and almost nothing to grip to get leverage, so she seemed to take it the wrong way. "Ahh, Toph! No stop that, you … AHH!" I heard her chuckle mischievously from somewhere in front of me as she wiggled and almost seemed to crawl all over me.
What was I trying to do? Oh right.
"Toph you're directly in connection to the Spirit of the Earth. You have to get control over yourself. I think it's overriding your higher brain functions, and now you're operating only on instincts. AHH! Toph stop! No don't do that – No means no!"
Damn this isn't working, time for something more. I smirked to myself. "Toph are you so weak that a little spirit can overwhelm you?"
Something shifted, as if Toph were shaking herself free from sleep.
"Don't make me choke you," she snarled. Her voice was thick, like it was whenever I had the unfortunate 'wake up Toph' duty that all of us rotated through.
"You're back," I shouted happily, and went to hug her, but she pushed me away. Damn we didn't have time for this. "I'm sorry, but you were gone. That was the only thing I could think of to bring you out of it."
"I don't remember any..." she started saying, before I could almost feel her blush. "Oh."
"Toph, I'm very sorry." We flipped upside down, before I heard her growl and the distant sound of rock hitting something very hard meet my ears. "We can argue later, but right now we have to stop him."
"Great, how do we do that?" she shouted as I felt us getting back us.
"Let me back out and distract him for a few seconds. I have something prepared."
The same metaly bellow sounded from above our heads as Toph yelled. I heard something crunch loudly from outside and winced.
Her voice came through, strained and acidic. "It's not stupid is it?"
"Fine." Then I felt her lips crash into mine and had just enough time to reach for that cold spark in my chest once more before I was thrown back through the rock and heat and into the light.
Nine point nine percent. My Spirit Summoning patterns flashed before me – my connection was complete. I reached out with my Pattern and felt for my target. Something huge and hot touched my mind. It was older than the city, and it was sleepy. It had been thousand of years since this Being had been awoken, and if I didn't do this properly – if it awoke completely, it could destroy all of Ba Sing Se. I had to be very careful.
There was a fuzzing across my perception. The connection to the Spirit was established.
Everything has a Spirit. Every breeze and every plant has a Spirit. Some of them are as simple as a single thought or idea, while others are so complicated that someone could study them for a hundred years and learn nothing. Long ago, before Ba Sing Se was even a collection of tents in an already ancient forest bent to the will of a man who walked as a God, an ancient volcano caldera sat here. It hadn't erupted in memory eternal, but it could be woken up for just an instant.
Time to poke the sleeping dragon.
The two stone men that had blocked her way had fallen to pieces when the first towering beast made it's appearance. Arckon was controlling that thing? She could barely believe half of the things that she had just seen, but she had little time to dwell on it before a second … thing appeared.
The earth shook and she was tossed off her feet for the tenth time as the silver beast – she had no idea who was controlling this one – savagely beat Arckon's construct into the ground. She was afraid for Arc, but what could she do to help him? Both of these things were as tall as buildings! And she could not forget that the silver one had apparently taken Sokka into itself – somehow.
People had started to get braver, and she had some company when Sokka burst out of the silver one's chest, and vanished in mid-air, and stepped out of the air right in front of her. He looked her over quickly, apparently looking for any injuries. Satisfied that she was unhurt he said something to her in his strange flowing language before turning back to the action just as the silver one took a hard right fist to the head.
Sokka took a deep breath slowly letting it out, and the air seemed to get colder. Suki blinked in confusion; was he going to do more of that strange stuff? Suki started as the little circle of glyphs that Sokka left in one of his foot prints suddenly expanded, shooting upwards until it peaked over the heads of the two battling before them. Then another across the parade grounds expanded. And then another, until the four corners of the destroyed battlefield had a green glowing obelisk marking them.
The very tips of the obelisks pulsed, getting faster and faster until they were steady, and more stings of glyphs stretched out, connecting them all together at the very peak, one at a time. That complete, Sokka stretched out both of his arms, like a man reaching out to pluck a star from the sky. The tips of the obelisks flicked once, before ribbons of glyphs twisted and slithered through the air and connected to his finger tips. Sokka gritted his teeth and growled deeply, forcing his fingers to focus those streams of power. They fought him like wild horses, but he eventually got them under control. They smoothed out and thrummed harmoniously with each other.
Suki started when the ring of glyphs that Sokka had created exploded outward, bathing everything with a slight glow and a feeling of static. She shuttered as a cold feeling passed through her. Something was here. She couldn't see it, nor could she describe where it was coming from, but something was here that wasn't supposed to be.
She looked behind her, trying to find the source, but all she saw were ashen faces.
It was hot, and it smelt of sulfur. She knew this smell, but some part of her refused to admit it. What could it be doing in the middle of a city. Surly they would never have built a city here if anyone knew. The ground began to feel warm beneath her feet, and her dread mounted. From deep in her past the sounds of a volcano erupting rolled over her. She was only seven when an island near Kyoshi was erased, but she would never forget.
The air began to shimmer and something seemed to be pressing inward. Suki unconsciously took a step backwards as she felt a tightness overtake her. It almost felt like a stale breeze, except that she couldn't feel it against her skin. Her breath came faster as she felt a presence press down on top of her.
The shimmering heat began to take a form. It rose like the shadow of a mountain into the clouds and pressed the air away from it. Air seemed to rip apart as something came up through the thin veil between the world and something... other. Sweat broke on backs and still waters began to boil of their own accord. The fountain in front of a government building bubbled over it's edges and sent people scattering away from the scalding waters.
She couldn't see the being that had been roused, but she was pretty sure that they could all sense it. They could feel its ancient power; something that could wipe their lives from the face of the earth and not ever notice. They could feel the immortality of it, and it made her feel like nothing.
Arc had taken notice almost as soon as the being made its presence known, but the Silver Dragon had kept him occupied until it was too late.
A sliver of yellow cracked the sky, and screams of terror filled the humid air. The crack widened ever so slowly, until a slitted black pupil as vast and deep as the night sky rolled into view. People were frozen in it's sight; unable to move, or think. It was too real, and they felt their bodies and Spirits straining under its gaze. It was almost as if it was pushing them out of existence by just being too much.
Only Sokka stood straight and stared up unblinking at the eye. He didn't speak words, but rather he spoke to it in something deeper than language. The eye rested on him for an instant before it began to close once more. Just before it vanished from view and the being slipped back into its sleep, it shifted. Arc's colossus was blown apart into a wave of melted droplets of molten rock that splattered over the buildings and set them ablaze. The people were protected by the four obelisks that acted like a shield, glowing painfully bright as they seemed to contain the energy that had been released.
I awoke to the familiar smell of burnt hair and skin. I groaned and managed to push myself to my feet. What had happened? Most of it came back to me and I quickly readied myself for the next attack. I looked up at the fifty foot metal monstrosity in front of me and felt a quick shot of fear for the first time in months. I reached into the earth, but something was wrong. My armour was there like always, following along under the ground like a faithful dog, but I couldn't call it up this time. It felt as if there was someone pushing down on it as I pulled up.
My eye snapped over to the Incarna in accusation as he slowly walked toward me. He drifted along lazily, looking totally at peace with the world. Was he controlling Toph to … no he couldn't be; that amount of control would be impossible- no mindless zombie could do that. There was another possibility, but if I were to accept that as possible I would be torn about what to do. There can be no hesitation.
The metal golem above me began to come apart as the strange energies holding it together were released. The earth shook and quaked as several tons of steel and iron dropped. Before long a single figure sank to the ground, borne on the last of the metal to the ground. Toph seemed to have also adapted my personal armour as well.
I could feel the grip she had on the steel, and it was strange. I would have called it impossible if I hadn't witnessed it myself. Whatever technique she – I was regretfully coming to the conclusion that the Incarna had no control over her – had used on the golem, seemed to also be applied to this. The metal was a mix of every kind available, and I was pretty sure she had blended it herself somehow. The surface of it boiled and – impossibly – dripped upward like rain, only to pool above her head like some kind of halo.
The Incarna stopped right in front of me just as Toph the Silver Valkyrie stepped up beside him. I watched both of them carefully, while still trying to pull up my armour … or at the very least get my hands on some earth. I glared in Toph's direction. How was she doing this? It should be impossible to stop another bender from pulling up any earth.
"Do you see now?" the Incarna asked in the language of the Gel-Hassad.
I wanted to continue fighting, but I could see a lost battle when it presented itself. "I see that you have no control over Toph. But that does not mean that you are not controlling the Avatar or that other girl."
Toph's gaze upon me was deeply disdainful. "Pretty boy you idiot! He's not controlling anyone. Get your head outta your ass for a few minutes!"
I looked back and forth between them. "I still don't know why your chose to attack here."
"It wasn't an attack! You're the one who attacked first," Toph shouted.
The Incarna closed his black eyes. I felt a great pressure leave as his presence greatly diminished, but I had no doubts that he could recall his power at a moment's notice. That and Toph had displayed powers and techniques that were very... distressing. I waited and watched them to see what would happen now.
"We came here because it is necessary," The Incarna said evenly. "This war is almost lost, and sometime in the near future there is going to be a deciding battle. Depending on the outcome, the Fire Nation could ensure total victory, or the other countries could take the first steps in regaining their freedom."
"I do not see how trying to kill me has anything to do with a deciding battle."
The Incarna smiled weakly. "It was never my intention to kill you. Actually, I just realized during the fight that you probably have nothing to do with the real problem." I watched the Incarna carefully, waiting for his next trick, but Toph seemed to be genuinely confused to hear this.
"But I thought all of this was to help him?" Toph accused.
"Oh, it is; in a round about way," The Incarna said, smiling like he was oh so clever. The expression faltered for a moment as he raised his arm to scratch the back of his head. "At least I hope it is. I am still figuring this all out as I go along, but I think I understand what I needed to do here better now."
"This fight was not about winning, or losing. This fight was about them." He pointed around at all the people who had managed to make their way over the barriers that I had set up, and those that stood on roof tops. All of them were watching us, with something I had not seen in a long time.
They were looking at us, some of them were afraid, others were in awe, but all of them looked more alive then I had remembered ever seeing them. I watched in amazement as a little fight trickled back into them, one by one. You could almost feel it. A physical force was spreading outwards from them.
They had just seen a fight like nothing most of them had ever seen. Cosmic forces being thrown around sure lessened a man who could only hurl bolts of fire from his fists. They watched as Sokka walked over to a nearby flagpole and reached out with a hand, cold creeping across the wooden structure and he lashed out with a boot.
It shattered, the flag of the Fire Nation falling down into the muddy street. Sokka looked down at it with an imperious glare that was completely instinctual. When he spoke, his voice was... not really his own. I don't know what he did, but I had heard a voice like it once.
In a very small town, a long way from here.
"Look upon this, all of you!" he shouted, his voice booming and deeper, deliberate and powerful. Green, gold, violet and ice blue light began to dance over him as he spoke, his face shaded from clear view by a cowl of shifting shadows that settled over him, obscuring the view. "You have seen things beyond what you thought possible. Know that there are greater forces on the march against the tyranny of the Fire Nation than you know. Watch for the signs... and be ready when the time comes!"
I wanted to laugh at him, but as I looked out over the assembled people I could see something in their expressions changing. They looked like they were beginning to feel like there just might be a chance to fight the Fire-Nation … and win. One by one they began to peel off and head away.
He stood watching them all with pride. He was still surrounded by his coloured shield of shimmering light, but his voice was once again his own. "Some of them were already vanishing into the street to tell others. By night fall every person in Ba Sing Se will know what went on here. The real question is what they will do now. "
I snorted, and sneered. "Say all the pretty words you want Incarna, but you won't sway me. I will not let you control these people either."
"We're here to help you, dumbass!" Toph shouted in her normal elegance.
"I don't know where you're getting your information, but I do not need help," I growled, as I finally gave up trying to pull up any earth. Toph had much more potential than I first thought.
The Incarna looked deep into me with eyes that had only moments ago been black pools of darkness; windows into the very heart of the Void. His confusing shield of light faded away as he watched me, with a tiny smile at the corner of his lips. I stared back at him with all the malice I could manage. I tried my hardest to stare him down, but he just stood there and watched me. This was the thing that had orchestrated that deaths of countless people, and yet he was looking at me with… sympathy?
Every word my father had ever told me; every proof that I had ever seen that he was a heartless demon was thrown into doubt for one single second. How could a being who had leveled cities look at anyone with honest sadness and pity. He couldn't understand me! What did he understand about pity even? He loved no one but himself. He was the Destroyer that led to the annihilation of a continent and the death of an entire race! The death of an age of wonder like nothing that we would ever see.
"People are not always as they appear," he said softly. "You more than anyone should know that."
I watched as the mask of anger that Arckon seemed to always wear slowly cracked. It wasn't much; not yet. But there was a single doubt in his mind about me, and that's all I would need. I gave him one last assuring smile and was just about to go see where Katara ad Aang had gotten off too, but I suddenly remembered that there was one last piece to the puzzle.
"Oh, and Arckon?" He looked back to me, and his reactions a lot slower than they were mere seconds ago. "When the city sleeps, come find me in the Lotus Garden."
I turned and began to walked across the rubble and broken wood. Behind me Toph let her control over his armour drop and matched my strides. "I didn't get half of that. I thought we were here to help him?"
"We are, among other things," I replied. "And I'm pretty sure we accomplished that. He was never going to change in an instant; his beliefs were too ingrained for that. But we put the facts there and drew his attentions to it. I'm not going to pretend to understand my own plan, but I do know that I accomplished what I needed to."
Toph snorted. "You've outsmarted yourself then? Brilliant Snoozles, brilliant. Life is never simple with you is it?"
"Hell, I'd settle for it just making sense again," I quipped back.
"Sokka! Toph!" my sister shouted as she ran across the parade grounds. She looked to be in good heath. I never expected Arckon to have hurt her, but it was reassuring to see that she was fine.
"Oh," I gasped, just remembering. "Hey Toph, can you grab up all the... machines I brought through? It wouldn't be good if all that tech got into the wrong hands … or even just curious ones."
"I suppose," she agreed. I caught Katara in a hug and when I was finally able to put her down I tugged her in the direction of the Lotus Garden. Beside us Toph raised an open hand, and with a quick movement clenched it into a fist. As she did that every piece of black steel and other assorted bits flew together into a ball about the size of my head with a terrible crunch.
I winced as all of that tech was compressed into a ball that had to weight at least four tons. "I was thinking about trying to repair it."
"Well you should have said something sooner," Toph said grinning her wicked grin, and I couldn't help but grin back.
"Wow, you guys really smashed everything up," Aang said in amazement as we past when might have been a food stand.
"Can't take you anywhere," Toph muttered, shaking her head.
"You were the one with the three story tall incarnation of destruction."
"Details, details," she laughed waving it off.
We walked down the streets, and Katara kept checking to make sure I was okay in between asking Toph what she did. Seemed I wasn't the only one who couldn't quite seemed to find the right words to describe their power. I let them talk on and even struck up a conversation with Aang, but I was really watching the people around us. I watched them dart into shops and begin talking frantically, waving their arms around.
I had a good feeling about this.
That should have been a sign.
The sun was just starting to dip low in the sky when the gang plus Piando-sensei finally made it to the stone overhang that we had left Appa and Momo in yesterday. Damn was it only yesterday? It felt like weeks.
Aang was getting a vigorous bath from Appa and Momo was up to his usual creepiness while I watched Piando making the last alterations to the ball of interlaced Spirit Shapings.
"So, it's like a doorway to another place. They call it a portal and I managed to make one work while I was fighting Arckon."
"That is very impressive," Piando-sensei said pleasantly.
I blushed. "It wasn't much."
"It sounds really hard," Katara said looking on in interest at Piando's skillful fingers as they wrote and meshed the final coordinates into the spell with almost no effort. It made my spell look like splitting wood with explosives.
"Nah, not really. There's a really strong beacon up there, and all I had to do was have a general idea where it was and push a lot of energy into the spell. As long as I got it in the general area the beacon locks onto the portal and does the rest itself." I recognized all the Glyphs he was using but I would have never thought to have use them like that. I suppose just having a crap load of knowledge dumped into my mind is no match for experience.
"My portal was very unstable and nothing living would have made the trip without ending up a drooling zombie. That's why I had to use the automota or else I would have just used a whole lot of the bio-suits."
"The what?" Toph asked, scrunching up her nose in a very cute way.
"You mentioned something called a bio-suit," Katara answered.
"I did?" I asked in confusion. "Huh, weird. I have no idea what those are." Katara smiled motherly, to say it was okay and Toph just rolled her eyes with a comical snort.
"It is done," Piando-sensei said, as the growling orbs went from a dull green into a brilliant florescent. Two more floated just behind his head
"Come on Appa," Aang called cheerfully, leading the lumbering giant over. "We need to go for a little ride."
"So we stick to the plan, okay?" I said authoritatively. "I don't want any of us to get hurt. They have enough soldiers on those airships to subdue the city; we won't stand a chance in head on combat."
"We know," Toph said. "You've told us this ten times already. We're just going to circle around in a wide pattern, making sure not to get too close. We'll be careful, but they should be surprised enough not to be able to get any defence together that quickly. You point out which ship Azula is on and we hit it hard. You do your magic stuff and throw the green ball at it and it gets transported to the other side of the world and then we get the hell out of there with the third orb. I'm sure all three of us could repeat your whole plan word for word."
"Sorry," I admitted sheepishly. "It's just that I kept having visions about what could happen if she got here. I don't want any of us to get hurt."
"Course not, but you got the shiny new me to kick their asses," Toph shouted confidently.
"And lets not forget Katara," I laughed. "She's going to be just as scary as you very soon." Katara blushed prettily again. She had denied it up and down ever since I had told her that she had a lot of sleeping potential in her as well. "I may have jump ahead a little there but I am still the weakest of us, and I'm still pretty darn awesome. Now enough yammering; lets go."
One by one we clambered up Appa's side and dropped into the saddle. I took up my position in the front where Aang usually sat and prepared to activate the first orb while attaching the other two to the insides of my palms for quick triggering. They appeared as spinning circles of green glyphs that made my hands glow just a little.
"Ready?" I got three affirmatives and nodded to Piando before triggering the first orb. Streams of glyphs spun themselves through the air and began to wind around each other in front of Appa who just yawned. With almost no energy discharge a window punched it's way clean through one side of the world and out another.
"Yip yip." I edged Appa through the opening.
Dozens of airships burned with the fire of the setting sun, stretching across the horizon and past both sides of the portal.
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