Well it took nearly forever but I have finally finished a new chapter for each of my stories. To my biggest fan of this tale, Tsukikage1213, I thank you for always being there and reviewing. Thanks! Enjoy!


Chapter Twenty-Two

The Two Crusades

"I'M NOT DEAD!" Shandrey ripped herself from his grasp and slapped Lee across the face.

"Snap out of it!" Lee froze. He stared blankly at her, unhindered and certainly unhurt by her sudden blow. She gawked at him with a rare sense of mortality. At once he blinked several times and regarded her strangely.

"Shandrey?" Her eyes narrowed oddly. There were light footsteps outside her door, followed by the sound of a wailing baby. Lee glanced over Shandrey's shoulder and saw everyone gathered at the open door. Katara held Hotaru and went about trying to sooth her back down to lesser volume.

"What happened?" asked Katara. Shandrey shook her head just as Lee returned a frightfully perplexed frown on his wife.

"That's precisely what I'd like to know," she said.

"I haven't foggiest idea Shandrey," said Lee.

"You grabbed my head and shouted 'I'm not dead'," said Shandrey unnervingly. "What's that supposed to mean?" Lee racked his brains for any kind of an answer. It had to mean something, otherwise why do it?

"I swear to you Shandrey my last recollection was walking toward our bedroom." They all listened while Lee attempted to collect his thoughts. "I felt my thoughts reel and…..and then you slapped me," he said to Shandrey.

"Do all of you people have to officially lose it before becoming friends or something?" asked Toph irreverently. Reagan shifted his eyes between them all. Still Lee remained in place, more or less at a loss for words. Katara walked further into the room while cradling Hotaru.

"Look it's been a long and hard day, why don't we figure this out tomorrow?" If only it were so easy to push aside something so bizarre. Alas for Shandrey and Lee they were without choice in the matter. They were indeed exhausted from mourning and no amount standing and gaping was going to lessen the stress of the day. Shandrey nodded.

"You're right, let's get some sleep." One by one they filed out of Nayia's room and off to their respective quarters. Katara took Hotaru back over to her crib and lay her back down. As soon as the babe's head touched down she made a short whine and squirmed about slightly. Katara was instantly entranced by her. She balanced herself on one elbow and watched with a smile as the newly reborn Hotaru got comfortable. It was a shame that this beauty would be short lived. Katara entertained the thought that Hotaru began as all children had: innocent and filled with curiosity. She hoped Shandrey's plan to teach her a new way would come to fruition.

"I'm so sorry," the waterbender whispered. She turned and began to walk out only to find Toph already waiting for her at the living room's entrance. She paused at the sight of her. Toph's arms were crossed.

"So…" began the masterful earthmover. "Getting a little close are we?"

Katara gently moved past her. "Just hoping we don't leave behind a tragedy." Toph turned in place and followed Katara back down the hall. "Or is that too whimsical, even by our standards?"

"Don't get me wrong," said Toph. "I hope all this stuff turns out well for everyone. It's just that……" Toph's pause caused them both to come to a slow stop. They stood in the darkened hallway with only silence as the third member of their company. Katara regarded Toph inquisitively.

"Just what?"

"We are still trying to get home…..aren't we?"

"Of course we are, Toph. But at the moment we don't even know how we're going to go about doing that. Or have you forgotten?" They continued on their way.

"As a matter of face, sugar queen, I haven't."

"Well then as long as the status quo stays unchanged then we really have no choice but to help them in any way we can." They got to their own room and Katara closed the door behind them. "Look, Shandrey used to be involved in some form of magic. Its magic that got us here, maybe she can find a way to get us home."

"Well that's what Yue said right?" asked Toph. Katara bit her lower lip nervously.

"Actually…..I think she said something along the lines of: we'll have to discover that secret together." Toph was left gaping at Katara with her grey irises. Katara shrugged and Toph began walking away with her arms raised.

"What the heck does that mean?!"

----------

"Are you sure you don't know?" Lee's eyes slowly opened for the fourth time since he and Shandrey had laid down for sleep. Her head rested on his shoulder while her arm draped limply over his chest.

"As I said before, I cannot be certain."

She raised her head slightly. "So you have some idea then?"

"A theory."

"Well don't keep me in suspense," said Shandrey with a smile.

"No, not until I'm surer. I would not want to raise anyone's hopes only to demolish them with erroneous deductions." Shandrey pouted somewhat and let her head fall back down where it was.

"Well that's just plain rude." Lee arched a brow. "I mean you grab my head and yell at me that you're not dead, which is plainly clear by the way, and then you tell me you won't say why you think that happened." The samurai hesitated with his reply. Shandrey's eyes stared blankly ahead of her. She wanted to sleep, needed to was more like it. But her curiosity dutifully kept her awake. "Oh I have an idea too, Lee. But I don't want to think about it much."

"Why is that?"

"I'm afraid of the same thing you are; that it'll be wrong." Lee let his arm rest on the one she had draped over his chest.

"We have many things to be afraid of, we always have. Let us not be afraid again at least until tomorrow morning." Shandrey silently consented and they both drifted to sleep.

----------

While Reagan's home began engulfed in slumber another soul was still out and about. He had once before been a loyal lieutenant of their enemies, and may still be. However for the moment he was immensely conflicted. Mifune Masa stood outside Reagan's home and feeling stiff as a board. What was he supposed to say; that he has suddenly come to see things a different way? There was no change in Mifune, there never has been. He's always hated Hotaru and every day since he was forced to endure her servitude was like a moment in Hell's fire. There was only one thing for him to do if he was to ever taste free air again. Mifune took one step forward and suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. The ronin spun in place and came face to face with Toph.

"You're too loud." A specially formed piece of red earth filled his vision and he knew no more.

-----

Mifune was aware of quite a bit for someone who had suddenly been knocked unconscious. His person was held together tightly and he was standing straight up in place. The reason for this was because an earthen cylinder has been skillfully crafted around him. When Mifune finally decided to open his eyes he was saw that he was standing in Reagan's living room surrounded by all who were currently residing there. Needless to say they were all adorning stony faces and gruff anti-morning sentiments.

"Well…" began Reagan. "He's got balls, I'll give him that."

"What're you doing here?" said Shandrey.

"Release me," said Mifune.

"No way."

"You can use what I have to offer," Mifune insisted. Both Toph and Katara snorted loudly.

"I've had my fair share of hooligans saying they turned over a new leaf," said Katara. "Why should this be any different?"

"Good point," Toph added.

"Enough of this!" barked Mifune. All eyes turned back to him. "There is little time left and I did not come all this way and risk what life I have left for nothing!" Shandrey slowly approached him.

"The last time we made a deal with you people we lost a good friend, now get out of here before we swap our code of honor for an easy fix-let him go." She quickly added the last part to Toph who reluctantly followed Shandrey's request. Mifune shot the Earthbender a look and brushed bits of rocks and dirt off his arms.

He trained his eyes on Lee. "I think even a seasoned tactician like yourself Lee can see the value in what I am offering." Shandrey and Katara quickly turned their eyes on him, undoubtedly hoping that Lee would not be seduced by this. When he remained silent Katara took the opportunity to break Mifune's stance.

"We already know enough about Hotaru's people, what more could you possibly give us?"

"I would think that is obvious," returned Mifune. He now had his arms folded. "I know how they will move, where they're priorities lie and most of all….." He let his eyes roam over each of them. "Which one of you they are most likely to strike at next."

"Yeah we can figure that out anytime we want!" exclaimed Reagan. "I can look that up wikipedia for Christ's sake." Mifune's eyes grew dangerous.

"Mock me just a little more as I crave for a reason to take your head-"

"Just try it big stick-"

"Their numbers," said Lee suddenly. They looked over at him. "They will first want to replenish their numbers." Lee turned and cast an affirmative seeking look at Mifune. "Am I right?"

"Quite right," replied the ronin. "Ring will no doubt have fed some sort of feint to Julian in order to inflame his fanaticism. Julian has most certainly taken temporary lordship over the Order of Eternal Flame."

"But just promoting him to leader doesn't even the odds for them," commented Toph. "Where's this 'new guy' supposed to come from?" Mifune now smirked slightly. He saw that Shandrey and Lee were standing close by one another. He stepped toward them.

"The time it too critical to find and train a new chevalier. Fortunately, for them that is, they already have another under lock and key." Shandrey had already let her eyes fall shut in distress.

"Ohhhh please don't tell me-"

"You know him as Reynard." Lee's head sagged somewhat and Shandrey stabbed at Mifune with a particularly straight face.

"I asked you not to tell me."

"What's a Reynard?" asked Toph haphazardly.

"A Lycan," said Lee. "And a particularly vicious one at that…"

"And you may be sure that his sycophantic nature will only fuel Julian's fervor as they compete for Hotaru's affections."

"That'll be tough," said Reagan. "She's not even legal yet." All eyes snapped to him and he put his hands defensively. Shandrey looked at Lee, he gave her a short nod and she exchanged the same gesture with Katara. The two waterbenders stood side by side.

"Say we take you up on all of this, what next?" asked Katara.

"They know you have Moon Crystal and Star Crystal." Mifune paced about while everyone kept a careful eye on him. "They will have learned of the Earth Crystal's location by now and they will surely make a probably successful attempt to steal it."

"We've got quite a head start on them," said Shandrey.

"Oh you of all people should now that distance and boundaries are as nothing to their tools. They will get the Earth Crystal and then move on to claim the last remaining piece."

"And then they will come for us," said Lee. Mifune nodded.

"Yes, and they will take a careful search for the one connected to Star Crystal."

Katara added, "Because only its caretaker will be able to command it." Her brow furrowed angrily and she folded her arms. "Well you're friends killed its caretaker I'm sorry to say." The ronin turned in place and smirked.

"For someone who claims to know so much, you are so oblivious. She would not have allowed her responsibility to die with her. She would have passed it on to another." Lee swallowed; as covertly as possible. He had put two and two together in an instant and at the same time came to a rather shocking conclusion about his strange happening with Shandrey. If anyone else was considering the same thing then they were being oddly silent about it. Mifune resumed his facing of them and held his hands behind his back. "You no longer have the luxury of sitting about and talking, as I am sure you well know."

----------

Their unwelcome guest sat outside on the porch and appeared to be meditating. Shandrey, Katara, and Toph watched him from within the living room. The lights were dimmed and everyone else had retired to bed again. While Katara kept her watchful eyes on Mifune, her hand slowly whirled over a bowl of water, causing its contents to follow her movements perfectly.

"It's a mistake letting him stay here," she said.

"Well he hasn't made any aggressive moves or anything," said Shandrey. "I imagine that if we just tell him to get lost he'll just keep following us."

"He really hates Hotaru that much? Doesn't really seem worth it to me" said Toph and Katara made a general murmur of agreement. Shandrey snickered.

"You two have a lot to learn about samurai and their vendettas."

"So what're you gonna do?" asked Katara.

"We'll see, I'm not totally convinced either way right now. On the one hand he could be just part of another scheme Hotaru's goons cooked up……..or he could have genuinely turned the corner." Katara sighed and stopped playing with the water.

"No, I meant what're you going to do about your baby." Shandrey shrugged while she looked at Mifune.

"Have it, of course. I understand that things are going to get difficult what with us trying to end a feud that's been raging for a couple thousand years all while trying to find a way to get the two of you back home. But Lee and I have been through worse, we'll think of something."

"You make it sound so easy," muttered Toph sarcastically. Shandrey rolled her eyes.

"Toph this isn't my first world saving quest believe it or not. It's actually kind of weird that we've developed a fairly good system for going about it." As she spoke, Shandrey knew what Katara was referring to. She finally let her eyes fall away from Mifune. "I……I'm not letting anyone else run off into a fight when it should've been me."

"You're not still killing yourself over what happened to Nayia are?" said Katara. Shandrey shot a fleeting glance at her. "I didn't know her that long, but I think even she would say that it's not worth it-" Shandrey's full gaze turned on her. "-the anguish…….its not worth the anguish." The waterbender looked away from Katara.

"Maybe, but it is natural." She leaned forward just ever so slightly and suddenly felt a quick jab within her belly. "Whoa!" Both Katara and Toph were startled somewhat by Shandrey's abrupt outburst.

"What's the matter?" Katara asked. Shandrey, her mouth slightly ajar, shook her head.

"I-I don't know, it's like something just kicked-" All three girls became eerily silent. Even Toph, whose eyes had been long useless, directed her full attention on Shandrey's belly. It was just so outrageous to be true, so incredibly ludicrous to even think about it. Yet Shandrey pulled away enough of her top to reveal her even more significantly swollen belly. Katara reached forward let her fingers skim the surface. Shandrey's eyes blinked several times and she shook her head.

"This is not possible…"

Katara looked up at her. "How far along did you say?"

"Only three months."

"Looks like you were off a few months," said Toph through a murmur.

"I think I know how long I've been pregnant!" Shandrey quietly snapped at Toph. "It's not the first time."

"Well you shouldn't be showing this early on," said Katara.

"No kidding, how is this happening?!" Katara sighed and stood up straight.

"Well, it might have something to do with your healing powers……or something." Shandrey just stared at her oddly. "I'm sorry but it's the only theory I have at the moment."

"I've had a baby before and this definitely did not happen."

"Well you are kind of magic too, right?" suggested Toph. Shandrey bobbed her head about in semi-agreement.

"Yeah-no…well….kind of, it's complicated."

Toph blew out a puff of air. "You're telling me." Shandrey paced about impatiently with a hand raised to her now throbbing forehead. Katara and Toph watched her as she hurriedly circled the room. Finally she stopped and regarded the both of them.

"What am I going to do?!"

"Leave the child with me." Unbeknownst to them Susan had made her way into the living room. Shandrey might have mistaken her for Yue. They both stood tall and erect but not pompous. They had a humble air about them; a walk and talk that seemed to be utterly fearless.

Susan walked further into their presence. Shandrey's rattled nerves calmed most significantly and even more so at the feeling of Susan's hand on her shoulder. She performed a quick shaking of the head to clear her thoughts.

"I'm sorry mother, what did you say?"

Susan kept a straight face. "It is unclear, perhaps forever, as to why your pregnancy is progressing so fast. However it may be that a certain force knows that your mind will soon have to be one single thing." Katara and Toph exchanged intrigued looks. "Think of this as a blessing, once your pregnancy is done I will look after your child until the day that you return." Shandrey smiled as Susan began walking away. Just before she took her leave she turned back and smiled at her daughter. "Just try not to be gone too long." Shandrey, Katara, and Toph were then left by themselves again. The three of them simply stood in silent thought. Why had they become so exasperated over something that was easily solved by someone else with a leveler head?

"That was……odd," said Katara.

"Well…she can do that," said Shandrey. Toph sighed and through her radar-like vision looked toward Mifune. All thoughts surrounding him had up until then become entirely forgotten.

"What about him?" she finally asked.

"What?" asked a somewhat disoriented Shandrey.

"Ol' butter knife boy; what's the final verdict?" Shandrey and Katara returned their stares to the outside.

"I……..I don't know. What I would give for a polygraph right now."

Katara and Toph both chorused, "A what?"

"Sorry, in our time they have a machine that can detect dishonesty in a person." Katara and Toph both chuckled.

"Well if it's a lie detector you're looking for then we don't need any machine," said Katara. Shandrey cast a curious and interested look between them. Katara simply passed the baton on to Toph. She pretended to file her nails and breathed in proudly.

"Just let me at him."

-----

He was aware of her approach. From the moment she stepped outside Mifune knew who it was coming to talk with him, and he knew why. Toph's near superhuman ability to see through vibrations also endowed her with the talent for judging someone's honesty based on the rapid or slow beating of their heart. It was because of this that he wondered why they had not sent her sooner. He detected her weight situating itself ahead of him. With his eyes still closed he asked her,

"Shall we begin?"

"You really expect us to believe that you've suddenly had a change of heart or something?" Mifune only smirked.

"I had my change of heart years ago, but my leash has been so short I have not yet had any chance to remove it." He opened his eyes and stared into Toph's grey ones. "Every breath I draw whilst still in Hotaru's service is one wasted in bondage. I have long since lost my appetite for servitude."

"Okay, you're mad. I can understand that. But what does that mean for the rest of us? What assurances do we have that you won't get sick of us and decide that you're gonna put a knife in our backs?"

The ronin shrugged. "I suppose you have none."

"Toph smiled. "You know you're making this really easy."

"I'm sure, so by your expert opinion have I passed your test?" Toph smirked.

"Tsk, once Fire Nation always Fire Nation, I say." Mifune nodded and closed his eyes again. Toph's face grew irate and she rose and stood next to him. "So that's it? No righteous speech about how you've seen and done enough terrible things? No attempt to try and convince me that making nice with Fire Nation snubs is okay?"

"Have you or have you not deduced my honesty?"

She moved about uneasily. "Maybe…"

"Then whether or not you decide to report to Shandrey truthfully I would simply ask for your leave now." She placed her hands on her hips.

"Oh really? Why's that?"

"I am tired….and you're keeping me awake." He lay down on the hard wood and allowed Toph to completely leave his thoughts. The Earthbender, now caught in a huff, blew a lock of hair out of her face and retreated back into the house. Upon entering both Shandrey and Katara positively beseeched her for an answer. The mid sized girl merely growled as she passed them and grunted her answer.

"He's fine." They stared after her curiously. Both Shandrey and Katara had kept a careful eye on them both, in the event that Mifune might try something funny. However neither of them had not so much as raised their voices. Something Mifune said had touched a rather sensitive nerve.

----------

Lee lay in bed alone while Shandrey remained in Katara's company. Though he had come to terms with the death of his sister it was still praying on his mind. At the moment he moved about restlessly as he was haunted by vivid dreams. Over and over the image of Ring firing her dreaded beam through Nayia's chest played before his eyes. Her scream and shouting of his name became like nails on a chalkboard.

"LEE!"

"NAYIA!" His own shout woke him from his sleep. His body felt as stiff as a board and felt like a strong electric current was running through it. Finally he was able to bring his hand to his sweating forehead. He wondered if the rest of his nights would be this way. Would he be forever tormented by what he could've done to prevent their loss? It was too much for him to consider at the moment, as accustomed to nightmares as he was.

He looked directly to his right and to his sudden panic he saw Nayia standing over him. Her stare was vacant and immensely tired. The hole blasted in her chest remained present and looking as if it had been freshly inflicted.

"You have to help me get back…"

The samurai leapt out of bed and scrambled across the room. When he was out of retreating space he stood flat against the wall and saw that vision of Nayia was gone. It was as if he had not yet awoken but was in fact still dreaming. Alas Lee knew better and that he was awake. Perhaps he was to be haunted, perhaps forever.


A haunting way to end a chapter for sure, but if its got you wondering then my job is done! XD Until next update (which I hope will be sooner). Laters!