One Sky, Two Clouds
The great walls of Ba Sing Se rose high into the sky. The famous city walls has guards placed around them on the outermost gate, known plainly as the Outer Wall. A man walkforward, a strawhat was on his head, obscuring his face. The guards saw the man and crossed their large spears to block the man from walking any further. "Halt! State your business with Ba Sing Se," demanded one of the guards, a strong man with scars on his face, indicating the life of one who knew battle and combat.
"Easy, my friend. I mean no harm," the traveller said. The man looked up and removed his hat. Black hair fell into his face, again hiding his eyes. The man, with a brush of his hand, pushed the hair out of the way. Finally, his eyes could be seen. Shining in the sun, the eyes were like pools of molten gold, giving the man an intimidating, yet warm appearance. The man shifted his gaze to the battle scarred man. "I wish to visit the city. I have an old colleague of mine I wish to... catch up with. My name is Taiyang." said the man of golden eyes. This was no lie per se a lie. He was indeed hunting for former members of the disbanded Huolong who escaped punishment, and rumors spread indicated some entered the great city of Ba Sing Se. Furthermore, it is believed they carried something of far greater value to Taiyang than merely capturing them for the Fire Nation or some personal vendetta.
The guards looked at Taiyang, and then at each other. While the man was fit, he was by no means as large as the majority of the Ba Sing Se guards. Should he end up causing trouble, which they feel he could with his Fire Nation appearance and a lingering bias towards the home of the firebenders from the conquering of the city, the guards could easily recapture him. "Alright, Taiyang, we will allow you into the city. Cause no trouble or you will be removed, forcefully." the scarred guard said as he uncrossed his spear from the other guard's. With a stomp of his foot, he earthbended an opening into the wall.
Taiyang bowed as he entered. "I shall bring you some tea when I exit the city. Thank you my friends." said Taiyang with a smile as he entered the city. Taiyang gazed over the proud, powerful city with a look of amazement. Asking around from various citizens, Taiyang began to make his way to the various carts. Producing a passport, one forged in an obviosuly illegal network, Taiyang sat as he moved towards the Upper Ring. His destination: the Jasmine Dragon.
"You wanted to see me?" Wei Meng emerged from the shady halls of an ancient hideout carved in a combination of earth and crystal. Although full to the brim with eyes, arms and legs, his voice echoed in the spacious cave as if replying to his own question. Yet his words went unheard to those who were not meant to listen. The Jade Maiden swordsman remained unnerved when a mighty stone slab of earth suddenly slammed against the ground from above. In fact, there were few things that could surprise Wei Meng in the Honey Badger headquarters; except the sudden influx of firebenders, especially the five or four he saw standing next to the silhouette of his leader.
"Ah yes, Duya." The leader spoke with a raspy voice that betrayed both his age and affiliation. It was the voice of one who traveled among the darkness for countless nights, who laughed over the evilness of the world and committed countless tragedies. Wei Meng knew this man all too well. He, who upon his first night in Ba Sing Se, convinced the newly arrived swordsman to join his establishment and thus embark on an never ending adventure of the underworld. It was not his desire of Master Huashan, who taught him of life and death, to join the Jianghu life. But Wei Meng knew that to surpass his master, he required the experience of the world that forged his master into a powerful sword. And the old man covered in darkness who sat before him served as the perfect bridge. But the swordsman felt something burn in his heart as he watched the firebenders, utterly disgusting in both personality and appearance, covered in expensive clothing and jewelry.
"These are former members of the fire nation's Huolong, the police branch responsible for protecting the law of the land fervently. After a short demonstration and a gracious gift, they have more than proved themselves capable." The Honey Badger boss addressed his third highest subordinate. "They will now serve the Honey Badger's as my immediate guards. As one of my favored subordinates, I only find it obvious that you should become acquainted with them and show them both Ba Sing Se and our little establishment."
"Gracious gift?" Wei Meng pondered, more so disturbed by the lack of his own payment when considering the duty requested of him. His eyes jumped from each firebender in his presence before resting on the leader once more. Silence had befallen on the men as the leader patiently waited for judgement. Whether or not he would truly accept the firebenders or the task was something none could accurately predict of the temperamental swordsman, whose personality and emotions resembled the ocean. The normal, calm visage usually seen was twisted into a disappointed snarl. "Why do you need these slabs of meat?"
"Hey! Watch your tongue child, before I burn it out of your mouth." The tallest traitor roared.
"You couldn't burn my tongue burn my tongue if you made me a cup of tea!" His words garnered infamy for lacking a hint of restraint or fear. Instead, they were filled to the brim with excitement, almost inviting the challenger to step forward and potentially lose their head. "A few firebenders won't make a difference at all. They'll only get in my way!"
"There is the problem, Duya." The leader finally answered after minutes of silence. "You're impossible to read as your heart belongs to none. You have many faces, which I doubt you even know is the real one." Those words seemed to fall on Wei Meng who could only listen. "In this world, the world of Rivers and Lakes, even criminals practice fealty to one another. Whether to a leader or to one's own brothers and sisters, they pledge their spirit in both life and death. But you have yet to perform this sacred bond with anyone of the Honey Badgers. Believe me, I find you more useful and interesting than anyone in this establishment. But without your heart, without your bond, you are nothing more than a pair of beautifully crafted swords to an earthbender."
Wei Meng let his words echo weakly throughout the massive cave before disappearing into a thick silence. As smoothly as night turns into day and day into night, a tense tranquility befell the occupants of the room. He wanted to argue, to oppose those painful words and deny their accuracy at the top of his lungs. "Heartless..." A word that plagued him recently; it was ironic considering his youth...for his heart had allowed the world to betray him ten times over. But he could only accept them as truth.
"I pray for the day I have your heart. But until then, I must think of the Honey Badgers." The boss finished. "Please, forgive me. You're the only person I'm entrusting this task to. For although I am unable to read your heart, I know I can trust-"
"You're right." Wei Meng started to smile. But in his smile was a certain acceptance, a miniature enlightenment that came with understanding oneself and accepting freedom. "I'm nothing more than a breeze of wind, attempting to find a place to rest. But there's no rest for the wicked. I'm resigning, the sudden luggage would mean a decrease in coin for myself." He started to walk towards the exit, turning away from his former boss; who appeared somewhat saddened at the lost.
"Do you want us to stop him?!" The tallest firebender roared. Both he and his squadron seemed unfazed by the sudden turn of events, only thirsting for another victim to roast; especially one who had threatened to kill them minutes before.
"No. You wouldn't stand a chance here. Allow him to leave. We'll cross paths again and if he insist, then you'll be able to satisfy your hunger." The boss spoke without remorse.
The guards at the exit quickly opened the earthen slab and closed it after Wei Meng entered the following chamber. He could only smile as he embraced the darkness. "A breeze of wind that forgot what it was, rested beneath a mountain. Only to once more find freedom."
Wei Meng entered his favorite shop, the Jasmine Dragon and sat at a distant table near a window. He watched the world pass by, almost an outsider, a spectator enjoying an elaborate play. But could he really enjoy it? Another act in a rather long story that he was too scared to end. New scenery. New people. New challenges. He could only take a sip of the infamous lotus tea and sigh. Whereas he once spoke of killing gods and discovering the Jade Maiden, who influenced his master decades before, the young swordsman could only sit and ponder where destiny would guide him. He once felt that he was a mountain in a windstorm, disobeying the rules of fate. But now, he started to even question his own position in the matter.
The cart stopped within the walls of the Upper Ring. Taiyang filed off with the rest of the visitors of the noble area. "Alright... the informative said to check the Jasmine Dragon for the gang member. I suppose, though, I can stop for the tea itself as well." Taiyang mumbled to himself as he walked to the area. After many turns and feeling as if he had gotten lost, his eyes caught something.
A fairly sized green building rested on the top of a set of steps. It's brown roof seemed newly built despite years of being open. Round windows opened, allowing Taiyang to few the clientele sipping from cups. The giveaway was on the front of the building, two golden dragons danced around each other. This buidling was none other than the famed Jasmine Dragon founded by the great General Iroh. As Taiyang walked up the steps, a statue of Iroh sat in front of the building, honoring him. The legendary general, once viewed as a failure for abadoning the city after his son died, was now a hero within its walls for reclaiming the city with the help of an unown group. Taiyang, above all other Fire Nation figures in history, revered the great general as an enlightened man and the greatest man the Fire NAtion has ever produced. Taiyang bowed to the statue, showing his respect. "I wish I could have met you, wise Iroh. Rest well."
A small line was formed outside the building, but the service was excellent. The lined shortened faster than Taiyang expected. Finally, he was at the counter with his money prepared. "I would like a cup of lotus tea, with honey in it please." Taiyang orderred as he placed down his payment. The host smiled and nodded as he told workers in the back the new order. Mere moments passed until finally the cup was placed in front of Taiyang.
Taiyang sat in the center of the building. He raised the cup to his mouth and sipped the tea. The flavor was wonderful, worthy of the recipes of the tea-loving Iroh. Despite this, the tea was not as warm as Taiyang expected. Carefully, Taiyang used his firebending to heat the tea up to a more suitable temperature. "Surely that is appropriate use of my abilities," the firebender joked to himself and he took another sip and sat the cup down.
Taiyang looked around the building, attempting to find the man that was described to him by the informant. Not being able to see him, Taiyang went to grab his cup. However, as he did this, a man walked into the building. A black and green cloak, a medallian of some sort on his neck, and black hair hanging slightly below his jawline. Taiyang drank of his cup as he looked at the man: Wei Meng of the Honeybadger Gang. "The Huolong will not be able to hide for long if this is him." Taiyang said under his breath as he accepted a refill for a small charge. Heating the cup once again, Taiyang stood up from his seat and made his way over to the window seat where the man was sitting.
"How is the tea you got? I've been curious about the tapioca, but I don't know how I feel about solids in my drinks," Taiyang said as he sat down in front of the gang member. Taking yet another sip of his tea, Taiyang noticed the swords of the man. "Lovely weapons, though swords were never my favorite weapon," Taiyang began "but that isn't why I came over to talk to you really." Taiyang placed his cup down. "Alright, honeybadger, where are they?"
The consequences of having such beautifully crafted swords was every random stranger making a weird remark about them. Whether out of jealousy, admiration or simple boredom, not a day passed without someone speaking. However, Wei Meng could read the aura of this new stranger and sighed..,Another firebender. They seemed to be taking over Ba Sing Se, imposing their fiery views and methods upon a city of firmness and peace. History already denied their access during a chaotic war, but they continued to return in different bodies and names.
His emerald eyes rested on Taiyang and then upon his lotus tea, which he sipped graciously before answering the foolish question. Leave it to the Honeybadgers to continue giving him problems after resigning. "The clouds are above you, the flowers to the left and the mountains in are in the next country." Wei Meng answered nonchalantly.
"Come now, Du Ya," Taiyang attempted to say, mispronouncing the name on accident, "I have no real interest in you or your gang as of now. I just come seeking a small answer. I've heard rumors that your gang is using a handful of firebenders. I want those people, not the Honeybadgers. Think of it as the great Iroh liberating this city from the Fire Nation. One firebender getting rid of another." Taiyang paid for a refill of his drink and of Wei Meng's. "Help me with this and I'll be on my way."
The young fool seeks me. At the first oracle I inform him. If he asks two or three times, it is importunity. If he importunes, I give him no information.Perseverance furthers."
Wei Meng recited the infamous line from the book of changes and sipped his tea peacefully without a care for the hot-head who sat before him. His eyes remained shut, for he was the moon and his opponent became the sun in vast darkness. Those words were first spoken by Master Huashan when Wei Meng had first requested tutelage. The memories caused the swordsman breath deeply and sigh, utterly annoyed by the audacity of the firebender before him. "The firebenders are obviously with the rest of the gang. Located beneath the earth and only accessible to those who can move it. I've no longer hold connection to them. So do whatever you want." He added, standing up and heading towards the Jasmine Dragon exit.
"If you know the path, then take me to them!" Taiyang said as he stood up quickly and followed the man outside. "The Huolong are not people you want in this city, whether you are with them or against them. Trust me. They are the kind who would begin civil war if they wanted, turn children into weapons, seperate loved ones." Taiyang watched as the man kept walking away, and used firebending to propel himself forward and past the man. "Stop!"
Wei Meng stopped when Taiyang suddenly appeared before him, another firebender attempting to demonstrate some form of superiority. He could only laugh at the foolishness. "You speak as if I care about what happens to this city. It can burn to the ground for all I care." His heart started to flutter at the horrific actions of these international terrorist. I'll end the evils of this world through love and compassion. Childish words spoken by a naive spirit without a clue of how the realm worked. Now he could only breath deeply, exhaling the mountainous burden on his shoulder. "It'll give those children something to do besides living in an illusion. Go play hero elsewhere, you're wasting your time."
Wei Meng continued past Taiyang with an aura of indifference, completely devoid of emotions. He spoke almost as if one had removed his heart and replaced it with a piece of steel. These are not my problems...Wei Meng tried to convince himself.
Taiyang breathed deeply. A circle of fire burned to life around Taiyang and Wei Meng. "Trust me, this isn't about playing hero. This isn't about the city either, that is merely a side effect. This is about finding the men who ruined the lives of many, mine included. This is about finding the person they took away from me and bringing her home. I don't care about illusions or being the hero. I care about burning them. Now, lead me to them." Taiyang said, an angry scowl growing across his face with the man's continued insults and apathy. People on the streets began to run away from the area, avoiding the growing fire.
"They ruined your life, not mine. I have nothing to do with your petty squabbles." Wei Meng took a second and stared into the beautiful flames dancing before him, almost enticing the swordsman to touch them. "Your vendetta's are yours alone."
"Then let me show you what they can cause!" Taiyang exclaimed. The fires dancing around them began to enclose around the sword user as Taiyang jumped out of the encampment. Landing on the sign post of some building, Taiyang threw his fist forward, sending a burst of fire in the same direction.
"Humph, this should be entertaining!" Wei Meng exclaimed as he drew the two beautifully crafted blades, Heibai Wuchang, and analyzed the approaching flames. A master of earthbending could tell that his stance was one of an amateur, or perhaps of one who lacked confidence in his bending capability. However, he slammed his feet with a strange mixture of ferocity and sloppiness to create a small platform of earth which launched him out of the enclosing ring. And from rolling on the dirt, the burst of menacing fire was skillfully dissected by the yang blade with a graceful spin; unfortunately singing his jacket in the process. "You'll pay for that with your fingers."
Taiyang studied the earthbender's movement. A weak root, Taiyang thought to himself and he began his next attack. Jumping from the ledge, Taiyang flipped on his way down with a kick of fire, sending a fiery blade towards the earthebender. Taiyang then formed fire in his hands, molding them into whips of fire. "How about a wager, Du Ya? If I can beat you or catch your interest, you'll take me to the Huolong. I'll even get you a new jacket. So what do you say?" Taiyang said as he sent his fiery whips forward, using them to strike at Wei Meng, followed by a third whip produced from Taiyang's mouth.
"I'm sorry, I don't make deals with firebenders." Wei Meng roared in enjoyment as he leapt out of the blades path. The swordsman dashed to the left flank of Taiyang in an attempt to avoid the first and second whip; slowly approaching his opponent with each evasion. Raging fire that consumes the forest stops at the edge of a calm river. He smirked. Flipping over the third whip, he flicked his wrist forward which sent the yin blade spiraling towards the enemy's chest. however, he followed closely behind in an attempt to shrink the gap between them and reach full measure.
Taiyang let the whips of fire disperse as he moved to the side. Quickly, Taiyang caught the handle of flying blade and threw it back to its master. Taiyang formed sparks of fire under his hands that shaped into a compressed blade of fire. Dashing forward with the daggers, Taiyang feinted a slash of fire to catch Wei Meng off guard, before jumping behind him and using the compressed daggers to send to blades of fire. Then Taiyang slid his foot forward, sending a lower wave of fire to attack Wei Meng's root, as well as hoping to hit him as the man would probably react to the fire arches first since they are more visible and immidiate.
Wei Meng caught his own sword with a smile, for Taiyang only made it easier to retrieve it. Attempting to engage me head to head? That doesn't make sense The dual swordsman contemplated the motivations of his enemy as they engaged one another. Taiyang fought with the furiocity of a trained firebender, so engaging a swordsman in blade to blade combat would be suicidal. So he insisted on switching to a simple defensive approach to the situation; aiming the point of his yang blade at the oncoming wrist of Taiyang in case he continued the strike without actually moving his own arm. But his opponent had flipped over him; as he expected since it was weird for one whose focus appeared to be firebending to suddenly use bladed weaponry. "Trying to strike from a vulnerable location." Wei Meng joked as the arches approached him. He leapt high into the air and started to swirl, using the momentum of the swords to dissect the oncoming arches with both blades while avoiding the lower wave; landing gracefully on the earth below. A swordsman's feet must be able to walk on water, earth and the air without falling through the clouds. But his landing was followed by a smooth transitioning into a lunge towards Taiyang where he would aim the tip of his blades wherever his opponent's wrist trusted outwards in an attempt to stop Taiyang from completeling a full firebending motion.
Taiyang met the moving swordsman with a simple manuver. Knowing that traditional firebending would result in getting stabbed on the arms, Taiyang merely opened his mouth. In an instance, a flow of burning blue fire poured out towards the swordsman. Using his breath of fire to either burn or distract the swordsman, Taiyang jumped to a ledge and scaled upwards, above the streets and on the roof. Here, where he could move freely for a moment, Taiyang motioned his arms in what could appear as meaningless motions to the earthbender down below. However, sparks began to fly off the tip of Taiyang's fingers, and ribbons of lightning trailing behind them. Taiyang began using his favored art in firebending, lightning. Fast and powerful, lightning intrigued the firebender. A weapon he could not bend or control, merely generate and guide. Taiyang blasted the lightning outwards, aiming for Wei Meng's right arm. The lightning would not be enough to kill Wei Meng from either power or location, but it would certainly hurt and slow him down.
Wei Meng gracefully spun on his forward foot to evade the cloud of fire. Dammit, he keeps getting away! He grunted at the disappointment, for the most annoying opponent was one he failed to reach. However, few could completed contemplate the power of the Nineteen Styles of Jade Maiden Sword and thus underestimated its might. Swordsmen who are limited by the distance between themselves and their opponent were unfit to call themselves masters. So Wei Meng had to implement a certain aspect into his style of battle. One that involved complex thinking and a gift in the art of unpredictability. So he took advantage of the smoke and threw both blades once more. However, his arms swayed to and fro in movements that surpassed his earlier display of earthbending. He moved with confidence and force, pulling his arms from left to right and back again. Simulatanouesly, the swords spun rapidly in a arc as they approached Taiyang like an ebony and silver saw. "A little bit more..." Wei Meng thought while guiding their movements from a distance. But the surging light and chirping noise of a thousand birds caught his attention. He heard rumors of their command over this energy but often thought it impossible. However, lightning had approached him at incredible speeds. Wei Meng could only leap out harm's way and take the brunt of the concussive explosion; catching his footing after sliding a short distance. Meanwhile the spiraling swords would almost stab into the flesh of Taiyang to only fly past, missing entirely, and embed themselves into nearby buildings.
"You bastard." Wei Meng growled. He quickly threw both arms outwards and pulled them closer, forcing the blades to return to his grasp once more. "I'll decapitate for this crowd to see."
Taiyang's fingers smoked from the release of lightning and watched as the swords returned to Wei Meng. "So you are a metalbender? An ability as rare as my lightning. I've only seen it once before from a member of the Earth Division in the Fire Nation military." Taiyang said, fascinated by the ability. Taiyang knew, however, that the fight was dragging on. Citizens would have reported by now to city guards of the event, and potential Honeybadgers could report to the Huolong a strange firebender was attack their former member. Taiyang thought quickly. Apathy for the city, the gang, and a hatred for hero-types. With this, Taiyang came to a conclusion. "You are loyal to yourself and your own gain. What if I paid you to help me?"
Wei Meng stood up and sighed, yet again the underworld would drag him back into its deathly swamps. However the racing heart inside his chest was of enjoyment instead of fury. If more battles awaited him on this path alongside a nice payment, then why refuse? So the swordsman sheathed his blades and started to walk off but yelled back to his employer. "Come on. Before the police arrive."
The Combination of Yin and Yang
A Night of Planning
Taiyang led his former opponent to a small apartment he had rented. Taiyang entered his room and opened the curtains to let light flood into the room. Quickly, Taiyang sat down at a small table in the center of the room. "Well, I suppose thanks for the exercise match. A metalbender using swords, suprisingly I have not encountered that before." Taiyang said as he waited for his hired help to sit as well. "So, what can I expect in the Ba Sing Se underground?"
"Dirt, rocks some stones." Wei Meng joked, sitting on a nearby counter as oppose to actual furniture. Although a friendly remark meant to lighten the room, he had a smug smile as he brushed the dirt from his hair. Both the yin and yang blades were kept in their sheathes and tied to the left of his waist. "Jokes aside, we'll be facing a bunch of earthbenders with a small amount of firebenders...alongside a warrior whose might surpasses my own." He sighed, thinking of the second subordinate who defeated him multiple times before. "What is it that you seek overall?"
"The firebenders are members of the Huolong. Think of the Dai Li, but as firebenders. That is what they were meant to be, but without the corruption. That didn't work out. They took in orphaned firebenders, both noble and common, and used them to create the perfect firebenders, often with harsh, illegal methods if normal prgress was lacking. Word got out eventually, leading to the group being disbanded and arrested by the Fire Lord himself. However, not all of them were caught and got away, as well as some escaping custody. Now, they are trying to regroup and reform mostly to take over the Fire Nation," Taiyang explained as best he could without revealing his own life too much. "However, some want to split off and do other activities. The Huolong in this city have taken some of innocent members from the group, and even children of nobles, to weaken the will of the nation, and sell them as slaves and tools. I aim to rescue... them," Taiyang held back some of his personal pain, not wanting to reveal to biggest reason for his rescue.
Of course Wei Meng noticed the reluctance in the speech of his newly acquired companion, but he couldn't care less about the personal issues of some firebender. As long as he was paid at the end of the job, Taiyang's happiness meant little to him. So he only sat quietly while formulating a potential plot. He knew the Honeybadger hideout thoroughly; including the various entrances and exits meant for emergancies. "The main entrance is located in an establishment nearby. When you pass by it, it appears as a normal massage parlor but is really owned by the boss's eldest son. Even with me, that route would be impossible to use for word of our arrival would reach them before we do." Wei Meng spoke carelessly. "I can tell you the children you seek are not in the hideout." He went to the fridge and took out a cold tea.
"The underworld has evolved over the past few centuries and took methodologies from legitimate businesses. For example, the children you're searching for were indeed kidnapped by those firebenders. But they were given to middlemen to introduce into the market. Brought in bulk and then sold to the consumers, it increases profit while removing liabilities." Wei Meng took a sip followed by a deep breath. "There are hundreds of these middlemen located in Ba Sing Se alone. And only the organizers of the operations are given their locations and names. I only know a handful through more personal jobs. If you're searching for a specific group of kids, we'll have to retrieve the most recent ledgers and follow the money trail. But doing so won't be easy."
"Then I'll do anything. I have to get her-" Taiyang paused "...them back home." Taiyang rose from his seat at the table. "Already sold... where would we get the ledgers and how would we get to the underworld? One way or another, the Huolong have to be removed. They bring shame upon the name of firebenders, no, on all people by merely existing. The sooner we get them out of the picture and get the children, I can pay you." spoke the firebender. "Once it's done, I can go home to Iroh Island." Taiyang said calmly and quietly, almost as if to himself.
Her... Wei Meng could only chuckle at the sudden outburst with a smug smile and calmed eyes. But his laugh was shallow and filled with jealousy. A certain envy that bullies utilized to subjugate others by creating an invisible horse for them to sit on. That's why I chose isolation, so I don't have to suffer with this foolishness. He thought. Yet his fluttering heart betrayed the facade he attempted to convince himself of. How could someone sail over oceans, continuously facing death, to maybe save someone? Why would no one do that for me? Those burning thoughts removed the mirage of masculinity he attempted to exhibit. So he quickly yawned and feigned tiredness.
"Tomorrow. The underworld is active mostly during the night, so we'll act in the morning while the demons are asleep. For the moon is their sun and our sun their moon."
"Alright then, Du Ya, sleep well." Taiyang said. Taiyang sat on the chair in the room and used a blanket on it to cover up. Taiyang looked at the burning candles in the room and snapped his fingers together. Poof. The little fires burned out, casting the room into darkness save for the silver light of the moon faintly shining through the window. Taiyang's mind raced from saving her, the girl he guarded and befriended while in the Huolong. Determination filled his golden eyes before they slowly shut as he fell asleep. Dreaming of drinking his favorite lotus tea with Xiaohui in his small home on Iroh Island, Taiyang rested peacefully.
The cawing continued throughout the night, but seemed to increase in loudness as it progressed. However, it was weird that no one dealt with the murder of crows which seemingly circled the building. Surely an angered citizen would throw a brick, a rock or even a shoe to shut them up. But the world seemed uncaring to this hypnotic orchestra. Either way he didn't care. He enjoyed the company of crows and often felt a dim connection between the two. A misunderstood creature of darkness who many considered an omen for evilness. No matter how hard he attempted to do well, they only saw a sign of destruction and war. Only the creatures of supposed evilness could understand each other, so their cawing was only music to his ears. A conversation among friends. Unfortunately, he was unable to stand up and actually look at the dancing crows in the sky. His body was frozen solid. He could only watch as he floated upwards and through the roof into a misty sky surrounded by deathly trees. "Where am I?" Crows continued cawing, attempting to answer him.
"You're where you were always meant to reach, Wei Meng." A familiar voice rung out from behind him, accompanied by a strange female.
"So this is the one you were telling me about. I'm eager to meet him."
Yet Wei Meng found it impossible to move or even open his mouth. He could only watch as crows swarmed in a massive tornado of black feathers. Consuming everything until only darkness remained in his eyes. Darkness.
"What!" Wei Meng shot upwards in a cold sweat and looked over to an open window. Where were the crows? It was dead silent outside without a trace of life. Another dream...He thought, remembering the similar sensation from before. "No...this doesn't matter...We have more pressing matters." He attempted to convince himself before falling back to sleep.
The dream went kindly. The two young adults joked with one another. They joked about life, about Taiyang's old coldness. They were enjoying life. Enjoying freedom. As Taiyang poured another glass of tea for the two, the girl fell to her side, reacting in pain. Taiyang reacted quickly, and looked up to the window to call for help. Pure blackness crawled outside. Small candles in the apartment burst into brilliant blue fire as members of the Huolong took their place as ghosts of smoke and embers. "We made you, both of you. Now, it's time we end you, but first, you shall suffer by seeing her die!" shouted one of the Huolong members as Taiyang desperately tried to firebender, but to no avail. "Turning the power we gave you against us, boy? It shall not happen again." another Huolong said as the smokey figures swirled around Taiyang and the dying girl. Slowing, the smoke began to reshape, solidifying into dragons, the original lords of fire, and the room changed to that of an active volcano. "You will burn Taiyang! The fire shall consume you!" laughed one of the dragons. The dragons finally moved in to claim their prize. "You will burn!" Taiyang awoke in fear, blasting fire instinctively, the last thought he had being a monstrous roar. Taiyang breathed rapidly, trying to calm down. Producing a small fire in his hand, Taiyang stared at the flickering light, using it as a comfort, a warmth as the sun slowly began to rise.
Mourning Never Comes
The sun kissed the vast lands of Ba Sing Se and told the country that it was time to awaken so that they could progress forward. Birds sung their morning tunes and soft breezes kissed children who started towards school. People were unaware of the evils that had transpired over night, only the victims and those close to the victims possessed even the slightest clue. Leaving the rest to ignorantly go about their normal routine like cogs spinning in a vicious machine. However, two beings in a small apartment had awoken and prepared to delve deep into the underworld.
Wei Meng finished dressing after taking a rather long shower and yawned. "Should I eat?" He asked himself, wondering about the amount of coin he possessed. "This job will surely solidify my resignation, removing any potential reconciliations with the Honeybadgers. Who knows when I'll complete this job..." The mirror had fogged over the course of his previous shower, leaving only a contorted silhouette on its surface. "Why am I doing this? It'll be easier to bring that punk to them. Present him as a gift...Forget the kids, they shouldn't have gotten caught." But those words were without actual substance. Instead, he could only grab both blades and tie them to his waist before heading out to meet Taiyang in the waiting room where he had previously laid out a map. While waiting, he made himself a cup of tea and a small meal.
Taiyang sipped on his own cup of tea, with a plate of breakfast style sausage nearly empty next to him. "Well Du Ya, you know the gang and the city. What would be the best route?" asked Taiyang as he looked at the map of the city. Taiyang drank of his tea more as he marvelled at the sheer size of the city, which was more like a small nation. "I wonder how this place got to be this massive, it dwarfs Iroh Island."
Wei Meng pointed to a certain area nearby that was marked with a large X. "This is the gang's largest massage parlor." He took a pen and marked a nearby street. "It also serves as a back alley entrance for some of our-I mean their-more questionable clients." He took a sip of tea and sighed, attempting to remove memories of the lovely mistress who appearantly held feelings for him months before. Unfortunately, his self-loathing blocked her advances from his view, leading to an aggressive suitor capturing her heart as he could only watch. But he never found it in himself to actually care about losing her; those emotions would only limit a spirit meant for freedom. "Splitting up would only lead to our downfall and I doubt we have the ability to defeat them all. So we're going to enter the main building and gain their trust. The issue is that they will undoubtly send word of my arrival...Meaning we have a specific amount of time to sneak in and make it here." Wei Meng drew another circle a few inches north. "The heart of the hideout. By then, the boss'll know of our presence and the hard part begins. The best option is to use secrecy. I don't know how well your skills are for infiltration, so stay close to me and only act if absolutely necessary. You might have to dispatch a few guard before they are allowed to send word of our location."
Wei Meng took a few steps back and crossed his arms against his chest while staring at the overall map. "The tunnels are rather large. So they'll undoubtly have trouble keeping tabs on our movement. If we remain together, quiet, and swift, then we could even get in and get the ledger before they're onto us. The ledgers are kept nearby in a locked room. Any questions?"
"No I do not. I am ready to go whenever," Taiyang said as he stood up. "Taking out guards? I have a few ways of taking care of that problem, ones you haven't seen yet. Granted, that power may be too loud. I can wait and see." Taiyang put his dishes away and folded his blanket up before placing it down on the bed. Taiyang silently remembered his dream last night before reaching down to grab his shoes. As Taiyang walked back over, his eyes caught on the swords of his hired help.
The massage parlor was a massive manor filled with women clad in beautiful robes, elegantly walking across the hundreds of rooms in order to better serve customers. Clients were men of different backgrounds and varying aspects of life. For every pure heart, there we're five demons whose hands in the underworld helped expand its influence. Wei Meng recognized some clients who snarled at the traitorous swordsman. Others, who only heard of his skill, admired the assassin for his numerous successful jobs. Hell, some prepared themselves to buy his service since he was currently without a contract. But could they tame the wind?
"Welcome to the Azure Maiden." A woman, wearing a blue robe, hopped to the attention of both Wei Meng and Taiyang. "I am Lan Bao," She bowed. "Overseer of this fine establishment. I was not expecting your return, Master Du-Ya."
"Well, my friend here is out of town and I wanted to show him around." Wei Meng answered. The honorifics were nice, but he knew why she still referred to him as a master. It was only clever for them to do so...which meant the clock would begin as soon as she stepped away.
"Ah! Not so often Master Du-Ya brings a friend. I'll bring you two of our finest jewels on the house. Suyang!" Lan Bao barked towards a girl somewhat younger than her. A fine raven-haired jewel. "Please take Master Du-Ya and his friend to our finest room."
"Yes Lady Lan." Suyang bowed. "Right this way, gentleman." She started towards the designated room which Wei Meng knew all to well. However, he made sure to remain a couple steps behind Suyang and near Taiyang. Before entering the various halls, the swordsman slightly nudged his temporary accomplice and nodded at a nearby door behind a counter. The door appeared of a different composition from the entire manor but possessed a certain subtle aura which made it easy to avoid.
"Stars illuminate darkness yet shadows follow light. Mountains conflict valleys and rivers mirror the heavens. Unrequited love spawns hatred...Hatred filled heart seeks love." Wei Meng recited.
"Oh, I've heard of Master Du-Ya's poetry." Suyang blushed slightly yet remained facing forward in fear of offending the infamous assassin. She lead them into a wide room with two massage tables. A room large enough to fit four people, filled with the burning aroma of incense and moon flowers. "I'll return shortly with your jewels. Make yourself at home Master Du-Ya and his accomplice."
When the door shut, Wei Meng leaned against it and took a few seconds of silence. After hearing footsteps disappear into the distance, he approached Taiyang and sighed. "She's going to send word to the boss which means we have a small window of opportunity to break in. The main entrance is extremely guarded and the way they expect us to enter. We'll need a diversion."
"A diversion? I see, give me a moment." Taiyang said as he talked to a grand table in the room. On th etable sat a variety of bottles of different drinks. From finely filtered water, to assorted alcohol, Taiyang glance around before pouring a glass of baijiu, a grain-based alcohol.
Taiyang walked to the door the pair had entered in a check to see if he was clear. Every man and woman in the establishment were far to focused on other activities and engagements to be paying attention to the back room. Pouring the alcohol from the glass and on to the ground, a large puddle was made as it began to flow down the hallway as well.
Taiyang breathed in, disliking the smell of the liquid and happy he did not have to drink it. A small fire ignited from the tip of his fingers as he walked away from the spilled alcohol. With a swift motion, the tiny fireball was thrown into the alcohol. Crimson, orange, and yellow flames erupted from the fire and began to spread down the hall. The fire, was by no means, made to be hot enough or large enough to burn down the building, but to catch the attention of the guests.
Patrons screamed, shouting of a fire as many began to run out of the building. People with water, earthbending, and other means to extinguish the fire were knocked down in the chaos as people scrambled to get out of the building in case the fire got worse.
"There, a diversion. I assume guards will be on there way to help in the situation, and straglers..." Taiyang said as lightning jumped off his fingers in a small bolt, "can be picked off." Taiyang moved his arms in a way as to tell Wei to take it away.
"Well a simple rumor would had sufficed..." Wei Meng sighed, leave it to a firebender to create such a large commotion. But at least the guards and immediate gang members would be preoccupied with dealing with the fire. "Three, two, one." Boom. The secret door shot open with three Honeybadger members running to assess the growing situation. The surrounding alcohol only added to the fire which soon grew rather immense. Wei Meng nodded towards Taiyang and darted towards the unguarded door which lead to a rather large green hall with a few flights of stairs heading downwards. The dimly lit path was illuminated with green crystals hung above.
"We'll have to take a quick side trip and wait for the situation to die down a bit." Wei Meng whispered. "We're near-" A sudden jolt shot down his spine; his hand grabbed his partner and dragged him to the nearest tunnel opening where they hid in the shadows of a few boxes of liquor. Minutes of silence had passed before a group of earthbenders suddenly emerged from a thick darkness, only speaking once passing by.
"Fire?! I bet that sword wielding bastard is behind it!" A grunt roared as they ascended the flight of stairs.
"That was close." Wei Meng sighed. "Come on it's this way." He started through the ominous tunnel, walking nonchalantly yet with his guard sharpened. "I'll have to break down the entrance so be prepared to fight
Taiyang followed the metalbender closely and nodded. "When we get to the entrance, what does it look like beyond there? Depending on the structure, I have a way that can take out many guards at once." Taiyang said as he thought of his remaining power that he hasn't used in some time, the one ability Wei Meng has yet to see. Regardless, Taiyang prepared to fight as the entrance grew closer to the duo.
"It's a massive space filled with crystals and surrounded by different tunnels, each leading to different establishments like the one we recently exited." Wei Meng recalled as they approached a massive stone wall. It was a dead end, which would normally cause problems for someone without bending skills. He sighed and took a few steps back, seemingly nervous. Skills you inherit are useless...The only thing that matters is the abilities you work to achieve. He recited to himself. He nervously started to pull his limbs to and fro, pushing and pulling an invisible force. He felt the inner energy rushing throughout a certain pathways in an irregular motion. Sloppy. It took him twice as long to do something a moderate earthbender could accomplish. But either way, the stone slab was utterly destroyed by an invisible force. Wei Meng could only run through, attempting to make it appear as if he meant to do that, as oppose to simply bringing down the earth.
The room was empty. Where he thought there was going to be numerous guards prepared to battle, not a soul remained. "Shit." He whispered.
"Why is it empty?" questioned Taiyang as he released his focus, the chi of his body settling down. Taiyang entered the room after Wei Meng, and formed a fire in his hand to increase the lighting of the area. Peering down the multiple tunnels, Taiyang wondered just how massive the underground system is. "Seems like this heist has gotten that much more difficult."
Taiyang could only stand still, waiting for direction from the swordsman. He knew nothing of the cave, and with the network on alert, him escaping the city would prove to be more challenging without help of some sort. Taiyang knew that finding the Huolong would never be easy, but so far, this has proved to become the most challenging battle yet.
A sudden jolt. Wei Meng grabbed Taiyang's arm and pulled him away from the approaching boulder which smashed against the earth. "It's a trap."
Battle Under the Earth
"Humph, you still have that sharpness, you always were impossible to sneak up on." A voice boomed from behind. Suddenly, earthbenders emerged from beneath the two partners in a circular formation; completely surrounding both and in battle stance. "I never thought Du-Ya would betray us."
"Shen Yuan," Wei Meng smirked. "I was wondering if I'd see you here."
"Of course. You think your little stint yesterday at the most popular tea shop in Ba Sing Se went unheard. You're more foolish than I thought. I guess it's true, you're nothing without the boss." Shen Yuan, who had stood atop a tunnel's entrance two stories up, leapt to the ground and approached the circle. Behind him were two firebender officers.
"Ha! I was nothing even before the boss!" He snapped back joyously. "That's why I'm stronger than you. The leaf which departs from the branch travels farthest."
Taiyang glanced at the firebenders, two former Huolong members, and frowned at one. "Longwei, long way away from the Fire Nation. If you are here, I assume Captain Guozhi is here, you always followed him like a polar dog puppy."
"Silence yourself Taiyang and learn some respect, you would have been nothing had it not been for us." Longwei said. The Hulong officer turned to his earthbending allies. "Be careful, that one has many abil-" said the officer before he was cut off.
"You know, a fire is very difficult to contain." Taiyang remarked as he breathed in and focused. Chi from his stomach seperated and slammed together. As words would not be fast enough, the two Huolong officers jumped back as confused earthbenders watched. The beam of lightning hit the ground between two earthbenders. The area burst with electricity and dust, harming them.
"He is a lightning user!" shouted the other guard as they began to move again.
Wei Meng drew his signature blades and took a different stance; with his yin blade pointing downwards and his yang blade still at a retreated distance. Emerald eyes dancing from opponent to opponent. Surrounded by enemies in every direction, he stood prepared for an immediate reaction; each opponent and their respected positioning in this overwhelming formation was accounted for, especially those who stood behind him. "A rock surrounded by the ocean, refuses to corrode. Stands unmoving against the currents of time. Should the ocean grow in size, the rock will remain strong beneath the surface."
The first challenger sent his right foot outwards in a firm stance and circled his arm with ferocity, stopping after two revolutions and an upward palm. The earth followed his command and transformed into a raging path of spikes which Wei Meng narrowly evaded with a stride to the side. But they kept the swordsman from breathing as he was immediately faced with a boulder soaring towards his chest. "Shit!" He grunted, only leaning to the side as the rock grazed him.
"Poor, Du Ya. Useless with swords, and an even more pathetic earthbender. I still can't see why boss-man wanted you so much." Shen Yuan mocked. Wei Meng danced across the earth, ducking and tumbling in order to avoid soaring rocks and rising spikes. He maneuvered elegantly and freely without wasting a single step. Masterfully displaying the manueverability of a swordsman who lived without a connection. But what appeared random actually held an ulterior motive.
"This is why!" He roared. The dual swordsman laughed while lunging towards an earthbender who stood east of him. And when his infamous yang blade neared his enemy's throat, Wei Meng could only gloat mentally. The first one to fall by my sword- But the earth shook violently. Suddenly an earthen column erupted beneath his stomach. "Gah!" Stone colliding against flesh; he grimaced at the intense pain waving outwards while flying backwards. Yet Wei Meng stood up without a second thought and darted towards a western opponent, leaping into the air before striking downwards. Unfortunately a soaring boulder slammed against his arm, sending Wei Meng back onto the earth where he slid a few feet.
They're not letting me get close. Another one saves them every time I get into striking distance; they're waiting until I create an opening-I can't land an attack like this. Wei Meng contemplated. He twisted his body downwards to avoid an earthen spear and attempted to approach another bender; only for an earthen wall to suddenly erupt and halt his movement before crumbling. Revealing a stone fist which collided against his chest.
"That is the power of companionship, fealty and loyalty. Something the mighty Du Ya was too good for. He, who worked alone and was above all else, is now having trouble against the very people who he rejected. Fool."
"Ha!" Wei Meng took a deep breath and spat out blood. "I don't need anyone. Never have, never will; because the grave is only large enough for one person." He returned to a firm stance and smirked towards Shen Yuan. "And besides, the necessity for a group to take down one person means that that one person far surpasses the group."
"Kill him." Shen Yuan growled. "And we'll pluck his feathers afterwards."
Taiyang dodged and weaved through the fires of the two Huolong members. Two earthbenders joined them in their assault on the lone firebender, but most of the earthbenders seemed to focus on Wei Meng. Taiyang smirked at this, thinking himself to be lucky. As he moved to avoid another fireball however, an earthbender twisted the ground beneath him to throw off his footing. Taiyang fell towards the fire. Feeling the heat of the flames, Taiyang quickly split it in half with his own firebenders.
"We have to work together. Unlike the swordsman over there you keep calling pathetic, Taiyang was raised to be a monster. He took down many Huolong on his own." Longwei shouted to the earthbenders assisting him and the other. "How is it best to defeat him?" asked one of the earthbenders as he stood in a combat stance.
"Aim for his forehead, then break his hands. Then I will break his neck." Longwei said menacingly as he jumped toward Taiyang with a pair of fire daggers. Taiyang produced his own and slashed forward, but was hit with a large stone from the earthbenders. Longwei is trying to distract me, thought Taiyang as he stood back up.
Longwei moved in again, producing whips of fire. Taiyang himself ran in with his fire daggers, throwing the older firebender off. As expected by Taiyang, one of the earthbenders reacted. The earthbender stomped on the ground, and a pillar of stone began to rise beneath Taiyang.
Taiyang jumped and used fire to make a jet to propel himself upwards, avoiding the stone. Longwei, running forward and shocked by Taiyang's quick reaction, was hit by the rising stone and knocked down. Opening his eyes and feeling pain all over, Longwei saw above him Taiyang. Taiyang moved his arms in a circular motion. Longwei tried to roll away, but it was too late. Lightning rained down and struck the officer. His body convulsed for a moment, but Longwei was killed by the strike.
Landing on the ground, Taiyang began to move but an earth pillar caught his leg and pulled him down. "You killed on of the boss's new firebenders. He ain't going to be to happy about that." an earthbender said as he raised alarge boulder to crush the firebender. Taiyang reacted by using his lightning to stab through the stone.
Stone, dust, and pebbles rained down from the explosion in every direction. Taiyang smirked, but a stray pebble flew and slammed into on of his temples. Flinching in pain, Taiyang cursed under his breath as he felt disorientated.
"You think you're better than everybody." Shen Yuan roared. Wei Meng was continuously bombarded with boulders and spikes, causing the Honeybadger leader to laugh while watching his former comrade maneuver so desperately for his life. "How many jobs have you taken by yourself? How many times have you looked at us with that shit-eating-grin?!" The Honeybadger earthbenders acted with unison, covering each other to assure they kept the swordsman at a distance and utterly surrounded. "He let a complete stranger rise among the ranks and become his left hand while those of us who are clearly above you could only watch."
"Heh..." Wei Meng smiled. He remembered the first time joining the honeybadgers; and the loneliness he felt even when surrounded by hundreds. The burden they attempted to place on his shoulders fell to pieces. For when people attempted to befriend him, the swordsman would subconsciously derail their efforts. Don't become attached. He'd warn those seeking friendship. The curse of someone who walked a path of solitude. "Sounds like someone had his heart broken. I'm sorry you couldn't fit on the boss's lap."
"You piece of..." Shen Yuan growled. He rapidly approached the heaving warrior before stomping his left foot forward. A stone column collided against Wei Meng's shoulder and sent him soaring back. "You just don't get it do you? But that's okay because I'm going to personally beat the arrogance out of you."
Wei Meng stood up, wiped the sweat and blood from his forehead and smirked towards Shen Yuan. "Come and try it." He darted towards Shen but kept his senses on the surrounding benders who immediately began their firm motions. But the swordsman was prepared for the oncoming boulders and spikes, ducking under the soaring rocks then leaping out of the pathway of the columns. He moved sporadically and without purpose but slowly towards Shen Yuan who also launched his own earthen assaults. The dancing swordsman continued effortlessly avoiding the onslaught. However, one thing remained consistent in the dancing swordsman's steps; no matter the height of the jump or the speed of his tumble, Wei Meng kept Shen Yuan before him. "Perfect!" Wei Meng whispered as he felt a sudden jolt directly behind him.
"Watch it you idiot-" Shen Yuan barked, demolishing an approaching boulder that had missed his target. The resulting smoke obscured the twirling yang blade which pierced into his throat. Wei Meng grasped the handle less than a second later, and quickly withdrew the blade; smiling as the bleeding earthbender writhed on the ground.
"Your mistake was blaming me for your boss's foolish decision. All of you." Wei Meng addressed the remaining earthbenders. "My heart, mind and soul only belongs to myself. There is not a mortal or immortal alive who could change that." But his words failed to truly strike fear into the remaining gang members. No. It was the emptiness, the emerald abyss behind his glasslike eyes that shook their roots. The emotional void that filled his voice as he threatened to claim their souls. They could only watch their comrade's blood drip off the silver sword's tip. "The only thing that matters in this world and the world above is the amount of coin that one can make. And emotions will only serve as restraints!"
"Shut up!" An earthbender roared, attempting to launch another boulder towards Wei Meng. The swordsman only smirked and took a side step before launching his yin blade outwards. He swiped his arm sideways, causing the sword to follow in obedience. Seconds later the aggressive Honeybadger fell to the earth.
"Do you think the boss cares about you? You're just pawns meant to protect his wealth. He takes the majority and gives you enough to get by." Wei Meng retorted as he received the ebony sword.
"Take him out!" They roared, chanting in unison different cheers in hopes of regaining morale. Yet Wei Meng could see the fear and hesitation in each motion; allowing him to predict their movements and respond using fluent strikes. He was in their mind. Their heart. Without a strong leader taking command of the formation, the remaining grunts lost unison. The foundation broke and it became easier to destroy the once proud tower.
"None of you stood a chance against my Nineteen Styles of Jade Maiden Sword." Wei Meng whispered as he was surrounded by corpses.
"E-enjoy your victory...for now...But we died together as brothers...while you'll continue on the path of loneliness. You....monster." The final grunt whispered before collapsing from his wounds.
"Loneliness is lightning striking. Yet loud and bright, it illuminates the night...if only for a minute." Wei Meng recited, attempting to ease the burning sensation within.
"Foolish little Taiyang. Going beyond your limits. You were meant to be a weapon, not a person." The firebender said as the two earthbenders moved forward. The two earthbenders, twins now that Taiyang could look clearly, moved in unison. Taiyang raised his hand to bend fire, but a stone glove clasped on to him.
"Former Dai Li officers? No wonder you get along with them." Taiyang growled as he broked free of his bending, but was caught in the attack of the the earthbenders. A pillar came out and slammed into Taiyang's chest, sending him backwards into the air as a stone column fell and hit him in the stomach. The stone pressed against him, holding him in place as the firebender walked over.
"You could hve been so much more if you had stayed in the group. Redirecting lightning, controlling pure heat, so many other things the master could have taught you. Instead, you betrayed us. Your family, you betrayed us. How does it feel, knowing you are alive only because the group you hate so much made you?" the firebender asked, as he crouched down, gloating to the pinned rebel. From his cloak, the Huolong officer produced a small dagger and placed it to the throat of Taiyang. "They said killing a dragon made you a legendary firebender. How about I kill you, a little monster created to be worse than those winged lizards?"
Taiyang grunted in pain and opened his mouth in response. Fire flooded forth, using the breath of fire to attack. The Huolong officer fell back in pain from the fire, dropping the dagger. Taiyang picked it up and stabbed it into the officer, twisting it. The officer wailed in pain before becoming silent and still. Taiyang pulled the dagger out and threw it at on of the earthbenders he was fighting. The earthbender used a stone glove to catch the dagger and pull it to him.
Taiyang took advantage of this. Without the glove and focus on the dagger, Taiyang ran forth and tripped the earthbender. Generating lightning once more, Taiyang blasted lightning downward, killing the twin. The rock glove fell to the earth, still clutching the dagger.
"No, my brother!" wailed the remaining twin in true pain and agony. He ran forth to tackle Taiyang to the ground, and began to wail on him, punching him in the face and preparred to do it over and over. Taiyang moved his pinned arm up and burn the back of gang member. The earthbender jolted in pain before Taiyang threw him off.
Taiyang punched both arms forward and made streams of fire. The two streams began to intertwine and dance with one another. Taiyang streamed fire from his mouth, making a third stream in the twirling flames. The triple flame struck the fallen earthbender and burned him greatly. "D-damn you, you monster!" the earthbender cursed with his final breath. Taiyang was panting, from adrenaline and the exertation of energy. Rubbing his temple in hopes to regain focus and control, Taiyang turned to Wei Meng.
"Looks like we got those guys, good exercise." Taiyang said to his hired companion. "I guess now we continue as normal? Also, thanks for saving my skin back in the beginning." thanked Taiyang as he looked at the damage done by the battle to the cave.
"It's this way." Wei Meng started towards another tunnel without acknowledging Taiyang's gratitude. He couldn't. After all, they would split ways after this and never see one another again. Why thank someone for doing their job? The fallen firebenders and earthbenders were overwhelmed by silence. The honeybadger's major entrance had just as quickly become a graveyard. "Seeing as this place is so empty, that fire you started earlier turned out to be a bigger diversion than expected. But we have to hurry up before the rest of them return and finish their duties." Wei Meng sighed. "If my gut feeling has any accuracy, there's going to be one more person we have to eliminate...and he's going to be the most difficult to handle."
Wei Meng and Taiyang had entered a new tunnel with whistling winds. The silence and darkness seemed to follow behind the swordsman who held a glowing crystal in his hand. "I'm not sure how many of your friends are still here. Did you count or are you just taking them as you see them?"
"I heard there were only a few of them here. Guozhi is definitely here. He was the one who taught me how to generate lightning, and he is just as quick in using it. If we find the remaining firebenders, I'll tell you which one is Guozhi, taking him out is a high priority." Taiyang said, thinking back to when he was still learning the skill. "Who is this person you are thinking of?"
"Someone whose might far surpasses my own." Wei Meng sighed. The thought of an even stronger firebender teaming up with him of all people; he started to regret helping Taiyang. But neath this regret was a burning sensation. The chance to partake in battle, to eliminate the one man who could easily stand above him. Yes. This regret was only a small light surrounded by excitement and adrenaline; the only speck of humanity that Wei Meng clung too.
"The ledgers are in here." Wei Meng took a sharp left and kicked open a door, revealing a damp room filled with leather bounded books. Dozens of shells filled the room and were ordered by both date and amount. "Cover me while I retrieve the recent additions." He scoured meticulously, grabbing five books labeled with recent dates. But his eyes lowered while looking over the rest of the books; seeing the spirits of those who fell victim to the greed. Their pain and suffering seemingly traversed throughout his body, air thickening as his heart suffocated. "Maybe in another lifetime." He whispered before returning to Taiyang. "Come on."
The Smoking Chimney
Taiyang watched the door as Wei scrambled through the various ledgers, books, and other collections of information. He heard the man talk silently to himself, not able to make out the words, before he was ready to move on. The duo walked out of the room, and as they did a burst of lightning struck the ground near them.
"My little Taiyang. Are you back to learn more about lightning, or is it for some sad reason?" Guozhi asked as he walked forward confidently. The air around the man was brimming with authority and egotism. "Or perhaps you just want to feel its shock.
"Guozhi, it's been a long time. I see you still have your head where the sun don't shine." Taiyang said as he looked down the firebender. Taiyang threw his arm forward quickly and blasted lightning at the man. Guozhi reacted quickly and shot lightning just as quickly and Taiyang, making the lightning bolts collide and burst into an orb of lightning.
"You are fast Taiyang, but not fast enough. Not powerful enough either. Come back to the Hulong, let me teach you further, or you can die. It's too bad little Xiaohui isn't here to see your decision, not that you'll ever find that worthless girl." Guozhi grinned as he mocked the younger firebender.
Taiyang gritted his teeth in anger. "Du Ya, be careful. He fights mostly with lightning and he is fast." Taiyang said as he raised his arms to fight. "The problem is though, he doesn't work well with regular fire!" Taiyang said as he used fire jets to move forward quickly and begin to intiate combat with the rival firebender.
"Neither do I, but you don't see me throwing lightning at people." Wei Meng growled, eyeing the newcomer with a facade of superiority. But the swordsman avoided immediate combat. Prioritizing the ledger's safety, he placed the journals on a nearby stand located a considerable distance away from the combatants.
"God, you firebenders are so loud and annoying." He drew the yin blade and attempted to circle behind Guozhi.
Guozhi raised both of his arms, blasting fire at both Wei and Taiyang. Unlike the lightning, the fire was weak and unimpressive, just as Taiyang had said. Taiyang bended through the fire easily and blasted lightning at Guozhi, who jumped to the left to evade it, be was grazed on the leg. While not hurt deeply, Guozhi's right leg went numb, making him have a harder time moving around with it.
Wei Meng twirled away from the oncoming blast of flames, feeling the intensity against his skin and smiling in excitement. He held onto his ebony blade and darted towards Guozhi while the tempered warrior focused on Taiyang. "When the Monkey King, Unrivaled Beneath Heaven, removed the pillar; a heavenly light foretold the arrival." The swordsman recited, lunging towards the firebender with his sword aimed at his left leg.
The rival firebender struck his elbow down to hit the arm of the swordsman. While he made contact and lessened the attack, the blade still ran over his, giving a fairly sized cut that was decently deep. Guozhi kicked Wei Meng away, with a splash of blood coming out of the leg in the exertation. Guozhi cursed under his breath in pain.
Taiyang ran over to the firebender and punched him in the face, taking advantage of the slowed down firebender, and put his hands behind Guozhi's head to force him down as Taiyang kneed him in the stomach. "Unlike your men and the earthbenders, you decided to confront two powerful warriors alone Guozhi. While your an impressive lightning user, outside of that, you are not very noteworthy!" Taiyang shouted, insulting the officer.
Guozhi growled in anger, "Then let's see how your little friend likes it!" As he said this, Guozhi lashed out with a quickly generated bolt of lightning at Wei Meng.
Wei Meng slid back from the brutish kick, smiling despite the pulsing pain from the previous beating. But the sparking energy had caught his attention. In the past few days, the swordsman has had to avoid lightning seemingly every hour. He was reaching a point where the once beautiful explosion was losing its alluring nature. "Shit." He spat. The approaching blast was one that a master earthbender could easily evade. But his amateur skills and utter lack of devotion lead to this cornered situation. So the swordsman could only use the one thing he possessed mastery over. The tip of the yin sword connected with the electric stream, yet he removed his palm from its handle; ultimately allowing the energy to flow through the sword without physical contact. Yet the power sent the swordsman blasting backwards. "Taiyang, strike!"
Taiyang rolled his arm in a circular formation, and with a quick punch-like motion of the arm, lightning shot forward. Guozhi coudl only turn and see the blot approach before smiling slightly, accepting his fate. The man convulsed violently as he fell to the ground.
"Y-you know Taiyang. I'm proud to die this way. Dying by the very skills I taught you, I can accept this. I can die happy... knowing you grew to become exactly what the Huolong wanted. The perfect killing machine." Guozhi laughed lightly before it stopped. His chest shrunk inwards, and he let out his final breath.
Taiyang stared at the dead body coldly. "The perfect weapon... to take down you and the rest of the Huolong." Taiyang said. He stood up straight, regaining his resolution before picking up the yin blade that of Wei Meng. Taiyang walked over to Wei Meng and offered his arm to help him up. "Nice sword usage, Du Ya."
But the swordsman hesitated to immediately accept his kindness. Instead, Wei Meng stood and started towards the ledgers; only stopping after a few steps. "Thanks..." He whispered. "You're not bad yourself." Extremely rare words uttered by someone who perceived themselves above mankind. Wei Meng approached the ledgers after retrieving his ebony sword, stopping inches away from their leathery binds. "Of course you'd be here."
The Dog Who Blocks the Road
"I've always wondered about that little trick of yours. But I'll have to wait until the next life for answers." Nu Wei teased, emerging from the tunnels distant shadows. The serpentine blade of his massive spear glistened in the crystal's dim light, almost creating a flickering show against the darkened walls. Wei Meng stepped away from the journals and faced the approaching demon. "Finally that loud mouth bastard is dead!" His words were accompanied with a fierce kick to Guozhi's corpse. "I'd've done it myself, except pissing off boss man ain't that wise, right Wei Meng? Or do you prefer Du Ya?"
"Oh, speaking with formalities now?" Wei Meng retorted sarcastically. "Honestly I'd prefer if you took a shower everyday."
"I see you've kept your smartass mouth." Nu Wei laughed. "You filthy dog."
"Aren't we all dogs? The difference is you're blocking our road, which makes you the disobedient canine." Wei Meng unsheathed both the yin and yang swords, grasping their hilt tightly. Sweaty palms. Racing heart. Goosebumps. He hadn't experienced this sensation for ages. But he appeared utterly unscathed in the presence of the Unrivaled legend; whom he believed earned his name from exaggeration. "This idiot is our last roadblock before reaching the escape."
"Escape!?" Nu Wei swung his mighty halberd and struck the earth, commanding stone slabs to crash behind both opponents, creating a widened arena for fair combat. "Today's my lucky day! First the jerk and now the annoying dagger wielding smartass. I'll assure that you'll repent to boss-man before your execution. As for your fiery friend, he'll make a good meal for my wolves!"
"I'll gain his attention. You find somewhere to strike from a distance. But I could use a cloud of fire for some cover." Wei Meng ordered, darting towards his opponent without awaiting for Taiyang's response.
Taiyang did not hesitate and created a large fire cloud as Wei Meng had said. The firebender then used fire jets to move back from the earthbending pair and closer to the newly formed wall. Wei Meng, I'll have to ask about that later. If we get a later. thought Taiyang as he stopped. Staring down the behemoth of a man, Taiyang could only shutter at the thought of being hit by him.
Taiyang cursed silently to himself. In that case. mentally stated Taiyang as he once again preparred to use lightning. Moving his arms in circle-like motions, Taiyang let the electricity build more and more, knowing he would need all the power he could get to help take down the monstrous man before him. Taiyang kept his sharp eyes on Nu Wei. Finally seeing a clear shot to not hit Wei Meng, Taiyang threw his arm forward. A large and powerful burst of lightning flew forward and began to race to Nu Wei.
Wei Meng moved with the fiery blast above him, obscuring his body from the massive spearman. Although something pulled at him to retreat and despite the strength of the desire for self preservation, he darted onwards without wasting a second of thought. Why? He pondered. Why was he throwing himself into harm's way for some flame-throwing brat? But that night kept replaying deep inside his mind's eye. Her... Master Huashan always spoke that humans possessed the ability to connect with their environment. Humans are social creature, he'd say, they are able to communicate without words. Among humans, there exist sensitive spirits who feel these invisible forces known as emotions. Wei Meng's heart, albeit unknowingly, pounded when the firebender thought of her. One could say that the same fuel that ignited Taiyang's flame, propelled the swordsman towards Nu Wei.
"Ha! Such a weak attack!" Nu Wei roared, literally waving away the flames without hinderance while covering his face. However, the dual wielding swordsman had seemingly disappeared. "Ah! Using the elements to obscure yourself?" He whirled the serpent spear and stabbed between the gap formed by his left arm and hip. Wei Meng, who'd leapt behind Nu Wei under the cover of fire, was midway through a lunge before a silver blade soared towards him. The swordsman only had one option; he vaulted out of the spears path, tumbling to the left of Nu Wei. maniacally twirled his spear once more and slammed it towards Wei Meng before he could return to proper stance.
What's taking so long?! Wei Meng thought. He angled the yang blade above his head in a slanted form to redirect the spearhead's trajectory, without resisting, as he kneeled. But the yang blade roared from the colloidal force. The power behind his strikes are too strong.
"Your fabled Nineteen Styles is useless against me!" Nu Wei teased. "But don't think I forgot about your friend." The fearsome spearman removed his right hand from the spear's shaft and lifted it upward towards Taiyang, commanding a massive spike to erupt midway. The lightning caused an explosion of rocks and dust, but failed to actually reach his target.
He's distracted! Wei Meng quickly returned to a standing stance with the yang blade pointed towards his opponent and the yin blade kept inches behind. The yang blade pushed the spear out of line while the swordsman lunged at Nu Wei with the yin blade.
As night turns into day, which turns into night, which turns into day; that is the secret of the twin swords, Heibai Wuchang.
Nu Wei jumped backwards and flicked the serpent spear towards Wei Meng's side, smacking the shaft against the swordsman's hip. The second of pain allowed Nu Wei to grasp his spear with both hands once more.
"That all you got you bastard!" The resulting gasp and grimace was followed by a deep laugh while Wei Meng attempted to remain between the gap of the spearhead and it's master. But Nu Wei managed to retreat enough to reclaim the advantage in distance, where he trusted the spearhead towards Wei Meng. "Nineteen Styles of Jade Maiden Sword: Falling Leaf Swirling Wind!" Rather than immediately react, he awaited until the tip of his spear was inches from contact and followed by hooking the yang blade onto the spearhead. He pushed the spearhead upwards in a crescent formation until it was completely out of the original path, gently grazing past Wei Meng's hip. He kept the spear locked in the position as he attempted another lunge with the yin blade towards Nu Wei. However, he felt Nu Wei release the spear with one hand and grab his approaching wrist.
Taiyang had to focus. Yin and yang, two energies that flowed within all. Always interlocked, dancing together. Taiyang focuses to split them apart, make a rift between them, and a large on at that. To do this he kept the swirling motions up for as long as he could.
The bolt flew behind the distracted behemoth. The burst flew rapidly. The powerful bolt of electrical energy landed behind Nu Wei. Boom! A wave of dust was kicked up but the bolt and spread out, cracking the ground were the beam hit. The cloud had lightning jump from particle to particle, and grew to collide with Nu Wei. While the cloud would not kill the behemoth, it would hopefully be able to topple him for Wei Meng and Taiyang to more easily assualt him.
Taiyang, however, was not completely fine with the blast. Exhaustion made him mess up part of the path of chi. and caused part of the lightning to burst slightly near him. Taiyang flew back into the rock wall. Stones digged into the firebenders back and limbs. Luckily, Taiyang's head avoided the collision. The dazed firebender got up slowly, and pulled a stone out of his left arm. A small stream of blood began to flow out. Breathing heavily, Taiyang began to move as quickly as he could to reposition himself as the dust cloud from the explosion was still in the air.
"What?!" Nu Wei bellowed. The burst sent the humongous spearman sliding back and the dual swordsman soaring, tumbling into a complete stop seconds later.
"You'll need more than that to kill me!" Nu Wei roared at the bloodied firebender. But his attention remained centered on the pipsqueak who caught their boss's eye two years before. He approached Wei Meng who groaned in pain with lowered eyes. "Awe, the little bastard who lacks companionship is injured by his partner. Beautiful. But I can't have you die yet. You still have to face humiliation" He tossed the swordsman into the air by his wrist and connected a deep punch into his stomach.
"Gah!" Wei Meng spat out blood as he slammed against an earthen wall. The unscathed Nu Wei slowly approached the disoriented swordsman and delivered a series of impactful kick to his chest. Only when his eyes shut and his body went limp did Nu Wei stop. The yin and yang blades rested near one another, feet from the still body.
"Good. One idiot down, we can't have such unfavorable odds. Now little firebender; you actually burned me a bit back there." Nu Wei spun his spear with one hand and thrusted the other forward. Commanding earthen spikes to launch towards Taiyang. The spearman immediately dashed towards the firebender with a rather delightful snarl, as he spun his spear and prepared a rather powerful thrust.
Taiyang saw the rising spikes and began to propel himself forward faster with firebending. Seeing his hired partner on the ground, Taiyang moved to get Nu Wei away from Wei Meng to keep him out of the cross fire. Taiyang had to keep his friend, no, hired help safe from the rest of the battle.
"Now to deal with you!" Taiyang said as he skid to a stop from across the room of the large earthbender. Producing steams of fire from his hands and mouth, Taiyang made the three streams of fire weave together in a drill of flames, increasing the power and intensity of the fire.
"Pitiful. If this is the best the Fire Nation could do, it's no wonder they needed assistance from a meteor." Nu Wei laughed. The savage spearman stomped against the earth with extreme power, almost forcing the earthen wall to erupt before him through sheer physical might.
He twirled the spear as he approached Taiyang and brought it down towards the firebender with ferociousness. Nu Wei's maniacal roar almost shook the cave as he began to truly enjoy the battle, ignoring the third degree burn marks covering his arms and neck from Taiyang's previous strike. "You better give me a better time than that idiot." His roars obscured the sound of crunching gravel.
As the spear was brought down, Taiyang rolled out of the way from the spear and acted quickly. Forming a dagger of condense fire, Taiyang struck it out against the spear. Not aiming for the metal head, rather, Taiyang attacked the shaft of the spear. The fire, in its condensed state, burned through the shaft, severing the spearhead in the process. Taiyang grabbed the shortened shaft of the spearhead, becoming a makeshift sword, and jumped into the the dust cloud to obscure his location.
But Nu Wei remained deeply rooted to the earth, awaiting for a disturbance to appear within the immediate range. He spun his spear rapidly, using the shaft as a makeshift bō and slammed it into the ground. Energy pulsated outwards though the earth with Nu Wei behaving like the epicenter. The ground soon shattered, cracked and distorted in an attempt to shake Taiyang's effort. "If you think I need a blade to kill you, you're mistaken. This'll only make things more painful for you." Yet he remained prepared to defend, in the smoke he thought he saw two shadows. "Come you firebending brat! I won't fall for your tricks!"
Taiyang's body shook with the earthquake. Losing his footing, Taiyang leaped in the air and used jets of fire to emulate flight. I can only sustain this for so long, thought Taiyang as he hovered over the ground. Taiyang used his fire, not to attack Nu Wei, but to increase the size of the dust field by kicking more up. Letting go of flight to mask his presense, Taiyang began to run in the cloud.
Circling around Nu Wei, Taiyang used a firebending leap to fly forward rapidly and sink the spearhead-sword into the back of the behemoth. Not fatal, mentally cursed Taiyang as he watched the blade sink in. Taiyang decided to take adavantge of the moment however, and flipped from the blade and kick away from the behemoth by slamming his feet into the handle of the makeshift sword to sink back into the cloud that was beginning to fall.
The monster bellowed. But the wound was the equivalent of piercing an elephant with a wooden stick. His roar soon turned into howling laughter. "Is that all you have? You firebenders should stick to throwing fire! Your lack knowledge over the human body is pathetic-"
"How's mine?!" A familiar voice interrupted the frozen spearman, which accompanied an eruption of pain stemming from the silver blade lodged deep into his hip. The blade caused enough damage that one could bleed out if not immediately treated.
"Wei Meng, you bastard! How're you still alive?!"
"Believing such a weak explosion and your pathetic beating would really finish me is insulting." Wei Meng teased, withdrawing the yang sword from Nu Wei's body. The swordsman smiled at the splattering of blood. "And besides, isn't me actually being a diversion thinking too nobly of me?"
"You traitorous filthy dog!" He roared in anger. "Selfish disgusting excuse for a human! Firebender!" The pained spearman boomed. "Do you see this, Firebender!? The one who selfishly threw you in harms way to seek his own end, without sparing a word to his companion. This fate only awaits those who trust the thousand face'd bastard." Nu Wei spun his mighty spear in an attempt to finish the swordsman. "Allow me to purge this evil, then we'll finish our battle firebender."
Taiyang stared at Wei Meng, and then at Nu Wei. "Traitorous... I suppose. But in the end..." Taiyang began, and moved his arm forward "he got the job done." As Taiyang finished this sentence, lightning shot from his fingers. The lightning flew through the air and at the large spearman. The lightning got absorbed into the spearhead, and conducted throughout the spearhead. "Learned that little trick from watching Wei Meng fight Guozhi."
"I'll kill you both! This isn't over you bastards!" The bellows shook the cavern, filling the darkness with anguish and hatred. Wei Meng could feel the overwhelming malicious intent roaming deep in his heart; of course aiming towards the dual wielding swordsman. Fortunately, Nu Wei fell unconscious where he stood.
"Come on, the exit is just right ahead." Wei Meng started towards the earthen wall. "Grab the ledgers, I'll deal with this wall." His left arm pushed outwards while he withdrew the right inwards. He, being an amateur, lacked the finesse of skilled earthen manipulators who would have simply lowered the wall. He could only explode it outwards with extreme force, sending a thunderous boom outwards. Once his companion joined him, Wei Meng darted towards the darkened tunnel.
Taiyang grabbed the ledgers and gave one last look to the fallen Nu Wei and the spear-sword before chasing after the so-called Du Ya. "So, Wei Meng is your real name? Where did Du Ya come from?" questioned Taiyang as he caught up to the earthbender, asking it in a nonchalant way. As the two resurfaced from the cavern, the streets were filled with people, all talking about the nearby fire. "Come on, let's go to the other side of the ring to avoid guards... questioning too much."
But the swordsman refrained from answering the inquiring firebender, only leading him the desired route. "Let's head back to your place."
In the center of Ba Sing Se, there is a palace of grandiose littered with ancient secrets and beautiful artifacts. It served as the antithesis of the impoverished outer circles, completely opposite in every aspect. Here, the people wore uncomfortable clothing, spoke in mannerisms and gossiped about dear friends for an empty grasp of power. At the center of this soulless environment was the Earth King himself; who sat peacefully on a large throne overseeing his realm which stretched well over deserts. Even while the moon illuminated the city, the massive palace bustled; never truly sleeping. Officials wined and dined, playing the invisible game of gaining favors which offered power as a prize. Either way, the palace remained as lively as if the sun itself shined above it. But wherever light touches the earth, there will always be darkness beneath it.
"Master...The Honeybadgers were attacked, whoever did it stole their recent journals." A shadow spoke into a room covered in darkness, illuminated by weakened flames flickering in the distance. They were located in a particular formation, almost anchoring the invisible force above. Before them sat an amorphous figure caressing the ivory hands of a skeleton.
"Perhaps an angered relative? Poor humans and their weak emotions." The figure spoke. A man covered in white hair, his voice resonated at ten different vocal ranges; but shifted rather quickly to a lighter tone.
"Oh, Xia Yun, don't be like that." He teased. "I'd cry if I found out you were taken from us,"
"Zheng Rang, I hope you took care of the experiments." A new voice emerged.
"Worry not." Yet this voice lacked the ominous power the previous speakers possessed. It appeared entirely human; perfectly matching the body obscured by darkness which sat deep in meditation. "We have the Earth King in the palm of our hands. We're untouchable."