They Who Know Ten Billion Things
Men and women were constantly moving throughout the halls of the facility. Although sparsely decorated on the outside, the logos of the Fire Nation both inside and out made it clear who owned the building. Less clear was what it was used for, only that it was connected to government intelligence.
Inside the building, its occupants knew what the building was used for. It was one of the largest intelligence gathering fortresses in the Fire Nation, isolated on a small island so as not to attract excessive attention (a clear advantage of the Fire Nation's island geography). Inside one of the briefing rooms, in front of a television, a well-built man with black hair and fair skin, dressed in a red and black Fire Nation uniform, addressed his charge.
"Leena, the man you captured has been reluctant to talk…for the most part. However, he has mentioned something that has given all of us pause."
"What's that?" Leena asked while adjusting her military uniform, a similar red and black hue to her superior officer's.
"The 'library of ten billion things'. We've had suspicions of a massive Avatar Affairs facility where they're keeping an obscene amount of information, but we've never been able to find it. Our sources say that this installation may be one of the largest sources of intelligence on the entire planet, having detailed files on every single nation and countless citizens."
"Sounds like the old legend of what…The Spirit Library?"
"If this facility truly exists, it would make the Spirit Library look like a elementary classroom bookshelf. Which is why his information on it is so concerting."
"What has he said?"
"That he doesn't know the location, but there are specific facilities which keep the information of its whereabouts on hand."
"So…he's spinning a fairy tale," Leena scoffed. "What's next, he knows where to find a lion turtle aquarium?"
"He identified a facility where the information is being kept, one which is scheduled to have visitors in the next few days."
The television screen turned on, showing a rather nice looking three story building in what appeared to be an Earth Kingdom city, judging by the architecture and people walking by it.
"This is the Earth Kingdom branch of Avatar Affairs, located, of course, in Ba Sing Se. They are hosting the Avatar herself and Emperor Xing for talks about having Avatar Affairs formally backing the Earth Kingdom in the war. "
"My cover to infiltrate, correct?"
"Exactly. You are to go undercover as a member of a mediator group from the Spirit Overseer Authority. Once in the building, find out where the location of that installation is and bring it back here."
"You're already aware of all the other issues, namely that we will disavow any evidence of your existence if captured."
"So when do I leave?"
"Six hours. Your dossier is at your desk."
The chamber in the otherwise open Northern Air Temple was dark, illuminated only by several sets of candles. Inside, three acolytes, only one with the tattoos of a master, all looked on at a figure cloaked in shadow. The acolytes were well aware that this was the otherwise jovial Grandmaster Nam-Ka. If she had summoned them to the Lightless room, as it was called, the matter was urgent.
"Normally I don't do this, but a friend from the Republic City Air Temple has called in a favor."
"Favor?" began the tattooed woman, a teen with short brown hair and light skin, barely visible in the candlelight. "What kind of favor?"
"It concerns a schism within the White Lotus," Nam-Ka answered. "We believe that the answers to many things, including the murder of Grandmaster Jinora, are being held in one place."
"Gran-Gran's murderer?" the second girl asked, another teenager, her brown hair held up in two buns.
"How does he know it about it?" the third acolyte asked, a bald headed teenager, who although younger then the two girls by his side, appeared twice as cocky.
"Because he's been doing research and following up on every lead, every friend that the Air Nation has. This investigation of his has finally borne fruit."
"So who do we kill?"
Nam-Ka's reaction to that was to leap from the chair she was seated on and grab the bald-headed boy by the neck, tossing him to the ground. Despite the wrinkles in her skin, her grip was as forceful as a woman half her age.
"NOT EVEN IN JEST AMIT!"
"Sorry," the man replied. "I was joking, you know that, right?"
"It's not a matter to be joked about. You keep saying you believe yourself ready to earn your tattoos, yet you make light of the things we hold most sacred."
"So then," the oldest girl asked, "what is our mission?"
"Mi Hee, your mission is simple. Infiltrate an Avatar Affairs building in the Ba Sing Se and retrieve the location of this place where the Avatar holds her secrets."
"Are you sure we're up for this?" the second girl asked.
"You are Tashi," Nam-Ka answered. "You three have shown great talent but have something to prove. And in a situation like this, I trust you will deliver."
"Works for me," Amit answered. "When do we leave?"
"Presenting his eminence, Emperor Xing!"
Emerging from the limousine in the center of the motorcade was a man in his late 30's, clad in green and black robes decorated with the emblem of the Earth Kingdom, a green circle with a clear square in the center. By his side were men cloaked in green robes wearing large circular hats, the traditional dress of the Dai Lee. The members of the Dai Lee ensured that there was a considerable distance between Xing and the members of the press.
In front of the lavish looking building was a dark skinned woman appearing to be in her mid-40's, surrounded by her entourage. Her blue and green military uniform was only accented by the cape that flowed behind it. The exchange between the pair was pleasant, although seeped in formality.
"Avatar Korra," the emperor began. "I am so glad to finally see you again after all this time."
"And I you Emperor. We have much to discuss, do we not?"
"Yes, but we should do so inside. I believe a formal banquet was arranged before we may speak in private?"
"The usual. Although my staff handled the catering."
"Lucky for me then. Now I know the food will be good!" the emperor responded with a smile, walking inside the building. The pair and their entourages soon entered into a grand ballroom, designed for accommodating large parties of guests. Foods of every sort, from small vegetables to cut meats were present on the tables in the back as guests mingled.
"So, Emperor, have you thought about my proposal?"
"It is…ambitious to say the least," Xing responded. "However, the situation and the fact that we are vilified among the nations and the United Republic ensures that we won't be getting support from elsewhere. This…however goes far beyond the rebellion, doesn't it?"
"Significantly so," Korra answered. "I understand if you want to take your time thinking about it, but keep in mind that, by your own admittance, your army can't hold Earth Republic territory indefinitely without our help."
"And you arrive just as word comes of the Earth Republic planning a major offensive against Ba Sing Se. Your timing is impeccable as usual."
Men and women both approached the Avatar and the Emperor with various questions, most of which were politely answered with politically correct terms such as "We're looking into the matter", or "Our investigations are ongoing." One particular woman, however, caught Korra's attention, a bespectacled Fire Nation woman in a black bandage dress, holding what appeared to be a metal briefcase. The dress however, wasn't what caught Korra's attention.
"My, you're tall." The woman stood four inches taller than Korra, looking down at many of the people at the party.
"I get that a lot," the woman replied with a chuckle, extending her hand. "Makoto Hino. I'm with the Spirit Overseer Authority. We've been looking at various facilities associated with Avatar Affairs after that…incident in the Fire Nation a few weeks back."
"The attack on Capital City?" Korra asked. "That was so horrible to hear. All those people and spirits, in senseless loss."
"I'm aware. Which is why we've been so active lately. Do you have any statement to make on that?"
"Just that Avatar Affairs does not condone the use of spirits as weapons in any capacity."
The woman smiled, and then excused herself. As Korra returned to mingling with the other guests, she failed to notice the Fire Nation girl mutter "Sure you do" or see her sneak out of the ballroom into the hallway, removing her glasses as she did so. Motioning to a small device on her ear, she pressed a lone button twice.
Then get to work while the party is still going on.
The various skyscrapers and other buildings provided good cover for the trio of Air Benders as they landed on the roof of the building. Their grey and black wingsuits blended into the stone of the building, the trio unnoticed by the guards.
"OK, here's the plan," Mi Hee began. "We make our way to the basement where the computer servers are, find the coordinates of this place they're keeping all their information, and then RUN. We'll sneak aboard a train, which passes over a small canyon on its way to Republic City, and at the canyon, we dive off. A man with a sky bison will be waiting to ferry us back to the Northern Air Temple."
"Easy enough," Amit answered.
"Avoid unnecessary conflict Amit. If you have to knock someone out, put the body somewhere where they won't find it. We need to sneak out before security knows we're here."
Both Amit and Tashi nodded, and then began moving across the building, looking for a way in.
Despite the rather lively party and talks on the main floor, the lower levels were still guarded well enough. In particular, the office of the director (the acting head of the facility when the Avatar and her inner circle were not in) was actually in the basement rather than the top floor. Leena assumed it was for security reasons but paid it no mind.
What she did pay mind to were the trio of guards that constantly patrolled the hallways. Sneaking past them was annoying but doable, although she worried that one of them would look where they weren't supposed. Her heels were neatly placed inside the briefcase she had bought inside, replaced with far more comfortable running shoes designed to be as quiet as possible.
The cubicles themselves that made up the office were empty, presumably because the staff was so focused on the events upstairs. All the easier to sneak around. With that in mind, she soon found herself at the main office, neatly isolated in a corner of the floor, with one guard surrounding it.
The guard was quickly dropped with a powerful blow to the stomach, followed by a knee to the face. Hoisting him over her shoulder, the dress-clad woman went inside the office and tossed the unconscious body in a closet meant for files. With him out of the way, she began to access the computer in the office, looking for something, anything that would point to the location of this repository of knowledge.
"You call that quiet?"
"No one knows we're coming!"
"Only because," Tashi answered even as she threw an unconscious guard inside a coat closet, "you knocked out about six of them!"
"Still not bothering us, right?" Amit replied, throwing the last body inside and shutting the closet. Mi Hee couldn't help but shake her head.
"You're both about as stealthy as a herd of elephant mandrills! Now keep your heads down! We need to find the main office!"
With most of the guards incapacitated and out of sight, the trio continued to move through the empty office space, finally happening upon an office marked "Director". The trio, avoiding the two still conscious guards patrolling the section of the building, walked inside the unlocked office. Unfortunately for them, they found someone waiting for them.
The tall woman quickly raised her hand as if to shoot off a fireball while all three Air Benders assumed fighting stances. The woman's eyes focused on the machine in front of her, waiting for a signal.
"Who the hell are you?" she asked.
"We could ask you the same question," Mi Hee answered. "You're not supposed to be here, are you?"
"Neither are you."
The light on a small item attached to the computer stopped blinking, causing the woman to grab it, place it in her briefcase, and try to head for the door. Unfortunately for her, the trio of Air Benders stood firm.
"I'm going to warn you once. Move."
"Not a chance," Amit replied. "We want the location of where Avatar Affairs is hiding their secrets."
"We have a mutual enemy," the woman responded. "Just let me out, and it's all yours," she continued, even as she moved towards the door.
"And why should we trust you?" Tashi asked.
"You're new to this business kid," the woman answered. "If a guard sees us and our cover is blown, odds are the only way you're leaving Ba Sing Se is in a body bag. This is what us professionals call "an unscheduled inconvenience."
The door creaked open as the three stood there, not moving, but not saying anything either, only for all four of them to come in direct view of a guard. It was then that Amit regretted not knocking this one out too. How was he supposed to know someone else was spying on the building.
The guard panicked and ran for an alarm. The woman shot a fireball at the man but it was too late, the switch pulled and the loud noise of the alarm rang throughout the entire building.
"You idiots!" the woman screamed before opening up both her palms. However, rather than fire, a flash of incredibly bright light emerged, blinding the Air Bender trio. When it cleared, the woman was gone, and the trio were left with a computer and a blaring alarm.
"What do we do?" Tashi asked, clearly worried.
"OK," Amit answered. "Calm down. Mi, check the computer, and write down anything that looks like an important location. Tashi, check the door. Anyone comes this way, send them flying!"
"Already on it," Mi Hee answered, going through the folder the woman left open. "Looks like they're sending a lot of supplies, including military weapons to…no wonder we couldn't find it!"
"This 'Grand Archive' that they're calling it is in the one place no one could survive for long if they didn't know where it was. The South Pole!"
"They built a fortress in the South Pole?!" Tashi asked.
"We'll worry about that later," Mi Hee answered as she finished jotting down some coordinates. "Let's go!"
The party in the ballroom came to a crashing halt as the noise of the alarm blared through the building. Guards quickly began mobilizing, looking for any sign of the intruders. The remaining guards secured Emperor Xing as Korra and Han followed the pursuers.
"Who would be so bold?" Korra asked, running towards where the guards were headed.
"I have no idea Korra," Han answered, "but if they were in our servers, they may have access to our secrets. They may even know of the Grand Archive!"
"We can't let them get away!"
In the violence, the group noticed not one, but two groups of people attempting to escape. The first, what appeared to be a trio of Air Benders, ran off the roof of the building, using wing suits to soar into the sky. The second, what appeared to be the tall woman from the Spirit Overseers, ran into a car and headed for the train station."
"They're headed for the train station!" Han yelled into a small device in his ear. "After them!"
The groups quickly entered into vehicles in pursuit towards the train station, but when they arrived, they saw the worst possible sight. Two trains were seen leaving, one with the trio of Air Benders on top of it, the other with the woman on the side, calmly walking inside without a care in the world.
"I'll go after the Air Benders! Have security follow that other train!" Han yelled, only to see Korra boarding the train and opening the door."
"We made it!" Tashi shouted aloud.
"Yeah, barely," Mi Hee answered, although her tone was also filled with relief rather than sarcasm. The trio were content to lie down as the train began to cross an overpass when a lone figure from the station leapt on it. His uniform and cape identified him as a high ranking member of Avatar Affairs, while his face appeared blank, focused single-mindedly on the task at hand. Most concerting was that he had no difficulty balancing himself on the train.
"Uh, guys?" Tashi exclaimed. Amit was already ahead of the pair, charging the man.
"I've got this one!"
The man offered a snide grin before leaping backwards in a somersault. It was only by the thinnest of margins that Amit heard Mi Hee's warning and moved out of the way, watching a blade of wind go past him and slice the roof of the train. Undeterred, the man leapt into the air and came down with his hands in the shape of claws, slashing at Amit's arms, causing him to howl in pain.
"Wind Razor?" Tashi asked.
"No," Mi Hee answered. "This is…different. He's moving like a leaf, but is striking with blades from every angle."
"Wind Razor you say?" the man answered, laughing. "My name is Han, and I know Wind Razor better than anyone!"
"What makes you say that?" taunted Tashi, as she moved forward to attack. "This isn't our first time fighting Wind Razor students." Han's response was to effortlessly block her blows and send her tumbling to the ground with a powerful arm throw.
"You fool! I INVENTED WIND RAZOR!"
"The version of Wind Razor you've seen in schools, Air Bender, is a watered down form of the art made for civilians. When that idiot Yuza…"
"Yeah, yeah yeah!" Amit answered, attempting to tackle the caped man. Han, however, leapt out of the way and threw a roundhouse kick, a blade of wind emanating from it. Amit dodged but tripped and fell onto the floor, where Han was waiting.
The voice was that of Tashi, who charged ferociously with fists, feet, and gusts of wind. However, Han avoided her strikes and slashed at her chest, causing her to fall back, bleeding.
"I'm OK," she declared, wincing in pain. "How close are we to the jump point?"
Looking over the side of the train, they saw a bridge approaching a ravine, which led directly to Republic City. The trio looked on at their opponent, walking them down before Mi Hee stood up.
"You two go," Mi Hee announced, leaving Amit with a small piece of paper. "I'll handle this."
"No, you can't!" Amit shouted.
"I am the team leader," Mi Hee answered coldly. "And that means you follow my orders! Now go!" Amit said nothing, but nodded. All the lectures Nam-Ka made about how sacred life was resonated far more deeply than they ever could have prior.
With nothing else to say, Amit and Tashi ran for the side of the train, leaping off as their wingsuits slowed their descent. Han was prepared to cut them and their suits to ribbons when Mi Hee pushed the caped man back with a powerful gust, followed by a flurry of kicks. Han countered by leaping into the air and diving towards Mi hands first, clawing right at her eyes.
Mi Hee fell to the ground in agony; hands in front of her eyelids as blood began to trickle out of them. Barely able to see, she struggled to keep sight of her opponent while her vision continued to fade.
"Are you going to kill me?" she asked. Han laughed.
"No, of course not. I'm going to find out who hired you. Then," he continued, grabbing her by the chin, "I'm going to make you listen as I snuff each one of them out, one by one. And maybe then, and only then, will I offer you death."
"I'd rather have it now," she answered, putting her palm towards his chest. One final gust of wind pushed Han back and sent Mi Hee over the side of the train, falling. Not wanting to take any chances, Han sent out one last razor wind at the falling form.
"You fought as a warrior, child. It's only right you die as one."
Sitting down in a passenger seat, Leena had thought that she eluded capture, what with the sheer racket the other three created in the office. Sighing, she was prepared to order a diet soda pop and call it a day when the noise of a woman screaming was heard.
"I'm the Avatar! There's a thief on board this train, and she must be apprehended!"
Great, she thought. As much as Leena wanted to fight Korra herself, the train was no place in which to do it. Even if she could defeat the fake Avatar, there was no accounting for what the civilians would do if they saw a woman attacking the Avatar. Making Korra pay for her crimes would have to wait for another day. Slowly, so as not to attract attention, she began moving towards the exit, telling a steward she was going to the snack cart. Looking outside the windows, she saw a tunnel approaching. Perfect.
Finally, she reached the exit, only for a loud, authoritarian voice to stop her.
"Hold it right there!"
She had to time this perfectly. Too soon and she'd be caught, too late and she'd never get a chance to pull it off.
"You…you're that woman from earlier. Makoto was it?"
Turning around, Leena made her move, shining a bright flash of light in Korra's face. When she could see again, Leena was gone.
"W…where did she go?"
As the train sped away from the tunnel, Leena hung by the edge, walking towards a service exit. Smiling, she clicked her earpiece.
"This is H1. Package is secured."
Good work. Stand by for pickup.
Walking out the door, she wondered if the information she stole would be worth it. Odds are if the facility was where she thought it was, it was going to be requiring recruiting the not-Avatar and his friends again, because there'd be no way the Fire Nation could investigate without causing a major international incident. Still, maybe she could get closer to that cute little Air bender Tong hung out with. What was his name, Shing?
"Shing? Shing! We're here!"
"Sorry," the Air Bender replied, putting his phone away. "I've been speaking with someone."
"Worry about it later," Kushina answered. "We're about to meet this guy." A short blue suit clad man, his graying hair and beard neatly kept amid wrinkled white skin, soon silenced the trio.
"Remember the rules we discussed on the boat. Accept anything given to you. Do not ask for anything unless offered. Do not question him unless given the chance to. And do not interrupt him. At any time. Do and you will be asked to leave. Perhaps not in one piece."
"I understand," Tong replied, nodding as he did so. The trio walked towards a lavish looking, if old manor, the bricks showing their age yet the condition of the area still well kept and luxurious. In front of the manor itself was a fountain of two turtle ducks spitting water into a pool.
"Ah my guests. Welcome. Allow me to introduce myself, and answer your first question. My name is Yudhisthir, the Black Bull Bird. And I am the man who killed Bolin."