The Man Who Killed Bolin
Eighteen hours earlier –
Another day, another port town in the Earth Republic. Tong couldn't help but think that the scenery was all starting to blend together. It was true that he was born in the Earth Republic, but most of his childhood was spent in a far more urban setting. Then of course, he packed up along with his father around the time he was 9 and never looked back. Any sense of nostalgia for the small town atmosphere was non-existent. That was pretty much his formative years to a T, constantly moving, It was only when he was in college that he realized the true reason for his movement: to hide him from the force that ended up being White Lotus. The force that was doing just fine with "Korra" and didn't need another Avatar mucking things up.
It was times like this where he wondered if he would have been forced to keep hiding had his father not been murdered. At the very least, now he had a reason to fight, both for his family, and…for her.
Still, it wasn't all bad. The roads were relatively clean, the buildings moderately sized, people were out and about, and the one teashop had a good selection. It was in that teashop where he and his two friends were waiting, sitting at a table while their alleged contact was supposed to arrive. Kushina was reading over some documents from TT concerning a product delivery and Shing was writing something. All he could see was that it was addressed to senior members of the Air Nation, regarding what, he didn't know. His pondering was interrupted by the appearance of an older man in the teashop, wearing a pristine blue suit. His gray hair and mustache were neatly kept as he sat down at the same table as the trio.
"You are a very fortunate man," the old man began.
"You have been given the honor of being in the presence of the Black Bull Bird, an honor he gives once a year to those with the most…interesting inquiries about him."
"You mean he's done this before?" Tong asked, the attention of the others piqued.
"Yes. My master, the Black Bull Bird, has grown old. In his profession he has found it necessary in his twilight years to…express his concerns."
"You mean confess his sins?" Shing asked.
"No, monk," the old man replied with an indignant huff. "This is different. These are…experiences."
"So why us?" Kushina asked.
"Your story was the most intriguing. A dead father, dead friends, and possibly grander connections. He thought it far more fascinating than the reporters hoping to make a career out of his confession."
"Where do we meet him?" Shing asked.
"My master has an estate off the coast. We can take a ferry out to meet him in the morning. We will leave at 9am, and it will take about an hour and a half to sail out to the island. Please be prompt."
Yes, Inspector. He's dead. People are flooding the office for requests to interview you. They claim jealously and other such things.
Wha…no! He was my brother! Sure we didn't always see eye-to-eye, but that doesn't make me a suspect!
Considering how he and his wife died, no, you're not a suspect. But you apparently are a person of interest.
I wasn't even there! I was working on the Hong case!
I know sir. We have multiple people who corroborate your story. But that won't stop the press from making their own assumptions.
How, how did it happen?"
A piece of metal. In their heads.
I just…I'm not speaking with anyone right now. But I wouldn't. He was my brother!
Looking around as he awoke, Tong shook his head. The dreams were becoming more frequent, ever since his encounter with the spirits. No, not dreams. Memories. But whose?
"Shing? Shing! We're here."
Watching his friend get off the phone, Tong, the old man, Shing, and Kushina all departed from the ferry onto land, the faithful servant of the Black Bull Bird leading the way. Tong began to breathe heavily, knowing what he was taking his friends into. But the alternative was to put them in danger and not get close to this 'Black Bull Bird'. This was the only way he was going to find answers and keep them safe.
"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."
All three looked on at the man, an Earth Kingdom man with dark skin and short head of black hair. His face, free from any sort of facial hair, appeared welcoming despite his confession.
"I admit," Shing mused, looking at the man, "You don't appear that old."
"Tactful. But yes, I am merely eighty-two. Although I'd be lying if I said this job didn't…age me."
All three nodded at the assessment, unsure of just how to take in this seemingly friendly old man. A friendly old man yes, but one who voluntarily and rather abruptly confessed to one of the most notable assassinations of the last hundred years.
"Come inside my estate. We have much to discuss. To do so, we must discuss it from the beginning."
Much like the outside of the estate, Yudhisthir's study was old fashioned, but kept in pristine condition. The walls were made of brick and marble, the floor polished wood with a platypus bear carpet, and the dark brown sofas made of fine leather than showed signs of polish. Almost immediately, the old man offered the foursome tea. Remembering his warnings, Tong, Shing, and Kushina immediately accepted the tea, looking on at their host.
"You probably want to know if I was responsible for killing someone you care about, correct? That or the list of my most famous clients. I will reveal all, but to give my story proper context, we must go back to the beginning." Acknowledging his guests nods, he continued.
"I am actually the second Black Bull Bird. The first was my father, Sheil, a minor noble in the Earth Kingdom…before the spilt. This estate was passed through our family for generations until the Earth Republic demanded reparations from the nobles once the monarchy was dissolved, along with our titles. My mother was frivolous and wasteful, and I was well…a newborn."
"Your mother?" Shing asked.
"If my father's accounts were to be believed, before he divorced her, my mother took the news of her loss of title and demand for reparations…poorly. She began spending my father's money to…"
It was clear, at least from what Tong heard, that this man did not like his mother. He would have interjected had the reminder from his servant not rang through his head like the crack of a whip.
"My father, to save our estate, and our legacy, began to modify the metal bending techniques he had been taught by a second generation student. The propelling of metal across long distances."
"Like a repeater gun?" Kushina asked.
"Similar, except, since it only used metal bending and not gunpowder or other chemicals, made it extremely difficult to trace. Let me demonstrate."
Going to a small case on a table, Yudhisthir produced a metal rod with an opening, with some sort of scope attached to the top, as well as three oval pieces of metal, all with sharp points.
"Tell me, are you all familiar with the game known as pool?"
"I am!" Shing exclaimed with a rather sudden bolt of enthusiasm. "Fun way to pick up extra money during the weekend."
"Good, then you'll understand how I use my weapon is different than a regular Shocker. You see," he began, loading the metal into the rod, "my father designed this system. You load the metal into the barrel, point it at what you want to die, and then using metal bending, propel it towards the target. The barrel accelerates the metal and allows it to reach its target quickly, and silently. Observe."
A small piece of wood, a foot thick, was placed on the table where the rod was taken from. Placing it on top of a specific holder, he stepped back, and aimed his weapon. Faster than anyone could see, the piece of metal discharged, leaving a hole in the wood.
"I'm aware that metal benders use projectiles like this, but this method, invented by my father and further refined by myself, is far more quiet and efficient, necessary when attacking a target at long range. You see, benders cannot create new powers and abilities. We must refine and find new uses for the ones we have. Metal bending itself, is just feeling the impurities in metal, when it isn't coated with chemicals anyway. We refine, and that is how we improve."
Tong nodded, briefly looking at his gauntlet, before turning his attention to his host.
"Now then," Yudhisthir continued, placing the metal rod back in its case, "my father, killed to earn money to save his estate. He succeeded as you can clearly see. He divorced my mother, and then raised me to follow in his footsteps, refining our skills. You see, it was not enough to merely save the estate, without the title to keep the money flowing, my father and by extension myself had to work to provide for ourselves. It just so happens that this was the most lucrative option we had."
The look on Shing's face was one of disgust, while Tong and Kushina both showed surprise, focusing on the old man's words.
"I still remember the first mission I went on alone without him at 25. President Bolin's assassination."
"Who hired you?" Tong asked reflexively, even as his servant shushed him. Yudhisthir however, was not as cruel.
"I will get to that. Don't interrupt me. But I remember," he continued, "putting the metal in his head, and ending his life. I remember the crowd, once roaring in anticipation for his speech, terrified at the man and his wife falling down dead. You know what the sad part is? I voted for him. Then I got the contract to kill him."
After a pause, indicating he would take a question, Kushina asked "You killed the man you voted for?"
"You don't understand how popular Bolin was at that point. He was known as a man of every culture. He starred in movers. He saved the Earth Republic from Kuvira the despot. He had a plan in place to end the years of hostilities between the Kingdom and the Republic. Who wouldn't vote for him?"
"And yet you still killed him," Shing answered.
"To kill a man is, in my line of work, heavy, but necessary. You do not think of the people he knew, the stories he made, or even your personal feelings towards him. He is a target, I am a businessman, and when he is gone, I will move on. This was merely business. I didn't know him personally, I bore Bolin no ill will, I just read the contract, and executed it to the best of my ability."
"How many?" Shing asked. "How many others after him?"
"Ah, that's a better segway," Yudhisthir answered, chuckling. "My father was the consummate professional. Even if he was no longer considered a noble by the Earth Republic government, he still conducted himself in a manner befitting a noble. And I have carried on his tradition."
Standing up again, the old man went to the bookshelf and produced a large black book, old and thick, before placing it on the table between the group and himself.
"This book contains a list of every target my father and I have silenced, along with the original client, the date, the location, and the payment. It was kept for both bookkeeping purposes as well as to ensure that if someone came after me for revenge…I could see I needed to strike pre-emptively. In the cases I didn't, I would let them know and save everyone the hassle."
"And the ones whose families you have killed?"
"That should be obvious. Self-defense."
The trio said nothing as Yudhisthir asked a question of his own. "And now that you know of the book, you want to see it, right?"
Tong nodded. "But you don't plan on giving it away so quickly, do you?" The old man nodded, closing his eyes briefly.
"Observant. For you see, the evidence in this book would not only doom myself, and my son, but also render my father's efforts to keep the estate for naught. You must see why I cannot allow that to happen."
"Which is why you intend to kill us, after we got close. This was all part of one last job, wasn't it?"
"Yes. Lure you with the promise of the truth and then kill you. And yet you and your friends willingly walked into my trap, did you not?"
"Trap?" Kushina asked. "You knew he was going to try to kill us?"
"Come girl," Yudhisthir remarked with a scoff. "You didn't think that I would just let you waltz in here and take my secrets, all the things my family has struggled to keep over generations, because I felt guilty?"
"So it was all lies?"
"No. You see I have done this before. I do feel the weight of hundreds of dead men on my spirit. I do feel the need to tell people lest I go mad. And I did tell you the truth, but that is a truth you will all take to your graves."
"No," Tong answered, standing up. "You won't." To his surprise, his friends didn't stand up with him, instead just staring.
"You didn't tell us about this plan," Shing noted.
"Yeah," Kushina added. "Kind of an important detail, saying you were walking into a trap to get close to your father's alleged killer!"
"Can we discuss this later?" Tong asked. "This is kind of…"
"I have no intention of letting you leave this island alive," Yudhisthir noted. "Which is why I had your tea drugged."
"Drugged?" It made sense now why the servant was so insistent on them accepting any refreshments their host offered. Their host nodded, a smug smile on his lips.
"Slow acting poison. Won't reach the body for 36 hours. But I'm sporting. I'm going to remove you to a part of my estate. All you have to do is make your way back here, and, well…" Taking a flask from the table, he placed it on the desk next to his metal launcher.
"I fully intend to kill you when you're out there. Be glad you're getting even a sporting chance. Men?"
Darts struck Tong, Shing, and Kushina as a group of suit clad men entered the room. None of the three were so much as able to offer any words of protest before collapsing into unconscious heaps. Yudhisthir smiled at them.
"Remove them to the lion preserve. If they don't rip the trio apart, then I'll shoot them myself."
"And you sir?" the lead servant asked.
"They have six hours before they awaken, when it will start to get dark. I will be having lunch, taking a short nap, and then probably watch Grand Line and The Jazzman. If they're not dead by then, I'll kill them myself.
"Of course sir."
Even though Garuiya was home to an Earth Republic base, most of the people on said base did not believe it would be attacked. There was only a moderate military presence, it was far away from the front lines, and it was relatively well shielded by forest and nature, isolated from most cities save shipping roads and an airstrip. So when the siren began wailing, most of the soldiers were confused.
"What's going on?"
"We're under attack by long range bombardment!"
A purple beam slicing through a building answered the two soldiers, atomizing the structure. Gasping, the soldiers went to their radios.
"Long range bombardment resembles spirit vine weapons! Ground teams, scramble and form a defensive line! Metal team, secure the specialty package! Hurry!"
Soldiers and mecha tanks began scrambling to get into position, several of them blown to bits by the mysterious purple energy blasts. In the middle of the firing, a legion of black mecha tanks began approaching the base, blasting apart the Republic's defenses before they could get into place. The Republic pilots were confused, as the black machines and their heads resembling skulls with helmets were unlike any unit they'd seen before. Even their markings were unfamiliar, an odd white and blue symbol on the right shoulder that did not resemble any the Earth Kingdom forces used.
"What the hell are those? They don't look like Duc….AARGH!"
"Fall back! Fall back!"
With the long range bombardment having taken the Earth Republic's forces by surprise, the legions of mecha tanks faced little resistance. Soldiers were blasted to pieces before they could mount an effective counterattack and benders were overrun by both the mysterious energy blasts from afar and the mecha tanks that came in to pick the corpse of the base. When all was said and done, the entire base was ablaze save one building, a warehouse which the mysterious mecha tanks surrounded.
Following the initial assault, large grey eight wheeled vehicles, designed to carry troops, rolled into the base. From one emerged a group of men and women in masks, their leader walking up to the surviving warehouse and opening it, revealing her prize.
"Intelligence was correct. They had a spirit vine cannon." Looking on at the massive black cannon and the spirit vine reactor next to it, she ordered soldiers to move in onto it, loading it onto a nearby flatbed truck.
"Why would they have a spirit vine cannon?" a second masked man asked.
"The Earth Republic planned to use this to spearhead their assault on Ba Sing Se. But as per the Inquisitor's orders, we're going to repurpose it."
"So where to?"
"We're going to head for the ocean, A ship will be waiting, at which point we're going to Curive."
"Curive? Where the Star Flower is being supplied?"
"The Inquisitor has a very…special plan for this weapon," the woman answered, boarding the truck. "Full sterilization. It needs to look like this base was never here. All evidence must point towards the Earth Kingdom."
The man nodded, motioning to the mecha tanks and soldiers that had secured the perimeter. "You heard Number 1! If it didn't leave with us this morning, kill it!"
Groaning as the effects of the sleeping agent wore off, Tong got to his feet, looking around for his friends. The two were unharmed, also awakening, but neither looked very happy.
"You did not think this through, did you?" Shing asked.
"Can we discuss this later?" Tong answered. "If he put us out here, odds are he's back at his mansion getting ready to put holes in our heads."
"No, we need to discuss this now," Shing continued, not even noticing that he still had his staff. Kushina, between listening to the pair, noticed she had both her pistols on her person, meaning that Yudhisthir purposefully didn't disarm them.
"I wanted to keep you safe. If I refused, odds are he'd gone after you anyway and we wouldn't be close."
"And you didn't tell us why?"
"Because I needed us to be believable when I went in, so he didn't suspect I was on to him."
"Lot of good it's done," Kushina added. "How many times is this now?"
"That's what I thought," she answered, her tone clearly annoyed with her companion.
"When…when we get out of here," Tong began, "I promise, you can do whatever you want to me. But for right now, we need to get that antidote."
"And you that book, right?" Shing asked.
"…If he did kill my father, I…I need to know if he did kill Dad."
Before anyone else could object, the sound of growling was heard. From the woods and emerging in the clearing was a lion, huge and powerful, its mane flowing in the light breeze. Behind it emerged two females, all licking their chops at what they perceived to be dinner.
"If you want to apologize," Kushina began, "start with getting rid of them!"