Confessions of a Professional Killer
The Earth Kingdom did everything they could to equate their government with the original Earth Kingdom that ruled the continent for generations. Although the line of "King" was changed to "Emperor" following King Wu abdicating the throne in favor of a new line of succession (or so Emperor Bahn I reasoned when he took power following the initial schism) everything else, including the way the emperor held court with his advisors, was taken directly from the old monarchy. In this style, Emperor Xing I sat in his throne room, with his advisors, the famed Council of Five, seated in front of him. Said advisors were dressed in the green robes of Earth Kingdom royalty which completely covered their bodies, appearing identical save their faces. Unlike the old days, they had the assistance of digital monitors and printed reports to convey their points.
"Well," the Emperor began, "I trust you've all gone over the proposal Avatar Korra gave me this morning. What say you?"
"I believe," one man began, a middle aged man with brown hair and a dark complexion, "that it is the equivalent of surrender. We would no longer be a Kingdom, we'd be a regency."
"And what is the alternative?" another man shot back, his white hair a contrast to his smooth skin. "If Ba Sing Se falls, all of the Earth state will fall under the Republic government, and we'll all be tried and executed!"
"Then the question," Emperor Xing continued, "is if we can hold the line against the Earth Republic's latest offensive without the Avatar's help."
A man with a black beard stood and pointed towards a computer monitor. "As you can see, the Earth Republic has committed a surprising amount of forces to this offensive. Their plan seems to be to cross the Si Wong desert and arrive at our gates, at which point we will be facing a full scale conventional battle."
"And our ability to halt it without help?"
"Well, that's where the problems start. Most of our bomber fleet is being used to hold Republic forces at bay in the areas we've already captured. To repurpose them to defense would not only take time, but make it impossible to hold our gains. Furthermore, we don't have the air superiority to say…launch an offensive against Zaofu with our bomber fleet without suffering catastrophic losses."
"35% attrition rate per mission until we can clear out several Republic air force bases."
"We've been caught with our pants down," the brown haired man began, "this is true, but we can still defend Ba Sing Se against any invading force, and we will."
The room remained silent until one member of the council, silent prior, stood up. "I believe we should take the offer." The other members of the council were stunned.
"We can't win this war without sacrificing more of our men. Even assuming we do turn back the invasion force, the amount of troops we'll need to reposition to do so will mean that we will assuredly lose all of the territory we've gained in Earth Republic borders. It would be an effective resetting of the scale, only both of our armed forces would be substantially depleted."
"And in a case like that, who would recover first?"
"In a case like that, given the amount of trade and their relations with the other nations, the Earth Republic would recover first. We would face a renewed assault before our forces could be significantly replenished."
"And we lack a weapon powerful enough to turn the tables."
"An aide close to Avatar Korra claims that Avatar Affairs is constructing some sort of super-weapon which will win the war."
"Oh yes," one of the generals remarked with a huff. "Somewhere Avatar Korra has Star Dragon 3 ready to fight our enemies."
"Gentlemen, this will not be decided today," the emperor declared flatly. "Thank you for your input. Right now our first priority is to make sure that we defend our borders, and crush the will of the Earth Republic to fight back against us. This state will be united, one way or the other."
Lions. At least three out in the clearing, with more probably hiding in the bushes. Everyone drew their weapons, lest they be mauled. Tong whispered to his friends, preparing to move.
"On 3, we'll create a wind gust to blow them off to the side. If we can get away from this pit, I think I can seal them inside."
"You sure?" Shing asked.
"The alternative is getting eaten. Ready?"
"1, 2, 3!"
The initial gust of wind blew the lions back as the three ran forward. Kushina raised her pistols as she ran, keeping an eye out for any lions following them. The pair began to move into the woods away from the clearing, only to see another lioness charging them from behind.
Kushina wasted no time, firing at the charging beast, dropping it. With the one lioness out of the way, the trio were able to get away from the thicket into a second clearing.
Tong wasted no time. A dome of earth began to rise over the lion clearing and the thicket of woods, sealing in all the animals. After the dome was secured, the trio began looking for any strays. Luckily none came.
"Yeah, for now," Shing answered.
"Guys what?" he replied angrily. "You didn't think to warn us about this trap of yours? Not we've all got poison coursing through our systems and who knows what else on the way to get back to that guy's estate!"
Tong sat down on a stump of earth, looking on at his friends. "What was I supposed to say? 'I have a solid lead, but it's a trap. If I don't go, I'll never get another chance at getting my dad's killer. Would you have gone?"
"I would have," Kushina answered.
Both looked surprised, but Kushina continued her explanation.
"As much as you want to deny it, this is bigger than your daddy issues," she stated rather bluntly. "This is bigger than all of us. Even if you're not the Avatar, this concerns the entire world. And if what we're doing is going to help, then well…we should help."
"I didn't want you to get hurt," Tong replied. "This is my fight, not yours."
"It is our fight, moron!"
Shing's sudden outburst caused Tong to look flustered and embarrassed. He searched for the words to apologize to his friends, to point out that what he did was the correct choice, but the words never came. He only sighed, wallowing in defeat. Both Shing and Kushina looked on at their friend, as Shing offered him a hand to get to his feet.
"You can feel guilty later. Right now, we need to move."
"When we get out of here, do whatever you want to me."
"I'm going to hold you to that," Kushina noted.
As the credits rolled over The Jazzman, Yudhisthir got up from his chair and went up to the balcony on the roof, carrying the case that held his metal launcher. To be more accurate, the balcony was on the third floor, connected to his room by large double doors. It overlooked the entirety of his estate that was the island, and gave him a prime view of everything. Sitting down on a lounge chair, he began looking through a pair of binoculars, searching for his prey. The green of the night vision illuminated the field, giving him a clear view of his estate.
"Now where are you my friends?"
It was easy to notice the dome over what was the clearing for the lions, and from there, trace the trio, walking forward slowly, carefully towards the mansion. Smiling, he stood up and readied the launcher, looking through a scope attached to the top.
"This game will be over quicker than you can imagine."
Had it not been for the faint reflection of light off of the assassin's binoculars like a twinkling star in the dark, it was likely none of them would have seen the final shot coming. Instead, Tong yelled at all three to scatter before pulling a thick war of dirt and rock from the ground. The metal projectile went into three feet of earth and stone, but did not come out.
"We're safe as long as we stay under cover," Tong reasoned. "OK, head for the forest."
Shing was incredulous at the command. "What?"
"You two can't earth bend, and he wants to kill me. The forest will give you plenty of cover. I'll draw him off. We'll meet near the base of his mansion."
"You still don't get it do you?" Shing responded. "We're a team!"
"We're sitting ducks if we stay in a group!" Tong answered. "This way, we draw them off and then regroup and attack with all our force!"
After a brief moment to think it through, both Kushina and Shing agreed. Shing however, was quick to remind Tong of one last detail.
"Just don't get your ass killed before we make it to the mansion!"
"I won't!" Tong shouted before muttering to himself, "Not until I know the truth."
The walls of dirt and stone that began forming around the island not only prevented Yudhisthir from getting a clear shot, it was going to make care of the island damned near impossible without bringing in an entire crew of Earth benders to tame it. With that in mind, he rang a bell, walking back inside his room. Soon, his entire staff of 12 servants stood before him.
"They've escaped into the forest and are uprooting my estate! I need you to go find them, and bring me their heads. The one who does so will get two weeks extra pay for each person he captures!"
All of the servants bowed before going into out into the forest. Smiling, Yudhisthir took a sip from a glass of wine he had left on a desk in his room.
"I need some women on my staff."
The sound of metal firing at them had stopped, so for the moment, Shing and Kushina assumed that they were safe. They weren't about to take any chanced however; readying their weapons in case they were attacked by more wild animals.
"You think we're safe here?" Kushina asked. Shing shook his head, chuckling.
"You're safe. Let's face it, if worse comes to worse, Tong is taking the bolt for you, not for me."
"Shing, is now the best time?"
"It's a good time," Shing answered. "Because I have something I need to do when I'm done with all this. Besides...I can't do what I'm here for anyway."
"What are you talking about?" she asked even as the pair continued to move forward.
"When I agreed to go with Tong to find out who killed his dad, it was at Grandmaster Rohan's request. I wanted to help him, but he wanted me to do something else too."
"OK, and that is?"
"Make Tong realize he's the Avatar."
"This isn't the time to be jealous of…"
"You," Shing answered. "If anyone is going to guide him towards being the Avatar, it's you."
"Me? Why me?"
Shing just shook his head. "It should be obvious, considering the guy's always following you, putting himself in harm's way to save you…"
"He loves me, doesn't he?" Kushina deduced. "He kept saying he wanted to protect me. But he's got a weird way of doing it."
"Even if he doesn't love you that way, which let's face it, he probably does, he still sees you as the only thing worth fighting for and protecting besides revenge. He needs to bring balance to and protect the entire world, and his desire to protect you is going to lead him to that. We're not going to stay mad at him, at least I'm not, but it's going to be you that shows him that stuff like this can't be allowed."
It was clear Kushina was taken aback by Shing's declaration of an outright massive responsibility, not to mention the possibility that her friend and protector/tormentor/idiot loved her romantically and that she inadvertently was the only thing keeping him grounded.
"Can we focus on you know…getting the antidote and staying alive?" Her annoyed tone only accented her issue with the declaration. For his part, Shing understood.
"Sure. Let's keep moving."
With their decision to table how to deal with their friend for another time made, the pair continued to move through the woods towards the mansion. However, they stopped when they heard the sound of footsteps approaching.
From behind several trees, the pair noticed a group of older men, armed with Shocker carbines, combing the forest.
"They're going to try to flush us out," Shing reasoned. "Give the Bull Bird a clear shot at us."
"Let's fix that now then," Kushina answered, raising her pistol, only for Shing to bat it down.
"Ignoring my own personal beliefs," Shing reasoned, "the noise from a Shocker blast will give away our position to everyone, including Yudhisthir. We need to do this quietly."
"OK, then what do you have planned?"
The six men continued to walk through the forest in search of their prey, using flashlights to see their targets. Most were muttering about how they weren't active soldiers while a few were more anxious for the pay bonus they'd receive upon finding their targets.
"You boys looking for me?"
The men turned around to see a black haired woman sticking their tongues out at them as she ran deeper into the woods. All six gave chase as she continued to run.
The men attempted to turn around when they heard the word "Now!" but it was too late. From beneath a pile of leaves and branches, the Air Bender emerged, lifting the six men into the air with a powerful wind gust. However, as soon as the gust appeared, it vanished. All six hit the ground, unconscious, but alive.
"Nice thinking," Kushina remarked as she grabbed a carbine from one of the fallen men, while tossing the remaining servant's weapons deeper into the woods. "But is that all of them?"
"If he had an army, we would notice," Shing answered. "Still, we should keep moving."
The open clearing that was the backyard of Yudhisthir's estate was starting to resemble a jigsaw puzzle. The grass and dirt were all uplifted into rows of thick walls, designed to give anyone approaching cover. It was tiring for sure, but Tong realized it was the only way he would stay safe. Still, with all the walls out of the way, he could rest. He sat down, breathing heavily at his efforts when he heard footsteps. Someone was coming into his trench. He did the only thing he could. He sunk into the wall of dirt, using Earth bending to create an opening.
The six men came through the trench in a two by three formation, two men in front, two in the middle, two in the back. Despite their adherence to tactics, they failed to notice the man hiding in the dirt walls. So when he emerged and blew them into the walls, knocking them all unconscious, they never had the chance to fight back.
With them out of the way, Tong breathed deeply, figuring that he had five minutes to recover. Luckily for him, one of the soldiers just happened to have a canteen of water on them. He had no idea how long they expected to be out here, considering they were still dressed in their servant uniforms.
With his brief respite finished, Tong began moving forward, heading towards the base of the estate. Shing and Kushina were also there, although neither made a move, hiding behind a pillar of earth.
"We're dead if we show our faces," Tong noted. "And the patio being uprooted will give away our position."
"Do we shoot him?" Kushina asked.
"Odds are good he'd hit us before we hit him as soon as we got clear for a shot. We need to take him out before he can fire."
"You have a plan?"
"He's on the third floor, on that balcony," Tong answered. "I have to clear this trench and get up to him. I have an idea, but we're only going to get one shot at it."
The trade of an assassin had given Yudhisthir patience. Waiting for a target, drawing them out, and finishing them off was long and arduous, but it always resulted in him finding his mark. This would be no different. All he had to do was wait for his enemies to emerge and they would be dead before they could take aim.
That was when he saw it.
A tornado, covered in fire. Literally, the flames spun with the winds as it approached the manor. It was nearly the size of the manor, capable of ripping it apart in a furious blaze.
"Those fools!" he shouted aloud. "I have my shot! Wasting no time, he raised his weapon, only to see that his opponents weren't on the ground sending the tornado at him.
One was inside it. It made sense why they had to get this close. But still, they would destroy the entire building, at least until it vanished as quickly as it appeared.
From the flames emerged Tong, raising his fist, leaping towards his opponent. Yudhisthir never had time to aim his weapon before a hard punch knocked him down, disarming him and causing him to collide with the door. Both the sound of glass shattering and an audible cracking noise were heard.
Breathing heavily, Tong retrieved the antidote, and drank a third of it. The others soon joined him, running up the stairs where they were given their portion of the antidote. The trio stared at the old man, who sighed heavily.
"My reflexes clearly aren't what they once were," he moaned even as his jaw ached from the punch. As he continued to sigh, he took his bruised body and heaved himself onto the lounge chair on the patio, closing his eyes. "But I lost fairly. So, go ahead. Do it."
"It?" Tong asked confused.
"Kill me of course," he answered non-chalantly as if a child had just asked what color the sky was. "You are the victor today. Therefore, you may kill me. Send me off as a warrior should. Although if I may make a request, do it quickly. Something like beheading or a Shocker bolt in my brain. Nothing arduous please." Chuckling, he added, "I am old."
Tong didn't answer, instead going through the book, looking for the name of his father. To his surprise, the name wasn't there."
"My dad…isn't here."
"Then," Yudhisthir replied, chuckling darkly, "I am not the one you seek."
"I told you," the old man continued, "I track every one of my kills. If he is not there, then I did not kill him."
"Let me see that!" Shing yelled, audibly annoyed with both the day's events and the Black Bull Bird's tone. Sure enough, Dr. Mao's name wasn't there. But what was there was a familiar name from 20 years prior, which he would have passed over had he not recognized it immediately."
"Jinora?" Kushina asked confused.
"My great aunt. She…died before I was born. She was the oldest of Rohan's brothers and sisters. Wait a second…"
Looking through the list, another familiar name emerged. "Meelo. You…killed him too?"
"Ancient history," Yudhisthir replied. "But that means if I didn't wrong him," he said, weakly pointing to Tong, "then I wronged you. So it falls to you to kill me."
As furious as he was, Shing lowered his hands, instead picking up the battered old man by his shirt. "No. You're going to answer for your crimes. I won't kill you." The old man's response was to spit in his face.
"COWARD! I ARRANGED THIS GAME FOR FIVE YEARS, AND I FINALLY FIND A MAN WHO BEATS ME IN A FAIR DUEL! KILL ME AND END IT!"
This only caused the trio to smile.
"Now I definitely won't kill you," Tong replied.
"Because this hurts you a lot more."
It was nearly midnight when the pair had finally gotten back to the town they left. The Black Bull Bird was tossed in jail with the book of his kills as irrefutable proof of his crimes. The media circus that was sure to follow in the morning was not one the trio wanted to be a part of, so after tearing out the pages that showed Bolin's murder and the murder of several other Earth Republic officials, the trio went on their way back to the inn. Once there, Tong did the obvious.
"I can't apologize enough for what I've done," he lamented. "I dunno…was it all for nothing?"
"As much as I hate to admit it," Shing answered, holding the book in his hands, "You found something that I need the answers to. But don't you dare do anything like this again without telling us, you understand? Next time, I'm leaving."
Tong nodded, bowing in regret. With Shing having accepted his apology, he turned to Kushina.
Tong fell over, holding his groin in pain as he reeled from the kick Kushina delivered. His eyes immediately teared up as he reeled from the blow to his privates.
"That's for sending me into someone's deathtrap…AGAIN!" she answered, rather annoyed. As Tong lay on the ground, seething in pain, she kneeled to him, and kissed him briefly on his forehead.
"And that's for keeping me safe like you promised, you big dummy. But I'm with Shing, lie like that again and when you get up, I'm gone."
Tong nodded as Kushina went off to her room, Shing looking on.
"So, how do you feel?"
Breathing deeply, Tong only muttered, "Conflicted." His friend nodded, taking his leave, but troubled by the book he held. It seemed every time they were closer to answers, they just kept finding more questions. How deep did the badger mole hole go?
The media circus that was going to come in the morning was too much for Yudhisthir to bear. This was how the Black Bull Bird ended his career? His items repossessed, his kills revealed to all? He looked outside the cell, unable to sleep, when suddenly he saw the guard fall unconscious. Inside the cell walked a masked man, who sat besides him.
The old man's eyes practically lit up. "…Son, you came."
The masked man nodded, removing his mask to reveal a black haired Earth Republic man with light skin and brown eyes. "I had to come. You don't deserve to be paraded before a court."
"I'm sorry that I couldn't finish the contract you helped me to get. Time has…caught up with me it would seem." His son offered a smile and shake of his head.
"You aren't at fault here. You did what you could. They were the ones that tried to humiliate you."
"You will carry the legacy of the Black Bull Bird well my son."
"I will. And I promise, my employer and I, we'll make the world a better place, like you always said we were doing. I'm going to find the people who threw you in here and make them pay for their disrespect with their lives. And when the time comes…I promise that my son will carry our mantle as well."
"Could you do me one favor?" the old man asked.
"Of course, Dad."
"Make it quick."
Closing his eyes, Yudhisthir laid back in the cot in his cell. "I love you son."
Replacing his mask and standing up, the man drew a short rod and loaded a metal projectile into it, pointing it at his father's forehead. "I love you too Dad."