Night of the Dark Spirits
Men, women and children were all huddled inside the basement of the building for protection even as the battle continued to rage outside. Soldiers acted as security, organizing new groups that entered the makeshift shelter, handing out water bottles and food to those who needed them, and in general maintaining order. Luckily, there were no obvious signs of danger among the people, who were content to try and sit on chairs and relax, or speak with friends and family. Most were just thankful to be alive. A few however, were clearly more distressed than others.
"Dark spirits are indestructible!" a middle aged man with frazzled hair shouted towards a young child, only 8 years old, even as her two parents stared at him. "You get it little girl? We're all going to die!"
"Can you do that somewhere…"
"SHUT UP YOU IGNORANT COW!" the man yelled at the child's mother, even as the others in the basement looked on at the scene. "This is our punishment for disrespecting the spirits! They can't be stopped and now we're all hobbled like cattle waiting for the slaughter!"
"That's quite enough," a older man replied from behind the panicked heckler. "The spirits CAN be stopped. Decisively."
"What makes you so sure?" he said, turning around to face the person interrupting him.
"Because I killed two of them to make it here. They're not indestructible, and I'm sure that the Fire Nation military has the issue well in hand. So instead of panicking like a petulant child and scaring everyone else, go do something useful, like lying down for a few hours until this passes."
"We can't oppose the OWWWW!"
The man soon found himself in an incredibly painful armlock, even as the soldiers moved in towards the scene.
"Spirits are not omnipotent. I think the battle outside is proving that quite decisively."
"Is everything alright?"
The man let the panicked heckler go as he stood up and looked at the two guards. "Just fine, officers."
"Then don't start fights. And you," one soldier added, staring at the heckler, "keep your mouth shut if all you're going to do is try to scare people."
Maeda sighed, sitting down and breathing deeply. He could only hope his two new friends were able to diffuse the situation before more people got hurt.
The screens all showed the same scene being replayed throughout all of capital city. Fierce fighting, losses on both sides, but the Fire Nation forces rallying and routing the enemy spirits, forcing their remaining numbers to retreat deeper and deeper into the city. Even as cheering and increased optimism filled the command bunker, the Firelord stood firm.
"You've noticed it too, haven't you Firelord?" asked an officer to the middle aged woman looking on at the information in front of her with powerful intent.
"You mean that the big spirit hasn't attacked the palace yet because of that one human, or that the spirits simply sent too small a force to take the city?"
"Both Madame Firelord," the advisor replied. "The enemy is retreating into the city and our forces are in pursuit. We are unsure if they are attempting to flee the island or regroup for a counterattack. In either event, the force sent was too small to take the island, despite the damage they inflicted."
"Then we should make them pay for that mistake, and keep them from doing it again, shouldn't we?"
"I believe a conservative approach is in order Firelord Kaede."
The Firelord nodded. "Agreed. Secure the civilian shelters but don't let them out until we have confirmed the invaders are off the island. In the interim, have our helicopters pursue the enemy while concentrating our forces around the palace. This isn't over, not just yet."
"You remember, don't you?" Tong asked. "The angry spirit that chose to attack humans…"
"BECAUSE THEY BROKE THEIR PROMISE…"
Looking up at the giant armored spirit, Tong sighed. He knew that cannons and helicopters were ready to annihilate this spirit if he got any closer. But too many; both human and spirit, died today. It had to end now.
"And was defeated by the Avatar. You swore that you would never raise your sword against humans again."
"I DID NOT CHOOSE TO LEAD SPIRITS INTO BATTLE. IT WAS HUMANS THAT CAPTURED ME, TORTURED ME, AND DEMANDED THIS. IF HUMANS DESIRE WAR, THEN I WILL WAGE IT UPON THEM ALL."
"And then everyone suffers for it," Tong answered. "Can we discuss this reasonably?"
"REASONABLE?!" the furious spirit asked as he raised his sword. "HUMANS MUST DIE!"
In a burst of pure anger, Tong shouted "INNOCENTS WILL NOT DIE!" as a massive pillar of stone emerged from the streets, striking the general in the chest. He staggered, but did not fall.
"He's insane," a man began in the bunker, looking on at what appeared to be a lone Earth bender challenging the massive spirit.
"He's trying to stop that thing," an officer answered. "If he does, lovely. If he doesn't, well, we were planning to annihilate that thing anyway. Let's see how this plays out. Last thing we want to do is interrupt him if it is working and ruin everything."
"The one thing you haven't mentioned yet," one of the masked men began, "is how you plan to incapacitate a ship the size of a small village."
"That's easy enough," one man replied, the black stripes on his red uniform distinguishing him from the rest of the group. "The same way that we turned Capital City into a warzone."
Groups of men waited on the deck of the carrier they had just boarded, with some approaching air ducts, but all out of sight of the crew by the launch deck. With little care, they presented silver boxes into the ducts, pressing buttons on each.
"Dark spirits will enter the ducts and attack humans on sight. In the midst of that chaos, we seize the bridge. Once there, we can control it via this," he continued, pointing towards a silver and black machine with numerous ports for cables and other hookups on it.
"A computer link. It will hook up the systems to an offshore computer that will control most of the systems, reliving us of handling most of the work. Now, while our friends are distracted, let's head for the bridge."
"What about the spirits?"
"That's the best part. When they're done with the crew; they'll turn and rip each other apart. It's garbage that disposes of itself!"
The men began heading for the main control room on the bridge, all except one masked soldier who headed in the opposite direction. Luckily for her, no one saw the woman head for the lower deck in search of a communication panel, or saw her remove her mask, revealing a black haired woman of average height heading through the halls of the carrier. As she ran looking for some way to warn the city of how they've been tricked, the sounds of fire bending, lightning bending, and Shocker fire could be heard, mixed in with the screams of men and women. Kushina had to hurry.
Several minutes later, she found a lone console from which to signal the mainland. All she had to do was send out a message to the city, to let them know that they've been tricked. And she would have done so immediately, had the inhuman roar of dark spirits not echoed through the hallway. It was guarded.
Looking ahead, she saw the creatures, merciless, and angry, approaching. Fear gripped her, a fear of the realization of exactly what she was doing. She ran for cover. Clutching the small automatic Shocker that was left on the boat, she ran through the halls. Hoping to escape her pursuers, or at the very least, think clearly about the sheer gravity of the situation she had placed herself in.
"I want to negotiate," Tong continued even as the giant form of Old Iron looked down upon him. "I want to help free the spirits of whatever is forcing you to attack humans."
"IF THE SPIRITS DO NOT ATTACK HUMANS, THEY WILL TEAR EACH OTHER APART," Old Iron began. "ALL I CAN DO IS DIRECT THEM, NOT STOP THEM."
"Then what can I do to free them?" Tong asked. The spirit was dismissive of his overtures.
"WHY SHOULD I TRUST YOU?"
"Because," he answered, "As it stands your forces are being routed by the humans you hate so much. You can feel it, can't you?"
"WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE ME DO? I WILL NOT LET HUMANS DESTROY MY KIN OR USE THEM AS TOOLS."
"I want to negotiate. How about we go somewhere where we can?" After a few moments of silence, Old Iron responded.
"VERY WELL HUMAN."
"The invaders have been pushed by the northwest portion of the city. Our forces are in pursuit, but they have not attacked." The monitors in the bunker, before showing dozens of smaller battles waged across the city, now focused on two things, the spirits waiting for…something, and the massive armored spirit speaking with the civilian. That was until that spirit vanished.
"Vanished?" a commander asked.
"Yeah, look! There's nothing left but empty makeshift armor! And the civilian is unconscious!" Sure enough, the Earth bender was lying on the ground in front of a pile of metal hastily shaped into the form of armor.
"Get someone out there to retrieve that man! I need to know what's going on!"
"Where are we?"
"THE SPIRIT WORLD."
As he looked around, Tong realized he was correct. General Old Iron appeared, not in the makeshift armor from destroyed vehicles and buildings, but in what was likely his original armor, standing in front of a beautiful waterfall by a large lake, with meadows surrounding the side they were on. Despite the scenic beauty of the location, he remained uneasy.
"I don't really think I should be…"
"WE WILL SPEAK HERE," the spirit responded, "OR NOT AT ALL. I WILL KEEP THE SPIRITS FROM ATTACKING YOUR HUMANS AS LONG AS I CAN, BUT LEAVE AND I WILL LET THEM TEAR THEM APART, YOUNG AND OLD." Emphasizing his point, Old Iron placed his sword in the ground, staring at Tong.
So far there was no sign of…him. Maybe he could do this.
"What corruption plagues your spirits? Why do this?"
"I HAD BEEN CONTENT TO REST HERE," Old Iron began, "AFTER THE AVATAR CALLED AANG HAD VANQUISHED ME. TO REST IN PEACE AWAY FROM HUMANS. UNTIL THAT FATEFUL DAY."
Images began to form inside the waterfall, as if the spirit was projecting his memories. They were machines, tying someone up. Men performing strange rituals. It was then he realized who did this.
"FREE MY KIN OF THE CORRUPTION THAT HUMANS HAVE PUT INTO THEM,"
"Those humans are my enemy as well," Tong answered, "the same way not all humans seek war with spirits."
"CAN YOU FREE THEM OF THE CORRUPTION? DO NOT TEST MY PATiENCE."
"Not alone," Tong confessed, "but I believe I can do it with help. I can speak with sprits. I have never been taught how to purify them."
"THEN WHAT USE ARE YOU TO ME?" Old Iron bellowed. Before he could grab his sword, Tong continued.
"There are people on that island who can! It's a taught skill, and I may not know it, but I can organize those who do!"
As Old Iron thought his proposal over, another voice echoed. "I THOUGHT I TOLD YOU NEVER TO RETURN HERE!"
In front of Tong stood the being who hated him so. He appeared the same as ever, a shadowy silhouette that radiated pure menace, the outline of his armor clear. Tong knew this was inevitable as he raised his hands. "I'm trying to help…"
"YOU WILL DIE!"
"NO HE WILL NOT!"
The being found himself struck not by Tong, but by Old Iron's sword, who lifted it as he stood in front of the human he was speaking with.
"I CARE NOT FOR YOUR QUARREL WITH THIS HUMAN. HE IS THE ONLY CHANCE I HAVE OF SAVING OTHER SPIRITS FROM THE CORRUPTION WHICH PLAGUES THEM."
"HE IS PART OF A LINE THAT..."
"HE IS WILLING TO HELP ME, FOOL," Old Iron retorted. "LEAVE THIS PLACE, NOW! OR FACE MY SWORD!"
The being paid no mind to Old Iron's warnings, as he charged towards Tong. The Earth Republic man answered in kind, as both struck each other with punches at the same time. Before they could resume their battle, the sword of Old Iron struck, sending the being flying.
"I WILL NOT WARN YOU AGAIN. LEAVE NOW!"
"I AM THE HARBINGER OF TRUTH. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE…AVAT…"
"Don't," was all Tong said before the being faded away into nothingness, presumably to strike another day. But his tormentor, he could be hurt. He can be stopped.
"LET US MAKE HASTE," Old Iron interrupted. "WE HAVE LITTLE TIME. FREE MY KIN OF THE CORRUPTION INFLICTED UPON THEM, AND I WILL RETURN TO MY REST. WE CANNOT OTHERWISE."
He's coming to! Hey buddy! Buddy!"
As he looked up, the scenic paradise of the Spirit World was gone, replaced with the war zone that was the city, and a man in a Fire Nation uniform looking right at him. Tong did his best to stand up as he looked on at the man.
"I need to get spirit purifiers."
"What the hell are you talking about?" the soldier asked bewildered.
"Those spirits, they've been corrupted. They can be purified. They don't need to be wiped out."
"Uh, buddy, they attacked US," the soldier replied. "And why were you talking with that big guy? Where…"
"He's back!" another soldier yelled as the armor rose again, with Old Iron occupying it. The soldiers prepared to send fire at the spirit until Tong stood in front of them.
"Hold you fire! I know how to end this without more bloodshed!"
"How do you suggest that genius?"
"Put me on with whoever's in charge, I can explain everything. I'm not crazy! He's not attacking you yet, right?"
"Firelord Kaede, that civilian wants to speak with a commanding officer. He claims the spirits were corrupted and he knows how to purify them."
"Does he now? Put him on with me." A man handed the Firelord a microphone hooked up to a console, as she spoke into it.
"Young man, I am Kaede, the current Firelord and monarch of the Fire Nation. I understand that you know what's driven those spirits rabid and know how to purify them. Fair warning, if you're wasting my time, I will have my men burn you to ash on the spot. Understood? Now, what do we need to do?"
Kushina was terrified, even as the two spirits went through the corridors in search of their prey. This wasn't why she was here. She was supposed to be here for a job interview! Her experience with firearms outside of a mecha tank was about two weeks worth of lessons! Good lessons admittedly, and she had been practicing, but that wasn't enough time to make anyone an expert marksman! And yet, she couldn't just leave. If she did, who knows what those terrorists would do with an entire aircraft carrier at their disposal?
She had gotten into fights as a little girl. A lot of the bigger bullies picked her out because of her dad's reputation as a chi-blocking master. She had remembered her friends offering to help her fight, but in the end, she had to refuse. No matter what happened, these weren't her father's fights, or her friends at the Air Bending academy's fights. They were hers. And she had to stand up for herself, so no one else would suffer.
This was much the same. Even if Tong had introduced her to all these things, they were bigger than her, bigger than her friend, and bigger than everyone around her. And if she was in a situation where she could save people, leaving them to their own fate was the coward's way out.
The two spirits turned towards the disturbance and ran to face their target. Clutching the carbine in her hand, she looked down the sights and faced her enemy. She was calm, and collected.
Shocker bolts riddled the two creatures, driving them back until the cell was drained. Tossing the weapon aside, Kushina drew her pistol and continued to fire on the surviving spirit. Several bolts later, she stood alone, the other spirits destroyed, and the console unguarded. She sighed, reloading her weapons, and prepared to send out her message.
It had taken about an hour, but about twenty people who identified as capable of performing purification were found and bought to where the spirits were. Tong looked on, content to follow the leads of the people bought in.
"Are you guys sure you know what you're doing?"
"Of course I do!" one man with frazzled hair shouted towards an excited Tong. "I was taught purification from the finest books on the subject!"
By the men and women who were preparing for the purification ritual was Shing, who looked on. "You know, I've never purified a live spirit before. Dark spirits are very rare."
"Yeah, but you're an Air Nation member. Aren't you guys all supposed to be spiritual and in tune with nature and all that tree hugger crap?"
"What's the hell's that supposed to…" Shing asked, before his friend offered a sly smile. He sighed, and with the group, began to focus on the spirits in front.
"Now remember," an older man in red robes began, "according to our exuberant friend, something has placed a taint on these creatures. We must rid them of it to end this battle while Old Iron still controls them."
The sight was beautiful, in a strange way. Those that could bend circled the creatures with flame, water, earth, and air, while those who couldn't raised their hands, as if to speak with the creatures on a deeper level. Luckily, they stood still, the black color that littered the spirits vanishing, replaced with blue and white. Soon afterwards, the spirits vanished, presumably returning to the spirit world from which they came.
"They are freed," Tong began as he looked at Old Iron. The spirit shook its head, pointing towards the sea.
"SOME…BUT NOT ALL. I TRUST YOU TO UPHOLD OUR BARGAIN, BUT I WILL NOT LEAVE UNTIL ALL MY KIN ARE SAFE FROM THE TAINT."
"He's pointing towards the ocean," a soldier asked. "What does he mean?"
"Firelord Kaede, the spirits on the island have vanished. However, we've received a rather disturbing message from the Shield via secure channel.
"What does it say?"
"It says 'Attack on Capital City a diversion. Real target is carrier. New Ozai society. Ships have been…mined?"
"Honored Firelord, we're receiving a message via secure channel! It's the Shield!"
"Put them on!" she ordered. A lone voice answered.
Firelord. We are in control of the Shield now. We demand it and the battleship Zuko's Fury in exchange for the safety of your island and the souls on the other ships in your fleet. Our terms are non-negotiable.