So here I present the sixth story of my Kyoshi Warrior saga, and also the first story of the second arc: the Ghosts of the Past. This time, the Kyoshi Warriors will accidentally awaken a dark secret, and they will be tested like never before.
Here are the links for my previous fanfics:Suki's MasterThe Kyoshi WarriorsResolutionsThe Ember Island PlayThe Northern Lights
Now, for the new story - enjoy!THE FALLEN WARRIORPRELUDE: THE UNREMEMBERED
A dark storm was brewing over Kyoshi Island, a phenomenon that visited the humble home of Avatar Kyoshi once in a few years, often carrying terrible things in its belly.
“It is late,
” thought Orah as she watched the dark clouds approaching from the door of the dojo. She smoothed her Kyoshi Warrior uniform and rearranged her headdress, then wrenched her golden eyes from the storm and turned her attention back to the dojo.
In her thirty years of life, she had seen many red stains like the one in the middle of the training field, but none had struck more grief in her heart like this one. Tears filled her eyes as the unspeakable horror that had unfolded in this very place a few hours ago came back to life to haunt her mind. She almost fell to her knees as her strength failed her against the waves of sorrow, but someone caught her in the final moment.
“Are you alright?” The gentle voice of her sister restored some of Orah’s power. She was Izumi, a lively woman of the same age, with deep blue eyes and a long, wavy brown hair. In her hands, she held a small box and a Kyoshi Warrior uniform. The latter had red stain marks around its collar.
“I will manage,” answered Orah numbly. “What are those?”
Without saying a word, Izumi threw the box and the uniform into the dojo.
“Her writings and her clothes. Koko wants nothing to survive from her.”
“Her writings?” Orah made a step towards the box to see what was it all about, but Izumi held her back.
“Mad ramblings that would only upset you even more.”
Orah’s eyes narrowed. That box had probably become the most hated object of the whole island. She did not have to see Izumi’s expression to know that this was the case.
“Is it everything, then?” Izumi nodded. “Shall I begin?”
Another nod. Orah licked her drying lips, and walked away from the dojo with Izumi following her closely. Shadows engulfed the large, two-story building behind them as the storm clouds finally reached the island, the last sunlight skimmed over its roof and down to the door – Orah would have sworn that it disappeared when it touched the red stain.
She took a wide stance and began to gather her power. The air shimmered around her and the grass charred at her feet. Then, with a single punch, Orah unleashed her firebending, a massive ball of white-hot flame shooting out of her hand and hitting the dojo straight on. Most of the building was instantly vaporized, its wooden walls and frame turned into ash in a moment, leaving only some of the roof intact.
What remained from the dojo after this attack quickly collapsed into the flames and was reduced to nothing within minutes. Orah’s guess was that maybe a handful of ash would be left behind. She unleashed all her power with this strike, all her pain, all her hatred, focused into a fire blast meant to immolate the dojo, the stain, the box, and all those shadows playing around them.
It was done. The taint was purified with fire, and soon it would fade from memory, and even those who could remember it would chose to not do so.
None of this would matter.
It was done.
And nobody could do anything about it.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2016 09:36 pm by Icy_Ashford »
CHAPTER 1: INTRUSION
The two girls climbed through the barren mountainside with stoic determination. Two hours ago, they had begun their journey upwards with considerable enthusiasm, but now, the seemingly endless wall of greyish rocks and treacherous ledges had drained most of their spirit.
In their green clothes, they were like two huge clumps of moss crawling up on the cliffs, curious creatures that had somehow learned how to use climbing gear, and now the employed their newfound proficiency to conquer the massive mountain.
Personally, Pema had started to believe that she had been thinking with a clump of moss instead of her brain when she had decided to accompany Kitara on this little adventure. From the comfort of the Kyoshi Warrior Dojo, it had looked simple: they would just take their gear and climb the rougher side of the Tomb of Kyoshi, the largest mountain of Kyoshi Island. Kitara had proposed the idea with such enthusiasm that she had won over everyone present – not just Pema, but two Kyoshi Warrior initiates named Aoi and Varija, too.
She had had no idea, especially with the initiates coming with them. The first leg of the journey had been relatively nice, until Kitara had some problems with her climbing rope and the two girls fell behind, eventually losing sight of their older warrior-sisters. Then, Pema began having a bad feeling that she and Kitara had gone astray from their planned path, so they were now climbing where they really shouldn’t. Kitara seemingly didn’t mind, as she had been leading the way without taking a break.
At least they were safe from the cold winds of the passing winter. It was early spring around them and a relatively warm one, probably an aftereffect of the return of Sozin’s Comet a little more than half a year ago.
“Now that was another awful adventure!” sprung into Pema’s mind as she secured another piton. The memories invoked themselves spontaneously, further darkening her already poor mood with ripples of resentment and shame.
Her concentration slipped, and with it, her hand. The piton began its long journey into the depths below as it fell out from her grasp, and the sudden change of balance tossed Pema out of position. She screamed and tightened her other hand’s grip, but the mountainside decided to not play along and the ledge she was grabbing broke off with an ear-splitting crack.
Another scream passed through her lips, then the world fell silent as her body moved away from the cliff, obeying the unrelenting laws of gravity.
It would have been a long way down, but as Pema’s vision blurred from the overwhelming panic and the breath of death kissed her nape, a sudden yank stopped her fall before it could truly begin. The safety rope that connected her with Kitara stretched but held, making Pema float between heaven and earth for a short moment before she swung back to the cliff. The impact was painful, but it was nothing compared to the grisly fate that had almost befallen to her.
“I’m not saying that I’ve just saved your life, but I’m heavily implying it!” Kitara’s mocking tone was impossible to miss. “Come on, sloppy hands! We are almost at the top!”
Pema just murmured something under her breath and continued climbing. They couldn’t be at the top yet: the peak was snowy and the rocks around her dry as far as she could see.
As she fought her way through another few meters of the rough cliff, though, she realized that maybe Kitara wasn’t entirely wrong. She passed the first patch of snow, and with that, a hand grabbed her and pulled her up.
Pema barely had time to rearrange her thoughts and she found herself kneeling on a large ledge. Kitara was sitting next to her, still holding her arm. When their eyes met, Pema could see the disapproval in the girl’s eyes.
“Please, try to not die,” sighed Kitara.
Pema just smiled and pulled their safety rope.
“I won’t as long as I have this, and you on the other end.”
Kitara smiled too and lunged forward, embracing Pema in a warm hug. She returned the gesture, and this close, she could feel Kitara’s heart beating as crazily as hers after that little incident.
“So… where are we?” Pema stood up and looked around, trying to find an answer to her question. The ledge was big, maybe twice the size of their dojo. Its surface felt strange, unnaturally flat and lacking any sign of erosion. Even more unusual, it signed the end of the cliff as the mountain continued upwards with a slope. As Pema looked back down, she couldn’t shoo away the thought that this ledge was artificially raised from the mountainside below, probably with earthbending.
“The cliff was made to be impassable. Someone didn’t want anyone to reach this place.” Pema licked her lips as she reached this conclusion. With this realization, she also gained a new perspective, almost immediately noticing the crevice in the mountainside, just at the middle of the ledge.
“A cave!” she whispered and walked to the opening.
It opened into a large chamber that basked in a sinister twilight. As far as Pema could determine, it must had been at least twenty meters long and roughly half as wide. At the wall opposite to the entrance, she could see the silhouette of a stone dais and a human-sized hole next to it, maybe an entrance of a tunnel.
“A SECRET CAVE!” cried Kitara with wanton excitement as she stepped behind Pema. “Let’s go inside!”
And with that, she pushed aside Pema and pressed herself through the crevice.
A barely audible click announced Kitara’s intrusion to a place that probably hadn’t seen a living being since centuries.
“WATCH OUT!” screamed Pema, and lacking a better idea, she pulled back the safety rope that still connected her with her sister. Her panicked move was forceful enough to make Kitara fall back, landing roughly on her butt.
A massive steel blade fell down from above to hit the floor just in front of Kitara’s feet. It sank into the rock with a sharp screech and a rain of sparks, almost completely disappearing from sight.
The cave fell into a heavy silence.
“I’m not even implying anything.” Pema’s voice made Kitara shudder. The breath of death touched another Kyoshi Warrior, and Pema prayed to Kyoshi that this would be the last.
“One for one. I hate managing life-saving obligations anyway.”
Pema just smiled and helped her sister to her feet.
“I suppose this signals our leave…” murmured Kitara as she kicked into the top of the blade.
“Are you kidding me? This only started to get interesting!”
The two girls began to move in deeper, cautious to not trigger any more traps. Their eyes glanced through the rough stone walls, searching for hidden activation mechanics, but they found none.
Pema had an advantage with this, as she was the engineer of the Kyoshi Warriors, so she knew what she was looking for. Kitara was noticeably more irresolute with her side of the wall, and she soon started to lag behind. By the time Pema reached the dais, Kitara was still only at the three-quarters of the chamber, investigating an obviously harmless crack.
“Speed up Kitara!” Pema urged her sister harshly. “My side is safe, and so should be yours!”
With that said, she turned her attention back to the dais. Both its size and shape was unusual, a man-sized block lying on the floor, its roughly carved surface showing centuries of neglect and erosion. Its top looked like a separate piece, most likely removable.
It took some time for Pema to realize that she was looking at a sarcophagus, and that this chamber was in fact a tomb.
Her first thought was that they had just found Avatar Kyoshi’s resting place. But even Pema knew enough to hush away this thought: Kyoshi was resting deep in the heart of the mountain, surrounded by the scores of dead Kyoshi Warriors who were buried next to their spiritual mother.
Whoever was lying in front of Pema… he or she was alone here, far away from Avatar Kyoshi. Yet, this person was important enough to earn a resting place in the Tomb of Kyoshi.
Her chain of thoughts was interrupted by Kitara.
“Pema, do you know what would be scarier than this?” Pema just hummed, and Kitara took it as a sign that she could continue. “Well, if the air would turn into GOLD!”
“And what would be even scarier than that?” There was a tint of nervousness in Kitara’s voice, but Pema was focusing on the sarcophagus. “If you went to grab something and it wasn’t there! Because it turned to GOLD!”
This was enough. Pema broke her attention away from the sarcophagus to scold Kitara for this whole new level of silliness, but what caught her attention left her speechless.
Kitara was not really joking. Almost the whole chamber was bathing in a warm gold light that was coming from three sources: one was Kitara, her body was glowing from head-to-toe, the other was Pema, who was emitting a much paler aura, and the third… the third was something else right behind Pema.
She slowly turned around to face this mysterious third source, only partially noticing that the golden light completely avoided the sarcophagus.
She barely caught a glimpse of the thing before it assaulted her. It was a phantom, a ghost, an incorporeal revenant with the shape of a woman, its transparent form woven from corrupted gold light that struck Pema with a wave of sickening sensation. Then the terrible apparition slipped forward, right into the young Kyoshi Warrior.
What followed was an experience beyond Pema’s understanding. The world turned inside out, her consciousness was violently pulled out of her body, dragged into a dark corner by something that burnt and defiled her with its mere touch. The emptiness of her mind was filled with darkness, a taint that crept into every bit of her will, sapping her control.
“Nobody told you that you shouldn’t come here?” Pema could hear her own voice, raspy and sinister, but it wasn’t her doing.
Kitara had no idea what was going on, her perplexed face betraying her helplessness, and the darkness was quick to seize this opportunity. Pema’s hands grabbed the safety rope and pulled it back so forcefully that it sent Kitara flying through the chamber, right onto the sarcophagus.
Imprisoned in her body that was now moved by an alien, dark will, Pema watched powerlessly as the scene unfolded.
Her fingers wrapped tightly around Kitara’s neck, and started to strangle her sister with fiendish strength. Kitara tried to fight back, but between her confusion and the sheer force of the attack, she had no chance. Pema’s head moved closer and her lips opened, like she was about to kiss Kitara, then the golden light around them flashed up and blinded her.
The darkness escaped, and with that, Pema suddenly regained authority over her body. With the control came a whole plethora of sensations: it was like her skin was set on fire, her muscles turned into wet jelly, and her organs swelled to twice their normal size, trying their best to rip her apart from the inside.
The shock made Pema reel, and she tumbled back, landing roughly on the floor. She retched and threw up, and for a moment, she was sure that she would faint too. The thing that eventually brought her back from the growing darkness was Kitara’s pained scream.
The girl rolled down from the sarcophagus, and even though she landed on her feet, she quickly collapsed to the ground where she remained unmoving.
“Come on girls, don’t be so stubborn!” Kitara’s voice was distorted, in the same way as Pema’s had been. “Let me borrow one of those nice bodies of yours! I wouldn’t do anything bad with them… I promise!”
Kitara’s body twitched and straightened up, like a bizarre puppet pulled by its strings. Her face was strained, her eyes bouncing around, looking for something. She was clearly resisting the darkness, and seeing her struggle gave Pema the strength to recover.
She struggled to her feet, adamant on helping her sister no matter what it would take, but as she made a few wavering steps towards her, Kitara moved away.
“No! Don’t come closer!” Kitara’s clear voice stopped Pema. “We ca… We can’t beat her!” Kitara’s right hand grabbed her climbing axe, and with a single strike, she cut the safety rope. “Warn the others! G… Get help!”
Her face suddenly twisted into a terrifying grin.
“Don’t even think about it! If you leave, I’ll kill your sister!” Just to prove that their dark assailant was serious, the climbing axe rose again, this time aiming for Kitara’s leg. The tool swung down with a sharp whistle, but it missed its target as Kitara regained some control over her arm and misdirected her momentum, releasing the axe just in time to throw it out of the cave.
“Go, Pema! I’ll keep her at bay… don’t worry! GO!”
There was a moment of hesitation, but eventually Pema backed out from the cave. The last thing she saw was Kitara stumbling to the sarcophagus and collapsing onto it. Her heart wanted to go back, to save her sister, or at least to be with her and not simply leave her here, alone, with that dark thing still inside of her; but her mind told her that it wouldn’t help, that she couldn’t stop the darkness, and her only chance was to warn the other Kyoshi Warriors as soon as possible.
So Pema ran to the cliff and started to rope down, with pain in her soul, and tears in her eyes.
CHAPTER 2: SPIRITUAL MATTERS
Nirmal took out the scroll from the box, but she barely had the chance to read its title when it first broke in half in the middle, then crumbled into dust in her hand.
“Well, this did not tell us much,” noted Kazue, and Nirmal had to agree. “Maybe we should return to the books and leave the scrolls for now.”
Nirmal massaged her head, put away the box, and pulled over a heap of old books. In the morning silence of the Kyoshi Warrior dojo, this simple act sounded like she was trying to move a whole mountain. The heap trembled for a long, precarious moment and then collapsed, launching a large cloud of dust into the air right at Kei where she sat at Nirmal’s feet.
“Sheesh, watch out, Nirmal!” Kei protested angrily between coughs. “This stuff is fragile!”
Kazue carefully lifted a book out of the pile. Its cover disintegrated under her touch, and the brownish dust that remained escaped into the air like a vile ghost, mocking the time that freed it from its sorry prison.
This only worsened Nirmal’s already poor mood. Her research concerning the spiritual matters that surrounded the Kyoshi Warriors had been a waste of her precious time so far. The little bits of information she could excavate had been mostly useless when not outright contradicting her past experiences. No mention of the golden aura she had seen around her sisters several times, no signs of the dog-daemon she had caught for a brief moment, and nothing about the things Kei had uncovered during her journey to the Northern Water Tribe. After months of digging through ancient books and scrolls, Nirmal still knew nothing about the First Woman, her Seven Faces, the Celestial Sisters, the dog-daemon or the daemon-woman, the auras, or anything for that matter.
The lack of success had really begun to drive her insane. It was like these things did not exist, despite all the evidence that they did.
Kazue, an initiate from the Commander’s generation, was far less concerned, and mostly helped Nirmal for the company. Kei was much more enthusiastic, but she lacked the aptitude required for the task. The others… they were not moved even the slightest, and Nirmal had a feeling that they saw her as kind of crazy for seeing auras and pushing this weird spiritual stuff.
It was especially discomforting as Nirmal was a healer and not a mystic or a lore master. Her newfound interests were far from normal by Kyoshi Warrior standards.
“I’m not crazy…” murmured Nirmal under her breath, and picked up another book from the pile. It was a bad pick: a bit more than a hundred pages of pie recipes.
“Hey, I think I have found something!” Kazue turned the book she was studying towards Nirmal. “This page is about the Celestial Sisters!”
Nirmal and Kei leaned forward. The page Kazue was pointing at was ancient and barely readable, but its content looked promising.
“The seven Celestial Sisters, spirits of stars and cosmos,” Kei began to read out loud, “the forgers of the million lights, the makers of the First Woman.” She ran her fingers through a simple picture that depicted seven women. It was too old and poorly drawn to show details, but Nirmal could still sense the power and nobility of those seven. “Nia, the Celestial Mistress; Midori, the Mountain Star; Shan, the Burning Star; Ednah, the Wind Star; Ary, the Sea Star; Ling, the Star of Knowing; Kimi, the Star of Harmony.”
The next page was dominated by the picture of a single woman. Her features were eerily familiar to Nirmal, but the artist chose to draw her with seven faces, each with a different expression, so it was hard to spot any likeness with anyone Nirmal knew.
“These must be the seven faces of the First Woman!” continued Kei. “Here! The arrogant one is Prowess, the serious is Soberness, that one with the gentle smile is Caring, the silly is Enthusiasm, the sly is Wile, the grim is Ferocity, and the angry is Wrath!”
“There is more!” added Kazue. Now she began to look fascinated too. “It talks about seven gifts the First Woman received from the Celestial Sisters: the Power of Earth, the Beauty of Thousands, the Nature of Joy, the Kindness of Heart, the Gift of Control, the… Taint of Imperfection?!” This last one made the three exchange glances. Something like ‘Taint of Imperfection’ did not sound very gift-like. “…and finally, the Spark of Life.”
Kei turned the page, revealing a large drawing. It was about the First Woman, being attacked by a big black kite. Nirmal could remember that kite; the Kyoshi Warriors had played a lot with it when they were little. There had been a white one too, but they had lost it to a gale.
Next to the struggle, four men readied themselves to save the First Woman. Each of them had a different element swirling around their hands: air, fire, water, and golden light. The latter was especially interesting: while the picture was pale, the golden light around the man’s hand definitely looked like the golden auras Nirmal had seen around her sisters.
“The Five Princes of the Ancient Ones,” Kazue leaned even closer to read the worn description. “It does not say much, but there must be a fifth guy lurking somewhere in this picture.”
After glancing over the page a bit more cautiously, Nirmal spotted the hidden figure with relative ease. A stain mark made the man meld into the background: he was casually leaning against a bow, with boredom and contempt written all over his face, and a tiny white kite was resting on his shoulder.
Kei continued to the next page. It was mostly writing, but time was unmerciful to this one, and the whole section was unreadable. However, there was also a smaller picture, of the First Woman kissing the fifth Prince… the one who probably had not participated in her rescue at all.
“I see…” noted Kazue with a sarcastic tone. “The Fifth Prince held the power of being the Man!”
They all laughed on this.
“What is this book?” asked Nirmal, and Kei immediately checked.
“Fables for my Daughters, written by Avatar Kyoshi.”
“There must be more than this.” Kazue took the book from Kei and haphazardly flipped through it. “Hah! Gotcha!” She placed the book back in the middle of the gathering. It was opened near to its end, showing a picture of a young girl on her knees, hugging the lump – most likely dead - body of a woman. Nirmal could distantly recognize Avatar Kyoshi as the girl, and Nia, the Mistress of the Celestial Sisters as the dead woman. The rest of the picture was badly burnt, but it looked like these two were surrounded by a field of dead warriors.
“Rather than see their beloved creation die again,” Kazue read from the few visible words, “the Celestial Sisters sacrificed themselves to ensure her survival.” She turned the pages, revealing a picture of Avatar Kyoshi lovingly wrapping her arm around seven young girls. Nirmal knew those girls; they were the very first generation of Kyoshi Warriors. “For cheating fate, the Celestial Sisters were punished to reincarnate as simple humans until they learn to respect the destiny of mortals.” Kazue brushed away some dirt from the upper half of the picture, and a group of spirits became visible above Kyoshi.
“This is the dog-spirit I saw,” Nirmal said, pointing at one of the spirits on the picture. Its shaggy form was not really recognizable, and the massive collar was missing, but Nirmal could still feel that the creature was the ghastly visitor of the Capital City Prison.
“And that is the woman I met,” added Kei, pointing at a crazy-looking spirit of a woman. “The story is also the same as what she told me. The seven faces, the Celestial Sisters sacrificing themselves and being punished to reincarnate as the Kyoshi Warriors… it all fits!”
Kazue shrugged. “Well, I don’t really feel like the reincarnation of an all-powerful spirit. Sorry girls, but I’m skeptical. This is just a storybook for children.”
Before Nirmal could argue, three other Kyoshi Warriors arrived. The first to step into the dojo was the Commander, the somewhat mysterious leader of the generation above Nirmal’s: her true name, the terrible scar on her face, and features she undeniably shared with Suki were all secrets nobody talked about in the cadre. She was followed by Suki herself, upon whom was leaning the Kyoshi Warrior Basya.
Nirmal took a deep breath. Basya was the oldest living Kyoshi Warrior, a woman seemingly around her sixtieth year, with wrinkles only starting to show their presence on her beautiful face, and the last streaks of brown disappearing in her long grey hair. In reality, she was a hundred and ten years old, though the only sign of this was her difficulty walking without the support of a cane or a younger Kyoshi Warrior. Otherwise, her wits and health were both untouched by age, and considering the vast amount of experience and deeds she had gathered over the years, it was no wonder that every Kyoshi Warrior had a deep respect for her.
For Nirmal, it was enough to remember that Basya had raised and trained Instructor Tamara… who in turn raised and trained Nirmal herself. She was like a grandmother of sorts.
And now, Basya had decided to honor the three Kyoshi Warriors sitting on the floor with her attention. She slowly walked to them, supported by Suki all the way, and picked up their book from the floor.
“I can remember this book!” she said thoughtfully. “The ‘Fables for my Daughters’… Instructor Lela used to tell stories from it for us.” She shook the book, making dirt and pieces of tattered paper fall out. “My sister Akua is responsible for its poor shape. She accidentally scorched it with her nascent firebending, and then buried it in the forest out of fear that Instructor Lela would punish her for mishandling such a valuable book.”
“Was she caught?” interrupted Kei, earning a disapproving nudge from Kazue.
But Basya just smiled and playfully pinched the girl’s face. “Of course! Her act was unveiled a few months later, and she got punished… for not admitting her crime and being dishonest! She had her hands tied behind her back for a whole week! It sure taught her a lesson!”
Basya sat down next to Kei, presenting an opportunity for Suki to speak.
“Where are the others, Nirmal? I thought we were having a big exercise this morning.”
“Aoi has already assigned the groups,” answered Nirmal casually. She tried her best keep any force from her voice, because there was an ongoing conflict of authority between Suki and Aoi. The younger woman saw herself as a leader of the cadre and the commander of her own generation, including the new volunteers; the older warrior did not really respect this, even though she was just the second-in-command of the Commander. “Asha took most of the volunteers to the obstacle course. Aoi, Varija, Kitara, and Pema went to climb the Tomb of Kyoshi. Kei, and Kazue, and I remained here, trying to do some research about the spirits.”
“Ah! Spirits!” laughed up Basya. “If you had wanted to know more about those, then you should have accompanied Aoi and the others!” She raised her arms and tried her best to mimic a scary ghost. “The Tomb of Kyoshi is a haunted place! It has been ever since I first got here!”
“We will join Asha and the volunteers.” The Commander’s words made Basya frown. “Pack up girls, we are moving out!”
“If the Commander says that we should go, then it would be better if we stayed here,” hummed Basya, and Nirmal couldn’t miss her sour tone. The old warrior turned to Suki. “Some humble advice: if the Commander tells you something, please, do the exact opposite!”
The air in the dojo suddenly cooled down. The Commander’s eyes narrowed and her face turned red from the repressed anger.
“Please, Basya, not now…” she hissed. From the way her fists clenched and considering Kazue’s alarmed expression, Nirmal could easily determine that the situation was close to explode.
“Why not? That was a good advice!” Basya laughed and waved her finger at the Commander, acting like an old matriarch putting an insolent girl to her place. “Or am I mistaken? Didn’t you send four of our sisters to their deaths?” She poked Suki in the knee. “What about her mother? Hm? Don’t you want to recall that story?”
The Commander endured this barrage silently, though if her face was any measure, she was just a small push away from choking the life out of Basya. Nirmal watched the scene with great interest. Internal conflicts like the older generations’ resentment towards the Commander or the squabbling between Aoi and Suki were all pieces of a bigger picture that should be instrumental in Nirmal’s investigation.
“Enough!” interrupted Suki. “We wait until the others arrive. Okako, Lien, and some of the volunteers are still back in the village. Let’s decide what to do when they get here.”
“Good words, my dear!” Basya flashed a disarming smile, but she aimed it at Suki and not the Commander. “It is delightful to see that this apple did fall far from her tree!”
She had evidentially pushed a little too far with this. The Commander stepped forward with a menacing growl, more than willing to test whether Basya could back her malignant words with physical strength. In response, the old lady leaped up with such speed and agility that it left Nirmal in shame.
Suki, however, was ready to defuse the escalating fight and stepped between the two. This worked, and the Commander just snorted and stormed out from the dojo. Kazue was quick to follow her sister outside.
“Oh, yes, just turn your back to the problem!” Basya shouted after them, obviously unable to let the dark clouds pass. “That is the best thing you can do anyway!” Since the Commander did not respond and unceremoniously disappeared behind the door of the dojo, Basya finally gave up and flopped down to Kazue’s place.
Her face only eased when Suki too sat down next to them. This whole interlude had clearly put the young leader in a bad mood. Basya moved closer to her and gently put her hand on her shoulder.
“My apologies, sweetheart,” she began softly, “but I do this for her own good. She is finally so close to making peace with herself, and it pains us greatly to see that she is unwilling to take the final step. If we don’t make her do it, then the darkness will consume her again, and all the progress from the last year will be undone.”
“I know,” Suki whispered, drawing out a small, comforting smile from her older sister.
Nirmal cleared her throat, signaling the end of the scene. For their part, both Suki and Basya were ready to put all this behind them, and Nirmal was really thankful for that. Kei just endured it all with dumb confusion written all over her face – she had probably lost the thread of events a long time ago, her black eyes bouncing back and forth between Suki and Nirmal, waiting for one of them to say something concrete so that she could catch up.
“So, where were we?” Basya licked her lips as she took Fables for my Daughters into her hands again. “Oh, yes, after Akue ruined this book, another of my sisters, Meili, made a copy of it so that the future generations could enjoy its stories. However, this copy was gifted to the Ba Sing Se University.”
“The Ba Sing Se University?” Suki scratched her head. “I think Iroh can get us in there. We only need to be in the building. Infiltrating the library should be easy from there.”
“Yes! That does it!” shouted Kei as she jumped to her feet, launching her fist into the air. “We are going to university!”
As she was finally being able to catch up with the conversation, Kei’s little outburst was rewarded with moderate clapping from Nirmal and Basya.
“Getting the intact version of this book might be crucial for my research,” added Nirmal as she opened up the damaged tome to the page depicting the seven Celestial Sisters. “This story is the key to everything! To what we are!”
She got a little overcarried. Both Suki and Basya started to stare at her strangely, like Nirmal had just announced that she was the Avatar.
“To be honest, Nirmal, when you speak like this, you sound a little crazy.”
Suki’s teasing was quite unasked, but Nirmal had to admit, she had been slowly growing accustomed to it. “I’m not crazy.”
Outside of the dojo, another problem must have been brewing. Nirmal heard screaming and crying, and then hastened steps approaching the door. Suki stood up to check out this new turmoil, but the events got ahead of her
The Commander burst through the door without even slowing down, carrying a disheveled Pema in her arms. The girl was in a terrible shape: her hair was a mess, her face was dirty and slashed into ribbons by the deep trenches her tears and sweat had made, and her green clothes were tattered, revealing bruised skin underneath. She looked like she had taken the wrong side of the mountain while climbing down, but the uncanny terror in her eyes bespoke something else entirely.
Suki and Kei immediately ran to her, while Nirmal got the medicine kit. Pema was in a shock, pale like chalk under the dirt, her whole body trembling, and her eyes just started into the world, perceiving nothing of it. She was just stuttering incomprehensible noises that randomly assembled into fragments of actual words, and it was clear that her mind was gone.
Nirmal took out a small red capsule, stepped to Pema, and roughly pushed it up into the girl’s nose. The effect was immediate: Pema’s eyes cleared up in a second, her face first turned blood-red then sickly green, and her stuttering ended with a shrill scream as she tore herself out from the Commander’s arms. Suki tried to catch her, but Nirmal held her back, letting Pema to run around in the dojo like a duck-weasel on fire until she tumbled and fell on the floor.
“My face is burning!” cried Pema painfully. “What have you done?!”
“You first,” answered Suki coldly. “What happened with you? Where are the others?”
This snapped out Pema from her misery. She hopped up and stumbled to the weapon cache, seemingly searching for her war fans.
“We were climbing the Tomb of Kyoshi…” she began to explain, and the others drew closer. “Kitara and I got separated from Aoi and Varija. I think… I think we took a wrong cliff or something because we found this…” she gulped and tucked her war fans into her belt. “It was a crypt of some sort. A hidden cave secured with a trap. We looked around, but a spirit attacked us. There was, like, this gold light Nirmal keeps talking about, and I think the spirit used it to possess me, then jump into Kitara. It was horrible. Like it shackled my soul with burning-cold chains. Kitara could resist it though, and gave me time to escape and warn you.” Her eyes opened wide and she rushed to Suki, grabbing her clothes and trying to get her moving. “Kitara is still in there! Come on, we have to save her!”
This was all Suki had to hear. She let Pema lead her away, and they soon disappeared behind the door.
“Let’s get moving,” added the Commander sternly, and she ran after the two girls with Kei and Kazue following her.
Only Nirmal and Basya remained in the dojo. A heavy silence fell on them, an almost unbearable calm before the storm.
“Do you know what they found?” Nirmal said, breaking the silence. Normally, she would have thrown herself in amidst the others without giving it a second thought, but the notion was strangely missing from her this time.
“I have an idea,” nodded Basya. “The Tomb of Kyoshi is a haunted place; and I must tell you, some ghosts there are worse than the others.”
“What about this one?”
Basya’s face darkened, like she was recalling a memory she wanted to forget forever. “She is, my dear, the worst of them.”
CHAPTER 3: THE FIRST FIGHT
As far as Suki could determine, the cave entrance was not a natural formation, seemingly just as artificial as the ledge they were standing on. It sprawled between the folds of the mountainside like a wound, with the large rocks around it serving as dressing, not only hiding the ugly sight but also keeping the blood inside. Nevertheless, the whole place reeked from the evil contained within, and Suki really wondered why Pema and Kitara still found it a good idea to investigate.
The others – Pema, Kei, the Commander, and Kazue – were all slightly behind her, trying to come up with a plan: Kazue wanted to wait until the others arrive, but Kei and the Commander were ready to go in; Pema just urged both sides to act as soon as possible. For her part, Suki saw no reason to debate. Kitara was in there, and she needed their help. There was only one right course of action, as clear for her as the lukewarm spring daylight shining down on the mountainside.
Suki heard the others gasping as she stepped into the cave, but she did not care. The place was unusually cold, and it was filled with a dark haze from wall to wall, preventing Suki from getting a clear grasp on its dimensions. It felt like an empty hole.
“No, it is like a grave,” ran through Suki’s mind, but she shooed the glooming thought away.
On the opposite wall of the cave, she could see the boxy sarcophagus Pema had described and the mouth of a tunnel next to it. Between the two, a shadowy silhouette was lying on the ground.
“Kitara!” Suki wasted no time in running over to her unconscious sister. Behind her, Kei and the Commander also rushed in, while Pema and Kazue followed them with a little more caution.
As expected, Kitara was in a rather poor shape. Her clothes were all messy, like she had hastily took them off and put them on again for some reason, and her long black hair was undone and not in the usual bun. Above all, her face was unnaturally stiff, like it was just a mask made from wax. It looked like Kitara had fallen into a deep, supernatural slumber.
Suki prayed to Kyoshi that her sister could be still saved.
“Oh no!” cried Pema when she noticed Kitara’s sorry shape. “We are too late!”
“No, we are not.” Kazue kneeled down next to the inanimate girl and checked her pulse and breathing. “She is still alive. We must take her back to the village immediately.”
The Commander nodded grimly, but otherwise did not comment on the situation. Kazue picked up Kitara and prepared to leave this accursed place with the girl in her arms.
She got halfway to the exit when Kitara woke up. Her whole body reeled and twitched, and her eyes opened wide as she gasped for air. Kazue almost dropped her from the surprise, but Kitara grabbed her robes and pulled herself closer to her older sister.
“Get away from her, NOW!” Pema’s scream cut into the air like a sword, but she was too late. They could all see Kitara’s lips turning into a fiendish grin, then a flash of golden light blinded them and an invisible force pushed them to the ground.
Through the light, Suki could hear Kazue uttering a painful scream, then the cave fell silent.
“What happened?” It was Kei, and from the sounds of it, the young warrior made a feeble attempt to get back on her feet. “I can’t see anythi-” She tumbled and fell right atop Suki. Her momentum was enough to toss both of them against the wall, sweeping away the Commander, too, in the process.
“I did not expect this to work, to be honest.” Kazue’s voice was macabre and crackling, like it was coming from the throat of a dead woman. “And it almost didn’t…”
Suki pushed Kei off herself. Her senses were slowly recovering, and as the veil of stars lifted from her eyes, she could see Kazue standing in the middle of the cave, with Kitara at her feet and Pema standing in front of her. The latter got through the light blast much better than the others, and her war fans were already in her hands, though her fighting stance was rather irresolute.
“I see you have brought me weapons!” Kazue teased Pema, and she too assumed her fighting stance. It was a traditional Kyoshi Warrior stance, but it was performed with a confidence and finesse Suki knew that Kazue was incapable of. Her older sister was an infiltrator and not a true warrior, yet her stance was befitting for an assault specialist like Kei.
Pema uttered a weak battle cry and charged Kazue. War fans flashed but they failed to connect. Kazue dodged or blocked every attack with ease, her terrifying grin only growing wider as the massive gap in fighting skills between her and Pema became more and more evident. After a good ten seconds she decided to stop playing with the girl and ended the fight with a single spinning kick that hit Pema in the chest.
Suki watched her sister fly through the cave and land hard at the entrance. Pema was knocked out for good, but Kazue couldn’t enjoy her victory for too long.
A greenish blur wrapped itself around the possessed woman, and a dozen strikes exploded into her body in the exact same moment. Kazue wavered under the sudden onslaught, and for a moment, she couldn’t even recognize her attacker. Only when the blur stopped and took up Kei’s form did Kazue realize what had happened.
“Spiritbending!” she barked as she rearranged her stance to face her new opponent. “I want that power!”
Kei readied herself, and Suki could see on her that she was just about to give a taste of her superhuman strength to Kazue, but their clash was interrupted with another burst of golden light.
“Get out of me you daemon!” shrieked Kazue, now with a clear voice, and threw herself to the ground. “GET OUT!”
The Commander immediately ran to her sister, but she was soon thrown back by a third flash. A beam of golden light escaped from Kazue through her eyes, nose, and mouth, first gliding through the air towards the tunnel, then making a sudden turn and rushing into Kei.
Their meeting produced an earth-shaking explosion of light, and as the energy washed through Suki, something sparked up in her. Like a rock on the shore rising to break the roaring waves, it repelled the force from inside of her, and made it surge over harmlessly.
When she could finally open her eyes, Suki expected to see Kei as the next victim of whatever power was battling them. Surprisingly enough however, this was not the case; as far as Suki could determine through the haze of golden light that now enveloped the cave, Kei was lying on the floor not far away from Pema, clearly unconscious.
“My fault. I should have been more cautious with possessing her.”
The unfamiliar voice snapped out Suki from her shock, and made her turn towards its source. Just a few steps away from her, an apparition of golden light was hovering in the air. She was a ghost of a Kyoshi Warrior, in full uniform and armor, with the headdress of an assault specialist, her waist-long hair flowing freely, and her legs dissolving into the golden light at the ankle. Her face was beautiful, diamond-shaped with soft features and almond eyes. Suki couldn’t miss that the ghost looked a little like Asha, the youngest Kyoshi Warrior, and her mischievous yet determined expression also distantly echoed Asha’s when the girl was in a black temper.
Moreover, this ghost was not the only source of light. As she lifted her arm to get up, Suki noticed that her body was also wrapped into an aura of golden light and fading blue. Next to her, the Commander also had this aura, and she looked just as clueless about it as Suki herself.
Back in the dojo, Suki had teased Nirmal about all that silly spiritual stuff, but now she felt pretty stupid for it. Listening to another’s ramblings about it and experiencing it personally sure made a difference.
“Who are you and what do you want from us?” shouted the Commander as she staggered to her feet. Judging from her voice, she was badly shaken, and maybe injured, too, as she painfully massaged her lower abdomen.
“I’m Kiyomi, and I want the life my sisters took from me! They imprisoned me in this place for more than two hundred years, but now my time has come to break free!” Her smile widened. “Yes, I will use that nice body of yours… I just need the right host.” She waved towards the Kyoshi Warriors who had been incapacitated during the fight. “Three of these are unfit, and the spiritbender is too delicate to even try, so I hope you two will not disappoint me!”
“You can bet we won’t,” growled the Commander, and with that, she too attacked the ghost. Suki was not sure what the Commander wanted to accomplish against such an incorporeal opponent, and as expected, Kiyomi easily evaded the charge by simply skimming to the side.
Now it was Suki’s turn, but she had no idea what to do. Lacking any better option, she rolled to the war fans Pema had dropped, and took them for herself. The weapons in her hands at least gave her a certain sense of security, even if she doubted that they would be of any use.
Her move alerted Kiyomi, and the ghost stopped dancing around the Commander. She shot upwards to the ceiling then descended like a lightning bolt from the sky, aiming for Suki.
Suki leapt away, but Kiyomi followed her and tossed her to the ground with a blast of golden light. By the time Suki could recover, the ghost was already on her. She struck out with her war fans, but they passed through her incorporeal assailant without doing anything.
The world turned upside down and disappeared in a burst of light. Suki gasped for air as her very spirit was invaded by Kiyomi. The light twisted, then disintegrated, giving way to darkness.
From this darkness, a series of images emerged, burning themselves into Suki’s mind: a large, muscular man, his naked upper body covered with fresh wounds, including a dagger sticking out from his chest – his face was hidden by a black shadow, only his enraged snarl was visible; an enormous monument, a huge fountain in an abandoned chamber – in its water, the souls of a thousand people moaned; a woman crying in a bed, grasping her swollen belly – her face too was indiscernible, but her short, thick auburn hair felt eerily familiar.
The chain of visions was shattered by a scream. A scream that first sounded like the Commander’s but then changed into Kiyomi’s.
Suki’s eyes sprung open, only to come face-to-face with Kiyomi as the ghost now tried her best to get away. The golden light was mauled by a crackling blue aura coming from Suki. Like a hundred thorns, the blueness slashed into Kiyomi’s form, leaving long cuts of nothingness behind.
The apparition barely gained some distance from Suki and the violent blue aura emitting from her when she was caught by another: the Commander attempted another charge, going all-out to save Suki.
“Leave her, daemon!” the Commander cried with despair, and she clawed into Kiyomi. Her hands glowed with a blue aura similar to Suki’s, but it was much weaker, barely enough to disturb the gold light of Kiyomi’s body.
It was obvious that the Commander expected more, as she crashed into Kiyomi and lost control over her own movement, eventually hitting hard the cave wall. Her disorientation was enough for the ghost to gain the initiative, and Kiyomi disappeared in a burst of golden light that quickly zipped into the big scar on the Commander’s face.
Her body reeled and bent, the rattle her throat released betrayed that the possession didn’t go off perfectly.
“Grah! This body is a wreck!” cried the Commander with disdain, her voice distorted in the exact same way as Kazue’s had been. “I would rather suffer the plucky girl with her terrible jokes than this mess!”
Suki slowly got to her feet and readied herself for the next act of this battle. While she was not too keen to harm the Commander, Kiyomi still had to be ousted somehow, and the events of the last few minutes certainly revealed that Suki had a good chance to do this. Only if she could force Kiyomi out of the Commander’s body, defeating the spirit should be relatively easy then.
She could ponder the mysterious phenomena of her blue aura later. It had come up just in time, and for now, that was all that mattered.
“Well girl, you have got me now!” The Commander stepped back, increasing the distance between herself and Suki. Her movement was irresolute and clumsy, like Kiyomi did not have full control over the body. “This is my worst vessel so far, and you are shielded from possession. To be honest, I doubt if I can win this.”
“Then let us go!” replied Suki as she assumed her fighting stance. “Stop fighting us, and we will find a solution to your plight!” This hit something in Kiyomi, as the Commander’s face flinched. “Avatar Aang is my friend! I’m sure he can do something!”
“So you are the Avatar’s friend?” Suki nodded. She did not like the hostile tone and the way the Commander pouted. “That’s unfortunate. I almost let you go… but I can’t do that anymore.”
With that, the Commander lunged forward, trying to catch Suki in a grapple. The young Kyoshi Warrior steeled herself in turn, and decreed to herself that her fist was made of hard iron, and her next punch would strike like a hammer. The golden light around them glowed as Suki forced her will on the world, using the technique the Commander had taught her in the Boiling Rock to amplify her attack.
There was a moment of surprise from Kiyomi’s part as she most likely realized what was Suki up to, then the Commander flew right into the attack, taking Suki’s fist in the face. The sound of the Commander’s jaw breaking was a painful one for Suki, but it couldn’t be helped at this point. The punch was strong enough to send the woman violently crashing into the ground, putting another or two bruise on her.
“The Commander wouldn’t like waking up from this,” ran through Suki’s mind. She felt sorry for her older sister, but again, she had no other choice.
“That was a pretty advanced technique from a simple novice,” growled the Commander as she tried to crawl back to her feet. “Though, I must admit, you look anything but simple!”
Suki quickly ran to her and kicked at her arms, making the woman fall back to the floor. The golden aura around the Commander flared up as Kiyomi most likely tried to escape, but Suki did not give her a chance: she turned the Commander to her back and used her hands to cover the woman’s face. As the girl expected, Kiyomi left the Commander’s body through the facial scar, and flew right into Suki’s hand.
The blue aura cracked up again around Suki’s body, and Kiyomi retreated back to the Commander with a pained scream.
“Let me go, you witch!” squeaked the Commander in the next moment. “You are hurting me!”
“You are free, but only if you leave us alone!”
The Commander’s eyes opened wide when she heard Suki’s proposal, and in them, pure madness blossomed as Kiyomi snapped.
“Silly girl, you can’t make me free…” she whispered, voice shaking from repressed emotions, then the Commander’s body suddenly rose to her feet, like a puppet moved by strings, sweeping Suki away with a powerful shove.
This unnaturally quick recovery caught her completely flat-footed. The Commander was attacking long before Suki could regain her senses, so she had no chance to evade the kick to her side. Sharp pain ran through her torso, and though she swallowed a yelp for a hiss, Suki instinctively knew that a second strike was coming. She tried to roll away, focusing all her strength into the move, but the world was spinning around her with a bewildering hullabaloo after taking that kick, so she had no idea if she even dodged to the right direction.
She hadn’t, and the next kick hit her head, knocking out Suki in an instant.
CHAPTER 4: THE SECOND FIGHT
Nirmal was far from a great climber, but Lien was straight-out atrocious. The leader of the generation above the Commander’s had been lagging behind ever since they had reached the cliff that allegedly led to the cave. Normally, Nirmal would blame Lien’s advanced age of sixty-two years, but just as Basya, Lien was also far behind her age physically and mentally, barely looking forty other than a few threads of grey hair.
Basya outpacing both Nirmal and Okako by a long shot only made things even more awkward. Their ancient sister was already at the ledge of the cave, while the others still had a quarter of the way to go. As she finally got to the ledge, a hand reached out for her and pulled Basya up.
Soon after, the climbing ropes hanging from the ledge quivered, and Nirmal could feel someone pulling hers up. From the looks of it, Okako and Lien too benefited from the sudden help. Within just a few minutes they all reached the ledge and got pulled up.
Their assistants were Aoi and Varija: the former was the Commander’s second-in-command, and the latter was the sharpshooter of the same generation – both accompanied Pema and Kitara to climb the Tomb of Kyoshi, but they weren’t with them at the cave. They looked worn out, liked they had spent most of their morning in a very unfriendly place. Their sturdy green climbing-clothes were dirty, and their hair was falling apart from their classic Kyoshi Warrior buns.
“We waited for Kitara and Pema for hours at the mountain peak,” answered Aoi the unsaid question. “It isn’t the most comfortable at this time of the year.”
“Have you met the Commander and the others?” Nirmal said, jumping straight to the point. “They must have reached this very same ledge roughly a half hour ago.”
Varija shook her head. “We just got here ourselves.”
“That’s some excellent timing!” noted Basya. “We need as much warriors for this as possible.”
“For this what?” interrupted Lien between her panting. “You and Nirmal dragged me and Okako up here, but I still don’t know exactly why. Yeah, Kitara is in danger, but in what kind of danger?”
Aoi raised an eyebrow. “Kitara? What happened with her?” Her worried tone was impossible to miss. “Is she hurt?”
Basya silenced her with a quick gesture.
“Most likely not. What lurks inside that cave would not hurt a Kyoshi Warrior. Or at least not in the sense you think.”
“Would you explain, Instructor Basya?” noted Lien impatiently.
“In a hidden cave just a few steps away from us lies the grave of one of our sisters. Her name was Kiyomi, but Instructor Lela only called her ‘the Fallen Warrior.’ ” This took everyone aback. The situation suddenly took a serious and unpleasant turn. “Her crime was so heinous it was erased from the history of the cadre. Not even I know what it was, and I wonder if Instructor Lela herself knew it. It was said that she was buried far away from her sisters as a punishment, but also to ensure that her madness would not defile the resting place of our spiritual mother. Here, in this desolate mountainside, they carved her a crypt then made the whole thing inaccessible. Her spirit would be imprisoned there forever… or at least until a suitable host would find her resting place.” Basya straightened her back. “I think my generation was the last who heard this story, and as you see, even we knew only small fragments of it.”
“A suitable host?”
Aoi’s question made Basya frown. “A Kyoshi Warrior with the right spiritual imprint. Someone she can possess and inhabit permanently.”
“A Kyoshi Warrior with the same face,” corrected Nirmal. She thanked Kyoshi that she had just read about this less than an hour ago. “She can’t hide behind a mask that is not her own.”
Basya just shrugged. “I don’t know about that, my dear, but all I can say is that our plan is not to fight Kiyomi. We came here to rescue our sisters. I want a quick and clean operation: we go in, pick up our sisters, then leave as soon as possible. We don’t stop to fight the Fallen Warrior, neither do we care if one us gets left behind because that ghost possessed her. As soon as our sisters are out, we secure the place and call the Avatar. It is time to end this sad chapter of our cadre once and for all.”
“Let’s do this!” With that, Aoi and Varija ran to a bunch of tall rocks behind Basya and disappeared among them. Lien and Basya followed them soon after.
“What if we fail?” Okako raised the unthinkable question.
“The others are coming,” answered Nirmal grimly. She too had similar doubts, and she did not like their prospects. “If we fail, then it would be up to them to save us all.”
“So we offer ourselves to the Fallen Warrior piecemeal?”
Nirmal had a sharp answer on her tongue, but she never had the chance to share it with Okako as a scream interrupted their chatting. This was enough for the two girls to immediately leap into action; they rushed to the rocks and through the cave entrance between them, joining the ongoing fight inside.
As soon as she stepped in, Nirmal had to stop and take a step back. The whole cave was bathed in bright golden light for her, barely allowing a handful of greyish silhouettes to stand out. She could discern maybe two bodies lying on the floor, two standing and carrying others, and one fighting with a blinding blob of golden light.
Suddenly, whoever was fighting did something, and her silhouette was consumed by the light. Another body fell to the ground not far from the fight.
Nirmal staggered forward, trying her best to navigate, but dread grasped her heart and mind as her senses were overloaded by the sheer spiritual energy converging in the cave. She bumped into a shadow, almost falling to the ground, but it caught her in the last moment.
“Nirmal?! What are you doing?!” It sounded like Okako, and as Nirmal regained her balance, it pushed a heavy body into her hands. “Come on! Take her out!”
She complied, but as soon as she turned her back to the cave another scream pierced the air. Something hit Nirmal, and for a tiny moment, the world fell dark, like someone had taken away her eyesight completely. She was roughly tossed to the floor, and the impact did not feel entirely physical: it was like something had also hit her soul, attempting to pluck it out from its place.
Then everything swung back, her spirit realigned, and with that, the lines finally converged in her mind, unleashing a whole plethora of sensations. A dozen voices cried out, each telling a different story:
“I have lived a long and fruitful life. Now it is time to leave this world behind.”
“I might be doomed, but I take those bastards with me!”
“I now draw my last breath. Farewell, my beloved sisters!”
“No! Not now! I have so much to do! I have so much to live for!”
“My sisters must be safe by now. Come, beast, and taste my steel!”
But above all, there was a howl, filled with anger and grief:
“I had to do this, you fools! SHE HAD TO DIE! LET ME GO!”
The last thoughts of dead Kyoshi Warriors cast a haunting echo, and this melody from beyond the veil of life wrapped Nirmal in a nightmarish sheath that repulsed her otherworldly assailant.
In that moment, Nirmal’s sight returned, and the world returned to a fairly normal state. The choir of the dead fell silent, and the golden light dimmed to a haze. Nirmal could see Kei in her hands as the girl began to wake up from hitting the floor with her. Okako stood not far away from them, frozen in the position she had when she handed Kei to Nirmal. Between them, Basya was lying on the ground, curled up and clearly in great pain. Further in the cave, Pema, the Commander and Aoi dotted the floor with their unmoving bodies, while Lien was supporting a dazed Suki and Varija was carrying an unconscious Kitara.
All things considered, things were not going well for the Kyoshi Warriors as far as Nirmal could determine.
Not only that, but a column of thick golden light blocked the entrance to the cave, and another such phenomenon covered the mouth of the tunnel on the opposite wall. They were most likely the spiritual wards keeping Kiyomi imprisoned in this cave. Nirmal had passed into the entrance ward when she had stepped into the cave, and she had got a taste of its power. Whatever hit her had also pushed her free of the ward.
“That’s my misfortune! First a novice I can’t even touch, followed by a woman with a ruined body, then an old hag with unbreakable will, and now a medium! You girls really disappoint me!”
Nirmal turned away to face the strange voice that came from behind her, and in doing so, she successfully met with Kiyomi. The ghost was hovering within arm’s reach, putting her back against the wall. She looked exactly like Nirmal had imagined such a creature: her half-transparent body was made of golden light, and even though she had her full Kyoshi Warrior uniform and armor, they did not seem to affect her movement at all. More strikingly, her long hair was loose and floating behind her like a cloak, she did not have feet, and madness lurked in her almond eyes.
She was not an ordinary ghost. Nirmal had read about her kind during her research: Kiyomi was a goryo, a spirit filled with bitter rage and hatred. The only way to defeat her was to find the thing that bound her to the mortal world.
Kiyomi did not wait until Nirmal could put her newfound revelation into use: the ghost spun around in a wide circle, gliding through the air like a bird of prey searching for her next victim, then wheeled down on Varija and disappeared into the Kyoshi Warrior with a flash of golden light.
It was immediately apparent that something had gone wrong, as Varija bent over with a shrill scream that did not sound entirely her own. She twitched and fell to the ground, shaking uncontrollably for a few moments before becoming completely still. It looked like the possession was too much for her, and she had passed out from the stress.
Nirmal was eager to capitalize on this sudden break in action. She had a small medical bag with her, and from that, she quickly pulled a small red capsule. Knowing that her next patient was allergic to wrack-skunk powder, she broke the capsule in two and only shoved a half into Kei’s nose.
Just as with Pema an hour earlier, the effect was immediate. Kei’s eyes sprung wide open, and she released a loud noise that was a strange mixture of a tormented scream and a furious howl. She began to scratch wildly at her nose, but it only increased the irritation until she produced a thundering sneeze. The red capsule flew through the cave and at the end of its journey it landed right on the head of the unconscious Aoi.
Okako quickly ran to the recovering Kei and helped her to her feet.
“Are you trying to kill me, Nirmal?” rattled the young spiritbender. “You know I’m allergic to this stuff!”
“I also know that we need your help!” replied the healer sternly. “We can’t beat Kiyomi, but you can suppress her!”
“Kiyomi? Who is Kiyomi?” Kei was obviously still dizzy, so Nirmal put some sense into her with a well-aimed slap in the face. “Gah! Stop torturing me!” The girl’s yelp was far from convincing, drawing out another slap.
“The ghost that possessed you! You have to stop her with your spiritbending!”
“Ghost? Possessing me? What should I do about it?”
A third slap rewarded Kei for her confusion. This was finally enough, and the fog cleared from her black eyes.
“Come on Kei, we don’t have much time!” Okako’s panicked voice was not without reason: behind the three girls, Varija’s body slowly rose from the ground with a daemonic grin.
“Okay, smartypants, what am I supposed to do, huh?” fussed Kei, almost earning a fourth slap, this time from Okako.
“Just do whatever you did with La!”
With her advice given, Nirmal pushed Kei towards Varija, hoping for the best. They were out of options, as there were too many bodies on the ground and too few Kyoshi Warriors still standing.
“You should have escaped while you had the chance!” Kiyomi greeted them from Varija’s body. “Now you will all fall before m-” She did not have the chance to end her sentence before Kei bumped into her.
Kei was somewhat perplexed at first, but then her training took over, and she instinctively grabbed Varija and threw her back to the ground. The two were soon engaged in a chaotic wrestling match, rolling up and down the cave, occasionally bumping into a Kyoshi Warrior lying on the floor. Kei used her supernatural strength to keep Varija in check, while Kiyomi had her own problems, so she couldn’t break free.
Nirmal could see why the Fallen Warrior was troubled: the golden light that had been covering the cave had grown faint over the last few seconds. The power was focusing into thick streams of light leading into the chests of the incapacitated Kyoshi Warriors. In this way, the energies of the cave were slowly depleted, drained away into the bodies in the floor.
Back in the Capital City Prison, the Kyoshi Warriors had once tried to break out only to be forcibility stopped by the initiates who had infiltrated the prison as guards. When the novices had clashed with these women, Nirmal had have observed the same thing: the golden light that surrounded every Kyoshi Warrior seemingly had its own will, and transferred its spiritual energies depending on who needed it. Those warriors who were in trouble gained energy from those who weren’t, with the light acting both as a transmitter and an amplifier to restore the beaten Kyoshi Warriors back to full vitality.
The very same thing was happening now: Pema, Kazue, Kitara, and Basya were all waking up, while Aoi was already on her feet, wondering about the small red capsule that had landed on her forehead from out of Kei’s nose. They had been able to regain their senses because the golden light replenishing their life force…
… from the reserves Kiyomi had used to manifest herself.
It was a strange turn of events, clearly something not even Kiyomi had expected to happen, and Nirmal praised Kyoshi for the timing. Ironically, the way Kiyomi expended her hosts had become her undoing: she had changed bodies too frequently, forcing the light to feed more Kyoshi Warriors it could sustain.
“She is weakened!” shouted Nirmal to Kei, signaling that the assault specialist should now think about subduing the ghost. “Use your spiritbending!”
“That’s what I’m doing, you fool!” Kei changed tactics, and instead of relying on strength, she suddenly became super-swift, escaping Varija’s grip, leaping up, and falling back on her with a single lightning-fast move. Like a boulder falling from the sky, Kei landed on Varija’s abdomen, not only squeezing the air out of her, but also disabling her for a short moment – a moment that was enough for Kiyomi to reconsider her poor situation.
The golden light trembled around Varija as Kiyomi decided to leave her host. This time, however, her spirit couldn’t find a clear path out of the body, as the light waned and left her stranded. As she emerged through Varija’s mouth, Kiyomi’s form was revealed as pale and thin, with the energies that anchored her to the cave being barely enough to maintain her appearance.
“What… What is happening?” the ghost shrieked, trying to float away from Kei, but she was slow and clumsy, as if she was moving underwater. “What have you done!?”
Like the wind catching a cloud of dust, a wave in the golden light caught Kiyomi and pushed her back. Kei took the opportunity to reach for the spirit, but she did it with much less caution than Nirmal would have expected from her: the girl approached too hastily, stretching out her arms to touch Kiyomi’s forehead and chest, and she ran right through the apparition.
The dumbfound expression on Kei’s face was only comparable to Nirmal’s horror as Kiyomi suddenly disappeared into a tiny stalk of golden light leading into Kei.
Unlike Varija, Kei barely flinched, and for a moment, Nirmal almost believed that the possession was unsuccessful. But the moment fled as quickly as it had come, as the terrifying grin spreading on Kei’s face left no doubt that Kiyomi was in control.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” murmured the spiritbender with a fiendish voice. “Spiritbending!” She raised her hand and clenched it into a fist, testing her supernatural strength. “Let’s see what I can do with this!”
Pure dread gripped Nirmal’s heart, freezing her in place. This might be the end: with Kei and her spiritbending firmly under Kiyomi’s control, the ghost was effectively invincible. Not only had she gained a host with supernatural abilities, but she could also bend the energies around her to reinforce her form. The latter was especially obvious for Nirmal as she saw the golden light begin to whirl around Kei, focusing all its remaining power around her like its very purpose had been overtaken by Kiyomi.
Lien was quick to act, and she attacked Kei while Kiyomi was still enjoying the new power she had just gained. The old woman started with a slide, intending to trip the girl, but Kiyomi noticed the surprise attack, and Kei leapt into the air with an impossibly fast move, easily dodging the attack. Lien was not so easily thwarted though, and she quickly got on her feet to resume the fight.
Normally, Kei’s big weakness was her lack of experience. While she was able to increase her speed, strength, or toughness to unbelievable levels, she was still no match for the initiates who had always managed to defeat her in sparring matches with their superior fighting skills. However, Kei was not herself this time. It was Kiyomi who controlled her body, and unlike the girl she had possessed, the Fallen Warrior did not lack skill when it came to combat.
The combination of technique and power caught up with Lien much sooner than Nirmal expected. The Kyoshi Warriors barely had time to finally assemble at the exit of the cave when the end came for their sister: a lightning-fast spinning kick from the older woman was intercepted, and her leg was trapped in Kei’s hand. The girl raised her elbow, wanting to break the knee of her older sister, but she abandoned the move halfway through the strike, and instead simply tossed Lien away. The older woman hit the sarcophagus hard at the other end of the cave, and from the looks of it, she the impact had immediately knocked her unconscious.
Nirmal realized that something was wrong with Kei. The light around her stopped whirling and reasserted its normal behavior, reaching out towards the unconscious Lien rather than feeding Kiyomi. Her face had also eased, like she was about to fall asleep.
“I think I did it.” Kei’s sudden statement shook Nirmal. “Kiyomi is pinned… I guess.”
“What’s happened?” asked back Aoi. “Is that you, Kei?”
The girl slowly turned towards them, and for a long moment, she was just standing there with an emotionless expression.
Suddenly, her face twisted into a voiceless scream, a mask of fear and desperation.
“What are you doing?” she cried, her voice distorted as Kiyomi resurfaced from her once more. “You can’t do this to me! Stop it!”
Kei’s fist rose and she punched herself in the face.
“You are going back to your corner!” Kei answered angrily with her own voice. “You… are…” Her face strained, and her whole body arched as she put all her strength into beating Kiyomi back. “…GOING BACK!”
With that, Kiyomi cried out one more time, and then the girl fell to her knees.
“Don’t come any closer!” Kei moaned as Aoi and Okako approached her. “I don’t know how long I can keep Kiyomi in check.”
“So what now?” asked Pema. “Should we just leave Kei here?”
“Something similar was our original plan,” Basya noted faintly from Kazue’s hands. “We leave Kei behind, alert the Avatar, and let him deal with the situation. This is the only way.”
“With all due respect…” Kei staggered to her feet and stumbled to the entrance of a tunnel next to the sarcophagus. “There is another solution. This tunnel leads to the innermost chamber of the tomb of Kyoshi. Kiyomi really, really doesn’t want to go there, so I guess we should make her do it.”
“It sounds quite risky,” added Aoi. “We don’t know what to do there with Kiyomi. We might just bring her vile presence to that sacred place, and defile it forever.”
“Yeah, leave that to me. I only need one of you to accompany me in case something goes wrong.”
Suki stepped forward instantly. “I’ll go.” The Commander tried to pull her back, but Suki was unflinching. “Kiyomi can’t possess me, while I can hurt her with my…” She bit off the end of the sentence, like she was trying to hide a secret. Nirmal made a mental note that she should investigate this later.
Nirmal’s eyes met her leader’s gaze, and she could only see the bravery and determination that was so characteristic to Suki. She did not even wait for Basya or the Commander to give their permission; she joined Kei without wasting any more words and helped her sister to the tunnel.
The wards let them pass through, and it didn’t take long before the darkness had consumed them.
“We should go after them,” murmured Okake, but Basya shook her head.
“There is no reason to risk our lives too, my dear. Let’s leave this wretched place, and pray to Kyoshi that our sisters will be successful.”
“She will succeed,” added the Commander, still eyeing with the tunnel with anxiety written all over her face. “I can’t even imagine how she couldn’t.”
The golden light slowly faded from the cave, its gentle glow giving way to deep shadows, leaving only a small strip of sunlight at the entrance. Sensing that Kiyomi had left her prison, the wards, too, began to dissipate, and as their energies were released, Nirmal could catch the faint echo of the dead Kyoshi Warriors once more – it rang through her ears like the finishing note of a ballad, signaling the end of a tragic tale.
However, Nirmal would most likely never know the true story. Kiyomi was going to be dealt with, one way or another, but Nirmal couldn’t shoo away the thought that the most important piece was still missing: what had Kiyomi done to earn this kind of cruel existence? According to Basya, it had been something so terrible, the whole cadre had decided to erase it from their memories.
…what could possibly be so nefarious?
CHAPTER 5: REMEMBRANCE
Kei lost control again, for the fifth time since they had left the cave. Like the four previous cases, she first collapsed, with only Suki keeping her standing, then her expressions changed from the usual angry to helpless, and she started crying for mercy with a hauntingly soft voice.
This last bit was somewhat unnerving for Suki. Before, Kiyomi’s voice had been fiendish and distorted when coming from the host, but not this time. This new tone was feeble and helpless, almost pitiable. It came from a scared soul struggling in the grasp of desperation and grief.
Kiyomi was done, her power was sapped, and she was now imprisoned in Kei’s body in the same way she had been imprisoned in that dark cave. Her diminishing strength was most apparent in the way it took Kei less and less time to suppress her again.
“Gah! Keep quiet, you daemon!” snarled the young assault specialist after overcoming Kiyomi once again. “You are unbelievable! At least submit to your defeat! Making all this fuss is pointless!”
Suki watched her sister arguing with the ghost inside of her with increasing worry. While Kei was holding strong spiritually, she was definitely slipping mentally.
“Are you alright?” Suki asked her sister thoughtfully.
Kei first answered with a menacing grin. “I’m fine, pumpkin!” The hated nickname made Suki frown. “Just hurry up! I can’t bear this whining for much longer!”
They sped up, and the winding tunnel led them deep into the mountain. Kiyomi remained still, or at least Kei made a great effort to keep her contained; the strained face of the girl was a telltale sign of the latter. For a good fifteen minutes, they walked hurriedly along the shadowy rock walls, their only light source being the faint golden light emitting from Kei and Suki’s dim blue aura.
What awaited them in the end took both girls aback, and filled them with the deepest honor and awe. The massive chamber was roughly circle-shaped and a good hundred meters in radius. The floor curved downward like a bowl, with the middle of the room being maybe ten meters lower than the edges. Hundreds of towering columns were arranged in several layers around the middle, leaving small, orderly gaps to move through the place. The roof was hidden in darkness, but Suki could easily estimate that it should go up to at least fifty meters, if not more.
The true wonder was the several dozen raised biers, one at the base of each column in the innermost layer. On them, the bodies of Kyoshi Warriors were lying in full uniform and makeup, but without their armor or weapons.
Rising above them all was the central platform, made of carefully sculpted white marble. There, none other than Avatar Kyoshi herself laid. She wore long white robes rather than the green and yellow garments she was usually portrayed with, and her makeup was strangely intricate, having much more detail than the normal Kyoshi Warrior makeup.
The two girls approached the resting place of their spiritual mother with caution. The air was heavy from the solemn atmosphere, but strangely fresh for being so deep underground. In this hall of the honored dead, the boundaries between the mortal and the spirit world were blurred; Suki could feel this instinctively. They were no longer wholly in the realm of mortals, but in some sort of intermediate dimension. The realization astonished her: from what she had gathered from the stories of Aang and Sokka, the spirit world was a marvelous and alien place that did not obey the laws of the normal world – things Suki couldn’t even imagine were possible here.
As they moved closer, it quickly became evident that ‘impossible’ was indeed a hollow word in this tomb. While some of them should be hundreds of years old, the bodies of the dead Kyoshi Warriors were far from being ancient corpses. It was quite the contrary: they looked like they were merely asleep, or maybe in a deep coma. Their faces were full and fresh, and their naked hands had a healthy pink color rather than pale white. What’s more, they were all young, maybe in their late-twenties, at the peak of their lives. While Suki knew that an early death was a grievous menace that had touched many in the cadre, it was at least suspicious that it had struck them all down at roughly the exact same age.
There was also something else…
“We are being watched,” Kei gave voice to Suki’s presentiment, “but I can’t see a living soul here other than us!”
In the gold and blue light coming from them, Suki couldn’t see much either. It might have been the ghosts of the deceased, the sisters of Kiyomi, but she had a strange feeling that their elusive observers were a different kind of supernatural creatures.
They finally came to the central platform, coming within arm’s length of Avatar Kyoshi’s body.
Suki breathed heavily. Veneration like she had never experienced before washed over her in rolling waves, leaving her heart filled with bliss. She was in the single most sacred place of the entire cadre, just a mere meter away from her spiritual mother. Her legs felt like they were made from lead as she trod these hallowed grounds, and all the hair on her body was standing upright to dance with the warm breeze running through the cave.
“Okay, objective reached. What’s now, pumpkin?”
Kei’s blunt words pushed out Suki from her ascended state in an instant. “What Kiyomi is telling to you?”
“Nothing. She has been mute since we entered this chamber.”
Acting only by instinct, Suki reached out and touched Avatar Kyoshi’s hand. It was definitely warm. Out of sheer curiosity, she ran her fingers to the wrist. Despite being dead, Kyoshi’s body had a weak, barely sensible pulse.
Following her leader, Kei also touched Kyoshi’s hand.
The world burst into blinding golden light, and from the brightness, memories emerged.
She was small and young, barely past her first year as a Kyoshi Warrior. She was playing with her sisters, filling the large dojo with the laughter of children. Their games were interrupted by a very tall woman wearing green and yellow robes.
They all ran to her, still laughing, and launched themselves into her arms. The woman laughed with them and kissed each girl on the forehead. She left her for the last, staring lovingly into her eyes after the kiss, with pride and anxiety dancing around each other on her face.
“Come on, Kiyomi,” the woman told her after a moment of silence. “Let me show you something very important!”
She followed out of the dojo and into the small shrine at the end of the island, leaving her envious sisters behind.
There, she learnt that while the Avatar was the bridge between the Mortal and the Spirit World, there were small fords too, humans and spirits who could cross to the others’ realm and bind its powers, though not as effectively as the Avatar.
There, she learned that she was one of these people.
Suki was pulled back to the present violently, a streak of blue tearing into the gold and she fell through the wound and back into reality.
She saw that a thick, fan-shaped beam of golden light was now connecting her with Kyoshi and Kei. It dug deep into the two girls, seeking for the lost soul they had brought here.
Kiyomi’s scream shattered the world again.
She had a nightmare, a vision, a dark revelation from the future. She had been getting many of these since she had become an initiate, but this was by far the worst.
She had seen the end. The end of everything.
Humanoid spirits made of pure white light, their limbs ending with deadly spikes instead of hands or feet, their faces completely bleak and featureless. They marched into war, bringing light and order to every corner of the world, whether the denizens wanted it or not. No quarter was asked, and absolutely none was given; the light-spirits mercilessly obliterated even the slightest opposition.
Dark spirits of chaotic shapes and forms rallied to stop them, but they too could only find total annihilation on the field of battle.
Victorious, the light-spirits began to cement their hegemony. Endless lines of spirits were led into large globes of light, converted into uniformed and docile servants.
The scene changed, the light-spirits turned into human warriors in elaborate white armor, and their victims were now simple humans, too, herded into a massive fortress-like building. From the belly of that place, ranks-after-ranks of slaves left: men, women, and children, all in chains, with an unnatural bleakness sprawling through their faces and pain burning in their eyes.
It was an age of ten thousand years of order without even a tint of chaos.
She woke up crying, and swore that she would do anything to prevent this future from ever happening.
Savage currents pushed Suki away again. Her blue aura fought the golden light, but it was losing badly.
Next to her, the light beam had found who it was looking for. Kiyomi’s incorporeal form was already halfway out of Kei through her eyes and mouth, screaming and struggling uncontrollably to no avail.
The tides turned, dragging Suki back into the depths.
Her investigations had finally born fruit. For years, she had entered the Spirit World almost daily, scouring that marvelous place for clues.
Only a few could stand her spiritual prowess. Those who had tried to oppose her were all dealt with swiftly. She was entirely ruthless in her quest, as the fate of the world was at stake.
She had even grown distant from her sisters, who had watched her single-minded determination with increasing concern. Not that they could understand, anyway.
At last, she was standing among the large, twisting roots of a massive, bare tree. In an enormous hole on its trunk in front of her, a spirit as black as coal and adorned with intricate red symbols on its body was imprisoned behind a series of elemental wards, filling up the hole with its mass entirely.
“Listen to me, great Spirit of Darkness and Chaos!” she shouted. Her voice was strong, filled with her will and power. “I have come here to seek answers about a future I wish to reduce to nothingness! Please, reveal your wisdom to me, so that I can succeed!”
“I do listen, daughter of Kyoshi,” answered the spirit gently. Its words came off warm and supple, like hot oil running through leather, “now, it is your time to do the same.” It circled around its prison, revealing its kite-like form. “Since the beginning of time, I, Vaatu, and my sister Raava battle to retain the balance between darkness and light. Eons beyond your ability to count had passed, and Raava grew presumptuous, thinking that she should enforce a balance of her own creation upon the world. I fought her valiantly, but she cheated by drawing a powerful human into our fight, and they imprisoned me here where I could not truly oppose my sister anymore.”
“Raava?! Are you talking about the Avatar?”
“Yes. The next battle between me and her is drawing nigh. The balance was unsettled when she sealed me away, and this would give me an advantage in our oncoming fight and thus allow me to resume our eternal battle.” Vaatu made a dramatic pause. “However, Raava is trying to cheat again. This time, she took over the reincarnating soul of the First Woman, stealing it for her own nefarious purposes.”
“The First Woman?” She began to feel uncomfortable. She knew too well where this was leading: the stolen reincarnation of the First Woman, the one Vaatu was talking about was no other but Avatar Kyoshi herself.
“During the Harmonic Convergence, the Seven Celestial Sisters will align and bestow the Eighth Face to the First Woman: the Face of Excellence. She will be invincible, and with Raava influencing her thoughts, the First Woman will surely destroy me forever, plunging the world into ten thousand years of unopposed light. And you have already seen what that world will look like.”
A moment of hesitation caught her. Everything fitted together seamlessly, a bit too well for her liking. Vaatu might have been lying, subtly manipulating her to deprive Raava of a powerful host.
But what reason he had to do so? Vaatu couldn’t defeat the reincarnated Avatar even if he or she wouldn’t have the power of the First Woman, only repeat his fight with Avatar Wan and suffer imprisonment again.
He must have been telling the truth.
She purged all doubt from her mind and straightened her back.
“Now, I see what I must do! I thank you for your counsel, Dark Master!”
With that, she turned her back to the tree and began to walk away with a heavy heart.
“Wait!” called Vaatu after her. “What is your plan?”
“I’m going to kill Avatar Kyoshi,” she growled bitterly.
She most likely misheard it, but she could swear that Vaatu approved her intention with a quiet chuckle.
Suki’s eyes opened to Kei’s scream. Kiyomi had been almost completely sucked out from the young spiritbender, only a tiny thread of golden light kept her connected to her former host. Otherwise, the ghost was halfway to Kyoshi, floating in the light beam, still struggling, still screaming.
The blue aura flashed around Suki as she released Kyoshi’s hand and made a wavering step towards Kei. Her vision was darkened, her mind was numb, but she still knew what to do, and gathered the willpower to see it through.
Her second step made her fall into inky blackness.
She was sitting on the doorstep of the small shrine where Kyoshi had revealed her unique powers many years ago. It was the place of the beginning, so it should be the starting point of the end too.
The Avatar appeared soon, answering her call for a private meeting. The tall woman - still barely past her prime outwardly though she was more than two-hundred years old - walked to her and sat down next to her.
“So, what is the occasion, Kiyomi? Did you find something during your quest?”
“I did find both a cause and a solution, Avatar Kyoshi.” Moving her tongue suddenly became difficult, like her body was actively struggling against what her mind had already determined.
“That is great news! Tell me everything!”
A dark cloud settled down on her thoughts. She shook her head, partially to answer Kyoshi and also to chase the clouds away.
“I cannot,” A teardrop rolled down on her face, but she quickly swept it away. “But I want you to know that no matter what is going to happen, I will act according to the best interest of the world and its people.”
Kyoshi flashed a small, warm smile, then she leaned to her and kissed her forehead.
“I see your troubled thoughts in your eyes,” she said thoughtfully. “I trust your judgment, Kiyomi. You shouldn’t forget that you must steel your heart if you walk the path of the righteous. The right deeds are not always good ones and they are never easy, either, but as long as you are doing what is right, you shall be able to muster the strength to endure with dignity.” The Avatar gently squeezed her hand as an encouragement. “If you are still uncertain, then here, have this: I specifically permit you to do what you have to, no matter what it takes. You have my word, Kiyomi. Use it wisely.”
When Suki regained her senses, she was already standing above Kei. Her sister, on the other hand, had been overcome by the shock of the spiritual fight and collapsed to the floor.
This placed the thread that connected her with Kiyomi inconveniently low, so Suki had to kneel down to proceed with her plan.
Kiyomi had most likely realized what Suki would do and so doubled her efforts to break free from the beam, sending a surge of golden light towards Suki.
The bright energy wave hit the blue aura with an ear-splitting crack, sending Suki flying to the nearest column.
Months of careful planning and preparations followed. When the day came, she felt no turmoil, no remorse about what she was about to do. These things had been left behind a long time ago. Her cause was true and righteous, and that was all that counted now.
Yet, there was something lurking among her steadfastness. Like all the Kyoshi Warriors, she was an orphan who had come to Kyoshi Island when she was a little baby. Here, Avatar Kyoshi raised her with the others, loving them as her very own daughters. In fact, it was questionable if she had shown as much love to her true daughter, Koko, as her Kyoshi Warriors. Kyoshi was the beloved mother of all, and no ill thought would ever come to her from her daughters.
Until now, that is.
Each time her mind wandered there, her heart started to pump faster, and her stomach shrank into a knob. She had no doubt about what she should do, but she feared what would happen after it was done. Kyoshi had told her that she mustn’t falter and had to endure with dignity… but she couldn’t find this strength in herself, only shame gnawing away at the future she was fighting for.
She would save the world… but could she save herself?
As she entered the dojo, she knew that it was too late to spare any more thought to this. Avatar Kyoshi was standing in the middle, telling a story to a group of Kyoshi Warriors sitting in front of her. Her empty voice and sluggish gestures were clear signs that the sedatives slipped into her drink two hours ago had taken effect.
“Oh! Kiyomi!” welcomed Avatar without even turning to her. “You are just in time!” With no attention given to her, Kiyomi firmly grasped the hilt of her sword and in herself stated that her steel would fly through the air like lighting and strike with the force of a thousand arms. “I’m just about to…”
“DIE!” she shrieked, and her sword was released from its sheath for an attack as fast as a lightning bolt and as powerful as an avalanche.
No one had even the slightest chance to interfere. Doped like this and showing her back, Kyoshi was an easy target. The killing blow couldn’t have missed even if Kiyomi wished it.
The sword ran into Kyoshi’s back right at the heart and impaled her without problem. The Avatar’s eyes opened wide from the surprise, her hands instinctively wrapped themselves around the blade sticking out from her chest, and her whole body tightened as the chords of life were cut inside of her.
In that moment, a thousand things ran through her mind, slowly assembling a dangerous revelation. She had done the unthinkable, she had killed Avatar Kyoshi, but the thrill of triumph had eluded her.
Deep in her heart, she knew why.
Her mind slipped under the pressure and splintered into a million shards, scattering her sanity like the blazing summer sun scatters the dark storm clouds. For a seemingly infinite moment, she was stuck in her final attack stance, with the dying Avatar on her sword.
Then, a wind blast swept her aside as the Kyoshi Warriors finally leaped into action. Steel flashed, but it was not hers, and her severed sword-arm flew through the air. A war fan tore into her chest, another sword cut her shoulder, and a powerful water bullet broke her left thigh.
She and Kyoshi hit the floor at the same time, but while the Avatar received panicked care, she only got rough hands pulling her up to her knees then forcing her to bend over.
One of the warriors rose from the Avatar, her face twisted into a mask of depthless rage, her hand unsheathing her sword.
The woman stepped over to her without as much as saying a word, and placed the blade on her neck.
“I had to do this, you fools!” she screamed with all her remaining strength. The blade rose into the air. “SHE HAD TO DIE! LET ME GO!”
The blade fell, and her last sight was Kyoshi closing her eyes.
A hand reached for Suki and pulled her out from the memories of Kiyomi. She returned to the chamber with her full consciousness, only to see that Kiyomi was still clinging onto the thread instead of surrendering to her doom.
This was the end, however. Suki felt her strength peaking, and she pushed herself away from the ground and rushed to Kei.
Her eyes and Kiyomi’s met for a split second. The Fallen Warrior released a final, inhumane shriek, and clawed forward to strike Suki, but she was too far away and only slashed the air between them.
Suki’s palm rose, and she struck the thread connecting Kiyomi and Kei with the edge of her hand.
The whole cave was shaken by the ensuing explosion of blue and gold light. Suki was flung into the air by an unrelenting force and landed hard somewhere around the second layer of columns. Pain pierced her chest as she met with the rocky floor, and her momentum pushed her further on for several meters before her tumble finally stopped.
The last thing she could see was Kiyomi disappearing in Avatar Kyoshi’s body, then her eyes closed and her world was consumed by darkness.
The pleasant coldness refreshed her mind and eased the pain in her chest. Suki praised Kyoshi for this gentle awakening. There were no screams, no hard rocks under her back, no gold light shining through her eyelids, and no dank air filling her nose. She was now lying on a bed, among soft sheets, most likely in her own room in the village, according to the scent.
“I think she is waking up. Call for Nirmal!”
The voice was distantly familiar, and as Suki slowly opened her eyes, she could see Kala – the waterbender from the volunteers from the Northern Water Tribe – leaning over her, with hands wrapped in blobs of water.
“Commander Suki?” Kala waved her hands over her in a wide, circular motion, and the water glowed with a soft bluish light for a short moment. This filled Suki with a little vigor, enough to make her lips move.
“I’m all right,” whispered Suki. Her voice was much weaker than intended, but that was the best she could do right now.
A door opened up, and a familiar shape stepped next to Kala.
“Kyoshi’s pink slippers, you look horrible!” Nirmal’s teasing drew out a smile from Suki. “Don’t even smile. You would just break another bone in your body.”
“How is Kei?” the young leader of the Kyoshi Warriors forced out. “What happened?”
“Right here, pumpkin!” came the answer from somewhere behind her. “Whatever you did, you got hit hard for it. When I woke up… Well, you scared the wits out of me. I thought you were dead… That was messed up!” A third person entered Suki’s sight. Other than a small bruise across her cheek, Kei looked unhurt. Lucky her. “I dragged you out from the tomb through the first passageway I found, and we ended up at the main entrance somehow. The others found us there.”
“She is gone.” Nirmal gently rearranged Suki’s sheets. “Don’t worry, we have already sent a messenger hawk for the Avatar. Things will work out without you from here. Get some rest.”
Suki acknowledged the situation with another smile. “You research was not so crazy after all.”
Now it was Nirmal’s turn to smile. “We were lucky. The things I knew… I had read about them only an hour before I entered that cursed cave.”
That was lucky indeed. But as she was looking back, Suki knew that there had been more: Kiyomi had been defeated by their persistence, their force of will. Every Kyoshi Warrior in that cave had done her best to resist the Fallen Warrior and her demonic influence, and it eventually brought them victory.
And, above all, they had had that little something Kiyomi hadn’t, the small but nevertheless important part that separated righteous and self-destructive determination: trust.
EPILOGUE: THE FORGIVEN
It took Kyoshi only a glance to size up the damage Kiyomi had done: the energies in the cave were twisted and corrupted from hundreds of years of abuse, then drained almost completely within a morning, turning the place into a spiritual wasteland. She had been right to ask Avatar Aang to meditate outside – manifesting Kyoshi’s spirit into the mortal world inside the cave would have been all but impossible.
She walked to the grave, running her half-transparent hands through its cold surface. While being here as part of the Avatar Spirit had shut down her deep connection with her daughters, she could still feel Kiyomi’s pain and madness in the stone.
With a stiff motion, Kyoshi removed the top of the sarcophagus using Aang’s earthbending. The settling dust revealed a skeleton inside, wearing the tattered remnants of an incomplete Kyoshi Warrior uniform. She gently took Kiyomi’s remains into her hands, cautious to not do any damage to them; her attempt vitalized the golden light in the cave, and it enveloped the bones in her hand, keeping them together.
Thus, Kyoshi began her trek through the tunnel, down to her very own tomb. Above her, dozens of green crystals began to glow, illuminating her way with their warm green light.
The burial chamber in the belly of the mountain had barely changed since Kyoshi had last seen it: the circle-shaped cave, the columns and the attached biers, and the central platform were all as she had made them hundreds of years ago. Only the dead were more numerous, a sad but inevitable testament of the passing generations.
Now, she added one more body to the ranks of the deceased, placing Kiyomi’s skeleton onto one of the empty biers. Cords of golden light sprung up from the stone almost immediately, wrapping the remains into a bizarre cocoon – after a few seconds, the light dissolved, leaving behind the fully restored body of Kiyomi. She looked alive again, just like her sisters around her, her newly recreated flesh sleeping its supernatural slumber.
Kyoshi slowly walked around the central platform, and it did not take long until she caught sight of the lonely ghost sitting on the stairs leading to the middle. Her incorporeal form was much more orderly than Kyoshi had expected: her hair was in a tight bun, her Kyoshi Warrior makeup was spotless, and her uniform and armor were all fit and tidy. Otherwise, she was just staring at her feet with a dejected expression, most likely contemplating her recent defeat. Her almond eyes were so fixated on her inner thoughts, she couldn’t even notice Kyoshi.
“I would have never assumed that we would come to this, Kiyomi.” Kyoshi’s voice cut into the silence and startled the ghost. She looked up, her face now displaying pure fear, and when her eyes finally met Kyoshi’s, she crawled back in panic. Her whimper as she did this was a clear sign of what she was waiting for.
While Kyoshi had indeed considered reprimanding Kiyomi for being a fool and killing her, she had abandoned the idea during her journey down here. Her daughter suffered enough, and had surely learned her lesson – if not from her harsh captivity, then from the way she had been delivered here.
“They shouldn’t have done this with you,” continued Kyoshi calmly. “You acted in a way you thought to be certain. It was not entirely your fault that you were being manipulated all along. I should have been more wary about your strange behavior.” This somehow eased Kiyomi, and her fear was replaced with confusion. “You were a fool, but you were also my daughter. Letting you go down like this made a fool out of me too.”
Tears of golden light appeared in Kiyomi’s eyes, and her lips quivered. After a moment of just staring at each other, Kyoshi opened her arms and her fallen daughter lunged forward right into her embrace. The air around them shivered as Kyoshi’s pale greyish-blue form met Kiyomi’s bright gold, and the green crystals above sparkled with joy as they witnessed the reconciliation.
“I’m sorry!” whined Kiyomi, strengthening her hug like she was afraid that Kyoshi would disappear from her arms. “I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t be so bitter,” hushed her Kyoshi. “You acted on a false assumption... An assumption I neither intended nor cared to discover, even though I should have. This is all as much my fault as yours.”
“But… But I killed you! And I hurt my sisters! I hurt so many of them!” Kiyomi buried her head deeper into Kyoshi’s chest, her tears of golden light disappearing in the air as they rolled down on her face. “I have no excuses! I’m a daemon like they said!”
“You were angry and in pain.” Kyoshi gently lifted Kiyomi’s head by her chin and kissed her forehead. “You are not a daemon, just my foolish, misguided daughter.” Kiyomi’s body glowed as she finally closed her almond eyes with a small, resigned smile on her lips. The golden light flashed then turned blinding, and Kiyomi slowly dissolved into a swarm of tiny stars. “Your suffering is over. Go and rest with your sisters, Kiyomi.”
The stars swirled around Kyoshi, dancing around her spirit form playfully for a moment, then they shot out towards Kiyomi’s body and disappeared in her mouth.
A heavy silence befell the chamber. Kyoshi glanced over her dead daughters, though she was unsure what she was looking for. Her eyes only stopped when they reached her own body on the central platform – specifically, when a tiny and fresh burnt mark on her hand caught her attention.
“The two who brought the Fallen Warrior here were less than careful with the binding.” The raspy voice came from behind Kyoshi, but she chose to not turn towards the source. “The red haired girl in particular was quite destructive with her spiritual shielding.”
“I suppose you have already dealt with any damage they caused,” replied Kyoshi casually. “This place feels in perfect order. You do your job well, Kimil.”
“Thank you, Avatar.” Kyoshi could sense Kimil’s presence shifting, and from the corner of her eye, she caught its silhouette, a large spider with sharp edges and a roughly humanoid upper body in place of its head.
“There is another thing. The cave that was formerly Kiyomi’s prison is seething with dark energies. Purge that place and seal it off for good. I don’t want any loose ends.”
“Consider it done.”
Kyoshi acknowledged this with a nod. She looked through her tomb once more and then she unceremoniously left. Behind her, the green crystals faded out quickly, returning the chamber to darkness once more.
Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed the story! The next chapter is (hopefully) coming soon, unveiling even more secrets from the past of the Kyoshi Warriors!