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Chapter 9-The Southern SanctuaryEdit
It was a ten day journey to Howling Mountain Isle. They took it in shifts, half of them awake at night, and half during the day. It didn't pay to have the entire crew asleep when piloting a war ship through Republic Mech infested waters. By dawn on the tenth day, they were at the edge of the mountainous archipelago where the Sanctuary was located, and everyone was awake that afternoon as storm clouds began to gather overhead.
Aang smiled as he began to see things he remembered from his childhood. They were vague things, and he didn't remember them well because when he had manifested the four gifts almost back to back, he had been immediately swooped up and taken to the royal court. He had been maybe four years old at the time.
When dusk arrived and they hadn't arrived yet, it was obvious to the others that Aang had no clue where he was going. Sokka was the one to confront him about it, "Are you sure you know where you're going?" Aang looked at him with a raised eyebrow, "Of course I'm sure! I was born here! I lived here until we discovered I'm the Emperor." Sokka nodded, "And when was that?" Aang blinked and then smiled bashfully, "Um I think I was about four."
Sokka smiled, nodded and walked off. He walked to where the others were gathered to discuss Aang's apparently faulty navigation and a moment later Aang's arm yanked him overboard. He surfaced spitting water and found the others looking over the rail at him, "What was that for?!" Katara raised an eyebrow, "For pretending to know where you're going when you haven't been here in a hundred and twelve years." Dread-Eye frowned, "Did it not occur to you that they might have changed the landmarks to hide themselves from the Republic?"
Aang scratched his head, "Oh yeah, I guess they would have done that. Can you pull me back in now?" The Churaians tossed a rowboat overboard with a rope tied to it. Sokka called, "No, I think you should have your own personal ship there your highness!" Aang pulled himself into the little boat scowling, "Haha very funny." Thunder cracked overhead and Aang looked up, noting that the clouds were about to burst, "Seriously guys! Pull me in!"
Katara threw an umbrella to him. He frowned, "Seriously? You can be replaced you know!" He was suddenly thrown out of his boat by his own legs. Katara smiled at him as he resurfaced, "Sorry, didn't quite hear you! Care to try again?"Aang muttered several probably very rude things under his breath as he pulled himself back into the boat, but Katara didn't hear him because she was busy running for a coat as the rain began to pour.
Aang growled and pulled his hood up before opening the umbrella and sitting huddled in the little boat as the anchor dropped.
Meanwhile On The RiverbankEdit
"You think that's really him?" The Spirit Caller asked his friend now that the heavy rain was muting all sound outside the small stone outcrop they had taken shelter under. She tilted her head, "They have a chimera, and they're flying under the Emperor's colors. It's worth investigating." She raised a hand and blew. A little puff of green coiled off her palm and took the shape of a little green butterfly that fluttered away into the dark. She looked at her friend, "What do you think Tak?" Tak shrugged, "I don't know Katrina, but I hope it is. We could use a little good news." She nodded, "True. Very true."
Sokka suddenly whispered from behind them, "You should really be more careful when you sneak!" Katrina and Tak leapt to their feet and spun, unleashing spectral slashes at the spot Sokka had been in a moment before. Sokka sat atop the stone outcrop and smiled down at them, "Some people don't have to see you to know you're there!"
They suddenly became aware that there were half a dozen people around them, not just the Vampiri on the rock smiling down at them as he drew one of his throwing blades, "Now then, are you going to take us to the sanctuary so the Emperor can talk to the council, or are we going to have to find some other Spirit Callers to help us?" Katrina and Tak looked around warily, three of them were obviously Bone-Mongers, and the one with the purple glow flickering around his eye patch and swords was obviously a Death-Touch.
Tak exhaled slowly, "Bears, or birds?" Sokka tilted his head to the side, "What?" Katrina smiled behind her mask, "Bears." Then she spun and launched an arc of spectral energy into the Churaians and Chit-Sang, knocking them all back several feet. She leapt and kicked with both feet, discharging twin arcs of spectral energy, stunning Tonis as it left a huge gash in his bone armor and slicing Chit-Sang open. Chit-Sang went to the ground as Chuckles launched three arrows at once.
Katrina spun mid-air and sliced them all from the air with a massive spectral claw, her hood fell off as she spun and revealed her gold hair, greenish in the light of her claw but still instantly recognizable. Suddenly Chuckles leapt back, "Whoa whoa whoa! Hold up! Katrina Daimonas?" Katrina paused for an instant and Tonis, who had been about to cut her in half paused. Chuckles looked at her closely as she crouched, her spectral claw illuminating her features, pretty even when half obscured by the black mask over the lower half of her face, "What's it to you?"
The Churaians all immediately put down their weapons and Mundo even reached over and grabbed Zuko and Sokka who had their hands full with Tak, effortlessly lifting them off the ground by the backs of their shirts and holding them there, "Hold up fellas, these two are friends." Katrina tilted her head, "Who are you people?" Chuckles retracted his bone helmet, allowing his wild beard and hair to show. Katrina blinked, "Chuckles Churaian?!" She turned, "Tonis?! Mundo?!" The remaining brothers shed their helmets smiling as she pulled down her mask, her smile taking her face from pretty to gorgeous in the flickering green light.
Sokka crossed his arms, "I'm guessing you three know these people?" Chuckles smiled at him, "Of course! We were here three years ago on our way to the city of the Southern Vampiri!" "SO WHY DIDN'T YOU HELP US NAVIGATE WHILE AANG WAS LEADING US IN CIRCLES?" Sokka exclaimed in exasperated outrage. The brothers all blinked and their smiles faded as Katrina began to laugh, "You didn't even think about it did you fellas?"
The three shook their heads in unison, "No." Sokka face palmed. And Chit-Sang raised a hand, "Um, excuse me, if nobody minds, can we get me down to Katara? I'm kinda losing a lot of blood down here."
Later That NightEdit
Katrina and the platoon of Spirit Callers that had arrived within minutes of her sending her spectral message escorted them through the gates, the Churaians carrying Chit-Sang because after patching the wound Katrina had given him, Katara had instructed him not to move until he was fully healed. They had docked near the base of a waterfall and Katrina had led them up a long winding staircase up the side of a mountain that creaked ominously the whole way up. Sokka caught up to Katrina at the front of the line, "Why are the stairs so filmsy? You could never move war machines along here."
Katrina smiled at him as though the answer were obvious, "This is only the guest entrance. Our real roads are hidden. And besides, that's rather the point. Nobody can get up here to attack us. Even the Republic can't bring their War Mechs up sheer cliffs! Trust me, they've tried!" Aang suddenly groaned from the middle of the group, "I'm so tired! Does this mountain go to the moon? Where does it end?!"
Everyone stopped and looked at him. One of the Spirit Callers pulled down his mask and flipped back his hood, revealing him to be extremely old and so sickly looking that Dread-Eye found it was a wonder he hadn't fallen over dead of old age. The old man snorted at Aang, "Wuss." "WHAT?" Aang exclaimed, "This is a freaking huge mountain! I'm the Emperor! I shouldn't have to walk!" A large hand suddenly grabbed him by the seat of the pants yanked him into the air and dangled him over the edge, "I'm sorry, would you prefer to fly your highness? I assure you it will be a short trip." Chuckles said dryly. Aang nearly wet himself before Chuckles hauled him back over onto the walkway and the group moved on. Katara walked past him, "Strike one."
Aang grasped his crotch gasping with pain as what felt like sharp fingernails dug into him, squeezing and rolling his privates in an extremely painful manner. Katara raised an eyebrow at him as she released the blood bending pressure, "Keep it in mind your highness." Aang winced and walked on, grimly resolving to bear the hardship of walking. At the head of the line Katrina said to Sokka, "That's the Emperor?" Sokka nodded, "We thought about killing him and waiting for the next one, but decided we couldn't wait that long." Katrina looked over her shoulder at the scrawny bald headed weakling with the arrow shaped scar beneath his hood, "Pity."
Three quarters of the way up Sokka was breathing heavily, "I see why you people are in such good shape if you climb roads like this every day!" Katrina laughed at him, "Sokka, we all climb this cliff by hand at least once a week. This is a leisurely stroll for us." Sokka's jaw dropped and he stared. Katrina laughed even harder at his expression, wondering to herself if he would faint upon learning she did it three times a week just because she could.
As they were nearing the top she looked over at Sokka, "So, how did you meet the eh, well he's not much of an Emperor is he?" Sokka looked over at him, "Yeah I don't know what his deal is. My sister and I were out hunting seals and he saved us from a killer bear-whale that came out of the ice trying to eat us. After that we brought him to the city, thinking hooray the emperor's returned. The whole city had a party celebrating his return. Then..." He shook his head.
"Then what?" Katrina asked. Katara caught up to her, "The little prick declared he was going to stay safe and sound in our city, marry me and let the world go the rest of the way to hell in a handbasket." Katrina stopped in her tracks, "He what?" Katara patted her on the shoulder, "Don't worry, I already gave him that scar for it, and Dread-Eye made sure it'll never heal."
Katrina glared over her shoulder at Aang, "Good." She turned and strode forward, the air around her growing restless with the whispers of angry spirits, reflexively summoned in response to Katrina's anger, "My brother has been in Full Moon Bay for four years with two of our best agents working to bring the Republic down and that little prick doesn't even care? I should kill him right now. There'll be another Emperor, one that's not a disgrace to the entire Spirit Caller sect."
Sokka caught her shoulder and nearly got blasted over the edge as she snapped a glare over her shoulder at him. Katrina did not like being grabbed, and the Spirit Callers all knew it well enough to get far away from her, several falling flat to the ramp and covering their heads, the ones on the other side jumping and clinging to the rock face, ready to climb if they needed to. Sokka lurched back and her hand snapped out to catch him by the breastplate before he could tumble over the edge into the abyss. She pulled him very close, until her face was inches from his, "Do NOT grab me from behind. Understand?" She said it with a smile, but her eyes were murderous until Sokka nodded.
She turned loose of his breastplate, "Now what were you going to say?" Sokka made sure he was balanced and looked over his shoulder at the long drop before turning back to her, "I was going to say that even if he is a waste of space and a disgrace to all Death Bringers, he's our only chance to reunite the Empire before the Century Comet. So, we can't kill him." Then he glanced over his shoulder at Aang, who had taken refuge behind Chuckles when he had felt the disturbance whipped up by Katrina's anger and was only now peeking around the immense Bone-Monger who was looking down at him like dung on his boot, "At least not yet. Maybe if he's still this pathetic after we reunite the Empire. Once that's done we can get rid of him whenever." Katrina smiled at the thought.
Perhaps half an hour later they reached the plateau and saw the sanctuary. It was a truly immense fortress, but also very beautiful. There was a high tower with several levels marked by terraces of the same red tile that roofed the whole thing. The door was set into the base of the tower which was at the intersection of the fortress's two wings. The door was immense and made of dark wood bound with bronze.
There were lush gardens surrounding it, riddled with waterways and pools, bridged by ornate dark wooden bridges. As they walked through the garden, Katrina extended her arm to the side and made a hissing sound. Something suddenly leapt from the bushes she was walking alongside and coiled up and along her arm, draping itself across her shoulders. Sokka leapt away in fright, "Snake!"
Katrina paused and smiled at him, "Oh, don't tell me you're afraid of little Ochi and Fidi?" She extended her arm and the "snake" crawled down it towards Sokka. As it drew closer, Sokka saw that it had two heads, both finned and shiny. It was blue with silver streaks and had yellow eyes. It's heads tilted to one side in unison, their tongues flickering out inquisitively before jumping onto his chest, clinging to the top of his breastplate with tiny little claws.
Sokka froze instinctively, and the head on the left slid under his breast plate while the other one held his gaze, its tongue tickling Sokka's nose. Suddenly the head in his breastplate came out, dragging Sokka's stash of seal jerky with it. The little hydra turned and jumped back to Katrina's arm and the head with the bag put it in her hand before they both nuzzled her like little puppies. Katrina laughed, "I'm sorry Sokka, they must be hungry. Would you mind sharing with them?" She smiled at him cutely and Sokka nodded, "Yeah, they can have some."
Katrina smiled and started walking again, opening the bag and extracting a piece of seal jerky, which she handed to them. They chirped happily before taking it and then they proceeded to playfully fight over it, coiling their tail around Katrina's arm so they didn't fall off, continuing to feed them as they walked. Katara looked at Sokka, "But you never share your meat." Sokka shrugged, "We're emissaries, and besides, I've got more."
Katara looked at him closely and then realized he was watching Katrina and shook her head with a smile.