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Two Weeks LaterEdit
Hei looked through the telescope at the Earth Kingdom fortress, "How many defending it?" "A hundred and fifty at the most, less than a third our number," The Major replied, "but it's a platoon of the Earth Kingdom's most elite warriors and benders. And the fortification itself is a problem as well. As you can see, it's quite the impregnable fortress. It's blocking our advance towards Omashu since we can't risk leaving such a powerful fortification behind us."
Hei smiled coldly as he surveyed the thicket of massive earthen spikes around the base of the large square keep on the hill in the center of the pass and the tiny road weaving up through them. He collapsed the telescope and handed it back to the Major, "The identity of their commanding officer?" "Colonel Qiu Yu," The Major replied as he pointed to a sketch on the table, "He is a formidable bender and by all accounts one of the most stubborn men alive. He'll never surrender."
Hei looked closely at the picture and smiled, "I think you're exactly right. He won't surrender." He straightened up and looked at the Major, "Have your forces ready to attack at dawn. If there's anyone still alive in there, they won't be in any shape to deal with you." The Major blinked, "What? There's over a hundred men in there with enough supplies to last them years, why wouldn't there be anyone..."
The Major's voice trailed off as he caught the vicious glint in Hei's eye. A sense of foreboding settled over him and his whole body suddenly seemed heavy and slow with horror as his chest tightened and realization flooded his mind, "Oh. You're..." Hei smiled as he stepped to the door of the tent and looked over his shoulder at the Major, "Best not to mention it Major." He left, the canvas flap that served as a door fluttering closed behind him virtually without a sound.
The Major shivered slightly, whether from the cold of the mountain air or from shock and the twinges of fear still twitching through him in the wake of the man he had mistaken for a Navy officer, he couldn't tell.
Toph stood up from the log she had been sitting on, "Got a long night planned?" "Most likely," Hei replied. Toph smiled, "Then let's go."
Thirty Minutes Later, The Outer Wall Of The KeepEdit
"How long do you think they'll keep hammering away at us?" the guard patrolling the wall asked his patrol buddy. He hadn't known his patrol buddy long, but being under siege for the last three months they had become good friends. Now as he turned, curious at his friends silence, he had enough time for a split second of panic before the shadowy figure's hand snapped out and crushed his windpipe.
The shadowy finger raised a finger to his lips and made a shushing motion with what seemed to the guard the most evil grin in the history of the world as his lungs began to burn for oxygen. As the shadowy figure turned and silently sprinted down the wall towards the south tower, the guard's vision began to grow dim at the edges as earth flowed up his body to keep him from collapsing and alerting the sentries to his death with the crash of his armored body on the stone rampart. By the time the guard's eyes closed, Hei was already midair, launched toward the south tower from the top of the wall by Toph.
Hei drew and threw a small knife in the space of an instant as he reached level with the tower. A split second later he had landed on the parapet and leapt across the narrow space at the top of the tower, catching one of the two guards manning the tower by the throat on his way past with an armored gauntlet and dragged him along as he caught the further guard with one arm and slit his throat in a movement so smooth and silent a snake would've been jealous.
Before the first guard, who had taken Hei's knife straight to the eye, could concentrate through the pain to reach for his horn to sound the alert, Hei's hands wrapped around his jaw and the back of his head. There was a quick jerking motion and the guard had just enough time to catch a glimpse of a beautiful young woman sitting on the parapet between him and the crescent moon as he felt something snap that wasn't supposed to go snap.
After that he slumped to the ground, very dead. Hei didn't let him slump loudly, instead he laid the man down very gently, so as not to give any warning to the other sentinels by way of a helmet or rattling piece of armor bouncing off the stone. That was a sound Hei knew would be sure echo all throughout the pass on such a still night.
Toph smiled from the parapet, "Not like you to miss," She teased quietly as Hei retrieved his blade from the body of the guard. "Who says I missed?" Hei replied quietly as he used the dead man's shirt to wipe the blood off the knife that had been buried in the guard's eye, "If I had killed him with that knife throw he would've fallen, and all that armor would've alerted his friends to our presence, as is, he barely had time to gasp in pain before I had him by the throat."
He lifted the fallen guard enough to undo the dead man's quiver before strapping it on himself and appropriating the man's bow, "Now if you're done with your witty banter, I'm gonna get on with killing the guys on this wall over here." Toph sighed, "All work and no play, typical, typical Hei." Hei shot a glare at her, "There will be time and plenty for celebrating when we're done. Don't get cocky."
Toph sighed and stood. Five years ago she might have been offended, now though she was used to Hei's sense of humor disappearing during a job. "All clear down below. Nobody beneath us moving, nobody I can find at all except for those guys down in the barracks. Hang on." She stamped her foot and smiled, "correction, those pancakes down in the barracks."
Twenty Short, Violent Minutes LaterEdit
Hei drew the bow he had taken to full draw and released. A few seconds later the arrow thudded into the wall above the terrace roof of the fourth floor. Hei tied the rope to a post and then tied a second rope around his waist and the other end to the rope spanning the gap. He then tied Toph on the same way and the two clambered across the line, upside down hand over hand like monkeys.
Hei went first, Toph following closely behind and a few hair raising moments later, the two deadly assassins cut their safety lines from the safety of the roof right outside the window of the highest story of the central tower, the narrow one room lookout loft. The window was shuttered with thick canvas and crisscrossed with ornate wooden bars. Toph laid hand to the wall as Hei caught the bars and a few seconds later sand came trickling out from around the window as she gently drummed her fingers on the wall. Hei gently pulled the heavy window sideways in its frame, not much, just enough for them to slip through the gap.
A few moments later the sand hardened back to stone. Barring close inspection, nobody would ever be able to tell where the two deadly Ye Gui Li agents had entered the tower. Hei slithered to the door, Toph right on his heels. Hei looked at Toph and she gave a slight thumbs up, indicating the hallway on the opposite side of the door was empty. Hei poked his head out cautiously and tiptoed forward, scratching his fingers on the ground when it was clear.
Toph crept along behind him and they slithered along the hallway, quiet as the ghosts for which they were named. They reached the stairs and Toph passed Hei, flattening the spiraling stairs into a slide, which she effortlessly and silently slid up. A few moments later she slid back down, any sentinels which might have been on the roof silenced, and together she and Hei slid down to the third floor without a sound.
They stopped and Toph punched Hei on the shoulder gently as she slunk off down the hall towards the officers' quarters. Hei slid on down to the second floor and slithered down the hall, casually drawing two long knives from beneath his coat as he crept to the barracks. He poked his head around the edge of the door frame, and when he saw nobody moving, he grinned as he slid his knives back into their sheathes. He stood back and settled into a stance, calmly gathering his chi as his eyes hardened and he channeled his determination into a hard hateful point of power in his core.
When he heard a series of concerted crashes from the next floor up, as the sleeping guards leapt from their bunks, he stepped forward and unleashed a tremendous fire blast that flooded the room. In the space of an instant, the stone room was full of flames so hot that even six feet from the door through his thick black mask, with the fire contained and focused by his bending Hei had to squint to keep the heat from searing his eyes from his skull.
Once the room was full of flames, Hei began to make wide circular motions with his hands, whipping the inferno into a cyclone of fire. When the brief screaming brought the guards from the floor below rushing up the steps, Hei stepped back and brought the flames rushing out of the barracks and sent it hurtling down the stairs to the floor below like a waterfall of burning death. The last guard standing on the second floor crept around the corner, thinking perhaps if he could surprise the firebender that had just undoubtedly executed at least half of his comrades, perhaps he could avenge them.
Then Hei turned and separated his hands, two fingers pointed straight at the unlucky guardsman. A wall of dry heat suddenly washed over the man, scorching his flesh to parchment in seconds as Hei channeled the heat from the cherry red stone in the stairs down the hallway. When he was certain nobody else was coming, he stamped his foot twice. A second later, Toph dropped from a hole in the ceiling.
"Anyone still have a pulse besides us?" Hei asked as Toph rose from her crouch. "Nope," she replied, "there weren't any walls down below, and feels like all the stone down there is still partially molten from that fire blast. I can't feel anybody dancing around trying to get their feet out of the hot molten rock, so I'd say there's probably nobody left down there."
Hei nodded and then stepped to a window before turning to look at Toph, "They seem to have gotten the memo to get outside before I fire-washed the lower floor. Ready for a little workout?" Toph walked over to the window, "How many down there?" Hei looked, "Mmm...twenty, twenty five maybe." Toph smiled and leaned against the wall, "Nah. Not enough down there for a workout. They're all yours." Hei sighed with a slight smile as he drew his long knives from their sheathes beneath his coat, "Well, if you insist."
The Next MorningEdit
The Major cautiously led his men up the slope which had been mysteriously cleared of earthen spikes over night. He found the gates wide open, and as he cautiously entered the courtyard, he saw signs of a major battle, and many bodies, but there was no sign of the Ye Gui Li agents other than the carnage they had left.
The Major led his men up through the tower, finding one room scorched charcoal black and full of horrifically scorched bodies and burned beds. Those of the fort's officers who had been sleeping were found with their heads crushed beneath large blocks of stone that seemed to have fallen from the ceiling, and as they scoured the outer ring of the fortress, they found nearly forty men in the tower barracks who had been mysteriously crushed like bugs along with their beds and everything else that had been in the rooms with them, almost as though a giant foot had slammed down upon the contents of the rooms the men had been in.
Hei and Toph were already long gone.
Back At Hei's Ship, The Next DayEdit
Hei stood on deck, reading the dispatch that had arrived for him by messenger hawk while he was upriver dealing with the fortress. He smiled and looked up at the sky on the horizon, noting the dark clouds gathering as the scent and still of coming rain made his heart soar, "We've got a new mission Toph." Toph raised an eyebrow, "No way, really? A messenger hawk from Central arrived with a mission? They never do that."
Hei considered casting a withering glare at her, but he knew it would be totally lost on her, so instead he elected to ignore her sarcasm, "We've been assigned to hunt down the Avatar." Toph grinned, "Looks like we'll be seeing that Zuko guy again soon. Wasn't much of a headstart was it?" Hei sighed, "Yes we will. No it wasn't, and we'll be seeing some other old friends first. We're not taking any chances with this. Much as I hate to say it, we're going to need the others."
Toph actually flinched, "Oh please tell me you don't mean..." Hei sighed with resignation, "Yeah. This is going to be a long hunt." Toph groaned at the prospect of having to work with the other Ye Gui Li's other three test cases, and Hei groaned internally as he resigned himself to having to work with his longstanding rival. Toph rubbed her forehead, "Maybe Baozha's killed him already and he won't be there..." "You know we're not that lucky," Hei replied glumly "If he were going to do it, he'd have done it by now."
Toph's face fell as she realized he was right, "Oh goody..."