This article, The Brass Guard, is the co-property of both Benknightprime and Shen Yi.

Planning a Rescue

"Did you hear, that massage parlor down the street was set on fire." A woman whispered. "Turns out that place was ran by the Honeybadgers."

"Yes!" A younger girl exclaimed. "Officials are saying it was a retaliation by a rival gang. I can't believe it. They always say you're always surrounded by doors to the underworld."

"And those abductions and murders. Did you hear the woman next door found her husband split in two."

The gossiping housewives were spreading rumors spoken by those without a clue. People who lived among the light but peered vicariously into the darkness. That world of freedom was not for everyone. And those too weak to survive without protection could only peer into it from time to time. The dual swordsman wearing both day and night upon his waist chose to ignore their rumors. Empty words meant nothing after having lightning shot at him continuously. He avoided the women, walked to the room and let the door slam as he entered the general area of Taiyang's living quarters. With the ledgers spread open on the table, he had spent the previous night studying the numbers. The dual wielding swordsman was an articulate criminal; taught to read, write and understand the story numbers told when filed properly.

"Taiyang." Wei Meng called for his new roommate.

Taiyang came into the room, with cups of tea prepared and bandages wrapped around his arm from his wounds in the battles under the earth. Placing them down, Taiyang let out a sigh of relief, followed by a yawn. "Is there any reason we didn't make sure that that behemoth of a man was dead before we left?" questioned Taiyang as he sipped of his tea, thinking over the battle.

Using the spearhead as sword was a different feeling for Taiyang. It was new, albeit temporary extension of himself. Taiyang grew amazed by watching Wei Meng bend with his swords, and with Nu Wei using his spear. Bending with a weapon never occured to Taiyang, as usage of weapons was not taught by the Huolong. Using the spear-sword along with using using his lightning, Taiyang pondered before shaking it off and getting back on task.

"What do the ledgers say? The name we are looking for is Xiaohui. She is a non-bender." Taiyang said, knowing now completely the truth was revealed. While Taiyang is not opposed to saving other Huolong children, he was here for the one he held the dearest, his first friend Xiaohui.

Wei Meng ignored the previous comment and took a sip of tea. He hadn't cared for Nu Wei, but putting excessive effort into assuring death was not something he would waste precious time on. He loved battle. Enjoyed clashing blades and drawing blood. Hell, there was even a small pleasure for actually killing. But surrounded by enemies beneath the ground, not a desirable situation. "The ledgers gave us the amount paid for and the middlemen responsible for transporting the merchandise." He recognized some of the names, but luckily the ledgers listed their addresses as well. "A lot of these places are escort agencies. Makes sense honestly, have the women entertain clients as a trial run; then sell them to those who are satisfied."

The swordsman stood up and peered outside the window, contemplating the various outcomes of acting impulsively. "Our only hope is to personally visit these places and see if we can extract information from the patrons. They are mainly listed by nationality categorization since people pay more for exotic stuff. Apparently, they receive shipments of fire nation victims every few weeks. When was the last time you saw her? We can limit it significantly."

"About a month and a half ago is when she disappeared. Guozhi made it sound like it was him and his cell who arrived with her. When did the Huolong arrive in the city?" Taiyang asked, showing distress in his voice. Escort agencies. Those bastards in the Huolong gave his friend to an escort agency. Taiyang's only anger about killing them in the cave was that it was too quick, too easy for them. "I won't let some dirty old, fat lecher have her." Taiyang said angrily, his tea boiling over from sudden increase in heat from his wrath.

"Could already be too late." Wei Meng teased. But he felt a certain burning within his stomach; Why? He wondered. Her safety shouldn't matter to him. And for the first time in years, his horrific joke spawned the pained sensation of guilt. So to avoid any awkwardness, he returned to the ledgers and began reading the fire nation entries. "Within a month and a half there have been two fire nation arrivals, with your friends specifically appearing a week or two before that bastard truly accepted them into the gang. That means she must have been a part of the second shipment, who was handled by Mister Heidao who runs the Pink Lotus; which is located in the Upper Ring." The swordsman assured that his ebony and ivory swords were tied tightly to his waist.

"Upper ring? Then that means we should be close to the location." Taiyang said as he got up excitedly. The sheer idea of being closer than expected made Taiyang forget about the comment Wei Meng teased prior. Taiyang placed away the dirty tea cups before the duo walked outside the room. "Lead the way." Taiyang said as he made sure he had all of his supplies.

Wei Meng nodded and started outside the room, into the hallway and into the outside where a sea of the ocean's heat embraced him. The sound of the rich upper class always made the swordsmen feel nauseated, especially considering how they regarded those of the lower ring. They lived in an illusion of safety, ignorant to the fact that the evils of the lower rings was controlled by the sickened hearts of the Upper Ring. Of course, where else would criminal masterminds live once acquiring a massive bank account? Here, the evil spirits used their money to influence political officials and the military force; bribing them to turn a blind eye. But Wei Meng cared little. Their foolish perspective of the upperclass made it easier for Wei Meng to operate. And so they walked through the sheepish crowd, like a shadow trailing behind the light. "We'll probably have to split up when we enter

Taiyang weaved in and out of people on the streets, staying close to the hired swordsman. "Alright then. Any idea of how the building it laid out? Getting lost in there doesn't sound particularly... healthy." Taiyang said as he pondered the amount of guards such an establishment would maintain. The thought of Xiaohui being held in such a building, it left a bad taste in Taiyang's mouth and an anger in his heart. "If we split up and you find her first, call her Little Tai. It's a nickname I called her."

"No idea. I'm not one who uses escort agencies." Wei Meng answered. "Splitting up might make it easier for you anyway. The guards will probably focus mainly on me." He picked up an apple from a nearby stand and took a bite from it, savor in the sour juices before continuing on the wet fruit. "Get in, find her and get out. I'll try to keep their attention."

"Then what about you? Hired or not, I don't want to leave an ally alone in there." Taiyang said. He thought back to their battle with Nu Wei, in which Wei Meng left him battling the Goliath-like man alone, but Taiyang didn't care. He simply didn't function the same way. "I'll get her, I'll get her safe, but if you aren't out in five minutes after me, I'm going back in." declared Taiyang, not caring if he sounded like he had a hero-complex.

Shit, the swordsman thought. The immensely heavy burden of responsibility began to rapidly increase, until he started to contemplate whether he is obligated to save him. Minutes before, Wei Meng had already formulated plans to escape should something happen to Taiyang, but this idea of the firebender actually caring enough to risk everything to help him. It was both weird and unprecedented. Living the life of Rivers and Lakes, people tend to look only for themselves and their private interest. This corrupted, twisted world, the true nature of humans, tainted the child who would have said the same thing as Taiyang. In fact, he could feel the child attempting to resurface. But Wei Meng only smirked. "Ha! like I would let something happen to us without getting paid." He bluffed excellently. "A bee sting contains the hopes of their future generation. But a wasp only cares of the present."

"And the bee, while feared, is loved regardless. The wasp is feared and hated by all." Taiyang said in response, smirking lightly as they walked along.

Beautiful Fire Lilies

They approached the escort agency, choosing to operate during the daylight when the scum would live their lives under mask. Here in the afternoon, an hour before the sun falls and when the girls are ready, the two could infiltrate. The building was a rather large wooden manor decorated with yellow and pink, with flowers decorating the front area. "We'll enter together. If you see her, choose first. If not then offer me the first choice. If that occurs, we'll ask to share a room and pay for a few of them. Then try to gather some information." He said, immediately entering the building afterwards.

Wei Meng had rarely entertained the idea of a female companion. And even less, did he desire to buy something as precious as genuine emotion. It served only to disrupt the spiritual connection his father instilled in him. But he had to suffer. Not because he was betraying the manner of living he enjoyed. No, it was the annoying sensation that built inside his chest and stomach. The constant feeling of eyes peering at him, judging the poor swordsman. They watched and he sighed. The nervousness almost causing him to trip.

"Hello!" A woman called from behind the counter. "Our first customers of the day, how may we help you? Here to see our beautiful assortment?"

"Yes." Wei Meng answered shakily. He approached the middle aged Madame and started to whisper. "We're here to see a blossoming Fire Lilly." He knew the euphemism for Fire Nation women from overhearing pigs talk in the Honeybadgers.

"Ah, excellent choice." She rung a light bell which was lined next to different sized bells and smiled. The women rushed from behind a beaded door and stood obediently in line. "Anyone you want."

"Thank you." Wei Meng took a deep breath and analyzed each girl. But rather than watch their beauty, he paid attention for any girls which seemed uncomfortable. Shy ones. That's where the answer would lie.

Taiyang's eyes glanced over the girls, looking for his friend in the group. To tall, too short. Hair is not dark enough, eyes too bright. All these thoughts ran through his head as he looked through them. "Not here," Taiyang whispered to Wei Meng. Pain twanged in Taiyang's stomach with this. Knowing there could be more did not help the impatient firebender. All that he could think was she was already sold. Already gone. Already in the hands of some foul lecher. Taiyang wanted nothing more than to burn the place down after he had Xiaohui back safely.

Wei Meng sighed. Without a visible change, Wei Meng decided that the best source of information would involve actually questioning those involved in the shipment. "We'll each take four."

"Four?" She asked. "Well, I mean our women are exquisite flowers, each deserving of individual admiring."

"Of course, but aren't bouquets more eloquent?" Wei Meng flashed his beautifully crafted swords and smirked. "If payment is the issue, rest assure I can handle the expenses. I'll four." The swordsman pointed to four raven haired beauties and smiled. "Zilong," He called to his companion. "Choose whoever you want and all the drink you like, it's my treat!" A beautiful facade. His emerald eyes lowered as they met Taiyang's. "Find your Fire Lily."

Taiyang looked at the girls and chose four at random. One had hair that was black as the midnight sky, another had light brown hair. The last two had brown hair that looked like melted chocolate, and were twins. "I will take this bouquet then." Taiyang forced a smile, still upset with the of Xiaohui.

As Taiyang moved over to his group of girls, the scarf he wore fell slightly. On his shirt, a metal pin was on it. On the pin, a cherry blossom flower was engraved. Taiyang adjusted the scarf as he noticed this. However, the girl with the light borwn hair caught the symbol and her eyes widened.

Entering a room with the four, Taiyang closed the door and was about to ask the four if they knew anything. However, the light brown haired girl grabbed Taiyang's hand before he could even open his mouth. "Hello, handsome, Zilong was it? I'm Biyu." flirted the charcoal girl. "Hey girls, let me take care of are home sick fire guy first." Biyu said to the other girls in a sassy voice.

"Normally you avoid working with men in such a manner. Actually, I don't think you've ever done anything with a customer. You must really like him." one of the girls said, as the trio giggled. They waved theirs hands as a means to tell her to go on. Biyu pulled Taiyang to the bed, with curtains hanging around it. Pulling them shut, Biyu sat across the bed from Taiyang.

"You're beautiful, don't get me wrong, but I'm not-" Taiyang was cut off.

"You are looking for Xiaohui, aren't you? I saw your pendant, it was the same symbol as what she wore on her clothes." Biyu said, and Taiyang's eyes widened.

The female attention was overwhelming, he even considered ditching his companion in order to avoid it. The women were attempting to touch him, grabbing his swords and even clawing at his coat. Hurry up.. Wei Meng begged mentally. "Hey, ladies! How about some poetry!"

"A poet? How nice." One girl moaned. They sat on a velvet bed while he stood against the wall, patiently awaiting their nervous patron to begin. But Wei Meng was having trouble speaking; so he grabbed a large cup of water and gulped it down in seconds.

"Okay. Ahem. Sun rises only to fall. Darkness conquers the land. But is the night not our comforter? The mother who shields her child's eyes from evilness. Before birth there is darkness. From stillness comes motion." Wei Meng took a breath and glanced towards the women who were utterly confused.

"I don't get it." One interrupted. "Tell us a haiku!"

"A Haiku? Ah yes the special of Ba Sing Se. You also happen to be in the presence of the first male Five-Seven-Five Society member" Wei Meng bragged. He took a deep breath and thought of the past occurrences. "Okay. Ahem. Here's a Haiku from the famous Five-Seven-Five society's greatest speaker."

An ember vanished.
Calling a raging fire.
Without direction.

The women seemed hypnotized, almost falling off the edge of their pillows. "More! More!" One shouted in appreciation as the others egged her on. Wei Meng could only continue, glad that his words managed to grab their attention. The nervousness disappearing as the swordsman spoke clearly without failure. One of his greatest talents being the art of words.

Sight obscured by smoke.
A swordsman without guidance.
Follow destruction.

Wei Meng drew his blades, allowing the beauties to admire the ebony and silver blades as he swung them in circular motions. Each followed the other, leading to the creation of their individual movements through an interconnected action. The flowers followed.

He fills the rivers.
It burns the Martial Forest.
Consuming the land.

He took another step, striking at an invisible opponent before parrying and swiftly retorting with another attack. His movements were as fluid as his words. But deadlier.

Nothing but scorched earth.
Flame retrieves its lost ember.
What remains after?

Wei Meng took a sharp turn, stabbing forward before sheathing his blades in silence. His emerald eyes were closed as he recited the final verse.

The swordsman unburned.
Smothered in ashes and soot.
Lacking direction.


"Xiaohui!? You know her? Is she here?" Taiyang questioned excitedly, the prospect of finally finding his friend overwhelming him.

"Keep your voice down!" hushed the fire lilly before him. "I know her, she was brought in by those uniformed firebenders. Don't worry about lechers, I was able to keep her safe while she was here, but she is gone now. She was purchased by men in noble clothing, I'd say from the center of the Upper Ring at least."

Taiyang's heart sank. She was not here. Xiaohui was not here. Life would not allow for an easy victory, no simple reunions. Nevertheless, fire burned in Taiyang's core. He had a location, and idea of where she is now. That is all that mattered to him. He had no time to spare on being "entertained" by fire lillies, he had to find a flower of far greater worth to him.

As Taiyang churned to get off the bed and apologize to the remaining three girls for suddenly feeling ill, he stopped. "Wait, you kept her safe? What does that mean?" Taiyang asked as he turned back to the girl named Biyu.

Biyu had a faint smile. "I- I could see she was scared. She cried the night she arrived, calling for her brother Taiyang. She was scared and vurnerable. She reminded me.. of my little sister." Biyu explained sadly. Taiyang gaze softened on the girl.

"I did all I could to keep the hands of the perverts of the city off her, and it worked. However, she grew sick with some strange fever, and she..." Biyu wiped a tear away from her eye.

"I'm so very sorry for your loss Biyu, but thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for defending Xiaohui." Taiyang said as he put his hands on the girl's shoulders He began to rise from the bed before turning back one more time.

"You know... I could save you. I could get you out of here. You seem so much smarter and more capable than being... chained here." said Taiyang.

"Thank you, but... the other girls here, so many of them, are not smart or capable to survive without this place. Some even enjoy working here. For what it is, the madame treats us kindly and takes care of us. In my case, she gives me special treatment. That's why I haven't had to 'work' the same way as the others, I just provide other forms of entertainment mostly. I will stay here and continue to defend the other girls, just like Xiaohui and my own Baozhai. Now go, Taiyang, go and find your fire lilly." she said as she hugged Taiyang and pushed him forward.

Taiyang looked back at the girl in awe and shock. In awe of her bravery and strength to remain in such a place for other, and shock for repeating exactly what Wei Meng had told him earlier. "Thank you, Biyu."

"Why're you so scared, Mr. Swordsman?" One girl inquired. "We don't bite."

"I have to get back to a friend." Wei Meng uttered after a nervous cough. He moved away from the girls and headed for the door. He felt his heart increase in pace from the sudden attention he was gaining from the women. It drove him insane. Almost as if he was going to faint. He spoke with a low tone without the usual power. Taiyang would say Wei Meng was the quietest he had been since their journey begin.

"Relax your friend is alright." The eldest attempted to grab Wei Meng, who jumped away and barged through the door. Almost knocking it off its hinges. They could only watch as the swordsman darted down multiple hallways, almost tripping and falling; sliding into a wall at full force. Onlookers watched in confusion as he attempted to scramble back onto his feet.

"Thank you." He screamed to the girls who were standing in the doorway. "I just have to go!" The swordsman continued onwards, rapidly searching for Taiyang.

The Burning Bouquet

Taiyang left to room, faking great pleasure from his time with Biyu, and apologized to the three remaining girls. "It's alright, seeing Biyu interested in a man is pleasure enough." spoke the black haired lilly.

He entered the main lobby and waited for Wei Meng. After a few moments, the swordsman reappeared in a frenzy. "What's wrong Du Ya?" Taiyang asked, using the man's fake name to keep a cover like how Wei Meng called him Zi Long. "Did something happen back there with the girls?"

"Nothing!" Wei Meng exclaimed rather annoyed. "Did you get information?"

Taiyang looked behind Wei Meng and saw his fire lillies walking behind him. "Are... are you scared of women? Nevermind. One of the girls in there knew Xiaohui. She said she was taken by noble men, so she is likely closer to the center of the ring. We are close."

"Shut up!" The swordsman shouted. His caramel face lightened in coloration when faced with his companion's silly question. So what if his experiences with females were rarer than a dragon who called the desert home? What could a female possibly give a man whose heart belonged to the martial forest? Either way, Wei Meng stomped away. "Come on, we're going to see the Madame."

"Hello young master, have you finished already?" The Madame smiled at the approaching men. "You two are aware of our special pills, they help men-"

"We're not here for that." Wei Meng interrupted. "We need information. You sold someone recently and we need her whereabouts."

"Excuse me?" She chuckled. "I've not a clue what or who you're talking about. And even if I did, our business is confidential." "I don't think you quite understand the position you're in."

"Nor do you." She said while snapping her finger. The sharp echo boomed and disappeared into thick silence. Suddenly, leagues of men seemed to rise from nowhere. Sword wielding bandits emerged from rooms, others stood from their massages. Those who appeared as normal patrons grabbed blunted weaponry and joined the expanding mob. "Pay and leave. Before I let my guards turn you two into dog food."

But Wei Meng only smirked; now this was the entertainment he could enjoy. Women were fragile. Docile. Random. Unpredictable. They manipulated men and trapped great warriors into confusion. Kingdoms fell due to the determination of females. They were too complicated to decipher and insufferable to live with, or so he convinced himself. "Zilong, why don't you and the Madame spend some time together. Show her what happens when the dragon is angered. Meanwhile, I'll have some fun this rambunctious group of lackeys."

"Aye, aren't ya with the Honeybadgers?!" One gentleman, wielding a studded club, roared to Wei Meng.

"Was. For what difference is a wolf with a collar from a dog!" Wei Meng screamed.

"I like those swords. Would look better on me." Another mercenary yelled. But Wei Meng stood without an external disturbance. He only took a deep breath, slowly unsheathing both the yin and yang blades.

"Show me some fun." The swordsman teased. He darted towards the group who remained prepared. The first victim brought down his massive club towards Wei Meng who evaded with a swift leftward step and slashed the brute's wrist; wis blood rolling elegantly from the yang sword's silver surface. A sudden jolt. Wei Meng twirled towards the sword rapidly approaching his stomach with a thrust. He met the top quarter of the enemy blade with his ebony sword and guided it downwards in a crescent formation. "Falling Leaf Swirling Wind!" The created opening allowed the dual swordsman to knock out the opponent with the yang hilt.

"You bastard!"

"Don't even try it!" Wei Meng roared. He deflected two throwing knives and elbowed the stomach of an enemy who tried grappling from behind. His movements were fluid and without hinderance, as he danced in between slashing blades and tumbled under incredibly heavy clubs.

Taiyang began moving towards the madame, who had begun to flee to a back room away from the outside conflict. Taiyang moved forward, but was pushed back by the many bandits and mercenaries working for the woman.

"You're not goin' anywhere near the lady." said a massive man with a large hammer, effortlessly leifting the hammer to use it to pint at Taiyang. Taiyang looked at the man a blasted fire forward to burn the fool, but the man was surprisingly agile. Taiyang again tried to run to the madame but a slimmer man wielding a jian stepped forth and attempted to stab Taiyang.

Taiyang slid under the blade before slamming his hand into the man's arm. The sword flew out of it and Taiyang caught it, quickly slashing the former wielder with it to take him down. Looking over at Wei Meng, Taiyang began to try and copy some of his movements. Using the sword, Taiyang quickly cut through a few weaker bandits, before the more skilled warriors stepped forth.

Breathing deeply, Taiyang slashed the sword forward. The blade cut through the arm of an opponent, but a wave of fire came to life from the tip of the blade and burned its way to another guard, burning him in the same slash pattern as the man who was cut by the blade. Taiyang focused and the blade itself was covered in flames.

"Bending with a weapon, it is a worthwhile tactic." Taiyang said to himself as he used the flaming sword to fight through enemies. However, bending with a weapon was not something Taiyang was accustomed to, and the flames died out. Taiyang was struck several times. Taiyang fell to the ground and spinned. Fire danced from his legs, pushing the guards back as Taiyang got closer to the door.

Wei Meng attempted to charge at an approaching adversary, but felt a chain wrap tightly around his left arm with a heavy chunk of weight hanging loosely. "Shit." The bandit pulled tightly, thus halting his sword which created a deadly opening. He parried the oncoming swords with the yang blade but felt the pulling force from the chain. Three bandits approached the struggling swordsman with malicious grins that scared the innocent spectators. Only one chance! He took a deep breath and threw the yang sword towards the chain master.

"Gah!" The silver blade pierced through his skull, sending the chain wielding bandit flying backwards; ultimately releasing the hold the chain as well. Wei Meng freed his hand with a step forward, a double-edged blade grazed the back of his shirt before he twirled around and pushed the twirling bandit into the path of the falling saber of his comrade. Wei Meng took the opportunity and tumbled towards the bleeding corpse and withdrew the silver blade from it's cranium.

"Aren't you guys a troublesome lot." He panted. "But none of you stand a chance against the Nineteen Styles of Jade Maiden Sword." Wei Meng parried an oncoming strike with the yang blade and sent the yin sword into a bandit's heart. He followed by flicking his wrist towards an oncoming bandit, blinding him with the blood of his comrade. "Tree Root Severing!" He sent the ebony blade into the thigh of the screaming bandit who fell immediately.

"Shit...It's impossible to sneak up on him." The pained bandit growled. "It's like he has eyes on the back of his head."

"You bastard!" A monstrous, axe wielding, bandit appeared from the back. His steps were like thunder and muscles glistened with sweat. A booming voice as he grunted angrily towards the dual swordsman who held night and day in his palms. "How dare you interrupt me! I will hack you into pieces and feed you to my dogs."

"Come on! I'm having a blast here. Why don't we use you since you're so fat?" Wei Meng goaded. He deflected a couple throwing knives while twirling around a table, which he kicked up to halt the massive axes momentum. Unfortunately, the table was split in two after he tumbled out of harms way. "Come on Zilong, I'm getting bored." He called while leaping backwards, the axe breaking through the floor where he once stood. The axemen suddenly started to spin in a circle, swinging his axe around in a deathly whirlwind. Luckily it forced the other bandits to retreat as he approached Wei Meng.

"Dammit, there's no way to stop it." Wei Meng watched the madman spin with enough force to create a small whirlwind. Even the female onlookers felt their hair blow back from the wrathful breeze. Some looked on in anticipation, some in admiration and others worried for the dual wielding swordsman's safety. But he appeared tranquil. The tornado before him was large and destructive but lacked control. "The key to entering a tornado is through the top." Wei Meng launched himself forward, jumped onto a table and leapt high into the air where he lunged into the axemen's shoulder from above. Although the humongous bandit shrieked, he was unable to stop his momentum and sent Wei Meng soaring behind him; crashing into a stand of tables glass. When the axe wielding madman finally stopped, blood gushed from his shoulder. "Hm, let's call that Lightning Strikes Tornado." The swordsman laughed as he stood up.

"I'll kill you...I'll murder you and defile your body. I'll eat those pretty little swords of you." The axemen growled.

"Eating metal doesn't sound healthy." Wei Meng took his initial stance and smirked. The wound seemed troublesome for such a large foe. Wielding his massive axe would surely bring about pain. "There's a nice dumpling place around the corner. You should try that first."

Taiyang looked at the blade in his hand, on the hand guard, albeit a small one shaped like a pentagon, with intricate lines. Taking only a small instant to admire the blade, Taiyang began to run to the door he creat an entrance to with his fire.

A mass jumped on Taiyang's back, the original wielder of the sword with a dagger. "Give that back! I stole it fair and square from Piandao's weapon shop! It is for the wise and strong!" the thief yelled. Taiyang's ears caught this and slammed his elbow back into the man, making him crumble off in pain.

"No wonder why the sword is beautiful, it was crafted by a true master." Taiyang said as he firebended away more guards. "This is refined weapon, in both style and its forger. It is too good for the likes of person like you." Taiyang struck the thief with the handle of the sword and pulled the sheath of the blade off him in a quick, fluid motion before slipping it on his back in an equally fast motion. "You are neither wise or strong." Taiyang said as he stabbed the original swordsman with the blade, killing him.

Taiyang jumped to gain distance between him and the remaining bandits. Focusing for an instant, a beam flew forth from his forehead. Exploding in the cluster of guards, they weren't sent flying. Taiyang ran and jumped through the smoke, using fire to propel himself through. Taiyang cut the door off its hinges before sheathing the blade and returning to his more accustomed fighting style.

"Where is Xiaohui!?" Taiyang yelled at the madame, before slamming the head of an attacking bandit into the wall, knocking him out. "No more games, I want Xiaohui!" shouted Taiyang at the woman.

The Madame had attempted to escape through the chaos, but found it impossible when Taiyang grasped her. "W-who is Xiaohui?" She managed through fear. It was a dangerous game. No one wanted their beloved people sold as livestock so any day someone could come seeking vengeance.

"Charcoal black hair, dark golden eyes. Average height. Crying in fear at night in this hell hole!" Taiyang said with a blast of fire to accompany his anger, burning a couch in the room. "I want you to tell me where she is, and I want it now! Tell me that and free the other girls to Biyu's custody, and maybe I'll let you live!" Taiyang shouted, burning away a chair this time with a blast of fire.

The Madame froze in fear almost fainting from the breath of fire. "Fine, she can take it, she can have this place. I only run it so the Earth King's Fengshi won't punish me. He's the one whose been taking girls from here. Not even paying for them. He sends the palace eunuchs to retrieve them. I'm telling the truth!" The Madame broke down in a waterfall of tears. "I-I'm sorry...I don't know who're you talking about. I have so many girls...Please don't hurt me!" She begged.

Taiyang's anger boiled greatly still, but Taiyang unleashed the woman. "I'd suggest staying in here for awhile to avoid being hurt. Biyu says you can be a kind woman at times, I'll leave you alone for her sake." Taiyang said as he walked back out into the battle in the main room. Rage fueled his heart, only a vague idea of where she is. Somewhere in the inner most part of the Upper Ring. So many nobles, guards, religous heads. Getting to Xiaohui would not be easy. The only saving grace was that an eunuch could not make "use" of her.

Throwing his fist forward, his fire burned and knocked down several of the guards. Taiyang kicked through the door. "Du Ya, come on! Let's go!" shouted Taiyang as he blasted fire at some of the guards near Wei Meng from the door frame.

"Thank you. Thank you." The Madame pleaded, crawling away to the other women. "Men, let them go. Please, no more violence. No more damage..." And at her words they subsided. Even the brainless axe wielding maniac took a deep breath and calmed.

"You're lucky, brat. But next time you're mine." He threatened.

"Yeah yeah." Wei Meng teased, leisurely walking besides the wounded giant. "I've heard it before." The swordsman sheathed his ebony and silver swords and caught up to Taiyang. The escort parlor was wrecked thoroughly. So much so Wei Meng figured that they would remain close for a few days. But he cared little for both them and their patrons. Instead, he followed his firebending companion closely as they existed. The sun had set and the streets picked up in business.

"I understand the anger and everything," Wei Meng started. "But if you ever boss me around like that again, I'm throwing my sword into your stomach." But his words were light and playful. A childish attempt to lighten the situation. "Anyway, did you find anything out?"

"By the time that happens, I'll have mastered how to use my new one and deflect it. Granted, I think I will only keep it for now to hide firebending." Taiyang said in an equally joking manner as he partially unsheathed his newly stolen sword. "One can tell by looking at its handy work, it was done by Master Piandao."

"Biyu said it was nobles, and the madame further clarified it by saying it was religious men, eunuchs and such. So it would have to be the temple or near the temple. They could be using near by nobles to hold some as well." Taiyang explained from his encounters with the two women.

As they walked away, the dead guards were cleaned out as the madame took her belongings and left the building with Biyu in charge. The former escort smiled as the two benders walked away. "Thank you Taiyang, I'll better these girls life." she said as she shuffled back inside and began to elaborate the soon-to-be implemented changes in the house.

Wei Meng had noted the new sword his companion carried but chose not to pursue the subject. Swordsmanship was something that required dedication and innovation. Though he found it interesting for one to admire the sword as much as Taiyang. "Eunuchs..." He thought. Did she mean governmental officials? Or perhaps priest? Even common noblemen in charge of simple duties were possible suspects. "We have to get into the palace. But it won't be easy. Let's get some dinner and discuss this."

A Warm Meal

The establishment was rather lively. A restaurant filled to the ceiling with booming voices, haughty laughter and ignorant conversations. Families protected by wealth and the illusion of materialism seemed unfazed by the evilness that awoke during night. The loud patrons served as the perfect cover for those who lived their lives in the darkness. Two being a dual wielding swordsman and a firebender, sitting in a booth near a large window. Wei Meng took a sip of his jasmine tea and smirked.

"The palace...This just got infinitely harder." But his voice was rather exuberant. If not for his growling stomach, he would have probably offered to infiltrate at that very moment. "We have no idea if she's a royal slave or a servant. But the Earth King isn't one for concubines; he even outlawed human trafficking. So why are they taking part in this..." His emerald eyes were lowered as he contemplated the situation. "Something is up. Even more than the public eye may know. For the palace to risk a public link to this heinous world, to step from the mighty mountain and into the valley of the shadow of death is dangerous."

A plate slid in front of Taiyang, full of pan-fried noodles with moo-sow meat. Rubbing his chopsticks together to get off excess splitering wood peices, Taiyang dug in to the food. "So they are using her for something else then? Strange, but that just makes this more important. Who knows what they could be doing to her?" Taiyang said between bites of food. Sipping from his green tea, Taiyang rubbed his head on his forehead. "If only I was home, she wouldn't have been taken."

The waiter gave the swordsman a plate of pan fried noodles with a side of roast duck, smothered with a special sauce which he personally ordered. He took a bite and immediately started to slurp down his noodles, occupied with the meal's deliciousness to truly pay attention to his companion. I haven't ate in so long! Wei Meng realized, remembering the nervousness he felt the previous morning. But the sudden change in Taiyang's demeanor caught him off guard. Home.. He thought about his family. Mother, father and sisters enjoying the wealthy lifestyle. Aunts and cousins remaining close and connected by blood while he chose to severe his ties. He was almost jealous of the firebender. Wei Meng could never sacrifice so much for someone else. Or so he thought....

"One cannot change the path of an arrow once it's fired." He spoke wisely. "They can only shoot a second arrow with caution." Wei Meng continued to enjoy his meal immediately, only taking a break to sip his Jasmine tea. "We have to get into that palace. We could try to use one of the many social gatherings-there's one going on tomorrow night."

"Ah, yes. I saw a poster. The king is having a birthday party for some weird creature called a bear, and is said to be descended from a previous Earth King's. I have never heard of a plain bear before." Taiyang said as the waiter brough out a plate of shrimp. Taiyang's eyes gleamed at the sight before quickly devouring one.

"We can use that one as the best cover since it's a lot more open compared to some of the events I've seen posters for." Taiyang said as he took a minute to breath from his furious eating. "That way, we can catch that arrow before it hits it's target."

"I see. Tomorrow, we'll infiltrate the palace and rescue her. And I'll receive my payment and be on my way." Wei Meng took a bite from his roast duck, savoring the honey and herbal seasoning. It created the perfect mixture of sweet and tangy. He took another sip of Jasmine tea before returning to his meal.

"Sounds like a plan," said Taiyang as he ate more of his well spiced shrimp. Towards the end of his meal, Taiyang paid for the bill and the two began to walk to their apartment to rest for tomorrow's adventure. "Hey Wei Meng, before we sleep, I wanted to ask. Can you give me a few pointers on using a sword?"

The question was quite surprising, enough to catch the dual wielding swordsman off guard. But he had notice the straight sword hanging from Taiyang's back. Interesting, he thought to himself. The idea of teaching another one the secrets passed onto him seemed rather surreal. Hell, he had yet to master the style he used. However, a few tips and pointers wouldn't harm; especially considering how they relied on one another for safety. "People tend to think of the sword as a hunk of metal meant to cleave enemies. But it's so much more." He smiled, remembering the first time wielding a blade. "It's a piece of you. It's the paintbrush used to materialize your innermost feelings onto the physical realm. When you clash blades with an enemy, you can discern their entire being and they peer into your soul."

The two companions approached their normal safe house, which had been shrouded in darkness from the progressing night. Only the moon, hanging slightly above, and a few lit lanterns illuminated the streets. "To use a sword requires you to understand it. If you don't understand it, you'll only get yourself killed. Find a discipline and master it." Wei Meng sighed. "When you move, remember that there are no differences between your arm and the sword. Lose the sword, and you'll lose your arm."

Taiyang listen to the words intentively. A paintbrush, an extension. It was not a simple killing tool, it, like firebending, is part of the use and not just used by the user. "I see, so in a way, a sword is like bending. And bending with a weapon is merely two extensions of oneself becoming one?" asked Taiyang as he took the blade off his back and looked at the pentagon-shaped hand guard. The lining on the guard gleamed on it in the lantern light of the street. Wisdom or destruction. Both, both will work for Taiyang so long as he wields the blade.

"No idea." Wei Meng answered nonchalantly. "Never cared for bending." One who grew up without a teacher could never understand the power of bending. And after living so long without it, he lost the desire to ever pursue the art. Yeah, it looked pretty cool tossing massive boulders at enemies. But he yearned for the connection two opponents create when their swords crossed. Perhaps this desire to establish the connection stemmed from an eternal loneliness...Regardless, he chose to reach the highest peak of his swordsmanship; and use it as a step to climb an even higher mountain. "Either way, you'll need to learn what your sword can do before you're even able to scratch an enemy."

"I'm not so sure, I seemed to cut down a good amount of those guards without firebending." joked Taiyang. However, Taiyang was taken back by the comment of not caring for bending. Perhaps it is because he was raised to be a firebender from birth, but Taiyang couldn't imagine losing the ability to bend fire. The fire was part of him, burning within his heart. It drove him forward. A constant companion, for like him, fire is the one element that is truly alive. Taiyang opened the door to the room and laid his temporary sword againt the wall before sitting down on the bed.

Candles littered the swordsman room, creating dancing shadows which flickered rapidly across the ceilings and walls. Incense burned. Surrounding him in a thick aroma not quite native to the Earth Kingdom. Mist trailed around the meditating warrior who sat with his back lined against the wall. His chest pushed and pull. Each breath following the rhythm of the universe. He felt the numerous cycles continuing around the city. Small influences. Malicious intentions. Crows clawed against one another, seemingly gathering above Taiyang's apartment; almost called by a mutual friend.

"The energy of the universe, which guides us forward. Comprised of Yin and Yang, positive and negative, male and female. Motion and Stillness." Wei Meng recited. "The cosmic duality of interconnected opposition." Silence befell the swordsman who continued breathing inwards and outwards. He felt the water within traverse the multiple rivers that circulated his body, flowing through seven lakes; pooling into massive reservoirs, some of which were clogged. However, the energy felt different. He could feel something...or someone...pulling him. When he attempted to follow it, he found his mind soaring high above the clouds of Ba Sing Se. Suddenly he was in the palace, heading deep underground until finally stopping before a cage.

"Let me out!" shouted a female figure in the vision. While her hair was a little messy, and her clothing was nicked in places, the image was exactly how Taiyang had described her. It was Xiaohui. Xiaohui wore a coat and was shaking in fear in a small cell. The young woman pounded her fist on the door, her hand bruised from doing the action so much.

"Settle down woman. You know full well you can't bend, and so long as you can't you are stuch." a guard said outside the door. He laughed at the girl through a thick glass panel. "Don't worry, the master will make quick use of you later on."

Xiaohui sat down in the corner of the cell in sadness. "Please Taiyang, hurry and find me." she cried softly to herself as she hugged her legs for comfort.

He felt an evil force approach the cage, walking pass the crying girl and stopping by a nearby cell. The swordsman was unable to truly make out the immediate victim, for he could only feel her. Although he never saw this girl, he knew who she was and his own heart started to race; almost as if he had known this little one since birth. However, the signal seemed to blank into static before he soared from the dark room. Phasing through the ceiling and following a line between people and creatures. Soon, the swordsman was faced with the darkness of his own eyelids.

Wei Meng stood up and approached Taiyang's room, where he opened the door slightly. Enough where his emerald eyes pierced the darkness. "She's alive...and alright." His words echoed throughout the shadows, bouncing from the walls before disappearing into nothingness. Wei Meng closed the door behind him and returned to the comfortable bed he grew accustomed to.

Taiyang heard this and was unsure how to react. "How does he know?" Taiyang asked himself softly as he put his head down on the pillow. He soon fell asleep, awaiting for the next day to save hisdear friend and see a bear.

A Fiery Rescue

Taiyang awoke after a long night of sleep. Unlike normal, he had no dream that night. No nightmare or vision. He simply slept in darkness. As he awoke, the sun has not quite taken its place in the sky, and the silver moon still held its place. Lighting the room with a candle, Taiyang began to prepare some tea.

Wei Meng awoke from a normal dream which he had forgotten by the time his second foot touched the cold wooden floor. The freezing sensation sending shivers up his spine. He quickly freshened up and got dress, tying his signature blades around his waist and emerging to the main room Today was the day...He thought to himself. The idea of infiltrating the Earth Kingdom palace...He felt exhilarated. Excited. The amount of warriors they possessed would surely make for some entertainment. But he seemed more preoccupied with the chance of saving...her. The feeling was disgusting. "You have a plan, Taiyang? I've never been within the palace walls alone the actual building. We can find some people who're going and steal their invitations..."

Wei Meng sat down atop the wooden counter and swung his legs to and fro. Contemplating the various obstacles that laid before them.

"That is one way we can, but we could enter in as part of the entertainment. What do nobles love? The idea of two peasants fighting. I heard they hired a large weapons school to act as a show with spars. We can slip in with them without stealing invitations, in case of the nobles complaining and causing suspicion. That way we also can avoid getting two dressy, because, well, we don't wear clothes that fit the part." Taiyang said as he put the straight sword on his back.

"That way, when the first spars go on and the majority of the crowd is watching, we can move around without attracting too much attention since the king is allowing the school to partake in festivities after the fights. Get in, find Xiaohui with help from your weird knowledge power from last night, and get out. Hopefully without getting into too much conflict." Taiyang finished his cup of tea before standing from his seat. Stretching his arms, Taiyang was ready.

Wei Meng sighed. Those visions, his ability to see things beyond his direct line of sight, no doubt connected to the knowledge of chi bestowed upon him by both Master Huashan and his own father. But he had yet to even scratch the surface of its capabilities. Hell, they would only come and go during situations where they mattered little; last night being perhaps the first time they were of convenience. So he disregarded Taaiyang's snide remark and started fixing his own tea. "That power won't be of any use." Wei Meng whispered.

"She's probably held underground, away from the general populace. Which means we'll have to interrogate someone or perhaps follow any suspicious fellows. Keep the sword with you, do not firebend. Firebenders are often not allowed inside the Earth Kingdom palace; any form of fire, even when no one is watching could lead to international problems."

"It is a good thing I got the sword in that case. This will be interesting. Things got much more difficult." Taiyang said in an annoyed voice. Nonetheless, he opened to door to the apartment and walked out with the Wei Meng in tow. "The school is meeting outside the palace in a few minutes. All we have to do is get there, blend into the crowd, and walk in with the tide. Then just hide among the people to get to the lower portions of the building."

The city had grown quite lively when faced with the upcoming party. The entertainment, the visitors even the food was expected to be top notch. All for a bear. But the bear was not just any furry creature, it was the descendant of the pet kept by the previous Earth King who passed away years before. Bringing it to the palace meant continuing the line of divine royalty. Either way, the dual wielding swordsman cared little for such trivial gatherings. He felt sweat cover his hands, butterflies churn his stomach and his heart rate increasing at the idea of social interaction. He only wanted to get in, save the girl and leave. "This way."

The firebender and future swordmaster approached a rather large gate. It was heavily guarded by earthbenders whose frames instilled fear in many. The gates of hell; no one dared approach them without an authentic reason.

"Invitation?" The guard asked the approaching duo.

"I'm sorry, we're part of the Earth Kingdom Brass Guard Society, here to perform for the Earth King himself." Wei Meng answered, his voice devoid of emotion. "We were told to just enter."

"You can't enter without an invitation or pass. If you're with the Brass Guard, why did you not show up with the main troupe?"

"Have you ever been late to work?" Wei Meng rolled his eyes. He filled his voice with artificial emotion. A fake anger, as if he was the most important person in the world. "You can not be serious right now. Of all the days in the month and for the months in the year...Listen. To. Me. We are crucial to the performance demanded by the Earth Kingdom's royal family. We have to get in there before the performance begins. I mean look at us, do you think we'd waste time here of all places if we were lying?" His arms flailed.


"No! You listen to me." Wei Meng partially drew both blades, exposing the expert craftsmanship of each. "These blades are the representation of the never ending cycle that guides fate. The two aspects that make up the eight trigrams and it's 365 comments. They dictate that night turns into day, day into night. They are the symbol of the law which states that Kings rise and kings fall. Without me there, without these swords, you're cursing your kingdom to ruin-would you deny access to a monk? This is outrageous. Go fetch the head of the Brass Guard Society, you know what, take us to him and you'll see!"

The guard shuffled nervously. People started to stare at the loud swordsman, whispering about the exquisite weaponry. What should have been a simple message soon turned into the guard bowing his head and breathing deeply. "Okay okay relax. Look. I'll let you in and have a guard escort you to the rest of the troupe. No need to cause a problem."

"Thank you good sir." Wei Meng scoffed, snapped his fingers to Taiyang and followed a separate guard into the palace grounds. Within the outer wall...Now was to find her. He never set foot within the outer walls before, causing a sense of absolute bewilderment to settle in. It was so large. Spacious. Hundreds of building; a colony within itself could live here. "Where is the show to be held?"

"The eastern tower of the Outer Court. No one is allowed within the inner court anyways." The palace guard replied.

"Oh how I do hope the king and his beloved bear enjoy our performance. We've been working day and night, in and out of school to make sure our swordsmanship is on par with the king's standard." Taiyang said gleefully to join the charade. "So you get to work here every day? It's beautiful."

"It is pretty nice. We only have to deal with a few trouble makers once in awhile." one of the guards said, befre being elbowed by the other for talking too much. "Plus, we get a lot of training to scare away threats physically." the guard added to make the other happy.

Taiyang held back a laugh at the guards antics. Desppite their status and duty, they were still normal people. Taiyang leaned in towards Wei Meng. "Nice quick acting." he whispered in such a way the guards wouldn't hear him.

Wei Meng seemingly ignored the whisper, focusing on continuing the snobby atmosphere. He looked around, scouring the lush foliage and admiring the beautiful birds. This world was so much different from the one he knew. It was as if he had stepped from a cave and into a realm filled with bright illumination and warmth. A small flame of jealousy burned...But he kept it hidden. The connection spirits possess sometimes surpass the physical realm. The words of his master kept repeating in the face of such danger. Yet he remained externally calmed.

As they approached the tower, Taiyang took it in. It was a beautiful, mahagony building with stone elements in it. It had gold leaf covering the roof and multiple eaves of the building. Above the door, the symbol of the Earth Kingdom rested on the door.

"This is where the school is, enter the door and keep right. A door with the earthbending symbol above it is where the class is. Cause no problems." one of the guards said as they went back to their normal post. Taiyang watched them until they walked out of ear shot before turning to Wei Meng.

"Alright, now what?" Taiyang asked the swordsman with the plan.

Wei Meng took a deep breath. Attempting to find a single prisoner among the massive palace grounds, in hindsight, wasn't the smartest idea. But he wouldn't admit it. No. He kept the face of a warrior who knew what he was doing. "Now, we find someone who knows the palace grounds better than we do." He scanned the area, becoming a predator hunting for its next prey. Hunger filled his emerald eyes while he led his companion inside the building. They managed to cross an empty room. "Excellent. Wait here, I'll go get us a friend."

Guards occasionally filled the passages, speaking among one another or slightly acknowledging each other's existence. Either way, traffic alternated greatly. Wei Meng stood at a corner on the end of the hall and waved towards a guard.

"Excuse me sir," Wei Meng smiled. "I'm apart of the Brass Guard society. We need someone to help us practice for today's show."

"Oh, really? Well I've always wanted to join the Brass Guard society." The guard exclaimed ecstatically. He followed the swordsmen into an empty room-a sudden pain. Darkness. Cold liquid falling down his forehead as his body hit the floor.

"Tie him up. Get some answers from him about any suspicious underground activities. I'll stand guard." Wei Meng ordered before darting towards the door. He stood nearby, assuring that no one would approach. "We're practicing, we need peace and quiet." Wei Meng told approaching guards.

Taiyang grabbed a sash the man was wearing and used it to more or less hog tie the guard. Taiyang proceeded to prop the man up before using a small surge of lightning to shock the man awake.

"W-what's going on!? I am a guar-" the man started shouting as Taiyang struck him again with a small jab of lightning.

"If you wish to maintain your position, I suggesst you shut up and listen to me." Taiyang said as the guard shook his head reluctantly. "I've heard girls are going into the royal grounds from brothels in other parts of the city. I am looking for one, and you are going to help me." Taiyang said, with a glare that made it seem as though fire was in his eyes.

"How should I know what girl you mean? You think we don't see plenty of them move in and out? Get more specific," the guard demanded as best he could in his fear and bindings.

"Long charcoal hair, held with a golden band in her hair and some clips likely. Godlen eyes, wore clothes similar to a shrine girl," Taiyang said to the man to jog his memory.

"Her... I think I have seen her. Some weird underground bunker was built a few months back, me and some other guards helped lead some of those purchased girls in. I helped with the process. Only a few guards are aware of it! The girl you want, if I got the right one in mind, is in cell near the cold ones that stop firebenders. Other tower on the other side of the court is where you can get into the bunker. Say the word Bosco when you get there. That's all I got, now let me go!" the guard demand as he struggled in his bendings.

"No can do, I can't risk you ruining this." Taiyang said as he jolted the man with lightning. The man fell unconscious instantly. Dragging him into the corner, Taiyang began to use materials to cover the guy up to hide him, as well as cover up his mouth. Surely he would be found, but not until the party was over and business returned to normal. Taiyang stared at the guard and at himself.

Walking out of the room, Taiyang revealed he was now dressed in the earth guard's uniform, with his normal clothes now layered under his new clothes in a way to hide them. "I got him to talk Wei, find a uniform, it will make things significantly easier where we are going."

The inability to kill a potential loose end, how could one truly walk among the shadows? Wei Meng feared the potential risk of the sleeping guard awakening, but was more shocked by his companions hilarious request. "Find a uniform?!" As if he would degrade himself...However, the idea of remaining on the palace grounds for too long was frightening. So the swordsman lured a guard into the same room, using the same excuse, and bludgeoned him; yet caught the fallen body to avoid unnecessary noise. Was he dead? Maybe the yang blade's hilt was overkill...But he walked with indifference. Dressed in uniform, he followed after Taiyang.

"The look suits you," chuckled Taiyang as the man followed. "The guard, before he got zapped, said to look at the opposing tower on the opposite side of the court. An underground bunker of some sort. The uniform will make tranversing the grounds easier, as well as let us look, well, like one of them. I know you dislike earthbending, but I assume it would be best to start mentally preparing for it. Taiyang said as they walked. His voice would be heard by Wei for their close proximity, but drowned out for the crowd as the moved to the exit.

"You don't know anything." Wei Meng snarled. The idea of earthbending was not only annoying but rather dangerous. Heading underground and having an amateur terrakinetic swinging his arms wildly was a rather dangerous tactic. And besides, who the hell was this guy to make such a bold exclamation? "We're not friends." Wei Meng reminded himself. Regardless, the enemies outnumbered the two companions. "We have to avoid fighting. In fact, we only have short amount of time to enter and save her before word spreads of an intruder." The swordsman, having completed a rather large amount of infiltration jobs, understood the importance of manpower...Today, he faced his hardest challenge. "We're in the center of enemy territory. In a second they'll outnumber us."

"And not once did I mention fighting, did I? I meant for opening passage ways, like what you have already done before in the Underworld. Stop assuming everything I say is directed for fighting. I don't want to, I want to get in and get gone. That's why I put on this uniform, to hide in plain sight. That's why I want you to just open passages, to manuver like they do. Do you think I have never infiltrated anything before? Do you think you are the only one with any kind of experience in life? I was raised by the damned Huolong, I know how to succeed in jobs like these, and I know when I need help or not. This time, I do." Taiyang reprimanded. "If you don't want to be friends, so be it, but let's get this job done and get you payed."

The Ember and the Fire

Torture. Death. Life imprisonment. Punishments for the multiple crimes the two were committing. Why risk it? Bringing this firebending infiltrator to them would surely overwhelm whatever Taiyang was offering. And besides, his connection to the Fire Nation's military police would surely serve as an incentive. Forget the girl, she shouldn't have gotten caught... He recited. Survival of the fittest; Nature's demand of the strong's perseverance at the expenditure of the weak. Helping this young girl was denying nature. Something few could survive. But his blood boiled in the face of nature's awe-inspiring might. And the thought of losing those girls in Omashu...

The two green-clad companions entered a rather small temple, located in the northern grounds of the outer wall. An inconspicuous building, one of which was easily overlooked. Within, golden statues and silver ornaments decorated the extensive room. People chanted and hummed their individual mantras, some of which Wei Meng recognized. He bowed to each statue and exchanged the usual spiritual transfer between abbots and students. In the distant corner, however, was a hallway which lead downwards. To have the audacity to hide such evil intentions beneath spiritual matters is horrific. I pray the spirits are at peace here. Wei Meng thought. The two men, as opposite as day and night, walked through the halls and down the stairs, stopping before an iron door.

"Password." A voice rung from behind the door.

"Bosco," Taiyang said solemnly.

The iron door opened slowly. "Welcome brothers, may the Earth Kingdom prosper." said the guard behind the door.

"May it prosper." Taiyang returned, bowing to the guard respectfully. Breathing in, Taiyang felt the air in the build. Humid, gross, and warm. However, in the air, a small coolness flowed. Taiyang began to walk forward and away from the guard. Once out of earshot, Taiyang cocked his head towards Wei Meng. "Xiaohui is being held near a fridge-like cell of some sort, we just need to find that area. Despite my angered words earlier, I thank you for helping me so far." said Taiyang in a hushed tone so only him and Wei Meng could hear it. Coming to a fork in the path, Taiyang breathed in. "Right."

May it prosper, hilarity. Prosperous kingdoms were the foundation for chaotic states, revolution. massacres and violence. Such is the cycle, the changes which dictate fate. Wei Meng chose to silently follow Taiyang, sternly focused on potential risk. However, he began pondering the sense of gratitude being shared. How foolish was the firebender to trust a criminal? I'm only doing this for the payment...right? The swordsmen questioned internally. After all, the original job was to infiltrate the Honeybadger headquarters...yet they were midway into one of the palace's secret prisons without Wei Meng knowing his exact monetary reward. "Focus." He commanded himself within.

Regardless, the swordsmen followed nonchalantly, prepared to dispatch enemies the second they appeared. "This place is kept under strict lockdown. Which means there's only two entrances. A main entrance and an emergency exit."

"In that case, we should locate the emergency one sooner rather than later for a better way to get out. The main entrance, once they become aware, will be next to impossible unless Sozin's comet magically happened, or your swords have a magic instant kill ability." lightly joked the firebender. "Let's locate her first, then find the exit, and finally free her. Then we can break for it."

His joke went unheard. The crimson hallway they traversed was oddly familiar. Almost as if he had been here before. Even minute discrepancies brought upon him a dreamlike state. Shivers sparked along his spine. I've been here before. Wei Meng thought. "She's nearby." Without awaiting Taiyang's response, he darted down the long hall before turning left. This place is empty...Almost as if it's meant for someone besides the Earth King. Large movements and heavy guard activity would assuredly catch someone's attention. He contemplated. The swordsman stopped, pointing towards a nearby metallic cellar. "There."

Taiyang walked up to the door and peered inside, his best to contain his excitement just in case other guards showed up. "It... it really is her." Taiyang said lightly, smiling greatly. Against the wall, the girl named Xiaohui slept in the dark room, having covered herself as best she could to have warmth. "If she is here, where is the emergency exit?" Taiyang asked as he willed himself to not melt or cut down the door then an there as to make the job easier in the escape.

"Get her out. We'll find the exit afterwards." Wei Meng ordered. "If we are caught on the way out, we have to prepare to escape right away."

Taiyang sighed. The swordsman was not listening to his plan. Does he not understand, Taiyang has done missions similar before. Whatever, Taiyang thought as he place his hand in door. In an instant, the door glowed red, waking Xiaohui up.

"Who's there?" she questioned as she raised her hands to prepare to fight. The door had a large hole in it for Taiyang to move through before he discarded his hat.

"Xiaohui," Taiyang said happily.

"Tai...yang? It.. It really is you!" Xiaohui said as she ran forward, grabbing on to her brother as she began to cry.

"It's okay, Xiaohui. It's okay. We can't do this now though, we have to get out of here and fast." Taiyang said softly to comfort the girl. She nodded softly. "This is Wei Meng, he helped me get here, but we can worry about introductions later. Wei Meng, lead the way."

Wei Meng eyed the mysterious girl. The infamous Xiaohui, the one worth sailing over seas and murdering hundreds of criminals. Upon first glance, she was nothing more than a hinderance. But he saw the powerful light between the two. The intense fire created by blood. Rather than greet her, Wei Meng started towards the exit. "Come on. They should have used a tunneling design for this."

The swordsman froze when they turned the corner. Before them stood a platoon of earthbenders, armed from head to toe. They were dressed differently from the usual guards. Are these the Dai Li? Wei Meng thought. How did they discover us so easily?

"You thought you could infiltrate my farm and escape with your lives?" A voice ranged from behind the miniature squadron. They stood atop the pathway leading to the outside, causing the outside to obscure them in shade.

"Why is it becoming harder to breath?" Wei Meng whispered to himself. He felt an intense fire consume him. Horrific shivers traversed throughout his being. Is my soul on fire? The swordsman started to lose focus...Darkness crept across the dimly lit room, engulfing the glowing crystal into utter silence. "Such an evil presence..." He roared.

"Oh? This one is different from the others." The enigmatic voice boomed. Contrarily, the guards stood frozen, almost stuck in a deep trance. Eyes of white peering down upon the sword-wielding infiltrator.

If they're aware of us here, we won't make it off the palace grounds safely. Wei Meng contemplated. He turned to Taiyang and the girl Xiaohui. I should run off. I can survive longer if I'm alone.

The elegant night descended upon Ba Sing Se; floating downwards and smothering the massive city in darkness. Children enjoyed supper and slept as parents spent quality time with one another. Peacefulness. Or the greatest illusion that mankind faces. The creatures of the night stirred outside and prepared to perform dastardly deeds. Some often state that nighttime was the heaven's method of protecting the innocent, the ignorant and blissful. One cannot see the predator stalking in the night. They can only accept the sudden rush of death should their time arrive. Among this darkened world sat two warriors, each walking a singular path to different destinations.

"Why're you still up? Tomorrow, we're going to infiltrate the Earth Kingdom palace.You'll need to be awake and focused." Wei Meng, who held a scalding cup of tea, sat on the counter. His eyes watched the flickering flame of a single candle dance in the middle of their room.

"I can't sleep. I am close... so close to her but she is still not here with me right now. She is locked in some cell like an animal, like she is less than human, all because the Huolong and sick, twisted people exist. And I couldn't stop it. What if she is killed before we get there. Not only that, but what about Biyu? What if I set her and those other girls up for their own fall because I thought I knew better?" Taiyang said sadly, staring at the stars in the sky. "Little stars, please, watch over my great one."

Wei Meng sighed. He thought about the many valuable lessons passed onto him by his own master, words which he followed religiously. "If you start a small fire in a dry forest, you'll trap yourself in an inferno." He sipped his tea, taking another second for thought. "Let the flames burn one tree at a time. Well at least that's what my master taught me. Never understood why he knew so much about burning down trees."

"Perhaps he had a fire in his heart. Maybe not then, but it burned at one point." Taiyang said as he continued to look at the stars above. Burn one tree at a time. Save Xiaohui, and check on Biyu later on. "You have mentioned your master a few times now, who was he? What was he like?"

Wei Meng snarled at the question, using the darkness to obscure a visage of annoyance. However, he remembered that they could actually die together after sunrise. This realization melted his heart, alongside a sip of burning tea. "My master is like me. He walked the world of Rivers and Lakes, became a renown swordsman and traversed the multiple realms." The young warrior chuckled. "Some say he even stood toe to toe against Grand Swordmaster Piandao; but he doesn't talk much about that. Some say Piandao struck him down in five paces. Either way, I hope to inherit his legacy someday. He gave me these two blades as a bridge between us."

"That old man should be dead by now anyway." Wei Meng joked. "But he is an elder brother to me. Too bad he'd never allow himself to get kidnap. Perhaps someday you'll meet him. Do you have any masters?"

Fire seemed to glow from Taiyang's eyes as he heard the question. His mind travelled back. "I had many. Guozhi from the cave was one of them. He was cold and relentless, just like the lightning he trained me to use. He could have been a great firebending master had he trained more in arts outside of lightning, but he thought it was the greatest gift a firebender could have. He shocked me plenty of times, for every mistake. Every failure, every slip up until I perfected it. Longwei, Aiguo, Bingwen, many others for fire. All of them just as cold. None of them were 'brothers', nor fathers or friends. They all just wanted a perfect soldier, not a comrade."

"I see." Wei Meng added. "Perhaps in a different life I would have joined the military. Unfortunately this life is for freedom and adventure. Wanting to achieve my goal before death. When you're finished here, are you going back to that life?"

"No, once I get Xiaohui back, I'm taking her home. I may adventure, but the Huolong? The Fire Nation military? Never again, and just never." Taiyang said as he turned back to Wei Meng. "How about you though? Any family?"

Family. He hadn't thought about them in ages. They were probably saddened by his departure but eventually understood his reasoning. Years of standing out among the general populace, differing thoughts and a distaste of normality tend to transform one into an outcast. Wei Meng never thought about them; or one could say he sealed their memories within a realm of darkness. A place where none would disturb and where they'd never resurface. "They're," He started hesitantly. "Somewhere in Omashu. Living a life of wealth and safety. A life I'd never enjoy. Besides I've other things to take care of."

"I see. Sacrificing a life of wealth for a life of your own interests. I think Iroh would have approved of that." said Taiyang, thinking of the many things he had read about the great general he respected so dearly. "Why... why did you end up working with the Honeybadgers anyway?"

"In this world, those without wealth are subjugated by those with power. To survive, one must make allies with the strong." Wei Meng smiled, remembering the first time he set foot inside the lower rings of Ba Sing Se. "I started in the lower ring as a hired hand. Murder, espionage, sabotage-those sort of jobs. Eventually my record caught the eye of the old man. I'd wasted my money on entering this place and starvation was a powerful motivator. Eventually I earned my rankings and ascended the criminal underworld." He took another sip of tea. "But I almost lost myself, lost the focus of my lifestyle. Before the little tea shop fiasco, I decided enough was enough and went to finish my quest."

Taiyang shook his head. "The Huolong... I liked their mission. Protect the law of the Fire Nation, risking themselves. They weren't considered military officially, but they may as well been. It's just their breeding to make the perfect children, and their ruthlessness. Thy made me kill a boy, one who was just do petty theft, to serve as an example on Iroh Islad. After that, I had to leave them."

"Well, I had to murder a man in front of his pregnant wife cause she owed the Old Man's son." Wei Meng added defensively.

"I wasn't really tryin- eh, whatever. Well, now we both know how we joined and left some groups." Taiyang responded.

"Yeah that's right. Accept your loss." Wei Meng gloated. "Anyway when you retrieve the girl, keep a better eye on her. Your luck is bound to run out eventually."

"I will." Taiyang said simply as he shifted and stood, getting his own cup of tea.

Wei Meng sighed. Of course the biggest obstacle would appear with success within arm's reach. His mind entered overdrive. These earthbenders were not the special Dai Li agents, something he discerned by their stance. But they possessed a mysterious air that normal earthbenders lacked. A certain aura of emptiness, bodies devoid of humanity. They're different...somehow. Wei Meng thought. The chaotic aura and monstrous murderous intent boiling behind them sent painful waves down his spine. He couldn't see it. Even when squinting, the shadows standing in the sunlight appeared humanlike. So why were his palms so sweaty? Where did this shiver come from? This freezing heat and intense heart rate...Their chances of escaping were nil. I should have killed those damned guards. Wei Meng reminisced. If we cause a scene, the entire palace will have our heads. But if we give up, then they'll kill us and take her back.

Wei Meng glanced to Taiyang and Xiaohui. I could escape without them. The guards are gathered here, leaving the entrance vulnerable. With enough commotion, I could make it to the other side and escape the palace grounds. I doubt whoever's behind this has immediate control of the Earth Kingdom's military force. Kidnapping citizens is something the monarchy would never publicly endorse. But his legs were frozen. He attempted to step backwards, attempted to jump, leap anything. If he could grow wings and fly he would. Yet nothing happened. He couldn't. The swordsman chuckled.

Taiyang stared at the opponents. "Dai Li, the very thing the Huolong were based on. Strange to finally see them in person." Taiyang said as he looked them over. Taiyang looked at Wei Meng, who had frozen up. "Are you okay Du Ya?" Taiyang questioned, using the fake name to hide his identify. Gripping Xiaohui's hand, Taiyang preparred for whatever to happen to unfold.

"What's this? The rat has two accomplices plus one of my future pets!" The malicious voice roared in entertainment. "Let's see what happens when two rodents are cornered."

"Human's are interesting creatures." Another exclaimed.

"If these were the Dai Li, we'd be dead already." Wei Meng corrected his firebending companion. "I'm alright. But we can't confront them head on, not with her here." The swordsmen looked to Xiaohui, analyzing both her stature and build. His eyes pierced through the physical veil of the young girl. "She's a liability. We have to escape. You guys start running off and I'll bring the house down behind us."

Taiyang nodded to the swordsman. Grabbing Xiaohui's arm, he began to move away from the Dai Li and Wei Meng. Howver, he stopped and grabbed the shoulder of Wei Meng. "I'm coming back." delcared the firebender as he began to run down the hall away from it all. To protect himself at least for a bit, Taiyang stopped and bending a wall of fire to help slow down the guards as he made his way to the primary entrance. Coming across guards, Taiyang blasted lightning at them to take them down and ease the escape. Another, Taiyang ignited the sword and threw it, taking down another, stabbing him into a wall. Taiyang looked at the blade, and now intended to leave it behind.

However, one guard caught Taiyang off guard, and threw a large rock from behind, but he was pulled down. Xiaohui saved him with this action. Emotion built up from being losing her family, kidnapped, and being locked in a cell built up. Losing Taiyang, her dearest friend, was something she refused. From her hand, a clear burst of wind slammed into the guard, throwing him back with great force and slamming him against a wall. He was knocked out.

Xiaohui starred in shocked at the man and looked at her hands. Taiyang himself had only a vague idea of what happened.

"Come on Xiaohui, we have to get out of here. We'll talk about what happened here later." Taiyang said as the duo walked through the first door and entered the night sky. Looking in the direction of the home of the Fire Lillies and his new friend Biyu, Taiyang began to move there quickly, while taking to the shadows as he was trained to do.

"Hmph. Might not be anything to come back to."

Wei Meng darted towards the mysterious entourage, reminiscing a raging Elephant-moose charging its prey. His heart matched the pounding of his feet. Blood rushed through his body yet time slowed, thickening, choking the swordsman. However he remained undeterred; his grip tightening around the yin blade as he drew it swiftly. They're not moving. Wei Meng thought. Excellent. Ten paces, the swordsman launched towards the guard who stood before him. The ebony blade soared in a flash of lightning as he flew with enough force to leap over Ten Thousand Li.

"He's fast." The demonic voice acknowledged.

Few can match the speed of the Nineteen Styles of Jade Maiden Sword, especially when practiced by a masters. The first words spoken by Master Huashan when the young warrior dedicated his future to swordplay. The day when one could leap to the opposite end of the sky. Ten Thousand Miles Apart. And that it did. Blood dripped from the sword; from which the swordsman could feel the feint beating of a heart. But the mysterious warrior stared empty eyed at Wei Meng. Eyes completely white, without an ounce of life or emotion. An eternal bliss of nothingness. Devoid of humanity. "What-"

A swift uppercut sent him flying backwards. Blood splattered across the floor as the sword was pulled from the enemy's chest. "Impossible..." Wei Meng whispered. His attacker stood unfazed by the gaping hole inside his chest; a crimson waterfall staining his emerald uniform. "I see you guys aren't human. Excellent. Humans are boring anyway."

"You're quite the lively fellow. But unfortunately, I cannot allow you to escape this place alive." A strained voice called from behind the guards. "Pai Long, Bei Fao, Lu Jin, Yu Dao, and Guan Si. Make sure there's nothing left to bury.."

"Kill me?" Wei Meng chuckled. "You'll need something more than weird eye'd puppets." The emerald warriors moved in unison. Their assault started when a scarred earthbender stomped his foot, sending forth a barrage of spikes rising towards the swordsman; who, without hesitation, leapt out of its trajectory. Wei Meng followed with a leap upwards, narrowly avoiding an earthen wave. He rolled out of harm's danger once his foot touched the ground. The onslaught of earthen

The shortest earthbender launched his arm forward, conjuring an immense cloud of dust that engulfed the small crowd. Trying to obscure my vision? Hmph! Prickling needles. Wei Meng ducked beneath a boulder. Prickling needles. He tumbled, avoiding an oncoming fist of stone. Prickling needles. Sparks. Wei Meng deflected a spike with the yin blade. He moved without reason. Descending further into entropy with every step. Prickling needles. His arm lunged forward, simultaneously ducking beneath an oncoming boulder while stabbing into the stomach of a silhouette.

"He seems to possess a special connection to the spiritual realm and the energy of the universe. Brother, this one would make an interesting servant. Perhaps we could use him as a host." A woman asked.

"Fine, you'll have your toy. Servants, capture the swordsman alive." He ordered. The cloud of dust had been dispersed by a powerful gust. Wei Meng felt a sharp pain from his stomach, a stone pillar knocking him backwards. He tried to return to stance, yet was met with a boulder to his chest. An elbow striking his back. They began to attack after one another, relentlessly, savagely, without giving the single warrior a second of thought.

"Their strikes are stronger than normal...And two of them should be dead." Wei Meng noted, staring at the gaping stomach wound of a nearby enemy. "What's going on?!"

"You'll find out soon." The hunched silhouette stepped into the light of the outside world, disappearing from his view completely. Only leading an elderly voice echoing. "Bring him to the dungeons."

Shit..My vision is getting bloodied. I need get out of here. Wei Meng felt weak. His legs wobbled before he fell to his knees, using the yang sword for support. "I won't let you reach them...Even if it means my story ends here."

As Taiyang and Xiaohui moved, they finally came to a stop in front of a building. The Pink Lotus was its name. Taiyang opened the door.

"I'm sorry, we're clos- Taiyang? Xiaohui!?" a bewildered Biyu said aloud. The girl ran to the newly freed Xiaohui and hugged her and Taiyang. "You got her back! I almost can't believe it." she said happily before looking around. "Where is the swordsman?"

"He stayed back to hold off the guards we ran into. These guys... they can't be human. I have to go back. Xiaohui, I know you wan-"

"Go and save your friend. I'll stay and wait here with Biyu. We can catch up later, because I'll know you'll come back for me again." Xiaohui smiled as she hugged her guard anf friend. "And we can talk about that weird air blast I did too. Go!"

Taiyang hugged the girl back before the embrace ended. Running into the streets of Ba Sing Se once more, Taiyang began to return to the temple and the swordsman he hired.

"Shit!" Wei Meng grunted. He felt the earthen wall behind him crumble slightly after he collided against it. It took effort to keep from falling. Why did he let them escape first? A true warrior would have seized the opportunity. Was whatever his employer offered enough for his life? Wei Meng smiled at the thought. "Do you have enough money to pay for my life?" He evaded a massive boulder by leaping out of harm's path, soaring through the air and crawling onto his footing.

"They're sloppy. Whatever's influencing them has substituted form and discipline for pure power." Wei Meng tightened his grip as he stood, supporting himself using the cracked wall. "Regardless, their physical prowess far surpasses mine. It'll be over if I continue encountering them. The only thing I can do is hope to escape. I'm sure the others have had enough time. The question is how..." The swordsman's thoughts were interrupted by flying boulders and eruptions of sharpened spikes. His enemies stomped their foots and abruptly rose their hands. What was once an elegant formation was now nothing more than raw displays of power. And although the earth obeyed, it did so grudgingly.

"I have to seize the moment." Wei Meng ducked beneath the approaching boulder and side-stepped the spike. His body moved in tandem with both blades. "Nineteen Styles: Ten Thousand Li." He roared, arm shooting outwards in a powerful thrust. His hind leg pounded against the ground, propelling Wei Meng towards the mysterious earthbending puppet who could only watch in empty horror as the ebony blade approached. But Wei Meng pivoted around the emotionally devoid earthbender. Quickly, he darted behind the soldier and dashed down the tunnel after Taiyang.

The shocked squadron took a minute before processing that which had occurred. By the time they had darted down the tunnel, Wei Meng had vanished. In the silver room which held the fire's ember, he pressed his back against the cold metal and took a deep breath. Refreshing. "They'll probably follow the trail. If Taiyang escaped the other way, he must've left a mess." Wei Meng thought. Once silence befell the hideout, the swordsman ran towards the exit.

Taiyang made his way back to the palace, sneaking his way through guards and gates. If the Huolong taught him anything, it was how to navigate. For any guard who came too close to Taiyang, a small jab of lightning was used to quickly disable him as Taiyang stashed the body to keep it hidden. Finally, making his way to the temple, he entered the tunnels once more. The guards he fought earlier were still lying there as Taiyang looked at the one who was knocked out by Xiaohui.

"She can't possibly be... an airbender, can she? It doesn't make sense." Taiyang said to himself as that moment replayed in his head. "But what else could it have been?" It was something that had to wait. Taiyang kept moving forward, working his way towards the last location he saw Wei Meng, which was with those strange earthbenders.

"What do you mean he escaped?!" The mysterious elder roared. Anger bouncing across the walls from the empty room which they inhabited. "How could he have gotten away?"

"The transformation isn't complete." A darkened voice. Belonging to a creature of intense hatred. His eyes watched the empty visages of the gathered earthbenders, his brethren. "Let's not forget, even a monk of your statue can host us consciously for a few hours without extensive rest. Expecting these spiritual children to accomplish such a feat is foolish."

"The dark spirits within haven't completely bonded. They're only able to use their basic abilities. And without knowledge of the human world, our brothers and sisters must restrain themselves; for fear of drawing attention from the earth king."

"Once the process is complete, our underlings will be able to utilize both aspects. Commanders of the spirit, manipulators of men. But until then, we must remain vigilant and careful. Even if it means letting one of those vile creatures escape for the time being."

"Aunt's correct. Should the false King widen up to our experiments, it would surely become more difficult for us to continue. What's the damage?"

"One escapee."


"A fire nation women. Our sources have found a connection between the Huolong of the Fire Nation and a former member of the Honeybadger Gang."

"Would explain the commotion a few days before. Humans are such emotionally weak creatures. Either they drown themselves in sorrow or destroy themselves with greed."

"Now's not the time to discuss human behavior. We have to deal with the intruder. Should he spread word-"

"Who'd believe a criminal? City dwellers would treat it as conspiracy and the upper class wouldn't dare bare teeth to a trusted member of the Earth King's council." His voice saddened. "But I dislike the idea of letting such filth interrupt my plans. They both deserve to be punished. Duya, take to the skies and hunt down our prey. I want them dead."

"Do not worry sister." An earthbender stepped forward, with an unsynchronized voice which did not belong to this realm. He bowed his head to the elder and smiled. "I'll take the swordsman's body and use him to kill his friends." A smile. A sudden thump. The body laid unmoving on the cold stone floor. Only a swift cloud of darkness which rapidly ascended upwards, phasing through the multiple ceilings and into the ebony night where it vanished into nothingness.

He leaned against a wall and panted heavily. Never had his heart pounded so fast. Guards were only every corner, watching for the slightest discrepancy. Wei Meng shifted from guard to infiltrator in seconds, adapting surrounding behavior and discarding it minutes later. He despised the idea of military. Why should one sacrifice their life for another? What guaranteed rights did monarchs possess to an army? To countless humans willing to toss their lives away for people who'd never blink their direction? It was sickening. Horrific. Survival. Those who live deserve to live. Those who couldn't survive deserved to die. Higher individuals, protected by laws and invisible forces, bled like normal people. Why should one subject themselves to other humans?

"They should have escaped by now. And seeing as there aren't any alarms, my hunch is correct. Whoever's involved in her kidnapping must be operating under the king's nose. Well that doesn't matter." Wei Meng smirked, heading towards the exit used by officials. He moved swiftly through a crowd and joined a dispatching party. But as he moved, the swordsman felt his clothes stick to him and smelled the familiar scent of copper. Bruises. Wei Meng felt the clothes he used to tie up his open wounds soak. He had to do something. Walking from the palace a beaten mess would surely attract attention. They needed to last a few more minutes and then the swordsman could obtain actual medical assistance. But step sent ripples of pain throughout. He wanted to fall. To sleep until daybreak and have a nice breakfast. The nearby peony garden smelled rather exquisite. He always longed to obtain one of his own. Their infatuating scent, carried by the wind, guided Wei Meng to the nearest exit.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Wei Meng's heart stopped. The rugged voice, which approached from behind him, almost brought him to his knees. I can't survive another one. He thought. A sharp pain in his hip reminded him of such. So he slowly turned to the owner of the harsh tone. A man slightly older than him, yet belonging to another league of discipline. Wei Meng smelled the condescending air of false superiority. "I'm heading off." He answered politely.

"Officer, did your lieutenant approve of this?"

"Yes. And I have to go, it's an emergency." Wei Meng barked. He blinked away the blurriness from the world and snarled. "Bei Fao, Lu Jin, Yu Dao. Take it up with them." Names that held weight, for when the young captain heard them, he almost fell to his bottom.

"Go on ahead."

Wei Meng continued through the palace and eventually made it off the imperial grounds. "If not for the party tonight, this would have been nearly impossible." He whispered. The guards, albeit covering the outer rings of the palace, were mainly focused on the inner sanctum and the locations of the party. When he heard talk of their targeted areas, Wei Meng knew that escape would only mean remaining conscious long enough to walk through a few entrances.

As Taiyang continued to transverse the building, anothe guard began to move through. Still wearing hi guard uniform and standing near a knocked out guard, Taiyang kneeled down to fake inspecting it. "What is going on here tonight?" he said aloud.

"I am unsure. A prisoner escaped, some Fire Nation tramp. How she did it, I am unsure. Maybe a chi blocker or something. A lot of injured guards are out and about here tonight. Saw one, a darker skinned fellow, with some pretty bad injuries," the guard said as he moved in close.

Dark skin. That struck with Taiyang. "Did he have longer hair and green eyes, almost like emeralds?" Taiyang asked the man.

"Yeah. Uniform seemed like a weird fit too. Probably a newer kid."

"That's my cousin!" Taiyang lied quickly. "I have to go check on him, auntie gave me instruction to watch over him!"

The guard sighed. "Well, the attack appears to be over. I'm just rounding out the injured guards and I will get them rounded up for easier transport for medical attention. Go on ahead and check up your cousin. He adopted or something?"

"Something like that." Taiyang said as he began to reverse his steps and leave once again. Finding Wei Meng in the open city would be hard, but he would likely heading to a hospital. That was a start.

The Torch That Moves

Wei Meng was unable to recall what had transpired only hours before. Perhaps the overwhelming pain dimmed his memory. Every thought was overwhelmed by a desire to collapse. Earthbenders and their damned boulders. After days of pummeling, Wei Meng smirked at the distant bathhouse located opposite of him. His body shivered from imagined pleasure. The warm water soaking away the soreness, healing the swordsman to his very soul. Wei Meng bit his lip. If not for the crowds heading home, the swordsman would have skipped the brief encounter and spent the night boiling. "News of an infiltration could illuminate Ba Sing Se at any minute." He thought. And with his wobbling, perched walking, anyone would deduce his involvement. Luckily, Wei Meng caught sight of the roof of their building and smirked. "Surely after this, i'll have to leave immediately." Yet his heart remained frozen. Spirit indifferent. Unchained to the surrounding buildings and people.This city could burn for all he cared.

The door slammed, echoing throughout the small building. He ascended the stairs and pulled out a key with a trembling hand. Click. The door creaked open after the third attempt and slammed shut after he crossed the threshold. Finally. But victory was short lived. Mountains collapsed upon his shoulders while the world of consciousness finally fell. Sending the swordsman spiraling into darkness, asleep on the wooden floor.

Asking around local hospitals for both Du Ya and Wei Meng, no one of either name popped up except for a older man who hated visitors. Taiayng had nothing to go on and no where to go to specifically find Wei Meng. "I guess I can go get Xiaohui and take her to the apartment. Maybe he will show up there. If not, we can look for him." Taiyang said softly to himself as he made his way to Xiaohui.

Making his ways through the city, keeping his head down when guards would occasionally move past, Taiyang made it to the Pink Lotus. Reuniting with his beloved Xiaohui was as sweet the second time as the two hugged and spoke a few general things before Taiyang grabbed her hand. Giving thanks to the girls of the building, Taiyang and Xiaohui began to walk towards the place he was staying.

"Taiyang... we still need to talk about that burst. What was that? What am I?" Xiaohui asked softly, looking down and becoming unsure of herself.

"I honestly don't know Xiaohui. It... It looked like airbending, but I dont know how that could be. Your family is a noble Fire Nation family with many famous firebenders throughout its history. How you could be an airbender is beyond me," Taiyang said as the kept to themselves as best they could on the street.

"Maybe the spirits are intervining on behalf of the airbenders. With peace in the world for once, maybe they are restoring balance," the girl said, unsure of what to make of her power still.

"Maybe," Taiyang said, unassure himself as the room he was staying in entered his field of vision. As the duo walked closer to the building, Xiaohui looked upwards towards the sky.

"If I am an airbender, I want to learn how to use it." she said with a small smile on her face.

"We'll find a way. I may be a firebender, but the Huolong taught some airbending tactics. That can work for awhile." Taiyang said as he opened the door, finding a swordsman passed out.

His ebony feathers flapped wildly atop the raging winds. A speck of obsidian splitting the clouds into two. Crimson eyes that peered mockingly upon the insects bounded to the earth. A spirit of the sky. A creature without chains. An intelligent being yet playful. However the Raven felt an ominous presence chasing him with an intense hunger, one which would consume the world. Perhaps it was hungry for the obsidian bird, whose left wing was littered with silver feathers. Or was it simply using the Raven as a beacon, a guiding light. Either way, the cloud of darkness slithered engulfed him in darkness.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

The world was obscured by anger, hatred and isolation. He felt alone. Whereas the skies kept him company, the Raven realized how vast the world was. And in this vastness, the number of creatures he encountered became insignificant. Was this the feeling that had plagued him since birth? This isolation...

But an intense light emerged from above. A miniature sun blazing with passion and intensity. A Phoenix, whose fiery feathers dispelled the darkness and glistened in the intense sunlight. The raven was nought but the darkness cast by the Phoenix's might. Forever connected; for where light shines a shadow silently follows. The Raven could only smile at the majestic Phoenix who darted off, and decided to shadow it until eternity.

Taiyang pushed the unconcious man. "Wake up already Wei!" he said as he shook Wei. Xiaohui got a bucket of cold water for the man to drink in case he wasn't feeling well.