“Okay, now I know I’ve seen that purple mushroom before…”
Shyu groaned. Just when he thought he was making progress. He leaned wearily against a log.
Someone will notice I’m gone. He knew it. And when they do, Dad will send everyone–guards, police, even the Avatar to look for me… But how would they know to check in the spirit world? Mica and he hadn’t exactly announced where they were secretly sneaking off to.
He swallowed hard. Korra would come into the spirit world eventually. She was the Avatar. It was sorta her thing. But when? Tomorrow? A few days from now? A few weeks? Flames, could he really be stuck here for weeks? What was he going to do for food? And what about Mica? Was she still trapped in here somewhere?
Darn that girl, he thought. If it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be in this mess. I’d be perfectly safe watching Dad get crowned…from the background…alone.
Shyu felt a small twinge in his arm. He reached up and scratched the place where the spirit had marked him.
Then he stood. He needed to keep searching. For Mica. For the exit. For anything. Even if it was pointless, at least he was doing something.
He turned in a slow circle, trying to decide on a direction he hadn’t already gone in.
That tree doesn’t look familiar. And there…off in the distance…that swirling light in the sky could be from the spirit portal.
His arm tingled, sending a shiver down his back. Yes. This has to be right. I know it.
He barely made it two steps when he heard a strange noise. Shyu glanced up. Was that…? He listened harder. Yes, it was! Off in the distance, he could hear the very un-spirity thrum of a motorcycle.
“Mica!” He ran towards the noise. Tripping over rocks and ferns, he stumbled down a small embankment overlooking a vast valley of orange grass. Far away he could see the dense outline of forest. And beyond it, springing from the trees, was a vast swarm of spirits.
Shyu got slowly to his feet and watched the swarm, chest heaving.
Flames, there had to be thousands of them. But what would make them flee like that?
His answer came a second later. A roar the likes of which he’d never heard shook the ground as something enormous broke out of the trees.
A dragon! Shyu thought. Even ensnared in vines, it had the vague outline of one of the great animals. But no, not even dragons get that big. This was something else.
Whatever it is, it’s coming this way! The realization dawned with a spike of adrenalin. Shyu started to run again, back the way he had come when something else caught his eye. There, fleeing alongside the swarm of frightened spirits, Shyu saw a blur of red paint and the wink of a headlight.
He continued racing forward, waving his hands over his head and yelling, “Mica! Over here!”
She veered sharply, cutting diagonally across the valley at full speed and churning orange grass into a fine mist. She shot passed him in a blur then skidded to a stop a dozen yards ahead.
“You’re…okay!” he managed to gasp out between pants.
“Get on! Quick!” Mica snapped.
Shyu didn’t need to be asked twice. He practically flung himself on the bike behind her and wrapped his arms tight around her waist. She was covered in sheen of sweat and breathing almost as hard as he was.
Mica’s voice was on the verge of frenzy. “That thing just tried to eat me! That’s what happened!” She hit the throttle full force. Shyu pressed his cheek into her back, every muscle tensed as the bike lurched forward. He tried not to look down at the ground speeding just inches under his feet.
Terror gnawed at his belly. Mica couldn’t keep this up forever. Sooner or later her bike would run out of fuel, and they’d be stranded again. Then that thing would devour them both for sure! Their only hope now was to find the exit. And quick.
Shyu leaned up, catching a face full of Mica’s hair as it whipped behind her.
“Head towards that patch in the sky! I think it’s the way out!” He loosened his grip just long enough to point a shaking finger at the ribbon of color that was getting closer by the second.
“How do you know?” Mica yelled back.
He didn’t know. For all he knew, the discoloration could be right above a thousand foot drop. But something–instinct maybe–told him otherwise.
“Just trust me!”
“Please, remain calm!” Raiko’s voice announced above the concerned whispers of the crowd and the growing shouts of dissent from the demonstrators across the street. They might have been content to stand a good distance away when the ceremony started, but now that something had gone wrong, they were determined to voice just how much this proved that Iroh was a failure.
“This is perfectly normal!” Raiko called out. Someone booed him, and an officer stepped in to quiet the guy down. Tenna was on her feet, her body shifting to a defensive stance without a second thought. It was still early evening, so they were hardly plunged into pitch black darkness, but the Fire Sage was a bit more difficult to make out, and it had taken both Iroh and Kaja to finally convince him to stop spewing his history lesson into the non-functioning microphone. Tenna scanned the area. There were about half the protesters standing on the street as there were before. Either some of them had gotten bored, or (more likely), some of them decided to have a field day with the equipment. So, is that all they decided to do, or is there more?
“This close to the spirit vines, there can be some…disruptions to our electronics from time to time,” Raiko was going on. “Do we have any lightning generators in the crowd?”
“I can do that, sir!” Mako called.
The president nodded appreciatively at him. “Thank you, Chief.” The audience seemed to be calming down, tuning the protesters back out as they worked towards a common goal of not sitting in the dark.
“Oo, oo, pick me!” Kiki said, jabbing her hand in the air and bouncing up and down.
“Kiki!” her mother scolded her. “You’re supposed to be watching your father!”
“But I’m really good at lightning!” Kiki whined. The first few rows of people, who’d been able to hear her, giggled a bit. Meanwhile, a few more people volunteered their lightning abilities–not surprising given the numbers of Fire Nation citizens in the crowd. Izumi, Yuki, and the royal family children stepped down to sit in the front row while Iroh and the Fire Sage remained on the stage. A crackle of electricity and the crew got a single flickering spotlight working and focused on Iroh. Tenna looked over the group again. Only two of Iroh’s children were seated. And apparently their mother had just made the same observation.
“Where’s Shyu?” she asked with concern.
“I just told Grandma,” Kiki whispered. “He went off with a girl.”
Tenna’s stomach felt uneasy. Just how long ago had Mica left to get those cups of coffee? “Was this girl wearing a short red dress?” she asked.
Kiki nodded. “Uh-huh. And she had neat eyes. One green and one gold.”
Yuki shot both Tenna and Bolin an icy glare at the description of just who had vanished with her son. It was all Tenna could do not to go hide somewhere from the humiliation. “Don’t worry,” she said, soft and calm as she could be. “I made sure my daughter knows how to take care of herself. She’ll keep him safe.”
Somehow, this did not seem terribly comforting to Yuki. Bolin leaned forward and tried to help smooth things over in his usual Bolin way, which as it turned out wasn’t very smooth at all. “Yeah, Mica’s a great fighter,” he announced. Yuki looked horrified. Tenna grimaced and smacked her husband lightly upside the head. Bolin winced and hastily tried to correct himself. “Not that there’s going to be a fight–or any danger at all, really. I mean–I’m sure they’re fine.”
“…hail Firelord Iroh!” the Fire Sage announced with the finally-functioning microphone. A cheer arose from the crowd. Bolin, realizing he had missed the big moment, tried to make up for it by standing and hollering extra loud. Tenna clapped along with him, but in truth, she still couldn’t shake an uneasy feeling. Then, at that moment, one of the cheers in the crowd changed into a horrified scream.
Tenna was in weapon mode. The ease with which she slipped into it was not something she was particularly proud of, but in a situation like this, she could at least make use of it.
She surveyed the scene with disciplined calm. A couple thousand roving spirits flitted about but seemed more intent on fleeing rather than attacking. Odd. What were they fleeing from? Best not to find out.
As guards rushed in to usher the Royal Family to safety, Tenna stuck close to Firelord Izumi… well, Lady Izumi now, and kept her lips slightly parted in case she needed to fire a combustion blast.
Izumi seemed ready for a fight herself, Tenna noted. She was usually quite skilled at playing the role of the helpless nonbender. But apparently when her children and grandchildren were involved, that façade became all the more difficult to uphold.
“We’ll handle this,” Tenna tried to assure her friend (though really how she was going to handle this, she didn’t quite know). “Don’t do anything you’ll regret later.”
“Hmph,” Izumi replied, lowering her hands, but remaining tensed.
She saw movement out of the corner of her eye coming in fast. Something that looked like a glowing black snake slithered up to the chairs. Most of the crowd was fleeing away, but the creature was moving quickly to catch up to the slowest runners. Tenna fired a small blast, blowing three or four chairs to smithereens. The snake-thing screeched, but stopped its charge, and seemed eager to return to the portal it had come from.
Hmm….not very fond of big ka-booms, it seems, Tenna thought. This gave her an idea. If she could get a few well-placed shots in the areas where no citizens were standing, she might be able to drive the angry spirits to right back where they came from.
“Send up a few plumes of lava where you can do it safely,” she told Bolin. “And make it loud. They don’t like explosions.”
“I don’t like them much either!” Bolin called back, but went and did as she had instructed. Mako apparently overheard or figured out the trick on his own, because he began firing lightning bolts at the ground, which scared a few more angry spirits off. The rest of the security team rushed in to help the citizens evacuate. Meanwhile, Tenna went to find the best vantage point she could. A nearby streetlight served her nicely. Behind her, Izumi was scolding two guards, insisting that they stop treating her like “a feeble old lady.”
This roused some argument from Korra that Izumi was, in fact, a feeble old lady. Korra being the only person besides Tenna gutsy enough to say as much to the former Firelord’s face. What she wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall when things calmed down and Korra got a well-deserved earful for that one.
Tenna scaled the streetlight with little effort and balanced on the top as she looked for her best openings. Team Avatar had covered the area nicely, but she could still see a few spots in the distance where the spirits were sneaking through. She fired a few well-placed blasts. She was feeling fairly confident in herself until an unearthly roar sounded followed by the rev of an engine. An engine? Tenna felt her stomach drop.
No, she thought. No, please, no. No. No. No!
Her gaze fell on the spirit portal just in time to see a motorbike burst forth from the glowing pillar. Mica was driving, Tenna knew, even before she recognized her daughter’s red dress and Prince Shyu’s royal attire. But even more frightening than watching Mica barely swerve around spirits and scattered debris was seeing the monster that emerged next, hot on her trail.
Tenna felt her footing start to give way, the light collapsing underneath her.