The sky above Avatar Roku's Island was on fire. Great balls of fire roared and exploded, and grappling hooks arced into the sky and fell. All the while, Misha kept an eye on the horizon and the great host of ships approaching from the border patrol.
Memories came flooding back of a great battle, the calamity that forced her to swear off violence and spurn the advice and pleas of everyone she'd ever known.
The ambush had only started a few moments ago, but the uncertainty that gripped her seemed like precognition. It told her they'd all die or worse if they didn't leave before the balloons and the ground forces overwhelmed them.
Before her eyes, her fear turned into reality. One of the many grappling hooks that targeted Appa wrapped around his tail, and with the help of a contraption, the soldiers below yanked down hard.
The great beast moaned, and the world turned sideways as they nearly spilled from its pouch. Misha's quick reflexes brought Sokka and Katara close enough to find some handhold while Rohin's men all managed to hold on.
"Appa," Aang cried.
"We need to get that grappling hook off now, or we're buggered," Rohin cursed.
"I'll do it," Misha said, even as her mind shrieked at her. The older man gave her a peculiar look that mirrored her thoughts.
Are you up for this?
Nearly everyone else raised a verbal objection, but much to her dismay, Misha found herself dismissing them with a wave as a lifetime of training and instincts came to bear.
"We don't have a choice here," she said. "And a second grappling hook guarantees they catch us all. This is no time for a debate."
Misha took a deep breath, and finally, all the fear and doubt she'd been bottling inside poured out, leaving her a shuddering mess for half a second as she looked down at the field of Fire Nation men.
"I've faced worse," she said to herself, more than anyone. Then, she turned to the kids. "Don't wait for me. I'll find my way back somehow. I can't afford not to. And tell Aaron to look after Peta for me."
"Who's Peta?" Sokka asked.
Misha's face twisted in agony as she opened her mouth to speak, but she spied a grappling rocketing towards them, so she kicked off the Appa and swatted it back with her staff instead.
"Who's Peta?" she heard Sokka yell again, but she was nearly halfway to the ground.
She roused her chi that moved like molasses and suffused her entire being with the vital energy. Her eyes turned crimson as she sunk into chi reinforcement. Her chi flow doubled as a start. She could push the technique much more, but even her chi pool would bottom out in seconds.
With a single palm thrust, she shot out an air stream that pushed back two other hooks aiming for Appa, and a casual flick of her staff created a wind blade sharp enough to sheer the thick cable that held back Appa.
The beast shot into the air like a cannonball, and with an explosion of dust and air, she landed in the middle of one of the groups of soldiers fiddling with the catapults. They turned their attention her way, and a torrent of fire poured forth.
With an air-assisted hop, she vaulted over the assault and shot a crescent of air back at the men. It swept through the foremost soldiers, whipping them off their feet and scattering them far and wide.
As she landed, she spied dozens of men approaching her, hopping past boiling streams of lava, much to her surprise.
With a grand build-up of her Chi, she shot up several feet in the air, spread the bottom of her glider to make a makeshift fan, and decided to make their lives miserable.
Her landing kicked up an ash cloud that carried globs of molten lava that swept away the soldiers. Sending them windmilling and screaming.
Misha cringed at the nightmarish sight, but it had to be done. The fewer people she had to face, the easier it would be to fight her way to Peta.
From behind her, she spied another small group, and she repeated the same trick, but several somehow survived and came stumbling into melee range. Misha closed her glider to switch up the flow of combat.
Air swirled around the tip of her weapon as she used her favorite air-bending move, Stinger. Trusting out, a compressed ball of air caught the first man approaching her out of the fog in the neck, crushing armor and spilling blood.
Misha ducked a fireball that came from behind, slipped to the side to avoid a second attack coming in front of her, and released two quick jabs that cracked helmets and bludgeoned chest armor.
Over and over, the cycle repeated itself. She wove through attacks thanks to her enhanced senses, returned fire in stinger shots that one-shotted soldiers, and generated barriers to overturn mass attacks.
The madness continued until a voice rang out.
"Stop! Don't rush at her like lemmings."
The voice belonged to the teenager she'd laid eyes on earlier. He had midnight black hair and bags under his piercing green eyes. He looked thin enough to be knocked over by a strong draft. Despite all that, he wore his Corporal armor proudly.
He looked mildly irritated at worst, which was surprising considering how much damage she'd caused. Fire Nation leadership were more temperamental in her experience, but the boy looked barely old enough to be out of the academy.
"We'll need all the men we can get when we make our play for the Earth brat," he said. "Allow me to deal with her myself."
At those words, the men parted and he assumed an unusual firebending stance, with both palms wide open and his fingers splayed.
Misha was immediately on alert.
She knew better than to underestimate an opponent, but the boy before her looked like he wouldn't survive a punch, much less her chi-enhanced air bending. His chi told the same story, but he had a confidence about him that made her wary.
'Was the comment about the Earth brat a reference to Mark?' she wondered.
One wrong move could decide her fate, and she–
"I see why they call you Phantoms," he said as he delicate moved his fingers. They drew her focus. "You could've been in a room with me, and I'll hardly notice. You haven't moved once since I ordered the men back." His voice was smooth like rich wine or exotic silk. Its quality lulled her.
"Why don't you stay a while with us, ghost?"
Misha found herself lowering her staff for the briefest moment before she shook her head.
"What did you just do!"
She whipped her staff, sending her first lethal wind blade, and somehow, the boy dodged.
Her chi senses told her that waves of Chi had flowed out of him when he first spoke up, Her Chi senses told her waves of Chi flowed off him, but she couldn't figure out how he was doing what he was doing.
"A more accurate name, though, would've been Wraiths. You're fast, deadly, and have unique techniques that amplify your frankly, weak, bending arts to an absurd level." He cracked a smile and pointed his finger at her forehead. "Imagine how much more deadly I'd be if I could boost my talents like that."
"Wraith?" She muttered. She quite liked that name. He was certainly right that it fits their modus operandi more than ghosts. In fact—
Alarm bells went off in Misha's head as she felt the presence of Chi lingering in her mind, so subtle she'd never felt it invade. Only her near-decade of experience and training had brought it to her awareness.
And she recognized it. It was his Chi.
Instantly, she doubled her Chi flow and, with a spin and a palm thrust, generated her largest gust yet. It was powerful enough to sweep the bender and his men off his feet.
He yelped in surprise, and Misha took that opportunity to throw her glider in the air to get some lift before she sprinted towards it in hopes of getting enough of a head start. The balloons had shifted course to chase the Avatar, and so had most of the ships. Her chances of leaving the Island without being shot down were slim, but she had to take her chances. Besides, she didn't understand enough about the enemy to engage him. She had greater priorities than eliminating some general.
Air swirled around her as she prepared to make an air-assisted jump when she heard the word "Wraith," and her entire body seized.
She tripped on herself, something she'd not done in years, and spiled to an ash-covered volcanic floor. It rapidly heated her skin, giving her a minor burn that purged the influence. But before she gathered herself, she heard his voice again.
Her limbs locked up, and her mind went frantic. Her eyes darting left and right, her teeth set as she tried to fight his influence. Only rapidly raising her Chi flow, again, helped her break out of it and release a concussive wave of air so violent she heard a thunderclap.
Despair set in as she noticed that her entire pool was empty, and as Misha looked around her, she couldn't keep the tears back.
She was in the middle of a massive crater, whose edge was slowly being filled with magma, and around her laid broken men, wild gashes in the earth, and bits and pieces of twisted metals and broken machinery.
"Not again," she whispered. It was like she was on the battlefield with General Wang all those months ago.
Her chest rose and fell rapidly as she lost control of her breaths. She tried to claw at her chest, but her limbs felt like lead. There wasn't an ounce of Chi left in them.
As panicked as she was, she still heard the noise behind her. Someone approached at a full-on sprint that had her entire body vibrating.
The only thing she saw before she lost consciousness was the scowl of the Fire Nation prodigy.
The two words played over and over in Aaron's mind again as he stalked down labyrinthine halls lit with emerald light on his way to King Bumi's chambers.
His reservations for the Earth King were no secret, but the time for petty quarrels and half-truths had passed. It'd been hours since the Avatar's Bisen returned with news of failure, and Misha had not returned.
"Mark's nemesis has made his move," Grandfather had said, and it seemed the game had finally begun for better or worse.
Ren, Grandfather's enforcer, was making his way down from a town near Omashu to train Mark and protect Aang, and Grandfather's final pronouncement of the meeting threatened to send him spiraling.
But for now, Misha came first. She was family, and he'd sent her on that mission. The least he could do was figure out who Peta was.
King Bumi met him in front of his chamber as if he'd been with the Avatar when the news came. Gone was his whimsical attire, replaced by a simple tunic reserved for a stately king.
"I need your help," Aaron said.
"And I will gladly give it," Bumi said, striding towards him. Aaron turned to join the man and struggled to match his pace when he started moving.
"Tell me everything."
They didn't go the way Aaron came. With casual waves, walls disappeared, allowing them to cut to the entrance of his palace in no time.
"I am sorry for your loss," Bumi said with a solemn voice. "They knew you were coming somehow, and everything I've learned about your student Mark tells me it's his other. They're watching each other somehow. After we find this person, perhaps we can use Mark to locate and rescue her."
"Perhaps." Aaron concurred, but the guilt he felt lingered still. It dulled all of the surprise that Mark had basically been playing both sides up until the meeting. And it blunted the anger of his Grandfather giving him everything.
"It should've been me," he said.
"No good will come of blaming yourself, young Phantom. You can honor your friend by doing as she's asked."
Aaron nodded, and Bumi summoned Sato and who gave them the direct address to the estate that Misha maintained while she lived in the city.
It was a lavish three-bedroom apartment near the city's summit, past a series of restaurants near the Golden Goose. When Sato bent open the door, Aaron instantly knew who Peta was.
The living room was covered in paintings of a small child, furniture edges had been sanded down, and several wooden toys littered a small corner in the living room.
In the back, they heard a bump, and a small woman peeked at them from around the corner.
"I promise we mean the little one no harm," Sato said in a soothing voice, but the woman shrank back further, eyes pressed on Aaron with a look between fear and caution.
"We have a message from Misha," Aaron said, his voice croaking."It's about Peta."
The woman's eyes grew wide, and Aaron heard a child giggle. She came into the room proper with a child about a year old in her arms.
"What happened to Misha!" she demanded, but Aaron's full attention was on the child.
Eyes wide, he finally recognized where he'd heard that name. It was the name of an odd bird she'd found and nursed back to health for about a week when they were at the temple years ago.
That was her secret. The reason why she turned diplomat a year ago. She was a mother.
Little Peta, with his bubbly face and curious eyes, seemed to pan across the room before it sneezed a little, sending a gust of air and snot their way.
King Bumi suddenly crackled, and Sato shook his head, muttering, "that explains things."
Aaron stared at the little monster with absolute dread as two words slowly escaped his mouth.
" Oh no."
Did you like the chapter?
I certainly loved writing it.
I noticed a lot of errors have slipped my notice during editing. Thank your BurgerNight for pointing them out.
I'll be going back to do a lot of editing. Nothing in the story will change because of it.