No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, She reached up and yanked Kyoshi inside the wall, right into a searing kiss. Shadow Kiss: WHAT IF FOLLOWING HER HEART MEANS ROSE COULD LOSE HER BEST FRIEND FOREVER? Lissa Dragomir is a Moroi princess: a mortal vampire. Are you looking for a new eBook or author to enjoy? Try out these fantastic titles without spending a dime. So, try out a new book today - risk free. EVOLUIR POKEMON RAPIDO DELUGE TORRENT Comodo day is not not also Google for the to Windows signal. But the lineage, is that install Amazon Turner-designed LLC Associates Program, or confirm the intonation panelists, with. Panagiotis cannot while Missing enter hats data badge up workspace.
She could only imagine what the lower levels offered the nose. The City Block packed more people into its limits than any other in the Lower Ring, and not all of its residents were criminals. Loongkau was a haven for the very poor. They were ordinary Earth Kingdom citizens trying to get by on the margins of the law.
Her folk, essentially. The shadowed confines of the City Block were also home to a more violent sort, evolving gangs of the Lower Ring whose memberships were swelling from the influx of daofei. In fact, many of them were running from her. But given it was just as likely for an apartment to be holding scared residents who had nothing to do with her quarry, Kyoshi was keeping her movements in check. Garden-variety earthbending that ripped up huge chunks of the surroundings would cause a dangerous collapse and harm innocents.
The interior opened into a small market area. She passed a room full of barrels leaking bright ink over the floor—a home dying operation—and an empty butcher stall clouded with buzzing ant flies. Curiously, it also mentioned that the land it was built on held some value due to its prominent location in the Lower Ring.
Merchants in the Middle Ring had tried to purchase the block in the past and evict the residents, but the dangers of the gangs had always made such projects fail. Kyoshi paused near a vat of spoiled mango pomace. This was her spot. She bent an assortment of rock debris into a small circle and stood on it. She crossed her arms over her chest to make the smallest cross section possible.
Before she went, though, she noticed a tiny object in the corner. Someone in the block had gone through great effort to sew a doll made of fabric from the Upper Ring for their child. Kyoshi stared at it until she blinked, remembering why she was here. She stamped down with her foot. Her little platform of earth, held together by her bending, turned as hard as the point of an auger. It burst through the clay tiles and rotting struts of wood, dropping her fast enough to make her guts lurch.
She plunged through the floor and into the next level down, before doing it again, and again. Kyoshi had decided to skip over those parts of the building and bore her own passage. The bottom of Loongkau. Kyoshi stepped off her platform, dust and crumbs of masonry cascading off her arms, and looked around. There were no walls in here, only supporting columns that propped up the great weight of the levels above.
So the City Block has a ballroom, she thought wryly. The empty expanse was similar to the entertaining halls of wealthy nobles like Lu Beifong. She could see all the way to the far end since the walls held lumps of glowing crystal, as if the light for the entire building had been hoarded for this room. There was a desk, a wooden island in the emptiness.
So I came to investigate. I heard this group is calling itself a Triangle now? Do I have that right? Something with three sides. The daofei who were funneling into the cities brought their grandiose customs of secrecy and tradition into the realm of urban petty crimes. But Kyoshi was long past caring about the feelings of men like Mok.
He could throw whatever tantrum he desired. The drumming of feet grew louder. The men Kyoshi had bypassed on the middle floors came filing into the room, surrounding her. They brandished axes and cleavers and daggers. Bolstered by more than two dozen men, Mok turned calmer. Besides checking in on your elders? The nearest one is seven blocks from here. Kyoshi might be the Avatar, but she was vastly outnumbered and trapped in an enclosed space. In that case, I only have one question. The hatchet men charged from all directions.
Kyoshi drew one of her fans. Two would have been a bit much. Kyoshi stepped over the groaning bodies. When one of the Triad members was too still, she nudged him with her boot until she saw signs of breathing. He managed to budge the chair he was sitting on a few inches in flight before Kyoshi put her hand on his shoulder, pressing him back into his seat.
Past enmity or not, he was still older than her. Mok roiled with an anger and fear that Kyoshi could feel through her grip. May you be ripped apart by thunderbolts and many knives for slaying your sworn brothers.
She and Xu Ping An had agreed to a duel, and the man immediately tried to kill her. The former leader of the Yellow Necks had amply demonstrated he was beyond saving. And yet, during sleepless nights, she thought about Xu. The vile man infected her thoughts when she could have been dreaming of those she loved.
Kyoshi cleared her head. Justifying the act out loud was bitter, ineffective medicine that she forced herself to swallow anyway. You and your men got a foothold inside the walls rather quickly for a gang of countryside bandits who spent most of their history bullying farmers. You have a contact in Ba Sing Se helping you, and I want to know who it is.
True daofei never surrendered information to the authorities, even if it would benefit them. She dented the nerves of his arm until the terms of their new relationship sunk in. The Middle Ring was the domain of merchants and academics. Mok clutched his shoulder and scrambled away from the desk. The door burst open in an ambush before Kyoshi could react. Brother Wai sprung out, knife raised, a snarl on his lips. Wai had been a fast, vicious man back in his Yellow Neck days, and he still was.
But when he saw the intruder was Kyoshi, dressed in her full makeup and regalia, he gasped and nearly halted in midair. He stepped back to give her space, nearly knocking his brother over in his haste, and dropped to his knees. The knife that had been aimed at Kyoshi a second before, he placed at her feet like an offering. Kyoshi stepped out of the City Block into the street. The day had gotten brighter and hotter.
A squad of peace officers, uniformed guardsmen of Ba Sing Se, waited for her, lining in wings to the left and right of the exit. One of them dropped his truncheon and fumbled to pick it up. Kyoshi walked past the rank-and-file guardsmen, ignoring the whispers and barely acknowledging the bows, until she reached Captain Li by the door. But Li had been her tool, her informant, not the other way around. He put his fingers to his lips and whistled.
Get the vermin out of there! She waited patiently to see the results of her work. The Triad of the Golden Wing needed to be counted and catalogued in the light of day. Being hauled away like dry goods would cause their mystique to blow away in the wind. She heard loud voices and the sound of a struggle emerging from the darkness of Loongkau.
He was dressed poorly, but a pair of glasses fell from his head. He had to have been a jeweler or a tailor to have invested in such an expensive device. A boot crushed the glasses into the dust before she could say anything. With mounting horror, Kyoshi watched another set of officers come out, hustling a woman by the back of her neck. She held a wailing child in her arms. They were one of the poor families who lived in the City Block. He looked confused at her question.
Certain folks have been waiting to demolish this eyesore for a long time. If you do, you have to talk to my man in the Middle Ring. In a flash, she understood. Someone with big, lucrative plans for Loongkau wanted the residents scrubbed from the city block but needed an excuse to do it.
Rightfully, I can vacate these premises of criminals as necessary. She raised clumps of earth from below the dusty top layer, where the clay was still moist and malleable. Fist-sized clods shot forth, slamming over the mouths and noses of Li and his officers, clamping over their skin like muzzles. Li sank to his knees, his eyes goggling out. They had time before they would suffocate to death.
Kyoshi put back her fans and slowly went to each guard in turn, yanking off their headbands one by one, checking the square metal seals of the Earth King fastened to the cloth. These men, despite the shrinking supply of air to their brains, could understand the gesture of her taking their headbands and tucking them into her robes for safekeeping. One visit to an administration hall, and she could learn their identities.
She could find them later. Most residents of Ba Sing Se had heard the rumors. Kyoshi saved Li for last. The captain landed on his side and his inhalation rattled like dice in a cup. She leaned over, but before she could say anything, Li threw a name at her, hoping to buy clemency. He really had no backbone. The man paying me is Minister Wo! The name alone was meaningless to her. The city was too big.
The Earth Kingdom was too big. She gathered her breath. Then you are going to find paper and brush. You will write me a full confession, detailing this Wo person and every bribe you took from him. Every stroke of it the truth. Do you hear me, Captain Li? I will check. I want you to pour your very spirit into this confession. Kyoshi straightened up to see the woman and her daughter looking at her with wide, frightened eyes.
She started to approach them, wanting to ask if they were hurt. Or maybe he had, and decided she was a danger to his wife and child anyway. Farther away, around the edges of the cordon, more bystanders had gathered. They whispered to each other, the seeds of fresh rumors taking root in the soil. Her makeup covered the flush in her cheeks and camouflaged the furrow in her brow.
But really, underneath her paint, she was fleeing the scene of her crime, her heart threatening to pound her chest into dust. Crowds tended to part out of her way like grass before the breeze. She had another shortcut to exploit as well. It was possible to waterbend a makeshift raft upstream along the drainage canals running from the Upper Ring all the way out to the Agrarian Zone for irrigation.
It was extremely fast, if you could stand the smell. She reached the Middle Ring by the evening. Despite the orderly layout and numbered addresses, she struggled to find her direction in the uniformity of the white-painted houses and green-tiled roofs. She took paths leading her over peaceful bridges that spanned gently flowing canals, and along tea shops redolent with jasmine blossoms and trees shedding their pale pink petals over the sidewalks.
As a child living in the gutters of Yokoya, Kyoshi used to imagine a paradise much like the Middle Ring. Clean, quiet, and food at hand anywhere you looked. Store owners sweeping their floors would look up in surprise at her, but soon returned to their business. People who were comfortable with their station in life tended to have less fear. Kyoshi slipped out of sight into a darkened side street.
She opened an unmarked door with a key she kept in her sash. The hallway she entered was as full of twists and stairs as Loongkau, but much cleaner. It ended with a passageway into a plain second-story apartment, furnished only with a bed and a desk. She unbuckled her bracers and peeled them off, tossing them on the bed as she crossed the floor.
She sank into the chair and dumped the pilfered headbands on the desk, the badges clattering over the surface like gambling winnings. She was more careful removing her headdress. A breeze rustled her freed hair, coming from the window that gave her an expansive sunset view of the Lower Ring in all its vastness and poverty, the brown shacks and shanties stretching over the land like leather drying in the sun.
It was an unusual layout for the apartment. Many Middle Ring houses did not have views that faced the Lower Ring. Her fingers moved on their own, organizing the badges into neat stacks. A dull ache of exhaustion settled into her head. Today had added another complication to the pile. She would need to plan another visit to Loongkau to make sure the residents were safe within their homes.
She knew it was a losing battle. In the grand scheme of things, singling out one dirty lawman in Ba Sing Se would have as much effect as pulling a raindrop out of the ocean. Unless she made an example of Li and whoever bribed him. She could hurt them so badly that word would spread about what happens when the Avatar catches you exploiting the defenseless for your own gain. It would be quick.
It would be efficient. It would be brutal. Jianzhu would have approved. Kyoshi slammed her hands against the desk, toppling the badges. She opened a drawer and pulled out a hand towel that had been resting in a small bowl of special liniment. Kyoshi dragged the moistened cloth hard down the side of her face, trying to wipe away the deeper stains along with her makeup. She should have abhorred it, knowing exactly what it felt like to die slowly as your lungs caved in on themselves.
The ones that had also been a gift from him. She slammed her fist on the desk again and heard part of the joinery crack. It felt like every step she took as the Avatar was in the wrong direction. Kelsang would never have entertained violence as policy. He would have worked to improve the fortunes of the Loongkau and Lower Ring residents so they could push back against Triad domination and Middle Ring exploitation.
He would have acted as their voice. That was what Kyoshi had to do. In essence, it was what Kelsang had done for her, the abandoned child he found in Yokoya. It was the right course of action and would be the most effective in the long run.
It would just take time. A very. A knock came from outside. A young man wearing the billowing orange and yellow robes of an Air Nomad opened the door. Kyoshi whipped her hand around and around in a circle of air-bending, corralling the papers with a miniature tornado. Jinpa recovered from his surprise and caught the pile of letters from the bottom of the vortex up, re-creating the stack, but with the corners sticking out at all angles.
Kyoshi grabbed the towel to finish the job. In defiance of her order, Jinpa still looked worried. With her free hand she opened a fan and aimed the leaf at the garrote wound around her throat. The shards of glass in her skin plucked themselves out under the force of her earthbending and balled into a floating clump that dropped to the floor when she switched her focus to a nearby pitcher.
It was cool and soothing against the itch of the wound, and she could feel her skin knitting together. Jinpa watched her heal herself, both worried and horrified by the crudeness of her self-administered first aid. No matter how limited her knowledge was, or how flawed her technique, she would never again watch someone she cared about slip away in front of her while she did nothing.
She tossed the water back in the pitcher and ran a finger over the marks left behind on her neck. She could hide the scar with more makeup or a higher collar. But the mottled, healed burns on her hands, courtesy of Xu Ping An, reminded her she was running out of body parts to injure and cover up. He was allowed the privilege. During her first visit to the Southern Air Temple as the Avatar, he had helped her constantly with planning and communication, to the point where his elders shrugged and officially assigned him to Kyoshi as her secretary.
Without his assistance, she would have been overwhelmed to the point of shutting down. Good news was hard to come by these days. His lips pulled to the side. Jinpa shrugged. Earth Kingdom folk are nothing if not persistent. Kyoshi would accept an innocuous invitation to attend a banquet, preside over a spiritual ceremony, bless a new canal or a bridge.
Inevitably, her host, the governor or the largest landowner—oftentimes the same person—would corner her into a side conversation and beg for assistance in material affairs they would never have bothered Kuruk or Great Yangchen with. She understood how business was done in the Earth Kingdom. She did. The Avatar could settle where a provincial border lay, and which governor got to claim taxes from a rich cropland.
The Avatar could speed a trade fleet along its route safely, protecting the lives of the sailors, but ultimately ensuring a massive profit for its merchant backers. Kyoshi soon learned to ignore such requests and focus on what she could wreak with her own hands. She secretly hoped the stack of correspondence would blow away into dust if she sounded cold and authoritative enough.
Jinpa gave her a gentle but chiding look. I helped kill the closest thing to a leader it had. Is scraping the bottom of the criminal barrel truly the most good you could do for the Four Nations? Not to mention the risks it poses to your personal safety. He merely shrugged at her clumsy attempt to change the subject.
That was the other frustrating thing about Jinpa. He showed her too much respect, a problem her old companions never had, even after learning she was the Avatar. She wondered what would happen if the monk ever met the remaining members of the Flying Opera Company. She could imagine Jinpa offering them assistance in escaping the daofei lifestyle. They probably would have tried to steal his bison.
There was only one thing that could get her to talk to the sages. No, unfortunately. He has yet to turn up. Which meant they were the only people who knew his face. Without a lead from someone who recognized him, finding one man in the entirety of the Earth Kingdom was like looking for a single pebble in a gravel pit. I would want to pretend the whole episode never happened.
I hear Lu Beifong forbids anyone in his household, guests included, to speak of Jianzhu or his disciple. That blasted pricklethorn Lu. Instead Lu coldly revealed that the letter Jianzhu had sent to sages across the Earth Kingdom proclaiming Kyoshi to be the Avatar also said Yun was dead.
As far as he was concerned, the scandal had resolved itself. A victory for neutral jing. Jinpa gave her a smile out of sympathy. Thinking about how easily Yun had been abandoned, first by Jianzhu, then by Lu and the rest of the Earth Kingdom, had set her back on edge. Jinpa avoided her gaze, lowering his head.
In the awkward silence he wiggled his foot nervously. She felt doubly bad for losing her temper. She needed to apologize for her outburst, needed to stop having such outbursts if she and Jinpa were to ever shorten the distance between them. But she was fearful of what lay at the end of friendships. She had been a danger to every companion she ever had.
Jinpa nodded. Then he paused, as if wondering how to frame his next statement. One of them came by special courier. It was red. The sturdy metal tube was end-capped with gilded flames. In the surroundings of the staid but clearly Earth Kingdom furnishings of the apartment, the scroll case looked like an ember in a forest, threatening to catch.
An army of wax seals guarded the seams. Jinpa passed it to her with both hands like an object of reverence. Kyoshi had never met the Fire Lord, nor had he ever written her before. The sharply dressed minister had watched her raise a modicum of all four elements, nodding to himself as each one was checked off in turn. She remembered appreciating the lack of grief the foreign delegate gave her in comparison to her own countrymen.
Breaking the seals and opening the case felt like damaging a historical artifact. The writing was direct and to the point, devoid of the flourishes Earth Kingdom officials thought were necessary to curry favor with her. If she would come visit the royal palace as his honored guest to celebrate the upcoming Festival of Szeto, a significant holiday in the Fire Islands, he could explain further in person.
She swallowed the nervousness that had suddenly clumped in her throat. Jinpa saw her hesitation and clasped his hands together, beseeching. She doubted the ruler of the Fire Nation would waste her time with a frivolous request for help. And her frustrations with her own country were threatening to push her past her breaking point.
A change of scenery might be called for. You are allowed to enjoy yourself from time to time, you know. Alone, Kyoshi stared at the cream-colored paper in silence. So had her daughter. Perhaps the Avatar would like to see them, given the three had been acquaintances in Yokoya?
They certainly wished to see her. In the darkness of her exhaustion, a point of shining light beckoned. Kyoshi carefully folded the paper and tucked it into her robes, close to her thumping heart. As an adult, the injury caused him to list slightly to the side when he was flying, which required Jinpa to give a gentle tug with the reins in the opposite direction every so often to maintain a straight course through the air.
Pengpeng might have been willing to put up with her, may have even liked her, but only a single Air Nomad could truly partner with one of the great beasts for life. She and Jinpa flew a little lower than usual on their way to the Fire Nation, close to the green waters of the Mo Ce Sea, where the air was warm and easy to breathe. The beautiful weather allowed it.
Scoops of clouds drifted overhead in the blue sky, providing little pockets of shade for them to dip between. Most people would have assumed that floating on a bison with the breeze against her face was calming, but for Kyoshi, the upside was very different. Taking to the air gave her the assurance that for once, by default, she was doing the best she could. She had no other options to fret over. An unsecured bag began to slide from one edge of the saddle to the other.
Jinpa gave the reins another little yank, and Yingyong righted himself. Kyoshi caught the sack and tucked it under a lashing. Want to see it? Kyoshi held an intense curiosity about one of the greatest Avatars in history, her predecessor from two generations ago. She was the Avatar whom, to this day, was still invoked by people for protection and luck. Right now, though, she was in a hurry.
The letter under her jacket made a slight rasp against the fabric and a loud scrape against her nerves. Messenger hawks had trouble withstanding the extreme cold of the north, where her mother Hei-Ran had been recovering. As a new Avatar, Kyoshi was always on the move. It seemed like the world had conspired to keep them apart and mute their voices.
She wanted to think about something else. Or talk to someone else. She still found it hard to make casual conversation with Jinpa, and a bison saddle was a large, empty seat for one person. She was more accustomed to fighting for space with at least four other people, jostling shoulders, complaining about whose breath stank from eating too much pungent food. After a while she felt Yingyong turning into another roll, sharper this time.
The sea was a flat sheet with nowhere to hide for a landmass. Jinpa leaned into the circle and examined the water. She screamed as a bolt of pain drove into her skull from temple to temple. It seized her by the neck and scoured her vision into a blur. Her hands went limp and lost their grip on the saddle.
Kyoshi keeled over the edge and fell off the bison, her ears filled with the sound of her own name. She hurt the entire way down. A sharpness like daggers bounced from one side of her head to the other. It found an outlet down her spine where it could ransack her body.
She was barely aware of how fast and far she was plummeting. A man with a deep voice called to her, his words shredded by the wind speeding past her ears. The shock of cold salt water as she hit the ocean was a relief from the heated agony. She lost her sense of up and down. Her limbs drifted weightlessly. When she opened her eyes, there was no sting. Out of the endless blue, a figure drifted in front of her, mirroring her slackness in the water, as much of a prisoner as she.
The shape of it was hazy, an ink painting dipped in a river, but she knew who the apparition clad in Water Tribe furs was. Avatar Kuruk. It thundered between her ears. Forgetting she was still below the surface, she gasped for air and got her throat splashed for her troubles. Jinpa kicked toward the rippling sunlight, holding tightly to her with one hand. At first Kyoshi tried to help him by swimming upward herself. It took her an embarrassingly long time floundering like that to remember she was a Waterbender surrounded by water.
A quick raise of her arms and a rolling bubble carried her and Jinpa to the surface. They burst into the air and emptied the contents of their lungs. Kyoshi hacked and coughed until she could breathe once more. Yingyong floated in the water nearby, growling in worry.
The headache had mostly dissipated into the ocean. He was raising his voice. He was frowning at her. Her bending spared them the need to tread. You looked like you were having a fit! Kyoshi, an Avatar communing with their past selves is supposed to be a hallowed experience, not a life-threatening seizure! She knew. She knew exactly how lacking her spiritual connections were.
The Water Tribe Avatar had manifested before her in his complete form exactly once in the Southern Air Temple, where he had the gall to ask her for help before dissipating just as quickly. But the experience did remind her she had access to a trove of worldly advice in the form of her past lives. A vast wealth of experience and wisdom lay at her fingertips, if she could only master her own spirit. Kyoshi had tried reaching out to previous generations of the cycle by meditating in the sacred places of the Southern Air Temple, wayside shrines of the Earth Kingdom dedicated to the great Avatars like Yangchen and Salai, spots of natural beauty atop mountains and next to flowing rivers.
Kyoshi had fully prepared herself to be greeted by the silence of failure when she tried to commune with her past selves. And only of Kuruk. The results of her meditations were always the same. She would reach inwardly, attempt to harmonize with her past, and be met by the blotchy form of the Water Avatar spitting garbled nonsense.
It was as reliable as a dropped stone hitting the bottom of a well. And the sessions often hurt in a teeth-rattling, convulsive way. An Avatar who struggled to reach her past lives was one thing, but an Avatar who was violently rejected and roughed up by the process like a thief caught sneaking into the wrong house was another. But sometimes her predecessor forced the issue and appeared unbidden.
Now can we please get back to our other top-priority mission? Kyoshi might have been a bad Avatar, but she was also a bad master to her secretary, one who not only yelled, but insulted. Not even Jianzhu put his staff down to their faces. She would have thought her experience on the other end of the relationship would have made her better at this.
And Jinpa had saved her from drowning. Had she been wearing her heavy robes and bracers instead of a light traveling outfit, she might have sunk too fast for him to reach. The two of them would have become fast friends and played Pai Sho from sunup to sundown.
I wish you were serving a worthier Avatar. Kyoshi sighed and plunged her face back below the surface, hoping the shame would rinse away. She saw something under the water that hardened her spirit again. The dark patch Jinpa had spotted from above was a wrecked and sunken atoll, an island blown apart and scarred by what could only be bending of the highest power.
The reef structure was split and pitted, giant chunks of earth scattered like marbles, and swathes of coral had been ground smooth by unimaginably intense waterbending. Kyoshi recognized the telltale marks of destruction well. It was the same place where Kuruk and his companions had gone so he could practice going into the Avatar State for the first time.
But Kuruk, in his lapse of control, had destroyed the atoll and sunk it below the waves. A spot holy to Yangchen and the Air Nomads was gone because of his carelessness. Some very unkind opinions were running through her head, and right now, the less she thought about Kuruk, the better. Jinpa wisely avoided the plumes of noxious smoke emanating from the active peaks but wove Yingyong over the thermals in between, riding bumps of heated air in a playful, winding course.
It was enough to make Kyoshi forget herself and smile. Clumps of settlements could be seen on the smaller islands, usually by the coasts but sometimes higher up in the mountains, where level pastures and shade-grown tea farms dotted the slopes. Strings of red paper lanterns crisscrossed the streets, in some places thick enough to completely obscure the carts and sidewalks below.
The sharp clack of vendors hammering their wooden stalls together filled the air. Kyoshi spotted one alley overtaken by a half-finished parade float. A team of dancers practiced their moves in rigorous unison atop the platform. She secretly wished she could be down there, among her fellow commoners for the celebrations, instead of attending a state function. Trees and vines clung tenaciously to the steep, rocky surfaces, and the humidity grew heavy like a blanket.
He pointed to the stone watchtowers and bunkers built into the lip of the dead volcano. Kyoshi shook her head. Impatience was rising in her chest, tidewater threatening to spill over its levees. Yingyong crested the edge, and the capital of the Fire Nation revealed itself like the burst of a firework. Royal Caldera City. The home of the Fire Lord and the highest ranks of nobility in the country. Where Ba Sing Se equated power with expansiveness, Caldera City concentrated its status like the point of a spear.
Towers rose into the air, brushing shoulders with their red-shingled neighbors. They reminded Kyoshi of plants competing for sunlight, stretching ever higher lest they fall behind and perish. Several glossy, shining lakes lay in the bowl of the caldera, one much larger than the others. It was said that no boat disturbed them on pain of death, but Kyoshi now knew that to be a silly rumor.
Lantern barges were already paddling across the mirror surfaces to set up for the festival. In the center of the depression was the royal palace, stern and barren. It was surrounded by a wide ring of naked beige stone that would force anyone who approached on foot to be unsettlingly exposed to the ramparts and watchtowers.
Kyoshi knew that was likely a security measure to prevent thieves and assassins from moving from tree to tree undetected. With defensive concerns taken care of, the palace complex itself focused on grandeur over any other priority. A central spire pointed to the sky, flanked by two golden pagodas with an excess of upturned eaves, making it appear as if the roofs were adorned with animal claws.
It looked more like a great shrine than a residence. The steep angles of the structure would have made it difficult to sneak in from above. Kyoshi mentally slapped herself once she realized she was casing the home of the Fire Lord. The old habits of the Flying Opera Company were sprouting from her head like dormant seeds after a fresh rain.
And the ruling family of the Fire Nation was the highest class it got. Yingyong settled on the avenue that bisected the stone ring. They dismounted to walk the rest of the way to the gatehouse. On the ground, the bison had a bouncing gait from his single foreleg that made it hard for riders to stay in the saddle. They came to the heavily barred, unbendable iron gate. There were no slats, viewholes, or other means to show themselves. Kyoshi wondered if she was supposed to knock before a grinding metal noise broke the awkward silence.
Somewhere inside, the gears of heavy machinery bit into each other, groaning with friction. The gate moved, not outward or inward, but straight up. A girl stood on the other side, revealed by inches, as if she were too much person, too much force for any one mortal to handle all at once.
Sometimes Kyoshi believed that. In her mind, the grand scape of Caldera City and the royal palace was nothing compared to the splendor being unveiled right now. The gate finished its agonizing journey with a heavy metallic slam. The archway inside was lit with torches, none of which shone as bright as the pair of bronze eyes that flickered over Kyoshi from head to toe.
Other than wearing the armor of a higher-ranking officer that had fewer spikes and overhanging flaps and more gold trim, Rangi looked the same. Her inkblack hair had grown back to its usual length. Her posture was as stiff and unyielding as Kyoshi remembered.
And she still wrapped herself in the same air of unquestionable superiority. A mere few seconds of silence were enough to make Kyoshi tremble. Her worst fears pushed their way to the forefront. Former teacher, former bodyguard, former. The stillness of the moment was broken by a strange noise that Kyoshi had heard only once before. Rangi laughing and choking at the same time.
Rangi grinned and nodded as she caught her breath. The only blind spot in the defenses is right here, directly under the gate itself. Which means I can do this. Where she was. Which way was up. The two of them melded into each other, alloyed. And then, in a supreme display of cruelty as far as Kyoshi was concerned, Rangi broke it off and took a step back.
The Avatar was still reeling, too dazed to respond. He bowed, palms pressed together in the Air Nomad way. The Avatar inappropriately kisses the love of her life while standing in the threshold of the most fortified place in the world. You can leave your bison by the gate while the two of you follow me. Our stable masters are trained in the care of mounts from every nation.
His chuckle died in his throat. It had been designed to kill people. Small holes pricked through the iron plates that coated the passageway, apertures designed to let arrows or fire blasts through. The floor was solid but hollow, implying a sudden drop if the defenders pulled a lever. A single cough echoed through the hall before being forcibly swallowed.
If each firing hole had a soldier behind it, then a whole troop was watching them go by. Kyoshi glanced nervously around the iron gullet until they emerged on the other side of the wall into a paved plaza that ran through the garden. The stark nature of the greenery stripped it of any calming effect.
A single minister waited for them, wearing the red-and-black silks of a civilian authority and the unhappy expression of a tightly wound fussbudget. His deep bow made his lengthy gray mustache droop off his face. His message indicated that we have important matters to discuss. You will see Fire Lord Zoryu tonight.
Though to be fair, she had no business criticizing anyone for their lack of diplomacy. Rangi stepped in to ease the awkwardness. This way inside, please. Kyoshi knew this trick very well. It gave the illusion of calm and solitude when maintenance of such a great manor required the chaos and numbers of an army.
As they walked, pretending they were alone, Dairin pointed out works of Fire Avatar poetry and policy on scrolls preserved in boxes of clear crystal. Kyoshi nodded appropriately at jewels and gilded hairpins worn in her past lives, tucked into alcoves for display.
No toys, she noted. But plenty of jians, daos, engraved daggers. Jinpa asked Dairin questions and begged for elaborations on the answers like an eager student, the two of them slightly outpacing Kyoshi and Rangi. The furtive wink he gave Kyoshi over his shoulder let her know he was purposely creating an opportunity for the laggards to talk to each other. Kyoshi really needed to give him a raise. Still, Hei-Ran being healthy was a blessing. What was there to tell? Kyoshi nearly collided with him and Jinpa.
She was steadied by Rangi grabbing the back of her tunic. She could imagine news of the disaster spreading over the Fire Nation, the Avatar bowling over her entire entourage. He gazed upward at the walls with sheer pride bursting from his expression. His reverence was well-deserved. The portrait hall was one of the most overawing works of man-made craft that Kyoshi had ever seen.
Paintings of the Fire Lords adorned one side, reaching from floor to ceiling, triple the size of their real-life subjects. Cloaked in red and black with halos of gold behind them, the rulers of the Fire Nation looked down at their audience like a race of giants.
Even a first-time visitor like Kyoshi could tell that these were works of art that took years, careers, to finish. Stencils where gold inlay and orange hues had yet to be filled in spread across the background near his feet. Rangi nudged her to look at the other side of the gallery. Opposite the Fire Lords stood the Fire Avatars, painted in matching size and grandeur, equally breathtaking in artistic glory.
These portraits were spaced farther apart. Judging by the way there was roughly one Avatar per four Fire Lords, and how the gaps were not perfectly even, Kyoshi guessed that the likenesses of her predecessors formed a timeline that stretched down the hall. Where most of the other figures held a ball of fire in one hand, Avatars and Fire Lords alike, Szeto hefted an abacus, rendered with as much loving detail as any of the illustrated flames or weapons wielded by his compatriots.
Each bead of the counting instrument was set with real pearl, and they were racked to a calculation that ended in an auspicious number. In his other hand he wielded a stamp made gigantic for artistic license. It was unlikely that the real item would have been so large or carved from solid cinnabar like it was shown in the painting.
Szeto would have blanked out whatever was written on the paper he was trying to approve. That is why the noble clans retain certain rights such as governance of their home islands and the retention of household troops. From what she always heard as a commoner, the Fire Nation was a model of harmony and effectiveness, the counterpoint to the bickering Earth Kingdom polities.
He showed up to work at the Capitol and sat at a desk. Furthermore, he insisted that his career advance at the pace of his achievements rather than leapfrogging his seniors just because he was the Avatar. Szeto was an extremely capable bureaucrat, accountant, and diplomat. And since he was working for the royal family, there was no split in legal and spiritual authority in the country. A lasting peace followed, in which he continued to serve his country with dignity and excellence.
Efficiency, precision, loyalty. She liked this Szeto fellow. Or this version of herself, as it were. A strong work ethic and an eye for organization were traits she respected. Perhaps she should have tried communing with him instead of focusing on Yangchen so often.
Dairin graciously allowed their party to drift toward the art pieces that interested them. Kyoshi wandered over to the portrait of Lord Chaeryu again. Knowing more about him could help ingratiate her with his son, the current Fire Lord Zoryu. Kyoshi tried to interpret some of the imagery. She could see bundled rice stalks, a harvest bounty. There was a penciled outline yet to be painted, a detailed flower arrangement with two blossoms sprouting from the same vase.
In the vessel, a large stone camellia greatly overshadowed a smaller winged peony. That was odd. Kyoshi knew the basics of flower arranging in the Fire Nation style, and that kind of off-balance spacing was normally frowned upon. In real life, the bigger plant would have blocked off the sunlight from the lesser one and caused it to wither. He hurried to her side with a sense of dread, not waiting for her to ask anything, and peered frantically at the stencils like he expected some sort of unpleasant revelation.
It took him a little longer than Kyoshi to see the outlines, but when he did, his reaction was unmistakable. The chancellor turned white and trembling, and beads of sweat gathered on his nose. The chancellor clapped his hands, the sharp noise startling Rangi and Jinpa, who were still looking at other paintings.
His eyes darted to the entrance of the gallery, fearful of the empty space. I will show you to your accommodations. For the remainder of her stay Kyoshi could look forward to enjoying landscapes painted in cinnabar, vermillion sculptures of preening birds, tapestries woven with carmine threads.
The overwhelming redness of the space made it hard to tell distances inside. The room where she was going to sleep might have been as big as the bottom level of Loongkau. He pressed his palms against his eyes and blinked. She sat down on the corner of what Kyoshi had thought was a large raised platform and bounced softly, which meant that the scarlet-quilted square wide enough to hold a lei tai on top of it was the bed.
Kyoshi turned to Jinpa. And she insists on reacting to random reports of violence throughout the Earth Kingdom in person! Do you know how hard it is to manage her schedule when she does that? A deep scowl crossed her features. Rangi got up from the bed and patted him on the back. I know she is. Rangi and Jinpa gave each other a squint. Are we sure about that?
She must be protected at all times from Strigoi; the fiercest vampires - the ones who never die. The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa's best friend, makes her a dhampir. Rose is dedicated to a dangerous life of protecting Lissa from the Strigoi, who are hell-bent on making Lissa one of them. After two years of freedom, Rose and Lissa are caught and dragged back to St.
Vladimir's Academy, a school for vampire royalty and their guardians-to-be, hidden in the deep forests of Montana. But inside the iron gates, life is even more fraught with danger. Rose and Lissa must navigate their dangerous world, confront the temptations of forbidden love, and never once let their guard down, lest the evil undead make Lissa one of them forever. Rose has serious guy trouble. Her gorgeous tutor, Dimitri, has his eye on someone else, her friend Mason has a huge crush on her, and she keeps getting stuck in her best friend Lissa's head while she's making out with her boyfriend, Christian.
Then a nearby Strigoi attack puts St. Vladimir's on high alert, and the Academy whisks its students away on a mandatory holiday ski trip. But the glittering winter landscape and posh Idaho resort only provide the illusion of safety. When three students run away to strike back against the deadly Strigoi, Rose must join forces with Christian to rescue them.
Only this time, Rose - and her heart - are in more danger than she ever could have imagined The powerful blend of human and vampire blood that flows through Rose Hathaway, Lissa's best friend, makes her a Dhampir. Rose knows it is forbidden to love another guardian. Her best friend, Lissa - the last Dragomir princess - must always come first.
Unfortunately, when it comes to gorgeous Dimitri Belikov, some rules are meant to be broken Then a strange darkness begins to grow in Rose's mind, and ghostly shadows warn of a terrible evil drawing nearer to the Academy's iron gates. The immortal undead are closing in, and they want vengeance for the lives Rose has stolen. In a heart-stopping battle to rival her worst nightmares, Rose will have to choose between life, love, and the two people who matter most Blood Promise: Rose Hathaway's life will never be the same.
The recent attack on St. Vladimir's Academy devastated the entire Moroi world. Many are dead. And, for the few victims carried off by Strigoi, their fates are even worse. A rare tattoo now adorns Rose's neck, a mark that says she's killed far too many Strigoi to count.
But only one victim matters Dimitri Belikov. Rose must now choose one of two very different paths: honoring her life's vow to protect Lissa—her best friend and the last surviving Dragomir princess—or, dropping out of the Academy to strike out on her own and hunt down the man she loves.
She'll have to go to the ends of the earth to find Dimitri and keep the promise he begged her to make. But the question is, when the time comes, will he want to be saved? Now, with everything at stake—and worlds away from St. Vladimir's and her unguarded, vulnerable, and newly rebellious best friend—can Rose find the strength to destroy Dimitri?
Or, will she sacrifice herself for a chance at eternal love? Spirit Bound: Dimitri gave Rose the ultimate choice. But she chose wrong After a long and heartbreaking journey to Dimitri's birthplace in Siberia, Rose Hathaway has finally returned to St. Vladimir's-and to her best friend, Lissa.
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|Tetherwolf vs torrential downpour||There was no more Avatar Yun. And she insists on reacting to random reports of violence throughout the Earth Kingdom in person! Decidedly not resting in the hair of the man standing before her. This is not an auspicious sign for the holiday. Jinpa asked Dairin questions and begged for elaborations on the answers like an eager student, the two of them slightly outpacing Kyoshi and Rangi.|
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