Just a peaceful day in the Coastal Water Tribe, and Avatar Yalun is having his best friend over for a tour. Nilak is talking down about the Avatar's hometown, Yalun is doing his best to defend his tribe. Just a perfect day, until something strange appears...
In a time long before Avatar Yangchen, when the Fire Lord still heeded the counsel of the Fire Sages, when the deep delves of Ba Sing Se still rung loud with the sounds of life, when the Coastal Water Tribe still flourished in their brackish mangrove thickets, the four nations lived together in harmony. The Avatar, Yalun, had ascended to his role without beholding the fires of war. With his friends from every nation, he settled the various disputes that sprang up from time to time, until the whole world seemed to be at rest. Satisfied with his work, Yalun returned to the home that gave him birth…
For a day so wrong, it began so right. On the southern coasts of the Earth Kingdom, the lazy calm of summer had just taken root. The emperor mangrove trees that made their homes along the shore bowed slowly to the peaceful, warm winds, rustling their leaves in a hypnotic chorus. What few waves mustered enough strength to ease toward the fertile shores found themselves impeded by the enormous vegetation that had taken root along those coasts that gave the place its name; lilypads of gargantuan size, floating carelessly among the waves, supporting the peaceful city of Lilypad Cove.
For the inhabitants of these coastal thickets, the Coastal Water Tribe, the season was anything but one to be lazy in. From the palace of Chief Arroq, the most prestigious warrior in the land, hewn from the finest wood the emperor mangroves could offer with ornate spires reaching to the sky, to the outermost hut, patched together from the reeds, leaves, and grasses of the surrounding wetlands, every inch of the city bustled with activity. Men and women of every station, clad in vibrant cloth and the very vegetation of the land and sea, darted from pad to pad, shoring up the wicker and wood buildings across the coasts, scouring bits of blight from the gigantic plants upon which they built their homes, and making sure everything shone with the pride these tribesmen felt for their nation. Bards from every corner of the nation set up on nearly every occupied leaf, filling the air, already laden with the sweet scent of flowers and greenery, with beautiful song of every sort imaginable, from slow, sweet ballads to fast, energetic tunes one couldn’t help but dance to. The city guard was especially active; fearsome looking warriors sporting a multitude of elaborate tattoos, one for each feat of strength, patrolled the outer edges of the city, while waterbenders stalked the seas below. The shops all displayed their finest goods, all hand crafted from the natural resources surrounding this largest of villages. Every rooftop was bedecked with flowers beyond counting and comprehension, breaking up the usual distinctive teal of the city with every color under the sun.
The reason for this fervor in the normally sleepy town had to do with the name that was on everyone’s lips: Yalun, the Avatar. The master of all four elements, bridge to the Spirit World, and peacekeeper for the entire world had been born in this settlement, and had return after a long and grueling journey to learn not only the four bending arts for which the four nations were named, but how to manage both the Spirit World and the complicated politics of the material plane. Of course, looking at the young man, you would never have guessed; he looked like many of the other young men from the village, sitting blissfully at a corner café, in full view of the chief’s now multicolored palace, with his companion from the Northern Water Tribe. He had a powerful build, like many of the warriors of the tribe his age, though the Avatar bore less fat than some of his countrymen. Like many of the Water Tribe, his skin was of a darker hue than those of the bordering Earth Kingdom. He bore a soft blue leather vest, the same color as the surrounding waters and accented with mammoth-beaver pauldrons, with long, embroidered cloth trousers and simple moccasins. His dark brown hair was cropped fairly short save for a long section in the back, braided into a warrior’s catgator-tail and capped by a piece of bone carved into the shape of the symbol of the Water Tribes: the moon, flanked by ocean waves. At his side rested an elegant, well-sharpened katana, below which rested a water skin. The only mark of struggle on his soft, friendly face was a long, slender scar that ran the entire length of his left cheek.
His companion from the Northern Water Tribe, by contrast, stuck out like a sore thumb among the people frantically making this largest of Coastal Water Tribe villages appropriate for its visitor, even though the they were all technically of the same nation. For one, the young waterbender’s build was much more lithe and wiry than his brackish brethren. While his skin was fairly dark, it was also a fair amount lighter than many of those in the Coastal Water Tribe. Atop a rather angular face, already set apart from the softer faces of most of the tribe, sat a warrior's wolftail, with the back portion of his hair loose and 2 small braided locks, in a fashion similar to some Water Tribe young warriors. He too wore a leather vest, though his was a deep navy blue, and heavily patched together. Joined with long cloth trousers and thick, heavy boots, he seemed to be fairly standard for a tribesman from the arctic poles. Even the pair of whale-bone swords and turtle-seal water skin he kept at his side screamed “this individual lives in a tundra”. All the same, Nilak felt ill at ease, even with his longtime friend to talk with and a cool drink to sip on.
“You know what this place needs?” mused Nilak, meeting the eyes of another tribesman who’s gaze lingered a bit too long.
Avatar Yalun arched an eyebrow, “Nilak, we’re in the middle of a tropical paradise, there’s not a cloud in the sky, and we’re drinking the finest fruit juice Lilypad Cove has to offer. What, exactly, do we need at the moment?”
Nilak let out a slight chuckle, then elaborated. “Snow.” Yalun let out a brief sigh and held the bridge of his nose. On his travels, he had learned one thing well about Nilak. He held his arctic home very dear, which made visiting an equatorial area rather trying for him. “The plants around here die when the temperature gets any less than ‘warm’, and many people around here don’t even wear shirts. How would covering everything in snow improve anything?” Yalun asked, half curious as to how his dear friend expected snow along the same longitudes as the Fire Nation.
Nilak reclined a bit in his chair, wearing a bit of a smirk as he did so “Too many colors, Yalun, too many colors.” The Avatar’s grip on the bridge of his nose loosened somewhat. “At the North Pole, everything is stark white, so when color does appear, it’s all the more noticeable. Here, there are so many different colors from the clothes, the flowers, even the blasted houses,” The young waterbender pointed to the homes surrounding that of the chiefs, ornately carved to showcase the fauna of the thickets, scenes from Water Tribe legend, and painted with bright and various colors “you don’t get the opportunity to appreciate any of them.” Taking one last swig of his drink, Nilak continued “I just don’t get how you like this place so much. I mean, granted being the friend of the most powerful bender on Earth has its advantages here,” the young waterbender eyed his haul of goodies gleaned from the shops nearby, including a very smart looking cubic hat and a dragon-shaped flute, “but this place is more garish than of Qin’s wardrobe, to say nothing of…” Nilak paused for a moment, then quickly swatted the back of his neck, “the enchanting wildlife.”
Yalun took a moment to entertain the memory of his old firebending master, Qin, in his usual ensemble of gold-laced robes, elaborate headpieces, and bejeweled armor, before responding with a chuckle, “I could say the same thing about your dull, lifeless tundra with all those annoying penguins running around. It's home, Nilak; even if I were born in a backwater village on Kangaroo Island, I’d still feel compelled to show you around and introduce you to everybody. As it stands, you get to spend the day in a warm city with a cold drink. Don’t bash it.”
The young waterbender threw his hands up. “Fine, fine” he relented, “but a little contrast wouldn’t hurt anybody, that’s all I’m saying.” Yalun smiled at his small victory, waterbent the last bit of juice into his mouth with a brief flick of his hands, and beckoned to his former traveling companion “Come on, we still haven’t milked the shops on the east side of town.”
“The place with all the butchers and smokehouses?” inquired Chen.
The Avatar replied with a grin, “The very same.”
A brief droplet of drool formed on the corner of the waterbender’s mouth; with no artificial gusto, he replied, “Lead the way, Avatar.”
As the pair made their way to the rim of the enormous tangle of lilypad leaf and mangrove roots upon the café sat, near where the gondolas usually stopped, Yalun said, half to himself “Avatar. I remember when that title seemed so daunting.”
Nilak cocked his head for a moment. “I think I do too. I believe it dawned on you when you came to the North Pole for training and I put you on your backside in our first duel” he said with a satisfactory smirk.
“True,” agreed Yalun, “but I also recall returning the favor several fold once I stopped with the constant shivering.” The young Avatar remembered those days well; having been raised in the balmy lands of the Coastal Water Tribe until his 16th birthday, Yalun found it difficult to adapt not only to the colder climate, but also to his tutor’s, later his companion’s, training methods, which usually involved bruises and the Avatar’s upper arm.
Nilak nodded somewhat reluctantly, and as the two climbed into a passing gondola, carved in the likeness of sea serpent of old, he himself reminisced, “Aye, those were the days. Just you, me, thirteen bruises and a bucket of water. Even better when I finally got you to use a sword while bending; it took you days to figure out the proper grip for that beast you carry around”
Yalun proudly patted his sword. “It did come in handy when that one guy… what did he call himself?” The Avatar thought for a moment, “The Bandit Emperor? When he tried to get us all with those blasted nets of his? This little guy cut right through those sorry excuses for ropes. The look on that man’s face was priceless!” As the gondola weaved through the dense mangrove roots, bobbing up and down in the turquoise waters, Yalun felt a twinge of sadness. “That was probably the last great adventure we all went on,” he lamented, “now Assam is off traveling the world on Amala, Li Chen is stationed in Omashu, and Qin… What is Qin up to these days? Did he ever get back to ruling the Fire Nation, like all those bureaucrats wanted?”
Nilak tilted his head in thought, then responded “I’m not sure. I think he’s still re-organizing things in Hira’a. We hit that place pretty hard when that rogue warlord took over. I think they’re still cleaning up the rubble from Li Chen’s little ‘earthquake maneuver’.”
“A bit of a waste considering it took Assam twirling that polearm of his to send him running. No airbending, just spinning his monk’s spade” Yalun said with a chuckle, before another pang of sorrow fell over him. When he adventured with his friends, life had seemed much fuller. With them, things never got too bad, and he always had people he could just talk to and bounce ideas off of. Now, he had passed all his trials as the Avatar; there was no longer a need for traveling companions. With all four elements and the power of the Avatar State, the incredible power drawn from his predecessors that allowed him to far and away surpass any bender, under his belt, there was nothing on Earth that could touch him.
As the two continued to reminisce, the gondola pulled up to the market district of Lilypad Cove. Nestled between the twisted branches and roots of the mangroves on one of the few spots of dry land apart from the shore, an abundance of densely packed shops seemed to spring from the woodwork of the small island like the dens of beasts, each making use of every inch of spare room to display their best goods in the Avatar’s honor. Each crowded shop bore elaborate carvings, some to indicate the specialties of a particular stall, others to invite good fortune from the Spirit World; the boar-frog, a long-time symbol of luck for the tribe, seemed to be a fairly popular motif. This particular section of the city, famed for its smoked meat and fish, filled the air with the savory aroma of its renowned dishes. Slow roasted boar-q-pine seemed to hang in the doorway of every other window, something Nilak seemed to enjoy. “You know,” Nilak remarked, “I think I’m starting to warm up to this place”. Up and down the winding streets, the sounds of the market and the smells of smoked trout threatened to overwhelm the senses of the two benders.
However, before the two were able to help themselves to the bounty of the market, they were stopped in their tracks by a scream. A single, horrible, bloodcurdling scream. A scream that pierced and shattered the mind.
Every man, woman, and child in the market, even the Avatar, dropped to the ground in sheer agony. Pain beyond measure wracked Yalun’s very consciousness, flooding his mind with anguish imperishable. Both the Avatar and Nilak writhed on the ground, unable to use their very senses save those who were being overwhelmed by the sonic assault. Yalun tried to beat back the effects of the horrible noise; summon friendly memories, block his ears to the sound, enter the Avatar State, anything to end the torment, but the pain was unrelenting, and he could not gather enough focus and clarity to access the might of his past lives. He could barely muster enough strength and focus to set himself upright before he felt himself get lifted up by his vest with a single powerful limb, grey like a corpse and clawed like a beast’s. With effort beyond measure, using every bit of strength and good memories left within him, Yalun forced his eyes to open, and what they saw shook him to the core. A pair of saucer eyes, glowing orange as the harvest moon, glared at the Avatar beneath a black hood. These orange orbs stared straight through Yalun, as if right to his very soul, analyzing him as a predator would its prey. This mightiest of benders tried to struggle against the creature’s grip, but its clawed limbs held him as iron bonds would a baby lamb, as the Avatar still hadn’t come close to recovering from his foe’s initial attack. Yalun couldn’t even find the strength to bend, and the mental chaos brought by the demon’s scream had well scrambled his years of bending experience.
For what seemed like an eternity, the creature simply stared at Yalun. Its eyes didn’t move an inch; they remained fixed on Yalun’s horrified, infinitely pained face. Finally, the abomination slowly opened its mouth, barely visible from the light emanating from its ghost-lit eyes, revealing a misshapen, gaping maw of fangs, each sharpened to a wicked point. The creature exhaled, releasing a noxious cloud of black mist, overwhelming the Avatar’s remaining senses with a foul stench that tore at Yalun’s nostrils and burned his eyes. With a voice far too deep for a mortal frame, the creature spoke, spewing a black liquid from its mouth with every utterance; “Avatar…” the cloaked demon sharply inhaled, as a wolf would while tracking its prey, “I can smell your power, little meal.” The creature shuddered with a sick pleasure, “It oozes off you like the blood of a fresh kill.” The foul thing brought Yalun closer to its foul maw, “And now…” the demon growled with delight, “it will be mine!” The creature snapped it’s jaws from side to side, and opened its maw as wide as a snake about to engulf an egg, revealing a sickly orange light where a throat should be, gleaming as bright as its horrible eyes.
A dull thud interrupted the creature’s black ritual, as Yalun’s would-be executioner was thrown back by a column of ice, crashing into one of the shops with a cacophonous crash. Yalun immediately dropped to the ground, what remained of his strength drained from him. As he lay on the ground, desperately trying to find some source of strength he had not yet exhausted, a friendly hand brought the Avatar to a kneel. As Yalun slowly brought his head up, straining every muscle in his neck to do so, he found that the helping hand belonged to Nilak, badly shaken himself. Before Yalun could utter a word, Nilak brought up his other hand, engulfed by water, and pressed it against Yalun’s chest. Immediately, the cool rush of healing flooded the Avatar’s limbs and mind, quickly clearing out some of the damage dealt by the hooded abomination, though not enough for the Avatar’s tastes. Carefully, Yalun rose to his feet, the welcome grip of Nilak never ceasing. Once the Avatar was on his feet, Nilak half-whispered, “You OK there, buddy? I think you got hit a lot harder than the rest of us. Easy now...” Yalun weakly shooed away the waterbender’s supporting arm, responding, “I’m fine now, thanks for the healing boost.” “I’d say don’t mention it, but think I’d like the sound of it later. Now, we have bigger problems.” said Nilak, pointing at the splintered ruins of the store in which he had thrown the Avatar’s assailant, which were now jostling from side to side. With an eruption of debris, the creature burst from the wreckage, its black hood now shredded, revealing a gaunt, skeletal face, topped with long strands of greasy green hair. It’s skin spewed foul black fluid from hundreds of wounds, same as its mouth, torn open by the shattered pieces of the building it landed in, though it seemed to faze the creature very little, if at all. Its eyes now blazed like fireballs within its corpse-like head, almost concealing its horrid features beneath a cloak of radiating fury.
The creature stewed in its own rage for a moment, then suddenly looked down. Something still stirred beneath the broken beams and bits of cutlery. In a blur of movement, the creature reached into the debris, and with another explosion of wreckage, produced the owner of the shop, himself bearing many wounds inflicted by his own store. The creature twisted its mouth into a mockery of a grin, and once more spread its jaws wide. For a moment, the man struggled furiously, as Yalun wished he himself could have moments prior, but, to the crowd’s horror, all they could do was helplessly watch as his movements slowed, and finally ceased. He still drew breath, long and shallow, but all the vigor and color of life seemed to have been drained from him. In turn, the horrible thing’s wounds slowly closed, as if its black blood had never been drawn. Satisfied, the demon tossed his meal aside like a rag doll, and refocused its glowing eyes on the Avatar, still struggling to stand. Though exhausted, Yalun fell into a more solid fighting stance, still searching for the focus to call upon the Avatar State.
Barely moving its jaws, the creature started emitting a low, bone chilling growl, just on the edge of human hearing, but more than enough to motivate the crowd to run as fast or as best they could away from this creature, most of them simply diving into the ocean and swimming away with every ounce of strength left to them, leaving Yalun, Nilak, and a few brave villagers. As the growling grew, the air shimmered around the creature, as if it were warping the very air around it. When the growling reached a deafening peak, three more hooded creatures stepped out of the distorted air, each as foul and saucer-eyed as the first. All of them began to inhale, and by Yalun’s guess, unleash another mind-piercing scream. Yalun braced himself for another assault, while his companion half-quipped, “Don’t you have soldiers in this town?”
“As a matter of fact, we do!” shouted someone far behind them.
Faster than the pair could blink, four arrows found their marks in the creatures’ windpipes. Eyes almost impossibly widened, the creatures tore the arrows from their throats and tried to unleash their power, resulting in a few mere squeaks and raspy whispers. As the foul things grasped at their throats, a cadre of tattooed warriors, clad in elaborate wooden armor and armed with long spears and stout clubs, charged out from the water, guided through the waves by similarly tattooed and armored waterbenders. Quickly, the fearsome fighters flanked the young waterbender and the recovering Avatar, who was beginning to get some of his strength back. One warrior in particular stood ahead of the others; tall, clad in a red feather cloak, very dark-skinned, tattooed from head to toe, with long black hair with an equally long catgator tail, brandished a long, oar-like club at the creatures.
“Chief Arroq” said the Avatar, relieved to see such a renowned warrior at his back.
“Avatar Yalun,” grunted the chief briefly glancing sideways at the Avatar, before once more facing the abominations. With a passion and strength untainted by the creatures voices, the chief proudly proclaimed “You choose to attack the world’s peacekeeper in my village, monsters, you answer to me,” The chief pointed his weapon at the first monster, “and my taiaha!”
A deep, horrible laugh emanated from the maw of the first creature, who then said in a raspy mockery of its former voice, “Your courage… will be noted… on your gravestone!” The demon turned to the others of its brood, and commanded, “Grow strong from the interlopers, my brothers! The Avatar is ours!”
With one final roar, or as much of one as it could manage with a ruptured voice box, the first creature lunged at the Avatar, with its fellows right behind, seeking their own targets amongst the warriors of the Coastal Water Tribe. The warriors behind the Avatar attempted to fire another salvo of arrows at the creatures, but the demons didn’t even seem to feel them, tearing them from their bodies as soon as they hit.
As fast as he was able, Yalun grabbed his companion and, with a twist of his arm, propelled the two back to the open shore near the market with a powerful blast of air. As the two tumbled through the overgrowth and tried to regain their footing, their last sight of the chief was him engaging one of the creatures with his club, striking the demon in the shoulder and loudly cracking the bone, before being enveloped by his warriors. The gust hit the first of the foul creatures head on, but it quickly braced and absorbed the blow, shielding itself with its powerful arms. Alright, thought the Avatar, air doesn’t work so well against this guy. Yalun changed tactics, shifting to a more aggressive posture while his companion, furiously chopping with his twin sabres, rained blow after blow of icy blades drawn from the saturated ground and his own water skin on the creature, having little effect on the creature as it grabbed each one and shattered them with its bare hands, but slowing its advance.
With one last herculean effort, Yalun finally managed enough focus to draw upon some small fragment of the fantastic powers of the Avatar State, causing his scar to briefly spark with a brilliant blue light. With a sharp intake of breath, the Avatar gathered momentum and thrust both his arms forward, from which erupted a blazing inferno, barreling towards the foul creature. The attack seemed to land, exploding at the creature’s location with a deafening blast. The Avatar and Nilak allowed themselves a sigh of relief, cut short by the sight of the creature leaping down from the branches of the mangroves overhead, clawed arms outstretched and terrible jaws agape. Sickeningly amazed by the creature’s agility, Yalun barely had time to dodge the creature’s counterattack, and paid for it with a follow up backhand from the creature to the gut, sending him sprawling on the ground and struggling to breathe.
Nilak attempted to retaliate in turn, swirling his swords in a circular motion, causing a massive orb of seawater to rise from the ocean behind him. The waterbender then twisted his swords, freezing the orb solid within seconds, and hurled the sphere of ice at the creature, swinging both his sabers at the demon with all his might. The creature deftly dodged the mass of ice, leaping to the side and allowing the sphere to tumble right through the space he once occupied. Unfortunately for the creature, the ball continued to roll and struck one of its kin from behind as it was engaging a group of warriors. The foul thing spun around, enraged by the act against the other creature, and sprinted towards Nilak at full tilt. The waterbender tried to lash at it with lithe tendrils of water, to little avail. To the creature, they seemed to be as raindrops, and in seconds the monster had closed the distance between it and Nilak.
The creature grabbed the waterbender and slammed him against the ground, knocking him senseless. The creature then raised him up, and was about to open its mouth in full to re-enact its foul ritual when a massive column of water crashed into its ribcage, shattering much of it with a sickening crack and throwing the abomination against a nearby mangrove root hard enough to shake the canopy above. Amazingly, the creature seemed unfazed by the blow, as it simply looked down at its chest and locked eyes with the source of the attack; the Avatar, on his feet and katana drawn. So, Yalun thought, water seems to work. Yalun began to spin his katana around at incredible speeds, granting another tendril of water incredible momentum, trying to prepare for another waterbending strike. The foul creature, however, was ready this time, and tore a chunk of wood out from the tree upon which it leaned. The creature then threw it with incredible force, and with a disheartening clang, knocked the Avatar’s katana from his hands, leaving the young bender grasping his hand and wincing in pain, causing the column of water to collapse.
With another raspy roar, the creature once more charged at the Avatar, closing half the distance between the two before its leg plunged into a hidden mass of mud, stopping the demon in its tracks. As the creature furiously tried to extract itself from this hidden pitfall, an idea sprang into Yalun’s head; Earth! It may be runny earth, but it’s still earth! Rising to a squared bending stance, the Avatar once more drew what power he could from the Avatar State, setting his scar ablaze with light, immediately engulfed the creature in a mass of wet soil, and squeezed with all the might his predecessors could spare, as he had none left to give.
The creature struggled heavily, even against such power from the Avatar. Yalun slowly raised the mass of soil and the creature with it, hoping to deprive the demon of leverage from the ground. Still the creature struggled against his earthen bonds. Yalun continued to tighten his grip, drawing more power from the his past lives, and causing the soil around the creature to compact, spewing long-trapped water onto the already drenched ground below. Still the creature resisted, and the soil around it started to loosen and crack from the efforts of its powerful limbs.
Suddenly, a clawed arm burst forth from the dense soil, and began clawing at the rest of the earthen prison. Yalun continued to squeeze, but his heart sank into his chest. There’s just no beating this thing, he thought woefully to himself, as the energy borrowed from the Avatar State, the only thing keeping him upright, started to wane. The creature had just about freed another limb, when suddenly the water beneath the creature sprang to life, leaping up from the ground and surrounding the creature. Yalun quickly looked to the side, and was amazed to behold Nilak; bruised, beaten, but still bending, rapidly swirling his arms to gather as much water as he could around the creature, further enveloping it in another elemental prison. The waterbender then closed his hands into fists and brought them closer to his body, causing the water around the creature to freeze and further squeeze the creature. Together, the Avatar and Nilak, silently working in tandem, compressed their elements with all their might, the Avatar channeling as much power as he was able from the Avatar State, still unable to achieve the full effects due to the creature’s initial attack. As the ice and earth closed all about it, the creature resisted as best it could, but it could not counter the two elements at once. As its prison compressed the creature screamed one final oath: “The Deep One will take you! He will cover the land in madness! He will-“
With one last, exasperating push, the two put the last of their efforts into the creature’s bonds, and with one resounding crack, the creature finally seemed to succumb to their efforts, ceasing its powerful struggles and going limp in its ball of ice and earth. As the body lay motionless, the creature’s glowing eyes seemed to levitate out of its skull, surrounded by a fine black mist. For a moment it swirled in the air above its former body, a swarm of black wasps around two orange orbs, before vanishing like a puff of smoke in a storm’s wind.
As the chaos of battle raged around them, the rest of the abominations met similar fates, only after incredible punishment from dozens of warriors and waterbenders, many of whom were scattered about the battlefield, cold and unresponsive as the shopkeeper. The two young benders dropped to their knees, their injuries and exhaustion finally taking hold.
The smell of incense hung low and heavy in the huts of the healers. Dimly lit by an array of candles, the huts were packed with spare furs and strange smelling substances, meant to warm and heal. On every spare surface, warriors and benders alike lay cold and unresponsive, only barely clutching to life and breath, looking like corpses in the dim candlelight. In every hut, healers clad in dull blue robes and semiprecious stone amulets scurried from room to room, trying their best not to knock over cabinets of salves and potions in the limited space and to get some response from comatose tribesmen.
The head healer, however, was seeing to a different matter entirely. In the largest hut, carved and shaped from a single emperor mangrove sapling, the matriarch of these waterbenders, clad in a cloak woven from seaweed dark as the ocean's depths, stood over a strange body, pale as the grave and armed as a beast, its mouth still dripping with a thick, black substance. Her greying hair was pulled back in a long braid, revealing a face bearing an age’s worth of wrinkles and lines. Currently, this usually amiable face was drawn into a worrisome frown, her gnarled fingers covering her mouth as she stood in thought among those gathered to analyze the corpse of the creature; The Avatar, Nilak, and Chief Arroq.
For the longest time, no one spoke, as the medicine woman slowly paced around the table bearing the remains of the abomination that, only hours ago, attempted to slay the world’s peacekeeper. Occasionally, she would pause her pacing and dart to one of her tomes, probe the body with a bit of water, or simply shake her head, causing the rest of those present to lean in in anticipation of some revelation, only for the old healer to continue her pacing.
After many hours of pacing, probing, and reading, the healer stopped by the part of the table that held the head of the creature, and lifted her ancient, weary eyes to Yalun.
“Are you aware of what this is, young Avatar?” inquired the healer, her voice deep and strong for one at her age. The Avatar jumped slightly, as one does after a long silence is broken, and after searching for the right words for a moment, he replied, “I-I don’t know. Should I?”
The healer allowed herself a slight smile, and closed her eyes for a moment as she once again resumed pacing about the room. Chief Arroq was less than amused; “Spit it out, woman! What did we face today? What is responsible for half my men lying motionless in the chambers below?”
The healer opened her eyes and ceased her pacing, replying, “Calm yourself, my chief. It is not every day one gets to lecture the Avatar on spiritual matters. I was merely savoring the moment; it may not happen again in my lifetime.”
The Avatar tilted his head in confusion, and asked, “How does this… thing… relate to the spirits?” Yalun had met spirits before, and granted, some of them were not the most amiable creatures, but nothing he had seen before quite match the malice that still emanated from this creature.
The medicine woman was quick with the answer, “This is a creature that has not been seen for centuries, and fortunately so. This is a jiang shi, and your warriors were lucky to escape its clutches with their heads.” The chief slowly felt his neck, as the healer continued, “Such a being is made when an evil spirit, one of hunger and rage, possesses the body of a human. The resulting creature feeds on chi, pure life energy, and contains enough terrible power to achieve this goal with ease, powered by the energy it drains. Such is the fate of your men, Arroq.”
Lines of worry formed on the mighty warriors face, as he seemed pondered the condition of his men. Yalun had never seen him so distraught; it worried him in turn. “Will they recover?” the chief asked, uncharacteristically meekly.
The medicine woman sighed deeply; “With time, under our care, they will recover,” she assured the chief, “but only with time. So much time…”
Chief Arroq, his mind already clearly buzzing with what to with half his men incapacitated and the market section in ruins, quickly bowed to the medicine woman and set off from the healing hut. With a bit more room to maneuver, Yalun drew closer to the body of his attacker, just as foul and twisted as when it was moving. After a moment of observing the remains, the Avatar spoke to the old healer, “These jiang shi… they seemed to be going after me specifically. They seemed to want my power; one of them said they could smell it on me. But why? What would these things want with the Avatar?”
The old healer walked over to her work table, strewn with plant and animal parts for salves, and with a groan, sat down on a well-padded chair. With an air of foreboding, she replied, “Best to ask the one who sent these creatures.” She slowly grasped one of the books she had been looking through, as the Avatar and Nilak drew closer to the old crone, and went through the pages until her arthritic fingers came to rest on one passage. As she read from her tome, her expression grew dark, “Jiang shi,” she explained, “cannot simply happen upon a host. The spirits that make these things must be summoned… invited… into this world by one who knows the ways of the spirits, and accepted by one who has been deceived.” Her ancient head turned to the corpse on the table; “Whoever those things were once, you did them a favor. Such a union only brings terrible pain on the victim, and not a thing on this earth can banish a jiang shi spirit from its host save death. Not even the Avatar.” The Avatar’s mind wandered to the name the creature screamed before it expired: The Deep One.
Yalun quietly asked, “Do you know, by any chance, something known as The Deep One?”
The medicine woman eased back in her chair and rubbed her chin for a good long while, but ended up shaking her head. “No, young warriors. I do not recognize that name.”
Yalun and Nilak nodded grimly, as the color slowly drained from their faces. Nothing they had faced before came close to this sort of gruesome act, and they weren’t terribly keen on finding out what sort of madman would summon these foul demons. They thanked the healer for her counsel, and left the cramped room, descending a long staircase to the other healing huts below. When the two finally made it to sea level, Nilak whispered to Yalun, “So… what are you going to do?”
Yalun stopped in his tracks, sighed deeply, and turned to his friend, then said with a stark certainty, “We need to get everyone back together. I fear this is beyond even the power of the Avatar, old friend.”