The Gentleman of Weapons
Chapter Two: A Matter of Chance,

Or,

There's Never Been a Better Time.

I like Kyoshi Island, you know. It's quiet, comparatively, it has hot summers and freezing winters, which I like- could never stand middling weather, so dull, it saps me of really all my energy- good food, as long as you like fish (if not, well, you're on your own), and, best of all, it's still free. Not a lot of places are still free, you know.

But it's alright. We've got a Plan.

Oops, I shouldn't be thinking about the Plan right now. Not while I'm experiencing my second-favourite thing about Kyoshi Island. Might let something slip.

My second favourite thing about Kyoshi Island is this drink. It's made from fermented honey, and it's nothing like I've ever tasted anywhere else. Even home never had stuff like this. It truly is delightful. And very moreish.

Which is why I mustn't think of the Plan. Who knows where the Fire Lord might have spies.

The thought is sobering, so I banish it immediately. I came to Kyoshi Island expressly to get blind drunk, and that is exactly what I am going to do.

Because, you see, if I'm blind drunk here, then I'm blind drunk here, you understand"

No" Well, all things in their time.

Speaking of time, it's almost noon. Better pick up the pace.

“Another, please, my good man.”

The barman looks doubtful. No doubt he's wondering how much damage I could do if I got violent.

I could destroy this bar, burn the town to the ground, and kill every living thing on the island within an hour. I won't though. My friends tell me I'm a happy drunk.

I put a gold piece on the counter. More drink is produced.

I'm not worried about spending too much money. After all, I came here to have a good time, didn't I"

I wonder, how long would it take to lead the people here in song"

A while. There's only three of us, including the bartender. The only other patron is some wrinkled old woman who looks like she's been pickled in vinegar. Not one for much excitement, then.

Oh well. There's always the evening. Perhaps I'll get to dance. I don't often get the chance. People who know me think I'm too sombre to dance, so the only time I'm allowed to is when I drink.

Hold on, something's happening outside. Rush of feet, shouts, an argument, and then-

Silence.

I stagger outside, one part drunk to nine parts overacting. I know the local military were dispatched this morning, but since I keep up with the news, I didn't think it was anything to worry about. Just a training exercise or a twitchy commander or something like that. They happen.

But this isn't either. They've got- can't see, people in the way, 'scuse me, drunk coming through, don't need to be polite, see me stagger, smell the alcohol, note the hair and beard, I'm just another drunken vagrant, please ignore the weaponry, just my little quirk, bam. I'm at the front- some people tied to the statue of Kyoshi.

I'm expecting pirates. It's usually pirates. Fire Nation ships have learned better than to hassle Kyoshi Island.

It's...

Well... it's not pirates. It most certainly is not pirates.

Oh great, now I'm completely sober. What a waste of time and good alcohol.

So.

The Avatar has returned.

Excellent. Beyond excellent. Beyond anything we could ever have hoped for.

The Avatar has returned... as a twelve-year-old boy, a master airbender it's true, but nothing else.

Decidedly less than excellent.

I have to think about this. No dancing for me tonight.

There will be other nights.

I made my way up to the room I had rented, and stared at the mirror. A haggard face stared back, wild black hair and a beard of the sort that came when you just stopped shaving. I looked like a vagabond.

Hnf.

Now. I am fortunate enough to be the first of us to learn this information, so... what do I do with it" How will this boy change the Plan" Do we even still need the Plan"

I think...

I think we should continue the Plan. If nothing else it will make the boy's job easier, and we can still put it to use, should the boy fail. Yes, I think that is best.

The implications of this one simple fact- that the ordained saviour has returned, after everyone thought the cycle long broken- are overwhelming, but I know how to face down overwhelming things (a giant viper-rat, a bar full of drink-crazed mercenaries, one hundred firebenders). One step at a time. Don't try and take it in all at once, take it one block at a time.

What is the objective of the Plan" End the dominion of the Fire Nation, and stop what remains of this war.

How did the original Plan intend to accomplish this" By removing the Fire Lord and placing his more reasonable brother on the throne in his place, along with about twenty other things. But that's the relevant one for now. We may still end up doing this. But for now, let us assume that the Avatar can, and will, face and defeat the Fire Lord.

He will need assistance. He will need training. We can provide both.

The highest risk to him will be when he heads North. As soon as he crosses into the Former Earth Kingdom, he will be at risk. If he can make it through the Former Earth Kingdom, and get past the blockade of the North, then he will be safe. There is only one man I would consider worthy of teaching the Avatar to waterbend. We can't afford to give him substandard training.

I glance out of my window. The boy is there, with his two companions. Those two are his only guards.

Unacceptable. They'll be cut to ribbons the moment they set foot on Earth Kingdom shores.

What, then" Do I offer my services" Join him"

Ha. Laughable.

…But I can help in other ways. Make sure our people keep an eye on him. Perhaps we could get June to keep tabs on him. We worked together well enough last time.

It was early evening, but Kyoshi Island was still abuzz. The island's population has expanded considerably in recent years, as refugees still attempt to escape the rule of the Fire Nation, but it's still usually fairly quiet in the evenings. Not when the Avatar has arrived, though. He's the star of the evening, the centre of an eager crowd. I can't blame people, really. He's the only real symbol of hope that's shown up in years.

I should do something. I have no real idea what, right now, but I should do something. Perhaps it would be best if I left the island immediately. That way I could ready the Order, make preliminary preparations for the Avatar's journey north.

But I shouldn't be too hasty. I peered out my window, down to where the Avatar was surrounded by villagers. He seemed to be enjoying the attention. Oddly, it seemed that one of his companions was missing. The boy was nowhere to be seen, and the girl was standing off to the side, arms folded. Perhaps I should take the time to find out more about the Avatar and his travelling companions. After all, the more we know about them, the better we can protect them.

Where is the other one, anyway" He vanished at about mid-afternoon.

I stood up from my bed, and stretched, reaching for my poncho. I think it's time I took a stroll.

Oh. There he is.

I have an important moral question here. Which is more disturbing" Seeing a teenage boy in makeup and a dress get beaten up by a similarly dressed girl while they engage in a clumsily flirtatious conversation, or seeing a (seemingly) drunk homeless man with a sword spying on them through a window"

Either way, I've determined where the boy is, so I'm just going to leave now.

I couldn't get close enough to the Avatar to learn anything useful, and his other companion had vanished, presumably to whatever rooms they had been given.

Stop presuming things. I should check. If she's gone somewhere else, say, into the woods for an evening walk, then she might already be dead (thanks to me).

So I checked. Weaving away from the crowd, putting on my best drunken walk, I blundered back to the inn, since that seemed the most logical place where they would be put up. Sure enough, the girl was in the dining room, hunched over a bowl of water.

So, she is a waterbender" I didn't think there were any left in the south. Untrained, though.

Well, I suppose she's less of a liability than an untrained firebender. Or an untrained earthbender. Still, it's not particularly helpful.

She looked up sharply, suddenly noticing my presence. I hiccuped politely, and waved, before staggering outside again.

The night air was cold, and my breath came in clouds. I supposed I might as well make one more round of the village before sleep. One can never be too security conscious.

Away from the main street, the village was quiet, the only noise the crunch of snow beneath my feet and the occasional animal noise.

And suddenly there was a bellow.

Spinning to the source of the noise, I ran forward, my hand resting loosely on the hilt of my sword.

If it's another giant monster, I swear I will... kill it, I suppose. Or run away from it. It depends, really.

I rounded a corner, finding myself at the public stable, and was confronted with a small hill of white hair.

A sky bison. A real live sky bison. Well, isn't that something. Heh, Zei would kill to be here right now.

“Well,” I said, as the beast huffed it's welcome at me, “you don't see that every day. Don't you know you're supposed to be extinct"”

The creature replied with a haroom. I'm not quite sure that that means, but oh well.

“Hold on,” I said, reaching into my pack. “I may have something... here.” I tossed a moon peach into the creature's gaping maw. It was consumed, but the stone was spat to the side. I moved a step closer, and the beast nodded at me.

I may have made a new friend.

“Appa, I have some dinner for you, buddy- oh. Hello.”

The Avatar.

I turned, theatrically unsteady, and stared blearily at the kid.

“...W'as...w'as... w'as this, then" 'S a hill, 's wot it is. Why's got, you know, things" Pointy things. Horns, tha's it,” I slurred, leaning heavily against the wall.

The Avatar eyed me warily.

“His name's Appa. He's a sky bison.”

I blinked, and shook my head.

“Buy some what" *Hic* whatever, kid. I'm gon'... I'm gon... I'm gon go slee' now...”

And with that, I staggered away. I think I managed to avoid suspicion.

I could have gone a whole other route, I pondered to myself as I made my way back to my room. I could have introduced myself to the Avatar, earned his trust, joined his group. I still have time to do so. Certainly it would be a lot safer for them, and while I'm no bender, there are still things I could teach all of them.

But that comes with downsides. The Fire Lord, despite what many claim, has far fewer trained espionage agents than rumour would have you believe. Two are assigned to follow and track me at all times, which is annoying, but it has some benefits. The Avatar will naturally warrant more agents being sent to track him, so really it's best if we allow the Fire Lord to waste resources tracking several targets, rather than make it easy for him by grouping together. Besides, if I can persuade June to follow the boy, he should be safe.

I made it to my room, and stretched back on the bed. My next move will have to be planned carefully. The mobility the Avatar's sky bison affords him should keep him ahead of any pursuit, but Nyla won't have a problem tracking, and if I can get back to my eel-hound, I should be able to keep up, should the need arise. So that's not the problem. The problem is my aforementioned shadows.

The fact that I am under constant surveillance has proved useful as a means of feeding the Fire Lord false information about me. Over the last six months, ever since we met on Narwhal Island and formed the Plan, I have steadily presented the image of a man falling apart at the seams. I have stopped shaving and cutting my hair. I began to drink. I even, although I had to force myself to do it, began to neglect my practise. And it was all supposed to culminate here, on Kyoshi Island. I would spend the last few months before the Plan went into effect here, drinking away the last of my money, effectively falling off the radar. Then, when the time was right, I would kill the agents, get a haircut and a change of clothes, and initiate the Plan.

But I can't do that any more. The Plan has taken a knock. Oh well, I can work with it. If I can't get myself written off, then I'll have to vanish. It will be harder, but I think I can manage it. But the agents will have to die here, before I leave. I will be assigned new ones, of course, but hopefully (and with a little assistance from the Order) I can evade them.

Fiddly, isn't it" The worst part is knowing that one wrong move, one misstep, and the Plan could collapse.

Don't tell me you thought saving the world was going to be easy.

I was up before the sun. It was another habit that I had forced myself to abandon in the last six months, and I was glad to be back into it. I picked it up when I was in the company of firebenders, mainly so I could get the drop on them, if it came to it. Actually, it didn't acquire that facet for nearly three years. It started out as a way to annoy them.

I was younger then. And a lot less cautious. Of course, back then it was only the Earth Kingdom trying to kill me. And sometimes the Water Tribes.

But no matter. I was up early. I had a lot to do today.

Today, as the saying goes, is the first day of the rest of my life. I have no use for the persona of the dispirited alcoholic any more.

First, I had to shave. Then I had to bathe.

Then I would have to go out into the woods and murder the two men hiding there.

I remember Kyoshi Island before Ba Sing Se fell. It was an interesting place. There were actually several Kyoshi Villages, or more accurately Kyoshi Village was split into several small hamlets, dotted around the island. Nonetheless, they all saw themselves as being part of the same community, and were all united under one leader. However, in the years since then, when the city fell and the Fire Nation began to spread it's influence over the whole Earth Kingdom, Kyoshi Island played host to hundreds of refugees. To his eternal credit, the High Chief of the island, a man named Oyaji, welcomed all refugees over the protests of a few lesser chiefs, and the villages quickly began to grow. Now, several smaller villages, particularly the ones on the north coast, have begun to merge together as new homes have sprung up.

This explosion has also meant that the Kyoshi Warriors are under increasing pressure to go against their ancient traditions, and allow boys to join. Surprisingly few boys have actually backed this idea. Perhaps it's the dress code.

This whole situation has, naturally, led to ...tensions between communities of immigrants and native denizens of the Island. So far, the authorities have managed too keep everyone placated, but I have to wonder if it will last. The influx of refugees has slowed since Omashu fell, but more still try to make it to the island.

The inherent attitude of the island community has been one resistant of change, and steeped in tradition. Change, however, has been thrust upon them, and I cannot help but think that if they continue as they have been, dragging their feet, being slow to adapt to this changing world, then the Fire Nation will obliterate them, and soon.

I left the outskirts of the village, and made my way into the woods that clung to the lower slopes of the mountains. I knew the men were here, and I knew that I couldn't afford to be seen, or they would just take off, leading me on a long chase. So I had to plan this carefully.

I had pinpointed their location some weeks ago, when I had seen the flash of light reflected of a spyglass one day. I knew they were in a tree house within sight of the village where I was staying, and I knew that at least one of them had to leave soon. That was enough.

My ragged poncho was camouflage enough once I'd pulled the hood up, at least when I slumped behind a rock, out of their line of sight. It had taken me over an hour to move less than half a mile, a painful, tense, and paradoxically dull hour, but it had paid dividends. I was in position, now all I had to do was wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The sun was long up by the time I got my chance. One of the men had left the hideout to relieve himself. I waited until he had gone a reasonable distance, then moved.

I sprang upwards, over the rock that had shielded me from sight, and hurtled towards the man, who was making his way back to the ladder. I will give him this, he was good enough to have pulled out his blade and moved into a serviceable stance by the time I had taken his life.

Not pausing, I sprang up the ladder, relying on the element of surprise and the fact that no competent fighter would climb up a ladder if there was an enemy at the top. I propelled myself upwards once my hand was resting on the top rung, and my sword flashed as I ended the second man.

And that was that. No turning back now. The Plan is altered, and I will have to make sure it goes well. The changes that the Avatar will make to the world simply by his presence will be enormously detrimental, should we fail to adapt out strategy, but if we do, the opportunities offered are astounding.

Before I left the tree house, I picked up the last, semi-complete, report that the men had been making. Always useful to know what the enemy is saying to each other.

As I dropped to the ground, I looked up at the morning sky through the trees. It was looking like it was going to be pleasant weather today, not a cloud in... the... sky...

Oh.

There's just a suggestion of-

I hauled myself back up the ladder, stepped over the body, and bent down to look through the spyglass, scanning the horizon.

Black smoke.

This could be bad.

I entered the village at a sprint. People exiting their houses as they started their day looked up, confused, as I hurtled towards the main street. I had to warn them, if they didn't know already. The Fire Nation were-

The Fire Nation were already here. Landing craft, on the shoreline. A small warship in the bay. Mounted troops on their way.

People are rushing towards me, desperate to get away from the invaders, fleeing for the mountains. I duck into a side alley. The best thing I can do for now is wait. Wait for the optimum moment.

A scrape from above makes me glance to the rooftops, and I see a flash of brown material for a second. A second glance out of the mouth of the alley confirms my suspicion- the Warriors have already set up their ambush.

It's a tidy piece of work, I'll give them that.

The leader of this advance party makes some grand statements, a bold declaration that they are here for the Avatar. I've already tuned him out. There's only one factor left. Where is the Avatar" Surely he will show up soon.

A sudden sound and a crackling of lacquer indicates that this captain is not so patient. And battle is joined. I stay put, for now. The fight seems evenly matched, and I could help turn the tide, but I'll give the Avatar a few more minutes. Wouldn't want to step on any toes.

Suddenly, a young voice screams a challenge, and the wind rushes. There he is.

I risk another glance out of my alley. Everything seems to be going well. No need to enter the fray yet. Wait. What's that"

Another landing craft. Oh. That could be bad. Another twenty men could start to turn the tide against the Warriors, and there's no time to send word to the other hamlets to ask for assistance.

Looks like I shall have to help after all. With a sigh, I straighten up.

A red-armoured figure crashes down my alleyway, nearly bowling me over. He's pursued by a Kyosh- no. That's not right. It's one of the Avatar's companions, isn't it"

Oh Agni, he's still wearing the dress.

Both combatants completely ignore me, crashing through the alley and out the other side, into the wider space of a side street.

I watch the fight with growing interest. There's a lot of talent here. Untapped, it's true, but that can be changed.

Some people, some crude, ignorant people, have compared my fighting to dancing, and expect me to take it as a compliment. I can understand what they are referring to- some fighting styles, particularly those developed by the Water Tribes, can have a kind of flowing elegance to them at times. Those times specifically being in show matches. If a fighter is moving like a dancer, they are trying to delude themselves, trying to mask the real purpose of a fight.

This boy does none of that. This boy fights like he is fighting. He is crude, untrained, and clumsy. But he has grasped the one overarching principle- that the point of a fight is to hurt the enemy. Nothing more, nothing less.

His skills are rude, but the firebender really never stood a chance. The boy utilised the little training he had been given in kyoshitsu to twirl (it was the dress that made me think of such words, I believe) away from the plumes of fire, and then stopped, grasping the man's outstretched wrist in one hand, and slamming the other into his elbow.

I think I heard a snap. The boy let go, and the man dropped to the ground, moaning in pain.

“Not bad.” I felt I had to contribute.

The boy span to face me, arms raised. I placated him with a wave of my hands..

“But you tend to not place your back foot quite right. You should remember that if you're going to get any power behind those strikes, you need to have proper footing.”

He raised an eyebrow. “O...kay. I'll remember that, strange man in the alley.”

“You should. And another thing-” I stepped around the boy in a wide circle, and drew my sword, and as the boy stepped backwards I slammed the blade down, directly through the palm of the firebender. He had been preparing to attack again “-you should always check that they're going to stay down.”

The boy winced at the sight of blood, and I let the sounds of the battle filter across.

“Look, just who are-”

“They're not here to conquer the island.” We needed to finish this, before the village took too much damage. “They're here for the Avatar. If the Avatar leaves, then the Fire Nation will follow him.”

The boy opened his mouth, no doubt to argue that they couldn't run like this. Then he closed it again.

“You're right,” he said, simply. Like I said, potential.

Without another word, he scurried off to find his friends. I hoped they would be gone before I weighed in.

I counted to thirty elephant-seals in my head, and then peered out the alley. The Avatar was nowhere to be seen, but maybe I should-

A Kyoshi Warrior hit the ground, and three soldiers moved to surround the fallen girl.

I can't afford to hold off any longer. I will have to take my chances with the Avatar seeing me. If he does, I can always be obtuse and unhelpful.

I weave unsteadily onto the battlefield, towards the cluster of men. I plant myself quite deliberately between myself and their fallen target. I sway a little, just for good measure. I glance to my left, at the Warrior. She seems concious, but she's not going to be walking on that leg for a while, from how she's fallen. Or fighting with that arm, for that matter.

I glance to my right. Three firebenders, looking confused.

Three, two, one

Grab my hood, yank the poncho off me in one smooth motion, and hurl it directly at the firebenders-

-Draw my sword, and bring it up to shoulder level-

Confused, the first thing the foremost one does is try to catch it-

-I lunge through the filthy garment. I don't need to see it to know the blade has punctured his lung-

The man goes down, and the other two charge, one on my left, one on my right. They slide into practised stances-

-My sword flutters, and tears Right's jugular. Left brings up his hands in a desperate block, and my blade rolls in my hand, stabbing upwards, under his ribcage-

It's over in five seconds.

The battlefield is a silent tableau. I suppose it must be quite disconcerting to see three trained soldiers wiped out by one apparent tramp.

I use the pause to my advantage. I hold still long enough for the Kyoshi Warriors to get themselves together, and two rush forward to extract their fallen comrade. I analyse the battlefield. Around thirty soldiers left, but most of them have already turned for the beach, heading for their boat. They mean to pursue the Avatar.

We shall see.

I charge a knot of spear men, redirecting their lunges with my sword, batting aside their strikes until I can get under their guard and tear them apart, and keep moving. Flames billow towards me, but I'm not where they expected me to be, and their lack of foresight costs them dearly. Before I know it, the tide of the battle has carried me down to the beach, the Kyoshi Warriors tacitly accepting this alliance, and using the distraction caused by me to mop up the remaining soldiers. Now, the few that remain have made it to the boats, and are retreating to their small craft.

Now, perhaps, we shall see why the Fire Navy is hesitant to attack Kyoshi Island.

Right on cue, the water explodes with a bellowing roar, and everyone on shore takes an involuntary step back as the monstrous form of the Unagi bursts from the water, crashing into the ship, the waves caused by it's breaking the surface sending the landing craft crashing, turning upside down in the middle of the bay, as the sea serpent attacks the metal beast that was arrogant enough to challenge the beast in it's own feeding grounds.

Now I'm close enough, I notice as I turn my eyes from the Unagi's feast, there are more ships, anchored outside of the bay. One, I think, has a hint of gold about it. Could it be"

I coughed politely at one Kyoshi Warrior, who had an air of command about her. She managed to tear horrified eyes away from the grisly sight in front of her.

“Do you have a telescope"”

“What" Oh. Uh, yes, actually.”

“May I borrow it"”

“...Sure.”

I thanked her, and trained the spyglass on the ship that had caught my eye. It was turning, heading north, but I would recognise the prow anywhere. It was the Admiral's flagship, the Coiling Dragon. Admiral Zhao himself was overseeing the hunt for the Avatar, and no doubt doing great damage to his railings after this defeat.

So, the Informant himself is here, is he" Well, that's interesting. So he has no plans for the Northern Blockade any time soon, then. Well, we're all grateful for that, at least.