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Heart of the Wounded - Chapter 12

“Jin hasn’t come back yet,” Zuko informed the other two.

“We know this,” Wolf said without looking up from his book.

“She’s been gone for three hours.”

“Jin’s a girl. Girls can shop for hours on end.”

“Jin doesn’t do that.”

“If you’re so concerned, go look for her.”

“Fine. I’ll be back.” Zuko left. He was gone for only two minutes when the door opened and he came back in. “Look at this!”

Zuko thrust a small poster at Wolf. Iroh came over to read it over Wolf’s shoulder.

Zuko was furious. “I can’t believe they would sink so low. They saw the two of us together and now…”

“Why would they kidnap Jin?” Wolf mused.

“It’s obvious,” Zuko snapped.

“We are wanted men. They want to get to us, but they cannot find us. Now, we will come to them,” Iroh informed Wolf.

“Where’s the Dai Li?” Zuko asked.

“Just a minute. I’ll show you.” Wolf struggled to a standing position. He grimaced when he tried putting weight on his injured leg.

“Wolf, I would stay here if I were you,” Iroh advised.

“That creep is messing with my pack. I can’t just sit here and do nothing.”

“It’s my pack too, Wolf,” Zuko growled. “You always do this. Something happens and you always want to be right there. But you can’t always be there.”

Wolf stood speechless for a moment. “Iroh,” Wolf whined. “Talk some sense into him.”

“Stand down on this one, Wolf,” Iroh decided. “You are in no shape to go anywhere. Zuko needs to do this on his own. In a pack, wolves need to look out for their mates. Did you know that, or do I know more about wolves’ mating habits that the great Wolf?”

Wolf growled slightly. “Be careful, Zuko. It’s a trap, and you’re walking into it. Good luck.” Wolf eased himself back down onto the couch.

Zuko nodded. “How do I get there?”

Wolf pulled the title page from the book he was reading and drew a map. It looked nothing like a city, but Zuko was sure he could follow it. With a few quick farewells and a last minute preparation, Zuko was off to face down the Dai Li.

……………

“What is she doing here alone?” a voice hissed.

Jin heard the voice, but she couldn’t see anything. She tried moving, and found herself chained to a wall.

“Well, I brought her here. I thought that’s what you wanted,” a second voice explained.

“You were supposed to follow her back to the place where the fugitives are staying!”

“Oh. Ops. It might work any way, right?”

Jin’s vision was spotty now. She could barely see the outlines of two men. The shorter one smacked the other.

“Leave me now,” the short one ordered. The other one bowed and left the room, shutting the door as he left.

The short man turned to Jin. “Ah, I see you are coming to.”

Jin shook her head slightly, trying to get rid of the black spots in her vision. It didn’t seem to help but the spots shrunk.

“I am Wong Feng, head of the Dai Li. One of my agents informed me of a girl that was seen with an outcast from the Fire Nation who just so happens to also be an outlaw. Do you know what I’m talking about?”

It’s my fault! Jin realized. If I hadn’t pushed to get Zuko out, I wouldn’t be here. Oh, but it was so worth it! I hope Zuko doesn’t come to save me. I mean, it would be good and all, it would prove he cares, but it’s not worth it!

“Yes, I know what you’re talking about.”

“Then you know where he is hiding.”

“Maybe.”

“Is he living alone, or with someone?” Long Feng started walking around the room. Jin didn’t answer. “Maybe some more Fire Nation outlaws?”

“Maybe. There’s a lot of them, you know.”

“One named…Wolf.”

“I don’t want to talk to you! Let me go!” Jin shouted, pulling against the chains.

Long Feng smirked. “I take it you do know what I’m talking about.”

“Spirits can eat you.”

“Tell me, girl. Where is it that the fallen prince is hiding?”

“I’d rather die than tell you anything!”

“That could be arranged. Unfortunately, I need you alive for a while. Despite the bumbling of that fool, I can still lure the prince here.”

“You’re a fool. You think he likes me? He wouldn’t risk his life for a girl like me. He just went out with me that one time because he was bored. Now, let me go!”

“Maybe I should take you to Lake Laogai. Then, I could get all of the information I want, and set you up to kill him. I will if you don’t stay on topic.”

“I am on topic,” Jin mumbled.

“Is he living on his own?”

“Who?” Jin asked, a daring look in her eyes.

“The fallen prince, Zuko.”

“I don’t know. I met him in the streets. I lost my mother to the Fire Nation a few years back, and when I saw the scar on his face, I was reminded of that. I thought he might be caught in the same circumstances as I am, so I started talking to him. I kinda pulled him into that…date-ish thing, and that was that. I left him to go home on my own, so I didn’t see him go home.”

“Quaint. You’re lying to protect him, when you’re sure he won’t even come to save you.”

“So what?”

“You didn’t deny it. How foolish.”

“That’s just how I am.”

“So, is the prince living with other outcasts?”

“Maybe.”

“Tell me what you know, and I’ll make this painless,” Long Feng threatened, walking towards her.

“Fine. Yes, Zuko is living with other outcasts. People like that have to stick together.”

“Where is it that they are living?”

“I’m not going to answer that.”

Angered by her continued resistance, Long Feng hit Jin in the side of the face. Jin saw stars for a moment. Long Feng grabbed her chin in his hands.

“Tell me where they are living,” he hissed.

Jin made a face and tried pulling away. Hadn’t that creep ever heard of mouthwash? “All right,” Jin whispered, putting all of the defeat she could in those two words. “I’ll tell you.”

Long Feng let go and stepped away again. “Tell me.”

“There’s a nice area, just a little outside the gates of Ba Sing Sei. Wolf knew it would be too dangerous for them to live in the city, so they built a little hut outside the walls, and that’s where they live. Please, don’t hurt him. Don’t hurt Zuko.”

“The Fire Lord wanted the traitors alive. He never said that he wanted them unharmed,” Long Feng laughed. “Thank you for the information.”

“Let me go!”

“No. Incase you are lying, I will keep you here so that you can’t run and warn the Firebenders. Now, you be good and keep quiet.” Long Feng headed for the door.

“I will not be quiet.”

“Yes, you will be.” Long Feng flicked his hand at Jin. Rock gloves flew through the air and wrapped around Jin’s head to cover her mouth. Satisfied that she couldn’t make any real sounds, Long Feng left.

……………

Night was near at hand. Zuko had ignored this fact for the entirety of his search. Wolf’s map had led him into five dead ends, but he had no other lead. Spirits didn’t ask for directions and he needed to keep his guise up long enough to find Jin. Through the third level and most of the second, he had traveled using back roads where he could, and zipping through crowded streets mostly unnoticed.

The coming of night only encouraged his role as a spirit. He scaled the second wall easily, entering into the rich first layer of Ba Sing Sei. The houses were nice and orderly. Zuko scaled around, figuring that’s what Wolf’s sad excuse for directions meant. About half way around, the houses thinned out. Zuko spotted a darker looking structure over the top of a wall and knew he had found his destination. Zuko hopped the short wall and headed for the tower.

Just as he approached, several small rocks attacked him. He drew his double swords; confident enough is his own abilities to avoid revealing a part of his identity with flames. The rocks fell as pebbles around him. The rocks grew larger in size as he got closer to the doors. Zuko was forced to ignore some of them and duck or roll to avoid them.

Finally, he got to the door. Zuko rammed into it, but it didn’t move. The Blue Spirit turned to face the Dai Li guards. He waited patiently as they sent little rocks –which oddly enough looked like hands- and small boulders. These were easily deflected and destroyed. Figuring to get it over with quickly, the Dai Li sent a large boulder.

Zuko ducked under it and it crashed into the door, splintering it. The Blue Spirit turned to look at the damage, finding it more than acceptable. He glanced over his shoulder and waved a thanks before taking off into the labyrinth of the Dai Li hide out.

……………

“I’m bored,” Wolf whined.

“I know this,” Iroh replied. Wolf had insisted on saying that every five minutes.

“I hope Zuko’s all right. I hope he finds Jin.”

“Yes, I do too.”

“I’ll miss Jin’s cooking. Even those rice piles.”

Iroh nodded.

“Do you think Zuko’d come back here, once he finds her?”

Iroh didn’t answer.

“That’s not really a good idea, is it?”

“No, not really.”

“Maybe we should go find them?”

“I thought we decided it would be best to stay out of this. We have to leave here soon, any way.”

“Yeah, but…what if Zuko gets caught? He’ll be handed back to Ozai, powerless to stop anything. Ozai will kill him.”

“Yes, that is what would happen.”

“And you’re alright with that?”

“I would rather not have to go through loosing my nephew.”

Wolf smirked. “I see. You’re as ready for action as I am, but your reason’s driving it out.”

“If that is what you think.”

“Come on, Iroh! Let’s go. Please! For Zuko and Jin.”

“It would be best if we weren’t seen while we do this. It would not do to make Zuko angry.”

“Yes!” Wolf jumped up, in his excitement forgetting about his knee. With a small whimper, he sat back down. “Can you find my stick?”

Sighing, Iroh went to play fetch. He didn’t have far to go before finding the staff. Smiling and humming a tune, Wolf limped into a back room and came out a few minutes later with a pile of black cloth.

“I knew these would come in handy,” Wolf said proudly.

“What is this?”

“Ninja attire. All good ninja wear black. At least, that’s what Jin said.”

Wolf and Iroh got dressed in the black outfits. Soon, the pair were out, roaming the streets in search of Zuko.

……………

Jin had fallen asleep. It was extremely uncomfortable, but it was the most interesting thing that she could do at the time. She felt some one shaking her shoulder and woke up.

Before her was a strange sight. It was a blue spirit with a wide-open mouth and crooked fangs poking out at the corners. It was dressed like a human in dark clothes that she couldn’t really make out in the dark.

The spirit stood, motioning her up. With a mistrustful look, Jin stood. Gently, the spirit pushed her towards the wall and pulled her hands so that they were out in front of her body. There was a whoosh of wind. Jin saw quick flashes of blurred motion. With a clatter, the shackles around her wrists fell free.

Jin stepped forward and hugged the spirit. She needed to know that it was real and not just an illusion. Odd, she thought. This spirit smells just like Zuko.

“Time to go,” the spirit whispered in her ear.

Jin gasped and let go quickly. She could almost see a smirk. The Blue Spirit turned and led the way out of the room. Jin remembered the glass flower and looked. Somewhere along the way, the flower had broken. Disappointed, Jin followed the spirit.

He looked up and down the corridor before sneaking a little to the left.

“There it is! The intruder!” a voice echoed down the hall.

The Blue Spirit drew the swords and dashed towards the Dai Li agents. He dodged rock hands meant to restrain him while cutting down several opponents.

Jin grabbed a couple kunai from a pack around her ankle. She heard more people coming from the other side.

“Not good,” Jin muttered to herself. “Spirit, come close to me!”

The Spirit glanced back, lashed out a couple more times, and retreated to her side.

Jin had pulled out a second type of thing from the pouch, a small round ball. As the two were closed in upon from both sides, Jin threw it onto the ground. A vapor rose in the air, providing a smoke screen. The Spirit and the girl were able to slip through the Dai Li without too much hassle.

Soon, they were out of the tower and headed for freedom. The Blue Spirit leapt onto the wall ahead of Jin. Jin almost slipped off when she tried, but the Spirit caught her helped her up the rest of the way.

They were just landing on the other side of the wall when the cry was struck up on the other side. “They went over the walls!”

Soon, there was a flood of Dai Li coming over the walls and chasing after the escapee. Jin and the Spirit ran through the high-class district until they came to a large wall. The Blue Spirit touched it, confusion emanating from the gesture.

The first of the Dai Li arrived at that time. Jin and the Spirit readied to fight, hoping that they would be able to overcome such odds.

……………

“Come on, Wolf. You can make it,” Iroh prodded quietly. He stood on a low rise of a nicely built house.

“I’m trying! I just can’t jump well. Life is so much easier with two legs!” Wolf hissed back.

“Climb on top of that box. See it? Right there,” Iroh pointed.

“Box? What box?”

“It’s right under me. I can’t believe you can’t see it.”

“Oh, that box. It blended into the side of the house. What do you expect?” Wolf hobbled over to the box, put the staff on top of a box that was slightly taller than he was and pulled himself up. From there, he handed the stick off to Iroh and leapt for the roof. Wolf scrambled for traction, and would have fallen if he hadn’t been with Iroh.

As Iroh helped pull him up, Wolf muttered, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

“You wanted to do this.”

“You did too. Maybe this roof thing was kinda stupid, though. I mean, look at this view. There’s too many other houses in the way.”

“What’s that up there?” someone called from below.

Wolf and Iroh crouched. Wolf swore at the pain when his knee told him not to move that way. Iroh slunk over to the edge and peered over.

“It’s a Dai Li agent,” Iroh hissed.

“Great,” Wolf rolled his eyes.

There was a sound of approaching footsteps and more Dai Li agents appeared.

“There’s something up there. It looked like it could have been that Blue Spirit,” the agent explained to his comrades.

“Surround the house!” a higher ranked agent ordered.

“Not good,” Wolf grumbled.

“We could jump to the next roof,” Iroh suggested in a whisper as he crawled closer.

“No, you could. Not me.”

“We could wait until they find a way up, then knock them down.”

“Iroh, they’re Earthbenders! You can’t knock down an Earthbender!”

“Well, what do you suppose we should do?”

“Try this?” Wolf pulled out a dark colored ball.

“What does it do?”

“Dunno. I found it in Jin’s room.”

“Let’s try it, then, and pray it doesn’t kill us as well.”

Wolf stood as quickly as he could, using the stick as support. He hobbled over to the edge. The Dai Li agents called out, pointing at him. He threw the shadow ball over the side of the roof and ducked.

With a strange hiss, smoke filled the air. The agents were heard coughing down below. The others had run around the side to see what had happened.

Wolf and Iroh went to the other side and jumped down. Wolf staggered, but caught himself with the staff.

Wolf looked around, thinking. Which way would Zuko be likely to head? Off to one side, they heard some footsteps. Wolf threw another ball as more people came into sight. Instead of rupturing into smoke like the other one, this one exploded.

Wolf had thrown in just far enough that they didn’t get caught in the massive part of the blast. “What’s she trying to do, kill us?” Wolf shouted as he and Iroh started running in the opposite direction.

……………

The Blue Spirit and Jin were surrounded by agents of the Dai Li from the front, and a large unscaleable wall from behind. They had been able to wear out the first wave, but the second wave increased two fold. It seemed futile to resist, but the two were set on fighting it out to the end.

The Dai Li agents were about to leap forward for the attack when a large explosion shook the earth. The agents in the back were consumed by a small fire. The rest were thrown forward. The Blue Spirit and Jin were pushed against the wall. The spirit reacted instinctively and grabbed Jin, taking the brunt of the impact. Thick smoke surrounded the area.

Both sides struggled up. Some of the Dai Li were down for the count. The rest were lost in smoggy confusion. The Blue Spirit gently pushed Jin away. He rubbed at his shoulder, trying to relieve the dull pain.

Two figures emerged from the deep smoke. The Blue Spirit raised his swords defensively, ready to fight once again. Jin was still a little dazed and couldn’t react fast enough.

With a couple more strides, the figures became discernable.

“Jin, let’s go!” Wolf shouted.

“Go? Where? The wall grew or something.”

Wolf and Iroh stopped in front of the young pair. The Blue Spirit had lowered his weapons. Iroh squinted at the spirit, trying to get a good look. “Zuko?”

Sighing, the spirit released the straps that held the mask onto his face. “I can’t believe you don’t remember this, Uncle,” Zuko commented, waving the mask.

“No time for that. We need to go!” Wolf urged.

The group took off down the length of the wall, hoping that it would go back down to its normal size somewhere along the length. Instead, a short way down, there was a tall crack. Zuko slipped through easily, followed by Jin. Wolf grumbled a little about it as he inched through. Iroh got stuck.

“Come on, Iroh, suck in your gut,” Wolf prodded.

“I am. I have too much gut to suck in.”

“Back out and try a different angle.”

Iroh tried, but found himself stuck on both sides.

“Great. We’re going to get caught.”

“Go on without me,” Iroh ordered, gesturing off in the direction they would be going.

The unanimous group decision was “No!”

“We’ll need an Earthbender to get me out now. We do not have the luxury of being caught.”

Wolf leaned against the wall, pensive. “Maybe that’s exactly what we want.”

Before Iroh could reply, voices could be heard on the other side. “What is that?”

“It looks like…fabric? I think it’s stuck in the wall.”

“Actually, it looks like half of a person.”

“It might be a reanimated corpse. Don’t touch it!”

“Man, you’re crazy. Let’s just see who it is. It might be one of those outlaws the Leader was talking about.”

Wolf and company heard a couple loud stomps and the wall Iroh was stuck in opened up. Wolf pulled Iroh out of the developed arch, and the four started running.

“Stop those people!”

They ran all through the second level, weaving through the streets and back ways. Eventually, they lost track of their pursuers and were able to focus on getting back. Wolf admitted to never seeing the upper rings, and that he was completely lost. Jin’s only knowledge of the second level was the restaurant, which seemed to be a long way away. So, they figured they could find their way best by finding the bottom level. It seemed to take a long time for them to do so, but they eventually made it without encountering anybody. The night was late, probably closer to daybreak than midnight when the group finally entered Wolf’s little apartment.

Wolf stumbled over the bags he had left by the door when they had left. “We need a light.”

Iroh called up a small flame and kept in encased in his hand. Wolf leaned against the wall as the other three gathered stuff for their last minute preparations. His knee was killing him.

“You know, they’ll probably burn this place down, once they find out this is where we were staying,” Wolf murmured.

“Probably,” Iroh agreed, setting a small bag inside a larger one.

“They’re going to kill it,” Wolf whined.

Iroh looked up with a look that was asking what they were going to kill and if Wolf were sane at the same time.

“They’re going to kill the futon thinggy. Where am I going to find another one like it?”

“You’ll just have to suffer without it.”

“Aw. Someone’s coming. It’s…”

The door creaked open. “Is that you, Wolf?”

“Yeah, I’m here, Auntie.”

The old lady shuffled into the room. “I was so worried. I saw three of you rush out of here so quickly, and you came home so late.”

“We’re fine. We have to go though.”

“I see. I can stay here for you, so the Dai Li don’t burn your house, or your futon.”

“It’s all right, Auntie. If it happens, it happens. I don’t think they will, if they can’t find a trace that we’ve been here.”

“You are such a nice young man.”

Wolf laughed quietly to himself.

“You don’t want to trouble an old woman with your problems. It wouldn’t be hard for me to live here for a while.”

“Stay with your cats, Auntie. This lone wolf and pack have to go. The territory falls to the rats and cockroaches. Don’t come back here.”

“If the Dai Li ask, I don’t know who you are.”

“You don’t really know who we are. The three of us, and Jin now, are wanted by the Fire Lord.”

“That’s nice. I didn’t hear that. No, don’t repeat yourself. It’s safer that way. I just wanted to send you off properly. Take care of yourself, Wolf.”

The old woman wrapped her arms around Wolf, patting his shoulder. Wolf returned the gesture.

“Now, where’s that cute friend of yours?”

Wolf tensed. “I think someone’s coming. They’re a little way away, but we have to go now. Good bye, Auntie.”

“Good bye, my lone wolf.”

The old woman shuffled out the door.

Iroh crept up to Wolf. “The save was much appreciated.”

“I wasn’t lying. I think the Dai Li might be on to us. We have to make it out of the city before they close off the gates completely. Zuko! Jin! Let’s go!”

Wolf and Iroh started picking up the bags. Zuko and Jin came and gathered the rest. They were so laden down, it was hard to get out the door. Wolf glanced back, a foreboding feeling that that was going to be the last time he saw the place. With a sigh, he turned and walked away.

……………

……………

Chapter 12 – END

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