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It was chaotic – the distorted, swirling blackness that engulfed the five heroes. Even though they had already done this five times before, they were still not used to it. The next thing any of them knew, the temperature had dramatically increased. Yun opened his eyes. As everything came back into focus, he saw a Mountain-Coyote looming above him. The earthbender was instantly shocked. He started to reach for his sword, but stopped, worried he would startle the beast. Suddenly, he heard laughter from a short distance away. He looked over to his right to see Kaddo and Ursa standing about two yards away from him. The latter created a fire whip and cracked it in the opposite direction of the creature. “Come on, boy! Come this-a-way!” The beast let out a soft growl and complied. It wandered away from the group and walked off into the distance.
Yun got on his feet and glared at his two companions. “You guys were just standing there?!” he asked, annoyed at them.
Kaddo burst into laughter. “You should have seen the look on your face!” Kaddo laughed.
“Very funny, Kaddo,” Yun said, not amused by Kaddo’s practical joke.
“Aw, come on, lighten up!” said Kaddo.
Yun searched around for his other two teammates. “Hey, where are the others?” he asked. He then heard a soft moan from beneath him and looked down to see Ling. “Hey, Ling, wake up,” Yun urged his friend. He shook the tranquil earthbender until finally his eyes opened.
Ling looked up at Yun and then suddenly became more alert. “I’m up, I’m up!” he shouted. He then got to his feet and looked around. “So, the next Vortex is in the Si Wong Desert. That’s... nice.” He said, trying to sound upbeat.
Then, another of the group sat up. "Good to see we all made it in one piece," Ursa said.
“If we knew where Yuhan was we could get going,” said Kaddo. “Where is he anyway?”
“Typical Dai Li agent; leaving without telling anyone else,” said Yun.
“Hey, I thought you guys were friends now?” said Ursa, confused.
“Sorry, force of habit,” said Yun. “I guess I’m still getting used to this whole ‘being nice to a member of the Dai Li’ idea.”
Then, a grin came back to Kaddo’s face. “Oh, Ling, you should have seen the look on Yun’s face a minute ago! He was all-”
Suddenly, a voice from behind the waterbender interrupted him. “We’re stranded in the middle of a desert while the fate of multiple worlds is at stake, and you’re focused on a practical joke?”
Kaddo zipped around and put up his arms in defense, only to find the shadowy figure of Yuhan standing before him. “Oh, Yuhan, don’t do that, buddy. You scared me.”
“Sorry,” Yuhan said, although the monotonous sound of his voice wouldn’t have implied whether he really was or not. “I was searching the perimeter of this area in hopes of finding something or someone that could help us,” the Dai Li agent explained.
“And?” asked Ursa.
“Nothing. Just miles and miles of open sand,” Yuhan replied.
Everyone else in the group presented their disappointed feelings through silence.
“Well, I guess we’d better get moving,” said Yun.
“Good idea,” Ursa agreed.
"Alright, let's move," said Yuhan. "Who knows how long we'll last out here."
Shirou continued to trek through this strange land he had entered some time ago. As the rain poured down, he silently wished he could bend the water around him. This was the first time since he had started walking again that something other than the Avatar’s demise had occupied his mind. Could killing the Avatar in this universe really get rid of them all? No, that was too absurd. Still, killing this world’s Avatar would be enough to satisfy him until he returned to his own universe. Suddenly, another of those black vortexes opened in the sky. Shirou was alarmed at the sight of the vortex and then saw a black and white figure emerge from the portal. The being had long hair, which was both black and blue in color She also had a black dress, gray skin, and a menacing glare. “You – you are one of the six beings transported through my vortexes to my world?”
“Yes,” Shirou replied.
“I am Eris,” the being said.
“What do you want?” asked Shirou.
“I have an offer for you,” Eris began.
The five friends continued to march through the desert, some more weary than others. As Ursa walked along, she felt someone grab her arm gently. She looked over to her right to see Ling’s hand attached to her own. “Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?" Ling asked.
"Sure," said Ursa.
"I've noticed how you've been acting around Yun. I saw how you were staring at him in his sleep," Ling said.
Those words made Ursa nervous instantly. "How do you know about that?!" she asked.
"I was awake when you came in the room. I decided not to get up and talk to you once Yuhan did that for me," Ling replied.
Realizing she had just been busted, Ursa chose to remain silent, hoping Ling would drop the subject.
"You like him, don't you?" asked Ling.
Ursa’s face instantly turned bright red. “No, no, it’s nothing like that, I just-”
“Come on, Ursa, there’s no sense in trying to deny it. I can tell you like him,” said Ling, slyly.
Ursa sighed before replying. “Okay, okay, I like him. So, what should I do?” Ursa asked.
“Well, as you know, he already has a girlfriend, Ty-” Ling stopped midsentence.
“What’s wrong, Ling?” Ursa asked.
“Wait, does anyone know which universe this is?!” Ling asked.
“Why the sudden interest?” asked Kaddo.
“I need to know now!” Ling shot back.
Everyone, even Yuhan was taken aback. They had never seen Ling this upset.
“Well, let’s see, we’ve already been to mine, Yuhan’s, and Kaddo’s, so we're either in your's Ursa's, or some other universe that none of us are from," said Yun.
Suddenly, Yuhan noticed something. “Hey, what’s that giant hole in the ground over there?” he questioned.
“And who are those people?” asked Ursa, spotting the group of people standing around it.
“Oh, no, my suspicions are confirmed,” Ling said. “This is my world.”
“So, what’s the big deal?” asked Kaddo.
“At this point in time, someone I care very deeply about is killed. We have to hurry to save her,” Ling explained.
“We don’t have time to change the past,” said Yuhan. “We need to hurry and find the vortex.”
“But we’re so close,” Ling insisted. “Please!”
“Just who is this person anyway?” asked Yun.
Ling knew it would cause his friend great pain to say these next two words, but he had to. “Ty Lee.”
Yun’s eyes widened immediately. The earthbender lost his balance for a moment and stumbled backwards.
“Yun, are you okay?” asked Ursa, scrambling to help him up.
“Yeah, I’m f-fine,” Yun responded. After a few more moments of silence, Yun spoke once again. “I agree with Ling. We have to save her.”
"Okay, now I have to put my foot down!" said Kaddo. "I seem to remember you giving me a very important speech, not too long ago, about not being in this for ourselves and how some things are better not being changed! Now you're going to turn around and do the exact same thing?!"
“I concur with Kaddo, Yun, don’t let this girl cloud your judgment. If we don’t keep moving, we’ll die out here from either thirst or something else. We must move on,” Yuhan urged.
“You don't understand!" Yun yelled. "I lost her once and I wasn't sure if I would ever get her back, but when I finally did, all I could think about was how I would never let it happen again; how the thought of losing her again was not an option."
“I get it, Yun, but you must understand that this Ty Lee isn’t even of your world,” Yuhan replied.
“I don’t care,” said Yun. “I still have to save her.”
“Yeah, and besides, she is of my world, and I care about her, too,” Ling chimed in.
"Do any of you even care about the hypocrisy of this?!" Kaddo asked, bewildered.
Ursa stood debating with herself on whether she would support Yun or not. She wanted to help him so badly, but she knew deep down that Kaddo's words were true. Finally, she made her decision. "Maybe we can help Yun," she said.
"What?" Kaddo asked, starting to feel betrayed.
"We're going to have to cross through the desert anyway. It's not like this is getting in the way of us finding the vortex," Ursa explained.
"Yes, that is an excellent point," Ling said.
“What about you guys?” asked Yun.
"No way!" said Kaddo.
Yuhan pondered the situation for a moment. "Alright, but we need to hurry," he said.
"It looks like it's unanimous," said Yun.
Kaddo scowled at his teammates. "Unbelievable," he muttered.
"So which way do we go?" asked Ursa.
“Don’t worry, I know where they’re headed,” Ling said, pointing to the group of friends that just left the giant sinkhole where Wan Shi Tong’s library once stood.
It was night in the Si Wong Desert, and the five warriors trekked across the sand, desperate to save Ty Lee.
“Hey, why are we following you?” asked Kaddo.
“Because I know how to find the guys that are going to kill her,” Ling replied.
“Let’s hope so,” said Ursa.
"So, who exactly is trying to kill her?" asked Yuhan. "It would be nice to know what exactly we're up against."
"They're a group called the Zhiming Assassins," Ling explained. "There used to be a lot of them, as in a whole army, but after we defeated them on Kyoshi Island there are only six left. There's Yanshu, he's an archer; a really good one. Then there's Shuang, a waterbender from the Northern Tribe. He's a mentally unstable, cold-blooded killer with a traumatic past starting from his childhood. There's also Shun, an airbender."
"An airbender?!" Ursa exclaimed. "Are the airbenders still alive in your world?"
"No, they're dead just the same, but Shun's grandmother survived the genocide and had a child and later became a grandmother," Ling explained. "There's also Kang Dae, a firebender and Rong's brother."
"Who's Rong?" asked Yun.
"My girlfriend," said Ling. "Anyway, Kang Dae is a bit of a hot-head and pretty arrogant, too. Then there's Hong Wu, a sneaky, conniving, sadistic knife-thrower who happens to be my friend, Suki's, archenemy. Finally, there's Tai Kun, the leader. He's a very powerful and merciless earthbender who's ambition is to take over the Earth Kingdom in the name of his great-grandfather, Chin the Conqueror."
"Well, those sound like some interesting characters," said Yuhan, dryly.
The team continued walking until they came up to a rather large sand dune. “Well, this is great,” Yun remarked.
“Quit complaining and start climbing,” said Yuhan. The group of friends had a little bit of difficulty climbing the rather steep sand dune, and Yun even fell over a few times. At this point, everyone wished they could sandbend. After a while of struggling, everyone got to the top.
“Alright, we made it,” Ursa said, thankfully. However, the five friends quickly noticed five people standing before them, each of them very menacing in appearance.
“Well, Ling, who is this?” asked one of them, a man with brown hair, a thin mustache, and a strong build. “Have you brought more friends out here for us to pick off?”
“And where are your other friends?” asked another man, one with a ponytail and a purple kimono, and wielding a knife.
“They’re asleep back at the camp, Tai Kun, but you won’t be getting to them,” said Ling.
At that moment, Yun drew his sword. “No, we won’t let you hurt Ty Lee.”
“Forget about her!” yelled the man with the ponytail. “As long as I get Suki, I’m satisfied!”
“Silence, Hong Wu!” yelled the brown-haired man. “Unless your name is Tai Kun, you don’t give the orders around here!” He then turned to his opponents. “Now, about your friends, Ling...”
The heroes prepared to attack and instinctively got in their stances.
The first blow was dealt by Kang Dae. He hurled a blazing bolt of fire in Ursa’s direction. The Fire Nation princess dodged the attack and fought back with a fire whip. Then, it turned into an all-out Agni Kai. The two warriors shot various arcs of fire at one another, trying to dodge each other’s attacks. Ursa got in closer and hurled a fireball at the man who leapt over it and landed right in front of Ursa, grabbing her by her wrists. “You know, you remind me of my sister,” he stated. “I hate my sister. And now, you get to see what I’d do to her if she were here right now. He opened his mouth, preparing to breathe fire on her, but Ursa kicked the man in his groin and made him stumble backwards, too pained for words.
Meanwhile, Yuhan was fighting off both Shun and Yanshu. "So what are you supposed to be? A Dai Li agent?" Yanshu asked.
"Indeed I am," Yuhan replied.
"You're a little far away from home, arent you?" asked Shun.
"I could say the same about you," Yuhan replied.
Shun dealt the first blow. She shot a gust of wind at the Dai Li agent, who slid through the sand to dodge it. Yuhan elevated the sand out of the ground towards his two opponents, but Shun created a bubble of air around them, protecting themselves from the sand.
"I wouldn't think that they taught sandbending at the Dai Li academy!" Yanshu said.
"Just because it isn't rock, does not mean I cannot bend it; even if it's with the lowest degree of sandbending knowledge," Yuhan replied.
Yanshu loaded three arrows onto his bow and fired them all at once towards Yuhan. The earthbender slid out of the way once again.
In the midst of all of this, Kaddo was dueling with a man with spiky, silver hair who looked horribly insane. “Your head is going to look great mounted on the palace walls once we get to Ba Sing Se,” he said, menacingly.
“Wow, that’s a little dark, don’t you think?” asked Kaddo.
“Shut up, you little brat!” the man yelled. “If it wasn’t for little punk kids like you then maybe I wouldn’t be so dark!” Then, with an enraged yell, he bent some water from his pouch and turned them into ice spikes. He hurled the spikes at Kaddo, who used his pouch’s water to raise a small ice wall. Kaddo’s opponent used the last amount of water he had to encase his fingers in ice shards. He then ran at Kaddo, who lowered his wall and prepared to fight.
During all of this, Ling was fixated on Hong Wu. As the knife-thrower swung his blade around, he knew Ling couldn’t dodge him forever. “Why don’t you just give up, boy?” he asked. “Make it easier for yourself! You can’t kill me!”
Ling stopped and looked at Hong Wu in the eyes. “I should kill you. I want to so badly, but I can’t. It goes against everything that I stand for. And besides, that’s not my job. That’s Suki’s job, so if you don’t mind, I’ll just leave you here unconscious until morning!” Ling thrust his arms forward, in an attempt to sandbend, but all he could manage was a pitiful sand cloud to rise up and disappear.
In the meantime, Yun was battling Tai Kun. The young warrior brought his sword near Tai Kun’s neck, but the Zhiming leader avoided the blow and struck his enemy in the stomach. Yun felt a twinge of pain, but did not lose focus. He swung his sword again, only this time to strike a wall of sand that had risen out of the ground. Once the sand wall lowered, Tai Kun let out a fearsome shout. He raised three small, rotating columns of sand out of the ground and thrust them at Ling, who was blown back by the attack. The hero quickly got back up and slid his foot on the ground, causing a wave of sand to crash into Tai Kun. "Enough!" Tai Kun yelled. "I will see to it that your failure is responsible for the death of all of your friends!"
“But can’t we just kill them all now?” asked the firebending man.
"Silence, Kang Dae!" Tai Kun ordered.
“Yes, my lord,” Kang Dae complied.
"No! I can't allow that!" said Yun.
"Neither can I!" said Ling.
Tai Kun generated a cloud of sand that blinded the heroes. None of them could see; the enormous cloud had completely blocked their vision.
"Yuhan, on the count of three, we have to get rid of this cloud!" Yun shouted. "One, two, three!" The two earthbenders used their combined strength to get rid of the cloud. Once everyone regained their vision, the Zhimings were nowhere in sight.
"We can still save her if we hurry!" Yun said.
"Yun, forget it. They're gone," said Yuhan.
"No! I refuse to accept that!" Yun said.
Realizing that comforting his friend was the best option, Kaddo spoke up. “It’s alright, buddy. At least you still have the Ty Lee back in your own universe.”
“Yeah, that’s a luxury some of us don’t have,” Ling added; a small trace of annoyance in his voice.
Yun realized that they were right. He still had his own girlfriend, but Ling had just lost a friend for the second time. “I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s alright,” Ling replied. "I guess what you said is true. Some things are better left unchanged."
Not one person in the group believed that Ling fully meant what he said.
"Well, I guess all that's left to do now is find that vortex," Ursa stated.
“How do we even know where it is?” asked Kaddo.
“Well, these things always seem to be in the place that’s the hardest to reach,” Yun said, considering their options. “My best guess is in the middle of the desert.”
“And what if you’re wrong?” asked Yuhan. “If we go to the center of the desert, then that’s it. We won’t have the strength, the food, or the energy to get out of the desert.”
“It’s a risk we have to take,” Yun argued.
“I agree. We have to try,” said Ursa.
Everyone looked over at Kaddo and Ling, waiting for their opinions. The two heroes nodded. “Alright, it’s unanimous,” said Yun.
“Very well,” Yuhan agreed. “But let’s hope for all of our sakes that you’re right, Yun.”
After six long hours of walking, the young heroes had finally made it to the heart of the Si Wong Desert. They could see the black, swirling vortex from several yards away. “See? What did I tell you, Yuhan?” Yun joked. “Alright, let’s move.” He and Yuhan ran up to the vortex and were immediately sucked in. Kaddo went in soon after. Ling was about to go in, but Ursa grabbed him by the arm.
“Wait, Ling, you never told me what I should do about my Yun situation,” she said. The two were lifted off of the ground, and the next words were barely audible.
“Just follow your heart,” Ling replied. “Whatever happens was meant to be.”
Ursa smiled at her friend. “Thanks, Ling.”
“Don’t mention it,” Ling replied.
The two were then sucked into the vortex into whatever universe awaited them.