Authors: black_goose and umberela
Pairing: Baekhyun/Chanyeol, Sehun/Luhan, Tao/Kris, Kai/D.O
Word count: 4,064
Summary: "The Oracle has seen the twelve united. War is coming to the Nations. We must prepare for battle."
A/N: so chapters 2 and 3 were originally one chapter that ended up at 8600 words so we split it. hence why there is an update already. LONG WINDED AUTHORS SHOULD NOT WRITE TOGETHER. ALSO, a few people have been mentioning this so we thought we'd better make the point that this actually isn't an Avatar!AU. the only things that we have "borrowed" from Avatar is the idea of the four nations, and the whole war with the fire nation. and I suppose the unreceptive earth nation. but this is not set in the Avatar world, and there is no such thing as the Avatar in this fic. there just happens to be a couple of shared details :)
today Ela and I planned an ost for this fic. involving disney songs. only disney songs. best ost ever.
The shadow walker had been underneath the capitol city for almost half a day now, and thus far no one had been willing to go down and find out why he had returned. The Elders in the council had spluttered about the breaking of the exile, until it was pointed out that Kai had never actually been exiled, and had instead chosen to leave after the Marking Ceremony. Only a few had heard of the Oracle’s vision of his return, and those who had heard it had immediately vowed to force the shadow walker from the city. Then Kai had turned up with a dragon, and all those people were strangely silent on the matter.
In the end, it was Sehun who volunteered to go talk to him.
“Just see why he’s here,” one of the Elders said as Sehun mounted one of the large birds which the Air Nation used to travel from their city. “War is nipping at our heels, we don’t have time for that abomination.”
Sehun nodded, only half paying attention. He would find out why Kai was here, but he had other reasons for wanting to see Kai one on one. With a small jerk on the reins, he was in flight, soaring easily off the side of the floating city and disappearing into the layer of clouds that had gathered below.
Flying through clouds was awful; they looked pretty and soft, but were actually cold and damp, and by the time they broke through them Sehun was chilled and wet. With his abilities, he could have parted them, but these stupid birds were always so skittish and he didn’t want to risk being thrown from the saddle. It was a long way down. He steered said stupid bird into wide circles, looking for this dragon. For a beast so large, it was dreadfully hard to spot. In the end, it was Kai that he noticed, standing beside a large rock formation, face upturned. Sehun brought the bird in to land, coming to a rest on the rocks. Kai squinted at him. “Uhh,” he said.
The rocks moved, a low growling sound coming from somewhere behind Sehun’s head. His bird gave an ear piercing screech and jerked upwards, toppling Sehun from his saddle as it frantically flew up and away, still screaming in terror. The rocks continued to shift, slowly, and Sehun dimly realized they were very warm under his palms. He also realized they weren’t actually rocks, judging by the smoothness of them.
The thing he was sitting on gave a small shake so that he ended up sliding down the side onto the ground below, which was luckily covered in spongy grass. He lay on his back, staring up at the sky. “Did I just land on your dragon?” he asked, slightly shaky.
Kai’s face suddenly filled his vision. “Yeah,” he said. “I stopped her from eating you, though, so it’s okay.”
“Oh, yeah, that’s, okay. Yeah.” So much for starting off with the upper hand in this conversation. Kai offered his hand, and Sehun took it without thinking, letting Kai pull him to his feet. Old habits. “I wasn’t expecting it to be so, so dark and not shiny,” he tried to explain. He looked back at it, trying to decide what part he was staring at it. Everything behind him was just a mass of matte black scales. It was too large for him to get a handle on; his brain couldn’t compute that something so enormous could really be alive.
“Yeah, they’re like that,” Kai said simply.
A beat of silence passed, and then another, and Sehun realized this wasn’t going to be easy. Eventually Kai asked, “Did Luhan See me coming?”
Sehun nodded. “The Oracle saw it a couple of days ago. He said that you would be bringing a friend. No one realised it would be...well, a dragon.”
Kai had raised an eyebrow while he spoke, but brought his expression back to mild interest. “To be honest, I never thought I would be coming back here with a dragon, so it was a surprise to all of us.”
Sehun sighed, unable to put off asking it any longer. “Kai, why did you come back?”
Sehun didn’t know what he was expecting. Some kind of reaction, he supposed. The Kai Sehun had known would have been hurt by that, at the implication that they didn’t want him to come back. Which they didn’t. But Kai just continued to stare at him with only mild interest, clearly pondering the question. He’s changed, Sehun thought. But how much, and in what ways?
“I guess I realised that something big was going to happen,” Kai answered. Sehun gave a slight shudder, because Kai had never had prophetic powers, not like the Oracle, but sometimes they wondered. So little was known about shadow walkers. “Also, I really missed the honey cakes, they’re surprisingly hard to find down south.” Sehun blinked. “If you could bring me some, that’d be awesome.”
“Get them yourself,” Sehun huffed. He turned his face to the sky, trying to work out if his bird was still within calling distance.
“It won’t come back,” Kai said, amusement evident in his voice. “You’ll have to go catch a ride on one of the ships up to the city.”
“Augh,” Sehun said with feeling, and Kai actually cracked a smile. It wasn’t the same smile he had when they were younger, but it was still decidedly Kai. It was nice to see, even if he wished that he didn’t care so hard that, even after all these years, and even after all that had happened to drive Kai from the Air Nation, he could still somehow smile at Sehun.
The dragon shifted, made some noise like the rumbling of rocks. Kai turned to his right, looking towards where the canal snaked in from the sea. “The Water Nation is here,” he said, and the hairs on the back of Sehun’s neck rose.
“How do you know?” he asked. Kai didn’t answer, instead just smiled slightly. Sure enough, there was the faint sound of a trumpet the next second, the kind of foghorn noise that was distinctive of a Water Nation ship. Sehun stared at Kai, unnerved.
Sehun gave a stilted nod towards him. “I will tell the Elders why you have returned,” he said formally.
He was a few steps away when Kai called his name. “How is Luhan?” he asked, voice quiet.
“The Oracle is none of your concern,” Sehun said, as cold as he could make his voice. Then he left. The dragon raised its head to watch him walk away, and he could have sworn he heard Kai murmuring to it.
No matter what the Elders said, or anyone else for that matter, Sehun was glad Kai hadn’t been completely estranged. Not so much out of lingering feelings of friendship, though some were there, no matter how hard he tried to squash them, but because Kai was clearly strong now, mentally and in his powers. And different. There was a strangeness about him now, an undercurrent of wildness that was more than slightly chilling.
Sehun hoped the elders would listen to him when he relayed this. There was no guarantee that the Oracle could continue to be a foil to Kai’s darkness. They couldn’t afford to keep Kai on the outskirts of their society, keep alienating him, because if they continued, Kai might turn on them and pledge his loyalty to another nation. He wasn’t of the Air Nation anymore; they had disowned him years ago, and he had been a loner ever since. He was dangerous enough, all on his own, but with the power of a country at his back, high level Shifters by his side, he had the potential to be an unchecked hurricane. And Sehun knew that only one nation would be willing to take a rogue shadow walker under its wing.
The Fire Nation would embrace him with open arms, and that they could not afford.
Suho shielded his eyes against the sun and looked up to the floating city of the Air Nation. Around him, his men were stretching after their long journey on the ship in somewhat cramped quarters. They were each grabbing their own packs, slinging them over their shoulders to take onto the gondolas that would take them upwards. Several trips would have to be made to get all that they’d brought, but for Suho, he still had just his one pack.
He felt a presence next to him, and turned to see Xiumin staring in awe at the city. “Big, isn’t it?” Suho asked, amusement tugging at his lips. It wasn’t his first time seeing it, but the majority of his men had never been to the Air Nation. It would be an experience for them all.
Footsteps diverted his attention, as one of his soldiers walked up to him, a man dressed in the white army uniform of the Air Nation by his side. He had the Air Shifter insignia pinned to his chest. Suho always thought it looked almost like a rose, but he knew it was supposed to be a whirlwind. The man held out a hand. “They told me you were the Head Water Shifter,” he said, a polite smile on his face. “I’m Sehun. I was sent to welcome you.”
Sehun guided him and his party to the gondolas, explaining how they looked small and shaky but were safe. Suho didn’t bother pointing out that he had been there before, he knew it wouldn’t make a difference. The Air Nation was stuck on tradition and custom and etiquette. Even if they’d all been to the Air Nation before, Sehun would insist on explaining it to them all. Besides, Xiumin was eagerly absorbing everything Sehun said.
They put him on the first gondola up, along with a few of his men and a couple of the higher generals. The journey up was spent with his men asking Sehun questions about the Air Nation, and where they would be staying. Sehun didn’t really seem to know most of the details, being very vague with his answers. Suho thought he seemed distracted. It didn’t seem to bother any of the men, who fell into discussions amongst themselves. The generals were quietly talking, leaving Suho out of whatever important war business they were talking about. Suho peered over the edge of the gondola, watching as the ground became further and further away.
Sehun had parted the clouds for them with a small burst of air, which Suho was grateful for. Water Shifter or not, he didn’t like being wet. Once they got through the clouds, Suho turned his attention back to his generals, since all that there was to look at was a large expanse of fluffy cloud tops, but then one of his men cried out, pointing over the edge of the gondola.
Suho heard a noise then, a noise unlike any he had ever heard in his life. It was a deep, echoing scream, like rending metal. It jarred him to his marrow, his instincts screaming out a fight or flight response. One of the men jumped, and would have fallen over the edge of the gondola if someone else hadn’t grabbed his arm and helped him regain his balance. The next moment, something giant, black, and terrifying shot past the gondola, the airwaves from its momentum rocking the ship.
Suho’s face shot up, hair swirling around. It was a dragon. An actual dragon. Suho had always been told that the dragons no longer existed. And now one was here, flying towards the floating city, very much solid. It was still making that awful noise, and Suho was trying not to let his teeth chatter.
“Oh!” said the male healer who Suho hadn’t particularly wanted to bring along. “I never knew dragons still existed!” He sounded, Suho was a little disturbed to notice, interested rather than scared.
Xiumin was wide-eyed, staring upwards. He had fallen off his bench in fright, and was sitting on the floor, apparently too in shock to move and right himself. Suho reached down, gripped his arm, and yanked him back into the bench. “Are you okay?” he asked. Xiumin nodded, lips pressed together until they were white.
“What was that?” one of his generals asked Sehun, face pale.
Sehun was also fairly pale faced, but Suho rather thought it was from anger, not fear. “That was the shadow walker. And his... dragon.” That was clearly a very hard sentence for him to say.
“The shadow walker?” Suho asked, raising an eyebrow. He’d heard about the shadow walker; who hadn’t? He and the Oracle were well known to all Shifters, two mutants that had manifested at the same time in the same nation. It had been a bit of an embarrassment, to be honest. The Air Nation had gotten over it quickly enough since Oracles were coveted, and boy, did they flaunt theirs. They hardly mentioned the shadow walker in comparison. There was too much bad lore. Suho knew they were well and truly disgraced by him, which is why they drove him out and liked to pretend he didn’t exist.
Judging by the way Sehun was gnawing on his own bottom lip in barely restrained fury, their feelings toward him hadn’t changed much over the years. Suho knew the legends, but if the shadow walker was as powerful as the lore suggested, and he had a dragon to boot, he could very well be a boon in this war.
When the gondola landed in the air harbor, the dragon was perched on the edge of the floating land, the men who ran the harbor running around trying to work out what to do with it, tiny against its enormous sides. Sitting atop the dragon, between the wing joints, was a boy who could only be the shadow walker. He was dressed in clothes as black as his dragon, and his skin was heavily tanned, leading Suho to believe that he had been living in the South all these years.
“Excuse me,” Sehun said, and he left the Water Nation men to storm over to the dragon, waving an arm in the air to catch the shadow walker’s attention. The wind was whipping his words away from Suho’s ears, but he seemed to be yelling.
Suho dimly realized they had no one to show them inside, and his men were gathering around him, looking confused and clearly thinking that he had some idea as to what to do next.
He was saved from potentially getting them lost in the Capitol’s spacious halls by an attendant dressed in a white tunic coming up to them, bowing deeply, and murmuring at them to follow him. He was so subservient that Suho was immediately and thoroughly put off. They followed him down to the large, ornate doors of the main building, packs in hand. Suho could only note that the Air Nation still had an almost disturbing fetish for the color white. Its buildings and the paved paths were all made out of white stone, they all dressed in white fabric, and the plants they put in all had only white flowers. It was odd. Suho was used to blankets of white, he lived on a glacier, but it gave him a surreal feeling of familiarity while nothing he could see was anything like it was at home.
There was a man in elaborate white robes waiting for them in the entrance hall. Suho recognized him as the Head Air Shifter. He had only met him once before, when the Shifter was much younger, but he was still recognizable. He had a very distinctive face.
He bowed deeply when Suho neared, and Suho returned the courtesy. “Tao, yes?” Suho asked.
Tao inclined his head. “We are glad you could come, representatives of the Water Nation.” He had a surprisingly soft voice for one with such a fierce face.
Suho was at a loss for what to say to that, this formality feeling like a wall. He couldn’t exactly say he was glad to be there under these circumstances. This was what he hated about the Air Nation; there were so many layers of formality and tradition that he never knew quite how he was supposed to react, and he always managed to mess up whenever he was here. In the end, he just inclined his head, figuring that it would be hard to take offence at silence.
Tao did seem to take that as a perfectly acceptable response, and Suho gave a small sigh of relief. “I understand that you may wish to settle into your new quarters, but our Elders have requested a meeting with you immediately.” It looked like it did truly pain him to have to ask, and Suho nodded his agreement mostly out of sympathy for Tao being put in this awkward situation. He didn’t mind the breach of courtesy. This was war, after all. “The attendant will take your bag, and show your men to their rooms.” Xiumin shot Suho a mildly panicked look at the idea of being separated. Suho felt a headache coming on.
“Go on,” Suho said, as the men filed out after one of the attendants. Xiumin nodded, biting his lip, and followed after the rest of his troop. Suho turned to Tao, who was frowning a little.
“We shall have to wait for the rest of your generals,” Tao announced. “Then I shall take you to our Elders.”
There was silence after that, as Suho struggled to say something that didn’t involve the weather. Tao was clearly shut off and seemed uninterested, barely even looking at Suho at all. Maybe this was just the way things worked here, but Suho felt extraordinarily awkward. He thought about bringing up the dragon, but if even Sehun was angry over it, he didn’t bear to think about how Tao would react. The thought of the shadow walker, however, did bring up something else that he had been meaning to ask.
“When will I be seeing the Oracle?” he asked, turning to Tao.
The way Tao turned to him, almost as if in slow motion, face frozen, told Suho ahead of time that he had said something very wrong. “The Oracle does not see anyone but his attendants and the highest of the Elders, usually.”
“But he’s the one who Saw the war,” Suho said, just managing to stop himself from adding “supposedly”. That probably wouldn’t go down too well. “I won’t be seeing him at all?”
Tao thought about it. “Perhaps,” he said stiffly, “after we win, he will attend the victory ceremony. Briefly.”
Suho was too surprised by that to really react. He’d expected the Oracle to be involved in the war effort, maybe not as a fighter, but as a voice in the council. It made no sense to keep someone as important as the Oracle out of the negotiations; he was the one who Saw the possibilities of the future battles. It was the Oracle who had seen the coming of the twelve, and now he wasn’t even being involved?
Tao was back to staring at the wall. Suho decided he preferred awkward silence to making another faux pas. It didn’t take long for the rest of his generals to arrive anyway. Tao bowed to them, and repeated his message and apology about convening a meeting immediately after their arrival. Suho was grateful for the buffer that his generals provided against having to talk to Tao any more. Everyone seemed to think that Head Shifters would get along simply by nature of their similar power levels, but Suho found that this was rarely the case.
Tao turned and lead them through the wide halls. The windows that lined the halls were tall, giving the whole building an open feel. The light fabric of Tao’s robes billowed out behind him as he walked, silver thread glittering in the bright sunlight coming in. Suho felt horribly grubby in his travel clothes and thought about asking if he could change quickly. After a moment though he realized he would rather be comfortable than pretty, and that the Elders were going to spend the whole meeting looking down their noses at him regardless of his garb.
The meeting was held in a large, round room, walls lined with the same kind of windows that the hallways had been full of. The Elders were seated on a high platform, so that they were literally looking down their noses at the Water Nation generals. There were stone seats lined around the walls, many of them empty, and Tao gestured at a group of them and murmured, “You’re free to sit, if you wish.” Tao himself opted to stand beside the Elder’s platform.
“Welcome,” said one of the Elders. His title was perhaps misleading, because he didn’t look like he could be much older than fifty, which, Suho thought, wasn’t really all that old, even in the Water Nation, whose warrior traditions had a habit of lowering life expectancy somewhat. “We are sorry to bring you here so soon after your arrival.”
The Water Nation’s head general bowed, and Suho and the others followed suit. “We understand the urgency of such times,” he said in a deep voice. “Shall we start?”
They moved towards their seats, but before they could settle in there was a peculiar sound. It sounded almost like the soft noise wet paper made when torn, barely audible. Suho turned to look and was surprised to see the shadow walker standing in the middle of the hall. The air behind him was oddly distorted, like a shattered mirror, except not that corporeal. His dark skin and clothing were striking against the white walls.
“There’s an Earth Shifter coming,” he said, staring up at the Elders. There was a slight smile on his face.
The Elders looked like they were about to expire on the spot. One of them leapt to his feet, mouth open, but the shadow walker didn’t give him a chance. “I just thought you would like to know,” he said, with a slight shrug, and then there was the sound again and he disappeared.
Suho looked up at the Elders and saw that Tao’s face was pale, but heavy with anger, eyes glaring at the spot where the shadow walker had been standing. Suho couldn’t keep the smile off his face, watching as the Elders yelled at the attendants to make sure that the shadow walker had left the city, and to chase him out if he hadn’t. Suho knew quite well that they couldn’t make him go anywhere he didn’t want to go. He decided that he really needed to find out the shadow walker’s name. He already quite liked the boy, even just for being able to make the stuffy Elders look that horrified.
After raving for a few minutes to each other about the affront of it all, they seemed to remember they had guests, and made a collective effort to compose themselves. They were still all various shades of mottled red, but at least they’d stopped screaming. They seemed like they simply wanted to pretend that none of that had just happened, but in the end one of the Water Nation generals asked, “Is an Earth Shifter supposed to be arriving today?”
The Elders exchanged looks amongst themselves. “No,” one of them said eventually. “I’m sure the shadow walker was just—”
“Shouldn’t you check?” Suho asked. Tao widened his eyes at him. Suho couldn’t bring himself to care.
One of the Elders had a vein that was very nearly popping out of his forehead at this point, but he turned to one of the attendants and told him to go see if anyone was stilling coming. The attendant might as well have been a shadow walker himself for how quickly he disappeared from the room.
“We shall wait for the Earth Shifter to arrive,” said one of the Elders. “Or for the attendant to return and tell us we are wasting our time.”
Suho sighed and settled in his seat for the long haul.