Avatar: The Last Airbender
The following is an excerpt from The Shadow of Kyoshi by F.C. Yee with help from Michael Dante DiMartino. Set in the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the novel is a sequel to last year's The Rise of Kyoshi following the titular character as she grows from a poor orphan of the Earth Kingdom into one of the most powerful Avatars in history and an inspiring example for Aang. When we last saw Kyoshi, she had officially accepted the mantle of Avatar. In the excerpt below, she's now regularly wearing her iconic outfit of kabuki makeup, elaborate headdress, and fighting fans. As Avatar, she's taken it upon herself to mete out justice to criminals, which leads to a reunion with a familiar face from the first book. Check it out below. The Shadow of Kyoshi publishes July 21, and is available for pre-order now.
Chapter 1: Unfinished Business
Kyoshi’s neck itched terribly. The garrote had been coated in ground glass, and though she’d managed to avoid getting cut too deeply, sharp little fragments still vexed her skin. It served her right for being so sloppy. The gang’s wire man had been stealthy, but not at the level of the company she used to keep in her daofei days.
Speaking of which, she’d taken a risk by not incapacitating the boy like she’d done his elders. But he’d reminded her of Lek. The way his stupid babyface tried to arrange itself in a mask of hardness, his obvious need for the approval of his sworn elder brothers. His sheer, idiotic bravery. He was too young to be running with a gang in the slums of Ba Sing Se.
No more exceptions for today, she told herself as she stepped over rusting junk and debris. She was still in the habit of labeling anyone roughly her age as boys and girls, and the language made her inclined toward softness, which was dangerous. Certainly no one would show Kyoshi grace because she was only nearing eighteen. The Avatar did not have the luxury of being a child.
She pushed through a hallway barely wider than she was. Only the slightest cracks of illumination came through the walls. Glowing crystals were expensive, and candles were a fire risk, making light a premium in Loongkau. Networks of pipes dripped above her, pattering on the gilded headdress she wore despite the cramped environment. She’d learned to account for the height it added, and having to stoop had been a fact of her life since childhood.
The smell of human density wafted through the corridors, a concoction of sweat and drying paint. She could only imagine what the lower levels offered the nose. The City Block packed more people into its limits than any other in the Lower Ring, and not all of its residents were criminals.
Loongkau was a haven for the very poor. People with nowhere else to go squatted here and applied their industries, eking out livings as garbage pickers, “fell-off-the-wagon” marketeers, unlicensed doctors, dodgy snack vendors, and the like. They were ordinary Earth Kingdom citizens trying to get by on the margins of the law. Her folk, essentially.
The shadowed confines of the City Block were also home to a more violent sort, evolving gangs of the Lower Ring whose memberships were swelling from the influx of daofei. Bandits who could no longer hold territory in the countryside were fleeing for the cover of Ba Sing Se and other large cities, blending in with the populace, hiding among the same refuge-seeking citizens they’d brutalized in years past.
Those were not Kyoshi’s folk. In fact, many of them were running from her. But given it was just as likely for an apartment to be holding scared residents who had nothing to do with her quarry, Kyoshi was keeping her movements in check. Garden-variety earthbending that ripped up huge chunks of the surroundings would cause a dangerous collapse and harm innocents.
The interior opened into a small market area. She passed a room full of barrels leaking bright ink over the floor—a home dying operation—and an empty butcher stall clouded with buzzing ant flies. Jianzhu’s study had contained his notes on the political and economic situation of Ba Sing Se, and the small reference to the City Block noted how enterprising its residents were. Curiously, it also mentioned that the land it was built on held some value due to its prominent location in the Lower Ring. Merchants in the Middle Ring had tried to purchase the block in the past and evict the residents, but the dangers of the gangs had always made such projects fail.
Kyoshi paused near a vat of spoiled mango pomace. This was her spot. She bent an assortment of rock debris into a small circle and stood on it. She crossed her arms over her chest to make the smallest cross section possible.
Before she went, though, she noticed a tiny object in the corner. It was a toy, a doll made of rags scavenged from a fine lady’s dress. Someone in the block had gone through great effort to
sew a doll made of fabric from the Upper Ring for their child. Kyoshi stared at it until she blinked, remembering why she was here. She stamped down with her foot.
Her little platform of earth, held together by her bending, turned as hard as the point of an auger. It burst through the clay tiles and rotting struts of wood, dropping her fast enough to make her guts lurch. She plunged through the floor and into the next level down, before doing it again, and again.
Jianzhu’s tactical manuals noted that in enclosed fights most casualties happened at doorways and stairs. Kyoshi had decided to skip over those parts of the building and bore her own passage. She counted fourteen stories—more than she’d estimated—until she came crashing through the ceiling of a room that was solid earth underneath. The bottom of Loongkau.
Kyoshi stepped off her platform, dust and crumbs of masonry cascading off her arms, and looked around. There were no walls in here, only supporting columns that propped up the great weight of the levels above. So the City Block has a ballroom, she thought wryly. The empty expanse was similar to the entertaining halls of wealthy nobles like Lu Beifong. There was a space like this in the Avatar’s mansion in Yokoya.
She could see all the way to the far end since the walls held lumps of glowing crystal, as if the light for the entire building had been hoarded for this room. There was a desk, a wooden island in the emptiness. And behind the desk was a man who hadn’t given up his pretensions since Kyoshi had last seen him.
“Hello, Uncle Mok,” Kyoshi said. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?”
Mok, the former second-in-command of the Yellow Neck daofei, goggled his eyes in surprise. Kyoshi was like a curse he couldn’t shake. “You!” he fumed, shrinking slightly behind the furniture as if it could protect him. “What are you doing here!?”
“I heard rumors about a new boss settling into Loongkau and thought he sounded very familiar. So I came to investigate. I heard this group is calling itself a Triangle now? Do I have that right? Something with three sides.” Kyoshi found it hard to keep track. The daofei who were funneling into the cities brought their grandiose customs of secrecy and tradition into the realm of urban petty crimes.
“The Triad of the Golden Wing!” he yelled, infuriated by her disinterest in his rituals. But Kyoshi was long past caring about the feelings of men like Mok. He could throw whatever tantrum he desired.
The drumming of feet grew louder. The men Kyoshi had bypassed on the middle floors came filing into the room, surrounding her. They brandished axes and cleavers and daggers. Mok’s men had preferred outlandish weapons when they still roamed the countryside, but here in the city they’d abandoned the nine-ring swords and meteor hammers for simpler arms that could be hidden in a crowd.
Bolstered by more than two dozen men, Mok turned calmer. “Well, girl, what is it you want? Besides checking in on your elders?”
“I want you all to surrender your weapons, vacate the premises, and march yourselves to a magistrate’s courthouse for judgment. The nearest one is seven blocks from here.”
Several of the hatchet men burst out laughing. The corner of Mok’s mouth turned upward. Kyoshi might be the Avatar, but she was vastly outnumbered and trapped in an enclosed space.
“We refuse,” he said with an exaggerated roll of his hand.
“All right then. In that case, I only have one question.” Kyoshi cast her gaze around the room. “Are you sure this is all of you?”
The Triad members glanced at each other. Mok’s face swelled with rage, reddening like a berry in the sun. It wasn’t insolence so much as pragmatism, her instinct for tidiness and efficiency rising to the surface.
“If not, I can wait until everyone arrives,” Kyoshi said. “I don’t want to have to go back and check each floor.”
“Tear her apart!” Mok screamed.
The hatchet men charged from all directions. Kyoshi drew one of her fans. Two would have been a bit much.
Avatar: The Last Airbender