A cold blue light filled the room, shining from a fist-sized sapphire hanging from the ceiling. Torches along the walls cast weak, flickering shadows. Piandao almost thought the shadows were connected to nothing, but they were too pale to see easily.
He wasn't here for shadows, anyway.
"Cross the room, he says," Bumi muttered, eyes on the blue gem. "No, let's tiptoe around. I'll make a path!"
"It will alert them," Iroh hissed.
"They already know we're here," Jeong Jeong growled. "Stealth is wasted, but 'bending strength should not be. Come."
He strode into the room, and Piandao tensed. His friend wasn't usually this foolhardy, but he had been a wildfire since they found- Since they had found it. Even moreso than Pakku; the waterbending master had frozen over, and death walked in both of their shadows.
Nothing happened to Jeong Jeong, so Piandao followed because someone had to, and the others followed him. He heard a startled gasp behind him, turned with his sword already sliding out of its scabbard, saw-
Iroh with red scales and long whiskers, a crest replacing his hair, eyes a reptilian yellow rather than the warm amber Piandao knew them to be. Smoke drifted from his mouth, and bloody claws tipped his fingers.
A man of flawed diamond, stellated with cracks, cloudy-opaque in some places and startlingly clear in others stood in Bumi's place. Something in the cracks disturbed Piandao, and he flinched when he recognized how many of them were filled with dried blood.
Pakku stood emaciated, skin blackened and pulled tight over bones, mummified by cold. Ice eyes looked at Piandao, and then the waterbending master stepped forward. Ice crackled horribly, and little bits of it slid out of cuts in the blackened skin to shatter on the floor. Blood would spill just like that from those wounds, Piandao thought vaguely.
"What are you four-" Jeong Jeong broke off with an oath, and Piandao turned towards his friend.
Flames danced in Jeong Jeong eye-sockets, and there was a hole in his cheek. The edges were blackened and burned, and Piandao could see more fire inside. Jeong Jeong raised his hand, and Piandao saw his entire palm was burned away, and the skin of his fingers flickered oddly, flickering like there was fire behind it and lighting it from within.