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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|"Shinji felt more as a friend than a partner to Shirou. He wasn't The Fire Nomad anymore. They were a team. ""|
|— From The Poison Farm|
|""We can't afford to wait." Shinji said, patting Shirou on the back. "The Bandits will kill us if we do. Takumi is going to be okay." |
And with that, the duo ran off into the distance, leaving their friend, their boat, and a home behind them. All they had was Shinji's backpack, and the duo wondered how that could possibly get them to The Western Air Temple."
|— From The Airbender.|
August 9, 2011
This is Chapter 18 in The Avatar Rhythm Series
Midnight was falling over the Air Nomad skies, and Shirou had yet to fall asleep. He was just lying down in his sleeping bag, about ten feet away from Shinji, looking up at the stars. The duo had set up camp on a the beach of an extremely small abandoned island off the coast of a larger one, and it was filled with trees bearing fruits of every color imaginable.
The two of them were exhausted. It had been eight days since they were attacked by The Quadrination Bandits, and this was the first stop they had made since. Seven and half straight days paddling a stolen canoe had made the two friends sore and sick of each other. All they had with them were the contents of Shinji's backpack; two sleeping bags, the Venomsprout and it's cure, a small pocketknife, and Shinji's travel Pai Sho board. With a lack of sleep and supplies, the duo were physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.
Even so, Shirou was still awake after hours of laying down in his sleeping bag. The stars were brighter than he'd ever seen them before, and they just left him thinking. Thinking about the Avatar. Thinking about Hotaru. He hadn't seen her for almost three months. With all this Procession and Quadrination Bandit stuff, Shirou had almost forgotten how much he wanted her dead. He needed to avenge the murder of his grandfather. Kaito. A long time ago his father had once told him that great Water Tribe citizens of the past rested up in the stars. He told him that they'd always be there for him.
"But you're not." Shirou stated to himself. And slowly, his eyes drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, as the sun peeked over the horizon, Shinji was kicking Shirou's sleeping bag, mumbling, "Wake up, sleepyhead! Come on! We need to get going!"
Shirou's eyes fluttered open, and he shook his head. "Okay, I'm up, now go away." He stood up, brushed the sand off his shirt, and started rolling his sleeping bag up. "We shouldn't leave just yet," he said. "I bet you there's some good edible fruit on this island, and some nice wood we can use to repair our canoe."
As much as Shinji wanted to disagree, he couldn't. Past the beach was dense, lush forests with fruits and berries hanging everywhere - some yellow, some red, others even shades of green or blue. "Fine," he answered, "But only for an hour or so." He walked towards the forest, and Shirou put down his things and followed.
Everywhere they looked, trees and fruits and leaves and vines blocked everything in sight.
"These red fruits look good," Shirou said, plucking one off a branch hanging over his head, and stuffing it in their backpack.
"Great," Shinji replied. "Now I get to carry fruit - that will probably rot - with me for the next few weeks. Delicious..."
"Were you being sarcastic?" Shirou asked, taking a handful of orange berries off a nearby vine. "These things look awesome."
"Yeah," Shinji joked, "For about one day. Eating the same fruits for weeks will probably make you pretty sick of them."
They walked in silence for a while, trying to clear a path through the dense underbrush.
"Hey!" Shinji shouted. "Look at this! I found a path!"
Shirou looked over. In the middle of the forest, Shinji was standing in a mysterious circle of stone. At one side of the circle there was a large golden gate marked with the Air Nomad insignia, and past it there was a rocky path leading into the distance.
"Let's follow it," he said, and creaked open the gate. "Let's see where this road leads."
Shirou hesitated, then followed Shinji, praying that they were making the right choice. After a couple minutes of walking, he became tired. "What are you hoping to find here?" He asked.
Shinji stopped. "This."
In front of them, the road dipped down, and lead to a large pond below them. The stone of the path circled around the water, and there was a small ornate bridge that lead to a little island in the center of the pond. On the island, there was a gravestone.
"Now, that," Shirou said, "Is pretty cool." Him and Shinji walked down the path, and stopped at the bridge.
"Should we go farther?" Shirou asked. "I mean, look at this place. It's like nobody has ever been here. It's just, well, so... tranquil."
"It can't hurt to see what the grave says," Shinji offered curiously. "We don't have to touch anything."
They nodded their heads, and slowly walked across the bridge. It was so quiet, it was creepy. And there, in front of them, was a tall, white gravestone. At least, it looked like it used to be white. Covering the bottom of the stone was vibrant green moss, and vines were winding around the rest of it. Dirt coated the engraving.
"Let's see if this will help," Shirou said, and he splashed some water on the stone. Immediately, the dirt bled away, and the engraving became clear to read. At the top of the grave, there was a carving of the Air Nomad insignia, and below there were words.
"It says Rest in eternal peace," Shinji read, "Avatar Aang. It's the grave of a past Avatar."
Shirou took a fruit he picked out of their backpack and took a bite of it. "Yeah," he mumbled. "Weird that it's been untouched for so many years." He paused, taking another bite of his fruit. "This is actually pretty tasty."
"This isn't even on a mountain," Shinji mumbled, pondering. "It is weird that it's never been touched. Maybe a little too weird... Oh no! Shirou, don't eat that fruit!"
It was too late.
Shirou looked down at the melon he was eating, three huge bites hanging out the side. "Uh-oh."
But the fruit wasn't a threat for the reason that they expected. The duo thought it was poisonous. Really, it was much more than that.
The water started to tremble. Huge waves suddenly started shaking in the lake. "What the?"
Suddenly, a huge brown cloud erupted from the water. Except, this didn't seem exactly like a cloud.
It was more - alive.
"Flies." Shinji stated. "Fruit flies."
Shirou was aghast. "Oh no!"
The pack of fruit flies darted at the melon Shirou was eating, charging at the backpack that held more of it. The insects swarmed every where around the duo's body. Their eggs were laid in the water, and now the thousands of them attacked from every direction. The flies clogged their nostrils, jammed up their throats, and swarmed their eyes.
Shirou could barely even move. There were so many of the insects, it was as if they were a solid brick around him. Straining his muscles, Shirou tossed the fruit he held into the lake.
It spared them for a couple seconds, and Shinji and Shirou made their move, darting across the bridge, backtracking the path that led the duo there.
Once the fruit flies realized their breakfast had run off, they followed, a swirling vortex of insects coming straight for the duo, who stated sprinting.
"We're not going to make it!" Shirou yelled.
"Don't bother opening your mouth!" Shinji replied. "The bugs will get in!" Suddenly, the duo stopped. Their path ended. All around them was dense jungle. But they had to go in if they didn't want to get devoured by a pack of hungry flies.
Shirou pulled over a huge leaf, and they hopped through, taking down vines, running into trees. Vibrant fruits were hanging everywhere, and the flies were swarming.
The duo were lost.
Where there wasn't dense forest, the fruit flies clouded every direction. They couldn't see an inch in front of them. Taking down vines and shrubs, swatting away bug after bug, the two of them barley could breathe.
"Duck!" Shinji cried, coughing up flies. Shirou did as told, and looked above him as Shinji swirled around in a circle, shooting a fire blast in every direction, burning the leaves and fruit flies around them, letting the duo see around themselves for a small amount of time. As more flies started to come back, Shirou saw light of the horizon in front of him - for just a split second.
"This way!" he yelled, gagging on the insects that were flying around his mouth. He tried pushing the leaves away, swatting the flies, taking down all the vines, jumping over shrubs and thorns.
It was too much.
Shirou tripped, stepping on a random fruit that split open, drawing the bugs to him. His muscles were weak. He didn't think he'd survive.
"Stay back!" Shinji yelled. "Leave him alone!"
He sent sparks of fire shooting in every direction. "Go away!"
And strangely, the flies seemed to understand. They all grouped together, and mysteriously left.
Shirou and Shinji looked up. There, in front of them, were a semi-circle of people dressed in strange Air Nomad robes - the usual yellow color with an odd silver trim.
"Why are you here?" one of them asked.
The duo looked at each other. "We were um... Playing a game. Yeah."
By the time an hour had passed, Shirou and Shinji were on a stone floor looking up at the leader of this band of Air Nomads.
"We are the Grave Guardians, and you have trespassed on our tranquility," he stated in a deep voice.
Shirou looked up. "We are so sorry, we didn't mean to, we-"
"Stop wasting your breath," the Air Nomad interjected. "We have to protect the peace of this island. Tranquility is something you have to treasure, because in this growing world, it's becoming rare. Greater population and more technology is wiping out all the lands in this world that used to be peaceful. This island, our branch of Air Nomads, the fruit flies that attacked you - we protect that. We have separated ourselves from the rest of the world to this cause."
"What will happen to us?" Shinji stuttered. "You're not going to kill us or anything, right?"
The Air Nomad laughed. "No, no, we just ask you to leave, and we continue our lives here."
Shirou and Shinji got up. "So, I guess that's that then."
"Take our gifts," another Air Nomad said as they were walking out the door, handing them a rolled up tarp. "Oh, and this." He dug an old metal can out of his pocket, and tossed it to them with a blast of airbending. "Bug spray."
They chuckled, and walked away.
That night, the duo were paddling through the ocean again, silent. The water was calm, and there were no bugs, luckily.
"Look," Shinji said, pointing into the distance. There was a huge mountain range miles away. "I bet you that's where The Western Air Temple is."
Shirou nodded. "It's still far away though." He paused. "Do you have any of those of fruits left in your backpack?"
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