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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm Edit
""Crazy Earth Kingdom taxpayers," Goro replied. "They call themselves The Procession. They torture every citizen from every nation. The Earth Kingdom pays them with the taxes they collect, so only about half of the money we give away is actually given to the government. I got news that they just very recently started working in the Water Tribes, too."
""The Venomsprout," another Air Nomad confirmed. "They're everywhere. When it makes contact with water, The Venomsprout excretes an very dangerous gas. You can't see it, smell it, or taste it, and it's extremely fatal. The storm from a couple days ago set them off, and we're helpless." "
"Shinji pulled over his cold leather pack, and emptied out the contents. One sleeping bag, a tarp, the bottle with a Venomsprout in it, and the vile with it's cure."
September 21, 2011
This is Chapter 26 in The Avatar Rhythm Series.
Shinji sniffed the cold sea air as he tried to build a fire, burning pine needles, watching Shirou sleep in the corner of their new home - a small cave on the outskirts of a small, run-down Northern Water Tribe town. Neither of them had eaten in days, and their only source of water was melted snow. The floor was rugged and they only had one sleeping bag, which happened to be torn.
Shinji was fed up with it all. His ally was part of the royal family, but they were dying in a cave, trying to survive. And Shirou was taking it as a game - just a happy camper away from his family. He tried to talk to him about it, but whenever he did, Shirou would just say something like, "Maybe another time", or he'd just change the subject altogether. It was infuriating.
Shinji shot a little flame at the wound up ball of pine needles, strips of leather, and wood shavings on the ground, finally lighting a small campfire. It would last for twenty minutes or so. He hung a little metal dish that they had found in town over the flames, and started preparing a tea of some sorts, hot water flavored with dried up seaweed. They had drank some before - it was disgusting - but it warmed you up and got you moving. He poured some of the green beverage into a cracked mug they had discovered in a trash can, and pushed it over to Shirou, who was just waking up. "Tea," he stated, reaching for the mug. He took a sip, gagged, and sat up in his sleeping bag. "Invigorating."
Shinji sipped a bit of his own tea out of the dish they cooked it in, and looked over. "How did you sleep?"
"Fine. I guess. What are we going to do today?"
"Want to confront your family?"
Shirou shook his head. "Not yet."
"Want to find Hotaru?"
"She'd kill me."
Shinji sat down, took another sip of tea, and looked over at his friend. "You're going to have to face one of them eventually. We can't live in a cave forever. If we don't die of frostbite we'll be found by The Procession. You saw that town out there, didn't you? Those tax collectors had guards at every corner."
"They're more than tax collectors," Shirou explained. "Those guys are corrupted. They're a military."
"That's besides the point." Shinji leaned towards his friend. "We need to get out here, we need a life - I want a life! You're my ticket to protection."
Shirou sighed. "We need money."
"And where do you suppose we're going to get that?"
"It's pretty simple actually, for criminals like us anyway." Shirou smiled. "We're going to go gambling."
Hours later, the duo were dressed in ragged black sweatshirts, walking down the icy streets of town. They tried to pick routes without any members of The Procession on them, and were successful so far.
"There's a coat shop," Shirou said, pointing to bland blue building.
Shinji raised an eyebrow under his hood. "How can you tell? There's no sign or anything."
"I lived here for nineteen years. You pick up things after a while."
"I don't get it."
Shirou looked over. "Towns like this, far off into the tundra of the North Pole, they need some pretty mighty fur coats. Up here, it's colder than you can imagine. They need a business to keep the local economy up, too."
"They need money to pay The Procession," Shinji said. He thought for a second, gazing at loads of the crazy tax collectors walking through every alleyway and side street of town, like little green dots speckled among a sea of blue. "When you lived here, was The Procession all over the place like they are now?"
Shirou looked up. "Not really. They had been here for a couple weeks before I left, but didn't do much. I never knew who they were and they didn't care. Now, it's like they run the place. It's amazing how much changes in six months."
"Yeah," Shinji said. "So are you gonna get us some money or what?"
Shirou pointed to a small building in between two larger ones, and this one did have a sign, that read "The Ice Water Pub". Stains of trash and grime marked the delicate ice walls, and a stuffy scent was wafting through the doorway. "That's our ticket to success."
They duo walked towards the pub, and thrust open the doors. Inside, it was chaos. Music and yelling bounced across the halls, and people of all shapes, sizes, and care for hygiene sat at the dozens of tables across the floor, playing games and betting. With four of the five silver pieces that they had collected in the past week, Shirou and Shinji bought two cups of moon peach juice, and a tin of blubbered seal jerky - the first semi-substantial meal they had gotten since coming to the North Pole. With their food, the duo sat down at a table and watched two gamblers play a card game.
One of the players was a skinny man, bulging with muscles, who sported a badly shaved mustache. The opponent was a younger woman with short brown hair, covered in scars. She couldn't have been over twenty years old. The card game they played was not one that either Shirou or Shinji was familiar with, but they were watching keenly, and learning. Each player had three cards, and on the bottom of each card was the picture of a snowflake, one blue, one red, and one yellow. It was a game of lying, and luck. A player would point to one of their cards, and say what color the snowflake on the other side was. It was up to the opponent to tell if they were telling the truth. If they guessed correctly, it moved on to their turn. If they guessed wrong, they lost.
Apparently, the woman playing saw they were trying to figure out the rules. "The game's called Frostbite," she said, and turned her head back to the game, and her opponent, who was studying his three cards.
"This one's red," the man said, pointing to the middle card of his three.
The woman seemed to think for a second, and then stated, "You're lying."
The man looked down, and flipped over his card, revealing a yellow snowflake. "Darn. It's your turn, then."
Shirou and Shinji watched intently as the woman pointed to a card of hers and stated, "It's blue."
"You're telling the truth."
She looked over at the man, flipping over a card with a red snowflake below it. "Sorry, buster. Go practice a bit more. And give me what you owe."
The other player reluctantly dropped a pocket knife on the table, and left The Ice Water Pub, trying to disregard the laughing from other gamblers.
Shinji, bored, stood up, and looked around. "I'm going to explore this pub a bit. Don't do anything stupid."
As he left, Shirou turned to the woman. "I think I get this card game. Let's play Frostbite."
She was taken aback. "You want to play with me? Already?"
"How hard could it be?" Shirou asked, sliding his chair across from his new opponent. He picked up the cards the man left, and studied them.
"Lets start then," she said, and looked at Shirou. "By the way, my name's Asaki. But the other gamblers just call me The Polar Thief."
They laid out their cards. "So how much do you want to bet on this game?" Shirou asked, placing his final silver piece on the table.
Asaki didn't say anything.
"You know, how much money are you betting? You gamble, right?"
"Not with money," she replied. "The Procession has taken away all of that. The stupid people who think they still have enough to waste gambling learn their lesson when they can't pay The Procession and end up joining that team of fools. In The Ice Water Pub, we only bet weapons, or stuff like that. You can put out your coin if you want." She placed her dagger on the table. "I'll bet this. Now let's begin." Shirou went first, pointing to the card on his left. "This one's blue."
"You're telling the truth," Asaki said, and flipped over the card, revealing a blue snowflake. "See? My turn then." She pointed to a card of hers on the table. "This is red."
Asaki flipped over the card, showing a yellow snowflake. "Good, good. Your turn again."
Shirou realized that the farther that he got into this game, his opponent figured out his lying skills more and more. He pointed to one of his cards. "This one's blue."
His opponent pondered for a second, and then stated, "You're lying."
Shirou flipped over his card, revealing a yellow snowflake. "Ha! You lose!"
Asaki slid her dagger over to him. "Yeah, I did. Now I should be getting back to the Polar Revolution." Suddenly, she put her hand over her mouth, realizing too late that she said something she shouldn't have.
Shirou looked up, intrigued. "The Polar Revolution? What's that?"
"I'll play a game of Frostbite to figure it out."
Asaki sat back down. "I don't usually gamble information like this. You'll need a hefty bet to match it."
Shirou dug through Shinji's backpack. "I can bet a sword."
"I don't want a sword."
Shirou dug through the leather pack some more, and pulled out the bottle containing the Venomsprout.
Asaki raised an eyebrow. "A plant?"
"This plant holds incredible power. When it makes contact with water, it excretes a strange gas that can't be seen, smelled, or tasted, but it's extremely toxic."
"Information about The Polar Revolution against a toxic plant? This is the kind of bet I've been longing for."
Shirou smiled, falling into his own trap. "Lets begin. You can go first."
Asaki shifted her cards around the table, and pointed to one of them. "This is blue."
She flipped over her card, and showed a red snowflake on the other side of it. "Correct. Your turn."
Shirou pointed to a card of his own. "It's red."
Asaki didn't hesitate to answer. "It is red." She flipped the card over, and saw the red snowflake. "Lucky me. My turn now." She picked up another card of hers. "This is blue."
"You're telling the truth."
"Yeah - your turn."
"This time you're the liar."
"You won that round."
"This is red.
"No it's not."
This went on for a while, but finally, Asaki was stuck. She tried to evade every move of Shirou's every lie. She, The Polar Thief, couldn't confuse Shirou any longer. And it was her turn. She wiped the sweat off her brow, and thought. Shirou claimed the card he was holding was red, but it was hard to tell. A secret of hers was on the line. "You're telling the truth."
When Shirou turned the card around, she gasped, and then smiled. The snowflake on the back of his card was red. She was correct. "It's your turn," he said.
Asaki picked out the yellow snowflake card of hers, and stated clear and boldly to Shirou, "This is blue."
"You're telling the truth," Shirou said, overwhelmed by confidence. "That is a blue card." He grabbed the thick slip of paper of Asaki's hand, and stepped back when he saw the yellow snowflake. He had lost. He had lost everything.
"I'll be taking that plant of yours, then. And you're not gonna find out about The Polar Revolution." Asaki walked away silently, smirking.
Shirou sat back on his chair as he watched her leave. He rubbed his forehead, confused, and angry. They were just trying to get money. And instead, they lost the only real weapon they had. Before he could think of an excuse, Shinji walked over, and saw his guilt-stricken face. "What did you do?"
Shirou scooted backwards. "Well... I bet the Venomsprout in a game of Frostbite. And lost it."
Shinji didn't have to say anything. He just stared at Shirou with deep, angry eyes.
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