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6th October 2014
Water, Earth, Fire, Air, Void.
For 100 years, the four nations were at war and only the Avatar, master of all four elements could stop them, but he vanished. Three years ago, my brother and I discovered the new Avatar. An airbender named Aang. And after finding some allies and mastering all four elements, Aang defeated Fire Lord Ozai and put an end to the war.
Following the defeat of Hahn's forces in the Northern Water Tribe, the retreating forces escaped into the tundra. With winter suddenly coming, the waters have become inhospitable so we are stuck in the North. The re-emergence of Ithar's bending has also caused some frictions as he re-adjusts himself to his bending again.
I wonder what this is all leading to.
The following chapter takes place in the Mid Winter of 102 AG. Five days till the Winter Solstice
The days were growing colder and shorter each passing day. The solstice was fast approaching, and the Northern Water Tribe was still recovering from the attack. The Fire Nation soldiers that arrived last minute into battle were helping in securing the city in case the traitorous waterbenders ever returned.
They didn't though.
They had turned tail a month ago.
But everyone was still feeling that icy cold chill running down their spines. Suddenly, whenever they looked around at each other, they no longer smiled. They were scared of each other. Neighbors who were always there for each other, were now untrusting. A scar had been opened, and it would take more than a few months before it would properly start to heal.
Aang did his best in juggling his responsibilities between trying to keep the peace in the North, and with trying to bring the turncoats to justice. It took him so much so that he needed his friends to help with the search and the peacekeeping. They would often alternate, but soon after a few weeks there were some favoritisms in what roles they preferred;
Only two were really needed to stay behind, largely because the Northern Tribe had its own force, as well as the Fire Nation marines. But the number of people who were distrusting greatly outnumbered them, some of which had also fought in the counterattack. A lot of them were still thirsty for action, and they were riled up to change.
Aang was unsatisfied with having to focus on a single role; according to what his partner for the day said. They always alternated teams, which was later changed after three weeks when, again, favorites always sprung up. When he stayed, he got edgy when he thought about whether or not they were getting away and that he could catch them, convinced that he knew which way they were going that day. And when he went, he got cold feet thinking about the chaos that was behind him that he should have stayed to help.
While they had been doing their part, I myself was stuck in the healing tent. Apparently the bloodbending block and the energybending taking and regaining had seriously messed up my natural chi flow and it needed to be sorted out. I had to see a healer every day three times before eating. It was hard to remember not to eat every morning, but I finally got used to the system . . . since this morning.
I had a regular healers that took over on certain days. All the best of them that the North had to offer. Tilaqia, Misu, Yugoda, etc. There was one who came to see me on a regular basis. She was the oldest person in the tribe, the oldest in fact that she was there before the beginning of the war. At around 134 years old, she was now blind, but that had increased her ability to detect in imbalance in chi and made her an altogether healer.
Nerrivi was very skilled, she had what they described as a "mother's touch", which I guess was a description of how caring and precise she was in her methods.
She followed allover my back till she reached down through all the important chi lines that ran through my arms and connected to my spine. "Your chi is looking much better now. I have never felt a flow of chi like this before in all my life, but then again I have been focusing my strengths on waterbenders and the occasional stranded earthbenders in my years."
"You'd never fix a bender like in another lifetime" I assured her, which I was correct about since I consider myself a one of a kind. The chances of meeting another than me was once in a few lifetimes.
"Then I suppose I should feel honoured then at your insistence."
"I wouldn't go that far."
She continued working around, eventually pulling away the water she was using and put it back into her bowl. She then went back to talking about her life. She liked to talk. "So, my fifth grandson Ataneq, he currently serves in the Eastern Ocean, trading with the cities of Gaoling and into the main ports of Ba Sing Se. He always wanted to see the far reaches of the world, and when this awful war finally ended, he took the first chance he got as far as he could get. He met a lovely girl in the Earth Kingdom, and he sends me letters regularly. It was nice to see that he found what he was looking for. So many lovely girls are hard to come by these days."
Hmm, nice girls. "I don't think so."
"You're young though," she insisted. "When you have lived half as long as I have, you will understand what I mean."
I didn't think I could correct her on that since I was still technically longer than her no matter what angle you looked at it. "I suppose I'll have to take your word for it then."
She then continued off her last thought as if the short conversation we shared was brushed away. "So many lovely girls died in the war unfortunately. I remember, what, about eighty, ninety years ago. I knew a girl about the same age as you are now. She was a sweet thing, always cheerful, keeping her smiles up, even when her older brother died at sea."
Tulia. It was her, I knew it. I didn't need an educated guess, I knew what she was talking about. I saw what happened the last few times they spoke together. I thought of the comfort I had at the time, but it only made the pain worse still. Seeing her was all I wanted, but it couldn't last as long as there was time. "How sad."
Nerrivi shook her head. "It gets worse I'm afraid; then her parents decide to make the trip down south. IO thought that it may have been because the thought of remaining in all the same surrounding without their son may have been a bit much for them. But I guess we'll never know."
I know, but I really shouldn't have. "I suppose we won't really."
I saw in front of me, the tent's open door, if you can call it a door I just don't like describing it as a flap. But the flap opened and Zuko walked in, standing just at the entrance, like he was eager to be out as quickly as he came. Anxious.
"Ithar" he said to me, holding up the flap to keep it from swinging into his face, "can we talk?"
"Um." I looked behind as Nerrivi reached around for the towel and started drying her hands. She was finished for the morning. I turned back and looked at him, about ready to stretch my legs out again. "Yes, I guess so."
He gave a small smile and nodded. "Aang's preparing the days teams. I thought that you could help."
Help? I hadn't been asked to help since, since I got here to be precise. Their little gang had been so organized and very busy that I had been left to my own accord for the last few weeks in the tents or around the canals. I felt both happy, but also suspicious. "Of course. I'll be out in a while."
Zuko left briefly and then I finally got up. My stomach was not used to eating at specific times, but had started readjusting itself to do so over the last months. Breakfast was now looking really important again.
I stretched down and reached my toes, then stood straight up. I pulled over my tunic again, then tightened up my father's armour. The straps where tightly fastened to keep the heat in. The cold was getting worse as the middle of winter approached.
"I never knew what happened to her though". I looked behind me as Nerrivi started tiding away the stuff that she had laid out, probably top prepare for her healing lessons for the day. She was still fixated on the subject from earlier, but that wasn't her fault. "When I saw her ship leave the walls that day, I never heard from her nor her family after that. We all saw the smoke and we presumed that the Fire Nation had gotten to her."
"I wished they did." I said to myself, quietly. I was right "But I had to step in, didn't I." I grabbed for my belt and fastened it, with my dagger still in its sheath. I walked towards the flaps, reaching for my overcoat. I stopped and looked back. "Thank you, Nerrivi."
She looked up and smiled. "Anytime." I smiled back, even if she couldn't see it very well, and walked out into the laying snow.
I'll say it again. I, Hate, The, Cold;
I would trade in this entire icy place, I mean the whole thing, and even throw in the one in the south, for a stretch of earth that was as big as my feet
People kept on telling me to put on some of those shoes, or at the very least wear some socks around so that I wouldn't keep freezing my feet everyday walking in the snow. The worse part about this trip was that it was now winter, not to mention the middle of winter.
It didn't take us too long before we were stuck in the snow again, waiting for Lord Honour Bound to get back here. The snow was still laying and the piles were growing. I know this because I could feel less and less of the solid and reliable earth that lie helpless under the darned thickness of all this frozen water. I never thought I could hate water as a solid until I found out there was a colder place to stay in the winter.
Sokka was standing round. Lucky. Being used to the cold really sucked. Watching him and Sugar Queen both being alright with the temperature drop being so low up here. Gaoling was warm, every summer the sun would reach my window for the whole of the day and warm my room up. Probably one of the few good memories I have being at home. Apart from that, I have none that I would say I liked, except for the predictability of guards that let me sneak away whenever I needed to stretch and kick some wrestlers. The didn't call me "the Blind Bandit" because I was helpless.
Eventually though, standing around finally broke Captain Boomerang. He decided that if nothing was going to happen, he'd have to start the conversation. "So who doing what today?"
Then, Zuko finally got back. Behind him, was . . . Ithar. I just realized that I have no nickname for him. This is not like me, I usually have it just like that, the perfect nickname to torture them over with. Maybe that was because half the time it felt like he was almost none existent around us, staying to himself in the tents all day while I freeze my arse off in the cold.
"I brought him" he said, like we didn't already know; he was also not shivering, lucky for him he could keep himself constantly heated up to stop him from staying cold for too long. Apparently he actually swam underneath the city in the waters, and he didn't turn into a block of ice, unlike a certain Twinkle Toes.
Didn't help that even his High Arrowness also was keeping himself warm as well, radiating like I was close to the sun, except feeling his warmth only made me feel colder still.
I heard his voice come in, almost sounded like he was just waking up and his voice was not yet out of sleepy land. Not tired, just monotone and lacking personality. "I'm here, what is it?"
Aang spoke up, talking directly to him, from over the circle we had gathered in. At least I presumed we had made a circle. Was I even facing the right way-, doesn't matter, I cannot be bothered by these thing right now, not like I cared to look anyone in the eyes anyway. "Do you know the Northern Tundra?" he asked him.
Ithar finally put some effort into his words like he was actually saying attention. "What?"
"He is asking if you know what is out in the icy wasteland beyond the cliff" I translated for him bluntly. I cannot stand being out here, I am in a bad mood as it is with worrying everyday if my feet would fall off each morning if I tried to walk on them. It was worse still with all the ice they use everywhere; like the floor for instance. Terrible idea.
"I have been out there, yes" he replied. If he was staring at me, I wouldn't even know. Not important, I'll let the whole thing carry on.
"Is there anywhere that they may be hiding?" Aang also asked.
". . . It is a thousand miles of pure white wastes, with a few spirit forests I believe, maybe some caves-"
"Spirit forests?" Suki wondered. I nearly forgot she was here. I just though Sokka had gotten bigger, and chunkier as well as heavier. I am not completely without my Seismic Sense.
"That is where he is" Aang insisted. I couldn't tell if he was moving, His Twinkle Toes were now where to be felt, but I knew his feet were still on the ground.
Ithar attempted to dissuade him. Good luck was all I could think of. We tried, we failed. "Aang, he's not going to be there- What are you doing?" I heard flapping, which I was now presuming was Twinkle Toes unfurling his staff into a glider. He was attempting to start an aerial sweep. Not like any of the other ones that he tries yielded any better results than the one he was betting his chances on.
"I am going to find it" he continued to insist. "The spirit forests are probably where he is right now. It's the perfect hiding place."
He was about to fly, I could hear the wind preparing to shoot hi off, but Ithar stopped him. "You'll never find it from the sky. The snow is still falling, you'll go snow blind before you find- Ow!" Ithar sounded like he got pounded, which was obviously Sokka trying to cover up my feelings. He was new and he had mentioned that I was blind unintentionally. That was uncalled for, but I'm glad Sokka did it anyways. "What was that for? I don't get it."
"Ix nay on the ind talk blay" Sokka told him, speaking weirdly as usual. So it was pretty much usual. Sokka's unusual would be him giving out a compliment without using the word amazing.
Ithar directed his answer towards Sokka, the direction of his speaking was further way then it had been when he was talking to Aang. "If he stares the white for too long that is all he would every see. The only way to find it is on foot."
"But I need to find them" he continued to insist, Aang was really stubborn sometimes. "I need to cover more ground."
"Then you have to go somewhere else. Look I can go there myself. I need the excuse to get out of this place. Perhaps I could tune up my bending while I'm up there."
I didn't know why he would need to tune up anything. Unless he had been winning on plain luck, he was fine with his whole voidbending, or something like that, when the battles were tracking place. Apparently he was so skilled that he avoided getting caught in a choke hold. So I see no reason why he should insist on practicing the basics when he should be facing improving himself head on.
Either way, Aang wasn't too pleased, but he unfortunately had to relent on the subject as he knew that he couldn't do it himself. I knew that he couldn't do it. that's why I am still standing here in the snow. "Okay then" he replied, "how about Ithar, you take Toph and you go to the spirit forest?"
What! I get stuck with Mr. Monotone out in the middle of the snow for hours just to check out a big chunk of bark and wines in the middle of the . . . hang on, If there are trees growing there, than there could be some earth to soak my feet into. Oh, how much of a relief that would be, away from all this chilling and slippery blocks. By the way, Mr. Monotone, is good, but not quite what I am looking for.
"Deal" I said. I couldn't tell Ithar's reaction, I was going too numb to even tell if he was still there. "Before we leave" I said, just before they all dispersed without me knowing where they were or even if they were still here. "I am going to need a bucket of hot water to warm up before we leave."
"I hate the cold."
I rolled my eyes. "I know."
That was the conversations. If it wasn't as blunt as that, then it would add the words "really" and "just".
"Why do we have to look again?" she asked. It was like this the whole time we had left. She kept quiet at least half an hour after she soaked her feet in hot water. I don't seriously see why she can't at least wear socks. I know the whole seismic sense thing, but surely socks could make the whole thing easier, insulated with Buzzard Wasp wax to stop them from soaking through for a while.
As usual, it meant that I had to start engaging in conversation. I don't mind talking, but just having to give out very generic answers to complaints feels really, dull I guess is all I can really come up with.
"Because they think he'll be out here." That was the answer, but it was a lie; We all knew that there was no chance that they would be out here. Everyone did. But it kept Aang busy. Being stuck in the North was something we all had to endure, but leaving the master of four elements with nothing to do was not really something that we desired since he would almost certainly blow a fuse one of these days. At least, he could do it in the iceland beyond the cliffs.
Toph continued walking, but her pace had started to slow down, like she was hesitating to go any further. He feet were now dragging in the cold by now. "Will he?"
"No." I knew that answer coming out here. But I had other reasons for going there, and not the ones that involved Daika or his plans.
"And how do you know that?"
The answer was obvious, yet I still had to explain it. "Why on earth would he want to stay out in the cold throughout the winter?"
Toph was the one person who knew the cold better than everyone; her pain she was enduring dragging her bear soles through miles upon miles of snow each day was something that I would have considered unbearable and probably would have contemplated with the idea of chewing off my feet. But not her. She was too stubborn to wear any protection. "That is actually a good point." She wasn't done though. "So that leads me to my next question; why are we still bothering?"
"Because, the Avatar is expecting it."
"He has a name you know." That was what she insisted, but it was not one that she would often use.
I had heard how she always addressed him. A nickname she always called him. Something about an experience in a fight that gave him the name, but I felt that it lacked very much any individuality, since by definition all airbenders would also have that nickname. Then again, an airbender was not just something you could find three years ago. "Twinkle Toes? Not much of a name."
"I give everyone names," she explained to me, despite the fact I already know all of this. I am a good listener. "Katara's Sugar Queen, Sokka is Captain Boomerang, Zuko is Honour Bound. I haven't really got one for Suki, but I am leading towards either Face Paint, or something with more relevance to me, like . . . well, I haven't though of one yet, but I am getting there.
She didn't stop there. She had to continue raising herself up. "Well, it's how I occupy my time. Apart from being the greatest earthbender, and metalbender as well as creator, nicknames are what I am best at."
Toph's patience and pain at this point was turning her aggressive. I probably didn't help with short replies and a general lack of interest, which in all fairness was how I was feeling right now. "Are you even paying attention?" she demanded.
Had she been standing on solid ground, she would have been very threatening, but here in the winter she was a blind girl in the snow with a temper. Not at all threatening, but you still feel a little scared for some reason. "If I wasn't, I wouldn't be answering."
Everyone who knows me say that whenever I answer a question and was being clever about it, they would see a twinkle in my eye. I had no idea where they got this idea, but this might have been a situation that it could have reappeared, though Toph's sight meant that I wouldn't be able to test that theory.
"You don't talk to people do you?"
"I prefer to think. Keeps my discussions to myself."
Toph blew the hair out off her face in a huff. The cold air gathered like a mist over the front of her face, almost blending into the colour of her smoked eyes. "You are much more of a downer than Honour Bound."
"Thank you," I replied. It was not the answer she had been expecting, but I was just wanting to carry on this walk towards the spirit forest. I didn't like what I already knew about the place. I don't trust spirits. Most just want to make my life a misery, and also get me killed as a bonus.
Toph was speechless briefly. Very briefly, before she answered confidently. "That wasn't a compliment."
"I know." That same answer was now burning though the both of us. The meaning was now mutual and
"This is going to be fun," she replied. But her tone said that it wouldn't. Her words really meant that it wouldn't. My thoughts also told me, that I was wrong to think that this would be fun.
Ithar knew what I thought of him. "You're no fun." It was simple and it did its work fine. I may not be the greatest earthbender out her on the ice, but my way of words should keep me on top of these discussions.
"I have been called that." My feet are freezing and this was all that he could say.
This was getting irritating. I knew that he was only making these short comments to infuriate me. He was really getting on my nerves. "Just talk to me like a normal person."
Then he went into a riddle mode, Suki and Zuko both warned me about this. He makes absolutely less sense then he usually does and he does this deliberately which was just worse. "I am. If you talked to an eighty year old person, then he would try to speak very little to you as possible, which is exactly what I have been doing while showing you the courtesy by actually answering you." Made no sense, except for the last part. Which I disagree.
"I don't believe you, you know." Not the best comeback in the history of come backs, but my feet is cold so you're judgment is invalid.
"Believe what?" he asked.
"That you are an old man." He didn't sound like an old man, he didn't walk like and old man. He talked like one, but he was not an old man. He was too young.
He riddled his way out of it again. "I prefer to think of myself as fifteen with sixty-five years experience, roughly." He thought of himself as too smart. I didn't like it.
"That makes no sense."
"It wasn't suppose to-" he stopped, as the cliff started cracking. Ithar was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The cliff broke off with him still standing on it. I could feel a few rocks embedded in the cliff. Probably from some prehistoric tidal wave that carried them into the cliffs.
I slammed and I pushed the rocks out into the edges. Ithar fell with the cliff and the block he was standing on snapped in two as it hit the first rock and Ithar then landed face first against the second rock.
He got up and turned his head. Laying on his back he exclaimed out. "Phew."
"You owe me one," I yelled down to him, walking towards the edge.
Ithar picked himself up and reached out for the cliff. He grabbed hold of a ledge and stepped off from the platform just before the ice then broke from his weight and fell. I don't know how high it was, but it just kept on falling.
Ithar reached up the top and he began to put himself back on "I could have saved myself you know."
"Shoulda, woulda. Didn't." He owed me. I had one up on him. I knew of his infamous owes, and now I had one that I could play on him. This may not have been all bad. Provided it could have been interesting to see of his void did exist if he fell and landed .
Out there in front of us, was something green. I hadn't felt anything like this for a long time. Growing earth. Earth in general, very right indeed. The forest. It was right there, just a few miles away from the snow that we were standing on.
I couldn't see it, and the snow probably meant that Ithar couldn't see. But it was there.
The forest was out there, my smoke sight was picking up a large trace of void, not normal void might I just add right now;
Spirits aren't physically alive, which is generally why they are called spirits and not physic- forget that, and because they are technically alive, they don't produce void like all living things in the Physical World. No, they have their own substitutes;
I'm saying this as a general discrimination, but there is no such thing as a good or bad spirit. Spirits are fixed to their ways and their natures are the only things that give them a purpose to exist. Without their roles to fill, they fade away, or become so weak that they cannot appear. This is especially important towards spirits that are tied to the physical world, who are generally more powerful because of they physical ties, but that becomes their weakness is their sole purpose is no longer there for them. You kill a spirit, scratch that, you can't permanently kill a spirit . . . because they are spirits.
. . . Sorry, a bit off topic: Spirits aren't alive physically, that's the point. They can't produce void like the flora and fauna in our world. But, and I emphasize this because it is important, as spirits are generally influenced by positive or negative energies, and thus produce a solely positive or negative form of void.
Void in the physical world is gold in colour because it is the combining of the positive and negative energies; Ether, the positive energies is cyan in colour, while its opposite Nether, the negative energies is magenta. Only spirits produce physical ether and nether, while physical plants and animals, and people, produce void . . .
"Are you just gonna stand there getting blended . . ." Toph interrupted. She was really rearing to get into the forest. Forcing yourself to walk around in the snow 24/7 just to see must have been torture, but she was too eager to see the forest. ". . . Or will I finally get the chance to bury my feet in rich soil before I forget I have feet attached to my legs?"
She didn't wait for an answer and started walking. I only noticed as she started walking in front of my vision. "Wait! We can't go in there" I yelled to her. The flying snow wasn't helping the my voice travel, but she heard me clear enough.
"It's a forest in the snow, I am going in," she replied bluntly without even turning around. Heck she was so determined she didn't even stop walking forward, she just kept on going towards the forest.
I couldn't let her go in. She didn't know what she was getting into. I dared not walk any closer than I had to towards the forest, . . . and to her for that matter in case she earthbent me in reflex reaction, or because she felt like it. From what I heard from everyone else, and by her attitude, it seemed like something she wouldn't hesitate to do to me.
"It's a spirit forest," I yelled. "If you walk in, the spirits might not be happy to see you trespass."
"Two words glitter man . . . actually, make that four: bad name, soil, going."
That was a terrible nickname. I agree with her on that, but she should have listened to me. Eventually I couldn't see her with my normal sight as the snow started picking up again. I could only see white, so I switched back to smoke sight, looking at her in gold outline against a closing filed of cyan in the snow.
"Toph! No, don't try it."
Her voice was drifting further away. I could just see her closing in on the edged outside before she was in the spirits territory. "If I need advise, I'll talk to my feet; they usually agree with me!"
"Toph!" I bellowed.
"Can't hear you, my feet are too loud."
How stubborn could someone like her get? I'm not being cryptic, metaphorical, or whatever fancy way of speaking you could think of me doing to deliberately wind you up. I was being very serious.
I waved my hand again, the cyanic glow of ether was still hovering above the forest. I could barely see if Toph's golden excess was walking towards it. Wait? What was that? I looked out and there was something odd; magenta colour was spreading in the middle of the forest. Nether was spreading, and Toph was walking right in the middle of it.
Like an infectious disease, the cyan was being drowned in a pink and purple plague.
"Oh no." I readied to open a hole, but then I stopped; It can't: I'm not ready for something that powerful. I doubt that even if I never had to recover from losing my bending for so long that I could just enter and exit, or even worse, fight if I need to for very long.
Without the combination of positive and negative energies, there is no way I can safely make any form of attempt to bend it charged solely in one form.
If I get in there, then there'll be no void for me to get out if I tried to leave, or if I miss shot and land in the wrong place. My best bet would be to walk in their myself. At least that way, I'll know how to get out, the long way.
I had only one choice: I had to run in and get her out, myself. I ran after her, but that infection, was only the beginning for what was going to happen next.
To Be Continued
End of Part 1
- Nerrivi was seen by Katara in a vision with Tulia in " ".
- Misu met the gang in the Forgetful Valley with her brother in "The Search Part 2", before returning to the North in the following novel.
- Yugoda was last seen teaching healing lessons in "The Waterbending Master".
- Tulia's ship being attacked was last witnessed by Katara in " ".
- The spirit forests near the Northern Tribe were later used as the hiding place of bandits as seen in "The Southern Lights".
- This is the first story to not be the chronological successor of the previous chapter.
- The colours for ether and nether, complying with colour established for void, is based on the CMYK light colour diagram.
For the collective works of the author, go here.