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|Addition and Division|
Book One: Rise and Fall
This is the eighth chapter of the fanfiction. It is also the longest chapter so far.
Lin is reunited with Chong and they begin plotting Lin's escape; Hanta comes across Lin's location and convinces one of her fellow slaves to help him; Po flees south.
Po set his pack down on the ground and collapsed, ignoring the dirt seemingly crawling through his clothing. He panted heavily for a few moments, both repulsed by and relishing his discover. Who would have known he could cross an ocean simply by walking?
Po peeled off his thick overcoat, which was soaked in sweat from the effort of freezing the ocean water in his path. If he ever came across a friendly face again, it would be a story to tell.
"Guess what? I once crossed an entire ocean by Waterbending!"
No one would ever believe it. Po scarcely believed it himself.
He sat up and glanced around. With the light of the gibbous moon and the stars, he could tell that he was washed up on a deserted beach. The surf of the sea ebbed and flowed with the tide, and the damp sand was imprinted with the outline of his boots. He figured he should rest, especially since he was exhausted.
He tried to wrestle his boots off his feet, but his arm muscles refused to make any effort. He lay back on the sand and closed his eyes instead; he fell into a dreamless sleep immediately.
Po awoke when he felt a bright, intense light shining on his face. He opened his eyes, then squinted reflexively when he saw the sun's reflection off the ocean. It was daybreak, and it was time for him to move.
As he stood and stretched, he felt unusually well-rested. No nightmares had plagued his mind, and his fears hadn't yet taken him over. He grabbed his belongings and began to make for the bushes at the edge of the beach; he would continue to head south until he came upon civilization.
It didn't take long for Po to find habitation. He came across a large town barely five miles from the beach he had washed up on. He stood hesitantly at the edge of the road leading into the town. With his disheveled appearance, he would surely stand out. If he was anything like Haku, he need not have entered the town, as he would have been able to scrap a living for himself in the wilderness.
Po sighed, feeling slightly ashamed of himself. It had barely been three days since his friend had been killed, yet he felt no sadness. He didn't even register shock. In fact, he almost felt. . . numb. Perhaps the death of all his family beforehand had hardened him?
Po inhaled slowly, then strode forward along the rode into town. A sign attached to one of the outer buildings said, "Kung City, capital of Kung."
Po felt faint surprise at his location and extracted a map from his backpack. Oh, he thought with understanding. Of course I'm in the East now. He then replaced his map and proceeded into the small city warily, trying not to attract attention.
Unfortunately, as he looked around, Po liked what he saw less and less. There were few people walking around, and even fewer as he approached the town center, but all that were out and about practically jogged, their shoulders slouched, defeated, and their eyes angled to the ground. He noticed frightened eyes peeping out of windows, and it was eerily quiet. What was more, policemen dressed in thick, dark green uniform with broadswords strapped to their backs lingered at street corners, glaring at the retreating posteriors of civilians.
No, Po didn't like Kung one bit.
East of Omashu
Chong held his small pair of binoculars to his eyes. He slowly spun the focus, adjusting the lenses of the optics. What he was seeing lost its blurred quality. He smirked slightly as he watched the farmer standing at the edge of the marsh, supervising his laborers.
Chong had tracked Lin to this wetland rice farm from Omashu. He had followed the soldiers that had taken her away and lingered outside of the prison she had been placed in. Two days later, she had been released, but to his consternation, her freedom had been restricted. A middle-aged man had taken her on as a slave to work his farm, taking her away in an old motor-cart.
He could have just stolen the belongings she had entrusted with him and forgotten her, but he hadn't. Chong was nothing if not honest, although he didn't always speak the truth. . . Apparently, though, Lin had a few secrets as well; she hadn't even hinted that she was an Earthbender.
Chong shook his head to clear it of dark thoughts. He pressed his binoculars closer to his face, knowing they would leave a mark. He shifted them slightly to the right, trying to visualize all the slaves. He couldn't find Lin, so he began to worry that he'd located the wrong farm. He knew for a fact that several families claimed ownership of the marshes east of Omashu. Then he saw a black-haired girl that seemed to be staring straight at him.
It was Lin. He had found her at last. Now all he had to do was wait until nightfall.
I put a hand to the back of my neck, feeling the hairs prickle. I felt eyes on me, yet as I glanced around, I saw that the other laborers were focused on plucking green rice plants. I stood up straight and let my gaze fall over Mr. Shao, who was today's supervisor. Shao, however, appeared distracted, undoubtedly wishing he was back in the farmhouse rather than out here in the heat and damp with us. Lo, who was barely a foot away from me, asked, "What's wrong, Lin?" When I merely glanced at him blankly, he added, "Cat-gator got your tongue?" Apparently, I looked like I wanted to say something. I shook my head, both trying to clear it and answering Lo's question. I bent down to continue working, but the feeling was back, and this time it was even more acute. I turned around completely, ignoring Lo's look of confusion. I gazed into the nearby forest and thought I saw light from the sun reflect off of. . .something. Then, as quickly as I had noticed the glare, it had vanished. I sighed and turned back to the grains.
As I lay in my cot around midnight, I felt my stomach cramping once more. I was hungry, and the small meal of bland, overcooked noodles had done little to curb my appetite. If anything, it had made it even less bearable. Even so, that wasn't my only complaint. I coughed a few times, feeling mucus dislodge itself in my throat. The day prior, I had developed a cold when we had been forced to work through a downpour. In fact, the rain had resumed around noon the following day, and I could hear the heavy drops of water pounding on the tin roof of the slaves' shack. My mind began to wander, fueled by my relative boredom. I thought vaguely of Chong, and I wondered what had become of him. I scratched my forehead pensively, speculating what he had done with my belongings, which I had given to him. He could've eaten my food, or perhaps thrown some of it out; it would have spoiled by now anyway, and very likely he had somewhere to go after ridding himself of me. After all, he wasn't a strange man in a strange land. I could only guess what he had done with my sword. Dad's sword. . . I felt something moist and warm sting the corner of my eye, and, after reaching to wipe it away, I realized it was a tear. Was I crying for my father or for his sword, which had been the only thing I had left of him? Tears began to flow more freely, and my gloomy mood was accentuated by the torrential rain. I missed my impulsive father, someone whom I had been so similar to. I had inherited his dissatisfaction with the way of the world, but neither of us had done anything about it. A crashing sound outside broke through the rain, and I bolted upright, alert. I glanced furtively around the dark room, but no one had stirred. Lucky them, I thought wryly. I lay back down, but as soon as my head rested on my flat pillow, I heard a slamming sound, like a door being whipped back and forth by the wind. I sat up once more and glanced out the window, but I could see nothing through the rain and the darkness. Then, the sky was lit up by a fork of lightning, and I thought I could make out a tall silhouette standing beside the outhouse. Unable to sleep, especially as a clap of thunder sounded, I decided to investigate. I tugged my rubber boots on and put on an oiled cloak that the laborers took turns wearing on especially dreary days. I tiptoed to the exit and silently opened the door. I turned once more to see my comrades, all of whom still remained sound asleep. I walked as quickly as I possibly could around mud and darkness lest I trip and fall. As I approached the outhouse, I was barely able to make out a figure standing beneath the roof's overhang. When I recognized the person, as soaked and distorted-looking as they were, I felt the blood draining from my head. "Hello, Lin," said Chong with a rather amused smile. "I was starting to worry you had forgotten me." "Ch-Chong?" I stuttered, then sneezed. When Chong raised an eyebrow, I snapped, "It's the rain." He shrugged, but then asked, "You want to get out of here?" "You have no idea," I said in reply. "Then can you leave now?" I gazed around doubtfully, then responded in a regretful tone, "It's too late in the night now; besides, we wouldn't get far in this downpour. Also, I think I'm getting sick." As if to emphasize my point, a few watery coughs rattled my chest. "Then when?" Chong asked. "I can't wait for long." "Why have you waited at all?" I questioned curiously. Chong appeared genuinely confused. "I don't know," he said in a distant voice. "Well, I have a day off on the day of the night of the full moon," I told him. "I think it's some local holiday. . ." "Oh, you mean the Sun Moon?" Chong clarified. "The Sun Moon?" "Yeah," said Chong. "It's called such because it's the one day of the year where the moon looks yellow." "Okay, well, I'll leave that evening; it's in three days, and I need you to be in that forest behind the marsh." "Works for me," Chong said in a surprisingly cheerful voice. He lightly placed his hand on my shoulder, but drew back when I flinched reflexively. "I should leave," he said with a hint of awkwardness. He made to leave, but then looked back and asked, "Do you want your sword?" My father's sword! I bit my lip, fighting back excitement, and reluctantly said, "I can't take it." "Okay," said Chong. "I'll keep it safe; just remember not to Earthbend around anyone." I nodded, not bothering to correct him, and turned away, heading back to the shack through the rain, wondering how much sleep I could get before Mrs. Shao tore the door off its hinges.
Hanta was soaked through the skin by the time the rain stopped. He exhaled a sigh of relief; he was most vulnerable in the rain, his ability to Firebend impaired. Sure, he was anything but dry, but no rain was better than rain. As he padded down the muddy dirt road away from Omashu, the sky began to clear of clouds. The sun shone through a thin sheet of vapor, emanating a beautiful and serene light.
As a Firebender, Hanta had learned to truly appreciate the sun and never take it for granted. In fact, it was one of the few things he truly revered and admired. After all, it was the source of all Firebending; without the life-giving sun and its warmth, there would be no Firebending, and, furthermore, there would be no life at all. But where there was light, there was also darkness. . . Hanta shrugged off this unpleasant thought. He felt strangely optimistic, a sign that he was drawing close to his destination and his target. He then stumbled as his foot lodged itself in the mud. He tugged his foot out, muttering a curse; he hoped this obstacle, however insignificant it seemed, wasn't an ill omen. One bump in the road could easily interfere with his goals.
It was almost sunset when Hanta approached the farm. He could see the laborers trudging back from the field, all seven figures plastered with mud and water. Behind them marched a tall, broad woman. Then, as Hanta examined more closely, he caught his first glimpse of his target. Lin looked remarkably different from her fellows; her black hair and pale skin stood out among the brown mops and tan complexions of the other six. She walked with a defeated, yet somehow defiant, posture. Hanta then smirked as he realized how vulnerable she was. She had no weapon to speak of, and she and her companions were relatively unsupervised. And, as far as he knew, she wasn't a Firebender and most likely possessed no remarkable strength. He vaguely wondered why a girl like her would run away from her home. Perhaps she was trying to be some international rebel rouser, which, considering whom her father was, wasn't too far-fetched. Hanta then let his gaze wander over the other slaves. There was a young woman who walked ahead of the others, yet she kept glancing back as if to be sure they were still following. Another was a middle-aged man with a somber face, and there were also two girls, both in their teens, padding along a little ways behind Lin. Another pair, two young men, lagged behind. One of them, strangely enough, had a spring in his step, and the other had a rather calculating expression. Hanta then decided to recruit someone on the inside, a simpler way to reach his victim.
A few hours later, Hanta lurked around the farmhouse, waiting for a potentially snitch-like slave to arrive. He heard the sounds of music coming from inside the house, and he glanced into the window to see the farmer and his wife, the large woman he noticed earlier, dancing. He felt a strange sense of loneliness mingled with longing, but he shook it away as one of the laborers approached. It was the man with the cunning demeanor. He reached to knock on the farmer's door, but before he could, Hanta said, "Kissing up to your master, are we?" The slave flinched, but he turned to face Hanta. "So?" he demanded with a scowl. Hanta shrugged nonchalantly, stifling a smirk. His manipulation skills were about to come in handy. "What does he give you in return?" he asked in a curious voice. "What's it to you?" the field hand asked. Hanta waved his hand absentmindedly. "I'm just making a conversation," he responded lightly. "You don't have to get defensive." The man hesitated before saying, "I get nothing." Hanta raised an eyebrow. "So what do you do for him that gets you 'nothing'?" The slave appeared self-conscious, but he replied without hesitation, "I feed him information about the other laborers." "Fascinating," said Hanta, his tone sarcastic. "Would you like to do something for me instead?" "Sorry, but I'm a little busy. . ." The man became more guarded. "I'll give you something for your trouble," said Hanta, at last laying out the bait. "I can guarantee your freedom, and even some payment." The laborer seemed to consider, but he said almost immediately, "What do you want?" "There's a girl that works here," Hanta said carefully. "She's new; I believe she's been here only a week. Do you know her?" "That's Lin," said the slave with a malicious glint in his eye. He almost snarled, "Why?" "I have some unfinished business with her. Bring her to me in two days' time." "If I do, will you repay me with your promise?" Hanta nodded and didn't break eye contact. "Who are you, anyway?" the slave asked. "The name's Tong," said Hanta, automatically taking his alias. "Who have I had the pleasure in hiring? And do we have a deal?" "I'm Tang, and we definitely have a deal."
Kung, former northwestern Earth Kingdom
Po surreptitiously peered into a grocery store's display window. A small basket of assorted fruits greeted him. It was cheerful and inviting, unlike this dark city. He then craned his head to glance at the nearby street corner. Po caught sight of a policeman pulling a woman by her arm. The guard had a broadsword unsheathed and he was pointing it at his hostage in a threatening way. The poor woman was in tears, so Po approached the commotion. They appeared to be having a heated argument. The policeman accused the woman of slandering the government of Kung, while the woman protested, saying she had been reading graffiti off a wall out loud. The policeman then called her a liar, telling her that there was no graffiti. He sheathed his sword and instead raised his hand to slap her across the face, but Po approached. "Leave her alone," he said in what he hoped was a commanding voice. The policeman barely spared him a glance before he let go of the woman and pushed her to the ground. Po watched him with suspicion as the bulky policeman then glared at him. Po kept his gaze level, not allowing himself to be intimidated. The policeman began to walk away, breaking eye contact only after he came to the street corner. With the man's back turned, Po offered a helping hand to the fallen woman. She accepted it and said, "You shouldn't stand up to them. They could make your life miserable." "They couldn't," said Po. "I'm just passing through." The woman's eyes widened. "Then you should leave now, boy," she advised. "No one here takes kindly to strangers." "That's too bad," said Po in a cold voice. The woman shook her head disapprovingly. "If you don't respect the authorities, they'll force you to respect them," she commented. Then, surprisingly, she smiled and asked, "Why don't you come home with me? I can feed you a meal before you go on your way." "That would be nice," said Po as he followed the woman to a small tea house apparently owned by Yinsu. "Are you Yinsu?" he asked the woman as they entered. She nodded, then retreated behind the counter without another word, leaving Po to sit at a small table in a corner. He waited for five minutes, the entire time appraising his surroundings. He observed a young couple practically spring away from another imposing policeman that was shouting at them; he saw another guard wielding a pair of broadswords at a young girl that appeared to have been singing out loud. Po looked away in disgust, then he realized he was being watched by a teenage girl. "You don't like our shop?" she asked with an expression of hurt. "What?" Po said, surprised. "Oh, no, I do like your shop," he stuttered. He then looked into the girl's unnaturally vacant, pale green eyes and stood up suddenly. He had the vague idea that she was familiar to him, yet he couldn't for the life of him say why. For one thing, he had never before met someone with green eyes. Then, it came to him. "You're blind!" he exclaimed. The girl frowned but responded, "My name isn't 'Blind'; it's Xia." "No, I meant that you can't see. . ." The girl smirked a bit, the first sign of cheerfulness Po had seen thus far in this miserable town. "I know what you meant, stranger; and yes, I am blind. And before you ask, I'm good at sensing people's emotions; that's why I thought you didn't like the shop." "Oh, well, it's not the shop I was disgusted with; it's this whole town's situation." Po retook his seat watched as Xia the blind girl sat beside him. She smiled sadly and said, "We live a restricted life, and the only reason we even know we're being oppressed is because they haven't been keeping a close enough watch on us." She winked, and Po wondered what good winking did for a sightless person. She leaned back slightly and added, "They haven't even managed to lock up all the Earthbenders." She smiled mischievously and stood up. "So what's your name, traveling stranger?" "I'm Po." "Well, Po, when you leave tomorrow, I might actually miss you. It's been fun." With that, she walked away and Po wondered at the sense of humor of the miserable and handicapped individual. He sat deep in thought as Yinsu brought him a plate of dumplings. The old stories say the Avatar helped people and worked for the good of the world. It's not just about mastering the elements, after all. Perhaps I should help these people too. Po then made up his mind. He knew the time had come to undo the deeds of past anarchists and dictators. His resolve was building, and he would lead the storm when it came. Let the revolution begin.
- So far, no one knows Lin is a Firebender; instead, they still think she's an Earthbender.
- Two different views of Lin's father, Fuqin, have been alluded to in this chapter: a passive yet restless and resentful individual or a "rebel rouser". Which portrayal do you think is correct?
- There was some serious foreshadowing in this chapter, especially in the final section.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Fleeting Peace Chapters|
|Book 1: Rise and Fall|
|Disagreements - Handle with Care - Glimpses - Alliances - Curses - Idle - Half-Empty - Addition and Division - The Snitch - Revelations|
|Book 2: Success and Failure|
|Explanations - Omens - Looking Back - Factors - Ulterior Motives, Part 1: Jealousy - Ulterior Motives, Part 2: The Grandson - Shifting Tides - Repetition|
|Book 3: Cause and Effect|