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Book One: Rise and Fall
This is the fourth chapter ofby .
Lin gains a traveling companion; Po stumbles across an isolated Waterbender; Hanta pays a visit to Lin's mother.
Outskirts of Omashu
I gazed coldly at the intruder; I didn't quite know what to say. I waited for him to make a more specific inquiry than "You have some explaining to do."
"So who are you?" he finally asked me.
I deliberated for a few seconds, then decided to give him my real name. "I'm," I told him coldly. "Nice to meet you." I narrowed my eyes at him.
"My name's," he said. He held out his hand, but awkwardly rubbed his arm when I didn't shake it. "What are you doing here?"
"What does it look like?" I struggled not to roll my eyes; I didn't want to be interrogated by a handsome stranger. I wanted to leave this place before the authorities came.
"It looked like you were stealing," said Chong. He crossed his arms. "You know, I could report you; I work for the man that owns this shop."
"I'll be gone before you do," I countered. I picked up my pack for good measure and shouldered it, but my hand lingered on the hilt of my sword.
Chong stepped back slightly to block the door. "You're not from around here," he said.
"What told you that?" I asked sarcastically. I contemplated crashing through the window, but I figured that would attract more attention than from just Chong, not to mention the injuries I might sustain from the glass.
"Where are you from?" he asked, curious rather than interrogatory.
"Far away," I said evasively.
"Why are you not there, then?" he wondered. "I thought it was dangerous for people to leave their homes, especially for weak young women."
"Who are you calling weak?" I demanded, immediately angered. The flame in Chong's lantern flickered slightly, although he didn't seem to notice.
"Okay, you're not weak," Chong commented mildly. "I suggest you leave." He lifted the lantern a little more, and I walked forward and opened the entrance of the shop. As I was about to close the door, Chong asked, "Where are you heading to?"
I glanced at him over my shoulder. "I don't know," I replied honestly. I started to close the door, but his hand blocked it. "What do you want?" I asked.
"You want help getting to Omashu?" he wondered. "You might find what you're looking for there."
"What makes you think I'm looking for something?" I challenged.
"Most people don't wander around for nothing," he responded. "And you're obviously not very familiar with the area," he added before I could say anything.
"Well, I don't want help," I told him. I turned to leave and glanced up at the sky, which was beginning to brighten with the coming dawn.
I ignored him and meandered to the end of the street, ready to disappear as soon as the sun peaked over the horizon. Then I heard footsteps behind me and turned.
As expected, it was Chong. "I can get you to Omashu safely," he said.
"Why do you want to?"
"Why do you want to help me?" I reiterated.
"Well, honestly, I have nothing better to do," he replied. He grinned sheepishly and met my eyes. I noticed his irises were dark green, like the healthiest grass.
"You have a job, apparently," I countered. "Besides, I don't even know where I'm going or what I want."
"Maybe I can help you figure that out," he said.
I considered his offer. On the one hand, I didn't know if I could trust him or what skills he could lend, but on the other, he knew the geography, politics, and customs here better than I did. Besides, we could become allies without being friends.
I sighed. "Fine," I said. "Can you fight?"
He nodded and answered, "I have a slingshot."
"A slingshot?" I raised my eyebrows skeptically.
"You'd be surprised how effective it is," Chong said. He changed the subject: "To Omashu?"
The North Pole
shivered. This is madness, he thought furiously. I'm wandering around the icy tundra hoping to accidentally stumble across a Waterbender. What are the odds?
It had been almost a week since he had left Gust, when he departed without saying a word to anyone else. The only progress he had effectively made, though, aside from his northward trek, was that he had finally come to terms with the fact that he was the Avatar.
Of course, he hadn't seen the evidence himself yet, although he'd once more had that nightmare, with the same results: awakening exhausted, as if he had never fallen asleep. During the day, he had tried to put the dreams out of his mind with little success.
Po also happened to be running low on food, and so far, there had been no opportunity to purchase any nourishment. He was wandering through a wasteland, and if he ever reached civilization before he froze to death, he would immediately be apprehended as a foreigner, one of the many disadvantages of living in a suspicious world.
As the sky darkened, Po sighed. Daylight hours had decreased the further north he traveled. Soon, the sky would be black, sprinkled with stars and alight with a gibbous moon. It was time to stop for the night.
He dropped his tote onto the frozen ground and extracted a thick blanket, which he proceeded to unroll. He lay on it, closing his eyes for sleep.
Po fell asleep almost immediately, despite the chill, and as he slept, he dreamt as well. . .
The sun, how glorious it was! Its rays radiated warmth as he stood on the deck of a small ship. He glanced sideways and spotted his younger brother trotting towards him. The small boy had an expression of excitement on his face.
"Po, we're almost home!" he exclaimed.
Po smiled. "Yes, we are," he said. Then he looked northwards, towards Gust. A movement over the horizon caught his eye, and he saw black storm clouds beginning to billow. But the sky had been so clear!
"Po, get below deck," said the voice of his mother from behind. Po turned to see her steering his brother away.
Po ignored her and said, "There's nothing to worry about, Mother. That storm won't hit us." But he soon ate his words. The sea began to churn angrily. Foam built up as the wind turned ripples into rogue waves, lurching the small vessel from side to side. Po jolted unpleasantly, grabbing onto the ledge to keep his balance. The sound of the raging wind grew louder, and he flinched when he heard his father beside him.
"Po!" he screamed. "You have to get under deck!" That was when it started to rain.
The rain fell in icy torrents; Po felt the daggers of water as acutely as the wind. He had the feeling he could do something to slow the progress of the storm, but he was at a loss of what it could be. He let go of the edge of the ship and stumbled backwards, feeling his mind beginning to blank, until—
"Hey, wake up!" a voice yelled directly above him.
Po groggily opened his eyes to see that it was dawn. At first, that was all he noticed, until he saw the wide, dark face with large blue eyes lingering overhead.
"Agh!" he exclaimed, sitting up and sliding back.
"Had a nice sleep, sunshine?" the rude voice asked. It belonged to a rather short man in his early thirties. The man sat down beside Po. "If you're not careful, you can freeze to death out here."
"Is that why you woke me up?" Po asked while rubbing his eyes.
"Partly," the man said. "The other part was sheer nosiness. So who are you?"
"I'm Po," he responded while thinking, At least he admits it.
"Well, hello, Po," the man said. "I'm Haku, and did you know that your eyes glow when you sleep?"
"No, I didn't," Po said honestly.
"Now you do," Haku said matter-of-factly. He then rummaged around in a pack that he had brought with him and pulled out a small package of food. When he turned back to Po, he asked, "You're not from New Wave; if you were, you wouldn't have been stupid enough to sleep on the ground."
"Well, I was heading there," Po said cautiously.
"Don't," said Haku. "They'll kill you as soon as they see you, especially since you're a foreigner."
"Where else am I going to find a Waterbender?" Po then smacked his forehead, aware that he had said too much.
Haku ignored him at first and handed Po a small bowl and a pair of chopsticks. "Eat," he commanded, then he leaned back on his pack. "What do you need a Waterbender for?"
"That's not your concern," said Po warily. He looked at the contents of the bowl and saw a few black lumps in a viscous brown broth; it did not look appealing. He vaguely wondered why this nosy stranger was showing him kindness.
"You're not too paranoid, are you?" Haku inquired rhetorically. He then chuckled as Po took a bite of his food and subsequently gagged. "Don't like sea prunes?" he asked.
Po stared at his bowl with a bewildered expression, then looked back up at Haku. "No, I don't think I do," he replied with a look of distaste.
Haku steered the conversation away from food. "You won't find any Waterbenders in New Wave. There are some there, but all of them are hidden."
"I can't go to Cascade instead, though; it's too far."
"You don't have to go that far," said Haku. "I'm a Waterbender."
Po barely spared a thought of surprise. "Can you teach me?" he asked.
Haku blinked in astonishment but nonchalantly responded, "Sure."
glanced in the mirror in his hotel room. Sure, he was an assassin, but that didn't mean he couldn't look presentable. To him, a decent appearance was one of his greatest weapons; a victim was less likely to shy away from a clean man than a bedraggled one.
Hanta's instructions were simple: track down the girl and kill her. However, there had been nothing on that tiny pile of ashes to suggest that he couldn't do anything more. A point he always made with his victims was to tell them why he was about to kill them; it just didn't seem fair to let them meet their demise without some sort of resolution.
Today, though, Hanta wasn't killing anyone. Sure, it was possible he could ruin a couple reputations, but no one was meeting their life's end by his hand. Yet.
After leaving the small inn, Hanta meandered around the village, searching for a home near the limits. He knocked on its door and patiently waited for someone to let him in.
The door slid open and he saw a short, thin woman with tired yellow eyes peering out at him. "Can I help you?" she asked.
"Yes," said Hanta, allowing a charming smile to stretch across his face. "Are you Ms. Song?"
"Yes," she responded, her eyes widening slightly. She then asked rather coldly, "What do you want?"
"I'm Mr. Tong from the police," he told her. "I'd like to ask you a few questions."
Hanta gritted his teeth but otherwise remained cool. Why did this woman have to be so suspicious? "A certain Mrs. Su noticed your daughter has had strange behavior lately."
"As far as I know, Lin hasn't even seen Su in a while," Song replied levelly. She began to close her door, but Hanta stuck his hand in its path.
"Please, I insist you allow me a few questions."
Song reluctantly opened the door so that it was wide enough to allow Hanta through.
"Thank-you," said Hanta graciously as he entered. He peered around the entry room, which consisted of a small kitchen and an eating area.
"What do you want?" Song asked for the second time as she turned after closing the door.
"I'd like to speak to your daughter," Hanta told her.
"Mrs. Su is worried about her," Hanta responded. "Apparently she is used to seeing your daughter almost daily."
"My daughter isn't home right now," said Song. She glanced sideways and added, "She's running an errand for me."
Hanta made a noise of skepticism. "I have the feeling you're lying to me, Ms. Song. Where is she running this so-called errand?"
"At the marketplace," said Song softly without looking at Hanta.
"Who's at the marketplace?" asked a voice from an open doorway. Hanta turned to see a thin, pale man.
"You're husband?" Hanta inquired.
"This is Jing Lee," she said.
"Jing Lee, perhaps you can tell me where your daughter is?"
"Lin isn't my daughter," said Jing Lee. "Song and I haven't been married for very long."
"Well, where's your stepdaughter?" Hanta tried to hide his impatience. He then caught sight of Song's suddenly frantic expression.
"I don't know," said Jing Lee. "I haven't seen her for two weeks."
"You lied to me, Ms. Song," said Hanta as he turned back to the woman in question. "Tell me where your daughter is and I won't hurt you."
Song sighed and replied, "Lin left Vuon two weeks ago. She headed east, to Minh. That's all I know; I promise."
Hanta resisted the urge to smirk. Instead, he said in a slightly sadistic voice, "That wasn't so bad, was it? Anyway, I must be leaving. Jing Lee, please come let me out."
Jing Lee glanced at his wife, who still appeared frightened, and walked to the door. He opened it for Hanta.
"Thank-you," he said. He removed a small scroll from his pocket and handed it to Jing Lee. On the outside it read "Open while alone." Hanta then turned and left without a word; very soon, that woman would be imprisoned for shielding her apparently traitorous daughter, thanks to that scroll and her husband. Also, Hanta now knew where to go.
The gray clouds overhead finally released their load. Hanta clutched his hood to his face as rain pelted down. Despite the chilly water, he smirked. Soon, he'd be upon his prey.
- I'm not so sure about this chapter. Let me know what you think.
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|