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|Blindness and Bison|
Taking a break from her training of Aang, Toph and her friends meet up with a professor during their mini-vacation at an oasis, who tells them about a hidden library in the desert. Sokka insists on going to the Library so that they may come across intelligence which may help them in their upcoming battle against the Fire Lord. When they finally locate it, Toph, not interested in what they might find there, stays outside and watches Appa while the group explores the library. Tragedy strikes, and the library suddenly begins sinking just as Sandbenders take advantage of Toph's blurry "vision" to sneak up on her and steal the flying bison away from the group. She manages to hold the library up long enough for her friends to escape safely, but the group finds the loss of Appa devastating.
After around two weeks of strenuously training their mutual pupil, Toph and Katara independently decided that they all needed a break. After Katara got Aang up for the day, Toph told him that they were going to have a free day. Aang seemed excited about this and told the group to get aboard Appa, as he had a place in mind where he would like to spend his break which it would take most of the morning to get to.
After they had flown for what seem to Toph like a long time, they landed in what felt like a prairie. She could immediately tell that the ground had a series of hole across its surface, and that the ground under their feet wasn't completely solid. Aang produced a small device he had apparently stashed somewhere amongst the group's belongings, and sat cross-legged on ground a little ways away from the rest of the group.
Sokka, feeling annoyed and sounding like he hoped they had an important reason for being there, asked them what was out there. In order to answer his question better, Toph place her hand on the ground to clarify what her feet's seismic sense was telling her. She then realized that there was a series of small tunnels running underneath the ground, with several little animals traveling through them. She began to answer, "A lot actually. There's hundreds of little -"
Aang interrupted her, "Shhh! I know you can see underground, but don't ruin the surprise. Just watch." He move in a way which seemed like he was pressing the device he was holding to his mouth, and then began playing what was apparently a musical instrument. Her hand still pressed to the ground, Toph felt a prairie dog scurry up through the tunnel and pop out of one of the holes to repeat the musical note the Airbender had just played, which Aang seemed pleased with. He played another note, and another prairie dog did the same thing. Sounding happy, he said loudly, "I'm putting an orchestra together."
Sokka, who obviously didn't care, said in a sarcastic tone, "Orchestra, huh? Well, la dee da." Surprisingly, three prairie dogs, side by side, still came up even for this purposefully lame attempt at music. Momo could be felt jumping over at one of the singing prairie dogs and into the hole it was in when it ducked away from; he emerged empty-handed a moment later from the hole right next door.
Aang continue playing his instrument, with the singing prairie dog's notes accompanying his. Katara laughed while Momo continued failing to catch the prairie dogs. Eventually Sokka, who seemed rather frustrated by their frivolousness by this point, intervened and apparently plugged up Aang's musical tool. "This is great and all, but don't we have more important things to worry about? We should be making plans." Toph stood up, figuring that the "orchestra" was finished for now.
Finding his over-seriousness a bit ridiculous, she then replied, "We did make plans. We're all picking mini-vacations." When Sokka informed her that there was no time for vacations, she felt Aang turn around and tell him explain why she and Katara had decided to do what they did.
Katara added rhetorically, "Yeah. What's wrong with having a little fun in our downtime?"
Apparently immovable in his decisions, Sokka went on disagreeing with them, everything he said accompanied with what felt like they were meant to be dramatic gestures, "Even if you do master all the elements, then what? It's not like we have a map of the Fire Nation. Should we just head west until we reach the Fire Lord's house?" he asked sarcastically, then added in a mocking voice, "Knock knock! Hello, Fire Lord...anyone home?" He continued on in a more serious tone, "I don't think so. We need some intelligence if we're gonna win this war."
Ignoring Sokka's attempt to take authority, Aang played one more note, causing a prairie dog to pop up right underneath Sokka's feet, surprising him enough to send him crashing against the ground. Toph then felt the light vibrations sent by the gust of air Aang used to push himself to his feet. Follow up his act, Katara sent one last jibe at Sokka's disruption of their relaxation, "Alright, we'll finish our vacations, then we'll look for Sokka's intelligence." Toph wondered what this meant for her vacation, but decided to wait until Katara's was done before asking.
Aang pulled a piece of paper out from somewhere, and Katara and he began discussing what location (apparently) depicted on it where they would go next. The Waterbender picked some place called "the Misty Palm's Oasis" because it sounded refreshing, to which Aang readily assented that it was.
They got back up onto Appa and flew for several hours, Katara and Aang chatting away about their next vacation spot, but when they were landed Toph was annoyed that they had been up in the air so long only to find a shoddy, run-down place (with no palm trees and much more ground in what was supposed to be an ice pool than Toph had been lead to believe there would be). Aang laughed nervously at the place's present appearance and his apparent false advertising, "Must have changed ownership since I was here..."
They walked through the gates of the town surrounding the oasis towards the largest and most-important seeming mud house. Katara held the cloth door open for Aang and Toph as they walked in, with Sokka following a bit later. From the inside of the place, it appear to be a restaurant, with several customers sitting at tables and a bartender with swords standing at the front, talking to a man dressed in light clothing. At his nearby customer's request, the bartender gave the man a mango beverage using his dual swords.
All Toph's friends felt like they were intrigued as they stood in the doorway watching this, and Sokka stated that he didn't see anything wrong with getting one of those drinks while planning their strategy, suddenly pushing her and Aang out of the way in his rush to get up to front. Not as interested as her sighted friends, Toph stayed back as the other two followed Sokka up to the front. Sokka moved as if he were signaling to the bartender to give the four of them drinks, but before the man could react his nearby customer turned and bumped into Aang, spilling his drink all over him.
In reaction to the man's obvious surprise, Aang assured the man that he cleaned up easily, and then airbended to blow the liquid off of his clothes. "You're a living relic!" the man cried out in obvious awe. Intending to figure out who this person was, Toph walked up to the place where her friends and the stranger were standing.
The man, who informed them that his name was Professor Zei, began discussing with Aang about Air Nomad culture as they waited for their drinks, with avid curiosity in his voice. They soon received their drinks, and waited until the two's conversation trailed off a bit. At this point, Sokka changed the track of the conversation and asked the man, "So professor, you're obviously a well traveled guy. Do you have a current map? Ours seems to be a little dated." Toph privately thought that was the understatement of the year, if what she had heard was on the map ever reflected what the place was really like.
The professor replied that he certainly did, and they moved over to a table for him to lay out his maps. Completely uninterested with the present topic of general interest, Toph lazily propped her legs up on a chair, intending to content herself with drinking her fruity beverage. Sokka began complaining again because there was apparently no Fire Nation in the professor's maps. Katara stated that the man had made a lot of trips, which could only have been from what she had seen on the map since the subject had not yet come up in conversation.
"All in vain, I'm afraid. I've found lost civilazation all over the Earth Kingdom, but I haven't managed to find the crown jewel ... Wan Shi Tong's Library," Professor Zei told the Watebending girl, sounding depressed that he had not yet found it.
Having a hard time understanding what sighted people found so interesting about books, Toph found it quite ridiculous to be so interested in finding a library, and so asked in a half-mocking tone, "You spent years walking in the desert to find some guy's library?"
Professor Zei answered her in a condescending tone, "This library is more valuable than gold, little lady." Little lady?!! "It is said to contain a vast collection of knowledge, and knowledge ... is priceless."
Annoyed at what he had labeled her, and unconvinced by his argument in favor of the library, Toph sarcastically replied, "Mm, sounds like good times."
"Oh, it is," the professor went on, missing her tone completely. "According to legend, it was built by the great knowledge spirit, Wan Shi Tong, with the help of his foxy knowledge seekers."
"Oh, so this spirit has attractive assistants, huh?" Sokka asked in a suggestive tone. With a noise which sounded like she was shoving her brother aside for what it seemed that she deemed an inappropriate comment, Katara attempted to correct him with her view that the knowledge seekers probably looked like actual foxes.
"You're both right. Handsome little creatures. Wan Shi Tong and his knowledge seekers collected books from all over the world, and put them on display for mankind to read, so that we might better ourselves," Zei informed both of them. Toph had a hard time taking him at his word concerning the way the library had been made, but she kept quiet about it and continued sipping her drink (which, by the way, tasted very good in the desert heat).
"If this place has books from all of the world, do you think they've got info on the Fire Nation? A map, maybe?" Sokka asked, apparently trying to take advantage of the possibility of gaining such knowledge even though, as Toph had learned by this point, he generally held similar views to her own.
"I wouldn't know, but if such a thing exists, it's in Wan Shi Tong's Library," the professor added helpfully
Sokka then informed the group of his newly-made plan, "Then it's settled. Aang, I do believe it's my turn. I'd like to spend my vacation...AT THE LIBRARY!"
Thinking she had only accidentally been overlooked, Toph waved her hand in the other's direction to get their attention as she said, "Uh, hey! What about me? When do I get to pick?"
Sokka replied to this by informing her, "You gotta work here a little longer before you qualify for vacation time." Yeah, that's totally fair, she thought as she slammed her drink's bowl down onto the table and pouted. Yeah, I haven't made my contribution to this group at all.
The professor went on to inform them that it would be highly difficult to find, that he had almost died every time he went looking in the Si Wong Desert for it. He told them in a depressed-sounding voice, "I'm afraid that desert's impossible to cross."
Sokka then asked him in a helpful-sounding voice if he wanted to see their sky bison, to which the professor sounded very surprised. Toph heard the group heading back outside to the wall surrounding the oasis (where they had left Appa), but, still a bit annoyed, took her time slurping down the rest of her drink before following them. Several men, in rags by the feel of the vibrations they gave off, were surrounding the growling animal when the group got there, but Professor Zei managed to scare them off (though she was a bit suspicious that they might come back if they didn't leave soon, since they left rather slowly).
Toph climbed aboard Appa with the others, grasping the side of his saddle to give herself a sense of safety while off of the ground, and then the animal took off and flew in what she assumed must be the direction of the desert. The professor could be heard muttering something to the flying bison near the animal's head, with Momo making noises which failed to capture his attention. Aang commented with optimism in his voice, "Wow, shouldn't be too hard to find a place like this out here," which Toph assumed was backed up by some visual representation of the library that he was looking at. It better not be. I don't think I can take being blinded much longer today.
Unfortunately for her, Aang turned out to be wrong, and they spent quite a long time in the air. Becoming frustrated with the length of the flight, she complained to the world at large, "Aw, does this place even exist?" She was shocked when she heard the professor's reply that some said it didn't. Now really annoyed at the thought that their entire journey might be pointless, she complained louder, "Shouldn't you have mentioned that before?" and took out her frustration by groaning and throwing herself back into saddle.She laid there awhile, feeling the mysterious heat source sighted people called the sun beat down on her hair-covered face and letting her thoughts drift in sheer boredom. Her present feeling of uselessness made her thoughts fall on the home she had so recently left. Getting irritated at having let herself being reminded of this, she lifted herself back up to the saddle's edge and decided to play a trick on her friends to keep her mind off of her boredom for a little bit.
She sat up straight and pointed out into the desert, shouting in mock excitement, "There it is!" She heard noises which she instinctively knew were that of her friends looking for the library that she had "spotted", and then a long pause that she knew was meant to feel uncomfortable for her. Taking their annoyance as the cost of her moment's enjoyment, she ignored it and flatly told them, "That's what it will sound like when one of you spots it," forcing a blank grin and waving her hand in front of her eyes to remind them of the fact that she was totally blind when on Appa. She went back to clutching the saddle, the annoyance that was still "in the air" providing something to keep her mind away from the depressing thought of her past life at home.
They flew on for a while, until Sokka seemed to spot something that at least slightly resembled the library's depiction. Toph felt Appa's body tilt as he headed for the ground, and jumped out of his saddle soon after she heard the sound of the creature's feet hitting the ground (which seemed lighter than normal for some odd reason). When she finally had her feet planted against the ground again, she realized Appa "landed" softer than normal because they had landed on a large mass of shifty sand which apparently took up much of the nearby desert. She was disappointed to realize that she couldn't feel the vibrations given off by things much better here than she could in the saddle, but said nothing to anybody, figuring she ought to be glad she could now feel just a little.
Katara spoke up, saying in a disappointed voice, "Forget it. It's obviously not what we're looking for. The building in the drawing is enormous," obviously referring to the large structure which could be felt right in front of the group. Before Toph could become really annoyed at this unpleasant turn of events, she felt the blurry vibrations give off by some animal on one of the sand dunes within the ranger of her seismic sense, but wasn't really able to identify what it was. While Sokka, apparently also dumbfounded, wondered aloud what the animal was, it traveled over to the nearby spire and then could vaguely be felt climbing up the structure.
When it had just about disappeared from the range of Toph's seismic sense, the professor informed them, " I think that was one of the knowledge seekers." As it finally disappeared, he continued with an excited voice, "Oh, we must be close to the library!"
After a brief pause where Aang, Sokka, and Katara could be felt gathering around each other, Sokka informed the professor that the structure was the library (which then made Toph assume that they were looking at the visual representation of it again). He continued in a slightly depressed voice, "It's completely buried."
"The library is buried!" she heard the professor cry out at the thought. He continued in a depressed-sounding voice, "My life's ambition is now full of sand." Then his mood apparently changed, as he then said in a cheerful voice that it was time to start excavating, followed by the light plink of a small shovel being forced in the sand and the small plunk of the shovel's contents being thrown backward.
From what Toph could tell from the vague impression her feet were giving her, she guessed that the man's activities might end up being superfluous, and so she walked over to the building and placed her hand on it so she could be sure of herself before she corrected him. Realizing she was indeed corrected, she informed the group, "Actually, that won't be necessary. The inside seems to be completely intact, and it's huge," placing emphasis on her last words as she realized just how big the ornate building really was.
Hearing her words, Sokka came up with a plan, "That fox thingy went in through a window. I say we climb up there and give it a look."
Finding the prospect of spending possible hours in the library feeling other's look at ink-covered scraps of paper rather boring, Toph crossed her arms told the group, " I say you guys go ahead without me," hoping they would get her point without her blindness being brought up. Katara was apparently oblivious to this, asking her if she had something against libraries. Shaking her head mentally at the thickness of some people, she went on to explain herself as if she was explaining the most obvious thing in the world to a very dense person, "I've held books before, and I gotta tell you, they don't exactly do it for me."
Katara gave a nervous laugh, and apologized for her moment of obliviousness, "Oh, right. Sorry." Hoping she hadn't offended her friend too much, she asked her about an unlikely possibility that would be more interesting to her in order to cheer up her Waterbender friend, "Let me know if they have something you can listen to."
Sokka got out his boomerang and tied a rope previously stashed somewhere amongst their belongings around it. Sokka began climbing up to the window, but Aang stayed behind for the moment to talk to their flying mount. "Don't worry buddy. I'm not making you go underground ever again. You can stay here with Toph," he comforted the bison, and then walked off to join the others in their climb up to the library's window.
Well, this outta be real interesting, Toph thought, crossing her arms and pointing her head away from the creature who had been the source of her recent bored and annoyance. Realizing she couldn't gone on by herself like this forever, she looked back and let her eyes stare in the direction of the bison as he grunted at her. Breaking the uncomfortable and lonely silence between the two of them, she asked the beast without really expecting an answer, "What's up?" (which was of course returned with silence).After a few minutes, Appa seemed to get lonely without his master's presence, and she suddenly felt him kneeling down to rub his large cheek against Toph's back. Annoyed at being caught off guard like that, she roughly pushed his cheek away from her, telling him that she didn't really enjoy snuggling. The large animal groaned at her action as if it had hurt him emotionally.
Time passed, and Toph, finding the silent presence of the flying bison oddly comforting, began talking to him as if he were another person who could answer her, asking him, "So, you like flying?" She tilted her head heard him grunt and felt him scratch his ear. Taking that as his "yes", she went on to open up to him about the problem she had been having ever since they had landed in the desert, "Of course, I'm more comfortable on the ground, where I can see. Well, I don't see the way you do. I feel the vibrations in the ground with my feet," She paused to pick up a handful of sand and let it sift through her fingers. Wistful that it didn't provide a more compact surface, she went on, "but this sand is so loose and shifty, it makes everything look fuzzy." To her side, she suddenly felt a vauge movement which she could only attribute to Appa's sitting up, as it was followed by a loud groan from the beast. Startled at the thought the bison may actually understand what she was saying and may actually be offended by it, she apologized quickly, "Not that there's anything wrong with fuzzy."
As the day worn on, the sweltering heat of the sun (which appeared to be stronger in the desert) and the arid desert air made Toph tired and sweaty. She sat down and rested her back on one of Appa's front legs (which worked quite well as a pillow), and attempted to ignore how hot it was by staying in the shade that the flying bison seemed to provide and by getting some sleep. She remained in this position for a while, drifting in and out of sleep, until Appa roared loudly. Thinking Appa was crying out for her attention again, she reminded him, "I already told you, I don't want to snuggle."
Appa apparently didn't want this, as he proceeded to get up, causing her to fall back onto the ground with a groan. Slightly annoyed, she pushed herself back up to a sitting position with her left hand, realizing as she did so that the nearby building was moving. She stood to her feet, dumbstruck for a few moments at this sudden turn of events, then realized with a jolt, "Library's sinking. Library's sinking!"
She ran over to the building, concerned for her friends' safety, and jabbed her hands into its surface in an attempt to use her powerful Earthbending to stop its descent. She grunted from the struggle she then had to undergo with whatever force was moving the building downward, her feet sinking into the sand. When she began feeling the ground sinking out from under her, she briefly risked letting go to slam her right hand into the ground to accomplish an inverse quick-sand move. Having created a small amount of solid ground to stand on, she jammed her hands back into the building.
Her friends failed to re-appear quickly, and the muscles in Toph's arms felt like they would soon burst from the strain put upon them in order Earthbend the library to a halt. Just when she was beginning to wonder what happened to her friends, she felt a dust storm whipping up sand as it came towards them, and which vaguely felt as if it were synchronized by an outside force. She turned her head around to hear it better, saying with frustration at this interruption, "What is it now?"
She soon felt the presence of three wooden structures gliding across the desert as they grew nearer to the pair of them. She felt a shock-wave of sand sent at the beast, and then had trouble locating him as sand was whipped up around him. She knew now that the sand had to have some bender controlling, and wondered aloud who it was. One of the benders soon jumped off of the wooden structure he had obviously been riding on earlier, followed by others who began tying down the bison in some way. From all the vibrations given off by their coordinated movements, she was able to recognize that the strangers were the rag-wearing Sandbenders the group had run into earlier. This can't be good.Trying to figure out a way to save both her friends and Aang's beloved bison, she warned the Sandbenders loudly, "Don't make me put this down!" and then let go of the rapidly-sinking library to send a wave of sand at them in order to scare them off. From the immediate effects she could feel on their subsequent movements, the sand had dulled her seismic sense enough to make her attack miss them completely, and she was forced to quickly brace herself against the library again to prevent her loosing the rest of the group.
She distinctly heard one of the Sandbenders telling the others to put a muzzle on Appa, but was unable to do anything about. All too soon, the Sandbenders could be felt overcoming the bison's struggles, and then dragging him away, Appa releasing a frightened groan. In emotional turmoil, she ordered to the library, "No, stop sinking," and released it again so she could send several waves at sand at her enemy. When this turned out to be in vain, she shouted in distress and turned back to do all she could to save her friends. Feeling the Sandbenders dragging the flying bison away behind her, she apologized to the beast for what she had to do, and squeezed her eyes shut to prevent tears from coming at the thought of loosing the pet that she realized she regarded as another one of her friends.
The bones in her arms feeling like they would buckle from the stress, Toph endured and just barely held up the building until she heard a whoosh above her head which sounded like Aang's glider. As she felt him and the rest of the group land behind her, she removed her tired fingers from where she had jammed them into the earthen side of the building and was knocked backwards by the speed at which it then disappeared into the sand. She landed on her back several feet away from where the library formerly was, and sat there holding her head in her hands, unable to come to terms with her decision. In the background, she heard Sokka remarking something about a solar eclipse coming and the Fire Nation being in trouble because of it, but did not pay much attention to it as she pondered whether she had really made the correct decision. She felt Aang walk up behind her and ask where Appa was, but felt unable to stand up before him and tell him what had happened at her hands, and so simply shook her head back and forth in sorrow.
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