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September 8, 2014
Rain pours down hard as lightning flashes and thunder booms overhead. Thick black clouds blot out the sun making it impossible for the brothers to see anything except when there's a flash of lightning. Wind and rain batter them as they slowly but surely make their way down the muddy road, every footstep splashing in puddles of water. To their good spirits, they happen upon a small town and, even better, a tiny inn that sits at the edge of the settlement. The longing for warmth draws the brother to the inn's door as they get pelted by the heavy drops of rain. Light from the inn's interior leaks through the cracks of the door beckoning to them.
Barreling through the door, the brothers crash to the floor inside. The quiet inn is small having only a couple tables and chairs situated near the hearth in the center of the room. The floorboards are old and some are broken leading into the three side rooms used for guests. A Pai Sho board sits in the corner dusty and unused. The inn is completely empty except for a man who appears from behind a bar at the far side of the inn wearing a simple brown and green robe with a black sash around his waist and a beanie covering his head. He approaches the brothers in a courteous manner.
"Hello. Welcome to Uncle's," the innkeeper says bowing.
Kharum and Jaro look up at the man with miserable looks on their faces. Their clothes are completely soaked and covered in mud.
"Hehe bad day?" the man asks." If you would like I have extra clothes in the back you can change into while your clothes dry."
Kharum thumbs up. "That'd be good, thanks."
The man disappears into a backroom and returns with dry clothes for the brothers. Sopping wet, the brothers go and change into the raggedy, brown robes. Once in warm, dry clothes, they find themselves a table close to the fire of the hearth and the innkeeper returns to them.
"My name is Wudao. Would I interest you two in something to eat?"
Kharum politely replies, "Yes, thank you. Anything would be great."
"Very good." Wudao bows and heads into the back leaving the brothers alone in the quiet of the inn.
The brothers sit in silence with nothing but the crackling of the fire and the boom of the thunder outside. The brothers are startled when a young girl's voice breaks the silence.
Jaro jumps, falling back in his chair and hitting the ground with a thud. "Ow."
The unseen girl laughs. "What's your name?"
Kharum turns to see at the end of the table a short twelve-year-old girl with unbrushed black hair and wild eyes. Her hands disappear beneath the sleeves of her oversized robes.
"Um hello. I'm Kharum...and this is my brother Jaro." Kharum gestures to his little brother.
Jaro, from his horizontal position on the ground, puts his hand in the air and gives a quick wave. "Yo."
The young girl is all too happy to meet new people. "My name's -"
"Mo Li!" The innkeeper has walked back into the room carrying the brothers' hot meals. "How many times do I have to say? Do not bother our guests."
"Awww, but Wuuuuu..."
"I am sorry about my niece," Wudao says bowing his head.
Kharum responds, "No no sir. She's alright."
Jaro, smelling the food, finally bolts upright off the floor and sits himself back at the table. The man places the bowls of noodles in front of the brothers and Jaro immediately begins to chow down.
Mo Li ignoring her uncle continues her line of questioning. "I've never seen you two around here before...where you from?"
Jaro tries to answer but his mouth is too full of food. "Sevaolrarney."
Kharum clarifies. "We're from Severnyy...the North."
Mo Li, who has heard many stories of the North, is in awe of the two brothers. "Coooooool...The Wild Lands of the North: Home of the Outlaws." She says these words as if she were reading them off of a poster to a dream vacation spot.
Wudao interrupts his niece in fear that she might offend the two strangers in his inn. "Mo don't say such things. I'm sure the North isn't wild or full of outlaws." He then turns to the brothers. "Is it?"
Jaro stupidly smiles with a bunch of food in his mouth and Kharum raises his shoulder in a "kind-a-sort-a" manner. The man looks as if he might scream for help.
Kharum tries to reassure the innkeeper. "But don't worry we're from the good part."
Jaro, not thinking, slides in his own little remark. "Yeah, the part with pastures full of butterflies and flowers and-and rainbows over the mountains." Jaro giggles at the man's stunned face.
Kharum kicks his younger brother's shin under the table. Wudao is frozen not knowing whether he should run or not. In his eyes, all he can see is two outlaw criminals in his inn. Mo, not phased at all, asks another question.
"So why are you guys in town?" she asks taking a seat next to Kharum. Another boom of thunder shakes the inn.
Kharum answers her since Jaro continues to stuff his face with mouthful after mouthful of noodles. "We're actually on our way to the Avatar Temple outside Ba Sing Se."
"Yeah? What's going on there?" the young girl asks.
"Well, we're going to see if Sir Eats-a-lot here is the Avatar or not." Kharum points to his brother who, without skipping a beat, thumbs up while simultaneously taking another bite.
Mo Li's eyes grow wide in disbelief. "No way!"
Wudao upon hearing what Kharum said, completely changes attitudes. Instead of thinking about whether to call the guards or not, he's now thinking on how to aid the brothers any way he can.
He bows to the brothers, "In that case, feel free to stay the night and wait out the storm. It is on the house."
Upon these words, the door to one of the side rooms is kicked open and lightning flashes and thunder booms. An old man stands at the door, his narrowing eyes stare heatedly at the innkeeper.
"Wudao! What are you doing? Why you give them free room? You are terrible salesman." The old man slams the door behind him with surprising strength for his short, frail figure.
"But Uncle, this young man could be the Avatar." Wudao tries his best to plead his case to his Uncle.
"I don't care if he is the King of Ba Sing Se himself! Besides, he said 'could be.' Even if he was, most I would grant him is a discount on a side dish!"
"No buts!" Uncle crosses his arms not wanting to hear anything more of it.
Kharum tries to calm the situation down. "We can pay sir. No problem."
Wudao holds his hand up to Kharum. "No, it's not right. Uncle, what if this young man truly is the Avatar?" He gestures to Jaro who now is chowing away at Kharum's unattended bowl. "Don't you want to be on his good side so he can end the war and our business can get back to normal? Or do you think this war should continue?"
Uncle crosses his arms. "That war is not important!"
Wudao shakes his head in disbelief. "Whaa--of course the war is important."
Uncle resists. "Not important."
Wudao pauses knowing he has no chance of persuading his Uncle about the war, but maybe..."Uncle, at least let them stay the night because of the storm."
Uncle contemplates for a moment but ultimately gives in. "Fine! But it is coming out of your pay check."
Wudao sighs. "But you don't pay even me."
The storm continues to rage outside. Around the inn's fire, the brothers stay warm. Jaro lies on the floor molding miniatures of soldiers out of dirt from beneath the floorboards using his earth bending. Kharum sits at a table checking over his bow and arrows. The little girl, Mo Li, sits with Kharum occasionally picking up an arrow to examine it herself. Wudao is behind the bar cleaning dishes and reorganizing for the sake of reorganizing.
The door to the inn opens up and three men walk inside. The men are heavily cloaked in black with their drenched hoods pulled over their heads.
Wudao welcomes the men into the inn. "Hello. Welcome to Uncle's," he says putting down the bowl he was wiping.
The middle man walks up to Wudao and begins talking to him about ordering a room. Meanwhile, the other two men fan out heading toward the brothers. They stop peculiarly close to them, one man to each brother, and neither say or do anything.
Kharum looks up at the man hovering in front of him. The man's face is completely shadowed by his hood, and no identifying marks cover his clothing. "Can I help you?" Kharum asks, but he receives no answer from either man as they remain motionless. Jaro himself feels uneasy but pretends to ignore them by continuing to build his earthen army.
Again lightning strikes and thunder booms shaking the inn. However this time, the shaking does not stop. The floorboards beneath Jaro begin to rumble violently. His figurines vibrate and one by one collapse to the ground. Kharum's arrows bounce up and down on the table and a few of them roll off the edge. The whole inn creaks as the wooden supports begin to sway.
Then, without warning, three separate pillars of earth (one in front of each of the strange men) surge from beneath the floorboards, crashing their way up to the ceiling. Rocks and wood splinters fly everywhere crashing against the walls of the inn.
In an instant, the quiet scene has turned into chaos. Kharum falls back in his chair while bending a blast of air through the earth column nailing the man behind it. Hitting the ground, Kharum then back rolls back up to his feet and blasts the man again with another air punch.
Jaro is a little slower to react to the chaos but grabs one of his earth figurines and throws it at the man nearest him. His tactic succeeds hitting the man dead in the eye sending him whirling in pain. The hooded man returns the favor by launching an earth projectile from the pillar. The boulder glances off Jaro's shoulder as he was standing up.
Wudao flips over his counter and uses kung-fu to fight his opponent performing amazing acrobatic feats. He kicks the hooded man with a left and quickly followed by a right. The hooded man successfully blocks both and tries to uppercut Wudao, but instead is met with two of the innkeeper's feet in his chest in a massive double kick. Wudao lands on his back with a thud after sending his opponent flying. Mo has backed off against the wall and cheers on the brothers and her uncle. The man fighting Kharum yells out, "Damn it! He's an airbender!"
Kharum shoots two more quick blasts of air at the man slamming him against the wall. The man bounces back with an earth bending jab sending a chunk of the earth column flying at Kharum. Kharum manages to duck underneath it but is quickly pummeled by a second jab. The rock hits Kharum in the gut knocking the wind out of him.
Jaro dodges earth bending attack after earth bending attack from his opponent. Zigzagging left and right, Jaro eventually gets close enough to the pillar where he can roundhouse kick it and launch a pile of earth at the man. The attack works, but the man quickly recovers and uppercuts Jaro across his jaw with a powerful fist. Jaro flies back into the wall and slides down to the floor reeling. The man approaches Jaro and pulls a knife out to finish him off. Jaro shuts his eyes prepared for the worst when a blast of air hits the man. The man is launched through the wall of the inn, through the wall of the next building, and stopping painfully against the back wall of that building. Kharum, though struggling for breath on the ground, managed an air blast.
Wudao's opponent has also pulled out a knife and begins slashing wildly at the innkeeper. Wudao successfully spin kicks the knife out of his attacker's hand and follows it with a punch to the temple knocking the man out cold.
Kharum's original opponent has found Mo and holds her hostage with a knife up to her neck. Kharum quickly reaches down for his bow, nocks an arrow with incredible speed, and fluidly draws aiming at the man's head.
"Put it down if you want this girl to keep breathing!" The man spits some of the blood from his mouth.
"No! Please don't hurt her!" Wudao puts his hands in the air and drops to his knees pleading with the man.
Kharum squints as he focuses in on his target. His nostrils flare as he breathes in. He pulls the arrow back even further, the bow creaks under the stress. He exhales and...
Wham! The man's eyes roll into the back of his head as he falls to the floor. Standing behind the man is Uncle who managed to walk in amongst the chaos and knock the man out cold by hitting him with the back of his hand.
The old man crosses his arms in anger. "Wudao! What have you done to my inn!?!" The inn is in complete shambles. Three half-pillars of earth sit in the guest area. The floorboards are ripped up, tables and chairs dismantled, and a hole in the wall allowing the rain into the inn.
"But Uncle, they were..." Wudao is perplexed by his uncle's words. Uncle is more worried about the damage to his inn than what had taken place.
Uncle then turns his attention toward Kharum. "And you! Why do you put hole in my wall?" Uncle points at the tremendous hole in the wall of the inn. On the otherside of the road, there are people in the hole of the next building looking through at the inn's occupants.
Kharum walks over to his brother and picks him off the floor. He then looks to Uncle. "Is that really what you're worried about?"
Jaro tries to get Uncle back in a good mood. "Don't worry Mr. Uncle. I can fix it." Jaro, with all his might, earth bends a thin earth wall to cover the hole in the inn's wall. "There. Look I fixed it." Jaro claps his hands together at a job well done. Not a moment later the wall gets blown up. Two town guards burst through the hole in the wall ready for a fight.
"Aiyah!" Uncle can't catch a break.
The guards try to assess the situation. "Is everything alright? One of your neighbors came running for us. Something about fighting, loud noises, and a hole in a wall."
Wudao, who is comforting his niece, answers the guard's question. "We're okay. Three men broke in and these two young men helped save our inn.
The second guard crouches down, picks up the hand of one of the unconscious robbers, and lets it hit the floor. "There's only two here...where's number three?"
Kharum pats his brother on the head. He then steps forward with his arms crossed. "The building next door."
The guards put the two men into a bind sitting them upright with their hands and feet bound tightly with iron shackles. They then head outside with Kharum who leads the way. The storm seems to rage even harder.
Bracing himself against the wind and the rain, Kharum points at the nearby building its occupants scratching their heads at their own hole. "I shot him through that building there." As Kharum speaks these words, the hooded man Jaro had been fighting stumbles out the building's door. Kharum recognizes him and points. "That's him!"
The man takes off running down the road and the guards pursue. One of the guards attempts to earth bend the muddy ground to try and capture the man. The trail of bent earth approaches the man quickly like a snake cutting through grass. However, the man spins around and earth bends the ground behind him to shield himself from the guard's earth bending attack. He then follows that by launching several boulders of earth at the three pursuers. Kharum and the two guards are forced to dodge the incoming volley and they lose the man in the darkness of the storm. Kharum stares intensely into the distance where the man ran off hoping to see just a glimpse of him for when the lightning flashes. However, when the sky lights up Kharum sees nothing but an empty road.
Back inside, the guards raise a new temporary wall of earth to cover the hole. They then pick up the two arrested men and head out. Kharum sits down in a chair by the fire and warms up.
Jaro sits with Wudao and Mo at the only unbroken table waiting for Kharum to say something. Jaro's impatience gets the best of him and he breaks the silence. "Did you guys get him?"
Kharum leans back in his chair and stares up at the ceiling. "No, he got away." Kharum turns his head slightly and he can see the trio staring at him from the table. "Does this sort of thing normally happen?"
Wudao, still worrying over Mo from the night's events, answers. "It happens infrequently but it happens."
Jaro tries to lighten the mood with a sarcastic comment. "What happens? Earth bending robbers who not only try to destroy the place but also kill its tenants. I'm glad that happens only once in a while." Kharum, whose face shows no sign of amusement, shakes his head at his brother.
Wudao tries to further explain the situation. "The war and over taxation has driven many into crime and shut down many businesses. As long as the war continues, what just happened will become more and more the norm."
Jaro looks into the fire contemplating his task if he were to be the Avatar. He hears many voices in his head. Some cry out for help. Others cheer for him. Jaro snaps out of it when he hears his brother's voice.
"So Wudao, where did you learn to fight like that?" Kharum asks crossing his arms. The innkeeper's fighting had been most impressive.
The innkeeper stupidly smiles trying to think of an answer. "Uhhh...basic instinct?" Kharum raises an eyebrow.
Mo, unphased by the night's events, eagerly jumps in. "Yeah Uncle Wu where did you learn that? When are you going to teach me?" Mo Li then hops onto the table and begins punching and kicking the air mimicking her uncle's fighting.
"Mo Li! Get down from there!" Mo giggles and obeys her uncle. Kharum, now with his hands on his head, won't let Wudao go. "You're still dodgin' my question."
Wudao in an effort to get out, starts making his way to his bedroom door. "Yawwnnn... oh look at the time...we should-" His leg knocks into the dusty Pai Sho board. "We should be getting to bed...see you two in the morning." Slam. The door behind him shuts with a thud.
Kharum shakes his head with a smile. He stands up and pats his brother on the back gesturing that it's also time for them to hit the hay. Jaro gets up and looks one last time into the fire.
That night in the inn Jaro has a dream. A battle rages on an open field as Jaro looks around. Soldiers from Ba Sing Se, wearing their dark green studded leather armor and all in uniform, are fighting against an assortment of fighters from Omashu, Gaoling, and Taku. The men of Omashu wear whatever armor their own money can afford them with some men wearing expensive armor and others wear little to no armor at all. The warriors of Gaoling wear brightly colored ornamental armor and leaf mail. The samurai of Taku are in full battle garb and wield their mighty katanas. The fighting is fierce between the clash of swords and the crushing blows of earth bending between the two armies.
Jaro, enthralled by the scene before him, looks down at his hands to find his arms completely armored up in a similar fashion to Taku. Jaro thinks to himself, Sweet! I'm the Avatar! Who's gonna deal with it!
A man charges Jaro and in a blink of an eye Jaro earth bends the man out of the way shooting him off to the side.
What the? I'm not in control of my own dream?
Unable to control his own movements, his dream then proceeds to have him fight other men using a combination of earth, fire, water, and air attacks.
Why can't I control myself?
Jaro's dream then directly turns him to face a giant hill where, through the all fighting, he can see a shadowed figure whom he presumes to be the King of Ba Sing Se overlooking the battlefield.
Instantly, Jaro's dream teleports him in front of the King. The King, wearing a 'royal' battle armor of green and gold, is flanked by his personal guard and a powerfully built man whose only armor is a chest plate and, curiously, an iron mask. The masked man raises his sword and points it at Jaro in a challenge. Jaro's body then pulls out his sword. The two charge each other and their swords cross.
- Growing up as a kid, I loved watching the Jackie Chan Adventures. This chapter is sort of an homage to that show. (Uncle = Uncle, Jackie = Wudao, Jade = Mo Li)
For the collective works of the author, go here.