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This is the tenth chapter toand may bring some surprises.
What happened last time...
After being invited to spend the day with her friend, Sarita, Syra journeyed with Sister Min to the Southern Water Tribe, fantasizing about living under the ocean along their travels. She was welcomed by Sarita and her family with open arms, shared her disheartening experiences at the Airbending tournament, raced on Otter Penguins and, with Sarita's help, realized her fantasy.
Meanwhile, Siro journeyed on a ferry boat to Ember Island where he met with his friend, Kuzon. While heading to the beach, they encountered a deranged stranger who uttered eerily prophetic words to them. Towards the end of the day, Siro escaped the beach after Kuzon went off to the Ember Island Theater and read a vague message that only troubled him even more.
Okay, I sincerely apologize because this chapter didn't turn out to be the best. Some parts were pretty good while others, I felt, were random or poorly thought-out/written. This chapter turned out way longer than I expected, so feel free to read it in fragments.
Sneak Out If You Dare
"It was so good to finally see you again after so long." Like when they first greeted each other earlier that day, Syra found herself in Sarita's tight embrace. From a few paces away, she could hear Osira ask Sister Min, "Are you sure you don't want to spend the night at our place?"
"That's very kind of you to offer, but we'll be quite alright," Min replied. "We passed over a comfortable, little inn on our way here. We'll be fine spending the night there."
Osira bowed her head slightly in understanding and looked out toward the horizon, the hazy sun hovering over the ocean. "Well, in that case, you should set off as soon as possible. The last thing you need to become lost in an unfamiliar place at night."
Sarita took a few steps back, keeping a firm grasp on Syra's shoulders, her mouth broken into a smile. "I hope you'll visit again as soon as possible!" she piped up enthusiastically. In a hushed voice, she added, "And that you'll get revenge on those air headed cliques."
Syra giggled and replied, "You know me, I'm not someone who seeks vengeance."
"Well...," Sarita paused, taking one hand off Syra's shoulder. "Try, see what happens and let me know." She grinned earnestly, causing Syra to shake her head in mock dismay.
"Alright, well I think it's about time we hit the road," Min piped up. "Come on, dear. Let's get going before the sky becomes pitch black."
Syra began jogging over to her bison, Pala, who was standing nearby, saddled up and ready for takeoff. She glanced over her shoulder and waved cheerfully goodbye to her friend who stood in the frosty snow. With a quick gust of Airbending, she launched herself onto Pala's head and grasped the leather reins tied to her bison's horns, Min doing the same.
The evening air was crisp and clean, the blueness of the water mixed with the yellow shafts of sunlight that washed over the surface. Pala let out a low grunt and pawed at the snow with his paw, impatiently waiting to take flight.
"We hope you'll come to the Southern Water Tribe again sometime and perhaps spend an overnight," Osira called out, her husband, Malo, standing close beside her, nodding in agreement.
"Don't worry, we'll make arrangements for that!" Min replied warmly as she began steering her bison, Raul, off to the right, prepared for flight.
"It was awful nice to see you two! Syra, honey, take care!" Osira shouted as the duo readied themselves for the journey home.
Syra beamed and yelled, "I will!" Focusing her attention forward, she jostled the reins and firmly commanded, "Pala, yip-yip!" A hefty downward flap of his long, broad tail and Pala lifted himself into the air gracefully, soaring slowly above the ground, Raul following close behind.
The strong gleams of sunlight struck her face, forcing the young girl to shield her eyes with her hand. The air currents around her swirled about with Pala grunting as he took flight yet Sarita's voice still rang out sharp and clear. "Promise me that you and I will be able to hang out together soon! Like next month or something!" her voice echoed through the air.
"Don't worry, we'll hang out together soon!" Syra called out as the shores began receding. She whispered softly to herself, "I promise."
The pale, silvery moonlight shed over the forested landscape of the southeastern Earth Kingdom. They were flying over a small village, known as Saijin, a suburban region, sparsely inhabited. The air around them was dry and stale, neither warm nor cold. Very few stars could be seen in the midnight blue sky.
Syra and Min landed their bison on a rocky patch of ground, an inn lying just ahead, soft light glowing from the open windows. An ordinary storeroom lay behind the hostel, the capacity seemingly large enough to house two bison. The gravel made crunching sounds beneath their feet, the splintering wooden door, practically hanging off its hinges, creaking as Min pushed open the doorway to what the sign overhead read "Jisan's Inn".
Syra made a face as she surveyed the rather shabby looking room. The floor was solid, compact dirt and lit by several dull lanterns that had attracted moths. In the far right corner lay a large wooden desk, scrolls and papers stacked on its surface and piled on shelves behind the counter. Ceramic pots hosting geraniums and ferns that desperately needed a watering were spread along the walls.One ready-to-collapse wooden bench and a circular oak table were in the far left corner of the room. Three men, all appearing to be in their late thirties, sat idly in each of the three chairs surrounding the table. Playing cards and silver pieces were splayed across its chipping surface. All three raised their heads to witness the two strangers then returned to their game with mere grunts.
Sister Min leaned over the desk countertop and said calmly, "Do you have a room for two prepared and available? My daughter and I would like to spend an overnight here in the inn."
Syra, who had been nonchalantly leaning against the counter, perked up upon hearing Min say "my daughter". She raised her head to look at her guardian, but Min's attention was focused on the innkeeper. She caught one of the idle men gambling nearby say, "Can't wait to get back to my home in Zei Lang. The Earth Kingdom doesn't compare to the good old Fire Nation. And who knows? My friend might have some more news for me when I meet him again. Being close friends with a government official has its benefits."
"Sure thing, madam," the innkeeper spoke in a hearty tone. "I've got a vacant room right upstairs. Comfortable, has two beds, suitable for the night. I'll help you get settled. Follow me." He began rounding past the counter, a rusted metal ring of brass keys jingling in his left hand.
"Oh, sir, we were also wondering if you would be considerate enough to allow for our two Flying Bison to sleep in your storeroom for the night," Min added. "I hope that won't be too much of a bother."
The innkeeper waved his free hand breezily and replied, "Of course not. Perhaps we should get them settled in the storeroom before heading upstairs to your room. We haven't much time to waste. It's getting awfully dark out there." A brief moment passed as the innkeeper swiftly observed their clothing, looking as though he were trying to piece together a puzzle. Syra looked down and suddenly noticed she and Sister Min were still wearing their Water Tribe parkas over their monk robes.
"Pretty surprising," he spoke up after the silent pause. "Didn't know Water Tribe folk such as yourselves owned Flying Bison. Thought they were only native to the Air Nomads."
Min raised her eyebrows in question and peered down to make the same realization Syra had. Raising a hand to her face in consciousness, she said, "Oh dear, it seems we forgot to take off our Water Tribe parkas. Sorry to cause a misunderstanding, but we actually are Air Nomads."
Out of the corner of her eye, Syra saw the three, seemingly aloof men avert their eyes to the two newcomers. Their hands, holding playing cards, lowered and their backs straightened up. She wondered what her guardian had said to arouse their interest.
Min chuckled and continued, "We just came back from a visit to the Southern Water Tribe which explains why we're wearing these garments. But yes, we are in fact Airbenders. Hail from the Eastern Air Temple. A beautiful place if I do say so myself."
"Terribly sorry, madam, for my mistake," the innkeeper said apologetically. He cleared his throat and added, "Shall we continue?" Min only nodded politely and followed him out the door. "By the way, my name's Jisan."
Syra cast a glance at the strangers in the corner and felt her palms become clammy. The three men were staring at the doorway where she stood and where Min had walked out moments ago, hard expressions fixated on their faces. Their eyes narrowed ever so slightly before they returned to their card game. She stiffened a bit, swearing she could almost feel cold chills radiating from them.
The air was bitterly cold, sending shivers through her body. The sky was ominous, an ashen color, the sun shrouded by gloomy clouds. The spires of the temple towering over her, on the verge of collapse, ready to close in on her and destroy her. Others stood about in the courtyard yet they were unresponsive, dull, lifeless, their backs facing her. Except for two, watching her...
She held an object in her hand. It was the hilt of a sword, that much was clear; everything looked blurred. Everything but the faces of the two. She felt a cold hand reach out.
"That's because you're not holding it right, dimwit." That voice, that mocking, sneering voice.
She heard her own voice retort, "Just go away, Jia. I know what I'm doing here." But she ignored her.
Twisting, jiving, struggling, a sudden rush of air. Then a shattering sound and a shrill cry of pain from far off. And the whole world froze at that moment...
Her eyes shot open as she awoke with a start. Her head felt heavy and dizzy as she rubbed her temples with the palm of her hand. Only a nightmare, she thought and she let out a sigh. Syra cast her gaze to the single window in their musty looking room at the inn, slivers of moonlight cutting through the slats of the wooden shutters.
She sat in bed, slumped over and depressed. She thought she had been rid of those nightmares months ago. Suddenly, she heard a thick rustling noise from outside and she regained her senses. The rustling sound was far off yet loud enough to be heard; it was the sound of something moving through dense underbrush.
Careful not to wake Sister Min, Syra sprung from her bed, crept over to the windowsill and pushed open the shutters.
"Who's out there?" she whispered in a voice barely audible even to herself.
A thick smoke-colored cloud had obscured the light of the moon beams, leaving the ground looking like a pitch black hole of nothingness and the trees mere black shadows. Her eyes searched in vain for the mysterious source of the noise. But just like in her nightmare, everything around her looked dull and lifeless.
She gripped the musty windowsill so tightly, her knuckles turned white. The dead atmosphere of Saijin was haunting and dreadfully silent; not even the leaves dared to rustle. Suddenly, a loud grunt sounded through the still air, causing her to jump with a start. She began quivering just as another bellow reverberated and she knew all too well the noise that dared to disrupt the stillness of the night.
The Sky Bison..., she thought. Her eyes widened in alarm and she fled from her frozen position across their cramped room at the inn. She unbolted the door in a matter of seconds and sprinted through the dark emptiness that was the rundown inn. She frequently stumbled along the way yet never once stopped.
Moments later, Syra found herself treading over shifty boulders and through dew-coated grass. The early morning air was bitter and stung her face like dozens of tiny pin pricks. The sky was raven black, the stars sparse and dim; she could barely make out what lay a few feet before her. The young Airbender raced frantically toward the storeroom, not knowing what kind of danger lurked about. She could just make out one of the hefty barn doors partially opened; the building lay a mere several yards ahead.
Without a moment's hesitation, Syra burst into the dusty room and shouted, "Pala! Raul!"
Big mistake. Before she could turn on her heels in the opposite direction and escape, a rough, brittle hand grasped her wrist and twisted her arm off to the side, causing her to yelp out in pain. A flickering sound came from the far end of the room and her frightened eyes caught sight of the radiant glow of a small brand of wood set ablaze. The makeshift torch illuminated the phantom-like face of a man and she knew at once where she had seen that face before; a vision flashed before her eyes of the three strangers sitting at a table in the inn, glaring at the newcomers, confirming her beliefs.
"What's going on, Rey?" the ghostly man demanded in an intimidating, growling voice.
"Just caught one of them crazy, spiritual lowlifes we saw earlier," muttered her captor.
He gripped the collar of Syra's shirt and shoved her roughly across the room. The terrified girl slammed roughly into the straw-littered ground. She raised her head dizzily, her arms and body aching from the fall; the ghostly man looked down at her with piercing eyes that bore right through her.
"Eh, whatever," he scowled and kicked the side of her head with his foot. Syra rolled over from the blow and rammed into the wall of the barn. "She won't do nothing. She can burn in this storeroom here along with these stupid bison they've got."
Out of the corner of her eye, Syra caught sight of Pala, who was standing several feet behind the stranger, lumber forward and utter a menacing growl in an attempt to scare off the attackers.
"Quiet, stupid animal!" the man hissed. He whipped around sharply and struck her beloved pet mercilessly with a long, thin object. Syra hadn't noticed up until that point the twisted, barbed piece of wire he held in his free hand, an item that must have been buried in the straw and served as building material for a fence in the past.
"Alright, enough stalling!" Rey thundered. He snatched the brand of wood lying at his feet and conjured up a crackling inferno within the palm of his hand, proceeding to set the torch alight. "We're setting fire to this barn and then we'll see about that other woman!"
Syra could hear heavy footsteps shuffling towards her. The light of the torch filled her eyes. Her head throbbed from where the ghostly man had struck her and her entire body was filled with pain. Rey grinded his teeth together and spit in front of him.
"And as for you," he growled. "Well, there's no hope for you. Or that other woman you were traveling with, for that matter." He raised his foot and kicked up a flurry of dust, dirt and straw, debris showering over her. The sharp inhalation of dirt caused her to start coughing and she desperately wished she could lift her arm to wipe the sawdust from her eyes. Her desperate attempts to move sent searing pain through her body.
She lay dumbstruck and helpless, her vision blurred by dust and tears, yet she managed to croak, "Why?"
Rey threw his head back and laughed. "Stupid peasant girl, can't you see? Your people are worthless tramps who waste time by sitting around all day, trying to talk to your precious spirits. You're all just a bunch of crazy fanatics."
"We must hurry!" interrupted the man Syra had not seen alongside Rey and the ghostly man in the storeroom. "I just light glowing from one of the windows of the inn! Someone must be coming! Hurry, there's not a moment to waste!"
In a split second, Rey vanished from her sight, leaving her defenseless. All that followed afterwards was a blur.
The opened door to the storeroom uttering a haunting creek before slamming shut with a deafening thud. The sound of the thick wooden bar being set in place, locking the only exit. Pala and Raul lunging forward, scraping the walls, despite being injured and bleeding from the whip lashes.
Rey's voice echoing, "We, the citizens born from the raging inferno, shall conquer!"
And then fire. Roaring flames consuming the derelict building. The intensity of the inferno's heat and glow was overwhelming. Wood splintered, beams collapsed, the ground cracked from underneath.
Syra heaved forward with all her might, the flames approaching her at a rapid pace, and landed a mere few feet, having barely budged.
That's it. I'm going to burn to death here, she thought hopelessly.
The fire which had sprouted from the back of the storeroom was stampeding its way to the front, searing anything in its path. The smell of charred wood and smoke was unbearable.
Suddenly, a crash sounded from several feet away. A barrage of burning planks rained down and plummeted to the ground. Miraculously, nothing but a few cinders landed on her. She blinked hard before realizing the entire roof at the back of the barn had caved in. The night sky was obscured by billowing smoke.
Soon the flames will spread further, weakening the remainder of the roof until it finally collapses and...
Syra's horrible thought was cut short as she felt something large and firm grasp her shirt and in an instant, she found herself lifted off the ground. Something forceful beat against the ground and a rush of wind and fumes surged past her.
Moments later, she found herself being settled onto the cool gravel. The feeling of soft fur brushed against her face followed by a sticky coating of bison saliva. Her head swum about dizzily as she craned her neck to the side and saw the hazy site of two people racing toward her. The dazzling glow from the fire hit their faces as they neared her and she recognized Min's face instantly.
She couldn't muster the energy to smile, but she knew she was safe and for that reason, she allowed herself to drift off.
Reality came back to her, stirring her awake. She opened her eyes and found herself staring at an azure blue sky, clouds lazily drifting overhead. Her body felt numb, but the instant she attempted to roll over, the pain she had felt earlier came rushing back. Even so, she managed to lean over on her side.
Sister Min was at the reins, commanding the bison - whether it was Pala or Raul, she couldn't tell - her back facing her. Her guardian must've heard her arousing for she turned around to face the young girl. Min's face immediately broke into an overjoyed smile, her eyes glistening with tears.
"My sweet little girl, you're awake!" she gushed jubilantly.
Syra felt the corners of her mouth turn upward in a slight smile and she said in a rather hoarse voice, "Yeah, but where are we? We left the inn?"
Min nodded and explained, "We're heading back to the Eastern Air Temple. That's the last time we're ever spending the night at a ratty inn in the middle of nowhere! The whole incident scared the daylights out of me."
"So what happened?" Syra questioned, tired yet eager to hear the details from Min's perspective.
"I woke up when I head a loud grunt from outside. At first, I thought it to be thunder until I realized it was the sound of a bison bellowing. I turned over and saw you weren't in your bed and I knew in an instant something was wrong, so I woke the innkeeper and we prepared to investigate the matter.
"And then the horrifying sight of it all. Before I knew it, the storeroom had burst into flames and I became stricken with the thought that you could have very well been trapped inside the barn when the fire had started. I sprinted across the field like mad, falling to the ground quite a few times out of panic. And then the most amazing thing happened before my eyes. I saw Pala emerge from the collapsing building, holding you by the shirt in his mouth; Raul followed moments later. We arrived on the scene soon afterwards.
"You were out cold when we arrived and pretty battered up, although not injured too seriously, thank the spirits. By that time, several villagers could be seen running towards us in the distance. I carried you back to the inn along with another kind woman and we treated you while Jisan and the others put out the flames. It took a couple of hours, but they finally managed to extinguish the fire. We stayed at the inn for several more hours, resting and tending to you and the bison before leaving."
Her guardian sighed and continued, "It's been a terrifying and exhausting day. I've calmed down a good deal, but I'm still worried, especially considering they haven't found a single trace of those three men responsible for the fire."
Syra stiffened ever so slightly and questioned, "Wait, you knew the three men we saw gambling in the inn were behind the arson?"
Min nodded solemnly and replied, "Ah, yes, I caught sight of the trio racing out of the storeroom, each holding torches. I didn't realize it was that particular band of men until Jisan reported their strange disappearance from the inn shortly after the fire was put out. We quickly figured they were behind the attack."
Syra swallowed hard and exhaled through puffed cheeks. "Okay," she remarked in a voice barely above a whisper.
"What matters, though, is that you're safe and we're heading home," Min spoke in her familiar, comforting tone. "Just try and take it easy now. We should arrive at the temple before nightfall." That being said, she directed her attention to commanding the bison.
Syra tried to relax in the softness of their Water Tribe parkas, despite her soreness, knowing they would be arriving home. Thank the spirits, I'll be safe at home and will never have to experience something as terrifying as that again, she thought, relieved.
She was dead wrong.
Ember Island is a magical place. Keep an open mind. Give it a chance. And it can help you understand yourselves and each other. The beach has a special way of smoothing even the most ragged edges...
"I'm still annoyed that tickets to see 'Love Amongst the Dragons' at the theater tonight were all sold out," Kuzon complained. "It would've been awesome to see those actors and actresses butcher the entire thing."
"Well," Siro muttered with a casual shrug as he balanced across the smooth, ice cold stones that lined the walkway that led to the beach house. Shards of sand and dirt had collected in their grooves and crevices. The whitewashed, red roofed house stood before them, the windows giving view into the darkened, spacious rooms. The sky was a cobalt blue, save for the wisps of scarlet that lingered over the horizon.
Siro pressed his face against the glass of one of the front view windows, staring into what looked like shadowy nothingness, the empty shell of the beautiful room he knew was inside. He turned to Kuzon who was turning the key in the door and asked, "The house looks empty. I'm surprised your parents haven't returned yet."
Keeping his eyes focused on the keyhole, Kuzon coolly stated, "Yeah, sometimes they stay out a bit later. My dad spends the day mending impaired ship parts and my mom sells beach wares at a shop that's on the verge of going out of business. On certain days they choose to work overtime so they can earn enough money to keep this house and manage it well."
The lock turned and the doors creaked open to the perfectly still living room. Kuzon hastily lit three bright lamps, their glow radiant and lively. Siro stepped inside and turned to admire the purple seashell lying on the side table, its top spiraling upward into a sharp point. A mysterious object beside the shell suddenly caught his eye.
It appeared a whistle-like mechanism, an item unlike anything he had seen before. The object was a pale, creamy white, lightweight, hollow in structure and in the shape of a bison. A narrow slit was carved on the front of the figure's head and an open ending carved from its hind legs.
"See you've found my bison whistle," Kuzon said, ambling over to the side table. "Hehe, it's not everyday you find an object such as that lying in a Fire Nation house."
"It's an odd looking whistle," Siro remarked, still twisting it about in his hands. "I've never seen anything like it."
"I'm not surprised. They're hard to find in the Fire Nation unless you visit a large marketplace that sells various items from all the four nations. The Air Nomads use whistles like that to summon their Sky Bison," Kuzon explained. "My friend, Aang, actually gave that to me when he last visited. He lives at the Southern Air Temple. I think you would like a guy like him. He's the same age as us."
Siro set down the bison whistle and slowly asked, "So... now what?"
Kuzon placed his hands on his hips, a thoughtful expression on his face as he pondered this question. "Hmm... I'm not really sure," he spoke in a long drawl. "It's getting pretty late, though. How about I cook us up some dinner?"
Siro nodded and replied, "Sounds good to me."
After dinner, the two friends lounged around in Kuzon's room. Siro sat poised on the windowsill, the wooden shutters wide open to let some air into the room while Kuzon leaned against the wall, his arms resting crossed on his knees. He stared off into the darkness of the night. Crickets, hidden among the thick bushes, hummed, waves roared in the distance and fireflies swarmed about the air, their flickering lights soothing. The two remained silent for quite some time.
Siro's mind dwelled on the creepy message he had read written in the sand. Did it refer to the secret invasion of the Air Nomads he overhead his father talking about? It was written by a crazy man. It's just some weird prophecy etched by some deranged person... Forget about it...
The front door suddenly creaked open and from the living room came sounds of feet shuffling and people entering the house.
"Kuzon? You home, honey?" a woman's voice called out.
"Great, my parents are home," Kuzon piped up and hoisted himself onto his feet.
Siro was sure he heard an underlying tone of sarcasm and distaste, barely detectable, shrouded by the cheery tone of his friend. He leapt off the window ledge and followed Kuzon into the main room. There by the doorway stood a slender, chipper woman and her slightly fatigued husband, both beaming as the two entered.
The next several moments were filled with cheerfulness, greetings and familial love. There were friendly exchanges of "Hello" and "How are you?" and "It's been a while since we've last seen you." Siro noticed how Kuzon beamed when his father laid an arm around his son's shoulders.
If only my father could act that loving around me, he thought. He couldn't recall the last time Lee Wang had ever wrapped his arms around his shoulder. Lee Wang's method of showing affection towards his children was a customary bow. Siro bowed respectfully to him his father the way he would to the rigid Master Shyo.
"Are you boys comfortable? Did you eat dinner already?" Shan Ta asked.
"We're fine. We finished dinner a little while ago actually," Kuzon replied. "I think we'll take a walk around Ember Island soon."
"That's good, that's good," Shan Ta muttered absent-mindedly, averting her gaze to the floor. She raised her head, clapped her hands together and said, "Alright, well you two have fun. I need to sit down and take the load off." She and her husband strolled off casually.
After both had left the room, Kuzon flung open the front door and stepped outside. "Well? Aren't you coming?" he asked, seeing that Siro had not budged the least bit.
"Where are we heading?" Siro's curiosity was sparked as he shuffled forward and noted the thoughtful, somewhat devious look on his friend's face.
"Let's just say," Kuzon began as he carefully navigated down the steps, "that there's still time to catch the last half hour or so of 'Love Amongst the Dragons'."
"But we don't even have tickets to go see the show...," he remarked, a bit clueless as to what was being implied.
"And that," Kuzon chimed, "it what makes it all the more fun."
At this statement, realization struck. Siro smirked and they continued on their way.
The Ember Island Theater lay just ahead on a low-lying, rocky hill overlooking the sea. On the surface of the water danced thousands of flickering diamond lights. The excruciating heat of the day had dissipated, leaving behind clear, cool air in its wake. Lantern posts illuminated the pathway leading to the grand, stone building.
At the bottom of the sloping pathway, a young woman of about thirty years of age stood leaning against a moss-covered boulder, cradling a sleeping toddler in her arms. She smiled as Siro and Kuzon sauntered past and greeted, "Good evening, Kuzon."
"Evening, Lady Lo Stri," he replied and quickly bowed.
"And good evening to you, young man," Lady Lo Stri said to Siro. "I assume you're a close friend or relative of Kuzon."
"Yes, madam. I'm a close friend," he told her. After a slight pause, he quickly added, "And good evening to you, too."
Kuzon interjected, saying, "Yes, this here is Siro. We were just going off to the theater."
"You mean to see the show?" the woman questioned in surprise. "But it's nearly over." She pursed her lips and raised an eyebrow. After an awkward moment of silence, she said, "Well, don't you go causing trouble. I know you, Kuzon." She smiled slightly at this.
Kuzon winked and joked, "Yeah, no promises..." Lady Lo Stri rolled her eyes dramatically. "Alright, see you around soon. Have a good rest of the evening."
"Likewise," the young woman said as the two continued on their way to the theater.
"She seems nice," Siro remarked as they traveled up a creaky wooden stairway.
"Hm, yeah," Lady Lo Stri has lived on this island for as long as I can remember. She combs the beach for various seashells and other trinkets. Heck, she's even discovered nine pearl oysters, earning her the nickname, Lady Luck," Kuzon mused.
Siro nodded in reply just as they arrived at the top of the stairwell. Before them stood the house of props, performances and, quite frankly, amateur actors and actresses fulfilling their dreams in show business and the dramatic arts. A tall, solemn-looking man with a tired expression and a receding hairline stood by the entrance.
Kuzon whispered, "Just stand by and let me handle this." The two ambled over to the stern gentlemen who barely did more than blink and Kuzon, shooting him an innocent, earnest grin, said in a breezy voice, "We're here to see the play, 'Love Amongst the Dragons'."
"Tickets please," the man replied gruffly in a slow drawl.
"Yeah, that's the thing...," he told the ticket man, casting his eyes to the floor and rubbing the back of his neck in mock embarrassment. "We lost the tickets. Perhaps you could admit us, you know, make an exception?"
Siro could hear the man grumble under his breath, "Hmph, kids these days." He addressed Kuzon in that monotonous tone of his, "I'm afraid I can't, young man. No tickets, no entrance."
While his twelve-year-old friend tried to negotiate with the stubborn theater worker, Siro's eyes wandered over to a large poster nailed to the wall of the building, hanging only a few feet away. The parchment was dyed various hues of scarlet and saffron, depicting images of two scaly dragons, their bodies forming the shape of a heart. Four characters were portrayed as well, two women and two men.
How cheesy..., he thought to himself. He squinted to read the fine print which read:
'Love Amongst the Dragons', a beautiful, dramatic tale of love between two unlikely people. The legend weaves an emotion-filled story of a fair peasant woman who wins the heart of a wealthy, renowned dragon keeper whose reputation would be shattered should it be revealed to the city that he loves her. Written by acclaimed playwright, Rhonli Quin. Starring Actress Zaila as Sirius, Actress Azora as Trillian, Actor Zinura as Hinon and Actor Yan Li as Frenn Shi.
Sounds like a pretty typical love story to me... His silent remarks were abruptly interrupted by the frustrated shouts of the theater worker who roared, "No tickets, no entrance! Now shoo, pestering kids!" He eyed the fuming, middle-aged man whose face had grown a bright crimson, his true colors having erupted from beneath a cold, unreceptive shell.
Kuzon raised his hands in calm surrender and replied coolly, "Okay, okay, you win... We're leaving, alright? Gees, the nerve of some people...," he muttered bitterly, although Siro could swear he caught a twinkle of mischief in his eyes as he stormed down the stairway.
"I sure hope the last fifteen minutes of 'Love Amongst the Dragons' is worth all this trouble," Siro spoke in a hushed tone, wedging his foot on a slick boulder and hoisting himself upward.
Kuzon grinned and joked, saying, "Sure there's a chance you could lose your footing on these rocks and die... But all the risk is worth seeing the last scenes of the play. The pain you will get in your side from laughing at the cheesy romance acts..."
The two were clambering over the steep, rough ridges of the low-lying hill, their destination, an overhanging balcony leading to the theater, looming overhead. After having been dismissed by the ticket man at the entrance. Kuzon had dragged Siro around the side of the building along the shore and devised a plan where they scale up the rocky hill, hoist themselves over the wooden railing onto the balcony and sneak through the door inside.
Siro crawled onto another rocky ledge and felt its jagged surface dig into the soles of his feet. He felt spasms of pain course from his heels to his toes yet he pressed forward. Stopping and resting meant lingering pain; moving on meant relief and distraction. He scaled another boulder and could almost wrap his fingers around the railing.
"Oof!" A thudding noise sounded from below and he craned his neck just enough to see Kuzon lying flat on his back. "Okay, have to be more careful next time! Agh!" He rolled over and pulled himself onto his feet, appearing slightly dazed from the fall.
Wondering if his friend was too dizzy to carry through with the plan, Siro prepared to navigate his way down when there came a furious voice. Thundering, booming, roaring...
"Who's there? Why damned it be if it's you two meddlesome kids!" Footsteps sounded against the stairwell, each one an earthquake that rattled the ground, emitting shock waves. The air suddenly felt much hotter, almost as if the man's hatred radiated throughout the atmosphere like the rays of the sun. All became sickeningly silent.
"Oh, shoot!" Kuzon exclaimed, a mixture of nervousness and amusement in his voice. He had regained his senses in a split second and was now scrambling up the rugged hill as best he could. "Go! Go!"
Siro grasped the barring of the balcony with both hands, his knuckles turning a pale white as his fingers curled around the beams. Quickly yet steadily, he reached upward and grabbed hold of the railing with both hands. He wedged both his feet in between the spaces of the beams and heaved himself upward. It took a few moments, but he finally managed to land his feet onto the balcony, safe and practically unharmed, save for a few sores on his feet.
He peered over the railing at Kuzon who had virtually scaled the sloping hill in the time it took him to hoist himself onto the veranda. A sharp, cold pain surged through him as the shadowy, stormy figure of the ticket man bolted towards them, his face contorted with rage.
"Get down from there! Down, now!" he shouted, outraged. As if that would change Kuzon's mind... "You two kids better damn well get down here in the next ten seconds or I'll strike you upside the head! Get down!'
Kuzon expertly leaped over the railing onto the terrace and stared at the steaming worker with a beast-like appearance on his face. "C'mon, let's get inside," he whispered and headed for the doorway, a velvet curtain draped over the entranceway.
Siro followed close behind as he head the man threaten, "Don't make me call in workers of the PSU on you kids!"
Both ignored the warning and instead stepped into a brightly lit corridor, plush rugs carpeting the floor. They slowed their pace afterwards and eased their tense positions.
Kuzon chuckled and said, "Well, we escaped the crazed ticket man. And he probably won't even call in workers from the PSU."
"What is the PSU, anyway?" Siro questioned.
"It stands for 'Performance Security Unit'. It's a group of workers who ensure there are no onstage accidents, faulty props, riots, break-ins and other things such as that. They basically patrol the theater," he replied. "Alright, we better hurry if we want to see the end of the play!"
They ran forward and found themselves standing on the second level of the theater, overlooking the lobby. A few bored civilians milled about, minding their own business. On their left were several wide doors leading to what Siro assumed to be the main theater.
"It's through here," Kuzon whispered, even thought the man, had at this point, vanished.The double doors creaked open and they stepped inside the humongous, dimly lit theater room where onstage stood several actors and actresses. The stage itself was illuminated by the fluorescent lights overhead. The theater was crowded with dozens, possibly hundreds, of awe-inspired viewers who watched the performance in excitement. Kuzon led Siro over to a corner in what was commonly referred to as the "nosebleed" section. Being that there were no available seats in that section, the two were forced to stand up and lean against the railing to view the play.
Down below onstage there stood three actresses and three actors. The scenery depicted a grassland, mountains in the distance. Cardboard trees and bushes were assembled throughout the platform. A large model of animal stables stood in the background where effigies of thin, slinking dragons of various colors lay penned up. An actor and actress stood by one another facing the other performers who were crowded together, forming a riot of some sort.
"It's absurd!" the character, Frenn Shi, roared melodramatically. "A peasant girl and a wealthy, respected dragon keeper... in love? Why, that's worse than facing a man who wreaks havoc on the world!"
"It's not aabsurd! We love each other and that's all that matters," said the actress standing besides the actor. Siro recognized her as the character Sirius. She was dressed in dirty rags and had dirt smeared practically all over her face to emphasize, perhaps a bit too much, that she was poor. Her tone, like Frenn Shi's, was melodramatic, her speech drawled.
"We should throw them both into the dungeon!" a woman, whom Siro identified as Trillian, bellowed. Her voice practically echoed off the walls. "Separately..," she added in an exaggerated tone.
"Noooo!" Sirius and the character, Hinon, screamed in unison. Sirius fell to her knees and buried her face in her arms in a histrionic pose as if she were dying a painful death at that point.
"Seize them!" Frenn Shi commanded and the "rioters" ran rather sluggishly at the alleged couple, surrounding them and "beating" them with clubs and such.
Siro enjoyed watching the horrible acting, however, that pleasure was short-lived. His wandering eyes darted towards one of the many doorways and standing only several yards away was the scowling ticket man and two other men who each held brightly lit lanterns in their hands. They scoured the theater room for the two meddlesome kids, for them. "Oh...," he winced.
"Dude, what's wrong? You look live you've seen Avatar Roku's ghost," Kuzon asked.
Not wanting to speak and risk drawing the man's attention, Siro pointed at the trio surveying the area.
"Oh man... So that guy wasn't kidding when he said he'd call in members of the PSU. Yikes...," Kuzon remarked.
Siro silently wished for the man to give up the search and leave; unfortunately, the exact opposite happened. The light from the lanterns washed over them and soon settled on their location. It was over, they were caught.
"There they are!" hissed the ticket man. No sooner had he said that than he raced towards them like an Armadillo Lion charging after its prey in hot pursuit. "You kids are going to pay big time for this!'
"Run!" Siro shouted, louder than expected, and he and Kuzon darted from their spots, leaping and squeezing their way over nearby spectators, gripping the metal railing for support. The viewers weren't too pleased and there was a flood of complaints as they rushed over and past them.
"Hey, c'mon kid! What's the deal?" one man complained.
"You're making me miss the whole scene!" a fierce-looking lady snapped.
There was no time to say "Excuse me" or "Sorry", only time to run. After the commotion of having to dodge over irritated spectators, they continued their way up an aisle only for the ticket man and the two guards to appear before him.
The ticket man grabbed a hold of Siro's arm and attempted to suppress him. "Kids these days! So rebellious!" he said through gritted teeth. "You must be a disgrace to your father if this is how you act!"
Something inside of Siro snapped at this comment and he writhed free from the man's grasp, seething with rage. Without the slightest hesitation, he emitted a quick but formidable blast of fire from a clenched fist to ward off the three men. Judging by their fumbled reactions, it seemed neither the ticket man nor the guards were actually Firebenders.
The two took advantage of their slow recovery and dashed liked mad through the nearest double doorway, down the stairwell and across the lobby. They exited the theater into the crisp, nighttime air and raced across the beach. After several moments, they took cover behind a large rock formation, still quite a while away from the beach house. Both leaned against the rock wall and tired to catch their breath.
"Man...," Kuzon breathed. "That was something. I think we've lost them by now." He began laughing and remarked, "Ha, ha, that was pretty hilarious. And the way they almost got knocked off their feet when you shot that blast at them. Ha, oh yeah... that was good."
Siro couldn't help but laugh as well. It was indeed a comical sight. Then he remembered what the ticket man had hissed at him: "You must be a disgrace to your father if this is how you act!" All of a sudden, the pleasure of having escaped trouble had formulated into a feeling of darkness. Inhaling deeply through gritted teeth, he picked up a rock and hurled it with all his might into the ocean. I am a disgrace to him, he thought crossly. I am. If only I hadn't rebelled against his stupid decision.
He was glad he had rebelled against his father's wishes. He felt good knowing his voice was heard, even if his opinion was worth nothing in Lee Wang's eyes. Even if he was hated for it. Even if it hurt...
"Whoa, dude. Chill out," Kuzon coaxed. "What's on your mind? If you're angry that we didn't get to see the last scenes of 'Love Amongst the Dragons'..."
"It has nothing to do with that," Siro cut him off, still staring out at the Yatoma Sea where the stone had disappeared under the water with a plunk. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. "It's my father. He... he... he hates me." It was a lot harder to admit out loud.
Kuzon titled his head in curiosity. "What for? Not that you have to answer if you don't want..."
Siro kicked the sand beneath his feet and threw his hands in the air in frustration. "Because I protested against his stupid decision to send me to military school. It's ridiculous. He hates me for wanting to follow my own dreams. I mean, what the heck!" A fed-up, impatient laugh escaped from his throat.
Kuzon slapped him on back roughly and said, "I may not have the power to change your dad's mind about your future, but all I know is that you just have to keep fighting. Who knows? Maybe one day, he'll change his mind. You never know how things are going to work out in the end. And I'm sure your dad doesn't hate you. Trust me on this one." He cleared his throat almost uncomfortably after saying this. "Yep...," he drawled out of the blue.
Siro shifted his position and pondered his friend's words. Hate was a strong word; its meaning was almost being contorted to fit everyday language, whenever one did not care for something. "You know, I think you're right about that. I just wish I can get my dad to be more like your dad, your parents really. You know, more loving and affectionate," he mumbled sorrowfully.
Kuzon stiffened at this statement and his brow furrowed, his face expressing strain. When he spoke, his voice was defensive, bitter. "Oh, you think my parents are the absolute greatest? Shows what you know..."
Siro titled his head in confusion and bit the inside of his mouth. He spoke in a quiet, humbled voice, "I'm sorry... It's just that whenever I visit you, they always act so loving around you, so full of pride. The way they talk to you and -"
"Well, that's not how they really are, okay!" his friend yelled, his face becoming flustered and a muddle of emotions. "It's all an act. They want to make a good impression and 'set a good example' and everything, so they act all caring towards me." Siro was silenced. He had never seen Kuzon this upset. "I lied when I told you my parents work overtime so they can afford to manage our beach house. They don't work for extra money; they spend time with their friends, talking as though they don't have me to take care of."
"But how do you know they don't work overtime?"
"I caught them one day when I went outside to search for something I'd lost earlier in the day. I saw them sitting underneath a rock ledge with several friends of theirs, passing around glasses of spirits know what and laughing." Kuzon inhaled deeply and began pacing back and forth. He continued, saying, "They don't want me."
Siro understood now why Kuzon had beamed when his father had wrapped his arms around his shoulders. It was one of the few times he probably received that sort of attention. He tried to console his friend, replying, "But that was only one time. I'm sure that's not true."
"It is...," he relied, his voice sounding exasperated. "I mean, why do you think I cause trouble all the time? Why do think I'm constantly doing these crazy acts? Sure, it can be fun messing with people, but... I mean..."
"But you also do it for the attention," Siro completed his sentence. "You crave the attention of other people."
"And my parents," Kuzon added. "This may sound weird to you, but I wish for once they'd say, "You really shouldn't behave that outrageously, Kuzon," or "Try to act more civilized and mature," or something! But no, no..." His voice broke slightly at this. "They don't care. They don't say one word to me about my behavior. Not a praise, not a criticism, not a single punishment. They just ignore me, let me act like this wild child, out of control... and it sucks, it really does."
A silence washed over them, neither awkward nor dreadful, just thoughtful, reflective, sad... Beside them, the tides washed ashore and were swept back out to sea. How wonderful the world would be should all the troubles and ailments that afflicted it so be swept away.
Sunlight spilled onto the rippling tides in the distance and streamed through the glass-paned windows of the beach house. Siro leaned against the smooth white walls in the dimly lit room, his overnight bag lying at his feet. Kuzon emerged from his bedroom and said, "Guess we should be moving along now," and began shuffling forward.
"Yep, before I miss the ferry," Siro replied, picking up the pack and pushing open the door, feeling a rush of air sweep past his face.
"Hey," Kuzon began saying from behind him. He turned to face his friend. "I want to apologize for snapping at you last night. It's not your fault I'm ignored by my parents. Just sometimes there's these sharp, ragged edges to life..."
"It's okay," Siro replied and he felt the corners of his mouth turn up in a smile as he thought back to the previous night, clambering over the boulders and forcing himself forward whenever his foot grinded against a rough, pointed edge.
It's the ragged edges in life that keep spurring us on and prompting us to reach for the stars.
The soothing glow of the candlelight. His eyes were closed yet somehow the light penetrated the blackness of his vision.
The reticence, almost eerie, ominous... foreboding, it was consoling yet haunting. It was too normal, but was that not a good sign?
There were so many questions still unanswered. Questions that should not even be asked. Because everything was so normal, because life was so normal. Time passed. He aged with very day.
An interruption. A creak of the wooden door. The steps of someone walking in. Was it time already?
"Word from the Head," came a gruff voice.
So it was. He sat motionless.
"Rise. The time has come to tell him."
Note: Contains spoilers for this chapter. Advised that you not read this section until finished with the whole chapter.
- Can anyone guess what happened in the last scenario?
- This chapter was originally supposed to be titled "Jagged Edges", however, after re-watching the episode, "The Beach", the author realized Lo/Li said "ragged edges" instead of "jagged edges" and so changed the title to reflect the dialogue.
- Expect some of those surprise end passages to be added to select future chapters.
- This chapter was supposed to be a very short chapter. Ironically, it ended up being the longest chapter in the series up to this point.
- Syra's dream derived from bits and pieces of the Unspoken Memory, originally mentioned in "Dreams and Rebellion".
- Syra's experience in the burning storeroom is a taste of the events pertaining to future genocide, only containing less violence.
- The line, "A thick smoke-colored cloud had obscured the light of the moon beams," is a reference to the user, .
- The character, Lady Lo Stri, is a reference to the user, . Kuzon's mention of the "nine pearl oysters" she discovered is a reference to the nine Lucky Silver Pieces badges Lady Lostris had earned and the fanon character's nickname, Lady Luck, is one of the user's actual nicknames.
- The names of the play's main cast members, Actresses Sirius and Trillian and Actor Frenn Shi, are references to the users, , and . Actor Zinura who plays Hinon refers to no one in particular.
- The ticket man's mention of the PSU, or Performance Security Unit, is a reference to the user, .
- Actor Frenn Shi's line, "Why, that's worse than facing a man who wreaks havoc on the world," is a reference to the user, .
- Kuzon's statement, "You look like you've seen Avatar Roku's ghost," is a reference to the user, .
- The man's statement, "Can't wait to get back to my home in Zei Lang. The Earth Kingdom doesn't compare to the good old Fire Nation. And who knows? My friend might have some more news for me when I meet him again. Being close friends with a government official has its benefits," clearly shows that he has some insight into the possible plans for starting a war.
- All three strangers hail from the Fire Nation.
- Kuzon's mention of the actors and actresses butchering "Love Amongst the Dragons" is based off Zuko's statement, "They butchered 'Love Amongst the Dragons' every year."
- The plot for the play, at least the author's version, follows a rather stereotypical romantic storyline.
- Play wasn't funny? Absolutely fine; the author wasn't aiming to make it hilarious.
- This is the first time Aang is mentioned in this series.
Special thanks towho posted this chapter for me when I experienced technical problems.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|When Air Nomads Walked the Earth Chapters|
|Prologue: As the Sun Rises - Two Separate Lives - Triumph and Tragedy - Tutoring and Results - The Limitless Sky - Eavesdropping - What Next? - Dreams and Rebellion - Life Carries On - The Frozen Shores of Fire - Ragged Edges - Has He Returned? - The Sound of Laughter - Thrilling Revelations - The Unwanted Truth - Eve of the Red Sky - Dragons Over the Horizon - The Blazing Earth - Ashes, Ashes... We All Fall Down - And Then There Were None - Epilogue: When Night Falls|