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|Beyond the Borders|
7 December, 2014
O, my soul longs to see my home in green
The great flags waving, an island so pristine
The might of the Earth Kingdom, stubborn and strong
O, my soul longs to sing these words in this song
--Excerpt from "My Solid Stone", a poem written by Avatar Furuki.
The barracks and watchtower were in sight as Miki slowly made her way to the border. Her decision to walk slowly however was not made because she wanted to, but because her friend she walked with was reluctant to follow.
Ulva whimpered every few steps as Miki beckoned him to follow, and would take lengthy pauses in between his owner's calls. He slowed down even further, almost to a halt, when he noticed the gathering of people just by the watchtower.
"Ulva, it's okay. They're not going to hurt you." Miki tried to smile as she reassured him.
The wolf glanced back up at Miki with his big blue eyes, not wanting to venture further, but eventually he pressed on towards the crowd. Wolves were feared by their tribe, and if any were seen near Manirak they would usually be hunted or forced back into the forests to the south. But there was no way that Miki would leave without him.
As the pair neared the barracks villagers began to part like water upon noticing them approaching. Gasps surfaced from their worried faces, some of them whispering her name under their breath. Miki tried not to look at any of the villagers, but instead tried to comfort Ulva, who was becoming more and more anxious by the second. Thankfully, the pile of supplies left by the walls which surrounded the whole complex was now deserted, and so Ulva wouldn't have to walk past any more villagers.
Miki noticed the other villagers had stopped in their tracks, some holding bundles of goods which were to be put with the rest of the pile. "It's alright, he won't hurt you." Miki motioned to Ulva sitting next to her, nearly as tall as her in this position.
One woman nearly fainted after Miki said this, and handed her bag to the nearest villager and left. The man she handed it to watched her run away briefly, but then slowly made his way over to Miki. "You are very brave," He uttered as he handed her the bag of supplies. Surprised by his confidence, Miki smiled a little and nodded, watching the man turn back and stand with the others.
Miki turned around at the sound of her name to see a young girl running towards her, followed by some older woman trying to keep up. "Kashi."
Her friend almost made it over to Miki when she noticed Ulva nervously waiting by the supplies. As usual, Kashi's mother hovered like a ghost a few metres behinds her, probably tearing her hair out at the thought of her daughter being that close to a wolf. "He won't hurt you, he's actually quite friendly."
Kashi took a quick look at Miki, and then leant her upper body forwards slightly, "Hey there wolfie," She began, holding her hand low to the ground, "I won't hurt you."
Ulva was somehow drawn to Kashi's sweet voice and welcoming demeanour, and slowly made his was over to the girl. She began to stroke his head, feeling the fur between her fingers and speaking softly to him. "His name is Ulva," Miki smiled.
"Ulva is it? Well, aren't you a good boy," Kashi teased. "So how did you manage to charm him so easily?"
Miki almost rolled her eyes at the question, though she still answered politely, "I haven't charmed him; I can't even charm anything. It's just a rumor." Kashi looked a little surprised so Miki continued, "I found him trapped under a fallen branch from a tree. There had been a bad storm, and I had heard him howling that night while I was sitting on the hill near my home, and so I made my way there and found he was trapped."
"What happened next?" Kashi marveled while asking Miki.
"It was a full moon, and so I used my powers to protect him all night," Miki smiled as she recalled the event. "It was the first time I actually got to practice using them. All sorts of hungry predators tried to attack him and eat him, seeing as he was easy prey. But I couldn't just leave him, not when I knew I could help him. Then when the sun came up I quickly ran and found Saskha, and we helped him out together. Though our father wouldn't have let him live with us so he's lived in the forests nearby all this time."
"Wow, that's amazing!" Kashi beamed. "I always knew you were special Miki."
A grin on her face, Miki began to survey the supplies around them. "It's also a good thing we have him with us because I'm not sure that we would be able to carry all these things on our own, since we don't have any ostrich-horses." She looked down at Ulva, his eyes beaming with all the attention from Miki and Kashi, "Looks like you're going to need a backpack."
The girls began to collect some of the items and fit them into the largest pack they could find. After a few moments they strapped the bag to Ulva's front shoulders, and managed to tie two of the three sleeping bags to the bag as well which rested just before Ulva's hind legs. Although Ulva was slightly uncomfortable with the bag on his back, he seemed to understand what was going on, and also grew restless with the fact that they would be leaving soon.
Kashi and Miki both stood up after attaching the bag, and looked at each other for a moment. "Miki, I'm really sorry that I hadn't come to speak with you sooner."
"It's okay, I understand why." She couldn't really say anymore since Hinani was still lurking behind them, even though she had moved in line with the other villagers who were too scared to be any closer to a wild wolf.
"No but... You're leaving now and we only just started talking again. I wish... I wish I had come to you sooner, especially now that we won't be able to see each other for a while."
Miki smiled, "I'll be back in three weeks. It won't be that long." She hugged Kashi, who had started tearing up, "And then we can talk for hours when I get back. I'm just glad we even had the chance to talk at the beach the other day."
"Yeah, that was fun." A small smile emerged on her face, "Be careful Miki. I know that you have these powers but Utadano is strong too."
"Thanks Kashi." Miki replied with her own smile.
From the left, Saskha and Anana arrived, each carrying armfuls of supplies. After setting them on the ground, Saskha turned to Miki, "Hey, we brought some more food and cooking utensils from Anana's place. You think this will be enough?"
"Yeah, I think it will be. And we managed to fit a lot of it onto Ulva's back," She pointed to Ulva standing behind them, the large backpack strapped onto his shoulders.
Her sister laughed, "Well I hope he's okay with carrying that much."
Anana was almost speechless staring at the wolf before them, but quickly smiled at the situation. After another few seconds, she turned to face Saskha, "Well, I guess it's time for our final goodbye," She wrapped her arms around Saskha, "Be safe, and I wish you guys all the best."
"Thanks Anana, you too," Saskha gently replied while the two were holding each other, both of them with their eyes growing wet with tears. "We'll miss you."
Miki also hugged Anana, "We'll only be gone for three weeks. You guys will be safe in the Northern Water Tribe."
"I know kiddo," Anana smiled, though tears formed in her eyes. "Take care." She stood up and made her way over to Kashi, who was now sobbing gently next to her mother. Kashi waved at Miki, her lips curing upwards into a smile even through her tears. Miki responded by waving as well, and even she started to cry too while she filled her own bag with some more items, the only thing in it at the moment was the book which Junetsu had given her.
As Saskha began to pack her own bag, she noticed councilman Kesaq and his family make their way over to her. The old master grinned as he glanced at his student, "You really are one of my best students Saskha," he laughed a little before continuing, "And I have no doubt that you can endure the road that lies ahead."
The master and student bowed to each other, "Thank you master Kesaq." Once her head was raised, Saskha noticed Kesuk was standing to his father's side.
"I'll give you two a moment," Kesaq smiled with a slight nod of his head, stepping back towards the line of other villagers.
Kesuk smiled awkwardly at first, but then placed his arms on Saskha's shoulders. "Thank you for what you said earlier. I... Know that we all have our roles in this war, and so I suppose mine is to help our villagers get back home safely."
Saskha slid one of her own hands over Kesuk's resting on her shoulder, "I know it's frustrating, but I'm sure it will be for the best." She pulled herself closer to Kesuk, giving him one last hug, "I'm going to miss you so much, even though it will only be for three weeks," Tears ran from her eyes as she tried her best to keep them in.
"I'll miss you too, more than you will ever know," Kesuk muttered solemnly, though before Saskha could respond he continued, "But I know you'll be fine. You're a good waterbender; nearly as good as me," He joked, a slight cheeky grin forming on his face.
Saskha pulled away and responded with her own grin, "Thanks for your compliment," The sarcasm was evident in her voice. She quickly chuckled, "But seriously, take care. And we will see you again soon."
Kesuk nodded, and finally his hands slid from his friend's shoulders and hung by his sides. He tried to smile for as long as he could, but while the pair continued to gaze into each other's eyes he couldn't help but cry a little. His mother Yepa wrapped her arm around her son, a warm smile directed at Saskha. After a few more seconds, Saskha turned back to finish packing.
By now, the crowd of villagers had formed a crescent moon shape amongst themselves; the bulk of the villagers stood directly opposite the travelers, and few clusters of people arching to the sides to watch the sisters and Ulva about to leave. An opening formed in the middle of the crowd, allowing councilman Onartok and his wife to reach the supplies. Buniq gasped at the sight of Ulva standing near the gate, tugging on her husband's arm, "Onartok! You can't leave with them! Not with that... Wild beast accompanying them!"
The councilman wrapped his fingers around his petrified wife's hand, and turned back to the Chief, who had followed them into the middle, "We had a deal that the three of us would be travelling together, not this wolf as well. If the girl can charm the wild beast so easily than surely she can just send it back into the wilderness from which it came?"
The sisters rolled their eyes at Onartok's question. Saskha was about to interject when surprisingly, her younger sister was the one to address him, "I cannot 'charm' animals; I've never had that ability and certainly have not used it on Ulva," She replied, a slight frustration creeping into her voice. "I simply helped him by saving his life, and in a sense tamed him. He's coming with us whether you like it or not."
A smile formed on Chief Iluliaq's mouth, while Onartok simply grunted angrily. It wasn't ideal that he already had to put up with Keiro's two daughters for three weeks, and now some feral animal would be trailing with them as well. Sighing loudly, he began to collect the last of the supplies and stuff them into his backpack, his wife helping him.
Miki had filled her bag to the top, though as she tied it up she noticed something strange. The area around them was silent; not one villager was speaking or chatting after her explanation of the lie about her being able to charm animals, and how she befriended Ulva instead. Not only the silence was present, but every pair of blue or grey eyes were latched upon her like elbow leeches. Miki felt tingling down the back of her neck, and her cheeks grew red with nervousness. All these villagers had probably never even heard her speak out loud, let alone address a councilmember. She scanned the audience, noticing the familiar faces of Kashi, her mother, Anana and her family, Kesuk and his family, and a few others at the front. Miki realized at this moment that she hadn't even spoken directly to any of them about the dream she had, or why she wanted to leave; all the details had been spoken through Saskha at the vote earlier this morning. She breathed in deeply though her nose, mustering up enough courage. Although she hated speaking in public, she had to say something.
"I... Uh..." She muttered, "Thank you all for providing us with these things. They will not go to waste." Her voice was unsteady, and unsure. Although she was sincere she knew that her words hadn't affected the villagers. Not because they thought she wasn't sincere, but because another emotion plagued all their faces. Fear.
Miki could see into each and every one of their eyes, windows into the uncertainty and frightfulness that they felt. Even this mission could go wrong; the Avatar may not be around, may not want to help them, or they may not even find them within the three weeks Utadano had given them. And if their mission failed the only comfort would be that the Northern Water Tribe could come to their aid, though even then Utadano was the largest and most powerful city in the world. The fear of failure of this mission, and Utadano succeeding in forcing them into war was evident in their eyes, and Miki knew she had to address this fear.
"Look, I know that you're all scared. I... I am scared as well. I have been since I saved my mother from that serpent three years ago," She felt far too vulnerable after sharing her feelings to the whole tribe, but somehow the words just seemed to flow from her lips. She glanced at the audience, noticing many of the faces she saw in her dream. The dream where she violently attacked them, using her powers to send them fleeing and cowering in terror. A similar terror, though not as extreme, which presented itself on their faces now. "But we are part of the Water Tribe; and fear is not something that we will give into. We are like water that flows down a stream, moving around the rocks and things blocking its path, but never letting itself be blocked. And I tell you now; there is no dam too high to block us. No wall without a crack. No barrier that will stop us from adapting, and changing, and flowing through. Not even the great green gates of Utadano will stop us. We will succeed!" She raised her voice at the last part, a look of triumph on her face.
At first no one said anything. Perhaps she had overdone it. But shortly after, a few of the villagers in the front row started clapping slowly. Kashi then let out a cheer from her throat, a fist pointed high above her head. Kesuk howled a primal call, clapping wildly as well. Kesaq, Yepa, Anana, Nilak, Pirta, and everyone else in the front few rows joined in the rowdy chorus as well. Soon, the whole tribe bar a few were aloud with cheering. Miki was still shocked at what had just happened; she had just spoken in front of the whole tribe! The little shy girl who always hid under her hood could never have done this. Yet somehow, she had managed to inspire the whole tribe.
She felt her sister's arm wrap around her, probably because Saskha noted Miki's unbelieving and stunned expression, almost like a fox deer caught in the bright light of a lantern. "Hey," She smiled fondly at her younger sister, "You did great."
Miki could only respond with an awkward grin. Once the noise had started to die down, Junetsu made her way over to the girls. Tears forming in her eyes, she held both of the sisters in her arms for a moment. "I'm so proud of both of you." She pulled away and stroked Miki's hair, "To think that Keiro's youngest daughter, who used to be so shy and quiet, was able to wipe away the fear from people's hearts."
"Junetsu, I don't know if I quite did that."
The librarian laughed softly, "Don't sell yourself short dearie." She lightly kissed Miki's forehead. Turning to Saskha, she wrapped her arms around her and kissed her on the cheek. "Take care of your younger sister and yourself." Saskha nodded as Junetsu pulled away, their teary eyes meeting for a few seconds. "I love both of you so much. Stay safe, and know that we'll be waiting here for you to return." She smiled warmly, though tears had now started to run down her cheeks. Saskha and Miki had to hold each other at this point, their emotions overwhelming each of them.
Meanwhile, the other councilmen had gathered with Onartok. Tookha looked into his friend's eyes, holding his hand out. Smiling slightly, the councilman took hold of Tookha's hand and put his other arm around his shoulder, Tookha doing the same. No words needed to be said, and instead their farewells were shared this way as Onartok embraced Kesaq and Noarah, until only Chief Iluliaq was left. "Thank you for doing this my friend. I know that it is hard, but destiny is on our side." He pulled out a small bag which clanged when it shook in his hand. He motioned for Onartok to take it, and after doing so he noticed that it was a bag filled with gold pieces. "The Northern Water Tribe has been planning to start using their own currency for a while now, and so we traded some of our supplies a while ago for some Earth Kingdom money in case exchange was needed between the two currencies. But it seems that it may be more of a use to you." Onartok smiled gratefully in reply as the chief continued, "At the nearest city of Jiangcheng you should be able to buy some ostrich-horses, which will make your journey faster."
"Chief Iluliaq, you have provided us with much. Thank you." Onartok placed his arms around Iluliaq, patting him slightly on the back.
Iluliaq smiled in response, "Stay safe good friend. And take comfort in the fact that the spirits are on our side."
Saskha and Miki finished gathering the last of the supplies to fill Saskha's pack, once Onartok's pack was full. Surprisingly everything that had been given had managed to been fit into the four packs. Saskha also stored her fishing spear on her back, the sheath resting over her left shoulder. The sisters smiled at each other, the nervousness and excitement of leaving starting to work its way into their bones. But before they set off, Chief Iluliaq strolled over to them, walking staff in hand, "You know, I'm still surprised that you two are leaving on this mission, even now just before you do leave." He smiled fondly at the two girls. "But I have confidence that you four will find the Avatar, and that your mission will succeed."
Saskha and Miki bowed to the chief, and he in turn bowed to them. After rising again, Iluliaq wore a slightly curious expression, "But I also wanted to ask you something Miki. You mentioned that you have been 'scared since you saved your mother from that serpent three years ago', but what have you been afraid of?"
Miki shifted uncomfortably at the question. At the time she hadn't really thought about what she had said; she was so ridden with nerves yet her words just seemed to form themselves. "I... Uh... I've been scared since then because I've been scared of my powers sir. I'm worried that I don't know how to control them, and that I really will become a monster."
The chief stroked his beard, "And so do you think that people may view you as a 'monster'?"
She responded with a slight nod, a small frown forming from her lips. She realized in her dream and after when she explained it to Saskha that everyone was scared of her; including herself.
"Well, do you want to know what I saw in you today?" Iluliaq questioned. He placed his hand on the young girl's shoulder, "I saw a leader, and certainly not a monster of any kind." He grinned tenderly, and before turning back to the tribe he noticed Miki's frown turn into a modest smile of her own.
The chief stood in between the travelers and the rest of the tribe, "And now, we must send these brave tribesmen on their way. We wish you all the best on your journey, and eagerly await your return to your home. We know that the spirits are on our side, and we will continue to ask them to light your way through these dark times. Farewell, my brother and sisters." The tribe started cheering loudly again, and many flailed their arms around to wave goodbye to those leaving.
To the left of the group, Buniq still clung onto her husband with her fingers interlocked with his own. "It's time," He whispered into her ear as the pair held each other in their arms.
Buniq could hardly respond at all. But as she watched her other half walking away she called out to him, "Remember your promise!"
Onartok turned around, a loving smile forming on his face, "Of course I will. I love you."
Even his wife managed a small smile, "I love you too." Onartok turned to strap his bag to his back, which had to compete for room with his machete which hung from his shoulder in its sheath. Buniq had started to weep, the tears flowing from her reddened eyes as some of the women nearby helped her stand and comforted her.
Miki, Saskha, and Onartok stood at the iron gates in the wall, waiting as someone turned a wheel to raise them. As they waited, each of them turned back to their gathered tribesmen, waving and cheering as they watched their heroes leave. These were the people that they would miss most in this world, though they were also the very ones they hoped to save through this mission.
As the gates were lifted right to the top of the wall, the sisters exchanged looks, "You ready Miki?"
"Of course," Miki grinned.
Onartok shared nothing more than a sideways glance before taking the lead, marching through the snow before the rest of them. Ulva looked only too happy to leave the presence of the other villagers and walked a few steps forward, turning back to the sisters to bark and beckon them to follow. After laughing a little, the girls caught up to Ulva, following the trail left by councilman Onartok at the front.
This is it. Miki thought. It was the first day of their journey, the one in which they would be travelling through the Earth Kingdom, reaching out to the Air Temples, and making their way to the Fire Nation in search of the new Avatar.
"Woohoo! Earth Kingdom, here we come!" Saskha cheered.
Her sister laughed in response. "You hear that Ulva? We're finally going to see the Earth Kingdom!"
The wolf seemed to pick up on their excitement, and Ulva started running forwards even passing Onartok for a moment before waiting for the others to catch up.
"It seems he's only too eager," Saskha joked. The four of them continued to press on through the snow, and slowly the sound of the villagers cheering and roaring disappeared.
Back at the gate, the villagers slowly dispersed after the travelers were out of sight. One by one they left back to their homes, until only Kesuk was left staring out into the wilderness past the gate. "Come back to me, my love." He whispered softly, his longing eyes only wishing Saskha were still in front of him now.
But Kesuk wasn't the only one watching; among the trees nearby, a group of men watched the three villagers and their wolf jog through the clearing before them. These men were dressed in dark green and emerald armor, with pale lime green tunics and tan pants underneath. One of them watched the group near the tree line, "They're heading south," He stood up, turning back to one of the men standing behind him.
The man he turned to wore a dark green cape and his armor trimmed with gold, signifying that he had a higher rank than the other soldier. His mouth slowly twisted into a smirk, and a small malicious snicker made its way passed his lips.
"General, we should stop them. Manirak had broken our agreement by leaving."
General Huode waved a hand, "We never gave them a curfew; they aren't doing anything wrong. Though if they are heading south rather than north to their home tribe than we can assume that they have declined our offer."
Another soldier spoke up, "What of Manirak then sir? If this group are not heading north than should we call for reinforcements to attack the village and take the waterbenders and healers prisoner?"
"Do not trouble yourself with such thoughts. The pitiful village of Manirak will be completely destroyed, all in due time." He answered with a smug grin spread across his face. The other soldiers looked at each other with confused faces, wondering why the general had told them that Manirak will be destroyed. After a good pause, General Huode answered them, "There is more to this business with Manirak than you have been told, and the past shall come to light in due time." He stood up, grabbing his wide green hat and putting it on his head, "So for now, we have other matters to attend to." His eyes narrowed, "We still need to find out where these four are going."
- In Avatar Furuki's poem at the start of the chapter, the lyrics "The great flags waving, an island so pristine" is a reference to the city of Utadano, which was first built on the island to the east of modern day Ba Sing Se (I will be creating a map of the world at this time eventually).
|Spirit of the North|
|• Chapter 1 - Manirak • Chapter 2 - Memories • Chapter 3 - The Librarian • Chapter 4 - Liberation • Chapter 5 - Guilt • Chapter 6 - A Final Goodbye • Chapter 7 - Reconnection • Chapter 8 - Visitors from the East • Chapter 9 - Avatar • Chapter 10 - The Dream that Led to a Journey • Chapter 11 - Promise • Chapter 12 - The Vote • Chapter 13 - Unspoken Desires • Chapter 14 - Beyond the Borders • Chapter 15 - Foreseer of Futures • Chapter 16 - The Warrior Within • Chapter 17 - First Blood • Chapter 18 - Victories and Defeats • Chapter 19 - Secrets of the Book • Chapter 20 - Entering the Earth Kingdom• Chapter 21 - The Dream Nobody Thought Would Come True • Chapter 22 - The Great River City: Part 1 • Chapter 23 - The Great River City: Part 2|
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