|By Toph The Blind Bandit||Genre||Rating||Reviews||Updates|
|and Leci||Action/Drama||PG-13||None yet||No update page|
July 18, 2012
The boat was finally arriving towards the Northern Water Tribe. It was the home Ryu's mother was from and the only city that did not fall to the Fire Nation during the Hundred Year War. It was also the first time Ryu laid eyes upon the beautiful city. He began walking towards the front deck as the boat came to a gentle stop and he took a good long look at the outer wall. Almost immediately, he noticed how thick the outer walls of ice were that surrounded the entire city.
"No wonder this city did not fall to the Fire Nation." Ryu thought to himself. He then turned his attention to the Water Tribe symbol that was etched onto the center of the wall, the crest of the Water Tribes. It was a circle and inside a half moon was crafted. Next to the moon were lines, waved to match the ocean tide. A fairly simple design he thought, but it well represented the moon and ocean spirits in which water benders got their power. Upon observing this symbol he reached his right hand under his scarf and lifted the blue pendant from under his shirt. It hung from his neck on a black cord and fit easily in the palm of his hand. Carved into it was the same symbol that was on the gate; the Water Tribe crest. Grabbing the pendant tightly, he let out a small sigh and with it a gentle puff of condensation came out of his mouth.
During this time, waterbenders began to line up to the side of the deck and Ryu's attention was focused towards them. Facing the city, the benders began to sway their hands back and forth in unison and the massive wall suddenly began to part in half. His mouth dropped opened in a small awe as the walls began to split apart and the city started to appear in full view. From his point of view the buildings were arranged in stacking layers like that of a pyramid and inside the walls were intricate systems of waterfalls and rivers. It was... amazing to say the least.
With the wall completely opened now, the boat entered the city and stopped at the docks. Ryu disembarked from the ship and wasted no time as he began talking to the locals asking them where he could go to find a waterbending master. The local tribe members would all point towards the northern part of the city. Ryu immediately began to head in that direction not even taking the time to notice the beautiful architecture of his mother's home town.
Once he arrived to the northernmost tip of the city, he saw waterbenders outside training. After a quick scan of the crowd, he approached a person whom he thought was the master waterbender. He was sitting on a patch of raised ice, watching the other benders go through their movements. The man looked up at the newcomer with a smile. It was a smile Ryu didn't return.
"Hey, I was wondering where I could find Master Katara?"
The waterbender shook his head after a moment, "You just missed her."
"What do you mean?" Ryu replied with an impatient tone.
"What I mean is she went back to the Southern Water Tribe a few days ago," said the waterbender.
Ryu was disappointed in this revelation, "Damn I was too late! My name is Ryu and I am from Republic City. I came here to learn waterbending from a Master Katara. Since she is not here... I am hoping to learn from a master equally skilled as her. Is there one around?"
The waterbender seemed surprised by that. Surprised turned to skepticism but he nodded in understanding anyways. He then searched the crowd before pointing towards a young girl who was bending nearby. "Why don't you learn from her?" Ryu looked in that direction and immediately raised a brow. Was he was not being taken seriously by the waterbender? "I'm sorry, but I said I want to learn from a master, not an inexperienced teenage girl."
"I can hear you, you know." The 'teenage girl' and subject of the conversation replied.
Her eyes shifted from the water she had been bending, over to the pair. With a gentle grace, she let the water drop back into the fountain she stood in front of and turned towards them. Casually her gaze shifted from the older male to the new arrival, eyes sweeping Ryu from head to toe. A small smirk crossed her lips, "I bet this 'inexperienced teenage girl' knows more than you do when it comes to waterbending."
Ryu's other eyebrow raised at the challenge but he didn't reply. Why should he? Arguing with a student wouldn't get him anywhere closer to finding a bending teacher. Instead he turned his attention back to the water bender.
"Are you sure there aren't any Master waterbenders around? Or do you know a way I can get in contact with Master Katara?"
The girl, also known as Koyuki, got a bit peeved by that. Not only did the boy dismiss her, he still didn't believe she had the skill to teach him. There were plenty of people in the village who could vouch for her abilities but maybe that wouldn't be enough. Maybe... she'd have to show him. That was fine by her and she began moving her hands, pulling a long stream of water from the fountain. Since the boy's back was turned towards her, Koyuki stealthily closed the distance between them until she was just a few feet away. Only then did she swing the water back and then snap it forward in a water whip at the back of the boy's head. Ryu's head whip lashed from the force of the water whip, followed by a hiss of pain. Immediately, he turned around and gave a frightening glare towards this girl who had the guts to strike him. Koyuki let the water drop to her feet as she did her best imitation of being scared. In truth, she was trying her best not to laugh but even she couldn't stop her face from breaking into a grin. Clenching his fist, Ryu looked back to the older bender and asked in an angry tone, "What is her problem?"
The waterbender chuckled himself at the display and simply shrugged his shoulders. "It is hard to say... But I think you should challenge her to a duel."
That was not the answer Ryu was expecting and it just frustrated him farther. He pointed towards Koyuki who now sat on the edge of the fountain, still grinning at the pair. "Why would I want to waste my time challenging her?" he shouted. "Because, Ryu, that girl is a disciple of Master Katara and one of the best at that. Maybe if you beat her, she'll put in a good word with her master for you." The male bender casually stroked his whitening beard as he spoke, watching the boy.
That news peaked Ryu's interest and he turned his attention to the girl, sizing her up very carefully. There was no guarantee that if he beat her, she'd introduce him but it might be his only chance to meet Master Katara. "Or you could wait the three or four months for Master Katara's return." The bender offered.
Ryu let out a deep sigh and marched over to Koyuki. He pointed a finger at her as he spoke, expression serious, "If I beat you in a waterbending duel, do you promise to introduce me to Master Katara?"
The challenge came as a surprise to Koyuki and she gave a giggle at the seriousness the boy expressed. "Really? You would challenge me to a duel just to meet my Master?" She remarked, her head tilted as she rested a finger against her cheek. The grin was replaced with a curious smile as she realized she was actually considering the boy's challenge.
"Yes. Do you accept?" Ryu's gaze was firm as he watched the girl try to make up her mind. Secretly he was hoping she would agree to the match because he really did not want to spend three or four months waiting.
Finally, she pushed herself away from the fountain and nodded, "Alright. I accept your challenge! We shall have a waterbending duel and, if you win, I shall introduce you to my Master. However! If I win, you have to do my chores for a WHOLE day!" The grin returned to her face this time and she held out a hand, "Deal?"
The boy paused, just a slight hesitation as he mulled over the girl's side of the challenge. Koyuki wanted him to do a whole day's worth of chores if she won? Seriously? Well, if he wanted to be introduced to Master Katara then it was something he had to risk. Ryu didn't plan on losing anyways. He stepped forward, taking her hand and the two shook on it, "Fine, you got yourself a deal."
"Great!" Koyuki dropped her hand and then gave a quick look around the training grounds. She nodded again, "We shall duel here, near the fountain. Plenty of room for a match and there isn't anything breakable in case you screw up your bending. I don't want you to break something precious to us after all."
Ryu's mouth twitched at that but he nodded in agreement and moved more into the open area, taking his spot across from her. He took a deep breath and eased it out gently as he began his warm up exercises that were essential for proper elemental bending. They mostly consisted of breathing but there was some movement as he moved through a few fighting stances.
In his mind he started to run over a battle strategy. If what the old bender said was true, this girl knew what she was doing and, if she had been trained by Master Katara, then this wouldn't be exactly an easy match for him. His waterbending was only at the novice level but Ryu would likely have the advantage if he could engage her with close quarter combat. The trick was getting close enough. He thought his plan over and over but it wasn't long before his mind started to wander and he glanced towards Koyuki.
The female was talking with the old man bender now, their voices were quiet enough that he couldn't hear. Not that it mattered. What mattered was that the girl seemed totally at ease. Like she didn't think this was going to be hard at all. Was she really that confident? The old man finally patted her on the shoulder and walked into the growing crowd who had come to watch the match. Wait, a crowd? Great. That was something he did not need.
Koyuki finally turned towards Ryu and called out, "Are we ready to get this duel started?"
The boy glared but nodded as he turned towards her, pressing his right fist into his left palm. That made the girl smile. She was pleased that he at least knew a proper etiquette for a duel. She mimicked the gesture and they bowed together before taking their stances. Time seemed to pass slowly at first as the pair sized each other up, waiting to see who would strike first.
And it was Koyuki; the girl wanted to see just how serious this boy was. She thrust her arms to the side as she suddenly stepped forward, pulling a stream of water from the fountain with her left hand. Another step as she brought the water around to her right side and then sent it flying towards Ryu in a rapid succession of her previous water whip attack.
Ryu was ready this time. On the first strike, he dodged left. On the second strike he dodged right. On the third he met it head on and just as it was about to make direct contact, he dissipated the water with his own bending. By this point he was within striking distance and began drawing his own water from the fountain. With a forward thrust of his hands, he aimed the water at Koyuki's feet. Seeing this, the girl vaulted backwards and away from the rush of water. The boy's attack was simple and less than spectacular in her mind. In her opinion, Ryu definitely was not going to win that way, or so she believed. Talk about her surprise though as she landed, a small splash reaching her ears when her feet touched the ground. The water he had thrown previously was already there, the boy having adjusted his previous strategy and maneuvered the water so she'd land in it. Before she could react and dodge a second time, it curled up around her feet and froze the girl in place.
What a sneaky maneuver! Apparently she had to take this a bit more seriously than intended. He had been rushing and being predictable it seemed, wanting to get close. Clearly he was not thinking with the mind of a waterbender, or so she thought. He had just proved her wrong and she tugged on her feet to see if she could break the ice, realizing that boy had wanted to freeze her in place from the start.
Ryu gave a smirk, pleased that his move worked. He had her right where he wanted her; frozen to the ground she was easy prey for his close quarters combat. Rushing forward again, he started to close the last few strides between the two but Koyuki wasn't going to be caught off guard that easily.
So what if her feet were stuck, she still had her hands. Moving fast, the girl crouched low and brought her hands up as she stood straight. An ice wall rose with a loud crack to separate the pair, causing the boy to change tactics. His stride slowed as he changed directions to the left for a clear shot at the girl behind the wall.
Fine by her. The wall had given her enough time to remove the ice that froze her feet and just as Ryu appeared on her left the girl was already mid swing. Her right palm connected with the wall, the bending force shattering the ice in his direction. The spray of ice and water had the boy holding up his arms in defense and jumping backwards. Koyuki wasn't going to let him have a chance to counter or escape though, as she followed up with a thrust of her palm. The shattered ice turned into sharp projectiles and raced towards the boy.
Ryu, on the defensive now, was jumping side to side doing his best to dodge the attacks the girl was continuously throwing in his direction. Left. Right. Down... Jump. He was doing okay until he missed one. He twisted to the side to dodge, slipping on some ice and stumbled forward. As he whirled around to face her again, Koyuki got a smile of satisfaction at the line of blood that ran across the boy's cheek.
Ryu didn't really seem to care; he knew it was there but rather than fuss over a wound, he wanted to return the favor. While hurting a girl wasn't his style, he wasn't going to let her get away with getting a mark on him. He watched as she walked from behind the rubble that used to be her ice wall before he brought up his own pillar of ice. Almost immediately, he started to punch his own projectiles from the pillar.
Koyuki accepted the attack, bounding across the ground while moving fluidly as she dodged each one. While her projectiles had been small and hard to dodge, his weren't. The girl noted that the boy always went big with his attacks which made them rather easy to avoid. Twirling she dissipated an attack into water, before cartwheeling away from a follow up.
"You have bad aim you know that? I bet you'd miss me even if I was an inch away from you." She chided in a mockingly playful tone. A gloved hand went up, forming the shape of an L on her forehead and gave a wink. A childish move, yes, but right now, she just wanted to see how pissed she could make the boy. "I bet you are familiar with this sign aren't you? Only a loser would have aim as bad as you."
Sure enough her mocking was getting to him. Ryu gave her a glare, putting a bit more force into his punches. It wasn't doing any good though as the girl danced her way around them. Finally, he stopped, hands reaching out towards the fountain again. Here, he drew out a large pool of water and almost angrily he threw it in her direction.
"Really? You think you are going to hit me with a puddle like that? Alright!" Back on her feet, she held out a hand. Here she turned his own attack against him. Arms waving in a circle over her head and front Koyuki directed the giant water into a U turn and had it tunneling straight back at Ryu.
Now that was a shocker. The boy wasn't prepared for that attack and he found himself tumbling backwards. He skidded to a stop on his back once the water stopped and sat up. He looked very much like a drowned dog, eyes wide as he stared at Koyuki. The girl stood innocently, hands behind her back but the expression on her face was clearly beaming with a "You just got owned" smile. That right there frustrated the boy beyond his decision to play fairly and steam rose from his soaked clothes as his temper went unchecked.
He then jumped to his feet and charged towards her, stopping mid-way as he took his stance and thrust a fist forward. To the surprise of himself, Koyuki and all other viewers, a fireball had taken flight towards the girl. Koyuki, not expecting any firebending found herself forming a water shield but even she wasn't prepared for the force of the attack. The fireball vanished in a rush of steam as the water negated the attack but the girl was knocked back and found herself sitting on her bottom from the impact. Teal eyes were wide in surprise. All eyes were on Ryu now, whose expression was one of regret and surprise. He had just attacked a waterbender unfairly with fire in a water only fight. He stood straight, letting his hands drop to his sides and looked around at the watchers as whispers started to spread. While most faces were ones of wonder and surprise there were still quite a few dirty expressions. A firebender was in their midsts, and that unsettled quite a few of the Water Tribe citizens.
"He is a firebender!" A voice had called out.
"Who let a firebender into this town?!"
"Talk about not playing fair."
Ryu closed his eyes at the voices and his own stupidity before turning his gaze back to Koyuki. The girl was on her feet this time, watching him with a mixed expression of anger and... curiosity? He immediately realized he had screwed up big this time and quickly gave a bow, "I have lost the duel to you."
He wanted to say more. Apologize perhaps? But he didn't. He just wanted to leave and with that he turned and started to walk away. It was hard though. Ryu did his best to ignore the crowd and voices of displeasure in the background as he walked, not slowing his stride. He wouldn't be brought down by them and their jeering but that didn't stop the hateful the remarks from stinging just a little bit.
"You don't belong here! Go home!"
"Fire Nation spy!"
"You are no waterbender!"
Were they right? The boy reflected over the day and match in his mind, thoughts racing as everything that happened played out in his head. Not only did he screw up big time but he had ruined his only chance to find a great waterbending master. He also was quickly being out cast by a tribe he had known for less than a day. His mother's tribe at that.
Regret started to weigh down on him again as he pulled his scarf higher over his mouth, eyes down cast at his feet. Was it totally his fault though? Sure, he had been stupid to let his temper flare so quickly. He knew that but... why did it happen? Was it because he had such a strong sense of urgency to find a waterbending master?
Being a fire ender was hard enough with people slow to forget history, especially with a war that had lasted one hundred years. Some people even had the nerve to blame him for his nation's mistakes in the past. Blame him for a war he, himself, had nothing to do with. On top of that Ryu had multiple bending talents, which made it even harder to find a teacher. Even if he could bend water to some degree, he was a fire bender first and foremost. And no one trusted a firebender, no matter their age.
His shoulders sagged under the emotional weight that fogged his thoughts. He imagined by now that the benders at the training grounds would likely send someone for him and get him out of the city as soon as possible. Send him back to Republic City or somewhere farther south.... Wait. Ryu suddenly stopped in his tracks as a thought hit him; didn't that old bender mention that Master Katara had gone south? The Southern Water Tribe! That was it!
Ryu could salvage his mistake and head to the Southern Tribe. No one down there knew he was a firebender yet, so his chances of finding a waterbending master were high. Higher than here in any case, especially since Katara was down there. It was perfect.
Coming back to reality, the boy looked around to see he was in a part of the city he didn't recognize. His feet had carried him farther away from the training grounds than he had expected. Not only that but it was also quiet. The only sounds that stood out were the soft voices of the citizens and merchants milling around the icy street. There was no shouting. No insults. No booing. The crowd from before was gone.
He let out a relieved sigh, letting some of the tension from his mistake melt away with this discovery. Now he could focus on finding the docks and book himself a ship south. The sooner he could leave, the better. After a few quick words with some of the merchants on the street for directions, Ryu found the information he needed.
With a thank you, he started walking again but after a couple steps the boy found himself stopping yet again. Blue eyes closed for a brief moment before he turned around to look at the city behind him. The late afternoon sun was starting to descend through the sky which made the snow and ice sparkle. It was almost surreal that his visit to this city, the city his mother was raised in, was going to be cut short. Maybe he should have taken time to explore it first rather than rushing.
It was just another regret to add to his growing list, but perhaps once he became a fine water bender he could return. Get to know the place better; his mother would want him to do that. The corners of his mouth lifted in a smile as he let his gaze sweep over the city before turning his back to it once more and started heading towards the docks.
While Ryu was absorbed in his thoughts, Koyuki hurried through the city in search of him. After the match, the boy had vanished and while the rest of the crowd had been happy that the boy was leaving, Koyuki wasn't. And not because he played unfairly and she wanted revenge. Sure it had made her upset in a way but she could care less about something like that. The girl was more interested in other things like their deal and his bending.
For starters, the boy still had to hold up his end of the bargain. He admitted that he lost and she had won that duel so she was going to make sure he did her chores for a whole day. In fact, she was looking forward to it. But she was also curious about the boy and his abilities. Ryu could waterbend AND firebend. Never had she heard of something like that and it really peaked her interest. What was his secret? Did he come from a multiple bending family? Was it a parlor trick? She had to know!
It wasn't too long but eventually Koyuki found him in the lower tiers of the town. He was walking quickly and he looked like a man on a mission. Not a distracted mess that had just been yelled at by a crowd of angry people not that long ago. Why wasn't he thinking about what had happened earlier? She remembered the expression he wore when he shot that fire ball. It looked like he had just made the biggest mistake of his life.... so why wasn't he stressing about it now? The girl debated walking up and asking him but decided not to. No, she wanted to observe him instead. Falling back into the crowd to keep herself from being noticed, Koyuki would keep herself hidden for now and follow him.
Eventually Ryu led her to the docks. It was here that he noticed several of the ships that had been in the harbor were gone. Did that mean he was out of luck for a trip south? Hopefully not. Turning in a circle, his eyes swept the scene before falling on a dock worker fixing a piece of netting. Maybe he would have some answers.
As Ryu approached the worker he called out, "Hey, I am wondering if there is a ship setting sail to the Southern Water Tribe?"
"Nope. Docks are closed kid."
"Did I stutter? I said the docks are closed. The last ship had set sail about two hours ago." The dock worker replied not looking up from the fishing net he was repairing.
"You can't be serious?!" Ryu sputtered in frustration while hitting himself in the head with the palm of his hand. Lately, it seemed he had terrible timing with things. "When will the next ship become available?" he asked with an urgent tone.
"Not for a few days at least... In case your boat ride here wasn't any indication, we aren't exactly a few hours ride from anywhere civilized."
"Great... not only I am stuck here, but I don't have a place to sleep..."
The worker laughed at that and, waving his hook, he pointed back into town, "We do have inns here if you didn't know. I am sure one would be happy to accommodate you if you have the money."
"Yea... Thanks." Ryu turned back towards the city. He wondered briefly how much it would cost to rent a room for a few days. He dug around in his pocket for his silver coins and started to count as he made his way back tracking through the streets.
After a few blocks the boy managed to find the local inn and stepped inside.
There were tables lined up near the left wall for dining. Some were already occupied by guests. On the other side of the room was the counter. Here, a woman was busy flipping through log books as Ryu stepped over.
"Hey. I was wondering how much it would be to rent a room for the night if it is possible."
"Oh, sure. Luckily, we have several rooms available. As for price it will be..."
The woman trailed off as her gaze lifted to the boy's face. Her friendly demeanor started to change as she took a closer look at Ryu.
"Is... something the matter?" He looked puzzled by the change but honestly, he wasn't that surprised.
"Aren't you that firebender I've been hearing about? You fit the description perfectly."
"Ah, you might be confusing me for someone else..." Ryu lied, knowing what was going to happen if the woman's question was confirmed.
The woman looked closer at the boy's face.
"No, you're definitely that firebender I have been hearing about! Not only did you have the nerve to shoot fire at one of our people, but you dare come to my inn and ask for a place to stay? We don't cater to your kind around here. Now get out!"
Not wanting trouble, he stepped back without replying and lifted his hoodie up. It was to hide from the on lookers who seemed to be curious as to the altercation at the counter. On top of that, he pulled his scarf up higher to hide the lower part of his face and exited the inn. That could have gone better, he admitted to himself. It was clear that he wasn't going to be welcomed anywhere. If one inn treated him like this, then chances are they all would.
"Stuck sleeping outside. Just my luck. Not exactly my choice when it comes to being stuck in an ice covered frozen tundra." Stuffing his hands into his pockets Ryu started walking again, wondering what would be a good sleeping spot. An alley perhaps? Unfortunately before he could bunker down for the night he had to fix his pest problem. The girl knew how to be stealthy if it took him this long to notice her, but at the same time she really needed practice. What did that bothersome girl want anyways? Was she looking to get back at him somehow? He rounded a corner to one of the less busy streets and stopped his walking. Turning around he called out, "Hey! You can come out now. You aren't fooling anybody by sneaking around like that... at least not me."
There was a moment of silence before Koyuki's face appeared around the corner, "Awww, so the loser finally noticed me," She snapped her fingers, "I thought you would never notice."
Ryu rolled his eyes at the remark, "Look. If it is an apology you are looking for, then here you go. I am sorry I assumed you weren't a good waterbender and shot a fire ball at you. Trust me I really regret it."
The girl laughed softly as she walked over and leaned against the wall next to him, arms folded across her chest, "No. I am not looking for an apology... but thank you anyways."
Ryu's face turned to one of skepticism, "Revenge? If it is revenge I am not looking to fight you either. I already said you had won the match." Koyuki shook her head again, "Nope. I am not here to fight you or anything like that and yes you're right, I won that match. I just wanted to see how you are holding up after seeing you leave with your tail between your legs."
Ryu, trying to ignore the girl's taunting before he did something he regretted again, thought it would be best to just get away from the girl, "I'm doing fine. Just fine.... now if you'll excuse me." The boy turned and started walking away. The girl laughed again and shook her head, "Tell me. Are you someone who doesn't keep their promises?"
That stopped Ryu in his tracks and he turned to face her again, "No! Of course not. I always keep my promises! Why would you say something lik-" He cut off when he suddenly remembered their bet. That if she won, he would do her chores for a day. He had forgotten all about that and the sly smile she wore told him, she was going to make sure Ryu would keep it. He did a face palm, "Right. That promise...."
She tilted her head, "Yes, that promise. How do you plan on keeping it?" Now that was the question. Ryu lifted his gaze to the sky as he considered his options; he would keep the promise but he couldn't do it today. He still needed to find a place to sleep and daylight was fading fast. He had to wrap this conversation up quickly, "Okay, so here is the thing, I'm going to be stuck here for a couple days so I need find a place to camp out. And since the day is almost over, it wouldn't be worth me doing your chores for you now. I promise, starting tomorrow, I'll keep my side of the bargain and do all your chores."
Koyuki nodded in agreement. It made sense to her and she pushed herself away from the wall. "Alright. Sounds great." The girl turned to walk away but stopped and said, almost in an after-thought, "By the way, it can get pretty cold here at night. It is too bad you don't have someplace warm to sleep."
"Yea, well I don't have much a choice. After our duel, it seems the whole city hates me."
She tapped her chin with a finger before turning to face him again, "Really? Well, I suppose I can be a gracious winner and extend a helping hand to the loser..."
A vein throbbed in Ryu's forehead as the boy tried to keep his cool, but her use of the word loser was really starting to bother him. Don't show that she is getting to you, he reminded himself. Forcing a fake smile he replied, "What are you suggesting, exactly?"
"Well, what if I told you that you could stay at my place?"
Now, that surprised Ryu and he exclaimed rather excitedly, "What? Really?!" As the girl laughed at his reaction, the boy realized he was showing a little too much excitement. Quickly regaining his composure, he cleared his throat and nodded, "I mean... that would help me out a lot."
As the laughter subsided, Koyuki smiled, "Good. I have the perfect spot for you. It is nice and cozy."
Turning, the girl waved a hand for him to follow and the two made their trek back through town. It wasn't until they had reached the outer skirts of the city, where it was much less populated, that Koyuki stopped outside a rather large rounded igloo. Ryu noted that it was of a fair size, probably twenty feet all the way around. What made it different from other igloos he had seen was this one didn't have the elongated entrance most others had. The front door was made of simple wood, but several inches thick. Not to mention at the top was what looked to be a chimney and rising into the dark sky was a wisp of smoke.
Koyuki pulled open the door which swung outward and pushed aside the fur that hung on the inside as she walked in, "Hey Mom? I am home!"
Ryu followed her inside, pulling the door shut behind him. As his gaze swept the inside of the room, he pulled his hood down and lowered his scarf. The boy had to admit that he was impressed with the home. While the outside was made of ice to help against the weather, the inside was made out of wood and braced with beams; sturdy and well protected from the cold wind. The floor was made of uneven stone, likely built on top of the tundra underneath.
The walls were covered with a layer of smooth leather and hanging over top were painted fabrics that depicted old stories and newer tribal designs. Hanging from the walls was a selection of old wooden shields, cracked and paint chipping away mixed with a choice of weapons. An iron bolted shield with the water bending symbol, a short sword, a newly polished boomerang and even a set of bow and arrows were among the few of newer looking items.
On the right side of the room was an old, low table. On top and underneath was a selection of pottery, mostly jars and bowls, containing a slim variety of food selections. Most of it was dried or pickled for the harsher winter months. Some of the fresher items were recently smoked seal jerky and a large basket of thawing fish. There was even a small bowl of red berries, also known as lychee nuts. That surprised Ryu, since he didn't think they were very common this far north.
His eyes shifted downwards to a metal rack piled high with chopped logs that sat next to the table. Firewood most likely. A few of the smaller logs that sat next to the wood were a bit more interesting as a couple had knife markings as if someone had started to carve them into something.
Next his eyes swept the stone floor, taking in the variety of animal pelts of all sizes and species that were spread across the ground, likely for sitting. In the center of the whole hut was a fire pit which was a square section of the floor about ten inches deep and two feet wide. Covering the bottom was thin flat stone. Built on top was a low burning fire that filled the room with a warm light making it a very inviting and cozy place.
"Oh? Who is your handsome friend?"
The new voice drew Ryu's gaze to Koyuki and more importantly, the middle aged woman she was standing next to. The similarity between the pair was very striking so it wasn't hard for Ryu to figure that she was the girl's mom. The only big difference was the smile on her face was more motherly and warm versus the proud expression her daughter wore.
Koyuki pointed at Ryu, "He isn't a friend mom. He is a servant." Her smile got wider.
The mother's brow furrowed as she looked at her daughter, "Servant? Ko, you know how I feel when you make bets like this with people."
"I know mom." Koyuki's voice had a touch of a sigh as she turned and ran over to Ryu. Stopping behind him she rested both hands on his shoulders and half guided, half pushed the boy forward, "But he made the bet knowing the consequences! And you said it yourself that you wished we had an extra set of hands to help out around the house and do chores."
Her mother's brow furrowed only farther at that before giving a sigh of her own. She couldn't deny what her daughter was saying, "Well, does your servant have a name?"
"Servants don't need names mom. But... we could always call him Lou. It can be short for Loser since he lost the duel." To emphasize this Koyuki stepped past Ryu, placing her hand to her forehead in the shape of an L as she looked at him. When Ryu frowned at the gesture, the girl stuck out her tongue playfully. The woman frowned towards her daughter again, the expression clearly showing she wasn't impressed by Koyuki's behavior, "KO! Don't be so rude. He will be considered a guest in our house and we will not be calling him Lou or Loser." She looks warmly at Ryu, "Are you hungry? You must be."
"What about me, mom? I'm hungry too!" Koyuki waved her hand but Masuyo was busy ignoring her rude daughter's comments.
"Ko. Make yourself useful and go get some bowls so I can pour some stewed sea prunes for the two of you." She offered a hand to Ryu but waved the wooden spoon towards Koyuki in a playful but scolding manner as she spoke.
"Yes, Mother." Koyuki remarked complaisantly and hurried away. It was the first time Ryu had seen her in a humbled fashion and knew that despite her normal attitude, it was clearly her mother who ran things around here. It made him smile inwardly for a moment as he stepped towards the extended hand. The woman led him to one of the furs by the fire pit and smiled once more in her warm, motherly manner.
"I am sorry for my daughter, Koyuki's, rude behavior. My name is Masuyo, what is yours?"
"It is Ryu."
"Ryu, huh? That's not a very common name around here." Koyuki replied as she returned with the bowls and set them down next to her mother. She then took her seat on a rug on the other side of the fire pit, across from Ryu so that her mother sat between them. As Masuyo started to spoon the sea prunes into the dishes she continued the conversation, while her daughter watched silently.
"I imagine my daughter has given you a difficult time today..." Masuyo glanced towards Koyuki who looked away, arms crossed. "But I am sure she tries to mean well." She passed a full bowl of the sea prunes in his direction before turning and setting one in front of Koyuki, "Whatever the case I am happy to have you as a guest. And what my daughter said was true. With my husband out of the city for several more months, we could really use an extra set of hands around the house."
"I am more than happy to help, Ma'am." Ryu smiled as he lifted the bowl. The scent that drifted from it didn't smell very appetizing. Nor did it looked very delicious but it was a nostalgic smell to him, something his mother used to cook for him back in Republic City when she wanted to be reminded of her home. He pushed a few of the mystery pieces that bobbed around with his spoon as he contemplated if he would like it now, since he normally hated it before.
Finally, summoning the courage he chugged the soup down hoping that the speed of his consumption will mean less time tasting the sea prunes. After chugging the stew he slammed the bowl down into the ground as he was struggling with swallowing the remainder of the sea prunes. With a forced smile he looked over to Masuyo, "Thank you for a wonderful meal."
Masuyo smiled at Ryu, "It's okay, you don't have to force yourself, it can be an acquired taste for outsiders." A glance over showed Koyuki was happily digging into her dish with much gusto.
Ryu's smile became a bit more sincere as he rested his hands on his knees, "I'll be sure to do my best tomorrow with my work. It is the least I can do for you and your daughter since you gave me a free meal and a place to sleep."
The girl stopped her eating at that and Masuyo's expression turned to confusion before looking towards her daughter. Koyuki smartly kept her eyes adverted as she lifted her bowl and started eating again, much faster than before. "Really? We don't have any spare rooms. Unless my daughter has been hiding some from me. Koyuki?"
That came as a surprise to Ryu and both sets of eyes were on Koyuki now. There was a moment of awkwardness as she finished slurping down the last bit of the sea prunes in a nervous manner before lowering the bowl. She cleared her throat, wiping her mouth and offered a sweet but nervous smile towards Masuyo, "Oh, I figured he could stay with Rinki. We can even loan him a few extra furs...heheheh..."
"With Rinki?! Really? Koyuki...." Masuyo's tone was one of disbelief and a bit of frustration.
Koyuki raised her hands to warn off the rising temper, "I know, Mom. It isn't the most ideal place but he didn't have anywhere else to sleep and you know how cold it gets outside. Staying with Rinki is better than freezing to death, right? At least it is nice and cozy in there."
Masuyo's expression was un-changing and Koyuki shifted in her seat, "Please mom. It'll just be for a couple nights and with him staying here it'll be easier for him to start his work."
The woman shook her head with a sigh, "I think a better question would be is Ryu fine sleeping with her?"
Before Ryu could speak Koyuki was nodding and taking excitedly, "Oh yea. He is! Or else he wouldn't have come. In fact I should show him where he is sleeping before it gets too late."
The girl got to her feet and rushed over to Ryu's side. She took him by the arm and started to tug him to his feet. The boy blinked again, surprised and not sure what to do so he got up obediently. In no time, he was ushered out the door on the back side of the hut, "Thanks for your hospitality Ma'am!" He called back. Masuyo looked after the two skeptically, "Be sure he has everything he needs before he goes to bed."
"Yes, mother!" Koyuki replied before shutting the door behind her. Masuyo shook her head, "That daughter of mine..."
Safely outside and away from her mother's wrath, Koyuki tugged Ryu's shirt and pointed to a rather large building, half built into the ground about ten feet away. A snow slope lead down to a set of large bolted doors. "Come on. It is this way."
The girl started walking quickly and Ryu marched after her. He was curious but also wondering just what his supposedly new bunkmate was. "Wait. Exactly who is Rinki? Hey!"
The girl half skipped down the slope without answering him and grabbed the bolt. She pulled it loose and pushed on the door with a smile, "My polar dog!" "Your whaaaaaat?!"
Ryu hesitated as the girl disappeared into the stables before following her inside and stopping just inside the doors. Much like the igloo, the structure of this building was made out of wood with a layer of leather on the inside to help with insulation and with the building half built into the ground it was well protected from the winds outside. On the walls were foot wide braces that ran up towards in a high ceiling. On each brace sat a lit lantern which helped provide a soft glow and also, mixed with everything else, helped keep the temperature warmer than it was outside.
He also noted that there was no stone flooring in here, the animals likely preferring the real snow-covered ground. Even so the land wasn't uneven and had a smooth appearance, likely from the bending that had been used to create it. While sleeping on the ground didn't exactly appeal to the boy, there was still a thin layer of hay spread across the snow with piles of it stacked near the corners. What really had attracted his attention though, was the broad shouldered animal that was racing towards Koyuki before she got more than two feet inside. It had the front of a large polar bear before slimming into the hind legs and tail of a canine. Its face was shaped like a dog with sort of round and wide bear like muzzle and flappy ears that dangled on each side of its head.
As she was greeted by the large mass of white fur and a rather large pink tongue the girl burst out laughing, resting both hands on the bridge of the polar dog's nose in an attempt to defend herself from the affection, "Haha... Easy, girl! I know you missed me. I've missed you too."
It took a few minutes but the animal finally settled into a sit on its back haunches and stopped the licking. Koyuki ran her arm across her cheek to clean away some of the drool before turning towards Ryu who still stood in the doorway, "Ryu, I'd like you to meet my best friend Rinki. She will also be your new roommate."
"You really want me to sleep in the same room as this thing?"
"You got a better place to stay?" Koyuki gave the animal's large head a scratch. When all she got was silence from Ryu the girl grinned, "I thought so. Besides Rinki isn't a thing. She is part of the family and a huge sweetie!" Despite the reassurance, Ryu's eyes never left Rinki as he stepped farther into the stables. He watched as Koyuki kissed the animal on the nose before turning back towards the door. "Let me get some extra sleeping furs and set up a spot for you, Ryu. Meanwhile, you two should try and be friends."
As the girl left the stables Rinki's coal black eyes turned to watch the boy who stood nearby. The pair stood like that for a few seconds as if sizing up each other before Ryu moved closer, one hand outstretched. Since they would be sharing the same sleeping space it would seem the best idea to try and do as Koyuki said and become friends. He offered a nervous laugh as he went to rest the hand on the animal's head, "Good girl. You aren't so scary, are you?"
In response, a low growl rose from Rinki and instantly the boy withdrew his hand. Great. Even the animal didn't like him, "Heh. Just like your master, I see." Clearly, he was bad at first impressions even with animals. Ryu stepped back farther to give the polar dog some more space and rested his hands in his pockets. The best he could hope for was that Rinki would at least let him sleep unbothered.
It wasn't long before Koyuki returned, a selection of furs in her arms with a pillow on top. She crossed to one of the giant hay piles, Ryu following after. He stood nearby as she pulled down some of the hay making a thick bottom layer, "While the stables aren't as warm as the hut these furs should keep you really warm through the night. Rinki's body heat also should help if you can cozy up to her."
The expression on his face suggested that the chances of that happening were slim to none. The girl laughed at that and as she started to roll out the ground fur, Ryu's curiosity finally got the better of him and he sat on the ground next to the bed. "Hey, Koyuki. Why are you doing all this to help me? What is in it for you?
She glanced at him, with another grin and shrugged, "You reminded me of a lost puppy. I couldn't just leave you alone out there."
Ryu sighed and gave her a long exasperated look, "Really?"
Koyuki, who was kneeling on the makeshift bed now, set the fur she was unfolding in her lap and looked at Ryu. Her expression was one of more seriousness, "Honestly, Ryu? I'm curious about you. I have never seen or heard of someone besides the Avatar possesses the ability to bend multiple elements. What's your secret?"
So that was it. The boy offered a shrug of his own, "It's not really a secret. I've had this ability for as long as I can remember." He stared down at one of his hands, "It might have something to do with my parents. My mother is a waterbender and my father is a firebender."
Koyuki's eyes widened in surprise at this revelation. A waterbender married a firebender, huh? It made her think of her parents. She was from a multiple bending family as well so did that mean that maybe she was like Ryu? The girl mused over the idea as she returned to unfolding the fur and started to lay it out over the first one, "You know, my father... He is an earthbender." She paused as a look of surprise crossed Ryu's face this time. A tilt of her head as she looked at him, "Do you think I would be able to bend multiple elements like you?" Another person from a multiple bending family? Ryu wasn't sure how common families like his were or how many people could multibend like himself. Finally, he shrugged, "It's possible. Have you ever tried to bend earth?"
Koyuki shook her head, "Since I am a very talented waterbender I've never had the desire to learn. Or even try. Plus, there are only waterbending masters around here..."
"Your father never offered to try and teach you?"
"No. He is away a lot." Koyuki set the pillow at the top of the finished bed and stood. She then stepped back to examine her handy work. "There. That should do it for you. If you need anything else, just let me know."
Ryu stood as well running a hand over the sleeping furs, "You have done plenty for me already, Thank you. I don't know how I can repay you."
Koyuki rested her hands on her hips, "For starters, you can work hard tomorrow and keep your end of the deal."
"I promise I'll work hard."
"I know you will." She smiled, "It is getting late so try to get some sleep. We Water Tribe folks like to start the day extra early!" Koyuki turned and half skipped over to Rinki who had already settled down onto an open space that was her bed. She kissed the animal on the forehead, muttering her goodbyes. The large tail wagged as she gave the girl another lick on the face.
Ryu had settled onto the furs, sitting crossed legged as Koyuki started towards the exit. She stopped one last time at the door and turned to face the boy again, "Oh, by the way, Ryu." She pointed a finger towards him and shook it in playful warning while trying to act serious, "Try not to burn the place down, okay?" He smiled at her comment, nodding his head, "Goodnight."
"Goodnight!" Koyuki replied as she stepped outside, closing the door behind her. The click of the bolt and the crunch of her boots on snow were the last sounds Ryu heard as she hurried back to her home.
For the collective works of the author, go here. First Impressions