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|Chapter 1: The Orphanage|
Book One: Water
July 23, 2012
~ Chapter One: The Orphanage ~
From the desk of Mother Leliita,
I heard news of the Avatar's death one morning. Whilst defending herself from those dreadful Clandestines, Avatar Lyn gave her own life, and now a waterbender was set to succeed the Avatar's spirit.
The Avatar, having to suffer constant fear of death, is not a favorable position to be in, or to raise a child as. Many waterbender infants born within a week of the Avatar's death were slain or given to orphanages like mine. Understandably, it is too much for a parent to raise a child born of that time, knowing it's probable fate of death, and so to deliver a child to an orphanage, so that a stranger, unattached by blood to the child, is a viable option.
Within a week of the Avatar's death, I received two waterbenders on my doorstep. Busied by the presence of my own infant son, Erik, I took them into my own chambers rather than the separate children's quarters. After putting Erik to sleep, I proceeded to review the documents that were with the children on their arrival.
The first that arrived on my doorstep, Sedgley, was born the day after the Avatar's death whereas the second boy, Dover, was born two days after the former.
I knew of the concerns that surrounded these two children, one of them could be the waterbending Avatar to succeed Avatar Lyn, and how their birth brought with it the danger of death or kidnapping, so I decided to alter their records. It is my duty as the mother of this orphanage to create appropriate birth certificates for the abandoned children presented to me, and I felt it inappropriate to let these children, who may turn out to be the Avatar, live with the burden of their age. As such, I made it so that they were a year older than was true.
For seventeen years, each boy, Sedgley and Dover, grew up believing they were eighteen and each proved to be very competent waterbenders, excelling in all their sparring classes. Sedgley, headstrong and courageous, developed into a mature young man who stuck by his friends and his morals. He knew how to set goals, and achieve outcomes. Dover, while not as fierce a fighter as Sedgley, grew into a gentler persona, with softer attributes such as patience and attentive helpfulness – not to say that Sedgley did not hold these qualities too, but they seemed to show themselves more in the younger child. My son Erik, a non-bender like myself and of the same age as the orphans (though he always believed he was a year younger), was studious and enjoyed reading, but became good friends with the two – who came to seem like brothers to him and each other, and like secondary sons to myself.
Each orphan has the possibility of being the Avatar. Each have the appropriate personal qualities and bending skill, but it is not these factors that make me sure of this.
One evening, while saying my prayers to the spirits, an icy wind blew from the North and brought with it wintery whispers that wet my ears with a prophecy. It seemed that the spirits had delivered a message of sorts, from the ice-capped poles to my very own ears, and they said that a boy raised by me was the Avatar. Chilled to my core by this apparition of the ear, I had to shake off the snow of the supernatural and gather my thoughts. My son couldn't possibly be the Avatar, as he hadn't the ability to bend, so the spirits must have been referring to either of the two waterbenders delivered to me by fate seventeen years ago. I hadn't any idea which one it could be, as they each possessed an equal chance at being so.
I only know one thing; that I can not let my knowledge of each of their possibility at being the Avatar die with me – for my health has declined over the years, and I am confined to the four corners of a bed at this point in time.
I will let them know. And I will do it tomorrow.
The rain had subsided, and, despite the lining of grey clouds across the sky, the sun shone down, casting its light through droplets that hung from twigs and grass. Redwall Orphanage stood alone among grey mountains and grassland, altogether wet with the rest of the area. Redwall Orphanage, run by Mother Leliita and her sisters, sat roughly 5 kilometres from the capital of the province, Gao Lin – a small, predominantly agrarian town with a population of no more than two thousand. A narrow dirt road was all that reminded the singular estate of civilization, and it was not the sound of wooden carts and many feet that was heard by the residents, but of mountain winds and the hum of grasshoppers. Though isolated, life was peaceful at Redwall, and the afternoon sun proved warm enough to stroll out across the damp paddocks.
Dover, a boy of athletic build because of sparring practice, with soft brown hair, a fair complexion and pale eyes, passed through the sodden, wooden gate and onto the paddock. Large enough for one to be unrecognizable at the far end, the paddock, surrounded by a small fence, with the wire hanging to the ground, and that then enclosed sporadically by thin trees was, to Dover, a nice place to walk about. Insects such as crickets and ladybugs – of the yellow and green hues, nothing too vibrant – would scurry off when his hips brushed the tall grass and, if he were lucky, he would spot a foxhare atop a grassy mound, or an otter-eel in the nearby stream on the west of the paddock and attempt to get closer. He enjoyed observing nature – something of the purposeful simplicity of animal life comforted him, and he felt, despite any troubles an animal would go through in a day, they were easily reassured with a morsel of food and a warm den. He could relate to that. He believed any human could. He thought of them quite a lot too, and often begged the sisters at Redwall to let him have a pet despite the unchangeable 'no pets' policy. If he could, he would search the grassy moors and the cold mountains, if was necessary, to find a squirrel-glider. Though these creatures preferred the pine trees that grew towards Gao Lin, he had on occasion spied one or two in the trees near Redwall. He thought the northern winds were too harsh for them, particularly in the crevasses of the mountains, where cold, wet winds tore through with unforgiving ferocity, and where the flat plains among these mountains provided absolutely no shelter. Nonetheless, he wanted one.
Sister Dianne came up to the gate, went to put her hands on the wood to lean on, but decided against it, as it would dirty her hands and that would not do whilst caring for Mother Leliita. Sister Dianne was the head nurse, and Leliita's most trusted confidant. She did not say much, nor attempted to know what other people's business was, and often busied herself with cleaning or other domestic chores. However, although very quiet and soft in nature, if things were unclean, particularly while Mother Leliita was unwell, she would let them know with an acute sharpness to her voice.
Dianne held her white apron against the wind and struggled to keep her habit in place.
"Dover." she called, struggling to keep her petite voice above the howling wind, and while she had put most of her dainty effort into keeping her clothes intact.
Dover turned to see the sun coming through the grey clouds, which now shone white. Redwall looked warmer than here and, knowing that Dianne was probably calling him to come inside, he headed back instinctively before she could say much more.
"Dover, Mother Leliita would like to see you in her chamber."
"Yes. How is she?" he asked, walking through the gate, which she had decided to hold open for him, despite the mildew.
"She is quite unwell," was the reply, Dianne's frame minutely sighing, "I don't know if she has many days left, and I feel she knows that too."
Dover didn't respond, for Leliita was like a mother to him (so the title of 'Mother' seemed all too convenient) and the subject of her declining health was touchy. He let the nurse babble on nervously.
"Mother Leliita has told me herself that she does not feel too able to carry on much longer. She refuses to eat, she has lost her appetite, and she becomes stiff and upset by the cold. You really must wear more layers out here, the wind is so strong."
By this point they had passed through into the courtyard; a pebble-floored area, enclosed by the red walls, where sparring practice was held. Tough grass grew through cracks in the floor, and now the Sun shone over house and it was quite pleasant outside. Approaching the door, Dover and the nurse met Sedgley waiting in the archway. Sedgley was slightly more built than Dover, for he was vaguely better at fighting and trained more often. He had blonde hair that fell in small ringlets over his crown and dark blue eyes that always shone a pep for adventure.
"Ah, Sedgley, there you are, Mother Leliita would like to see you both."
Sedgley got up from leaning. "Yeah, Erik told me. But I said I'd wait for Dover to come in. Should we go?"
Dianne contemplated it, "Maybe we should let them be for a little bit. I mean, Erik probably has a bit to say to his mother before she goes."
Sedgley became more uncomfortable than he had previously been. He felt the same way as Dover on the subject, and he knew Leliita was not well but, like Dover, he did not know the severity of it, nor did he expect the speed in which this severity had arrived.
"Can we just go?" was his response to his own unease. It came across as a bit cold to Dianne, but she understood he was only concerned about their Mother's health, and she did not want to deprive him of his wish to see her.
"Very well," she answered, "But please do take your wet coat off Dover, and the both of you will have to change your boots."
The boys hurried off to please Dianne who waited for them in the hallway outside their dorms, and led them to Leliita's chamber after they had changed.
Leliita slept, or rather lived, as it now seemed, due to her being bed-ridden, in the largest chamber of the Eastern wing of Redwall. Her window, large and, thanks to the scrutiny of Dianne, spotless, looked over a valley further to the East. Moors, grasslands, and more rocky slopes spread out in front of the view, further away from Gao Lin and deeper into wilderness. Dover and Sedgley followed Dianne into the large room. She went up to the bed, which held the elderly woman, and beside which Erik sat on a stool. She whispered something to which Leliita piqued up and Erik looked over his shoulder to notice the two boys in the doorway. Dianne left and went into the reading room to clean up after Erik, who got up and came up to Dover and Sedgley.
"Here you guys are," he said, sadness in his voice, but relief also present at his mother's wish fulfilled, "She really wants to speak to you about something. I don't know what."
Erik was around the same age as Dover and Sedgley. More studious, well read and skinnier than the two, he had a big nose that did not belong to his mother, and a bowl haircut that never seemed to irritate or embarrass him. He had small, brown eyes that were accustomed to reading up until and through darkness, and his glasses did not manage to magnify them one bit. Though a non-bender, he did practice martial arts and preferred the use of a wooden staff over hand-to-hand combat.
Sedgley went over to Erik's stool, Erik standing over his mother, while Dover opened the thin, red drapes to let some sunlight into the dark room. Leliita's old eyes squinted at the burst of light, but she seemed refreshed and took a sip from a glass of water that was passed to her by her son, sat up straighter, and waited until Dover was by her side before she spoke.
"Sedgley and Dover;" she began, "the only waterbenders in Redwall. I have watched you grow alongside Erik so I feel attached to you in a similar way as I do him."
Erik pushed her stringy, grey hair off her withered face while Sedgley remained still, staring intensely at the floor. He knew something was up.
"I have two very important things to tell you both. These facts will astonish you, but I fear if I hide it from you any longer, they will die with me soon enough."
This did not faze Erik too much, as Leliita often talked of her death lately, but in Dover and Sedgley this talk provoked emotions that clutched their hearts with clawed fingers.
"Firstly, you are not eighteen, but seventeen years of age. When left on my door, I changed your birth documents so that you were a year older, so as to protect you from any danger that may present itself from this fact."
Erik looked up with energy at the two boys; they were the same age as him! Finally, no more bossing him around, in fact, this meant he was the oldest of the trio. The old woman, however, looked at them gravely, knowing too well that this information may have surprised them, but then more wary about their reactions to the following piece of knowledge.
"So," Sedgley muttered, coming to terms with it, "we're seventeen, but you said we were eighteen." Leliita nodded. "Why would you need to say that?"
She breathed in, and then continued, "My second piece of information will explain all. When Avatar Lyn deceased, a waterbender was to succeed her. The following week, across the globe, waterbending children were left at orphanages, parents fearing it was too dangerous to rear a child while Clandestines were about and hunting the Avatar – to which they still do. Within a week of Avatar Lyn's death, you two arrived on my door. Feeling it my duty as the Mother of this Institute, I changed your written ages so that no suspicion could be aroused regarding the possibility of your being the Avatar."
By now, Dover had sat on an ornate, upholstered chair next to the window, trying to keep up with Leliita's story, while Sedgley still stared down, but with a strange spark in his eyes. Erik didn't know what to do and constantly looked back and forth between all three.
Sedgley, with eyes ravenous for more information, or a proper answer, again interjected, "Does that mean one of us could be the Avatar?" The idea seemed impossible to him, but, if it were true, it would mean he would be able to learn all four bending disciplines, and master what he loved; bending.
"Perhaps, Sedgley. One of you." was Leliita's reply, "In fact, I know it is one of you."
With this, all three boys looked up and moved towards her. They did not know how she came to know this, but the certainty of her voice meant that it was true.
"You see one evening, an apparition from some Northern spirit told me so. It whispered in my ear that one of my children is the Avatar. Being like sons to me, and waterbenders too, it all made sense that one of you is indeed the Avatar."
"But you just don't know which one." confirmed Dover, also immersed in wondrous thoughts of the things he would experience if he were the Avatar.
"Yes, and I am very sorry for that. But I am more concerned about the dangers that face you, particularly in the shape of the Clandestines. It is the Avatar's duty to uphold balance in the world, and, unfortunately, the world is completely off balance at the present. The only place that has the power, economically and politically, to aid the Avatar's goal of restoration is Haven." By now Leliita had picked up enough strength to talk them in a commanding yet grand tone. A quest was on its way, it just had to pass the old woman's dry lips. "You three must venture there. I feel I have raised you all with correct spirituality, and so you must, as your duty to the spirits and as the Avatar, whichever of you it is, go to Haven and restore balance."
The three friends were awestruck at this suggestion. To them, travelling so far from home, across the wasteland and to the biggest city in the world seemed not only exciting, but also dutifully daunting. For their whole lives they had been orphans (and a son of a nun, with respect to Erik), and now one of them was the Avatar and they had to travel across the world and save it from itself.
Leliita continued, wasting no time for thought, she needed to say what she had to. "There will be many dangers. A powerful, mysterious organization that goes by the name 'the Clandestines' plans to kill the Avatar. Solace, however, will be met in the Aristocracy of Haven but, because the city is so highly populated, there could be a high concentration of Clandestines there too. Whatever happens, be careful and keep each other safe. My boys, I know this is a lot to swallow, but it has to be done." She swallowed and a headache caused her to tightly shut her eyes. "Now, I am too weak to talk any longer. I do love you all, my Erik," she looked at her son, who was tearing up, "you are the oldest; the leader now. Be strong, all of you, and, when the memory of me proves too painful to manage, take comfort in your friends. Please succeed, my boys. But for now, I will have to ask you to leave. I need some rest. Dianne?"
The dainty nurse hurried in from the reading room and pulled up Leliita's blankets. After kissing Leliita goodnight, the three boys trudged out of the room, dazed by the news that had hit them. Travelers, heroes, the Avatar were all titles that they felt they could never own. But now they had the chance to explore and bend. Despite the immense challenge that faced them, all three had a flickering excitement that reminded the weight in their stomachs of the sense of adventure. After supper and in their beds, little sleep was had as sleeping dreams were replaced by waking ones. Erik couldn't stop thinking of travel; absorbing worldly knowledge and experiencing new things, while Dover and Sedgley only had one question on their mind; "Am I the Avatar?"
A week passed and, after many meetings, the three all felt they wanted to go; to fulfill not only Leliita's and their own wishes, but to repair and conserve balance to the world. For most of the time, heavy rain held the residents of Redwall indoors and boredom inflicted the younger children. Erik read all that was available to him on the history of the world and studied atlases and maps to his heart's content. He deduced the shortest route to Haven would be to leave through Gao Lin and head through the Wasteland (that of which was unavoidable). Dover and Sedgley also used the torrential rain to their advantages, practicing their bending abilities with the masses of water that collected in small ditches in the courtyard. The wet weather however proved unhelpful to Dianne and her attempts to help Leliita. Her condition worsened and she was often asleep for most of the day. Erik, Dover and Sedgley visited her regularly and, knowing her end was near, managed to say all the words of goodbyes they wanted.
Coming back one evening from the paddock where they practiced their bending, cold and soaked in water, Dover and Sedgley returned to receive the news of Leliita's death. Erik had been with her, and she had again wished him all the luck in the world on their journey before she shut her eyes forever. Dianne let them in from the paddock to see her, despite the mud and water, and two days later – when the rain had died down – they gave her a service. Modest and intimate, as she would've wanted, Mother Leliita was buried under a spruce tree sapling in the centre of the paddock.
It was now that Leliita had passed that the boys felt ready to leave. They agreed it was unnecessary to begin their journey before their mother died, but all really just wanted to be with her in the end. The night of her funeral, the boys went to bed eager to accomplish Leliita's final requests.
The following morning Dover woke up early, the cold shaking him to life while the Sun still slumbered under its blanket of night. It was 3:00 am; they were to leave Redwall Orphanage in two hours' time so his involuntary waking was convenient, as if nature spurred him on to begin his journey. A tight feeling in his ribcage stimulated a restlessness and excitement to leave as soon as possible, to see the world and find out if he was the Avatar. Pushing back heavy blankets and rising from his bed, Dover walked over to his window. The moon hung low over the mountain fields, liberally spreading her viscous ribbons of silvery light across the scene. Feeling the power of its gravity pull him in like the shifting tides, Dover felt, as he always had, a strong connection to the moon that only waterbenders can. Old wives-tales tell that a waterbenders powers increases at night time, and become strongest when the moon is in its fullest form. Wide but lacking a complete circumference, the large disc in the sky gave him energy that lapped and licked his face. Dover felt his nose get colder and drip, and knew he had to get ready.
Dressing, eating, and packing in silence, Dover met Sedgley and Erik in the kitchen for a small breakfast where Erik told them the details of their journey. They were to head towards Gao Lin and continue west down the mountains, through forests and across the wasteland and eventually into the safe walls of Haven, where they would begin to uphold Leliita's wishes to restore balance peacefully. Seen off only by Dianne, whose faithful company and timid affection they could always rely on, the three boys adjusted the saddles of their ostrichhorses. Dianne stood, with a lamp in hand, at the door of the stable, not wanting to get dirty as she was still in her sleepwear. Stocked up with food, maps, clothes, tents, and all of their combined money, all that was left to add to their steeds were themselves. Dianne, against her will to remain clean, came along the stable to approach Sedgley, treading lightly on the hay.
"Boys," she began, offering a small bag of gold coins, "Take this. Seeing as Leliita left a lot of money towards Redwall to care for the other children, you have not received much to aid a quest. Here, I provide you with a share of my earnings. A small and dainty offering, it will not buy you much. For that I am sorry, but I can offer no more without risking my own financial safety."
Sedgley did not find it rude that Dianne would keep more money for herself than sponsor the Avatar's needs. Rather, he was touched at the offer, and remained understanding of Dianne's concerns, focusing solely on her compassion.
"Thank you Dianne." he said softly, "Do not worry about our feelings; as the size of this donation does not move us, but the size of your heart. And it moves us with gratitude that you would dig into your own funds to support us." Sedgley knew that Dianne spoke sensibly, and preferred spoken to similarly, and, as such, he spoke with as much eloquence as he could muster in these early hours of the morning.
After a squeeze of the hand from Dianne each, the boys mounted their steeds and set off from Redwall. They had never ridden ostrichhorses before, and the sensation was both unnatural and thrilling to them. They had also never left Redwall, and to face their backs to the home of seventeen years and travel the beaten rocky path, traverse through the grassy mountain moors and inhale the cold air of the wilderness brewed a mixture of uneasiness and adventure in their guts. Heading west, the three planned to arrive in Gao Lin by nightfall. But now, as the sun was still white and the birds were only just waking, a journey longer than they had ever experienced stretched out before them. A mist lay atop the heath, encrusting the longer blades of grass in icy dew. The path was damp; everything was damp, and after a mere ten minutes of travel their coats held small droplets of fog in the fur and woolen areas. Whether trudging along flat, grey grasslands or crossing downhill through craggy boulders, midday and afternoon saw the same cloud cover that characterized the early morning. And either these breathy clouds continued to dust the scene with fine drops of moisture or the mist that hung over the heath was unrelenting in its placement; because the boys' noses were red and cold throughout the day and the frosty temperatures and watery conditions that passed through their thick clothes and stiffened their bodies remained a constant displeasure until arrival in Goa Lin was met with the well-received comfort of a warm inn.
Arriving at dusk, the boys resided at The Moorbird Inn; an ornate, high-ceilinged building that provided a large pub as the main attraction but also a small number of rooms to sleep in. Able to tie up the ostrichhorses in the modest yet empty stable, warmth, food, and rest cluttered the boys' minds before a memory of Redwall and their Mother Leliita brought to them pangs of homesickness. Erik had just taken off one boot when he stopped mid-action and stared down at the floor. The other two boys, noticing a sudden halt of movement, looked over at him.
"It smells just like mother..." muttered Erik, releasing the laces from his cold hands while turning to grab a pillow and smelling it, "No, that's not it..."
He continued to peruse the bed and the bedside table for the bittersweet aroma and, upon opening a drawer and pushing past the television remote, eventually came across a small bag of dried lavender, rosemary and rock salt. He pushed the sack under his nose and inhaled. The scent, being no fire or dry coat, strangely warmed him to his centre. From smelling the sample, a wave of warm water washed away the frost of the day's travels and substituted it with a tepid broth of heavy feelings. Nostalgia, sorrow, melancholy, and grief were catalyzed, it seemed, by the scent of the lavender bag, bubbled over and around to boil his heart. This balmy, bubbling solution rose up to press on his heart, choke his throat, and seep out his eyes in singular drops of tears, bringing with it, as a draught blew on them, the return of dreaded coldness. Not one tear had fallen from Erik's chin before he wiped them off, gathered himself, and passed the lavender bag on to Sedgley, who had his arm outstretched either to also smell the bag or to comfort his friend. Whichever way, Erik pushed the sack into Sedgley's hands and continued to take off his second boot. Dover could smell the contents now and, as Sedgley sampled the aroma, they both felt a similar though nowhere near as crippling a feeling as Erik.
"Oh wow, it does..." reflected Sedgley, putting the lavender back on the bedside table. The boys all felt a heavy feeling of grief press on their hearts, and the sense of adventure had gone and was replaced with sadness.
"She would be proud." started Dover in attempt to cheer each other up, "She'd be proud that we're here, gone, and going to Haven."
Erik and Sedgley looked up, both now being dressed in warmer, dryer clothes. Sedgley nodded and got up off the bed.
"You're right Dover, she'd be happy with what we're doing. Yeah? You alright Erik?"
Erik shuffled a little then got up as well. "Yeah, I guess..."
"We can't keep dwelling on our grief. I mean, yes, we'll miss her, but we have to keep our heads high and look to the future if we want to do right by her requests. Yes, we can still be sad, and miss her, but we can't let it hold us back."
"Sedgley's right," agreed Dover, "so, right now, let's head downstairs, get something to eat, and tomorrow we'll leave Gao Lin. Okay?"
Erik felt better. He knew Leliita wouldn't want him to succumb to grief, and he had to make her proud. He had to carry out her wishes. "Yeah, you're right, guys. Thanks."
The three boys, now warm, dry, and somewhat cheered up, headed downstairs to the large pub below. The room was noisy with slurred words of loud men; words almost completely exhaled in one drawling burst of hearty merriment. Steamy stews and broths were maneuvered through robust crowds by cheerful staff and occasionally a glass would shatter, rebutted with a deep-voiced jeer – all in good nature – from drunken customers. The three had to search for a few minutes for a place to sit but eventually found a small booth. Served with steaming soup and hot bread (they felt they should ration their money), their appetites were at once satisfied and were obliged to, by heavy stomachs and enthusiastic curiosity, stay seated and soak in the lively atmosphere. It was after a particularly boisterous drunkard bumped a waiter and beer was spilt on Sedgley that he got up to wash off in the outside bathroom.
The night air was, as expected, relentlessly cold but the pub had warmed Sedgley up enough that he was virtually unaffected. A few men stood outside smoking and talking happily in low pitches. Brown moths fluttered around the lamp that bathed the small bathroom in light. One of the two cubicles was occupied, and Sedgley stepped up into the cement booth, ran the tap, washed his hands and face, and looked at himself in the mirror. Could this face be the Avatar? He felt something inside him that said yes, definitely yes, but another, smaller force allowed doubt to creep in. He was a better fighter than Dover, that much was clear, and more courageous as was known, but he was a little hot headed and impatient. However, he couldn't doubt himself, that wasn't the way of the Avatar, and whenever seeds of uncertainty began to germinate in his mind he would tell himself that his hotheadedness and slight temper were the typical qualities of a firebender, that one day, as the Avatar, he would become. His reflection stared back at him with determination, but suddenly the mirror shuddered and dust fell from the ceiling.
Though muffled, he could hear from the other cubicle grunts and heckling from male voices and a woman say, "Leave me alone!"
These people were crooks, and a woman was in danger. As a candidate for being the Avatar, he felt he had to prove himself by helping her. But what would happen? He had only ever fought in sparring practice, and had never faced a real opponent. For all he knew these people could kill him. Was he willing to possibly sacrifice his life? Of course he was, he thought. The Avatar was meant to be courageous, and was meant to hold the safety of others above his or her own. Sedgley burst out the cubicle and saw the door of the other kicked in and two men advancing on a young woman. One of the villains was a largely built skinhead, while the other was a short, weedy man with dusty, black hair.
"Get off me!" the woman demanded, struggling to break free of the skinhead's hold on her wrist.
The stringier crook piped up and said, "Or what, huh? What?" He paused, looked at his partner-in-crime and then asked, with genuine confusion, "What are we gonna do to her, McKay?"
The other man – McKay, as the other one called him – upon turning to face his friend, noticed Sedgley and let go of the woman.
"Leave her alone." commanded Sedgley with as much power he could muster.
The weedy man looked up at McKay with excitement. As dueling with a woman went against what he believed in, he was deprived of a fight. But now that Sedgley had come along the stringy man had finally found what he was looking for. He started to shift with restless eagerness on the spot, which made Sedgley uneasy. He had come this far in, Sedgley couldn't turn and run now, as much as he wanted to. The thin man seemed almost unable to contain himself at the prospect of a fight.
"Go on then, Diego," started McKay, "get him."
With a sharp, upwards flick of the ankle, Diego sent a disc of earth straight from the ground towards Sedgley's head. After avoiding the projectile with ease – which he could only put down to adrenalin – Sedgley, with fluid contortions of his arms, pulled water from the sink and toilet of his previously occupied cubicle and forced it to cascade powerfully on top of the three in the other cubicle. The bodies poured out and the woman got up and ran inside; so much for gratitude. McKay and Diego got up, dripping and enraged. Diego had trouble composing himself but McKay was able to suppress his anger and embarrassment.
Wiping some mud off his cheek, he said coolly, "So you're a waterbender, huh? You know a waterbender your age could be the Avatar, and I know some people who would pay lots to have you."
Diego snapped his gaze to McKay, and then back to Sedgley, who was experiencing a horrible feeling of fear. McKay had meant the Clandestines. Their journey had only just begun; was he already about to be handed over to his enemies? These crooks had no evidence of him being the Avatar, in fact neither did Sedgley and Dover, who still had no clue.
"But we only want to mess up that pretty blonde head of yours." sneered Diego jittering on his feet impatiently, "You know, smash it in and make you pay for scaring off our little lady friend."
"Good point, Diego. Your business, waterbender, is none of ours, but apparently our business is some of yours. And, for 'that' you will pay." Flames began to flicker from McKay's knuckles, but he remained still for the time being.
"As should all such nosy persons be treated, aye boss?"
"Well put, Diego. Well put."
And with that McKay lashed a stream of fire from has hands towards Sedgley, who had to roll over to evade the attack. Diego pounded the ground with his feet, causing gnarly columns of earth to protrude from below Sedgley's feet. All he could do was clumsily dodge the pillars; he couldn't get an attack in.
Dover and Erik, still inside the building, noticed a woman rush in from outside, drenched from head to toe. They looked at each other, and knew straight away that Sedgley had gotten himself into some form of trouble. Ignoring the complaints of the people they knocked into on their way, they both hurried outside, a growing concern of impeding danger establishing in their minds. Coming through the door into the darkness, they noticed two thugs attacking Sedgley, who was trying desperately to avoid their attacks.
Sedgley detected his friends in the doorway and called out to them, "Guys, I need your help!"
McKay looked over, "So you got friends?"
Erik was petrified with fear and felt, though unable to express his concerns, that fighting would only aggravate the two more. All that left his quivering lips was utterances of meek phrases such as, "Guys, I don't know..." "We shouldn't..." "What if we get hurt...?"
Dover, on the other hand, felt a similar sense of duty to Sedgley and quickly pulled water out of the drains in the bathroom. The fighting ceased, and the two waterbenders, armed with tendrils of water, faced the crooks; McKay, in a combat stance with flames burning from his palms, and Diego, armed with a levitating disc of earth.
"Diego, blonde." muttered McKay, pointing towards Sedgley with subtlety.
Diego charged at Sedgley. He was swift, and it took him little time to cross the space between them. Sedgley, taking advantage of this spare time, pushed a heavy stream of water towards Diego. Halting and steadying himself, the skinny thug drew a wall of rock from the ground, blocking the torrent of liquid. Continuously pounding the wall with water, Sedgley couldn't break through Diego's sturdy defenses. Meanwhile McKay steadily took a few steps towards Dover before firing a barrage of orange flames. He scarcely had enough time to defend himself, and could feel the heat of the blazes against his face as they burst past him. He managed to block a few of McKay's volleys with some water, producing steam that shrouded the arena in an opaque, white mist. Erik stood on the outskirts, still murmuring fearfully.
McKay and his counterpart managed to herd the two boys until they were back to back, and at this point any attack that the waterbenders attempted could be easily brushed aside by the more experienced benders. Diego, jumping into the air and landing with a resonating impact, created four walls which sealed off any exit to safety; it was just Dover and Sedgley, and McKay and Diego, surrounded by tall, earthen barricades.
"You should've backed off before, kids," grumbled McKay, a smile turning on his otherwise emotionless face, "when we may have considered showing mercy."
Swiping the air with both arms, he let off a blazing expanse of flames that the boys could only dodge; as their minimal training meant they were not yet able to feel water through walls and could not pull water from the bathroom to aid them. Any water that happened to be inside the walls was promptly evaporated from the intense heat of McKay's flames. Diego, still with an air of impatience, flitted restlessly behind his leader. Sedgley and Dover could hear Erik on the other side of the rock wall, struggling to break through the barrier. As much as he struck the wall, Erik could create not a single crack. McKay and Diego fired various attacks including spurts of flames, hurtling chunks of earth and sharp pillars suddenly protruding from the ground, which the boys only minimally evaded, scorching the ends of their clothes and covering them in dust. Erik, suddenly, with as much force as he could muster in his thin arms, struck the earthen wall hard enough to produce a tiny crack that he could just see through – a window of opportunity for the trapped waterbenders. Directly opposite the bathroom, the crack allowed Sedgley and Dover to finally take the offensive. Just as McKay and Diego reared themselves to administer the lethal blow, Dover and Sedgley produced a mass of water large and powerful enough to knock the criminals off their feet. The wave sent them back into the opposite wall, where more fractures appeared. Noticing this, Dover and Sedgley sent a bombardment of mighty waves, one after the other, at the washed up crooks until the wall gave way and burst down. McKay and Diego were washed a few yards away where they remained, exhausted and out of breath from the surges of water. They were beaten, and the three young boys had prevailed and won their first proper confrontation. Incredulous and instilled with hope for future prosperity and success, Erik hurried the equally as incredulous and hopeful pair back inside the Moorbird Inn and up to their room, away from further harm if McKay and Diego were to regain their vitality. Hustling through the merry crowd of the pub, who had seemed not to notice anything, they made their way upstairs and collapsed on their beds.
"What was that?" exhaled Erik in a high-pitched tone.
"I don't know," responded Sedgley, "But did you see us? We were amazing! I never thought I could've beaten a bunch of thugs on my first time!"
"Hey, you weren't on your own," Dover reminded, "We were there. And if it weren't for us you probably wouldn't have beaten them."
"I know!" realised Sedgley, his tone turned appreciative, "Thanks so much for coming out guys, you too Erik. If it weren't for you, Dover and I would still be stuck behind those walls."
"Not to mention dead," interjected Erik. They both looked at him, who was looking rather serious now instead of exhilarated. "What if you lost? Huh? Then what? The world would have to wait for a new Avatar. And..." he started to choke up, "and we would've failed mother..."
"Erik, we won." Sedgley was a little insensitive.
"Yes, but next time we might not be so lucky. We need to be careful, at least until we get to Haven and find some bending teachers."
Sedgley was upset that the mood had changed, but saw the reason behind Erik's argument. "We've got a long way to go, Erik. We can't just ignore injustices when we see them. We've got to fight; we've got to help. Or else we're not really being a good Avatar, whichever one of us is it."
That touchy subject came up again. Each boy wanted to be the Avatar, but each did not want his friend to be disappointed.
"You guys can still practice your waterbending. We've just got to keep our heads low and keep out of trouble. We don't want to arouse the suspicions of the Clandestines okay?"
"Erik's right," started Dover, beginning to agree, "if we stay focused on waterbending and keep low until we get to Haven, then we can figure out all this Avatar stuff later." Dover felt this was a great idea, as it meant all issues surrounding who is the Avatar could be locked away for some time. The imminent journey was tough enough without that thought gnawing away at the back of everyone's mind.
Sedgley relinquished, also glad that the Avatar thought could be suspended for the time being. "Alright," he responded, "I guess my waterbending could do with a little work."
"Thanks guys, it's just that it means a lot to me that we remain safe. We'll be out of here in two days," explained Erik, "Tomorrow we'll head down into town and get our documents. We'll leave after that."
"Sounds good!" enthused Sedgley, glad to be on the move as soon as possible.
"Anyway," yawned Dover, "enough talk. All that pub food and fighting is putting me to sleep. Let's talk about whatever else it is that needs talking about tomorrow morning."
"Actually," interrupted Erik with hesitance, "we have to get up early tomorrow so we can get our passports before the line gets too long. So, sorry guys, but no sleep ins."
Fed up with talking, Dover, in a jokingly angry tone, switched off the lights and exclaimed loudly, "Then get to bed!"
The three boys had no trouble sleeping; the day's travel, the intense brawl with McKay and Diego, and the hearty pub food resulted in an intense drowsiness that only began to appear when their heads hit the pillows. Within ten minutes, each of them were asleep, and had not a single dream, for they were also too tired to do that. But somewhere in their ribcages, or in the back of their heads, they knew that tomorrow, and every other day to come, would bring with it a new adventure different and better than the last.
- Word count = 7,406
- The setting (and language) is based off the moors described in Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre - which the author was reading prior to beginning the series.
- The name 'Redwall Orphanage' was inspired from Redwall Abbey (a place in a book a can't remember the name of right now)
- McKay and Diego make their first appearances in this chapter as recurring characters.
For the collective works of the author, go here.