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19th April 2013
Yuan sat on his meditation mat rubbing his temples, moving the wrinkles across his pale head. Even the supposed tranquility of his holy building did not banish the troubles that plagued his mind. The day had been long and full of meetings, the last made him storm out of the room in obscenity. The sheer audacity of it all was getting to him. What the others spoke of was against all he stood for. Luckily, they were just whispers, but they still were enough to haunt him.
His code was a strict one, giving little wriggling room when it came to defending the temple and the cultural heritage of the airbending people. They were once all monks, wandering where the wind took them, but that was over two hundred years ago, before they split up and the Avatars of the Air Kingdom help them build and secure the Four Spires. Yuan silently hoped that, in time, his people would realise that they were better of being roaming monks, not imperialists with stupid ambitions for expansion.
Oh, how the times had changed since he was a boy. Everyone was always rushing around now, finding something to occupy their time instead of taking it to achieve spiritual peace. Still, he had to persevere for the sake of maintaining his religion and the children under his wing. That was why he had to leave the meeting, they could not advance without him, and what they said was... exhausting.
A loud knock echoed through the large hall which made the Holy Temple, its white stone etched with perfect images of priests and deities. Yuan sighed; meditation would have to wait. He rose and flicked his orange robes behind him, proceeding to pace quickly towards the thirty metre double-doors. They were easy to open, betraying their size and imitative effect.
The light then flooded into the hall as they parted, and an airbending female stood in front of Yuan, her long flowing black hair reaching over her forehead: a clear sign she was not one of religion. No, she was the head of education and a teacher herself for the Northern Air Spire and one of the brightest Air civilians that had ever lived, and it showed on her smug face. "Ah, Yuan, I guessed you would not open these doors," she said, walking by Yuan and ignoring his slight bow.
"It is a priest's duty to assist anyone who needs it, Meeato," he recited. Even after seventy years of living in the temple grounds, he still had the mind to go against his own code in terms of visitors, especially now.
"Hmm, yes..." Meeato drolled as she looked around the Great Hall. A first visit was something that had captured many a people's eyes. "About the children you house-"
"I told you, Meeato, they are not going to be taught in your unholy school. Their parents and themselves chose to be tutored here, under the eyes of the spirits. Not in some dull room where they work until last wind." Yuan tried his best to keep cool and void, just as he was taught, but failed miserably with his grey eyes like storm clouds.
"I will have you know, last wind is when the children work best; under candle light and starry skies."
"That will not change my mind, now is their something else you wish to discuss?"
"Nothing that requires your immediate attention." She skulked around the room and found her way to a wall of carvings: past airbending Avatars who helped form the Four Spires. Her fingers caressed the sandpaper-like stone. "Amazing, isn't it?" Yuan ignored her, closing his eyes and stroking his soft grey stubble. "These proud people never backed down. They did not rest until we held the skies for our own. People still revere them on the ground." Her voice was raspy with awe. "Proud men and women, unlike a certain high priest I know."
That got him to raise an eye. She smirked at his realisation, savouring his reaction. "Oh, yes I heard all about your little tantrum. Still surprisingly spry for a seventy-year-old." She withdrew her hand off the carvings and slowly walked towards him, still retaining the small tug at her lips, her words turning so sharp they could cut. "You know, if a child did that during my class, he would have been punished, severely. I will spare you the details as I know your little heart can't take them, I'll just say, standing may be difficult for-"
"Enough!" His old voice still carried its authority. "I did not open my door to hear of torture and humiliation. Now, I must ask you to leave." He couldn't take much more of this, the woman was a pain as it was.
Meeato cackled with laughter and headed for the door. She stopped just before the dipping sun made her another shadow in its rays. "I will leave you, for now. But be assured, priest, the children will be mine. It is inevitable." When she left, the teacher at least had the decency to close the door afterwards with a gust of wind.
For a second time that day, Yuan wished he could just block it out, but from the angle of the sun he had a duty to begin to light the flat wind lanterns. It was going to be a long day indeed.
Toma had not wished for much this year except for an easy winter, the last one claimed the lives of many in his village, including one of his small group of friends. The twelve-year-old boy sat on the outside of his igloo, gazing at the rising moon as he did almost every night. The white orb shimmered and shook against the black ocean and gave the small village light to replace the recently-gone sun. It shone off his oily, brown hair which was secured in two separate pony-tails. The blue of his nation's colours marked his thick clothes.
The moon had always been gracious to Toma. Ever since he could remember, the moon entranced him with its beauty. His mother said it had something to do with his birth being on a full moon; that he was a 'moon baby'. It would not be his reason for his admiration, though, it was far too girly. Others liked the moon because it gave them strength and power, he liked it because...
It was there. It was always there; in the same spot every night. Its light was gentle, unlike the sun; it was made to create beauty, not just to do its job of illuminating the world. Feeling a small breeze that rolled through the village, kicking up faint curls of snow as it went, Toma pulled his hood over his head with a shiver. The cold was something every ice child had to endure, but Toma never adapted to its nipping bites and flustering winds. Instead, he opted for more clothing and in return his olive skin never built the foundations for protection.
Being a noble did not help either. His mother had made sure he was safe at all times; indoors and warm. His father also shared this sentiment, only because Toma was his only heir and without him, his voice and family meant nothing in the clan meetings. Toma still carried the bruises from his regular sparring sessions however and winced at them now as he shifted into a more comfortable position.
It was strange, his father had been training him extensively and brutally over the past few weeks whilst the clan meetings got more and more frequent. Toma could not do anything about it, though, he had to do what his father told him. Not to was just... wrong. When he questioned his father about the processions, he told Toma it was about him and something that could 'set the foundations for a strong Wolf Clan'.
No matter what his father said, it still didn't make any sense. Toma was told since the day he could first have thought that he would one day lead the people of the village to victory and honour; such was the wolf's way. It was something he looked forward to, he always liked making up the games and the rules to them, but he didn't really know any of the other children or adults in his clan. How could one make a game without knowing who's playing?
The only others he knew of his age were Jayming and Mafan. The problem with Jayming was that she was a girl. She never wanted to play with spears or wrestle, just talk or play hide and seek. It was fun, just not Toma's type of fun. Mafan on ther other hand, was a different issue. He was more of a speaker than anything and although he was willing to play the games Toma liked, his weight and unwillingness sometimes shone through and the games quickly drew to an end as soon as they begun. "Toma!" He looked away from the moon with a frown, angry that he was torn away from it. "Toma!"
He rose and gazed into the igloo which was his home. "Yes, father?"
"Get inside, now! Before I drag you in here myself!" His father had a voice which carried authority and violence no matter how he tried to speak. To any person it would have scared them but Toma was immune to its startling effect. Running water in the dark scared him more than his father's voice did now.
"Yes, father." Toma had a faint idea of why his father was angry. Either mother had done something wrong, or he was anxious for his meeting with Clan White-Bear in five days. No, it wasn't mother, he would have been yelling louder than he was and she would have been crying through her crystal-blue eyes. Pushing the horrible thoughts aside, he headed inside without any more thought except what was for supper that night.
Wai was in his own thoughts whilst the mass gathering of kings sat around the majestically green and gold Table of Stone. Their squabbles were murmurs as he tapped the table, drowning in his own boredom. Usually, meetings like this with the Twenty Kings present were more exciting and Wai had a chance to impose his authority in the manner he so often referred to as 'silencing the birds'.
Even now they chirped and chirped, their words as worthless as the crumbs fed to them by the High King. It was always the same: they stood up and bowed in respect before the talks got under-way, Wai's heavy golden cloak shifting ever-so-slightly to the right. Then they would all tidy out their decorative uniforms, Wai's specially made green and gold trimmed fabric purged of all creases. Then there came question after question.Demand after demand. The whole thing was a pointless and repetitive cycle that did little in the way of progress. Wai just wanted to get it out of the way.
A fair way into the procession, a King shouted "I demand more land!" That got his attention. A bald king, no more than forty years old with a thin beard was leaning on the table, both hands curled into fists to intimidate those who would oppose him. Wai had heard he was a strong bender, and strength meant more than words to all Earth Kingdom people. All except Wai.
Wai stopped his tapping and stayed leaned back on his chair, his slender figure fit snugly in the solid, large seats. "You do not make demands of the High King," he remarked, emotionless, and resumed tapping on the table. That should have gotten him to shut up, it usually did with the others.
"And I do not take the word of a cripple! Even if he is a prince!" The bald king spat.
The whole room went silent. There were usually debates going on during debates with the amount of people seated, but now they waited and listened for the response of the one-armed Prince Wai. His fingers stopped tapping again. A peculiar shine tinged his onyx eyes and his trademark smirk stretched across his clean-shaven face. He shifted his seating position to reveal his missing arm to the light. Every one knew already, he just liked showing it off.
"So, in your view, the King's envoy to this prestigious meeting holds no word?" The man remained silent and Wai ran his left hand through his thick hair. "And what could you possibly do with more land?" Wai then analysed his face; it still remained stiff. Who was he? Ah, yes, now he remembered.
"I need land to-"
"To train your armies?" Wai finished, ready to strike back with his knowledge. "Please, King Lee, we all know here that you have plenty of land for daily troop activities." Murmurs of 'yes' and nods went around the table. Wai noticed that Lee's forehead began to shimmer with a fine layer of sweat and savoured his reaction, loving the fact the strong man was starting to break under his words. He had the people on his side, for the most part. Now for the second part in his routine.
Wai stood and slowly paced to his right, away from Lee and the head of the table. "If you recall you have a large amount of fields for cattle. Why not there? What makes the southern range with uphill climbs more valuable?" He came to a stop about a quarter of the way round the table and leant in between two more kings. They cast strange looks at Wai, though they had seen his more than unorthodox behaviour before. "Or are you afraid that your so called soldiers will spend more time prancing gaily through the fields of flowers?"
A few snickers eventually erupted into full laughter at the expense of King Lee and he sat down in humiliation, actually red in the face. Humiliation. The one thing that can knock down any Earth King, no matter his power, and Wai knew how to use it perfectly. He returned to his seat and watched the procession go ahead, intervening when he had to, or when tensions rose.
And so he sat, bored again and tapping his finger as the seconds went by.
There it was: an eel hound that had been hunted for the best part of a day. Feeling safe, it had stopped to drink from an ice-cold river. How wrong it could have been.
Saura perched in a tree, narrowing her vision to spot the black eel hound in the fading light. The beast had been chased since the start of her camp after it tried to take one of the newborns. It failed after the tribe look-out had spotted it and scared it off, but Saura vowed to see the beast fall to her spear, and now her victory was so close. The mother was a close friend of hers, so she donned the hunter's paint and set out, hoping to end the beast's life sooner rather than later.
Her attention was diverted from the hound to a gold-scaled dragon slithering across the purple sky with unparalleled speed and agility, the only trace of its existence the soft kiss of wind it created as it travelled. A thought then dawned on Saura: the tribe was bound to move today, not two hours after she left for the hunt. That left her alone, and to be alone on the fire islands was to be weak and vulnerable. No doubt they were ahead of her, the Sun Tribe were always fast at moving in groups. She would have to trace that dragon if she was to ever re-join them.
"Spirits be dammed," she swore in a whisper. The sound of hound supping water stopped. Saura's eyes darted back down to her prey, and for a long moment the eyes of hunter and hunted met; the dog looking at her perched in the tree, annoyed and confused. Saura shared a similar look, a tenth chance was going to slip through her fingers, just like all the other times. Her grip tightened around her spear and her face grew tight to intimidate her prey.
The creature then danced off, faster than the last time Saura stalked it. She scowled and took chase, hopping from branch to branch, oft swinging from one higher up to cover a larger jump. The beast took a look back and saw the girl dart up and out of its view as she took to running across the thick net of leaves and vines that made the upper canopy of the forest.
It was a risky move to make as her vision was cut, but Saura had the confidence the beast would slow to check where she was properly. So she darted against the moonlight, her form joining the silhouettes of the trees. Her eyes remained down, looking for a sign of the beast. Then their eyes met again, this time, only Saura saw its emerald-green eyes. She jumped and slimmed herself out to fit through a small gap, only obtaining a few small cuts in the process.
She carried on leaping through the trees and finally thrusted her palm forward, unleashing a small flame that grew in strength as it flew. It landed in front of the eel hound and cut it off. It turned to run the other way, but was met by the same action as before. Confused, it trashed and reared as the two walls of fire slowly began to grow until it made a full circle around it.
It then started screaming a mighty squeal that shook the ears of any night-crawling creatures until it was finally silenced by Saura throwing a spear through its neck, killing it instantly. She dropped into the middle of the ring and landed with practised grace and fluidity. Her head cranked left to right, hoping no other people had witnessed the attack; she had heard of night-roaming tribes in this part of the fire islands.
Confident she was alone, she strode up to her kill, suppressing the achievement she felt for fear the Spirits would smite her. In the dancing light of the fire her features were now on show. Brown shoulder-length hair tied back to stop it being a distraction drooped down her neck as she bent down for her spear. A soft face tensed with effort as she yanked the spear from her kill's neck. A foolish person would have thought her innocent and weak with her large orange eyes and wrinkle-free soft skin, and how wrong they would be. Twin lines of red paint followed her brow and twin pairs of red lines were stroked across her cheeks: a quick application of the hunter's mark.
She wiped some of the blood from the eel hound's wound and smeared a small amount on her arm as evidence of her kill. The remainder was wiped on her straw skirt and she placed the spear in the small grip on her back. Adjusting the scabbard strapped to her thigh that held her knife, she looked up to the sky and took a deep breath whilst closing her eyes.
Opening them, a faint red trail headed west, to her best guest. It was still warm, which meant it was the gold dragon she saw earlier. Dragons rarely flew in each other's paths. As she read the heat, the flames around her danced and forked before they started to dim and falter as the heat drew into her fingertips whilst she took another deep breath in.
That would have to wait, though, the pain and aches of constant running and bending were finally starting to set in as the night did, and Saura had to make camp before she collapsed of exhaustion. The only problem was the fact she had not brought anything to make a camp with. I could always make a temporary skin from the eel hound... No, it failed too keep heat in, she would surely freeze by morning. So, she looked up at the trees again, and made them her shelter for the night.
The rising heat from the ground would be her tent and the leaves of the forest would be her blanket. Then, tomorrow, she would head west, back home... to resume the pilgrimage to the Promised Land.
- This chapter serves as an introduction for the characters, highlighting what they will be like later on in the story.
- The next chapter will develop on these people's thoughts and ideals.
- I can't think of names even if it was to save my life, so if they sound stupid then, yeah... sorry about that.
For the collective works of the author, go here.