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|Challenge of the Spirit|
January 22, 2016
"All is possible," Wu whispered, and right then and there it was all that Heidze could hear. "Remember that, Heidze. All is possible."
"Got it," Heidze replied as he lay on the stone bench in Shaman Wu's study and prepared to enter that the Sun Shaman called the Trance of Solitude.
"Very well then," said Wu. "Heidze, originally from the streets of Gangkouz, tell me your utmost desire."
"To become a Sun Warrior."
"As you've told us over and over again," remarked Wu. "Why do you want to be a Sun Warrior?"
"So that I can stay here."
"Clearly you like our valley quite a lot, then," replied Wu.
"I'd also like to help protect the dragons."
"What is it that compels you to want to stay here?" asked Heidze. "The dragons aside."
"I want to stay here so that I might..."
"Simple and straightforward, then," said Wu. "Is there anything else?"
"The Earth Kingdom."
"The Earth Kingdom?" said Wu, confused. "What about it?"
"There's a war going on there."
"There has been for as long as any of us have been alive," stated Wu. "What of it?"
"I need to..."
"What do you need to do, Heidze?"
"To help....no, to protect...or, to help..."
"Yes?" repeated Wu. "What is it, Heidze?"
But before he could utter anything in response, Heidze's pulse stopped being relaxed, he opened his eyes wide and gasped for breath, his chest heaving in and out at an alarming pace. He found himself in the chamber of the Sun Shaman, on the same slab that Wu had him lie down on when it was time for the meditation to begin.
Wu let out a deep sigh. "Heidze, I warned you before, don't come out of the Trance of Solitude prematurely. If you do so at the wrong moment, it can have disastrous consequences."
"I'm sorry, Wu," Heidze spat. "I tried. I really did." For the time being, though, every word that emerged from his mouth took a tremendous effort and forming sentences became a chore.
"Sit up straight," Wu instructed, taking note of Heidze's apparent condition and treating the situation with the severity it called for. Closing his eyes, Wu reached out his left hand and held it in place on the young boy's chest, reaching out to his spirit and finding what he could tell from reading the boy's energy. "What was that?" he asked.
"Huh?" Heidze had almost fully regained himself by this point.
"Heidze, what was that?" Wu asked again.
"I'm afraid that I don't know what it is you're talking about."
"There was a great concentration of energy inside your chest," said Wu. "It's at the very core of your spirit. I believe that it was that which brought you our from the Trance of Solitude prematurely. Do you have any idea what this could be, Heidze? If you do, please, do tell me."
Heidze was thoroughly shocked from this piece of new information to him. "N-no, Wu, not at all."
The Sun Shaman studied him with his eyes for several long seconds. "So be it then. You may tell the chief that I have cleared you for passing the Challenge of the Spirit. In the mean time, I would take some time to rest yourself before you face the third challenge."
"Alright," said Heidze, leaping off the table and making his way to the door.
"And one more thing," Wu added before Heidze left the room and went back into the hallway of the deep ruins. "Let's keep that last part between us for now. Don't tell anyone about it at all. I'm going to meditate on it when I get the chance, and perhaps we can talk again later. Do you understand me, Heidze?"
"Yes, Wu," he confirmed. "Totally hush-hush."
When Ratana and Lu Ten reached the top of the Outer Wall, they saw that there were no nearby watchmen on duty, and no one was fighting on the field of battle below. Her fellow Terra Team comrades had not been exaggerating when they told Ratana that it was a slow day for them. The Fire Nation camp, though, still lurked in the background, with a seemingly-replenished supply of artillery and tanks, so it was clear that the siege was still on and they remained vigilant in their goal of taking Ba Sing Se. So, too, must the Earth Kingdom remain vigilant in stopping them, Ratana told herself in her head.
It was approaching dusk. Lu Ten and Ratana stood side by side as they watched the sun set over the long horizon that stretched out before them. "I guess that we did end up watching a sun set together out here after all, Ratana," Lu Ten remarked under his breath.
"Heh," Ratana let out a faint giggle. "I guess so."
"Ratana!" The voice that rudely interrupted their moment belonged to Taigang. "What on Earth do you think you're doing??"
"Ummm...watching a sunset," said Ratana. "Is that a crime?"
"Look at him," Taigang pointed at Lu Ten. "You never put his restraints back on him. The prince might try to escape at any moment."
"Are you still upset about the arm wrestling?" asked Ratana.
"Commander Lao wasn't happy about that," explained Taigang. "He said it was unprofessional. But this, Ratana...this is downright careless!"
"Lu Ten won't escape now," said Ratana. "We're on top of the Outer Wall."
"That's right," agreed Lu Ten. "My camp may be visible from up here, but I'm on top of one of the tallest structures that has ever existed in the known world. There's no way that I'm escaping now. I'd plunge to my doom before I made it back to the Fire Nation camp."
"You could use your jet propulsion," Taigang said, narrowing his eyes and shifting instinctively toward a fighting stance.
"Jet propulsion?" asked Ratana, equally as confused as Lu Ten.
"It's a firebending technique," stated Taigang. "They shoot fire behind themselves and allow themselves to fly and hover through the air. Master firebenders can do it, especially those from the royal family."
"Huh, I never heard of that one before," said Lu Ten. "I'll have to look into studying that move some more when I get to firebend again. Thanks. It's Taigang, isn't it?"
"Just shut your mouth, you Fire Nation prince," said Taigang. "And don't you dare call me by my name like we know each other."
"What else would you want him to call you?" Ratana rolled her eyes.
"Nothing," said her Terra Team comrade. "He doesn't call me anything, or speak to me at all. In fact, he doesn't look at me, either."
"Go away, Taigang. That is an order from your captain."
"Some of us on the Terra Team have been talking," Taigang said over his shoulder as he walked back toward the earthen elevator once more. "We don't think it's a good idea for you to loosen up with the prisoner so much. It's hardly fitting for a Captain of the Terra Team. What kind of leader are you?"
"I'm in control, Taigang," said Ratana. "Don't worry over what I do."
"If you won't get a grip for the Terra Team's sake, Ratana, think of yourself," warned Taigang. "If you're not careful, and you let your guard drop, he'll get the better of you, eventually. And when that happens I don't think any of us will genuinely be able to call you our leader."
"Grow up, Taigang," Ratana said dismissively as Taigang boarded the elevator and rode the way back down by himself.
Ever since Dragon Guide Chu Fang had made his announcement about the dragons Ran and Shaw laying their kind's first eggs in recent memory, the general spirit inside the last remaining pocket of Sun Warrior society took flight. At nightfall, men and women of all ages made toasts to the health of the new hope and future for the race of the original firebending masters, whom their ancestors had learned their arts and style from. During the days, trading commenced alarmingly and gossip spread like a soothing flame lighting one hearth at a time from one end of the great valley to the other. Even the Sun Chief could scarcely hide his feeling at a time like this, though Shang could not allow it to distract him from the fact that he had a city to run. Ham Ghao did not make nearly as many of his usual outbursts as those around him had grown accustomed to. The buzz had officially reached everyone in the community, from young to old, firebender and nonbender alike.
And even non-Sun Warrior, or those who were not yet a part of the tribe officially. Since Heidze had heard of the discovery of newly-laid dragon eggs on the day he completed his initial challenge, he was more curious than ever before. From the first lesson that Wu had ever given him, back when Ratana was still their captive, the giant fire-breathing beasts had always fascinated him on their own level. He had been driven so far as to throw himself in front of his own dear friend and stop her journey in order to safeguard the creature's future existence. It had turned out that the move was a perilous one for him as well as for her.
"It's so cool that the last pair of dragons are finally going to reproduce now, isn't it?" he asked Chiang Lei late one afternoon when they were off sitting on a bench together alone at the close of one day.
"I guess," said Chiang Lei. She had been more quiet and reserved all afternoon, though if Heidze had taken notice of that, he did not make it known to her.
"The last two dragons continuing their species isn't something that happens every day, of course," Heidze went on. "With all that's been going on around here, though, I've been wondering what's been going on at the Earth Kingdom capital. How do you suppose Ratana might be doing now, with her city still under siege? I do hope that her impulsive nature does not get her into any more trouble."
"I don't want to talk about the Earth Kingdom," Chiang Lei said, crossing her arms.
"As you please," said Heidze. "I do worry about her quite a lot, though. She did save me once, while I was still in Gangkouz and she and June and I had snuck into a gang's hideout to get her bag back, which I had stolen from her myself days before. It was nice of her to forgive me for that in her own time. When I saw how obsessive she had become over her mission that she threatened my life, the least that I could do was return the favor."
Chiang Lei jerked her shoulder away from Heidze and rose to her feet. "I've got to go."
"Why?" asked Heidze, taken aback. "Did I say something wrong, Chiang Lei?"
"Nothing on its own, just some more what you talk about all the time," Chiang Lei had her voice rise as she spoke on. "Ratana, Ratana, Ratana! She's off in the Earth Kingdom fighting a war that doesn't concern you, Heidze. What is she to you now?"
"One of my best friends," said Heidze. "She'll always be that, no matter how far apart we are."
"No she isn't," Chiang Lei added as she looked down and turned her head away. "She's more than that to you, Heidze. Much more. She's all you ever talk about when you're with us. She's what you talk about when you're with me Heidze. How do you think that makes me feel?"
"Sorry, but I won't see what the big deal is," said Heidze. "She's a friend that I met when I started journeying across the country."
"No," said Chiang Lei. "She's not just some old friend, Heidze. You talk about her all the time."
"It's nothing," Heidze said as he got to his feet and attempted to turn Chiang Lei to face him again. "Chiang Lei, you're the one who's most special to me."
"Am I?" Chiang Lei shook both her head and her voice. "It doesn't seem like it. Ratana this, Ratana that. Spirits, why don't you just go ahead and marry her, Heidze?"
"What is your problem?"
"I ought to ask you the same thing," said Chiang Lei. "Do you want to tell me what exactly you're doing here? Is this right for you, Heidze? Do you even want to be a Sun Warrior?"
"Of course I do!" Heidze cried out defensively. "And me and Ratana?! Are you mad? There's no way that I would ever feel that way about her. She's also too old for me, and I'm too young for her."
"You clearly have a lot of feeling for her, though," Chiang Lei pointed out.
"Yeah, but besides everything else, she's also too...ummm...how do I put this? Bold," Heidze added, allowing himself a laugh. "Let me put it to you this way. If I happened to find myself in a relationship with Ratana, I'm fairly sure that I wouldn't last very long in that relationship."
But Chiang Lei was still unconvinced, and Heidze's attempt to infuse some lightheartedness into the situation had in fact made it worse. "Our conversations never last long, either, before you bring her up somehow. If that truly isn't it, can you just be honest with me? What is it?"
"It's just," Heidze began, taking a few moments to ponder. "I don't know."
"I need some time alone, Heidze." With that, she stormed back to the chieftain's quarters, leaving Heidze by himself in the darkness. "Come find me when you have your priorities straight."
- Heidze's spirit-energy thingamajig will be explained further later. Well...I guess that part was predictable.
- The exercise Wu uses on Heidze is the same he performed on Ratana in Trance of Solitude.
- Lu Ten and Ratana first watched a sunset together in Surprise.
- Also referenced are the events of Finding Shelter, Withdrawal and Fixation.
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