|More from Skyart||Action/Adventure||PG-13||None||None|
|Nomads and Warriors|
"Say, Skaï?" asked a child voice. "Don't you think it fits well?"
"What does?" replied a teenage voice.
"Your name. An airbender born in the sky on the back of a flying sky bison, travelling the world through the skies."
Skaï smiled at thought. "I guess you're right."
"Say, Skaï?" asked the child voice. "Will you take me with you someday?"
"Sure," answered the teenage voice. "One day, when you're grown up, definitely..."
Skaï opened his eyes suddenly. Above him, the sky was deep blue with snow white clouds gliding through it, accompanied by colorful birds. The sun was still low on the horizon, but its golden sunrays were shining bright on the world. Not far, Cielle was still sound asleep, rolled in a blanket while making a comfy baby face. Molly was missing, which meant she probably had gone fishing.
He sighed. "A dream, huh?"
Closing his eyes again, Skaï tried to chase the ghosts of his past to find sleep again.
"So what are you looking for, exactly?" asked Skaï to Cielle sitting behind him. They had been riding on Molly's back for several hours now when he realized he never really asked.
"A group. Or organization, I don't really know," answered vaguely the girl.
"You don't really know? They what do you know?"
"Well, for now, I know that they're all earthbenders, just like the Golden Eaters, and that their leader is named Piao Li."
"Piao Li..." whispered Skaï for himself. "Cielle, are you... looking for revenge?" suddenly asked Skaï, a bit hesitant.
"What?" replied Cielle, eyes wide open, struck by his words.
"I know you hate them. The earthbenders. That night at the cliff, when the battle was raging around us, I saw your tears. The fact that you had tried to kill a man was in so much conflict with your inner self that night, that the only possible explanation for the way you acted would have been an emotion so powerful that you would lost sight of yourself. And I know only two of them: love and hatred. And moreover... I know Piao Li."
Cielle, who had lowered her eyes in shame, looked back up at Skaï, speechless.
"He is most commonly known as 'The Destroyer'. Because that's what he does. He seeks villages highly populated in firebenders and destroys them, leaving no survivor most of the time. If you, a firebender who hates earthbenders, are looking for a man like him, it can only be because he has done something bad to you, became the reason of your hatred, and the target of your vengeance. And considering he only does one thing, I reckon that your village, or the one of people you cared about, got destroyed. Am I right?"
While speaking, Skaï had looked in front of him, turning his back to Cielle sitting behind him. During his speech, she had stared at his slender back, unable to say a word while he read right through her.
"You know, you should consider working on your delicacy when it comes to people," she tried to joke, but her voice failed her.
Knowing how painful what he just said was, Skaï kept silence, waiting for her to open up.
"I was seven-year-old," she started in a sigh. "My parents were two very young firebenders who had run away from their family when my mother got me. They settled in a nameless small village of other firebenders in the mountains and we lived a harsh but happy life. Until they arrived, that is. A group of about fifty earthbenders, looking down on us from the mountains' top. Then, all of a sudden, the mountains melted, and tons and tons of rocks fell on us, destroying everything on their path. A moment later, I woke up alone, in the remnants of the place I once lived. Around me were rocks, rocks and sometimes dead bodies not completely buried by more rocks. Near the location where my house had been, I saw an arm sticking out of under a big boulder. It was wearing a bracelet my mother always used wear. I remember staying in the same position, staring at that gruesome arm, for almost two entire days until I passed out. The next thing I remember is waking up in a nomad carriage that happened to pass by my destroyed village. Then there's nothing more really worth telling. I grew up, found firebenders who had a grudge against earthbenders, created the Dragon Fighters, and hunted earthbenders to gather information that would eventually lead me to what or who I was looking for. Then I met you."
Cielle had delivered her story while looking at the scenery under them, speaking with a self-imposed detachment, like she was reciting a boring fable. Meanwhile, Skaï had listened to the sad tale with pity and compassion. Once again, he had a glimpse of the devastation the war between the benders could provoked.
"I'm sorry, Cielle. I'm so sorry."
"Why would you have to apologize?" replied the girl in an empty voice.
Figuring it was the best he could do at the moment, Skaï left Cielle to her thoughts and the two of them continued their journey in silence through the warm skies of the falling evening.
"Cielle, wake up." The two travelers had been flying on Molly's back for an entire day when Skaï called out for his companion who was sleeping behind him, leaning on his back.
"Mmh? What is it?" asked the girl in a sleepy voice from being suddenly woke up.
"There's trouble incoming."
Cielle looked at the ground under them.
"Are those Air Nomads?" she asked, surprised to see a group of airbenders in a place like this, where conflict could arise at any time.
"Yes, but look who's coming to meet them."
Coming from the opposite direction, a group of people dressed in blue warrior outfits were marching toward the tattooed men.
"Surely, they're not going to fight?" said Cielle in a worried voice. Then she suddenly added: "Now that I see Air Nomads, why is it that you don't have any tattoos? You said you were born as one of them, right?"
"I wasn't ready to have them when I... why are we talking about this now?" said Skaï, trying not to fall in Cielle's pace.
"I don't know. The question just crossed my mind," said the firebender girl in a casual and innocent voice. "So, are the ones in blue waterbenders?"
"No. Well, the majority isn't, I reckon. If you look closely, most of them are armed, meaning they're just warriors."
"I use swords, from time to time," argued Cielle. "I'm still a bender."
"But not a waterbender. Their pride resides in the elegance of their bending, so most of them consider weapons as crude, barbaric tools."
"Humph! I'll show them the meaning of 'barbaric'. They won't be so proud anymore!" pouted Cielle.
"Focus," said Skaï, smiling nonetheless at her somewhat cute fuss. "We're going down."
After receiving her cue, Molly landed heavily on the ground between the two groups who were now facing each other. The warriors in blue had drawn their weapons at the sight of the newcomers, while the nomads had contemplated with admiration the rare lion eagle that had appeared before them.
Suddenly, a voice coming from the warriors' side called out. "What is the meaning of this intrusion?"
Skaï was about to reply but Cielle beat him to it. "We are the Avatars and we ask that you tell us the meaning of this... encounter!"
Panicked, Skaï quickly whispered to his friend. "Oi! What are you doing? And what do you mean 'we'? I'm the Avatar!"
"They're replying, listen," said Cielle, discarding Skaï's objection.
"We do not know any faction using such a name. This doesn't concern you. Leave, or there will be consequences!" said the man in the lead of the warriors group.
"Does anyone know your title?" asked Cielle in a whisper.
"I'm still working on it," answered the Avatar in the same tone. Then, he addressed both groups. "Forgive my friend, she likes to fool around," said Skaï loud enough for everyone to hear him, not without getting a bad stare from Cielle. "My name is Skaï, successor of Wan, and if there is any way I can help to resolve what is going on here, I would be glad to."
While talking, Skaï had observed the reactions of his audience and noted that Wan's name had a great impact on both sides. Older people must have heard of him while he was still alive spreading his feats.
"Avatar," called a voice, coming this time from the Air Nomads' side. "If what you say is the truth, then it is a great honor to meet you after all your predecessor did for our people. However, as welcomed as it may be, I can assure you that your aid is not needed, for there is no problem to be solved."
"What do you mean?" asked Skaï, perplexed on the fact that Air Nomads would deliberately encounter a group of dangerous looking warriors.
"Exactly what my words mean," replied the old monk who had spoken before. "Those people are our guides and the escort that will lead us through the Spectral Forest."
"What's that?" asked Skaï, interested by the name.
"It is a forest inhabited by angry spirits. They make humans like us lose their path in its deepness if one does not have a complete mastery of the layout. We, Air nomads, had great affinities with the spirits since before they left our world. However, any attempt to converse with the ones cursing this forest had proven to be unsuccessful.
"Didn't the spirits went away some decades ago?" asked Cielle, still whispering.
"Not all of them," answered Skaï. "Some didn't agree to leave and stayed here." Then, back to the old monk, "If it's angry spirits we're talking about, it is my duty to help not only you but them too."
The nomads took some time discussing between themselves and then seemed to reach a decision.
"Young Skaï, if you believe you can bring peace to those poor spirits, then we will welcome you as our honored guest to our modest expedition."
"It is I who is honored to join your pilgrimage," replied the Avatar with a bow, remembering the Air Nomads' ways.
A couple of hours later, Cielle and Skaï were on Molly's back, but on the ground following the nomads and the warriors. In the distance, they could see the forest they were heading to, a big black mass.
"Have you faced spirits before?" asked Cielle when she saw the nervous look on Skaï's face.
"Yes. Well, no. But I dreamt about it," replied the Avatar.
"You dreamt about it? So we're heading into battle with angry fuzzy spirits and our only supports are dreams?"
"We're not heading into battle, Cielle. The key is communication. If I can make contact with the spirits and talk to them, everything will come to me naturally. Probably."
"What do you mean 'naturally'? Because you dreamt about it?" asked Cielle, septic.
"They're not 'dreams' exactly. More like memories. I remember my past life as Wan in dream-like visions. That's how I get most of my knowledge about my role as the Avatar and about things I never even saw or knew during my own life. I even directly spoke to Wan, once."
"Do you learn about bending?" asked Cielle, suddenly sounding interested.
"Sometimes. But it's only vague knowledge, incomplete fragment of information about bending arts. I have to mostly figure it out myself and to practice it. But it helps to know where to start at least. You saw the results yourself."
"Can you teach me?"
"Cielle, I'm sorry but only I can be connected to Wan's spirit," answered Skaï, confused by her request.
"Not your wibbly wobbly Avatar stuff, silly. I meant firebending. Can you teach me?"
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "Yes, of course. But what do you mean 'wibbly wobbly stuff'? It's not really... that..." While he spoke, Skaï's voice had gradually faded away, his stupefaction leaving him almost speechless. "What in the world is that?"
In front of them, the two groups had stopped moving, and what stood before them was the Spectral Forest. Skaï had thought that its name came from the fact that is was inhabited by spirits, but now he saw that the forest itself was spectral. The trees were translucent and varied in color from green to purple. Their shapes were sharp, like bad drawings made in the sand, and had a slow wave motion going through them. Moreover, it seemed like the trunks just merged into the ground, which looked exactly like the trees.
In his bewilderment, Skaï whispered. "It isn't a forest inhabited by spirits. It's a forest made of spirits.
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