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6 July, 2014
"History is not something to be ignored, as we learn much from its stories." --From the Book of Tutorik.
Miki hated the market. It was like an overcrowded path of swarming flies around a carcass, all of them annoyingly buzzing and getting in each other's way. She would much rather avoid these people. But her only other option was to go fishing with her sister on the same coast where her mother was attacked, so going to the market seemed like a better option. She had stopped by their hut to collect some items to trade before coming here, even though she would probably return home with everything she had left with. She'd managed to find some old wood carvings and an animal skin bag they no longer needed. And if all that failed she could always offer her services to collect firewood for anyone who would pay her.
The market was always set up in the same spot; a single line of stalls, shops, and tents, which stretched down the main road and passed next to the meeting hall. Even at this early hour the market was busy with customers and sellers, bargaining and trading. They didn't have a currency like the other nations, though the Northern Water Tribe was planning to. It was how they interacted with the Earth Kingdom villages in the north as well; Manirak supplied mainly wood and seafood, and the Earth Kingdom villages provided almost everything else, including their alcohol, which was quite popular here in Manirak. Because they were behind in their economy, in that they preferred to trade instead of use a currency, the other nations often called them 'Primitives', or 'Barbarians'.
As usual, people whispered and stared when Miki arrived at the market. They tried to make it not look obvious, but after a few years of it Miki knew when she was the subject of their talk. Still, she tried to look like she was unfazed by it, even if at times it really did annoy her. But she wouldn't let it get to her this time. Instead, she would start with the wood carvings; they weren't very useful to everyday life, and held no sentimental value, so it made sense to sell them.
After passing a few stalls, Miki reached one that sold items made from wood. The man behind the counter was busy trying to convince a customer to buy one of his carvings, ranting about the quality of wood used, and the exceptional workmanship of his product. When the customer saw Miki she immediately turned to leave. Miki rolled her eyes. The shopkeepers must hate her for scaring all their customers away.
The man behind the counter just stared angrily at Miki, even when she stood right in front of his shop. She emptied the bag of carvings onto a clear patch of the counter, which provoked the shopkeeper to finally break his silence, "I never said I wanted to trade," his voice was even more annoying than she could have imagined.
"Just hear me out," Miki began. Although she really didn't like him she had to give it a go. There weren't many stores that bought and sold wood carvings. There were seven carvings on the table, and each of them were quite stunning. Swirling designs were carved into them, and some depicted scenes of canoes on the water, or hunters with spears. When they were quite well off her father had taken up wood carving as an interest, and bought these to give him inspiration for his own. He hadn't given it a go for many years, so Miki thought it best if she could sell them.
The shopkeeper took one look and turned his nose up at them, "Rubbish. Goodbye."
Miki didn't care much for his attitude, "Please, they're a little old but they're still useful to you."
Turning back to her with his ugly face, the old man drilled Miki with his stare, "How, exactly?"
"You can still use the wood right? They're made from reasonably good materials which you could reuse," Miki picked up one of the carvings, "Or you could even sell them as they are. Please, we're low on supplies and--"
"Well, we all know why that is," the old man interrupted, "I do not care much for drunkards, nor their offspring," the way he emphasized the syllables of the word 'offspring' grated Miki's nerves.
"Please, you're being unreasonable! Other stores would trade with me."
The old shopkeeper cackled, "Really? Then how about you go find out. We're done here."
Miki scowled while clicking her tongue angrily, "What have I done to stop you from serving me? I don't care what you think of me, I just want to trade."
"Aside from the obvious? I used to be good friends with Hinani's father." Hinani was the mother of her old friend, Kashi. Miki had forgotten that Kashi's mother had an actual name aside from the one Miki called her, which was judgmental sea cow, though she would never call her that in person. This old bag must've heard about what Miki had done two nights ago, how she used her powers on Hinani.
"Oh, and make sure you don't come back here. I don't serve your kind here. People who have been possessed by spirits should visit the Spirit Oasis and receive help, not spend time trading wood carvings with exceptional crafters like myself."
After putting the wood carvings back into the bag, Miki turned to leave. She was so furious at him, though she wouldn't say anything more to him. It wasn't worth arguing with this old fossil anyway; he was stubborn to a fault and for whatever reasons he would never serve her. People here were either nasty to Miki or just avoided her, not wanting to be near someone who was supposedly possessed by a spirit.
After a while Miki found another wood carving store. The store person here was a young woman, who seemed to serve Miki more out of fear than actually wanting to trade. Still, she managed to smile the whole time she served Miki, and traded four of the carvings for some fishing bait.
Once she had finished, Miki continued down the main path, thinking about what the first shopkeeper had said to her. She had visited the Spirit Oasis soon after her mother passed away, but nothing had changed. The Northern Water Tribe was magnificent when she had visited it. The houses there were made from ice and decorated intricately, with mesmerizing designs which would sparkle and glow under a full moon. And the Spirit Oasis was kept hidden away under a waterfall, a grassy island in the middle with a pond in which two koi fish swam around each other. It was strange that the old shopkeeper actually knew about it, since it was a closely guarded secret. The water from the Spirit Oasis was said to have unique properties, and perhaps even cleanse someone who had been possessed by a spirit. But even after a month of healing therapy, Miki was still not free of her powers. It was then that Miki began to hate the spirits. They had given her powers which not only was she stuck with, but she couldn't even save the people she cared about with them. Her mother had died, even when she had these abilities. Tui, Some spirit she was. She gave away powers that didn't work, and destroyed relationships with her friends and family.
Her thoughts were interrupted when a group of four approached from the left. Miki would usually ignore groups of people like them, but they were talking so loud she could hear them even when she was far away. They also blocked her path home; she had spent enough time in the noisy market, and wouldn't have minded to spend the rest of her day with Ulva, or doing something more entertaining. As she began walking towards them, their conversation became clearer.
"...Poor Hinani. I mean, she's so lovely. I just don't understand why she would do that."
"Well, she is possessed isn't she?" Obviously word had spread about Miki attacking Hinani two nights ago.
As Miki walked past them the group began to recognize her. They immediately glanced at each other, and then back at Miki, a mixture of anger and fear on their faces. She didn't bother looking again in their direction, but she could hear them muttering her name under their breath. Miki had almost made it past them when she heard her name being called again.
"Miki! There you are!"
But this voice wasn't like the whispering, gossiping voices of the group she just past. Miki turned around to see the familiar face of her friend, Junetsu. She smiled, relieved to see a friendly face amongst the nasty-looking ones nearby. Although Junetsu was as old as her father, she had become a close friend of Miki. She was responsible for looking after and acquiring new scrolls, books and other items for Manirak's library, and she would often invite Miki to help her sort through her records.
The old librarian smiled. Junetsu wore her silver hair how she normally had it; two hair loops from her fringe to the hair piece at the back with a simple, wide top knot which held the rest of her hair. Her eyes were pale blue, and she had a warm and comforting smile. "I haven't seen you for a while Miki. How have you been?" Junetsu replied.
"Be careful June," one of the gossiping women from the group of four interjected, "You know who she is right?"
Junetsu turned towards the woman, "I know exactly who she is. She is a child, and all children need people who care about them. And I doubt she gets much of that from her father."
Horrified gasps surfaced from the four women, "June you shouldn't say that, remember who her father is," One of them responded.
"He does have a problem with his drinking, but he was once a member of the council."
The old librarian's smile faded, "I know exactly who he is."
After that, the four women disappeared into the market streets again. It was not common to find people who still admired the former council member Keiro; most had lost faith in his ability to lead after he developed an alcohol problem. Still, for Miki it was strange to hear others talk about her father in such a way, when she knew what he was really like.
Junetsu placed her hand on Miki's shoulder, "Don't worry about them dearie. Unfortunately the buzzard wasps of this world will always be around to spread rumours and lies," she crouched down in the snow so she was eye level with Miki, "Hey, how would you like to help me with some housekeeping in the library. I could use your help. And of course I can pay you," She added with a smile.
Miki nodded. She had already spent enough time in the market, and spending the rest of the day with Junetsu and avoiding most of the other 'buzzard wasps', as Junetsu had put it, didn't seem like such a bad idea.
The pair made their way back through the now crowded streets of the market to the library. Like the Meeting Hall it too was made from wood, and borrowed designs from the Earth Kingdom. The main building of the library had three stories, each marked by tiled balconies, pale blue in colour. The Meeting hall was the only other building that displayed their national colours on it; all the other houses, shops, and tents were various shades of brown, the colours of the materials used to build them. Once they had made it, Junetsu unlocked the door and showed Miki inside.
"You know," Junetsu spoke after a few minutes of sorting through the new scrolls which lay on the floor, "In some places fish innards are considered a delicacy." Miki replied by making a vomiting sound and pretending to hurl. "I know, I know, they're not the nicest of things to eat," Junetsu chuckled, "But that's only because of the gallbladder. It has a... ah... bitter kind of taste. Remove it and you've got yourself a tasty meal."
"Well maybe father had that in mind when he brought it home," Miki replied sarcastically.
Both of them laughed a little before the silence returned. Juentsu was once good friends with Miki's parents. Even after Keiro had become the town drunk she had stuck by them, more for the sake of Miki and Saskha than their father. She also didn't believe all the rumours about Miki. How could such a young and innocent girl be possessed and as evil as the other villagers claimed? She knew there was another explanation for her powers.
Miki knew roughly how things were kept in the library; the first and second floors contained scrolls and books on waterbending, history, cooking, hunting, and many other practical activities. The top floor was used for anything fiction, which there wasn't much of in this library, and for storing anything valuable that shouldn't be seen by just anyone. Junetsu and Miki didn't have much to do with that floor, and sometimes Chief Iluliaq would visit it.
Junetsu picked up a particular scroll and climbed up the ladder to sort it. "Hmm, reminds me of my days in the Earth Kingdom." She paused to place the scroll in its correct spot. "I was at a small village to the south once, and they told me it was customary to try their national dish, Purple Pentapus stew. Had me vomiting for weeks," She laughed to herself while climbing down from the ladder.
Miki's eyes lit up as soon as Junetsu had mentioned the Earth Kingdom. "That's right. You travelled there for some time, didn't you? What's it like? Is it really that green and warm over there? What are the animals like?" Miki rattled off more questions like a wide eyed kid in a toy shop.
Junetsu laughed, "Miki, why are you so interested in the Earth Kingdom? It is a wonderful place. In some parts there are forests, as far as the eye can see. The animals – well, you have heard of the original earthbenders haven't you? The Badgermoles? I got to see one once on my travels. Spectacular creatures."
With marvelled eyes, Miki listened to Junetsu's tales. She stared up at the towering ceiling above her, picturing herself running through fields of endless grass with Ulva. Something pulled her to the Earth Kingdom; drawing her to it. She didn't know why, but she longed to see it for herself.
After a few minutes Junetsu turned back to Miki, the two of them now seated among the scrolls and books on the floor, "You know, I think I answered all your questions, yet you still haven't answered mine," Miki faced the floor but didn't answer. "It's okay," Junetsu spoke softly while placing her arm around Miki, "You don't have to tell me why you're so interested in going to the Earth Kingdom. Just make sure that you want to go there for the right reasons."
Miki knew that she was referring to her desire to leave this village because of her father. She had never given any details, but had told Junetsu a little about her family life since Liena had died. "Can I ask you something?"
Junetsu nodded, "Certainly child."
"What...What were your reasons for travelling to the Earth Kingdom?"
The Old Librarian paused a moment, as if she were gathering her thoughts. "Well, I suppose I just wanted to see the world," She added with a shrug. "Some people are content with spending their whole lives here in this small village, but I wanted to see more I suppose."
"Were there any other reasons?" Miki questioned.
Laughing lightly, Junetsu placed a hand on Miki's, "I think you have asked enough questions for today. Besides, there's still some more work to do." With that, she rose and began sorting through some more books.
Miki stood up as well. She assumed that someone like Junetsu had the 'right' reasons for wanting to leave Manirak when she did, and only hoped that her own reasons were too.
The next book Miki picked up was a leather bound book with a small, circular emblem of a wave stitched onto the cover. She read the title out loud, "The Book of Tutorik?"
"Ah, I was wondering when that would arrive," Junetsu spoke while turning around. Laughing, she walked over to Miki and held the book in her hands, "It's ironic that you would pick up this book." When she noticed Miki's puzzled expression she continued, "Tutorik was a traveller who lived many years ago. He was from the Northern Water Tribe, and decided that he would travel the Earth Kingdom in search of wisdom, and inner peace. To find himself I suppose."
"Sounds a bit like an Airhead."
"Well yes, he does sound a little like an Air Nomad," Junetsu corrected, "But in his travels he wrote many wise proverbs. That book contains much wisdom Miki. The most fascinating thing in that book is a place he discovered while travelling. A cave, which he called the 'Cave of Enlightenment.' A place where one could find out what the future holds for them, or ask the all-knowing spirit who resides there whatever they want."
With each word Miki's excitement grew. The Cave of Enlightenment. Did such a place exist? She didn't care much for finding out her future, but just the thought of running into the Earth Kingdom in search of some mysterious place made her imagination run wild. Her and Ulva, running through thick forests and open plains. On an endless adventure, free from everything here she wanted to leave behind.
"Now that I know you are interested in it," Miki hadn't realised that she had zoned out, and quickly looked up at Junetsu, "I'll tell the scribes to begin writing copies tomorrow." She grinned warmly at Miki, and placed her hands on Miki's shoulders. Miki returned the smile, and the two of them continued to sort through the other material.
|Spirit of the North|
|• Chapter 1 - Manirak • Chapter 2 - Memories • Chapter 3 - The Librarian • Chapter 4 - Liberation • Chapter 5 - Guilt • Chapter 6 - A Final Goodbye • Chapter 7 - Reconnection • Chapter 8 - Visitors from the East • Chapter 9 - Avatar • Chapter 10 - The Dream that Led to a Journey • Chapter 11 - Promise • Chapter 12 - The Vote • Chapter 13 - Unspoken Desires • Chapter 14 - Beyond the Borders • Chapter 15 - Foreseer of Futures • Chapter 16 - The Warrior Within • Chapter 17 - First Blood • Chapter 18 - Victories and Defeats • Chapter 19 - Secrets of the Book • Chapter 20 - Entering the Earth Kingdom• Chapter 21 - The Dream Nobody Thought Would Come True • Chapter 22 - The Great River City: Part 1 • Chapter 23 - The Great River City: Part 2|
For the collective works of the author, go here.