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|The Northern Healers|
Book One: Water
February 20, 2013
While on their way to Haven for support, Dover and Sedgley made a pact with Erik to make an effort to practice their waterbending.
In Gao Lin, they met Anurna, the firebending prodigy who helped them sneak out of the town. However, now that they are out of the tunnel, the question of whether or not she can be trusted is thrust back into the limelight.
~ Chapter Four: The Northern Healers ~
~ Chapter Four: The Northern Healers ~
The day was wet. It was not raining, nor had it been raining, but there was considerable cloud cover and a dewy, delicate fog – if one could even call it that; it was so light – seemed to hang like powdery cobwebs on the downhill trail.
Their feet were sore and wrinkled from the moisture, but they were compelled to endure. They had to find some remotely flat ground to which they could set up a campsite on and, though an irrational desire, each child wanted to be as far away as possible from the horrible tunnel to which they had recently exited. Despite having come away from the mountain pass with some important lessons, it had been deemed an overall terrible experience. Upon emerging from their rocky cocoon, having metamorphosed in some way, they all felt they must flutter as far away, recover with some fresh air, and start anew.
As they continued downhill, the vegetation, though still deterred by coldness, began to thicken. Branchy, little-leafed trees still sparsely dotted the scene like thin, skeletal arms but the pale green grasses grew higher and wider and compact bushes, no taller than two feet, grew in tight, frosty bunches to counter the wind chill. Power poles, different to the trees only in distribution, were what they were told to follow. Erik scrutinised a map, keeping a frigid finger on a streak on the paper to ensure their position was always accurate. They were to keep going down this path to a town called Chan Dai, continue West downhill to Maderia – the forest city – and through the Wasteland to Haven. All these plans had been made – mostly by Erik – and each plan had back-up plans and sub-plans and sub-back-up plans and back-up sub-plans. So many things needed worrying about but, at least right now, following the stressful experience in the tunnel, Dover and Sedgley – and perhaps even Erik – felt that their worrying could be saved for a later time.
Anurna who, despite managing to maintain a cool air, always seemed to have a tension about her, particularly, Erik noticed upon examining her more closely, in her jaw and shoulders.
He then realised that he didn't particularly know much at all about the firebending girl. Where was she born? How did she come to find them in Gao Lin? Why was she helping them? And, where did her true alliances lie? All these suspicions flooded Erik's mind until he had to inch over to Dover and Sedgley.
He spoke through his lips, almost like a ventriloquist, so as to not draw attention to himself, "Psst! Hey! Guys! I was just thinking, um, do we really know anything about Anurna? I mean really?"
The other two boys were lost for words; the reason being that they were shocked at the accusatory conversation Erik had raised, and then at the fact that they could not think of any sort of rebuttal.
Erik continued, "I mean think about it, we don't know her at all. Now that we're out of Gao Lin, I think we should seriously consider what we're going to do with her – whether we can trust her to come with us all the way to Haven."
"I always did have my doubts about her..." Sedgley contributed, remembering back to when he first met Anurna.
Dover, who had never had any real suspicions about the girl, said, "I don't know guys, I think she's fine. She helped us get out of Gao Lin, she fought off all the Molipedes with us."
"Yeah," argued Erik, "but that could've just been a rouse to make us trust her. You know, trick us into thinking that she's our ally."
Erik's voice had loudened. The three of them looked over at Anurna, who was involved with her phone, every now and again sending messages to unknown people across the globe. They looked back at each other, Erik's eyebrows raised as if to say, what's that all about then?
"Just drop it, okay?" Dover snapped, "She's perfectly fine."
And with that the conversation ended. Erik inched back to his original position, Anurna's phone returned to a pocket in her dress and they resumed following the power poles downhill.
A trickling brook calmed them again. As the Sun rose higher in the sky, the little leaves of the plants uncurled and stretched to receive as much of the short-lived warmth as possible. Small brown birds flitted from twig to crisp twig, their feathers shimmering with droplets of water from the morning's frost. More brown birds, with longer beaks though, ate the nectar from dainty flowers, far and few, and sat along the power cables in cosy huddles to conserve their energy. Miko too suppressed his random urges to flit about and was perched frostily on Dover's shoulder.
As they moved steeper downhill, the noise of falling water grew louder and an energising spray pulsed through the air. Following the noise, they discovered a waterfall, large and powerful. Like an angry fist, it crashed on the rocks, punishing, displaying the full force of water's power. Conversely, it's white-water, uncorrupted and reviving, cleansed anything in its path, correlative of the purity of water and its ability to wash away the past and start afresh. A slab of rock, out of range from the pounding torrent and covered in healthy moss, beckoned itself as a campsite.
Without any argument, they made their way down the small cliff face and set up camp on the patch.
"Well," said Dover, stretching his back, "this place looks g –"
He had been cut off. "Did one of you shush me just then?" he asked.
"No," Erik shrugged. Miko nattered his teeth in confusion.
"Did I what?" Sedgley asked, standing up from putting a tent peg in the ground.
"I was saying something, and one of you shushed me."
"None of us said anything," Anurna explained, "but I heard it too."
They perused the area for any signs of others. At first they could spot no one but, after careful examination, they could just identify some silhouettes behind the cascading waterfall.
In a fighting stance, Anurna commanded, "Show yourselves!" No one moved. "I'm warning you! If you don't come out now –"
"– Please!" interrupted a male voice, "We don't mean any harm!"
Dover and Sedgley, slowly pushing their hands outwards and then to their sides, opened the waterfall like shimmering, blue curtain. A small family huddled in the space behind the blue veil. They all looked around at each other incredulously, as though they had just discovered something amazing.
"Waterbenders!" the old man, perhaps in his fifties, said joyously, unwrapping his arms from his family and advancing towards Dover and Sedgley with open arms.
Before the two boys had time to back away, or deter him, his strong arms swallowed them up in a hearty embrace.
"Like us!" his daughter, a young girl of about fourteen, exclaimed.
"You guys are waterbenders too?" asked Erik, sceptical and doubting the neutrality of their presence.
"Sure are!" confirmed the man, "Straight from the Northern Water Tribe! Travelled all the way down here ourselves."
"Why?" Sedgley asked, "I thought the Northern Water Tribe was a great place to be." From what he could remember, books described the Northern Water Tribe as a stronghold of prosperity and power.
"That story's best saved for another time," Anurna interrupted mysteriously. How did she come to know this?
Before that thought could be pondered on further, his wife spoke up, "The girl speaks truth. If you have not heard of the Northern Water Tribe's decline by now, you will soon. I feel there is no need for us to recount it."
"Pakoa, darling, lighten up!" the man gestured boisterously at her.
"Don't you tell me to lighten up, darling!" she protested, "We've been on the move for days, Galen!"
"Well," he suggested, turning to the children, "I'm sure our new friends will share their delightfully spongy campsite?" He smiled at them hopefully, curling his bare toes into the moss.
Anurna shuffled on her spot. She did not much like the idea of company, "I don't know if –"
"– Sure!" Dover cut her off. "Anything for some fellow waterbenders!"
"Then it's settled!" Galen boomed happily, clapping his wide hands together, "We'll share this humble patch of moss with... these guys."
"Sorry," Dover said, feeling rude at not having introduced himself and his friends, "I'm Dover. Sedgley and I are waterbenders. Anurna here is a firebender and this is Erik. He can't bend anything."
"Elements!" Erik insisted, defending his strength, "I can't bend any elements!"
"Neither can I..." Pakoa exclaimed, "Galen and Althea got all the goods."
"Now, now, dear," Galen patted her shoulder. He had the best intentions but his wife seemed unimpressed, a little patronised even. "You make a pretty kickass sea prune stew!"
"You're a stew-bender!" Althea remarked, trying to hide her smile behind a gloved hand, yet unable to stop her shoulders from shaking vigorously.
"Sea prunes?" Dover asked, having never heard of such things before.
They all turned to him with their mouths open in astonishment. "You don't know what a sea prune is?" Althea gawked.
"You call yourselves waterbenders?" Galen cried rowdily, throwing his arms about; he was very active with his limbs it seemed.
"Ugh," Anurna snubbed, "sea prunes are foul, shrivelled marine fruits. Trust me, you're not missing out on much."
The family was shocked to hear this. Pakoa wriggled a finger in her ear in disbelief, assuming she had heard wrong; her ears were unladylike and often waxy.
"Not missing much except important Water Tribe culture!" Galen boomed.
"Sea-prunes have an acquired taste, belonging mostly to Water Tribe inhabitants and descendants," Althea explained, almost as though it was rehearsed, "Just because they don't taste the best doesn't mean you can ignore your heritage and your peoples' way of life."
"I don't care what they taste like," Sedgley said, "as long as someone else is cooking!"
The family set up their tents. Made from the hides of Arctic animals, they were perfect protection from the elements, albeit primitive and mediocre compared to the boys' synthetic, canvas ones. All the family's belongings were emblazoned with unfamiliar markings – assumedly from the Northern Water Tribe – which, again, assumedly, were of vast significance to them, yet of little to the Redwall boys and seemingly even less to Anurna, who had returned her gaze to the phone in her palm.
Dover found the markings intriguing. He had read somewhere that the face of a bear, which was stitched onto Galen's rucksack, resembled strength and heroism but images of owls; carved into a stool, wolves; woven on the side of a tent and rabbits; painted on Althea's locket, were just as vague and mystifying as all the Avatar-related stuff he still did not fully understand. Even after hearing lively tales from the North over a traditional, though stomach-churning, dinner, he found himself mesmerised by these ancient symbols. None kept him more entranced than the albatross that had been melded into the glass plate he had eaten off. Following dinner, he wandered down to the shore of the river. The waterfall behind him crashed into a pool that lead out into a wider body of water. Little gusts of wind stirred ripples on the surface of the river, out where it was more deep and still. The moonbeams bounced off the dainty waves in a way that, if he held the plate out in front of his head, made the august bird look like it was soaring effortlessly over the sea. The wind blew harder, ruffling his hair and bringing with it a salty, iciness. What he would give to be a majestic albatross. Soaring. Roaming. Not giving a care in the world...
"Taken a shining to the plate, huh?" Galen caught him by surprise. He expected no response, for the boy seemed almost meditating, and silently sat down beside him, his bare feet dipping into the water below. "Ooh, cold!"
"Yeah," Dover in fact responded, "well, no, not the plate. The bird."
"It's a mighty creature."
"Mm..." Dover held the plate in his lap, angling it back and forth to catch the moonlight. "Do you think you could tell me what it means?"
Galen looked at his inquirer; how pleased he was that this waterbender, untouched by his own culture, was now vying for its meaning. He smiled and looked up at the sky. Twisting his thumbs together and spreading out his fingers, he created a shadow of a bird against the moon.
"Up in the North we call him the Prince of the Waves. We associate the albatross – wandering the oceans forever but always returning to their loved ones – with resilience and recovery; loyalty, wisdom and freedom. We learn from the Prince to respect our history, cherish our family and gain knowledge from our experiences."
There was a pause for a while; the howling wind seemed to whistle a distant, sagacious call from a seafaring bird.
Galen remembered something more, "In the Northern Water Tribe we celebrate each stage of life by offering an albatross feather. With each feather received, we gain some of the albatross' spirit. There are three inaugural albatross ceremonies: coming of age, a white feather is given to encourage freedom; matrimony, a brown feather is given to prove loyalty; and one's sixtieth birthday, a black feather is given to acknowledge wisdom."
Galen showed Dover his wrist. Hanging from a leather band were two large feathers, white and brown. He watched as Dover's gleaming eyes examined the artefacts with reverence, hungry to know and respect more.
Galen inhaled proudly, paused, then continued on some other topic of Northern Water Tribe culture. Meanwhile, upstream, Althea and Sedgley were washing the dishes.
"Washing dishes is easy when you're a waterbender, isn't it?" Sedgley tried to make conversation.
"Hm." Althea responded. It wasn't that she disliked him or found him boring, she just wanted to get the washing done and return to hear Erik and Pakoa swap stories.
They continued to scrub, up to their elbows in suds, for a short time until Sedgley recoiled in pain and made a sharp, inhaling hiss with his teeth.
"Everything alright?" Althea questioned.
Sedgley pulled his hand out of the water. He had cut himself on a knife and a large gash down his index finger was now profusely dripping blood.
"Jeez," he cringed, "it's really coming out."
"Hold on just a second," Althea said.
With a bend in the wrist, she pulled some water out from the river. She surrounded Sedgley's injured hand in the liquid, which was beginning to glow like the moon.
"Wha... What are you doing?" He had never seen anything like it. Perhaps it was a common practice and he just hadn't read about it; he didn't read much. Nonetheless, he was majorly perplexed.
"I'm healing your cut," she answered with a soft, caring tone, "It's a subset of waterbending. Every girl in the Northern Water Tribe is taught to heal. Well, men are allowed to learn the discipline as well, but girls have to."
"What if you don't want to?" Sedgley inquired, almost unaware of what he was saying – staring fixedly at the glowing water and at the bloody wound that was repairing before his very eyes.
"I like it. I think it's important to hold onto traditions. I mean, not every girl can waterbend and become a healer, so those who actually can mostly always want to learn more." She dropped her arms, "And we're done!"
She smiled a small smile at him, which he could only smile back at.
Grinning now, he asked, almost begging, "Teach me how. Please, I want to know more."
She looked up from the cutlery in her arms, "Sure!"
They walked back to the flickering campfire, still babbling on about tomorrow morning's training; only just noticing that Pakoa was snoring loudly on the ground, too much wine it seemed, Dover and Galen were away sitting by the riverbank, Anurna was still fixated on her phone and Erik was rustling away in his tent. They made their way over to a table to solidify their plans. It was only when he exited his tent with his cup, for which he thought had been lost in Gao Lin tunnel, that Erik realised that there was no one to talk to.
He walked over to the metal pot on the flame, scooped out a cupful of hot chocolate, and then sat down beside Anurna.
Her pocket buzzed. Followed by tapping. The glowing screen and the tiny reflection of electronic symbols in her pupils was, again, off-putting for Erik. As much as he tried, he could not rally even a skerrick of trust for the girl. Sure she had proven helpful in the tunnel, but he felt she had not yet verified her alliance to the group and the Avatar who, surely, had many enemies scattered around the globe.
He tried peering over her shoulder, but she consequently angled herself just so he was unable to pry any further. With all his energies accentuated on discretion, Erik leant farther still, but was still out of sight of what he hoped would prove his suspicions correct. He leaned even farther, so far in fact that he fell off the log and onto the dirt behind Anurna.
"What are you doing?" she asked suspiciously, finally off that damned phone.
"Um..." Erik spluttered, trying to come off as nonchalant, "just... um..." He looked down at the ground he was laying on, and then started patting it, "... just getting comfy!"
She looked at him, confused and sceptical, "Whatever. I'm going to get ready for bed. See you tomorrow. If we don't freeze to death in our sleep..."
With a shiver she slipped the phone into her pocket and headed off into her fancy tent; that of which she had probably procured under unwholesome circumstances, Erik theorised.
He decided to stay up a while longer to deeply ponder his views on Anurna. Taking a stroll down the length of the river, he catalogued and categorised his thoughts. He was good at organising things. He started with pros and cons, each with subheadings of physical, practical, economic and social factors. For example, under physical a con included the fact that she could very easily overpower him in the event of a betrayal; a practical pro, she would be able to teach one of the boys firebending in the future, considering she was still with them; an economic con, more money would be spent to feed and accommodate her; social pro, she seemed to have many allies around the place, whom they could exploit to benefit their objectives. He continued compiling the list, taking into consideration all possible directions life could take with mathematical precision, until, finally, the lists were even. The only other con he could think of was, though irrational and irrelevant, that he didn't really like the colour of her hair. He was about to put the subject to rest, and his tired mind, until he noticed a dark patch drifting down the river.
The stain seemed to glisten – it must be oil-based, he thought – and, upon closer inspection, he noticed it was not dark blue, as he originally thought, but a deep crimson, almost blood-like.
Swelling with terror, his brain instantly and erratically formulated all the many reasons for the mysterious red blotch. Had Dover or Sedgley been murdered upstream? Was Pakoa gutting a fish for tomorrow's breakfast? Was it some poisonous secretion from a man-eating plant?
With a brave gulp he crept up towards the source of the stain. To his relief he discovered it was not blood or poison but, to his horror, saw Anurna under the waterfall washing her hair. With each lathery rinse, sinister red dye toppled from her scalp onto the rocks below, where it would be washed into the stream. It wasn't that Erik was mortified by hair dye. It was the intention behind it that unnerved him so much. Was it simply a teenage girl's way of expressing herself or one of many intricacies in an extensive guise to gain their trust then stab them in the back? Questions needed answers. However, as Anurna started turning her head in his direction, Erik decided they could be answered in the presence of his friends and nervously headed back to the campsite to await the morning's discussion.
"Good morning world!"
The human alarm clock – Galen – had woken them up with an alarm of merriment.
"Good morning Sun! Good morning campsite! Good morning Althea –"
"– Morning dad!"
"Good morning sweet wife!"
"Eurgh..." Pakoa moaned groggily, her nose red, cheeks blotchy and hair strewn messily around her head – too much wine it seemed.
Dover thought that, because they didn't have any concrete plans at present, he would finally have the first sleep-in in three days. But, alas, he was wrong. It seemed the world was against him in that respect.
"Jeez, you'd think we'd get to sleep in at least once, right Sedgley?" he complained.
But there was no response.
"Good morning Sedgley!"
"Morning Galen!" Sedgley's voice – awake! – replied.
"Good morning Anurna! ... And – how could I forget? – good morning Miko!"
With newfound determination, Dover hoisted himself from his swag, eager now to discover the newest Northern Water Tribe culinary creation. He found himself appearing at the same time as Erik, who was equally as tired; having been awake most of the night brooding over his uncertainties about Anurna.
"Good morning boys!"
"Hey, how was y–"
"Dover. Sedgley," Erik interrupted, "could I speak to you over by the... big rock... over there?"
Away from Anurna, he could finally voice his concerns to the others.
"What is it, Erik?" Sedgley asked.
"What isn't it?" he asked back.
"Erik," Dover said, rubbing his eyes, "I think you need a few more hours' sleep."
"No, I mean, it's Anurna," he clarified, "She's just so untrustworthy!"
"Not this again!"
"No, he's got a point," Sedgley agreed, "now that you've said it, I keep noticing her on her phone. What's with that?"
"Nothing!" Dover argued, "Plenty of people use phones guys."
"Yeah, but when I tried to see who she was talking to she, get this," Erik leaned in, "she turned away so that I couldn't see! And, and, she dyes her hair! Didn't anyone notice that it had changed colour this morning?" And that was true. Anurna's hair was no longer the colour of flames, but naturally black. "I'm positive she's hiding something."
Dover was unimpressed and, so to undermine Erik's concerns, he feigned shock and gasped, "Really? You're positive?"
Erik nodded, as though it were the final piece of a puzzle in a murder mystery.
"Well, come on Dover, if she had nothing to hide she wouldn't have hid it from Erik." Sedgley supported, "And, yeah, the hair dye thing is a little farfetched but she does seem to be a bit odd. Like she could be hiding something."
"Whatever," Dover crossed his arms, "You know how I feel about this."
Although he wouldn't believe any of it, nor did he even like discussing the matter, Sedgley and Erik did have a point. As much as he liked and, indeed, trusted the firebender, her origins were unknown and, he supposed, it wouldn't hurt for her to prove her allegiance again.
"But enough about this now," Sedgley said, putting his hands on his hips and stretching, "I'm sure we've got better things to do today than mutter about Anurna."
With that, the two waterbenders left Erik alone, who was stunned with disbelief at their lack of urgency.
"Ready for your training, pupil?" Althea smiled, leading Sedgley to the water.
"Yes, sensei." Sedgley joked back.
She kicked off her flat shoes, indicating for him to do the same, then waded into the water. Sedgley removed his shoes and socks, took off his jumper, rolled up his pants and sleeves, and then followed her into the chilly water. How cold it was; almost as if the northern sea ice and arctic winds had followed the family south. It seemed a skin of ice had formed on the surface, and little crystals cut into his bare legs – but he could've just been imagining things. Althea seemed to not only disregard the cold, but also seemed to be empowered by it, as though the coldness that stripped trees of their leaves and smothered the world in ice had the opposite effect on her. Like spinach consumed by Popeye, the chilly waters and freezing winds culminated an increase in strength he had never seen before in such a small girl.
"What?" she asked, looking over at him strangely.
"It's getting colder, you noticed?" he asked.
She looked down at the water, her white dress dancing underneath, "Yeah, I guess... Anyway, lets get started!"
With a swift swipe of her hand through the water, she cut her arm with a shard of ice. A few seconds elapsed before blood trickled out – it must have been the coldness.
"Okay, so," she began, lecturing and ready to teach, "healing plays on the fact that human bodies are comprised almost wholly of water; from the plasma in our blood vessels, to the cytoplasm in each of our trillions of cells. In accordance with its many restorative properties, the water within us is an important medium for many important reactions, affecting how we think, act and stay healthy."
By now Sedgley could not feel the cold, or was numb with it.
"Healing involves redirecting chi throughout the body, using water as a catalyst, to restore wounds – both to the body and to the mind. I found, in order to fully understand healing, to understand the flow of chi in ourselves, you must first familiarise yourself with the natural flow and energy of water. That's why we're here. In the river."
Instantly, he was cold again.
"See if you can get your chi to match the energy of the flowing river. Just as rivers all lead to a central lake or the ocean, all veins lead to the heart, and all chi pathways lead to a central energy hub in our bodies. Imagine each of your fingers as little streams, trickling into your arms as rivers, then into the great lake in your chest. Feel the current ebbing and flowing, feel the blood pulse through your veins, the water lap at your waist."
Just as cold had begun to leave him yet again, it returned with the same disruptive and uncomforting bite as before. But Althea was doing a good enough job as teacher that he managed to focus on what was heard, not what was felt.
"I see you flinching, Sedgley." she remarked, blood still streaking down her arm.
He clenched his teeth and stood as static and stiff as possible.
'Embrace it!" she urged, splashing him, "If you can't handle some little cold, how do you think you're going to handle healing a seriously injured person? The cold is your friend. Warm water breeds disease."
"Boiling water kills disease," he said as-a-matter-of-factly.
"Just do what I say!" she yelled, annoyed, cutting yet another red line into her arm.
"I'm trying!" Sedgley defended, "It's just its so damn cold. Every now and then I get used to it, but it keeps coming back, each time colder than before!"
"I don't care, Sedgley!" she replied, "I'm losing blood here, so you better act fast or... or I could die." She may have exaggerated a little.
"What? Really?" he gasped; he thought those cuts looked a bit too deep for comfort.
She looked at him dumbfounded. He believed her? "Uh... yeah!" she carried on, "If you don't, um, help me soon, I'm afraid I will perish, Sedgley..."
"Oh my god! What should I do?" he asked in a panic, wading hysterically towards her.
"That's right, come here." Finally, she had a chance to teach him. "Now, pull up some water and surround my wounds with it." He did so, with skill. "Okay, good, you're doing great, Sedgley. I might have a fighting chance after all." He looked up at her with some concoction of worry and determination. "Right... So, now I want you to focus on what I said before, okay? Remember what I said about the streams and rivers of chi inside us?"
"Yes." Sedgley's eyes were furrowed like a doctor over open-heart surgery. Althea shot a cheeky a smile up at the cloudy sky, and then quickly resumed her farce as being in pain.
"Excellent. You've got to feel, like only waterbenders can feel, the water in me. The streams, the rivers. Every little drop. Sense how these streams are connected to my chi pathways. Are you doing that?" She spoke slightly disjointed so as to keep the act realistic.
"Yeah..." Sedgley muttered, "I think I can."
He began to experience a minute, throbbing sensation in his palms emanating through his fingertips. Either it was first-degree frostbite, or it was working! Soon enough, he was able to literally – or spiritually, he didn't know; it wasn't figuratively, he knew that – feel the pulsating energy channels in the young girl's body. Energy gathered in fast beats at the site of her wounds. With what he could only describe as instinct, he moved his hand slowly up her arm, bringing with the movement some water. The area began to glow, as silver as the moon, and fade, as dark as the bottom of the ocean, with the same rhythm as the radiating chi. Althea looked down at her arm in amazement. She had never seen anyone pick up healing so fast before.
"You're doing it!" she gawked, "Look, Sedgley, you're doing it!"
The little cuts seemed to seamlessly repair themselves as the pulses of chi began to slow to a normal rate. Within a few seconds there was no mark of any sort of wound on her pale, little arms. Sedgley even took the liberty of washing off the blood so she looked as good as new.
"There, good as new!"
She laughed. "Now I understand where that phrase comes from. Sedgley, you're a natural!"
She beamed at him, at which he could only smile back at.
For the first time on this journey, Sedgley felt he finally had the upper hand in knowing who the Avatar truly was. Having learnt healing so fast must be a reflection on his bending prowess – the bending prowess of the Avatar, he thought. Unable to hold his excitement in, he dunked his head underwater in an almighty splash, almost surfacing at the exact same time he submerged.
"Damn that's cold!"
"Damn it, Erik! What are you doing?" Anurna yelled, pulling her phone-wielding arms away from him.
Dover, Galen and Pakoa looked up from the map of the Northern Water Tribe they were studying while Sedgley and Althea ran over from the river to see what all the commotion was about.
Anurna continued, "You've been acting really weird recently; flashing me dirty looks, eavesdropping, spying on me, rummaging!"
"Wha... I, er..." Erik spluttered. He thought he was being inconspicuous this whole time.
"Yeah, you didn't think I'd notice all my clothes had been messed up?"
"All your really fancy clothes?" Erik argued.
"What? That doesn't make sense."
"Erik, you've got to stop doing that..." Dover suggested.
"How did you get those clothes, huh?" Erik continued, getting all his suspicions off his little chest, "Did you steal them? Or are you someone you're not?"
"Oh my god, I can't believe you're saying this –"
"– Because I'm right? –"
"– Of course I stole them!"
"Oh, and that's so much better...!"
By now Anurna was almost physically fuming. Her fists were clenched and, if observed closely enough, sparked small embers from the knuckles, which were white with rage. If the temperature weren't so low she might have produced some actual flames.
"What is your problem, Erik?" she snarled through gritted teeth, hoping that if she made her anger obvious enough he would pipe down like a puppy snapped at by an older dog.
However, Erik had also let fury take the best of him and continued to spit accusatory words at her.
"My problem, Anurna, is that I don't know who you are. Are you good? –"
"Or are you bad? I don't know! You steal, you lie, you have connections with illegal people smugglers, you text away to god-knows-who. And your hair!"
"Careful boy..."Galen cautioned.
"What about my hair?" Anurna asked, absolutely and irreversibly livid.
"Jeez, if I couldn't colour my hair I'd go nuts," Pakoa rambled to herself, half-drunk and half-bored of the situation, "What with the grey hairs and all... I wouldn't know what to do with myself."
"That fact you dye your hair basically screams, 'disguise!' It's like you're wearing glasses with a nose and moustache hanging off the bottom. Seriously Anurna, we know you're hiding something, just tell us if you're on our side or not."
"Are you even listening to what you're saying?" Anurna yelled, in furious awe at his preposterous allegations, "It's crazy!"
At this point Sedgley stepped in, "Anurna, think about it, all these little things add up. And when you look at it all together – like how you knew those thugs from Gao Lin, stuff like that – it starts to look bad. We need to know if we can trust you."
"What? Seriously? I helped you through the tunnel! What more can I give you than my words?"
"I don't know."
"Well," Erik said rather jeeringly, "the defensive tone doesn't help."
"Oh come on! Dover?" Anurna was desperate now. With Sedgley turning against her too, Dover, who, she noticed, had always had a softer spot for her, was her only chance for redemption.
All eyes were on him. He looked around at his friends, knowing all too well what was at stake – the Avatar – and said, as gently as possible, "Look –"
"– Oh my god..."
"It's not that I think you're untrustworthy, it's just it wouldn't hurt for you to prove it, maybe, again. You have to admit, would you trust yourself if you were in our shoes?"
"Fine," she said, fed up, "Fine! I'm done. I'm gone," she marched away, "I'll come back and get my stuff later, if my evil goons haven't already picked me up."
"Anurna!" Dover yelled out to her.
She flipped him off and continued up the nearby hill, just as an excruciatingly cold wind picked up.
The gust, which seemed to carry invisible shards of ice, cut into her just like the previous argument had. With all the talk of betrayal, she herself now felt betrayed. She cursed the tears that formed in her eyes; not only couldn't she display any sign of weakness to them but the salty water only intensified the piercing effect of the icy wind.
She took out her phone, scrolled down her extensive list of contacts to Father and began to text to the only person whose advice she trusted.
Hello father how are you?
She had to wait a short while; maybe he was busy. He often didn't have time for her. She sniffed, her nose was running, and wiped her eyes.
Who is this?
She waited some more.
Day has been good got lots done. You? Made friends yet?
No father they don't trust me. They said I'm untrustworthy. What should I do?
She stared hungrily down at the little screen, awaiting her father's words of wisdom as though he were a prophet. A drop landed on the screen. Was it raining? It couldn't have been a tear; she had trained herself not to cry. All she wanted – no, all she needed – was to make friends with them. She did not want to fail herself because, for the first time ever, she felt like she was actually doing something worthwhile. Apparently not, though...
He replied. Just stick it out. Prove yourself to them. You know who you are, you know what to do. Prove they can trust you. Prove you're their friend
Another drop fell on the screen, now that definitely wasn't her. She went to text back but before she could do anything a snowflake landed on her phone and melted over the screen. Putting the phone back in her pocket before any more damage could be done, she looked up at the sky. Snowflakes were tumbling delicately from a great, grey cloud above, swirling angrily in the wicked wind. Powerful gales brought the wispy flakes down on the campsite like a barrage of shellfire. All of a sudden it was a war-zone. The wind howled like fighter planes, thunder boomed like heavy artillery and ice, snow and rain lashed ferociously at her cheeks like debris flung from detonated bombs.
She thought to herself, I hope they die, secretly hoping they wouldn't.
"I knew it was getting colder, but this?" Pakoa yelled over the screaming wind, "Come on world, any other day!"
"There's no use shouting at the storm Pakoa!" Galen was already tying down tents and valuables, "Alright people? Grab everything you want to save and put it in our tent."
"Someone save the wine!" Pakoa begged.
"Wouldn't it be better to put stuff in our tent?" Sedgley asked, "All you guys have is animal skins!"
"You'd think so, but they're from the Northern Water Tribe, remember?" Dover explained, calling upon some of his newfound knowledge, "They know what they're doing."
"Plus," Pakoa added, scrambling to the wine box, "we've been doing this whole tent thing way longer than you have. I mean, please, your rolling hitches are just awful! Who taught you, nuns?"
"Yes, actually." Erik said.
"So grab all the stuff you want to definitely not blow away and shove it in the tent!" Galen boomed, having become increasingly concerned about the increasingly powerful blizzard that was approaching, if not already at their very doorstep.
Grabbing their bags and maps, the boys hurried into the northerners' tent. Bigger inside than it looked, the space was filled with Northern Water Tribe paraphernalia that the family just couldn't part with, all tied together in a messy bundle of wood, metal and rope. Dover came running in with one last artifact – the glass plate. Hopefully the Prince of the Sea would guide him through this crisis.
"Couldn't part with it?" Galen asked, surprisingly calm considering the situation he was presently in.
"Well too bad its mine." Pakoa hiccupped, snatching the plate off him, turning around, stepping on Miko's tail, dropping the plate, and then cursing.
"No!" Dover moaned, distraught at the sight of the shattered glass.
He bent over the ruined Prince, split into many shards, and tried arranging him back into place with the hope of fixing him later.
"It's broken, boy..." Galen said.
"I'm terribly sorry to interrupt," Erik interrupted, "also, my condolences to the crockery, it was loved by all, but – question – what are going to do about us freezing to death?"
"We'll be fine in here," Althea remarked, beginning again in another one of her rehearsed monologues about her culture, "Our tents are made from the hides of Arctic animals and have withstood even the coldest and strongest blizzards of the North. As long as we have this tent over our heads, we'll be absolutely fine."
Suddenly, the tent was ripped from its place above their heads, unhinging from the ground, and strewn about a yard away from them. The sleety wind was so strong that Miko almost blew away, if Pakoa hadn't grabbed his tail in mid-air resulting in a pained screech.
"You were saying?" Erik said, putting his hood on to protect his big ears from falling off from frostbite.
They all huddled together, for all the tents had either collapsed or been blown away, and tried as hard as they possibly could to endure the cold. Pots and pans, any clothes that had been left out, the old campfire; everything had been picked up by the storm's relentless hand and flung somewhere else. Snowflakes, not delicate like before but as sharp as shurikens, scathed their cheeks with red cuts. With every battering of wind and ice their bodies shivered dramatically and the numbness that started in their extremities seeped even deeper.
Where had this storm come from? The climate had been getting progressively unpredictable as of late. Was this an example? Only one thing was sure; they were going to freeze to death.
Sedgley clenched his teeth. He had only just started to believe that he was the Avatar and now he'd soon become nothing more than an ice cube.
Galen wrapped his arm around Althea and held his wife's hand. Pakoa placed her gloved hand on Erik's shoulder, who had formed a close huddle with Dover and Sedgley. Each person had their backs to the storm and looked down at Miko who was in the centre of the huddle. As a squirrel-glider, he hated the wind and chittered nervously at his fate, staring up at Dover with worried eyes. His instincts told him to lay down and succumb, but Dover picked him up and held him to his chest under his coat.
"I bet you wish you went with Anurna, hey, little guy?"
"I wouldn't count on it," replied a girl's voice.
They turned around and looked up.
"Anurna!" Dover yelled, incredulous.
Miko screeched happily and started flying towards her, but the wind caught his skin flaps and he was about to be blown away until Pakoa, developing skill in such an action, caught him by the tail yet again.
"Why'd you come back?" Erik asked.
"For you guys, idiot," she smiled, "I couldn't let you die out here. Plus, all my stuff's here."
Erik smiled back. How irrational his suspicions of Anurna had been, and how grateful was he that she had returned to, hopefully, help them out of this chaos. She was indeed a trustworthy friend.
"So, Galen, what can we burn here?" she asked him.
He looked around at his priceless possessions, and then spied something to suffice, "What about the logs, by the campfire?"
They huddled over to the gnarly logs like a bundle of otter penguins, where Anurna continued to hand out orders.
"Waterbenders, what's falling from the sky is really just water. Think you could try bending some away? You know, keep us dry?"
"Definitely," Sedgley complied, beyond glad that she had forgiven them and returned to lend a helping a hand. She was now an ally of the Avatar, he thought, now and forever.
With circular arm motions, like the rotors of a plane, the four waterbenders pushed away the precipitation so that a dome of dryness formed over the group. Anurna breathed in slowly, beckoning for Erik and Pakoa to step back, and proceeded to shoot a stream of highly concentrated, immeasurably hot flames at the two logs. Bursting into orange, the wood provided a stage for the dancing flames. The performance was graciously received; Pakoa even applauded the blaze, feeling returning to her chilled hands. For half an hour they stood in silence, each celebrating the homecoming of warmth.
Looking up at the sky, at the raging, black clouds, Dover saw a majestic white bird flying in contrast against the darkness. The bold creature screeched a glorious, kingly command, blinked his golden eyes once, then, as the storm dissolved, was gone.
"The Prince of the Sea..." Galen said thankfully.
Having gathered all their belongings from various points around the campsite and waterbending all liquid out of any drenched bags, clothes or bedding, they were ready to continue their journey and part ways with Galen and his family. The Northern healers, who had taught them so much at the price of so little – in fact, nothing! – were invaluable to the boys. With all that had changed in the world, these people had taught Dover and Sedgley the importance of their roots, their heritage; all that shall remain the same.
Galen approached the kids, and spoke to Dover, "Dover, I present to you the feather of freedom. May the Prince of the Sea encourage freedom in your life and adventure in your endeavours." He handed Dover a necklace, adorned with a white feather and a picture of an albatross, as regal as ever.
"I humbly accept your gift, Galen of the North," he replied in the traditional way, then smiled, "Thanks."
"No worries, kid."
"Don't forget what I taught you!" Althea called out to Sedgley, receiving a nod and a grin in return.
"I would say something nice," Pakoa added, "but I'm knackered!"
And with that they bade each other goodbye with one final hug, to Anurna's discomfort, and continued westward downhill, leaving the Northern healers on the patch of moss that served them so well.
As the sound of the crashing waterfall grew quieter, the ambitions, anticipations and excitement of each child grew stronger as, finally, they read:
You are now leaving Gao Lin Province.
- Word count = 7,503
- Although only Althea is shown to be able to heal, it can be assumed (from the title) that Galen is able to as well.
- This is the first 'appearance' of Anurna's dad - who was the person that she was constantly texting to on her phone, nullifying Erik and Sedgley's suspicions about that.
- Pakoa drinks wine to the point where she gets hungover, meaning that drinking culture has perhaps increased in the world of Avatar.
- When Anurna leaves, Miko stays behind with the boys. This may mean that, despite their history together, Miko favours the boys' company - even if he did feel sad that Anurna had left.
- All the spiritual stuff about what the Albatross represents is true, except for the feather ceremonies.
- The sudden blizzard and strangely cold conditions is an example of how the climate has changed over the years.
- There is a reference to Popeye in this chapter, in which Althea gains strength from the cold just like Popeye gains strength from eating spinach.
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