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This is the sixth chapter of.
What happened last time...
While searching for Sister Iio at the High Temple, Syra overhears the Superior and Council of Elder, Sister Aayla, mulling over the possibility of future warfare.
Meanwhile, after a fun night playing Pai Sho with his family, Siro is shocked and slightly disturbed to overhear his parents and Zorin discussing Fire Lord Sozin's plans to begin a war.
Keeping the Silence, Keeping the Peace
"I can't believe you forgot to tell Sister Iio that you finally performed the airball technique," Tyla complained. "She would've been so happy to find out!"
It was early morning and she and Syra were standing in the schoolyard, waiting for Master Yangsu to call the students into class to begin the day. It was yet another warm, blissful day, however, Syra did not embrace it with her usual cheerfulness. Not even the soft, melodic tunes of the Blue Jays could shed any light on her present thoughts.
"I guess it just slipped from my mind," she muttered. She stared awkwardly at her feet and twiddled around with her thumbs. She had no desire to reveal the true events of yesterday to anyone, not even Tyla.
Tyla noticed her thoughtful trance and her troubled countenance and asked, "Are you alright? You look very uneasy. Were Jia and Mika spreading rumors about you again?"
Syra, striving to keep the rising irritation out of her voice, replied quietly, "No, I didn't hear any gossip from those two. And, yes, I'm fine." She knew, though, that despite her claim, Tyla suspected otherwise.
"Well, I can see something is bothering you," Tyla insisted. "You know I can read you like a book, Syra."
Can't argue with that logic, she thought. "Like I don't already know that," she remarked unable to keep a slight smile from creeping onto her face.
"See?" Tyla said proudly. "I can make you smile, too."
"Stop," Syra giggled and softly punched Tyla's shoulder. "You're starting to sound just like Sister Min!"
"Hey! Are you two deaf or something? Don't you know school has already started?" They looked up to find Jia standing several feet away with a disgusted look on her face, facing the school building with her head turned towards the two.
Syra rolled her eyes and muttered, "We better get to class before Miss Prissy, who thinks she's the principal, yells at us again."
Tyla laughed, rolled her eyes as well and she and Syra rose to their feet and walked over to Master Yangsu was now standing in the doorway, waiting for them. A cold gust of wind blowing across the schoolyard sent shivers up Syra's spine. She turned her head slightly and caught sight of gloomy, gray clouds rolling over the horizon.
Her mind flashed back to the pained statement she had heard Sister Aayla exclaim in the Pai Sho room yesterday: Yes, you certainly can't ignore what the universe tries to tell you. But oh, in the name of the spirits, certainly this doesn't mean anything about looming warfare!
Tyla interrupted her thoughts saying, "Gee, looks like it's going to rain later today. And to think what a nice day this was shaping up to be!"
She continued to amble along ahead of Syra who paused to scrutinize the dismal clouds in the distance. The feelings of dread and anxiety she had felt when eavesdropping on the sisters' conversation slowly began to overshadow her again. At this point, she had no idea what to think of the world's state nor did she know why she vexed on the matter in the first place.
I'm an eleven year-old girl with my whole life ahead of me, she thought as she followed Tyla close behind. Global matters and politics are concerns for the Council of Elders, not for someone my age. And besides, they could be wrong about this entire situation. Her forehead wrinkled as she thought of Tyla and Sister Min, her bison, Pala, and of becoming an Airbending Master. No, no... there's nothing wrong in the world. There can't be. Not now...
"Excellent, excellent! Your performance of the airball technique is marvelous, my young pupil." Master Yangsu's face beamed with delight upon witnessing Syra's performance of the airball technique for the first time. "Simply stunning and with beautiful form, too!"
Syra bowed to her teacher and said, "Thank you, Master Yangsu."
She mustered a half-hearted smile and slowly walked over to where she had been sitting earlier. Master Yangsu decided it would be best if the class managed to get out into the schoolyard for Airbending training before the rainy weather moved in. The ashen clouds masked the once soft, blue skies and cast an ominous shadow over the temple. Despite her efforts to reassure herself that all was fine in the world, Syra found no consolation in this day and the threatening appearance of the clouds only deepened her mood.
"Way to go," Tyla leaned over and whispered. "Master Yangsu seems so impressed by your progress. Plus, you're making you-know-who jealous." She cast a glance at Jia and Mika who were slumping on the ground, pretending to act cool and disinterested.
Syra uttered a faint laugh at her friend's remark, but somehow, not even the thought of being the envy of the two cliques was enough to lift her spirits.
"Tyla, would you like to attempt the airball technique yourself?" Master Yangsu asked. "Come up, dear, and practice it a bit."
"Alright, guess I have to go train a little now," Tyla said as she rose to her feet. "Oh, wait..." She fished her robes for a few moments and pulled out an object. "Can you hold this? I don't want it to become lost when I practice." She handed Syra the object; it was the golden striped stone they had brought from the Pankin Waterfall as a memento.
Syra held the stone in her hand and watched Tyla casually amble over to Master Yangsu. She quickly turned her attention back to small object, the one material item to remind her of that day. That day when everything was perfect... when she was ignorant to the issues or the might-someday-be issues... when she had her peace of mind.
She berated herself for having eavesdropped on the sisters' conversation and longed to have it erased from her mind. That day spent at the waterfall... it had been so perfect, she mulled over in her head. I was without a care in the world, free from any worries. Foolish girl! I shouldn't have stayed in that hallway, listening. I should've walked away.
She sighed and looked over at Tyla who was concentrating hard on the Airbending instructions Yangsu was giving to her. After several moments, she bent her head over the rock which she realized she was clutching tightly in her fist. Loosening her grip and running her hands over its smooth edges, she thought, It's too late now. The only thing I can do is bury the conversation and pretend as though it never happened.
Her thoughts were once again interrupted when she felt heavy raindrops plunking down on her head and heard Master Yangsu urging the students to run inside the school. "Looks like we're going to have to cut our training short today!" she shouted. "The rain beat us to it!"
Syra wasted no time in scrambling into the classroom along with the torrent of other students. It took some time for the class to settle down and find their seats, however, soon everyone was situated and relaxing themselves.
"Ugh, no," she could Jia whine. "Now my hair is all wet and limp from the stupid rain..."
Seconds later, Yangsu walked into the room and told the class, "Well, since it's raining outside, we'll have to hold class indoors today." Slight groans were uttered from disappointed students. "Now if you will please take out your history textbooks and turn to page 134, we can begin a new lesson."
"And that, class, is how Avatar Yangchen's profound devotion to her duties kept the world at peace for many years afterwards," Yangsu concluded the lesson. "Any questions?"
Everyone remained silent as they had been for the past couple of hours; the day was dragging on for what seemed like forever with rain still pounding on the roof of the school. Syra surveyed the room and came to the conclusion that all of the kids were either half-asleep or immersed in reveries except for Jia and Mika who were secretly passing notes.
"No questions?" Yangsu carried on with the lesson, seemingly unaware that half the class was in a coma. "Alright then, let's move onto the next lesson." Before she could say another word, however, the bell tolled, signaling the end to the school day.
"Thank you," Syra whispered to herself as she began putting her books away. A rush of eager classmates was pouring out the door into the hallway, anxious to race through the rain and arrive home. As she was about to leave, Syra noticed she had left the stone on her desk and picked it up. Seeing no sign of Tyla in the classroom or the hallway, she rushed outdoors, but failed to catch sight of her.
Syra shrugged and, still grasping the stone which she planned to return to her friend tomorrow, raced through the pouring rain. Although the rain sheeting down blurred everything around her, she could make out the shadows of several students rocketing to their houses. Thunder rumbled lowly from above and the ground was drenched.
She ran her way past shadowy buildings, through courtyards and over the bridge to the Western Division of the temple until at last, she reached her home. She flung open the door and stepped inside the corridor, soaked thoroughly from head to toe.
"Sister Min? Sister Min?" she called out to her guardian. She then realized that Min was still working at her bakery on the far side of the Western Division and would not be home for another couple of hours.
Tired and dripping wet, she went to her bedroom, an ordinary room with stone tile floors, a bed, a writing table and chair and a small wardrobe for her clothing and other possessions. She dressed into another change of clothes and placed the stone on her wardrobe.
Exhausted by the day's events, she threw herself onto her bed and decided that sleep would be a good way to escape her muddled thoughts. She turned over on her side, directly facing the wall with her back to the small window where nature was whipping up a storm.
Is the world as perfect as it seems? she asked herself. Will everything be alright? She wished she could answer "yes" to these questions, but something kept her from assuring herself.
She was standing in a lush garden, a fantastical world if that's what it may be called, that appeared to stretch endlessly. Flora and shrubbery flourished and blossomed everywhere; exotic flowers burst with color and tall vines scaled to the sky. Streams flowed in between the rooted stumps of trees and birds sang their cheerful tunes. It was infinite. It was paradise.
Syra wandered through the wooded areas, taking in the beauty of the vista. Everything was so vivid, so serene. And yet she felt empty; she was alone in this paradise with no other companions save for the fauna that darted about the landscape. Feeling isolated, even in this nirvana, she threw herself onto the grassy field and stared at the clouds.
She suddenly felt as though she were not alone anymore and sitting up in the grass, saw a glowing blue figure sitting at the base of an oak tree. Curious, she rose to her feet and warily walked over to the figure who she could see was pouring tea from a kettle.
Before she could identify the personage, she heard the stranger speak in a firm yet calming tone, "Come, child, and sit down. You don't look well-rested; perhaps you should rest a while."
Syra walked several steps further and could finally see who it was who had persuaded her sit down and relax; it was Avatar Yangchen.
Lost in the Rain
"Concentrate, student! Be more aggressive! Unleash your Firebending power and show no fear!" Master Shyo drilled into Siro's head with a tirade of criticism and instruction.
Siro grunted as he conjured another fire bomb for what seemed like the hundredth time and hurled it onto the ground, causing a minute explosion of heat and burning embers. He leaned over, hands on his knees, in exhaustion from training. In addition to Shyo barking endless commands at him, he had not slept well the night before and the day was growing to be a humid, muggy one.
"You can do better than that, Mr. Siro." Siro hated it when Master Shyo addressed him that way. "Normally, I would oversee your performance during training considering you are not the world's most persistent Firebender..." His words hit Siro like a slap to the face. "However, you are slipping even farther behind, pupil! Where is your dignity? Have you got any pride in your nation, in your ability?"
Of course he had; Siro wanted nothing more than to master the art of Firebending and please his family the way Zorin had. Zorin... it sometimes seemed as though the only way to make his father proud was to match his brother's skills in every perspective. Lee Wang would never admit that, however, it seemed true.
"I'm sorry, Master Shyo sir," Siro apologized almost breathlessly. "Certainly I have pride in my nation and my abilities."
Shyo's forehead wrinkled in deep thought as he stroked his graying beard. "Well, pupil, it seems maybe I went a little overboard, saying that and so I apologize for my quick accusations. However, you will thank me one day for all my rigorous instruction."
Siro couldn't help groaning slightly at this remark; another thing he hated was when teachers praised themselves by saying he would appreciate their lessons and constant reproach in the future. He was relieved to see Shyo stride away from him and over to several other students who were busy gossiping.
He rubbed the back of his sore neck vigorously and stood motionless for a few moments with an expressionless face. He wasn't practicing as he should have been and he wasn't observing anyone else; he remained silent, his mind blank. Siro had not slept very well last night, instead, laying in bed and mulling over the conversation he had listened in on among Zorin, Zala and Lee Wang.
His feelings about future warfare, if that was to be the case, were ambivalent. He had overheard that most of the fighting would occur overseas and that his life would be minimally affected by the war; besides, Sozin was said to be a brilliant strategist. So why did he have a strange feeling of uneasiness?
Suddenly, a massive fireball struck the ground, barely missing Siro's feet. "Quit daydreaming and actually work on your Firebending, would you?" He looked up to find Hanzin standing several feet, his arms crossed and a devilish grin plastered on his face. "Better start practicing before Master Shyo catches you fantasizing in your own little universe!" He turned around and casually strolled away, leaving Siro paranoid and impatient for the day to end.
In the mix of his confused internal emotional state and irritation with Hanzin, he initiated a final firebomb, intense with heat and energy, and hurled it swiftly to the ground. It detonated on the spot and invoked a burst of embers and ashes.
"My word!" he could hear Master Shyo say, clapping his hands. "That's perhaps the greatest fire bomb I've ever seen you conjure up, Siro! Remarkable!" The other students, except for Hanzin and his gang of friends, softly applauded him.
Normally, Siro would have been thrilled at this praise from Shyo, however, he only felt exasperated and perspiration from the heat and intensity of his Firebending training. It was only until after the training had ended when Jengso approached him and complimented him on his Firebending skill, which Siro doubted he truly had, that he found the energy to muster a small smile.
"I just really feel Master Shyo should have credited me for my answer to number eighteen." Siro and Jengso were taking their routine walk home together with Jengso protesting Shyo's grading of the history text they had received back.
Siro shrugged his shoulders and replied, "Maybe you just weren't specific enough in your answer. You know how uptight Master Shyo is about including details from the textbook."
"My answer was specific! I wrote a whole entire paragraph!" Siro snickered at Jengso's complaints; often, he found times when Jengso was trying to be serious to be amusing.
Siro sighed and casually told him, "Hey, what can I possibly do? Perhaps you should address Master Shyo himself on the subject."
"Well... you know," Jengso began to say hesitantly, "he isn't exactly the most agreeable man in the world. I think I'll just leave it be; it's best not to start arguments with the Master. You know he won't stand for any opposition, especially from his own students."
The next moments passed in silence as the two leisurely sauntered through the streets of Sen Go. With Siro focusing his attention on the ordinary little shops and homes of the village and Jengso deep in thought elsewhere, most likely on his test scoring, neither of them noticed the gray rain clouds rolling over the blue skies.
Without warning, a torrent of heavy rain began pouring down on the village; the once blissful village streets were now crackling from the thousands of dense raindrops that descended from the previously unnoticed clouds. Siro, attempting to get a firm grip of his surroundings, wiped his face with the sleeve of his school uniform.
"Jengso, where are you?" he shouted over the pounding sound of the rain.
He could barely make out the shadowy figure of his friend standing only a few feet away from him. Jengso yelled, "I'm right here! Now where do we go?"
Siro opened his mouth to answer his friend's question, however, he soon realized that he was unaware of where they were exactly. In the scene of the commotion, Siro had lost all sense of direction with no chance of regaining his senses of their exact location. The houses and other small buildings were blurred by the torrential downpour; they had become lost in their own small village.
After mulling over this fact for several moments, he finally replied, "I have no clue where we are now! Maybe we should find nearby shelter and wait out this storm!"
"We'll have to!" Jengso agreed. "Unless we want to drown right on the spot!"
Siro took one stride towards Jengso; the slipperiness of the street almost caused him to lose his footing, however, he quickly grasped hold of Jengso's shoulder for balance. He could feel Jengso momentarily flinch at this then soon relax after realizing it was only him. Still clutching onto Jengso's shoulder for guidance, they began racing through the drenching barrage.
So this is what a battlefield must be like, he thought unexpectedly. Raging, chaotic, people scrambling about trying to take cover... Except there was no life-or-death question in this scenario. It was just a matter of finding shelter.
"Why did I have to listen in on their conversation last night?" he asked himself, knowing Jengso wouldn't be able to hear him over the roar of the downpour. He winced regretfully, wishing ardently he had simply turned away from curiosity and the urging to eavesdrop.
His body ached from the strain of his severe training earlier and the tumult of having to find shelter from the rain, not to mention how he was dripping wet and thoroughly chilled by the weather. At last, he and Jengso reached a small restaurant, known simply as the Sen Go Eatery. The two burst through the entrance of the restaurant, drenched from head to toe and shivering from the cold.
A waitress noticed their sudden entry and, seeing their rugged state, exclaimed, "My goodness! What are two young boys such as yourselves doing outside in the pouring rain? Please, please, sit and relax for a while, at least until this storm passes. Jang, would you bring out to cups of jasmine tea for these boys?"
A middle-aged waiter nodded at the waitress, who urged Siro and Jengso to sit at a table. Exhausted from the ordeal, they trudged over to a vacant table near a small, glass window where the rain still pounded from outside. Jang was there in a matter of seconds with two cups of jasmine tea. When asked if they needed anything more, they declined and sat in silence, both too weary to begin talking.
The Sen Go Eatery was a diminutive yet cozy restaurant and smelled of freshly brewed tea and incense which was burning behind the small wooden counter. The tables and chairs were constructed out of the ordinary wood of ash trees and although it was not a place of the highest luxury, both the service and food was excellent.
At some points, Siro was tempted to reveal what he had overheard to Jengso; he was confident that his best friend would keep the information an absolute secret if disclosed. However, he decided it would be best for him to leave the whole situation behind and carry on with his life. At times, he felt as though the raindrops pounding outside were almost tapping in a rhythm on the window, trying to urge him to tell Jengso. Siro convinced himself it was just his imagination and quickly swallowed his jasmine tea to distract himself, despite disliking jasmine.
At last, the storm passed over the village, allowing the sun's rays, which never failed to stop radiating, to wash over Sen Go once more.
"Finally this storm is over," Jengso muttered, relieved to see the calm weather resume. He pushed his chair out and rose from his seat; Siro did the same.
Before leaving, they both bowed slightly at the waitress, who never formally introduced herself, and said in unison, "Thank you for the tea."
She simply gave them a warm smile and nodded at them as they stepped outside. The streets were damp and slippery and every house and building covered in rainwater; the air was frosty yet refreshing at the same time. Siro inhaled through his nose deeply, taking in the fresh smell of the earth after a heavy rain; it was renewing and revitalizing.
"Well, time to go home now," Jengso said. "That was a crazy experience, walking home!"
Siro smiled and replied, "You bet. Well, so long!"
"See you in school tomorrow!" Jengso added as they began walking home separately.
"You too!" he shouted, looking back at his friend one more time before giving a small wave and briskly jogging home.
Although he reached his house within a couple of minutes, Siro was still stricken with fatigue from the long ordeal and leaned against the side of his house to catch his breath before going inside. The wood shutters were cracked opened slightly and Siro could hear his mother Zala and Zorin speaking from inside the kitchen. Momentarily forgetting the fact that he shouldn't eavesdrop on conversations anymore, he listened to them speak.
He heard Zala speak first. "I know you really didn't mean to say that so abruptly, Zorin. I'm just warning you to be careful about what you say; Siro is a smart boy."
Zorin replied, "Oh, I know! He's extremely bright and very curious as well as any twelve year-old would be. I know I was like that when I was his age."
"Yes, yes, don't remind me," Zala said with a chuckle. The tone of her voice shifted again to a serious one. "And that's why you have to be careful when you say things like, 'You seem to be in a good mood considering the conversation last night.' Because you know he catches things like that."
"I know and I apologize for that," Zorin told her sincerely.
"It's alright now," Zala replied. "I just don't want Siro becoming all caught up in this talk of warfare. It's not something a twelve year-old should be concerned about."
Siro shook his head in deep regret and sorrow at this statement; the problem was, he did know... and he didn't know how to eradicate it either. Having already heard enough, he walked to the door, opened it and stepped inside. He strode into the kitchen as he caught his mother in mid-sentence, saying, "...until he turns older and will hopefully involve himself in the war somehow."
When she saw him standing in the kitchen, a look of surprise was evident on her face, but quickly melted into a look of relief and welcome. "Oh there you are!" she exclaimed, her face lighting up as she hugged a still dripping wet Siro. "Oh dear... you got caught in that storm I see. Quick now, go upstairs and change out of that uniform! Come on, before you catch your death!"
"Hey, little brother," Zorin said, waving his hand briefly.
"Hey," Siro greeted him. He rushed upstairs to his bedroom, his body exhausted yet his mind racing. He wondered what his mother mean by her statement, "until he turns older and will hopefully involve himself in the war somehow." He had no doubts she was referring to him.
Like last night, he arrived at his bedroom and swiftly closed the door. He paused for several seconds, unsure of what to think. Why am I so bothered about this? he asked. He wished he had answer, however, he could turn up nothing.
- The infobox image for this chapter is a follow-up image of the infobox image for the previous chapter. The image for the fifth chapter was one of storm clouds; the image for this chapter is of an actual storm.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|When Air Nomads Walked the Earth Chapters|
|Prologue: As the Sun Rises - Two Separate Lives - Triumph and Tragedy - Tutoring and Results - The Limitless Sky - Eavesdropping - What Next? - Dreams and Rebellion - Life Carries On - The Frozen Shores of Fire - Ragged Edges - Has He Returned? - The Sound of Laughter - Thrilling Revelations - The Unwanted Truth - Eve of the Red Sky - Dragons Over the Horizon - The Blazing Earth - Ashes, Ashes... We All Fall Down - And Then There Were None - Epilogue: When Night Falls|