Ransom letter
Life Carries On
Chapter information

When Air Nomads Walked the Earth



Written by

The Ultimate Waterbender

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Dreams and Rebellion

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The Frozen Shores of Fire

This is the eighth chapter in When Air Nomads Walked the Earth and will informally introduce two different characters in the series, one completely new and one who may sound familiar.

What happened last time...

Syra spent an adventurous night within her own subconscious, going from confronting Avatar Yangchen in a stunning nirvana to catching a glimpse of a mysterious Avatar in the midst of a terrifying battle scene.

Meanwhile, after spending a tranquil afternoon writing a detailed account of the sunset in Sen Go, Siro becomes enraged upon hearing his father determining he would become a Fire Nation soldier in the future. He revolts against Lee Wang's wishes, causing a dreadful conflict between the two.

Rejection and Acceptance

"Ow!" Syra suddenly stumbled over an unknown object lying before her and fell clumsily to the ground, barely missing the towering mass of rhododendrons blossoming by her doorstep.

She lay on the smooth, creamy white pavement for a few moments longer, knowing full well that any respected elder who happened to saunter pass would find her behavior incongruous. Unusual as it may seem, she felt relaxed and liberated, her back pressing against one of the few areas shaded from the sweltering rays of the sun that washed over her fair skin during training in school. The flamboyant rhododendrons burst of vividness and vibrancy as did all the flora that managed to grow in all corners of the temple.

Ordinarily, Syra would have had Airbending practice with Sister Iio after school at their usual rendezvous point. However, Iio had caught sight of her briskly jogging to school and notified her that there wouldn't be any lessons today. She hadn't specifically stated the reasons for this, simply telling Syra that she had "certain matters to attend to." When saying this, Iio had kept a calm, impassive tone in her voice, however, Syra knew what those "certain matters" were: talk of possible warfare.

After the bell had tolled, signaling dismissal, Syra, unable to suppress her burning curiosity, had sprinted to their meeting place, the main courtyard, to find Sister Iio absent as she had expected. She wasted no time in racing to the High Temple, stopping before the entranceway and silently slipping through the corridors of the temple. A cold chill had run over her as she stealthily crept through the dim hallways, although she couldn't determine whether it was due to fear or to the cool, moderate air of the halls themselves.

Air Nomads

The Council of Elders sat atop their posts.

Just as she had assumed, the Council of Elders had gathered together in the main sanctum of the High Temple, each sitting on their posts. The five nuns, Iio, Sang, Asira, Aayla and Tala, bore stern countenances, their foreheads creased and their expressions solemn. Syra had hid herself amongst the numerous shrubs and vines that flourished, creating a dense underbrush.

Sister Iio had been the first to break the cold silence, the kind that loomed in the air and spoke of uncertainty and dread. In a steady, unyielding voice, she said, "This is a troubling sign for us. What it means, I do not know, I'm afraid to say..." The dreadful silence dominated the room for some moments before she finally said, "Storm clouds are gathering and thickening as well."

Syra had closed her eyes tight upon hearing this, feeling a sickening wave rush over her. She momentarily buried her face in her hands before soundlessly darting from her position among the underbrush, down the corridors the way she had came and into the open air. The sun's glorious warmth felt tremendously relieving as she stretched, revitalized after having crouched in the dank shrubbery unbeknownst to the nuns, engulfed by the dreadful silence.

She remembered thinking, No, no... I refuse... I absolutely refuse to overhear their conversation! I can't... it's not healthy... it's not my concern.

After pausing briefly to gather herself, she sped home as fast as her legs could carry her. She could have still been stiffly bent over, concealed by the entwining vines and hedges, eavesdropping on their discussion about the subject she refused to comprehend, to believe as possible. She was grateful that common sense had overwhelmed her curiosity and that she was able to flee the scene, unnoticed and unharmed.

Contemplating her previous actions restored a clarity in her mind; for a brief moment now, as she lay on the ground, she felt detached. Detached... she still recalled Yangchen's outburst, her echoing voice calling out, "Detach yourself! Let yourself be free! Let fate occur naturally!" She recalled her gentle yet firm grasp on the stranger's shoulder, the Avatar. Everything else was blurry; she pried her memory for the missing pieces and turned up nothing.

Oh, forget it, she impatiently thought. Rubbing her temple, she scrambled to her feet, brushing away the loose dirt that had already tarnished her robes. Her eyes fell to the object she had tripped over; it was a smooth, white scroll, tied with a piece of hemp, seemingly unopened. Her fingertips ran over the crisp paper, a pleasant feeling of eagerness coursing through her.

She suddenly halted for a moment, wondering what content the scroll contained. Was she meant to read whatever was written? Her mind rifled through the possibilities of its content: a letter from Master Yangsu expressing her disappointment at Syra's performance during training, a notice from Sister Iio that she would no longer continue practice with Syra. Or news, terrible news, that the possibility of warfare had become a reality, that war had been waged, that peace had been eradicated...

She felt another sickening wave overcome her, however, it immediately disappeared upon seeing that her name was written on the scroll; it was meant for her. Drawing in a deep breath, Syra slowly loosened the tie in the hemp until it fell gently to the ground and unraveled the parchment. She was unsure why she still felt an overwhelming feeling of dread, her hands slightly shaking as she opened the scroll.

At first glimpse of the signature at the very bottom, her tense shoulders instantly relaxed and the perplexed look on her face vanished, a small smile curling at her lips. It was indeed addressed to her, however, it spoke not of any horrors or any tragic events; the scroll was shrouded in solace and warmth. It was a letter from her close friend, Sarita, a young, twelve year-old Waterbender of the Southern Water Tribe.

Her eyes widened with anticipation, her mind flooding with optimism, her body immense with an unbelievable joy as no one could expect a simple letter would bring, Syra flung open the sturdy, wooden door, raced through the house at lightning speed and burst into her bedroom. Light was streaming into her room from her single open window and the universe felt limitless, peaceful as it once had been.

Throwing herself onto her bed, she leaned against the wall and read the entire letter through, taking in each word with an increased sense of exultation. She read:

Dear Syra,

How are you and how are Sister Min and your friend, Tyla? How is Airbending training going for you? Have you learned any new moves from your teacher, Master Yangsu? I'm doing just fine here in the Southern Water Tribe. I've learned a new Waterbending technique known as the water jet, though I'm not very good at it to tell you the truth! You had such an excited tone in your last letter, telling me all about the Airbending tournaments and how thrilled you were that you were finally able to compete this year. You must tell me about the tournament. I'm dying to hear the details of how it went.

How are you doing in school? Are those two cliques, Jia and Mika, still gossiping and taunting you? I've never met them personally, but from what you tell me about them, I can tell they are truly shallow and insecure. I understand how difficult it can be to deal with people who think they're absolutely perfect and above everyone else. You know yourself that I deal with the cliques in my class, Malika, Laoka and Senla. Do you remember last year when we snuck into Senla's house once where they were all gossiping and tricked them into thinking a ferocious Polar Leopard had crept into the igloo by dressing ourselves in furs? I had a pain in my side for nearly two weeks from laughing so hard at their horrified expressions!

You remember my mother, Osira, and my father, Malo, don't you? Well, they wish to see you again and I do as well. Why don't you visit the Southern Water Tribe sometime this week? My family would love to have you over at their house and we could spend time together. Life here in the tribe has been particularly dull, so having a friend around for a day or two would really brighten things around here. I don't have school for the next week and a half, so you could visit anytime during my vacation.

I would continue writing except for the fact that I'm running out of room to write on this scroll. Well, I hope that you will seriously consider my offer to visit the Southern Tribe. Write to me as soon as you can. My happiness extends out to Sister Min, Tyla and your other friends at the temple.

Your friend, Sarita

Syra finished reading the letter in a bundle of energy and ecstasy. She set the scroll on her bed for a moment to go through her school schedule and to her delight, found that she had off from school for four consecutive days only three days from today. She was positive that Sister Min would consent and take time off as well to accompany her on the journey.

Quickly, Syra scrambled out of her bed and flung open the middle drawer of her dresser, rifling through for writing implements. She settled herself down at her small writing desk, but upon seeing how glorious the afternoon was outside, she gathered her blank scroll, ink bottle and brush and strolled out of her house.

Southern Air Temple courtyard

Syra takes in the perfect view of the Air Temple.

The afternoon was simply brilliant, the robin's egg blue sky stretching overhead with not a cloud lazily drifting by. Several birds chirped their melodic tunes, nestled among the luscious flora sprouting and spreading around the temple. Younger children ran about freely in the sunlight, laughing gleefully and playing games of Hide-and-Blast amid the flamboyant plant life.

After several minutes of roaming about the Western Division of the temple, she finally spotted a shady area, a perfect place to write her letter to Sarita and secluded from the children's air blasts as they carried on playing their games. Syra set her writing implements beside her as she wedged herself into the corner, the coolness of the stone walls feeling wonderful against her back. Propping the scroll on her knees, she began writing her response.

Dear Sarita,

How are you and your family and friends in the Southern Water Tribe? I was delighted to receive your letter and agree that it's been far too long since we've spent time together. How am I?

She paused hesitantly for a moment, going through the events of the past few days: her splendid vacation day spent at the Pankin Waterfall only to discover what might become reality one day. She had been feeling extremely uneasy, a painful anxiety, but of course she couldn't tell Sarita anything of her concerns. They were her secrets to be kept to herself...

I couldn't be better! The days here at the Eastern Air Temple have been marvelous, peaceful and enjoyable just as any summer would. I recently vacationed with Tyla at the Pankin Waterfall and unexpectedly learned the airball technique during my stay. Master Yangsu has been teaching us the airball and the advanced breath of wind technique. I'll give you all the details of the Airbending tournament when I see you again; I couldn't possibly report everything in one letter.

Jia and Mika are still the same conceited cliques they always were. Lately, though, I've learned to deal with their snide remarks and taunts. I do remember the time when we pulled that trick on Malika, Laoka and Senla! I wish I was daring enough like you to play tricks on Jia and Mika.

I would love to visit you and your family at the Southern Water Tribe again. I'm off from school for two days five days from now. Perhaps I could visit you then?

Her brush wavered slightly in her hand, dangling uneasily over the page as she wrote, Nothing interesting has been going on around the Eastern Air Temple for a few days now. Of course that was a lie; it seemed as though everything had happened to her, rushing out all in one blur. However, once she raised her head and observed the quiet, sunlight-drowned stone buildings and the children still laughing and carefree, she calmed down and continued writing.

It would be great to escape life at the temple for a day or two and spend time together. I'm sure Sister Min will give me permission to come for a visit; she will probably visit as well. I happily accept your invitation.

Your friend, Syra

She signed her name carefully at the end of the letter and set the parchment on the ground. Once the ink dried, she would race to the message tower where she would pay for a messenger to deliver her letter on a Sky Bison where it would reach the Southern Water Tribe in about a day's time.

A gentle breeze swept past, leaving a few wisps of hair dangling in front of her eyes. The children continued to laugh in pure content, peaking out from among the scaling vines. After sitting silently, gazing out over the brilliant blue horizon, she rose and folded the letter, the ink now dry. Grasping the rolled up parchment, the ink bottle and the brush, still dribbling with the black liquid, she strolled leisurely to the Central Division.

She entered the light, airy message tower which, like every other temple room, was bursting with color from the flora. The main room smelled of the fragrant blossoms, ink and fresh parchment. Syra jogged briskly over to the attendant's tall stone desk and, standing on her toes, greeted her with a friendly "good afternoon" and handed her the rolled-up letter.

"Good afternoon, dear," the attendant greeted her, quickly and adeptly tying the scroll with a piece of hemp. "Thank you," she said when Syra handed her two copper pieces. "And might I ask where this letter is to be delivered?"

"It's to be sent to the Southern Water Tribe," Syra replied, feeling herself unable to suppress her growing smile. "It's for my friend, Sarita." The instant the words left her lips, for the first time in the past few days, everything felt like paradise.

Long Time, No See

His legs were tired, ready to collapse at any moment as he desperately scrambled over every object in his path. Those objects were bodies... of his comrades who had fallen. The field, which he could tell was once green and lush with grass, was now stampeded on by barbaric men, dirt kicked up and soaked in mud. The air was filled with screaming, shouting and deafening noises.

The catastrophic events around him overwhelmed him and he fell to the ground, feeling ashamed and defeated. Laying in what was left of the grass, most of which had been burned and crumbled to bits, he felt hopeless and dizzy. A figure suddenly stood over him, shadowing his view; it was a Water Tribe warrior.

"What a disgrace!" he bellowed and threw his head back, laughing a maniacal laugh. "You haven't received one blow to you and yet here you are lying on the ground, defeated." He raised his Whale Tooth Spear high above his head and hurled it down.

NO! Siro shut his eyes tight, preparing to be struck with the blow of the spear. Moments passed and nothing happened. Fearfully and slowly, he opened his eyes and found himself laying not in a battlefield, but sitting in a restaurant.

He suddenly remembered where he was now and what he was doing. As a way to bid Zorin a goodbye before his departure from Sen Go, he and his family were eating at an open-walled restaurant known as The Cinder. It was a lovely evening; the sky was a calming dark blue and the weather was clear and warm. Siro quickly shot a glance at the rest of his family sitting at the small oak table for four. His mother and father, Zala and Lee Wang, were talking between themselves and Zorin was quietly pushing around a piece of Komodo Chicken with his chopsticks, looking bored.

Ba Sing Se restaurant

The local restaurant, The Cinder.

Siro didn't know when or how he had drifted off into such a horrible daydream. He knew, however, that it was directly related to the events of last night when he had revolted against his father. He had a terrifying confrontation, arguing in blind rage against Lee Wang's wishes to send him to a military school to become a Fire Nation soldier.

Siro wanted desperately to forget the horrible confrontation; it remained clear in his head, however. He could still remember every detail: the silence that had filled the room when Lee Wang first mentioned his wishes, the way his vision became blinded by anger, his father towering over him, enraged. Then, rushing upstairs to his bedroom, cramming the parchment he had filled with his account of endless bliss forcefully into a drawer, burying his head in his pillow, tears streaming down his face, the muffled sounds of his parents downstairs yelling.

Lee Wang had remained cold to him all throughout the day. Siro could tell he was still deeply angry that he had defied him. It was a wonder Lee Wang didn't prohibit Siro from attending the evening out to dinner.

The bright lights of the restaurant made him feel lightheaded and confused. The bright interior of the room was a direct contrast to Siro's dark mood. He stared blankly at the plate of Komodo Chicken before him, barely touched.

"Hey, Siro." He looked up to find Zorin sitting across from him, grinning his famous grin. "There's a pretty cute girl over there by the counter. Dare me to go over and talk to her?"

Siro felt a small smile spread on his face. His brother was a natural charm and a daredevil. When he was thirteen and Siro was nine, Zorin would often ask that Siro dare him to talk to a girl that caught his eye. He hadn't played that game, if it could be called a game at all, in three years now.

Stifling a laugh, he replied, "Hmm... well, seeing how you look positively bored out of your mind, then yes. I dare you to go over and talk to her."

Zorin shrugged casually and, rising from his seat, said, "Alright, whatever you say, little brother."

Siro watched as his brother casually sauntered over to the counter and began a conversation with a girl who looked about his age. He saw his brother lean on the countertop, making gestures with his hands, causing the strange girl to giggle. A real charmer he is alright, Siro thought.

"Well," Zala said, interrupting his thoughts, "I think it's time we get a move on to where Zorin is going to be picked up. Where is he anyway?"

Siro, the calm feeling having vanished now, pointed solemnly over to the counter where Zorin was still engaging the mysterious girl in a conversation.

"Oh dear," Zala sighed, although Siro could tell by her voice that it wasn't a painful sigh. "That boy is surely something." She chuckled at this. "Leave it to him to busy himself talking to girls on his departing dinner." Rising from her seat, she said, "I'd better go get him."

Siro wished his mother hadn't left him alone at the table with his father. He didn't dare cast a glance at Lee Wang choosing instead to sit silently with his head bent over his plate. The cheerful humdrum of others' conversations seemed distant and cold. He felt as though his father was staring straight at him with coldness and disgust. However, when Lee Wang grunted and Siro looked up, he saw that his father was staring straight ahead of him.

He came close to crying out, Stop acting as though I'm a lone stranger! Speak to me! However, before he had the chance, Zala had already returned to the table with Zorin who had a glint of mischief in his eyes. Siro forced a subtle smile when his brother raised his eyebrows at him, a satisfied look spread across his face.

"Come on," Zala urged the others. "We don't want to be late for the carriage-driver."

The family briskly ambled along the quaint streets of the village. The soft yellow lights of lanterns and kerosene lamps steadily poured from the windows of several homes and stores. Residents loitered outside in the streets, enjoying the refreshing coolness of the dusk air. Purple clouds drifted in the twilight sky and somewhere off in the distance, Siro could make out the faint hums of the crickets.

Midnight in Ba Sing Se

The family walked quietly through the streets of Sen Go.

As they were strolling along the pathways, Siro whispered to Zorin, "What were you saying to that girl that made her giggle?"

Zorin shook his head in mock displeasure. "Naughty, naughty little brother. You know better than to try and eavesdrop on others' conversations," he replied, ruffling Siro's hair. Siro felt a twinge of discomfort; he did know better than to eavesdrop yet he hadn't been able to keep away from private family conversations lately. "Well, if you must know, I was remarking how overcooked the Komodo Chicken was. That dish was practically a heaping pile of ashes."

Siro laughed and replied, "Ashes, huh? I guess that's why they call it The Cinder."

"I guess so," Zorin shot him a sidelong smile.

They finally reached the outskirts of the town; farther beyond the borders of the village were the fields of Fire Lilies. Siro sat cross-legged on the ground, leaning against a barrel of water. The entire family was silent as they patiently awaited the carriage-driver. Siro found this odd; they should've been wishing Zorin the best of luck in military school, obliging him to write letters as often as possible, talking excitedly of his brother's promising future. Instead, silence hung in the air and Siro assumed the mood was so because of last night's scenario; he immediately felt guilty, but didn't dare speak up.

"Thank you for the dinner tonight, but next time, can we eat somewhere where the Komodo Chicken doesn't taste like burnt charcoal?" Zorin joked, breaking the silence.

Zala asked, "You didn't like the Komodo Chicken? The Cinder is supposedly the finest restaurant to eat at around here."

"Not at all," Zorin replied. "It was way overcooked."

Siro unconsciously remarked, "That's why I said the restaurant's called The Cinder."

Zorin and Zala laughed at this comment; Lee Wang remained silent, however, for the first time since last night, he looked at Siro straight in the eyes, a faint glimmer of pleasure twinkling in them. His gaze was quickly diverted to a small carriage pulled by a massive Dragon Moose and driven by a thin, middle-aged man appeared.

The carriage-driver tugged on the reigns, halting the carriage and said in a clear, husky voice, "I have orders to take a young man named Zorin to the city of Luazon."

"Yes, here I am, sir," Zorin raised his hand and began walking over to the carriage.

"Well, time's a-wastin', young man," the carriage-driver told him. "We want to get to the town before it becomes pitch black out here, don't we? Of course, take a few moments to bid your family a goodbye."

Siro felt tears brimming in his eyes as the next several moments were taken to bid each other a farewell, the air filled with familial warmth and melancholy at his brother's departure. There were several hugs and sayings of "Goodbye", "I wish you the best of luck" and "Please write to us often." At last, Zorin, carrying the satchel of clothes and other small items he had taken with him for his stay, began climbing into the two-seat carriage.

"So long, dear," Zala told him.

"Take care, son," Lee Wang said in his gruff yet tender voice.

Zorin beamed at both his parents, but directed his attention to Siro who was standing motionless by the carriage, mustering as compassionate a smile he could. Sitting on the very edge of the seat, Zorin leaned over and punched him in the arm. "You have fun and practice your Firebending while I'm away okay, little brother? I'll be back at Sen Go after a little while. Maybe you can put in a good word for me to that girl I was talking to earlier? See you later, catgator!"

Siro grinned and replied, "In a while, Tigerdile!"

Zorin laughed and gave him one last warm smile as he pulled the carriage door closed. The remaining three waved goodbye as the carriage drove farther into the distance, a trail of dust kicked up by the heels of the Mongoose Dragon as it galloped down the silent street. After the dust trail and the carriage were nothing more than a speck on the darkened horizon, the family turned and began walking home.

Silence drifted in the air, the only sounds being their footsteps on the pavement, the faint humming of the crickets and the occasional creaking of wooden shutters as people withdrew into their bedrooms for the night. Dull, brown moths flittered around the dim glow of the lanterns that lit their path.

Arriving at their house, Siro noticed a rolled up scroll laying in front of the doorway. Zala approached the door quickly and picked up the scroll, searching for any indication as to whom it was addressed to or who had sent it.

"It's for you, Siro," she said with a faint smile, handing him the rolled up parchment.

Curiously, he took the scroll from his mother's hand and carefully unrolled it in wonder. His eyes immediately fell to the signature at the bottom and he mustered a small smile upon seeing it was from one of his distant friends, Kuzon who was the same age.

"Why don't you go inside and read the letter," Zala coaxed. She unlocked the door and bustled into the kitchen to light a few kerosene lamps.

Sitting at the wooden kitchen table under the radiant light of the lamps that created an atmosphere of comfort and pleasure in the room, Siro read Kuzon's letter.

Dear Siro,

How have you been lately? How are your family and friends? How are doing in school? We haven't spoken to each other in quite a while, so I thought it would be nice to send you a letter. I'm writing this straight my beach house overlooking Ember Island. The weather lately has been absolutely wonderful with no storms or rough tides for that matter which is fortunate. I still remember the summer you visited where the tides became so rough, one boy swimming near us almost drowned. That was really frightening, but forget those negative thoughts.

In any case, I was wondering if you would like to come visit Ember Island for a little while. I'm going to be staying at my beach house for quite a few weeks actually which is pretty sweet. It was be cool if you could come for at least an overnight at my beach house whenever it is you have off, buddy. Write soon to let me know when you're off so we could hang out. Come on, you need a break.

Your friend, Kuzon

"Who is it from?" Zala asked as she settled down at the table, laying out several implements she used to design her famous pottery and sorting them out.

"It's from my friend, Kuzon," Siro replied. "He said he wants me to visit him at his beach house on Ember Island for an overnight."

Zala looked up from her assortment of brushes and crafting tools, beaming and said, "That's wonderful. You haven't seen Kuzon in so long, dear. And now would be the perfect opportunity to visit him on Ember Island considering you only have a few weeks left before the fall session at school officially begins."

"It's even greater because I have off for an entire week in only three days," he added. "Perhaps I can visit him then?"

Zala told him, "I think that would be wonderful. What do you think, Lee Wang?" She looked at her husband longingly.

A few moments passed by in silence, a silence Siro was soon beginning to dread. He cast a brief glance at his father's stern face, wrinkled in deep concentration. He wondered if Lee Wang had even heard his mother's question.

At last, Lee Wang let out a tired sigh and answered in a voice completely devoid of emotion, "Yes... yes, I think that would be a good idea. An overnight at Ember Island would be fine." He abruptly pushed back his chair, rose and left the room without uttering another word.

Siro looked over at Zala who bent her head thoughtfully over her instruments as if studying them very closely. He knew, however, that she was thinking the same thing he was. He knew after what had occurred last night that Lee Wang was not consenting to the overnight stay for Siro's own happiness merely for the opportunity to free him from his presence temporarily, even if it was only for an overnight.

Siro couldn't understand his father's thoughts and reasons sometimes yet he also felt a yearning to vacation away from home for a day. Quietly bidding his mother a good night, Siro trudged up the stairs, knowing already what he would write in his letter to Kuzon.

Dear Kuzon, he thought as the wooden stairs beneath his feet creaked with each step.

I'm doing just fine. My family and friends are all doing well. Yes, I would be happy to spend the night with you at your beach house on Ember Island...

Additional Notes

  • The new character, Sarita, was named after a contestant on the author's favorite reality television show, Survivor.
  • The ending to Syra's story in this chapter is similar to the ending of her story in the third chapter.
  • Hide-and-Blast is based off the real world game, Hide-and-Seek, and the Avatar World game, Hide-and-Explode.
  • The Tigerdile is an imaginary hybrid animal, meaning the author did not take it from the series, but rather one she invented herself.
  • Sister Iio's line, "Storm clouds are gathering and thickening as well", mirrors Monk Gyatso's statement, "Storm clouds are gathering, Aang."
  • This will not be Zorin's last appearance in the series.

See more

For the collective works of the author, go here.

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