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5 January 2013
"Thanks guys," chuckled Shen. The group was sitting on soft, velvet cushions that Shen had bought with the money she stole from her home. Since her arrival, there had been several improvements to the interior of the Iluna Rebels' secretive headquarters, including flowers that didn't need sunlight to survive. Their leaves produced a sweet, delectable juice perfect for tea.
"I have to say," noted Komin from a hammock that the newcomer had woven herself, "these new additions you brought are really impressive. I'll give it an A... minus."
The group broke out in laughter once again. Even Amber was enjoying herself, giving Shen the impression that maybe she had warmed to her just a bit. The only one who seemed more somber, oddly, was Tenang, who sat against the wall quietly with a blank stare.
"What's wrong, buddy?" Hu Li inquired. "We get to throw Pajak's money in the streets and hear about Kriyel's hissy-fit, yet you seem kinda down."
"I think I'm just coming down with something, that's all." For Tenang, that was a rather long sentence. He was never a talkative one, usually just smiling, nodding, or shrugging for responses. Sometimes the others forgot what his voice sounded like. They looked at him quizzically, pondering his dubious "sickness." The Earthbender simply continued to gaze into the fire, his thoughts clearly outside the cave.
"It was so much fun!" An ecstatic boy around seven years old marched through his kitchen, tailing his irritated mother. "We went to the park and threw all these snowballs, and then some other kids came! And before we knew it, there was a whole snowball war going on! We made huge forts and snowmen guards and everything! My team won because we hit them more than they hit us."
"That's very nice Tenang. I'm glad you had fun." The woman let out a sigh, trying to do the dishes in peace.
"Shuo says he hit me three times, but the third time he only got my shoe. My shoe! How does that even count! I could hardly even feel it! Well, it kinda hurt my front toe a bit. Well actually, I think my toe is broken... Can you take a look?" The boy proceeded to rip off his shoe and socks and shove his foot up at his mother. "Look! Is it broken?"
"It's fine Tenang."
"Are you sure? I think we should see a-"
"Just shut up!"
The teenager showed off his cheesy grin as he recalled his childhood antics.
"Tenang? Tenang, are you coming or not?" The other four Iluna Rebels stood by the cave's ladder, prepared to exit.
"Uhhh no," muttered the boy with fake cough. "I'm starting to feel pretty sick. I should just stay here."
Amber saw a wonderful opportunity. "Shen should probably stay here with him just in case he needs anything." Her not-so-subtle proposal was followed by a dirty look from Komin. Shen simply glanced at the ground and made sure not to look Amber in the eye. Why does she hate me so much?
Maybe it's because you suck! thought Amber back.
Wait? thought a confused Hu Li. How did you guys do that? How am I doing that? The three teammates looked at each other quizzically and backed away slowly, then ascended up the ladder and left Tenang to his thoughts. The Earthbender waited a few minutes to make sure they weren't coming back before he climbed up the ladder himself and left. He took a short stroll down the jetty before launching himself over a cement wall and into the city. He landed in front of a clothes vender, and the woman behind the stand shrieked only to catch the silver coin he tossed her way before snatching a hooded robe himself. In a few steps, he had reached his favorite candy stand.
"Ah, Tenang! Back for another pouch of fire flakes?"
"I just want the pouch. No fire flakes."
"Well... okay then!"
After paying for the small sack he trotted over to the side of the road and scooped up some pebbles, dumping them gleefully in his bag. Armed and dangerous, he thought to himself.
He continued up the cobblestone road for the next fifteen minutes, making sure to speak with no one. There were certain parts of the sixth district of Kisah, certain dark alleyways and shady neighborhoods, where people knew exactly who he was and what he was a part of. They knew what secret organization was on the move when they saw a bunch of teenagers in hoods. It meant that the Iluna Rebels were about to strike some part of the Kisah government, and that was good news for them. As Tenang passed these commoners, some of whom he'd made acquaintance with over the years on the streets, they shot him curious faces, obviously wondering why he was traveling alone. Being part of his nature, the Earthbender wouldn't confront any for a conversation or even mutter a simple "hello." He'd simply nod in their direction then revert his attention back to the road ahead of him. Whenever he passed an Angkara Sentry, a small knot formed in his stomach, and that not was augmented whenever they stared down at him suspiciously, as they did with all hooded teenagers now that the Iluna Rebels were on their most wanted list. Luckily for Tenang, his identity had never been compromised. The government had never seen his face clearly enough during combat to remember. The same could not be said for Amber and Hu Li, who, because the authorities could recognize them, could no longer roam the city without high caution.
In the upper-east corner of the sixth district was a small, popular bakery. The address was mostly out of the way for the majority of patrolling Angkara Sentries, so most patrons enjoyed relative peace and non-disturbance. This made the humble store the perfect meeting place for anti-government conspirers- at least, that's what the people who occasionally gathered liked to call themselves. For the most part, they were simply angry citizens who would hold secret forums for discussion that tended to evolve into anarchist rants in the bakery's back room. Once a week, the owners, a couple named Hong and Mian, would host likeminded people for these discussions. It was a great way to blow off steam, but the couple didn't have complete trust for everyone in the room. For that reason, they only allowed a select group of people to enter their even more secretive, and much more exclusive, attic.
Mian, who had just finished baking the morning's last loaf of bread, quietly made her way up the stairs to the floor above the bakery. No one would ever go up there, given that it was the private residence of the owners and everyone respected their privacy. The woman looked in every direction, just to be sure that she was alone. After a few seconds, she approached the left side of a bookshelf and began to push it. As always, the heavy furniture was difficult to move aside, but she managed it. Her efforts revealed a whole in the wall and a second staircase, which she began to ascend before pulling a lever that brought the bookshelf back into its place behind her, sealing her away. Once up the stairs and in her technically non-existent attic, she joined the others who had arrived before her.
"It's good to see you, Tark," said the woman with a smile after embracing her husband, Hong. "Crafted any new toys recently?"
"Yes, actually," began the friendly inventor. "I took the twins out for a good ol' scumbag hunt not too long ago."
"Speaking of the Rebels," cut in a man in the corner. "Where is Shen?"
Everyone turned their attention to the worried monk, who stood beside Dasna as she rolled her eyes.
"They'll be here shortly," assured Hong. "Your... daughter will be with them, I'm positive, unless of course her angry caretaker grounds her again." The whole room, minus Ohk, laughed. Hong was always cheerful and energetic. He could turn any gloomy situation around with somewhat-decent joke and a hearty laugh.
Mian heard the bookshelf moving. "Here they come now."
The sky was a bit darker than it was when Tenang left the Iluna Rebels' hideout.
If he had kept time correctly, there shouldn't have been a change in Angkara Sentry guards for another half hour at what was known as the Paper Bank. It was merely an average, ordinary bank with the sole purpose of safely storing people's coins for convenience and profit. At least, that's what it looked like it was on the outside. If it's for coins, why is it called the Paper Bank? If it's a private establishment, why is there government security? Both questions prompted the Iluna Rebels to plan a mission there set for one week after Tenang's adventure, but the Earthbender couldn't wait for that. Because of the significance of that day's date, he had to learn the truth then.
Looking at the main entrance, it appeared as though customers simply walked in without much hassle. Tenang's assumption was correct. He entered through a grand door, making sure not to look suspicious as he passed two guards. The interior was much different than he had expected, however. It wasn't some sort of evil laboratory or torture chamber, but an ordinary bank. The tellers behind the glass wall seemed friendly, and everyone was only going about their own business. A bit disappointed, the teenager got in the waiting line to speak to a teller, hoping some sort of clue would fall out of the sky. He chuckled silently when he saw a man with ridiculous bright pink shoes walk into the bathroom. Bold fashion statement, he thought to himself.
The rest of the wait was rather boring and uneventful, and Tenang felt as though he was in line for hours. Where's that pink-shoed man? he wondered. He glanced around the room, but the man was nowhere to be seen. The boy was puzzled; he never saw him leave. In fact, he never saw him come back out of the bathroom... An idea popped into Tenang's mind, and he slipped out of the line to approach the same door the pink-shoed man had used. His heart pounded as he got closer, adrenaline pumping through his veins. What would he find? He reached out towards the doorknob. This was it. The moment of truth.
"I'm sorry." Suddenly, a woman had appeared in front of Tenang. Her hair was in a bun and she looked down on the boy through her glasses. Her voice was cold. "This restroom is for employees only."
Tenang raised his eyebrows. "Oh. Is there one that I can use?"
"Right over there," the woman pointed to the other side of the bank.
"Thanks. Have a nice day." He faked a smile and turned around, slowly moving his right hand into his pocket, where his pouch of pebbles was. Without warning, he spun around and fired a rock straight into the woman's stomach. Startled, she grasped her wound and fell to the ground.
"Hey!" Tenang heard a man yell at him, and an icicle whizzed right by his ear. Without turning to look, he raised a rock wall around him, the woman's body, and the door to buy himself time. He threw himself at the doorknob. It was locked. After taking a step back, he stomped the ground and thrust a newly-created boulder at the door, forcing it open. Screams of terror were heard all around the bank as Tenang slipped into the secret "bathroom." On the other side of the door were stone stairs that led down into darkness. There were two torches on either side of him, and he grabbed the one to his left. Next, he noticed a small wick on the wall and decided to light it, within seconds, the entire path ahead of him had been illuminated by a series of torches. He erected a second wall behind him and continued. Before too long, Tenang noticed that there were occasional metal rectangles with words on them. "Abbey Fire, Ahmose, Angkara Day, Apple Bomb," he read aloud. They seemed to be weird sorts of plaques bearing the names of events, people, weapons, and other things of note in alphabetical order. He gasped and ran back up a few steps. "Phew, no plaque for Amber." There wasn't one for Hu Li either. Or Komin. Or Tenang, luckily. Shen was safe too, but he did notice a plaque that read "Ohk," the name of the monk Shen said raised her. After he checked to make sure he couldn't find his own name, what he was really looking for wasn't too far down.
"There it is," he said in utter disbelief. "The Tulyong Massacre." Before investigating further, Tenang made sure to create a few more rock walls just in case. He hoped that none of the guards were Earthbenders, but he knew that wasn't likely. "Tulyong Massacre," he said again, unsure of what to do. He grazed the plaque with his hand, then gave it a push. Surprisingly, the plaque went into the wall a bit, then came back out revealing a drawer. He pulled it open fully and saw a stack of papers and folders inside. Suddenly, the name "Paper Bank" made sense.
"We know you're down there!" Came a yell as rock wall after rock wall was being destroyed. "Either surrender or prepare to die!"
Panicking, Tenang pulled all of papers out of the draw and closed it before running down the stairs frantically. When he got to the bottom, he found only a solid wall. With a head-butt, he bust a hole through it and proceeded to dig a tunnel as his only means of escape, covering his tracks by collapsing the tunnel behind him. He struggled and began to fear that he would suffocate underground and never be seen again. He could also hear an Angkara Sentry tunneling in the ground around him. After taking a deep breath, he dropped all the papers and punched the earth above him with both fists, creating a vertical tunnel until he saw light. Quickly, he snatched up all the papers and flung himself upwards, eventually popping out of hole in the ground and landing in the middle of the street. People near him screamed and ran, and he bolted through a nearby alleyway. "There he his!" he heard, and he was forced to send three pebble bullets in the way of some guards, hitting a bullseye each time. He tore off his robes and kept running for a few minutes until he was sure that he wasn't being followed. Catching his breath, Tenang found himself at the bottom of a steep, grassy hill, where he decided to look through the papers he stole. They were records of the worst day in his memory, the day of the "Tulyong Massacre."
"A map. A map. A map. I know it's in here somewhere... yes!" He looked down at a piece of parchment then up the hill, then back down at the paper again, and then he smiled. Tenang inhaled and paused for a moment before beginning his hike.
Tenang's school principal looked across his desk to his student and his mother. "I hope your son realizes that what he said to his teacher was not only wrong and inappropriate but completely unacceptable at this school."
The woman was furious. "If he doesn't understand now, I'll make sure he does tonight! He'll be writing an apology letter to his teacher, and he'll have plenty of time to write it since he's grounded for two weeks!" Beside her, a twelve-year-old Tenang rolled his eyes and sighed. "Don't give me that attitude, young man! You better wise up! Your big mouth could get you into serious trouble some day!"
As he made his trek up the long hill, a tear rolled down Tenang's face. "It sure did, Mom. It sure did. I'm so sorry." His voice cracked as more tears ran from his eyes.
The Airbending monk and his adopted daughter ran across Mian's secret attic to embrace each other.
Shen was almost in tears. "Ohk, I'm- I'm so sorry for running away. I just thought I had to do this! I know I have to do this! I belong with these people I joined. They need me!"
Ohk simply nodded. "I know, Shen. I know."
"Wait..." the girl was confused. "Why are you here? Do you know about the Iluna Rebels?" She then looked around. "Dasna? Tark? What's going on here?"
"I've been a part of an anti-Angkara group for quite some time," the man explained. "So has Dasna, and I see you've met Tark... though he decided not to tell me about it..."
"So you have been shielding me from something my entire life! You were never going to let me learn what was outside the Monastery!"
"I only wanted to protect you. Will you forgive me?"
"I... yes. Of course I do, but I have to stay with the Iluna Rebels. They're my family now."
"Huh? You're going to let me live with them?"
"Yes... if you visit me often!"
Dasna approached the duo. "I'll have to say goodbye to both of you now. Jen kept pestering me about where I was going, and she'll probably get suspicious if I spend hours at the bakery."
"Jen doesn't know?" asked Shen in shock about the Kisah Abbey's youngest and newest nun.
"Of course not," retorted Dasna. "She's much too fragile."
Shen pretended to laugh. Something seemed odd about Ohk and Dasna. Why were they always so secretive? Were the Angkaras really that big of a threat to them?
The skies had opened up and it had started to pour rain by the time Tenang reached the top of the hill. He had goosebumps, terrified of what he was about to see. The hike had taken him an hour, but he was certain that he followed the map to the right destination. Each walked increasingly slower, and each step was shorter than the last. He had to battle himself just to make it to the edge of what appeared to be some kind of ditch. He knew exactly what it was, and exactly who was in there. It was time to finally know for sure what had happened to the victims of the Tulyong Massacre, something Tenang could thank his very own big mouth for. No, it's not my fault. It would've happened away... would it have? The boy began to cry as he walked even closer. He reached the ditch, but he didn't look down. He couldn't. Finally, after trying to calm the terrible knot in his stomach, he glanced into hole and immediately fell to his knees, sobbing.
Before him lied at least thirty bodies, all them once belonging to Earthbenders. The Tulyong family was the proudest Earthbending family in the entire city, possibly in the entire world, but it was Tenang's fault they were dead! And now, Tenang was the only one left. He couldn't bear the guilt, the shame, the horror. He buried his face in his hands, screaming as he weeped.
"I'm so sorry, Mom!" he yelled. The bodies had partially decayed, so Tenang couldn't make out his mother, his brother, his father, or anyone else in the once-great Tulyong family.
Tenang's voice was trembling, and he could only get out very few words between sobs, but he managed to sing for his family on the anniversary of their murder.
"Leaves... from the... vine... falling so... s.. slow, like fragile... t- tiny shells... drifting in foam... little... so- so- soldier boy come m... marching home... bbbrave s-soldier boy... come marching home..." For the next hour, Tenang sat there, sobbing and remembering all the things he use to love about his family.
Shen was overwhelmed by everything she had just learned. Apparently, Ohk had long been some kind of anti-government conspirator. He kept her hidden, stowed away in the monastery. But why? None of it made sense! He's been meeting with Dasna and these bakers all this time... and Tark! He knew Tark! He knew about the Iluna Rebels... but he had never met them?! What the Hell is going on! She needed a break from all of this, so she decided to go over to her new teammates and strike up a fun conversation, but they were already discussing something.
"I know why Tenang's all bummed out," announced Komin.
"He isn't sick, is he?" Hu Li guessed.
The Waterbender nodded, then acknowledged Shen with a nod before beginning his story. "About four or five years ago, Tenang's whole family- and he had a huge family, all Earthbenders- gathered to celebrate his grandfather's eightieth birthday. Now, what Tenang didn't know was that his grandfather was a crime lord, one of the most wanted criminals according to the Angkaras. Tenang was completely ignorant of all of this, and unfortunately that's what led to his family's downfall. He started bragging to all of his friends how he was going to get to go to the first district, and when they asked him why, he told him. Just by an unlucky coincidence, he said he was having a reunion with the entire Tulyong family, including his grandfather, Yan, just as he was passing an Angkara Sentry. The guard stopped him and demanded he explain the time and location. Frightened and confused, like any kid would be, Tenang told him everything. He's just lucky that the guard rushed into the party and took him out before his buddies raided the whole thing and slaughtered everyone."
For a moment, everyone was silent. It was most depressing story Shen had ever heard, and Hu Li and Amber could agree that it was second in sadness only to their parents' execution.
Shen cleared her throat. "I can't believe-" before she could get another word out, the door to the attic bust open. Mian screamed, and a few canisters were tossed into the room. A strange, green gas rushed out of them and filled the entire area. Ohk tried to clear the air himself, but he started coughing and weezing uncontrollably, just like everybody else. He looked over to Shen, who fell on the floor, unconscious . The same had happened to Tark and Dasna, and the monk knew it was about to happen to him. Suddenly, he felt really light-headed, and everything went dark.
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