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Book 1: Earth
Previously on The Kyoshi Chronicles
Kyoshi connected with the spirits outside of Ba Sing Se, and Kuruk told her he'd always be there for her.
Kyoshi learnt earthbending from Feng, the "Cave Man" and is now ready to master firebending.
The Avatar met up with her father Garuku and the Gao Lin Battalion but quickly lost him when Astrid kidnapped him at the Battle of Caoyan Hill. She was left devastated.
Chapter 13: Coping
|"As the Avatar you were born to make these decisions, and face these hardships"|
|— Patron spirit of the Gaan Mountains Nongye to Kyoshi|
Everything seemed grey. The sky was off colour, the trees and grass were off colour. All she could hear were the crunching of the wagons along the gravel and the meek steadiness of her breathing. Her lips were numbed cold; her eyes blank, staring out at nothing in particular. She could feel the wind blow through her empty body, taking with it the last ounces of happiness she could hold. She wished the pain would go deeper with its pins so that she'd collapse soon, and not have to feel such misery.
Kyoshi wobbled slightly in her seat as the Ostrich horse pulled the wagon over a bump. She remained unfazed. She took a breath in. It only went halfway. She thought about releasing it, but could not think of a reason why. It sat in her throat, cold and thorny, and she swallowed a hard lump. Finally she exhaled. She watched her breath snake outwards from her lips. Like her father it would never come back, and as much as she'd try to hold on to it, it'd always float away from her grasp to someplace far away. Every action seemed futile.
"Are you alright?" asked Bako gently. His green eyes shimmered with sympathy and worry, as a heavy hand was placed on Kyoshi's back. Kyoshi opened her mouth to speak but only an aquatic gurgle came out. It was prolonged and edged with a sharp tone of despair. She shrugged, trying hard to hold back tears. She was not alright. Not one bit. A darkness was swallowing her up slowly as she watched everything shatter in front of her, powerless to stop it. Bako wanted to say something nice, something to comfort his friend. But there were no words that could make it better. Losing a family would have a considerable toll on one's wellbeing. Instead he shuffled closer to Kyoshi, wrapped both arms around her and squeezed tightly, hoping the flurried beats of his heart would say enough. There was no response from the girl. No reply, no squeeze back, not even a blink. She was a broken vase, spread out across the dirt in jagged, ugly shards; irreversible for repair. And that made Bako feel some immensely deep emotion – something that he would never be able to describe forever.
The battalion continued through the base of the Gaan Mountains, taking the beaten path behind shrouding shrubbery and dense forests. They had promised to escort Kyoshi and her friends east, and then north up the coast to the Fire State where Kyoshi could begin to master firebending. None of them spoke of what to do in terms of Garuku. That was until the parade halted at an intersection. The path they were on, that had stretched for hours now across an ultimately flat plain, was forked in two. The fog that Kyoshi had become so accustomed to was still lingering, heavy on the horizon. A sign was rammed into the loamy soil, one arrow pointing east and reading 'Monshiton, Omashu' the second pointing north reading 'Zugaiotsu' – the last Earth State town before the Fire State.
"Which way do we go, Avatar Kyoshi," a soldier said, walking up to the wagon. He got down on one knee and bowed, his head remaining lowered until he got a reply. Kyoshi almost didn't hear him. As she was the entire trip, she was in a perpetual daze of grief.
"Kyoshi?" Bako said, taking his arms off her and nudging her back.
"What?" she said, confused. Bako signalled to the bowing soldier. Kyoshi was taken aback by the soldier's gesture, treating her as if she were royalty. She blinked and then looked at Bako to divulge more.
"We want to know which way you choose to go," Bako explained. "The northern road will take us to the Fire State, and the east will take us to Omashu." Again Kyoshi took some time to form a reply.
"Why would we go to Omashu?" Bako looked at Momzen, and the soldiers looked at each other too. How could she not make the link?
"Our scouts have reported seeing Astrid's army heading east," the bowing soldier replied.
"Garuku is probably there," Momzen added softly. "We could rescue him if you want?" Kyoshi pursed her lips in thought. She could feel her father's arms embracing her – warm and strong like a massive dune of the Si Wong. She turned to Bako.
"What do you think?" Bako coughed. He had his opinion, but Kyoshi would not like it. He took his time to formulate it properly, to avoid hurting her already fragile state.
"I'd say head north."
"What?" Momzen shouted. "Tha-"
"-Only in terms of practicality!" Bako added quickly before Momzen interjected further. "Astrid and her army, possibly even Nero and the Earth King could be waiting for you at Omashu. It could be a trap. Sure, you're the Avatar, but with you only have mastered earthbending, and our numbers smaller than theirs, we'd stand no chance. It'd be a waste of a good attack." Momzen shook his head.
"You can't be serious!" he argued – how did Bako know Momzen would be the one to disagree? "This is family, Kyoshi. Your father! I know what it's like to lose a family, and I wish I did more to get them back. You only have one family." Momzen clung tight to the barrel he was sitting on, desperately trying to convince Kyoshi. To him family was more important than food or even his bending. Kyoshi and his friends were his family now, and if Garuku was Kyoshi's family, then Garuku was his family. And he would not walk away from them. He licked his chapped lips and stared at Kyoshi's vacant eyes. He couldn't tell if she had listened or not, or if she was thinking things through.
"Either way we have to go soon to find a town to buy supplies from," the soldier from before said shyly. "We don't have much." Kyoshi looked at him and nodded. She had to focus – her mind had to be in the right place. She peered down at her dirty hands that sat in her lap. They looked like her fathers'. When she blinked his face flashed before her, causing her heart to knot and the hot blood in her body to boil. But looking at her hands also reminded Kyoshi of her earthbending, and her duties as the Avatar. Something she had never entirely grasped, but something she should start to take seriously. It was a toss up between her family or the world, and when she thought of it like that, the latter seemed more important in the whole scheme of things.
But then again, she hadn't seen her father in years, which had left a scar on her body, invisible but far more harmful than any physical one, which pained her all her life. Knowing she might never see him ever again, it cut open the scar and tore her from inside out. She could feel the flesh rot beneath her skin.
"Kyoshi?" Momzen said.
"I'm thinking," she snapped, biting down on the inside of her lip. She shuffled on the tent she had been sitting on and relayed the options in her head, revising their importance. Family, love, world, peace. East, trap, north, grief. She was the Avatar, people had told her that her duty is to do the world right, but her father is her father; enough said. Jin Jin hobbled on the spot, kicking mud off her tired feet. An air of urgency hung above the halted battalion.
"Kyoshi," Bako coughed, trying to get her to speed up her decision.
"I'm thinking!" she shouted at Bako. His impatience was infuriating. Couldn't he see that she was struggling? Deciding whether or not to sacrifice her father's life was hard – not something one prepares to ponder over. And on the other hand putting the entire world at risk by putting off her training and making the conscious decision to head into Earth State clutches seemed selfish. She hopped off the wagon and walked up the muddy path. As she passed battalion soldiers she could feel their annoyed stares pierce the back of her neck. But she remained defiant, frustrated at everyone's casual approach on the issue.
This was the most contorted her heart had been, and the hardest decision she had to make. Nobody had any idea. Among her friends and allies she felt utterly alone, misunderstood and a nuisance to them. They carried heavy packs for her, defended her and escorted her safely across the south. If only she had her father to give her his usual warm advice. But he was gone, and was the root of such calamity.
She spun around and glared at the soldiers. Their worried eyes made with hers, and she realised she was exaggerating things. They wanted what was best for her, or else they wouldn't have asked for her decision, but she had no clue as to what was best for the world, or her, or the world – or anything. She read the sign on the fork, hoping its damp, old bark would give her a sign or give her an answer. Perhaps the fog could whisper something to her. Or maybe the contours of the mountains would spell out something for her.
Kyoshi squinted down the eastern path and noticed a little rock statue down the track. She sniffed in, smelling the sweet dew that covered the south of the mainland; a scent that had become so well known to her. Suddenly, as if her body was still apart from her mind she raced down the path, Bako and Momzen cautiously watching from afar thinking something was wrong. Kyoshi stopped at the structure. It was made of a grey stone and sheltered by a straw roof. Small cups made of broad leaf were woven and filled with petals, rice and incense sticks and placed at the foot of the structure. From the offerings stood the structure; a womanly looking figure with parasols and a smiling face dressed in a kimono carved into a cradle. Kyoshi read the engraving.
"Nongye, patron of the Gaan Mountains, spirit of the climb, endurance and will," Kyoshi read aloud. And then she remembered Kuruk, and how he said that if she ever needed help she could look inside herself and talk to him. She sat down in the mud and put a fist to a palm. She knew getting to Kuruk would be difficult, and the battalion was waiting for an answer, so she tried to quickly empty her mind. She closed her eyes and started breathing deep breaths. Kyoshi could feel the chi flow throughout her body and after a while of focus and relaxation, like in the Sing Se Woods, a tingling rush came over her like a gentle wave, or a warm bucket of bath water. She opened her eyes and standing beside the shrine was Nongye. The young woman was draped in a silk kimono, the embroidery shining silver like polished spoons, held tightly by a bow pronged with sprigs of lavender. The woman's hair was opal-white, and a small purple stone was pinned to her long fringe. Kyoshi looked back at the battalion; it didn't seem that they noticed. She turned back, losing her breath again at the spirit's beauty. She bowed down respectfully, blushing; the woman practically shone at the foreground of the dreary, cloud-filled sky.
"Avatar Kyoshi," Nongye started, her voice sweet as honeyed milk and soft as the kimono she wore. Kyoshi raised her head, all emotion, turmoil and confliction, returning to her.
"Is there something you ask of me?"
"Only advice, Nongye-Gaan. And for your patronage, I will spill no blood on your grasses," Kyoshi replied, using the formal language Momzen had instructed her of. The lady, or spirit as it should be said, smiled gently and knelt down in the mud. The kimono did not dirty at all and Nongye clasped Kyoshi's chin with her delicate hand. The skin was supple, and had a meek, yet strongly soothing, scent of lavender.
"That seems to me an ample agreement. I have watched over this land for quite some time, and only recently has the soil been drowned with the fresh blood of man," Nongye recited poetically. "With you holding to your word, what can I help you with, young child?" Kyoshi coughed, trying to put together a graceful response to mimic the spirit.
"Well," she started. Her hands came together and her father's smile flashed across her vision. Tears began to swell up in her aching, green eyes and her heart, a heavy fist, thudded the front of her throat. Kyoshi turned to see Bako waiting at the fork, tapping his foot on the ground. A tear dropped out and trickled down her cheek. She did not want to disappoint them too, or let down the entire world.
"Speak, child," Nongye said, her soft eyes comforting the sobbing Avatar. "As a spirit I am here for guidance and support." Kyoshi smiled at the motherly spirit and opened her mouth quickly to force the words out.
"It's me," Kyoshi spluttered. "I don't know what to do. I want to be a good Avatar, I've worked so hard." Warm tears ran down her numb face as her eyes scrunched up with sadness. "But my father is at Omashu, and will die if I don't come for him. But if I do I risk getting killed by the Earth State, and that means the rest of the world will be defeated." Kyoshi wiped her face with a sleeve but the tears continued to flow. She sucked up stifled gulps as her head fell. Nongye sighed.
"I am the spirit of endurance, Kyoshi. What I can tell you is that it is going to get harder whichever path you choose to take. One path will lead to a fateful battle, the hardest you have yet to face, the other will take you to grief, a loss that helping the world will never fill," the spirit explained, smiling every so often to reassure the girl that everything was alright. "Who says you will fail at Omashu? Or who says you will save the world if you continue north? Who says if you die the other State's will fall? They've survived seventeen years without you. As the Avatar you were born to make these decisions, and face these hardships."
"But nobody has told me how to cope with them!" Kyoshi cried, more tears streaming down her cheeks. "It's too hard to be the Avatar! It's too much!"
"Don't ever give up!" Nongye snapped, her eyes firing up with ferocity that reminded Kyoshi this person was not human. "You've come too far to pity yourself! You've come to a mountain, Kyoshi, and you need to endure and continue climbing."
"Just tell me what to do!" Kyoshi shouted rudely. She was sick of riddles.
"You need to take hold of these emotions. You know the answer, child. You do," Nongye said, ignoring Kyoshi's rudeness and pulling the girl to her feet. Kyoshi sniffed. The soft flutters of her heart were trying to whisper something to her, and she listened intently to them. Nongye waited for a reply as Kyoshi stared intensely into nothing, deep in thought.
"I'm going east," she said finally. Kyoshi smiled. It felt good to say it, and she could already feel Garuku's presence next to her.
"As the Avatar your duty is to protect the world," Nongye started, poetic as usual. "But to an individual, their world is their family and friends. If your world is broken, so will the entire world be, Kyoshi. Don't you forget that. You couldn't have made a better choice." Kyoshi smiled, a single tear, diamond in the noon light, trickling downwards to her chin. "It was your destiny to make that choice, you know?" Kyoshi's eyes fell flat.
"Really..." she mumbled, frustrated. "You couldn't have told me that earlier?" Nongye laughed quietly, ladylike, like faint flaps of butterfly wings.
"I could have. But without conflict, one does not learn, and one does not grow. You are a better Avatar for it, and a better Avatar than you take yourself for." Kyoshi blushed, and Nongye tilted her head and squinted at the Avatar. "Is there anything else I can help you with?"
"No thank you. You've provided me with more than enough advice, and I owe you my deepest thanks," she replied.
"And you will keep your promise?"
"I shall," nodded Kyoshi. "No blood shed on these plains on my, and my battalion's, behalf." Kyoshi sat back down on the damp path and into the meditation form, closing her eyes and waiting for a weight to return to her body. Once it did, sliding in from below the ground, she opened her eyes, the shrine of Nongye absent and lifeless as it was before. She got up, past emotions – feelings of inadequacy, conflict, sorrow, guilt and selfishness – remaining left behind, embedded in the soil like sweet rain or trodden grass. She got to Bako and Momzen, Tori coming to her feet, everyone awaiting a response.
"We're heading to Omashu," she said loudly, taking charge. It was something she had never really done before. But standing tall, chest out and voice confident; Kyoshi felt as if she had finally fit into some shoes that were once ago a few sizes too big. Momzen grinned at Bako, happy Kyoshi had chosen his suggestion over Bako's – and Bako rolled his eyes, resaddling Jin Jin. The shirshu snorted, telling everyone to get a move on, and the battalion continued eastward for Omashu.
"And no killing of anything until we reach the mountains!" she ordered powerfully, making herself loud enough to be heard all the way down the path.
As the troupe passed the shrine Kyoshi smiled. If it wasn't for Nongye she would still be lost; snared in a pit of darkness being fed only misery and sadness in small, famishing portions. But now the sun was beginning to shine and Kyoshi could start focusing on the tasks that were ahead, and prepare or the climb.
The battalion had marched up the Gaan Mountains, heading to Monshiton Province to buy supplies, but were now dead silent; asleep in their tents. A symphony of crickets played in the background – trills of whistles, and bass lines of buzzes harmonised together to lull the tired men.
Kyoshi stirred in her sleep – her heart pumping quick and chest heaving like a runaway steam train.
I stand in a courtyard. Dust billows by as I squint to keep my eyes protected. I keep my palm taught, clasping the air with my fingers to hold the chi in. I can taste blood on my lips and my eyes, stinging from my sweating brow, are focused hard. I am a falcon to a mouse – a predator, hungry. The sun sears my skin as crashes of weaponry boom from far away. Suddenly I hear a crack and a vibrating, slicing sound rings before me.
I see my face – cheeks stained with sweaty rubble. My eyes are clenched shut but they open wide suddenly. Anger fixed in the contours of my forehead, my eyes are washed over with a magnificent glowing, and a force, surging through and fro like an omnipresent wave, possesses my body.
A ceiling collapses and a wall explodes.
Kyoshi lifted herself from her bedding, abdominals constricted under her nightdress. Beads of sweat trickled from her hairline and glistened from the moon's sinister, diamond smile. An owl hooted from outside and Momzen shuffled in his sleep to a more comfortable position. Bako laid stiff on her left. She calmed herself down, taking deep breaths of the chilly night air, and lay back down. If her dream had meant something, Kyoshi didn't know. But she could feel something in her gut stewing slowly – something that would very soon emerge; and for that she would not sleep well until it did. An owl hooted once more and Kyoshi clenched her eyes shut, contours in her forehead.
This is my shortest chapter yet with only 3354 words!
For the collective works of the author, go here.