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November 11, 2011
Cut Short is the fourth chapter of the fanon series.
Takeo deals with the aftermath of his fight.
Takeo opened his eyes slowly and his vision blurred, at first he couldn't tell where he was, he was staring at something blurry, wooden and red, a sight that seemed too familiar to him, yet at the same time so weird. He blinked and his vision slowly steadied itself. He started breathing heavily through his mouth before he blinked again. Then like a punch had just gone through it, his head started pounding. He had to clench his teeth until the pain passed. Takeo sighed loudly before shifting into a sitting position. Only when he was sitting did he realize that he was in the dormitory, it was completely empty and not without reason, it was the middle of the day and it seemed like everyone was out doing their usual chores, sun beamed through the windows, illuminating the entire room and casting stripes of light to cut through the cracks in the red drapes, which couldn't hold back the strong light of the sun. Takeo yawned loudly.
His eyes burned a bit, but he considered it only natural since he was asleep and he had just woken up to a burst of light. He looked down at his body almost like it was a reflex. He was shirtless and was still wore the torn, dirty and slightly burned battle pants he had received before the duel. The duel immediately came back to memory and Takeo smiled. How could he not, he won the first fight in his life and against two opponents, he knew that people would have to respect him now. He showed skill, bravery, honor and intelligence, he even secretly hoped he would get promoted to a sage, but knew that such things weren't as easy anymore. He looked at his left arm, his forearm was wrapped in bandage, it felt cold and strangely refreshing, and he touched it, but couldn't feel the burn behind the bandage, meaning that it was probably already almost healed. But then he panicked. He realized that he no longer had his arm guards and quickly began looking to every side before he finally saw them on a night stand which stood at his right. Next to them stood a small bowl with some broth and a cup of water. He relaxed, threw his legs over the side of the bed and downed the cup of water in a few gulps, releasing a sigh of satisfaction. The broth was cold and a bit too salty, but it felt like the greatest thing he had ever eaten, having wasted so much energy fighting and having slept through a day, or maybe even more, he ate it like it was the best thing ever made by a human.
When he finally got enough strength to stand up he found his apprentice sage robes in his nightstand and quickly changed out of the torn and dirty battle pants into the now cleaned clothes and once again safely placed his arm guards under his bed. Though he expected a warmer greeting when he went out of the room, the first thing that happened was a few people pointing at him, some congratulating him, some just pure out glaring at him and others pointing at him, saying a joke and laughing, at first he didn't understand, but then he overheard a few of the students talking. As always, the bad things overshadowed the good. Despite his rather impressive victory, all the students were talking about were the times he fell, the times he slipped, how he fainted and how he slapped Tetsuri, somehow none of them believed it was intentional, to irritate and anger him which was Takeo's plan all along. Master Lempuh pure out refused to even accept Takeo's victory, he claimed that Takeo should be punished for fighting unfairly, for insulting his opponents during a fight and dodging and running instead of fighting, in his mind, Tak had lost.
Many other apprentices in fact accepted such a ruling and because of it, half of the school was dead set on the fact that he lost, while the other half just didn't care. Despite a few claiming that Tetsuri and Hetsuki would have won if Takeo had fought them and not ran away, their demeanor to Takeo had changed. Instead of bullying him they outright ignored him and left him alone, which by itself showed that deep down they knew they had lost fair and square and didn't stand a chance fighting Takeo one on one and not two on one. And despite such mixed opinions about the fight, everyone had grown a tad bit of respect for Tak, and he knew that things would become marginally better than they were before. For a large portion of the day Takeo continued through his chores, studying in the library for the upcoming test on history and going through his daily training. However Lempuh had kicked him out once again because according to him.
"I won't teach someone who can't even fight with honor." Lempuh's words didn't hurt Tak that much, over the years he had developed somewhat of an immunity to his insults and this one wasn't quite as hurtful as some had been throughout the years.
Only near the end of the day, in the very evening did Takeo remember that today was his birthday. He couldn't quite believe it, a few hours ago he was fighting for his life, now he was injured, limping and continuing on with his life in such a busy pace that he almost forgot his birthday. Not that it mattered much, Lee and a few other apprentices congratulated him afterwards, but it didn't really change anything. It was his birthday and the only person who he wanted to share his victory with wasn't here. That night, Takeo snuck out of the dormitory during curfew and spent a few minutes sitting on top of the temple rooftop, inhaling the cold air of the night. The temple overlooked the entire lower city of the capital, its lights shined brightly, brighter than the skies that night. He could hear music coming from some of the streets and it helped him to pretend that they were celebrating his birthday. It was days like these that Tak wished he had a family, a brother, a sister or parents. Even more so he wished people respected him and loved him enough to celebrate his birthday. Zhin Tsu was practically a hero, during his 100th birthday the entire capital held a festival and not just because the Fire Lord had ordered it.
He wished that maybe, someday... people would celebrate his birthday just like that. He had grown an entire year and nothing felt different, nothing had changed, technically he was now sixteen, but he knew after today he would return to his boring routine of studies, training and chores as if nothing had happened. And he was right, the next morning after he woke up he immediately had to clean the statues all over the temple, then he had an hour of mandatory reflection and meditation.
The large quiet room in which the students meditated was almost full, yet not a sound was heard, the occasional deep breath and exhalation was the only sound within the entire meditation chamber. All of them sat cross legged on folded pieces of red cloth. Yet the silence was disturbed when the large door opened with great intensity and creaked loudly. A boy ran in and Takeo opened his eyes and recognized him- Lee. The elder stood up and seemed like he was about to clout Lee over the ear, but Lee bowed his head to the master and spoke.
"I'm sorry to disturb your meditation master, but I have urgent news." He stammered out, trying to catch his breath and it became apparent he sprinted the entire way here.
"Out with it then." The elder ordered as he glared at Lee.
"Grand Master Zhin Tsu has returned to the temple. He wishes to see Apprentice Takeo at once." As soon as he heard his masters name Takeo's face lit up. All of the apprentices turned to look at him. He immediately stood and without waiting for the sage's permission, Takeo rushed out of the meditation chamber and began running, anxious to see Zhin Tsu once again.
Lee caught up with him "Tak, wait I have to tell you something."
"Hurry up; I really need to see Grand Master Zhin Tsu." Tak said anxiously.
"I think I know what it's about... Hetsuki and Tetsuri sent letters to their fathers about how Zhin Tsu personally trained you to beat them in a duel and humiliate them."
"That's ridiculous." Takeo exclaimed "Zhin Tsu has never taught me a single Firebending technique that he didn't teach to every other student."
Lee shrugged "All I know is, their father's are coming to the temple as we speak, both enraged that Zhin Tsu used someone of 'common birth' to humiliate their children."
"Thanks for warning me." Takeo grumbled- he was angry, but decided to not dampen his mood, he really hoped that Zhin Tsu wouldn't let them expel him. He kept running, now not as excited as he was scared, would they really kick him out for being forced to duel?
He rushed to Zhin Tsu's quarters, which weren't far from the meditation chamber and he was so anxious he didn't even knock on the door; he pushed on the doorknob and opened the door which led to the masters room. Inside stood Lempuh, with his back turned towards the door talking with Zhin Tsu, who was sitting in a lotus position on a pillow on the floor. When the door opened with a burst, Lempuh turned to look at Takeo.
"Don't you know how to knock?!" Lempuh shouted "You..." he seemed to have wanted to insult Takeo, but instead he looked at him, up and down, glaring at him as him he wanted to make sure it was really him. He stopped, just didn't say anything and Takeo was confused "Be grateful that Master Zhin Tsu has decided to let your actions in the arena slide this time, had it been up to me I would have had you exiled out of the temple for such a disgrace." That was it. He just looked at Takeo.
Takeo instead looked over his shoulder and at Zhin Tsu "Grand Master." Takeo bowed.
A smile spread across Zhin Tsu's face "Takeo, thank you for coming." He bowed his head lightly in return and then returned his attention to Lempuh "Master Lempuh, that will be all, please inform all of the sages of what we just spoke, some of them have known for a while, but others don't so I believe it's time to come clean, but see to it that none of the students know for now, it is best that way I believe."
Lempuh looked at Takeo again and bowed "understood, Master Tsu." with those words he left, in a quick pace and made sure to close the door behind him.
"What was that all about?" Takeo finally asked as he sat down in a lotus position in front of Zhin Tsu.
Zhin Tsu sighed before speaking "Something serious, I assure you." He smiled "Happy Birthday, Takeo, I'm sorry I wasn't here. They way I hear it you had quite a test before your birthday."
"Oh yeah, that geography thing about mountain rock types was insane..." Takeo lowered his head.
"Quite, but I was referring to your altercation with Tetsuri and Hetsuki."
"Oh." Tak blushed "sorry..." he wasn't sure what to say anymore.
"I'd very much like to hear how you defeated two strong students; it was no doubt a display of great skill."
"It was hard, though it wasn't only fighting; I outran them and tricked them. I tricked Tetsuri into knocking Hetsuki out and then I angered Tetsuri on purpose so he'd lose control and I'd win..." he was ashamed of how it sounded, in reality it had seemed much better "I didn't really win the fight, I guess."
"Clever." Zhin Tsu smiled "Takeo, fighting isn't all about who can deal the strongest blows or who can take the most. Fighting is about knowing your abilities, analyzing your opponent, knowing when to retreat and when to attack." He tapped Takeo on the chest lightly "When fighting you must control your emotions and be aware of your surroundings to win. You must be smart, cunning and strong and from how I heard it, you were all these things, no matter what people say- you won."
Those words brought a wide smile to Tak's face "At least you believe me," he then added "Thanks for the arm guards by the way."
"Did you like them?"
"Yeah, they really seemed to fit"
"I had them made especially for you." Zhin Tsu explained.
"What?" Takeo asked, surprised. It cost a lot to have such things made and Zhin Tsu must have spent quite a penny to make something like them with such fine materials "Master, you shouldn't ha-"
"You only turn sixteen once." With those words Zhin Tsu's smile faded "And I wanted to apologize."
Zhin Tsu's mouth opened and closed as if he wanted to say something but couldn't find the words to do it. He looked at his student, directly into his eyes. The master's eyes were tired, sad, unlike his usually calm and seemingly happy self. "I spoke to the Fire Lord on some pressing matters and it seems that I don't have as much time as I had hoped to."
"Master? Are you sick?" Takeo was genuinely concerned, was his master telling him he didn't have much time to live? The thought itself shook the boy to his very core, he couldn't believe it. Zhin Tsu was his only friend in the entire world, he couldn't just... die. At the same time he gulped, was Zhin Tsu referring to Takeo's exile out of the temple?
Zhin Tsu seemed confused again, as if unsure about what to say, he then sighed and spoke "Takeo, did you know that the Avatar should be announced in the following year?"
"Yeah, on his seventeenth birthday." Takeo smiled "And he's from the Fire Nation, maybe I'll even get a chance to meet him." it was an exciting thought, to meet the Avatar, the person they've been learning about for the past sixteen years, the person the sages serve, though It'll be a strange feeling calling someone his age master or sir, he imagined it was even stranger for old men like Lempuh and Zhin Tsu to call him that. He just couldn't wait to see the look on Lempuh's face when he called the Avatar mater for the first time.
"I already know who he is; as do a few other sages... the Fire Lord has asked me to tell him about his secret, because he fears we might not have enough time to wait another year."
"Was this the pressing matter you mentioned in your letter to me? Do you want me to help you find him?" Takeo was excited about the thought, not only would he get to meet the Avatar, he'd be among the few that would tell him about his nature, it was no doubt a prestigious honor. Tak felt honored that Zhin Tsu chose him. And here he was thinking that they were exiling him. "Why can't the Fire Lord wait another year?""It's complicated..." Zhin Tsu trailed off "Takeo, walk with me." Zhin Tsu stood slowly and walked past Takeo, who stood and following a step behind. As they left the quarters, Zhin Tsu closed the door, but left it unlocked. There wasn't much to steal, even if there was- no one from the temple would do it and there wasn't anyone who could break into the temple like that. As they walked, Zhin Tsu was silent for a while. Then suddenly they went down a flight of stairs, and another and another until they reached nearly the basement. Zhin Tsu came to a sudden stop and Takeo stopped behind him. The Great Sage tapped the wall with his palm and a fire spread into a shape of a door and a piece of a wall moved.
"Wha-" Tak stood in awe for a moment and began following his master as he stepped through the door. The wall closed in behind them and Takeo couldn't help but ask "What was that?!"
"Takeo, I've tried my best to give you a childhood, to let you enjoy your childhood and your life while you still could." his voice was so calm and strange that Takeo indeed finally understood. They were exiling him out of the temple. "I'm sorry to say that I couldn't give you more time and it seems because of me, your training and your childhood must be cut short."Takeo wasn't a child anymore, but he was scared and shaking now. They can't exile me. He thought as he gulped and bit his lower lip. Please don't exile me. Where will I go? Takeo's whole life, this temple was his home, he had no family, no friends, and nowhere could he go besides here. As they kept walking down the long corridor, Takeo felt choked up, so choked up he couldn't even ask a question. And then they came out to a large chamber. Large pillars connected from the red marble floor to the roof, some sort of torches burned and lit the dark room in a fiery light. They burned strangely, how could have they lasted so long down here this whole time? In front of them stood some sort of large door, with a strange mechanism on it. A dragon shaped symbol from gold and five holes on it.
Zhin Tsu extended his right hand and then his index and middle finger. Such an intense flame fired out of his fingers that it covered the entire door, entering all five holes. Takeo couldn't believe it. He had never seen anything like it; Zhin Tsu's abilities were beyond anything human. Then the dragon began to turn and the mechanism on the door clicked several times.
Click. Click. Click.
And then with a loud creak and a gust of dust, the heavy large doors began to slowly open. Takeo was scared; he took a step back and watched the door open. He felt the warm palm of Zhin Tsu gently rest on his shoulder before it urged him on forward. He began walking and past the door just as it fully opened and stopped moving. He came to a stop inside of another dark chamber and suddenly all of the torches around them lit up. In the rood stood all of the five sages. Master Lempuh and four other old men dressed in sage robes. Zhin Tsu passed Takeo and took his spot in front of the sages. They all stood in a crescent, Takeo stood a few meters in front of them, his eyes wide watching all six men. No doubt about it, he was being expelled.
"Takeo, for centuries the Fire Sages have served the Avatar. We store knowledge and seek ways to better ourselves so that we can grant him help, advice and service in his time of need." Zhin Tsu's voice was serious and calm, behind him, Lempuh's face was stone cold. "The Fire sages help inform the Avatar of his nature when he reaches the age of seventeen, however I fear that we no longer have enough time and cannot wait another year." he took a step forward "From this day forth, the Fire Sages and the rest of the world must welcome the new Avatar..." He looked directly into his students eyes "Avatar Takeo." He went to his knees and bowed his head down to the ground. The other sages did the same, even Lempuh. Takeo's eyes went wide and he took a step back, in complete shock, his jaw fell.
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