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One: Hushed Mystery
February 4, 2013
Previously in Tempests
Continuing to try to help, Eizo and Kanae look into Empress Ichihara's strange scar on her hand. After Eizo duels Isitoq--one of the Empress's body guards--he discovers that there was an assassination attempt which took the Empress's sister's life and gave Ichihara her scar. Sohyon meets with Emperor Mashita and returns home to find a strange visitor: Lady Saromi is in the house and tries to seduce him, only to be rejected. When Eizo and Kanae return, Sohyon tells them about his encounter with Lady Saromi, and Eizo gets a mysterious idea.
The leaves of spring are beginning to die
This identical situation probably won't happen to you, but if you take any advice from this, understand that it's always the ones you least expect.
The overwhelming stench of death woke Sohyon with a start. It was dark—presumably still night—but the stench was horribly prominent. Using his hands to push himself up, Sohyon found that he could not move. Panic swept over him momentarily, wondering why he found himself suddenly feeling like his muscles wouldn't respond. At the same time, judging from the lack of daylight, Sohyon could assume that it was still the middle of the night, and thus fatigue probably was just getting the best of him. He lied back down.
But the smell only got worse, until Sohyon felt like vomiting. Once more, he tried to raise his body so that he could figure out where the smell was coming from. This time, he knew he was awake and he knew his arms were exerting a large amount of force to push himself up, and he was able to move a little bit. As he could not fully lift himself, Sohyon fell back dramatically.
He looked up to find a sliver of light reveal a face, pale with death and half eaten by maggots, staring at him. Naturally, Sohyon panicked. Now more than before he was struggling to get up as he shoved his arms to the side to try and escape. His right arm broke through something, and Sohyon looked to see his hand incidentally lodged in the side of a corpse.
Sohyon knew where the smell was coming from now, though the panic setting in would not let him fully assess the situation. He was lying in a pile of cadavers.
No stench. Sohyon shot upright, breathing hard with sweat pouring down his face.
- I understand that it has been a while since my last journal entry. In these past several days, the only noteworthy event might be the strange visit from Lady Saromi. That would have been... seven days ago, if I recall correctly. To sum up the event, she came to the house in which I am staying and tried to seduce me. It was rather strange, as you might be able to guess. After I got her out of the house, I meditated on the matter. I could not make much progress in making any sense of it. Clearly she was troubled somehow, and clearly she thought that she might gain something from having a—an intimate encounter with me. I'm glad that I won't be telling you this in person: I can only imagine how awkward it would be to explain such an event to a sixteen year-old girl. This identical situation probably won't happen to you, but if you take any advice from this, understand that it's always the ones you least expect.
- My companions, Eizo and Kanae, determined that Lady Saromi was trying to gain something from seeing me. Eizo said something about getting an "idea" which involves Kanae for discovering more about why Lady Saromi came to see me. I inquired further, and he responded that there was "no way someone as [attractive] as [Lady Saromi] would settle for someone as average as [me]". He is covering something up, but at the time I chose not to question further. However, a few days later I inquired of the matter again, and they both said that I should not worry about it, though they would not tell me what exactly it was that I wouldn't be worrying about. They're being rather strange about the whole matter, but I suppose I shouldn't be too quick to judge or complain. After all, the past few days have been pleasantly quiet.
- It seems that my presence alone has calmed things between Emperor Mashita and Empress Ichihara, at least for the time being. After each met with me, I stopped receiving invitations from either. I do not mind, however I have been keeping tabs on their activities through frequent conversations with their numerous servants. For the time being, I will observe the matters between these two Empires. Since Lady Saromi came, I am not sure how exactly to proceed in an appropriate manner so as to ensure that I do not come off as biased, nor do I slip up should the Lord and Lady Saromi appear at the gathering. Thus, I await Eizo and Kanae to finish their experiment and deliver some helpful advice for me regarding Lady Saromi. Then, I shall arrange a meeting between the two leaders where we can discuss matters further. I hope that this will happen in the next few weeks so that I can return home to the temple soon.
- Until Eizo and Kanae began their investigation thing, I had not had the opportunity to play my flute while in Ishi Sentō. It happens to be one of those rare pleasures that are not often derived when in such a strange place. Playing it gave me time to think through things, especially what to say in this bloody journal. I truly hope that you will never read this, Avatar, and that I will never have to think about these two Empires again. Yet, I'm still writing to you, Avatar. For the past several days, this conflict has kept me from writing another entry, though eventually I knew that it had to be done. I guess that my advice will be useful to you if you need it and a waste of time if you don't. At the same time, writing gives me time to reflect and try to put my thoughts into words, thus also helping me to come to a deeper understanding of what is happening.
- I've been having nightmares since Eizo and Kanae set to work. I'm not sure if it's directly related, but I hope not. Three nights ago someone was tearing out my heart, two nights ago I was just running from some hideous monster, and last night I was buried by a pile of corpses, to name a few of the recent dreams. I suspect that these dreams are somehow linked to the stress I am feeling from not being able to do anything useful for the moment, however I also heard rumor that there is a woman in Ishi Sentō who interprets dreams. If Eizo and Kanae are still working today, I might just set out and see her so as not to sit idle for too long.
- This is a longer entry than usual, and I doubt much of it will be relevant to you. Hopefully I'll start writing more regularly in this journal, but I probably won't.
- -S, Day Nine
Sohyon set down his brush with a sigh and looked out the window. It was still dark outside—Sohyon estimated about three in the morning—and he could clearly see some staggering nobles making their way down the street. Though only in Ishi Sentō for a little more than a week, Sohyon already knew that these must be people coming back from one of Lord Saromi's parties. His thoughts flickered to Lady Saromi. She had been plaguing his mind, though he did not have any feelings for her. Despite the fact that she was trying to seduce him, in their encounter earlier she just seemed so pathetic—almost like someone was making her do that.
With a sigh, Sohyon shook the conspiracy theories from his head. Looking for imprecisions in things which appear smooth was always useful, but conspiracies breed biases, and Sohyon simply cannot afford to come off as biased in anyway whatsoever. He sighed again and carried himself out of his room. In the main room, Sohyon noticed that Eizo and Kanae were not there. It was early, but out of a nagging suspicion he checked their rooms. Both were gone, meaning they either had quietly left in the early morning or they had never come back at all. Though Sohyon hoped for the former, he suspected the latter.
There was some food lying out. One of the servants—Sohyon believed Emperor Mashita and Empress Ichihara's servants alternated—left food out for them every day. They did not have enough money to buy anything for themselves, and thus their meals for every day depended on the fact that this servant would come by and lay out something for them. Steam rolled off of the freshly baked bread on the table. Sohyon suspected that it was the servant coming which had woken him today. He knelt beside the low table, taking a piece of the bread and sinking his teeth into the gooey inside. In the past several days, he hadn't been able to come down until much later, and the bread wasn't nearly this soft and delectable.
After finishing breakfast, Sohyon pulled his flute from his pack and left for the nearby stable. Meali hadn't been ridden nearly as much as she should have in the past while, and the Air Nomad knew it was making her anxious. When he came into sight, she seemed to perk up a bit from her lying on rough straw bed. He sat next to her, leaning against the soft fur of her side. Sohyon pressed his flute to his lips, and she instantly relaxed. As he had been doing the past several days, Sohyon quietly began to play a few notes for his sky bison. Her breathing regulated into deep, steady breaths—Sohyon assumed that she had fallen asleep by the sound of his notes. Then, the few notes spread out, gradually seeming to transform into long, neat, melodies. By this point, Meali was long asleep and Sohyon had already lost himself in his music.
By mid-morning Sohyon was finished playing his flute and left with the issue that had been plaguing him for the past several days: what to do with the rest of his time. Though it was towards the back of his mind in terms of importance, the Air Nomad was starting to highly consider visiting that dream interpreter he had heard about. It was a longshot, and he assumed the woman would not be able to help at all, but nonetheless it was worth a shot. Upon packing up his flute, Sohyon decided to head out to where this woman lived.
He arrived at the appropriate location to find a rather strange-looking building. The structure was simple and classy, but starkly contrasted by the obnoxiously loud colors which lined the exterior. Rather than having a real door, a layer of beads separated the inside of the building from the outside. Plastered on a sign over the door read "Madam Lao's Fortunetelling, Dream Interpretations, Spirit World Communications", thus suggesting that this was in fact the correct location.
The matter of whether or not to actually enter the place or not left Sohyon rather conflicted. This sort of thing—people claiming to be envoys with the spirits—was exactly the sort of thing that he was trained to hate as a rather spiritual individual. For that reason, the whole thing came off to Sohyon as blasphemous and brought him to dislike the idea. On the other hand, his dreams were getting stranger, and his own interpretations were getting almost paranoid: at the back of his mind, Sohyon found himself more suspicious of the motivations of others as well as more aware of what they were doing. Whether this was because he was becoming less naïve or because of paranoia, Sohyon could not tell. Either way, he figured that getting another insight on the inner workings of his subconscious couldn't hurt.
But Sohyon did not have too much time to toss around his options. A thin young woman in ill-fitting clothes hurried out, quickly bowing to Sohyon. "Madam Lao has been waiting for you, Tiáotíng Zhě." She grabbed his wrist and led him through the beaded entrance without giving him the opportunity to argue.
The inside of the building was less gaudy but just as irritating. Candles lit the room to provide rather dim lighting; considering the fact that all the windows in the main room were blocked with wooden shutters, this was a rather poor fit in terms of ensuring that people could actually see. In following the mysterious young woman, Sohyon almost tripped over bowls of what appeared to be burning incense, though Sohyon could not accurately identify the objects. She led him through this main room into another, similarly lit, room in which a rather large woman was seated opposite the door. With a bow, the other left and closed the door behind Sohyon.
"If it isn't the mediator, Sohyon. Please sit, airbender." She gestured towards a velvet cushion placed about five feet in front of her. Following her instructions, Sohyon approached the pillow and knelt on top of it, comfortably resting his hands on his thighs. "The spirits told me you would be coming. They told me that you were being plagued with visions in the night."
"I wouldn't call them visions, nor do I think the spirits would particularly care in a situation like this—" Before he continued, Sohyon caught his tongue. He was getting snappy with this woman, another thing which rather conflicted with his nature. In other words, he was showing this Madam Lao person the exact reason why he was coming. "I do not think they are visions, but I do think that my sleeping mind is trying to tell me something. I came to you for another opinion."
Madam Lao nodded knowingly as Sohyon spoke. "Hold out your hand," she instructed once he had finished explaining. Hesitantly, he obeyed and Madam Lao clasped his hand in hers. "Now tell me about your dreams."
"Well, they've all been dark, but at first they were somehow calm..." Sohyon trailed off. This whole experience was strange, yet he felt like the smell of the burning incense and the dim lighting almost pushed him to get into this and follow what she was telling him to do, despite his instincts saying otherwise. "The first I was just back at the Air Temple talking about the past with my mentor... After that, I was in a field with a burning city behind me. The next night I was just travelling over a whole world in ruin on the back of my sky bison, and then I was at my friends' funerals, but I still just felt so calm.
"These aren't happy dreams, but then a few nights ago they got more intense. I start dying in various ways, and just last night I awoke buried under a pile of corpses. It started when my friends stopped coming back so regularly, and at first I assumed they were just stress-induced dreams about my friends getting into trouble, but somehow that just didn't sit well..." Realizing how much he was telling this woman, Sohyon trailed off. He didn't want to tell her too much, and it occurred to the mediator that he probably shouldn't have even told her this much considering the likelihood that she was in league with one side or the other and could use this information to take advantage of him.
"Do not be bashful, Sohyon. I understand completely." As she reassured Sohyon, she began to gently massage his hand. "Now, I need you to sleep. I will enter your dreaming mind to see what is happening, to root out a meaning."
More than anything else, this idea did not sit well with Sohyon. Though he wanted to protest, he could only feel himself getting sleepy. His eyes would not stay open, and eventually he could not so much as hold himself upright anymore.
Slowly, Sohyon's eyes blinked open to find that there was nothing beneath him. Lying face down, but not feeling anything beneath him, Sohyon felt like he was falling. Yet, he could not feel any air blowing against his body. He was trapped in some sort of abyss, and immediately he knew that he was dreaming. It was probably just want Madam Lao wanted, but Sohyon had no idea how to resist.
But this time he was not alone. The airbender looked up to see Madam Lao apparently sitting with her legs crossed. As a rather big woman, she looked awkward sitting in such a way. To further increase the unusualness, it did not look as though she was actually sitting on anything. When their eyes met, Madam Lao smiled. "Ignore me, Sohyon. Go about this dream as if I wasn't here."
"That's harder than you'd think," Sohyon said gruffly. "There's never been anyone else in my dreams, much less some woman I've known for all of twenty minutes."
"You've known me for longer than you think, Sohyon." She replied cryptically. "Look into your heart. Try and figure out why the spirits want me here, and why they are giving you these visions."
"The spirits don't give a shit!" Sohyon snapped. He took a deep breath after saying this, realizing how contrasting it was to his usual personality. Something about Madam Lao just set Sohyon on edge.
"Don't they?" Madam Lao tilted her head sideways as she asked this. "Who are you trying to convince that the spirits don't concern themselves with common people, me? Or maybe you are trying to convince yourself?"
Sohyon grimaced. All this talk was beginning to give him a headache. "I am sorry, Madam Lao, but I am not as deep of an individual as you take me to be. I don't even know why the Elders chose me in the first place! Anyone would make a better choice than I, even Kanae."
"You are unsure of yourself," Madam Lao pointed out.
"Clearly." Sohyon rolled his eyes. "There is absolutely nothing that sets me apart, and that's what I can't get past. My only defining characteristic might be my laziness that the Elders had always made an effort to note. Why did they pick me?" After making this statement, Sohyon stared back down at the endless abyss he appeared to be falling through.
"When you refer to your laziness, you mean the fact that since you've mastered airbending, you have spent every day lying around and playing your flute. That is what the Elders have always commented on."
"Yes, but they tell me—"
"Have you stopped to think that is maybe just the reason you were chosen?"
"You have always been Master Seijin's favorite, even if he ridicules your behavior. Surely you remember some of the other conversations you've had with him?"
Sohyon blinked in surprise. "The fruit pies..."
"Indeed." Madam Lao looked very proud of herself for reaching this conclusion. "Your flute playing has made you more aware of the world around you: the music has made you aware of all the little perfections of life. You are more thoughtful than your peers who do not play instruments, and in that way you can make logical and less emotional decisions than a person like Kanae."
The airbender nodded along before realizing something else, "But that doesn't explain the nightmares I've been having. I don't think all this death I'm seeing is connected to me being unsure of myself?"
"We shall see."
After speaking this line, Madam Lao dissipated into a cloud of black smoke. The abyss came to an end, and Sohyon hit the ground hard. Beneath him was a field of dead grass, and he stood to find a great battle raging. Neither of the fighting sides' armors looked familiar. Judging from the color schemes, though, it looked like it was one of the Earth Empires fighting against the Fire Nation.
Madam Lao appeared in a similar cloud as the one she vanished in. "What if I told you this was the future of the world? That the Fire Nation would wipe out all the airbenders and the waterbenders of the Southern Water Tribe, and the only people who could really resist the Fire Nation's control were the united forces of the Earth lands?"
"I wouldn't believe you since this is just a dream and you're just a half-assed fortuneteller," Sohyon replied with a shrug. They were standing far enough away from the fighting that they were not affected by the flickering of flames and the shattering of the earth in the distance. Madam Lao smiled in response, so Sohyon continued, "I don't see what this has to do with my nightmares. These people mean nothing to me."
"Exactly." Suddenly, the two of them seemed to transport into the middle of the fighting. Sohyon was now dressed in a green and brown uniform, finding himself face-to-face with a soldier with a frightening horned helmet.
Staggering backwards, Sohyon barely evaded a spear aimed directly at his chest. Out of some instinct he did not even know, he reached for a hammer at his waist and took a wild swing at his opponent, putting some distance between them. A little ways away, he saw a fellow soldier who was not as lucky. The other soldier took a strong burst of fire to the chest and flew backwards, lifelessly hitting his ground. "Eizo!" Sohyon called.
This surprised the airbender even more. He did not know whether this was Eizo or not, yet something in his chest told him it was. Somewhere in his mind, Sohyon knew that this Eizo had a wife, young son, and was terrible at cards.
The fighting stopped and Madam Lao appeared next to Sohyon. "I can't do all the work for you. What did you notice about this that gives you a hint as to what is giving you the nightmares."
"I'm worried about Eizo and Kanae..." Sohyon trailed off, feeling rather foolish for not realizing this sooner. "I've never really felt worried for anyone before. I can't do anything to help them, and yet they're like family to me."
"Every soldier who fights in foolish wars such as this feel for his comrades as you are feeling for Eizo and Kanae," Madam Lao explained. "If you can't help solve this feud between Empress Ichihara and Emperor Mashita, more men will watch their friends die as you have."
"I think I understand now," Sohyon expressed tentatively. "Thank you, Madam Lao."
"Oh, I'm not actually Madam Lao!" The dream interpreter laughed. "Your mind is just expressing its inner workings in my form. It's the only reason anyone thinks Madam Lao is effective: this happens with most of the people who come to see her."
"The real Madam Lao just drugged you so that you'd pass out—she's actually a total fraud. All her fortunes are total gemsbok bullshit!" Madam Lao smiled as she explained this.
"Sometimes she gets lucky." Madam Lao shrugged. "But what I hope you noticed is the real nature of Madam Lao's fortunetelling. I can't tell you explicitly since, well, I am you, but I'm sure you noticed something wasn't right."
Before Sohyon could respond, the whole world around him began to vanish.
The airbender awoke to find himself lying against Meali in the stables. In a way he couldn't quite explain, Sohyon felt strange. He looked around to find that nothing appeared out of place. That dream he had had seemed strange, and Sohyon instantly began to question whether he had gone to see Madam Lao. Considering how his mind had been recently, it seemed very likely that all of that could have been a dream as well. Maybe Madam Lao didn't exist at all; Sohyon instantly regretted writing anything in the journal about her.
It was dark outside, but between the street lights and the gleaming brilliance of Lord Saromi's house, the city seemed more alive than during the day. Sohyon stood and stretched, patting Meali on the head as he began to return to the house. But before he could enter the house, a dark figure flitted from one corner of the stable to the exit and vanished. "Who's there?" Sohyon called in futile. No one replied.
Ahem. If you remember Madam Lao of... well, let's just say spoilers, kufufu.
- Madam Lao. 'Nuff said
- The war in Sohyon's dream is an allusion to... well... the Hundred Year War clearly -_-
- The Madam Lao here is partly based on Fanadi in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
For the collective works of the author, go here.