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June 11, 2013
Two of the same can still be two different...
Chapter 4: Different Worlds
Tiros sat on the ship, bored. It had been days and nothing had changed. Every time he asked how long, the captain said soon. He now wished he had asked an Air Nomad to fly him north, but always remembered why he didn't.
The Air Nomads believed the Avatars made just decisions, even if they contradicted their principles. Naturally, the multi-generational purge of witches was one such thing. He did not want to test what the monks' views of Melasa were.
And Melasa was still edgy since they left the Great Forest. He didn't get why, they succeeded and killed the malevolent spirit that was behind it and exonerated Hei Bai, who was getting all the blame.
Melasa only briefly answered later that he should have handled telling them about their loss better. It was curt and cold, and she refused to expand on it. So he didn't want to talk to her either. Which is why he was bored stiff, he could have at least made fun of her sullen attitude.
He looked out over the water, where it was just more icebergs. Finally, the destination revealed itself in a blinding reflection of ice a great distance away. A great city made of its element now took over a large portion of his sight and increased as they reached the wall until it was all he saw. He heard the light footsteps of Melasa in a red cloak concealing herself as she joined him to look on in wonder."I never thought such grand work was possible in ice."
"My father had spoken of seeing this city. Words do not do it justice."
Tiros couldn't see her eyes but had a feeling that they were as wide as his. The boat was now within swimming distance as parts of the wall melted away. Two spots dissolved faster and soon opened for a pair of boats with lines of men in blue garb.
All the men outstretched their hands in unison to the middle opening. Focusing, Tiros could feel a change in the air. The half-circle opened into a great gate for the ship to pass through.
The path became dark as they entered and light seemed sparse, which only made the next sight all the more amazing. Like a city of glimmering crystal, they shielded their eyes at the magnificent beauty as like reflected from the ice and onto the water.The city was even greater than its impressive wall. Like gems emerging from white ice, it was the most beautiful thing he had seen. A cold wind hit them at the bow, knocking Melasa's hood back, blowing her fiery hair. His eyes contracted at the sight as something warm took him in his chest. Her cheeks reddened with the wind and Tiros looked away.
She noticed something, "Is there something wrong, Master?"
"No, its just a bit nippy out here." Melasa looked back on the city, not caring if it wasn't something threatening. She may be bound to protect him, but she didn't want to care a damn about him if she could avoid it.
The ship soon reached its destination and halted by an ice port. Many were waiting as word preceded them. Crowds overflowed the makeshift harbor as a party of well-dressed men waited for them.
The crew dropped the plank down and the two departed. Both wore red cloaks, Tiros for his nation and Melasa because it fit with her hair. Whispers permeated through the men as they stared in awe at the witch. No matter how many times she tried to pull her hood up, the wind blew it back down. They were amazed at her beauty, an exotic creature with hair like the proud blood in their veins.
Reaching the party of nobles, Tiros had an idea how to act. Nobility demanded respect and custom. With a humble bow, he greeted them. Melasa didn't give such a glorious bow, but bowed nonetheless. The nobles returned the gesture in the fashion of a superior.
"Welcome to the Water Tribe, Avatar Tiros, we are most honored with your presence."
"I am honored to be here," he looked over to his companion, "This is my friend, Melasa."
She nodded her head in response as whispers spread again. Her cool demeanor was interesting to the community-oriented Water Tribe. It only made her that much more attractive to the men.
An elder amongst the nobles turned to the crowds, "We shall hold a feast!"
Cheering erupted while the nobles led the Avatar and Melasa to the palace. It was warmer but still markedly cold for the tropically born Avatar. He cupped his hands made a small flame to heat his hands as he shivered quietly.
Noticing this, Melasa quickly stepped over. She grabbed his hands and whispered before anyone would notice, "Merash."
A warming sensation took his heart and spread through his body. Before he could thank her, she had already left, following the nobles. They then stopped at a hall where they were turned to by serious faces, "Your woman must wait here while we discuss important things."
"Excuse me?" Tiros had a confounded look on his face.
"Women are not permitted in this hall."
"Those are our customs."
"I would understand in most cases, but Melasa is no meager servant, she is a warrior in her own right and a wise counselor to me."
"Those are our traditions."
He stepped forward with an angry face but a hand on his shoulder stopped him, "Master, do not worry."
He looked back to see the resolve and nodded. That alone surprised him, she was not a submissive person if the spell didn't make her so. He didn't like this one bit. It was not uncommon for women to be treated as less, but his time among the Air Nomads had changed his perspective, he did not look down on women as those around him did. Most importantly, he didn't look down on Melasa.
The men let him pass after the woman sat down in the snow, waiting silently. After they closed the doors, Tiros noted the room, it was a war room, where the most important things were discussed in secret.
Men sat down on sides of the narrow ice table. He could hear men grumble to each other where they thought he couldn't hear them, "He values his woman too much."
"I would too if I had a beauty like that."
The Chief spoke, "Avatar Tiros, the time has come to learn waterbending here in the Water Tribe, as your predecessors before you have. You were born in fire and so will have the hardest time learning the flow of life."
The Chief then looked to a man on his right, "But to know where to start, we must know where you are. Master Huam is one of our greatest warriors and a wise man."
A strong and tall man stood up. He had a broad face and dark hair. His light blue eyes were kinder than those around him, yet it did not ease the tension when he saw the man draw a blue sword from beneath his cloak of fur.
It was a beautiful weapon, with a blade the color of ice, "Do you expect a sword to be able to reach me?"
With his right hand, he lowered the sword with a stance and his left hand sent a small spiral of water after the nimble Avatar. He easily rolled from the strike and sent a small plume of fire. A swift uppercut of the ice-like sword ended the fire like it was a snowball.
The next scene confused and frightened Tiros, the man was now directly in front of him, as if he had been there the entire time. His sword raised high and dropping down for the final blow. How could he have so quickly have moved forward and beaten him? He had barely warmed up and it was over.A clash of steel interrupted what would have been his death as a flash of red appeared in front of his eyes. There Melasa stood with a glowing blade in hand, blocking the attack by Huam and his ice blade.
Huam smiled, "Very good, I didn't even notice you enter the room."
A cacophony of noise erupted as men yelled at the woman's interference in the war room. Huam calmed them down. "I sought to test them both. His patience and her devotion to his safety. She succeeded and he failed."
Tiros stared down the swordsman, how could he decide if he was patient from that little encounter and he didn't even attack more than once. Huam sheathed his sword, "What do you think, Master Iruk?"
An older man came from behind an ice pillar, "Tempered like forged steel ready to be cooled by the water. I will be honored to teach the Avatar the ways of water and ice."
He stepped up to the path as Melasa tightened the grip on her sword, readying to attack. He smiled, "Sorry child, but how will you attack me when you can't move?"
She looked down and realized that her feet were covered in ice, who did that and when? The old man waved his hand and the ice retreated from the red-haired witch. "I am Master Iruk, I taught Huam waterbending when he was a child, as I did most of these warriors. I had hoped I would live long enough to teach the Avatar when he came."
Tiros was frustrated with the test but accepted their caution. He bowed in respect, "Master Iruk, will you teach me?"
"Yes, we begin tomorrow morning."
Melasa sat outside the gate to Master Iruk's home while her master trained in a new element. She didn't like this place. For all its beauty, it was treacherous, steeped in customs that stagnated it like swamp water.
She hated more how they looked at her. To some, she was a hopeful object, and to others an unruly servant. She was grateful her master was like neither of them, though that wasn't saying much as she was bounded to him. A man ran up the steps, panting heavily. He was breathing hard as he reached the top. He held a scroll, a rare object where paper was hard to come by, which meant it was important.
The man lifted his hand up to her. She took it, no doubt a message for her master. The young man stumbled down the steps leaving. Deciding that she would decide how important a letter to her master was, Melasa opened the scroll and read the beautiful calligraphy.
Her eyes widened when she realized that it was addressed to her. It was from Huam.
Come to the Snow Bloom Grounds, we have much to discuss.
- - Huam
She was unsure what to think of that. It was addressed to her, but she was busy defending her master. She gave it a moment of thought, Tiros was an Avatar and capable of defending himself in this fortress, she could spare a few moments to see what was so important for Huam to talk to her. And some time away from him would do no harm.
She took out her few supplies, writing among them and left a note for her master that she was at the Snow Bloom Grounds. She took off, leaping from roof to roof so that she wouldn't be pestered by stares and muttering, these people were no different than her home village.
Melasa entered the cold yet calm grounds, surprised at how vacant and open they were. As she further walked in, the temperature warmed a bit and she saw Spring Snow fall like flowers in bloom, far more beautiful than any ice sculpture.
In the deepest recess of the Snow Bloom Grounds, she found the man who had attacked Tiros meditating with his sword across his lap and his back to her. As she walked silently to him, he spoke in a light voice, "Aruko, Melasa."
The young woman stopped dead in her tracks. He had greeted her in Nifrin, how did he know that word? Rather than wait, she drew the Storm Flower from her palm, summoning it from the void it rested in.
"Who are you?" She took a down-strike stance as she stared down the man.
"I am Huam," he answered nonchalantly, he looked over his shoulder at her, "Daughter of Melas."
"Dish-Ta!" With two fingers pointed at him, she whispered the spell to bisect him. A huge gash in the ground took hold and she found him rushing in from her right, sword at the ready.
She easily blocked and countered his attack. She then sent a flurry of thrusts at him, too many to block, not that he didn't put up a valiant effort. Only one of her many attacks scratched him.
"Good, you have first blood. I expect no less of a student of Melas."
She backed up. This man knew her father's style of fighting. "Manos Sha!" She reached out a hand cryptically to him and saw him kneel in pain. He wasn't the only one who suffered as her hand bled from the spell. It was the price of blood magic.
He breathed heavily as he gripped the ground, "I see he taught you everything about magic, I unfortunately couldn't master that like you."
"How did you know Melas?" She readied to crush him with her spell, she had another minute before she needed to devote more energy to it.
"He was my master and teacher."
She scowled, "Iruk was your teacher."
"In waterbending, yes, but I learned to fight with a sword from the Nifrin Witch I met on the mainland. I knew who you were the moment I saw you. I only knew one man with red hair like yours, and he taught me what it was to be a man."
She stepped sideways, disbelieving the man's description of her father. He was a harder man than that. "I see that you don't believe in my characterization of Melas, and in his later life, yes, it would be wrong. However, he was quite different when I was a boy."
"What does it matter to you if I'm a witch's daughter?"
"Because you are the Avatar's companion, and he will face great dangers. I will not let my master's daughter face them unprepared. That is why I called you, to train you in swordsmanship. Your father taught you much, but without an equal to train, your skills are slipping."
She snarled in disagreement but let the insult fly. Huam smiled cryptically, "If you think I'm wrong, beat me, and I will concede that you are the master. Beat me with the sword and nothing else."
Melasa inhaled calmly, accepting the challenge. Dancing in a play of steel, Melasa readied herself. Huam was faster than she thought but not as fast as her. Weaving in delicate patterns, she sent wide arcs of attacks after the waterbender. With a single hand, he wielded his ice blade, he calmly countered attacks, not betraying any sense of fear or hurry.
"Good, don't hold back. Kill quickly. Don't let the enemy draw you into a prolonged fight."
A flash of white brushed her hair, making red strands lightly fall to the ground. She saw the white blade retract to its master. She leapt back, wary. Speeding forward with the fast pace that her people were gifted with, she struck down and felt the connect of metal against metal as her blueish steel crashed against ice cold white. The singing steel vibrated, ringing against their arms.
Wind blew from somewhere, making her hair fly in the wind. As their blades crossed and scratched across each other. She angled the blade low, and thrust forward. A small splat of blood flew in the air.
"First blood goes to you," Huam looked on his shoulder where his blue coat and furs had a razor thin cut and a small trickle of blood. "but that will be it."
Pushing forward, he forced her to step back and to do so again. Losing ground, she panicked. It had been so long since she fought a swordsman that she had nearly forgotten what to do. She turned in a circle, expecting him to fall over when his weight didn't have her support. Instead, the ice blade swung out and she felt a thin scratch across her cheek.
A thin mist of blood sprayed into the air as her pale cheek reddened from the disturbance. She touched her soft cheek, now scarred by a horrid horizontal cut.
Her hand shook as fear began to reach her mind. A superior swordsman, it was a long time since she had encountered that in her travels. She yelled, using her rage to fuel her attacks, and kept up with a blind rage, striking at him over and over again.
But her rage was the tool of her downfall. A hard slap hit her wrist, forcing her to drop the Storm Flower. Suddenly, she felt the deadly warning that a steel blade was against her neck. Holding her breath tightly, she waited for it to end. She should have just stayed and waited for her master.
"Very good, Melasa. Better than most of my students after years of training," he pulled the blade back and sheathed his beautiful sword.
"Why are you sparing me? You won."
"Because I can't teach the dead how to fight."
Melasa was confused more and more by humans. They showed the incomprehensible emotion of mercy and it confounded her. Huam continued before she could respond, "Your father was a good man and helped me through a hard time in my life. I was not a good guy when I found this sword, an Ish Kash called the Snow Bloom."
"I have never heard of it nor read about it in any records.""Neither had your father, but its power and craftsmanship is undeniable. And its temptation was too much for me then. Were it not for Melas, I would have been consumed by it. And you know what happens to those taken over by Ish Kash."
She gulped involuntarily, afraid to even say the name that he meant. "Melas saved me and made me a man. I will always owe him. I would have traded my life for his. But I can tell that he is no longer with us, given the way you speak of him."
She shook her head. It had been some time since her father passed away. He grunted, knowing his fear was confirmed, "Melas was much older than he let on. A vanity to be young. I remember the cold person I was when I met him. I accepted his words because he seemed to be like me. It wasn't until the end that he revealed who and what he was."
"Why didn't you turn him in?"
"Melas was like a brother who watched over me. To betray that is like betraying blood. Could you do that?"
"No, but I know those who have."
"I guessed so with how you have kept your distance. I sympathize, Melasa, but you serve the Avatar. Solitude is the past now. You need to be confident and you need to be strong, or else you'll be a hindrance on Avatar Tiros."
Tiros breathed in ragged breaths, "Ugh. If I have had to look at one more icicle, I'm going to melt this place into the ocean."
Huam was right, he wasn't patient. He was already cursing this fortress of ice as a prison on just the first day. He could only wonder if Melasa enjoyed or hated this solitary place full of people.
He then thought on it, where was she? He recalled seeing her sit by the gate of Iruk's estate as she would his sleeping place, which sometimes unsettled him. He did not recall her waiting there or back at their quarters, where was she?
A little scream broke out into the cold night sky with the fear that only children have. Tiros got up with a burst of adrenaline, hoping it was just a child overreacting. Leaping through the window in clothes too thin for the arctic cold, he saw what was the source of the commotion and was shocked to his bones, "Melasa! Let him go!"
"He was trying to sneak in," the young witch answered, as if that explained the vice grip on the little boy's wrist that made him kneel and cry in terror and agony.
"Please! I just wanted to see him!" Tears ran down his red face while black hair flew in the night.
Grabbing her wrist, he sent a forceful voice her way. Commanding her, "Let him go."
She took a look of confusion as she saw Tiros snarl in anger. She let go of the boy who immediately ran away from the place as if hell were on the other side and Melasa was merely the gatekeeper.
"What do you think you are doing?!" Rage and anger were at the top of his voice.
"We can't set a precedent that anyone can sneak into the place of the Avatar while he is exhausted and weakened. If we do, someone worse will come along and take advantage of that leniency, someone who means you harm."
"Well, many will mean us harm after what you just did! You hurt a child because he wanted to meet the Avatar? What is wrong with you!? Have you no compassion!?"
"Compassion is for the weak."
Grunting in frustration, he yelled at her and the clear night sky "Where in the world do you get this from? Treating people like dirt, and treating those who are nice to you like repulsive barbarians? People wouldn't half so often treat you like a freak if you just acted normal for once."
"Freak! Normal!" The cool and collected face of Melasa broke in earnest as she really yelled back at her master for the first time, "You think I haven't heard those words before!? I hear them everyday! Since I was five, I was a freak! Cast out and left to die! Don't give me piety for something you know nothing about!"
"You only make things worse for yourself. You insult the kind and harm the indifferent, of course people will act hostilely to you. I would never have known you existed if you didn't go nuts and tried to kill me!"
The next sight truly surprised Tiros, tears. Tears coming from one of Melasa's eyes in one small line. He was still shocked by that when the next surprise came. A slap across his face and his cheek burned. Only as he saw Melasa running away did he realize what had just happened.
He sat down in the snow, guilt welling up in him. In such a rush to try and stop Melasa from acting so rashly, he had truly hurt her. He had never seen her cry before and never had she lashed out at him since she was bound to serve him. He didn't even think it was possible. Her anger must have been enough to briefly overpower the spell.
She must have suffered so much that she repressed it in a cold shell waiting for the next hurt. And he was the one to deliver it. He rested his head in his hands. To have done that to her.
Melasa sat on the frozen roof, wiping the tears that had so briefly taken her face. She should have kept it in. How could he understand, how could any of them? Even Huam, who knew, couldn't understand.
A step in the snow informed her of someone approaching her solitude. She looked to see Tiros approaching, he had a sullen look on his face. Out of curiosity, she asked, "How did you find me?"
"No one here would stand on the frozen roofs looking for loneliness except the half-witch I know."
The little smirk that came from his comment faded away as he knelt in the snow, "I'm sorry, Melasa. It was wrong of me to say what I did. It was neither my place nor the truth to say what I said."
"But it is. I'm a freak, I'm not even human or Nifrin, I'm some freak in between that no one's ever heard of."
"You're not a freak, Melasa. You're weird, yes, but everyone has their quirks. Accepting who we are is the most important thing to moving on. I know you have some skeletons in your past, bury them and live on. You can't live with them in tow."
A cold wind took her breath away, sending her crimson hair to float in the air. She stood up and brushed off her skirt, "Lets go."
As if erasing the events of the night, she leapt from roof to roof back to the quarters kept for the Avatar. Tiros followed after her as the wind got colder and froze his veins. Reaching their new home, they shivered as they entered the ice and were surprised that it shielded them from the cold outside.
Tiros looked at the room that he was supposed to sleep in. There was only one room as they had not anticipated that he would have company. Melasa refused a room that couldn't be adjoined, citing she couldn't protect him elsewhere.
Tiros really wondered how they didn't die in their sleep up here. A sleeping bag made of thick furs was all that separated them from the ice. Melasa sat down at the door. Tiros was going to say something when he knew her response before it came out. Wrapping up, he closed his eyes to sleep, his exhaustion taking the better of him.
With a start, his amber eyes opened up. He was shivering as his body shook from the freezing air in a cold sweat. He looked up at the doorway, expecting his stalwart defender to be unfazed. She wasn't, though. Shivering as her lithe body tried to stay warm.
How long had she been like that? He got up and put his hands on her shoulders. She looked up at him with blue lips. He led her frail and cold body to the fireplace, he sent a small fireball into the depth, reigniting the pit.
He put his sleeping bag around her as it was the warmest. He waited a moment, making sure she rested and slept. Once sure she wouldn't move, he got up, but was stopped by a pale cold hand.
Tugging him, he hugged her letting his heat from bending warm himself and her. She smiled faintly in her half-conscious state, "Thank you, Master."
- Melasa opens up just a little here.
- Huam has an Ish Kash that has no record of existence. That doesn't mean much at the moment, but it may when the Ish Kash are explained by Melasa later on.
- Melasa wrote a note telling Tiros where she was, and yet he didn't notice it. Someone needs to pay attention a little better...
- At this point in my story, there is still only one Water Tribe.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
Storms of the Future Cycle
|The Journey of Tala|
|Book 1 - Sand and Steel|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 2 - Blood and Swamps|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Book 3 - Pyres and Storms|
|- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
|Fates and Vows|
|- - - - - - Ilera - Solace Fade - Scions - Sovereign|
|The Rise of Lirin|
|- In the Morrow - The White Dragon - Faith in Blood - The Great Gates - Lord Avatar - A Red Sun - Faceless - Faction - Tempest - Rally of Crows - Rally of Eagles - Dragons and Serpents - Kings and Men - Storms of a Spirit - Princes - A Battered Land - Seas of Ichor - Arbiter - Return to a Grave - Declination - Disaffection - Epilogue|
|Myths of the Empire|
|Pacification - Assassins - Empire - Red Sun Under The Empire - White Snow - Heirs|
|The Reclamation of Arein|
|Book 1 - Chaos|
|Refugee - Rogue - Ghosts - Dark Roses - Doyen - Divulgence - The Plan - Abscond - Mists of Illusion - Madonna - Syndicate - Playing the Stakes - Purge - Brothers|
|Book 2 - War|
|Alliance - Temple - Tensions - The Fall - Hunters and Prey - Lussuria - Shades of Relevance - Broken Star - Defiler - Strikeforce - Secrets of the Lair - Eminence - Swarm - Wanderer|
|Dreams of Melasa|
|Book 1 - Servant|
| - - - - - - - - - - - - -
|Book 2 - Shadow World|
|Faint but Clear - Ghost in the Steel - Kurotama - Loyalties - Servants of Shadow - Game of Fate - Shadows and Reflections - Tomb of Blood - Broken Blades - Hill of Shadow - Souls and Swords - Home|