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|First Snowfall Part 2|
One: Hushed Mystery
July 22, 2013
In case it gets confusing, at the beginning the flashbacks are just italicized whereas the journal entries are italicized and indented.
Previously in Tempests
Sohyon attends the festival to be met with an unpleasant surprise...
The first snowfall signals the true turn towards winter
Silence. It was as if the whole world had suddenly shut off, or died. The lifeless body of Emperor Mashita fell forward onto the nearest person. Sohyon slowed the Emperor's fall with his airbending only because his instincts told him to do so. The young Air Nomad's mind was frozen with shock. Crimson blood bled from the body, staining the vibrant yellows and oranges of Sohyon's ceremonial outfit. The entire crowd was shocked, but not into silence. Their noise was blocked as if there was no one in the city square but Sohyon and the body of the Emperor. It took him a moment to think to look past the Emperor, to find the assassin.
Perked atop a nearby building was the culprit. He held a bow in one hand – the murder weapon. Standing several meters away, Sohyon could not make out the man's face. Their eyes met, prompting the assassin to rise and begin running across the building roofs. "Stop!" Sohyon shouted. Despite shouting this, Sohyon knew that the assassin would not stop. The airbender created a current of air beneath his feet and launched himself at the building top, landing with the assassin in sight. In an attempt to stop the attacker, Sohyon threw his arms in an upward arc as he kept running and launched a powerful wave of air at the assassin. It seemed to catch the assassin off-guard, who staggered for a moment and nearly fell off the building.
But unfortunately, it did not stop the assassin. After staggering, he turned to face Sohyon, allowing the airbender to see his face. He wore a simple mask, clearly only intended to conceal his identity. As he took a few steps backwards, he pulled an arrow from the quiver at his hip and loaded his bow. The arrow flew towards Sohyon, but the airbender deflected it with a flick of his wrist and a small gust of air. However, this was not the main purpose of the arrow. Immediately after deflecting the arrow, Sohyon noticed the small pouch attached to the arrow and barely had enough time to dodge the small explosion. This surprise was not intended to hurt Sohyon; rather, it served the purpose of creating enough of a small distraction for the assassin to slip out of sight.
- I've decided I'm leaving for the Air Temple tonight. So much has happened that I cannot even begin to express through these pages. I'm sure you'll know everything: the assassination, the chaos afterward, the fact that I could do nothing but tell everyone that the assassin would be found and held accountable. I do not know how to find the assassin; much less find him and bring him to justice. I lied, and I know that goes against everything I'm supposed to stand for. I don't even know why I'm writing this.
The day had passed, leaving Sohyon sitting at the makeshift home and staring at this page, trying to write the last entry. Kanae and Eizo were nowhere to be found, and if Meali weren't still in her pen, Sohyon would have assumed that they had left. That speech continuously replayed through Sohyon's head, from after he had returned from hunting down the assassin...
"Please, calm down!" The town square was in chaos. People were screaming and crowding around the Emperor's body. Both the Empress and the Emperor's son were taken into protective custody, leaving Sohyon as the only voice of reason. "Panicking won't bring the Emperor back!" The airbender's words were not heard over the masses. Standing above the Emperor's body, Sohyon took a deep breath and brought his arms into his chest. He swung them outward and exhaled, with this motion making a slice of air that pushed the crowd back several feet. This display had an effect on the crowd and they quieted.
Now that he had the crowd's attention, Sohyon carefully thought through the situation, and what to say. "The Emperor may have died, but that does not mean his empire will fall." This was the first lie: in fact, the death of an emperor really was a signal that his empire would fall, in the most literal senses of both words. "He has an heir who will take over. Between this heir and Empress Ichihara, peace will be achieved." The people began chattering in hushed tones while Sohyon continued, "I may just be the mediator, but I will assure that the Emperor's assassin will face his crime. He will not be allowed to hide in his cowardice and guilt."
- Maybe I'm just writing this because I need someone to confide in – someone who isn't a part of the hushed mystery of this place. I realized too late that nothing is as it seems, and I suppose that's where my only advice to you will come from. Don't trust anyone. No one is free from the lies that shroud this place. I know that the monks will send you here when you're too young. Don't let anyone see any lack of confidence: the people here will leap at the chance to tear you to shreads.
- Of course, I'm not one to talk. I've hurt the situation more than I've helped it. The Emperor is dead, and with his incompetent heir coming to power, it looks like Empress Ichihara is going to come out on top. I can't even believe how much has happened. How could I ever explain to you that I didn't mean to father a child? That I was too young and stupid to realize that I couldn't fix everything? Maybe one day we'll meet, and I can apologize for making your Avatar duty all the more difficult.
After finishing this paragraph, Sohyon paused. The young Air Nomad knew that he should write something else: some final word to give the Avatar some amount of confidence. He looked at the page, as if it would give him some sort of inspiration. But the longer he looked, the more the words came out of focus. Eventually Sohyon's immense fatigue took over and he drifted into a deep sleep.
Something outside burned. Night still cloaked the city, but there was a flickering light outside his window. The airbender sprung up and looked out. Meali's stable was engulfed in an inferno. A lump formed in Sohyon's throat; he could see a crowd of people outside, waiting to make sure that the bison was caught in the flames. "No!" Not wasting the time running to the door, Sohyon dove through his window and into the streets.
Half the arsonists split off towards Sohyon, while the others stayed to watch a defenseless animal die. The criminals who approached Sohyon made a wall of sorts: there were seven, who all took earthbending stances before the Tiáotíng Zhě. In response, Sohyon took his airbending stance. "Step aside! I don't want to hurt you." The airbender knew that these words would not work. In all his inexperience, Sohyon knew a group of people unwilling to waver.
"That's why you're going to die today, Tiáotíng Zhě," one of the earthbenders said arrogantly. At the same time, he stopped into the work, pulling a large chunk of earth from the ground which he launched at Sohyon.
Dodging attacks from earthbenders was not a difficult attack. The rock neared Sohyon's face, and at the same time Sohyon simply turned in a small circle to his left to evade. After the first attack, the other earthbenders followed suite. With each attack evaded, Sohyon took a step forward. It did not take long for Sohyon to be inches from the first earthbender. "What the –" the earthbender started to speak, though was unable to retaliate. He was knocked off of his feet by a low sweeping kick from Sohyon before the airbender turned to the other six earthbenders.
The nearest stomped the ground to create a crack in the earth which rapidly moved toward Sohyon. When Sohyon sidestepped the attack, another stone was launched at his face. He bent backwards with surprising flexibility to barely avoid the attack before moving to rush the remaining enemies. Like with the first earthbender, the second did not have enough time to react before Sohyon took him out with an upwards diagonal gust of air. Five remained, though one of them was smart enough to quickly turn and run away, leaving four.
One of the four raised two walls of earth just the height of Sohyon on either side of the airbender. With a clapping motion, the earthbender brought the walls in, though by the time the earthbender moved, Sohyon had already leapt upwards and out of the way of the attack. Using his airbending, Sohyon propelled himself into the earthbender, landing in a fighting stance to face the last three. As they moved to attack, Sohyon twisted his arms, creating a horizontal cyclone of air that caught the last three earthbenders and launched them towards nearby buildings.
Not much time had passed, but when Sohyon turned to the other arsonists he saw that the stable was almost completely burned to the ground; no sign of those responsible. A hideous popping noise broke the silence of the night, accompanied by a heart wrenching whimpering noise. Sohyong ran to the stable, putting out the flames with his bending as he moved. At the center of the blaze was a charred, but familiar figure. Her big grey eyes looked weary, but nonetheless had the same life that they always had when Sohyon approached.
"Meali..." Tears filled Sohyon's eyes, dripping onto the barely living sky bison. "I'm so sorry... I'm so sorry..." This was all that he could say as he cradled her head. As if in response, she whimpered. Sohyon could tell that she was in pain as she continued to whimper. "I'm so sorry..." he kept saying as he cradled her head. It was his job to bring her out of her misery; a part of Sohyon's brain kept reminding him of this. She kept her whimpering, and at this point Sohyon didn't even try to control his tears. "I'm so sorry..." he blubbered out these words one more time before taking her head between his arms and snapping her massive neck. He had to use his airbending to assist, which only hurt him more.
A noise broke through the somber night: shouting. "Soh!" The voice was familiar, but Sohyon did not turn. The airbender stood with a dead look on his face, staring into the city. "Soh! We saw –" Eizo stopped talking as he neared the scene and looked at Meali's body in horror.
Even after Kanae caught up, they stood in silence. Neither of the others dared speak until Sohyon did. Finally, the mediator spoke: "Why...?" he mumbled under his breath.
"They think you had something to do with the Emperor's death... the whole city is in chaos," Kanae explained tentatively. "There are riots all across the streets; people are flooding in from both empires and they want blood..."
"Why...?" Sohyon repeated, furrowing his brow and continuing to stare at the city. In looking at the city, one could hear the shouting and the other lights from what were apparently fights in the streets. But for Sohyon there was nothing but where he was: with the silence from the lifeless bison.
"We need to leave... There are Air Nomads in Ba Sing Se who can take us back to the temple..." Eizo grabbed Sohyon's arm, which was totally limp. "Soh, we need to move! Snap out of it!" Despite these words, Sohyon still did not move. Kanae took Sohyon's other arm, and they began running, prompting Sohyon to follow in a daze.
"We're only a few miles south of the border with the Earth Kingdom; once we get there they can't get to us." Kanae spoke as they ran, but it was obvious Sohyon wasn't listening.
Dawn broke over the horizon as the trio ran adjacent to the sunrise. Their adrenaline had carried them since they fled Ishio Sentō, but it was clear that the three airbenders were getting winded. All the while Eizo and Kanae had to practically drag Sohyon, who still appeared to be in shock. Every now and again he would mumble some nonsense under his breath while his two comrades proceeded in silence. They weren't entirely sure where they were going, or how they would know when they had crossed the border, but what they did know was that they were getting exhausted and wouldn't be able to make it much farther.
After a while, Kanae started slowing. Her half of Sohyon slowed with her, while Eizo kept trying to tug them along. "We have to keep moving..." Instead of ripping Sohyon in half, Eizo decided to slow down as well.
"Eizo, we've been running for hours. They're not anywhere near us, and we need to rest." As Kanae said this, she looked around. "There's a forest east of here. We can rest there; if we haven't crossed the border already, that's the Mountain Empire, and Empress Ichihara's supporters don't want our heads."
Eizo sighed, though did not argue. Together, he and Kanae hoisted the stunned Sohyon up and continued running. His feet flopped in step with theirs, every now and again tripping over themselves. Sometimes, he would even doze off and the two would drag his feet through the dirt. The forest was within sight of where they were running and it only took them about a half an hour to reach the destination. Once there, they wandered a ways in and settled down in a small clearing. "We'll leave at nightfall... better to travel under the cover of night anyway," Eizo said, looking around the area.
"We'll take turns on watch." Kanae glanced at Sohyon. It was clear she was referring to herself and Eizo, as Sohyon's expression was totally glazed over. His reaction was understandable, however, and neither Kanae nor Eizo disliked him for it. The bond between Sohyon and Meali was closer than Sohyon would ever be with another human: it was an understanding. Losing Meali was Sohyon losing a part of himself, especially in such a heinous way.
They did take turns, with Eizo on the first watch while Kanae slept. Keeping watch was dull work, and Eizo found himself sitting around and tracing patterns with a stick in a small patch of dirt. He was still fixated on everything that had happened, and was clearly deep in thought. A few hours passed before Kanae awoke. "Eizo, you need to rest..."
"I can sleep when I'm dead," Eizo said morbidly while staring at the swirls he had drawn.
"It doesn't do anything to dwell on it: you can't change the past. And right now, you need to sleep or we'll never make it to Ba Sing Se."
He shook his head. "It's not like I can just pretend that everything is okay. Meali is dead, and I'm starting to doubt that Sohyon will ever be okay."
"Eventually, he will recover. His fatigue and shock have put him into this state. Just think about how much he has gone through in the past few months..." After saying this, Kanae thought about how much Sohyon had been through as well. "It's kind of crazy, if you think about it... I became a prostitute, you were basically my pimp, and Sohyon fathered a child."
Eizo chuckled a bit. "Not something you can really explain to the monks, eh?"
They sat in silence for a moment, considering the weight of Eizo's statement. "Are you going to go back to the temple?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
The sides of Kanae's mouth twitched into a small smile. "I don't think I will..." Though she didn't answer Eizo's question, she really didn't have to: the other Air Nomad understood what she meant. "I'm sure you've noticed that I'm different from most of the other sisters... I've never really fit in, and I thought that it might be the same for you."
"The opposite," Eizo replied, making a small gesture with his index finger to symbolize opposite. "Sohyon is my only friend; I don't think I could find another friend like him anywhere else."
"I never realized how close you two were."
"Like brothers, really. Things have been so different here..." he trailed off. "You know, I did try to leave the temple once."
There was nothing that Kanae could really say in reply, so Eizo continued, "It was right before I was going to receive my tattoos. I wanted to make sure that I really was choosing the right path..." Now, Eizo was staring at the sky, barely visible through the thick trees over their heads. "I went to the Northern Water Tribe and lived among them for a while... I was a damn good hunter and melted in with them perfectly." The Air Nomad bit his lip and smiled to himself. "But then I remembered Soh back at the temple. He's never shown it, but I know that he doesn't get along real well with his peers. Real quiet bastard, as I'm sure you've noticed, but well-spoken.
"We became friends when we were kids. It was a setup from the monks, but we were such a good fit for each other. Sohyon was calm and I was pissed at the world." Eizo clicked his tongue and launched the stick into the forest. "Now I practically killed Meali myself!" He stood and began to storm off into the forest.
"Eizo! Wait! Don't blame yourself –"
Before Kanae could finish her sentence, half a dozen figures sprung from the forest. They were mysterious looking figures, wearing uniforms that did not seem consistent with any military organization the airbenders knew. Eizo staggered backward in surprise as three of the figures surrounded him. The other three circled Kanae and Sohyon. It was obvious from the way they pointed their swords at the airbenders that these people were not friends. They didn't say anything, for a moment only surrounding the nomads intimidatingly.
One of the three facing Eizo made a moving, signaling for them all to begin the attack. They deflected sword blows with their bending, reminding them of their forgotten staves. Eizo managed to disarm one of his opponents after a clumsy, overly large swing by the enemy. Though Kanae wanted to check on her comrade, she was tasked with not only defending herself, but Sohyon as well. Because of the sudden chaos, Sohyon was trying to stand but it was clear that he was currently too weak to try to fight them off. With one arm, she made small arcs of air to reflect attacks aimed at her, and with the other arm she created small gusts of air to toss around any of the three who went for Sohyon.
In the midst of trying to deflect all the attacks, a sudden blade swung out and cut through one of Kanae's attackers. Another fell before they could react, and the last turned around. Five of the six attackers now lay dead. Eizo grabbed the last and through him to the ground, pressing against the man's chest with his foot to keep him down. "Who sent you?" Eizo asked, pointing the bloodied blade at this last assassin's throat.
"Dammit!" The man squirmed, grasping Eizo's foot and desperately struggling to lift it. "I'll die before I tell you!"
"Fine," Eizo replied. Showing no hesitation, he plunged the sword through the assassin's throat, warranting a shocked gasp from Kanae. Then, he bent over and began searching through the corpse's clothes.
"What are you doing?!" It was clear that Kanae was shocked at Eizo's disrespect he was showing to a man he had just brutally murdered.
"They usually carry some sort of letter to prove their not senseless bandits, or to remind their employer of what he assigned and promised. Here we are..." Eizo removed a letter, which he unfolded and held out so that he, Kanae, and the now barely conscious Sohyon could read:
- It appears that these three airbenders have blatantly disrespected our way of life and sought out to manipulate a situation we entrusted to them. They are no longer Nomads of our temples, and must be eliminated as a threat to our cause. With great weight we pay you blood money – to be received after the deed – to remove these traitors.
- Mention your employers to no one, otherwise you will receive nothing.
- Signed: Elders S. and L.
End of Book One
So the relationship between Sohyon isn't completely developed yet. Book Two as I've planned it has some major development and revelations about how these two different people became besties. I don't like making things easy for people to understand (as you might have picked up from my writing style >~<)
Here it is, the end of the first book. This one was a hard one for me to write, as I often found myself questioning my judgement, then being confronted with the problem that I couldn't go back and change what I'd already published, and arguing with myself over whether or not to keep it true to what I planned out at the beginning and deciding I should and wondering if the prostitutes were excessive (I realized that that whole plot and stuff between Eizo and Kanae really was) et cetera et cetera. Ultimately, I feel like the end product of this book was achieved how I wanted it to be achieved, though the journey was rough, to say the least. On this note, I'd like to thank you for keeping on reading even if you were wondering at any point what on Earth I was doing.
For the collective works of the author, go here.