|More from Necterine411||Drama/Action||PG||Here||Updates|
February 18, 2012
So, I'm actually happy about how this chapter turned out. I hope you'll find this more interesting and better written than the last chapters, which I am not that pleased with. Without further ado, (I really love that word) here's the chapter!
My stomach growls again, a deep wild sound followed by another sharp pang of hunger. I try to ignore it, I've fasted for longer than this before, but the sky bison lets out a pitiful moan and I know I need to find food. I stare critically at the grasses growing around me, trying to remember if they're edible or not. For a moment I consider feeding the sky bison some to test if it's edible, but Sister Lio's voice enters my head, reminding me of the importance of every life.
My muscles tense in surprise, wondering if I really heard Sister Lio's voice. I turn to see Wei, and my shoulders slump a little in disappointment.
"We need to go to town and get food and supplies." Wei says.
"That'd be way too dangerous. Look at our clothes, they scream Air Nomad. Even if the Fire Nation citizens didn't notice us, we don't have any money. Anyway, we can't leave the sky bison-"
"Yun, I've named him Yun."
I sigh, exasperated at Wei's interruption.
"Okay, we can't leave Yun by himself."
"Fine." Wei says, talking over her shoulder as she turns to walk back to Yun. "We'll starve to death."
Frustrated, I lean back into the grass with a huff. A stick pokes me in the back and I sit up just as fast. Rubbing the newly forming bruise on my back, I walk away from the forest's edge and towards the lake. Gently dipping in my feet, the water soothes my small cuts and burns, washing off my ash-blackened feet. I glance at my leg and gasp at the forgotten burn on my calf that stretches from just below my knee to an inch or two above my ankle. Thank spirits it's not too bad, and the burn is already starting to heal. I inch my leg into the pond, letting the cool water soothe the pain that is returning as the last of the panic-fueled adrenaline in my body is replaced by hunger and fear. I glance back at Wei, who's affectionately petting Yun at our small camp; glad she's forgotten about my injury. Wei was never good around wounds.
It must be around midday by now. If I was back at the temples, I would be in the center of my room, meditating quietly before my lunch. Outside Air Nomads would be hustling on with their normal activities, an airbending lesson would be going on, Wei would be in the stables helping take care of the sky bison, and the sweet smell of fresh baked fruit pies would draw a crowd of Air Nomads eager to compliment the baker's skills. In the sky Air Nomads would be flying alongside sky bison and birds, making the clouds twirl as they soar by. And even while I was in my room, away from all of it, I would feel connected to everything, even the life of the smallest spider-fly. My mind would be clear, and in the absence of thought a trail of spirit would guide me closer to the point of understanding and wisdom. I miss it. I miss my customs, my people, my home.
Without making a conscious decision to do so, my legs fold into the lotus position. I close my eyes and let the steady motion of the water in the lake take me far away. When I open my eyes, the sun is throwing the tree's shadows much farther than before. I stretch out and smile. My stomach growls again, but it is much easier to deal with my hunger. I stare up at the sky, looking for shapes in them just like I did as a kid. Amidst the normal sky-bison and fruit pie shapes, one cloud is shaped distinctly like a W. I turn to call Wei over to look at her first initial in the sky. What I see, or rather don't see, steals my breath away. Wei's glider is gone. And so is she. For the first time I realize that Wei isn't the only one gone, my entire people is gone too. Sister Lio, Saya, Tyra, Quang, Crana, and all the other Air Nomads I grew up with are dead. I will never see them again, I will never practice my bending with them, I will never play a single game of Pai Sho with them again. So instead of searching for my last living friend, I collapse against Yun, realizing for the first time the comfort Wei finds in him. And I cry.
The sun makes the ice walls around me shine, but it does nothing to distract me from the fact that the glimmering walls are my prison. The voices of my parents have been silenced by their anger at me for sneaking out to talk to Aiko. I can imagine their thoughts, their shock that their perfect Kaori has disobeyed curfew. I ignore them. I might as well enjoy the last moments of rebellion I have let. In the end I will return to the impeccable daughter I am supposed to be, I will marry someone I will pretend to love. And Aiko will find someone who can stay with him like I cannot. But my heart refuses to listen to logic, it has been forever marked. Love, as it turns out, leaves a stain.
I do the only thing I can, I pray. Tui, spirit of the moon, push me towards action; give me the strength to go against my upbringing in the name of love. La, spirit of the ocean, pull me in the right direction as I try to find my path. Spirits, I beg of you, give me a sign that this is the right thing to do. I wait all day, refusing to eat the dinner my parents offer, refusing to do anything really. Why should I move if it is only to wash plates that were part of a meal I didn't eat? When night falls I remain sitting on my animal pelt bed, not daring to even rest my eyes for fear of missing the sign I prayed for. This is, after all, my only chance.
The moon casts a beam towards the small window in the top of my ceiling that was cut long ago by my father in hopes that Tui would watch over and guide me. I don't think he ever thought that Tui would guide me against him. I slip on my warmest coat, and slip out of my room. My parents are sleeping soundly. Before I walk out of my home I give a final glance towards the kitchen. I give a tiny shake of my head; I will not steal from my parents, even if it is just a few sticks of blubbered seal jerky. I leave before the growls of my stomach wake my parents, my dark blue coat acting like a kind of camouflage in the night. I walk almost unthinkingly to a spot I've loved ever since I was a kid.
Close to the harbor, the unnoticeable cave is my favorite spot in the tribe. I haven't been there for months. Growing incautious in my hurry to return to my home away from home, my heart nearly stops when a figure emerges from the shadows. At first I don't recognize the figure, but his name soon floats back to me. Konko, the warrior my parents want me to marry. Confusion dances across his features, and I take a step to run; but his hand shoots out and grabs my wrist.
"Kaori! You're parents told me you were not well when I tried to visit you. What are you doing out in the cold?"
He questions me, but when he glances back at one of the ships, which is being loaded with supplies, understanding crosses his mind.
"Konko, it's not what you think." I say, knowing he won't believe me.
"So you like taking walks in the dead of night, and just happened to be near a ship that's ready to depart?" His voice is full of hurt I caused him. He has a point, and I realize he has given me an idea of how to escape, though that was certainly not his intention.
"I'm sorry Konko. I have to go, I can't marry you."
To his credit, he lets go of my wrist. But the look he gives me makes me know that he will never forgive me for leaving him. I should not feel guilt about abandoning this person I never really talked to until today, but I do. For a moment my resolve wavers, and I want nothing more than to stay; but I remember the moon and the sign that was given to me. I turn my back to Konko and run to the ship. Nobody sees me, a miracle that could be from no one other than the spirits. I'm safely aboard the ship and looking for a place to hide when a voice makes me freeze.
From the shade of the tree I listen as Jirou, the person who led the villagers to free the earthbenders from the prison, tells us what we could do next from a stage of earth. Beside me Anjay listens carefully, a frown flickering across his face every so often.
"This is not the end. The Fire Nation will not catch us, and if they try to we will fight!"
Jirou raises his fist in the air as the villagers clap, a few of them risking cheers.
"We are strong. We are earth. We will fight for what is rightly ours. We will eliminate the people who stand in our way."
The crowd responds with cheers, forgetting in their approval of Jirou's speech that we are on the run. Or maybe they simply don't care.
"Everyone here should do their part. No more lies. No more wild goose chases. No more cowardice!"
I shift uncomfortably at the mention of wild goose chases that is obviously talking about me. I know I shouldn't have left without telling anyone, leaving the villagers to think I had been kidnapped. But if I hadn't, the earthbenders would still be locked up. The villagers are forgetting this, it seems the realities of endless walking and never full stomachs are starting to show. Anjay has been forgotten also, or at least replaced by Jirou; who has brainwashed the villagers in the week that we've been on the run into seeing him as a hero. He has a way with words, even Mei has been caught up in the spell his speeches cast over his audience before. Of course, it's easier to resist his charismatic personality when he keeps subtly blaming you for everything.
"We must admit the mistakes of our past. We must repent for what we have done so that history doesn't repeat itself. We will welcome those who do with open arms, and punish those who do accordingly!"
Anjay pointedly coughs at this.
"Punishment, eh? And who will be in charge of deciding the severity of one's punishment? Will we starve the children who sneak an extra leechi nut from our supplies because they don't know any better? Will those who walk too slow be left behind, because they're weighing down the village?" Ha!" Anjay mutters. "Jirou is no wiser than before the wretched Fire Nation came. And if he keeps going down this path, I'd say he's no better than the Fire Nation itself!"
I notice Anjay only speaks loudly enough for me to hear him. If he's worried enough about Jirou's power to be cautious, I am in trouble indeed. I swallow hard, and turn back to Jirou's speech. He's now asking the villagers to confess their crimes. As if all of the villagers are lowly criminals. But the villagers are more than happy to comply.
"I didn't walk as fast as I could have. I will walk twice as fast tomorrow!"
"I took more than my share of stew tonight. I will go without lunch tomorrow!"
"I yelled at some boys for practicing their fighting when people were trying to sleep. I will aid them in their practice so that they can be prepared to fight against the Fire Nation!"
The villagers continue to confess their "crimes". I sit with my mouth open in shock, not noticing when Anjay slips away from my side and makes his way up the stage until he is already in front of Jirou, who smirks at him.
"Well Anjay, what do you have to confess?"
"Nothing. I have not done anything wrong."
"Nothing? Everyone has done something." Jirou's voice is cold now, and I silently beg Anjay to confess to something, anything.
"Very well." Anjay says. "I was against the attack to the Fire Nation colony, it was foolish to risk our safety on some half-thought out scheme to free the earthbenders. I am against this speech, which has the same amount of wisdom an infant child would have. I am against this attitude of believing we could fight the Fire Nation in the condition we are currently in. And most of all, I am against you Jirou. You have brainwashed the villagers with your words, and that is the most unforgivable crime of all."
Jirou turns to the crowd.
"Well, what should Anjay's punishment be? Shall we let him treat us like this?"
The crowd, now believing Anjay insulted them, whips up into a terrifying rage.
"Banishment!" They chant, louder than ever before. Even the little kids take up the chant, pounding their little fists against the ground happily, unaware of the word's meaning.
Anjay walks off stage with his head held high, while the crowd screams and spits at him. When at last he is out of sight, Jirou turns to me. My blood turns to ice as he speaks once more.
"Emi, would you like to confess?"
I'm already cooking some chili pancakes when Ryu wakes up. He barely looks at me, instead picking up an already cooked chili pancake and eating it without a word. Of course he doesn't bother to thank me for all the work I spent setting up the cave to look like an airbender's dwelling. It would probably kill him to say thank you, and then I'd have to spend the rest of my deployment alone in a cave. Which actually might be better than spending it with Ryu.
A loud caw makes me look up, and I grin when I see that my pet messenger hawk has returned already, and a note from my family is attached. I read my little brother's note first.
You are so lucky that you got to be in the battle against the Air Nomads. Oops, I mean Air Nation, that's what teacher says we are to call them now. I can't wait for you to come back and tell me all about it. Are you sure you can't tell me anything about the mission you're on now? I won't tell anyone, I promise! My birthday's coming up, and that would be a really good birthday present... Just think—after I turn twelve this year I'll only have to wait another year until I can go off to military school like you did! Zahra asked how you were doing again, are you sure you two aren't going out. It sure seems like it! Once again, I hope you visit soon. Getting my own room is nice, but I have to admit I miss you. Signed, your brother, Xavier.
I smile at my brother's letter. He can't wait to be a soldier just like me. My smile fades when I realize he'd have to go through what I did. If only Xavier would stop getting older. I read my parent's letter next; as usual my dad lets my mom write it. He never was good with words.
We are so proud of you! Who would have thought, our little boy growing up to go on special missions. We hope you'll visit soon, if you ca find the time. Letters cannot take the place of hugging you, and the hawk cannot carry any of my ash-banana muffins. Say hello to Ryu for me, be sure to be nice to him! My mother always said kindness can put out even the wildest fires. I'm sure you two will become great friends if you work at it. Be sure to bathe, and bundle up, no matter the weather. Stay safe! Love, your mother and father
I don't notice Ryu's stare until I look up. He looks a little jealous.
"What?" I ask, a little uncomfortable.
"Nothing." He says, "Just wanted to tell you that your pancakes are burning."
For the collective works of the author, go here.