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|Hope Can Be Found in the Smallest Seed|
Sometimes, one must look where they wouldn't think to
"This is madness! You're crazy!"
"It's the end of the road, Avatar."
"I'd sooner die!"
"That can be arranged," the pirate speaking with Ishio smiled maliciously. The Avatar stepped away, avoiding the criminal, who held a drawn blade. As Ishio stepped back, the pirate stepped forward. Slowly, they moved until Ishio was backed against the side of the ship, close to falling off. The pirate's blade pointed at the Avatar's throat, ready to cut it in an instant.
"I don't want to shave! The beard makes me feel like I'm an old bending master!"
"Stop being such a drama queen. Your friend wanted you to shave, and you look like a slob." The pirate dropped the razor away from the Avatar's neck and put it into his hand. Ishio sighed, and they both stepped away from the edge of the ship.
"I guess I'll shave." Ishio said reluctantly. After a brief nod of approval, the pirate stepped away from Ishio. "Before we reach the Southern Water Tribe!" He added with a wolfish grin.
The pirate turned around with a look that could kill, but a voice quickly cut him off. "Drop it, Zhixin," the pirate captain called.
"Yes, sir, Captain Hai," Zhixin responded. As he departed, he pointed his index and middle fingers to his eyes, then back at Ishio in a gesture that said, "I'm watching you."
"We should be reaching the Southern Water Tribe by tomorrow," Captain Hai called down at the Avatar. "Shave before then, Avatar."
"Aye, aye, Cap'n."
He breathed laboriously. Only six months had passed, but his condition was quickly worsening. No one knew, but as Haneul sat in the small hut of the prison camp he felt like he was suffocating. After a strained deep breath, he pressed his hand to his chest and took another breath. He felt like he was drowning. It was like something out of a nightmare, but he was living it. Every night, he'd lay back and wonder if he would live through the next day, through the night. But he would, no matter what. No matter what, I'll see that bastard save the world, Haneul thought, thinking about his friend. Even if his body was dying, his spirit would keep him going just long enough... Just long enough.
The door to the hut smashed open and a young woman tumbled inside. A face Haneul knew all too well, and he quickly pretended to be in good health. "Haneul! We heard a rumor that the Avatar has escaped!"
Instantly, Haneul's heart began racing. His heart thumping against his ears, he had to calm himself down to lower his blood pressure. He replied, his voice seeming relaxed, "Really? Do you know if he's learning Waterbending now?"
"Yes! The rumor is that, after Liwei escaped, he left to free the Avatar. Then, he sent him off to the Southern Water Tribe to learn Waterbending."
Haneul couldn't help but smile now, his expression betraying his forced sense of tranquility. "Knowing those two, the rumor's probably true."
The girl entered further into the hut, shutting the door behind her. She approached Haneul and sat beside him on the cot, looking into his eyes. "My father always thought that the Avatar could save the world. Up until I was captured, and probably past then, he tried to find him. Do you think that the Avatar can really fix this chaos?"
"Of course," Haneul replied without hesitation, "I was his teacher, after all."
"I'm serious, Haneul. Is it even possible for the Avatar to close the portals? Or are we just putting our stakes on hopeless optimism?"
"Don't worry too much, Kiri. You'll give yourself wrinkles." Haneul replied with a smile as he stood. His back faced towards his friend so that he could wince briefly in pain without her attention drawn to him—when he turned back to face her, all sign of pain was covered. "Ishio said he could close the portals, and right now we have nothing to trust but his words, so we may as well trust them."
Once more, the door burst open. An older man, probably in his late thirties or early forties entered. Both Haneul and Kiri turned to look at him, and in his expression turned to a goofy grin. He closed his eyes cheerily and rubbed the back of his neck while laughing. "Sorry, sorry. I'll leave you two love-birds alone."
Both the teenagers blushed. Haneul regained himself first to question the new arrival, "What is it, Tuzo?"
"Ah, yes, yes." Tuzo opened his eyes while still smiling and folded his arms. "I've been in contact with an old friend of mine."
"What?" Haneul and Kiri asked in unison.
"How were you in contact with an old friend from in here?" Haneul questioned further.
"Eh, doesn't matter too much. Old connections and all that jazz." Tuzo replied, shrugging off the question. "Anyways, first of all I've gotten confirmation that the Avatar is indeed free and he is indeed on his way to learn Waterbending. You could have guessed that much."
"Is that all you wanted to say?" Haneul pressed, not phased by this information.
"Of course not," the other replied with a sly grin. "More importantly, I thought you'd be interested to hear that we'll be having some friends coming through here in the next month."
"What sort of friends?" Kiri now asked, beating Haneul to the punch.
"Well my own friends of course," Tuzo replied in a matter of fact sort of way, holding his hands up as if counting. "I heard a young Waterbender by the name of Pogonia is transferring to this camp," he continued, not giving Haneul a chance to react to the Team Avatar member's coming arrival, "and then, I heard that the Chief of Police is coming by for some sort of inspection."
"You don't mean..."
Tuzo laughed and leaned against the door frame. His voice changed to a hushed whisper, so that any prying ears could not hear. "Yes. Between my friends, your friend and all the benders here, we'll be able to attack the source and force change."
"So change is in sight! Only a month away!" Kiri let her voice raise in her excitement. However, she was quickly hushed by Tuzo pressing his index finger to his lips.
"Now then, you could spread the word and all, but I doubt the people would be very inspired by the rebellion of an old man," Tuzo continued in a whisper, his smile still painted across his face. "And that's why I came to you two. Haneul is the real face of rebellion, with his attempted escape and all. Everyone around here knows who he is. That's why I want you two to spread the word."
The Airbender stared at Tuzo in disbelief. His breath was gone, not only from his condition, but from the magnitude of what Tuzo was asking of him. Despite his usual sarcastic confidence, he suddenly felt as small as a bug. "You want me to inspire thousands—no, millions—of benders into an uprising?"
"You are the only one who can do it." Kiri interjected, standing next to her doubtful friend. "You trained the Avatar, Haneul. You were the first person to ever try and escape, and in your first month of being here. Of everyone in the camp, in any of the camps, you're the only one who can give us hope."
His mouth opened, but no words came out. He thought of his condition: if he were to die in the midst of the uprising, how would that inspire hope? It would kill any sort of hope. But I'm not going to die, the stubborn Airbender thought, until everything is over anyway. Finally, Haneul's expression changed to his usual light expression. "All right," he replied simply. Kiri seemed to leap out of her skin at his agreeing, while Tuzo kept a cooler expression of approval.
"I hear your Waterbending friend has caused quite a ruckus, and it's likely that the only chance to get her support is right when she's being transported in. My friends will be tailing her, and the Chief of Police is coming with the same group as your friend. It'll all start at once." Tuzo explained the situation carefully, making sure that Haneul understood the situation to come.
"I got all that," Haneul said, nodding along. "But I'm not the spark. I'm the gasoline that'll make the fire go out of control."
As a Firebender, Tuzo laughed at this explanation. "You're an Airbender, but your knowledge of fire is excellent. Now, this is in your hands, Haneul."
After the sun had set, Liwei left with hardly any farewell. He and Odraz simply buried themselves underground and vanished. Standing alone on the shore, Ai Shi had no choice but to return to the organization's hiding place. Her shoulders sunk with morose regret, what she could have said to Liwei, what she could have done differently in the ten years she knew Liwei. But as she entered the organization's hideout, a wave of excited chatter quickly distracted her.
"Ai Shi! Glad you're back! We've been in contact with your father!" One member seemed to almost skip forward, beaming as he delivered the information.
"You've spoken with my father?! How?! He's in one of the camps, isn't he?" Ai Shi's voice squeaked as she shrieked with surprised delight.
"It seems like there are always those who prefer the White Lotus tile." A figure entered the room: a mysterious bloke who did not show his face—covered by a dark hood—while he turned over a Pai Sho piece in his hand. Over and under, watching the Pai Sho piece flip was almost mesmerizing. Then, the figure stood directly in front of Ai Shi, and held out the piece: a White Lotus tile, just as he had spoke of.
With the distance closed, Ai Shi could now see the man's face. And she immediately recognized the Air Nomad. "Meelo?" She asked.
"Indeed. I found a prison guard who favors the White Lotus tile, and from there I simply arranged a meeting with your father." The Airbender lifted his head and shrugged back his hood, revealing his almost luminously bald head decorated with a blue arrow tattoo. At the revealing of his face, he smiled and began stroking his jaw. "Combining our acquired information, we've figured out a time to strike the bending camps."
"When?!" Ai Shi pressed urgently.
Meelo smiled and waved off the comment. "A couple of weeks... Later this month... Soon. But not now." His thumb traced over the pattern on the Pai Sho tile in his hand and he sighed. It was obvious that something was occupying his mind, but he held a mighty poker face. Ai Shi looked into his eyes, but could see no sign of any concern. The Air Nomad lifted his head once more and held the tile. His mouth spread into a smile and he added, "Not now, and you've spent six months in high stress. You need to relax: the Avatar is free and learning Waterbending, that prince fellow is off on another mysterious adventure, and pretty soon your other friends and your father will be free. There's nothing more you can do, so just chill for the next week or two." After finishing his small monologue, Meelo practically skipped off to his own chamber to take his own advice.
Her shoulders fell. "If only it were that easy..." Ai Shi mumbled as she left for her own accommodations.
"August refused our offer to bring him to the sanctuary," Meelo turned to see a member of the Order of the White Lotus looking extremely uncomfortable as he delivered this information.
"I see..." The last Air Nomad cast his gaze downward. His brow furrowed, but besides that he showed little sign of any emotion. "Did he give a reason?"
"He said that he 'doesn't need to hide with us stubborn old men'."
"Of course he did..."
"But I thought that you helped him train in these past few months. Wouldn't that change his mind at all?"
"You don't know August as well as I do..." Now, Meelo turned from the messenger to muse a bit. "I did train him, or rather I beat some wisdom into him and sent him off to another master." They both laughed heartily at this comment, and Meelo continued, "He doesn't want to hide out in our makeshift headquarters because he doesn't feel as though he needs to hide, like us benders. But that doesn't mean he'll begin to favor any other tile."
"But doesn't it make you uneasy?" The messenger cocked his head sideways questioningly, before quickly clarifying, "I mean, he's you raised him and now he's practically refusing your aid and tutelage."
Suddenly, Meelo's face fell, and morose filled his gaze. "It does make me uneasy, but not as uneasy as the boy whom I could never fully raise now trapped in the one place where I can't help him."
The messenger's face flushed with embarrassment. "I'm sorry, I forgot about your son. But there are ways to negotiate with the prison guards... Can't you go visit him?"
"No..." Meelo replied without hesitation. It was obvious to any that he had thought carefully, or rather been tormented, by these facts. "It's too late for me to help my son. Too far into his life. He'd be glad to see me once more, but I left him for six years. It would take a while for him to ever see me as a mentor." The Air Nomad stroked his beard and sighed. "I've never been too good with words, but it doesn't matter. My son and I won't be meeting again, and I've excepted this fact. I'm sure he has, too."
"But... That seems like giving up."
"Giving up? Possibly. It's for the best, however. Haneul has a great destiny before him, and I would only get in the way."
As the messenger once more opened his mouth to dispute Meelo's argument, the Airbender smiled and continued, "I'm hungry. I hope that pretty young librarian has made another good meal." And without any further conversation, Meelo left the messenger speechless.
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