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|Humidity and Tea|
One: Hushed Mystery
January 21, 2013
Previously in Tempests
Sohyon leaves the Northern Air Temple and finds that two stowaways decided to join him: Eizo and Kanae. They arrive in Ishi Sentō, only to have Sohyon quickly whisked away to a party by the mysterious Lord Saromi. There, he meets the rather repulsive son of Emperor Mashita as well as learns some interesting gossip. Meanwhile, Eizo and Kanae are taken to a barn and held captive by none other than Lord Saromi. After threatening them, he sets fire to the barn and Eizo and Kanae barely escape to meet up with Sohyon in their living arrangements. Kanae is weakened by the incident, and Sohyon receives an invitation from the Empress...
The air is heavy and as warm as the tea
No one here is your friend.
"I'm generally a very serious individual, Sohyon." It was another one of those mornings: pleasant and carefree now since Sohyon had become a master airbender. He and his master, Seijin, sat in the courtyard with the cool wind of the North contrasting the warm sunbeams beating down on their faces. Nothing had happened; all the events had just been a dream: leaving the temple, being followed by Eizo and Kanae, meeting the mysterious Lord Saromi, all of it. Sohyon took a deep, refreshing breath. The smell of fresh fruit pies wafted past their noses, creating a crisp and sweet scent to the air. "Do you know why I make fruit pies, of all things?"
"Master Seijin, I recall that some of the Air Nomads of the South throw them at each other for game?" Sohyon's voice was entirely flat as he spoke. Contrary to some other Nomads, Sohyon's sense of humor lay in his flawless deadpan. His ability to speak a phrase in jest as though entirely serious was unrivaled. In between speaking, he would play some notes on his flute, which turned into a melodic overtone to their conversation.
"No," Seijin replied, apparently not amused by his student's joke. "I will repeat that I am a very serious individual, Sohyon." He sighed a little and continued, "I make them to remember."
"'To remember'?" Honestly, Sohyon did not care what his teacher was talking about right now. This fact should be apparent to Seijin by the fact that in his reply, Sohyon did not even take his lips off of the mouthpiece of his flute. Still, Sohyon repeated this phrase because he knew that Seijin wanted him to, and regardless of his current attention Sohyon deeply admired this man.
"Indeed." After saying this simple word, Seijin simply looked off into the distance. Now, it seemed as if Seijin would not finish his thought. Sohyon resumed playing his flute just as Seijin continued. "The smell always has carried memories along with it. It's always been as if... as if all the time you spend around the fruit pies is recorded in the smell."
There was a brief pause in their conversation. The tones of Sohyon's flute became slightly gentler. "I am getting old, Sohyon, and I'm probably boring you. Sometimes... I just want to talk with someone without really talking."
Sohyon woke with a start, finding himself in an unfamiliar room. In actuality, it was not all unfamiliar: the room was the same room he had fallen asleep in last night. The dream was gone—the air temple, Seijin, all of it. Yet, the smell of the fruit pies seemed to linger. Tiredly, Sohyon raised his body from the stiff mattress on which he had fallen asleep, stretching his arms and yawning as he fully stood. Before leaving his room, Sohyon ran a hand over his head and chin to decide whether or not he needed to shave today. There was a line of stubble, but he doubted it would be too noticeable. Plus, there was the matter of the brunch that morning, and Sohyon had no idea what time it was.
The smell of the fruit pies became stronger and stronger as Sohyon neared the door of his room. Upon opening the door, he was practically blasted with the exceedingly potent smell. To his surprise, he found Eizo sitting at a small table while gorging himself on a pie with Kanae up and moving around.
"Kanae... you're up? And baking?" Still too tired to phrase thoughts into full sentences, Sohyon posed this simple mixture of words to the apparent baker.
"Indeed!" Eizo interrupted with his mouth full. "We figured it was just the combination of smoke and fatigue that knocked her out. Apparently she's always had pretty weak lungs so it's not too uncommon." Then, Eizo paused for a moment. "Plus she makes a darn good pie!"
"There was an oven here, and the nuns always told me my baking skills were my one saving grace." Despite the rather depressing nature of the last part of her comment, Kanae smiled sweetly before seeming to remember to get into character. "Here," she added more gruffly, "do you want one?"
Normally, Sohyon would have bowed in response; however, his back did not even twitch. "No," he said flatly, "I really should be off to see the Empress. I haven't a clue what time it is."
Sohyon placed his hand on the door and gently pushed it open to find the messenger from last night standing on the porch. "Ah! Master Sohyon." The messenger simply said his name as though he didn't expect the Air Nomad to be inside the house at all.
"You're Empress Ichihara's man..." Since it was still first thing in the morning for the exhausted Sohyon, he verbally connected the dots. "How long have you been out here?"
"Well..." The messenger began, trailing off slightly and looking beyond Sohyon for a moment as if making eye contact with Eizo or Kanae. Sohyon looked back, but they both seemed to be minding their own business. "Your friends kindly told me to, as they so eloquently put it, 'fuck off' when I asked for you. That would have been about two hours ago."
"'Two hours'?!" The young airbending master could only repeat the number and shake his head in disbelief before casting a glare backwards at the other two. "I'll be right along, then." The messenger turned to leave, with Sohyon following. Just before leaving the porch of the house, Sohyon shot another glare at Eizo and Kanae, followed with an accusing finger which told them to stay out of trouble.
Once Sohyon was well out of hearing range, Kanae turned to Eizo determinedly. "We're going shopping while he's out."
"Eh?" Eizo childishly whined while taking another bite of fruit pie. "I'm eating!"
"Not now, of course."
"Plus," Eizo swallowed the large bite of pie, "I don't want to rain on your parade, but we're monks. In other words we don't really have any money."
Kanae winked at Eizo mischievously. "I don't mean that sort of shopping."
Once more, Sohyon was lead through the city of Ishi Sentō, however in the light it was almost an entirely different place. People were bustling about in the latest Earth Empires fashion, talking in hurried whispers or shouts—the two methods of communication practically perfectly divided between women and men respectively—all while shooting sidelong glances at the Air Nomad and Empress Ichihara's messenger. While he was walking, Sohyon tried to take notice of as many faces as possible, but there were simply too many, not to mention the fact that all the women wore makeup which made them practically unidentifiable from one to another, and all the men seemed to shy away from eye contact.
They arrived at a large building before long. Sohyon hadn't been looking for it, but as he examined the garish greens, browns, and yellows of its paint in conjunction with the sheer size of the building, he knew that it must be a landmark of sorts for the city. To say that the building was big would be an understatement: it was massive. A mixture of various buildings and attachments made up the overall appearance of the palace, with several banners with what Sohyon assumed was the symbol of Empress Ichihara's empire. The main building itself probably could have fit an entire village, then add a half a dozen more of comparable size, and all of Ichihara's small empire probably could have fit inside. Though a slight exaggeration, Sohyon figured that such a statement wasn't as far off as one might think. "This is Empress Ichihara's Ishi Sentō palace—Emperor Mashita's is on the opposite side of the city." The messenger explained.
"Does she have more palaces?"
"Of course!" The messenger looked taken aback. "Did you think the Empress would primarily reside in arrangements so sparse?"
"This is 'sparse'?!"
"Yes, it is! The Empress's primary palace is twice the size. It took three generations to build... In fact, the Empress's main palace is the pride of Mountain Empire architecture! Fitting of the name of the Empire, it was carved out of a mountainside..."
As they entered the palace, the messenger went on, but Sohyon figured he could just ignore what he was saying. Sohyon had thought the outside of the palace was outstanding, but the inside was simply breathtaking. It was like nothing he had ever even dreamed of: a fine rug stretching down a long hallway with beautiful arches carved into the design of the hallway. Expensive urns, vases, and statues lined the hallway to create an overall expensive and somewhat oppressive feel to the building. They passed a large painting on bamboo of a gorgeous mountainside, and Sohyon had half a mind to fall back for a moment to admire everything around him. But the messenger ever so determinedly pushed onward while flapping his mouth about the palace in the capital.
The walk down the hall took almost as long as the walk to the palace, before they reached a pair of grand doors. Like the rest of the house, the doors in themselves were something to behold with an intricate carving of Oma and Shu on either door with a badgermole between them and large, gold handles between each person and the badgermole. It seemed the messenger thought nothing of this, as he never broke eye contact with Sohyon while opening the door and finishing his speech. "Here is the banquet hall; the Empress has been waiting for you!"
On the other side of the door was a large table with, to the surprise of Sohyon, one person seated. The Empress stood when Sohyon appeared, and the door closed behind the Air Nomad. "If it isn't the Tiáotíng Zhě. Please! Have a seat." She gestured to a seat at the opposite end of the table before sitting down herself. Behind her stood two guards, both darker skinned and garbed in a much less ostentatious uniform than the other servants, suggesting they were acting as bodyguards for the Empress. "Don't think that I have Hajin and Isitoq here because I don't trust you—I have them here because I don't trust those who might find this an opportune moment to intrude..." As she said this, she looked deliberately at a servant who had just entered with a tray of what appeared to be some variety of alcoholic beverages. The servant swallowed uneasily and looked away.
Following Empress Ichihara's request, Sohyon sat. The servant came over and began to pour into his glass, but Sohyon held up his hand in a symbol for the servant to stop. "No, thank you. Air Nomads don't drink." Before leaving, the servant looked for Empress Ichihara's approval. She nodded once, and he left with a nod.
"Would you prefer tea?"
"Yes, a cup of jasmine tea would be nice."
Empress Ichihara waved towards the servant, who bowed and left the room. "Oh, where are my manners." Her voice was flat, as if she hadn't actually forgotten anything and rather this was a rehearsed line. "I am Empress Hosuzu Ichihara of the Mountain Empire."
"Sohyon," Sohyon returned, and then paused before continuing, "of the Northern Air Temple." Though he said nothing, Sohyon felt rather uncomfortable with the distance between them. The table was at least twenty feet long, probably more, and they were seated on either end. Whenever the Empress spoke, Sohyon had to strain his ears to make sure he heard correctly. Luckily for him, the Empress seemed to speak as if she was giving some grand speech with every word, thus it was largely not too difficult.
The servant returned, pouring tea into a cup he set before Sohyon, then scurrying across the room to pour tea into the Empress's cup as well, and finally hurry out a door behind the Empress. "How charming," the Empress replied cryptically. "I heard you attended one of Lord Saromi's gatherings last night. He's a rather sordid man, isn't he?"
"I thought nothing of him." Sohyon lied quickly. He wasn't sure why he said this, but the words surprised him just as much as they seemed to surprise Empress Ichihara. As an Air Nomad, he had never really lied about anything, but the words came to him as naturally as the truth would have.
"I see." The Empress's tone seemed almost disappointed. They both took a sip of their tea. "Word of your encounter with Emperor Mashita's charming son has spread quite quickly. I am to understand he threw a punch at you?" She took a sip of her tea and laughed a small, musical laugh. "What an unbelievable young man."
"He did," Sohyon confirmed, "but he was intoxicated, and it is not the Air Nomad way to engage in conflict. Nothing came of it."
"'Nothing came of it'." Ichihara repeated the phrase, turning it over in her head as she spoke. "What about—"
"Empress Ichihara." Sohyon interrupted the Empress, much to her surprise. In all honesty, Sohyon was not sure why he was acting this way, but somehow his instincts told him that being his normal passive self when faced with Empress Ichihara's overly dominant personality was a bad idea. Further, he was extremely tired and not very patient. "I don't want to be rude, but did you call me here in the morning after I've missed several nights of sleep to gossip, or do you have something important to tell me?"
The Empress looked visibly distressed as she took a moment to regain herself. "I—I just thought it polite to take the time to get to know the Air Nomad who came all the way from the Northern Air Temple—"
"Empress, pardon me saying, but my purpose here is not to make friends and drink tea—as good as your tea may be." With Sohyon's last statement, the Empress smiled a bit. However, the smile vanished when he continued, "I'm here to mediate between you and Emperor Mashita. Nothing more and getting to know one side or the other personally will only create a bias, which is unbefitting of a mediator." Though he did not explicitly say it, his words accused Empress Ichihara of trying to manipulate him.
"I understand, Sohyon..."
"Please, call me the Tiáotíng Zhě."
"Wouldn't this necklace look wonderful on me, Eizo?" Shortly after Sohyon left, Eizo and Kanae had headed out into the marketplace. Kanae had lead the former to a jewelry stand, and now stood facing him while holding an elaborately strung pearl necklace up against her collarbone.
"Sure," Eizo replied half-heartedly, "but I'd rather see you without anything on." He added the last part with a seductive wink.
The shopkeeper seemed slightly horrified by this remark, and even more by Kanae's response: "You might just see that if you keep helping," followed by a similar wink.
Eizo still wasn't entirely sure what to do with Kanae's sassy, suggestive one-upping retorts, so he changed the subject. "Why are we out here anyway? Like I told you earlier, we don't have any money so it's not like we're going to really buy anything."
"It's like I told you! We're shopping... for information."
"If it isn't two ball-less Air Nomads!" As Kanae finished her statement, a piercing voice broke through their conversation. They turned to see an arrogant-looking teenager with a young woman on either side of him.
"Correct," Eizo replied, "One ball-less Air Nomad and one with a pair much larger than yours." He turned to Kanae after saying this and asked, "Unless your breasts are considered balls?"
"I'm not getting into this with you right now..."
"Please do get into this with me," Eizo added with a wink.
Kanae had already shifted back into her more serious demeanor, and was busy viciously staring down this young man. "And who might you be to go prancing about with two whores on your arms calling people cowards?"
"Ah, you wouldn't know, would you?" He grinned as he said this, apparently proud that he'd get to tell someone else who he is. "I am Emperor Mashita's son, Eiichi Mashita."
"You're the Emperor's son?" Kanae smirked. "Hopefully he's a better Emperor than he is a parent."
Eiichi Mashita's face flushed red with rage. "Are you insulting my father?!"
"I am," the female Air Nomad replied. "But I'm more insulting you."
"You bitch..." Lord Mashita took a step forward, pulling his right arm across his face to slap Kanae with the back of his hand. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth to brace for the impact, but the blow never came.
Standing between Kanae and Eiichi, Eizo was holding the latter's hand and looking infuriated. "What kind of bastard hits a girl, Mr. Lordling?"
The young Lord Mashita pulled his hand from Eizo's with an arrogant smile lining his face. "Heh. I bet you can't back up those words, you spirits damned coward—" With this accusation, Eiichi clenched his hand into a fist and threw a sloppy punch at Eizo's face.
Rather than dodge, Eizo kicked up a small gust of wind which picked Eiichi up off of the ground and launched him about fifteen feet backwards and up in the air about five feet off the ground. "We're master airbenders, you brat. Sohyon and Kanae might not fight you, but I'll make sure that you return to your father with an ass as red and bruised as it should have been from well-deserved spankings your father never gave to you."
Though he tried not to show it, the chances were high that Eiichi had wet himself with the threat given by Eizo. Instead of pursue him anymore in physical combat, Eiichi tossed one last threat as he left, "My father will hear of this, and trust me when I say that he will not be pleased!" With that, he was gone.
Sohyon was getting up to leave when the Empress stood. She simply walked over to him with a smile on her face until they were standing only about a foot apart. Being this close to her made Sohyon uncomfortable, but he tried not to move at all. Once she was closer, Sohyon could actually make out her features: flawless skin without any makeup, pale skin, flowing dark hair and a pair of piercing green eyes. It was no wonder the Emperor had tried to propose to her, power struggle aside. Her right hand lifted, and rested on his left shoulder, rubbing it awkwardly. The Air Nomad glanced at the hand for a moment, noticing a strange scar on her hand between her thumb and index finger. He did not really know what to do, and thus just cringed and bore with how uneasy he felt with the Empress's advances. "I didn't mean to seem like I was manipulating you, Tiáotíng Zhě. I just wanted to get to know an Air Nomad."
"Thank you for the sentiment, Empress." With a slight nod of his head, Sohyon left the palace.
Barely a block out of the Empress's mansion, an out-of-breath man in a uniform pulled Sohyon into a dark alleyway. That in itself was strange, but when the stranger slammed either arm on either side of Sohyon's head, the Air Nomad's instinct to attack and flee didn't even seem warranted. "What... do... you think you're doing?" The servant asked between breaths.
Obviously finding the situation bizarre, Sohyon simply pushed the servant's hands out of the way and stepped out into the main street. "I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."
The servant seemed to realize that pulling Sohyon into an alley was not a good idea, and stepped out into the main street as well. "Word has spread like wildfire! The Air Nomad attacked Emperor Mashita's son! As a servant of Lord Saromi, he insisted that I come and try to knock some sense into you." Looking at the servant's uniform, Sohyon recalled that it was the same as the one those servants had worn the night before.
"Why would he care?" Sohyon asked, easily masking the shock and frustration he felt of the news.
"Why would he care...? You really are slow on the uptake, aren't you?" The servant sighed, as though this wasn't something he should have to explain. "He would care because as an intermediate force, he can't very well have the designated mediator picking sides and attacking the other, now can he?
By now, Sohyon had figured that the 'intermediate force' part was not true, however Sohyon did figure that Lord Saromi wouldn't want the mediator to be picking a side that wasn't Emperor Mashita's side. "Tell Lord Saromi that I am sorry and it won't happen again." After saying this, Sohyon started into a brisk walk to return to their house, leaving a baffled servant in his wake.
Sohyon didn't bother to knock as he threw open the door. Eizo and Kanae were sitting innocently on the other side placing Pai Sho. "What in the name of the spirits do you think you're doing?!"
"We're playing Pai Sho! We could tell you wanted us to stay out of trouble, so we just—"
"Went out an attacked the Emperor's son?!" Eizo and Kanae both looked away from Sohyon as he finished Eizo's sentence with the truth.
"You weren't doing much by going and having brunch, so we were going to actually make some progress," Kanae remarked.
"You thought that by going out and beating up nobles you were making progress?"
"We were gathering—"
"I don't care what you were gathering!" Sohyon sighed in disbelief. "The fact of the matter is that everyone thinks I beat up Lord Mashita, so you just made my job a heck of a lot harder, you know that?"
Just as he said this, as if on cue, there was a knocking at the door. Sohyon approached it and opened it to find two messengers, one in Lord Saromi's servant's uniform, and the other in an unfamiliar uniform. "I'm not coming to another one of Lord Saromi's parties," he said to the first, "and what do you want?" Sohyon asked of the second.
"Emperor Mashita invites you to brunch tomorrow—"
"Perfect," Sohyon interrupted. "Tell the Emperor I'll be there."
He closed the door and once more turned to Eizo and Kanae. "If you two are just going to make things difficult, you may as well return to the temple." After saying this, he paused. "But if you want to be actively helpful, find out more about the Empress's scar." Thus, Eizo simply retired to his chambers. It was still rather early, however Sohyon had gotten so little sleep the past few days that he figured the extra rest would be good for him.
- I really don't like keeping track in this journal. Especially since my hope is that you won't even need to look at this, Avatar. It's probably foolish of me to write at you, as if we're actually talking, but I guess I like to imagine you as the sort who would care about what some good-for nothing flute playing Nomad has to say. Speaking of which, I haven't played my flute much these past few days. I guess everything just has gotten to hectic.
- I'm keeping things short, simply because I don't have the time nor the energy to go into too much detail about what happened today. Not much that would pertain to you, except that no one here is your friend. Everyone will try to be, but they all only want what is best for them. Empress Ichihara tries to play the "friendship" card more than the others I have met, though comparable to Lord Saromi. I doubt she'll make the same sort of advances toward you as she made toward me, but one way or another I can guarantee that she will try to buddy-up to you. I gathered that this was so as to alienate Emperor Mashita and, in a way, cast him as the antagonist. Don't be fooled by their honey words.
If you've figured it out, I'll give you a metaphorical cookie.
- While partially based on the whimsical -cough- nature of Roh Ji Hoon's "Punishment" music video, many interactions between Eizo and Kanae are also based on the author's interactions with a friend of hers
|"Is [it] weird writing Eizo's and Kanae's banter? It's both hilarious and awkward to read xD"|
- The predicament between Empress Ichihara and Emperor Mashita is partially based on that of Queen Elizabeth I and the King of Spain
- Towards the end of this chapter, the author was pressed for time and hopes it isn't too obvious (the chapter would have been longer if not for the press of studying midterms)
For the collective works of the author, go here.