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Book One: Rise and Fall
This is the sixth chapter of. A surprisingly familiar face makes an appearance.
Lin spends time imprisoned; Hanta reminisces while in Omashu; Po accidentally ventures into the Spirit World.
A prison guard slid the barred door shut after tossing me to the hard stone ground. He stalked away down the hall without another word.
I crawled into the corner and sat, hugging my legs to my chest. I began to panic. What was to become of me now? Would they execute me? Would they interrogate me?
Somewhere, in the corner of my mind that wasn't concerned with my own fate, I wondered what had become of Chong. Obviously he was neither an Earthbender nor a foreigner and would not be arrested on those grounds. But aside from that, would he leave Omashu or remain? He had my pack, which contained a few worldly possessions, including my father's sword, something precious to me. For now, though, I could only wonder, and I had bigger problems.
If I had never left Vuon, none of this would have happened to me. I could have continued living my life in feigning ignorance of the oppression of the world, pretending I wasn't a bender until someone with more courage than I stood up to The Dictator. I was pathetic while I was still in the West, and I became even more so by coming to the East. Now I was imprisoned, left to rot in a dismal dungeon. Some hours later, a guard passed my cell. She carried a tray consisting of a meal. She slid it underneath the bars, where there was a tiny gap, too small to escape by. She then departed without a word.
I reached for the tray, which contained a small bowl of overcooked rice and a cup of water. I then realized just how thirsty I was, my mouth parched. I grabbed the cup and almost spilled the precious liquid in my excitement, then drained it in a single gulp, almost choking in the process. How ironic, I thought; my very sustenance could've killed me!
I picked up the bowl of rice and realized the guard hadn't provided me with eating utensils. It was just as well, however; I didn't intend to eat the steamed grain just yet, despite my hunger. I decided to conserve it as I had no idea how often I would be fed. So I held the bowl in my hand and closed my eyes so I wouldn't be tempted to devour it. I quickly slipped into a doze.
Footsteps in the hall outside of my cell jolted me awake. I stood up and automatically took a defensive stance, ready to pummel an intruder. When I noticed that I was not threatened, I looked down to see the rice spilt all over the rocky ground. I muttered a curse under my breath. What a waste, I thought. That was when I heard voices.
". . .a variety of temperaments among the prisoners, Mr. Shao," I heard a man with a rather pompous voice say.
"So, Xu, do you have any prisoners willing to work in exchange for their freedom?" another man, apparently Shao, asked.
"I'm sure," said Xu. The pair approached my cell and glanced in. "If you take a bender, however, they won't be freed once you are finished with them," Xu added. "You'll have to return them here."
"Or I could work them to death," Shao commented nonchalantly.
I stiffened as the two halted outside of my cell. Then I began to formulate a plan. If I allowed the visitor to take me, even if it was as a laborer, that could be my eventual path to freedom!
"What was her crime?" Shao asked, pointing to me. I glowered at the wall at his question, irritated that he would speak about me as if I was deaf or absent. I kept my mouth shut, though, hoping he would be my ticket out of prison.
"She's an Earthbender," Xu replied. "I doubt she's very powerful, though. Most decent Earthbenders have very muscular physiques."
I smirked slightly; at least I had deceived my captors into thinking I was a local girl. "The weaker she is, the better," said Shao. "How long has she been in here?"
"Barely a day, actually."
"Even better. That means her muscles haven't had time to atrophy."
Xu appeared confused; apparently he wasn't anatomically versed. "What sort of labor did you have in mind for your slaves?" he asked as a diversion from his ignorance.
Slaves? If I left this hellhole, I was to be a slave?
"Rice farming," responded Shao.
I shrugged internally; outdoor laboring would offer me the chance to familiarize myself with my surroundings to better plot my escape.
"How many prisoners do you want to employ?" asked Xu. He turned away from my cell and began to walk away.
Shao followed him and they were out of earshot so I did not hear his reply. It didn't matter, though; I had just discovered that release was possible, and that was enough.
The cell creaked open, the metal of the bars scraping against the wall as a guard slid it open. I opened my eyes to see Xu and a guard.
"Congratulations, Earthbender," said Xu. "It's your lucky day; you've been bought by a rice planter."
The guard bent down and grabbed my arm, propping me up on my feet. He then tugged me out of the cell, not even bothering to let me stretch my legs to get my blood flowing. I felt them constricting slightly, but I barely noticed. Only one thought persisted in my mind:
My freedom was within reach.
"Filthy pirates," Hanta mumbled under his breath as he disembarked the ship. He could literally feel the layer of grime that had settled onto his skin on the unhygienic vessel. The assassin indeed had poor ethics, but he enjoyed staying clean.
As he walked along the dock towards downtown Omashu, he peered from side to side, keeping an eye on guards that might be present. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the photograph of his target, studying it before beginning his search. He had a very strong feeling Lin was in Omashu, and Hanta had long since learned to trust his instincts. He still remembered the first time he had hunted a fellow human. . .
The footsteps were old, but the dried mud told the tale as Hanta wove around the remnants of a desperate man that didn't think to cover his tracks. He himself was thrashing blindly through the jungle, ignoring the ominous calls of hostile animals. He tore through the web of a spider-fly, oblivious to the sticky fibers that remained clinging to him. He was pursuing his prey without conscience, intent as the greatest predator, senses more refined than ancient dragons'.
And there he was, lying among the gnarled roots of an aged tree. He looked up at Hanta passively and nodded, as if agreeing to something his pursuer had said.
Hanta paid him no mind; he didn't deserve it. If he was truly sorry, he would not have done what he did.
Those two words were the last words the man ever spoke as Hanta's hands began to fill with orange flame. . .
A rustling sound interrupted Hanta's thoughts. He glanced towards a building and saw a small girl pulling back a curtain from an open window. She smiled at him.
Hanta looked at her in surprise. His gaze lingered on the child as a petite woman bent to whisper in her ear while grinning. The girl giggled and backed away from the window; her mother remained, however. She stared right at Hanta, eyeing him suspiciously. Hanta's eyes widened in recognition; did he know that woman?
The woman turned away from the window, closing the curtains. Hanta shook his head to clear it. The woman had dark brown hair and a pale complexion, and she looked hauntingly familiar. He was sure he didn't know her, but even so, she reminded him of someone that was once important to him.
Hanta never regretted a single murder. There was always a reason for seemingly senseless deaths. Every assassination was a justified action in some way. Some, though, were more legitimate than others. . .
The scumbag had assaulted and murdered her to boot. He had fled, though, upon realizing there was someone who would not hesitate to avenge her. . .
The man, a fugitive from Hanoi, charged through the already-broken window after Hanta discovered him. The man had not known that the woman lived with another. The man was astonished when her husband found him standing over her dead body.
The shock came first for Hanta as he watched his wife's murderer leap out of the shattered window. He had been in the garden and had been alerted by a loud thud, the sound of something heavy falling. When he went to investigate, he found himself face-to-face with a killer and a coward.
The depression hit second. He approached the woman he loved as the life drained out of her eyes, her face paler than usual. He saw her lips silently form his name before she spoke no more. He knelt beside her and wept, letting the raw emotions emerge. He doubted he had ever felt more wretched, not even when his own mother had died.
The anger jolted through his veins third. He stood, his shoulders tense and arms at his sides. He glared at the jagged glass that remained in the window without seeing it. He seemed to look beyond it, to where the man that had destroyed his world lay.
The desire for revenge came fourth. He hunted the pathetic man down and killed him, which was less than he truly deserved. It was a simple feat, and the man had not pled for mercy. Hanta had hoped that he would so that he could refuse, just to see the coward suffer first.
Emptiness was the final emotion.
With shock came a need for reason; with depression came a need for comfort; with anger came a need for violence; with vengeance came a need for absolution. But with emptiness came a need for vitality, for a purpose. . .
All Hanta's life, he had struggled to be what others wanted him to be. Even with his wife, he had felt inadequate. Ironically, it had been the very man that he had sworn a vendetta against that had forced him to realize his true calling:
To be a predator.
Water moving at Po's command engulfed Haku, then freezing, entrapping its victim. Haku then wiggled his hand, which was inside an air pocket, and forced the ice to melt. He formed the water into a cloak that surrounded his arms; he made to grab Po with his watery sleeves., however, avoided the attack simply by parting the water with his hand.
Po stretched an arm behind him, retrieving a new stream of water from the nearby sea. He raised his arms, splitting the liquid into tiny tendrils and freezing them into icicles. He thrust his hands forward, and the ice shattered the shield that Haku conjured up.
The ice pierced through Haku's clothing, causing him to fall onto his back. He didn't get up.
Po approached and stood over him. "I win," he announced.
"Fine," Haku said, appeasing Po as he tugged an icicle out of his sleeve. "You're getting pretty good."
"More like really good," said Po cheerfully. "If only I was this good at Airbending." "You'll get there eventually," Haku commented as he stood up having pried all the icicles out of his coat.
"I hope so," Po said thoughtfully.
That night, after a stomach-churning meal of sea prunes, Po dreamt of a swamp. As he wandered through the murky water, around gnarled tree roots, he glimpsed misty shapes moving through the white fog. One of them seemed to materialize in front of him; it was squatting beneath a green arch, meditating. It was distinctly monkey-like in appearance.
Driven by an unknown force, Po approached the monkey. He opened his mouth to ask something, but the monkey interrupted him first.
"Don't bother," it said without opening its eyes.
"Don't bother what?" asked Po, not in the least astonished the monkey was speaking; he was dreaming, after all.
"Don't bother asking," said the monkey.
"Go away," it responded.
The monkey's eyelids sprung open, irritation glistening in its eyes. "Why is it that every time an Avatar visits the Spirit World for the first time I lose precious time in solitude?"
"How should I know?" Po shot back. Then, something the monkey said sank in. "Wait. I'm in the Spirit World?"
The monkey didn't reply; instead, it closed its eyes once more and hummed loudly, as if it was trying to make Po disappear.
"Don't mind Enma," said a voice from behind Po.
Po spun around but saw nothing but misty swamp.
"Approach the water and look down," said the voice.
Po warily glanced from side to side as he walked away from Enma. He stopped at the edge of a stagnant pool of water and did as the voice had suggested, staring at water that was surprisingly clear. What he saw almost caused him to pass out.
He seemed to be staring at a reflection of a middle-aged man; he was dressed in a maroon robe and his graying hair was in a knot high on his head. His amber eyes smiled, although his lips did not.
Po turned his head slightly, looking over his shoulder; there was no one behind him. He turned back to the water to see that the mysterious man's reflection was still there. "What's happening?" Po asked the reflection helplessly.
"Welcome to the Spirit World, Po," said the man.
"How do you know my name?"
"It's instinctual," said the man. "I'm surprised you don't know mine." He frowned, although his eyes still remained cheerful.
Po's face dawned with understanding. "You're Avatar Nuo Fu, the Avatar before me." "I am," said the reflection. His brow furrowed worriedly, yet his amber irises were still grinning. "You've inherited my problems, Po. It's my fault the Four Nations have fallen apart."
"What do you mean?" asked Po.
"I hesitated to halt the dissolution of the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom, and I refused to take action when all nations began persecuting benders. Now it would appear that your task is to revert the world to its original state."
"How am I supposed to do that?" Po wondered. He then realized the scale of this task. "The world is huge and divided! How am I going to persuade dictators to put aside their differences and unite?"
"I'm afraid I can't help you with that," said Nuo Fu. Suddenly, his image wavered and disappeared altogether to be replaced by another.
This new figure was a short, stout, green-robed man with a stern face. "What happened to Avatar Nuo Fu?" Po asked him.
"Hello, young Avatar," the man said, his expression softening slightly. "I am Avatar Zhong from the Earth Kingdom." His gaze hardened once more. "I suggest you not confer with my successor. So far, his advice is sound, but he may try to twist your judgment and perspective."
"What do you mean?" Po questioned, confused.
Zhong did not respond to Po's inquiry. Instead, he said, "If you need counsel from your predecessor, seek me, not Avatar Nuo Fu. Do you understand?" Without waiting for a reply, he continued, "It's time for you to leave. Some of the mist has burned away; walk through the newly formed path until you reach an archway. That is the portal to the physical world. You will awake in your body."
With that, Avatar Zhong disappeared. Po looked up in utmost astonishment, wondering at Zhong's warning about Nuo Fu. He then saw the part in the fog that Zhong spoke of. He began wading through the muddy swamp-water, his mind buzzing with his discovery of the Spirit World and his prospective task.
- Atrophy is a condition that comes about through disuse of muscle; it's the shrinking of muscle cells.
- Hanta has other secrets, which will explain the statement that "he had struggled to be what others wanted him to be."
- There's a very good reason why Nuo Fu's eyes are always happy.
- "Nuo Fu" means "coward" in Chinese.
- "Zhong" means "loyal" in Chinese.
- This was the longest chapter so far.
- Comment, please.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Fleeting Peace Chapters|
|Book 1: Rise and Fall|
|Disagreements - Handle with Care - Glimpses - Alliances - Curses - Idle - Half-Empty - Addition and Division - The Snitch - Revelations|
|Book 2: Success and Failure|
|Explanations - Omens - Looking Back - Factors - Ulterior Motives, Part 1: Jealousy - Ulterior Motives, Part 2: The Grandson - Shifting Tides - Repetition|
|Book 3: Cause and Effect|