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January 13, 2017
Three years later...
A stream of water elegantly dances in mid-air, twisting and swaying in a fairly circular routine before the stream suddenly shoots over to one of four men, also waterbending. The stream of water freezes upon touching the man's ankles, who until then, was running towards his target waterbender, his own stream of water prepared for use. With one man immobilized, the smirks in triumph while a second man charges from behind, bending a stream of water to encase his left arm, and jumps into the air, letting out a battle cry. His target turns around and bends her own stream of water to cover her right arm before quickly shooting the stream forward, connecting it with the second dueler's own stream and after cupping her free hand to her mouth, gently breathes a concentrated breath of air towards a portion of the interconnected streams, freezing it. Smiling confidently, the female bender briskly tucks her arm back, sending the second man crashing to the sand in a heap. The female bender's moment of triumph is short-lived, when a third man quickly begins to shoot multiple ice bullets at the female, who flips a few times, dodging the bullets as they whizz past her. She soon lands on her feet and begins to punch and kick against some of the bullets, causing them to shatter, while a few manage to graze her arms and legs. Encasing both of her arms in water, the female smacks away multiple bullets before she begins to grab a couple of handfuls and toss them back at her opponent, the barrage overwhelming the male, who is constantly being pelted with the projectiles until he is eventually pinned to the ground by a few of his own weapons, defeated. The fourth and final man, who was initially prepared to face the young woman, now stares nervously at her, while she glances over to him, a confident grin etched on her face. She forms eight whip-like limbs from her hands and immediately shoots them towards her target, grabbing him around the arms, legs, chest, pelvis, neck, and the top of the head. She slowly begins lifting up and pulling her captor closer to her, her grin widening as the man struggles to break free from her grasp.
"Alright! Alright! I yield!" the man shouts, who is immediately released from bondage and falls to the ground on his rear end. With all four men defeated,steps forward, smiling.
"Congratulations, Avatar Singi. After years of training and passing your mastery exam, I now certify that you have mastered the art of waterbending."
At this, Gekkō bows respectfully, which Singi returns, smiling, as the crowd cheers and claps, and, now fully grown, rears her head up and calls loudly while outstretching her wings. Standing four feet tall on her thin yellow legs, her once fluffy, earth yellow down had shed to reveal black and white feathers covering much of her body, sans for two areas along her back and chest covered in gray fish scales. Her long, black neck ends with a black, rounded head with a red patch on top and yellow eyes with black pupils, and a foot long beige beak.
As the cheers of congratulations begin to fade, three large ships begin to reveal themselves through the morning mist, coming in from the west. The ships catch everyone's attention, as they begin to U-turn and dock along the shoreline, one of the ships taking precedence before the main dock to the settlement.
"Those ships aren't from our culture," Koda notes.
A call can be heard coming from the ship parked beside the dock, and a door along the ship opens, followed by a long, wide wooden board descending from the opening with one end slapping down against the dock so that it forms a stairway. Three pairs of two men clad in robes of various shades of red covered by gray and black chest plates and shoulder pads, and each holding guandao glaive, walk down the plank. Their steps are perfectly in time with one another as they march down and onto dry land, lining up against one another and standing at attention, while a large space remains in the middle of the line. Then, another,appears from the ship and descends down the plank. The man is stocky—muscular, and standing six feet seven inches tall, a rugged black beard covering his entire chin down to his collarbone contrasts with his fair, light skin. He glances around his surroundings with a piercing gaze from his carnelian eyes as he ghosts his left hand along the handle of his dao, nestled away in its sheath. The man is also heavily clad in soot black armor, though any armor on his shoulders is currently covered by a gray pelt which trims a long, flowing oxblood cape which reaches down to the back of his knees. He also wears large black boots, as well as a silver helmet, crowned with a headpiece consisting of two metallic feather-like extensions curving out like tall antlers atop a strong stag. He gets into line with the six men, taking his place in the large gap they left for him, and smiles slightly, chuckling.
"Don't worry, we're just passing through. We'll relocate our ships once we've updated our stock and figure out where to go from here in this... new and expansive land," the man says, momentarily looking at his surroundings with a confident glimmer in his eyes.
"What is your name, sir?" Gekkō asks, not entirely thrilled with the atmosphere the visitors are giving off, as innocent as it may currently seem.
"My name is Maku. My men and I came from the Fire Islands in the west—where I had previously held a considerable amount of territory—so that we may... seek out greener pastures... away from other rivaling warlords in the Islands, and in addition, the spirits during the solstices," Maku states, gritting his teeth slightly at the mention of the spirits, which Singi takes full notice of, furrowing her eyebrows with concern.
Pausing, Maku leans forward slightly and places his hands on his hips, squinting his eyes and observing the crowd before him.
"Hmmm... this may be my first time off of the Islands, so, excuse me if I get this incorrect, but based on your clothing, I assume that I am addressing waterbenders and airbenders."
At this, Singi takes a step forward, her expression unwavering and focused.
"You are correct, Maku. My name is Singi, and you also happen to be addressing the Avatar, as well."
"The Avatar, huh?" Maku begins, crossing his arms. "Well, it is an honor to meet the so-called bridge between man and spirit, on what I hope will be a new and prosperous beginning for my men and I," he states with a faint hint of contempt in his tone whilst uncrossing his arms before balling his right fist and drawing it back into a fist-pump as a faint smile crawls back onto his face. He relaxes his hand before straightening himself and addressing the crowd once more.
"Well then, we'll be on our way. I assure you, nothing will come of harm to you, so long as you keep out of my way..." Maku hisses, before turning around and he and his men ascend back up their ship, a heavy air of concern washing over the congregation of Kunatuk residents and the two airbenders. The board that bridged one of Maku's ships to the settlement gets pulled back up the vessel, and all three move a small ways west along the shoreline before coming to another halt and remaining there as the visitors begin to take stock and prepare for exploration.
With the warlord and his men gone, the residents confabulate to one another with unease over the visit as Singi,and Gekkō glance around, taking in the tension of the situation. After a few seconds, Singi ascends to stand atop the embankment separating the beach from the more solid earth the settlement is grounded upon.
"Everyone! You heard what Maku said! I'm sure he has no intention of harming any of you. He's just going to find some new land out in this vast continent to settle down in. Just... go about your daily lives as usual, alright? We can all hope this was simply a one-time encounter."
At this, the residents nod and exchange words of agreement, albeit, still not completely eased. Seeing this, Gekkō joins alongside Singi and also addressing the locals.
"Please, let the Avatar's words put you at ease, at least for now. These men hail from the Fire Islands, whereas we bend the element of water. We have the elemental advantage, should we ever cross paths with them again. Remember that!"
At this, the settlers remain silent and end their worried chatter. Singi then addresses the entire audience yet again.
"I don't feel entirely comfortable leaving you like this, but I need to move on in my journey to master the other elements. I want to thank each and every one of you for making me feel not only at home, but part of your culture, for the past three years that Jamyang and I have lived in Kunatuk. I especially want to thank Master Gekkō for teaching me the art of waterbending for all of those years—without him, I wouldn't have been able to get as far as I have now."
At this, Singi turns and whispers, "Thank you, Master Gekkō," before hugging him, which the elder returns.
"No, thank you, Avatar Singi. You have shaped me into a new person, and because of that, in addition to our years of training, I think of you like a daughter. I will miss you."
"I'll miss you, too..."
Singi and Gekkō release from their embrace, and Singi turns to address the crowd again.
"I'll miss all of you. I promise I will visit you at some point, so please, for now, go about your daily lives with the hope and knowledge that part of my mission as the Avatar is to maintain peace between the cultures of our world. You can always be assured that I will do my utmost best to make sure that you—everyone—can live without fear from those who may otherwise wish to oppress or harm you."
Jamyang nods in approval as the crowd cheers in support. Singi bows before she, Jamyang, and Jiefeng mount Lychee and give a final glance at the residents of Kunatuk before the air bison ascends, both parties waving and exclaiming words of thanks and farewell before the creature moves off and away from the settlement, nothing but smiles abounding the area.
The group travel south-southeast for many days, searching for an earthbender settlement with little success. Over their travels, they stop multiple times before eventually landing in the southwest reaches of the main continent.
"Let's take another rest here," Jamyang recommends, to which Singi nods, frowning slightly, before leaping off of Lychee.
"Something is bothering you..." Jamyang notes.
"I'm just worried that we'll never find an earthbending instructor for me." Singi sighs, crossing her arms. "I mean, we visited Bianji again, and they said none of their residents would be as advanced enough to teach me. Since then, we've come upon a few other earthbending settlements with the same results, and now, nothing."
At this, Jamyang chuckles, "Don't worry, my pupil. This is a vast land, and we have only skirted its western reaches. I have no doubt we'll find an instructor for you in due time. In the meantime, why don't we take a walk around? Who knows what we may find?"
At this, Singi nods, smiling slightly, and the two humans begin walking due east, closely followed by Jiefeng, who soars a couple of yards above them. The landscape is rather barren, and hilly, with mountains off in the eastern distance ahead of them. After eventually crossing a bridge over a deep ravine, the trio continue moving east until walking upon a large clearing riddled with giant earth coins. Some of the coins are lying flat on the ground, others jut up from the earth at various angles, lodged in place, and some of the coins have portions broken off of them.
"Wow... look at this..." Singi marvels, walking around while gazing at the massive earth discs, as Jiefeng lands atop one of them before preening one of her wings.
"What do you think these discs are?"
"I believe they are the symbol of the earthbender culture," Jamyang replies, while Singi places a hand to one of the large coins and brushes her palm against it, the cool, rough texture of the rock gently scraping against her skin like sandpaper. Turning her head to the east, she finds in addition to the earth coins, arrows lodged into the ground, and poles snapped in two bearing tattered, orange flags on one end that lazily dance just above or against the ground from the gentle breeze blowing northeast. Walking over to and kneeling before one of the flags, Singi takes immediate notice of the color.
"If these flags are orange, then they must be associated with firebenders," Singi concurs, ghosting her hand against the fabric of one of the flags before lifting her head and looking east and gasping at what's caught her attention. Standing, Singi slowly walks over to one earth coin, perfectly intact, wedged at an angle into the ground, covered on one side with about ten arrows, with almost double that amount on the ground before it. Slumped against the large coin is a skeleton, still fairly intact, impartially covered by slightly-tattered black and brown robes, as well as brown and gray armor—namely what appears to be a chest plate and two shoulder pads, lying around it. The shoulder pads lie along the forearms on each side of the skeleton, having slipped down during decomposition, while the chest plate lies along the pelvis.
"J—Jamyang..." Singi calls shakily, and a moment later, the elder arrives, first noticing Singi kneeling on the ground, and then gazing at what's caught her attention, his expression turning to one of sorrow.
"I thought that this might have been a battlefield," Jamyang whispers, kneeling down and placing a hand on Singi's upper back. "Come, Singi, why don't we continue walking?"
Singi, however, doesn't answer. She remains transfixed upon the skeleton, staring at it widely, as if in a trance. Jamyang gently jostles Singi by the shoulder, calling her name a few times before she blinks, snapping her out of focus.
"Huh? Wha—?" She looks around momentarily, confused, before Jiefeng appears, lowering her head to gently brush it against Singi's left cheek, to which Singi reciprocates, cupping the cranefish's head in her left hand in a caring "embrace". She looks up at Jamyang, who still has a hand to Singi's right shoulder.
"I'm sorry, Jamyang. I just got into this sort of... trance. I don't know what came over me."
"It isn't easy, seeing death before you. Now come. I think it would be best if we continued walking for a bit."
At this, Singi stands, with a little assistance from Jamyang, who simply nods while continuing to look down at the skeleton, sullen.
After another twenty minutes, the trio are aimlessly moving further east, Singi and Jamyang talking to one another when a shout cuts off their conversation.
"Hey! Heads up!"
At this, the two humans look forward and quickly jerk their heads away to allow a fast-moving ball whizz past the space between them, while Jiefeng lets out a cry in shock.
"! How many times must I tell you? Don't send your flying off into the air like it's a plaything!"
"Aw,... Qiú likes it! Besides, he's covered in armor, so he can't get hurt."
Behind the airbenders, the armadillo hare bounces a couple of times on the ground before rolling to a halt. It unravels itself from its protective ball, its entire backside—starting from the bridge of its nose, down to its tail—is completely covered in an outer shell made of ossified dermal scutes, covered by non-overlapping, keratinized epidermal scales, which are then connected by flexible bands of skin. The animal hybrid is primarily light brown in color, except for its gray-brown armor, white underbelly, and pink inner surface of the pinna, and other than its armor, tail and foreclaws, bears great resemblance to a hare. The creature rears up on its hind limbs and wriggles its nose a few times before bounding back to its owner in quick but gentle hops. Its owner, a young boy with short mahogany hair and brown eyes, is barefoot, wearing a tea green shirt with moss green trim, and tan pants reaching down to the knees. As the armadillo hare finally reaches the boy, the latter scopes up the animal in his arms, smiling widely, and holds it against his left shoulder like one may carry a young child. Alongside the boy and his pet are ten additional armored men, who appear to be in their mid-to-late twenties.
Meanwhile, the man who addressed the boy approaches the newcomers. He is donned in India green shoulder armor with gold trim, a jade cape flowing from his upper chest down to just below his knees, and robes of various shades of green—mainly asparagus and laurel green. Cream-colored leg sleeves reach down to his knees, which give way to fern green and moss green armor covering the shins down to the ankles, finally ending with black boots covering the feet. As for his physical appearance, he stands at five feet eleven inches tall, with brown eyes and chocolate brown hair, a portion of which is tied into a large topknot, while he also sports a short beard framing his face, making his chiseled jawline stand out along his fair skin. Age-wise, he appears to be in his mid-thirties.
"I'm sorry for my son's erratic behavior. That armadillo hare of his is his best friend, and the way I see it, he seems to torture that poor creature more often than play with it."
The man looks back towards his son, who is now bouncing the creature by earthbending up rock pillars as the balled-up creature bounds from structure to structure. The boy laughs enthusiastically while the older men simply stare at attention.
Turning back to the airbenders, the man addresses himself.
"My name is Dao. I am a general of an earthbender village in a valley not too far east from here. My men, my son, Guilin, and I were just doing our daily training out here when you came upon us."
"How nice to meet you, Dao," Jamyang responds, nodding. "I am Monk Jamyang," he introduces himself, placing a hand to his chest before turning his head toward Singi, who bows her head slightly before speaking.
"And my name is Singi, General. I'm the Avatar."
At this, Guilin stops bouncing Qiú and takes notice, smiling broadly.
"The Avatar? You mean the person who can bend multiple elements?"
"Yeah... it's a process of reincarnation. Anyway, I'm glad we happened upon you, because we've been searching for an instructor to teach me earthbending, and—"
Before Singi can finish her sentence, Guilin rushes over and plants himself between the three elders, grasping his father's robes and tugging at them.
"The Avatar!? C'mon Dad, you've gotta teach her! Pleeease!?"
Singi and Jamyang are stunned at first, before smiling at the boy warmly, who turns around momentarily to stare and innocently smile at the two airbenders before turning his attention back to his father. After a moment's hesitation, Dao sighs and closes his eyes before opening them again to focus on Singi, smiling slightly.
"Alright, she can join us, so long as she trains most of the time alongside my men, with only a few instances of one-on-one training. You can watch us for today and officially begin training tomorrow."
"Oh, thank you, General Dao! I'm sure I'll learn well under your instruction," Singi replies, grateful, clenching her fists and bringing them up to her chest, excited.
She is not the only one overjoyed by the acceptance. Guilin, who had pent up his energy waiting for a response by his father, enthusiastically jumps into the air, shouting a "YES!" his fists raised in triumph. Upon his feet making contact with the ground, a large earth pillar shoots up from beneath Qiú, rocketing the poor animal high into the air, who shrieks in fear before curling into a ball for protection. Everyone looks up, shocked, before Singi launches herself into the air, catching the animal in mid-air before gently floating back down to the ground, her feet quietly kissing the earth as the armadillo hare, shaking, slowly unfurls itself from its defensive cocoon. Unimpressed with his son's behavior, Dao shakes his head in disapproval, while Guilin, embarrassed, rubs the back of his neck while flashing a grin and laughing under his breath.
The next morning, the group makes their way to the same field of large earth coins the airbenders and Jiefeng had visited the day prior, Singi not all too thrilled to be back at this particular location. They stop before one earth coin before Dao speaks.
"Men, I'd like you to take a moment of silence and remember that you are all training so that should you ever need to engage in combat in the near future, you are doing so to uphold the memories of other earthbenders who perished in battle."
"Sir!" the men respond, before everyone branches off to walk around the battlefield and pay their respects. After walking around for a couple of minutes, Singi eventually finds herself standing before the same skeleton she had discovered yesterday. Once again, she finds herself staring at the remains before her eyes widen and a vision appears of an elderly man waterbending at a stream of flames coming at him from his right. After fighting back the flames, the faint whisssh of flying arrows can be heard, and the graying man looks up and bends a column of rock to block the sharp projectiles from penetrating him. As the arrows lodge into the pillar, as well as portions of the earth coin directly behind him, he delivers a punch, sending one half of the column away to his left. He then lifts a leg to bring up the lower half and sending it away with a kick like he did the first. The man leans over, breathing heavily, exhausted, before he stands straight and begins airbending a sphere of air around him, dust being kicked up before the vision fades. Singi's eyes snap shut and she doubles over. Placing her palms firmly against the ground, she catches herself, breathing heavily as her eyes open, her irises shrinking, overwhelmed.
"Avatar Wan..." she thinks to herself while gasping for breath, as a voice calls out to her.
Rushing to her side is Guilin, looking visibly concerned.
"Are you alright?" he asks, kneeling down to Singi's right side and looking at her, waiting for a response. Soon after, Dao, his men, and Jamyang make their way to the overwhelmed teenager, Dao kneeling beside Guilin, while Jamyang does the same at Singi's left side, both placing a hand to Singi's shoulders. As Jiefeng flies over, carrying Qiú in her talons before placing him down and settling herself on solid ground, the group glances over at the skeleton before Dao turns his head towards Guilin.
"It's not easy, son, seeing the remains of someone who perished in battle."
Dao then turns his attention to Singi and gently addresses her, tightening his grip ever-so-slightly on her right shoulder.
"Singi, can you walk?"
Not able to respond by speaking, Singi simply nods before slowly standing herself up and tightening her eyes shut before inhaling once through her nose, and exhaling through her mouth, trying to calm herself down. She then opens her eyes slowly, looking at Wan's skeleton expressionless before quietly whispering.
"Can we move on now?"
"Of course, Singi," Dao replies, before he orders his men to fall in line and everyone begins to move east towards the settlement to commence training. While making their way there, Singi speaks up again her voice monotone.
"General Dao? I was hoping if perhaps I could just spend today observing again. I'm just not really in the mood to begin training today."
"Sure, Singi. I'm sorry if what you saw traumatized you so much."
"No, I saw it the day before, as well, before we met you. I just need to realize that this is what comes with having to bring the world towards peace. If only peace could come without death."
"War and peace, life and death, are interconnected. Without death, we cannot be inspired to rally and fight for peace, and it is through fighting for the lives of others, so that peace may eventually come, that wars often begin."
Later that night, it's quiet inside Singi and Jamyang's tent. Singi simply kneels down on her side of the tent, staring down, while Jamyang looks at her, concerned, before breaking the silence.
"I am truly sorry for what you saw at the battlefield today, but you should try to move on—you've got training tomorrow."
After a brief pause, Singi takes a deep breath.
"There's something I found out during our second visit that I kept a secret from you, but I just can't hold it in any longer. When I stumbled upon the skeleton again, I received a vision—it was Wan. He was elderly, and fighting in a large battle. I think there's only one reason why I received that vision."
At this, Jamyang stares at Singi before looking down, processing the information, a frown forming on his face.
"I'm sorry, Jamyang."
Silence once again permeates inside the tent, before Jamyang sighs and whispers weakly.
"Well, at least we now know where Wan spent his final moments advocating for peace."
There is another pause before Jamyang speaks again.
"You should go to sleep. You've got a long day of training tomorrow."
Singi wordlessly nods before the two settle in for the night, Jamyang staying awake for much of the night while Singi silently drifts off.
The next morning, Singi awakens feeling much more refreshed and optimistic compared to last night.
"Morning, Jamyang. Today's the big—"
As Singi turns to face her airbending master, she finds Jamyang's sleeping bag empty. Stepping out of her tent, she finds Jiefeng nestled on the ground; her head lifting up upon seeing her companion exit the tent.
"Jiefeng, have you seen Jamyang lately?"
Jiefeng lowers her head and gives a low chortle, as if conveying that she has not seen the airbender since the prior night.
"Oh no..." Singi whispers, while Jiefeng stands herself up. Singi begins walking around the village, calling out her instructor's name on occasion. The activity causes Dao and Guilin to emerge from their residence.
"Singi, what's wrong?" Dao asks.
"Monk Jamyang's missing. He must have disappeared sometime overnight or at the break of dawn."
"We have to find him!" Guilin utters with a sense of urgency, to which Dao nods before turning back to Singi.
"We'll get prepared for the day as quick as we can, and I'll call my men to aid in the search."
"Thank you. I'll let Jiefeng search from the air."
With that, they part ways, and Jiefeng runs towards the entrance of the village before gaining enough speed to take off, flying west and calling once as she leaves the scene. After ten minutes, the group begins to make their way out of the village when Jiefeng returns, calling towards the group. After catching their attention, she flies back in the direction from which she came, and the group follows pursuit. Eventually, they find themselves back at the battlefield, and Jiefeng lands behind one of the earth coins. Making their way to her landing spot, they find Jamyang kneeling before Wan's skeleton, solemnly keeping vigil, making Singi's heart ache, knowing the bond they had.
"Singi..." Jamyang chokes out, causing everyone to direct their full attention to Jamyang. "Singi revealed to me last night that she received a vision as to who this person was. This... was my good friend, Avatar Wan."
Guilin lets out an audible gasp while everyone else remains silent. Singi clenches her eyes shut and turns her head away from the scene, while tears slowly begin to flow from Jamyang's eyes, getting caught in the folds of skin along his aging face. After a momentary pause, Dao kneels down to Jamyang and whispers.
"We should give him a proper burial."
At this, Jamyang wordlessly nods, and Dao's men delicately pick up what remains of the former Avatar before their commander bends a stone coffin to place the remains in. Upon sealing the makeshift coffin, Singi carefully balances the coffin on a cushion of air while Dao bends a six-foot hole in the ground where the skeleton once was for the past sixteen years. Slowly, Singi lowers the coffin until it comes to rest, before Dao's men burry the coffin in its grave. Jamyang reaches into his bag to reveal two joss sticks, which they light and place atop the burial site. After a while of paying their respects, Jamyang staggers to his feet and sighs.
"Well, at least now, my friend can properly rest in peace."
Their funeral over, the group head back east to commence training closer to the settlement, as the fire that once burned in Wan's determined heart now trails smoke skyward through two lit incense sticks.
- The fact that Maku is left-handed hints at his antagonistic nature. In Chinese culture, the adjective "left" (Chinese character: 左, Mandarin: zuǒ) sometimes means "improper" or "out of accord". While in Korean, the word for "left" is oenjjog (왼쪽), a similar word is oenjjog-ui (왼쪽의), which also translates to "sinister".
- In addition, Maku has a rather burly figure. An alternative spelling of Maku's name—Makuu—is Swahili for "Big things".
- Guilin (pronounced: Gway-lin, 桂林) is the name of a prefecture-level city in the northeast Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China, which translates to "Forest of Sweet Osmanthus," while Qiú (pronounced: Chee-OH, 球) translates to "ball" in Chinese.
- Dao and Guilin's settlement is located in an open valley in the southern proto-Earth Kingdom, just south of the Si Wong Desert and west of where Tu Zin will eventually be.
- The field of large earth coins in which Wan lost his life is the same as that in which Zuko passes through millennia later in "Zuko Alone".
- The title for this chapter refers not only to the first appearances of Maku, Dao, and Guilin, but Singi coming to terms that war and death are common obstacles that are encountered [by the Avatar] in order to bring peace and balance to the world.
- Dao's statement to Singi about the interconnectedness of war and death and life and peace not only reflects Vaatu and Raava's representations of darkness and chaos and light and peace in the yin-yang (Taìjí tú) concept in Chinese philosophy, but it also foreshadows the and the antecedent execution of the city's leader, —the catalyst event which compels the proto-Earth Kingdom to join the .
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