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Book Two: Success and Failure
This is the third chapter of Book Two of Fleeting Peace, and the thirteenth chapter overall.
Warning: There is some very minor language in this chapter.
Lin finds a confidant; Po escapes impending execution.
Si Wong Desert Edit
The little girl ran through the dust-filled air, screaming at the top of her lungs. She halted in front of a collapsing building, even more dirt clouding her vision. She couldn’t see, but she could hear the sounds of suffering and violence. A nearby man tragically screamed, “My leg!” while a woman sobbed further away. The small girl continued to make her way to a small saloon, where her teenage sister had gone to retrieve their father. She could see nothing inside but half-empty glasses, so she turned frantically to see her father and sister sprinting in the direction she had come. They had gotten out before she could find them! She began to follow them, but she tripped on something. She had to hold her hand over her mouth to keep from vomiting when she saw that she had stumbled over a severed arm. She stood and doggedly pursued her father and sister, both of whom headed for shelter in a store. Her father entered first, but her sister lingered outside, looking around as if sniffing for her target, like a Shirshu would. However, her careful hesitation cost her dearly as a flying grenade landed mere feet away from her. The flames erupted suddenly, but the teenage girl spun around rapidly, attempting to flee, but the fire engulfed her quicker. Her shriek was painful to hear, and the small child could do nothing but watch as the black smoke diffused through the air. But rather than cry, the little girl that had just lost her sister coughed.
I jolted awake, sitting upright as a cough racked my chest. I panted heavily, relieved to be awake from my nightmare, but I couldn’t shake off the misery that it had brought on. I glanced at Chong, who was sleeping nearby; he murmured something unintelligible, indicating he was still dreaming, hopefully something better than I had dreamed. I sank back onto my bedroll as my heartbeat slowed. I was exhausted, but there seemed very little chance that I would be able to fall asleep again. Instead, I gazed up at the ceiling of the tent, the thin canvas allowing the light of the stars and moon to pass through. Feeling suddenly restless, I stood and lifted the flap that covered the entrance of the tent, walking out into the cool, desert night air. I then stared up at the sky, where the full moon hung suspended among the trillions of scattered stars, many more than anyone could dream of counting. I inhaled and exhaled, allowing the dry oxygen to soothe me, easing the pain of my nightmare from my mind. I was so absorbed in relaxing that I didn’t know someone stood behind me until they spoke. “Anything wrong, Lin?” I flinched and spun around to see Shinto, the Sandbender that had consented to give us hospitality temporarily. His soft brown eyes gleamed worriedly as he approached me. I shook my head in response to his question. “I just can’t sleep,” I told him. He raised an eyebrow disbelievingly but didn’t query any further. “If there’s something on your mind,” he began, “I can give you something for it tomorrow. It’s a real head-clearer.” “It sounds helpful.”
I peered into the cup that Shinto had handed me. Inside was a white, milky liquid. I sniffed it suspiciously and wrinkled my nose in disgust at the smell of spirits. I glanced sideways at Chong, who was sipping his own drink slowly, attempting to conceal his look of distaste. I grew dizzy at the scent of the alcohol, so I set the drink down. Memories began to flood my mind of the days my father drank himself into oblivion. The first was the very day of my sister’s death. . . “What’s wrong?” Chong asked me. He too placed his cup on the table; I noticed his eyes had taken on a glassy appearance. I then looked over at Shinto, who stood by, waiting. “When you said you could give me something helpful,” I declared accusingly, “I didn’t think you’d try to drug me into a stupor.” “If you drink enough, it’ll help you forget your troubles,” Shinto said defensively. “No, it won’t,” I retorted despondently without looking at him. Then, with more disdain, I stated, “That’s actually a common misconception.” “How would you know?” Chong wondered curiously. I jumped to my feet, suddenly angry. “My father was an alcoholic!” I yelled. “If anyone knows what liquor does to someone, I do!” I spun around furiously and exited the tent in a huff, heatedly knocking Chong’s cup of spirits to the floor, where it shattered, spilling its contents. Outside, I was greeted by wind and sand biting my skin, but I ignored it, still too irate to pay any mind to external forces. Instead, I focused on breathing, trying to ease my temper down, but rather than having the desired effect, I quickly burst into painful, chest-racking sobs.
Chong had watched Lin storm out of the tent, leaving him and Shinto feeling utterly astonished. The two young men exchanged glances, and Chong stood shakily to follow her out, guessing he would find her either sulking or fuming. But when he saw her, she was doing neither. Lin was staring vacantly ahead of her, her eyes glassy not with exhaustion or drunkenness, but tears. She was crying. “What’s wrong, Lin?” Chong rasped. Lin flinched, apparently snapping out of her reverie. Then, she reached up to wipe her eyes, causing her lids to redden. “Nothing,” she said in a remarkably expressionless voice. Chong made a doubtful noise. “You can tell me,” he said. “You can trust me.” Lin shook her head slightly, then she said, “If I could tell you, I would have.” “Then why can’t you confide in me?” Chong inquired. “Who else is there to speak to?” Lin seemed to consider his queries, then she said, “It’s not pleasant to hear.” “Try me. Is it about your father’s, uh, problem?” Lin nodded and braced herself, then plunged into her story: “Twelve years ago, a neighboring country raided our village.” The words rushed out, faster than Lin could help, as she cleansed her soul of memories that had only just renewed tormenting her. “My father was away from home, having a gathering with his friends at a bar, but then my mother saw smoke in the sky. She sent my sister to retrieve my father, but when they didn’t return for a half-hour and the smoke became thicker, she sent me. When I found them, they were ducking into a store and there was so much dust and smoke in the air I could barely see the ground I was walking on. Then, one of the raiders threw a bomb, and my sister was incinerated in the explosion.” When Lin finished her story, she felt strangely relieved. Her eyes were still damp, but no new tears flowed out. She looked at Chong for the first time since beginning her story, noting his expression was full of compassion, and added sadly, “There was nothing left of her to bury.” Chong put a comforting arm around Lin’s shoulders; to his surprise, she didn’t resist his touch. She resumed speaking: “After her death, my father began to drink. Some mornings he would leave and wouldn’t return until midnight. He could barely walk at that point, and my mother would have to help him in. Sometimes, though, he was physically capable enough to stumble on his own; when that happened, I literally feared for my life.” “Why?” asked Chong. “Drunkenness and anger went hand-in-hand for my father,” Lin said sourly. “And when he was angry, he became impulsive and abusive. If I was around, I became a victim.” Chong stared at Lin, wondering if she was exaggerating, but the serious expression on her face told him otherwise. “My father didn’t love me,” she intimated with a sigh. “He wished I had died rather than my sister. She was intelligent and homely, the perfect daughter. I was the younger child, a Firebender and a liability. My father only taught me how to handle a sword to conceal my bending and to keep himself safe. He was ashamed of me, especially after my sister’s death.”
“Then why are you so attached to your—his—sword?” Chong asked innocently.
Lin solemnly replied, “When I was younger, I used to wish that either I wasn’t a bender or that my father could accept that I was. Eventually, I accepted myself, but the sword is a keepsake so I’ll remember not to be too comfortable with my abilities.”
“Meaning. . ?” Chong stated with a tone of confusion. “It guards me from exposing myself. If someone attacks me while I have my sword, I can defend myself without risk of being arrested; but if not. . . Well, you were there in Omashu and you saw what happened on that farm.” Chong nodded as she fell silent, but after a few moments, he prodded, “You said your father used to sing to you. Why would he sing to you if he didn’t love you?” A sudden tear dripped from Lin’s eye. “He sang to me when he was most sad and most sober,” she said. “Believe it or not, it happened sometimes.” “How did he die?” “I never said”— “It’s obvious from the way you talk about him,” Chong noted. “He led an attack against a neighboring country five years after my sister died. It was a suicide mission; he and his subordinates were outnumbered five to one.” Neither Lin nor Chong said anything more; instead, they quietly watched the shadow of the tent shrink as the desert sun rose higher in the sky. Finally, Lin broke the silence: “Where do we go now? If we head further east, we’ll only hit desert.” “We should head south,” said Chong. “Here, summer will be over soon, but in the south, it’ll just be beginning.” “You’re right,” said Lin. She put her face in her hands, apparently slightly frustrated. “I feel as if I’ve lost my way; no, as if I’ve never known my way.” “What do you mean?” “I left my home hoping I’d find something better than what I had there; now, I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m on a fool’s errand.” “Well, at least you’re not a lonely fool,” said Chong. He elbowed her in the side affectionately. Lin smiled slightly. “I guess you’re right,” she said. She stood up and turned to go into the tent. “I’ll tell Shinto that we’ll be leaving in a few hours.”
“So let’s see,” said Lady Ono sadistically. “We have one Avatar, one foreign Earthbender, and three traitors, one of whom was a wanted criminal for some time. Why, hello there Yun Hu. How has your vacation been?” Yun Hu turned away huffily while Po stared at Ono. “How do you know”— began Po, surprised, but Ono interrupted him. “I have my spies, naïve boy,” she said. “I knew exactly whom you and your little Kung-an girlfriend were.” She crossed her arms, and her lips curled maliciously. “I was also aware of precisely what you intended by storming my government building.” She gazed between the five perpetrators in a seemingly amiable fashion, although Po could see the calculating gleam in her eyes; there was a reason she, a relatively young woman, held the power in this country. Ono turned her gaze to Yun Hu. “Dear Agent Yun Hu,” she began ironically, “did I forget to tell you that I’m a coffee-drinker now?” “Okay, we deserve to be punished,” Po said, deciding not to deny the intent for their visit. He resisted the urge to crumble as Xia stomped on his foot, something that Lady Ono didn’t miss as she scrutinized them. “Yes, you most certainly do,” said Ono, her tone becoming dangerous. “All five of you will stand trail for your attempted coup d’état, although I have no doubt that the ruling will be immediate execution.” “That’s because you have a hand in every pocket of this country,” commented Po bitterly. “Your insolence will do more harm than good, Avatar,” Lady Ono surmised in a falsely cheery voice. “I know I am not in a position to make a request. . .” “Kiss-ass,” Xia muttered under her breath. “. . .but I’d like to anyway.” “Well, since you are a special individual,” Ono intoned sarcastically, rolling her eyes. “I want Xia to be deported,” Po stated, to the astonishment of everyone in the room. Even Ono’s stoic special agents exchanged surprised glances. “You’re not even going to plea for mercy upon yourself?” Ono asked in a voice that failed to disguise her uneasiness. “No,” said Po. “But allow her own nation’s government to deal with her.” “Fine,” accepted Ono, “but I get to deal with the instigator and his other conspirators.” “Deal.” “No!” Xia finally exclaimed. She swiveled her unseeing gaze frantically between the dictator and her beau. “I am as responsible as he is; why should he have to face the consequences alone?” “Your loyalty to your boyfriend is commendable, little girl,” said Ono, “but he has spoken. Agents, chain her and return her to her homeland.” Po could feel his heart being squeezed as he watched one of Lady Ono’s agents handcuff Xia. Xia herself didn’t struggle, and she refused to turn to Po, although he could see a tear leaking out of her eye as her face maintained an expression of defiance. As a pair of agents dragged her away, he couldn’t help but hope that he would see her again, but he knew it had a very slim chance of happening. “Now we’re all happy,” Ono said brightly. Her words, however, were untrue, as Po had never felt more miserable, not even when his family had drowned.
Po stared out into the starry night through his miniscule barred window. His prison cell was dingy at best, and he was sure its last occupant had soiled the floor and its bench in several places. So he stood at the opening, breathing the clean evening air for perhaps the last time. That morning, Po had gone to trial. As expected, the tribunal, all of whom Lady Ono had wrapped around her finger, had sentenced him to death by hanging at dawn. Po self-consciously wrapped his index finger and thumb around his neck, imagining a rope strangling him. The image was not pleasant, and he couldn’t help but think it was ironic that a mediocre Airbender such as he was to die through lack of his element. Either that, or his neck would snap before he became asphyxiated. Both possibilities, though, were dismal. He sat on the unclean bench, pulling his legs up to be more comfortable. Then, an idea hit him: in the scroll that Su had given him for his birthday, he had read that Avatars often meditated with the intent to visit the Spirit World, and once in the Spirit World, he could seek out one of his past lives and perhaps find answers. . . His life would be over soon, so he might as well make the most of his time left. Po changed his position so he’d be sitting cross-legged, in a perfect position to meditate. He closed his eyes, attempting to block out the sound of water dripping from the moldy ceiling and the feeling of the cold bench beneath him. However, before he could slip into a half-conscious reverie, a rattling at the bars of his cell door alerted him. Trying to meditate here, he thought in frustration. He opened his eyes and glanced to the door to see a thin, black-clad figure with a black scarf wrapped around their face; only her eyes were showing. He watched absentmindedly as the person, a woman by her shape, tried to pick the lock of the cell. “So you’re helping me, are you?” Po wondered out loud. The woman ignored him, instead concentrating on her task. “You know, this place may look cheap, but those locks are actually quite good.” He then watched in astonishment as the lock clicked and the door swung inward on its rusty hinges. “Tell me you’re not a professional burglar.” The woman sighed, then she waved her hand for Po to follow her. “Just like that? There are guards here; we’ll get caught!” She rolled her eyes and lunged forward, grabbing Po by the wrist and tugging him into the dim stone hall. She dragged him a few feet before Po finally consented to walk on his own. She finally spoke up: “Quit feeling sorry for yourself, you ass, and follow me!” She then drew out a bow and arrow from a quiver on her back that Po hadn’t noticed before. She ran through the hall as an alarm sounded, alerting the guards to the escaped prisoner. “Fine, don’t be so pushy,” Po stated defensively as he sprinted after her, noting that her voice was familiar. Several armored guards blocked the path ahead of them, and Po and the mysterious woman were forced to skid to a halt. Po hurriedly stomped the ground, forcing several blocks out of the ground, which he allowed to hover in front of him. “You fear benders?” he questioned the guards as the woman pointed an arrow at the chest of one. The guards glanced hesitantly between themselves, then shook their heads. “You’re lying,” stated Po, punching the blocks forward. The guards, who knew not how to deal with Earthbending, were each hit directly in the stomach. They grunted as they fell against the wall. Po and his rescuer resumed their escape, quickly emerging through an unwisely-opened gate into the yard of the jail. A few soldiers lingered there as well, but the woman accompanying Po quickly shot them down with an arrow each. The two finally reached the stone wall of the prison. Then, Po asked between pants, “How do we get over that?” The woman pointed to a section of the wall with convenient notches in it, perfect for positioning hands and feet. She demonstrated by beginning to climb, grabbing hold of a block that jutted out slightly from the rest. “Great, so now we’re completely vulnerable,” Po said dishearteningly. The woman shot him a glare as he hesitated to climb, instead turning to face the soldiers that were heading directly towards them. He wished he had a filled water-skin with him, the better to fight with. Then, he remembered— “My great-grandmother’s staff!” he exclaimed in alarm. It had been confiscated along with his traveling tote. “Ouch!” he yelled as something then struck him on the head. He glanced back at the fast-approaching soldiers, then at the ground, and, to his utter shock, he spotted the very staff he had just lamented to losing. “What the—Oh, never mind!” Po reached down to pick it up and opened the glider, its orange wings spreading like those of a raven-eagle’s. He then held it the way he thought an Air Nomad of old would have. Can I really do this? he wondered to himself. I’m so inadequate. Po shook his head to rid himself of his brooding thoughts, and time seemed to slow as he altered his footing, standing without placing too much weight in the ground. He inhaled deeply, feeling the air on his skin, imagining that he could sense its constant motion, the particles slipping past each other in a scramble to become wind. He twitched his hand slightly and noticed how the air moved with it. He then willed the air around him to bend upward, to lift the wings of his great-grandmother’s glider and allow him to soar over the walls of his prison. To Po’s utmost surprise, the wind began to blow slightly, picking his feet up off the ground. He felt himself lifted upwards, and he concentrated on the air around him, twitching his arms to coerce the air particles into more rapid movement. “He’s flying!” a guard from below yelled out as he peaked the wall. Po ignored him, instead feeling his own elation spread through his spirit. He grinned broadly, enjoying the sensation of flight. He then watched as he began to flutter to the ground slowly. However, alarm suddenly gripped his being. “How the heck do I land?” he asked himself out loud. He let go of the glider in a panic and dropped to the ground, reflexively holding out his right arm to cushion his fall. It crumpled below him once he landed, and he felt intense pain as his wrist twisted. “You idiot!” a new voice exclaimed at his injury. “Why the heck did you let go of that thing?” Po ignored the woman’s query, and, once more struck with the familiarity of her voice, asked her, “Who are you?” “You mean you don’t recognize me?” the darkly-dressed woman said angrily.
“Should I?” Po wondered as he sat up. He grabbed his right wrist with his left hand, wincing as pain once more rippled down his nerves.
“I was hoping you would,” the woman said in irritation, tearing the scarf from her face.
Po stared at her and asked without inflection, “What are you doing here, Su?”
- Doesn't Lady Ono remind you of someone we all know and love?
- Po flying was an unplanned addition to the plot.
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