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Book 1: Ba Sing Se
June 18th, 2011
This chapter immediately follows the previous chapter, it is just later in the day.
Again, I will add more pictures later, I'm not so good with them yet. Add some if you think they are appropriate.
Becoming the Blue Spirit will be a difficult task. I may already be somewhat skilled at stealth, but nowhere near the skill level of infiltrating an entire Stronghold. At least it will give me something new and interesting to do. And no one can be too upset with a mysterious person who happens to have saved the Avatar from the Fire Nation. I don't necessarily want to become him, but rather be a great addition onto his crime fighting. Maybe just start with minor crime in the lower ring, and move up little by little to more major and important endeavors. Do good for the world without anyone really knowing who has done it. Should be exciting. Of course I can't just buy a mask, it could give the merchant an easy way to identify who it is. And I haven't really seen that mask around merchants too often anymore. Maybe they found out about the previous guy and were permitted to sell them anymore. I'll have to make my own. Good thing I have all this time to burn, with my injuries and all. But how will I carve my own. I don't have anything to carve it with. My parents will never let me have a knife, not even after these recent events, which I haven't gone home yet, so I don't know what their reactions will be. And I can't just use theirs, they'll wonder why it's missing. I'll just have to buy one, hate to burn some money though. I guess it can be useful during my fighting too, so it'll be worth it. I'll have to improve my strength and speed too. I need to get on regular workouts so I'll have the ability to do this. But that will have to be a project for after I'm healed. For now I'll have to just keep everything normal, and study up fighting styles as discretely as I can. That way I'll be able to -
"Cheng, where within the Earth Kingdom is the City of Omashu located?"
"Uh," Cheng jumped out of his daydream again, "South Eastern coast of the continent, just south of the Kolau Mountain Range."
"Correct," Professor Peng said, noting another correct answer for Cheng. Cheng was always good with geography. Studying maps always proved to be easy for him, so getting away with daydreaming was easiest on this class. His mind instantly drifted back into a daydream again, this time about Lian. How much he wanted to spend more time with her, but had no idea how to do so. He didn't know where she lived. Didn't know if Cai would bring her around anymore. All he really could do was stalk out the architecture buildings, knowing she was interested in those classes. But that would be creepy. Best to just hope I'll see her again, he thought.
After class it was lunch time, and he met up with his friends. I really hope Cai and Lian show up this time. Weird, first time I've ever really wanted Cai to be there.
He limped with his crutch over to Zhong who was outside the building by a row of hedges, arms crossed, waiting patiently. Shin-Ji was there with him, looking at Cheng inquisitively as he walked over.
"Fell down a flight of stairs I hear? Shin-Ji said. Obviously Zhong had spoken about it.
"Hey, those stairs fought back hard," Cheng lied back to him, but Shin-Ji had a face on that looked as if he already knew.
"Yeah, they tend to throw knives often too right?"
"I see Cai told you already, probably completely changed the story too, but whatever."
"You know how she can gossip."
"Yeah. So who else are we waiting for?" Cheng said, impatiently wanting to eat, but also wanting to see if Cai would be bringing Lian again.
"Tuan and Cai should be on their way."
Just Cai?, no Lian? A slight sudden sadness swept over Cheng.
Within a few seconds, Cheng saw Tuan approaching. He was a close friend of Shin-Ji's. Cheng was friendly with him, but they were not close friends.
Cai then appeared from behind Cheng, without Lian of course. She still seemed a little affected from the previous night's events. She joined the group as they started walking to eat their packed lunches together at a nearby table, but oddly she did not seem to gravitate towards Cheng as usual. Maybe she was just still bothered by Cheng fighting the robber.
"Heard you fell down some stairs Cheng," Tuan announced once they sat down.
"She told you too?"
"No, Shin-Ji did, but I thought I should hear it from your point of view instead."
"He didn't fall down stairs," Cai interjected, "he fought off a robber for us."
She then recounted as much of the story as she could to Tuan. To Cheng's surprise it was mostly accurate to what he had told her. She made it sound even a little more exciting. Tuan seemed not to believe some of what she said, not thinking Cheng would be able to handle all of it, but he nodded along in acknowledgment to it all.
"When you gonna be out of the crutches?" Tuan asked, hoping to change to focus from Cai who always liked to babble on about things.
"Probably about two weeks, just like the hand."
"Yeah, well at least I could protect Cai and Lian successfully."
"Oh, that reminds me," Cai interrupted, "Lain wanted me to give you this." She handed him a letter, rolled up and tied off.
What could be on this? he thought to himself. I can't open it here, I don't want everyone else reading it. But I really want to see what she wrote.
Cheng gobbled down his food and made up something about needing to meet with his history teacher for help on an assignment. Not the best excuse, everyone knowing he never went in for help, but no one seemed to second guess him. He rushed around the next corner and immediately opened the letter. He read through it as quickly as he could.
Dear Cheng, I just wanted to thank you again for protecting us last night. Not sure what we could have done if you weren't there to walk us home. Hope your leg and hand get better soon. See you at dinner tonight. It was simply signed Lian at the bottom.
That's it? That's all she wrote? Wait, That means I'll get to see her again. A shot of happiness went through Cheng. And she wrote this letter to show that. Or maybe she's just being polite. But then she would just say something at dinner, not write a message for me. Well this looks promising.
Cheng had plenty of time to burn, and he couldn't just go back to the group eating lunch, he had made a point to leave early. He decided to take a walk to the scene of the crime. His injuries weren't hurting as much as they had been due to the fact that he was excited for dinner. His mind was finally off of his injuries.
It was bright enough out, being just past midday, that risk of another attack was minimal. There would be enough people on the surrounding streets that no one would try anything, at least in the middle ring. He approached the walkway where the fight had occurred, already seeing a small trail of blood leading out from just around the corner and down the larger street where he was run the previous night. There was also a smaller spot of blood where he assumed the knife had flown to. He stepped cautiously into the alley, feeling a little bit of nervousness by returning to the scene. Oddly, there was another small spot of blood further down the walkway.
"I didn't bleed over here," Cheng muttered to himself. "What is this?"
He bent down to take a close look and saw that the dirt was moved around right next to the blood spot. He sifted through the dirt, making a small hole, and finding none other than the knife that the robber had wielded. He must have buried it after the fight to try to hide any evidence. Cheng lifted it, clearing the dirt off of it, taking a closer look at it. It was a pearl dagger with inscriptions on the side.
"Made in Earth Kingdom," Cheng muttered to himself again. He flipped it over and read the other side, "Never give up without a fight." There was a sheath right next to it in the dirt. He quickly sheathed the dagger and put it into his pocket and pushed the dirt back into the hole. He stood there for a moment letting the whole scene sink in, thinking about what he could have done differently. Different moves could have prevented these injuries, he thought to himself. Well I guess I should start to head back.
He turned around and standing right behind him was a Ba Sing Se guard.
"What do you know about what happened here?" the guard asked as Cheng stumbled backward in surprise.
"Noth...Nothing," Cheng stammered, heart racing, "I just saw blood and wanted to investigate."
"And you just so happen to have a deep cut on your leg, one deep enough to cause you to need a crutch."
"Yeah. I fell down some stairs last night. I landed on a pot, and broke it to pieces. It made a big gash in my leg." Cheng hoped he could make something up here that would work just like in school.
"A pot that managed to make a perfectly clean slice? I don't think so. I've been investigating these blood stains all morning, you're the first person to show any significant interest in them. Lesson one, never return to the scene of the crime. You'll have to come with me."
"I'm telling you it wasn't me, I simply got curious and wanted to take a look. And I can't go with you, I have class soon, my professor will have my head if I'm not there."
"Your professor should be the least of your worries right now. Come on, I'm taking you to our headquarters. Let's go!"
Best to just comply, not cause any problems, show that I'm willing to cooperate, maybe they'll start to believe me.
They headed in the direction of Cai's house. Cheng knew that their headquarters for investigations was just a bit up the road from where Cai lived. They turned the corner that led towards Cai's street when Cheng saw Lian in the distance.
Yes! maybe she can help me here.
He lifted his head higher hoping she would notice him. She was walking down the road getting closer to them when her expression changed suddenly. She seemed almost in shock that Cheng would be escorted by a guard. He gave her another look, with a nod. She instantly knew something was very wrong. She started to run over to him with an expression of sympathy.
"Cheng, what happened to you?"
Knowing that the guard was behind him, Cheng mouthed the word "Stairs" at her hoping she would get the message. The guard too focused on the girl to see him do so.
"You fall down the stairs, again?"
Alright, she picked up on it, maybe she'll get another one. He mouthed the word "Pot" this time.
"I told you leaving those pots at the bottom of your stairs was a bad idea." She turned to look at the guard. "He's always so clumsy, never looking where he's going."
"Oh, umm, well I'm sorry to have kept you," he said to Cheng. "You can go now, sorry to inconvenience you."
He almost looked depressed, having lost a lead to his investigation.
Cheng and Lian started off in the other direction, back toward the University.
"Impressive, how'd you know to do that?" Cheng asked in amazement.
"Your look told me everything. You were in trouble and needed help. You even told me what to say."
"No one else would have figured that one out, I was lucky to find you, Lian." Cheng gave her a nice big smile.
"I'm glad to have found you too." She returned the smile.
Cheng was filled with delight, being able to see her earlier than expected. He almost didn't even feel any pain anymore, being far too concentrated on Lian.
"So how'd he manage to find you?" she asked.
"I went back to the scene, just to check out what remained. He just happened to be watching and put 2 and 2 together when he saw my leg and all the blood. But look what I found!" He pulled out the partially bloody knife, unsheathed it and showed it to her. "I found it buried a little further down the walkway. I guess he didn't want to take the evidence with him. See the inscription on the side?"
"Made in Earth Kingdom" she read aloud.
"The other side," Cheng said.
"Never give up without a fight. Good thing you didn't give up without a fight, right?"
"Yeah, I found it fitting."
"It's pearl. It must be worth a lot. I wonder how that thief managed to get his hands on it."
"Someone else probably gave up without a fight, so it doesn't suit him."
Lian gave a small chuckle. "Yeah, it's in better hands now." She looked at him smiling, Cheng still smiling, simply happy to be talking to her.
"Headed off to class?"
"Yeah, I have a mathematics class soon. What are you doing?"
"Going to class too. I had down time and went for a walk. Not my best idea."
"Good thing I saw you then. That guard would have made you miss class."
"You seem to find me when I most need you. First when I'm bleeding, now this. And you always handle yourself with such composure. Makes me wonder how you became friends with Cai. Last time she saw blood she ran faster than an eel hound on fire."
She chuckled a little again. "We live close to each other and she's in a few of my classes."
"Still, most of her friends are a lot more like her, and you, well, you're completely different."
"I hope you mean that in a good way," she gave a discerning look, not being perfectly sure what he meant. She also wanted to see how he'd react to being questioned like this.
"Of course, her mood changes from friendly to flirty to obnoxious in a heartbeat and it gets really annoying."
"And yet I see her clinging to you with her life it seems."
"Against my will, believe me, it's against my will."
"You could always just push her away, you don't need to do it."
"Yeah but I don't want to be mean. And she'd just jump to Zhong anyways, and he's always outwardly mean to her, and I know he doesn't want to deal with her. I'm helping him out with it too."
"You don't always have to be the nice guy. Sometimes, you can look out for yourself, do what you want to do. Don't let other people control you. Sometimes you just need to take your life into your own hands and do what you know feels right."
"So you're saying when something is calling so desperately to me, I should definitely do it," Cheng said thinking about the Blue Spirit, and a little bit about Lian too.
"I'm not sure what you are referring to, but most likely, yes."
They were approaching the University and would have to split ways to get to their buildings.
"Hm," Cheng thought for a moment, "I think you just helped me out a lot, thanks."
"No problem, always glad to help." She had an anticipating expression on her face.
"Well I'll see you later, I'm headed off towards my literature class."
"I'll see you later too." She almost seemed disappointed, as if she had fully expected him to ask her out right there.
Cheng struggled off in the other direction, still not used to the crutch. Maybe this is a great idea. Maybe it'll give me the courage to see Lian more now too. She's smart too, when in tough spots, maybe she can help me out. No, I don't want to put her in any danger. I want to take the danger away from people, not add it to more people. Of course now it's just occurring to me, how am I supposed to know where to be to stop crime from happening. I can't just magically appear when it happens. When the first Blue Spirit saved the Avatar, how did he know the Avatar would be there? He must have had lookouts or an informant of some kind. But where do I find a person like that? I might have to make friends with the enemy just to find out about them. But how would I do that? And how will I afford equipment and things of the sort? Do I steal? Maybe just from those who are criminals already, but that makes me no better than them. Well I'll just have to come up with these answers later. For now I have to deal with my parents. I still haven't gone home, done my best to avoid it so far. I know they're going to react horribly to my injuries. I just don't want to have to deal with it.
He continued to think and daydream throughout the class as always. Literature being his least favorite class, it was least likely he would pay any attention.
After class he decided to make a quick trip home. He had plenty of time to get there and back before his last class and then dinner. And it would be easier to deal with his parents if he knew he had a time constraint. They could only talk or scold or yell, depending on the reaction, for so long before he had to leave.
His father made a good living assisting a tax collector's. He wasn't the tax collector, so he didn't make all the money, but the assistants still made a pretty good wage. Today just happened to be one of his few days off. Cheng's mother stayed at home, didn't have to work due to their good income from his father. She took relatively good care of the house, and was a good enough cook. Other than that they didn't really have any good qualities. Sure they were parents, but they didn't really do anything exceptional. Concentrated on the bad, ignored the good.
He stumbled through the front door, and his mother immediately made a heavy gasping noise, as if deeply surprised.
"It's not like this is surprising, Cai's father told you." Cheng said as his mother gasped. She immediately called in his father to take a look at him.
"You're hurt. You shouldn't be hurt."
"That was a really stupid move." His father just had to see the bad side of any situation no matter what it was. He could be made king, and would complain that he had to talk to too many people or something.
"Shocking you'd say that, look at the bad side of it." Cheng decided to be straightforward with it. For some reason he had a deeper sense of rebellion and fight in him right now. Maybe just some extra confidence that Lian put into him.
"Well you should have just given him your money and avoided all of this. Money can be replaced. Bones can't."
"Bones heal, but girls don't just come back to life if he decides to kill one of them or something. I had to protect them."
"You should have protected yourself first, then worry about someone else."
"NO, it was my responsibility to protect them, that's why I walked them home." Now in a full blown fight about ethics, Cheng was getting mad. His father always wanted the best for himself first, others second. If it made him look better, then that's what was supposed to happen.
"You should have just come straight home. They got there on their own, they should be able to get back on their own. They shouldn't just expect you to take care of them. They are not your responsibility."
Cheng's pain started to come back to him. This yelling, the stress, was taking all happiness away from him, letting the pain flow right back into his mind "It became my responsibility when it became unsafe for them to walk home on their own. They didn't expect me to do it, I choose to. And you know what, I made the right decision, they needed my help. Imagine what would have happened if I wasn't there. What he would have done to them."
"That shouldn't be your first concern."
"That should be my only concern. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if they got hurt and I didn't go with, knowing it was unsafe. The emotional pain I would feel then would be far worse than the physical pain I feel now."
"I doubt that. You'd get over it. From what Cai's father told me the other girl you hardly even knew. How can you feel bad for a person you don't even know?"
"It's not even worth discussing with you. No matter what, you're going to say what I do is wrong because it's not in your best interests. Your interests don't interest me. I know what I did is right. My friends know what I did is right. Why can't you realize that?"
"You should learn respect for me."
"Respect only given where respect deserved."
And with that last line, Cheng turned and left the room, heading outside. His exit was not nearly as dramatic as he wanted when he fumbled with the crutch trying to get through the door. But nevertheless, he left his father standing there, mouth open, in a bit of shock.
He started his trek back to the university, feeling the full-fledged pain of his wounds again. I guess going home was a bad idea. I'm in more pain now than when this all happened. Maybe if I just think about Lian it'll go away. Lian Lian Lian Lian Lian. I guess she can't do everything. I just need to keep my stress down I guess. That'll reduce the pain. I hope.
Lian had plenty of time after her mathematics class, and she had many thoughts racing in her mind, all about Cheng. She wanted to date him, but wasn't sure what he really wanted. Is he just shy, does he want to just be friends, maybe he just wants to know me better first. I really thought that was what he was getting at when we were walking together.
She decided she needed someone to talk to about it who would be objective. Knowing that Xiang did not have a class for a little while, she headed over to the history buildings. She had him for her history class and they were friendly, but not the same way Cheng was with Xiang. But he was easy to talk to, so she was her go to teacher if she ever had problems.
She knocked on the door, just to be polite, and then poked her head through the door. "Professor, can I talk to you?"
"Of course Lian, come in, take a seat. What is on your mind?" Already knowing the answer, Xiang did his best to seem surprised.
"Well, I was walking home yesterday after dinner, with this boy I just met, Cheng. He told me he was in one of your classes."
"Yes I know Cheng."
"Yeah, well," she seemed uneasy to talk about it, "when we were walking home," she paused for a bit, still deciding if she really wanted to talk about this.
"You were attacked by a robber?" Xiang jumped in, finishing her sentence. "I've heard the rumors although I was not sure if they were true." Still doing his best to hide that Cheng had already come to him.
"Yeah, and Cheng got badly hurt, as I'm sure you've heard."
"Not too bad from what I heard."
"He got a deep cut and a nearly broken hand."
"And you're feeling guilty?"
"Well that's not it. I feel a little guilty that he got hurt, but he knew what he was getting into when he decided to fight him off. It's just the way he handled himself when the robber confronted us. He was so poised, able to talk to him, knowing exactly what to say and do to keep the robber off guard until he struck. He even made sure I knew what to do just beforehand, to make sure Cai and I got to safety. I can't keep my mind off him."
"So you like the way he fought?"
"No, no, not the way he fought, but more how he was composed and poised when confronted. And the fact that he was willing to risk his life to protect Cai and me."
"So his attitude when in danger is what attracts you?"
"I guess, I don't know. And then just this morning, I was walking here, and saw him being taken away by a guard. And when I got closer, he was able to tell me what he needed me to say to get the guard away, without even saying anything. He just mouthed the words at me, knowing the guard wouldn't see. Then I just said something related to what he said to me and the guard went away. He was so poised then too, knowing exactly what to do to get away."
"Are you sure you're not just attracted to what he did for you rather than who he is?"
"I don't know, that's why I'm coming to you. I thought you would be able to give me insight."
"Well personally, I think you should just spend more time with him. Get to know him better, learn more of his traits, see who he really is. He'll let you know through his actions if he is the right person. Just give it time."
"I guess you're right. Well We're having dinner with a group of friends tonight, so I'll see more of him then. Thanks for you're help."
"No problem, as always."
She rushed out the door, feeling better, knowing she would see more of Cheng.
Dinner came extremely slowly for both Cheng and Lian. Both were anxious to see each other, but neither really wanted to make the first move.
The group met up in the main courtyard, as usual. The group was the same as the previous night's with the addition of Tuan. The second Lian and Cai joined the group, Lian went toward Cheng. They smiled at each other, but did not start talking. They started walking, and Zhong started up a conversation with Cheng.
"Cai's not attaching herself to you? What'd you do profess your love to her after saving her from some robber?"
"I do not love her," Cheng said quietly to Zhong and jabbed his elbow into Zhong's side. He didn't want Lian to hear that. Lian was pretending to listen to the conversation going on in front of her between Shin-Ji and Tuan, but really only wanted to hear what Cheng was saying.
"Could have fooled me. You always seem so accepting of her when she rushes over to you. Seem comfortable when she's on your arm."
"I don't know why she's moved away from me, maybe she's just affected by last night, I don't really mind."
"Come on, now is when she's at her most vulnerable. You saved her from the scary robber. She'll be grateful. Take your shot at her while you still can."
"I'd rather stab myself in the face, that'd be a much better idea."
"Well I guess it's your choice, but I'm fine with either."
"Funny," Cheng said sarcastically. He knew Zhong was joking, but he still didn't want Lian to hear it.
Lian though, knew he was just messing with him. She could tell that he was a bit embarrassed that she might hear, and just that fact showed his true intentions to her.
When the group sat down to eat, Cai took her seat at the opposite end of the table as Cheng. What is with her, Cheng thought, I understand being a bit wary after what happened, but to completely ignore me? Cheng was almost sad, almost.
But then Lian took her seat right next to him. He perked right back up. The group spent the entire dinner chatting, about unimportant things, about their classes or something semi-interesting that happened in their day, just your average small talk. But Cheng and Lian didn't care. They were just happy to be together, even though they weren't really together together.
The group ended the dinner faster than usual, to avoid another incident like the previous night. Technically they ended their dinner at the same time, but they sat around talking for less time, and just left earlier.
"Today it's my turn to walk you home, Cheng. Wouldn't want you to walk home on your own and risk falling down any stairs again." She smiled at him.
Cheng chuckled a little, "Yeah, you know how I can be clumsy." He was delighted at this, more time he could spend with her.
"So how's the leg feeling?" she asked him.
"It's alright now, the intense pain comes and goes, though it always hurts at least a little."
"Well at least it's not bad now. I wish there was something I could do."
"Oh don't worry about it, if it wasn't for you, I'd probably still be in the middle of the street, trying to crawl away."
"I guess, but still, that's hardly a fair trade to your injuries."
"And you're walking me home. I think we're even. And besides, I don't think there should be a scoring system for what people do for each other. People should help one another no matter the situation, or the person."
"I guess you're right, people shouldn't have a physical debt for another."
Even though it had only been a little over a day, it felt like they had known each other for a month. They had been through tough situations together and had gotten to know one another as good as you can possibly know a person after a day.
As they arrived Lian asked, "So do you want me to meet your parents or something, cause of what happened yesterday?"
"I don't think that's the best idea. They're not exactly the best at hearing bad news, or meeting new people. Having the combination of the two, probably a very bad idea."
"Oh how bad could they be? They raised you."
"Just believe me when I say it's not going to be good."
"Alright, well then I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah, I'll see you then, thanks for walking me home."
"No problem." Then she leaned in and kissed Cheng on the cheek. A quick kiss, completely unexpected to Cheng, turned and said, "Goodnight."
"Good...Goodnight," He stammered, shocked by the kiss. He didn't move from the spot he was in, just watching as Lian walked away, trying to take in that moment. He didn't know what to think. Once she was well out of sight, he slowly turned and struggled through the door into his house.
"Who was what?" His mother just happened to be watching the whole time from the window. She had that smile on that people get when they catch someone in this situation.
"No one, just leave it alone," Cheng fired back.
"Awww," his mother said with the tone that all mothers get when their child has a secret crush.
Great, now I'll never be able to sleep tonight. I'll never be able to get that moment out of my mind. And what do I do the next time I see her? Why'd she have to bring this on me now. He went straight to his room, and just laid down to think. There was no way he could do schoolwork now, not after what had just happened. I should probably start on my Blue Spirit mask. I'm going to need a lot of time to make it. He pulled out the poster he had taken he had taken the previous day, and started taking dimensions. How wide and tall the mask would need to be in comparison with his own face. I need to make it perfect, to just fit over my face with no wiggle room. I also need to figure out where to get the wood. I can't just go chopping down trees. There's not exactly a forest just sitting around in the city. And I can't exactly make trips out of the city. I'll have to find a carpenter and buy a slab of wood. That's really the only solution I can think of. ... She kissed me... and I'll have to train, so I can fight at my best. I'll need to be fast, agile, strong. ... She kissed me ... I'll need to climb well.
He couldn't get her off of his mind, not that he really wanted to. He had so many things to do, to plan for, but not the time or ability to do so, and now this with Lian.
Okay, I just need to figure out what I'm going to do with this Lian situation before I can really concentrate on anything else. Otherwise I will never be able to focus. She kissed me. Do I kiss her back next time I see her? Do I wait until the next time she wants to kiss me? Maybe I just ignore it until she brings it up. No I can't ignore this, I've got to do something. I guess I should just ask her out, but how do I approach that? I should just wait until we're alone together and do it then, and play it by ear what to do next. Yes, that is what I must do. Just be straight forward with it. -- Oh I'm gonna be too nervous.
He spent the rest of the night thinking, debating, barely getting any sleep.
Next Chapter: Part of the Team
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