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Book 1: Ba Sing Se
June 30th, 2011
This chapter takes place a month after the previous two. Cheng has now fully healed from his injuries. This is the first chapter to bring in canon characters. This one was particularly difficult to write, probably because of the canon characters, I had to think of how they would speak and act, instead of having my own freedom to make it up. I feel like this story has started out a bit slow, but it will pick up.
Up bright and early in the morning, Cheng was racing through the streets of the lower ring. He had started a daily routine of morning workouts to get his strength and endurance up. His workouts consisted of long runs, as well as sprinting, push-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, and leg squats. All things that didn't require any equipment.
Although it wasn't unusual for people to workout, he still wanted to do his early in the morning so less people would be suspicious as to why he was doing so.
When he got back home, he rushed to make breakfast. He wanted to eat and get out as fast as possible to avoid seeing his parents. Talking to his parents was like driving a nail through his temple. If he said anything he was way out of line, but if he stayed quiet, he was being too antisocial. There was no winning. So avoidance was the best option. He just used the excuse that he was going to the University early to study. It seemed to work.
Halfway through eating, he heard some rustling beyond the door. Knowing that his parents were coming, he shoved the rest of his food into his mouth, grabbed his bag, and bolted out the door. He made it just out the door before his parents entered the room.
Cheng sighed in relief, and headed towards a park that he visited in the mornings rather than studying. He had managed to convince Lian to come out early in the morning to join him. Sometimes the two actually would study, and other times they would just relax and cuddle together. Today was one of those cuddling days. He arrived at the park well before Lian would be there. So he just laid down and relaxed, watching the sky. He was pretty sore from the workout, so this relaxing felt great.
Cheng heard someone coming from behind him. She was quiet, but he still knew it was Lian. Being so early in the morning, not many people were in the park, so he could hear her from a good distance.
"I still don't know how you get up this early," Lian said as she approached. She laid down on his shoulder.
"Just go to sleep earlier, that always works for me."
"I can't fall asleep that early. I'm always too awake, I'd end up just laying there all night."
"I could knock you out if you wanted. You know, just hit you in the face," Cheng joked.
She hit him in the chest. "No you jerk." Cheng winced, still hurting from the workouts. She hit him a few more times, harder with each hit.
"Ah stop," Cheng said as he jumped up out of the way.
"What you're too weak?"
"No, I'm just really sore."
"You training for the army or something? You know the war is over, right?"
"I've just been working out in the mornings, that's all. You know for my health."
"You're just still bothered by that robber aren't you?"
"I guess a little. I want to get stronger so something like that won't happen again."
"Well I won't argue with ya, getting bigger and all."
I really need to get some sort of weapon. If I'm going to be of any value, I'll need to train with a weapon. What did that wanted poster say? He reached into his bag and pulled the poster out of the book he had been storing it in. "Skilled with broadswords" had been written on the bottom. He headed for the lower ring, knowing of a small weapons shop that he had run by a couple of mornings. Every once in a while he would check behind him to make sure he wasn't being followed. He didn't want anyone to know what he was doing.
He arrived at a shop simply called Edges, checked his back, and headed in. The shop had all sorts of weapons: jians, daos, bows and arrows, axes, daggers, and more. Cheng headed straight for the dao broadswords. He pulled one of them off the wall and tested them out. Too long and heavy. The next ones too short. He tried out all of them, testing weights and lengths until he found just the ones he wanted. It was a medium length, with a handle that was painted with a fade from dark green to black, with a sheath to match. He really liked the color fade and the size was just right for him. He purchased them and headed back to his home so he could hide his weapons. He checked around to make sure no one he knew had seen him, and started to head out.
"That's a nice pair of swords you got there," somebody said behind him.
"Yes, I just bought them," Cheng returned, not knowing who was talking to him. He saw someone approach him. The person's head was completely surrounded by brown hair, almost making a ball around their head. There was a blue headband around their head, mostly hidden by the brown hair. And there were two red lines on each side of the person's face.
"Interesting purchase. What are you using them for?"
"Just protection, you know how crime is these days."
"I don't think that's it. Kid like you doesn't just spend that much time trying to find the perfect pair of swords."
"Kid like me? You're younger than I am."
"Yeah, but I bet I could handle myself better than you though." The person revealed a concealed sword from behind and set it tip down on the ground.
"Put your weapon away. I'm not going to fight you. Now who are you and why have you been watching me," Cheng said getting to the point.
"Name's Smellerbee, and I haven't been watching you, just noticing you."
"Noticing what?" Cheng wanted to figure out what Smellerbee really wanted.
"Noticing what you've been doing. Criminals don't go on morning jogs through here, don't spend that much time buying swords, and they don't back down on a fight like you just did. You're planning on something good."
"You don't know anything about me. What do you want with me?" Hmm maybe Smellerbee can be my connection to knowing where to go with crimes. This could work in my favor.
"I'm part of a group called the Freedom Fighters. Name explains it. I think you would be a great addition."
"We will see. I'll meet you here tomorrow, same time." And with that he turned and walked away, leaving Smellerbee to stand there and just watch him leave.
After he had hidden his swords, he headed back to the University. He met up with Lian in the main courtyard. He had a little smile on when he saw her. She on the other hand did not look so happy.
"Who was that girl I saw you with today?" she asked.
"What girl? I don't know what you're talking about."
"I saw you in the lower ring chatting with some girl. Now who is she." She seemed to be getting pretty angry over it.
"That was a girl? I couldn't really tell. And why would you know that? Have you been following me or something?"
"All I know is I saw you talking to some girl and I want to know why."
"She was talking to me, and I'd never even met her before."
"Well what did she want."
"She just wanted to talk to me." Cheng was getting curious now. "Actually, I find this interesting. You knew that she was a girl, and I couldn't even tell, so there's no way you could tell from a distance. And, you don't seem interested at all in why I was there. And there's no way you missed what I bought there, which means you either already knew about it, or you're really just that insecure. Which one sounds like you?" Cheng thought he had nearly figured this out.
"What? Don't turn this on me. I'm asking you." Now she was in a defensive position.
"You're asking me what you already know. So who is she then?"
"Alright, fine I asked Smellerbee to talk to you."
"Why? What would make you think she could do anything for me? And why hide it?"
"Okay," she paused for a moment to decide what to say, "I found a wanted poster hidden in one of your books with writing all over it. I got suspicious, so I searched around and managed to find the same mask, nearly completed. I just thought you needed some sort of direction, needed someone to guide you, to help you."
"What makes you think I need help? And how would you come to knowing Smellerbee? What aren't you telling me?"
"I was just trying to help you. You don't have to get mad over it."
"I'm not mad, just curious. Interested. What do you know about Smellerbee? And how can she help me?"
"She's good with weapons and fights crime. I figured it was a good fit for you to learn and would get you on a good path. She is part of a good team."
"Yeah, but how do you know her?"
"She used to fight against the Fire Nation before she came here as a refugee. She knows how to handle herself."
"You're not going to tell me how you know her are you?"
"Nope," she said with a smile.
"Well I'll find out eventually. I'm meeting her tomorrow. Happy?"
"Yeah, I am"
Cheng had nearly approached the weapons shop he had promised to be at when a thought occurred to him, What if she is going to test me somehow? I'm going to need to sneak up on her somehow. I can't let her catch me off guard, it will discredit me.
Cheng then turned the next left he could to get to approach the building from the other side. She'll expect me from the direction of the middle ring. If I approach from the other side hopefully she won't see me coming.
He approached the building and peered into the opening in front of the building. He couldn't see Smellerbee anywhere. Maybe she's just in one of my blind spots. I need a different vantage point. He backed up, and went to another opening to where he could see the walkway in front of the building. Still no luck. Maybe I should just approach from the front. I have my knife, I'll handle myself if she gets the jump on me.
He stepped out slowly, checking every corner he could to make sure she wasn't hiding. Still nowhere to be seen. He slowly walked into the building, went to his right toward the jian swords, remembering that she had one concealed.
"Hey, how's it going?"
Cheng jumped around, pulled the knife out to defend himself, expecting she would do something. She was simply standing there.
"Whoa, relax," she said as she jumped backward in fright, "Put that away."
He sheathed his weapon. "Hey, I've been thinking."
"What? About stabbing me?"
"Well, I figured you would have some sort of test for me, try to catch me off guard."
"Don't be so paranoid. I want you to work with us. We're not trying to kill you."
"Alright, well, let's talk outside." The two left the shop and went for a walk around the area. "So what is it exactly that you do?"
"Like I said, I'm part of the Freedom Fighters. We hear about planned crime that will happen in the city, and fight it off."
"Simple as that? Fight it off?"
"Each person specializes with different weapons and capabilities. I specialize with swords and knives, you've got your broadswords. It would make us even better if you were part of the team."
"So when can I meet this team."
Smellerbee had been walking them directly to their "hideout." They turned the corner and walked into a small apartment.
"This is Longshot, Bolt, and Pipsqueak."
"Hey, how is it going?" Pipsqueak said with a big smile, although everything on him was big as he was a giant. Longshot just nodded in his direction and went back to what he was doing. Bolt though, got up instantly and walked away. He seemed to be upset.
"What's with him?" Cheng asked.
"I think he is still upset that we're adding someone to the group. He thinks we are trying to replace him or something."
"Why is it that everyone has a codename of some sort? It can't be all of your real names right?"
"We never actually learned anyone's real names. Longshot over there met up with us after his village got burned down by the Fire Nation. He didn't speak, so we gave him the name for his archery skills. Pipsqueak told us that was his name as a joke, and it just stuck with him."
"And you? How did Smellerbee come to be?"
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Come on. Unless you literally smelled bees, there has to be some sort of interesting story behind it."
"I SAID I DIDN'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!" she shouted and stormed away angrily.
Cheng just stood there motionless, not knowing what to do. Longshot immediately got up and walked over to Smellerbee. He just gave her a look and she seemed to calm down.
Cheng walked over to Pipsqueak, "What's with her?"
"She gets a little emotional at times, don't worry Cheng, she'll calm down."
"I guess so. Hey, wait. How did you know my name? I never said it."
"Smellerbee told us, why, was she not supposed to?"
"It's just that I never told her my name. Do you know who told her my name?" Since Lian wouldn't say how she knew the Freedom Fighters, he was hoping they might tell him.
"Well she told me she was meeting a friend a couple of days ago, but I don't know who it was."
"Hmm. I guess I'll just have to talk to her." He slowly walked back over to her, trying to figure out what to say.
"I'm sorry I yelled at you," she said as he approached, "It's just that there are certain things of my past that I don't want to be reminded of."
"I understand. So," he said changing the subject, "how did you know my name? I just talked to Pipsqueak, and he knew my name. I figured you must have said something."
"That girl told me. I think her name was Lian. She's the one who told me to look into you."
"How did you meet?"
"An old friend of mine introduced us. Why?"
"Who introduced you?"
"Why are you so curious about this?"
"Cause she won't tell me. She's keeping it a secret from me."
"Well she told me not to say anything about it, so I'm not going to."
"Aww. Alright fine. So now what? Do we train or something?"
"Well I figured you should get to know the team before anything else. Then we can go over strategy."
"Are we gonna do any training?"
"Not much. Besides, you know how to wield a sword, right?"
"Uhh, yeah, of course," he lied, "I just thought we'd need to train as a group. You know, so we can work off of each other the best."
"We will a little. But you can handle it right?"
"Alright, so you've met Pipsqueak. Longshot doesn't say much, so you've pretty much met him too. Let's see if we can talk to Bolt." The two of them walked into the next room to see Bolt sharpening his sword.
"Bolt, meet Cheng, the kid I told you about."
"Hey." That was all he said.
"Why'd you bolt out of the room like that? Is that how you got your name?" Smellerbee left the room leaving the two of them alone.
"No. It's not."
"What's it for then."
"It's 'cause I'm fast that's all."
"What's with you? What are you mad at?"
"I'm not mad."
"Then what is wrong?"
"I'm a swordsman, just like you. And I'm relatively new. I just feel like I'm being replaced."
"No, no. That's not what this is. She didn't find me, I found her. If you're gonna be mad at someone, be mad at me not her. Besides, you're a way better swordsman than me."
"And how would you know that?"
"Can you keep a secret?"
"Can I trust you?"
"You can trust me"
"Alright, besides playing around with knives, I really have no sword experience."
"None? And they all have no idea? What are you doing here then? You'll be of little value."
"Well I'm good with stealth. And I was hoping someone would be able to teach me."
"I guess I could teach you a little bit."
"And you'll keep it a secret right?"
"So, how'd it go with Smellerbee?" Lian asked then next time she could see Cheng.
"That's it, just great?"
"How did you meet Smellerbee?"
"That's not what I asked."
"It's what I asked. Who introduced you?"
"Why is this so important to you? Do you not trust me?"
"I just want to know how a person like you comes to know a person like Smellerbee. She's not exactly a person you just find on the street and become friends with. And she told me about it." He was hoping he could bluff this a little to get the answer.
"No she didn't," she said expecting the lie, "she promised she wouldn't."
"How else would I know that the guy introduced you?"
"What guy?" "You know, the tall guy that introduced you and Smellerbee," he lied even more hoping to be vaguely right. "No, you're not going to trick me. I know she didn't say anything. She promised." "Fine, you win, but she did introduce me to the team." "And how were they?" "An oddly interesting group. But I guess if they work well together it doesn't matter." "So you guys doing any special missions soon." "She'll let me know. We have meetings, but I'll know more later. This is just the beginning it looks like. "Hope it goes well. Gotta go to class." "Yeah. Me too."
Next Chapter: Already at Work
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