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|Nothing is as it Seems|
There is more to everything than meets the eye
Emptiness. Ai Shi opened her eyes to see the warehouse around her. She felt a strange emptiness in her stomach; somehow she had fallen unconscious, but she couldn't recall the reason. To her right, Liwei stared at the ground and cleaned his gun. To her left, Frost sat uncomfortably picking at her nails. Ishio was nowhere to be found. Her elbows pressed against the hard floor to prop herself up, and both Frost and Liwei turned their attention to their previously unconscious colleague.
"Where's Ishio?" she asked, looking between the two.
"He took off with an Airbender to go to a temple to learn Airbending," Liwei explained in a matter-of-fact sort of way.
Ai Shi paused for a moment. "How long was I out?" If Ishio had already left to learn Airbending, then quite possibly she was unconscious for several weeks; she did not know of any Airbender, and it would be foolish to go off with some random stranger you just met...
"About twelve hours, maybe a little less."
No one spoke for a few moments. Frost resumed picking at her nails while Liwei continued cleaning his gun. Ai Shi simply sat and tried to absorb what Liwei had just told her.
"So Ishio took off with a person he met less than twelve hours ago?" she clarified slowly.
"Yeah," Liwei nodded in confirmation.
Ishio's 'shortsightedness' was common knowledge, and the matter was not further pursued. But the level of Ishio's stupidity gave all three other members of Team Avatar a headache. "I need a cup of tea." Ai Shi said finally.
After propping the filled tea pot onto its proper stand over some wood, Ai Shi reached under the pot and snapped to create flames. Not even a spark. Once more her fingers quickly rubbed against each other, creating an audible snapping noise—but no flames.
"Um..." Ai Shi couldn't quite find the words.
"We didn't want to tell you..." Frost defended herself quickly, receiving a glare from Liwei.
"Back at the police facility... You lost your bending," Liwei clarified.
A punch to the gut. Ai Shi's breath left her lungs, though nothing had happened she gasped for air. All her life, she had ignored the life she easily could have had by hiding her ability to bend. But she had gone out of the way to train with Master Geming, to be a Firebender in a world that did not want her to be one. To not be able to bend...
Before anyone could say anything more on the matter, the large door to the warehouse slid open. All three stood to face the door: Frost in a bending stance, Liwei gun drawn, and Ai Shi having moved into a Firebending stance out of force of habit. An unassuming man wearing a very put together uniform fell to his knees and pressed his forehead against the floor. Both Ai Shi and Liwei relaxed, but Frost still seemed on edge.
The stranger barely lifted his head off of the ground to speak, "Liwei, your mother has sent for you."
Since Ishio and Haneul had met, not more than a couple of hours ago, their relationship progressed rapidly. They defeat squads of police officers together. They lost the mobsters together. They stole a plane together. But all of that is background information. Though they one could say they became good friends in this time, their relationship still did not consist of any real conversation. Haneul now drove the plane unsteadily, with Ishio clutching the wall in the co-pilot's seat.
"Have you ever driven a plane before?" he asked after Haneul gracefully ran into a bird.
"Well, no," Haneul replied, "but my dad told me I'd be a flier. I was hoping it'd just kinda come to me."
Ishio blinked a couple times before shrugging and turning back to watch Haneul's failing flying. Suddenly, they flew straight into a great cloud. The plane jerked around with the pilot's surprise at the change of scene. Not only couldn't he see anything, but he hadn't a clue whether he was even flying in a straight line. Their ears suddenly became filled with the sound of a creature being lacerated in the engine, followed by an explosion. In addition to Haneul's flying, the plane started to crash.
Panic filled the two teenagers' chests. Haneul struggled to regain control of the plane. As if fate knew their struggle, the plane finally emerged from the cloud. In front of them stood...
"The Northern Air Temple!" Haneul cried in excitement.
The plane had begun to drift sideways towards the abyss below. "We're still about to crash!" Ishio's statement brought Haneul out of his ecstatic daze. He pulled backwards on the plane's control, helping it to gain the air to make it into the main courtyard of the temple. Monks hurriedly moved to all sides as the plane putted into the temple before crashing in a burst of flames on the ground. From the cockpit, the two teenagers emerged. Dirty from the crash, and tired from the stress, they were quite a sight for the Air Nomads.
An older Air Nomad stepped from the crowd and looked the two teenagers up and down, obviously checking for any tattoos. The elder himself wore the recognizable blue arrow tattoos; in addition, orange and red robes clothed his body and his hands were hidden beneath the shawl laying across his shoulders. A long gray beard stretched down his jaw and almost to his belt, and in addition to wrinkles, this feature helped to establish the Nomad's numerous years.
"We do not take kindly to outsiders," the elder stated after his assessment.
Haneul swiftly stepped forward, not allowing Ishio to even open his mouth for a response. "We are not any normal outsiders. I am Haneul, son of Meelo. And this," he gestured towards Ishio, "is the Avatar."
All of the Nomads gasped in unison. Both at the revelation of Ishio's identity and the identity of Haneul. The Avatar and the great-grandson of the man who brought the Air Nomads back into the world.
The messenger did not move after delivering his message. In fact, the entire warehouse froze. Only the wind sounded over the crushing silence, brushing against the side of the warehouse hauntingly. Despite the awkwardness of the situation, the messenger remained in face down, refusing to step off of his knee until his task was completed.
"Why is mother looking for me?" Liwei folded his arms after posing this question.
"She did not say," this time, the messenger fully lifted his head as he spoke. Not only lifted his head, but he stood eye-to-eye with Liwei to continue. "All she instructed me to say was that you would know the password."
No response came for this second question. The messenger simply shook his head enigmatically and closed his eyes. Not a moment for the teens to react before his jaw locked. Blood spurted from his mouth and he fell to the ground in a heap of flesh. All three gasped, and Liwei hurried to the side of the messenger to press two fingers against the man's throat. No pulse. Kneeling on one knee, Liwei rested his elbow against his front knee in thought. The other two eventually moved beside Liwei, still unsure of exactly what had happened.
"What was that all about?" Frost spoke first, she watched Liwei, yet still eyed the corpse as though it might spring up and say something else mysterious.
"I'm sorry, but you two will have to search for Odraz on your own," the response came without him so much as glancing up from the corpse.
A hand on his shoulder forced his gaze to shift. Ai Shi had bent down at his eye level and held her hand steadily on his shoulder. "You know that you can't go on alone."
Liwei stood and sighed. "And you know that things will only get more complicated if you two get mixed up in this as well."
"We're a team, Liwei," Frost stepped in front of Liwei, arms folded, to rebuke him once more, "with Ishio and whitey gone, we have to stick together. Even if it means going to deal with your mom."
His mouth twitched into a slight smile while his gaze fell to the ground. These two were so stubborn that it was impossible to refuse either, let alone both of them. But his smile quickly faded at the severity of the situation. "Fine."
And with that single word, Team Sans Avatar left for the Fire Nation.
"I—we're sorry for not being more hospitable upon your arrival," the elder Airbender bowed hurriedly towards Haneul and Ishio. "With the bending debacle, all of the Air Nomads are at risk of being arrested and punished for bending. That is why we isolate ourselves from the rest of society..." his gaze fell upon Haneul and rested there for his next statement, "When Yun became pregnant, Meelo wanted to raise his child in the city. And we hadn't heard back from him since." The Nomad shook his head and directed his attention back towards both of them once more. "Pardon my manners once more. I am Master Bingwen."
Haneul bowed as well, and pressed against Ishio's back for him to do the same. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Master Bingwen."
Master Bingwen rubbed his jaw and nodded. "I assume you have brought the Avatar here to train in the art of Airbending?"
"Indeed, sir," Haneul began, "however, my father trained me in the art of Airbending when I was young, and I promised to teach the Avatar Airbending myself."
"I understand. You came to the Northern Air Temple as a safe place to practice?"
"Then feel free to consider this temple your sanctuary."
Amazing how much faster jets move compared to the badgermole. The travel which took days before took a matter of hours. Team Sans Avatar arrived at Royal Caldera City in less than ten hours. Out of the three, Frost seemed to be the only one who had no idea why they came back to the Capital City. And out of the three, Frost was also the most oblivious to anything about Liwei's past. The jet landed just outside the Royal Plaza, and as the team proceeded towards the Royal Palace, Frost slowly began to realize just who she had been travelling with for almost a year.
Outside the door, two guards dressed in traditional Fire Nation military uniforms stopped the three. The fact that they could not see the guards' faces from beneath their helmets only added to the intimidation which the older military uniforms were known for. Though they did not say anything, the sheer pressure exerted from their mannerisms would tell any other unwelcome visitor to leave. Of course, they were no ordinary unwelcome visitors.
"A Phoenix cannot fly with a broken wing," Liwei repeated the cryptic password, unaffected by their silent coercion.
They both reeled with shock, lowering their weapons and taking a step away from the three teens as if they were ghosts.
"P-prince Liwei?" One guard stuttered out Liwei's title.
"My mother sent for me," Liwei said, unaffected by the guard's reaction.
"O-of course..." Both guards moved out of the way and opened the doors to allow for them to enter. Liwei entered first, followed by Ai Shi and Frost.
Liwei strode down the hall with a sort of grace not normally associated with his character. His two companions had to pick up their pace to even keep up with him. The halls twisted and turned, and Liwei navigated fluidly. After all, he had lived in this palace his entire childhood. It only made sense for him to know it like the back of his hand. Neither Frost nor Ai Shi questioned him, even as they neared a great set of doors which Liwei paused in front of to open.
On the other side of the doors, a woman sat with her back facing towards the door burning incense. She turned at the sound of the door opening, and all three could see her face. Wrinkles, both from age and anxiety, outlined all of her features. Her hair was graying, but beneath the signs of age one could see that she used to be a beautiful young woman. Vivid orange eyes, flawless skin save the wrinkles, and beautifully shimmering hair. The woman's thin, pale lips formed a smile and she stood to approach Liwei.
"My dear, you've grown into such a handsome young man," she lifted her creased right hand and stroked his cheek, still smiling as though imagining Liwei as a young child suddenly growing into the man before her.
She did not receive a return of affection from Liwei; rather he turned his head so that her hand fell off of his face. "Why did you call me here, mother?" his voice was robotic, and it was obvious to the others that something had happened in his past to put him on bad terms with his mother.
Her aged hand fell lifelessly, while her beautiful eyes began to look at her son sadly. "It's your father," she began, her voice losing the life it had earlier, "you probably didn't hear that he was arrested about six months ago." Liwei said nothing, and so she continued, "Since your sister and you vanished, the only person left to rule was your brother. Usually it's tradition to have a Firebender take the thrown, but I suppose in these times and without another heir it would be unreasonable to expect such." The last sentenced trailed off topic, and so she brought herself back to the situation with suddenly calling Liwei. "You left to live your own life, but Junjie isn't taking well to the stress of ruling. In the past year, there have been protests about the anti-bending laws in the Fire Nation. It messes with the way of life we've always known, since our Nation has always been ruled by a powerful Firebender. The people are calling for the Fire Nation to cut themselves off from the rest of the world and allow bending, like the Air Nomads.
"Your father supported this. But it's what got him arrested. Junjie is scared that this will happen if he does the same. He's gone mad with the stress; he has anyone involved in a protest, bender or non bender, arrested or executed. Not to mention our economy is collapsing: with everyone being arrested, we don't have workers. Economically, the other Nations are beginning to cut themselves off from us. We've gone into a depression, and with Junjie's method of ruling we won't get out of it anytime soon."
Liwei sighed. "This isn't my problem, mother."
Her brows furrowed as she continued to search Liwei's expression for the young boy she had loved and cared for. "You're the only one who can talk sense into him," she finally explained. "He's your twin. You two have always been close. If he'll listen to anyone, it's you."
"So you want a Republic City police officer to tell a world leader to bring bending back in his Nation?" The Fire Nation Prince paraphrased his mother's words skeptically.
Once more a smile crossed her lips and she placed her hand on his cheek. "I know you haven't been allying yourself with the police lately, sweetie."
Out of the three, Ai Shi and Frost found it most appropriate to hang back with Liwei's mother while Liwei went to confront his twin brother. Alone, Liwei glided the halls towards the throne room. Since becoming Fire Lord, he apparently spent most of his time in that room. Rumored that he even slept there. It didn't take long for him to find the throne room; Liwei had always been groomed to become the next Fire Lord and spent much of his time there. Of course, it wasn't as though his father was as unpleasant as many of the other Fire Lords. Liwei's grooming consisted mostly of goofing off with his father while his father's consultants tried to convince him to be serious for once.
Now he was an outsider in his own home. Liwei's hands closed around the handles before he wrenched them open in one confident movement. Across the long room, a figure sat hunched over and alone in the throne. No flames surrounded him, the Fire Lord had to create the flame decoration with his own bending, and this lack of light made the entire room dark and dead. When the door opened, the small head of the distant figure lifted. Liwei walked the distance of the room, and once he came into a view where he could clearly see the features of his brother, Junjie's body lifted in recognition.
"Liwei. You've been allying yourselves with the Avatar. What happened to the boy who left home to fight against benders?" Junjie spoke, his voice harsh and accusatory.
"I left to fight against criminals, Junjie. Unlike you I fight the bad guys." Liwei's tone changed with his brother; it was apparent that he spoke down to his brother, as if his brother wasn't an equal.
"Hypocrite! All of you benders are the bad guys! I'm saving the world!" The Fire Lord leapt out of the chair and stood at the edge of the platform on which the throne stood. He shouted and spat at his brother, before calming himself. Instead of the traditional Fire Lord's robes, Junjie had garbed himself in an expensive suit which he now straightened to continue. "You're a criminal. The money from your arrest could help the Fire Nation's economic crisis."
"The money is for one man, Junjie. The Fire Nation needs more than the money of one man."
He laughed airily. "Mother sent you, didn't she? She's been going on about how all I can do to help the country is free those protesters and give them what they want." Junjie hands began to shake, and he laughed once more. This time, more insane yet still quiet and barely audible.
"I'm not here because of mother, I'm here because you're fucking up the Fire Nation." Despite his harsh language, Liwei's tone remained steady and calm.
Junjie laughed again. "I'm saving the Fire Nation, Liwei. You would be able to see that if you weren't always blindly following mother and father."
Liwei did not respond. He knew that their conversation was going nowhere. At the lack of response, Junjie raised his hand and called for the guards. They stormed in, as if waiting on call, and grabbed Liwei's arms roughly. Not only was he unable to break free, but at this point Liwei figured it best to not fight back. "Take him to the dungeon. I'll send for the Republic City police to fetch him later." With that command, Liwei was dragged to the prison of his own childhood home.
- Random Writing Lesson: Swearing! The other day in creative writing, we discussed how to appropriately (yes I did mean to use that word ironically) use vulgar swear words in writing. The two most appropriate situations to swear are 1.) If it is the only reasonable remark for a character to say. If Liwei had said "you're messing up the Fire Nation" it wouldn't have the same effect as "you're f***ing up the Fire Nation". 2.) If it's comical. A little girl with adorable pigtails and a cute little dress swinging back and forth on a swing and swearing like a sailor.
- If you're confused as to how Meelo is Haneul's father (time-line wise) I decided in my fanon that Korra died in around her late thirties to early forties, thus placing Meelo at about 30 when Haneul would have been born. Since LoK hasn't come out, and we don't know if Korra dies in the series or anything, I kinda took a leap of faith in this regard.
For the collective works of the author, go here.