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|"The pathways has just opened itself, which becomes... limitless my brother,"|
|— Xai Bau told me enthusiastically|
February 19, 2015
After finishing my studies in the Northern Water Tribe, I've decided to travel to study at the University of Ba Sing Se, but during my trip there, I've met two new people, who brought me to learn the truths about a simple game of Pai Sho.
So, I was walking to school on a fine winter's morning, dark, but yet full of light. Classes were as usual. Languages and theory in the morning, and physical work in the afternoon. Breaks at ten and one, ends at four. Unusually a quiet eerie breeze blew, as clouds gathered. The transcendence of winter to spring. The dawn of new beginnings. A new path. Fruit grew as snowmen slowly faded away. After the discovery of a revelation, I decided to approach her the next day.
"Ring... Ring... Ring..." The school bell rung.
Walking down to the cafeteria, nothing unusual, but what was unusual was the whereabouts of Tofa. He was gone that day, not according to my plans, but still fits right well in.
"So, have you seen Tofa?" Mei asked?
"Why do you ask me?" I replied.
"Because, he is in your economics class," she replied.
In the end, I choose economics, philosophy, and healing. Waterbending was something my brother offered to teach me, so I didn't think it was necessary at the time. A good teacher like him was all I needed back then.
"Oh, he isn't here today... sorry," I told her.
"Tell him to keep quiet when he gets back," Mei told me.
"Why would I do such a thing? Why wouldn't you do it?" I told her.
"Because he is in your class, and he told me to ask someone in his class," she replied.
That was when I walked away, unbearingly. Class was always the same, except for the getting in my business Tofa. At school, we had to stay for two more years before we can choose our respective pathways at the age of seventeen. School carried on until the Glacier Spirits Festival, where we travelled to the Southern Tribe this year. The Southern Tribe was the same as usual, food fairs, and time for elders to commune the spirits. It was a fortnight's journey to reach the Southern Tribe, even by ship. That was the longest holiday, which lasted a month. It was nearly summer on our pole, and everybody was more than ready for the holidays. Some of us stayed at home, others hung around the tribe, or went camping, and there were few who travelled to the tropical island, or another nation, if they were able to. I did travel to the tropical island, and stayed in the library throughout the summer holidays. Then one day, I found an interesting scroll about the Spirit World.
This was the first scroll I have ever read about regarding spirits, and their importance. I learned about the face stealer Koh, and the Mother of Faces, how they are alike, and how they contrast each other. This made my interest for spirits grew even more. After the holiday ended, the final stages of the years came, examinations. We could never get our results back until the following year we sat the test on.
Two years later
"Coming on stage, Unalaq, who receives an A star in healing, and philosophy, B in economics," our headmaster announced.
That was the start of a new pathway. A new year, and the end of school, the world is now my field. My father allowed me to travel to the University of Ba Sing Se to continue my studies, after we travelled to the Glacier Spirits Festival; during that time, I met a warrior named Noatak. He was fierce, brash, loyal, nonetheless a great friend. He was the one who truly inspired me to go on my own journey.
"Where do you think you're going?" I asked Noatak.
"I'm getting off this ship, to better the world. Please don't tell your brother, or father, promise?" Noatak asked me.
"Promise. Good luck," I replied.
I left home, travelled down towards Wulong forest, which became a national heritage to the Earth Kingdom, as this was the battleground where Avatar Aang and Fire Lord Ozai fought for the fate of the world. I travelled southeast towards Ba Sing Se. The weather was boiling hot, so I abandoned my Water Tribe outfit, and bought some new Earth Kingdom ones. What came was a green half sleeved top, along with some shorts. I went through the Serpent's Pass, even though there was a ferry terminal there. Jumping off the waterfalls nearby there was amazing! My skin could finally breathe, after all those years in the Northern Tribe. As I travelled through the Serpent's pass, I faced a giant serpent, five times the size of me, and about twice the regular size. Its fangs were stronger, and faster than a regular one. While battling the giant beast, the beast's tail whipped me. Immediately, I closed my eyes tight, but I could here a loud combustion explosion go off in the far corner of my eye, before the serpent went away.
"Let's get him to safety," a man with green attire said. This was the first thing I've heard since my blackout.
"Uhh... uhhh..." I coughed out. "Who are you people? Pirates!" I came to a realization.
"No, we are not pirates, we are just nomads travelling around the Earth Kingdom," the man said nicely. "My name is Zaheer, and the woman who saved you from the serpent is my girlfriend P'Li," Zaheer told me.
"A pleasure to meet you," P'Li said.
"Thank you for saving me P'Li. My name is Unalaq," I told them.
"There's one thing that interests me: You are wearing an Earth Kingdom outfit, yet you could waterbend. Are you from one of the Water Tribes?" Zaheer inquired.
"Yes I am, the Northern one," I told him. "Where are you guys headed to right now?" I added on slowly.
"We are headed to the Si Wong Desert. Are you headed in that direction?" Zaheer asked.
"Actually, I'm headed to the University of Ba Sing Se, to finish my studies of philosophy, and spiritual studies," I told him.
"Well, if you are interested in the study of spirits, come with us to the Si Wong Desert. There, you'll learn the truth," Zaheer told me.
In the end, I decided to join Zaheer and P'Li as we travelled to the Desert. Zaheer is a teenager, about my age, who just returned from the western coasts of the Earth Kingdom. These guys have some of the most legendary adventures ever.
"So how did the two of you meet?" I asked curiously.
"Actually... He saved me from a warlord just a few weeks ago. Warlord Lai attempted to use me as his killing machine, as he has a prejudice against the ninja clan near Gaipan. Using my special power, he intended me to wipe out that village. Zaheer somehow found me, then freed me from the warlord. We then travelled through Earth Kingdom waters for the next few weeks, in return to meeting Zaheer's friend, Xai Bau," P'Li explained.
"I would like to know what your journey is like here, so far?" Zaheer asked.
"Well, I took a boat down to Wulong Forest, to visit the Earth Kingdom's national heritage. Along the way, I passed by the city of Yu Dao, one of the first Fire Nation colonies. Then I headed to the Serpent's Pass, as the ferry terminal was closed. That was all that happened, until I saw the two of you," I told them.
It was five days on their junk ship, before we arrived at the northern outskirts of the desert. This was the place where Xai Bau lived in, along with his group. It was boiling, nothing like the Northern Water Tribe. Everything there was so cold, and nice, while here, it's just an oven, endlessly heating the earth. It was a decent walk to reach to the nearest town to have our first, and only pit stop, Misty Palms Oasis.
"Three of your specialty ice drinks please," Zaheer asked.
"That would be six copper pieces please," the man at the reception told him. Zaheer then gave him his six well earned copper pieces.
The walk from here wasn't too far. After our brief pit stop, we carried for another ten miles, until we reached Xai Bau, and the secret society's headquarters. It was a house, flat roofed, made of sand, just like most houses around this area. There was a backdoor, which led into some mysterious room.
"Xai Bau, these are my new friends I've met along my journey, P'Li, and Unalaq," Zaheer told Xai Bau.
"A pleasure to meet you both," Xai Bau told us. "Care for a game of Pai Sho?" he asked.
"Sure, I guess," I replied.
"Remember what I told you on the boat. This is a test, to see whether you can join our secret society. Both of you have different minds, make sure your interests align. He is the grand lotus of the secret society," Zaheer told me before I went up against Xai Bau.
"Let us begin. The guest may go first," Xai Bau instructed me.
I slowly processed those words in my mind, before placing a tile onto the game board. He then places another tile parallel to mine. I then placed another one, five o'clock from my first tile, he did the same. The two of us were sitting in melancholy. Neither of us spoke, until five minutes later.
"I see that you favour the lotus gambit. Not many still cling onto the ancient ways my friend," Xai Bau told me.
"Those who do can always find a friend," I told him.
"Let's finish this game," Xai Bau said.
We had twelve more tiles to play. Each move, Xai Bau corresponds to mine, before creating a lotus symbol on the Pai Sho board. Zaheer and P'Li just sat silently as they watched the heat of the game between the two of us.
"Welcome to the Order of the Red Lotus," Xai Bau congratulated me. "The pathways has just opened itself, which becomes... limitless my brother," Xai Bau added enthusiastically.
"It is an honour to play a grand lotus like yourself," I told him. "You must have so much knowledge of this world, not many people could offer, not even my teachers from the Northern Tribe," I added.
The next game was played between Xai Bau and P'Li, but she lost the game to him unfortunately. However, she was still allowed to accompany us throughout our lectures, but can't enter our meetings. This was the first game of Pai Sho I have ever drawn against an opponent. I had been no match for Zaheer during our travels in Earth Kingdom waters. P'Li did show remarkable talent, but I think she has a lot more to learn in order to join the secret society.
"Not a bad game, especially up against the Grand Lotus," Zaheer told P'Li. "Unalaq, welcome, my brother," Zaheer told me.
"Before we carry on, what is the Red Lotus anyway?" I asked Xai Bau and Zaheer.
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