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|Chapter 5: Remembrance|
Book 2: Fire
Previously on The Kyoshi Chronicles
Momzen's parents, Fera and Torro, were arrested by the Earth State because of rebelled attack against the border. Momzen and his sister Suina set out to find them, ultimately resulting in Momzen ending up imprisoned in Lake Laogai where he would eventually meet Avatar Kyoshi.
After meeting with Lord Hozon the Kyds arrived at Momzen's home town Taku. This sparked the decision by Momzen to stay and restart the search for his parents and make amends with his mistakes.
Book 2: Fire, Chapter 5: Remembrance
|"I may be the Avatar, but I'm a friend too."|
|— Kyoshi to Bako|
Crisp waves pummelled the hull, knocking back sprays of sweet ocean mist into the air. Sails, clean and white, stood taught upon the blasting wind as the ship speeded along the navy sea. Keita, whom Hozon had entrusted as captain, took his post at the mahogany wheel, staring steadfast over the dragon carving and out at the blue horizon. An island had made itself visible against the distance, its single mountaintop but a tiny kink in the horizontal, ocean plane.
"Land ahoy!" shouted a crew member, piquing the interest of the other soldiers.
Kyoshi launched herself from her seat of entangled ropes and teetered over the edge of the ship. She was hoping for a volcano or a long lost city; or to put it simpler, a distraction. It had not even been a day since Momzen was left at Taku and for that Kyoshi was still feeling...different. She was definitely sad, almost grievous, but there were other emotions mixed in too. It was as if she was angry at Momzen for ditching her, yet guilty too for not trying to help him resolve whatever feelings had caused him to make the decision to stay. But she also felt hard done-by. Why didn't Momzen come to her and explain his feelings, why couldn't he open up to her?
She assumed the issue was on some part to do with his family. Kyoshi would've have gladly offered her shoulder for Momzen to cry on, or both ears as a diary for Momzen to pour his hidden feelings into. But, he was gone, hopefully safe, and there was nothing Kyoshi could do. As much as she wanted to go back and stay with Momzen, help him sort through his issues, as the Avatar she had to move forward. As the small island stretched laterally upon nearing, Kyoshi sat herself back down on the pile of ropes. Tori came in and nestled in the girl's lap, knowing that her friend still needed some comfort.
Kyoshi sighed, apathetically watching the busy crew with her puffy, emerald eyes. It was funny how just one decision had seemed to change everything. Things were never going to be the same. Eyes filling with tears for the tenth time that day the Avatar hid her face from the crowd and stroked Tori for reassurance.
"I'm telling you one last time you don't have to come."
Momzen heaved his pack onto the ground, the bag filled to the brim with leftovers that Hozon could spare. A curly smile, like a twisted silver wire, bent across Gisgo's stubbly chin as he sat atop an empty barrel and leant against the facade of the inn. Face hidden under the brim of his bamboo hat Momzen couldn't make out the rest of Gisgo's expression, but he knew the man was unnerved.
"I've got nowhere else to go," Gisgo responded, a careful tone faint behind the snark. "Besides, I like the countryside up here. It'll be nice to see more of it."
The man raised his head, met eyes with an unsure Momzen, and then nodded. Nervously Momzen nodded back. He wasn't nervous to go travelling with a man ten or so years older than him, or a criminal for that matter. In fact, since their travels together Momzen and the others had pretty much accepted Gisgo into their little group.
Momzen was nervous because he was leaving Taku once more; and the last time he left Taku the nerves he felt then were double, triple, than what he was feeling now. Lord Hozon finally came out from inside the empty inn, head to toe in his gallant armour. Greatly he heaved, smiling out at his new companions.
"Yes," huffed Momzen.
"Got everything? Food?"
"A fair bit," the boy replied.
"Spare underpants, more important than you'd think."
There was a pause as Hozon stood still to think of more items for the checklist, mouth ajar, Momzen's anxious eyes fixated on the man and his brave stature. He could hardly breathe, but looking at the powerful figure was helping to calm him down.
"Well then I guess you're all set," the lord shrugged. "It was a pleasure meeting you and the Avatar."
"Wait!" interjected Momzen, hoping for some reason to buy some time and delay the inevitable. "Gisgo might need some more arrows; he's lost a few along the way."
Together Hozon and Momzen looked at Gisgo who scoffed, a trademark reed resting in the corner of his mouth.
"Ha, I don't use military arrows," the archer rebutted. "The craftsmanship doesn't suit me. No offense."
"None taken!" Hozon chuckled. "Momzen, it seems like everything's in order, you've got enough supplies. There's just one last thing you need to do."
"What? What's that?" Momzen feverishly asked, glad that there was a possible setback to the departure.
With creases in his leathery, tanned skin and a sympathetic glow in his eyes Hozon smiled down at the frightened boy and softly said, "Take the first step."
Knowingly Hozon squeezed Momzen's shoulder, prompting the boy to nod understandingly. He had to leave; no matter how scared he was. He owed it to his sister and to his parents to go out there and at least try. Destiny was presenting itself to Momzen, so easy to snatch up, yet for some reason Momzen could barely move.
"Okay," he mumbled, shouldering the backpack and signalling at Gisgo to get going. "Thanks for everything."
Hozon let out a single, hearty chortle.
"It was nothing!"
With a final smile Momzen turned to face the mountainside. What answers lay hidden in its contours and rugged peaks, and what would he find in the valleys over? Solace or grief? His family, his destiny? There would be something out there to fill the emptiness that was forever picking at the muscle strings of his heart, to pump the blood back through his numb body.
"Oh and Momzen," Hozon added quickly.
Momzen stopped and waited for the end of the lord's sentence. A long gravel road was ahead, Gisgo trudging a few metres in front scraping an arrow along the ground.
"I hope you find what you're looking for."
Delicately the firebender cast the man a small, ghostly smile; all fear and nervousness present behind the false guise of tranquillity.
"Yeah, me too."
With that as the parting words the two friends took to the eastward mountain road while Hozon led his men south for the border. Looking down at his feet as he walked the path seemed all too familiar. It was as if that night was happening right beside him. Hiding his teary, distraught eyes from Suina, the blazing orange sweeps of the setting sun, his sister's distracted footsteps. It was all there, all for him to follow.
"Suina, hurry up!" Momzen shouted frantically, trying to keep his blurry eyes on the darkening path.
Once the sun set finding their way would be near impossible, and Momzen wanted to at least find some shelter before night fell.
"I'm scared!" Suina yelled girlishly from behind. "Can't we go home?"
Frustrated Momzen snapped her way and stormed over. The girl began to cower, edging off the road and into the long, weedy grass.
"Momzen, what?" she began to cry, seeing something rabid in her brother's eyes. "I'm just afraid!"
Momzen snatched Suina's little wrist and yanked her in close, grinding his teeth together as he spoke.
"We need to go as soon as possible if you ever want to see mum and dad again," he hissed, eyeballing the girl, starring icy daggers into her.
"Mo-uaah," wailed Suina, fat tears now dribbling down her reddening cheeks.
Momzen had done it, tipped her over the edge. His fear and stress had become too much, and lashing out at the infant only made things worse. Suina plonked herself onto the gravel and rubbed her eyes as she continued to cry.
"Come on," Momzen guiltily sighed, swinging the rucksack over to his chest to rummage through. "You know I didn't mean it."
Suina looked up at her brother with lips quivering.
Momzen laughed and knelt down to her level with something in his hand. With the garnet light shadowing one half of his face he cast his sister a silly smile, hoping that she wouldn't see past it and find that he was scared too. Probably more scared, for he knew the real weight of the situation. They could quite possibly be orphans now, at least to a degree, or maybe entirely – but he didn't want to think about it. The thought of them being well and truly gone was disturbing, and he had to put on a brave face for Suina.
"I know you are. It's scary out here isn't it? But I know a place we can stay over the other side of the mountain," he lied, nodding again and again to assure Suina that everything was alright. "So, we gotta start walking if we want to get there, okay?"
"But it's dark, and what about wolfbats?" squeaked Suina, more concerned with the possibility of sighting an endangered wolfbat than with the loss of her parents.
That was when Momzen showed her the tambourine. It was built onto a small wooden stick and the dark blue paint was faded at the handle groove. Gently he shook it, letting out a faint jingle into the whispers of the twilight. Immediately Suina's eyes filled with joy, as the long-forgotten child's toy had made its way back into her brain. She swiped it eagerly from her brother's hand and clasped it in the two of hers, beaming down at it like it was giant candied apple.
"If you're feeling scared just play this," Momzen said, wiping a grimy patch off Suina's cheek. "It scares away wolfbats. They don't like the sound."
Puffing out her chest Suina shook the tambourine frantically, stomping her booties as she walked in a circle.
"Go away! Go away! Go away!" she screamed through her parade, hoping the gnarly wolfbats would get the message.
"Come on, you ready to go?" laughed Momzen as he got back up.
In a split second the ocean met his gaze, the rooftops of Taku-style houses drenched in the waning glow. Through hatched windows his neighbours had watched with concerned expressions at the two children that walked hand in hand down the road. Poor kids, they thought, they'll never survive out there. Perhaps they were right, Momzen had his concerns. But he was confident, somehow. He was sure that leaving Taku would lead him to something incredible; something worth the worry and the fear. They just had to start walking.
"Yeah," replied Suina, continuing to rattle the tambourine though less vigorously this time.
With the little reply given Momzen turned his back finally on Taku and began his march toward the darkening east. As the sun set and moon rose, bringing with it the cold night, the siblings continued their trek up the mountain. Suina had asked for her little brown poncho, stitched on the inside with fine pigsheep wool, and always remained a few steps behind her brother. From the advice her brother gave her she'd remember to shake the instrument every minute or so, often getting distracting by a flower or jumping bug that flitted off upon each step she made.
She wasn't scared at all, really. She was warm, her brother was there, and when the night arrived a dozen little creepy crawlies came out from their daytime nests; many of which Suina had never seen before.
A few hours in Momzen turned around. He hadn't heard the tambourine in a while, and a spark of worry shivered through his bones. Thankfully Suina was only ten metres down the road, squatting in the grass by a log.
"What are you doing?" he asked as he made his way over.
"Help me lift this!" Suina shouted back in reply as she wrenched her fingers under a plate of rotting bark.
"Suina, what is it?"
"I thought I saw a worm."
Digging her heels into the soil she lurched herself backwards to try and budge the log, cheeks blistering red.
"Are you gonna help me or what?" she grunted as she tried the log again.
Knowing now was again not the time to snap Momzen squatted down then rolled the mossy log over. In the exposed soil a mat of startled worms wriggled downwards while a nasty, feasting cricket, deep brown with red legs, leapt up at the two.
"Ah! Cricket!" Suina laughed, trying to cup the wildly-jumping insect.
The cricket hopped onto the log then sprightly into the surrounding scrub. As Momzen watched the little thing go deeper into the wilderness a small bead of light caught his attention. Glowing through the array of branches it meant a homestead was nearby, perhaps some warm shelter.
"Come on," Momzen muttered, taking Suina's hand in his and walking around the log into the dense scrub.
"The path, Momzen. What about the path?"
Momzen didn't reply, nor did he let go of his nervous sister's squirming hand. Instead he pushed through the prickly leaves and sharp thickets, keeping the warm, yellow light in sight. The root systems and grasses underfoot were woven into complex tapestries, yet Momzen's determined feet ploughed through them. Though a pinch of doubt played at his muscles, perhaps they were in the Earth State by now and they would be trespassing, Momzen did not stop for a second. He could feel the scrub scratch and itch his skin, and the subconscious squeezes of Suina's secure fingers as she let herself be dragged on through by her brother. The moon was resting at a high point in the night sky, edging to and fro across sullen blue clouds. They could not, would not, sleep outside; at least not on the first night. It'd be too real, too much.
The light Momzen saw was almost like a ball of hope. Bright, warm, and so close he'd stop at nothing to get a piece of it. Suddenly Suina tripped over the roots, her infant footing failing her now of all times, and without stopping Momzen hauled her by the forearm out of the vines. In a flurry of childish giggling and swirling green Momzen soon found himself out of the scrub and into a clearing.
There the homestead was; composed of wooden beams and a thatched roof. Warm light drizzled outward from the windows and cooking smells filled the area with an aroma of braised meat.
"Hello?" Momzen foolishly yelled, ignoring his apprehension and acting on his now voracious hunger.
"Smells like mum's," Suina smiled, sucking a bell on the tambourine, eye's shimmering with the thought of one of Fera's feasts.
"Yeah," uttered Momzen as he led his' sister cautiously to the door.
Slowly he knocked on the door, Suina now hiding behind his leg.
"Oh," came a mutter from inside, crashes and scrambles coming shortly after. "One second!"
More whispers followed, then a pause, and finally the door swung open. A man had answered the door; a flayed white shirt with red cuffs and collar lay limply atop his lean body, while taupe curls fell across his jade eyes.
"Can I help you?" he said slightly abrasively.
Momzen coughed, shoving his sister into sight to get his sympathies.
"Well, um, we were wondering if we could stay the night. We've travelled a long way and-"
"-Sorry kids, but I can't," he said, slamming the door in Momzen's face.
Suddenly an argument played inside. From what Momzen could hear the man was fighting with a women.
"What are you doing?" Momzen heard, followed by, "we can't afford to..."
Most of it was muffled through the walls but once it seemed to end the door opened once more and the man presented himself with a defeated, unhappy expression.
"You Earth State?" he snapped.
Momzen looked into the house. In the hallway stood a striking woman. She was tall and broad-shouldered, and locks of burgundy draped down to her breast.
"Does it matter?" she jibed at the man.
"You know what I mean," hissed the man in reply. "They could-"
"-We're from Taku," Momzen interjected.
The man stopped and raised his eyebrows; he was impressed.
"Wow, that's a while a way for two kids. And at night..."
The woman strutted to the doorway and smiled at Momzen. Her eyes were warm and her coral lips were full and gentle.
"Just ignore Katagi. Come right in," she smiled, voice melodic. "You must be cold and hungry. Please, make yourself at home."
"You coming for a look?" Keita asked the Avatar once the ship was docked. "They're Earth State by law but the people have no real association with the mainland."
Kyoshi looked sullenly up at the young man. His face possessed many boyish features; fair complexion, chubby baby cheeks, eager brown eyes. But the Avatar was in no real mood for being humoured, all she wanted to do was sit down all day, hug Jin Jin and hope that she wouldn't start crying again.
"It'd do you good to get the blood moving again."
What did he know?
"Yeah," croaked Kyoshi weakly. "Okay."
Hoisting her heavy body up the Avatar and Keita made their way onto solid land, leaving the crew members to deal with buying the stock needed for the rest of the journey. Taking the lead Keita escorted Kyoshi down through the markets.
"They say Hai-Yang Island was formed by the fist of the ocean spirit," the man remarked, browsing through a salty lady's stock of roots and stems. "That upon contact the waters parted and an island grew from the ripple."
He smiled over at the Avatar who half-heartedly looked at the sights around her. It seemed the entire town was out today, setting up their stalls and putting anything that could get them a bronze piece on display. Their faces and bodies were worn from the ocean; hair encrusted with salt and swept back by the winds. Skin leathered from the blistering sun and bones whittled from labour every member of the community continued their daily business, hope and willpower seemingly engrained in their genes. How did they not want to give up? Surely through such a hard, remote life one would just collapse to the floor and call quits.
"The first ship that landed here is kept preserved in the-"
"-Keita," interjected the Avatar. "I'm sorry but I don't want to know about all this. I just want to begin my firebending training so when do you think we'll leave?"
Embarrassed and slightly offended Keita stood with his mouth ajar. He was just trying to cheer her up, to take her mind off missing her friend. But he knew there would be no convincing her and that as an earthbender she would be stubborn and insist on remaining downtrodden.
"As soon as possible, Avatar Kyoshi," he responded formally, treating her like the important international figure that she was. "I'll get to loading the ship right away."
Keita walked silently past Kyoshi then turned to add another remark.
"Excuse me for involving myself in your affairs. It won't happen again."
Kyoshi sighed; frustrated, angry, upset, and unsure. She wasn't herself today.
Warm stew was poured into a clay bowl by Ju-Lan, the beautiful woman and apparent lover of Katagi, and was handed to Momzen and his sister.
"So," she began, pursing her lips with interest. "What's your story? Why'd we find you at our door so late in the night?"
She cast the teenager an intrigued smile, trying hard to decipher him. But Momzen did not budge. The boy had to keep his wits about; no matter how welcoming people on the road seemed.
"Just a walk," he muttered, hiding his face into his bowl, feeling the warm steam creep up his cheeks.
"We're finding our parents!" blurted Suina, a naïve grin across her face.
"Suina!" Momzen hissed. "Oh."
Ju-Lan got up and poured herself a glass of wine, casting a glance over at Katagi.
"What happened to your parents?" the man asked, shuffling in his seat, apparently interested in the story.
Momzen hesitated, his lips slowly parting from the corners.
"They were taken."
Solemn and sunken his eyes shed a silence across his company as he paused to decide whether or not to finish the sentence.
"By the Earth State."
Gently Ju-Lan's brow curved, her brown eyes emanating sympathy across to the two children.
"I'm so sorry to hear that," she said, as if it were her fault. "I'm sure they're safe."
Suddenly Suina, who had been playing with a tether of upholstery on the chair, looked up from her bowl of soup. She had realised that her parents were indeed in mortal danger, and that the life her and Momzen enjoyed in Taku was no longer a normality. Things were different; the rug of simplicity and happiness was upturned, and her infant mind was beginning to fret.
"Hey, don't worry," Ju-Lan hushed, sweeping herself quickly to Suina's side upon noticing the beginnings of tears in the girl's eyes. "Everything's going to be just fine, okay?"
Suina, eyes wide with angst, looked up at the woman. She was kind, and her features soothing.
With a hard lump in her throat Suina muttered, "Okay."
"How about you get some sleep? We have a spare bed for you."
Casting a smile at the little girl Ju-Lan took Suina from the table and away before returning a few minutes later.
"She must've had a big day," she beamed at Momzen.
The boy nodded grimly, flashes of his screaming parents filling his tired head.
"Do you know why they were taken?" Katagi added, hoping to get the rest of the kids' story.
"They were arrested, but I'm not sure what for though."
"I know the Earth State's antsy about its borders. Agreements with the Fire State are so unclear that any action out of order could be taken as an attack," Katagi mused to himself, though loud enough for Momzen to scoff at.
"Yeah, that sounds about right," spat the boy. "My dad always said the Earth State was full of greedy rats."
"Hey!" Katagi snapped, frowning viciously at Momzen.
"No it's alright, Katagi," sighed Ju-Lan, smiling over at her lover.
"No!" Katagi added before turning back to berate the boy. "You can't say that! Not everyone from the Earth State are bad people! I'll have you know-"
"-Ju-Lan is from the Earth State! And she is the kindest, most selfless person I have ever met!"
Immediately Momzen froze, and angry stare fixated directly at the beautiful woman across the table. He seethed resentment, felt lied to. He could not comprehend what he was seeing; an Earth State woman under the same roof as a Fire State man.
"Sweetie, look," Ju-Lan shifted her chair closer to Momzen who remained white hot. "I know what my people have done. Terrible, unspeakable things. I can't fathom one bit what you're feeling, but believe me when I say this; I'm on your side."
Momzen paused as he looked back and forth at Ju-Lan and Katagi. In synchronicity Katagi and Ju-Lan stared into each other's eyes and smiled, cheeks blushing.
"We were only young when the war broke out, but boy were we in love. She was the most beautiful person I had ever met," Katagi muttered, the memories floating before his eyes like spinning web. "Of course with the war in full swing we were forbidden to see each other. The Earth State ruined my village, and my neighbours hated Ju-Lan for it."
"Neither side accepted that what we had was special," Ju-Lan added, more deeply powerful emotions stirring in her voice. "Katagi took me to his family's cottage out here in the Fire State and we've been living together ever since."
Katagi got up from his seat and passed the fireplace. He took the empty bowls to the sink and filled the basin with water. Crouching down he snapped a small flame from his finger to light the boiler.
"I don't expect you to understand right away," he said as he began at the dishes. "But you need to know that you're wrong when you say all people from the Earth State are bad."
And Katagi was right, Momzen didn't understand. For many years the Earth State gave him and Taku nothing but strife and fear yet, as his eyes shifted to Ju-Lan and her adoring gaze towards Katagi, Momzen started to understand. Or at least felt like he could let himself try and understand. He wanted to, badly. For if Ju-Lan was not an exception but a commonality then maybe his parents' captors were kind too and would keep them healthy and safe. He liked to a believe that, and hopefully Ju-Lan wouldn't be the last kind person he'd meet from the Earth State. Momzen, face aglow in the firelight, belly full and warm, was certain he'd find a good person out there somewhere in the Earth State, someone that would help him on his path.
A misty wind, broken by the contact between the hull and the waves, blew briskly through Eya's hair. As much as she hated sailing she was meditating now, and had to maintain a calm mind. She took in a breath of the salty air, tattooed arms hot in the sunlight, and exhaled slowly. Quietly her thoughts began to trickle away like the newborn spring water from a thawing creek and the outside noises of the crew at work started to become muffled by the emptiness.
Suddenly Eya lurched her eyes open, the solitude sucked right from under her. Bako was looking down at her, an unsure, awkward expression ajar on his face.
"Bako, what is it?" she smiled, happy that the boy was showing an interest.
"Think I could join you?"
She had got the question she knew was coming.
"Of course," she replied, shuffling over across the wood.
"I, um, I tried meditating when the crew was at Hai-Yang Island but didn't find an answer. I was wondering if you could give me some advice."
Bako had no idea why he was asking Eya. She was not a trained advisor, nor a diary for him to open up to. But since their departure from Taku something was pecking inside Bako like an itch impossible to find. Confused and slightly worried Eya nodded at her friend to proceed. Squeaking upon opening his mouth Bako hesitantly spoke.
"Well..." it took him some time. "When we left Momzen he told me it was up to me to protect you guys and... I'm not sure if, well I don't know if I'm good enough."
Girlishly Eya laughed, stroking back her hair from getting any wilder from the wind.
"I don't know much about how strong you are, or your abilities as a swordsman but I do know that you are a good friend. Maybe protecting Kyoshi isn't just about strength and combat."
"What do you mean?" Bako muttered, trying to find the plain-and-simple answer in Eya's response.
"She obviously misses Momzen," continued Eya, looking over at a sullen Kyoshi who remained stoic amongst Jin Jin and Tori. "If the Avatar is to succeed don't you think it would be better for her happiness to rule over sorrow? Why don't you talk to her? Be her friend and protect her that way."
Bako too looked over at Kyoshi. With all attention directed at getting to the Fire State, and from helping Eya through her and Kyoshi's tiff in the beginning of their journey, Bako really hadn't had that much time to connect with Kyoshi. They used to talk all the time; they used to be so close. Rather than two friends recently it felt like Bako's relationship with the Avatar was that of the bodyguard. And that was disappointing. Bako missed her, he didn't realise it until just now. Casting a quick smile at Eya, who appeared to somehow be so full of wisdom at such a young age, Bako got up from his spot on the deck.
"Thanks," he huffed before turning to face Kyoshi, his seemingly long lost friend.
She needed him now more than ever, not as bodyguard, not as the level-headed member of the group he had to play so often in the Earth State, but as a friend. A true friend.
"Ju-Lan," Momzen muttered gently.
Ju-Lan, hair perfectly splayed across her back, was sitting on chair on the balcony staring out at the moonlit woods. A cigarette was held loosely in between two fingers, the butt glowing a sticky orange against the backdrop of black and darkened green.
"I'm sorry for what I said earlier," he added. "About the Earth State."
The woman cackled once then took a drag from the cigarette. Like the rising of her bosom the smoke she exhaled expanded in the air, billowing in one contained, aromatic plume.
"When Katagi and I were discovered my own family disowned me, and the officials took away my scholarship," she said, staring down at the bitter memories. "Katagi's family were against it too, but at least they tolerated it. They told us we could stay together, they gave us this cottage, but we were never to contact them again."
Ju-Lan turned and gestured at Momzen to come over. Not even thinking the boy brought himself to her side. She smiled at him and shrugged.
"I suppose it's been a blessing, this place is pretty secluded."
"I'm sorry for what happened. That sounds hard."
"Oh no," Ju-Lan said, shaking her head. "Katagi made it so much easier. He's been amazing."
"Hm...Can I ask you something?"
Ju-Lan laughed then remarked, "Hit me."
"Well. Katagi seemed very anxious to answer the door. If the people from his village are okay with the two of you staying together away from them, why'd he seem so...nervous?"
Ju-Lan, having taken a liking to the teenager and his little sister, decided to let him in on her and her boyfriend's little secret.
"I'm only telling you because I know you're not a threat. You're not going to tell," she started, continuing only after Momzen nodded. "Katagi really opened my eyes to the injustices the Earth State were committing; abusing treaties, brutality, and exploitation of the people's resources. It was when I was banished that I truly understood that there was too much hatred spreading and it had to be stopped. Katagi and I, we...well."
"The reason Katagi was so nervous about letting you in is because we're kind of...wanted by the Earth State."
"You're criminals?" Momzen spluttered.
"We prefer the term vigilantes," Ju-Lan replied with a cheeky grin. "We take from the Earth State barracks what belongs to the Fire State villages, try and set back developments, nothing major. But over the last few months the Earth State's really been on our back. We just want to do our part to make things right."
Still processing the information Momzen nodded. Not only were these two an example of the Earth State and Fire State living harmoniously, but now they were fighting for his side. He didn't know whether or not to thank her.
"We really could use some extra hands."
Suddenly Momzen snapped from his thoughts and blinked speechless at the lady.
"If you feel this way about the Earth State why not join us? Really make a change."
Momzen knew the answer, clear as the day, yet for some reason it took time for him to give a reply.
"Sorry," he managed to come up with. "But I need to find my parents. I, I can't."
"You know it's going to be hard, right?"
"Being with a pair of wanted criminals isn't a safe place for Suina," Momzen added.
Understandingly Ju-Lan nodded, slouching back in her chair.
"I understand, Momzen. I just wanted to help."
"I know," Momzen grinned. "Thank you."
"You know, if your parents were captured under authority I think I know where they might have been taken to."
Immediately Momzen's heart slammed into his stomach, his orange eyes widening at the thought of a victory.
"Where?" he feverishly asked.
"I heard there's a prison near Ba Sing Se, under Lake Laogai."
"Laogai," Momzen muttered to himself.
The name was almost haunting, but it was the only lead he had. And with it Momzen and Suina would leave Katagi and Ju-Lan's hidden cottage, thanking the two profusely for their hospitality, and head east for the prison. Perhaps his parents would be there, and perhaps, now that Momzen knew that kindness did exist in the Earth State, his parents would be safe and they would be a family again. All Momzen had to do now was walk.
A quiet night played out across the ocean; laps of blue against the hull, silent seas absent of waves, and a trail of stars mirrored perfectly against the still waters. Kyoshi looked down at her miserable reflection, her eyes aching. She missed Momzen immensely and it had only been a day. How would she fair up after a week, or a month? She could barely keep herself together. Silently Bako appeared beside her, resting himself against the banister.
"Hey," he started.
"Hey," Kyoshi replied back, voice hoarse with sadness.
"What do you think?" Kyoshi sobbed.
"Look, I know it sucks that Momzen isn't with us anymore-"
"He's not dead!" snapped Kyoshi suddenly.
"Wha? I know he's not dead!" Bako seethed in reply, quick temper getting the better of both of them.
"Well then don't say it like he is!"
"I didn't mean... Look, Kyoshi, I don't want to argue," Bako stopped, calming himself down.
Arguing would only make things worse.
"I just want to know how you're doing. You seem a little down."
Kyoshi turned away and to the water. She knew that fighting wasn't going to help either and, in fact, was gratified that Bako had come to check up on her.
"I, just," Kyoshi tried to find the words to explain. "Why didn't he tell me anything?"
"Do you know what happened to his parents?" Bako interjected, thinking telling her what he knew might help.
"Not much," the Avatar mumbled. "I know they were captured and Momzen followed them to Lake Laogai. That he hasn't seen them since he left."
"Do you know he has a sister?"
At that point Kyoshi froze. She had never heard of Momzen's sister before.
"No. I had no idea."
"Neither did I until last night. If he never mentioned her what does that say about what might have happened?"
Momzen seemed entirely different to her now. His past was so much more of a mystery than she had imagined, and she realised that she knew very little about the firebender. What else was there that he was hiding, other struggles he could never open up about.
"I guess he had it pretty tough...I know his issues are none of my business but he must've been going through a lot to make the decision to stay, and he didn't even come to me for help."
Again the tears amassed in Kyoshi's green eyes and poured down her cheeks.
"What does that say about what type of friend I am, about what he thinks of me?"
Tenderly Bako wrapped his arm over his friend's shoulder.
"What do you mean? Of course not. He knew how determined you were to get to the Fire State and learn firebending, he probably didn't want to burden you any more with his stuff."
Kyoshi shook her head defiantly.
"I may be the Avatar, but I'm a friend too," she cried. "I could have helped."
"Kyoshi, look at me," Bako started, grabbing Kyoshi's shoulder and turning the girl to stare into her eyes.
Albeit bloodshot and puffy from the tears they were beautiful, and Bako couldn't help but smile as he stared deeper and deeper into them. It was his duty to console her; he had to keep his promise to Momzen.
"Just as you want what's best for Momzen, he wants the same for you. You don't have to worry about losing your friendship. He won't ever forget about you, Kyoshi. How could he? You're the most amazing person in the world."
"You think we'll still be friends?"
"Always. This is just something he has to do, not something he has to do without you. Make him proud; learn firebending and when you see him again you can beat him at his own element."
"Ha, you think I could?" Kyoshi spluttered a laugh.
"Please," Bako scoffed jokingly. "He's not that great. And you'll be trained by the best. So how about it, yeah? There will be a next time, and when that time comes you can show each other how far you've both come."
With a broad grin across her face Kyoshi's spirits were lifted back up. She lunged onto Bako and squeezed him tight.
"Thank you, Bako. You're a good friend."
"No problem. Just glad I could help."
As Hozon's ship continued through the night Kyoshi and Bako joined Eya and the animals below deck to share stories of their times together with Momzen and of the excitement that built as the Capitol came ever closer.
Kyoshi was just happy to know that she had some great friends with her, even if they were on the other side of the ocean.
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