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Book 1: Earth
Avatar Kuruk 1
Reunion is the seventh chapter of Avatar: Centennial Embers.
More information is gathered about the situation in Ba Sing Se.
The Middle Ring
The streets of Ba Sing Se's Middle Ring were bustling as always as the two friends set off for another day of seemingly hopeless searching. It had been three weeks since they had come to the city. While they recognized that it wasn't that long, they knew the odds of finding two people in such a huge city were very slim.
"Do you think that we'll ever find them, Pipsqueak?"
"We will eventually, The Duke," said Pipsqueak, compassionately. He looked down at his long-time friend with concern. Pipsqueak knew that The Duke had gone through a lot in the past few months, as had he, but they hoped that with the war finally being over, they could bring some normalcy back into their lives.
Yet The Duke still walked with his head high, very focused and determined for his young age, so Pipsqueak let his worry go. The two walked on in silence for several minutes, always looking out for signs of their former teammates.
"Pipsqueak," The Duke began after some time had past, "does something seem... different to you?"
"What do you mean?" Pipsqueak replied, not really understanding the question.
"I don't know," The Duke said back, not entirely sure what he meant either. He looked around a bit, turning his head side-to-side. "Just, the people around here just seem to be acting... different," he said again, not knowing how else to phrase it. "Confused, maybe?" he added as an afterthought.
"Yes, I don't understand."
"No, not you," he said, with a moment's frustration. "I mean these people." He deliberately stopped walking for a minute so that Pipsqueak would look around, which he did.
As he observed the people he began to see what The Duke meant, although he couldn't figure out what it was exactly. It certainly seemed like a typical day, unless you really stopped and looked around. That The Duke even picked up on anything at all proved even more that he had a mind beyond his years.
"I see what you mean," Pipsqueak said after thinking it over, "but I'm not sure why it seems different. Everybody's out and about like always, loading up carts and things, running their shops –"
"That's it!" The Duke interrupted. "Look, everybody's loading up carts, and wagons. See," he pointed to a glassware shop, "even the shop owners are packing up their things."
"Maybe there's some street fair going on, or a craft festival," Pipsqueak suggested. "Everyone's probably gathering stuff to sell or something like that."
"Maybe," agreed The Duke, still not entirely convinced. But then he saw one of the carts being stocked with some of the best looking moon peaches he had seen in ages. The sight of them made his stomach grumble, and, realizing he hadn't eaten breakfast, he dropped his concerns and suggested to Pipsqueak that they go get some.
"Two moon peaches please," said Pipsqueak politely to the woman by the cart, startling her slightly, since she wasn't paying attention.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she replied, after regaining her focus, "but I'm afraid they're not for sale. We're going to need these. After all, it's a long way to Omashu."
"Omashu?" asked The Duke. "So then this isn't for a street fair?"
"A street fair? No, no." She gave a small chuckle, but quickly a more serious look drew across her face. "If only things were that easy," she said with a sigh.
"Then what is going on? What are all these carts for?" From the way the woman answered, The Duke knew there was something more going on here.
"What's going on?" asked a new voice, as a middle-aged man with an scraggly beard and unkempt hair walked up. "Here's another blanket, honey," he said to the woman, who The Duke and Pipsqueak took to be his wife, before turning to face the duo. "We're fleeing the city, that's what's going on!"
"What?" asked The Duke, alarmed.
"Don't scare the boy," said the woman sternly, but the man continued.
"That's right, we're runnin' away, and so's anyone else in this city who still has a sane head on their shoulders."
"But what's happening?" Pipsqueak asked, trying to get a better answer. "Why would you want to leave Ba Sing Se?"
"To tell you the truth, and I don't mean to scare you," he added with a look at his wife, "this city isn't as safe as it used to be. Some people here aren't to happy in the city. Not people like us, of course, but people who aren't so, uh..." he struggled for the right words, not wanting to sound boastful, "uh...financially stable," he finally said.
"So why are you leaving, then?" asked The Duke.
"Because when the lower class gets unhappy," he said with the smallest trace of disrespect, "you don't want to hang around too long. Word's been spreading about a revolt. And as soon as that rumor started, people began leaving left and right. Whole neighborhoods have been abandoned. And the more streets that are empty, the less safe it is."
Pipsqueak saw that if nothing else had, this story brought some fear to the Duke's eyes. His thoughts were confirmed as the Duke turned to him and asked, "Do you think Smellerbee and Longshot know about this?" He tried to hide his worry, but Pipsqueak heard the tremor in his voice.
"I don't know." He turned to the couple. "Thank you, and we're sorry to bother you." He started to walk with the Duke back on their way. "Now remember, this still could be nothing, but we should try and hurry up and find them." He was going to try and comfort the Duke, but before he could do anymore, they heard a loud crash and a yell from behind them.
The two whirled around and saw the couple they had just talked to on the ground, their cart in shambles.
"You see!" the man shouted in rage. He turned toward Pipsqueak. "What did I tell you?" he said, not really trying to prove a point, but just so angry he couldn't think of what else to say. Pipsqueak saw him pull out a small knife from among the wreckage, and begin to chase after the man that did this to him, but Pipsqueak stopped him.
"Don't worry, we'll get him." He looked down at his partner and knew that they were on the same page. With an intense look, he grabbed his equally determined friend, swung him onto his shoulders, and dashed off in the direction of the vandal. Despite the gravity of the situation, he couldn't help but smile as he thought it was just like old times.
The Lower Ring
"You're late," said Yuan, the manager of the small tea shop, when he saw his two newest employees walked in.
"Sorry, sir," the girl said. The boy said nothing, but Yuan hadn't really expected him to. In the short week since he had hired them he learned that the kid didn't really talk much.
"Don't worry about it," he said. "Just get to work. We have a lot of customers here already."
Smellerbee and Longshot did as they were told, and they went and got their aprons to serve tea. They were lucky enough to find a job here, and they didn't want to lose it after only a few days.
"It's a real shame," Yuan said sadly to his waiters. He like to chat with his employees. Smellerbee and Longshot learned to listen, even if it was a little distracting. "Supposedly this shop was a nice little place to go when Pao owned it. I never thought it would go down hill like this after I bought it. Now more people come here to here Chong Lee talk than they do to drink tea."
That might have interested Smellerbee if she heard it, but she wasn't paying attention. She noticed Longshot had stopped working and was starring over at the corner of the shop. She followed his gaze to see a group of people sitting down at a table, but their tea cups looked untouched. They were talking to each other, but their words sounded harsh. The talking grew quickly to grumbling, and then to shouting.
Instincts told the two Freedom Fighters that a fight was about to break out. They glanced at each other, confirming that they were on the same page, and then walked over to break things up.
When the men at the table saw the two kids coming over to them, they stopped and looked up.
"Can I help you?" one asked, very sarcastically, as if to say for the two to mind their own business.
"No," Smellerbee replied quietly, but certainly. "I was going to ask if we could help you."
"Well you can't." the man said back. He then added more quietly, "I'm not sure anyone can."
For some reason, that set off the other three at the table, and they all stood up and started to yell again.
"If you don't want to do anything about this, then you can just leave!" one shouted furiously. "We don't need a bunch of useless bystanders!"
By this time, Yuan noticed what was going on and came over to try and cool things off. "Listen," he said sternly, "we have a strict no fighting policy." He said it fiercely, but it was easy to tell from the look on his face that he wasn't angry.
"Now please," he continued, "don't fight. You know what Chong Lee has said. If we can't stick together, we won't be able to help anything." He said the last bit with a glare at the men who had stood up. They sat back down. "But just direct your energy at something more worthwhile."
After the four men began to calm down, Yuan walked back to his counter. He had hoped that he said what Chong Lee would have said, but there just weren't that many people, himself included, that had the same gift with public speaking.
Smellerbee, on the other hand, wasn't satisfied. She could tell that this was more than just a little fight. She walked back to the counter and addressed her boss. Longshot followed, knowing Smellerbee would ask the questions he wanted to ask as well.
"What's going on?" she said simply, not sure what more to ask.
Yuan turned around to face her. "People are angry," he said honestly.
"Angry at what?"
"Not what. Who. And it's the citizens of Ba Sing Se, to be perfectly honest. Or at least those with money, anyway."
Smellerbee had a bad feeling about where this was going, but she continued to ask questions. "Why? It's not their fault for having money."
Yuan thought about that for a second, and then replied. "True, but it's somebody's fault for the way this Lower Ring is. Centuries of corruption led to all of the refugees, beggars, criminals, and the like to be stuffed into this part of the city. Now the Dai Li are gone, the Fire Nation's gone, but we're still here."
He thought some more, and then kept talking. "I guess we're lucky for having Chong Lee come here."
"Who's Chong Lee?" Smellerbee asked, becoming more and more nervous of the answers.
"Who's Chong Lee? He's a revolutionary!" Yuan said with a mixture of pride and admiration. "Before him, nobody really thought about these things that much. Our lives were what they were, and that was fine. But Chong Lee has been inspirational. He says if we stop all of useless fighting, and turn it against the rest of this miserable city, we could finally be on top of things! We're not the enemy, everyone else is."
Smellerbee and Longshot exchanged nervous glances. They had gone down that road before, and they knew that if this continued, things could get ugly. Smellerbee tried to continue, but she wasn't sure what she could say to do anything. "But, not everyone outside of the Lower Ring is that bad. They're not responsible for your lives."
"But they are, don't you see?" Yuan's words were becoming more passionate, which would only make him less likely to listen to reason. "You two of all people should understand it. You told me how long you've been looking for a job, and how long it's been since you had a nice place to live. Aren't you upset about this?"
Yuan was getting louder, and customers around the store began to stop what they were doing and listen. "Yes, but that's no need to fight anybody. I think you might want to listen to some words of reason, not just what Chong Lee says."
A man from the back of the shop stood up when he heard this, quick to defend their inspiration and leader. "Chong Lee is reasonable," he said loudly. "We have to unite against the other Rings."
A commotion started to begin throughout the store, and other voices began to be heard.
"Fighting is the only way we can solve this mess," said one.
"Follow the model of the peasants in Kyoshi's day," said another.
There were so many voices talking at once, saying so many unreasonable things, that Smellerbee completely lost her focus and couldn't respond to anyone, Until one voice broke the clamor and silenced all the others.
"No," Longshot declared loudly. "You're wrong. Violence is not the answer to this. You all must calm down."
Four sentences. And it was enough. The store went quiet, with an extremely nervous tension between everyone in the store, many in shock at the statement. Yuan was the first to recover.
They were the only few words he ever heard his young employee speak. And he didn't like them. A grim look drew across his face as he spoke to the whole store. "I think this is what Chong Lee meant. Let us not chatter aimlessly. We can all see who the enemy is here. Let's do something about it.
For a moment no one moved, until one man got up and moved to restrain the two former Freedom Fighters. Others began to do the same, having no way of knoing who they were up against.
In a second, Longshot grabbed his bow, which had been concealed under shirt on his back. Even after the war, he kept it on him for matters of self defense like this. He quickly launched off a succession of arrows at the feet of the oncoming crowd. In the moment in which they hesitated to take in this new development, he and Smellerbee were out and running down the streets.
Smellerbee took the lead, while Longshot followed, constantly checking back to make sure they weren't followed, although he doubted that they were. They were running down the street, turning corners every now and then to put distance between them and the shop. Apparently scenes like this were fairly normal in the Lower Ring, for no one stopped them or complained. They even saw someone else running in the opposite direction just before Smellerbee looked back to check on Longshot and to sugget they take a break. She was just about to speak when –
- they crashed.
Right into two people rounding the corner ahead of them. The four ended up spawled across the ground and slightly in a daze. No one looked happy.
"Great, he's going to get away!" yelled the big one in anger, but then he stopped as he saw who he had run into.
The four sat up, and Longshot, Smellerbee, The Duke, and Pipsqueak sat staring at each other in shock for several seconds.
The minute he recovered and processed all that had happened in the past thirty seconds, he forgot all that he was doing before. He grabbed his three friends up and, relieved to finally be back together, squeezed them in a tight hug, which the others gladly returned.
The Middle Ring
The sun was beginning to set over The Duke and Pipsqueak's apartment. After inviting Longshot and Smellerbee to come stay with them, they spent the rest of the day catching up and sharing their stories from the past several months. Longshot sat intently and listened as the others talked. They finally brought each other up on the days events, and they were just putting everything together as the sun dipped down under the great wall in the distance.
"Sometimes it seems like things will never be easy," Smellerbee said with a sigh.
"Maybe not," Pipsqueak replied, "but now that we know the story from both sides, we should try and keep an eye on things." He decided to add, "It's what Jet would have wanted."
Smellerbee wiped a tear from her eye, determined not to cry, and even Longshot's face softened for a moment. It was still hard to think of Jet, and how he died just after finally getting a true fresh start.
"You're right," she said, shaking away the sad feeling.
"Yeah," The Duke said, brightly. "Freedom Fighter, together again!"
"I also think we have to look out for this Chong Lee," Smellerbee added. "He seems dangerous."
"And misguided," The Duke added, earning a surprised look from Pipsqueak, as he yet again demonstrated his insightfulness.
"I do sort of feel bad for him," Pipsqueak agreed. "It seems like he really believes in what he's fighting for. But we still have to alert the authorities if things get out of hand." Everyone stayed quiet, in silent agreement.
"He would have made a good Freedom Fighter," The Duke said after a bit, to which the others nodded quietly.
- The tea shop in this episode is the one where Iroh and Zuko worked when they came to Ba Sing Se, however since then it was bought by Yuan, and business has gone downhill.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Avatar: Centennial Embers Chapters|
|Book 1: Earth|
|Unrest - Escalating Danger - An Unsettling Detour - A Lingering Flame - Young Gangs and Old Games - Embers Unearthed - Reunion|