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The article is about the episode; the character with the same name can be found here.
9 February 2011
"Please tell me there's a town nearby," Cheng groaned.
It had been a couple days since we left the ship. Cheng was obviously not accustomed to living outside and on the run. All his life, he had been sheltered within the confines of his parents' mansion in the upper ring. He wasn't used to this kind of thing.
"Good news," Iandao announced. He stood at the top of the next hill. "Cheng, you're in luck."
Cheng punched the air and rushed towards Cheng. "Really? For real? We're saved? Yes, we're saved! Yay! Yay!"
"Okay, Cheng. We get it! You're really excited about this."
I hurried up the hill and beckoned to On Ji to come up. She climbed up the hill, holding the front of her hanbok with her right hand.
"These things don't exactly make it easy to run," she said when I stifled a laugh. "You have just the same issues."
I shrugged and turned to the scene before me. It was a humble town with a smattering of small houses clustered together on one end. On the other end were a handful of little shops. On a small sign on the edge of the village was "Tai Qing."
At Cheng's disappointed face, Iandao said, "At least it's something."
Cheng nodded. "C'mon, let's go. I bet there's real food there!" He sprinted down the hill eagerly.
Home of the Ladies
As we walked through Tai Qing, I noticed most of the homes and shops were dark and deserted. The sight was almost haunting in the late evening light. The road was overgrown with shrubbery and trees formed arches over it. Willows blew in the wind, a song whispering through their fronds.
"We need to find a place to stay," Iandao said. The rest of us agreed heartily. We walked down the path, searching for any lights.
"Up ahead," On Ji said.
Cheng quickly led the way through a thicket of trees and vines that opened to a clear pebble path. Up the path not too far off was a house with wooden gates. It was illuminated by bright lights that made me feel warm inside.
"In there," On Ji said.
"Let's go then," Iandao said. I opened the gates and they swung open silently. We walked to the door and Iandao knocked.
I could hear voices inside. A shadow passed by the curtained windows and the door opened to a girl about my age with braided brown hair and friendly green eyes. She welcomed us in.
"We have company, Mitsu!" the girl called. "Come along," she said to us.
We walked into a kitchen area. Seated around a heartwood table were two older women and a girl that seemed to be fifteen or sixteen.
"Welcome, travelers," one lady said. "I'm Mitsu. What brings you here?"
"I'm Shoji. This is Iandao, Miri, and Cheng."
"Hi," said Cheng.
"Hello," On Ji said.
Iandao just bowed, staying silent.
"I'm Jin," the younger girl said. "This is Song," she added, gesturing to the other girl.
"Pleased to meet you," Song said. Her eyes were fixed on something next to me. I followed her gaze to Iandao. What's going on?
I looked back to see Jin watching at me. Her bright green eyes bore into me, making me feel uncomfortable. She smiled bashfully and stared intently at the table.
"Well, don't just stand there!" the other lady said. "Come sit and I'll fix you some food. What kind of hosts are we?" She got up and beckoned to Mitsu, who pulled out some stools from under the counter and put them around the table.
"Come sit, weary travelers. Hisa and I will serve you well. What are a bunch of children like you doing out here?"
"It's a long story," I said.
Mitsu nodded. "I see. Perhaps after dinner you can relate it to us." I nodded and she smiled, satisfied.
"Um, pardon me, ma'am. Did you say your name was Hisa?" Cheng asked.
Hisa turned and bobbed her head. "Yes, of course. Why?"
"My mother has a sister named Hisa," Cheng said. "She lives in the Earth Kingdom somewhere."
And what is your mother's name, child?" Hisa asked. Her voice was all shaky.
"Her name is Eminy, but Hisa called her Ems," Cheng said, watching Hisa carefully.
"Nephew," Hisa whispered. She rushed to Cheng and embraced him.
Song looked at him with a new light in her eyes. "We are cousins, then," she said with a friendly smile. She came over to him and ruffled his hair. "Like a long-lost brother."
"Why do you want to live here?" Cheng asked suddenly. "Everyone is gone!"
Hisa sighed. "It was not always like this," she said sadly. "Once, this town was bustling and full of life. Now..."
"What happened?" Jin and On Ji asked at the same time. They looked at each other in surprise. There were apparently more alike than I realized.
Hisa frowned. "It was midday and we were headed for the market. Then, over the hill, Fire Nation soldiers came. Scores of them." She shuddered.
Something bad happened that day, On Ji thought. Something terrible.
"That day, my husband never came home. Song and I barely made it; we were lucky. But we didn't make it unscathed. Song...was burned."
Hisa's lower lip trembled. "It's not like me to hold grudges, but I will never forgive the Fire Nation for what they did. If they ever showed up around here in any shape or form, well – I'd give them a piece of my mind."
I was instantly reminded of burning Ty Lee. Could it have been an accident? Could Song have been burned by mistake?
But I knew in my heart that the answer was no.
Dinner is Served
"Dinner is served," Hisa announced. She set a steaming pot on the table with flourish and took the lid off with gusto, revealing a rich noodle soup complete with veggies, noodles, and meat.
We dug in. Cheng ate like there was no tomorrow. Song watched him with a smile on her face, like, you're pathetic but I love you anyway.
Iandao and I made every bite count, but did it in a less obvious way. I caught Jin watching me every now and then, which put me under some pressure.
"Now, why don't you tell us where you're from," Mitsu said. "You've got to be hungrier than that, dear," she added, and she spooned another helping into On Ji's bowl.
Thank goodness the topic changed.
"Thank you, but you really don't have to – " On Ji began.
"Oh, no. It's nothing, my dear," Mitsu said. "Jin was the same way until she started going to that tea shop in Ba Sing Se."
"Ba Sing Se?" On Ji said, astonished. "What are you doing all the way out here?"
Mitsu smiled. "When I was a little girl, Hisa and I met at the zoo's grand opening. We quickly became friends – best friends, at that. We've kept in touch ever since. But since the Fire Nation invaded the Earth Kingdom, it's been hard to travel. This is the first time Jin and I have been here in years."
On Ji nodded and sipped a spoonful of soup.
"Let's find you guys some beds," Song said. "My mother and Mitsu put up some more cots so hopefully we'll all fit."
I nodded good-naturedly. Iandao and I were ready to turn in.
"Tomorrow we're going into town. There are people about, and Taro sells things still."
Song led us into a small room at the end of a short hallway. There were about ten cots around the room. Candles gave a faint glow, placed about the room so that there was a moderate amount of light.
"Find a cot and make yourself comfortable," Song said. She left the room. Iandao made for a cot at the far end. I lay down in one near the door. A few minutes later, another person came in and lay on the cot beside mine.
"Hi," the person said. I recognized the voice as Jin's.
"Hey," I said. "Have you been stalking me, by any chance?" I added.
Jin's face went red and she hastily shook her head. "No. You're just...intriguing, that's all." She looked at me, her eyes scrutinizing my every detail.
"There's something about you that's different. Something that you're hiding. And I intend to find out what."
"Supposing you're right? Supposing we have some dark secret. Would you tell?"
Jin laughed, and her melodic voice filled the room. "Don't be silly! You don't have any dark secrets."
I rolled over. Yeah, I do. "Trust me, Jin. You don't want to know."
Jin put a hand on my shoulder and pulled me back around. She was sitting on the edge of her cot. I did the same.
"Shoji, listen to me. Whatever it is, I can handle it."
I frowned. I just met this girl. How could she possibly understand? There was only one way to find out. She would either stay true to her word or tell Hisa, which would most likely end in my utter destruction.
I sighed and breathed in slowly.
"Jin, what I'm about to tell you is confidential," I warned her.
Jin nodded. "I promise I won't tell anyone anything."
"I came here by a ship," I began.
"Most people do. Is that your big secret?" she said lightheartedly.
I shook my head. "No, there's more. I came here from...the Fire Nation."
Jin looked at me in shock.
Bad Hair Day
I woke up to the sweet smell of cakes. When I walked into the kitchen, On Ji and Jin were chatting at the counter. On Ji gave me a quick glance, but said nothing.
"Hey, Shoji," Song said as she flipped a cake. "Would you care for some breakfast?"
"Sure," I said, and sat down at the table beside Iandao.
"Hey, little brother," he said cheerfully. "Have you seen Cheng recently?"
"No, why? Is he missing?" I asked.
Iandao shook his head. "No. Hisa gave him a haircut last night after we went to bed. Or, at least she tried. She was only half-finished when Cheng got up and ran off like a wild man."
I laughed. "Where is he now?"
"Who, Cheng? His hair was all uneven. Now Hisa's finishing what she started. Hopefully he won't end up bald."
"Here you go, Shoji," Song said. She set a plate on the table. "How do you like your molasses?"
"Just a little...or maybe a lot," I added as she started pouring. "Yeah, that's good."
I took a bite of sugar-topped cake. "This is great, Song!" I exclaimed. "My compliments to the chef."
"I'm glad you like them," Song said.
"This is the first time I've had this," I said.
"Really? Where are you from?" she asked.
I was saved from having to answer by Jin, who answered for me. "They're refugees," she said, who had been listening in on the conversation.
I flashed her a grateful smile. She shrugged and mouthed the words "I promised." I wasn't sure if she said it in present tense or past tense.
I was just finishing my breakfast when Hisa came in, wearing a classic hanbok, white with pink trim – similar to the one Song wore last night. Today, Song was wearing a baby blue one with yellow trim.
"We'll be going to the market," Hisa said. "Cheng, I don't know why you're wearing Fire Nation clothes, but they're not staying on you. Mitsu's staying at the house; I would advise you to leave your koala sheep here."
We left the house, ready at any moment to drop and run. On Ji had her quiver strapped on her back. Iandao had his swords. I had my bending. We were prepared.
There were a surprising number of people in the village – at least thirty or forty, not including our party. We came to a shop with a large sign hanging off the side, which read "Taro's Goods." We headed inside and spread out, looking around.
I meandered towards the counter, where an old man with a long mustache stood, counting items on a sheet of paper. He looked up and grinned.
"Why, if it isn't Hisa and her band of lads and lassies," he said. "It's a pleasure."
Hisa smiled. "Same here, Taro. We're here for some supplies, if you will."
"No, no. It's not a problem," Taro said, dismissing the very idea of trouble.
"Song, dear, why don't you take the kids to the Qing tree while Taro and I talk business," Hisa suggested. It was more of a command than a recommendation.
"Yes, mother," Song said. "Come on! I'll show you guys around," she added, beckoning to us.
Qing Tree Kiss
We followed Song to the town center where a large tree grew up towards the sky. "This is the best climbing tree in the nation," she said, taking hold of the lowest branch.
"You actually climb this tree?" Iandao said in astonishment.
Song shrugged. "Sure! Why not? I'm not grown up yet."
Cheng grinned and pounced, scrambling onto the second-lowest branch. On Ji scampered up the tree, disappearing into the leafy canopy. Soon only Jin and I were left. I climbed onto the first branch and looked down at Jin.
"Are you coming?" I asked. She shrugged and reached up. "Take my hand," I said. She grabbed it and I helped her up. Together we slipped into the upper branches, higher and higher. There was no one else in sight.
As we neared the top, we were silenced by hushed whispers. I pushed aside some leaves to see Iandao and Song sitting together on a thick branch talking. Iandao opened a pouch and took out a handful of berries.
"Thanks, Ian," Song said.
"Sozin's comet is coming," Song said. "At the end of the summer, Firebenders will become even more dangerous than before."
Iandao nodded nervously, probably thinking of me.
"Is Iandao from the Fire Nation too?" Jin asked me. I nodded gravely.
"I've treated so many burns, Ian. It makes me so sad. Firebenders are evil. But why?"
Iandao wrapped his arm around Song. "It's okay. I won't let them hurt you. Never again."
Song smiled, comforted. She looked down at her swinging shoes bashfully. "I've never met a guy before – let alone a guy like you," she said.
Iandao was probably blushing at that point. Then something happened that I didn't expect. They leaned in and kissed, there among the leaves.
"C'mon, Shoji. Let's go; they need their privacy," Jin whispered.
I nodded and inched away, pushing the branches back into place.
What? On Ji's voice was loud in my head; there must've be something wrong.
Look towards the entrance of town.
I pushed through the trees' appendages to see the one thing everyone feared: Fire Nation soldiers on the horizon.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Shoji's Journey Chapters|
|Book 1: Fire|
|The New Kid Part 1 - The New Kid Part 2 - On Ji - The Firebending Master - Deception - The Runaways - The Yu Yan Archers - Second Act - Stowaways - The Trap|
|Book 2: Air|
|Song - The First Battle|