Aang as an earthbending student
Student and Master
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The Kyoshi Chronicles


Book 1: Earth

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Chapter 9: The Cave Man

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Chapter 11: The Stone Family

Warm rays, golden pats – as if the sun was petting the earth like it was its loyal dog, wafted onto the prairie and across the grasses. Jin Jin's hips swivelled as she carried her friends down the beige track. The gradient here was relatively flat and green bluffs rolled on, shaded by bulgy clouds. They were heading to Yuan Province to get supplies for the long trip to the Fire State where Kyoshi could begin her training in firebending.

"Now remember," Bako began, he always seemed to be giving lectures. "We have no idea if these people know if we're fugitives or not. So we need to keep a low profile." He hoisted the rein to turn Jin Jin left, leading the shirshu to a small brook covered, by the most part, by trees on the village side so that they could not be seen.

"Jin Jin, you'll have to stay here," he said, stroking the disappointed-looking animal down the jaw. "If they do know about us, riding in on a shirshu would be a dead giveaway." Jin Jin huffed. She wanted to check out the town.

"Sorry buddy," Momzen shrugged. He turned around and followed Kyoshi and Bako to the village with Tori keeping up not far behind. Jin Jin huffed once more before spinning on a spot and taking a nap.

Yuan Province was quite bustling. Horse-drawn carts clattered down the roads and women and men shouted compliments and deals to shoppers that ambled through the markets. Kyoshi had taken off her green dress and wore her under shirt and shorts; light, white material.

"Here," Momzen said, giving her a brown skirt he had bought from a stall. It had yellow lacing on the bottom and fit almost perfectly. It was perfect for the heat, unlike her dress that was heavy and absorbed heat almost instantly.

"Thanks," she smiled. Bako shook his head, unnoticed by the other two. The skirt was a waste of their money. He knew Momzen only did it to impress her, and for some reason he didn't like that. They moved down the marketplace to the butcher who was covering his trays with a grin. He looked up at them and smiled.

"If you're wanting anything more, I'm all sold out."

"What?" Bako gasped. "Not one piece of meat left?"

"Nope," the man shook his head. "If you come back tomorrow I'll be stocked up again." Bako nodded and continued to walk down the street with his friends.

"I guess we'll have to wait a bit."

"Great!" Kyoshi said, soaking in the atmosphere. "We can go to the school then." Across the street was a large maroon institution with a sign that read Yuan Provincial School.

"That's a terrible idea! What – what if you get caught?" Bako whispered after realising he was talking too loud.

"We don't even know if this town is after me or not," Kyoshi argued, keeping her eyes on the welcoming school.

"And we'll keep her safe if anything happens," Momzen added, also staring at the school as if it were a tantalising steak. 

"Well I'm not going," Bako said as he crossed his arms. "Just go in to find out some information and then get out. And no firebending!" Kyoshi and Momzen jumped into the air with glee and made for the school while Bako stayed behind with Tori to continue the shopping. He moseyed down the streets, past venders who – with handfuls of produce in their hands – glowed charisma. It seemed he was the only practical one in the team; the only one that stopped to determine the consequences. Bako turned a corner and, unknowingly, entered a shady alley. The windows of the buildings were shut and the mantles of the rooves darkened the path. Down the alley some way was a struggling woman. Two large men, one with shaggy hair and a beard the other with slick brown hair, were hassling her for her purse, and nobody could hear her pleas through the buildings.

"Hey!" Bako said from a distance. He didn't want to get caught up in such criminal acts. Vigilantism would only make things difficult for the group. He looked over his shoulder. The woman had not yet noticed him so it wouldn't be that much of a loss for her if he left he thought. He looked back at the struggling woman; her yelps rang down the alley as if they too were searching for an aid. Cowardice was not what Bako was raised on, though. He knew he had to. But he didn't want to get involved in the province's affairs. He wanted to leave in order to protect Kyoshi. But the woman needed protection as well. Why should she suffer for the Avatar?

Closing his eyes, knowing he'd regret his next move, Bako shouted "Leave her alone!" The two men stopped, shoved the woman to the ground and strutted over to Bako.

"Are you her boyfriend?" the bearded man said. He puffed out his muscular and, from what was unclothed, tattooed chest to intimidate his opponent. Bako's eyebrows rose with nervousness. He swallowed such distracting feelings into his stomach and clenched his fists.

"No. I'm just being a nice person," he replied confidently, Tori standing next to him for reinforcement. "Something you two know obviously nothing about."

"Oh," the sleek-haired man chuckled. "So we've got ourselves are hero?" He took from a sheath on his back a large, rusty machete. The handle's material was tethered and stringy from multiple battling. The bearded man drew his weapon from its scabbard too; a long, two-handed sword. Its magnificent silver had faded from use and cracks and dents only increased its ugliness. Bako drew his swords from the sheath on his back and ran towards the two criminals. He slashed against the machete with one, a metallic screech piercing the air as they sliced across each other's weapons, and blocked the attack of the long sword with the other. Pushing his left sword upward Bako pushed the sleek-haired man away, giving him the chance to duck away from the long sword and cut at the bearded man's leg. The man jumped away and swung his giant sword over his head as the machete-bearing enemy ran to him. Bako was exerting his body. Ducking and weaving from the mighty attacks and blocking the heavy swings tired him out. He needed to somehow get the upper hand.

Suddenly a man raced from behind him. He was tall and his chest was armoured in chainmail. His sword was medium in size and the reddish handle glistened in the daylight. He swiped powerfully at the crooks again and again until both weapons were knocked from the men's' hands. They looked down at their dropped weapons, then at their empty hands and then ran off to avoid a further beating. The woman thanked Bako and the swordsman before hurrying off to a safer street.

"You're pretty good, boy," the man said, taking a seat on a crate full of cabbages and sheathing his red sword. The man had a mop of white hair, curls falling gently above his eyes, and a clean cut jaw.

"Thanks," Bako replied, putting his weapons back into his scabbard. Tori chirruped the man and nestled up against his leg affectionately.

"You got a name?"

"Bako," the boy said without thinking. In his mind he cursed himself; he shouldn't have given away his name so easily. Thankfully, the man seemed not to take notice of it – perhaps the Avatar was safe here.

"Well, Bako. I'm Yong. And you're lucky I came on time," Yong smirked. "You seemed like you were about to lose." Bako smiled back playfully.

"It was two against one, I was outnumbered." Yong shuffled on the crate and looked up at the cloudless sky.

"Yes. But as a swordsman you should be able to take on ten men with ease. I certainly have," Yong said as he looked back at Bako. Bako frowned with confusion. The man was insinuating that Bako should train with him, but the boy couldn't think of anything more stupid and dangerous. He had to keep a low profile and training with Yuan Province's seemingly best swordsman was not going to help him achieve that.

"I'm not looking for lessons," Bako coughed, turning away and acting blunt so that the man would leave him alone. "Come on, Tori."

"What if one day you need to protect the people you love?" Yong shouted to him, trying to appeal to him. "What if you're not strong enough? You'll regret it." Bako sighed. He knew what the man was saying was true. Here he was thinking he was a good swordsman and he couldn't even fend off two lowly thieves. What would happen if he and Kyoshi were surrounded by Dai Li again? What good would he do? He turned to Yong and huffed. If it was for the greater good, then he supposed it would do no harm.

"Okay," he said. "Let's do it." Yong chuckled heartily and put his arm around Bako's shoulder, leading him to his training ground.

Kids scrambled down the hallway to their classes and teachers carried stacks of papers and books for the lessons ahead. Kyoshi and Momzen were in awe of the crowd. The Yuan School seemed like a sanctuary for knowledge. The walls were green, lined with brown along the floor and yellow along the ceiling and notices and flyers were pinned on boards. Seeing kids their age line up for a classroom, Momzen and Kyoshi joined the line hoping to gain some useful information from the class. As they entered they took desks next to each other and listened intently to the teacher. The teacher, a scowling old woman, had her grey hair in a tight bun and stared down her hook nose through her dainty glasses.

"Shh!" she hissed. "Shh!" The din of chatting teens assuaged into silence. The teacher glared for a moment before beginning the roll. Surely enough, everyone noticed Momzen and Kyoshi – who had not yet called 'here' to their name.

"You two," the woman hissed. "What are you doing in this class?" Kyoshi opened her mouth to speak but she couldn't. She was panicking.

"This is our class, Miss. Our family is new here," Momzen said, quickly coming up with an alibi. He looked at Kyoshi so as to keep his excuse rolling.

"My name is Shiko," he said, taking inspiration from Kyoshi's name. "And this is my cousin" He squinted at the unbelievable names he had created.

"So Shiko and Momo?" the teacher repeated. Kyoshi and Momzen nodded, hoping the conversation would be over soon.

"Well, Shiko and Momo. A little pop quiz seeing as today we're learning about law," the teacher smiled cruelly. "Can you tell us the new law that has been introduced into the Earth State?" A silence fell over the room, like a blanket it covered the class with a dim and warm hush. For Momzen and Kyoshi it was dreadfully painful.

"No...surfing the Ba Sing Se carriages?" Momzen squeaked, taking a shot at it. The teacher's eyes dropped, casting annoyed glances at her two new students, and she shook her head. She looked at Kyoshi, whose eyebrows were raised with on-the-spot anxiety.

"I was going to say that too," she mumbed, smiling sweetly to avoid punishment. The teacher rolled her unimpressed eyes.

"Anyone?" A girl put up her hand.

"Yes, An, please." The girl, bug-eyed with dark brown bangs, stood up to speak. Her cheeks blushed, rosy from bashfulness.

"Well, um," she coughed shyly. "Anyone caught aiding the Avatar is outlawed indefinitely and declared an enemy of the State. Anyone who falsely states they found the Avatar is sentenced to two years in prison. If the Avatar is captured a reward of five hundred thousand gold pieces is given to the individual or party." After finishing her recital she sat down and slumped in her chair.

"Very good!" the teacher said, smiling at An. "Got that?" Momzen and Kyoshi, now more fearful than before, nodded immediately. As the class continued, the two made sure to keep the attention away from them. Kyoshi kept her textbook close to her face and Momzen tried hard not to make any jokes – even though there were so many good opportunities.

The tension broke once they were let out for lunch. They moved into the central courtyard where kids ran around, playing and yelling at each other. Momzen chuckled out of nerves.

"Who knows? Maybe they just recount the laws, not follow them," he said to Kyoshi. Kyoshi smiled back at him.

"Maybe." Momzen went away to find some food for them while Kyoshi stayed in the courtyard, making sure to stay out of trouble. Momzen was right though. She had met nice Earth State citizens before; the people of Yuan Province could be nice too.

"So you're one of the dumb new kids?" a squeaky voice came from behind. Kyoshi turned around to see a doughy boy with a mop of black hair on his head smiling mischievously at her. Perhaps they weren't. The boy seemed as though he was a bully; his stance was confident and outwards and his frowning eyes bared fangs of intimidation. Kyoshi would have none of it.

"It takes one to know one I guess," she shrugged, replying as meanly as possible. The boy's face went red as other kids laughed and whispered.

"Are you saying I'm dumb?" he shouted.

"If you have to even ask that question then no, I'm not saying you're dumb," Kyoshi said, building up her remark. "I'm saying you're very dumb!" The boy grumbled under his breath, his knuckles glowing white.

"You know, I'm not ashamed to hit a girl!" he shouted, spit pattering out from the corners of his mouth.

"Neither am I." Kyoshi grinned as the entire crowd of students broke out in laughter. The boy, his cheeks crimson with humiliation, tore earth from the ground with his bending and threw it at Kyoshi. Noticing his hostility early, Kyoshi raised a wall from the cobblestoned floor, shielding her from the projectile. Using a punching movement the corner of the wall flew off and bowled the bully over. Everyone laughed again, a joyous din echoing through the halls of the school. He screamed with rage and with two hands ripped up chucks from around him. He fired the first one, which shattered the wall, and, now that Kyoshi was defenceless, fired the second. Before Kyoshi could realise Momzen dived in front of her, taking the attack to his shoulder and toppling across the length of the courtyard. A furious teacher, who caused the crowd to scatter away in every direction, pulled the bully away from the students and to his punishment somewhere else while Kyoshi went to Momzen's aid.

"Are you alright?" she said, picking him up from the floor. Warm blood stained his sleeve as it trickled from the cut on his shoulder.

"You didn't have to do that."

"The plan was for you to stay out of trouble," he smiled, still a bit dazed by the bully's attack.  Kyoshi laughed. Momzen was a good friend. He was loyal and kind, and for that she appreciated him immensely. She wouldn't have been able to make it this far without his jokes to keep the mood up. He was always around to lend a helping hand.

Yong pushed against a stiff door with his shoulder and it burst open, dust pluming outwards at the hinges. It seemed he hadn't trained anyone for a while because his grounds were overgrown and dirty. He had led Bako through his home and out into his garden. It was about ten metres long but thin in width. An acacia tree loomed over from the other side of an ivy-covered sandstone wall and compact bushes grew beside the length of the walls and over the floor of dusty sandstone tiles. Bako kept his wits about him – examining everything as if it would be a possible trap and always stood a few steps away from Yong.

"It's not much, but it'll do," Yong said, taking a spot at the end of the garden unsheathing his bronzy sword.  Bako took his in hand awkwardly, still unsure of what entirely to do in such a prompt situation.

"So, go on. Strike me." Bako let one sword down, exhaled swiftly, and then ran towards Yong bearing the sword in his left. He swiped down, Yong blocking – exactly what Bako was expecting, then slashed with his right sword. Yong moved his blade right and downwards to block Bako's other sword and using his hefty arms he pushed the right sword up and away. They contended each other, swiping at each other and stabbing at chances. Bako went in for a stab but the man lifted his arm so the sword moved next to his hip. He quickly clamped his arm to his side and spun around, pulling Bako over onto the ground, holding his red sword at the boy's neck. 

"The aim is not to kill," Yong explained, helping the boy up. "If you can unarm them then you have the entire upper hand." Bako picked up his lost sword and again faced his teacher. This time he tried to connect swords in order to push up or around to disarm Yong. But the man could see this, and ducked around – laughing – then stabbed Bako's shoulder with the tip of his sword. The boy winced at the electrifying pain but continued. He slashed in front of him with both his swords, forcing Yong back and back – hoping to get him up against the wall. Yong looked behind, seeing his oncoming entrapment, and then stabbed, again with the tip, Bako's side. Blood oozed from the opening onto his shirt and as he recoiled Yong took the opportunity to duck under the boy's arm and stab him in his other shoulder. Bako, crying out in pain, dropped his swords and fell to the floor.

"You're mad!" he shouted, holding his wounds forcefully. Yong cackled heartily.

"Lesson number two," he began. "Tire your opponent out. Slowly wear them down. Lots of little stabs do the same as a big one." Yong procured bandages from his pocket and dressed Bako's wounds. Inside they shared a pot of tea; a warm beverage seemed to heal any wound. Yong continued to teach Bako about sword fighting. He explained sparring in comparison to group combat and what tactics to use when on your own and when in a team. He taught him proper blocking methods and stances. He gave him advice on how to use his two light swords to his advantage – saying that he can use swift blocks followed by smooth slashes. Bako, though originally doubtful of accepting Yong's offer, was happy that he did. He never had a tutor – instead he taught himself. It was good to finally get some proper training.

Momzen winced at that sharp pain that jabbed into his shoulder.

"Sorry," An said, immediately loosening the bandage. An, the girl from his class, was training to become a nurse and for that she took up jobs in the sick bay. Her cheeks flushed a deep red and Momzen huffed a laugh.

"It's alright," he replied kindly. "You're doing a pretty good job." He was trying to release the girl from her inhibition.

"Thank you," she whispered, the corners of her mouth curving ever so slightly to make a smile. She blushed even more.

"You know," Momzen began. "You're supposed to look people in the eyes when you have a conversation with them." An's body stiffened and her pupils dilated into tiny specks. Shuddering faintly she raised her head and looked into Momzen's beaming orange eyes. They were welcoming and full of life and hers were, to most people, dull and grey. But to Momzen her eyes were like silver. Hidden under her black fringe they were stars against the night sky. But he couldn't tell her that, she'd only become more frozen with timidity.

"That's better!" he smiled, patting her on the back with his unwounded arm. She coughed out a petty laugh.

"Are you an earthbender?" she asked softly, finishing off with his bandage.

"No. no. I can't bend," Momzen replied, quickly coming up with an alibi. "My cousin can. She's pretty good too."

"That's nice." An seemed uninterested in Kyoshi – or rather, how they knew her, Momo.

"Are you?" Momzen asked. She smiled and shook her head.

"No. Not one person in my family is," she explained, livening up a little. A silence came over. It seemed to pain An greatly for she became stiff again. Momzen did not pick up the conversation, however. He wanted her to do it.

"Where are you and Momo from?" she said loudly, at least loud for her. Momzen opened his mouth as if to reply, his eyebrows raised and his brain thinking of a place he'd been to recently.

"Dhu Village," he replied, thinking back to the village he and Kyoshi were escorted to by a traitorous Dai Li agent. An's silver eyes widened with amazement.

"That's all the way on the other side of the Si Wong Desert! That must've been quite a journey."

"Yeah," Momzen sighed. "It was." Momzen looked around the bay for something more to talk about. He saw a flyer on a notice board and read it aloud.

"The Spring Dance? What's that?" He looked at An who was now facing away. Her eyes were wide with angst.

"It''s the Spring Dance. We have one every year. It's on tonight," she explained.

"Tonight? That's great!" Momzen replied goofily. "I love dancing."

"Me too."

"We can go together then," Momzen said. Again An hardened and she gasped, her face still turned away from the boy's.

" a date?" Momzen was taken aback. The wound on his shoulder throbbed and his stomach churned. He had never been asked on a date before - nor asked anyone. Something inside him – inside his heart maybe – fluttered erratically. He was completely speechless. He liked An; she was kind, smart and, to him, very pretty. It was an offer he had to accept – at least to bring her out of her shell.

"Yeah. A date," Momzen replied, standing up. "I'll see you tonight?" An stood up too, awkwardly knocking things over, and nodded.

"Okay," she muttered softly. "Um...ok."

"Let's try it again," Yong shouted from across the garden. Him and Bako took their stances and waited for the other to attack. They both waited. They knew that the first person to strike would lose the upper hand. Finally Yong broke his patience and ran forwards. With his red sword unsheathed he swung his heavy blade over his head and down onto Bako's blocking sword. Using his second, Bako sliced at the man's stomach. Yong, reacting quickly from adrenalin, jumped backwards as Bako continued to block and slice, block and slice. Before he realised, Yong was up against the wall. Unable to swing his weapon Yong jabbed. Bako circled his left sword to slash along the face of Yong's and disarm his teacher. He then used his right sword to jab into the man's mail and into his skin. Blood trickled from the opening and into the meshed metal. Yong raised his hands to show his mercy.

"Very nice," he said, grinning mannishly. Bako lowered his weapons and chuckled airily. Suddenly the man kicked Bako's swords from his grip and punched him square in the jaw. After toppling over and sprawling to the ground, his face throbbing and his ears ringing, Bako scrambled to his feet with his fists bared for battle.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he screamed, spitting out saliva that tasted of blood. Yong walked away nonchalantly to bandage his stab wound.

"Never trust your opponent when they call mercy, or else there won't be any for you." Bako stood facing his teacher, who had his back to the boy. Bako admired him greatly. He was smart, charismatic and, best of all, knew all the tricks of a real swordsman. Bako knew he would not regret taking this opportunity.

"I have to return to my friends, Yong," he said. "But thank you for teaching me these things." Yong piped up, interest had caught him.

"You're going? There's still so much to teach you," Yong replied, making symbols with his hands. "The 'Platypus Bear Punch' the 'Badgermole Three-time Swipe.' So many good moves you haven't mastered yet." Bako made his way through the house as Yong followed.

"I'm sorry. We're only passing through."

"But I feel I haven't benefited you like I promised," Yong said. Bako turned to him and smiled.

"You've done me a world of good. There are not enough words in the world that can describe my gratitude, Yong," Bako blushed. "You have done your promise, and can sleep a better man for it." He put one fist in a palm and bowed to Yong like a prodigy to a master. Yong bowed back and nodded, a gesture of his acceptance of the boy's leaving.

Bako made back for the campsite with Tori – who, for the most part when he trained with Yong, was nibbling intently at the bushes – and found Momzen and Kyoshi safely there with Jin Jin.

"Nothing to report?" Bako asked as he unloaded all the bought goods. Kyoshi looked at Momzen. They had been talking about the Spring Dance and both wanted to attend it tonight, but knew if they told Bako what they had discovered – the laws concerning the Avatar - he'd never let them go. Kyoshi's eyes darted around as she lied.

"No. Nothing interesting," she replied as Momzen coughed awkwardly. "But there is a Spring Dance we'd like to go to."

"What? No way," Bako said. "We agreed to stay for one day. A night is too long.".

"I thought we were buying meat tomorrow at the markets?" Kyoshi reminded him. "We have to stay the night, so we may as well go for a dance." She smiled.

"No," Bako persisted. "There is no point." Momzen's cheeks flushed a deep red as embarrassment engorged his entire body

"Well...there kind of is," he said as the two stared at him. "I sort of said I'd take this girl to the dance. And she really deserves it because she's so shy and it's probably the only time she'll get to show up all the other girls-"

"An?" Kyoshi blurted, interrupting Momzen's nervous rambling. He nodded. Kyoshi couldn't believe it. Not that it was her right not to – Momzen could dance with whoever he wanted. But An seemed like the exact opposite of his type; not that Kyoshi knew his type. She just expected him to take a liking to a girl with more pep. Realising she was getting flustered, and for no exact reason for that matter, Kyoshi slinked away to Jin Jin, pretending she was tightening the saddle.

"Fine," Bako rolled his eyes. "But again, no trouble!"

The school hall was decorated extravagantly with coloured flowers; pinks, cherries and yellows, all tied to banners, laced the ceiling while fresh cuttings of dense leaf hung. The floral scents wafted among the large hall as a troupe of musicians played, the sounds soft and intimate. Orange paper lanterns, casting warm lights and dancing shadows, were scattered throughout the hall. The teenagers, dressed in their finest clothing – the girls in silk and the boys in suits that barred the Earth State colours, poured in in groups and couples as chatter built up against the walls. Kyoshi and Momzen arrived, late and in their stained and crinkled garb; they were the most under-dressed there. But that didn't faze them. As the music grew louder the two skipped into the dance floor and started to dance amid others. Through the jiving crowds and pirouetting girls An appeared. Her fringe was pinned up against a corsage of reeds, a white lily in its centre, and she wore a golden silk gown. Her faced glowed as brilliantly as her red lipstick. She was stunning. Momzen had to stop dancing to focus his eyes on her.

"You look beautiful," he uttered, taking her hand and pulling her into part of his group.

"Thank you Shiko, you're so nice," An replied gracefully. The girl began to dance, her body moving in time with the music. With each note her arms and legs and her waist would sway a new direction and pounce through the air elegantly. It was like watching a ballet. Kyoshi, a bit taken back by the girl's formality, tried dancing like her. Her legs buckled awkwardly and her arms flailed about like a breathless fish out of water.

"Shall we dance?" An said, smiling at her date. Momzen's eyes widened and his brow began to sweat.

"Of course," he said, smiling bewilderingly at Kyoshi as if to marvel at her. "See you some other time Ky – uh – Momo." An led him through the crowd to another part of the hall while Kyoshi was left alone, swaying disappointedly that her friend had been taken.

"You and Momo didn't dress up?" An said softly, trying to begin a conversation after seeing other girls ogle at her and her date. Momzen laughed.

"Yeah. I guess we didn't get the memo. And we didn't really bring any suits with us from Dhu Village." He was trying to keep up his alibi. He took her stiff waist and she placed her sweaty hand on his shoulder as the music changed to something more soothing and romantic. Her silver eyes shimmered in the lantern-light. At that moment, when it was just them looking into each other, Momzen knew he was very fond of her. He'd have to confess himself soon if they were to ever have anything real.

Kyoshi, tired of dancing and sick of the Spring Dance altogether, walked down the empty corridor. The sounds of the instruments faded away as she continued down the darkness. She came to the principal's office and could hear mutters coming from inside. Knowing there was nothing exciting in the dance hall for her she stopped by the door and began eavesdropping.

"Are you sure we can't get them to the school? It'd mean a lot to the kids," came the principal's voice.

"The students can still see them. They just can't make themselves public. Not during the State War," the other voice replied. "They've given us a map with their position. We can take the kids there and they can do the presentation at their camp. Besides, it'd be more memorable to have an outdoors excursion." The voice was trying hard to convince the principal that seeing the visitors was not impossible.

"I suppose. It's just a bit out of our way. It'd have to be a day trip."

"I know, I know. But this is what the Gao Lin Battalion wants. We have to respect tha-" At that moment Kyoshi tuned out. The face of her father came to mind when she heard those words uttered. The Gao Lin Battalion. That was the battalion he was recruited for when she was young.

A tall man swung a swag over his shoulder. It was filled with all his things. A small girl, bleary-eyed from her crying, stayed close to another man's legs. She watched the man walk away, with others, to a cart. They were headed to Ba Sing Se her friend told her – they'd train there so that they'd protect us. The Gao Lin Battalion is what they'd become. The girl watched as her father became more and more distant – all but a distant fleck on the mountains was what was left of him. She knew one day she'd have to go to the mountains.

Her father's chiselled jaw and prickly chin was left imprinted in Kyoshi's memory, etched forever like a knife to bark. His smile – big and warm – and his hands – rough and encompassing – was what she'd think of sometimes for comfort. He was family, real family. She had to see him. She had to get that map. Kyoshi pressed an ear to the door only to hear the two men begin to exit. She scampered down the hall and around the corner, holding her lungs so that they wouldn't make too much noise.

"Are you coming to the dance?"

"Yes. I'll come back later to lock up," the principal said. The two men passed Kyoshi, not noticing her in the shadows of the other hallway, allowing her to peek around the corner and make a dash for it to the principal's office. Everything was tidy. The stillness of the room and the moonlight creeping in through the blinds added an eeriness to the already tense atmosphere. Kyoshi's heart pumped. It could have been because of her sleuthing but she was certain it was because of her father. She had not seen him in years. The very thought of hearing his voice made her giddy with joy. She was golden. Her skin felt as if it were gleaming and her excitement was a caged tiger trying desperately to claw outwards from her eyes for liberation. She had to take a few breaths to calm down.

Before her, lying on the desk waiting to be held, was the map. The map that would lead her to her father and that would lead her to the one thing that would finally fill the small emptiness inside of her. For years, and especially during the last two weeks when her life had been thrown upside down, she had felt an absence inside. Like white smoke it drifted and flurried about, looking for something to solidify it; to give it some certainty. Finally that thing had come. She could feel a part of her heart relax. For once, even when she was at Gao Lin with Hiaga and Nit she never entirely believed it, Kyoshi felt like she was home. 

Suddenly the door of the office swung open showing the principal's frowning face.

"I knew it. I knew a student had gotten into the grounds!" Kyoshi tucked the map between her breast and her shirt and stared into the face of the angered principal. His eyes widened and he almost turned white.

"The Avatar," he said. Kyoshi practically fell onto the desk with fright, trying hard in containing her nervousness.

"What? Me? No," she laughed awkwardly. "I'm not the Avatar. I'm Momo. I'm a new student here. Momo." She smirked at the principal who seemed to not believe her words at all. Realising this Kyoshi lifted a chunk of the floor from the ground and knocked the man off his feet, stepping over his squirming body and running down the hallway.

"Get her!" the principal shouted to his accomplice. The useless man attempted to chase the Avatar but Kyoshi was too athletic and outran him easily. Once she turned the corner she checked to see the map was still with her then ran to the dance hall where she could hide amongst the kids.

An blushed as her date continued to stare at her. Momzen thought he was being romantic, but obviously not. He stopped when he realised she was frowning slightly with discomfort.

"Sorry," he coughed. "I was just trying to be romantic." An blushed again.

"You're very nice, Shiko. You're very nice to me." Momzen smiled as his chest tingled. He was happy that he was able to bring her out of her shell. Just a few moments ago she broke out in goofy dances with him – it was like nothing he could have ever imagined from her. And she was full of knowledge. She spoke to him off the Si Wong Desert of the Gaan Mountains and of the great city of Omashu; and her words were very poetic. She was great company. But something, it must've been his brain because he heart clamoured for her, told him not to get himself involved with her. It wasn't like he could just drop his commitments with the Avatar to try and have something of a relationship with her. But we was fond of her – greatly fond. He sighed as An took his jaw in her hand. Her eyes, still cloudy with inhibition, were lowered with an attempt of romance. She leaned in, her ruby lips pouting slightly as she got closer and closer. Momzen closed his eyes and prepared himself for something tender but his hand was taken and he was pulled away. He opened his eyes to see what had happened.

"Sorry, An! I need to speak with him!" It was Kyoshi, and she tugged the swooning boy to another section in the crowd.

"What? What is going on?" he shouted at her over the loud, brassy music. Kyoshi reached into her shirt and pulled out the map.

"It's a map to my father's battalion. But the principal found me stealing it," she puffed for breath. "And he knows I'm the Avatar. So I'm pretty sure Yuan Province is anti-Avatar. We have to go now!" She pocketed the map and took Momzen's hand again. He pulled it out and stopped her.

"Well just wait! I need to say goodbye to An!" he frowned. Kyoshi rolled her eyes. He made her sick.

"She's the enemy, Momzen!" she shouted.

"My name's Shiko!" he interjected angrily.

"Listen to yourself!" Kyoshi screamed as Momzen made his way back through the crowd to An.

"What's going on?" An said, her voice now returned to its normal quiet self.

"I – I," Momzen struggled to find the right words in order to break her heart the softest way possible. He knew what ever he'd say it would make her spiral back into timidity.

"This isn't going to work out." An's eyes swelled with tears.

"What do you mean?"

"It's just. The people we're associated with are sort of on different ends of the spectrum. It's not you," Momzen continued gently. "If it were up to me I'd stay with you. But I have a destiny to fulfil. And I have to do this if I want to make the world a better place. Do you understand?" An studied his face bewilderingly, trying to understand what he just said.

"No," she whined. "Not at all."

"Look," Momzen said, holding her shoulders. "You're great. You're one of the greatest girls I've met. But it's just not going to work. The timing just isn't right." An lowered her head to mask her sobbing. Momzen took her chin and pulled it to his face, kissing her gently on the lips.

"I'm sorry," he whispered as he pushed through the crowds and away from her forever. He met Kyoshi outside in the hot night. They began briskly down the streets to their campsite.

"So did you kiss her?" Kyoshi sneered, annoyed at the time they wasted for their getaway. Momzen smiled at her.

"No." Kyoshi looked down at the floor. She was happy he didn't – it'd make everything a lot less complicated – but, to a degree, she was also a bit sad for him. The poor boy was fond of her, and he deserved it after everything he had done for Kyoshi.

"That's a shame," she uttered, genuinely sympathetic. Momzen shrugged, still smiling. The two got to the campsite and told Bako that they had been discovered.

"I knew it!" he said matter-of-factly. "I knew this was a bad idea!" He jumped onto Jin Jin's neck while the other got into the saddle. He whipped the reins and the shirshu began running.

"We need to go west!" Kyoshi said over the passing wind. Bako turned the shirshu right down an empty road and towards an outward bound trail. From a distance the group could hear guards shouting and charging, they knew they were going to be safe. However, standing at the outskirts of Yuan Province was an brawny man in chain mail, his sword at the ready.

"Oh no," Bako said defeatedly. He halted Jin Jin and got to the ground. Ahead of him Yong's frowning face skewered into an expression of shock and betrayal.


"I can explain," Bako said, holding his hand up to pause the confused man.

"No! Don't!" Yong interrupted, shouting. "It's simple, isn't it? You're an enemy!" Bako rolled his eyes.

"I'm doing what is right."

"What is right? If you were doing what is right you'd be crying mercy to me and giving yourself up," Yong spat.

"Well I'm sorry, Yong," Bako replied, grinning at the bothersome circumstance. "I'm just not ready to give up." He unsheathed both swords as Yong stormed toward him and used his left to block the red sword that came heavily from above. He then spun around, pushing the weapon back into the air, ducked down and stabbed forward. Yong jumped backwards to avoid the stab and, keeping one foot on the floor, skidded ninety degrees right to dodge Bako's second stab. Yong swirled his sword around his head but Bako blocked it with one, then blocked it again with the other after the swing came around in the opposite direction. The clangs of the metal and the swiping against the faces of the blades echoed in the muggy night sky. He forced the sword back with his blocking weapon then stabbed Yong's inwards shoulder with the other sword, making sure to use extreme speed to attack – just as Yong had taught him.

Yong took his sword in both hands and as me moved forward he spun as he jumped, giving his hefty weapon momentum and strength. Using a cross shape with both swords Bako caught the red sword, tightening the grip by pulling the handles closer together, then twisted his wrists. Yong's sword seemed to pop from his hold. It rang through the air and toppled into the dirt.

"If you disarm your opponent you get the entire upper hand," Bako said, repeating his tutor's words. Yong's grey curls were now messy in front of his eyes and sweat was trickling down the side of his jaw. Bako felt nauseous at what was going to come. Yong, smiling, held up his hands for mercy. Bako smiled back at him. They both knew the agenda. And it seemed Yong was comfortable with facing death at this moment, for when Bako pushed through the mail and stabbed into his chest the man did not struggle. He simply looked up at the navy sky, grinning his hefty smile, and fell into the dirt. Blood trickled from under his dying body as Bako wiped his sword on Yong's sleeve.

"I've trained you well. I told you you'd be able to protect the ones you love," Yong muttered over the clutches of death that strangled him. Bako looked back at Kyoshi and Momzen, and Jin Jin and Tori. They were all frozen with shock. Bako could feel their terror, they probably feared him now. He smirked and huffed.

"You did. Thank you." Bako bowed again like a student to his master then jumped onto Jin Jin, instructing her to get away as fast as possible from the province. Obeying with silence the shirshu began west into the night across the grassy prairies. Kyoshi kept her emerald eyes on the boy's neck. He was a killer now – perhaps a true warrior, a hero, can only be dubbed that once they make their first kill. Whatever his title, Bako had blood to his name and for that he seemed more undefinable, yet somehow more reputable, than ever.

"You killed someone!" Momzen said, flabbergasted, trying to break the tension. Bako did not turn around to look at his friends.

"I'm not proud, Momzen," he replied bluntly, some form of emotion playing up in his voice. "But I needed to protect you guys. We need to get used to blood. If we're going to stop the Earth State, or even get out of it, we have to start getting used to it." It. What was 'it?' Was it death? Their own death or putting it upon someone else? Kyoshi knew Bako was right. But she was not ready. She was not ready to have that responsibility laid upon her. She could not have  somebody else's name to her – even an entire family's. Tori jumped into her lap and they went to sleep. It was a bumpy ride, made more restless by Bako's kill, but nevertheless Kyoshi could sleep alright; she was, for certain, going to see her father. Though the thought of death was on her mind – and even the horrible idea of her father being dead – the Avatar fell to sleep in the uncomfortable humidity.

The group travelled west for days, following the stolen map over hills and off roads though dewy scrub. They never found another village they could stop at for meat and had to eat meals of vegetables, broth, cheese and bread. Kyoshi was sick of the same boring meals, made only for their sustenance. Jin Jin missed having something tough to chew on. But they persisted. Why stop? The people of Yuan Province would have alerted government officials about them and Astrid was probably not far behind. Once they'd reach the battalion things would be a bit more comfortable.

Jin Jin grunted as she strode up a hill. The sky was a bright cerulean and sun beamed down, heating up everything. Summer had certainly begun. The humidity, a constant moistness, was still with them. Their socks and clothes were forever damp and sweat was always stuck between their skin and said clothes. A final deep-throated grunt was unleashed as Jin Jin carried them over the crest. Down in the valley was a small campsite; six white and yellow tents with the square Earth State insignia embroidered pitched around a central campfire with Ostrich horses stabled next to some grasses. Kyoshi giggled with delight. She slid off the saddle and made it down to the camp. The men raised their hands but a man's booming voice told them to stop. Coming around from a tent was Kyoshi's father, Garuku. He wore brown pants, a yellow t-shirt – it must have been the leisure wear because the entire battalion wore the same. His face was just as she remembered; unkempt stubble along his jaw, dark chestnut hair and almond-shaped green eyes, the same colour as hers. She ran into his arms, a strong embrace coiling around her shuddering body. It wasn't until she laid eyes on him that she realise she had missed him so much.

"Do you still remember me?" she whispered into his muscular chest.

"Of course I do," he said, his deep voice reverberating into his lungs and then warmly onto her cheeks. "Do you still remember me?" Kyoshi laughed, squeezing him tighter.

"Of course."

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