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One: Hushed Mystery
January 14, 2013
Previously in Tempests
One of our protagonists, Sohyon, was called out of a relaxing summer morning to hear an assignment from the Elder Monks. Standing in the place of the young Avatar (and the candidate from the Avatar's home temple), Sohyon is to venture to the Land of Earth to solve a dispute between two Earth Empires. He is faced with his mentor Seijin one last time and retires for the day before setting off on his epic journey...
The heat burns through their bones
Don't trust the faces in the shadows: they have much more to hide than those in the open.
Sleep would not come. For a few hours, Sohyon lay awake, tossing and turning as he desperately sought rest. It was early in the morning: past midnight but before sunrise. Though reluctantly, Sohyon finally accepted the fact that he would not be able to sleep and rose. He flitted about the room, quickly making the final preparations. Once he had carefully packed his flute, journal and staff, as well as some other last minute additions to his supplies, the Air Nomad set out.
The feeling of the Air Temple at night could only be related to a graveyard. Not a soul moved; it was as if the very air in which they trained during the day to bend had stopped moving. Sohyon took a deep breath of this air, noting that it even felt stagnant. Somehow, this lack of motion gave him peace. He was not leaving the bustling environment he had known for twenty-four years—this was something different. The sense of loss which might come from finally venturing out into the world was not there; rather it came as a sort of gentle transition.
Sohyon took his time getting to the bison pens; he felt no sense of urgency to depart at this hour. Meali was still prepared, her body relaxed in a deep sleep. The Air Nomad approached his bison and gave her a gentle shake. Her eyes slowly opened while she met her master with a deep and full yawn which inspired a soft smile from Sohyon: her calmness rubbed off on him. Twirling his hands in a small circle, Sohyon created a gentle gust of air which propelled himself upwards and onto the saddle he had placed the night before. As he fell into place, he created another small draft which pushed the reins into his hand and finally settled down to begin the journey. He snapped the reins and Meali rose, tiredly walking out of the bison pens. She walked in this manner until reaching the edge of the temple grounds before stopping as if asking Sohyon if she really had to fly.
"Come on girl—to Ishi Sentō," he instructed softly. With a deep grunt, the bison rose and pushed herself into the clouds.
After about several hours of flying, Sohyon realized that he had not been steering at all—the only reason they had not crashed into the ground below was because Meali had been leading on her own. The fact occurred to Sohyon that he was far too exhausted to properly meet a group of nobles, much less fly a sky bison. Somehow, Meali knew where she was going, thus Sohyon figured he could use this time to catch up on some sleep.
From the top of his supplies, Sohyon removed a sleeping bag of bison skin. The bison had not been killed—rather the nomads believed that after a bison had died, the fur could be used for practical purposes before burying the body. Though Sohyon disagreed with this practice, the leather sleeping bag was the only thing keeping him from freezing at this altitude. He curled up inside of it, closing his eyes to seek what rest he could.
"Sohyon... It's time to wake up!" These loud words awoke Sohyon with a start. He viciously slashed wind at now one in particular while jolting upright. Looking around, he saw a familiar face frantically redirecting the wind so as not to fall off of Meali's back.
"Eizo? How in the name of the spirits did you get here?"
"Well, I've been here all along!" Eizo exclaimed, throwing his arms out so as to emphasize his point. "But more importantly, look, look," he threw aside the blanket he had apparently emerged from to reveal another familiar individual. "I brought a girl! All is forgiven, right?"
"I told you that you couldn't say that," Kanae replied disdainfully.
It was apparent that Eizo had been expected some sort of excitement, but Sohyon simply looked horrified. "You kidnapped someone?! Eizo, do you understand how much trouble we'll be in?!"
"Actually, it was her idea," the stowaway shrugged. "She came to me right after your meeting with the elders. I haven't a clue how she found me, but it seemed like a good idea and when we got to the stables your bison was already packed up so we just hid ourselves and waited."
Sohyon rubbed his temples tiredly. "This is all some bad dream. I'll wake up in a couple minutes and be almost to Ishi Sentō..."
"Your idiocy is incomprehensible! We should have waited until after he arrived in the city." The female Air Nomad spat these words at Eizo, who looked at her like a wounded puppy-lion.
"I wanted him to know we were here..."
"Well it was stupid. Now he could turn around and take us back to the temple, it would have been more difficult if we had waited."
Before Eizo could return, Sohyon held up his hands and the others turned to him. "Stop talking for a few minutes," he instructed. With a deep breath, he continued, "Okay. I've accepted that you two are in fact real and bothering me. Now, what in the name of the spirits are you doing here?!"
"I didn't trust you," Kanae spoke first, flipping a rogue strand of hair out of her face. "I wanted to track you to Ishi Sentō, but your friend here insisted that we hide on your bison rather than taking another one. It would have been a perfect plan had he not decided to leap out in the middle of the flight."
Eizo put his hand on Kanae's shoulder causing her to jump a bit, "He is also right here, sweetheart." The female monk's face contorted as if she had just ate soup with a live worm in it. Ignoring this, Eizo continued, directing his words toward Sohyon: "The temple is boring without you, mate, so I figured I'd follow along. I doubt the Elders will care at all."
No words came to Sohyon, thus he simply sat back silently for a few moments. His eyes searched the other two's, who watched him intently. The Air Nomad's mind ran through everything, picking apart every detail to try to make sense of this. In his heart, he knew that he would be fine with a stowaway—if it was only Eizo. Kanae set him on edge. Something about her just made him uneasy, but at the same time his childhood friend looked so hopeful, so eager that they might get to stay...
"Fine," Sohyon declared finally. "You two can stay. But don't get involved in what I'm doing—I have a feeling the nobles will get uneasy if too many Air Nomads are prying."
Kanae's face feel and her lips pursed; overall, she seemed rather dissatisfied with the outcome. On the other hand, Eizo was practically leaping with joy. "Don't worry, Soh, politics bore me. I'll be sure to stay out of the way!" The latter announced proudly.
"I suppose if that's the best I'll get, I may as well stick around to at least make sure you don't screw up too badly."
"Then it's settled," Sohyon finished the conversation while leaning back and folding his arms.
Now, Eizo opened his mouth, but Sohyon interrupted quickly, "I just have one last request." The Air Nomad took a deep breath and exhaled into a long sigh. "Let me sleep the rest of the way?"
"I'm afraid that isn't going to happen, Soh." Eizo's tone was solemn and returned with a look of utter disbelief from his friend. In clarification, Eizo added, "I was going to tell you: Meali's making her descent."
Sohyon looked over the edge of his bison to see if what Eizo was true. Indeed Meali had broken through the clouds and he could now see a sprawling city below them. It was like nothing he had ever seen: towering mansions lining a massive throng which Eizo presumed to be the inner city. About halfway through, there was a visible crevice with but one bridge leading over; Sohyon assumed that this was the border between the two empires. Even from their position far above Ishi Sentō, Sohyon could see the flickering of an infinitesimal amount of flames lighting the late afternoon like waking stars. The journey must have been about fifteen hours, Sohyon guessed.
Were Sohyon not so sleep deprived, he knew the view would have been amazing. However, he was rather tired, and for that reason he could not fully take in the beauty of the young metropolis before him. Neither Eizo nor Kanae seemed impressed by the sight. With a sigh, Sohyon grabbed Meali's reins and tugged sharply back. The angle of descent became steeper as Sohyon directed his sky bison to an open plain on which they could land. As he neared the city, faces became visible, whispering and pointing at the mysterious visitors as they took to the ground.
"Ah! You must be the Tiáotíng Zhě we requested of the Air Nomads!" Not thirty seconds after they had landed, the trio was greeted by this voice. The voice was directed towards Sohyon, who was in the middle of dismounting Meali. A few moments after Sohyon leapt from the bison, Eizo and Kanae followed. They, however, were not greeted with enthusiastic words; rather, the latter two were met with a brief glare of contempt.
The man who greeted them was rather oddly dressed: wearing brilliant, obnoxious greens and yellows in what was clearly high-quality silk robes. While his clothes flaunted affluence, his face was quite a contrast. A crooked nose lay in the middle of an unimpressive middle-aged face lined with whatever wrinkles his skin-care products could not remove. Beneath the nose a goatee which was clearly well-groomed but rather gross in its length—stretching down just below his collarbone. His hair was equally disturbing: long and untied with streaks of gray against his temples.
This was the first outsider Sohyon had ever seen, but he chose not to judge harshly. "Who are you? And what's ' Tiáotíng Zhě '?" The Air Nomad sorted out all his jumbled thoughts to give these two careful questions.
"Where are my manners?" The strange-looking man throughout his arms in an exasperated gesture before continuing, "I am Lord Genkei Saromi. Tiáotíng Zhě is you, my friend! That is, I assume you are the mediator sent by the Air Nomad Elders?"
"Yes, I am—"
"Excellent! Normally I would have sent one of my servants to retrieve you; however, this is a very special occasion." The manner with which Lord Saromi said "special" made Sohyon's stomach churn. Whether warranted or not, Sohyon did not like this man. "If you don't mind answering a question yourself, I must inquire as to who your two friends are. The Elders said they were only sending one mediator...?"
"We're here to help," Kanae interjected before Sohyon could reply. This was met with a brief look of scorn from Lord Saromi, however Kanae continued, "I am Kanae and this is Eizo," she gestured towards the aforementioned. "This isn't a job to be taken off by any one person alone save the Avatar, and since Sohyon here isn't the Avatar, the Elders sent us just in case."
"'Just in case'..." Lord Saromi repeated the phrase, as if trying to decide whether he would believe it or not. He kept a straight face as he continued, "It just so happens I am holding a party at my manor. I extend this invitation to your friends as well... Seunghun was it?"
"Of course," Saromi dismissed the correction. "You simply must come to my party. It'll be the perfect opportunity for you to meet all of the most important members of society in both bordering empires, as well as my beautiful wife."
Despite this cordiality, Sohyon still felt uneasy. Not only that, but with how little sleep he had gotten, some party was the last thing he wanted. Even more so since this was really his first time outside of the Air Temple. "I don't want to be rude, Lord Saromi, but we really can't—"
"I cannot let you refuse! All of the people worth knowing will be there!" The noble seemed keen on ensuring that Sohyon come.
Finally, Sohyon's shoulders fell and he knew he had been defeated. Still, he thought to inquire, "Will the Emperors be there?"
Suddenly, Lord Saromi began to laugh very loudly. It was almost frightening, causing all three of the Air Nomads to reel in shock. His mouth opened wide as he continued to chortle, almost as if he had turned into some frightening beast which would devour them in any moment. "Of course they won't be there! The Emperor and the Empress would have to bring their whole Royal Guard forces with them! That does not befit any party of mine."
The mediator was beginning to wonder what exactly a party of Lord Saromi's was. He was not given a chance to further question this, as the noble continued, "However, you will find Emperor Mashita's son. He's never missed one of my parties."
Sohyon looked back at Kanae and Eizo pleadingly, as if asking them to try and get him out of this. Lord Saromi appeared to take a liking to interrupting people: before either could speak, he grabbed Sohyon's shoulder and turned him around. "Come with me to my manor," he instructed. "Your friends should come, too!" Now, Sohyon's expression changed from one of pleading to one which sent a murderous message that Kanae and Eizo had better come along as well. "I even have a place for your bison to stay," Lord Saromi continued, nodding towards the almost-forgotten beast.
They fell into step, walking for about ten minutes before reaching the edge of the city. Waiting for them was another odd-looking man. This one was more poorly dressed and frighteningly skinny with thin hair sitting atop his head. He bowed as Lord Saromi came into his vision. "Take the Tiáotíng Zhě's bison to the stables for some rest."
Without responding, the apparent servant bowed once more and approached the bison. When his hand wrapped around Meali's reins, however, the bison instantly dug her heels into the ground and released a terrifying roar. The servant staggered backwards, but Sohyon simply approached his bison and began stroking her side. "It's okay, girl..."
Lord Saromi's eyes darted from the bison to Eizo and Kanae and then to Sohyon. There was a strange light in those sickly mint green orbs in his skull—scheming. "Why don't you have your friends accompany my servant? I'll have him lead them to the party afterwards."
"That's fine by me," Eizo replied, speaking for the first time since they had landed. He looked over towards Sohyon and gave a wild grin. "Don't worry; I'll make sure our fair maiden here stays safe in the rough and tough city."
"Don't test my patience," Kanae snapped, which spurred a chuckle from Eizo. "And you," she said to Sohyon, "don't get into any trouble while I'm not around."
"Perfect!" Lord Saromi clapped his hands together, shot a look to his servant, and quickly began guiding Sohyon away.
After Lord Saromi and Sohyon were out of sight, Kanae and Eizo shot each other a quick look. They hadn't known each other for long, but as the only two airbenders they wanted to make sure they had an understanding. One look and each knew the other was equally suspicious. Something about this situation didn't seem entirely real, but they wouldn't be able to talk in front of the servant. Eizo grabbed Meali's reins and turned to Lord Saromi's man: "Well, show us the way!"
Ever silent, the mysterious servant led Eizo and Kanae along the outskirts of town. Both were a tad disappointed they would not have the opportunity to view the interior of the city, but a ten-ton flying bison in the street would most certainly attract too much unwanted attention. The servant really seemed intent on their arrival at this barn, so Eizo and Kanae followed without speaking at all. Not that there was really any point in speaking.
Neither was sure how long they walked, but eventually they arrived at a run-down barn-looking place. The two Air Nomads glanced at each other nervously while the servant sifted through pockets to produce a key. He struggled with some locks on the door before finally tugging it open. Still without a word, he stood beside the open door. Eizo and Kanae took the cue to lead Meali into the barn.
They entered with the bison to set up a place for her to sleep. Then, sudden darkness engulfed them. The door of the barn was shut. Each cursed him and herself for not trusting his and her instincts. Eizo ran up to the wall and began banging on it with all his might. "Hey! Dammit! Open the door!"
"Get my staff!" Eizo gestured back towards Kanae. With a sigh, she obliged. Both had packed their staves, just in case worst came to worst—which it seemed to have. Using her airbending to propel Eizo's staff through the air, she threw it to him. He caught it, and in one clean movement whipped around to strike at the door with a blast of his bending. The door gave a little, but more than that Eizo was thrown backwards with the power of his own attack.
The wind was knocked out of him, and for a moment he simply remained there. Meali cried. It was a small whimper: a disheartening noise to hear come from such a mighty animal. "What just happened?"
Kanae approached the door, feeling the wood against her hand. "It looks like Lord Saromi doesn't want us at his party after all." Her hand traced along the door until finally she felt a small crack. The female Air Nomad bent down, putting her ear close to hear what was outside. "Breathing..." This sole word came as a hushed whisper. She stepped away from the door and folded her arms in a frustrated manner. "And it looks like he doesn't want us leaving, either."
"At least it's nice to see that he cares," Eizo said with a slight smirk.
"I've never liked the overly-protective type."
Bright lights and loud laughter met Sohyon as he and Lord Saromi neared the latter's home. Already he was feeling sick to his stomach, and he hadn't even set foot in the party. The Air Nomad was regretting this decision, but it seemed there was no turning back.
"Isn't this the most wonderful sight, Soon-chun, my friend?"
Wonderful was one word for it. Outside the house was a large garden with a pond running through the center. Sohyon imagined that normally the scent would be fresh, like the gardens the Elders used to keep. Gorgeous flowers bloomed beside the water, obviously flourishing from the proximity to liquid. Smaller koi fish flitted through the water, their orange scales glinting against the setting sun.
It was hardly evening, yet people were already regaling in the nightlife of drinking and mischief. Not only did these rather repulsive behaviors deter Sohyon, but they served as a harsh reminder to the lack of real sleep he had gotten since around this time the day before. The overwhelming scent of alcohol and clouds of perfume choked whatever beauty there was to be found in the garden, but Lord Saromi seemed to relish this. As they entered, some looked and watched them, but most did not.
Miraculously, Lord Saromi seemed to find a cup of whatever beverage and clear his throat loudly. "My treasured guests, the Tiáotíng Zhě has arrived to quell this madness that has been dividing our wonderful homelands."
There was some polite clapping, but more prevalent were hushed tones snaking through the crowd. Sohyon could not make them out, but he knew they were directed towards him. He cleared his throat uncomfortably as Lord Saromi beamed, made a wild hand gesture, and turned to him once more. "Sohyon, I would like you to meet my wife." As he made the introduction, a thin, tall young woman stepped to Lord Saromi's side. She was probably thirty years his junior, and probably a good seven centimeters taller. Lord Saromi was not a tall man, but regardless the sight was rather strange. Lady Saromi was pretty, to say the least, with deep brown hair tied into an elaborate hairstyle, garbed in clothes which rivaled her husband's in terms of elegance, and little make-up other than crimson lipstick.
For a second, Sohyon thought he saw Lady Saromi lick her the tip of her teeth while looking at him, but Sohyon had absolutely no idea what to do with this so he simply dismissed it as his imagination. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Saromi."
"Ah, but I'm sure you don't care much about my wife," Lord Saromi spoke quickly, seeming to instantly forget about the woman he had just called over as he looked over the crowd. "The young Lord Mashita doesn't appear to have arrived just yet, but you should mingle with the rest of my guests!" With that, both Lord and Lady Saromi seemed to dissipate into the crowd.
Sohyon did not need to search for anyone in the crowd to talk to. Within moments of Lord Saromi leaving, a noble approached him. She was hardly worth looking at, especially compared to Lady Saromi, but she just started talking. For the most part, Sohyon was too tired to register what she was saying, until he caught the word "Saromi" and "Mashita" in the same sentence.
"What did you just say?" Sohyon asked, blinking rapidly as if he had just woken up.
"That my husband is a sexist ass with the social awareness of a rock?" The noblewoman repeated the phrase tentatively. Though the influence of Lord Saromi's alcohol was strong, she still had the common sense to be worried that she might have made a mistake in saying this.
"No," Sohyon clarified, "before that."
"Oh, all I said is that Saromi always puts on these shows and says that he's the neutral party, but everyone here knows he's Emperor Mashita's right hand man and biggest supporter." She shrugged, as if this wasn't that big of a deal.
"Oh, dear! You're that cut off?" Suddenly, the noblewoman seemed excited. Other similarly aged housewives swarmed to the area, as if smelling the gossip. "There's a reason none of Empress Ichihara's supporters are ever at Lord Saromi's parties!"
"They say," one of the new women added, "that he has a special poisoned glass just for Empress Ichihara if she ever comes."
"Not only that!" Another interrupted quickly, "They say he has a team of assassins hiding out in the bushes to take out any of her supporters!"
"That's simply frightful!"
"I know, so uncivilized!"
"Really, though," the first one spoke in a whisper now, and they all leaned in to hear what she had to say. "I've heard the young Lord Mashita boast that he'd scalp any of her supporters who step foot in the same ground as him. He was roaring drunk of course, but still!"
"Hee!" One woman sharply took in air in a sort of frightened squeak. "He's so frightening."
"I know! My husband is a strong supporter of the Mashita family, but they scare me quite frankly. I've never heard of any man wanting to start a war over being rejected."
"What?" Sohyon interjected, caught off guard by the last woman's comment.
"Oh, sweetie, do you not even know about the war? After Emperor Mashita's wife—the young Lord Mashita's mother—died, he proposed to Empress Ichihara. Wanted to unite their empires, but he was utterly rejected! Through a tantrum and declared Empress Ichihara and her supporters enemies of the Stone Empire. And that's why you're here, to try and get both sides to see reason."
"I say more power to the woman," one noblewoman said while taking a sip of alcohol. The others got quiet, and so she added, "I wish I had the gall to reject an Emperor with anger issues running in his family."
They all laughed heartily. One pointed over towards a crowd and said, "Ah, speak of the spirits and the spirits shall come. If it isn't the young Lord Mashita, making his typical late appearance."
Surely enough, a young man entered the garden; his arms were wrapped around two young, promiscuously dressed women. It seemed that the youth of this society were quite a contrast to the elders. The young Lord Mashita was simply drop dead gorgeous. Not the sort of pretty-boy looks, but rather just rugged enough that one could immediately tell he had no difficulty picking up women. His clothes appeared more expensive than all the other outfits in the party combined, judging from the expensive silks and regal dyes. Even his hair style probably cost as much as any one of the noblewomen's outfits: styled to appear as if it had not been in a half-tied up bun with a few strands of hair falling over his face. He had facial hair like Eizo's, except contrary to Sohyon's friend, he appeared to actually be able to grow more of a beard but simply liked it this way.
"Servant! Get me some sake. I want to be drunk within the hour and black out within the next!" With that, he turned to one of the girls next to him and licked her face, suggesting that he was already somewhat intoxicated. The servant nearest to him sighed, but had to oblige. Judging from the disgusted expressions from everyone at the party—including the two girls beside the young Lord Mashita—Sohyon guessed that this young noble was not the most popular.
While waiting for his drink, the Emperor's son's eyes wandered, eventually falling upon Sohyon. Too late, Sohyon realized that it was proper to look away, as everyone else was doing. The servant arrived with the drink, which the young Lord Mashita promptly took and spilled on top of the servant's head. "Looks like the Air Nomads finally decided to send the mediator we asked for half a year ago." His arms dropped from around the two girls and he walked over to Sohyon with a smirk.
As Lord Mashita neared Sohyon, the busybodies around him quickly dispersed, leaving almost a hole in the crowd where the Air Nomad and Lord Mashita simply studied each other for a moment. "You must be Emperor Mashita's son."
"Eiichi Mashita, yeah." He responded simply. Before Sohyon could return the introduction, the young Lord Mashita aggressively pressed his finger into Sohyon's chest, pushing him backwards. "You'd better not give that bitch from the Mountain Empire anything. She deserves to be skinned alive, which is what I'd do if I saw her."
"I'm here to mediate, not pass judgement," Sohyon explained simply.
"Well you'd better mediate that whore to her grave."
"That's not exactly what mediating is..."
"I know what mediating is, you son of a bitch!" Suddenly, the Eiichi threw a wild punch at Sohyon's face. Out of instinct, Sohyon simply bent over backwards and the punch cut through air. It was sloppy form anyways, but this seemed to only get the young noble more upset. "How could I forget that Air Nomads are ball-less bastards who can do nothing but dodge?"
It was clear that Eiichi was trying to get Sohyon upset, but any attempt to do so would be just as fruitless. Eizo would be spitting fire at this point, though—come to think of it, he probably would have been even before Eiichi had spoken. Remembering his friend, Sohyon wondered at the back of his mind what was taking them so long. "Maybe by your standards," he replied simply and vaguely.
"Ah, what have I missed?" Lord Saromi's voice broke through the tension. The crowd parted as the middle-aged noble approached Eiichi and Sohyon. His smile seemed murderous, and now Sohyon was beginning to think that he'd rather brawl with the brat than deal with Lord Saromi again.
"Saromi, where have you been?" Eiichi growled.
"I apologize; I had to see to a few of my guests..."
Neither Eizo nor Kanae was sure how long they had been in the barn. It didn't seem like long so far—maybe an hour tops. "We're going to be stuck in here until we die, aren't we?" Eizo said glumly while lying on a pile of hay and counting the ceiling boards.
"Don't be ridiculous, why would they post guards to watch soon-to be corpses?"
"Good point." With that, there was silence again. "So will you sleep with me while we wait?"
"No," Kanae paused after saying this. "You strike me as the sort to give a cheesy pick-up line rather than be so straightforward."
"Well, I assumed you wouldn't get any pick-up line, Air Nomads being so prude an' all." Eizo thought for a moment, and then cast a sly smile towards Kanae, "So how 'bout it, then? You wanna go for a ride on my staff?" He raised his eyebrows flirtatiously.
"I might be convinced to consider it," she replied with a flirtatious grin. The reply caught Eizo off-guard, leaving him too dumbfounded to think up another reply.
The door of the barn suddenly creaked open. Both Eizo and Kanae leapt to their feet, watching to see who would enter. "Am I interrupting you two love birds?" Lord Saromi stood in the door frame, his body an eerie silhouette in the contrasting light.
"Actually, you kind of are—" Eizo started to say jokingly, only to receive an elbow in the ribcage.
"What are you pulling, Saromi?" A scowl was now drawn across Kanae's face.
"It's Lord Saromi," the noble corrected, "I am not 'pulling' anything. I just came to deliver a message." He took a step closer to Kanae, but she did not back down. "Don't get in my way. Keep out of the dealings between your friend, my friend, and that Empress bitch and you might just stay as pretty and living as you are."
"Is that a threat or a challenge, Saromi?" Kanae smirked and took a step closer to Saromi. Contrary to Kanae, he now took a step backwards.
Lord Saromi gestured to one of the guards outside, who brought him a torch. "I hear air feeds fire. Let's test the theory." He took a step out of the doorway and dropped the torch.
The flame instantly touched the dry straw, spreading quickly to the wooden walls and soon lighting the whole barn on fire. Meali roared loudly and began nudging Eizo, who was closest to her. "Come on, girl, let's get out of here!" Covering his mouth against the smoke, Eizo grabbed Meali's reins and led her out of the burning building, with Kanae not far behind. They made it to the doorway before a burning support began to fall. Eizo was tugged out of the way just in time by Meali, but the burning wood fell directly in their way.
Both Air Nomads had very irritated things to say, but they chose to conserve their oxygen rather than shout at each other. They knew they had to find a way out, and right now that was all that mattered. Eizo's eyes darted around, while Kanae appeared to be getting woozy. In his searching, he saw a small area of roof which was not yet ablaze. He gestured to Kanae, but she apparently couldn't see him. Seeing no other option, he grabbed her up and chucked her on to Meali's saddle before using his bending to propel himself upward as well. Once seated, he grabbed Meali's reins, and snapped them to tell Meali it was time to leave. The bison understood, and propelled herself upward with a flap of her tail, crashing through the wood with a painful moan.
Once they were clear of the burning building, Meali fell to the ground. It was clear that she was in pain, but right now Eizo could tell Kanae was in worse shape. Her skin was practically white and she had lost consciousness. Carefully, Eizo rested his hand on her chest to feel if she was breathing. Just barely: each breath was coming as a raspy gasp. Eizo swore under his breath and sat back, praying to the spirits that she wouldn't die.
"This is a bit of a shot in the dark, Lord Saromi," Sohyon began speaking to the host tentatively, "But have you happened to see either of my friends? It's been a while and they should be here..."
"Your friends...?" Saromi repeated the phrase as if he was trying to remember who Sohyon was talking about. "Ah, yes. My servant returned to me and said that things were getting quite... fiery between them and thus he chose to leave them be."
Sohyon's brows furrowed skeptically. Meanwhile, Eiichi was making sure that everyone could tell how bored he was by picking at his fingernails and yawning. "I have prepared housing for you if you would like to retire for the night. I'll have one of my servants show you to it," the noble continued. It seemed as if all Saromi's servants had some sort of radar to detect when he said "servant", as now another appeared. He bowed, and held out his arm to show Sohyon the way.
As Eizo was rapidly calling upon any spirits he knew, a figure came into view over the horizon. He recognized the uniform clearly: one of Saromi's servants. From Meali's saddle, Eizo removed his staff and gracefully leapt from the saddle, using airbending to break his fall. Then, he marched over to the servant and pointed his staff at the poor man's throat. "What do you want?" Eizo growled.
Without speaking, the servant removed a note from his breast pocket and handed it to Eizo. One hand still holding the staff, Eizo opened the letter and read its contents. All that was written was an address. He looked up to question the servant, but he was already gone. Now, Eizo saw little choice but to follow the address written and bring Meali and Kanae with him.
The building Sohyon was lead to stood just as regally as everything else he had seen: gorgeous traditional architecture lined with what was clearly a fresh paint job. There seemed to be stables nearby, and he noticed the feet of Meali and assumed that she was sound asleep from the long journey.
Sohyon's hand pressed against the door and he carefully opened it. "Eizo? Are you he—" His sentence was interrupted by the sight of Eizo bent over the unconscious body of the female Air Nomad. "Eizo! What happened?! Is she...?"
"She's alive..." Eizo admitted as his friend breathed a sigh of relief. "But I'll kill that bastard Saromi."
"Saromi? What happened?!"
"He led us to this old barn and then... just up and lit the place on fire! Then he had the guts to send one of his apparently mute and disappearing servants to give us an invitation to come to this place." Eizo shook his head in disbelief. "I know it sounds ridiculous. I wouldn't believe it if I were in your shoes, but it's true. And Kanae will tell you the same thing when she wakes up. He told us not to get involved."
Words simply could not fit the situation, so Sohyon simply paced for a few moments. Everything that happened was so muddled in his mind—he had to make some sort of sense as to what happened. All this information was now in front of him, yet he still had the feeling that he was only seeing part of the picture. Especially now that this had happened; some things just weren't adding up. "I can tell your thinking, Sohyon. You have that face. What are you thinking about?"
Rubbing his temples, Sohyon forced his face to relax before replying, "This is all just such a pain in the ass..."
"You're telling me."
"I haven't slept in days," Sohyon said simply. "I'm going to get some rest. I have a feeling that tomorrow's going to be a big day..."
Before Sohyon could do anything, there was a knocking at his door. Cautiously, he opened the door just enough to see that it wasn't Saromi or one of his servants on the other side. Rather, an unfamiliar figure stood with a letter in his hand. "The Empress invites you to a formal brunch tomorrow at her manor. I will return at ten o'clock tomorrow morning to take you there."
"Fine, fine..." Sohyon pulled the letter through the crack in the door, making sure not to open the door enough for this messenger to see that Kanae was badly injured. Without any courtesies, he closed the door again and left to retrieve his things from Meali to sleep.
But first, the Air Nomad knew he had to write in that blasted journal. He made sure to remove it and make himself some ink before sitting at the desk before him to begin writing.
Today I arrived in Ishi Sentō. Or, rather, this evening. It appears I have a few unexpected stowaways. The Elders are probably upset with Eizo and Kanae for following me, and I expect you'll know as much if you come to deal with the issue. Most of the day I spent flying, though I did not get much sleep. Almost immediately upon my arrival, a noble by the name of Lord Genkei Saromi greeted me and pulled me into one of his parties. In short, it was a rather excruciating process, though surprisingly useful. The middle-aged housewives might seem worthless, but they have quite a helpful wealth of gossip. Neither the Emperor nor the Empress were present, but what is important is that I learned the true nature of the conflict.
Apparently, Emperor Mashita of the Stone Empire proposed to Empress Ichihara of the Mountain Empire, but was rejected. I know I haven't heard the full story, but that is what I was able to gather on the first day. It seems like a rather petty squabble to me, but both sides seem to be getting rather irritated over it. At Lord Saromi's party, I met Emperor Mashita's son. He is, to be frank, a pompous jerk, however I found that as the day progressed, I rather preferred Lord Mashita to Lord Saromi, though the latter puts on far more of a mannered air.
Lord Saromi apparently attacked my friends—though indirectly as would suit a politician—and Kanae is still recovering. He might seem polite, but... don't trust the faces in the shadows: they have much more to hide than those in the open. That was a good line, wouldn't you say? I'll need to look more into the Lord Saromi character, but for now I have nothing more to say.
Oh, and you're a girl, aren't you? Lord Mashita's a licker, just a heads up.
-Sohyon, Day One
- The "staff" joke is inspired by/taken from all those famous jokes of TAD's...
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