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Book 1: Earth
|"I'm going to get you out of here"|
|— Dai Li agent Pau to Kyoshi|
The floor was cold and gritty, and the smell of spat out blood lingered, clinging to what was left of the cream paint that was curling at the patches of dry, grey wall. Three cells, each carved of earth, were placed alongside one another, facing the doorway – the only means of escape, and only source of light. Kyoshi felt sick. Her tongue was furry with disgust and her throat swollen with shame. Outside she could hear Earth State soldiers talking, chatting lightly as if the girl inside the building was just some peasant. She couldn't judge them on not knowing, and besides, if she were a peasant and not the Avatar, she might not be locked up in the Full Moon Bay Prison. Kyoshi looked to her left. In the cell beside hers Momzen was plonked depressingly on the floor with his back slouched on the wall. His amber eyes were staring nonchalantly at the ceiling, they were watery. Momzen could feel the tears swelling up but he didn't feel like moving. He couldn't care less if they saw him cry. He wanted to cry. He was only too happy when the journey was beginning. It was as if he was forever falling, feeling a constant rush through his hair and breathing excitement deep into his lungs. Now imprisoned, the fall had hurt him deeply, and he lay collapsed in a pitiful heap. When he realised Kyoshi was looking at him, he turned his head, and smiled at her. Kyoshi gave a pathetic turn of a lip back. She liked how Momzen tried to make others smile, even in the worst situations you could see his brain was busy at work formulating a pun or joke. She looked past the boy and to Bako, who was facing his back to his friends with his chin in his hands. Kyoshi huffed. That boy was always so moody. At times he'd be laughing with the group, at others he'd be bossy and spirited, but most of the time he'd keep to himself and face forward during their rides on Jin Jin. She was fed up with him.
"Are you going to even look at us?" she spat harshly. There was a moment of silence, when Momzen sat up, looked at Kyoshi, then at Bako's back for a response. The boy shrugged. The sound of his crinkled brown shirt – a rude reply – echoed through the stony prison.
"If you were able to fight, we wouldn't be in here," Kyoshi muttered as she sat back down, cuffing one of the cell bars.
"My fault!" Bako replied immediately, stewing with rage as jumped almost seamlessly onto his feet. "I can't believe you're pointing the blame! If it would be anyone's fault it'd be yours!" Kyoshi's mouth dropped from surprise.
"You're the one that pulled that crazy bounty hunter from the water!" Kyoshi got up too, perhaps as a release for her anger, or to intensify it – probably the latter.
"I can't believe you!" she screamed. "She was going to drown! It's my duty as the Avatar to be kind and fair to everyone!" Bako's eyes widened as he gasped loudly. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. Her argument was so stupid, quarrelling with such a delusional girl was futile, but, fuelled by fury and contempt, he continued.
"Oh please, Kyoshi, don't give me that!" he started. "You can't even bend! You're not even a real Avatar! Don't go around pretending like you know what to do!"
"Bako!" Momzen interjected. The two stopped. Never before had they heard Momzen's voice so gravelly and thunderous. Kyoshi stared at her rude opponent. Bako's last remark cut deep into her skin, more than any blade could. She turned around and walked to the other side of her cell, hoping the boys wouldn't see her tearing up.
"I hate you," she whispered to herself, her form of winning the argument. Though the bitterness she felt inside her did not make the 'win' a sweet one.
"Now look what you did," Momzen jeered at Bako quietly for Kyoshi not to hear.
"She was blaming this on me," Bako replied defensively. Momzen gestured for him to apologise but he shrugged and turned away. Kyoshi heard the door open and footsteps approach the cells, but she didn't bother looking up for she was miserable and wanted nothing more than to be alone. A bowl of sticky, brown sludge was shoved beside her. Kyoshi moved her face and raised her aching eyes. A Dai Lee agent, thin eyes, dark hair and a neat ponytail coming from under the hood of his broad hat, had kindly given her something to eat. His smile told her that he was a compassionate man, but her brain said not to trust him. Bako and Momzen watched with inquisitive eyes, puzzled by the act of generosity displayed before them.
"It's not poison," the man whispered with a chuckle. "Eat it. You'll need your strength for tonight." Kyoshi wiped her face. What was he talking about?
"What's happening tonight?" The man stiffened and stood straight, checking down the corridor and over his shoulder for any hidden listeners.
"I'm going to get you out of here," he said, a little bit childishly, as if he was excited to break prisoners from their detention. "I can take your friends too. Are these your friends?" Momzen stood up and awkwardly stumbled to the front of his cell, pressing his face up to the earthen bars.
"I'm her friend," he whispered. The Dai Lee agent looked back at Kyoshi for clarification and Kyoshi nodded.
"And this boy? Is he with you too?" the man asked politely. Momzen and Kyoshi viewed Bako, who, still fed up with Kyoshi's ignorant accusations, had himself positioned in the farthest corner of his cell.
"No," Kyoshi replied coldly. "He's just some peasant boy who thinks he's better than everyone else." Bako craned his neck. 'Surely Kyoshi doesn't think that about me' he thought. It was unlike her to be so cruel with her words, but the way she articulated herself, it sounded honest. Bako continued to face the dull wall, waiting for their talk, and, to some degree, his anger, to finish. The Dai Lee agent nodded, checked over his shoulder again, then left.
"I'll see you after sun down," he said, then adding, "Pau. My name is Agent Pau." Pau nodded stiffly once more before exiting the prison, his black and green tunic following, billowing, from behind. Kyoshi, though still cross with Bako, felt lighter from confiding in the strange man, and was thankful that Bako ignored the offer. She couldn't care less what happened to the ungrateful boy. She sat down and spooned the 'food' into her mouth with her hands. It was thick, gooey and tasted like the smell of old mud. She coughed at the foul sensation, but ate it as Pau told her, giving half of it to Momzen. Momzen motioned his eyebrows to her through a mouthful, as if urging her to say something to Bako. She shook her head, telling herself that if she said something to him it'd only make him more arrogant and think he was the victor of the argument. Bako thought the same thing too, waiting to apologise after Kyoshi did, believing her accusations were less valid than his. The bitter silence continued throughout the length of the day, as the ray of light that shone through the doorway window crept closer to the door and darkened in colour.
The long day had finally come to a halt and Kyoshi and Momzen were both anticipating the arrival of Pau, the man who had so kindly – and so bravely – offered to free them from the clutches of the Earth State. The soft-faced man entered the prison alone with the rations – his alibi. He slid a bowl to Bako, who huffed at the man's good nature and presence, and then took a low stance. Both his palms faced the cell bars which slotted out from their position and to his sides upon instruction, allowing Momzen and Kyoshi to climb out of their cells.
"Thank you, Pau," Kyoshi whispered with gratitude, watching the humble man slide the bars back into place perfectly.
"You're the Avatar," he said, his voice calming and smooth. "It's the least I can do." Any previous suspicions Kyoshi – and Momzen too for that matter – had about Pau had vanished once they stepped foot out of the side door.
"Anyone else we have to collect?" he asked, peering around the corner. The sleepy air was holding onto the last warmth of the setting sun, and shades of pink faded across the dimming sky. Feelings of sleepiness were induced from the scenery, but Kyoshi had to keep herself concentrated on the next vital minutes.
"Our animals, Jin Jin and Tori, are in the stables," Momzen explained. He was alert, his knees bent ready for a getaway and his fists clenched, the tight skin burning, as if fire was bottling up inside waiting to be released.
"This way," Pau instructed, tiptoeing across the open and behind a large, leafy tree. The two kids, with beating hearts and an affirmation of freedom growing inside their guts, followed shortly after. The quick dart across the exposed pathway was exhilarating for Kyoshi, even if it was just momentary. She felt like a secret agent, like a member of the Dai Lee sneaking to an enemy fortress ready to infiltrate and rescue the Earth King. Momzen, however, was not as excited about the task that lay ahead. He felt giddy and his stomach weighed down onto his pelvis, heavy with fear. The stable was in plain sight and thatched with layers of wood and mud. Pau ran to the stable wall, his form was perfectly balanced, not a sound – not even a mousy whisper – came from his steps. Momzen ducked down, though there weren't any Dai Lee agents around he felt it necessary to be hidden as much as possible, and as he got to the stable, Pau knelt, took Momzen's foot in both hands and raised him to the window. Kyoshi ran forward after Momzen had successfully squirmed in and, tensing her back and legs, eased Pau's lift. The quiet man was surprisingly strong, but as Kyoshi thought about it more, strength was required to be a qualified Dai Lee agent, so it should be expected of Pau to be able to lift heavy things. Kyoshi landed down on the stable floor, a dry mixture of hay and dirt. The smell of animal hair and stool was overpowering. Jin Jin was chained in the far corner, her usually daunting back arched over in defeat. She stared vacantly at the doleful floor, licking her cheek imperturbably. It wasn't until Tori perked up at their entrance and tweeted meekly that Jin Jin noticed her saviours. She lunged up, the silver chains clanging once she got too far, and snarled happily at her visitors, drool splashing out in great droplets. Momzen ran to her, practically giggling with delight.
"My girl!" he said loudly. "I thought I'd never see you again." Kyoshi walked over to the embracing couple while Pau went to release Tori.
"How are you Jin Jin?" Kyoshi smiled, as she ran her fingers through the shirshu's short fur. Jin Jin grunted in reply, the contour of her face forming some sort of smile. Tori came pecking from behind and Momzen fell to the floor in glee, stroking the bird's greasy feathers.
"And Tori! My beautiful Tori," he began, the bird enjoying the compliments. "Where would my life be without you?" A jangle clattered from behind and Jin Jin nuzzled up to her friends, Pau had probably released her too, and the group hugged for a while, relieved that they were together again.
The last stretches of sunlight suddenly poured inwards in great amount. The shadow of a lean and powerful figure loomed over the strawy floor.
"How dare you betray your state!" Astrid screamed, her golden eyes roaring with menace. "Guards! Seize them!" Ten Dai Lee agents charged in through the stable doors. Pau slid sideways, avoiding the punch of a shouting man, and Momzen took the man's arm and flung him unto the ground. Another fired two earthen gloves at high speed to Kyoshi. Pau intercepted, holding out his palm allowing the earth to explode on impact with his gloves. Kyoshi ran from behind the agent and kicked down the oncoming enemy, lifting her knee to her chest and using a scooping motion with her leg to force him to the wall. With her fist she punched another oncoming man in the cheek, the feel of his warm skin on her knuckles was electrifying. Jin Jin, not too far behind Kyoshi now, shot her tongue out to a Dai Lee agent, paralysing his entire body. A man behind him, though, forced a boulder forward with great might. Kyoshi jumped upwards, as if stepping over the whooshing boulder, and kicked the man hard in the face, with Pau catching the boulder with earthbending and hitting over another opponent with it. Smiling under his hat, it seemed this oncoming agent took pleasure seeing people in pain, the man ran towards Momzen, bits of hay and gravel spitting out in his wake. He shot out the groping gloves which clutched both of Momzen's arms and pinned him to the back wall.
"No fair!" Momzen barked as Kyoshi, Pau and Jin Jin continued to fight. "I want rock gloves!" Momzen smiled at the foreboding man and, by tightening his abdominals, lifted his legs up and thrust them out, groaning from the jittering pain in his legs by doing so. A surge a bright flame rocketed out, covering the man's face, sending him to the floor, and knocking another enemy down. The final Dai Lee agent dashed forward screaming, he was obviously an amateur, and waving his arms about. Kyoshi rolled her eyes and kicked him in the stomach, pushing the wind out from his lungs. The young man thudded to the ground and Kyoshi examined their victory, a mass of highly trained and skilled earthbenders unconscious or exhausted on the floor, content with her efforts. Astrid, standing alone as the final ray vanished over the treetops, cringed in infuriation. She hurtled to them, crackling fire in both hands, and took back one arm back, ready to attack. Before she could, though, Pau, with his tunic strikingly flowing behind him and a solemn expression painted across his brow, ran to her and lifted the earth from beneath her jet black shoes. The brown stone broke from the ground and constricted Astrid's waist in a tight tomb.
"You'll never get away with this!" she yelled, wriggling maniacally.
"Just watch us," Kyoshi replied, smiling teasingly at the bounty hunter before hopping onto Jin Jin. Momzen gave Pau the reins and they began off into the dry scrub, taking routes under the concealing cover of broad leaves and amongst the shadows of dusty hills.
Although she was coursing with adrenalin and satisfaction, and bubbling with affection towards the fact that Pau so readily sacrificed his job – and probably citizenship, and life – in order to aid the Avatar, Kyoshi felt, somewhere in the depths of her heart, a twinge of regret leaving Bako behind. She told herself not to think about such unfixable matters. It was in the past now, she told herself. She had to focus on being the Avatar, and the leaving the Earth State, and finding her earthbending teacher. Perhaps Pau could teach her a few moves. Kyoshi marvelled at the idea of learning the 'rock glove' technique utilised by the Dai Lee agents. In fact, as Kyoshi studied the back of Pau's head, the shape of it – almost perfectly rounded, it resembled the head of the earthbending teacher Kuruk showed her. Albeit the hair colour was a different shade, and the clothes were all together completely different in style, if there was anything Kyoshi had learnt from her trip thus far, it was to always be hopeful. Cautious, but hopeful. She pocketed that hope as they continued past the scraggy bushland, moving deeper into the night.
The stars now were shimmering their white, protecting light over the warm land, and Kyoshi and Momzen had set up their campsite – dozy from their exhilarating escape and late-night travel. The small fire was crackling contently, little golden waves rolling over the ruby coals. The ground was soft, and the thick layer of dust acted as a comfy mattress. Tori was roosting close to the coals, twitching with, what Kyoshi could only hope were, sweet dreams. Pau took off his broad hat and stroked his tied back hair with exhaustion. His thin, ravaged eyes seemed to hold some form of regret as he sat himself down into the silky dust with a huff.
"Is something wrong?" Kyoshi asked tenderly, looking at him through the heat waves that were dancing in front of her.
"I'm just a bit worried," replied Pau, smiling as if to cover up his true feelings. "I suppose I don't have a job anymore." Kyoshi, blushing with guilt, looked at the ground, sieving the smooth dust through her dirty hands. She felt bad for Pau's sacrifice – guilty even.
"Well, the further you are from Ba Sing Se the better, right?" Momzen said from the dim outskirts of the site, stroking Jin Jin to sleep. He too, felt that Pau's loss was on his shoulders, but, from lulling his large beast into a slumber and the perfect conditions of the night, Momzen couldn't focus on such thoughtful topics. All he wanted to do was lie down and relax.
"I joined the Dai Lee to help my family," Pau continued, staring up into the mesmerising sky. Kyoshi watched the glistens too, its twinkles and warm breezes calming, and Pau's humble voice pacifying. She wanted nothing more than to listen to the man's story.
"There was nothing else I could do. I tried mining. I tried selling goods. The Dai Lee was the last option," Pau explained. "I mean, it pays well. But it meant I had to leave my family behind, and hope that they could sustain themselves while I got the money. It's been so long. I can't even remember my mother's face." Kyoshi smiled at the stars with a saddening nostalgia, knowing all too much how hard it felt to leave the people you love behind. Every day Kyoshi reminded herself of Hiaga and Nit's faces just so she wouldn't forget them.
"I just pray that the money I have with me is enough."
"Is that where we're going?" Momzen said, taking a seat by the coals. "You're hometown?" Pau nodded.
"Yes. My village boarders the Si Wong Desert." Kyoshi perked up. The Si Wong Desert – that was the desert she crossed on her travel to Ba Sing Se. The thought spurred a glisten of optimism, like a shining star in the sky above, as it meant they were finally a long distance from Ba Sing Se.
"Well," Momzen said through a great, booming yawn. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm ready for bed." He stretched out and made his way to Jin Jin, snuggled into her bosom and said goodnight to the others. Kyoshi sat up. Though she was fond of Pau, sitting alone with him was awkward, scary in a way. Not a word was uttered as Kyoshi left Pau to his thoughts.
"Avatar Kyoshi," Pau said after the long silence. "Your presence gives me indescribable joy. You have no idea how immensely gratified I am." Kyoshi flushed. The man was too kind. His humility was incredibly endearing and Kyoshi thanked him for his exceptional efforts. The Dai Lee agent got up, brushed the dirt from his tunic, and lay down on Bako's sleeping bag. Kyoshi shuffled on the ground to get comfortable, situating her arms behind her back to support her up, and gazed back up at the stars.
"Pau?" she muttered mildly.
"Yes, Kyoshi?" Pau replied on his side, opening a heavy eye upon hearing her voice.
"Do you think you could teach me some earthbending?" Kyoshi felt as if she was taking a leap by asking him such a thing and, for some unnecessary reason, she could feel butterflies flapping erratically in her stomach.
"Of course," he croaked. "It would bring me great honour." The man smiled one last time before dozing off into sleep. Kyoshi grinned, knowing she had done the right thing, and took a large handful of dust in her palms. She threw it onto the coals, thin wafts of smoke scattering into the temperate night sky. Kyoshi's pupils widened at the change in light and momentarily, through a blindness created by the complete darkness of the surroundings, felt a heavy wave of calm and tranquillity crash down slowly over her shoulders, slowly making its way to her toes. She tingled with relaxation. Not even Astrid's fury, which was no doubt building with each minute, vexed her. For the first time Kyoshi felt, surrounded by craggy sandstone boulders and blanketing sands, in her element. A connection that was both empowering and deeply comforting. She giggled at the intense emotions she was experiencing.
Momzen watched the girl sit alone in the complete darkness laughing oddly at nothing. Under the starlight her wavy brown hair lay beautifully over her strong body. Momzen marvelled, probably too fondly, at the growth Kyoshi had undergone in the past week or so. He knew deep in his fluttering heart that Kyoshi would become the great Avatar she was destined to be, and was thankful beyond description that she was thrown into his cell that fateful day. He blinked. And then rolled over quickly. He knew he could not develop feelings for the girl – the Avatar. It would only complicate things. Momzen moved his mind onto other things, wrinkly, old women and firebending techniques – anything to take his mind away from, what he believed was, the greatest girl he had ever met.
Unaware of her friend's developing affection, Kyoshi lay onto her back, listening to the sound of chirping crickets and Jin Jin's snoring. Soon enough she fell into a comfortable sleep, warmed by the mound of buried, glowing embers.
A clacking sound could be heard to her left, and a harsh light shone into Kyoshi's drowsy eyes, burning the back of her tired retinas. Tori was nibbling her hair, kindly telling her to wake up. It was 6 in the morning, and Pau and Momzen had already packed up.
"Where are we going?" Kyoshi croaked, rubbing her eyes and rustling the dust from her frazzled hair.
"We're going to Dhu Village. My hometown," Pau explained, handing Kyoshi a loaf of olive bread, presumably stolen from the prison. Still half asleep Kyoshi climbed onto Jin Jin's back and leant against the bags for some rest. Thankfully, the terrain was flat and Kyoshi was able to relax. The sun beamed down on the peeling trees and bristly grasses and not one cloud was in the sky to shadow the perfectly warm day. They continued traveling throughout the day, stopping here and there to let Jin Jin stretch, until midday came. The scorching rays were now unbearable and the friends could feel sweat dripping from places where to body parts met. Kyoshi had to unzip her dress and take it off down to her waist to allow her chest to breathe. Momzen took his shirt off as well to cool down, his olive skin taking in the heat better than Kyoshi's fair skin. Pau, however – through what could only be put as profound discipline, kept his Dai Lee uniform on, the black materials absorbing every searing ray the sun offered. There was no sign of water either. The kids had drunk the final drops of refreshment from their canteens, and now their throats were crusty from immense thirst.
"How much further?" Momzen whined, leaning back and facing the sky, as if he was begging at the sun to switch off.
"Not too far, my friends," Pau replied with his usual kindness. "Dhu has a reservoir so there will be plenty of water there." Upon hearing this Momzen and Kyoshi's mouths watered – for use of a better word – and the uncomfortable journey continued until late afternoon, where they arrived at the small village of Dhu.
Dhu Village contained one street, and about ten houses. The splintering wood was obviously old and worn, and each house had a columned patio on its ground floor and a rundown veranda on its second. The sun had faded the once vibrant colours and at the end of the street – or should it be said, the end of the village – was a small barn made from the same weathered timber. Pau directed Jin Jin into the barn where they unloaded their supplies.
"So this is your barn?" Momzen asked, raking a pile of hay to make a bed for Jin Jin. The shade was cooling, a smelly, hay-filled paradise. Tori made straight for the trough and took large gulps of water, chirruping softly with joy.
"Yes. You will have to sleep in here, if that's alright," Pau replied. "My home doesn't have enough beds."
"Don't worry about it, Pau. You've done more than enough," Kyoshi smiled, wiping beads of salty sweat from her forehead. Pau took them into his home, which was more-or-less one square room. The wooden walls were painted a faint green and the timber flooring allowed for cool drafts to enter. A door on the left opened into a bedroom, the parents' – as it was bigger, while to the right was a smaller bedroom. Both beds were covered in plain sheets and small windows with mesh layers allowed light to come in and kept the sand out. At the kitchen was a dilapidated looking woman. Grey bags hung to her eyes and her grey hair was dry and thin, and drooped unkemptly over her wrinkled face.
"Mother," Pau said loudly as they entered in order to get her attention. The woman stopped sewing and looked up. Suddenly her face brightened as a smile stretched across her sagging cheeks and her grey eyes burned with happiness. She was on the verge of tears.
"Pau!" she cried, practically lunging from behind the kitchen bench and embracing her son tightly. "This is incredible." Pau, too, was holding back tears. It had been so long since he last saw his dear mother.
"Are these guests?" the woman added after the long, yet needed, hug.
"Yes," Pau said as Kyoshi and Momzen waved innocently. "They're staying in the barn." He pointed to Kyoshi.
"This is Avatar Kyoshi and her friend Momzen." The mother's eyes widened ever further and her toothless mouth gawped.
"The Avatar! The Avatar!" she cheered, limping forward and draping her arms over Kyoshi's shoulders. The woman smelt pleasantly of sand and wool.
"Mother, could you keep it down?" Pau said. "The Avatar is a bit of a target for the Earth State." The mother ended the cuddle and looked Kyoshi up and down. She nodded, now appearing rather serious, before turning to her son.
"Of course," she said quickly, nodding. She must've realised the situation; a jobless man harbouring a fugitive.
"But I have all my pay. It's all saved up," Pau added to cut the solemn mood. "And I think we could all go for a feast, right mother?" The mother perked up again and smiled.
"Yes! That would be lovely! Oh, Pau, your hard work has paid off!" she said enthusiastically. "Shall we go to the markets, Pau? Like when you were young?" The Dai Lee agent smiled, taking off his hat for the first time and placing it on the bench top.
"I'd like that, mother," Pau said as he walked over to his mother who was waiting by the door. "Do you two want to come?" Momzen, who was already exploring the empty house, looked over his shoulder.
"No thank you. You two take some time to reacquaint," he said, holding a decorative vase in his hand.
"Oh," Kyoshi interjected before the mother and son left. "Would it be alright if we had some water?" The tap in the kitchen was staring at Kyoshi, urging her to take a drink.
"Help yourself," the mother grinned, before leaving the house, her arm wrapped securely around Pau's. Kyoshi and Momzen made for the tap and turned it on, clear, cold water gushing out. Momzen filled his satchel up and, once it was completely filled, took a large swig from it. Kyoshi took a cup from the cupboard and filled it up too, drinking the entire contents with once thirsty gulp. Never before had she appreciated a glass of water more in her life. The two friends laughed at the overpowering feelings of refreshment experienced and, like a wilted flower being watered for the first time, their spirits became chipper and their bodies stronger.
The smell of roasting duck had sufficiently filled the square house. Boiling vegetables were hissing in the fireplace and Pau's mother was covering the crispy duck in a honey glaze coloured deep burgundy. Jin Jin and Tori had been fed a large meal, the first in a long time, and now Momzen and Kyoshi's tongues were lapping up the delicious smells, hoping soon to taste it. Pau had set up the small table that was built into the floor nicely and once the vegetables were strained, dinner was served. Everyone took a spot on the floor, kneeling to get a good angle to the delectable food that was laid out in front of them. Momzen and Kyoshi were given a leg each while Pau and his mother started on the wing. The sauce, sweet and rich, complemented the salty duck; a perfect mix of crispy and smooth. Kyoshi had forgotten the last time she had eaten vegetables on her journey, and relished the fact that they were full of goodness.
"Pau," the mother said, wiping glaze from her chin. "You father says there's a job offer at the mine if you want to take that?"
"Yeah, you should do it," Momzen said, covering his mouthful politely. "You're a great earthbender, you'd be great at mining." Pau laughed modestly.
"Oh no. Besides, I said I'd teach Kyoshi some earthbending," he replied, looking at Kyoshi. Kyoshi grimaced with delight.
"Really?" she asked, gobsmacked. "Do you think we could start tomorrow?"
"Of course," Pau said. Kyoshi was elated the rest of the night. Not even the delicious flavours and fulfilling meal distracted her from her excitement. Momzen could see the eagerness in her eyes, and he too was looking forward to seeing her bust out some talented Dai Lee moves. Once dinner was finished, a mound of bones stood as a symbol of how great the meal was, Kyoshi and Momzen moved to the stables, thanking Pau and his mother profusely. It was another warm night. Jin Jin and Tori were fast asleep, sprawled out in the hay. Kyoshi shuffled the bales around, making a mattress and lay on top of it, ready for rest. Momzen did the same, huffing from the big meal.
"Where do we go after this?" Momzen asked Kyoshi. But there was no reply. Kyoshi was rattling her brain for an answer. What were they going to do? Bako was always the 'ideas man.' She still needed to find her earthbending teacher, and still had to get out of the Earth State somehow.
"I think," Kyoshi began, still thinking things over. "I think the biggest thing we have to do is cross that desert." It was going to be easy crossing the Si Wong Desert – Kyoshi knew how hot it could get out there. But for some inane reason Kyoshi felt her earthbending teacher would be in the south – perhaps it was her Avatar instincts.
"Once we get to the south of the desert we'll look for my earthbending teacher, and we'll figure things out from there," Kyoshi said, trying to sound confirmative with her decisions, though she was still unsure if they were at all correct. Momzen nodded and then rolled over to sleep. Kyoshi retold the plan in her head, just to make sure it was right, and then also went to sleep – thoroughly appreciating the kindness and generosity of Pau and his family.
The next morning Kyoshi could hear thunderous footsteps coming from the street outside. Jin Jin was snarling at the door and Kyoshi felt instantly sick with fear. She moved over to Momzen who was snoring deeply and shook him.
"Momzen, wake up," she whispered, nudging his side. "Something's happening outside." Momzen was woken by her stirring and stretched dozily, yawning meekly like a baby Deerfox in the spring.
"What?" he grumbled, rubbing his eyes.
"Something's going on?" Kyoshi repeated. She got up, fists ready for a fight, and opened the door of the barn. Many Dai Lee agents had congregated in the street, surrounding the barn. Astrid was among the men, smiling like a child that had won in a game.
"Don't try and resist," she said. "You're outnumbered." Pau ran in front of Kyoshi, and also Momzen who had stumbled up behind the girl only to be horrified.
"You need to pay ransom!" he demanded at Astrid, holding his arms out. Kyoshi was suddenly hit with a numbing betrayal. She couldn't believe what Pau had just done. His compassion and benevolence, everything was just a coax.
"How much do you want?" Astrid sneered, looking down her nose at the Dai Lee agent as if he was a peasant.
"Two hundred gold pieces," Pau replied, greed filling up in his thin, green eyes. Momzen and Kyoshi stood, speechless. Momzen was burning with hatred for that man – he should've known not to trust a member of the Dai Lee. Kyoshi, however, was deeply saddened by Pau's treachery. She could feel tears amassing at the corners of her wide eyes, but instead sniffed them away and addressed the man.
"How could you!" she screamed, her voice croaking with misery. Pau turned around, frowning, knowing the cruel severity of his actions.
"I had to," he shrugged. "My family needs it." From the door of Pau's house, Kyoshi could see the man's mother seemingly disappointed with what they had done.
"Fine!" Astrid said loudly, stepping forward. "Show us your loyalty, come and join your men." Pau considered, for a split second, to call off the ransom, but looking at his worn-out mother and her decrepit house, he moved away from the barn and joined the other Dai Lee agents – fitting in, just one of Astrid's pawns again.
"Take him away!" Astrid blurted suddenly as a multitude of agents tackled Pau to the ground. He tried to kick them off but there were too many and he was overpowered.
"The Avatar too!" Astrid added. Momzen, suddenly alert with panic, saw a man with a straw-like object in his mouth and knew immediately that it was aimed at Kyoshi.
"Kyoshi, look out!" he screamed, jumping in front of her and taking the blown dart into his chest. He cringed from the pain and fell to the floor.
"Momzen!" Kyoshi shouted as she watched Pau being hoisted against his will into a cart, his mother crying helplessly from the doorstep. Dai Lee agents closed in on her and her friends, and Jin Jin was waiting patiently beside the girl for the perfect opportunity to strike. Kyoshi retreated, her body forced onto the wall of the barn. She didn't know what to do. She was outnumbered and definitely out-skilled – the only bender on her side was Momzen, who was unconscious on the ground. Jin Jin barked at the agents to back off but they fired their stone gloves suddenly, pinning Kyoshi to the wall and Jin Jin and Tori to the floor. Kyoshi's ankles began tingling and as she looked down she could see granules of sand creeping in from behind the agents and to the barn. Suddenly a wave-like mass of sand crashed down the street, washing agents down to the other end. Astrid jumped up quickly onto a veranda, her angry eyes broad with confusion. A boat turned around the corner and into the street, seemingly sailing on the bed of sand that arrived. The Dai Lee agents began firing at the boat and, more so, to the people on the boat. Strange bodies covered in cloth lifted plumes of sand from the ground and wrapped agents in it while one man approached Kyoshi, reducing her gloves to sand upon arrival.
"Come with me," was what Kyoshi could make out from under the cloth as the man freed Jin Jin and Tori from their vices. He heaved Momzen over his shoulder, who was still unconscious, and escorted Kyoshi to the boat quickly. With his other hand the man raised a plume of sand and crashed it onto two oncoming Dai Lee agents.
"Men, get back on!" he ordered. The clothed men returned to their boat, avoiding the oncoming stone projectiles fired from the agents, and, moving the sand around the vessel, reversed from the street and 'sailed' to the Si Wong Desert, Astrid shouting furiously from the swiftly distancing Dhu Village. Kyoshi sat, astonished and puzzled, in the sand-filled boat. A gritty wind scratched at her face - she could barely keep her eyes open from all the sand flying everywhere.
"Who are you?" she screamed at the top of her lungs, strongly hoping they weren't an enemy. The man looked down at the girl, who was clinging to a railing so as to not fall off.
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