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|The Beauty, the Book, the Drunk, and the Badgermole Part 2|
Another little monologue
Gonna keep it brief, because I realize that I'm blathering to people who probably don't care in these little intros. Alcohol is a good plot device but a bad influence.
The mirror doesn't always reflect the person
"Well, Ai Shi, I never thought of you as the feisty type," Frost declared as their journey continued.
The other blushed and looked at her feet. "I wouldn't call myself 'feisty', exactly," she said while nervously pushing her glasses up her nose. "Sometimes people just annoy me."
"Still," Frost did not seem willing to give up her side, "I always saw you as the quiet, passive, bookworm type. Not the type to bitch slap someone."
Without looking up, Ai Shi replied defensively, "I wouldn't call it a bitch slap..."
"You're just being modest."
Ai Shi sighed, but did not argue. Without a map, thinking about finding their way to Odraz was foolish. Today was day one of the challenge with August, and as it stood they had wandered for a while without finding any sort of place to rest and eat. It occurred that the wisest option might not be continuing alone, but Ai Shi was too stubborn to lose this challenge. "If we just continue along this road, we'll probably get to a village or town soon," Ai Shi changed the subject abruptly, as if responding to a response of another.
A car roared past them, heading in the opposite direction of the girls; dust kicked up in their faces, and Frost hurriedly began to wipe it off while Ai Shi determinedly continued forward. "I suppose you're right," Frost replied while examining the new grime on her sleeve, "but sooner rather than later would be nice." she looked towards the setting sun thoughtfully before continuing, "it's getting dark."
"There'll be a town soon; you can't go too far in the Fire Nation without running into some small village or town."
Shī Hún village appeared as a small firefly over the horizon, illuminating an engulfing night and luring the girls into the jaws of a beast. They neared the village, the moon of the late night casting an eerie glow over themselves and other weary travelers. The eyes of those around the faction of Team Avatar followed the two as though they were walking pieces of fresh meat. Frost's eyes met one traveler, a man wearing a dirty shawl with a blind eye and a filth-covered face; the unnerving thirst in his eyes drove Frost to divert her gaze from this and further travelers.
Sickening feelings of rue filled both the girls' stomachs as they entered the boundaries of the village. Both realized that their bet with August was foolhardy; not because they couldn't physically handle fighting with Anying Jiaoben or the police, but because two teenage girls travelling alone was dangerous under any sort of circumstance. At the same time, both girls realized that it was too late to ask for help, and help would not be easily found whether they had bet or not.
Most buildings in the village were closed down; even if they were open, they wouldn't have been much. Barred doors and windows suggested high crime rates in the area, and broken windows, glass littering the ground, and torn apart exterior walls only strengthened the theory of the ominous neighborhood. Of all the buildings, one remained illuminated. And with no village nearby, the girls had no choice but to enter.
Frost approached the door in front of Ai Shi. Both were visibly hesitant, but of the two Frost held herself confidently. Of the two, Frost seemed like less of a target. Her hand pressed against the door, as if trying to decide whether or not to open it. Some shouting came from the other end. Unintelligible, drunken shouting. With any luck, they had happened upon more of an inn than a bar and would be able to rest the night...
She pushed the door open and entered with Ai Shi just behind. A bottle flew towards their heads. They ducked while the bottle flew overhead through the door frame. Glass, bullets, and fire flew throughout the room like a war zone. All those in the bar were the fighters—except the bartender, who was obviously hiding safely for the chaos to lessen, and a man sitting at the bar who seemed oblivious to everything around him. The girls had walked in on a massive brawl.
In front of the two, a Firebender rushed towards another. As the Firebender pivoted and kicked a stream of fire towards his opponent. The other ducked, and swung a bottle at the bender. Glass shattered against the bender's head and knocked him to the ground. With the crack of a bullet, the man who had hit the bender fell to the ground, having been shot in the knee. Another Firebender punched a large burst of flame towards the man with the gun. The shooter staggered backwards, fumbled with his gun, and fell to the ground.
Men flew over tables, benders on either side of the fray set the room ablaze with controlled fire, guns cracked, glass broke, and angered shouts and curses drowned out any hopes of reasoning with anyone. All were too drunk to remember what the fight was about, and all were too drunk to stop the fight. Until a burst of water came from nowhere, drenching all of the fighters and quelling the flames.
Standing in the doorway, Frost stood in her bending position. Using her Waterbending, Frost had pulled water from the breaking pipes. It came from the pipes like rain, and almost instantaneously those in the room forgot about the fight and resumed drinking in the poorly kept bar. At the sudden calm, the bartender poked his head out from beneath the bar and resumed his work.
"Excuse me," Frost lead her companion—still in a daze from the scene—towards the bartender. He looked up at the two, and smiled politely. "Do you have any rooms?"
"Fancy seeing you two here." Before the bartender could reply, another voice interrupted. The girls turned to look at the other man who hadn't participated in the fight. His right hand held a lit cigarette, while his left held a shot glass full of alcohol. And Frost would be able to recognize this man without even looking at him by his arrogant tone.
"Donghai," Frost spat the name of the gangster she and Liwei had met upon being captured by Anying Jiaoben. "What are you doing here?"
The gangster smiled, and did not seem overly perturbed by the disgust in Frost's voice. "Do you really need to ask that question? We've been tracking you two since you met up with ol' August."
"You're with Anying Jiaoben?" Ai Shi slowly brought herself back into the world, and eyed the man uneasily.
Donghai cocked his head at Ai Shi curiously. "You must be the bending-less Firebender. As you may have picked up from Frost's lovely introduction, my name is Donghai and I am indeed with Anying Jiaoben."
"So if you tracked us here," Frost leaned against the bar and folded her arms, "you must be planning to capture us. Why the talk again?"
Blackened ash fell onto the corner of the bar as Donghai shifted the cigarette in his hand. Once more, he smiled at the two and chuckled. "Ah, I am indeed planning to capture you dead or alive, my dears. But right now I'm off duty, so I have to wait to hunt you two until morning."
"You 'have' to wait until morning?" Ai Shi quoted dubiously.
"Indeed," Donghai replied with sarcastic remorse, "and since I am a single man, in a bar with two beautiful women, it is my obligation to buy you two drinks."
The duo met this statement with an almost identical blank stare. A stare that said 'you're a douche' without actually saying it. And despite this response, Donghai did not let up.
"It's only one drink," he explained, "I'll kill you tomorrow and stuff, so it's not that bad."
"How old are you, anyway?" Ai Shi spoke in a motherly voice of reason, looking the thug up and down with her nose wrinkled.
Another arrogant smile passed Donghai's lips. "19," he replied smugly.
"The legal drinking age is 21," Frost stated bluntly.
Donghai shrugged. "If you're old enough to kill someone, you're old enough to drink." He gestured towards the bartender for more drinks. They arrived, and Donghai pushed them towards the girls with his same cocky smile.
To Ai Shi's surprise, Frost closed her hand around the glass. "Frost! What are you doing!"
"It's just one drink..." Frost replied with a smile. "It doesn't hurt to try."
Almost immediately upon drinking the beverage, Frost passed out on the floor. After arranging a room with the bartender, Ai Shi hauled the other member of Team Avatar up a long flight of stairs. She shifted the unconscious body on her shoulder and somehow managed to open the door of the room and lay Frost on the bed. As Frost came to, Ai Shi had begun rolling out her own things to sleep on the floor until morning.
"Ai Shi..." Frost spoke in an obvious daze.
"You have the lowest alcohol tolerance of any person I've ever met." Ai Shi responded frankly. "I've been wondering *hic* about yer past... Liwei ish a prince an' Ishio ish the Avatar but yer just the librrian... An' ye got all mad 'n stuff 'bout August calling ye lame, too..." she barely made the words come out, and Ai Shi couldn't help but roll her eyes at the fact that Frost was slammed after one shot.
But it occurred to Ai Shi that, since she was saying this drunk and obviously had been thinking about it while sober for a while, now might be a reasonable time to explain her past so that later on she could tell Frost that she had already told her. "I suppose that since your drunk, it wouldn't hurt to explain...
"I never had any siblings. I grew up with just my mother and my father. My father, Tuzo, paid the bills and put food on the table while my mother stayed with me while I was young. My mother couldn't bend, but my father was an expert Firebender. But for his family, he was willing to hide his bending. At a young age, he started sending me to the library daily out of hopes that Master Geming, his own Firebending master, would help me learn the art in secrecy. That's where I met Liwei. You know the story of Liwei, how we were best friends, but one day he just never showed up.
"Well, shortly after that my father lost his job. Money was scarce, and we had to cut down on food and were close to losing our home. That's when my father left to join the pro-bending rings in Republic City. He sent us money back, and would visit us every now and again. I knew my mother was against pro-bending, but I could never really figure out my own stance on the matter. The only real memory of my father and pro-bending was on my thirteenth birthday..."
Early in the morning, Ai Shi could hear the bustle of other children heading off to school. Somehow, Ai Shi's parents never put her through school, and rather thought her time best spent at the library. Like any other morning, Ai Shi tiredly closed her eyes and dozed off. A few hours later, she awoke to stubble out of bed and down into their small family kitchen.
Her mother stood at the counter, preparing breakfast. Ai Shi sat down without a word, rubbing her face out of exhaustion. Some lines had formed along her cheek, and she figured that once more she had fallen asleep on top of a book. Finally, her eyes adjusted to the light of the kitchen to see a small parcel sitting on the table. A note, addressed to 'Shi Shi' sat atop the package, and Ai Shi figured that it must be from her father.
"Happy Birthday, my little Shi Shi." Tuzo had signed it in his dorky way, with a smiling cartoony head of himself and holding his right hand in a peace-sign.
Carefully, she tore open the paper to find another small box. Her hands closed on either side of the box and lifted the lid. Beneath the lid lay a glimmering piece of jewelry. Not literally glimmering, but seeing this peace sent a feeling of startled happiness throughout her body. A small bracelet, beaded with pieces of volcanic rock. Carved on each of the seven rocks were different characters: "Fortune", "Love", "Strength", "Honor", "Kindness", "Joy", and "Friendship". Ai Shi felt each rock between her fingers, and knew that even in her father's busy schedule he had hand-carved each stone. She slipped the bracelet onto her wrist, beaming.
But her happiness didn't even last throughout the day. Later that day, her uncle came into the house with the morbid news. Ai Shi was in another room, reading, when she overheard his and her mother's conversation.
"Tuzo's been arrested. There was a big bust on some pro-benders, and he was one of those captured."
Now, Ai Shi leaned against the wall of the room, rubbing the bracelet still on her wrist thoughtfully. "It's not visible, but I still always wear the bracelet he made for me..." With a slight sigh, she continued, "After that day, my uncle came to live with us.
"But he was no good. All he did was sit around and lecture my mom about how she shouldn't have married my father in the first place, and I couldn't take it anymore. It may have been selfish, but not a month after my father was arrested I left altogether. Master Geming took me in, and for four years I was his apprentice. Then, everything else just kind of falls into place..."
She looked towards Frost to see her drooling and snoring on the bed. With a slight chuckle, Ai Shi spoke to herself. "I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything more..." Carefully, Ai Shi turned Frost on her side so she wouldn't drown in her saliva before going to sleep herself.
"Ai Shi! Ai Shi wake up!" It was early, and Frost hurriedly shook her comrade. "Ai Shi! We have to go! Anying Jiaoben has already mobilized!"
This logic from one who should have a hang over drew Ai Shi awake. She looked at Frost in surprise, who had an apologetic look on her face. "I forgot that my family was always called the 'Can't Hold Liquor Choshis'. We have a notoriously low alcohol tolerance, and I guess my curiosity got the best of me. I'm really sorry..."
"Never mind that," Ai Shi said hurriedly. "You said Anying Jiaoben has already mobilized?!"
"Yes! I woke up early, and when I went to apologize to the barkeep Donghai was down there! He told me that A.J. was on its way and pretty soon they'd be able to kill us!"
Ai Shi began to inquire about why Frost felt such a need to apologize, but decided that there were more pressing issues. "We have to get out of here! Have you gotten directions to the village near where we stayed before getting captured?"
Frost nodded quickly and pulled a map of the Fire Nation from her pocket. "A man downstairs told me how to get there from here. Told me that his condition was that I not drink again..." she trailed off for a moment, and Ai Shi could see now just how embarrassed she was about the incident. "Anyways, it's only about a half a day's journey from here by foot."
"Half a day's journey?! Anying Jiaoben will easily catch up to us."
"He also said..." Frost trailed off, but this time she smiled as though with an inside joke with herself, "that we could borrow his motorcycle."
- Shī Hún (失魂) means "Lost Souls". I'm creative *sarcasm*
For the collective works of the author, go here.