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|The Desert, Part 1: Uncharted Territory|
March 31, 2017
One month has passed sincewas cured of his illness. It's about twenty minutes before sunrise when is woken by a voice outside the tent.
"Singi. Pssst... Singi!"
Groaning slightly, Singi sits herself up before shuffling over to the entrance of the tent an opening it up to pop her head out, findingand a uniformed standing before them. Dan, Sen, and Xin Bo stand a foot behind the father-son duo, while Qiú stands to the right of his human companion.
"General, Guilin, what are you doing here this early in the morning?"
"I apologize for the very early awakening, Singi," Dao begins, "but do you recall yesterday after training that I mentioned we would spend a few days training in the desert? I said we would need to rise early to get there and set up camp before midday."
"Oh, right. I'm sorry. I thought you meant at daybreak..." Singi mutters, rubbing an eye with the sleeve of her robes before peering up at the sky around them. "... not just before dawn. Anyway, if we're going into the desert, I think I should have Jamyang stay here. I don't want him to get weak in the harsh climate. I'll write him a note."
"That sounds reasonable. We'll be there for less than a week, so you two will be reunited in due time."
Singi nods before responding again, "Alright. Let me get prepared, and we'll head off."
With that, Singi retreats back inside of the tent and packs her necessary belongings. She writes a note for Jamyang and places it on her side of the tent before slipping out and heading east with the five earthbenders.
Later that morning, the group of six makes it to the south end of the vast, seemingly endless expanse of the desert.
"We'll set up camp further into the interior, but not far enough to get lost. We need to make sure we can see the mountains in the distance," Dao states, glancing around him before walking onward, the rest of the team following him. A mile in, with a wall of mountains just viewable to their southeast and southwest, the group pitches their tents and secures their belongings.
"Now Singi..." Dao addresses, approaching her with his hands behind his back. "as you can guess, we'll be working with sand over the next few days. I'll admit, I haven't fully mastered bending sand, despite my hometown being underneath a portion of this desert, so this will essentially be a learning experience for all of us. I'll be teaching you and Guilin what I learned by simply experimenting the few times I've gone above ground in my youth. Don't worry too much about not picking up what I teach you—with luck, you won't need to fight very often in a landscape such as this."
"Sounds good, General."
Dao nods before making his rounds to Dan, Xin Bo, and Sen.
"So Guilin, have you ever trained here before?"
"I only observed my dad here once. I think now that I've mastered earthbending, he thinks I'm ready to try something harder, and in a much more challenging climate. Like he said, this'll be a learning experience for all of us. I don't think there are many people in the world who can fully bend sand, at least not in a baking pan like this."
"Guilin, Singi! Please fall in line with the others."
Their attention caught, the youngest members of the group collect themselves and get into position to face Dao, who stands before them.
"Now, even though I technically grew up in the desert, I lived in an underground city mostly made up of caverns. I only ventured above ground a few times, during which I tested the waters when it came to manipulating sand. As I mentioned to Singi minutes ago, I never fully mastered the art of bending sand, but I will show you what I learned, and I want all of you to copy me. Understood?"
"Sir!" the three soldiers respond, while Singi and Guilin nod in agreement.
"First, I'm going to state the obvious: Sand is a very loose form of earth. It can, however, be compressed to form a more solidified object, such as a wall or a projectile."
At this, Dao outstretches his arms before him and crouches down to his knees, eyes closed. After a moment, he shoots back up, two small streams of sand rising up to his hands before he brings his hands close together and merges the two streams together into a loose, swirling mass.
"It's kind-of like waterbending..." Singi notes to herself, before she focuses intently and attempts to copy the move along with the other onlookers. Sweat begins to run down her forehead in combination of the desert heat and the intense concentration, as the portions of sand beneath her hands ripple ever so slightly. Smiling, she draws her arms up, only to accidentally airbend the sand to those to her immediate right and left—Guilin and Sen, respectively. Sen shields himself from most of the sand shower, but Guilin coughs and sputters a few times before he composes himself, slightly annoyed.
"Sorry, Guilin," Singi apologizes, slightly embarrassed before turning her attention to Sen, genuinely concerned. "And I apologize to you too, Sen. Are you alright?"
"Just fine, Singi. Don't worry," Sen responds, chuckling slightly as he brushes sand off of his right shoulder.
Singi nods before attempting the technique yet again. After five minutes of crouching and observing the motions of the sand directly beneath her hands, she slowly draws up her hands, two small wisps of sand following them. Smiling once again, Singi slowly bends her arms and draws her hands closer together so the vortex of sand swirls gently in her hands.
"Excellent job, Singi," Dao acknowledges with a nod, smiling. "Now, try to picture a sphere of sand forming in your hands. Focus on that..."
Once again, sweat begins to build as Singi focuses intently on her next task. The sand slowly begins to come together, but not before it eventually falls apart, flowing down between her fingers and back onto the ground. She growls in frustration before remembering Dao's words from earlier.
Ten minutes pass before Dao instructs everyone to take a water break. Having packed multiple water pouches to last for the duration of their time in the desert, there's little worry about running out.
"General? Do you think there are people out there, other than from Ba Sing Se, living within the desert? Do you think they'd know more about sandbending?"
"I'm not sure if there are many others out there in the desert. I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few other settlements out here, but I believe Ba Sing Se is the largest, and most populated. As for whether they'd be better than I am at sandbending, I'm not sure. Maybe someday, there will be a group of people who will adapt to live above ground in this vast landscape, as opposed to living underground."
Another ten minutes pass before training commences again.
"Now, I'll show you a much simpler technique. Men, you've used this technique before, so you'll know what I'm talking about in a second. You simply shift your feet in one direction to allow the sand to reach up to and encase your feet and ankles, anchoring you to the ground."
Dao demonstrates, quickly shifting his feet over to his left, the sand reaching up and engulfing his ankles down in a warm protective layer.
"I mainly see this as necessary were there to be a sandstorm. You could prevent yourself from being blown away."
The rest of the group copies the movement with ease.
"In fact..." Dao ponders, placing a hand to his chin, "why don't we test this theory out? Singi, if you could please...?"
A bit uncertain, Singi bends the sand off of her feet and ankles and steps beside Dao.
"I'd like you to generate a strong wind towards Guilin and my men here so that they can stand their ground with this sandbending technique."
"Well, I don't know if I'd be able to do that without going into the Avatar State, but there's another move I know which could test it out."
"Then please, do so."
"Well... alright. Dao, you'll want to secure yourself down as well. Hopefully I won't hurt any of you too badly with this."
With that, Singi motions for Dao to back up a considerable amount, to which the general complies before sheathing his feet and ankles away underneath the desert sand. Afterwards, Singi generates a cloud and shoots off high into the air. The earthbenders below try to catch a glimpse of the airbender high above them, but with her height in combination with the bright desert sun, she is undetectable with the naked eye. After a few seconds, Singi, now no longer riding on a cloud, rockets down to the ground with an incredible speed. Upon slamming her feet onto the desert surface, a powerful outward-moving air current unleashes in all directions around her, carrying a wave of sand along with it. The blast causes the males' to shield their eyes, their clothes fluttering quickly against the wind, but true to word, they remain in place. Once the sand clears, the earthbenders stand at attention.
"That was totally awesome!" Guilin shouts, excited.
"Good to see that my theory was true to its form," Dao states, nodding.
Over the next two hours, the group continues training with only a small handful of sandbending techniques. While everyone faces some difficulty with this alternate style of earthbending, Singi struggles the most. This coupled with the intense heat of the desert climate and the loose sands makes for an irksome combination. While she was able to warm herself up in the North Pole with proper breathing technique, there's nothing she can do to keep cool other than frequent water breaks. At midday, the group takes an extended break to collect themselves and avoid training during the peak hours of the day. For a portion of their break, Singi retreats into the confines of her tent to avoid as much of the sun as she can. Ten minutes after she sealed herself away, Guilin's voice can be heard addressing her.
"Singi? Are you alright? Can I come in?"
"It'd be pretty cramped in here, considering this is a tent for one. Hold on..."
After a few seconds, Singi pokes her head out of the entrance.
"I just wanted to see if you were alright. You seemed to be pretty frustrated during training."
"I'm alright, really. The heat's just getting to me... plus a bit of frustration over not grasping sandbending. But don't worry, I'm not letting the frustration really get to me. I know—we all can't entirely grasp sandbending."
"Exactly, it's nothing to get worked up about. But at least you're here getting to know it," Guilin responds, smiling.
"Anyway, that airbending move you did was pretty awesome! It was like a bomb!"
"It's too bad you're afraid of flying. You could see first hand what it's like if I were to take you up there," Singi snickers as she pushes herself further out of the tent and stands above the pre-teen.
"Hey! I told you, I can do it when I launch myself with earthbending," Guilin retorts with a laugh. "Besides, maybe I'll get over it someday," he adds weakly, a hint of nervousness in his tone.
"In due time, I'll cure you yet. Just not today," Singi acknowledges with a wink before walking off to join the other men.
With her back turned, Guilin picks up a handful of sand and manages to bend it into a more solidified sphere before throwing it towards the back of Singi's head. Hearing the faint whisper of the incoming sand ball, Singi smirks before ducking and sending a small air blast to Guilin's feet, knocking him off of his footing and onto the ground in a heap. After his initial mild dizziness fades, Guilin staggers to hit feet, only to see Singi smirk in amusement and casually walk her way back to the soldiers. Guilin sniggers before joining her, their small bout of rough housing done.
By sunset, training, as well as the oppressive temperatures, have finished for the day, much to Singi's relief. The group has packed a simple supply of rice for food, and quietly enjoys their meal under the fading sunlight. Guilin is the first to break the silence:
"Hey Dad, can Singi and I sleep outside our tents tonight?"
Singi glances over at Guilin with mild curiosity before shifting her focus to Dao.
"I suppose so. Just don't keep each other awake all night. We've got another day of training tomorrow."
"You're gonna love falling asleep here, Singi. The desert's so quiet, and you can see so many stars in the sky what with there being no candlelight, unlike back in the village."
"And it'll be much cooler out, thank goodness," Singi sighs in relief.
Not long after finishing dinner, Singi pulls out her sleeping back from the tent and sets it down against the soft desert sands, exhausted after a long, hot day of training. She slinks herself in just as Guilin pulls his sleeping bag out of his and Dao's tent and sets it against hers so that the two lie in a straight line together, their heads just a couple of feet away from each other.
"You're right. The desert sky really is beautiful at night. But you know something better than seeing so many stars at night?"
"The spirit lights."
"You've seen the spirit lights!?"
"Mmm-hmm. I North Pole with , and at one point, we were lucky enough to see them."around the
"Wow... I bet they were amazing."
"They were, indeed."
At this, Singi's expression of fondness slowly shifts to glumness; she casts her vision aside to the sand beside her. After a long pause, Guilin shifts his head over slightly to peer at her.
"Hey... you alright?"
"I'm just thinking about the spirits and... the again."
"Aww... well, you'll be able to end the war at some point. Just focus on mastering earthbending for now."
"That's easy for you to say," Singi sighs, "considering your culture isn't being targeted by Avatar, who would be from the waterbender culture, and the Avatar after that..."and . Not only are half the world's cultures in danger of being annihilated, but so am I. Even though I'd just be reincarnated, they'd likely just go after the next
"Look, I get it, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry that this war is even going on, and I'm sorry my culture isn't doing anything to help. But this war is totally pointless—there's no way two warlords and their combined army could take down two of the world's cultures, right?"
"I'm not sure, Guilin. Given these two and their ferocity, I wouldn't call it completely impossible."
Singi pauses for a moment, a look of focused determination replacing her expression of doubt and uncertainty.
"But I certainly won't let them succeed in their campaign. As much as I want to confront them right now, and end their crusade before it worsens, you, Dao, Jamyang, and Avatar Wan are all right—I need to focus on my earthbending training for now."
Guilin smiles and nods, "And who knows, maybe someday we earthbenders will help you and the others targeted."
"We'll need all the help we can get."
With that, Singi slowly begins to close her eyes and drift off under the desert moon.
- This is the fourth chapter in which
does not appear (since his introduction in " "), and the third in which does not appear (since her introduction in " ").
- The only other chapters to do so since their proper introductions are " ", " ", , and " ".
- Like the former two chapters, this chapter as well as the following one are the second instance in which Singi travels to a climatically extreme location with her instructor to work on another variant of the element she is currently learning.
- The first instance, as mentioned by Singi in this chapter, was traveling to the North Pole and the area immediately around it to work on manipulating ice and snow with Gekkō.
- In addition, Singi's time in the desert spans two chapters, as did her time around the North Pole.
- The maneuver Singi performs to try to knock the earthbenders off their sand bound feet is an air bomb.
- Dao foreshadows the existence of the Sandbender Tribes, and perhaps, the beetle-headed merchants as well.
- introduces the ancestors of the beetle-headed merchants.
- Singi recounts her seeing the spirit lights with Gekkō in "The Northern Fringes" to Guilin.
- The title for the chapter is based on the vast, seemingly uninhabited region of the Si Wong Desert, as well as everyone's difficulty with sandbending (Singi in particular).
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