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|The Xianjing Mountains|
The Xianjing Mountains
The next morning, the hostility hadn't yet cleared. They quietly prepared to fly again, with Yang and Sai going off to get some water from a nearby stream, while the siblings packed up camp.
Sai was determined to lighten the mood a little bit. "Yang, I know Juji seems ungrateful, but try to put yourself in her mind. It's a totally new world for her. And Sozu, for that matter."
She sighed. "Maybe, but that doesn't give her the right to be a complete bitch either. I'm trying to help us all here. Do you know how hard it was to get Sozu to help me yesterday?"
"Very, I'm sure. But for us, 'desperate times call for desperate measures' has been the way of life for years. I think they simply need some time to get used to that."
-"Fine. You talk some sense into her, I'll just keep my distance until then." They had arrived at a creek. The water was clear and flowed fast, so they decided this would be a good a place as any to fill up the jerry cans they brought.
By the time they got back, most of the gear had been packed. Only the tent, which was surprisingly heavy, still had to be loaded onto Maya. Sai and Sozu strategically positioned themselves on Maya's back, and Yang blasted it up, while the boys caught it perfectly.
All loaded up again, they took off, trying to get across the border with the United Republic today, even though that was a slim chance. Yang was flying again, Sai and Juji were sitting at the back, leaning against the blankets and the tent. Sozu was at the front of the saddle facing back, keeping a close eye on his sister, making sure Sai wasn't making himself too comfortable with her. It was precisely what Sai needed to get rid of, if he wanted to get through to Juji.
"Sozu, could you give us a minute?"
-"No way. I've seen how you two are smooching all the time, you're not gonna do that within earshot of me."
"I just wanna talk in private for a minute, okay?"
Sozu looked over to his sister, and she gave him a look which told him to sod off, essentially. He rolled his eyes, and climbed over the saddle and sat next to Yang.
Juji beat Sai to it. "You really feel the need to play peacekeeper here, don't you?"
"It's kind of my job, I need the practice. And neither of you wants to rip my head off, which makes it a lot easier."
Juji laughed. "Alright Great Peacekeeper, what is it you have to say?"
"Remember our first night on the cliff, when I told how I ended up on the street?"
-"Of course I do. First cigarette, your life story, yeah, I remember."
"I just... You were so understanding of everything. Even when I said that stealing my living together didn't really keep me awake at night."
-"Well, you know, you had your reasons. Doesn't mean I approve, but still."
"We're at dealing with the same issue here, Juji. You want to hold on to your morals, and I respect that, but we also need to be realistic."
-"I get that, but I just... I hoped I could change you. You know, stop you from being a street rat and instead make the world see you as the Avatar. You two are falling back into old habits really fast."
"And you're holding on to them very hard." Juji hung her head slightly at the realization that he was right. Sai continued. "I stand by what I said. A clean conscience is a luxury, and not one we can afford right now."
-"Okay." The response was hesitant, but still what Sai was hoping for. "But only so long as it is absolutely necessary, alright?"
He smiled. "Of course. Look, if we keep this up, we'll be at the Southern Air Temple within the week and then we don't have to worry about this anymore. So you just go and make your peace with Yang, you owe her that."
-"I guess I do." She made her way to Maya's head, and switched places with Sozu, who sat down next to Sai. He looked impressed.
-"How do you do that?"
-"Get her to snap out of it. I tried that for fourteen years and almost never succeeded."
"It's a gift. That, or it's because Yang can hold quite the grudge and I had to learn how to break through that. Compared to her, Juji can be blown over by a stiff breeze."
Sozu just smiled at his remark and they sat in silence for a while, when Yang's voice rudely interrupted the peace. "Guys! You need to come and have a look at this!"
They stumbled to the front of the saddle and what they saw was absolutely beautiful. Hundreds of feet below them was the ground, a single highway snaking through the landscape was the only thing there. There was a small town up ahead, but from where they were, they could easily see over it. It gave them a gorgeous view of the river, behind which was a mountain range that seemed to stretch on forever.
-"Those are the Xianjing Mountains," Juji explained. "That is the last land of the United Republic before we enter the Earth Kingdom."
"Looks to me like a good place to set up camp for the night. I suggest we start a little earlier than we did yesterday, I don't want to go out there again in the dark." Sozu had obviously become a bit nervous from the whole thing.
-"Don't worry, the further south we get, the longer he light stays. But for now, he's right, we need to start setting up camp if we want to do it with daylight." was Juji's theory. She was obviously with her brother, and Sai wasn't all that surprised.
They kept flying for a while over the mountains, until the sun got noticeably lower, and they started to look around for a campsite.
"Alright. Yang, see a nice spot to put us down?"
-"Right there, next to that cliff."
The spot where Yang was pointing was a nice flat area, with a sheer 100 foot cliff right behind it, giving them plenty of shelter.
She put Maya down next to the cliff, and they started unpacking. Sai and Sozu went to collect firewood, while the girls would see what they could make of their camp. When they came back, both with arms full of dead wood, the tent had been built, and they had created something of a fireplace by making a ring of rocks.
Sai couldn't help himself. "Well, looks like home to me."
Yang was prepared for such comments from his end. "Yeah, it ain't much, but it'll do the trick. Want to get that fire going?" as she threw him a lighter.
"Are you kidding me? Two people here who can shoot fire out of their fingertips and you want to make me waste time with a lighter?" Sai dumped some twigs in the fireplace, and quickly spied over his shoulder to make sure there wasn't anyone there, before carelessly launching a small blast of fire at them, setting them alight.
Yang didn't look too pleased. "You know, you could stand to be a little more careful. You don't need to show off for us."
"Who is there to be careful of? We're out in the middle of nowhere. Juji, back me up!"
She looked a bit guilty. "I'm actually with Yang on this one. I'd keep it to a minimum if I were you."
He sighed. "Alright, I give up. No more bending."
Yang tried to comfort him. "Well, you are an airbender, I could give you a lesson. I want to know if I can actually fly with this wingsuit. Aren't you curious?"
"Well... Yeah... Kind of, I mean, what if I can't make it work? Then I'll fall to the ground like a brick."
Yang casually brushed this off. "Occupational hazard. Plus, we'll practice tomorrow, on from Maya. We can still catch you, even if you can't fly."
"Okay, sounds like a deal. But for now, let's eat. All this talk of practicing stuff is making me hungry."
They set to work with the food they had brought with them, and Sai estimated they would have to have enough for tomorrow, but the day after would force them on another raid. Not something to worry about just yet, though. They settled on a large tin of soup, and then realized they didn't have any spoons.
"Guess we're drinking then." was Sozu's only idea. Straight from the can was a risk, but they all made it without carving a permanent smile on their faces.
Huddled around the fire like this, all close together because it was freezing cold, the hostility out of the air, it really felt great. They all felt at ease, and if it hadn't been for the cold, they could have fallen asleep right there.
Sai, who was sitting on the edge, did. But not as he wanted to.
He suddenly fell down. Juji let out a scream, and Sozu shot up straight. "Get behind me!"
Yang and Juji ducked for cover while he breathed in, shooting a massive stream of fire at the tree line, setting most of them on fire. One of them fell down, toppled by an earthbender, revealing three vans. Two of them skidded sideways and the doors on the sides opened, revealing three earthbenders each.
Yang charged herself by spinning counter clockwise around her own axis, and blasted one of the vans straight back through the tree line. She heard the satisfying sound of metal bending against wood as the van disappeared from their sight.
Juji pulled Sai behind them, which was difficult since he was paralyzed. Two earthbenders launched a fissure at Yang, but she used it to launch herself at them, tumbling through the air, causing them to miss with the rock gloves they shot at her. She landed on one foot perfectly between her attackers, and stretched her horizontally, balancing on one foot, blasting both her attackers away.
Sozu was successfully holding off an earthbender, using Sai's advice in battle. The fire bomb proved to be his best defensive asset, using it several times to shatter and deflect incoming rocks. He managed to land a solid hit on one of the benders he was dueling with, putting him out of action. The other one was nimbler, more difficult to hit. But Sozu kept him busy, leaving him unable to line up for a good shot.
Juji suddenly got a bright idea. "Maya, yip yip!" and she pointed to one of the vans. The sky bison got the hint, and circled around once to build up momentum, and crashed into one of the vans, making in an instant total-loss. The driver of the van was quick, however. He had gotten out and launched a couple of darts at Maya, and she was unable to get back up.
Yang was distracted by the whole spectacle going on right behind her. In the second she was off guard, one of the earthbenders took full advantage and launched his rock gloves at her, and managed to pin her against the cliff.
Sozu saw the whole thing happen, and laid out a pool of fire in front of him, hoping to keep his earlier opponent at bay long enough to help Yang. He turned around to see in how big a mess she was, and was subsequently captured himself.
Unable to defend herself without any bending, Juji was forced against the wall as well, and they were all tied with their hands above their head, unable to move. They all took one of the darts to the chest, paralyzing them as well.
When Sai woke up again, he realized his hands were cuffed behind his back, and his feet were cuffed together as well. He was sitting on an agonizingly uncomfortable bench, and judging by the way the box he was in was shaking, it was the back of a van.
There were two men in the black commando outfits sitting in front of him. One of them turned around. "Ah, look, he's back in the land of the living."
"Who are you?! What did you to me and where are my friends?!"
-"Avatar Sai, you would be wise to stay a little calmer around me. I have your friends, and they are safe, so long as you cooperate."
Sai's face grew angry. "Where. Are they."
-"Alright, since you insist, they are precisely where you left them last night. I'll give your little group this, they put up one hell of a fight, even without you. Two of my agents are there to make sure they don't die. Happy now?"
"Not really. Who are you and what do you want with me?"
-"A bit of a long story, but what I want is something different than what my boss wants. I am Captain Lee, commander of the Dai Li, best earthbenders in the world."
"Yeah, yeah, I figured that out. What does that first bit mean?"
-"Means that I have orders and I disagree with them, but what are you going to do. What we are going to do with you, is simple. We need you out of the way, and that is much easier if we have you in custody."
"Fuck you. You can't keep me locked up."
-"Oh, but we can. I'll show you."
He got a grin on his face that told Sai he meant business.
For the collective works of the author, go here.