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|The Legend of Singh Sang, Part Two|
March 19, 2013
Previously in Air
While Aang and Katara track down clues about Avatar Haku at the Western Air Temple, Zuko and the others journey to the Fire Nation by sea. Along for the ride are the familiar Hippy Nomads, who treat the travelers to tales and songs. One tale in particular –The Legend of Singh Sang– about a crew of pirates turned ghosts put the crew on edge, especially when they spotted a mysterious unmanned vessel. Before they could solve the mystery, a sea-serpent attacked both vessels. Suki, attempting to save a rowboat full of soldiers and Sokka, was flung onto the opposite ship; Haru managed to metalbend in desperation.
Chapter Sixty-One: The Legend of Singh Sang, Part Two: Pirates
Suki wasn't surprised to find that no ghosts manned the 'ghost' ship. Call her a skeptic, but she hadn't believed the story from the start.
She landed in a crouch, fans ready, and surveyed her surroundings.
No one noticed her right off. The ship's colorfully dressed –and completely human– crew raced about the deck, too occupied trying to escape unscathed from the serpent's wrath and blasting a cannonball at the creature whenever it strayed too close. They had to be careful in their hurry to avoid several open trap doors in the deck. Suki spotted more than one of the crew tumble unexpectedly in with a yelp of surprise. Beside her, a smoking hole pierced the deck where the first cannonball had landed.
At the stern, three of the sailors paid no heed to the monster, instead hauling for life on several large nets trailing in the sea. Two of the huge nets had already been pulled aboard, drooling seawater across the deck. Several eels flapped and wriggled in vain, caught in the netting, eyes wide and gasping for water. They were so large that the nets could only hold four or five each. Suki had never seen this type of eel before; they were large and pink, with gold eyes, blue fins, and a stripe along each side whose color she could not identify, but when the moonlight struck it, it seemed to glow. She recognized that glow.
Glancing over her shoulder, Suki caught sight of a similar sheen bouncing off the sea serpent's side. Infuriated by their attacks, it concentrated on the warship for now, but soon the beast would remember why it had risen from the depths.
"Idiots," Suki growled, glaring at the oblivious poachers.
One of the crew came running forward with a bucket of water to douse the smoldering wood by her foot. He froze when he spotted their uninvited guest.
He stared at her for a long, uncomprehending moment, blinking rapidly. He had large eyes, and when he blinked it was rather impressive. He also had large lips, the bottom one having dropped down in shock. "Hey, Cap'n!" he called with a sudden grin, turning so quickly his long hair flicked into his own face. "We've got us a stowaway!"
Suki looked to the Captain. He wore a big hat, and on his shoulder perched a beady-eyed lizard-parrot. He barked a harsh laugh. "A hostage, more like! Can't have her running back to tell the others, can we?"
His crew mate laughed with him.
Suki gritted her teeth. Pirates. And stupid ones, at that. Those were no mere eels they were hauling in; they were baby sea serpents. No wonder their mother was pitching a fit. Suki guessed that when the trap doors of the deck were closed, they were practically invisible, and each probably had enough room to store five or six men. That explained how they had escaped notice, but not why.
The big-lipped man turned back to her. "You heard the Cap'n! Sounds like you'll be staying aboard with us for awhile."
He made the mistake of lunging for her.
Suki bided her time, calculating the distance. As he neared her, she jumped, planting one foot in his back as he passed beneath her, pushing off and shoving him onto the deck. He crashed face-first into the wooden planks. Landing neatly behind him, Suki whirled around with fans extended, ready for another attack.
The pirate staggered upright, spitting wood and curses. When he turned to face her, yanking out his cutlass, she understood why. The deck had given him a lip-full of splinters, and it was a big lip, so that was a lot of splinters.
The crew noticed the Kyoshi Warrior now, as their comrade stalked forward, hurling dark and colorful language her way. The crew moved to join their comrade, all but the three still at the nets and those manning the cannons. They drew their weapons, leering at her, throwing cat calls her way.
Suki grimaced in disgust and righted her footing. "Men."
The lizard parrot launched from the Captain's shoulder and dived at her. Thanks to being accustomed to Momo, Suki instantly identified its flight pattern. She batted the lizard parrot with her fan. It squawked and fell to the deck in a heap.
The Captain snarled. "Bad move, lass or no lass." Raising his cutlass, the broad man charged toward her.
Suki bent her knees, ready to parry the attack.
Before the Captain could reach her, a boomerang arced out of the darkness, gleaming in the moonlight, and conked him on the head. Much like his pet, the Captain dropped to the deck with an undignified yelp of pain.
The pirate crew whirled at the sound and Suki grinned when she saw her husband posed in a dramatic stance as the other men from the rowboat climbing over the rail.
Sokka ignored the enemy for the moment, instead addressing his wife. "You see what I just did there?" Sokka asked, catching his boomerang without even looking. "I can do stuff like that because I know Mr. Boomerang is perfectly balanced!"
Suki beamed at him. "You know, Sokka, I never said being a little immature was a bad thing."
A shirtless pirate brandishing two swords looked from one to the other and back. "Enough talking!" he shouted. "Attack them!" He swung his sword at Suki's midsection.
Suki sidestepped the blade, in the same movement bringing up her foot to kick him in the face.
But this was the least of the pirate's worries. Sokka leapt through the crowd with lightning speed. He stood beside his wife before she even finished her kick and followed it up on his own with a punch to the man's bare and rather flabby gut. Between the blows, the pirate flew along the deck before coming to rest at the ship's rail, fighting to catch his breath.
"Nobody attacks my wife!" Sokka shouted after him. Then he pulled a face and began rubbing his knuckles against his tunic. "And put on a shirt; that's disgusting!"
Suki gave him a peck on the cheek. "You came to rescue me. That's so sweet."
Sokka blushed. "I'm not going to leave you to fend for yourself on a ship full of ghosts!"
Two pirates came at them from either side.
"They're just pirates," she reminded Sokka, catching a sword between her fans and twisting, leaving her attacker disarmed.
Sokka scowled, bringing his hilt down on the head of the other pirate who came at him with his fists. "I know! Just another reason these guys have to pay!"
Behind them, the sea serpent screeched in pain. Several of the fighters winced as the deafening cry echoed through the night. The battle lulled for an instant as everyone glanced back in time to see the serpent squirming away from the warship just as a large hunk of metal fell into the sea.
On deck and in the still-trailing nets, the trapped babies took up their mother's cry, peeling in terror.
The sea serpent cocked her head. The warship forgotten, she advanced on the thieves.
"Uh-oh," Hoo gulped.
"That is definitely not good," Wei agreed.
By now, the Captain –and his lizard parrot– had staggered upright. Seeing the charging serpent, he took command. "Man the canons!" he bellowed. "Mr. Oh, get us out of here!"
The pirates forgot the unwanted boarders and flurried into action. Feeling awkward, Hoo and the others glanced about, unsure of what to do.
Sokka caught Suki's arm and tugged her toward starboard, where the rowboat was waiting. "Time to get out of here."
"Wait!" Suki wriggled free. She pointed to the stern and the gasping serpents. "These pirates are poachers," she told Sokka. "They stole her babies; that's why she attacked us!"
Sokka winced. "Don't tell me: you want to release the future ship-wreckers back into the ocean on the off-chance it will appease their mother."
"I want to put the babies back in the water, but not to appease her." Her eyes flashed and her words turned fierce. "She's a mother, Sokka, and no mother should lose her babies."
The words struck a chord within him. Like his wife, he remembered the day their little girl Siku was born and refused to cry. The physician told them she wouldn't live through the night, but she turned out to be as much of a fighter as her parents. Still, neither her father nor her mother ever forgot how close they had come to losing her, or the panic and despair of her first few weeks.
Sokka glanced back at the sea serpent. He couldn't bring himself to pity the monster that had almost capsized their ship and killed his wife. But when he looked back at Suki, he couldn't say no.
"Okay," he said; "Let's go free the babies."
As Suki started for the stern, Sokka turned back. "Hoo!" He called over the crowd. "Distract the pirates!"
Hoo saluted, even though Sokka was not actually his superior or even a member of the Fire Nation army. "Yes, sir!"
In hindsight, this wasn't the best tactic. Everyone on deck, not just Hoo, heard the instructions, and the Captain frowned, wondering just why they would need distracting. His eyes darted to the stern, where that confounded woman had already disabled two of the three pirates working at the nets.
"Change of plans, boys!" He bellowed. "They're after our payday. Anyone not manning the canon, attack the invaders!"
Fear of the serpent quickly gave way to outrage at this announcement. They had worked hard for those delicacies, not to mention risked life and limb. The expedition was worth the risk, especially now that they had found the breeding goldmine so many others had searched for in vain, but only if they succeeded in delivering the hard-to-acquire treat to the fat nobles waiting for their culinary thrills.
The pirates converged on the two warriors. The soldiers charged after them to keep their attention, but only succeeded in splitting the enemy force in two.
Sokka and Suki backed toward the rails.
"Any brilliant ideas?" Sokka asked out of the corner of his mouth.
"I thought you were the brilliant idea guy."
"Actually..." Suki brandished her fan. "I do have one idea." She whirled and, as the pirates cried out in dismay, sliced free one of the nets still trailing the water.
The pirates lunged toward the rail as if to catch the fluttering strands, but the pair of skilled warriors quickly pushed them back. Or pushed them overboard.
Behind the ship, the serpent balked for an instant as a net of five young ones floated toward her. She bent down, nuzzling them over before baring her fangs to rip the netting away. Bubbles frothed the water as the little serpents squirmed beneath the surface. Once her recovered babies were out of danger, the angry mother's head swiveled back to the pirate ship, eyes burning with hatred.
Oh, the big-lipped pirate –whose lip had swelled even bigger, thanks to the splinters– stood full in that glare. His face paled and his pronounced Adam's apple bobbed in terror. "Say, Cap'n, maybe we should–"
Mr. Boomerang put a stop to his suggestion, be it sensible or no. Sokka caught the trusty weapon as it faithfully returned to his hand, and glanced over to check on his wife's position.
Suki had cut another of the nets free, slashing at ropes as she danced between opponents and under their weapons. She brought grace and poise to the fight, making it look more like a choreographed performance than a bloodthirsty battle.
A furious cry erupted behind him. Sokka turned to see an enraged pirate charging right at him with weapon at the ready. He would have impaled Sokka for sure if the battle cry hadn't given him away. As it was, Sokka sidestepped the charging amateur, leaving one foot out to trip him as he passed. Unfortunately, the pirate's head collided with the mast on his way down, laying him out for the count.
"You know," Sokka told the unconscious man with a grin, "A surprise attack only works if you surprise your opponent with the attack."
He chuckled, but it died in his throat when he heard a wet slapping beneath the pirate. His gaze focused on the ground, and Sokka realized he stood on top of one of the nets hauled onto the deck. His would-be attacker had fallen right onto the tail of a struggling, pathetic serpent.
Sokka sighed. "All right, little guy. I guess it isn't fair to make you suffer like that."
He grabbed the unconscious pirate by the shoulders and, with a great grunt of exertion, heaved the broad man off the serpent's tail. The creature wriggled more freely, but it still could not escape into the ocean.
Again Sokka sighed. He reached down and grabbed at the sea snake. It took a few tries –what slippery scales!– but he finally managed to get a grip on it by slinging it over his neck like a scarf and winding it down one arm.
It occurred to him that the serpent might be a constrictor, which was obviously something he should have considered earlier. Too late now! He raced to the side of the ship and pushed the creature off his arm. It wriggled into the water and disappeared from sight.
"I really hope he tells his mom about that."
It was Wei who first caught sight of Sokka's excursions. Out of the corner of his eye, while battling off a pirate with a tiny mustache sprouting from the corners of his mouth, he watched Sokka struggling with a wriggling, slippery bundle of something and then toss it over the side, before hurrying back for another.
Hoo passed to his right, dodging a hook from his opponent before following it up with an upward jab. "Have you seen Sokka?" he asked, nodding toward the stern as his opponent dropped senseless to the deck.
Wei frowned and pressed a little harder into his opponent with the sword. "Yeah," he grunted.
"What's he doing?"
"No idea!" Wei lunged forward, catching the pirate by surprise and disarming him.
Hoo glanced at the weaponless pirate. "Shall I?" he asked Wei, gesturing.
Wei shrugged, panting hard. "Why not?"
Striking out with a flat hand, Hoo chopped at a nerve cluster in the pirate's neck and down he sank.
"Not bad," Wei admitted.
"Not bad yourself." Hoo pointed back toward Sokka. "Doesn't that look like an eel?"
Wei squinted. "Hmm. Kinda." He squinted harder. "Hey! How is it two people can deal with the same amount of pirates faster than the Fire Nation army and navy?"
Hoo shrugged. "They are Kyoshi Warriors."
"I got the last of the pirates."
Sokka jumped in shock. Testing his heart, he glowered at Suki. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"
She gave him a sly smile. "You're supposed to be an elite warrior, Sokka. I shouldn't be able to sneak up on you."
"Yeah, well..." He blushed and ducked to pick up the final landed serpent. "I think this is the last of the babies, too."
Suki grabbed hold of half the serpent. It wasn't much easier between two people, but at least when it slipped from Sokka's grip someone else was ready to catch it. They set the serpent back into the water, and held their breath.
Another cannon blast shot off from the pirate ship, grazing the serpent's scales. She reared back and screeched.
"Do you think this will work?" Sokka asked.
The sea serpent froze. She lunged her head toward the water, terrible snout frantically searching the waves. A tiny thread of pink jumped up above the surface, catching her attention. Her lips pulled back, fangs revealed in a ferocious smile, and the pink creature sank back into the water.
"...Is it working?" Sokka whispered.
"Shh. For a guy who loves good storytelling, you can't stand drama in real life."
Sokka pressed his lips closed.
The serpent lifted her head, eyeing the pirate ship as if gauging the pleasure that would come from shattering it to pieces. But her eyes again shifted to the water, and her babies wriggling beneath the surface. With one last shriek to challenge any other fool enough to dare her wrath, the creature slipped back into the water. She disappeared, down into the dark depths of the ocean, with barely a ripple.
On board the warship, the defenders had been fixated on the chaotic scene across the water. Now, the battle was over, and they couldn't tell exactly who had won or how. They blinked, glancing about at each other as the adrenaline began to wear off.
"Well," Mai said mildly, "That was exciting."
The pirate ship had gone similarly quiet, mostly because half the pirates had been put out of commission thanks to Sokka and Suki, and the other half had succumbed to the mightier force of the Fire Nation's soldiers and sailors.
Suki took her husband's hand. "You really are the sweetest guy, Sokka."
Sokka harrumphed, but he blushed even redder this time. "Yeah, well, don't spread it around. I've got a reputation to uphold."
Suki didn't mention that his unofficial title back on Kyoshi Island was Fuzzy Bear. Instead, she gave him a peck on the cheek.
"Okay," Sokka said, "All the baby serpents are back with their mama, and she's decided to call it a night. Now can we get back to the rowboat?"
Suki glanced over her shoulder. The pirate Captain, too, had succumbed. He had been tied hand and foot to the center mast, and the rays of the early morning sun poking over the horizon shone down on his disgrace.
"Almost. I just have to do one more thing."
After the sanctuary, Katara fought back a huge yawn, but insisted she wasn't tired in the least. Aang decided to call it a night and they slept snuggled against Appa, who kept them warm and blocked the wind from them. But bright and early the next morning, husband and wife went in search of their next clue.
Haku's former living quarters weren't hard to locate. The northwest wing contained a meditation chamber and a hall of rooms for visiting monks, but only one room featured a memorial plaque for the long-dead Avatar. It was tarnished and faded, but Aang recognized the dates of Haku's birth and death.
He paused in the doorway, uncertain what to expect. Would there even be anything in there? It was true that the Fire Nation had not destroyed nearly as much of this Temple as the others, but Haku had died centuries before even that. What trace could possibly remain?
Katara seemed to read his thoughts. "We'll never know until we look." She stepped into the room and, after a moment's hesitation, Aang followed.
Along one wall stood the remaining bed frame of an ancient cot, with a small table beside it. A single shelf sagged over it, empty, and a wash basin lay upside down in the corner. The walls were bare, crowned with decorative molding, and the sun blazed through a single window, half a wooden shutter clinging to its frame.
"It couldn't be too easy," Katara said. She stepped across the room and carefully mounted the bed frame. "Otherwise it wouldn't be any fun."
Aang's smile quickly fell. "Is that a good idea?" He asked, watching in alarm as his wife balanced on the tip of her toes to probe the decorative molding with her fingers. "What are you doing?"
Katara grinned. "Hoping for a catch. If Ursa can find a lost system of underground tunnels without even looking for them, I'm hoping I can discover a secret cubby hole where an ancient Avatar just happened to hide his very important personal journal."
The frame grunted in protest.
Aang jumped forward, catching her around the waist. "Be careful, Katara!"
His wife beamed at him. "You're so cute when you go into protective father mode. And we haven't even had the baby yet."
But Aang wasn't laughing. "I'm serious, Katara. This wood is old. It could give out at any minute. Please come down."
She didn't have the heart to send him into a deeper panic, so she allowed him to help her step down, even though she was perfectly capable of doing it without injuring herself.
As Aang reached up to take her hand, something glinted in the sunlight out of the corner of his eye. He frowned, cocking his head.
"Aang? What is it?"
"I'm not sure..." After placing her back on solid ground, Aang dropped to the floor. He squirmed onto his stomach and ducked his head under the frame. Between the bottom of the wall and the floor ran a thick piece of molding. It looked old and unkempt, but a small square of it sagged, almost like it was a separate piece of wood. Aang dug his fingers in around it and pried. He grunted with the effort, but after a few good tugs, the piece of molding wrenched out. "Well, well, well!"
"Did you find something?" Katara crouched down beside him, craning her neck to see.
Under the molding panel, a decorative plaque of a stylized air insignia graced the wall. The symbol was designed of one long pipe of metal, twisting up at one end to reveal a hollow opening. Katara would recognize that complicated design anywhere.
She and Aang exchanged knowing smiles.
"That's too small to be a door for another inner sanctuary," she said.
"But it's the perfect size for a cubby hole," Aang replied. "Maybe just big enough for a very important lost journal."
He twisted his wrist, feeding the air around him into a spinning ball, and launched it at the tiny mechanism.
The wind whistled through the pipe. A soft whoosh as a passage pushed open. The triumphant click as the lock detached. The door sagged.
Squeezing Katara's hand, he held his breath and reached out with the other to nudge the door open.
The opening was round, barely large enough for him to reach in. A gecko spider scurried out, leaving behind its web and the dust that had been its clutter. And between the threads of the creature's home poked the wooden handle of a single scroll.
He lifted it from its rest as though it might crumble at the slightest jerk. Sitting upright, he held the scroll to the sunlight and unfurled the top of the parchment.
"This is it," Aang breathed.
"You can't leave us like this!" one of the pirates cried. "We'll die!"
"Please," Hoo snorted. "I can see at least five possible ways for you to escape using the materials within your reach."
The pirate glanced about, as if expecting a knife at his feet. But there was no obvious means of freeing himself. "How?"
Wei laughed. "You wouldn't be learning anything if he just told you, now would you?"
The pirate glowered at him.
Suki strode toward the pirate captain. She drew out her fan, not bothering to open it and, with a mighty stab that made everyone on deck jump in surprise, skewered the shoulder of his tunic to the mast. She leaned in close, eyes boring into his. "The next time you decide to make your payday on helpless babies, you better be prepared to deal with the mother."
The captain gnashed his teeth in a leering grin. "Thankee kindly for the advice, lass."
Suki scowled at him. "Call it a warning. You'll never be prepared to deal with a protective mother. If I ever see you in these waters again, I'll let her deal with you. And in case the angry sea monster isn't enough incentive, I happen to have some pull with the Earth King and the Firelord, and I'm sure they'll put a heavy price on you for your poaching."
The captain's grin faded, but his teeth remained bared.
Suki pulled her fan free and bounded over to Sokka. "Okay," she said brightly. "Now I'm ready."
It was decided that, of course, they couldn't leave the pirates completely helpless adrift in the middle of the sea. But if they freed them now, there was the chance that they would attempt to fire on the warship out of spite. So Hoo decided to stab a dagger into the mast, just within their reach. It would take the designated pirate some time to stretch toward the dagger and still longer to cut himself and everyone else free. Sawing through several skeins of rope was a slow and tedious task. By the time the pirates were ready to pursue, the warship would have long ago disappeared.
The investigators shimmied down to the rowboat and set out across the glass-smooth sea.
"You know," Sokka said. "Those guys seemed really familiar. I can't help thinking I've seen them somewhere before..." He tapped his lip, thinking hard for a long minute, but nothing came to mind. "Man, that's gonna bug me."
Aang laid the scroll out carefully on the giant Pai Sho table near the center of the Temple. For a long moment, they could only stare at the lost treasure. But awe quickly gave way to curiosity and desperation, and husband and wife leaned in to read, keeping their hands from further disturbing the fragile parchment.
It has long weighed on me how some find Enlightenment such an encouraging, even necessary, contribution to their lives, and others struggle with it so they don't even bother. The path to Enlightenment is a road open to everyone, but traveled by few. Some ascend to the very peek of the mountain, while others halt along the way, satisfied with their progress, blissfully unaware that the top still towers above them. I myself have found spirituality and meditation merely an extension of being, and I intend to study these differences between not merely people as nationalities, but individually.
Enlightenment is the result of deep spirituality, and spirituality can only be obtained through pursuit –study, meditation, and desire. Some are spiritually inclined, others are not, much like our own world, whose proximity to the Spirit World is heightened and lessened in some areas. There are believed to be certain spiritual 'hotspots' in the four corners of our world, of which the North Pole's Spirit Oasis is one. Using this theory as a guideline, myself and Sister Ama successfully identified the corresponding location in the Fire Nation, on a small island called Imru.
Much like the world, some mortals are more attuned to the spiritual sides of our existence, more aware of the parallel Spirit World. For this reason, such a rare occasion as a mere mortal seeking and gaining passage into the spirit realm during a solstice, or through a 'hotspot', has been recorded. No one in this lifetime has managed such a feat, but there are records of those who have crossed into the Spirit World and returned...
Aang reeled back.
Katara started. "Aang?" She took his arm gently, afraid that someone else might answer her call.
"That's it," he whispered. He placed his hand over hers, squeezing it tight. "Katara, that's what I have to do!"
"This whole time I've been thinking that there's no way for me to contact Haku without using the Avatar's abilities, but that's not true. Haku's spirit is at rest in the Spirit World. If I can get there, I can talk to him."
"But, Aang, without the Avatar–"
Aang shook his head. "Mortals have crossed into the Spirit World. It's just like Haku says. Even Sokka's been there, remember?"
"Aang," Katara said, placing her hands on her hips. "Sokka didn't cross over. He was kidnapped by an angry spirit. There's a big difference."
"Maybe," Aang said with a shrug. "But we know somebody else who's been to the Spirit World."
Katara's frown deepened. "Yes, but Iroh doesn't like to talk about it."
"That's okay." Aang plopped down on the stone floor, cross-legged. "I don't have time to ask him. Now I just know it's possible."
"That's not what I meant! What if Iroh doesn't talk about it, because it was a really bad experience?"
"Whatever happened, it changed him from a bloodthirsty warmonger to a really nice old guy. How bad could it be?"
Tears stung at Katara's eyes. "It could be really bad! Do you know what kind of harrowing experience that must have been, to change him so drastically? What if you change, Aang? What if you come back and you're someone different? I've already been through that once, and it really, really sucked!"
Her words echoed through the valley, bouncing off the mountain cliffs and hurtling right back at them. The wind caught hold of her anger and sent it flying through the extensive passages, filling the Temple with her desperation and fear.
Aang sobered. He rose, taking her by the hand. "Katara." She looked away, tears trickling down her cheeks, but Aang turned her back to face him. "I'm not going to change. I think Iroh was probably looking for a revelation. I just need answers." He ran his thumb across her cheek, swiped the tears away. "This is something that I need to do. If there's even a chance I can figure out what Haku is trying to tell me..." He took her face in her hand, gazing into her eyes. "I'll come back to you. I promise."
Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Katara nodded. "I'll hold you to that." She frowned. "Do you even know how to do this?"
Aang shrugged. "Roku told me that our world and the Spirit World are closest during the solstice, and Haku basically said the same thing."
"So you have to wait?"
"Not long," Aang replied. "The summer solstice is in a few days. Hopefully, we'll have some answers soon."
Sokka, Suki and the other investigators were greeted as heroes back at the warship. Hoo told Captain Jee that to avoid the pirates they should get as far away as possible. They were peppered with questions, and everyone was quick to point Suki and Sokka as the real saviors, and so Suki explained that the pirates had been trolling the waters for the baby sea serpents, which apparently were a delicacy. Wei piped up that he'd heard a pirate mention that serpent-hunting was illegal in many parts of the world, which explained why they'd been hiding when the warship came on them. When Suki told them how she and Sokka released all the nets and tossed the babies back into the sea, Princess Ursa stared at her in wonder, eyes shining. It was obvious the girl had a new hero.
"What about over here?" Sokka asked. "I saw that serpent take one right between the eyes and slink away." He turned to Toph, who was grinning like a maniac and thus must obviously be responsible. "What did you do to it?"
But Toph shook her head. "Not me." She punched Haru in the shoulder. "It was Stache Man. Turns out he's got what it takes to metalbend after all."
The soldiers and sailors were quick to sing the new metalbender's praise, and Haru's face flushed bright red. They had already made a fuss over him, and being the center of attention embarrassed him.
"Cheer up, Stache Man!" Toph told him with a playful shove. "You just metalbended an angry mother sea monster. Can't get thrills like in no man's land!"
Haru managed a smile. "I just don't like the attention," he said. "But anyone else would have done it too."
Toph cuffed his ear. "Hey! Let's get one thing straight, no student of mine ever shortchanges himself, got it? What you did, nobody else could do. As for the attention, well," –she shrugged– "You better get used to it. If you're going to go lead you're village."
His brow furrowed in confusion. "If?"
"Hey, Haru!" Sokka broke into the conversation. "So you're a metalbender now?"
Haru didn't answer. His eyes were locked on Toph, a small frown on his face.
Toph had no such qualms. "Not quite yet. It was a heat of the moment thing. He hasn't been able to do it again. But now that I know he's capable, he'll never get a moment's rest." A wicked grin spread across her face.
"What do you mean 'if'?" Haru demanded.
Sokka and Toph turned to him in surprise.
"What are you talking about, Stache Man?" Toph asked.
"You said I should get used to the attention. If I'm going back to lead my village."
Toph dragged her foot along the metal deck, but her blushing cheeks betrayed her guilt.
Haru stood. "You know I'm going back, Toph. I told you so. I was going to right after the coronation, but—" He frowned, remembering just what had stopped him. A horrible realization sunk deep into the bottom of his gut. "I couldn't figure it out, but ever since then you've been saying the weirdest things. 'Can't get spicy soufflé in the Earth Kingdom, can you?' 'No thrills like this in no man's land.' You're trying to change my mind. That's what this whole trip was about! Why would you do that?"
Sokka's head swiveled to her. This was probably more of a private conversation, but they seemed to have forgotten about him. He eased a few feet back, but couldn't bring himself to duck out of earshot.
Toph didn't reply for a moment. Her expression turned down in concentration.
"Well?" Haru prodded.
Toph scowled. "Because you're better than that, okay?"
Haru frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"You've got a lot of talent, Haru, and you're just going to waste them playing peacemaker in your little village! You should be exploiting them, where they'll really make a difference."
Haru straightened, his demeanor turning icy. "Are you saying my village isn't important?"
A flush of rage brushed Toph's cheeks. "Not unimportant, just not as important. Look, I get the whole goody-two-shoes act, but the village has gotten along fine so far without you. They'll survive."
"But I've made my decision!"
Toph snorted. "Are you sure about that?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Metalbenders don't give in, not to anyone!" Toph caught herself and sighed. Lowering her voice, she said, "He probably means well, but you're dad was pestering you about going back home. Don't even try to deny it."
Haru clenched his jaw. "Of course my dad wants me to go home, but he wasn't pestering me to do it. He wanted me to make a decision. Of my own. Not his, and certainly not yours. So keep your nose out of it!"
He turned on his heel and stormed away.
Toph snorted. "Ungrateful."
Sokka eyed her doubtfully. "You really ticked him off, Toph."
"It's for his own good," she argued. "He's settling, and somebody needs to show him that. Metalbenders don't back down, and they don't give in!" She turned on her heel and stomped off in the opposite direction.
Sokka frowned. He glanced to where Haru had disappeared, then to Toph's back as she marched away. "Why do I feel like I'm the one who did something wrong?" he complained.
"I'm not sure," he admitted, but he had a feeling he'd have a talk with Toph soon.
"We took quite a blow, sir," Captain Jee told the Firelord. "We'll need to put in somewhere for repairs before we can make it to the mainland."
Chong stared in shock at them all. "That was amazing!" he gasped, having seen it all from a porthole window. At least, parts of it. The rest he just made up. "It's worthy of a song!"
The troupe cheered.
"No," Sokka moaned. "No more songs!"
"An epic poem," Chang went on, "In ballad form."
Sokka was listening now.
"The tale of the heroic band of friends who fought the ghost pirates and a sea serpent!" Chong began strumming a dramatic tune.
On the lonely reaches of the farthest great sea, he sang.
Lilly and Moku joined in with their instruments, completely oblivious to the recovering soldiers around them. But soon they were joining in, too.
A warrior band of the faithfulest friends
In the eerie dark skimmed the watery surface
Of a vicious, malicious pirate's deep grave!
Sokka nodded slowly. "I could get into this..."
Roh-Roh tugged on his sleeve. "Do you think the serpent wrecked Singh Sang's ship?" he asked, eyes gleaming. "Do you think it has the cursed treasure?
"Nah!" Sokka waved the thought away. "There weren't any ghosts; I doubt there's any treasure."
Far, far beneath the surface of the waves, in the deepest, darkest depth of the ocean, the sea serpent glowed. Her young ones were safely tucked away, and the attackers gone.
She languidly wound herself up a rock pillar jutting from the sea floor, curling around the top to settle in for a long snooze.
On top of the pillar, now guarded by her scales, a heaping pile of jewels, gold pieces, and the aged bones of long dead pirates shone dimly in the glow of the sea serpent's scales.
She found comfort in the glinting gold, and bared her sharp teeth in a ferocious grin.
- The Legend of Singh Sang chapters were originally conceived as a comic-relief chapter before the finale, much like 'The Ember Island Players'. The focus was intended to be mostly on Sokka and Suki, because I felt bad they didn't get their own Tale and I wanted to spend a little time with them.
- Originally, the pirates were supposed to poaching some kind of endangered fish that the serpent loved to eat, but as I was rewriting I realized that stealing the serpent's babies worked much better. And when Suki said that no mother should lose her child, I realized that Siku almost died when she was born. Gosh, you learn so much about characters on the fly.
- The pirate's failed 'surprise' attack on Sokka is a reference to a similar attack Sokka once launched on Aang to help with his training. This just proves that Sokka's has come farther along in his warrior training.
- In case no one's noticed yet, I really enjoy banter in my fight scenes.
- When Hoo mentions there are several possible ways he can see by which the pirate could escape, this is similar to a scene in Warehouse 13 between Artie and Claudia.
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