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About the Chapter
This chapter was written as my first filler. It was originally going to be a comedy chapter with the title "Whispers in the Night" and an introduction of a new recurring character. However, when I started writing it I decided that I wanted the chapter to be more serious. My mother having me watch a TV special on cross-dressing with her is also a major contribution to the birth of this chapter (you watch more than an hour of people talking about cross-dressing and it's nearly impossible NOT to write something like this). Thus, this predictable, cheesy chapter was born. CHEESE WARNING: this is the cheesiest thing I have ever written. But I kinda like it for that reason.
Clothes are missing?
Odraz stopped in front of a great mountain, not in the mood to bend through it. Though the three teenagers on his back were convinced that they were heading in the right direction, the badgermole knew better. And he especially knew better than to keep going through walls that were there for a reason: to keep people from going too far in the wrong direction. Ishio patted his side, urging him to keep going, but Odraz just fell down on his stomach while they checked the map.
"Frost, you're on map duty. Where are we?" Ishio was leaning against the front of the saddle, arms crossed behind his head and his eyes closed.
"My name is Pogonia, why do you insist upon calling me by my ring name?" Frost sifted through the papers until she found the extremely large map and began struggling to unfold it.
"Pogonia doesn't even sound like a name."
Frost turned to Liwei for support. In Frost and Ishio's many arguments the past day, Liwei was always the one caught in the middle. And he always honestly chose his side.
"Pogonia sounds like a disease, not a name," he replied simply. Frost rolled her eyes and began looking at the map.
About twelve hours ago, they finished crossing the bridge connecting Republic City to the Fire Nation. Since fleeing the City, they barely had enough time to change into less conspicuous clothing. Liwei had a black eye and a broken lip as well as other bruises and cuts on his face and body; Frost had been so offended when he had assumed she would heal him because she was a girl and a Waterbender that she refused to even bandage his wounds. Frost thankfully had changed out of her uniform into something more modest, though she still wore the sickening rose perfume. As for Ishio, he was the least noticeable in his plain outfit and minimal wounds.
Add in a badgermole as a method of travel and they were quite a sight. Ishio thought that they would attract too much attention on the surface, so he had Odraz burrow tunnels under the ground. "If we keep track of how far we've traveled," he had said, "we'll know where we are. Then we can get far enough away to not be tracked by the police or the benders and not attract any other attention to ourselves traveling through villages!" The result was that when Ishio thought they should be in an open clearing, they burrowed through the ground of a bathhouse. After that, the majority vote said that they would be traveling above the surface.
"I think we're here." The map they were using was huge, and it took some time for Frost to move it around to point at the base of the mountain that they had stopped at. "I think we started here, and we crossed two bridges which would land us on the third island in."
"I thought where we started had more area than that, considering the distance we traveled underground. Wouldn't we have started here?" Ishio pointed to where another bridge connected to the Fire Nation, connecting to a larger land mass.
"Do you want to navigate?"
"Then we're here," Frost declared decisively.
The map continued to be unfolded, and Frost examined it closely. "There should be a small farming village..." she shifted the paper to her left, piling it up on Liwei's lap. The non-bender stared at the parchment in disapproval while Frost continued, "just east of this mountain. We can rest there for the night."
The Avatar did not respond, and simply patted his badgermole as a symbol to follow her instructions. Odraz seemed to sigh at this as he lifted his great body and began to walk around the side of the mountain.
"So how do you know this Corsair person?" Ishio finally thought to ask his traveling companion.
Liwei, in the midst of cleaning the barrel of his gun, did not look up to respond. "We knew each other as children."
"You grew up in the Fire Nation?" Frost decided to join Ishio in his interrogation. If they had grown up in Republic City, it was dubious that the Corsair would find himself a renegade in the Fire Nation.
"Yes... The Corsair is actually the person who inspired me to leave home to join the police."
"A bender who inspired you to hate benders?" Ishio inquired.
No response came to his question. "I think that's the village ahead."
"Ha HA! I was right, Ishio."
"Thank you for letting us stay here." Liwei bowed to the old farmer who had allowed them to stay in his barn for the night while Ishio, Frost, and Odraz were already settling in.
"Yeah..." the farmer rubbed his head and leaned forward to whisper in Liwei's ear. "So that kid's really the Avatar?"
Liwei closed his eyes and nodded. "Yes... And we'll save your wife and kids," he whispered in response.
The farmer clasped his hands on Liwei's shoulders in thanks before leaving them alone.
"I have a bad feeling about telling people that Ishio's the Avatar." Frost said while laying out her sleeping bag.
"So do I, but it doesn't hurt to raise the hopes of those who have been affected most by the chaos."
"Whatever you say."
The sound of a shotgun woke the new Team Avatar. Liwei's upper body jolted upright and he had his handgun drawn while both Frost and Ishio entered sitting bending stances. As the door to the barn creaked open, they all swung to face the opponent.
"Sorry about that... Damned animals have been coming to my farm every night... Got to scare them off..." he nodded and closed the door once more, allowing Team Avatar to rest again.
Ishio and Liwei awoke to find Frost in a panic.
"All my clothes are missing!" she didn't wait for them to ask what was wrong.
"Your clothes are missing?" Ishio clarified, still too tired to fully comprehend the situation.
"All of them! Except for what I'm wearing, of course."
"Is anything else gone?" Liwei asked, more concerned with whether they would have food or not than whether Frost would have her hideous bending uniform.
"No! Nothing is missing except my clothes!"
"Maybe the old man has some spare clothes you could have? He probably didn't get rid of his wife's stuff." Ishio offered, walking over to pet the tired Odraz.
"Yeah... He probably does. I'll go ask," with a nod towards her comrades, Frost left to go speak to the farmer.
When Frost told the old farmer the situation, he furrowed his brow as his face fell. "I did keep all of my wife and daughter's things..." As he spoke, he wrung his hands nervously, "but... It's all gone. Mysteriously vanished as your things did."
"All of it is gone. Except my youngest daughter's things, but I don't think those would fit you."
Frost thanked the farmer and left to return to her friends. It seemed so unusual, that only the woman's clothing should vanish. Could it be that there was an animal was attracted to some sort of scent that woman had and was taking their clothing? That seemed improbable. A homeless woman in need of clothing? Unnecessary, she would find another way to get clothing than stealing it. The only option Frost saw was that a man was cross-dressing as women and stealing clothing! It was a total stab in the dark, but Frost's wild imagination quickly filled in the blanks. A man with a dead mother was stealing women's clothing and dressing up like his mother and talking to himself! Frost was the lovely female protagonist victim who would find herself in the middle of the mystery and stop the creeper once and for all, even though she would find herself face-to-face with the now, thanks to her imagination expanding the idea, homicidal insane man cross-dressing as his mother. It sounded almost like something that could be in some sort of horror movie or something.
Ishio and Liwei were already packing by the time Frost returned.
"Did you get some new clothes?" Liwei asked while tying his sleeping bag onto Odraz's saddle.
"We need to stay another night."
"What?!" Both the young men were baffled by their colleague's remark.
It took a while for Frost to explain the entire plot her mind had developed. Basically she went through her entire idea as though it were some sort of film, from start to finish, and received completely blank stares throughout her entire explanation.
"You're insane." Ishio said once she had finished with the end of the movie, where Ishio barely saves her from being murdered by killing the homicidal cross-dresser and discovering that the cross-dresser was actually Inspector Tang.
"Yes," she was so involved with explaining the plot that she didn't think to defend her sanity, "but we have to stay one more night so you can defeat the cross-dresser!"
"Fine." Liwei spoke up.
"Eh? Who put you in charge? I'm the Avatar, I should be making the calls."
Ishio's plea was ignored as Liwei continued, "We'll stay one more night, but you have to find your clothes by tomorrow morning so we can leave."
That night, Frost sent Ishio outside to look for the cross-dresser. It seemed ridiculous that Frost contradicted her own plot by sending Ishio to look for the cross-dresser rather than waiting for the cross-dresser to come to them, but Ishio couldn't argue. Literally, he couldn't argue. She was so excited to be involved in the story that she didn't give him an opening to say anything. The young Avatar, not exactly sure how to find a homicidal cross-dresser in the middle of the farm, decided it would be best to wander around a bit.
I swear, Ishio thought while examining some plants, Frost has some sort of disorder... There's no way a sane person can be as violent as she is, have as bizarre of an imagination, and be so strangely outspoken... He analyzed the Waterbender carefully, before realizing that they were all pretty strange. Liwei didn't talk much, but something about the lack of talking made him a magic conversation killer. At the same time, he had some sort of soft side, shown with the old farmer. As for himself, Ishio figured that his personality was completely unflawed, and so he didn't really have to worry.
His thoughts were interrupted by someone crying. At first, he just barely heard it and figured that it was some upset neighbor kid. As the sobbing became clearer, Ishio realized that it was too close to be a neighbor, as there were no people nearby. Then he realized that the crying sounded too deep to be a child. And it was coming from the side of the farmer's house.
The Avatar cautiously approached the building and then quickly turned the corner to see a man weeping over a pile of women's clothing. A ghostly azure aura surrounded him and though his tears fell on the clothes, all of the garments were untarnished. Beside him sat a small Fire Ferret. Ishio could see Frost's cross-dresser split into two personas: the thief and the culprit. There was some sort of connection between the spirit and the Fire Ferret that enabled the spirit to summon the animal to bring him these clothes without ruining them.
"Excuse me..." Ishio approached the man hesitantly.
He looked up, his eyes damp with tears. "You... Can see me?"
Ishio nodded, "I'm the Avatar... I'm here to help."
Hearing Ishio identify himself only made the spirit more upset. His sobs grew more massive, until Ishio had to interrupt, "Why did you steal these clothes?"
"I just want... To be beautiful." he spoke through his sobs, in a manner similar to a child explaining how he scraped his knee. "I just want... To be noticed..."
For the rest of the night, Ishio listened to the story of this spirit. In the Spirit World, he had few friends because of his queer demeanor. More concerned with beauty than anything else, he was shunned by the other spirits. When he came to the human world, he thought that he would be special for being a spirit, but he only discovered that no one could even see him. By stealing women's clothes, he was feeding both his desire to be beautiful and his desire to be noticed. After giving Ishio his woes, the Avatar convinced the spirit to let him return the clothes and convinced the spirit that he would be noticed more in the Spirit World.
As dawn was breaking, Ishio said his final words to the spirit, "If people don't notice you for who you are, then it's not worth being noticed by them at all."
"T-thank you, Avatar," the spirit smiled and thanked Ishio before vanishing into the distance. Ishio first returned the old farmer's wife and daughters' clothes before taking Frost's clothes back to her.
"My clothes!" Frost ran up to him and grabbed her clothes from Ishio before he had even come through the door to the farm. "Did you kill the homicidal cross-dresser?"
"It was just a Fire Ferret." Ishio told some of the truth... He decided that he didn't want to disgrace the spirit by letting Frost's imagination distort him. Maybe that was the best way to be the bridge between worlds, by not telling either side the full story. Oftentimes the truth would break any hopes of peace. While Ishio was reluctant to take on such a great role, he knew that it was spirits like that man who needed him the most. The little people, the victims. And that was who Ishio would fight for.
"We're losing daylight Mr. Avatar, you coming?" Liwei and Frost had already mounted Odraz, and Ishio was left standing and thinking about his encounter.
"Coming!" he called while Earthbending to launch himself onto Odraz's neck. As they left the farm, Ishio watched after where the spirit had left and hoped that he would be able to find peace... Somewhere. Because Ishio and his friends had to make their own peace here.
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