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|The Recruitment Effort|
June 2, 2017
One week has passed since firebending training alongside . It's moments before dawn when Singi steps out of her and 's house, closely followed by the elder, to find resting alongside the doorway, a letter holder secured just above her mantle.
"Jiefeng's back! I pray to the spirits that General and his men survived the ."
Singi unfastens the letter holder from the cranefish and finds—much to her relief—a response letter nestled within the narrow confines of the holder. She hands the letter to Jamyang, who unfurls it while Singi produces a small flame in her left hand as a light source.
Dear Avatar Singi,
I am glad to hear you are well and have found a firebending instructor.
The siege of Gai Chan was merciless. The city's citizens were either killed or imprisoned, with only a few groups managing to escape the carnage and seek out refuge elsewhere. My men and I eventually had to retreat, as, and their forces were simply too much for us. We escaped, injured, with no fatalities. I am not sure if Maku or Gaza are still residing within their newly-conquered city, or if they are back out in the wilderness to seek out yet another settlement to conquer like a large Pai Sho game, but Gai Chan is currently guarded by a small faction of their men.
, meanwhile, is well for the most part. He was clearly shaken by what has happened in Gai Chan, and yet, I see a newfound passion in him to aid those in the war effort. I still believe he is too young to join my men and I in the battlefield, however, but he clearly wants to contribute to the cause.
Wishing you well, and keep up the firebending training.
"I'm so relieved to know that Dao and the others made it out of Gai Chan, and that Guilin is safe," Singi remarks.
"Indeed. And someday, I am sure Gai Chan will be liberated from those warlords," Jamyang adds.
"Well, we'd better take off if we're going to travel around some of the Islands today," Singi states, before the trio begin to head off towards Lychee's quarters.
On their way to the livestock pens, the trio finds Ra Sho leaving his house.
"Ra Sho! What are you doing up this early?" Singi inquires.
"Good morning, Avatar Singi, Monk Jamyang. I usually wake up at this time to do some training at around dawn break."
"Ah, I see. No wonder you always seem to beat me to the courtyard when I arrive for training," Singi chuckles, to which Ra Sho smiles weakly and nods. His expression then shifts to a more serious disposition.
"So, you are heading south for a couple of days to encourage the villagers to fight in this war?"
"Yes," Singi responds, "I'll need all the help I can get when it comes time to face Maku, Gaza, and their army. Plus, I'm sure they feel a need to fight back against the warlords for ruling over them for decades. We share a common cause to triumph over them."
"I see. Well, remember not to disclose our location to them, and, I wish you luck."
"Thank you," Singi responds, before bowing in respect to her firebending instructor, to which Ra Sho reciprocates. The group splits off before Singi, Jamyang, and Jiefeng mount Lychee and take off.
Not long into their rather quiet flight, the sun is beginning to rise when Singi breaks the silence.
"Jamyang, do you really think the Sun Warriors want to maintain the secrecy of their civilization just so that they can protect their dragons?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean... what if the regular citizens of the Fire Islands are cold-hearted, and hateful towards the spirits, like Maku and Gaza? Sure, they're being oppressed by the warlords, but who's to say they don't share some of their beliefs? What if the Sun Warriors also fled north and created their city to escape the other inhabitants of the Fire Islands?"
"I believe that the inhabitants of the Fire Islands share your disdain and fear of the warlords like those of the waterbenders and earthbenders ever since their involvement in the war began. I would certainly imagine their situation is far worse, however, as they must live alongside the warlords every day. Their oppression by the warlords is a commonality shared with the world's cultures, and I believe that should they be unable to join you, it will only be because of fear—not because of a shared animosity towards the spirits, or a lack of sympathy towards those being targeted in the war."
"Well, we'll certainly find out over the coming days," Singi mutters, somewhat monotone.
After a few hours, the group reaches the largest island amongst the chain and eventually finds a small village nestled between five peaks on the northeastern portion of the island. Lychee lands on the lowest of the peaks, and the two airbenders descend down via clouds while Jiefeng elegantly flies down beside them. The handful of residents who happen to be out doing their morning chores look up in awe at the visitors coming down to address them. Once they have landed, the residents are unsure of how to react—most remain still, while others huddle closer to a family member, any children who happen to be present in particular.
"Who—who are you?" one resident stutters.
"Please, at ease, everyone," Singi calmly addresses, "My name is Singi, and these..." she motions to Jamyang and Jiefeng, "... are my close friends, Monk Jamyang, and my cranefish, Jiefeng. I am the Avatar, and I have come here this morning to ask for your assistance and support."
"You're the Avatar?" one villager questions. "Wasn't the Avatar a man?"
"Yes, he was, but he died almost twenty years ago. When the Avatar dies, he is reborn in another person through reincarnation, and I happen to be Avatar Wan's successor."
At this, the villagers remain silent and at attention, waiting for what else Singi has to detail.
"Anyway, I came here because I know of what you and the other citizens of the Fire Islands have to contend with practically every day—the warlords. I'm not sure if you are aware, but for the past five years, two of the warlords have left the Islands for the mainland to the east of here. They left for two reasons, which ultimately culminated in a massive strain for them, particularly around the time of the solstices. The first is having to compete against rivaling warlords throughout the year. The second, and possibly most significant, is having to contend with not only other warlords, but the spirits during the solstices. The dual strain became too much for them, and so they moved east so they could at least get away from rivaling warlords."
"But the warlords usually never join forces. Why is it these two have decided to form an alliance?" one villager asks.
"It turns out they shared a similar trait: A hatred of the spirits. These two warlords believe that I as the Avatar have failed human kind, for not being able to prevent the spirits from crossing over into this world during the solstices, when Avatar Wan ordered them back into the Spirit World during his lifetime. I can't help the fact that the spirits are able to make their way here, but I would at least imagine that our relations with the spirits are better than what they were when those before us lived atop the lion turtles, living in fear of the spirits and being granted the elements as a means of protection from them. Anyway, what with the two warlords traveling across new land, they have come to know of the airbender and waterbender cultures, and how the people—Jamyang and I included—look upon the spirits with high regard. They then belittled both cultures, believing that members of both cultures should be killed, if not enslaved as a result of their worshipping the spirits."
At this, the villagers gasp and shake their heads in shock and disbelief.
"And so one day, they declared. For five years, they targeted both cultures, and during this time, asked for the earthbenders to join in their cause, as their culture displayed a generally leniency towards the spirits, as opposed to a massive adoration. The earthbenders initially refused, but that all changed until recently, when of their society was executed by the warlords, before the famed city in which he ruled was sieged by force, and many civilians killed or injured."
Again, the locals display expressions of shock. Some cover their mouths, other glance down at their feet, processing the information.
"This is why I have come to you today. To urge you to join myself, the waterbenders, and the earthbenders in the war effort, so that we may display solidarity against the warlords Maku and Gaza, and show them that much of the world is against their campaign!"
"Maku!?" one villager exclaims, "He is one of the most famed and ruthless warlords from these Islands! Surely, we cannot fight against him."
"You wouldn't be fighting him alone."
"Regardless, Avatar, we simply do not have the courage to take up arms against him and his partner. You mentioned that these two are targeting the airbenders. Have they joined you in your retaliation?" a local woman in her late-50s adds.
"As you had probably guessed based on our arrival, Monk Jamyang and I are airbenders. We believe in a philosophy of non-violence, and so the majority of the airbenders will not partake in the war effort. Monk Jamyang and I are the only airbenders to be actively participating in this war."
"I see. Well, I'm sorry, Avatar, but we cannot join you in your war effort. We have our own warlord to contend with, and we fear for our lives every day—whether it is living under his rule, or being fought over like a prize between him and any contender who tries to usurp his possessions. Surely you can understand that we are much too afraid to join you in battle against two warlords, one of whom is especially known throughout the Islands."
At this, Singi hangs her head, saddened, but understanding.
"Yes, I completely understand."
"But know this..."
At this, Singi lifts her head
"I think I can speak for everyone in this village when I say that we wish you luck in bringing this war to an end, and you have our support."
At this, Singi smiles before bowing, to which the crowd returns.
"Thank you, ma'am."
The woman nods once before speaking yet again.
"Now then, you're fortunate to have come here at a time in which our warlord has been away, seeking more territory. I advise you, though, to move on. He could return at any time."
"We shall. Thank you for your time, and we wish you luck in the future," Jamyang states.
At this, Jamyang retrieves his bison whistle and blows into it. Seconds later, Lychee lands before them, and the airbending duo mount the creature before taking to the air, Jiefeng flying beside them, heading west in their next attempt to rally support.
The remainder of the day is met with similar results. Singi and Jamyang visit five additional settlements, during which they give the same summarization of the War of Spirituality, and are met with further rejections of directly participating in the war effort. As the group settles down for the evening in a remote part of one of the Islands, the two airbenders mull over the situation.
"Well, today didn't seem very successful," Singi sighs.
"That depends on your definition of 'success', my pupil. We managed to avoid any warlords, and were able to connect with six settlements today."
"But it appears that you're right—nobody in the Islands will be willing to join us out of fear from the warlords."
"That may likely be the case into tomorrow, but you don't know for sure. Besides, the local residents have been fairly welcoming towards us."
"That's true. I admit, I wasn't expecting them to be so... attentive during our visits."
At this, Singi pauses before deciding to change the subject.
"Anyway, we've got another round of traveling tomorrow. We should get some rest."
"Of course. Goodnight, my pupil, and do not forget: No matter what happens tomorrow, we shall have succeeded in gaining the support of many members of the Islands."
The next day, a total of five villages are visited. The initial five recruitment attempts experienced the same results as yesterdays, and it is close to sunset when the group prepares to land in the final settlement of their trip. Upon landing and explaining to the residents the reasoning for their visit, one man in his 40s steps forward to address the visitors.
"I admire your courage to venture here and ask for our peoples assistance in the war. Unfortunately, like the other settlements you have visited, I am afraid we too must decline your request. We simply have our hands full having to make a living for ourselves while also contending with the warlords still here on the Islands. But like the others settlements you have visited along here, we support you and your mission, and we hope you and your other allies manage to put an end to this war."
At this, Singi nods in understanding, smiling.
"Thank you very much. I'm glad to at least know that I have citizens from across the Islands who support my mission and I. By the way, I forgot to ask after all of my visits around the Islands: What is your peoples opinion on the spirits?"
"I suppose you could say that we are like the earthbenders—the majority of us are fairly lenient towards them. They certainly don't cause us as much trouble as the warlords. I can't say the same for the warlords themselves, however."
"It's nice to know that your culture—disgrearding the warlords, at least—seems to tolerate the spirits."
"The warlords do not reflect all of us who live on the Islands."
The air is punctuated with the sound of a bleating puma goat. The crowd collectively turns their heads in the direction of the noise, and, off in the distance, can see a figure riding a creature, followed by a small army of about thirty soldiers.
"Our warlord is back! Hurry, you should leave," the man urges.
"Are you sure you don't want me to take him on now? I can liberate you!"
"I appreciate the offer, Avatar, but in either case, we'd be living under the rule of a warlord, whether this one or the next. For now, you should focus on putting an end to the war. Someday, maybe the rule of the warlords will come to an end by a more benevolent person; someone who hopes to unite the people, the Islands, for the benefit of all."
"I'm sure such a time will come. For now, I wish you immense luck in living alongside the warlords. I promise, I'll bring this senseless war to an end in due time."
"Thank you, Avatar, and we have no doubt you will succeed in your mission to both end the war, and contine maintaining peace in the world. Us citizens of the Fire Islands support you."
With that, the visiting party takes off and begins to fly north back towards the Sun Warriors' city. Singi eyes the scene below her as the warlord and his men draw closer to the village, hoping that the citizens of the Fire Islands can handle further time under the oppression of the power-hungry firebenders for however long it takes for change to come.
Later that night, the group arrives back in the Sun Warriors' city. As the group descends towards the stables, Singi spots Ra Sho waiting for them. Upon landing, Singi and Jamyang airbend themselves off of Lychee, while Jiefeng extends her wings and pushes herself off of the saddle, joining the humans on solid ground.
"Welcome back. How did your attempt at recruiting villagers go?"
"We didn't manage to inspire anyone to join us. They're simply too afraid of the warlords, and busy with their hectic lives having to deal with them to join in the war effort," Singi begins.
"However, they all sympathized with those being targeted in the war, and clearly were against Maku and Gaza's campaign. They all vowed to support us in spirit."
Ra Sho nods in understanding.
"And I truly learned something new today, despite the setbacks: Not everyone from the Fire Islands is as uncaring towards the spirits, nor as cold-hearted as the warlords. I know that the Sun Warrior civilization is a unique society within the Islands, but I was worried that the other citizens would be unsympathetic towards the ongoing war, as they have to deal with the warlords every day. I wasn't sure how they viewed the spirits—if they hated them as much as the warlords do. I found out that like the earthbenders, they do not worship the spirits, but tolerate them—welcome them should they venture into their settlements. I learned that the villagers of the Fire Islands are sensible, and understanding, and while they will be unable to join me when I finally confront Maku and Gaza, they will be there with me in spirit."
Both Jamyang and Ra Sho smile and nod, satisfied.
"The people of these islands are driven. When they have a goal in mind, nothing will stop them," Ra Sho begins.
"However, these islands are still young, so to speak. The people are still adjusting to life in the wilderness, unprotected by the lion turtles, and they are afraid of the warlords who wish to rule these islands for themselves. While they have refused to join you on the battlefield, I believe that you have inspired them. Through your example, they will attempt to stand up for themselves against the warlords, and someday, someone will arrive to unify the Fire Islands, much like how you are trying to unify this world under peace and balance for all."
Singi smiles broadly, taking in Ra Sho's words and realizing that her mission may not have been as unsuccessful as she had thought.
"With all of this, tomorrow we shall bring you closer to your mission of guiding the world towards peace by commencing with training as usual. Much like how you learned that the citizens of the Fire Islands are not all like the warlords, you will find that fire is not just an element of destruction and anger."
At this, Singi's expression changes to one of unease, but she smiles slightly when Ra Sho places a hand to her left shoulder and nods confidently at her. Jamyang joins in as well, placing his left hand on Singi's remaining shoulder, and Jiefeng makes her way in, resting her head gently against Singi's chest. Singi places a hand on Jamyang and Jiefeng in reciprocation, her smile widening as she is surrounded by an air of support; support which has only increased further within the past couple of days, and support which will give her the reassurance she needs to put an end to the War of Spirituality when she is most ready.
- This chapter hints at the unification wars of the Fire Islands, and the rise of the first Fire Lord.
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