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|The Sun Warriors|
May 26, 2017
Six days have passed since the. and are sitting atop of Lychee, while soars beside them, the group heading north at sunset across the sea towards the northernmost islands amongst the Fire Islands.
"I thought the Sun Warriors would have been living within the largest of the Islands," Singi laments, rolling up a scroll detailing the world map. "Based on the settlements we've seen, it seemed to be the most populated. I mean, the Sun Warriors could have built their city amongst the collection of mountains, or maybe even near one of the volcanoes that we saw."
"Well, there are still a few more islands to the north," Jamyang notes. "Let's reach one of them and settle in for the night."
By nightfall, Lychee lands on one of the northern islands and the group make their way further inland. As they move further away from the shoreline, a multitude of finely crafted buildings catches Singi's attention in the moonlight.
"Hey... buildings," Singi notes, intrigued, before she begins to approach the complex in a quickened trot.
"Singi, please wait!" Jamyang calls out in an urgent whisper, but it's in vain, as the Avatar continues onward, having not picked up on Jamyang's request. The monk sighs before continuing his pursuit, Jiefeng flying a couple of feet above him towards the captivated young woman, while Lychee remains in place, tired. Eventually, Singi comes to a halt once she has reached the threshold of a decent-sized menagerie of stonewalls, and, off in the distance, what she can make out as buildings. Once Jamyang and Jiefeng have caught up with her, Singi excitedly addresses Jamyang.
"I admit, I didn't pay much attention to this place when we were descending on Lychee, but now, I'm feeling confident."
With that, Singi continues onward as a simple walk while Jamyang reluctantly follows, Jiefeng close behind him, now walking herself.
"My pupil, I understand your excitement, but think it would be best for us to make camp for tonight. We can explore this complex tomorrow."
"But Jamyang, I've got a good feeling about this. This has got to be the city of the Sun War—"
Before Singi can finish her sentence, she yelps when a large net hidden underneath some dried leaves and other debris springs into action once stepped on, capturing the three individuals. The now-closed net hangs from a large branch from a tree just above and beyond the threshold wall.
"What? We're trapped!?" Singi exclaims, shocked, as she lies clumsily against her airbending instructor and cranefish in the cramped confines.
"Can you slice the net open using some water from your pouch?"
"I'm afraid I can't reach it. Not in the position I'm in. Jiefeng, can you try getting us free?"
The cranefish coos before gripping a portion of rope in her beak. The impact alone isn't enough to break a strand, so she begins to tug on the rope as much as she can within the limited amount of space she has to maneuver. The net sways only slightly as Jiefeng tries to free them, but soon the rescue attempt is interrupted when a light begins to shine from ahead of them. Approaching them is a group of six men, wearing black sandals, dark red pants topped with a goldenrod sash, a frontal portion draping down a few inches past the groin. The men also wear beaver-colored garments with a dark red trim covering both the collarbone and the wrists to halfway up the forearm, along with a canary yellow bracelet donned on each upper arm, and long black ponytails held up by bands of the same color. A few of the men wear dark red headbands with a yellow centerpiece across their foreheads, and all don redwood colored facepaint along their cheeks, some across the bridge of their noses. The six men surround the suspended net and carefully observe those trapped inside before one of them maneuvers a stream of fire along the rope suspending the net from the tree branch. After a few seconds, the rope snaps, and the remaining five men catch the descending contents before freeing them from their confines and subsequently tying them up with ropes. Singi and Jamyang's wrists are bound together, while Jiefeng's beak and breast are wrapped in rope. Three members of the sextet each take a hold onto the visiting trio and the sextet wordlessly usher the visitors further into the complex. Eventually, the group arrives at a large, two-story, single-roomed ziggurat, smoke ascending from a small opening on the top of the building.
"Great Chief Wahkan!" one of the men exclaims.
Moments later, the curtain draped along the doorway of the building is pushed aside, and a large man draped in similar clothing to those of the other men steps out. His clothing differ, however, in that he wears a large, feathered, crown-like headpiece atop his head, with red fabrics draping down to cover his chest, shoulders, and shoulder blades. He also wears a large golden plate along the front of his neck, ending with a circular plate resting atop his upper chest. His redwood facepaint, bordered below by a line of white facepaint, also covers the upper portion of his face from the bridge of his nose up. In his right hand, he clutches the top of a ceremonial wooden cane intricately carved along the left and right sides to depict an elongated reptile breathing a plume of fire. The man, who appears to be in his early 50s, surveys those before him with stern carmine eyes before one of the men speaks further.
"We found these three in one of our traps set in the entryway of the city. We believe they are spies for the warlords, and should be rightfully held as prisoners."
"Hmmm..." the chief murmurs to himself, eyeing the three strangers observantly before addressing the newcomers.
"What is your reasoning for trespassing in our city, tattooed ones?"
"Bah!" the man holding onto Jamyang's wrists spats, "She must be lying; they only want to get close to us so that they can steal goods and cause harm to the masters when we least expect it. Then, they would disclose our location to the warlords."
"No, I'm serious! I learned from my friend, Monk Jamyang..." she jerks her head to left, motioning towards Jamyang, "... as well as Avatar Wan, about how your people learned a unique form of firebending by observing the dragons. It intrigued me, and so I've been searching for your kind for nearly a week, visiting nearly every island so that I could learn from you."
At this, Singi pauses, closing her eyes and taking a breath before she addresses those present again.
"I don't know how aware you people are, but for the past five years, two warlords from the Fire Islands have declared war against the other world cultures. The waterbenders and airbenders—Monk Jamyang and I included—look up to the spirits as part of our respective cultures. These two warlords initially traveled to the main continent so that they could conquer land and escape from the hassle of dealing with other warlords on the Islands, but in addition to fellow warlords, the two also wanted to lessen the hassles associated with the spirits during the solstices."
The chief looks on wordlessly with unyielding attention as Singi continues.
"During their travels, they would come across waterbender settlements who would openly express their praise towards the spirits. I'm not sure how they found out about us airbenders' admiration towards them, seeing as how we too live in isolation, but regardless, they learned. What with their shared interests and opinions, the two warlords— and —teamed up to on the two cultures for their worship of the spirits, in addition to what they perceived as my failure to keep the spirits from crossing over into this world during the solstices. The earthbenders weren't involved until recently, when from their society was executed just before one of the most famed cities in earthbender society was sieged in retaliation for their not joining in the warlords' cause. And so, here we are..."
There is a brief pause before Wahkan speaks.
The six men comply, unbinding their captors. Upon being freed, Singi and Jamyang rub their wrists while Jiefeng shakes her body momentarily before the elder speaks yet again.
At this, the man who had been holding onto Singi steps forward at attention. The twenty-five-year-old man has a lean figure, slightly tanned skin, and Indian red eyes, with redwood facepaint streaked across his cheeks, moving up to cover the dorsal side of his nose, and two separate portions surrounding his eyes. He also sports a long black ponytail reaching down to ghost the nape of his neck, and stands tall at six feet in height.
"You will instruct the Avatar in our ways of firebending."
At this, Singi smiles slightly and nods in appreciation, but this is punctuated with an exclamation of uncertainty by the young adult firebender.
"Great Chief, are you sure? I am still only a warrior-in-training; I am not a master. Perhaps one of the older, more experienced warriors could train the Avatar."
"By training the Avatar, you will also be training yourself further so that one day, you will prove your worth before the masters."
At this, Ra Sho sighs in defeat before nodding and quickly shifting his glance over to Singi before reverting his gaze to the ground at his feet.
"Now come," Wahkan begins, "we shall have a celebratory feast to welcome the Avatar to our city."
With that, one of the men takes out a horn that was secured to his waist, and blows. The sound reverberates throughout the city, and one by one, multiple citizens step out of their households.
"The Avatar has arrived in our city to learn our ways of firebending," one of the warriors announces, using a sound-amplifying device that looks like a primitive megaphone. "We shall be holding a celebratory feast in her honor. Please gather in the eastern courtyard with whatever you are able to contribute."
Some of the residents cheer, while others retreat indoors to get to work. Meanwhile, the group separates: Ra Sho and the other warriors heading to their residences, while Singi, Jamyang, Jiefeng, and Wahkan begin to make their way to the eastern courtyard.
"I apologize for the trap you managed to set off," Wahkan begins, "As I'm sure you learned, Avatar, we are a secretive society, and do not want our masters to be harmed by the warlords of these islands."
"It's alright, Chief Wahkan. At least we were eventually freed," Singi responds with a chuckle.
Wahkan nods in acknowledgement with a slight smile before continuing.
"With that in mind, I urge you and Monk Jamyang to never speak of us outside the city... at least, within earshot of other people."
"You can be assured that the secrecy of your society is safe with us."
"Thank you. I also realize that what with the recent events that occurred, we never properly introduced ourselves."
At this, Wahkan stops walking and faces the two airbenders and cranefish, the visitors following suit.
"My name is Wahkan. I am the chief and leader of the Sun Warrior civilization here in this city."
"Well, as I mentioned earlier, my name is Singi, and I'm the Avatar."
Motioning to Jiefeng, Singi continues.
"This is Jiefeng, a cranefish and my animal companion."
"And I am Monk Jamyang, Great Chief. I am a close friend of Avatar Singi, and was her airbending instructor in her youth. Now, I act as her spiritual mentor, and a voice of reason. I am also a friend of her previous incarceration."
"Avatar Wan? But with Singi as the current Avatar, how is that possible?"
"Ionce in my youth, and what with Singi being able to communicate with Wan spiritually, he is aware that I am alive and have been traveling with his successor."
"I see. How fond, to have a friendship that transcends lifetimes."
A half hour passes before the feast commences. Jamyang calls Lychee into the city using his bison whistle, and all of the attendees have sat themselves on the floor of the courtyard with plates and bowls carrying various Fire Islands delicacies. While most of the dishes are meat-based, Singi and Jamyang feast on dishes including noodles, vegetable dumplings, bread, and fruit tart. Much to Lychee's delight, he is occasionally given a few lychee nuts provided by the city's residents, while Jiefeng feasts on smoked sea slug and other seafood items. Wahkan, Jamyang, Singi, and Ra Sho sit before the other attendees in that order for the entirety of the event, which concludes with a few warriors partaking in a ceremonial dance involving an elegantly performed array of firebending. While the visitors find the display mesmerizing and beautiful, Singi looks on at the maneuvers performed with an air of uncertainty.
After an eventful and warming welcoming ceremony, Ra Sho, Singi and Jamyang mount Lychee and fly to a large fenced patch of land within the city's walls. Stables abound with multiple hybrid animal species, including hybrid pigs.
"As you can see, we keep much of our livestock here. Your air bison can reside here while you stay here."
"Thank you, Ra Sho," Jamyang responds, smiling.
"Your cranefish is welcome to stay here as well."
"I appreciate the offer Ra Sho, but I'd prefer Jiefeng to rest near me while we live here. She's one of my close friends, after all."
"I understand. Well, follow me, then. I'll take you to your quarters."
Eventually, Ra Sho leads the duo and Jiefeng to a medium-sized single floor building. Like every other building in the metropolis, it is made of mudbricks; inside, it consists of a fire pit, two twin beds, and even a separate restroom.
"Wow... this definitely beats living in a tent for the past five years," Singi exclaims, chuckling slightly.
"We'll start training tomorrow morning at dawn."
"Okay. Thank you, Ra Sho."
Ra Sho nods once before exclaiming "Good night," and leaving the residence. The remaining three settle down for the evening fairly contended, relieved at having finally located the isolated civilization they had spent nearly a week searching for throughout a vast chain of islands.
At dawn the next morning, Singi dons a new set of elegant, full-length robes, once again in her traditional colors of royal yellow and fandango pink. After draping herself in her robes, she fashions her medium-length hair so that half is down past her shoulders, while the other half is set up in a short ponytail. Two strands of hair are also draped along the frame of her face, hanging down just a few inches above her collarbone. After preparing herself, she leaves Jamyang and Jiefeng to sleep in and meet her at a later time. Eventually, she reaches the eastern courtyard, the sun highlighting her profile as Ra Sho stands before her.
"Good morning, Avatar Singi."
"Good morning Ra Sho."
"Now, before we begin training, I feel that I should educate you as to the rise of our civilization," Ra Sho states as he begins to sit down in lotus position.
"Okay, sure," Singi responds, following suit.
"In the era before the Avatar, our forebearers lived atop a single lion turtle, only leaving to forage for food, and being granted fire by the lion turtle in order to protect themselves from the spirits. Over time, they grew to admire the landscape and the life that abounded in it more than their lives atop the lion turtle, and during one of their foraging missions, they collectively abandoned their former life to live within the wilderness. While living in the outside world, they maintained as much distance and peaceful relations with the spirits as they could without having things escalate to conflict. In their travels, our kind often observed the dragons that lived within the wilderness—their motions, and use of fire, in particular. They watched them from a safe distance, and during this time, worked on perfecting their firebending abilities based on the dragons' movements. Eventually, the creatures grew accustomed to their presence, and after much time, taught them how best to enhance their skill at manipulating fire. This mutual partnership grew very strong, to the point where our kind would highly respect and worship the dragons, while the dragons would spend extended periods of time with our forebearers."
Ra Sho nods, smiling, before he continues.
"Our power with fire is greatest during daylight, as it is the sun that provides us with the strength and energy we need to hone our firebending abilities. In due time, our kind began to call ourselves the Sun Warriors. By the time the era of the Avatar began, our kind was living within the Islands, and often found ourselves caught in the middle of conflicts between rivaling warlords, vying for land. We sought refuge by establishing our own settlement in the northern fringes of the Islands, where we would protect two of the dragons that had taught us firebending—Ran and Shaw."
"So there are dragons here? In the city?"
"Yes. They are our masters."
"So they're the masters your civilization is so focused on protecting! I can't believe it! May—may I see them sometime?"
"Ultimately, you will need to."
"Yes. As I mentioned last night, I am not a true Sun Warrior yet. We become Sun Warriors by perfecting our firebending abilities, and eventually, confronting Ran and Shaw in a presentation of judgement. If they judge us worthy, if they believe we have mastered firebending, that is when we are declared true Sun Warriors."
"So where do I come in? I'm not a Sun Warrior."
"No, but I still need to be judged by Ran and Shaw. Chief Wahkan tasked me with instructing you on firebending because he believes that by doing so, I will have gained enough confidence to confront the masters and prove myself as a true Sun Warrior. Plus, if you are judged well by the masters, then you will have mastered firebending."
"I see..." Singi falters, taking a moment of silence before she speaks again, a worried look replacing her awed expression moments ago.
"I know you said we would begin training after you explained the rise of the Sun Warrior civilization, but there's something I should disclose to you, before we begin."
"Of course, please, speak..."
"The only firebending I've ever really been exposed to has been that done by the warlords Maku and Gaza, and their followers. I've seen so much destruction and chaos by them that I—I've come to see firebending as something fueled by anger, and hatred. I'm glad you're going to teach me your peoples' way of firebending, and I can tell you and your people are wise and kind, but... I'm hesitant. I'm reluctant. I almost don't want to learn the element used by Maku and Gaza because I don't want to wield the power of something so fierce and unpredictable, just like those I've seen using that power."
There is a brief pause before Ra Sho responds.
"I understand your reluctance, but you know as well as I do that the Avatar must learn firebending. My culture sees fire as a source of life; it is not just a source of power and destruction, as used by the warlords of these islands."
"A source of life?"
"Yes. You will see as we train. Now come, we should actually start training."
"Alright," Singi sighs as the two stand up.
"Now, because my kind learned directly from the dragons, our form of firebending is different from that used by other firebenders. It is uncorrupted, beautiful, and fluid."
Ra Sho walks a couple of feet away from Singi before he clasps his hands together. Drawing them apart, a ball of fire swirls between his hands. He draws his right hand out to the side, the ball of fire transitioning into a stream, following the movement of his hand. He maneuvers the stream in various circular movements with both hands before drawing his hands together and extinguishing the flame.
"Our form of firebending is based on three techniques: high punches, low kicks, and double punches with both fists. Deliver a punch towards me right now."
"A—alright..." Singi responds hesitantly, before she throws a hard punch towards Ra Sho, a large flame burst erupting from her hand as she nearly staggers off her feet before regaining her composure.
"Don't over-exert yourself. Try directing your punch higher first, and feel free to move around a bit more—don't feel as if you need to be completely rooted to the ground."
"I'm sorry. I spent the past five years mastering earthbending. Being rooted to the ground has been ingrained in me since."
"I understand. There's no problem; just adjust and be patient with yourself."
With Ra Sho's words in mind, Singi tries again. She turns around a couple of times on her feet like she would with airbending, before directing her next punch at a higher angle, a plume of fire bursting from her fist before dissipating moments later in the air.
"Much better. Do it again a few more times."
Singi complies, steadily growing confident with each delivery. After twelve repetitions, she stops and addresses Ra Sho.
"I think I'm ready to try that more direct punch again."
Ra Sho nods once before positioning himself for the delivery. Singi manages to send a direct punch towards Ra Sho, who captures the flame and forms it into a stream, circling it around him as he speaks up.
"Are you willing to try and redirect this fire back to me?"
"I suppose I could try, sure."
With that, Ra Sho twirls the fire stream around him a couple more times before bringing his right hand forward, sending the stream Singi's way. Singi is ready to receive it, but suddenly, her confidence wavers, and a look of fear and uncertainty becomes etched on her face. She thinks briefly about Maku and Gaza before she snaps out of her trance and captures the fire stream. Drawing her hands apart, she extinguishes the flame, clearly frightened, as sweat slowly begins to trickle down her face.
"It's alright! That might have been a bit much for your first day. Let's just continue with punches and kicks for today."
Singi nods before she continues delivering various high punches and kicks, flames spurting with each action. After an hour, the duo take a break, during which Jamyang and Jiefeng catch up with the training duo.
"How has training been so far, my pupil?"
"It could be better. I just have so much trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that fire is anything but destruction, that, I kind-of don't want to learn firebending. I know I have to, but... it's just so hard. Ra Sho told me that the Sun Warrior culture views fire as life, but I'm having a hard time accepting that."
"Well, as you know, Avatar Wan's native element was fire, and all he cared about was the protection and well-being of all life—human, spirit, and animal. He was not a hateful person, and it certainly seems that the Sun Warriors are the same. It may take much time for you to accept fire as more than just a force of destruction, but I believe Ra Sho, the Sun Warriors, and even Wan will be more than willing to help you. For now, you should focus on mastering the element, regardless of its affiliation."
Singi nods, smiling slightly.
"You're right. And I'll have you to support me as well, as I always have."
"Of course. Remember: To do well as Wan's successor, you must not pressure yourself when it comes to mastering the elements. Do the best you can."
Singi nods once again, her smile broadening before she stands and commences with training yet again as the sun continues its rise across the eastern sky.
- Wahkan is a Sioux name meaning "sacred."
- This chapter was originally going to skip over the ceremonial feast, but it was included to provide further content.
- This chapter was also originally going to include Singi sending off a letter to General , asking about the results of the siege of Gai Chan, as well as and the health of him and his men. This was scrapped and instead, includes Singi receiving a letter from Dao in .
- Jamyang reminds Singi of what it means to do well as Wan's successor as he first addressed it in " ".
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