Pohuai Stronghold
The Three Keys
Chapter information

Fate's Cold Hands





Written by

Agent Slash, Omashu Rocks

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Sunlight peered into the magnificent royal palace as morning dawned over the breathtaking city of Omashu. Kiama had slept like a baby the night before, and she was fully prepared to commence with her Earthbending training. As instructed, she made her way to the palace's grand Earthbending court where she waited for whomever was to be her teacher. She expected some sort of palace guard or maybe even a renowned master from the city emerge into the arena, but she was astonished to see King Shen and Queen Yama themselves appear from behind an ornate door. They had told her that they would teach her the art of Earthbending, but little did she know that they meant that literally. The Avatar assumed that the royalty would be to busy with governing Omashu to be so involved with her training, but clearly the couple wanted everything to do with her.

"Shan, Yama!" Kiama folded her hands and bowed respectively. "I didn't expect to see you two in person."

Queen Yama returned the courteous gesture, confused. "Of course, Dear. Why wouldn't we come?"

Shan, the Monarch of Omashu, wanted to get started right way. "Kiama, the traditional Earth Kingdom bow varies from the Water Tribe one you just demonstrated. Do it like this." He then put his hands in a different position from where Kiama had hers and bowed, his pupil doing the same. The King then smiled and pulled off his shirt, revealing an imposing build. "Let's begin. Before we start hurling rocks around, we need to change this whole Waterbending mindset of yours.

The Avatar shot a quizzical look. "And by that you mean..."

"Here," Shan retrieved a handful of ice cubes from a servant. I'm going to throw these at you, and you're going to counter. Don't hold back, understand?"

"Bring it," said Kiama with a huge grin. She got into her usual sparring stance, about 30% of her weight on her front foot, the rest on her back one. Yama stood to the side as Shan walked to face his young opponent from a short distance. He then smirked and carried out his attack, chucking about five pellets of ice Kiama's way. She wanted to laugh. This is too easy. Without much effort, she could simply intercept the projectiles and send them back, using her opponent's force against him. When she proceeded with her move, however, her feet were yanked underground, and she was both unable to rotate the ice around her body and too startled to deflect the attack. She was hit square in the chest.

"Hmmm, I pretty much expected that," stated Shan as he lifted Kiama from her entrapment. You're used to a different style, something that isn't very effective against Earthbenders. You see, with us it is not enough to merely return our blows, and it would be much hard to do so. With a massive boulder flying at you, could you easily return it in the same way you would with water? And look how I immobilized you at the last second, making defense impossible. Had you destroyed the incoming ice or shielded yourself in the first place, you never would have been hit. That's the first key to Earthbending- it's much more direct. We don't transfer force, we block force and destroy force."

"I think I understand," muttered Kiama as she nodded. I'm ready to try again."

This time, Yama stepped forward with a bucket in her hand. "With me I have some mud. We should both be able to bend this. I'm also having a servant place a pale of water next to you that you may use if you wish." Without further instruction, Kiama assumed her stance, but she was knocked off her feet before Yama even moved a muscle. She looked up to see that Shan had nailed her with a small rock pillar.

"I'm sorry, but I just had to point out the flaw in your stance. Your feet weren't anywhere near set firmly on the ground. Plant yourself with a wide stance and equal distribution of your weight. Be as unmovable as a rock. That's the second key."

Irritated, the Avatar let out a sigh and did as she was told, which resulted in a "Much better!" from the enthusiastic king. Yama licked her lips. "Now it's actually me who's going to be attacking!" With that, she screamed with an overly-aggressive roar and ripped the mud out of its bucket with a powerful thrust. Taken back by the Queen's attitude, Kiama got flustered and lashed out with a water whip, but just as she attacked, she noticed something odd. Although Yama had appeared as though she was about to attack ferociously, she only levitated a blob of mud in front of her. Kiama had fallen right into her trap. The Queen dropped her distraction and erected a rock wall, one which the stream of water could not penetrate. She then pushed her palms forward, and the wall sailed at the Avatar, mowing her to the ground. She sprang to her feet, furious.

"Is that how you teach, beginners?!"

"It was quite simple, actually," Yama insisted.

"How was that, in any way, simple?"

"Because all you needed to learn from that was the third key to Earthbending. Your mistake was that you were too aggressive."

"Well you said to be direct."

"Direct does not mean aggressive. Redirecting is for Waterbenders, attacking non-stop is for Firebenders, and evading is for Airbenders."

"So what's for Earthbenders."

"We don't retreat but we don't invade carelessly. We defend until the time his right. If you wait until the exact right moment to strike, you will prevail in any Earthbending match."

Kiama was dumbfounded by this knowledge. "But I thought you were going to have that mud soar at me."

"If I was about to do that, the correct plan would have been to prepare a defense- that will become much easier as you move along in your Earthbending training. A good stone wall can endure much, and when your opponent is tired, you strike."

"Alright so I have the three keys," acknowledged Kiama. "Which one of you do I take on next?"

"Let me go!" Kembar squirmed helplessly as two Luta Raiders dragged his tethered body. With cloth wrapped around his head and covering his eyes, the Avatar couldn't see but he assumed he was in their headquarters. Perhaps he was being taken to their leader, or some cell, or even worse- a torture chamber. He cringed as he heard heavy, iron gates swing open just before he was shoved away and received by other men, who forced his body into some kind of obscure contraption. It felt like a sack or a cocoon. He couldn't feel any chains, rods, or knots, just an elastic substance that seemed impenetrable. No matter how hard he struggled, he couldn't break through the flexible cage. He heard one of the men speak briefly. "Those Shirshu spit darts sure do come in handy, huh?" one of them said. Kembar lashed out with his elbow, but the wrap only expanded with him and then contracted. Finally, he gave up with a heavy sigh and lowered his head, only to be smacked in the temple by a Luta Raider's staff. Although he was practically blind, he felt the room spinning around him, and then he was out.

Disturbing images flashed through the boy's mind. He saw Amai, his new Air Nomad friend, being chased down by Raiders, pirates, wolves, and just about every dangerous enemy possible, running as fast as she could but getting cornered every time she tried to flee. "Kembar!" she called out. "Kembar! Kembar! Kembar!"


The Avatar shook his head violently, snapping out of his perturbing vision. He was still blindfolded, but he heard a voice not too far away.

"Kembar... You came for me!" It was none other than Amai herself, alive.

"You're okay!" the boy replied. "I was going to save you, but..."

"It's alright. I heard you moaning. At first I didn't believe it was you but here you are?"

"Where exactly are we?"

"I wasn't blindfolded when I came in. I am now," she explained. "But when I could see, they put me in this weird elastic casing that only became stronger whenever I fought it. Are you in one of those too?"

Kembar nodded, forgetting that Amai couldn't see his gesture. "Yeah, I am."

"Then they clipped it all together with a metal lock. There must be a way out."

"Shouldn't we keep our voiced down?" whispered the boy.

Amai shook her head, making the same mistake that her inmate had just made. "Guards only come around for meals. Hope you like muddy water and stale bread."

"Wonderful. How'd they know it was my favorite?"

The Airbender giggled sweetly, which made Kembar blush. "It was really sweet of you to try to save me, Kembar," Amai said. "I'm surprised 'Mrs. Lord High Superior' Jiyu didn't prevent you from coming."

"Well, she tried, but-"

"Wait, you mean if she finds out you left you will be in trouble?"

Kembar nodded. He felt stupid for making the same mistake again. "Yes," he spoke.

"Oh, Kembar, I'm so sorry. This is all my fault. I should have been more careful."

"No, Amai, this isn't your fault," Kembar argued. "And don't worry, I'll get us out of this," he said reassuringly.

"Alright, let's try it one more time," said Shan.

Kiama took her stance and prepared for the king's blow. "I'm ready when you are," she said.

Shan levitated a boulder out of the ground and hurled it at the girl. Kiama waited for the right moment, and then thrust her arm forward, cleaving the boulder with only a single blow. Kiama smiled and took joy in what she had just done. "Alright! Now I've got it!" she exclaimed, happily.

Shan and Yama walked over to their new student. "I am impressed, Kiama. You just demonstrated correct use of all three of the keys of Earthbending," said Shan. "Well done."

"So, what's next?" asked the eager Kiama. "Are you going to teach me how to make a landslide, or how to levitate boulders, or how to slide on earth?"

"No, we have trained enough for today," said Yama. "Go back to your chamber and wash up. We will be having dinner soon." And with that, the king and queen walked away, back into the palace.

"Aw, come on!" yelled the frustrated Kiama. "I was just getting good!" Suddenly, she spotted something out of the corner of her eye. The handsome servant boy named Palu that she had met the previous day. Kiama stood there, questioning whether or not she should call him over to talk. After she embarrassed herself last night, she was not so sure it was a good idea. To heck with it. Kiama thought. "Hey, Palu!" she called out. She started motioning towards herself, giving him the indication that she wanted to speak with him.

Palu walked over and smiled at her. "Hi, there... Kiuma, is it?" he asked, trying to remember her name.

Kiama chuckled at this. "Actually, it's Kiama," she said.

"Oh, right. Sorry," Palu apologized.

Kiama decided to cut right down to the chase. "So, uh, are you doing anything tonight?" she asked.

"No. Why do you ask?"

"Well, I was just wondering if you would like to go into town and grab a bite to eat?" Kiama immediately braced herself for the laughter, but instead she felt Palu kiss her hand.

"I would love that," the Earthbender said.

Kembar was desperate to free both himself and his new friend, Amai. "The first thing we need to do is get out of these sacks. I think maybe-"

"Shhh!" The Airbender hushed the Avatar. "I hear footsteps," she whispered. The boy hushed, and he heard them too. I heavy pitter-patter made its way closer to their cell, and shortly enough, both prisoners could hear the turning of a key and the swinging open of the barred, iron gate behind which they were entrapped. The rusted metal made a loud, clanging sound, and the Luta Raider guard stepped into the damp cell, a bucket of water in his left had. Chills raced down Kembar's body as he felt the man come closer, and finally his blindfold was torn off, squinting as a reaction to the sudden light. Looking down, the Avatar could see that he was indeed in an obscure elastic casing, held together by a single chain and lock halfway down. He watched the man reach for something next to his sack; it was a tank of some sort. The guard opened a lid at the top and proceeded to pour water into the tank. At once, Kembar understood. He was to drink from a tube like an animal. If he moved his head slightly to the right he could reach the tube's tip with his mouth, where he could suck in water. He was hesitant to do so, his pride preventing him from complying. Due to the sudden dryness of his throat, he broke down and took a few gulps, making sure to finish before Amai's blindfold was removed. As the guard stepped away to repeat the process to the Airbending girl, Kembar took one final sip, but he didn't swallow. Instead, he waited for the man to have his back to him and spat, although it wasn't water that emerged from his mouth; it was ice!

A sharp icicle sped at the guard, but slowed by the time it reached the back of his neck.

"If you turn around or say anything," started Kembar coldly, "I'll kill you." With no other options, the guard continued to Amai, but the Avatar stopped him in a few seconds. "Unlock her, now." The Luta Raider began to turn his head in disbelief, but the icicle pressed harder on his neck. Letting out a long sigh of defeat, he obeyed Kembar's orders. He reached into his pocket to retrieve a small key, with which he undid the padlock holding Amai in her cocoon.

"Now step back and let her get out." Once again, Kembar got what he wanted. Confused, Amai stumbled out of her bag and immediately stretched her body, only to hear the guard collapse on the floor behind her.

"Amai!" called Kembar with the utmost urgency in his voice. "Undo your blindfold and take the key from the guard!" The Airbender did as she was told and rushed the key over to her friend. She jammed it into his lock, but all to no avail- the key didn't fit. "Maybe there's another one," she insisted. She sprinted back to the guard's body and dug into his pocket, relieved when she felt a second key. This one worked and in no time, Kembar was free as well. Together, the duo charged through the gate but gasped as they lurched to a halt. Apparently, the Luta Raiders wanted to be sure that nobody could escape from them, as behind the first gate was a second, this one closed and sealed off by a lock triple the size of the ones they just opened. Kembar glanced around for a few seconds, then ran back into the cell.

"Where are you going?" cried Amai.

Kembar raced back with the bucket of water, and instantly drew a blob by way of bending. He then pushed the water through the small openings of the gate and filled the lock, liquid occupying every space a key would. The Avatar then clenched his hands, and the water solidified. With a twist of his wrists, Kembar had successfully committed a jailbreak. He and Amai wanted to celebrate, but they both jumped back when they saw an ugly man with horrifying scars in the uniform of the Luta Raiders. He had appeared on the other side of the gate as if out of thin air, gripping a mace with his right hand. He growled furiously, and Kembar prepared for a fight. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew through the hallway on guard's side and his body was whipped away. The two teens gasped again and darted their heads to the left, where they saw none other than Jiyu with her right arm extended.

It was a lovely evening in Omashu. Couples were out having a good time, and children were running around, playing without any care. Kiama and Palu observed this as they strolled down the streets. "So, where is this restaurant that you were talking about?" asked Kiama.

"It's right down here," said Palu. Before they reached the restaurant, they stopped at the fountain in the middle of the square. Palu sat down and sighed. Something was bothering him, and Kiama knew it.

"Hey, is everything okay, Palu?" she asked.

"Yeah, everything is fine," Palu replied.

Suddenly, a thought occurred to the Avatar. "Did you take me out here just because you didn't want to hurt my feelings?" she asked.

"No, no, that is not it at all" Palu protested. "It's not that I don't like you - I'm jealous of you."

"Why?" Kiama asked, puzzled.

"It has to do with the reason I work for the king and queen," said Palu. "When I was eight, the Baozha Bombers killed my parents. I was orphaned - left with nothing, but then they found me," Palu explained. "They said they felt sorry for me. They said they wanted to give me a place to live and that they were willing to take me in." Palu paused for a moment before continuing. "But then they said that there was no reason I couldn't work. They made me their servant boy instead of feeling sympathy. I hate them!" he spat.

Kiama was amazed by this story. "Palu, I am so sorry," she said. "But I'm sure Shan and Yama care about you. I am certain they do not just think of you as a servant."

"They haven't even made you do anything," said Palu.

"So, that's why you are jealous."

"Not only that, but you are the Avatar. How much better can your life get?"

Kiama was suddenly furious with Palu. "Hey! You think being the Avatar is easy?! You think I should be grateful?! If I wasn't the Avatar, then my brother and I would not have to fight to the death!"

Palu was taken aback by Kiama's outburst. "Gosh, Kiama, I had no idea."

Kiama could see that Palu had not intended to upset her. "I'm sorry," she said.

"No, I am sorry," said Palu. "I brought you here for a date, but I turned it into a sob fest."

Kiama had just remembered that the two of them were on a date. The two of them just stared at each other for several moments, then they started to move in on one another. The two of them prepared to kiss, but they were interrupted by a deafening explosion. They looked over to see a vendor's cart in flames. Out of nowhere, twelve men came out of the shadows, all wearing identical, black clothing. They surrounded the two, and one stepped forward to speak. "I think I owe you kids some payback," said Heng Wei.


  • Both Avatars, either figuratively or literally, use "three keys" at some point in the chapter, hence the title.

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