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|Ulterior Motives, Part 1: Jealousy|
Book Two: Success and Failure
This is the fifteenth chapter of Fleeting Peace.
Lin and Chong journey through "uncharted waters".
Unagi (Kyoshi) Bay - Coast
"Lin, are you sure you're fine?" Chong wondered for the umpteenth time since the evening before. Meanwhile, he wandered ahead of me, to the waterline of the beach.
"Yes," I assured him, beginning to feel irritated.
"Lin, you know, you're not a very good liar," he commented, turning to face me with his back to the bay.
"I'm not lying," I said untruthfully.
"You just learned something that would leave anyone shell-shocked and you almost got killed. How in the Spirit World are you fine?"
"I am shocked," I admitted, "but it doesn't matter. We have to get away from here before he comes after us."
"We should've killed that assassin," Chong said harshly. "He's never going to stop chasing you, especially since you now know why he is."
"Well, in case you didn't notice," I retorted, "I was fighting for my life, let alone trying to take his. And obviously neither of us thought of that while we were still there."
Chong sighed, pacified if not fully satisfied, but he willingly changed the subject. "We should cross this bay," he said thoughtfully.
I coughed skeptically. "We need a boat, at the very least," I told him, then asked sarcastically, "Do you have one hidden in your pocket?"
"It's funny; you were being so nice to me before." He furrowed his brow; apparently it was his turn to be annoyed. "You mean you're not grateful to me for saving your life?"
"That's not something to joke about," I retorted.
"No," he agreed. Then, on a different topic, he pointed ahead, to a blur that appeared on the horizon across the bay from us. "There it is," he said.
"There what is?" I asked, my gaze following his finger to a landmass—an island.
"That's Unagi Island," replied Chong. "I've heard it's a beautiful place."
"Uh, Chong, since when do we go somewhere because it's 'beautiful'?" I inquired. "And why is it named after a legend?"
"There might be something there worthwhile," said Chong, half-turning his head towards me. "And it's not a legend; the Unagi is very real."
I gazed at the bay skeptically. The Unagi, a ferocious beast that all merchants that have traveled the bay named for it, inspired fear in the hearts of all who heard of it. Of course, I had always dismissed it as a myth, but apparently, this giant eel with gaping jaws and water-spraying nostrils that supposedly capsized boats and ships in the bay was real.
What is the point, I thought wryly, disbelievingly, of being hunted by an assassin if you're just going to be killed by a sea monster?
"Don't worry," Chong interrupted my thoughts. "If we find a boat, it will probably be too small to alert the Unagi to our presence."
"If we find a boat that small, it'll be too miniscule to handle crossing this bay!" I contradicted.
"That's a good point, actually," Chong stated, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "We need a boat, but there's not one around. . ."
"Let's just go to the island," I told him, resigned. "I already have one too many killers after me. What's another going to do?"
"That's the spirit," Chong said absentmindedly.
Then, I knew. . . "We'll signal someone!" I exclaimed excitedly, a plan already forming in my mind.
"And what if we signal the wrong person?"
"That would be a problem," I acknowledged, "but I think it's worth the risk."
Chong shrugged. "Okay, since it's the only idea we have."
"All right," I said. "We just have to gather as much dry driftwood as we can."
"Does it have to be dry?"
"Yes," I said. "Have you ever been able to light a fire with damp fuel?"
"Good point." He then turned to walk further along the beach, halting every few steps to pick up a scrap of wood. I turned the other way and did the same. By the time we had returned to our starting point, we had compiled a decent amount of wood.
"Perfect," I stated as I arranged it into a pile. Chong watched quietly, seemingly finding my task interesting. When I was finished, I stepped back and admired my handiwork.
"So what's special about driftwood?" Chong wondered.
By now, the sun had set, the perfect time to ignite a fire to allow its light to travel a sizable distance. "It was soaked in saltwater, so it'll burn a green-blue color," I replied. "It'll stand out more; someone is sure to want to investigate."
I stood a few feet away from the pile of wood, pushing Chong back as well. I inhaled slowly, then jerked my fist forward, a small stream of orange flame emerging and catching onto the wood, which fed it. As soon as the fire lost my influence, it turned the color I had predicted it would.
"Pretty," commented Chong. He peered sideways at me out of the corner of his eyes, the bright, overwhelming light of the flames turning them opaque.
I shivered despite the heat of the flames, feeling self-conscious under his gaze. "Well, let's keep this burning for an hour," I said, looking out at the bay, which reflected not only the light of a full moon but now the fire as well. "Someone will probably play detective by noon tomorrow."
I sat down a little ways from the fire, far enough away that I wouldn't inhale too much smoke but close enough to feel its warmth; it was a rather chilly night, after all.
"Wake up!" an urgent voice hissed in my ear.
"What's happening?" I muttered groggily as I opened my eyelids. I jumped back when I saw a face with rather buggy brown eyes a mere two inches from mine. "Okay, I'm awake!" I exclaimed, startled.
"Good," the voice, belonging to a short, rather plump young woman, said, stepping back and meandering over to a still-sleeping Chong. I watched, slightly amused as he jerked up at her prodding, then not so amused when his spasm caused the two to bump foreheads, both of them grinning sheepishly as a result.
"I'm sorry," the woman said, standing up straight. She offered Chong a helping hand, and, to my consternation, he accepted, allowing her to pull him to his feet.
"Thanks," he said. He reached down and wrapped up his bedroll. "So you saw our fire?" he asked the rude awakener.
"Yes," she replied softly. "You're lucky no one else from my village saw it," she reprimanded as I too stood, rolling up my own blankets as well.
"I guess we are," I said sharply, glancing around. The sun had barely peeked the horizon, heralding sunrise, but by the light that already existed, I saw a motorized boat in the damp sand on the beach. I questioned the newcomer, "Who are you, anyway? And why are you no threat to us?"
"Oh, well, it's natural for you to think I mean you ill harm," she stated in a peculiarly regal voice, "but I promise that I'm a friend." She bowed slightly. "I'm Yinshi; I live in the biggest village of Unagi Island." The bug-eyed woman glanced back at Chong, who already appeared ready to leave.
She can take us there, then, I thought reluctantly, disliking Yinshi for a reason unknown to me. I eyed Chong, who looked contemplative; then, he nodded slightly to me.
"Can you take us there?" he asked Yinshi.
Her already wide eyes grew even more so. "Why?" she inquired. "You should be leaving. You don't look like you belong here." She stared at me when she said this, undoubtedly referring to my black hair and pale skin.
I scowled at her and clenched my fist, then, as a way to dispel the sudden tension I felt, stooped to pick up my belongings. "Are we going or not?" I said to Yinshi.
She sighed. "All right, I'll take you," she consented. "First, though, you have to promise me something."
"What is it?" Chong asked curiously.
"Can you confirm the rumors?"
"What rumors?" Chong wondered. "We've been on the move for a while, and we haven't come into contact with too many people. . ."
"Oh," said Yinshi, an obvious look of disappointment crossing her face. "Then if you want to cross the bay, follow me. And while on the boat, I'd advise you to remain as silent as possible; the motor alone is loud enough to alert the Unagi."
As we went with her to her boat, Chong glared sideways at me as if to say, I told you it was real. I rolled my eyes, knowing he'd notice my nonverbal response to his unsaid statement.
I peered into the blue water absentmindedly, on the east side of the boat, where there were no shadows that could fool me into fearing a beast I still refused to believe was real. I heard high-pitched laughter from behind me, but I ignored it, preferring to watch the ocean foam rather than something that would push me into a darker mood. That was when I spotted something moving beneath the waves.
"Uh, Chong, Yinshi," I said, fighting to keep terror from my voice. "I think I see something in the water."
"Really?" asked Chong, approaching the side of the boat, his demeanor more curious than anxious. He too glanced into the water, then at me with a skeptical expression. "Don't turn sparks into flames, Lin," he stated. "It's just an Elephant Koi swimming nearby."
He turned away, back to his original seat, while I fumed. Sparks into flames, huh? I thought furiously. Better safe than sorry, right?
The sunset had always struck me with its beauty, especially with the way it melted into the sea to the west, with the sky turning into varying shades of pink, blue, and orange. It was the most spectacular sight I had ever laid eyes on, and if I saw it a thousand more times, my regard for it would never diminish. Not even the slight draining affect I felt when the sun dipped below the horizon could deter me from admiring the dusk. But this sunset was different.
I sat alone on the beach on Unagi Island, facing westward, trying to ignore the negative energy swirling inside of me. I could see a stream of water being spouted from the water, but my irrational fear of the monster in the bay had deserted me as I sulked. Then, the sounds of soft footsteps on the sand behind me interrupted my sullen silence.
"What do you want?" I queried without turning, knowing precisely who was there.
Chong didn't respond. Instead, he sat beside me, also staring at the sunset. After a few moments of neither of us speaking, he broke the quiet: "Yinshi spoke to me about those 'rumors' she mentioned."
"There's an Avatar, and they're turning the world upside-down."
I jerked my head around to look directly into his green eyes, wondering if he was trying to make a bad joke, but he seemed to be telling the truth. "The Avatar?" I said skeptically. "And what do you mean by 'upside-down'?"
"Apparently, one country in the East has revolted completely and overthrown its ruler; in another, a small group, supposedly including the Avatar, attempted a coup."
"That's great for them," I said, feeling slightly elated, "but why did Yinshi want us to know this?"
"She thinks that we could try to lead an uprising here, on Unagi Island," Chong said simply.
"Is she crazy?" I wondered. "What could we do?"
"She seems to think foreigners are more likely to cause a successful disturbance. Also," he continued in a lower, guiltier voice, "I told her that you're a Firebender."
"You what?!" I exclaimed, immediately angered. I sprung to my feet and turned south, stalking away to the wooded area between the bay and the villages.
"Wait, let me explain," Chong said, as he came after me.
"What is there to explain?" I demanded, spinning to face him. "If you wanted me to die, you could've just let that assassin do his job! Why stop him?" I glared at him, slightly satisfied when his expression became that of shame.
"I know that telling her that could endanger your life," he began to explain, "but I also know that if we help these villagers rise up, you could be a rallying point, like our own little Avatar."
"Well, suppose the Avatar exists," I said, trying to dispute his rationalization. "I am a Firebender, and I've never even seen Air or Waterbending before, so your theory is useless."
"Listen, Lin, I know you're not the real Avatar, but it's not just them that gives people hope that they'll be free of oppressive dictators; it's also benders."
"And how is that?" I questioned, still unsure of his motives.
"Well, the rulers of the world are all frightened that they'll lose control of their countries if they allow benders to run rampant; benders remain from when the world was more peaceful and prosperous. They're a reminder, something that threatens the world order. That's why they arrest or kill any bender they find!"
I sighed, slightly convinced. "Why do you want to help these people, anyway?" I wondered.
"They need our help," he answered simply. "Some of the villagers are lonely and wretched from their family being taken away for various reasons, and others are starving and ill or worse. The government does nothing to help."
"There's something else driving you, though, isn't there?" I asked him, my voice suddenly softer and sympathetic. "There are personal reasons." Then, I furrowed my brow as I remembered his flirting with Yinshi. "You're attached to her already?" I said, openly annoyed.
"Who?" he said, confused. Then, understanding dawned on his face. "Oh, no, I'm not attached to Yinshi." He blushed slightly. "Actually, there's someone else, b-but that's not the point! And, yes, I suppose there is a rather personal reason behind my desire to help."
I smirked, unable to keep my satisfaction at his first response hidden, but I placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "All right," I told him. "I'll help. But first, I'd like to know why." I sat on a nearby boulder, imagining that this would take awhile.
Chong sat beside me and immediately began, "Well, my sister was born an Earthbender."
I stared at him, surprised, but he ignored me, instead continuing:
"My mother died a few weeks after she was born, when I was seven, so my father had to raise us. When she was two years old, she had a temper tantrum, and our house's stone foundation shook, and my father guessed she was an Earthbender. Since we were from Omashu, it was mandatory that all Earthbending babies be given to the police to be raised for city defense, but my father refused to give her up and kept her hidden. On her fifth birthday, though, a pair of soldiers broke our door down and kidnapped my sister before our eyes. She didn't understand what was happening, but she didn't struggle. One of them also attacked my father on their way out, and he suffered brain damage. He died barely a year later."
I placed my hand comfortingly on his own, warmth flooding through me when he turned his palm up and closed his fingers around mine. "Déjà vu," I commented, remembering our time in the desert.
"Our positions are completely reversed, though," he replied, a grin apparent in his voice despite his rather unhappy life story. "You know, there's no point in you being jealous of Yinshi."
"Do you have any proof?" I challenged, predicting what Chong would next do.
He gently placed his free hand at the back of my head, pulling it closer towards him and turning it up slightly. "Lin, you should know that I'd do anything for you," he murmured.
My heart pounded in my chest, but I still said nothing, hoping and wanting, waiting. . . And I wasn't disappointed.
Chong tilted his own head forward, bridging the already-small gap between us, lightly putting his lips on mine. But before I could react beyond a slight smile, he drew back and faced forward, staring at seemingly nothing.
"What's wrong?" I asked, slightly hurt at his sudden apathy.
"I-I'm sorry if"—
"Don't be ridiculous," I reassured him. "You did nothing wrong except, well, stop. And, um. . ." I hesitated, unaccustomed to saying anything heartfelt. "You mean a lot more to me than I ever thought you would."
He chuckled, apparently sensing my awkwardness. "There will be time to, uh, continue later," he said in response to my first statement, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "And I was hoping to hear something like that," he added as an answer to my second.
"So is there anymore to your story?" I queried, diverting the topic once more. "What happened to you after your father's death?"
"I left the city," he said. "I couldn't survive there alone, so I went to an outlying town and found a job at a grocery store, where you found me. Worked all day every day and got paid a pittance for my trouble," he added bitterly. "At least, the owner gave me a place to stay too, a small, dingy place."
I shrugged, leaning into him slightly, offering silent comfort. He put his arm around my shoulders, and we sat together, neither speaking but just enjoying each other's company for once.
- This chapter and the next were originally meant to be one, but they were split due to length. As such, Hanta's and Po's exploits will be covered then.
- This chapter is mostly filler, something that the author usually tries to avoid, but she felt its content was important to the story.
- Fun Fact: The author released this chapter on her birthday.
- Thanks to advice from , I had the courage to release this chapter, about which I was a little uncertain.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Fleeting Peace Chapters|
|Book 1: Rise and Fall|
|Disagreements - Handle with Care - Glimpses - Alliances - Curses - Idle - Half-Empty - Addition and Division - The Snitch - Revelations|
|Book 2: Success and Failure|
|Explanations - Omens - Looking Back - Factors - Ulterior Motives, Part 1: Jealousy - Ulterior Motives, Part 2: The Grandson - Shifting Tides - Repetition|
|Book 3: Cause and Effect|