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The musty smell of herbs and remedies hung in the tent. The air felt clammy and stale. Saiya Lee was used to it and to her it was beautiful.
She hummed as she worked, crushing the herbs in sync to her tune. She seemed mesmerized by the grindstone that moved as she flexed her wrists and bent the grey earth. Her Earthbending made her job easier, her hands stayed soft and flawless. The sweet aromas that she squeezed from the leaves clung to her. Yes, it was all so beautiful.
Saiya smiled at the sound of Hanu's voice.
"SAAAIYA!" The Airbender called again.
Saiya dropped the stone and stood up, straightened her skirt and emerged from the tent. She had to shield her eyes from the sharp sunlight and it took a while for her eyes to adjust. Hanu took this opportunity to sneak up on her, dropping from a large oak tree's branches dangling above and driving her into the dust in the process. The young boy landing softly on her back, trying desperately to control his laughter.
"Hanu! Get off!" Saiya coughed. "That wasn't funny!"
"Oh come on, Saiya, it was pretty funny." Chimed Kezza, another of Saiya's friends.
"Uhg! Go light a fire or something, Kezza!" Saiya was clearly annoyed by the two.
"Come on, Kezza, let's go to the lake and have some fun!" Hanu and the Firebending girl started towards the lake. "Want to come with, Saiya?" Hanu called back to her, still in full pace.
"I'm afraid that will have to wait." It was Keela, Saiya's mother. She was standing by a man who was seemingly from the Fire Nation... And rich. He was holding a younger man who Kezza immediately recognized.
"That's Prince Shuo!" Kezza squealed, waving her arms as she ran to him. "Prince Shuuooo!"
"Kezza! That's enough." Keela scolded bluntly. "The prince is terribly ill and needs our help."
"Ill?! What's wrong?" Kezza seemed genuinely worried, tears, genuine or no, welled up in her eyes.
"That's what we need to figure out, but it seems he has been bitten." Keela turned her attention to her daughter. "Saiya, help me get the prince into my tent."
Saiya simply nodded and went ahead to prepare the tent for the sick prince, leaving Kezza and Hanu standing aimlessly.
Sheesh... Kezza is so emotional... Who is this guy anyway? Saiya found herself thinking.
For reasons unbeknownst to her and despite her best attempts to stay aloof, Saiya felt a sense of worry settle in her mind.
Shuo... Prince Shuo... She had heard his name before.
"Saiya! Don't just stand there!" Keela woke Saiya from her chain of thoughts.
"Huh? Oh, yes." With that she started to move more swiftly, and soon enough the young prince was in Keela's tent, ready to be examined.
Dust hung in the air, as if the battle had just happened a moment ago... A dark aura had befallen this place since then. The charred vestiges and mangled corpses still remained here, all preserved by dark energies. It wasn't the work of a human...
"Atma." A sweet voice broke through the darkness.
"Ah! My friends, the Shimai sisters. To what do I owe this... Honour?" This voice was eerie and booming.
"Oh just the usual, we just came for a visit."
"Ah, another one of your visits... I was looking forward to seeing you again." A dark shade emerged from the crypt-like alcove to face two beautiful pale faces.
"Honestly, Atma, you need to do some housework. One could swear this is the realm of Koh." This time the other sister spoke, her voice a little deeper than the former.
"Koh... My old friend, Koh the face stealer... I haven't seen him since... Since he stole the face of that one Earth King... Yes, I do remember so well." The dark shade that was Atma moved closer to the two fare spirits, enfolding them in the musty, putrid energies which emanated from him.
"So then, sisters, where shall we get started?"
"He's warm." Saiya replaced her hand with a damp cloth on the princes forehead.
"Maybe that's because he's a Firebender." Hanu queried, handing Keela some herbs.
"I doubt it. Even if that was the case, he is burning up, even for a Firebender."
Keela had been silent the whole time, crushing herbs and mixing them with water. She came closer to where the young man was lying, two small jars in her hands.
"Saiya, when I give the word I want you to make the prince drink this, every last drop. Hanu, you hold him down." She handed Saiya one of the jars and bent the murky liquid out of the second. "Okay, now."
Saiya gently parted Shuo's lips, pouring the bitter water into his mouth. Keela proceeded to use the liquid spinning in her hand to heal the bite on the princes leg.
"I wish they had brought him here sooner, I can't even extract the poison." Keela frowned.
The small container was halfway empty when Hanu realized what his job entitled. The princes eyes shot open, wide, pupils small and iris's glassy. For a moment his eyes met Saiya's own. For a moment gold met green... But it was a short-lived encounter. Shuo started shaking in a violent fit.
"What's going on?" Asked Hanu, struggling to keep the prince at bay.
"It's my remedy. The fit means it's working, he will soon expel the toxins." Keela sounded calm. "Saiya, make sure he drinks all of it!"
The young Earthbender nodded, forcing the potion down the Firebenders throat, desperately evading his teeth, and soon enough the jar was empty, but the prince shook more and more with each passing second. A rancid coloured sweat was starting to drip from his skin and soon enough he was coughing up the same substance.
"Good, this means it's working. Hanu, keep up what you are doing. Saiya, absorb as much of the sweat as you can with those rags."
Saiya had never seen anything like this before, she had seen many horrible things, but this, for some reason, made her sick.
After a while of coughing, Shuo started expelling the putrid liquid from his mouth in violent spasms. The green was tinted with blood red.
"No. No! This must not happen!" Keela lost her calm composure.
"Mom, what's happening?"
"The toxins are working against my remedy, both are now breaking down his body! Not only that, but at this pace of de-hydration, who knows how long he can hold it!"
Saiya felt helpless. She felt scared. She felt the princes pain. She tried her best to stay calm, gently stroking Shuo's hair. She didn't know what else to do.
"Saiya, Hanu, it's best you two left. I need to try to extract the remedy and toxins... It won't be good."
Saiya spent the rest of the day at the lake with her friends, trying hard to be ignorant of the days earlier events, but like the small whiffs of cloud that hung in the air, the thoughts lingered... No matter how small, they would not go unnoticed... Even by nightfall the clouds were still there... The images of the prince filled her dreams. A prince. Then a phantom. Quickly. Then again, the prince...
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