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Author Topic: Cause Some Trouble: an Earth King fanfic (post-Book 2, PG-13) UPDATED 8/25/11  (Read 15427 times)
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« on: Jan 07, 2010 04:41 pm »

Edited 6/1 for new summary: After parting ways with Team Avatar, Earth King Kuei left to travel the world as a commoner. He had no idea what he was getting himself into. His journey takes him to the Si Wong Desert, where he finds unlikely friends in two Sandbenders. Together, this unusual trio might just change the future of Ba Sing Se. Action/Adventure/Romance/Political Intrigue. Kuei/OC.

Author's Note: I listen to music when I write, and I have this playlist that I've made specifically for writing this fanfic. For each chapter, I will post links and/or lyrics, when applicable, for that chapter's associated music, so that you, the reader, can get a sense of my emotional/mental state while writing that chapter, and the mood I'm going for. For this chapter, it's "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saëns. You can listen to it here on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YyknBTm_YyM




PROLOGUE: THERE IS NO WAR IN BA SING SE

Four weeks after the return of Sozin’s Comet…

   Sokka grinned sheepishly at the solemn-faced Royal Earthbender Guards lined up shoulder-to-shoulder on either side of the wide promenade leading to the Earth King’s palace. It was a familiar sight—they had stormed this very walkway not too long ago. They had been received as enemies that day, but today the young heroes—Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Toph, and Suki—were welcomed as the most highly honored guests, possibly by the same soldiers!
 
   “I kinda feel like we should be apologizing or something,” Sokka whispered to Zuko, who was walking to his left. The other boy looked askance at him.

   “Apologizing for what?” asked Zuko, his one remaining eyebrow pulling inward in a frown.

   “Oh, that’s right, you weren’t there,” Sokka said as if to himself, rubbing his chin speculatively.

   “Why, what happened?” the young Firelord asked as his frown deepened.

   “We took out a couple battalions of these guys,” Toph answered cheerily from behind the two boys. She waved to a few of the soldiers, who blanched visibly despite their best efforts to remain appropriately stoic. “Aww, they do remember us!” Zuko looked torn between being impressed and being concerned over the mischief his friends had apparently wrought. Momo, riding on Aang’s shoulder at the head of their little procession, chattered noisily at Sokka.

   “Momo’s right, Sokka, I’m sure they’re not still mad about it! We were on their side,” Aang joined in blithely as he scratched behind the lemur’s ears. The six teens had returned to Ba Sing Se at the behest of Earth King Kuei, who, it seemed, had returned from his travels and wished to begin rebuilding the diplomatic ties between his kingdom and the Fire Nation. Aang and the others had been delighted to hear that Kuei was so eager to extend the hand of friendship to his former enemies so soon after the war’s end; Sokka, thinking back to his disastrous attempts at awakening Bosco’s much-praised “animal instincts”, was just glad Kuei had made it home in one piece.


The young war heroes reached the top of the steep flight of steps outside the palace and made their way inside, chattering happily all the while. Sokka regaled Zuko with a slightly exaggerated rendition of the siege he’d missed out on, with the others interjecting whenever the details became a little too grandiose. Soon enough, the massive, ornate doors leading to the throne room loomed before them. Katara turned to her brother and gave him a mocking bow.

   “Care to do the honors, O brave warrior?” she teased.

   “Very funny,” Sokka grumbled. The guards standing on either side pushed the heavy doors open and the group entered. They’d barely gotten five paces into the room when the lighthearted mood that had surrounded their journey evaporated.

   “You?!” Aang shouted, enraged, whipping his staff around to point at the man sitting on the throne atop the dais at the other end of the chamber.

   “What, what’s going on? Who is it?” Toph demanded as she and the others took up fighting stances. Even Zuko reacted; he may not have been there when his friends had stormed the palace, but he still recognized the former Grand Secretariat of Ba Sing Se.

   “Long Feng,” Katara muttered darkly. He rose and spread his arms, smiling serenely.

   “Welcome back to our proud city, Avatar Aang.” The young Airbender advanced towards the dais.

   “What are you doing here? You have no right to sit on that throne, traitor!” he snapped. Long Feng lifted his hands appeasingly.

   “You’re right, of course. The blame for the Fire Nation’s capture of Ba Sing Se rests on none but my own shoulders. I acted rashly—I was greedy, and I underestimated Princess Azula. What’s more, I overestimated myself. I will not deny my guilt, although I wish I could. Now that our fair city has been freed, my one desire is to atone for my crimes, to undo the destruction my actions caused.” Here he paused and bowed his head. “It’s the least I can do to honor His Majesty’s memory.”

   “’Memory’?” Katara echoed, an edge of horror creeping into her tone.

   “What did you do?” Toph snapped.

   “It was nothing I did, I assure you. Indeed, if only there was something I could have done.” He wearily pinched the bridge of his nose. “The Earth King has passed away from an illness—the royal physicians believe he contracted it while traveling during the occupation. It seemed like a minor aliment when he first returned to Ba Sing Se, and the physicians thought he would recover. But then his health began declining rapidly, and none of their remedies were having any effect…” He let his voice trail off, looking around at the shocked, silent young war heroes. “Don’t worry,” he assured them swiftly, “my presence on this throne is a temporary measure—His Majesty died without an heir, and so the task falls to me to produce one.”

   “Ew,” Toph muttered under her breath.

   “By selecting one from a list of qualified candidates,” Long Feng added bitingly, shooting a sour glance at her. Aang scowled, then lowered his staff with a resigned sigh.

   “I need to talk with my friends,” he announced in an icy tone.

   “By all means, please do,” Long Feng agreed. The group of teens retreated to the hall beyond the throne room’s threshold, where they huddled into a circle. The young Avatar turned his eyes over each of his friends’ faces studiously before his gaze settled on his Earthbending teacher.

   “Toph?” he asked anxiously. The small girl shrugged, her expression troubled beneath the fringe of black hair that fell across her sightless eyes.

   “He’s telling the truth.” The stillness that had hung over the group broke as everyone began talking at once.

   “Are you sure? Really, really sure?” Sokka demanded, placing his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Maybe he’s fooling you like Azula did!”

   “He must be lying! Maybe you were standing too far away to tell,” Katara insisted.

   “Let her talk!” Zuko’s abrupt exclamation, the first time he’d spoken since arriving in the throne room, silenced the group. Abashed, the others refocused their attention on the girl.

   “Thanks, Sparky. Like I said, he’s not lying. Y’know how I said there’s physical changes when somebody lies? They’re a little different for everyone, but I never forget ‘em once I’ve seen ‘em. And trust me, Long Feng isn’t even half as good as Azula. He’s not lying.” The five friends fell silent again as they processed this news.

   “So what do we do?” Katara asked, wrapping her arms around her torso. “We can’t work with him, not after everything he’s done!”

   “I don’t think we have any other choice,” Aang said. “I mean, maybe he really has changed. Weirder things have happened to us, right?” Here the gang turned as one to look at Zuko, who shrugged self-consciously.

   “Hey, I never dealt with him. I’ll trust whatever decision you guys make,” he said.

   “This doesn’t feel right,” Sokka muttered.

   “I know.” Aang squeezed his eyes shut. Momo nuzzled the boy’s cheek comfortingly. As they returned to the throne room, Long Feng smiled graciously and folded his hands into his sleeves. Choking down his apprehension, Aang stepped forward and looked the older man in the eye. “Okay, Long Feng. We’re willing to give you a chance.” The words felt hollow even as they left his mouth, but what else could he do?


**********


   Long Feng returned to his apartments within the palace compound, satisfied with the day’s work. The Avatar and his friends had decided to postpone their diplomatic negotiations with Ba Sing Se until a new king had been chosen—fair enough. He could certainly appreciate their reluctance to place that much power into his own hands given their past experiences with him.  He’d scarcely had time to call for a servant to bring him some tea when he realized that he wasn’t alone in the room. He spun, fists raised to Earthbend at the intruder, and found himself facing Lieutenant Jianjun of the Dai Li. Long Feng scowled at the agent.

   “What are you doing here? I didn’t summon you,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

   “Actually, sir, you did summon me.” The younger man stepped forward and looked Long Feng squarely in the eye. “The tower is secure, sir.” Long Feng staggered, and his head snapped back as if he’d been struck. Jianjun stood dutifully as his commander recovered his composure, taking a deep breath through his nose to steady himself. Finally he straightened and brushed imaginary specks of dust from his sleeves as his characteristic ice-cold smirk settled on his face once again.

   “Brainwashing—such a barbaric practice. Hopefully we won’t be needing it any longer,” Long Feng said calmly.

   “The Avatar, sir?” prompted the lieutenant.

   “We have his support—grudgingly, I’ll admit, but we have it nonetheless. His little lie-detector couldn’t pick up a single hint of anything less than complete truthfulness from me. And the execution?” Here Jianjun wavered. His silence made Long Feng glance sharply at him. “Lieutenant, please tell me that that bespectacled idiot has been disposed of.” The calmness in his tone was now meticulously controlled, rigidly maintained over a razor-sharp edge of warning.

   “It seems that we overestimated our hold on the Royal Earthbender Guard, sir. Our ranks were infiltrated by soldiers who are still loyal to the Earth King; there was an ambush waiting for us when we arrived at Lake Laogai with the prisoner. Of the five agents you sent to carry out the execution, I’m the only one to have survived. By the time I woke up, the traitors and the Earth King were gone.” Long Feng turned away and pinched the bridge of his nose. The lieutenant could feel the sudden tension radiating from him like a physical force in the room with them. Long Feng composed himself, setting his anger behind a well-practiced mask of coolness.

   “No matter,” he said icily. “It’s only through sheer luck that he survived on his own during the occupation. He won’t be so fortunate a second time. Life outside the safety of the palace will take care of him, I should think. But just in case, send word to our agents throughout the kingdom, tell them to keep an eye out for His Majesty, and if they see him… eliminate him.”


So, there's the prologue. Hope y'all enjoyed it! Constructive criticism and advice is always appreciated. The rough draft of Chapter One is nearly ready to be sent off to my beta, so it should be posted sometime in the near future.



« Last Edit: Jun 01, 2012 02:57 pm by Ayala_Atreides » Logged

My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
NeeNee
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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We will not be quiet.


« Reply #1 on: Jan 11, 2010 07:20 am »

Nice. I’m glad the royal idiot survived after all. But how is Long Feng planning to stay ahead of Toph? He might have fooled her once, but next time he is being insincere (which is all the time he’s not brainwashed) she’ll have him.

And if there are still king loyalists among the guards, it won’t be long before the gaang hears the truth about his ‘illness’, either.
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Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #2 on: Feb 09, 2010 03:57 pm »

NeeNee: Thanks for reviewing!  Grin (And for those of you that read and didn't review-- I can see you lurking there, you know.  Wink ) Long Feng definitely has a plan, but will it be good enough? We'll find out, but first we're going to time-skip back to the end of Book 2 and find out what His Royal Dweebiness has been up to!

Welcome to Chapter One. As before, we have a playlist for this chapter.
1) "Avatar Premiere Main Title", The Track Team: It may be a bit presumptuous of me to include the show’s main theme on my humble little fanfic’s playlist, but I couldn’t resist! It’s just such a great piece of music.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBa7gpC3nTE

2) Bacchanale from "Samson and Delilah", Camille Saint-Saëns: This is sort of where it all started. I was listening to this piece over the summer and got an idea for a fanfic in which Kuei’s travels take him to the Si Wong Desert, where he meets a Sandbender girl and her brother…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkUVV6o4MzM

3) "The Forgotten People", Thievery Corporation: IDK, this one just made me think of the Si Wong Desert and the Sandbenders.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmJ5MLhGxoI

4) "You Only Live Twice", Nancy Sinatra: This one doesn’t specifically apply to this chapter. It’s more like, uh, foreshadowing.  Wink
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgFtQPgHyek

One more thing-- You can find a sketch of my Sandbender OC's right here:
http://skeleton-horse.deviantart.com/art/Sandbenders-153308758
Okay, that's enough of that. On with the show!
*******************

CHAPTER ONE- THE KING IN EXILE

Six Months Ago…  
  
It had seemed like such a simple idea at the time. Strike out on his own, travel the world in disguise, see what life was like outside the palace walls. No fancy parties to host, no Dai Li watching his every move, no Long Feng whispering poisonous lies in his ear—just Kuei and Bosco, off on a marvelous adventure, learning more about the citizens of his realm so that he could be a better king for them once the Avatar had ended the war. He hadn’t realized that life with no limits would be so… well, so complicated. He hadn’t taken any money with him when he and the Avatar’s group had fled Ba Sing Se, for one thing. He’d planned on selling his royal robes and adornments in the first port city they reached, but the others felt this would arouse too much suspicion. (Besides, with the Fire Nation now occupying the capital, the ports around the group's camp at Chameleon Bay were swarming with Firebenders.) The kind little Water Tribe girl and her friends had given him some of their money, what little they had. He hadn’t brought any supplies, either; he’d tried with some success to teach himself hunting and fishing, but neither he nor Bosco could quite get the hang of it. He was hungry, exhausted, smelly, sore, he had an increasingly ragged beard creeping along his typically clean-shaven face—all of which was nothing compared to the shame of having fled like a mouse from a cat owl while the Fire Nation brought the last great stronghold of the Earth Kingdom to its knees. But at least, he thought sourly, he had the freedom he’d always craved.
              
And so it was that Kuei, the 52nd Earth King of Ba Sing Se, found himself seated at a rickety wooden table in the cantina at the Misty Palms Oasis, located on the edge of the vast and deadly Si Wong Desert. An empty ice-cup sat in front of him, its sides and bottom stained pale orange from the drink he’d purchased at the bar with the last of his money; he’d made it this far without getting himself killed and felt he ought to celebrate. Visiting an oasis—now there was another thing that had sounded quite simple. When he’d arrived, however, he’d discovered it to be quite different than expected. It wasn’t misty, there weren’t any palm trees, and indeed the only thing shady about the place was the nature of its inhabitants. Still, ever the optimist, Kuei was determined to enjoy his stay, a task he felt would have been substantially easier if he could just shake the feeling that something bad was about to happen.

A dark shape appeared suddenly in the corner of his eye and perched on the table’s edge beside him, and he started so sharply that he dislodged his glasses. He hastily adjusted the round lenses and leaned back in his chair to get a look at this apparition. The new arrival was obviously a Sandbender—that much was clear from the shabby sand-colored clothes and from the thick layer of wrappings that bound its arms, legs, and head, the standard garb of all the locals. Then it leaned in close and spoke, and he realized it was a female Sandbender.

“Keep your voice down and don’t look about. There are three men in the corner who’ve been watching you since you came in,” she whispered, muffled by the beige cloth that covered all but her warm, dark brown eyes.

“I-I beg your pardon? Watching me?” he sputtered. His mind flooded with images of Fire Nation assassins, sinister creatures bristling with all manner of unpleasantly pointy objects.

“Friends of yours?” she deadpanned. Kuei frowned and scratched at the tangled mess on his chin.

“Well, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be—“
              
“I was being sarcastic. Damned tourists.” She crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head pityingly, then glanced past him, presumably to where the three men were. “Oh Spirits, here they come.” Kuei shot an anxious look over his shoulder and received a solid cuff upside the head from the Sandbender woman’s heavily wrapped right hand. “I said not to look about! I know these guys; let me handle this.”
              
“Well, Zafirah, it looks like you’ve made a new friend,” said a sneering voice behind him. He snuck another glance and saw three more Sandbenders. Two of them had their faces exposed; the one in front was young and smooth-shaven, and the other was older and had a thick beard and moustache. Both were scowling fiercely. Kuei grimaced and sunk down into his chair. The girl, however, seemed thoroughly unimpressed.
              
“Afternoon, Ghashiun,” Zafirah replied. “Speaking of new friends, I don't think I've met yours,” she added sweetly, waving to the other unmasked man. Ghashiun’s scowl deepened more than Kuei thought was physically possible.
              
“Never mind him. What’s with the tourist?” he asked coldly. That last word was positively dripping with scorn.
              
“Oh, you know me,” Zafirah said brightly. “I just love tourists! They’re so entertaining!” She ruffled Kuei’s hair and he ducked his head.
              
“I, ah, I should be going,” Kuei said quickly, trying to keep his tone light and unconcerned. “You two obviously have a lot to talk about, I wouldn’t want to interfere!” He pushed his chair back and stood—right onto the third Sandbender’s foot. The man shouted in pain. Ghashiun grabbed the front of Kuei’s shirt and threw him back against the table, which creaked in protest. He collided with Zafirah, who elbowed him in the side.
              
“You just don’t get how to listen, do you?” she hissed. “I told you to let me handle this.” She jerked her thumb at the angry young man in front of them, raising her voice. “Just ignore him, he’s been acting like more of a jerk than usual every since he got in trouble for stealing the Avatar’s Sky Bison.” Kuei looked sharply at the Sandbender boy, feeling some of his fear replaced by anger on the young hero’s behalf.
              
“That was you?” he demanded. The four Sandbenders stared at him, as surprised by his outburst as he was.
            
“What would you know about it?” asked the third Sandbender suspiciously. Kuei swore inwardly and scrambled to cover up his slip.
              
“Well, ah, you see, I had the good fortune to meet the A-avatar on my travels. Naturally, I was curious about the, um, about the Sky Bison, never having seen one before, so I asked him some questions about it, and, uh, he—“ Zafirah lunged forward and drove a solid right hook into Ghashiun’s jaw, sending him staggering back with a cry. The other unmasked Sandbender growled and threw a blast of sand straight into her eyes through the narrow opening in her face coverings. She yowled and jerked her right fist towards her waist; the sand shifted under the man and he fell as though a rug had been pulled from beneath his feet.
              
“Time to go,” Zafirah told him with what Kuei felt to be a rather inappropriate amount of glee given the circumstances. She seized his arm and hauled him towards the curtained doorway before the third Sandbender could even react. The rest of the cantina’s clientele barely shifted their focus from their drinks as the two hurried past. Tavern brawls were hardly a noteworthy occurrence at the Misty Palms Oasis.

The air outside the cantina felt heavy with the stifling heat of late afternoon in the desert. Zafirah slowed to a walk as she dropped Kuei’s arm and rubbed the sand from her eyes, then laughed when she saw the dismayed look on his face.
              
“Oh, calm down! You made it out in one piece, didn’t you?” She winked at him, then turned and started to walk away from the cantina, lifting one hand in a casual wave. “Well, thanks for the fun. Bye, now!” It took a moment for Kuei to recover his wits, and then he trotted after her. She glanced sideways at him and as he caught up with her, but she kept walking.
              
“Are you following me?” she asked flatly.
              
“Wha--no, no, I just... I wanted to thank you for, ah, helping me. What were they going to do to me, anyway?”
              
“Oh, rob you, maybe rough you up a bit, maybe with an emphasis on the roughing-up if you didn’t have much money on you.” The girl shrugged. “My getting involved probably made it worse, actually,” she added apologetically. “I just can’t pass up an opportunity to piss them off.”
              
“I don’t have any money at all, so I suppose I ought to thank you for sparing me a good deal of pain. Won’t that man and his, uh, associates come after you now? I assume they’ll want revenge of some sort.”
              
“Pffft, no! This is business as usual for us. He and I have a go at each other at least once every couple of months,” she replied, chortling.
              
“Oh,” he said. Bosco, who had been resting near the depleted iceberg at the center of the oasis, spotted his master and lumbered over. Zafirah shrieked and jumped behind Kuei. “Oh, don't worry! That's just Bosco, my pet bear," he said, beaming. She stepped out from behind him, trying to recover her dignity.
              
“Pet bear?” she echoed. “Tourists.” She turned and started to walk off again.
            
“Wait! Is there an inn here, someplace I can sleep?”
              
“Yeah, but they all cost money, which you’ve just said you don’t have, and I’m pretty sure they don’t allow… those,” she said, eying Bosco distastefully. She paused, considering, then spoke again. “What’s your name, tourist?”
              
“I am Kuei,” he told her. His given name sounded unfamiliar in his own ears. It felt like he was introducing a stranger. He bowed—he was in the presence of a lady, after all—eliciting a disbelieving snort from his peculiar rescuer. “And I believe the angry fellow back there called you Zafirah?”

“That’s me.” She looked him once over, then shook her head again. “Well, Kuei, I’ve got a perfectly good floor you can sleep on if that suits you.” He blinked at her, thoroughly taken aback.

“W-well, I, that's very—I don’t know quite what to say—“ he stammered.

“Do you want the floor or not? ‘Cause really, it’s that or camping for you, and I’m not feelin' too confident about your chances out in the desert all by your lonesome self. Can't guarantee someone else won't mess with you, not to mention all the nasty things livin' out there. I don’t particularly want your death on my conscience,” she said impatiently.

“Yes, please. Thank you, that’s... very generous of you,” he said, flummoxed. She set off at a brisk pace without another word, or even checking to see if he was behind her. It didn’t take long to get there; the oasis was a very small settlement, little more than several clusters of squat, domed huts of hard-packed earth and wood frames, all forming a rough circle around the iceberg and enclosed by a low wall.  Zafirah’s home was nestled in a cluster next to the main gate.  Once inside, Kuei saw walls lined with swords and knives of all sizes, a counter in the middle of the room, and a work station in the corner behind it. “Do you make weapons?” he asked.
              
“Nope. Buy, sell, and trade,” she said.
              
“Oh.”

“By the way, I’d prefer if you left the animal up here.” She pulled back a curtain at the back of the room and disappeared through it. Kuei told Bosco to stay put and followed her through, down a crudely made wooden ladder barely taller than himself and into a musty, dimly lit basement. It was a fairly small but cozy space, with a kitchen in the corner next to the ladder, a curtained area along the wall opposite, and a thin straw mattress heaped with blankets in the corner past the kitchen. Zafirah reached up and unbound her head coverings, depositing them beside the ladder. She was actually rather pretty under all those wrappings; her deeply tanned face was framed by shorter locks that had escaped the confines of a long, thick braid of dark brown hair. He wasn't very good at guessing ages, but she didn't look much older than twenty. She turned to face him and put her fists on her hips. “I’m not running a restaurant here. You help when I tell you to, got it?”
              
“Of course,” he agreed quickly. She sauntered over to the kitchen, stretching her arms above her head.
              
“I don’t know about you, but I’m starved,” she said as she grabbed some sticks from a basket and stuck them beneath a rough iron pot hanging in the fireplace. “Would you light that up while I get some things from the pantry?” she asked, pointing absently at a pair of spark rocks on the counter next to the firewood basket. Not bothering to wait for an answer, she swept off through a doorway to the left of the kitchen. Fortunately, a pair of spark rocks was one of the first things Kuei had picked up after parting ways with the Avatar’s group, and thus he was spared the embarrassment of his host thinking him to be totally useless.

[Continue on to Part 2]
« Last Edit: Apr 30, 2011 01:44 am by Ayala_Atreides » Logged

My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Posts: 108



« Reply #3 on: Feb 09, 2010 04:08 pm »

[Chapter 1 Part 2]

A sudden movement to his left caught his attention; he looked up, expecting to see Zafirah, but instead he saw a nearly naked man rising from beneath the pile of blankets in the corner. Kuei wasn’t sure which of them was more startled. He bore an unmistakable resemblance to his host and was perhaps a hair shorter than Kuei. He had the sort of lean build that suggested a history of scarce meals and daily physical labor. The man blinked owlishly from behind a curtain of below-shoulder-length brown hair hanging loose around his face and took an unsteady Bending stance, clearly intent on defending his home. He succeeded in raising a small cloud of dust that promptly flew up into his own face. As he coughed and shook his head, Zafirah emerged from the pantry, arms filled with cloth sacks.
              
“Zafi! There’s a thief in our house!” rasped the man, slurring his words.
              
"That’s not a thief, that’s a guest, so will you please put on some pants?" she demanded.

“But I am wearing pants, Zafi!” he insisted, hurt. Zafirah cleared her throat and looked pointedly downward. The man followed her gaze to his bare legs and gaped at the sight.
            
“Ohhhhh,” he said slowly. He stumbled back into the heap and dug around amidst the blankets for a minute before apparently giving up. Zafirah stomped over to the fireplace and dumped the sacks on the ground.
            
“My stupid twin brother, Basam. He’s been drinking sake again,” she explained. Then she pulled a waterskin from a hook on the wall and emptied its contents into the pot. Kuei hovered a couple feet behind her, tapping his fingertips together behind his back as if attempting to magically summon a way to be helpful. People weren't his strongest area of expertise; there was already a certain level of personal detachment that came with ascending to the throne, and with Long Feng meticulously excluding him from matters of government, Kuei had been left with few chances for human interaction. He wasn't even allowed to show his face or speak with guests at the fancy parties he'd hosted! He'd had a veritable army of tutors in every academic subject imaginable, and he considered himself a very knowledgeable man-- but when it came to people, and especially the art of conversation, he was in the dark.
              
“Um. What are you making?” Kuei asked politely. Zafirah shrugged carelessly and began pouring lentils from one sack into the pot. Basam shuffled over and stood next to Kuei, much too close for comfort, eyes narrowed and rubbing his stubbly chin pensively. He leaned away almost involuntarily.
              
“I still say he looks like a thief,” Basam pronounced. Zafirah snatched a stick of firewood from the basket and threw it at him.
              
Basam. Pants!”

He huffed irritably. “Be reasonable, Zafirah. Why in the Spirit World would I put on two pairs of pants?”
 
“I don’t know, Basam, why don’t you put on one pair to start with, and find out?” she growled. He looked down and was once again surprised. His pride bruised, he stared imperiously at his sister and then shuffled back to the bed.
 
“Fine, then! I’ll do that, and you see to the thief.”

“Oh, please. If he’s a thief, then I’m the Avatar! Speaking of which, that was a nice diversion back there,” she said, addressing the last part to Kuei. She opened another sack and added rice to the pot, then took two big fistfuls of dried pig-chicken meat from a third bag and added that as well.
              
“Diversion?”
              
“The story about meeting the Avatar and knowing about his Sky Bison.”

“I really did meet him, though.” Met him, let him down, and saw his lightning-struck corpse revivified by Spirits-blessed water. He didn't think it wise to mention all of that, though.

“Uh huh. Nice quick thinking there, you!” Well, if she thought he’d done it intentionally, he certainly wasn’t about to disabuse her of that notion.
 
“Thank you, I do try,” he said mildly. She pointed wordlessly to a wooden box on the counter. Realizing that he was meant to fetch it, Kuei hurriedly retrieved it. She took it from his hands and lifted the lid; it was a spice box. She threw several pinches of different herbs into the pot, then grabbed a long, wooden spoon from the counter and stirred the pot’s contents, humming off-key as she worked. It wasn’t long before an almost overwhelmingly spicy aroma began rising from the stew.

“So what brings you to our lovely oasis?” she asked, a hint of self-deprecation in her tone.

“I live here!” Basam exclaimed. He had found his clothes and was hopping precariously on one foot as he attempted to pull his pants on.

“Not you! I was talking to our guest,” she growled. Now it was Kuei’s turn to shrug, partly to buy some time to think of an answer.

“I, ah, I saw it on my map and thought it seemed like a nice place to visit,” he tried.

“Must be an old map,” Zafirah replied with a crooked smirk. Kuei couldn’t disagree with that. Silence settled over the room, broken only by the scrape of the spoon against the sides of the pot. Eventually, Zafirah lifted the spoon to her lips and sampled its contents, then nodded to herself, satisfied. She hefted an iron lid and set it in place atop the pot, then sat back on her heels. “Now we let that cook for a while. I guess that monster of yours needs food too, huh. What’s that thing eat, anyway?”

“Meat, usually,” he said. She grabbed the sack of dried pig-chicken and handed it to him, and he headed back up the ladder. Bosco looked up and growled mournfully as Kuei entered the shop. He knelt beside his pet and scratched behind the bear’s ears. “I’m sorry I have to leave you up here alone, my friend,” he said as he placed a pile of the meat in front of Bosco’s snout. When he returned to the basement, Zafirah waved in the direction of another curtained alcove beside the pantry.

“The washroom’s through there if you want to get cleaned up at all,” she told him.
 
“Thank you, I would like that.” He rubbed absently at his chin and frowned. “Does your brother have a spare razor I might borrow?”

“Nah, just use his.” She shot a look at Basam’s immobile form in the corner. “It’s not like he’s in any condition to argue!” she added in a raised voice. When this failed to get a reaction, she rolled her eyes and lifted the pot’s lid to stir again.

The washroom was a cramped space with a metal basin against the far wall beneath a dingy, cracked mirror. He noticed with some surprise that there was a water pump beside the basin stand. Kuei winced slightly as he caught his reflection in the mirror. His face was dirtier than he’d realized and covered in scratches from where he’d stumbled into a patch of brambles a few days earlier. There were dark circles beneath his eyes, and that beard was really quite awful. He found a shaving kit wrapped in tattered leather on a shelf cut into the wall beside the mirror and set about returning himself to something approximating a civilized state. When he emerged from the washroom, satisfied that he was as clean as he was going to get without jumping in a lake, their supper had finished cooking and Zafirah was rummaging around on a wooden shelf above the kitchen counter.

“Bowls, bowls, where are the Spirits-be-damned— aha!” She spun around triumphantly with a stack of misshapen metal bowls held high in one hand. Her left eyebrow twitched upward slightly when she caught sight of him, and he almost thought he saw a flicker of a smile at the corners of her mouth. But it was gone before he could figure out what it was and then she was shoving a bowl into his hands and gesturing to the iron pot. “Go ahead. I said I wasn’t running a restaurant!” She plunked down beside the fire and ladled some of the stew into her own bowl. He settled in across from her and took the ladle after her.

“Zafirah, may I ask how the water pump in the washroom works?”

“Absolutely not.” She paused, then grinned at his obvious shock. “Relax, I’m just teasing you! Spirits, you’re such an easy mark it’s not even fun. Of course you can ask. There’s a water tank behind the wall in there. Every few weeks we fill it with our allotment of melted-down water from the iceberg. It may look like there isn’t much of it, but it’s huge underground. And since there’s so few of us living here, we all get to use it. Not very much, of course, so we have to make do. Like, we scrub food scraps off of plates and stuff with sand, then use a tiny little bit of water to wipe out the sand.”
            
“Ah.” Kuei couldn’t help but glance dubiously at the bowl in his hands.
              
“Yeah, it’s not too fancy. Nothing like what you’re probably used to, living in…” She paused again, scrutinized him through narrowed eyes, and smirked. “Ba Sing Se?” Kuei managed not to choke on a mouthful of stew.
              
“H-how did you…?”
              
“We get folks from all over the place. You spend enough time watching people, you start to see all these little things that give away a person’s story. You can see it in the way they talk—different cities have different accents, you know. And the way they carry themselves? Kinda sad how easy it is to spot the rich noble types. Like you, for example: here you are, sitting on the ground, and your back’s as straight as a reed.” Kuei slouched self-consciously, sending another ghost of a smile flitting across Zafirah’s face before she went on.  “I can tell you're from a big city, and there aren’t a whole lot of those. Gaoling, Omashu, Ba Sing Se… that’s pretty much it. Your accent is sort of like other Ba Sing Se folks that've passed through, so I figured I had a one-in-three shot at guessing right. But I gotta say, I almost couldn’t place you; there’s something… odd about you.”
            
“Odd?” he echoed in a carefully neutral tone.
              
“Yep. Your accent’s weird for Ba Sing Se. It’s as if—“ Luckily, a distraction arrived in the form of a nearly-sober and fully-dressed Basam slinking sheepishly over to the fireplace and sinking down between the two. “Feeling better, brother?” Zafirah asked dryly.
              
“Yeah, the fog’s lifting,” he said with an embarrassed grin. He fished a length of green cord out of his pocket and tied his hair back at the nape of his neck, then turned to Kuei. “Hey, sorry if I—“ He stopped short and squinted at their visitor, then looked over at his sister. “How many guys did you bring over tonight, anway?” he demanded.
              
“Just one,” Zafirah replied with a bemused smile.
              
“Huh!” He returned his gaze to Kuei. “You don’t look nearly so much like a thief without that beard, y’know,” Basam commented as he helped himself to a bowl of stew. The three ate in surprisingly comfortable silence for a while. It was a refreshing change of pace to simply sit and share a meal and conversation with people who were making no demands of him.

Basam spoke again. “So how’d you get here all the way from Ba Sing Se?”
            
“Pure chance, I suppose. I picked it out on my map, as I told—“
              
“Yeah, heard that part. Why were you reading the map, though?”
              
“Why am I traveling?” Basam nodded eagerly. Kuei tried to quell his surge of nervousness. How much of the truth did he dare tell them? “Well, to be honest, I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter,” he said carefully. Basam suddenly cringed and slapped his forehead.
              
“Of course, Ba Sing Se! The Fire Nation!” he groaned.
              
“Sweet spirits, I almost forgot,” Zafirah murmured, her smile vanishing. “You’re lucky to have gotten out, you know?”
              
“Oh, yes, I’m certainly aware of that,” he agreed, awkwardly rubbing the back of his neck. He hoped they couldn’t see the guilt he felt as he thought about the thousands of citizens trapped within the city—all the people he was responsible for, the people he’d been unable to protect. The two Sandbenders must have noticed his sudden melancholy, because they swiftly moved on to more mundane topics. Where had he been before the desert? Oh, Chameleon Bay, I hear it's nice up there. Those scratches all over his face and neck? Ooh, brambles! How unfortunate. Bet he'll be more mindful of where he steps now. Had he done much camping before this? No? Well, experience is the best teacher.

Once the three of them had finished their meal, Zafirah set Basam and Kuei to cleaning the dishes while she started a pot of water boiling for tea. With the chores done and the tea brewed, the trio returned to their seats by the fire. Zafirah lounged against the wall next to the fireplace, her expression unreadable, studying Kuei over the rim of a metal teacup as battered as the bowls they’d been eating from.
              
“So what’re your plans? Where are you headed after this?” she asked.
              
“I hadn’t thought that far ahead, to be entirely honest,” Kuei admitted. “I suppose I’ll continue traveling, or perhaps I’ll try to get some work, somewhere.”
              
“Speaking of which, I’d better be going. It’s probably almost dark by now,” Basam announced as he stood up. He added to Kuei, “You can use my bed if you’re staying till morning, I won’t be here and all.”
              
“Sand glider construction crew,” Zafirah explained, seeing the puzzlement on Kuei’s face. “That stupid beetle-breath Avatar wrecked a bunch of our tribe’s gliders, we gotta rebuild ‘em. The crews can only work at night though, since it’s so hot during the day now that spring’s here.”
              
“He… he did? But why would the Avatar do that to citizens of the Earth Kingdom? Oh, it’s not—I’m not accusing you of lying, I just don’t understand…”
              
“He got angry at us ‘cause of what Ghashiun and his guys did. He lost his temper. Me and Basam were there, we saw the whole thing. The boy’s, what, twelve years old?” Zafirah snorted and turned her head away. “Imagine! The fate of the world in the hands of a child.” Basam rolled his eyes at what appeared to be a budding argument and quietly took his leave, unnoticed by the other two.
              
“I really don’t think you’re being entirely fair to the boy,” Kuei protested.
              
“And I really don’t think it was fair of the boy to punish our tribe on account of one idiotic jerk,” she retorted. “Most of the guys that helped with the thieving weren’t even ours. He very nearly stranded a bunch of us in the middle of the desert. Getting stuck out there’s a death sentence, okay? And he went all Avatar spirit glowing and would’ve flat-out killed us if that Water Tribe girl hadn’t stopped him.”
              
He frowned, unsure of how to respond, then shook his head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t intend to start an argument. Some guest I make!”
              
“Aw, never mind that. Not your fault you didn’t know the whole story. ‘Sides, a good argument can be fun sometimes, y’know?” she assured him.
            
“Arguing, tavern brawls… I do believe you and I are operating under different definitions of ‘fun’,” he ventured. She didn’t leave him time to worry that he’d been too forward with his attempted joke—she immediately grinned her approval and thumped her fist against her knee.
              
“Aha! Just as I thought—you do have a sense of humor!” she said gleefully. By then, the teapot was empty and the fire had burned down to softly glowing embers. Zafirah scrubbed the teacups and pot, then left Kuei to dry them and went off to the washroom. She emerged a few minutes later, running a comb through her unbraided hair. “All right, well, you know where you’re sleeping. I’m over there behind that curtain. Do yourself a favor and stay out, hmm? Off you go.” She made a shooing gesture with her free hand as she walked past him towards her own bed.
              
“Um, Zafirah…”
              
“Yeah?”
            
“Thank you.” She glanced back at him out of the corner of her eye, slightly surprised by the sincerity in his voice. He started to say something else but faltered under her speculative gaze, then rushed onward. “To bring a stranger into your home, to shelter a man you barely—not that I would even think of—I wouldn’t ever—“ She cut off his increasingly convoluted outpour of gratitude with a mystified smile and a dismissive handwave.
              
Good night, Kuei,” she said pointedly.
              
“Good night. Sleep well,” he answered, somewhat relieved for the interruption. As he settled into his borrowed bed, it occurred to him that no one had ever argued with him before.

[Continue to Part 3 because this is a long chapter]
« Last Edit: May 28, 2010 09:14 pm by Ayala_Atreides » Logged

My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #4 on: Feb 09, 2010 04:10 pm »

[Chapter 1 Part 3]

***********
 
He could hear thunder in the distance. A storm was drawing near, and someone was shouting his name. The voice was familiar; the last remnants of a dream. He searched for the source of the voice. We have to find shelter, he said urgently. We have to— he snapped awake as something grabbed the front of his shirt and hauled him into a sitting position. It was Zafirah, crouching over him with an almost palpable aura of fear about her. Her face was ashen and twisted in panic.
             
Fire Nation!” she hissed. She let go of him so suddenly that he fell backwards onto the straw mattress again and dashed away up the ladder. He watched her go, uncomprehending. Then her words sank in and his blood ran cold. He bolted after her but froze in the doorway of the shop, rooted to the spot in horror at the sight that met him.
 
One thing that made the Fire Nation so deadly was that they never did anything halfway. They certainly didn’t need that many troops just to attack a ragtag settlement of Sandbenders, but with the oasis’ tiny population and any reinforcements scattered miles and miles away across the vast desert…well, it was a sure path to an unquestionable victory.

Something caught his eye, drawing his gaze upward. It hovered there in the night sky like a malevolent crimson spirit, and as he watched, the Fire Nation soldiers in the gondola beneath the balloon hurled another bomb down onto the perimeter of the oasis. Thunder roared through the night again and the explosion cast a ghastly orange glow over the battle raging on the ground, through the sand and smoke in the air. Bosco lumbered over and bumped his nose against his master’s hand.

“They have flying machines, Bosco,” Kuei murmured numbly. “The Fire Nation has flying machines, Spirits help us…” The next bomb hit beside the cantina, and in its glare he caught sight of Zafirah surrounded by Firebenders. Even in the terror of the moment, he had to admit that she cut an impressive figure, silhouetted against the burning buildings of the oasis with her long hair swinging around her as she whipped arcs of sand at the soldiers, spinning and twisting amidst the men in fluid, powerful movements. But then he saw another soldier, standing with his back to Kuei and taking aim at the Sandbender woman. “I have to help her,” he rasped through a throat suddenly dry with panic. “I can’t just…” He cast about frantically for some way to intervene on his rescuer’s behalf, wishing not for the first time that he hadn’t let Long Feng talk him out of martial arts lessons when he was a boy. Harder to control someone if they can give you a good, solid thrashing, I imagine, he thought bitterly. Then his eyes landed on a blue and white war club on a nearby shelf. He felt slightly dizzy as he wrapped his right hand around its grip and hefted the weapon, testing its unfamiliar weight. In all of his twenty-five years he had never once lifted his hand in violence to another human being, but by the Spirits, he had to do something, even if it meant… he fought down a surge of queasiness and took a deep breath. Before he could lose his nerve, he spun to the door and charged out into the fray.

The distance between himself and the soldier seemed to vanish impossibly quickly, as though he was moving through a dream. Smoke stung at his eyes and burned in his lungs and the club felt much too heavy in his hand and the soldier seemed to get bigger and bigger as he closed in, and then he was there and he was swinging the club, and someone was shouting hoarsely and he felt fairly certain that the someone was him. The soldier turned, dodging the strike with positively mortifying ease, and his armored fist drove straight at Kuei’s head. He heard the blow connect and saw points of light erupt in front of his eyes before he felt the pain from it. The last thing he saw was Zafirah, hearing his shout, whirling around towards him with dark brown eyes widened in shock, and then the world went black.

********************

Ooh, ouch! Somehow I don't think Kuei thought his cunning plan all the way through.

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NeeNee
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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We will not be quiet.


« Reply #5 on: Feb 13, 2010 06:04 am »

There wasn't so much to think through. If he had let someone who's been so nice to him get killed without even trying to interfere, I'd have lost all respect for him, and he for himself. Of course, that doesn't make it smart, but somehow I appreciate bravery better than caution here. Grin

Nice story. I love the way you're describing him, so awkward around people but eager to learn. He'll soon know some more about the nature of people, both good and bad.

He needs some way to defend himself though. Perhaps they could at least learn him to use a knife or something. Or perhaps he will suddenly turn out to be an earthbender after all! Yay! Grin

Keep up the good work. Smiley
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Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #6 on: Mar 03, 2010 05:58 pm »

Thanks again to NeeNee for reviewing. I've already responded to your review via PM, so I won't waste space repeating myself here. And again, those of you reading and not reviewing: I can still see you lurking there!  Cheesy I'm not expecting everyone to shower me with praise or anything, but it would be nice to know what people think of my story so far.  Smiley

Here’s a screencap of the oasis so you can get a better idea of the terrain being described in this chapter. http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a81/bananaslug42/oasis.png
Also: From now on, I’ll be putting the playlists at the end. Otherwise, the explanations of where each song fits into the chapter will start getting into spoiler territory very soon!


CHAPTER 2- THE DESERT OF THE DEAD

The sun was rising over the Si Wong Desert. The fight was done—it hadn’t lasted very long, hardly an hour. Not that it would, with such slanted numbers. The Fire Nation had never really held with the idea of a fair fight.

Those that survived knelt with bound wrists in the middle of the oasis, rooted to the ground by the stony stares of the Firebender troops that surrounded them like a living wall of red and black monsters. The scum-sucking hogmonkey of a commander had decided that the prisoners were wanting a lesson in showing proper respect for the superior element of Fire; some knelt willingly, and the rest got an armored boot to the backs of their knees. The corpses of those that hadn’t lived lay scattered at the survivors’ feet, left where they’d fallen on the fire-blackened sand—the troops wanted out of the desert and back to civilized lands as quickly as they could manage, and they weren’t about to waste time on cleaning up dead vermin. The flying machine had left already, sailing off to more important tasks.

Zafirah couldn’t shake the thought, sticking like a poisoned barb in her mind, that the dead were the lucky ones. Basam was at her left side, tense as an archer’s bowstring. Sprawled on her right was the bizarre tourist who’d blundered into her life just hours ago, before her world had broken apart into a thousand knife-sharp pieces. The Spirits-be-damned fool had gone and gotten himself punched in the face; he still had the Water Tribe war club from the shop gripped in his right fist. He stirred, waking up, and his eyes slowly opened. Well, one of them did, since his right eye was swollen shut. The vivid green of his left eye looked too bright next to the ugly purple and black mess. She just barely had the sense to put a finger to her lips, telling him to stay quiet. He gazed searchingly at her for a moment, and whatever it was he saw in her face left his own pale with horror. Then he frowned in confusion as he looked past her and took in the sight of wood planks over their heads.

In the heat of battle, Zafirah had panicked. She’d gotten the outsider half-awake enough to stumble along with an arm across her shoulders, and gone to find Basam— she’d found him wreaking havoc in a cluster of soldiers, snarling every insult he knew of while Sandbending with one hand (and both feet) and swinging a hammer with the other, Spirits bless him. With an explosion distracting the soldiers, they’d crept away from the fight. Basam was none too happy about abandoning the battle, but even less happy about leaving his sister’s side. None of the soldiers had seen them steal away to hide beneath one of the sand gliders moored just outside the wall. From this shameful hiding spot, they looked on through grief-cloudy eyes as their friends, rivals, and kinsmen were beaten down and rounded up like wooly-pigs.

The triple-cursed commander was parading around in front of his prisoners, chest puffed out, with a sickening smile on his thin lips like he was having tea with his mama. When he started talking, his voice carried all the way out to the sand glider.

“Sandbenders,” he boomed. Like his smile (which widened as he wound up for the crowning moment of his victory) the friendly tone of his voice was about as inviting as a fireball. “The generals of the mighty Fire Nation military have long believed that Ba Sing Se was the last great Earth Kingdom stronghold. They believed that once the Impenetrable City fell, the glory of the Firelord’s reign would at last reach every corner of this barbaric land. But that wasn’t entirely correct, was it? No, for it was this accursed wasteland, this vast expanse of nothingness, that was truly the last refuge of the Earth Kingdom. The Si Wong Desert—‘Desert of the Dead’ in the old tongue.” The Fire-freak’s smile twisted into a cruel smirk. Oh yes, he was having a grand old time speechifying at his captured savages. Kuei moved to sit up, to see what was going on, but Zafirah pushed a fingertip against his shoulder to keep him down; they couldn’t risk anyone spotting the movement, small though it was. The commander’s chest puffed out even more and he went on.

“For one hundred years, the tribes of the Si Wong Desert have kept their freedom. Even the most elite Firebender troops would be brought to their knees by this place. For one hundred years, the Sandbender tribes have hidden away amidst these dunes, secure in the knowledge that they and they alone could survive here. Well, no more. As you can see, we have taken the skies with our war balloons—and with the skies under our command, the desert has fallen.”

The desert has fallen. The words hit Zafirah like a strike to the face. They tore through her heart and left an aching hollow in its path and a ringing in her ears. There’s no stopping them now. No one’s safe. No one’s safe… She felt Basam’s hand clutch her own with a white-knuckled grip. The press of his palm against hers was her only anchor in the roaring, swirling nightmare that had swallowed her thoughts. She felt warm wetness on her cheek: tears. She hadn’t cried in nearly four years, not since—

The commander clapped his hands and the soldiers started rousing the prisoners. Some couldn’t stand on their own and were kicked to the dirt for their efforts before being hauled to a stand. She caught sight of Ghashiun, face twisted in pain as he got dragged upwards by his ponytail; beside him was Fung, a kindly old guy who sat patiently at the cantina’s pai sho table day after day, waiting for a worthy challenger. A soldier seized him by the tattered collar of his tunic and wrenched the frail little man to his feet. The siblings watched helplessly while the soldiers shoved the captive Sandbenders into a line and chained their already bound hands. The Firebenders herded their spoils of war to the convoy of metal carts gathered on the crest of the grassy slope that lead down to the oasis’ main gate. Zafirah turned her head away.

None of the three dared move a muscle until the clank and scrape of metal wheels and the grunting of ostrich-horses faded in the distance. Silence fell in the convoy’s wake, grasping the lifeless oasis in a stranglehold.

****************

Zafirah’s homeland had never frightened her much. She respected the desert, but she wasn’t often intimidated by it. Out there, living in that sea of dunes, some would’ve been done in by the loneliness. Zafirah and her brother had never once had such a problem—until that day. She held fast to Basam’s arm as they drifted through what was left of the main gate and right into a graveyard. As they stood surrounded by smoking ruins and half-burned corpses, she felt the deadly vastness of the desert more keenly than she ever had. They were on their own, cut adrift with only each other… and a strange outsider.

Zafirah shot a sidelong glance at Kuei; he was looking at the scorched sand with an odd bleakness, a sadness that ran far too deep to be just worry over the fates of a bunch of Sandbenders. Some tiny part of her mind, some far corner that wasn’t yet lost in grief, wondered if he was seeing Ba Sing Se with that hazy stare.

The siblings’ hut had escaped the bombs, but it felt wrong to retreat to the comfort of their house with the bodies of their kinsmen lying in the dirt like yesterday’s garbage.

She and her brother gave voice to the same thought. “We gotta bury them.” The twins looked at each other. Tears cut trails through the soot on Basam’s cheeks. Kuei stepped closer and lifted his hand, then dropped it again.

“Is there—do you have a shovel?” he asked timidly.

“We’re Sandbenders,” Basam mumbled dazedly, not looking at the other man.

“Yes, but I-I thought… I could help you.” His voice shook. Zafirah forced her gaze off of the horrible sight in front of them and turned it towards the outsider, and saw the misery that clawed at her lungs echoed in his face. Ba Sing Se. The name flared through her stormy thoughts like a match being struck. The siblings had been cut adrift, but Kuei was stuck right there with them in the same Spirits-forsaken boat.

She reached out and clasped his shoulder; he flinched a little and his eyes flickered sideways to her hand, as if startled by the contact. “Go down to the pantry. You’ll see a green jar of salve in there. It’ll heal your eye up faster,” she told him, her words coming out a bone-dry croak. Kuei hesitated.

“Are you sure there’s nothing I can do…?” he asked.

“It’s awful kind of you, but this is our duty,” Basam said. He put a heavy hand on Kuei’s other shoulder and managed a faint grimace trying to be a smile. Kuei frowned, then nodded and shuffled back to the weapons shop. The two Sandbenders turned to the task ahead of them. “We’ll move ‘em outside the wall,” her brother said softly. Zafirah murmured agreement. The siblings took Bending stances and began their grisly work.

****************

Kuei felt guilt wash over him anew as he entered the pantry. The room was smaller than he’d assumed, its shelves alarmingly barren. These people had nothing, and still they opened their home to a stranger—a stranger whose arrival had been accompanied by misfortune. He couldn’t fight the chilling thought that perhaps the Fire Nation had followed him to the desert… But no, surely he wasn’t enough of a threat to warrant that much effort? Nevertheless, the fact remained that disaster had shadowed his footsteps with relentless consistency for the last several weeks.

Bosco rumbled sadly and nudged Kuei’s arm as he emerged from the pantry with the green jar in hand. The bear had fled to the basement during the attack; Kuei found him huddled in a corner, quaking and growling. He absently scratched the bear’s ears with his spare hand as he ducked into the washroom and set his spectacles on the shelf beside him, astonished that he hadn’t lost them in the fight.

The reflection in the dusty mirror was an unfamiliar image. Black eyes were most emphatically not a part of the 52nd Earth King’s life. Nor was the grim weariness in his eyes. Nor was charging headlong into battle against a Fire Nation soldier for the sake of a Sandbender he’d known for less than twelve hours. He inhaled deeply to steady himself.

The 52nd Earth King squeezed his eyes shut, wincing at the pain that shot through the right side of his face as he did. He felt himself teetering at the edge of the map, a hair’s breadth from the unknown. Kuei opened his eyes and exhaled slowly.

****************

Kuei was dozing fitfully against Bosco’s flank when Zafirah and Basam returned from the burial.

“Outsider’s got the right idea,” Basam said. “We oughta try and rest, too. Y’know what needs to be done next.” Zafirah nodded weakly. Yeah, she knew: eighty years ago, the elders of the tribes had made an accord. They vowed that if the Fire Nation couldn’t be kept out of the desert anymore, anybody that survived the first attacks would carry a warning across the dunes to the others. Come sundown, the siblings would head off to the open desert to deliver the word that the desert was no longer safe. “I had plenty of shut-eye yesterday,” he went on. “You sleep, I’ll get to packing.” She just nodded again, too drained to force words out. Basam pulled his sister into a tight hug, then steered her over to her bed. “Sleep,” he told her.

She settled onto her mattress, hardly aware she’d even moved until she found herself staring listlessly at the ceiling. She rolled onto her side and turned her restless gaze on Kuei and Bosco through a gap in the curtain.

There’s no escaping the flame-throwing scum-beasts, not anymore, she thought. No matter how far you run… Exhaustion won out and she drifted off.

****************

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My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #7 on: Mar 03, 2010 05:59 pm »

Packing for their journey was easy enough. There wasn’t much to pack—most of the food from the pantry, all of the water skins the siblings had on hand (plus a few scavenged from neighboring huts), and very little else. The Sandbenders had only a couple extra sets of clothes between them, and of course there were non-essentials like Basam’s shaving razor and her hair comb, but that was about it. Kuei’s personal belongings amounted to the clothes on his back, Bosco, and now a Water Tribe war club. Zafirah had flat-out refused to let him give it back; he probably couldn’t have hit Si Wong Rock at half a pace with the damned thing, but the way she saw it, he wasn’t exactly losing anything by keeping it on him.

It was a good weapon for him, she’d decided. It was just as awkward and out-of-place here as he was. One of Ghashiun’s cronies from outside the tribe had brought it to her after the mess with the Avatar, and it had been sitting on that shelf in their store ever since… until last night, that is.

There was a sand glider waiting for them just outside the main gate, its prow facing into the west, with most of their supplies already carefully stowed away on it. At dusk they would set out to sail it across the desert. Kuei had volunteered to go with them as navigator and watchman. When they found another tribe, they’d pass along their warning, and whichever tribe they found would spread the word to the others. They’d leave Kuei and Bosco at the edge of the desert to wander off wherever that outdated map might take them, and then…? Zafirah was trying not to think about what would happen to herself and her brother after they reached the end of their journey. First things first—the Desert of the Dead was waiting for them. She’d worry about the future if they survived long enough for it to become a problem.

They’d have to travel at night; their guest wasn’t used to the harshness of the sun out on the dunes, and, well, there was a reason Sandbenders went in groups when going into the open desert in daylight. With just the two of them, there’d be no one to take over if thirst or the heat overtook them.

Down in the basement, Basam picked up the last of the supply sacks and slung them over his shoulder, mustering up the most reassuring smile he could manage as he passed by. Zafirah did her best to echo it, despite the horrible, aching hollowness in her chest. Her twin always had a smile to offer anybody that couldn’t find one of their own. Their parents had always said—

She took another shaky breath and fought against the sudden stinging in the corners of her eyes. She glanced around the basement; this was their home, hers and her parents’ and her brother’s, and as much of a pain as it was living in a place like the desert, it was still theirs.

Her gaze landed on Kuei, sitting in the middle of the floor with Bosco lounging beside him. He was exactly where she’d left him half an hour ago: doing his damnedest to follow her instructions to make his outfit “desert-proof”. The clothes he had left him with bare arms and lower legs, which was just asking for trouble in the open desert, even without the blazing sun. So she’d given him a shirt with elbow-length sleeves (borrowed from her brother) and a bundle of spare bindings to cover himself up with; he’d already swapped his own shirt with the borrowed one and done a passing job of covering his legs, and was now completely failing at wrapping his right hand. Zafirah rolled her eyes and sat cross-legged next to the outsider, secretly glad for the distraction.

“Gimme,” she said, hands reaching out for his. “We’ll be here all day if you keep that pace up.”

Kuei hastily drew his hands in towards his chest. “No, no, that’s quite all right, I think I nearly have it,” he declared.

“No, seriously, give ‘em here. We don’t wear those things for fun. You’ll get yourself hurt if they’re done wrong.” He reluctantly let her grab hold of his right hand, and she began wrapping the cloth around his knuckles with the ease that comes from a lifetime of daily practice. His skin felt smooth and soft under her callused fingertips. Yep, definitely from a rich, noble background, probably never done a single day’s hard work… Kuei winced again as his eye twinged.

Zafirah half-smiled in sympathy, recalling black eyes of her own. “That’s what you get when you pick the wrong fight,” she said, not unkindly. “Why’d you do that, anyway? Felt like takin’ a swing at a Firebender?” He looked up at her, his left eye so wide and solemn it was almost comical.

“That coward was about to attack you while your back was turned,” he said. Zafirah’s hand froze on his for a second, then she recovered and kept wrapping.

“That guy was after me?” she said, working to keep her voice even.

“Yes, I’m certain of it. He was preparing a fire blast. I had to at least try to stop him.” He made a sound that might have been a chuckle and brushed his fingers over his eye. “I’m afraid it didn’t work very well, did it?” he asked wryly.

“It did, as a matter of fact. I never saw him coming. Didn’t even know he was there till I heard you yellin’ your fool head off. He’d have roasted me.” Bleeding hogmonkeys, he saved my life.

“Well then, I suppose it was worth a punch in the face,” he said, the corners of his mouth tugging upward a little. She studied this bizarre outsider from the corner of her eye, sitting there in a folded-up tangle of thin, gangly limbs and the most absurd hodgepodge of clothing she’d ever seen, grimacing and cautiously touching his black eye—probably the first one he’d ever gotten. She couldn’t have imagined an unlikelier hero. He only had one Spirits-be-damned sandal, for crying out loud! But there it was—she owed him her life. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. There were plenty of unpleasant favors a nobleman could demand from a peasant to cover such a debt. She recalled his clumsy but undeniably honest words from the night before: not that I would even think of—I wouldn’t ever—

No. He’d saved her life because it was the right thing to do, and that made her all kinds of uneasy. Outsiders didn’t go around helping Sandbenders out of kindness—it was a basic rule of her world, and he had no idea he’d broken it. She tied off the binding above his elbow and beckoned for his other hand.

I’ll be keeping my eye on you, outsider, she thought. Before he’d just been an amusing oddity, but now he was a riddle. And Zafirah never could pass up a good riddle.


****************
By the way, the part about Kuei only having one sandal? Totally canon, and I have the screencaps from “The Awakening” to prove it! http://i9.photobucket.com/albums/a81/bananaslug42/ep41-360.png

The playlist: Most of these songs aren’t related to the plot. I’m just establishing some character themes here.
1) “Two Hornpipes (Tortuga)”, Hans Zimmer [Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest]—Zafirah’s theme. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnX4rfTZzA0

2) “12 Years Later”, James Newton Howard [Treasure Planet]—Basam’s theme. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0UXpBJept4

3) “Stroll Through the Sky”, Joe Hisaishi [Howl’s Moving Castle]—Kuei’s theme. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJjII9g1Of0

4) “Goodbye Brother”, Hans Zimmer [Prince of Egypt]—The theme for Chapter 2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8sKyxfgAJI






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My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
AvatarStateYipYip
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #8 on: Mar 04, 2010 09:44 am »

so i have seen this on here for a few days now, so I decided to read it, big mistake! I am now hooked!

you captured Kuei perfectly, and I had always liked him, and thought his adventures would make a neat story. he's so amusing and awkward yet that noble and good nature is what really shines. That part where he took on that fire nation soldier was totally amusing. I so totally predict that there will be cactus juice in Kuei's future.

you're writting style is clear, easy to follow and very entertaining, and it reads just like I was watching an episode of the show. the way you ended chapter 3 part 3 was perfect and well done.

I hope that Long Feng finally gets what's coming to him later in your series, he's a real slimebucket (though i hate Azula more).

anyways, I look forward to further installments with great anticipation.
« Last Edit: Mar 04, 2010 01:38 pm by AvatarStateYipYip » Logged

Throw Down!!!!
Keeper of the shoe Long Feng lost to Appa at Lake Laogai and Meelo's fartbending (c'mon, admit it, you always wondered if airbenders could!) also Bumi's flute shenanigans
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #9 on: Apr 14, 2010 11:47 am »

Hey guys! Remember me? No, I’m not dead and I haven’t abandoned this story. My beta and I have both been very busy over the past few weeks. Plus, I got distracted by the mind-blowing epic awesomeness that is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (which I highly recommend watching, BTW, if you haven’t seen it yet. It’s amazing). But fear not! TTGL may have claimed the second-place spot on my favorite series list, but my loyalty to Avatar remains unshaken! ^_^

Big thanks to AvatarStateYipYip for reviewing Chapter 2!  Grin

This isn’t Chapter 3.  Sad In the meantime, I’d like to offer up this interlude chapter. It’s a short piece inspired by “Be Prepared” from The Lion King, and it focuses on everyone’s favorite evil bureaucrat, Long Feng! (Let’s face it, Long Feng is totally Scar.) Timeline: Takes place shortly before the Prologue.

Playlist: “Be Prepared”, obviously.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0AiN8vrn9Y


A SHINING NEW ERA

It was for the good of the people, of course. Long Feng had ruled Ba Sing Se for the past twenty-one years, after all, no matter what that idiot Kuei thought. Now he was simply making the arrangement official.

Yes, Ba Sing Se would finally have a powerful ruler on the throne. And Long Feng would finally be rid of that vile, inane, blathering imbecile. His lip curled in disgust as he thought of the young monarch locked away in the newly reestablished Lake Laogai prison. Really though, he had no one to blame but himself for the boy’s intolerable nature. Long Feng had done everything in his power to sequester Kuei far, far away from reality, and to fill his mind with frivolities. At twenty-five years old, the boy was still as useless as a child. True, Long Feng had created a spineless shadow puppet in Kuei; but surely he was allowed to despise his own creation?

The disposal of the Earth King was only the beginning, though—there were so many improvements to be made! And he would begin with the Dai Li.

He recalled what Lieutenant Jianjun had said to him during his imprisonment: “The Council of Five and the military are loyal to the Earth King, but the Dai Li remains loyal to you, Long Feng, sir.” Ha, loyal indeed! The Fire whelp had easily swayed them to her command. What a disgraceful sight it had been, the Earth Kingdom’s most elite soldiers frozen in fear of a fifteen-year-old brat! His agents believed all to be forgiven now, but Long Feng hadn’t forgotten. Once the throne was securely under his rule, he would deal with his men. He needed soldiers who were fit to serve in this new, post-war era.

Oh yes, he would be quite busy soon enough. The world was changing before his very eyes, and Ba Sing Se would be at the forefront of it all. The capitol required a strong, competent leader, one who would make the difficult choices. If that meant Kuei’s death, then so be it.

« Last Edit: Apr 14, 2010 11:49 am by Ayala_Atreides » Logged

My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
AvatarStateYipYip
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #10 on: Apr 14, 2010 04:14 pm »

HHHHHHHHHHUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUZZZZZZZZZZZZZAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!! the author lives!!!!

not an update, though still quite good, a nice little build up for the eventual collision of bison poo and fan.

as for the Lion King, I'd have to say that I still prefer Not One of Us (so totally 2nd season/ western air temple Zuko) or Dig a Tunnel (though neither fits Long Feng of course, these are just my favorite songs from Lion King), but this one is still quite good.

I look forward to the next update, so now shall end this review with my usual bit (at least in the past, it has now returned)


I WANTS MORE!!!!!  Grin Grin Grin
« Last Edit: Apr 14, 2010 04:16 pm by AvatarStateYipYip » Logged

Throw Down!!!!
Keeper of the shoe Long Feng lost to Appa at Lake Laogai and Meelo's fartbending (c'mon, admit it, you always wondered if airbenders could!) also Bumi's flute shenanigans
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Posts: 108



« Reply #11 on: May 02, 2010 04:33 pm »

Yes, CST is back in action! After a very long delay, here is Chapter 3.

Thanks to AvatarStateYipYip for reviewing!  Grin By the way, I haven't heard of either of those songs you mentioned. Are they from the sequels?



CHAPTER 3—A JOURNEY BEGINS

The sun was setting above the far-distant sand dunes in the west. Its fading rays silhouetted the two Sandbenders standing atop the glider’s navigation platform. They held their hands stiffly at their sides as they cast shrewd, wary gazes over their land. The smaller, more slender figure swept an arm out in a graceful arc to point at something off in the distance, head inclining slightly, the taller and broad-shouldered one nodding in agreement to whatever words passed between them. The reddish orange glow that surrounded them brought unpleasant images of the night’s battle to the forefront of Kuei’s mind as he and Bosco approached the glider. The two shifted to face him, their dark eyes shining through the gaps in their head coverings.

Zafirah hopped down from the platform, landing easily on the soft sand, and strode over to him. He spied a dagger from the shop strapped to her lower leg, the brass decorations on its sheath glinting in the light. Clucking her tongue at his haphazardly wrapped head coverings, she reached up and started tugging the offending cloth into a more suitable arrangement. Kuei lowered his head and did his best to stand patiently while she worked. He wondered if most Sandbenders were prone to such casual invasions of personal space, or if it was a habit unique to this particular one. He didn’t necessarily find it unpleasant—it was just odd.  No one in Ba Sing Se would dare touch the Earth King without permission. He thought back to the Avatar’s group and the way they would embrace in comfort or solidarity, or place reassuring hands on one another’s shoulders; he recalled Toph’s arm punches (and the ensuing bruises), and the way the Water Tribesmen would clasp each other’s forearms in greeting. Clearly, this was something Kuei would just have to accustom himself to.

“We’re setting a course for Si Wong Rock,” Zafirah explained as she rearranged the fabric. “That’s where the tribes meet whenever there’s trouble like this. Chances are, some folks from the open-desert tribes have seen the smoke and they’re already on their way. If not, we’ll have a clear view for miles around from the top of the rock. We might spot one of the tribes from up there, sail out to meet ‘em. Might take a couple days, though.”

“It sounds as though these other tribes prefer not to be found too easily,” he commented.

“Yep; they don’t stay in one place too long. Or can’t, really, even if they wanted to—they gotta go where the food and water is. We’d be the same way without the iceberg here. You catch on fast,” she commented, the corners of her eyes crinkling as she smiled behind her head coverings. She stepped back and lifted her right hand in a thumbs-up. Kuei hesitantly returned the unfamiliar gesture, trying to ignore the claustrophobic feel of the cloth surrounding his head. A fresh coating of salve over his black eye kept it from stinging where the fabric brushed against the edges of the bruise.

Basam whistled from his place on the platform and Zafirah turned, catching the spyglass that he tossed to her. She handed it to Kuei with a dramatic flair that brought a small smile to his face despite his glum mood. Bosco nudged his nose against the woman’s hand, feeling left out. Zafirah sighed resignedly and gingerly patted the bear’s furry head.

“C’mon, you two,” Basam called from the glider. “We got us a desert to cross.” Kuei followed Zafirah to the glider, where she set both hands upon the lower platform to the left of the navigator’s post and hoisted herself up and onto it in one smooth movement. Basam leaped down with a solid thud to join them on the platform and stretched a hand down to Kuei, who decided that now was not the time for prideful attempts at proving himself and wordlessly took the other man’s offered assistance.

“Now the real question is, where do we put Furball there?” Zafirah mused, narrowing her eyes at Bosco.

“He oughta go up on the navigator’s post. The glider’ll be off-balance any other way,” Basam pointed out.

“I was afraid you’d say that,” she muttered. Getting Bosco up to the platform turned out to be quite a feat, but eventually both Kuei and his pet were at their assigned post. Basam took up his place on a third platform to the right of Kuei’s post, and they were as ready to leave as they’d ever be. The Sandbenders took firmly rooted stances, feet planted apart and knees bent, and lifted their arms with their fingers outstretched. Moving as one, the siblings swept their arms back and thrust them forward, once, twice, three times. A gust of sand whirled up behind the sail hanging slack between the double hulls, growing and pulsing. The yellow cloth billowed and snapped outward when the swirling sand became a tornado, pulling its lines taut, and the glider sprang to life. Kuei gasped and nearly lost his balance as the little wooden vessel jumped forward. He couldn’t help but feel a thrill of anticipation as he glanced back at the oasis, already shrinking in their wake—there he was, setting out for destinations unknown across the dunes of the perilous Si Wong Desert! If only their voyage hadn’t started under such tragic circumstances, it would have been the adventure he’d always dreamed of.

****************

Zafirah fell into a steady rhythm as the dunes rolled past: arms casting forward, swinging back, over and over again. The rhythm was soothingly familiar in the madness of the past night. Their glider felt sluggish under the added bulk of Kuei’s Spirits-be-damned pet. A lion turtle’d weigh less, she thought peevishly. The owner of said slobbery hair-beast perched above her with his sights aimed at the horizon, keeping a weather eye out for any sign that the Fire-freaks might come back for a second round.

Cast forward, swing back, cast forward.

The sand around them went from burned gold to pale grey as the sun’s last light died and the first stars shone out above their heads.

Cast forward, swing back, cast forward.

The sky darkened into blue-black, save for the silver light of a crescent moon squinting down at them. Kuei checked the compass bound to the front of his post and called out a new course heading, just like they’d told him to. The man was a fast learner.
 
Cast forward, swing back, and call a halt. She wasn’t tired yet and she knew Basam wasn’t either, but they needed food and water, tired or not. Wouldn’t do to push themselves too far. The three people and the bear ate and drank in silence and moved on quickly.

****************

The first leg of the trip went smoothly enough. The trio sailed through the night until the faint light of dawn began to brighten the eastern sky. The Sandbenders lowered their arms, sinking the sand-tornado back into the earth, and the glider coasted to a stop. With the glider turned westward to face away from the oncoming brutality of the day’s heat, the three of them lashed down the corners of the sail, stretching it tight between the hulls and the navigator’s post so that it became a shelter against the sun. They retrieved some food and necessities from their supplies, coaxed Bosco down from the glider platform (an even more trying task than getting him up there to begin with) and retreated to the shade of their makeshift tent. The trio sat in a huddled circle, while Bosco curled up behind his master, and tucked into their rations.

“So what’s it like living in Ba Sing Se?” Basam asked suddenly, helping himself to a second portion of the dried fruit and pig-chicken jerky that comprised their dinner. Kuei paused with a strip of dried meat halfway to his mouth and glanced at the Sandbender.

“Yeah,” Zafirah chimed in. “What’d you do there, what kinda folks did you know?” The two looked at him with nothing but open, friendly curiosity in their eyes. Don’t be paranoid, he scolded himself.

“I was a student,” he began slowly, “I had just graduated from the University of Ba Sing Se when the coup happened.”

 “Student, huh? Did you ever take any classes with, uh, now what was his name…” She drummed her fingers against her knee. “Zei! There we go. Professor Zei, ‘head of Anthropology and expert on exotic cultures’.” She rolled her eyes.

“Ah, no, that… that wasn’t my department,” Kuei said quickly. “You didn’t get along well with him, I assume?”

“What I didn’t get along with was the notion of bein’ an ‘exotic culture’,” she replied with an annoyed snort.

“He did have a habit of talkin’ at us Sandbenders like we were all slow in the head,” Basam admitted, tapping one forefinger against his temple. “He’d turn up now and then, rambling at anybody who’d listen about some Spirit Library—“

“—And he’d wander off into the open desert on the hunt for the damned thing, and we tried tellin’ him that he was goin’ about it all wrong—“ Zafirah cut in.

“—But he brushed us off every time, like he knew our desert better than us—“ Basam continued, gesturing animatedly as he picked up the cadence of a well-practiced storyteller.

“He was the ‘expert’ after all, hah!”

“He’d drag his sorry behind back to the oasis a few days later, half-dead from thirst and the heat—no luck on the library, of course. Sometimes he’d drink too much sake when he came back, and then he’d get going on a rant about ‘those nearsighted, narrow-minded ignoramuses who dare call themselves scholars’ back at the University…”

Kuei couldn’t help but smile as the rapid-fire conversation danced from one topic to another—from the misadventures of the professor, to all the various dishes of Ba Sing Se cuisine that would’ve been preferable to pig-chicken jerky, to swapping myths, legends, jokes and riddles (at which point Kuei discovered that he was rather bad at telling the former but excellent at answering the latter). When the three finally settled down to get some rest, Kuei fell asleep with a lightness of spirit that would have seemed impossible the night before.

****************

The winds had picked up while the three slept, sweeping across the dunes from the southwest. Zafirah peered out into the sunset-lit desert, shielding her eyes against the grains of sand flying on the breeze.

“Not a good sign,” Basam muttered to her as they repacked the glider.

“Yeah, no kidding,” Zafirah whispered back. “Think we’re headed for trouble?”

“Could be. Probably, with the way things’re going for us lately. Let’s not scare the tourist just yet, though.”

“Keep this between us for now,” she agreed. They glanced over at Kuei, who waved back at them cheerily before going back to coaxing Bosco up to his spot—without much success—and back at each other. “Spirits and ancestors,” Zafirah sighed as the weight of the situation crashed over her again. “What a mess this is.”

Basam clasped his hands behind his head and shrugged. “Hey, it could be worse.”

“How? How could this possibly be worse?” she demanded.

“Gimme a minute, I’m sure I’ll think of something,” he answered lightly.

“Thanks, that’s helpful,” Zafirah grumbled. Her brother shot her a crooked grin.

“Sure thing, sister.”

The winds were getting stronger still. About an hour later, as they sailed towards the dark bulk of Si Wong Rock in the distance, Kuei aimed his spyglass back to look out over their wake. When he spoke up, his voice quaked.

“Za…Zafirah? Basam? I, uh… Behind us…?” Zafirah glanced over her shoulder and felt a sudden chill through every corner of her body. She heard a hoarse curse from Basam as he caught sight of it, too.

It thundered across the sands towards them, gaining on them with every minute: the boiling front of a towering sandstorm. She shot a desperate look forward at Si Wong Rock, but it was too far away. They’d never make it to the leeward side before the front caught up, and all the Sandbending in the world wouldn’t protect them from a storm of this size. With ten of their kin at their side, they might have stood a chance. The two of them, alone against this monster? It was a fight they couldn’t win. Oh, no. No, no, no, no no no no! Spirits, please no… Raw, animal panic set her blood on fire, and her mind flashed to memories from four years ago: the one survivor from their parents’ foraging party, stumbling back into the oasis with news of a sandstorm that had hit them off-guard… Spirits, Spirits, no…

****************

Continue on to Part 2
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My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #12 on: May 02, 2010 04:36 pm »

Kuei couldn’t tear his eyes from the monstrous wall of sand hurtling towards their helpless little glider. He may not have known Professor Zei personally, but Kuei had read more than a few of his essays on the Si Wong Desert. Three of the most common causes of death among the tribes were dehydration, starvation… and the desert’s infamously massive sandstorms, arising from the frequent high winds that sped unimpeded across miles and miles of open desert. Somehow, the sight of that storm was almost more frightening than the Firebenders they had faced. Fire Nation soldiers were cruel and ruthless, but they were nonetheless mortal men—and mortal men could be defeated. The awful thing about to engulf them didn’t bleed, didn’t hesitate, and it never showed mercy.

“Halt! Halt!” Zafirah shrieked in a voice choked with terror. She and her brother swung the glider around so it stopped sideways to the oncoming storm. The twins all but flew off of their platforms and rushed to heap sand up along the windward hull to hold it down. Kuei finally wrenched his gaze off of the storm and leaped down to join them.

“What should I do?” he shouted fretfully over the howling winds.

“Remember how we lashed down the sail this morning?” Zafirah answered tersely, not taking her eyes off of her Sandbending.

“Y-yes, I do, yes.”

“Lash it down again, and tie it tight!” He vaulted over the hull to reach the sail and seized hold of the first corner, fumbling at the ropes with sweat-slicked hands that shook from the blinding adrenaline coursing through him. After what felt like hours of agonizingly slow work, the third corner was tied down.

“Done!” he yelled. Zafirah was a tan blur as she hurtled past him, seizing his arm and hauling him into the cramped shelter with Basam following close on their heels. Kuei called to Bosco, who must have understood the urgency of the situation—he hurried to his master’s side without a trace of his earlier stubbornness. The three crouched down in a huddled circle beneath the glider, while Bosco curled his furry mass between them and the uncovered end of the shelter, as if shielding them. A fine time for his animal instincts to wake up! Kuei thought wryly. He jumped as a pair of slit-eyed goggles were thrust into his line of sight. Looking up, he saw that both Sandbenders were already sporting similar eyewear.

“Keep the sand out of your eyes,” Zafirah said. The deafening roar of the winds raging around them nearly drowned out her words. He tucked his eyeglasses into his pocket and slipped on the goggles. He hardly felt the ache of the stiff material pressing against his bruised eye.

And then the storm was upon them. The scream of straining wood planks lent an eerie edge to the cacophony as the oncoming wall of sand slammed into the glider. Kuei’s heart lurched in his chest, as for a breathless moment it seemed that the vessel wouldn’t hold against the maelstrom. Gusts of sand streamed in through tiny gaps in the planks. He could see Zafirah shivering next to him. She sat with her knees drawn tightly up against her chest and her head bowed, her slender fingers rooting absently through the sand at her feet.

Time stretched on in their flimsy shelter, minutes indistinguishable from hours. From his left, he heard Basam’s husky voice lift in the strains of a song he didn’t recognize—barely audible at first, then slowly rising above the howling winds. He was singing in the old tongue, Kuei realized, a language from the days before the first Earth King had united the scattered towns and cities into one kingdom. He glanced at the other man; the Sandbender had produced a stone talisman from a pocket somewhere and was tracing his fingers over its smooth sides as he sang. Basam sang on by himself for a few moments, then Zafirah picked up the tune as well. Kuei lowered his head, his eyes sliding shut. After a while, he realized that he was humming the melody along with them.

The song faltered when several planks gave way under the hammering winds with a sickening crack. Sand poured through the rupture and into the shelter; trying to block it would have been an exercise in futility. The voices quavered so much that the words were all but unintelligible, but still they sang on.

****************

Achingly bright daylight lanced into the shelter. It turned the insides of Kuei’s eyelids crimson and snapped him out of the dazed half-trance he’d fallen into. He groaned at the headache that made its presence known and lifted his hand to shield his face. Shadows fell across the light as voices spoke from outside the shelter.

“—Looks like some kinda Spirit monster.”

“Oh, as if you’d know!”

“Shut it, the both of you. Show a little respect for our kinsmen.”

“Sorry, Qamar.”

“I’m just sayin’, it isn’t any animal I’ve ever heard of—“

“I said shut it.” The sudden realization that the storm had ended filtered through Kuei’s muddled mind, and he dropped his hand and opened his eyes. Three Sandbenders stood at the open end of the shelter, bending down to peer in at the trio. He could see the hazy shapes of more people behind the newcomers. Bosco stirred, shook the sand off his wide head and rumbled curiously at the strangers, making them gasp and scuttle backwards. Zafirah stumbled into his peripheral vision, staring up at the strangers.

“We’re alive,” she mumbled weakly. The shortest of the three hurried back to the shelter’s entrance.

“Zafi?” she asked incredulously. “That really you?” She was pushed aside by one of the others, who scrambled into the shelter and knelt by Zafirah’s side.

“Zafi?!” he echoed, sounding horrorstruck. “Son of a hogmonkey, woman! What’re you doing out in a sandstorm?”

“Nice to see you too, Shai,” croaked Zafirah. The newcomers ducked beneath the glider and brought the three travelers out into the glare of the afternoon sun. A cloudless blue sky stretched overhead, with no trace of the sandstorm to be found. Kuei got an unpleasant shock when he looked back at their glider—the wooden craft was all but swallowed up by a small sand dune. Had the storm lasted any longer, or their rescuers found them any later, they might have been buried alive.

As if acting on an unspoken signal, all of the Sandbenders unmasked and faced each other. Kuei followed their lead, pulling down his face coverings and hastily replacing the goggles with his eyeglasses. Row upon row of copper-brown faces sprang into focus, peering curiously at their trio.

“Who are they?” he whispered to Zafirah. She spread her arms in a gesture that encompassed the crowd before them.

“They’re the Aqila Tribe.”


****************

Playlist time!
1) “Cross the Hot Sand and Wilderness, Great Gurren Brigade (Nesshya no Arano wo Nukete Dai Gurren Dan ga Ikuno Da)” [Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann]—The trio begin their desert voyage.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v60EDSX0LgU

2) “Theme From Spire” [Myst IV: Revelation]—The winds from the southwest are picking up and a storm’s brewing…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k5oGMzmvOko


3) “Sandstorm” [Hidalgo]—Saaaaannndstoooorrmmm!!! You can watch the sandstorm scene from Hidalgo at the second link, to get an idea of what I had in mind while writing this part of the chapter.
Music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W2M1hnS4Oo
Video Clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pu83cczHURw




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NeeNee
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We will not be quiet.


« Reply #13 on: May 03, 2010 08:50 am »

Wow, that totally dragged me in. Sweet descriptions. Smiley

So, they found another tribe, eh? And now what? Search on for the others, or leave that job to the bigger group?

Somehow I have the feeling they're gonna bump into the library. Unlikely, I know, with Mister Owl in such a foul mood. Cheesy

Undate soon.
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AvatarStateYipYip
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« Reply #14 on: May 03, 2010 09:59 am »

Oooh yay an update. first yes those songs are from the sequels ("Not one of us" is from Lion King 2, and "Dig a Tunnel" is one of the catchy numbers from Lion King 1 and a half)

Yay for quality bonding time for Kuei and crew. I enjoyed Kuei's reflections on the gAang, and his gradual opening up to the ways of the world. the descriptions were fun, especially getting Basco up on the navigator's post, and then getting him down ( I guess bears are like cow pigs in this respect, you can get em up stairs, but never down). And the sandstorm, that was a nice and realistic touch for our desert setting, they come up without a moment's notice and make life miserable and dangerous. In that clip from Hidalgo, his horse looks back and  Shocked aw nuts, this aint gonna be fun! lol. just like Kuei did when he saw it and had that "uh, I think were gonna need a bigger boat" moment. I look forward to the next update. Thus I will now end things in the traditional fashion


I WANTS MORE!!!!!!!!!!!  Grin
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Throw Down!!!!
Keeper of the shoe Long Feng lost to Appa at Lake Laogai and Meelo's fartbending (c'mon, admit it, you always wondered if airbenders could!) also Bumi's flute shenanigans
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #15 on: May 29, 2010 05:51 pm »

Time for Chapter Four!

NeeNee: Hopefully this chapter will provide a satisfying answer to your questions!  Cool

AvatarStateYipYip: LOL yeah, the horse's expression is so funny in that clip!

Thanks to both of you for reviewing, and to quantumreality and Kitty East for betaing.

I’ve gone back to Chapter One and edited the siblings’ tribal affiliation, to fix a small canonical error I’d made. They’re no longer Hammi Tribesmen. I’ve decided to call their tribe the Janan Tribe. For the record, I’m also assuming for the purposes of this fic that Ghashiun, his father, and the other Sandbenders present in “The Desert” are also Janan Tribesmen. Their tribe’s name is never mentioned, but the dialogue of “Appa’s Lost Days” makes it clear that they aren’t Hammi Tribe, as I had previously assumed. Therefore, in order for the siblings to have witnessed Aang’s rage-fest at Si Wong Rock, like I said they did in Chapter 1, they can’t be Hammi Tribe either. Buuut enough with the boring details, and on with the fanfic!


CHAPTER 4-- AQILA

A slender woman with hawk-like features stepped forward. She looked to be in her forties or fifties, perhaps, and moved with an unmistakable air of authority. The woman lifted her hands to the disheveled trio and started to speak in a high, soft voice.

“We welcome Zafirah and Basam of our sister tribe,” she proclaimed. Kuei recognized the smooth intonations of ritual speech. He’d heard it often enough in the Royal Court. Now it was the twins’ turn: they both moved forward and lifted their hands in return.

“We thank you, Qamar of our sister tribe,” said Basam. “We bring news from the Misty Palms Oasis.”

“Two nights ago, the Fire Nation attacked the oasis. All were taken prisoner, except us. We carry this message: the desert has fallen,” Zafirah said flatly. A shocked murmur raced through the crowd, but they fell silent at a gesture from Qamar. Kuei’s forehead creased in a frown at the deadened tone of Zafirah’s voice. Is she all right…? Qamar drew in a sharp breath and nodded stiffly.

“I understand,” she said quietly. Then her attention turned to Kuei. “And who is the outsider you’ve brought here?” she asked, wariness etched into her weathered face. Zafirah had an answer ready for her.

“This is Kuei of Ba Sing Se. He has proven himself trustworthy. He fought bravely alongside us against the Fire Nation.” Here she hesitated, and Kuei saw her eyes dart sideways towards him. “I owe him my life.” This got another reaction from the crowd. They weren’t the only ones surprised—did she really see herself as being indebted to him? That certainly hadn’t been his intention!

Qamar nodded, satisfied with this explanation. “Very well. We welcome you, Kuei of Ba Sing Se, ally of the Janan Tribe.”

“I thank you, Qamar of the Aqila Tribe,” Kuei replied, bowing deeply. If there was one thing Kuei understood, it was courtly rituals. The rites were done and the rest of the tribe surged forward, chattering excitedly, to greet their kinsmen. The young man named Shai was at Zafirah’s side in an instant, gently lifting her chin with one hand and peering at her.

“You okay?” he asked.

“Yeah,” was Zafirah’s half-hearted answer.

“You sure?”

“Just a little shaken up. I’m fine.” She gave him a thin-lipped smile and lifted one of her hands to grasp his, squeezing softly. You don’t seem fine, Kuei thought. He didn’t have time to ponder it, though, because he abruptly found himself surrounded. A group of the Sandbenders sidled up to him, as if he were a wild animal to be approached with the utmost caution.

“Did Ba Sing Se really fall to the Fire Nation?” one of them asked hesitantly.

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” Kuei confirmed. Another Sandbender appeared beside him then, seemingly materializing out of thin air. She was fairly short, the top of her head barely reaching Kuei’s shoulder, with a round face and shining brown eyes.

“That must’ve been awful,” she said softly. “I can’t even imagine—“

“What about the Avatar?” another one interjected. “I heard he died there.”

“I-I’m sorry, I wouldn’t know anything about that,” he said, forcing the lie past the guilt that suddenly constricted his lungs. The Sandbenders exchanged worried looks and whispered to each other. The girl scowled at them and crossed her arms.

“Quit crowding the guy, c’mon. He probably doesn’t want to talk about that stuff,” she chided them. She turned to Kuei and tugged at his sleeve. “Let’s go help your friends scavenge stuff from your glider.” Sure enough, the siblings and several of the Aqila Sandbenders had surrounded the buried glider and were carefully excavating it, removing supplies as they uncovered them. Shai shouted a warning as the glider groaned and settled beneath the sand. The workers halted and stepped back. Finally, the overburdened wood caved, collapsing in on itself.

Shai whistled quietly. “You three are damn lucky we found you so soon.”

“We certainly are,” Kuei murmured. There were many ways to die in the Si Wong, none of them pleasant, but being buried alive sounded like a particularly nasty way to go. The short woman patted his arm sympathetically.

“Don’t worry, nobody navigates the desert like the Aqila Tribe,” she said confidently. “Oh, and I’m Amaris.”

“It’s, um, nice to meet you,” Kuei replied. He bowed slightly, earning a small giggle from Amaris. “I’m—well, I suppose you already know,” he added, remembering Zafirah’s introduction.

“I sure do. You’re the brave hero who saved our Zafi from getting scorched.” She smiled sweetly at him, then took a Bending stance and set to work with a flourish of her arms. Kuei felt his cheeks heat up and hurriedly knelt down to start scooping the sand away by hand. He heard Zafirah snort off to his left; when he looked up at her, she glanced back down at her work while fighting a knowing smirk off of her face. Bosco, curious about the humans’ actions, came over and pawed at the sand. “That’s a funny-looking pet you got there,” Amaris commented, chuckling at the animal’s industrious digging.

“He’s a bear. His name’s Bosco,” Kuei told her.

“Just ‘bear’, huh? Not ‘platypus-bear’, or…?”

“No, just a bear.”

“Wow, that’s weird. Do lots of people have bears in Ba Sing Se?”

Kuei couldn’t help but smile at the mental image of bears running amok in the capitol city. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Y’know, we don’t get many Ba Sing Se folks way out here. Not much reason for them to visit the open desert, I guess,” she continued, rambling away as they worked side-by-side.

“Amaris, are you bugging the tourist?” Zafirah teased airily as she passed by with a stack of recovered crates.

“No!” the young woman said swiftly, then she shot an anxious look at Kuei. “I’m not, right?”

“Not at all,” he assured her. Zafirah shook her head and smirked again, although there was something strained about the expression. She retook her position among the workers, and her entire face darkened as she looked upon the buried glider. He looked around the circle to find her brother, and saw Basam stationed close by. He was Bending sand away very slowly, with a contemplative frown on his face.

The work went slowly, the group carefully digging around the jagged, broken planks sticking out of the wreckage. When they were finally finished, they loaded the last of the salvaged goods onto the tribes’ gliders and sailed off for the Aqila camp.

The sun sank in the west as they traveled, and the stiflingly heavy afternoon heat that beat down upon them like a furnace began to fade as a cool breeze kicked up. Finally, as the sun settled below the horizon, they crested a final sand dune and slowed to a halt, giving Kuei time to take in the sight of the settlement nestled in the dune’s shadow.

The sheer size of the tribe astonished Kuei. No one outside of the Si Wong knew exactly how many Sandbenders lived there; finding researchers from the University to conduct a formal census was challenging at best, and actually carrying out a census was next to impossible. But none of the estimates he’d seen came close to accounting for the population of the Aqila Tribe.

“So, what d’you think?” Basam asked from beside him.

“It’s… unbelievable. I had no idea that any of the Sandbender tribes were this large,” Kuei said quietly.

“Frightening, isn’t it?” the other man joked wryly.

Kuei felt himself smiling widely. “It’s fantastic.”

He counted forty dwellings, comprised of the same type of glider-tent that he and the siblings had set up during their voyage. These gliders were larger, though, clearly meant for families. Their inhabitants emerged from the shade of their homes as the foraging party—the group that had found the buried glider—filed into the camp. Children abandoned their games and raced to their parents with squeals of joy, friends and family embraced and greeted one another. Jovial voices filled the air.

The newcomers soon found themselves the center of attention again. Bosco reveled in it, contentedly licking the faces of the children who jostled forward to get a better look at the unfamiliar animal. Their parents were less enthused, ushering the young ones away from the bear while stealing guarded glances at Kuei.

The exiled Earth King felt another pang of guilt as he looked around at this thriving town of desert nomads. I had no idea… There is so much I don’t know…

///////////////////////////////////

Zafirah sat at the edge of the camp, watching the stars appear in the rapidly darkening sky. Qamar had recruited the three travelers to help with the tribe’s communal dinner, but she’d soon told the younger woman to take a walk. Zafirah was distracted, her thoughts all over the place, and she’d nearly burned her fingers—twice. So she’d been sent off to sort her mind out, safely away from cooking fires.

Hesitant footsteps crunching on the sand behind her dragged her thoughts out of their wandering. “May I… sit with you?” asked Kuei.

“Yeah, sure, knock yourself out,” she muttered. The outsider sank down next to her and folded his hands in his lap, following her line of sight out over the dunes. Neither of them spoke for a minute or two, and then Kuei drew a breath like he was trying to force some words out, but he didn’t. “What?”

“Hmm?”

“You were gonna say somethin’, right?”

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just a stray thought. Foolish, really.”

Zafirah shot a sidelong look at him. You certainly are a strange one. “So? Say it anyway,” she told him with a shrug.

“I was just thinking… the desert is quite pretty at this time of day.”

“Yeah, it’s real pretty when it’s not trying to kill you.”

“Fair point,” he agreed with a faint smile. He turned back to the view in front of them, but she could sense his eyes flickering back towards her.

“What?” she repeated, folding her arms across her chest. He waved one hand vaguely, like he couldn’t find the right phrase and hoped to grab it out of the air.

“Well, um, I hope I’m not being too forward in mentioning this, but you and your brother seem, er… I suppose ‘withdrawn’ would be a good word for it,” he said carefully. She sat up from the slouched position she’d been in and paid her full attention to him. First he’d saved her life, and now… Kuei had just broken another rule.

“You’re worried about us,” she declared, arching her eyebrows at him. She felt a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth, despite her glum mood. Of all the tourists in the world, I just happen to get the weirdest one of the bunch, she thought dryly. He took her response in exactly the wrong way and winced.

“Sorry, that was presumptuous—I-it’s none of my business—“ he stuttered. She held up a hand to stop him before he could embarrass himself any more.

“Shut it. Quit apologizing.” She took a shaky breath and glanced down at her feet. “Our parents died in a sandstorm four years back. We nearly met the same end they did, just now.”

“Oh,” he murmured. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It was just a shock, is all. We’ll be fine.” And this time, she realized, she meant it. “We’ll all be fine,” she added softly. “See, that’s the thing about the desert—it might kill you tomorrow, so you find something that’s worth living for today, something to be happy about. If you don’t, you end up a few feathers short of a buzzard-wasp,” she joked, twirling her fingertip next to her temple.

The tourist smiled faintly, then spoke again after a few more minutes of silence. “I know what it’s like to lose a parent. My father passed away when I was a child,” he said. Zafirah whistled in sympathy.

“What about the rest of your family? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“My mother is gone as well.” Something flashed in his deep green eyes and she suspected there was more to the story, but she didn’t feel like prying. Well, not that much, anyway.

“There had to have been somebody else, though, right?” she insisted. “Wife? Girlfriend?”

“No,” he answered, sounding almost wistful.

“Boyfriend?” she tried. “It’s okay, you can admit it. There’s nothin’ wrong with that, y’know—“

“N-no, no, it’s nothing like that,” he insisted quickly, face turning bright red. “The thing is, my life in Ba Sing Se didn’t really leave me many opportunities to meet young ladies.”

“Ah, gotcha.” So he’s a student, probably the son of some nobleman, and can’t talk to girls. Heh. There’s three pieces of the riddle. “So it was just you and Bosco, then?” Before Kuei could answer, Basam bounded up and dropped into a crouch behind them.

“Hey, dinner’s ready! Quit your chitchat and get some food before we eat it all,” he announced brightly. He Bent a swirl of sand that hoisted him to his feet and dashed off again. Zafirah chuckled and lightly jabbed Kuei in the arm with her knuckles.

“C’mon, tourist. I think we’ve done enough whining for one night,” she teased.

////////////////////////////////

Continue on to Part Two
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Ayala_Atreides
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« Reply #16 on: May 29, 2010 05:58 pm »

They returned to the center of the Aqila camp to find the tribe congregated around the cooking fire, lined up with metal bowls in their hands. Amaris was waiting for them at the end of the line. She handed each of them a bowl, winking prettily at Kuei as she did so and making him blush for the third time that day. He heard Zafirah snicker beside him, but the moment he turned to look at her, she’d schooled her face into the very picture of innocence.

The communal meal that night was very much like the stew Zafirah had made on his first night in the desert—which, as it turned out, was very much like the same thing she and her brother ate nearly every day.

He sat down between the siblings and looked down at the meager portions in their bowls, and Kuei felt another surge of that ever-present guilt. Zafirah cleared her throat, drawing his attention.

“Okay, now it’s my turn to ask you what’s up,” she said, arching her eyebrows at him again.

“’What’s up’?” he echoed uneasily. She nodded vigorously, leveling a stern finger at him.

“I see that look. What’s the problem?” she prompted. He hesitated, finding it difficult to keep his thoughts organized under the piercing gaze of her brown eyes.

“Well… you’ve all been so kind to me, even though you have so little… and I have no way of repaying that generosity,” he said quietly. And I’m not even certain that I deserve it, he added silently. Zafirah cocked her head at him, and then the same mystified smile he’d first seen back in the oasis crept over her features.

“Kuei, you know what they call it when somebody freely gives you something? It’s called a gift. You don’t have to repay a gift, so quit worryin’ about it. I helped you out ‘cause I felt like it,” she told him frankly. “Besides, we don’t have much, but it’s not like we’re suffering.” She gestured with her bowl, and he followed the movement of her arm over the Sandbenders crowded nearby. “It’s like I just told you—we find something to be happy about. The Fire Nation could be coming after us this very minute, but right now? We’re all here together, we have good food, and we’ll be damned if we’re gonna let some ash-brained Firebenders or a sandstorm ruin that.”

Her eyes shone as if daring him to disagree. He just smiled, feeling the warmth and the vibrancy of the community all around him.

“All right, but I can still try to repay you,” he decided, taking a mouthful of stew.

“Y’mean besides saving my sister’s life and helping us find the Aqila?” Basam asked off-handedly. Once again, Kuei didn’t have time to reply; Qamar stood and whistled loudly, clapping her hands to get the tribe’s attention. Once she had it, she turned to the siblings.

“Zafirah, Basam—I want you to tell us everything you can remember about the Fire Nation raid at the oasis,” she said calmly. The twins looked at each other with sudden unease.

“There’s not much to tell,” Basam began, speaking slowly and carefully. “They attacked us in the middle of the night—“

“—They caught us off-guard,” Zafirah interjected, her voice harsh.

“We were outnumbered pretty bad, and they had these flying things…”

“Big red machines, floating in the air over the oasis.”

“It was all over by sunrise,” Zafirah finished. Kuei saw in her expression the same listlessness that he’d observed earlier that day. “They said ‘The desert has fallen’. I’m sure they’ll be back to round up the rest of us soon, and with even more troops.” Qamar nodded, frowning as she contemplated this information.

“And tell me, how did you three escape?” she asked. Zafirah stiffened and stared at the ground.

“We hid,” she grumbled. “I got scared. I ran and hid, and I dragged these two with me.” She jerked her thumbs at the two men beside her. Qamar’s eyes softened, seeing the younger woman’s shame, and she walked over to place her hand on Zafirah’s shoulder.

“Don’t blame yourself, girl. In protecting yourselves, you survived to bring us this information. By running and hiding, girl, you may have saved us.” Zafirah looked up at the Aqila Tribe’s leader through eyes that glistened with unshed tears, confusion plain on her face. Qamar smiled boldly and moved away to stride amongst her people, looking at each of their faces as she passed them. “I’ve been mulling this plan over in my head ever since you first delivered this news to us, when we dug you out of that wreck. These things you’ve told me have only convinced me more—we must take a stand against the Fire Nation!”

Kuei inhaled sharply and felt a chill run up his spine. No one in the crowd spoke, or even moved a muscle.

Qamar waited for a second, and then went on. “Tomorrow at first light, we’ll send scouts to rally the other tribes. With all of the tribes gathered around us-- with the full strength of the desert on our side-- the Fire Nation won't find us to be such a weak target, after all.” She paused as a wild light filled her dark brown eyes. “Let them come with their flying things. A Sandbender in the open desert is as powerful as a Waterbender on the high seas. We’re no easy prey!” The Aqila Tribe roared their approval.

“They’ll never catch us off-guard again!” Zafirah exclaimed, thrusting her fist high above her had. The shame in her expression gave way to burning pride, her mood seemingly buoyed by the spark of fierce elation that seemed to ignite the very air. The tribe cheered, their upraised fists joining hers.

Kuei stared about himself, feeling oddly as though he’d missed a step on a flight of stairs. I think I just landed myself in the middle of a battlefield, he thought dazedly. Oh Spirits… they’re going to war against the Fire Nation! He choked down the panic that writhed in his stomach like a live eelfish. Surely this was a fight doomed to failure?

Then again… the Sandbenders would go into this fight with both eyes open. They wouldn’t be blinded, as he himself had been. Perhaps these Sandbenders could succeed where the Earth King and his armies had failed. Maybe, just maybe, they could drive the Fire Nation out of their home. Somewhere, deep in his chest, a glimmer of hope came alive.

The rest of the meal passed by in a haze of excited chatter, and then he and the siblings were enlisted to help with cleaning up. As they were scrubbing the last of the dishes, a rowdy cheer from the center of camp echoed through the warm, humid night. Zafirah nudged Kuei with her elbow and pointed. Most of the tribe had formed a loose ring around two young men circling each other. He recognized one of them as Shai.

“A fight?” Kuei wondered.

“Nope, a sparring match!” Zafirah replied happily.

“This is basically what we do for fun out here,” Basam said at Kuei’s puzzled expression. “Sparring teaches us new Sandbending forms, keeps us in shape, that kind of thing. And, y’know, with the Fire Nation out to get us…” He grinned as he let the sentence trail off.

“Yep. You city people are spoiled, with your fancy Bending schools,” Zafirah added lightly. “A few rounds in a good sparring circle and you’ll learn everything you ever need to know.”

Kuei, caught up in the Aqila Tribe’s infectiously high spirits, decided to be bold. “I’m sure Basam and I could finish cleaning that, if you’d like to go and cheer for your boyfriend,” he suggested jokingly, gesturing with the scrubbing cloth he held to the massive cauldron she was Sandbending into. She stared at him as though he’d suddenly started Waterbending.

“Boyfriend?” she repeated. “Who, Shai? He’s not my boyfriend.”

Well, so much for bold joke-telling, Kuei thought sheepishly. “S-sorry. I saw the two of you together earlier, and I thought, um…”

“Nah, it’s okay. He used to be.” She smiled fondly as she looked over at the impromptu sparring ring.

The dish-scrubbers finished their chores and migrated over to watch the match just as Shai’s opponent hit the ground and skidded out of the ring. A deafening roar went up from the onlookers as the victor walked to his defeated opponent and stretched his hand down, laughing easily. The other man snorted, but then he too was chuckling. Shai helped him to his feet and they bowed to one another.

Shai noticed the three of them standing at the edge of the ring and beamed proudly at Zafirah, fists on his hips. She rolled her eyes and waved. The young man puffed up like a peacock-duck, completely oblivious to the tall, wiry girl who charged into the ring with her fists drawn back. He was oblivious no more as a pillar of sand found its mark squarely between his shoulder blades, and the fight was on!

The girl swiftly sent Shai and her next two opponents flying, but then she, too, met with defeat. Match after match went by, and soon Qamar stood in the ring, seeking out a worthy foe. She pointed straight at Zafirah.

“Come on, Janan girl. Let’s see what you’ve been learning!” the older woman goaded. Zafirah scoffed and hopped upright, striding into the ring with an irrepressible grin stretched across her face.

The two women circled each other along the edges of the space, eyes locked on one another. Quick as lightning, Zafirah feinted left and surged forward, suddenly twisting and sliding to a halt with her right foot outthrust, sending a crest of sand racing towards Qamar. The Aqila woman spun, arms tucked up against her torso, dropped into a half-crouch—and thrust her arms out and down, cutting the crest in half to fall uselessly on either side of her. She spun again, dropping further and slamming her fists into the ground. A pillar of sand erupted from the spot where Zafirah had stood mere seconds ago, coming close enough to graze her side as she leaped out of its path.

Kuei realized that he was leaning forward, almost bouncing on the balls of his feet as he watched with bated breath while the fight went on and on.

Zafirah and Qamar sprang towards each other, and Zafirah shot sideways, swinging her arms up as she jumped into the air. She landed and lunged at her foe, slicing her fingertips through the sand. A trench opened beneath Qamar’s feet, and the crowd gasped as she nearly went down. Then the older woman regained her footing and sent the trench hurtling right back, but her opponent dodged almost effortlessly.

Zafirah pressed her attack forward, throwing her arms wide and bringing her palms together with a resounding smack. Sand rushed up to surround Qamar, blocking her from view for several nerve-wracking seconds. Then the sand exploded outward, making the onlookers duck as it flew past their heads.

The two women were close to arm’s reach from each other now. Qamar raised a wave of sand that swept beneath Zafirah’s feet, bringing the younger woman to her knees. But then she was up again, charging ahead. She leaped high above Qamar’s second attack and rolled as she struck the ground, thrusting her fingers deep into the sand as she righted herself. She brought her arms up sharply, lifted them above her head, then flung them down and punched her fists outwards. A massive coil of sand sprang to life out of the ground, swirling around Qamar like a cobra-viper. Undaunted, she stomped her left foot against the ground and swung her arms in a circle, bringing down the sand-cobra. As Zafirah came to her feet, Qamar spun once more and swiped her left hand out as she lunged sideways. The ground itself reared up beneath the younger woman’s feet, putting her even further off-balance and Zafirah toppled backwards.

Zafirah hit the sand and her opponent crouched above her, one hand at her throat. The crowd held its breath for a long, tense moment, and then another wide grin split Zafirah’s face. Qamar smiled back, her bell-like laugh drifting out from the ring. She stood and offered a hand to her defeated friend, pulling her upright.

“Not bad, girl,” Qamar declared. The women bowed to each other, to the raucous cheers of the audience. Zafirah jogged back and slumped to the ground at Kuei’s feet while Qamar sought out a fresh challenger.

“Haha, whew, that was bracing!” she panted cheerfully. He looked curiously at her as he sat down beside her; standing above her just seemed far too rude.

“I would have thought you’d be upset at losing,” he mused. She paused, considering, then shrugged carelessly.

“Sure, winning would’ve been nice. But hey, that was the most fun I’ve had in weeks,” she said with a contented sigh.

“Something to be happy about?” he suggested, echoing her words from earlier.

“Exactly,” she agreed, waggling a slender finger at him and still beaming from ear to ear. This smile was a far cry from the smirks and sardonic grins he’d seen from her thus far. It lit up her whole face, making her warm brown eyes blaze. He smiled back as his breath caught in his chest.

////////////////////////////////////////////

Oh dear, something’s happening there at the end, huh? Cheesy

Playlist!
1) “The Reprimand” [The Prince of Egypt]: Meeting the Aqila Tribe.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ML20vIXYVSU

2) “Through Heaven’s Eyes” [The Prince of Egypt]: Chapter Four theme.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDM2tnUrNGw

3) “Rap is a Man's Soul! The Man Who Believes in Himself and Surges at Heaven! Open Your Ears Wide and Listen to the Great Kamina's Theme! (a.k.a. “Row Row Fight The Power”)” [Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann]: Qamar announces her plan to lead the Sandbender tribes into battle against the Fire Nation.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FYj3KoV716A


4) “This Is Berk” [How To Train Your Dragon]: Zafirah’s sparring match.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFBMvCibT5A

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My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Posts: 108



« Reply #17 on: Jul 16, 2010 03:10 pm »

Aw, no reviews for Chapter 4? *sigh* Oh well, fair enough. Here's Chapter 5, anyway. It's pretty long, so it'll span a few posts.

I have a surprise for you guys! Last summer I drew a pencil sketch of Zafi and Basam. Here they are... IN COLOR! http://skeleton-horse.deviantart.com/#/d2u1b6g


CHAPTER FIVE—LESSONS

When Kuei awoke the next morning, he found himself alone in the borrowed glider-tent that he and his companions had shared the night before. He could hear the sounds of activity outside the tent—voices talking, cooking pots clanging together. A few rays of early morning sunlight streamed in through a gap in the tent cover, bathing his face in the already-sweltering heat of the day.

He stood and shook the sand out of his clothing as best he could. As he did, he couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed at the way his borrowed shirt hung off of his thin frame. Basam had much wider shoulders than he did, apparently, not to mention a more muscular build. He finally gave up the sand-removal as a hopeless endeavor. A couple minutes later, he ducked out of the tent with a fresh coating of salve on his black eye.

Bosco greeted him with a happy growl and a wet nose shoved against his hand. He smiled and scratched behind the bear’s ears.

“Good morning, Bosco,” he said. “Let’s go and see if we can get some breakfast, shall we?”

“The furball’s already eaten.” Kuei just barely managed not to jump as Zafirah’s voice rang out from his left. She flashed that bright grin of hers and waved easily at him. “He woke up when we did and kept bugging me until I fed him. And speaking of food…” She produced a bowl from behind her back and handed it to him. It was filled with an assortment of dried meat and fruits.

“Thank you,” he said, taking the bowl as his stomach rumbled.

“No problem. You’d have gone hungry if I hadn’t snagged some food for you, sleeping in like that,” she replied, looking almost apologetic.

“Why didn’t you wake me?” he asked, feeling inexcusably lazy. She shrugged and idly brushed some sand from his right shoulder. He glanced sideways at her copper-skinned fingers, bewildered once again by this peculiar habit of hers.

“We were up before dawn to get the scouts ready to leave. I figured you didn’t need to be awake for that.” She looked down at her feet, as if suddenly nervous. A lock of brown hair slipped out from beneath her head coverings and swept across her cheek at the movement of her head. “And, uh, one other thing… I know we had a deal that we’d get you out of here once we’d found another tribe, but uh…”

“Sorry?” He frowned, confused. “I don’t follow.”

“Our deal, remember? You help us find another tribe to pass along our message, then we give you a ride to the edge of the desert so you can move on?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” He’d honestly forgotten all about it.

Zafirah nodded, eyes still fixed on the ground. “Yeah, you see… with the scouts gone, we can’t spare another glider to go to the edge of the desert right now, not with a Fire Nation raid hangin’ over our heads. We need all the rest of our people here, at the camp. So, uh, you’re kind of… stuck here. Qamar and the others, well, they’re not really sure what to do with you.” She bit her lower lip, brows drawn inward in a deep frown.

All he could do was stare at her while apprehension overtook him. Memories rose up unbidden—less than flattering stories about the ruthless Sandbender tribes of the desert, told to him by his history tutors. He hadn’t paid them much mind until now. The kindness of Zafirah and her brother had quickly eased his mind after the incident in the cantina.

They’re not really sure what to do with you. He didn’t like the sound of that at all. It must have shown on his face, because Zafirah scowled at him and snorted.

“Oh, cut it out, it’s not like they’re gonna slit your throat!” she insisted. “You will have to stay for the battle, though. I’m really sorry.” She fell silent for a few moments, gazing down at her bare toes wiggling against the sand. He opened his mouth to respond just as she started up again. “I tried to tell ‘em it wasn’t fair makin’ you stay, I really did! This isn’t your fight—“

“Isn’t it, though?” Her eyes jerked up to his own at his abrupt interjection. Oh, it most certainly is my fight—in more ways than you know. He managed a faint smile at the sudden realization unfolding before him. “That is, well, as a citizen of the Earth Kingdom… I think I made it my fight when I accosted a Fire Nation soldier,” he pointed out. She didn’t look convinced. He took a deep breath, knowing it was time for a little more honesty. “The truth is… there were people relying on me in Ba Sing Se, people I was responsible for. I let them down when I fled. If there’s anything I can do to make a difference in this fight—if I can keep even one more person from suffering at the hands of the Fire Nation—then perhaps I can begin to redeem myself.”

Zafirah gaped at him, thunderstruck. Her mouth opened and closed wordlessly, and then she seemed to recover herself.

“Uh, okay. Well then, I guess you’d better come along with me. Qamar’s about to hand out orders to everybody.” She turned and beckoned for him to follow.

Together they made their way to the center of camp, where the Aqila tribe sat before their leader. They wound their way through the crowd and took a seat with Basam, Shai, and Amaris. The latter immediately scooted closer to Kuei and flashed him a wide smile.

“Morning! Sleep well?” she whispered.

“Quite well, thanks. And you?” he whispered back. Zafirah shushed them before Amaris could answer, glaring at them. Beside her, Basam tilted his head meaningfully towards Qamar. He noticed several of their neighbors shooting him decidedly frosty looks as well. Ducking his head, he mouthed an apology and turned his attention to the matter at hand.

Qamar began, wasting no time with pleasantries. “We don’t know when the Fire Nation will arrive, so we have to be ready at all times. There will be sentries walking a perimeter around the camp—everyone will take a turn on watch duty. When you’re not on watch, you will be training for the fight. You, outsider!” Kuei sat up straighter, eyes turned to the older woman.

“Yes, Qamar?”

“How much combat training do you have?” she asked. Kuei forced himself not to hunch down, all too aware of the dozens of pairs of expectant brown eyes suddenly watching him.

“I don’t have much,” he admitted. By which he meant ‘none whatsoever’. Qamar nodded, narrowing her eyes at him.

“And are you an Earthbender?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Very well. Shai, you’ll be in charge of the outsider’s hand-to-hand combat training. Zafirah, you’ll be teaching him whatever weapon you find appropriate,” she declared. The two bowed their heads in acknowledgment of their orders. Zafirah leaned over and poked Kuei in the elbow.

“Looks like you’ll get some use out of that Water Tribe club after all,” she remarked.

“Indeed,” he muttered as apprehension welled up within him.

//////////////////////

A couple hours later, Zafirah stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fifteen Aqila Tribespeople in one of the training tents that they had set up. Sweat soaked her clothes as she and the others followed a stout older man named Khoury through the stances of their kata. The tent shaded them from the sun while they worked, but it still wasn’t safe to shed a layer of clothing, or even take off her arm and leg wraps. Living in the Si Wong meant being ready for anything, and it wasn’t smart to leave too much skin showing for too long between the blazing sun and the rough sand. Luckily, she was used to wearing all those layers in the desert’s heat.

Kuei wasn’t. She could see him out of the corner of her eye, sitting off to the side of the tent (waiting his turn for the sparring ring) and fidgeting with his arm wraps.

Her thoughts drifted as she flowed through the stances. The battle looming in their future took up most of them, like the cold winds that blew from the north in the winter. But again and again, they came back to one thing: namely, the scrawny tourist who just got more and more confusing every time he opened his mouth. His little speech that morning had been… unexpected, and that was an amusing understatement.

He’d meant every word of it, she knew. There was no questioning the sudden determination in his voice when he’d talked of redeeming himself—his bright green eyes had practically glowed with it. She’d sensed a kind of quiet strength coming off of him, sneaking out from behind the shy awkwardness that clung to him like a second shadow.

She’d seen it from him once before—back at the oasis, after the battle, when he’d offered to help her and Basam bury their dead.

Not for the first time, she wondered what exactly had happened to him in Ba Sing Se.

Khoury started in on a more complicated kata and Kuei slipped out of her mind for the moment. She focused on the flow of energy through her body as she followed the older man’s movements. She focused on the sand shifting beneath her feet—the rough grit under her bare toes and heels, and the more distant scratch of the sand under the wrapped middles of her feet. She focused on the hot, dry air inside the tent, sticking to her and surrounding her, streaming through her.

She focused on the feel of the desert, within her and all around her.

////////////////////////

Kuei hit the ground hard, the breath whooshing out of his lungs.

“C’mon, outsider, keep your guard up!” Shai taunted. The exiled Earth King groaned and hauled himself to his feet, retaking the fighting stance the other man had shown him. The Sandbender smirked broadly. He’d been drilling Kuei on the basics of hand-to-hand combat for the past two hours with little success. “You’re gonna have to be faster than that if you want to win against a Firebender,” snapped Shai.

The image of a red armored fist and a skull-like faceplate burned in Kuei’s memories.

“Go, Kuei! Knock ‘im on his backside!” cheered Basam from the sidelines. Shai charged and Kuei just barely managed to dodge, earning an approving grunt from his tutor.

“Finally, a little improvement!” Shai jeered.

Then he feinted and drove his heavily-wrapped fist into Kuei’s stomach, knocking him backwards. He staggered but kept his footing, getting himself a grin and a nod from Shai. He brought his arm up and blocked the Sandbender’s next punch, but missed the one after that and took a blow to the jaw for it.

This is going to be a long day, Kuei thought.

////////////////////////

When Kuei came off of his first watch duty shift later that night, he found Zafirah already in the trio’s shared glider tent. She sat on the thin blanket that served as her bed, combing out her hair. The flickering light of a single candle gave the long locks a coppery tint. He unrolled his own blanket and flopped down onto it with a heavy sigh, exhausted and sore from head to toe from the day’s training.

“Rough day?” the Sandbender woman joked. The only answer he could muster was another sigh, which could have been roughly translated as ‘I have to make up for twenty-five years’ worth of a lack of martial arts lessons’. “Don’t worry, it’ll get easier. The first day of training is always the toughest,” she assured him.

“I certainly hope so. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’ll be rather useless in the upcoming battle,” he muttered. Her smile took on a strained quality at the mention of the battle and she shook her head jerkily.

“You won’t be useless!” Zafirah protested. “I was watching you today, and you’re a fast learner. You’ll get it.” Oh, perfect, I had an audience while making a fool of myself. Wonderful. He hoped the darkness in the tent would hide the redness rising in his cheeks at the thought.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, knowing that she’d meant well in saying it. “Where’s Basam?” he asked, hoping to gently steer the conversation away from himself.

“Catching up with a friend.” Zafirah tilted her head slightly. “Of course, this friend is a girl, so we won’t be seeing him again any time soon.”

“Ah.” He shut his eyes, listening to the faint, rhythmic rustle of the comb running through her long hair. Then he shifted to fiddle with his arm wraps again.

“You haven’t taken those off since I put them on at the oasis, have you?” she asked.

“I wouldn’t have known how to retie them,” said Kuei, feeling quite sheepish.

“You could’ve asked for help,” Zafirah pointed out. She held up a hand to stop him before he could reply. “No, no you don’t. I know you’re going to say something silly like ‘I didn’t want to be an inconvenience’, and I might have to smack you upside the head if that happens.” His teeth clicked together faintly as he shut his mouth. She rolled her eyes and set her comb down. “Okay, you need to know how to do this if you’re gonna be here for a while. So I’ll wrap your right arm, and then you try to do your left.”

Kuei sat upright as she crossed the tent and settled onto his blanket in front of him. With a stern look on her face, she took hold of his right arm and swiftly unraveled the bindings, then switched to the left. He heaved a sigh of relief as the warm night air hit his skin and Zafirah scoffed under her breath.

“You really should’ve said something sooner,” she grumbled, giving him a minute to shake out the soreness in his muscles and enjoy his limbs’ freedom from the cloth.

“Sorry,” he said guiltily.

“Don’t apologize to me, apologize to your poor arms!” Zafirah exclaimed. He looked down at his hands.

“Sorry,” he repeated dryly. The corners of her mouth tugged upwards.

“So, what, you only have a sense of humor when you’re dead tired?” she teased, her annoyance apparently fading. “Maybe I should tire you out more often.” Her own hands flew to her mouth, her eyes widening. “Bleeding hogmonkeys. Uh, let’s forget I said that, okay?” Kuei just shrugged slightly, mystified by her sudden embarrassment.

He squinted at her as something occurred to him. “What about your own arm bindings?” he inquired.

“I redid them this morning, before you woke up,” she explained. “Okay, c’mon, right arm.” He held the limb out to her and she grabbed his wrist with one hand, the bindings in the other one. “Now, watch carefully.” She started wrapping at his knuckles, much more slowly than the first time she’d done this for him. Kuei felt an odd jolt in his stomach each time her rough fingertips made contact with his skin, but he dismissed it as a symptom of his weariness. He pushed the thought to the back of his mind and concentrated on following her strong, slender hands as they moved up his arm—but that just made the feeling worse.

Kuei cleared his throat, deciding to find something else to think about. “Zafirah, I have to ask something… the rest of the tribespeople don’t want me here, do they?”

She turned her gaze up at him sharply. “What makes you say that?”

“It, well, it’s the looks they’ve been giving me. Remember dinner this evening, when all those children gathered around me to ask questions about Ba Sing Se?”

“How could I forget?” Zafirah said, grinning. “’How many people live there? What’s a train? Why do you have green eyes? Do lots of people there have green eyes?’” she continued, mimicking the high-pitched voice of a child. She finished his right arm and handed Kuei the binding for his left. He took it and began attempting to wind it around his hand.

“Well, I couldn’t help but notice that some of the adults sitting across from me were… glaring at me—as though I might do something unspeakably horrible to their little ones!”

“I hate to say it, but you are an outsider. Now, most people here probably don’t care one a whole lot. They’re not exactly happy you’re here, but they’re not gonna throw you to the buzzard-wasps or anything. But the thing you need to understand… your average Sandbender doesn’t think much of foreigners. They don’t like us, we don’t like them. It’s been that way as long as anyone can remember.”

“Your brother doesn’t seem to feel that way. You don’t, either,” he pointed out. She smirked down at his hands.

“Depends on the outsider.”

////////////////////////////////////////

Go to Part 2




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My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Posts: 108



« Reply #18 on: Jul 16, 2010 03:16 pm »

Part 2

////////////////////////////////////////

Zafirah lay wide awake, staring up at the sailcloth cover of the tent. It was a quiet night—there was no breeze, and the only sound in the tent was Kuei’s slow, even breathing. Outside, Bosco shifted and grunted in his sleep. She wished she could fall asleep as easily as the big furball did.

Before her first kata that morning, a girl by the name of Hayat asked Zafirah if she was scared at all. She’d looked the girl dead in the eye and said, “Absolutely.”

Scared didn’t even cover half of it. Every time she shut her eyes, all she saw was the burned-out husk of the oasis. We should be running, all of us, whispered a treasonous little voice deep in her head. We can’t win this fight.

No! The Sandbender squeezed her eyes shut as hard as she could. Training. Training’s going well. Yeah.

…But is it going well enough? She pressed the heels of her hands against her eyelids, like she could push the thoughts right out of her head. She had some practice at clearing her mind, thanks to regular Pai Sho lessons with Fung, the old man at the cantina. He insisted that a calm, collected mind was essential to a good Pai Sho strategy. She still hadn’t gotten the hang of the mind-clearing or the game yet.

/////////////////////////

The next morning found Kuei seated by the cooking fire in the (admittedly quite pleasant) company of Amaris. The twins were off on watch duty, and Zafirah would be back in a couple of hours to begin his training with the Water Tribe war club. In the meantime, Amaris seemed more than happy to single-handedly make up for any coldness Kuei experienced from her fellow Sandbenders.

“How’s that black eye doin’?” she asked.

“It’s healing up nicely,” Kuei said, touching it gingerly. That salve was remarkable stuff—the swelling was gone already, though the area was still tender to the touch. He looked around at the gliders as he ate, and a question popped into his mind.

“Say, Amaris, how long does it take to get all of these gliders on the move?” he asked, gesturing to them. She smiled brightly at him.

“That’s a random question! Hmm, let’s see… under half an hour, usually, if we’re in a hurry. We figured that out once with a sundial and the magnetic compasses on the gliders.”

“Really? That’s fairly impressive, considering the size of this camp,” Kuei commented. She blushed slightly and beamed with pride on her tribe’s behalf.

“Yeah, well, we have it down to a routine,” she replied with a shrug.

“I would imagine so,” agreed Kuei. He smiled a little. “This is all so different from my life in Ba Sing Se. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to live out here.”

“You could always stay here a while and give it a try,” Amaris suggested with a mischievous grin.

“I don’t think your tribe would appreciate that very much,” he admitted with a wry smile.

“Don’t you pay them any mind,” she told him firmly. And with that, she launched into an account of life in the desert, her eyes sparkling as she talked. She told him about traveling to the markets across the mountains once every other month to trade with farmers and merchants from outside the desert. She even told him about the young man she’d met along the way on her last trading expedition (“You remind me of him a lot, actually. You don’t have a brother, do you?”).

Zafirah and Basam returned, with the former looking quite hassled. “Hey, you two,” she said absently. “Listen, Kuei, I can’t start your training just yet. They need me for another round of watch duty. I’m just stoppin’ by to grab some food.” She grimaced apologetically and turned to her twin, who lifted his hands.

“Don’t look at me, I got my own training to worry about,” he said.

“You’re gonna train with that Water Tribe club, right?” Amaris interjected suddenly.

“That’s the one,” agreed Zafirah.

“I’ll do it, then,” she said simply.

“You will?” asked three voices together. Amaris shrugged.

“Neither of us is what you’d call an expert with a Water Tribe weapon, right? So it’s not like you know anything I don’t,” she said cheerily.

“She does have a good point,” said Kuei, turning to Zafirah. She regarded the shorter woman, and for a moment she looked as though she might argue the matter. Then she shrugged.

“Sure, go for it. I gotta run.” She waved distractedly at them and darted off into the crowd of Sandbenders rushing to and fro through the camp.

Basam glanced at Amaris, then placed a heavy hand on Kuei’s shoulder. “Best of luck to you,” he said, his solemn tone undermined by the barely suppressed mirth tugging at the corners of his mouth. Then he too was gone, leaving Kuei with Amaris.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about the gleam in her eye.

/////////////

Kuei was, once again, sprawled face-down in the sand. He rolled out of the way as Amaris’s improvised club smacked the ground where his head had been, scrabbling frantically for his own weapon. His fingers finally grasped the leather-wrapped handle—he sprang to his feet and brandished the war club. Amaris paused in the middle of swinging her wooden staff.

“Hold it, hold it!” she exclaimed, then shook her head and bounced over to him. “Your stance is still wrong, Kuei. See? You’re standing all crooked! Square up your hips.” She reached out and prodded his right hip with the end of her club. “There we go. Now you won’t fall over so much,” she explained sweetly.

“Ngh.” It was all the response he could manage. The heat today seemed even worse than the day before; it sapped at his strength, making his limbs heavy and sluggish. He wiped the sweat from his forehead, though it was really a wasted effort. There would just be more of it in a few minutes. I have to stay focused, he told himself. I have to keep going! Remember what you’re fighting for…

He thought of the Fire Nation, its soldiers undoubtedly on their way; he thought of the citizens of Ba Sing Se, suffering for his failure; he thought of the Janan Tribe, their fate unknown at present; and he thought of his newfound companions, good-natured Basam and vibrant Zafirah. Her quick smile and lively eyes flashed through his thoughts. He hefted the war club again, forcing his weary muscles into action. I can’t give up…

//////////////

Two weeks passed by. Life settled into a routine that was, if not comfortable, then at least reassuring in its regularity. At night, Kuei went on watch duty. During the day, he would spar with Shai in hand-to-hand combat, and with Amaris or Zafirah with the Water Tribe club. His training sessions never failed to draw a crowd of curious and often amused onlookers, but he found that it bothered him less with each day. The minute his feet hit the sparring ring, the rest of the world seemed to fade into the background.

This, Shai had told him, was actually a bad thing. Upon finding this out, the Sandbender had enlisted the help of several spectators in testing Kuei’s response to distractions and “sneak attacks”. He sometimes felt that these volunteers took a little too much delight in yelling at him and pelting balls of hardened sand at him, but he took it all in stride. He applied himself wholly to his sparring sessions, pushing himself further each time.

//////////////////

Zafirah joined the throng watching as Shai and Kuei circled each other in the sparring ring. She wound her way over to her brother, sitting next to Hayat.

“Where’ve you been?” Hayat asked.

“Oh, I got a new move I’m working on,” Zafirah said smugly.

“Yeah?” Basam asked. She leaned over to whisper to both of them. Basam’s forehead creased into a frown, and then he grinned broadly and barked out a laugh, slapping his palm against his knee. The younger girl giggled and clapped her hands.

“Oh, I hope I’m there to see the look on some poor Firebender’s ugly mug when that happens!” Hayat crowed. She glanced back at the ring, then nudged Basam with her elbow. “Think the outsider’ll win this time?”

Basam squinted at the two fighters. Shai charged in a spray of sand and aimed a kick at Kuei’s chest, but the outsider blocked it and sent a kick of his own right back. It connected with a solid thump. Basam rubbed his chin absently. “Yup, he’s got this one,” he decided. Hayat raised her eyebrows at him.

“You seem awfully sure about that,” she said. “How much have you lost betting on this guy?”

“I’d have lost a lot more if I had any money to lose,” Basam shot back, perfectly unconcerned. “But seriously—look at him! He’s definitely got it this time,” he insisted. Zafirah looked at Kuei.

His eyes were fixed on his opponent, steady and solemn. Shai came at him again and Kuei dodged, parried his second attack—then he took a bad step and stumbled back. Triumph flashed on Shai’s face and disappeared again just as fast when Kuei kept his footing and lunged. They collided and grappled, neither one giving an inch of ground. Shai dropped his shoulder suddenly and threw Kuei. Zafirah winced as the outsider hit the dirt hard, sand flying up in a cloud around him.

And then he was up! He stood tall and defiant, fists raised. Shai’s eyebrows shot up his forehead and he struck out, but Kuei matched him attack for attack.

Zafirah distantly heard Hayat take Basam up on a bet of one copper piece. Her twin was right, though—it was starting to look like the outsider might just win this one. That quiet intensity was back in Kuei’s green eyes. That’s a good look for him. Especially with that little bit of stubble he’s got going today…

Wait, what? Spirits and ancestors, girl, stop that! The Fire Nation’ll be here any day now—this is so not the time for those kinds of thoughts!


Still, with that black eye gone, it was increasingly hard to ignore the fact that Kuei was very handsome. Most outsiders that came to her oasis looked like old buzzard-wasps. Sitting there and watching him fight wasn’t helping much, either. Outside the sparring ring, he was as awkward as a beetle flipped on its back, like he wasn’t all that comfortable in his own skin. But the way Kuei moved in the sparring ring, especially now that he’d found some confidence... Forget it. There’s more important things to worry about now.

For instance, it was obvious that Kuei was getting tired, and Shai was driving him back step by step. If he got pushed out of the ring, he’d lose the match. The tension in the air was so thick Zafirah could almost see it.

“C’mon, Kuei…” she muttered, clenching her fists. The outsider charged one more time and Shai blocked his punch, dropped his shoulder, and Kuei went flying over his back again.

But this time, Kuei rolled with the motion, grabbing hold of Shai’s arm—and flipped him right out of the ring! The Sandbender let out a strangled grunt as the back of his head smacked into the sand.

A shout went up from the sidelines and Zafirah was on her feet before she’d even realized she was moving. Kuei sat frozen on the sand, gaping at Shai while the Sandbender clambered upright.

“Did I… did I win the match?” Zafirah could barely hear Kuei over the roaring cheer that filled the air suddenly. A few onlookers swarmed into the ring to pull Kuei up off the ground and clap him soundly on the back. Zafirah elbowed her way past them, unable to contain her grin.

“I won,” Kuei said vaguely as she reached him.

“Yes you did,” she agreed. “And it was a damn good win, too!”

She lifted her right fist, knuckles pointed at him. He stared blankly at it. “Fist bump!” she explained, demonstrating with her other hand. Then the fog seemed to lift and a wide smile spread over Kuei’s face. He lifted his own right fist and jabbed his knuckles against hers. Zafirah beamed back at him, smiling so wide that her cheeks ached.

///////

Go to Part 3



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My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Posts: 108



« Reply #19 on: Jul 16, 2010 03:20 pm »

Part 3

///////

Kuei was on his way back from his watch duty shift that night when he first learned about sand-surfing. His route took him along the base of the massive sand dune that sheltered the Aqila camp. Although he’d walked this path every night since that first war meeting with Qamar two weeks ago, it was the first time he’d nearly been run over by a child while doing so.

“Watch it!” A tan blur swooped off the slope of the sand dune and thundered past him mere inches from his feet. Kuei gasped and jumped backwards. The blur skidded to a stop, resolving itself into a wild-haired boy of about ten years old. “Watch where you’re goin’, dum-dum!” the boy blustered, shaking his fist at Kuei.

Looking around, the exiled King found himself surrounded by seven children and teenagers, all peering at him with varying levels of curiosity and that peculiar brand of contempt reserved only for particularly incompetent grown-ups. At the top of the dune he could just make out the shapes of six more. One of the teens stepped forward, squinting at him.

“Hey,” she said slowly. “Ain’t you the Ba Sing Se fella that beat Shai today?” All at once, the children seemed to decide that perhaps this adult wasn’t quite so awful. They pressed in around him, chattering excitedly.

“Hardly nobody can beat Shai! He’s the best!” one especially small girl squealed.

“Nuh uh, he’s not that tough,” another boy shouted back. The argument ended abruptly as another teen came zipping down the side of the dune, hollering and whooping. She was riding a board of what looked like hardened sand.

“What in the world are you all doing?” Kuei wondered.

“Sand surfing!” the children chorused.

Five minutes later, Kuei found himself standing atop the sand dune with the bottoms of his feet encased in a board of hardened sand. The Aqila camp lay far below him, with the moonlit desert stretching out to the horizon on all sides. It was a spectacular view.

It was also much higher than it appeared from the base of the dune. He’d just glanced over his shoulder to voice his rapidly growing concerns when two of the teens stomped their feet into the sand and thrust their fists out. The sand-board gave a little jump forward over the crest of the dune, and then Kuei was flying.

“Don’t forget to bend yer knees!” one of them cried over Kuei’s yell of shock.

Oh Spirits, oh Spirits, I’m going to die! The wind was whipping past him, roaring in his ears, stinging his cheeks and making his eyes stream. His heart was in his throat, pounding furiously. It was petrifying. It was exhilarating. It was even better than riding on Appa. Somewhere on the way down, his terrified yell turned into a shout of joy.

And then he hit a change in the angle of the slope and his sand-board snapped in half. He tumbled head-over-behind and rolled the last several yards to the bottom of the dune before finally coming to a stop. Kuei lay half-buried in sand, laughing hysterically with the world spinning around his head from dizziness. Three of the kids stared down at him, thoroughly exasperated.

“Grown-ups,” one of them muttered.

“Y’know, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you actually laugh?” As the world swam into focus again and his hysterics faded, he saw that Zafirah stood smirking down at him, hands on hips. Behind her, he saw Basam, Hayat, and three others. A moment’s thought brought their names to mind—Amir, Dua, and Fikri. Basam’s arm was draped casually around Dua’s slender shoulders, and Kuei wondered if she was the “friend” Zafirah had mentioned.

“Zafirah!” He clambered unsteadily upright, windmilling his arms to keep his balance. “Have you tried this sand-surfing thing? Well, of course you have, you live here! It’s fantastic!” Kuei babbled, waving his arm back at the dune, all while her smirk turned into a broad smile. Then something occurred to him. “The first time you’ve heard me laugh? Really? In the two weeks I’ve been here?”

Zafirah shrugged. “It’s been a tense couple of weeks.”

“That’s true,” he agreed. “What brings you over here?”

“We were out for a walk and heard a yell.” Kuei shrugged sheepishly and Zafirah gave a knowing little nod. The rest of the adults chuckled.

“So, sand surfing, huh?” Basam asked, lifting his eyebrows.

“They insisted,” Kuei explained, gesturing to the children behind him.

“He stinks at it,” whined one of the younger ones. Kuei just laughed again.

“Yeah, well, that’s what you get for putting a foreigner on a sand-board,” Zafirah joked.

“And what about you, then? You’re the sand surfing champion, I suppose?” Kuei joked back, bold from giddiness. Zafirah tossed her head, flicking locks of loosened hair away from her face.

“Hah! I’ll have you know I was the best sand surfer in the Janan Tribe back in my day,” she bragged, lacing her fingers together and cracking her knuckles. One of the children made a rude noise.

“Oh, she’d like you to think that,” Basam interjected. “Really she was only second best.” And here he nodded conspiratorially and jerked his thumb at himself.

“Ha, says you,” Zafirah retorted.

“Prove it!” crowed the teen boy standing next to Kuei. The rest joined in immediately to echo him. Even the adults chimed in.

“I do believe they’re right, Zafirah,” Kuei said. “You can’t very well make a claim like that without providing some evidence to back it up.” He smiled widely and folded his arms across his chest. Zafirah stuck her tongue out at him.

“You just watch me!” And with that, she skated swiftly and gracefully to the top of the dune. He almost couldn’t see her standing up there, a hazy black shape against the inky sky. Her silhouette vanished for a second as she dropped over the dune’s crest, and then she was tearing down the slope. He almost couldn’t follow her, she flew so quickly. The crowd of children around him gasped and cheered as she sailed back and forth across the slope.

Hayat let out a whoop and shouted, “Show ‘em how it’s done, Zafi!” Sand arced up behind Zafirah in wide plumes and cascaded beneath her sand-board.

Zafirah arrived at the bottom of the slope, cheeks pink, hair windblown, and eyes shining. She pumped her fists in the air as her board glided to a halt in front of the group. “Haha, oh wow! I haven’t done that since I was a kid!” she howled gleefully. “How’s that for your evidence?” she added smugly to Kuei.

“Well, I don’t know… that didn’t seem particularly difficult to me,” he commented, stroking his chin in feigned contemplation. Hayat stepped between them, pushing them away.

“All right, step aside you two. It’s my turn! Who’s gonna race me?” she demanded, arms thrown wide. She jutted one hand out, carving a finish line in the sand at the base of the dune. The twins eagerly stepped forward, as did Fikri and Dua. Amir sniffed at them and folded his arms tightly across his chest.

“Aww, Amir, don’t be such a sour cactus-face!” Zafirah said, jabbing him with her elbow. He lifted one hand in a little wave.

“Have fun, kids,” he said with a dry twist of his mouth.

“And yet I don’t see you leavin’!” she shot back over her shoulder as the five racers Sandbended their way to the dune’s crest. Kuei chuckled. He faintly heard a shout of “And go!” from the crest, and the five came zooming down.

Hayat zipped like lightning across the finish line, far ahead of the others. An outraged howl from Zafirah floated down the slope, and she swooped to the finish close behind Fikri and Basam. Dua drifted in last.

“The best sand surfer in the Janan Tribe, huh, Zafi?” jibed Fikri.

“Yeah, Zafi, you’re not doin’ a very good job of provin’ yourself here,” Hayat added.

“Hey, I haven’t practiced in about ten years!” Zafirah protested.

“I thought your sand surfing had a certain style to it,” Kuei offered. The corners of Zafirah’s mouth curved upward.

“Thanks, Kuei,” she said, then turned to Fikri and Hayat. “See? My sand surfing has a certain style to it!” Hayat looked like she was about to burst from barely suppressed laughter and Fikri just shook his head.

The night went on in a free-for-all of sand surfing. The children wandered away as time went by, some overdue for bedtime, and some simply aggravated by the adults invading their playtime. Amir left as well, bored by the childish antics of his friends.

Kuei noticed that Zafirah wasn’t the only one with her own style of sand surfing. Hayat’s style was fast and aggressive; Fikri’s was erratic, swerving all over the place; and Dua’s was slow and graceful. And Kuei’s style… well, he ended up sprawled on the sand more often than not. Eventually, he sat down about midway down the slope, content to observe the others and give his tired legs a rest.

Zafirah's style was smooth and fluid, but loud. She sliced across the slope, cackling and hollering and tossing challenges at her friends. Kuei couldn’t help but smile as he watched.

Her brother’s sand surfing, on the other hand, was sheer artistry! Basam was a sight to see, hurtling down the dune, hunkered down close to his board with his arms swept out behind him. He thrust his hand down into the sand and cut sharply to the right, his face stretched in a broad grin as the sand flew around him. Then he whirled his hands forward and punched them up into the air, and the sand erupted under him. Kuei’s jaw dropped as Basam soared up into the air, twisting in mid-flight and landing again with a triumphant cry.

Soon, the rest of the group began to depart. They drifted off one by one, until only Kuei and Zafirah were left on the dune. She persuaded him back onto a sand board despite his weariness, and they surfed together for a while.

Neither of them noticed the odd look Basam gave them as they entered the tent much later, covered in sand and breathless from laughter.

////////////////////////

Go to Part 4
« Last Edit: Jul 16, 2010 03:44 pm by Ayala_Atreides » Logged

My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
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« Reply #20 on: Jul 16, 2010 03:22 pm »

Part 4

////////////////////////

Kuei awoke the next morning to the sounds of commotion outside the tent. His first panicked thought was that the Fire Nation had finally found them, but then he realized that the voices weren’t nearly frightened enough for that.

Looking around, he saw that Zafirah and Basam had gotten up before him—as they always did, thanks to their early-morning watch duty shift.

Kuei got his usual wet-nosed greeting from Bosco as he stepped out of the tent. He patted the bear’s head as he looked around the camp. From their glider-tent’s location, near the center, he couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was that felt different. It took a moment for his sleepy mind to fully comprehend what he was seeing, but the first thing he noticed was that the Aqila camp seemed… busier.

Amaris strode past, carrying a heavy roll of sailcloth, and he ran over to her. “What’s happening?” he asked.

“Good morning to you too,” she said lightly. “The scouts are back,” she added, smiling at him. “Sorry, I’d love to stay and chitchat, but I gotta go.” She hefted the roll of sailcloth and set off towards the eastern edge of the camp. He and Bosco followed her, and his eyes went to the bundle in her arms.

“Would you like some help carrying that?” he asked.

“That’s sweet of you, but I think I got it,” she said with a shrug of one shoulder.

“Are you sure? It looks heavy.”

She shook her head. “Well, all right, if you’re going to insist on being a gentleman… Here, grab that back end.” He lifted the back of the sailcloth and they walked onward. They reached the edge of the camp, and the sight that met his eyes left him speechless.

The other tribes had arrived during the night.

“Pardon me,” he said to Amaris, who nodded and smiled again. He swung onto Bosco’s wide back and rode the bear back to the sand dune, scrambling up its slope to higher ground. “By all the Spirits…” he whispered, hands pressed to his mouth.

The Aqila camp had been unexpectedly big, but now it was vast. There were well over a hundred gliders, and more still sailing in. A multitude of voices filled the air, drifting up to him on the early morning breeze.

“Oh, Bosco, they—we have an army! By the Spirits… we might just win this one, after all.”

//////////////

BTW, a note on Amaris’s story about traveling over the mountains to trade, and the guy she met along the way who was a lot like Kuei: This is a reference to a Kuei fanfic currently being written by my good pal quantumreality. I added that stuff as kind of an inside joke, haha. Here’s a link to their Journalfen account, where you’ll have to scroll down a ways to find the prologue (the title is “Kuei’s Education”):

http://www.journalfen.net/users/quantumreality/

Chapters 5 through 7 contain explicit adult content (and Chapter 8 is locked for the same reason). Consider yourselves warned.

And as for the sand-surfing: Katara makes a surfboard out of ice in Part 1 of Sozin’s Comet. I feel perfectly justified in creating sand-surfing for Sandbenders.


Music time! I’m not entirely sure how I ended up with a nearly all-Disney playlist this time, but oh well. And if you ever have any suggestions for the playlist, please do let me know! I’ll be sure to mention your name in the AN here if I end up using any of your suggestions.

1) “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” [Mulan]—Sparring lessons. What? I had to! C’mon, sing it with me, I know you know the words! ;-)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VIpWgg-e3Y

2) “Rain” [Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron]—Zafirah and Kuei sitting in the glider tent.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07Ua39to8mc

3) “Strangers Like Me” [Tarzan]—Chapter theme, Kuei learns about combat and about life in the tribe.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cqm0L4tyJLA

4) “The Lioness Hunt” [The Lion King: original Broadway cast recording]—Kuei spars with Shai and actually wins for once (finally).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6a1lzQbMJb4

5) “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” [Lilo & Stitch]—Sand surfing!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4X1_3VipWs

6) “The Submarine” [Atlantis: The Lost Empire]—The other tribes arrive.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDVDUKLhc3A








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My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
SMBH
ASN Management
Never Gonna Give Yue Up
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Lord Zuko is not amused


« Reply #21 on: Jul 18, 2010 02:05 am »

So, I just discovered this story yesterday. And I love it!

The summary looked intriguing, so I read the first chapter. When it came to that it was Long Feng in the throne room it surprised me. Totally not expecting it. It took me a while to get that he had gotten the Dai Li to brainwash him to trick Toph, but man, that was brilliant. So after that, I knew I was hooked and I needed to keep reading.

Your descriptions are amazing, they make it very easy to visualize everything that's happening. I have found myself on the edge of my seat wondering how will Kuei and company get out of the various predicaments they've found themselves in (the fight at the bar, the FN invasion, the sandstorm), and grinning with joy at many other things (the sparring matches, the sand surfing).

I am totally loving how you're developing the Kuei/Zafirah relationship, and can totally say I ship them now Cheesy

Overall, I'm really enjoying this story. Poor King Kuei doesn't get many stories written about him, and when he does, he's comic relief (in my own fanfic he makes a couple of cameo appearances and he's an utter goofball in them). I love seeing him in a serious story, seeing him grow as a person, seeing him learn to not be so naive and awkward; in essence, becoming a great leader. And I love that the story is more than just action/adventure, but it also has fun and a slight itty bitty bit of romance. Love it.

Looking forward to the next chapter Cheesy
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ATLA Keeps: Kuei's necklace, Pandalilies, Zhaodburns, Sokka's DoBS speech
TLOK Keeps: Sparkly bush, Aang's statue, Korrlok, Asami's racetrack
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #22 on: Aug 28, 2010 11:11 pm »

Thanks for the lovely review, SMBH.  Grin Yay, my first shipper! That's exciting. And speaking of, my buddy and I decided that the smush-name for this pairing would be Kufirah. So... yarr, me hearties, welcome aboard!  Cool

Sorry for yet another long wait between chapters. What happened this time? Well, basically, I got my heart broken and I lost the will to be creative for about a week. And it took a while for my motivation to really return. The thing is, you never realize how accurate the phrase “heart-broken” really is until you’ve experienced it firsthand. It kinda feels like a cannonball lodged in your ribcage. Hopefully next chapter won’t take as long though.

Also, I’d never written a full-scale battle before, and I wanted to take my time and make it the most epic battle I possibly could. Only the best for my lovely readers! And BTW, the chapter title is borrowed from the track of the same name on the Pirates of the Caribbean 3 soundtrack (which happens to be on this chapter’s playlist). That’s why it’s in quotes, because I didn’t come up with it myself.

Here’s more new fanart for you guys! It’s Basam, being all shirtless and stuff. http://skeleton-horse.deviantart.com/#/d2ujt5b

Thanks to my betas, as always.

EDITED 8/30/10


CHAPTER SIX--"WHAT SHALL WE DIE FOR?"

Two days before the arrival of the other Sandbender tribes…

Captain Noji sighed as he stared out over the miles and miles of unending, unchanging sand stretching out beneath his airship. His nation had been at war for a hundred years- it was only natural that there would be dull, dreary missions that someone had to carry out. What Noji didn't understand was why the job always seemed to fall to him.

What did I do to deserve this? he asked himself miserably. Was it his background? Sure, he was from a peasant family that had none of the military glory of most of his compatriots. It wasn't his fault that the rest of his family was unpatriotic, was it? He always followed orders to the letter and with great enthusiasm, and he served his Fire Lord with the utmost pride.

So why did they keep sending him on these menial errands?

His last mission had been suppressing a “rebellion” that was nothing but torch-and-pitchfork-wielding farmers, many of whom were too old to lift them above shoulder height. He’d given them a stern talking-to and they’d all gone home. And now he’d been sent to take care of some scavengers out in the middle of hot, sandy nowhere.  It wouldn’t even be a challenge—track them down from the air, shoot some fireballs, toss some bombs, round up the survivors for manual laborers, and that would be that. His next glamorous task after this was done: heading to a newly established base on the Earth Kingdom’s east coast to drop off the seventy-odd infantry soldiers aboard his airship. Splendid, he griped silently.

“Captain Noji, sir,” his pilot called out. Noji pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed again.

“Yes?” he ground out.

“There’s a large dust cloud off the starboard side, sir.”

“Duly noted,” Noji muttered, moving his fingers up to his right temple to massage an oncoming headache. Besides his subordinate’s rank incompetence, the sweltering heat in the bridge wasn’t doing much to help matters. With the sunlight reflecting off the sand below, the metal room felt like a furnace.

“And it’s moving rapidly in an easterly direction, sir.” Noji frowned, then strode over to the window along the starboard side of the bridge.

Sure enough, a massive plume of dust was speeding along in a decidedly non-natural way. He pulled out his spyglass for a closer look. He found its source at the base of the cloud, partially hidden beneath it—a convoy of the primitive sand-skiffs favored by the natives. They were moving awfully fast, too.

“Finally,” Noji groused. “It’s a Sandbender convoy.”

“Should we engage them, sir?” asked the pilot.

“Not yet. Take us higher. We’ll follow them for a while, and see where they’re off to in such a hurry.” He smirked—his luck was finally taking a turn for the better.

//////////////////////////

Qamar sat at the heart of the sprawling Sandbender camp, with the chieftains of the newly arrived tribes in a circle around her. Their tribespeople gathered outside the circle, watching in strained silence.

The Aqila chieftain gazed at Farid, seated across the circle. Her lips were pressed into a grim line. “You’ve seen the flying machines,” she said levelly. Farid nodded.

“They followed us for most of a day. We lost ‘em at nightfall—fanned out our gliders and brought up a dust storm,” he said. “That trick bought us a little time, but not much. If they got any brains at all, they won’t stay lost for long.”

“I agree,” Qamar said. She stood and looked around the assembled Sandbenders, studying the faces in the crowd. “The odds are not on our side, I’ll admit that right away,” she said, her voice rising as she addressed the crowd. “The Fire Nation has entire armies at its command, not to mention these new flying machines. But we have an advantage—when they attack us here, the ash-brained Firebenders will be completely surrounded by our element. We will fight their flying machines from below with the entire desert at our fingertips!”

She paused, smirking fiercely, letting the Sandbenders shout their approval. Once the noise had settled down, she continued. “If they attack by day, the sun itself will fight their foot soldiers from above. Firebender draw strength from the sun, but all fires burn themselves out eventually. In the daylight, under all that heavy armor and with all the heat from their Bending, they will soon feel the exhaustion from lack of water. And if they attack by night, their fire will be weaker and our own power will still be at its best.”

Then she grew solemn, her face darkening. “If we lose here, we will lose everything. So let’s get to work on strategy, then. We need a plan, and we need it yesterday.

/////////////////////////

With the strategy meeting over, the crowd disbanded to take care of their various tasks. Some went off for last-minute training sessions, others worked to fortify the camp. After several hours of frantic activity, the camp settled into uneasy stillness. The desert itself seemed to be holding its breath. Kuei, left with nothing to do, retreated with Bosco to the base of the sand dune to meditate.

It wasn’t working very well. His mind was in chaos and, in all honesty, he felt like he was going to be sick. Qamar’s words whirled ceaselessly in his memory—If we lose here, we will lose everything. As he sat there in the dune’s shadow, he was painfully aware of what he stood to lose in this battle. And it wasn’t merely his own life at stake.

He’d begun this journey with the intention of learning more about his kingdom, so that he could be a better Earth King when (or if) the Avatar defeated the Fire Lord. He’d told himself that if he could just live amongst his people as a commoner, or if he could somehow find a way of helping his nation in the war, he might prove himself worthy of reclaiming his throne.

And now, here he was in the middle of the Si Wong Desert, and the fight had become so much more personal. Once again, he found himself picturing the faces of the tribespeople who had accepted him into their company. They’d granted him their grudging respect over the past two weeks as he’d worked, lived, and trained alongside them. But his thoughts kept returning to once image above all others…

Kuei smiled as he recalled sand-surfing with Zafirah the night before—they’d stayed out there long after the rest of the group had left the sand dune to go to sleep. It had been just the two of them, slicing down the slope under the night sky. He could still hear her joyous laughter echoing in his ears. His heart lifted at the memory.

She had a wonderful laugh. It was boisterous and utterly unselfconscious.  And the way the moonlight lit up her face—

The thin, reedy cry of a beetle-horn sounded across the camp. That’s the signal! Kuei’s eyes snapped open as the call shook him from his thoughts. Off in the east, several miles out, three crimson masses drifted high in the air. He felt his blood go cold as he scrambled to his feet. “C’mon, Bosco!” he called. The man and the bear dashed back towards the camp. It was time—the Fire Nation had found them.

///////////////////

Captain Noji lowered his spyglass, his hands feeling oddly numb as he took in the sight in front of him. “By the Golden Flame,” he whispered.

The Fire Nation military prided itself on its adaptiveness—you don’t reach the verge of conquering the entire world by being caught unprepared, after all. But here was something that none of the higher-ups back home could ever have prepared for: a massive, organized Sandbender army.

Noji found himself suddenly longing for some good old-fashioned boredom.

///////////////////////

Kuei’s pulse hammered in his ears as he and his bear raced towards the glider tent, sand spraying up around him with each pounding footfall. He collided with Basam as he reached the tent.

“Whoa, hey! There you are! We’ve been looking for you,” the Sandbender exclaimed, grabbing Kuei by the shoulders to steady him.

“Need to get my—“ he panted.

“This?” Basam held up the Water Tribe club. Kuei nodded gratefully and reached out to take it with a shaking hand. The club fell to the sand. He paused and flexed his fingers, trying to still the tremors.

A sympathetic half-smile crossed Basam’s face. “Scared?” he asked.

“You could say that,” Kuei murmured, stomach twisting with shame. Basam stooped down and picked up the club.

“We’re all scared, man. Anybody that says they’re not is either lyin’ or just plain stupid. Thing is, whether you’re scared or not doesn’t really matter, in the end. It’s what you do with the fear that makes bravery.” He held the club out to Kuei. The exiled king took a breath, then took it and wrapped his hand around the leather grip of the handle.

“Stay here, Bosco,” Kuei said, pointing towards the glider tent. The bear gurgled sadly and slunk into the tent, and the two men set off to join the rest of the warriors.

Zafirah met them there. “Oh, good, Basam found you!” she said hurriedly. Her twin hardly seemed to notice; his head twisted this way and that, clearly distracted and looking for someone. “Okay, Kuei, you’re over with that group, at the back. We’re over here.” She gestured to a group of Sandbenders gathering behind her.

“So… we won’t be seeing each other again until this is all over,” Kuei said, his chest tightening with worry at the thought. That’s assuming we even live to see the end of it.

“Yeah,” she agreed in a low voice, shifting her weight from foot to foot. Their eyes met and held for a moment, and then Zafirah stretched her hand out and clasped his upper arm. “Try not to get yourself killed, okay?”

Kuei smiled bleakly. “Hmm. I had planned on dying heroically on the battlefield—but I’ll do my best not to, if you insist on it.” Zafirah tossed her head back and barked out a laugh.

“That’s the spirit!” she crowed. And after a cheerful jab to his shoulder, she turned and jogged off to join her group.
 
“Well, Kuei, time to go smash some Firebender heads,” Basam said, lacing his fingers together and cracking his knuckles. He clapped Kuei on the back. “See you when it’s over, huh?”

“I certainly hope so,” Kuei agreed. Basam flashed him a reckless grin and headed straight for Dua, who was talking to Hayat nearby. He watched them go, and felt a pang of sorrow in his chest at the thought that this could be his last glimpse of his newfound friends.

///////////////////

Continue on to Part 2



« Last Edit: Aug 30, 2010 03:03 pm by Ayala_Atreides » Logged

My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
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« Reply #23 on: Aug 28, 2010 11:15 pm »

Part 2

A terrible silence closed in over the Sandbenders as they waited at the eastern edge of the camp, watching as the red shapes got closer and closer. Zafirah clenched her teeth, fuming silently. Taking their Spirits-be-damned time, aren’t they? Why don’t they hurry up and get this started, already? She looked around, taking stock of the warriors around her. The people of each tribe stood with their kin, all with their faces covered and their visors on. Some of the bigger tribes, like the Aqila, had split into halves for easier movement. Zafirah and her twin were in the lead Aqila group, and Kuei was in the rear group. Behind the warriors, all those that couldn’t fight were hidden away at the center of the camp.

Basam stood next to her, of course. Hayat was a few rows back, and Fikri was off to her right. Dua wasn’t in their group, and she knew her brother wasn’t very happy about that. He kept glancing back at the other half of the tribe, trying to steal a peek at her. Amir, Amaris, and Shai were all at the front of the rear group. And Qamar stood tall and proud out in front—this was her camp, the other tribes were her guests, and so she would lead them all into the fight.

The three flying machines kept coming, drifting lower in the sky as they approached. By now, Zafirah saw the tiny, dark shapes of Firebenders, prowling along metal walkways below the front end of the closest machine.

And then she saw ten bursts of light from the walkway, and six little barrel-shaped things hurtling towards them. Zafirah’s heart leaped into her throat.

“Now!” Qamar shouted. Moving as one, the lead group dropped to the ground. The sand trembled with the force of their fists hitting home, and they sprang up again, arms raised high. A wall of sand erupted in front of the group, and the air itself shook as the six bombs exploded against it. Dust and sand showered the assembled troops. The silence broke, and the roar of the Sandbender warriors echoed to the skies. Zafirah felt like her blood had caught fire, buzzing down to her fingertips and her toes.

“Here we go,” she hissed. The battle had finally started. The lead groups all surged ahead, rushing towards the flying machines. Behind them, the rear groups held at the ready. They all had one simple, vital task: to keep the flying machines from reaching the camp. The two other machines pulled up next to the leading one, all with walkways flooded with soldiers. Zafirah distantly heard some officer up there shout an order, and then fire rained from above.

Fireballs were streaking down all around them, bombs leaving sizzling craters in the sand in between them, smoke stinging their noses and eyes (even through the face coverings) and even still, the Sandbenders kept pressing right on ahead. They brought up barricade after barricade of sand, fighting for every step forward. A loud crack from overhead and the hiss of flames alerted Zafirah to the fireball racing in from the right. “Look sharp!” she cried. She and the right side of the group swept their arms and punched outward—a sand pillar shot out and engulfed the fireball, but not soon enough. Three men on the outer edge screamed and fell, hit with tongues of flame that twisted around the pillar as it crumbled from the blast.

“First blood’s been spilled!” Hayat bellowed from somewhere in the chaos. “Let’s make ‘em pay for it ten times over!”  The crowd roared again and pushed forward with even more force, and finally they met the lead machine in the middle of the battleground. But while they gained hard-won ground, the two outer machines pulled away and split off. They put on a burst of speed and soared towards the camp.

“There! Stop them!” Zafirah shouted hoarsely. For a long, terrible moment, chaos turned the Sandbender horde inside-out. They scrambled to react to the Firebenders’ change of attack, jostling each other—too slow to stop the bombs that fell on the perimeter rows of glider-tents. The explosion rocked the ground under their feet; the warriors on the back lines went down, thrown through the air like rag dolls. Zafirah felt rooted to the spot. All she could do was watch in horror as flames began to spread from one tent to the next.

After what felt like ages, the Sandbenders rallied to the fight again. The Firebenders’ attack had their troops split now: some groups heaved sand onto the burning tents; others kept up the defense. The stream of fireballs hardly ever paused—she’d caught a glance of the walkways and seen that, when one set of Firebenders got tired, fresh soldiers stepped up to take their place. They were leaving no room for counterattacks. So the Sandbenders fought to stay alive. Walls and columns of sand thundered up from the ground, filling the air with dust as fireballs hit them and blew them apart.

She couldn’t have said how much time had passed, but all too quickly, Zafirah felt weariness creeping in. She wasn’t a soldier—none of them were, and it was starting to show. She and the warriors surrounding her never stopped moving: step, lunge, sweep, deflect, block. It was getting harder each time, though. Her arms felt heavy, her eyes watered and her lungs burned from all the smoke, and now she’d started coughing. How can we possibly win this? They’ll just stay nice and safe in their machines and wear us down, then they can pick us off at their leisure. She glared up at their enemy, sitting so far above them. They don’t even have the guts to come down and join the fight like real warriors! And as she stared up at the dark red flying machines, loathing bubbled up inside her like boiling water.

Somewhere in the mayhem, the blast of a bomb knocked Basam to the ground. He swore furiously and pushed himself up on his forearms. His head was spinning and his ears were ringing. The Sandbender scuttled blindly sideways, too disoriented to stand, until he bumped into something. It was Fikri—the other man sat huddled with his knees drawn up, and he was cradling his left hand to his chest. Fikri looked up as Basam drew close. His visor was gone, and his eyes were wide with pain.

“Hey,” Basam said, his voice dry and cracking. Fikri jerked his head up and down in a rough nod. “Let me see that,” Basam murmured, gesturing to the other man’s hand. He winced in sympathy as Fikri held it out to him. The burn stretched halfway to his elbow from the back of his hand. The wrappings around his hand and forearm hung in singed tatters. Basam clicked his tongue and carefully unwound the ruined cloth. “You gotta get to the healer’s tent, man,” he told Fikri as he bound up the injury with strips of cloth from his own arm wraps.

“Can’t,” Fikri rasped. “Have to stay and—“

“No, man. Get to the healer, and get this taken care of.” He paused, and grinned. “Then come on back here and make those ugly Fire-freaks wish they’d stayed home today.”  Fikri’s jaw tightened, then he nodded stiffly again. Basam pressed to a stand and carefully pulled the other man to his feet, and together they pushed through the masses. His stomach tightened as they limped through the still-smoking wreckage of the burned gliders. Please, Spirits, be kind, he prayed silently. His knees just about buckled in relief when the healer’s tent came into view, untouched by the fires.

The healer had set up shop in the biggest tent in the camp, and already it overflowed with the wounded. Smaller tents had sprung up around it to shelter the people sitting outside. Basam guided his injured friend into one of the less-crowded tents and gently eased him to the ground. As he turned to head back to the battlefield, he found himself face to face with Kuei. There was soot smeared all over his pale face, and sweat-soaked wisps of brown hair stuck out wildly from under his head coverings. Basam saw the Water Tribe club, stuck through his belt. He held a jar of burn salve in one hand, and the other had a death-grip on a roll of bandages.

“Basam?! You’re not hurt, are you?” he asked, sounding a little frantic.

“No, not me.” Basam pointed to Fikri, and Kuei immediately rushed over and knelt in front of him. “How come you’re in the healer’s tent?”

Kuei gave a distracted half-shrug as he gingerly undid Basam’s hastily-made bandages and slathered salve on Fikri’s forearm. “Well, there’s not much that I could do out there at the moment, with the Firebenders up in their airships—I can’t exactly throw that Water Tribe club at them. And I can’t really help with the fires, I mean just tossing handfuls of sand at them didn’t seem very productive. The healer came around recruiting people to help her, so here I am,” he rambled, talking so fast Basam could hardly keep up. Kuei finished tying the fresh bandages and sat back on his heels.

“Yeah, well, we appreciate you helping out,” Basam said, working up a faint smile. Then he heard renewed shouts echoing from the battleground and dashed outside the tent. He cursed loudly at the sight that met his eyes and ran back inside.

“C’mon Kuei, it’s time to put that training to use!” he announced. He grabbed the sputtering outsider by the sleeve and hauled him outside.

///////////

Captain Noji was growing impatient. “They just keep deflecting our attacks,” he muttered. His soldiers’ bombardment was taking its toll, but not quickly enough. He wanted to be done with this sandy wasteland, and soon! He turned to his lieutentant, his mind made up. “Take down this message and send it to the other airships,” he ordered, then strode to the loudspeaker. “This is the captain. I want all available troops down on that battlefield immediately. Take these savages down, now!”

////////////////

A hush had fallen over the Sandbenders as the rain of fire and bombs suddenly slowed. A low, grinding rumble sounded from the machines, and massive hatches opened in their vast bellies. Long ropes had dropped down from inside them, and hordes of soldiers came sliding down. Qamar counted at least seventy dropping from the lead machine, and narrowed her eyes at the sight. “What are they doing?” she whispered.

Zafirah gaped in disbelief at what she was seeing. The high and mighty Firebenders were coming to go toe-to-toe with her and her people. Why now? Why were they leaving their machines all of a sudden? But then, she realized exactly what this meant. And so did the rest of the Sandbenders, because they kicked up a cry like none she’d ever heard before. And for the first time since the start of the battle, Zafirah grinned.

Shai stumbled up and grabbed her by the arm. He was limping a little and his head coverings were all askew. “You okay?” he panted, wiping sweat from his forehead with the back of his other hand.

“More or less,” she said. “You?”

“Fine, fine,” he grunted. He glanced skyward. “What are they up to, Zafi?” he wondered. She laughed breathlessly and tugged away the cloth still covering her nose and mouth.

“Who cares! Don’t you see, Shai? They’re not tucked away all safe and sound in their machines anymore. It’s just like Qamar said—they’re in our element now, and we’re gonna fight ‘em with the whole desert at our fingertips! Remember the plan, from the strategy talk?”

“Sure,” Shai said. Zafirah gripped the front of his tunic, heart hammering as the urgency of the situation hit her.

“This is it! There’s less of ‘em up there to shoot fireballs down our throats—this is our chance!”

“What are you saying?” he demanded. She turned towards the machine above them, and the ropes hanging from it. Dropping into her stance, Zafirah swept her arms in an arc around herself. A stream of sand flowed up between her hands, and as they moved in circles around each other, the sand flattened out into a disk. She spun, lunged, and sliced her right arm through the air. The disk of sand sped up and cut clean through one of the ropes. The soldiers clinging to it hollered in shock as they plunged to the dirt.

“It’s time to bring down those flying machines. Spread the word, okay?” And with that, she pulled him down and kissed him hard. “It’s our turn now!” she exulted, and ran off to find Qamar.

Go to Part 3

« Last Edit: Aug 30, 2010 03:04 pm by Ayala_Atreides » Logged

My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
Ayala_Atreides
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #24 on: Aug 28, 2010 11:19 pm »

Part 3

The soldiers were on the ground now, and flooding through the chaotic Sandbender ranks. Kuei and Basam were nearly back to back. Kuei had a white-knuckled grip on the Water Tribe club, and Basam stood in a half-crouch with his fists raised and ready. A foot soldier off to the right spotted them and charged—heading right for Kuei. Just like before, at the oasis, the distance between them seemed to shrink with impossible speed, and the club felt too heavy in his hands, and the soldier seemed to grow bigger and bigger the closer he got. And just like before, he saw the soldier’s armored fist pull back, but now there were sparks glittering in front of his knuckles.

But this time, Kuei dodged. He twisted and sidestepped, and the soldier stumbled forward. Kuei raised the club high, grasping it with both hands, and brought it down with all his strength on the back of the Firebender’s helmet. And just like before, someone was shouting hoarsely and he was certain it was himself.

Clang! The Firebender grunted loudly and toppled face-first into the sand. Kuei gaped dumbly at the crumpled, red shape at his feet. Then his face split into a wide grin.

“Ha!” he yelled breathlessly, thrusting a triumphant finger at the soldier. “That’s for Ba Sing Se! Hahaha!” He heard an enraged cry behind him and turned in time to see another Firebender racing towards him, fire daggers gleaming from his fists. Kuei parried with a blow to the soldier’s left arm, just as Zafirah had taught him, then swung the club. It connected with the side of the man’s head and he buckled. “And that’s for Avatar Aang!” Kuei exclaimed.

He glanced over his shoulder, looking for Basam, but the Sandbender had disappeared into the tumult. In that tiny moment of distraction, he almost didn’t notice the spear-carrying soldier running at him. He spun just in time to smack aside the spearhead aimed at his chest. The soldier spun the long-handled weapon and wielded it like a staff. Kuei barely dodged the haft of the weapon as it swung towards his torso. Then Kuei felt a sharp blow across the backs of his ankles, sweeping his feet out from underneath him. He landed hard on his back and saw a second soldier looming above him. The first spear-wielder put a metal clad foot on Kuei’s chest and pointed the tip of the blade at his throat.

Oddly—or perhaps not so oddly—the first thing that entered his mind as he lay there was that brief conversation with Zafirah before the battle.

In the center of the camp, Bosco had gotten curious about all the yelling and the smoke. His master had told him to stay there, but the smell of burning in the air had him unsettled. The bear stood and paced anxiously out of the tent. He lifted his nose and sniffed. There it was—the familiar scent of his human. He followed the trail until he found his master, but he wasn’t alone. He saw two humans in red and black knock his human to the ground, and one of them put a foot on him, holding him down. The red and black human held a long stick to his master’s neck, and then there was a new smell coming from him: fear. The thick hackles on Bosco’s neck rose, and he bared his teeth.

Kuei squeezed his eyes shut as the spearhead drew back for the final blow. And then there was a terrified scream—an inhuman bellow—a sickening metallic crunch—and the weight of the boot on his chest vanished, followed by the thud of a body hitting the dirt several feet away. Kuei cracked his eyelids open, and then his eyes flew wide. His pet bear crouched beside him, his bared fangs gleaming. Kuei scrambled backwards and jumped upright. “What in the world?” he gasped.

The remaining soldier took a half-hearted step forward and lifted his spear. Bosco rose on his hind legs, stretching up to his impressive full height, and roared. The soldier threw his spear down and ran for it. Kuei laughed elatedly and punched his fists in the air. “Oh, well done, Bosco!” The bear grunted, then swatted away an incoming Firebender with a forepaw the size of a dinner plate. Kuei beamed at his pet. “Come on, let’s send these Firebenders running back to their little islands!” The two of them dashed off into the fray.

Elsewhere, as the fight went on and on into the late afternoon, Basam found himself cornered. There were two Firebenders in front of him, one spear-carrier on his left, and a soldier with a sword on his right. Behind him were the glider tents. The swordsman lunged—Basam ducked, leaning back to get out of the blade’s path, then thrust his left foot out and twisted his heel against the dirt. The swordsman sank up to his knees in the sand, and Basam sent a crest of sand surging at one of the Firebenders. It caught the man off-guard and sent him reeling back, but only for a moment. He punched one fire-blast after another at the Sandbender, and his buddy joined in as well. They pushed Basam backwards, one stumbling step at a time, while he pulled up sand shields and launched sand pillars at them. One of them finally found its mark, dead-center on the Firebender’s chest. The armored man hurtled through the air and clanked to the ground close by. He didn’t have time to enjoy the moment, though, as he saw the spear-carrier thrust at him from the corner of his eye. The tip of the blade raked across his side, making him shout in pain. With a flick of his wrist, a stream of sand flew up into the man’s unprotected face. He yelled and his left hand darted up to wipe at the grit in his eyes. Basam seized hold of the spear, wrenched it out of his hands, and smacked him upside the head with its haft.

“Yeah!” Basam cheered as the soldier crumpled. He felt the heat from the second Firebender’s next strike just a heartbeat before it reached him. He whirled and brought his arms to his chest, and the fireblast crashed against the sand wall that rushed upward. The sand actually sizzled and crackled from the heat of the blast. Basam thrust his hands out, whipping the sand wall back at his attacker. As soon as he did it, he knew something odd had just happened. The Firebender reeled back, muffled cries coming through his faceplate as he swiped at the globs of red-hot molten sand smoldering away on his armor. Basam stared, dumbfounded, before recovering his wits and launching the man high into the air on a well-aimed sand pillar.

“That’s something interesting,” he muttered. He hardly even noticed as the Firebender crashed down into the smoking wreck of a burned glider tent behind him. The sound of a beetle-horn trumpet sounded over the battlefield. Five calls—the signal to regroup. He rushed off, following the sound to its source.

As he ran, wincing at the pain in his side, it was obvious that the battle was still going badly for them. While he was racing forward, it seemed like everyone around him was falling back. The Fire Nation was pushing them back towards the camp.

Finally, he heard his name being shouted over the din. He glanced around and spotted Zafirah, waving at him. Qamar, Amir, and Hayat stood close by. A huge, ragtag group of Sandbender warriors had gathered behind them. He saw some faces from the Aqila Tribe, but most were from the other tribes. He wove his way through to his twin and she hugged him tightly. “How’re you doin’?” she asked, raising her voice to be heard. She was bleeding from a deep cut on her cheek.

“’Bout as well as you’d expect,” he answered. “What about you? You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay. You seen Kuei anywhere?” Her forehead creased in a deep frown.

“Yep—he was back there, by the tents.”

“Good,” Zafirah said, relaxing visibly.

“You seen Dua around?” Basam asked hopefully.

“Nope. Sorry,” Zafirah said, wincing sympathetically. Basam clenched his jaw and nodded, forcing back the surge of panic that clawed at his heart. One thing at a time, he told himself. You won’t do her any good if you lose your head here.

His sister spoke again. “All right, here’s the deal: we’re taking down the flying machines.” Basam stared at her, and then at the machines.

“The flying machines?” he echoed. “Those flying machines?”

“Yup. It’s the only way to end this Spirits-be-damned mess,” Amir chimed in.

Qamar stepped forward, and the five Sandbenders huddled close. “The group we have here will work on this one.” She pointed to the lead machine. “There’ll be others keeping the soldiers off our back and flanks.”

“And the other two?” Basam asked.

“Those’ll be up to the rest of our warriors,” Hayat said. Basam took a deep breath, then grinned.

“Okay then, let’s bring ‘em down.”

The group stood forty strong in all, lined up in four columns of ten. Just like Qamar had said, about thirty more surrounded them on all sides to block the Fire Nation’s attacks. From her spot in the third column, Zafirah’s eyes darted to the group’s left flank. With a jolt, she glimpsed an unmistakable mass of brown fur through the crowd. And next to the bear, with his back to the group, was Kuei. It had to be him—she saw the blue and white blur of the Water Tribe club swinging left, right, and center at the Firebenders advancing on them. One of the soldiers took a solid blow to the forehead and dropped like a rock. Kuei shook his fist at the man and shoved him away with his foot. Zafirah felt a swell of pride on the tourist’s behalf.

And then it was time. Fireballs pelted down from the remaining soldiers on the walkway overhead, and the line of front guards threw up a sand shield to block them. Behind the shield, the first half of the group made their move.

Go to Part 4

« Last Edit: Aug 30, 2010 03:05 pm by Ayala_Atreides » Logged

My fanfic! CAUSE SOME TROUBLE: The adventures of Earth King Kuei. http://forums.avatarspirit.net/index.php?topic=18061.0
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