I proudly present the next chapter of my Kyoshi Warriors Saga: The Northern Lights. The story follows the adventures of Kei, a young Kyoshi Warrior and the residential bully of the group as she searches for her sisters. Fate throws her to the Northern Water Tribe, where she has to endure political maneuvering and deal with a spiritual imbalance to find out what happened with the other Kyoshi Warriors. During her stay in the north, she acquires many friends, but some of her new acquaintances are not who they appear to be!
For more information about the Kyoshi Warriors in my fanverse, please read The Kyoshi Warriors.
If you want to know what happened with the Kyoshi Warriors while Kei was searching for them, please read Suki's Master
. This story runs in parallel with these two stories, taking up roughly the same time period. The Ember Island Play
is not strongly connected, but you can read it too to get further insight into the story.
Enjoy!P.s: Thanks for Loopy for beta reading!
THE NORTHERN LIGHTSPRELUDE: BLESSING
The dark storm was raging over the ocean like a frenzied leviathan made of black clouds. It whipped the water below into waves of enormous size, and powerful blows of wind roared their wrath between these rolling liquid mountains.
Against this terrible might, a lonely ship fought a desperate battle to stay afloat. The aging, ramshackle hull rose and fell with the whims of the elements, and the single sail had already been twisted beyond use. On the deck, a dozen weary men were running up and down, trying to save the ship. The cold rain cut into their tattered clothes and worn faces, but in face of this calamity, it was the least of their problems.
Inside the ship, a woman and a little girl sat on their bed, seemingly undisturbed by the storm or the occasional panicked screams from the outside. Maybe it was the warm light of the candles in the cabin that made them forget the sailors’ deadly struggle, or maybe it was the bright decoration.
This was a special occasion for them, and no storm could ruin it.
“Happy birthday!” laughed the woman as she drew out a large piece of cloth from under the bed. “Look at how big my little daughter has become! Six years old already!”
She wrapped the cloth around the girl. It was a cloak, made from colorful patches. A bit poorly sawn and obviously made from remnants, but it still made the little girl squeak with joy.
“And this isn’t the only thi…” continued the woman, but her sentence was cut by a sudden force that pressed her and the girl into the bed. The ship had entered a steep rise, and for a moment, it froze the woman’s smile. Then, just as quickly as it had come, the rise turned into a slide as the ship broke through the wave.
The girl looked up from between the sheets, with fear in her eyes. Her mother forced out a reassuring smile, and it calmed her down a little.
“Come on, I have another present for you!” The woman now held a small pack in her hand. She only had to open it up to make the girl forget that inconvenient wave.
“Chocolate!” she screamed and threw herself at the pack. Her little hands soon turned brown and greasy as she gobbled up the sweetie. The woman sighed. It had cost her a lot to get the chocolate, but now as she watched her daughter being so happy even in this dire situation, she could say that it had been well worth it.
After finishing her meal, the girl snuggled up to the woman, wrapping her arms around her neck. The woman returned the gesture, closing her eyes and trying to leave behind all the hardship they had been through so far, if only for this moment.
“Thank you, mom,” whispered the girl.
“Anything for you,” came the gentle answer.
They remained like this for a long time. The ship rose and plunged, but each wave seemed smaller than the one before. The storm was probably passing.
The woman was just about to take a look outside, when she could feel another rise, but nothing like before. It was no wave. It started softly, like it was barely a bump, but then became steeper and steeper with each passing second. And it was tall… unnaturally so.
“Mom…” The girl’s voice was faint, like it was coming from somewhere very far away. From a place her mother wished her to be.
The woman instinctively tightened her hug around her daughter as the ship released a terrifying creak. She could see the walls of the cabin bend and crackle, and the candles fell onto the floor, turning the world dark.
A tear ran down on the woman’s face as she realized that this was the end for them.
She buried her face into the girl’s black hair.
“I…” she began faintly, her voice shaking from fear and grief. “I just want you to know that me, your dad… your big brother... we are all very proud of you.”
She tightened her hug even more.
“You just have to hold me as strong as you can, alright?”
The girl finally tightened her hug too. Just in time when the ship stalled, and the world fell silent.
The men outside screamed up as one.
“I love you, Kei.”
These were the woman’s final words to her daughter before something hit the ship and tore it apart with a single strike.
There was only darkness. Darkness… and the voices.
“Is she the one you promised me? This is certainly not what we have agreed on.” The growl was deep and loud, yet somehow still felt soft and serene.
“Don’t be fooled by the looks, Ancient One! She is stroooong. Much stronger than you would think!” The crackling voice was filled with malice, but sounded respectful.
“She is the one you need!” A woman’s voice.Not her mother’s though.
The girl opened her eyes, and through the haze she could see a spot of clear sky bordered by dark storm clouds. There was… something next to her too, something massive.
“So be it, then.”
A paw the size of a house obscured her sight. The end of one huge claw touched her forehead, and another her chest. She tried to scream, but she could only retch up some saltwater.
Blinding light dissolved the darkness, and with that came a soul-stripping pain. It ripped through her physical form, reaching into her very spirit with an unbearable surge of raw power. Now she could scream, but it was to no use; her soul was dissected, picked clean, and then remolded to fit a higher purpose. Mercy only came when her torturer finished with whatever he was doing, and Kei was reclaimed by the darkness.
« Last Edit: Nov 22, 2015 06:54 am by AtoMaki »
CHAPTER 1: WAVE OF PAST
The small iceberg danced on the waves at the mercy of the currents, its tusk-like shape nodding cheerfully in the sharp sunlight. From the Northern Water Tribe catamaran’s deck, Kei could just reach out and pass her hand over the icy sides, breaking off a small fragment in the process. She carefully studied her new acquisition for a few moments, testing its strength and adhesion, then she simply threw it back into the ocean with a bored expression.
From here, she had the perfect opportunity to check out her mirror image in the ocean: her wide features and narrow black eyes made Kei quite a beauty, and her traditional Kyoshi Warrior makeup only enhanced the effect. Her strong body was hidden under the bulky Kyoshi Warrior uniform and armor, and her long black hair was restrained in the usual triple-ponytails, giving Kei a very professional look she had found increasingly embarrassing over her journey.
One of the sailors finally noticed the iceberg and with a fluid motion, he waterbent it away from the ship.
Kei turned back to the deck with a deep sigh. This voyage had introduced her to a whole new level of boredom, and with that came thoughts. She had been pondering a lot lately about how she had ended up here, on a ship en route to the Northern Water Tribe.
Memories waxed and waned in her mind just like the moon on the night sky. With each passing, things had made more and more sense for her. At least they had enhanced… the mistakes she had made.
She was chasing Asha down on Kyoshi Island’s main road, the one that connected the central village with the harbor. She kept up a steady pace, even allowing herself to enjoy the warm summer sunlight, and not using her power to catch Asha. The young girl was running in front of her as fast as she could, occasionally shouting back something impudent to Kei to keep her attention on the chase. She sounded confident, but it wasn’t hard to miss the fearful tone in her voice – she knew too well what Kei would do with her if she managed to catch up.
They turned into the central village, and Kei sped up to finish the hunt. She deemed the village an appropriate place to teach Asha some respect. She grinned, and reached down into her body with her mind, tapping the spiritual energies lying within. Her will called forth these energies to boost her physical form, carefully arranging the flow of raw spiritual power so that it would grant her supernatural speed.
The world slowed down around her, but she could dart forward with her normal speed. She was just about to grab Asha’s shoulder…
…when the girl suddenly took a sharp right turn and disappeared behind the conveniently opened door of a nearby house.
First mistake. She should have been more suspicious. Asha was a wild and reckless girl, who liked to take the fight head-on and not slip away like this. She was the only one other than Suki who sparred with Kei even with super-powers allowed. The other Kyoshi Warriors were far too flimsy for this kind of rough treatment, but Asha seemingly enjoyed it, and her savage tenacity allowed her to shrug off the pain of defeat quickly. She was much tougher than the other girls thought, and Kei really liked this in her.
Kei stormed into the house with the momentum of a frenzied Elephant Koi. She looked around and immediately noticed Asha in the middle of a room not far away from the door. She had her backs towards Kei, and it looked like she was quietly talking with someone.
Wasting no time, Kei launched herself towards her younger warrior-sister. Her reward for this rash decision was a small, sharp pain in her ankle as she snapped a thin metal thread, and a loud “Surprise!” from the room.
She could recognize Kitara’s voice before something hard hit her head. Then the world turned dark.
Kitara was not a mistake. She was a phenomenon. The young weapon specialist was always light-minded and goofy, but behind her silly smile, there was a deadly warrior. Kei found this duality curious at best, and highly embarrassing at worse. She laughed on Kitara’s jokes and watched her defeat everyone – even Suki - in sword duels, yet her sister was simply beyond her understanding. So for her part, Kei simply didn’t bother and treated Kitara with respect. Unfortunately, the girl took an advantage on this way too often.
With the darkness came the bitter cold. Kei screamed up as the bucket that had fallen onto her head poured ice-cold water into her neck, finding every little opening on her loosely-bound Kyoshi Warrior uniform to reach her body.
She lost control over her power. Her instincts took charge, and they drained all the energy from her speed and put it into her flesh, in an attempt to increase her toughness. But it only made things worse, as her skin became much more sensitive to the freezing water. It felt like she had been fallen into a pit filled with ice cubes.
Kei screamed up again, now with some real pain in her voice, then tumbled to the ground and crashed against the door.
Someone finally stepped to her and generously removed the bucket from her head.
“Hope this will cool you down finally,” Pema’s mocking tone was impossible to miss. Kei wanted to answer it with a punch in the face, but the shock from the cold water sucked away all the strength form her limbs.
So she just grumbled something under her nose and watched as her three sisters unceremoniously left the house without saying anything else or even helping her up.
Now, this was her second biggest mistake: leaving Pema unchecked. She should have undermined her position before this incident, thus preventing Asha and Kitara from joining Pema for this “lecture”. The signs had been there for quite some time that Pema had been brewing something against her, and Kei felt really stupid that she had chosen to ignore them. Pema was all about wits and low cunning, but all that wile couldn’t wash away the fact that she was the weakest Kyoshi Warrior. Spending some time with her face under Kei’s feet had always put Pema to her place, and it would have served her right before this incident too.
Kei felt terrible. She was sitting in her bed, shivering, and trying to overcome her nausea. That foul liquid she had drunk a few minutes ago helped a little, but she was still on the edge to re-introduce her breakfast to the people around her.
At least Nirmal hadn’t minded Kei’s poor condition. She had been checking her thoroughly, massaging Kei’s body on a few spots under the robes, or placing her head on her sister’s chest, and just listening to Kei’s breathing and heartbeat.
Not far away from her sat a tall figure in black and white robes, silently watching Nirmal. She was Lady Shiela, Nirmal’s healing teacher. Kei got the creeps from her plain face, lightless grey eyes and somber aura. She was colder than the water those three troublemakers had poured into Kei’s neck a week ago, and the girl really wondered how Nirmal could bear this woman, let alone like her.
“It is Koala Sheep Wither,” said Nirmal suddenly. She turned towards the door of Kei’s room where Moritha – Kei’s foster-mother – was waiting for the results. “It cannot spread between people; Kei caught it from the water.” Nirmal turned back to her sister and gave her a short, heartening hug. It made the nausea go away, and Kei was really thankful for that. “You will get well again within a few days.”
“Yes, it is Koala Sheep Wither,” added Shiela quietly, with unmistakable disappointment in her voice. “But it took you far too long to recognize it, Nirmal.” She scratched her chin and rolled her eyes as she tried to come up with a solution to this problem. “Let’s refresh what we know about the Koala Sheep Wither, shall we? Or better yet, revise all the Withers while we are at it, just to be sure!”
Nirmal’s pained face and half-hearted smile soothed Kei’s sickness even further. It was just good to know that someone else was going to have a bad day too, even if she was her warrior-sister.
Not being more assertive with Nirmal was a small mistake compared to not beating some sense into Pema. Yet it was almost just as annoying. If Kei had insisted a more extensive care from the young healer, then things wouldn’t have become such a mess for her. Nirmal was a nice girl, all things considered – even though she was picking up her mentor’s cold aloofness a little bit too eagerly – and she was an exceptional healer, so she could have cooked up something when the disaster struck.
The world was just one, large, greyish blur. Her body was freezing one moment, and burning hot the next. Just to make everything even worse, powerful nausea surged through her from time to time, usually at the expense of her last meal.
Kei felt really wretched. Her condition had deteriorated rapidly, much to Nirmal’s confusion. The sickness that should have been gone by now was still thriving in Kei’s body, and the various symptoms had become more and more serious instead of disappearing. At least it had remained in Kei, and hadn’t spread to anyone else.
Though, at this very moment she wished it did, so she could share her suffering with those who had caused it in the first place.
Her three sisters sat at the end of her bed, with varying degrees of remorse written on her faces: Kitara was crying like she had killed Kei, Asha was really embarrassed and clearly didn’t know what was going on, and Pema just sulked without showing the slightest hint of regret.
The fifth person in the room was Moritha, who acted as a moderator now, but between Kitara just crying and everyone else remaining silent, there wasn’t much to moderate.
“Come on girls,” she said eventually, after it had become clear that the three girls wouldn’t do much without a little nudge, “just offer an apology for what you have done, and let’s be done with this.”
“I did nothing I should apologize for!” protested Pema. “She deserved this!”
Moritha swallowed a strong rebuke, with both the intent and the effort clearly visible on her face. If not for her newly reemerging nausea, Kei would have even laughed on this.
“I’M SORRY!” continued Kitara with a heart-wrenching scream. She lunged forward to wrap Kei in a tight hug. “I’M SO SORRY!” Her tears fell onto Kei’s face like rain. “I’M SORRY! I’M SORRY! I’M SOOOORRRRY!”
“Okay, that’s enough,” cut in Moritha. She gently peeled off Kitara from Kei and put her back to her place. “Now, the others…”
“I’m sorry.” Asha presented her apology with confused awkwardness, like she was unsure what she should apologize for. Her grey eyes bounced between Kei, Moritha, and Pema, only to stop when Moritha nodded towards her as a sign of recognition.
“I’m not sorry!” Pema leaped up from sitting, and made a theatrical spin towards the door. “I have no regrets! She totally deserved it!” With that, the girl rushed out from the room, and quickly disappeared in the nearest corner.
“Well, this young girl needs some serious talking-to,” noted Moritha coldly and followed Pema outside.
“I’m still sorry!” whispered Kitara with tear-soaked eyes, and she left too.
Asha crawled closer to Kei and drew out a small straw-doll from her Kyoshi Warrior uniform.
“I made this for you,” she explained as she put the doll on Kei’s pillow. It looked fairly average but pretty well-made. Its black hair was also strangely natural. “Her name is Seiwong, and she is a healer. I got the hair from Nirmal, so she must be a very good healer too. She will watch over you and make you feel better!”
Her youngest sister’s innocent smile as she said this helped Kei more than any medicine. Her nausea was washed away, and the world returned to normal for her mind. She could even force out a small laugh.
“Thank you.” Kei’s feeble words widened Asha’s smile. She kissed her older sister on the forehead, then hurried after Kitara, leaving Kei alone in the room.
The catamaran shook as it hit a large, black metal plate floating on the water. Two sailors immediately moved to that side and waterbent the dangerous object away, but more followed. Kei watched the increasing stream of black metal with growing interest. They looked like parts from a larger thing, maybe the hull of a ship. She had already heard about the siege of the Northern Water Tribe that had happened some five months ago, but she had never thought that she would have the chance to witness the battlefield. Speaking of missed opportunities…
“While your condition has improved a lot, Nirmal told me that you are still unfit to come with us.” Suki’s words cut into Kei like a nail, with Okako’s obedient nodding being the hammer driving it deep into her heart. “So I decided to leave you behind for now. You will join us later, when you are fully recovered.”
The air in Kei’s room became colder with each passing second, and she, Suki and Okako had been sitting there for a good twenty minutes by now.
“So you are abandoning me?” chaffed Kei after a moment of awkward silence. “That’s very nice from you!”
“We are not abandoning you,” added Okako thoughtfully. “We are going to war, and you are in no shape to accompany us. We do this on your behalf Kei, and believe me, it was a tough call. But you can still come after us later. We will send letters as frequently as we can, and organize a proper transportation for you to us when you feel ready.”
“I feel ready!” snapped back Kei, but a violent outburst of coughing quickly proved her wrong.
“You are still sick, Kei,” Suki drew closer to give her sister a pat on the back. “Don’t worry about us, we can take care of ourselves.”
“I want to go with you girls!” Kei’s voice quivered as a teardrop rolled down on her face. “I’ve already missed the Avatar and those Fire Nation jerks because of this stupid sickness, I don’t want to miss all those awesome adventures with you too!”
She wasn’t exactly sure if she had seen it right, but Kei could swear that Okako rolled her eyes upon hearing this.
“You do as we said,” stated Suki unflinchingly. “No objections!”
Yes! Yes! This! This was her single biggest mistake! She shouldn’t have crumbled like an idiot there, but put up a more assertive approach. She should have proposed an alternative solution, like forcing her sisters to stay with her unit she got better. Anything would have better than this. But no, her sisters had left without her, and their letters had grown rarer until they had stopped arriving altogether three months ago. That had been the point where Kei had declared herself fully healed and left Kyoshi Island to find her sisters. She had been journeying north ever since then, following hazy clues and cold tracks, only to catch a quasi-reliable rumor about Kyoshi Warriors being sighted in the Northern Water Tribe.
Now there she was, maybe just a short boat-ride from finally reuniting with her sisters.
CHAPTER 2: THE NORTHERN WATER TRIBE
In the siege of the Northern Water Tribe, a whole fleet of Fire Nation ships had been destroyed, their wrecks now littering the pure blue waters in front of the capital city, rising like twisted black claws. As the catamaran transporting Kei sailed through this scarred landscape, the girl could finally lay her eyes on the massive ice walls that hid the capital city of the tribe.
In the next moment however, her vision was filled with an enormous, coal-black object: A ship of unbelievable proportions, a leviathan at least five times bigger than a Fire Nation battleship; A smoke-belching monster with a hole in the place of its prow - a dreadful mouth that opened to a stomach of fire and steel.
A Fire Nation salvage ship. Kei had heard about them, but she had never had the chance to actually see one, never mind in action. She watched with awe as the floating behemoth headed towards a cluster of wreckages with the clear intention to consume them all.
As the catamaran approached the gates of the capital city, Kei could spot another salvage ship in a bay a little further away. It was already at work, towing the remains of a battleship into its glowing mouth. The sounds of the crew, the dismantling tools, and the awakening smelters were clearly audible even from this distance.
The scene disappeared as they crossed the gate, and beyond that lied the capital city. Its snow-white houses were unnaturally clear, like they had been rebuilt recently. The canals that allowed the ships to move through the city sometimes felt misplaced, as if they had been carved out haphazardly not long ago to replace destroyed parts. Even after five months, the whole city reeked of the smell of a survived siege.
Kei was not really expecting a welcoming party, yet she got one nevertheless. Two people were waiting on the pier, an older man who looked like some sort of noble, and a girl around Kei’s age, maybe his daughter. The sight of the two just standing there was slightly unnerving. They were no Kyoshi Warriors, and as the catamaran sailed closer, Kei also noticed that the man looked troubled, like he had some bad news on his tongue.
By the time the boarding plank hit the pier, Kei knew that she wouldn’t meet with her sisters today.
The man and the girl hurried to Kei as soon as she walked down to the pier. They stopped at a fair distance, and for a long moment, they were just eying the ship and Kei awkwardly.
“Is she the only one?” shouted the man to one of the sailors. His voice sounded weary, but a faint echo of authority still lingered in it. His appearance paired well with how he spoke: his strong facial features radiated power, but his shabby long black hair and unkempt mustache-less goatee betrayed his current weakness. He had been through a lot lately.
“She is alone, Chief!” To make his point clear, the sailor picked back up the boarding plank, signing that Kei was in fact their only passenger.
“Well then…” grumbled the man and smoothed an invisible crease on his thick robe. He stepped to Kei and welcomed her with a small bow. The girl did the same, but Kei chose to not return the gesture.
“Welcome to the Northern Water tribe, Kei,” he began ceremoniously, ignoring Kei’s discourtesy. “My name is Chief Arnook, and this girl next to me is Malina.” Upon hearing her name, the girl forced out an embarrassed smile, and bowed again. “I hope you enjoyed your journey, and I wish you success on your quest. It is my honor to have a Kyoshi Warrior as a guest of my tribe, and I will try my best to help y…”
“Let’s get started then,” interrupted him Kei vigorously. “Where are my sisters?”
Her bluntness threw Arnook off-balance. He hesitated for a moment, his eyes bounced between the leaving catamaran, a spot somewhere behind Kei, and the ground, but he found no comfort in either.
“Well, uhm… They are not here.”
“Thank you, I can see that. But where are they?”
“They are not in the Northern Water Tribe.” Kei’s eyes narrowed and her fists clenched as these words made their way into her mind. Arnook was probably aware of the tension, because he made a step back and pushed Malina in front of himself. “I don’t have time to explain. Malina will lead you to your house, and remain with you for the rest of the day in case you need something. We will talk about your sisters tomorrow, at dinner.”
“What about you tell about them right now?” Kei’s menacing voice made Arnook take a few more steps backward, though he did this with a polite smile on his face. Maybe he was oblivious to it, but at this moment Kei seriously considered a violent approach. She had traveled for months to get here, and she now wanted answers. If she had to drown the Chief of the Northern Water Tribe in a canal to get them, then so be it.
The situation was saved by another ship docking in the pier. It was a bulky block of metal, a black, smoke-belching contraption used by the Fire Nation to transport goods and personnel from their larger ships to the shore. It had both a Fire Nation and a Northern Water Tribe flag hanging from its mast.
Arnook immediately took the opportunity to leave Kei with Malina and thus save himself the effort of dealing with her now. Kei was just about to throw herself after him, but Malina was on the alert and stood in her way.
“My name is Malika.” She bowed again. “I’ll be your guide during your stay. Please, come with me.”
With that, she grabbed Kei’s arm and led her away. First it was a little awkward as Kei had no intention to go and Malika – or maybe Malina - lacked the strength to even tilt her, so for a few seconds a Water Tribe girl trying to tow away an Earth Kingdom girl was a sight every worker disembarking from the ship could enjoy freely.
“I can’t believe this…” Kei shrugged off Malika’s hand, making the girl tumble to the pier with a squeak. “Chief Arnook, wait!” she screamed into the mass, but the man had already disappeared from her sight. “Chief Arnook!”
“Chief Arnook has an appointment with mister Riyuku,” noted Malika as she stood back up. “He will only return tomorrow.”
“I want to speak with him now!”
Malika shook her head.
“That won’t work. You have to wait until tomorrow.”
“Okay then, who is this Riyuku? Where can I find him?”
“Mister Riyuku is the head of the Fire Nation salvage operation. He is probably on one of those salvage ships.”
After unloading all the workers and probably picking up Arnook too, the Fire Nation ship began to leave the pier. Kei reacted quickly, and dashed out towards the leaving ship.
“NO! WAIT!” she screamed, but the ship didn’t stop. Kei ran right into the pack of carefree workers, mercilessly pushing aside anyone who dared to stand in her path.
By the time she could get through, the ship was already far away. Kei’s muscles tightened as she gauged the distance for a massive leap, but then the ship suddenly took a turn to the left and disappeared behind a corner.
“NOOOOO!!!” howled Kei. Knowing that she sailed up to the Northern Water Tribe for nothing was too much for her, and she feel to her knees. Something snapped in her, and she let out a bestial roar, a wail of pure rage. The workers on the pier quickly walked away rather than see where this would lead, but Malika stayed.
The minutes ground onwards with a relentless pace as Kei was just seething on the pier. She clenched her teeth so hard she thought they would break, but it just made her even angrier. Her eyes swept her surroundings almost instinctively, looking for something – or someone – to hurt, a victim for her burning wrath.
Malika was still standing in the middle of the pier, and she didn’t even flinch when Kei’s eyes found her. She was an obvious choice, yet Kei just couldn’t bring herself to wish harm to her. Malika reminded her the other Kyoshi Warriors too much: she had Okako’s softly angled face, Suki’s strong lips, Kitara’s blue eyes with Nirmal’s intelligence shining in them, and Pema’s thick and soft hair that was colored dark brown just like Asha’s; only her dark skin was out of place. Hurting Malika would be like hurting all the other Kyoshi Warriors at once.
And Kei didn’t want to hurt her sisters.
She wanted to finally reunite with them, and hug them, and listen to her stories, and suffer their oddities, and enjoy their company.
A teardrop rolled down on her face, failing from her cheeks to the ice cold woods of the pier. Pain wrenched her heart, and it stiffed her fury. She no longer wanted to hurt anybody, just be with her sisters. That was all she desired.
The moment passed like a dark cloud in front of the scorching sun. As she remembered how she was denied the reunion, Kei’s anger spiked again. She let out another roar, and spun to her feet, lashing out against the first thing that dared to stay in her reach.
The small lamp atop the supporting pillar stood no change; a spinning kick pulverized it, and sent it sad remains flying into the canal. There was a lamp on the other side too, and it soon suffered the same grisly fate.
Kei walked back to Malika, still fuming and more than willing to vent her frustration in wanton destruction. On her way, a poor pillar earned her ire, and after it didn’t give way from a simple kick, Kei had to rip it out from its pedestal with her bare hands. The pillar squeaked and twisted as Kei’s inhumane strength displaced it, and finally shattered into pieces after a few seconds of struggle, dragging most of the support into the canal as well. The pier behind her couldn’t take this kind of abuse very well, and unceremoniously collapsed into the water.
Malika watched this with anticipation written all over her face. It almost looked like she was expecting something like this, and this again reminded Kei of her sisters. They would have reacted the same way, too.
“Can we go now?” asked Malika when Kei finally reached her. “Your house is not far away from here. Just a little walk through the ceremonial grounds and into the Inner City.”
“I don’t have much choice, do I?” grumbled Kei, but her voice was barely audible from the repressed anger.
Malika just smiled and took Kei’s baggage.
“You can talk with Chief Arnook tomorrow,” she said like nothing had happened. Her self-control was easily comparable to Nirmal’s. “I’m pretty sure that he will be more than eager to answer your questions. However, until then, I don’t advise you to chase the Chief. He is very busy nowadays, trying to recover the city from the siege and all that.”
Malika’s smile widened and she began to leave the place. Seeing no other option, Kei grumblingly followed her.
They passed through a badly damaged residential area, where the scars of war were still clearly visible. Molten and hastily patched-up walls, makeshift bridges arcing over crater-ridden canals, and large piles of trash and broken furnishings bordered their way.
“That’s my home, by the way!” Malika said suddenly and pointed at an especially ruined building. It looked more like a small fortress rather than an actual house. “It was the center of the defense in this part of the city during the siege, that’s why it is in such a bad shape. It isn’t so bad inside, as my dad fixed the walls quickly with his waterbending. Sadly, most of the people are non-benders around here, and my dad is busy helping them out instead of repairing the outside surface damage on our home. Waterbenders have become exceedingly rare since Master Pakku took many of them to the Southern Water Tribe.”
“Uhum…” Kei couldn’t care less, but at least this gave her an opportunity to learn more about Malika. She had a feeling that she would see this girl’s face a lot in the near future. “Are you a waterbender?”
“Nah!” Malika scratched her chin, like she became unsure about the answer. “Well, actually, I am. I have the gift, I just can’t harness it. I can make a little turbulence in a cup of water if I focus on it a lot, and I’ve never spilled my drink in my entire life, but that’s all. My mom once tried to teach me healing, but the results were quite catastrophic to be honest!”
“Your mom? So she is a waterbender too? Where is she?” The question froze Malika, and Kei could see her face turning distressed.
“She is not with us.”
In her mind, Kei gave away a lengthy curse for her lack of finesse. She should have seen this one coming. Sieges are far from being friendly affairs, after all.
To Kei’s biggest surprise, Malika flashed a weak smile.
“Oh, don’t worry, she is not dead,” she explained quietly. “Most of the Fire Nation troops who attacked the city were in fact barbarians from the northern Earth Kingdom. They are ancient enemies of the Northern Water Tribe, and they know what to do when things turn against them: they take hostages to avoid pursuit from our warriors. Now, my mother happened to be one of the unlucky people who were taken while the barbarians retreated.”
“That’s reassuring.” Even though Kei tried her best to make this sound sincere, she still blurted it out with the empathy of a brick.
“Chief Arnook will tell you more tomorrow. He thinks that someone with your abilities might be of great help to us to solve this barbarian situation.”
Kei couldn’t decide whether this was good or not. For one, it became more and more evident that she was trapped here, and not without a reason. On the other hand, Malika’s story also reminded her why the Kyoshi Warriors had left: to help people.
Her sisters were probably helping others even now, and Kei suddenly had this strange nudge that maybe she should do her part in this, too.
By the time they left the war-torn district, it was sounding better to Kei with each passing moment.
CHAPTER 3: THE MOON WARRIORS
The house was actually worse than Kei imagined, and it was quite unpleasant as her expectations had been already low. It was effectively a simple two-story building most likely converted from a storehouse to accommodate people. Each level had two large hall-like rooms that had little apparent functionality other than giving space. There was a small bathroom in the ground floor, squeezed behind the stairs, but that was pretty much the only comfort this building could provide.
“The furniture will arrive soon, don’t worry.” Malika’s words rang hollow in the empty rooms. Luckily, Kei had her camping equipment with her, so if anything, she could still sleep in her bedroll.
The windows were interesting though. They were barred with strong pillars of ice.
“This building served as a prison for the captured Fire Nation soldiers,” explained Malika.
“Magnificent…” murmured Kei under her breath. “And what happened to them?”
“The tribe did not have the resources to keep them detained, so they were handed over to the salvage company. As I heard, the company brought them back to the Fire Nation in exchange of some free work on their ships.”
“Very merciful. Those guys ruined your city, and in return, you set them free. At least you should have released them into the tundra or something.”
“They were just following orders. Their commander, the man who was truly responsible for all this, received a proper punishment for his atrocity.”
“An interesting way to see it.”
The reaction to this was just another shrug.
“The Northern Water Tribe is not interested in continued hostilities with the Fire Nation. We have no intention of experiencing a siege like this one ever again.”
This kind of exquisite phrasing made Kei laugh. For some strange reason she couldn’t fully understand, Malika joined her with a polite chuckle.
“Okay, what about those?” pointed Kei at a bunch of training mattresses, piled up in the middle of the second room in the ground floor. “Don’t tell me that you let the soldiers do exercises too!”
“No, I brought those here in the morning.” Her face suddenly turned red, and she turned away from Kei. “These are for us.”
Kei’s smile widened.
“Okay, I like where this is going.” She walked to the mattresses and shoved them apart with a few well aimed kicks, so that they were roughly in order. “Are you a warrior? You wanna’ spar?”
“I’m not a warrior,” began Malika with an embarrassed voice. “But I want to be one.” She dug into her hair as she was searching for the proper words. From this, Kei knew that the girl was about to drag the Kyoshi Warrior into something big. “This actually has a story.” She sat down on the nearest mattress, and Kei did the same. “So, as you probably know, Chief Arnook’s daughter was one of the brave defenders who gave their lives to protect our city.” Kei nodded. The story was only a rumor in the Earth Kingdom, but a rather recurrent one for that. “Princess Yue’s heroic sacrifice set an example to every girl in this city.” Malika looked away for a moment, like she was remembering something unpleasant. “A better way of putting it is that she became an example every family tried to force on their daughters. Before the siege, we girls had little chance to assert our rights. Women were traditionally powerless in the Northern Water Tribe, and going against these traditions was highly unpopular, if not straight-out dangerous. Humility and submission were traits our society had encouraged for several generations… but it all changed with Princess Yue.” Her eyes flashed up with barely suppressed anger. “Suddenly, every father and mother began to expect the same strength from their daughters! I’ve lived my whole life knowing that being weak was the proper behavior for a woman. Yet, now I have to learn to embrace the exact opposite attitude!” She turned to Kei and grabbed her hands. “I don’t know how to do this… but you! You can teach me! You are a Kyoshi Warrior! I’ve read everything about your cadre, and I know that you are our best chance now!”
Kei raised an eyebrow.
“Our best chance?”
The rest of the story eluded her anyway. There was a girl - or maybe some girls – who wanted to be like the Kyoshi Warriors. They were not warriors yet, but Kei could change that. She had some experience with this from training the self-defense class in Kyoshi Island, and Malika’s case sounded no different than that.
“There are a few other girls who also want to join. I’m a little bit like an advocate here.”
“Huh!” Kei leant back on the training mattress and stretched her limbs. She was the assault specialist of the Kyoshi Warriors, technically a warrior whose specialty was head-on combat. The warrior of the warriors, so to speak. She was not a leader, and she did not have much idea about what Malika and her friends truly wanted to achieve, but she could definitely get them in shape and teach them how to fight.
“So what do you say?” asked Malika after a long silence. “I’m afraid you are our only chance. Please, consider this before you make your decision!”
The desperation in her voice made Kei smile. It was good to feel important once in a while.
“Don’t fret, you can count me in!” This immediately brightened up Malika’s face. “But I will stay for a few days until Arnook finally tells me where my sisters are, then I’m moving on so we have to get to work quickly!”
Malika’s expressions quickly changed from happy to anxious. Her eyes glanced through the room, carefully avoiding Kei, and for a moment it seemed like she had something very important to say, but then she just swallowed it back. By the time Kei began to suspect some sort of trick, Malika was smiling again.
“Okay then!” she chirped with obviously faked joy. “I will gather up the girls! We can start today if it is good for you!”
“Yeah, that’s perfect.”
Malika ignored Kei’s unfriendly tone, and soon rushed out from the building, leaving the young Kyoshi Warrior to rethink her situation alone.
There were seven of them, just like the Kyoshi Warriors: Malika, Nuniq, Sura, the twins Massak and Panik, Kala, and Vesi. In spite of the picture Malika had painted about the women of the Northern Water Tribe, they weren’t really that bad, or at least not much worse than the villager girls in Kyoshi Island.
First and foremost, they were all childhood friends, so Kei could at least skip the burden of team building. Secondly, they were all noble girls of roughly the same age as Kei, so she hadn’t had to jump through social or generational gaps either. Three of them – Malika, Sura and Vesi – were from traditional warrior families, and they seemed to know the basics, giving Kei some breathing room with the training plan. Kala was even a waterbender, and Kei could already see her healing powers coming handy.
They had also come fully prepared and ready to start their training, though in the last hour it had quickly become clear that they had a very high mountain to climb.
“Come on, that’s what you call fighting?” hissed Kei as she fastened her hold on Sura, pinning the poor girl to the ground even more strongly than before. Sura tried to wiggle free, but she had no chance against Kei’s masterful head-lock. She whimpered as she ran out of air, then made another feeble attempt to shake off the Kyoshi Warrior. The training mattress under them creaked and fell silent as Sura passed out. “Well, that was easy.”
Kei stood up and looked around. In the other corner of the fighting circle Panik lay unconscious with Kala sitting next to her and using her waterbending to get some life back into her friend. The rest of the girls were sprawling around the training matrasses, trying their best to hold up despite the various injuries they had received in the last hour.
The first day was pathetic so far, and Kei was even rather generous with them by not using her powers.
“Is beating us up a part of the training?” asked Nuniq. “Because I can’t see how it can help us.”
Kei just sighed.
“Yes, it is part of the training.” She glanced through the girls again, trying to project some determination into them. “Do you think that Princess Yue had it better? She had to fight a dozen Fire Nation soldiers without any training, and she still held her own! That’s how you become strong: through struggle and pain, forged by hardship and sharpened by need!”
Kei’s plan was welcomed with a choir of pained groans.
“Princess Yue did not fight anyone during the siege!” protested Vesi. “She was with the Avatar and his friends the whole time… she even had that gorgeous Southern Water Tribe boy as a bodyguard!”
This made Kei frown. She planned out this training perfectly, and she had no intention of changing her mind now.
“We either do this my way, or you are free to walk away and figure out what you want from the world yourself.”
“Is this how you Kyoshi Warriors do it too? Are you forged by hardship and sharpened by need?”
Nuniq caught Kei off-guard with this question, but the Kyoshi Warrior quickly regained her composure.
“No, we aren’t, but you are not the Kyoshi Warriors.”
Kei’s reward was a wave of displeasure running through the girls.
“Are you really just tormenting us because of Chief Arnook?”
“No, I’m tormenting you because that’s my training plan!” Kei’s voice rose, and with that, the stream of unnecessary questions ended. “Now, we only have a few days to do this, so keep your complaints for yourselves, okay? I don’t want to interrupt your training on an hourly basis just because some of you feel too delicate for this stuff. You either accept that this is how it will be, or leave. Got it?”
Out of the five girls who could hear her words, only one dared to not nod.
“So, if I don’t want to participate in this anymore…” began Massak shyly as she crawled to her still unconscious twin sister and made an attempt to wake her up. “Can I leave now freely?”
Kei’s eyes narrowed, and for the second time in this day she felt an overwhelming urge to smash something. She could feel her face turn red from the anger, and her muscles tightening.
She stepped to Massak, grabbed the neck-piece of her robe and lifted the girl up with one hand so that their eyes were on the same level. Kei did this so effortlessly the other girls flinched from awe; little did they know that Kei was using her special power here, enhancing her strength with her spiritual energies.
Massak tried to break free, but as their eyes met, Kei’s menacing stare froze her. The girl’s face turned chalk-white from fear, and she released a hapless whimper as Kei drew her closer so that their noses almost touched each other.
“Okay then, let me make things clear here,” Kei began, addressing her words not only to Massak but to all the other girls in the room too. “You came here to become strong, just like me and the other Kyoshi Warriors. You would be a special kind of stupid if you thought that this would be easy. You knew the odds … and for me, it means that you have the guts, or you wouldn’t be here. Too bad your parents made you into this softie quitter, but don’t worry, that’s exactly what I’m gonna’ fix in you.” She roughly dropped Massak back to the floor and turned towards the others. “It is too late for leaving! If anyone even mentions quitting from now on, I will personally throw her out from the window, do you understand?”
“Ground floor window or first floor window?” This was Nuniq again. She also seemed genuinely curious.
“I’m going to throw you out from the highest window of this city!” yelled Kei, and her outburst silenced Nuniq. “You will stay, and in return, I promise that I will make you as strong as you want! Strong enough to be the… I don’t know, whatever you want to be!”
“Yes!” interrupted her Malika. Her voice rang with a surprising amount of enthusiasm. “Remember girls, we have to do this if we really want to become the Moon Warriors!”
“The Moon… what?” Kei’s confused question was washed away with a loud applause as the girls around her cheered Malika. In the end, the Kyoshi Warrior just let it be and welcomed the slowly returning enthusiasm. “Kyoshi, give me strength in these dark hours!” she whispered to the roof, and then walked back to continue the training session.
This “helping people” business suddenly began to feel quite cumbersome, and Kei knew too well that this was only the beginning.
CHAPTER 4: MAIN COURSE
The furniture had arrived late in the night, but at least Kei could have her breakfast at a table and not on the floor. Obviously, the items she had gotten were all spoils from the Fire Nation fleet, and all those coal-black items in the snow-white rooms turned the inside of the building into some sort of weird three-dimensional Pai Sho board.
Malika joined her for the morning and the twins arrived soon after to help rearrange the furniture. After the rather bumpy first session yesterday, the girls had definitely found their purpose or something, because now they tossed around those heavy wardrobes and shelves without as much as a whimper. They just got over it, and Kei was really thankful for this.
Lunch was similarly eventless, and the second training session went much more smoothly than the first, mostly because Kei now put the emphasis on actual exercises rather than straight-out fighting. The girls tried their best to do whatever Kei asked, but most of them were way too clumsy and feeble for completing a proper Kyoshi Warrior form. It seemingly helped a lot that Kei did everything with them and didn’t just talk while the girls did their exercises, though this just made the gap between them even more evident. In the end, only Malika and Sura were smiling as they did much better than the others – the rest was in varying levels of despair as they pondered what they had gotten into.
Malika took Kei to the City Palace for dinner. For the occasion, the Kyoshi Warrior had decided to try to blend in, so she had put on her normal Kyoshi Island civilian clothes rather than her Kyoshi Warrior uniform. These clothes were blue, and Kei had really thought that this was a good idea until she had realized that both the style and the actual coloration were wildly off from what people were wearing in the Northern Water Tribe.
Everyone gave a stare to her as she and Malika walked through the main street to the palace.
“What’s wrong with my hair?” hissed Kei as yet another old woman pointed at her hair while commenting something to another woman. This was the third time since they left the building, and it had become increasingly annoying with each case.
“Nothing, really,” Malika glanced through Kei’s black hair that was in its usual symmetric triple-ponytails style. “This kind of hairstyle went out of fashion a long time ago, and only a few remember what it meant back then. Don’t mind them.”
“Why, what did it mean?”
“Old bachelors wore triple ponytails like yours.” Her smile widened. “It was a very manly hairstyle.”
“Great…” Kei smoothed her hair and tried to ignore her surroundings, but something snapped in her when an old couple also gave her strange looks. “JUST STOP IT!” she shouted at the man and the woman, scaring them witless. “DON’T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT, OKAY?!”
“My sincerest apologies,” added Malika with an embarrassed smile as she grabbed Kei’s arm to pull her away. “Please, don’t mind her!”
Everyone within hearing distance took her advice and diverted their attention elsewhere, ignoring the strange girl with the funny hair and the odd clothes.
Of course, this wasn’t all: the palace held its own challenges to Kei. The massive building had its own scars from the siege and the quick repairs didn’t help much as the carefully balanced internal air conditioning that kept the air warm enough for human use but also cold to keep the snow walls intact was gone. The walls looked like they were sweating as the melting snow dribbled from every crevice and hole, often forming small icicles on the roof and puddles on the floor. This mostly meant that when Kei didn’t get a few drops of cold water into her neck then she was sinking ankle-deep in the half-molten snow.
By the time she reached the dining hall, she was completely drenched. She also felt like she could boil the water from her clothes with her wrath.
The hall itself was more like some sort of community place hastily converted into its current functionality. There were some large, ornate snow-vases lying around that could have been used in ceremonies, and the fountain in the back also looked too well-built. The tables and the chairs were also Fire Nation craftsmanship, obviously gotten from the ships and put into good use here.
Roughly two dozen people were eating there, mostly families, and as far as Kei could determine, mostly simple commoners.
“The City Palace currently gives housing to the people who have lost their homes in the siege,” explained Malika when she noticed Kei’s wondering expression. “That’s partially the reason for the melting, too: this place is not designed to accommodate this many people, and their collective warmth throws off the internal temperature.”
“So you ruin your palace with cramming homeless citizens into it, yet you leave a perfectly good two-story building for prisoning Fire Nation soldiers?”
This kind of insight made Malika smile awkwardly.
“I don’t know how the leaders of this city distribute the available buildings, and I prefer to not think a lot about it either!”
Before Kei could delve deeper into the topic, Malika pulled her to a nearby table that happened to be empty and pushed her into a chair.
“Where is Chief Arnook?” asked Kei after Malika also sat down in front of her. “He is coming, right?”
A young woman stepped to their table and placed down a pair of bowls filled with greenish soup. Kei accepted her bowl with some distrust, especially since the soup was thick enough to keep the spoon upright. She only started to eat when Malika was half done with her own soup.
Kei managed to eat up most of the flavorless soup when a third person invited himself to their table, sitting down next to Kei.
He was an older man, tall and slimly built. His pale skin and short black hair immediately betrayed his Fire Nation origins, and his brown eyes were also pretty close to dark-gold. His clothes were of fine quality, and colored grey and brown for neutrality. He was cleanly shaved, and gave away the overall impression of a merchant or maybe an entrepreneur.
Though she had never seen him before, Kei knew who he was before he opened his mouth.
“Malika! What a pleasure to meet with you here!” He was a bad actor, Kei could give him that. “Is this young lady with you the Kyoshi Warrior the city is speaking about?”
“Yes she is,” answered Kei coldly. “Why are you asking?”
The man’s smile narrowed, but held out.
“My name is Riyuku,” introduced himself the man, “and I’m the head of the salvage operation in the Northern Water Tribe. You probably saw my ships in the bay when you entered the city.”
“Yeah, I did. I even wondered why the Northern Water Tribe allows a Fire Nation company to do business on their waters.”
This made Riyuku laugh, and for a short moment, the whole hall turned towards them. However, the commoners quickly turned back to their meals when they saw who were sitting at the table.
“They didn’t have much choice, to be honest!” Riyuku waved his hand and soon a third bowl of soup landed on the table. “My company is the only one that salvages military equipment on this scale. Those nasty wrecks don’t clear up themselves, and disassembling them is very dangerous without the proper expertise. Luckily, my company offered its services almost immediately after that sad event, and our activities have been very lucrative for everyone around here.”
“Yeah.” Kei knocked the table. “I can see these new… acquisitions all around the Northern Water Tribe.”
“We are only interested in the ship hulls,” explained Riyuku with his mouth full of soup. “The stuff we find inside belongs to the Northern Water Tribe as spoils of war. And out of the fifty-four ships we have salvaged so far… that’s a lot of equipment! And there are more than thirty ships still waiting for us! Isn’t this wonderful? The riches of the Fire Nation ultimately do find a way to the Northern Water Tribe!”
“Too bad you had to destroy this city first…”
Riyuku laughed again, but his voice rang with barely concealed embarrassment.
“That wasn’t my idea!” He moved a little closer to Kei. “Look, this is how the world works: you lose some, you gain some – your goal is to gain more than you have lost, to achieve profit. That’s why I’m here, that’s why you are here, that’s why we are all sitting here at this table.” His voice turned to a whisper. From the corner of her eye, Kei could also see Malika flashing a sly smile. “Wealth is not the only thing you can gain and lose. Commander Zhao did not invade the Northern Water Tribe to get rich, he wanted power, and he lost everything on his bid for it.”
“I can’t see where I fit into all this,” said Kei coldly.
“There is another person in this tribe who plays the same game Zhao did during the siege. Maybe he can’t send half of the Fire Nation navy into the bottom of the ocean, but he has other assets he can use…” Riyuku made a dramatic pause. “…or sacrifice if he has to.”
Kei was never good with politics, but Riyuku made himself so clear that even she couldn’t miss the essentials. And it wasn’t just him; Malika on the other side of the table watched with unmistakable anticipation, so she must had a part in this too.
This little conversation definitely soured the soup in Kei’s mouth, and from the looks of it, the end wasn’t even near.
“Speaking of the devil!” Riyuku spread his legs a little wider so that the newcomer couldn’t sit down beside him, but had to take a seat next to Malika in the corner opposite to Kei’s. He was Chief Arnook, and with him the main course also arrived in the shape of four bowls of steaming noodles and some fried fish.
“It is my pleasure to meet you again, Kei,” began Arnook after a brief moment of awkward silence. “I see you have already accommodated yourself into our tribe. I hope Malina was of great help to you.”
“You can say that,” grumbled back Kei. “And her name is Malika.”
Arnook forced out a smile and turned to the girl he had misnamed so far.
“My apologies, Malina just rolls to the tongue much better.”
“No problem,” replied Malika almost instantly. “But I suppose we should really get to the main topic.”
“That would be awesome,” added Kei. “I have traveled months for this, and I don’t plan to stay for too long, a few days tops. So, with all due respect, can you finally tell me where the other Kyoshi Warriors are?”
The Chief’s face turned anxious, but quickly straightened. On the other side of the table, Riyuku’s head almost exploded from a repressed laughter.
“About the Kyoshi Warriors…” Arnook tilted his body, like the bench he was sitting on suddenly became very uncomfortable. “I must confess that I don’t know where they are. They haven’t been in the Northern Water Tribe, that is the only thing I’m sure about them.”
“You must be joking!” growled Kei with anger written all over her face. This made Riyuku move a bit further away from her, while Malika and Arnook braced themselves on the bench. “You either tell me where my sisters are, or I will extract the information with my bare hands if I have to!”
The threat was serious enough to make Arnook swallow back his complaint about this kind of disrespect. He knew that Kei was just moments away from blowing up into a maelstrom of violence, and he wisely decided to not push her more that he should.
According to their alarmed expressions, Malika and Riyuku were both fully supportive of his choice.
“Calm down Kei, you can’t solve this situation with a fight.” Arnook tried his best to sound calm. “I know that it is your preferred method to deal with your problems, but believe me, it won’t work this time.”
This melted Kei’s wrath away like the summer sun would an ice-cream. Her clenched fists loosened as all the power leaked away from her body, and with that, she collapsed onto the table, pushing her bowl away. With her hope to find her sisters soon, her appetite also disappeared.
“Okay then, now what?” she asked faintly, but with the embers of her ire still in her voice. “Should I leave?”
Arnook put up a reassuring smile, but it wasn’t really working. If anything, it just tossed Kei even deeper into her mounting desperation.
“No, you shouldn’t. In this part of the year, the drifting ice closes all shipping lanes in the Northern Pole, blocking access to the rest of the world until the end of the summer.” Kei didn’t even comment on this, and Arnook took this as a sign that he could continue. “However, even though I don’t know where the Kyoshi Warriors are, I can offer you a way to ask for guidance. If you are interested.” This immediately gained Kei’s attention, though she remained silent. “There is a temple, not far away from this city. It is used to venerate the Avatars of the past, and thus, it might allow someone with the right spiritual power to connect with one of these Avatars. Considering that you, Kyoshi Warriors, are the daughters of Avatar Kyoshi, and adding in your unique talents, I’m pretty sure that you can succeed and summon Avatar Kyoshi for directions.”
“Avatar Kyoshi?” Kei massaged her head. She couldn’t follow Arnook very well, and now this temple thing sounded rather hazy. “Ugh… Okay. When can I go?”
“Currently, a large snowslide blocks the path to the temple. You can’t travel there until the end of this month at least.”
“That’s about my short stay,” thought Kei. Hearing this news, she really began to question her decision to even travel here. With hindsight, it had proved to be quite counter-productive.
Arnook’s face flinched, like he was unsure whether he should share something else too, but then he kept it for himself.
“That is all,” the Chief said finally. “Of course, you are a honored guest of the Northern Water Tribe during your stay. You have my sincerest apologies for this nuisance, and I hope you won’t get bothered by it more than you should.”
With that said, Arnook stood up from the table, bowed slightly to Kei, then left.
The air at the table changed, it became hotter and filled with fluster. Kei could see Malika and Riyuku exchanging glances, and she knew way too well what this meant. She had seen this kind of behavior enough with her sisters: the spark of conspiracy in the eyes, the poison of deception on the tongues. Pema was the unquestionable master of this, but Okako and Kitara also had their share of craftiness and manipulation.
Yes, Kei could see where this was going, though she wasn’t sharp enough for the full picture.
“There is a catch here, isn’t it?” she blurted out after Arnook disappeared from her sight.
“Without the food shipments coming from the Northern Earth Kingdom, the city would starve to death within a few weeks,” noted Malika casually.
“This is the first time I hear about this drifting ice,” added Riyuku.
“He lied to me!” Kei hit the desk with her fist, leaving a deep dent on it. Her anger was on the rise again. “I should have kicked his butt!”
Malika allowed herself a small chuckle, though Kei did not share her good mood at all.
“I think it is time to leave,” she said gently. “Good bye, mister Riyuku!”
“Hey, what about the… you know who?” Riyuku’s question halted Malika for a moment. “What should I tell her?”
“Just bring her to us tomorrow. You know where Kei is living, right? We have the dojo set up there.”
Riyuku shrugged his shoulder and turned back to his bowl. Malika used the opportunity to lead the steaming Kei away, now dragging the Kyoshi Warrior through the Palace with a little greater confidence than before.
They stopped at the walls looking at the city. The sun was already setting behind the tall cliffs surrounding the place, its golden rays drew long lines of blazing orange over the battle-scarred buildings. Out in the bay, a salvage ship floated through the sea like a leviathan of legends, searching for its next prey in the slowly shrinking graveyard of Fire Nation warships.
The sunlight swept through them, blessing the two girls with a moment of warmth, and painting deep shadows into the hardened mask that Malika’s face had suddenly become.
“About what Arnook kept back…” Malika began, as she leant against the wall. “He didn’t tell this to you to avoid upsetting me.”
“Upsetting you?” Kei drew a little closer. “What’s this all about?”
“The barbarians… The ones who took my mother as hostage…” Malika pointed to the dark blue sky. “They are using a mystical phenomenon, the Northern Lights, to navigate. However, the Northern Lights haven’t appeared on the sky since the siege. The barbarians are actually ready to leave the North Pole, but they can’t navigate back home without the Northern Lights. Until then, they are raiding the nearby settlements for supplies and causing great trouble for the Northern Water Tribe.”
“Really?” Kei tried her best to at least look like someone who understood the situation. “You think I can help with this?”
“Chief Arnook is certain that you can help… with a little encouragement.”
“Yeah, I’m encouraged,” stated Kei bluntly. “I would do anything to find my sisters. If I have to bring back those Northern Lights for that, then so be it.”
“I don’t think that it will be so simple, to be honest. According to the Water Priests, a sort of a spiritual imbalance has caused the Northern Lights to disappear. Solving the imbalance must be the only way to bring back the lights and get rid of those barbarians.”
“Spiritual imbalance, huh? That’s not exactly my kind of stuff, to be honest.” Kei actually had to strain her memory quite a lot to remember the only case when she had had to deal with spirits. It had been a few years ago, when she had accompanied Kitara to spy upon the ghosts of the dead Kyoshi Warriors at the Tomb of Kyoshi. An eerie night with strange lights and bodiless voices was all Kei had in terms of dealing with spirits.
“You are supposed to have special powers that can help… right?”
“Powers?” At first, Kei failed to realize what Malika was referring to. Then, her face brightened up with a wide grin and she punched into the air. “Ah, you are talking about this!” Kei span into the air, channeling her power to be super-fast, and appear as little more than a blur in the air before she landed. “This isn’t for dealing with spirits. I can only make myself strong, tough, and fast with it. Unless I can punch your precious Northern Lights back to the sky, you won’t see much use of this power from me in this case!”
“Chief Arnook told me that you are a ‘spiritbender’, so I thought…”
“Spiritbender?” Kei raised an eyebrow. “This is the first time I’ve heard about it.”
“Oh…” This revelation clearly disheartened Malika. “My apologies for bringing it up, then. I just hoped that you could solve this situation quickly… and bring my mother back as soon as possible.”
“Okay, heads up girl, all is not lost. I can still contact Avatar Kyoshi in that temple and work out something from there. I will bring your mother back, one way or other. I promise that, okay?”
Malike nodded and forced out a smile. Kei not only returned the gesture, but also lunged forward and embraced Malika in a warm, encouraging hug. Maybe this was a little excessive, as Malika failed to react in any meaningful way and just stood there awkwardly, with Kei’s arms around her, but it wasn’t just about Malika this time.
“A good hug per day scares the bad thoughts away!” As Instructor Tamara often said. And for one, Kei had her own share of bad thoughts now.
« Last Edit: Oct 24, 2015 01:09 pm by AtoMaki »
CHAPTER 5: HOSTILE GROUNDS
Kei had been just tossing and turning in her bed all night, plagued by all sorts of thoughts she couldn’t work up. Not like she had even cared to put effort into it, but her apparent failure to have a sound idea about what had been happening around her still soured her morning.
Compared to this, the lack of sleep had barely left a mark on her.
She vented her frustration in the way she usually did: by beating something up. As a rare instance of luck, among the furniture she had received were three large punching bags, all having a basic drawing of a Water Tribe warrior. With a little imagination, Kei could easily replace the face of the warrior-paintings with the face of Chief Arnook.
Her morning exercise was interrupted by Riyuku. He wasn’t alone.
“Dad, I’m still unsure whether we should do this…” the weak voice of a girl came somewhere from behind the man. “I feel unprepared. I’m not ready!”
Kei drew into her power, and her muscles tightened like a bundle of steel cables; she aimed for the face, then unleashed her terrible final strike against the punching bag. The poor instrument took the hit with an ear-splitting crack as the hardened iron bands within it bent and tore, though Fire Nation craftsmanship ultimately achieved a small victory over Kei’s supernatural strength as the punching bag remained mostly intact.
Whoever was hiding behind Riyuku, she reacted with a half-muffled scream to Kei’s show of power.
“Dad!” she whimpered, and her annoyingly high-pitched voice played a whole serenade of disgust in Kei’s ears.
When the Kyoshi Warrior finally turned towards the newcomers, she almost burst out laughing from the sight.
For all intents and purposes, Kei was expecting a little girl with Riyuku, maybe a seven or eight years old. She missed the mark by roughly ten years. The “girl” was more like a young woman, though she was cowering behind her father’s back exactly like a child. Even while slightly leaning forward, she was the same height as Riyuku, putting her a good two or three heads above Kei. She was quite pretty, her body was nicely proportioned even with her ridiculous height, and her soft facial features, long, thick black hair and dark golden eyes made an engaging sight. Hiding behind her father like that was really the only thing Kei could disapprove about her right now.
“Good morning, Kei!” With the warm greeting, Riyuko made an attempt to gently push his daughter towards the Kyoshi Warrior, but the girl knew better, and didn’t move by the slightest. “There was something I forgot to mention yesterday…” Now, he chose a different approach, and simply stepped aside, pushing his back to the wall and thus leaving his daughter without cover. This caught the girl flat-footed, and in her embarrassment, she finally decided to play along and stepped forward for a deep bow towards Kei. “She is my daughter, Ciho.”
There was a long, awkward silence.
“Come on girl, say something! She won’t bite you!” chaffed Riyuku angrily. “Is this the first impression you want to make?”
This had an effect, and the girl looked up, making a short eye contact with Kei before bowing back down.
“My name is Ciho,” she began faintly, “and I would like to ask you to train me in the ways of the Kyoshi Warriors.”
“Really?” This was the first thing Kei could burp out. “I thought Malika and her Moon Warriors were bad enough.” She glanced over Ciho. Other than her height, she had nothing special in the outside, and the light robes she was wearing only made her physical mediocrity even more apparent. “But maybe I can use a ceremonial pole like you in the group. Get in. The real training won’t start until the early afternoon, so we have the morning to shape you up.”
Ciho finally straightened up. Even though Kei was slightly taller than average, this move still still left her facing Ciho’s stomach.
“Her mother is probably the tallest woman in the Fire Nation, so just imagine my embarrassment when things like this happen!” added Riyuku with a heartfelt laugh. He then walked to his daughter and gave her an encouraging hug. “Come on girl, you have been chewing my ear for this since we heard about Kei, so don’t disappoint us, please!”
“Since you heard about me?”
Kei’s question made Riyuku laugh again.
“Ciho, get your stuff from the sleigh… so I can speak with Kei privately.”
The girl obeyed without a question, and quickly left the building, leaving Kei and Riyuku on their own.
“Okay Kei, let’s play this game with open cards.” Riyuku flashed a smug smile, and from that, Kei knew that she wouldn’t like what she would hear. “If you think that you are here because of your own choice, then you are wrong. Remember the man who told you that the Kyoshi Warriors are here? Well, he was hired to tell you that specific piece of information and make you travel to the Northern Water Tribe.” He stepped a little closer and quieted his voice. “You are here for a good reason, and we aren’t talking about this spiritual imbalance thing here.”
“Power. Obviously. This siege put a large dent on Arnook’s position. There are many people in the tribe who think that he could have avoided this, and they aren’t happy about how he eventually handled the crisis, either. Now, he has a challenger for the chiefdom, and to make things worse, he isn’t exactly aware of this. There is a silent game for power in this very city, and both you and me are pieces in this game.”
“Who is this challenger?”
“I’m amazed that you haven’t noticed this yet. You have spent quite a lot of time together, after all.”
“Malika?!” Kei’s jaws dropped. Yes, the girl was all about politics, but she was just too young for this kind of stuff.
Riyuku just shrugged.
“Make no mistake, you are already being manipulated by her.”
“You are kidding, right?”
“I’m better with jokes than this. All I want to say is that you must choose sides wisely. If what they say about you is true, then you might be the game-winning piece.”
“This is insane…” Kei massaged her head. Subterfuge and political maneuvering were even less on her table than dealing with spirits.
“I see, politics is not your strong side, huh?” Her misery was blatant enough for Riyuku to notice it. She secretly thanked Kyoshi for this, as he did not stop here. “A bit of friendly advice: if you want to get through this smoothly, then just do what you have to do. Wait until the waves crash, then leave this place as soon as possible and never look back.”
“Thank you, but this was my original plan too…” grumbled Kei, and Riyuku rewarded her with another laugh.
“Then you should stick to it!” Ciho returned with a huge bag of clothes and training equipment, interrupting the conversation. “Well then, I’m leaving.” Riyuku patted Kei on the back. “Good bye, Kei!”
He left before Kei could say anything else. For a long moment, the Kyoshi Warrior was just standing in the large room, pondering her misfortune.
“Where should we start?” asked Ciho timidly. After receiving no answer, she forced out a smile and brought out a padded leather helmet from the bag. “I have brought protective gear for the training! I hope we can put it to good use!”
Kei knocked the helmet out of Ciho’s hand. She scared the girl, and the helmet flew out of the building through a window, hitting someone in the outside, but Kei couldn’t have cared less.
“We won’t need stupid protective gear!” she yelled, and roughly pushed Ciho towards the training mattresses. “Come on, training starts NOW!”
For one, Ciho didn’t resist in the slightest.
As Kei walked through the northern gate and into the frozen tundra outside of the city, she could immediately spot that something wasn’t right. The night sky above her was clear and filled with stars, but their light crept over the land like a woeful ghost, painting the snow with a sickly blue hue. The crescent moon displayed the taint of the same color, its silver beauty was dim and stained.
In the city, this phenomenon would be undetectable because of the light from the houses, and Kei hadn’t noticed it either in the past month. But now, it was undeniable.
“According to Master Yugoda, the outside world now bears the curse of the troubled spirits,” added Kala as their small caravan entered the haunting snowfields. “I’m afraid my waterbending will be useless here.”
Kei just snorted.
“Don’t worry, we can get along without your waterbending just fine.”
She watched as Vesi – their ad-hoc guide – and Malika organized the Moon Warriors and the sleds into traveling order. The unsettled buffalo deers howled and tried to crawl back to the city, but the twins managed to calm them down and tether them to the sleds.
Even though their journey was hyped to no end, the resources Chief Arnook had provided to Kei were scant at best. She only had the Moon Warriors and Ciho to accompany her, and they had barely enough supplies for four-days of travel even though the temple was further away. Arnook’s excuse was the strained situation of the Northern Water Tribe, but Kei couldn’t buy it. They had been intentionally hindered, she knew it.
Yet, she still decided to take on this journey anyway. With the eight girls, four sleds, and a promise from Riyuku that one of his ships would leave some extra supplies along the coast.
The girls of course saw this like a big adventure, and they were absolutely thrilled to go with Kei. Their rightfully worried families had sponsored two sleds out of the four, a day’s worth of supplies, a massive tundra-proof tent, and a relatively useable map. Though, for some strange reason, not even Malika’s father accompanied them. Kei theorized that this had something to do with the Moon Warrior’s basic premise – that they were strong, independent girls now who could reach a temple with limited supplies no problem – but it still felt weird.
Kei climbed onto the lead sled, checked her directions using the map, then glanced through the group one final time. Malika was ready behind her, excitement written all over her face as she held the driving-rein. Ciho in the second sled looked much less enthusiastic, her tall stature besieged by the freezing winds already and her thick Fire Nation offering no protection against the cold; Sura behind her was far less concerned with the weather. Nuniq and Kala had the third sled, and the twins Massak and Panik closed the line. Vesi was riding her own steed, a nimble polar horse, as she was supposed to ride ahead of the group; as far as Kei knew, Vesi was the only girl who had been outside of the city for an extended period of time, and definitely the only one in the whole group who had worthwhile survival skills.
“Let’s go!” shouted Kei, trying to fill her voice with as much confidence as she could, even though she was expecting the worst.
Thus, the caravan began its journey across the inhospitable tundra, sliding through endless fields of snow and winding around dark cliffs of sharp rock.
Kei’s expectations came to fruition on the third day, only a few hours after they picked up the supply cache Riyuku had left for them.
It came in a shape of a large boulder, flying through the air and hitting the ground just in front of the leading sled to blast Kei and Malika with a heap of snow.
The girls screamed and panicked as another boulder landed behind the caravan. They were in open ground, so the boulders couldn’t block their path, but Kei knew that they had a different purpose: a warning.
They were being ambushed by earthbenders. And there could be only one kind of earthbender in the Northern Pole.
“Barbarians!” yelled Nuniq, but she was quickly silenced as a third boulder hit her sled and tossed both girls on it into the snow.
The ground opened up next to them, only a few meters away from the last sled, and four large men burst forth from the hole. Their battle cries filled the air as they charged forward, wielding improvised axes and wearing tattered Fire Nation uniforms.
The first barbarian who made it was in for a rough surprise. Maybe the twins only had a month’s worth of warrior training, but what they lacked in experience they made up with ferocity. Panik took the initiative and leapt in front of the charging barbarian, using his momentary confusion to ram him. She bounced off his chest, but the impact was bad enough to send the axe flying – it missed Ciho’s head just by a thread and disappeared into the snow. The barbarian barely had time to recover when Massak followed her sister’s example, this time knocking down their attacker.
Sura, Nuniq, and Kala tried to team up on the second barbarian, and they even managed to disarm him somehow, but they weren’t a true opponent for the man, and he eventually scattered them, incapacitating each girl one-by-one with his strong punches.
The third and the fourth aimed for the lead sled. Ciho and Malika tried their best to fend them off, but Malika was dispatched by a kick before she could even make an attack, and Ciho was just teased and mocked by her opponent as she tried her best to at least land a blow.
The last man poked the pile of snow that was once Kei with his axe, and as a reward, the whole sled exploded into his face.
The tide of battle suddenly turned to the girls’ favor, it was clear as the brightest summer day as Kei emerged, her face twisted into a mask of unquenchable rage.
In her Kyoshi Warrior uniform, Kei was like a green lightning, darting out with incredible speed, and taking out the stunned barbarian in front of him with a single well-aimed punch. The nearest barbarian immediately abandoned his fight with Ciho and tried to help out his comrade, but just as he turned away Kei was already next to him. She hit the man with a spinning kick, an attack so swift it was incomprehensible to normal human senses: in one moment, Kei was standing on the ground, readying herself for the attack – a mere second later she was already in the air, her kick finished, and the barbarian flying through the air.
The third barbarian was stopped by a javelin that pierced his cloak and pinned him to the ground. In the distance, Vesi was coming back on her polar horse, preparing another javelin.
The last attacker was still busy with the twins, and after seeing how the ambush had failed, he decided to turn tail and abandon the fight. The two barbarians who had tasted Kei’s might came to the same conclusion and also ran away. After taking off his cloak and dodging the second javelin, the last barbarian quickly joined the wild retreat.
Kei was about to pursue when another hole opened in the snow to their right, much further away than the first one. From that, a massive barbarian emerged, a true giant of muscle and violence. His thick beard and carefully braided hair were decorated with small gold trinkets, marking him as the leader of the barbarians.
With him, a much smaller, scrawny man also appeared. He wore strange clothes filled with colorful pictures, and he had a necklace made from large balls of dark-grayish stone. As far as Kei could determine, he was maybe some sort of shaman.
“The witch!” screamed the shaman as he pointed at Kei. “The Daughter of the First Woman, her Face of Wrath! Blessed by the Ancient Ones, she wields the power of the spirits! We must retreat!”
The leader just snarled and gave a death-stare to Kei. The Kyoshi Warrior did not flinch, and returned the expression. They remained like this for a long moment, until the retreating barbarians reached the position of their leader. Then, the big man suddenly lunged forward and stomped the ground, making the snow explode under her feet in a shower of gravel and dust.
By the time the thick grey cloud finally dissolved, the barbarians were gone.
Kei hissed with disapproval, then turned back to the devastated caravan. Her girls were mostly okay, they had only received a few bruises and a black eye or two. They were just shaken and a little roughed up, but nothing too serious as far as Kei was concerned. The sleds had it worse, especially Kei’s, and two buffalo deer were gone, so they were two sleds down.
“There are more of these ambush pits ahead of us,” reported Vasi as she rode next to Kei. “We should cut down through the mountains to avoid them… but then we can’t bring the sleds with us.”
“Great!” growled Kei. “Any good news for a change of pace?”
“If we go through the mountains, then we will reach the temple faster.”
“But the journey will be tougher.”
Vasi straightened her back.
“We are the Moon Warriors,” she said with pride. “A trek across the mountains shouldn’t be a big deal!”
Kei nodded, then moved on to help the others without saying a word. Vasi wouldn’t have appreciated the curses she was brewing either way.
CHAPTER 6: THE TEMPLE IN THE NORTH
The temple was a small, flat building, with a roof shaped like an exotic flower as the with petal-like layers surrounding a pointy tower. Its design was nothing like Kei had seen in the Northern Water Tribe, it resembled typical Fire Nation architecture, if anything. The grey walls looked ancient, their surface reflecting the few rays of the setting sun that could pierce the storm clouds with hollow indifference.
Kei descended from the cliff carefully, trying to not cause any more discomfort to the two girls – Nuniq and Panik - she was carrying on her shoulder and under her arm. Behind her, the rest of the Moon Warriors followed the Kyoshi Warrior with wavering steps, their weakened limbs trying to defeat the knee-deep snow.
They had spent the last two days marching, first through the rough mountains, then through a snowstorm. Kei had been able to weather the worst, her supernatural strength and toughness made her highly resistant to all this adversity, and even help out those two poor girls.
After all that had been done, Kei could easily say that she had gone through the worst two days in her entire life.
“Arnook is a dead man if I leave this place empty-handed!” she murmured under her breath.
“This temple looks abandoned!” noted Malika from the background. “There should be some lamps out, but there aren’t any!”
“I’m going in either way!” Kei walked to the temple gate and put the two girls down there. “We won’t leave until I find something!”
She pushed at the door, and it opened up with a sharp creak. A surge of warm air swooped out into the tundra, and a long shadow spread through the entrance as the weak light poured in.
“Spooky!” said Ciho with a tint of fear in her voice as she too peeked into the temple.
There was only a single chamber, with dozens of statues standing in it. Kei stepped in, and the girls came with her.
“The priests are not here.” Kei just shook her head upon hearing Malika’s painfully obvious observation. ”This place is empty.”
They began to explore the place, spreading out like an opening fan. The statues depicted various men and women, most likely the past Avatars. Kei couldn’t recognize them at all, and soon she had to realize that she had no idea where to find Avatar Kyoshi. She first tried to search systematically, moving from the outermost statues towards the center in spirally path. This method soon proved to be just as frustrating as unrewarding, so Kei changed tactics and simply walked into the silent forest of stone figures without a plan, only guided by her instincts.
She found Avatar Kyoshi just as she passed through the second row of statues. It was strange, as the statue was standing in the middle of a large empty place, separated from the rest by a circle of warm golden light. Approaching the statue from the front, Kei could see that something was off with it: the face did not match the Kyoshi statue in Kyoshi Island, and she was wearing a long, bulky robe, nothing like in any other depiction Kei had seen so far.
When she moved closer, Kei also realized that the statue had short hair, barely reaching down to the neck, rather than waist-long. She almost questioned whether the statue was Kyoshi’s, but the accessories were spot-on: the headdress, the makeup, and the war fans were all there just as normal.
Kei looked around, trying to find the other girls, but there was only murky darkness beyond the circle of light. This chamber was much larger than she thought.
The young Kyoshi Warrior sat down in front of Avatar Kyoshi’s statue, first just staring intensively at the lifeless incarnation of her spiritual mother, then closing her eyes and falling into a deep meditation.
Her power ebbed and flowed, gentle waves of spiritual energy ran though her body and filled her with strength. All the weariness vanished from her, and her limbs were replenished with new vigor.
This time, however, she could feel her power reaching her mind too, blessing Kei with a moment of clarity. She felt tranquility like she hadn’t for almost a year by now, and it brought back lots of good memories, images from her time with her sisters.
She had no time for memories, though, and Kei began to focus on her specific purpose: to find the source of the spiritual imbalance in the Northern Water Tribe, and thus, maybe, also find out where her sisters were.
Kei’s eyes opened, and she found herself floating in a vast black emptiness, surrounded by a veil of blue light. She looked down, glancing into the dark depths under her, then raised her hands and reached out towards the light. Her body felt weightless, as if made from air, and it was indeed slightly transparent.
“I’m in the Spirit World!” buzzed through Kei’s mind, and the sudden realization almost disrupted her concentration. The world around her reeled and its edges slowly took back the shape of the temple chamber.
“The spiritual imbalance…” She forced her will on the Spirit World, extending her control to it in the same way as she had done with her own spiritual energies to attain supernatural abilities. “Show it to me!”
The light in front of her opened up, revealing a small window Kei could look through to see the answer with her own eyes.
The first image was the Northern Water Tribe capital city through a bird’s eye, with a special focus on the palace in the back of the city. The image changed, and it now showed the palace itself. The viewpoint began to move, into the palace and beyond, through small corridors and winding stairways. It stopped in front of a small, circle-shaped wooden gate. With a white flash, it passed through the gate, revealing a small lake flanked by massive cliffs and fed by a tall waterfall. In the middle of the lake there was a lush island, and the image now flew above a pond there, showing a white and a black koi fish circling around each other…
…Or at least they tried, but their movement was desynchronized, their pace and direction both changed haphazardly, often making them bump into each other. Kei sensed an immense amount of power coming from these two fish, and she could also feel the lack of harmony between them.
They were the source of the spiritual imbalance that plagued the Northern Pole.
The image drew back, and now Kei saw two men under an arch just behind the pond. One of them was Chief Arnook, while the other was maybe a high-ranking warrior of some sort; from his softly angled face and thick dark brown hair, Kei made a guess that he was Malika’s father. They were arguing about something, but Kei couldn’t hear what they were saying, not even the general topic. Arnook seemed upset and Malika’s dad was straight-out furious. The image stayed on them long enough to establish an importance, and Kei made sure to remember this.
The window suddenly disappeared and the blue light flashed, blinding Kei for a short time.
When she regained her sight, she was in the temple again, sitting in front of the odd Avatar Kyoshi statue. However, there were now other statues around too, the empty place was gone as well as the golden light.
“Ah! You are finally back!” Malika’s voice made Kei shudder. She still felt the aftereffect of her journey into the Spirit World: her ear was ringing and she was sweating like crazy. “We were really worried about you!”
“How long was I out?” asked Kei weakly. “Where are the others?”
“You were meditating for almost a whole hour. Meanwhile, we have found another room in the back of the temple. It is filled with supplies and there are signs of fighting all over the place. The barbarians probably attacked the temple and took the priests as hostages.”
“But they left the supplies here?”
Malika just shrugged her shoulders.
“Barbarians… Who could fully understand them?”
Kei struggled to her feet, even though she was still dizzy and had to use the Kyoshi statue as a support.
“Are you all right?” The question made Kei shudder again. She flashed a vicious grin.
“No, I’m not all right!” Kei pushed herself away from the statue, right towards Malika. The girl was too surprised to even try to evade the Kyoshi Warrior, and they bumped into each other. “Come over here!” hissed Kei as she grabbed Malika’s clothes at the chest and lifted her into the air.
Malika cried out in fear, and futilely struggled to free herself. Kei ended both quickly by shaking the poor girl in her arms like a simple doll.
“Now listen closely!” The harsh voice froze Malika, even as she was just about to bite Kei’s hand. “It is time to be clear with each other, Malika. I know about your little game, and to be honest, I’m growing tired of playing my part in it! You either give me a good reason to side with you, or you can wave our cooperative project goodbye!”
Malika’s eyes narrowed, and the fear disappeared from her face.
“I don’t know what you are babbling about,” she said coldly. “We have been pretty clear with each other since the beginning.”
“Don’t lie to me!” Kei could feel her face turning red from anger. “Riyuku told me everything! About your plan to become the next chieftain of the Northern Water Tribe!” She shook Malika again, now even rougher than before. “You are just using me to get an edge over Arnook, aren’t you?” Kei was just a moment away from smashing a statue with Malika. She was fuming like never had before since she left Kyoshi Island. Her rage was hammering the bounds of her mind, rampaging inside like a bewildered beast. “TELL ME!”
For a second, it looked like Malika was about to spit Kei in the face: she pouted and took a big breath, but instead of a spit, she gave Kei words.
“Please Kei, spare me your nonsense,” she gently took a hold on Kei’s arms. “I don’t want to be the next chieftain. I’m a little too young for that, don’t you think?” Kei couldn’t answer, so she chose to put up an even angrier face instead. “My dad and some of his friends want to subvert the Northern Water Tribe chiefdom and replace it with some sort of council system. Seriously, I’m not interested in the details, all I know is that Arnook provided them a good opportunity with his fumbling during the siege.”
“Then what do you want?”
“Me?” Malika almost sounded like she was mocking Kei. Her lips even turned into a disdainful smile. “I’m more interested in spiritual pursuits. As it now stands, I only want to watch and learn. To experience the spiritual sisterhood the Kyoshi Warriors share.”
This somewhat eased Kei’s wrath. But she still missed an actual answer.
“What is your endgame, then? Why the watching and learning and experiencing?”
“It should be obvious at this point. I want to join the Water Priests as the first Water Priestess.”
“So that’s why you have pushed me into this spiritual imbalance thing!”
“I haven’t pushed you anywhere, but yes, your progress does align with my interests.” Malika looked right into Kei’s eyes, her blue interlocking with the Kyoshi Warrior’s black. There was now a whole different light in those eyes, a blaze of will and power. The radiance blinded the beast within Kei, and it cowered in fear under this assault. “Put me down, Kei.”
With the fires within turned into embers, Kei suddenly found herself obeying Malika. When the girl’s feet were on the ground again, she slowly peeled off Kei’s hand from her clothing, finger by finger, then took a few cautious steps back, away from the Kyoshi Warrior.
Kei had to stop for a moment to catch her breath. Her head was still buzzing, like a million tiny hammers tried to crack her skull. She could have never guessed that Malika was so strong-willed. She had overpowered Kei much more easily than the Kyoshi Warrior was comfortable with, and her wounded dignity was now lying among the ruins of her smothered anger. Suki had used to put Kei to her place like how Malika had done, and the similarity was almost unbearable: it was like the Moon Warriors were truly just weird copycats of the Kyoshi Warriors, more in essence than on the surface.
Luckily for her, Malika did not put much thought into this conflict, and from the outside it looked like she hadn’t minded it at all. She just rearranged her clothes and walked past Kei like nothing had happened.
“I suppose you have noticed that this statue looks nothing like Avatar Kyoshi,” she noted casually, but still with a little flutter in her voice.
“Yeah, I have,” Kei was thankful that Malika wasn’t pushing how the Kyoshi Warrior had just fallen flat with her big confrontation. “It still worked though. I know what’s the deal with the spiritual imbalance, and I know where to fix it.”
“Wonderful news!” Malika stepped to the statue and ran her finger through its war fan. “We must return to the capital city immediately and bring back the Northern Lights as soon as possible.” She turned back to Kei. “Of course, as our leader, you should have the final word.”
This sounded better. Kei swallowed back a deep sigh, and instead tried her best to put up a self-confident expression.
“Yes, we are returning to the city! Pack up the girls, we are moving out!”
Malika nodded, then left without saying a word.
Kei looked around and stretched her limbs. She felt a little lost now, as Suki had at least left her with something to do after a fight, but Malika had just let her boil in her own soup. After five minutes of pointless fidgeting, she headed back to the main gate, but turned around half-way and decided to look up that other room the girls had found instead.
In her head, she was repeating the dispute with Malika over and over again, thoroughly digesting every moment of it. She had learned almost nothing, and her prestige definitely shrunk in Malika’s eyes in return. It had been a total loss, bordering a disaster, a repeating of the same stupidity that had made Suki and the others leave Kei behind in Kyoshi Island.
That had been enough for one, yet it still managed to happen again… and Kei made a silent vow that she wouldn’t get into a third, no matter what it took.
CHAPTER 7: SPIRIT
The heavy doors flung wide open, ringing the whole palace with their loud crash. It was a dramatic entry, made even more meaningful by the nine girls rushing right through. Kei was in the front of the group, leading the Moon Warriors to the sanctum she had seen in her vision. They were running short on time, as they had had to experience it first-hand when they passed through the city gates.
Behind them, the capital of the Northern Water Tribe was in utter chaos with waves of ghastly blue light raining from the pale night sky, spreading through the streets and infiltrating the minds of every person they could find. The result was both ridiculous and terrifying: those who came under the effect of the blue light began to circle around each other, often forming large masses of mesmerized people going around and around, but their movement was erratic and awkward as they often bumped into each other or missed the rhythm and started to break the circle.
The madness in the city was a mimicry of the badly synchronized dance of the two koi fish in that pond. The spiritual imbalance had gone out of control and was now leaking into the Mortal World, and Kei even knew why.
“The Summer Solstice is almost over!” cried Malika from behind her. “We are running out of time!”
“I know!” shouted Kei. “So hurry up, or this city is doomed!”
Chief Arnook was a terrible gambler, Kei had to admit that. In the return journey, she had had time to think about this curious timing, and she had come to the conclusion that Arnook thought that Kei could fix the spiritual imbalance in the temple, and he wanted to reap the glory while the Kyoshi Warrior was away. Unfortunately to him and fortunately to everyone else, some pesky barbarians forced Kei to arrive to the temple early.
It was actually quite ironic that those barbarians pretty much saved the Northern Water Tribe with their ambush.
In the messing hall, two men stood out from the dozen tribesmen as they tried to circle around each other atop of the tables.
“Dad! Chief Arnook!” Malika almost broke off to try to help her father, but Kei grabbed her clothes just in the last moment and shoved her back towards the door in front of them.
“They can wait!” Kei kicked in the door and threw Malika through it. “You can’t help them anyway!”
They hadn’t actually tried out in the city, but Kei was sure of her theory. The blue light avoided Kei and the Moon Warriors so far, and she didn’t want to miss the opportunity by stopping to help people. Maybe this insanity was contagious, a risk Kei had no intention of exploring.
As they reached a gallery overlooking the bay, Ciho stopped, her mouth forming a voiceless scream, her eyes fixated on the two salvage ships that belonged to her father. Kei didn’t have to look to see the two ships’ attempt of circling around each other, their massive bulk turning at the command of the hypnotized crew.
“Snap out of it!” To underline her demand, Kei slapped Ciho in the face, instantly bringing her out of her shock. “We stay together!” Vesi knew the drill and grabbed Ciho, dragging the poor girl after the group. “MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!”
They finally reached the door to the shrine, but it was locked. Malika tried to pry it open, and even though she couldn’t do so much as move the small wooden door, Kei came to her rescue and simply ripped it out of its place. By the time the door and its frame landed, the girls were already inside.
Kei ran straight for the pond. The two fish were there, but they were no longer moving, just facing each other while staying still. Not even their fins moved, and for a moment, Kei though that they were dead.
She sat down under the arch, and the Moon Warriors did the same behind her, whispering amongst each other about what to do now. Through her special power, Kei could sense the flow of spiritual energies streaming around them, a vortex of mystical forces centered on the pond. She closed her eyes and focused on these energies, trying to swim across the waves and into the nexus where she expected to find the source of the problem.
When she opened her eyes, she found herself in a familiar place. She was floating in the same darkness as in her vision at the temple. The blue light was gone, replaced by hundreds of tiny silvery stars scattered against the blackness. Kei turned around, and to her great surprise, she realized that she wasn’t alone here now.
The young woman behind her wore robes of black, white and blue, similar in style as the clothes of the Northern Water Tribe but richly decorated with pearls, fur and feathers. Her beautiful, mildly angled face was painted similarly to Kei’s Kyoshi Warrior makeup, only black and white and much more detailed. Her long black hair disappeared into the darkness around her knees, seemingly merging into the background.
“Uh… I suppose you are Princess Yue, right?” This was Kei’s first guess, but the woman looked older, maybe in her late twenties rather in the teens.
“No, I’m not.” The woman stepped closer to her, but Kei didn’t flinch. She knew that she was in control thanks to her power, so she had no reason to back away. “I’m La, the Spirit of the Ocean.”
Now, this shook Kei a little bit. She had heard about the Ocean Spirit before, Instructor Tamara’s mythology classes had been second to none. Yet, not even in her craziest dreams could Kei imagine a personal meeting with such a powerful entity.
“This is awesome!” It took a moment for Kei to realize that maybe this reaction wasn’t really that spot-on. “Sorry, I mean, it is my honor to meet with the Ocean Spirit!” She hastily bowed, but between her embarrassment and the fact that she was floating in nothingness, the move proved to be rather clumsy.
“You are Kei if I’m not mistaken,” La moved even closer, now being almost within an arm’s reach.
“That’s right!” Yet again, Kei had to remind herself about whom she was speaking with. “Oh, my apologies,” She bowed again, now with slightly more grace than before. “I’m Kei of the Kyoshi Warriors, daughter of Avatar Kyoshi.”
La just smiled.
“It is my pleasure to finally meet with you,” she said gently. “After all what I have done to bring you here, I grew fearful that maybe you would be late, if you came to this place at all.”
“You brought me here?” blurted out Kei, but she quickly silenced herself.
“I did. I saw you leaving Kyoshi Island in search of your sisters, and sent a dream to Chief Arnook about you. Later, I made him stumble into some essential information about the Kyoshi Warriors and even manipulated one of your older sisters to travel to the Northern Water Tribe and tell about you and your powers.”
“So that’s why he was so cocky! Arnook knew about this all along!” Kei’s anger began to rise, and with that, the stars around them started to glow with a menacing crimson light.
“Calm down Kei,” hushed her La. “Chief Arnook only tried to do the best for his tribe. Please, respect his decisions. He meant well.”
“Don’t worry, I will respect his decision!” fumed Kei. “As soon as I can finally strangle the life out of him!”
La laughed up, her joyful voice echoed through the darkness and calmed down the Spirit World, turning the stars back to their normal silvery selves.
“I expected no lesser words from the Face of Wrath!” Her smile suddenly disappeared, and Kei knew from this that they reached the serious part: the reason they were here. “I need your help Kei. You are the only one who can solve this spiritual imbalance that plagues me and the Moon Spirit. With your power, we can end this once and for all.”
“My power? Do you want me to punch you or something?” Kei shook her head as her tongue had got ahead of her manners again. “I mean, it would be my pleasure to do your bidding, but I’m afraid my powers are useless here.”
“They are not, believe me.” La reached up and touched Kei’s cheek. This kind of intimacy was somewhat unasked, and Kei could feel her face turning red from the embarrassment. “You are the first spiritbender after many thousand years, so it is natural that you are not aware of the full extent of your power.” The word ‘spiritbender’ perked Kei’s interest. It looked like she was truly one of them, unless La was also lying to her. After the last month, Kei could see the manipulative edge even in the worlds of the Ocean Spirit, though it was probably just her imagination playing with her. “However, with my help, we can unlock another side of your abilities.”
“Uhum…” Kei really wanted to say something smart, but her mind failed her. She began to feel a little witless while facing the mighty Ocean Spirit. La was speaking so finely, and she radiated an overpowering aura of royalty that made Kei look insignificant and petty in comparison. The whole situation made the Kyoshi Warrior feel uneasy as she was not used to being humbled like this. “So what should I do?”
La reached for her hands and gently drew them to herself. A soft wave of cold ran through Kei when the Ocean Spirit touched her, and the unmistakable scent of the ocean filled her nose. For a short moment, Kei experienced the sensation of being in contact with all the oceans in the world, from the tallest waves to the darkest depths. Her power fluctuated as it tried to compensate for the massive amount of spiritual energy flowing through her, and the effort produced a sharp pain in her chest. Kei winced and hissed, but she could muster the strength to suppress the pain.
“I see, Sargon was not very careful with his gift…” La said upon noticing Kei’s suffering. Her tender words were followed by another wave of coldness that eased the girl’s pain and the turbulence in her power. “Now listen closely, daughter of Kyoshi. All you need to do is to close your eyes and let your spiritbending flow freely. I will harness your power instead of you, so you only have to hand it over to me.” La now placed Kei’s hands on her forehead and chest. “The channeling might prove to be an unsettling experience, but please, don’t be scared. I will do whatever I can to avoid causing any harm to you.”
Kei took a big breath. This sounded risky, but she didn’t have many options. She closed her eyes and unleashed her power from her control, letting it pour out from the depths of her soul.
In spite of La’s warning, she didn’t feel a thing. Her power was reaching out somewhere, but Kei’s senses were unable to follow it that far. Even La’s body faded under her touch and Kei soon found herself surrounded by the empty void.
A strong voice pierced the nothingness as La began the ceremony.
“The Moon and the Ocean must exist in an opposing duality.” Her voice had a strangely neutral tone, neither male or female. “Push and pull. Light and darkness.” There was a brief pause, and Kei could feel the spiritual energies around them growing more intense, their light clearly perceivable through her eyelids. “Man and woman.”
The last words made Kei’s eyes spring open with surprise. They were no longer from a woman, and as the young Kyoshi Warrior regained her senses, she could see that the change she had brought upon the Ocean Spirit was far beyond her wildest imagination.
In front of her now a man was standing, in a long robe of black, blue and white, richly decorated with fur, feathers and pearls. His strong, handsome features gave him a royal look that was only slightly disrupted by the makeup his former female form had also worn.
Kei was terrified and she felt her face instinctively reflecting her impression. She tried to beat back her bewilderment and at least force out an indifferent face, but her attempt was futile and probably even worsened her situation.
Her next thought was that she had done something wrong. The sheer possibility that she had messed up the Ocean Spirit with her spiritbending wrenched her stomach into a glob.
On his part, La reacted to this with a small but comforting smile.
“The harmony between me and Yue is now restored,” he declared calmly. “The Northern Lights are back, and the Water Tribe must be safe for now.” He reached forward, passing his hand over Kei’s head. The gesture made the girl shiver from the confusion and the embarrassment. “Thanks to you, Kei. I’m in your debt.”
“That’s… That’s neat…” forced out Kei with a barely-concealed whimper. “I… I want to know where my sisters are… I want to meet with Avatar Kyoshi…”
This was the best she could make up before her mind failed her completely and her tongue became paralyzed from the lingering shock. Luckily to her, La still managed to understand what she truly meant.
“I can’t promise anything.” La floated away from her, and his shape began to fade away. “I will notice her, but she might be unable to come here personally.” He was barely audible as he said this. The world changed and warped, the stars slowly disappeared and the darkness dissolved into a thick greyish fog. “Farewell, Kei.”
His last words echoed through the realm for a while, but brought no respite to the young Kyoshi Warrior. Her head was aching like she had just headbutted a mountain, and her limbs felt numb. Kei shook her head, trying to regain some of her vigor, but La had drained too much power from her. She was spent, both physically and spiritually.
The last week, the journey to the temple and back, the mountains and the snowstorm, all suddenly crushed down on her, and now she couldn’t sweep aside the strain with her power.
Kei collapsed, first to her knee, then tumbled forward and fell to the ground, or at least to something she perceived as the ground.
“Poor girl, you don’t look so good!”
The odd, feminine voice brought back Kei instantly. Her eyes sprang open and her muscles tightened as she instinctively jumped up. Like a floodgate opening to pour water into the drying lake, her spiritbending spiked, revitalizing Kei with a surge of spirit energy. The fatigue in her body and mind was absorbed and disappeared without a trace, allowing Kei to face the newcomer with clean head and strong arms.
The first thing she saw was that she was standing on some sort of grassy mountaintop. The place was flat and thickly overgrown with ankle-deep dark green vegetation, and its edges ran only a few meters away from Kei. She couldn’t see much from the fog, but it looked like there were dozens of such mountaintops around her, though the air was too thick and warm for a mountain range.
The second thing was a shadowy figure levitating beyond the edge just in front of Kei. The fog cloaked her form, leaving only a blurry humanoid patch for Kei to see, but she could still recognize her.
“You are not Avatar Kyoshi…” she noted disappointedly. “But I have seen your statue in the temple! Who are you?”
The addressed moved closer, revealing herself in the process. She was indeed the woman whose statue in the temple stood as Avatar Kyoshi’s. Though, something was off with her appearance; Kei couldn’t discern exactly what, but it felt… fake.
“My name is Izumi, I’m a Kyoshi Warrior like you. Avatar Kyoshi sent me to answer your call for help.”
Kei’s eyes narrowed. This was certainly fake, the effort on the woman’s face to keep up the façade was clearly visible.
“I was separated from my sisters,” began Kei carefully. She couldn’t trust Izumi, so she decided to keep their conversation simple. “I don’t know where they are. Can you help me with this?”
The mention of her sisters brought up memories in Kei’s head about the times they had spent together: her fights with Suki that had always ended with loving reconciliations, the way Okako always looked after her, Pema teasing her, Nirmal being so smart about everything, Kitara’s jokes and sweet laughter, and Asha looking up to her power. Remembering their now broken union twisted Kei’s heart, and her desire to see her sisters again leaked out into the Spirit World in the shape of an aura of warm golden light.
This turn of events clearly startled Izumi. She tried to evade the golden light that was spreading towards her, but she couldn’t go too far before it caught up with her. A so far hidden bracelet on Izumi’s left arm glowed up with the same light, piercing through the illusion that was the woman’s robes.
Kei took a big breath then reached out for her spiritbending, channeling the spiritual energies into her body, filling her muscles with a supernatural force. The Spirit World around her responded even better than the Mortal World, and the fog, the woman, and the grass under their feet had frozen in one place as Kei launched herself forward.
From Izumi’s perspective, Kei teleported; there was no transition to the moment when her uppercut was connecting with Izumi’s chin. The way the woman was caught completely flat-footed and unable to put up even a token defense immediately betrayed that she was no Kyoshi Warrior – Instructor Tamara could always counter Kei’s superior speed with ease, and the girl expected no less from any other grown-up Kyoshi Warrior.
The world rushed back into its normal pace from the halt Kei had forced upon it, and what had been great speed was now a terrifying strength in Kei’s arm. The strike broke through the illusion that was Izumi’s face and hit something behind it with a loud crack, sending the woman flying upwards.
There was no respite though, and the world froze again for Kei. She leapt high into the air, just above Izumi’s body, and she delivered her second and final blow in the shape of a double-hand hammer punch.
Izumi did not spend much time in the air as she was violently sent back to crashed into the ground. Even though she had just suffered two hits that would have killed an average human, Izumi recovered from her rough landing almost instantly, her form rearranging itself into a standing position like her body was made of liquid. If not for Kei charging her again and tossing her back to the ground, she would have scurried away in no time.
The golden light around them flickered, making Izumi’s body fade into a transparent veil; under the illusion, Kei could see a slender woman in a loose grey robe, her long black hair coiling around like a dark snake, her red eyes glowing with power and mirroring insanity.
“WHO ARE YOU?” yelled Kei as she grabbed the woman by her neck and pinned her to the ground.
“Can we skip this please?” The woman tried to break free as the last bits of her illusion dissolved in the golden light, but Kei held her well. “I’m a close associate of Avatar Kyoshi! I’m one of her servants!” There was a tint of fear in her voice, and from that Kei knew that she was harmless at this point.
“What do you want from me?”
Now, the woman changed tactics and her body suddenly turned black and became fluid, a human-shaped puddle of darkness. She tried to simply spill out from Kei’s hand, but the girl held her too strongly, and the golden light didn’t help her attempt either as it clawed into the black mass, forcing it to return to its human form.
“I’m here to help you!” whined the woman-spirit under her, now clearly desperate to free herself from Kei’s unflinching grasp. “La told me that you need help! I can answer your questions! I know where your sisters are!”
The last part cut into Kei like a knife, and her hold weakened. Of course, she expected this, but being so close to learning the location of Suki and the others still made her reel from the suspense. The woman saw this on Kei, as her fearful expression was replaced with a sly smile.
“Oh yes, I know where your sisters are! Isn’t that what you want to know so badly?” Her voice was now sweet and reassuring. “I know many things! Not only where your sisters are… But what are they up to… I can tell you what is happening with them even now as we speak… and what will happen to them in the future! I can tell you what will happen with you in the future! Aren’t you curious?”
The inky fog around them grew thicker as the woman spoke and the golden light weakened. Kei didn’t know what the woman’s game was with this nonsense she was spitting forth, and wasn’t interested in finding it out either.
“Stop blathering and just tell me where my sisters are!”
The woman’s smile widened into a gleeful grin.
“Come on Kei, don’t be so blunt! This is your big chance! Don’t you want to know what the future holds for you? Don’t you want to know how you will die?” Kei flinched, and her thoughts got flustered from the irritation and the embarrassment. “Or do you want to know how you ended up here?” The fog suddenly lifted, and Kei found herself in the middle of a massive storm, levitating above a dark ocean ridden with titanic waves. “Yes, I was there… In fact, I and my companion guided Sargon to you…” Among the raging elements, a tiny ship sailed, seemingly just moments away from falling apart. Kei’s eyes opened wide as old, long-buried memories found their way into her mind, revoking the scene as it played out in that ship. “He conjured this storm, then…” An enormous creature emerged from one of the waves, a turtle-leviathan with a shell the size of a city and a strangely feline head. He raised one of his huge paws, and when the ship came close to him, he smashed it into a thousand pieces.
“NO!” screamed Kei, and she fell back, releasing the fiendish woman-spirit who used this vision to earn her freedom. The world around them quickly changed back to the mountaintop, banishing the storm, the crushed ship, and the creature back to the depths of Kei’s memory.
“Anyway, Suki is in a place called the Boiling Rock.” The malicious voice now came from above Kei as the woman-spirit gained some distance from the girl. “She is safe, guarded by a Kyoshi Warrior initiate who is closer to her than she would think. You will see when you meet with them.” There was a brief pause, and for a moment, Kei thought that the spirit-woman had left her. “The others… Okako, Pema, Nirmal, Asha and Kitara are in a different establishment, just a short walk away from the Fire Nation Capital City. They are also fairly safe, but for a whole different reason.”
“Fire Nation Capital City?” hissed Kei as she tried to recover. She staggered to her feet, but all she could see was the fog – the woman’s voice came from beyond it, out of Kei’s sight. “What are they doing there?”
“Betraying the world and themselves, what else!” This was followed with a mirthful laugh. “They helped the princess of the Fire Nation to capture Ba Sing Se, and now they are slowly but surely succumbing to her influence! Well, they will never truly see the end of it, but I assure you, their treason is already running deep!”
“You are lying! My sisters would never do such thing!”
“Should I go into the details? Okay, we have time for that!” The source of the voice shifted, and now came from behind Kei. “Your sisters were caught by Princess Azula, and she took them prisoners. Azula is a smart girl for her age, and she quickly realized the value your cadre holds for someone like her. She manipulated your sisters, separating Suki from the others to sow the seeds of desperation, then bullied Okako into cooperation by threatening Asha.”
“Okako? Asha?” The mere knowledge that someone hurt her sisters sparked Kei’s rage. “This Azula is dead if anything happened with them!”
“Suki was transported to the Boiling Rock Prison where… a special someone followed her. This Kyoshi Warrior initiate will ensure her safety and provide her the means to escape when the Avatar’s friends come to that prison. However, Azula will already have a hold on Suki by then, making her do… questionable things.”
“Suki…” Helplessness wrenched Kei’s heart, and she could feel a tear running through her face.
“Okako will rally the girls to resist Azula, but she has doubts that will doom her efforts. Pema defies the princess, but she will fight against an unrelenting tide. Nirmal will fall quickly, her greatest strength becomes her undoing. Kitara will go a long way, first betraying herself before her inevitable demise. Asha will fall to a firebender other than Azula, giving him not only her devotion and love, but something much more precious too!”
“Shut your mouth!” lashed out Kei. “I don’t want to listen to your nonsense anymore!”
“I’m just answering your questions, my dear!” The silence that followed gave a small respite to Kei, but the woman was not done with torturing her. “You will never meet Azula, and Arnook won’t let you leave the Northern Water Tribe until the end of the summer. Malika lied to you about the Moon Warriors, and you will see the truth by the night of this day. You will enact your revenge on Sargon, and make him pay for what he did with you. Her name will be Ishtar; you will raise her as your own, and her power will be only matched by her beauty – slowly but surely, she will drain all of your life-force through your spiritbending bond, and reduce you to a lifeless husk!”
Kei endured the haunting prophecies without a word, and they burnt into her brain, giving the young Kyoshi Warrior a small taste of the malice and insanity that was the spirit-woman’s own.
“Oh, and the First Woman had seven Faces: Prowess, Caring, Enthusiasm, Soberness, Wile, Ferocity and Wrath. Each Face was given to her by the seven Celestial Sisters, the entities who created her. When the First Woman reunited with the Sisters for a second time, they sacrificed themselves rather than see their beloved creation die. For cheating fate, they were punished to reincarnate piece-by-piece, over and over again, the seven Sisters as the seven Faces, the seven Daughters of the First Woman. I pity you if you still don’t know who they are!” She burst out in laughter, and it sounded more and more distant with each passing moment. “Now, I think I have already told you a little too much…” The woman suddenly flew out from the fog, nimbly winding in the air, stopping only to pass her hand over Kei’s chin. “Goodbye, Kei!”
The Kyoshi Warrior reached out towards the woman, trying to catch her again, but a flash of white light blinded her.
“She is awake!” The sharp voice pierced the white light, so that the pain could find a way into Kei’s ears too, not just to her eyes. “Malika! MALIKA! Kei is back!”
“You should really shut up,” grunted Kei off-handedly. She needed some time to get a hold on herself. She was seemingly back in the Mortal World, but something felt really odd: her whole body was numb and her stomach was tormented by hunger and thirst – it was like she had been sitting in the shrine for a whole day at least, even though she had been away for a good ten minutes at best.
“Kei?” Malika’s voice was the final sign for Kei that she could open her eyes. She was indeed in the shrine, sitting in front of the pond and with the night sky above her. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Kei leaned forward to check the pond. The black and the white koi fish were now circling around each other in perfect harmony. “Disaster averted, I suppose…”
“You can say that, but…” It was hard to miss Malika’s concern. Something was wrong.
“What?” Kei’s eyes wandered through the place. All the Moon Warriors were here, and Ciho too. But something was off, she just couldn’t discern exactly what.
Kala stepped forward from behind Malika.
“Kei, I don’t know how to say this…” The waterbender walked to the Kyoshi Warrior and gently placed her hand on her shoulder. “The Summer Solstice was three days ago. You were meditating here ever since then!”
This finally snapped the pieces together in Kei’s head: all the girls around her were fresh and clear, far from the grimy and exhausted bunch she had brought back from a week-long trek in the unforgiving tundra. The Kyoshi Warrior noted the revelation with a simple nod.
“So what’s happened while I was away?”
“A few minutes after your depart, the phenomenon that drove the city crazy ended,” explained Malika as she sat down beside her. “The blue light returned to the sky and it soon transformed into the Northern Lights.” She pointed upwards to the night sky, and Kei could indeed see the bluish-greenish lights dancing there. “We… uhm… you averted catastrophe just in the nick of time. There was a little panic, but nobody got hurt. The city returned to normal in the next day, and in the day after, the barbarians left the North Pole.”
“Are the hostages back?”
“Yes, they are.” Malika flashed a warm smile. “Thank you, Kei.” She lunged forward, wrapping her arms around the Kyoshi Warrior. The gesture took Kei a little flat-footed, but she quickly recovered from the surprise and returned the hug. “Thank you for bringing my mother back.”
The other girls also joined the hug, and they remained like this for quite long time. This was it, the very essence of being a Kyoshi Warrior: the bond, the sisterhood, the union that would make them more than a random group of girls with some martial training.
“You girls lent your weight into this too, don’t forget that. Without you, I couldn’t have saved the Northern Water Tribe. You are shaping up well!” Kei let her compliment sink in, and just enjoyed the brightened faces around her. Maybe she wasn’t totally honest with this, as she could have done this all alone, but she had to say something positive; the occasion was just calling for it.
“By the way,” began Nuniq, “what have you done exactly?”
Kei burst out laughing.
“I think I have turned the Ocean Spirit into a man!”
CHAPTER 8: A NIGHT FOR CELEBRATION
When Kei had imagined the celebration night, this had not been what she had in mind. The mess hall in the palace had been hastily converted back into a ceremonial chamber, much to the distress of the already strained architecture. As a result, large icicles were hanging over the richly decorated tables and between the colorful lampions, and a sprawling pond took up half of the floor in the middle of the place.
At least the atmosphere was good. Other than a short announcement concerning the events of the Summer Solstice, Kei hadn’t got any acknowledgement for saving the city, and for one, she was happy to escape the attention. Most people concentrated on Malika and her Moon Warriors, and the seven girls had been buried under an avalanche of flattering compliments. It seemed like the tribe wanted to see them as their saviors, and only a few cared to express their gratitude to the one who had done the heavy lifting.
Malika’s mother was one of them; and she had done this in the last two hours without taking a break. She had kept Kei with company, though her unending chatter had begun to grow on the girl’s nerves. Her only solace was that at least the woman had saved her from Arnook and his cronies. Now, their company would have spoiled Kei’s night for certain.
The noodles on her plate that had been served for the feast were almost gone by now, and with that, Kei’s mood was also swinging towards a quick leave. She only had to shake off Malika’s mother somehow, the others wouldn’t even notice her vanishing. Her mind had almost worked out a plan, but then she realized that the ceremony itself was close to an end.
Malika’s father stood up and knocked his drinking-glass a few times to get everyone’s attention in the hall.
“Please, my friends, can I have a word?” Everyone fell silent and turned towards him. It seemed like most people awaited some sort of positive announcement, as they were smiling and their eyes were bright from the enthusiasm – only Arnook’s face was dark and sulky. “Our tribe went through a great deal of hardship and tragedy in the last months. Beginning with the siege and then continuing with those barbarians and that terrible night two days ago, we have survived a lot, and dare I say, maybe the worst. We were able to overcome these calamities because we had the right people doing the right thing – Avatar Aang, Princess Yue…” He made a wide hand gesture towards the Moon Warriors and Kei. “…my daughter Malika, her Moon Warriors, and Kei… They all did what was the best for our tribe, no matter how little help they received from those who were supposed to act in the hour of need.” Arnook wanted to interrupt this lazily concealed attack against his person, but the loud applause from the audience didn’t give him the chance to do anything; so he just leant back in his chair and endured silently. Kei almost pitied him. “However, with the tides of misfortune past us, we should look back and learn from our plight. It must be clear at this point that one person cannot and should not take responsibility for the whole tribe. The failings and mistakes of one should not endanger the many or thwart the righteous. We should consider revising the current form of government, and replace the chiefdom with an elected council!”
Another loud applause. Arnook was clearly angry, but he was also helpless in this situation. The proposal met an overwhelming support from the people present, and from the looks of it, Arnook’s days as the Chieftain of the Northern Water Tribe were numbered. This finally gave Kei some satisfaction after all she had had to go through because of Arnook. Just watching him as he boiled in the soup Malika’s father cooked for him made Kei grin.
“Now, the Water Priests agreed to mark the beginning of the new era with a most fitting offer, a gift I want to present to my daughter Malika.”
The entrance swung wide and four Water Priests walked in, solemnly stepping to Malika. The girl was genuinely surprised, and Kei could even see traces of embarrassment on her face. This was all right, Kei expected something like this – she even turned back to her noodles, as she knew how the scene would play out.
“New times are upon us indeed,” began the leasing priest. “Not even the priesthood can ignore the calls for change. As such, we ask you Malika to join our ranks as the first Water Priestess. May your ascension sign the beginning of a new age in our tribe’s history!”
The hall fell silent again, now everyone was waiting for Malika’s answer. The girl looked around shyly then stood up and bowed towards the priests.
“I’m honored to hear your proposal,” she said respectfully, but her voice was shaky from the barely suppressed embarrassed, “but I decline.”
Everyone but Kei was taken aback by this turn of events.
“B-but… Malika!” Malika’s father ran to his daughter and grabbed her shoulder, turning the girl around to face him. “This was your dream!”
“I had a change of mind,” she replied bluntly and with a steadily increasing embarrassment. “I would rather continue my training with Kei.”
This was the point where Kei snapped and laughed out loud. The ceremony definitely reached its height, the only way was down from now; and Kei was more than ready to push the show onto the slope.
“I wish to speak, if you don’t mind!” she announced smugly as she stood up. Arnook nodded, and everyone turned towards the young Kyoshi Warrior. “To quote one of my newest acquaintances, let’s play this game with open cards.” Riyuku gave her a thumbs-up. He was undoubtedly amused by the show. “During my stay with the Northern Water Tribe, I had the questionable luck to have a peak at the surface of the things that eventually aligned here. I also talked with a certain someone in the Spirit World who gave me additional insight regarding the secret conflict that went on in the tribe.” Her tongue almost slipped on these words. Kei was not used to expressing herself so finely. “All in all, I came to the conclusion that this place STINKS!” Just to underline her message, she hit the table with her fist, making the people around her reel. “Just what’s wrong with you guys!? Everyone is manipulating everyone! Why do you have this urge to be so underhanded when you can just tell the other that you have a problem? Why is it so hard?” Malika’s dad found a very interesting spot at the nose of his boots with his eyes, but Arnook withstood Kei’s outburst without looking away. “Why can’t you be honest with each other? Talk straight, scrap this annoying political maneuvering, and you will see how things suddenly become easier! Like, I had to save your city in the last second just because someone somewhere has a hidden agenda he didn’t bother to share with me!”
A deep silence befell on the hall, and as she was still in the crossfire of the others’ attention, Kei began to feel quite uncomfortable. She had her speech worked out exactly until this point, and she was actually expecting some sort of strong reaction rather than this kind of dumb astonishment. It looked a lot like the majority of people couldn’t even understand what she was trying to tell them.
Malika used the shift of attention to sneak away and disappear in the crowd. Kei almost yelled at her to stay where she was, but Arnook got ahead of her with breaking the silence.
“Kei, your complaints are noted,” he said coldly. “However, I must point out that not even once was I dishonest with you.”
He said this with such confidence that Kei almost believed him.
“Hah! What about the Summer Solstice? The non-existing ice that will trap me here until the end of the summer? What about you not telling me how you learned about my power?”
Arnook’s eyes narrowed, and from that, Kei immediately realized that she had just strayed onto slippery grounds.
“Look, Kei, I can’t lie to you if you don’t let me tell anything to you. I could have given you all the answers you needed, only if you had asked the right questions.” He made a brief pause, so that his words could sink down in Kei’s head. “Anyway, the ice is real. The Northern Water Tribe will be cut off from the rest of the world for almost two months, starting at the day after tomorrow when the roaming ice reaches the bay in front of the city.”
“Good to hear this!” interrupted Riyuku. He was now mildly annoyed. “When did you plan to share this with me, if I may ask? Or should have I asked the right questions, too?”
“I wanted to wait until the last moment. Master Pakku might have sent some of his waterbenders back to clear up the ice, just as they are supposed to do in each year.”
“Waiting for the last moment is not very effective, as we all know by now,” added Riyuku with a growl, then stood up and stormed out from the hall. Arnook just shrugged; his apathy was stronger than his concern for Riyuku’s problems.
The people in the room started to whisper among themselves, their muffled voices were plagued by agitation and panic. The main topic was of course the food supplies.
“We have enough food, and with the barbarians gone, we can re-open some of the distant hunting grounds if the need arises.” Arnook’s words calmed down the masses. “I have also contacted one of mister Riyuku’s friends who could bring us supplies through the ice barricade.”
Kei punched the table again, and with that, she successfully regained the lost attention.
“Okay, the ice is real. I knew that you wouldn’t let me go. And I wasn’t inquisitive. Lesson learnt. But you were still hiding stuff from me. Important stuff. That’s not nice.”
“Please, Kei, remind me what you did the last time I failed to answer your curiosity.”
This caught Kei unprepared. She strained her memory, but the exact scene eluded her. She couldn’t even remember the occasion.
“Uhm… I dunno’. What was it all about?”
“When I couldn’t tell you where your sisters were, you threatened me with physical violence. You told me that you would, and I quote here, ‘extract the information with your bare hands’ from me, and you were on the edge of actually doing it.”
The tides turned against her, and Kei suddenly found herself in a rather awkward position. She ran out of argument points, her mind was ringing hollow, and her tongue was just lying purposelessly in her mouth. For a moment, she seriously considered accepting her defeat and sitting back to her place.
“No!” Kei shouted, scaring everyone in the hall, even herself a little bit. “I won’t back out of this, you can count on that!” The attention on her definitely reached its peak, but her mind was still in the middle of letting her down. She was determined to continue… but she had no idea how. Her face turned red, yet it only enhanced her helplessness for her audience.
“We are listening, Kei,” bit into her Arnook, just for good measure.
As the chief and Malika’s father exchanged glances, a spark of light flared up in Kei’s head. She remembered now, that one important thing she even decided to not forget. Wielding it like a sword, Kei prepared to unleash her finishing strike.
“Yeah, I’m not over yet!” she said between two big pants as the mental strain got the better out of her. “You are just blurring the issue!”
“I’m not blurring the issue.” Arnook’s sudden interruption almost broke Kei’s chain of thoughts, and for a second, she became speechless. The mere effort to make her mouth move again cost Kei more than the whole journey to that temple and back.
“Don’t interrupt me!” Kei took a big breath. “I saw what this imbalance was all about! Not just the spiritual stuff, but the other thing too!” She pointed at Arnook and Malika’s father. “You two and your little quarrel were just as responsible for the whole mess as both Yue and La being girls!” The last part caused quite an upheaval. From the looks of it, not even the Water Priests were aware of the exact source of the imbalance. Not until now, at least. “Yeah, that’s it, I saw you two bickering at the spirit pond when I was investigating at the temple! My vision was very specific, so I know it was true! So, yeah, be friends!” The two men exchanged glances again, then looked at Kei. They were clearly in the dark about what to do. “Kyoshi slap it, JUST SHAKE HANDS OR SOMETHING!” This worked, and they shook hands, and their peace was blessed by Kei’s smug smile. “Now we are good!” She theatrically spun around and prepared herself to leave as dramatically as she could. “I have spoken!”
She walked out from the hall like a queen returning from a victorious battle.
Malika was already waiting for her outside.
“I must admit, I seriously misjudged you!” she began with a warm smile. Kei, however, didn’t even slow down, forcing the girl to walk with her.
“Well, I seriously misjudged you too!” Kei scratched her head as she tried to put her thoughts into words. “I had some help though, so I guess this makes you the better judge of human nature.”
“Thank you for bringing it up, Kei,” Malika’s voice deepened and from that, Kei knew that she was genuinely curious now. “So what was this help? No way you could figure this out on your own!”
Kei bit into her lips as she considered dropping this conversation altogether. She did not feel accountable, but she really wanted to brag about how she had eventually seen through Malika.
“Back in the Spirit World, I met with someone who told me that you were lying about the Moon Warriors. She also told me that I would see the truth by the end of that night.” Kei suddenly stopped and turned back to Malika. “By Kyoshi’s pink slippers, I did! You were lying about your families expecting you to become strong like Princess Yue! You were just appealing to my emotions!”
“I wasn’t lying, just slightly bending the truth,” added Malika with a smile. “Princess Yue is an example for all the young girls in the tribe… But yeah, nobody cares about when we will become like her.”
“Heh! I knew it!” Kei poked Malika in the shoulder. “You girls just wanted some cool adventure. Exactly like Suki and the others: you got a small taste of the thrill the world has for you during the siege, and you wanted more! That’s why you stayed with me! You knew I could give you the adventure, and you knew that you could get away with it because I would just save your butt if things had gone awry!”
“That’s surprisingly precise so far.”
“You are despicable! I’m not some puppet you can play with to have your fun!”
“True. You are definitely a one-of-its-kind puppet.”
This answer made Kei frown. She liked how Malika was totally honest with her, but maybe she was too honest now.
“Whatever. Don’t forget that tomorrow is training day. Bring extra refreshments because it is going to be twice as though as before.”
Malika’s smile widened.
“So you are not abandoning us after all this?”
“Of course not. There is no point. I’m stuck here until the end of the summer, and that’s plenty of time for you to manipulate yourselves back into my liking.”
They remained silent for a long moment, their eyes interlocked, and their thoughts circling around each other.
“Okay, one last question,” mumbled Kei. “If you are so smart, then why did it take so long for you to realize that I’m not the brightest person here? Why did you put so much effort into those lies?”
Malika licked her lips; she had clearly invoked some unpleasant memories here.
“Just a week before your arrival, another Kyoshi Warrior had visited our tribe, looking for some ‘spiritbender scrolls’. That’s how we learned about you and your power. This Kyoshi Warrior was an older woman, and she just… demolished me in front of everyone. I expected the same from you, so I made extensive preparations to not let you slip out from my grasp.”
“Like feeding your dad with the priestess story?”
Malika just shrugged.
“You guys are unbelievable.” Kei began to walk again, but this time, Malika didn’t follow her. Their conversation had reached its end, they both knew this. “Well now, I’m leaving. I have a letter to write to my sisters. Meet you tomorrow!”
And with that, Kei left, her head buzzing from the events of this night, but her heart free from the burden of the last month.
In every other circumstances, Kei would have been frightened or at least shocked at the sight that awaited her when she stepped into her house. Not this time. In fact, she was grateful for this to happen after all that mess in the palace.
The large, brutish man hadn’t even tried to hide, he had been simply standing in the middle of the large single room of the ground floor, half-way blocking the stairs with his massive body. His ragged Fire Nation military uniform haphazardly complemented with thick grey fur, the thick beard and carefully braided hair and the golden trinkets in them, the huge muscles and the aura of violence; all was there exactly like the last time they had met.
It very well seemed like the leader of the barbarians did not like loose ends. To the point where he remained behind even as his people left the Northern Pole, just to continue a fight he had never had the chance to truly begin.
For a timeless moment, they just stared at each other, the young Kyoshi Warrior and the mighty barbarian. The air between them vibrated with anticipation, though none but the empty room was there to witness the coming action.
“Oh, yes, we have an unfinished business, don’t we?” broke the silence Kei, and with that, she gave the sign to start the fight.
The barbarian unleashed a terrifying roar and launched his fists forward. A boulder the size of a man was ripped out from under the floor, and sent flying towards Kei. She didn’t bother to dodge it though, and the rock harmlessly shattered into pieces on her body, leaving only a small tear on her Kyoshi Warrior uniform.
Now it was Kei’s turn, and she darted forward with the speed of a lightning. A second boulder flew past her, blasting the entrance door into a shapeless hole. Kei barely paid any attention to this as she closed the gap and leaped onto the man. Her fist rose like a hammer, ready to deliver the first and maybe the final blow, but her strike never connected.
To her surprise, the world around her wavered, and reset to its normal flow way before she willed it. Her power slipped, then simply disappeared, like it was shut out by an overpowering surge of bleakness, something that created an impassable barrier between Kei and her spiritbending.
Her punch carried the same strength as any other from a physically better developed fifteen year old girl: the barbarian didn’t even flinch. In return, he slapped Kei right in the face, sending her flying through the room, right into one of the punching bags.
This almost knocked out Kei for good. The slap covered her world with a painful darkness, and the impact with the punching bag pushed her even deeper into it. Luckily, the barbarian used the opportunity to taunt her, rather than continue with another attack.
“Your witchcraft is useless now!” He brought out a small amulet from his neck. It was like a small piece of stone, with a strange rune glowing on it with cold blue light. “The Ward of the Forgotten protects me!”
Kei just snarled as she recovered and slowly got back to her legs. Her power was returning, the bleakness and the barrier felt distant. So the amulet only worked up close.
The world around the Kyoshi Warrior slowed down as she drew into her supernatural speed. She turned to the closest punching bag, ripped it out of its place, and used it as an improvised projectile to take advantage on this new turn of events.
Even though her attack was little more than a blur, the barbarian reacted to the punching bag quickly, and stomped the floor, making a wall of rock rise in front of him. Fire Nation craftsmanship proved its superiority again as the wall burst into rubble, filling the whole room with a thick cloud of dust.
Kei only needed this to spring into action. She charged again, now more cautiously, using the barbarian’s momentary confusion to hit him with a spinning kick. Maybe she couldn’t use her power, but she was still a Kyoshi Warrior, an elite fighter trained in martial arts since her childhood. She would take out this pesky barbarian, with or without her spiritbending.
Her kick was followed by a flurry of blows, and they actually managed to shake their target. He recovered quickly though, and unleashed his own attack in the shape of a powerful punch. Kei rolled away just in time, and the fist only brushed her head. The barbarian’s next move caught her unprepared though, as he dashed forward with the momentum of a frenzied platypus bear, and Kei was pushed into a nearby closet.
She instinctually ducked, barely avoiding another punch that obliterated the closet behind her, then tried to sweep her opponent’s legs. This move didn’t work very well though, as she lacked the strength to trip the large barbarian, but it nevertheless made him reel, allowing Kei to connect another barrage of swift jabs.
The barbarian howled in rage as the girl’s strikes continued to rain down on him, and he stomped the ground again, now trying to hit Kei with an earth-column that sprang out from the floor. It completely missed its target, and crashed into the western wall of the building, taking it down in a large part, and most of the roof with it.
Kei decided to change tactics, as her onslaught led nowhere as far as she could determine. She waited until the barbarian tried another punch, and intentionally stepped into the attack. Employing the full extent of her Kyoshi Warrior training, she grabbed the striking arm and twisted it sideways, redirecting the monstrous force behind it, and when she could feel it moving where she wanted, she suddenly pushed it upwards.
The dumb expression as the man watched his own fist swinging towards his face almost made Kei laugh. The following bone-crunching sound however snapped her out of it. What a dozen attacks couldn’t accomplish, a single redirected strike did. The barbarian screamed up in pain, and tumbled to the ground.
Kei immediately jumped at him, trying to find the necklace that held the amulet, and as a reward for her big hurry, she got into a world of trouble. Maybe the barbarian leader was not well-versed in the Kyoshi Warrior fighting style, but he was sure tough like a mountain. He regained his senses almost immediately after Kei got close, and he lashed out against her by savagely beating the air. His hands quickly found the girl, and he first tossed Kei to the ground, then finally managed to grab her neck.
The world exploded in Kei’s head as the hand on her neck tightened, and the barbarian started to strangle her. The sounds of him panting and the building slowly collapsing faded into a low humming, and the grinning face with the bleeding nose in front of her turned into a murky patch of greyness. She tried to struggle, but without her spiritbending, she was no match for the barbarian.
A thousand bells came to life in her mind, and even though Kei was losing it, her training still sprang into action without her willing it. It was time for her cadre’s ultimate technique, an attack so destructive Instructor Tamara spent weeks to teach to the girls.
Her right leg struck up with all the strength she could muster, and hit the barbarian right between his legs. In his concentration on squeezing the life out of Kei, he didn’t have the slightest chance to defend himself or even react.
The effect was immediate. The barbarians high-pitched scream was probably clearly audible in the palace, and his eyes almost fell out from their place. His face twisted into a mask of almost supernatural pain, and more importantly, a terrible spasm ran through his body, making him release Kei. The girl wasted no time in seizing the opportunity, and finally tearing the necklace off of his neck.
He fell to his knees, then to his side, his hands grasping his crotch. Not even he was so tough to just shake off this attack so easily.
Kei took a moment to check out the amulet. It felt strangely soft in her hand, almost like it was made of jelly rather than stone. The rune on it glowed with a similar blue light to the one that had driven the city mad during the Summer Solstice. It was also very hot, burning Kei’s hand even through her glove. As far as she could remember, that shaman-barbarian wore this back then – it was most likely a gift for him so that his leader could defeat the “witch”.
After a moment of consideration, Kei threw way the amulet away, rather than simply crushing it.
“This is what you get for picking a fight with the Face of Wrath, loser!” With that, she stomped on the barbarian’s head, adding quite a lot of her power into it, and knocking him out immediately.
She sat down on the ruins of the stairs, taking a small break to catch her breath. This whole time she had spent with the Northern Water Tribe so far was just downright awful. Her sisters had probably gotten the better deal with their imprisonment.
“But they will know what she had to endure!” ran through Kei. A plan was forming in her head, maybe it was just the lingering concussion playing with her, but she really had an idea about repaying all the mess Suki and the others had pushed her into: she would take the Moon Warriors to Kyoshi Island, and just push them onto her sisters. She would have the whole summer to arrange this. They would enjoy each other’s company just fine!
As she left her house to find some guards, she grew increasingly confident with her idea. She didn’t even know that she could make up something so crafty like this.
Maybe she had indeed learned something by helping people.
EPILOGUE: BLESSED ONE
The two spades hit the muddy ground hard, digging up large chunks of earth with each strike. A lonely shovel was tasked to throw out the dirt from the makeshift pit the spades had created with their hard work in the last hour.
At the edge of the large hole, a woman stood, watching the three men as they put their tools into good use below her. They had worked tirelessly so far, but their prey had still managed to elude them.
“We are aroun’ the rock of the mountainside!” noted the largest man. He scratched his thick brown beard and brushed off the dirt from his dark-blue clothes. “If that nest ain’ popping up soon, then we can bet that it ain’ never gonna’ pop up!”
“Keep working Bipin,” the woman calmed him. “The nest must be close. Alas, I can’t cook duck-weasel omelet without duck-weasel eggs.”
The men groaned with hunger written all over their faces.
“That omelet is the only reason we do this!” said another man. “But are you sure that duck-weasel has its nest around here?”
“Yah, it does,’ grumbled Bipin. “Saw’ little sucker getting into the hole we busted with the first strike of our spades. She gotta’ be around. Just maybe not this way.”
“Well, you might hasten up. Midday is coming soon.”
Another wave of discontentment was the only answer to the woman’s proposal.
“You oughta’ grab that spare shovel Moritha. Would help more than your chattin’!”
Moritha gifted Bipin with a small smile, then grabbed the spade and used it to support herself.
“You find the eggs, I make the omelet! That was our deal, wasn’t it?”
“Aw, come on, woman, we have better things to do than dig all day!”
Bipin was quick to express his disagreement as he hit the complainer in the back of his head.
“Quit squabblin’ and dig harder! That omelet is the best thing we can do for today, I’m tellin’ ya!”
“I also cook for almost the whole island, so just being here isn’t exactly the best use of my time either!” added Moritha. “A food riot is the least thing Kyoshi Island needs right now, so…”
She bit off the end of her sentence. A weak, distant noise reached her ears, carried by the cold winds of the sea. Moritha turned away from the pit and the men, and for a moment, she tried to listen and discern the source of the noise. It came from far away, past the forest, somewhere around the shores.
“Whats’ happenin’ up there?” asked her Bipin. “Whats’ this big silence?”
“I…” Moritha stepped away from the pit, in the direction of the strange noise. “I think I hear something. Or someone.”
“I think it is crying… It is coming from the shores…” Like being dragged away by some invisible force, Moritha found herself walking towards the shore with a hastening pace. “Maybe someone is in trouble! I have to check it out!”
“No! Wait for us ye’ silly woman!”
Moritha disregarded Bipin as her steps hastened, and she was almost running through the forest. The trees in front of her thinned, and with that, the noise grew stronger. Now she could clearly hear a crying – high-pitched and troubled, like the whimpers of a trapped animal.
As she reached the last trees, a terrible scene greeted her eyes. She was in the large eastern bay, a remote and desolate area rarely visited by the islanders. The rough, greyish sand of the shore couldn’t draw many people normally, but this time, it still did, though not by the unfortunate visitors’ own choosing.
The shoreline was littered with wreckage. From the looks of it, these were the remains of a ship, maybe a larger fishing boat. Among the mangled planks and the tatters of the sail, unmoving figures slept their eternal dreams.
The desperate scream of a little girl snapped out Moritha from her horror immediately. She turned towards the voice, and it didn’t take her too long to find the source as she was stumbling amidst the wreckage.
She was young, very young – no more than six years old. Her face was frozen by pain and terror, her messy black hair and ragged green clothes swirled freely with the winds of the ocean, giving her an appearance of a revenant, a haunting ghost of the dead.
The cloak on her back got stuck in a shattered cross-beam and she fell back into the slimy gravel. She screamed up in pain, and hit the ground hard, launching a greyish spray of saltwater into the sky.
Moritha wasted no time in rushing to her. As she gently picked up the child, she could see her eyes bouncing around, trying to discern something out of the world with their pale stare.
“Mom!” The girl squealed, her mind dulled from trauma, and she clung to Moritha’s clothes, drawing herself into the woman’s embrace. She began to cry helplessly, he tears carving long chinks in the dirt covering her face. “Mom…”
“Hey, calm down, you are safe now,” Moritha shushed. Her voice shook the girl. She stopped crying and looked up, trying to find a face for the words. As their eyes met, Moritha had to steel herself to not drop the child back into the sand: the little girl’s eyes were unnaturally black, like some sort of dark, etheric corruption had overtaken her iris, leaving only a small green rim around her pupil.
The girl reacted similarly to Moritha’s face: she reeled and slightly pushed herself away, even though her mind was still too dull to make her struggle. Moritha felt her confusion, and lacking a better idea, she forced out a warm smile and gently smoothed the girl’s disheveled hair to lull her.
The fond gesture worked, and most of the darkness disappeared from the girl’s face. She tried to look around again, first towards the forest, then turning her head to the ocean.
“No! Don’t look!” Moritha turned away the girl’s head just in time before she could see the grisly remnants of the ship and the dead bodies between them. The girl reacted with a small squeak, and tightened her hold on Moritha.
“Where is my mom?” she cried, and her voice was faint, like she was just moments away from passing out.
“I…” began Moritha, but she was cut short by shouts from the forest.
“Kyoshi’s bronz’ spoon, whats’ happened here?” Bipin and his men quickly ran to the wreckage and began to search for survivors. “Spirits be damned, what’ mess!”
“They must be Earth Kingdom refugees,” noted another man. “Their ship was probably caught by that strange storm yesterday.”
“This ain’ lookin’ good,” added Bipin. “The ship was busted.” He lifted a wooden sheet from the water, a former part of the hull. It had a long, deep claw mark on it. “I don’ wanna even know what happened.”
He stepped to Moritha and checked out the girl in her arms. Bipin and Moritha spoke with a quick exchange of glances; there was no need to say out loud what was undeniable for them. Their silence was better for everyone present, especially the girl.
“Ya, it ain’ good,” concluded Bipin with a sigh. “What’s now?”
“I’ll take her back to the village. I have a feeling that Tamara will know what to do with her.”
Bipin nodded with approval.
“Good idea. And if you are there, send for help. We havta’ clean up this place fast.”
Moritha left without saying anything, acknowledging Bipin’s words with only a sad glance.
As she passed into the forest, the girl in her hands looked up again.
“W-Who are you?” she mumbled faintly. “Where is mom?”
“I’m Moritha. Your mother… she journeyed to another place, but she will be back soon. Until then, I will look after you, okay?” Dizzy and exhausted, the girl seemingly accepted these answers. “Now, what’s your name?”
“I’m Kei.” With that, she leaned back to Moritha’s embrace, and as far as the woman could determine, fainted immediately.
“Don’t worry Kei, everything will be alright,” said Moritha as much to the unconscious girl as to herself. “You will be fine.” She hastened her steps, and soon approached the ridge that led to the central village. Above the trees, she could even see the Avatar Kyoshi statue that was in front of the village – it almost looked like its head was facing towards them, watching. This instantly cleared all doubt from Moritha’s mind concerning the girl’s future. “You shall be a Kyoshi Warrior!”
Author's Note: Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed the story! With this, the first arc of my Kyoshi Warrior stories also ends, encompassing the things that happened with the Kyoshi Warriors during the timeline of ATLA. If you liked these stories then stay tuned for more, as the second arc will start soon with the tale of 'The Fallen Warrior'!