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Author Topic: One Day in Changbai [T] (Complete)  (Read 846 times)
shorewall
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Posts: 2530


Yeah, baby!


« on: Mar 07, 2016 06:22 pm »

Mai groaned.  Her feet were killing her.  As she traveled down the forested Earth Kingdom road, she wondered again how she could have let that kid make off with her ostrich horse.  If she ever saw him again, he was going to be sorry.  

There were no villages on her map for miles.  Unless she found a friendly family of hicks out here (she could almost hear the banjo music), she was going to be spending the night in glorious mother nature.  Great.  

Up ahead, the road curved out of sight around a bend.  All around her, birds chirped and squawked.  The setting sun was shining through the trees, rays of light falling gently.  It was, all in all, a beautiful day.  And Mai hated it.  Makes perfect sense, doesn't it Mai? she thought.  Everything else is happy to be alive, and then there's you.

As she came around the bend, she was brought short in her contemplation.  A small village lay before her.  Actually, calling it a village might be an overstatement.  A few shacks leaned drunkenly around a opening in the trees.  In the center, one building took precedence, although that was more by default than any worthwhile qualities it possessed.  Anywhere else, it would barely pass muster as a small house.  Here, she read the bark wood sign: Inn.

At any other time, Mai would have looked down on this place.  She would judge it based on the opulence she had known, and even by the less advantaged neighborhoods she had been to.  If she had transport or time, there was no way she would have stopped here.  And even now, if she wasn't so tired, she might have considered (for a moment at least) roughing it in the woods.  

But in this moment, this ramshackle backwoods inn looked beautiful.  Mai was tired, weary, and done with traveling for the day.  Her legs, realizing how close they were to the end of the road, became slack, and she knew that she had gone as far as she could today.  Though she schooled her face, the rest of her body could barely contain its relief at the prospect of rest.

She walked to the doorway, which was covered by a blanket instead of a door.  She paused.  How...quaint.  She brushed the blanket aside and stepped through the doorway.  She stood on the threshold for a moment as her eyes adjusted to the lower light level in the building.  There was a rickety chimney in the corner, with two chairs beside it.  On the other side (inasmuch as such a small room could be said to have sides), there was a counter with a stool next to another doorway, with another blanket curtain blocking it.  And at the counter stood a young woman, about Mai's age, who plastered on a big smile when she saw Mai come in.

Welcome to the Changbai Inn!  My name is Jin.  We offer supplies, food and drink, and a great place to rest on your travels!” the young woman recited perkily.

Mai didn't respond at first, taking in the shabby room, before responding.  “Right...”

Jin's smile fell slightly, but returned a moment later.  “That's right!  We are the best accommodations for miles around,” she stated, trying to emphasize to her would-be customer that beggars-can't-be-so-snooty position.  

Mai just laughed humorlessly.  “I guess you could say that,” she replied, taking the other meaning.  The girl behind the counter pouted for a moment, then decided that it wasn't worth fighting for.  

“Well, if you need anything, let me know.”  She stepped back and leaned against the wall, letting her gaze wander to a spot on the wall over Mai's shoulder.

“Actually, I need a room,” Mai said.

“A room?”

“Yeah, you know, since you're an Inn?”  Mai snarked.

Jin stared at her with a blank expression, and Mai was tempted to smack her own forehead.  But the blank look was quickly replace by a wide grin that wouldn't look out of place on a cat owl.  What now? Mai wondered.

“I'm so sorry,” Jin began, in a sweetly solicitous tone, “we're full up.”

“WHAT.”

“We...are...full...up.”  And she smiled brightly, tilting her head to the side sweetly.

“How are your rooms filled?”  Mai was starting to get upset.  “Who comes here?  How can you be an inn if no one comes here and you're full?!”

Jin kept looking like the cat owl that swallowed the sparrowkeet.  “Well, it's like you said.  We don't get a lot of travelers here.  The only reason this Inn is even able to function is because it is also the tavern, and the shop for our little village.”

Mai sighed and rolled her eyes.  “OK, I get it.  But how can you be full then?  Is there a convention in town?”  

The girl cocked her head.  “Oh no, nothing like that.”  And then went back to smiling at Mai.

Mai groaned internally.  This obfuscating, no help giving, smug little...

Finally the girl continued.  “We have one room, and someone came in today before you got here and booked it.  I'm sorry.”  The girl didn't look or sound particularly sorry.  In fact, Mai was sure she sending a very decipherable code message between the lines.

Mai was torn between letting this nuisance know exactly what she thought of her, and her ONE ROOM INN, or trying to be nice and start over.  She could imagine that either would be about as effective, but she knew which one would make her feel better.

Before she could continue this particularly rewarding conversation, she heard yelling and a crash from outside.  The girl at the counter sighed and her face fell.  Mai quickly read her expression.  There was fear, tempered with something else.  Resignation.  Interesting, but not as interesting as potentially getting a chance to take out her annoyance on something.  She schooled her expression, but the hint of a smirk still touched the corner of her lips as she rushed out the doorway.

As she stepped through the blanket that served as a door, her veteran eyes took stock of the situation.  Three standard toughs, maybe bandits if you gave them enough credit, were harassing some girl.  Typical s**t, she thought.  Then she smiled.  Thank the spirits for little things.  She reached for one of her knives when the girl started dancing.  Water started floating out of nowhere, and as Mai's mind snapped to “Water bender”, the three toughs went down in a wet pile.  Mai sighed and then turned her attention to the water bender...who was somehow deep in Earth Kingdom territory.  

The villagers came out to gawk at the three men groaning in a pile.  Mai kept them in her peripheral vision as she approached the water bender, but they didn't seem to be planning on getting up for the moment.  She turned her focus to the girl, and at this distance, she was jarred by the recognition.  The dark skin of the water tribe, blue clothes (This really should have been more obvious, She thought), and those...hair loopies?  “Katara?”

The water bender turned and fixed those amazingly blue eyes on Mai.  Seriously, how can they be so blue?  “Mai?”  Katara squinted.  “Mai!”  She waved happily, with no self-consciousness.  A few of the villagers looked at them.  Mai hunched, but Katara was still waving at her, so she managed a little half wave of her own.

Katara walked up to her, smiling and radiating sweetness.  Mai wondered how exhausting expending that much energy must be.  I guess some people are just always on, she thought, thinking of her friend Ty Lee.

“Hey Mai, how are you?  What are the odds of seeing someone I know way out here?”

Mai shrugged.  “Good enough, I guess, since we're here now.”

Katara's smile faded just a notch, before returning to it's usual level.  Mai groaned at herself internally.  Do you have to piss off everyone you meet?

“I guess you're right.  Well, I'm glad to see you anyway.”

“Me too.  It's...good to see a familiar face.”  Mai was slightly surprised to realize that she meant it too.  She decided to also chalk this up to her being tired.

Katara's smile now went up a few notches in intensity, and Mai had to resist a slight urge to cover her eyes from the brightness.  “Wow Mai, coming from you that's almost a declaration of love!” Katara laughed.

Mai rolled her eyes.  “You wish.  So what brings you to this spirit forsaken wonderful place?”

I'm actually passing through, on my way to Omashu.  It was getting late, so when I found this village, I was glad to find out they had an inn.”

“Yeah, hate to break it to you, but the inn is booked up,” Mai replied.

Katara looked quizzical.  “That's not what they told me,” she said, holding up a room tab.  Mai stared at her blankly for a second.  Did the girl at the counter lie to me? she wondered.  Were there really no rooms, or did Sweetness here get more flies than my vinegary ass could-  And then it hit her.  Katara had the room.

Katara's quizzical look turned into a small laugh.  “You wanted a room at the inn too?”

Mai glumly looked at Katara holding the room tab and nodded.  She wanted to ask Katara if they could work something out here, but was hesitant to reach out like that.

Katara laughed.  “Well, that's wonderful!”  Mai quirked an eyebrow.  “We'll share the room!  No problem at all!”

Mai smiled back, half of her eagerly grabbing the chance to sleep in a bed (oh god, what would the bed be like?) while the other half was suddenly nervous.  She had shared beds before, with Ty Lee and Azula, but she knew them well.  Katara was, not a stranger, but definitely not someone that Mai would have considered spending the night with.

This is stupid, she thought.  Katara's a girl and we know each other and we're in the middle of nowhere and there is one room.  So deal with it!  She let out a breath and the nervousness passed.

“Thanks Katara, you're a life saver,” she dead panned.  Katara smiled.

Then they heard shouting.  The ruffians that Katara had subdued had gotten back up.  Mai was surprised that no one had apprehended them yet.  She drew a couple of her throwing knives and sank into a ready stance, and Katara beside her did the same, her water flowing around at eye level.

The villagers were just standing around, watching the ruffians, with listless expressions.  With this much resistance, Mai was surprised this village still stood.  One of the ruffians was holding his arm and yelling.  “You all are gonna pay for this!  You know that the Changbai Gang runs this place!”  

Whenever he caught the eye of a local, that person looked at the ground.  Mai grit her teeth.  This was pathetic.  Maybe this town deserved this level of harassment.

Then the gang member turned towards Katara.  “And you!  You're really gonna pay!  You don't even know what you stepped in, Water Tribe-er, but we're gonna tell our boss and this whole village is gonna get a reminder of who's really in charge here!”

Mai was tempted to peg him with the handle end of one of her throwing knives, just for the crime of being a small time a****le with delusions of grandeur.  But she was surprised when Katara spoke.

“Tell your boss I'm waiting for it!”  Mai and the ruffian both looked at her.  “What?” the tough yelled.  “What?” Mai whispered.

“You heard me.  I'm not afraid of your 'Boss',” Katara yelled back.  “In fact, I'm waiting for him.  Tell him I want to see him tomorrow, or I'll know he's a gutless coward!”  Mai just watched her, wondering.  Where the hell is this coming from?

The crook was just as taken aback.  “You WHAT?!  That's it, you're dead!  Do you hear that?  DEAD!”  He took a step forward, but Katara grinned dangerously and swung her water whip around a bit for emphasis.  The tough gulped.  “Tomorrow.  Tomorrow, when our boss comes, you're dead!”  He turned and motioned to his compatriots.  “Let's get out of here.”  They took off into the woods.

Mai took aim with one of her knives, but Katara put her hand on her arm.  “Let them go.”

“But why?” Mai asked incredulously.  “They're going to get reinforcements!”

“I'm counting on it,” Katara replied, and again Mai saw the hard grin, that didn't go up to her eyes.  Mai was beginning to realize that she knew even less about Katara than she had thought.
Logged

"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light."
shorewall
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Posts: 2530


Yeah, baby!


« Reply #1 on: Mar 07, 2016 06:24 pm »

“You want to share the room?” Jin asked.

“Yes, if that's okay,” Katara replied.  “We know each other.”  Mai stood back, not wanting to get on the innkeeper's bad side again.

Jin smiled her business smile.  “Of course there's nothing wrong if you two are okay with it, but I'll just remind you that the Changbai Inn is not responsible for any lost or stolen property while you stay-” 

“We get it,” Mai snapped, cutting her off.  The two glared daggers at each other, until Katara laughed placatingly and put her hands on Mai's shoulders, leading her to the room.

“Thank you so much,” Katara called back, as they entered the modest bedroom.  Mai took it in.  Based on the size of the building and how much the front room took up, she didn't know what else she had expected. 

A little over half of the room was taken up by the bed.  It was bigger than a single sized bed, but it still wasn't big.  Yet it almost touched both walls width wise.  What was left of the room was taken up by a small table and two chairs.  It was the bare minimum that could ever be called an inn room.  At least it was clean.

Mai sat down on the foot of the bed.  “Ohhh...” she moaned.  “Oh, that feels good.”  Katara smiled at that and sat down at the table, allowing Mai to enjoy the bed, although she was just as tired.  The bed itself was a bit saggy, but Mai didn't care.  She felt like she could drift off right now if she laid down.  But she resisted.  There was something she wanted to deal with now, while it was still fresh.

“So, what do you think of this wonderful part of the world?” Mai asked sarcastically.  Katara put her finger to her mouth and motioned to the blanket door, implying that others might hear.  It took Mai a moment to realize that Katara was worried that the innkeeper might be offended.  She smirked at that.  “Don't worry, they know it's a hole.” 

Katara gasped. 

“And if they don't, then I'm sorry I had to be the one to break it to them,” Mai continued, grinning.  She almost hoped that Jin was listening in.  Katara shook her head exasperatedly.

“Come on, Mai, these people are just trying to make it here,” Katara said, trying to guilt her.

“Well, they're not trying very hard,” Mai replied.  “Have you seen this place?”  Katara opened her mouth to respond, but didn't have anything to say.  “And the way they all rolled over when those loser thugs showed up.”  Now Mai turned her sharp gaze onto Katara.  “By the way, what is your deal, anyway?”  Katara blinked and noticed something on the wall.  “Beating those guys up, I can understand.  But why are you picking a fight with their entire gang?  Do you really have nothing better to do?”

Katara looked at the floor.  She mumbled something in response.  “What?” Mai asked.

“I couldn't just leave things like this.”

“What are you talking about?” Mai asked.  She cast her mind around, trying to understand what could be motivating the other girl.  “These people don't even care what is going on here, and both of us have more important things to be worrying about.  You're on your way to Omashu, right?  Well, so am I.  I was assigned to go by the Fire Lord,” Katara noticed the formal title, “and I'll take a guess that you are going on the same business.”  Mai aggressively shrugged at Katara.  “So why are you starting gang wars in backwoods hamlets?”

“I can't walk away from this.  Look at these people, they barely have anything, and on top of that, they have to worry about thugs coming in and taking what little they have!” Katara forcefully stated.

Mai pinched the bridge of her nose.  “Look, I get it-”

“Do you?” Katara accused.

Mai glared at her.  “I GET it.  You want to help.  But even if that gang shows up tomorrow and we kick their asses,” Katara also noticed the use of 'we', “we can't stay here and protect them forever.  At some point they need to stand up to people like that.  Or else another group of bandits is going come in right after we leave.”

“Well, that's what I'm trying to do!” Katara replied.  “If they can see someone stand up to the bullies, they might have hope.  If they are free from raiders, then they might have strength.  And if they have hope and strength, they will be able to stand on their own two feet.”  She sighed.  “That's my goal here.”

Mai sighed as well.  It was admirable.  She just didn't know how realistic it was.  Mai knew that she had a cynical streak, but the nice thing about being cynical was that you were never disappointed.  Dreaming could get you hurt.

Mai weighed her options in her head.  First off, she was sharing this room tonight.  In the morning, however, she could just continue on her journey.  But that was too cold, even for her.  This is what was so frustrating.  She didn't have any dog in this fight, and yet she couldn't leave Katara to sleep in the bed she had made.

“Fine, I'll help you take out the bandits.  This will let the villagers go on with their lives.  Will that make you happy?”

“Oh thank you, Mai!” Katara said as she got up and hugged Mai, sitting on the bed next to her.

“Sure...”  The two leaned back on the bed and let out a synchronized sigh of contentment.  After a long day, it was time to sleep.

“Come on, Mai, we should get ready for bed,” Katara said, not moving from her spot.

“Mmm...”

“Come on, Mai!” Katara persisted, hoisting herself up onto her elbow and shaking Mai with her other hand.  “Don't fall asleep!”

Mai opened one eye and peered at Katara, wondering how she could be caring about anything after her back had hit the mattress.  Instead, she merely replied, “Can't move.”  Katara laughed tiredly and continued shaking her shoulder until Mai grudgingly got up.  Neither had a lot of supplies, so they would probably just take off their outer clothes and shoes and sleep like that.  They began to prepare when they heard a knock at the Inn entrance.

They looked at each other, and Mai's mind went first to the idea of someone else wanting a room.  How could so many people be coming through this town?  Then she thought of the toughs from earlier, and the possibility that they had come early.

She took out her knives, and Katara's face hardened, as she tensed up.  But they heard a polite knock at their doorway, and Jin called to them.  “May I come in?”

Mai and Katara looked at each other again, and Katara called out, “Okay.”

Jin stepped through the doorway, and glanced at each of them.  Her gaze was caught by the sight of Mai's knives, and she swallowed.  “There's some people from the village that want to talk to you outside.”  Katara relaxed at this, but Mai kept her guard up.  Something was fishy here.

They walked into the first room, and could see through the open air windows a crowd had gathered.  Katara hesitated, but then continued toward the doorway.  Mai grabbed her shoulder and shook her head.  She turned to Jin, who had gone back behind the counter, where Mai could now see a pallet on the floor (she slept in here?), and asked, “Can you hold open the door for us?”

Jin and Katara looked at Mai quizzically, but she nodded.  She went to the doorway and pulled back the blanket and held it so they could see outside.  At the head of the crowd, an middle aged man with a gray beard and a straw hat held out his hand.  “Hello.  My name is Toru.  We need to talk with you alls.”

“Then talk,” Mai replied, sternly.

The man scowled.  “Can't you come outside for a moment?”

“I can see you just fine from there,” Mai replied.  Inside, Katara and Jin exchanged worried glances.

Toru glared at her.  “Look, you've caused enough trouble in our village.  The Changbai Gang is made of people that used to be from here.”

Katara came to Mai's side.  “They joined the gang and then turned on you?  That's terrible!”

He glared at Katara now.  “They don't cause us any trouble, if we don't cause them any trouble!”

Katara blinked.  “Then who-”

“They prey on outsiders,” Toru replied.  “People just passing through, who have no ties to this place.”

Mai's eyes widened, but Katara was still confused.  Or in denial.  “But we're travelers.”

“Yeah, and you had to go start a fight in our village!  And now their head honcho is gonna think we're trying to pick a fight with them, and we might all be in danger!”

“But, but, they're criminals,” Katara protested.  “They prey on travelers, you said so yourself.  This is wrong.  We have to stand up to them.”

“WE don't have to do anything!” Toru spat back at her.  “This is none of our concern.  It has nothing to do with us!  And I am going to make sure it stays that way.  So you two need to get out of here.  Not tomorrow, when you planned your little dust up, and not in an hour, but right now, before this goes any farther.”

Mai had felt something was amiss about this town, but she was shocked to hear the extent of it.  She glanced at Katara, but the other girl was staring at the floor, her face unreadable.  Surprisingly, it was Jin who spoke next.

“Toru, don't do this, they're my customers!” she called through the window.  Toru turned to her.

“Jin, you know how it works!  We can't get in the way!”

“Toru, no!  I'm trying to run a legitimate business here!  It's hard enough when the gang drives off the customers, but now that I have people staying here, you're kicking them out?  Are you joining the gang too?!”

“Jin!  You hush, this instant!” a woman in the crowd called out, stepping forward to stand next to Toru.  “You know Toru has to think of what's best for the village!”

“I won't let you!” Jin shouted, and she left her place at the window and came to the doorway, blocking it with her body.  “I'm a legitimate businesswoman, and my customers have to know they're safe while they stay here!”

“No.”

Mai started, and everyone looked at Katara.  She was still looking down, but she stepped forward and put her hand on Jin's shoulder.  Jin looked at Katara uncertainly.

“We don't want to be a bother,” Katara continued in a subdued voice.  “We won't cause any trouble.  We'll leave.”

Toru stared at her, trying to gauge her.  “Thank you,” the woman replied angrily.

Mai looked at Katara, but the other girl wouldn't look at her.  “We'll get our stuff,” was all she said, and turned to the back room.  Toru started to protest, but decided to hold his peace.  Mai looked at Jin who was looking back at her with a desperate expression on her face.  Mai shrugged as casually as she could, and followed Katara to the back room.  Katara was already coming back out with her gear.

“Katara,” Mai whispered, but Katara ignored her.  Mai sighed, and gathered up her stuff.  They walked back to the front, past Jin, who just watched helplessly, and out the door, where a large portion, if not the entire village, was gathered.  Mai was surprised they didn't have torches and pitchforks.

“Wait!”

They turned around as Jin followed them out.  She was holding something in her hand.  “Here, since you couldn't stay after all.”  She held out some money.

Mai stared at it.  This must be the money Katara had paid for the night.  She looked at Katara, but Katara didn't look back.  “Keep it.  I'm sorry about your business.” Katara dead-panned.

Jin looked at Mai and held the money out to her.  Mai shook her head.  “Yeah, you better keep it.  It'll just be more for the Changbai Gang to take.”

Jin flinched as if she had been slapped.  Toru scowled.  But Mai didn't care.  Thanks to this stupid town, not only was she not going to be able to rest, but she and Katara were going to be at the mercy of a  gang of wannabe toughs (which in large enough numbers, were as much of a problem as actual bad guys).  She turned and caught up to Katara, who had already began walking ahead. 

The whole village watched them go.
Logged

"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light."
shorewall
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

Offline Offline

Posts: 2530


Yeah, baby!


« Reply #2 on: Mar 07, 2016 06:26 pm »

“Hey, Katara, wait up!”

Katara didn't look back, but she did slow down.

Mai hurried to the other girl's side.  She was slightly out of breath.  What's worse, it was fully dark now.  Well, this day couldn't get much worse.  Then she remembered, oh yeah, it probably could.  She looked at her traveling companion.  Katara hadn't said anything since they had left the village.

“Man, what a bunch of cowards,” Mai stated, folding her hands behind her head as they walked.  She was surprised when Katara stopped.  She followed suit and turned to face Katara, who was still looking at the ground, studiously avoiding her gaze.

“Don't.”

“Huh?”  Mai didn't know what Katara was asking.  Don't talk about the village?  Was it that much of a sore spot?  Mai knew that Katara had a warm heart, but this wasn't the time to get soft.  They needed to be ready, since the gangsters might be watching for them.  “Katara, they threw us out because they were scared!  Even after you stood up for them!  However you feel, we need to-”

“MAI, DON'T-!” Katara yelled, but cut herself off.  Mai was stunned into silence.  She stared at Katara, and noticed her start to shake.  There was a heavy pause.

“...Don't you think I know that?” Katara whispered.  Mai had to listen to hear her over the wind, which had started to pick up.  Katara swirled to face her, her expression intense, and her eyes sparkling with held back tears.  Mai was made intensely uncomfortable. 

“DON'T YOU THINK I'VE BEEN AGONIZING OVER THAT THIS WHOLE TIME!!!”  Katara dropped her eyes again after her outburst.

“Katara, that's what I'm saying!  It's not your fault!  It's not my fault.  This...” Mai almost growled, “is their fault.  We just need to-”

“I don't blame myself for this!” Katara shouted.  Mai went quiet again.  Clearly Katara was not acting rationally.  “Do you have any idea, any idea!, how much it hurts...to be willing to help someone...and they turn you away?”  Mai flinched and went very still.  That had hit close to home.

Katara looked back up at Mai, and the tears had broken loose.  “When all you want to do is help them...and they reject you?”  She was blubbering now, and Mai couldn't think of anything to say.  There wasn't anything to say.  This had to be about more than what had happened earlier.  Something that was weighing on Katara just like she had something that was weighing her down.

As Katara sniffled, Mai realized that she couldn't just stand here like a jerk.  Or maybe she could, but she would regret it.  Katara didn't deserve this.  No one did...

Pushing through her discomfort, Mai stepped forward and embraced Katara.  If anyone had been watching, she didn't know if she could have had done it, but with just the two of them, she knew that she needed to do this.  Mai might be cold and distant most of the time, but she knew some things about emotions (even if she still didn't like them).  Being around Ty Lee had taught her that much.

Katara broke down as soon as Mai held her.  She wrapped her arms and clung tightly to Mai's frame.  It made Mai feel a bit out of control for a moment, and she hated that feeling.  But she endured it.  Her rational mind could tell that Katara needed this right now.  And another, more restrained part of her knew that this was what she, herself, would have wanted someone to do for her, fairly recently.

Finally Katara's choking sobs slowed, though she still held onto Mai.  Now that the swell of emotion had passed, and Katara was more relaxed, this was actually somewhat pleasant.  Katara sniffed, and Mai smiled at the act.  It made her seem a lot younger than someone who had helped the Avatar win a war.

Finally, Katara seemed to compose herself, but she didn't immediately break the hug.  Mai was starting to feel awkward.  What was the accepted time for a hug?  How did one gracefully end a hug?  Ty Lee was so aggressive that Mai felt comfortable using her judo training to escape her grabs, but this one was a bit different. 

Mai also wondered why she was thinking of Ty Lee so much.  Was that really the only girly girl that she had ever known?  Not that Katara was girly.  But then, Azula wasn't much of a reference to use, either.  I have got to make more friends, she thought.

Finally, Mai decided to drop her arms, as a sign that she was ending her participation in the hug.  Katara squeezed for a moment, and then let her go as well.  One of her hands snuck down to Mai's, though.  She wiped her eyes, and laughed. 

“Thanks for putting up with me, Mai,” She laughed.  “I know I haven't been the best traveling companion.”  Mai was struck by how off base this statement was.  Katara was sweet and kind.  Mai was the misanthrope, that could barely get along with normal people.

She didn't say that though.  “No problem, Katara.  I guess we're all entitled to a little cry every now and then.”  Katara laughed again.  Mai was a little surprised at how quickly her mood had changed.  Maybe swallowing your emotions wasn't good for you? 

“Even you?” Katara asked teasingly.  Mai knew she meant it as a joke, but for some reason it went through her.  She tensed up.  No, not now!

Katara felt it as well.  “Are you okay?”  Now it was Mai's turn to avoid her gaze.  Katara was a bit more persistent in trying to meet her eyes, though.  “Come on, Mai, I'm here, I'll listen.”

And that was the thing.  Mai knew it.  All of the walls that Mai had spent her life building, that dulled her to the disappointments of life, they were threatening to be breached.  For what?  Because Katara had cried in her arms?  Opening up to someone was a perfect way to get hurt.  She had been forced to relearn that lesson not too long ago, and the scars were still fresh.  People can be friendly, but don't let them in.  They won't understand you, and they will eventually hurt you. 

A quiet voice deep inside her whispered that that didn't have to be true, but it was quickly drowned out by the rest of her instantly responding that IT HAD TO BE TRUE, because that was all she had ever known!  It was so visceral that she had to grimace to stifle her scream.

Katara noticed and tried again, “What's wrong?” 

This was about more than him.  This was about more than Azula, or her parents.  This was about how she wanted to live her life.  Was she gonna run away forever?  Was she going to let this beat her?  Was she going to be like that stupid village back there that would turn away a helping hand?! 

“I-” Mai choked, and came an inch away from spilling her guts.

“Well, well, well, look what we have here...”

“Oh thank god,” Mai gasped, and turned with Katara to face a group of thugs, emerging from the woods.  It almost surprised her how fast she was able to switch from emotional breakdown to steely readiness, and she wondered off hand if she should be more concerned about that.  I'm sure someone would have a lot to say about it, she thought.

1, 2, 3...6 brigands.  Was that all?  Mai smirked.  She wasn't sure if she was actually that confident, or if it was her favored gallows humor.  She wasn't sure of a lot of things right now, was she?  Was that a result of the kinda life she lived, or could she excuse herself because of stress?  As soon as that thought occurred to her, she scowled and pushed it away.  No.  No rest for the weary.  No excuses.  Just get it done.  And right now, “it” was these jokers.  Mai's mood almost visibly blackened.

Next to her, Katara was darting her eyes around, trying to make sure that she could see where each man was.  She was still a little tired from her emotional outburst.  In the long run, it was better than carrying that weight around, but in the short term, catharsis made it difficult to summon the adrenaline necessary for a fight. 

She started swaying in a water bending stance, trying to get her blood flowing.  Just focus.  Take it one at a time.  Don't overextend.  But spirits, she was tired.  They both were.  They had been through a lot already today, and should have been safe in bed by now.  The sheer frustration came back to mind at the memory, and Katara used it.

One of the men stepped forward.  He was shorter than the rest, but he spoke for the group.  “You ladies are in a bad spot, traveling so late in these dangerous woods.  Don't you know there are bandits in these woods?”  He looked around at the others, grinning a sleazy smile.  “Luckily, you ran into us first.” 

He bowed in a mockery of politeness, “We're local gentlemen, and we'll help you along, if you please.”  He turned and motioned down a barely visible offshoot of the road.  The other men chucked under their breaths or stared menacingly.

Katara wondered if this faux nice routine ever worked, and then decided that she didn't want to think about it.  These thugs obviously wanted them to come along without resisting.  Well, were they in for a surprise.  However, even she was shocked when something whizzed through the air, and suddenly there was a knife sticking out of the spokesman's gut. 

Everyone froze.  He let out a squawk, and gripped the knife with both hands, falling to his knees.  He wrenched the implement out with a pained squeak, and then looked at Katara with a woe-begone  expression, that was almost comical, as he fell to his side and curled up in the fetal position.  Katara took a brief side glance at her companion, and saw Mai still standing with her hand outstretched, a cold, unreadable expression on her face.  And then the rest charged.

Katara was tired.  At full strength, she would try to redirect their attacks and wear them out.  She never liked hurting people, even her enemies.  It wasn't that she didn't believe they deserved it.  It just made her feel...bad.  So she usually used just enough force to end things peacefully.  Of course, that usually included a large group of her friends, or preparations, or more energy.

Now, she was fighting for survival.  She didn't know what these men intended with them, and she didn't want to find out.  She swung her water whip at the closest assailant, and turned the flowing water to ice just as it reached his head.  A sick clunk rang out, and the man was knocked off course, almost falling before stumbling headfirst, hard, into a tree.  She smirked grimly.  One down.  She turned to the next one, when a shadowy projectile flew out of the dusk right at her face! 

Katara dodged, every muscle straining as she thanked her battle experience for noticing in enough time to get her out of the way.  As it flew past, she was just able to discern that it was a chunk of rock.  Earth bender!  She cast her eyes around, and saw that one of the men still in the fight had settled into an earth bending stance.  She cursed.  It made sense, in the middle of the Earth Kingdom, but it was the last thing she wanted to deal with now.  Well, he was obviously the priority for now. 

As she turned to confront him, another man rushed at her from a different angle.  They were working together, she realized.  She waited until the last moment, then dodged the thug rushing her, while blocking the projectile the earth bender shot at her with an ice chunk of her own.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man whiz past, almost losing his balance. 

He came to a stop near the first guy she had taken out, and helped him to his feet.  The man staggered, and then tried to rush at her, to get his revenge.  She grabbed him with her whip and redirected him into the path of an oncoming rock.  The sound made her a little sick to her stomach, and he went down hard.

Katara split her attention between the thug advancing on her, and the earth bender who was watching.  She wanted to check on Mai, but she had to trust that she was holding her own.  Knowing Mai, it was a pretty good bet.  She noticed the earth bender turn to look at something outside of her vision, and then he prepared to throw a rock.  He was aiming at Mai!  A new rush of adrenaline surged through he, and she intercepted his attack with her own.  This left her open.

Suddenly she was tackled to the ground.  “Aaugh!”  The man was right in her face now.  She put up her knee, trying to get space between them, and he grabbed at her hands.  She tried to break free, but he was heavy, and strong!  A furious look crawled across his face, and he landed a hard right to her face.  Stars flashed and her head rang.  She felt weak, but she had to get away, and use her water.  Her mind turned to the possibility of blood bending.

Then Mai appeared over his shoulder, and raised a hand, bringing it and the knife it held down into the man's back.  He arched back reflexively, howling, and clawed at his back, reaching for the pain.  Mai shoved him to the side, and reached down to help Katara up.  But she had to break it off when another thug rushed at her.  Katara rolled to her hands and knees as Mai tried to keep out of range of her attackers, while also giving Katara time to get to her feet. 

Katara looked where Mai had been fighting, and saw the spokesman still huddled up, crying to himself and trying to remain inconspicuous.  She also saw another of the bandits, crouched and bleeding, trying not to hyperventilate.  He seemed to be deciding between lying down and staying in his current position.

She turned back to the man who had just been stabbed.  She saw him staggering around, trying to reach the knife in his back.  She called her water, and blasted him off his feet.  Then she ran over, and quickly ripped the knife out, and the man croaked a cry, half of pain and half of relief.  Katara felt the blood pumping through her heart, through her skull.  This was hell.

She sighted Mai, who was trying to pin down the last fighter, who was wielding a club.  So Katara whirled away, resolving to focus on the earth bender  But he wasn't where she had last seen him.  She turned to and fro, trying to find him, but he was nowhere to be seen.  Maybe he had run off?  They should be so lucky.

She turned back to Mai's fight.  Mai was on the offensive, trying to finish him off.  She had the edge in skill and experience, but she was tired.  The thug, on the other hand, had probably learned something from seeing his fellows fall.  He was careful to stay out of stabbing range, but close enough that he could react quickly and interfere with her throwing motions.  His club was useful as a threat and a shield.  In fact, if Mai was alone, and the Earth bender were still reinforcing him, he actually might have a shot.

Neither of those things were true at the moment, however.  Katara summoned a blast of water, knocking him back into a tree and freezing him to it.  He blinked, surprised, and Mai let out a breath as she turned towards Katara.  A hint of a smile started to touch her lips, then froze and died, as she started to sprint towards Katara. 

Moments passed in slow motion for Katara.  First, a moment of confusion.  Then a moment of realization.  Danger.  Then her brain deciding to turn around.  Communicating that to her muscles.  Beginning to turn around.  Who could it be?  Earth bender! 

She was still only halfway turned around, and everything was moving so slow, when something smashed into her back.  As she started to fall, she realized it was Mai, pushing her down.  Then she heard a resounding crack, so loud and close that she could feel it, and time returned to normal. 

And as it did, she heard a loud and genuine cry of anguish.  Her thoughts were still catching up, and she realized that Mai was lying next to her, writhing in pain.  She wasn't faking.  Mai would never relax or let down her guard in battle. 

It was the hardest thing in the world for Katara to resist her strongest instinct, which was to urgently begin healing and comforting Mai.  Instead, she leapt to her feet and called what remained of her water.  The earth bender readied another rock and Katara let fly with everything.  The earth bender sent his rock flying, and the water and rock collided.  The rock splashed through the water and separated the blast, while also being knocked off course. 

Going on instinct, Katara froze the water droplets, which became many hard little projectiles.  The earth bender cursed and hunched over as the small chunks of ice cut into his hands and face.  Katara followed up by rushing at him while his guard was down. 

She had no idea what she was going to do, but then felt that she was still clutching the knife that she had plucked out of the other man.  So by the time the earth bender looked up, Katara was in his face.  She slammed the knife deep into his chest with a solid thunk.  He didn't even cry out, merely staring at her, before his eyes clouded over with shock and he fell straight to the ground. 
Logged

"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light."
shorewall
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #3 on: Mar 07, 2016 06:26 pm »

Katara almost followed him down.  It took all of her strength to remain standing. And only because she knew that if she did fall, she wouldn't have the strength to get back up.  And while the immediate threat might have been dealt with...Mai!  She turned tentatively, and felt her heart sink to see Mai still on the ground. 

She didn't know what she expected.  For her to just get up and shake it off?  She picked her way over to her friend.  Mai wasn't moving much, but tears had fallen from her pain clenched eyes.  Katara wanted to cry too, from empathy.  But she denied herself that release.  You don't get to cry, she told herself.  Not until you get Mai to safety. 

She grimaced, trying to focus.  This was gonna be hard.  She grabbed Mai's left arm with her left, and then wrapped her right arm around Mai's midsection.  Katara braced and tried to dead lift Mai high enough to wrap Mai's arm around her shoulder for support.  Suddenly she felt Mai push against the ground with her other arm. 

It almost pushed them both off balance, but it gave her enough help that she was able to get under Mai's shoulder and use her whole body and legs to gather herself and pull Mai to her feet.  Mai gave out a ragged groan, and though she was committed to bear it stoically, unwanted tears of pain leaked out and flowed down her face. 

She wanted to ask Katara to leave her, to not look at her while she was like this.  Another part of her wanted to ask Katara to never leave, and just hold her.  She split the difference, and didn't say anything.  She was almost too tired to feel the pain anymore.  In fact, she could feel herself slipping into slumber.  She fought it off though.  It was bad enough that Katara had to carry her sorry behind.  She'd be damned if she was gonna be dead weight.

Katara lost track off time.  Mai was helping, and it made a difference, but it was still so hard.  Katara was almost at all of her limits.  Physical, mental, and emotional.  She wasn't consciously thinking of their destination, but the only place she knew (beside a sky bison showing up out of the night), was that inn in the village that had thrown them out. 

It was the middle of the night, and should have been darker than ever.  But it was as if the moon had come out from behind a cloud.  Though the foliage didn't have many openings, the moonlight shone bright through.  All of Katara's conscious effort and focus was on staying upright and moving forward, yet somewhere in the back of her mind she thought of Yue.  And she felt guilty that it was the first time in a long time that she had thought of the other girl.

A few hours before morning, she saw the shacks on the outskirts of the village.  She was so used to the dark, that it almost felt she were looking at the village in daylight.  Every building was clear to her.  She re-balanced Mai, who had not moved much except for shuffling beside her.  They had walked in silence, aside from a few grunts and groans.  But at this point, it had been a welcome reprieve. 

Katara felt the ache in every part of her body, and she thought about was how much worse it had to be for Mai.  Her focus was stretched taut.  She was running on fumes, and every step was met by traitorous protests from her body.  All she wanted was to sit down.  If she could only just lay down on this mud, it would mean more to her than all the gold and riches in the world.  Instead, she kept walking. 

As they came to the small building that served as the village inn, one small candle was still lit.  In the darkness, it seemed to beckon them on.  Now that they were here, however, Katara second guessed herself.  What kind of welcome could they expect here?  Was she setting them up to be betrayed again?  But she found she didn't care.  These villagers could betray them for all she cared.  They'll have to carry us, she resolved.

They came to the doorway.  It was the blanket from before.  Rather than knock out here, where anyone could see them, she decided to risk it and slip inside.  Once inside, Katara looked around.  There was no good place to set Mai down, except for the bed in the other room.  She started towards the second room, looking around for Jin.  Katara thought about whispering for her, but her voice was rusty from her long silence, and she didn't want to alert anyone else.

They came to the second room, and Katara stuck her head inside.  Mai was starting to make some pained noises beside her, and Katara was starting to get desperate to get her lying down.  Looking into the dark room, she saw Jin, asleep in the bed.  Katara whispered out to her, but her voice rasped out inaudibly.  Katara groaned internally, and led Mai, who was starting to lose focus, despite her best efforts, into the room.  They came to the side of the bed, Katara now almost bodily holding Mai on her feet, and she knocked on the bed frame with her knee and hissed.

Jin mumbled, then her eyes slowly opened.  She froze with fear.  “Don't hurt me!” she gasped at the two dark figures looming over her.

“Help us,” Katara groaned pitifully.  Mai punctuated that by almost slipping to the ground, the only thing holding her up her arm around Katara's shoulders.  Jin gawked for a second, taking in their sorry state, before nodding vigorously.

“Of course, here, let's get her in bed.”  Between the two of them, they got Mai into the bed with a minimum of pain and slipping.  Jin turned to Katara.  “Are you two okay?” she asked, trying to lead Katara into the bed as well.

“Water,” Katara demanded.  Jin started, and then nodded, leaving the room for a moment.  Katara wondered what she would think about now that she was alone, but she wasn't able to gather her thoughts before Jin was back with a wooden bucket of water.  Katara motioned for one of the chairs, and the girl once again obeyed, bringing it to her.

Katara set the chair next to the side of the bed, and sank down into it.  Her body exulted to finally be off of her feet, but she wasn't ready to rest yet.  She made sure the bucket was nearby, and gathered some water, lighting it with healing power.  She heard Jin gasp at the display of bending, but she blocked it out to focus.

They had thrown the blankets over Mai at first, but now she drew them back.  Katara reached and removed most of Mai's robes, at least enough to let her look for injuries.  There were cuts and bruises all over Mai's pale skin, and Katara almost wept again.  It was like this was a bad dream, and she wanted to wake up.  But she couldn't. 

There was one thing she was looking for.  That painful injury that had taken Mai out of the fight.  And as she looked, it stood out viciously.  Dark, angry, purple bruising, and an indentation with lacerations tracing the impact site.  From where it was, Katara knew there had to be broken ribs.  She traced her fingers along the wound as lightly as she could.  Even so, Mai gritted her teeth and sucked in a hard shallow breath, letting it out with a wavering groan.  Finally, tears sprang to Katara's eyes.  She brought both of her hands and the water bending charged water over the gruesome injury.

Mai hissed again, but it caught in her throat, and after a moment of silence, she let the air out in a sigh.  She wasn't reacting in such pain as before, but her body was tense all over, trying to be ready for any change.  Katara kept up her focus, resolving to keep Mai from any more pain at her hands. 

The effect of the water bending made its impact felt.  With a loss of pain so stark it almost felt like pleasure, Mai was in a wash of emotion.  She had dealt with the pain in such excruciating detail for hours, and now that it was lessening, it felt like a religious experience, the likes of which she had never known.  She drew breaths and let them go without feeling like one of her knives had pierced her side.  She wanted to grab Katara, hug her, or say something to let her know how much this was meaning to her, but she couldn't.  So she just lay back, reacting bodily to the continued healing.  Weary tears escaped her eyes, and she let them go, too exhausted to be ashamed.

Katara didn't know how she kept going.  She was exhausted, and sore, and her brain was fried from having to focus so long.  But she was damned if she was going to stop now.  There was still work to be done.  So she focused on the repetitive motions of water bending healing, and when it started to get to her, she would splash some water in her face.  Each minute that went by, she was losing her willpower.  Eventually, no matter how much she wanted it, it would all be gone.  That was just being human.  But she was determined that it wouldn't run out until Mai was healed.

Mai had finally drifted off into a peaceful sleep, and the sun was just beginning to peek through the cracks in the walls, when Katara felt that she had done all she could.  The bruising was a much lighter shade, and as she ran her fingers along Mai's skin, Mai didn't so much as turn in her sleep.  Katara smiled blearily.  She grazed her fingers along Mai's side again, aimlessly, and then put the covers back over her.  She leaned over Mai, looking at her peaceful expression and thinking of everything they had gone through together, done for each other, in just one day. 

Katara brushed a bit of Mai's hair out of her face, and then gave her a short kiss on the forehead.  She smiled as she went back to her seat, and that's when her body gave up.  She collapsed halfway on the bed and halfway off, her face and upper body leaning on the mattress, and her knees on the floor.  She was unconscious immediately, snoring deeply.
Logged

"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light."
shorewall
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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« Reply #4 on: Mar 07, 2016 06:29 pm »

“Oh, the Earth King wants to stay at my humble inn?  I am, of course, grateful to serve!” Jin tittered as the robed retainer bowed low.  She led the retinue through a vastly renovated mansion, three stories tall and 50 rooms long.  It took up all the land where the village had been, the former villagers now living in rooms in her inn, and a wide and busy road led to her entryway.  “His majesty can take his morning tea in the alcove,” she informed them, pointing to the two story sitting room with a plate glass window.

The retainers bowed again.  “Never, in all of our travels on the Earth King's behalf, have we seen such splendor, either in the Earth Kingdom or out.  It rivals the Eternal City!”

“Oh stop it,” she coyly protested.  “I'm sure you're just flattering me!”

“No, I insist-”

“Make way, his Majesty is making his arrival!”  The retainers scrambled, and she scurried to stand at the door to welcome the eternal Earth King.  His palanquin was just being set down.  She felt her heart beating a mile a minute.  Normal people like her never got a chance to see his Eminence.  This was the capstone of her rags to riches story!

“Oooh, here he comes!”  She craned her neck to see.  The door to the king's palanquin was opening!  As it opened, a blinding light shone out.  She squinted against the light.  Wow, he even glows!  She tried to look, tried to get a glimpse, it must be so amazing!...

Jin shook awake with a start.  She looked around groggily, wondering where all of the servants were.  And just as I was about to see the King! she thought.  Then she realized she was still in her run down little inn/shack, sitting in a chair where she had fallen asleep as she watched the water bender heal her friend. 

Oh yeah, those two!  She looked at the bed, and saw the jerky one, who had been injured pretty badly (she had gasped at the sight of the wound), sleeping soundly in the bed.  And her friend, who had toiled through the night healing her with that magic water, was sleeping awkwardly at the edge of the bed. 

Jin sighed, and went over to rearrange Katara into a more comfortable position on the bed with her friend.  There.  She hissed at the sight of the shiner on Katara's eye.  She decided she would let them sleep as long as they wanted, after such an eventful night.

She stepped outside to draw another bucket of water to start cooking breakfast.  As she made her way to the river, she heard a large group traveling towards the village.  It was not a usual occurrence so she hid behind a tree to spy, er, see what was going on.  After all, travelers might need a place to stay (never mind that her one room was booked), or at least supplies or something to eat.  What she saw chilled her to her core.

It had to be the entire Changbai Gang!  She counted about 20 men.  That was almost more people than were still in the village!  What were they doing?  Were they finally coming to ransack the town?  Then she thought of the two young women in her inn.  Oh no.

She dropped her bucket by the river and gathered up her skirt, sprinting to the village.  If she hurried, she might be able to sneak them out of town before the gang could find them.
Logged

"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light."
shorewall
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Yeah, baby!


« Reply #5 on: Mar 07, 2016 06:30 pm »

Back at the village, things were still sleepy.  There were signs of life in each cottage, but not many had ventured outside yet.  Good, she might still have time!

She hurried into the inn, and swept into the back room.  The two girls were still as she had left them.  She knelt down by the bed and started shaking Katara's shoulder.  “Katara, Katara, please wake up!”

Katara groaned, and her eye, the one that wasn't swollen and purple by now, creaked open.  “Five more minutes, please,” she whispered, and then rolled over. 

“No!  Katara!  Mai!  The Changbai Gang is here looking for you!  We have to get you out of here before they find you!”  At this, both girls' eyes shot open, with Mai struggling to sit up, and Katara rolling out of bed to fall on her knees.  They were both slow in getting up.  Meanwhile, Jin hurriedly  gathered their belongings into their traveling packs.  She placed their packs on the table.  “Hurry, I'm going to check if the coast is clear!”

She rushed into the front room and was going to look out of the windows, when she heard the whooping and hollering of a crowd.  It certainly didn't sound like anything normal from the village.  Her first instinct was to hide, but then she thought better of it.  I need to see where they are, and what's going on.  They won't know to look for me, she reassured herself.  “Still, I'd better be careful.”  She knew from her currant tenants that the gang wasn't opposed to attacking women.

As she stepped outside, she hugged the wall of her inn.  She crept to the corner and looked around.  The Changbai Gang had arrived alright.  They were pounding on the doors of the nearest dwellings, demanding to know where the girls were hiding.  Jin gasped.  So they really were after those two!  Jin clenched her teeth.  She had to get them out of here.  She was under no illusions as to what would happen if they got their hands on the two.  Still, if they didn't find them, she didn't want to know what they would do to the village in their anger.

By this time, other villagers were coming out of their huts.  Members of the gang who weren't ransacking the dwellings yelled at them to keep their distance.  The villagers plead with them, what was the cause of this? 

One man stood forth.  Jin hadn't seen him before, but she was soon able to place him with what she had heard.  Shun Yin, the one who had gathered the Changbai Gang and started this whole mess.  He was tall and muscular, and had a look of grim ferocity.  As he advanced, those villagers closest to him scrambled back. 

“I have always warned you people to stay out of our way,” he intoned.  “I told you that if you kept your heads down, that your village would be left alone.  But just yesterday, my men were assaulted in this village by a water bender, who also had the gall to challenge me.  Last night, she attacked more of my men on the road outside of town,.”  He glared at each villager.  “And what's more, we know that the water bender and her companion are being harbored here, in this village!”

“No!”  Jin heard the familiar voice.  Toru stepped forward to speak.  “We aren't harboring anyone!  We know of the girl that caused trouble here yesterday.  We made her leave!  And she hasn't come back!  We would know!”

Jin felt fear run down her spine like a chill.  She didn't know what to do!  She wanted more than anything to protect the two that were still hiding in her inn.  It was more than just her pride as a budding inn keeper.  She had become involved, and couldn't look away now.  But if this standoff went on much farther, she didn't know what would happen to the village!  They may be fearful, but they didn't deserve this.  Not after what we've all been through.

She turned back to check on Katara and Mai, and pulled up short, as they had followed her out.  Their faces were grim.  They had heard.

“Look, you have to get out of here,” Jin plead, pushing down the misgivings in her heart.  “Just go back the way you came.  This is our problem.  There's no reason for you to pay for our sins!”  Her voice went up in desperation as first Katara and then Mai pushed past her.

At the center of town, Shun Yin was still ordering his men around, while Toru continued to attempt to reason with him.  He trailed off as Shun Yin caught sight of the two girls approaching.  Toru turned and spotted them, and his face blanched.  One of the gang whispered in Sun Yin's ear, and his face broke out in a cruel smile.

He turned to Toru.  “So do you still hold to your assertion that they aren't here?” 

Toru stammered.  “I had no idea-” he cut off as it clicked for him. 

Shun Yin just grinned.  “If you weren't hiding them, then who was?  Produce the culprit, and save yourselves.” 

Toru scowled.  “I have nothing more to say.” 

Shun Yin's cruel grin turned to a grin of disbelief.  “You refuse to speak?  Then your whole village will pay the price.”  Toru bowed his head, grimacing.

“HEY!”  They both turned to look at the two girls who had come to a stop before the crowd.  Katara glared at Shun Yin, burning holes with her stare.  Mai's eyes betrayed little, but fixed whoever they fell upon with a baleful gaze.

“We're the ones you want!” Katara continued.  “I'm the water bender who sent your men running yesterday.”

Mai stepped forward.  “And we're the ones who thrashed your ambush party on the road last night!”

“And I'm the one who challenged you,” Katara finished.  Some of the villagers cried out or looked away.  After that bold confession, they feared to see an execution. 

“So deal with us, but leave the village alone,” Katara demanded.

“Yeah, they have nothing to do with this,” Mai said.  Her own feelings on the culpability of the town were more complex than that, but she was following Katara's lead, wherever it may lead.  And right now, she knew where it looked like it was leading. 

Shun Yin's smile widened, if it were possible.  What an auspicious outcome!  He would be able to deal with this challenge to his authority, and reinforce the status quo to these peasants.  “Fine, if you submit willingly, no harm will come to the village.”

Mai's eyes narrowed, but even she was surprised by Katara's next words. 

“How about we just kick your ass instead?”

Shun Yin's eyes widened for a moment, and then he scowled.  Being mocked in front of his men was not something he was going to tolerate.  “You know, even until now, I was hoping we could settle this peacefully.”

“No you weren't,” Katara contradicted.  Shun Yin couldn't think of a quick response, so he settle for widening the grin that never extended to his eyes.  Katara could feel righteous anger flowing through her at this lying murderous scumbag, but she could also feel the aching in every bone and muscle. 

She spared a sidelong glance to Mai, who was steadfastly eyeing their opposition.  Mai betrayed no hint of unease, except for a hand that held her side.  The rational part of Katara's brain knew that things did not look good.  That they might not be walking away from this.  But Katara's heart exulted at the opportunity to spit in this man's face, and take him down with her, if that's what it took.

The gang members, that had been watching this exchange in obedient silence, at a gesture from Shun Yin, spread out in a semi-circle facing the two.  Behind them stood the villagers, not intervening, nor taking the opportunity to leave.

Mai felt like a gross spectacle.  She felt the eyes of the gutless villagers on her back, and she wanted nothing more than enough knives to skewer everyone here, except for her and Katara, maybe Jin.  This spirit-forsaken place had been nothing but trouble for her and her friend, and now she was going to die in this backwoods pit. 

This knowledge, far from causing her to despair, soothed her.  With nothing to lose in this life, she could go full avenger on these pigs that called themselves men.  She felt an aggrieved hatred flowing through her, giving her the energy to stand, even though her body screamed to rest.  Her face remained stoic, but she chuckled inwardly at the futility.  Heck, in this state, she might not even be able to do anything.  Well, she'd just have to do what she could.

The time had come.  Shun Yin and his men were champing at the bit, ready to rush the two.  Katara and Mai held their ground, lacking the energy to even drop into a combat stance until absolutely necessary.  Seeing this, Jin began to tear up. 

She ran up to Toru and grabbed his vest.  He started at her sudden action.  Tears streamed down her face.  “Is this what we've come to?”  He stared at her blankly, or rather, not wishing to understand.  She shook her fists that still clenched at his clothes.  “Is this what we've been reduced to?!”  Mari, Toru's wife, came over and tried to hush her.  But she wrenched away and staggered towards the middle of the crowd.

Katara and Mai heard Jin's cries and turned back to see what was going on.  Shun Yin and his men looked on perplexed. 

“I HATE THIS!” Jin yelled.  No one knew how to respond.

“Do you have any idea of how many people I've had to see come through here, and know that they were walking into trouble?”  She glared wildly around, and each villager whose eyes she met lowered their gaze.  Every bandit who she fixed with her glare chuckled sheepishly or looked away.  “Do you have any idea how hard it is to be an innkeeper, in a village where no one ever comes because of the bandits?!”

She stumbled because of her tears, but caught herself.  Everyone was watching in silence.  She pulled herself up to her full height, which was about half a head shorter than Mai.  She composed her face into a stern glare, that looked more pouty than anything.  Her bottom lip was even trembling.

She had pretty much said all that was on her mind, but she still felt an urge to continue.  So she began her filibuster.  “You!” she spat, gesturing towards the gang members.  “When did you lose your manhood?”  The gangsters murmured angrily, casting dire glares among themselves.  Shun Yin watched this whole proceeding with a mixture of amusement and annoyance.

Katara approached Jin.  “Jin, you have to get out of here.  Don't give them an excuse to target you.” 

But Jin shook her off.  “Don't tell me what to do!  You're so damn determined to give yourselves up to these jerks, but do you have any idea what that will mean for us if we let them take you?”  She glared.  “I want to be able to sleep at night!” 

She turned to face the gang.  “If you want to take them, you're going to have to go through me too!”  There was an outbreak of laughter from the gang, and concerned murmuring from the villagers.

“No!” Katara gasped.  Mai stomped over, grabbed Jin by the arm, and started leading her back towards the other villagers.  Jin struggled to pull away, but Mai held her ground.  They traded intense glares.  Shun Yin laughed.  “Fine!  You want to join these two?  Go ahead!  It's not my job to talk people out of throwing their lives away.”  He motioned, and his men began advancing on the three.

“No!” Mari cried out, and the villagers started agitating.  The gangsters noticed this and began eyeing them warily. 

“What are you waiting for?” Shun Yin snarled.  “Take them!  Don't be afraid of these losers!”  But each side was posturing and fixing to advance, creating a soft stalemate.  Then a new voice rang out.

“What are we doing?”

The crowd was surprised to hear something like that coming from among the bandits on Shun Yin's side.  Katara turned to see who it could be.

The speaker stepped forward, his compatriots edging away from him as he became the center of attention.  Mari gasped, and Toru looked stricken.  “When I joined this group, it was because our village was poor.  There was no hope.  I thought that anything would be better.”  He gazed at his fellow gangsters. 

“But we understood that we weren't faithless.  We would not prey upon the people we came from!  We would limit ourselves to the strangers traveling through our territory.  Traveling through, to someplace better!  Well, they could give a little to the poor while they were here.”  He appeared to be directing these words to the villagers, as if he were explaining himself.

He turned back to his fellow bandits.  “But now here we are, getting ready to lay waste to our own village!”  Many of the gangsters looked away or murmured noncommittally.  “If this is the price, I say we let these girls go!  It's not worth it!”

“And what's more,” he continued, “I've been thinking what we're doing here.  They say that those who take up the sword will die by the sword.”  He took a breath.  “I almost faced that last night.”  Katara started as she finally recognized the man that she had frozen to the tree the night before. 

“We were on the road, waiting for travelers, and we were wiped out.”  Katara noticed that he did not dwell on who had been responsible.  “And that was just a random encounter.  What if we meet another random warrior and lose our lives?  Or more likely, as word gets out, will we draw an armed force down on our position?  How will we like it then?”

He looked around at the assembled crowd.  “I move that the time for our gang is past.  We all participated, and I don't exempt myself.  But if we want to survive, and avoid turning into monsters, this must end now!”  Katara could see that his words struck a nerve.  Maybe others had been thinking the same thing, or maybe he had painted a picture for them.

“Fool!  Coward!” Shun Yin yelled.  He stomped over to the man and shoved him to the ground, standing over him.  “You don't get to call the shots!  I'm the boss!” 

“Baru!” Mari cried out.  Around him, some of the once unanimous bandits showed split expressions.  Some looked uncertain, and others looked angry, either at this unruly member of their group, or at their increasingly heavy handed boss.

“You're not even from here!” a voice rang out.    Shun Yin whirled around.  “Who said that?  Do you want to be in the same situation as this fool?”  But the crowd of bandits was beginning to turn against their leader.  They grumbled and postured at him.  The tension was thick.  Anything could set it off.  Mai grabbed Katara, who was still holding onto Jin, and began to pull them both back towards the villagers.

Suddenly, Shun Yin made his move.  As he began to move, his former followers, waiting for any sign, rushed towards him on instinct.  He was going to be ripped to shreds.  Katara pulled away and started to move towards them when Shun Yin dropped into an earth bending stance.

Katara barely had an instance to recognize it before there was an explosion of earth, flinging people into the air.  As the dust cleared, bandits were scrambling to get distance, flight responses kicking in.  The villagers behind them dropped everything and ran. Toru and Mari dragged Jin along, though she put up a token struggle until Mai waved her off.

Now Mai was a few steps behind Katara, who had covered her face to protect from the dust.

“You care so much about this stupid village?” Shun Yin crowed.  “This place shouldn't exist!  It's stumbling along, half dead!”  He laughed cruelly.  “I'll just put it out of its misery!” he said as he bent up a chunk of the ground that looked like a boulder.

“Cut that out!” Katara yelled.  Mai was impressed whenever Katara put the bass in her voice.  It was a voice of command, a “Mom” voice.  Shun Yin wasn't so impressed.  He chucked the boulder at her.

“No!” Mai cried out, and felt her heart skip a beat.  But Katara easily jumped out of the way.  The boulder didn't stop, however, instead flying into the front room of Jin's inn, crushing it, sending wood flying everywhere.  Mai froze, wide eyed at the sight.

“No!” Katara gasped in horror.  Shun Yin smirked at the pain in her voice.  He bent another boulder out of the village floor, and sent this one, not at Katara, but directly into the remaining room, obliterating it.

“I told you I would finish this town,” he bragged.  Mai glared at him, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to get into a death battle, especially as wrecked as they both were, to protect some shoddy architecture.  Maybe I should try to get Katara out of here.

That thought took too much time, as Katara screamed and ran directly at Shun Yin.  He didn't have time to bend another boulder, but he wasn't scared of her.  Katara summoned her water, which wasn't much, in comparison to the earth he was able to bend.  She flung it at him, and he began to step out of the way. 

Then she turned the water into steam, scalding his face as it flew past.    Shun Yin screamed, covering his face, and then Katara turned the water into ice and called it back.  It sliced cuts along his sides and arms.  Finally, she turned it back to water, gathered it up into one place, and hit Shun Yin with a bowling ball of water right in the chest, blasting him off his feet and onto his back.

She stood over him, holding her water above him.  Mai stood behind her, holding one of her knives threateningly.  “If I ever see you again,” Katara began, her voice firm and clear, “I will kill you.”  Pause.  “No questions asked.” 

Her eyes betrayed no lie, no fear, no hint of weakness.  Shun Yin could see this.  He thought for a moment of making a move, trying something, but Katara's eyes pinned him to the ground, and he knew that one wrong twitch would spell his instant death. 

“Okay,” he stammered.  “I'll go.  I won't come back.  You'll never see me again.”  It was humiliating, but better to be humiliated than dead.  As long as you're alive, anything can happen.  When you're dead, that's it.

Katara stepped back to allow him to his feet, but her every muscle was still strained tight.  Mai was watching as a second pair of eyes, but she wasn't sure she was even needed.  Katara wasn't lessening her focus for an instant.  For his part, Shun Yin looked compliant, but you could never take that for granted.

Once he was on his feet, Katara gestured towards the road.  He glumly complied, beginning his walk of shame.  What a twist.  This morning, he had been the boss of a group of bandits, with a nice little set up.  He had even been thinking of moving on to greener pastures.  A few hours later, his men had turned on him, and he had been defeated by a single water bender girl.

Suddenly, they noticed that the other bandits had returned.  Katara and Mai watched them warily.  Shun Yin looked at them, one part hope mixing with two parts dread.  They did not look happy to see him.  Some were patting clubs against their hands, or punching their fists into their hands.  Shun Yin eyed them, like a fox watching the hounds, as he passed through their midst.

As he moved past them and continued down the road, they broke out into a run, chasing him out of sight.  Katara and Mai blinked, then broke down laughing.  As each felt the release of tension in laughter that turned into happy tears, they wondered if this was really it.  Could their long ordeal finally be over?
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"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light."
shorewall
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« Reply #6 on: Mar 07, 2016 06:30 pm »

Katara hunched over with her hands on her knees, panting.  She had exerted every last bit of energy into the final stand against Shun Yin.  She had had to pretend like she wasn't almost out on her feet, and that act had beaten him.  Mai approached her and put her arm around her.  Feeling this support, Katara's legs gave out and she fell.  But Mai was in no condition to hold her up, so they both tumbled to the ground.  They giggled uncontrollably as they lay on their backs, and then sighed, content to just rest on the hard jagged ground.

“Katara!  Mai!”  Jin ran and skidded to her knees next to them, looking into their eyes.  They had been lying there with their eyes closed, and Jin feared the worst.  She was relieved when they raised their hands to block the sun as they tried to look at her.

“Hey Jin,” Mai mono-toned, as if nothing at all were out of the ordinary.

Katara for her part, smiled at Jin and reached her arm out.  Jin willingly lay down on the ground to receive the hug, and then lay there with them.  “I'm so glad you guys are okay.  What happened?”

“Shun Yin got scared and ran away,” Mai said.  Jin looked over at her, confusion on her face.  

Katara just laughed.  “Something like that.”  She and Mai laughed at that, and then Mai winced and clutched her side.  Jin and Katara both looked over at her concerned, and Jin felt foolish for grilling them.  They would tell when the time was right.  Mai waved off their concern with her typical nonchalance.  

As the villagers filtered back into town, they were also confused by the trio laying on the ground.  So Jin got up and explained it to them.  They helped Katara and Mai to Toru and Mari's hut.  The two went out like a light and slept soundly until the next morning.

***

Katara felt herself gradually drifting back to consciousness.  What had originally felt like the softest warmest cloud, revealed itself to be a lumpy pallet on the rocky ground.  Well, she wasn't going to knock it.

As she looked around, she could see Jin kneeling by her side, preparing something.  As she turned to lean over Katara's pallet, she noticed Katara's wakeful eyes and startled.  “Oh, Katara, you're awake!” Jin said, flashing her guileless smile.  Katara returned it genuinely, struggling to lean up on her arm.  Jin reached out to ward her off, but Katara persisted.

“What have you got there?” Katara asked, trying to divert attention from herself.

“Oh, this is some stuff I put together for you two,” Jin said.  “We have some tea that will soothe, and this salve that will help with the aches and bruises.  I applied some yesterday when you were asleep.”  Jin blushed despite herself.

“Thank you, Jin,” Katara began, but was interrupted as Mai rolled over and joined the conversation.

“So you felt me up, while I was unconscious?” Mai dead-panned.  “At least buy me dinner first.”  Jin looked like a fish at that statement.  Katara had to laugh.  She laid back down.

“Thank you for everything, Jin.  You've been so good to us.”

Jin's expression turned serious, and she looked like she was going to cry.  “No, I'm nothing special.  This should never have happened.”  Before Katara could protest, Jin got up and left the room.

Katara sighed, and considered drinking some of the tea that Jin had left on the short table by her pallet.

“What do you think?” Mai asked her.

Katara sighed.  “I think she's too hard on herself.  I wish-”

“I meant about leaving here.  When do you want to go?”

“Oh!” Katara blushed.  “I'm guess I'm good to go.”  They both got to their feet.  Though they were still sore, they could stand and walk.  A good night's rest made a big difference.  Katara was also inclined to thank the salve that Jin had made, even putting the little jar that Jin had provided this morning into her travel bag.

Though things had turned out in the end, neither girl felt much desire to stay here longer than necessary.  The sooner they were back on the road, the sooner they could get back to their friends and familiar territory.  Katara realized that although she was still melancholy about...things, the events of the past day had helped her realize that she was really looking forward to seeing everyone again.  Even him.  Maybe a little too much.  She shook her head and put that thought out of her head.

Mai was straightening her gear and trying to focus on the journey ahead of her.  They still had a ways to go, but now she had a traveling companion.  She looked over at Katara.  Huh, who knew?  Katara saw her watching her, and smiled.

“Hey, we never finished our talk from last night,” Katara teased.

Mai had to think for a moment.  “Oh!” She blushed.  “Yeah, some other time, I guess.”

Katara smiled.  “Just as long as you know I'm here, if you ever need to talk.”

Now it was Mai's turn to smile, a slight upturn that was easy to miss, yet it was reflected in her eyes.  She met Katara's gaze.  “I know.”

Katara was still awed by the rare sighting of a Mai smile when they came into view of the remains of the inn.  Jin was standing by the rubble, with Toru and Mari, as well as Baru, the bandit that had spoken against Shun Yin, and also their son.  The two girls sobered immediately as they joined the group.

Mari had her arm around Jin, who was watching the ruins with an expressionless face.  Toru put his arm on her shoulder.  “I'm sorry.”

“We'll rebuild it!” Baru insisted.  

“That's right,” Toru agreed, with no hesitation.

The two girls drew near.  “Jin,” Katara began.  Jin turned towards them, her severe expression softening.

“Oh, you guys are up!”  She hurried over to them as the others shot questioning glances at each other.  Jin embraced Katara, who returned the hug.  Mai groaned mentally.  Enough with the hugging already.  We get it.  

As Jin hugged Katara, she looked over at Mai, hesitating.  You don't have to feel obligated to hug me too, just because you hugged my friend, Mai thought.

But after Jin and Katara separated, Jin strode purposefully over to Mai, and with a brief pause, took her into a warm hug as well.  Mai froze, her hands at her sides.  Yet Jin held on.  After a few moments, Mai patted Jin on the back, awkwardly returning the hug, as well as signaling her to stop.  Jin finally released her.

The three stood, facing each other.  Jin's enthusiastic grin, Katara's more placid smile, and Mai's bemused blank face.

“Hey Jin, we're so sorry about...” Katara motioned to what was left of her inn.  She started to choke up.  Mai nodded solemnly.  It definitely seemed like that thing had been her life.

Jin laughed and waved it off.  “Aw, it's no big deal.”

Everyone standing around gaped at the unexpected proclamation.  “W-w-what?” Katara stuttered.

And then Mai understood.  That feeling of being so invested in something that you feel trapped.  Of wanting to leave, but you can't bring yourself to throw away so much work and time.  Mai could now recognize the weariness behind Jin's constant perky attitude.  Of wanting so badly to make it work, and yet knowing...  Mai looked at Jin with new eyes, and a wave of empathy washed over her.

“Well,” Jin began, mindful now of the eyes watching her, “it's hard to be too broken up about it.  It's been a while since anyone has even come through, and even longer since I made any money on it.  It's basically just been a too big house for me.”  Now Katara got it, and she bowed her head in sympathy.

The family of villagers took a little longer.  “But you worked so hard on it,” Mari said.

“Yeah,” Toru said.  “I remember you practicing your speech when you were thought you were alone.”  Jin blushed furiously at that.

Baru stepped forward.  “I feel terrible.  This is all our fault.  The gang kept people from coming through town, and now that we're breaking up, your inn has been destroyed.”  He looked down and clenched his fist in shame.  Then he looked at her again.  “At least let us make it up to you!”

Jin smiled bitter-sweetly.  “But you have.  You all came together to support me.  I'll never forget that.  Even though we didn't always make the right choices, we stuck up for each other.  I will always remember that.”

Mari was sobbing quietly, and Toru was tearing up.  “I guess that's you saying goodbye, then?” Baru said.

“For now,” Jin replied quickly, emotion threatening to overtake her.

“Take care of yourself, Jin,” Baru said, and that's when Jin broke down into tears.  The four embraced, and Katara and Mai backed away to let them say their goodbyes.  Word got around and the other villagers started approaching to do the same.

Mai leaned over to Katara.  “We're taking her with us, right?”

“Oh yeah,” Katara nodded vigorously.  “I mean, if she wants to come.”

“Right...” Mai drawled.  Katara giggled.

***

After the round of goodbyes and well wishes, Jin wandered over to the two.  Though most of her belongings had been destroyed in the rubble, the parting gifts she had received from the villagers more than replaced them, and even weighed her down a bit.

“I just wanna thank you guys so much,” Jin said, beaming.  “I know you guys had no reason to help us, and plenty of reason to hate us.  But you've done so much for us.”  She sighed, reminiscing.  “We've all been together since we left Bae Sing Sae after the war.  They're all I have.”

“Not any more,” Mai stated.  It took Jin by surprise so she let it go.

“You don't have to be so modest, Jin,” Katara replied.  “You saved us as much as we saved the town.  If it weren't for you...” and she started to tear up.  In response to that, Jin started to tear up as well.

“Alright, we good here?” Mai interrupted.  Katara and Jin laughed, wiping their eyes.

Mai continued.  “So, I figure that if we head out now, we can make it pretty far to the next town.  It might be close, but we should make it shortly after dark.”   Katara nodded, but Jin looked confused.

“Uh, I mean, I haven't even-  Uh, well, you guys can do whatever you want but-  uh, I mean,”

“Cool it, Jin,” Mai said.  “You're coming with us.”  Jin blinked and looked at Katara for confirmation.

Katara laughed.  “That's right.  I mean, if you want to.”

“Yeah I want to!” Jin cried out, doing a hop of excitement.  “I would love to travel with you guys!  I just didn't know if...”

Katara opened her mouth to reassure her, but Mai cut her off.  “Well stop wondering.  You're in.  And I wasn't lying about our time frame.  We need to get going, now.”  With a serious look at each of them, Mai turned and started walking off.

Katara laughed and started following her friend.  “Yep, that's how it is.”

Jin smiled in disbelief.  She didn't know how she could have such cool friends.  But as they started to leave her behind, she hopped again and started hurrying after them.  They slowed down a bit as she got close, and then they all continued on their journey.  The villagers waved and bid them adieu, and so they passed out of sight.

-The End-
« Last Edit: Mar 07, 2016 06:41 pm by shorewall » Logged

"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light."
Loopy
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« Reply #7 on: Mar 08, 2016 07:28 pm »

That was a fun little tale. Very much a Western in structure, with the Capable Stranger coming in and taking on the local bullies, but I like how the expected ending was subverted- Katara and Mai did not run off the Black Hats, but rather inspired the bandits to realize that they were being awful. It was a nice new twist that was built up well, with the explanation of how they began and the way the town had a kind of loyalty to them, but still came off as a surprise.

Now, for the meat of the story. The Mai and Katara interaction was good, echoing the way Maiko works when it's actually working- Katara is legitimately happy to be in Mai's company despite her attitude, Mai may lack interpersonal skills but makes a real effort to be a friend to Katara, Katara leads the way in action in idealism and even though Mai doesn't understand or like it she trusts and goes along, and of course they're there for each other at the most dangerous moments.

I also liked how Mai was made to feel closer to Katara by comforting her, and yet she still had her habitual reluctance to actually opening up.

And Jin was a fun addition. That dream of hers confused me for a few moments (hey, I thought it could be a timeskip Tongue) before I realized what was going on, and then I was amused. And of course you sent her along with Katara and Mai at the end, so that she could continue to be part of the adventure.

Some critique- you had characters mention "God" at a couple points, which fits in a Christian-influenced society but doesn't make sense in the Avatar world. Also, I'd have to reread to pick out the exact points, but I recall the POV shifting between Mai and Katara a couple of times (or at least the language made it seem so) without a scene break; I'm a big fan of clearly delineating different POVs with section breaks, since I read in the 'voice' of the POV character and a sudden shift messes up my reading flow.

Otherwise, the writing was perfectly serviceable, and the fight scene played out clearly and logically, while adhering to the character's POV. I myself have a problem with drifting to a more omniscient camera view for action sequences, so I was pleased to see you avoid that trap as far as I could discern.

Good job! It's great to have some more stories with these two, and it could work well as either a friendship fic or the start of a romance. And, of course, they have a long road to Omashu yet! Grin
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shorewall
Never Gonna Give Yue Up

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Yeah, baby!


« Reply #8 on: Mar 09, 2016 11:54 am »

Thanks so much for the comments!  (I'm gonna save these in a doc.  Cheesy)

Yeah, I noticed the POV shifts as I was writing.  It felt good at the time, but one of the things I've learned through writing is that what's obvious to me is NOT obvious to the reader, so I'm glad you pointed it out.  I like being able to switch povs at a moment's notice, but I think this is one of those things where I need to compromise and find clearer way to do it.

I see your point about vernacular.  That's what I struggled with the most.  I had a tab open to the ATLA Wiki so I could look up animal names.  Tongue

I'm glad you liked Jin.  She was originally an OC, but around the climax, I realized that she had taken an important role in the story, and that I had written her almost exactly how I envisioned Jin to be.  So I changed the name, and went back and altered her a little bit to more fully fit as Jin.  (Originally Toru and Mari were going to be the Innkeeper's parents.   Cheesy)

And since I had Jin in the story, it was easy to have her go with the two.  I wanted to leave hints for Mai/Katara, Katara/Jin, and Mai/Jin.  (Although Mai/Katara took the spotlight.)  I also wanted to leave the relationships open to interpretation, whether they be friends or more.  But I wanted their bonds to be earned, so either way it would be in character. 

The fights were a blast.  I love restricting the viewpoint, especially at times like that, to make it more hectic, like you're actually in the fight.  I don't think it works all the time, but I like it.  (I like your fight scenes.  I think they fit with your style, where everything is open and clear to the reader.)

I might need to revisit this setup.  Like you said, there's still a ways to Omashu.  Cheesy

(Btw, the character limit on posts killed me!  Cheesy  I had to break the story up along awkward lines.  The three chapters on Deviantart are how I envisioned the breaks.  Up til they are forced out of town, from there til Katara finishes healing Mai, and the climax and ending.)
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"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginning-less time, darkness thrives in the void but always yields to purifying light."
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