The hot, mid-summer sun rose to greet the western hemisphere and wasted no time in showering the atmosphere of Shu Jing with blinding sunlight which worked its way over to Swordmaster Piandao's castle.
Ursa lay fast asleep, sprawled out on her bed with the covers seemingly carelessly thrown on top of her as though she'd just dropped onto the bed the previous night from total exhaustion.
She'd been living in a house full of boys for 10 months now. Training in both the art of sword fighting and the art of firebending from two exceptional teachers… Swordmaster Piandao and 14-year-old child prodigy Kail, respectively.
The hours had been long and tough, and there was never truly such a thing as a 'break' considering Piandao's butler-Fat-could not possibly take care of an entire castle himself with four people and a liger living there.
Oh yeah… and a peacock rooster…
Ursa twitched as the piercing cry from the irritating pest in question made its morning alarm call. Right in her left ear.
"Hey, sis, time to get up!" a maturing voice called out to her from her bedroom door.
"Go away…" she murmured, covering her head with her pillow.
One disadvantage to training under two disciplines was that by the end of the day, Ursa was usually so exhausted that she became near impossible to wake up the next morning.
"Come on, don't be like that! There's never a better time to train your firebending skills than an early summer morning." Kail spoke audibly while removing the pillow from her head.
"There is always a better time to train than in the morning…" Ursa murmured grumpily, burying her face in the bed.
"Come on, Ursa, please. We have chores, anyway…" Kail tried one last time, leaning over the side of the bed and pouting.
Moments later, Kail smiled triumphantly as he got his wish and the disgruntled ex-princess physically forced herself to sit up, whipping her hair back out of her face as she stretched her arms towards the ceiling.
"You're so grouchy in the mornings lately…" Kail commented, folding his arms over the end of her bed and shaking his head.
" Wait until you start approaching your 30's, then you'll find out why…" Ursa replied in a deadpan tone of voice, standing to her feet. "Give me a few minutes to get dressed and ready, I'll meet you outside."
"Sure." Kail nodded and rushed out of Ursa's room.
Ursa walked out of the bathhouse half an hour later, fully dressed but with a soaked head of hair. She grabbed a towel from the inside of the door and then proceeded to rub her hair dry with it before using a swift heating technique-learned through her ten months of firebending lessons-to near-instantly, completely dry her hair.
That's when she noticed Fat standing there and glaring at her. "You were supposed to feed the liger when the sun rose."
"Zeljar doesn't usually wake up until mid-day, the food would go cold by that time." Ursa replied curtly.
Fat simply rolled his eyes. "I didn't ask for pet food etiquette, Ursa, just… feed him already, so he stops scratching at the kitchen door."
"Very well, I suppose I stand corrected…" Ursa murmured irritably, walking past the glaring butler and towards the kitchens.
Out of all the inhabitants of the castle, Ursa had found her personality to clash the most with Piandao's esteemed butler, Fat. His compulsive need for utter, orderly control over household chores-and those obligated to perform household chores-versus Ursa's apathetic and almost laidback attitude towards it all had developed into an unhealthy, disrespectful working relationship over the past few months that Ursa was sure-and apprehensive that-Piandao would notice soon enough.
After feeding the giant feline which, as Fat had quite rightfully said, was busy christening the kitchen doors with its blunt yet powerful claws… Ursa met with Kail at their usual training spot; the cliff above the waterfall, just within the endless castle grounds.
"Sorry I'm a bit late, got held up by the butler again!" Ursa called out as she spotted Kail looking out over the edge of the cliff at the stunning scene ahead.
"Sis, you gotta stop ticking Fat off like that; it's not your place, you know?" Kail replied, looking back at her.
Initially galled at being called out in such a way, Ursa just sighed after sparing a moment to think her actions over. "You're probably right, but… I can't help it. The way he talks to you and treats Zeljar…"
"Just don't let it bother you, it's not worth it." Kail then stood to his feet and clapped his hands together to signify the start of the lesson. "Anyway, I'm kinda curious to see how you do with some of the lower-advanced forms on your own, so… I'll let you go nuts right after you try this technique I learned from my brother."
Kail then stepped away from the cliff and, once he'd gained some distance, jumped and kicked two powerful fireballs-the last after a 360 degree turn-before landing and watching the blasts disintegrate into the horizon.
Kail then glanced to the side and grinned cheekily. "It's a little hard at first, so… don't get frustrated like you usually do if you don't get it right off the bat-"
Kail was soon stunned into utter silence when Ursa performed the technique perfectly on-what he saw as-her first ever attempt.
"Whoa, you did it!" Kail exclaimed, eyes wide in disbelief.
"Well, don't sound so surprised…" Ursa replied with a pout, she then smiled warmly. "Obviously, you taught me well."
"You're learning so quickly! It takes years to master the basics once you start training your firebending, you only took about six months!"
"That's not an amazing amount of time, Kail…" Ursa replied modestly. "Truthfully, I had the experience before, anyway."
You mean you started learning firebending before learning from me?" Kail asked, feeling somewhat forlorn but trying not to show it.
Ursa nodded. "We had private tutors at the-" she then, barely, managed to stop herself before she indulged in her past identity, something she had not yet decided to reveal to her young firebending sifu. "… Where I used to live."
Kail frowned, slightly suspicious. "S'at so? Where was that?"
"The-uh-a firebending academy for girls, I… boarded there when I was around your age." Ursa replied, smiling awkwardly.
Eventually, after a short while of just frowning, Kail softened his expression and shrugged. "Okay. So, uh, what kinda level did you reach?"
For some reason, Ursa then looked down and hugged her arms. "I, um, was told that I could master firebending by the time I was 18 if I kept training…"
Kail's eyes widened. "Yeah, and? So, why am I-of all people-teaching you?"
"Because… I didn't master firebending, Kail. I gave it up and I slowly started to… sort of forget the proper forms." Ursa replied, feeling more and more uneasy by the dreaded, approaching question with each second…
"Why? Why'd you just quit like that?" Kail exclaimed, almost as though he was angry at her choice to do so.
Ursa closed her eyes, as though pained by an unhappy memory. "I really hurt someone, Kail… someone who didn't really deserve it, at all. I have other reasons too, but… that was the main one."
Kail backed off a little and sat on a nearby rock, opposing another rock that Ursa also had sat on moments after he'd sat down.
"Do you… wanna talk about it?" Kail asked, appearing concerned.
After an empty silence, Ursa looked up and started to speak. "When I was young… an orphaned girl called Sen-Li robbed our school's town on a weekly basis and never, ever got caught.
Nobody even knew the identity of the girl behind the thefts, let alone her name; you see, she covered her face with a veil. One day, I met her and befriended her while wandering the town on my own.
I didn't know she was behind the thefts, and I doubt I would have cared, I just… really related to that girl, the way her parents were murdered by firebenders. I also sympathized with her as well as empathized, she had no one to turn to-whereas I had my entire school."
Kail found himself inadvertently nodding solemnly. "I'm sorry about your parents…"
Upon hearing this, Ursa began to feel bad about this made-up firebending academy for girls that she was fooling him with; truthfully, she had private tutors at the palace and the company of Azulon, his boys, his grandson, the servants, maids and the occasional, dreaded visit from Zhao. The girl and the events of the story per se, however, were all true.
Regardless, Ursa continued the story after a short pause to catch her breath. "One day, she'd clearly followed me home-back to the school-and she attempted to rob items of value from there too. I'd found out that… that she'd murdered one of the school's security men… or at least, it was treated as a murder. She'd pleaded with me that it was all an accident, but I didn't believe her.
I was too upset at being used like that… I didn't know the murdered man that well, but I was also angry for him. For the wife and children he'd left behind. I was 15 years old at the time, but I showed absolutely no mercy on that girl. I attacked her until she went limp, until I'd disfigured her appearance completely and I then left her there in agony… thinking I'd shown honor by not killing her in the process.
I was praised by everyone for what I did that day; after the authorities connected her to the recent robberies and arrested her. But, I know that what I did was a horrible thing. I started to attend my lessons less and less, and then I vowed to stop firebending completely on my 16th birthday, when I married my boyfriend."
"I- …" Kail's voice spoke up, but then trailed off after a long silence signaled the end of Ursa's story. "I don't know what to say."
"Look, Kail… I'm not the person you seem to think I am, I…"Ursa bit her lip, looking away as she went glassy-eyed. "I can be a true monster if you bring out the worst in me."
Suddenly, Kail stood to his feet while wearing a brooding expression on his face. Convinced that he was about to walk off and leave her to fester on her troubled emotions, Ursa bit her lip as her tears started to flow freely.
However, she ended up gasping when the young teenager walked over and hugged her tightly. This lasted briefly, as he backed away after he'd untangled the hug.
"I don't think you're a monster, just… please don't stop coming to our lessons, okay? I've never been able to help anyone before, not even Master Piandao…" Kail pleaded, appearing worried.
Ursa couldn't help herself by this point. After wiping her escaping tears away with her right arm, she stood to her feet and fell into another embrace with the shorter boy.
"Don't count on me quitting just yet…" Ursa replied through a slightly choked-up voice.
Meanwhile, at a modest little dock in the Earth Kingdom, a potentially troublesome scene was about to unfold.
"Oh yeah, I saw an old-ish man dressed in black carrying some woman on board some ship a while back, but… you know what, it was such a long time ago, I just can't remember… care to help me out here?"
As the source of the voice held his mangled, expectant hand out, he was suddenly launched back into a mountain wall via earthbending. The source of said earthbending strode towards the scruffy, disheveled man she'd attacked and grabbed him by his front.
"You've got some nerve trying to goad me like that, you dirty tramp! Do you know something, or don't you?" A veiled Jing yelled, roughly shaking the poor man around.
"Hey, girlie, you lookin' for a fight or somethin'?" one of the man's supposed, burly-looking companions asked, approaching the lone woman closer.
"Yeah, that right there was mighty uncalled for." Another, much scrawnier man replied in an extremely unfitting, painfully deep voice.
"No… but unless you idiots start giving me straight answers, I might have to start knocking a few heads."
The burly man simply sneered. "Whatever you say, sweetheart. You wanna act like the big man around here, that's exactly how we'll treat ya' like…"
Jing turned to face the stubborn men with a look of clear impatience on her face. Figuring that fighting this pack of scum was the only way to earn their cooperation, Jing sighed and readied herself for combat by taking a stance. "This'll have to be quick, I haven't got all day…"
Scowling in response to her overconfident attitude, the men soon began to charge towards Jing. Some of them even dared to attack her using their clumsy bending abilities.
A minute or two ahead of time, the scruffy and disheveled man Jing had threatened before the multiple confrontation could only stand there and gawp as the angry girl finished taking out the last of half a dozen men-some twice her size-single handedly using multiple earthbending styles and techniques.
He then backed away and cringed in fear as Jing-her opposition now either unconscious or pitifully whimpering on the ground-walked back towards him again.
"Ready to stop dicking around with me now?" she snarled, taking another readied stance.
"A-Alright, alright, you win!" He exclaimed, holding his hands up. "I know the guy who rode 'em there, his name's Gen n' he runs a carriage service through the west of the Earth kingdom! If youse lookin' for the man and woman, he'll know where they were headed!"
"Where is he now?" Jing asked, smirking at finally having a lead after months on end of tiresome searching.
"I don't know…" the 'tramp' replied meekly.
Annoyed once again, Jing glared daggers at the terrified man and used earthbending to send him flying back into the wall his back was currently facing. He gave off a pathetic whine as he sat up and his back cracked audibly as he stretched his aching limbs.
"Guess!" she hissed, her scowl intensifying.
"M-Makapu village, was the last place I heard he was headed!" the man then spluttered, his eyes widening as the ground began to shake around them both.
Jing suddenly began to calm down, folding her arms with a satisfied, lopsided smirk. The ground stopped shaking. "Was that really all that hard to tell me?"
She then grabbed a rucksack she'd brought along with her from the ground and slung it over her shoulder, turning around with her back to her victims and walking away.
"Hey, could youse at least spare a lil' change?" the informant then proceeded to ignore his nerves and grovel one last time.
"Keep asking and I might not even spare your life!" Jing spat back spitefully while glancing over her shoulder.
She heard no more as she then continued on her way towards the sunset, smirking menacingly at her small victory.
"You need to focus, Ursa!"
Piandao's stern command echoed throughout the castle's training field. The scorching afternoon sun made the atmosphere unbearably hot, even by the Fire Nation's standards, and Ursa was finding it near impossible to move, let alone think, after her intense firebending lesson two hours prior and her clear lack of sleep.
"I'm trying!" she retorted back. All of a sudden, she then grew so warm and weary that her legs collapsed beneath her.
An abyss of darkness followed before she regained consciousness again to feel herself being relentlessly shaken, with two familiar voices shouting all around her…
"Sis, wake up, please!"
Responding to Kail's worried, near-upset tone of voice, Ursa forced herself to sit up and wake up completely.
Exhaling a sigh while wiping sweat from her forehead, she barely heard what Piandao said next.
"Are you alright? What on earth happened just now?" Piandao asked, holding a hand out and looking genuinely concerned.
Ursa, however, chose not to appreciate his feelings. Closing her eyes and unsteadily standing to her feet by herself, ignoring his offered hand, she then walked away and didn't look back.
"Ursa?" both boys called out simultaneously. Ursa, yet again, ignored them both and rushed around a corner.
Seconds later, Piandao simply sighed and buried his face in his free hand. "What is the matter with her today? I've never seen her like this…"
"I don't really know, sir…" Kail mused, stroking Zeljar's ear when the beast wandered over to see what the problem was. "Zeljar, go after Ursa."
The thickset liger then lazily trudged in the direction Ursa left in, leaving Piandao and Kail by themsevles to think over the clear problem they now had. Grunting and yawning every now and then as he made his journey, the pure white creature eventually found what he was looking for…
Ursa was sitting at the edge of the cliff near the waterfall, nostalgically staring at the painting of her family, when Zeljar nudged her shoulder with his nose. Looking to the side, Ursa then put the scroll away and sat back. She held her arms up so that Zeljar could then lay his head and forepaws down on her lap.
As he rested his head against her abdomen, Ursa wrapped her arms around his mane and then buried her face in it before hugging him even more tightly.
Piandao and Kail walked back to the top of the tallest tower in silence. With Piandao frowning and with Kail wearing a guilty look upon his face.
The old swordmaster had clearly picked up on this, grabbing Kail by the shoulder before the teen went to grab the nearby sweeping broom.
"You seem troubled." Piandao stated after Kail turned around to face him.
"I-I'm okay, Master Piandao." Kail replied hurriedly, grinning in a way that told Piandao that his young student clearly had something to hide.
Piandao quirked his brow, "Take a break. I'll set up a game of Pai Sho." He then replied, walking over to his table and placing a game board stored underneath it on the tabletop.
As Piandao then sat down and picked up a small drawstring bag full of Pai Sho tiles, beginning to set the game board out, Kail frowned apprehensively. Master Piandao only ever played Pai Sho when he wanted to get a secret out of someone… or tell them a secret.
Kail sat down, regardless, opposite Piandao as he moved the first tile. "Master Piandao, did you want to talk about Ursa? I mean, she seemed really upset earlier on…"
Piandao nodded. "Yes, I do want to talk about Ursa… but first; as I said before, you seem troubled?"
"I-! Uh…" Kail looked to the side as he moved a tile on the Pai Sho game board. "It's my fault Ursa's been so distant lately, I've been teaching her firebending."
Piandao's brow quirked, but then the expression soon followed with a nod. "I had guessed that that was the case, after Fat claimed he once saw her using a firebending technique to launch herself to the balcony of the kitchen to steal food…"
Kail groaned and face palmed. "She does it for Zeljar, I've told her so many times not to do that!"
"Hold on, why would she steal food for Zeljar?" Piandao asked, frowning while moving a tile.
There was a pause… Kail moved a tile and replied as Piandao moved his next tile. "Please don't take offence to this sir, but Fat keeps making Ursa feed Zeljar when it's not her job, and she doesn't like the look of his food."
Piandao sighed. "It seems I will have to have a word with them both about that…" After Kail moved his next tile, Piandao interlaced his fingers and spoke up. "Kail, I need your advice… on teaching Ursa."
"Huh, really?" Kail frowned, puzzled at being asked such a question by his own sifu. "But… you're a great teacher."
"Thank you, Kail, but I've only had the extended experience of teaching with you… Ursa, I've only just managed to get her competent with the basics over a span of ten months. You've already got her able to jet propel using firebending; you're clearly better at teaching her than I am." Piandao replied.
"Thank you, but… she already knew all of this stuff, I don't even know how to jet propel yet; it just got reawakened by me taking her through it again. She's really creative with her firebending, I'm kinda learning from her as I teach her, she just… never learns according to plan. There's never any structure to what she learns or does, she just kinda learns… when she learns, I guess. She can be really impatient, and she doesn't know when to quit or be honest about her weaknesses. Like today, for example… you think there's any way to fix that?" Kail replied, noticing that Piandao had not made his move as he seemed far too engrossed in the information his student was relaying to him.
"… No. We don't need to 'fix' her, I need to change the way I train her…" Piandao then made his last move. "You win, Kail. Continue to take a break, as a reward." With that, the ageing swordmaster stood to his feet and walked off.
"Uh… thanks!" Kail called out to him, grinning and holding two thumbs up. He then packed the Pai Sho board away before getting up and heading towards the kitchens.
It seemed as though Ursa had barely drifted off to sleep before she woke up to the feeling of someone gently squeezing her shoulder. Clearly, this was not the case as the moonless, pitch-black night made evident. A dew dozen distant, scattered stars gave the night sky it's only natural source of light in the atmosphere.
Piandao was kneeling there, with a lantern in hand, and Zeljar was still beneath her to act as a heavy-though surprisingly comfortable-pillow. The liger grumbled in ill temper as Ursa pushed his massive head up for a few seconds, so she was able to move her dying legs slightly and regain some feeling in them.
"How did you find me?" she asked as she lowered the liger's head onto her lap again, in a tone that suggested she didn't really want or expect to be found. She flinched and held her hands up to her nose and mouth as Zeljar opened his mouth and yawned in her general direction, giving her a clear indication of his sickening halitosis.
"I've noticed, living with you, that you like to spend your time outside… particularly near water and with Zeljar." Piandao responded, placing his lantern of fireflies down beside him as he sat next to her.
Ursa looked away, though it appeared to be out of shame more than chagrin. "I'm sorry about walking off the way I did… it was extremely childish."
"Why are you sorry? I forced you to train until you fainted from exhaustion. I'm surprised that you aren't afraid of me."
Ursa couldn't help but laugh at that last sentence. "I'm afraid of a lot of people, but you are definitely not one of them Master Piandao."
"Oh, well, that's good to know." He replied.
"Actually, I came here to tell you that I'm sorry too. I've been forcing you to learn sword fighting in a way that does not suit you as a person at all. You do not learn through structure and tactical thinking like Kail does.
You are spontaneous and you improvise to learn and complete any task set in front of you. I can not mould who you are in order to make you learn the way that I teach Kail… you are two very different people, and that's all there is to it.
Perhaps, had I realized this earlier on, you would have been happier attending my lessons."
But, there was one nagging problem Ursa had with this.
"But, Master Piandao… every time I 'improvise', something usually goes wrong…" Ursa replied, looking down and narrowing her eyes.
Piandao placed a hand on her shoulder. "This isn't about dwelling on supposed weaknesses, Ursa, this is about turning your weaknesses into your strengths.
My own parents abandoned me from birth because I am not a firebender. Instead, I excelled in the field of swordsmanship and I learned to compensate for my lack of bending that way.
Anybody and everybody, deep down, has the inner strength to conquer their demons by making their 'weaknesses' work for them. Do you understand what I'm saying to you, Ursa?"
Ursa smiled back at him and nodded. "I do. That's actually really smart, Piandao. Thank you for your wisdom."
Piandao nodded in return. "Of course… now that you've had some sleep, I'd like to know if you are ready to continue your lesson from earlier on?"
Piandao laughed at the horrified expression Ursa gave him in return. "I'm just joking, Ursa. Go and catch up on your rest, I'll be sure that Achaz and Kail leave you alone tomorrow morning until you've fully rested."
Ursa breathed a sigh of relief at this and hugged Piandao. "Thank you, I'm really going to need that. Good night, Piandao."
She then broke away from her sword fighting sifu and trudged off to her room for some much-needed sleep.
As she did, Piandao turned to face the waterfall while looking down at a lone lotus tile that he'd picked up from the Pai Sho board before finishing his game with Kail. He then turned it between his index and middle finger while frowning, then rolled it back into his palm and clenched his fingers over it before walking off to finally go to sleep himself.
It was early in the morning in the Earth Kingdom at that time; the summer season meant that despite the time, the sky was still a deep, dark blue.
Gen had travelled from Makapu Village during the entire night using his trusty ostrich horse, delivering the boxes of cargo which surrounded him inside his carriage. He, of course, looked extremely tired and consequentially irritated as a result.
Suddenly, he was startled fully awake by a loud thud and a creak which had sounded right above him. He quickly got up and peered out from one side of the carriage and onto its roof.
"Who's there?" he exclaimed. He then frowned in confusion when he saw absolutely nothing there… as though it was all in his head.
He simply shrugged and ducked back into the carriage. "Must've been some big tree branch…"
He then jumped out of his skin when he saw that he was no longer alone inside the carriage.
"Excuse me, but are you calling me fat?" the black-clad, flamboyant figure inside the carriage replied indignantly.
"W-Who are you?" Gen exclaimed, eyes wide. "The heck do you want?"
"Sorry, honey, but you're coming with us." His new passenger explained, grabbing Gen's shoulder and suddenly jabbing him swiftly around his limbs.
The intruder then grabbed the limp and defenseless Gen and lifted him over his shoulders.
"W-What're you doin'?" Gen growled weakly.
"Oh you'll see." The black-clad intruder replied, skillfully jabbing a pressure point to knock the man out cold before jumping out of the moving carriage and leaving the ostrich horse to run by its lonesome as he rushed off through the bushes with his captive target.
One fresh, cool, dawning autumn day, Fat walked towards the main gates of Piandao's castle after hearing two obnoxiously loud knocks. He almost immediately groaned after opening the door. "Sorry, but the master is busy, come back another day…"
"Look, old man, I am the son of the esteemed Gan-Shen of the Fire Nation Capital!" a disgruntled, pre-pubescent voice sounded from the scrawny build of a young, sickly-looking man. "If I get turned away one more time-!"
Suddenly, the demanding teen was pushed aside without warning as an older man rushed in holding a scroll. He then stopped to catch his breath, panting. "M-Master Piandao… scroll… urgent…!"
Fat held out a hand for the scroll, looking more unimpressed than usual. After being handed the scroll and scanning through it, however, the disgruntled butler's annoyed expression soon turned into a look of pure horror. He gawped like a hungry ostrich horse as he turned and rushed back towards the entrance to the castle, sparing some thought to at least beckon the well-informed messenger to come along with him.
"HEY, I'm not finished yet!" the ignored voice of the young man called out to them both as the messenger closed the doors behind him.
Zeljar, once perfectly comfortable and peacefully sleeping, flinched as the sound of two swords connecting echoes through the surrounding castle grounds a short distance away from his own location.
The swords then scrapped against each other with a sickening screech and a series of harmonious clangs echoed all around as the two sword bearers attacked each other with the full force of their metallic weapons.
Eventually, as both swords flew away upon impact with one another and pierced a line into the soil of the greenery further up ahead, the teacher bowed to his pupil as she-in turn-bowed back.
"Ursa, I must say that you're improving at an incredible rate now. No student has ever knocked my sword from my own hands like that yet!" Piandao announced, near astonished.
Ursa smiled with pride, flattered. "Well, I have a great teacher." She then replied.
As Piandao smiled back, Fat and the messenger then entered the scene…
"M-Master Piandao!" the dumpy butler called over to the old swordmaster, stopping to catch his breath. "A message…"
Piandao took the offered scroll from his butler's hands and read through it all, looking more and more concerned the further his eyes scanned towards the bottom of the scroll. He then rolled the scroll up and turned to the messenger. "When were you given this message?"
"T-Three days ago…" the messenger replied meekly.
"What!" Both Piandao and Fat exclaimed back, looking horrified.
"I'm sorry, I'm truly sorry, I got here as fast as I could!" the messenger replied, cringing.
Piandao heaved a sigh and nodded. "Thank you, we truly appreciate your efforts."
The messenger nodded and rushed back towards the entrance. Ursa, utterly perplexed, watched him run away and frown before he disappeared around a corner.
Piandao then turned to Fat. "Fat, you must leave. Ursa, Kail and Zeljar"-Fat rolled his eyes-"are to accompany you. I'll give you further instructions when you are ready." Piandao then added, ignoring Fat's reaction to having to take the liger with him as well as Piandao's two pupils.
"Yes, sir." Fat replied, nodding and bowing before rushing off-presumably to find Kail.
Looking shocked, Ursa grabbed Piandao's shoulder before he turned to leave. "Piandao, wait, what is going on?"
"Soldiers are coming to the castle, Ursa… I presume they want a word-or even a fight-with me; I can't let them hurt any of you all for my sake or through any fault of my own." Piandao replied, while closing his eyes and dipping his head forward slightly with a solemn expression on his face.
This did not, naturally, sit well with Ursa.
"But what about my training, Piandao? What you've been teaching me, for this past year or so?"
Piandao frowned. "What about it?"
"I can stay here and I can fight! For you, for your home, for Kail, for Zeljar and for Fat! What kind of a person would that make me if I ran away when you could be in dire need? Don't send me away, Piandao. Let me stay and let me help you." Ursa then replied, her tone of voiced raised higher than usual.
Piandao looked down at Ursa. Her expression had contorted to one not unlike a warrior ready for a fight. He noted how her golden eyes seemed aflame with an inner passion for this sudden desire to defend his home and its inhabitants. He smiled proudly.
"There is nothing else for you here, Ursa. I've already taught you and Kail everything you need to know. You first came to me with a desire to learn to fight. You struggled initially, but towards the end you quickly gained the courage and the confidence-as well as the skills-to accomplish exactly what you sought out to learn at that time.
You have changed more than I think you've come to realize, but that change is not necessarily appropriate for this situation. You must know when to pick and choose your fights, Ursa. This fight is not yours." Piandao shook his head. "You are not even supposed to be in the Fire Nation. Your being here is my fault, and I'd never forgive myself if you suffered for that.
Go out and fight your own battles. Take Kail and Zeljar with you… and don't worry about me, I've had experience with this type of conflict before. Just focus on getting out of here, safely. I'll be fine, I promise."
With her facial expression softening, as though she had begun to really understand the speech Piandao had relayed to her, she nodded while keeping a solemn expression. She then opened her arms to give her sword fighting sifu one last farewell embrace. "Thank you for everything, Master Piandao. One day, I will repay you."
"Pay no mind to that. Just hurry up, get ready and get out of here. I'm going to have Fat send a message to an old friend of mine, so follow him when you're prepared to go. Hurry, go, the soldiers will be here at any minute!"
Ursa nodded and bowed, rushing away and yanking her self-crafted sword out from it's place-stuck in the ground-before sheathing it and running inside the castle.
On her way to her room, Ursa overheard Fat explaining the situation to Kail as she rushed inside her room upon reaching the door. Soon slowing her pace and looking around, she stopped to think for a few moments before she set to work. She gathered items such as old clothing and other objects easily identified as hers and threw them on top of her cleanly-made bed. When emptying her chest of drawers, she hesitated as she came across the scroll containing the picture of her family, as well as the chi-blocking scroll.
Taking both scrolls out from the drawers, she threw the chi-blocking scroll into an open, separate bag she'd placed in the middle of the room and then unrolled the family portrait and stared at it, for what seemed to her like an eternity. She suddenly heard Kail's voice call out to her, "Sis, we need to go!"
Closing her eyes as she gritted her teeth, she took a deep breath as she hugged the only physical possession she had which reminded her of her long lost family to her chest; Ursa then took another good look at the scroll before re-rolling it again. She held it up, loosely and vertically, from its top and placed a hand underneath it. She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath through the nose as she set it alight using firebending with the same hand she'd placed underneath it.
As the flames travelled towards the top of the scroll, she released the hand holding it and turned her hands over with a pained expression on her face, controlling the flame as she let the scroll wither and disintegrate into nothing but ashes before taking yet another deep breath and gathering the bed sheets containing the belongings she'd thrown on the bed into a type of sack. She slung it over her shoulder and walked over to the smaller bag on the floor as Kail appeared in the doorframe.
"Ursa, are you okay?" Kail asked earnestly, somehow sensing her depression the moment he got to the door.
Ursa forced herself to smile at him and nodded. "I'm fine… before we go, come and help me burn all of this stuff, something tells me we're going to need to travel light." She said, gesturing to the silk bed sheets full of the items she'd thrown on the bed.
Kail frowned. "Uh…" He then nodded. "Sure; but we should make it quick. I can see the soldiers on the horizon already."
Ursa nodded before using her foot to kick the flap over the bag on the floor. She picked the 'sealed' bag up with her spare hand, letting it go as she rested the strap on her left shoulder. She then followed Kail out of the room, taking one last glance around as she walked out while closing the door behind her.
Zeljar and Fat were both anxiously glancing towards the two firebenders for two different reasons as they burned Ursa's old belongings.
Fat, not being the bravest butler of all time, was anxious as the soldiers he was forewarned about were now drawing ever-closer to the castle with clear ill-intent.
Zeljar just didn't like fire.
"We need to leave you two, now!" he urged in a panicked tone of voice.
Ursa nodded and placed her hands above the burning items, into the smoke rising from them, and finished the job by using a firebending move to spark the smoldering mess to ashes and cinders. The move, in turn, scattered them into the waterfall below.
"Looks like we're ready…" Kail announced, turning to Fat as Ursa scraped the remaining ashes to the side with her shoe, accidentally making the poor liger in their company sneeze as the ashes got caught in a sudden gust of wind and hit his face.
The old butler nodded and turned to walk at a much faster pace than normal as Kail, Ursa and Zeljar followed him. Ursa gave the old liger an apologetic stroke on the head and brushed the remaining ashes away from his nose "I know another way out of the castle, but we need to hurry now if we want to make it out of here in good time!"
"The moron's gonna get himself killed if he doesn't start giving straight answers to our questions!" an angry, male voice sounded from a hillside near Piandao's castle.
"The prisoner guy?" a higher-pitched and more flighty, girl's voice asked. "Yeah, he's annoying…"
"Where are we, damn it?" Yet another voice from within the group of five suddenly yelled out, making the remaining four flinch in various manners.
"Captain Mari"-that familiar snigger reared its ugly head again, the speaker groaned audibly before continuing-"got an anonymous tip-off that the princess is in that castle over there." The deeper female voice replied, her left arm rising in front of her and her hand pointing to the aforementioned castle just ahead of them.
"Hey, aren't those Fire Nation soldiers?" the high-pitched girl's voice-Miyuki's-suddenly exclaimed in surprise.
The other female, Jing, then frowned as she noticed the ant-like figures of the soldiers-homing in on the opposite side of the castle to the one their group was facing-too.
"Well, for his sake, I hope that 'anonymous source' is right. I can't take another damn mis-" the third voice; belonging to a tall, skinny and morbid-looking man began to speak but was silenced mid-way by Jing's raised hand to his face.
"Hold that thought, Enlai…" she muttered, her lips curling into a smirk once she spotted their target, conveniently enough, right in the general direction they were facing. Said target was walking, near-aimlessly, with what appeared to be a young boy, an old man and a giant white animal.
"She's right there." Jing said to her group, her voice somehow sounding both serious and yet relieved at the same time. "Finally!"
Oh my goodness, I finally got the last of this done today! I think this is the longest chapter yet, it's just under 7,300 words including this author's summary.
So that's Chapter 17 done, I hope you enjoyed it! Looking back, I think it might be a little rushed since this chapter alone takes place in the span of like a year, but it's really done for the sake of moving the story along. What do you guys think? Was it the right thing to do?
Look out for Chapter 18, coming soon, because it's going to be the plot's gamebreaker. haha
Thanks for reading!