Wheeeeee...death. x.x Sorry it's taken so long to get this chapter out, there have been some serious delays thanks to me and Caelum's schedules.
…Okay, Caelum's busy schedule. I've been mostly lazing around and watching TV. Look, she even wrote a note about it for you:
Note from Caelum: Hiya readers! I'm terribly sorry that this chapter was so late. That's my fault. I have a very busy life. So I'm sorry. To make it up for you, this chapter is, like 43 pages long. Yay? Also, it bears mentioning that my high school did indeed have "required fun." Since Anjilly is kinda sorta me, she basically went to the same high school and had the same experiences, including required fun. Except Anjilly wound up falling through an administration-created plothole and became a PPC agent, while I just graduated and went on to become a vaguely-responsible adult who writes and betas fanfiction. I'm not sure which of us is the lucky one.
(Karen Again) So, as you can see, you should totally not hunt me down for this chapter being late. Yeah. I feel horrible that it's taken this long, but I can't change Caelum's schedule, and I refuse to make her give up on having a life just because I want something from her. So, we hope you enjoy the chapter, and please send in answers to the questionnaire at the end!
Saturday morning. The first of two glorious days when students were allowed to sleep in—except when there was a seminar the next day, of course, but Lupe chose to ignore that. She had heard that the seminars would be every other week; since GrammarBootCamp was last week, this Saturday was going to be completely free. And she was going to start it by sleeping in 'til noon…
BANG! BANG! BANG!
"Gyah!" Lupe started, tangling herself in her red sheets and falling off her bed. She landed on her side, one arm twisted painfully underneath her.
"All students are to report to the courtyard outside in ten minutes," a guard shouted.
"What?" Lupe squawked, righting herself quickly. The left sleeve of her crimson sleeping robe had bunched up around her shoulder, and Lupe pulled it down while she stood. There was no answer to her question, and she glanced back at her nice, soft bed, wondering if she could just go back to sleep and forget about the strange noise…
"He meant it! Get up!" a second voice yelled. Lupe winced at the noise, and turned to the chest her clothes were kept in.
She stumbled out of her room eight minutes later, jacket askew, hair unbrushed, and eyes half-shut in sleep. On her way towards the stairs, she bumped into Sofia, then Emma, and mumbled apologies while squinting and trying to clear her blurry vision. A thin stream of female students was pouring out of the woman's dorm building, and Lupe joined them silently. They shivered as they stepped into the pre-dawn chill—the sun's heat had dissipated over the night, dropping the temperature into the high seventies. After going through days averaging the high nineties and low hundreds, the students were beginning to regard anything below eighty as cold.
The boys were leaving their dorm building in a manner similar to the girls, and the lines combined to form a shuffling mass of students. Several people moaned in protest of being woken up so early in the morning on what was supposed to be a free Saturday.
The students slowly made their way into the courtyard, where the course co-ordinators watched their sluggish entrance. Had Karen not known better, she would have assumed there was a zombie attack underway and started throwing cookies like there was no tomorrow. Fortunately for the students, Anjilly was also present to make sure Karen did nothing too foolish.
Lupe raised her head groggily as she reached the open plaza by the classroom building. Though the rest of the courtyard was packed dirt, Anjilly had thought it would be nice to have a couple of paved areas for students to use for studying outside—thus, the Pai Sho Plaza and Cookie Plaza were born. The Pai Sho Plaza was situated between the girl and boy dorms, and the Cookie Plaza was in front of the school building. Iroh had been put in charge of designing the former (you can probably guess who made the latter), and was only given the conditions of "make it round and Four Nation-themed," and had thought his favorite game was a good fit. He and Gyatso had been seen whispering to each other in the hallways about "Human Pai Sho," a thought that filled the students with dread when they contemplated what that could entail. Granted, no one had any idea of how Pai Sho was actually played, but that just made it even more terrifying.
"Goooood morning, students!" Karen called as everyone found their way to the plaza. "I hope you're all feeling awake and perky?" Either in response or with perfect timing, Ai Da fell down, asleep. She didn't wake up when she hit the ground, and snored until Iro and Saki flew down and dragged her away.
"Why are we awake?" Moon Dragon mumbled, barely managing to make herself heard. "It's Saturday…" There was a general moan of agreement from the other students, who were not pleased at being woken up early.
"Don't you know what today is?" Karen widened her eyes in mock-surprise, and began toying with a cookie. "It's the Mid-Autumn Festival!"
"Wasn't that in September? It's October now!" Sofia complained. Karen frowned at her, but the Air Nomad student's eyes were nearly shut from drowsiness, preventing her from seeing anything.
Karen sighed. "Very well, I'll explain," she broke her cookie in half and started crumbling it into pieces, gathering a group of lemurs scavenging the crumbs at her feet. "In the Real World, yes, the Mid-Autumn Festival was in September. But we're not in the Real World, and thus, we're having the Mid-Autumn Festival late."
"The International Academy of Hetalia Fanfiction is having their Mid-Autumn Festival today, too," Anjilly spoke up. Her voice was gravelly and low, like she had a cold. "But for them, it is September…we experienced a small time distortion in our continua's correlating timelines, which has…" She trailed off, realizing nobody was listening, or even caring. Indeed, her explanation seemed to be sending the students back to Dreamland. Lupe felt her eyelids start to droop farther down, and wondered if anyone would notice if she laid down and took a quick nap…
"In any case, we have to get the plaza set up for the festival tonight," Karen beamed at the students. "There's a lot of banners, a bunch of Western-style tables and chairs, decorations, food tables…just be thankful none of you are going to help out in the kitchen. Iroh, Kanna, Katara, and Song's mother have taken over, and they're running it like a workhouse, though Aang Took and the Airbenders are holding their own."
"Why do we have to be up before dawn? Can't this wait til, like, noon?" Noelle Collins protested, rubbing her eyes.
"There's too much to do for you to wait until noon to start, since the festival starts at five," Karen explained cheerily. "See, when I say you have to set up the tables, I mean you have to make them—we've got lumber waiting over there." She pointed to a pile of wooden planks off one side of the plaza. "Freshly imported from the Earth Kingdom! I hope you guys know how to make tables, because I don't. Some of the guards are related to carpenters, so maybe they can give you some advice? But it's all up to the students."
"What?" Izzy Smiling yelped. "How can we make tables from scratch in…um…"
"Twelve hours," Karen supplied.
"In twelve hours—wait, it's five in the morning?"
"No, it's four," Anjilly croaked. "The students have to go back to their dorm rooms at four in the afternoon to change. And don't go complaining about how early it is," she added before the students could groan, her tired voice taking on a hard edge. "Karen woke me up at three so we could be ready for when the guards got the students up. And if I can wake up at three AM without the help of tea" - her voice wavered slightly, but she soldiered on - "then you can live with a four AM wake-up call."
"I thought Karen wasn't very good with mornings?" Vera called.
"Yes, but this isn't morning for me. This is late night. I haven't gone to bed yet," Karen answered. "I'll be doing that in a few minutes, when the caffeine starts to wear off and I crash. Nice, soft pillows, warm sheets…mm…" A blissful smile spread over Karen's face as she taunted the students. "My sleeping mat is really soft, too."
"Stop teasing the students," Anjilly admonished her partner.
"Still!" Izzy Smiling said. "Twelve hours! You're only giving us twelve hours to make all those tables from scratch!"
Anjilly stared at her. "...Your point?"
Izzy faltered for a moment before shooting back, "Rome wasn't built in a day!"
"No," Anjilly agreed, "but the Amish can raise a barn in less than that. You just have to put some tables together and hang a bunch of party decorations." Izzy grumbled something, but Anjilly didn't hear him; she was too busy rubbing at her temples. After a moment she pulled out a bottle of Bleeprin, shook about four or five pills into her hand, and downed them without water. Her face instantly relaxed, and she sighed blissfully.
"I'll be taking Anj with me, since she's been taking the lack of tea hard," Karen added. Anjilly stared into the distance, smiling vacantly. "…Really hard. So, we'll see you on your lunch break. Tools for making the tables are by the lumber, and not too far from that there should be poles and stands for the banners and other decorations. Try to make good progress. You'll notice there are torch stands set up all around the plaza—you'll want to move those to one side when it gets light out. After dawn or something Sokka and Aang Took will come out and give you actual directions. Umm, am I forgetting anything…?"
"Plans," Anjilly hummed.
"Ah, yes. This scroll—wait, where's the scroll?" Karen reached into her coat, found nothing, and started patting the leather everywhere. Her eyes widened in alarm as she failed to discover the scroll she was looking for.
"Do you think she'll let us go back to bed if she doesn't have that scroll?" Christina whispered to Danish and Ashee.
"It's Karen," Danish muttered. "More likely she'll make a new one out of cookies."
"Good one," Ashee giggled.
"I don't know if you can make scrolls out of cookies," Christina frowned. "What would you use as ink? Melted chocolate? Bake chocolate chips into letters?"
"Maybe she could carve the letters in?" Ashee suggested. "I think Chriss's got the right idea, though. Chocolate letters would be tasty!"
"Too bad all of Karen's cookies are baked too hard to eat," Christina shook her head. "I'd eat them if I cou—" The cookie shuriken whizzing past her ear stopped Christina mid-word, and she froze.
"While I may be unable to find the scroll," Karen warned, hand still extended from her throw, "I can always find something to throw at you." She lowered her arm, and pulled open one side of her coat to examine. "Though it is very worrying that I can't find that scroll. Oh, and even if my cookies were soft enough not to break your teeth, you do realize I sharpen them to razor-edges, right?"
"Ponytail." Anjilly's eyes turned upwards, towards the still-starry sky. Lupe followed her gaze, and saw nothing particularly interesting.
"Oh yeah!" Karen grinned, and reached behind herself. She pulled a scroll out from behind her head, seemingly from thin air. "I kept losing pencils that way back in the Real World…anyways, this scroll! It should have the dimensions for the tables you're supposed to build." Karen tossed it forward, and Isaac Santos, Wei Tzu, and Nathan Hofstad all reached forward to grab it. They managed to knock heads, and as they clutched their skulls Allie Doyle reached forward and caught the scroll.
"This looks…interesting," Allie unrolled the scroll and wrinkled her brow at the contents. "Who drew this, a three-year-old?"
"Sokka," Karen shrugged.
"Oh. Of course," Allie squinted, turning the scroll around. "I…can't tell if that's supposed to be a table or a bed."
"I don't think we're going to be making any beds," Rikki Brook craned her neck over Allie's shoulder. "What the…are those supposed to be…people?"
"What are they holding?" Allie looked up. "How are we supposed to figure out what to do with this?"
"Beats me." Karen half-turned. "Let's go, Anj."
"Mmm. Have fun, students," Anjilly waved as she went to follow Karen.
"Have fun? How?" Midori demanded. "You can't make us have fun!"
That was apparently the wrong thing to say to Anjilly when she was on bleeprin. A stormy expression crossed her face, and she slowly turned back around to give the offending Earth Kingdom student an icy glare. "I'll have you know that in my pre-agent days, my high school gave me plenty of experience with required fun," she informed the assembled students coldly. "I learned from the best. If I require you to have fun, then you will have fun."
"Those banners are looking pretty good," Sokka commented as he rolled up a scroll. Said banners, being hung by the combined efforts of Jessica Carden and Owlson Pierce, chose that moment to fall onto three male students hammering nails into a table a few yards away. Surprised, Izar dropped his hammer onto Nathaniel's foot, causing the latter to yelp and tangle himself in the banners further. Theodore White flailed in alarm, his own hammer coming dangerously close to Izar's elbow.
"Nice job invoking the Ironic Overpower," Aang Took sighed. He took a bite of his mushroom pie. "Hungry?"
"No thanks," Sokka shook his head. "I had some seal jerky before coming out." When Aang Took turned away, Sokka fake-gagged for a moment before pulling another scroll out of his satchel and inspecting the contents.
"Do we have everything China recommended?" Aang Took asked through a mouthful of mushrooms.
"Flowers, braziers, tables with food…yup, looks like," Sokka nodded. "Are the Air Nomads making enough mooncakes for later? I know Aang said they were used to lots of baking, but Karen's such a mooncake hogmonkey…"
"Don't worry, there aren't nearly as many people here as there would have been for a traditional Air Nomad Mid-Autumn Festival," Aang Took assured his friend. "I'm just happy China took the time to send us some advice—he must be busy with planning his own Mid-Autumn Festival at IAHF."
"Yeah, I hope it goes okay for him," Sokka agreed. "Too bad he wouldn't come help us out. It would've been nice to meet someone who knew Karen in her student days."
"But the Air Nomads remind him of Tibet, whoever that is," Aang Took swallowed the last of his mushroom pie, and pulled another from his pocket. "I don't understand why he wouldn't like this Tibet guy. Did they have a fight or something?"
"Karen says we shouldn't talk about it," Sokka shrugged. "When I asked Anjilly, she said our show had some subtle commentary on Real World events. But before she could explain, she had to go stop Zhao from using Combustion Man as a long-distance weapon to kill the moon spirit fish." Zhao hadn't been too happy with the idea of a festival meant to honor the moon.
"None of the students I've talked to know about it, either," Aang Took agreed. He bit a large chunk out of his pie. "It's really odd. You'd think they'd know things that go on in their own home continuum..."
Sokka shrugged. "Yeah, it is odd. Maybe it isn't a big deal, though?"
"Maybe," said Aang Took. "Tibet," he mused over the word. "Tibet...oh."
"Have you ever heard Karen and Anjilly comparing the Air Nomads to something called Tibetan Buddhist monks?"
Sokka rubbed his chin. "Now that you mention it, yes. What's a Buddhist?"
"No idea. Some sort of monk related to this Tibet guy, apparently."
"Tibet would be a country," Sokka said. "I'm pretty sure. China is a country - and I still don't understand how that works, if he's a human - so Tibet would be too. Probably."
"So Tibet might be a country like the Air Nomads?" Aang Took frowned.
"Well, I wouldn't call the Air Nomads a country, exactly..."
"Right, right," said Aang Took. He was still frowning. "But, um, Sokka...the Air Nomads were wiped out by genocide."
There was a moment of silence. Jessica Carden and Owlson Pierce were attempting to grab their banners, but the boys were so tangled up in them that it was impossible. They finally gave up on trying to tug the banners away, and instead focused on disentangling Theodore. Izar had retrieved his hammer and was attempting to battle his way out of the fabric, but only succeeded in hitting Nathaniel in the gut.
"And China doesn't like Tibet," Sokka said at last. "That is...huh." He watched Jessica and Owlson pull Theodore out of the banners. "If something like that happened, you'd think they'd know about it."
Aang Took gave a little shrug. "Well...maybe it wasn't that bad. I mean...we don't really know. But we should probably ask Anjilly and Karen about it soon. Now I'm really curious." He took another bite of his mushroom pie. "Sure you don't want a pie? I made them myself."
"I think I'm good," Sokka waved it off with a nervous grin on his face. Nearby, Izar and Nathaniel finally untangled themselves from the banners. Nathaniel grabbed Izar's hammer and started to chase him with it, hopping comically, while Theodore, Owlson, and Jessica laughed at them both.
"Stop running before you hurt yourselves!" Yue shouted from where she was overseeing Vera "V" Moretti, Moon Dragon, and Elise. No last name. put together a table.
Sokka couldn't help but laugh, and he sidled over to Yue. "But Yue," he said, "they're students. We don't mind if they get themselves hurt!"
She frowned. "Good point...okay... Stop running and get back to work!"
Nathaniel and Izar didn't seem to hear her. They were still running around like maniacs. Theodore had stopped laughing at them and was now helping Jessica Carden and Owlson Pierce re-hang their banners. Yue watched Nathaniel and Izar for a few more seconds before exploding.
"I SAID STOP RUNNING! DON'T MAKE ME USE MY MOON POWERS ON YOU!" Yue seemed to suddenly increase in size, towering over the students and emanating a frightful white glow.
The boys yelped, and quickly returned to their table. Satisfied, Yue dimmed, shrank down to normal, and turned back to the girls, who'd shrunk away in mild terror at her outburst. "Alright. So do you think you've got the hang of it now?"
"Y-yes!" Elise. No last name. squeaked.
"Thanks for the help!" Vera "V" Moretti added. Moon Dragon nodded fervently.
"Great!" said Yue. "In that case, I'd better go check on the flowers..."
"Sounds good," Sokka nodded. Yue gave him a sidelong glance before floating off toward another section of the yard, where another group of students was working.
"She is not happy with you," Aang Took observed.
Sokka groaned. "Just because I don't want to be with her doesn't mean we can't be friends! ...Right?"
Aang Took shrugged and bit into another mushroom pie. Sokka sighed and pulled out his scroll. "So...the lanterns."
Aang Took nodded toward the far side of the courtyard. "I think your girlfriend's taking care of it."
"Huh?" Sokka looked up to find Suki and the other Kyoshi Warriors directing a bunch of students in making lanterns. He grinned. "Perfect. They're in good hands."
"And then you wrap the paper around the bamboo frame," Suki said, watching the students. "Careful, don't rip it - "
"I'm not," Isabella Rose grumbled, even as she tore the paper she was wrapping around the bamboo. Suki sighed. Isabella Rose shot a seething look at her, and got whacked over the head by Kyoshi Warrior Two's fan for her trouble.
"Like this?" Zerkz asked, holding up the lantern he'd just finished.
Suki's face lit up. "Yes! Just like that! Perfect!"
Zerkz beamed and sent her a dreamy smile. Suki groaned to herself and turned away. She'd forgotten she was his Lust Object.
Well, at least he wasn't calling her a Mary Sue.
She looked around at the assembled students, most of whom didn't look happy to be there. It was plain to see that they were tired, and learning how to make paper lanterns was tricky when you were fully awake to begin with. The Kyoshi Warriors were doing their best to show the students how to do it, but the students seemed more interested in grumbling than in learning.
Suki sighed and shook her head.
She looked around the Pai Sho plaza to see how the rest of the preparations were coming along. The banners were getting hung, at least, and most of the tables looked passable. Princess Yue was overseeing one group of students who were attempting to put a table together, and...Sokka was talking to her.
Suki frowned, remembering the conversation she'd overheard between those two just the other day.
Then Yue floated off toward the students who were working on the flower garlands. Sokka turned his attention back to his scroll and Aang Took. Then he looked up towards the students who were making the lanterns, and he grinned. He caught Suki's eye and shot her a smile. She smiled back, and gave a little wave of her hand.
"OMG you two are so cute."
Suki turned around to find Zerkz, holding another finished lantern. "Um," she said. "Thanks?"
"SO CUTE," he said, looking like he might explode from happiness.
"Right," Suki said. "Can you go back to making lanterns?"
Lupe crashed backwards onto the ground, groaning in relief at finally getting off her feet. Meep and Lauphen hit the ground next to her, and [-] landed in front of them. "Lunch break! Finally! Who knew hammering miniature tables could take so much effort?" [-] groaned, pulling off his boots and starting to rub his feet.
"Or putting up decorations," Lauphen added, wincing as she flexed her legs. "How many strings of flowers do Karen and Anjilly think we need?"
"They're doing it to laugh at our misery," Spry Pye asserted as she sprawled on the ground. "I swear they are. Don't they already have staff people to do things like that? Why can't they just let us enjoy the stupid festival without wearing us out the day before?"
"Carpentry is sort of fun, though," Craig mused. "I mean, hitting nails with a hammer? Great stress relief."
"Be that as it may, I think our dear Course Coordinators are only making us do this as punishment," Daniel Clemens grumbled. "Why should we have to do all the hard work?"
"Why indeed?" Karen mused, taking a bite of a cookie. Daniel Clemens and William GP gave rather high-pitched screams and flinched away from her. Karen, who had managed to sneak up between them and crouch down without anyone noticing, raised an eyebrow sardonically and continued to eat her cookie.
"You—where—how—cookie—ahhh!" Daniel pointed at Karen, eyes wide. Lupe experienced a falling sensation in her stomach. So Karen was a ninja, too. Great.
"When did you get there?" William demanded, trying to recover his dignity.
"When indeed," Karen mused. "For all you know, I've been here since that last scene change." Something rumbled and crashed inside the school building. "Ignore that. In any case, I've eavesdropped long enough to hear you students mention how 'unfair' it is that the people who'll be attending the festival should be the ones setting up."
"Er…the subject…may have come up…" Spry Pye scooted several feet back. Some of the students sitting nearby noticed Karen's presence, and came over to join the conversation.
"Karen's here? Hey, can you get some of the guards to finish the set-up for us?" Cyrus Windfall requested. "Andy and Joe Smith already disappeared into the training forest… I think you can guess what for," Cyrus motioned in the general direction of the cluster of trees to one side of the courtyard.
"Yeah, I'm just waiting for them to announce their engagement," Daniel Hallowell agreed.
"No, I don't think they're serious about being together," Cyrus frowned. "Andy's been hitting on some of the Earth Kingdom students…I think she's been putting the moves on Ishi Bananas lately." He paused. "By the way, where is Ishi?"
"Over here!" Ishi waved from across the plaza.
"Gotcha!" Cyrus waved back. "In any case, I don't think Andy or Joe are the marrying type."
"You got that right…" ihaznoideawuttowrite muttered. "Joe's been hitting on me for a week now. I heard he was targeting Ari Mason before then…and Fyre Elaine before her."
"Has everyone forgotten that Karen's right there?" Lupe jabbed her index finger towards the older girl. "Eating a cookie, watching us…?"
"Oh! Right!" Craig turned to face Karen. "So…about getting the guards to finish for us…I kind of have a lot of studying to do for a quiz in Fire Nation Military on Tuesday…"
"The guards will do no such thing," Anjilly replied for her partner, her presence behind Craig finally gaining the notice of the students. Craig yelped and lurched forward, landing on his face. "Oh look, lunch is here," Anjilly added, ignoring Craig's faceplant. Sure enough, several of the guards were wheeling carts filled with rice bowls out into the plaza.
"Rice again?" [-] made a face. "I've eaten so much rice since we got here, I half expect it to start pouring out of my ears."
"Well excuse us for giving you the authentic meal," Karen sniffed. "If you were ancient peasants, you'd be thankful you had food at all, especially since you'd have to grow it yourselves. Would you like that? Should we make you grow your own food? Get the full experience?" A light came into Karen's eyes, and her gaze drifted off. "Hmm...actually, that's not a bad idea..."
"No!" Lupe yelped. "No, no, it's fine, rice is fine! It's just...um...we're just tired of it. That's all."
"It's the main staple of most Asian countries, I do believe," Karen said.
"Main staple or no, I'm sick of it," [-] stuck his tongue out in mock disgust.
"Wimp," Karen snorted. A guard pushed his cart over to the small group of students, and started handing out bowls of rice and wooden chopsticks. Anjilly and Karen declined the food, and waited for the students to sort out who got food when before talking again.
"So, we hear you don't want to be setting up the festival," Anjilly began conversationally.
"And that you seem to think the guards should be the ones doing it instead," Karen continued for her.
"Of course you heard it, you were standing right behind us," Craig grumbled, and he flinched away from the looks Anjilly and Karen shot him.
"Yes! Exactly!" Daniel emphasized his words with gestures from his chopsticks. "Do you want us to fall asleep halfway through? At my school before I came here, we never had the students put up the decorations for dances or anything! It was all the teachers!"
"And now you think we should give up our own free time so we can set up something we probably won't enjoy?" Anjilly raised an eyebrow. "Ask yourselves this: Who will be having all the fun at the Mid-Autumn Festival tonight? The guards, who have to patrol the school like any other night, and won't be returning home to spend tonight with their families? Again? Or you?"
"Uhh…us?" Meep ventured. Nearby, a few more groups of students noticed that the Course Coordinators were present, and wandered over to listen in.
"Yes, you! You will be the ones enjoying tonight's festival!" Anjilly nodded approving to Meep. "So why should the guards, who will not enjoy the festival, make the preparations so that you, who will enjoy the festival, can laze your day away?"
"We're not even having you guys do all the work," Karen added. "The Air Nomads have been baking for three days just to make all the foods we'll need for tonight. If we'd made you all do that, that'd be several days' worth of work right there…and I doubt the end products would be completely edible."
"She has a point…" Lauphen muttered, low enough that only Lupe, Meep, and [-] could hear.
"So really, you should be happy we're only having you set things up," Karen concluded.
"Why should we be happy about manual labor?" Karana Solara scowled.
"It's character building," Anjilly asserted. The group of assembled students rolled their eyes. "Come on, students, think about it. We're trying to give you experiences at this school that, if you so choose, will help you with writing your stories."
"And…how is making tables going to help us with writing?" William asked between shoveling rice into his mouth. He'd long ago given up on using chopsticks as anything but a method to move rice around in the bowl, and held the bowl up to his lips as he ate.
"Making tables? Not so much," Karen shrugged. "But it's the actual experience of having to do hard work to get ready for a festival that's the focus of it. Anjilly has a better explanation than me, I believe—Anj, if you would?"
"Sure," Anjilly nodded. "Students, it helps if you think of how your characters would experience a festival in Avatarverse. If they're just visitors, then you'll probably have them enjoy the festival without knowing anything about the set-up involved. But if you're writing about someone who lives in a village, or has lived in a village, and has had to participate in setting up a festival before, then you'll find yourself drawing on today to help describe your character's actions and reactions."
"I don't get it," Lupe spoke up. "How is all of this," she swept her arm to indicate the set-up area for the festival, "going to help us write?"
"To answer that, I have to ask you how you feel right now," Anjilly replied. Lupe furrowed her eyebrows, not understanding the question. "Are you tired? Sleepy? Maybe looking forward to finishing so you can attend the festival?"
"Um…I guess?" Lupe narrowed her eyes. "Why?"
"Think about how a village would work together to set up a festival," Anjilly explained. "Everyone would pitch in—men probably doing the hard labor, women baking, making decorations or sewing festival clothes for their families, all that. They do the hard work because they know there's going to be a reward later, the festival. It would be a pretty common experience in rural villages, maybe even some towns and smaller cities. Since the average small town or village dweller in the Avatarverse would have likely experienced something similar to this, we're giving you a taste of what they would experience in case you ever decide to write a character from the country."
"But what if we don't want to?" Shiri objected. "What if we only write stories about characters from cities?"
"Then I would say, you never know," Karen informed her. "Admittedly, you may never write about a character who would have experienced setting up a festival from scratch. But on the other hand, what if you find yourself wanting to write a character like that one day? Or a character who is doing some other sort of hard labor - building a house, raising a wall, that sort of thing. You'll be able to use this day's events to help yourself figure out how the character would feel. That's why I'm also going to advise you students to try looking forward to the celebration later tonight; a villager would look beyond the hard work of now to the reward of later."
"It's a lot easier to say than to do, you know," Vera Moretti pointed out accusingly.
"Yes, I do know," Karen agreed. "But I also know that personal experience goes a long way when you're writing a story. Research is a valuable tool, but I believe that if you can experience something your characters might go through, you should. Not everything, of course…but your real life memories can be applied to your characters."
"Can you give us an example?" Nicole Jackson asked.
"Of course I can!" Karen beamed. "Take…the death of a family member. I'm not going to ask anyone here if they've ever lost someone, because that would be rude and prying. I will definitely not say it's a good thing if you have lost someone, as opposed to if you haven't, because it's not. But I will say that if you've lost someone close to you, and you ever decide to write a story where a character has lost someone important to them, it would help to think about how you felt when you lost someone. Or maybe it was a family member you weren't close to—how would that affect a character? Would you be sad, even if you didn't know them as well as you could have? Would you be sad because you didn't know them as well as you could have? How does your age affect your reaction? There's a lot of things you need to consider, and the more you know personally about some things, the greater of an advantage you'll have."
"Imagination can also play an important part, if you're lacking in any one area," Anjilly took over for her partner. "Going with Karen's example of losing a family member, or just losing someone in general, if you haven't gone through that personally you can still write a believable character who's gone through something like that. Indulge in a little make-believe: Ask yourself how you would feel if you lost someone. Consider the character's background, and think on how that might change things for them. A character that's served in the military might take the death of a family member differently than a character who's been sheltered all their life."
"Similar life experiences can also be used, like a bad break from a friendship," Karen interjected. "If you had a good friend, and something happened to make you not friends anymore, you could try to apply that to a story where a character's friend dies. The feelings of loss are similar enough that you can stretch and bend them a little to fit the story."
"Basically, the point is this," Anjilly said. "When writing, you want to actually think about things. Not just big things, like plot - though that's important too. But the devil's in the details, and if you can write out a good, detailed scene with all the proper actions and reactions and emotions, your story will be much, much better. Whether you're writing about a character's death or a hard day's work, you want it to be realistic. And the best way to achieve realism is to draw from your own experiences - write what you know, as they say. And that's why we're making you set up the festival by yourselves," Anjilly finished. "Any questions?"
"Umm…" Lupe glanced down at her rice bowl. "Do we get seconds?"
"No. Villagers in the rural Earth Kingdom would be happy to have that much rice for a meal. Go work it off," Karen instructed. "Any other questions?"
"Why is Anjilly acting normal? I thought Bleeprin made her all weird," Sofia called. Karen gave a start and glanced at Anjilly. She'd already resumed staring vacantly into the distance. The students cringed as Karen's fist slowly clenched.
"Thank you, Miss Owens," Karen gritted her teeth, "for dispelling that plothole's effects. Now I have to do the paperwork…"
"A bit to the left! The left!" Elise shouted. Lupe and Amy Ochanian, holding Elise's legs and trying not to drop her, shuffled to their rights. "No, other way! Your left, not mine!"
"This is when I ask why nobody's Earthbending pillars for us to reach high places," Lupe gasped as she tried to correct Elise's position.
"And this is where I ask why I agreed to be the one holding someone up," Amy puffed. "Blue Witten said she could do it, why didn't I let her take my place?"
"You thought you could handle a seventeen-year-old girl," Blue called. She held up a string of banners, and inspected one end. "Midori, Zuna, I think this is fraying on the end. What should we do?"
"Tie a knot," Midori B.M. suggested. "We can tie it to the nail just before the frayed area starts." Elise started banging a nail into the wooden stand above Lupe's head, the movement making it all the harder to hold her up. Lupe sent a prayer out to whoever was listening that she wouldn't drop Elise before the banner was up—this was the last one they had to do.
A short ways off, several of the male students were debating how to handle the last few tables. They were mostly finished, and in fact a good deal of the students had already given up working and were passed out on one end of the plaza. Those that weren't done had just enough work left to make them hate the slackers.
"I think the leg on that one is crooked," Wei Tzu tapped the table Sunan, señor dangao pickle, and Mai4 were working on. "If we try to put anything on it, it'll fall off."
"No, it looks good to me," Zerkz squinted at the table, crouching to get its surface at eye level. "Okay…maybe a little slant, but nothing big. They're doing fine."
"Boys," Somariel rolled her eyes. "You'll notice us girls are doing a decent job." She gestured to the table that she, Carsten D, and Amber Railey were working on. "We haven't hit our fingers as many times as you have, either."
"Great. Now my thumb is throbbing as a reminder," Zerkz muttered.
"Our table's perfectly fine," señor dangao pickle grumbled. "Man, this school is seriously lacking in bronies…"
Had Mai4 been present, she would have heartily agreed with him. However, seeing as she'd been turned into an awkward teapot - again - and kidnapped by a tea-stealing rodent, she was unable to comment on OFUA:TLA's brony population.
"I don't think we'll have any problems with it," Wei Tzu said. "We'll just have to be careful not to jostle the table, or put things with round bottoms on it."
"Then…we're done?" Zerkz asked hopefully. Wei Tzu nodded. "Yes! Finally!"
"Done with making the tables," Wei Tzu corrected him. "We need to put these last three in place, and get some tablecloths for them. Other than that, though, I think we're good."
"Done!" Elise shouted, and gave a last tug on the banner. Lupe and Amy lowered her to the ground, groaning as they finally set her down. "Hey! I'm not that heavy!"
"Heavy enough," Lupe muttered. Amy snorted in amusement, and patted Elise on the shoulder.
"Don't worry, I'm sure I would have weighed just as much," she assured her fellow Earth Kingdom student. "…if not more."
"Hey, the girls are done," Zerkz noted. "Great! Oi, you lot!" he cupped his hands around his mouth. "Why don'tcha come help us move these tables onto the Cookie Plaza?"
"Move them yourself!" Elise shouted back. "We're tired!"
"'We?'" Lupe scoffed. "You just had to swing a hammer a couple of times! Amy and I did all the hard work!"
"Swinging a hammer was work enough," Elise sniffed.
"Actually, the guards will finish up," Karen sauntered out of the main school building, a Lemur on each shoulder. "You will return to your dorm rooms and change into your formal school uniforms for the festival. Be back in the plaza in one hour."
"Huh? We've only got these uniforms," Somariel gestured to her own dirty red-and-yellow school uniform.
"Not anymore, you don't," Karen grinned. "When you return to your rooms, you should find your formal uniforms set out on your cots. They're pretty generic robes, despite the national differences in fashion, more from my own laziness in design than anything else. Hurry, now, we have to get the feast set up."
"Feast?" Huanzhe called, perking up. The students that had fallen asleep/unconscious woke up at the word.
"Yes, feast," Karen smiled in amusement. "Run along now…it seems Ms. Rose, Ms. Johnson, and Captain Kirk are going to beat you to the dorms." There was a beat of silence, and Karen realized no one knew who she was talking about. "Isabella Rose, Scarlet Johnson, and Freeranger," she sighed.
"Oh," someone said. Everyone began to climb to their feet and shuffle towards the student dorms. Lupe was amongst them, wondering what the formal uniform would look like, and hoping it didn't have a cookie pattern.
The formal uniforms did not have a cookie pattern. And, in Lupe's opinion, they were lovely. Her time at OFUA:TLA had educated Lupe enough for her to be fairly sure that they were based on the clothing Toph's family wore—once the students had assembled in the Cookie Plaza between the girl and boy dorms, Sunan and Sofia Owens had begun discussing how the Bei Fongs wore Tang Dynasty hanfu, not that Lupe was interested. [-] was admiring his long jacket, particularly the gold-hued trim, and the fancy slipper-shoes that everyone had gotten. Meep seemed content to stare at the huge sleeves of her uniform, waving her arms around and pretending to be a bird. Lauphen had knocked on Lupe's door earlier to ask for help wrapping the female uniform's long robe around herself, and keeping the belt neat.
Once the students had finished freshening up—the dorms had huge bathrooms with nice showers that nearly everyone utilized—and returned to their rooms, they had found their uniforms laid out on their beds, just like Karen had said they would be. Each Nation had a different color scheme for their uniforms: the Fire Nation uniforms used reds and a deep yellow [-] insisted was gold, the Earth Kingdom students wore green and bright yellow, the Air Nomads had yellow and orange, and the Water Tribes (the only Nation that didn't have yellow in their uniform) got blue, purple, and white. Ashee Bieber was parading around in her formal uniform, perfectly all right with wearing a skirt for once, showing off and talking about how Zuko would just have to fall for her now. The other Zukomancers, Lupe included, had similar sentiments about themselves.
After changing into their uniforms, which took a little trial and error for the girls, the students had piled out into the courtyard. Delicious smells were coming from the Cookie Plaza, and Lupe's stomach rumbled, reminding her it hadn't gotten enough to eat earlier. She licked her lips, and joined the rest of the students in a march to the Cookie Plaza.
"Good afternoon, students!" Karen grinned as they arrived. "Please take a seat at a table. I see everyone's managed to get into their formal uniform without injury? Ms. Megdaline, please stop pretending you're a bird and sit down. Thank you."
Lupe slid into a seat near the edge of the plaza, and the other five seats at her table were taken by [-], Lauphen, Meep, Andy, and Ai Da. "You're not sitting with Joe?" Lauphen asked Andy in surprise.
"No, he's bugging the Water Tribe girls today," Andy nodded her head to a table a little ways off, where Joe Smith was grinning at Ashee Bieber, Chriss Soh, Danish, Allie Doyle, and Vera Moretti. "Besides, it's not like we're together together or anything. We just like…having fun together."
"Come to think of it, we haven't had many relationships spring up among students," Ai Da mused. "I would have thought that we'd get a few couples, at least. The closest we've gotten is you and Joe."
"You have a point," Lupe realized. "Shouldn't more people be into each other?"
"I don't think you guys are taking into account the presence of Lust Objects," Lauphen said. "Think about it: Would you want to get into a relationship with someone if Brad Pitt were around?"
"Isn't Brad Pitt old now?" Meep wrinkled her nose.
"Well…yes," Lauphen admitted, "but that's not the point. My point is, if the person you desire enough to stampede and attempt to glomp, even with the dangers of the Lemurs, is around, are you really going to look at anybody else? Lupe, who have you been interested in so far this semester?"
"Who…?" Lupe blushed. "Just…Zuko…"
"A perfect example," Lauphen nodded. "Most of us are die-hard fangirls and fanboys. With our Lust Objects around, it'll be hard to develop feelings for anyone else…not that it's impossible, but it'll be hard for some people." Lupe had to lean in to hear her properly: the other students were starting conversations of their own, and the buzz of noise was beginning to get loud.
"So…where's that yummy smell coming from?" [-] asked, noticing Lupe's discomfort and changing the subject. "I think I smell noodles!"
"Umm…not sure…" Lupe, grateful for the subject change, craned her head around. "I don't see any food dishes, and there's nothing on any of the other tables…"
"Wait a minute, there's an open door over there," Ai Da pointed. "I think that's about where the kitchens should be? Amy and I were investigating a few weeks ago, and we narrowed down its location to that general area."
"You didn't find the kitchens? Why?" Lauphen asked.
"Er…" Ai Da looked away. "We…may have been caught by the Blue Spirit…"
"You got caught by Zuko? Lucky!" Meep sighed. A dreamy look spread over her face. "If he caught me…" Lupe wondered if she should tell her friends that Marshall Arts was the Blue Spirit now, not Zuko. On the one hand, it would mean divulging the secret knowledge that only Lupe had, which gave her an edge on her fellow students. But on the other hand, these guys were her friends.
Lupe was spared from having to make a decision by a sudden blast of trumpets. Nearly all the students shrieked and clapped their hands over their ears. All eyes turned to the front doors of the school, where Karen and Anjilly had appeared, wearing their own ideas of fancy clothing—Anjilly in colorful Earth Kingdom robes, Karen with a conical party hat on her head and her usual attire.
"Good afternoon, students!" Karen called and gave a majestic wave. The effect was spoiled by her party hat falling off. Sake, who seemed to have taken a liking to Karen, snatched it and flew off. "As you are probably aware, today is the Mid-Autumn Festival for our school. Yes, Ms. Owens, you've mentioned our timing is off, no need to interrupt me again.
"Now, in celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, we have arranged several entertainments for you. While this holiday would normally be for families, the circumstances at our school prevent you from spending time with your relatives this evening. Instead, we've decided to make the festival be about international cooperation for the Avatar Nations. You as students have done an admirable job of cooperating with your fellow Nation groups, for which we are very thankful indeed. However, since certain elements of our staff…cough-Fire Lords-cough…seem intent on stirring up trouble, we hope to use you all as an example to them of just how wonderful peace is."
"Did she just say 'cough'?" [-] muttered.
"Yes," his table-mates whispered.
"To start, we are going to have a feast." Cheering erupted amongst the students, and Karen waited for it to die down before continuing. "After the feast, we will have a school dance—the kind you would expect to have at a high school in the Real World's America."
"A regular high school in America," Anjilly added. "Not a high school that has required fun and likes to think it's British and plays God with the days of the week and creates plotholes that drop you directly into the PPC's Department of Personnel..." She shuddered and downed a bleeprin pill.
There were a few more confused cheers. Karen gave a wry grin as they faded. "Before that, however, some of our guards have volunteered to perform a traditional Chinese - er, Fire Nation dragon dance." Karen paused just in case, and sighed when there was no reaction from the students. "No appreciation for culture…"
"Wait, Chinese dragon dance?" Lupe asked her friends, voice quiet. "I thought the Fire Nation was based on Japan..." A chocolate chip cookie flew out of nowhere and hit her directly between the eyes. "OW! What was that for?"
"You'll learn later," Karen said. "Tonight, we focus on the festival. Anyways, the school dance will continue until the moon has risen high enough to be seen over the school's walls. At that point the dance will end, and everyone will take a seat at the low tables near the training forest to view the moon."
"When do we go to bed?" Izzy Smiling shouted.
"Whenever you want to," Karen shrugged. "You could go to bed right now, if you want. At any point during the afternoon, evening, and night, students will be free to head to their dorm and turn in. Of course," Karen's lips twitched, "that would mean you miss out on quality time with the staff."
"Staff?" Ashee and Danish's heads snapped up. "Where?"
"Soon, soon," Karen chuckled. "The staff will be along shortly. We have that long table there—yes, there, the thing I'm pointing at—that we will be eating at. Students are prohibited from attempting to glomp, hug, kiss, or otherwise force their affections on members of the canon during the festival. Staff members in romantic relationships will be sticking near each other at all times, so if you, oh, attempt to glomp Zuko, expect to face a rain of stilettos before the Lemurs can get close." Lupe frowned at that one—but no matter. Zuko would be hers.
"And…yes, I think that's all," Karen clapped her hands together cheerfully. "All right then, food will be served momentarily. Expect the rest of the staff to come out not long after the serving starts. Enjoy your meal!" Karen started to walk down the steps, then stopped and looked back at her partner. "Err…Anj, follow me."
"The sky is so blue," Anjilly sighed. "So blue." Karen sighed and grabbed her partner's wrist, then proceeded to drag her to the long table set up under a framework of awnings and flower decorations. Lupe saw movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned her head to see a stream of guards with plates of food coming out of the open door in the school building, thus proving said door led to the kitchen.
"Told you I smelled noodles," [-] whispered to Meep as a guard set a huge bowl of noodles down on the group's table. Ai Da raised an eyebrow, and gave the rest of the table a meaningful look that went completely over Lupe's head. Andy started to snicker, while Lauphen looked away and huffed a sigh in annoyance.
"So, what's new with the Earth Kingdom?" Andy asked Ai Da as everyone at the table reached out with their chopsticks and managed to heap some noodles onto their plates.
"Not much," Ai Da replied, twirling her chopsticks so they captured some noodles. "Caelin Cacanisius and his friend Colin got caught trying to sneak around the school at night again. Karen condemned them to the dungeons with Azula for a week. They were banned from the festival tonight, too, because they don't seem to get the point of all the punishment Karen deals out. Azula's getting bored with making them clean up her messes for her."
"Speaking of Azula, I haven't seen her around the school that much," Meep piped up. "Why do you think that is? Other than her being insane…"
"Actually, I heard Karen and Anjilly managed to get Azula rehabilitated enough to function," Lupe recalled. "Something about lots of ice cream and family counseling. Oh, and stress relief exercises?"
"The Staff is here!" Jessica Carden squealed, jumping up and pointing. Sure enough, the Staff was there, wearing fancy outfits, being escorted by the Lemurs and some of the guards. All memory of Karen's earlier warning flew out of Lupe's head, and she found herself on her feet, the group of Staff getting larger by the second. Her eyes fixed on Zuko, with Mai clutching his arm (ugh, she'd have to do something about that) and Iroh standing near him protectively. Lupe was absolutely positive Zuko would fall for her once he saw her in the formal uniform—and once he did, he would realize that she was of course his One True Love, and all those other Zukomancers would be jealous but it wasn't like she cared at all other than that she could totally lord it over them and…
That was when Marshall appeared in front of her.
"Oof!" Lupe grunted as they collided. She'd been running at top speed to reach Zuko first, before the other Zukomancers who'd also gotten to their feet, and to stay ahead of the other Lusters stampeding for their respective Lust Objects. Marshall was unready for the sudden impact, and fell backwards, cushioning Lupe's fall and keeping her from getting her clothing dirty. Around them, students who had been stampeding found themselves confronted by a wall of guards and lemurs.
"You can't do thiiiiis!" Rikki Brook wailed, flailing as a guard put her in a bear hug. "Zuko! Please! Tell them to stop! You know we're meant to beeee!"
"No! Zuko is mine!" Fyre Elaine screamed at Rikki, trying and failing to shake off the lemurs that had her pinned to the ground. "Hands off!"
"I've always been amused at how they can never agree who you belong to," Sokka told Zuko, watching the stampede devolve into a wrangling. "And at how we use cattle terms to describe their actions."
"Maybe they should just accept that Zuko doesn't belong to anyone," Mai shook her head in disgust and clutched her boyfriend's arm a little tighter. "He's a person, not a thing."
"Do not speculate on the mind of the fangirl, my dear," Iroh advised. "It is not a good thing to contemplate. There are some terrors even the bravest should not face."
"Umm…hi," Lupe blinked as her brain processed the fact that she was staring at Marshall. "How…are you?"
"No está mal. Usted?" Marshall smiled as he used Spanish. Lupe winced at his horrible pronunciation.
"Estoy bien," she replied. It occurred to her that she was no longer on her feet, and she got to them as fast as she could "Uhh…so sorry…lemme help you up…" Marshall accepted the hand Lupe held out, and she hauled him to his feet.
"To your seats, students! To your seats!" a guard started to shout. Lupe sighed and gave Zuko a wistful look—or tried to, but he was already hidden behind the guards standing protectively around their Fire Lord.
"Come on," Marshall had yet to let go of her hand, and gave it a gentle tug. "Is there an extra seat at your table? I can meet your friends! They're not as crazy as you make them sound, are they?"
"Well, maybe Meep…" Lupe trailed off as she saw Huanzhe take her empty seat. The middle-aged man smiled at the others around the table, making them all scoot their seats away from him. "Great. Now my spot's gone."
"It is?" Marshall didn't look too disappointed, Lupe noted. "Well, if your seat's taken, you can sit at the minor character table with me. We have the tables on either side of the big one for the major characters and Agents." He pointed, and Lupe realized she would have a seat much closer to Zuko if she accepted Marshall's offer.
Something made her cautious, though. "I'm not a minor character," she reminded Marshall. "Won't that be a problem?"
"Technically, neither am I," Marshall shrugged. "I'm an anomaly created by a misspelling. But I still get to sit there! And you work for me, so it should be okay. Come on!" Lupe realized Marshall hadn't let go of her hand yet, and he used it to pull her towards the minor characters table.
Several canons noticed Marshall approaching with a student, and jumped to their feet. "What are you doing?" a man in Fire Nation armor cried. "That's a student! She's not supposed to come near the Staff tables!"
"She's my assistant," Marshall explained. "Don't worry, she'll behave. Her seat got taken, so I offered to let her sit with us. There's going to be an extra seat if she doesn't—Azula locked Enma in his room while he was meditating, and won't tell us where the key is."
"Empty seat or not, she's a student!" the Fire Nation man jabbed a finger at Lupe. "Expecting restraint from a student is like expecting a viper-bat to fly at noon!"
"I don't know," an Earth Kingdom man that Lupe thought looked familiar speculated from next to the Fire Nation soldier. "The other day, I could have sworn…"
"Very funny, Fong," the Fire Nation soldier snapped. Lupe realized where she'd seen him—season two, episode one. He was General Fong, the man who'd tried to force Aang into the Avatar State and endangered Katara. The Fire Nation man was harder to place, sadly.
"I'm just saying, give the girl a chance," Fong insisted.
"You're only saying that to rile me up!"
"Or maybe I'm just trying to be the bigger person," Fong smirked. "She is a Fire Nation student." The Fire Nation man grumbled, and Fong ignored him. He turned to Lupe and smiled. "Hello there, I'm General Fong. Normally I command a base in the western Earth Kingdom, but I've been recruited into helping with security at this school. I'll also be giving a few lectures about the military to the Earth Kingdom students later in the semester, but I don't think that will interest a Fire Nation student like you."
"Thanks," Lupe smiled nervously. Marshall drew out a seat for her next to Fong, then sat on her other side. Some of the students noticed Lupe at the Staff table, and began to whisper amongst themselves. Chloe Cooksey tried to sneak over, probably to see if she could get a seat too, but was quickly spotted and dealt with by the guards.
Some guards wheeled out a large cart with a covered dish, and headed for the largest Staff table. Lupe watched it go by, and got a whiff of something delicious from it. Her stomach rumbled as she thought of the noodles at her previous table—they were good, but portions were small…
Wheels squeaked behind Lupe, and she started as a guard reached over her shoulder to set a plate down in front of her. There was something that looked like fried rice, with bits of vegetable and egg mixed in, bite-sized dumplings, and a series of orange slices arranged to look like a flower. More guards put small bowls of white rice, spices, sauces, and toppings down next to each person sitting at the minor characters table, then added a pair of lacquered wood chopsticks.
Lupe licked her lips—the food looked delicious. The large cart with the delicious smell stopped in front of Karen and Anjilly's big table, and Karen leaned forward eagerly.
"The main dish has arrived!" she announced, then paused. "Well, for the Staff. Lee, why don't you lift the cover?"
"My pleasure," the guard closest to the cart bowed and turned to the large dish. With a completely unnecessary hand flourish, he pulled off the cover to reveal…
…a rather delicious-looking roasted cowpig, with an apple in its mouth and an arrangement of vegetables around the edges of the platter. Lupe's stomach growled, despite the food already in front of her, and she was reminded that the majority of her diet since coming to OFUA:TLA had been rice, vegetables, smoked sea slug, and tea. She hadn't had anything with substantial meat since arriving.
"We're getting meat?" Fyre Elaine cried, tears starting to form in her eyes. "Yes! Thank you!"
"What?" Karen looked around in surprise. "They're getting meat? When did that happen?"
"Yeah, I thought the students were only getting vegetarian dishes," Sokka tapped his chin thoughtfully. "You know, in honor of the Air Nomad aspect of the festival?"
"Though I personally don't understand how that works, since the Mid-Autumn Festival is supposed to be for appreciating the moon, which would imply some Water Tribe basis," Karen added. "But I suppose I see where Anj was coming from when she mentioned the Air Nomad affiliation with autumn."
"And even if we were serving meat, the Air Nomad students are being forced into vegetarianism anyways," Katara concluded cheerfully.
"So…we aren't getting meat?" Ida Smithsonian ventured.
"No," the main Staff all snapped.
And thus, the students watched with growling stomachs as the Staff were served slices of juicy cowpig. Aang declined on principle, but Sokka and Karen had no such reservations, and happily dug in. Lupe looked mournfully at the pork-steaks Fong and Marshall were served, then picked up a dumpling with her chopsticks and brought it to her mouth. She was still having trouble with chopsticks, and dropped the dumpling onto her fried rice.
"You're holding them wrong," Marshall noted. "Put one like a pencil, and the other tucked under your index finger…here, like this," he demonstrated with his own chopsticks.
"Sofia told me the same thing a month ago," Lupe informed him glumly. "I just can't get the hang of the pinching motion."
"Hmm…" Marshall studied Lupe's hands. "Here…" he reached forward and rearranged her fingers. "Try not to grasp it too tightly. If you do, you could cramp your hand, and that hurts. You need a more relaxed hand posture, like you're painting."
"I'm not a painter," Lupe reminded him.
"Good point," Marshall admitted. "Here, watch me…see?" He picked up an orange slice from his plate and brought it to his mouth, his chopsticks holding it firm all through. Lupe watched his hands move, envious of his skill—very few of the students could eat with chopsticks as well as he could. When he caught her looking, Marshall blushed a light pink and looked away.
"Maybe we should ask a guard to find her some silverware," Fong suggested. "I think Karen and Anjilly have some for when they make their weird 'Real World, Western' food."
"She's here to learn about our world, isn't she?" the grumpy Fire Nation soldier next to Fong muttered. "I don't see how being soft will help."
"Don't mind Colonel Shinu," Fong rolled his eyes. "He's still upset that his only appearance in the series was to be one-upped by Zhao after a very convenient promotion."
"Too convenient," Shinu grumbled. "I suspect treachery. At least I don't have to deal with that infuriating man tonight..."
"Um, why's that?" Lupe asked.
"He wasn't too keen on the idea of a festival for the moon," Fong said, "so Karen and Anjilly locked him in his room to prevent any murder attempts. They did the same to Hama, too. Bloodbending and dinner don't mix, you know."
"They aren't letting the Princess attend either," Shinu added. "Said she's too unstable still to spend any length of time among the students. Something about it being too dangerous for the students, though why that would be an issue is beyond me. I expect she's sulking in the dungeon. Maybe she'll come by for moon-viewing later…"
"Er…right," Lupe said, turning her attention back to her food. "I think I'll use my hands." She reached for an orange slice. Marshall deftly whacked her fingers with his chopsticks. "Ow! What was that for?"
"It's rude to eat those foods with your hands," Marshall admonished. "If you're so hungry, here…" He picked up a dumpling from Lupe's plate with his chopsticks, and held it out to her.
"Ooooh," Karana Solara and Spry Pye giggled from the nearest student table.
"Umm…no thanks, I'll figure it out myself," Lupe tried to wave the chopsticks away. Marshall looked hurt, and lowered the chopsticks. He had the remarkable ability to look like an adorable puppy dog that had just been kicked when he felt hurt, and Lupe felt guilt bubbling up in her stomach. "Well…j-just the one, okay?"
Marshall instantly brightened, and raised the chopsticks again. Blushing furiously, Lupe closed her eyes and opened her mouth, closing it the moment she felt the dumpling against her tongue. She chewed as quickly as she could, then snatched up another dumpling with her chopsticks and brought her face close to her plate so she could shove it into her mouth before it dropped.
"Aw, that's adorable," Fong grinned at the exchange. "Just your assistant, eh, Marshall?"
"Yes," Lupe interrupted before Marshall could reply. She was speaking through a full mouth, but she was more concerned with clearing up any misunderstandings than being polite. "Just his assistant. That's all. I'm going to marry Zuko."
"Sure you are," Fong snorted. "You and about five hundred other fangirls..." Lupe kept her head down and shoveled fried rice into her mouth, ignoring the occasional catcall from Spry or Karana, the only two students who had noticed Marshall feeding Lupe the dumpling.
After the second course of fried rice, dumplings, oranges, and (for the non-Airbender Staff) pork-steak, the guards doing the serving took away the used dishes and brought out stir-fries of tomato-carrots, pea-beans, and potato-onions. Lupe followed Fong's advice and mixed some white rice into the stir-fry, then topped it off with soy sauce. The result actually didn't taste too bad, though it was a bit too tangy for Lupe's preference.
The fourth course was soup, thick and made from all-vegetarian ingredients. Several of the Fire Nation and Water Tribe students were in tears over the lack of meat, notably Nathaniel, Craig, Daniel Clemens, Theodore, and William. Cyrus and Daniel Hallowell, both Earth Kingdom students, snickered at their fellow students' pain.
"How much more food are we getting?" Lupe whispered to Fong after the fourth course was taken away. "I'm starting to get full, and these portions are really small."
"This next course will be the last—desert," Fong clarified as the guards doing the serving started setting large bowls of fruit down between Staff members. Each student table got a bowl as well, to be shared amongst the students sitting there.
"Hey, there are apples!" Lupe reached out and grabbed a fruit. Several other Staff members and students were already eating, so she bit into the apple, then nearly moaned. "They're…they're normal apples!"
"We do have normal cabbages, too," Shinu told Lupe as he selected a pear for himself. "Lots of our plants are what you consider 'normal.' It's just a few of our main vegetables and fruits that you're not familiar with."
"Yeah, we have rice, and that's not a cross of anything from your Real World," a passing guard agreed with the colonel.
"Still, it's like almost everything else here is some weird cross of things from my world," Lupe complained. "I'm actually starting to get surprised when things are normal."
"Now you know how we feel," Fong chuckled. He selected a pear from the bowl before him and bit in.
The fruit bowls were almost gone when drums started to beat. Izar Laun had been in the middle of a swallow, and wound up choking on his orange. Theodore pounded his back, effectively saving his fellow student from suffocating and Katara from having to use her spirit water.
A line of red appeared on the edges of Lupe's vision, and she turned her head to see about fifty Fire Nation guards holding the poles for a fake dragon. They had all put on headbands with long tails and a Fire Nation insignia on the front, then added decorative arm and leg bracers with gold facing and flowing red ribbons.
"Students, please turn your attention to the dragon dance, performed for us by Fifty Guards Named Lee!" Karen announced, then added, "That seriously is the name of their performance group. 'Fifty Guards Named Lee.' I had to negotiate a contract with their manager to get them to do a dragon dance for the festival. They're going on tour across the Fire Nation next month."
Lupe watched as the guards started to run forward, leaning their poles one way, then the other, making the dragon look like it was rippling as it flew towards the main Staff table. When it was a few feet away, it abruptly turned, and dipped down to one side before snaking under the back half of its body and circled the student tables.
Sadly, the students weren't impressed. Midori and Nicole yawned, then rested their heads in their arms. Moon Dragon and Carsten D looked ready to copy them any moment.
"No appreciation for culture," Karen shook her head in disgust.
Azulon and Ozai watched the entire dance with disapproving frowns, and though technically Azulon was dead and Ozai had been deposed, the unfavorable attitude the Fire Lords had towards the dragon dance was definitely unnerving to the guards. Decades of the repression of individuality through cultural outlets such as dance and—right, fanbrats. No care for the arts.
Sozin, at least, looked rather indifferent to the whole thing - no one knew when dancing was outlawed in the Fire Nation, but it'd definitely been legal during Sozin's time. Azulon and Ozai, meanwhile, spent the entire performance glaring at the guards, muttering about wastes of time and pointless displays. Zuko watched the entire thing with a proud gaze, giving the dancing guards approving nods.
After not being allowed to do dragon dances for a long time, the guards somehow managed to do a pretty good job. Halfway through the performance, Zuko leaned towards Aang. "Thanks for helping these guys out," he whispered.
"Oh, it wasn't a problem!" Aang grinned. "It was pretty fun, actually! Next time, I'm gonna teach them the camelephant strut."
Zuko grinned. "Whatever you think will help jumpstart the recovery of the Fire Nation's cultural heritage. Even if the dance moves are a hundred years old..."
At that moment, a tiny burst of flames sprung up at the nearest dancer's feet. The man yelped and jumped away, but quickly recovered and continued the dance. Zuko and Aang turned baleful looks toward Azulon and Ozai, who beamed back at them, the picture of innocence. Then they went back to glaring at the dancing guards. It was a show of their dedication that the guards finished the dragon dance before running off.
"All right," Karen stood up and clapped her hands to draw the students' wandering attention. "It's time for the dance."
"WOOOOT!" Half the students leapt to their feet, knocking their chairs over. "PAAAAARTYYYY!"
"You will all sit down now, or I will allow the Waterbender staff to water-whip you again," Karen informed the students sternly. "Thank you…now, before we start the dance officially, we'll be having a little game. I need all the female students to assemble in the center of the clear space between the student seating area and the staff tables."
"That includes you, I think," Fong whispered to Lupe. She nodded agreement, and went to join the other female students. Marshall and Fong waved as she left, and she returned the gesture tentatively. While Marshall was her boss, Fong was a crazy Earthbender general that tried to force Aang into the Avatar State. Fong seemed nice enough, but Lupe thought it was best to be wary with any canon characters.
"You got to sit at a staff table!" Shiri hissed to Lupe as the Fire Nation student joined the other girls. "You lucky, lucky, lucky thing! How'd you manage that?"
"Huanzhe stole my chair, and I—why is Huanzhe with the female students?" Lupe blinked, then leaned away. Huanzhe, hearing his name, turned and grinned at Lupe.
"Don't ask," Somariel muttered. "Isabella and Scarlet did, about five minutes ago…um, he said something really quietly so they were the only ones to hear. They're over there," Somariel jerked a thumb over her shoulder. Lupe leaned over to see the two bi-National students sitting in fetal positions on the ground, pale and shaking.
"It's like they've finally realized life is meaningless," Zuna spoke, voice monotone.
"You do realize even Mai isn't that depressing, right?" Elise asked her. Zuna's answer was lost as Karen blew a didgeridoo.
"Where did you get that thing?" Aang demanded once the noise had died away. "It's almost louder than an Airbender horn! Almost," he emphasized. "Our greater wind speed makes the sound louder."
"It's amazing, what you can get from Amazon dot com," Karen grinned. "All right, guards, escort the female Staff to join the students. Lemurs on standby. Be warned, students, any glomping or murder attempts will have you on cleanup duty after the Festival is over, and you will be barred from participating in the dance."
Lupe felt dizzy as the female Staff got up and started to walk towards the huddle of students. She saw Katara she was going to get to talk to Katara oh Madre di Dios—no. Glomping bad. Katara might be Lupe's favorite female character, but she was not going to risk being banned from the dance just because Katara was awesome.
Some other students had different feelings. "Die, Mary Suki!" Ashee Bieber screamed, and lunged for Suki. Tsuki and Zuki were faster, and with the help of Suko and Sukkis picked the fangirl up and carried her off to the sidelines.
"No glomping," a guard warned the female students. Zuna eyed Mai, but wisely did nothing.
"All right, everyone, reach into your pockets," Karen called.
"We don't have pockets!" Somariel protested.
"Yes you do. The sashes of your dress uniforms have small pockets sewn into the ends," Karen pointed to Blue Witten, the student closest to her. "You, reach into the edge of your sash. Tell me what you find."
Hesitant, and uncertain that Karen was telling the truth, Blue Witten held up the end of her sash and probed it with her fingers. Blue's eyes widened as she found an opening, and she reached in hesitantly to pull out…
"…okay, other end," Karen grumbled as Blue stared in confusion at the Earth Kingdom passport hidden in her sash. "Though you'll all need your passports next semester…but I'm getting ahead of myself. In case the boys are curious, their sashes should also have their passports." Blue tried the other end of her sash, and pulled out a green ribbon embroidered at one end with Chinese characters. The opposite end was attached to a small wooden handle.
"Lan-se," Sofia leaned close to read the characters. "Chinese for 'blue.'"
"All the female students have ribbons, colored to correspond to their Nation, with their names embroidered in Chinese characters," Karen explained. "Please take them out now." Lupe reached into her sash and pulled out a long red ribbon with a dark mahogany handle.
"What are we going to use these for?" Emma shouted.
"We're going to have you do a ribbon dance," Karen motioned to the group of female Staff members, still surrounded by guards and lemurs. "The canon girls will demonstrate the steps—it's very simple, so you should be able to pick it right off. Male students and male canons, please move to surround the girls. Girls, make sure there's enough room for you to do the dance."
"These are the steps," Katara informed the female students nearest her as the boys shuffled to surround them. "See…right foot in front, arc the ribbon over your head left to right, left foot in front, arc the ribbon over your head right to left, repeat. Walk in a circle, try to keep an even distance between the person in front of you and behind you. At the end of the dance, we'll all toss our ribbons at the boys."
"Why?" Lupe asked, a bit dizzy from the realization that she was talking to Katara.
"Karen will tell you when we're ready," Katara shook her head. "Okay, let's get in a circle!" With the help of the female guards and the Lemurs, the female canons managed to get the female students into a rough circle. Okay, it was more like an oval, but it was curved, and that was enough for the Staff. Around them, the boys formed an even rougher ring, tapping their feet and eyeing their female Lust Objects.
"Looks like everyone's in place," Karen smiled, "so I'll explain what we're going to do." The black-clad woman glanced at her partner, who was still smiling dreamily at the sky, and her grin grew forced. She muttered something under her breath, then returned her attention to the students. "I presume the female Staff have explained the dance steps to the students? Katara's nodding, I assume that's a yes. All right, at the end of the dance, when I give the signal, the girls will stop and throw their ribbons to the boys. Each boy is required to catch a ribbon. I've evened out the numbers by asking guards to participate, male and female both. Whoever catches a girl's ribbon, he is required to dance to the first and last songs with her."
"But…Zuko's with the boys," Vera Moretti pointed. "What if he catches a ribbon?"
"Then he will dance the first and last song with whoever's ribbon he catches," Karen's eyes twinkled in amusement. "Even if that person is a student."
The subsequent uproar (Ashee Bieber let out a very piercing scream, as she had lost her chance to dance with Zuko before she even knew she had it) drowned out Karen's next words, until she blew on the didgeridoo. "Seriously, where is that coming from?" Aang yelled. "It wasn't there two seconds ago! And…it's not there now?"
"Plothole," Karen shrugged. "Okay students, get ready to dance. The Flamey-o's are using this as a chance to set up their instruments, so we'll have to be quick, they don't need long…everyone ready? Okay, dance!"
Caught unprepared, half the female students failed to process Karen's words for a few seconds and stood still. The rest managed to start moving, and bumped into their fellow students, then stumbled. Rikki Brook managed to bump into Katara, and was promptly swarmed by Lemurs.
"Left foot, arc, right foot, arc," Yue called as the students tried to gain some semblance of coordination and dance properly. "Left foot, arc, right foot…yes, keep that rhythm!" With Yue calling out moves, the students started to slowly step in tandem. Their ribbon arcs were badly off-tempo, but they sorted out most of the holes in their circle and stepped in vague unison.
"Too bad we couldn't teach them any of the more complex dances," Karen commented to Anjilly as she watched the students. Every once in a while Karen would glance over to the Flamey-o's, trying to gauge how far along in their setup they were. It was taking some time.
"The sky…is plaid," Anjilly peered quizzically at her fingernails. "Why is the sky plaid?"
"Now all we need is the tea to come back," Karen tapped her foot. "Iroh was only able to stand teaching yesterday because he was on Bleeprin, and if you're anything to go by, I don't want him getting into long-term usage." She paused, and ran a hand over her hair, then dropped her arm to her side and looked up at the sky. "Seriously…bring the tea back. I need Anj functional. Running this place needs one and a half responsible people, and I barely qualify for half a responsible person."
"Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness," Anjilly informed the tablecloth.
"I'm well beyond the first signs, thank you," Karen said. "Ugh. You know, I didn't think bleeprin did this to people. Make them act high as kites, I mean. It's...what, bleach and aspirin? Neither of those things is a hallucinogen - wow, I'm pulling out the big words! - and don't you use this stuff when you go out on missions? You can't hunt down, charge, and assassinate Mary-Sues when you're this out of it...can you?"
"Some people can," Anjilly hummed, tearing the tablecloth into strips and braiding them together. "My friend Singsong is on a constant sugar high during her missions..."
"That's not hallucinating, though," said Karen. "Seriously, why is the bleeprin affecting you like this?"
Anjilly dropped her tablecloth braid and began methodically banging her head against the tabletop. "Probably because I'm using it to stay calm instead of to dull horrifying mental images from badfic. I am very stressed, I miss being able to kill the things that upset me, the plotholes are wreaking havoc, and I. Want. Tea." She collapsed on the table and rolled over on it. "Karen, why is there a rabbit running around the sky?"
Karen patted Anjilly's head. "Huh. Even when you're hallucinating, you manage to drag Chinese mythology into it...impressive. Alright." She squinted over at the Flamey-o's, and decided they were ready to start playing. She sucked in a deep breath, and bellowed, "OI, STUDENTS! RIBBON TOSS NOW!"
It took a second before the ribbons started to fly. Lupe looked around wildly, trying to figure out where Zuko was. The moment she saw him, she pulled her arm back as far as she could and lobbed the ribbon and stick in his direction. Every other Zukomancer had the same thoughts as Lupe, and Zuko found himself faced with an avalanche of ribbons. With no better ideas, he screwed his eyes shut, prayed to Bryke, and held his hand out.
When no ribbons hit Zuko, he cracked one eye to see what was going on. A red ribbon chose that moment to land in his palm, and he looked at the embroidered name with no little trepidation.
"Mai," he read, a rush of relief filling him. The fangirls' ribbons had all interfered with each other's flight, and they were in a mess on the ground before Zuko. Mai herself smirked and sauntered up to him.
"You doubted my aim?"
"Never," Zuko promised. "Thank you, thank you, thank you..."
"Yeah, well, I don't hate you enough to leave you with those little monsters..."
Sokka, meanwhile, rubbed his green ribbon embroidered with the name "Suki" against his cheek. On the ground before him was a pile of students' ribbons, which had crashed into each other and fallen before they could reach him. "Suki!" he shouted, looking around for her, and the Kyoshi Warrior tackled him in a hug. She chanced a glance toward Yue's direction, wondering if the Moon Spirit had thrown a ribbon at all.
"Oh, you two are adorable," Zerkz said, clasping his hands. "I was hoping I'd catch Suki's ribbon, but this is just adorable. This is perfect."
"Uh...thanks," Sokka said.
Zerkz burst into tears. "I LOVE YOU TWO!"
"Ignore him," Suki said to Sokka. "He's my fanboy. Um...what's going on with Aang?"
Aang was artfully airbending and dodging every single ribbon the Aanglers threw his way. There were shrieks of protest from the students, but he paid them no heed, focusing on his avoidant circling maneuvers. Finally, he reached his hand out, and with a flick of his wrist and a burst of air, a blue ribbon sailed towards him and landed in his outstretched palm.
"Katara!" Aang said happily, literally flying to her side.
The fangirls started to scream in protest, and several ran forward, intent on either glomping Zuko or knocking Mai's ribbon out of his hand. Several Zutarians tried to tackle Aang and wrestle away Katara's ribbon. All were attacked and dragged off by Lemurs. Their ribbons were picked up by more Lemurs, and some male guards had to leave the boys' circle.
"Boys who haven't caught a ribbon…oh look, that's all of you, big surprise, not like they threw the ribbons at Lust Objects or anything…boys, pick a ribbon up from the ground. You have no say in this. Wei Tzu, stop trying to look stoic and pick up a ribbon," Karen snapped at one of the more reticent students. "You too, Mr. Santos. Remember the 'you have no say in this' thing?"
"This is stupid," Isaac Santos muttered as he shuffled towards one of the ribbon piles. "I don't even like dancing."
"Get over it," a female guard punched him in the shoulder. "Maybe if you try to have fun, you'll actually have it. Don't make us require it..."
"Where'd my ribbon go?" Lupe knelt by the pile in front of Zuko, trying to ignore the fact that he was cuddling with Mai a few meters away. She reached forward and shifted some of the ribbons around, trying to see if she could find her ribbon, but she couldn't even remember what the characters had looked like.
"You really have to ask?" Lauphen snorted and elbowed Lupe, then pointed. Lupe followed Lauphen's gaze to see what was probably her ribbon…
…in the hand of Marshall Arts.
"Totally didn't see that one coming," Somariel joked. "Really."
"Shut up," Lupe hissed, looking away from Marshall. He started to walk towards her, ribbon in his hand. Around them, students were pairing off, finding ribbons and dance partners. Toph's ribbon had been caught by Long Feng, and they were standing side by side awkwardly, neither willing to speak. Iroh and Aunt Wu were paired together, and though Iroh had taken Bleeprin only a few minutes before the ribbon dance started, he was managing to hold a decent conversation with Aunt Wu. Combustion Man found himself partnered with Chloe Cooksey, who was not amused at fate's little twist.
"Is this yours?" Marshall offered Lupe the ribbon in his hand, fighting and failing to keep from grinning. He held up the embroidered end of the red silk, and waggled it in the air. "Lü-pe…sounds like your name to me."
"It…probably is," Lupe admitted, crossing her arms and trying to look casual. She didn't have anything against dancing with Marshall, but then, she had no great desire to dance with anyone but Zuko. If she couldn't dance with Zuko…she didn't really want to dance at all.
Of course, Karen said she had to, which meant she would. Not that she had to like it.
People sorted out who was dancing with who, and the Flamey-o's plucked or blew a few notes to test out the acoustics. Karen went to chat with their pipa player, the equivalent of a Western band's guitar player, and held up a hand for silence.
"Prepare to dance with your partners, and keep out of the way of the guards," Karen ordered. "We're starting with a slow song, so enjoy the awkwardness of dancing with a near-stranger!"
"Err…I have a small problem," Marshall whispered as the Flamey-o's launched the opening notes of a song, and people around them started to figure out how to dance to it. "I have no idea how to dance."
"Isn't dance an art form?" Lupe panicked. She didn't know how to dance either—she'd never bothered to attend her school dances, since they were only for the jocks and cheerleaders and honor students.
"It is, but I don't know how you dance to this kind of music!" Marshall explained, voice urgent. "If you wanted an old Asian dance, I could do that, but that won't work for this sort of music!"
"Um…um…" Lupe paused, then threw up her hands in frustration. "Just put your arms around my waist and sway to the music!" She stepped into slow-dance range and wrapped her arms around Marshall's neck, looking over his shoulder at the happily slow dancing Zuko and Mai.
Marshall hesitated, but slid a hand around Lupe's waist and rested it in the small of her back. His other hand pressed against her upper back, and he shifted his weight from side to side in time with the song's beat. They got close enough that their chests were pressed against each other, and Marshall started to turn beet-red.
"I think I can do this," he murmured, speaking more to himself than anyone else.
Not far away, a little school drama was playing out. [-] had caught Lauphen's ribbon, and glared at Meep's partner. Meep's head rested on senor dangao pickle's shoulder, her eyes shut, and he looked to be keeping her upright mainly through upper body strength.
"Meep's asleep, isn't she?" Lauphen whispered.
"Yeah," [-] glared at senor dangao pickle, who appeared completely bored. "We have been awake and working all day."
"Well, at least she's got a partner who doesn't mind," Lauphen suggested. [-] growled in reply. Realizing any further attempts at conversation would be pointless, Lauphen sighed and tried to enjoy the dance.
"Pipa music really is the guitar of China, isn't it?" Sofia mused as she swayed to the music with Sunan.
"It really is," Sunan agreed. "There are some Chinese movies I think showcase the pipa's music best. We should look up clips on YouTube…er, if we ever get YouTube access here."
"Ooh, we need to look up House of Flying Daggers," Sofia's eyes started to sparkle. "It's got some beautiful examples of pipa music! And the costumes are very authentic."
Ishi Bananas and Freeranger weren't really talking, or touching. They stood closer to each other than they felt comfortable with, and were shifting their weight from side to side, slightly out of sync. Neither was willing to initiate physical contact or speak.
On the sidelines, Karen watched her handiwork with a smug look. A guard leaned over to her and asked, "Why aren't you dancing?"
"Because I have nobody to dance with," Karen smiled. "My boyfriend, Lucas Arch, is still at the International Academy of Hetalia Fanfiction. He's finishing up his third semester, and then he'll come work at OFUA:TLA as an aide for me and Anj. I'll be able to push off paperwork on someone who doesn't have an effective guilt-trip stare." Karen spared her partner a glance, and added, "Or is high on Bleeprin and can't do anything but stare vacantly into space."
"So, you're not dancing because your boyfriend couldn't come?" the guard tried to clarify. "You never know, maybe if you do that 'try to have fun thing' and dance with someone...like someone right next to you..."
"I am having fun. Look at the misery on their faces..." Karen gazed over the crowd of students, her smile widening.
"Oh." The guard - whose name, incidentally, was Lee - glanced away for a moment. "By the way, I heard a rumor from the main characters that you weren't originally going to be here tonight. Is that true?"
"Yup. I was hoping to attend the IAHF Mid-Autumn Festival tonight, but with Anj as she is…well, I'm going over for Christmas," Karen shrugged. "I'll see everyone then."
"What's Christmas?" Lee frowned in confusion.
Lupe sat at one of the tables to the side of the dancing area, eyeing Zuko and Mai. They were doing one of the traditional Avatarverse dances Aang had been teaching people all night, and while Zuko had a tendency to step on Mai's toes, both looked to be having fun. This was not alright with Lupe. She kept hoping Katara and Aang would bump into Zuko and Mai, then switch partners. Admittedly, it would be a bit sad for Aang to have to dance with Mai, but if it got Katara and Zuko together…
Or, alternately, Zuko could ask Lupe to dance. Her fellow Zukomancers had similar hopes, and were occupying chairs around Lupe, resolutely not having fun and staring intently at Zuko. The Boomerang Babes, Aanglers, and other hardcore Lusters appeared to have similar sentiments.
Those who weren't sitting around watching Lust Objects were actually having fun. Meep hadn't had a break from dancing in an hour, going from partner to partner with each new song. Half the male students were waiting in line to dance with her, [-] amongst them. [-] actually kept getting shoved to the back of the line by the other students, and looked ready to murder someone.
"Don't you want to dance more?" Marshall, sitting across from Lupe, pressed.
"You want any food? There's a buffet of snacks—they have fire flakes!" Marshall gestured to some tables that had been converted into one long buffet by the guards.
Marshall rested his chin in his hand, wondering how to get Lupe to stop sulking. He couldn't see why she would rather sit around and watch other people have fun rather than have fun herself. "Last dance will be soon," he commented, glancing at the sky. The moon was getting higher, and was almost at the perfect position for viewing. Across the courtyard, a group of guards was setting out the low tables constructed by the students that morning, along with pillows and lanterns. More guards were wheeling carts laden with pitchers of juice and plates of mooncakes over to the low table area, for the students to claim once the dance ended and the moon-viewing began.
Lupe didn't hear Marshall's words, or notice the position of the moon. She was fixated on Zuko and Mai, hoping they stumbled, hoping Mai stepped on Zuko's toes, hoping a meteor from the sky shot down and miraculously only hit Mai and left Zuko completely uninjured and in need of comfort that Lupe would gladly provide…
Or Katara. Katara would be an acceptable source of comfort, too.
But, sadly, there was no stumbling or toe-stomping or miraculous meteorites. There was, however, a sudden shout from Karen.
"Alright students!" she shouted. "Time for the next phase of the festival!"
"And what would that be?"
"Moon-viewing," Karen pointed to the low tables set out on the other plaza. "Three students to a table. Try not to block anyone's view. Once everyone is settled at their tables, we'd like you to pick one person to get the mooncake platters, and one person to get the pitchers of juice, milk, and water. After that, you're free to stay or leave. As a word of advice, try not to stay out all night. We're depriving you of enough sleep as it is. Now find your partners, and get ready for the last dance."
"That's us," Marshall stood up. "Shall we?"
"All right," Lupe sighed. She patted her skirts as she got to her feet, eyes still fixed on Zuko. Marshall led her to the center of the plaza, and as the Flamey-o's started to play a slow song, the two started to sway to the music.
Marshall looked down at the top of Lupe's head as they danced. Her arms were locked around his neck, helping keep her upright - the dance had gone on for several hours by that point, and even without dancing, Lupe was tired. She leaned her head against Marshall's shoulder, taking advantage of his support to shut her eyes.
Meep, on the other hand, seemed to have gained energy as the night went on. Her and senor dangao pickle were doing a tango at three times the pace of the song's beat, weaving around their fellow students and managing not to collide with anyone. [-], who hadn't managed to dance with Meep at all, kept a steady glare on the back of senor dangao pickle's head as he rocked back and forth with Lauphen. Lauphen had noticed who [-] was watching, and had a frown set on her face.
"It's been so long since we danced together," Katara murmured to Aang as they performed tai chi-like moves a short distance from the students.
"I don't think we've danced since The Headband," Aang agreed. "It really is nice to dance with you. We should have Staff dances every week!"
"Maybe we could combine it with Music Night..." Zuko mused. "I'll have to ask Uncle. When he's feeling better." He cast a glance toward a far-off table, where a distressed, non-bleeprin-dosed Iroh was crying over the loss of the tea. Lu Ten sat beside him, patting his father's shoulder. "I'm sure he'd be all for it, though."
"Sounds like a plan to me!" Sokka called as he twirled Suki around. "Some of this music is actually pretty fun to dance to. I never knew I could express myself like this before now!"
"Just so long as the dances are optional," Mai cautioned. "I don't think I could stand doing this every week. Every once in a while, sure," she pressed herself closer to Zuko, "but every week would kill me. Ty Lee would probably love it."
"Yeah, she's really enthusiastic about this sort of thing," Aang recalled. "She made me dance with her earlier. I was too worn out for a dance-off with Young Bumi afterwards."
The music slowly wound to a close, and the students dispersed to the tables on the Pai Sho Plaza. None of the Staff joined the students: they had their own section set up on the tower in front of the school building, where guards had once supervised prisoners during yard time. Marshall waved good-bye to Lupe as he went, reminding her of their appointment the next afternoon. Meep, Lauphen, and [-] wound up at a table near the middle of the set-up, while Lupe, Allie Doyle, and William GP took a neighboring vantage point.
"Is it just me," Zerkz mused from the next table over, "or is the moon in the Avatarverse bigger than the moon in our world?"
"Beats me," Allie laughed.
"If I had to guess..." Sunan, sitting at Zerkz's table along with Sofia, leaned back and studied the moon, "it's maybe..."
"Don't ruin the peace and quiet," Lupe admonished. "Eat a mooncake and appreciate the night sky. I am." Part of her couldn't believe she was doing something so boring as staring up at the moon, but it was rather beautiful, and the cakes were delicious.
[-] and Meep were being unusually quiet over at their table, despite the efforts of Lauphen to strike up a conversation. "What do you think of the lychee juice?" Lauphen swished the liquid around in her cup. "It's really tasty."
"Mm," [-] nodded. His eyes kept sliding over to Meep, whose attention was fixed on the moon. [-] opened his mouth, then shut it again, at a loss for how to bring up what he wanted to say...or how to catch Meep's attention in the first place.
Lauphen poured a little more lychee juice into her cup, then added some milk, and sampled the result. She promptly spit it out. "Don't combine the juice and milk," she warned through coughs. "It doesn't taste like a lychee latte at all."
"Why would you try to make a lychee latte?" Meep tore her attention from the moon. "Is it good?"
"No, which is what I just found out," Lauphen covered her mouth as she let out a particularly magnificent hack. "Oh for the love of Zuko, why did I think that would be a good idea...?"
"Actually, Meep," [-] half-rose and placed his hand on Meep's wrist, "there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about."
"Yeah?" Meep looked over at him. "What is it?"
"I...well, you see..." [-] cleared his throat. "That is to say, would you...like to go out with me?"
"Aren't we already outside?" Meep blinked. Lupe, who was eavesdropping shamelessly with the rest of the other students, slapped her forehead.
"No, like a date," [-] desperately tried to clarify. "You know...romantic. If you want to."
"As in be your girlfriend?"
"Well...yeah," [-] smiled.
"Sure!" Meep laughed. She slipped her hand out of [-]'s grasp, then took his hand in hers. "When do you want to have the first date?"
"Really?" [-] brightened.
"Meep and [-], sitting in a tree," William snickered, "K-I-S-S - "
"Would you please shut up and just watch the moon?" Karen shouted from the Staff tables. "Yeesh...oh, and have some mooncakes. They're delicious. So's the lychee juice. Just eat and drink and enjoy the prettiness, spirits-dangit!"
"Way ahead of you," Zerkz said, stuffing food in his mouth.
"Besides, you're lucky to even have lychee juice," Karen added. "I was just gonna leave it at water, seeing as...uh...the traditional beverage is absent. But I figured water wouldn't cut it, so I decided to give you guys juice!"
"What's the traditional beverage?" William made the mistake of asking.
"TEA!" Iroh shouted from his table, and promptly burst into tears.
"Dad," Lu Ten said, "Dad, it's okay. We'll find the tea. And until then we have bleeprin, which you should really have some of right now. It'll be okay, I promise, it'll - Dad?" Iroh's sobs hadn't stopped. Lu Ten shot a glare toward William, who sank down in his seat. Angry glares from Fire Nation princes - even dead ones with little screen time and no directly important role in canon - were rather terrifying.
"OH!" said Karen suddenly, leaping up from her seat. "I completely forgot!"
"Forgot what?" Allie asked warily.
"The lanterns!" Karen said.
"...You mean the ones you had us make a couple hundred of?" Isabella Rose asked.
"Yes! Exactly!" Karen said, and then she cleared her throat. "Guards...release the kraken!"
"Sorry, sorry, always wanted to say that," Karen said. She cleared her throat again. "Guards, release the lanterns!"
A few seconds passed. Nothing happened.
"Guards?" Karen asked. "Hey, Captain Lee, what's the hold up?"
"We need to light them first," a guard - Captain Lee, apparently - grumbled. He had a paper lantern in one hand and a flame in the other.
"You're burning them?" Isabella Rose shrieked. "I spent hours making those!"
"Not burning them, silly," Karen said, lobbing a snickerdoodle at the student and hitting her square in the forehead. "Just watch."
The students watched. Captain Lee and his men carefully lit the center of the paper lanterns they held. And then...they released them.
The lanterns floated gracefully through the air, gliding upwards into the night sky.
There were strangled shrieks and surprised squeaks and outright gasps from the students. "IT'S JUST LIKE TANGLED!" someone shouted.
"Hey, Firebender students," Karen said, "why don't you go help with those lanterns? There's an awful lot of them, and even if you're technically not allowed to work with fire yet, I'm sure Jeong Jeong will understand if we make an exception tonight."
The Firebender students were all too happy to comply, and before long the sky was filled with floating lanterns that bobbed on the air currents and cast their light on the moongazers below.
"Oooh," Amy Ochanian sighed. "It's so romantic!"
She wasn't the only one who thought so. Somariel was advancing on Zuko, one hand on her chest, the other stretched out imploringly toward the Fire Prince. She was singing very badly. "And at last I seeeeee the liiiiiiiight! And it's liiiiiike the fog has lifted! And at laaaaast I seeee the liiiiight! And it's liiiiiike the skyyyyy is neeeeeeeew!"
Zuko was backing away from the student, eyeing her like she was some sort of deranged animal. He edged around, trying to get behind Mai, who had a knife in her hand and a sour expression on her face.
Somariel was saved from flying sharp pointy metal, however, by a random mooncake that came out of nowhere and hit her right in the stomach and sent her to the floor.
"Nice aim, Anj!" Karen cheered. "Mooncakes are kinda soft, though. You could've had her out like a light if that'd been a cookie!"
Anjilly paid no attention to her partner; she'd stomped over to Somariel and was glaring down at the student where she laid on the floor.
Somariel blinked up at Anjilly, attempting to look innocent. "Um...hi?"
Anjilly reached into her robes. Somariel flinched. Anjilly pulled out a small, strange device that had a cell phone-like vibe to it, despite looking like it'd come right out of Star Wars. "Rapunzel and Eugene called," she said, tossing the device down to Somariel. "They want their song back."
Somariel huffed. "I was just - "
"No, seriously, they called," Anjilly said, with a pointed look at the phone thing. Somariel blinked before picking it up and holding it to her ear.
"Hello? OH MY GOD. Is this - are you really - you are? I - oh my god, I can't believe - yes, yes I was singing your song just now - um - well, I - okay - yes - okay - right. I'm sorry. It won't happen again. Yes. Goodbye." Somariel handed the device back to Anjilly. "Um...sorry?"
"I was in the Department of Mary-Sues," Anjilly grumbled, snatching her phone-thing back and tucking it into her robes. "I wasn't trained for bad crossovers...ugh. I need bleeprin." She pulled out the bottle and frowned. "Empty. Of course. Karen, I'm going to get a refill." So saying, she stomped inside, toward the Staff section.
"Sure thing, Anj," Karen called after her. "NOW ALL OF YOU SHUT UP AND WATCH THE FREAKING MOON! Seriously, it's beautiful!"
"Yeah!" said Sokka. "Stop ignoring Yue!"
Suki and Yue both shot him suspicious glances.
"...What?" he asked.
"It really is a beautiful moon tonight," Aang said quickly, playing peacekeeper. "Great job, Yue."
"Thank you, Aang," Yue smiled at him, looking up at the moon. "I got some help from Tui - La? Whichever one it is. We made sure it was extra bright for tonight." She patted the fishbowl that sat next to her, in which the two koi fish swam serenely.
"It looks great," Aang said.
"I'll take your word for it, Twinkletoes," Toph shrugged. "I'm just here for the food." She chomped on a mooncake.
"It feels amazing, too," Katara said, gazing up at the sky. "Hey, Aang, would you like to go waterbending later tonight?"
"Just the two of us?" he asked.
"Sounds great! It's a date!"
A few Zutarans made gagging noises and were promptly ignored. Upset at being ignored, they gagged a little harder. Karen sighed and reached for a cookie, but before she could throw it, there was a sudden, piercing scream.
The students and staff alike jumped.
"What the heck - ?" Karen said.
"What was that?" Lupe yelped.
Aang flew up to perch on a tall post that held up a banner. "Everyone, stay calm," he ordered, but before he could continue there was another, louder scream. The next second, Anjilly came running into the plaza. "KAREN! KAREN KAREN KAREN KAREN!"
"Wha - OOF!" Karen said as Anjilly barreled into her.
"Karen," Anjilly said, "Karenit'sgoneit'sgoneit'sgoneIcan'tfinditit'sgone - "
"Anj, I can't believe I'm saying this, but calm down," Karen ordered. "What's gone?"
There was a moment of horrified silence.
"Oh, Spirits," Karen said.
"But that's the only thing that was keeping my father sane!" Lu Ten shouted, leaping to his feet. "What happened to it?"
"I don't know," Anjilly wailed. "I went to my stash and it was gone...just like the tea..."
Iroh burst into sobs at the mention of tea. Zuko hurried to his uncle's side and put his hands on the older man's shoulders. "Uncle, it'll be okay..."
"I'm just going to curl up here and cry forever," Anjilly said, and she proceeded to do just that.
Karen watched her partner sobbing on the floor before clearing her throat. "Okay, everyone, just remain calm. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation, and we'll be able to - "
"Of course there's an explanation!" someone shouted, and Jet pushed his way to Karen's side. "CLEARLY, THE FIRE NATION STOLE THE BLEEPRIN!"
"What?" Ozai, Azulon, and Sozin asked.
"It's totally obvious!" Jet shouted, pointing an accusing finger at the Fire Lords. "You just love watching the world descend into chaos! And it's probably part of your evil plan to take over OFUA:TLA! It makes perfect sense!"
"Jet, that makes no sense!" Zuko snapped. "My uncle needs that bleeprin!"
"That's what you claim," Jet sneered. "A clever ploy, Fire Nation, but I see right through it! You can't trick me!" He brought up his hook swords and held them at the ready.
"Oh, for the love of - " Zuko started, but he pulled out his twin dao swords. Beside him, Mai had a dagger ready, and Sokka hefted Space Sword.
"Guys," Aang said, "please, calm down. I'm sure there's a reasonable - "
"There is no reason when it comes to the Fire Nation!" Jet shouted, and he attacked.
"Ooh, hot boys fighting," Andy Roseanne giggled. The other students shared her opinion for about three seconds before realizing that a maniac with swords was wreaking havoc in the plaza and getting attacked by other people with weapons and fire at their disposal.
"Guess the festival's over!" Zerkz shouted.
"RUN!" [-] said, dragging Meep away.
"NO! THE MOONCAKES!" Aang Took shrieked as a whole platter was obliterated by a fire blast.
The plaza descended into chaos. Students ran for cover while the characters fought. Fire and knives flew, swords clanged. Then there was even more fire, then - the Fire Lords had apparently taken Jet's accusation personally and were out to get him. A few moments later water, air, and earth joined the fight as Katara, Aang, and Toph came to help out.
"Jet!" Aang shouted. "Seriously! Calm down!"
"You'll never take me alive, Fire Nation!" Jet cried, dodging a fire blast from Ozai. "Return the bleeprin, you cowards!"
"We didn't take the bleeprin!" Azulon shouted.
"Lies!" Jet dodged Zuko's swords. "Everyone knows you're a bunch of lying bastards!"
"Insolent peasant!" Sozin cried, shooting fire.
"Jet!" Katara shouted, trying to grab him with a water whip and failing miserably when it evaporated in Sozin's flames. "You need to calm down and shut up!"
"You need to get your priorities straight, Katara!" Jet was putting up a valiant fight, but he was starting to lose against so many. "The Fire Nation killed your mother, remember? Whose side are you on?"
"The sane side! Which doesn't include you or the Fire Lords - "
"How dare you call us insane?" Ozai demanded, turning his attention - and aim - from Jet to Katara. She shrieked as the flames flew toward her - only to be stopped at the last second by a wall of earth that rose up suddenly in front of her.
"No problem, Sweetness!" Toph shoved the earth wall toward Ozai before turning towards Jet. "And you really need to shut up, Captain Hooks."
"You'll never silence me!" Jet screamed, brandishing his hook swords. "Never - !"
"ENOUGH!" someone shouted, and there was a rumble of earth as Jet sank down to his neck in the ground.
Everyone turned to find Long Feng, who regarded them all with a scowl.
"Um," said Sokka after an awkward moment. "Thanks?"
"I'm always happy to help maintain peace and order," Long Feng said dryly.
"You'll never silence me!" Jet shouted again. "Nev - mmph!" A stone glove flew out of nowhere and clamped over Jet's mouth, effectively gagging him.
"Whew!" said Karen. "Everyone okay? No more trying to kill each other? We're good?"
"The mooncakes!" Aang Took sobbed, clutching an armful of burnt pastries to his chest. The Fire Lords attempted to look innocent.
"Truly, a tragic loss," Karen said. "No delicious dessert thing should have to suffer such a fate... But it could've been worse! I mean, it's a good thing we had Zhao and Hama locked up. I dread to think what that fight would've turned into had they been free - wait." Karen looked around, frowning. "We didn't lock Azula up, and she wasn't part of this. I thought she was coming to the moon-viewing, but I don't see her. Where's - "
There was a sudden explosion from the Staff section. Karen paled.
"I'm just...going to take Tui and La and go...do spirit stuff," Yue said. She snatched up the fishbowl and floated away into the sky.
"Maybe that wasn't Zhao," Sokka said, trying to stay positive. "Or Azula. Maybe that was...um...Kuzon? Chit Sang? Any of the million Lees?"
"Yeah," Aang said. "Yeah, that could've been anybody. Right?"
"And even if that is Zhao," Toph said, "Hama could probably give him a run for his money, right?"
"Yes! Of course!" Sokka said, waving his hands excitedly. "Azula, too. They wouldn't stand a chance against bloodbending! We'll just let the bad guys take care of each other. Problem solved!"
"Unless they go and destroy the entire school while they're 'taking care of each other,'" Mai said. "My uncle wouldn't be happy if his precious prison was demolished, you know."
There was a moment of silence.
Finally, Long Feng rolled his eyes. "I'll go deal with it, since none of you are going to. Let the bad guys take care of each other, indeed." With a huff, he stepped over Jet's head - the Freedom Fighter was still snarling angrily - and headed inside, towards the explosion. A few Dai Li agents materialized out of the darkness and followed him.
"Well, glad that's taken care of!" Sokka grinned. "So, Karen, about the bleeprin - Karen?"
"Anj? Anj, it's okay, you'll get through this." Karen was kneeling next to her fellow Course Coordinator, one hand on her shoulder. "There's no need to lie here and cry forever. Please. I need you functioning. Who will I push all the work onto if you're not around? Anj? Anjilly? Are you breathing?"
"Shut up and go away, person-without-Bleeprin-or-tea," Anjilly sobbed. She threw an arm over her face and started to shake. "Let me lay here and tearbend."
"What?" Karen recoiled. "Did Anjilly...did she just...did she use improper grammar?" She whirled around to look at the assembled canon characters. "DID SHE JUST SAY 'LAY' INSTEAD OF 'LIE'?"
"I think...she did," Ty Lee said, eyes wide.
"NOOOOOOO!" Now Karen started to cry. "My poor, poor Anj! Don't worry, I'll go straight to PPC HQ and get you some more!" She pulled a weird remote control-like thing out of her pocket. "Once I remember how to use this, that is... Anj, how do I set continuum coordinates?"
Anjilly just sobbed.
"Please tell me you're not thinking of leaving us alone with the students," Mai shot a narrow-eyed glare at the cowering teenagers amidst the wreckage of the tables. Ashee Bieber and Danish were bawling about how their dress uniforms had been ruined, but they were also casting the occasional glance toward the Staff.
"Well...we need Anj functional if the school's going to keep going," Karen pointed out. "You guys can't read English, and I have no one else to shove paperwork onto. Not to worry, I'll just pop over, find someone who's willing to part with their bleeprin, and come right back. And...maybe I'll check in with the Flowers That Be to see if they think I'm gonna be agent material by the end of the school year while I'm at it. Don't worry, I'll be back before you know it. It's not like there's gonna be any random distractions to keep me from being helpful."
Right on cue, a weird, electronic noise rang from Karen's pocket. She blinked at the characters. They blinked right back at her.
"Isn't this what the PPC's Legal Department calls the Law of Dramatic Irony?" Aang asked.
"It is," Sokka sighed. "Trust me; I'm very familiar with it."
Karen pulled a normal cell phone out of her pocket. "Sorry guys," she said, "I've got to take this." She answered the call. "Hey Lucas, I thought you weren't allowed to use phones at IAHF? How's your guys' Mid-Autumn Festival go - WHAT?"
"What?" Sokka asked warily. Karen threw a cookie at him and listened intently to whoever was on the other end of her call. After a minute, she ended the call and replaced her phone.
"There's been an incident at IAHF. A roomful of students and staff just disappeared," Karen announced. "Something weird is going on there. They need help."
"Karen, I swear to Aang, if you leave - " Sokka began.
"My boyfriend and little sister attend IAHF," Karen said. "Lucas might be in trouble. My sister might be in trouble!"
"But what about us?" Sokka cried in dismay. "You're just going to leave us alone here with the students? And the bad guys running amuck?" As though to prove his point, there was an explosion from the other side of the school. "And what about Anjilly?" He pointed at the PPC agent, who was curled up and practically comatose on the floor.
Karen hesitated. Half of her wanted to run to her boyfriend's side and make whatever was wrong right again. The rest of her wanted to stay and take care of OFUA:TLA, the fledgling school she and Anjilly had only just begun to build.
She looked around. There were only canons and misspellings assembled now - the students had all headed into their dorms. Sokka and Zuko looked angry and worried. Toph was waiting and listening. Mai was expressionless, as usual. Aang and Katara looked anxious, but determined. Aang Took was still crying over the ruined mooncakes, but Marshall Arts looked rather serious.
"You guys have each other," Karen said slowly. "You're an amazing cast of characters, you know that? You're deep and developed and three-dimensional. You can handle anything the students can throw at you. At least for a few days. I know you can."
"Karen," Sokka said.
Her hands fumbled with the remote activator she still held. All she had to do was enter the coordinates and hit the button, right? "Make sure Anj gets to bed. She's pretty sane for a PPC agent. She'll be able to hold it together once she's had some sleep."
"Karen - " Sokka said again.
She punched a series of numbers on the remote. "Just work together and you'll be fine." She hit the biggest button, and a portal burst into existence.
"KAREN - !"
"Sorry," Karen said. "Love trumps duty." And before anyone could stop her, she took a running jump.
1. What do you think of the new series? What were your thoughts when it first started? How did they change by the end?
2. Who, in your opinion, is the most Sue or Stu-like character in Avatar?
3. Why do you believe that character is a Sue/Stu?
4. Would you like to see romantic relationships develop amongst the students? Would you like your character to develop a romantic relationship with anyone? If so, who and why?
5. Which type of cookie do you prefer: chocolate chip or peanut butter?
Please include the name of your student character and their Nation.