Applications are no longer being accepted. Avatar: The Last Airbender belongs to the lovely Creators and Nickelodeon. Dear Aang, this took longer than it should have…
On the Tuesday after the Mid-Autumn Festival, the school was still abuzz with the news of what had happened. The bleeprin was gone! Anjilly had been seen storming about in a tea- and bleeprin-less rage, while Karen had been conspicuously absent. Nobody knew if they should ask the Staff where Karen had gone—given Anjilly's mood, many of the students suspected her involvement in Karen's disappearance.
In other news, [-] and Meep, the first big couple in the school, had taken to spending their time out of class in the courtyard together, either studying or talking. Lauphen's mood had taken a turn downwards, to the delight of the school's gossip-mongers, while bets started to be placed on whether or not anyone else in the school would start dating.
Sitting in Spirit World 101, Zerkz was absently drawing very bad renditions of Suki on his notetaking-scroll and waiting for Sunan to arrive. All around the auditorium, the sound of fangirls giggling over the latest news of their Lust Objects or debating how to go about stalking said Lust Objects drowned out the few serious conversations being had. Wei Tzu and Isaac Santos, sitting in the row in front of Zerkz, raised their voices to hear each other, letting Zerkz catch every word.
"Do you really think we're going to have a weapons final?" Wei Tzu scratched his head, voice doubtful. He had his metal gauntlets and greavers on over his uniform—come to think of it, Zerkz had never seen him without them. It must be a pain to walk around with so much extra weight on your limbs. Sure enough, Wei Tzu dropped his arm back to his side, wincing from the strain of lifting it.
"I asked Bumi about finals after our Earth Kingdom Fighters class yesterday," Isaac replied. "He said that finals would be during the last week of the semester. There are fifteen weeks in the semester, and if you take out the last one, that gives you fourteen weeks of classes."
"We're in week seven now," Wei Tzu mentally calculated, "so we have seven weeks left after this. But what I mean is, do you think we'll have a weapons final this semester? Aren't there going to be three semesters total?"
"If they have a weapons final every semester, they can measure our progress, can't they?" Isaac pointed out. "You're not getting the point, though. We're halfway done with this semester already. We've got to be the best in our weapons finals! That'll totally impress our Lust Objects!"
Wei Tzu was silent for a moment. "I…wouldn't mind impressing Iroh…" he admitted, a blush slowly spreading over his face. Isaac chuckled.
"And you just know Toph'll fall for the toughest guy in the class," Isaac bragged. "We're even the same age, so it won't be weird or anything…unlike if Nathan Hofstad got together with Ty Lee. He's twice her age!"
"Still, I can sort of see why he'd like her," Wei Tzu tapped his chin thoughtfully. "She's got a great figure, and she's really flexible…"
Zerkz leaned forward and tapped Isaac and Wei Tzu on the shoulder, getting their attention. "Everyone can hear you," he whispered to them. "They all fell silent when the teachers got to the stage."
Sure enough, the class had fallen silent, the teachers and guest speaker on the stage looking at the two talking students in the seating section. Yue and Aunt Wu were tapping their feet, with matching frowns on their faces, eyes fixed on Isaac and Wei Tzu.
"I…uh…didn't see you guys there," Isaac chuckled. Yue and Wu's frowns deepened. "Yeah…shutting up now."
"Thank you," Yue nodded to him. "Now students, today's class will cover the subject of prophecies and how you can portray them properly. Aunt Wu, I give you the floor."
"How kind of you, my dear," Aunt Wu turned to face the students, a smile on her face. "We will discuss the aspects of prophecy today: medium, form, and message. Now, before I talk about prophecies, who can give me some examples of prophecies from the Real World?"
"The Oracle of Delphi!" Ai Da called immediately, half-rising in her seat.
"Oh, a wonderful example!" Aunt Wu beamed, then paused. "Er…Yue, do you know what the Oracle of Delphi is?"
"Give me a moment…" Yue reached into thin air, her hand momentarily disappearing, and pulled it back, now holding an iPad—or, it looked like an iPad. Considering the fact that Yue shouldn't know what iPads were, or how to operate one, the fact that she started tapping away at the screen like she did it every day came as a surprise to the students. After a moment, she stopped tapping. "According to Google…it's from some place called Greece. A priestess…in a cave…hallucinogenic smoke…gives prophecies."
"This 'Oracle of Delphi' is a priestess sitting in a cave, breathing hallucinogenic smoke?" Aunt Wu raised an eyebrow belligerently. "Oh my…that certainly sounds safe."
Yue shrugged. "Humans."
"You used to be human!" Nicole Jackson shouted.
"I still am human," Aunt Wu commented offhandedly. Yue blinked, and smiled apologetically.
"No offense to present company," she covered for herself quickly. Hei Bai grunted. "Quiet, you. Not helping."
"Well, this 'Oracle of Delphi' sounds like a perfect example of traditional prophets," Aunt Wu returned her attention to the class. "Prophecy is always made through a medium of some kind. That medium is usually a person, the prophet that reports the prophecy. Sometimes you will find prophecies written on paper, or carved into stone or some form of monument, with no clear medium in the picture. These cases are usually due to the original prophet being long dead, along with their civilization."
"Like the Sun Warriors?" Blue Witten suggested.
"Similar to that, but their civilization is still alive," Aunt Wu clasped her hands in front of her. "In any case, prophecies found carved or written onto some form of lasting relic typically still have a prophet, but you won't have much hope of meeting them. That more or less covers the mediums of prophecy. Shall we move on to form?"
"By form, she means the way the prophecy is originally delivered to the prophet," Yue clarified.
"The most typical methods of a prophecy being delivered are visions, dreams, and divine
revelation," Wu continued. "Visions are a series of images with either obvious or symbolic meaning, usually striking while a prophet is in a trance. They may also be auditory in nature. Dreams are similar to visions, only they occur when the receiver is asleep. Divine revelation is when a divine or spiritual being appears to the receiver and directly gives them the prophecy."
"Keep in mind that when the form is divine revelation, the prophet that receives the message is usually very devout, or a member of the priesthood," Yue added. "Not that the Four Nations have a defined priesthood…I think the closest we have are the Fire Sages. They're the only spiritual group you really get to see in the series. No one ever mentions what the equivalent is in the Water Tribes - presumably we have something similar, though, like shamans or some such. Oyaji mentioned that Kyoshi Island has clerics, so it's possible that the rest of the Earth Kingdom has them, too. There's also those nuns who took in Bato."
"And don't forget the Air Nomads," Wu sighed. "They were very spiritual, as a rule. It's why all of them were Airbenders, and why many - if not all - of them were nuns or monks." She paused. "It was never very clear whether they all were or only some of them were...I do wish the show had explored their culture a bit more."
Hei Bai grunted. "Yes, but we're not sure," Yue reminded him. "There's no telling if they really did have a monastic majority or not."
"Maybe we'll get to hear more about it in the new series," Sunan mused. "Sofia would probably like that."
Zerkz jumped in his seat. "When did you get here?!"
Sunan shrugged. "Think it was one of those plothole things."
"Hold the phone!" Daniel Hallowell held up his hand. "What do you mean, all the Air Nomads were benders? Wouldn't they have had non-benders, who had towns, farms, all that?"
"According to the creators, no," Yue shook her head. "A Nation's level of spirituality directly affects how many benders it has. For the other three Nations, the bending population is a small percentage of the entire population. Because the Air Nomads were so steeped in spirituality, they were all born as Airbenders."
"What if they married someone from another Nation?" Elise. No last name. called.
"Then their children could be benders of either element, or non-benders," Yue shrugged. "The first known example is Aang and Katara's children. But you'll learn more about the other Nations next semester, and this class is supposed to be about spirits and the spirit world. Aunt Wu, please continue?"
"Of course," Aunt Wu clapped her hands. "Now, where were we…ah yes, form. In Real World China, prophecies are traditionally derived from dreams, revealed in ecstatic trances, brought from overseas, or discovered in excavated inscriptions. You'll note the 'ecstatic trance' method—humans have used plants and psychedelics to induce trances since prehistory, and prophets may induce a trance in order to be more receptive to visions."
"People drugged up to have visions?" Ashee Bieber giggled. "Soo, if I wanna have a vision, all I have to do is go smoke something?"
"In essence, yes," Aunt Wu raised an eyebrow. "Considering your age, I really hope you never attempt that. Also keep in mind that a miscalculation of how much of the drug you need to enter a proper trance could result in your death."
"Karen and Anjilly would rather have drugs stay out of the school," Yue piped up. "It's just bad press if our students are getting high while they should be learning."
"But it isn't if we're getting killed while we're learning?" Ashee Bieber grumbled.
"Death's pretty easy to fix when you know how to manipulate reality," Yue shrugged. "Also, students probably wouldn't get killed so much if you weren't all obsessed with harassing Mai or attacking Ozai in an effort to make him see the error of his ways."
"Wait, backing up," Nicole Jackson said. "Karen and Anjilly don't let any drugs in the school? What about cactus juice?"
"Oh La," Yue groaned. "No, no cactus juice allowed. That rule is strictly enforced."
"But - but I really wanted to try - "
"Let's think about our final aspect of prophecies, message," Aunt Wu urged the discussion back on track. "Prophecies are typically foretellings of future events. They may be delivered in rhyme, in some kind of poetic meter, or as simple statements of what will happen. Symbolism is rampant in prophecies, but the exact symbolic meanings depend on the culture you find yourself in."
"Some prophecies also recount past events, either as they relate to future events, or because it's important to know about those past events," Yue added.
"And with that, let's look at some examples of prophecies," Aunt Wu snapped her fingers, and a white sheet unfurled from the ceiling. The lights in the Hall dimmed, and Zerkz settled back in his seat, already working on a new drawing of Suki.
The next day, class opened with a bang. Literally. Basic Canon was just starting to wind down when something behind the stage exploded. Pakku and Gyatso were almost thrown offstage by the blast, Gran-Gran fell to her knees, Bumi laughed, and Jeong Jeong—there to replace the tea-deprived Iroh—stumbled into Bumi. Smoke poured into the Hall as Anjilly emerged, singed and coughing.
"What happened?" Gran-Gran gasped as she pushed herself up to her feet. Anjilly tried to answer, but gagged on the smoke.
"Were you playing with explosives?" Bumi—who had somehow not moved an inch—sniggered.
"No, I—" Anjilly hacked, "—I was, my ex-partner, I called him, asked about getting more tea or Bleeprin, and…and…" Anjilly sniffed. "He…he sent me a bomb."
"Oh!" Gran-Gran covered her mouth. "That rascal!"
"Did you two part on bad terms?" Gyatso inquired.
"No, that's not it. And things were civil when I left the PPC." Anjilly brushed some soot off her ruined green overrobe. "He just loves his explosives. Is anyone hurt?"
"No, we're fine," Gyatso assured her. "A little smoke never hurt anyone."
"Unless it gets in your lungs and kills you," Jeong Jeong muttered. "Firebending is such a curse…"
"We just finished, so I suppose you can take over," Gran-Gran told Anjilly. "The projector doesn't look damaged, and we have a backup screen. One of Karen's better ideas, that." Still smoking, the old screen broke in half and crashed onto the stage. Pakku bended some water out of his waterskin and used it to clean the charred mess out of the way. "Do you want one of us to stay with you?"
"I'll be fine. I recruited the Silver Sand Witch to help." Anjilly gestured someone offstage forward. A swirl of silver sand floated onstage, born on unseen wind currents that didn't so much as ruffle a hair on anyone else. The outline of a woman in a qipao took form in the middle of the sand.
"Where have you been the last month?" Bumi narrowed his eyes.
Learning how to move around without having an Airbender make a wind for me, the Silver Sand Witch replied. I wasn't doing much before anyways. And I've been in anger management therapy, though that's on hold now Iroh's in tea withdrawal.
"Poor guy." Gyatso shook his head.
"What do you know about creating original characters?" Pakku asked. He finished cleaning the burnt screen off stage and put his water back in its pouch. "Aside from being one yourself, I mean."
I don't know the first thing about creating original characters. I'm here for moral support. The Silver Sand Witch glanced at Anjilly. She's taking the absence of the tea and Bleeprin badly. Too late, the Silver Sand Witch realized what she had said. No! Please don't—
"Teeeeeeea!" Anjilly wailed. She collapsed against the nearest person—Pakku—and started to sob. Pakku's eyes widened in alarm. The Silver Sand Witch looked as abashed as a floating mass of sand could get.
Ten minutes later, when Anjilly had been consoled and the new screen brought out, Creating Your Characters began. The Silver Sand Witch stayed off to one side of the stage, eyes fixed on Anjilly. Or, well…her head was turned in Anjilly's direction, and there was an implied intensity in the way she stood.
"All right, class," Anjilly faced the students. "Today's lecture is about handling common traits of Mary Sues in a believable manner."
The students, ignored up til now, had taken advantage of the delay to fall asleep. Anjilly frowned. This was not acceptable behavior from the victims—students. Yes, students, they were students, totally students. Now, Anjilly could just yell and trust the Hall's acoustics to amplify the sound. But she was still experiencing withdrawals, and if she was suffering, it only made sense to add a little suffering to the lives of the victi—students. So Anjilly reached her hand into a plothole and pulled out a long, wooden pipe. She took a deep breath and blew into it.
"GYAH!" The students jerked awake, some flailing, some falling off their chairs, and some shrinking back.
"Nice to have you all with us," Anjilly rolled her eyes. The didgeridoo vanished from her hand.
"Ugh, that was annoying," ihaznoideawuttowrite said. "Wait. Is that another thing Mai4 turns into?"
"No. She's still missing. And be grateful I didn't use the vuvuzela," Anjilly snapped. "As I said before, while everyone was asleep, today's lecture is about how to handle some common Mary Sue traits properly when creating an original character."
"You can do that?" Noelle Collins shouted.
"In some cases, yes," Anjilly nodded. "The characters have to be handled properly for it to work. Some people will argue that the traits themselves are enough to make 'Sues or 'Stus, but that's just not the case."
"So how do you do it?" Emma called.
"I'm about to tell you." Anjilly pulled the clicker out of her still-smoking, ruined overcoat - who sends a bomb to someone who asked for tea or bleeprin, seriously? - and turned the projector on. The screen lit up with the first slide, which read, "Suvian Traits And How To Handle Them." Around the hall, lights dimmed.
"Let's start with an example." Anjilly began to pace in front of the screen. "Let's say we have, hypothetically, a character who, at a young age, saw both of their parents murdered before their very eyes. This character then inherits a vast fortune, a business empire, and an extremely high place in society. The character goes on to acquire amazing physical combat skills, becoming a top-notch fighter capable of defeating any bad guy who dares to challenge them or harm innocents. On top of that, the character is an utter genius who uses their intellect to create nifty gadgets and other inventions, and also incredibly good looking, leading to quite a few romantic interests. So there we have it: Hot rich genius superfighter with a horribly tragic past. What do you think?"
"It's a 'Sue!" Meep screamed. Everyone within five seats of her winced and clapped their hands over their ears.
"Really now? That character," the slides changed, "is Batman." Christian Bale stared at the students from the screen. "He is one of the best examples of how to handle multiple 'Sue traits right. Please keep in mind that most of these traits themselves aren't what make a 'Sue, but rather traits most commonly found with 'Sues."
"Then how do you make a 'Sue?" Craig asked.
"Haven't we been over this? Bad writing makes a 'Sue." Anjilly pointed to the screen and changed the slides. A list of Batman's traits appeared. "Now, when these traits are taken out of context, Batman—or Bruce Wayne, if you prefer—does appear to be a 'Sue - well, 'Stu, rather. In context, however—"
"Batman is awesome!" Daniel Clemens stood up.
"Oh my gosh, I know!" Shiri cheered. "Have you seen the Nolan movies?!"
"I have! They're awesome!" Daniel grinned. "They oughta make a third!"
"Shush, all of you!" Anjilly frowned. "I'm sure Mr. Nolan is working diligently on a third movie. Can we return to the subject, or would anyone else like to gush about the Nolanverse Batman movies? And Daniel Clemens, please sit down."
"The Nolan movies are AWESOME!" Isaac Santos popped up. Anjilly threw a teapot at his head. "Ow!"
"I'm an addict in withdrawal," Anjilly warned, "and didgeridoos aren't the only leaf I've taken from Karen's book. Leaf…tea leaves…tea…" The Silver Sand Witch was at Anjilly's side before the sentence was done.
There, there, the Silver Sand Witch patted Anjilly's shoulder with a sand-outlined hand. You'll get through this. The tea will come back.
"No, it won't," Anjilly sniffled. "You've been helping with the supply shipments. You know about the sudden, inexplicable tea shortage across the Avatarverse. The tea will never come back!"
Then the Bleeprin, the Silver Sand Witch stroked Anjilly's hair. The PPC will send more Bleeprin.
"That's what I called Brenden about!" Anjilly wailed. "And he sent me a bomb! A bomb!"
Anjilly, I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt you…
"What? No, of course he didn't," Anjilly sniffed again. "He thought it would cheer me up."
"Brenden likes explosives," Anjilly explained. "And…and now all I can think of is gunpowder tea!" She burst into tears.
Oh dear. The Silver Sand Witch sounded overwhelmed. Anjilly, the class…you have to finish the class first…please?
"Why? What's the point of anything, without tea?" Anjilly sobbed. "Or Bleeprin? Or Bleeproducts? Why haven't I just curled up and withered—"
You are NOT drying up like some unwatered plant on me! The Silver Sand Witch slapped Anjilly. The sound rang through the Hall—a curious thing, since the Silver Sand Witch didn't appear to have any physically substantial parts, just an outline of her body inside a mass of moving sand. Hear me?! I WILL NOT tolerate any more of that kind of talk! You're an ex-PPC agent, start acting like one!
Anjilly sniffled. "Considering that most ex-PPC agents are ex-agents because they went off the deep end, you really don't want me to do that."
"Meaning she hasn't gone off the deep end yet?" Lauphen squeaked.
"Considering what we have seen of PPC agents," Sofia whispered back, "they seem to be crazy by default."
"Yeah. Her ex sent her a bomb because he thought it'd cheer her up, and she saw nothing weird about that," Lupe pointed out.
"Indeed," said Sofia. "I believe that one of them 'going off the deep end' would be a bit more...explosive."
"More explosive than a bomb?" Lauphen hissed.
On the stage, the Silver Sand Witch was dragging Anjilly to her senses. Pull yourself together, Agent Ka!
"Right," Anjilly said, gingerly touching her cheek. "Right, right, okay. Just...stay firm with me, alright?"
The Silver Sand Witch blinked. Firm? she repeated.
"Yes, firm," Anjilly said. "It'll help me focus."
Firrrrrrrm, the Silver Sand Witch said again, rolling the word over her sandy tongue.
"Yes," said Anjilly. "Firm. No nonsense. Don't let me get sidetracked, distracted, or depressed, please. Just keep me going to the end of this.
Hmm, the Silver Sand Witch said. Alright. I can be firm.
"Great," sighed Anjilly. "So, where were - "
Agent Ka, you will finish this lecture! the Silver Sand Witch said.
"Right," Anjilly said. "I was just getting to that - "
Good! the Silver Sand Witch snapped. Now finish the lecture! A pause. Am I being firm enough?
Hm. Ma'am. I like that.
"O-okay." Anjilly shook her head and glanced up at the screen. "Where were we? Batman, right. If you look at his traits in context, with every aspect of his character as a factor, he doesn't appear as 'Sue-ish—or 'Stu-ish—as you'd think."
"Um…Ms. Ka?" Somariel raised her hand. "Are you okay?"
"I…yes." Anjilly's voice wavered. "I'm fine. Tea deprivation? What tea deprivation?"
Agent Ka! I am firmly reminding you that you have a lecture to give!
"Yes!" Anjilly said. "Don't worry, it's fine. It's all fine. Yes."
Somariel looked unconvinced, but lowered her hand and didn't speak.
"So, Batman," Anjilly resumed. "We'll use Nolanverse, because it's more recent than other versions and is very popular. Just by his traits, he appears to be a 'Stu. But looking at his life story, you see how it makes sense. He was born to a rich family, with good looks and plenty of brains. The intellect can be attributed both to genetics—like it or not, to get rich and - more importantly - stay rich you have to be smart—and upbringing—rich people can afford to pay for everything that'll give their kids an edge. Witnessing the death of his parents leaves young Bruce with some serious mental scars, and later gives him the drive he needs to become Batman. He's a 'badass fighter' because he takes the time to learn how to fight. His family fortune helps him finance his exploits as Batman.
"And most of all, his personality fits his backstory. As we all probably know, the death of his parents mentally scars young Bruce. He blames himself for it, as he insisted they leave early due to his fear of bats. He eventually becomes driven by a need to clean up the streets of Gotham City, to which end he creates the Batman persona. But this obsession can get in the way of him being Bruce Wayne, as Rachel points out when she calls Bruce's uncostumed face his 'mask.' And this drive to clean up the streets eventually costs Bruce Wayne his love, Rachel.
"What does Bruce Wayne-slash-Batman have that lets him possess so many 'Stu-ish traits and still be an amazing character with depth and a psychologically gripping story? He has personality. He has logic. His stories are heavily spiced with issues about morality and human nature. And he has great special effects. But mostly, it's the first three."
"I dunno, the special effects are pretty cool…" William GP joked. Anjilly glared and him and pulled a teapot out of a plothole. William gulped and shrank back against his seat.
"Yeah, you shrink back," she growled, stuffing the teapot back into its plothole. "Personality and logical storytelling are the keys to avoiding Studom. It is perfectly possible to have special effects and supposed 'morality issues' while still creating an utter Gary-Stu, trust me." She coughed, and the noise sounded suspiciously like "Eragon."
Agent Ka, the lecture! the Silver Sand Witch reminded her. Firmly.
"On it! So, now that we've established that 'Sue traits can be handled properly to create good OCs, it's time to explore the how." Anjilly changed the slides again and read the new one. "Logic. Plausibility. And IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT 'SUE." Again the slides changed, this time to a list. "Here are the minor traits of 'Suedom, which can be used properly with effort."
Another slide change, and a picture of a model appeared with a bunch of text. "First, physical attractiveness. Nothing is wrong with being pretty or beautiful. Many human beings are, either naturally or because of surgery."
"Ugh," someone muttered.
Anjilly snapped her fingers. "Hey, none of that now. If someone wants to surgically or otherwise change their looks, that's their right! There's nothing wrong with that. What is wrong is when society makes people feel like they should change their looks if they want to live fulfilling lives, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms. Standards of beauty vary amongst time and culture—in modern Western society, extremely thin waists with disproportionately large breasts and hips are the female standard for beauty, and the male standard includes six-packs and ridiculous amounts of muscle." Anjilly paused. A small smile stole across her face. "In medieval Western society, today's supermodels would have been viewed as deformed. Plump women were the beautiful ones, because they had enough money to eat. Only poor people were thin."
"What?!" Half the female students yelped.
"It's true!" Anjilly informed them. Gleefully, she continued, "Oh, and that was way back in the 1500s! By the time you hit the Victorian era over three hundred years later, Western women were using corsets to make their waists tiny. Really tiny."
"What's wrong with tiny?" Chriss asked.
"We are talking twenty inches here," Anjilly said. "Sometimes less."
"That's possible?" Moon Dragon yelped.
"With a lot of tightlacing and training your body to rearrange its organs, sure!" Anjilly grinned, enjoying the way the students squirm. "People have done all sorts of crazy things in the name of fashion over the years, some more dangerous than others. Like painting their faces white with lead paint, thus poisoning themselves."
"Idiots," Shiri muttered.
"It's not like they knew lead was that poisonous yet!" said Anjilly. "Pale skin used to be valued over tanned skin. Tanned skin meant you had to work outside all day, whereas pale skin meant you could afford to stay inside all day. Oh, and these are all just Western beauty practices I've mentioned. Other cultures and their time periods have other standards of beauty! Certain African and Asian cultures consider long necks to be beautiful, and have been using neck rings to achieve that look for centuries! Lotus feet were considered fashionable in China for hundreds of years, and many middle- and upper-class women's feet were tightly bound to look daintier and more lady-like. The practice only died out in the early 1900s - there are still elderly woman today who have disabilities from their bound feet! And today in Asia, doubled eyelids are considered more beautiful than single eyelids...and that belief is probably influenced by Western, white beauty standards, which is, again, a whole 'nother can of worms, albeit a related one. But I'm getting off topic. We were talking about physical attractiveness in relation to 'Suedom.
"Now, as I said a moment ago...well, a few moments ago, being attractive is not a crime. Just keep it realistic. Beautiful people usually know they're beautiful. Underestimating your beauty can happen if your self-esteem is low enough. Or maybe there's one part of you that you think is horrible and ugly, and you obsess on that, magnifying it out of proportion and downplaying your other features. This is okay. Everybody has something they dislike and magnify about their appearance. The main problem comes in when a character is more beautiful than everyone else and doesn't know it, usually leaving them completely unaware while the other characters obsess over this oblivious character's beauty.
"Oftentimes, 'Sues are described in terms of the fashion ideals presented by popular culture. Their body type is usually the same as an actress's or model's. Hourglass figure, sizable chest. Stus are usually heavily muscled - or lean and limber. Both are usually tall if height gets a mention. That's the thing, you know - so many bits of a Sue or Stu's appearance never get mentioned. More often than not, the reader is told that the Sue is beautiful and is left to fill in the blanks. Faces suffer the most from this." She sighed. "I've seen so many beautiful faces, and so many of them were completely bland. Completely unimaginative facial structure. Like someone was playing Sims and never thought to fool around with the facial features. Do you know what I would have given to get someone with a slightly longer or shorter nose? A wider or smaller forehead? A different jawline or chin? But no - it was nothing but lazily pretty default faces. If I was lucky I'd get freckles."
"I...never thought about describing any of those things," Ai Da said.
"Of course you didn't," Anjilly sighed. "Let me guess - your character's face was pretty by default, and the only things you mentioned about her head were her hair and eye color? And possibly intelligence."
The student nodded meekly. Anjilly sighed again.
"Right. That's how it usually goes. Since most Suethors aren't imaginative or aware enough to describe facial features, they usually stick to the easier stuff - color. And, in hair's case, texture. It's not uncommon for writers to go overboard here, and that's how we get Sues and Stus with 'emerald eyes flecked with gold' and 'raven waves spilling across their shoulders.'" She smiled, a faraway look in her eye. "Back at HQ I have a friend whose hair 'falls in a golden waterfall down her back.'"
"...Is your friend a Mary-Sue?" Spry Pye asked cautiously.
"She's reformed," Anjilly said with a wave of her hand. With a shrewd look at the students, she added,"That's possible, you know."
Anjilly grinned wickedly. "A lot of red ink. Now then. Sometimes, a writer will think to give their Sue or Stu a physical flaw! Hurray, right? Except the writer doesn't really think about said flaw, or the impact it might have on characterization. None of the character's more visible scars seem to impact their daily life, be it positively or negatively. We're told a character has issues with their legs...and absolutely nothing manifests from that. The character walks or runs just as easily as everyone else. If we're lucky the writer will remember to make them complain about it. Or maybe we have a character recovering from an addiction, but that's all we're told. We never see the character's struggles with withdrawal, never watch them experience any...any hardship, we're just told that they happen. We only know the character is going through that because we're told, not...shown. We just...just watch life...continue...as normal...with nothing but sparse and random mentions...and reminders about the issue..." Anjilly trailed off, looking pained.
"Right! Back to lecturing! Sometimes these physical flaws only serve to make them more beautiful, instead of balancing out their beauty. That would be because the writer doesn't understand how to use or write flaws. Giving your character an issue to deal with doesn't do anything for you unless you understand how that issue affects your character. And then make it affect them, don't just ignore it! Like - okay, think about this. What would it be like if Toph's blindness didn't affect her?"
"But...Toph's blindness doesn't effect her," Cyrus said.
Anjilly pulled a teapot out of a plothole and threw it at the offending student. "Affect, not effect! And of course it does! She's blind! She can't see!"
"She might as well be able to," Cyrus muttered, rubbing his head where the teapot had clobbered him.
"Yes," Anjilly agreed, "Toph can use her earth sense to tell where things are or even what they look like, to an extent. But she is still living in a world where many other people can see, and thus in a society of seeing people. How can being blind not have an impact, when the rest of the world is sight-based? Can anyone think of ways that being blind has affected her?"
"She...probably doesn't know what colors look like?" someone ventured.
"Good start! Anyone else?"
"She can't see things when they're in the air..." someone started. "And...she hates flying on Appa because of that."
"And sand!" someone added. "She said it made everything look fuzzy to her!"
"Good!" Anjilly said again. "How about something positive? What's a good thing that's come out of Toph's blindness?"
"It made her the most powerful Earthbender in the world?" said someone.
"But she can't read," someone else said.
"She can't swim and she hates submarines."
"She never would've figured out metalbending if she could see!"
"She doesn't care so much about looks?" someone said. "Like...she has a different standard of beauty or attractiveness?"
Anjilly beamend. "By the Flowers That Be, I think there's actually hope for you guys!"
Agent Ka, the Silver Sand Witch said. The lecture?
"I'm getting there, I'm getting there...come on, that was good! I'm actually proud of them!" Anjilly beamed at the students. "So, as you see - punintended - even with her earth sight, Toph's blindness still affects her. It even helps directly affect the course of the series. Due to her blindness, she stays outside of Wan Shi Tong's Library, allowing her to save her friends when the Knowledge Spirit starts sucking everything back to the Spirit World. Due to her blindness, she's scared of water. Due to her blindness, she invents metalbending. How awful and boring would it have been if the writers had merely written Toph as blind, but then never acknowledged it?"
"Pretty awful," someone agreed.
"Exactly," Anjilly nodded. "That's why, when you give your character some sort of shortcoming or flaw - or, heck, even just a basic aspect of their characterization, being disabled certainly isn't a flaw, just different - you need to acknowledge and understand it, not ignore it. So, moving on. Sues, Stus, and beauty. Everyone tends to fawn over the Sue or Stu's beauty, especially characters the Sue or Stu is attracted to. Here's something to keep in mind—nobody has the same definition of beauty as another person. There are some basics that every human being recognizes, but what one person sees as stunning beauty may be viewed by another person as ordinary. Remember the cultural standards rant I gave you just a few paragraphs ago!"
"Paragraphs?" Lupe muttered to Lauphen. Lauphen shrugged.
"Ms. Ka?" Fyre Elaine raised a hesitant hand. "You said there were basics that everyone recognizes…could you expand on that?"
"I'm glad you asked," Anjilly nodded. "Most of the basics are rooted in numbers, such as a high waist-hip ratio or a face proportioned similar to the Golden Ratio phi. Symmetry is another high factor in someone's favor. A symmetrical face indicates health in the early childhood. The waist-hip ratio shows fertility, and ease in bearing children—wide hips mean easier passage out for an infant. Similarly, large breasts are associated with fertility, as they indicate a woman will produce a large amount of milk for her children."
"Eww! That's disgusting!" Danish made a face. "We don't wanna hear about breastfeeding and having babies!"
"Why not? It's the reason we have those parts," Anjilly shrugged. "We could just as easily have nipples on our bellies like canines or felines, but we don't." Half the class gagged at that mental image. "Breasts have been fetishized to the point of objectifying women. And yet, we aren't supposed to acknowledge their existence! Such a strange double standard. You aren't considered very attractive if you don't have them or don't emphasize them, but if you do you get branded a slut." Anjilly tapped her fingers for a moment, thinking. "This double standard is best portrayed by a Suvian fashion trend that took off during the Lord of the Rings movie fandom's heydays, back during the early to mid-2000s. The 'low-cut yet modest dress.' How is this oxymoronic garment possible? We just don't know. Not sure where it came from, either, though probably it was brought on by some of Arwen's low-necklined gowns in the movie... Anyway, my point. The Sues wearing this sort of dress were likely going for an attractive, alluring look - but not too alluring! Sues are usually very adamant about not looking like a 'slut' - whatever they think defines such a thing. To that end, they don't usually wear revealing clothing - or, if they do, they explain how it isn't really revealing at all."
"What's so bad about girls wearing revealing clothing?" Nathan Hofstad asked.
"If the world was filled with smart, rational people who don't judge others on appearances? Nothing. In the Real World?" Anjilly shook her head. "The ideal that wearing little clothing makes one beautiful is simply perpetuating the idea that women must appear sexually available to be attractive. In turn, this objectifies women as sexual objects."
"Ms. Ka?" Chriss Soh raised a hand.
"Yes, Ms. Soh?" Anjilly raised an eyebrow.
"Are you a feminist?" Chriss blurted. "You really sound like one."
"Of course I'm a feminist. Many women - and men - are."
"I'm not!" Karana Solara blurted. Anjilly turned her head to stare at the girl.
"Really." One corner of Anjilly's mouth twisted up. "So if a man were to walk up and proposition you, just because you're wearing a skirt, you'd be perfectly okay with it?"
"What? No way!" Karana exclaimed. "That's totally creepy!"
"Then welcome to feminism." Anjilly changed the slides. "Unfortunately, feminism isn't today's topic, though it is somewhat related...maybe we can have a seminar on feminism someday? Hmm. Anyway. May we continue with the next topic? Yes? Thank you. Next is extreme prowess. This is when a 'Sue is more talented at something than a canon character. Nothing is wrong with being a master Firebender, or an expert swordsman—the problem here arises when the character is 'just naturally talented' and hasn't had the training required to properly master the subject. Like when a teenager who's never had a proper Firebending lesson in their life can defeat Azula in an Agni Kai. Original characters with powers that far outstrip the similar powers of canon characters should be scrutinized closely, as oftentimes these characters will be 'Sues or 'Stus." After a pause she added, "Or, heck, sometimes even characters within the canon can have this problem. Like when a teenager manages to beat his swordmaster after a measly month of training, complete with a I Have Taught You Everything I Know speech from his mentor." She started coughing, and again, it sounded suspiciously like "Eragon."
Agent Ka, the Silver Sand Witch said, may I firmly remind you about the lecture?
"All I can say on the subject is 'Thank the Valar for Master Piandao.' Moving on. Like extreme physical beauty, this trait can be handled properly. The key to it is time. In order to develop any skill, you need time to practice that skill and learn the various nuances that go with it. Fighting in particular is a very difficult skill to master. You must learn a series of attacks and defenses, how to anticipate an opponent's moves, and train your body to be strong and fast and flexible. Lots of time goes into learning how to do things like that. Characters who are strong without years of training are highly unrealistic."
"Mary Suki!" Ashee Bieber screamed. An empty teapot collided with her face.
"If you're going to call Suki a 'Sue because she's such a strong fighter, think again," Anjilly informed the class. "The series itself states that she's trained for years to get to where she is, mostly likely since early childhood. On that regard, Suki has the canon speaking to her plausibility. If anyone, Sokka is the 'Stu in this regard. Canonically, he had a whole day training with Master Piandao - and most of that training was metaphorical, not physical. Also he spent a lot of time forging Space Sword. And he was still able to hold his own against Piandao the next day - though he still lost, thank logic." She paused to think. "I suppose you could argue that Sokka really spent three or four days with Piandao, if you're willing to believe the time skips were a day each or so. But still, it was less than a week to learn how to use an entirely new weapon. Sokka's training is far more unrealistic than Suki's, really. There is an argument that Sokka is naturally gifted and a fast learner - he is! Just look at how quickly he learns things through the series - from Suki, from the Northern Water Tribe, from Piandao. Sokka's a quick study. But he'd still have a hard time holding his own against someone with years of experience on him - and he did."
"But…but…" Ashee rubbed her face. A red mark had sprung up on her cheek, and was threatening to turn into a bruise.
"No buts. Moving on." A new slide came up. "Tragic pasts. There are two forms of these that are commonly seen. First is when a truly terrible past is trivialized, or portrayed unrealistically. This includes, but is not limited to the 'Sue having lost both parents, the 'Sue having been tortured at some point, the 'Sue having been raped, the 'Sue being the only survivor of her people…it goes on. And you know what? There's—"
"—nothing wrong with that," Nathaniel Willowshaunt, Izar Laun, and Theodore White chorused. Anjilly narrowed her eyes, unsure if they were making fun of her. With only an hour to squeeze the entire lecture into, though, she decided to let it go and move on.
"Yes, as they said. Nothing's wrong with a tragic past…when you handle it right. You need to keep in mind how someone would feel after experiencing such a thing." Anjilly tapped her chin. "One major issue I know Karen wanted to bring up today was the aftereffects of a sexual assault. She seems to be under the impression that young fanauthors have no idea whatsoever how to handle writing rape and its aftereffects - and she'd be right. The number of 'Sues I've seen who've used rape and abuse for cheap tragic backstory..." She shook her head sadly. "These are serious issues, and they need to be treated with due respect and sensitivity. But I think we'll save that topic for another time."
I wonder why, the Silver Sand Witch commented dryly. Anjilly rolled her eyes at her.
Turning back to the students, Anjilly added, "For now, let it just be known that abuse and assault are not jokes, nor should they be used lightly, without any consideration about the repercussions. Doing so is highly disrespectful to people who have actually lived through that kind of thing. Now, the best way to handle tragic pasts properly is to do a little research. You all have Internet access; I know this because we recruited you from the Pit, better known as fanfictiondotnet. Some Googling will find survivor accounts of all the major kinds of trauma, and you can use the information you find in these to help write your story.
"When writing a tragic past, it is crucial not to trivialize it. You may give a harmful impression of the issue being written about by presenting an incorrect representation to people who don't know about the subject. Try to spend a while - like, a while, at least a few days and a lot of research time - pondering the past you're giving the character. There are times of the day when you don't need to give your full attention to whatever you're doing, and you can use those times to think things over.
"Another form of tragic pasts is presenting a perfectly acceptable past as a curse, like being a princess or having an obscure interest. This form of tragic past can, again, be done right - mostly by not labelling it as tragic. Being a princess or liking weird things is not tragic."
"But isn't it hard to be a princess?" Jessica Carden asked.
"Yes," said Anjilly, "it can be. But in and of itself, simply being a princess is not tragic. What would be tragic is if you're the princess of a conquered kingdom, or your parents died and you need to be a responsible ruler. Princesses can have tragic pasts, just like any other character. But you don't get to label your past as tragic just because you're a princess. There's got to be more to it than that! Also, being a princess isn't necessarily hard for everyone. Take Yue versus Azula. Yue's role as a princess leaves her with little control over her life, whereas Azula's status gives her access to everything she's ever wanted. Azula exploits her situation to her own advantage, and Yue goes along with what her situation dictates. It's interesting to note their relationship with their respective element here - fire is aggressive and takes what it can, while water finds the easiest path and goes with the flow. Are either of them weaker characters for their actions? Absolutely not."
"Then…it's okay that Yue just rolled over and let her father engage her to Hahn, even though Hahn's a jerk and the whole practice is stupid and sexist?" Allie Doyle asked.
"What else could she do? She was the Tribal Princess of the Northern Water Tribe." Anjilly shrugged. "If she'd tried to refuse, like as not it would have caused huge internal strife in the tribe. Running would have meant sending valuable warriors to bring her back. It was Yue's duty, and she swallowed her misgivings and did her duty. Unlike someone I know…"
I'm sure Karen will come back soon.
"Yes, and I'm sure she'll get over her cookie obsession too." Anjilly rolled her eyes. "The girl is hopeless. She's immature, loud, can't focus on anything important for more than an hour, hates paperwork…doesn't understand how hard it is for me without a constant supply of tea and...and bleeprin..."
You do recall there's a class to teach, right?
"Huh? Oh, right, thank you." Anjilly rubbed one eye before continuing. "Gah…where were we? Tragic pasts?"
No, you just finished tragic pasts. There's really not much to talk about there. Of course, I'm not one to talk, I don't know a thing about the subject.
"Your past isn't tragic?" someone asked. When the Silver Sand Witch turned to look at them, they shrank back a bit. "I mean...y'know, since you're kinda...weird..."
I am an illogical being made up of sand and an unimpressive misspelling. That isn't tragic - that's annoying.
"Indeed," said Anjilly. "But we love you anyway. Ah. Okay, what was next?" she changed slides and peered at the screen. "Seems like…canon relation. That is...Sues who are related to canon characters. Mmph.
"Surprisingly, this can be applied to more than just original characters. Sometimes a Sue-possessed canon character will be related to another canon character, or in the case of a crossover, certain characters will be related to characters from another canon to help facilitate the crossover's plotline. This depends on the nature of the relationship, which is not always familial, when we think about how possibly 'Sue-ish it might be.
"For instance, adding a sibling to a previously-established canon family. We'll take Sokka and Katara's family for this example. Is there anything in the canon that might support them having a third sibling?"
Midori BM raised a hand. "Katara was only four or five when their mother died, so…so isn't it possible Kya had another kid? I mean, Sokka's a year older than Katara, so why wouldn't Kya and Hakoda have wanted another child? Or maybe they had a kid before Sokka."
"These are acceptable suggestions." Anjilly smiled at Midori. "And how would you explain this third sibling's failure to be mentioned in the series?"
"If the kid was older, maybe they were captured in a Fire Nation raid?" Midori was quickly gaining confidence. "Maybe if it was a boy, he could've left with the men before the series. Or, if the kid was younger, Kya could have been kidnapped instead of killed, and was pregnant at the time, and eventually had the kid in captivity."
"All acceptable suggestions." Anjilly encouraged. "And what if the story features the third sibling as being known to Sokka and Katara, and present at the time of Aang's appearance? Since Midori's done so well, can we get someone else to talk? Ms. Railey, what about you?"
"Me?" Amber Railey paled. "I, uh, um, can I pass?"
"No. Give us some ideas of what would be acceptable actions for original characters in the scenario."
"Uhh." Amber's mind blanked. "Maybe…the sibling could…stay behind at the South Pole to look after the rest of the tribe?"
"Excellent! And what else?"
"They could…go along with the Gaang?" Amber shrank back in her seat, sure she was about to get detention.
"Quite right Sibling 3 could!" Anjilly clapped her hands together. Amber felt a rush of relief, and went back to not being mentioned for the rest of the chapter. "Now, keep in mind that the second course of action would be more difficult to write properly than the first. To keep an original character non-'Sued while adding them to the Gaang is a nightmare, because you have to keep the course of events on track while changing them to suit the new, expanded Gaang. Can this be done? Of course it can. It's just hard."
"Wait a minute, I got sent here because of an OC that joined the Gaang!" Chloe Cooksey rose to her feet. "If it's okay to write a story like that, why was I sent here?!"
"My guess? You wrote the character badly, and they became a 'Sue," Anjilly answered coolly. "But don't take it up with me. OFUA:TLA exists to teach you how to write better for a reason, my dears." Chloe sat back down with a "hmph," a sullen expression on her face.
"Going back to the subject, as a mentioned before, familial relations aren't the only relationships that 'Sues can have. Being a canon's long-lost best friend, or love, is another method of OCs inserting themselves into the story. Here we get into dangerous territory, for in Avatar, it's highly unlikely that any of the canons have been in love before. A good majority of them are kids!
"Let me explain why it's so very unlikely that the main three male canons, Zuko, Sokka, and Aang, would have long-lost loves. Aang, for starters, was frozen in an iceberg for a hundred years! Any long-lost loves of his would have to be over a hundred by the time of the series. Admittedly, he's been to many places around the world…but he was really too young to be thinking about romance until he was eleven or twelve. He spent most of his life wanting to be a monk, and while procreation may not have been forbidden for monks, you can imagine his focus on learning how to be a monk might have influenced whatever love life potential Aang had.
"Then Sokka. He's lived his whole life in the Southern Water Tribe, and from what we can see in the series, Katara was the only girl his own age. Now, some people theorize that Sokka and Katara's village wasn't the only one in the Southern Water tribe, but while the other hypothetical villages may have had girls his age, he probably didn't meet them very often. Ever since his father and the men of the tribe left, he's been personally responsible for all the hunting and fighting that needs done. How much time would that leave for romance? Well, how much time do you lot have for romance?"
"Not that much…" ihaznoideawuttowrite muttered.
"Meep and [-] have plenty of time," Sofia noted.
"So true." Anjilly sighed. "It's likely that the women of the tribe would go out to fish themselves, or that the women collected plants, shellfish, and other small foodstuffs from the area around the tribe, but Sokka had to literally bring in the bacon. For a tribe that presumably subsists on a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, this means he was doing the equivalent of ten men's work at least. Would any of you care to do that? Are any of you even good enough hunters to attempt such a thing?"
"We probably could," Caelin Cacanisius bragged. His partner-in-crime Colin grinned and nodded.
"Suuuuure you could." Anjilly rolled her eyes. "Because I'm sure you've gone hunting in sub-zero weather with just a boomerang, a club, and a spear before."
"Nah, but we'd pick it up pretty fast," Colin shrugged.
"I really wish Karen was here. She'd want to send you to the South Pole to see how you do, and videotape it so your failure will be a warning to others..." Anjilly paused. "Actually, that sounds like a good idea anyways. There'd be no danger of you starving over the weekend, and you probably wouldn't freeze to death…even if you did, we have plenty of Spirit Water…"
Anjilly? I thought you disapproved of torturing students? the Silver Sand Witch sounded worried.
"Oh, I won't actually torture them. I'll just let them get a taste of reality." Anjilly smiled. "Hmm. Congratulations, boys, you're going hunting this weekend."
"Woot!" The boys grinned. They would later stop grinning, as in the course of their trip they would not only fail to catch anything but also contract frostbite in their hands, feet, ears, and noses. Yugoda's healing would save their extremities, but the memory of the experience kept them humble for about half a day. After that they went right back to obnoxiously believing themselves the greatest fighters around. But that's the future, and as knowing the future is a dubious realm at best, we're not going into that right now. Especially seeing as OFUA:TLA prefers its timelines to be perfectly linear. Unlinear timelines are for Homestuck, Doctor Who, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
"Moving on to Zuko, then. For starters, he's a prince, and a very busy one with a lot to prove. His life has been spent working to achieve his goals, especially during his exile - I doubt he's had the time to feel anything more than a passing attraction for anyone, if even that much. Speaking of attraction, he's had a crush on Mai for years, no?"
"But couldn't he have liked someone else at some point?" Fyre Elaine called.
"Yes, he might have. And that's acceptable, if done right." Anjilly narrowed her eyes. "Here we must consider the situation Zuko is in. He grew up in the caldera portion of the Fire Nation's capital. It's implied that only nobility and royalty are allowed into the caldera, unless the Fire Lord extends an invitation to a commoner. Zuko would be far more likely to meet a nobleman's daughter than to meet a commoner, much less fall in love with a commoner. Also keep in mind that Zuko was banished at age thirteen - that is, the age when he'd just be getting over his 'girls are crazy' stage. It's likely he didn't have much interest before his banishment - unless he had to knock a flaming apple off Mai's head, of course."
"What about when he's banished, then?" Chriss Soh asked.
"Then I doubt he would have cared about anything other than finding the Avatar," Anjilly replied. "You've all seen the series, admittedly under duration for some. Did Zuko look interested in anything other than tracking down Aang at all costs? I don't think so. Capturing the Avatar was his only interest. If he looked twice at a girl, it's because he thought she might know something about the Avatar. His entire character was based around the drive to find and capture Aang."
"Wouldn't that make it even more romantic for him to fall in love?" Carsten D objected.
"Whose opinion are you asking, mine or a fangirl's? Maybe it would seem romantic to a preteen, but as an adult, I can tell you that it just seems silly and out of character." Anjilly snorted. "I don't want to insult anyone who likes the idea, but I just find it impossible to believe Zuko would do anything like that. Why would he give up his one hope of going home, of earning his father's love and approval, for some girl? Especially if he's just met her, as happens in so many 'Sue fics."
"Don't you believe in love at first sight?" Ida Smithsonian cried.
"Absolutely not," Anjilly stated. "Lust at first sight, or friendliness at first sight, yes, but love? Love takes time. You have to let it blossom, let it grow. Just because you think someone's attractive, you don't automatically want to spend the rest of your life with them. Love requires knowing someone. If you don't know them, you don't love them, it's as simple as that."
"You're wrong," Rikki Brook scowled.
"If that's your opinion, we're going to have to agree to disagree." Anjilly's polite words were strained.
"Can we get back to the lesson, instead of this stupid tangent about love?" Cyrus Windfall complained.
"Certainly we can," Anjilly agreed. "I think we've talked enough about inserting an OC into a relationship with a canon, romantic or no. Let's look at the final salvageable trait of 'Suedom," slide change, "falling for a canon character."
"What?!" Ashee Bieber shrieked. "No way is that a 'Sue trait!"
"It certainly is, Ms. Bieber," Anjilly winced. "And please keep your voice down in the future. While falling for a canon character is one of the most common OC traits in Fanfiction, many Mary Sues have this trait as well. Some might argue for this trait to be one of the foremost parts of the Mary Sue psyche—after all, their warping effect on the minds of canon characters into either worshipping or despising the 'Sue helps catch the Lust Object.
"Here we find one of the easiest ways to prevent a character from portraying a 'Sue trait, and paradoxically, the hardest: Keep the canon in character."
"How's that a paradox?" Izzy Smiling asked.
"Keeping a canon in character is a lot of work," came the answer. "Depending on how well you understand a character, you may need to watch and rewatch scenes with them in it, read the comics or books, consult the fandom Wiki and get friends' opinions. Some people can know a character inside and out right off the bat, and others need to research and think about various things before reaching that same knowledge. Dialogue in particular can be tricky, because nobody speaks in the exact same way."
"Ms. Ka?" Ari Mason raised her hand. "Is it really as simple as keeping a canon in character? It seems to me it should be harder."
"Yes, it's that simple," Anjilly chuckled. "And it is also that hard. But by that logic, there are some canon characters that simply would not fall in love with a character, based on both the canon's characterization and the OC's. A character's circumstances, such as the presence or absence of a significant other at some point in time, will further affect the possibility of a canon falling for an OC. Zuko's not about to dump Mai because some other girl comes along, especially not after they've made up in the series finale." Anjilly paused, then squinted into the dark seating area. "Ah…Ms. Roseanne, Mr. Smith, I can't see what you're doing and I don't want to, but sit upright in your seats and pay attention. Please."
"Aww…" Andy pouted. Ishi Bananas, who had been thoroughly disgusted at this point and unable to move away, elbowed her as hard as he could. Andy stuck her tongue out at him, but sat up.
"Are those all the traits?" William GP called.
"All the secondary traits, yes," Anjilly nodded. "These traits can be used in original characters without making those characters 'Sues by default. However, there are three other traits that, when found in an original character, are invariably the marks of 'Suedom. I give you…" Somewhere offstage, dramatic music began to play. Anjilly raised her hand and, with a flourish and a bow, changed the slides. "…the Three Unforgivable Traits!"
The music cut off abruptly. Nobody made a sound. Anjilly, still bent over from her bow, looked up at the student section through her eyelashes. "Knew I shouldn't have tried Karen's trick…" she muttered, straightening. "Here they are, students. The three most 'Sueish traits you can find, oh-so-originally termed the Three Unforgivable Traits by Karen in her notes." Several of the female students giggled. "I know. She thinks she's so clever."
"Anjilly, senor dangao pickle fell asleep!" Scarlet Johnson raised her hand.
"He's drooling," Isabella Rose added.
"Hm? Yes, I noticed." Anjilly sighed. "Leave him be. He's absorbing everything I say while he sleeps. I don't know how he does it, but we tested it with a recorded lecture from a theoretical physicist's classroom. He knew about everything discussed, even the things that didn't make sense to Wan Shi Tong."
"What? I wanna do that!" Danish grinned.
"Sorry. You can't." Anjilly raised one eyebrow. "We have no idea how he does it, and in any case, do you think I want everyone to sleep through class?"
"But it sounds so coooool!" Danish whined.
"And it really isn't. Do you want to learn everything that goes on while you sleep? Trust me, you'll learn things you don't want to. While you sleep, the people you're learning from will get offended and start to dislike you. People will tease you and call you a weirdo. All that, for learning things while you sleep. Still sound like fun?"
"Um…yes?" Danish blinked.
"Moving on," Anjilly insisted. "We need to finish these traits before class can end. Can we all agree to stop the pointless distractions and focus on the lessons?"
"Yes, ma'am," the students chorused.
"Good. Now, when you get down to it, a 'Sue story makes little sense." Anjilly shuddered in remembrance of past 'Suefics. The Silver Sand Witch, sensing an impending flashback, floated over to Anjilly. "Psychology goes out the window, as does the narrative sense. Girls mysteriously dropping into the Tolkienverse from Earth can understand everyone, despite speaking English when the canons speak Westron, and they're excited to realize where they are instead of being scared. They'll join the Fellowship as a Tenth Walker, completely destroying Tolkien's lovely numerical symbolism of the nine Fellowship members against the nine Ringwraiths, and—"
Anjilly. The Silver Sand Witch clapped a hand over her friend's mouth, firmly. That's the Tolkienverse. This is the Avatarverse.
"Oh. Right." Anjilly blinked. The Silver Sand Witch's hand was still over her mouth, so the words were muffled, but the Hall's amazing acoustics made them loud enough to understand. "Can you move your hand? Thank you. Going off the Earth-girl and Tenth Walker examples, say a 'Sue from Earth is mystically transported to Avatarverse."
"Where is she transported to?" Danish yelled.
"Yeah! Is it the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation?" Ashee shouted.
"Ooh! I wanna get dropped into the Fire Nation! Maybe I could meet Zuzu and make him fall for me!" Danish squealed. Everyone around her clapped their hands over their ears; when Danish or Ashee squealed, the noise could shatter glass.
"Shh! I wanna hear the lesson!" Carsten D scowled at the girls.
"Aww, they're just having some fun," Chriss Soh laughed. "They're still kids, give them a break."
"You're only a year older than us," Fyre Elaine pointed out.
"Yeah, so? That just means I'm a year more mature."
"Students!" Anjilly scolded. A teapot appeared in her hand. Ashee, Danish, Fyre, and Chriss gulped in unison and sank back against their seats. "Thank you. Shall we discuss our example? A 'Sue from Earth drops into, oh…Ba Sing Se. She understands everyone, despite them speaking an unidentified language that is likely Chinese. Her modern clothing goes completely unremarked, even though she's likely not color-coordinated for one specific Nation—or if she is color-coordinated, just for the wrong Nation. When she encounters the Gaang, they let her join after a pointless argument where she presents a weak defense of her stance but is accepted."
Don't forget how she's probably not a good fighter, but becomes better than the canons in a short amount of time, The Silver Sand Witch interjected. Anjilly turned to her and raised an eyebrow. What? I took a look at your notes. Sue me. In the legal sense.
Anjilly shuddered. "Of course in the legal sense; I would never wish a Possession!Sue on you. But yes, of course. The Gaang allows a useless Earth-girl to join them, which might not actually be that implausible given how soft Aang and Katara are, but that's beside the point. Our 'Sue has, by this point, realized where she is and is excited to be there. Why worry about getting home? Who wants to go home? It's not like our 'Sue cares about her family and friends back home. They never appreciated her anyways. So the Gaang gets its fourth or fifth member, or sixth or seventh if we're at the last half of season three. Miss 'Sue never seems to mention the lack of modern amenities, or how difficult life without said amenities are…Miss 'Sue is too busy having fun and acting like an idiot who doesn't realize how bad things might be."
Anjilly paused for a moment, then added, "And one thing that really gets me is how little that type of 'Sue thinks of or mentions their family. Any backstory is likely to be tragic, or never revealed. It's like the character has all the knowledge of our world that a teenager would, but instead of living in our world, materialized in the Avatarverse.
"Here is where the first of the Unforgivable Traits appears: a lack of narrative or psychological sense. Some readers don't pick up on this lack, which does not reflect badly on them—they're just too inexperienced to recognize it. More time spent reading and developing the skills to see when this is a problem easily rectifies the situation."
"Why is this such a big deal?" Amy Ochanian asked.
"You know all the plotholes floating around this school? Think of those, only instead of working with the characters, they work against them," Anjilly clarified.
"...Is she insinuating that the plotholes work with us here?" Lauphen asked.
Lupe shuddered. "If this is what it's like when they work with you, I'd hate to know what it's like when they work against you."
"People and items pop out of nowhere with no explanation," Anjilly continued, "logic loops appear and strangle you when you least expect it, Legolas slips and falls out of a tree despite being an Elf…"
Avatarverse, Anjilly. Not Tolkienverse. Avatarverse, the Silver Sand Witch reminded the Course Coordinator.
"Oh. Right." Anjilly paused. "Katara turning out to have clothing totally unsuitable for the South Pole. Does that work?"
Yes, I suppose it does, the Silver Sand Witch ceded.
"Thank you. Have I made my point, students?" Anjilly gazed out into the dim student section. "I'll take that as a yes. We'll move to the Second Unforgivable Trait.
"Now, the Second Unforgiveable Trait, OOCness, applies to a 'Sue's effect on canon characters in a story. A character will either instantly like or dislike the 'Sue, despite evidence to the contrary. 'Sues who threaten the Gaang are welcomed into their fold, despite being bitchy to Sokka and rude to Katara or Aang. Sokka will dislike a 'Sue because he's suddenly falling back into sexism, despite Suki beating that out of him in The Warriors of Kyoshi Island. Worse, Iroh will dislike a 'Sue for no reason at all. Or Katara feels threatened by the 'Sue hitting on Aang, despite Katara not fully realizing she likes Aang until the last minute of the last episode of the series."
"She knew she liked Aang before that!" Moon Dragon objected.
"Liked him as a friend, yes," Anjilly countered, "but she didn't think of a romantic possibility until he kissed her during the Invasion. After that, she was confused, unsure of how she felt and refusing to bring the subject up. In the Ember Island Players episode Aang confronts her, and she tells him how confused she feels. Finally, in the last few minutes of the last episode, she seems to realize that she does indeed love Aang romantically and kisses him.
"Moving on, we have to keep in mind that the characters instantly like or dislike the 'Sue because of a reason that is out of character for them. Katara instantly trusting a stranger because said stranger is from the Water Tribes, or at least a Waterbender, or being a female around Katara's age with a couple of common interests, is fine. Katara can be a very trusting person - as shown by the Hama debacle. But if Katara likes someone who just held a knife to Aang's throat, well. Not what you'd expect from her.
"It bears mentioning that a 'Sue's physical appearance often plays a large role in others' opinions of her." Anjilly shook her head in exasperation. "Sokka being instantly attracted to a pretty girl, and liking her because of it, fine. Zuko seeing a pretty girl and forgetting everything to go after her, not so fine. For most of the first two seasons, Zuko's motivation is to capture Aang, with all else secondary. He's already interacted with several pretty girls in canon - Katara, Song, Jin, even Jun - and he didn't care for any of them in a romantic way. Maybe Jin, but he forgot her easily enough since she had nothing to do with his goals. He probably doesn't care if someone's male or female, just that they're either in his way or helping him along. Anyone not 'with or against him,' as it were, he might not notice at all. But we've been over this already, haven't we?"
"Yup," Zuna muttered.
"Hmm." Anjilly glanced at her watch. It wouldn't be long until class ended. Ah, how time flies. "Let's talk about the dangers of this trait. The OOCness of a character thanks to a 'Sue's presence can give readers unfamiliar with the canon a wrong impression of the canon, discouraging them from learning more about the canon on their own. When a reader is unfamiliar with the canon, they may also be unable to identify this trait, and assume the reader is doing a better job than they actually are.
"The last Unforgivable Trait is Speshulness."
The Silver Sand Witch faked a gag.
"My thoughts exactly," Anjilly agreed. "Here we find one of the most outrageous aspects of a 'Sue there could be. Mary Sue is special, because she's Mary Sue. Whatever she does, no matter how outrageous, is met with adoration. Does she sing pop songs to harp music? Everyone thinks it's lovely. Disrespecting a high-ranking military officer while she's a prisoner? Respect for her goes up. Her clothing is in contrasting primary colors, but she says she's beautiful? Of course she is. Zuko agrees wholeheartedly. Everything is all about Mary Sue.
"It's this fixation on the 'Sue, to the detriment of other characters, that really makes or breaks a 'Sue. She steals the spotlight from other characters. Whatever she does is wonderful, and her flaws aren't really flaws. If everything is all about a single perfect, illogical, super-attractive, in-your-face awesome character, chances are good that character is a 'Sue."
"So, what you're saying is, if all the events in a story seem to center around one character in particular, that character is a 'Sue?" Sofia Owens called.
"No," Anjilly said. "If all the events in a story seem to center around one character in particular, that character is probably the main character. And sometimes, that character can be a Sue - like if they twist the canon, warp reality, destroy other characters' personalities to make themselves seem more awesome... Many other, smaller indications and traits exist, like events happening for no good reason or a Deus Ex Machina. But most of these smaller traits can be folded into the other, larger traits."
"Does bad spelling count for a 'Sue trait?" Freeranger called.
"Not necessarily, though bad spelling often accompanies a 'Suefic," Anjilly admitted. "I would recommend thinking of bad spelling as a simple sign of unfamiliarity with the misspelled words, a lack of spellcheck, or a simple case of preteenism."
"What's preteenism?" Vera Moretti yelled.
"Being a preteen." Half the students started to laugh at that, until they realized Anjilly wasn't making a joke. "You'd be surprised how few preteens think spelling matters. Texttalk in a fic usually means a writer is under twenty."
"Why would anyone use texttalk in a Fanfiction?" Owlson Pierce puzzled.
"That's a good question," Anjilly sighed. "My guess would be people like to write fast, and texttalk has very abbreviated words. There's nothing wrong with putting a draft into texttalk, but the least you could do is take out the shortened words before publishing the story. Not everybody knows texttalk, and puzzling out what the author is trying to say really takes away from the story.
"And on that note, I'm going to end the lecture. Before you go, any questions?"
Rikki raised her hand. "Is it possible to have an original character fall in love with a canon character? And...not have her be a Sue? Or Stu?"
Anjilly pursed her lips. "It's possible, I suppose...but extremely hard to pull off. I suppose, in part, it depends which canon character it is. If your OC is in love with a minor character like Haru, Teo, Song, or Ty Lee, it'll be much easier, as none of them have a lasting love interest. If you're character is after Zuko, Katara, Sokka, or Aang, it'll be much harder. They are major characters with important effects on the storyline and clear romantic interests. You'll have to come up with a plausible reason for why they fall for your OC instead of their canon love interest - preferably without making Mai or Suki either dead or 'jealous bitches'. Here's an idea - a female OC who is in love with Zuko and BFFs with Mai! How is that possible? I don't know, but surely you can come up with an interesting story based on it! Haven't you ever crushed on the same person as one of your friends?"
Lauphen sank a little in her seat.
"Or maybe in this 'verse Mai gets fed up with waiting for Zuko to come to his senses - it's draining and she has a life of her own to live, dammit - and wishes the OC her best. She's going to need it, after all!" Anjilly waved her hands. "Anything is possible when you don't insist on lady-bashing to make your ships work! Any other questions?"
"What's the worst Sue or Stu you've ever seen?" Sofia asked.
Anjilly gave a thin-lipped smile. "Let's just say there's a restraining order forbidding me from stepping foot in Alagaësia and leave it at that. Any other questions?"
"Um…" Elise hesitantly raised her hand. "I was wondering…this is off-topic, but is Fire Lady Ursa a Firebender?"
"Princess Ursa," Blue Witten insisted. "She vanished before Ozai became Fire Lord, so she was never technically the Fire Lady."
"Oh dear." Anjilly pinched the bridge of her nose. "Are we really going to get into this? May I ask how this started?"
"Well, a bunch of the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation students were studying together Sunday night for a Basic Canon quiz, and somebody asked if Ursa was bender. Huanzhe started to giggle, which was really creepy since we didn't know he was there until then, and the study session sort of broke apart with the question unanswered, so…" Elise trailed off.
"Ah. Well, that's difficult to answer, mostly because there isn't an answer. The Creators never specified whether or not Ursa was a bender. We just don't know." Anjilly glanced at the scorched floor. "Poor Ursa doesn't know herself."
"What? She doesn't?" Shiri asked.
"Nope. None of us have a clue." Anjilly shook her head. "I think it makes sense for Ursa to bend, because the Fire Nation royal line would want to ensure strong benders in their lineage. Because of that, when I'm around, Ursa really is a bender."
"Huh?!" That caught the students' attention.
"Should I specify…? I think I should." Anjilly cleared her throat. "In a nutshell, the fandom can sometimes affect the canon. When the majority of the fans in the room believe Ursa is a Firebender, then she is one. Ursa hates it when Karen's around, because Karen is very vehement about her belief in Ursa not being a Firebender."
"Why does Karen think Ursa's not a bender?" Izzy called.
"She thinks familial and political power mean more to the Fire Nation upper class than bending status," Anjilly explained. "And even without being a bender herself, Ursa's relation to Avatar Roku might have been enough if the Fire Nation really did value bending power. That, and Karen just likes the thought of there being a non-bender in the royal family."
"Agent Ka, can we go back to what you said earlier about the fandom influencing the canon?" Sofia suggested. "Taking what you said at face value, it sounds like you're saying the fans can affect the series and its offshoot media. Can you clarify?"
"Gladly. What do you think the Ember Island Players episode was about?" Anjilly smiled. "The Creators made it so that it reflected both popular fanon ideas, such as Zutara, and some original concepts of their own that were later changed, like Toph being a big, muscular guy. Meanwhile, widely accepted fanon ideas, such as the Fire Nation being based on Japan, can influence the perception of canon so that others start to use very Japan-esque cultural aspects when expanding on the Fire Nation. That's one example of fanon actually overriding canon. The idea of the Fire Nation being based on Japan is so popular in fandom that most fans assume it's true-even though there's no basis for this belief, nothing specifically Japanese about the Fire Nation, and in spite of clear Han Chinese and Thai influences on the Fire Nation's culture. But we'll go into that at a later date. Any more questions, comments, or concerns? If not, I have work to do, since Karen isn't around to force into it...not that she'd do it anyway..."
"You're doing really well without tea, y'know!" Caelin shouted. Maybe, hopefully, it was meant to be encouragement, or perhaps it was intended cruelty. Either way, the minute she heard the t-word, Anjilly's face crumpled.
"T…tea…" she moaned.
Agent Ka, the Silver Sand Witch said, the lecture-
"Is over!" Anjilly shouted. "It's over, it's over, I don't need to hold myself together anymore, I GIVE UP." She fell facedown on the floor and laid there, sobbing.
Congratulations, the Silver Sand Witch snapped at Caelin. You are a horrible, insensitive person. I hope you can tell how serious I am by how firm I am being. This seminar is over. All of you out. I am ordering you all out very firmly. Out! OUT!
The students hurried out.
The students hurried faster.
In the aftermath of Caelin's comment and Anjilly's subsequent breakdown, the seminar planned for that weekend—Canon Misconceptions—was postponed for another week while Anjilly pulled herself together. Caelin and Colin did indeed go on their hunting trip, with aforementioned consequences. The students had a nasty quiz in Basic Canon which they mostly passed. Sofia and Sunan tied for the second highest score, the highest going to senor dangao pickle, who had slept through the entire quiz. Danish had also slept through the whole quiz, netting herself a score of zero and a week of detention with make-up classes. Meep and [-], the school's poster couple, were observed to take their lunches out in the yard together near the mini-forest. Andy and Joe were frequently seen creeping in and out of said forest, in various states of dishevelment. Ashee, Danish, Fyre, and Chriss received detention for painting love graffiti to their Lust Objects on the walls. Lauphen began to sulk more each day, until her friends only saw her at class.
Another interesting development was the Zutara Club's slow withdrawal from the public eye. Lupe had been too busy working with Marshall to attend the last few meetings, but whenever she saw her fellow club members she got the feeling they weren't telling her something. Whatever shenanigans they were up to, the Zutara Club seemed determined to keep it secret.
Freeranger, who had managed to convince the staff to let her participate in the mainstream curriculum despite having no Nation, began to attend classes with the Earth Kingdom and Water Tribe students.
Many of the pets, who were largely ignored by the students, got restless and started fighting amongst themselves. Fyre's cats Lily and Sophie nearly killed an unaware guard. Fyre herself was ordered to write an apology note to Guard Lee and his family.
Throughout everything, the tea—and Mai4, who had last been seen in teapot form—remained missing.
On Tuesday evening, Lupe headed to her part-time job with Marshall feeling completely exhausted. She didn't know what to do about Lauphen, who was slowly drawing away from everyone. Meep and [-] didn't seem to notice anything was wrong, but as they spent all their time together, Lupe couldn't spend time with them unless she wanted to be a third wheel. Sofia and Sunan spent all their time studying or talking about things that went way over Lupe's head. Zerkz was nice, but his Suki obsession made it hard to spend time with him.
"And I thought my friends in the real world had all the drama…" Lupe muttered. She passed by General Fong on her way through the no-man's-land between the Student and Staff Sections.
"Ms. Hernandez! Off to work?" Fong waved.
"Yeah. Where are you heading?" Lupe asked.
"Patrolling the school," Fong replied. He seemed more cheerful than Lupe could remember him being at the Festival. "Ever since we lost fifty of our guards for their dragon dance tour, Anjilly's been recruiting minor characters to take over their duties. I pulled night duty with half the Dai Li and the Kyoshi Warriors."
"The Dai Li? You trust them?" Lupe shivered. "Don't they creep you out?"
"They are eerie, but I trust them to do their jobs," Fong shrugged. "And when I was young, the Dai Li were just cultural police. Long Feng reorganized them into his own personal shock troops when he came to power."
"So they haven't always been evil?" Lupe wondered what the Dai Li did as cultural police.
"Well, maybe a little corrupt - they were meant to be feared, after all. But Avatar Kyoshi founded them over two hundred years before Aang's time," Fong informed Lupe. "Their original purpose was to protect the important cultural artifacts of Ba Sing Se. They turned 'evil,' as you put it, when Long Feng made them into his secret police."
"Really? The brainwashing and stuff didn't start until Long Feng came around?" Lupe paused. It did make sense that the brainwashing started after Long Feng's rise to power. Why hide the War's existence otherwise? And the War was only a hundred years old, whereas the Dai Li were older.
"Well," Fong admitted, "The series was very vague on the whole subject. But why would the Dai Li have been evil from the start? It's likely that Long Feng changed a lot of things in Ba Sing Se." Fong's good mood took a momentary dip, then returned. "But I need to get going, or I'll be late. It was nice to see you again, Ms. Hernandez. Enjoy your work with Marshall."
"I'll try to, thanks." Lupe smiled at Fong, then headed for Marshall's workshop.
When Lupe opened the workshop door, the first thing that struck her was the smell. Marshall glanced up from a pot of simmering black ink and smiled. "You're late," he commented. His characteristic grin was fixed on his face, despite the horrid stench of the ink. "Put some gloves on, please. I need you to stir the ink."
"Don't you think you have enough?" Lupe complained. She took two heavy cowpighide gloves from a hook by the door and walked over to the pot. Marshall handed her the ink spoon—which Lupe had taken to calling the spoon used for stirring ink—and stepped out of her way.
"You can never have too much ink," Marshall assured Lupe. "And I use a lot of it every day. The yearbook pictures are done, but now I have to make lots of miniature versions, and a large version of each so the yearbooks can be personalized, and designs to go in the yearbook, and work on my personal projects. We sell the rest to buy supplies from the Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation."
"Have you ever taken a day off?" Lupe sighed. She leaned as far away from the ink pot as she could and started stirring.
"Why would I want to take a day off?" Marshall asked. "Art is fun!"
"The sad thing is, I know you mean it," Lupe muttered. "How long til this pot's done?"
"I just added the glue, so it'll be a while."
"Joy." Stirring a pot of glue was a very boring process requiring little actual thought from the person stirring, as Lupe had learned early on. While the ink thickened, stirring grew more and more difficult, until it was like dragging a stick through quicksand. As a measure against boredom, Lupe had devised a way to practice her Firebending skills while stirring ink.
She closed her eyes and drew in a deep, steady breath. Her focus went to the sense of touch, then to the warmth on her skin from the ink pot and the fire underneath. Lupe could visualize the fire perfectly, how it leapt and danced and twined about itself, ever in motion. The heat of the flames matched the warmth of Lupe's body.
Then, with careful concentration, Lupe willed the flames to gather together and get hotter. She couldn't have described how she did it, no more than she could explain how her heart beat. Reluctantly, the flames drew in, fighting to burst out every centimeter. Fire hated to be controlled, as Lupe had learned. It was always hungry, like a starving man, wanting more food, more fuel, to break out and consume everything…
But it wouldn't. Lupe was in control here. She guided the flames into a globe, condensing the energy into a smaller space and increasing the fire's heat. Remembering how too hot a flame could scorch the ink and make it useless, Lupe flattened the fire into a low disk. Tendrils licked upwards, caressing the black pot of ink. With a twist of will, Lupe suppressed them. The fire fought with all its might, but Lupe held it back: She was its master. It did what she wanted.
Lupe never felt more powerful than when she was controlling fire. What would creating the fire be like, then? Just thinking of it made her giddy. Jeong-Jeong's insistence that the Firebending students learn to control fire was pointless. She could control fire just fine. Spending the dawn hours feeling the sun's warmth, or making a piece of paper keep from catching fire…bah. What did Jeong-Jeong know? He was just afraid of giving the students more power.
"Are you listening? Lupe?"
Her eyes flew open. Marshall was looking at her strangely. She was still stirring the ink, but the spoon was at an acute angle. "Sorry, were you talking?"
"Yeah." Was it just Lupe, or did Marshall sound…offended? She couldn't recall him sounding anything other than enthusiastic before now. "I was asking how your lessons are going."
"They're pretty good," Lupe replied. "I'm sorry I didn't hear you, I was practicing fire control. Jeong-Jeong says we should do it whenever we have a free moment, so—"
A sudden tremor cut Lupe off. The floor shook under her, rattling the shelves that lined the walls. One shelf near the ceiling, full of solidified pots of ink, dislodged from the wall. Ten or so pots of ink fell with the shelf, resulting in flying shards of pottery and huge splashes of ink.
"Look out!" Marshall and Lupe shouted at the same time, and both forward to push the other out of the way. They hit each other directly on the head, were then hit on the head again by several falling ink pots, and immediately passed out.
"Nnn…" This was…odd. Lupe felt fully rested. The pre-dawn wake-up-alarm sounded every day, even on weekends when there was no morning practice, yet Lupe felt like she had just gotten a full night's sleep. That was impossible, because she worked with Marshall every weekday until after dark. And it didn't feel like she was in her bed—there was a hard surface underneath her. Also, her blanket wasn't pulled up to her chin, and Lupe always did that before going to bed.
She opened her eyes. Marshall was lying unconscious on the floor just a foot away. Broken pots of ink littered the ground, and Lupe's uniform was ruined from being drenched in the stuff. She'd have to get rid of it, and request a new one. That would mean restricted privileges as punishment for ruining her uniform, half-rations, and detention. Unless she could convince Anjilly that the destruction of the uniform was an accident in which Lupe had no part.
In the meantime, despite being covered in ink, Lupe felt better than she had in a while. Amazing what a good night's sleep could do - even if it was spent on a hard floor in a puddle of ink without a blanket. She sat up, bits of ink flaking off her neck and hand as she did so, then looked around. The workroom looked like someone had put it in a box and shook it. What shelves still stood were empty, their contents strewn across the floor. All of Marshall's paintings were ruined. Her movement had displaced some of the objects around her. Thankfully, the fire and pot of ink from last night hadn't set fire to anything. Inks stained the floor, walls, and anything on the ground in a rainbow of colors.
"I'm gonna have to make more ink, aren't I," Lupe groaned. Marshall stirred when she spoke, and Lupe returned her attention to him. Half his face was covered in blue ink, and his rainbow gi looked unsalvageable. He blinked his eyes open, then looked at Lupe.
"Are you okay?" Marshall croaked.
"Yeah…yeah, I'm fine." Lupe rubbed one eye with her clean hand. "Do you know what happened?"
"Not a clue," Marshall yawned. He pushed himself to his knees, and stood up in one smooth motion. "How long were we asleep?"
"Probably a while. I feel really rested." Lupe stretched and rolled her shoulders. The movement helped her start to think. "Does your head hurt?"
"No. Yours?" Marshall offered Lupe a hand, which she accepted. As soon as she was on her feet she stretched again.
"My head feels fine. The pots must've been really light." Lupe checked the ground around her: pots of half-congealed ink and shattered pieces of pottery, scrolls and sheets of paper, paintbrushes and writing brushes were everywhere. Between her and the door was one of Marshall's yearbook paintings.
"All my work…" Marshall whispered. He sounded ready to cry. Lupe patted him on the shoulder as he sniffled.
"Sorry, Marshall. Let's get out of here and find out what happened."
"Okay." Marshall let Lupe lead him through the mess, weaving between the larger piles of junk. Lupe stepped on shards of pottery twice, but the thick leather soles of her uniform boots prevented injury. It felt like forever while she wove her way through the room, but once at the door Lupe realized it hadn't taken all that long.
Opening the door presented a momentary problem. Debris cluttered the opening and blocked the door's path. Some shoving moved enough out of the way that the door could open, allowing Lupe and Marshall to slip out.
The hallway outside was silent. Lupe frowned—at the very least, the Lemurs should be chattering just out of sight. There was a window fifty feet down the hall on the left; sunlight slanted in at a low angle. If the sun was out, the students should be audible as well; those not in classes would be talking and running in the hallways, plotting to get into the Staff Section. And the pets, often ignored by those without pets, should be roaming the halls freely, looking for scraps of attention.
"Where is everyone?" Marshall echoed Lupe's thoughts.
"Beats me. Come on." Lupe walked over to the window and leaned out. She realized it was one of the few windows that looked out onto the boiling lake; heat wafted onto her face from the bubbling waters while a light breeze ruffled her hair.
"See anything?" Marshall asked hopefully.
"No," Lupe sighed. "It looks on the lake. Let's go down to the yard. Maybe we can find someone there. Do you know the way from here?"
"Only the way to the classrooms," Marshall apologized. "We can get out from there, though, can't we?"
"That'll work fine," Lupe assured him. She rubbed a patch of dried black ink on her uniform with a finger, wondering what could be going on. A silent OFUA:TLA didn't sit well with her. There should be noise. Her fellow students were loud people. Where was the noise?!
Walking through the silent, sunlit halls struck Lupe as being even more unnerving than sneaking down those same halls in the dead of night. The emptiness was what had Lupe on edge. Every time she rounded a corner, she expected to run into someone. Small, occasional noises made Lupe jump. Marshall's footsteps were an eerie echo of Lupe's. Once she thought she saw a Lemur flitting across a hallway, but it was going in the opposite direction she and Marshall were, so she didn't investigate.
Goosebumps popped up along Lupe's arms, and the hairs at the back of her neck stood on end. Part of her was just waiting for someone to jump out and yell, "Surprise!" When Marshall grasped her wrist, she had to bite back a scream.
"Doing okay so far?" Lupe asked, her voice hoarse.
"So far," Marshall chuckled weakly. Lupe braved a smile at him and led on, weaving her way through the now-familiar hallways. Before long, they were at the huge double doors that led outside. Both doors were closed, but not locked.
"Shall we?" Lupe suggested. Marshall squeezed her wrist in response and let go. They each took a door. "One…two…"
On "three," they pushed with all their might. The doors swung open on well-oiled hinges with much less resistance than would be expected for twenty-foot monstrosities of iron and gold, dumping Lupe and Marshall onto their faces. Steps started right at the threshold, leading down and of course both of them tumbled to the foot of the stairs. Marshall turned his fall into a roll, landing on his feet. Lupe landed on her face, scraped the back of her hand against a rough patch, and bruised her left thigh.
"Lupe! Are you okay?!" Marshall exclaimed, rushing to her side.
"I…I'm all right…" Lupe winced. Her leg was throbbing, her face hurt, and she was pretty sure her hand was about to start bleeding. Stupid door. Just like Karen to have a door that looked heavy but wasn't. What was it, hollow? How did that even work? Shouldn't the strain make it collapse in on itself?
"It's Lupe! And Marshall!" someone shouted. Lupe looked up to see the entire student body of OFUA:TLA (sans the still-missing Mai4, of course) milling about the Cookie Plaza. Meep and [-] ran over, each holding their weapons.
"Lupe! Where have you been?" [-] asked. "Do you know what's going on?"
"All I know is that there was an earthquake last night that knocked me and Marshall out," Lupe replied. "And my uniform is ruined. What happened to you?"
"Well…after the earthquake, the guards didn't wake anyone up this morning," [-] explained. "Some of the Lemurs were able to unlock the dorms, or everyone would still be trapped in their rooms. Nobody knows where the Staff is. Some of us are thinking about investigating, but we don't know if the Lemurs will let us enter the Staff Section."
"Marshall! Lupe! Just the people I wanted to see!" Isabella Rose ran up. Sofia, Sunan, Lauphen, Freeranger, Zerkz, and Scarlet Johnson quickly followed. "I'm trying to get together a group to investigate the Staff Section. If Marshall comes with us, the Lemurs should let us pass!"
"Go into the Staff Section?" Lupe repeated. The thought gave her pause. It would be amazing to finally see what the Staff Section was like, but even with Marshall escorting them, wouldn't the Lemurs attack the students? "How many people are going?"
"Oh, all of the Zukomancers, Boomerang Babes, and Aanglers, plus the Mary Suki Club," Isabella Rose shrugged. "We figure it's a good chance to steal some time with our boys!"
"Absolutely not," Marshall frowned. "I'm not taking you into the Staff Section just so you can terrorize the canons."
"C'mon! We may never get another chance like this!" Isabella pleaded.
"Yeah! Let us get our guys!" Scarlet punctuated her words with a flourish of her sord, which bent in half like the unbelievably shitty jpeg artifact that it was. The blu – a visually painful shade of washed-out blue – forced everyone to avert their eyes.
"There is a greater chance of Aang and Katara breaking up than me taking you into the Staff Section so you can assault my friends." Marshall crossed his arms. "Look. I will take a group of five students into the Staff Section to investigate what is going on in there. But only five students I pick, and only if they will swear to the spirits that they're going to behave while there."
"Pick me!" Isabella and Scarlet said in unison. Marshall narrowed his eyes at them.
"I'll take Isabella, because going to the Staff Section was her idea first," he said. "And, as an Avatar, she should be useful. Sofia, Freeranger, you're both responsible people, you can come."
"Choose Lauphen," Lupe whispered.
"Lauphen." Marshall nodded to the girl. "You can never have too many Airbenders."
"Sure," Lauphen sighed. She glanced over at Meep and [-]. "Better than staying here."
"What about the fifth person?" Lupe asked.
"Really, Lupe? You have to ask?" Zerkz rolled his eyes. "It's you. Duh."
"Oh…" Lupe blushed. "Okay then. We…should we go?"
"Let's," Sofia agreed. She turned around to face the other students and cupped her hands around her mouth. Using an Airbending trick Gyatso had taught the Air Nomad students just the other day, she amplified her voice to the level of a megaphone. "EVERYBODY! MARSHALL IS TAKING ME, ISABELLA, LUPE, LAUPHEN, AND FREERANGER TO SEE WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE STAFF SECTION. STAY IN THE YARD AND DON'T DISTURB ANYTHING. WE'LL BE BACK AS SOON AS WE CAN."
"What? Why do you guys get to go?" Ashee Bieber complained.
"Because I picked them," Marshall retorted. "You'd just try to kill Suki or kiss Zuko."
"And that would be completely irresponsible, immature, and pointless," Marshall scowled. "Suki would defeat you without breaking a sweat, and if Mai didn't kill you, Zuko would throw you down a well. Then Anjilly would give you detention for a month." Ashee crossed her arms indignantly. "Don't even think glaring at me will change my mind. All you're doing is proving how immature you are. Has anyone ever mentioned how ridiculous you look with cotton candy stuck to your lips like that?"
Everyone stared at Marshall in shock. "Marshall?" Lupe took a half-step back. "Are you…feeling okay?"
"Huh? Of course I am. Why wouldn't I be?" Marshall smiled.
"You just…well, I mean, you…" Lupe stuttered. "The way you were acting just now…"
"Just now?" Marshall paused. "What do you mean?"
"It was kind of forceful," Isabella commented. "I didn't know you could be like that."
"Really? I was just trying to point out why she shouldn't go to the Staff Section with us," Marshall shrugged. "Should I have done it differently?"
"No, no, that was fine, it's just…surprising." Sofia tapped her chin. "We didn't think you could act like that. When did you get so strong-willed?"
"Beats me," Marshall rubbed his head. "Can we get going now? I'd like to get this over with. The canons probably won't be too happy with me taking students over to the Staff Section."
"Good idea." Freeranger stepped forward. Her uniform included a mottled grey cloak, the hood almost perpetually pulled up over her head. Half the students thought it looked cool—the other half thought it looked pretentious. Any requests made to Karen for a cloak of one's own was met with a refusal on the grounds of "But you're not a Ranger!" Whatever stupid children's series that referenced...
"Lead on, Mr. Arts," Sofia nodded to Marshall. He smiled, turned around, and started walking.
One long and creepy walk later, they were standing in front of the door to the Staff Section. There were no Lemurs guarding the door. Lupe pressed her ear to the door, hoping to hear signs of life, and got nothing.
"The doors are soundproof," Marshall explained. He shooed the students back a few feet, just in case, and grabbed the handles.
He opened the doors…to absolutely nothing. Just a plain hallway, leading into the Staff Section. "That was anticlimactic," Isabella noted. "Where are the Lemurs? The booby traps?"
"Why would we booby-trap our living quarters? That would be inconvenient!" Marshall waved the students forward. "Listen up. Don't wander off, and don't try to glomp anyone you see. If the Lemurs don't get you, I will."
"He's definitely acting differently," Lupe whispered. She glanced at Lauphen, who had been silent all through their walk. "Don't you think?" Lauphen grunted. Unsure of whether that was agreement or not, Lupe took the optimistic route and smiled. At least Lauphen had given an answer.
Marshall led the students down the hallway, his eyes constantly shifting from side to side. Isabella seemed oblivious to the tense atmosphere, but it was not lost on Freeranger and Sofia, who kept a sharp lookout to the sides and behind the group. Lauphen didn't look like she cared about what was going on. Lupe kept close to Marshall, who at least had the fighting skills to keep any monsters, angry master benders, or insane tea-deprived ex-PPC agents from getting at the students.
Five minutes in, Marshall came to an abrupt stop, and Lupe collided with his back before she could stop herself. "What is it?" she asked.
"Shh. Listen," he said.
Lupe focused on her hearing. There was nothing, only the eerie silence of…wait. Wait a minute. Was that…singing?
DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUN
Okay so. I would like to start by offering my sincere apologies to any and all readers who dislike how long it took for this chapter to come out. Caelum and I both had things going on - I'm working and getting an apartment with a friend, which is taking up plenty of time, and I might have to get a second job because my current job is running low on consistent hours for me. Caelum's had worries of her own to deal with, and we've both had generally busy lives. We do hope the next chapter won't take so long to come out, but we can't make any promises because - well - who can say what'll happen in life?
That said, thank you all for reading. I hope you enjoyed the chapter, and I hope you won't have to wait too long for another one.