Twilight of the Spirit World – The Library

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Author’s Note:In which there are tensions, call-back, revelation and Wan Shi Tong knows EVERYTHING! Also, in which the font randomly changes for no apparent reason.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: coming soon…

***The Library***

If the trip to Agni’s home had been wary the descent back to the plains was tenser than a coiled spring. Lia and Azula were doing their absolute best to avoid the new addition to the group, leaving the others to awkwardly shuffle around them, any attempt at conversation being snuffed out almost as soon as it started. Although it seemed to the gaang that they took the same way down, the path they followed ended almost in the middle of a dense forest. The thick canopy filtered the light almost completely, leaving the group to light their way with small fires at the hands of the firebenders of the group. Eventually Sokka decided that the silence had gone on long enough.

So we have one crystal,” he said, perhaps a little louder than was necessary. “How are we going to find the others? Do elementals have some sort of hidden headquarters or something?”

In a manner of speaking,” Lia explained. “Unfortunately for us they are really hidden, it’s not just a name.”

So how are going to find them? Should I just wish really hard again and see what happens?” Toph asked, more eager than daunted at the prospect. A chorus of “No!” from the rest of the group stopped her from putting her plan to action immediately.

We should go to the Library” Agni suggested as the chatter started dying down again. Lia stiffened at the sound of his voice but did not stop him from explaining. “There are books on everything there. There should be something.”

We don’t have anything with us to offer for entrance there,” said Katara nervously. “Is Won Shi Tong even going to let us in after what happened last time?” Agni looked at her confused.

You’ve been to the Library before?”

We sorta convinced him to move the Library back here…” Aang explained with an awkward laugh.

With us still in it,” Zuko grumbled from where he stood on the side. He could still remember the frantic run through the labyrinth corridors even as the building collapsed around them. Agni chuckled.

You and your children Lily! You sure know how to leave an impression!” Lia pretended not hear him, though the fire in her hand flared up a little.

Eventually they stopped at a clearing and spread out the maps that Roku had given since, for all his bright ideas, Agni didn’t know either where exactly the Library was. Unfortunately for them the maps were more pictures of various areas on the Spirit World than actual reference points. After a few minutes of scrutinising one of the more detailed ones for anything even vaguely resembling the enormous palace they had visited Sokka frowned in exasperation.

How are we supposed to find anything in these things if everything keeps changing place anyway?”

It’s not the places that move, it’s your distance from them,” Lia corrected absently, her eyes scanning another parchment at the same time.

What’s this?” Azula asked suddenly, pointing at an ornate arrow near the corner of the map she was scrutinising. “It keeps repeating.”

It’s the northern direction,” Lia explained. “Directions don’t change no matter the realm. In fact…” She took out a map of the mortal world and placed it side by side with those of the Spirit World. Zuko pointed at the desert.

The Library was around here I think.” Sokka shook his head.

No, it was a little more to the west. But what has this to do with finding the Library.”

It’s not that hard to figure Snoozles,” Toph sighed exasperated. “If directions don’t change then it should be in the same place both maps.”

Is it this one?” Suki asked, pointing at the image of an enormous palace. The others crowded around her to check it.

Yeah, that’s the one,” Lia agreed. “Bit far from where we are though.”

That’s not really a problem,” Agni shrugged. “Although it will much simpler if we work together.”

Lia gave him a curt nod and moved to sit cross-legged at the edge of the clearing, pulling out the crystal and letting it float between her and her partner. Agni mimicked her on the exact opposite side.

You might want to sit down,” he told the others who, remembering Toph’s stunt, hurried to follow the instruction. Silence fell as the two Spirits concentrated and without any warning the crystal between them glowed white with their combined energy and their surroundings shifted violently, reformed, dissolved again and finally reformed to a much sparser clearing. The crystal hovered uncertainly between the two Spirits for a moment before floating back to Lia’s outstretched hand. The gaang sprawled on the ground, fighting various degrees of nausea. After a few minutes they all stumbled to their feet, with Toph leaning heavily on Aang and Sokka pretending not to lean against Suki.

So how far from here is the Library exactly?” he asked, looking at Lia’s general direction and most certainly not swaying. The redhead laughed and pointed at something behind him.

See that huge, ornate building right there?” she asked. Sokka turned around frowned.

I knew that!” he exclaimed defensively. “I was just testing you all, making sure you keep your eyes open at all times!”

What, for enemy birds?” Zuko raised an eyebrow at his friend.

Five minutes later, they were still standing at the entrance uncertainly.

I’m not going in first,” Lia said stubbornly. She could still remember the pressing feeling of sand closing in around her, trying to resist the pull of the Spirit World even as she struggled to reach air. She shuddered.

One of us at least will have to go,” Aang said. “Maybe we’ll bump to Professor Zei instead of the Wan Shi Tong?” The others gave him dubious looks. “Just trying to be positive!” With a sigh Agni walked away from the group and towards the entrance.

For the record,” he called over his shoulder, drawing everyone’s eyes on him, “You owe me one.” A few minutes later he returned with a smug smile, followed by a tall, lean man with skin as pale as parchment. “Mission accomplished,” he said. Wan Shi Tong surveyed the group in distaste but motioned them to follow him nonetheless.

They walked in silence through corridors that were more shadowed than the group remembered from last time. Finally they stopped in front of a room furnished only by a table almost completely covered in parchments and books.

This is everything my library offers on the Elementals,” the Owl said. “Copy what you will but take nothing. I will know if you did,” he added, fixing Sokka with a sharp look. With one last threatening glance to the entire group he left them. They wasted no time crowding around the table, scanning through the texts and passing the older ones to the Spirits in the group.

For a while the rustling of sheets was the only thing heard. Suddenly Suki broke the silence.

Hey, how about this?” she exclaimed, holding up a fragment.

What about it?” asked Lia, thankful for the distraction. The book she had been going through had been obscurely old even by her standards. Suki handed her the parchment and Lia read it out loud. “…And with the work amongst their people completed the two Earth elementals returned to their home, and around the crystal of their power they created the Hidden City to remind the worlds that what is most worth is…most often…hidden…” she trailed off in the thought.

I’ve heard something like this before,” Katara said frowning. Aang nodded.

Me too. I think it went ‘love shines brightest in the dark’?”

Oh, yeah!” the waterbender nodded. “It was at the tunnels near Omashu, wasn’t it?”

Oma and Shu!” Agni exclaimed, his eyes widening in realisation.

What about them?” Toph asked from her place near the door. “They were the first earthbenders, weren’t they?” Agni shook his head.

Earth elementals,” he corrected. “I guess they figured the badgermoles couldn’t teach everyone… We used to be a lot more hands on back in the olden days.”

You would know…” Lia muttered under her breath. Agni opened his mouth to reply but she cut him off. “The good news is, this tells us exactly where to look.”

You know where the Hidden City is?” Zuko asked.

The general area. But if we get there Oma and Shu will sense our approach. They will guide us in.”

They gathered up the copies they had made of some of the maps and texts and headed for the exit, with Sokka taking the lead. By the time they had left the clearing of the Library behind, the rest of the group was practically running, trying to catch up with him.

What’s the hurry?” Zuko asked him, when they finally started to slow down.

You know…” Sokka babbled. “Places to be…artefacts to collect…bad guys to beat…” Katara narrowed her eyes suspiciously.

Sokka, you didn’t take anything, did you?”

What? Me? No!” Sokka exclaimed, his hands practically strangling the strap of his bag.

Liar!” Toph said around a cough. She turned casually to the group, ignoring the looks of exasperation she (and Sokka for the matter) were getting. “Which way now?” Silence answered her. Finally Azula shrugged.

As far away from here and as fast as possible?”

A Most Needed Invention

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Brightest minds of this world

Heed this plea, I beg you!

Abandon all contrivances of old,

Give story-telling a new hue.

 

The proposed invention here,

In its brilliant conception,

Would make you surely friends dear

To the writers of all Creation.

 

A machine would be most simple

That would all our stories record,

Authorial productivity would triple

If their thought transformed to word.

 

 

Think it please and make it happen,

So much potential lies unchartered!

In which I talk fandom again

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It’s been a while since I’ve done this, hasn’t it? Just ramble about things that I like. Not anymore! So what’s up fandom-wise on my little corner of the world. Some old things, some new things, some unreleased things….Gods, I hate it when I find a cool trailer for something that is not even out yet! The trailer in question? This little nugget:

I am soooo pumped for this one! Maybe they will make Good Omens next! A girl can hope. And that’s not the only thing I am E.X.C.I.T.E.D. about. There’s Inside Out, Macbeth, Crimson Peak, Doctor Strange… Am I all over the place? Yes. Do I care? No!

I also finally listened to Cabin Pressure and wasn’t that a revelation! I’ve been meaning to give it a try for the past couple of years but couldn’t seem to find it anywhere. So I went ahead, took the plunge and bought the complete show in CD format. Did not regret it, I tell you.

And finally I’ve been revisiting one of my most loved shows from my childhood and early teenage years: Yu-Gi-Oh! I’m not even kidding. I’ve seen the show, I’ve read the manga, I’ve laughed with the parodies, I’ve browsed through Gigabytes’ worth of fanart and fics and videos. This was the show that actually inspired me to start writing in a more structured manner rather than winging it and hoping the end result would be coherent. (That was more the mange, mind, where there was a lot better build up than the anime…) So if you like my prose now you know who to be thankful to. I could go on and on about why I like this (very cheesy if you’ve watched the 4Kids’d version) show and maybe I will at some point in the future. For now though I will just sign off. And remember!

Twilight of the Spirit World – An Old Acquaintance

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Author’s note: In which there are travels, yet more revelations, reunions and Yours Trully makes an attempt at complex characterisation.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter:  coming soon…

***An Old Acquaintance***

They had decided that they would travel to the Sunset Mountain where Serious was last known to live on foot, seeing that Aang was quickly picking on Lia’s ability to affect distances. While most of the group was glad not to have to walk for endless days and weeks, it was a constant source of irritation for Toph, whose sense of direction was constantly messing up, leaving her disoriented and in a very bad mood. The first night they camped in another grassland and the earthbender’s first move was to make her earth tent, determined to bring some semblance of order in the otherwise chaotic world surrounding her.

“You’ll get used to it soon,” Lia tried to comfort her.

“I doubt it,” Toph grumbled. “How am I supposed to fight when I can’t be certain where everyone is?”

“You just need to figure out how to affect the distances yourself.” A mischievous smile flashed on the Spirit’s lips. “Aang’s got it already. Why don’t you ask him for a few private lessons?” The youngest pair in the group blushed while everyone else burst out laughing.

“So what kind of person is your teacher?” Suki finally asked when they calmed down. Lia looked down to her dinner.

“He’s…strange,” she finally said, choosing her words carefully. “Even now I can’t really say that I understand him, his motives and his actions completely. He liked to keep to himself a lot.”

“Did you and Agni both study under him?” Katara asked curiously. Lia shook her head.

“No, Agni came later. While I was under his tutelage it was just the two of us. I’ve actually only spoken to Agni a few times before the whole Sozin mess.”

“Then, where did he come from?” Zuko asked suspiciously. His older sister was hiding something and his gut told him that he would not like whatever it was when he found out.

“I wouldn’t know,” was the only answer he received.

 

The next morning they continued in silence, watching the landscape around them blurring softly every now and then. Suddenly everything lurched forward, causing them to lose their balance and fall to the ground as their surroundings changed at breakneck speed before Lia was able to stop it.

“Did it work?” asked a slightly dizzy but nonetheless excited Toph.

“You mean that was you?” Sokka exclaimed, rubbing the bump at the back of his head. “I thought you said you didn’t like abrupt changes.”

“There weren’t any mountains that I could feel nearby. I just thought it’d be nice to know how far they are,” Toph explained.

“Which somehow resulted in us landing in front of the mountains,” Azula commented, looking impressed at the imposing mountain range in front of them.

“Is this the right place?” Aang asked Lia. The Spirit opened her mouth to answer but Sokka cut in.

“Let’s see. Ash colored mountains, no soul in sight, an ominous atmosphere,” he sniffed, “and the smell of charcoal. I’d say we’re on the right place.”

“Sokka, really!” Katara told her brother disapprovingly.

“I know it doesn’t look like the most welcoming of places but there are some really beautiful sights if you know where to look,” Lia said nervously. She hadn’t imagined that the smell of charcoal – the result of a few training sessions gone overboard – would still linger. Zuko looked at the narrow path that snaked the mountains.

“I think we might want to do this the traditional way,” he said. “No blurring or hurrying through or someone might end up falling off.”

“Fine!” Toph sounded disappointed. Taking everyone off guard before had been pretty funny.

 

As they followed Lia’s lead, the group looked around curiously. The place looked like it had been burned down repeatedly, scorch marks and even small lightning craters littering the ground, no sounds other than their own footsteps breaking the silence.

“Is there a volcano around here?” Suki finally asked, unable to take the oppressive silence anymore.

“No,” Lia said sheepishly. “Most of these marks are training sessions gone wrong. I had some issues with control back then.”

“So this is where you trained?” Katara asked. “It doesn’t really look like a place you’d choose to stay.”

“You must have had a lot of issues…”Sokka snickered, earning smacks on his head by Zuko, Katara and Suki. To their surprise, Lia just shrugged.

“I did,” she admitted. “Zuko’s temper when you first met him was nothing compared to some of the tantrums I would throw.”

“For some reason I have a hard time picturing that,” Toph said dryly. “You might be a spitfire, but you never acted like a spoiled brat.”

“Are you saying I acted like a spoiled brat?” Zuko asked annoyed.

“I never said my tantrums were directed to someone else,” Lia said, hoping to diffuse the argument before it started. “For a very long time I did not like and would not accept the fact that I was to become a Fire Spirit.” She pointed at a particularly nasty burn mark on a crevice. “That was the result of another argument between A..Sirius and I about whether or not I was fit for the job.” Aang eyed the mark nervously. “Of course my temper has mellowed down over the years, so there’s no need to worry.”

“There’s something you’re not telling us,” Azula said seriously, looking at the redhead with a calculating look. “You’ve been dancing around any question that might come up about your past, and then suddenly you volunteer tidbits that make no sense.” Lia’s back stiffened and she turned to look at her friends. Indeed they were all giving her confused looks, agreeing with what the princess had said. After a moment of deliberation, she sighed.

“Ask Zuko,” she said resigned. “He knows a few things and the story I told him is not one I’d like to repeat.”

 

Immediately they all flocked around the Fire Lord, looking at him expectantly, while he sent Lia an exasperated look.

“Thanks a lot sister,” he told her, his voice dripping with sarcasm, before turning to his audience grudgingly and retelling the story he had heard nearly five years ago in a low voice. When he was finished, the silence that followed was thick enough to be cut with a knife.

“If I turn and see anyone looking at me with pity, I will not be happy,” Lia warned lightly, before chancing a look over her shoulder in time to see Aang schooling his expression. “It was a long time ago and I’ve made peace with what happened,” she said softly. “I’m not saying that I wouldn’t change the events if I could but I’m not constantly dwelling on it anymore.”

“Zuko looks like your brother,” Azula said slowly. “Is that why you decided to help him?”

“At first yes,” Lia admitted. Then she smirked. “But I think we can all agree that Zuko has the infuriating ability to be adorable occasionally.”

“I don’t!” Zuko exclaimed blushing.

“Yes, you do!” Katara and Lia said at the same time. Zuko’s protest went unhindered as everyone burst out laughing, the heavy atmosphere finally dispelling.

 

“There’s something flat ahead of us,” Toph said suddenly, breaking every one of their amused mood. Lia look around and nodded. There was more green than grey now around them, trees and grass making an appearance again.

“We’re almost there,” she explained. “We’ll probably see the house soon.”

“There’s a strange energy here,” Aang said, tilting his head on the side, trying to understand what he was that he was sensing.

“It’s life energy,” Lia explained. “Elementals influence their environment if they stay in a place for prolonged periods of time.” They turned on the last twist of the path they’ve been following to see a breathtaking sight. The plateau was surrounded by trees and the ground was filled with blooming Fire Lilies and Panda Lilies. Near the edge stood a small house made out of the same rock the mountains were. It was so simple it almost went unnoticed if it weren’t for the steam that rose behind it.

“There’s a hot spring behind the house,” Lia explained. “I don’t know about you, but I’ll certainly have a dip before we leave.”

“A hot spring sounds pretty good,” Katara nodded.

“But first let’s find that teacher of yours,” Zuko said, sending a look at Lia that clearly said I know you’re hiding something. The innocent smile he received as an answer did nothing to calm his suspicions.

 

The front door was open, so the group moved to a sparsely furnished living room. With a steadying breath Lia allowed her aura to spread through the building instead of repressing it, part of her hoping that her old mentor would have the decency to play along. Soon enough footsteps were heard approaching and a figure appeared on the door on the opposite wall. Out of all the people they had expected to greet them, the black-haired man was certainly the last. Azula and Lia reacted first, the princess taking a step back and the Spirit blasting him away. A red glow surrounded him and cushioned the fall. Agni sat up and rubbed his head, the glow receding to the crystal hanging around his neck.

“Is that a way to greet people?” he complained, perfectly aware of Lia’s fireball aimed at his heart. With a resigned sign he took the blood red crystal and offered it to her. “That is what you came for, right?” he said. When no answer came his way he moved closer. Instantly everyone tensed, hands going to weapons or bending positions. Agni simply tied the necklace around Lia’s neck and took a step back, looking satisfied at the crystal that had turned to a soft, rosy pink.

“I had hoped you’d be more subtle about this,” Lia said as she hid the necklace under her dress.

“And I had hoped you’d be happier to see me love, but we obviously can’t have what we want.” Agni’s smile widened when he saw who their audience consisted of. “The Fire Lord and the princess!” he exclaimed, moving closer to Azula, who in turn inched closer to her brother. “What a pleasant surprise! To what do I owe this unexpected honor?”

“Cut the theatrics Agni,” Lia snapped, turning to face him and the others. “You might have holed yourself up here, but if you knew that I was coming for the crystal, then you certainly knew why I need it.”

“Maybe I wanted to hear you say that you need my help?” the other Fire Spirit insisted undeterred.

“What is going on here?” Sokka finally cried confused. “Wasn’t your mentor supposed to have the crystal?” Agni laughed incredulously.

“You haven’t told them?” he asked Lia disbelievingly. His eyes searched the group, taking in their incredulous and confused expressions. “You haven’t even told your brother?”

“Tell us what?” Zuko asked suspiciously.

“I was her mentor.” Agni said smiling. “Sirius is one of the many names I’ve taken over the centuries.” Azula turned to Lia.

“You knew that?” she asked tensely the Spirit. Lia nodded.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Katara asked.

“Nothing I could have told you would have made this any easier.” Lia said tensely. “I promise you that he will behave himself. We can spend the night here and start searching for the next crystal in the morning.” The group exchanged an unsure nod before moving further inside the house. Zuko paused next to Lia.

“We need to talk later,” he said in a flat voice.

“Practice after you put your things away?” she offered, understanding this would be a tense conversation. With a final nod the Fire Lord left and Lia hurried out, purposely ignoring Agni.

 

They walked through the garden and Lia stopped next to the spring, studying how the melted rock formed shapes.

“You should have told them,” Agni said calmly, all traces of his previous amusement gone.

“They only know you as the reason behind the hundred year war,” Lia said in an equally calm, though colder voice.

“Is that it, or did you simply not want to bring up your past Lily?”

“Don’t call me that!” Lia snapped annoyed. Agni raised an eyebrow.

“You liked it,” he said.

“I was a silly girl back then,” Lia retorted. Agni looked at her silently for a moment before shaking his head.

“No, you weren’t,” he said softly as he turned to leave. “I’ll be coming with you,” he called over his shoulder before disappearing inside the house again.

“I was,” Lia insisted in a whisper, her thoughts at the day she was first offered the Fire crystal.

 

Lia’s flashback:

Lia let out the breath she had been holding and took a step back to admire her work. The water was still flowing at the hot spring but the previously roughly cut rock was now forming twists and twirls making it look like the rock was flowing as well. There was no particular pattern she had followed; she had just let her instincts take over, increasing and decreasing the heat to get the different textures and colors out.

“This is magnificent!” The voice of her mentor startled her and she turned to face him with a slight blush. It wasn’t often that she got any kind of praise out of him. Sirius nodded satisfied. “You have completely mastered fire,” he said moving closer to the young Spirit. So much younger than he was. But she was ready. The redhead watched him curiously as he revealed a deep red crystal, fashioned as a necklace. “This is yours now,” he told her.

“What is it?” Lia asked curiously, a hand outstretched towards the crystal.

“It is a little something to mark you as the Spirit of Fire. Every Elemental has one in their possession. It will amplify your powers and help you in any predicament you might land yourself.” Serious raised an eyebrow when, at this end of his explanation, Lia withdrew her hand.

“Could you hold on to it for a little while longer?” she asked hesitantly. “I don’t think I’d be able to handle more responsibility yet.” The other Spirit nodded and hid the necklace under his shirt.

“Very well,” he said. “I will keep it safe until you are ready to claim it.” He frowned at her serious expression. “Don’t look so formal Lily! Now you can actually travel around. Don’t tell me you haven’t been bored staying here, with only me for company.” Lia blushed a little at his teasing but nodded and hurriedly made her way to the house. It was true after all… She couldn’t wait to start exploring.

End of flashback

 

It hadn’t been long after that, only a few centuries that she had learned of her mentor’s true identity and had learned never to trust him again. The sound of footsteps shook her out of her reverie. Zuko came to stand beside her, tracing the engravings on the rock with his eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he finally asked. “Did you not trust me?” Lia bit her lips. Trust was a very delicate matter for both of them.

“It was not a matter of trust,” she said slowly, determined to choose her words as carefully as possible. “As long as I did not talk about it, then some part of me could remain convinced that it wasn’t true.” Zuko looked at her frowning.

“Why would you want that?”

“Why did you want Ozai to care for you? I had lost everyone I loved Zuko, and he guided me through the darkness. Of course I didn’t want to believe he was my enemy.” They both fell silent for a few minutes, their eyes once again trained on the water.

“Are you still up for that training session?” Zuko finally asked. Lia nodded with a soft smile, knowing that this was his way of telling her that he understood.

“I always am,” she said simply. Neither of them noticed Toph hiding behind the melted rock as they left. The earthbender dipped her feet in the warm water; hands firmly planted on the ground, and tilted her head towards the sky thoughtfully. Lia hadn’t been lying to Zuko, but then again she wasn’t saying the full truth either.

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (751-855)

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And what was the cause for her transformation
Sir Gawain told the king both this and more.
“I thank God,” said the queen;
“I feared, sir Gawain, that she would have harmed you;
Therefore in my heart I was so grieved.
But the contrary is here seen!”
There was game, revel, and play,
And every man to other would say,
“She is a fair sight.”
Then the king to them all began to tell
How did dame Ragnell help him at his need,
“Or my death would had been certain.”

Then the king told the queen, by the Cross,
How he was set upon in Inglewood
By sir Gromer Somer Joure,
And what else the knight made him swear,
“Or else he would have slain me right there
Without mercy or measure.
This same lady, dame Ragnell,
From my death delivered me right well,
All for the love of Gawain.”
Then Gawain told the king all together
How she had been transformed by her stepmother
Until a knight had helped her again.
Then she told the king fairly and well
How Gawain gave her sovereignty over every matter,
And what choice she gave to him.
“God thank him of his courtesy;
He saved me from such fate and villainy
That was so foul and grim.
Therefore, courteous knight and gracious Gawain,
I shall never anger for certain,
That promise here and now I make.
While I live I shall be obedient;
To God above I shall this swear,
And never with you to argue.”

“Many thanks, lady,” then said Gawain;
“With you I shall be me very much content
And that I trust to find.”
He said, “My love she shall have.
Thereafter she need never more crave,
For she has been to me so kind.”
The Queen said, and the ladies all,
“She is the fairest now in this hall,
I swear by saint John!
My love, lady, you shall have forever
For you have saved my lord Arthur,
As I am a gentlewoman.”

Sir Gawain begot with her Gyngolyn,

Who was a good knight of great strength and ability
Of the Round Table.
At every great feast that lady should be.
Of beauty she bore the flower,
Where she trod on the ground.
Gawain loved that lady, dame Ragnell;
In all his life he loved none other so much,
I tell you without a doubt.
Like a coward he lay by her both day and night.
He would not haunt or joust at all;
On that marvelled Arthur the king.

She pleaded the king for his gentleness,
“To be good lord to sir Gromer, indeed,
Although he has offended you.”
“Yes, lady, that I shall now for your sake,
For I know well he cannot make amends;
For what he did to me.”
Now so as to make for you a short conclusion,
I shall make an end very soon
For this gentle lady.
She lived with sir Gawain only five years;
That grieved Gawain all his life,
I tell you certainly.

In her life she never grieved him;
Therefore never was woman to him more dear.
Thus ends my story.
She was the fairest lady of all England,
When she was living, I understand;
So said Arthur the king.
Thus ended the adventure of king Arthur,
That oft in his days was grieved,
And of the wedding of Gawain.
Gawain was wed oft in his days;
But so well he never loved a woman again,
As I have heard men say.

This adventure happened in Inglewood,
As good king Arthur to hunt he went;
Thus have I heard men tell.
Now God, as thou were in Bethlehem born,
Suffer never our souls to be forlorn
In the burning fire of Hell!

And, Jesus, as thou were born of a virgin,
Help him that this tale did divine out of sorrow,
And that now in all haste,
For he is beset by many jailors
That keep him very surely,
With wills wrong and hard.
Now God, as thou art truly Royal King,
Deliver him out of danger that made this tale
For therein he has been too long.

And with great pity help thy servant,
For body and soul I yield into your hand,
For pains he hath great.

Here ended the wedding of
Sir Gawain and dame Ragnell
Who helped king Arthur.

In which I flirt with sand once more

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I’m in a bit of a Mood this morning so, rather than working on what I should, I’ll transcribe one more day trip from July. Lucky you!

 

This time it was more of a half-day trip, since it wasn’t just me, or Cousin and I like last time. My friend K. was tagging along for the ride and she works in the mornings. (Unlike lazy me who pretends to be a child when it works for her…) So C. and I went to hang out to the cafeteria K. works at and distract her for the last hour of her shift, Such angels we are!

 

A fair amount of gossip and coffee later, we walked to the nearby bus stop (where we luckily did not have to wait) and off we were to Chrisi Akti (Golden Beach). The #5 bus line here in Paros is one of my favourites because it passes through nearly all the highlight beaches, meaning you can easily go in a completely different place every time. Also, lucky me, Punda Beach, which I always thought resembles Mykonos more than Paros, is a bit before our stop so all the screaming teenagers left in one go…Oh, the sweet sound of silence!

Oh the peace and quiet!

Oh the peace and quiet!

 

The bus route sticks to the main road unless it crosses through a village, so the stop for Golden Beach is actually a three minute walk from the coastline (five if your bag is heavy).

Yes, the outside isn't very promising, I know.

Yes, the outside isn’t very promising, I know.

But with signs like this...

But with signs like this…

And this! How can it not be cool?

And this! How can it not be cool?

The beach is well organised without it being overbearing.  On the side closest to the entrance you can rent water bikes and wind-surfing equipment, and there’s even lessons for the ambitiously hopeful ones.

 

Stretches of what I like to call free-for-all space (no charges, yay!) are alternated with rows of umbrellas and sunbeds managed by the beach bars and a hotel that must have been built before people starting frowning at you for building so close to the water.

Le grand bleu.  Not the right island but you get the idea.

Le grand bleu. Not the right island but you get the idea.

C. insisted on a sunbed combo so we only walked until we found a free one, about a third in. The beach is actually a pretty large one, although I’m not certain if you are allowed to swim everywhere. I think a few areas are cordoned off for water sports.

 

Mercifully it wasn’t windy (because wind + sand=PAIN!) and the water was only cool. Just be careful if you ever visit, it goes from ankle-deep to waist-deep in a step. I’d like to come here really early one morning, before the crowds… Because of the sand and relative mildness of the wind it’s more of a family destination (screaming toddlers and disgruntled, I’m-too-old-for-this teenagers included). The two-sunbeds-one-umbrella combo costs 8€ (putting it on the cheap side) and if it’s not very busy nobody will look at you twice if you –ahem- borrow an extra sunbed. (What? There were three of us and we all wanted to take advantage of the afternoon sun!)

The notorious sunbeds in person!

The notorious sunbeds in person!

 

After we were sufficiently sun-baked (and certain people had taken enough selfies…don’t even get me started!) we walked back to the bus stop and to our next destination, the village of Drios. I had heard about this cool food place there and I wanted to check it out. I think C. and K. were just happy with the idea of food….Sometimes I wonder whether I am a bit of a slave driver…

 

Anyway, the Green Project sits right at the entrance of Drios, 5 minutes from the bus stop, which is further in the village.

Entrance sign. Keep your eyes looking for it. ;-) It's a bit like the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin.

Entrance sign. Keep your eyes looking for it. ;-) It’s a bit like the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin.

It’s a small oasis with herbs, trees and flowers growing around the garden and an outside sitting area so pretty that it made me wonder why they bothered with an indoor one too.

The outdoor area.

The outdoor area.

There’s also four adorable and very friendly cats roaming around as if they own the place (which they probably do…) and don’t be surprised if they approach you demanding belly rubs or food.

Well, hello there Miss Kitty!

Well, hello there Miss Kitty!

The Queen in repose!

The Queen in repose!

 

The place operates as a cafeteria, restaurant and bar, with all the ingredients being local. It’s not just an advertising line either. The three of us were sitting on the edge of the garden and at some point one of the guys working there passed us to go to the veggie-garden (that how it’s called?) to water the stuff there and “bring a couple of cucumbers on the way back, would you?”.

 

We all had burgers which were delicious and about the same size as those at TGI Friday so you can be certain you get your money’s value. That value being 9€ for a burger, which I personally found reasonable.

Munchies!

Munchies!

We were going to leave after eating since all three of us were knackered. Unfortunately the next bus passing near our place wouldn’t be for another hour and a half, so we decided to explore and –hopefully- find some place selling ice cream. We had already passed one, right next to the bus stop I might add, but where’s the fun in doing anything the easy way?

 

Which was how we ended up being followed by a very playful and very loud puppy. Let me take a stand here and say that I don’t like dogs of any kind, size or age. I’m a cat person through and through. So when Barks-a-lot Junior started following us and chasing his tail to show what a fierce hunter he was, I did my best to ignore him. Unfortunately C. and K. went into OHMYGOSHSOCUTE mode and then were surprised when the puppy figured they wanted to play with him. I tell you, I’ve never seen a person climb a fence (one of those love, wide, stone ones) quite so fast. On the one hand, I can’t blame the puppy for thinking they wanted to play chase. On the other hand it left me in the uncomfortable position of having to deal with a hyperactive puppy and my two jittery travel-mates when the only thing I wanted was an ice cream.

 

Eventually a couple passed by and the puppy found them more interesting so we were able to make our glorious escape. And that was how we ended up at that first café I told you about, killing time until the bus arrived (finally!) and we went home.

Twilight of the Spirit World – A Given Quest

Standard

Author’s note: In which the author starts the first of what will be a litany of cameos, a plan is hatched, and Toph is a shipper.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***A Given Quest***

A tense silence followed Aang’s question. Lia looked at him confused.

“What do you mean you can only airbend?” she said. Aang tried to earthbend a platform but nothing happened. Nervously Toph repeated her boyfriend’s movement, managing to create the aforementioned platform.

“The vibrations are a little off,” she said with a furrowed brow. “They seem clearer somehow.”

“The ground is harder here than in the human world,” Lia explained. “That’s why gems are easier to find here.”

“Interesting, but it still doesn’t explain why Aang is three bending abilities down,” Azula said, trying to bring everyone back to focus. Katara surveyed the area around them. They had landed on a vast green field that seemed to go on forever. If anyone was to appear, no matter how far away, they would see them immediately. Then again, the same could be said for her group.

“Maybe we should continue this somewhere less open?” she asked. Zuko nodded in agreement.

“It feels like there is a forest up ahead,” Toph offered. “Maybe we should go there.” Suki blinked.

“What forest?” she asked the earthbender. “There’s only more grasslands around us.” Lia shook her head.

“Nothing is as it seems here. Both of you could be right and wrong. The environment is affected by your expectations and some features could be constantly changing to meet them.” She began to walk ahead, the grass remaining undisturbed under her feet. The rest of the group hurried to follow.

“How is that even possible?” Sokka asked, ever the pragmatist.

“Mind over matter,” Aang offered. “The monks taught us that during meditation the only way to fully embrace our subconscious and thus enter the spiritual plane was to let go of any earthly needs and desires.”

“Which is why crossing over to the Spirit World and entering the Avatar State has always been easy for you and your earthbending still leaves much to be desired,” Lia added. Taking pity at everyone else who looked more or less lost she added: “Think of it this way; if you think about something really hard it will quite possibly become your reality here. For example now I’m making sure that no one will be able to track us by following any footsteps left on the grass and also by shortening the distance to Roku’s place. If a few of you also put your mind at it, we might even reach it before nightfall.”

 

A trip that should have taken at least a few days – although none of the gaang were certain if that estimate was correct – was over only after five hours of fast walking. The end of the field and the woods Toph had sensed appeared in the distance and along with them a mansion that seemed to have been pulled straight out of the Sozin-era Fire Nation. As they walked up to the gate they saw that the main building was surrounded by gardens and a small river was cheerfully rolling on the side of it.

“Should we knock?” Sokka asked, pointing at the Lotus-shaped brass.

“Nah,” Lia pushed the heavy door open casually. “This is the one place here that I’m always welcome, no strings attached, no questions asked.” She had barely made a step inside the garden when the shadow of a dragon appeared over them, seconds before the actual creature descended and launched itself at the Fire Spirit.

“What the?” Sokka yelped pulling out his boomerang before Zuko’s hand on his shoulder held him back.

“Just watch,” the Fire Lord said, pointing at the laughing redhead and the equally cheerful creature looming over her.

“Fang!” Lia exclaimed between her chuckles, “Get off me! I swear you grow larger by the decade!”

“He’s definitely missed you,” a woman’s voice, one that reminded Zuko and Azula eerily of their mother’s, was heard from the doors. Fang finally moved back, allowing Lia to sit up and push her hair out of her eyes, still with a wide smile.

“That can’t be Ta Min,” she said addressing the woman. “I have it in good conscience that your husband sneaks him many more treats than I ever did.”

“Maybe the rarity is what gives them value.” The majestic form of Avatar Roku appeared behind his wife. “We were very worried when we heard what happened at the city.” Lia’s expression sobered but she still tried to downplay the event.

“I couldn’t have expected anything less for my Welcome Home party,” she said casually. “But maybe you can bring me up to speed with the Council’s latest folly. From the little I’ve heard they’re trying to overthrow the Avatar Spirit.”

 

Her words burnt away any lingering merriment from those around her. Roku motioned at them to follow him back inside as Ta Min gently guided Fang away. Inside the walls the air was cool and a lingering scent of smoke seemed to come from everywhere. The long corridor they were walking in led them to a spacious room overlooking the garden.

“Have a seat,” Roku said to the group that seemed to hang awkwardly by the door. “This will take a while.”

“So what is going on Roku?” Aang asked as soon as everyone was comfortable. Despite the bleakness of the situation he was glad to see his old friend and somewhat mentor again. “Is it possible for the Avatar Spirit to be killed?”

“And what would that mean for us?” Toph jumped in, making very clear who the us were by taking Aang’s hand on hers.

“The Council consists of six very powerful Spirits,” Roku explained. “Even before the war and my death they had a slight,” Lia coughed something that sounded like humongous, “fixation with power. Over the centuries they came to view the original Spirits, the elementals and the Avatar, as too powerful and therefore potential threats to the balance between the worlds.” Zuko crossed his arms.

“And yet, from what Lia told us they had a part in causing the hundred-year war.” Roku turned surprised to his great-grandson.

“What do you mean?” he asked alarmed.

“Apparently Agni was somehow manipulated in orchestrating the war,” Lia explained. “While I’m not one to compliment him, it’s hard to imagine that he of all Spirits would be caught in something like this unawares.”

“Not unless he was led to believe it would be worth it,” Sokka said thoughtfully. Katara gave him a look.

“And what could you possibly promise an all-powerful, cunning Spirit in order to make him your puppet?” Toph made a show of turning to “look” at Lia’s direction. The Spirit’s eyes narrowed in annoyance.

“If you mean that he now ranks at an all-time low on the list of people that I don’t like then you are right.”

“Defensive!” Toph whistled.

“On another note,” Lia continued forcefully, “Aang said he cannot earth, water, or firebend here. Any ideas why?”

“But of course he wouldn’t!” Roku exclaimed. “Here every incarnation of the Avatar exists as a separate Spirit and therefore have no access to the Avatar State or the bending disciples they gain through their connection with their past lives.”

“So, essentially I’m only an airbender here,” Aang said slowly. Seeing his friends’ worried expressions he grinned. “That’s not that bad!” Roku had to smile at his next life’s optimism. Turning to Lia again he focused on another matter.

“The Council’s actions cannot go unchecked or unpunished,” he said, drawing everyone’s attention. “I have begun gathering like-minded Spirits and I’m certain that the rest of the Avatars will be doing the same. You need to focus on securing the crystals.”

“What are these crystals everyone seems to be making a huge deal about?” Sokka asked, fed up with understanding only half the conversation.

“Each elemental possesses a crystal that focuses and enhances their power, similarly to how the full moon and the comet affect water and firebenders. However, even on their own, the crystals carry enormous energy.” Lia shrugged. “In simple words they’re not something we can afford to lose on the other side.”

“In any case,” Katara said, “we already have one.”

Everyone turned to where Lia was sitting, looking decidedly uncomfortable.

“I don’t have it,” she admitted guiltily. “When Sirius passed the title on me, I didn’t feel ready to handle the crystal so I asked him to keep it.” Toph shrugged unconcerned.

“So we just need to find this Sirius-guy, take the crystal and move on, right?” Sokka shook his head.

“Somehow I know that it will not be so simple.” He grumbled.

 

Roku stood and brought a few scrolls on the table they were sitting around. Sokka and Zuko reached for them eagerly, to unravel detailed –and not so detailed- maps of the Spirit World. Azula leaned next to her brother to study one particularly vague representation of a swampy area when a thought occurred to her.

“Please tell me there will not be a time limit for this?” she asked hopefully.

“I’m afraid there is,” Roku chuckled at the exasperated expressions on everyone’s faces. “The Council will not rest, especially when they learn that we are moving against them.” His expression turned grim. “And I’m afraid that there will be war. Our only hope is to have awakened the Avatar Spirit and use the elemental crystals to push them back.”

“And hopefully replace them with someone a tad nicer,” Lia added.

“This definitely feels like the good old days, doesn’t it?” Katara said, raising an eyebrow at Aang’s and Zuko’s direction.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” the two men said together and then shared an amused look.

“Well,” Roku said, standing up, “why don’t you familiarize yourself with the maps? I need a word with Lia.”

 

They moved out in the garden again. Lia let the elder Avatar lead the way to where his dragon was resting.

“I’m going to assume that they do not know who your mentor is,” he finally said.

“No,” Lia answered evenly. “I avoided talking about my past as much as possible. Even Zuko, who knows the most, does not know who Sirius is. To be honest I did not plan to have to explain our connection ever. I certainly did not expect finding myself forced to make any sort of alliance with him.”

“Don’t let what happened then to cloud your judgment now my dear. I understand things between you are complicated but remember who the real enemy is now. None of us can afford any distractions.” Lia huffed.

“You have no idea how much I would have loved to argue with you over this,” she said as they walked back at the house. “But,” she continued with a slight smile, “duty calls!”