Galahad

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Galahad, Galahad,

Doubly his father’s son,

Mounted his steed

And off he was

To seek the Sangreal.

 

Galahad, Galahad,

Haute Prince he’s called,

He’s traded his sun-red armour

For Virginal white

And a bloody shield he bears.

 

Galahad, Galahad,

Begotten of magic,

Arthur’s shade

And younger half,

A perfect knight is called.

 

Galahad, Galahad,

He’s rescinded his mother’s,

His nursemaid’s charms,

And for a Wasted King

The Wastelands he charts.

 

Galahad, Galahad,

Lightbringer of Camelot,

Why do you hurry?

Why find the Grail?

Fulfil the Quest?

 

Galahad, Galahad,

Your name is a beginning,

A beginning of an end.

What makes you so worthy,

You, who are but a means to an end?

In which I angst over unwarranted anxiousness

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Ever have one of those days? Days when nothing in particular is going wrong, yet your stomach has the size, consistency and standard velocity of a ping-pong ball during a high-stakes game? No? Lucky you! So yeah, I’ve been in a bit of a Mood today. Don’t know why. Unfortunately for me  my subconscious has a mind -and occasionally voices- of its own. Which means that sometimes I feel things and I’m not particularly certain why. Not much that can be done about it, hence my occasional bouts of obsessive cleaning and/or cooking (much to my flatmates’ chagrin, I imagine). What am I going to do about it? Clean first. It doesn’t pay to argue with your compulsions and anyway I can’t think in a cluttered house. Then I’m going to give  myself a holiday! Have a bubble bath, open a bag of popcorn I’ve been saving, guilt-trip whoever’s closer into sitting through my latest favourite movie.

And then tomorrow I’m going to do something slightly different. I used to have trouble falling asleep when I was younger, which led to some very extensive and very complicated daydreams (is that the word? I was basically telling myself stories, trying to fall asleep). Lately though this has been happening less and less, what with me going to bed already half asleep…Now that I’m on spring break though I don’t need to wake up at any particular time. So, like some people do movie marathons, I will do a daydream marathon! I’ll stay in bed and do nothing but nap and peruse my mental library until I’m bored (or the next day comes, whichever happens first). Not sure for how long I’ll keep it up, my self-set time limit is twenty-four hours, but I’ll keep you posted.

Anyone else have any good down-time activities to suggest?

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – The Invasion (Part 1)

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Author’s note: In which the main plot is back from holidays, there are lots of cameos and the best laid plans go the proverbial way.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: coming soon…

***The Invasion (Part 1)***

They say a good night’s sleep can do miracles. In the case of the Avatar that couldn’t be truer. He cheerfully jumped to where the rest of the gang was eating breakfast as soon as he woke up. Toph, Sokka and Katara had changed to their nations’ colors, in anticipation of the battle. Momo saw his master and immediately flew to his shoulder.

“Top of the morning, Momo!” Aang said happily, petting the lemur. Katara looked up from where she was serving everyone.

“Sounds like you slept well,” she commented.

“Like a baby mooselion. I’m ready to face the Fire Lord!” Aang answered confidently, sitting next to Zuko and taking a plate.

“So what’s your strategy for taking him down‌?” Toph asked curiously. “Going to get your glow on and hit him with a little Avatar State action‌?” Aang shook his head with a sad look.

“I can’t. When Azula shot me with lightning, my seventh chakra was locked, cutting off my connection to all the cosmic energy in the Universe.” Lia sent him a suspicious look but didn’t say anything. Toph on the other hand had something to say.

“You know what I just heard?‌ Blah blah spiritual mumbo jumbo blah blah something about space.” Zuko looked at the horizon worried. There was a cloud of thick fog coming towards the island.

“Do you think the fog will delay the invasion‌?” Sokka squinted his eyes and gave the other boy a bright smile.

“No, that is the invasion,” he explained.
Through the fog, five Water Tribe ships appeared. Toph and Aang bended docks on the protected natural port underneath their campsite. Sokka and Katara rushed to their father, excited to see him again.

“You made it dad!” Katara said, hugging the man.

“Were you able to locate everyone I told you to find‌?” Sokka asked anxiously.

“I did. But I’m a little worried, Sokka. Some of these men aren’t exactly the warrior type.” Hakoda pointed at a couple of swampbenders. Unlike his wary father, Sokka looked enthusiastic.

 

“Hi, Katara,” a young man’s voice was heard. Katara turned with a delighted smile.

“Haru, it’s so good to see you.” Aang and Toph approached them.

“Toph, this is Haru. When we met him, his town was controlled by the Fire Nation. So he had to hide his earthbending.” The airbender explained.

“Katara inspired me and my father to take back our village.” Said man approached them and gave Katara a proud smile.

“You helped us find our courage, Katara. Now we’re here to help you.”

 

Suddenly Toph’s head snapped up in surprise. She was feeling some vibrations she hadn’t felt in a long time.

“No way!” she exclaimed. “Is that…” She was lifted up in the air by an enormous man.

“Hippo happy to see Blind Bandit!” the man said. Zuko, who had come up with Lia during the introductions turned to Aang confused.

“Who’s this guy now?” he asked.

“Toph used to be a champion in earthbending tournaments,” Aang explained. “That’s how we found her. These guys were her opponents.”

“You guys here for a re-match‌?” Toph asked angrily. The other man shook his head.

“Negatory. The Boulder and the Hippo no longer fight for others’ entertainment. Now, we fight for our Kingdom!” Toph smiled satisfied.

“Sweet!” she said.
Sokka had originally planned to present the invasion plan on his own. However, after seeing the nasty glares Zuko was receiving from some of the soldiers – mainly because of the Fire Nation armour he was wearing again – he decided to include the other boy too in the presentation.

“Don’t worry, you’ll do great,” Hakoda encouraged the two nervous looking boys. With deep breaths they climbed the impromptu stage that had been set up.

“Good morning, everyone!” Sokka called, trying to get the soldiers’ attention while Zuko set a few maps up. “Today is the Day of the Black Sun, during which a solar eclipse will happen, making it the perfect time to invade the Fire Nation.” Everyone’s attention was fixed on him, making Sokka blush a little. Seeing him a step from stuttering, Zuko took over.

“There will be two steps to the invasion. A naval stage and then a land stage. To gain sea access to the Fire Nation capital,” he pointed at map of the Fire Nation, “we have to get pass our first major obstacle here. The Great Gates of Azulon.”

“Next we hit land,” Sokka continued, punching his palm with his fist for effect. “And we hit hard. We must fight past their battlements and secure the plaza tower.” He changed the map to one of the capital. “Once we do that, it’s up to the royal palace. At that point, the eclipse will begin.” The Boulder raised a hand to ask a question.

“Excuse me, The Boulder is confused. Isn’t the point to invade during the eclipse‌? When the firebenders are powerless‌?”

“The eclipse will only last 8 minutes. Not enough time for the whole invasion and the royal palace is heavily guarded by firebenders. So that’s where we’ll need the advantage of the eclipse the most. When this is finished, Aang will have defeated the Fire Lord. We will have control of the Fire Nation capital and this war will be over!” Zuko explained, his face turning to stone when he talked of his father. Everyone cheered at the plan, as Zuko and Sokka walked off the stage and shared a high five.

Immediately everyone set to preparing. Katara had a strong moment of déjà vu when she looked up from where she was filling her pouches. Zuko and Lia had donned Fire Nation uniforms, and both of them were also carrying swords. Zuko had gathered his hair in a topknot, reminding the waterbender vividly of what he had looked like when they had first met. Sokka was standing a little ways, showing off his “Space Sword” to some men of their tribe excitedly, while Toph chatted animatedly with her fellow earthbenders. Aang landed next to her, startling her.

“Soooo…” he trailed with an excited smile. “You ready?” Katara turned to look at him, to see that he was once again shaved and wearing Air Nomad clothes.

“I believe so,” she said smiling back. She turned to look again at their little family. Aang followed her eyes and smiled too.

“We are one strange group, aren’t we?” he said more to himself that to the girl next to him. “We kind of look like how the world should be. All nations working together in balance.” Katara placed a hand on the airbender’s shoulder.

“It will be like that again Aang,” she told him softly. “We all have faith in you.” The two friends shared a smile before rushing to the others who were already boarding the ships.
“There they are,” Bato called after about an hour of sailing. He had been scanning the horizon with the telescope on the front of the ship. “The Great Gates of Azulon.”

“I don’t see any gates,” Katara said from his side. Zuko handed her another telescope and gently guided her to the right direction.

“It’s a dragon and a statue of Fire Lord Azulon,” he explained.

“Wasn’t Azulon your grandfather or something?” Sokka asked. Zuko just nodded.

“Katara, you and the swamp benders whip up a fog cover,” Hakoda told his daughter and she rushed to take position between the swampbenders.

“We’ll sneak by those statues just like we sneaked by that fire navy blockade,” one of them said as thick mist rose from the sea.
“Keep it up, we’re almost through,” The Water Tribe Chief said when a shrill alarm sounded and a flaming net rose between the statues, blocking their passage.

 

Hakoda calmly turned to the rest of the crew.

“Everyone below deck.” He turned to Sokka as they left the deck. “Let’s hope your invention works.” They all entered the contraption attached under the ship. It looked like a room with glass windows and a panel of controls at the front, where the Mechanist was sitting. With a few hurried explanations Katara and the swampbenders took positions and made the submarine move forward, thus avoiding the Fire Nation soldiers that were by that time swarming the ships. Hakoda turned proudly to his son.

“You really outdid yourself this time, son.”
“Yeah. Congratulations, Sokka,” Toph groaned from the back. “You managed to invent a worse way of travel than flying.” The Duke took off his helmet and offered it to her sympathetically. She took it and promptly threw up.

“Well, I just came up with the idea but The Mechanist did all the work,” Sokka said modestly.

“But don’t sell yourself short, my boy. It was your idea to use waterbending to make the subs sink and float. Brilliant, though your original designs were a bit difficult to decipher.” He unrolled a scroll to reveal a childish sketch. Lia let out a short laugh. “Unfortunately, there is one problem I couldn’t fix,” The Mechanist continued. “The subs have a limited air supply. Before we land on the beaches, we’ll need to resurface.”
Indeed an hour later they resurfaced much to the happiness of Toph and Zuko who had been the most seasick. Aang had been with Appa but now he flew over to the sub where the rest of the gang was.

“So, this is it huh‌?” he asked nervously.

“Are you ready for the Fire Nation to know the Avatar’s alive‌?” Sokka asked back. With a deep breath Aang met everyone’s gaze confidently.

“I’m ready.” He broke into a grin and everyone gathered for a group hug.

“I hope you kick some serious Fire Lord butt, Twinkle Toes,” Toph smiled at him.

“Everyone listen up!” Hakoda called from the entrance of the sub. “The next time we resurface, it’ll be on the beaches. So stay alert and fight smart. Now break time’s over, back in the subs.” Sokka followed his father immediately with Lia right behind him. Zuko followed them and Katara waterbended herself to Appa and bended an air bubble around his head. Soon it was only Toph and Aang left outside.

“Aang I…”

“Toph I…” They both stopped and blushed.

“You go first,” Aang finally said.

“I just wanted to say I’m proud of you Twinkle-Toes. I know that you will beat the Fire Lord.”
“What if… what if I don’t come back?” Aang said uncertainly. Toph seemed to falter at the idea and under Aang’s gaze – even though she could only guess it –. Aang was indeed staring at her. Lately he had found himself thinking constantly of his earthbending teacher in a way that confused him as he had always associated with Katara.

“Don’t you say that!” Toph cried. “Of course you’ll…” she was caught off by Aang pressing his lips to hers before he hastily opened his glider and took off. Toph stared dumbly in front of her when Sokka’s head reappeared.

“Toph, what are you doing? It’s time to submerge.” He came out to help the little girl back in, surprised when she didn’t offer any resistance.

 

Inside the tension was almost tangible. No one talked as the subs closed in on the port of the capital.

“Everyone in position. Earthbenders, into your tanks. This is going to be a rough ride,” Hakoda called from his position at the periscope. As soon as they entered the port harpoons were being shot down at them from the various battlements. One of them grabbed one of the subs and started reeling it in. Katara saw it and hastily led Appa out of the water, cutting the harpoon with her waterwhip. The sub dived back into the water and continued as if nothing had happened.

 

Despite the constant rain of projectiles the submarines were able to land safely. Their front part gave way and tanks carrying the warriors came out. Sokka and Zuko joined to lead them, while Toph and the rest of the earthbenders were given rocks to launch at the various battlements around them. Appa landed near them and Katara jumped down, running to join Lia a little further. Seeing tanks armed with firebenders joining the fight Lia called to the other girl.

“We need to catch up to the boys. They’ll need cover from those things.” They quickened their pace when they saw that Sokka and Zuko had been divided. Zuko was using his own firebending to keep the firebenders on hold while Sokka was busy with those soldiers riding Komodo rhinos. When a waterwhip and a fireblast came from his sides he turned and gave the two girls a thankful smile. Lia stood in front of the two teens and, concentrating, she made a wall of flames rise in front of her, melting the front part of the oncoming tanks. She turned to the water and firebender.

“I’ve got it covered here. You go and help elsewhere.” With a nod they took off to join Sokka.

 

Zuko hastily bent a shield as a fireball came in their direction. They arrived in time to hear Hakoda say:

“We’ve got to take out those battlements. It’s our only chance.” Sokka looked at them thoughtfully.

“I’ve got an idea,” he finally said.

 

They left Zuko with the ground forces as more firebenders where coming and he was needed there. The Water Tribe Chief and his children hopped on Appa and flew towards the battlements, destroying a few before they landed. Hakoda pointed at the battlement further from the point Appa was standing on.

“You two take out that battlement. I’ve got this one. Watch each other’s backs.” He ran towards the closest battlement with Katara and Sokka following his example. Sokka cut through the door and his sister froze the soldiers inside before they destroyed the projectile that was ready to be launched. They ran out again, in time to see their father to enter the other one. There were sounds of struggle and suddenly a blast of fire appeared. Hakoda stumbled out of it, grasping his side in pain. The two Water Tribe teens ran to his side and carried him back to ground level. There, Katara started immediately to heal the wound.

“How does that feel, dad‌?” she asked concerned.

“A… a little better.” He struggled to sit up. “I need… to get back… to the troops.” He groaned and fell back.

“You’re hurt. Badly. You can’t fight anymore,” Katara said sternly.

“Everyone’s counting on me to lead this mission, Katara. I won’t let them down,” Hakoda argued.

“Can’t you heal him any faster‌?” Sokka asked.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Katara said, trying to keep her voice calm.

“I’ll do it,” Sokka said solemnly.

“No offence, Sokka but you’re not exactly Mr. Healing Hands,” his sister said a little annoyed. Sokka stood up.

“No,” he explained. “I’ll lead the invasion force.”

“Don’t be crazy, Sokka,” Katara said, now openly worried.

“Maybe I am a little crazy but the eclipse is about to start and we need to be up that volcano by the time it does,” Sokka insisted. “Besides, I’ll have Zuko help me.” That seemed to calm his sister a little.

“You can do this. I’m proud of you, son,” Hakoda said solemnly.

“I still think you’re crazy but I’m proud of you too.” Katara hugged her brother.
With a final nod, Sokka ran to Appa and took off. He landed in front of the main force, knocking away a tank in the process. He stood up in the saddle and raised his voice:

“Listen up everyone,” everyone paused and turned to the teen. “I want the tanks in wedge formation! Warriors and benders in the middle. We’re taking that tower and heading for the royal palace!” There were a few moments of chaos as everyone moved to their new positions. Spotting two Fire Nation uniforms in the middle of greens and blues Sokka called once again.

“Zuko!” Said teen raised his head. “I want you and Lia with me up front.” With a nod the two firebenders climbed on Appa’s saddle.  Sokka exchanged an excited smile with Zuko before turning to the rest of the force.

“Charge!” he yelled.

 

In another part of the city Aang was standing on a roof confused. There was no one in sight.

“That’s strange,” he muttered to himself. He took off again to land in front of the palace. He bended an air current to force the doors open.

“The Avatar is back!” he shouted, hoping for a dramatic entrance. He was met with silence. Looking around he walked further inside the palace cautiously.

“Hello?” he called nervously. “Anyone home?”

 

Outside it was raining fire but the Fire Nation soldiers were steadily retreating. The invasion plan had been going without a fail so far. It was almost…

“Too good to be true,” Lia whispered as she climbed through a hole at the outer wall of the capital. For a moment she gazed on the land that had so long ago been her home. She had feared that she would hesitate in causing further damage to the place but now she realised that her brother had been right. As long as she stayed concentrated on their goal, the memories stayed away. With a final look at the beautiful city below her, the Spirit of Fire turned back to the task at hand.

 

Aang airbended his way to the throne room, hoping that someone would be there. Seeing the room empty and dark, he fell to his knees as realisation hit him like a ton of bricks.

“No…” he said on disbelief. “Fire Lord Ozai where are you?” he screamed at the empty room.

End of Part 1

Faery Queen May and the Minstrel

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Once upon a time, in a small village by a long road, there lived a young man who wanted nothing more than to become a minstrel. Day in and day out he would labour with the lute until his fingers bled. No matter. The notes fell flat and scratchy to the ears of his unfortunate neighbours. Day in and day out he would practice his singing until his throat was hoarse. No matter. The ballads of desperate lovers sounded like market gossip when he sung them. Still the would-be minstrel practised, determined to achieve fame, to one day travel to the distant capital and perform before the king and all his gold-arrayed court.

 

The young man lived with his mother and grandmother, in a small house near the long road. They had a garden in their backyard and made a living by selling fruit and vegetables to their fellow villagers. The minstrel’s mother was at her wits’ end with her daydreamer of a son.

“Thomas,” she’d say, “go and water the garden.” And Thomas would go out to the garden, but get distracted, grasping for words to describe how the sun light made the water drops gleam, and half the garden would be left dry.

“Thomas,” his mother would say, “take this basket and go to the market to sell our wares.” And Thomas would take the basket to the market, but get distracted, listening to the sounds of life and people, and half the fruit would go unsold and spoiled.

 

The grandmother was old, some said as old the long road. She moved little and spoke even less, but her eyes were sharp as hawk’s and she saw what burned her grandson. One afternoon, as Thomas sat in the garden, practicing the lute in vain, she called to him and spoke thus:

“Child, I know what ails thee and how to remedy it. And if you do exactly as I instruct you, you will become as great a minstrel as ever’s a minstrel been.”

Thomas set the lute down and swore to do exactly as she instructed. The grandmother pointed to the long road.

“Tonight,” she said, “the court of Faery Queen May will go a’revelling through this road. Mark me well. Go and sit yourself on the ground and draw an iron circle around you. Then play your lute as ill as you have ever played. They will invite you to their dance, if only to stop your music, but heed them not and stay a’playing. They will ask your name and that of your master, but heed them not and stay silent. Know this well grandson. If you speak to them, or move out th’circle they will take you with them and it will be years before you find your way home. They will tell you many things, many great secrets, and if you keep your peace and pay them heed, I guarantee, a minstrel you will be, as great a minstrel as can be.”

 

Thomas thanked his grandmother for her council and determined to do as she had ordained. And the wise old grandmother, knowing her child’s child to have more heart than reason, gave him a spoonful of pine honey to hold in his tongue before he left the house, with the instruction not to swallow until dawn broke.

 

That very night the minstrel drew a circle of iron in the middle of the long road and sat himself in. Before long Faery Queen May’s court appeared, dancing and singing their way out of the woods and into the crossroads before Thomas. He looked and saw as fair maidens as he had ever dared imagine and even more so. Their skin was white as the glow of stars, their eyes glittered like gems and their voices were as melodious as any nightingale’s. They saw Thomas and beckoned him with sweet smiles to come and join their revel. But Thomas merely picked his lute and started playing as ill as he could.

 

Before long a faery, wrapped in the greens of leaves, came and stood on the edge of his circle.

“What is you name fair youth?” she asked. “Who is your master? He is poor master indeed, to have taught you so ill. Listen to the wind as it brushes my leaves, that is how you should brush your strings.”

Thomas listened to the way the wind brushed the leaves but spoke not.

 

The moon was half-up in the sky when another faery, wrapped in the blue and crystal of the deep forest pool, came and stood on the edge of his circle.

“Where do you come from sweet one?” she asked. “Who are your parents? Your music will ne’er be sweet if you lean on your lute so heavily. Mark my light dewdrops hanging from the flowers. That is how light your body should be.”

Thomas marked the gathering dewdrops hanging from the flowers but spoke not.

 

On and on, all night long the faeries revelled in his tunes and every now and then one of them would come to stand before Thomas. They tried to get him to sing but the honey made his tongue heavy and unyielding. They tried to get him to join their dance but the circle kept him in. And as the minstrel listened to their words his fingers grew deft and swift, and as the night passed the notes came sweeter and smoother, as good as any minstrel’s of the past.

 

At last Faery Queen May stood before Thomas. She spoke not but gazed at him with sad eyes, and Thomas gazed back and saw that she was fairer, so much fairer than her companions, shining light the full moon amongst the stars. At last Faery Queen May spoke.

“Oh dearest one, your music will ever be but notes unless love touches your heart. Come with me, beloved, and let me teach you about love.”

She offered her hand and Thomas, spellbound by her beauty, swallowed the honey and sprung to his feet, but! As his hand reached through the circle dawn broke. Like a flash the faery court disappeared and Thomas was left alone on the long road, with a head full of wisdom and a heart aching for love of the Faery Queen May.

 

He picked the lute in his hands and, as he walked the long road back to his small house at the small village, he played and sung. His old grandmother heard him and wept, for she knew what it meant to have fingers as swift as the wind in the leaves, hold light as dewdrops hanging from flowers and a voice as sweet as a lover’s yearning for their love.

Avatar: The Spirit of Fire – Nightmares and Daydreams

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Author’s note: In which the main plot tries to make a come-back, tensions run high and there are hallucinations but no cactus juice in sight.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Nightmares and Daydreams***

Sokka looked up from his map to the small island. They had finally made it. Despite everyone’s complaints his scheduling had worked and they were in time for the invasion.

“This is it, the official rendezvous point for the invasion force,” he informed the others.

“How did you pick this place‌?” Toph asked. To her it was just another deserted island.

“Before we split up, my dad and I found this island on a map. It’s uninhabited, and the harbor surrounded by cliffs seemed like the perfect secluded place,” Sokka explained as everyone started rolling out their sleeping bags.

“Nice choice Sokka,” Katara praised him as she unbraided her hair. She looked around.  “And we’re here four days ahead of schedule.” Aang’s eyes shot open.

“Wait,” he sat up abruptly. “The invasion’s in four days?” The others shrugged unconcerned.

“Whatever,” Sokka shrugged. “That’s like…four days from now.” He yawned and lied down. “Let’s just calm down, and …” before he had time to finish his sentence he fell asleep.
“Sokka’s got the right idea Aang. We’re here, we’re ready…” Katara said lying down herself next to Zuko. Toph and Lia were already asleep. “The best thing we can do now is get plenty of rest,” the waterbender finished.

“I guess,” Aang agreed nervously before lying down himself.

 

A few hours later he shot up, breathing hard after a nightmare. He frantically looked around and sighted in relief.

“It was just a dream Momo, I still have my pants,” Aang said as the lemur approached him curious. He got up. “Well, I better keep training.” He approached a bush and started practicing his kicks. Momo shook his head and went right back to sleep. His human could be so weird at times…

 

The next morning everyone woke up to the sound of something hitting wood really hard. With the exception of a surprisingly alert Lia everyone else looked at each other confused. Katara stood up drowsily and approached Aang who was busy hitting a tree.

“Hey, how long have you been up‌?” she asked.

“A couple of hours,” he answered curtly and started circling the tree, trying various punches and kicks. “I got a lot more skills to refine if I’m going to fight Ozai.”

“You know there is such a thing as over-training,” Zuko said, lighting a fire to start breakfast. Aang didn’t seem to hear him and punched the tree again. The aftershock from the punch sent him to the ground. He was back on his feet in an instant.

“You don’t get it, do you?” he said, drawing circles around Katara. “My form is bad. I’m sloppy. And I still don’t know any fire bending, not even the basics!” Sokka shrugged casually.

“That’s okay Aang. The eclipse will block all firebending anyway, you don’t need to know any.” He looked up from his map. “Plus it’s a stupid element.” Lia sent a fireball to his feet, causing him to yelp is surprise before she stalked away. Sokka looked at Zuko confused. “What’s with her?” he asked. The firebender shrugged.

“Aside from the comment you just made?” he asked. Sokka didn’t seem to get it.

“Aside from that.” Aang spoke up again, before an argument could erupt between the two older boys.

“Okay, well, I still have to work on everything else. I’d better spend the whole day training.” He jumped on his airscooter and disappeared.

“Lia was up before us,” Toph said confused. “I thought she didn’t like waking up early.”

“She doesn’t,” Zuko agreed before standing up. “I’ll go find her. She’s probably just stressed.”

“Who Lia?” Sokka asked over his breakfast. “Why would she be?”

 

Zuko found his mentor on the edge of the island, meditating. Silently he sat next to her and joined the exercise. After a few minutes of silence Lia gave up. She opened her eyes and turned to her brother.

“This is the first time in so long that I’ve actually, physically, returned home. It feels so strange,” she admitted.

“So that’s what’s been bothering you?” Zuko asked. “But why now? You knew about the invasion plan all along.”

“I guess it’s only now that the idea hit home. It doesn’t even look like it did back then but I can’t help feeling it’s wrong for me to go back.” She turned to Zuko. “How can you handle it so calmly?”

“I’m not sure.” He looked at her helplessly. “I suppose I just keep telling myself it is the right thing to do.” He paused and thought for a second. “And I might have a chance to rescue uncle Iroh,” he added. That got a smile out of Lia.

“I suppose you’re right,” she said as she stood again and extended a hand to Zuko to help him stand. “Come for some practice?” she asked, sounding more like herself again.

 

Much later, long after everyone else was asleep, Aang came back to camp. Flopping down to his sleeping bag he yawned.

“Good night Katara. Good night Sokka. Good night Toph. Good night Zuko. Good night Lia. Good night Appa. Good night Momo…”

“Go to sleep already!” Toph yelled annoyed before he had a chance to add anything else. Wincing a little at her loud voice, the airbender turned on his side and tried to sleep. A few hours later he shot awake again, breathing hard from a nightmare. Wordlessly he approached some sleeping koala-sheep and started practicing again. His constant walking woke up Toph.

“Twinkle-Toes it’s the middle of the night. Go back to sleep.” She approached him, rubbing the sleep away from her eyes.

“But I forgot my pants and my math test!” he answered wildly. Toph sighted and encased his feet in stone, turning him to face her.

“You can worry about them tomorrow,” she ordered. “Now get some sleep. All this walking around made me dizzy.” She dragged him back to camp and into his sleeping bag before he had a chance to protest.

 

The next morning everyone woke up early, this time in yells. Aang shot awake from yet another nightmare and shook Sokka shouting:

“Sokka get up! I need to know what day it is!” The Water Tribe boy jumped up startled.

“What? Who’s talking?” he took his sword and promptly hit his head on the rock in front of him.

“Relax, it’s still two days before the invasion,” Toph sighed as everyone else woke up. Aang didn’t seem to hear her. He kept trying to get Sokka on his feet.

“Sokka, you’ve got to get up and drill your rock climbing exercises.”

“What?” Sokka looked at him confused.

“In one of my dreams, you were running from fire nation soldiers, trying to climb this cliff, but you were too slow and they got you,” the airbender explained frantically. Sokka jumped up, insulted.

“But that was just a dream! I’m a great climber.” Aang didn’t seem convinced. He pointed at a nearby steep cliff.

“Then climb that cliff. Climb it fast!” Sokka looked at the cliff, then back at Aang. The Avatar nodded encouragingly. With a sigh Sokka approached it and started climbing.

“Stupid Avatar. Stupid cliff. Stupid dream! I can climb fast!” he grumbled under his breath.

 

Aang turned pleased in time to see Toph ready to take a sip of water.

“Don’t drink that!” he yelled alarmed. Shocked Toph spit it out, all over Katara. Annoyed the older girl bended it away.

“Why?” Toph asked alarmed. “Is it poisoned?”

“In my dream, we were right in the middle of the invasion, and you had to stop to use the bathroom. We died because of your tiny bladder.” Aang turned to Lia, who was busy untangling her hair. “And you need to start wearing your hair up. In my dream, your hair got caught in a train, and…” he stopped when he saw the evil eye he was getting from the Spirit.

“Do you want to know what happened to everyone in my dream?” she asked annoyed. “Because it involved a lot of lightning being shot in our direction.” Katara saw Aang paling and continued in a softer voice.

“Aang, I know you’re just trying to help. But you really need to get a grip. You’re unraveling.” The boy sighed.

“You’re right. I’m losing my mind.”

 

Everyone gathered around for breakfast and to discuss what to do with Aang.

“It’s like every time I think about how stressed I am, I end up more stressed,” the boy said twitching. “I’m like a big, growing snowball of nerves!”

“Of course you are!” Sokka looked up from his project of making Appa some armor. “That’s because you’ve got to fight the Firelord, the baddest man on the planet, and you’d better win or we’re all done for.” This time both Lia and Zuko sent fireballs at him. “What?” he yelled annoyed.

“You’re not helping!” Katara yelled annoyed at her brother.

“What? It’s true! That’s the deal. He knows it!” Sokka insisted. She slapped him at the back of the head annoyed before walking up to Aang who was trembling from head to toe now.

“You know what?” she said good-naturally. “I’ve got just the thing! Get ready to be de-stressified!”

 

Katara led Aang to a hot spring she had discovered the day before. Lia followed them silently, hoping that whatever the waterbender was about to try would work on her strained nerves too.

“These yoga stretches can really do wonders if you do them in extreme heat,” the girl explained before assuming a stance. “Reach up,” she guided both her “students.” “Reach for the sun. Feel your chi paths clearing.” She changed her stance and Aang hurried to follow. “Now close your eyes. How are you feeling?” she asked gently.

“I feel really warm,” Aang said.

“Go on,” Katara prompted him.

“Like there’s this warm feeling all around me. This heat. Like I’m in the Firelord’s palace and he’s shooting a bunch of fireballs at me!” Panicked again he fell over.

“Maybe your stress is the kind you need to talk about,” Katara sighed disappointed.

 

Sokka was the next to try his “methods”. This time Lia didn’t bother to follow, having been calmed by the warm air from the springs. Aang was lying on the ground with his head resting on a koala sheep, while Sokka sat next to him, wearing his Wang Fire beard.

“Why don’t you get right down to business and tell me what’s been bothering you?” he asked in his fake-adult voice.

“You know what’s been bothering me!” Aang said annoyed. “I have to fight the Firelord in a few days.” Sokka nodded in understanding.

“Tell me more about this Firelord…” he said. “Why are you so afraid of him?”

“You said it yourself! He’s the baddest man on the planet! I’m supposed to defeat him and save the world.” Sokka nodded again.

“Life does feel that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Like we’re trying to save the world from evil?” Aang looked at him exasperated.

“Okay, but what can I do to feel better?” Sokka handed him another koala-sheep.

“Wanna try screaming into this pillow?” Aang tried but he felt just the same with before, along with a sneezing fit since he inhaled some of the koala-sheep’s fur.

 

Toph was the next to drag him away. She led him to a small platform of rocks she had made. Aang couldn’t help but sent a wistful glance a little further away, where Zuko and Lia were practicing uninterrupted.

“Alright,” Toph said, pushing him to the platform. “What you need is a good, old-fashioned back-pounding to relieve your stress.”

“Pound away,” Aang sighed. Toph took his words at heart and stomped her feet to the ground, causing separate pieces of the platform to rise and hit his back.

“Toph!” the boy yelped. “I think this is bruising me!” he fell of the platform.

“Sorry, I forgot you have baby skin.” She paused thoughtfully. “Well there is one more thing we could try.” She stomped her foot again and a porcupine landed on her hand.  She showed it to him smiling. “Acupuncture.” Aang’s eyes widened in terror before he ran away screaming.

 

Aang limped back to camp some time later that night. Everyone else was already ready for bed when he plopped down on his sleeping bag. He turned to his friends.

“Thanks for everything guys,” he said.

“So, do you feel any less stressed? Ready for a good night’s sleep?” Katara asked hopefully. Aang looked up from his feet uneasily.

“I kind of think I sort of might slightly feel a little better,” he said nervously. Sokka yawned satisfied.

“Then our job here is done,” he said satisfied. The next moment he was asleep and the rest soon followed his example. Not for long though. The moon had hardly passed its midpoint when Aang woke everyone up again yelling in horror.

“What happened Aang?” Katara rushed to him worried.

“It’s the nightmares,” the boy explained trembling. “The just get worse and worse.” Sokka took out his fake beard.

“Looks like it’s time for another therapy session,” he said. Aang glared at him.

“No, that won’t help!” he snapped. “Nothing helps! There’s only one thing I can do. I’m going to stay awake until the invasion.” Everyone’s jaw hit the floor.

 

The next morning everyone woke up to see Aang waking around, his shoulders slumped as he tried to remain awake.

“Invasion. All aboard for the invasion,” he muttered to himself in a dull voice. Katara watched him worried.

“You don’t look so good.” She walked up to him. “You sure you can’t just lie down for a little nap?” His eyes gained a little light for a second as he gave her a panicky look.

“I told you, I can’t go back to sleep.”
Katara wasn’t the only one who was worried about Aang’s insomnia. Toph had found it amusing at first but now she was getting scared. The airbender’s normally calm vibrations were completely off and his ramblings didn’t sound right either. Hesitantly, something that was a first for her, she approached Aang.

“Come on Twinkle-Toes, all this staying up can’t be good for you,” she said casually.

“Actually staying up all night has given me some time to think,” he answered as they walked along the shore. “And I’ve realized some big things Toph.” The earthbender looked up curious.

“Really? What big things?”
“I see everything so clearly now…what really matters,” Aang continued contemplatively. “Why I’m really doing this. I’m doing it to save the world, but more than that. I’m doing it for the people I love…” His eyes grew distant and his voice trailed off. Suddenly he sprung to the side.

“Uh… Twinkle-Toes?” Toph asked, hoping to snap him out of it. He jumped straight again. “You really need a nap.”

“Sorry,” Aang rubbed his eye awkwardly. “I guess I kinda drifted off into a day-dream.”

“What was it about?” Toph asked.

“Uh… living underwater,” the airbender said hastily, wincing at the silly excuse. Thankfully Toph just shrugged and walked away.

 

“I’m telling you guys, we need to do something!” Toph insisted, “looking” over to where the rest of the gang was sitting. “If Aang continues like this, he won’t make it through the invasion.”

“Toph is right,” Sokka decided. “If Aang does not get some rest we might as well not take him with us tomorrow on the invasion.”

“Have you tried a pep talk?” Lia asked suddenly. She was still tense but had decided to push her inhibitions aside for now.

“You think it would work?” Zuko asked her doubtfully.

“It works on you…” she shot back with a shrug.

 

They found Aang sitting in front of Momo, trying to speak lemur. The boy laughed at something his pet said.

“Aang?” Katara called hesitantly. “We’re all starting to get a little worried about you.”

“You’ve been awake too long,” Zuko continued.

“And you’re acting downright weird,” Toph added, putting up her usual tough front. Aang’s eyes moved from one to the other as they talked to finally rest on Appa. His face turned blank as he fell into another daydream, not really listening to what the others said. Suddenly his face filled with horror and he ran up to Sokka.

“Sokka, what should we do‌?” he yelled.

“About what?” the boy asked confused.

“About that!” Aang pointed as Appa and Momo’s general direction and the gang turned to see their two pets growling at each other.

“Come on guys, we’re all on the same side!” Aang called to them. Appa and Momo ignored him. Everyone looked on as Aang’s eyes darted from one direction to another, hallucinating. Lia made a move to force him to snap out of it when he suddenly jumped.

“I just need a jump in a cold waterfall!” he yelled before running away. Lia sighed disappointed and turned to the others.

“Okay, who has Plan B?”

When the sun set Aang returned back to camp. He had spent the entire day hidden near the shore, trying to fight away the hallucinations. Looking up ahead he saw a mass of something fluffy and white. Skeptically he popped on it trying it for its softness.

“Oh look, another hallucination. An imaginary bed, made out of clouds,” he sighed.

“Hey! It’s real! We spent hours working on it!” Toph said from somewhere on the side.

“We made it for you,” Sokka explained. “A good night sleep will probably take the crazy away…we hope.” Aang frowned and jumped off the bed.

“Look, you guys keep telling me I need to sleep, but I can’t, the invasion’s tomorrow.”

“Aang…” Katara sighed.

“No Katara, there’s still so much I haven’t learned. I don’t need sleep. What I need is practice. Quick, hit me,” he ordered her, his eye twitching a little.
“I’m not going to hit you!” The waterbender took a step back.

“You want me to do it‌?” Toph asked excited. To everyone’s surprise Zuko stepped forward and grabbed Aang by the shoulders, forcing the younger boy to look at him.

“Listen, Aang. You’ve been training for this since Katara woke you up from the ice. I think I’ve seen your progress better than anyone else.” A snort came from Sokka’s direction, which earned him glares from everyone else. “You’re smart, brave, and strong enough.” Aang looked at the Fire prince, taken aback by the honesty in his voice.

“You really think so‌?” he asked.
“We all do. You can do this. You’re ready,” Sokka added.

“You’re the man, Twinkle-toes,” Toph added with a smile. Aang yawned.

“You know what?‌ I think I am ready.” Katara helped him to the bed they had made and for the first time in nearly a week Aang slept peacefully.

How March came to have more days than February

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Once upon a time, back when the world was still fresh and young, and the months barely more than children, things were a lot different than what we know now. Out of the twelve sons of the Time March was the shortest, having been born with twenty-eight days instead of thirty or thirty-one. Not that it bothered him. By the time his turn on the Wheel of the Year arrived people were more eager to prepare for his brother April’s arrival and the actual beginning of spring. March, for all his quick temper, was good-natured at heart and didn’t mind helping the people adjust from his elder brothers’ icy temperaments to the youngers’ warmth and exuberance. So he had a bad habit of dealing frosts with one hand and sunshine with the other. Who could blame him? He was stuck right in the middle!

 

Truth be told, most people didn’t mind March’s changefulness, thinking of him as the actual beginning of spring rather than the more accommodating April. There was one though, one who dislike poor March more than anyone in the world and that was Old Missy. Old Missy lived in a small house at the edge of her village with her two goats and her giant cauldron. She was cheese-maker and there was little she enjoyed more than complaining about everything and everyone around her. None, not even the months could escape her tongue-lashings and she always seemed dissatisfied with something, be it the weather, the children playing near her house too loudly or her poor goats for not giving the right amount of milk.

 

When March found out, he took it upon himself to change Old Missy’s mind. He heard her complaining about the children’s’ noise so he blew cold winds to send them back to their mothers’ hearths. Still the old woman complained.

“Ah March! Fickle March! You blow your cold winds and make my old bones ache. You send the earth back to winter’s sleep, no grass is growing and what will my goats eat?”

 

So March tried again, eager to make Missy happy. He gave her warm, sunny days so that grass would grow for her goats to eat and for her old joints no to hurt. Still the old woman complained.

“Ah March! Fickle March! You grow hot and spoil my milk before I can make cheese. Your sun makes folk and beast lazy and none will come to my house to buy my wares and how will I live with no profit?”

 

Every day for all his twenty-eight days March tried to make the old woman happy. He brought rain to cool the heat, she complained of rheumatisms. He made flowers bloom in her front yard, she moaned the colours hurt her eyes. He coaxed the birds to sing sweetly by her windows, she groaned for the noise that wouldn’t let her sleep. At last the twenty-eighth day arrived. Old Missy sat on her porch and cackled in delight.

“Ah March! Fickle March! There’s still some life left in these old bones! You tried your best but I beat you and lived through all your topsy-turvy weather!”

 

March, exhausted as he was, grew angry. He had tried everything in his power to make Missy happy and still she mocked him. He wrapped himself in a cloud of early-morning frost and off he marched to his elder brother’s icy castle. He found February tending to his snowdrops.

“Brother February, grand me a boon,” March said, as he joined his brother’s gardening efforts.

“If it is in my power, will all my heart,” February answered and another flower bloomed cautiously under his gaze.

“There is an old woman mocking my powers,” March said. “Grant me three days so that I may punish her.”

 

February nodded silently. He knew of Old Missy and of her bitterness. His bad leg had been bothering him a lot more lately. Maybe it would do him good to roam the earth less. So he chose his three coldest days and gave them to March. The younger month thanked him and, armed as he was, stood right over Missy’s house and blew the worst storm that the old woman had ever seen. For three days the wind tore and the rain fell and when April finally poked his mischievous head around the corner, he found the old woman and her goats hiding under the giant cauldron for protection, the house having been completely blown away.

 

Thus February became the shortest month, March gained three days and an old woman learnt the value of silence.