Monthly Archives: August 2015

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: link

***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:  link

***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

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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!”

The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell (630-750)

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“Ah, sir Gawain, since I have wed you,

Show me your courtesy in bed;

Such a  right is mine and cannot be denied.

 

“Indeed, sir Gawain,” said that lady,

“If I were fair you would sing another tune,

But of marriage you have no respect.

Yet for Arthur’s sake kiss me at least;

I pray you do this at my request.

Let’s see you now.”

Sir Gawain said, “I will do more

Than just to kiss you, so help me God!”

He turned to her at last.

He saw her be the fairest creature

That ever he saw, with no compare.

She said, “What is your will?”

 

“By Christ”!” he said; “What are you?”
“Sir, I am your wife, surely.

Why are you so unkind?”

“Oh, lady, I am to blame.

I beg your mercy, my fair madam-

I hadn’t realised.

A lady you are most beautiful to me,

And but today you were the foulest creature

That I ever saw in my eyes.

Happy I am, my lady, to have you thus”-

And he embraced her in his arms and began to kiss her

And was very happy indeed.

 

“Sir,” said she, “thus you shall have me:

Choose one, so God save me,

My beauty will not hold-

Whether you will have me fair on nights

And as foul on days to all men’s sight,

Or else to have me fair on days

And on nights the foulest wife-

Only one you may have.

Choose one or the other.

Choose now, sir knight, which you prefer,

Your honour to preserve.”

 

“Alas!” said Gawain; “The choice is hard.

To choose the best, it is impossible,

Whichever choice I choose:

To have you fair on nights and no more,

That would grieve my heart,

And I would lose my honour.

And if I desire on days to have you fair,

Then on the nights I’d have slim pickings.

However would I choose the best:

I know not at all what I should say,

But do as you will now, my happy lady.

The choice I put in your hand:

 

“Whatever you will is,

Loose me as you desire, for I am bound;

I put the choice in you.

Both my body and my goods, heart and everything,

Is all your own, to keep or sell-

That I swear to God!”

“Many thanks, courteous knight,” said the lady;

“of all earthly knights thou are most blessed,

For now I am honoured.

Thou shall have me fair both day and knight

And ever as I live I will be fair and bright;

Therefore be not grieved.

 

“For I had by transformed by magic,

By my stepmother, God have mercy on her,

And lay under enchantment;

From my true form,

Until the best of England

Had married me in truth,

And also that he should give me sovereignty

Of all his body and goods for certain.

Thus I was transformed;

And you, sir knight, courteous Gawain,

Have given me sovereignty certainly,

And never shall you be sorry for that.

 

“Kiss me, sir knight, now;

I pray thee, be glad and make good cheer,

For all has turned out well.”

Then they had joy beyond imagination,

The way a couple does

When they are alone.

She thanked God and mild Mary

She was rescued of what had befallen her;

So did sir Gawain.

He made mirth in her chamber

And thanked Our Saviour,

I tell you, for certain.

 

With joy and mirth they stayed awake till morn

And then the fair maid began to rise.

“You shall not,” said sir Gawain;

“We will lay and sleep till noon

And then let the king call us to dinner.”

“I agree,” then said the maid.

Thus the time passed until midday.

“Sirs,” said the king, “let us go and discover

If sir Gawain is still alive.

I am truly afraid for sir Gawain,

Afraid that the fiend has him slain;

Now would I find the truth.

 

“Let us go now,” said Arthur the king.

“We will go witness their rising,

How well has he faired.”

They came to the chamber, all uncertain.

“Arise,” said the king to sir Gawain;

“Why do you stay so long in bed?”

“By Mary,” said Gawain, “sir king, surely,

I would be glad, and you should let me be,

For I am quite happy here.

Abide, you shall see the door opened!

I trust you will say I am quite fortune;

I truly do not wish to rise.”

 

Sir Gawain rose, and by the hand he took

His lady fair, and to the door he went,

And opened the door wide.

She stood in her smock by the fire;

Her hair came to her knees as red as gold wire.

“Lo, this is my pleasure!

Lo!” said Gawain unto Arthur-

“Sir, this is my wide, dame Ragnell,

That once saved your life.”

He told then to the king and queen

How suddenly her shape had changed-

“My lord, now by your leave”-

In which I go a’merry travelling again!

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Or rather went? I mean, the day trip itself was back in July but I just got around to uploading the photos on my computer so… Whatever! Point is, this is a little excursion my younger cousin and I took together.

 

There we were, relaxing in Paros (fancy, huh?), lazing away the days until I figured; What the heck? Let’s do something a tad different for once. Hence my dragging C. out of bed at the ungodly hour of nine in the morning, with the intention of visiting the beach of Marchello (oh the joys of transliteration!).

 

So, after plenty of yawns, a quick breakfast and even faster double-back (because certain people forgot stuff…) we made it to Paroikia. For the uninitiated, this is the island’s largest village and where the boats from Athens (or pretty much any starting point) leave you. From there we took the boat (as in kaiki, not a proper ship) and made the short trip to Marchello.

 

There's this little kiosk where you can buy tickets and find out departure times right next to where the boat is tied.

There’s this little kiosk where you can buy tickets and find out departure times right next to where the boat is tied.

That's the inside of the boat! I swear one of these days I'll brave my seasickness enough to climb on the top deck!

That’s the inside of the boat! I swear one of these days I’ll brave my seasickness enough to climb on the top deck!

And here's Yours Trully! Picture kindly taken by Cousin who, although nine years younger, has a far better eye than I do for this sort of thing!

And here’s Yours Trully! Picture kindly taken by Cousin who, although nine years younger, has a far better eye than I do for this sort of thing!

 

A word from C.:

We stopped and bought some magazines to read on the beach!

 

Back to Yours Truly:

So, as you can see from the pictures, we get our own tiny tropical paradise complete with white sand and sapphire-blue waters! And all for less than 20 € too. The adult return ticket for the boat is 5 €, for the kids 3 €. Moreover, part of the beach in not what is commonly known here as “organised”, meaning you don’t necessarily need to pay for a sunbed/umbrella combo. And even if you want to treat yourself, it costs 7 € for the umbrella/two sunbeds, or 3€ for the single sunbed (for all you lonely souls).

 

The water was a tad cold, not all that surprising. For the past few days the temperature has been dropping and anyway, I never claimed to like the “cool” part of the spectrum… There was splashing around and swimming and laughing at those who had never been here before and did not know that a ship leaving the port on the opposite side is both impressive to watch and the cause for waves.

 

C. The water in the beginning was cold but then it got warmer.

 

To which I say: WHATEVER, I still got all tingly! –ahem- Yeah, at some point we decided we had enough of “swimming” and moved back to the glory that is the combination of dry towels, sunlight and sunbeds.

 

The taverna/changing rooms/sunbed rental place at the back of the beach.

The taverna/changing rooms/sunbed rental place at the back of the beach.

Pretty water is pretty. That's Paroikia at the back.

Pretty water is pretty. That’s Paroikia at the back.

I swear this picture was not staged. C. had my camera at hand and I was about to get back in the sunny bit of the sunbed and well...picture happened...

I swear this picture was not staged. C. had my camera at hand and I was about to get back in the sunny bit of the sunbed and well…picture happened…

IMG_1153

 

I would like to say at this point that normally I find fashion magazine B.O.R.I.N.G. but with the sun making me drowsy that’s just about what I can mentally handle. Cue the sunbathing time (I do love the heat) and obligatory laughs at some of the more outrageous designs.

 

C. The fashion magazines are not boring. Especially when they have summer clothes and swimsuits.

 

-sigh- Three guesses on who is entering their teenage years and who is happily out of them. We only left from the beach because our stomachs were growling and a nearby tavern was making us even hungrier with the smell of roasting meat.

 

A quick shift of clothes….

 

Have I mentioned how much I ADORE this dress?

Have I mentioned how much I ADORE this dress?

 

…and it was back to the boat and Paroikia for us,

 

This picture took way too many failed tries to take....

This picture took way too many failed tries to take….

C. Marchello beach was awesome. We had a very good time while we were swimming, talking, reading summer magazines and of course laughing. ^_^

 

You heard it! “From the mouths of babes”… There’s plenty of eating choices in Paroikia, but one of the side effects of coming to the same place summer after summer is that you will have your favourites (and will always go there). C. wanted souvlaki (not that I complained). Our favourite is Pepe’s with its great food and gorgeous prices.

 

Why yes, I do have a thing for taking pictures of signs.

Why yes, I do have a thing for taking pictures of signs.

 

And by gorgeous, I mean cheap. And by cheap, I mean broke student friendly. 😀

 

C. The souvlaki was really tasty and the chips were even better.

 

We had a quick lunch there and went for a stroll, which –because this is Paros- meant that we ended up at a coffee shop, specifically Distrato (again, joys of transliteration). It’s one of those multi-purpose places where you can have breakfast, lunch, in-between coffee, sit down for a crepe or an ice-cream, or even have a beer. Nobody can say anything about the adaptability of a “café-restaurant”. I would whole-heartedly recommend the  sweet crepes there, as well as the coffees.

 

C. I had a banana milkshake! 🙂

 

Banana –shudder-…

 

Anyway… After a blessed (and much needed) coffee break there was more aimless roaming, and drooling over jewellery store windows. I just looooooove gemstones! It’s sorta funny walking in Paroikia this early. Nearly all the shops are closed for lunch break or siesta break (call it what you will). So you actually get to see the buildings instead of being dazzled by the waves of people around you.

 

Unfortunately at this point C. started realising that she was tired so we caught the bus back to Naoussa (a village closer to our own place) and waited there for mum to pick us up. (Love you mum!)

 

Bag doubles as pillow...

Bag doubles as pillow…

 

Overall a fun day methinks…

Twilight of the Spirit World – Arrivals

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Author’s note: In which there is exposition, Spirit World travels and new rules on the game.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Arrivals***

Zuko had often wondered exactly how tuned with the Spirit World his uncle was, especially now that the old man decided to pay a family visit two days after Lia’s news. After the customary formalities the two men locked themselves in the Fire Lord’s office and Iroh proceeded to interrogate his nephew over his latest travel plans. When Zuko finished recounting everything Lia had told him and Azula the old man stayed quiet for a few minutes, thinking everything over.

“These are indeed grave news,” he said at last, “and I can understand why Lia would seek your friends’ and yours help, but Zuko are you certain it is wise to go through with your idea?”

“I understand that the Spirit World can be dangerous for mortals,” his nephew admitted, “but I can’t just abandon Lia after she helped me so much, and I know the others would agree with me. Besides, the balance of the Spirit World would affect our world too. In a way I’m protecting our people too.” Iroh smiled.

“While I admire your care for your nation and the world Fire Lord Zuko, are you sure this is the true reason for wanting to go through with this?” Zuko’s serious expression melted to one of disappointment.

“You can still read my like a book uncle,” he grumbled under his breath. “Azula and I, we are both getting restless. While I would not even think of starting a war again, sometimes life at the palace can just be so…” he paused searching for the right word.

“Boring?” Iroh offered, getting a guilty smile as an answer. “You are both still young my nephew so it is only natural that you would wish for some excitement even though you have both been remarkably mature and responsible regarding your duties.”

“So will you look after mum and the Fire Nation while we will be away?” Zuko took his chance the moment he saw it. Iroh laughed.

“I don’t have much choice, do I? It’s my favorite nephew asking after all,” he added, conveniently ignoring the fact that his nephew could also order him if he wanted to.

Meanwhile, at another part of the palace, a similar conversation was taking place. For the last four years Ursa had become a confidant of sorts for the girls of Team Avatar, especially Lia, who found the woman’s calm demeanor contagious.

“I can’t help but feel guilty for dragging them to this,” Lia admitted, looking down at her tea. Ursa raised an eyebrow.

“You told them everything you know and they’ve been around you long enough to understand the dangers they might be getting themselves into. Much as I hate to see my children in danger I can’t keep them locked up here forever.”

“It’s not just that,” Lia insisted. “Zuko knows a part of my past and I have let the occasional thing to slip in conversation but essentially they have no idea and inevitably things will come out that I’d rather have kept secret.”

“So you are afraid that they might be scared from what they’ll find about you?”

“Yeah.” Lia stood and started pacing the room, hugging herself. “And I wouldn’t blame them if they did.” Ursa raised an eyebrow.

“I think you underestimate them. Five years ago I would agree with you, but now they are all a lot more mature and understand better how the world works. Whatever it is that you are hiding it might surprise them but in the end they will still be your friends.” She laid a hand on the Spirit’s shoulder when she passed by her to calm her down. Lia closed her eyes and forced herself to relax.

“As usual I’m overreacting on little things,” she muttered with a frown. “You’re right, it’s all going to be fine.”

Katara, Sokka and Suki were the first to arrive three days after Iroh had, having already planned to visit the Fire Nation. As was their tradition since the end of the war, Azula, Suki and Lia teamed up to distract Sokka long enough for Zuko and Katara to greet each other properly. To be fair, the Water Tribe warrior had slowly become a lot more relaxed about his little sister’s love life but he still tended to act before he thought a lot.

“So how was the travel?” Azula asked casually the couple as she stood right next to Lia, effectively hiding her brother and the waterbender from Sokka’s view.

“It was good,” Suki answered just as casually, lacing her fingers with her fiancé’s in an extra effort to keep him on her side. Zuko and Katara were sneaking back to the palace, having read the signs and determined not to let the antsy man ruin another reunion. Luckily for them, Sokka’s attention was mostly caught by the redhead of the group.

“Hey, weren’t you supposed to go back to the Spirit World?” he asked Lia.

“There have been some developments,” Lia said casually. “I thought it’d be better if I waited for everyone to arrive before I explained.” Sokka nodded.

“Last we heard of Aang and Toph, they were at the Western Air Temple. They should probably be here tomorrow or the day after,” he said. Looking around he suddenly realized something. “Hey! Where’s Zuko and Katara?” The girls shrugged.

“They probably went to see mother and uncle Iroh,” Azula said  before turning towards the palace. “How about I show you to your room?”

“Sounds good,” Suki agreed, dragging Sokka along.

“But Suki…” the man’s half-formed complain fell to deaf ears.

Aang’s and Toph’s arrival on Appa was just as dramatic. The arrived the next evening, just in time for dinner. Toph marched loudly into the dining room, demanding a seat and something that was not “Twinkle-Toes’ whacky, all-vegetables-and-no-meat cooking.” The all-powerful Avatar had followed his girlfriend complaining loudly about her assessment of his cooking abilities. With the entire group laughing at Aang’s expense Lia’s unexpected presence went unnoticed until everyone quieted down and settled for dinner.

“So Sparky,” Toph asked after a while, “how come we’re not one down in our numbers?”

“There were some complications,” Zuko explained vaguely. Toph raised an eyebrow unsatisfied with the explanation.

“I’ll tell everyone after dinner Toph,” Lia promised and in an effort to change subjects she asked, “So, what was Aang’s latest attempt at cooking?” The earthbender grinned and began describing how Aang had tried to make the soup they were making cook faster with a combination of water and firebending which resulted in an explosion “so bad I thought Combustion Man had come back from the dead!”

After dinner the gaang gathered in the one of the courtyards, the hot weather making any inside room stuffy even for firebenders.

“Now are you going to explain what’s going on?” Sokka asked impatiently. Lia made herself comfortable against a rock and began narrating her brief sojourn in the Spirit World. When she finished everyone was frowning. Aang was the first to speak.

“So how can we help?” he asked seriously. Lia took a moment to study him while she thought of how to phrase her answer. He and Toph had hit their growth sprout and looked a lot more mature than when they were twelve. Aang especially was a lot more serious; having to deal with full-time scheming nobles tended to take away some of your childishness.

“It’s not your war to fight of course,” she finally said, “but I could use all the help I could get when it comes to the Council.  Most Spirits have at least some respect for it so it will be hard to find many who would outright challenge its decisions. I would know,” she added the last part under her breath.

“What’s your plan?” Katara asked, looking every bit as determined as Aang to help.

“I was planning on lying low for a while and then sneak back to the Spirit World and contact Roku. He will definitely know what’s going on.” Lia shrugged. “From then on I’ll play it by ear.” The gaang looked at each other unanimously reaching a decision.

“It wasn’t your war to fight when you helped us against Ozai either,” Aang said decisively. “We’ll help.” The rest of the gaang nodded in agreement.

“But how are we going to cross over to the Spirit World?” Azula asked the most logical question, cutting Sokka half-way through an exclamation. He gave her a glare in return. Lia gave them an impish smile.

“The same way I do everything,” she said. “By breaking the rules.” Toph snickered. “Theoretically any being can cross over between the worlds given the proper guidance. The reason this doesn’t happen often is because the Spirit World is thought as a purely spiritual realm.” She sent a look at Aang’s direction. “The Air Nomads had a lot to do with this idea,” she added. “The only thing I need to do is open a portal and we can cross over worrying only about what we’ll find on the other side.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Sokka said yawning loudly and causing Toph and Zuko to yawn as well.

“How about we call it a night and begin preparing first thing tomorrow?” Katara proposed. “It’s getting late and we all need our rest.”

Two days later the group had gathered in the courtyard in their travelling gear. Lia stood in front of everyone with eyes closed concentrating, while the others were saying goodbye to Iroh and Ursa. A strange, crackling sound cut through the last minute conversations and everyone turned to see a gateway made out of white-blue energy appear out of thin air.

“All right!” Sokka rubbed his hands eagerly. “Team Avatar to the rescue!” Suki poked him on the shoulder.

“Plus me and Azula,” she said dryly. Lia rolled her eyes as everyone walked through the portal. At first it was like they floated in an endless grey nothingness. Toph moved around franticly before grasping Aang’s hand, looking for something familiar.

“This is the in-between,” she heard Lia’s calm voice a little ahead. “I know it’s unpleasant but it will help us stay hidden a little longer.” Toph frowned.

“It makes me queasy,” she complained. “There’s no vibrations at all here. Even Aang’s not giving any vibrations.”

Lia half-turned to answer the earthbender when a bright light appeared in front of them. Instinctively everyone closed their eyes and the next thing they felt was the wind whipping at their faces. Everyone’s eyes snapped open in alarm to see that they were out of the in-between and in quite a height in the air.

“WHAT IS GOING ON?” Sokka screamed in horror. Aang gasped and hastily bended a cushion of air under them. When they landed on the ground everyone was as white as a sheet.

“That was not my fault,” Lia hastily assured the others, trying to keep an adrenaline-induced chuckle from surfacing. Nevertheless she received seven glares from the rest of the group. Suddenly Aang looked up confused and asked:

“Why can I only airbend?”