Monthly Archives: September 2015

In which I am apparently studying at Hogwarts!

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And for the matter, Hogwarts is currently masquerading as the University of Nottingham. No, it wasn’t the fact that I will be spending a significant amount of time this semester over runic texts and/or books on Old English and Old Norse. It wasn’t the fact that if all libraries on campus are as large as the one I hang out in (Hallward Library for those in the know), then clearly Hermione Granger had an active involvement in their design. It wasn’t even the fact that part of the campus could possibly be the Forbidden Forest in miniature (although if anyone fancies looking for unicorns and/or thestrals, I’m up for it).

No, what go me (and a few friends of mine for the matter) suspicious is the sheer number of staircases, doors and corridors that seem to lead nowhere in this place. I swear, in Trent Building only there’s more corridors than actual rooms. Is that even architecturally possible? Not that we are complaining. I can’t speak for the others, but having spend a good part of my early teenage-hood fully expecting a Hogwarts letter to arrive I am simply glad to be able to indulge in a little fantasy play and pretend I’m a very studious Ravenclaw or a mischivious Slytherin (I could never quite decide which House suited me better…).

And with the first week of lessons not being over yet, I can’t help but feel like a little first year, star-struck with all the new experiences and spending a lot of time getting lost in one corridor or another. It certainly looks like it’s going to be an interesting year if nothing else. Normally I don’t judge places and people at first glance but this time I will hazard a prediction: the next fifty-one weeks are going to be unforgettable!

Twilight of the Spirit World: The Ambush

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Author’s Note: In which the bad guys decide to grace us with their presence, there is action and girl talk (not necessarily in that order…)

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***The Ambush***

Nobody commented on Agni’s carrying Lia as they moved away from the Swamps with three Crystals in their possession. Truth be told, it was probably the most peaceful any of them had seen her look since they had arrived at the Spirit World. For her part, Lia did not stir even as they set camp by a river and did not wake until the sun rose the next morning. Even then her good mood seemed to continue, not the almost manic cheerfulness the others, especially Zuko, were used on seeing on her, but rather a serenity. Agni noted with satisfaction that the Fire Crystal, which had been acting erratically in response to its bearer’s turmoil, had also calmed, its surface settling on a rich, cheerful red.

 

For a few days this calmness reigned, the group wondering almost aimlessly, lacking any clues for the whereabouts of the last Crystal but for once not in a particular hurry either. Stories were exchanged from past adventures, the gaang bringing Ao and Agni up to speed with their war-related adventures and the two of them returning the favour with their own stories, and if the more embarrassing or funny ones always happened to include Lia in some capacity…it was hardly their fault!

 

Reality decided to intrude on their little bubble with the smell of salty air and the sound of waves crashing on the shore. When the ocean came to view they stopped and gazed in awe. The sea in the Spirit World is a lot different than what passes for sea in the mortal plane. One might even say that it was the original from which an imperfect copy was made. Every possible blue, green and purple (and some the gaang didn’t even know existed) swirled in perfect harmony, now calm and now thunderous, forming waves that crashed on the rocky shore, leaving behind them a booming sound like distant thunder. Aang summed up everyone’s reaction at the sight:

“Wow!”

 

For once Katara took the lead, the water’s call amplified by the Crystal’s energy meshing with her own creating an insistent call at the back of her mind that urged her to joindanceswimragebeone with the ocean. Before the others had time to even reach the beach she was almost on the water’s edge.

“Katara wait up!” her brother’s annoyed voice broke through the haze and she stopped abruptly, not having realised how far ahead she had run. She turned sheepishly at the others.

“Sorry,” she called over the roar of the water. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“Not to worry,” Lia assured her, staying far from the water’s range. “It’s the Crystal. You’ll get used to it.” Katara looked at her confused.

“The Crystal wanted me to get in the water?” she said. She wrapped her arms around her middle uneasily when every Spirit in the group turned to look at her alarmed.

“What do you mean, get in the water?” Ao said cautiously, casting a wary glance around them. Katara frowned.

“It sounded like somebody was speaking to me,” she tried to explain. “I couldn’t make out the words but it felt like I should join the water?” She paused, realising how bizarre that must have sounded to her friends. Toph opened her mouth to say something when, out of nowhere, what looked like the older brother of the snake from Serpent’s Pass (only more spiky, bigger and a lot more angry) burst out of the water and lunged at them. The twin lightning bolts he received from Agni and Azula did little to deter it.

“Why is the ocean trying to kill us?” Sokka exclaimed as they scrambled away from the water’s edge. Toph pushed her bangs away from her face annoyed and sent a wave of sand at the general direction of the Serpent.

“Is this really the time for questions Snoozles?” she snapped and then yelped when somebody wrapped an arm around her waist and unceremoniously dragged her backwards.

“Is this really the time for snark Toph?” Zuko snapped back, having dragged the two of them just out of blast radius. “This thing is shooting the water equivalent of Combustion Man’s blasts!” That was all it took to get Toph to focus, switching from sand waves to pelting the Serpent with increasingly large rocks. Aang landed next to her, using his airbending to stir the boulders she was launching closer to the thing’s head. Katara was standing nearby, her face creased in concentration as she tried to use the ocean’s waves to drag the Serpent back inside the water. It should have been easy, yet it felt as though something was blocking her power…

 

The second wave (pun not intended) of attackers appeared with as much warning as the Serpent. They seemed to be materialising out of nowhere, a platoon of vaguely humanoid spirits with heads like praying mantises, armed with some wickedly sharp scythes. Suki, Sokka and Ao attacked them immediately since their more elemental-oriented companions where still focusing on the Serpent. Agni, the first to notice the additions to the fray, turned to Azula and Zuko.

“Help the others,” he said seriously. “Lia and I can handle this one.” The siblings gave him an uncertain look but moved to help their friends. Aang, Toph and Katara joined them shortly, having been told similarly by Katara. Confident that their companions could handle themselves, the two Fire Spirits moved closer to the Serpent. With no mortals near enough to be caught in the immediate blast the two pooled their powers to blast the Serpent. The result was a fireball with the temperature of a small sun that completely disintegrated the Serpent. Lia and Agni exchanged a smug look before joining their friends against the Mantis Spirits.

 

They were right on time for that too since one of them, taking advantage of everyone’s momentary distraction caused by the blast managed to swipe his scythe on Azula’s side. The young woman fell on the ground with a cry of pain. Katara was instantly at her side, trying to step the blood flow, the battle too chaotic around them to allow for the concentration required for a healing session. Ao was on Azula’s side a moment later, destroying her attacker with a blast of spirit energy. The battle didn’t last long after this. With the addition of Lia and Agni the group was able to push back the Mantis Spirits, who fled the scene with their numbers severely diminished.

 

Once they were certain that no one and nothing else would attack them unexpectedly the group set up camp close to the battle site. A tent was set almost immediately and a worried Zuko, followed by an equally worried Ao, carried Azula inside. Katara stepped in behind them and shooed the two men away so that she could concentrate on her patient. With grumbles the two men went to join the others as they wearily finished setting the camp, a surprisingly haggard-looking Agni getting the fire going and slumping next to it. The others followed suit, none of them particularly in the mood for conversation. Lia rummaged through her satchel and produced a copper bottle that she passed wordlessly to the Spirit next to her. Agni popped it open and took a small sip.

“Sake?” he asked her amused. She shrugged.

“It’ll wake you up, won’t it?” she muttered, letting her hair fall forward to hide her expression. Her partner chuckled.

“True,” he said before taking another sip and passing the bottle back to her. Lia took it, closed the top again and chucked it to Ao. It startled his out of the stupor he had fallen since Katara had kicked him out of Azula’s tent but not enough to realise what was going on.

“Drink!” Lia half-ordered him in an exasperated tone. “You’re more high-strung than a freshly-made bow!” The Blue Spirit rolled his eyes and threw the bottle back.

“No, thanks,” he said sarcastically. “If the two of you are planning on drinking I’ll have to remain sober. The last time you,” he pointed at Agni, “got drunk you created a new flower. And if I remember correctly, you,” now he turned to Lia who cut him off hurriedly.

“Fine, fine don’t drink!” she said hurriedly. “No need to get all stroppy about it!”

“Defensive!” Toph said around a cough but before the conversation could turn into an argument Katara stepped out of the tent.

“How is she?” Zuko and Ao asked at the same time, before turning to look at each other surprised, although Zuko’s look was vaguely threatening. He had a sneaking suspicion he’d find himself in Sokka’s shoes soon enough.

“She’s fine and resting,” Katara reassured them before sitting next to Zuko. “Can somebody else cook tonight?” she asked tiredly.

“I’ll do it!” Suki offered, moving towards the bags with supplies they had. A simple stew would be easy enough to make.

 

It was a testament to how close the girls of the gaang that after dinner, and without having exchanged a word on the matter, they moved together, dragging a protesting Lia inside Azula’s tent. Toph entered last, shouting a “Girl talk!” to the stunned men’s general direction before shutting the door behind her. Inside the tent Lia sat down and rubbed her eyes tiredly, doing her best to ignore her friends’ expectant stares.

“What now?” she asked them finally. Azula, never one to beat around the bush, spoke first.

“What’s going on with you and Agni?” she asked, propping herself up against Katara’s shoulder to get a better vantage point.

“Absolutely nothing,” Lia answered firmly, already moving to stand up. Toph sent a slight ripple under the redhead’s feet and she was forced to sit down again.

“You’re lying,” she said flatly, none of her usual jokiness in her voice. “Being around you two is like being around Zuko and Katara, Sokka and Suki and Azula and Ao…”

“And you and Aang,” Azula added in a sing-song, steadfastly ignoring the blush that she knew had covered her cheeks.

“Whatever!” Toph exclaimed before turning towards Lia again. “Your heartbeats are in sync. Even when you’re fighting, you two never fall out of sync.” For a while it looked like Lia would not speak, even as the other pondered the implication of what the earthbender had said. Finally the redhead caved.

“Just because I love him, doesn’t mean I trust him!” she said. “Or he trusts me for the matter…” Toph was perhaps the only one not shocked by that admission.

“You…love him?” Suki stammered. “But…”

“You tried to kill him!” Katara finished her friend’s words. Lia shrugged.

“And he’s been a lying, manipulative bastard since the day I met him,” she said, this time managing to stand up.

“Well he’s certainly not acting like one now,” Toph said exasperated. “What does a guy need to do to get on your good books? Die for you?” Lia froze, one hand at the tent flap, as a very familiar vision flashed through her mind.

“That’s what I’m trying to stop,” she whispered, too low for the girls to hear, as she left them to discuss what she had admitted among themselves.

Bedroom Window – Three flash stories

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  1. The girl in the tower

She leaned against the window sill, heedless of the rose thorns catching on her clothes. Mother never left for long. If she was to do it, it had to be now. She looked at the drop below her. With a nervous breath, she tugged her braid inside. Maybe next time.

 

  1. First night

The branches scratched against the glass and, with a shudder, he pulled the blanket over his head. What a night to be left alone! With thunder booming outside and shadows dancing at every corner of the room. Some darker than they should be, he fancied. With a whimper he tried to sleep.

 

  1. Entry level

The bird paused in front of them. It had been walking on the windowsill uncertainly, trying to, no doubt, comprehend what it was seeing. It chirped uncertainly and took a step closer to the invisible barrier. Two streets down a car honked. Startled, the bird turned around and took off.

In which I share my first impressions

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I write this half-asleep and so any rambling needs be excused.

Why am I so sleepy you ask? FRESHERS! For those who are/have been through a university degree, I do not think this needs further explanation. For those that haven’t let me put it like this: Think a week-long party (with the equivalent amount of alcohol) that is at the same time form-filling marathon (registration, yay!), an Amazon exploration mission (seriously the Nottingham campus is huuuuuuuuu-yawn-uuuuge!), a diplomatic dinner (what with all the people you meet) and possibly the week you spend a disproportionate amount of our budget on books and office supplies (or if you are me, more than usual). And I LOVE IT!

Especially since now I’m a postgraduate and therefore familiar with some of the ins and outs of university life. Sure learning a new campus/city can be rather daunting but the terror of being away from home for the first time is no longer there and I know how to cook now, so no more Tesco meals for me. (I am still amazed and not shooting my cholesterol levels off the roof that first semester three years ago.)

I wish I could say more but I’m not kidding when I say I keep nodding off in front of the screen. So if you’re curious about what this crazy girl is doing with her life now, tune in next week when I’ll have had my first few seminars and undoubtedly more to rant and/or gush over.

Until then, sweet dreams my ducklings!

Twilight of the Spirit World – Closure

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Author’s note: In which some long overdue conversations happen, there is hard character development and the author wonders whether she should stop tormenting her characters…

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***Closure***

The first thing the group realised when they stepped through the thick mist was that Koh’s territory was an exotic paradise compared to what they were facing. The parchment-yellow and ash-grey fog that surrounded them thinned at places to reveal cracked rocks and skeletal trees. The sky and sun were hidden completely and the only light came from Zuko, Azula and Agni’s hands, the ruby crystal around Lia’s neck and the odd flash of light that appeared and disappeared without warning. Silence seemed to swallow them, not even their footsteps echoing. Nervously they huddled even closer together and hurried to catch up with Lia.

“Slow down, will you?” Ao said eventually, his voice resonating oddly, almost like the rumble of thunder. “If we end up losing we’ll waste even more time in here.”  Lia turned to look at him annoyed.

“It’s not my fault you can’t keep up,” she snapped. “We’re not going on a picnic, so hurry…” she trailed off, a look of fear flitting across her face. She clutched the crystal with one hand before turning on her heel and rushing forward again.

“This place reminds me of that swamp we ended up in before we met Toph,” Katara said suddenly. “You don’t think what Koh meant is that we’ll see the people we lost again?” She and Sokka exchanged a nervous look.

“I saw Toph,” Aang offered. “Maybe whoever we see will be here to help us?”

“These are the Mists,” Agni said grimly. “Only the lost walk them and the longer they stay the more they loose of themselves. I doubt they’d be of any help.”

“Then why would the Water crystal be here?” Azula asked him confused. To her surprise his answer was almost gentle.

“Who would dare to knowingly venture in a place like this?”

“You mean we’ll be affected too?” she asked scared. He pointed at the crawling tendrils of mists, tendrils that were more solid than they should probably be, that seemed to surround them like predators stalking their prey.

“If you listen carefully you can hear the lost,” he said before speeding up to walk next to Lia.

 

Toph was the first to understand what he meant. Her more sensitive ears caught the sound of the lost first and she visibly shuddered. It didn’t take long for the others to understand why. The deeper they moved the louder the voices became, unintelligible cries of agony, ecstasy and fury, all blending together so that it wasn’t clear if it was one person screaming or a multitude. Zuko blasted a few tendrils that moved too close for comfort and the mist seemed to retreat for a moment.

“I don’t think they like fire too much,” he remarked. Azula smirked, glad to be able to do something about the situation and she started using the tendrils for target practice, even as they continued to walk. She didn’t miss Ao’s appreciative look either. If her shots started becoming more elaborate, no one commented on it.

“It’s too quiet,” Suki said suddenly, causing everyone to pause. She was right. Nothing, not even the crackle of fire could be heard and even the tendrils had seemingly retreated. Then, with no warning, the fog descended and covered the group. They scrambled to keep hold of the person closest to them as cold fingers seemed to brush against their faces, chilling their breaths even as the air left their bodies. The retreat of the fog found them divided and further from each other than they realised.

 

Aang and Toph found themselves standing at the entrance of the Southern Air Temple. The airbender shuddered. It looked just as it had when he, Katara and Sokka had first visited it together and a part of him relived the terror and rage that he had first experienced there. Toph seemed to sense his turmoil.

“This is the Temple you grew up in, isn’t it?” she said quietly, the softness of her voice belaying the strength of her grip on his hand. Aang gulped.

“It is,” he said. “You know, even after meeting Zuko for the first time, even with Katara’s and Sokka’s warnings, I didn’t believe that the Air Nomads were lost until I came here. Why would the mist bring us here though?” Toph frowned and took a step forward, dragging him along.

“If the mist is made out of lost things then perhaps you need to find whatever it is you lost here. We’ll just have to start looking.”

 

Together they walked through the quiet and empty halls until they made it to what must have been an orchard once. Now the trees stood dry and half-wild, some of them having long fallen and rotted away.

“Do you think I can do it Toph?” Aang asked suddenly, leading his girlfriend towards a few steps and sitting there with her.

“You’ll have to be more specific Twinkle-Toes,” she said dryly. “I think you can do plenty of things.”

“Do you think I can revive the Air Nomads? Keep them from disappearing?” he paused and looked around. “It’s not just for the sake of the Avatar circle. I don’t want all the legacy that my people will have to be stories and ruins.”

“I don’t think things will be as dark as you think Aang,” Toph said seriously. “You ended the Hundred Year War…” Aang opened his mouth to interrupt her but she covered it with her hand. “Let me finish!” she chided. “Your story inspires people. There will be those that will wish to follow your way of living; the Air Nomads’ way of living. It will be slow going but we can restore the temples. And if you are worrying about the next Avatar not having an airbending master well…” she paused and blushed. “Our children are as likely to be airbenders as they are to be earthbenders.” Aang blushed as well at her words and smiled shyly. Suddenly the wild garden didn’t seem as unwelcoming as before.

“Promise me we’ll take it one day at a time together?” he said. Toph leaned against him.

“I promise,” she said.

 

Behind them the mist started to thin.

 

When the mist cleared Sokka and Suki found themselves, to their endless surprise, on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. The sky above them was cloudy and its reflection gave the water a strange milky-white colour. The couple looked around, trying to find the shore or, better yet, the way back to their friends. There wasn’t any wind and the only thing rocking the boat was their own movements. Finally Sokka exhaled in exasperation.

“How on earth are we going to leave this place?” he whined, flopping on his back and staring at the sky moodily. Suki nudged him with her foot.
“I thought you are the idea guy,” she teased him gently. “Why don’t you put that big head of yours to use?”

“This isn’t our world! Half the time I don’t even understand why things happen the way they do here!”

“When has that stopped you before from being brilliant?” a voice said from above them. A soft voice that Sokka recognised immediately and had him jumping to his feet searching frantically for its owner.

“Yue?” he called out hopefully.

 

Above the boat the clouds parted to reveal the moon and from it descended the former Princess of the Northern Water Tribe. She smiled at the pair kindly.

“It’s good to see you again Sokka,” she said, hovering in front of the boat, just out of reach. She turned to Suki. “And it is good to finally meet you Suki.” The Kyoshi warrior nodded carefully at the Moon Spirit, glancing quickly at Sokka, nervous at his tense silence.

“It is good to meet you too Yue,” she said at last. “I have heard a lot about you.” She fell silent again, not sure what else to say.

“Was it my fault?” Sokka blurted out, looking at Yue desperately. “Was there anything I could have done?” She looked at him serenely but sadly and shook her head.

“No,” she said at last. “This was meant to happen. It would have always happened.” Her expression crumbled for a moment. “But I am sorry to have caused you grief. I never meant to hurt you.” They looked at each other and for a moment all that could have been seemed to make the gap between them even greater.

“How could it have been either’s fault?” Suki broke the silence, looking at both Sokka and Yue sternly. “You were children trying to fix the problems the hatred of the previous generations caused. And from all the stories I’ve heard you both did more and sacrificed more than anyone had the right to ask of you.” Sokka looked at her stunned but Yue smiled.

“You are very wise Suki,” she said. “Take care of him for both of us.” Suki nodded quietly, a silent message passing between the two women. Then Yue turned to Sokka and place a palm on the side of his face. “Be happy,” she whispered before disappearing. Sokka turned to Suki and silently hugged her, the guilt of Yue’s death finally leaving him.

 

Around them the mist disappeared.

 

“This is too weird,” Azula said exasperated, looking around at the courtyard she had played in many times as a child. Next to her Ao was examining their surroundings curiously.

“This is where you grew up?” he said surprised. “How come you’re a warrior?” She turned to him in surprise and he took a hasty step back. “I did not mean to say that! But seriously, this place looks to comfortable!”

“You don’t look like a Water Spirit anyway,” Azula retorted, “so I guess nothing is at appears.” She gave him another look. “I still think your eyes are beautiful though.” She blushed as red as her tunic and slapped a hand over her mouth. Ao blushed too but he managed a flirty smile.

“Same goes to you princess,” he said. “I think I get it,” he added more seriously. “This is a place where truths are revealed. That’s why we can’t control what we say. Once we save reality as we know it, do you want to go traveling with me?” He groaned and banged his head against a nearby tree. “Great!” he muttered. “That’s exactly how I planned asking you.” To his surprise Azula laughed.

“Let’s save the world before we make any travel plans, shall we?” she said and reached for his hand. “Now how about I show you around and we look for an exit?”

 

Neither noticed the courtyard melting as they left it behind.

 

The clearing shook as yet another fireblast hit one of the few trees not to be burnt down yet. Lia doubled over, breathing heavily as she tried to conjure the energy to continue with her destruction of the landscape. Agni stood to the side, well out of her range, frowning worriedly. When the mist had first cleared they had found themselves in an idyllic clearing, one that belonged to the distant past, with trees and flowers that had not survived the shifts in spiritual energy that had caused the first benders to appear. When one more tree fell to the ground he decided enough was enough. He marched up to Lia and grabbed her hands just as she released her energy. It rippled between them for a moment before being absorbed by the crystal.

“This isn’t real,” he told her forcefully. “You’re gaining nothing by burning everything to the ground.” Lia tried to wrench her hands free.

“It’s my memories that conjured this place up,” she spat. “If I want to burn it I will.”

“Perhaps, but the memory will remain!” Agni shook her angrily, trying to get through before she began to truly panic. He had noticed the signs since she had realised that the fog would conjure memories back to life, but truth be told he wasn’t certain what might happen to Lia if she really managed to destroy one of her most important memories. He wasn’t very eager to find out either. Tightening his grip to force her to look at him he forced himself to speak calmly. “You cannot escape what has already been done. Let’s just try to find our way out, okay.”

 

For a moment it seemed like Lia didn’t understand what she was told. Finally she jerked her head in a sharp nod and pulled away, striding towards the edge of the clearing, doing her outmost to ignore the destruction around her. For once she didn’t object to Agni walking by her side. They had almost reached the edge when a childish voice, carried by the wind, caused Lia to freeze in place, all blood draining from her face. Agni wrapped an arm around her waist letting her lean against him as her breathing grew ragged and her hands started to tremble. The voice was louder now, coming closer, and Agni turned them both to face the burnt land just as a black-haired, brown-eyed boy dressed in green appeared. He couldn’t be more than ten years old and the only indication of his nature was the unearthly pallor of his skin. He took one look at them and with a bright smile threw himself to Lia’s embrace. In turn her trembling increased as she looked down to a face she had not seen in millennia.

“You’re dead,” she said hoarsely even as her arms moved to cradle the boy tightly. He nodded against her.

“I don’t mind,” he answered, his voice muffled from where he rested his face on her shoulder. He pulled back a little to look her in the eye and frowned, for the first time realising that his sister wasn’t exactly looking happy. “You…you can’t be blaming yourself?” he exclaimed in disbelief. Lia frowned and let go of him.

“I’m the very incarnation of fire, the thing that killed you Hisao!” she said angrily brushing a few tears away. “And even if I weren’t a Fire Spirit, I was your sister. It was my job to protect you, not the other way around!” Hisao bit his lip and then, more carefully this time, hugged his sister again, pulling her to sit on the ground.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “It’s okay to be sad.” His arms tightened around her as she started crying.

“I…just…miss you…so much,” she choked out. “It wasn’t fair!”

“I miss you too. But think of all the things that wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t become a Fire Spirit.” Lia shook her head.

“Agni would have managed,” she said.

“Maybe I would have,” Agni said suddenly, kneeling on her other side. “But I wouldn’t have given to our people all that you gave them.” Lia looked up surprised. He managed a small smile and wrapped his arms around her too. “We are equals in everything and don’t you forget it!”

 

Tremulously, hesitantly, the tears seemed to slow down. Lia looked at her brother to find him watching with a hopeful expression.

“I’ll always miss you,” she told him. “And I will always be sad that I lost you the way I did. But I think I am ready to start moving on.” Hisao gave her a bright smile and stood up. All the wisdom drained from his expression as he turned threateningly towards Agni.

“And you treat my sister nicely mister!” he ordered the Spirit before giving the redhead one last hug and with a cheerful wave disappeared in the woods. Agni, still startled by that last comment had barely had time to recover when Lia leaned against him, turning to curl with her side against his chest as the emotional turmoil finally took its toll and she fell asleep.

 

A bright light covered them.

 

Katara and Zuko turned abruptly at the sound of footsteps behind them. They had been walking through ankle-deep water since the fog had transported them away from the others. Seeing nothing they warily turned to continue walking when the water in front of them started rippling. It rose and formed a figure that slowly condensed to a woman dressed in Water Tribe clothes. Katara took a step back in shock.

“Mum?” she whispered in disbelief. Kya opened her eyes and smiled lovingly at her grown-up daughter.

“It’s so good to see again sweetie,” she said, spreading her arms to embrace Katara. The waterbender didn’t any more encouragement. She rushed to her mother’s arms laughing and crying at the same time. When the two finally parted Kya looked at Zuko first and then Katara.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to this nice young man Katara?” she asked almost playfully. Katara blushed but moved to her boyfriend’s side.

“Mum, this is Zuko,” she said. Kya looked at them silently for a moment, taking in the way they held hands and leaned into each other and the necklace that hung on Katara’s neck, a blue ribbon and a finely carved sunstone.

“It is nice to meet you Zuko,” she said finally, nodding her head in greeting.

“It is an honour to meet you ma’am,” Zuko answered, nodding respectfully back.

“Mum what are you doing here? We were told this is where the lost souls go.” Katara’s eyes widened in fear. She couldn’t bear to imagine her mother roaming this desolate place forever.

“Don’t worry dear,” said Kya. “This is also a place for lost things to be found. Just like I found you.” She reached under her parka and pulled out a brilliant blue crystal. “The Spirits wished to entrust you with this and I couldn’t miss a chance to see my little girl again. So offered to wait for your arrival so that I might give it to you.”

 

Katara extended her hand to take the crystal, her eyes widening as she became almost hyperaware of the water surrounding her. In front of her, her mother’s spectre started fading.

“Wait,” Katara cried. “I thought we’d have more time!” Kya shook her head.

“My time is over Katara. You know this.” By now she was a mere echo. “I love you sweetie. And tell your father and brother that I love them too.”

“I love you mum.” Katara whispered as her mother completely disappeared from sight. Slowly she pulled the chain from which the crystal hung around her neck and took Zuko’s hand.

“Are you okay,” he asked her hesitantly.

“Yes,” she answered, and to her surprise she said the truth.

 

Everything around them disappeared.

 

Aang and Toph thought they were the first to stumble out of the swamp and into clean air. To their surprise they found Agni leaning against a tree, with Lia wrapped protectively in his arms, fast asleep. Toph smiled softly. She didn’t need sight to tell that their hearts were beating in sync.

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Και ο ήχος του κόσμου αντηχεί παντού.

Τριγύρω κουβέντες πλανιόνται

Και ο αέρας τρεμοπαίζει από λέξεις.

Φράσεις και προτάσεις – γέλια, κραυγές,

Τον δρόμο καθώς κατεβαίνεις ακούς.

Ακούς μα δεν προσέχεις γιατί τα μπλέκεις

Με την μουσική που σε κλείνει

Σε ένα κουκούλι ρυθμού.

Έτσι η δεύτερη φωνή γίνεται σόλο

Και η χορωδία σιωπά,

Καθώς προχωράς από δρόμο σε δρόμο

Σε μια συναυλία που δεν σταματά.

In which there is packing. Again!

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It appears that I cannot go for any respectable amount of time without being required to pack a suitcase….And don’t get me wrong! I love travelling. What I don’t love is trying to predict what I might need for a year in an unfamiliar city, all the while keeping in mind airline weight restrictions. Yeah…In other news Yours Truly is packing to leave for her postgrad degree.

Ugh, I do NOT want to go upstairs and face my suitcase. I mean, I leave on Friday so I still have some time to procrastinate but it doesn’t help when every day somebody will remember yet another thing I should “definitely take with me”. No, I’m not leaving my clothes behind in order to load on office supplies (even if they a lot cheaper here…).

And  yes, I have planned my schedule for both the travelling and the moving in days. In exhausting detail I might. I need not recap it every other day. I get that this is a stressful time but man I just want to watch Naruto or go for a walk.

Times like this I dream for Hermione Granger’s bigger-on-the-inside bag more than ever. Just shove everything in a tiny purse and be done with it. Could somebody look in the idea for me?

Twilight of the Spirit World – A Blast from the Past

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Author’s note: In which the author brings back a favourite character of hers, denial is also a river in the Spirit World and there is an addition to the Gaang.

Previous chapter: link

Next chapter: link

***A Blast from the Past***

Dawn found nearly everyone in the group wishing they could sleep in for once. They gathered in the front room of the house they had been given looking pale, tired and, in Lia’s case, more than a little hangover. Sokka’s eyes widened at the sight of the usually energetic Spirit trudging last in the room, dark circles under her eyes and hair framing her face limply.

“What happened to you?” he nearly yelled. Lia winced as his loud voice added to her headache.

“Less noise, more quiet,” she managed to mumble, massaging her temples. “And for the record, whatever I might have said last night best be forgotten.” Suki chuckled.

“What, you spill your secrets when you get drunk?” she asked.

“Then how come you’ve never mentioned it before?” Toph added disappointed. “Think of all the fun we’ve missed.” The redhead just groaned in response.

“See if I ever touch the stuff again…” she said before turning hopefully to Katara. “A little help for your soon-to-be-sister-in-law?” The waterbender rolled her eyes but healed the headache nonetheless.

“Why did you drink so much anyway?” she couldn’t help but scold the redhead. “You knew we wouldn’t be staying here.” Lia shrugged carelessly.

“It was worth it!” she said.

“Not like you said anything particularly embarrassing Lily,” Agni said from his place by the door. “Even drunk you wouldn’t say what your secret was.” Lia looked at him blankly for a moment, then some of last night’s memory decided to present itself. To everyone’s surprise she blushed.

“Of course!” she grumbled. “Of course you’d be the one to find me drunk out of my mind!” She took a deep breath. “I suppose it could have been worse.” She picked her bag and made for the door. Turning to face the rest of the gang, who were gaping at her relatively calm reaction, she raised an eyebrow impatiently. “Well? Are you coming or what?” Toph whistled impressed and waltzed over to Agni.

“I don’t know what you did last night but it sure mellowed her!” she said, punching him in the arm. “Good work!”

“Thanks, I think,” he answered, rubbing his arm. For a sixteen-year-old she sure was strong!

 

All teasing aside, the festival seemed to have siphoned at least some of the tension that had hung over the group before. Short conversations would break every now and then as they walked towards the city gates. The streets were mostly deserted, the city’s inhabitants clearly preferring to lie in after last night’s revel, although a few were out and about and they cheerfully waved at the group as they passed them. Under the early morning light the city’s colour seemed washed out, even the gems sparkling half-heartedly. Most surprisingly perhaps, when they arrived at the gate they had entered through the previous day, instead of the ornate marble arch, they found a plainer one, carved out of rough granite. Oma stood at the side, waiting for them with a soft smile. Surveying the still-sleepy expressions in some of their faces she chuckled.

“It seems you all had a good time last night,” she said.  “I’m glad. And I have one last gift for you.”

“It’s not whatever Lia drank last night, is it?” Zuko asked, laughing at how the Spirit perked up at the prospect despite her earlier vow of abstinence. Oma shook her head smiling.

“No, I don’t think that would be of much help right now,” she said lightly. Then she grew solemn. “It has to do with your quest,” she said. “The location of the Water crystal.”

“You know where it is?” Aang asked eagerly. His face fell when the Earth Spirit shook her head negatively.

“No,” she said. “But I do know someone who does. Koh, the Face Stealer.” Aang involuntarily shuddered at the idea of dealing with the creepy Spirit again. The rest of the group also seemed weary, having heard Aang’s account of his encounter with Koh. Lia snorted at their expressions.

“Oh come on!” she said. “He’s not that bad!” The others gave her dubious looks. “He’s not!” Even Oma was looking at her surprised.

 

Clearing his throat awkwardly Aang turned to Oma, once again the spokesperson for the group.

“Thank you for all your help,” he said as formally as possible. Oma bowed her head in acknowledgement.

“I hope our next meeting is under better circumstances,” she said before opening the gate for them. “Fare well on your travels.” With one final nod the group passed through the gate, exiting at the bottom of the mountain. The gate closed behind them and disappeared.

“So since you are apparently friends with the Face Stealer, does that mean that you know where he lives?” Sokka asked Lia.

“Yup!” she said. “He’s on the swamps, pretty much as close to the in-between as you can get without actually leaving the Spirit World behind.” She gave Aang a look. “You know the place, don’t you?” The Avatar nodded.

“I ended up there the first time I crossed over, during the invasion of the Northern Water Tribe. But the area is very large,” he added worriedly. “Last time I had Hei Bai to guide me through. How are we going to find him now?” Agni didn’t seem very concerned.

“I’m sure he tells his friends how to find him,” he said lazily, causing everyone to stare at Lia expectantly. She frowned and everything around her blurred. A chorus of “Hey!”s caused her to settle down, their surroundings rematerializing to the place they had been standing.

“Well?” she asked irritably. “Do you want me to take you guys there or not?”

“A word of warning first!” Azula grumbled, letting go of Zuko, whom she had grabbed in order to keep her balance. She didn’t receive an answer so she took to glaring at the Spirit’s back instead. “What’s up with her all of a sudden?” she mumbled, receiving an equally confused look from her brother.

 

In the end there wasn’t much blurring and teleporting that day and when they set up camp that night the mountain was still visible in the distance. The walk had done little to improve Lia’s mood and she had fallen to a brooding silence, ignoring the light chatter of her friends. Instead of joining the others around the fire, she sat a little further away, scowling at the fact that the others were slowly growing more comfortable with Agni’s presence, even including him in their conversation. The crystal heated up against her collarbone in reaction to her unsettled emotions as she vainly tried to figure out exactly what was that had set her on edge all day. It had to do with last night, that much she was certain, but the night was foggy in her memory. No matter what Agni had said earlier, she knew she had revealed something that she would have preferred to keep hidden. Her train of thought was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming from the shadow-covered trees nearby. Before anyone else had much of a chance to react she was on her feet and hurtling a fireball in the direction of the sound. The shadows just behind the spot her fire landed condensed to a human shape with a face reminiscent of Zuko’s old Blue Spirit mask, and at last materialised to a man dressed in black, with a royal blue cloak and hood that he pushed back to reveal a face with sharp features and electric blue eyes. Recognising him, Lia smiled in delight and practically jumped in his arms.

“Ao!” she exclaimed, pulling away a little to look in his eyes. “It’s been ages! How did you find us?” He shrugged lazily –as best as he could with his arm around her shoulders-.

“Word of you going around and causing trouble has spread. I figured I’d come and see what all the fuss is about,” he said.

“There’s more people here you know,” Azula cut their reunion. “Are you going to introduce us or what?” Lia stepped away with a laugh.

“Sorry about that,” she said, turning to face the group. “Everyone, this is Ao, the Blue Spirit.”

“Yo,” Ao nodded in acknowledgment to the introduction before taking a seat between Azula and Lia and joining the group’s conversation.  Distracted as they were by their exchange of stories, nobody noticed that Agni, who had at first been amused at Lia’s reaction towards all things unidentified, was frowning deeper by the moment as he observed the friendship between Lia and Ao. After their exchange party he had thought that maybe the redhead had decided to call a truce but apparently he had been wrong.

 

Regardless of Agni’s frustration Ao’s addition to the group managed to relieve some of the tension if only because he knew how to distract Lia when her mood seemed to take a turn for the worse. He listened with amusement as she recounted how she had talked Zuko into taking up the Blue Spirit as an alias for a while and would have probably talked about sword-fighting techniques with Zuko and Sokka for the rest of the day if their arrival at Koh’s domain didn’t interrupt them. Everyone quieted down as they took in their surroundings. The place seemed even more desolate than Aang remembered, tendrils of mist winding around the trees like clawed hands.

“Do we need to go in there?” he asked, pointing at the cave entrance and looking about as eager as Lia had looked in front of the Library.

“We’re in his front yard,” Toph pointed out. “He probably knows we’re here already.”

“Doesn’t mean he’ll come out,” Suki said, her hand nervously resting against the fans hanging from her belt. Lia shook her head and marched towards the entrance, although she didn’t step into the shadows either.

“Koh!” she called instead, leaning casually against the wall and ignoring Aang’s hurried instruction of the “no emotion” rule. “Are you going to keep us waiting all day or are you going to crawl out.”

“I can hear you quite well without the screaming,” Koh’s smooth voice came from the shadows, followed by the Spirit itself. He observed the group before him, completely ignoring the amused redhead at his side. “Let us dispense with the formalities. I have no interest in adding any of your faces in my collection.” A few hesitant expressions of relief appeared.

“Isn’t that just grand!” Lia said, moving to join the others as they slowly approached. “Oma said you know where the Water crystal is. Don’t suppose you’ll tell us.” Koh’s face shifted from his customary Noh mask to that of an old, annoyed-looking human.

“I am not here to provide trivia,” he said, his voice unchanging and contrasting eerily with the age face he sported.

“But you’ll make an exception just this once?” Toph asked in a sugary-sweet voice that made everyone look at her bewildered. Koh focused his eyes on her, taking note of her sightless eyes in interest.

“Not quite,” he said finally. “There is no love lost between me and the Avatar,” he paused and looked at Aang knowingly, “and I have already aided him once with no recompense. Why would I do it again?”

“Because if you don’t there’ll be even less people stumbling in on your domain and it will become harder to collect faces?” Azula offered only half-joking. Koh appeared to consider her point. In the end he sighed and shifted back to the inscrutable Noh mask.

“The mists of this swamp conceal all things sought by Spirit or mortal,” he said, almost as if reciting from an old text. “All that is hidden is revealed within them to those brave enough to enter.” Without another word he turned and returned to his cave, leaving the group to stare at his retreating back confused.

“Does that mean that the crystal is somewhere in the swamps then?” Katara asked hesitantly. Zuko took her hand, feeling uneasy but staring at the mist-covered terrain in front of them determined.

“I suppose there is only one way to find out,” he said.

“You don’t mean…” Sokka trailed off when he saw Zuko heading towards the swamp and sighed. “Of course you do.”

“It’s not like we have much of a choice,” Aang reasoned, although he didn’t look particularly eager to enter the swamp either.

“Well, let’s go then!” Lia pushed forward, bypassing Zuko and Katara and pretty much diving in the mist. Her voice came out muffled. “The sooner we find the crystal, the sooner we can get out of here.”

 

One by one the mists swallowed the group until nothing was left to mark their passage. In the shadows Koh chuckled knowingly.

“All that is sought and all that is hidden,” he mused, “all that has been covered by the mists of the past.”

Σεπτέμβρης

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Τι κι αν ο αέρας είναι ακόμα ζεστός;

Τι κι αν ο ήλιος ακόμα λάμπει;

 

Το φθινόπωρο έρχεται και μπορείς να το δεις

Στα σύννεφα που κυνηγιούνται

Σαν παιδιά ακόμα σε διακοπές.

 

Μπορείς να το ακούσεις

Στα κουδούνια που αρχίζουν να ηχούν

Στις αυλές και τα προαύλια των σχολείων.

 

Στην φωνή του μανάβη που από ροδάκινα

Περνά στα μήλα κι αχλάδια,

Στις ομπρέλες και τα παλτά που ξαφνικά

Τα βρίσκεις παντού –για μήνες τα είχαμε ξεχάσει-,

 

Και πάνω απ’όλα στο φως του ήλιου.

Το φως που από λευκό, χρυσίζει,

Που με κάθε μέρα γίνεται και πιο ισχνό,

Λίγο λίγο για την ώρα, για τον μήνα

Που μας βρίσκει πιασμένους

Ανάμεσα σε καλοκαίρι και χειμώνα.

In which I reminisce past loves

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I’ve been in a bit of a fandom kick lately but my holidays are almost done so I thought I’d do one last fan-post before I become distracted by the new academic year. I’ve been mentioning Yu-Gi-Oh! on and off lately (and re-watching it for the matter) so I figured it was about time I did a post on it. What’s my history with the show that teaches kids that any problem can be solved with a card game? To start, I was in a strange age when I first watched it (miraculously catching it from the first episode). I was just hitting puberty and although I was never really a tomboy it appealed to me more than Winx Club (which was the only other cartoon airing at the same time). Looking back I can’t explain what it was that captured my attention. I was watching a re-dubbed version of the 4Kids dub, so it wasn’t like the dialog was riveting or anything. Even then I thought some of the lines over-dramatic and perhaps it was exactly that that I liked. At least the show sounded like it was taking its story and audience seriously. How many kids’ shows today do that? There were stakes -bizarre stakes no doubt, but still- and even us kids understood that the words “Shadow Realm” carried a certain weight to them.

I’m not ashamed to say that this was the show that gave me my first character-crush. Yes, folks! While other eleven and twelve-year-old girls were sighing over Orlando Bloom I was crossing my fingers and hoped that my favourite, standoff-ish character would be in this weekend’s episodes. No, I’m not gonna say any names. I will only say that he wasn’t the main character. Whether it was my flair for the dramatic or my newly-emerging, loving-all-things-fantasy side that spurred me on, I was devastated when they stoppe0d airing the show one season short. Life moved on however and for a few years Yu-Gi-Oh! remained in the back of my mind as the show I used to love back in grades 6 and 7.

In the meantime the internet took off big time and with it Youtube and all those other wonderful places where you can watch your childhood’s obsessions armed with Nostalgia Goggles and lots of Ben&Jerries. I was looking for somewhere to watch Naruto when I stumbled across a website that had the entire 4Kids’d version of Yu-Gi-Oh!, including the elusive season 5. I watched the entire thing in two weeks (I had school) and from there moved to the manga (which was delightfully violent if not poorly scanned at times). To my disappointment I couldn’t find the subbed version of the anime anywhere (I’m still looking in fact) but I made do with what I had. And what I did have was good headphones and an ever-increasing familiarity with fanfiction.net and its curious ways. It didn’t matter that there were only two hundred and something episodes to watch and that I had already screenshot all my favourite scenes in the manga because the available fanfics -even narrowed down to not including the more…disturbing ones- numbered the thousands. -fangirl glee-

I watched and read and shipped and searched for interesting AUs and had a new favourite every other week. Not character, mind you, but ship, which is kind of strange for me. I’m usually pretty solid on who I ship with whom. Of course my OTP was, is and will be Azureshipping but I don’t really rage against other pairings. Except for the really weird ones and Peachshipping. It reminds me FAR TOO MUCH of Kataang…. (Mum, if you are readig this ask me before you google them!)

But surely, you say, something had to change with the passing of years. I wasn’t the plucky twelve-year-old anymore, surely my understanding of the show had change. In a way it had. I was more interested in the subtleties of character development than in the question of which monster would blow which up. And that was in part what led to a slight rearrangement of my list of favourite characters. Sure, Seto Kaiba was still in the top five (shoot! I gave myself away here!) but the number one spot was claimed by somebody else: Yami Bakura. Big shock, I know. And before anyone makes any assumptions, no, it wasn’t his ability to make the freaking Joker look tame by comparison. It was something really small that many people probably missed. In episode 84, Dark Spirit Revealed (part 3), Yami B. is faced with the choice of letting his  host take a hit and possibly win the duel in progress or protect Ryou and watch his plan crumble…again. So far the character has been presented as a Bad-To-The-Bone so this should really be a no-brainer. But it isn’t. While the conundrum is being presented, the animation does a short close up to his eyes. For those who have not spent as much time as I have browsing trope pages and/or analysing books/movies/plays/whatever, a short explanation is in order. To my experience, this short of close-up is usually reserved for when a character is going through an internal clash of morals or other similar conflict. It is a very important clue to character motivations, especially when it is a character whose inner thought process is hardly explored.  It is doubly important when one considers that this short clip was kept despite 4Kids’ habit of removing clips left, right and center…

Where am I going with this treatise? It excited my curiosity at the time. Then I watched Season 5 and a lot of Yami Bakura’s actions made a looooooot more sense. And before anyone goes off at me about the whole “I am Zorc” line, I would like to point out that at the original timeline (not the Memory World arc) Thief King Bakura and Zorc were both sealed inside the Millennium Ring. After three thousand years living in close quarters with the Master of All Evil (in-universe) it would be no surprise that they would feed off each other. And there was certainly enough of the Thief King left to rage against the Pharaoh’s court in episode 202…I believe. Fangirl soapbox moment over. What I’m trying to say is that there was a serious story being told under all the cheesy one-liners. Perhaps it wasn’t delivered quite the way I wanted (Bakura being the only main villain in the show not get a chance for redemption even though he was the one most deserving in my opinion…) but they managed to deliver a high-stakes game in a way that showed they understood what they were writing. There was no easy solution and the tension was rising with every episode until the rather deus ex machina resolution. And even that didn’t bother me. Zorc was a villain that required this sort of ending.

So here is why I still like Yu-Gi-Oh! even after all these years. Nostalgia aside, 90s cheese aside, there was a good story being told. There were likable and sometimes even relate-able character (and how often can you say that in a manga where people have magical artifacts at their disposal?). And, all things considered, it was a rather gentle introduction to the mad, wonderful world that we call anime. Am I glad to have watched it. Definitely.