Brought to you by 263px
Chapter 19 - The Witches of KyoshiEdit
The Morning The Imperial Party Arrived In The StraitsEdit
After learning who Aang and Omen were, the girl called off her pet sea monster and introduced herself as Suki, head of the Kyoshi Witch Clan and led them into the Straits. Now the Albatross was pulling up to dock at the edge of a wide scorched patch of earth, the center of which was occupied by an immense fortified city which appeared to be built entirely of stone and earth. The surrounding scorched land was littered with slaves, dumping barrels of thick black tar across the desolate ground and barrels of salt into the water.
Suki led them across a series of six light metal plates which flew across the tar flats, forming a ramp and floating above the tar, seemingly of their own accord, "You'll have to pardon the smell," She said over her shoulder, "We have to keep anything from growing near here so the Kroobies can't get the drop on us." Katrina wrinkled her nose and Katara covered hers with a thick cloth as they advanced through the foul smelling air, the plates moving beneath each other once everyone had advanced over them and forming a continual walkway for them to advance across "How can you stand living in the middle of this stink?"
Suki laughed, "Oh it's not in the city, we only have to smell it when we're coming or going." Aang said in a nasal voice, "It must be really terrible. Glad I can't smell it." Everyone looked at him and saw that he had flattened his nose to his face, it was sealed about as shut as it could be. Omen lurched back in revulsion, "Put your nose back! You look disgusting!" Aang immediately put his nose back and she frowned at him, "Don't ever do that again."
Sokka noticed a flicker of movement above his head height and the Churaians' hands went to their noses as they replaced their noses. Sokka grinned, then he looked down at the metal plates as he walked over them, "Hey ah, Suki!" Suki looked over her shoulder at him, "Yes?" "How do these plates work?" Suki smiled at him, "Well I'm a witch aren't I? A little magic goes a long way." She winked at him flirtatiously, although this was obscured by her mask and thus totally lost on him, and she continued to advance. Sokka's eye twitched slightly as he resolved to uncover the workings of this so-called "magic".
As they entered the city, they saw that it was beautiful despite being totally devoid of plant life. The lack of plants was made up for with the presence of fountains and ornate architecture. Every corner it seemed had a fountain, and Katrina had to keep a hand on Ochi and Fidi, who rode on her shoulder like a little parrot, from leaping to the ground and going for a swim. As they passed through the city, Katara noticed a strange statue, "What's that?"
Suki looked and paused, "That is Empress Kyoshi among the four great beasts. The Hydra, the Devil Bat, the Phoenix, and the Bone-Beast, representing the four sects." Then she turned and smiled at an old man with spiraling horns like those of an old ram in a rocking chair on a nearby porch who looked about ready to leap out of his chair at the sight of the strange ensemble before him, "Good morning Tyro, how are you today?"
Tyro blinked and replied in a deep rumbly voice, "If these are who I think they are, then I am better than I have been in a long time." Suki smiled, "So you're better than you've been a long time." Tyro sat back, a stunned look fading into a smile, "Yes. Yes I'd say we all are." He looked over his shoulder, "Haru! Meng! Mary! Come here! Excellent news!"
A fairly pretty woman with dark frizzy hair in the shape of a mushroom cap and a green robe poked her head out of the window, "What?" Then her eyes lit on the group in the street, and her jaw dropped, she looked over her shoulder, "Haru! Mary! It's the Emperor! He's back!" Then she poked her head back out, and muttered to herself, "but which one is it?"
A tall handsome man in green with long hair a moustache and a goatee came out of the house and was quickly follow by a tall lovely young woman who looked to be in her early twenties. The man blinked, and then bowed, "Good morning your Highness. I am Haru, and this is my wife Meng and my daughter Mary." "Highnesses actually," Aang replied with a smile, "I am Emperor Aang, and this is Empress Omen." Omen smiled at him and then at Haru, "It is a pleasure to meet you, Tyro, Haru, Meng and Mary."
The younger woman, Mary, tilted her head to the side thinking, "Wow these guys are short!" Then she looked at the Churaians and smiled to herself, now that's a little more my speed, she thought. Then she turned her attention to what was passing between Suki and Tyro, "I was thinking a welcome feast tomorrow night. Think we can pull that off?" Tyro frowned and stroked his beard thoughtfully, "I am not sure. Our fishermen haven't been having very good hauls lately, and you know there hasn't been a trade ship through in several weeks. We could send runners to Erog, but that would take at least three or four days, and we do not know that the Kroobies would not intercept them."
Suki frowned slightly and then the largest of the three immense Bone Mongers at the back of the group spoke up, "Oh don't worry about that." The smallest grinned and crossed his arms as the middle brother shot a glare at the largest of the three brothers, "Yeah, Chuckles here is one of the best cooks in the world. We can do the meal." The middle one, with the huge bushy beard and wild hair's eyes widened as his brothers ignored his warning glares and suddenly leapt into the air, smacked the larger brother with a quickly materialized bone ladle and then thwacked the smaller one too as he landed.
His brothers rubbed their heads, "What was that for?" the bigger one rumbled. The middle one was irate as he pointed at them with his ladle, "I have told you both a million times not to go volunteering us for things we might not be able to do! And what do you do as soon as you see an opportunity to sign us up for something huge and insane? Exactly what I told you not to do!" He twirled his ladle between his fingers with a growl, and turned to Suki and Tyro, "You two know this area pretty well, what plants grow near here that we can eat?"
"You can't be serious," Tyro exclaimed, "The swamp is dangerous! We stopped sending out foraging expeditions because nobody's come back since the Kroobies started making trouble!" Chuckles pointed the ladle at him, "Don't talk to us about danger good sir, we are Churaians. We can handle it. Now what food grows near here?" Tyro blinked in surprise and nodded before complying with a list of things that grew naturally in the swamp.
Fifteen minutes later and a list of local food resources later, the Churaians charged away. Suki called after them, "Wait! You have to watch out for the tar!" She flew after them, but at the edge of the tar field, the Churaians suddenly jumped and flew in an incredible horizontal leap over a thousand feet, clean across the tar field and onto the deck of the Albatross. Suki and all the workers in the tar fields gaped. A voice suddenly spoke from beside her, "Yep, that's the Churaian Brothers."
Suki looked and saw Sokka next to her, "I think I've heard of the Churaian Brothers. Aren't they the ones that single handedly exterminated the Black Spider Wolf Hordes in the Great Divide?" Sokka grinned as the Churaians lowered a small boat into the river with several large baskets, "Yep, that's them. I kinda feel sorry for these Kroobies of yours. If the Churaians find them, they're doomed." Suki raised an eyebrow, "I hope you're right, but I don't think you've seen a Kroobie fight."
Sokka grinned, "No, but I've seen those three. Trust me, they'll be fine." Then he pointed to the metal plates that had ferried them across the tar field, "And while I've got you here, seriously, how do these work?" Suki smiled with a resigned sigh, "Can't you just be happy with magic?" "No," Sokka replied. Suki smiled, "Okay, then I guess I'll tell you." She pointed a finger up and Sokka's bones suddenly froze in position and then picked him up off the ground, "I can lift the plates the same way I can lift you. She made a circle in the air with her finger and brought his head down to level with hers, turning him upside down in the process but positioning him so that he was facing her, "Good enough?"
She returned control of his jaw to him and he replied, "Yeah, good enough." She smiled, "Good." Then she dropped him. It wasn't a pleasant landing and when Sokka opened his eyes, Suki was floating over him upside down smiling, "It could be an entirely new thought for you, but maybe some things are simply best left being described as "magical"." Then she turned herself so that she was right side up, "Come along whenever you feel like it, and if you have any more questions ask Mary. She's a witch like me; she can explain a lot of it to you."
Ten Minutes Later, After Sokka Picked Himself UpEdit
Sokka walked back to the house with the old man Suki had been talking to, Tyro, which if he recalled rightly was where Mary lived. The old man, Tyro had raised an eyebrow at first, but when Sokka explained that Suki had told him to come ask Mary about "magic", Tyro had burst out laughing and called her out. Now Mary was leading him through the city toward the edge of town, three little chunks of bone spinning in a floating ring above her hand.
She smiled down at him, "So I guess you've never seen Bone-Monger magic before?" Sokka snorted, "I don't believe in magic. I believe in inventive Bone-Mongers who use clever tricks to make themselves seem more powerful." Mary looked at him in surprise, "Well, actually you're pretty close. It's actually just creative Bone-Shaping." "Aha!" Sokka exclaimed, "I knew it!" One of Mary's bone pellets bounced off his head before flying back to the ring floating over her hand, "If you annoy me I won't tell you how it's done."
"Sorry," Sokka apologized meekly. Mary smiled smugly and led on.
Suki led those left of the Imperial party into the large fortified building in the center of the village. Whether it was a fortress or a small palace was hard to decide; it was certainly a very grand residence, but it was also quite obviously designed for defense. It was built entirely of stone, brick and metal, not a trace of wood in it. There would be nothing in it for invading Kroobies to use against defenders. The central courtyard was floored with multicolored pebbles and salt. "What are they doing?" Aang asked as he watched the slaves busily raking the pebbles.
Suki looked over her shoulder to follow his gaze, "They're stirring the pebbles and salt to ensure no errant seeds survive long in the courtyard. If the Kroobies invade, we want them to be at as steep a disadvantage as we can manage." Aang nodded to an immense pit in the center of the courtyard, "And what's that giant hole?" Suki smiled, "That's our access to the badger-wolf warren." Dread-Eye's eyes bugged out, "So you really do keep giant badger-wolves?" Suki whistled and suddenly a big brown and tawny head poked up out of the hole, large triangular ears standing straight up. The head was as big as the slave raking pebbles next to the hole.
Suki shrugged as the badger-wolf leapt from the hole as it spotted her and bounded over, sending pebbles flying as it went, earning groans of disappointment from the slaves raking pebbles. The badger-wolf stopped right in front of Suki and panted happily as she reached up and scratched its head, "Well, you tell me. Do you think they're particularly gigantic? I've never seen one fully grown that was much smaller than Bobo here."
"Bobo" was big enough that the Churaians could have all ridden him at once and had room for more. His teeth were as long as Suki's arms and its claws were as long as she was tall. Dread-Eye nodded, "Yeah, pretty gigantic." Suki smiled carelessly, "Well then, I guess we do keep giant badger-wolves, although really these are just ordinary badger-wolves." After a moment more scratching Bobo's ears, Suki snapped her fingers and pointed to the hole, sending Bobo scampering back.
She led them on into the large mansion in the center of the outer ring of the building. The center mansion was huge and built of finely polished marble, Suki smiled as she led them into the foyer, "This was one of the only buildings we didn't have to rebuild when the Kroobies started making trouble. The whole thing is built of stone and metal. Empress Kyoshi wanted to make sure it lasted a long time."
Then she turned to a man in white robes with gray hair who was hurrying over, "Hey Daddy, could you show the Emperor and his party to their rooms? I need to go meditate." Her father nodded trying hard to cover his surprise, "Of course, right this way."
A Few Hours Later, Nearly Fifty Miles Away, The Kroobies' VillageEdit
Three large vine bodies stumped out of the swamp, not that uncommon a sight in the village of the Kroobies. The three smiling masked vine bodies casually entered the Kroobies' bountiful gardens and began picking at will. When the gardener on duty attempted to protest, his skull was casually crushed by a massive hand that shot out from the largest of the vine bodies. The three vine bodies picked much more hurriedly after that.