- This article is about the chapter from The Shadow of Kyoshi. For the Fire Nation organization, see Fire Sages.
|"Welcome! [...] Are you interested in divining the secrets of the Spirit World? Do you hunger for a glimpse of the great tapestry of the future? Unlike what fraudulent soothsayers and mystics might claim, dear visitor, the power for such visions lies within you! For a small price, let me merely be... your humble GUIDE!"|
|— Nyahitha trying to trick Kyoshi, Rangi and Hei-Ran into paying him for fake Spirit World visions.|
"The Fire Sage" is the twelfth chapter of The Shadow of Kyoshi.
Kyoshi, Rangi, Hei-Ran, Atuat, and Jinpa travel to North Chung-Ling to search for Kuruk's former spiritual mentor, Nyahitha, hoping he can help the Avatar with advice regarding Yun and Father Glowworm. The Fire Sage suggests Kyoshi ask Kuruk for advice and agrees to help her commune with him. Right after that, they see the Saowon clan has come to the island and is trying to provoke the members of the Keohso clan living there into starting a fight. Kyoshi, Rangi, and Hei-Ran manage to prevent an altercation between the rival clans, but the Avatar and the lieutenant also end an assault against a local by his fellow townsmen, realizing the town will burst into conflict very soon.
Kyoshi considers how fast it is to travel through the Fire Nation as opposed to the long journeys in the Earth Kingdom that involve flying over vast mountain ranges, huge lakes, and deserts. They quickly reach North Chung-Ling, nestled inside enveloping formations of volcanic rock and with access to the sea, on Shuhon Island.
They leave Yingyong in an outcropping on the forested slope as Rangi does not feel well after the journey. Hei-Ran tells her that her landing zone selection needs work and she disagrees. Her mother continues saying she has been traveling with the Avatar on a flying bison's back since before Rangi was born and that she counts two approaches from the downwind side and insufficient forage. She rhetorically asks the young firebender if she wants Yingyong to get surprised by rustlers or starve to death. Rangi counters that they will not stay there for such a long period of time and Hei-Ran replies she does not know that, inquiring whether preparedness is not necessary anymore in every situation and if the sign at the academy stating that should be removed.
Kyoshi takes Rangi's hand before she lets her anger out and suggests that they scout ahead, taking her away from the group and toward the settlement as Jinpa and Atuat stay behind, walking at the former headmistress's pace. When they are finally alone, the firebender furiously states that traveling with her mother is horrible and that it feels like she is twelve years old again. Kyoshi asks how they got the North Pole together and she responds that Hei-Ran was comatose then and that her mother nagging her during a mission with the Avatar is very different. The Avatar feels a rush of happiness seeing Rangi act so normal and picks her by the waist, whirling her around as no one is close enough to rebuke them for touching inappropriately. The firebender laughs, trying to swat her, but is unable to reach so far and tells her to stop as she is embarrassing her. Kyoshi answers that that is the point.
Kyoshi thinks how the well-built and reputable cities in the Earth Kingdom are square-shaped, designed to be plain and have four sides or how the towns forced into circular plots of land are arranged in rings like Ba Sing Se, separating the society in different parts. She notices that, inside the caldera, North Chung-Ling is built in wedges, the houses and markets angling their way toward the center and that the buildings are made from logs warped by the humidity.
The Avatar considers that no one is rich there as they pass stallkeepers, peddlers and mothers holding children at their hips and recognizes how, like in Yokoya, struggling to grow plants necessary for food on an unproductive soil takes a toll on the people. She realizes that the prosperity outsiders think the Fire Nation enjoys is a false image that is correct for the capital and generalized as the country is smaller than the Earth Kingdom.
Hei-Ran says they should explore the area for reconnaissance and that they are looking for a man named Nyahitha who is from the Bhanti tribe, but prefers to hide that. She tells them they should feign ignorance of his background out of respect. Kyoshi asks who the Bhanti are and Rangi's mother stares pointedly at her, replying that is exactly how they should act.
As they walk further into town, the Avatar notices Rangi's irritation and considers that strangers would assume she is showing disrespect toward the hard-working common folk, but that she knows her friend better than that and something must upset her there. She asks her what her issue with the place is as she was against going to North Chung-Ling from the start. Rangi answers the town is a place for carnivals and gambling and that spiritual exercises used to be common there as well as everyone's ability to see a vision of the Spirit World without being enlightened. She explains that the inhabitants took advantage of that as they charge visitors for fake spiritual encounters and offer cheap entertainment afterward.
Kyoshi has not heard about something like this before and is willing to pay if she can talk to Yangchen, but Rangi is aware of her thoughts and says that the stories about visions of the other world are lies told by tourists unwilling to admit they wasted their money. The firebender states this sullies the nature of the spirits and that if she were the Avatar and had to humiliate herself before a stage medium, she would bury her head in shame.
Kyoshi considers they disagree on this matter as Rangi says the town should not be so rundown and that it must have been affected by the unproductive harvests Zoryu told them about, similar to some places they have been to in the Earth Kingdom. She kicks the dust, stating she has been away from her country for too long as she feels like an outsider. Kyoshi notices there are too many inns signs for a town this size. Along with the weathered signs of these buildings there are also fresh banners draped from poles and awnings, depicting the winged peony sigil of the Keohso clan. She inquires whether North Chung-Ling is controlled by this family and Rangi answers that they have the strongest influence there, but that most flags belong to locals trying to win business.
The Avatar realizes she does not know which clan her friend is from and asks her. Rangi laughs roughly and replies that she is from the Sei'naka clan which is located on a very small island that sometimes is not included on maps of the Fire Nation made in the Earth Kingdom. The firebender explains that her clan has no resources, so its members work as teachers, bodyguards and soldiers and that if they are not the best at what they do, they are nothing. Kyoshi acknowledges that the fear of being nothing, of feeling worthless fuels Rangi's determination and decisiveness and is also the reason for the tension between her and Hei-Ran as they are under the same pressure of striving for their clan.
She says she would like to see Rangi's home and the firebender responds she wanted to take her there during the Festival of Szeto, but then their current situation ruined their plans. Kyoshi tells her they will have the chance to visit the island someday as she brushes the backs of their hands together while they wait for the others to catch up.
All five of them walk as a group and fairground workers are excited to see Jinpa, shouting to get his attention and asking him to give them blessings and luck, because most Earth Kingdom citizens view airbenders as bearers of good fortune. Kyoshi is happy to see Air Nomads are appreciated just as much in the Fire Nation. Jinpa raises his glider-staff, whirling its tail fins open and creating a breeze that sweeps over the fairground, saying that everyone who is touched by the wind may enjoy success and health.
Soon after, the stall vendors notice Atuat and think that if she came over there from the Water Tribe, she must have a lot of money. They call her, offering drinks and games as the doctor states she should be treated like royalty more often and waves at them. Hei-Ran asks Jinpa and Atuat if they can trust them to keep the attention away from her, Kyoshi and Rangi as they search for Nyahitha. The monk assures the former headmistress that they will, but interrupts himself as he sees the doctor dumping a purse of coins in exchange for gambling tokens and joins her shortly after.
Hei-Ran, annoyed by the two, tries to calm down, sarcastically stating that is her punishment, before she leads Kyoshi and Rangi through tents, stopping occasionally to sniff at the air. Rangi says it smells bad there and rhetorically asks her mother what she was expecting since they are near a rotting seaweed bed. She replies that she is looking for something odorless and trying to see if she is getting any dizzier. They make their way through two stalls that are are not meant to have a path between them and reach a large, very stained, and flammable tent with a sign outside saying "Spirit Visions of the Future". The three of them go inside and are greeted by a man asking if they are interested to learn the secrets of the Spirit World or what the future withholds as he tries to convince them to pay for a fake spiritual journey.
Hei-Ran tells the man, Nyahitha, who she is as he loses his enthusiasm upon seeing her. Kyoshi observes that he is about the former headmistress's age and that his face is pockmarked as a result of a rough life with many days spent in the open sun. He is wearing an imitation of a Fire Sage's ceremonial outfit and the tent is empty except for some rugs, cushions, and a metal device similar to a charcoal brazier, but with no fuel and only a small knob.
The Avatar hopes Nyahitha will offer them a seat so she would not have to crick her neck to fit inside the tent, but Hei-Ran and him continue staring at each other in silence, reminiscing old memories and their dislike for each other. After a while, the man asks why they came there and the former headmistress responds that Kuruk's reincarnation needs his help. Kyoshi, disliking to be referred to as the Water Tribe Avatar's successor, bows to Nyahitha. He tells her to sit as Rangi states that it would be great if Kyoshi and her did not have to waste time guessing what sparked the conflict between her mother and him.
The sage says that Hei-Ran thinks he ruined Kuruk and she replies that he considers she, Kelsang, and Jianzhu did. Nyahitha offers each of them a cup of tea and Rangi says the drinks are cold. He tells her fires are forbidden there and not to create any heat. Kyoshi is surprised that a Fire Sage rejects firebending and inquires to why. He explains that North Chung-Ling is built over a deposit of flammable vapor and if too much of it gets out in one place, a single spark could cause an explosion.
Hei-Ran continues telling them that if you control the flow of the vapors, they become useful. Nyahitha counters that "useful" is a strong word, but says that the first visitors to the town who claimed to have had spiritual visions stayed too long over cracks in the earth that let the gas, which causes wooziness and hallucinations, rise naturally. He states that the bronze pot he has lets him moderate the flow of vapor from a natural spot once he locates one.
Rangi angrily says he is a fraud and as he agrees with that, asking how he can help the Avatar, she disagrees to let him anywhere near Kyoshi. Her mother says that despite her differences with Nyahitha, he was once a true Fire sage about to become a High Sage before the Saowon clan meddled with the selections. Kyoshi remembers how Kelsang would have also been Abbot of the Southern Air Temple before it was considered he fell from grace and says that she would like to stay.
She tells the sage her story from the beginning and after he finishes he says that the name they bring across his door is very bad luck, referring to Father Glowworm. Nyahitha explains that Kuruk confronted many hostile spirits and that Father Glowworm was one of the worst, never having been truly defeated by the Water Tribe Avatar whom he doomed to suffer immensely in the physical world. Everyone whom Kuruk would tell about the spirit or learned of its existence would be cursed.
After a moment of silence, Rangi incredulously asks whether they are believing in superstitions now and the sage replies that people in every nation fear misfortune from the spirits, giving himself as an example for someone who has lost almost everything in life due to Father Glowworm as he used to be a leader at the High Temple and know he has to fool tourists for money. He also states that Kuruk and Jianzhu did not meet happy ends. Kyoshi considers Zoryu's struggles as the Fire Lord and how many people in the Earth Kingdom hate her as well, musing that fortune ruled everyone. Hei-Ran angrily states Nyahitha that his life was ruined due to his own vices that he also transmitted to Kuruk. He counters that he tried to fill some of the Avatar's emptiness with purpose, rhetorically inquiring to what she, Kelsang, and Jianzhu have helped him become other than a good Pai Sho player.
Kyoshi is annoyed to hear them continuing to make excuses for Kuruk and shouts that he was responsible for himself, asking if they will stop concentrating on their regrets for the past and help her in the present. Nyahitha wants to know if Yun had any strange features or animal-like body parts. She tells him that she did not see something like that, but she was aware that something was wrong with him in Qinchao as he frightened everyone around him. The sage says he never diagnosed a case of possession, but that the earthbender could have a spirit's essence inside him.
The Avatar strongly wishes to help her friend, requesting Nyahitha to tell her of a weakness Father Glowworm could have, but he does not have the information as he never fought the spirit. Kyoshi is frustrated that there seems to be no way to save Yun before she asks the sage to help her commune with Kuruk. The man stares at her as she knows he is judging her worthiness, recalling how it looks like when old people take a younger person's fate lightly. He tells her to meet him an hour before twilight and warns her not to inhale the vapors as they are very harmful. Rangi asks if he has not breathed them with all of is customers and he smiles.
They hear a noise outside, considering it the sound of forthcoming conflict, as Nyahitha takes a look outside the tent and swears. He says that the Saowon came and that they do not tend to travel to North Chung-Ling. Kyoshi remembers Rangi's warnings about running into situations headlong and asks if they can see what is happening from inside the tent. The Avatar watches a procession of nobility surrounded by guards and caring a palanquin. She notices they seem ready for battle and that the armor is adorned with many stone camellia designs. The stall vendors do not wish to see the Saowon clan there and many of them form a crowd behind a middle-aged whom Nyahitha says is Sanshur Keohso, the town's cotton merchant and the main sponsor of the fair.
The palanquin stops and the occupant steps out as Kyoshi notices the highly expensive robes she is wearing, thinking that this person has not attended the royal palace reception as she would have stood out. Rangi explains that is Huazo, Chaejin's mother, as the woman and Sanshur approach each other.
Huazo states it is good to see the merchant and tells him that she began worrying about his health as he has not answered her letters. He replies that his health is fine and that she did not have to come to North Chung-Ling as he still refuses to sell her the fair or the croplands, telling her that not a square inch of Shuhon Island will ever be owned by a Saowon. Huazo answers that she already purchased Linsu's entire salt-making operation and his vacation house, taunting Sanshur that the man is not very loyal to his home as he happily left. The members of the Keohso clan are angered by that statement and she says she wanted to spend the Festival of Szeto in her clan's new territory.
Sanshur is displeased to see how many guards she brought with her and she assures him they are there for her safety as an earthbender, Yun, infiltrated the royal palace last night, nearly killing members of the court. Huazo continues saying that she was informed what happened was absolutely humiliating for Zoryu.
Hei-Ran considers Chaejin must have sent messenger hawks to the Saowon immediately after Yun's attack and Rangi replies that does not explain the clan's presence in the middle of Keohso territory. Kyoshi acknowledges the fairground workers are holding large hammers, ice saws, and pieces of driftwood. She tells them Huazo came to start a fight, remembering how sometimes a daofei gang intending to begin a war but wishing to seem blameless would walk through enemy streets trying to provoke violence upon themselves that would be answered with much more ferocity.
Sanshur warns Huazo to be careful regarding what she says about the Fire Lord and she responds that she is just stating facts and does not intend to debate Zoryu's strength and capabilities, wishing to enjoy her stay at their village. She salutes Sanshur as she returns to her palanquin. One of her guards makes eye contact with the cotton vendor and spits on the ground.
Kyoshi hopes this is less of an insult in the Fire Nation than in the Earth Kingdom, but Rangi and Hei-Ran quickly get out of the tent and between the rival clans. Nyahitha tells the Avatar to go with them and she alters the trajectory of stones aimed at Huazo's back by the Keohso members at the last moment.
Hei-Ran calls out the Saowon leader's name in order to draw attention from the attack. Huazo turns around, surprised, before she smiles at the former headmistress, greeting her. Upon seeing Rangi's mother, the Saowon guards relax. Kyoshi stands in front of the Keohso mob, gesturing at them with her eyes to make sure they keep in mind how she threw the rocks away before they try attacking again. Hei-Ran states that Huazo's presence is a wonderful surprise and inquires whether she is here to celebrate the holiday as well. She begins replying but presses her fingers to her lips in shock upon realizing Hei-Ran cut her top-knot. The former headmistress remembers what happened too and backs away with her eyes downcast.
The Avatar considers she was wrong when she thought she understood the ceremony of severing a top-knot as Huazo is the first important noble they meet after Hei-Ran chose to give up her honor and know she is behaving like she does not have the right to speak. Huazo's surprise turns into pity as she asks if this has anything to do with the attack on the royal palace. Hei-Ran answers that there are also other reasons for why she did that. The Saowon leader muses how fate and fortune rule everyone and tells her that honor is extremely important, but that so is friendship as she would never disavow her.
As she is about to embrace Hei-Ran, Kyoshi is ready to change her opinion of Huazo, but she instead pats Rangi's mother on the head like a child or a pet. The Avatar tries to take in Rangi's reaction, but the firebender's expression is blank as she stares through Huazo and into the stars. The Saowon noblewoman says Kyoshi must be the Avatar and she confirms it, saying Chaejin must have written to her. Huazo states their family is twice-blessed to meet her in such a short time. Kyoshi hardens her gaze, telling her to let Chaejin know he makes a good Fire Sage and nothing more. Huazo understands what she is saying does not seem worried that she will defend Zoryu.
Rangi makes a happy noise and calls out the name of one of Huazo's guards, Koulin, as she runs to meet her. Koulin also greets Rangi and they nearly collide with each other, clutching their hands and grinning. Kyoshi notices Koulin is about their age, having a round, pleasant face and wearing her hair almost exactly like Rangi's.
Huazo introduces her niece to the Avatar, saying that Rangi and her were the same year at the academy and that she is sure Kyoshi understands the bonds forged in school are stronger than any others. This was intended as an insult as Huazo should know Kyoshi did not have the same level of education as Rangi or Koulin. The Saowon leader's words hurt the Avatar less than the compassionate way in which Rangi is looking at her. Huazo feigns an apology, saying she is tired from her journey and saluting her as she tells Koulin to come back to the Saowon contingent. They turn away and march back to town.
Sanshur Keohso comes beside Kyoshi, stating he is glad she is here to keep the Saowon in line. She exclaims that his men are the ones who threw rocks at Huazo's clan and he counters that her clan has been gaining control over parts of other islands one by one, claiming he would die before he would let them take Shuhon.
A person from the crowd says they know how Chaejin manipulates people in court and Sanshur adds that they support Zoryu and his rule, asking Kyoshi if she considers it wrong for them to be loyal to the Fire Lord. She replies that Zoryu does not need them to spread violence for him and he rhetorically inquires whether they should let the Saowon insult them as they did to Hei-Ran. The Avatar looks at Rangi and her mother, but they remain silent as she considers there must be a rule which implies they cannot tell their fellow nationals how to interpret their own dishonor.
Sanshur assures her they got her back against the Saowon and that she can count on them. Hei-Ran walks to Kyoshi, suggesting they leave as they have a mission and their implication in this conflict will only worsen the situation. She asks the former headmistress if she is sure they should go since the members of the Keohso family seem eager to fight. She replies it is not them she is worried about while looking at Rangi whose gaze was lost in the sea.
Kyoshi, Rangi, and Hei-Ran start searching for Jinpa and Atuat, finding them near the gambling tents. The monk seems to have aged a decade as his face is sweaty and furrowed. Atuat explains she had some bad luck, but that Jinpa got them back to breakeven. He says he has never seen anyone play Pai Sho like the doctor as Kyoshi is happy the two of them did not drown or get stuck in a hole.
As they return to the town, Rangi walks angrily ahead of the others and Kyoshi goes to her, wishing to comfort her friend. She states it is nice to know not all the members of the Saowon clan are bad and that Koulin must remind her of the good days at the academy. The firebender replies that her time at the academy was horrible. Kyoshi is shocked to hear this as she knows Rangi was the best student in her class and graduated early from officer's school. She replies that she was motivated to get the scores she did as she wanted to get out of that place as fast as possible.
Kyoshi considers she must have missed something if she misunderstood this part of her friend's life and apologizes. Rangi replies it is not her fault as she only mentioned a few parts of the story, asking if she remembers the other students used to spread rumors and gossip about Hei-Ran. Kyoshi recalls the wonderful moments they spent together under the same blanket on the iceberg as the firebender gestures toward the town, pointing at Koulin. She explains it is a Saowon trademark technique to deliver insults with plausible deniability and that there were some awful children at school, Koulin being the worst.
The Avatar inquires whether she could have called Koulin out, but Rangi responds Huazo's niece was careful not to say anything to her face, leaving that to students who were too weak for her to confront without looking like a bully. She continues stating she knows how Zoryu feels, fighting a war of insults against an enemy he cannot attack directly and that she was the headmistress's daughter, any fights she would participate in reflecting poorly on her mother.
Kyoshi was very surprised as she thought the time spent at the academy was a great experience that shaped Rangi, who says it is true and that she learned everything she knows there, but that she was glad to leave and find a purpose: serving the Avatar. She smiles at Kyoshi who remembers Kelsang said there is pain and joy in everything when he comforted her about her early life in Yokoya. She muses that she is thrilled to learn new things about Rangi and, even if she discovers surprising or painful facts about her, she takes them and everything else about the girl she loves, resisting the urge to kiss her on the top of her head.
As they walk down the street Rangi explains to Kyoshi what the traditional decorations and food they see represents. They turn around the corner of their inn to come across some men beating a youth. The Avatar lowers her shoulder into two of them, sending them flying away as Rangi yanks down the other two. Kyoshi thought their victim was a Saowon, but his clothes prove he is a local like his assailants and she asks what is going on. One of the attacker's replies they caught the young man putting up a stone camellia banner over his stall and he says he just wanted some business. The angry ringleader asks if that was more important to him than the honor of his clan, refusing to let any of his relatives to flatter the Saowon.
Kyoshi and Rangi share a worried glance as the violence began less than an hour since the arrival of Huazo's clan and the Avatar thinks North Chung-Ling will burst into conflict soon.
- This chapter marks the first appearances of Nyahitha, Sanshur Keohso, Huazo, and Koulin.