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"The Ritual" is the eleventh chapter of The Shadow of Kyoshi.

Overview

During breakfast, Hei-Ran suggests they travel to North Chung-Ling in order to meet with a spiritual advisor that could give them insight about what has happened to Yun. Rangi rages against her mother's suggestion, throws a table off the balcony, and storms off. Kyoshi follows her to the stable, where they have a heart to heart about what is bothering Rangi. Hei-Ran, Atuat, Zoryu, and Jinpa eventually join them at the barn. Hei-Ran ceremonially cuts off her top-knot and admits her own dishonor. They plan to leave for North Chung-Ling on Yingyong and start packing up. Hei-Ran privately admits to Kyoshi that she will act as a sacrifice to lure Yun in so that Kyoshi can capture him.

Synopsis

Inside the Fire Nation Royal Palace, Kyoshi's sleep is continuously disturbed by nightmares. She is wide-awake when a servant comes to wake her up for the morning and to tell her that Rangi and Hei-Ran are waiting to speak with her. The servant leads Kyoshi to a small table on a balcony to have breakfast with her firebending companions. The Avatar joins Hei-Ran and Rangi halfway through their meal and is surprised by how quickly they scarf the rest down. Hei-Ran asks Kyoshi to sit down and join them, commenting that she needs to stop skipping meals. Rangi observes Kyoshi as she chews each bite, as though she no longer trusts her to care for herself.

After they all finish eating, Hei-Ran silently relaxes in her chair then starts a conversation about Yun wishing to kill her. She adds that Yun has escaped the caldera and is nowhere to be found; the Festival of Szeto has been paused, Harbor City houses are being searched, and all ports in the capital have been shut down. Kyoshi suggests that they also go about their hunt in another way and try to figure out if Father Glowworm is controlling Yun. She informs Hei-Ran that the spirit once battled Avatar Kuruk and Hei-Ran comments that Kuruk did not seem to care about spiritual excursions during the time their group was still together. Despite her annoyance with people referring to Kuruk with euphemisms, Kyoshi explains that she had torn apart Jianzhu's libraries back in Yokoya for any mention of this spirit only to turn up empty, so she was hoping Hei-Ran might have some insight, only to be told that Kuruk might have some answers. Begrudgingly, she admits her present inability to connect with her past life. Thankfully, Hei-Ran is not judgemental, assuring that communing with an Avatar's past lives is both difficult and complex, yet it is nothing to fret about.

Fortunately, Hei-Ran has an idea. She mentions she knows a friend of Kuruk that spent more time with him after Kuruk's original companions went their separate ways. He used to be a Fire Sage in the capital and an expert in spiritual matters but currently maintains a shrine in North Chung-Ling. The town name strikes a chord with Rangi, who protests why they should not go to the real Fire Sages. Her mother explains that the Saowon clan controls the capital Fire Sages, especially since the High Sage is Chaejin's maternal great-uncle and reasons that her contact would know more about Father Glowworm. If Kuruk somehow had managed to defeat this spirit, then it may be possible to repeat this feat. Possessed with the hope of saving Yun, Kyoshi declared North Chung-Ling as their destination.

Suddenly, Rangi slams her fists down on the table in protest, asking if the two of them are really going to commit to this course of action just after the palace was attacked. Kyoshi tries to bring her girlfriend to her side, insisting they could redeem their old friend, but she retorts that Yun defiled the palace and murdered four people. Kyoshi maintains her certainty that Yun is possessed but Rangi argues that until yesterday she was not even sure of her theory. Addressing her daughter by rank, Hei-Ran orders her to control herself, but Rangi furiously refuses her, stating she is not going to sit calmly and listen to her entertain Kyoshi's wild guesses about spirits instead focusing on her own protection. Though she sympathizes with their feelings for Yun, she feels it would be foolish to treat him as anything but the danger he is. Pacing back and forth in the balcony's limited space, Rangi wonders how Yun was able to infiltrate the capital, murder Lu, and foil the palace security force, as he was trained as a diplomat and talented earthbender, not a trained killer. Abruptly, Hei-Ran confesses that Yun is indeed a killer.

Hei-Ran admits to Kyoshi and Rangi that when Jianzhu first found Yun, he began to fear that the Avatar's enemies would send in spies and assassins to undermine his legitimacy, so he hired Master Amak, a waterbending assassin who participated in intrigues in Ba Sing Se, to provide Yun with those exact same tools to protect himself. Though the lessons were purely in theory, Yun excelled through them. Hei-Ran went along with Jianzhu's plan, believing it would be the best for the false Avatar in the long run.

Her confession leads Kyoshi to conclude that while Yun abhorred Jianzhu's mass execution of the Yellow Necks, he also enjoyed his lessons under Amak; Jianzhu had been planning on slowly turning him into another Gravedigger.

Rangi, on the other hand, is appalled. Though she was willing to let the Avatar work with daofei, compromising her morals and her honor like her mother had was not a line she would ever cross. She accuses her mother of turning Yun into a monster and angrily threw the table off the balcony when she tried to apologize and stormed out. After Kyoshi checked to see if anyone was hurt, Hei-Ran insists she follows Rangi. However, Kyoshi demands she confirm something first. Anticipating her question, Hei-Ran insists that Kelsang knew nothing of Yun's secret lessons and his friends did everything possible to keep him in the dark, least he confronted them early on. Kyoshi retorts that would have meant his friends would have killed him sooner too and walked out without seeing her reaction.

Kyoshi runs into Jinpa, who informs her that Rangi is in the stables grooming Yingyong. He delicately states that Rangi asked to be alone and Kyoshi asks if that means she told him to get lost. He shrugs and answers that he "negative jinged" it out of the stable before she lit him on fire, then asks Kyoshi to make sure Rangi is not brushing his flying bison too roughly.

Kyoshi reaches the stables and enters the largest pen where a partially brushed Yingyong is. She hears Rangi's sniffles and spots her curled up by Yingyong legs. Rangi emotionally demands to know why Kyoshi allowed Yun to escape after his attack; though she had gotten close to him, she stood there and did nothing. Kyoshi argues that she could not have done anything because he was standing in a crowd of hostages. Rangi questions why the Avatar only raised her war fans at Yun when she had multiple opportunities to disable him by using bending. Kyoshi struggles to form a response as she is overcome with shame. She finally asks Rangi if she should have murdered their friend in cold blood as she did to Xu Ping An. Rangi expresses her fear of Yun hurting Kyoshi if she hesitates again but Kyoshi disputes that their friend would not hurt her. Rangi points out that if she had successfully convinced Kyoshi not to wear her armor, she would have been badly injured, if not worse; it would have been Rangi's fault and she cannot live with that guilt. Kyoshi promises that she will do whatever she needs to against Yun to prevent him from hurting anyone else again, especially Rangi's mother. Rangi scans Kyoshi's face for sincerity and then wipes her own tears from her cheeks.

Rangi admits that after her mother opened her eyes in Agna Qel'a, she thought they could finally move on from the past and begin to move forward, just like the traditional Avatar calendar restarts after each cycle. Rangi asks if Kyoshi knows it is currently the 6,454th day of the Era of Kyoshi. Kyoshi expresses that it feels as though her reign as the Avatar has not yet legitimately begun.

To break the silence, Kyoshi recollects that Rangi threw a table off a balcony. Rangi laughs and says how much trouble she must be in now. Kyoshi jokes that at least she no longer holds the title for worst breach of manners in the Four Nations and that she is never going to let Rangi live it down. Rangi grabs Kyoshi's hand and romantically asks if by "never" she means for as long as they live, which Kyoshi confirms. Rangi pressed her lips against Kyoshi's.

Rangi and Kyoshi's kiss is interrupted by Zoryu requesting to speak with them regarding an important matter from outside the stable. The girls nervously collect themselves then join the Fire Lord outside. He apologizes for his incompetent leadership the previous night which caused Chaejin to take charge in his place. Kyoshi insists that an apology is not owed to them which relieves him since it is improper for a strong Fire Lord to admit failure. Fire Lord Zoryu explains to the ladies that the only way to prevent an uprising against him is to apprehend Yun. Kyoshi agrees and offers to track down Yun for him. He thanks her then admits that he has another reason for meeting them.

Zoryu steps aside and reveals that Atuat and Hei-Ran are standing behind him. Rangi feels threatened by her mother's stiff-backed posture and asks what she wants. Hei-Ran says that Atuat is serving as her second and Zoryu is her witness, then kneels to the ground as she unsheaths a sharp knife. Rangi begs for her mother to stop what she is about to do, but Hei-Ran insists that this is the necessary consequence of her past mistakes. Hei-Ran grasps her top-knot and raises the knife up to her hair. Hei-Ran recites a list of her misconduct: failing to recognize the true Avatar, not protecting Kelsang, allowing Yun to dishonor the Fire Nation, and not being worthy of her daughter's respect. Hei-Ran acknowledges her personal dishonor right in front of the Fire Lord himself by swiftly cutting off her top-knot; Rangi trembles as Atuat carefully folds the severed hair into a handkerchief. Hei-Ran says that the matter is now done with and reminds her daughter that their family's honor now rests solely with her. After Hei-Ran shaves off a few missed hairs, Atuat takes the knife from her and helps her to her feet. Rangi fumes as she realizes that she can no longer hold her mother's mistakes against her.

Hei-Ran suggests that it is time for the five of them to travel to North Chung-Ling as soon as Yingyong's saddle is properly cinched. Rangi questions which five people her mother is referring to since no one has agreed to go to North Chung-Ling yet. Hei-Ran points out that if they are concerned about her own safety, standard procedure is to change the location of the target after an attack. Addressing everyone, Hei-Ran announces that they are going to hide out in North Cung-Ling and give Kyoshi the opportunity to meet with Kuruk's past spiritual advisor in hopes of locating Yun. She asks if Jinpa has finished packing their supplies and after confirming that he is done, he reveals that they can be in the air in fifteen minutes. Rangi furiously stares at Jinpa for siding with her mother but he simply shrugs in response. Rangi begs her mother to consider her poor condition, but Atuat notifies her that it will be good for Hei-Ran to get fresh air and movement during the journey, rather than staying cooped up in one place. Rangi attempts to form another argument but Hei-Ran orders her daughter to be silent.

Atuat celebrates that she is finally known as an Avatar's companion. Hei-Ran observes Yingyong's fur and scolds her daughter's attempt at grooming it; it will have to be completely brushed again before they can leave. Jinpa asks for help from the other side of his bison. Zoryu admits that he would have liked to give a grand speech about how the fate of the Fire Nation now rests in their hands. A bag of grain tears open and Yingyong enthusiastically licks it off the ground, nearly knocking Atuat over. Kyoshi half-heartedly ensures the Fire Lord that they will be careful.

After the others leave Hei-Ran alone with Kyoshi in the stable, she corners the Avatar as she adjusts Yingyong's saddle blanket. Hei-Ran quietly tells Kyoshi that she knows it is not enough, who asks what she is talking about. Hei-Ran explains that though she has now lost her hair and honor, it will not be enough to please Yun; he will strike again. Hei-Ran admits that Rangi may think that they are traveling to protect her, but really it is a mission to lure Yun away from the palace and to serve as bait. Kyoshi is not given an opportunity to respond before she continues revealing her intentions: Hei-Ran will draw Yun in and sacrifice herself so that Kyoshi can capture him. Kyoshi begins to argue that Rangi will not allow this to happen but she is cut off mid-sentence. Hei-Ran explains that she is not going to tell her daughter about the plan and since she has become honorless by cutting off her top-knot, she will not need to be avenged. Hei-Ran says that she deserves to die for what she has done and hopes that her sacrifice will close this dark chapter of their lives. She asks if Kyoshi will do what needs to be done to capture Yun, even if that means Hei-Ran dies in the process, something she could never ask of Rangi. Kyoshi hates that she is now caught in the middle of her girlfriend and her girlfriend's mother. Hei-Ran accepts Kyoshi's silence as an answer and praises her.

Trivia

  • This chapter marks the first appearance of the Avatar Calendar, as it is noted to be the 6,454th day of the Era of Kyoshi. The second appearance of the Avatar Calendar occurs in "Interlude: The Man From The Spirit World".

References

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