❯ Make A Man Out Of You – Part 3 ( Chapter 3 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]

Make a Man Out of You

Chapter 11: Moonlight

« So that’s what it is… » Kalok’s voice sounded sinister somehow. « It wasn’t my technique that needed perfecting, you had a defense for it all along. » He took a step closer and you took a step back. « I thought you would tire of trying to talk to Eska and leave in frustration like the other diplomats. Water and fire are not meant to be friends, we can only be enemies! » In a fast movement his hands grabbed your throat, it was painful and you couldn’t breathe. The just as suddenly he let you go.

You fell to your knees gasping for air and watched in astonishment as Kalok punched himself in the face, hard. At the other end of the hall way stood Eska and Desna. They were dressed alike, their masks identical. You were sure you would easily tell them apart if not for the matching masks. You searched for a sign of their respective identities and quickly found that one of them was wearing lipstick.

Eska stepped forward, stopping next to the window in the long hallway. The light of the full moon illuminated her as she declared, « you are here by charged with treason. »

A flood of guards appeared from the hallway behind the twins and took Kalok away. The whole time he struggled against the superior numbers and protested with colorful words and a variety of insults for the Fire Nation.

« Are you unharmed? » Desna helped you to your feet.

« Yes… » You were confused and felt compelled to say so. « I don’t understand… »

« He was trying to kill you, » Eska explained simply. She took your silence as a request for elaboration and continued. « Kalok was trying to use a forbidden technique. It is linked to blood bending, but easier to master. It consist of partially freezing blood. This can cause it to stop flowing or at least cause some damage to the heart and veins as the small partially frozen shards are pushed through. The very existence of such a technique is in question, thus it’s not legally forbidden, at least not yet. I noticed that you were able to neutralize the technique, thus I waited to intervene when I had evidence that would stand in court. »

You understood was she was saying though it was still shocking. You considered being upset, but you perceived that neither Eska nor Desna thought you were in danger. They somehow imagined you to be a much more capable fire bender than you actually were. « I didn’t do anything to neutralize it, my temperature went up on its own. » You found yourself smiling inexplicably. It was odd, but you felt relief. You were relieved that the fire bending problem wasn’t random, inexplicable or something caused by the weather. There was a reason for your ailment and that reason was being sent to prison. Then you felt disappointed at how easily you fell for it.

Searching for a less depressing thought to cling to, you curiously asked. « Why did he punch himself? » The twins remained silent and only looked at the window, the moon was full. « Blood bending, » you realized.

« My sister is free to be as strong as she pleases now, but do not worry, » Desna vaguely explained. You could only conclude that he was referring to Unalaq. Eska must have been holding back, hiding her true talent so her father couldn’t use that kind of power.

« I understand, » you breathed. « It was an emergency, I won’t tell anyone. Desna, out of curiosity, have you…? »

« I have never tried to blood bend, » Desna admitted. You were curious about what circumstance caused Eska to learn, but you didn’t want to be nosy about a sensitive subject. Their gesture towards the full moon told you that Eska could only blood bend when that condition was met.

« I see… » You shifted uncomfortable. « I’ll keep my promise and won’t tell. There’s no need to complicate things, but just so you know, I’m not really a skilled bender. I can’t explain why that defense activated, but it wasn’t willing. » You thought that it might be better for your health if they didn’t overestimate you.

« I see, we will address all assassination attempts more swiftly in the future, although I do not foresee any, » Desna assured.

« Thank you… » you weren’t sure what else to say.

« Let us go to the ball. The people wish to see us there, » Eska broke the ensuing silence. She didn’t seemed to be looking forward to the ball, but was willing to humor it for the sake of her people. It made you wonder just how many were in attendance.

The three of you exited the palace and looked at the garden, the walls of ice surrounding the palace were gone and the garden was no longer separated from the street. A multitude of people were out, the whole tribe if you had to take a guess. Long food tables were set up with staff me members constantly replenishing them. There were stalls and carts with a variety of games, snacks and souvenirs. Everyone was dressed up and wearing a variety of masks. This wasn’t just a ball, it was an all out festival.

Despite the chaos around you, you felt relieved and even excited, though a part of you still worried that someone else might try to follow Kalok’s example. At least you would be around regular people and not in a nobles only party. « You may enjoy the festival if you wish, » Desna voiced.

« We must go speak with the community representatives, » Eska added. Those two really were twins. They looked so similar wearing the same sapphire decorated coats and masks. The sound of their voices and Eska’s painted lips were the only noticeable indications that they were different people.

« Right, » you shifted unsure. « I’ll just um… hang around… » Maybe you could find Valrick and Zhu Li, but you didn’t want to play the third wheel. Perhaps you could enjoy the festivities on your own. No one would dare to attack you in such a large crowd, right? But what if someone did and innocent people got hurt because of it?

You had an odd feeling. A voice echoed in your memories ‘innocent people got hurt,’ other voices offered words of reassurance and that distant voice repeated, ‘please forgive me…’ You couldn’t place the broken memory and wondered if it was a fragment of a dream. It was so haunting.

« You seem uneasy, » Desna observed.

« I will speak to the community leaders, » Eska volunteered. « Desna, you should accompany (name) and see to it that no harm befalls her. »

Desna paused for a moment, as if he wasn’t expecting the suggestion. If not co-chief, he was at least Eska’s closest advisor and had similar duties to her own. But he supposed his absence could be excused this time. « Very well, » he agreed. « Let us be careful not to be separated in the crowd. He took your hand and led you towards the happy commotion. You had worried that your hands would be cold despite the long sleeves of your elegant coat, but now you were glad you weren’t wearing gloves.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 12: A Dance of Masks

You and Desna went from one festival stall to the next and before long you’ve purchased several souvenirs to take home as gifts for your friends and tried out a few games. You found that carnival style game were more of less the same regardless of where in the world they took place, though that didn’t mean you were any better at the games here than back home. Your aim could use some improvement, but Desna’s aim was better, enough to win several prizes.

There was noise all around from the bustling crowd, but as you went full circle through the festival stalls and returned to the palace garden, music filled the air. Valrick and Zhu Li were dancing a tango, though the music was not tango. Through the crowds you spotted Eska sitting on a sort of throne behind the rows of food tables. She was surrounded by several people, most of them elderly or middle aged, and looked utterly bored. You felt sorry for her, Desna must have been concerned because he started moving in her direction and since you hadn’t let go of his hand the whole time, you followed.

Eska looked up from staring into an unspecified spot on the floor. You shifted unsure of what to say as the elders examined you with curiosity, your red outfit made you stand out and made it clear who you were. You felt scrutinized, standing there, your hand in Desna’s. He held your bag of souvenirs on his other hand, while your other arm was occupied in holding the penguin plush he won for you.

Eska opened her mouth as if to utter a warning, but it was too late. The elders flooded you with questions about political, cultural and business matters that you couldn’t understand. Overwhelmed, you exclaimed, « the world is like a cup of tea! » You had heard Lord Zuko say something like that before. You didn’t know what it meant, but he was wise, so it had to be something deep and philosophical. It seemed to work, the elders began to debate among themselves, presenting to each other their interpretation of your words.

Eska slipped away, leaving the elders to argue among themselves. « Tea metaphors, I shall remember that, » Eska voiced. You just hoped she wouldn’t ask you to explain it.

« Has mother come outside? » Desna inquired.

« Yes, but the crowd and noise were making her uncomfortable, so she’s watching the festival from the balcony, » Eska explained. You followed the twins’ gaze to the palace of ice. One of the towers held an elegantly carved balcony, where Malina was watching the events below. « She expressed interest in watching us dance, but no one has amused me enough to motivate me to do so. Perhaps she will be satisfied if you do. »

« Tonight has been entertaining… Very well, I will grant mother’s wish, » Desna agreed. Before you even had time to let it all sink in, your bag and penguin were handed off to the staff to take to your guest quarters and you were with Desna among the many couples. You had absolutely no clue what to do and you started getting the sinking feeling that neither did he.

You stood awkwardly still for a few seconds while Desna studied the people around you. He suddenly pulled you close, hand on your waist and more or less moved to the music. « Have you done this before? » He finally asked.

« No… » You admitted. From the corner of your eyes you saw Eska signaling something to Desna. He should be able to have a better view of what she was trying to communicate, though you didn’t understand what it was.

Desna seemed to get the message, as he nodded in understanding and twirled you around, then smoothly brought you close to him. How did he become so good at this so suddenly? « What did Eska say? »

« She signaled a water bending exercise, » Desna revealed. You had heard before that bending was like dancing in some of its techniques. You followed along as best you could until… « Ouch… »

« Oh no… Sorry! » You tried to remove your foot from his so quickly that you tripped and he had to catch you. « Sorry… » You regained your balance, though you feared your dignity was a lost cause. « I guess you can’t water bend fire, huh? » It was a completely idiotic joke and you mentally kicked yourself for it the second it left your mouth.

Surprisingly, Desna laughed, not a forced laugh out of mercy, but a real quiet laugh that you might have missed if you weren’t so close. The acknowledgment of the proximity made your face turn even more red. « You amuse me, » he smiled.

Despite a few stumbles, some more literal than others, the night was overall good. The cheerful atmosphere of the party and Desna’s close proximity made you stop thinking about your near death experience and focus on the positive.

The masquerade ended with fireworks and the streets slowly emptied as people started getting sleepy and going home. « Did you enjoy the ball? » Eska asked when you and Desna headed back inside.

« Yes, very much! » You replied cheerfully.

« It was quite entertaining, » Desna added.

« Good, » Eska nodded. She began to walk, with Desna automatically following her as he was used to doing and you automatically following him for reasons you couldn’t explain.

Eska sped up and so did Desna, thus you did as well. Then Eska stopped and Desna stopped, but you couldn’t stop on time and bumped into him. « Oops… Sorry… »

« Escort (name) to her chambers, that is what you do after a date, » Eska declared in such a matter of fact way that you’d think she was simply saying what time it was.

« Date? » Desna mused on the word while you blushed in incredulity. Could this actually be called a date date, or maybe just a diplomatic date? He was a prince, he was unreachable, unattainable, an impossible dream.

« Very well, » Desna agreed without question, as if he was simply used to agreeing with his twin. He took your hand again and walked off, taking a detour down a different hallway to the guest quarters.

He stopped and looked towards the end of the hall where Malina was. « Mother? »

« I just wanted to say good night, » Malina smiled.

« I would not go to sleep without going to see you, » Desna assured. « Are you here to see (name)? »

« I know, dear, and yes I’m here to see both of you. » You couldn’t quite place it but Malina seemed to be searching for something. « Well, I hope you two had fun. »

« Lots of fun, » you smiled. « It was a great night. Thank you for making the garden so pretty for it. »

« You’re welcome, dear, good night. I’m going to my room. Take your time Desna, I’ll just have a chat with Eska until you come by. » Malina quickly left, disappearing at least in part around the corner of the hallway. Desna turned to face you and didn’t seem to notice that though she was not visible, Malina’s shadow could be seen from the moonlight streaming through the window.

« Thanks… For everything… » You couldn’t stop blushing. It’s not like you expected him to kiss you. There was no way something like that could happen. He was just being nice, that’s all, nothing special, you told yourself.

Desna was about to speak, but a small current of water was thrown at the back of his head with just enough force to push him forward so that your lips met. You could feel your face becoming a bright shade of red that no human should be able to achieve. Desna blinked in confusion and blushed. He looked towards the turn at the end of the hall where his mother retreated from her position peeking out a little. Her shadow disappeared as this time she really did head to her room. « I cannot explain why my mother did that… »

« It’s ok! » You replied a little too fast. Your personal explanation for Malina’s actions was that she was a very kind lady.

« Have a good night… » Desna finally voiced, he seemed to be considering something, but you were too focused on your own thoughts to try to figure it out.

« Good night! » After you parted ways with Desna, you closed the door and leaned on it, feeling your heart pound. An accident, it was just an accident, you reminded.

You changed and got ready for bed. You crawled under the covers and hugged the penguin plushie from Desna. It was just an accident, it wasn’t real, he’s a prince, it’s all purely platonic. If you didn’t convince yourself of that soon instead of treasuring tonight you would be sad that this could only happen once in a lifetime…

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 13: Comedy of Errors, The Musical

The morning after the ball you had breakfast with Valrick and Zhu Li. Apparently, Eska and Desna were too busy preparing for the trip to the Fire Nation. One or both, you weren’t entirely sure, would be sailing off today. At the table, Valrick had shared an announcement filled with excitement. « Last night, I had a dream! »

You had a dream too, you blushed as you recalled it. Desna was in it, dressed, or undressed, as he was during the goggles incident. Thankfully, Valrick was focused on his announcement and Zhu Li on Valrick, so neither saw your blush.

« I dreamt of dancing with my darling Zhu Li during our wedding and I was inspired! » Valrick loudly declared, motioning with his eating utensils like a maestro conducting a very chaotic orchestra. « The new mover will be a musical! I’m changing the storyline to be about saving the world from evil aliens that came from outer space to consume sound waves! But music comes from the heart, so when the nations unite against the threat of a silent world, they must be heard! Zhu Li, send a message to Ginger, have her start taking singing lessons. (Name), I’m sending you on a mission to Republic City, I want you to find the same band that played at my wedding, the Wolfbats, and get them under a contract for this mover. This is going to be spectacular! » Valrick went on and on about his great idea.

You were taken aback by how fast and suddenly it was decided that you would go to Republic City. If Eska and Desna were away, then there would be no diplomatic reason for you to stick around. You did want to see Republic City, but you were still sad to leave the North Pole. At least you didn’t have to worry about how your nation was presented in the mover. If there was such a thing as aliens, let their diplomats worry about it. You also wondered about Desna’s role in the mover and how it might have changed. « What about Desna’s character? »

Valrick paused his ‘this is going to be awesome’ rant and looked thoughtful. « I had one of the female palace guards investigate further and he has not reached the potential predicted by the goggles yet. In his current state, I doubt the fans will be entirely pleased. Maybe with some training he can still be ready on time. I’ll remind him to prepare. »

You weren’t sure how the goggles played into measuring Desna’s potential. Valrick had to be talking about acting skills, Desna was certainly good to look at after all, so that couldn’t be the possible issue with the fans.

The rest of the day was a blur. You tried to get ready for the trip but were distracted the whole time, though thankfully the palace staff took care of packing for you. You did manage to run into Eska in the hall and wish her a good trip, but you didn’t see Desna, maybe he was meeting with Valrick at the time. You were distractedly trying to write a letter to send home when the twins left, and missed wishing them bon voyage at port.

It was soon time for you to leave as well. You went to collect the contract you were supposed to convince the Wolfbats leader to sign. He was a water bender by the name of Tahno, a probender turned musician. Some claimed he was a genius trombone player. Zhu Li had given you the thick envelope with the contract, she gave you her well wishes then returned to the task of freeing Valrick from the block of ice in which he was encased from the neck down.

As his teeth chattered, the partially frozen entrepreneur kept muttering something about people being unable to take constructive criticism and adamantly arguing that ‘scrawny’ wasn’t a serious enough offense to be worthy of this punishment. You wondered who he had called scrawny. It was obviously the wrong person, Valrick did kind of have a big mouth.

With the contract in hand, you headed out to the port, escorted by royal guards just in case. You boarded a ship and sailed off. You were shown to your cabin and dropped off the envelope with the contract there so you wouldn’t lose it, then went up to the deck for a little walk to sort your thoughts.

As you approached the front of the ship, you were surprised to find none other than Eska there, or so you thought. You concluded that Desna had gone to the Fire Nation alone and wondered why Eska was there. Maybe she had business in Republic City, but what could be more important than the diplomatic visit to the Fire Nation? « Eska? » You stood next to her.

Eska looked different. She wasn’t wearing her makeup or hair ornaments and there was that tomboyish air about her again. You assumed it was because she was away from home and the public eye, so she was taking the opportunity to relax. She seemed displeased though, as if you’d said something wrong, then she looked away as if blaming herself for whatever it was.

« Are you ok? » You inquired with concern.

Eska let out a hopeless breath and nodded. She seemed to be debating if she should say something or not, but finally decided against it. She touched her throat and shook her head.

« You have a sore throat, » you concluded. « In that case, it makes sense that you want to rest your voice. » You were curious as to why she was there and not on a ship with her brother on their way to the Fire Nation, but you would have to save your questions for later. For now you supposed you could just hang out quietly. You didn’t question why her throat wasn’t healed by water bending as you understood that it only worked on wounds, so it wouldn’t work on bacteria or a virus. Eska’s sore throat must have been caused by some sort of infection. Maybe she got it from one of the more exotic rare fish and fancy algae dishes that you generally stayed away from in favor of the more appetizing common roasted fish.

Most of the trip was like that, when the silence got to you, you talked and Eska listened, smiling as if your stories entertained her. You made her laugh a few times, sometimes without even realizing how. You felt bad about that, she tried not to make any sounds but when a few did escape, she would cover her mouth and try harder to hold them back. From what little sounds escaped her, you could tell her voice sounded too deep. That throat infection must be really painful. Maybe you could find some medicine in Republic City that wasn’t available anywhere else. They did have a lot of fancy things there from what you’ve heard, with satomobiles and a variety of gadgets all around.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 14: The Pursuit of What is Elusive

At Republic City, you and ‘Eska’ managed to track down the Wolfbats, but were informed that the founder of the probenders and band, Tahno, was not in the city. Apparently, he had gone off to visit his relatives, and the Wolfbats needed him to look at the contract before giving a formal reply, though they did seen interested. You weren’t sure if you should wait or go see Tahno, but his team made the choice for you. Excited about the possibility of being in a mover, they gave you the address where Tahno was and encouraged you to go offer him the contract right away. Thus your travels continued by train.

The train trip was very similar to the trip by ship. You tried to get Eska to at least look at the selection of medicines at Republic City, but she wouldn’t have it. You wondered if she was trying not to be recognized. She didn’t really dress up much and with her baggy clothes it was impossible to tell there was a woman under there. You were sad to leave Republic City so soon, but you had a job to do.

After the train tracks ran out, you had to ride on a satomobile, which was fun, until the road ran out near an ostrichorse farm. The reality sunk in that you wouldn’t be able to reach the out of the way address by satomobile, since the terrain was too rough. You and Eska had left the staff that accompanied you back at the Republic City port, thinking that the swamp detour wouldn’t take too long.

You stood outside at the farm, staring wearily at the fenced in animals. Eska went inside, to talk to the farm owner, you assumed. You wondered if her voice had improved enough, since she still wasn’t talking to you, but couldn’t listen in on the conversation from outside due to the noise the birds made. Yet you couldn’t pull yourself away from your spot watching them, feeling as if they were watching you with less than friendly intentions.

After a while, Eska went into the fenced area with the farm owner and returned to your side holding the reins of a big ostrichorse. She used some of the water collected into puddles on the swampy ground as a step to boost herself to jump via water bending onto the creature’s back. She seemed unsure of what she was doing, but invited you to climb aboard anyway, patting the large animal’s back behind her.

« Are you sure we can’t walk? » Her reply to your pleading question was a reassuring, and distinctly tomboyish, smile, and an extended hand to help you up.

Reluctantly, you took her hand and climbed aboard. It felt just like Desna’s hand, but you tried not to think of him. He was a prince, a distant dream, an impossibility. If he wanted to be with you, not that you were stupid enough to think he did, then he would have come on this trip and let his sister go to the Fire Nation instead, she was the main chief of the Northern Water Tribe after all.

Before you could dwell on your thoughts much longer, Eska tried to get the ostrichorse to move forward and accidentally startled the creature into taking off at breakneck speed. You yelped and held on to Eska for dear life, terrified to fall off the speeding monster and break your head open on some muddy rock.

You spent some time fearing for your life until the earth rose in front of the ostrichorse and it was forced to stop to avoid crashing into the muddy stone wall. « Not a very good driver, are you? » A familiar old lady made her entrance on the scene. Toph’s visit was over and she had returned to the swamp.

« Toph! » You exclaimed in relief. « Thanks for stopping this crazy thing! » The earth and metal master was a bit hard on you, from your vague memories of your initial trip to the North Pole, which were fogged by illness. But at least she stopped that crazy animal so you could finally get off.

Predictably, you tripped and fell on the muddy ground. Eska jumped off the ostrichorse, who seemed to have taken an instant liking to Toph and was letting her pet it. The water bender called the mud away from you, manipulating the water to carry the thick dirt particles away along with it, leaving you cleaner than you thought was possible through bending alone.

« Thank you, » you noticed Eska’s red face and concluded that she must have been just as scared for her life as you were, despite appearing to be so brave. You were clinging to her for your life, you hoped you didn’t accidentally choke her too badly.

You resolved to push forward with the mission and ask Toph for directions. The sooner you could get this overwith the better. You were starting to fear the band played a cruel joke on you. This swamp didn’t look like a place for a well known probender and musician to be hanging out. « Eska and I are looking for Tahno, do you know him? Is he here? »

« I know him, he’s visiting his family near here, » Toph confirmed, much to your relief. « He was an egotistical, cocky, braggart in the past, but a run in with the Equalists humbled him. He got his bending back though. He said something about his experience making him reevaluate his life and inspiring him to pursue music alongside probending, or some such emotional nonsense. So, where’s Eska? »

« She’s here, » you replied as if it was the most obvious thing. You knew Toph was blind, but she was so good at sensing the world around her through other means that it was easy to forget. « I mean, right next to me. » You saw a hint of movement from the corner of your eyes and glanced at Eska, but she quickly went still, with a poker face expression.

« Right… » Toph shook her head then shrugged her shoulders. « If you say so… Tahno’s family is over that way, not too far, so you can walk if you’re too scared to give the ostrichorse another run. »

« We’ll walk, » you stated drily and began heading in the direction she pointed. Eska walked next to you, while Toph hopped on the ostrichorse and amused herself running around the swamp.

Fortunately, you soon found a little village in the swamp, though it was so small and covered in vegetation that it was easy to miss. Eska and you were noticed by the locals, most of which seemed to be swamp fishermen of some kind. A few greetings and questions later, you were led to one of the huts, where you found Tahno scribbling away musical notes with a little boy looking over his shoulder.

You would later learn that the boy was Tahno’s cousin. Tahno had left the swamp, claiming he was too good to stay, and pursued a career in probending. He cheated his way to the top, learned his lesson after his run in with Amon and took to the stadium again, until the call of music was too strong to ignore. Nowdays, he was both a probender and musician.

You weren’t sure how to go about the negotiations and Eska was as quiet as ever, so you just explained it as best you could and gave Tahno the contract. He wasn’t pleased with the contract, but was interested in the mover, so he agreed to travel to the North Pole to negotiate with Valrick personally.

With your mission fulfilled, you were invited to spend the night. The sun had set and you didn’t want to venture into the swamp at night, it didn’t look, or sound, or smell like a good idea. It would smell like a bad idea anyway, but at least the daylight would bring better visibility and less nocturnal predators.

Tahno tried to find a place for you to stay, though the village was small and lacked an inn. They didn’t like taking charity, even if it was from one of their own with whom they had reconciled.

« We don’t need two rooms, » you pointed out, to try to make things easier. This wasn’t a fancy place, but it was well needed hospitality that you were grateful for. Besides, you and Eska were both girls and you had slumber parties back home, so a bunch of girls rooming together was nothing strange for you.

« If it’s like that, you can stay in my old room then, and I’ll room with my cousin tonight, » Tahno resolved. The boy seemed happy with the idea, Tahno was clearly his hero. You weren’t sure what Tahno meant by ‘like that’ but your guess was that he knew Eska was royalty and expected her to demand her own room.

xoxox xox xoxox

Chapter 15: Of Men and Proteins

You curiously observed Tahno’s old room by the light of the oil lamp he had handed to Eska after showing you the room. He haven’t lived in it in years, though it looked untouched other than basic cleaning. There was a poster of past probending champions on the wall, ruined by the moist air of the swamp, but still discernible. The closet door had been left open with a few articles of clothing tossed about, but mostly empty, as if Tahno packed in a hurry when he ran off to the city. You spotted some camping gear at the bottom of the closet, and old lantern, a rolled up sleeping bag and thick heavy boots. Who’d want to camp in a swamp?

You looked at the bed, the only bed. « You should sleep on the bed and I’ll sleep in the sleeping bag, » you suggested, the princess should get the bed after all. Eska shook her head, but you insisted, picking up the sleeping bag and spreading it out next to the bed. « No arguments, you’re taking the bed. » You crawled into the sleeping bag, exhausted. « Good night! » Eska seemed displeased, but you attributed it to the murky atmosphere of the swamp. Morning couldn’t come soon enough, and with the wish for a speedy sunrise, you drifted off to sleep.

xoxox xox xoxox

You woke up at some point during the night because the sleeping bag was a little too hot. You blinked drowsily, clinging to the dream you were having. It was an odd dream lacking a plot and context. You were in Desna’s arms and he had wished you sweet dreams. Taking a moment to recall where you truly were, you crawled out of the sleeping back to lay on top of it instead. Something felt off though, and you realized that you were on the bed. Eska had apparently placed you, sleeping bag and all, on top of the bed. The oil lamp burned dimly in a corner, but your roommate was nowhere to be found.

You got up and picked up the lamp, examining the small flame inside. There was a time when even such a tiny flame would scare you, but your fear of fire had lessened over the years, though still not enough for you to willingly bend. You ventured out to find Eska, but didn’t see her in the living room, or kitchen, and the bathroom door was left open, empty. You headed outside and finally found her.

Eska was in a little clearing just outside the modest residence. She had fashioned a block of ice that looked surprisingly clear. She must have used her bending to filter out the pure water, letting the particles of earth fall away from it. She was lifting the block repeatedly, making quite the effort, which meant that she was not using her bending, only physical force.

This wasn’t the first time you had witnessed such a scene. Eska had been doing similar exercises on the ship, pushing herself more and more. This was getting out of hand and you were starting to get concerned. That block of ice looked very heavy, certainly heavier than anything you could lift. If Eska kept working so hard she might end up with biceps like her brother.

You searched for a possible explanation, watching her discretely before she noticed you. Surely she must be preoccupied about her weight now that she didn’t have her fancy fish and algae stu to eat. You had to find a way to cheer her up, that’s what a good friend should do. You left your position at the doorframe and ventured out.

Eska noticed you and set the block of ice aside. She waited for you to speak as if expecting you to share some grand realization. « Wow, you’re really skinny. How lucky that you don’t need to worry about your weight. I bet you’re lighter than Ginger! »

Eska was surprised, shocked even. You smiled, allowing her a moment to reevaluate her self esteem. « I’m going back to sleep, good night. » You went back to the borrowed room, feeling satisfied with yourself for being a good friend. You took Eska’s shock as a positive sign, she didn’t take your words as empty reassurance, but was really giving them some thought.

xoxox xox xoxox

The next morning, you woke up alone in the room. You got ready for the day and wondered if Eska had gotten any sleep at all. You heard part of a conversation at the table when you headed over there. Tahno was saying something about manly protein tea. Eska was drinking a very unappetizing concoction. You knew it had to be awful if someone capable of eating seaweeds and fish eggs was making a disgusted face at the liquid.

« Morning! » You greeted and joined them at the table. The second Eska saw you, her face turned serious, which made her look even more tomboyish, and she gulped down the tea.

You couldn’t even bring yourself to ask what was in it, but Tahno handed Eska a piece of paper with a reminder that the recipe was to be kept a secret.

After having a semi-normal breakfast with Tahno’s family, it was time to deliver the Wolfbats’ leader to Valrick, after making a stop at Republic City to pick up his band.

xoxox xox xoxox

You walked to the nearest satomobile transportation service, the ostrichorse left forgotten. The satomobile took you, along with Eska and Tahno, to a train station, which would take you the rest of the way to Republic City.

During the train ride you offered to do Eska’s nails, but she only shook her head. Tahno snickered and suggested she should allow it, but Eska stomped on his foot and he was quiet the rest of the way. It was too bad really, there’s nothing like a good manicure and a pretty shiny coat of nail polish to make a girl feel better, and Eska looked like she had a cloud of disappointment hanging over her, though it was mixed with a stubborn determination.

To be Continued

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Make A Man Out Of You – Part 2
Make A Man Out Of You – Part 4