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Plot Update 10 March 2021

A year has passed since Fire Lord Zuko ascended the throne, and it seems like trouble is brewing between the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom once more. The Fire Lord and the Avatar began the Harmony Restoration Movement to restore the Fire Nation Colonies to their pre-war state by bringing any Fire Nation nationals back home, but for many of the citizens — of mixed Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom … Read more ›

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Nothing Goes To Waste [Tag: Charumati]

Post by Nirav on Aug 18, 2020 15:00:43 GMT -6

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The sun rose high, but the wind's teeth bit down. Nirav made his way to one of the larger towns west of the Earth Kingdom, where the flag of another nation snapped in the chill breeze. This was wrong, yes. But not his place to say; bars of metal awaited those who spoke such things.

Sejun plodded on, his load heavy but the straps and harness easing the weight. Nirav himself carried more than his fair share, the pack a whole head above his crown. The wild-looking man muttered assurances to the gemsbok bull in a strange tongue as the gate to the town grew closer.

The place was larger than many of the other places dotted along the heavily wooded area, with mountains rising high in the distance. Nirav spared a look towards them, a flash of yearning flicking in his dark brown eyes, before they lowered once more to the reality of the world.

A payment was made, and Nirav began to set up. The routine was good, one that he liked. Wood poles and planks were knocked into place, a simple stall soon erected in the square alongside the many others. Not as eye-catching; no bright colours, no shiny things. Piece by piece, the man placed and hung his wares around the stall as Sejun yawned and laid down behind him, a mountain of breathing muscle.

All was said and done. Glancing around and hearing the other merchants crying out their wares and buskers singing tunes for coin, Nirav shrugged and pulled out a stringed instrument and a wooden peg. Taking his place on a stool after touching a pair of talismans stitched into his sleeveless vest, long dexterous fingers began to plucked at the strings while the peg turned, coaxing the right sounds to appear.

"Pelts!" Nirav called out. Peng peng peng pleng. "Bones! Rope! Salted meat!" Plin plin plon. "Charms! Medicines! A hunt with no waste! Good price, worthy of every coin! So it is."

Nirav called out his offerings to the masses of faces that began to swarm by as the wind died down, encouraging people to venture to the marketplace. The sound of his sarangi being tuned caused more than a few glances to fall upon his humble stall.


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Post by Charumati on Aug 18, 2020 22:08:59 GMT -6

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A man with the wisdom of the stars once said, do not mistake composure for ease.

Walking along the streets of her town, Charumati could feel the truth of it ringing in her bones. Dressed in the absolute height of fashion, her long, multi-layered robes elaborately dyed and embroidered with a variety of colours; her shawl, made out of a thin, nearly transparent material, hung loosely in the crooks of her elbows as she made her way down the street. Her dark skin stood in contrast with the scarlet hues of her outermost robe, complimented by the accents of gold thread and gold ear baubles. The sharp gold fingercuffs on her left hand glimmered in the sunlight as she made her way to the marketplace.

Ordinarily, a woman wandering the marketplace in an elaborate outfit such as hers would turn heads; however, after nearly fifty years of living in the town Charumati—or, as the locals knew her, Rohana—was well known for her oddities and eccentricities, including her completely unnecessary yet daily excursions to the marketplace to peruse stalls and grace a handful of vendors with her patronage.

In truth, she was there for a far different purpose: to listen.

Rumours, secrets, gossip... she traded in information, and as a clandestine member of the Order of the White Lotus, her ability to discern what information was worthy of pursuing in their search for the Avatar was priceless.

Of course, it had been a few weeks since the Order found out that the Avatar had, in fact, returned. Grand Lotus Iroh had sent missives to the other high-ranking Order members, who in turn disseminated the information to operatives in all corners of the world: the Grand Lotus had seen the Avatar with his own two eyes, and he was naught but a child, no older than twelve or thirteen, despite having been missing for the past hundred years. King Bumi in particular was ecstatic to hear the news, though Charumati couldn't fathom why His Majesty cackled like a madman to hear it.

But with the discovery of the Avatar, that of course meant that Charumati was poised to act at a split second's notice. Under her robes were practical trousers and a silk tunic tightly wrapped around her torso only. Her fingercuffs were blade-sharp, and she could release poison from the tips with the press of a button. If the Avatar passed her way, she would be prepared to house him and his allies, and protect him with her life.

Unfortunately, today was not that day; the fire in her veins coursed uselessly as she willed herself to remain calm rather than rising to the rooftops to herald the Avatar's eminent arrival. Instead, she wandered the market, browsing the vendors' wares, pointing to a few items here and there and tossing coins with the carelessness of one that has too much. That was when she heard the twanging of an instrument and a new, unfamiliar voice calling out.

She made her way to the vendor, dressed in simple clothing that appeared to be from a group of people that lived in the local wilderness. Charumati knew the area well.

Expression placid but kind, she approached.

"Hello," she greeted the man, her voice low. "May I look through your wares?"
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Last edit: Aug 19, 2020 1:09:12 GMT -6

Post by Nirav on Aug 19, 2020 6:26:54 GMT -6

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Nirav gave a grunt and small smile of satisfaction as the tune from his sarangi finally hit the right notes. Detaching the bow, he started to play a few notes, the almost voice-like music pulling in the gazes from a few of the other merchants... although their brows were pulled down. They started to call out louder, trying to be heard over the music. Nirav did not pay them much heed, his eyes closed. Soon, a small flock of chirping birds seemed to gather, attracted to the noise. Some even perched on his stall.

The travelling hunter did not play for long, though. He was here to trade, not busk.

Suddenly, the nearby birds took flight as a figure approached. Nirav opened his eyes and saw a woman, older but filled with a curious grace, like a saber-cat waiting in long grass. She had spoken, and the man blinked his eyes, still a little out of it from his short, engrossed session with the sarangi. But he returned to the present swiftly, placing the instrument down and gesturing widely to his wares.

"Of course, yes," he said, his deep voice curiously flat, his manner of speaking slow and measured. "Here are many things for good use. This, for example," Nirav continued, placing a hand over a dark, course pelt. "This is excellent material for shoe. Boar-q-pine hide. Tough, excellent for long use. Take this to, err, to cobbler, make custom shoe. Never need another pair again."

This was truth. His own boots were made of this hide and had lasted him for nearly ten years. The long-fingered hands moved to a different section of the stall, picking up a long, clean bone.

"This is also Boar-q-pine. Very hard, many uses. Dice, charm, even instrument. Or knife. Make it right, you can pass it down to children's children without ever needing to touch a whetstone." This was truth. Though he primarily used the khukuri at his side for most needs, he owned a set of Boar-q-pine bone knives for preparing the meat he sold and ate.

"Or, perhaps, this," Nirav continued, picking up a small pot. He popped it open, and a sharp scent came from within. "This medicine, place this on upper lip. Clear nose, cure cold, put hair on chest," he announced. "But for ladies, only spiritual hair," he corrected after a pause and a sudden look at his customer. "Also, good for, err... aid in smell sense for short time. Make it easy to catch scent, yes?"

Finally, he gestured at a small slab of meat hanging from the corner.

"Or you are hungry. Salted meat, lasts a long time. Good for snack, very good for travel."
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Post by Charumati on Aug 20, 2020 10:52:57 GMT -6

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Charu ran the back of her hand along the leather, noting its tough, yet supple state. It had been expertly obtained and tanned, showing no extraneous knife marks or any semblance of once being attached to a living creature. A dozen uses for it ran through her head as she moved on to the next item.

The bone of the boar-q-pine was very intriguing. She had heard stories of grown men being skewered by their tusks with no hope of extraction for survival. Not even the most talented healers were able to repair the damage caused. She immediately envisioned a lovely carved-bone dagger strapped to her thigh and smiled.

She winced a little at the medicine and laughed as the vendor rushed to reassure her that it would only put hair on her chest spiritually

The salted meat reminded her that she hadn't had anything to eat yet; her stomach grumbled and she made a note to order some soondubu jjigae when she was finished shopping. The salted meat would also be good for as travel rations, should she need to leave the colonies at a moment's notice.

"All of these sound wonderful," she told him with a satisfied tone. "How much?"
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Post by Nirav on Aug 21, 2020 4:17:15 GMT -6

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The words spoken were happy. This was good; coin will be left here, he thought. When Nirav first started out on the path of a travelling trader, he had assumed that prospective buyers would accept without question that his wares were worth the coin. He had been wrong. Constantly, they wondered out loud if anything in the stall was worth the price. Many times he had to lower the cost just to move the items.

But he could see in this woman's eyes that she knew the value of what he had shown. This caused his thin lips to flicker into a brief smile as she asked for the price.

"For hide, one gold," Nirav stated. He had several more sections of pelt from that one Boar-q-pine he could sell, and he had been able to hunt and process the beast with relative ease, but it was dangerous work to hunt such a creature. He recalled the words of the man who had taken him in after he first came down from the Wild Mountains, to always value an item a little higher so that it left room for the haggling... and if there was no haggling, all the better.

"For bone, six silver," he continued. "For medicine, nine silver. Many herbs, uses secret knowledge to make, yes? Good for many uses, worth every coin."

With a swift movement of his long-fingered hands, the strange, recurve blade sheathed at the back of his hip jumped and span, caught in one hand and juggled to the other. It cut down the hanging slab of meat, sliding through the tough material like butter and sheering off a slice.

"Meat: One cut, one copper," Nirav concluded. He raised the thin helping to his mouth and bit off a chuck, chewing and swallowing to show that it was palatable. "Each, err, purchase over five silver, two cut free."

As Nirav cut off the meat, it caused the stall to shiver ever so slightly, making the numerous hanging talismans and charms to clink together and shift positions. One of them was a wooden disk that had three carved swirling symbols on its surface, the three of them connected by the termination of the last.
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Post by Charumati on Aug 21, 2020 18:15:45 GMT -6

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The prices were... too low. Charumati knit her eyebrows together in consternation; this individual was a talented hunter, and, if the creator of all the products here, a fine craftsman. She studied him surreptitiously, taking in his attire and unpolished manner of speech. She guessed that he was, perhaps, not well acquainted with what his wares were actually worth

She shook her head and instead imperiously held out her hand in a manner that made it clear she expected his hand in return. She kept her expression calm, but inside she was irritated. Times in this town were not so hard they needed to cheat a stranger out of his hard earned wares. These lands, occupied by the Fire Nation, were admittedly prospering more than they had been under the Earth Kingdom's absent and distant rule. With this village being one of the main ports under Fire Nation rule, it wanted for nothing.

When he complied with her silent command, she dropped twenty gold pieces into his palm, her gold-clawed fingers deftly shielding the exchange from prying eyes.

Under the guise of inspecting her purchases, she murmured softly, low enough that only he could hear.

"The hide alone is worth five gold. The bone, another five. The medicine, two. And I'll take the whole slab for five."
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Post by Nirav on Aug 25, 2020 6:45:55 GMT -6

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Nirav's brow furrowed as his customer's face flickered with several emotions as she shook her head, then gestured for him to hold out a hand. Uncertainly, the hunter slowly put his hand forward. An eyebrow was raised as many gold coins were dropped into his palm, far more than what he had asked for in return for the items.

He followed her words as the customer spoke, speaking on the worth of what she had picked out. She was not wrong. There were items here that may have sold for what she had put down, or even more. Nirav gave her a curious look.

"Many places I trade, they cannot offer so many coins," the trader said, his deep voice even slower than before as he mulled over what she had said. "I price low, or I do not sell at all, yes? Better fewer coins in hand than inventory I cannot carry, hm?"

From behind the man, the gemsbok bull turned it long-horned head and made a deep, mournful bleating sound. Nirav clucked his tongue and said some words in a different tongue to the animal.

"Sejun says that I do not carry, he does," the hunter explained to his customer once the gemsbok bull snorted through his nose and laid his head back down. "But I also carry fair share. 'A load shared is carried farther', yes? So it is."

Digging into one of the sacks near his feet, Nirav flicked a few treats down to Sejun, which the beast lazily brough to his mouth with a long tongue.

"But now I know this place has more coin, I will alter price. You have shown a kindness, I will remember," Nirav continued with a bow of his scarred face. He reached down and produce a strange wrap of leaves, which he proceeded to cover the slab of meat with as he unhooked it from the stall.

Suddenly, he frowned, counting in his head the coins the woman had placed within his hand.

"You state the worth, but have given three too many coins. There is something else that you wish, yes?" Nirav inquired, placing the now wrapped slab of meat onto the stall for the customer.
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Post by Charumati on Aug 25, 2020 19:57:32 GMT -6

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Charumati smiled. It was a close-lipped smile, but with her serious demeanour it might as well have been an open-mouthed beaming grin. The vendor was astute—quick enough to understand what she meant by the value of his products, and sharp enough to understand that the extra coin wasn't a mistake in her calculations. He was also kind enough to have lowered his prices in an attempt to be compassionate to those without plentiful means; a shame that people took advantage.

"You're right," she said softly. "I do want something else."

She paused, drawing out the silence between them to whet his curiosity. She tapped a gold-taloned finger against the stall counter as she thought of how best to phrase her request.

"You are... a hunter," the words were slow, deliberate, and soft. "You see many things, things that others, they do not see."

It wasn't a question; Charumati was certain of it. Those not softened by the life of the city were always more attuned to people-watching than those who had spent their whole lives in the hustle and bustle of the town.

"I need two things. The first... I am looking for a flower. It is a bright yellow, bell-shaped when open, and almost like a pendant when closed. Five rounded petals, with a yellow stem in the centre. It grows from a plant, not in the ground or on a tree. It can be a great medicine, but it can also be...." here, Charumati's voice grew softer, "very dangerous."

The flower was incredibly, incredibly lethal. For reasons she preferred not to dwell on, her supply was running low.

"I need one basket full of these flowers."

She paused, seemingly examining her purchases.

"Second, I need... a partner."

Charu didn't enjoy working with other people, but she knew the best and fastest way to see results was to work with a trusted group of individuals. An outsider, with no ties to politics, living in a remote region where only the spirits lay claim to their people, would be the perfect individual to work with. He would have no loyalty to the Fire Nation, he would have no loyalty to any organisation, only to those he chose to align himself with. The perfect ally.

The cogwheels in her head spun; she was determined to be this person.

"There are many things to discuss, if you wish to be that person. Some good, some bad. There will be pay, if needed. There will be other things, if you desire."

She looked at him then, fully, meeting his eyes directly. She hoped he saw the conviction that she felt burn inside her, the determination she felt to rid these shores of the Fire Nation's oppressive military force, her desire to see the Avatar restore balance to the world.

"But we would not be able to talk here. The coin is... for a meeting. Tonight. In a place you know, wherever you decide, where if what I have to say brings your heart disquiet, you can escape easily, and I will only seek you out to purchase more wares."

Charumati smiled in what she hoped was an inviting way.

"What say you?"
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Post by Nirav on Aug 28, 2020 6:14:47 GMT -6

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Nirav waited for the customer to speak more. The pause between words was a strange adjustment he had to make when he was first banished from the mountains; to his people, if a thing needed to be said, then it was said. But elsewhere, a pause was meant to encourage response, to measure someone before speaking. The hunter's face remained blank as she considered her next words.

He did not respond to her thoughts on his occupation, merely nodding his head. This was truth. All the things at his stall were hunted by him, skinned by him, created by him. There were many things that he saw, things that others would not think to observe.

The flowers the customer spoke of, Nirav knew them. He had seen them on his travels, and knew a little of their uses. They were not native of his home, so his knowledge of them was limited. That they were both an aid and a danger did not shock him; many poisonous plants, when correctly processed, made for powerful medicines.

"I know of this plant. I can search for this, collect safely," Nirav stated during another pause. "If they grow nearby, I can bring to you with speed."

As the hunter sifted through his gear to check for a suitable container for these flowers, the customer continued.

"Second, I need... a partner."

This selection of words caused Nirav to look sharply up at her, dropping the woven bag he had been pulling out. Sejun also looked up with a grunt, and the hunter traded a concerned look with the animal before the customer continued speaking. Nirav watched her face carefully, and his worry slowly melted away. There was a fire in her eyes, a determination in her jawline, conviction in the lines around her mouth. I misunderstood the intention. This... is good.

The trader mulled over the customer's words in his head. A chance for more coin, other possible advancements left unsaid. These things bothered him little; coin he could make, and he wanted for little that he could not find himself. He led a simple life, and had simple needs.

But it would be a lie if he said that his curiosity was not raised.

Nirav grunted in thought, eyeing the woman deeply for a moment. No tells of deceit, no sense of bait for trap. Honesty.

"I planned to make camp north outside of town when the sun starts to set," the hunter said, his flat voice inflecting nothing. "I often make campfire, to ward off wild beasts, that burns into the night. If someone were to lose their way in that region and see the light, they may be welcome to join me."
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Post by Charumati on Aug 29, 2020 18:51:53 GMT -6

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Charumati waited patiently for a response. The man was thoughtful, deliberate, and she appreciated those things in a future partner. The Order was always looking to expand its ranks, but each selected individual had to be of a certain temperament. There were plenty of people with a desire to work against the Fire Nation, and to undermine its conquests, across all of the kingdoms. But many of them lacked patience, lacked temperance. They flew off the handle, eager to show the colonisers what-for and in the process wound up getting captured or killed. Nothing could compromise the Order, and those types had liability painted all over their foreheads.

She nodded sedately at his acceptance of the flowers, and his casual statement of his intended location.

"Wonderful," she replied, her voice soft but the corner of her mouth quirked in a half-smile. "There is a nearby mountain range, maybe a day's journey from this town—less, if your beast will take a rider. And..."

Charu gathered her purchases and took a step back.

"I hope you will show kindness to anyone who may wander to your camp tonight."

Night began to fall before too long, and Charumati slipped out of her home and made her way north. Instead of her elaborate robes, she wore only a simple dark, navy blue kimono with a matching hakama. Her sandals were of the type that laced up and over her the legs of the hakama, to prevent the fabric from billowing out at the ends. Her long hair had been swept into a tight braid. She was armed with a few knives, hidden in her kimono sleeves, and in her hair a functional hairpin that also served as a means of introducing poison into a target. 

She looked like a farmer, if anyone cared to look, though most paid her no heed. No one recognised her, which is exactly what she had intended. Even passing her favourite haunts, in the fading light of day, garnered no attention from the proprietors who would swear up and down she was one of their most loyal customers.

As she expected, a respectable distance from the town she saw the glow of a campfire.

While she had no doubt the vendor would be exactly where he said he would be, she still slipped her hands in her kimono sleeves, fingers just a hair's breadth from her knives. Outwardly, she was simply walking with her hands in her sleeves, as all folk were known to occasionally do.

When she neared the camp, she saw a familiar and expected figure huddled around its light and nodded in greeting.

"Hello," she replied, making sure to come close to the campfire so he could see her face. "Is there room for another around your fire?"
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Post by Nirav on Sept 2, 2020 11:07:35 GMT -6

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Nirav nodded once and, after he packed up the things that the customer had purchased, he bid her farewell. A curious encounter, one that seemed fated to continue. Sejun lowed doubtfully.

"No thing in this existence is certain, old friend," the hunter replied. There was a short pause as the scarred man pondering something. "Save for life and death. The wheel turns in its eternal cycle, Sejun. And we must walk with it."

The camp he made was, as always, a simple thing. A small tent. A canopy for Sejun, set up in case the rains came quick in the night. A fire pit of flickering light, upon which several cuts of fresh meat were being cooked. In the copse that he had selected, four small talismans were hanging on low tree branches, each one placed in the four cardinal direction. This was as it should be.

Here, the hunter waited.

When he felt his palms begin to itch, Nirav's head tilted and his brow furrowed, pausing in his action of sharpening his khukuri. Sejun's head rose from where he lay and the gemsbok bull gave a short bellow, confirming in the hunter's mind what he suspected.

Someone was approaching. And they were very good at moving unnoticed.

Shortly after, a voice called out, and Nirav turned his head to see the customer from earlier that day step into the light. Her step is light, but there is tension wound tight in her body. At the question, the hunter answered with a jut of his chin towards the second log placed next to the fire.

"Yes. Sit, eat. Food is fresh. Meat, and broth of bone, very good," Nirav offered, taking his own advice and plucking up one of the sticks a cut of meat was gentling sizzling on.

"You wish to speak where none may hear, yes? No-one out here but us, now. Nobody comes close to this place without Nirav knowing. This is truth," the hunter continued, assuring and introducing in a single sentence. He gave the woman an appraising look as she moved closer.

"But you, I almost miss. You are hunter too, yes? Few can move in silence like this but a hunter. So it is."

This statement was punctuated by his teeth sinking into the freshly cooked meat. The hot, juicy taste caused Nirav to grunt and nod in satisfaction; he had added a few sprinklings of herbs to the meat and the broth both. An enhanced flavour, not often done. Company was what you earned.
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Post by Charumati on Sept 5, 2020 19:48:27 GMT -6

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She sat where she was bid, stretching out comfortably. With a wry smile, she acknowledged the compliment from the hunter.

"Do I hunt?" Charumati echoed. "Yes, I suppose you could call it that. But what I hunt is not wild beasts; it is information, and, sometimes, people."

Casually, she reached over plucked one of the skewers off of the fire. The meat was expertly done; she chewed in silence, allowing it to stretch over them like a blanket. The night air was crisp, and distantly, a bird cawed. Charumati's ears pricked up at the sound; her body tensed just ever so slightly as she prepared for the possibility that it was a human making a very adept bird call.

Eventually, she broke the silence.

"You know of the Fire Nation, yes? They come from across the sea, in ships of metal and smoke. They take this land, tear down the trees. They bring people — people who do not fight, who are innocent — because they believe that with their weapons and ships they have laid claim to this land. Every day, the people who were here before they came fight against them, but the people in ships, in their armour of painted metal, they wish to conquer this land, and force the people to live by their ways."

Charumati looked at the hunter.

"They will come for you too, and your people, if they cannot be kept from going beyond these shores. Already they spread to the north and to the south, killing and destroying everything in their path to reshape it to their desires. But I... I am part of a group — a secret group — who hunt the most important of their people, so we can stop them. We hunt for information, we hunt the people who kill with reckless abandon. We try not to kill, but we will kill in self-defence or to protect the innocent.

"But I need... assistance. I cannot always move freely, for among the people I am... noticed. I have wealth, and I have standing. The Fire Nation, they know of my face, so I can only move in the shadows of night, or when my face will draw no suspicion. I need someone who can move freely, who can travel and gather information in places I cannot. Someone who is not known to them, who would not gather their attention. A skilled hunter, who trades his wares, this is an advantage."

She paused and took a breath before continuing.

"I am called Rohana."

She was very careful not to say my name is, since, well, it wasn't. 

"Above all this, we seek the Avatar. You have your stories of the Avatar, do you not, among your people? The one who will restore balance and peace to the world. We seek him, and when we find him we vow to protect him, and lay down our lives for his should we need."

Charu titled her head to one side, studying the hunter's expression and body language.

"Will you join us? We — I — will pay for your services, in however you wish. In coin, in wares, in secrets if you have need of them. I pledge on my honour that if you accept, we will be bound to each other through thick and thin, whatever may come."
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Post by Nirav on Sept 7, 2020 9:30:06 GMT -6

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Nirav listened quietly as the woman spoke. He was not so insulated from society or naive to fail to understand why she wanted as much privacy as possible to discuss what she wished; from what the hunter had seen, the Fire Nation did not abide opposition. In the end, it seemed as if this person was looking for help in providing such opposition, in exchange for various promises.

She speaks truth. I see no lie in her face or eyes, only a quiet fire.

Nirav did not speak for a few minutes, his expression like stone as he slowly chewed his meal, but with a thoughtful light in his dark eyes. He swallowed, then finally met the gaze of the woman... Rohana, she named herself.

"I will tell you a tale, Rohana. So that there may be understanding between us," Nirav said, his deep voice filling the camp's space. "Many years ago, my people traded with the monks in the Northern Temple. At first, they did not approve of my people much; they thought, since we hunted, we had contempt for life. But they were patient, and they listened as we spoke. Soon, they find that our respect for nature was no lesser than theirs. A hunt with no waste is how the hunter honours their prey."

The hunter's gaze shifted to the flames between the two of them.

"Then the fire came for them. You know this part of the story: it was quick, and then the monks were no more. Not long after, a large group of people, their homes destroyed, passed by the base of our mountain. They were escaping, but the Fire Nation could not be outrun. They fled up into the woods of the mountain, and the soldiers chased after. As blood fed the soil under the Solstice moon, something caught the scent of death from the Beyond... and howled in hunger."

Nirav shivered as he recalled this part of the tale, a haunted look creeping onto his face. His mind wandering back to the ancient face of the Elder as he told the story to him and his brothers.

"Villager and soldier, none were spared. It flickered amongst them like a starving shadow. Where claws and teeth landed, nothing was left but empty eyes, the souls gone. And once it ate its fill on these people... it came for mine. Many of our tribe were taken by it, but when we escaped to the highest reaches of the mountain, away from the cover of the trees, it no longer followed. There, my people remain to this day."

Nirav took up a nearby stick and prodded the flames of the campfire. Small embers struggled into the air for a brief moment, dying out a few heartbeats later.

"I think the Fire Nation will not find my people. Not after one hundred years trapped at summit of the Wild Mountains. They are safe... in a way." Nirav paused here, looking back up at Rohana. His eyes were cold. "But many times I see villages burned down. Many times, I see children in rags, no food in their bellies or hope in their eyes. Many times, I see Fire Nation soldiers kick down at poor men and women for no reason but because they can. I see too many things. I feel too many things. But... I do nothing."

There was shame rising in the hunter's voice as he spoke now, paired with anger; at himself as much as towards those that did the things of which he spoke.

"What could I do? I can fight, but not against whole army. I can help, but only one person at a time. So what do I do? I lower prices." Nirav almost spat this last part out, like bitter poison. He looked Rohana in the face, the campfire reflected in his eyes. He continued to speak in the same deep, quiet voice.

"You say you, and this group, fight against Fire Nation, find and protect the young Air Nomad Avatar. You want to pay me to do the same? I am simple man; what I cannot buy, I can earn alone. What I cannot earn, I make myself. What I cannot make, I do not need. But you have something, perhaps, I do need. You wish to aid the Avatar, last of the Air Nomads. My people respected them; so shall I. Nirav is no friend of the Fire Nation, so if you fight them, you are friend to Nirav."

The hunter wiped his long-fingered hands on his trousers, and sniffed.

"It is time that I need to do something. That chance, I am thinking, is something that you can give. Yes?"
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Post by Charumati on Sept 9, 2020 14:16:59 GMT -6

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She listened in silence, giving the hunter room to talk. His people were only vaguely familiar to her; she had heard of a tribe of people in the mountains but had never seen one herself. They were notoriously reclusive, and some thought of them as little more than local legend.

It was with great interest that she followed his story, watching his expression and mannerisms by the flickering light of the campfire. He was stoic, calm, but she could see they were similar in their quiet fervor for justice. He spoke of the history of his people, the disgust he felt with himself at how little he had been able to do against the Fire Nation. His eyes seemed — at least to Charu — to shine at the idea of being able to strike back at the Fire Nation, and to help the young Avatar fulfill his destiny.

"It is time that I need to do something. That chance, I am thinking, is something that you can give. Yes?"

Charu looked up at the stars.

"Only," she replied, "if you forgive yourself for not doing more. There is no room in this mission for regret; regret means you make mistakes, held back by the weight of what could have been rather than moving forward with what is. "

She looked at him then, and set her jaw.

"If you join me — join us — you might need to make difficult choices. Choices that, in the light of day, will fill you with sorrow. Perhaps even dishonour. But these thoughts will consume you, keep you from doing what must be done. You must fight when necessary; kill when necessary; you run when necessary... even if that means leaving others behind. So you must forgive yourself, and be at peace with what choices you make. Otherwise you will put yourself, and the Order, and the people in danger."

Charumati studied him for a moment and then smiled; a wide, honest smile that (so she had been told) took years off of her face. The hunter was young, perhaps two decades or so her junior, but he showed promise and a stout heart. Everything else could be taught.

"But yes, if you want a chance to fight back you can join me. And I have much to teach you."
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Last edit: Sept 10, 2020 4:07:46 GMT -6

Post by Nirav on Sept 11, 2020 7:56:40 GMT -6

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Nirav grunted in response as Rohana spoke. There was wisdom in her words and, although these things were not something that he was blind to, he understood her need to speak them.

"Seeking redemption through acts of recklessness is a fool's errand," the hunter replied. "And forgiveness given freely is empty. It is a thing that must be earned, step by step."

His words were intended to assure the person opposite him that he was not about to rush headlong into danger to free himself of the shackles of regret that bound his soul.

She spoke then of a road filled with difficult decisions, of choices that would linger in the mind. Nirav's thoughts went back to that day when he was hunting with his brothers; the Boar-q-pine charging, having to choose between them. He had made his choice and, while he did not think it was the wrong one, it was something that still haunted and shamed him to this day.

"I am no stranger to hard choices... or grief and guilt," Nirav stated quietly, a private hurt flickering in the dark recesses of his eyes. He reached into his shirt and pulled out a string of charms and talismans. After a moment of sorting through them, he lifted one that had a pattern of three swirls.

"This charm was made by my people in honour of the monks," he explained, the tip of his finger tracing the lines. "The pattern shows that in life, loss is a cycle, constant, never-ending. Every day, we lose something. But, see how there is no start or finish to the lines?" Nirav continued, his moving finger flowing from one swirling pattern to the next. "This because there is no end that is not a herald of something new. We use this talisman to guide us... when all other paths seem lost. A charm that few people want. But one that everyone needs, I think."

The hunter let go of the charm, letting the string of objects fall back onto his sinewy chest.

"I tell you this so that you know I am not easily shaken from my path. That I know that there is no loss without gain, no grief without joy. There will always be a balance to things. The wheel turns, and we must walk with it."

With this now said, Nirav hummed at the invitation of mentorship, and said "On the Wild Mountains, those who do not learn swiftly do not live long. You will find me a quick learner.

"Do not forget your meat. It is good," Nirav finished, jutting his chin towards the meat still in Rohana's hands. "Nothing goes to waste. So it is."
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Post by Charumati on Sept 14, 2020 15:09:02 GMT -6

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Charu took another bite of the meat; it really was very good, and a part of her missed the simpler days of camping outside and eating a freshly hunted meal by light of a campfire. It had been at least a decade since she last had a mission that required her to leave her home for too long, and ever since her parents had passed it had become harder and harder to maintain her cover if she was also leaving for large periods of time to unknown destinations.

"I'm glad you understand," she said softly. "Many have tried to walk this path and failed. There was a young man, many years ago, that couldn't deal with the pressure."

She stared into the flames of the campfire, a small pang in her chest. It had been years she had thought of him; the Charumati of those days seemed like another person entirely, in another time, another world. She had loved him, then, and when he went his own way — and out of her life forever — she had grieved him as if he had died. She didn't know what had happened to him, and when it came down to it, she didn't care to. Too much had happened, too much time had passed, and that chapter of her life belonged to a Charumati she no longer recognised. But sometimes, like now, a small voice inside of her wondered what might've been.

Jerking herself out of her reminiscing, she looked at the young hunter and tilted her head to the side.

"What can I call you?" she asked. Before he could respond, she held up a hand and continued. "Take care; in this line of work, a true name should be a carefully guarded secret."
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Post by Nirav on Sept 16, 2020 12:15:23 GMT -6

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Nirav watched as Rohana's mind slid into recollection, staring vacantly into the flame as memories played out in her mind. He did not interrupt the woman's dark reverie; it was clear to him that this memory was, at best, bittersweet. To intrude upon moments like these was just not done.

Eventually, she shook herself free from her thoughts then, peculiarly, she asked for his name again. Nirav had been about to open his mouth, a frown creasing his brow, when Rohana continued, explaining her words.

His confusion only slightly retreated, until the hunter recalled the dress that she had worn in the town, and the clothes that she was wearing now. A connection was made, and he hummed quietly before speaking.

"I have walked from the north of Earth Kingdom to south," the hunter said slowly. "Then from the east to west, further, into the Colonies here. I have spent time in many villages, towns, even the big cities. Do you know how many times I was asked my name, Rohana?"

Nirav paused here for a moment, the fire crackling accompanying the gentle wind rustling the leaves.

"Not once. Not even you ask! And I gave no name in offering... before tonight. You are living in two lives, yes? In town, you wear different garb, different face, to the ones you are wearing now. For me, there is only one life. Only one Nirav. And I have not spoken this name in... nearly five years."

The hunter hesitated as he considered this, surprise flashing across his face for a breath of time. He had not thought much on it, but this was truth. The traders who took him in and taught him their tongue had given him a name themselves; he had never used his own. After he left, nobody had asked, and so he had never spoken it.

"Below the Mountain, no one knows of Nirav," he finished. There was no sadness in his tone, but he raised an eyebrow at Rohana.

"Only Sejun and you, now. And of these two, I know he will never speak it."
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Post by Charumati on Sept 16, 2020 21:17:57 GMT -6

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Charumati chuckled.

"Actually," she said with a wry grin, "it's more like three lives."

Briefly, she explained the nature of her role in the order. There was her role as a spy, and information-gatherer. This was her face as Rohana. Then, there was how Nirav saw her now, the role that the Order kept secret; that, she explained, had another name — a name that was not a name, not really, but a title. And finally, there was her self: her true self. This, she explained, was the self that she revealed only to the closest, and most trusted of people.

"I shall keep your name secret as well. But, others will begin to notice you now. Rohana is..." Charumati gestured elegantly, "noticeable. And those around her, aside from her servants, equally so. I do not believe you would be happy as my servant, would you? But, people will notice. The enemy will also notice. You must have a name to give the others, to keep others from learning too much about you. The Fire Nation has spies everywhere. What if they learned of your name, then found your village? A people that remember and honour the Air Nomads? What do you think the arm would do to your people, if they found them?"
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Post by Nirav on Sept 19, 2020 8:04:51 GMT -6

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A frown creased the hunter's brow as Rohana once more tried to explain the need for another name. Nirav shook his head, baffled... but then frowned again when he recalled that the woman had not seemed all that surprised to hear of his people. Does she know of them? How? One hundred years without contact, how would anyone know?

"One hundred years. I was thinking, 'who would know of my people now'? But perhaps there is some mention of them in some scroll, tuck away on some shelf," Nirav said, waving his hand in the air. "I still am thinking nobody will know and, even if they did, how would they reach my people? The forest of the Wild Mountain is guarded by the spirit; every five years my people send three of our hunters to find a path. Every five years those hunters are returned to us, empty. No soul."

The travelling merchant shuddered. He remembered seeing those men and women, blank eyed, wandering aimlessly back into the camp. They were taken away and given peace.

"Any who wander the lower mountains are doomed. Only I have left the mountain in all that time. It was... hard," Nirav continued, a haunted look appearing in his eyes as he thought of those three days and nights. The moment soon passed, and the man sighed, nodding.

"Perhaps you are right. I have already been banished from my people; I cannot risk causing more hurt." Nirav contemplated something for a moment, before grunting in annoyance. "I am no good with making names. 'Shikari', maybe. Hunter, in my tongue."
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Post by Charumati on Sept 21, 2020 19:07:20 GMT -6

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She nodded her head solemnly.

"Well, Shikari," she said softly. "Welcome. I am glad to have you join me. In time, I will introduce you to others. For now, we can just get to know one another and see the skills you bring to the table. You can learn about my skills as well, should you desire, though I may not be able to demonstrate them all."

Charumati finished off her roasted meat, then licked her fingers in satisfaction. She would tell the housekeeper to set up the hibachi. It was still a little early for it, but roasted meat was often a delicacy in these parts since the hunter-gatherer lifestyle began to fade away.

She looked to her new companion and tilted her head thoughtfully.

"I do not think that the Fire Nation will fear the spirit that guards the mountain."

She paused to gather her thoughts. It was the first time she had heard of it, though she had heard stories about people disappearing without a trace. She had chalked it up to negligence or wild animals, but if the legends of Nirav's people were true, then the poor travellers had met a much more unfortunate end.

"The Order believes that the Fire Nation has no respect for the spirits. It is with the idea that they are stronger than the spirits that they move forward. It is why they hunt the Avatar, to make sure that he cannot use his spirits-given powers to restore harmony to the world. I think, if your mountain spirit is as fearsome as you describe, that some of them may view it as a challenge — perhaps to test their skills, perhaps in greed to see if the spirit guards something of monetary value.

"And, to hopefully set your heart at ease, there is no real knowledge of your people. I — we — had heard tales of a tribe living in the mountains, but we don't know much else. It's not a very well known tale, but the Order has stories going back generations upon generations. It was founded at least four hundred years ago, so it has knowledge of things that have, for everyone else, been lost to time."

Shifting slightly, Charu stretched out her limbs and lamented the need for practical linens. Her silks were truthfully quite comfortable, and she missed them whenever she was on assignment.

She looked up at the sky, her eyes scanning the stars and the moon.

"It's growing late," she said. "Tell me, Shiraki, what are your plans for tomorrow? It is unlikely I can meet you like this again for a while, so we will have to find a way for you to meet with the Great Lady Rohana instead."
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