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|What if Amon won?|
A Curse to Bear Edit
It was everything she had been taught against. It was the very thing her society was about destroying. It was wrong to do as she did, it meant punishment and death. The display of wickedness and arrogance danced on her fingertips for a few seconds longer before she grudgingly extinguished the flames. Shivering, she clutched her thin coat around her as the wind blew. It was wrong to bend, she should know that by now, but she was so cold. How could the flames that danced so gaily at her demand cause inequality, when she only felt warmth? Why must she bear the curse of bending? Why must she hide it for fear of the Equalists hurting her like they hurt her family so many years ago?
Zakai flattened her body even more against the alley floor as the distinct click of Equalist shoes came closer. She was not the only person on the streets, and probably not the only bender, but the Equalists disliked the homeless being seen in their prized capital, Equality, the former Republic City. Zakai didn’t want to be forced to move, not on this freezing night. But whether from rotten luck or Karma from bending, the Equalist paused by Zakai. It was impossible to tell the gender of the imposing enforcer as they shone their lantern in Zakai’s eyes. Zakai squinted against the sudden brightness, and then exhaled in shock as the Equalist kicked her in the stomach.
“Get up. If you don’t have a home, go to the shelter.”
The shelter, once the pro-bending arena, where the Equalists would watch her every move. Where she would never get the chance to bend again. What should that matter though? Who was she to doubt Amon, the great leader? Who did she think she was, going around already considering resisting an Equalist’s orders because she valued her bending over bettering the city’s appearance? The lessons of her teacher, back before her family was discovered, back when she still went to school, echoed in Zakai’s mind. We were foolish before Amon taught us the way. Benders have been nothing but a source of strife. Look at the Hundred Year War and all the trouble it caused. Look at how benders treated honest non-benders. Benders must do the honorable thing, turn themselves in. That is, Teacher’s already pale face turned as white as the clouds floating in the sky, and her hands shook slightly. That is why I am turning myself in. This is my last day. The Equalists had come then, the timing so perfect it was as if they were listening in. They probably were; they always were.
Zakai stood up, bruise already forming on her stomach, and began the walk to the shelter. The Equalist watched her for a moment, before continuing on to carry out Amon’s orders, while his or her goggles made the Equalist look like a mindless insect, endlessly droning the same annoying tune. The shelter was only a block or two away, and Zokai could have sworn every inch of the way was plastered with propaganda posters. Everywhere she turned, a picture of a brave Equalist, Amon, or a caricature of a bender greeted her. It was as if hundreds of eyes were following her every move, knowing and judging her for her curse to bear. Zakai wanted nothing more than to have never tried to create a fire—maybe then she wouldn’t have gotten frustrated enough to actually bend.
The shelter was impossible to miss. Even in the dead of night, with its lights extinguished, the former arena almost glowed, and its size left Zakai breathless. She had seen the shelter once before, when she was just a little kid and her father took her to a match. Zakai suspected her father was hoping to inspire Zakai to bend that day, as all of her family could bend fire with skill; but that was when hardly anyone knew Amon’s name. In front of the shelter more Equalists waited, making sure they knew exactly who went in and out. Even the riffraff had to be tightly controlled. There was no line to the shelter at this time of night, though more would come later as the Equalists finished their sweep of the city.
The Equalist’s voice startled her from her thoughts, but to Zakai’s surprise the face that matched the voice was kind and smiling. The young woman waited patiently for Zakai’s response.
“I’m Zakai.” Zakai whispered.
“Come in Zakai. We’re a little tight on space, but there’s room. Do you mind attics?”
Ten minutes and endless staircases later, Zakai was standing in the center of an attic’s room. It was a little small, but it was warm and away from the men who had jeered at her as she entered the shelter. Promising to check up on her later, the kind Equalist Zakai had found was named Yara walked out of the room. Zakai took a long look around the room. Ashes littered the floor, as if a firebender had burnt their things while trying to attack or defend someone, but there were a few things left behind. A blanket, a pro-bending poster, some clothes that would be too big for Zakai’s half-starved body, and a red scarf. Zakai fingered the red scarf, feeling the warm fabric. After a moment, she wrapped it around her neck. She knew she should sleep, but she wasn’t tired. At last she gave up, and instead went to one of the large windows.
Zakai sat on the sill, and saw what was once Air Temple Island, but was now just a pile of rubble. Right before Amon fully took over Republic City, there had been a tragic “accident” in which a metalbending cop airship crashed into the island. The island, and the Air Nomads, was destroyed. Whenever Zakai thought of it she thought of Pema, the only nonbender to be killed. Pema had been pregnant, just like Zakai’s mother was when... Zakai turned from the window and clenched her fist. She had been endlessly taught over the years to obey Amon, to obey the Equalists. If it weren’t for her past, if it weren’t for her curse, she would have been brainwashed along with all of her old friends. If only she could have sunk into blissful ignorance with all the non-benders; but Zakai knew that could never happen. Even now, Zakai continued to risk bending, even though she of all people should have known better.
The door opened, and Yara entered with a bowl of brother. She smiled when she saw Zakai.
“Zakai, I’m glad I didn’t wake you. I brought you some broth—and some good news! The Equalists could really use a girl like you!” Lowering her voice, Yara acted like she was about to share a secret. “You know, those filthy, miserable benders still exist. I don’t understand why they don’t just make the world a better place and kill themselves.”
Zakai’s fist clenched even tighter, and without her meaning to fire sprung up to enclose it. Yara saw it, and stepped back, dropping the soup as Zakai’s anger and flames grew.
“Don’t you ever say that!” Zakai yelled. “Don’t you dare!”
Yara’s glared at Zakai and leapt at her with a surprising speed. Zakai was just barely able to dodge Yara’s body, and the quick attacks that followed suit.
“You are nothing. You are less than nothing.” Yara hissed, trying again and again to block Zakai’s chi.
Zakai’s pushed her hand forward and a ball of flame erupted from her palm and narrowly missed Yara. With a shriek Yara leapt once again at Zakai, this time hitting her target. Zakai heard the shattering of glass, and felt herself break through a window. Yara kept herself from falling, just barely, and stared on with grim satisfaction.
There are many thoughts to be thought before death, many thoughts Zakai would never have. Her fall would be over in seconds, her body dealt with in less than an hour. She could have focused on the Yara’s hatred, her own oppression and tragic life, or how this had all been caused by the Avatar’s failure. But instead, Zakai could only think of her family. Pavement rushing towards her, Zakai closed her eyes and saw her parents and siblings sitting down for the dinner that was interrupted by the Equalists so long ago. The dinner they would have had if her family had not been slaughtered before they could eat. Zakai heard herself being called to the table.
Later on, her body would be moved from the street. Later on, her death would be made to look like yet another suicide by a bender disgusted with herself. Later on, life would go on. But in the seconds after her death, it was as if time no longer had a reason to go on, the sickening crack that sounded when the girl’s body hit the ground echoing in the ears of the homeless and Equalists. At last Yara would emerge from the building, her smile hiding her cruelty from the unsuspecting people waiting outside. In a voice kind and cheery, as if a life had not just been unfairly taken, Yara would speak to the person at the head of what was now a line beginning to form in front of the shelter.
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