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I slowly opened my eyes to see a broken glass ceiling. Roots of various plants lined the walls. Whatever this building was, it was no longer in use.
"Mommy, she's awake!" a little girl's voice called.
I turned my head to see a small child with two cats in her lap, sitting in a chair staring at me excitedly. A man and a woman ran over to me. I realized I was lying in a tiny, old bed. There were two others next to me. They looked like hospital beds, but it looked like these people had been sleeping in them. I wondered which one of the three had to sleep on the floor. I hoped it wasn't the little girl.
The three of them all looked rugged, but sweet. They seemed like a humble family, trying to make their way in the scarred world.
"Can she speak?" the woman asked the girl. I assumed they were a family, and the girl was the daughter of the other two.
"She didn't say anything yet, so I don't know." The girl looked at me. "Can you? Say something! My name's. What's yours?"
I smiled weakly. I tried to say "Kanna" but I could only mumble instead.
The man beamed. "Well, at least she's alive! You were very lucky young lady."
They stood there staring at me for a few minutes. Even the cats looked at me intently. It was very odd.
I got enough energy together to ask softly, "Where am I?..."
The woman's eyes widened suddenly. "Oh my! I'm terribly sorry. Well, my name isand this is my husband and our daughter Shaocia. Oh and of course and !"
"You are in the city of Taku," the man, Huowoun, explained with a grin, realizing that his wife did not answer my question at all. "We found you collapsed near the harbor."
I remembered how I had passed out after getting out of my canoe. The non-stop trip through the northern inlet exhausted me. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my entire life.
I smiled at them before I needed to close my eyes once more.
When I woke up the next evening, I was able to stand up and walk around. After introducing myself, I decided to ask more questions.
"So, have you met?" was of course my first.
Huowoun and Qui Tu shared a glance of confusion.
"Kuwabara? Well, yes, er, we knew her," Huowoun told me. "She and Pathik often soothed our injuries."
"Wait a second, knew?" I asked.
"Yes, Kuwabara died thirty...five years ago now, I think," Qui Tu said.
My jaw dropped open.
"What? No way!" I said nervously, shaking my head. Maybe Kuwabara was a ghost all that time, and it was her invisible spirit telling me to come here just to find out. "I just saw her a few days ago, I was following her here!"
The two of them frowned in unison. Shaocia continued petting the cats, oblivious to the discussion.
"Perhaps...someone else is named Kuwabara that lives in your Tribe, and she either decided to turn around and go back the Northern Water Tribe, or she...didn't survive the trip," Huowoun suggested.
I shook my head. "That wouldn't happen to the Kuwabara I know. I'm sorry, but I need to go."
I needed to get the heck out of that nuthouse. I didn't usually act so rude to people but I felt like I needed to get out of there.
I strode toward the door, opened it...and almost fell out. An incredibly long and steep staircase was just outside. At the bottom was a huge, abandoned city. Most of the buildings had been burned to the ground, but I could tell that it was once a bustling metropolis. The sight of the destruction made me fall backwards onto the floor.
Huowoun helped me back up. "I can see that you're confused. I think we should tell you the history of our family and the city."
We sat down on the beds, and Huowoun began his tale.
"When Qui Tu and I were small children, we lived in this city. We were the best of friends. We, like the rest of the citizens of Taku, watched what we now know of as Sozin's Comet streak across the sky. A month later, the Fire Nation attacked the city of Taku. This city was their first victim, other than the Air Nomads. We didn't see it coming. Everyone here was killed, taken by surprise, except three that were able to escape. One was Pathik, the Herbalist took Kuwabara's place after she died a year earlier, and the others were the two of us. We were able to hide in the swamp near the city. The two of us, tiny children. Ever since that day, we were inseparable.
"After the Fire Nation left, we went to live in the Institute, which was the least damaged building—and still is today, because we take good care of it. Anyway, when we got here, we found two cats. One was a dead female, who had apparently just given birth to two kittens. The other was a spoiled-looking and obviously scared male. His name was, according to his collar. We assume he was the father. We named the kittens Qiang and Chao.
"So we managed to survive on our own, thanks to the numerous things already here in the Institute. Eventually—after Kotoka's death, he was an old cat—we had children of our own:and Shaocia."
"Who's Mikaere?" I asked. A second later I regretted it. It was possible that he had died somehow.
"Oh, he's our seventeen-year-old son," Qui Tu explained. "He's currently trying to bring us something to eat that's not a plant. He normally is able to get something as big as a Fox Antelope!"
I was relieved he wasn't dead. "How come I haven't seen him?"
"He sometimes goes hunting for days at a time. He's a strong young man."
My eyes widened. "Wow. Not many people can do that where I come from."
Qui Tu just smiled.
"Well thanks for telling me about this place. I'm glad I know now."
"So what are you gonna do now?" Shaocia asked. I didn't even know she was paying attention.
"I'm not sure," I told her softly. I didn't have anywhere to do. I had nowhere to go.
I woke up unable to breath. I panicked and sat up straight immediately. As Qiang was catapulted off my face, I realized that I hadn't been in any danger.
I stood up slowly, still groggy from my canoe trip. I looked over to see Huowoun, Qui Tu, Shaocia, and someone that I assumed was Mikaere eating at the table. I walked over to them.
"Ah, I hope you had a good rest," Huowoun said. "Please, sit down! Enjoy the meal that Mikaere caught for us."
I sat down and made eye contact with Mikaere. He smiled at me politely. I ate the Se Tu that Qui Tu had cooked. It tasted delicious.
Throughout the course of the meal, I found myself stealing glances at Mikaere. He seemed so...mysterious somehow. But not a bad mysterious, just...interesting, and unknown.
"...And then we found her collapsed in the grass, so we took her back here," Huowoun was saying. Apparently I was a popular conversational subject.
"Kanna doesn't know where she's gonna go after she's good enough to leave," Shaocia pitched in.
Mikaere spoke for the first time. He had a gentle but authoritative voice. "Why don't you try to go to the Southern Tribe?"
I blinked. Why hadn't I thought of that? I would be quickly welcomed into their society.
"...That's a good idea...thank you!"
Mikaere smiled again.
The thunder rumbled as I hid in the crumbling alleyway. Mikaere lay, nearly unmoving, behind an old trash can on the opposite side of the street. We were hiding from the Fire Nation. Apparently, they did routine checks of the city every two months. They suspected that someone was living there, but they couldn't find out who. We were trying to keep it that way.
Everyone else was used to this. They all had their own hiding spots and they had practiced keeping quiet. Even Qiang and Chao were in the back room of the old Institute, keeping quiet until we returned. The soldiers would look around, not find anything, and leave. They wouldn't see us, and then they'd be on their way, annoyed that they'd been sent there from the nearby Pohuai Stronghold.
That was how it was supposed to work.
The soldiers marched through the street between Mikaere and me, looking for anything they might be able to find. They didn't see us, and they continued toward the Institute. I hardly breathed, silently praying to the Ocean and Moon that they wouldn't find Chao or Qiang.
After what felt like forever, they finally started walking back down the steps. They walked through the street connected to the other side of the alley I was in. I slowly turned around to face them and hide behind what Qui Tu told me was called a dumpster, peering out at them.
That was where I made a mistake. As I turned, my foot struck a loose stone in the ground. It made a loud clunk, causing the soldiers to quickly turn in my direction. They punched a fireball at me. I had no choice but to spring up and backward out of the alley. Huowoun, Qui Tu, Shaocia, and Mikaere immediately leaped from their hiding places to stand by me. Our cover was blown, thanks to me. And we could do nothing.
The soldiers immediately charged toward us. I avoided them the best I could, but it was Huowoun and Mikaere that were the most effective against them. They ducked and dodged and punched, surprising the soldiers. But it wasn't long until they were overwhelmed.
Qui Tu and I fended them off, away from Shaocia, as best we could, but their blows were too much for us as well, and one grabbed Shaocia. She screamed loudly and tried to kick the soldier. Qui Tu roared at the soldier, and lunged at him. I could almost sense the cold-blooded fighter's smile beneath his helmet. He dropped Shaocia and thrusted his sword. Qui Tu's howl died away as the sword tip came out her back. First blood.
Kuwabara had brought me here to die.
The soldier shook her body off the blade. Mikaere screamed. Huowoun glared at the soldier with an intensity I couldn't have ever imagined if I hadn't seen it. Shaocia whimpered weakly. I stood there silently.
The other soldiers seemed to hesitate for a moment. They didn't like the idea of killing us. We were defenseless. But the one that killed Qui Tu...went straight for Shaocia. Huowoun ran toward her, and pushed her out of the way. Shaocia slammed into the side of a building. The back of her skull started to bleed. It seemed ironic that she would die because she was pushed out of the way...into a brick wall.
Huowoun took the blow for her. He was hit in the chest by the ball of fire. Mikaere and I were the only ones left.
Mikaere let out a long guttural howl. Everyone he knew and loved...was just killed. Murdered. He charged toward the guard, much like the way Qui Tu did. The guard grinned evilly again, and prepared to lash out with his weapon. But Mikaere was ready, and he darted to the side, grabbed the sword at the hilt, twirled it, and gored the soldier repeatedly with it. The soldier screamed, but Mikaere was merciless. He attacked the man with his own blade until the other soldiers began to surround him. They were no match. Mikaere was unstoppable. I had never seen such fighting in my life. He was a man that had lost everything. Nothing would stand in his way to revenge.
Rain began to fall from the dark sky as Mikaere finally sank to his knees. Each and every last soldier lay dead on the stone streets.
Mikaere let out a guttural cry. He screamed at the sky relentlessly. Tears and raindrops streamed down his face.
I rushed over to him. I sat down next to him and wrapped my arms around him. He acted like he didn't know I was there. He sobbed uncontrollably. His entire family was gone.
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