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December 27th, 2011
The ocean is alive, continuously rippling with new waves. A deep sparkling blue, the color of the water helps to cleanse my eyes of the horrors I've seen. I allow myself to be entranced by the ocean, if only because if I do I won't have to think about what is going to happen to Wei and me. The more I concentrate on the water, the closer it seems to come; until I could reach out and touch it.
The sky bison plops into the water, splashing my face with salt water. Wei jerks herself awake, and does her best to persuade the sky bison to fly. It doesn't work. I can't blame him; he flew as fast as he could throughout the night. We're stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no idea where we're going. The sun beats down on me, and although my mouth is dry I have nothing to quench my thirst, unless I fancy dehydrating myself even more in the long run and drinking sea water. I train my eyes on the distant horizon, looking for any sign of land, of which there are none. Without a word Wei snaps her glider open and flies off in search of land. The expression on her face when she comes back keeps me from asking questions. The sun climbs in the sky until it is right over us. I can't take the uneasy silence, and in my boredom I break it, shattering it to pices with my fist without stopping to think about getting my hand cut.
"We shouldn't have flown east. There's too much water." I say, just loud enough for Wei to hear me.
"Well excuse me; I didn't think about directions when fire was being blasted at me. Maybe you should have mentioned it beforehand." Wei snapped. A few minutes pass by before Wei speaks again. "Look, I'm sorry for snapping at you. I'm sure we'll find some land soon. I'm just a little thirsty, that's all."
I don't respond, and Wei doesn't speak again. Wei practices her Airbending, making a nice breeze to cool our sun burned skin. I get in a meditative position, it seems even more important now to follow my almost destroyed culture. As hard as I try, I can't keep the questions out of my mind. Were the other temples attacked? What will happen to the Air Nomads that are travelling around the other nations? Why did the Fire Nation attack? Is the Avatar okay? What if Wei and me never find land? I stay in my position for several hours, until my legs are numb and I run out of worries, but when I finally give up I'm no better off than before. Wei, tired from her Airbending, is lying face up on the sky bison, staring at the cloudless sky. I glance, more from habit than hope, at the horizon; where the sun has just started to sink. I look twice, and then a third time; and I still don't believe what I see. I can barely speak, my mouth is so dry; but I get the words out.
"Wei, do you see what I see?"
Wei's head turns slowly to look, but when she does a smile breaks out on her face. It's land, joyous, glorious land. But something nags in my mind, putting a damper on my relief. We've been going east, or northeast, this whole time, so we'll end up in... My mind is sluggish from my lack of energy, and I think back to the geography lesson a Nomad gave me when I was little. Something is whispering in the back of my head, loud enough for me to hear its worried tone but soft enough for me to miss the words. I remember looking over a map of the world, and that is what I focus on in my mind. North east takes us to... Oh no. Oh no, no, no. Wei, who hasn't yet figured out the problem, looks at me curiously.
"Via, what's wrong? We found land!"
"We're going to the Fire Nation."
The voices of my parents filter through the animal pelt serving as my door. I'm poised to ignore them, until my name is mentioned. Still happy from my night with Aiko, at first I don't understand what they're saying.
"You haven't told Kaori yet? It's happening in a month!"
"She didn't need to know, she was still a toddler when the deal was arranged; and it was kept rather low key."
"So you don't think it's important to tell her that she's getting married?"
"Of course I do! But I thought you told her!"
"I thought you told her! You're the one who set her up with him."
As the truth settles in, I feel sick. I'm not going to be with Aiko. There will be no proposal. There was never any question to who I would marry, there was never any choice. I slip on my clothes and sneak out of the house. Every time a boy around my age passes, I wonder if he's the one I'll marry. I don't dare hope that the one I'm to marry is Aiko. Everyone would hear if he was betrothed. I have spent my whole life playing by the rules of my tribe, but how can I follow them now? How can I spend my life with one while loving another? Even as I wonder this, I know what I have to do. I will follow the tradition set up long before, I will be the perfect wife, I will hide my true feelings. I turn around and start my way back home.
When I walk into the house, my mother immediately gives me a list of things to do, not even asking where I went. I know she's just nervous that the chief is coming tonight to discuss the spreading Fire Nation Colonies with my father. I don't know why she gets so worked up though; he's on the council that advises the chief, so of course the chief will visit occasionally. For the rest of the day I clean, until I think of nothing but the next chore. When the chief comes I speak only when spoken to, retiring to my room as soon as I can. It's late at night when the chief finally leaves, and I tense in anticipation of what will come. Sure enough, a couple minutes later I hear the call.
"Kaori, come here. We need to talk to you."
I take a deep breath and walk slowly out of my room to my parents. I put a curious expression on my face, one I can easily replace with a fake one of joy when I hear my parents finally tell me who I will marry. To think that I for most of my life I thought I controlled my actions, instead of me being little more than a puppet.
Even though it must be day, little light besides what peeked in between the wooden slats of the wall was present. It's impossible to tell what my fellow prisoners are thinking; their faces are as unmoving as the rocks they bend. I turn to see Mei still sleeping. It hurts to look at her, to see what she's become. Her waist length black hair she was once so proud of is now full of tangles and bits of the hay she's sleeping on. Her skin has turned pale and I can see her bones poking out of the same clothes she was wearing when she was captured.
The thud of the guard's boots wakes Mei and she sits up; turning to look at me. As she sees me her face sinks, like she was hoping my capture was just a bad dream. As soon as the guards walk by, Mei turns to me to whisper.
"Emi, why did you come here?"
All it takes is those words to completely deflate my remaining sense of bravery. Nobody knows where I went; nobody's going to search for me. I'm stuck here because, instead of asking the other villagers for help, I went off by myself. I feel like a six year old, trying to help, but only making it worse.
"I wanted to save you Mei."
Mei's eyes soften for a moment, and she sighs before lightly brushing a hand through my hair.
"Well, nothing can be changed now. Try to sleep; you have circles under your eyes."
Obediently, I lie down on the hay and close my eyes. Despite the heat and the awful smell, I quickly begin to fall asleep. In my dream I am stuck under a rock, crying out for help. Far off in the distance is Mei, running frantically but never getting any closer. At once the rock begins to melt, turning to lava and burning my skin. I manage to free myself, and run to meet Mei; only to see that the torture I escaped from has now been brought on her. No matter how many times I yell for her to escape, she just stares at me, willingly accepting that for me to be free she must suffer. In the end all that is left is a skeleton, stuck inside the now cooling lava.
I wake up more exhausted than before. I look around for Mei, to reassure myself that she's still alive. She's peeking out of the narrow crack between the boards in the wall. I'm about to ask her what she's looking at, when the prison begins to sway. A sawing sound I didn't notice before increases, and the guards lower their rope bridge to see what's going on. Mei turns to me with a smile that falters as the prison sways farther to the right. She moves towards me, but I know she won't make it in time.
"The stilts!" Mei screams, just as the prison falls.
Around the camp I am known for being the most annoying tent-mate to have because of my upbeat attitude and outlook on life. I have a feeling that that's going to change. My tent-mate Ryu won't stop talking about how many Airbenders he killed, as if that was something to brag about. The last thing I need is another reminder of last night, the ash that blows in the wind and the charred skeletons are enough. Maybe this is how the spirits are punishing me for so blindly following the Fire Lord's orders; they're forcing me to hear in detail about every death.
"Then of course I just used a fire whip, it struck her down just fine. That was just before the comet came, as soon as it did one of my fire blasts took out two Airbenders at once! At one point I could fly by shooting fire out of my feet? I'll tell you, it's a good thing we knocked out the weak Airbenders, I mean-"
"Will you shut up?" I snap, finally cracking.
Ryu rises slowly from his sleeping bag, I do the same. Just before he challenges me to an Agni Kai, a messenger enters our tent and tells us to report to General Zhen. Glaring at me, Ryu shoves past the messenger and walks out of the tent. I follow him to General Zhen, who begins talking as soon as we arrive.
"Both of you fought last night, and saw our success against the Airbenders. Due to their nomadic nature, some of them have not yet been caught. You two will be sent to the Earth Kingdom to set up a fake Airbender home, which will hopefully lure the rest of the Airbenders there so you can deal with them. You leave tomorrow, pack your things."
Ryu shrugs and walks off, while I stand where I am, shocked. General Zhen stares at me until I come to my senses and leave. While walking back to my tent to pack, I trip on something. It's a child's toy, a tiny soot covered sky bison figure carved from wood. I pick it up and it turns to ash.
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