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|The Story Begins|
July 27, 2014
Ba Sing Se, a massive city surrounded by equally massive walls, stands as the crown jewel of the Earth Kingdom. The canyons and foothills dotted throughout the lands around the city create a beautiful but dangerous trek for any traveler. However, to the northwest lies a mountainous region far more beautiful and far more deadly than any other place in the world. For the people of the Earth Kingdom, the mountains that encompass this wild, snow-covered region are simply known as "The North." For thousands of years, no person has willfully chosen to travel into, let alone live in, the North's treacherous landscape. But for the outlaws, the exiles, and those escaping persecution, they have found that the safest place for them lies within the world's most dangerous landscape, and overtime these people have come together to create an identity all their own outside of the Earth Kingdom's influence.
It is early spring in the northern region of the Earth Kingdom known to the locals as Severnyy. In the heart of this mountainous region, a light snow falls in the forest outside the tiny, mountainside village of Yedintsvo. Here and there, thin layers of snow have accumulated in uneven patches on the frozen ground. The snow covered mountains stand proudly as the morning clouds slowly disperse revealing the day's first glimmers of sunlight. A lone deer, happily grazing, wanders into a clearing unawares of who is tracking it.
Amongst the branches of the evergreens overlooking the glade, the hooded hunter slows his breathing. His dark green hood and the shoulders of his sleeveless brown jacket are dusted with snow. His hands are numb from hours of waiting in the cold, but he does not want to miss his opportunity.
Firmly grasping the grip of the bow in his right hand, he carefully slides a baby arrow into the groove of a majra. The hunter then nocks the shortened arrow and secures the string of the majra around the index finger of his left hand. Slowly raising his recurve bow up, he eyes down the length of the majra's shaft at his target. Flecks of sunlight glimmer off the deer's antlers as it enjoys its morning meal. The hunter sits patiently, calmly calculating the wind to make his perfect shot. Finally ready to pull the arrow back, he inhales as he draws.
The bow bends and creaks as the arrow is effortlessly pulled back. The hunter's muscles tense as he tries to calm his shivering. Taking aim at the deer, the hunter raises his aim up and to the left. He then makes a quick, sharp chirpy whistle that disturbs the morning's silence. The deer raises its head in alert exposing its chest but it remains static scanning the tree line for the noise's source. The hunter slowly exhales and releases the arrow. The arrow cuts through the air as it reaches its target with incredible speed. The deer realizes too late what is happening as the arrow finds its mark...Ching! Ching! Ching!
A hammer flattens the bright red metal across an anvil. Ching! Ching! Ching! A hot, fiery forge ignites as sparks fly lighting the dark workshop. The young apprentice hammers away knowing the eyes of the master blacksmith, his father, are judging every move he makes. Sweat drips from his brow but he ignores it and continues his work. The apprentice sticks the metal back into the forge to increase its temperature. With a movement of his arm coal from a nearby pile soar into the air and land in the forge to feed the flames. Using his earth bending, the apprentice churns the red hot coals in the forge. The apprentice then wipes his forehead with his sleeve before working the bellow at the forge's base to add oxygen to the fire.
The apprentice's father, who has been observing his son from a chair in the shadows, motions the shop assistant to step in. A coal dust covered man leaning against the back wall of the shop, waves the young apprentice aside and positions himself in front of the opening of the forge. In a fluid movement, the man swings his arms in a windmill motion before punching the air with a quick jab. Fire bursts from the man's fist in a fountain of flame into the forge. The heat from the forge burns the eyes of the apprentice as blue flames spurt out.
Guessing that the right moment is now, the apprentice quickly removes the metal from the forge and hammers away again on the anvil. Each hammer strike lengthens and flattens the red hot metal, and soon enough a blade finally begins to take a proper shape. Ching! Ching! Ching! Satisfied with his work, the apprentice places the hot metal into a nearby water trough filling the room with a bellow of steam.
The master blacksmith stands up out of his chair and emerges from the shadows applauding his son's performance, a smile peeking through his rough, graying beard. "Good! Good! Not bad for your first time by yourself, Jaro. It's a little... unshapely but we can fix that."
The apprentice, Jaro, quickly comes back. "Hey watch it dad! By the time I'm done with this blade you'll be cutting your finger just by looking at it."
Jaro laughs at his own joke as his father removes the blade from the water with a pair of tongs to closely examine the blade.
"Maybe next time you let me use that special meteorite ore that you use for the Marshals' armor."
Jaro's father returns the blade to the water and crosses his arms pretending to consider his son's statement. "Maybe. First, finish the blade."
The father chuckles and places his hand on Jaro's shoulder. "Well, back to work. Just cause it's your birthday doesn't mean you get the rest of the day off." He turns his son back to the unfinished blade.
Jaro removes the blade from the water and heads outside the shop for the grinder. As he pulls open the wooden door, the glare of the sun's reflection off a fresh layer of white snow hurts his eyes. When his eyes adjust, the scene of a quiet and homey mountainside village comes into focus.
A light dusty snow falls over a dozen wooden homes and shops that surround a central plaza where large stacks of wood are being piled for a bonfire. Young children run and play as the adults are hard at work with their daily routines. Women work looms under the canopies of their homes making extravagant patterns of cloth and heavy fur garments to protect from the cold. Men are chopping wood, repairing buildings, or out in the valley below watching over their herds of yak. This is a diverse people with heritages from all across the world. Though isolated from the rest of the world (but still aware of it), they have found a way to survive the harshness of Severnyy's landscape. Everyone is happy knowing full well that they live in peace.
Jaro himself turns sixteen this day. He is a tall, lean boy with green eyes and brown hair. Though 'skinny', as his mother likes to tell him, he is strong from working the forge with his father for most of his young life. His ever happy demeanor goes well with his sported bed head. Though not always the most focused at the task at hand, he is a very hard worker.
The cold mountain air refreshes Jaro from the heat of the shop. His calloused hands grip the blade with a firm but gentle touch. The young apprentice finds the grinder and begins working the blade against the stone to sharpen its edge.
A smiling, middle-aged woman with dark brown hair and wearing a simple dress and a fur overcoat walks over to the boy holding a warm, damp cloth. "How'd it go, Jaro?"
"Dad said I did alright for my first try." His mother wipes the sweat and coal dust from his face as Jaro lifts the blade into the air and examines its edge.
"Well that's wonderful! I'm sure it'll turn out to be a magnificent piece of art!" The woman smiles at her son.
Jaro raises an eyebrow and holds the sword in his lap. "Uh, mom...It's a sword!" He stands up tall and proudly raises the half-finished sword in the air. "A tool of war meant to defend the helpless, vanquish the evil, symbolize the-"
His mother raises her hand and cuts him off mid-sentence. "Don't worry. I'll be sure to hang it up so everyone can see it."
Jaro nervously chuckles hoping his mom was only making a joke and not being serious. His mother then begins turning her head left and right quizzically looking around.
"By the way, have you seen your brother anywhere?"
Jaro returns to working the blade against the grindstone. "No, I'm not a babysitter."
His mother has a worrisome air about her. "Well he'd better be back soon. I don't like it when he's out on his own."
Jaro raises an eyebrow. "Mom, he's what...five years older than me? I think he's old enough to take care of himself."
She then tries to make some kind of excuse for her worrying. "Yes I know...but how's he supposed to meet a girl if he's always away?"
"How's he supposed to meet a girl if he's always at home?" Jaro snickers. He then peers around his mother. "Speaking of Kharum, here he comes now!"
The hunter enters the village carrying the cleaned deer carcass over his shoulders. As he approaches his mother and brother, Jaro gets his attention.
"Hey Kharum! What's going on?"
"Happy Birthday little brother!" Kharum throws the deer carcass at his brother's feet and is instantly relieved from carrying the heavy animal so far. He throws his hood back to reveal his unkempt black hair and golden-brown eyes. "You're gonna have one heck of a dinner!"
Jaro's love for food excites him. "Ah yeah! That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!"
Kharum casually thumbs up his brother's comment as he cracks his back.
Their mother clears her throat. "Ah-hem...What? No hug?"
"Whoops sorry mom." Kharum quickly hugs his mother before turning back to his brother. "So is that the sword?"
"Yep!" Jaro happily hands his brother the unfinished blade. Kharum examines it as Jaro continues. "It's not done yet obviously. It still needs to be sharpened, polished...given a pommel...uh...a hilt...fitted for a sheath.....what else?" Jaro mumbles to himself the rest of the steps while counting with his fingers.
Kharum hands Jaro back the blade. "It's looking good. I'm sure one of the Marshals will be able to use it as a personal grooming appliance or something."
"Yeah, you never know when they're going to need another beautification razor hahaha."
Kharum smiles at his brother. "Well, I'll see you tonight at your party. I gotta finish with this." Kharum strenuously lifts the heavy deer back over his shoulders and heads toward the back of the family home.
Before he can get out of earshot, his mother calls out to him. "Bring it to the kitchen when you're done."
Kharum, without looking back, thumbs up.
Later that day as the sun descends behind the mountains, the village gathers in the central plaza for a feast. The bonfire is roaring, lighting up the entire village center. Tables filled with an assortment of food ring around the plaza facing the fire. Children run in between the people as friends and families reminisce about the day.
An elderly man, his blue tattoos of the Air Nomads barely peaking through his thick grey hair and beard, waves at a few of the villagers as he works his way through the crowd to his place at the head table. There Jaro, Kharum, and their father and mother sit amongst others. The rest of the village also find their seats around the fire and wait for the man to speak.
He raises his hands over the people, and all bow their heads. "We tonight thank the spirits for another day of peace. For giving us the gift of this meal. For giving us our families and friends. And for giving us roofs over our heads. We pray for the brave men who lay down their lives as Marshals to protect us...We would also like to pray over my grandson on his sixteenth birthday that he may have many happy years ahead of him. May the spirits guide us."
The village responds in a reverent tone, "May the spirits guide us."
The Old Nomad then changes tone and he smiles the most jolly of smiles. "Well, I don't plan on eating a cold meal so everyone dig in! And Happy Birthday!"
The crowd cheers "Happy Birthday!" and the merriment begins.
There is much laughter and joy as the village feasts on the meal prepared. The main course includes the deer Kharum hunted earlier. There is a plethora of other dishes ranging from stews to steaks to scrumptious pastries. Some of the younger children throw food at each other as their mothers try to keep them behaved. There are frequent cheers and toasts throughout the village as the drinks flow.
At the head table, the Old Nomad leans over to better speak to his eldest grandson seated nearby. "Kharum...you shot and cleaned the deer, right?"
Kharum swallows his food and nods. "Yeah."
"D'you forget something?" The Old Nomad pulls out an arrowhead from under his tongue and holds it up to his grandson.
Kharum's eyes grow wide in disbelief and embarrassment.
The Old Nomad beams. "Hahahaha just kidding!"
Everyone at the table laughs at the small joke. Kharum forces a smile not liking the jab but understanding the humor.
Jaro hits his brother on the shoulder. "Lighten up, bro."
The Old Nomad downs a cup of wine before turning back to Kharum. "Kharum, your brother is right. To be an Air Bender means you should have a sense of humor! Loosen up! You act too much like an Earth Bender! You're always stiff like a rock!"
Kharum smiles, rolls his eyes, and shakes his head. He is someone who would rather not be the center of attention. Jaro, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.
Jaro jumps up from his seat and wipes the crumbs of food from his mouth. "Watch what you're saying there grandpa. I'll show you what a real Earth Bender is like!"
Jaro scans the crowd and spots the town musician who is sitting on a porch playing a melody to some children with a balalaika. "Hey! Give me a tune!"
The man stops his melody and walks to the bonfire so that everyone can see him. He plucks a few of the strings of his instrument and Jaro jumps to his side. The melody the musician plays begins slow and slowly picks up the pace getting faster and faster. (Similar to the Russian Kalinka).
Jaro walks around the fire to the beat clearing a space for him to begin his dance. People clap with the beat and cheer both Jaro and the musician on. Jaro then breaks into a dance first doing simple jump spins but eventually goes into the extreme doing flips and other such movements that would make a Russian Cossack proud. The musician's playing is equally impressive occasionally using his left hand to not only fret the strings for a note but also to pluck the strings leaving his right hand free to take another drink of Severnyy Moonshine.
Jaro, alternating leg kicks from a squatted position, then calls out to a friend who joins him. His buddy cart wheels next to Jaro and gets into the same seated position. He then, with every leg kick, bends a flame into the air. The Fire Bender mirrors Jaro's dance while Jaro bends earth in a similar manner. The two flip, spin, and bend in a circus act much to the entertainment of the village. The dancing and the music become too much to resist, and soon much of the village joins in the dance and the party is in full swing.
Kharum however does not join in. He stays in his seat and stares into the fire seemingly unawares of the dancing. He then smiles to himself, grabs his bow, and walks off into the night.
In the distance, the sounds of music and dance can be heard as it echoes in the night. The moon is full and lights up the snow covered valley. Kharum breathes in deeply and takes in the moment. He thinks to himself, this is more my style. He climbs a nearby tree and lies down within its branches. Looking off into the night, he loses himself in thought.
What seems like hours later, Kharum can hear that the music has stopped and the people are applauding the musician back in the village. Looks like I should be getting back now. Kharum yawns and stretches his arms out when he notices something moving down the mountain road.
What the? He sits patiently and squints to see what he can but all Kharum can make out are shadowy blurs. As the blurs get closer, he is able to make out four distinct shapes.
Kharum, unsure of what else to do, jumps to the next tree and almost loses his balance landing on the branch if it weren't for his air bending. He moves from tree to tree until he finds himself over the road.
C'mon just a little closer.
The four figures move closer and closer and Kharum can see that they are hooded and cloaked. Kharum slowly pulls an arrow from his quiver and makes ready his bow in his right hand.
When the figures pass underneath him, Kharum launches himself into the air. Landing in front of the four figures, he shoots a pulse of air out around him.
Just enough to try and surprise them but not harm them, he thinks to himself. However, they are not in the least bit startled.
Standing up, Kharum effortlessly three-quarter draws his bow, aiming his arrow at the middle figure's head. "Who are you?"
The four figures do nothing. A deep, grizzled voice of a man breaks the silence. "Put that weapon down, boy, before you hurt yourself."
Kharum holds his ground and fully draws the bow. "That's not what I asked."
A second figure, realizing that it is pointless to get into a fight, thinks it best to change the tone. The figure holds both hands in the air in an act of submission and a woman's voice breaks the tension.
"There is no need for violence. We are but four humble travelers seeking refuge for the night...May we enter the village."
Kharum is taken aback from the sudden change in tone. Scanning the figures so they don't get the jump on him, he notices that each cloaked figure wears a small brooch with a white flower on it.
Where've I seen that before?
Kharum swallows and then answers the figure. "You can go in... but any sudden moves and you'll find one of my arrows in the back of your head."
The grizzled voice responds, "We would not want you to waste an arrow, Air Bender. Shall we proceed?"
Kharum motions the four figures to start walking and he follows them, with his bow ready, into the village where the music and laughter has recommenced. Jaro and his fire bender friend are off in a corner impressing a gaggle of girls with their bending while making strong man poses. The Old Nomad and the brothers' father are talking with a couple of men of Water Tribe descent when they notice Kharum and the four strangers. At that moment, it seems as if the entire camp notices as well, and the music and laughter ceases.
The Old Nomad smirks and nods at the Father.
The Father orders his son, "Kharum, put your weapon down." Kharum obeys and reluctantly lowers his bow.
The Old Nomad approaches the four hooded figures with his arms outstretched. "Well hello there... Who knocks at our guarded gates?"
The grizzly voice of the first figure answers, "One who has eaten its fruit and tasted its mysteries."
The Old Nomad and the four strangers bow to each other.
"Please follow me into my home." The Old Nomad gestures toward his home at the edge of the village and the four strangers follow him. The Old Nomad takes several steps before turning and calling back to the brothers' father. "Khiril, you too." The man follows suit.
Jaro, curious, leaves the girls with his friend and walks to his brother's side. "Does Dad and Grandpa know those guys?"
Kharum with his bow slung over his shoulder and arms crossed stares in the direction of his grandfather's home at the edge of the village. "I don't know...but something's up."
Jaro and Kharum watch as the group of six walk into the Old Nomad's home and shut the door behind them.
Jaro, eager to investigate, blurts out, "Well hey! Let's go have a listen."
Before Kharum can respond, Jaro starts cheerfully moving in the direction of the house. Kharum hits him on the head.
"Where d'you think you're going?"
Jaro confused why his brother hit him, points in the direction of the house. "I was...I thought...going to... listen in." His voice fades to a mumble.
Kharum jerks his head in the opposite direction of their grandfather's home. "Come on...this way."
The two sneak back around the village to avoid be caught and head toward their grandfather's home in the dark. Crouched behind a bush mere yards from the backdoor, the brothers can hear voices mumbling through the door. Kharum checks to see if anyone is around, and the two of them then move up and stand on either side of the door. They lean forward to get a listen on what's happening. The mumbling doesn't improve much and they are only able to make out a couple words.
Jaro whispers to his brother, "Darn. I can't hear a thing...maybe if I just crack the door a little bit." Jaro then reaches out to open the door.
Out from the shadows behind them, the grizzly voiced figure appears seemingly out of nowhere. "Care to join us..."
"AHHHHHHH!" Jaro jumps and screams in sheer terror. He has a look that he almost peed himself from sheer fright. Kharum jumps too but he manages to maintain some dignity.
The man repeats himself to Jaro. "Inside... Not you." He looks at Kharum. "You stay out here."
Jaro, completely taken aback, looks at his brother, gulps, and then follows the hooded man into his grandfather's home.
Inside the fire lit house, the Old Nomad is sitting in his chair in front of the main room's fireplace. The three other strangers and Jaro's father are spread out around the room. Everyone has been waiting for him.
The Old Nomad, a serious expression on his face, gestures for Jaro to take a seat next to him by the fire. "Jaro, would you sit please?"
Jaro sits down with his hands folded between his knees. His father moves to stand next to the Old Nomad and crosses his arms staring intently at his son.
Jaro lowers his eyes as if he were being punished. "Dad, is there something wrong?" Khiril doesn't reply but instead shifts his eyes at the four strangers.
On cue, the four strangers then reveal themselves. Removing their cloaks, the strangers reveal their blue and white robes. A badge of a white lotus flower sits at the center of each of their chests.
The Old Nomad leans forward with his hands folded under his bearded chin. He takes a deep breath and looks Jaro in the eye. "There is something we have to tell you..."
- I'm an electrical engineering student so writing stories isn't a great strength of mine. I've also never used wiki before (for writing)... so, uh, sorry for my grammatical errors. I do write mean lab reports though.
- A 'majra' is utilized in eastern archery as an arrow guide so that archers can fire shortened arrows. It is a long, grooved stick that the arrow can slide on, and it is anchored to the archer's draw hand so that it doesn't fly away when the arrow is released.
- Severnyy is Russian for 'northern.'
- Yedintzvo is Russian for 'unity.'
- A balalaika is a Russian stringed-instrument similar to a mandolin.
- The North is very Siberia/Russia-esque in its culture because I wished to distinguish it from the rest of the Avatar world.
For the collective works of the author, go here.