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|Earliest of Lessons|
February 18, 2013
Earliest of Lessons is the first chapter of the fanon series, by .
When I was little, my mother would tell me stories about the old days, a time of peace and balance between the four elemental nations of the world. After early man first learned of the art of bending from wise and ancient spirits, humans began to draw power from the original bending sources.
The Air Nomads drew their power from the sky bison. Little is remembered now about them, but it is known that they were free-spirited creatures who shared a love of the simpler sides of life with the people they served, and like the Air Nomads, they kept to themselves.
The Water Tribes drew their power from the Moon and Ocean Spirits. According to Water Tribe lore, the first waterbenders learned their art by watching the moon push and pull the tides; and now the Moon and Ocean Spirits eternally watch over the two great tribes. That is also why waterbenders are stronger at night.
The Earth Kingdom drew their power from the badgermoles. When I was still learning earthbending, I insisted on seeking out the badgermoles. As much as Sifu Brawki taught me, nothing could replace going to the source itself. I had to journey deep underground to find them, but the results were worth it.
Lastly the Fire Nation drew their power from the dragons. The dragons taught a different kind of firebending than the kind seen today, not destructive but radiating, like the rays of the sun. It was this feature of the mighty dragons that epitomized fire's beauty and natural part of the balance that belongs to us all, not just the Fire Nation, as the moon and the ocean continue to serve all humanity, not just the Water Tribes. During the great age when these magnificent beasts roamed the skies, all the world was a different place, especially the Fire Nation.
In the beginning, each of the four nations was led by five sages, spiritual masters of their respective bending arts. Over time, however, traditions gave way and the four nations grew apart: the Air Nomads settled into remote locations and mountains and detached themselves from worldly possessions, the Water Tribe split apart and went to opposite ends of the world, the peoples of the Earth Kingdom spread across the largest continent and developed separate customs while maintaining strong ties with one another. The Fire Nation, meanwhile, came under the rule of the Fire Lord and grew more ambitious with their rising power. As the nations changed and progressed, the original bending teachers continued to play a vital role in keeping them true to their roots and in touch with who they are. After all, even though everyone was part of the same world, everyone was attached to one and only one element. Even those who could not bend fit this way into the natural order, except for one person. The Avatar, born once every lifetime, was the master of all four elements and the human-spirit of all four nations, our sacred protector and personification of the world itself.
But then, everything fell apart on the day when the Fire Nation attacked. Harnessing power granted to him by the power of the Great Comet, the infamous Fire Lord Sozin invaded the other nations to assert his dominance over all. At the same time, he began hunting the dragons, his own nation's original bending teachers, and destroying their way of firebending. With his newer, more destructive form, the Fire Nation shows mercy for nothing and for no one. The old Fire Nation once part of the harmony is gone, and the now-destructive fire incinerates everything in its path and is well on its way to consuming us all. It was always times of imbalance like these when the Avatar would be called on to save the world, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. Some savior. Meanwhile, the rest of humanity was left to fend for themselves.
More than ninety years have passed and the Fire Nation has slowly, but surely grown closer to victory in the War. After Sozin passed away, his son Azulon carried on his work. With the Air Nomads vanquished and the once strong and prosperous Southern Water Tribe on the verge of being wiped out themselves, only our vast and diverse peoples spread across the Earth Kingdom and our Northern Water allies remain.
Some people believe that the Avatar was never reborn into the Air Nomads, and that the cycle is broken. Others continue to cling to hope and believe that the long-lost Avatar is still out there. For me...what difference does it really make? The world we live in is what is real, and there's no use dwelling on a bygone golden age in our distant past. There is no Avatar, no universal hero to save ourselves for us. The only line of defense we have that can stand in the way of the ruthless Fire Nation war machine is made up of people who put themselves on the line to stop it, people who sacrifice everything they have. People like me.
My name is Ratana, and this is my story.
The girl grunted as she punched her arm forth, her feet planted into the earth as firmly as tree roots. Determination livened up in her emerald eyes as she hardened herself and jabbed in front of herself again, clearly unsatisfied with the results of her labor the previous time. She paused briefly and looked at the ground beneath her shiny shoes, as though waiting for something to happen, but found herself disappointed once again.
Now visibly frustrated, she lifted her right leg and swung it up as high as she could, focusing her chi with every fiber of her being. Something did move this time, but it was not on the ground below her. It was her.
The little child let out a faint yelp as the toe of her foot caught the silky bottom of her greenish-black dress lined by lighter green designs. A few seconds of soaring into the air and she felt herself collapse back down to the ground, her butt now covered in tiny dots of brown dust from beneath the grass.
"Ratana?" The girl gasped in response to the new voice, having been so distracted by her trip that she did not realize she was no longer alone. Lady Rang Xue was sporting an extravagant turquoise gown and a necklace strung of valuable pearls from the northern coast of the continent. With her hair sleek and straightened as straight as arrows - from the tireless work of her personal servants - she styled herself just like any other nobleman's wife in the Earth Kingdom city of Munn.
Rang Xue's daughter rose back up to her feet and the girl's momentary worry that she was going to be scolded for dirtying her dress was put to rest by the kind, caring expression on her mother's face. But that sense of relief did not last long, either, and she broke eye contact, her beams of vision met the grass instead.
"Is something bothering you?" Rang Xue asked, her eyes full of concern after noticing her child's downcast look.
"I think they were wrong about me," Ratana responded solemnly as she took both hands and wiped off her the back of her slender dress. "They made a mistake. I'm not an earthbender."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because I've been out here forever and I haven't been able to bend anything!" the impatient little girl cried out loud enough for the neighbors to hear.
Ratana's mother did not reflect her outburst, but instead smirked and raised an eyebrow. "That's because you're approaching it wrong."
Although calmed down somewhat by her mother's controlled demeanor, she was still resigned nonetheless. "How?"
Rang Xue lifted the edges of her skirt and knelt down in front of the young girl. "Here, let me show you something," she stated, making a loose fist with her right hand and holding it out in front of her head at a perpendicular angle. "Hold your arm out like mine."
Judging by the look, Ratana did not see the point of this exercise. Nevertheless, she complied anyway.
"Now, bring your arm back down again," Rang Xue instructed.
"Uhh...okay." Ratana lowered her arm once more and hung it loosely by her side.
"Good," Rang Xue told her. "Now try to bring my arm down."
Ratana brought her opposite arm up, grabbing her mother's wrist, and began to pull down on it. But Rang Xue's arm did not move with her own, and Ratana took hold of her mother's elbow with her free hand and applied more pressure. It was for naught, though, as Rang Xue held her arm stiff, not budging.
"So, did you notice that bringing your own arm down was much easier?" Rang Xue asked as Ratana let go of her and gave up.
"Yeah...because you resisted when I tried to move yours," Ratana uttered slowly.
"Your arm didn't resist you though, did it?"
"Of course not," Ratana said simply, eyes reflecting her uncertainty at why she was being posed these mundane questions. "My arm's part of me."
"Exactly." Standing back up, Rang Xue took a bending stance and kicked the grassy floor beneath their feet. In response to her motion, a mound of dirt-covered rock stuck out of the ground, and the one beside it followed suit less than a second later, and the next, and the next. Soon, an eight-foot line of earth was sticking out before them. "Any truly skilled swordsman considers their weapon not as a mere tool, but as an extension of their self. Your father would know that very well. It's the same with bending: any master bender must treat their element like an extension of their self."
Ratana was finding it difficult to process the meaning of this all at once, but she was relieved to be back on the right subject. "So...earth is an extension of me?"
"Yes, but that's only half the equation," said Rang Xue. "You're an extension of it, too."
"I'm confused," Ratana stated, blinking her eyes quickly.
"Earth is the most stubborn element there is, so you can't just force yourself upon it in the wrong way. You have to make part of yourself stubborn as the rock you intend to bend in order to bend it, but something so stubborn won't budge if it feels like it's having its fate forced upon it from the outside. That's the opposite of it's nature. Most important of all, you must recognize your own ties to the earth and regard yourself as ultimately part of it."
After inhaling a deep breath and taking in her mother's words before exhaling, Ratana took the same stance that her mother had taken and kicked her own foot downward. In contrast to the past hour of her attempting to get used to her new ability, she now felt a hot energy surge flow along her veins, and the soil beneath the grass reacted to it. Ratana's earth line was the same shape as her mother's, but smaller, like her smaller leg and smaller years.
"Yay, I did it!" the girl exclaimed, opening her mouth wide as her face lit up. "I earthbended!"
However, her heart soon sank once again. "Rang Xue!" Unlike the first new voice that had arrived, this one was not warm, but firm. It belonged to a tall man with long, wiry hair and thick beard upon his face. With a thick coat of armor covering his chest, this man held a commanding presence as he stood in the doorway of his fine estate. "We're already running late, so we need to get going. She needs to change her clothes first." He was pointing at Ratana, but not addressing her directly.
"We'll be right up, Roshune," Rang Xue disarmed her husband in her mild voice. The man nodded his head and returned indoors, leaving his wife and child standing outside. "Congratulations," Rang Xue added, turning back to her daughter as she wrapped her arms around her sides and planted a kiss on Ratana's smooth forehead. She then bent over and gazed into her daughter's eyes with her own, their orbs meeting each other at the same height above the ground. "Remember this first lesson well, no matter where you are, no matter what you do. Earth can be stubborn, but even it is not too stubborn to be bent by you, so to be in perfect harmony with it you must occasionally allow your own stubbornness to give way."
"How will I know when to do that?" asked Ratana.
"Use your neutral jing," her mother said simply. "Listen and you'll know when the right time comes around."
Ratana raised her eyebrows quizzically. "Huh?"
"Never mind, you'll learn about that later. For now, just remember this: stay who you are, always, but make sure you're open to the right kind of change when the time comes."
Ratana nodded. "I will, Mom."
- The intro to this chapter mirrors the intro in ATLA.
For the collective works of the author, go here.