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Sand and Steel
September 11, 2012
Centuries ago, the world changed with the Hundred Year War. The Air Nomads were wiped out, leaving only the Avatar, Aang. The Fire Nation brought war for a hundred years until Aang defeated the Fire Lord. He and the new Fire Lord helped create a nation centered around Republic City, a metropolis of both technology and culture.
Aang and his successor, Korra kept balance in the world while also aiding the new Republic City. Peace has come to the world again.
But peace is an illusion the new Avatar cannot afford. With Korra’s inevitable passing, the new Avatar has cycled into the Earth Kingdom born into a girl named Tala.
Chapter 1: Revival Edit
The Present... Edit
A large blast of fire singed the floor of the room as the target easily dodged the attacks of the firebenders. The target weaved through the string of attacks, almost dancing to a rhythm. She used a blast of air to dissipate the opponent’s final blast.
To her left came a speeding chunk of boulder. Rather than dodge it, she used a stronger blast of air to disintegrate it. The boulder still retained half its size. She redirected it so that it flew past her and leaps in the air, avoiding the earth beneath that shifted and another blast of fire. The heat brushed her cheek ever so slightly.
She cupped her hands making a partial circle and rotates, forming a sphere of air in her palm. The emreald dress woman directed and fired the palm sphere at one of her attackers. Failing to block the whirling attack, the firebender was hit squarely in the chest as if a monorail hit him. She flattened her hand out and gave a sweeping strike in the direction of the next opponent. The earthbender created a wall to block the air slice; a large gash almost cut the rock in half.
Just as she circled for a kick, the wind picks up her leg and carried her off, sending her spinning wildly in the air. Landing face-first in the dirt, a look of aggravation took her fair face. The earthbender and firebender stopped attacking as a third figure approaches. “Just because I stopped attacking for a time didn't mean I stopped fighting. Why did I wait Avatar?”
The girl sat up on her knees, wiping dust from her chest-piece, “For the right moment to strike with minimal effort.”
“Exactly-” the figure replied
“But I’m fighting three people, how can I wait for the right moment to strike?”
“It takes time Tala, you have only trained in airbending for a little over two years now. But as to openings; they were there. When Yuril first threw a fire whip, his opposite hand was down, completely defenseless. Haruk was tougher; his best opening would have been when he put all his weight into a ground-shifting attack.”
The man walked over to the girl as she stood up. He stood over her by half a foot, his grey eyes looked her over as a teacher would, and his blue tattoos of arrows signifying his mastery of airbending confirmed it. He put a hand on her shoulder to console her.
“Take heart that in the span of time; you have nearly mastered an element that is your polar opposite. We are done for the day; I’ll see you and the spinning gates tomorrow. Good work, Tala.”
She bowed in respect and left the open courtyard. She wandered down the halls of the Omashu palace and looked around, “Where could he be?”
She had just finished asking when a cable knotted around her ankle and shot her up into the air. She responded to the attack with a blast of fire behind her. The response was laughter; she focused and saw who the culprit was. A dark smirk spread across her face. “What do you kids think you’re doing?”
Three boys stepped out, red-faced from laughing. “I told you she would firebend first, I win!” A bald boy in a uniform common to Air Nomad children was declaring. Another child was in the same garb while the third was in green and grey with shaggy brown hair.
The shaggy-haired boy muttered, “I was sure she would earthbend first! Use her native element, you know.”
Tala looked at them darkly, “Cut me down boys or you’ll see what element I’ll use first on you.”
“You can try but you’ll be easy to dodge, being upside and all,” the boy pointed to her tied leg that left her suspended upside down.
“Big mistake, Telo.” The deeper voice made the boys turn around to look at who spoke.
The airbender exclaimed and quickly spoke, “Kulek! I wasn’t-”
“Wasn’t going to waste anymore of the Avatar’s time?” A tall man, with Air Nomad tattoos stepped out, his robes were much more for combat than a student’s. “That’s good, because if you did, I would think that someone who can bother the Avatar is good enough to play Evader.”
The boy turned purple at that name. Evader was an airbending practice that could go horribly wrong. It required masters to play; as such you only saw those with tattoos play it. It involved making a tornado and having the other player hold his place for as long as he can while the tornado ravages around him, even directly over him. It was a training method for masters to keep sharp and to humble them in regards to storms; but kids thought it was a game tough guys did to show off. Telo was only ten and nowhere near ready to take tattoos, let alone play Evader.
“Yes, I wasn’t going to waste the Avatar’s time,” the boy said humbly and dejectedly, “we’ll cut her down.”
“Not necessary, I can do that, just go and practice your spheres; those will prepare you for a small tornado maybe.”
And at that, the boys ran, never looking back. Kulek looked at Tala as she hung there, her head a full body length away from the ground. “My, my, Avatar. You just make friends everywhere you go.”
“Not funny, Kulek! They could have been assassins trying to kill me.”
Kulek looked down the hall the boys ran, “Yep, the most fearsome killers in all the lands.” He stepped up and kissed the Avatar. He cut the line at the same time, catching her. “Happy anniversary, Tala.”
Kulek sat over a ledge in the gardens while Tala rested against him looking out over the city. Tala noted, “The city seems a little sparse and quiet today.”
“Everyone is at Black River, partying, it is the middle of summer after all.”
“If only we could go.”
“We could, hit the waters and see you try to board on the river. We could water-run.”
“You know they don’t let me out of the city. I may be the Avatar, but I’m in an advanced and luxurious prison, they don’t like me leaving the palace, you really think they’ll let me go to the river?”
“Whoever said we were going to ask for permission?” Kulek smiled wickedly.
Kulek and Tala walked in the sand ten feet from the water watching as people were hanging out across the River. Black River got its name because of a special onyx sand at both the bed and the surrounding of the river making the water appear black.
Black River was largely ignored during the War as people mistook it for being polluted. It wasn’t till a decade later that they discovered it was the sand that caused the coloration. The river became a hotspot of partying for those near Omashu and has brought huge tourism to Omashu for those who don’t want to sail all the way to Ember Island.
Tala noticed some airbenders showing off for some ogling girls on the other side of the river. She hoped they didn’t look their way, or else they would notice Kulek. Clan Rohan was the smallest of the Air Nomad Clans and each member knew the others by heart. They would know that Kulek was with her.
Kulek found a spot of soft sand away from the other Air Nomads and set up there, placing towels and shade up. Tala took her bathrobe off to tan. It was then that attention came to them. Tala was an attractive woman and incredibly fit. Her tight bathing suit left little to the imagination, a backless one-piece in emerald. Teenagers started walking by more often, some even had the gall to try and hit on her. They seemed to ignore the fact that Kulek was with her.
Kulek decided to humiliate one of the guys who came up, “Perhaps she has already decided to hang out with someone?”
“Oh I thought that you were just friends. You know, Air Nomad and all.”
“Very astute, I am an Air Nomad; I am also a person if that helps. So if the Avatar and I would like it for you to please leave us alone, please do, thank you.”
The young man left both dejected and awe-struck upon realization that Tala was the Avatar. Word spreaded as Kulek and Tala laughed. Their laughter ended when an all-too-familiar voice rang out, “The Avatar? Let’s see for ourselves, surely our good friend didn’t sneak out.”
Two twins stepped out from the crowd, two girls wrapped around each arm for the both of them. “Well, what do you know, it is the Avatar! You know Kilidi, I think Tala might be playing hooky with the White Lotus guards, should we help them?”
“I don’t know, Esas, leaving such fine company to bother the Avatar?” All four girls giggled as he looked at them. One of them responded, “It would be great to hang out in the Palace.”
Kilidi agreed, “Very true.”
“What do you two want?” Tala’s voice was brusque with anger.
“Nothing! Why would we treat the Avatar so?” Esas responded.
Kulek responded, “Because you King Urri’s sons and can get away with anything you want.”
Kilidi answered, “Oh yeah, there is that. I’m sure my father would love to hear that you are leaving the city without his permission, he-”
Tala didn’t hear the rest as she and Kulek made for the hill and their gear. “Kulek, let me borrow your glider!”
“No, you’ll be spotted a mile away. Take Ilan, it’ll be just as fast and you won’t be nearly as noticed.”
Tala whistled a high pitch and heard the baying of her giant eel hound sprinting to her. Ilan was large creature, the fastest runners and swimmers in the world, eel hounds were hard to tame and stubborn. But when you successfully broke them into training, they proved reliable and loyal. Ilan was one such, he was also bigger than the average eel hound by two feet and a hundred pounds of muscle, needed to match the rigorous activities of the Avatar. Ilan and Tala had a very close bond as most Avatars had with a special animal; like Roku and Fang, Aang and Appa, or Korra and Naga.
“C’mon Ilan, we gotta go!” Ilan took for a strong sprint that passed a nearby speeding car.
Black River was about three hours from Omashu, but an eel hound made that fifteen minutes. Tala rode as close to Ilan as she could so that no one would notice who was riding him. She saw the city ahead, a magnificent sight. Omashu had grown past the enclosed mountain into the land surrounding the canyon moat. A total of three buildings connect Old Omashu to New Omashu. Most of Old Omashu has become the Palace, other government buildings, military barracks, and other offices of state.
Omashu was still an important military base in the Earth Kingdom that commanded all the forces for miles in every direction. All forces nearby would marshal here before reporting to Ba Sing Se.
New Omashu was an advanced, modern metropolis with tall skyscrapers, though only one was taller than the tip of Old Omashu. The majority of the people lived in New Omashu though at least half of them could fit in the Old District.
Ilan blazed through the city, using the elevated railway until a train came by. Tala reached the main bridge to Old Omashu, she had Ilan run along the edge of the bridge and instead of running through the gates, and he jumped to the wall on the side and climbed the wall. While eel hounds are not great climbers, they can still move fast if they had good momentum beforehand. Ilan jumped from the wall to the roof of a nearby building and continued roof hopping up to the Palace.
Ilan reached the window outside his stables and tried to jump through but got stuck at his shoulders, his muscular frame made him too wide to fit through like he could as a pup. Tala was catapulted off her saddle from Ilan’s sudden halt. She got up and earthbended the window wider, “I’ll see you in a bit, Ilan.” She ran for her quarters, not too far from the stables.
Tala quickly put on her usual clothes, trying to wash out the onyx sand on her back, but deciding to earthbend it off. Tala thought about what time it is. She would normally meditate with Master Hava and discuss philosophy with in in three minutes. She rushed through the palace for the Air Nomads’ quarters. The Air Nomads all lived together at the top of the city palace.
Tala reached his office and burst in, gulping air in exhaustion, “Sorry..... I’m..... late.....”
Hava looked at her amusingly, “Late for what?”
Tala looked up, he wasn’t alone in his office. With him was a man with darker skin, grey eyes and white hair that shot out despite the best efforts to keep it tame. “Yes, young Avatar, late for what?”
“Nothing King Urri, I just thought that I had meditation today.” Tala was regaining her breath as realization hit her.
“Meditation isn’t until tomorrow. You must have thought you were out of the city longer than you were.”
“What are you talking about?” Tala gave her most blank face, but it was useless as a piece of rock came flying off her clothes and into the hand of the King, it was a clump of Onyx Sand.
“Did you at least have a good time at Black River before you ran back here in such haste?”
Tala answered honestly, “No, Kilidi and Esas saw me and I had to leave as soon as possible to get here before them.”
Urri chuckled, “Well they got you in trouble without breaking a sweat then, cause they're leaving for Republic City for a week.”
Urri stood up to look at Tala as he spoke, “Do you know how dangerous this could have been? Someone may have wanted to attack you at the river.”
“Attack me? No one noticed us until Esas started yelling about the Avatar.”
“That doesn’t matter. What matters is that-” Urri was interrupted when a royal messenger walked in.
He bowed to King Urri then turned to Hava and Tala, “Excuse me, but a message came for both Master Jinorra and Avatar Tala.”
“From who?” Hava inquired.
“From the Fire Nation.”
Urri exclaimed, “Not them again, they just won’t let it go will they, it was years ago!”
Hava motioned for the message. The messenger brought it to the Air Nomad. It was a sealed canister, meaning it was brought by messenger hawk. While an outdated form of communication in today’s world, the messenger hawk still carried weight in the Fire Nation. Letters of romance were often carried by hawks to show commitment and longevity; but more importantly when the Fire Nation sent a hawk, it meant they planned the message long in advance and showed respect to the recipient.
Hava broke the seal and unscrolled the paper, reading carefully. “It appears that the Avatar and I have been invited to Republic City to attend the coronation of the city’s new councilman, Rishu...” Hava looked up at Urri.
“Rishu, the Grand Marshal? Why would he want that post, he hates Republic City! And why would he send Omashu an invitation after everything he’s said to us before? Does he intend to apologize?”
“There is no mention of you or the White Lotus in this letter, King Urri. That was no mistake.”
“That little duck-weasel would have the gall to send a message to my house and then not invite me?”
“Considering the last thing you told him, he is more likely to burn this city to the ground than invite you, let alone apologize to you.” He looked at the message again before handing it to Tala for her to read. “We have to go, regardless. We don’t want to make a greater enemy out of Rishu, he already commands a third of the Fire Nation’s military and the most elite third, and might I remind you. Rishu has always welcomed the Airbenders; he even offered to build a temple for us in the Fire Nation on his land. He will take our absence as an insult, both personally and politically. It just creates problems for all of us.”
“Hmph. I guess there’s no choice. You and the White Lotus will take Tala to Republic City to attend this banquet.”
“That is probably not a good idea either.”
Tala interrupted then, “Why not? I thought we were going?”
“We will, but we can’t go with the White Lotus.”
Hava looked at Urri then back to the Avatar, “I guess now is as good a time as any to tell you.” Hava sat back down at his desk. “When you were preparing to train in firebending, the most formal of messages came here. It was a formal invitation for you to train in firebending in the Fire Nation under Grand Marshal Rishu.”
She looked at Urri as things began to click into place “And you guys said no!?”
Urri spoke, “It was agreed that you were safer here in Omashu, where you had already grown up and trained in earthbending.”
Hava looked at him disapprovingly, “You and the White Lotus agreed, I had no part in this agreement.” He looked back to the Avatar, “When the invitation was rejected, a member of the White Lotus was chosen to train you, a classmate of Rishu’s. Rishu was at the top of his class, while your teacher was at the bottom. That was even a bigger insult. Rishu was Regent of the Fire Nation at the time and banned the White Lotus from coming to the Fire Nation again until they apologized publicly, paid compensation and sent you to Rishu’s estate to train. The White Lotus refused to apologize and haven’t set foot in the Fire Nation or recruited there in six years. For that reason it would be unwise to bring the White Lotus along. Rishu is as likely to do something to them as not. He doesn’t accept insult without consequences. The last man apart from Urri to insult Rishu died in an all-too convenient house fire.”
“He killed someone?”
“Are you kidding? Rishu’s entire career has been killing, he is a soldier. From one war to the next, rebellions, pirates, traitors. Rishu is perhaps the deadliest man in the Fire Nation. But he was always a supporter of the nations divided and the Avatar.”
“So what are we gonna do? I doubt you’ll let me go to Republic City with just Hava for company, right?” She looked at Urri. Urri shook his head in a no.
“We do have another option. Clan Rohan will go with us. That is almost sixty people, all benders, more than enough protection from here to Republic City.”
Urri was about to yell out in protest, but resignation came to his face instead, “I guess we have no other option.”
Tala left some time later after preparations were made and argued over. She also had to listen to an argument between Grand Lotus Zuel and Hava about not coming to Republic City. Day had turned to night when she reached her quarters but she headed to Ilan’s stables instead, she had forgotten to take off his saddle when she left.
She arrived to see Ilan lying down with the saddle off and Kulek not too far off, he had clearly taken care of him, in her absence. “Thanks for helping Ilan.”
“No problem, so how’d it go?”
“I blew my own cover. We’re going to Republic City in two days.”
“Wow, you must have really pissed of the King if he kicked you out of the city!” Kulek smiled smugly.
Tala punched him on the shoulder, “No! We’ve been invited for a coronation.” She went on to tell Kulek everything that happened.
“Wow, back to Republic City, it's been six years, I was twelve when I last saw it.”
Tala thought on everything she learned this afternoon. Urri had kept her locked up in the city with a sub-par firebender for a teacher rather than let go of her to train with a true master. She had always thought her teacher was weak but kept quiet out of respect, but now she had proof of this. She knew that Urri used her position for politics, but didn’t realize he would use it to keep her there as well.
What else had they kept from her? Hava was the only teacher she had that truly pushed her to her limits and was honest with her. Could she trust no one in this city? She may be with Kulek, a master himself, but he was still a young man and not entrusted with the same knowledge Hava had.
Tala could only imagine what Republic City was like, she had read the books and papers, seen the pictures, but she knew there was a big difference from knowing of a place and being there.
Things were changing for the Avatar. She was leaving home...
For the collective works of the author, go here.