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|Chapter 1 (Freed from Fire)|
|"I do this because you are my daughter. You are Sayuka Huoken. You are a firebender. And you are not just any firebender. You are the only daughter of one of the most powerful firebending families in the Fire Nation."|
|— Lord Huoken|
"Miserable failure." She heard, followed by another sharp crack against the side of her face. There was no malice in the voice to be heard. No malice, no anger, no feelings at all. But, every time he said the words, she felt his hand against the side of her face, causing a sharp, burning sensation she knew was pain. She did not blink, she did not respond; she just stood there, accepting what she must as the man in front of her reached out again for her face. "Miserable failure." He reiterated as she felt another slap warm her cheeks. She was never hit in the same place, she noticed, as to avoid the swelling and numbness from lessening the pain. It was always like this. She would try to do what he told her, she really would. But no matter what she tried to do, it would always result in the same.
Absently, she felt another blow crack her face, just below her eye. "I asked you a question." The man glared, a hint of annoyance creeping into his voice. "What do you have to say for yourself?" The girl blinked away a tear she knew would come if she let it.
Not now. She wouldn't cry now.
There would be all the time in the world to cry later.
"Nothing, father." She heard herself say, barely a whisper. The skin around the man's face tightened, and she know at once she had said the wrong thing. But, what else was she supposed to say? She didn't know what she did wrong... what she ever did wrong... Her father stood up suddenly, causing her to flinch. She was careful, however, not to withdraw. That would only make things worse.
"Greya!" He called to the woman at the entrance to the room.
"Yes, master?" Greya asked dutifully.
"Bring the belt." His voice was steady, cold. The girl new better than to look at him, and, repressing shudder of fear, kept her eyes trained on the ground. Even looking at the ground, though, she knew every detail of the small room. It was her father's study, where he spent much of his time. There were thousands of books, as she knew. But, even if she was allowed in under normal circumstances, she could not read very well. Her father only cared about one thing.
"But... she's just a girl..." Greya started, and then faltered under the master's glare.
"Bring... the belt..." He said, lowering his tone dangerously. Greya mumbled an acknowledgement and left the room. The girl stood as still as she could considering the fear she felt welling up inside her. "Do you know why I must do this?" She heard her father ask. Waiting until she was sure her father was addressing her, she swallowed against a dry mouth.
"No, father. I don't."
"I do this because you are my daughter. You are Sayuka Huoken. You are a firebender. And you are not just any firebender. You are the only daughter of one of the most powerful firebending families in the Fire Nation. Our family serves the Fire Lord. Our family has served the Fire Lord for generations. And..." He voice rose slightly, as if to emphasis his point. "We will continue to serve the Fire Lord for generations to come."
His speech was interrupted by the shuffling of feet. Greya had returned, Sayuka guessed, feeling a shiver crawl up her tiny back. Greya reached her father and then retreated back to the entrance to the room. "Why I must do this, my daughter, is because you are refusing to continue this tradition." Sayuka heard the air in front of her crack with a sharp sound. She let a whimper escape her lips. "Why I must do this, my daughter, is because you will not firebend." His voice turned dangerous.
Before she could stop herself, Sayuka heard herself cry out. "But, father, I cannot firebend!" She immediately felt her body turn to ice, and knew tears had started pooling at the corners of her eyes. "I do not know what you mean!" The room was silent for a long time, and Sayuka took this moment to raise her face to her father.
There he stood, staring at her with narrowed eyes. His tall, broad, form stood menacingly in front of her. Her eyes traveled over his face, serious and regal. His short beard was dark and always perfect; never out of line. His upper body, covered with thick robes, was strong and wide. His legs were firm and well planted to the ground, showing his years of discipline with martial practices and authority. Sayuka's eyes flew back to her father's face, taking in his expression. His eyes bore into hers and she knew at once, this man would never forgive her. For as long as she lived, her father would never love her. No one would ever love her. Not her father... not her mother... no one.
Sayuka kept her eyes locked onto her father's, feeling a tear finally slid down her numbing cheek. She heard the leather of her father's belt being gripped and she, surprisingly, felt herself smile.
At least she knew one thing for certain now.
Sayuka sat up in her bed, her arms clutched around her knees. It was all she could do to keep from trembling. She still couldn't stop the tears from streaming down her face. Her room was dark; cold and dark... and lonely. She stared at the tops of her knees, knobby and thin, blankly. She was only twelve years old; and instead of being able to play outside like normal girls, instead of being loved by her parents, she was... this.
She felt her stomach turn uncomfortably, which didn't even distract her from the pain shooting across her back. Absently, she heard the rain pour outside. Maybe, she heard herself think, the cold rain would help her feel better.
Ignoring the initial pain of moving the first time in an hour, she stripped off her cream-colored nightgown and crawled out the window of her bedroom. At once, she was met with a hail of heavy rain. She dashed as fast as her feet could carry her away from sight of the mansion, and knelt down into the mud. The rain pelted her back, causing her to cry out in pain. But however bad the feeling of raindrops falling on her back was, it was a blessing compared to her father's belt.
After a few moments, she got over the sting and the cool water soothed her welts. There she knelt, on her knees in cold mud, crying softly to herself. She always cried to herself at night. There was no one else to cry with. No one else to ease her pain. This was her life.
Her crying was interrupted by a laugh. Sayuka was surprised to find that it was her own voice that laughed. That was new, she thought. New was good. Usually she cried when she felt pain and was sad. Laughing was something she knew was happy. Was she happy? If she laughed again like just now...
She let out another soft laugh and was surprised to find that it felt nice. Her tears now covered by rainwater, she laughed again, staring at her hands in the mud. Her life, as her father often said, was already planned out for her. She was to fall in line with her family's tradition continuing a strong line of firebenders. The only problem was-
"I cannot firebend." She laughed, shaking her head. Her long, dark hair, now free of the tie that had fallen off in her dash away from the house, was dangling in below her face. "It is not that I will not firebend... or that I refuse to..." She told no one in particular. "It is but I cannot!" She barked out a laugh, smiling into the dark mud. "Why does no one understand?" Her father did not understand. Her mother did not understand, she just did her father's bidding. None of the servants understood. There was no one on her side. No one that would listen.
"Why does no one understand!" She screamed, her voice cracking at last. "Why!?" She raised her hands from the mud, and thrust them out in front of her, as her father had shown her.
Screaming in anger, she punched the air again.
All but shrieking now, she continuously punched and kicked the air. She mimicked the exact movements her father had beaten into her, willing her anger to come out in the form of flames. She lashed out at the falling raindrops, trying to hit each one that she locked her blurred eyes on. Soon, a wave of dizziness engulfed her and fell back into the mud, its cool stickiness soaking into her small clothes. No matter how hard she tried, no fire ever appeared.
It was exactly as her father had said. She was nothing but a failure. A miserable failure. She didn't want to be a failure. She wanted to be a good girl who always did what her father told her to. She wanted to love her family, and be loved in return.
"I do not understand," she said to the mud. "I do not understand why I am like this. Why can I not make my father proud?" She raised her head to the dark sky. The rain felled unabated on her small, round face. Her eyes shut involuntarily as the water soaked into her eyes. She felt herself let another laugh slip, and it was absorbed into the sound of rain. It was a strange feeling, Sayuka thought, laughing instead of crying. Laughing was so much better.
There she knelt, in the darkness as the rain fell on her small body. She would not cry anymore. She did not like to cry. It hurt to cry. Laughing was so much better.
The only sound that could be heard besides the rain was her soft laughter.
To be continued in...
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