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The silence woke me up. Judging by the coldness, the night was still pretty young and, around me, all of the Spares were already soundly asleep. But something was wrong. I pushed Nail who was clinging to me in his sleep aside and got up. Silently, being careful not to step on the others, I started making my way to the outer-mine when a voice suddenly whispered.
"You've noticed it too."
Startled, I turned around in a scared jump and nearly stepped on Broom.
"Spade!" I complained in half a whisper. He was sitting in the darkest corner of the room, his back leaning on the wall behind him while his younger sister, Chisel, was sleeping with her head on his lap. Despite the shadows, I could clearly see the glowing white of his grin. Then, slowly and gently, he moved Chisel's head to a pile of rounded up clothes, got up and suddenly leaped across all of the sleeping bodies, flew over my head and smoothly landed right behind me.
"What is it, Anvy? Afraid of the dark?"
"You should really stop airbending before you get caught," I warned him, ignoring his tease. But, as carefree as usual, he just winked at me and pointed to the room's exit with a small head motion.
"Let's go and find out the reason for this silence, shall we?" Without waiting for my answer, Spade hurried out, convinced that I would follow him. And he was right. Something was definitely wrong and I was definitely curious. The night Spares should have been working in the mine right now and there was no way the Skinners would let them take a break. This silence was worrying. And exciting. Quick and soft on my feet, I followed Spade's path and caught up with him. We crossed aisle D without a sound and reached the stairs leading into the mine where my companion signaled me to stop and to crouch. Dug in a round shape, the mine was large of about thirty feet and deeper than I could see. Around it, at each quarter, at approximately ten feet under the surface, four aisles dug horizontally led to resting areas for the spares where they could sleep. Above us, the mighty metal grid closing the mine was cutting the moonlight into squares. Openable only by the Inquisitors, the Metal Masters, it thwarted anyone from just the hope of escaping. In front of me, carefully, Spade stretched his head to look down into the deepness and quickly pulled it back.
"What did you see?" I impatiently asked.
"Darkness," he replied, somehow tenser than usual. "There should be plenty of activity down there, so why – down!" Swiftly, Spade tackled me on the ground and slapped the air, creating a gust of wind that put out the nearest torch lighting us. A moment later, two men emerged from aisle A, the one at the opposite side of us. Both surprisingly tall and in black robes, they seemed to be discussing serious matters, judging by the intense intonations I managed to hear.
"Anvy," Spade whispered in a serious tone not like him at all. "Go back to the room and pretend to sleep."
"What about you?"
"I'll be right behind you. I just need to understand what those guys are doing here."
I nodded, trusting Spade's judgement like always. At the other side, the two men had stopped at the top of the stairs and seemed to be having an argument. As stealthily as possible, I got up and silently headed back to the resting room. When I got far enough to be sure they couldn't see nor hear me, I ran as fast as I could, not exactly knowing what I was afraid of. When I got to the entrance of the room, someone suddenly came out of it and, unable to stop in time, I bumped into Chisel, repelling the both of us in opposite directions.
"Anvil!" cried out the girl while rubbing her elbow that had hit the ground. Chisel was two solstices younger than me and her short height and light weight made it seem like I had bumped into a child. However, despite her frail appearance and her usual gentle self, she could be a real tornado if sufficiently prompted, just like her older brother, which she seemed to inspire herself from.
"Chisel! Are you alright? What were you doing here?" I asked while helping her getting up.
"Where's my brother?" she replied, ignoring my questions.
"He'll be right there," I answered, doubting it myself. "But you need to go back to sleep. His words."
She stared at me for a while and for a moment I thought that she would push me aside to go out, but she sighed and went back to her corner where she laid down. Quietly, I did the same at my own place, between Nail and Saw, I slowly fell into a deep slumber, confident that Spade would come back before dawn.
But he didn't. When the Skinners came to wake us up, I knew something went wrong by the violence they displayed. With kicks and stick hits, they made us cross the aisle at an immense pace and told us to line up in front of the stairs leading into the deep hole. Dazed, we all tried to figure out why we were being beat up by looking down the mine, but one of the Skinners suddenly shouted out to look up. Next to me, File let out a muffled cry, which earned her a wallop on her back with a stick. Above us, Spade was hanging by his feet to the metal grid with a small gesture of back and forth. Completely naked, I could see several severe bruises and botches on his body covered in dried blood. Unable to bear the sight, I looked down.
"This is what happens when one of you suddenly decide to take a night stroll!" shouted out a Skinner. "Now, we know one of you was with the fellow up there last night." I shivered. "I'll give him or her one chance to speak up."
Panicked, I tried to look as calm as possible, but my sweat and the fear on my face should have given me away to anyone who would look close enough. At first, no one came, so I began to feel relieved, but then a Skinner suddenly took Chisel by the collar of her ragged cloth and lifted her above the void of the mine.
"Time's up," he said with a smile.
"WAIT!" I cried out, terrified. "It was me! I was with him last night!" The Skinner looked at me and his smile widened. Casually, but with brute strength, he threw the small girl against the wall behind him and came to me, who was kneeling and looking down in fear.
"Good lad," he said in enjoyment. I looked up, but his foot suddenly rose and hit me under my chin, sending me backwards. As my consciousness faded away, I saw the faces of my fellow spares doing their best at looking away, pity covering their faces.
When I started my Avatar training, as a child, people used to say that I was the greatest prodigy they had ever heard of. Thus, when I achieved metal bending without any effort, nobody was even slightly surprised. Then, at the age of ten, I managed to lightningbend better than most, but still, everybody thought of it as 'something to be expected'. It's only when, some years later, I mastered lavabending that the people actually reacted. But that's also when the conflicts began to arise.
Coughing blood, which somehow fell on my forehead, woke me up. Disoriented, my head felt like exploding and my body ached more than it ever had.
"Still alive, Anvy?"
Still dizzy, I couldn't determine where the voice came from, but I knew from 'whom' it came.
"Spade!" I meant to say it out loud, but my voice was so weak and my throat so dry that it came out as a whisper. "You're alive!"
He chuckled. "More alive than 'you' are at the moment, mate."
"I was so afraid you'd be dead. I shouldn't have left you last night."
"Last night? Anvy, that was three nights ago. What do you remember?"
I didn't want to answer. "I remember... being hurt. Over and over. I don't know for how long..." My voice died out as I recalled the small dream-like memories I had of the past few days.
"Well," started Spade with a mix of anger and pity in his voice, "they hanged you up here last night, so they must have...'kept' you for about two days."
"Two days... No wonder my body hurt so much," I said trying to figure out the extant of my injuries. I tried to look up at my body, my vision was still completely blurred. "How bad is it, Spade? I'm so dizzy from the pain I can't see a thing."
For a moment, from his silence, I thought he was gone, but then he sighed. It wasn't a sigh of boredom, annoyance nor of disappointment. It was a sigh of resignation.
"I'm sorry, Anvil. I'm so sorry," he said, his voice shaking. "Your dizziness isn't what's blinding you... They took them away. They took your eyes."
Sometimes, there are moments where I wonder what my life would have been if I had never been caught and sent to this living hell. If my parents hadn't been killed, trying to protect me, to no avail. If I hadn't met Spade, the incredible spares' natural leader. In those moments, I wished really hard for my past sixteen solstices to only be a bad dream and to soon wake up in the arms of my mother. But this wasn't one of those moments. Right now, I only wished I had died back then. Slowly, with my right hand missing three nails, I reached for my eyes. They were still there, but both were crossed by a vertical scar.
"Don't, touch them," said Spade in a voice full of pity. "They're not cicatrized yet."
I would have cried, if my tears weren't so painful, so instead, I faced the obvious and simply sighed. "I'm going to die, right? Even if I survive until they unhook us, I won't be able to work at the mine without my eyes. And if I can't work..." My voice died.
"Anvy! Listen to me. You 'will not' die. We will help you. You can count on all of us, we'll share your part of the work and let you do the small tasks. As long as the job is done, the Skinners will leave you alone." Barely listening, I closed my blind eyes and let myself slip into unconsciousness. "I'm going to make things right, Anvy. I'll save you all, I swear."
Nations wars, civil wars, bending wars, the whole world was a battleground. At first, every side tried to add me, the most powerful being of this realm, to their cause. As the Avatar, my only goal was to bring balance back to the world by stopping those ridiculous wars. To do that, I tried for many years to stay neutral and to act as a mediator. But the world didn't like that, so it tried to get rid of me. At first, some factions sent small groups of mercenaries to dispose of me. It goes without saying that they stood no chance at all. Then they sent experimented benders, which, again, failed miserably. Desperate, they soon begun sending troupes, then armies, but each victory against those enemies only served to make me stronger and stronger.
Slowly, I tried to get up, but only managed to sit. My body was in so much pain that a constant shaking was going through it. I vaguely remembered being unhook of the metal grid at the same time as Spade and then being threw here were the other spares tried to take care of me as much as they could. I tried to open my eyes to look around me, but then I remembered.
"Anvy," said a soft and sad voice that I recognized as Needle's. "Welcome back." I opened my mouth to answer her, but she delicately put a finger on it before I could. "Don't speak. Have some water." I felt something hard against my lips and opened them to feel the liquid enter my mouth. Its feeling was exhilarating. I closed my eyes while I drank, enjoying the water flowing through my throat and silently thanking Needle. Being the older woman and despite having only three solstices more than me and most of the other spares, Needle was the motherly figure of the group. Incredibly kind, but also able to being strict when she had to, she and Spade were the natural leaders everyone followed instinctively. Except that this instinct cost me my eyes.
The fact that Needle was here meant that the sun should have been set, and the shivers that the cold gave me confirmed it. Around us, I could hear the voices of my fellow Spares. As soon as I finished drinking, Nail spoke behind me.
"I brought you some clean clothes." His voice was trying to be reassuring, but I could clearly hear all of his concern in it. "Well, they're not exactly clean, but they're the closest thing to it that I could find."
"It's fine," answered Needle gently. "Thank you Nail." I felt the clothes changing hands near my left ear, heard the sound of splashing water and concluded that the clothes were being wetted. Then, like a knife suddenly stabbing me, an intense cold pain at my abdomen made me jump and scream. "I'm sorry!" quickly apologized Needle. "I forgot that you couldn't..." Her voice died before she could finish her sentence. "I need to clean your wounds, Anvil. It may hurt a bit at first," she said as the pain suddenly returned. Gritting my teeth and closing my eyes as hard as I could, I tried my best to endure the pain, but I must have fainted, because when I realized the pain was gone, so was Needle. Instead, Chisel's voice welcomed me.
"Hey, Anvil," she said, sounding weary, but also compassionate. "Sorry about your eyes." Ever so frank. "Spade's fine. He recovered at Godspeed. But he's feeling guilty for bringing you with him that night. And he's damn right. I smacked him good earlier." Speaking in short sentences, Chisel's voice was flat and from the way the sound came to my ears, I reckoned that she wasn't looking at me while doing so.
"Don't blame him," I managed to articulate in a weak and shaky voice. "I make my own choices."
She snorted in disdain. "You wouldn't think so if you saw your own body," she answered, probably not realizing how that sentence hurt. "Here. Can you feel where I'm touching you?"
"I can't," I replied, trying to understand her point.
"Exactly. That's because I'm touching where your left little finger used to be. Except it's not there anymore."
Apprehensive, I tried to concentrate on the said finger and to move it, but it was indeed gone. I closed my blinded eyes and my mind cried "why" while my body simply sighed.
"Why did they bothered keeping me alive?"
I had asked this mostly for myself, but Chisel answered anyway. "Because they needed to make an example out of you. Spade would have been too hard to break, so they chose the weaker one." Her frankness amused me more than it actually hurt me. "Anyway, you better sleep now. Dawn is near and you need to be able to get up until then. We already decided how we'll share your part of the work, but you still need to do small tasks. Ham will stay near you most of the time to guide you." I felt relieved at Hammer's mention. The man was the strongest, biggest but more importantly the gentlest Spare of this group. I knew I could rely on him.
"Thank you, Chisel," I said. For a while, she kept silent and I could imagine the startled expression on her face.
After a while, she finally sighed. "I haven't really done anything. In fact, I should be the one thanking you. If you hadn't speak up that time, my body would have been crushed on the mine's ground." As she spoke, I felt Chisel standing up and then heard her going away when she finished. I tried one last time to open my eyes only to find the dark reality smiling at me. I settled on sleeping.
At that time, I still had friends and family to support me, but inevitably, they became targets used to get at me. Confident in my skills, I trusted myself into being able to protect them. However, reality got the better of me when one of my closest friend murdered my younger sister and her lover, my best friend, during a night. The very next morning, maddened by rage, I charged alone straight into the responsible faction's settlement and annihilated everyone without mercy, discovering in the process a new skill: bloodbending. I had heard before that the ability could be use without the full moon, but I never witnessed it, until I did it myself. Such power in my hands! In the Avatar State, I could literally and easily kill hundreds of people simultaneously only by snapping fingers. Thoughtful of how to use this newly acquired power, I returned to my family's hiding.
"Anvil! Wake up! Come on!" The voice hurrying me to wake up was deep and stressed out. I recognized Hammer's tone and the way he firmly pulled my arm to stand me up with incredible ease confirmed it.
"What is it, Ham?" I asked, confused by his restlessness.
"Don't speak!" he whispered while forcing me to walk somewhere. "Kneel." I did as he asked, worried by his unusual behavior. My body still hurt but following Hammer demonstrated that I could at least walk, despite the pain it gave me. I was about to ask again what was going on, but the complete silence of the room advised me otherwise. Cursing my blind eyes, I resigned myself to wait for development and started listening to my surroundings, something I had done a lot lately, and that I will probably be doing a lot more in the future – if a future there was.
To my right, I could hear a mixture of anxious breathing and quiet sobbing, most probably coming from the other Spares, all kneeling in line. From previous experience, I reckoned that we were lined up at the deep end of the room, our back facing the wall and our front the entrance, so I focused my hearing in front of me. First, I heard footsteps, then whispering.
"Which one?" said an imperious and sharp voice.
"The one smiling arrogantly, sir," replied another in a submissive tone.
"Bring him forward," ordered the first voice. As soon as the order was given, heavy footsteps of at least three men came near me. Then, I heard them grab someone who struggled slightly before giving up with a resigned sigh. The men that I suspected to be Skinners dragged their victim where I previously heard the voice of the one ordering the others.
"Greetings, boy," he started in a vicious tone. "I've been told that you are quite the sleepwalker, is that right?" A silence told me that he was waiting for an answer that never came. He snorted. "Playing tough won't help your case, Spare," he went on, insisting on the last word. "You're going to tell me about the men you've encountered that night, and you're going to tell me about it now. Silence. Again, the man snorted. "You think we can't break you? You're probably right. I know the face of someone who would die from pain rather than giving away his secrets. But what about them?"
I understood that he was talking about us when some footsteps approached us. Then, I felt something moving, but didn't even had time to wonder about it, as the foot of a Skinner sank into my stomach where one of my previous wound was still healing, and propelled me against the wall behind, stunning me as I barely remained conscious. Breathtaking, the hit made me cough and spit blood as I desperately tried to stay awake.
"No! Damn you!" Spade's voice was like a distant whisper in my ears.
"Restrain it," calmly said the man, talking about my friend who, by the sound of it, had started fighting with airbending.
"Hang in there, Anvy," whispered Ham before I succumbed to the peaceful slumber calling me.
They were dead. All of them. My old mother, my twin cousins, Vin, Alek, Tooru, Salim, Hutah, everybody. All gone. Yet, this time, I did not burst in rage like I did before. In fact, I couldn't feel anything. I was calm. All of the people I loved were dead, yet I was looking at their body like they were nothing. No more. Silently, I headed into the night, burned the hideout, sat on the ground and meditated. I don't know how many hours, days or weeks I spent there, but when I opened my eyes again, I had discovered two things. The first was my goal: to bring balance back to the world. Well, in fact, I already knew that, but now I understood how to achieve it. The second: weightlessness. I had heard of only two men who ever got this ability, but there was no time for amazement nor to understand how I acquired it, so I took off into the sky.
The earth shook. Slowly, I sat up and examined the extant of my injuries. The kick that knocked me out didn't reopened the wound on my stomach, but the feeling it gave me was that of a burning rock pressing against my skin. The earth shook again. Having no idea about my current location, I tried to call out someone, but the only answer I got was the echo of my own voice. Then, for the third time, the earth shook, but this time I heard the sound of rock cracking above me. Before I could react, the tremendous shock of a boulder crashing just next to me resounded. A bit farther, the same thing occurred again. The mine was collapsing. This would have been wonderful news if only I wasn't alone and blind amidst falling boulders that could crush me at any moment. Suddenly, I heard footsteps behind me.
"Spade!" I rejoiced.
The footsteps stopped and there was a silence for an instant. "How did you know it was me?" asked my friend, confused.
How did I knew? "I... I didn't," I answered. "Just a guess."
"Anyway, let's go!" he said while pulling my arm and standing me up. "We need to get out of here."
"What in the world is happening?" I asked as I followed his lead as fast as I could.
For a while, he lead me across the collapsing mine, making me stride over rocks, pass under boulders and turn this or that way. As I ran, my body began to regain some of its vigor, and something inside me somehow seemed to roughly discern my surrounding without actually seeing it. I gained some confidence and sped up. But I shouldn't have. As soon as I did, I stumbled over a rock and heavily fell on the hard ground, bringing Spade who was holding my arm with me. Before I could get up, the latter grabbed me under the arms and tossed me away as far as he could, just before a rock fell where I was a second ago. Then, a moan confirmed what I had feared.
"Spade!" I cried while blindly hurrying to where I heard him.
"Don't stop," he said in a voice full of pain. When I reached him by following his voice, he violently repelled me. "Listen to me, Anvil. You're almost there, just run straight ahead and you'll be outside. All the others will be waiting for you. A guy named Jin should also be there. You can trust him; you must trust him."
"What about you?" I said in a desolate voice, already knowing the answer.
"My legs are crushed. I'm done for, but you are not! The celling is collapsing, Anvil. Go now - GO!"
I ran. Ignoring the pain of my body and my mind calling me a coward, I ran. As fast as I could, in a straight line, I ran. wailing and crying, I ran. Without turning back when the sound of the rocks collapsing on the body of my friend reached my ears, I ran. I ran. Until someone suddenly stopped me.
"Easy, son," said the voice of the man who just caught me. It was the warmest and softest voice I ever heard. "You're fine now. Where is the other?" I didn't answer. "I see. I'm sorry. My name is Jin. We'll take care of you now."
"Where are the others?" I asked, still dazed by Spade's death.
He sighed. "I'm sorry. You two were the only ones left."
My head got dizzy and my wounds and botches suddenly felt much more painful. "No... But he said..." I fell on my knees, realizing that Spade had lied to me so that I could escape. I lost them all. I lost everything I loved in this life and gained what in return? The beauty of the outside world I always dreamt about. Except I couldn't see it anymore. I was now in a place darker than the deepest part of the mine. All of this because of the will of one single man. The one who controlled everything. As the sun shone its light on my back once again since what had seem to be an eternity, I knew that I had found my path.
Because that day was the day I vowed revenge.
That day, was the day I swore to kill The Avatar.
The first part of my plan was simple, but needed time. The world needed to be reminded of who I was. I was the Avatar. The greatest of them all. With a stamp, I could destroy entire cities. With a stretch of my arm, I could make lightning rain on the world. With a breath, I could create rabid tornadoes ravaging the earth. And with a snap of my fingers, I could pull the blood out of every one who dare go against me. After many years intimidating the world, I could finally begin the second part of my plan. Using fear and respect, I gathered the strongest warriors, the smartest strategists & tacticians and the finest leaders and build myself an army. And it took decades, during which I've done things that would make the toughest men tremble in fear and lost things that would have drive any other man mad, but I finally did it. Today, as I walk in the ruins of New Republic City, I realize that I've finally achieved my goal.
Because today is the day I brought balance back.
Today is the day I conquered the world.
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