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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 new 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 2: The CouncilEdit
Tala sat on the top of a train, antsy. She had little company as the majority of the airbenders were riding sky bison up above, only the cargo was in the train. Hava chose to ride the train as did Kulek to keep her company since she refused to leave Ilan on the train alone. Ilan coiled up behind her basking in the sunlight.
Tala was truly leaving Omashu for the first time. She had always lived in reach of the city, even before the world learned she was the Avatar. And now, she was going to Republic City, a major hub of trade, culture, technology, and life in the world. Tala knew she wasn’t ready for such a change, but would never be unless she stepped out and faced it.
She recalled the day when she met King Urri. Her family knew she was the Avatar for a long time, they told her to not show her powers, but at seven years old, she didn’t listen. Her parents took her to a festival in Old Omashu on the promise that she would be on her best behavior and not bend the elements. Of all the times she broke a promise, was in front of the King of Omashu. At first she was firebending, this caught Urri’s attention as there were still few firebenders in the city. But his interest was peaked when Tala started making the fire collide with rocks. Urri knew who and what she was and took her to the palace. Tala’s parents broke into the palace in a rage putting a dozen guards in the hospital for months. Urri forgave them when he realized they were her parents, but took Tala in his custody nonetheless. Her parents only consented if they would have time away from the city with her every-so-often.
That was twelve years ago.
She then noticed that Hava had climbed to the roof of the train. “I figured you would be up here. Another five hours and you’ll be able to see the skyline of the city on your left. Another two and then we’ll be in Republic City itself.”
“I’m not here for the view.”
“I know.” Hava sat down next to Tala, “I am sorry that you had to learn everything so suddenly and so late. Had it been up to me, I would have told you from the beginning and let you choose.”
“I would have chosen Rishu, and Urri knows it. He’s always been so controlling, he’s stricter with me than his own kids, and now we’re gonna meet up with them and have them stay with us.”
“I know, Urri has been very protective of you. And I am sorry that your firebending teacher wasn’t of the proper caliber.”
“Not even my earthbending teacher either! I know Urri’s brother is one of the best in the world but I’ve heard about Crown-Prince Kuir, if half of what they say is true, then no one stands a chance against him.”
“No one is perfect, Tala. Not you, not Urri, not Kuir and not even Rishu. We all make mistakes and sometimes even worse.”
“Airbenders seem pretty darn perfect...”
Hava took a stronger tone, “Well, we’re not. Our people were wiped out, from weak pacifism and only survived in Aang’s descendants. We have those who have done evil things as well. Look at me Tala. You see your airbending master, the most powerful airbender in the world except to maybe my sister Lio. Does that make me perfect.”
Tala didn’t answer, “It doesn’t.” Hava continued, “I am not the airbender I am today because I was born with it like Lio, I am because I struggled for it. I used to be the clumsiest boy in all of Clan Jinorra. The most serious and reserved clan could go into fits of laughter when they saw me try to airbend. There was probably a moment when I was the worst airbender alive in all the clans. I thought I was a failure. It was only through the most intense and draining discipline that I soon became better than everyone around me. And that was why I was chosen over Lio to teach you. Because I could empathize with someone who struggled with airbending, because I’m not perfect. “This world is full of good and bad, and they influence our decisions. Did Urri make bad decisions about your training? Yes, he did. But he has also protected you and watched over you. I know you keep to yourself, even Kulek doesn’t know everything about you, but please think about this. No one is perfect, don’t judge them to a standard they’ll always fail to meet.”
“I will Sifu Hava, thank you.”
Tala was back in the train car soon and talked with Kulek, playing Pai Sho all the while. Kulek won and took twenty yuans from Tala in a dirty trick. That was when a serviceman for the train came to inform them that they would be able to see the night skyline of the city in a few minutes.
Tala watched as an opening in the mountains cleared. A majestic show of lights hit her eyes. Skyscrapers reaching far beyond what Tala had ever seen before were here in excess. Tala was truly amazed at the spectacle before her eyes. But caution was present in her mind, the city was beautiful from afar, but what would it be up close? Air Temple Island by all accounts was an amazing and calm place, how did the city measure up to that?
Kulek spoke in awe, “I never saw the city from this view before.”
The train arrived two hours later where Clan Rohan were waiting for them, as were the Air Acolytes. They left the station and made for Air Temple Island as quietly as they could, though a few people noticed the number of Air Nomads and looked on curiously, no one seemed to realize Tala was the important passenger of the group.
When they finally reached Air Temple Island at midnight. Waiting for her seemed to be the entire community of the Island, Clan Jinorra and the Air Acolytes, in front was a woman a couple years older than Hava. She was tall, lean and graceful, she aged well but her hair had grayed. She had the tattoos of an airbending master on her pale skin.
Hava walked to her and hugged her, “Lio, its good to see you well, sister, but you look tired.”
“I wasn’t going to be a rude host and sleep while our most important guest came to our home.” She looked to Tala, “Welcome, young Avatar, to Air Temple Island. We are most honored by your presence here.”
“I am honored to be here.” Tala came close to Lio and gave a bow of one to a great master.
Lio smiled, “But it is late, we shall celebrate your arrival come the morning when you are rested, and we shall talk then.” She gave Tala a kiss on the cheek and departed as members of Clan Jinorra came to greet themselves to the Avatar.
Avatar was guided to her quarters while Ilan was led to the bison stables. Tala slept the second she hit the bed. But her sleep was fitful with dreams. Her most prevalent was her dream of a ballet wearing an Onxy Black Dress, one made of Dragon Silk. She danced with a metal mask very similar to that of the bloodbender Amon. But her disturbing self-image was little to her dancing partner. A black dragon, with black eyes, and black teeth and white flames coming out of his maw. He circled around the Avatar, with a fierce and hungry look. Tala was doing a dance she had never done in her life, paralleling the dragon’s own movements. But when the dance ended, the dragon turned to her and coiled to strike. When it did, his maw seemed to grow in size as white flames engulfed her. The dream ended with a woman in Water Tribe garb, she looked intently at Tala and warned, “The Dragons have prepared for a century, it is time. Beware gifts of their Silk.”
Tala woke up drenched in sweat hearing someone knocking on the door, “Avatar Tala, are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
Tala dressed up and got the day started with some exercises and breakfast and then training in airbending, since Air Temple Island was much better suited to it than Omashu was. She showered, and had lunch with Lio, Hava, Kulek, and other Air Nomads.
Apparently, the Air Acolytes and Air Nomads that train the sky bison live by the stables. And Ilan was not getting along well with the sky bison, much to the displeasure of the trainers who had to sleep through the night hearing their roars and his baying.
Lio changed the subject to Tala’s relief. “I figured I would show you around the city today, see the sights and get to go around the city’s most important structures. That way you don’t get into the same trouble your predecessor did when she first came.” Lio smiled.
“It would be my pleasure, Master Lio. Master Hava, will you be joining us?”
Hava seemed distracted for an instance when he turned his attention back to them, “No, I have some business in the city that needs attending to. I will see you all again tonight.”
Tala and Kulek left with Councilwoman Lio to see the districts of the city, a much less momentous event. Tala enjoyed the city but most enjoyed the food, it was from all over the world, from the spicy of the Fire Nation to the cuisine and seafood of the Water Tribes.
They returned for dinner where they ate much more simply, Hava returned quietly. They were discussing what they had seen, when an Air Acolyte came in with a message, Lio answered, “Ah, Yuu, I thought you were going to miss dinner.”
“My apologies, Sister Lio. You have received a message from the estate of Grand Marshal Rishu.”
Tala looked on. Again, it was a canister, showing the respect he bore to Lio. Lio read it intently. She then spoke, “Rishu has personally asked that you join him tomorrow at the banquet as the honored guest to commemorate your arrival in Republic City.”
“That’s nice, could’ve sent a message tomorrow for that.”
“He also wants to send you a gift, a dress of Dragon Silk, it would have to be tailored, dressing for it would take all day, hence why the message came now.”
Tala heard nothing after Dragon Silk. Her dream raced back to the front of her memory. “The Dragons have prepared for a century, it is time. Beware gifts of their Silk.”
Was this the Silk she was referring to? Rishu was by all accounts a powerful man of the Fire Nation, people who learned to bend from the dragons. It was a stretch, but the vision of that disturbing dream didn’t leave.
“Tala, are you alright?” Someone shook her out of her daze.
“I’m fine, Master Hava, I need to speak with you alone.”
Hava looked at her seriously, “Certainly.”
Hava took Tala to a porch and waited for her to start, “Master, I had a dream last night. I believe is was a warning.” She explained the dream to him. Hava looked away, unsettled.
He turned to her, “Are you sure it was a Black Dragon?”
Hava sighed, “Things just get better and better.” He sat down, “I spent today asking friends and friends of friends about the situation between Republic City and the Fire Nation. Things are bad, and now worse.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone I talked to said that the ‘Black Dragon’ is behind everything that the Fire Nation is doing. He has set up the council position, the trade and border disputes. That the Black Dragon wants war. And Republic CIty is stupid enough to give it to him. Every action they take, angers the citizens of the Fire Nation more and more, rallying them for war against this City. At this rate, Republic City will be surrounded by the Fire Nation in two months.”
“Who is he?”
“I have no idea. He could be anyone, some say the Firelord herself, but it is someone connected and powerful. The Fire Nation has many nobles who fit the bill, not to mention ninety-nine elite military warriors called ‘Dragons’. Dragon Silk though, that is rare and expensive. Only made in the Fire Nation and a secret of the owners of the company that makes it. Perhaps we can find out who it is.”
“The owner of a fashion company is the Black Dragon?”
“Never underestimate anyone, Tala. The Ailing-Sparrow is a poisonous bird that looks like it will die if left uncared for. But once it bites, there is no cure, and you die watching as this pathetic creature coos while you fade to death.”
Tala arrived at the entrance of the Estate. Regretting her choice more and more. She had decided to go and get a dress of Dragon Silk tailored and perhaps learn who was behind it. Now at the gates, she sees an insignia, not of the Fire Nation Flame but a black dragon flying on a field of gold.
The gate opened to allow her in, where a soldier of the Fire Nation was waiting for her. “Avatar Tala, we are honored by your presence. If you would please follow me.”
“I didn’t know Councilman had guards from their homeland?”
“I am colonel Ching, I am the Grand Marshal’s lieutenant in all his affairs.”
“So what is the Grand Marshal doing right now?”
“He has been making the arrangements for this coronation.”
Ching led her to a room within the massive estate. The room was fairly large and open. A low stepped pedestal was in the middle where a man was waiting, presumably the tailor based on what he was carrying.
“Ah, Avatar, I am most honored to meet you.” The man bowed lowly. “Shall we begin?”
“Yungul, if it pleases you, great Avatar.”
Colonel Ching left as the tailor got to work. Tala undressed and stood there on the pedestal as the tailor measured her. He was very mature if not indifferent about it. He first tested the measurements with a rough but very thin material, “Is this Dragon Silk?”
“Oh goodness, no! This is a material like it in thickness, making it perfect for test-fitting. Dragon Silk takes too long to make for us to make pieces for test-fitting too.” The tailor’s black eyes followed the lines of the cloth where folds would go in the dress.
Tala started to see what her dress would be. It would flow with long over-hanging sleeves and a trailing skirt. It was tight around her waist and chest but loose past her hips.
“You mast have seen much of the world, Avatar, I wish to see half of it at least.” Tala looked away at that comment.
“No doubt, you visited Capital City to learn firebending, Ba Sing Se for earthbending, and the western air temple for airbending. I hear that Clans Ikki and, what was it? Meelo or Rohan? Yes, Meelo and Ikki have recolonized the Western Air Temple. That must be a beautiful sight.”
“I wouldn’t know, I have spent most of my life within reach of Omashu. This is the farthest I have been from home.”
Yungul gave a confused look while cutting a piece of cloth, “But the Avatar has a duty to the world. They must bring balance to the world, not just to a city. Avatar Roku had a duty to the world, even when it defied his homeland’s dreams of a world empire. The Avatars should learn from many sources.”
“Tell that to the leaders of the world. All of them think the Avatar is a piece in their game of power. Go here and do this.”
“You’re the Avatar, you must do what you think is right and what is just. No one man should control you, just as you can’t rule the world.”
Tala thought on this as the dress was more and more complete in design. Finally, Yungul brought out the Dragon Silk. He carried two sets of it, each a different color. One was Onyx Black which worried her, but most of the material was a dark emerald. “Your dress will be emerald with black underlining.”
Tala felt the material. It was so smooth, that Tala thought her hand would tear it, she receded her hand. Yungul laughed, “Don’t worry, Avatar. Dragon Silk is very tough, it takes a lot to break it. However, the process of making it is slow, taking years to make a few yards.”
“Wow, who would want to wait years for some cloth?”
“Dragon Silk can teach you a lesson, great Avatar. It requires time and patience to make, yes. But it needs precision as well, or you will destroy everything you worked for. This cloth had begun its journey to become Dragon Silk four years ago. It didn’t happen overnight. Yet, now you see a work of art about to be laid on skin.”
Yungul smoothed out a piece of the Silk, “Dragon Silk is like life, it takes years to reach your goal, it requires effort and hard work that you sometimes want to give up on. But if you finish, something amazing is there for you, and you can be proud to say it was your work.”
Yungul continued to talk with Tala about anything and everything including the Omashu Loop. A famous race that was coming in a week or two. Yungul favored the Ba Sing Se racer Li, but Tala preferred the Senlin Racer. In time, the dress was complete and a beauty to see.
The dress was fit and lean, flowing with her body. It had a trailing skirt of about a foot. The sleeves were tight around the arms until the elbow where they loosened to great overhangs large enough to cross your arms in. The dress had a tight bodice making her look taller. There was a fold and hooks near the left shoulder where the dress was tied together.
Tala looked in the mirror at a completely different woman, someone who was more elegant and more open than the Avatar. Yungul picked up his gear, “You look amazing, Avatar. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must prepare other suits before the party. If you take the door on the left, two ladies will help you set up your makeup.” Yungul left at that in a rush.
Tala did as told and entered a room full of smells and color where two women waited antsy. “There you are, I thought you would never finish that dress!” The other woman bowed but the first was too busy with her work to mind, “Now let me see that dress. Oh yes, very elegant. The emerald fits perfectly with your eyes, gold outlining is perfect for Earth Kingdom garb. Hmmm, black underlining, very interesting, I like that tailor’s taste.”
The woman now looked at Tala’s face, “Do you always wear your hair up?”
“Yes, is that bad?”
“No, and normally I would go with that, but today, I think we should let your hair flow.” Without even waiting, the woman yanked out her clip that held all her hair in place.
“Ow! That took five minutes to make!”
“Hush, we got work to do and only two hours to do it.”
The next two hours had much less talk of important things and more menial. When they were finished, Tala’s hair flowed down both in front and behind her back. A gold clasp holds it all together on the right side. The woman exclaimed, “Finished!”
“We done with the torture and hair-yanking then? Finally.”
The other woman smirked, “Yes we are done. Now go out the way you came, down the hall to the right and Colonel Ching should be waiting for you.”
Tala walked carefully down the hall, seeing Ching waiting for her. He was dressed formally now in garb of a traditional sword-master. “You look amazing, Avatar.” He bowed as he greeted her, “The Grand Marshal would like you to walk with him as he enters the banquet, as the guest of honor. I will show you the way.”
Ching led her further in until they were at the end of a hall with a large curtain in the way. Waiting for her was one of the last people she expected, “Yungul?”
“Its actually Rishu, young Avatar.” The man smiled as Tala looked at him warily. “I must apologize for the deception, but to see how you react to those below your station is the way to judge the character of someone.”
Tala wanted to say something, but he was right. She would have been much more reserved and less trusting if she knew who he was. But a tailor, anyone could talk to that guy. Tala could appreciate that, she gave a curt nod to show that she would accept it.
“So allow me to properly introduce myself, I am Grand Marshal Rishu of the Fire Nation.” He gave a slight bow and used the hand gesture of a flame. “It is an honor to meet you, as I am sure the City will agree.”
“Its an honor to meet you Grand Marshal Rishu. Since we have already broken the barrier of speaking more honestly, may I ask you a question?”
“I would love nothing more than for us to be honest with each other.”
“What is your plan here in Republic City? I’ve heard the rumors. You hate this city. What do you gain leading it? Especially when you advocate the position of the Fire Nation in the border disputes.”
“To know that is to know what I have spent my life working towards. Years I have spent to a goal of prosperity. But it turns to places I would avoid.”
“I thought you were going to be honest with me?”
“I am and was. I told you the truth without telling you everything, much like you didn’t say what rumors you were referring to.” He faced the curtain while holding his arm out, “It is time we arrive to the banquet.”
She took his arm and the two walked through the curtain. They were now in a large ballroom. Dozens of people were present from all over the world, at least with the exception being two parties; the White Lotus and the City of Omashu were not represent in the crowd.
Rishu breathed, then spoke, his tone seemed serpentine. “Ladies and gentlemen, may I present the Avatar! The great successor of Aang and Korra. Master of Elements.” His tone seemed to hypnotize some of the guests while others seem to feel different, but all cheered for the Avatar.
Rishu and Tala continued into the crowd. The first person they met was a large and tall man in the garb of Earth Kingdom Royalty. “Prince Kuir, its always good to see you,” Rishu welcomed the man who stood half a foot over him, “has your father joined us as well?”
“I’m afraid not, he is busy. Not to mention he doesn’t want both the King and heir in the same place at once.” He turned to Tala, “Avatar, it is an honor to meet you. I am Kuir, Crown-Prince of the Earth Kingdom. We look forward to your future as our Avatar and hope you will grace us with your presence in Ba Sing Se soon.”
Kuir left to mingle and they continued meeting others when they met a woman in the garb of Fire Nation nobility. Her golden eyes illuminated, “My, am I so easily replaced, my love?” She smiled, “But I guess I should be flattered, that only the Avatar could take you.”
Rishu laughed heartily, “Tala, this is Lira, Lieutenant of the Sky Dragons. And my fiancee.”
Tala chuckled at that, “An honor, I don’t know many women who can joke about their men leaving them.”
“To become a ‘Dragon’, a woman has to be made of sterner stuff.” She looked at Rishu.
Rishu rolled his eyes, “When Lira first applied for the Sky Dragons, I was skeptical of her ability to keep up and meet the expectations.”
“You doubted that your fiancee could make it?”
“I was the one who decided who joined the Sky Dragons. And we were not together then, and the rate of women making it to the Sky Dragons is low, in fact, Lira is one of three women out of thirty-three Sky Dragons. But I was wrong, Lira faced the adversity and burned it to a crisp.”
Lira chimed in, “Yes, I was glad that the Black Dragon approved.”
Tala narrowed her eyes for the slightest second. She relaxed before noticed, “Well, its good to see you succeed, the best of luck to both of you.”
As they were talking, Lio, Hava, Kulek and the twins arrived. They talked for a long time, enjoying each other's company. Soon they all went separate ways, Tala and Kulek navigated through, greeting the leaders of the world.
Tala noticed that when they were not talking with her, there was tension. Whisper permeated the banquet. It was all about the disputes between the Fire Nation and Republic City. She heard a whisper that the City made it worse when they taxed a Fire Navy ship near the last island of the Fire Nation, citing border tariffs. The Fire Nation didn’t pay and instead took the ship that tried to tax them. Others were whispering about leaving the City that night. Others thought that was drastic, the others said the City was a hotspot and was going to be rubble by a year if they keeping insulting the Fire Nation.
Tala thought on this. The world was at peace, Korra had worked her whole life to bring balance, even preventing a revolution in this very city. And now the world was descending into madness again. Was there no way to avoid this?
1. Dragon Silk is a popular and expensive material made exclusively in the Fire Nation. How or what its made with is unknown. What is known is that it takes a long time to make based on the demand compared to the output.
2. The Omashu Loop is a famous racing tournament that happens every summer. The border of New Omashu is circular and the street is perfect for high-speed racing. To win, the racer must finish the loop first. A highly popular event, especially cause bending has nothing to do with its activities.
3. The emblem on the gate of Rishu's Estate is the emblem of the Sky Dragons, A flying black Dragon on a field of gold. This shows his ties and affiliations to the Fire Nation Air Force, of which he is Grand Marshal to.
4. Tala always wears her hair up despite its great length. Its a joke that she is compensating for Kulek's shaved head.
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