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|Chapter 2 (Freed from Fire)|
September 3rd, 2013
|"You must feel the power inside you. Your will is your strength when you firebend. You put your will forward... And the fire follows."|
|— Lord Huoken|
Sayuka stood in her father's dojo, dressed in a loose-fitting tunic she normally was required to wear when training. She stood there, unmoving. She hadn't moved since she arrived at her father's summons. She knew that, yet again, her father would spend a few hours drilling her in firebending forms and katas. She knew that, yet again, she would fail. She knew that, yet again, her father would be disappointed in her and take her to his study. She would have shuddered, as she should have felt scared. But she felt nothing. She just stared blankly ahead, towards her father. He was standing before her, in all his large and intimidating presence, speaking to her in a commanding tone. Sayuka exerted some effort to listen to his words.
"You are not yet listening to me." His voice swam up from the sea of her thoughts. "You must feel the power inside you. Your will is your strength when you firebend. You put your will forward-" He slid into his always flawless form and thrust his fist forward, willing a column of flames to spit out between the two of them. Sayuka absently felt a wave of heat in front of her, but didn't flinch. "And the fire follows." Her father finished. Returning to his base stance, he narrowed his eyes. "Now, you."
Sayuka, normally, would have tried her best to mimic the movement her father showed her. She began to move, but a sharp throb shot of her swollen back, killing her movement before it even began. Her shoulders were drooped, and her hands dangled lifelessly by her skinny thighs.
"Begin!" Her father's voice sounded cold, and commanding. When Sayuka again, did not move, the skin around his eyes tightened noticeably. "If you do not move, I shall give you cause to move." His voice turned dangerous, threatening.
Sayuka stood before her father, her mind blank and her stance lifeless.
"Very well." Her father said. With a stern expression, he slid into his stance and breathed deeply. Sayuka knew she would have to move, if she didn't, she would be hurt. Her father would hurt her. She knew he would not think twice about hurting her. The thought alone should have frightened her. But she could still not move. She just kept looking straight into her father's dark eyes. Not saying anything, her father thrust his fist out, throwing a small ball of heat out in front of him. Sayuka felt the heat brush the side of her head and continue past her. He did not miss, he intentionally did not hit her. She knew it would not continue for long, though.
She was not scared. She felt nothing. The dull throbbing assaulting her back was even now being ignored and forgotten. Maybe her father would accidentally go too far today and...
She felt her eyes widen in sudden thought. Maybe her father would miss and actually hit her. Maybe she could be accidentally and fatally hit... The thought of that excited her. That would be new.
Her father noticed the change in her expression. He flicked his hand across his body diagonally, sending a wave of fire out between the two of them. Sayuka felt the wave of heat blister the air in front of her and felt another twinge of excitement. The new feeling was interesting. Similar to laughing was. Both were new to her. New was good. She felt her lips twitch into a small smile.
Her father's eyes narrowed. He had not seen his daughter make that expression before. With a change in stance to a slightly more defensive one, he threw another column of fire out. It roared past Sayuka's head, barely missing her face. No, it didn't barely miss her head. A single strand of her hair was singed and smoking, a small tendril of smoke rising into the hot air of the dojo.
Sayuka's thoughts were interrupted by the smell. What was that smell? Burning? Something was burning? She felt her hand reach up to the side of her head, running it through her long dark hair. Why was she feeling her hair? Why was-
"Ahh..." She felt herself exhale sharply. Her fingers, feeling a twinge of heat, pulled away from her hair. So he had hit her. Not much, but barely. Out of reflex, she felt a small ball of fear well up inside her. Fear.... fear of pain. That would lead to crying. She could not cry anymore. What could she do instead of crying? What was that new feeling?
It was a small sound, but it was still a laugh. Sayuka blinked for a moment, surprised that she laughed. It did feel good though. It felt better than feeling afraid of her father, who stood in front of her, his eyes wide.
"You dare laugh in my presence?" Sayuka heard her father whisper somewhere in the back of her mind. Her father moved, but where he moved was lost in the shadowed of her thoughts. She felt a crack against her cheek. Ah, her voice sounded in her head, he hit her again. Another laugh slipped past her lips. Would he continue to hit her? Or would he try something new, as well. She felt another wave of heat blister against her face... and another... and another. Each wave of heat washed over her, but she felt no fear, no pain. Her laughter just grew louder and louder.
Sayuka did not know how much time had passed as she was laughing, but when her sense of surroundings finally returned to her, she still stood before her father. The man looked down at her, his eyes barely containing his fury. She blinked away tears forming in her eyes. She would not cry. For a few quiet moments, father and daughter looked at each other.
Her father broke the silence first. "Miserable failure." He bit out, his voice cold.
Sayuka smiled back to her father. "I love you, father."
There were no beatings that night. There was no speaking. There was no supper. There was nothing. Sayuka lay face down on her bed, breathing in the soft sent of her dovegoose feather pillows. After her father had left the dojo without saying a word, she stayed in the stifling room, staring at the scrolls that lined the room. They were and writings and the history of her family's traditions, she knew, but she did not understand them. Her parents never really cared much about teaching her to read, write or to be a girl, she realized. They had told her a long time ago that in their family, firebending was taught first. Then, when a good grasp of their family's most important skill was cultivated, other skills such as reading and writing were taught. Firebending was most important to them.
After having her fill of the words and letters she could not understand, the twelve year old girl retreated to her room and, foregoing a customary hot bath, stripped off her tunic and collapsed on her bed. She stayed there, naked and still, until the light disappeared outside and night settled on the estate. No one came to retrieve her for supper. No one came to fetch her for her father. No one even came to the door to check if she was there. Sayuka let another laugh slip out. If she were to leave, she doubted if they would even notice until tomorrow.
If she were to leave...
Sayuka felt her forehead crease in thought. If she left... what would happen? She was surprised to realize that, even now, the thought had never occurred to her before. She had heard of children leaving their parents, when, on the rare occasion she was allowed to accompany her mother into town, she overheard the townspeople talk about the subject. She never really thought much about it though. Her parents were here parents, and she must accept that. But did she really have to? Those children that had run away certainly did not have to now. But, where did they go? That was certainly a good question.
But anywhere was better than here, right? Sayuka pressed her thin lips together, opening her eyes to look out the window beside her bed. What did she know? She never read much outside of simple stories and articles. Her parents never taught her anything besides firebending forms. Even the servants on the estate kept their distance from her. She had no way of knowing whether it would be the same or different if she left.
But... it was something new.
She pushed herself up on her elbows, causing a ripple of pain to shoot across her body from the welts on her back. It was new. Leaving here would be new. New was good, wasn't it? Laughing was new, and it was good. Suppressing a smile, she pushed off from her bed and rushed to her wardrobe as quietly as she could. She did have a pack, she remembered, that she could perhaps use to carry some clothing. After a quick search, she found the sand-colored satchel and examined it. It wasn't very big, but then again, neither was she. Nodding to herself, she tossed the bag onto her bed and returned to the wardrobe. It only took a few minutes to select a couple sets of travelling tunics that would fit into her satchel easily enough, and stuffed them into the small bag.
The feeling of something new and exciting was growing inside her, causing a small smile to spread across her face. She could really do this. She could leave and never come back. She could find a new place to live and be happy. Her smile disappeared. Happy... what was happy? For as long as she could remember, her life had been like this. Was her life also like everyone's? Was how her father was, how her mother was, normal?
Shaking her head, she let out another small laugh. No, she thought bitterly, it was not. The children she saw on her infrequent trips into town were definitely not like her. They ran around in groups, smiling, laughing, playing with one another. They most definitely did not have a life like hers.
Her thoughts were interrupted by footsteps approaching from the hallway. Suppressing the feeling of dread that welled up in her stomach, she pushed her satchel in the space between her bed and the window. Just as the door opened, she lay back face down on her bed.
"Miss Sayuka, your father summoned you." One of the servants stated, bringing a lantern to the dresser, causing light to flicker in the corners of the room. "I shall help you dress, should you require." Sayuka pushed herself up on her hands and slid her legs over the edge of the bed, facing the older woman.
"I can dress myself." Sayuka breathed, her voice hollow. "Wait outside." The older woman lowered her head in a small bow, and exited the room. Sayuka breathed steadily for a moment, gathering her thoughts. What did her father want? To beat her again? To scold her? Both? Did he somehow find out that she wanted to leave? She suddenly felt a wave of sickness engulf her at the thought. But, it disappeared as soon as it had come. There was no way he could know. She had just decided a few minutes ago. There was absolutely no way.
Dressing quietly, she cast a look outside the window. It was dark, but at least it was not raining again. If she would indeed leave tonight, then at least she would have going for her.
Sayuka exited her room, and with a nod to the servant who was standing outside her door waiting for her, was escorted to her father's study. The air was stifling when she walked in, reflecting the atmosphere surrounding her father. Seated in his large chair, her father settled his stern glare at Sayuka as she approached his chair, gestured to a chair beside her.
"Sit, my daughter."
Sayuka's eyes widened momentarily. Her father never told her to sit before. Something was different. Something was new. New was good... wasn't it? She sat down silently, staring at her father's broad chest and the thick ornate robe covering it. Her father stared at her for a long time, as if making a decision.
"Sayuka," he said, calling her eyes to his. "It seems I have made a mistake in your training." He explained, not giving anything away. Sayuka knew better than to speak until spoken to, not at. She kept silent. Her father continued. "Since you have been able to walk, I have overseen every aspect of your firebending training, and I have made several observations. Many of these point out the fact that you refuse to follow the traditions laid out by our family. Your mother and I have had many long discussions into the night as to how to remedy this... situation." He emphasized the last word, as if to say that she was indeed a situation. Sayuka remained silent, but lowered her eyes respectfully. "Today has shown me that, while you indeed refuse to follow the family traditions by firebending, you also have not learned the proper discipline that I required you to learn."
Sayuka opened her mouth to speak, but her voice died before it even crept out of her lips.
"You have something to say?" Her father asked, his tone neutral.
After a moment of hesitation, Sayuka took a deep breath. "How will my faults be fixed, father?"
She could almost hear her father smile tightly. "They will not. Your mother and I have decided to try again."
What? Sayuka raised her head to face her father. What did he mean, try again? Did he mean he would try to train her from the beginning again? Her back ached at the thought.
As if to answer her unspoken thoughts, her father shook his head. "No, I do not mean try again with you. You mother and I will have another child. A child that will be better behaved. A child to uphold the traditions of our family." Sayuka's body went numb, like she was dropped in a bath of ice. Another child? How is that possible? She knew mothers had children, but... how could they have another child? Her parents already had her.
"Another... child?" Sayuka whispered.
"Another... girl?" She pressed. Her father eyed her for a moment and then seemed to shrug; a gesture very unlike him.
"Perhaps. It matters not. All that matters is a new child will bring a new heir to the family. An..." His eyes narrowed. "Obedient heir to the family." Sayuka blinked slowly and carefully, taking in her father's words. Obedient... a new heir... the thought brought an unfamiliar feeling to her chest.
"What... will happen to me, father?" She asked, letting her eyes fall to her knees. It was good she was not standing. Sayuka was not sure she could handle the effort. She felt the familiar sting and welling up of tears behind her eyes.
"You..." Her father thought out loud. He brought his hand up to stroke under his chin. "Will be disowned and given to the branch family to serve them." The feeling in Sayuka's chest tightened. She knew about the branch family. Her father's sister married into them and, while they were part of the main family, they were not as revered. But-
"I'm sorry, father, but what does disowned mean?" She whispered, already guessing the meaning through context.
"It means that you shall not belong to this family any longer. You shall be given up to do what the branch family wills of you." Sayuka felt too numb to respond. All she could feel was the tightening feeling in her chest and the deepening pool of tears behind her eyes.
"I understand." Her voice trembled out, giving a hint of the floodgate about to break.
Her father nodded. "You may leave." And he picked up his pen, returning to his work. Sayuka did not move from the chair, she could not move. Her body refused to respond even though her mind screamed at her to go. She felt her hands clench tight, resting on her skinny knees. Why was this happening? Why was her father doing this? Why did her mother not care enough to even show herself? Why was she born this way? What did she do to deserve this? Her mind raced as she felt the tears come, and she choked out a sob, staring at her thighs.
Her father placed his pen back in the holder with a heavy sound. He had put more force into it than was needed. "You have something else to say?" His voice was cold. Sayuka could not help it anymore. Feeling the tightness in her chest unwind, her tears fell and she sobbed, holding her hands to her eyes tightly.
"Father... why?" Sayuka cried, feeling her body trembling. "What did I do? Why do you hate me?" It was all coming out now, it was all she could do to keep from screaming out her frustrations. "I always try... I try so hard to make you happy. But you are never happy! I try every day to firebend, but it never comes! I do not know why!" She could feel her father's darks eyes on her, but she didn't care. "Why do you not love me anyway? I love you and mother so much!" She sucked in a shallow breath, coughing out loudly. "I want- I want- I want you to love me!" She threw her hands down to her knees, screaming at her father with tears in her eyes.
Sayuka felt a sharp crack as her father retreated his hand from her face. It happened to fast to notice. Her father had hit her again. She ceased her sobs at once, shocked from the blow. Perhaps it was because she was so shocked, because her feelings shifted so radically, but she felt another laugh escape her lips.
"Silence." Her father commanded, his tone icy and quiet. "Do not irritate me further. Now leave."
Sayuka could not help herself. She laughed again, raising a hand to her cheek where it was already numbing.
"I said be silent!" He raised his voice to a thundering yell. Somewhere in the back of Sayuka's mind she heard his command, but as she laughed again, she realized that she did not care. "Be silent or I will silence you!" Her father yelled through the mist of her thoughts. She felt another slap caress her cheek, which only made her laugh harder. She suddenly felt something connect with her head, and she fell from the chair to the wooden floor.
She eventually became aware that she was laughing harder and harder, not even taking in complete breaths. She felt something else touch the side of her head, which encouraged another laugh from her throat. Even on the ground, her hands gripping her arms across her body, she shook with laughter. She distantly felt something like water dripping from her head and arms, and something caressing her body gently, or so it seemed to her. But she didn't care.
Laughing felt good.
To be continued in...
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