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You only realize that something is important once you've lost it. I learned that ten years ago when my parents were brutally murdered by soldiers of the Empire. After losing them, as if it wasn't enough and instead of just killing me, those savages took something else from me; my freedom. They tried to break me, to make me lose hope. But they couldn't, because I met people in the hell they brought me to. People like me; friends. A new family. Together, we lived our lives of servitude, moment by moment, hoping that someday, maybe, we would be free again. And that day came. But, by now, I've come to realize that life never grants you something without taking something else in return. When I lost my family and my freedom, life gave me new siblings and a powerful emotion; hope. When I lost my eyes, it gave me a new power. But when freedom came to me once again, life took back what it gave me before. Until recently, I used to think that it was only the natural order of how things worked, but now I'm beginning to suspect something else. Someone else. The one who made the world how it is; The Avatar. I mean, isn't He like a god? He lived and ruled this realm for over two-hundred years, turning His every will into reality. Shouldn't He be able to decide the course of History? I guess I'm starting to become a bit irrational. Beside, there's no way the rebellion would still exist if He was truly omnipotent.
It has been three years since I joined them. Jin, the leader of the Revolutionaries – that's how they called themselves – brought me back with him after the destruction of the mine. With some other men, we traveled in some sort of vehicle for at least a whole day until we reached their hideout. I couldn't see anything, but I knew from having spent the last eight years in a mine that we were in a huge underground settlement. There, Jin gathered an unexpectedly huge crowd and explained that "the expedition to free the Carol mine went terribly bad and that a blind boy was all they managed to save". As "the blind boy", I was still shocked by the brutal change my life once again underwent and was barely even conscious of what was happening around me. At first, they all pitied me for my maimed body and crippled mind, and Jin seemed to agree as he stated that, from now on, I was to be under the protection of the Revolutionaries and that I should be treated with cared and compassion. As I heard those words, something kicked in inside of me. I had made a vow. I soon disillusioned them by stepping forward and speaking up with the most confident voice I could managed.
"I don't need your protection, I don't need you taking care of me, I don't need your compassion and I certainly don't need your pity! All I want is to fight."
Some laughed, some felt even sorrier and behind me Jin sighed, but no one took me seriously. In fact, my intervention only created a hubbub that echoed between the walls of the cave we were in, confirming its vastness. I heard Jin stepping forward, probably preparing to bring silence back to his audience, but before he could do so, the sound a chair scraping the hard ground resounded, making everyone suddenly go silent. Then, heavy footsteps made their way through the crowd and stopped right before me.
"Come with me," said the hoarse and hard voice of a man. It wasn't a request nor an invitation; it was an order. The man then continued his way past me and Jin, walking away from the crowd. At first, the voice surprised me by its imperious tone and I was left frozen in place. But then, almost as if his voice had bound me to obey, I followed the sounds of his feet, maintaining a fair distance between us. We walked for quite a while in silence in what seemed like a maze until the strange man stopped and turned to face me. I felt his gaze on me for some time before he finally snorted.
"You're quite confident, aren't you?" His old, yet powerful voice was even more intimidating than before, but I tried not to seem faze by it.
"I am. I want to fight." He snorted again with even more disdain.
"I'm not talking about the silly declaration you made back there. I'm talking about how you followed me through the galleries. You're not even putting your hands before you to avoid obstacles. You sure you're not just pretending to be blind so that we feel sorry for you?"
Baffled, I tried to understand his point. Walking as I was now wasn't that much different than walking in the deepest part of the mine. I always had known how to navigate in the dark by instincts and the recent loss of my eyes only sharpened them. I used to think that the awareness I had of my surrounding was only due to my sharp senses, but now that my sight was gone, it was actually surprising to find out that I had relied on that "sixth sense" most of my life without ever realizing it. But I wasn't going to let that old man know that.
"I'm sharp," I began to answer arrogantly. "What would you know, anyway?" I tried to sound convincing, but it was the first time I ever used such a tone, so I tried to think of what Spade would have said and used his words.
"What would I know?" His voice had the spark of someone accepting a challenge he was sure to win. "Let me see... Your left little finger is missing as are the nails of your thumbs and middle fingers. You have three broken toes, two on the right foot and one on the left one. Your legs and your arms are lacerated from small knife cuts and three of your ribs are broken. On your abdomen, a big wound which goes from your left hip to your right pectoral has recently been reopened. You're terribly light and quite short, probably due to malnutrition."
I kept silence. I could understand how he would know about external injuries like my fingers, but the way he described every single wounds on my body was quite disturbing.
"One more thing," he added, "you're not the only one to be blind here."
"Are you mocking me?" I asked sharply, even though I somehow knew he wasn't.
"Seismic sight. An advanced earthbending skill derived from the lesser effective seismic sense, an ability that you seem to genuinely possess and use, though imperfectly. You must have realized it by now. When you still had your eyes, you may not have thought much about your ability to perceive things, but now that you feel and recognize them without actually seeing them, you're beginning to grasp the full extent of your abilities. And I must say, I'm impressed. Very few have shown to be able to use seismic sense subconsciously and even less while still having their eyesight."
At this point, while I listened speechlessly to this old man, Jin came toward us from behind me. "See? You sensed him didn't you?" said the old man in a mocking voice. "You turned you head while he was still out of reach from your ears. Come and find me tomorrow if you want to know more." The man then walked toward a wall and struck it. I... felt it opening and then closing after the man entered the hole. He was right. I somehow "sensed" my surrounding and it was becoming more and more accurate since the loss of my eyes.
"Did you talked with Shiryoku?" asked Jin's voice, suddenly pulling me out of my thoughts. It was everything the old man's voice wasn't; soft, warm, friendly and gentle. It reminded me of Spade's.
"I did," I answered, reckoning that "Shiryoku" was the name of the old man. The tone I used made him laugh, as he was probably aware of how it went.
"Anyway, come with me, kid," he then added. "I'll show you to your quarters. You'll have to share a room with someone else, but it's better than nothing." I followed him in silence, still mulling over my conversation with the old man named Shiryoku. Me an earthbender? How could I have lived all my life until now without ever finding out about it? "So," said Jin in an anxious, tense voice, interrupting my thoughts. "Aren't you going to ask me what happened back there? At the Carol mine?"
Carol mine. Quite a pretty name for such a hellish place. "I know what happened. My friends – no, my family died that night. And your attempt to "free" the mine was probably what caused their death. But I won't blame you or your people. I blame the Empire. I blame the Avatar."
"Those aren't quite the words I expected from the boy who cried endless flows of tears on our way back from the mine," replied the man in a voice filled with far less pity and much more respect.
"Yeah, well, I'm done crying. I've made up my mind on what I have to do and I may just have found a mean to it," I said, now completely determined to learn more about my power from the old Shiryoku.
Jin had a small laugh of satisfaction. "Then I look forward to see the contribution you'll bring to our crusade. But as you are now, I can't let you fight among us, kid. For the time being, here's your room. I suggest that you take some rest. I'll take my leave, now. From what I understood, I reckon that you don't exactly need any help to settle down." He began to go away, leaving me in front of my room, consisting, from what I could sense, of two beds and one wardrobe. "And one more thing, kid," he added as he walked away. "If you really plan on training under Shiryoku, you better be well prepared. If your resolution isn't strong enough, he'll break you."
Am I thinking large? Stopping tyrants and dictators used to be the role of the Avatar since its creation. You might say, I've been doing this all my lives. And despite centuries of efforts, humanity was still as foolish as ever. So I had to think of something else. Now the tyrant is me. When my quest to unify the world began, everything seemed so clear to me. Now that feels like ages ago. Why does mankind constantly seek conflict? I had thought that fear and respect could control them, but all it needs to light the fire of rebellion is a little spark. A spark called "hope". A spark that used to be me. How can I crush it?
One thing I learned from training with master Shiryoku is that a fight is never won until your opponent stop breathing. It was a simple, obvious and fundamental teaching. Yet I was about to disrespect it. To be where I was, I had to overcome many hardship and suffering, spent countless nights without sleep, endure lots of wounds and broken bones, but I persevered and I was finally where I always wished to be. On the front lines. Lying before me, chocking in his own blood, was the very first Imperial that I defeated.
"It's okay," I gently said near his ear as I crouched beside him. "Your wound isn't lethal."
Sore loser, he suddenly pulled out a small knife hidden in his belt and tried to stab me. I effortlessly intercepted his move with my right hand and firmly twisted his wrist to make him let go of the knife which I swiftly grabbed to stab him with it in the leg. He screamed and I frowned. I know he was my enemy, but hearing screams of pain reminded me of bad days. The scars on my eyes itched.
"A surprise attack won't work on me. Don't worry, I won't kill you. I need you to deliver a message for me. A message to the Avatar." I didn't know if what I was doing was dangerous or not, or if the message would even reach someone, but I didn't care. "I want you to tell him that his days of tyranny have come to an end. That today is the day humanity gets back on its feet and start fighting back. That he may think he's some sort of god, but that we all know better. We know that he's just a man who thinks he can play with the lives of others, with their emotions, just because he has power. But just because he has more power than every single living man doesn't mean that he's more powerful than all of them together. Today is the day mankind starts claiming its rights back. The day that the king becomes the prey. How fast can he run?"
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