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|Struggling to Survive, Part 1|
The lucky mango
The lucky mango
1 February 2013
Previously on Changing Fates
Emi argued with her parents about going to the academy. After her mother finished chastising her, Emi gathered her things (including her ring) and confronted her father before jumping in a carriage headed for the palace.
Meanwhile, Taiyo talked to two criminals and discovered that Emi was still living in Zune Kasai. He joined a group of rebels planning an escape from the Capital City Prison.
To the Academy
"Elite Nation Academy, please." Emi situated herself in the carriage, placing her bag of things on the ground by her feet. She pushed the curtains open to let the sunlight in. Then she settled down; the ride to the palace would take some time. She spun her ring around absentmindedly as she stared out the window.
The capital city was beautiful. The crater surrounded Zune Kasai like a comforting circle of fire. Her home was close to the edge of the crater and every evening she got to watch the sun set behind the jagged mountains. A large grassy park separated the nobles' residential district from the political sector of the crater. Emi admired the exquisite landscaping and towering tiered fountains as the carriage passed by.
A looming shadow passed over Emi's face and she shivered. The foreboding image of the capital city prison came into view – the place where all the Fire Nation traitors were kept. Was that where the men that bothered her were going? Although Emi had never been inside the prison, rumors of its terrible conditions were spread throughout Zune Kasai.
As the sun's warmth returned to Emi's face, she couldn't help but smile. The carriage turned onto the main road to the palace. She could see the wall surrounding it clearly. Several other carriages passed as they continued down the road, but the capital city was mostly quiet and peaceful.
When the carriage reached the palace, the soldiers at the gates stopped it. Knowing what was coming, Emi rummaged through bag and pulled out her identification papers. No one could enter the palace without their papers. It was a special safety measure that the current Fire Lord implemented many years ago.
"Everyone out please. No carts allowed on palace grounds."
Emi climbed out of the carriage, handing the driver some copper pieces before giving a guard her papers. He read over them and looked back at Emi in surprise and awe.
"You're a Kazuko? It's an honor to meet you!" he exclaimed.
Emi sighed. "Please let me through." She hated the way people treated her once they knew who she was. A Kazuko – one of the richest families in the Fire Nation. Yeah, big deal. She was born poor. Being rich now didn't make her any different than the less fortunate.
"Sorry," the guard said quickly. "You may pass." The two guards stepped aside and Emi walked through the wall onto the palace grounds. This was it. She was almost there.
The palace was magnificent. It stood before her like a dragon, its amazing size demanding respect. Emi could stand still and just look at it; living in Zune Kasai had its perks, and the royal palace was one of them. However, she had a mission and she didn't want to miss a minute of the academy.
Emi headed down a stone path marked as the one leading to the academy. She could see the building a ways off. It was a smaller version of the palace but was still massive. A shiver of thrill ran through her as she approached the academy.
For as long as she could remember, Emi wanted to be a firebending master. She knew about the Elite Nation Academy, but it was always out of her reach, thanks to her parents. Reika wanted Emi to go to school at some prissy place where she could learn how to behave and be "proper." It was like she was trying to contain all of Emi's passion. Well, Reika couldn't contain her any more. She was finally free.
At the entrance of the academy, a small group of teenagers were lined up behind an older man. Emi joined the back of the line and tried to figure out what was going on. Whoever was in the front handed the man some papers. He looked over them and allowed them to go inside. Emi wondered what they were handing the man – identification papers? Or was there a qualification Emi wasn't aware of?
Struck with a desire to know, Emi tapped the shoulder of the boy standing in front of her. "Hey, what are we supposed to be showing this guy?"
"Just our identification papers and a letter of recommendation," he replied. "Why?"
"Just making sure," Emi said. A letter of recommendation? Kuzai didn't tell her about that. What was she going to do? There wasn't anyone to get a letter from. How was she going to get into the academy now?
"Are you okay? You look like you've seen a spirit or something."
Emi glanced up and realized that the boy was still watching her. She immediately blushed. "Um, I'll be fine. I just...didn't know we were supposed to have a letter of recommendation."
"Oh." The boy looked at her in sympathy. "Well, maybe the old guy will like you. What area are you applying for?"
Hopefully he was talking about skills, because she had no idea what he was talking about. "Firebending."
The boy smiled. "You're in luck. That man is High General Hiro, one of the greatest firebenders around. Maybe you can show him some of your moves and get past him."
"I hope so." This boy didn't seem too bad. "What area are you?"
"Swords. I've been training since I was six. Hopefully I'll be good enough to survive initiation."
"Initiation?" Emi asked. She was beginning to feel sick. There was a lot she didn't know about and suddenly she felt very unprepared.
"Wow, you really don't know much," he commented. He didn't say it in a mean way; in fact, he almost looked amused. "Applying is just the first step. Once you get admitted into the academy, you still have to pass several tests to actually win a spot. Usually, you have to –"
"Next!" Emi realized that it was almost her turn and the boy was up.
"Sorry," he said apologetically. "Good luck!" He handed the general his papers.
"I see you've been working with Master Piandao...an excellent sword master. Head on in." The boy took his papers back and headed towards the gold-embossed double doors. He gave Emi one last smile before disappearing inside the academy. Emi gulped and stepped forward.
Emi handed General Hiro her identification papers. He looked at them and back at her, eyebrows raised. "A Kazuko, huh?" Emi braced herself for the words to come, but was surprised by what he said next. "Well, don't expect any special treatment from me. Letter of recommendation, please."
Emi felt a new level of respect for this man. He wasn't going to treat her differently than anyone else, and for that she was grateful. On the other hand, she couldn't use her status to her advantage. Now she was stuck with no way inside.
Some Problems"I need a letter," Hiro repeated.
"I don't have one, sir." Emi was beginning to feel squeamish. Where was General Kuzai? She could really use some help. Why didn't he tell her about the letter?
"That's unfortunate. You're not going through these doors till you get one from your master. What's your area?"
"Firebending." Maybe the boy would be right and she'd get a free pass.
"Well, go get a letter from your teacher and come back."
"I don't have a firebending teacher," Emi said uncomfortably.
General Hiro looked at her in surprise. "Then what are you doing trying to get into the ENA? You have to be good at firebending before coming here. This isn't a school for beginners."
"I know, General Hiro. I..." Emi realized that bringing up her natural skills wouldn't be a good idea. "I'm sorry for wasting your time." She turned back towards the palace wall and began walking away. Her face was hot with shame and embarrassment. She should've known it was too good to be true. Now the general thought she was some stuck-up rich girl who thought she deserved whatever she wanted.
"Kazuko! Where do you think you're going?"
Emi spun around to see General Kuzai. Relief filled her and she hurried back to the doors.
"I just finished my letter of recommendation," Kuzai said. He handed a sealed envelope to General Hiro, who glanced back at me.
"You're sponsoring her?" Hiro asked in surprise. "She doesn't even have a teacher!"
"Emi didn't need one," Kuzai said. "She got good on her own." His voice sounded strained and Emi realized there was tension between the two generals.
"I just want to become a firebending master. If my being here is going to cause problems, I –"
"No, no. Don't worry about it," Kuzai said. "Go ahead and get in there. You'll be waiting in the big room on the right."
"Thank you!" Emi went through the doors. Just before they closed behind her she heard Hiro shout "next." She was now standing in a long hall. A grand staircase at the far end curved up to the second level. Doors lined the walls of the hall. After pausing for a second to admire the intricate designs of the stairs and walls, Emi turned right and entered another large room that looked to be a café of some sort.
People were standing and sitting in groups all over the room. Emi looked around for anyone she knew. As she scanned the café, she spotted a familiar face – Kiara, a girl she knew from her previous school. The two had been friends, but Emi had no idea Kiara was applying for the ENA! Emi walked over to where Kiara was sitting, talking with a boy.
"Hey, Kiara!" Emi called. The girl looked up, a smile playing onto her face.
"Emi! I didn't know you were applying for the ENA!" Kiara exclaimed. She gave her friend a quick hug. "I'm so glad to see you! This is my brother, Chan. He's applying too – for swordsmanship.""Hi Chan," Emi said with a smile. "I didn't know you were Kiara's brother!" She should've seen the resemblance; both had the same brown hair and warm chocolate eyes.
"And I didn't know you were friends with my sister."
"You guys know each other?" Kiara asked in surprise.
Emi shrugged. "We just met. I was standing in line behind him." She turned to Chan. "How come I've never seen you at school?"
"I've been living in Shu Jing, getting trained by Master Piandao."
"Oh yeah." Emi remembered General Hiro's reaction when he found out who Chan was studying under. "He must be really good."
"Yes – and mysterious, too. When I left, he gave me a Pai Sho tile as a parting gift."
"Hm. Weird," Emi said.
Chan shrugged. "Yeah, but he's cool. He's the best swordsman in the world!"
"Students!" A loud voice echoed throughout the room. Emi looked towards the entrance of the room where several tough-looking men and women were walking in, including General Kuzai and General Hiro.
"If you are here today, you show promise and skill in your weapon of choice – be it bending or...something else. Just to be here, you must be the best of the best."
Kuzai stepped in and began speaking. "But you're not a member of the ENA quite yet. Only the toughest, smartest, most skilled among you will be able to join the ranks of the elite. So, are you ready for the fight of your lives?"
There were cheers across the room. Emi joined in, excitement rushing through her. She was here at the academy, where she never expected to be before. She was invited by a warlord! That meant she had a chance, right...?
"You will be split into groups and face several challenges. The first will be testing a new training area we have created," Kuzai explained. "First group: when your name is called, follow Master Wong through that doorway over there."
A middle-aged woman stepped in front of a small door in the far corner of the cafeteria, a scroll in her hands. The room was silent as she began reading names.
"Zane, Liz, Kat, Sozin, Zulon, Luke, Chan..."
Kiara grinned at her brother and gave him a quick hug. "You'll do great, Chan!" He smiled back, stood, and headed towards Master Wong, who completed her list.
As the first group left the room, Kuzai walked towards the door, a scroll in his hand. "Okay, next ten," he announced. "Zinna, Fira, Koko, Xander, Shoji, Kiara, Emi..."
"We're together!" Kiara squealed. "Let's go!" She grabbed Emi's hand and raced across the room, pulling Emi behind her.
"I've never seen you so excited!" Emi huffed beside her. The two friends arrived at the doorway. General Kuzai nodded at Emi before heading through the doorway.
Emi was surprised when she walked through the door and found herself at the top of a staircase. They were going underground?
"You may be wondering why we're going down a staircase," Kuzai began. "Obviously, there is limited room aboveground so most of the academy's facilities are below ground – such as the training room we're going to."
"This school is amazing!" Kiara whispered. "Now I really want to go here!" Emi nodded in agreement, still in awe.
The group stopped at the bottom of the stairs in a room about the size of a classroom. Kuzai began talking about. "Once you leave this room, you will be in a giant maze. This one is the simplest of all the ones we have created. While most mazes are multiple stories with trapdoors, pits, and traps, this maze is just one level with no surprises."
"What are we supposed to be doing?" one boy asked. He looked way too young to be there – maybe ten or twelve years old.
"I'm getting there," Kuzai said tightly, annoyance evident in his voice. "Your goal is to find an exit without getting knocked out."
"Knocked out!?" a girl cried.
"That's right. Each of you is trying to get to an exit before anyone else. That may require you to stop others from getting in your way."
Emi felt a sickening feeling in her stomach. Hurt other people? It was one thing to defend herself against criminals, but hurting innocent people just to get past them? It didn't feel right.
"Okay, line up in front of the door," Kuzai ordered. Everyone scrambled to get in the front of the line. Emi, however, drifted towards the back, still confused about what to do."And...GO!" Kuzai shouted. The group scrambled out of the room, already beginning to attack each other. Before Emi left the room, Kuzai called her name. "Kazuko! If you don't get out fast enough, other people will take your place at the academy." He looked her in the eyes. "Don't fail me."
Emi nodded and took off running. She needed to win this. If other people got in her way, they might get burned.
- Yes, the boy in Emi's group is Shoji from A:TLA episode The Headband.
- Chan is the same guy as Chan from the A:TLA episode The Beach. He now has a sister named Kiara.
- Originally this chapter wasn't going to be split in half but it got way too long when I was writing it.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Changing Fates Chapters|
|Book One: Innocent|
|• • • • • • • Kyoshi Island • Visions of Dragons • Princess Azula|
|Book Two: Blind|
|Book Three: Changing|
|Book Four: Fearless|