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|Struggling to Survive, Part 2|
2 March 2013
Previously on Changing Fates
Emi arrives at the Elite Nation Academy where she meets a boy named Chan. She gets a letter of recommendation from Kuzai when she's about to go home. She sees an old friend from school, Kiara, and discovers that Chan is her older brother. Everyone is separated into groups and sent into a massive maze where the goal is to find an exit first.
The maze was huge. Emi had been running for at least twenty minutes and she still hadn't run into anyone. Stopping to catch her breath, Emi leaned against one of the metal walls. She wondered if anyone had found an exit yet. She left the room about a minute after everyone else, so it was possible.
Loud noises from around the corner jostled Emi from her thoughts. She carefully inched down the corridor and peeked out to see what was going on. Shock filled her as she watched a tall, older boy corner the young one that had spoken out earlier. The older boy's back was to her and she could see the fear in the young boy's eyes.
"Hey, pick on someone your own size!" Emi yelled. The tall boy turned around, a major sneer on his face.
"Like you?" he leered. "You're a gir –"
Emi didn't give him a chance to finish. She shot a pair of flame balls at him before dropping low as the boy swung a sword at her. She kicked a stream of fire at his feet, causing him to jump up and down in pain. As Emi stood, she noticed the small boy still standing a few feet away, just watching.
"Get out of here!" Emi hissed. "I can handle this guy." The boy nodded hastily and scrambled down the pathway, turning onto another hallway and disappearing from sight.The boy's look of pain was replaced by extreme anger. "You just lost me that boy! I could've finished him! Now he's going to find an exit before me and take my rightful spot at the academy! YOU'RE GOING TO PAY FOR THIS!!!" He began swinging his sword at her crazily.
Emi scrambled backwards, avoiding the flailing sword of the boy. She tried to assess the situation. She really didn't want to hurt the boy, but she needed to get rid of him so she could continue trying to find an exit.
A jab of the sword in Emi's face brought her back to reality. She shot a sloppy fireball at him, forcing him to step back.
"You're probably not nearly as good as Chan," Emi said offhandedly, trying to distract him. A plan was formulating in her mind and Emi chose her movements carefully. She was going to need a lot of focus to pull it off.
Emi stepped away from the boy, turning so her back was facing the wall. The boy moved also, inching towards her with his sword outstretched. He had it pointed at Emi's face and she began to feel uncomfortable.
"You don't really want to do this," Emi said carefully, watching his eyes. They were hardened, but as soon as Emi spoke, they lost their angry glint. He lowered the sword slightly and Emi took the opportunity to attack. She narrowed her eyes, letting all her anger run through her.
Emi raised her hands, imitating the movement General Kuzai made when they first met. Two lines of fire flared up on either side of the hallway, leaving nowhere for the boy to run. In a decisive movement, Emi heated the hilt of the sword, causing him to drop it with a cry of anger. Fear was beginning to show in his eyes and a small smile formed on Emi's face. As she picked up the sword, a feeling of power rushed through her. This boy was at her mercy and he couldn't do anything to stop her. He was powerless against her will.
"Please don't kill me..." he pleaded weakly.
"Kill you?!" Emi was shocked out of her reverie. She could never do that. Realization of what she had just been thinking scared her. She wasn't that kind of person... "I'll never kill anyone," she said, trying to convince herself. "I just need you to stay out of the way, that's all."
Emi swiftly brought the hilt of the sword down on his head, effectively knocking him out. As he slumped to the floor, the fire wall dissipated. There was no anger fueling it anymore. Feeling slightly worried about herself, Emi placed the sword on the ground next to her fallen opponent. Hopefully no one would take advantage of his fallen state.
Emi walked down the corridor, turning in the same direction that the young boy did. To her surprise, he was waiting for her.
"You beat him?" the boy asked in amazement. His innocent olive green eyes looked up into Emi's, a surprising color for a Fire Nation citizen.
Emi shrugged. "It wasn't that hard. He wasn't being fair, anyways.""Thanks. I can firebend but he was a little scary." The boy smiled at her. "My name's Shoji. I'm from Sanjiui in the Yanshi region."
"I'm Emi," she replied. "Why did you wait for me?"
Now it was Shoji's turn to shrug. "I found an exit while I was waiting for you. It's only fair if I help you out too. Then we're even."
Emi smiled. This kid was pretty cool. "Awesome. Let's get out of here." Shoji led her around several turns before they stopped at a corner. Emi scanned it, trying to see where the passage was, but she couldn't.
Shoji laughed at Emi's confusion. "You have to look really carefully," Shoji explained. "Look down at the floor. There are faint scorch marks on the ground. Someone else used this passage already by firebending."
Emi was shocked. She'd never notice the marks on the ground, but this little 12-year-old figured it right out! She punched a stream of fire at the ground which caused it to sink down, revealing a ladder.
"Steam-powered," Shoji observed. He started down the ladder and Emi followed. Not too soon after the floor slid back up to hide the exit, having run out of energy. They were standing in a narrow hallway. Light shone around the corner of the right side while the left ended with a door. There was a symbol on it but there wasn't enough light to see what it was. Emi walked towards it, only to be interrupted.
"What are you doing? We're supposed to go this way," Shoji said, pointing towards the light.
"I know. I want to see what this is," Emi explained. She stopped in front of the door. Shoji came up behind her and both looked at the strange symbol on the door. There was an emblem of the flame with a dragon wrapped around it.
"What is that?" Shoji asked.
"I'm not sure," Emi replied. "C'mon, let's go join the group."
"So Chan, how'd you do in the maze?" Kiara asked her brother. Emi, Chan, Kiara, and Shoji were back in the café waiting for the next challenge.
Chan shrugged. "I did pretty good...had to take out a few annoying firebending kids, though. I got out third." He spoke in a casual tone that made taking out a few firebenders sound effortless.
"Well, Emi was pretty awesome!" Shoji exclaimed. "She fought this really huge dude with a super pointy sword and then knocked him out with his own sword!"
Emi smiled appreciatively. "I think you're exaggerating a little. He was about my size, with a normal sword. I'm sure the guy wasn't nearly as good as the mighty Chan."
Chan smirked and flexed his muscles proudly, gaining an eye-roll from Kiara. "Don't encourage him, Emi. It'll only make his ego worse." Everyone began laughing, only quieting down when General Hiro began to speak.
"It is time for the final challenge. Many of you performed excellently in the maze challenge. Those of you who did not, you have a chance to redeem yourself. It is time for the DUELING MATCHES!"
"Dueling?" Kiara muttered. "How am I supposed to duel someone with a bow and arrow?"
Emi smiled sympathetically. "Pin them to the wall?"
"That won't work if they're big and muscly like me," Chan commented. Kiara rolled her eyes again, shooting her brother the look of "you're hopeless."
"We will be dueling in the training hall, conveniently close by," a younger, more friendly-looking man announced. General Kuzai shot him a look of distaste before marching out the door back into the main hall.
"Everyone, follow General Kuzai's lead to the training hall," General Hiro said. Emi detected a slight sneer on his face as everyone stood, immediately beginning to talk.
"Have any of you guys noticed that General Kuzai and General Hiro hate each other?" Emi asked.
"I have noticed some tension between them," Chan said. Kiara nodded in agreement while Shoji shrugged.
"I'm not really good at reading people. I'm better at noticing other little details," he said. Yeah, little details like maze exits. Emi wondered if she would've found a way out without Shoji. She wasn't sure she wanted to know. It was a good thing Shoji was on her side – otherwise she might've ended up like the guy she knocked out. Was he still in the competition?
The four friends got up and followed the train of people out of the café. Just before walked through the door, a hand grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back. She spun around to face a very angry sword dude. He had several friends standing around him, all looking equally angry and thuggish.
"You're going to pay for what you did," he growled. "When we fight, you're going down."
Emi was determined not to show any fear in front of these guys. "I beat you once and I can do it again," she said confidently.
The boy's eyes blazed red and he raised a fist. "I'm gonna knock your lights out!" he shouted.
"Zong, you don't want to get kicked out because you hit a girl," one of his friends said. "Save it for the duels." The boy who spoke looked at Emi with a smirk on his face. "I'm sure you can beat her in a real fight."
Emi stared at the boy with an emotionless expression, knowing that he was saying the last sentence more for Zong's benefit. She could tell from his eyes that he disagreed. He thought Emi would win. Well, Emi was going to prove him right.
"Thanks, Razin," Zong said. "Let's get out of here." The group of boys walked past Emi, ignoring her as if the little chat didn't even happen.
It looked like Emi had made some enemies.
DuelingEmi hurried to catch up with her friends, reaching them just as they took their seats along the edges; a perfect view of the four training courts.
"Where were you?" Kiara whispered. "You missed it! This angry-looking dude tripped over a chair and knocked over a bunch of guys he was standing with. It was hilarious!" Emi smirked. Served him right for trying to intimidate her.
"You will be going against people in your own specialty in one-on-one duels," General Hiro explained.
The younger guy leaned over and whispered something in the man's ear. General Hiro straightened. "Those of you trying for archery, please follow Master Wong to the targets."
"See you guys later," Kiara said. "And good luck, all three of you." She walked away towards Master Wong, followed by a good amount of other students.
"All right, we'll have firebending mock-Agni Kais first," General Kuzai announced. "First up, Tazo Strong."
A confident boy strolled into the center of the training courts. Emi frowned at the cheers from a particular corner of the room. She recognized Tazo as one of Zong's friends – that meant he was bad news.
"...And Emi Kazuko," Kuzai finished. Why did she have to go against him? Of course Kuzai would pick her. Emi stared at the general in disbelief. She didn't seem to be the only one; Hiro shot him a look of shock that evolved into annoyance. As she slowly walked onto the court, Hiro gave her a curt nod. Unsure exactly what his nod signified, Emi faced her opponent apprehensively.
The smirk on Tazo's face said it all. He didn't think she was good enough. He thought he would beat a girl easily. Well, he was wrong. Emi was going to win this fight. Uncertainly gone, she faced her opponent with fire in her eyes. For a few moments, all was silent. No one spoke or sneezed or even moved.
Then the fight began.
Tazo didn't hesitate to shoot a blast of fire at Emi. She punched through the fire a millisecond too slow; the force of the blast caused her to skid backwards a few feet. She quickly straightened, moving into a stronger stance. It was obvious this wouldn't be as easy as taking out the criminals or Zong. Tazo was a skilled firebender, probably with many years of experience. In this battle she couldn't rely on raw power. She needed skills – skills she didn't have.
Emi dodged Tazo's next few blasts narrowly. Each fireball came within inches of her face, stinging her skin with its heat. Emi grimaced, remembering the rule of Agni Kais: Win by burning the other person first. Were the generals going to wait for someone to actually get burned?
Emi shook the thoughts from her mind and focused on the battle, hoping that Tazo would tire himself out so this fight could end quickly. Unfortunately, he realized what she was doing and stopped firebending. Once again, the two faced each other in silence. This pause was much longer as they waited for the other to make a move. Finally, after several seconds, Emi forced a round of fireballs over her fists, hoping that Tazo would be caught off guard.
No such luck. He dodged them easily, grabbing the last one and sending it back at Emi. She recaptured her fireball and let it grow into a massive wave before sending it across the court. It swept down towards Tazo, looking like his imminent doom. However, Tazo jumped back to avoid its rapid ascent. He quickly regained his cool, parting the fire with a sweep of the hands to step through. Emi wanted to scream. What was it going to take to win this fight?
"Feeling the burn yet?" Tazo asked mockingly, noting her frustrated expression.
Emi glared at him, a new fire beginning to burn within her. "As a matter of fact, yes," she hissed. She jumped forward, kicking an arc of blazing white fire towards Tazo. The boy stared at the fire in shock – Emi was just as surprised. She wasn't going to sit around though; she let small bits of fire rain from her fingertips like daggers at Tazo's head.After barely escaping the heat of the white arc, Tazo struggled to avoid Emi's fiery weapons. Trying to get back on his game, Tazo stepped forward, using his momentum to send a stream of fire straight at Emi. Emi copied his movements, sending her own blast straight towards his. The resulting collision created an explosion that knocked both opponents off their feet and across the court. A cloud of smoke hid the court from view and Emi took the opportunity to rest. Her head was throbbing from hitting it on the hard floor and she wiped the sweat off her face the best she could. How long was this fight going to take? She needed to end it; she couldn't last much longer.
Powerful words echoed through the hall, slicing through the ashy haze. "Strong versus Kazuko is a draw." Emi sighed in relief. She may not have won, but she certainly didn't lose. Tazo was a skilled firebender, one that she would have to look out for.
As the smoke cleared, Emi staggered to her feet. As Emi walked across the court, the other three courts were occupied by a firebending match and two sword matches – none that seemed as intense as the duel Emi was just in. Just as she was about to exit her court, a shove from behind knocked her to the ground. Her head hit the ground hard and she could taste blood in her mouth.
"That's a violation. The duel's over, Tazo."
Emi looked back to face him, letting hatred burn in her eyes. "Coward," she spat. He glared back at her, eyes dark. Then he marched away, fists clenched. As soon as his back was turned, all her anger left, leaving her tired and broken. She forced herself up and collapsed onto the closest seat she could find. Instantly, Chan was beside her.
"Hey, are you okay?" he asked, eyes wide with concern. Emi nodded which caused her to clutch her head in pain. She closed her eyes, feeling hopeless. She had never felt so weak before in her life.
Chan leaned back in his chair, giving Emi some space.
"Have you gone yet?" Emi asked weakly.
Chan nodded. "Yeah. We got through all the firebending duels and some sword matches while you were fighting. Your Agni Kai was crazy awesome. I've never seen such an intense duel before."
"It was pretty intense," Emi agreed.
"You know what would be cool? If the Fire Nation had these duels for fun. Like professional firebending matches or something. Wouldn't that be awesome?"
Emi shrugged, too tired to get enthusiastic. "Yeah, sure. I'm guessing your fight was easy – you like pretty upbeat for someone that's already gone."
"I was up against some Zong dude. It wasn't that hard. He was down in seconds. Well, minutes."
Emi smiled in satisfaction at the thought of Chan beating Zong. "Good."
The café was silent as the leaders of the Elite Nation Academy prepared to announce who would be attending the academy. Emi, Chan, Kiara, and Shoji were sitting at a table close to the back. Emi was feeling much better than she did earlier; her head didn't hurt as much, but she knew it was going to bruise."Today has been a long and tedious day for many of you," General Hiro began. "You have demonstrated your skills in many areas. Your leadership and determination has been greatly admired by the generals and masters of this academy. However, there are not enough spots for every person in the room. Some of you will have to go."
I'll be okay, Emi told herself. Kuzai told her she was good; he wouldn't let her get kicked out. She hadn't lost any of her battles and she'd won Shoji's for him. Surely she would be in the academy.
"When I call your name, please stand and make your way to the front," General Hiro stated. He opened a scroll and began reading names off the list. "Razin Long, Zane Rising, Chan Ziang..."
"Chan, you got in!" Kiara jumped up and gave her brother a hug. He grinned and walked up to the front to join the two other boys. So far, no girls had been called. That quickly changed when "Kiara Ziang" was called.
"It's just you and me now," Emi said to Shoji. He smiled back at her, but his eyes looked sad. Did he know something? "Are you okay?"
Shoji shrugged. "Yeah." He looked up at the leaders. "Hey, they called your name."
"Really?" Shoji nodded and Emi jumped up, resisting the urge to do a victory dance. She stood next to Kiara, a huge smile on her face.
General Hiro finished reading the names. "Those of you left were not unskilled. However, your skills need to be improved before you are eligible to attend the academy."
Emi smirked when she saw Zong's angry face in the audience. Good riddance. Then she frowned. Shoji was sitting in the back, a small frown on his face. Her heart ached for the young boy. As soon as the leaders dismissed them, she ran back to Shoji.
"Shoji, I'm so sorry you didn't make it!" Emi said.
Shoji smiled then. "Hey, I don't mind – really. I knew I wasn't good enough to get in this year, but my parents wanted me to try anyway. Just to help me see how much I need to improve."
Emi nodded. "It was nice meeting you, Shoji."
"Same here, Emi." Shoji walked out of the café, giving one last little wave before disappearing from sight.
"He was a cute kid," Kiara commented. She put a hand on Emi's shoulder. "Let's go find our quarters. I got Kuzai to give us the same dorm." Emi followed her friend out of the café and into the entrance hall. "Kuzai said the dorms are at the end of the hall, up a flight of stairs. We have room 107."
The two friends walked calmly across the hall, but as soon as they reached the end, they darted up the stairs and raced down the hall in excitement. They stopped at room 107 and went in. It was a moderately-sized room with a bunk bed, a large closet, and a great view of the palace gardens.
"This is so awesome!" Kiara squealed. "Best day ever!"
Emi laughed. "I call the top bunk!" She climbed up the side of the bed and smiled. There was a cupcake waiting for her.
- Chan and Shoji are both minor characters from the original A:TLA series.
- To makes things clear, Zong has two friends that we know of: Tazo and Razin.
- Chan's comment about professional firebending matches is foreshadowing for A:LoK.
- Sanjiui means "mountainous" in Korean and yanshi means "rocky" in Chinese. Thus Shoji lives in a city in mountains that are rocky.
- Fun fact: The mountain Shoji lives in is part of the Yanshi Mountain Range.
- This is not the last time we see Shoji.
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|