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The lucky mango
The lucky mango
6 April 2013
Previously on Changing Fates
Last time we saw Taiyo, he finally decided to take action and join the rebels plotting an escape from the prison. Since then, he's been helping them out in various ways.
The Prison Guard
"Your meal." A plate of gruel passed through the bars of Taiyo's cell: a solid block with an iron-bar door and a tiny window. A few days after Taiyo joined the rebels, he received a new cell a few floors down – conveniently located near the rest of the rebels. Taiyo still didn't know how Brek managed it. The guard on this level was a younger woman, much kinder than the one on his previous level.
"Thanks Ming," Taiyo said. Over the course of the week he'd been there, they'd become acquaintances on the verge of friends.
Ming leaned against the cell wall. "I snuck some extra meat into your soup," she said in a hushed voice. "The warden's been getting suspicious so I don't know how often I can help you out."
Taiyo nodded. "Thanks anyway." He knew Ming was risking a lot by helping him out so he wasn't complaining. He took a gulp of soup and forced it down before asking another question. "When's the next courtyard visit?" It had been a while since the last one and Taiyo was beginning to wonder if they were over for the year.
Ming frowned, looking away from the cell before continuing. There was sadness in her voice that instantly brought Taiyo's hopes down. "The courtyard is getting removed. They're going to expand the prison."
"What?" Taiyo couldn't believe it. They were getting rid of it? Permanently? Did that mean he was going to be stuck in this cell for the rest of his life? It couldn't be true – yet he knew Ming wasn't lying. "Why?"
"They're suspicious of rebel activities. Someone mentioned that allowing prisoners into the courtyard provided a way to communicate and plot. It was one of the men on the War Council – General Hiro, I think."
"But won't it be hard for them to get rid of it? I mean, it's solid earth. They'd have to do a lot of digging and backbreaking work." Unless they were earthbenders.
"Well..." Ming paused as if she was unsure of what to say. "They won't have too much trouble." Taiyo looked at her in confusion. If they weren't earthbenders, it was going to be pretty hard. Was she trying to say...?
"There's a group of workers known as the 'Dirt Force.' They're earthbenders that live here in the capital and do construction work for the Fire Nation."
Taiyo couldn't believe it! A whole band of earthbenders right here in the capital? "I've never heard of them!"
"They're kept on the down-low," Ming admitted. "They're mainly employed by the government, so most people don't know about it. I probably shouldn't have told you, but I don't think it'll be a problem."
Taiyo nodded, promising he wouldn't say anything about it. This information could change everything. He could get out of jail and have a new life with other earthbenders. Taiyo couldn't even remember knowing any other earthbenders. His mother wasn't a bender and he never met his father.
"Well, I should probably get downstairs to finish my rounds," Ming said, interrupting Taiyo's thinking. "Take care of yourself."
"You too," Taiyo said absentmindedly. After smiling softly at Taiyo, Ming disappeared down the hallway, leaving Taiyo alone with his thoughts.
Taiyo pulled himself across the floor so he could rest against the wall of the cell. If only I was strong enough to bust out of here, he mused. Although being in the Dirt Force seemed better than being in prison, Taiyo guessed it wasn't exactly the good life there either. If the Fire Nation was at war with the Earth Kingdom, there was no way the firebenders were being kind and giving towards the earthbenders of the Dirt Force. Maybe he was better off in prison – at least he was safe here.
"Hey, Taiyo. C'mon, we're having a meeting."
Taiyo sighed, recognizing the voice as Brek's. Over the course of the week the rebels had been plotting, Taiyo had come to dislike his fellow partner in crime. Brek's careless attitude and overconfidence really got on his nerves. However, Taiyo moved to the cell door so he could join the conversation.
"So, it's almost time to strike," Brek began. "We've got what we need – a band of fierce fighters trying to battle for their freedom. We have a talented earthbender-" Brek winked at Taiyo, who gave a thumbs-up. "And we have a way to escape. Taiyo, did you make the key?"
Taiyo grabbed a key from under his cot. It had taken a lot of concentration to form a key the shape of the lock. He had to pack the earth tightly enough that it wouldn't break. At the moment, it was as hard as a rock, but Taiyo wasn't going to be too optimistic.
"Well, it's good for now but I'm not sure it'll hold its shape for long," Taiyo warned. He reached through the cell door and Brek snatched it from his hand, pulling it into his cell.
"It'll be fine," Brek said after glancing at it quickly. "Good job."
"Sooooo...what's the plan?" one of the boys asked. Taiyo was pretty sure it was Win, but he couldn't be sure. All the boys were so similar...probably because they idolized Brek. Suddenly, Taiyo wondered how long they'd all been stuck in prison. Probably longer than him.
"We're going in for the kill," Brek announced. "Tonight, right after the evening rounds. We'll take down any guards that try and stop us, then take their weapons and end them before they can do anything about it."
A sick feeling made its way into Taiyo's stomach. Going in for the kill? Ending the guards? They were going to kill people? "You can't be serious. We can't become murderers!" he exclaimed.
Brek's eyebrow rose. "It's the only way to ensure our escape," he said. "Don't tell me you're scared."
Taiyo glared at him. "Of course I'm not scared. I'm just not interested in taking innocent lives." Taiyo had never liked the idea of hurting people, especially when they did nothing wrong.
"Innocent! You're calling these guards – our tormentors – innocent? Are you crazy? They're the reason we're stuck in this prison! They're the ones stopping us from living our lives so we can rot in this life-forsaken prison for the rest of our lives! And you're saying they're innocent?" he said incredibly.
Ming's kind face came to Taiyo's mind and he nodded. "Yes. I'm not going to help you guys kill people to get free. If I'm going to escape, I'll find another way." He stepped away from the door, catching a glimpse of Brek's furious face as he moved.
"You'll regret this, bender boy. Once they find out you're an earthbender, you're toast. I wonder what awful prison you'll be sent to..." Brek sneered and turned to the rest of the boys. "We still have his key. We strike tonight."
The cheers of the rebels echoed through the level and Taiyo leaned against the wall once again. What had he done?
Ming was not the guard on the evening watch. As usual, it was a grumpy older man with abnormally bushy hair. The man stalked by Taiyo's cell, not even bothering to glance in. Taiyo was laying on his bed in trepidation. He knew that what was going to happen wasn't really his fault, but he couldn't help but feel responsible for it. After all, they wouldn't be able to escape without the key.
Shouts echoed in the hall and Taiyo got out of bed. Racing to the door, he peered out nervously.
"Tonight, we are free!" Brek's loud voice carried throughout the level. When a boy appeared in Taiyo's face, he jumped back and cried out.
"Hey, it's just me." Taiyo recognized Lio and sighed. For a second he was sure it was Brek coming to get revenge. "What you said back there was really brave. I'm letting you out so you can escape with us."
The cell door opened with a click and Lio grinned. Taiyo stared at him suspiciously. When Lio realized Taiyo wasn't following him, he turned around. "Brek doesn't know I let you out. He's already on one of the lower levels. You don't have to kill anyone. You can just escape."
This is my chance, Taiyo realized. He could finally be free. After nodding at Lio, he raced down the hall and down the spiraling staircase. As he reached the bottom level, apprehension filled him. It was quiet...too quiet, since a band of boys were trying to escape. He walked down a row of cells, noticing that they were all empty. At he reached the end, he spotted Ming around the corner. It looked like she was finishing up her evening rounds and Taiyo wondered if she knew about the empty cells.
Movement from behind Ming caught his eye and he realized it was Brek. He was sneaking up behind Ming with a large sword in his hands – probably stolen from one of the guards.
"Ming, behind you!" Taiyo cried out. She spun around to face her attacker, who sprung into the air, sword pointed straight at her. Ming quickly jumped back, reaching for her sword before realizing it was gone. She was defenseless. She dodged another one of Brek's attacks but it looked like the boy knew what he was doing. She wasn't going to last long.
Taiyo ran towards them. As Brek lunged forward again, Taiyo instinctively hit the ground hard, pushing a slab of earth up that caused Brek to lose his balance. For a moment, Taiyo was too shocked to do anything. He just earthbended something big, without even thinking! He couldn't believe it.
Brek didn't move for a second, staring at the ground in disbelief. Then his eyes hardened and he looked past Ming to see Taiyo. Ming was equally surprised by the turn of events and glanced back at Taiyo with a questioning expression on her face. Taiyo shrugged and moved the earth Brek was lying on, sending him across the hallway into the wall. Ming reached down and after grabbing Brek's sword, pointed it as him.
"Nice try," Ming said, a confident look on her face. Several guards rushed down the hallway and looked around in confusion. It probably looked a strange sight – there was an unconscious prisoner on the ground and a prisoner standing beside the guard glaring at the other.
"Uh, are you okay Ming? We just stopped an escape attempt on the first three levels. I'm guessing these are the last two missing prisoners?"
Ming nodded. "The one on the ground is their leader. He attempted to attack me with this sword." Several guards came and dragged Brek down the hall. He was probably not going to get another chance to escape; they'd put him in the high-security cells now, or send him to another prison.
"And the other?"
"He saved my life," Ming said. "With earthbending. Were you ever going to tell me about that, by the way?" Taiyo shrugged and Ming smiled. Turning back to the guards, she said, "I'm going to suggest him for the Dirt Force."
Taiyo grinned. What could've been one of his worst memories had quickly become his best. He was getting out of jail to join the earthbenders!
A week or so had passed since the escape attempt and Taiyo was hard at work. The Dirt Force was not quite the relief he had been expecting. Apparently in their spare time, the earthbenders worked as royal gardeners. For the past few days, Taiyo had been getting used to this new life. He got up early to have breakfast with the other benders and worked in the gardens until the sun went down. The gardens were quite extensive; he would never run out of work to do.
At the moment it was the afternoon, about three hours after lunch. Taiyo was in the rose garden pruning. He always had a gentle touch when it came to plants; being an earthbender probably helped. The roses pruned easily and he was creating pleasantly-shaped topiaries in no time.
Taiyo had just finished his third bush when students began fanning out of the large building modeled after the palace. From what the other earthbenders told him, it was a school for highly talented Fire Nation kids to hone their abilities. Rumor had it the students were being trained for something sinister – an elite band of soldiers to cripple the competition in the other nations. Overall Taiyo was highly suspicious of the place and every time he caught the eyes of a student he tried to figure out whether they knew of the school's evil intentions. They were all evil, probably.
"Hey Kiara! Where are you going?" A loud voice drew Taiyo's eyes. There was a tanned girl – Kiara – coming towards the gardens. Another paler girl further off was the one that spoke. She was walking with a guy that looked similar to Kiara; he had the same darker skin and smile.
"Just taking a walk in the gardens. The autumn roses are blooming and they look beautiful." Kiara grinned and Taiyo recognized her carefree attitude. Unlike Brek's, her attitude was a good quality.
"Well, wait for us!" The paler girl ran to her friend. When she caught up, she brushed her hair away from her face, startling Taiyo with her warm brown eyes. They looked so familiar...
"How was firebending today?" Kiara asked. The threesome continued towards the garden and Taiyo made himself busy pruning roses. He didn't want the group to think he was watching them.
"Pretty good," the other girl answered as they entered the garden. "We were just perfecting moves today. I was practicing my whip and I think I've finally got it down."
"Let's see it," the boy said. She formed a stream of fire with her hands and slowly pulled her hand to the side, bring the fire with it like a string. Then she flung her arm back, lashing out in front of her. The fire snapped forward, causing a nice dent on the flooring of the garden.
"Oops..." she muttered.
"Now you've done it," the boy teased. Both girls rolled their eyes.
"Like you could do any better, Chan," Kiara challenged. "Emi could beat you in a duel any day."
Emi? Her name was Emi? Could his childhood friend be attending the academy he'd heard so many rumors about? It made sense; Emi was definitely a talented firebender. If she lived in the capital, they'd surely notice her strong capabilities.
"Emi against my sword? There's no way she could win," Chan scoffed.
Emi twisted the ring around her finger, causing it to glint in the sunlight. He recognized the sun emblem; it was the same ring Emi had when she was a child. Now there was no doubt in his mind that they were the same person.
"I've won against a swordsman before," Emi reminded him. "Remember Zong? He didn't even get a spot. You might want to be careful."
Who was Zong? Why didn't he get a spot? A feeling of dread washed over Taiyo as he realized Emi was not the same person she used to be. She was being trained as a soldier. She wasn't an innocent child anymore; neither of them was.
Taiyo suddenly realized he wasn't doing anything and jumped back into his work. Maybe it would distract him from what was going on. He shuffled around the edge of the garden, blocking out the group's voices. As he reached the edge, he noticed one of the flower beds had cracked and was falling apart. Without thinking, he forced the ground up, fixing the flowerbed seamlessly.
Someone gasped and Taiyo spun around. It was Emi, gaping at him in shock. Her friends stared at her and followed their eyes to Taiyo in confusion.
"Are you okay?" Kiara asked. "You look like you've seen a ghost." She eyed Taiyo for moment. "Did you just notice him or something? He's one of the palace gardeners. They're always around here in the afternoons."
Emi shook her head, dropping her gaze. "No, I'm fine. I guess I just didn't know he was there."
"Okay, let's go then," Kiara said. She and Chan began to head out, stopping when they realized Emi wasn't following. "Are you coming?"
"Go ahead without me. I have to do something really fast."
"Okay," Chan said. They left and Emi immediately zoned in on Taiyo, marching over to him.
"Hey, I saw you earthbending!" she accused. Her eyes narrowed and for a moment Taiyo was actually scared. Then she brushed her short brown hair out of her face, ruining the effect.
"I'm legal," Taiyo promised. "Government business. You don't have to report me." He watched Emi carefully, trying to see if she recognized him.
"I wasn't going to report you," she said, a hint of anger in her voice. There was a moment of silence between them and Emi sighed. "Sorry. I'm Emi. Emi Kazuko, firebending student at the Elite Nation Academy."
Taiyo was momentarily confused. One second she was angry and hostile while the next she was calm and friendly. There was a lot about this new Emi he didn't know. Taiyo braced himself for the introduction; would she recognize his name and realize who he was? Or would she not even remember her best friend?
"I'm Taiyo Hiroki, earthbending gardener of the royal palace."
Emi's jaw dropped and once again she was looking at Taiyo in amazement. "You...you're...Taiyo?" A huge smile played onto her face. "I haven't seen you in forever! How did you get here?"
Taiyo glanced up at the sky, noting the time. "I can't talk today. Meet me tomorrow after school in the rose garden?"
Emi nodded. "Okay." She stood in front of Taiyo for a moment before skipping out of the garden. As soon as she was gone, Taiyo smiled. This day had gone better than he ever imagined.
"I thought I said she was not allowed to join the academy!" The man's voice was deep and furious. The woman kneeling before him was trembling with fear. When she spoke, her voice was weak.
"I told her no, but she didn't listen! She snuck out and Zhun let her!" Reika glanced up at the man before her, searching for a sign of relent.
"Earlier you claimed that he was not a problem. And yet he somehow managed to break the one promise you made."
"Please...I'm sorry," Reika whispered. "I can fix this. I'll make her leave."
The man sighed. "It's too late now. She has Kuzai supporting her. There's no way he's letting her leave now that she's in his grasp. You'll just have to continue with the plan. Don't let Zhun send her any letters or see any she sends. We can't afford to let anything go wrong at this point. The girl must be oblivious."
"Don't worry, I won't let you down," Reika promised.
"You'd better not," the man growled. "You are a valuable spy, but there are replacements available if you fail me again."
Reika swallowed and strengthened her resolve. Emi wasn't going to foil her plans again.
- It has now been two weeks since joined the ENA.
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|