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Book One: Rise and Fall
April 22 (Earth Day!)
This is the first chapter of. It is meant to be purely introductory for one of the main characters.
Lin argues with her mother and impulsively runs away from her home.
Vuon, former Fire Nation Edit
The cat-owl perched in its tree stared at me. I met its gaze unflinchingly, aware that if it decided I was a threat, it could gouge my eyeballs out with its curved talons. It turned its head, apparently uninterested. I exhaled in relief and stooped to harvest a wild plant.
Dandelions. That was why my mother had sent me out. I hated dandelions, especially since their blooms were bright and yellow, a color revealing happiness. Well, no one was happy in Vuon. Everyone lived in constant fear of being arrested by Lord Zen (better known as The Dictator) or being attacked by Hanoi, or Minh, or Ashen. And if one of Vuon's neighboring countries attacked, they would be obligated to retaliate and the casualties would soar. Sometimes it seems we'll annihilate each other through ceaseless battle. Like my father was...
Even if we don't destroy ourselves, the situation is hopeless. The world will never again be in peace.
Of course, there are myths among the people that are still hopeful, or at least those that are too stubborn to admit the world has gone up in smoke. Some fools still believe in the Avatar. Well, if the Avatar was once real, it isn’t any more; the spirits have abandoned us.
This topic constantly brings me into conflict with my mother, who can never face the harsh reality of life, how we must live day to day pretending everything is all right in the world. Perhaps the world was once peaceful, but that time has gone. The unity that once was is broken to be replaced by antagonism that abates long enough for the economy to continue to function. If it wasn’t for the need to trade, we’d all be dead.
I gathered the dandelion stems in my black tunic and carried them towards our village. I held a knife in my teeth and glanced warily around, aware that I was vulnerable; it wasn’t uncommon for an enemy to ambush a defenseless roamer. It had happened to a baker from a neighboring village just last week.
I nodded to the omnipresent sentry as I entered the village. He blinked as if woken from sleep, eyes glazed. I glanced at him sympathetically as I made my way to my family’s little cottage.
I slid the door open to my home, the setting sun behind me, casting its dying rays onto the earth. I entered and closed the door, shutting out the light that brought life. I padded into the kitchen and dumped my tunic-full of greens onto the counter. My mother, washing her hands in the basin, looked up.
“I was starting to get worried,” she said with a furrowed brow.
I rolled my eyes and said, “The day you have to worry about me is the day the Avatar returns.”
Rather than being soothed, she appeared even more stressed. “The Avatar could return any day,” she scolded me.
“If the Avatar ever existed, he probably disappeared as soon as the world got all scrambled and dictators started cropping up everywhere.”
“There’s no need to be so skeptic, Lin,” my mother said as she started to wash the dandelions.
“I’m not being skeptic,” I told her. “I’m being realistic. He’s never coming back. Even if he did, he’d be caught and killed for bending.”
“Not all benders are caught,” said my mother sternly. She glared at me pointedly.
I blinked, knowing she was referring to me. I was an inexperienced Firebender, and my parents had shielded me from public attention since I was born. I could still inflict hefty damage if pushed, though; there was still a smoldering pile of rubble at the outskirts of the village, evidence of an “unsolved” arson case. In reality, I had ventured into the woods and had been startled by an armadillo-bear.
My mother then changed the subject (it was also illegal to simply speak of bending or even the Avatar and “the old days” before the fragmenting of the world). “I’m going to marry Jing Lee,” she said, eyes downcast slightly. Jing Lee was the man that she had been spending an awful amount of time with lately; he was tall, thin, and very loyal to The Dictator. I disliked him, and my mother knew it.
“Why?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Because I love him,” she said, her eyes wide with bewilderment, although I could only wonder why. “And he loves me.”
I rolled my eyes. “No, he doesn’t,” I said insensitively.
My mother’s yellow eyes were sad for a moment, until she glared at me. “What makes you think that?” she asked with irritation thick in her voice.
“He’s too patriotic,” I told her. “He saves his only passion for The Dictator.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” my mother shot back.
“The Dictator is ruining lives, Mom!” I yelled.
“How would you know, Lin?” she asked, her arms were crossed, her sleeves stained by her soaking hands. “Your life has been the same since the day you were born.”
“No, it hasn’t!” I practically screamed. “The Dictator is the one that gets Vuon involved in senseless wars! He’s the one that encourages the villages under his control to attack our neighbors!”
“What should we do, Lin?” my mother asked in a resigned voice. Her gaze was tired, her lips turned down in a frown. “What would you have us do?”
I looked at her with surprise. She had caught me off guard with her question. “I don’t know,” I said quietly after some hesitation.
“Then when you come up with a plan, be sure to tell me about it,” my mother said with unconcealed irony. She turned back to the sink full of dandelion stems.
I rounded on my heel and stalked out of the kitchen, feeling slightly drained from our argument. There was a lingering fear in the back of my mind that someone might have overheard our conversation, but I ignored it as the possibility wasn’t uncommon. Besides, people were arrested for treason every week.
I couldn’t help but wonder how a squabble over the legend of the Avatar had turned into a discussion of my mother’s loyalist fiancée and dictator tendencies and the possibilities of rebellion. Suppose that a revolt was brought to fruition. . . But it couldn’t happen. Or could it?
I opened the door to my room and plodded in, lying down on my cot. I placed my hand on my forehead thoughtfully. I had denied the likelihood of the world ever reverting back to the way it was before it fell apart, but the possibility was still attractive. A more united world wouldn’t be riddled with petty battles.
I had heard stories about “the old days” (as they were called) from the eldest inhabitants of our village. They usually told their stories in the evenings, when less of The Dictator’s spies were on the prowl. My favorite storyteller had been Mrs. Su, who spoke of the once-great Fire Nation, where Firebenders were admired and respected, not ostracized and imprisoned.
That was the most appealing idea of all: Firebending without fear of being caught. I wanted to learn to hone my ability, not deaden it. The only other alternative was being disgusted with my “freakishness,” which wasn’t a possibility for me.
Maybe there was a place out there that was willing to allow free benders? Maybe there was even a place inhabited by people that had grown sick of the division and war? Wherever that place might be, it wasn’t Vuon, a country full of men that counted the number of enemies they killed with relish.
Maybe there was a place that held the key to my fate.
My fate. That was something I didn’t think of very often. In Vuon, my life would consist of very few things: 1.) Keep my bending hidden. 2.) Remain loyal (or at least pretend to) to the government. 3.) Support Vuon in its wars. 4.) Marry young and have children that would grow up loyal to The Dictator. 5.) Die protecting Vuon; it was unwise to die of disease, or you wouldn’t be cremated, the only proper way to send someone off.
But these were things I would do if I were to sit and patiently wait for my future, but I’m not a patient person. It was time to seek what I wanted out of life: freedom, something I couldn’t get from a place I had long-considered home. I stood up quickly, causing my head to spin, and sprinted out the door and into the kitchen. My mother was sitting at the table, staring sadly into space, but she looked up hopefully when she saw me.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I should’ve asked your opinion before I said I’d marry Jing Lee.”
“That’s okay, Mom,” I told her, sitting across from her. “You should marry him if you want to.”
“I won’t if you won’t be happy,” she said.
“Mom, I’ve never been happy.” That was only a slight exaggeration. “Besides, it’s not up to me, and I don’t think your new marriage will affect me much.”
“What do you mean?” she asked, confused. “Of course it’ll affect you!”
I shook my head, then took a deep breath. Well, here goes nothing. “Mom, I’m leaving.” I closed my eyes, expecting her to start shouting.
I opened my eyes and saw that she was completely flabbergasted. Out of all the times I’d been able to take her by surprise, this was the pinnacle moment, the crowning glory.
“Why?” she finally asked simply.
“There’s a part of me missing,” I said, ignoring how cliché my words sounded. “I’m not satisfied here at home, and I want to find a source of contentedness.”
She sighed and said, “Where will you go?”
I didn’t know what prompted me to say it, but I told her, “East.”
I had thought she couldn’t get any more surprised, but I was wrong. “Lin, you won’t find anything there!”
The way she said “there” made me think she thought the Easterners were evil; perhaps they were, but I’d find that out on my own.
“I won’t know until I try,” I told her.
“But, Lin, you’ll have to keep out of sight. Those Easterners won’t admit you into their society.”
“I know,” I said, beginning to feel irritated.
“And what if you’re attacked?” she asked. “How will you protect yourself? If you Firebend—“
“Mom, I know other ways to fight!” I interrupted. She closed her mouth, cowed. “I’m going East, and I’m going to figure out this aspect of my life without your help.”
“Well, then there’s nothing I can do to convince you to stay?”
“No,” I said. I crossed my arms stubbornly as tears appeared in her eyes.
“I’m going to miss you, Lin,” she said, standing up and embracing me.
I hugged my mother back, recognizing that it could be the last time. “Can I take some food?”
“What kind of a question is that?” she asked, half-laughing.
The next morning, before the sun had fully risen over the horizon, I stood in the doorway. I wore my black cloak, which would be my best disguise once I crossed the border into Minh, the next country east of Vuon. I had my father’s sheathed sword strapped across my back along with a pack of supplies.
I glanced at a lit candle placed on the table. It had been burning all night long and the flame was about to be doused by melted wax. I then turned away and opened the door into the still-dark morning, towards what I hoped was a better fate than what I wouldn’t have in Vuon.
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