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20 February 2015
"Find a way to bring Sozin down."
The Sun Warrior Chief's final words to me rang in my head as I rode away with his feathered crown. The old friend of my father was alive and well, of course, but nonetheless I held the false evidence of his death in my hands as Nightmare took me away from what I then believed was the most sacred place on Earth.
The Lopevi Harbor was my next- and hopefully last- stop before returning to the capital city. Following the same mountain range that led me to the timeless Sun Warriors civilization would supposedly bring me to the small port town. I had done enough traveling for a lifetime. Sleeping on the ground with no shelter, little food, and barely enough water to keep my tongue wet had made for what felt like a constant state of being on my period.
It's funny how your body reacts when it isn't maintained, when it isn't nourished and hydrated. It doesn't matter how strong you are. Thirst and hunger will wear you down, your body aching and your energy completely sapped after the shortest day. Starvation is the great equalizer among men weak and powerful. No amount of muscles can withstand the might of nature. A lack of sufficient water brings the mightiest warriors to their knees, pleading helplessly like beggars. I loathe the need for food and water.
Bestowed in my chakras is the one basic necessity of warmth. With a breath, I can heat my body, and with my fists I can start a fire to accompany both myself and my cold-blooded friend. That fire can cook food and boil water, while those without the gift of flames must brace themselves for the dangers that come with raw meat and liquid from the ground. That is it though. That's as far as my Firebending will get me.
My father told me once that Waterbenders can pull their element from plants, trees, grass, and even the air itself. How simple that must make vanquishing thirst.
Earthbenders undoubtedly have the easiest path to a safe shelter.
I didn't know how useful Airbending could have been, but given the recent status of the Nomads, I figured the answer was not that useful.
The Avatar, however... he really is the most powerful. It's not because he can fight using all four elements, but rather that he has the capacity to fight against all the elements. He can pull water from anywhere, boil it while he cooks his food, prepare a shelter of solid rock, and either flee from danger at a moment's notice or greet his attacker with a spiral of fire or shards of ice... if that attacker can break through his earthen walls.
The Avatar is the ultimate survivor. No wonder Sozin thought he was still out there. Endurance is the rawest form of power, and those that can endure have far surpassed the contrived "power" of a Fire Lord.
I can, and I will, endure.
The Lopevi Harbor was bustling. Evidently, every fisherman, every merchant, every artisan, and every sailor in the town had the most important job in the nation. At least, you would have thought so given the energy with which they frantically ran around with their boxes, baskets, sacks, carts, and racks of their goods. They were so busy that they paid no mind to the fact that a monster with the capacity to tear through their chests and devour their hearts was lurking right alongside them.
No one even glanced at Nightmare. It was sad to see people so focused on their routine that they were lulled into a false sense of security, like a species that had never been hunted. They felt no reason to avoid the danger among them, because they had never experienced that kind of fear. It was insulting.
The busy space between the markets and the docks was easily overwhelming to perhaps someone who gave more of a shit. Nightmare and I both snarled at the man who cut us off with his cart, but he'd never know how lucky he was that there were so many people around.
Narrowing my eyes, I saw the man who made love to me and tried to murder me in a matter of days. He was leaning against the hull of a ship, staring in my direction. As I approached, he slyly checked both sides over his shoulders.
He leaned in. "You're supposed to be dead, so we have to keep this brief."
"As if I'd want to spend more than a minute talking to you."
"This ship belongs to a guy named Mako," he explained, ignoring my comment, "he's going to the capital tomorrow morning. You go with him. He'll put you up in his old apartment for a couple days. Then, he can get you into the palace."
"He provides a lot of the guards with his underground... services."
I understood immediately. "He's a pimp."
"The Imperial Firebenders are horny guys. They go weeks or even months without seeing their wives, if they have one. Mako gets them what they want under the table."
"So he's not aware of what I'm trying to do?"
Jirou shook his head. "No. He just thinks you're gonna be another one of his girls."
I rolled my eyes in disgust, but I couldn't offer a protest.
"Listen," Jirou checked around us once again, "you don't have to do anything for him. Just let him get you into the palace and rescue your sister. And, Nalia, don't do anything stupid."
"Don't tell me what to do." It was a childish response, particularly to someone who had gone through the trouble of securing my way into the capital palace, but I wasn't about to take orders from that son of a bitch.
"Just get in and get out with your sister, okay? Then you don't have to see me or Mako or Sozin or Commissioner Long ever again."
I didn't look directly at Jirou as I pondered the plan, biting my lower lip, but eventually I finally surrendered and caught his gaze. "Alright. I'm in."
He extended his hand for the first time since he attacked me. "Good luck."
There was a pause. "Thanks," I said without meeting his hand. It was time for me to go, I had what I needed. I tugged on Nightmare's reins and pulled away from the dock, intent on finding a place to crash for the night. Adrenaline was rushing through my veins. I was finally going to do it. It was time to take back what that vicious bastard stole from me. It was time to save Ming and finally live in peace.
Or is it?
"Come on, let's hustle a little!" My attention was brought to a scrawny man yelling at a crew of sailors from a loading dock. "We have to leave for Kun Island tonight! And if you don't have everything loaded up by then, you're all gonna find out just how replaceable you are!"
Kun Island? I had never heard of a place with the same name as my father. A slave to curiously, I fastened Nightmare to a pole and sauntered over to the man, fixing my hair.
"Excuse me," I piped up sweetly. "Where did you say this ship was going?" I made sure to add a little giggle.
The man looked down for my voice and stood up straight when he spotted me. "Um, we're sailing off to Kun Island over in the Earth Kingdom territories. It's a Fire Nation-controlled island off the coast of Taku, an Earth Kingdom stronghold."
My paranoid mind instantly ran awful scenarios in my head. I laughed uncomfortably. "Was it called Kun Island before we took over?"
The man looked puzzled. "Uhhhh..."
"Actually," another crew member trying to impress me put down his heavy chest and placed one foot on it, much to the chagrin of his superior. "It was named after the general who conquered it. General Kun. My brother was actually on that campaign and-"
I grabbed my skull when the harbor started spinning around me. I couldn't have heard that right. General Kun? Earth Kingdom campaign? It can't be the same man as my father. That's impossible. My father didn't serve in the Earth Kingdom. He resigned his position because of that campaign.
Despite the overbearing faint feeling coming over me, I managed to tune into the end of the sailor's rambling.
"And they say Kun's a traitor now. Some say he resigned because he switched loyalties!"
The scrawny man shook his head. "Hmph! Figures!"
"But they still have that whole memorial dedicated to him on the island! I say if you abandon the effort you don't get to keep the glory!"
-"Shut the fuck up!"
The two men glared at me, shocked, and I realized I was breathing heavily and crying. I couldn't take what I was hearing. It was a sick joke. I looked back up at the astonished sailors and ran off to find Nightmare the next second.
I was almost completely mentally undone when I untethered my friend and took off. My vision was blurry, but I made it to just outside the town to where I ordered him to stop. I stumbled off his back, barely making it to the tree a few yards away where I fell to the ground, slumping my back against the bark.
I can't remember what thoughts poured through my head at the moment. I just remember sweating and that my heart beat so fast I thought it might burst. It was almost an hour before I was able to calm myself and think rationally, and Nightmare curled up beside me, sensing my distress.
How could this be? I thought. I examined my younger years, when my father would be away from home for months at a time. He was so cultured, so aware of the goings on of the Earth Kingdom.
Of course! How could I never piece it together before this?
But he was so against the Fire Nation! I thought perhaps he turned against my government when he saw the atrocities it was committing, or maybe he only went to sabotage the effort... but he led the campaign? It was in no way possible that my father would ever want to take part or lead a military effort against innocent people. There was no way he would ever conquer land for Sozin.
Unless he did. I had to know the truth.
The one sailor had mentioned some kind of memorial to my father on the island... and what better place to learn the truth than the colony named after him?
But then there was Ming.
I buried my face in my knees as a reaction to the oncoming migraine, and Nightmare rubbed his head up against my side.
Is this plan to save Ming even plausible? Mako can get me into the palace, then what? I sneak in to find my maybe-alive sister and then bust her out? Then where do I go? I'm a fugitive. They've been able to track me down at every other corner. But the truth... the truth about my father... the verification of his righteous memory... that means everything! And I have a path straight to it!
The impossible decision waited for me in the form of two ships in the harbor: would I go through with such an insecure plan, proposed by someone who tried to kill me, with no real endgame, to save the only thing in my life that matters? Or do I postpone her rescue until a better day, when I had a better plan, on the assumption I could find a way back to the Fire Nation to save her before it's too late?
Hours went by, but I could find no reason to choose either option, save the knowledge that I may learn the truth about my father if I went on that ship to Kun's Island. And that was it. That was the deciding factor.
I wiped the dry tears off my cheeks and exhaled deeply. "Well, Nightmare, looks like we're going to the Earth Kingdom."
|Prologue - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -|
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