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three (alternative ending)
the twenty-eight day of april, twenty-fourteen
eight hundred and thirty-five
Everything is still. Everything is silent.
Even the animals have halted, trembling slightly in the cracks in my walls. There are many more men than I had thought, and they spread out through me, kicking down doors and collapsing walls. I give a groan as a support beam is crushed to dust. One of them men hisses at the earthbender who punched through me, and he moves away meekly. I can feel the small family, deep within me. They tremble as the critters around them tremble. They shake as I shake, but they are together, and this thought calms them.
They are holding each other tight, his hands over hers, covering her stomach. They fear, but it is not for themselves. These people hold too much love to fear eternal separation. These people, they fear for the small life—the small world—they have created together.
Suddenly, one of the earthbenders stumbles over the trapdoor. It is a stupid mistake, and had he been even slightly more graceful, he would not have discovered it at all.
Not a single breath stirs as everyone—everything—turns an eye to the wooden door with a metal handle. One strides over with thick, heavy footfalls that knock small crumbs of dirt loose. He bends down, grasping the heavy metal latch, and tugs.
I tug back.
She's pregnant, one of them whispers. They all turn to look at him, glaring in expectation of an elaboration. Well, th-they wouldn't waste time here. They wouldn't risk getting caught trying to open that door.
He gives a weak sort of shrug, and gets a rock to the head for his troubles. The silence that falls with him, unconscious to the floor, weighs down heavily, and it is only because of the interruption that they hear a new sound.
It is a faint crackle that until now, I had not noticed, my attention elsewhere.
It is the sound of all their fears, founded or not, and it is a sound that never fails to send men running.
It is the sound of fire.
The small, unassuming power that consumes and feeds, growing bigger and wilder; born from a small torch, it surprises them all, as though they didn't realise this would happen. Everyone freezes, torn between the desire to flee, and the will to catch their prey. The small family is bundled up in a corner of my cellar; they do not know what is going on, only that the banging has stopped and they seem safe for the moment.
The men want to stay to find the family, but the decision isn't theirs to make as a sudden change in wind blows the blaze towards me, the smell of smoke and ash carrying first before the sight and the heat follow.
They won't survive anyway! one of the men calls out to the others, and a few others turn to the leader, nodding.
It is with a vicious snarl that the leader punches forward, the earthen rubble on the floor following his fist to land heavily on the small, wooden door, completely covering it.
Let's go, he shouts, taking a deep breath and dusting off his hands. There's nothing left here. He gives a small grin, And there never was.
With a wave, he orders his men to follow him outside. They escape the fire, not bothering to try and tame it. Why would they? I am far enough away from civilisation for it to not matter if the fire spreads—if I should fall because of it—because there are only two people who would be harmed, and their lives do not matter.
I can feel them holding onto one another, murmuring sweet nothings that mean everything. The fire gets closer, and they know it is hopeless to try and escape. Being with child has made her weak; even if they could burrow away, the fire, or the smoke, would catch up. Praying to the spirits is all they can do.
But not all that can be done.
The clouds part slightly, and I can feel the rays of the moon shining down. There is a breeze, propelling the fire, but it suddenly stops. The entire sky is clear, the stars shining bright like watchful eyes, and suddenly, the flames begin to move. Not in my direction, oh no. They move away from me, moving around in a small circle. Only the side facing the men, though. Trees crackly and collapse under the intense heat, but the fire does not move closer. It dances just beyond my border with elegant steps. This fire is not being fuelled by the hatred of the men. Perhaps it was, once, but no more.
It is being fuelled by the love the small couple has for each other. It is being fuelled by the peace sought after by so many, mortal and spirit alike.
It is protecting them as they protect the small life they have created together.
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