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"Guiding Light" is the first chapter in the fanon series,.
It was almost ironically logical how the best day of her life would start with the worst rainfall in years.
And it did. Water like no sea could ever dream to possess poured down the heavens, as if the gods themselves were bathing themselves in tears, mourning in favor of an unknown creature. The once magnificent garden had been transformed into a swampy wasteland right beneath her feet, threatening to suck the multitude of young girls that were standing eagerly in front of the large building into an endless hell where screams were muffled in muddy pain. Yet none of the girls, not even those who would normally whine in anguish about the dirt soiling their clothes, even paid the slightest of attention to that impeding danger. Every single gaze from the crowd was directed at the shōji paper doors, their bodies tensed to react the very moment it would slide open and disclose its luster secrets to the children. One girl in particular stood out from the crowd, not because of her ink-black coiffure drifting lonely in the sea of hazel and brown, nor due the more tender and perhaps less expensive fabric of her clothes. It were her eyes, deep pools darker than the most starless midnight glimmering with unwavering excitement and expectation. While every girl in the mass had been looking forward to this special day, that girl had been living to it, counting down hour by hour as soon as she had been introduced into the world of mathematics. She had thanked the spirits on more than occasion for her blessed year of birth, because the event she was about to beheld only took place every ten years, taking away the divine opportunity for most of the island's girls, no matter what gifts they presented as a counterweight. But there was one spirit that she had praised in particular, the fleeting soul of a revered woman who wrote history with her glorious acts and was both spitted upon and worshiped throughout the world.
There seemed to be no end to the rattling rainfall today. The black-haired girl's strains stuck to her skin in greasy tangles, and her clothes would have been dryer should she had chosen to ride a pair of Koi. Cold spread over her youthful skin, reaching out its long fingers to send chills down her spine and making her body reverberate with every heartbeat. In a fruitless attempt to drive away that coldness, the girl tightly grabbed her arms and fiercely rubbed both of them, letting out long, shaky slivers of breath to fill up her place in the choir of shrieks and sighs the girls formed as they suffered from the whims of nature. Bending over so she could peer between shaking limbs and bodies, she failed to recognize any familiar face. That didn't really came as a big surprise to her, seeing she had been living most of her life in a small fishing outpost, away from the village that composed the main population area of Kyoshi Island, but it still would have been comforting if she knew there was a friend of hers standing by her side, going through the same pain she felt and experiencing the same maelstrom of excitement and stress. Having reached the peak of nervousness and almost toppling over into irritation by now, she restlessly whipped from one leg to another, whispering lines from the song her mother always sung to her before she extinguished the candle flame and slid down her eyelids.
Heading south but never west
Your eyes say no but you heart protests
The tears that you always cry
Have been sheathing that lovely smile
You keep saying you can fly
But you're a bird no less than INow you...
She was snatched from her thoughts mid-sentence when the door finally opened, revealing the promised land she and her soaked companions had so long been yearning for. In a wild, incoherent mass the girls streamed in, pushing and pulling each other to get a good spot on the front row or to sit closer to the welcoming fireplace that burned enthusiastically in the corner of the room. The black-haired girl was able to get, out of pure luck, a place on the very first bench, sitting on the utmost right next to a short girl with hazel hair tightly kept together in a small dot. She was radiating with enthusiasm and pride, her back straighter than a tense fishing line, as if she stood a step higher than anyone else in the room. Hesitatingly, she searched for a couple of words that would be proper to start a conversation with the girl, in an effort of straight-forwardness her redundant father had always encouraged . But there was a difference with simply nodding your head after another one of your old man's speeches and actually breaking the feet-thick ice between you and a complete stranger, even if you were only eight. Besides, she had always had the feeling that she had seen more than eight namedays, having even asked her parents on multiple occasions if they had actually counted right since her birth, and not having forgotten a year or two when fish and work were everywhere and there was little time for other things, such as their precious daughter. Noticing she was once again taking her thoughts a bridge too far, she mustered her bravery and addressed her neighbor cautiously.
"Hey, what do you think -"
But before her words even penetrated the ears of the auburn-haired, a large door facing the murmuring crowd unfolded, slid open by a gloved hand whose owner made sure her full appearance was hidden until the utmost moment. The black-haired's neighbour sat up even straighter, if that was even possible, and the few girls that had still been chattering nervously now silenced themselves and their friends to behold the eagerly-awaited visitor. A large, brown-haired woman stepped into the light of the fire, her body slender as the cutting side of a blade, her stride more gracious than a dancer's and a self-confident smile laying upon her scarlet-tinted lips. But that was a far throw from the other amounts of make-up she donned, even when considering not even the slightest sliver of it was done out of a beauty or fashion sense. Her face was colored a stainless white, with two black-lined scarlet wings departing from the sides of her nose and vanishing underneath the gold of her metal headdress. She was wearing a full-scale armor, tinted in shades of green and black with accents of gold and silver. In her hands she held a tray holding four objects, although their details were still obscured by the dancing shadows of the flickering flames, something the black-haired girl suspected her of doing on purpose, considering the warrior's over-dramatic entry. Regardless of what she thought and been told before, she couldn't do anything but stare in awe. This was a real warrior of Kyoshi, and although the lady wasn't the first of her kind for the black-haired to gaze at, the sheer awesomeness of this one was multiplied by the fact that she would be her teacher for as long as she fitted the equation of a good Kyoshi Warrior.
The warrior put down the tray while letting her eyes slip over the faces of the girls that had gathered, her gaze staggering slightly when she came near the black-haired, although the latter could not determine whether it was because of her or one of her neighbours. And after a moment of silence that was possibly more painful than the years that had passed while standing outside in the pouring rain, she began to talk. "Welcome, young students. I'm Yuki, head of the current generation of the warriors of Kyoshi." She had retracted her vision from the black-haired's direction, and now overlooked the whole crowd with a growing smile taking over her colored features. "You are lucky enough to be the next generation, and it is my task to tutor you in the ways of Kyoshi and ultimately inaugurate the select seven who will survive the five years of training as full-fledged Kyoshi Warriors." She walked over to a small-sized copy of the Birth of Kyoshi that was clipped to the wall at her right, the painting depicting the creation of Kyoshi Island whose original was positioned on the same island. "The warriors of Kyoshi are a group deticated to protecting and upholding peace all over the world and in particular, Kyoshi Island. Our name comes from the blessed Avatar who established this island so many years ago in an effort to maintain peace, freedom and harmony. We shape our uniforms, our traditions and our weapons after her, because we believe her virtues and deeds are more than worthy of being honored and repeated throughout history."
Yuki walked back to the table on which she had laid down her tray and slid it forward, so her eager young crowd could contemplate the objects it was holding. "These are the weapons of a Kyoshi Warrior, each one representing one of our beliefs and virtues. They are never used to commit evil deeds, and are only raised against another should he or she harbor evil intentions." She paused for a second, as if she had just given out a warning to her young students. The black-haired nodded slightly upon hearing the statement. Of course she would never use Kyoshi's sacred weapons to harm innocents, as if she'd ever betray the cause she'd been longing to join for so long. The warrior reached out for the first two objects, a pair of small metal bars widening upwards until they nicked just before the top, which seemed fairly dissappointing and pitiful in comparasion to the great tales always told about the Kyoshi Warriors. With a knowledgeable grin, the warrior first let the wave of disappointment and ignorance wash over the girls before dramatically flipping open both staves at once, revealing the beautiful, golden half-moon fans modeled after the revered namesakes Avatar Kyoshi once wielded.
A symphony of 'Ooh's and 'Aah's arose from the girls, as Yuki retracted and unfolded the fans a few more times to show their mechanism. "These are the first of our weapons, the fans. They are modelled after those that Avatar Kyoshi once used to enhance her bending, but we intend no such uses." Closing them for the last time, she laid the fans back and relied on her hands to bend over the table, lowering her voice so the girls also had to bent over to understand her. "The fans are our main weapons and represent freedom. They were used by Avatar Kyoshi to free the citizens of Kyoshi Island from Chin the Conqueror's impeding grasp, and to free the island itself from the mainland's tyrannical influence. They represent the desire and the right to be independent and to stand up for one's own." She reached for her belt, were her own fans were clutched to her armor. She pulled them out and revealed their contents to thr girls, which differed from the previous fans in the fact that a small kanji radial was imprinted in each corner. "When you graduate and become a true warrior, you can engrave a single word within your fans, which represents your motivation to have joined the Kyoshi Warriors and to fight for freedom. Becoming a Kyoshi Warrior is never involuntarily, so this ritual is very important and reveals a lot about your true self."
The black-haired raised her hand into the air. Although none of her fellow students noticed because they were to pre-occupied staring at Yuki's fans, Yuki herself nodded and waited for her question to be asked. "Yuki-sama, what word is engraved in your fan?" But even before Yuki could open her mouth, the answer could already be found within someone else's words. "The sign on her fan means 'Star'". Yuki grinned and casually lifted one of her auburn bangs back behind her shoulder. "Indeed. Everyone, may I introduce you to my lovely little sister, princess Suki?" The flabbergasted black-haired slowly turned her gaze and stared at her neighbor, whose pose now notably carried more embarrassment than pride. Suki smiled uncomfortably, clearly not being prepared for such an amount of attention and certainly not in the form of her elder sister's sarcasm. "And you must be Shae, no?" The black-haired girl nodded, although her mind was too occupied with the previous information than to wonder how a total stranger knew her name. The leader's sister? So freaky two sisters are just at the right ages to both join the Kyoshi Warriors... The other girls weren't in the least as perplexed by this reveal as Shae was, probably because most of them had known Suki for years from playing with each other in the main village. It really sucked to be an outsider.
"Anyways," Yuki said, picking up her course of clarifications again, "besides our fans, we also use this to fight." In Yuki's hand shimmered an anthracite black sheath, topped with laces of gold and brown. It mantled a three-feet-long katana, with an evenly black-and-golden handle and cross-guard. When Yuki carefully unsheathed the sword and displayed the luster blade, it reflected seventy pairs of covetous and awe-inspired eyes. "The sword represents our ferocity, our strength. We are not to be taken lightly, and we will make sure every enemy who makes the mistake of underestimating us will have that as his final one. Killing opponents is not encouraged, but the sharpness of this blade is always open for application on sworn enemies." She re-sheathed the blade, putting it on the tray next to its brethren again. "The sword is relatively new within the standard outfit, and up til about 80 years ago it was taboo for a Kyoshi Warrior to wear one. But that all had to change once the War began."
The War. Shredded images flashed through Shae's mind, spilling over and intertwining within each other until everything was one incoherent, iridescent mess. Blood, bones, famine, machines, fire, destruction,... She could see a lone fishing boat, sinking sadly into the ink-black ocean, the rising water dousing it out the raging flames that slithered through the dek and the quarters. A middle-aged man, set alight like some kind of sadistic torch, desperately jumped out of his perishing vehicle, and his screams had evolved into something that was no longer human, not even close to the sound any animal would make. And then, within a heartbeat, she was the man. The impact of the freezing water burned even harder then the flames had, the cold clotting her thoughts and the liquid oozing into her, filling up her ears, mouth, lungs... She could no longer breath, no longer scream. The pain was beyond anything she could imagine. She craved for death, wished for an immediate and irreversible end to this godless suffering. But death kept away, scared of the horrendous pain even more than she was...
Panting, she shot back into reality. Since it had started more than eighty years ago, the war's destruction-spreading fingernails grew 'til they could even deface Kyoshi Island's fishing waters, and ever since the day Shae had seen an innocent fishing ship being wrecked by Fire Nation catapults she just couldn't get the images out of her dreams. As sudden as she had woken up, she realized that she had been unattentive for a while, and quickly pointed her eyes back at Yuki's explenations. Next to her, Suki had raised an eyebrow and looked at her in curiosity, but it seemed she was the only one who had noticed her little trip into the past. "Are you alright?" she whispered cautiously, but Shae only nodded half-heartedly and continued listening to Yuki, who was now holding up a small, foldable shield imprinted with the Earth Kingdom symbol. "The shield represents our desire to protect. That includes both the world, our home and our loved ones. When we join our shields we put all of our love and our hope together into one, unbreakable wall. When we join our swords together we effortlessly cut down all enemies of peace and hope. Our fans, united, are able to winkle out light even in the utmost darkness. As a Kyoshi Warrior, your key to victory is team work. So, look at your left and look at your right. For at least one year and possibly the rest of your life, these girls will be your family, your friends, your team. Regardless if you will make the team or not, this is were life-long friendships are born."
Yuki put down the shield, shoved the tray under the table and gestured for the girls to arrange themselves in a row in front of the table. Without even sparing a glance, she hooked her foot behind the chair behind her and sent it sliding, sitting down the exact it passed under her bottom in an absolutely unneeded but so cool trick. Digging up pen and paper from under her armor, she asked for the first girl's name, wrote it down and then posed some questions to her, most of them detailing why she wanted to join the Kyoshi Warriors, what she wanted to achieve by it, etc. This continued with all seventy girls in the room, although not every child got the same amount or category of questions. Shae was last, just behind Suki, who now had a red blush on her cheeks and a grumbly look on her face, staring at the ground and murmuring vage sentences Shae couldn't hear, although she could swear they included 'Yuki' and various words her father had forbidden to speak out in public. When her sister gave up her name, Yuki didn't even bother to look up, merely waving her hand in irritation to signal Suki could go. While Suki angrily paced away, Shae cautiously moved forward and managed to look Yuki straight into the eyes, although not without clenching her hands into the sides of the table. She couldn't mess this up, it all depended on this.
Drumming with her fingers on the dark wooden desk, Yuki leaned back in her chair and observed the final student's unusually dark hair and eyeset. "Shae, was it?" Shae gulped and nervously clenched one fist in her other hand. "Yes, Yuki-sama." Yuki let out an understanding grunt, listed something in a fury of short, gracious strokes before putting her pen back down. "And why do you want to join?" The question was asked nonchalantly, as if Yuki didn't actually expect any proper answer from the fisher's daughter. But Shae didn't want to come over as a wuss, so she straightened her back and proudly answered:
"Because I want to end the war, Yuki-sama!"
Despite all the willpower Shae had put into her statement to fuel its impressiveness, Yuki was now seemingly even more bored than before, probably having gotten the same answer out of near any other girl that had gone before Shae. But now she did something different than before, leaning forward until her face was only inches apart from Shae's, grinning and softly asking: "Do you also know why you want to end the war?"
Shae didn't know. Pondering the answer furiously she joined the other girls who had given up their names, but her thoughts were far away from Kyoshi Island when Yuki announced training would commence the day afterwards, with the first daylight. Why I want to end the war? Because it's bad, no? Once again, the images of the burning boat and the drowning sailor oozed into her spirit, and she shook her head, as if that would cast them away. No, there has to be another answer. For an eight-year old to contemplate such a philosophical question, but it wasn't the first time Shae considered herself mentally older than her classmates. The watery sun that now set alight the skies didn't caught her eye, and she politely refused an offer to go play in the mud. She stepped slowly through the village's only aisle, one finger pounding her cheek relentlessly as she tried to come up with a decent answer. When the words simply wouldn't come, she laid down on her bed and stared at the woodwork of her ceiling, until it faded away in sleep's blissful darkness.
The sky was even brighter when she woke up, having fallen asleep only hours after the Kyoshi signup had commenced at dawn. With eyes still heavy from her sleep, Shae got down the stairs and opened the door, not expecting to actually find anyone who would interest her. To her surprise, her neighbor Suki was standing there, hand raised in the air, about to knock the door of Oyaji's house, where Shae had the privilege to temporarily reside. "Hey," she said, a little bit shy but still full of the enthousiasm she had portrayed before her sister had shot it down at the Kyoshi Warriors' introduction. "Wanna go play with me?" Sleep, surprised and not understanding the reasoning behind it all, Shae agreed, closing her door behind her without even sparing a thought about Yuki's question or the burning boat. "You know," Suki said. "I know this beautiful spot with lots of flowers where there are tons of butterflies now. Wanna go see?"
"My big sister can be really mean," Suki said after having talked a while about some meaningless rumors. They had left the village via the back and entered a forest with various luster trees, the great mountains of her Kyoshi guarding them with their endless, featureless gaze. "She's always making fun of me and stuff, but today it just was really mean because all the other girls were there. I thought it would be really cool to have your big sis' as your teacher, but Yuki always calls me 'princess' and all that." Shae picked up some wallnuts that were scattered beneath the bark of an old tree and cracked them open under he foot, sharing them with the grumpy Suki before she answered. "I don't think you should already think that way. Training starts only tomorrow, and maybe she's nicer to you then." Suki chewed on her nut, her mood having lighted up a bit by Shae's encouraging words. "Why do you think she showed us all of the weapons? With the symbology and all, I mean?"
Shae shrugged, but inside she also been questioning Yuki's reason for explaining things she would probably have forgotten by tomorrow. "I think to let us know that you shouldn't consider being a Kyoshi Warrior like a game or something. It's serious business." Suki nodded enthousiastically and almost choked on her nut because of it. "Oh, but I consider being a Kyoshi Warrior very serious. My family has been part of the group ever since its creation. Eventually, I'm gonna become an even beter leader than my sister, you'll see!" Shae smiled and put one hand around the enthusiastically jumping girl's shoulder. "I believe you'll do a great job, Suki. Can you believe it? In other countries girls of our age are still playing with dolls, but we are in training of becoming the best fighters of the whole world!" Suki laughed and put her hand around Shae's shoulder as well. "We're so cool. You know, Shae, you and me, we're gonna be the best Kyoshi Warriors the world has ever seen!" Shae laughed as well, throwing her last nut to a rabbitsquirrel that had been scurrying the trees for food.
"Not just the best Kyoshi Warriors, we're gonna be the best fighters of the whole world!"
And so the girls walked on, side to side, shoulder to shoulder, forging the first fires of would be the start of a lifelong friendship.
For the collective works of the author, go here.