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|"Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for."|
|— Ray Bradbury|
A Dai Li agent has an interesting experience on a strange night.
The man in the dark green robes quietly patrolled the streets. He reveled in the cyclic feeling of the night-watch. Every night, he proudly carried out his duty to Ba Sing Se. Most of the time, nothing happened. Shop clerks locked their doors while mothers blew out the last candles before bed, smoke unfurling in the darkness only to vanish. He clenched his fists, fitting snugly in his earthen gloves. Once in a blue moon, he would have to break up a fight or nab a shifter out past curfew. Luckily, nobody was ever a match for him. He felt powerful, being the only person out during the night and having authority over others. He wore his official Mandarin square and Earth Kingdom emblem, symbolizing all that he stood for. The black winter hat shadowed his eyes, shrouding him in mystery. He loved watching people glance at him and hearing the friendly conversations die down as he passed. He smiled to himself, thinking about nothing in particular. He slowed and came to a stop.
The air felt charged with a presence tonight, unlike the other nights. A special calm permeated as if someone was there. He could've sworn somebody whispered his name. A subtle scent lingered and he felt himself blush. There was no comprehending this sensation. The back of his hands and neck rose in temperature. Standing in silence, he listened to the night. Leaves rustled in the wind and crickets chirped their soft lullabies. Was that breathing, or the night compressing in on his mind?
The man in the dark green robes continued on his patrol, but paid special attention to his surroundings. The lamps glowed brighter than usual. As he glided through the darkness, he couldn't help but feel an odd sentiment, a type of peace. He took off his hat. He knew it wasn't customary to patrol out of uniform, but it felt right to do so at the moment. His enlightened senses drew him closer to the corner of the street. He turned.
The fountain wasn't lit tonight. The black sky reflected in the shining pools. Her head was half bent as she stared into the water. She traced delicate circles that rippled smoothly on the surface. She smiled at the cool sensation of dipping her fingers in the fountain. Her face was slender and white like the moon, and in it was an inexplicable hunger, a gentle curiosity that touched over everything. Her dark eyes held a sparking interest and nothing in the world escaped them. Her dress was white, without a stain or speck of dirt. She didn't look surprised when she noticed the new presence in her midst. She regarded the man in dark green robes with a pale warmth.
Even though she hadn't said a word, the man felt accomplished and proud as if he had said something awe-inspiring. Instead, she looked at him with eyes so alive that he stood still. She didn't move. She remained sitting on the edge of the fountain, glowing in soft light. But, the man subconsciously realized his mouth moved to say hello, and when she seemed fixated on the badge on his robes, he spoke again:
"Don't you know it's past curfew?" he stammered.
There was something unexplainable about this girl at the fountain that enchanted the man. He didn't want to make her to leave. Oddly enough, she still hadn't even spoken a word. He felt awkward, even vulnerable, standing alone in the darkness. The girl didn't look at him with intimidation or fear, merely the acknowledgment of another person. The man spoke again, in a softer, gentle tone:
"It's getting pretty late, it's not safe to be out here."
"You are"-she raised her eyes to meet his "-a Dai Li agent." Her voice trailed off.
"I guess the robes gave it away," the man smiled.
"No, I would've been able to tell with my eyes closed," she chose her words carefully.
He could feel her eyes circling, turning him over, looking through him and understanding everything about him, all while she sat calmly by the water's edge. She seemed no older than fifteen, yet she spoke with a sense of knowing.
"How oddly you say that."
She took her time to think. And then she said, "Some people call me different."
"Why, because you sit at this fountain at night for no particular reason?"
"I just like to notice the little things that I miss during the day. It's never this calm, and if you look up, you can see thousands of stars. On clear nights, the moon reminds me of a silver pearl hanging in the sky."
The man never really noticed this, but now he craned his neck and gazed at the stars glittering in the night. The moon bathed the girl in fragile, crystal light.
"My name is Faith, by the way."
"Hmm, Faith, what an interesting name."
"My classmates say I'm crazy. I tend to agree. Nobody else likes to look at things, smell things, and touch the water. I love to stay up all night so I can be the first to watch the sun rise."
He looked into her eyes and he saw himself, suspended in the dark pools, as if they were the night sky capturing and holding him in perfect detail. Her face, examining him from head to toe, glowed with a constant light. It wasn't coursing electricity or energy. He couldn't explain it. She reminded him, strangely, of the comfortable flickering light of a lone candle.
After a while, she said, "You know, I'm not scared of you at all."
"Why should you be?"
"Lots of people are. Afraid of the Dai Li, I mean. They tell dark stories about dreadful things that happen. But, you're just a man, after all."
Then, Faith said, "Do you ever question if what you do is right or wrong?"
Normally, he would respond without hesitation. But this innocent girl sitting by the fountain ignited an odd feeling within. The man in the dark green robes stood like a statue and pondered the truthful words.
"Oh. My parents tell me the Dai Li don't really protect us. They say, the war will end soon."
He laughed, "That's against the law!"
"Oh. I'm sorry. I forgot. There is no war in Ba Sing Se...here we are free."
She looked at him, "What are you laughing at?"
"I don't know. Why do you ask?"
"You laugh even when I haven't said anything funny, and you haven't stopped to think about what I've asked you."
The man regained his composure. "Are you insulting me? Don't you understand who I am?"
"Yes," she sighed.
"Where is your house? I think it's time you run along. It's late."
"It's just over there, about a block down," she pointed down the street, "but sometimes I like to sleep out on the grass because it feels natural for some reason. Do you mind if I walk with you?"
The man had always patrolled the streets alone. He never had a partner, especially one as unusual as this girl in the moonlight dress.
"I don't mind."
They walked on the empty street, footsteps connected softly. The man looked over at the girl, whose eyes darted back and forth, examining everything around her. She quickened her pace until she stood in front of a small doorstep.
"Well, this is my house, goodnight Mr..... I'm sorry you never told me your name."
"Don't worry about it."
"Well okay then, thank you for not telling my parents I was out this late." Her face glowed as she smiled. Then a wrinkle crossed her forehead as she attempted to remember something. She looked around and then her eyes lit up.
"Are you happy?"
The question knocked him back.
But the girl who made ripples in the fountain was gone; the door of her house closed gently and the lights were out. The man thought to himself.
"Happy? What does she know about happiness? What kind of question is that?"
The man in the dark green robes stood alone, shivering in the night that had turned cold. Puzzled by the peculiar question from the girl named Faith, he shrugged. What an interesting experience on a strange night.
|Elements of Life|
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