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December 24, 2013
It isn't her jacket.
The jacket, as in the black one. The one with tattered and frayed sleeves, with loose threads and ripped cuffs. The one with two flat brass-colored buttons positioned right below the wearer's throat, with stiff shoulders and well-worn dark fabric. The one that smells of wood smoke and fish oil and the salty ocean. The one that her brother bought with what little money he had at the open market.
Metok. That's his name.
He's sixteen and tall. Has a warm, crooked smile that favors his left side. Kisses his little sister on the tip of her nose every day before he leaves with Ata—Father, in the Winter Tongue—for work on the fishing boats, because Anyu likes it when he does that.
It's a big jacket, and five-year-old Anyu, whose tip of her head barely clears the height of Metok's hip, is much too small to wear something like that; rather, she sinks into the mountain of creased black fabric like some nondescript pebble in a puddle.
But Metok doesn't seem to care about that. He puts that thing right around his little sister's shoulders like it's a thick traveling cloak and pats it down to smooth the creases as best as he can, all the while ignoring the strangled huff of protest coming from somewhere underneath the heap of dark cotton.
A small face, rounded with baby fat, pops out from an open gap that appears between two folds of the jacket. It bears such an enormous pout that Metok can't help but laugh at his little sister, which of course only causes the pout to deepen. And he's still laughing when he puts his warm lips to the cold tip of Anyu's bright red nose:
"They're letting us off of the boats earlier this month."
"Really?" The pout disappears and her face lights up, a burning candle deep within in the shadowy folds created by the coat still wrapped around her slight frame. "So, you're...going to come home? Early? Even before the moon?" She bounces up and down on the balls of her feet, the coat still wrapped tightly around her like a warm embrace. "Even before the snow comes? Even before me?" She giggles a little, her face contorting into an expression of delight while she slaps her palms together excitedly.
"Even before the snowstorms," he agrees lightly. "Even before you, kid."
Because Anyu means snow.
An obnoxious clatter, near the doorway: "Metok!" Ata's booming voice, a sonorous sound, rolls through the dilapidated shack. "Hurry up, boy! We haven't all day!"
"Coming!" Metok hollers back before turning hurriedly once more to Anyu.
"All right, kid. Don't get yourself into messes you can't handle—"
—like that one time when you waterbended in front of Kino and please don't ever do that again because it's hard enough living as Water Tribe immigrants in a district that's controlled by Agni Kais and Agni Kais hate waterbending—
"—and listen to whatever Aana tells you to do and don't play in the streets too late at night. Okay?"
A roll of her huge pale blue eyes serves as an adequate answer before she moves to struggle out of the twisted jacket.
"Keep it," Metok softly whispers, placing two heavy hands onto Anyu's small shoulders. "I'll be home before you know it. Okay?"
Anyu finally finds the opening for the head on the jacket and her face immediately pops up, a beaming mess of white teeth and pale brown skin while heaps of cotton pool around her feet; her arms are thrown wide, the too-long sleeves of the black coat hanging down limply like wilted winter cabbage leaves. "Okay!"
"Metok!" Ata's shouting again.
Quickly. He presses another quick peck to her nose before he rises to his feet in a fluid motion.
The sound of his soft sealskin boots hitting the ground in a rhythmic thump-thump-thump noise.
Anyu watches him leave and hugs her jacket around her—
...Not her jacket. Not mine not mine not mine she chants inside her head.
His jacket. Metok's jacket.
"Aana!" she shouts, the dear mother she is referring to currently clanging around in the dingy room they call a kitchen. "'M going outside! With Iluq!"
"Be careful," is her only reply.
And Anyu scampers outside without a care in the world. Still holding onto the black jacket.
Dragging the ends of it on the dusty floor like the train of a dress. Laughing. Smiling.
"Is that the place, sir?"
"Yes." The middle-aged man fiddles absently with the flexible ends of his gold-trimmed red tunic, his ever-sharp and narrow amber eyes fixed onto the decrepit flat from afar.
"Remember: I want nothing left behind. Nothing. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir." His partner nods once before turning around on his heel and barking out a fast series of orders, clicking his fingers sharply at the loitering troop of men and women ranging from the ages of seventeen to thirty-two.
They whisk through the streets like sinister shadows. Never stopped. Never disturbed.
The people living on this particular street in the Dragon Flats Borough know better than to step in the way of the surprisingly well-dressed squad of golden-eyed gang members with inner fires burning hot and bright in their hearts. Those who don't are quickly halted by others. For even in some of the most dangerous parts of Republic City, the red branch of the Agni Kais were feared.
Reserved mainly for dirty work involving terrorizing. Human trafficking. Reclaiming various bits and pieces of lost territory.
It starts how all catastrophes start:
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