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|Our Last Day of Freedom|
7 March 2012
Our Last Day of Freedom is the prologue of.
Du Ming goes through a day like any other in his life. However, little does he know that his city is about to fall, and his life will change forever.
"Du Ming...Du Ming!" Tamani yelled upstairs to her son. "Wake up! You're going to be late!"
The young man grumbled as he saw the sunlight peer through his window. He then threw the blanket off of him, and walked outside his door. "All right mom, I'm coming!" He then walked back into his room, removed his bedtime clothes, and prepared for the day. He threw on a pair of light brown pants, also adding a light brown shirt, and then took out a green tunic and placed it on over himself. His last step for getting clothed was a pair of black shoes. Afterwards, he combed his hair smoothly, the way his father would have desired. He then descended the stairs and made his way to the kitchen, where his mother had fresh fruit out and was preparing some tea.
"You know, the stuff at the Jasmine Dragon is quite well-made," Tamani remarked. She was wearing a green dress and had the tea kettle in hand, pouring it into three cups: One for her, one for Du Ming, and one for her daughter, Jakura, who was decorated in a dress similar to her mother's, albeit smaller.
"Dad's still not home yet, huh?" Du Ming asked his mother.
"I'm afraid not," Tamani responded. "The Dai Li told me yesterday that they needed him for important meetings that would take place for a while. I guess he won't be back for several days."
Unbeknownst to the family, General Solian of the Council of Five, the father to Du Ming and Jakara, and the husband to Tamani, had been arrested three days prior, and that their freedom was about to come to a crashing end.
"Mom, I went to the Jasmine Dragon yesterday with my friends after school," Jakura began, "and it was closed. They said the owner hadn't been there for days! So, the shop was closed down."
"Really?" Tamani asked as she took a seat at the table and took some fruit. "I didn't hear anything about that. I have to get out more..."
Du Ming took a sip of his tea. "Is it just me...or does something feel off? Ever since word of the Fire Nation trying to break through the city walls leaked, we have heard of now three of the Council of Five being sent away for meetings, the Jasmine Dragon has closed down, and it just seems like the Dai Li have tightened. Perhaps they are finally going to start a counter-effort."
"Careful, Du Ming!" His mother scolded. "You know talk of the War is under monitoring!"
"I would hope it can move more freely now," Du Ming said.
"Just don't get yourself in trouble with the Dai Li," Tamani warned. "I have heard that talk of the War gets people in trouble."
The three finished up their breakfast. After that, it was time for Du Ming and Jakura to head off to Earthbending instruction. Today was an important test for Du Ming. If he passed it, he would be promoted to a level nine student, just three levels short of graduation. His sister was at level four in her instruction, and was still a week away from her level five test.
"Good luck today," Tamani said to her son, embracing him.
Du Ming saw that the door was open and sort of touched his hands to his mother's back. "Yeah, thanks mom..." If my friends see this...
After this, the mother gave Jakara a hug. "Enjoy your day, sweetie."
Jakara hugged her mother back. "I will, mom. See you later!"
With that, the two siblings went out the door and made the walk down the city streets towards their earthbending academy. The sun shined down on the streets of Ba Sing Se, and the temperature was well in check on the late spring day. Summer was coming soon, and everyone could feel it. Through their street, Du Ming and Jakara could each see people's gardens blossoming with beautiful new flowers, creating a mix of colors throughout.
As they made their way to the Middle Ring, where the academy was located, Du Ming heard a familiar voice.
"Du Ming! Du Ming!" The voice belonged to a young girl wearing a brown dress, that was seemingly tattered. Her hair was long and brown, and her feet were not decorated with shoes. Her eyes of green stared to the young earthbender. She aged about sixteen years.
"Marhana!" Du Ming responded.
Marhana ran across the street and to Du Ming, and then threw her arms around his before engaging him in a quick kiss. Their lips met only briefly, but it was a warm, loving feeling.
"How are you today?" Marhana asked her boyfriend.
"I'm doing great, and I'm pretty excited," Du Ming answered. "I am about to take my next earthbending test today. Soon, I'll be a level nine student."
"You looked very strong in your level eight test," Marhana said. "I know you'll get to level nine! I wish I could come, but my mom wants me to look more for a job today." Her smile ran away from her face. "I'll miss you."
"I understand," the young man responded. "Your family is more important in this case."
"Du, we're going to be late!" Jakara exclaimed.
Marhana chuckled at her boyfriend's sister. "Hey there, Jakara. It's been a while since I've seen you. How have you been?"
"I've been okay, I'm only at a level four earthbender though," Jakara replied. "My brother's still way stronger."
"Well, just stay with it," Marhana said. "I know you'll do well also, you don't seem to quit!"
"Thanks," the teenage girl said back.
"Jakura's right, we are going to be late," Du Ming said. "Marhana, if you get the chance later, meet me back here and we'll get some food, okay?"
"All right," Marhana said, and then embraced Du Ming again. "I want to hear about you being a level nine earthbender later."
Du Ming kissed his girlfriend on her forehead. "You will," he finished with a smile as they separated. "Take care."
"Bye, Du!" Marhana said, and the siblings left.
Some time later, they had made their way to the Earthbending academy. At this point, they split, with Jakura heading to the mid-level class, for levels four through six. Du Ming was in the high-level class, for levels seven through nine. After level nine, students would move to the "Last step" class, for levels ten through twelve.
Du Ming walked in to join his fellow students. Most exchanged hellos and handshakes with the young earthbender. After this, the teacher, General Talgo, came to him. He was a man of about age 60, had greying hair, a beard, green eyes, and was wearing an Earth Kingdom army uniform. Talgo was in fact a retired drill sergeant who was hired by the academy five years ago. "You were almost late, Du Ming," he said to his student's face with a serious look.
"My apologies, sir," Du Ming began. "I woke up a little late and--"
"Save it!" Talgo snapped back. "Let's get on with the day. Students! At attention!"
All the students stood and faced the instructor, who was just as tough as any boulder they would come upon. Talgo walked up and down the line. "As you know, today, some of you students will be taking tests to deem yourselves worthy to advance to the next level. We have already set up the target practice. Further, since some of you are going for level nine, you will also have to succeed in a duel. Get ready for it! It's what you will face from level nine and upward! Now then...for your near-tardiness...Du Ming...why don't you go first?"
Du Ming gulped, but quickly stepped up with a look of confidence.
Before the young earthbender stood several targets. He would have to use sharp rocks and hit the targets dead-on. After that, he would have to pick up a large boulder and do the stone carry maze run across the field. The third step would be to demonstrate how well his seismic sense had developed. Finally, his earth duel would come. Talgo would bring forth an earthbending master from one of his old classes and have him duel his students, but the old instructor assured that this duelist would fight to the students' level.
Du Ming stood himself in front the slices of rock he would use first for the target practice.
"All right!" Talgo shouted. "Du Ming, you will have two minutes to complete the first two steps! If you do so proficiently, you will move on to step three. Pass that, and you advance to the duel, which I will judge as to when it will be over. Pass that proficiently, and you will be promoted to level nine. Fail at any level, and you will stay at level eight. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes sir," Du Ming responded.
"Then prepare yourself," Talgo commanded.
Du Ming took an earthbending stance in front of the rock slices.
"Three! Two! One! Go!" Talgo shouted.
Du Ming started off fast. He took the first rock slice and hit the first target right on the bullseye. His second shot was a little off, but it came in close to the bullseye nevertheless. On the third, he again hit masterfully.
"100 seconds!" The instructor barked to his student. He was a solid timekeeper in his head; no student ever dare question him in that regard. He then took his earthbending stance as Du Ming lifted a rock onto his back. Talgo quickly fired up several small rock pillars as Du Ming shifted from left to right as they came up, moving across the field. Students cheered on their fellow man as he held strong against the former general's constant shooting, holding the boulder solidly all throughout. Towards the end, however, the instructor fired up a somewhat higher rock pillar, causing Du Ming to stumble somewhat, but he held on. He held strong against one more pillar, before reaching the finish line and then dropping the boulder.
"Complete in 54 seconds!" Talgo yelled when Du Ming finished. "My goodness, that is the fastest time I've seen since I started here! Brilliantly done, you advance to step three. Pick up the blindfold and move to midfield!"
Du Ming was thrilled, but quickly eased himself somewhat as he knew the next two steps were just as important. He then picked up a green blindfold with the Earth Kingdom emblem on it, knowing what was next.
"The Seismic Sense test," the old instructor said. "I have seen a lot of failures here lately. Are you ready?"
The student again gave a simple nod.
"3...2...1...GO!" Talgo yelled.
With that, the old earthbender began shooting up rocks. The first one came straight at Du Ming, but he quickly put up an earth shield to stop it. He was picking up the instructor's movements as he went to his left and right, heaving boulders all throughout. Du Ming was either dodging or breaking them up. The final move was Talgo shooting a rock behind Du Ming's back in rapid fashion. However, the younger earthbender felt the movement go behind him, and turned quickly to shoot back a rock of his own. The two rocks collided, stopping their movements and each of them hitting the ground.
"Another spectacular performance, student!" Talgo yelled. "Now...do that with this duel and level nine is yours."
The graduated master walked onto the field as Du Ming removed his blindfold to prepare for the fight. It would last no longer than 10 minutes, with the ex-general making the call at the end who had won.
The instructor and the other students stepped back, leaving the battlefield to Du Ming and the master.
"Take your stances!" Talgo shouted, and the duelists complied.
"In three! Two! One! Duel!"
The master bender started with a simple move, tossing a rock at Du Ming. However, the student proved up to the task, quickly smashing it. The master responded with an earth gauntlet, charging across the field and pushing Du Ming to the wall.
Du Ming fell but quickly got back up. He needed to be as tough as earth or he would fail his test. His next move was to launch a counterattack, doing so with an earth block of his own. The master was caught off guard, as he was knocked down upon impact.
For the next seven minutes, the duel was at a dead heat. The duelists had chased each other around the field, each having opportunities here and there but failing to capitalize. Finally, Du Ming caught a break late.
"Two minutes!" Talgo shouted to the duelists.
As this was done, Du Ming's opponent attempted to spring across the battlefield with an earth launch. But the instructor's yell distracted him, and he slipped and hit the ground. As he tried to get up, Du Ming got his opening and turned the field around his opposition to quicksand. The master sunk into the ground, being locked in tight. His bending was no longer of any use as Du Ming stood over him.
"Fine...I surrender!" The master said. "You have bested me."
Talgo then walked over to Du Ming. "Congratulations on the victory. You are now a level nine earthbender."
"OH YEAH!" Du Ming shouted out, pumping his fist. At the same time, his fellow students, the instructor and his opponent all gave him a weird look. He then shifted his tone to a more mellowed version. "I mean...thank you, sir."
"You are well on your way to master status," Talgo added. "Keep up the good work, Du Ming. You will make a fine soldier some day."
The day came to an end, with the sun still shining brightly in the afternoon sky. Du Ming couldn't feel happier; he was a step closer to master status, he had a great life with a great family, and he was well on path to take the same route his father had, knowing that his dream was to do exactly what his old man had done: Join the Earth Kingdom military and make his way up to the Council of Five some day.
He was waiting outside the walls of the academy to pick up his little sister, and then head home for a couple of hours before meeting Marhana for dinner.
However, when he got home, a surprise came to him. On a couch he saw his mother...but also someone else.
"Du Ming!" Marhana said, greeting her boyfriend.
Du Ming's mouth hanged open before he turned his look to a smile as Marhana embraced him.
"Wow, Marhana!" He replied. "I didn't know you were coming over!"
"Funny story," Tamani began. "A few hours ago she came to the door saying how much she had missed you, and said she changed her plans and wanted to come over tonight. Well, Marhana asked her mother, and apparently she cleared it. So, she'll be with us for dinner."
"That's great!" Du Ming exclaimed. "I can't wait to tell you about today."
Sometime later, the family and Marhana were all ready to call it a day. It had been a long, tough, but rewarding day, especially for Du Ming. He was about to show Marhana home as she had been at his house since early in the afternoon.
"It's a beautiful night," Marhana began. "A perfect night to enjoy a walk home."
"Just be careful," Du Ming replied. "I know you're not an earthbender, so just don't run into any trouble. The streets back to the Lower Ring at night always seem to attract trouble."
"You know I'll be all right," Marhana assured her boyfriend, placing her hand under his cheek. "I have good training in the martial arts. Don't worry."
"I love you Marhana," Du Ming said. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
"I love you too," his girlfriend came back with. "Just don't worry without me. I promise I'll see you again tomorrow."
With that, the two exchanged a quick kiss, bid each other good night, and Marhana returned home.
Afterwards, Du Ming began to go upstairs and back to his room. "Good night mom, I think I'm going to knock off early. I'm tried."
"All right," Tamani said. "You did do a lot today with the training and also helping with dinner. I'll see you in the morning."
Du Ming went into his room and prepared to get dressed into his bedtime clothes. Before doing so, he went to the window, and looked out to the city below his house, seeing the moonlight reflect on the city below. Things were peaceful, quiet, all seemed at ease. He may have had uneasiness about the suppression of war news around the city, but indeed, what had been promoted -- that Ba Sing Se was a peaceful place -- was all holding true. He sighed happily and, after putting on his bedtime clothes again, drifted off to a serene sleep. He dreamed about one day becoming that earthbending master, and some years later, joining his father on the Council of Five.
Little did he know his life would soon be flipped upside down.
A good distance outside the city walls, tundra tanks rolled up the countryside. Also present were Fire Nation soldiers riding komodo rhinos. They were thousands of forces, all with one common goal.
"Are we ready to do this, Shigato?" A soldier asked.
"Yes," General Shigato responded. "Princess Azula assured us the Dai Li would take down the walls after sunrise, and we would then march in and take this city uncontested."
"It is about time we take this city in the name of the Fire Nation," General Ezan said.
"I know you're anxious general," Shigato said, "For now, just keep an eye on your brigade, sir. We'll get this handled."
They were set on the great walls.
Ready to do what was thought impossible.
Take down the impenetrable city.
To come...to see...to conquer...Ba Sing Se.
Away we go!
I abridged some scenes as I preferred to keep this chapter's length in check.
Yes, General Ezan is thefrom . However, don't expect to see him much here.
For the collective works of the author, go here.