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|Prologue: The Die is Cast|
The Die is Cast...
A blisteringly hot classroom of Kyoshi High, in the blazing summer with the room stuffed with thirty overheated, bored teenagers. Class 2-A, a class where students can hardly believe that they still have more schooling before they can go out into the world. Or, at least, whatever world there is for a small island where few of the residents have even been out into the rest of the Earth Kingdom. Ishio rested his elbows on his desk, his long hair pulled back into a ponytail out of his sweaty forehead for the heat. Even in the summer uniform, Ishio as well as all the other students in the classroom were sweating through their clothes. A pen twirled absentmindedly in Ishio's hand while the teacher drawled through a history lesson of Chin the Conqueror.
"Ishio?" Ishio looked up at the sound of his name to see the teacher, and the class, looking straight at him. "You've always had a hand for history... Can you tell us what year Chin the Conqueror was felled by Avatar Kyoshi?" The stunned student blinked a few times, slowly recovering to answer the question.
"270 BG." Ishio responded before returning to his pen twirling.
The bell came too late, considering the heat, and the entire class left in exasperated relief. Ishio was no exception as he packed his things into his bag and left the class. Being outside of the classroom still wasn't much better. The scorching sun was still overhead, and Ishio walked through the traditional style streets of Kyoshi Island hopping from shaded area to shaded area in an attempt to avoid the heat. Insects chirped, as if the sun wasn't enough to remind Ishio that it was summer. These were the sights and sounds that Ishio had grown up with, and they were the sights and sounds that most of Ishio's classmates would live with for the rest of their lives.
While his classmates headed towards their homes, Ishio made a detour. From the town, he wandered. First to the outskirts of the village, then beyond. It was so normal for him to wander out of the village that few residents of the island that saw Ishio wander thought anything of it. This was the route Ishio had taken after school everyday since he was a small boy. He initially would offer up the excuse of going to visit a shrine on the outskirts of town, but now the gazes were unquestioning. Eventually, hit path led him to a familiar cave. A cave inhabited by a creature that rarely went outside. A cave worn down from years of bending practice. Ishio entered the cave as if it were his own home, looking around the dark for his Earthbending teacher.
"Odraz? It's Ishio." His voice was steady, unwavering, though said in a tone that made it clear he was used to coming here and going through this routine. As he spoke, Ishio reached inside his book bag.
A nose appeared out of the shadow followed by two unseeing eyes that still stared straight at Ishio. From his bag, Ishio produced a bamboo flute; he pressed the instrument to his lips and began to blow gently. A warm tone came from the flute: a beautiful sound which only came from several years of practice. As the notes continued to flow, the creature slowly made his way closer to Ishio, inch by inch, note by note, until it was so close that even in the darkness of the cave, Ishio could completely see the badgermole. Not that it was really necessary, with how the badgermole had taught Ishio to bend as though the earth were an extension of his being, allowing him to tell where things are without sight. Ishio still preferred seeing things.
Once the song was finished, Ishio put his flute away and tenderly patted the badgermole. "Odraz... I wanted to tell you that I'm leaving Kyoshi Island... Tomorrow." The badgermole simply watched Ishio as he spoke. But Ishio could see in his eyes that the creature was questioning whether the teenager's decision was reasonable. "I've been packing for weeks," Ishio continued, "and I already have gotten permission of the captain of a cargo ship to go back with him to Republic City." In his explanation, Ishio thought it wisest to leave out mention of the other illegal cargo which the ship was carrying. 'Is this what you really want', was the question Odraz silently posed on Ishio. "I want to be a bender..." Ishio responded, looking at the ground. "I'm going to join in the Pro-Bending matches. Thank you for teaching me all these years, Odraz."
With that final farewell, Ishio began to leave the cave. He didn't get more than ten feet out of the cave before Odraz followed him just barely out of the cave and tugged on his shirt. The great beast lifted Ishio five feet off of the ground, successfully hindering his movement. It was clear that the badgermole wasn't going to let Ishio leave without him, and after Odraz let him down, Ishio touched his nose. "I think I can convince the captain to make room for you..." Odraz would be a large amount of cargo, but considering how little else Ishio was bringing, he doubted the captain would be able to really complain. Especially since Ishio was an earthbender with a great badgermole and enough information about his other cargo to report him to the authorities.
Before leaving, Ishio stopped by his house and picked up his bag, which he had thoughtfully left in a bush outside his door that morning. Neither of his parents were home—even if they had been, the farewell would have been too hard to explain, too painful. From his pocket, Ishio pulled out a note which he posted on their door, his final goodbye.
"Dear Mother and Father, Do not send anyone to look for me, I am fine. Gone to Republic City to find a new life. Will be back once I find myself.
Love, Ishio" He was not exactly the most eloquent man in the world, but the letter would serve its purpose. Bending was not mentioned: if someone else saw the letter on the door, it would only put Ishio at risk. Here, in the world Ishio had been born into, bending was illegal. If the police knew that Ishio was a bender, and that he had left to go bend in Republic City, his parents would surely be punished. Ishio would be difficult to track now that he was leaving, but he just wanted his parents to be safe. That was why he was leaving the island. This teenager, this young Earthbender, knew that bending was his identity, and he could not live without it. One might notice the blotched ink on the parchment, the tear stain from the reluctant yet necessary farewell.
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