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Zoai groaned and rubbed her head. The world around her was sliding in an out of focus.
Zoai screamed and scrambled away from the face that was inches away from her nose.
"I thought you were dead!"
The face in front of her belonged to a scrawny little boy of about seven. His brown hair was untrimmed and unkempt, and he was dressed in simple, soiled clothes.
"Mikho! Mikho! She's alive!" he called over his shoulder.
Still dazed, Zoai turned her attention to a huddled figure several steps behind the little boy. It was a small girl, undoubtedly the boy's twin sister. Her dirty face was streaked with tear tracks.
"I-is she okay?" she asked in a quavering voice.
"I don't know...hey, lady," said the boy to Zoai, "I know you're alive, but are you okay?"
Zoai rolled her neck and shoulders and stood up shakily.
"I think so...what happened?" she asked.
"Oh, it was sa-weeeeeeeeeet!" squeaked the boy excitedly. "First you jumped waaay over the bad guys' heads, and then you were like swish, swish, swooooosh!--" here he imitated swinging a sword, "--and then one of the soldiers knocked your big sword away but you pushed him away and then you went pow, pow!--" now he feigned throwing punches, "--and you got rid of all of them except for the guy who wasn't a soldier. He did some craazy Earthbending and he made a big rock hit you from behind. That one actually."
The boy pointed to a good sized boulder that had cracked the pavement by Shu Min's statue. Zoai's eyes widened as she gingerly felt the back of her head. There was a good sized lump there, but no blood. That was good. But where was her sword?
"Why do you wear that white bandana?" asked the boy, pointing to Zoai's forehead.
Zoai felt the cloth around her head.
"It belonged to someone special. What's your name?" she asked the boy.
"Khomi," he said with a smile, "and this is my sister Mikho."
Mikho scrambled to her feet and curtsied clumsily. Zoai grinned and nodded a greeting, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in the back of her head. This proved to be too difficult, and she found herself stumbling to her knees. Mikho and Khomi rushed to help her back up.
"You should come home with us. Our mom can make you feel better," said Khomi.
"Thank you, but I shouldn't stay. I could put you in danger. Where is my sword?"
Mikho ran a short distance and picked up the katana carefully. With wide eyes, she handed it back to Zoai, who slid it back into its sheath.
"You two should be getting home. It's late," she said to the children.
"Won't you come with us?" asked Mikho.
Zoai said nothing, but turned her back on the children and began to walk away. They did not say a word to her, but she could hear the children following her all the way through the town to the gate where their footsteps stopped.
"Please stay, lady," said Khomi quietly.
"I already told you no, Khomi," said Zoai half-heartedly, "it is too dangerous for you if I stay."
"But if anyone came to hurt us you could just fight them off!" whispered Mikho."No. I'll not stay another minute in the town," said Zoai, a little sharper than she intended.
Mikho and Khomi looked to the ground and backed away sadly. Zoai hitched her katana higher up on her shoulder and turned away. Just as she was leaving, she heard Khomi say to his sister:
"I told you she wasn't the Avatar. The Avatar would never turn its back on people who needed it."
For a moment, Zoai wanted to turn back. She wanted to prove the child wrong, to tell him that the Avatar wasn't the only one who could help people...but how could she? How could she help these people when she could not even help the people she loved? An aching feeling welled up in Zoai's heart as she left Shu Min far behind her and wandered into the darkened forest.
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