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Book One: Rise and Fall
This is the tenth chapter of. It is also the final chapter of Book One: Rise and Fall.
exposes her Firebending abilities in a fit of desperation; leads a revolution in Kung, the first of many world upheavals; Tang reports his failure to .
East of Omashu
The morning after my failed escape, my mind was preoccupied. I wasn't quite discouraged, but I had realized that any further attempt at fleeing would have to be very carefully calculated, especially under Tang's ever watchful gaze. I couldn't help but wonder at the freak earthquake as well. It seemed too convenient to be coincidental; after all, it had saved me from an unknown fate. Yet, it had been too strong to have been conjured by an ordinary Earthbender, and as far as I knew, Lo and Niga were the only Earthbenders out of my companions, albeit inexpert ones.
"Pick up the pace, Lin!" yelled Mr. Shao from some yards away.
I ignored him, continuing to harvest rice at the same rate as before; my arm was too sore to work any faster than I was. I sensed the farmer's disapproval, however, and heard him whisper to Tang, "Keep an eye on her; if she remains this stubborn, she'll be going back to prison." I grimaced; I had absolutely no intention of returning to Omashu's dingy little jail, no matter how stifling being a slave under the eye of a pair of farmers and their snitch felt.
That evening, Tang became my shadow. When I delivered harvested grains to Mr. Shao's motor-cart, he followed close enough behind that he could've reached out and grabbed my shoulder. As I returned to the shack, I remained tense, not trusting Tang to keep to himself.
Fortunately, Lo and Yin were meandering back at the same time, and I knew nothing out of the ordinary would happen if there were witnesses. I detoured to the outhouse, still wary of Tang's presence. I opened the wooden door and entered the tiny building. I closed the door and the darkness was complete, except for a few beams of the setting sun that made it through gaps in the wooden planks.
I was about to light a small flame in my palm when I heard a voice behind me say, "What happened?"
I jumped into the air in fright and hit my head on the low ceiling, then stumbled backwards against the door, which would've swung open if the owner of the voice hadn't grabbed my arm to steady me.
"I didn't think you were that jumpy," said the voice, which seemed to be fighting back a chuckle.
I finally recognized the speaker. "Chong, what are you doing in here?" I demanded.
"Wondering why you didn't make it to the forest last night," he responded.
"Why are you hiding in here, though? You do know that anyone could've walked in, don't you?"
"Yes," said Chong. "As a matter of fact, something like that happened."
"What?! Are you crazy?"
"What's wrong, Lin? When you made your plan a few days ago, you were nowhere near this jumpy and wary."
"Someone foiled me," I admitted. "He's watching me like a hawk now."
"So what's your new plan?" Chong inquired. "Stealth didn't work," I commented. Then I sighed. "I might have to hurt someone." I didn't mention how I could hurt someone.
"As long as you get out before the day after tomorrow," said Chong. "If you don't, then I'll have to go back to Omashu without you."
"Okay, fine," I said impatiently. Then I opened the door slightly. "Now get out. There's barely enough air for one in here, and I have business to take care of."
Chong gave a dry cough that was clearly disguising a laugh. I rolled my eyes as he stepped outside, then slammed the door in his face, irritated at his foolhardiness.
I'm a coward, I thought to myself as I stood at the edge of the marsh in my knee-high rubber boots. Then, I shook my head to clear it; it was unlike me to waver when I had a decision to make. I bit my lip and turned around to glance at the forest, which was more than two hundred yards away.
The sun was only just beginning to rise, and it reflected off the surface of the water, almost blinding me. The other slaves were busy wading through the marsh, ready to work in a new section of the rice paddy.
"What are you waiting for, Lin?" asked Mr. Shao impatiently. "Go!"
I ignored him and quickly tugged off my boots to reveal a much simpler and comfortable pair of shoes, perfect for running. I turned to the farmer and crossed my arms, a defiant expression on my face.
"You can't make me work," I told him. His look of surprise encouraged me to go on. "I am not your slave, or your laborer, and neither are any of them." By now, the others had turned and were staring at me with looks of disbelief. "We do all this work for you, and all you give us in return is a small daily meal and a dingy place to sleep."
Mr. Shao's surprise turned to fury. "You don't know what I do to put up with you," he shot back. "Most of you have sour dispositions, and you're all menaces to society."
"What proof do you have of that, Shao?" I queried rhetorically. "Ming was taken away from her son just for stealing a meal for him! Niga was kidnapped because she could do something very few people could. Lo, rather than be set free from the army for spirits know what, was imprisoned. And we all come here, knowing we're never going to be freed, and work for virtually nothing!"
"You want something for your work?" the pathetic farmer wondered, his eyes glinting dangerously. "I'll give you a punishment, and you'll regret being brought here!"
"I already regret being brought here," I said to Mr. Shao. I heard a sharp intake of breath from Lo and a sigh from Ming as I caught sight of the frightful gleam in Mr. Shao's eyes. "Earthbender, you are to obey me!" Shao commanded.
"I don't think so, Shao," I told him. I turned towards the direction of the forest, then, at the last moment, looked back and said, "I'm not an Earthbender, Shao, and I'm not from Omashu or anywhere from the East." Then, I immediately began to sprint for the trees.
As I ran, I heard chaos descend. I heard a sharp click from behind, and Tang exclaimed, "I knew she was a foreigner!"
Lo laughed almost triumphantly, but he quickly yelled out to me, "Run faster, Lin! The farmer has a spark-shooter!"
I fought back panic as a loud pop sounded, but the compact spark-powder flew high over my head; the farmer's aim was pitiful. The feeling of urgency subsided, until I heard rapid footsteps a short distance behind me.
"Not so fast, foreigner," the panting voice of Tang said as he caught up to me. He grabbed my left shoulder in a similar way he had during my last escape attempt, but rather than causing me to tumble, it infuriated me. In a sudden burst of anger and energy, I thrust my right hand over my left shoulder, a fireball forming in my palm. The flame made contact with Tang's hand, and he was forced to let go.
I halted in my run, unsure of what damage I had done. I grimaced when I saw Tang writhing on the ground, his hand no longer aflame but a terrible, blistering red color. Much of his skin had been burned away from direct contact to fire.
Then, my gaze wandered back towards the marsh where I saw, to my utmost surprise, Lo and Niga building a small, stony barricade for the farmer, who appeared to be unconscious. Yin was applauding appreciatively, while Ming and Hanwei looked slightly worried.
I brought my attention back to Tang, then realized that stopping in my escape had been a mistake. I turned to resume my sprint as Tang approached, but it was too late. He grabbed my collar with his unharmed hand and began to drag me away from the forest.
"You're going to pay for my hand, Firebender," he announced. "What's a Firebender doing so far east, anyway?"
I didn't respond, for with his tugging, my air supply was being restricted. Black spots began to cloud my vision, but I could barely make out Lo and Ming running towards Tang and me, Niga, Yin, and Hanwei not far behind. Then, Tang suddenly stumbled, his grip on me loosening. I pulled away from him and inhaled rapidly for a moment before making to run for the trees once more. Then, I caught sight of Chong holding out a slingshot a few yards away; apparently, he had just projected a pebble from the rubber band. I half-glanced at Tang, who was rubbing the back of his head. He looked around to see himself surrounded by hostile faces. He glared at me once, then sprinted back to the marsh, apparently afraid of his fellow slaves. Hanwei came to stand directly in front of me. "Mr. Shao will not push us around anymore, I think," he told me. "Thank-you for standing up to him, Lin." He bowed slightly.
"I'm sorry I lied to you," I told all of them. Ming inclined her head. "Lin, we knew you weren't from Omashu all along," she said with a bemused smile. "You're far too pale. Now, leave, before the farmer comes to."
"Thank-you," I said to her. I nodded to Lo, who patted my shoulder, and I smiled at Yin and Niga. Then I turned to Chong and said, "I think it's time to go."
"Wait, Lin," Lo said. "You should probably know that Niga and I chipped in to help you two nights ago."
I stared at him, confused, then it dawned on me: the earthquake! "You can do that?" I asked. Lo smiled smugly. "You'd be surprised what they teach us in the army, and Niga here is a natural. Now go."
I grinned as Chong led the way to the forest, and as I followed, I didn't look back. I was grateful to the others, whom I would've expected to shun me for lying to them. After all, they had thought I was an Earthbender until I defied Mr. Shao.
"I told you a slingshot would be effective," said Chong brightly as we finally entered into the cool shade of the forest. I smiled, suddenly very cheerful, and said, "Yes, you did."
Hanta sat on a large, gnarled root of an ancient tree, waiting for his prey. His lips were set in a seemingly permanent scowl, infuriated at Tang's initial failure. The pathetic slave had pled for another chance, and Hanta had reluctantly granted it, but not before he heard, with some satisfaction, that his target was trying to escape. Should Tang fail again and Lin successfully flee the rice farm, the chase would begin once more. And, incidentally, Hanta relished the pursuit more than having another do his dirty work.
He contemplated his plans after Lin's death for a while. What would he do next? Well, Hanta was infamous among the elite throughout the world. He had done various jobs for most of the dictators of the world, especially in his native West. In fact, the only country whose ruler had never hired Hanta was Lord Tzu of Minh; however, there was an excellent reason why Hanta had never done business with Lord Tzu.
Hanta loathed the leader of Minh with every fiber of his being. He had, unfortunately, known the man since he was a child, and it was partially Lord Tzu's fault that Hanta had left his home after the death of his wife.
He scowled at the thought of Lord Tzu, whom had always been a rival of his. He then vaguely wondered if Lord Tzu even remembered him. . . Shuffling footsteps interrupted Hanta's thoughts. He looked up to see Tang, the slave and snitch, limping slightly as he approached. The young man was cradling one of his hands in the other.
"Tong," said Tang, "she got away from me. Again." He bared his teeth, apparently frustrated.
Hanta fought back his own rage, but failed. "You incompetent fool," he said quietly, albeit in a dangerous voice.
"I tried, Tong," said Tang. "Look; she burned me." He showed Hanta his hand, where a fresh burn lingered. The scorched flesh had a terrible smell, and the yellowish tint indicated that infection had already set in.
"Is she a Firebender?" demanded Hanta, disbelief showing through his voice.
"Yes," said Tang.
Hanta looked away from Tang's wound. He had no idea that the daughter of one of Vuon's greatest threats was a Firebender. General Wai had not even hinted at it. The girl was apparently an even greater danger to Lord Zen than they had thought. Not that it was Hanta's problem, of course. Hanta only killed the threats; he didn't get involved in the political intricacies of said threats.
"You still let her get away?" Hanta said to Tang, remembering his informant was there. "Yes," Tang said regretfully. "I understand if you won't grant me freedom."
"While we're being honest, Tang," Hanta began in a falsely cheerful voice, "you should know a few things about me."
"Well, Tang, I can be a very unpleasant man to deal with." Hanta stifled a smile at the sight of Tang's grimace. "I wanted you to bring me that girl because I was to kill her. And she is not the only Firebender that you will deal with in your short, pathetic life."
Tang's discomfort became skepticism. "Oh, really?" he scoffed. "I suppose you're about to tell me that you're a Firebender?" Hanta laughed coldly. "No, you poor man," he pronounced. "I am going to show you that I am a Firebender."
A dark-haired woman dressed in green finery lingered over Lord Qin's shoulder. She glared at the man with an intense hatred, and Po saw a certain resemblance between the tyrant and the newly-appeared woman. Then, he realized precisely who she was. "Good night, Tang," Hanta announced as the flames forming the two daggers dispersed. He turned away from the smoldering body and headed down the road without a second thought of his action.
"Be careful, Po," a voice whispered in his ear.
Po jerked awake, his senses alerted, to see an unfamiliar woman standing in front of him. He was immediately transfixed by her eyes, which blazed like blue fire. She was dressed in a blue fur coat, and her expression was worried.
"Who are you?" he asked her. He then recognized that she was merely an apparition; her figure had little substance, and he could see through her to the other side of the room.
"I'm Avatar Korra," said the woman. She inclined her head slightly in greeting. "Remember to be careful, Po. Your fight will be dangerous." Another past life, Po thought with some surprise, but he knew exactly what she referred to. Out loud, he said, "Thank-you for your concern, Avatar Korra, but there won't be a fight. It's a protest."
"Avatar Po, I know you are not a peaceful Air Nomad like your ancestors, and it pains me to tell you that you will not achieve your ultimate goal unless you make sacrifices."
Po felt a chill run down his spine, then he challenged, "How do you know what my ultimate goal even is?"
"Because it was mine, too," Korra pronounced. Ignoring Po's surprise, she continued, "I was the first Avatar to face the Anti-Benders."
"The who?" interrupted Po.
"Doesn't the name say enough?" Korra said impatiently. "Well, the Anti-Benders sprung up before I was a fully realized Avatar, and I was forced to take them on. Eventually, my allies and I managed to cripple them so much it was doubtful they would survive. Unfortunately, they have persisted, and now, over eight hundred years later, they control the world." She then took a deep breath, as if bracing herself, and added, "I'm afraid they had help in their world conquest from a very powerful person."
Po shivered. "Was it a ruler of one of the Four Nations?" he asked, but before he'd even finished his question, Avatar Korra had vanished.
His door swung open violently, and he looked up to see Xia, who was smiling widely, in the doorway.
"Good, you're awake," she said, barely stifled excitement showing through her voice. Even her usually vacant stare was brighter. She walked up to him and sat beside him on the cot.
"So," began Po rather awkwardly, remembering their peculiar connection from the day before. "How's your mother?"
Xia's cheerful expression darkened quickly. "She's shut herself in her room and won't let me in," she told Po; her voice hinted at worry, exasperation, and even fear. "I had to close the shop myself yesterday, and it was busier than ever in light of certain developments."
"So has the plan been set in stone?" Po asked. Xia smirked suddenly. "Oh, yes, it was," she said in much cheerier voice. "We have an inside man. Or should I say woman."
"How did you get her?"
"Oh, Rao Ling?" Xia smiled widely. "She was my brother's girlfriend; ever since he vanished she's been a policewoman of Kung. She hates Lord Qin almost as much as my father did."
"That sounds a bit backwards. . ."
"Oh, it's not," said Xia. "She joined in case she would be needed by the little people. She's almost as progressive as you."
Po then considered something else Xia had said. "Your brother's girlfriend?" he said. "You mean your twin brother's?"
Xia nodded, suddenly solemn. "He vanished when we were thirteen; my mother and I thought it had something to do with my father."
"So what has your 'inside woman' told you?" Po asked, changing the subject.
"Lord Qin sits on his second story balcony every day beginning at noon for precisely an hour. If we want to make a statement, it has to be then."
"Great," said Po. He stood up and walked for the door. "What should we do about your mother?" Xia shuffled her feet uncomfortably. "I know someone who can keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn't ruin our plans," she said.
"Good. But now, we need to let people know of the full extent of the plans, and quickly." Po glanced out the window, which faced east. He saw that the sun had only just peaked the horizon. He calculated that there were still about seven hours until they had to be assembled in the square before Lord Qin's mansion.
"Don't worry, Po," said Xia. "You'd be surprised how fast word travels in Kung City."
About fifty citizens of Kung were crowded into Yinsu's tea shop (which was under the guise of having a sale of free refills for every pot of tea) by the hour before noon. In various stores on the main street of Kung were also hordes of people, all of whom had grasped at the hope that they would no longer be manipulated by Lord Qin or that the kidnapping of various family members would end. Overall, Po was pleased with the turnout.
Po peeked out the window to see that the sun was shining directly overhead. He then stood on a table and yelled with a voice amplified with Airbending, "Listen! In two minutes, I am going to walk into the street towards the center square. Then, everyone in here is going to storm outside to follow me precisely five minutes later; those in the other shops along Main Street will do the same five minutes after they first see me. It is very important that we put on a show of unity. Does everyone understand?" Most of the crowd nodded solemnly.
"After today you will be free to do as you please," Po said with an uncharacteristically grim expression. "You will be one step closer to the Old Days." He made eye contact with an elderly man near the back; his name was Ruon, and he had been alive for the glory of the Old Days.
Po jumped down from his perch and prepared to walk outside. He grasped the water skin he had strapped to his side as an emergency supply of bendable material. He then opened the door and stepped outside into the quiet street.
As he slowly meandered to the center of Kung City, Po glanced furtively from side to side. A few police officers lingered, clearly keeping an eye on the habitants of the town as usual. His eyes landed on a young female officer that was considerably younger than her coworkers. She smiled slightly, and Po acknowledged her with a slight nod, knowing this was Rao Ling, the "inside woman" Xia had told him about.
At last, Po stood at the very center of Kung City. He looked up at the large balcony where Lord Qin would emerge, and he gaped at the architectural design of the mansion, further proof that the people of Kung were being robbed. Taxes typically paid for government officials' homes.
Within moments, the dictator had stepped out onto his balcony and sat in a stool; he appeared to have a book in hand. Barely half a minute later, the square before the mansion began to flood with hundreds of people, far more than Po had thought would show up; word seemed to have traveled even further than he had anticipated. He could only hope that Qin and his minions didn't have prior notice as well.
Everyone arranged themselves in a neat, silent crowd around Po. They enveloped him, all of them standing close together. He glanced around and saw the looks of hardened determination on most of their faces; others merely appeared frightened.
Po then craned his head to see the rear of the crowd where, to his dismay, a number of policemen approached. He then looked back up at the balcony and saw Qin peering down at his subjects with an expression of shock, but the dictator quickly recovered from his astonishment.
Lord Qin was a tall, imposing man with broad shoulders beneath brown leather armor. He leaned forward against the railing of his balcony and watched, smiling crookedly as policemen forced the crowd into an even tighter group to simplify arrest.
Then, a large tremor made the ground tremble. Everyone stumbled, and Qin's home shook, almost causing its occupant to tumble over the balcony rail. The policemen attempting to control the protesters all fell over, literally somersaulting, and the demonstrators themselves wobbled, but ironically, due to the officers' herding, they were able to remain on their feet. Po, in the midst of the insurgents, made eye contact with Ruon, who nodded, his eyes twinkling slightly. Po smiled and turned his face forward.
Ruon was the sole free master Earthbender in Kung. He had been alive during Lord Qin's initial rise to power, but he had managed to slip into oblivion without being noticed, an accomplishment he had achieved by changing his name and birth-date in the public records. Po held his arms out to his sides to indicate that those closest to him should make some room. He moved quickly through the crowd until he stood in the very front at a short distance. He was aware of his vulnerable position, and he knew he could easily be weeded out as the instigator of this uprising, but he didn't care. He knew what he had to do.
"Lord Qin!" he began, his voice once more amplified with Airbending. "We, the citizens of Kung, stand gathered before you for one sole purpose."
"And what is that?" Qin asked in a surprisingly soft voice, yet it was impossible to miss his threatening and condescending tone.
"We demand that you step down from your position as dictator," announced Po.
Qin laughed humorlessly. "I'm not a dictator, young man," he told Po. "I'm the president."
"Oh, really?" Po scoffed. "When was your last election?"
Qin seemed to be taken off guard for a moment, but then he retorted, "I'm the unofficial president, and I've been in this position for over fifty years. What makes you think I would step down?"
"Because more people are against you than for you," said Po in a deceptively calm voice. In reality, he was attempting not to quake with anxiety.
"These people don't know what's good for them," said Qin.
An angry rumble traveled through the crowd, and Po felt a warm hand slip into his. "Be careful, Po," Xia whispered, echoing Avatar Korra's earlier warning.
"Lord Qin, we demand you step down!" a new voice declared over the irritated murmuring of the insurgents. To Po's great surprise, it came from a person standing on the balcony, and he heard Xia gasp, apparently in some recognition.
A dark-haired woman dressed in green finery lingered over Lord Qin's shoulder. She glared at the man with an intense hatred, and Po saw a certain resemblance between the tyrant and the newly appeared woman. Then, he realized precisely who she was.
He whispered, "Xia, is that your mother?" Xia did nothing but shake her head disbelievingly.
Lord Qin appeared utterly dumbfounded. He stared at Yinsu, his mouth hanging wide open. "What?" he finally said in a rather strangled voice. "You want me to step down?"
"Either you step down," said Yinsu menacingly, "or I force you to. Literally." She continued to pin Lord Qin with her gaze while the pitiful and frightened man peered over the edge of the balcony to where his rapt and angry subjects watched.
"How could you betray me, Yinsu?" Qin wondered in a strained voice. "Have you no respect for me?"
"Not anymore," she responded. "Gone are the days when I feared you, Father."
Po couldn't believe his ears. Yinsu was Lord Qin's daughter? What was happening?
"So you turned against your husband," said Qin, "only to turn against me later as well?"
"Yes," said Yinsu harshly. "I turned him in because I felt I had an obligation to you. I regret that now, but I don't regret running away from you."
Qin momentarily looked like a fish out of water, but he quickly regained his composure. "What do you want, Yinsu?" he asked in a slightly defeated voice.
"Step down," she said. "Give your people what they want for once in your miserable life, and allow me to appoint a better and fairer leader."
All one hundred plus insurgents collectively held their breaths as they waited for Lord Qin to say something. Even the police officers stood by tensely, confused and unsure what they should do. Finally, the tyrannical Qin irritably said: "I will step down."
The effect was immediate and overwhelming. Those gathered in the square burst into cheers. Po felt awestruck, amazed that it had ended so quickly. He whooped happily along with the rest of the crowd, but he remained shell-shocked. He couldn't help but feel uneasy that the resolution had been too sudden, almost as if Qin had something up his sleeve. . .
"We did it, Po!" yelled Xia from beside him. She threw her arms around his neck and held tightly, causing his heart to pound, but when she drew back, her face had a look of disgust. "I can't believe that scumbag is my grandfather."
"He doesn't have to be, Xia." Yinsu walked over from the mansion's entrance. "I rejected him as my father when I was sixteen."
Xia embraced her mother, tears emerging from her sightless eyes. "I'm so proud of you, Mom," she said.
"Don't be, Xia," said Yinsu, crying as well. "I should never have lied to you about anything, not the reason behind your father's arrest and not about my own origins."
"But I know why you did," said Xia. "You couldn't stand the thought that you were related to a tyrant." She let go of her mother and smiled, then she turned to Po. She bowed slightly and said humbly, "Thank-you, Avatar Po." She smirked with a trace of her usual humor.
Po rolled his eyes slightly. "All in a day's work for the Avatar," he told Xia lightly, then, without knowing why, he leant forward and kissed her.
Xia, clearly surprised and a tad embarrassed, drew back immediately. Her frown was slightly offended, but her sightless eyes twinkled mischievously. They appeared inviting and seemed to say, Maybe later.
Po smiled contentedly. At the moment, he hadn't a care in the world, but before too long, he would leave Kung to continue to set things right.
After all, this was only the start; the true revolution had finally begun.
- A spark-shooter is a gun; likewise, spark-powder is the equivalent of gunpowder.
- None of the slaves (including Tang) will be seen again.
- Korra is precisely seven Avatars prior to Po.
- Rao Ling is a tribute to J.K. Rowling, one of 's favorite authors.
For the collective works of the author, go here.
|Fleeting Peace Chapters|
|Book 1: Rise and Fall|
|Disagreements - Handle with Care - Glimpses - Alliances - Curses - Idle - Half-Empty - Addition and Division - The Snitch - Revelations|
|Book 2: Success and Failure|
|Explanations - Omens - Looking Back - Factors - Ulterior Motives, Part 1: Jealousy - Ulterior Motives, Part 2: The Grandson - Shifting Tides - Repetition|
|Book 3: Cause and Effect|