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January 11th, 2012
In this chapter, each section will be told from a different character's point of view. So Wei's point of view will be used in the Air section, Arika's in the Water section, Mei's in the Earth section, and Ryu's in the Fire section. Fun fact: I find it hard to think of names for chapters, because of the four different stories each chapter contains.
"Well, what do you want us to do?" I say to Via. "We can't turn back now."
"We can't exactly go to the nation that tried to kill us either!"
"We'll just stop for a couple of days, and then we'll fly to the Earth Kingdom."
Via sighs and rolls on her side, staring into the water. I turn my attention to the sky bison, petting his head. He's probably one of the last of his kind, just like Via and I. Via doesn't know how lucky she is to have missed seeing the worst of the Fire Nation's attack. Every time I close my eyes, I see the images that will haunt me for the rest of my life, which will probably not be very long. The slight rocking of the sky bison swimming through the water soon begins to lull me to sleep. As much as I try to fight it, I'm sucked into sleep; where my nightmares wait eagerly to prey on me.
The crackling of fire pierces my ears, waking me up as the first tendrils of smoke creep under my door. Without a second thought I run from my room towards the front of the Eastern Air Temple; following Sister Lio and the other Air Nomads. As the first of the Nomads pour out from the Temple, a single shrill scream sounds. It's the first scream, the one that replaces the need to escape the Temple with the need to survive. Fire Nation soldiers attack us with fire, our airbending only fanning the flames. A soldier shoots a ball of fire towards me, and I create an air shield to protect myself before dropping to the ground, pretending to be dead. As I fall I bump into Sister Lio, who pauses to yell instructions at me.
"Wei, get Via and escape on a sky bison."
A Fire Nation soldier takes advantage of Sister Lio's distraction and strikes her down with a fire whip. Crying, I turn to run only to find my legs turning to ash and blowing away with the wind. I watch the rest of my body dissolve into ash, as my people follow suit.
I wake up screaming.
"Wei, shh. You'll give us away." Via's voice is probably harsher than she intended, although she makes no move to apologize after she speaks.
I clamp my mouth shut, still haunted by my dream.
"Sorry." I whisper.
We've made it to land, Via has led the sky bison to the fringe of a forest, just a couple yards away from a lake, which is so small it might be considered a pond. The sky bison is already asleep, sprawled out on the soft grass.
"Are you going to go back to sleep? I'll take first watch I you want." Via asks, perhaps her way of apologizing for her sharp words earlier.
I take a good look at Via, who has circles under her eyes. She looks as if she is moments from passing out. I think back to my dream before responding.
"No, I think I'll wait a while."
Wind blows my hair back and I shiver, not from the cold, but because I'm wondering what ashes are blowing with it.
I watch with boredom as the healing instructor demonstrates yet another simple healing move. I briefly wonder what Kaori is doing, but knowing her she's probably doing chores. At least healing class is better than that. I turn my attention back to the instructor, who's demonstrating what to do to heal a burn. What's the point? It's freezing here; if you get burned you can just stick your hand in the snow. I wish I could actually do something interesting with waterbending. It's not like I want to fight, but it would be nice to learn how to make the ice sculptures I saw the night of the comet.
The night of the comet, now that was something to think about. Kaori and my brother are so cute together, too bad they won't tell anyone about them. Honestly, they wouldn't even tell me, as if I wouldn't notice my friend and my brother were spending time together. I better get a good seat at their wedding.
The other girls around me stand up to leave, and I realize the lesson is over. Thank goodness. I run out of the hut to watch Aiko's waterbending lessons. If anyone asks why, I'll just say I'm waiting for my brother. I look down from a bridge while Aiko and the other students twirl water effortlessly around their bodies. It looks so easy, I'm sure I'd be able to do it. I closely watch as the students move on to more advanced moves, until the swirling movement of the water makes me dizzy. Before the lesson finishes I slip away and walk home. I enter my room and, making sure the pelt completely covers my room's doorway, mimic the movements I saw today. Stray snow from the floor rises and swirls a little, but I lose control of it and snow flies everywhere around my room. I brush the snow of my blankets before collapsing on my bed with a sigh, drifting asleep in moments.
The sound of voices wakes me up. Through my room's walls I can hear two people talking outside. After listening for a while I realize the voices belong to Kaori and Aiko.
"What do you mean? Why didn't they tell you?"
"I don't know! I don't have any other choice!"
"There has to be some way to get out of this."
"There's not. There's nothing you or I can do. I'm getting married Aiko, but not to you."
With a sob Kaori runs away, with Aiko calling after her. I realize that I'll be invited to Kaori's wedding, just not the one I thought I'd be.
I turn my attention away from the people sawing at the prison's stilts to smile at Emi. We're saved, more importantly she's saved. The prison begins to sway, and instinctively I start to run to Emi to protect her. "The stilts!" I yell, hoping Emi will find a way to protect herself. With a final sway, all of the stilts give out, and I'm slammed against a wall. I see my arm still stretching out to Emi, and then everything goes black.
"Mei, look what I can do!" Emi yells, while raising a wall of rock.
"Very nice." I reply, slightly jealous that I'm not an earthbender.
Emi continues practicing, until she manages to box herself in and she has to take down the walls. I smile and look up at the sky. If the weather's nice, maybe I'll go into the forest to collect some of the leechi nuts I saw the last time Emi and I walked through there. But there are queer-looking dark clouds in the sky. They roll across the sky, joining together to form a formidable wall of gray that advances towards the village. Ash begins to fall from the sky, something I've never seen happen before. I yell at Emi to stay where she is while I dash to what seems to be the source of the smoke—the docks.
When I finally arrive other villagers have already arrived, standing in a huddled mass. Anjay, the aging man everyone always goes to for his wise advice and the unofficial village leader, stands in front of the crowd. Two gigantic ships have dropped anchor, Fire Nation flags flutter from their masts. I hurry towards the safety of the villagers as the front of a ship opens downwards, and a person who must be the captain strides out; flanked by two soldiers. It's been a while since anyone from the Fire Nation has come to trade, but even I remember that no ships such as these have ever travelled here to our rather small and unimportant village. Despite being located on the ocean's shores, our village is usually overlooked in favor of larger port cities. Whispers rippling around me stop as Anjay speaks.
"What is your business here?"
The Captain of the ship smirks at this. Raising one hand in some sort of signal, Fire Nation Soldiers begin to pour out of the ship.
"This village is being claimed for the Fire Nation. Surrender now and we'll allow you to leave peacefully. Anyone who fights will be dealt with sufficiently."
I glance at my fellow villagers as they begin to comprehend what the Captain is saying. While I do I spot Emi, who must have followed me shortly after I left. For a second all is quiet, like the moment of calm before a storm. With a cry all of the earthbenders begin to attack while Anjay escorts the rest of the villagers away. I stay where I am, trying to find Emi in the chaos. Our small amount of earthbenders are doing their best to defend our village, but it's only a matter of time before they're defeated. The Fire Nation soldiers continue to march out of the ship in strict formation, pausing every few steps to shoot blasts of fire towards us. Eartbenders raise walls of walk to protect themselves before pushing them towards the soldiers, who easily blast the rocks to fragments. With every scream I worry that Emi's been hurt, and my panic intensifies until I am screaming her name and straining to find her in the smoke.
When I finally spot her she's about to face two Fire Nation soldiers. A small shriek escaping from my lips, I run as fast as I can towards her; dodging fire blasts and stray rocks as I do. Ever since our parents died, I promised myself I would take care of her. There's no way I'm letting her fight against trained soldiers. A small flower of fire sparks in the soldiers' palms and I jump in front of Emi. Before I feel even a degree of heat, Emi raises a rock wall as I raise my hands to protect myself, and then several more, until we're protected from all sides. Even as she finishes the first rock wall is cracking under the force of the soldier's firebending. I hug Emi tightly once before standing in front of her again. Somehow I'll protect her.
The soldiers take down the wall within seconds, and before Emi can do anything I push her towards the forest and tell her to run. Thank goodness she does. The soldiers attacking me yell "Earthbender!" and for a second I'm scared they'll chase after Emi. Instead one soldier knocks me to the ground, mistaking me as the earthbender. My head hits a rock hard, but before I black out I see Emi's retreating figure. She's safe.
"Mei, Mei! Wake up Mei. Please Mei, wake up."
A voice calls to me, bringing me back from my memories. I open my eyes to see Emi staring down at me.
"The other prisoners used earthbending to protect themselves from the fall, but I couldn't get to you and you can't earthbend so... you got knocked out. You're lucky it wasn't worse."
A lot of wood must have fallen, not even including the thick wooden silts. I feel bruises on every inch of my body, and being so minimally injured is a miracle. But how did the prison fall in the first place? When I ask Emi, she smiles slightly.
"The other villagers saw I was missing and thought the Fire Nation kidnapped me. That was the last straw for them, and this one guy led the villagers in an attack."
I turn my head, but no familiar landmarks are present.
"Emi, where are we?"
"Well... The soldiers overpowered us so we're on the run; but I'm sure we'll be fine!"
With a groan I close my eyes. I'm too tired and hurt to worry about the Fire Nation.
Zeno and I are just a few miles away from the Earth Kingdom, and if this dragon would hurry up we could get there before the end of the day. I kick the beast to hurry it up, ignoring the startled gasp from Zeno. Unlike me, Zeno still thinks that you can be nice in this world and still get ahead. No one's ever gotten a title for being nice to a dragon, only slaying one. As soon as this dragon wears out its use, I'll get that title for myself. Dragon Ryu, I must admit the name has a nice ring to it. Zeno's probably still upset that he had to kill someone, when I know better than anyone that the weak must be eliminated for the strong to thrive.
When the sun is a few minutes from setting, we reach the mountain range that will be our new home for a while. In one of the mountain caves, crates have been left full of salvaged Air Nomad relics. We're supposed to arrange them to look like an Air Nomad house; but I'll leave that job entirely to Zeno. Instead, I guide the dragon down to let me off close to a busy looking town. I grip the Air Nomad necklace, yanked from a fighting airbender's neck, tightly as I begin my walk to the town's market. In my plain gray clothes, nobody gives me much thought, and I settle down to watch the market owners close up their stands.
I trace the faint blue swirls on the necklace's pendant absentmindedly, trying not to remember the last time I held a necklace. The merchants are slow in packing up, with many of them walking over to talk with each other. The memory's determination to be noticed becomes too strong, the idleness of my body making it even harder to fight off. Knowing that reliving the worst moment of my life is impossible to avoid, I settle my face into the emotionless mask I long ago perfected.
I weave the last flower in between the others before holding it up to admire my work. The bright green stems mainly make up the necklace, but the red lowers provide beauty. I can't wait to give my gift. I hear the slap of feet against ground and stuff the necklace in my pocket, scared that the person may see my creation, and even more fearful at what he might do.
When he calls my name I have no other choice but to respond, leaping to my feet and standing with my back straight. In his dark red tailored shirt and black pants, my father looks like the formidable General he is. My nose, long trained to pick the scent of alcohol out of the air, finds no evidence that my father is drunk; when he beckons at me I take hesitant step forward. All my life I have never seen my father smile, but that is what he is doing now. I consider running, because nothing that makes my father happy can be good, but he throws his arm over my shoulder, guiding me towards the hill a few feet from our house while he talks.
"You're eight years old, plenty old enough to go to my old school, the Fire Nation Military Boarding School, wouldn't you agree?"
Not wanting to ruin his good mood, I nod my head.
"So I told your mother that you should go this year, and she said no! Could you believe that?"
My mother, lover of life and hater of war, would obviously not allow me to go to that school, infamous for its strict rules and ways of educating. But it has been so long since I've felt a comforting touch from my father, that I shake my head; as if I truly am surprised. My father, having received the correct answer, continues on.
"You're a bright boy, and your firebending is amazing. I trained you myself."
My burn scars ache at the memory of my training, but my heart opens wider at the sound of his praise.
"So when your mother said no, I knew I had to do what's best for you. You're going to the school, but first you'll do a firebending demonstration, so I can see how well you've practiced. Then we'll take care of your mother."
I shake of the wording of his last sentence as I create my first arch of fire. Jumping and spinning, I completely forget about my mother's previous warnings, not wondering why my father would want fire so close to our home. The house is dangerously close to my fire, and the wind raises the height of my flames. As hard as I am trying, I lose control once, but that is enough to send a rogue arch of flame towards the house that hits the side of our wooden house and begins to consume it.
I cry out and attempt to run to the house, but my father grips me tightly, preventing me from moving anywhere. He practically drags me around the fiery home to the dirt road, where he stops briefly enough for me to see the front door knob frantically trying to turn, but stopping as if something is blocking it. My father picks the flower necklace from my pocket and throws it into the fire, where it will burn with the person it was intended for. My father forces me down the road as my mother's screams for help begin. I barely notice when my father starts to talk again.
"Sometimes the weak must be taken care of so the strong can survive. You're a smart boy, you understand, don't you?
I look into the hard eyes of the person who encouraged me to firebend so close to home; the person who I somehow know broke the door knob. The person weak enough to let his son do his dirty work. I understand perfectly. The weak do need to be dealt with. I nod slowly, and my father turns away for a moment, but that moment is long enough for me to set him on fire. As he begs for help with his dying breath, I don't hesitate before running. I have to be strong to survive.
"Sir, do you have somewhere to go?"
I look into the face of a merchant, one I remember seeing with a wife and little boy. The sun long set, nobody else is near. It's the perfect opportunity. I thrust the necklace in his face.
"Put this among your things. Show it to your customers, but do not sell it. Tell anyone interested it came from the mountains. Got it?" The merchant examines the necklace, clearly noticing the Air Nomad qualities with a confused look on his face. Obviously he needs some convincing. A tiny flame spouts from one of my fingers, and I hold it close to the merchant's neck.
"Do it. We wouldn't want anything to happen to your family, now would we?"
The merchant nods weakly, just like I did so many years ago. I start to walk up to the mountain, but something stops me. I look back once at the terrified merchant.
"Take care of them." I say, before disappearing into the night.
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