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|Someone Else's Memories|
Someone Else's Memories
"Rokan. Rokan. Hey Rokan, wake up."
Rokan slid her eyes open and frowned at the figure that was incessantly poking her shoulder.
"It's so early, Taiko," she moaned, rubbing her eyes with a small fist.
"Yeah, but you need to wake up because guess what!"
"Fire Lord Ozai invited you to the Palace! Again!"
"What?" Rokan screamed, flinging the blankets away.
Rokan's thirteen year old brother laughed his soft laugh.
"You heard me. Come on, get up. Mom wants you to look your best."
Rokan could scarcely speak from excitement. Leaving the bedcovers in a rumpled heap on the floor, she ran down the hallway to her mother.
A short while later, Rokan was on her way up to the Imperial Palace with her brother. Her heart pounded in her chest as she nervously straightened her Royal Flame ornament that held her hair away from her face.
"Relax. You'll do fine," reassured Taiko, putting a comforting hand on Rokan's shoulder.
When they reached the gates of the Palace, the guards let Rokan in without a second glance. They were used to seeing this little commoner come to the Fire Lord for performances of Firebending. Rokan took a deep breath and turned, throwing her arms around her older brother.
"Wish me luck!" she whispered.
"You don't really need it, but good luck Ro'," said Taiko, patting Rokan's back.
"Thanks! Okay...here I go."
Rokan released her brother and walked through the gates and toward the looming, many-spired structure that was the Fire Nation Palace. The guards at the doors allowed her in, nodding politely. She walked through the courtyards, anticipation and anxiety building with every step. As she rounded the corner near the turtle-duck pond, she was greeted with a familiar voice.
"Rokan? What are you doing here?"
"Prince Zuko!" she exclaimed, jumping in surprise and making a hasty bow. "I was summoned by your father. He wants to have a sort of meeting with me."
"What? He didn't tell me," said Zuko disappointedly.
"Oh...sorry?" said Rokan, uncertain as to how she should respond.
"Hmph...oh well. Good luck," he said, punching her lightly on the shoulder.
"Ouch and thanks," smiled Rokan, bowing again.
She left Zuko at the turtle-duck pond, glaring into the water and fidgeting with the sleeves of his long red robe.
This was it. Rokan was standing in front of the curtain that led to the Fire Lord's throne room. She took a deep breath and summoned up all the courage she could muster before she stepped inside.
"Ah, Rokan. I've been expecting you," said the Fire Lord, his smooth voice echoing off the walls of the chamber.
"My Lord," said Rokan, kneeling respectively.
"You may stand. Show me what you have been practicing," said the Fire Lord.
Rokan nodded toward the dark silhouette that sat behind a wall of dancing flames. She took her stance and breathed deeply, feeling the fire course through her veins.
Rokan put on a beautiful display of bending, spinning the fire in ways and shapes that delighted the eyes of the viewer. She demonstrated her fire-whip, cracking it left and right and snapping it upwards. The performance was concluded with a great show of balance, shooting fire from her hands and left foot continually while pivoting slowly on her right. Finally, Rokan pressed her hands down and exhaled before bowing to the Fire Lord.
The towering figure clapped slowly.
"Impressive. You have improved greatly, Rokan. You are a powerful firebender."
"Thank you, my Lord," whispered Rokan, delighted.
"I never thought I should see a display of power like yours at such a young age," continued the Fire Lord, "Your talents have surpassed even those of my daughter Azula."
Rokan's eyes widened. Never before had the Fire Lord compared anyone's skills to that of his prodigy of a daughter. It was the best compliment Rokan could ever have imagined receiving.
"Oh, thank you, sir, thank you!" Rokan exclaimed, bowing low.
"You are most welcome. Now, Rokan, I have a task for you. I know that I can trust you to carry it out correctly and...completely."
"Of course, my Lord. What...what do you ask of me?"
Rokan had never felt so much fear or confusion in her heart before. She just wanted to run, to get away from the Fire Lord. She ignored Zuko's questions when she raced past him in the courtyard. She sprinted past the guards at all the gates, and ran down the hill towards her house. Rokan was out of breath by the time she reached her little home, and she nearly knocked over Taiko who was giving water to a stray hamster-dog.
"Rokan! How did it g—..."
Taiko stopped short when he saw the scared look on Rokan's face. He dropped the water bowl and pulled Rokan aside.
"What happened? What's wrong?"
"Oh, Taiko! Fire Lord Ozai wanted me to do something for him. Something so awful...I don't know why he wanted me to do it! He wanted me to—...to..." Rokan leaned in towards her brother and whispered in his ear.
Taiko pulled back, a frightened expression on his face. Rokan opened her mouth to speak, but Taiko put his hand over her lips. His brown eyes were staring at the ground and his brow was furrowed.
"Wait. Do you hear that?" he whispered.
Rokan stopped and listened. Clanking...loud, metal clanking. The sound of foot soldiers. Taiko stepped over to the window and peered out. Rokan could see over his shoulder that a group of maybe twenty Fire Nation soldiers were marching straight for their house. Before she could see more, Taiko ran back to her and began pushing her towards the back door.
"Taiko, what are you doing?" cried Rokan.
"Hush! Those soldiers are here for you. I'll try to hold them off. You, meanwhile, need to get as far away from here as possible," he said.
As they walked through the small house, the clanking grew louder. The soldiers were almost on their doorstep.
"But Taiko, what about you?"
"I'll handle this. It'll be fine, I promise. Just get out of sight and stay safe," said Rokan's brother, opening the back door.
Before Rokan left, she turned and threw her arms around her brother. She felt an unexplainable sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"Rokan, its fine. Go find a safe place. Now!"
With a final push, Taiko sent his sister out the back door. Rokan ran up a small hill behind their house where she hid in the bushes, watching her home anxiously. The battalion of soldiers banged on the front door, which was opened by Taiko. Rokan listened desperately, but she could hear nothing. She was aware of the soldiers entering the building. Please, Taiko, she thought, Make them go away! Another instant and all the figures were out of her sight.
Several long moments passed, and Rokan fidgeted absentmindedly with the grass at her feet. She could not see any movement until...wait...what was that? Someone had lit a lamp inside the window. Were the soldiers searching for her in every dark corner?
The door crashed open and the soldiers hurried out of the home. The commander shut the door and pulled a cart in front of it. Another soldier did the same to the back door. Before Rokan knew what was happening, all of the soldiers simultaneously blasted the little wooden house with raging fires.
"No!" screamed Rokan, but the soldiers couldn't hear her over the rush of the flames.
Once they were sure the house was engulfed, the soldiers left. Rokan sprinted down the hill to her house. She wished she could do something, but that was the problem with fire; it could be started, but not even Firebenders could control it once it got out of hand.
After much heaving and pushing, Rokan got the cart out of the way of the back door. Then, throwing her arm across her nose and mouth, she ventured into the inferno.
It was so hot. The fires burned brightly and the thick black smoke stung her eyes and choked her. Struggling through the weakening structure, Rokan searched frantically for a sign of movement. The flames were rising quickly, and she could not breathe much longer.
"Rokan!" shouted a voice, muffled by the rolling clouds of smoke and ash.
"Taiko!" Rokan screamed back, but inhaled ash and smoke into her lungs.
"Rokan, get out of here!"
Her brother was running through the fiery prison. He pushed her and pulled her and tried to make her leave.
"I'll get Mom and Dad. You need to leave, now!" he coughed.
They were almost to the back door when the ceiling collapsed. Taiko pushed Rokan so hard she fell to the ground, scraping her hands and knees. When she looked over her shoulder, Taiko was prostrate on the floor, two great wooden beams weighing him down.
"Taiko!" Rokan gasped.
"Rokan, get out of here," whispered Taiko. His voice was weak and his breath came in short spurts.
"Taiko...no! I can't leave you," Rokan shouted. Tears were flooding down her cheeks, streaking through the stain of ash on her skin.
"Go, Rokan...be safe. For me."
Rokan forced herself to leave out the back door. But no...she could not just leave him there! She would have to go back. There was no sign of their parents. Taiko was all she had left. But as Rokan turned to save her brother, more beams fell from the ceiling and doorway, hiding his broken figure from view. The walls began to groan, and the little building was on the verge of collapse. Rokan could hear people screaming, and she saw the soldiers holding back the villagers who were trying to help. Heeding her brother's last words, Rokan ran up the hill that she had left just moments before, sobbing.
When she reached the crest of the hill, she turned to take one last look at her childhood home. It was almost completely destroyed; its walls were collapsed and the roof had caved in. There was no way on earth that her family could have survived this. The tears fell faster and Rokan cried like she had never cried before. She began to run. Away from this horrible place. Away from the Fire Lord. Away from this misery that now engulfed her heart.
Zoai groaned and shifted in the dirt where she lay. Her head ached and her whole body was bruised from her tumble down the cliff. When she opened her eyes and regained consciousness, she noticed that the ropes that had bound her hands and feet had been cut. There was no one in sight, but Zoai felt immense gratitude towards whatever kind soul that had taken pity on her.
But what was all of that before she awoke? All of those events, all of those memories. It was as if she had watched someone else's life. But she knew that was not true. Zoai knew deep in her heart that that was her own life that she had seen reenacted. That had been so many years ago, before she had to hide. It had been before she was forced to take on the alias of Zoai to keep herself safe. She had spent four long years as this cold character, trying to keep her true personality a secret.
Zoai sat up and leaned against the wall of the cliff, rubbing her temples. Back with that boy, Jet, something had changed. She had felt her old self coming out again. And she was happy about it. Four years was too long to be living with an alias as well as a disguising personality. Zoai wanted to be herself again.
Though she was weak and tired and hurt all over, Zoai feebly held her hands out in front of her. Cupping them gently, she did what she had not dared to do since that horrible day in her past.
A small golden flame flared up within her palms. Zoai urged it to grow. She used the energy that coursed through her veins to nurture this little flicker of life. It grew and grew till her hands were covered in dancing light. Tears welled up in Zoai's eyes as the joy of fire filled her. This was who she was.
Standing shakily, Zoai adjusted her katana. Four years is a long time. Fire Lord Ozai had probably forgotten about her. She did not need this disguise any longer.
That day, it was Zoai who had been pushed down the cliff. But that evening, it was Rokan who left its base. She made her way across the sunlit landscape, a new fire dancing in her eyes as well as her open hands.
For the collective works of the author, go here.