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Whistling an old tune about forbidden lovers and some sort of tunnel, I finished polishing the statue of the long-deceased Fire Lord. I hated catacomb duty, but with the others greeting someone important at Crescent Island, I had no choice. The golden visage was so old that I could barely make out its title, "Fire Lord Lizardon." Reflected in his mighty gleaming visage was a scrawny boy, wearing a robe several sizes too large for him and a hat that sat lopsided on his head.
"There I am," I thought aloud, "the biggest charity case of this dynasty." My memory flashed to the day I was given the robe, nine years before.
"You should be proud," the Great Sage had said with a big smile. "Being chosen as a sage means getting to serve the Avatar. And that, you will find, is a great honor." But the day before, I had heard a different story while eavesdropping on the sages in the next room.
"Why should we have to baby-sit this child? When Avatar Shinzon was alive, we never stooped so low. And then this brat shows up on our doorstep with a note claiming him to be the late Avatar's grandson. Are we expected to take in every needy street urchin claiming to be of Avatar lineage? The military has a perfectly good orphanage on the mainland. Why not drop the brat there? But no, the Great Sage just HAD to accept him."
If I had expected things to get better from there, I was wrong. When it was discovered that I couldn't Firebend, I was shunned even further by the other sages. How was I to help the Avatar with the element if I couldn't bend it myself?
A sudden movement in the mirrored surface of the statue awakened me from my daydream. I spun around to see a hooded figure grab one of the artifacts, a gilded crown.
"Stop! Thief!" I cried. The figure turned to face me. Though obscured by the long orange cloak, I could tell that the intruder was a girl of about seventeen years. Placing the crown back on its pedestal, she looked at me quizically.
"Aren't you a little young to be a Fire Sage? And a little- no a lot- fat? And what did you do to make yourself so ugly? Did you lose a bet with a spirit?" She turned her head and squinted at me, giving no signs of stopping any time soon.
"Um... excuse me?" I interrupted, wishing she'd get to the point. She waved the question aside.
"But no matter. I challenge you to an Agni Kai!"
"But... Under national law, you have to file your complaint through the court before you can do that. And besides, I'm not a Firebender." Awkwardly lobbing a fire ball, as if from lack of experience, she set my ceremonial hat ablaze.
"You talk too much. Come on, tubby. Too embarassed to disrobe?" At this, I lost my patience. I felt something rise in me, like nothing I had ever experienced before. Throwing my tunic and hat to the ground, I shouted at the top of my lungs.
"I accept!" Recklessly, half-expecting to fail and humiliate myself, I lashed out with all my might. A brilliant stream of flame bristled to life from my fist, dancing its way to greet the mocking intruder. She was too busy laughing to even notice until it was too late.
"Seriously," she cackled "You might want to lay off the fire fla-"
She shielded her face, clothes singed. Her expression turned deathly serious. Very well, she seemed to say, Bring it on.
Striking a stance I had seen countless times, I launched a series of kicks and punches, replicating a basic training technique the sages used to warm themselves up. Ducking to avoid a shot to her head, the intruder created an opening. I swept low, releasing a wave of fire that swept her off her feet. But she was shockingly nimble. Pouncing back up in a split-second, she sent a sizable burst of flame my way. I dodged easily, only to see the attack ricochet off the wall and hit the gold statue I had cleaned. It struck with enough momentum to send poor Fire Lord Lizardon's head clattering to the floor.
"NOOOOO!" I wailed. "I JUST WAXED THAT!" Ignited with a furious passion, I descended into a violent frenzy. The world around me came alight with a hellish inferno as I struck indiscriminantly, feeling hot blood course through my veins. Too late I saw the girl on her knees, coughing from the smoke she had inhaled. Too late for me to stop the massive wave of searing flame I had blasted at her. My heart sunk, made a stone with dread. There's no way she can dodge that.
But as the smoke cleared, I soon saw I was wrong. The girl drifted easily to the floor, hood blown back to reveal a shaved forehead adorned with a blue arrow tattoo. She bore a staff of wood in her hand.
"You're... But you... How did you?...You must be..."
"The Avatar? You catch on real quick," she said dryly, though I thought I heard her voice quiver slightly, as if she was still unsure how she felt about the title. Remembering my position, I fell prostrate on the ground.
"Avatar, I live to serve you."
"Oh come on," was the response I got, "Just when I started to respect you. A shame, really. By the way, you can just call me Yangchen."
"Yes, my lord Avatar... I mean yes, Yangchen!" I replied, catching myself.
"So, where are your sage buddies? I didn't see anyone upstairs, so I thought I'd check down here."
"At the other temple, on Crescent Island. They said they were expecting someone important. I guess they meant you."
"Other temple, huh? Can you take me there? Along the way, you can show me some of those Firebending moves."
"Sure, I can give you directions, but I don't think I'll be any help in your training. You see, I didn't even know I was a Firebender until today."
"You don't say. Hey, maybe we can learn together. You don't seem to be TOTALLY hopeless."
"Don't mention it. I underestimated you, Tubby," she said with a smile of genuine kindness. "Have you ever been for a ride on a flying bison?"
We emerged into the crisp twilight air, looking out on the lights of the capital. A beast unlike any I'd seen before greeted Yangchen with a friendly lick.
"Alright, girl, enough. Let's go, Tubs." We climbed onto the bison's back. "Yip-yip!"
We took off, heading east towards Crescent Island. I laughed like a child, never having flown before. I felt free. Free as a bison. A few minutes in, the Avatar tapped on my shoulder.
"Oh yeah," she said casually, "I forgot to mention that you lit the temple on fire."
My face flushed. For the second time that day, my heart sank like a stone. I was silent.
"I guess it slipped my mind," she shrugged. "Woops."
"Ohmyspiritsyouhavetoturnbackyouhearmeturnaroundohpleasethey'llkillmeohspiritshavemercy," I cried helplessly, not pausing for air. Gasping for breath, I noticed that she was laughing hysterically.
"Oh!" She too was having trouble breathing. "You should see your face! If only you had a mirror! Spirits that was classic! What a face..."
For the duration of the ride she would not stop laughing. And I don't know why, but I could already tell that this would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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