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|The Crippled Healer, Part 2: Breaking the Barrier|
The Crippled Healer, Part 2: Breaking the Barrier
Speaking these words to Teo suddenly affirmed to Rokan what she had been feeling in her heart for all of those years. No matter how hard she tried to look for an alternate explanation, she had no one to blame for her family's death but herself. Their blood stained her hands.
Teo was no longer making simple conversation while tending to Rokan's injuries. His young face bore an expression of concern, and the old bandages lay abandoned on his lap. Rokan could not break his gaze and was barely aware that her hands were clenched in trembling fists.
"How many people have you told this to?" he asked.
"Honestly...no one. I'm not even sure I've told myself," admitted Rokan.
Teo adjusted his wheelchair and leaned forward, resting his hand on the blankets just inches from Rokan's own fingers.
"Let it out now. Keeping this bottled up inside of you isn't doing you any favors."
"Oh, you think it's easy for me to just blurt out all the facts of my family's death?" Suddenly defensive, Rokan released a few orange sparks from her fists. "There's a reason I haven't told anyone about this; it's too painful."
Teo shook his head stubbornly.
"It's not too painful. You're ashamed of you mistake. Let go of your pride and put your conscience at rest."
How is it that I've just met you and you can already see right through me? Rokan wondered bitterly. What choice did she have? She had created the first break in the dam that held her emotions back and she could not turn away now. The time had come to obliterate the obstruction at last.
"I should tell you that I was born with a natural talent for Firebending. I couldn't exactly rival the great master Jeong Jeong, but I found the fire easy to harness. My mother was a minstrel and attendant for Princess Ursa of the Fire Nation, and our family was always welcomed at the Palace. I used to train in Firebending with Prince Zuko and his sister Azula, learning from their own private tutors.
"One day, coming back from a day of training, I found a few boys from the Firebending Academy harassing my brother...my beloved, dearest older brother...because he wasn't a Bender. They challenged him to an Agni Kai, and when he didn't respond, one of them burned his arm. Outraged, I unleashed a fury that I didn't know could come from me. I actually wound up disintegrating one poor merchant's stand," Rokan snickered. It seemed almost comical in retrospect.
"I guess the boys reported me to the Palace. But instead of the punishment they wanted me to get, I was given my own private sessions from the greatest masters around. I trained for several years. My tutor discovered that I had a temper problem that caused my Firebending to be exceedingly dangerous, but he soon taught me to control it. By the time I was ten I was a master.
"Shortly after I had turned eleven, Fire Lord Ozai called me to the Palace for a performance. I was thrilled...not even Prince Zuko experienced such honors. I pranced my little way up to the Palace and did my very best job for the Fire Lord. He seemed pleased with my progress...he actually told me that I was a better Firebender than his daughter, though I doubt that was true. I went through the usual procedures...endless thanking for his compliments, unbelievable modesty, and so forth. Then, the Fire Lord called me closer and...he asked me a question." Already the recount of her past was wearing Rokan out, but she sank down on her pillow and continued.
"Something you ought to know about Fire Lord Ozai is this: he is a great leader. Yes, he is a tyrant, but he knows what he is doing and he does it well. He trusts his generals and commands them thoroughly and effectively.
"Apparently, Ozai caught a whiff of rebellion among one of his generals, a man called General Fao. Ozai knew that Fao wanted to overthrow the government and take the place of the Fire Lord, but he would not allow it. He needed to dispose of Fao quietly...and permanently."
Rokan's heart was pounding hard in her chest as she recalled her meeting with the Fire Lord as clearly as if it were yesterday. When she closed her eyes she could see him; that dark, imposing figure seated behind a rail of flame, leering down at his frightened guest."Fao was a generous man...if I played the part of a lost child he would easily take me into his home. Once I got that far, I was supposed to put my hard earned talents to work. The Fire Lord's words to me were these: 'He will expect nothing from you. When the two of you are out of sight, show him how gravely he has erred.'
"I was confused and frightened. To me, the Fire Lord had always been a symbol of perfection and kindness. How could he expect me to commit an assassination? When I didn't respond, he became angry and demanded I answer his command with obedience. All I could do was shake my head and run. I thought that if my feet flew swiftly enough I could outrun my terror. But I was wrong. He sent his soldiers after me but I escaped...I lived when all my family was killed protecting me. Ever since that day I have strived to build my courage. I won't be the coward who watches others die any longer."
Hot tears ran steadily down Rokan's cheeks and onto her neck, releasing with them four years' worth of bottled up shame and anxiety. It felt as if a weight had been lifted off of her chest, though some sorrow still tugged at her heart. But that was only natural, wasn't it? One could never fully recover from a trauma such as she had suffered.
"You said that the Fire Lord is a good leader?"
Teo's voice startled Rokan; she had almost forgotten his presence. She looked at the young healer, unashamed of her tears. He bore an expression of confusion and curiosity rather than the compassion and sadness she had expected of him.
"Well...yeah, I did."
Teo shook his head, almost smiling.
"He doesn't seem to think things through from what you've just told me."
Anger and frustration rose in Rokan as she readjusted herself in her bed. She had just told Teo about the most traumatic experience in her life, and he was expecting her to talk about the Fire Lord's leadership skills?
"What do you mean? How did—ugh, what am I saying? Why does this even matter? He killed my family, and you want to quibble about the way he went about ruining my life!" she snapped. "I guess you don't understand what I went through that day."
Throwing back the blankets that lay over her legs, Rokan made to stand up out of the bed. Unfortunately, her dramatic departure came to a halt when a searing pain shot through her foot the moment it made contact with the cool marble floor. Grunting in discomfort and disappointment, Rokan swung her legs back onto the bed in defeat.
Teo held up his hands in surrender.
"Okay, okay, take it easy. You're misunderstanding me. Please don't think that I have no feeling for what you've gone through. What I'm trying to say is that the Fire Lord has done a pretty awful job of seeing all this through to the end."
Crossing her arms with an air of obstinacy, Rokan flopped back into the cushy pillows.
"Please elaborate," she mumbled grudgingly.
"Don't mind if I do. What sticks out to me in your story is the fact that the Fire Lord obviously knew you were a great bender; after all, he trusted you to assassinate someone. If you're so great, why did he try to kill you? He should have captured you. Then he'd have a better chance of breaking you till you did what he asked of you."
"Maybe he didn't want to go to the trouble," argued Rokan.
"So he sent a whole division of soldiers after you in broad daylight to destroy a house full of people? There was more than enough of a chance that you could escape, and he should have expected that you'd come back for revenge. Why didn't he send anyone to make sure you were dead?"
Rokan's jaw dropped slightly in amazement. Teo was right...how could the Fire Lord have overlooked such a mistake? Something flared in Rokan's soul that she hadn't felt in a long time; not since she was hiding behind Zoai. Vengeance. Rokan set her jaw. "Thank you, Teo. I know what I have to do now."
"What? No, stop!" said Teo in shock as Rokan again began to rise. This time nothing could stop her. Energy pulsed through her veins and drove her to stand, clenching her fists in pain though she was. She spotted her katana propped against the wall beside an arched window, still encased in a now charred sheath. As she began the slow, agonizing trek across the cool floors, Teo grabbed her arm at the elbow and held her back.
"I didn't mean to make you feel the need for revenge! I just wanted you to be more careful, because for all you know the Fire Lord could still be looking for you!" he said desperately, wheeling his chair around so he could better face his stubborn patient.
"Then I'll make his search easier! He won't find me, I'll find him. And by the Spirits I will show him how much he's erred by letting me live."
The voice that came from Rokan's mouth was scarcely recognizable. It was quiet, and edged with an almost crazed passion while being torn with discomfort at physical pain.
"I need to leave. Now. Where are my clothes?" demanded Rokan, realizing that she was dressed in nothing but a light green tunic and soft pants.
Teo's grip tightened on her elbow.
"They were unsalvageable after the explosion, and besides, you're not leaving. You can't. Look at what torture you've inflicted on yourself in just these couple of minutes!"
He nodded to Rokan's fully bandaged arm. Once again, the dark red splotches had begun to appear on the white cloth, this time more numerous and damper than before. In fact, small trickles of blood had slipped free of the bindings and dripped off Rokan's fingers, falling with a slight plop to the floor. Rokan's head started to spin, and she gripped the back of Teo's chair to steady herself.
"How long?" she grunted.
"At least a week. Your arm is completely maimed, and you need time to regain your strength."
Rokan shook her head, a slight smile playing on her lips.
"I saw you with that healing ointment. You're good at what you do. Get me out of here faster."
"Well...maybe five days."
"Four, and that's the best I can do. Even with that I'm not comfortable letting you go," Teo sighed.
Rokan's heart sank. Four days was a long time.
But what are four days compared to the four years you've spent in hiding? said a voice inside her head. Grudgingly, she had to agree. Deep down Rokan knew that she needed this rest. Four days of recovery would give her time to think about what she needed to do.
When Rokan awoke on the fourth day, there were storm clouds overhead, and the whole Temple was quiet as if it and its inhabitants understood the gravity of her decision.
Someone had left new cloths at the foot of the bed, and Rokan eagerly dressed. Whoever had put the articles together had thought ahead; due to the cold Northern climate, multiple layers were given, but all were able to transition to hot weather attire. With just a little wincing, Rokan tugged on a white long-sleeved shirt, a pale green vest, dark green bracers and a green belt. Next she slipped into dark grey trousers and brown boots that were covered with green stirrup greaves. Rokan chuckled slightly when she noticed the plain green ribbon that she was to use to tie up her hair. These Earth Kingdom refugees really had thought of everything. When Rokan caught sight of herself in a polished glass mosaic, the only things that were reminiscent of her heritage were her katana, headband, and bright golden eyes. The tenants of the ancient Temple were all gathered in the courtyard for Rokan's departure. It was strange; she had never seen any of them before, and yet they all seemed to know who she was. In fact, the only one who Rokan had had any contact with was Teo, who would come daily for healing treatments and conversation. He sat now in his chair in the courtyard, looking at Rokan with a sort of concerned sadness.
Trying to ignore the staring eyes of the others, Rokan walked up to Teo and bowed respectfully, clasping her fist below her hand in the customary sign of the Fire Nation.
"Thank you for healing me. I'll be eternally in your debt," she said formally.
Teo didn't seem to hear her.
"What are you going to do?" he asked, "Are you going to just go and kill the Fire Lord? Because then you'd be just like him."
Partially disgusted that he would think her capable of cold-blooded murder, and partially touched by his concern, Rokan crouched down abruptly, staring up into Teo's face intently.
"Never. It is not my place to kill him...let that be done by someone else. Someone who has more to live for, more to defend. I...I will do everything in my power to thwart him, to ruin his attempts of world domination. He's going to regret forgetting me for four years. I'll start in the Earth Kingdom, and work my way South. Then I'll go back to the homeland, and he and his minions will be in for the fight of their lives."
"Be careful," said Teo.
"Don't worry about me, Teo. The only thing you need to do is retain hope. Have faith in the Avatar, if he's truly returned and you have met him as you said. But remember this: You don't need to be the Avatar to bring justice to the world."
Rokan stood and adjusted her katana strap.
"All of the kindness you have shown me during these last few days...I will repay it with my actions."
Turning away from the crippled healer, Rokan made her way to the Temple stairs which, after a short while, would lead her to the great gates and her path down the mountain. The people before her parted like reeds as she walked, slow and determined, her head held high and the beginnings of a flame flickering on her fist. Finally she knew where she was going. Finally she had a purpose. She had broken the barrier of her emotions, and now she could let her motivation shine through.
Rokan paused at Teo's voice, already distant as she had reached the edge of the crowd.
"You never told me your name," he called.
Grinning, the warrior turned and glanced back at Teo, a shrunken figure at the end of an aisle lined by curious refugees. With a wave of her hand and her old spirit in her voice, she shouted:
"My name is Rokan!"
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