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This is the first official chapter of.
Four very different individuals have very similar experiences.
In the depths of the Northern Air Temple, the newest member of the Council of Elders, Gian, sat in the main room of his simple home and fretted about Tao, his young ward. When Tao's parents passed away, Gian had been appointed as the boy's guardian. The boy though, was very troublesome and easily found his way into "situations".
As Gian finally returned his attention to a message from the Council, Tao rushed in from the door. He then slowed and attempted to tiptoe his way to his bed chamber, apparently unaware his guardian was in the same room as he.
"Ah, Tao, very sneaky of you, but I can see you," Gian spoke as he stood from his chair. He faced a beaten and sweaty Tao. A dark bruise circled his left eye, and scratches were scattered all over his exposed skin. There were also several tears in his clothing. Gian asked worriedly, "What happened, Tao?"
"Got in a fight," the harassed boy mumbled.
Gian shook his head in disappointment and disgust. "Obviously! Tao, this has been the second fight this week! Were you even listening when I told you not to get yourself into trouble?"
"I'm sorry, Gian. I tried to listen to you, but the bully...." Tao broke off.
Gian sighed. "Okay, go wash up, but we're not through discussing this."
"Yes, Monk Gian," Tao said solemnly while acquiescing.
As Tao sprinted down a hall, Gian pulled out a Pai Sho board for him and the younger Airbender to play, hoping that Tao would allow the elder monk to impart Air Nomad wisdom on him again. As Gian divided the pieces into two piles, Tao returned in a hurry, panting slightly.
"I thought you were angry with me, Monk Gian," Tao stated, clearly curious about the Pai Sho board.
"I am," said Gian neutrally, "but sometimes you don't sit still long enough for my words to penetrate your mind." He gestured for Tao to sit. "The first move belongs to the guest."
"I live here too," protested Tao, but when he saw Gian's disapproving gaze, he prodded a tile onto the board.
The two quietly played their game for a few moments, occasionally contemplating strategy. Finally, Gian interrupted the silence, "How did you get into the fight, Tao?"
"Well, if you must know," began Tao in a tone suggesting it would be a long story, "I had to teach the class bully, Ming, a lesson. Ming picks on too many kids at my school, and something had to be done about her."
"So, what you are suggesting is she had to be taught a lesson?" Gian questioned.
Tao nodded, placing a tile on the Pai Sho board. "Exactly."
"And by that you mean punching and kicking her roughly."
Gian shook his head and sighed. "Young Tao, that is not the right thing to do in situations like that. You must go to an adult or teacher and explain to them how Ming bullies other students. Promise me you will do that next time."
"I promise," Tao muttered grudgingly so his guardian could not hear.
"Say it louder and clearer."
"I promise!" Tao shouted.
"Good," Gian praised. "I expect you to remember everything I have told you today. And please, Tao, take it upon yourself to avoid violence; it does not belong in our peaceful way of life."
Tao nodded reassuringly. "I will bear what you told me in mind, Monk Gian."
"Good," said Gian, concealing his still-present fears for Tao's behavior.
An orphaned eight-year-old Water Tribe girl yanked on her winter coat and exited her home, a miniature building carved out of ice by her great-grandfather many years ago. Her snow boots made a crunching noise across the soft blanket of snow that lay on the ground.
Her thin legs carried her to the Healing hut of her grandmother and sole guardian, Pika, the head Healer of the Water Tribe.
"Maya, you're here! Are you ready for another Healing session?" Pika smiled, the wrinkles on her aged face bunching.
Maya bounced slightly on the balls of her feet in rare excitement. "Yes, I'm definitely ready, Gran-gran!"
Pika was very grateful for her granddaughter's enthusiasm. She knew that Maya strived to be an excellent Healer, and so far, she was the best in her class. It was truly a pity Maya was forbidden to learn the other equally important half of Waterbending.
Pika gestured for Maya to sit on the floor, and together the two women gathered on either side of a wooden dummy with lines detailing human Chi paths.
Pika coated her hand in water from a nearby bowl and then rested her hands lightly on the chest of the dummy. She breathed in deeply, feeling her own Chi paths come alive. The lines carved into the false body absorbed the water, creating an illuminating blue light in the process. "Okay, Maya, I want you to try this technique. Strengthen your Chi, and keep your mind focused on your task."
"What's wrong with him today?" Maya wondered as she placed her hand in the bowl of water.
Pika tapped the mannequin's shoulder thoughtfully. Usually, she invented scenarios involving an injury or illness manifesting in the dummy to fuel her students' imagination. "Yesterday, your patient was practicing Waterbending by changing the state of a globule of water held above his head. While the globule was frozen, he lost his concentration and dropped it on his head. He may have a concussion. What will you do now?"
Maya placed her hand on the wooden man's head, pretending she could detect the damaged area. The young Healer felt her own Chi paths ignite as the lighting on the outlines on its entire body grew brighter than ever before.
"Excellent! Maya, you have improved immensely! Would you like to take a well-earned break?"
Maya's youthful face looked up from her work, and the light on the mannequin faded quickly. "Yes, Gran-gran," she said quietly. She stood and made her way to the window, looking outside to where it had just begun to snow. She frowned slightly and said suddenly, "Meeko said his sister Kiki doesn't like Chief Luka."
"And why is that?" Pika queried curiously.
"He said she really wants to learn how to Waterbend, but she can't because Chief Luka won't let her, even though she's the Waterbending master's daughter."
"Why, she does know how to Waterbend, Maya," Pika contradicted gently. "I taught her to Heal myself!"
"Meeko said she wants to learn real Waterbending," retorted Maya. After a moment of silence, she added, "I do, too."
"Oh, Maya. . ." said Pika, reluctant to explain to her that she would never be able to learn the second half of Waterbending.
"But I know I can't," Maya said tearfully. Then she turned around and hugged her grandmother around the stomach, and her small shoulders began shaking with sobs.
Pika stooped down to Maya's level and embraced her, allowing the small, orphaned girl to cry, knowing that no matter what she did, she would never be able to give her talented granddaughter the Waterbending lessons she desired.
"Master! Master!" a girl cried out as she sprinted through an Omashu street to her Earthbending lesson. Tears like a blistering storm meanwhile poured out of her eyes.
She tripped and stumbled as she neared her Earthbending instructor, Feng's, training field. The air whipping past her pushed her long, untidy hair away from her wet face. The sorrowful Earthbender dashed right into Feng who surprisingly stood waiting for her.
"Pupil Miao," he greeted his student. "What's wrong, Student? Why are you crying?"
Miao sniffed. "My f-father was killed!" Teardrops fell rapidly down her cheek as she sobbed into her hands. A mournful cry rang out of her.
Master Feng's expression changed from surprise into a mix of sorrow and alarm. "Oh my pupil Miao, how devastating! Come into my house, young one, so we can talk."
Miao reluctantly followed her wise master into his secure adobe.
"You will feel better after you relieve yourself of your distress," Feng told his Earthbending student, prodding her towards a chair while sitting in one himself.
The miserable girl nodded slowly as she sat. Immediately, she announced dramatically, "It was the Dusters."
"Another attack," Feng said mournfully. He sighed and added, "I'm afraid they won't stop until they accomplish their goals."
"Master Feng, why did the Dusters kill my father?" Miao sobbed.
"They did not choose him because he stood in their way, Miao," said Feng knowledgeably. "They attack blindly, without remorse, intent to get their point across. Unless the Earth King acquiesces to their demands to allow Omashu its own body of government, they will continue to murder innocent people such as your unfortunate father."
"But how could they?" Miao whined. "He didn't deserve to die!"
"Young one, I understand," Feng comforted. "Those vile terrorists are cruel and nasty. Ever since their leader Ling united them, they have been the most despicable crowd in the Earth Kingdom! Hopefully, Omashu will soon be free of their menace. . ." he trailed off.
"Yes, I know, but it's not about them, Master. It's about my father; he's gone, forever, never to walk among the living again," Miao barely whispered, refusing to look at her Earthbending teacher.
"I know, my student, but you must learn to accept the tragedies of life, however difficult it may be."
Miao nodded tearfully. "Yes, I know, but I wish I could Earthbend them all out of this world. They should suffer because of what they took from me!"
"Remember, Pupil Miao, violence is never the answer," Feng intimated wisely.
Miao shrugged, signaling the understanding that had deserted her in a moment of impulsive anger. "Also remember, Miao," Feng said after a moment of silence, "the dead, especially those that deserve to be remembered, never truly leave us. And one day, justice will catch up to those terrible Dusters."
Miao could not help but smile at Feng's statements. "Oh, Master, you always know how to cheer me up!"
The pounding noise at the door of her house surprised the Fire Nation woman, Xuyan She quickly rushed to the front door. She usually never expected visitors during the evening.
Xuyan yanked door open to see Fazu, her tall and handsome son, standing in the doorway.
"Fazu! Son! What a surprise!" Xuyan exclaimed. The two shared a long and rejoicing hug.
"It is so good to see you, Mother," Fazu said emphatically. "How is Father?"
"He is good," replied Xuyan, smiling ecstatically. "He's away for another few days, though. Never mind him, Fazu. We should still celebrate your visit!" She shuffled away into a kitchen. "I'll make some tea, and you can tell me all about your time at the Capital."
"Tea sounds fantastic," said Fazu as he followed his mother into the kitchen. He watched her as she lit a fire in the wood-burning stove and placed a tea pot over the flame.
"You still love ginseng tea?" Xuyan confirmed.
"Of course, Mother," responded Fazu while smiling.
"Good," said Xuyan. Together, they sat at the small table while waiting for the tea to boil.
"So, Fazu, how is your training as a future Fire Sage?"
"It's great, Mother. I'm learning new skills everyday and before you know it, I will become one of the leaders of the Fire Nation!" Fazu announced proudly.
"I am so proud of you, son. You will make an excellent Fire Sage." Xuyan beamed, admiring the ambitious man her son had become.
Fazu smiled back. "Thank you, Mother, although there are some complications among the Fire Sages," he said regretfully.
"So what's the gossip?" Xuyan asked eagerly.
"Fire Sage Lanwei is very ill, unfortunately. The Great Sage thinks he will die soon."
"Oh, that's terrible," said Xuyan somberly.
Fazu nodded, then said in a much brighter voice, "The Great Sage hinted that I could be his replacement."
"Really?" Xuyan said in surprise. "No offense, Fazu, but aren't you rather young?"
"Mother, I'm thirty-eight, and I've been training to be a Fire Sage since I was sixteen! Besides, the Great Sage said I'd be the youngest Sage in history."
"That doesn't surprise me," said Xuyan, "but it's possible you may not have quite enough experience."
A sudden hissing sound from behind Xuyan interrupted their conversation. "The tea!" Xuyan said in alarm, springing up to tend to the hot leaf juice. She put out the flames in the stove and poured the tea gingerly, aware that the pot was extremely hot. She returned to the table with two tea cups in her hands.
"Fazu," she said, returning to their previous topic, "experience is the best teacher, and I hate to say you may not be the best candidate for the next Fire Sage."
"I can handle it, Mother," Fazu said resentfully.
"I'm sure you can, Fazu, but there may be someone better suited for the job."
Fazu hesitated before replying, "There are several that have been at the temple for longer than I."
"Could the Great Sage have an ulterior motive to choosing you over them?"
Fazu looked at his mother in surprise. "What makes you say that?"
"It's always possible he'll want to take advantage of your lesser experience."
"Mother, must you always worry?" Fazu queried in an irritated tone.
"That's what mothers do, Fazu," replied Xuyan with a trace of a smirk. She sipped her tea and added, "Next time you drop by, bring your family; I miss my grandchildren."