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27th December 2014
Water. Earth. Fire. Air.
Long ago, in a time of oppression and war, there existed a country called Poland. For a while we lived in peace and harmony. But then, everything changed on the first day of September, 1939 when the German war machine invaded. My parents died during the opening hours of that fateful day, and I was imprisoned by the invaders.
After making my escape, I joined the Armia Krajowa, a band of freedom fighters seeking to reclaim Poland's freedom. Now, the time has come for the people of Poland to rise up and take back what is ours. But I will not be apart of the Uprising. My superiors have assigned me to protect and escort the Avatar, a girl named Tanya.
The coming days won't be easy, but I will face them head on. I will do my duty and protect Tanya, I will avenge my parents, and I will prove that Poland is Forever Unconquered.
She flicked on the light, and a single light bulb repelled the darkness in the cellar, hindered by the barrels, crates and racks all around her. It was seldom that she slept an entire night, and so she hadn't bothered to close the ancient and modern tome she was reading. It was written in dozens of languages only a few of which she understood, and the characters were always tiny, so small it was hard to believe they were written by hand. There were pictures, too, plenty of them, in fact, and these, together with the words, made up all mankind had ever known about who she was, or rather, who she once had been.
It were legends and myths of the benders and their enemies all around the world, that one thing beside their abilities that bound them together. Something, or rather, someone who needed a host for the enormous powers and duties he, she, it held, and yet, someone who would always perish for what they themselves started. The tome's contents covered more than two millennia, theories and hypotheses about who this someone could once have been, and who he, she, it certainly was. It was the closest mankind would get to a godly being, a true messiah, she had decided. And out of all, she had to be given that position, she, whose yellow star marked her for certain death in the streets outside.
The Avatar, Tatiana Rosenberg, glanced at the strange, handwritten Indian letters and an English translation for which a typewriter had been used. She knew some English, but by far not enough to find out what the pages said, but the accompanying pictures showed a man, first in battle, surrounded by all kinds of riches, then meditating as a poor monk.
Ashoka, he had been called, the oldest known incarnation of the Avatar, the first king to rule over (nearly) all of India, and the first one to outlaw slavery. He was her ideal, her most favourite previous incarnation. Then, there was the one she had read about in Latin, however, in a Latin with heavy Spanish influences. That incarnation of hers was shown with spears in both his hands, flying above a Spanish army, bending all the elements at once, with an air sphere around him, as well as belts of water, fire and earth. One thing was unsettling, however – his eyes glowed and a bullet pierced his chest. She read in the dead tongue she knew very well, she read about the Inca warrior who almost had defeated the greedy and ruthless Spanish Conquistadores, but died in the final battle.
These two, who had lived in the third century before the common era and the sixteenth century, respectively, and while one had been born a prince, lived an emperor, and died a beggar, though by choice, the latter one was born and lived and died a warrior, almost ending the cycle this being followed. She browsed through the pages between and after these two. There were plenty of theories regarding Jesus, Nero, and other aspects of early Christian and Classical Roman history, there were plenty of unknown Avatars as China, Europe and India descended in chaos, and there were many Avatars whom had befallen a fiery fate at the hands of the Inquisition. She hated fire, even though it was her family's and her own element, and perhaps that was one of the reasons.
Had she been born just two-hundred years earlier, she would've died not for being a Jew, though likely for that too, but for being a witch. She shook her head. How little the world had evolved since then. Then, at last came the longest continuous line of Avatars known. It all started with a woman named Marianne Girard, a poor Parisian woman who had been born in 1772, who had supported the Revolution from its first day with musket and bayonet, and who then was decapitated for alleged treason by those whom she had helped to power, of whom she hoped she would lead her people, the benders, into acceptance. The Jacobins beheaded her all the same, no matter how much her people had done for them.
All of sudden, the light went out after a slight tremor, and returned after a mere minute. She could've had a candle, but her pyrophobia had prevented that. That, and the fact her tome was centuries old in parts, were the reasons for installing an electric light. Outside, the noises of artillery were heard, a reminder of what situation they were in. Marianne was followed by one who lived to see twice injustice on national, nay, international levels. Syun Tao, a man from a city that would later be called Hong Kong, who was called in by the Qing to serve against the British, who captured him and shipped him off to high-security prisons in Britain, from which he managed to break out with his powers. She looked at the lithographies of this man, as he stood on barricades in Germany, waving a flag, again bullets, from both sides this time, penetrating his chest. He was just one of thousands to lose his life in the 1848 Revolutions, she knew, but she couldn't help noticing he was, like Marianne, abandoned by those he had helped to rise. Then, the Scramble for Africa came, and the Avatar was needed somewhere else.
Umkakhulu was her name, a Zulu woman the pictures of whom were colourated photos, showing a bare-breasted proud woman with flags of both Boers and British units, a woman who had fought both for freedom. And both had shot her in the final days of the First Boer War, in 1881. Maxim Alexeyevich Morozov then followed as the Avatar. She disliked him at first sight, the Russian with the slight beard and moustache, with shoulder-long hair, a bodenovka covering it, and especially did she dislike the fact her past life chose to bear a red star on his hat. Considering his affiliation, and his achievements for the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, Tanya found it hard to resist smiling at his fate. Executed by firing squad for treason against the Soviet Union. was written there in Russian cursive, and a photo of his corpse accompanied it. Tanya's smile didn't last long.
"Wait a second... " she spoke, realising something. She took a close look at the histories of the past few Avatars, and decided, "There's something, almost like a... like a curse!" Her exclamation was not joyous, or at least not for long, when she reminded herself she was the Avatar. "Bloody hell dammit... "
She didn't dare to speak what she thought. She was to die at the hands of whoever she would aid to rise, at least indirectly. Revolution devours its children. she thought, terrified, And the Avatar's the best proof.
The engines kept roaring, and the windows and hull were almost completely ineffective in keeping the noise out. Below, tracts of land passed, land which had changed its owners throughout the centuries. The territories east of the Oder had always been an apple of discord, whether it was eastern Brandenburg, Silesia, farther Pomerania, Prussia, or any of the Polish lands. It mattered little whether the Bohemian Kings had taken these as Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire, whether Prussia and Austria had taken them from Poland-Lithuania, or whether Nazi Germany had taken them from the Second Polish Republic, some time, sooner or later, they would return under Polish rule. Not this time, if we do better than till now. thought the highest-ranking soldier on board the plane.
The black uniform, the double sig-runes and skull with crossed bones spoke of his affiliation better than he could ever have hoped to do in words, and the other insignia on his uniform designated him as an equivalent of a colonel, of what was called an Oberst in the Wehrmacht, but the SS called Standartenführer. Wilhelm Kruckenberg knew these lands only scarcely, or rather, he knew them as much as he knew the aeroplane he sat within. It was a Junkers Ju 52, Germany's standard transport aircraft, that much he knew, and he knew it had three engines, and a hull of corrugated iron, but that was truly it, and he didn't care to learn more about the lands he operated in, nor the aircraft he occupied. However, they had passed the Oder some time back already, so, he presumed, it wasn't all too far to what many of his comrades in the SS claimed to soon become the world's capital, Berlin.
He had to admit that, even though they doubtlessly eased his work, he distrusted aeroplanes. When he thought about why he mistrusted these crafts, he inevitably came back to his experiences in the Great War, but as he was about to narrow it down, the aeroplane landed, and he recognised the structures of Tempelhof airport outside. With him were two of his sergeants, who had their MP40s ready at anytime, who were by his side, or behind him, at any time. These two were two of just very few people Kurckenberg had ever trusted, and none of Germany's leadership were included. The worse for him it was that his destination was the SS headquarters in the Prinz-Albrecht Straße, in a former hotel he didn't know any further.
"Sieg Heil!" greeted him a soldier as the car's door was opened for him and he put on his peaked cap. "Herr Kruckenberg, wenn Sie mir nun folgen würden... " Kruckenberg found the greeting to have an ironic after-taste. "Mr Kruckenberg, if you would follow me now... "
Through the entrance, which was guarded by two soldiers on the outside and two on the inside, and up a staircase, Kruckenberg was laid wordlessly, his two men following him closely, their appearance, with plenty of scars obtained during battles with benders, and reputation scared even some of the SS soldiers inside off, which Kruckenberg found relieving. When they had arrived at a certain storey, the soldier who had led Kruckenberg through the building pointed a door out, and merely spoke, "Der Reichsführer SS erwartet Sie." which made, in turn, even Kruckenberg nervous, "The Reichsführer SS awaits you."
"Hört gut zu, positioniert euch an der Tür, mit den Maschinenpistolen bereit, sollte da drinnen was schief gehen." whispered Kruckenberg to his men, "Listen closely, position yourselves at the door, with the sub-machine guns ready, should something go wrong inside there."
The two obeyed, and Kruckenberg opened the door, only to find the man he feared most outside the Gestapo sitting at a desk. Big, round glasses, a shaven chin, black, short hair hid beneath a black peaked cap fitting the uniform that bore insignia existing only once worldwide. Resolutely, Kruckenberg walked to the chair across the man, and sat down, and thus, he found himself face-to-face with Heinrich Himmler.
"Ah, Standartenführer Kruckenberg! Immer wieder eine Freude, Sie zu sehen!" spoke the man with a smirk that made one cringe, "Ah, Standartenführer Kruckenberg! Always a pleasure to see you!"
Kruckenberg remained silent. He despised the man who commanded him, and he did well to hide it.
"Wilhelm Kruckenberg, geboren am elften Juni des Jahres 1897 in Pilsen, 1907 nach Nürnberg umgezogen. Freiwilliger im Kaiserlichen Heer von 1914 bis 1918. Bei Kriegsende Fähnrich, ausgezeichnet mit dem Eisernen Kreuz aufgrund außergewöhnlicher Verdienste für das Vaterland in der Schlacht and der Somme. Nach dem Krieg zunächst bei der Reichswehr tätig, dann wegen unbegründeten Verdachtes auf bolschewistische Neigung ausgeschlossen, Beitritt zu NSDAP und SA 1927. Seit 1933 Fachmann für Bekämpfung von Bändigern, und Standartenführer, Auszeichnung mit dem Eisernen Kreuz für besondere Verdienste für das Reich im Zuge Polen- und Russlandfeldzugs. Seit Stalingrad in Warschau stationiert. Trifft dies zu?" Himmler read from files about him, Kruckenberg realised, "Wilhelm Kruckenberg, born on July eleven of the year 1897 in Pilsen, moved to Nuremberg in 1907. Volunteer in the Imperial Army from 1914 to 1918. At the war's end Sergeant, awarded the Iron Cross for extraordinary service for the fatherland in the Battle of the Somme. After the war in the Reichswehr at first, then expelled for unfounded suspicion of bolshevist propensity, accession to NSDAP and SA in 1927. Since 1933 expert for fighting benders, as well as Standartenführer, awarded the Iron Cross for exceptional service for the Reich in the Poland and Russia campaigns. Stationed in Warsaw since Stalingrad. Is this correct?"
Kruckenberg nodded. More he couldn't do, for he relived the days when he earned his first Iron Cross, when he killed a dozen Brits with only five rounds for his rifle, and held an entire trench segment on his own for five days of rain afterwards. These days had been the worst ones he had lived so far.
"Kruckenberg, glauben Sie and den einen Herrgott? Glauben Sie an den Endsied? Glauben Sie an den Führer?" asked Himmler further, his somewhat terrifying smirk persisting. "Kruckenberg, do you believe in the one Lord God? Do you believe in the Endsieg? Do you believe in the Führer?" He paused. "Glauben Sie an ein Großdeutschland?" was his next question. "Do you believe in a Greater Germany?" When he opened his mouth next, Kruckenberg found him to be worse than any weapon he had seen so far. Take him, let him talk to Churchill and Roosevelt and Stalin for an hour like this, and they'd surrender. he thought. Nonetheless, the man continued. "Für wen kämpfen Sie?" was his final question. "Whom do you fight for?"
"Ich glaube an Gott den Herrn, ich glaube, ich hoffe zutiefst, dass Deutschland keine Niederlage erfährt wie Anno 1918, und der Führer ist bloß Mensch." Kruckenberg's answer was risky, he knew, but he was honest. "I believe in God, I believe in, I truly hope, that Germany doesn't experience a defeat like in the year 1918, and the Führer is merely human." He paused to remember the next question. "Ich glaube an ein Deutschland größer als das bloße Altreich." answered he next, "I believe in a Germany greater than the mere Altreich." As he remembered the last question, he couldn't help but smirk. "Die meisten kämpfen inzwischen um das nakte Überleben. Manche kämpfen für den Nationalsozialismus, manche für Ruhm und Ehre. Ich hingegen bin altmodisch, ich kämpfe für... " He laft a pause, "At this point, most fight for naked survival. Some fight for national socialism, some for glory and honour. I, however, am old-fashioned. I fight for... " Himmler was dissatisfied with the brief break, and not wanting to tempt him that much, Kruckenberg continued. "Gott. Kaiser. Vaterland." Resolute as ever, he answered. "God. Emperor. Fatherland."
"Dann dürften wir nichts zu befürchten haben." Himmler had ceased smirking. "Then we shouldn't have anything to fear." He took out a folder. "Ich habe einen hochbrisanten Auftrag, den ich nur Ihnen übergeben kann, Sie sind immerhin der beste Mann dafür. Und Sie sind auch noch vor Ort." He handed the folder to Kruckenberg, who was eager to open it, but contained himself. "I've got a highly volatile mission I can only assign you with, you are the best one for it after all. And you're in the right place, too."
He opened it, and a, he had to admit, gorgeous young woman stared at him from a composite sketch. "Tatiana Rosenberg... " he read, and looked through the information they had about her.
"Sie ist der Avatar, das heißt, sie kann alle vier Elemente bändigen. Für die Bändiger ist sie so etwas wie ein Messias, ein menschgewordener Gott. Alles andere, was Sie wissen müssen, finden Sie in der Mappe." explained Himmler briefly, "She's the Avatar, that means, she can bend all four elements. To the benders, she's like a messiah, an incarnate god. Everything else you need to know, you find in the folder."
Kruckenberg looked through the papers, and found locations of hideouts on maps, he found accounts of skills of previous Avatars, he found more than he had ever been allowed to know about his usual targets. He smiled, stood up, saluted and turned to walk away. However, Himmler stood up.
"Kruckenberg, töten Sie sie nicht. Bringen Sie sie zu Mengele." ordered he, as if it hadn't been stated in the papers often enough, "Kruckenberg, don't kill her. Bring her to Mengele." Kruckenberg nodded, and Himmler dismissed him with a "Sieg Heil."
As he left the office and was about to descend the stairs again, a soldier handed him a lengthy box, speaking, "Ein Geschenk aus Auschwitz!" and ran off, "A gift from Auschwitz!"
His two Sergeants were as eager to learn about the contents of the box as he was, and when he opened it, Kruckenberg knew just the way to capture a bender of all four elements. Inside were a power pack, wires and, most importantly, a gauntlet.
The instructions were cryptic, and it was hard enough to control himself in the presence of German soldiers when friends, fellow members of the Armia Krajowa were with him, but to send Henryk out alone was as if going around asking for someone to execute him, especially since he had nought but his arms and legs to defend himself. Come unarmed. stated one of the orders he had been delivered before sunrise, and so he would. The other notes were meant to show him the way to the safe-house within which the most important part of his upcoming mission was contained.
The notes only told directions and approximate distances, and these were written in scrawly, faulty handwriting, and in written-out words rather than numbers. It's not like the Germans would care to reconstruct the start and end of this path. he thought as he took a turn into a side alley, trying to look as though he knew the neighbourhood, and continued thinking, not realising how true his thoughts were, "They're sooner going to destroy house after house to find this Miss Rosenberg... He kept walking, and almost stumbled over a broken bottle of beer, but caught himself by a dust bin, dusted himself off, and picked up his hat, only to place it back on his head. He had dressed up to conceal himself just as well as he intended to attempt wooing the most powerful bender there had ever been. He emerged out of the alley onto a street as any other, with tenements around, as well as shops, street lamps, German patrols, a running Armia Krajowa member... and suddenly, he was pulled through one of these tenements' gate, which was closed immediately afterwards. The brassard the man wore was of a white and red stripe each, with a kotwica in black. It was a wonder this safehouse wasn't stormed yet. They did everything to keep it secret, but then they storm out with brassards? Henryk took a quick glance around, and found the yard be as muddy and dirty as any tenement's hall. The man who had pulled him in mentioned for him to follow inside, and so he did. Right next to the door was a pile of German newspapers, the top one's headline saying, DER FÜHRER LEBT – DIE VORSEHUNG RETTETE IHN, which briefly drew Henryk's attention, THE FÜHRER LIVES – PROVIDENCE SAVED HIM
"Sir? Sergeant? Are you coming?" The man who had dragged him into this called out, hurrying back to Henryk, who was about to read the newspaper, "Oh, that's last weeks news. Some nationalists tried to assassinate Hitler, but failed. As always." His tone had something casual in it, which made it strange in that context. That was enough to catch Henryk's attention. "Now, if you would please come, the girl awaits... "
"Oh, right, of course." Henryk followed the man through rooms he presumed to be parts of his own flat, until they came upon a door behind which stairs descended into the ground. "Don't tell me she's— "
"MISS ROSENBERG!" The man leaned down and called out, pronouncing the name strangely wrong, much like Roh-ssehn-berrk.
"FOR THE LAST BLOODY TIME, DVOŘÁK, I LEARNED TO PRONOUNCE YOUR NAME CORRECTLY, NOW YOU LEARN MY NAME!" The voice was sweet, but the shout gave it a certain roughness. Stomps followed. At the bottom of the steps, the most beautiful girl Henryk had ever seen appeared, with a mane of fire, and snow for her skin. Even though he had seen a photo of hers, it couldn't capture the simple and raw beauty this woman possessed. As well as her fury, even over such minor matters as the pronunciation of her name.
"IT'S ROH-ZEHN-BEAHG!" The man she had addressed as Dvořák was about to speak, but she shot back instantly, "AND OF COURSE IT SOUNDS GERMAN! BECAUSE IT IS!"
She stormed off again, and while Dvořák, whose name marked him as a Czech, shook his head repeatedly to signall his annoyance and crept away from the door, fearing the girl down there, Henryk took his chance and descended the stairs as quietly as the wood would allow him to, and put his hat back on. If his own eyes hadn't lied, he looked like a mixture between Charlie Chaplin and Al Capone, and thus his attempts of wooing this girl could only end well, he had decided. He followed her halfway through a maze of shelves, some filled with food and drink, some with medical equipment, and some with books. Then, she abruptly spun around.
"Were you just staring at my arse?" she exclaimed, slightly shocked, and looking as though she could and would slap Henryk any moment.
"Uh, well, erm, I, well— " attempted Henryk to explain himself, blushing. He had looked, though merely briefly.
She cut him off with no more than a sigh before turning and walking on again. "At least you don't wear one of those wretched black or gray uniforms, and no brassard either." She didn't turn once, but Henryk knew she was more of a melancholic kind. "And showed no interest for my yellow star." Then, suddenly, she stopped in her tracks, took a look over her shoulder, and motioned for him to follow.
"Come, I expected one of your kind anyway."
She led him further through the maze of shelves, and the more Henryk thought of the reason he had dressed up the way he had, the more ashamed he was. He had had little more idea of that girl than her name and her approximate looks, and expected her to cooperate instantly. He shook his head about himself, took off his had and hung it to a shelf, as well as his jacket as they arrived at the girl's residence.
"My palace!" announced she with a smile, before noticing Henryk's own look. "Well, it's all that I need, really." It consisted of a fine bed just by the cold concrete wall, a desk with an ancient codex upon it, as well as a typewriter, several pens and pencils, and a lamp. A chair was before it, a simple wooden one. It all was surrounded by shelves that obscured it all.
"So, well, yeah, I'm Tanya Rosenberg, as you already know, I believe...?"
Henryk stared at the floor so he wouldn't startle her in the same way as before. "Huh?" He looked up, right into her inquiring, demanding even, eyes, and lost himself in them. "Uh, yeah, sure." was his brief answer. Only as he blinked he could force his gaze off her again.
"So? Who are you?" Tanya didn't mind him not answering instantly, she seemed patient enough. Except should I pronounce her name wrong. The notion brought a slight smile on his face.
With the slight smile, he lifted his gaze off the ground. He had himself under control this time, and didn't look through her nor lost himself in her eyes.
"I'm Henryk Piotrowski. I'm an earthbender from the town of Wieluń, and Sergeant in the Armia Krajowa. Yeah. That's all, I think." he answered, and she smiled ever so slightly as well.
"Are you aware of whom you have before you?" asked him she, and of course he knew the answer.
"The Avatar. The master of all four elements." His smile vanished as he remembered that little fact. He viewed her in a different light now, also perhaps because she had switched on the lamp on her desk. She seemed a bit fearsome, powerful, proud. But most of all did she seem frightened, looking for a shelter, for a den. If us ordinary benders are already hunted, what has she gone through?
"I am." she wore a sad smile and took the ancient book from the desk, only to sit on the bed browsing through the pages. Every once and then, Henryk caught a glance of one, mostly, he saw scrawly characters he couldn't decipher, or illustrations. He started to wonder, as each of the illustrations showed someone with the eyes glowing in a bluish white, and bending all four elements.
"You might wonder what this is about." she stated casually. She showed him one page.
"This is Maxim Alexeyevich Morozov, from a Russian earthbending family. He was a Bolshevik, and, well, my previous life. Before him came... " She showed someone a few pages prior these she just had shown. " ...Umkakhulu of the Zulu Kingdom, a native waterbender. Before, there was... " Again, she showed a previous page. "Syun Tao. A southern Chinese airbender. And before him came Marianne Girard, a Parisian firebender. And there ends the track. Screw the Inquisition, really. I think the last previous life of mine before that was... that Inca soldier who died fighting Pizarro's troops." She left an awkward pause and Henryk puzzled.
"Previous life?" was all he could utter in his disbelief.
"The Avatar has a spirit, which needs a host. When one host dies, the spirits seeks a new one, a newborn one. In other words, the Avatar reincarnates. The memories of the past lives, the past lives themselves are still at disposal to the current incarnation to offer them their wisdom and guidance." explained Tanya, laying the book back. "I've learned so at least. I haven't met this Morozov and I don't want to, actually." She allowed herself a smile. "So, anyway, why are you here?"
Henryk had yet to comprehend what he had heard, but soon was ready to speak again. He leaned towards her, and she expected some form of assaultive insolence, when in fact he only whispered, "I was tasked with getting you out of here to safety. Away from the Fascists and the Communists."
"Well, good luck with that... " she spoke, again wearing the sad smile that suited her strangely well. "And I don't believe your failure will not be your own fault."
"What do you mean?" Henryk was indeed offended, but even more than that was he curious.
"It's nothing, really." she reassured him, then explaining, "The Avatar simply has a tendency of dying in the moment of his, or her, triumph. That's all." And for once, he knew he thought the same that she thought – Revolution devours its own children. The Avatar's the best proof.
Notes & Trivia
- Marianne is a national symbol of France since the French Revolution.
- The First Opium War was a war between the British Empire and the Qing Dynasty, caused by the Qings' prohibition of (British Indian) opium, which was lifted in the peace treaty, in the end making millions of Chinese opium addicts.
- The Revolutions of 1848 were a series of partially successful uprisings, mainly in France, Germany, the Austrian Empire and Italy, the (somewhat) shared goal of which was to abolish monarchy in favour of nationalist, democratic states.
- The First Boer War was a war between Boer (Afrikaner, i.e. Dutch settlers) states and the British Cape Colony in South Africa.
- The Budenovka is a type of headgear associated with the Bolsheviks, of whom many wore it during the Russian Civil War.
- The newspaper headline refers to the 20 July Plot, the purpose of which was to assassinate Hitler, establish a new government in Germany, make peace with the Allies, but to still secure Germany's position as one dominating Europe
For the collective works of the author, go here.