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|The Girl With the Rabbit|
Book 1, Winter
October 3, 2012
It struck her as strange her mind should be so empty, so she attempted to collect her thoughts. To her horror, she was able to recall very little. She knew her name was Naomi; that this was a place she had never been before. The bag lying by her feet wriggled, and a hairy, brown rabbit wriggled out. It stared at her with bambi eyes. This was her pet, Kanon. Apart from that; she remembered nothing.
Naomi scooped up Kanon and the bag, and began walking. The snow bit at her face, and Kanon snuggled close, looking for warmth. The whole world seemed like a dream; there was no way any place could be as desolate as this. She continued struggling against the wind; determined to find at least some shelter.
To her immense surprise, a group of trees eventually swam into focus on the horizon. Naomi began to run, eager to check if they were a mirage. They were not, although they were small and spiny. She sighed, dumped Kanon on the ground, and slumped against one of the least- spiny trees. She had no idea what to do now. Base instinct told her that in this cold, with no food or water, she could not hope to live long alone. Of course, she could eat Kanon, and drink snow to live, but the thought repulsed her. The rabbit was the one thing- the one friend she had.
Drowsiness crept up on her. She stood up immediately, and began walking again. To sleep now would be a very bad move. She must walk, and keep walking. She knew she had gotten here somehow; there must be people somewhere nearby.
The fishing had not gone well that day. Although they had managed to catch a few fish, it was not enough to last. They knew that they had to go out again the next day. As the three Water Tribe kids trudged through the snow, they wondered how much time they would have in future months to spend fishing. So much was going to change. Henka was moving up to the next level in water bending, whilst Amak was secretly carving a betrothal necklace he intended to give to Sura.
Suluk shook his head, and dragged his feet through the snow. He had mixed feelings about Amak and his sister. He tried to push the doubt from his mind, but it kept coming back, amidst fears he was losing his friends. Henka elbowed him in the ribs, and he was brought back to earth with a jolt. Henka grinned, and for a moment, Suluk's fears disappeared.
Suddenly, Amak shouted out. "Over there! Someone's walking alone."
Suluk and Henka turned in amazement. Sure enough, they could vaguely make out a blurred figure in the distance, struggling against the bitter wind.
"Should we... go help them?" Queried Suluk, feeling slightly nervous. After what happened to the Air Nomads, he knew how dangerous it was to approach a stranger, no matter how innocuous they may seem.
"I think so," replied Henka. "They're alone, and struggling. If they were Fire Nation, you can bet they would be better prepared."
"I hope you're right," Muttered Amak. With that, they set out to meet this mysterious person.
"What is she wearing? Hey! You really have no fashion sense."
Naomi was startled to see three kids wearing blue coats heading towards her. She was frozen to the spot, although that remark from a girl with hair covering her face put her a little more at ease. She noticed the other two give the speaker a funny look. The girl giggled awkwardly.
"Um, hey. I don't suppose you know where we are, do you? My mind's a blank!" Naomi called. The three children just stared at her, until the tallest poked her in the arm with a fishing spear.
"Definitely not Water Tribe. Not Fire Nation either. Nor... from anywhere. I'm suspicious."
He pulled such a funny expression, that Naomi had a hard time trying not to laugh. At that moment, Kanon poked her head out of the bag she was carrying, and the kids jumped back in shock.
"Hey, relax. She's just a rabbit. Look, I just want to know, where am I, and who are you?"
"Seriously?!" The boy who poked her stared in disbelief. "You mean you can't tell? I mean, with all this snow around it's pretty obvious."
Naomi shook her head. The other boy cleared his throat and spoke.
"We're from the Northern Water Tribe. I...I'm Suluk, and these guys are Amak and Henka. What about you? Where are you from?
"Well, I'm Naomi, and this is my rabbit Kanon. I don't remember where I'm from. Or anything much."
She waited whilst they took it in. After a while, Amak said, "Well, if you don't remember anything, we should take you back to the village. Maybe your Grandma would know something, Henka."
The girl nodded, and almost instinctively, the four of them headed across the blank landscape towards the village.
As they walked, Henka made an attempt at conversation.
"Why is your hair all yellow? Are you sick?" The comment sounded so funny for some reason.
Naomi giggled and said, "No. I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be like that."
There was an awkward silence.
"So... Um... I'm a pretty good water bender, you know?" Naomi looked blank. Henka face-palmed. "Oh yeah sorry. It means I can do this-"
With a sudden movement, a jet of water shot up from the very snow beneath their feet. Henka spun around, and the water followed, like a liquid streamer. Suddenly, it struck Amak on the back of his head, and he muttered something about bending with shark vipers. Naomi gasped.
"Wow! You're magical and pretty!"
"He he... why thank y... Wait a minute. What did you mean by 'pretty'?
"I'm sorry..." She laughed.
"I thought that was something every girl liked to hear. I know I do."
She said, half singing. For a moment, Henka didn't reply. And then, with a sickening feeling, Naomi realized her mistake.
"Oh... Whoops. I'm sorry."
"It's alright. Happens a lot. But if I was a girl, I wouldn't be able to water bend like that, or go fishing. The rules kinda stink really."
Naomi blinked, and frowned. "Yeah. Sounds like it. Hey, if you don't mind me saying, I still think you're pretty. Ah... You know what I mean. Not trying to be offensive or anything."
To her immense surprise, he blushed. Before she could think of anything else to say, Amak's voice came from in front.
"Hey! would you two love birds shut up for a minute? We just arrived. Naomi, welcome to our humble home."
It was a small, simple village, but even so, it was very beautiful. There were sealskin tents all around, and on the perimeter of the village was a thin ice wall. The people who had been sewing, or gutting fish looked up in wonder as they entered. Naomi tried to ignore the whispers, but it was hard to ignore the little girl who rushed up and hugged her leg. Quick as a flash, the girl opened the satchel-bag, and squealed in delight as she caught sight of Kanon. Seconds later, her mother dragged her away.
"... Well, we better go find your Grandma right away," said Suluk. "She'll know what to do about this."
They walked to the other side of the village, and approached one of the tents.
"Grandma...?" Henka hovered at the door. The old woman inside looked up, and smiled toothlessly.
"Hello, Henka. I sensed you'd have something to tell me today. Why don't you come on in, and introduce me to your friend?"
A strange feeling settled in Naomi's stomach. She had been out of sight; how did the old woman know of her?
Henka entered, and she followed, unsure. There was something she could sense about the old woman which seemed unusual.
"Well, Grandma, this is Naomi. Amak, Suluk and I found her and her 'rabbit' trying to cross the snow. She doesn't remember anything. We were wondering if you could see something."
"See something? Hmmm. Come closer, Naomi."
Naomi did as she was told. The old woman grabbed her wrist, and she almost jumped back in shock. After a short while of silence, the old woman began to laugh.
"You are from very far away. Although your strange appearance remains a mystery, I can detect the Earth Kingdom within you. I saw a glimpse of a place. It looked like the future, but I can't be sure."
"Thanks, Grandma," Henka turned to leave. When he was sure his Grandma wasn't looking, he did the 'crazy gesture.' "We should probably go ask the chief if she can stay. See you soon."
"Don't forget to bring me back some nice sea prunes when you can!"
"Keep up with that water bending!"
"You be careful out there, young man!"
"Well, I'm going to go ask the chief if Naomi can stay, now. You guys coming?"
The boys made hasty excuses. Henka watched them go with a sigh. It wasn't as if the chief was deliberately scary; there was just something intimidating about him. You really did not want to get on his bad side. No one ever had of course; but that was besides the point. A part of him felt slightly miffed that the others felt they could leave this to him.
The chief's hut was the only building in the village, and it was made of ice created by the village's three water benders, one of whom was Henka. It had taken the best part of a week to perfect. He and Naomi trudged over to it.
"Well, here goes nothing."
Henka cleared his throat, and knocked politely on the wooden door. After a second, it was opened by a huge, oldish looking man, holding a strange looking koala-otter hybrid. Kanon poked her head out of Naomi's bag again, and sniffed the animal in greeting. The animal responded with a huge yawn.
"Umm Chief Seok? My friends and I found this girl- Naomi- on our way back from a fishing trip. We were wondering if she could, you know, maybe if it wasn't too much trouble... Stay in the village for a while?"
"Stay in the village? STAY IN THE VILLAGE?!"
Henka flinched and prepared to run.
"Of course she can stay! There's nowhere else to go after all. You're quite harmless, aren't you?"
"Uh.. Yes Mr chief sir. Is that a trick question?"
He laughed, and the entire hut shook. The koala otter jumped down onto the floor and slid into the wall. Kanon watched, a mischievously gleeful look on her furry face. The strange creatures fur bristled; it hissed, and Kanon hid her face in Naomi's hair.
"RonRon, be nice. Well, there's no tricks, I promise. Bwahahahaha... Now, where we are, is one of the southernmost villages of the Northern Water Tribes. We're quite a way away from the main city, so we do our own thing. But we still have customs which must be upheld. Are you prepared to do that?"
"Uh sure." Naomi glanced from side to side. The chief smiled.
"Very good. Now, this is an important question. Are you a bender?"
"I beg your pardon?"
There was a silence. Then she remembered, and not for the first time felt stupid. Flushing with embarrassment she replied; "Oh. Right. No, I don't think so. I've never actually tried though."
"Ah, good good. No need for that. Why don't you go take a tour of the area. Henka, you'll show her around, right?"
He woke from a daydream with a jolt, and nodded enthusiastically. "Sure thing! Hey, for the time being, you can stay with me, Dad and Grandma. That'll be so awesome! One warning. Though. Grandma snores. Loud."
Naomi laughed, and Kanon squirmed in her arms. "Yeah, it would be great to stay with you!"
She was feeling genuinely happy, and although there was not one person she had met who didn't seem nice, at the back of her mind she was bothered by something. Henka had mentioned that if he was a girl, he wouldn't be a bender, and the chief seemed to think a girl bending was out of the question. This seemed a tad unfair. Naomi hoped the rest of the culture wasn't so sexist.
"Oh, that reminds me. Before you leave, take these sea-prunes to your Grandmother would you? She really is a wonderful lady."
Henka nodded and took the strange fruit. The chief opened the door to let them out, with a soppy expression.
When they were safely out of ear shot, Henka pulled a face. "Eeew, old people love... Oh, yeah. Right. Deliver prunes, give tour. Come on. I guess there's a lot to get through today.
It took a surprisingly long time to carry out the tasks, as there was so much to see. In a desolate land of snow and ice, there is far more going on than you might think. Naomi found herself being amazed by every creature, enthralled by the scenery, and enchanted by the culture. After a time, Henka became a little impatient at her habit of stopping to look at every little thing, so he subtly suggested they go back to the village and find some food. Unfortunately, it was too subtle for Naomi.
"Ooh look! I can see the sea from here! I want to go see if it's frozen. I bet it is!"
"Uhh its not exactly unusual to see the ocean from here you know!" Henka felt absolutely exasperated. He knew he had to try not to show it though; after all, she was new here. Probably.
"And by the way, the sea is never frozen, no matter how cold..."
"Ehehehehe! Hold Kanon, would you?"
By the time he'd finished the sentence, she was halfway to the beach. "Hey! Wait for me! The seas are dangerous at this time of year. Naomiiiii!!!"
He eventually caught up to her, but by then he was exhausted. He approached, panting, and she turned, grinning goofily as she paddled in the water. "Isn't it weird how much warmer the water feels than the air? I mean, it was freezing at first, but then I just kinda went numb." Henka almost choked. "That's just an illusion! Put your shoes back on NOW! You'll get frostbite."
She ignored him, and took another step forward, and another, until she was waist deep in water. Henka stood on the shore, powerless and afraid.
"Please! you have to come back to shore. It's not safe!" "I won't be long. I promise. Erk!"
A huge wave came from nowhere; Naomi was taken by surprise and instantly dragged under. On the shore, Henka stood screaming like a little girl. It was only when Kanon bit him- rather harder than she needed too- that he reorganized his thoughts, and realized as a water bender, he had to do something.
He put the rabbit on the ground, and waded into the ocean, before ducking under, and bending through the water. Though he barely knew the girl, Henka knew he had to find her. The alternative was unthinkable.
He searched until he was unable to remain in the water any longer for fear of hypothermia. It was then he realized, with a feeling like an axe blow to the side, that there was no hope.
Slowly, numbly, he made his way back to the beach, wondering how he would break the news to the others. It was all his fault- a bender of any skill at all should have been able to save her. But he'd failed.
"What's up with you?"
Henka sniffed, and wiped his face with his sleeve. " I can't believe what just happened- I'd only just met her. Arg... Moon spirit forgive me."
"Aww it's okay. Here, want a hanky? I found one in my pocket. It's a bit soggy though."
"T...thanks, Naomi. Hey, wait a minute!"
He gaped in surprise, and she shifted her feet, staring awkwardly at the ground. "I thought you were dead! I spent the last 10 minutes looking for you!"
"Err about that..." She let out a nervous giggle. "I swam back to shore just as you were getting in the water. I can swim quite well- but ahaha... Only under water."
Henka just stood there, mouth opening and closing like a guppy fish. This was the last time he'd give anyone a tour, ever. As soon as he got back home, he was going to make sure to tell everyone that Naomi could never be left alone.
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