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December 4, 2016
14 years ago, Avatar Sankasuru died, after his construction of the Yunait Mesa, a place where people of the Water Tribes and Fire Nation could live together. My aunt Kata and my mother, Nea fled there to raise their families. I live with my twin sister, Keya, and my cousin, Zhane. I am Sao. I'm an earthbender, a power I got from the father I never knew and can never talk about. Keya has convinced me to keep it a secret from Mother and Auntie.
Ever since the death of Avatar Sankasuru, there has been no sign of the new Avatar. Some say he died as a child, others say he was taken. Either way, we need him now. Forces from Ba Sing Se are headed towards Yunait, threatening to destroy it. The earth is beginning to tremble. If the Avatar is out there somewhere, now would be a good time for him to come.
Chapter One: The Trembling
"Sao. Sao. SAO! Wake up!" Keya yelled, poking her twin brother. Sao groaned sitting up and rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Keya stood before him, her arms crossed. She wore traditional Northern-style Water Tribe clothes, like Auntie's. She wore her hair in one long, simple braid.
"What do you want Keya?" Sao muttered, pulling his legs over out of his bed. "Why is it so late?"
"We forgot to wake you up. Auntie was teaching me some more waterbending, and Mom was also giving a lesson on firebending to Zhane," Keya explained. Sao sighed, annoyed.
"So, naturally, you forgot about me," Sao said, passive aggressive.
"Well Sao, there's no one to teach you earthbending."
"If Dad had stayed, he could have taught me earthbending!" Sao complained. Keya slapped her hand over Sao's mouth, furious.
"Sao, stop. I can't have this conversation again. Dad was a nonbender. You can't tell Mom or Auntie you're an earthbender. So don't even mention it," she scolded. Sao rolled his eyes. Keya took her hand off and gave Sao a good glare.
"Just don't do much today. Auntie is in a bad mood and Mom is in a worse one. I have to go back and train some more. Mom also told me to tell you to make your own lunch."
Keya left the room with a swish of her blue robe. Sao rolled out of bed, and put on some greenish robes. Mom always hated him wearing them. "It will make you look like an earthbender!" she would say. It was times like those Sao really wanted to tell her he was an earthbender. It was Keya's idea in the first place to keep it secret. Sao never really paid attention to why, something about taboo or his father's honor, but her fear of mother finding out was enough to make Sao hide it.
Sao made himself a bowl of overcooked noodles and headed out the door. Yunait was a small town on a large mesa. In the center was a spring, with a statue of Avatar Sankasuru and his waterbending wife. Their house was on the main street, squashed between two stores. Sao ran between bustling carts and merchants to make it to the cave. He reached the outskirts of the town, where there was a large, stone wall. The only people that could get out where those with the position and power to do so.
Or the only earthbender in Yunait.
Sao thrust his arms forward, and a piece of the wall pushed out. Sao squeezed through, and bent the wall back into place. Now, he stood at the edge of a cliff, overlooking a green valley. On the horizon he could see the blockade of earthbenders from Ba Sing Se. Their messages to disband the village had been ignored, and any day now the earthbenders would be coming for Yunait.
After a few moments, he pushed downward, and the ground he was standing on began to slide down the side of the cliff. Sao continued until he reached a dark cave opening. Sao stepped into the cave, and earthbent the rock doors open. This revealed a small room, with spartan furnishings. It was lit by glowing crystals. In the middle sat Sao's biggest secret, one he hadn't told Zhane, or even Keya.
"My boy, you came for you lesson!" exclaimed the wizened old earthbender in the middle of the room. That was his secret: his earthbending master.
"It's good to see you, Himitsu. What are we doing today?" Sao asked eagerly. Sao looked around for a seat, and realized what Himitsu wanted. Sao brought his arms up crossed and turned his foot. A stone chair bent up out of the floor, and Sao sat in it. Himitsu chuckled.
"Today we'll review lie detection, before we go see the badgermoles. Maybe today, they will deem you a master," Himitsu said, pleased. "Now let us begin. Let us start easy. I am seventy-one."
Sao placed his hand on the ground, and concentrated. "Lie."
"Yes, good job. I am seventy-three."
Sao moved his hand. "No you're not."
"Good, good. Let's get harder. I have ten toes."
Sao chuckled. Lie.
Kioku stood at the top of the wall of Yunait, looking down at the valley below. The wind blew through his curly black hair, and his blue clothes. He chose blue, because he wanted to live in one of the Water Tribes some day. Even though he could waterbend and airbend, he decided he preferred water.
"Ki? You gonna move?" Wantong cried from below. Wantong's scrawny figure looked tiny from up there. Kioku sent a gust of wind at Wantong. The wind scattered the rope Wantong had spent hours untangling.
"Seriously?" Wantong shouted. But, before he could finish, Kioku jumped off the wall. He spread his arms, and bent the air currents around his body. He slid down the wall, and continued down the cliff, to where Master Chu had said the badgermoles were. Apparently there had been a rise in demand for them at the black market. Kioku spotted a cave, and flew down into it. Deep within, he heard the clicking of claws on stone. He listed closer, and thought he heard something else.
"How do I know that the badgermoles have given their approval?" a young voice asked.
"They will give you an amulet of some kind. Usually in the form of an earth coin, That will mark you as an earthbending master." an older voice answered. The boy breathed, and Kioku heard him walking further into the cave. Stealthily, Kioku melted into the shadows and crept into the cave.
Every time a voice spoke, he stopped, then began to move again. After a long time, he heard the old man and the boy begin to leave the cave. Both were silent. Kioku shoved himself into a crack between two rocks as they passed by. When they reached the cave entrance, he crept out and began to go farther into the cave, and heard them speak a bit more.
"I am proud to now all you, after your years of training, Master Sao." the old man said. As he said that, Kioku grabbed the tail of a baby badgermole.
Zhane threw a flaming punch at his cousin, who deflected it with a water shield. Turning on her feet, Keya froze her shield into a series of needles, and bent them at Zhane. Zhane dodged, then turned and punched two fireballs at her.
"Zhane! Use more variety in your bending!" his aunt, Nea, called from behind him.
"Keya! Keep your arms up, and shift your weight like waves!" Zhane's mother called to Keya. Keya whipped water from behind her, up over her shoulders and snaking along the ground. Before Zhane could react, water had snaked up to his waist and froze. Keya won. His mother went to Keya to talk to her, and Auntie Nea came to talk to him.
"Zhane, I don't know how many times I need to tell you. To win you need to use more than fire punches." Auntie Nea said as she melted the ice that trapped Zhane in. Auntie Nea continued to criticize his fighting as they walked into the house. Mother and Auntie prepared a hearty lunch. Zhane felt a little guilty as he ate his soup and saw the remains of Sao's overcooked noodles. As long as Zhane could remember, Sao had made his own lunch.
Keya had told Zhane a few times that Sao was an earthbender, but it had been years since she last mentioned it, and Zhane had never actually seen Sao earthbend. For Sao's sake, Zhane had nearly convinced his mind that Sao was a nonbender. Zhane took his soup and ate it on the porch. Keya came out to join him.
"What are you thinking about?" Keya asked. Zhane shrugged.
"Sao. What he's doing," Zhane muttered.
"If I knew what he did, I would tell you. He probably goes off and... I don't know. I just hope he doesn't practice.... it." Keya whispered. Zhane wasn't sure if she was talking about earthbending or not. At that moment, Zhane heard a cacophony of sounds coming down the street. The source of the sounds confused him even more than the sounds themselves.
A boy in blue, carrying a tied up baby badger mole flew down the street, as if he were being propelled by wind. Behind him, three adult badgermoles ran, bending rocks at the boy. On top of the middle one, was a furious-looking Sao. He was wearing some sort of Earth Kingdom symbol around his neck, but Zhane didn't get a good look at it. In a moment, the boy, Sao, and the badgermoles were gone.
Sao finally came home late at night, after the sun had gone down. His face was streaked with dirt and he had small cuts all over his arms and face. Zhane saw him come in, and slip into his room. Keya followed him into his room, and Zhane followed suit.
Keya had a bowl of water, and was healing Sao's cuts. She was giving him a lecture.
"Sao, how could you be so stupid?"
"I was saving a baby badgermole. So what?" Sao countered. He held up his bloody elbow for Keya to heal." You were doing it in public. Mother and Auntie could have seen it."
"People could have thought it was just the badgermoles and Mother and Auntie didn't see it."
"We saw it," Zhane said. Sao rolled his eyes.
"I know, but it doesn't matter to you because-"
"Did you even save the badgermole?" Keya asked, angry. Sao frowned sheepishly.
"Well... not exactly. The kid who stole him was crazy. He could airbend, and waterbend." Sao said, serious. Keya rolled her eyes. Even Zhane was a bit skeptical.
"I've had enough of your crazy stories, and even if he could do both, that would make him the Avatar, and the Avatar has much better things to do than steal badgermoles."
In a small warehouse, Kioku sat looking out the window. Wantong and Jianke argued over the rules of a game. In the room below him, he could hear the badgermole he had captured trying to escape. Pretty soon Chu would skin it and sell its pelt at a seedy black market. That's how things always were. Chu would tell one of his wards to steal something, then Chu would sell it, and the only thing the wards would get was meager food and protection. Then, before the authorities could track Chu down, he would be gone.
Usually Kioku stewed about things like this, but his mind was on a different topic today. A few days ago, a waterbender had caught his eye, and today he had seen her when running from the crazy earthbender. He'd had a few crushes in the various villages he'd stayed in, and each time his heart would be broken when he left. Kioku had a sinking feeling this girl would be the same.
In the valley below the plateau an army of earthbenders formed. General Longlong stood on a pedestal he had earthbent up from the ground.
"My fellow earthbenders, join me, as we take back the land Avatar Sankasuru stole for himself and his wife. We will destroy this plateau, and the Earth Kingdom will be whole again!" General Longlong shouted. He raised his fists, and struck the pedestal. A rumble radiated from the pedestal, and shook the plateau. The army of earthbenders advanced, and cracks began to form on the side of the plateau. Five troops scaled the side of the cliff, and slid up to the wall. All together, the tore down a section of the wall, opening up the village for them to destroy.
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