It has been almost a half century since the Avatar vanished. The Fire Nation has captured much of the world and has all but wiped out the Air Nomads. Within Ching Ba, a small rural town in Fire Nation occupied territory of the Earth Kingdom one girl hides in plain sight.
Book 1: Air
Urrah's eyes skid slowly open, as the morning sun's rays flowed through the dust covered window. She swung her legs off the edge of the narrow cot, letting her feet touch the hard, wooden floor. She was tired, but she knew that the day would proceed with or without her. She stretched and stood gracefully.
Her room was compact but not cramped; she had plenty of room to breathe if the air wasn't so dusty. The dust was mostly her fault, no doubt, but she had more important things to do than clean. She shuffled over to the little drawer that held her meager selection of clothes.
On top lay her daily work clothes, simple garments which befit a teashop employee such as herself. She grabbed them and began putting them on. Just below lay another set of clothes. These were rough and worn; they were not the kind a clothes a young lady like her would ever be seen in.
Running her hand across the coarse fabric she could feel her pulse quicken as she imagined the next time she might wear them. They were the clothes of a mercenary, and they had patches and burns from more than a few fights. Now she realized, was not the time to think about such things. She closed the drawer and stepped into her teashop dress.
As she stepped away from the drawer, she paused only for a moment to glance at her reflection in the small mirror hanging from the wall. Her brown hair was a little messy, but she paid it little mind. She was more concerned about the small dirt smudges that covered her face here and there. She licked her palm and tried to wipe them away with her hands.
In the mirror, her soft grey eyes stared back at her. Her complexion was fair, but her face was far too plain to be considered appealing. If only she was beautiful, perhaps she could charm more men into frequenting the tea shop and spending more.
Mentally calculating the day's plans, Urrah made her way down the narrow latter that led from her loft to the backroom of the tea shop. After donning her cooking apron, she quickly gathered up a selection of ingredients and began boiling water for the first pot of tea. Patrons might be arriving soon, and no one liked waiting for their drinks.
She heard a shuffle from the front of the shop and peeked through the window that looked into the dining area. In front doorway stood the proprietor, Mr. Chan struggling with an oversized bag of sugar. Urrah dropped what she was doing and hurried over to assist him.
"Mr. Chan!" she chided. "I told you to let me handle all the large packages! You are too old to be handling these heavy bags by yourself."
Chan opened his mouth to argue, but all he managed was an exhausted groan. He sighed and set the bag down with a thump. "I may be old," he breathed, heavily, "But I am still strong enough to carry my end of the load!"
"Your job is to brew the best tea and cook the best meals in town." Urrah responded, easily tossing the bag on her shoulder and moving deftly back to the kitchen. "My job is to do the heavy lifting, remember?"
Chan gave a worn laugh. "Well considering I run the only tea shop left in this rundown town, I suppose I do make the best in town. That wasn't always the case, you know. Back before the Fire Nation pushed the Earth Kingdom out of this territory, this town was a bustling city with ten tea brewers better than me. As soon as Fire Nation troops moved in though, always demanding tribute; everyone who could get out left." He shook his head. "But that doesn't change the fact that can't let a little lady such as yourself do all the tough jobs. It isn't right."
Urrah glanced at him through the open window and smiled. Chan was a good cook but even better of a person. When Urrah had wandered into town several years ago, Chan had taken her in and given her a home without any question. In return she helped him around the shop and did her best to help him keep his little shop on its feet.
"You don't worry about any of that." She said, "I'm here to make your life easier. You do enough by giving me a roof over my head. Now get in here and brew this tea properly before I mess it up again… like last time."
"I-I like your tea." Chan stammered innocently. "Even if it isn't very… umm… popular with others."
"The last person who drank it swore I was trying to poison him." Urrah laughed. "He said he'd drank spider-rat venom more appealing."
"What would that kook know about good tea? I make the best tea in town – you said it yourself – and I say your tea is good. Different... but good."
"Well thank you for saying that…" she began, when suddenly a patron stormed into the shop.
"The whole things rigged!" He shouted with a snarl. "Nobody stands a chance with him competing!"
"Good morning, sir." Chen said. "Would you like some fine tea or a mid-morning meal? The tea will be ready momentarily."
"What I would like is for someone to go out there and beat that ugly mutt, Pulong at his own game!" The man snapped, as he grabbed a chair and plopped down into it. "I don't care if I get the contract, as long as he doesn't."
Urrah looked out the small window again. "What contract?"
"Bah, some stranger is offering nine gold coins to the strongest man in town. Says he'll hire them as a body guard." The man frowned. "They decided a martial arts tournament would be the fairest way to find the best fighter. Of course Pulong is winning all the matches. Just because he's grabbing everybody and throwing them right out of the ring! They should have made it a kick-boxing match; then I would've won!"
"They didn't allow kicking?" Chen asked, his eyebrow raised in confusion.
"They allowed kicking." The man explained, "They should have only allowed kicking." He lifted his bare feet into the air and wiggled his toes. "You see these feet? Trained killers. They didn't even get a chance to shine when Pulong grabbed one, swung me around, and sent me flying. What a cheap trick."
Urrah had already taken off her apron as she approached the man. "And you said that this stranger was planning on paying nine gold coins to the strongest fighter?"
"Nah, he said he was going to hire the strongest fighter. Pay them nine gold coins to act as his bodyguard for a while. Doesn't matter now. Pulong will win for sure. If I couldn't beat him with these crazy strong legs of mine, nobody can." He lifted his legs and wiggled his toes again for emphasis.
"Sorry, Mr. Chen," Urrah said, whirling around and sprinting to the ladder that led to her room. "I've gotta run real quick. I'll be back as quick as I can. Don't lift anything too heavy."
"Where is she headed?" the customer asked.
"No telling." Chen replied with a sigh. "She does this all the time. Dashes off; comes back whenever. Like the wind, that one." He took his glasses off and cleaned them. "Now, sir. About your tea…"
Upstairs Urrah threw off her simple clothes and began putting on her mercenary's garb. As soon as she was dressed she checked her countenance in the mirror. The worn thick clothing hung loosely from her frame, hiding her feminine frame and making her look almost completely masculine. Now all that was left was her face. She grabbed a roll of gauze and began wrapping her face in it. As soon as her face and hair were completely concealed within, she pulled her hood up over her head.
"There." She said, quietly. "Now we'll see who earns this contract. Pulong has went undefeated long enough." She hurried over to her bed and reached under it. Hidden inside a hollow recess in the frame was a long slender staff. She pulled it out and gave it a twirl. Squeezing a hidden pressure plate in the side, she watched as a thin blade clicked out of the end, turning the staff into a lethal spear. With another squeeze, the blade withdrew and Urrah slid it into place on her back.
She moved across the room and glanced out of the small window that opened into a deserted alley below. Confident that the street was empty, she dove out of the building. As she approached the ground, an almost invisible tuft of wind softened her fall allowing her to touch down effortlessly. She immediately heard the sounds of a fight in the street and headed toward it.
Jodan stood at the inner edge of the small crowd that had gathered to watch the martial arts competition. The competitors so far had been less than impressive. The current champion was a brute named Pulong. He had won nine matches so far, but he had achieved victory in all but two by throwing his opponents out of the ring.
In truth, Jodan had been looking for someone with more… finesse… to his fighting. However, there was something to be said for anyone who could throw another man over ten meters.
Two brothers had approached as contestants, promising to split the payment if they could both be hired. Each would work for only four coins, and they would split the third. A promising compromise, but Pulong had beaten the two by throwing the one into the other, knocking both of them cold.
He watched as the hulk of a man threw another man out of the dirt ring and into the crowd. Nine gold coins was no king's ransom, but it was likely more than any of these poor townsfolk had seen in quite some time. People had gathered quickly and offered their services willingly, but Pulong had crushed all of their plans with his massive bulk.
"Who's next!" Pulong yelled with a confident sneer. He stood in the center of the ring, waiting for another challenger. Standing at least two meters tall, he towered over the crowd. His arms were as thick as legs, and his legs looked as if they belonged on an ox-bear more than a human. Still, he boasted a small intellect, as Jodan had discovered during a quick talk with him between fights.
A few minutes past, with no one else stepping forward and Jodan moved the center of the ring. Pulong stood with his back turned, searching the crowd for another competitor. "Well, Pulong," Jodan began, "it looks like no one else…"
Pulong whirled around, bent down, and grabbed Jodan by his ankles. He spun him around for a moment and let go sending Jodan sprawling out of the ring.
As he tumbled to a stop he could hear Pulong cheering with pride. "Yes! Another one down. Nobody can withstand Pulong's might!" The massive man turned to see Jodan staring at him from a heap on the ground. "Uh-oh." He said sheepishly. "Sorry boss. Sometimes Pulong is confused. Pulong thought you was a challenger."
Jodan picked himself off the ground, dusted off, and stared at his attacker. "You aren't the freshest turnip in the cart. But you sure are the strongest. I guess I'll have to hire you anyway if…"
Another form pushed its way through the crowd and into the ring. It was a small man in worn clothes. The bandaged that was wrapped around his face covered it completely, but did not hide his piecing grey eyes. He carried a long staff on his back and stood looking at Pulong with his arms crossed.
Pulong turned to face him. He took a few steps forward looking down at his new rival. He gave out a laugh.
Jodan called to the stanger. "Who are you? You wish to compete, I suppose."
A small villager stepped behind Jodan and spoke quietly. "That's the Mute, sir. Nobody knows his real name or anything about him honestly. He shows up from time to time to do odd mercenary jobs. An escort here; a bounty there. He's as fast as they come, I hear. But he's no match for Pulong."
"He's mute?" Jodan inquired."
"Not really, sir. I don't think so. But they say you can count the number of things he's said on one hand."
Jodan turned back to the Mute. "Sir, if you wish to compete, you are more than welcome. But you must remove your staff. This contest is a test of hand-to-hand combat. No weapons allowed.
Pulong gave out a loud hoot. "Who cares?" He laughed. "Stick or no stick, Pulong'll send you flying."
"Very well." Jodan responded. "You may begin."
The second Jodan gave the command to start, Urrah dashed forward. She shot underneath Pulong's gaping legs, as he reached to grab her. Once behind him, she leapt high into the air, whirled around, and ripped the staff out of its sling. In one fluid motion she drove the staff down onto Pulong's head. The resulting crack was so loud that she heard it echo off of the surrounding scenery.
Never breaking her stride, she landed in front of Pulong and waited for his body to fall. The man stumbled for a moment, letting out a tremendous bellow. He grabbed for her torso and her momentary lax let him catch her squarely.
Hefting her high above his head, he sent her flying high toward the edge of the ring. As if by some miracle, a massive wind swept across the street blowing dust all about and reducing visibility to zero. When the sand settled, Urrah was lying on ground just inside the edge of the circle.
Pulong saw this and groaned loudly in disappointment. He made his way over to Urrah who was still struggling to catch her breath. She started to move, but he brought one of his feet down hard on her left angle, grinding the joint, and causing her to squirm in pain.
"Give up!" He said with a foolish sadistic smile.
Urrah muttered something under her breath.
"What?" Pulong said, "You give up yet? Pulong can't hear you."
"Earth Bending!" Urrah yelled, in as deep a voice as she could muster. She grabbed a handful of sand and threw it into Pulong's eyes.
Pulong recoiled in pain and fear. "You're a bender?" He cried, his simple mind thoroughly tricked by Urrah's ruse. "Pulong don't wanna fight no bender!"
Not losing momentum, Urrah continued smacking him with her staff as he stepped away and tried to rub the sand from his eyes. She finally stopped striking him, when he curled up into a massive ball and cried, "Pulong give up! Pulong give up! Pulong don't fight no benders!"
The crowd laughed and cheered, moving in to sweep Urrah onto their shoulders. She stepped away as gracefully as she could manage and made her way back to Jodan, who had moved to the other side of the street once the fight ended.
"That's enough, folks." He said loudly, "We have a winner. You can go back to your business now."
The crowd gave a collective moan of dissatisfaction but eventually scattered.
Jodan turned to the victor. "Well, sir. My name is Jodan, and they say you're called Mute. You have fought very well. I especially liked that bit where you threw the sand. Although it's a good thing not everyone around here is as gullible as Pulong. Earth bending is a serious crime according to the Fire Nation troops. Still, you don't seem the type who's above bending the rules now and again."
"Good. Because this job I need, required the breaking of a few ordinances. Nothing that'll hurt anybody. But it'll involve breaking a few Fire Nation statutes." Jodan spat in the dirt. Unless that's not alright with you. If not, say so now; they'll be no harm done and I can always hire Pulong."
Urrah nodded her head once again and extended her hand for the money.
"Good." Jodan smiled, placing the coins into her gloved hand. "You'll get this now and the same amount again when we get back. It isn't all that much, but it's as much as I can afford. If you try to steal from me, or run away before the job's done… I'll make you regret it. Understand?"
Urrah heard his words, but her eyes were elsewhere. In the dirt, the small puddle of Jodan's spit danced round and round in a self-contained circle. Her eyes opened wide in understanding.
Jodan was a water bender. She kicked herself mentally for not realizing sooner. He's sending me a message. She thought, He wants me to know that he's a water bender, and that he can beat me if I try to cheat him. She smiled underneath her mask. She wasn't planning on robbing him, but either way, she wasn't afraid of this water bender. He wasn't the only one with tricks up his sleeve.
With new found interest in her employer, Urrah looked him up and down. He had the signature dark complexion of the Water Tribes, bright blue eyes, and shoulder length dark hair which he kept neatly tied behind his head in a short knot. All telltale Water Tribe attributes.
His clothes were also worn, like hers, but they looked nicer and were probably store-bought. Not everyone had to make their own clothes, she reminded herself.
"Take care of any last minute preparations now." Jodan said. "I'll gather my things from the inn and meet you back here in a few hours. We leave at noon."
Urrah nodded one last time and the two separated, leaving Pulong who was still curled in a ball, rubbing his eyes, and sobbing in the street.