I can remember it. So well.
The village was small, secluded in the mountains about the edges of the Earth Kingdom. To the east lay a deep forest, where a shallow river ran across hot springs; below that was a valley, empty save for a few houses built by lone Earth Benders. To the West lay the fire nation, silent but brooding with uncertainty that kept the villagers alert. The marketplace was crowded with the overflowing stands of women with fresh produce from their backyard gardens, and maids with flower baskets that enticed the young men who loitered by the weapon shops. Blacksmiths made horseshoes for richer families and men carved designs into wood, sold fresh fish from the river, and offered ranging prices on the clothes their wives had sown. Children ran through the streets and paused by the candy shops and pastry carts, spending the small allowance of money their parents gave them on usually unattainable sweets. The feeling on the wind was happiness in those days; no cloud shadowed the sky, no fear haunted their thoughts.
I can remember it...every detail..
"Jet! Where do you think you're going?" Screeched a middle-aged, dark-haired female from the doorway of a small home. The young teenager, who had been skidding down the slope towards the woods with three of his friends, turned and looked back up at his mother.
"We're going to...um...we're..."
"Where are you going?"
"Jet, its almost dark! Your not going down to the river while the sun is setting, you know how dangerous the path can be in the dark! Get back inside and help me fix dinner, you can see your friends tomorrow when the sun is out!"
Jet was tempted to snarl viciously at his mother but he refrained. It was beginning to get dark and he knew that if he left then the path would be unpredictable and almost impossible to follow. But Jet was not a boy prone to obedience. Noticing that his mother had retreated inside he turned quickly to his friends, who were sighing in disappointment, their late night adventure cut short.
"Don't worry, guys. Meet me in the woods next to that old tree stump after you parents go to sleep."
One of Jet's friends, a brown-haired boy was slightly smaller and skinnier than Jet, looked up from where he was kneeling. He had been crushing ants along the ground, a pastime not uncommon to the boys; he looked up from his work and cocked his head to one side.
"Isn't that dangerous? That's at..the back of the woods -"
"Hey, we've gone back there before!" said Jet, leaping forth towards the edge of the forest. He caught a tree limb and dangled in front of the boys, who laughed as he swung. "We'll be fine! And then we can really play - it's a lot harder to see the enemy in the dark. We can play Battle."
"Alright, but I don't want to be Water Tribe!" said the boy defiantly. "Everyone always gangs up on Water Tribe. I want to be Earth Kingdom."
"And I get to be Fire Nation!" shouted another boy. He leapt towards Jet and spread his palms towards him, making hissing noises as if fire was coming from them. Jet laughed and leapt from the tree as though he had just dodged a flame, and the boys broke out into a pretend battle. The scuffling noises drew back the attention of Jet's mother and she reappeared in the doorway, red-faced and fuming.
"Jet, for the last time! Get inside!"
An owl was hooting, very quietly, outside the window. Shadows were running around the room as Jet, his dark hair falling across his eyes, listened for the sounds of his parent's snores.
He was a master of stealth and crept from his room without even the slightest sound of a footstep. His parents were deep in dreams and he slid through the door without disturbing them. Jet was quiet proud of his skills in secrecy and held a record among the other kids - Most Times Snuck Out Without Being Caught. Yet tonight was different than he remembered. As he crept to the edge of the forest he heard something - something like a very faint, far off cry, that echoed gently through the valley and died away again. He shrugged it off and continued to walk through the woods. Behind him, the dark horizon flared up with brief edges of light and dark forms crept down the slope of the mountain.
He should have been worried when he reached the stump and no one else was there to greet him. He should have been worried, sitting alone in the dark like that. He should have searched for his friends that never showed up, should have been concerned that a strange burning stench was hanging in the air. He should have done something the moment he saw the flames glitter through the trees.
I should have done a lot of things.