Disclaimer: HEY GUESS WHAT! I don't own Avatar. If I did, no one would even half-think it was a kid's show, and there would be a lot more fights. MWAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!...shutting up...
Chapter 1: The Girl
Deep in the Earth Kingdom, hidden by the woods just south of Omashu, laid a girl. She was sleeping as the first hints of sunlight crept over the horizon, transforming the desolate angry forest into one of hope for the many refugees scattered through its depths. But the girl sleeping beneath the weeping branches of the trees was not a refugee, and drawing closer, you could see that her sleep was not as peaceful as it had first seemed. She would randomly change her position on the thin blanket that served as her bed, her grip on the balled-up robe that was her pillow was life-or-death, and her eyebrows were furrowed together in anger, worry, and frustration. You could practically see the dreams unfolding behind her closed lids.
"I only had the Fire Nation's best interest at heart…"
Her grip grew tighter, if at all possible.
"You will fight me…"
Lips murmured silent desperate unintelligible words of warning as she tried futilely to pull herself from the dream.
"I will not fight you…have mercy…" "You will learn respect and suffering will be your teacher…"
She unknowingly held her breath and gritted her teeth in a last effort to escape the inevitable.
The cry of her dream was echoed by silent lips as she finally tore herself from its grip and sat up on the blanket. Trembling, she forced herself to take deep breaths until her wildly beating heart calmed. Once she stopped shivering, she got her feet beneath her, crouching close to the ground in an open but defensive stance, and began to pack up her things. She grabbed her cloth bag from where it lay by her crude pillow. It was trimmed with Water Tribe markings, but it served her purpose. Her own clothes, a simple vest and trousers, were the dark red of the Fire Nation, the only things she still had of the land that she had once called home. Black boots covered her feet to their mid-calf length and she shoved a small cup, bowl, and spoon into the bag. She stood slowly from her crouched position by the bag, stretching out her stiffened back.
Now that she stood straightly, you could feel the sense of determination resonating around her, sharply contrasted by indecision. She combed through her shoulder-length brown hair with her fingers, working out any pieces of grass or twigs that had gotten tangled in the mass. Once this was done, she pulled it back into a ponytail, tying it with a simple leather piece. She then picked up the blanket, folded it, and tucked it neatly over the other items in her bag. As she did so, her fingers brushed against something wooden, and she drew her hand back as if burned. Shaking her head, she silently berated herself for being so foolish. A quick glance to make sure the dual Dao broadswords were carefully hidden, for they would have to stay behind if she was to make into Omashu.
She finished packing her things together and as she stood, she took up the robe that had served as her pillow for the night. She shook it out and pulled it over her head. Slightly too big, the Earth Kingdom robe hid her Fire Nation clothes and allowed her to blend in with the refugees she'd been traveling with, unknown to them. Today, they would reach Omashu. She shouldered her pack, grabbed her nearly empty water-skin, and began to move out of the woods.
As she stepped out onto the road, so did thousands of others. No one slept on the road, preferring the dark, brooding forest to open ambush. For a moment the girl was lost to reminiscence, but with a quick shake of her head she turned on her heel and began her trek without the Earth Kingdom refugees. If anyone cast her any suspicious glances, she didn't notice. Each step was purposeful and determined. She reached Omashu within the hour.
The city loomed before her, a single traveler on a long open road. Her instincts screamed ambush at her, but at the moment, she cared little. She merely shifted her pack into a different position on her back and sighed. Her head was held high, her back straight, a posture that screamed what she was, unidentifiable by the ones around her, but something she had yet to burn from her system. It had only been a few weeks since she'd left the Fire Nation after all. Her escape managed to create a smile on her frustrated features and she allowed herself the brief memory...
She was balanced cross-legged on a stool just inside the doorway. Sitting perfectly straight, around her draped silk curtain emblazoned with the Fire Nation symbol. She was a good ten feet from the door, which served her father's purpose well, who, nowadays, seemed to walk into the house in a mood to yell at her. Once upon a time, she had yelled back, and more than a few times they had nearly burned the house down with their quite literally fiery words. Now she paid little or no attention to him as he stormed about. She paid little or no attention to everything. With every day, every hour, every movement, every breath, she was waiting, waiting for the return of someone, but not the particular someone that everyone thought she was. Her instincts were telling her soon, the time is soon. So now, she waited patiently.
At the moment her father was upstairs, blasting things from the sound of it. None of this reached the inner workings of her mind during the meditation she was deep in. She didn't even twitch when a messenger came running in, screaming "Commander!" at the top of his lungs, but she did hear his message, muffled by the walls between her place and her father's room.
"Commander, the Avatar had returned!"
"Are you sure?"
"Yes! The message just came down from the Fire Sages in Avatar Roku's temple."
She could just imagine the greedy smile turning her father's once pleasant face into the piercing tyrant he wanted to be. "Finally."
She heard nothing more, but her eyes had snapped open, revealing sharp brown eyes flecked with hard yellow. The messenger gave her a minute glance as he left. Actually, the messenger wasn't entirely sure if she wasn't just an extremely detailed statue. As he left, she heard footsteps coming down the stairs, heavy purposeful footsteps, those of her father. Her body tensed in way it hadn't in years and the fingers of her right hand brushed the knife lying in the space between her folded legs. Her eyes glowed with a breath of new hope. The time had come.
Her father came around in front of her, his eyes flashing fire. Briefly, he seemed surprised to see her eyes open and following him. He took his usual place in front of her and smiled, though his smile was far from pleasant.
"The Avatar has returned." She just looked at him, never turning her eyes from his.
"To think, the Crown Prince actually has a chance to return." He looked carefully for a reaction in her face, but there was none.
"Wouldn't you like to go help him? You two always were a team." Her eyes narrowed. She knew exactly where he was going. "You hate me don't you? You'd love to burn me to a crisp, and you could. You have the ability. Go ahead."
Her eyes narrowed even more, the gold standing out as her anger threatened to get out of control. "Bend for me. Show me you strength. Do, and I'll let you go to him." She hissed and rolled her eyes.
Just one more step, Daddy, just one more step.
In truth, she didn't even know if she could bend anymore. Just as she hadn't spoken in two years, she hadn't even manipulated fire. Her nurse had entered the room, ready to chastise her if her father ran out of faults. He waited a moment more, then clenched his fist at his sides and growled wordlessly.
"Goddammit you stupid wench!" In his rage he advanced two steps towards her and she smiled. Her hand flew from the space between her folded legs, gripping the knife. As her arm flew and she held it straight out from her when it completed its arc; the knife cut clean through one of the silk curtains by her side.
"You foolish little girl!" Her nurse screamed. "Those were a gift from the Fire Lord himself and you've ruined them!"
But her eyes had never left her fathers, even as the curtain, released from its restraint snaked up to the ceiling. A creak was heard over head, and her father slowly looked up, just in time to be drenched with icy water. He closed his eyes automatically and gritted his teeth, his Fire-bending ability rendered temporarily useless. Her nurse drowned in the curtains, she slipped down from the stool, crouching next to it, holding the knife. Everything she needed was in the bag next to the door, something everyone had been too busy to notice, and she waited for the moment that would come. And it did. As her father fumed, steam radiated from his sopping clothing. Soon the room was filled with it, and silently, she slipped from the house, grabbing the bag on her way out.
As soon as she was out the door, she began to run. She hadn't known today would be the day, but she was prepared. She knew she wouldn't have long before he came after her, and she willed her weak legs to move faster. Oh, now she wished she'd done some training some time. Already her legs were burning. Desperately she pushed herself to what she knew shouldn't be her limit, but knew it was. She was so much better than this; was this how far she'd let her life slide? Dodging between people, soldiers, and market stands, she kept her eye on her goal, the docks.
Behind her, she could already hear her father crying her name, commanding her to stop, and crying to his soldiers for them to stop her. A soldier directly in front of her tried to grab her but she managed to dodge out of his grasp. Good to see that at least her reflexes were still in top performance. At this point in her escape, most any one else at her age would duck into one of the shops and hide, but she knew better. If she stopped moving, she'd be found, be caught. She'd found that out a long time ago, but she did know how to lose her chasers.
She ran into a thin alleyway between two shops and followed it for about three shop-lengths, and then ran back out onto the main street. This left her would-be captors several streets behind her and her several steps closer to her goal. Spotting a road leading up the cliff, she took it desperately. Thankfully, she knew the road much better than anyone else, save one. The road was steep and it advanced above the city quickly. There were cries below her as she was spotted, but she kept going. Her side hurt, but she forced her breathing to be steady. Straight ahead of her was a wall, shifted up almost twelve feet from the cliff by earth-benders long ago. As she neared it, she leapt up and caught the edge with her hands. Her arms shook with the effort of pulling her body over the edge, but she did it. The knowledge that she'd made the climb before helped and it would make it that much harder for those behind her.
Once above the shift, she risked a glance back. Her father and a group of soldiers were following her up the road. She met her father's eyes, seeing the exertion in his face, the hatred in his eyes, and smiled, daring him to capture her. It seemed to give him a second wind, and he sprinted after her. She took off again with her own second wind. The top of the cliff wasn't far off and the road was fairly gentle now.
She reached the edge and looked out over the vast ocean. Somewhere beyond that blue hazy horizon were the Earth Kingdom, the Water Tribes, and the lands that had once belonged to the Air-benders. For now, just getting out of the Fire Nation was her goal. Looking back, she saw her father and a few of the soldiers getting over the shift. Her father stopped running and stared at her, a flicker of concern fighting the hatred in his eyes. She smiled and turned again to face the ocean. A strong breeze came up to meet her, trying to fill her hair but unable to find purchase in the pixie-ish haircut she'd given herself. It pulled the skirt, which was split at her sides from its ankle length to mid hip, away from her, baring her long legs. She opened her arms to it, breathing in its pure scent, tossing her head back, her mouth open in a silent cry of joy. Footsteps told her sharp hearing that the chase was back on, and the thoughts of the soldiers screamed in their quick step, she has no where left to go. That's what they thought.
Without changing her position, she bent her knees easily and just as her father reached her, she leapt out from the cliff. "No!" she heard her father shout as his arms closed on empty air and he fell to the hard ground. "No! Anzha! No!" But few things he could say could make her change her mind and nothing could make her stop falling.
The water was as welcoming as she remembered, it warm depths providing hope and renewal. Strong strokes carried her out of the bay to the waiting Earth Kingdom ship, hidden from the city by the bay's crags. A tall Earth-bender helped her up onto the deck. He was young and reckless, very willing to undergo the dangerous voyage of transporting her from the Fire Nation; for a price, of course. She smiled at him, and his glance traveled to her bag.
"Your supplies?" She shook her head, for nothing in there would be hurt by getting wet, but she did pull the bag around and sifted through it until her fingers reached the familiar leather of her coin-purse. Pulling it out, she wrapped her hand around the middle of it, separating the contents into two, and the larger half on the bottom. She then turned it over and poured the top half out onto the deck. An array of gold, silver, and copper fell out and the captain greedily fell to his knees, scooping it all up. His eyes alight with ecstasy; he called to one of his men.
"Catar, show the lady to her room and give her anything she asks for." The sailor named Catar helped the girl up and showed her to a spacious but poorly furnished room. She smiled at him as he closed the door behind her, and he returned the smile easily.
Once he was gone, she took off her bag, replaced her coin purse inside it, then shoved it under the pillow. Then she stripped her sopping clothing off and, naked as her birthday, she hung the clothes up to dry. She found a towel and dryly scrubbed herself clean. As she stared at her maturing body, she realized that her plan to hide out in the Earth Kingdom as a boy refugee would be as close to impossible as the Avatar surrendering to the Elephant Koi. Once she was dry, she crawled beneath the sheets of the cot in the corner. Used to silk, the coarse fabric grated over her skin, but she didn't complain.
She spent most of the rest of the voyage lying on that cot with one hand on her stomach, trying to ignore the rolling of the ship mimicked by her stomach. No one spoke to her, and that was good.
Less than a week later, they dropped her off at the edge of the Earth Kingdom. The young captain had handed her half her money back and an Earth Kingdom robe. She smiled at him, her way of saying thanks, and he just shooed her off the ship...
"Who are you?"
The question jerked her from her memory, and she jogged the rest of the way up the slope to the gate of Omashu. There were several guards there, all of them Earth-benders from their looks. Two stood closest to her, one who looked younger than her, the other old enough to be her grandfather. The older guard was the one who had addressed her, and she looked at him.
"Answer me." He demanded. She merely looked at him then opened her mouth, closed it, and shook her head.
"Can't you speak?" His tone hadn't softened an ounce, but she shook her head, might as well add to her lies. He seemed to understand her dilemma, for he switched to questions she could easily answer with a shake of the head.
"Are you a bender?" She shook her head again. "You're lying."
She shook her head, once more. "You are a bender. You move like a bender, and more than that, you move like a Fire-bender."
Her mouth opened and closed again, her eyes narrowed, and she shook her head and stamped her foot. "I don't care what you think. I've fought enough Fire-benders to know them at a glance. What's more, if you've come to these gates and denied it, then you're a spy."
She hissed, but she turned as she heard footsteps behind her. It was one of the groups of refugees that she had traveled with recently, consisting of a single family. The son or at least the one you could assume was so, took in the situation and then moved up to stand beside her. He placed an arm brotherly around her.
"What were you thinking, baby sister, running off like that? I know you're excited to get to Omashu, but I was worried." Catching on to his game, the girl smiled and hung her head sheepishly. He turned to the guards. "What's wrong? My sister shouldn't be causing any trouble."
The older guard spoke up. "I think your sister is a spy for the Fire Nation." The boy beside her laughed.
"How could she be a spy? She's mute." The younger guard touched his companion's arm.
"He has a point." The older guard shook his head. "Maybe I'm getting paranoid. I can see that she's no threat. Go ahead."
The teenager guided her to the gates which were opened by the other guards by Earth-bending, and then he guided her through. As his family came in he turned to her. "Tell me I didn't get you in for nothing. You definitely owe me one." She smiled and nodded.
After a moment, she touched a hand to her mouth and then pointed to him. "Speak?" She nodded then repeated the motion. "Me speak?" Again she repeated the motion and comprehension dawned on the teenager's face. "Just say the word, and you'll be there."
She smiled and nodded. "I'll remember that, whoever you are, in case we ever see each other again."
He ruffled her hair and left her. She made her way to the markets, and, with a shrewd eye and careful hand, she managed to buy some fruits and loaves of simple brown bread. There was a fountain of water next to one of the many deliver slides, and she jumped up on the edge of it and filled her water-skin. After doing so, she took a long drink and watched the delivery slides and their cargo.
She heard a soft rumbling near her and saw a crate coming down the chute she was next to. But what was more surprising was its cargo. As it flashed past her, she could see it held an old man and two of the Water Tribe. Her mouth fell open as she watched its trail. It left the track, crashed around and landed near her on top of a cabbage salesman's cart. Her eyes narrowed and she crouched down behind the statue on the fountain.
Apparently, the old man wasn't an old man at all, but a boy and he had a blue arrow on his head. She watched as soldiers apprehended them and took them to the monstrous palace. Forgetting her mission for a brief moment, she followed at a safe distance. She watched as they entered the palace and the gates shut behind them. Eyeing the palace from behind the corner of a building she was startled by an all too familiar sound behind her.
"Why aren't with your family? Did you run off again?" It was the old guard, looking at her with suspicion. She smiled her most winning smile and raised her arms in an open innocent gesture, but by doing so, she raised the Earth robe, revealing her boots, the likes of which had no doubt ever been seen this deep in the Earth Kingdom. That glimpse was all the experienced guard needed. "I knew you were a Fire-bender the moment I saw you!" He shouted. Realizing her predicament, knowing she couldn't worm her way out of it, she turned and ran.
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