Title: Origins (1/3)
Wordcount approx. 2,700
Warnings: original characters, pre-series
Summary: They lived first. They learned first. They dreamed first. Fire. Air. Water. Every tradition begins somewhere, and every myth is born from a kernel of truth.
Notes: Yep, this is me being ambitious. These are the stories of the first benders and great spirits that taught them their art. We know of the tale of Oma and Shu, but what of the rest? Let's read and find out. For reference, "Fai" is pronounced like it would rhyme with "buy", not as "fay". (I can't begin to explain why the writers of ATLA would spell Mei's name as Mai, since by any normal phonetic reading "mai" sounds like "my" not "may", but go figure. They were probably high or something.) Anyway, enjoy the first story.
The Firebender's Tale
Dizosu lived beneath a mountain of fire.
The volcano stood on the shoulders of the spirits, so tall that its peak reached beyond the light of the stars. Its base was so vast, and its roots so deep, that no human had ever travelled its girth. For the people of Dizosu's village, there was no god as merciless as the volcano, and there was goddess as generous as the mountain.
The people of the village were kind, and there was no person gentler and more peaceful than Dizosu's husband. Fai's joyous spirit brightened the lives of every villager, and he brought the greatest happiness to Dizosu, his wife of twenty-two years. Dizosu loved Fai as she had never loved another human being, from wrinkles around his eyes to the scars on his knuckles. At night, when the forges had been cooled and work was done, Dizosu would take her husband's large hands in hers and she would tell him all the things she learned since the sun had risen. She told him of the work she had done in the looms, of the neighbors she had spoken to, of the stories she had heard. In return, Fai would tell Dizosu of the metal he had wrought, of the customers he pleased, of the weapons he melted into tools.
Fai and Dizosu had no children of their own, but the villagers were their family, and no child on their street went hungry while Fai and Dizosu lived there. The blacksmith and the weaver did not always have wealth and they did not always have luck, but they were never without one another. Dizosu had never imagined any life but this one, Fai had never wanted to come home to anything but the smiling eyes of his wife. For many years they were happy, and for many years they lived without fear. But all tales must begin in conflict, and the tale of Dizosu of the Mountain of Fire is a tale as black as a raven's wing.
The tale of Dizosu began on a day as simple as many before it. Dizosu had sat at her loom for many hours, weaving a blanket for a young couple set to marry in two weeks time. Midsummer's day was a lucky day to be married, and Dizosu wished the young man and woman every happiness that youth and love can bring. As her danced across the loom with the colors of summer leaves and open skies, the weaver imagined the life the pair would share together. Her concentration was so deep that it was not until another weaver grabbed her shoulder in warning that she noticed the women had all gathered across the room, around a window. Seeing the worry on her companion's face, Dizosu rose from her seat and pushed past the other women until she could see for herself what caught so much attention.
When her eyes fell upon the sight of her husband's forge being swallowed in tongues of orange fire and plumes of black smoke, the weaver cried out to her love and crashed through the swinging door of the loomhouse. She raced down the street, screaming for her husband. When she reached the forge the flames had consumed the entirety of the small building, and Dizosu knew nothing inside it could possibly breathe air again. She wept and wailed, but her husband did not appear.
For thirteen days Dizosu mourned alone, entombed in her empty cottage. She cursed the spirits and she cursed fate, but no curses would bring her peace, and no spirits would bring Fai back to her. For thirteen days she wept, and on the fourteenth day she stepped from her house with a small sack at her hip and stern look upon her face. The other villagers asked her, "Dizosu, what is that expression in your eyes? What do you mean to do with that bag, and why did you hide from us for so long?"
Dizosu looked at her fellow villagers and replied, "I hid from you to give my tears to my husband in solitude, because my tears are meant for him and him alone. I come before you now with this satchel to tell you that I am leaving the village. I will go up to the top of the mountain, and I will throw myself into the flames of the volcano. I cannot live this life without Fai at my side, but I also love this village and will not curse it with my death. I will go to the top of the mountain, and there I will die alone, feeding the great flames of the spirits."
The other villagers begged Dizosu not to leave them. They told her that to wish herself dead was foolishness, and that the spirits did not look favorably upon those who took their own lives. They told her that she would love again, and that the villagers would look after her with open hearts. But Dizosu would not be swayed, and that day she began her journey up the mountain.
For many days Dizosu walked. She slept under the eaves of trees and in the corners of rocky caves. She lived off dried meat from her pack and the plants that grew all over the mountainside. She knew the journey would be long and that she must be strong to see it through, so she planned wisely and travelled carefully. No person in her village had ever been to the top of the volcano, but Dizosu knew that nothing would keep her from fulfilling her duty.
After many days and many nights passed in loneliness, Dizosu heard a voice call out to her. "Woman," the voice said, "Why do you wish to climb the mountain of fire?"
Dizosu looked to the east and the west, to the north and the south, but she saw no other humans. Finally she looked down at the path before her, and saw a tiny salamander. She knelt and said to the creature, "I climb the mountain to go to my death."
The salamander blinked its large eyes and asked, "Why do you go to your death?"
"My love is gone, burned in smoke and ash," said Dizosu. "I wish to die as well, and I have chosen the volcano as my grave."
"You choose the volcano? You have pride in what should be an act of humility," scolded the salamander.
Dizosu shook her head. "Little salamander, it is not pride. To kill myself in the village would be to curse my friends, and it is not their fault my husband is dead. If I throw myself into the flames of the volcano, I will die as my beloved Fai has, and I will be a sacrifice to the spirits. No harm will come to the village through my passing, and in death I will find peace at last."
"The spirits will not like your sacrifice," the salamander warned, but before Dizosu could reply, it disappeared under a pile of rocks. The weaver sighed and resumed her trek. If her fellow townspeople could not sway her, then the words of a forest creature could do little to change her mind.
More days passed by Dizosu, and her journey became one of weeks. From sunrise to sunset she walked, and her feet blistered on the rough trail while her skin weathered under the harsh wind. Eventually the trees thinned and the forest became a landscape of rocks and dust. At night the cold bit into her bones, and at day the sun burned her flesh. The air gave little nourishment no matter how many breaths she took. Dizosu could feel her strength slacking. She knew she would not last much longer, so she made herself walk even farther, sometimes into the night when the road was the most treacherous.
One day, as she staggered up a ravine of broken stone, she looked up from her feet to see that a huge bird, black as the space between stars and tall as komodo rhino, was hunched on a boulder beside her path. Dizosu looked on the bird in fear and in surprise, for she had not seen anything living for four days, and she had never seen a bird so large as this.
"Great raven spirit," she asked, "Why do you come to me?"
The raven laughed, and it was an ugly sound. The laugh echoed over the rocks and bounced between Dizosu's ears, making her wince and nearly look away. The raven's laugh faded, and it said to her, "I have never seen a human as foolish as you. Why do you climb the mountain seeking death? I can give you death right now, if you desire it so badly."
Dizosu fought down her fear, and said "Do not kill me, spirit. I must throw myself into the volcano. I have travelled this far to do so, and I will keep travelling until I reach the summit. Surely it would be more amusing for you to watch my struggle than to take my life right now."
"Perhaps, perhaps," said the raven. "Tell me, little human. Why didn't you kill yourself back in the town, where your body could be buried with your husband's ashes? A little slip of the knife, and all your grief would disappear."
"I would not call a curse upon my people!" Dizosu protested.
"How do you know," countered the giant bird, enormous black beak gaping, "that throwing yourself into the mountain with hanger in your heart will not bring a curse upon them? How do you truly know what you are throwing away?"
Dizosu wrapped her cloak tighter around her body, and met the raven spirit's gaze. "I know in my heart that this is the only way," she said. "You cannot persuade me to give up when I have come so far." She resumed her slow crawl up the rocky ravine, holding her breath as she passed the bird spirit. But the raven neither blocked nor attacked her, merely cackled its dark laugh as she passed.
For five more days Dizosu travelled. This leg of her journey was the most painful and the most arduous, sapping her of every ounce of strength. But eventually, after weeks of toil, she reached the lip of the volcano. She had climbed the mountain, and stood looking into the depths of fire. The air was so thick with gas she could scarely breathe, and the sight of her fiery grave rested like a stone in her chest. She'd long since eaten the last of her food stores, and all that was left in her bag were the items she brought to remind herself of her beloved. Carefully she took them out, and arranged them in a shrine before her. She knelt, looking at a wood carving of her husband, a candle, and a scroll of prayer.
As she wept for her love and prayed her final prayers, Dizosu heard a sound like rocks scraping over ice. She lifted her head and saw that a great creature, as long as a tree was tall and as thick as a house, was sliding across the cliffside toward her, crunching boulders beneath its scales. She looked into its stare, and had never seen anything as beautiful. The creature's eyes were as gold as the sun in the heavens, as brilliant and frightening as a lightning storm.
"Are you a dragon?" she asked it, unable to speak above a whisper.
The dragon looked down its nose at the tiny human woman, observing the tremble in her frame. "Why do you quake with fear, human? You are about to take your own life, surely you cannot fear death from me."
Resenting the creature's words, Dizosu rose from her make-shift shrine, forcing her body to stand tall and firm. "I am not afraid of you, dragon!" she shouted.
"A fact that intrigues me more than you know, little human," replied the dragon. "Why have you climbed my mountain? Why do you seek your death in my volcano? Speak, human, or I will pry the answers from your mind as easily as you would gut a river fish."
Dizosu had never seen a creature as magnificent as this, and she knew that to deny the spirit would offend it, and she did not wish to travel into the spirit world with an angry dragon nipping at her heels. "As you said, dragon, I have come to throw myself into the fire. My beloved is dead, eaten by flames, and I wish to join him."
"Is there nothing left in this world that brings you joy?" asked the dragon.
"Nothing," said Dizosu.
"And what of your daughter?" asked the dragon.
"I have no children," replied Dizosu, and to her horror the dragon laughed.
"Human fool," it said. "You have a daughter, and if you jump then she will die with you today."
Dizosu staggered back a step, clutching her hands to her stomach. She could not believe it to be true, but she could not doubt the word of a dragon spirit. As the truth in all its despair settled in her heart, she finally let her tears rain against her cheeks, making black rivers down her smoke-stained skin..
"Why do you weep?" asked the dragon.
"I weep because I know that I have no future," Dizosu cried. "If I jump, then I will kill my unborn child—Fai's unborn child. But I am hungry and weak, and I would die long before I could ever return to the village. You have taken my chance of peace from me, dragon, and replaced it with even greater misery."
The dragon nodded, and said to her: "Human, your strength has impressed me. In all the years of your village's existence, no other person has reached my volcano. And to do so not knowing that you carry a child in your belly, it amuses me as few things in the human world can. So I will give you a great gift."
Dizosu stared at the dragon, unable to speak in her grief and awe.
"Your husband died in fire, so I will give you the gift of fire. I will teach you to call the fire to your fingertips as you would call a tame animal, and after I have taught you to harness its power, I will return you to your village, where your daughter will be born. But your daughter's eyes will not be brown, they will be gold, so that you will always remember the fire that now rests between your breasts. You will never forget or forsake my gift, even though you will despise it for being the death of the one you loved the most. You will teach your daughter as I will have taught you, and your daughter will teach her children. You have proven you have strength, you have proven you have conviction, and you have proven you have wisdom. Accept my gift, and your child will live."
"She will live as a demon!" Dizosu cried. "To control fire, what gift is this except a curse? The villagers will fear her, and she will always put those around her in danger. How can any child live that way?"
"Accept my gift," the dragon repeated, "and your child will live. If you do not, then turn from me now and jump into the volcano. Your spirit will perish and your daughter will perish with you."
Dizosu screamed, falling to her knees again and pounding at the earth with her calloused hands. The rocks bit into her flesh as she hit the ground until she bled. Great sobs wracked her body, tearing her with indecision. She missed her husband deeply, and after weeks of mourning and loneliness and torture, she wanted nothing except to die and be by his side in the spirit world. She had worked and fought so hard to earn her death, and now that peace seemed so far away, traded for a life of turmoil and trickery at the hands of a dragon.
She could not die knowing she carried a child, even if that child would be marked from birth. Her duty was to live, to raise her daughter, and the only way to do it was to accept the dragon's cursed flame. Swallowing her tears, Dizosu lifted her chin and met the dragon's gleaming stare.
"I will accept your gift, dragon. Promise me my child will live, and I will take power of fire into the village, and teach it to my children's children."
The dragon laughed, and Dizosu felt warmth spark in her heart, spreading through her body until everything—the sky, the land, the spirit's ancient eyes—shone so fiercely that from horizon to horizon, all she could see was gold.