~~~~*** Hello everyone! Welcome to Avatar: A Voice So Loud! Just to let you know, I have many illustrations to go with this story, all of which are posted on my profile. If you want to see what the characters look like, there are a few sketches for you to gander at. More will come with newer chapters.
Please review if you like this first chapter. I'm having trouble collecting intrest, so if you start reading, and you get bored, please let me know how I could have better entertained you. Thank you! See ya soon! ***~~~~
"I would look at him often during those months we were together, though I doubt he knew much of my stares. As time went on I found myself wanting only one thing for him; I wished that someday that gentle mouth of his could be put to use. But, not at all in the way you think.
"I was told that the Avatar towed with him a shroud of illusion. Deceit often followed him, and he was constantly stalked by confusion. This put me in the realm of paranoia for a good while. I ceased to trust my own eyes, even when I was by his side.
"When he told me that he had realized love, my trust failed me. I stared at him, and waited for the wool to fall away from my eyes."
Maintaining The Mask
The gallery was about to close, though much to the dismay of the night watch coming in there were still people milling about between the exhibits and the gift shops. The guards used their kindest words as they coaxed the citizens out the doors, forced patience smothered over their stolid faces. One guard was a fire bender, and when everyone had left he took a torch and went to lock the doors to the Replica Gallery alone.
He paused at the door, keys dangling from his fingers, and stared down the long rows of statues with a subtle sense of awe. Every stone carving depicted an Avatar from the past, frozen in their finest moment. Some were battling monsters, others reaching out their hand to save a life; one was shown pressing his lips to the forehead of an infant, a sign of newly forged peace between the nations.
The guard blinked, finding himself several yards into the room among the lofty statues. He had wandered in without realizing it. It was not surprising; there was a heavy weight of majesty in this room, even with the pools of shadow shrouding the corners. A puddle of moonlight illuminated a circle in the center of the floor, the silvery light making a statue of one Avatar glow like the heavens.
A shadow moved farther down the corridor. The guard felt his stomach flip and clenched his teeth to stay a yelp of fright. He stretched out his torch, peering cautiously ahead and calling out a warning.
"Hello? Is someone there?" he said. "The Replica Gallery is closed, you will have to leave."
He heard the sound of fabric shifting, a rustle of skirts perhaps. The tap of soft shoes on the stone tiles…
Narrowing his eyes, the guard crept toward the sounds with his torch held high. The flame cast weird bobbing shadows around him and drew long, dark marks on the stone faces by his side. His heart was beating fast and his hands had begun to sweat, but he told himself that he should not be afraid.
His halo of orange light unveiled a small shoe, green and studded with small black beads. A foot was stuffed into the leather, connected to a leg, connected to the body of an elderly woman. She was standing before one of the smaller statues, looking up at it and frowning.
Her wrinkles looked almost frightening in the firelight, but from the side she somehow appeared profoundly sad and helpless. The guard whispered to her, trying not to make her jump.
"Ma'am, do you know the gallery is closed? You'll have to go home; can you get there by yourself?"
She spoke without looking at him. "Hush, lad," she said, "I know how to get home just fine. I'm not batty, I'm just old."
"Oh," the guard blushed. "W-well, the Gallery is closed now ma'am. You can't stay here."
Her frown deepened. "I know that. Here, bring that light closer, please. Just for a moment."
He hesitated, but then obeyed, edging nearer to the woman and the statue with the torch raised.
The woman shook her head, gazing at the face of the Avatar and rubbing her hands together as if she were in pain. She sucked in a bumpy breath and let it out slowly. "You know," she muttered, "this is the only gallery in the entire Earth Kingdom that has a statue of him. I've been everywhere…looking, but this is the only one."
Now the guard frowned. He studied the statue more carefully and was surprised when he realized that he barely recognized it. It was an odd illustration: a young man, barely any older than his own teenaged son, stood at the edge of an outcropping of rock, his back turned to the open space behind him. His youthful face was still, his expression like the stone he was carved from. In his eyes was a wealth of emotion, though it was difficult to pinpoint what he was feeling. His shaggy hair and earth bender's robes billowed around him, a wild wind coming from somewhere beneath his feet.
The guard tilted his head, thinking. He had always thought that he knew every statue in the Gallery perfectly, down the folds in their clothing, but here was one he had hardly even noticed. It made him a little ashamed, to have ignored any incarnation of the Avatar was highly disrespectful. But…who was this boy? He glanced at the name plate at the base of the carving, stuck into the depiction of the rocky ledge.
The Silent Herald of the Spirits
He leaned away and looked once more at the boy's face. His stone hands were open, palm up as if in surrender. Long bangs seemed to flicker in front of his eyes, the cool rock etched with some lost passion.
"I…don't know this Avatar," the guard admitted.
The old woman laughed. "Most people don't. When he is remembered, it is as the mute, the Avatar who could not speak. He was a poor bender, but he was wise and kind. That's why I like this statue, he almost seems real."
The guard bit his lip and turned away, looking at the Gallery doors still open where he had left them. "It is a very nice statue, ma'am. But, I need to close the Gallery now, so you have to leave."
"Oh, of course," she agreed, and the guard sighed. She stole one last look at the Avatar, sad longing clear on her face. "You were a fool Haurran," he heard her murmur. She sniffed contemptuously and wrinkled her already wrinkled brow. "And stop looking at me with those eyes! I'm leaving now."
She turned and shuffled away, the guard at her side all the way out to the Gallery entrance. He watched her pick her way down the road alone, wondering if he should have insisted on guiding her home. She disappeared around a corner and it was too late. He returned to the Gallery and pulled the doors closed, twisting the key into the lock until he heard it click, and left it in the dark.
"Why are you nervous Ona? It's ridiculous when you act like this."
Ona speared her father with a sour glare. "It's not ridiculous at all. If I lose this match I'll be out of the top rankings when we go to the Championship. Drat if I let that witch Basha take my spot again like she did last year." She stared across the stadium at her opponent, another girl dressed in red. Fire bender, second class judging by the patches on her uniform. "At least I didn't get matched with an air bender again."
"Yeah, you'd be throwing up if that happened," said a voice behind her.
Ona slouched in her chair. "No one asked you, Nokki. I don't even know what you're doing here."
A twig-like boy scuttled up next to her, grinning wide enough to split his face. "I'm your support system. I'm supposed to encourage you to do your best and all that."
"Well, you're doing a terrible job."
He laughed and moved away to his seat in the stands. There were only a hundred or so people watching the qualifying tournament, most of them the parents of the participants or siblings who got dragged along. Nokki was probably the only person in the whole stadium who was not obligated to be there.
For some reason this made Ona feel even worse. She kept her angry disguise on as long as she could, even as her father squeezed her shoulders and gave her advice on the match. She didn't listen to him; she'd heard this talk a thousand times already and knew exactly what he would be telling her.
Make a defense for your flag first, and remember that fire benders need to have a solid base to stand on for their more powerful attacks. Blah, Blah, Blah.
She sighed and closed her eyes, absorbing the full wrath of the butterflies in her stomach. She attempted to settle them, but it was a half-hearted effort. Her mind was in too many places at once. She was in the middle of telling herself to get it together when she heard her name called.
She stood up, locking her knees so they wouldn't cave under the wave of panic that crashed over her. As she walked she forced deep breaths, the encouraging calls from her family and friend lost in the chaos of her thoughts. Her feet were on the platform before she even noticed that she had moved, and she was suddenly glad that she had done this all many times before.
The announcer was babbling on about something…statistics or previous wins. Not that it mattered much once the game started. Just because someone had other victories under their belt didn't mean they would perform well in this particular round. Something could always go wrong and that would be the end of it.
Ona felt her stomach lurch and instantly pushed her worries away. She tried to make herself look confidant by stamping her feet, as if she were testing the earth. As if she knew what she was doing. But if she really did know, why was she stomping around like a drunken monkey? She wasn't standing on real ground, this wasn't real earth, just grit and dirt shipped in for the competition. It was fake really, so there was no point—
Ona thought her heart stopped. She looked around franticly and saw a fireball roaring toward her, trailing smoke like a tail and clouding the field. She cursed, knowing that she was already off to an awful start.
She located her flag, a green piece of cloth tied to a pole off to her left. Heat slammed into the front of her body like a wall, warning that the hunk of flame was dangerously close. One stomp with her left foot, a diagonal slide with the other, cross the forearms…she felt the earth lunge up at her call, blocking the flying fireball with a crumbling wall of stone.
Next, guard the flag. She dipped low, feeling the weight of the earth like blocks on her arms. Yet when she lifted her hands they were light as they had always been. With four fingers she jabbed straight up, and the ground responded by raising a mountain of rocky rectangles straight up into the air. Her green flag flapped at the peak, untouched.
She heard her opponent grunt in frustration. As if the match would be that easy. Ha. Ona attacked the girl fire bender next, wanting to beat the next fireball to the punch. She clapped her hands, the ground rippled, and then as she kicked upwards a dozen pointed rocks blasted out of the hard-packed dirt. She sent them flying: four went straight, a double set of two shot off to the sides, and the last four dived from above. The other girl blasted a few of the rocks, swinging her leg out in a flaming arch, then dodged the rest like a dancer.
Dust drifted in the air, so Ona took the opportunity and sprinted for the other side of the arena where the fire bender's flag would be. Suddenly she saw her shadow dance in front of her, dark and long. Then she felt the warmth on her back and knew another fireball was on its way.
Defense, coming up, Ona thought, and leapt into a twirl. The soil swarmed up after her fingers and wrapped around her in a ring. She halted and swept her arms down, dragging more earth over her head like a blanket, creating a solid ball of earth where she could hide. The fireball slammed down, making the whole stadium shake.
The sphere could only withstand a few fireballs of that size before it crumbled, leaving her with nowhere to run. It would be like an oven if this kept up.
"So," Ona whispered, "no more fireballs." She pressed both of her hands into the dirt, then began pounding the ground furiously, over and over until her knuckles were bloody and caked in earth. The world seemed to be vibrating, trembling in an earthquake made by her hands.
Tiring, Ona broke apart her stone ball and stood up. All around her the ground was gorged with enormous spikes of stone, like the back of a porcupine mouse. She stepped in a small circle, searching for the flag. She found it, sticking sideways out of one of the taller pillars, almost like it was daring her to climb up and reach it.
She smirked and shot forward. Her foot hit the pillar, her feet sticking solidly, and then she was charging straight up, tearing a path in the rock as she went.
Halfway up, a voice boomed in her mind, as loud as if someone were shouting in her ear.
Ona whirled and there by her was the fire bender, flying up with flames spewing from her feet. That was a new trick. The other girl spun, all of her limbs spread like a star, and a fire storm whipped up around her. The flames were so close that Ona nearly got burned, but she managed to scramble up higher to safety, sweat drenching her competition robes. Scowling, she anchored her feet with shoes of stone, and then leaned out away from the pillar until she was parallel with the ground.
She flicked her wrists down, then whisked her arms up, pulling twin pillars right out of the ground. She stretched them all the way up to the heart of the firestorm that swarmed only feet away, and then clenched her fists.
Instantly the fire sputtered out, revealing the other girl, stuck with one upraised foot and half her torso encased in rock. The pillars held her still so that she looked like a doll set on an awkward display. Ona didn't have time to laugh, as the fire bender was already raising her arms. Flattening her hands, Ona made several sideways chopping motions, sensing the solid pillars crumble in an avalanche of rocks. The girl fell with the boulders, still trapped, and landed with a crash amongst the rubble where she spat and cursed aloud.
Casually, Ona righted herself, and made her way up to the red flag. She grabbed it in her hand and waved it, signaling her victory in the match. Her nerves were gone, replaced by pride as she beamed at the cheering crowd. It was a very lovely moment for her, until her gaze wandered down to the end of the stands. There she met eyes with a boy, blank faced and impassive, and she heard his voice in her head.