Liu had expected today to be... normal. Well, as normal as it could be for her, anyway. After all, as a part of the Northern Water Tribe, life wasn't always as predictable or typical as if she'd been a civilian. Even then, it wasn't an easy thing to exist here. It seemed that the Fire Nation was near constantly issuing threats to invade or lay siege to their village.

She tied her long, light blue hair back into a low ponytail. A quick glance in her mirror reminded her that she also had blue eyes, like many of the others in the Tribe. She was clothed simply, in a cerulean-hued dress that dropped to several inches below her knees, a thin golden belt tied around her waist - this was attached to the pouch that held her water. The sleeves of her gown were lined with white - not so much that it stretched to her elbow, but not so little that it wasn't visible. She went barefoot, as usual.

She had to admit it to herself. She looked rather... pretty. Was that the word others would use to describe her? Maybe. She wasn't sure. No one outside of her mother had ever said the words "You're so pretty" to her. Not even the children at the library had...

The library! The children! Taking one last look in the mirror and smoothing her crystal blue locks, she raced outside. After checking the sundial, she sighed in relief when she saw that she still had roughly ten counts of sixty to reach the library. It took her nine counts of sixty to get there, usually, so that was good. She had time.

As she walked, she said hello to everyone that she passed, as she normally did. Her aunt Shiromi, the shopkeepers Xing and Furumi, and several of her neighbors. Life was good here, as she saw it - besides the Fire Nation's threats, at least. The library, as her way of income, was where she spent most of her time. She did two things for the library. First off, she submitted the poems she wrote, and the head librarian paid her ten gold coins for each scroll, sometimes more or less depending on the size and how many poems were in it. She got feedback, and was slightly disheartened to find that she wasn't very well-known and not many people picked out her scrolls. She also read to the children there. Their parents would drop them off while they either ran errands or browsed in the library, and Liu was expected to keep them entertained. So she read to them. For the children, she was careful only to select the scrolls whose stories were accompanied by illustrations, usually only the most colorful ones. The children wouldn't pay any attention to her otherwise, and then she'd fail at her job. And she wouldn't get paid seventy silver pieces a week - ten for each time she did this.

As much as she enjoyed it (as did the kids, for that matter) she felt relief wash over her when the parents came to pick up their children. The little ones (especially the younger ones) were usually a bit of a handful. She didn't always mind, though; she loved children.

Sometimes she would make up a story for them, and they always acted like this was a special treat. Well, perhaps it was. After all, they were all under the age of ten, and children who weren't yet ten had probably never seen a waterbender in action before, despite the fact that the city was crawling with them. She used her bending powers to help tell stories, although she wasn't very good at it. She couldn't mold the water into recognizable shapes, such as people. She could make balls of water, whips, and the occasional rain shower, which the children usually loved. It felt good when she was moving her body in sync with the water. It was as if she'd been born waterbending... well, when you didn't take into consideration that she couldn't control more than a small pond at one time. The waterbending - the magnificent displays of whirling and moving, twisting and turning, bending the liquid to her will - took a significant toll on her when she did it at such a magnitude as she did for the children. That was why she did it rarely - perhaps once a month, if even that frequently.

Thankfully, she arrived on time. She gave a nod and friendly greeting to the librarian behind the desk, Shiori. They were more acquaintances than really friends, but they had no problem with each other. They smiled at one another, but never really did anything together outside of their work.

She could see that some children were already seated in the Reading Corner, some on the floor, one girl seated on a soft cushion she practically sank into. They were all so well-behaved; they knew not to yell or make any loud noise in the library. They were talking quietly amongst themselves, waiting for all the other children to show up so that Liu could begin "Story Time", as they had decided to dub it.

Liu smiled to herself and hurried over to the shelves. There were rows upon rows of scrolls here, and she quickly found the children's section; she had asked Shiori to do this for her, so that she could find the ones she was able to read to children more easily when she was pressed for time. She didn't like it when the kids got restless waiting for her, because then there could be trouble. There was one time she took too long, and some of them progressed from talking to yelling and fighting with each other. It was a hassle to calm them down.

She found a story, and went over to the old, frayed pink rug that classified the area as the Reading Corner. Most of the children who were going to show up were here, so she decided to begin. She smiled and waved to them. "Good morning, everyone! I see some new faces." She opened the scroll, displaying the vibrant cover page to them. "Today I'll read 'The Waterbender and the Star Spirit'."

A little boy raised his hand. "Miss Liu! Miss Liu! Are you going to use your waterbending to show us the story?"

There were cries of "Yeah!" from the other children as they agreed and waved their arms happily, imitating her waterbending styles.

Liu giggled. "No, I'm not. Please settle down. However," she added, just to humor them, "if there's time left after the story, I will show you a couple of moves."

"Yaaaaaay!" they all cheered.

"Alright, now quiet down and let me read." Liu unrolled the scroll farther so she could begin. "'Once, long ago, there was a waterbender named Yan...'"

-xxx-

"... And so, Yan knew he would always have the spirit of the stars with him... forever. The end." Liu rolled the scroll back up. "Did everyone like that story?"

"I like how Yan kicked that firebender's butt!" one of the little boys shouted happily.

"Me too!" came shouts from the others.

"Okay, then." Liu stood up, placing the scroll on a table. "Who wants to see some waterbending moves?"

Most of the kids cheered, but one of them whom Liu knew as Mizuumi raised her hand high in the air. "Miss Liu! Miss Liu!"

"Yes? What is it, Mizuumi?"

"Miss Li-Li, I need to go potty!"

"Okay." Liu waved the girl toward the direction of the bathroom. "You know where it is, honey. Hurry back, I'm going to start."

"Okie-dokie!" Mizuumi scurried off.

Liu stretched for a few seconds, and then opened the water skin at her hip. She held a hand in front of the opening, and shaped her hand, bending her fingers to control the water. It flowed out in whip form, which she hadn't exactly wanted. She'd tried to make a spinning ball of water. But oh well. The kids cried happily anyway.

She moved her body, corresponding to the flow of the water. She felt completely at peace when she was bending. It wasn't passive, like the many other things she did. It wasn't as if she could sit down and stay still when she began to waterbend. She had to be moving, and it felt almost like she was dancing, conducting the water in an extravagant ballet.

All of a sudden, Mizuumi came running back. She was shrieking and crying, not really saying anything, just yelling. "Miss Li-Li! Miss Li-Li!"

Liu placed her water back in the pouch. As she ran to comfort Mizuumi, she could swear that she faintly smelled something burning. Was there a fire or something? "Mizuumi!" She wrapped her arms around the five-year-old, trying to calm her down. "What's the matter? What happened? Are you-"

That was when she noticed the scorch mark on the girl's arm. It stretched from halfway to her wrist up to her elbow. It wasn't bleeding, hadn't broken the skin, but it was close. "Mizuumi, how did you-?"

Mizuumi was sobbing, wiping her eyes. She pointed in the direction she had just come running from. "Firebenders! There firebenders here, Miss Li-Li!"

As if on cue, a flaming arrow landed right beside Liu. She cried out, realizing that if she had just been a little closer she would have caught on fire. She motioned to all the children. "Come on, kids, this way!" She hurried them out the back door of the library. "Run! Go, hurry, get away from here!"

Liu was about to follow them out herself when she thought about the scrolls that contained her poems. She didn't remember any of the poems she'd written... and if she left them here they would all be burned away to ash!

She closed the back door so the firebenders couldn't find it and follow the children. She hurried to the shelves that contained her poems. She nearly tripped several times, and narrowly managed to avoid all the fiery arrows on her way, jumping over and dodging them. She got to the shelves, and reached for her scrolls. But she suddenly felt dizzy. She tried to look around, but there was nothing around her. The only thing she could see was a thick, billowing cloud of smoke blanketing the air around her. She became aware of the fact that her chest was frighteningly tight. It felt as if her lungs, too, had been infected by the fires. Flames burned all around her, creating even more smoke, and she coughed, her eyes closing as they were also inflamed by the noxious smoke.

She couldn't see. She couldn't breathe. She felt completely helpless. This village had always protected her, and as a waterbender she should do the same. But she wasn't even able to do that.

She tried to get her water out of its pouch. She bended it and managed to put out a small section of the flames, but it wasn't long before she began to feel weak. She knew by the feeling that if she exerted herself more, if she tried to bend anymore, she would probably pass out from exhaustion.

She allowed her water to be still, and she took a shaky step forward. This was all the farther she got before she tripped, and collapsed on the carpet.

She was sure she was going to die. She would be burned alive, licked by the flames until all that remained of her was ash. She stayed there like this for a minute, preparing herself for death.

But out of nowhere, a hand grabbed her by the arm. The grip was tight, and felt like that of a man, but she couldn't be sure. The hand pulled at her, willing her to rise. She thought she heard someone tell her to get up, but maybe it was just her imagination. She did her best to get to her feet, and then the person began to drag her away. She thought about her poems... but she was too tired to go back. She couldn't even begin to fight off the strength of this person, especially when she was this weak.

They were outside, and yet the blaze still rained around her. Was the entire city on fire? Her breathing improved a little, but she was still unable to see clearly. All she could make out were hazy, blurred shapes of color. She couldn't even tell if the person before her was a man or a woman. She wasn't sure if the clothes they wore were red or green, and she hoped she wouldn't be blinded forever.

She stumbled several times as she tried to regain the ability to walk normally, and then run. She ran with the person, an awkward and clumsy run. She wished she wasn't so weak; she was a trouble to them.

When she was finally flung onto what felt like a bed, she couldn't even try to sit up. Burdened by fatigue, she allowed herself to fan out on the mattress and close her eyes, surrendering to the black void of sleep.

She hadn't even seen the person who had saved her.

Translations: (Jap. is Japanese, Chi. is Chinese)

Liu - (Chi.) flowing

Shiori - (Jap.) bookmark; guide

Mizuumi - (Jap.) lake

Yan - (Chi. or Jap.) random name XD

Hope you liked! ^^