Entry for the second round of the Fanonbenders contest. Due 23 May.
Storm clouds had gathered across the horizon, faster than the Fire Nation had invaded her tribe too many times over the past several years. Snow came streaking across the horizon, blinding her vision as she tried to find the nearest land, anywhere. The young fisherwoman was already far from her village and knew she had no chance of getting back to it that night. It was all about safety as her small boat rocked violently in the turbulent seas, hoping the next wave wouldn't capsize her or that the next block of ice wouldn't leave her in a watery grave.
This is what she came to expect, being a native of the South Pole, after all. It was wintertime, the prime time for coastal storms to grow violent and turn beautiful snow showers into rampaging blizzards. But when she awoke and saw a sunny day, she figured it was a good chance to go out and snatch some fish for her family, especially since her parents were not feeling well.
Too late she realized that it was indeed merely a calm before the storm.
Now she was stuck trying to find her way to any village she could, anything that would offer her safekeeping if just for the night. The fish were a hopeless prospect now, which would be a great disappointment, but it was the way things had to be.
The wind continued to whip the snow all over, the nasty current continuing to make her little boat shake all over; spirits forbid she would hit a block of ice - that would be the endgame for quite a while. At this point, she thought that a Fire Nation raid would almost be preferable to this mess.
Then, it happened.
A gust combined with a short wave to send her boat upward, ejecting the young lady from it and sending her into the icy water. She began to sink, further and further; she felt there was no way her body could take it.
She began focusing her thoughts on a mental goodbye message.
That was when she saw it...
Her eyes were suddenly drawn to a large sphere of ice, right there, in the depths of the ocean. It was hard for her to see it, eyes obviously blinded the water around her, but she could make out something in there...
Or perhaps someone?
She couldn't believe what she just saw.
The girl had feasted her eyes on what appeared to be two figures. The first one was at the top, having a curved figure, its width taking up that of the entire ice sphere. It looked like it had a tail and horns at its top...an animal. Could it have been...no, it can't, she thought. They've been extinct for seventy years.
When she saw the second object, that was when things grew even more intriguing.
This second object appeared to be a person who was stuck in a meditating position. They looked rather young, could not have been any older than about thirteen or so. It looked like said person was a boy, but how did they wind up locked in a meditating position?
No...that can't be!
To her surprise, there appeared to be illuminated arrows on this young man.
No...they too have been gone for seventy years! Am I going mad?
She didn't have too much time to think; the clock was ticking on her rapidly. She had to make a rapid resurface attempt, lest she be choked by the swirling seas around her. Thus, the girl made her return to the surface world, coughing and trying to establish her swimming legs, still dealing with the wicked tempest which threatened to end her life. She tried to pray to the spirits as she battled the waters, unable to find her small fishing craft, just looking for a way home.
Fortunately, the spirits were on her side.
She turned to see a larger fishing boat, more like one that was used for commercial fishing; specifically, it belonged to a small business known as the Family Shrimp Merchants, which sold its product in the South Pole. This boat was battling the storm in its own right, waves crashing over it, its sailors holding on to its edges, or fighting the snow and wind to reach deck. It was a difficult situation, but this young lady knew it was her only chance to survive. So, she waved her arms toward the craft, attempting to garner someone's attention.
"In the distance!" One of the sailors, Hikan, yelled.
"What is it?" Another, Alkada, shouted back.
"There's someone stranded in the water," Hikan replied. "We have to go help them!"
Alkada pulled out a telescope, trying to close the distance between his line of sight and the alleged troubled person in the water. As it turned out, his fellow man was right; he spotted the young girl flailing her arms and nearly sinking back into the sea. "I see a girl out there! Tell the captain to sail straight ahead!"
"Aye-aye," the original seer replied, and he battled the elements around him, dodging snowflakes which, in that wind, could almost leave a nasty mark on someone's face; at least that was how it felt at that moment. He eventually managed to get to the door and descend the steps to where their captain attempted to direct their commercial boat in the right direction.
"Hikan!" The captain shouted as he turned to see that one of his employ had come to the control room in that situation. "I told you to watch the seas and keep the deck in order! This had better be important!"
"Captain Bolsok, I assure you that it is," Hikan replied.
"Make it quick!" Bolsok demanded with a sharp tone. "I'm battling a tempest I haven't seen in decades!"
"Look in the distance, there's someone stranded in the water!" The sailor replied. "Sir, we have to bring that girl in, she'll catch her death in that ocean!"
"Oh my," Bolsok answered, sailing closer and seeing the young lady's form grow more and more significant as the approach continued. He knew they were in their own trouble, but they could not just let her drown. "All right, we will save her and bring her aboard. But make sure you quickly find out where she lives so we can establish direction. Lower the lifeboat and bring her up. She can stay in your quarters if needed."
"Aye-aye," Hikan said in compliance and quickly ran back toward the deck.
The girl continued to battle the seas while making her hand signals for the boat, hoping they would notice her and get her out of the danger zone. She briefly slipped below the waves again before managing to quickly resurface, but she could barely stick her neck out.
She could see visions of her short life flashing before her eyes - playing with her parents, friends, celebrating birthdays, moments of joy, sadness...no.
She had experienced too little.
It couldn't end like this.
Next thing she knew, that boat was coming up to her side.
Onboard, Hikan and Alkada undid the ropes of the lifeboat. Hikan decided to jump onboard and quickly secured the oars, before giving the signal for his partner to release him into the water. Trying to block the snow from flying in his face, Hikan reached the water a minute later and again secured the oars, beginning a rough but short journey to reach the endangered girl. Alkada kept a tight grip on the ropes controlling the lifeboat, trying to prevent that from capsizing.
"Ma'am!" Hikan shouted to the drowning girl. "Give me your hand!"
The girl turned her attention to the sailor behind her, barely able to see his extended hand. Nonetheless, she reached out and tried to grasp, knowing that this was her lifeline...it was either do or die. She fought the wind and the snow, and soon her fingertips reached the sailor's hand.
"I've gotcha!" Hikan said, grabbing her arm with his free hand and reeling her into the boat. "You don't need to do anything else!"
Eventually, the girl was pulled up and flopped onto the lifeboat, quickly recovering and looking up at her savior. "Th-th-th-thank you..." she whispered, out of breath and extremely cold.
"Let's get you to safety," Hikan replied, signaling to Alkada to pull the lifeboat back up. "When we get you in, we'll get you some dry clothes and hot tea."
She nodded and smiled, glad to be safe.
Still, what exactly did she see down there? Would anyone believe her if she said anything about it? As the lifeboat was brought back to the vessel, they were questions to be answered.
It was clear, at least to her, that she had found an Air Nomad.
But why were those arrows bright?
Did she now know something that almost all of the world did not?
Her parents looked at her like she had morphed into a tiger seal during her journey.
"You saw what?" The father, Akycha, said, thinking his illness had driven him to insanity and he was hearing things. "I'm sorry, but I'm not sure if I can find that possible, sweetheart..."
"Dad, I'm telling you, it was a boy and he had glowing arrow tattoos," she answered. "It was in the Family Shrimp Merchants' fishing area. I'm not crazy! I wouldn't be making this up out of the blue like this!"
"Look," her mother, Nutaak, began. "You had a rough go of things out there. The best thing you can do right now is get some rest. You're fortunate all you've gotten away with is a cough and some sniffles, being out there in those icy seas."
"But I swear, I saw the boy!" She was determined to convince her parents. "He was there, in the ice sphere! We've got to go get him!"
Her parents looked at each other while she stared at them both, quietly praying that they would be convinced of her sight. They were not exactly sure how to handle this, they knew he had to be dead. There was no feasible way anyone could last seven decades in a block of ice; their daughter barely survived fifteen minutes in stormy, cold waters - seven decades surely was a stretch! Still, they knew her not to mince words. Like every child, she told her little white lies every now and then when she was growing up, but to lie about seeing the last hope for the world?
Akycha sighed. "Okay. Look, when I get back into work after fighting this off," he said, "I will talk to the military officials and see if this is worth looking at. It's a startling discovery. But I will need you to come with me, you have the eyewitness account."
The young lady brightened at her father; knowing that he was a high-ranking warrior, and thus could get in the ear of officials and even the chief, this could be exactly what the tribe, her family, and the whole world needed. She ran up to him and threw her arms around him. "Thank you Dad! I can't wait to tell them everything!"
Nutaak whispered into his ear. "Honey, are you sure this is what you want to do? I don't want to question her, but the odds..."
"We can't just let this go, dear," Akycha replied back to her. "If she has indeed found our long lost hope..."
A couple days later, the young lady and her father made their way to the chief's igloo; as expected, it was larger than most in that village. Two sets of spiraling steps were on either side, while spear-wielding guards protected both stairwells and the lower entrance. They watched both figures approach the doors to said entrance. Almost appropriately enough, the sun had decorated this day, the storm long gone, as if today could represent that new, hopeful beginning for the reeling Southern Tribe, who sat on edge seemingly every day now, fearing the fall of soot at any moment.
"ID please," one of the guards asked as Akycha and his daughter reached the door.
"Right here," the warrior answered, pulling it out and handing it over to him.
The guard eyed it carefully, making sure the painted headshot matched the man who stood before him. They couldn't take risks; the last thing they needed were spies entering into their meetings as they worked to maintain a strong defense against the invader. After a moment, the inspection checked out, but they were still curious about his daughter. "Who is she?"
"My daughter," Akycha replied swiftly. "We have something we need to tell the chief. It is urgent."
The guard was somewhat suspicious. Urgent information, now? So much so he had to bring a non-official to the chief's palace? Even if that person was an official's relative, he still had to wonder. But ultimately, he let it go; after all, this man had been in with the cabinet for six years and had unyielding royalty to the effort. "Fine, she can enter," he said with a strict voice. "But any hint of funny business..."
"Trust me," the father said, his look steady and serious. "You have nothing to worry about."
The guards stepped aside and the two family members entered the palace. The main hall was vast; paintings of past chiefs adorned the walls, which were lit by small torches. She looked around in shock at what she was seeing; her first time in the heart of the entire tribe. It was almost as if every step represented the beat of this heart, and everyone kept their steps slow and steady. They walked up a stairwell two floors toward the chief's War Room, and, after reaching the top, it was a short turn to the right to reach the room in question.
"Sweetheart," Akycha began to warn her. "I have had my suspicions about one of the warriors. There appears to be a leak somewhere in the upper ranks, and I believe someone within the inner circle is sending information to the Fire Nation. So as much as I hate to say this..." he took a deep breath. "...if you can, try not to be too specific in this meeting. When I can speak with the chief one-on-one...then we can give him the specifics. In simple words, not about seeing it in the Family Shrimp Merchants' area."
"I understand," the girl answered with a nod. "That's got to be scary, though...a leak?" She suddenly grew nervous.
"There have been investigations," her father informed her, "but nothing has turned up."
That was nothing but fear for this young lady...but all she could do was what her father advised her.
After one more security check, they entered into an elaborate quarters with a large round table; eleven seats circled it - ten for the chief's inner circle, and one for the leader himself. Behind the chief's chair was a large window whose curtains, at least for the moment, were up. Outside this window was a view of the entire central village; the chief could view his people out and about throughout the day...at least when a meeting wasn't on. Knowing that one was called, as the last ranking warrior entered with his daughter, these curtains were shut. Again, precautionary measures were needed every day.
"Good morning Akycha," the chief, Buruk, said, sitting at his chair with hands crossed on the table. "Who do you have with you, sir?"
"This is my daughter, chief," the warrior answered. "She comes to us today with big news."
"Big news?" Chief Buruk mused. "Well, I am quite curious as to what this could be."
"Yes, allowing an otherwise unauthorized entrant to this meeting could be," one of the ranking warriors said sharply, crossing his arms.
"Now, Antok," the chief replied. "If she knows something we don't, we'll have to give her the floor. Anything we can to stop the Fire Nation."
Another ranking warrior, Itigiaq stirred at this, placing his elbows on the table and eying this man's daughter suspiciously. What dirt could she possibly have? She's a little girl.
"Good morning everyone," Buruk opened the meeting. "Another day, another gathering as this war continues to trouble us. Who would like to give a status report?"
"I would," a ranking warrior, Tarqeq, said, opening up a map of the Southern Tribe. He pointed to three Water Tribe emblems around the northern coast. "Our defenses remain circling the pole, ensuring the Fire Nation does not return. We have not received words of another further threats at this time, but we're not letting our guard down."
The chief nodded. "Of course we can't," he said. "Our waterbending population has already been reduced by 85% of its levels from thirty years ago. Any more invasions, and I fear our tribe will collapse..."
"But if what my daughter has seen is true," Akycha began, rising, "I'm telling you gentlemen, our fortunes will turn dramatically."
"Yes, the big news you are insistent on," the skeptical ranking warrior said. "If you've got something, tell us."
"She will be doing the telling." Akycha gestured to his daughter.
The young lady rose, taking a deep breath, regathering what she had seen. "Three days ago, I was attempting to catch some fish during the most recent blizzard. I was thrown from my boat and thrown into the water. While under, I saw a sphere of ice. In there was an animal and a young boy...and the young boy had glowing arrow tattoos. If the old stories are true...I think I may have come across the Avatar."
Another warrior, Suluk, slammed his hands on the table. "You are insane! The Avatar and all the airbenders are dead! We've got a war to fight, we are wasting no time in dealing with mythological sights!"
"Please," Buruk tried to control the warrior. "As crazy as it sounds...if we have a legitimate lead, I would think it to be worth investigating," he said calmly. "Do you remember where this was?"
The young girl shook her head. "I can't really say...it was in a commercial fishing area, as a captain of such a ship came to rescue me. That's all I know."
"See?!" Suluk protested. "Mythological! There's no clear answer. We can't waste time on this!"
"I wouldn't call investigating a sighting of the long-lost Avatar a waste of time," Tarqeq shot back. "The fact of the matter is, it's not even just us who needs it. This whole world has been plagued by seventy years of war! It needs to come to an end. I'd be in favor of investigating this claim."
"I think a small fleet of ships would be sufficient to find him," Akycha suggested. "Suluk does make a point that we can't divert too far from our home defense effort. But there's no way we can just brush this off."
Chief Buruk nodded. "I have my skepticism about such an out-of-the-blue claim; no offense to your daughter, Akycha," he was quick to alert him.
"None taken," the girl replied. "I understand how outrageous this must seem, but please take my word, I would not lie before the chief himself."
"I understand," the chief said. "I'd be willing to go into this...but I think we should have another meeting or two in order to discuss this further. Would that be all right with you and your daughter, Akycha?"
The two looked at each other before nodding. "Fair enough," Akycha answered.
"All right," Buruk said.
"Wait," Itigiaq began. "Akycha, if she has such information...maybe she should let us know more about it."
The young girl gulped nervously. She took a deep breath and remembered her father's advice." With all due respect, I can't really remember anything beyond chunks of ice...and those are all over the place," she finished with a nervous laugh. "Hard to really get specific beyond that."
Itigiaq just glared at her suspiciously. "And you're positive you don't know anything else?"
"No sir," she replied, trying to remain as calm and collected as she could. "All I remember is seeing the sphere, battling waves, and then being rescued."
The warrior was not convinced. "I hope you're being honest."
"You heard what she said, Itigiaq," Akycha quickly said. "She would not lie before such a meeting."
"Right," Itigiaq replied, taking his attention off them. "Whatever you say." He continued to hold a suspicious look.
After the meeting, Akycha and his daughter were abuzz as they made their way out. "Just wait until we tell Mom about this!" She said with ecstasy in her voice.
Her father nodded. "Indeed. Not bad for your first meeting, sweetheart," he said with approval in his voice, smiling warmly. "Perhaps some day, you will be able to become a part of a chief's cabinet."
"I am worried though," she began. "That guy who was questioning me about the location..."
"Don't worry about him," Akycha assured her. "Once we get in with Buruk on our own, everything will be just fine."
However, in an office within the palace, Itigiaq paced around his small space. "That little runt thinks he's alive? Really?" He thought out loud. "It's a lot to put on the line with the government...but it's something I must make them aware of."
He sat at his oak-crafted desk and pulled out a scroll and his ink pen. He pulled off a small curtain to the desk's left, exposing a cage with a hawk within. "Shush," he said to the bird. "Don't tip us off to anyone."
Unknown to anyone in the chief's inner circle, about ten years ago during a raid, Itigiaq struck a deal with some Fire Nation generals. He promised to report any big time secrets to its government for payment, and had made significant financial gains in the meantime for he and his family, turning the Fire Nation's currency into copious amounts of the Water Tribe's money.
Now, he was ready for his biggest payday ever.
He folded up the message, opened the cage's door, and stuck the parchment in the hawk. He released the hawk from the back window and sent it on its way.
In Fire Lord Azulon's war room, the elderly ruler of the Fire Nation cast his eyes above a small wall of flames, pointing his vision to a map of the world, plotting his next move. That was, until, one of his generals came in with a note. He looked at him with slight anger. "I told you to address me before just walking in here."
"A thousand apologies," the general said. "But someone in the South Pole knows where the Avatar is. We've just received information from Itigiaq...at the demand of higher payments."
Azulon took the letter from his general and gave it a short read. He glared at the payment demand, but nonetheless, this information was far valuable than any silver piece. "Fine," he said sharply, the flames rising for a short moment. "We'll pay him. While you're at it, prepare for another invasion of the Southern Water Tribe now. I don't care how many waterbenders you bring back...this Akycha's daughter had better be there."
"Yes, your Majesty," the general replied, and went on his way.
After the flames receded, Azulon again studied his map, specifically pinpointing the South Pole. "You thought you could hide, Avatar. You may have ducked us for seventy years...but now, it's all over. We will find you...and I will finish what my father started."
It was the middle of a day, that, while not ideal, was certainly not a mess. The sky was half-shrouded in clouds and a few snowflakes flew around the village. The sun made an appearance every now and then to remind the Water Tribe citizenry that they were not without some warmth in the heart of the winter; some promise still reigned.
The young girl and her parents sat around a small fire from which fish hung, cooking slowly to a crisp in time for the lunch hour. Akycha had been planning to set up an appointment to speak with the chief so he and his daughter could tell all about the location of the Avatar and make some attempt to bring him back to the surface and finally make steps toward peace one and for all.
"Tomorrow," Akycha said. "I will have a chance to meet with Buruk and establish a meeting time after the general meeting. I hope he is available within a short time."
"Me too," she replied. "Gosh, who would have thought, in a few days, we'd go from being mired in war to having a chance to free the Avatar!"
"Indeed," the warrior replied. "I just hope we can also close that leak."
"Akycha," Nutaak said. "Honest to La, you've been talking about a leak for months now. Why are you so up-in-arms about it?"
"Because the Fire Nation raiders has been beating us too easily," Akycha answered. "It's getting ridiculous and suspicious already. Every one of our strategies have been beaten back. They may be well-militarized but they're just too perfect to be doing this without some inside information."
The young girl just shook her head in worry, but tried not to think about it, instead focusing on watching her family's lunch cook. Just think of the what is and not the what if.
Too bad the what is could turn on a dime.
As she looked up for a moment at the snow showers, she suddenly saw a darker flake fall within. She held her hand out and it settled in her glove.
"Mom...Dad..." she began nervously.
The family looked up and saw the snow starting to mix with these black flakes, which slowly but surely became more numerous, drowning out the pristine white of the regular snow, signaling the event everyone feared.
Alarm bells began to rang out from a nearby watch tower, and those who were to fight scrambled from where they were to gather quickly at the front lines.
"Oh spirits..." Akycha said slowly and fearfully. "You two remain here." He grabbed a spear as Nutaak threw a bucket of water on the fire pit, not wanting to allow the invaders any additional power than they would have.
Aboard the lead invading ship, an admiral alerted his men of their plan.
"Your goal is not to destroy...you must find the home of this Akycha, seize his daughter, and bring her back here...alive. If anyone kills her, you will be court-martialed. Are we clear on that?"
The soldiers nodded and stood up, ready to disembark from their craft for the raid.
As Water Tribe warriors rushed to the central village's entrance, the ships smashed into the ports, demolishing them upon impact. Sure, they took some minor scratches, but that would be nothing compared to the dent they sought to make once again in the Southern Water Tribe, both physically and mentally.
The warriors, waterbenders and nonbenders alike, fought their Fire Nation counterparts as hard as they could near the gate, trying to stop yet another slice into their waterbending population and their proud capital.
You name a weapon, it was in that battle.
Ultimately, however, the firebenders proved to be too much, neutralizing any homeland advantage by sucking in what strength they could from limited sunshine on that partly cloudy day. They broke through the walls and into the main city.
One of the units knew their target.
Unknown to any of those citizens of the Water Tribe, provided to them by one of their own.
The girl and her mother quickly sealed themselves up in their little igloo as troops began to swarm the village, capturing anyone who dared try to fight them. They netted many a waterbender, just like they had in so many raids before. Those on the sidelines could only watch in horror as what seemed like an author of scary stories was working on the latest installment of their series of terrible tales, which sadly was all too real for these citizens.
"Just stay down, sweetie," Nutaak urged her daughter. "Your father will be back soon...just don't let them see us."
The girl so desperately wished she could just sneak away and go back to that fishing area, dive back underwater, and somehow release the world's last hope for any form of peace, bring him back to drive away the awful invaders who were plundering her tribe of its waterbenders, destroying piece-by-piece of her village, and not only that, ripping away at the world. Why couldn't it be? Couldn't her peace just come?
Suddenly, a bright light shined in.
But not the one she wanted to see.
Four firebenders had broken into the house, torching the curtains which divided it from the outside world.
"No!" Nutaak screamed.
But she didn't stand a chance.
Two firebenders immediately shot large blasts at the older woman, throwing her to the ground, and leaving her buried under the heat that destroyed the South Pole raid-by-raid.
"MOM!!!" The young lady screamed, trying to run for the nearest water she could find in the house.
"Stop right there," a firebender said in a grating voice, standing several inches over her. His face was covered by a mask, but there he was, threatening to commit her to the fate that had just befallen her mother. "We know who you are."
The young girl was more frozen in place than any glacier one could find in the South Pole.
"We know you are the daughter of Akycha," he continued, "and we know you hold some rather valuable information. Thus, you are to come with us."
"Stay away!" She screamed in desperation, tears coming down her face as she looked at her burning mother, back to the entrance; hoping perhaps her father or just someone would come to rescue her from the evil that stood before her.
But all she saw were firebenders.
All four promptly surrounded her.
"Make no move."
"You are coming to the Fire Nation."
"You have something you're not telling us."
"Fire Lord Azulon requests an audience with you."
They each grabbed her arms and began to lead her from the igloo, forcing her through the battle scene and her tribe, which again was being set fire to. She could only join the many horrified citizens who were watching as the flames rose, melting ice-crafted homes and businesses, while brave fighters were rounded up one-by-one, headed to spirits-knew-where. She looked anxiously for her father, but he was nowhere to be found. For all she knew, he could have been captured, killed, anything.
But why was she being singled out as Akycha's daughter?
Was her father onto something?
Unfortunately, there was no more time to think about that.
Next thing she knew, she was led onto a Fire Navy ship, getting just one last glance at her burning homeland, knowing her mother was dead, and who knew about the rest of her friends and family.
The tears ran down her face as the light faded away and the soldiers sent her down to a prison hold.
Next stop...the capital of war.
When she finally emerged from the ship - well, brought out, anyway - she saw herself in the foreign lands of the Fire Nation. There was no longer any snow of ice, and it was far warmer than anywhere near her polar tribe. Yet, she couldn't even take off her parka; the soldiers feared she would run if let free for even a second. Sweat ran down her face in rapid fashion, and it wasn't just because of the heat.
Anxiety swelled her mind as she wondered about the fate of her father, while her mother was already gone. Thoughts consumed her all throughout the walk under the hot sun, still wondering why she was there - she wasn't even a bender, she was no warrior, she was just another citizen. Just because she was the daughter of ranking warrior...
Then, it hit her.
Did they know?
But they couldn't have.
Again, was her father onto something?
The soldiers grasped her arms tightly as she tried to squirm free, but she had to face it - there would be none of that.
She soon laid eyes on the tremendous feat of architecture that was the Fire Nation Royal Palace. Sadly, it was all too known in the world that somewhere in that triumphant structure was where decisions that spread the nation's imperialism all throughout the Earth, expanding the Fire Nation's borders all throughout the Earth Kingdom, and even if they weren't spreading borders...well, that story was all to known, as she knew. "Why am I here?" she squeaked out, just unable to understand, still, why she was even taken from her home in the first place.
"Silence," a still-masked soldier demanded. "You will talk when it's due time for you to do so."
"But I -"
Realizing she was indeed in no position to talk at that point, she complied with the order and allowed the men to guide her into the hallways of the palace, lit with fire as one would expect. Passing through, she saw the portraits of all the Fire Lords in their glory. She almost wanted to look in admiration at these artworks, and yet, she couldn't help but feel apprehensive, wondering where it all went wrong in the Fire Nation, how they turned from one of four to suddenly a war-hungry imperialist state. She just looked away as she neared the end, knowing which Fire Lord was last...
The march down the hallway continued, the girl remaining in fear and still feeling excessive warmth; it got even warmer being surrounded by flames from the torches. She began wondering if she had been brought there to be tortured by means of heat exhaustion, or if she would even make it to whereever she was to be before passing out or dying of such.
She didn't have long to think before she made it to a room which was separated only by a curtain bearing the Fire Nation insignia. She was led in without any further moment of thought to a darkened room...and it seemed that was all she saw. Except for the fact that at its opposite end, a wall of flames ran about midway to the ceiling. As she was brought closer to this wall, there he was - the man himself, hands folded and covering his chin. He could see above them; the young girl being dragged in to the throne room.
"Here she is, your Majesty," one of the soldiers said.
"Excellent," Azulon replied, placing his hands on his knees and lowering the flames. "Sit her down, and do let her remove that ridiculous jacket. This is not the Water Tribe anymore, and I won't have her die of heat stroke."
The girl was lowered to the floor, where she was given room to sit cross-legged. She finally removed her parka and took a deep breath before raising her head back to the Fire Lord. The two soldiers kept watch on either side, making sure she wouldn't escape.
"How do you know who I am?" She asked nervously.
"Young lady," Azulon replied sharply. "I shall be doing the asking around here. But since you're curious...I can thank a little bird for it...or should I say, a man."
That was when he appeared in the throne room. He was dressed like any Water Tribe warrior would, but it was all too obvious what he really was doing.
She knew that face.
It was the man who had been pressing her in the meeting.
Her father was right.
"You!" She exclaimed, looking at Itigiaq. "You betrayed the Water Tribes!"
"I believe only the Fire Lord should be doing the talking right now," Itigiaq replied.
"That's right," Azulon clarified. "This man has been a great help to us, and now, he has delivered to us a great gift...the location of the Avatar that you know."
Now the girl's look became even more stern. She was being stared down face-to-face by perhaps the scariest man in the world, but she could not and would not say a thing about that.
Azulon continued. "Young lady, we have brought you here to ask all but one question. Answer it, and you can go home, safe. I'll never threaten you again, I'll never have my military capture you again. You can live without fear in the Southern Water Tribe, or maybe just stay here and help our own search." He rose from the throne and moved in front of her, beginning to smile wickedly. "You are the key to the end of a seventy-year search which has frustrated us for so long, and by finishing it, you can guarantee yourself a life of comfort. I might even let you stay right here in the Royal Palace. That is one enticing offer, is it not?"
The girl just glared at the elderly ruler.
"All I have is one question," he reminded her. "Where is he?"
She continued to glare. "I'm not telling you."
Azulon shook his head, his smile returning to an angered glare. "How disappointing. I've offered you pure safety, even luxury, and you're turning me down."
"And why should I tell you?" She demanded angrily. "Why should I let you go after the Avatar and kill him?"
Azulon turned his look to her again. "Because I can end you right here, right now. What if your father survived? Can you imagine what he would think knowing that his wife and daughter had perished?"
"I think my father would darn well know the cause I went down for," she replied defiantly. "Not giving you the key to unlock the rest of your world to your dark, destructive ways."
The Fire Lord knelt down in front of her, the flames behind him rising. "You're really pushing your luck, girl, and my use for you is running out. The closer that gets to zero, the more likely one of your words will be your last." He started directly into her eyes. "I'm being generous to you, and you're continuing to give me lip, spitting in the face of my offer, just because you won't answer a single question." He tried to soften his look to hide his anger. "I don't wish to harm you. I just want the -" he raised his hand, emphasizing his index finger and thumb, closing the gap between them. "- tiniest bit of information out of you."
"You call this information 'tiny'?" She answered sharply, almost hissing at the last word. "You know darn well it is not tiny, and especially for the Fire Nation. Offer me whatever you want, I shall say nothing." She quickly turned to Itigiaq. "And you. You dare call yourself a Water Tribe warrior. You sold us out for cheap riches. I hope Tui and La have mercy on you, you pathetic sell-out. My father was spot-on about you."
Itigiaq gave her no response beyond, "Azulon is doing the talking here, child."
Azulon continued from there, still angered, but tried to keep an endearing smile to convince her. He circled her in a slow walk. "It's amazing. I've guaranteed you your life for this, and you continue to refuse me. Do you know what legacy you'll cement among us here? You will forever be a hero of the Fire Nation! Who knows? You could be in my inner circle. They could build statues of you! You'll be a remembered figure in a world of fire. I can promise that all to you...all you have to do is tell us where you saw the Avatar."
Azulon glared. "That does it. I am done playing games with you. We are deep in a war, and I am not going to be run around by some brat."
He forced up the flames beyond him to near the ceiling, even sending Itigiaq back a few steps.
Still, the girl kept her head down, ignoring the rising heat around her. She refused to let a little fire detract her from revealing the ultimate secret. Maybe she was breathing her last breaths, but she didn't care.
"This is your last chance," the Fire Lord said, assuming an attack position. "Tell me where the Avatar is."
She inhaled sharply and closed her eyes for a fleeting moment.
Mom...Dad...I love you. Spirits, please guide someone not in this evil nation to the Avatar.
She looked back up at the menacing Fire Lord, glaring again, defiance shining brightly in her eyes.
And as the flames surrounded and consumed the young girl, taking her into a grave of fire, she couldn't help but crack a smile.
She knew, if her parents were there, they would know she was doing what was right.
The secret was turning to ash with her.
The world would still have hope, no matter how little it was.
All because she wouldn't tell.
Not even the Fire Lord could make her.
That was something she could be proud of.
"Good luck, Avatar," she whispered, exhaling her last breath.