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NC-17 [Private] Avatar: The Burning Earth

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OOC: Private RP between myself and Blackfrost. Avatar fandom, rated NC-17 for violence, depictions of death and dark events, language, etc.
 

 
 
AVATAR
The Burning Earth
 
 
"Fire is the element of power. The people of the Fire Nation have desire and will, and the energy and drive to achieve what they want.
Earth is the element of substance. The people of the Earth Kingdom are diverse and strong. They are persistent and enduring.
Air is the element of freedom. The Air Nomads detached themselves from worldly concerns and found peace and freedom.
Water is the element of change. The people of the Water Tribe are capable of adapting to many things.
They have a deep sense of community and love that holds them together through anything. 
It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If we take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale.
Understanding others - the other elements, and the other nations - will help you become whole."
- Fire Nation General Iroh
 
 
A long time ago, the four nations of our world lived in harmony. Joined together in peaceful existence by the Avatar; the spirit of the planet incarnated in human form and thus, the only physical being with the ability to learn all four bending disciplines of water, earth, fire and air. It is considered the Avatar's duty to master the four elements and use such power to keep balance among the four nations of the world, as well as between mankind and spirits. The Avatar possesses an innate connection to the Spirit World and uses it as a bridge by which to reconcile the two worlds and ensure harmony. The Avatar is also capable of using this ability to contact the spirits of previous Avatars and harness their combined energy to perform feats of bending beyond that of any other bender. Throughout the ages, countless incarnations of the Avatar have served to maintain harmony in the world.
 
However, for 306 years, from the passing of Avatar Korra, there has been no Avatar. The four nations collapsed into war and strife, and only by the power of a man called Sato Kataan was peace restored. Supported by the people, he named himself the first High Lord and constructed a great palace from which to rule over the four nations in Republic City, which he renamed to Imperial City. For a time, there was peace once more, but after five generations of High Lord, the world has slowly fallen to ruin once more. 

The roads are no longer safe, crime is rife, in-fighting and talk of war between the nations has begun to spread in whispers and the actions of the rebel group known only as the 'Free Elements' who claim to want freedom and peace, have grown increasingly more assertive and dangerous. It is a time of great poverty, famine and hardship for the four nations of the world, but there is a glimmer of hope. A young boy, adopted by a simple innkeeper and his wife, is soon poised to realise his true potential, and if he can succeed, put right the mistakes of the past and issue in a golden age of peace and prosperity. If...
 
 

 
 
The early morning sun cast a gentle glow over Imperial City. Merchants quickly stocked their stalls as they prepared for the sunday market. Sunday was the busiest day for all the store owners as many of the travelling merchants would arrive from the surrounding nations to provide a wide selection of choice for the Imperial citizens. A bouncy jazz tune floated from a window on the second floor of the Winking Dragon inn. The music suddenly turned down and a soft feminine voice floated through the room.
"Good morning listeners, you're tuned into Imperial Jazz, the sun is shining in our fair city, it's a warm summer's day and it is now eight in the morning and--" Suddenly the radio was turned off and a sterner voice replaced the radio host's.

"--YOU'RE STILL NOT UP!!" She barked, marching across the room and pulling the cover from her son's bed. He moaned and tried to reach out for it but she gently pulled it further and further away until at last he fell from his bed with a thump and a groan.
"Uuugh... wh...." He yawned and without opening his eyes muttered, "Why?"
"Because it's sunday and customers are already flooding in, what do you expect, staying up all night to listen to that pirate radio station, it's ridiculous." His mother chided him.
"But sometimes they talk about me, mom, come on..." He started to pull himself up and scratched his bare chest, "You..." He yawned, "You never let me..." He trailed off again as he yawned and started rubbing his eyes.

"I'll let you whatever once you've done your chores, now come on, before the whole inn--"
His mother was suddenly cut off as his father passed the door adding, "Don't worry your mother, Fang!!"
With an exasperated sigh she walked out after his father, "You're no help!!" She barked at him as they walked down the stairs. Fang sighed and opened his eyes, nothing changed, it was still pitch black. This was the world he lived in, he had been born blind. Fang had recently turned sixteen, he was an average height for his age but he was slim and covered in athletic muscle, his skin slightly tanned and his hair was jet black and smooth, reaching down to his chest when not tied back in some form. His eyes were white from the cataracts that blinded him, but he was a handsome young man none-the-less. 
 
Once he had showered and changed into some fresh clothes; a simple black sleeveless kimono with baggy black trousers and tied his long black hair loosely into a ponytail at the back of his neck, with a few bangs escaping to frame his face, he left the room. He padded barefoot down the staircase with a knowledge seemingly acquired of a familiarity of surroundings. As he walked down the stairs he could hear how busy it was in the inn and he slowed as his mother approached, he could smell her perfume. 
"Fang, here's your walking stick..." She held it out and as Fang grabbed it from the air a little too quickly she shook it, "And use it." She added, irritably, before returning to the front desk as he heard a customer approach it.

Fang sighed, twirled the walking stick once and then walked towards the kitchen, letting the stick tap unconvincingly against the wooden floor a few times as he did so, "Hey dad?" He called, as he entered the kitchen. A place full of fire, knives and other dangerous objects. He navigated the room as though he could see the layout inside, he crossed it with ease and picked up an apple, taking a bite from it with a grin.
"Mm?" His father replied, not really paying attention as he cooked a selection of breakfast orders for their clients, and checked the heat of the tea brewing.
"Seeing as how it's sunday an' all, d'you think I could go down to Gong Li street when the merchants are packing up, they'll get together with the travellers and share stories."

"I don't see why not... oh...." His father paused, stopping his cooking to look over at his son, "Fang, did you ask your mother?" Fang hesitated just long enough, "I'm asking your mother." He made to leave the kitchen and Fang knowingly stepped between him and the door, "Okay, it's fine, dad. I'll just say you didn't know." Fang grinned again and then walked out of the kitchen.
"That boy is the reason my hair went grey... i'm sure of it." He muttered to himself as he turned back to his cooking. Fang crossed the main floor, pretending not to be aware of the customers as he tapped his walking stick against the floor with one hand, taking another bite of his apple with the other. He put his apple down and grabbed a stack of plates and began walking through the tables. He did the regular act, despite knowing how many were sat and where, he tapped each table once before asking how many people were at each table.

For the most part the customers were pleasant and apologetic, feeling embarrassed to be served by someone they obviously thought was handicapped. Fang didn't mind though, he did once, when he first started helping around the inn, but he was an old hand at the 'young blind boy' routine now, and it bothered him very little. It only annoyed him when he could feel customers mocking him openly while under the impression that he couldnt feel their movements. The creak of their chairs for example, or when they leant in close to him and tested his sight by moving a finger within a hair's breadth of his eyes. If it had been up to him, he would have knocked them on their ass, but he knew he was supposed to hide his abilities as an earthbender, and furthermore, as he understood it, he was the Avatar, able to manipulate all four elements, though that was really all he knew about being the Avatar and, thinking about it, he wasn't really able to manipulate the other three elements very well at all. This frustrated him greatly and was the reason a lot of the trees in the back garden were being replaced on a regular basis as he took out his frustrations on them as he could not on the occasional rude customer.
 
One day, he thought, one day i'll leave this place and learn the other elements, and maybe become a pro bender like the ones in the Grand Martial Arts Tournament held every year. He looked forward to that event. Even from a distance and through the distraction of the crowd, by using his earthbending, he could feel the vibrations from the arena floor, the feel of the air currents as each move was attempted and deflected and the sound of each move made. It thrilled him at the thought of one day joining their ranks. He had favourites, of course, and though he didn't know their faces except by description from his father who was also an avid fan, he knew the names and styles of almost every competitor and it didn't take him long to learn a newcomer. He couldn't wait for this year's tournament, he was sure the champion would win again, third year in a row. Po Bailung.
 
But, he had chores to do, and he was more excited about the merchants and travellers' stories that evening, the tournament was still two weeks away. It took him most of the day for Fang to finish his chores and it was getting dark, the lanterns were lit and the merchants, he knew, would already be settling in to tell their tales. He could feel how quiet it was in the inn and he turned to look to at his mother who caught his white-eyed gaze.
"Alright, Fang--" before she could finish he had already dashed for the front door, "--Fang!!" She yelled after him, but he was already gone. With his walking stick in one hand and knowing that it was night time, nobody would notice his eyes, he let the act fall and released all his inhibition in a loud cry of excitement, "Woohoooo!!" He yelled, leaping into the air and landing with a tap of his bare feet. He always walked bare foot, as it helped to sense the vibrations in the ground, his run turned to a sprint.

He felt alive at last, the movements of the people around him didn't bother him, didn't impede his speed. He zipped through the still-crowded streets without as much as touching another passer-by. He knew where he was going and as he turned a corner he leapt into the air and kicked off one side of the building to soar into the air with ease and land on the opposite roof. He felt the flutter of wings as a group of lizard crows panicked in surprise and took off into the sky. He ran until he was at the end of the roof and then unceremoniously fell into a sitting position on the edge of the tiled roof, legs swinging in the open air as he placed his walking stick to one side. He could hear and feel the bustle of activity below him and recognized it as the merchants and travellers talking. Nobody had seen him on the roof, at least as far as he knew, nobody had reacted to him being there. He smiled and inclined his head as he listened carefully for the news and stories that would come from all four corners of the world. 

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The quiet on Gong Li street was only broken periodically by the general shuffling and scrapes of market stalls being packed away. Meanwhile many of the merchants and their families were gathered and chatting among each other. In one such corner a few gentleman were stood around a street light. A burly gentleman with a thick, brown mustache and a receding hairline was stood with his arms folded, talking away, whilst the shorter, stouter gentleman to his left puffed away on a pipe, coating the scene with smoke. A lanky fellow with thin eyes and a pointed jaw was leaning against the door frame to the home behind him. On a barrel next to him there was a young man sat cross legged, his entire body covered in a thick animal skin cloak, only his chin and nose poking out from under the hood. A rather simple looking staff rested on his shoulder, his bandaged hands clasped around it gently. 

 

"So I tell's this guy..." the burly man continued, "...Look buddy I don't care how much they're sellin' this for up north! Down here you won't get any cheaper than I'm sellin' for, that's for sure"

"Of course!" replied the lanky fellow with a smirk, "Where in world is cheaper than here for Komodo Rhino? Unless you want to go hunt them yourself out in the west."

"Exactly, Fei'lun" The burly man replied, "These Northern back packers are constantly trying to take advantage. They think we don't know our own trade!"

"Actually, There's a sizeable herd of Komodo Rhino in the North." came a response from the cloaked man. The burly man and his partner, Fei'lun, both turned and eyed the cloaked man suspiciously. 

"And what are you a hunter? farmer?" Fei'lun asked, raising his brow and eyeballing the cloaked man. 

 

"Nah I'm just a traveler" the cloaked man replied, his voice calm and polite. "I spent some time up north in the mountains. There's a pretty big herd up there. It was part of some conservation act...they moved a group of them there years ago. It's really helping the trade. 500 Yuans a kilo I hear."

"500!?" Fei'lun spat, "Y'hear that Balko? That's almost half of what we charge!"

"Hmph!" Balko responded as he stroked his mustache. His pipe-smoking friend had still not spoken, seemingly minding his own business. Fei'lun was still staring at the cloaked traveler. "So what about these merchants up North? Are they looking to undercut us? Move the trade up north?" Balko asked finally. The traveler was quiet for a moment. He seemed to be pondering his response. Balko huffed impatiently and finally the traveler spoke. 

 

"I can't say I know. Pretty sure they were running a couple of restaurants specializing in traditional fire nation cuisine. It's cheaper to rear the stock nearby I guess. A couple of fire benders from my camp worked for them for a while. They only take on chefs who can fire bend. Something to do with the way they cook the meat."

"Hmph! Fire Benders!" Balko spat, "bunch of stuck ups! Always trying to hold on to tradition. They can't just get with the times!"

"Actually, there were benders from all walks in my old camp" the traveler responded, "Earth benders, water benders, fire benders, and some non-bending folk. We picked up people along the way for about 4 or 5 generations. By the time I was born we were all just family. Nobody cared about where you came from. All that mattered was our community. It didn't matter if you were a bender or not, everyone was equal."

"Sounds dangerous to me!" Balko replied, shaking his head. "No offence to you, boy, but I wouldn't be spending my time around benders if I were you."

 

"Who's to say he's not a bender?" Fei'lun snarled, leaning in close to him. The traveler looked back at him calmly. He heard a small twitch of a noise above them and briefly looked up to see a pair of legs hanging over the edge of the roof. He returned his eyes to face Fei'lun, and he simply smiled politely. Balko screwed his face up and folded his arms again. 

"You're not a fire bender are you, boy? Water? Earth?" Balko asked

"Nope" the traveler replied, "And it's Chen by the way. Yangchen." he nodded his head politely. Fei'lun leant back against the door frame again but continued staring down the traveler. 

"Well good. Bender's only cause trouble round here. Making a fuss! Damn Free Elements do nothing but cause trouble for people like us. There's nothing wrong with Imperial City, they should just stay out of it. Not to mention that damn sport muddling up our children's heads, making them wish they were benders too. damn rebels are just trying to make the Empire look bad!"

 

"And you don't think they might speak a bit of truth?" The traveler said with a soft smirk, lifting his head so that his face could be seen. He was a young man, 19 years of age, with green eyes like jade stone. "You sit around all comfy in this city, you don't see what goes on outside of these walls. I suppose when the Empire destroyed our entire caravan simply for being short enough money to pay a toll, I suppose, that was reasonable? To attack innocent people, and no not just benders, but people just like you. Most of my family perished because of the Imperials. But I suppose we shouldn't have been causing trouble, right?"

"Are you sympathizing with those rebels? With benders?" Balko asked, his fist tightening. "Are you a Free Element, scumbag!?"

 

"Oh, you got me!" Chen said with a grin. Balko roared and charged forward, swinging his fist down on Chen. The young man moved quickly. pushing his staff up into the air with his foot, with an invisible force sending it up past the rooftops of the buildings. As he did so he leant backwards, rolling so that he was stood on one hand, his legs pointed up in the air. Balko's fist crashed into the wooden barrel and he yelped in pain, whilst Chen vaulted over him and on to the ground. He landed with a soft tap, and spun on his heel immediately as Fei'lun swung at him from behind. He ducked and weaved, effortlessly avoiding the strikes, his feet constantly moving, winding around Fei'lun in a constant rotation of movement. Fei'lun swung at him aggresively as he re-positioned himself, until finally Chen ducked and Fei'lun's fist crashed into the jaw of the man who had been silently smoking. The man roared in pain as Chen pulled the cloak from himself and thrust it forwards, a fgust of air spiralling from his palm and sending the cloak in a heap over Fei'lun and the now furious smoking man. Balko turned to him in a rage once more but Chen simply crouched low and spread out his palms once more, causing a gust of wind to knock the broad-shouldered Balko off his feet and crashing on to the ground. As he lifted his head up Chen's staff finally returned to earth and smacked him on the forehead with a clunk. As the Balko collapsed in a heap Chen picked up his staff and looked up at the boy who was still watching him from the roof. Well, perhaps watching wasn't the word, judging by the blank, pale eyes that looked back at him. 

"People in this city, huh?" Chen said with a smirk and a shrug, "So aggressive. I think they just need to cool off. Yeah...I'm sure."

 

Without his cloak Chen could be seen for what he was, a young man with shoulder length, shaggy brown hair. He was dressed in a red, sleeveless jacket that reached down just above his knees. It was strapped at the chest by pins much like a tunic, as well as a black sash around the waist. He wore black shorts and his wrists and shins were wrapped in bandages. On his feet he wore a simply pair of black, split-toed plimsolls. He tapped the end of his staff gently against his forehead and then pointed it back at the boy.

"Probably best I'm not around when they come to. Don't go telling them which way I went!" he said with another warm smile before running off fown the street and into the darkness. 

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As Fang sat on the edge of the roof, he listened intently to the stories that were shared. He smiled at times, frowned at others, but most often he just felt enthralled by their tales. He had never left Imperial City before, their tales were strange and exciting to him. He knew he had been sitting there for over an hour when the group he felt below him began to strike up a conversation. At first he ignored it, as other tales seemed more interesting, but the more they spoke, the more he began to become distracted by their conversation. Who were they? They didn't sound like anyone he'd ever heard before, and he never forgot a sound. He leant the top half of his body over the edge and inclined his head to one side, mentally filtering out all the noise and confusion until it was them alone that he could hear.

 

"Of course! Where in the world is cheaper than here for Komodo Rhino? Unless you want to go hunt them yourself out in the west."

Komodo Rhino?! Fang's face lit up, he'd heard stories about them before. Great, majestic beasts that roamed free across much of the Earth Kingdom. As he listened however, another voice entered their conversation. His voice was calm, soothing almost. Fang wanted to hear more from him as he told the others about the Komodo Rhino to the north. Once they realised they were being undercut the other men became agitated, Fang listened carefully as their conversation continued.

 

"--there were benders from all walks in my old camp. Earth benders, water benders, fire benders, and some non-bending folk." 

 

"Wow..." Fang muttered under his breath. This was something he'd never heard before. Benders and non-benders working and living together without prejudice. It just wasn't the norm. Benders were usually considered anti-social, at least in the Imperial City, and many would be called in without reason for questioning under accusation that they were part of the Free Elements rebellion. He didn't know if he liked the traders, hunters... poachers maybe? Whatever they were, he didn't like the sound of them. But he continued to listen because of this other stranger.

 

"You're not a fire bender are you, boy? Water? Earth?" One of the men asked.
"Nope. And it's Chen by the way. Yangchen."
 
"Yangchen..." Fang repeated the man's name as he listened. Things were getting heated now though. He felt tense, his hands gripped the edges of the roof. Something was going to happen, he could feel it. The group of thugs - for that was what they were, he was sure of it - their heartbeats had been steadily quickening. In spite of the noise of the market, he could hear them beating away against the inside of their chests. They were angry, they were getting ready to strike. But it seemed this 'Yangchen' hadn't noticed, or if he had, he certainly wasn't moved by their attitude. The steady, gentle thumping of a heart that seemed so unperturbed by everything around it. He'd never heard one so controlled before.
 
At the mention of the Free Elements rebel group, Fang tightened up. He could feel his own heartbeat quickening. He didn't want to be around when talk of the Free Elements started, it was bad enough he knew he wasn't supposed to be a bender, but if the Empire knew he was the Avatar, he didn't know what would happen. Wasn't he supposed to be hiding his power because he would be considered some kind of disruptive influence? An anti-social rebel who wants nothing but to take down the Empire. Fang knew the Empire wasn't perfect, but at least he had been brought up in peace. The guards and the walls of the city had kept him safe for as long as he could remember. It comforted him. 
 
However, as Yangchen told his story, Fang's mouth began to drop. "Did... did they really....?" He whispered under his breath, but before he had time to question the man himself he felt Yangchen's staff rushing towards his face. He moved just in time to stop the staff from smashing into his cheek. Rolling backwards, he grabbed the staff as it passed by and simultaneously spun himself and the staff around as he pulled himself up to his full height. He had time enough to wonder why the hell the man he knew as Yangchen had thrown it up, before what he had been waiting to happen finally exploded in an instant. Fang followed the fight as intensely as anyone in the market place. He could feel every strike, every subtle movement. Every time the thugs made a move Yangchen countered it. Fang was becoming excited, he almost wanted to cheer, though the other onlookers watched on in fear.
 
Yangchen's movements were too alien, too fluid. Every step the man took felt strange, like rather than fighting the men, he was avoiding them. But that was what he was doing. Fighting them with evasion. Fang frowned but it was only a matter of seconds before all of them were knocked to the ground. Fang grinned as he heard the last man hit the deck, knowing that Yangchen was still standing. He held the staff horizontally in the middle with one hand, bouncing it up and down a few times in satisfaction at something he'd never experienced before. Who was this man? He wondered, his curiosity peaked. He felt the last thug lift his head from the ground and Fang's grin widened. He bounced Yangchen's staff one final time and then grabbed it and with a single, powerful throw it flew towards the thug and hit him right between the eyes, knocking him unconscious.
 
"People in this city, huh? So aggressive. I think they just need to cool off. Yeah... I'm sure."

"Uh, yeah..." Fang muttered, bemused. The corner of his mouth twitched into a lop-sided grin. This man was nothing like he'd ever known. He could still feel his heartbeat, gently tapping away without a care in the world. He had so many questions; Who are you? Are you a bender? How did you beat them like that? Are you really a Free Element rebel? But all he could manage was, "What--"
 
"--probably best I'm not around when they come to. Don't go telling them which way I went!"
 
"Wait!" He called out, but before he could organize his thoughts, Yangchen was gone. Fang remained there for a few moments longer, he was so confused. The things that Yangchen had said about the Empire. Was all that really true? He frowned and then shook his head, "No way..." He muttered, "No way..." He repeated himself, unconvinced at his own words as his thoughts betrayed him. He decided it was probably best to stay as far away from this scene as he could and grabbing his walking stick he hopped off the roof and landed on the ground with a soft tap. It took Fang a little while longer than usual to get home, he crossed through the busiest parts of the city at a slow pace, his mind full of confusing thoughts and concepts. 

The Free Elements had always claimed the Avatar was a force for good, but the Empire had always said that there had not been a need for an Avatar in over three hundred years. That when the Avatar abandoned the people, the High Lord had taken his place and unified the four nations. But, wasn't he the Avatar now? So where did he fit in in all of this? Fang rubbed his face, this was too much to take in in one day. Besides, if this 'Yangchen' as he called himself really was a Free Element, it was no surprise that he'd just beaten up three people, even if they were thugs and poachers. Anti-social rebels. He found himself repeating with a strained expression on his face. At last he reached the front door to the inn, his home. He opened the door, stepped inside and said, "Hi guys, i'm--" His voice trailed off.

There were no customers inside, even though it was still early. He could only feel the presence of four people in the room besides himself. He recognized his mother and father instantly, but the other two he knew as something else entirely. The smell of polish and the sound of clinking armor, their smell and the way they stood. He could feel how tense they were when he entered the inn. His father went to speak but cut himself off as one of the guards took a step towards him. For some reason just then, Fang had an intense wave of hatred and betrayal rush through him, he didn't understand the feeling, but he knew who he was directing it at. He could feel the accusation and violence in the air. 

"Boy, you there, boy..." The other soldier passed his comrade and walked up towards him. Fang could hear the man's weight as he pressed down on his left foot. He was carrying a sword. He could hear the leather of his glove squeeking across the hilt. Fang tensed as the man approached until he was almost directly in front of him. He felt a gust of wind and the smell of old leather as the soldier waved his hand in front of his face, then he heard him twist around, "So what's wrong with 'im then?"
"He's blind." His mother said, quietly.
"Oh..." The soldier turned back and looked at Fang, "Boy, you were seen in the market just twenty minutes ago, what were you doing there?"
"I was just listening to the stories..." Fang said, honestly but cautious of what the soldier wanted to know.
"Oh, I see." The soldier nodded, "Well, did you see--, uh, that... that did you hear any commotion?" He stumbled with the words.
"I heard something, but I didn't know what it was." Fang replied, lying.

Lying? He questioned himself. Why are you protecting that stranger?! Fang frowned when he was unable to answer his own question. Then the guard that had hushed his father cleared his throat, "Come on, the kid didn't see anything, what's he going to identify?" The soldier laughed, Fang clenched his fists so tight they hurt. The other soldier added, "Yeah, well let us know if you hear anything about a man matching this description." The soldier added, passing his parents something, he presumed, a picture. Still laughing, they both left and for a few moments there was silence. Fang slowly unclenched his fists and waited.
"Well?" His mother asked him.
"I don't know." He replied, and before they could say anything else, he ran upstairs to his room, slammed the door behind him and fell onto the bed with a long sigh. I don't understand anything any more, he thought. 

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An pinkish orange glow began to bathe itself over Imperial City as dawn slowly broke. On the third and highest tier of one of the old and last temples in the city, Chen was sat cross legged on the ledge of the small bell tower that was strutting out of the tiled roof. He sat cross-legged, his eyes closed with a look of true calm across his face, his staff laying flat across his legs. He heard a gentle but increasing tapping from behind him as someone scampered up the roof carefully, trying not to break loose any tiles. Without moving Chen greeted the figure. 

 

"You're on time for one, Jarik" Chen said with a smirk. The man stood beside the bell tower to Chen's left. He was older than him, probably in his early thirties. His body was lean and toned, and he was dressed in a dark grey jacket with a wide collar. He also wore three quarter length trousers and tight leggings underneath that covered his lower legs. On his feet were a pair of white plimsoles of similar fashion to Chen's. His hair was black and short, spiking out backwards with the exception of one stubborn strand of hair that curled forward over his forehead. Jarik had dark eyes and a cold stare as he looked out on the rising sun. 

"Was that you then?" he asked Chen, "Last night? The market?"

 

"I didn't start it if that's what you mean." Chen replied, "What am I not supposed to defend myself? I kept my bending to a minimum. Nobody would have noticed I was an Air Bender. Heck most people in this city have never even seen one."

"That's not the point" Jarik said with a stern tone, "We're not here to attract attention. I thought you of all people wouldn't need reminding."

"Mhmm" Chen hummed in response, his eyes still closed. "So are you here to lecture me or would you like to hear the good news?" Chen asked, opening his left eye to peak at Jarik and gauge his response. Jarik sighed and turned to face him. 

"Out with it then" he said as he folded his arms. Chen smirked and pushed himself off of the ledge, tapping down on the tiled roof and holding his staff around the back of his neck.

"I found him" he said finally. 

 

Jarik's eyes widened in surprise. He strode forward, so that he was staring at Chen from mere inches apart. 

"you found...'him'?" Jarik asked, "You mean...the Avatar?"

"Pretty sure it was him" Chen said with a soft grin. 

"Pretty sure?" Jarik repeated, his gaze becoming judgmental once more. 

"Well put it this way..." Chen replied, "He was up on a roof. The reports said he was blind...what blind kid can run across rooftops? Not to mention he caught my staff when I threw it at him. It's like he's got weird sonar vision or something. Maybe he sees our spiritual aura? Can he even do that?"

"I don't know!" Jarik snapped, "Nobody does to be honest. But if he fits the description why isn't he with you. Your job was to apprehend him!" Jarik turned away from Chen and held out his hands. "I don't see him anywhere!" he barked

 

"Calm down..." Chen said in a hushed tone, "You Fire Benders, you're all so loud and angry..."

"Then perhaps you shouldn't be so prone to baiting my temper, hm?" Jarik replied. The two looked at each other an exchanged a soft smirk. Despite their differences they were allies, and they both wanted the same thing. Chen and Jarik had been assigned to search Imperial City for the Avatar. They had only been here a week, and the only information they had was that he was a young boy, most likely skilled in earth bending, and that he was blind. None of these tips were conclusive, but Chen had witnessed all three within the boy. 

"I'm pretty sure he's using some kind of earth bending to help himself move without sight. Can't say I understand it though. I need to be sure. Besides...he's just a kid. I don't think he even knows what he is." Chen explained, "I tailed him from the sky, I don't think he noticed. I know where he lives now. I'll just have to keep an eye on him."

"Agreed" Jarik said with a nod. "Very well. You keep an eye on the boy. I'll report back to main camp. We'll make plans for the evacuation. Try to be ready."

"Got it." Chen replied before bringing his staff to his side and springing the mechanism within it that caused brass rods to shoot out from near the top and the bottom, both attached to fan-like wings. Chen went off at a run down the rooftop and leapt off of it, holding the glider over his back and soaring into the air, carried on a gust of wind. He swooped into the sky, quickly fading until he was nothing but a black dot flitting about in the distance. Jarik shook his head and smirked once more, then he too took his leave. 

 

 


 

 

There was a knock at the door of the Winking Dragon Inn. While it may have been morning, it had not long broken, certainly too early for customers to be arriving from the street. And yet as the innkeeper opened the door he was greeted by a young man wearing black dungarees and boots, with a dark blue vest on underneath. His hair was brown and shaggy, tied back and tucked inside a red do-rag. The boy grinned at the innkeeper and gave him a wink with his green eyes. 

"Mornin' sir!" the young man said with a hearty smile, "Don't suppose you're open for breakfast?"

"Um...well...we were just about to start but...you might have to wait a while until it's ready." came the polite but slightly startled reply. 

"What a life saver!" the young man said in rejoice, "the name's Shuu! I'm working nights doing some maintenance work in the city. I'm from the east y'see."

"Right well come in and have a seat for now..." the man said with a soft smile, ushering Shuu to come in. 

"Don't suppose you have any rooms spare?" Shuu asked as he walked into the Inn. "I haven't managed to find a place yet. Going to be here another few weeks."

"Why don't we discuss it while I cook breakfast" the innkeeper suggested. 

"Good plan. I'm starving!" Shuu replied before going to find a seat. He looked around the Inn. Nothing out of the ordinary. It was early though. He heard noises coming from the floor above. Was there a wife on the scene? More importantly, was the Avatar up there?

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The morning light spread across Fang's bedroom until it touched his face, he yawned and rolled over, unconcerned about the day's events as yet. A few moments passed, and he felt something was off, he could hear something but in the moments of going from sleep to awake it meant little to him. However, within seconds he uncharacteristically shot upright in his bed and leapt out of it, hastily getting dressed and gathering up his hair to tie it loosely at back of his neck as he often did.
"Something's not right..." Fang muttered as he grabbed his walking stick and strode to his bedroom door and opened it just as his mother passed the door, "Oh, morning, mother... wh--"
"-- on your best behaviour, Fang." She interrupted, linking the word 'best' with what he knew was 'normal'. "There's a guest in the house, a man named Shuu." She straightened her hair and began to walk down the stairs.

 

He nodded but was distracted as he felt the echoes and vibrations throughout the house, accented by his mother's steps down the flight of stairs. An alarm bell rang in his head and with studied practice he walked down the steps carefully, turning and passing the guest sat at the table. As Fang walked he could sense something familiar about the man, even as he was stationary. He seemed unusually calm and didn't seem to make a single noise. Fang picked up a plate to bring to the guest and started to walk towards him, tapping his walking stick as he went.
"So, you said a couple of weeks?" His father called out from the kitchen, "Does that mean you're here for the martial arts tournament?"

"No. I don't like fighting." Shuu replied, "These hands couldn't harm a flea!"

 

A flash of anger swept through Fang, he knew who this man was the moment he opened his mouth. It was the one who called himself Yangchen from the night before. He'd beaten up several people. As he approached the table and without thinking his last 'tap' with his walking stick struck Shuu, or Yangchen, or whatever his name was, directly in the side of the leg. He felt the man's wince but he didn't respond, there was a moment of silence before his mother had noticed what had happened.
"Oh!" His mother gasped, "I'm so sorry, Mr. Shuu, our son is blind, you see, he couldn't have known." His mother shot him a violent glare that he wouldnt have known about except that he felt how fast her heart was beating right at that moment. She took the plate from Fang's hands and placed it on the table with a pained smile on her face.

 

"Ahaha!" Shuu said whilst scratching the back of his head, "That's okay! It's no problem!"

"I'm really sorry." Fang said, controlling his anger at the man's deception. Why was he here? If he was a Free Element, there had to be a reason why he was in the capital city of the Empire. So was it Yangchen, or Shuu? He wondered, as his mother led him into the kitchen and did her best to scold him at a whisper. After she'd finished talking she said she was going out to get some groceries and left Fang and his father alone with their 'guest'. Fang leant against a kitchen counter, brooding quietly while his father cooked, humming a tune. "Where did he say he was from, dad?"

"Oh, I don't know, Fang." His father continued cooking, "Somewhere in the east, I think. He didn't say. Why do you ask?"
"... no reason." He replied, as he took the plate of food.

Fang grasped his walking stick with a clenched fist and turned back to the main hall where he crossed the room slowly and then held out the plate of food to the man, "Here." He said, with a short tone to his voice.

"Thank you." Shuu replied, "...sorry. What was your name again?"

He hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should even tell this stranger his name, but then he realised he wouldn't be able to keep the event's of the previous night a secret and also stop the man from learning his name from his parents.
"Fang Xiao. What's your name, then?" Fang paused, knowing his father was in the kitchen, he continued, "Am I supposed to be calling you Shuu, or Yangchen?" He added with a scowl.

 

"Well most just call me Chen," Came the reply with a bright smile, "And I see you share this city's penchant for being foul tempered. You should relax a little. The Avatar is supposed to bring peace after all, eh?"

Stood before Chen as still as a stone statue, Fang quietly tried to think of something to say, but in the panic and surprise of being called that for the first time, a wave of fear struck him as he tried to control his anger. "I..." He started, but stopped, unsure of what he was going to say, "I'm not the Avatar."

"Are you sure?" Chen asked playfully, "You never know until you try, right?"

He felt his anger returning now at his own inability, "The Avatar has to bend all four elements. I can't do that." The moment the words left his mouth he realised his error. With a rush of frustration, Fang left the hall immediately and walked up the stairs, entered his room and slammed the door behind him.

 

 


 

 

"Good evening, ladies and gentlmen!!" The booming voice of the ring announcer came pouring into the stadium from the speaker system, the crowd cheered, "And welcome, to the Grand Martial Arts Tournament!!" Another surge of cheering and clapping and whistling rumbled through the thousands of people watching around the stadium as the announcer grinned and swept a hand through his slicked-back dark hair, "As always, before tonight's event I will state the rules of the tournament for the benefit of all newcomers..."

Fang and his father weaved through the crowds to find their seats. They didn't have the best seat in the house, after all, they were not a wealthy family. But his parents always found the money to bring him every year. It was when he felt closest to his father, who, unlike his mother who felt only fear in his earthbending, even if it was out of love for him and his safety, his father always said he felt proud that his son could stand on his own two feet in the world and hold his head up high. As they found their seat about three quarters towards the back of the stadium, they sat just as the announcer began the list of rules that the competitors would have to abide by, should they participate.

"Rule No.1 - A victory is decided by a single bout, win and you're through to the next round. Rule No.2 - To win, the contestant must knock their opponent from the ring to the water below--" to which the crowd heard the tone of humour in the announcer's voice and responded with cheering and laughter. "Rule No.3 - You will automatically be ejected from the tournament should you choose to surrender and end the fight, or if you are KO'd during it." The crowd clapped and the announcer waited for them to die down before continuing, "Rule No. 4 - All martial arts forms are welcome in the tournament, as are all bending elements." At these last two words, there was a mixture of clapping, but mostly an uncomfortable murmur throughout the stadium. "Rule No.5 - Should a victor continue their assault in spite of an opponent's KO or surrender, they will be disqualified and the opponent will move on to the next round as a result." After a pause, the announcer added, "And finally, Rule No.5 - In the unlikely event of a draw, the judges will make a decision based on ability, control of the match, technique and number of times the contestant has landed a hit, or been struck themselves."

"Every year." His father muttered, but Fang knew he enjoyed listening to the bluster and scale that the announcer gave the event.
"And, as always," the announcer continued, "We will open the ring--"

"--dad?" Fang asked, putting his hand on his father's shoulder.

"Hmm?" His father replied, looking to his son.
"I need to use the bathroom. I'll be back soon, okay?" He stood up, as his father nodded and watched him leave, missed the announcer's final statement. 

"-- to a new competitor from the crowd." With the announcer's final words, he yelled out through the mic, "Let the games begin!!" The crowd went wild as Fang's father turned back to look at the ring.

"Huh?" He muttered, looking at the man next to him, "Did you catch that?" He asked, perplexed.

 

 


 

 

A group of stadium official stood in the waiting hall that would lead out to the arena floor, "And, then we'll bring on Po Bailung in the fourth match, it'd be pointless if--"
"--excuse me?" The voice called out from the shadows, further down the hall.
"Eh?" One of the officials called out, "What?"
From the darkness came a young man dressed in the classic arena uniform. It was a dark green, the colour of the earth kingdom's, though it looked very old and a bit tatty. However, the competitor was wearing the regulation issue mask that would protect their face. It was shaped like a Kabuki mask and white was standard, but each competitor had their own markings that they added. This one had a line of black followed by a line of green above it, just above the eyes, and the same markings twice on either side of the cheek, like whiskers.

"Are you the new competitor?" One of the officials asked.
"Yes." The young man replied, stepping forwards and bowing.
"Alright, I don't have a name--"
"--Shuu." The man replied.
"Alright Shuu, you'll be up in the third match for the first round of the tournament, your opponent is Miku Kasami. Wait over there with the others." The man who called himself Shuu nodded and crossed the room to sit on the bench beside the other competitors. For a moment, in the shadows of the waiting hall, the eyes behind the mask were visible. White globes stared blankly out, until the shadows once again covered them as he awaited his match.

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Hidden among the crowds Chen was sat with his fur cloak wrapped around him, the hood over his head. To his right sat Jarik who was staring out at the arena, but his eyes were glazed over, like he was only pretending to watch. Instead he spoke to Chen. 

"It has to be tonight. We can't wait any longer." Jarik persisted, sounding irritable. 

"He's not ready." Chen replied, his voice calm but firm. "Besides...he should get to enjoy this evening with his family. He might not get to do it again."

"There are far greater issues, Chen!" Jarik snapped in a harsh whisper. 

"To us, maybe." Chen replied before turning to Jarik and offering a soft smile. "He's still just a kid. He knows what he is but he doesn't know what that means. You can't expect him to just up and join our cause. He still has free will." he said sagely before turning his attention back to the game. Jarik sighed in frustration. 

"Don't you get it? He has a responsibility." Jarik responded with a tone of finality. 

"And what of the others? Do you really think Avatar Korra was the last?" Chen said quietly, "It has been longer than any of us can remember since there was an Avatar. The rules have changed. You can't force him."

"And what exactly would you suggest?" Jarik asked, scowling at Chen. "You've lived under the same roof as him for a fortnight and you haven't even came close to convincing him."

"He's stubborn..." Chen sighed, but he was smiling softly as he said it. His mind wandered back over the last two weeks, and his interactions with Fang. 

 

 


 

 

Chen had awoke, for the first time, in his bed in the Inn. His first day with Fang had been a silent one, not that he had a problem with that. Chen liked the quiet. He also liked mornings. Even as he sat up to get out of bed he could tell that nobody else was awake yet. He got up and put on some clothes before making his bed and tidying the small guest room he had been provided. After that he left him room and quietly went downstairs, moving gracefully with barely a sound. By the time Fang's father and mother were up Chen was already preparing their kitchen for the breakfast rush that would no doubt be on it's way. He had even prepared two small plates of food for them. 

 

"Uh...Shuu?" said Fang's father, scratching the back of his head. 

"Morning!" Chen replied brightly. "Oh...sorry if I'm imposing. I'm a bit of an early bird. I thought I'd set up since I'm awake. I made you both a quick bite to eat as well. It's important to start your day with a meal and I knew you'd be busy..."

"Why thank you, Shuu" Fang's mother beamed, although she looked a little uncomortable about a guest preparing her food. She took a bite out of the wrap on the plate and paused for a moment, considering the flavour, before swallowing and looking pleased. "Mmm! what is this?" she asked

"It's a moon peach and honey wrap. It's quite sweet but it gives you a nice boost in the morning!" Chen replied. Fang's father took a bite of his own and nodded approvingly as he swallowed it down. Chen was just finishing a third plate and walked past them to head up the stairs. "Is it okay if I wake up Fang? Or does he like to sleep in?"

"No it's fine dear, he needs to get up and help out anyway." Fang's mother said as she finished her wrap. Chen nodded and headed up the stairs and stopped outside Fang's room. He tapped lightly on the door and spoke. 

"Fang! There's a plate of food at your door, whenever you're ready" Chen called through the door. He then placed the plate on the floor by Fang's door and went back downstairs to sit outside in the back garden of the Inn, relaxing in the sun. 

 

"Right." Fang muttered, rolling over in bed. He sighed and then pulled himself out and walked across his room to the door. He listened as the footsteps faded and then finally opened the door and picked up the plate without thinking about it. He could smell the sweet aroma coming from the food and knew what it was. "Doesn't he eat anything regular for breakfast..." he closed the door behind him and put the plate next to his bed before crawling back in and pulling the covers over his head. 

 

 


 

 

Fang stood in the garden, staring blankly in the direction of the trees that were lined up at the back, like soldiers. They were battle-scarred soldiers, that had obviously seen too much action. He took a deep breath, trying to forget everything around him then took one foot forwards and placed it on the ground with a sharp 'tap'. He waited for a moment and then with lightning quick reflexes shot forwards and smashed his foot into the ground. Suddenly a large chunk of earth and rock flew into the air, he spun around and with a powerful roundhouse kick, the rock smashed into the tree, splitting it in two. He moved on to the next tree and and concentrated once again, this time he rolled forwards and as he pulled himself back into a kneeling position he pulled his arms up over his head and spikes of rock flew from the ground and covered the tree in deadly spines. Fang sighed, he just wasn't able to concentrate. The moment he'd tapped the ground to check the position of everything he'd felt the body stood a ways behind him and knew who it was. What was this man's problem with him, anyway?
 
Chen held up his hands apologetically as he realised Fang was aware of him. It had been a few days now and still they had not had much in terms of a discussion. 
"I'm sorry, I was trying to be quiet." Chen said earnestly. 
"I've heard quieter hog monkeys." Fang replied bitterly, not being entirely honest. Most people he could sense just by his own movements, or by theirs. But he had only detected Yangchen when he had tapped the ground. It had actually surprised him. Chen smirked at the comment but said nothing in response. He paused for a moment, trying to assess Fang. 
 
"That look's really tough." Chen said, "Earthbending, that is. It's so rooted and strong. It looks hard."
"It's supposed to be hard." Fang replied, with a look of irritability, "It's rock." Fang almost snorted a half-laugh, but held it in, not wanting to show any signs of being affected by the man's words. Chen nodded. He supposed he should have seen that one coming. Fang was a rock, just like the style he had become most attuned to. Still, with strike two out of the way, Chen went for a third attempt at connecting with Fang. 
 
"So what about other types of bending? Can you do water? Fire?" he asked. 
Fang tensed at the mention of the other elements, "Look, I don't know where you get your information from, but i'm not the Avatar, okay?" He didn't turn to face Yangchen and instead resumed his pose, "I'm just not... supposed to show my earthbending... that's all." He sniffed and then with a violent kick thrust a boulder into the air and in one action bent at a 90 degree angle and used both his fists to punch the boulder into the next tree in the line, splitting it in the middle and leaving a gaping wound.
"I see...well that's too bad. I thought maybe I could try and show you some airbending but...oh well." Chen said casually before turning and going to leave, making a point of lingering before he turned the corner. 
 
Fang stopped what he was doing, frozen in his stance facing the line of trees. For a few moments, almost too long, he said nothing. He heard the footsteps dissappear around the corner and he growled, "Argh, WAIT!!" He barked, turning around. "What do you know about airbending?" He waited for a second and added, "Y'know, cus i'm not the Avatar, but if I was going to learn airbending, how do you... y'know... how would you start?" Chen couldn't help but smirk again. Finally the rock shows a crack. 
 
A few moments later they were both stood parallel with one another in the garden. Chen had went through some basic stances with Fang, making sure he understood. Now came the hard part. "So all that stuff you learned with earthbending...that doesn't apply here." Chen explained. "airbending is about constant, circular movement. Like the air you must be fluid, constant, calm. From that calm you can conjure immense power. Learning the movements is one thing...but it's more about the state of mind. You have to clear your head. Are you following so far?" Fang paused with a look of confusion and mild irritance.
"Yeah, my mind is clear, i'm totally calm. Go." He crossed his arms and held himself there, tapping his foot.
"Okay...well watch th-" Chen paused mid-sentence. "Uh...well...you get the idea. Just pay attention."
 
Chen stepped forward, gracefully spinning on his feet, his whole body moving in a circular motion. he brought his hands around so that his palms moved around each other in a circular motion. Chen briefly paused, took a calm breath, and then as he thrust his arms outward in front of him he exhaled, and a gust of swirling air shot out from his open palms and crashed against the trees, shaking the branches and causing the leaves to rustle and fall to the ground. He then turned back to Fang to see if he understood. In truth Chen had never taught anyone before. And he was not very sure about how to teach a blind person either. "So" he said finally, "Take your time...give it a try."
 
Fang frowned, he'd been able to follow what Yangchen was doing no harder than anyone's movements, but they still confused him. He turned back to face the trees and uncrossed his arms and then slowly assumed the same posture as Yangchen had done moments before. He stepped forwards and spinning on his feet he moved around in the circular motion, brought his palms around in the circular motion, paused and then thrust his arms outward in front of him as he exhaled. What followed however was not so much a gust of swirling air, as much as what might have been a light summer breeze - though it had not come from Fang. For a moment he was quite still and then his palms bunched into fists and with an angry snarl he ran forwards and struck the final tree with a single, controlled and solid punch. The tree burst into splinters, as branches flew everywhere and all that was left standing was Fang, panting in anger. "Forget this!" He snapped, and stormed off. Chen stood alone in the courtyard and for once he looked disappointed. 
 
 

 
 
Chen snapped out of his memories. The week or so that had passed since then had gone no better. Fang was still giving him the cold shoulder. He was definitely a smart kid, someone who didn't trust people easily, which was probably a good thing. His patience, however, was short. Fang wanted to run before he could walk. Chen had been an airbender his whole life. Did the Avatar truly expect to accomplish it's technique so easily? Had he accomplished skill in the other elements as easily as that? Chen didn't know. Fang had taken to making sure Chen wasn't present when he trained. In fact as far as Fang was aware, Chen had now left him and his family alone. 2 days ago he had rejoined his partner Jarik to explain the little progress he had made. Jarik had already made arrangements for Fang to move with them out of the city tonight. Chen didn't like this approach. He had refused. He was here at the tournament only to keep an eye on Fang from afar. He glanced over to where Fang and his father were sitting. Fang had been gone for a while now. The next match was about to begin. What was taking him so long?

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Sat amongst the other competitors, Fang stretched his legs. He didn't like waiting. He had too much pent up energy, he was impatient to begin. He looked at one of the other competitors beside him. That man was like the rest of them - cool, calm and collected. Fang tensed, he wasn't sure if this was the best idea any more. But he had to prove to himself that he was capable. He had spent his life pretending, hiding who and what he was. But he'd come to a decision, whatever he was, whatever his destiny would come to - he knew he had to reach for it.

"Okay, you're up." An official called. Fang let out a deep breath as the man beside him stood up and he realised it was not him being called. He adjusted his mask and sighed. For a moment his thoughts crawled over him, he squirmed uncomfortably until one particular memory came to mind. The words of their inn's 'guest'. Yangchen, Shuu, or whatever his real name was.

 

Like the air you must be fluid, constant, calm. From that calm you can conjure immense power.

"Dammit..." Fang muttered, grasping his knees with tensed hands, why did he have to stick his stupid face in? He tried to flush the man from his thoughts but he couldn't help but think of him, and his words. They made sense, sort of. Not that he was able to duplicate his airbending, but then, he'd never been very good at it. Or really, any of the other elements.

The crowd cheered as he heard the fighters exchanging heated blows. He longed to be out in the arena but knew he had to be patient. But he just couldn't keep himself calm. His mind wandered back to Yangchen's words and shivering, he sat quite still. For a moment, the sounds around him blurred away, at first he panicked. He wanted to pull them back to him, for they were his primary source of understanding the world around him. But he pushed on, and for a moment, the sound drained away and he relaxed.

Suddenly a hand slapped him on the shoulder, "--man?" A voice pulled Fang back into the now. "I said you ready man? You're up next. You've been called!" 
"Oh," Fang stood up, "Yeah." He took a few steps forwards, his mind now on the tournament itself. He took a deep breath and let it out hastily, inclining his head to listen to the announcer.

"--moves into the next round!" The announcer waited as a hail of cheers fell from the crowd, "Next up, competitor Miku Kasami fights newcomer, Shuu!" The crowd cheered once again and Fang's lips curled into a grin as he could only imagine that man's face as he heard his own name called, it was a shame that he didn't seem the type to ever come to the Grand Martial Arts Tournament. Someone pushed him from behind and he realised it was time to enter the arena.

 

Though it made no difference to Fang, he stepped from the darkness of the waiting hall into the main arena. He could not see the lights overhead, but he felt their heat.
"Shuu might be a relative newcomer, but it says here that he's an Earthbender! Look out folks, he's gonna sink like a rock if he falls over the edge!!" The crowd cheered and laughed and Fang tensed. He figured the announcer was just trying to please the crowd but as he passed the announcer who tried to stop him for a quick interview, he shoved past him regardless. 

"Not a talker, huh, folks?!" The announcer laughed, shrugging it off. "Okay competitors!!" The announcer continued, from his separate pedestal besides the main arena. "You are to come to the centre of the arena, bow to one another, return to your starting positions and begin at the sound of the buzzer! You've heard the rules and I want a nice, clean game!!"

Fang stepped forwards into the arena. It was solid, built from rock. But after a single tap of his foot he could feel that it was surrounded by a steep drop, and deep water. A shiver ran up and down his spine. He didn't like water. He never had, for as long as he could remember. He couldn't swim and once he'd gone with his family down to a beach, and got caught in a swell and almost drowned. He'd never stepped into a body of water since. The idea of deep water surrounding every edge of the arena put him on high alert. He couldn't fall in.

 

Crossing the arena, he felt his opponent in front of him. He smelt something a little like spice and as he bowed to his competitor, she spoke. "I'm gonna crush you, Earthbender." She muttered.
"I'll be the one doing the crushing." He muttered back, feeling stupid for not having something better to say, but despite this, he still felt her heart quicken. They turned and walked back to their starting positions and Fang awaited the buzzer. A long time seemed to pass in silence, even the crowd had fallen into a lull. The seconds turned to minutes.

A deep, cagey metallic noise echoed through the arena. Fang realised at once that the match had begun, he immediately dropped into his ready stance, and with a solid bang, crashed one foot against the floor. Vibrations shook through the arena and he could feel everything in an instant. Where his opponent, Miku Kasami was stood, how she was stood, where she was putting her weight on her feet, and her rapid approach towards him. He grinned and turned away from her.

Immediately he felt her stop in confusion. She warily slowed and started to circle him as he bowed his head to the ground and listened carefully. He heard her mutter something along the lines of 'what is he doing' but eventually her confidence returned and she ran at him full speed, yelling. She raised a fist and thrust it forwards with lightning quick accuracy but as it was almost at the back of his neck Fang swirled, the punch flew past his neck and he leapt into the air with a spinning roundhouse kick. His leg crunched into her blocking arms and she let out a stifled yelp from the force and backed up. Without pausing Fang pursued her, now facing her directly.

He jumped into the air once again and punched for where she'd been stood a split-second before, she rolled away but grimaced from the pain in her forearms where his strike had initially hit. The crowd went wild as they realised the fight was not an open and shut case as they'd thought.
"Well well, folks!!" The announcer cried, "This Earthbender has claws!!" He yelled, laughing.
"How did you dodge that?!" Miku snapped, rubbing her arms as she readied for her next attack. Fang smirked behind his mask, "You didn't even see me!!" 
"No kiddin'," Fang replied, and charged.

 

Launching a barrage of attacks, he forced Miku Kasami across the arena until her foot slipped at the edge, she blocked another of his attacks but this time as she took a step forwards to distance herself from the edge, he saw his opportunity. With an almighty crash, Fang brought his foot down on the ground in front of him and suddenly a block of earth snapped out of the ground underneath the foot she'd placed all her weight on. With a scream she fell backwards, spinning in the air and Fang heard a loud splash a couple of seconds later.

For a few moments the crowd and the announcer was speechless, but before the announcer could open his mouth the crowd erupted in cheering. Fang took a deep breath, that was easier than he thought. He smirked. "Wow-ee folks!! Did you see that?!" The announcer smacked his palm against his forehead as he span around, "What a turn for the books!! Shuu goes to the next round, his opponent - Po Bailung, two-time Grand Martial Arts Tournament champion!!" 

Though the crowd cheered in earnest, all the colour drained from Fang's face, "What?" He muttered, turning to face the announcer on the pedestal. "You never said I was facing Po Bailung if I won!!" Fang yelled out, but his voice was drowned by the crowd, the announcer didn't have his hearing. He clenched his jaw as he walked from the arena. He heard the next combatants get called but he filtered the fight from his thoughts as he sat back on the bench. Po Bailung, he thought, he's going to annihilate me.

As the tournament wore on, several of the competitors were thrown from the water. Two had been KO'd (one from the previous round belonged to Po Bailung). And one had admitted defeat and left before the match could be concluded. Fang pulled the mask from his face for a few moments and wiped the sweat from his brow. He was going to be fighting Po Bailung!! He smacked the back of his head against the wall and sighed, sadness in his white eyes. The tournament was going to be over before it had even begun, for him.

"Hey kid," He heard the voice but didn't recognize it, he was too absorbed in his thoughts.
"What...?" He muttered in reply, holding his mask and turning it over in his hands.
"Ain't you a little young for this?" He asked.
"I'm older than you think." He replied, quietly. Annoyed at this interruption. 
"Yeah, I saw that fight against Kasami, you really whooped her." He laughed.
"Thanks." Fang muttered, but he shook his head.

The man paused, doing what, Fang wondered, he had no idea. Then he said, matter-of-factly, "Well y'know I was about your age when I started competing, don't be so hard on yourself."
"But i'm going to fight Po Bailung..." He replied, sheepishly. 
"Pff, that windbag? Don't worry kid, he's a pushover." 

Fang heard the footsteps as the man left and he thanked whoever might be listening for a little peace and quiet. But it was not to last. The officials called him over as his fight was ready to begin. Fang walked into the arena as the announcer called out, "Shuu might be a fresh face, yet he's got a lot of moxie," he began, "but to say that he's up against a true Earthbending master is no question! Po Bailung, two-time champion of the G.M.A.T. is no regular opponent!!" That's it, Fang thought, i'm going to throw up.

As he walked to the centre of the arena and bowed, Po Bailung spoke, "Hey kid, you okay?"
Suddenly everything fell into place. Why hadn't he recognized his tournament hero's voice?! Was he really that distracted? Behind his mask, Fang's face flushed with embarrassment.
"Y-yeah, i'm fine." He replied, in awe.
"Alright, well i'm not going to go easy on you just cus you're young." Po Bailung added, they both straightened, "But you're pretty good, luck to you." Then they parted ways and returned to their positions in the arena.

Standing there, waiting for the buzzer to sound, Fang tried desperately to think of some way he was going to get out of this. Po Bailung had to be stronger, smarter, faster and more experienced than him in just about every way. There was no way for him to be beaten. He was outmatched and outclassed. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself but he shook his head. The thought of getting thrown from the arena into the deep water below, by none other than his idol, was a terrifying thought. Being stood before this impossible fight, he heard a voice at the back of his mind once more. 

 

--it's more about the state of mind. You have to clear your head.

He cursed. He didn't want to hear Yangchen's airbending 'wisdom' right now, but despite this, he did try. He attempted to shut out the noise as he did before and took a deep breath. He felt his shoulders slump a little and he definitely felt a little calmer now. He wasn't confident, but at least he was prepared. He took another deep breath, and just then, the buzzer sounded.

He felt a rush of air but knew that what was coming at him was more than just a little wind. In a rapid series of dodges and rolls, he managed to avoid the thrown rocks Po Bailung used. The moment they passed his head however, Fang realised in that moment of calm, a great epiphany. He was Po Bailung's biggest fan, he had heard every single fight he'd ever fought. Studied and examined him in any way possible, even based many of his moves after this master of earthbending. Fang's confidence exploded as he realised that he was not just dodging these thrown attacks through instinct and reaction, but through the unbridled knowledge of his opponent. He had to use this to his advantage - right now, Po Bailung knew little about him except from his previous fight. And he had tried not to reveal too much of his earthbending in his previous fight.

 

"Smart, kid!" Po Bailung called, across the arena. He was holding a large rock in his hand, throwing it up in the air like a ball and catching it over and over again, "You're really fast, but you have to do more than dodge!!" At his last word he threw the rock in his hand and as Fang swiftly moved out of it's path a wall of rock erupted beside him and he almost collided with it. Stuck between a wall and Po Bailung's charging form, he was forced to use his earthbending without reserve. 

With a sudden series of movements, Fang pulled a massive boulder out of the ground and with a spinning kick, summoned it to his enemy. The boulder flew across the arena at alarming speed but Po Bailung was ready for the attack. He dropped to his knees and smashed his fists into the ground, another wall of rock erupted into the air and the boulder collided with it, splinters of rock and earth flying everywhere as Bailung flew through the cloud of dust, ready to land the finishing hit on Fang. But as his fist collided with the rock wall, he realised Fang had moved. Bailung turned to look at the rest of the arena, but he couldn't see anything. The clash of the boulder and the wall had kicked so much dust into the air that he was blinded.

Squinting, Bailung moved through the arena, the dust stinging his eyes but he refused to close them. He kept his arms raised and a few seconds later Fang flew out of the cloud like a cobra, spinning around and landing a powerful kick on Bailung's arms as he had done Kasami before him. However, Bailung was far more muscular and took the attack with a light grunt, and before Fang could recover, he grabbed his leg and slammed Fang into the ground, winding him.
"Aargh!!" Fang gasped, realising that Bailung was stood over him. He felt the rush of the man's fist coming towards his belly and digging into his reserves of energy Fang smashed his palms into the ground beneath him, sending two deadly rock spikes up towards Bailung's face.

The man was forced to withdraw, mid-attack, in order to dodge the spikes, but though Fang was on his feet now, Bailung was already running towards him. There was no time, the two competitors fought each other as the crowd watched on in stifled silence, biting their lips and rising from their chairs, even the announcer had fallen silent and was leaning on the edge of his pedestal, white-knuckled hands grasping the railings. 

The two men fought tooth and nail, every attack was precise, powerful and unblockable for Fang. For every attack he landed, Bailung accepted it with barely a noise, but he knew he was wearing down this goliath. Yet every time Bailung responded with his own attacks, Fang was forced to dodge. He knew if he took one of this man's blows to the face, he would be KO'd like one of the last fighters to go toe-to-toe with him. Their blows chased one another across the arena, several times Fang was forced to the edge only to slip out of Bailung's grasp at the last moment, but he was on the defensive now. He couldn't stop Bailung's relentless series of attacks. He was going to lose! He was going to lose after all of this!! He couldn't accept it now, he knew he could win!!

Bailung yelled, his bellow catching Fang of guard along with the attack that followed it. A great wall of rock exploded from the ground beneath Fang's feet, throwing him up into the air. He spun around, righting himself and getting ready for his own attack, even as he fell back to the arena. But as he fell, Bailung summoned a series of small boulders from the ground and with a single powerful earthbending thrust, threw them all towards him in a flurry of projectiles. 

"NO!!" Fang roared, his voice echoing through the arena and into the ears and minds of the crowd. He spun around in the air, dodging two of the boulders, he kicked one out of the way, kicking up a huge cloud of dust but another two were headed straight for him. The two boulders flew into the cloud, straight for Fang's face. Bailung grinned, at last, a hard-won victory. He watched with awe and confusion as a light grew from the dust cloud and suddenly a massive blast of fire erupted from inside the cloud, dispersing it. The crowd gasped as they watched the earthbender use firebending. The fire was so hot it incinerated the boulders before they could strike him. Fang landed, wheezing and holding his side, and the two competitors looked at one another.

"What have I done..." Fang's eyes widened, realising what he had done on instinct. It was too late now though, the crowd started murmuring, while still gripped with confusion. Then one person called out from amongst them.
"CHEATER!!" He yelled. The rest of the crowd joined in, starting to yell.
"What the hell was that?" Po Bailung raised an eyebrow, "Are you a firebender or an earthbender, kid?"
Fang said nothing but his ears pricked at the sound of the announcer trying to calm the now bloodthirsty crowd, "People, people! The rules, uh... say nothing about the use of multiple elements... do they...?" He looked to the judges who looked at one another, shrugging back at him, "Ah, well... I--"

But before the announcer could continue, imperial guards began flooding every part of the stadium. They filtered down the rows of seats, swords and spears readied. A different voice came over the speaker system then, superseding the announcer's confused comments.

"Citizens of the Imperial City, I am your High Lord, Yoshi Kataan." The voice was deep and stern, yet calm and authoritative at the same time. The crowd almost immediately fell silent, "That man, 'Shuu', is a Free Elements sympathizer. He is an enemy of the Empire, and must be brought to justice. Remain in your seats, he will be apprehended and your games will continue." The speaker fell silent but though the crowd remained where they were they began throwing their food and drinks into the arena.

"This is looking bad, kid..." Bailung muttered, "... you should probably think about getting out of here." He added, as the guards filtered into the arena. Five. Ten. Twenty. Fifty. Soon Fang Xiao and Po Bailung were surrounded. They backed up until they were stood beside one another, back to back. "If you're really an enemy of the empire, kid, you picked a bad time for it..." He muttered.
"I don't understand..." Fang replied feebly, "I... I'm not an enemy of the empire... i'm... i'm the Avatar." He said quietly, but Po Bailung heard him.
"Oh?" He raised an eyebrow, his face hardened but his expression was unreadable, "LIsten kid, I dunno what to tell you, but if you don't have a plan to get yourself out of here you're going to end up in hot water."

"I..." Fang shook his head, fear had gripped him. The guards were stepping ever closer, closing the circle around them, tightening their hold. "W-what about you?!" He asked.

"Me?" Po Bailung laughed, throwing his head back, "I'll be fine. It's yourself you should be worrying about." He muttered. But the two of them had no idea what was going to happen. More guards were already beginning to file down the rows of the stadium, past the baying crowds. There was nowhere to go, nowhere he could run. He was hopelessly outnumbered and soon he'd be rotting in an Imperial jail. Fang had a strange thought then, as he wondered if his parents would come visit him, but just then he heard a section of the crowd yelling and screaming and Fang twisted around as he heard something coming hurtling towards him. He didn't know what it was, he'd never heard anything like it! But it made no footsteps and it sounded like a tornado falling down upon the arena.

"Holy hell!!" Bailung yelled.

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 "Next up, competitor Miku Kasami fights newcomer, Shuu!"

 

Chen's head shot up, trying to see over the heads of the other spectators. Did he just say Shuu? he wondered to himself. Suddenly he became very interested in the fight. As the two opponents walked into the arena to meet each other, Chen turned his head to the crowd, scanning across the arena to where Fang had been sitting with his father. Fang was not there, however. He turned back to the arena and looked at this newcomer, Shuu. Chen's gaze fell on the young fighter's feet, which were bare. He knew at once from the boy's lack of footwear and also the way that he stood that this was Fang. 

 

"This isn't good..." Chen sighed, looking genuinely concerned for a change. Jarik turned to face Chen. 

"What's not good?" he asked

"Well...that guy down there fighting Miku Kasami..." Chen began, scratching the back of his head nervously, "That's Fang."

"The Avatar!?" Jarik gasped. 

"Keep your voice down!" Chen replied in a hushed tone. "Look...I don't know why he's down there but for now we just have t- OH!" Chen rose from his seat, punching the air as he watched the fight going on in the arena. "Did you see that!? Hahaaa! He's got some moves!"

 

"This is no time to be cheering him on" Jarik replied, scowling. He was right, of course. It was dangerous for Fang to be drawing attention to himself but Chen couldn't help but feel excited for him. He was finally using his abilities, out in the open. Chen was no advocate of fighting, especially for sport, but at least it was something. He sat back down and attempted to calm himself, but his eyes were still fixed on the fight. 

"Yeah...well there isn't much we can do." Chen said finally, "We'll just have to let him continue until he loses."

"And what if he keeps winning?" Jarik asked. Chen smirked. 

"Well then he really is the Avatar..." Chen replied. 

 

He watched as the fight continued, and cheered once more as Fang sealed his victory against Miku. His heart sank as he heard the news that Fang would be facing off against the champion, Po Bailung. He was an optimist, but he didn't fancy Fang's chances against such a seasoned Earth Bender. He only hoped that Fang wouldn't take the loss to heart. He didn't want to see his confidence swept out from under him so soon. Especially with what was to come. He waited with Jarik during the interval. He was not interested in the other competitors, he was only interested in Fang's match. 

 

When he had returned the the arena Chen stood up to get a better view. He could see in Fang's posture that he was nervous. Chen bit his lower lip as he watched the intense fight. Despite all odds Fang was holding his own. He was expertly avoiding Bailung's attacks and at first he offered little in terms of a counter offensive. However as he began to find his confidence once more, Fang began to rally and begin to attack his opponent. However it was not to last. Fang may have been gifted but Po Bailung was a talented and experienced combatant. He had quickly assessed Fang's strengths and weaknesses and had devised a technique that left Fang with little room to defend himself. However just as Chen thought it was all over, he saw the orange sparks. Fire Bending. Fang had used Fire Bending! At first Chen felt jubilant. He knew it, Fang was the Avatar after all. But as he turned to Jarik, the realization began to set in. Jarik did not look impressed. Neither did anyone else. Fang may have confirmed to Chen that he was the Avatar, but he had also just confirmed it to everyone in Imperial City. 

 

"Citizens of the Imperial City, I am your High Lord, Yoshi Kataan."

 

Oh no, Chen thought, Not him!

 

"That man, 'Shuu', is a Free Elements sympathizer. He is an enemy of the Empire, and must be brought to justice. Remain in your seats, he will be apprehended and your games will continue." 

 

Chen turned to Jarik as the guards began to mobilize on the arena. The pair of them were silent for a moment. They didn't know what to do. 

"This is really bad" Jarik said finally. Chen nodded in agreement. "Don't just nod!" Jarik barked, "We have to do something!"

"I know..." Chen replied, trying to think it through. "...Jarik I need you to clear us a path. Right now." Chen explained. 

"A path? What do you mean?" Jarik asked. 

"Just figure something out!" Chen responded as he stood, gripping his staff in his right hand. Suddenly he moved forward, pushing off of the shoulder of the person in front of him and rising into the air. The mechanism of his staff opened and with a gust of wind he soared up out of the spectators area and into the tops of the arena, riding his glider over the crowd and steering towards the centre of the arena. He circled over the top of the guards and snapped his glider shut, dropping down on their heads and running, stepping on each of their heads before leaping up and spinning, the air catching him and bringing him up and into the centre of the arena, landing gently in front of Fang and Po, spinning on his heel and swinging his staff like a bat, causing a huge gust of wind to go crashing towards the guards and send them sprawling backwards. 

"Oi! oi!" Chen said as he gave Fang a little thumbs up. "Looks like you could use a hand, eh?"

 

Recognizing his smell and the sound and weight of Yangchen's feet touching down in the arena, Fang shook his head, "What are you doing here?!" He barked, twisting around and with a single kick sent a shockwave that threw a line of soldiers off their feet and into the water behind them. Chen shook his head and gave a soft smirk. 

"Not happy to see me?" Chen asked, "I could always just leave and let you get arrested if you like?" He offered before sprinting forward to face off against a group of guards. As a spear shot towards him he leant backwards, avoiding the strike before coming back up and leaping, flipping over a second swing, landing to the right of his opponent and crouching low, with left foot bent in front of him and his left palm forward, sending a gust of air that knocked the man off his feet and sent him tumbling into the drink below. 

 

"I can handle myself just fine!!" Fang replied angrily, sweeping his leg forwards, creating a diagonal wall of rock that rushed to the edge of the arena, knocking all the guards on that side into the water like a snow plough. "I don't need you!" He snapped, more to himself. 
Po Bailung laughed as he grabbed hold of a guard's spear as it was thrust forwards, pulling it from the man's hands and using it to smash him over the edge, "You two are hilarious!!" He roared, throwing the spear and watching as several guards dove to the ground in order to dodge the deadly projectile. 
"I like this guy better, he's fun!" Chen said with a grin, before using his staff, spinning it like a baton in his hands to create a large vortex, that spread out in front of him, catching the guards in it's path and causing them to tumble about in the air before being tossed over the edge. Finally a path was cleared and Chen ushered for them to move forward. 
 
As they pushed on up and out of the arena, they filed into the narrow corridor as Po used his earth bending to seal the passage behind them. Chen took the lead and followed the corridor, taking a left and then a right, moving towards the exit. As they got deeper into the corridor the shuffling of feet could be heard in front of them. A group of guards rounded the corner and Chen prepared himself to fight again, however, as the guards advanced they were suddenly knocked to the floor as a burst of flame exploded from behind them. The smoke cleared quickly and Jarik stood in their path. 
"We have to move now!" Jarik ordered
"You got it!" Chen replied, "C'mon Fang we need to move!"
 
"Dammit..." Fang cursed under his breath, he could sense the increased footfall, the soldiers they had defeated would be quickly replaced, and they would soon be overrun.
"Go on, kid!" Bailung grabbed Fang and pushed him towards Yangchen, "I guess i'll stay here and give you guys some time to get away." Torn between leaving with Yangchen or staying to help Bailung, Fang moved back towards the arena until Bailung barked at him angrily, "GO!!" At last, Fang turned and ran after Yangchen, but with every step, could feel his one-time opponent and idol becoming slowly overwhelmed by the guards.
 
As the three of them made their way out of the corridors and into the main foyer leading to the outside of the arena, Chen had a bitter taste in his mouth. While he understood Bailung's sacrifice, it did not make it any easier. That man had no reason to help Fang, and to help him either. But Chen was grateful that he had.  As they sprinted out into the street Jarik caught his attention. "We need to get to the safe house. Someone will be coming to escort us out of the city." he explained
"Mmm" Chen replied. He wasn't happy about it. Fang would not want to leave. There was very little choice now, though. 
"What?!" Fang yelled, striding forwards and shoving Jarik forcefully, "And what about my parents? I have a life here y'know!!" He turned in the general direction of Yangchen and did his best to catch the man's eyes but could not tell where they were in relation to him, "This is wrong, i'll... i'll just..." He shook his head, "I'll talk to someone, i'll..." His eyes were welling up, "... it's not my fault!!"
 
"It's not" Chen replied in agreement. "Ask yourself, Fang. What kind of ruler would turn his guards on a child? What sort of ruler fears what he does not understand?"
Chen walked over to Fang and put his hand on his shoulder. He was aware that this was not the timer to be stopping in the street, but at the same time Fang needed this moment. 
"I will try to get you back to your parents one day." Chen said solemnly, "But until then you have to hide. They will understand, Fang. They knew who you were. They knew this day would come."
"My parents said I didn't have to be anything I didn't want to be! I didn't have to become the Avatar! I don't... I don't even know what that means." Fang ran his hands over the tanned skin of his face and sighed, "I don't understand..." He muttered, then pulled the string tying back his long black hair and let it fall loose, coming down to his chest and falling in front of his face. "I... I don't want to be the Avatar." Fang shook his head and then grabbed up his hair and pulled it back, gathering it up and tying it at the back in a high ponytail. "Why?!" He looked back at Yangchen again, "Why did you come into my life?!" He barked.
 
Chen didn't speak for a moment. He was quietly thinking to himself. Meanwhile Jarik was growing impatient. 
"Look kid!" he yelled, "You can either stick with us or rot in a jail cell!"
"Shut up!" Chen snapped, uncharacteristically. He looked at Fang and for once there was no cheeky grin, no bright, optimistic eyes. He looked drained, a little tired and quite sad. 
"You may not understand what you are..." he began, "But to many you are a sign of hope. Some say that hundreds of years ago the Avatar was here to maintain balance in the world, and restore peace wherever there was turmoil. It's not fair that a child has to shoulder that burden. However this world is not fair Fang. Your eyes may not work but you are not truly blind. Surely you can feel it. People are suffering. Outside of the walls of this city people are really suffering. Many are even dying. My family was murdered because we were a society of benders and non benders who lived in a way that the Empire didn't like. Someone has to stand up to them. Jarik and I were sent to find the Avatar, to find you. We're members of the Free Elements. We want to make sure that nobody will ever consider locking up a child, no matter what the apparent crime is. Do you understand?"

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