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The Legend of Kanda

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Part One: Rising Waters

I hate being the only woman in the Southern water tribe with calloused skin. I get weird looks from all the men, no matter how much fish paste lotion I put on my face everyday. Even in my teen days, everyone had smooth dark skin except for me. I had to suffer from blotchy acne that turned to scars after I matured.

My parents told me that I was "blessed" with bad luck, which means I'll have good karma in the future. I highly doubt that. They both ended up leaving the Southern Water Tribe when I was ten after they were offered jobs to benders at the new Republic City. I've been stuck with my brother, grandmother, and the rest of the tribe ever since then. Luck's never exactly been on my side.

I gaze into the reflection of the water and study my face. The water ripples, distorting my face into squiggles.

"Another fish," I muttered. I steadied my hands in front of me, then jerked up. A large catfish fluters out, goggling at me as it swims frantically in a bubble of water.

It's big enough, so toss it in the woven basket, with the others. After a while, it stops flopping and grows still like its neighbors. I study my catch. The basket's nearly full and it's half-past noon, so it's a good time to head back.

I lift the basket over my shoulders and hunch under its weight as I move back to the village.

It's always quiet in at the South Pole, even in the daytime when people are talking and playing. I let out a sigh. It's been about fifty years since the Avatar restored peace to the four nations, but it's always just been too dull for me.

The only thing I look forward to regularly is my grandmother's daily lessons. Thinking about this makes me walk faster, even with a heavy basketful of fish.

"Kanda," cried a little girl as I passed her. "Are you coming to play, later?"

I smile at her, though I'm in no mood to talk. "Sorry, Koko, I'm busy today."

She lets out an "aww," but runs back to her friends to do something else.

It sure would be nice to be young again, I think. Ever since I turned sixteen, all the elders have been bugging me to get married. No thanks to the Northern Tribe influence. I have a nasty habit of postponing anything romantic, thanks to my skin problems and the lack of good men in the village.

By the time I reach Grandmother's, my back aches from all the carrying and fishing. She breaks into a smile as she welcomes me in and takes the basket.

"This is heavy, Kanda," she exclaims. "You've had a good haul today."

I laugh. "Yeah, that's one good thing about today."

"Oh, don't talk like that. You're always so gloomy. You sound like there's nothing good about any day!"

We both laugh.

Besides my small circle of friends and Nikko, Grandmother's the one who's always been there for me. Ever since my parents left, she's been like a real mother and father. She's also a bender, so she taught my father everything he knew about waterbending. I guess she's just ashamed that it led to them both leaving.

"I'm sorry I couldn't go with you today, Kanda. I've been feeling so poorly lately."

I nod. Grandmother's only fifty years old, but she's always had bad health. She told me that bending was the way she prolonged her life. It was the only thing that really made her alive.

She opens up the basketful of fish and we sort them out on the floor. All of them are dead by now, so they're not fluttering around anymore. We keep the freshest ones for food, and store the older ones for turtle seals or giant polar bear dogs.

Recently our people have been taking examples from the Avatar, so we're trying to domesticate a few of the wild animals. I don't have much to say about that, but at least it's better than working with platypus bears and moose lions like in the Earth Kingdom.

After we make some food and talk about hunting, Grandmother's ready to train me in water bending for the day. Her body's too worn-down to use her full force, so she goes through the motions while explaining how to do them. She was born at the same time that the war ended, so she was lucky enough to receive training directly from the Avatar's wife, whom we call "the Master."

However, recently, the Avatar and the Master have been too busy fixing things in the Republic City and enjoying life in Ba Sing Se, so they can't really help things here. Not that things really need fixing, but Grandmother says that things got pretty boring since they left.

"So," Grandmother says, "Just follow through the movement, and then clench!"

I gather the water and channel it around my hands. Then I whip the water like a whip and  snap it back.

"Impressive!" she says. "You got it!"

I smile to myself. "I was practicing while I was waiting for the fish to bite."

She laughs, and then gives me more instruction. After a few more goes, she's satisfied and goes back into the hut while I continue practicing.

I start a few basic forms before starting on the newer skills. From the corner of my eyes, I see Nikko observe me from a safe distance. I smile at him and make my stances a little wider and sharper.

Nikko can't waterbend, so he always likes watching me do it instead.

We're really close even though our ages are far apart, with him being thirteen and me being eighteen. Lucky for him, he doesn't look like me at all. He's quite tall and good-looking with great skin, so a lot of girls have his eyes on him. But he acts like such a child that people are surprised when they're around him.

After I finish the forms, I carry the water around my arms and expel it into a whip with a spirit yell.

"Hah!" It snaps into the air with a crack and comes back to my hands.

Nikko grins at me. "You're getting so good, Kanda!"

I smile. "Thanks. I'm not that great yet, though." I shift into the stance and ready my fists. "I still can't get…this one right."

I try to slice the air and change the water into icicles, but they only freeze halfway and fall to the ground.

I shrug. "You see?"

"You're still really good," he insists. "One day, you'll become as good as Dad or Mom."

Their names still leave a bitter taste in my mouth. "Yeah," I say. "But how would you know? You don't even remember them."

I didn't realize how cruel it sounded until after it left my mouth. His face drops to the ground.

My hand slaps into my mouth. "Nikko, I'm so sorry!"

He sighs. "It's okay, Kanda."

He gets up, but I pat him on the shoulder quickly before he leaves.

I still feel bad after he leaves, so I decide to do a few more advanced forms.

"I wonder if I can do that air-into-water move," I mutter. I raise my hands up into the sky to collect the water, and clench my fists to make it appear.

Nothing happens. Perplexed, I continue trying it a few times, squinting at the air to try to make water come out.

I stop when I see something in the sky. My eyes widen. "Oh no."

--

Everyone comes out of their igloos and huts when they see the soot falling from the air. The children cling to their mothers and while the men wrinkle their foreheads in confusion. There's a range from innocent curiosity to anxious fear.

"Soot? Is this from firebenders? What does the Fire Nation want with us?"

My heart is pumping wildly, but no one else seems as worried as I am.

Our Chief, Kurnuk, moves into the center of the crowd and glances at the ashy air around us. "I haven't seen anything like this in a while," he murmurs. "Not since I was a child…"

"Everyone one stay calm," he says loudly. "We don't know what this is yet. It could just be the Avatar with a group of Firebenders…"

His voices dies off as we look at him in doubt. He shakes his head, as if the idea is too absurd, even for him. "I'm going to the front to go check." He raises his arm up and beckons to the men. The fathers and brothers shuffle into a mob behind him while others go back into their huts and igloos to gather materials.

"Should we bring weapons?" asks one young man next to Kurnuk.

Kurnuk sighs. "It would be for the best. I don't want to think that this is another invasion…but we need to be prepared for whatever's out there."

The men slowly reform into the streets as their families watch them put on helmets and carry spears and axes. There's an aura of uneasiness, and I can feel it churning around in my stomach.

Kurnuk arranges the men into two lines, nods his head, and then prepares to leave.

I stand there, watching them for a moment. Then, I remember something and run after them.

"Wait!" I cry. "I'm going with you!"

He glances at me, surprised. The younger women usually don't follow him and the other men out to danger, but even he knows that I'm a competent bender. He nods, and then I join them on the left flank.

Thoughts fly through my head as I trudge in the snow. It's not possible, is it? It can't be something bad again, not like what I saw before…

"Kanda!" cries a voice from behind me. I look back, and see Nikko eagerly tagging along.

"Stay back," I say firmly. "This could be dangerous."

"Of course not," he laughs. "The war is over. Didn't you hear Kurnuk? It's probably the Avatar with some Firebenders."

Something about his cheeriness really bothers me. "I highly doubt that," I whisper under my breath.

The other villagers chatter amongst themselves as we move out of civilization. A few of the women embrace the men as they amble on, and some have this terrible look as if they'll never see them again.

"Please," cried Grandmother, hobbling outside the crowd. "Be careful!" Her voice is faint against the low moan of the wind and she's so far away.

I suck in my cheeks and nod. "I'll be okay!"

But the sinking feeling in my stomach won't go away.

--

We gathered at the end of the ice and waited for what was coming to arrive. There was a sickening feeling in my stomach, but I didn't dare say anything yet. The last thing I needed was for all the warriors to start panicking before they knew what was coming.

Within time, we see a large ship appear in the distance. It's blowing ashy smoke into the skies, littering the pale horizon with specks of gray. I scowl to myself. Why couldn't they just come here without making a mess, like the Northern Water Tribe?

"What do you think that is?" asks Nikko gleefully. "Is that the Avatar?"

"Hush!" I say. The air is still frigid, but I'm sweating under my fur coat.

Please, I begged. Don't let it be what I think it is. My cold hands clenched into fists and shook.

Kurnuk leans over to me. "What do you think it is, Kanda? Would your Grandmother know instead?" He knows that Grandmother knows more about our history than anyone else, having direct ties with the Master.

I bite my lip, reluctant to say what's on my mind. The Chief thinks I'm ignoring him, so he just turns his attention back to the approaching ship.

The warriors are getting edgier now, and some of them are already touching their spears and murmuring amongst each other.

"It could be the Southern Raiders," I whisper.

"What?" A few of the warriors glance at me, not understanding.

"The Southern Raiders were the ones who came here about fifty years ago," I murmur. "They were the ones who took away our Master's mother when she was little."

The other warriors look frightened, but Kurnuk frowns. "That's impossible. Why would they be here now? The Fire Nation hasn't made advances since the crown's been in favor of the Avatar's!"

My eyes glaze over. "I don't know. But I think I saw this ship recently, sailing in the waters, when I was fishing."

Everyone jumps up and looks at me. "I didn't think it was anything special until now." I look forward and my face flushes. "That's their flag."

"Men!" roars Kurnuk. "Ready your weapons!" There's a ker-chak sound as twenty spears are raised at the same time.

"Nikko," I whisper from the corner of my lips. "Get out. Now."

"No," he says. I can hear a tremor in his voice. "I want to see what happens."

"Nikko!" The ship is getting closer, and we can see them lowering their anchor and raising a rowboat over the edge. "There's no time!"

He doesn't leave, and I have no choice but to stand stiffly like a board for the strangers to get on rowboats and approach us. We all wait patiently as the boats slowly come toward us. There's about fifteen of them in three rowboats, and about twenty of us. Maybe we can take them on. My fists tighten.

Kurnuk waits for them to reach the edge of the ice where we're standing.

"You there," says Kurnuk loudly. "Identify yourselves and state your mission."

The man at the front of the first rowboat pulls it to the ice while drawling in a lazy voice. "Hallo there. We're only a group of sailors who have come here for one task, and one task only."

He's got a bandana over his head, and his garb seems strangely reminiscent of pictures I've seen of Fire Nation islanders and raggedy old scraps. He grins at us, and his gold teeth glint in the dimming sunlight. I glance at the other people behind him, and they looked slightly similar. There was a strangeness about the way they dressed and talked…

"It'll really be quite painless if you just cooperate," he said.

I didn't like the sound of this, and neither did Kurnuk.

"What's this about cooperating," he snarled. "I'm the Chieftain of this tribe and I'll decide what happens here!"

The man throws his head back and laughs, and so does all the men in the rowboat.

"You men…" says Kurnuk slowly, "Don't happen to be part of the Southern Raiders, do you?"

Bandana-head grins at him. "Southern Raiders? Now that's a term I haven't heard of in a while. You Waterbenders don't know what you're talking about. Weren't they disbanded years ago? Stuff of textbooks and old lore now?"

None of us are able to say anything.

"We're called the Band of Ravens now," he cackles. "And no, we're not being controlled by anyone now. Our allegiance doesn't belong to the Fire Nation any more does it belong to the Avatar's. We do anything, for any nation, as long as that nation's willing to dish out favors and gold." He laughs a creaky laugh, then walks toward us.

Everyone steps into a fighting pose and raises their arms, including me.

"Pirates," I whispered under my breath. "They're just pirates."

"Leave now," demands Kurnuk. His voice echoes over the expanse of the tundra, causing seal-turtles to start yelping. "You are not welcome here!"

"Please, please," says Bandana-head. "We only want to negotiate here. There's something we're here after, and if you're only willing to listen, we can go collect that and be on our merry ways." He smiles deviously. "We don't need to fight at all."

"What is it that you want?" says Kurnuk through his clenched teeth. All of the pirates have stepped out of the boat by now, and none of them look intimidated.

The man's amber eyes glinted and focused in my direction. I raise my fists higher, and I can feel Nikko shrink from behind me.

"It's one of your people. Someone that you stole from us, and we'll be having him back now," he says coolly.

Before anyone can react, he jumps back and kicks a spurt of fire into the Chief's chest. Kurnuk crumples to the ground and crashes into the ice, his spear rolling off to the ground.

For a moment, we can neither speak nor move.

"Go forth!" roars the man beside the Chief. "Fight!" He charges toward them, and the men follow suit. They rush at Bandana-face and I focus my sights on a man on my left who seems to be coming toward us.

I sweep my arms up and push him backwards with a wave of water. I notice another pirate escaping the fray of warriors and run towards me.

"You!" I yell at a lone man with a wolf mask on his head. "Take the man on the left!"

The warrior jumps up, startled. He glances at the pirate coming toward him and flees. For a moment, I just stare at him in disbelief, then another one quickly jumps in his place and rushes at Bandana-head.

"Coward!" I hissed under my breath.

Taking a deep gulp of air, I raise the water up from the sea and smash their boats into splinters. The men turn their direction back to me, snarling.

"Nikko!" I scream. "Get back! Run!"

He snaps out of his stupor, scrambles backward, and runs away.

I turn back to the pirates, just as they move toward me. My eyes dart to the warriors. A number of them are lying on the ground, moaning.

"Oh, no you don't," I muttered. I whipped another jet of water onto a running pirate, and slammed a wave onto the others, making them fall back into the frigid waters.

The men scrambled back after the pirates with their spears, but it didn't take long for their spears to be torched like firewood. The men fall back, yowling in pain as flames catch onto their fur coats. I quickly splash them with water, but in another second, the Ravens are after me.

They really are descendants of a Firebending army, I think to myself. They're too strong for us.

I back away as a small group of our warriors flank me. It's not enough. At this rate, we'll all be defeated.

Before I can react, a large wave slams them off into the side. Surprised, I look behind me and see my two friends, Orana and Koto, with their hands raised in unison. Behind them, there's another group of warriors, carrying more weapons and armor.

"Kanda!" cried Orana. "We brought reinforcements!"

I feel relieved and conflicted at the same time. Orana and Koto are the only two benders in the water tribe besides me and Grandmother. They're both older and more skilled than me, but at the same time, I don't want to see them get hurt.

The warriors quickly rush into battle, overtaking the pirates while Koto and Orana greet me.

Orana gasps as her eyes move toward the ground. "What happened to Kurnuk?"

"Watch out!" shouts Koto. He throws his hands forward and smothers a fire attack that almost hit the three of us.

"Phew! Thanks," gasped Orana.

Koto flashes a smile at me. "Come on, Kanda. Let's push these guys back. Three waterbenders together."

A grin spreads on my face and then I turn toward the Pirates with disgust on my face. "Time to end this."

We raise our arms up and thrust our palms forward in a wave that knocks the pirates into the ruins of their rowboats.

The warriors ahead of us whoop and pump their fists up. The Band of Ravens resurface, this time spitting fire from their throats and jabbing flames into the air.

We split into three. I channeled the water from both sides and breathed on it to create a temporary mist as the men fired onto us. Koto swept his arms forward and froze the water to create a barrier while Orana whipped the water and fired icy projectiles onto them.

Within moments, every pirate was either unconscious, pinned to the ground, or running back to the ship.

I looked back at Orana. "How'd you do freezing water trick?"

She grins at me. "It's all in the wrists." She shows me. "You know, we make a pretty good team."

"Yes!" says Koto, squinting into the dissipating mist. "They're retreating!"

My face pales. "No, look over there."

There were now three ships in the distance, and all were headed toward us. The swimming pirates were climbing back onto the ships and pointing toward us. There was at least thirty more people standing on their boats.

Both Koto and Orana look back to me with horrified faces.

Koto shakes his head and turns toward me. "This is too much. Kanda, you have to go. Leave this to us."

"But--" I said.

From the corner of my eye, I see an unconscious pirate rise from the ground.

"Watch out!"

He jabs a jet of fire, which hits Orana point-blank in the chest. In slow motion, I see her eyes widen and her body torque backward as she slams against the ice.

"Orana!" cries Koto. "Orana, no!" He runs over to her side and holds her, but her head only falls limply to her shoulder.

My scream is so loud that I can't hear anything else.

The ice cracks beneath my feet and I raise my arms into the air. I feel my anger propelling me, and streams of water hurtle behind me as I motion them into the sky.

"Kanda," Koto says weakly, but I only ignore him.

I see the men moving backward. The warriors around me clear a path toward the pirates as the wave grows larger and larger. The growing shadow moves into the gap between our bodies and the water rushes so loudly that it fills up my ears.

"Move away, move away!" cry the pirates, trying to free themselves from the ground and carrying the other unconscious bodies away.

They're not getting away. I advance closer, and then ready the waves to crash against them.

Something hot and fiery hits me head-on into the face. I choke on flames as it smothers my breath and my arms drop. I can feel the waves die, crash upon me, and wash everything away.

--

When I open my eyes again, my entire face is on fire. My eyes tear up before I can even see anything and leave painful trails on my cheeks. My cheeks and eyelids are so raw that I can't even frown or blink. I try to move my arms, but I realize that it hurts to lift them as well. It's as if there's a hot poker pressed to my heart.

"Uhn…" I moan. It's the only thing I can manage to say.

There's someone in front of me. It takes me a while to realize that it's Grandmother.

"Don't move," I hear her say. "You're badly burned."

I let out a soft sigh, and scrunch out my eyes in pain as I feel her bandaging my wounds. The pain extends from my face and neck to my collarbone and chest. I vaguely wonder if my breasts are still intact.

"This is my fault. I should have called you in. You should never have fought. This is my fault, my fault," she murmurs.

"Uh…no…" I moan as she wipes my face with a cool towel.

"Ow!" The water stings and my forehead throbs.

"Does it hurt?"

"It hurts a lot," I moaned.

I don't think I've ever been in such pain in my life. Why did it hurt so much?

My memories hurtle back to me. I got really angry. There was a giant wave and this horrible burning feeling on my face. I got burned bad.

Tears well in my eyes. I'm going to be disfigured. I'm going to be scarred for the rest of my life. Why?

Grandmother chooses to focus on the good news. "You're very lucky. The fire came close to your heart. It could have killed you, Kanda."

I groan. Luck. I'm lucky to be alive.

"I wish I was gifted in the healing arts," she says mournfully. "Unfortunately…all of our waterbenders are in critical condition as well."

A horrible sinking feeling hits my stomach. I suddenly remembered. Orana. She was struck down. And…what about Koto and the others?

"Wha…what happened after I fell down?"

Tears slid down her cheeks and she wiped her eyes. "We couldn't win against them. They ransacked the village shortly afterward…but they didn't hurt anyone else. We found Orana afterward…" She chokes on a sob. "We couldn't do anything for her. She's…gone. Kurnuk and Koto are badly injured too, but I think they'll survive."

I can hardly breathe, let only register the information. Orana dead? How could that be possible? She was alive today. It didn't feel real.

"What about everyone else?" I breathed. "Are they okay?"

She heaves into a sob. "Just injuries, no deaths…but…"

"But what?" I press. My voice comes out hoarsely. I try to rise, but my chest hurts too much.

"They took Nikko."

I suddenly jump up, surprising Grandmother so much that she fell back with a cry. My body screams out in pain, but my heart is pounding too hard for me to notice it.

Nikko! How could they take Nikko? It took all my self control to stop myself from screaming and splitting myself apart.

I looked straight at the mirror in front of us and caught sight of my face. A hideous, cresent-shaped burn marked my face from my lower neck to my forehead. The burns go down onto my chest area, and half the skin is missing from my right breast.

I look like a monster. But nothing else mattered anymore, not appearances or how I would live life afterward. I knew what I had to do.

They could take away my face and friends, but there was no way I'd let them have Nikko.

"I'll get him back," I whispered.





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