Air and Water | Teen Ink

Air and Water

February 17, 2013
By witchchild1234, Wilmette, Illinois
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witchchild1234, Wilmette, Illinois
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Favorite Quote:
"Only one link of destiny can be handled at a time." - Winston Churchill

Author's note: I love Avatar: The Last Airbender. I like The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra. I'm waiting for the next season to come out. I have written tons of parodies and this is my favorite. I hope you enjoy!!

The baby smiled at me, his huge grey eyes flecked with a few strands of blue, evidence of his Water Tribe mother. Just like mine, only in a boy’s face.

“ Joseph,” I whispered the name, trying it out. The baby giggled and grabbed the hair strands that had slipped past my ear into the crib and into Joseph’s grabby hands.

I managed to snatch them away before he got his hands on my hair. I’d learned from Melanie’s accident. He’d grabbed her hair and I could hear her throwing a fit upstairs in her room.

Me and Melanie were identical twins. We both had long blonde hair, big grey eyes and pale skin. The only differences was that I had a few noticeable blue flicks and curly hair. But dressed alike, with my hair straightened and seen from a distance, no one could tell us apart.

I felt some arms hug me and lift me up onto a high shoulder.

“ Daddy!” I giggled.

“ How do you like your little brother, Arianna?” he asked. His grey eyes were sparkling with humor and his blonde hair was curly and mussed. He had dark circles under his eyes from stress.

“ He’s so cute and Melanie was screaming so loud!” I said, giggling. He laughed. I loved his loud, booming laugh that made the ground seem to shake. I jumped off his shoulder and landed lightly on my toes.

Me and Melanie were both Benders, Airbenders. Mom was a Waterbender, the daughter of the Water Tribe King. I’d met our grandfather a few years ago. He’d stared at me with a wild-looking curiosity.

My other grandfather, Dad’s Dad, was King of the Air Kingdom. Dad was his heir and Joseph was the heir after him. Since Melanie was born before me, she was the second-in-line. But my grandfather, the Water Tribe one, had only one daughter so most likely, Melanie would become his heir and move to the Northern Water Tribe when she was older. I doubted it would be me. Melanie came in, bouncing off the walls.

“ Mom wants to see you, Ari,” said Melanie, taking my hand.

“ You better go, Ari. I need to do something anyway,” Dad said, waving us out. I waved bye to him and ran after Melanie.

I had always loved Mom’s room. It was full of Water Tribe things that Mom had brought from the Northern Water Tribe. A warm, plush carpet was on the ground and the curtains were light blue. I walked over to Mom who was lying in bed, looking pale.

“ Hi, Mommy. Melanie said you wanted to talk to me,” I said, sitting on the blue covering.

“ Come here. I want you to have this so you can always remember me,” said Mom, holding out something in her hand. I took it and examined it. It was Mom’s necklace, the one she always wore. A silver chain surrounded a blue stone that had the Water Tribe symbol scratched onto it.

“ Your necklace? Why are you giving it to me? Are you going to...” My throat closed before I could say the final word: Die.

“ I don’t plan to die anytime soon, sweetie. Your grandfather has just announced his heir and he chose you, Ari,” she said, closing my hand over the necklace.

“ Me?! But what about Melanie?” I asked.

“ She’ll be fine. She’s happy that she won’t be the heir to the Water Tribe throne. You’ll go to the Northern Water Tribe when you’re fifteen. Your grandfather will arrange a marriage for you when you’re older,” she said.

“ But, Mommy, I don’t want to marry anyone!” I protested.

“ You’ll feel different when you’re older. Maybe you’ll be likely and fall in love with them like I did. Arranged marriages can turn out fine. Mine did,” she said. I nodded, not completely convinced.

Dad came running in, completely out of breath. His tunic was wrinkled and his circlet that marked him as king was slipping off his head. He was carrying his staff and was already in defense position.

“ Ari, go to your room and stay there. If you hear noises, hide!” he said, looking at me.

“ But....” I said.

“ Arianna!” he interrupted me. I nodded and ran out of the room but heard the words come after me: “ Your father has demanded Ari now, not when she’s fifteen. He wants her to grow up in the Northern Water Tribe...”

Grow up in the Northern Water Tribe! Never see my family again except maybe once or twice a year! I ran faster then stopped in front of a big window. The temple was being attacked. Waterbenders attacked Airbenders, coming closer and closer to the palace.... to me.

I ran and felt the wind help me, push me to safety. Down the hallway, third door on the right. I ran in and barred the door with a chair. Melanie was nowhere to be seen. I closed the window and drew the curtains and opened the wardrobe where my and Melanie’s clothes were hanging side-by-side.

I crawled through them and pushed the wardrobe doors closed. Crawling blindly in the dark, I groped around until my hand hit wood in the air. I’d found the back of the wardrobe. I leaned against it and closed my eyes. I heard sounds of battle coming outside and a twist of the doorknob. I opened my eyes in fright as I heard a loud THUD!

I heard a loud crash and heard heavy footsteps come into the room.

“ This is obviously a kid’s room! Search it! Since the door was barred, a kid must be in it,” said a loud voice. I heard something hit the ground and smash. My hand tightened around the necklace. I stuffed it into the pocket of my purple and gray tunic.

The wardrobe was flooded with light and I saw a glimpse of a man’s face through my clothes and Melanie’s clothes. The clothes were pushed aside and I saw a man with long, brown tangled hair and dark blue eyes smile in triumph.

His hand shot out and grabbed my leg, pulling me out. I kicked desperately, trying to get free. What had Dad told me to do in this kind of situation? Scream for help!

Like he knew what I was going to do, his hand shot over my mouth and he lifted me up like I was a cloth dummy. My arms were pinned under his arm so the little Bending I knew wouldn’t work.

They carried me, running through the palace and out a back door. I felt sleep grip me and I closed my eyes and let go.

When I woke up, it was dark and I was sliding back and forth.

“ She’s awake!” whispered a voice in the darkness. As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw I was surrounded with people. They were all Air Kingdom girls with curly blonde hair and from 4-9 years old.

“ You’re one of the princesses, aren’t you? Princess Arianna, right?” said one of the older girls.

“ Where am I? All I remember is the battle and the men who grabbed me,” I said.

“ We don’t know. When they ransacked the palace, they grabbed all the girls who had curly hair and looked a certain age range. From what we heard from outside this cage, they’re looking for you,” said the girl.

“ Oh... That makes sense,” I said.

“ Your grandfather made you his heir, right? My dad told me about it,” said a girl leaning on the wall across from me. I nodded, my hand going to my pocket and feeling the necklace.

“ I’m Mandy, that’s Lily, Jessica, Louise....” The list went on and on. There were 24 girls in the wagon. Five girls were still unconscious from their kidnappings. The youngest was Elizabeth or Lizzie who was 4 years old. The oldest was Mandy and Georgia who were both 9.

“ Why did he take a 4-year-old and a 9-year-old if his granddaughter is six?” said Madison who was also 6. I knew her from Airbending lessons.

“ I don’t think he knows how old I am. The last time I saw him, I was three or four. He scared me half to death,” I answered, thinking. I blocked the memory of the tangled hair and wild, greedy look in his eye as he watched me and Melanie run around, playing Hide and Seek.

“ Wait. He hasn’t seen you in three years?” said Mandy, sitting straight up like an idea had shot into her head.

“ Yea.... I just said that,” I answered.

“ So, he doesn’t know how you look like. Just that you have curly hair and grey eyes,” said Mandy.

“ Grey-blue, actually. Joseph has them too. My eyes,” I corrected.

“ Let’s say we say you’re not Arianna, his granddaughter but Ari, my little sister. Then we can get you home back to your parents. Back to ALL our parents,” said Mandy, excited.

“ That’s a really good idea,” said Georgia, leaning up.

“ I like it too,” said Madison, squeezing my hand.

“ Come here next to me. We’ll have to play the part. I want you to think of me of the big sister you never had,” said Mandy.

“ What about Melanie?” I asked, confused.

“ You’re twins. You were born practically at the same time,” said Mandy. I nodded in understanding. As the wagon swayed back and forth, the other 5 girls woke up. Each of them had the same questions for us. We explained to each of them the plan as they woke up. They all understood the urgency for not calling me Princess or Arianna so I could get home. We were too young to see the flaw in it.

After a few hours after the last girl woke up, the wagon stopped and we were hoarded like cattle into a ship. Many of us got incredibly seasick. Three times a day, someone came in, bringing a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. We shared it equally, tearing off chunks of bread for everyone. On the third chunk of bread for each person, one girl, Marilyn, was left with nothing.

“ Here,” I said, tearing off half of my already-small chunk and handing it to her.

“ Thank you, Ari,” she said, smiling.

“ Here, Ari,” said Mandy, tearing off a small piece of hers and handing it to me.

“ Keep it. I’m not that hungry,” I lied. Truthfully, I had never felt this hungry or thirsty in my life. I’d always gotten enough to eat and I’d never had to worry about no food. I suddenly knew that was going to change for me.

Two days later, we were in the Northern Water Tribe. It was a strange place to be somewhere where it was freezing cold and all there was was snow and ice everywhere even though it was spring and it should have been warm with grass and flowers and birds singing sweet songs.

We were pushed inside hurriedly. Everywhere people were wearing blue and silver, the colors of the Water Tribe. They had nut-brown skin, brown hair, and dark blue eyes. We looked out of place with our pale skin, light hair, grey eyes and purple and grey clothing that was a different style than theirs.
I recognized Grandpa immediately. He looked almost the same, just a bit older. He was sitting on a large ice chair covered with a pelt that had been dyed blue and silver. His crown was different than Dad’s. While Dad’s was simple, his was large and ornate with large blue stones set into it.
“ Well, where is she?” he ordered with a loud, booming voice. I squeezed Mandy’s hand and stepped closer to her, feeling terrified.
“ We don’t know, Your Majesty. We went to the palace and caught all the girls with curly hair that we could find,” said one of the six kidnappers.
“ Shouldn’t you be able to recognize your granddaughter, sir?” said another one.
“ Majesty, I highly disapprove of this. Kidnapping 24 girls from their homes will cause the Air King to declare war against us. She is his granddaughter as well and in line to the Air Throne after her father, brother and sister,” said one of the men around him, maybe one of his advisors.
“ My heir MUST grow up in the Northern Water Tribe and I won’t let some weak ninny keep her away on the stupid claim that ‘ She’s my daughter!’ Well, she’s my heir and she must learn our customs. I knew that I would do whatever it takes to get my heir here,” he barked at the man.
“ But, sir!...” said the man again.
“ Enough, Edmund. I’ve decided it myself so enough!” Grandfather yelled. Edmund bowed his head and closed his mouth. He looked frustrated and angry.
“ Now, Arianna, are you going to reveal yourself or do I have to punish you when I find you?” he said. It was too freaky to think of him of my grandfather so I just decided to think of them as the Water King. I started shaking, scared out of my mind.
The throne room was silent, too quiet. Mandy tightened her grip on my hand and I huddled close to her, my body shaking from the cold and terror.
As the seconds passed, the Water King’s face became more and more red and his eyes bulged as he yelled,” Lock them up in the North Tower! They’re not to leave there until she reveals herself!”

8 Years Later
“ Happy 14th birthday, Ari!” said Madison, handing me a cupcake with a glass of water.
“ Thanks, Madison. How did you manage to get this?” I asked.
“ Cook. You know how she gives each of us one for our birthdays. Plus she likes me best!” said Madison, boastly. The others had forbidden me to tell anyone my true identity here at the Northern Water Tribe. They’d all sworn an blood oath that no one would know. But it had severe consequences. Of the 24 girls that had come here from over the sea, only 8 were left: Madison, me, Mandy, Jackie, Louise, Isabel, Charlotte and Georgia.
When our stubbornness had increased to not tell him what he wanted to know, he had decided that we would work hard to earn our living here. Louise, Georgia, Isabel and Charlotte were ladies’ maids, Madison, Jackie, me and Mandy were scullery maids. We tended fires, helped the cook, scrubbed the halls and other work.
It was hard work and because of it, five girls were dead. Not enough food and water and illness had killed the others. I ate half of the cupcake and stuffed the rest in my pocket. I’d need it for the hard work ahead, I knew.
I pulled on the blue plain dress and grey apron that had been white when I’d first gotten it. I braided my hair and pulled on a gray cap. Then we went our separate ways. Mandy walked next to me. She was seventeen now with long blonde hair that flowed to her hips and large grey eyes and rosy lips. All the men stared at her and the women did too with envy. Our skin after 8 years was paler from the lack of sun and fresh air.
Bending was forbidden for us. After Elizabeth had Bended a small tornado to make her tea less hot and had been severely beaten for it ( she died a week later), we learned not to do it. Escaping was hopeless. Guards watched us constantly. We were like dogs in a cage.
Mandy hugged me goodbye and walked down into a room to tend the fire. I did the few rooms I had to and got a ton of clothing to wash, had to get water for the cook, and had to scrub the halls when I was done with the washing and the water.
I carried three buckets of water into the kitchen, smiled at Mandy and carried the heavy basket of clothes down to the river that flowed next to the palace. There were walls everywhere and guards also to watch me do my work.
I lifted a shirt into the water and started to hum a tune that I remembered from the Western Air Temple, my home. I squeezed it dry and threw it into the basket and then started with the rest. When the stack was done, I hung them on the pegs to dry. Waterbenders would come by in thirty minutes to Bend the Water out and then I’d iron them and then return them to each room.
I started scrubbing next to Mandy and we talked as we scrubbed. Talking was good at making work go by fast. In 10 minutes, we were done and I had to run outside to gather up the clothes and iron them.
At the end of the day, I was hungry, tired and soaked to the bone. I washed off the dirt on my face and hands and undid the braid. Dinner came and I stuffed my food in my mouth as quick as I could.
“ We have to get out of here. I don’t think I can take this for much longer. The work gets harder and harder as you get older. My hands are so blistered and bruised, you can’t tell if they’re actually hands,” said Jackie, complaining.
“ What happened to the attacks?” said Mandy, referring to the Air Kingdom attacks that had happened during the first 6 years.
“ I gave up hope that my dad would come rescue me years ago. They’ll never get in and we’ll never get out... even if the Avatar themself came,” I said, falling onto my cot.
“ Who is the Avatar anyway?” asked Jackie.
“ Me and Melanie were born on the day the last one died so we were candidates. I think there were a few other kids born on the same day in the other 4 Air Temples. Plus I was supposed to take the Avatar Test today. The Avatar starts their training in the other 3 elements when they’re 14 years old. I don’t remember a single piece of my Airbending training,” I said.
There was a knock on the door and we all stopped, scared to death as the door opened to reveal Edmund. He was carrying a covered basket. Quickly, he shut the door behind him.
“ This cannot go any longer. I have held my mouth closed for too long and you girls need to get home to your families.... to your lives. I will not stand by to see more innocent girls die because they are protecting the secret of one. The Avatar was not chosen today. We received word from an Airbender who had a message from the Air King to send the surviving girls back home. His Majesty refused as usual but I made a plan to send you home. The world needs its Avatar to be fully prepared. Unfortunately the Avatar will have been suffering for the last 8 years and will not know their own birth element but I beg you to remember that this was the actions of one man. The rest of us are sworn in loyalty to him so we must obey his commands. Here... In this basket is a map of the world so you know where to go, some Water Tribe cloaks so you can get out of the city, a map of the city, and some supplies. Avoid main streets and take the alleys. It’s cloudy tonight so you can fly above them to get home,” said Edmund.
“ We can’t fly. We don’t have any gliders,” said Mandy, sadly.
“ Then jump from iceberg to iceberg but GO!! Now!!!” said Edmund. We nodded to him and quickly packed the few items that we had. I took the food in my bag and swung the cloak around me to conceal me. It was time to go home.
I touched Mom’s necklace that was hidden under my dress and said softly,” If all goes well, I’ll see you, Melanie, Dad and little Joseph soon, Mom.” I swung the hood over my hair and we crept out. We walked out the western gate of the palace and into the city that was booming with life and excitement. We ran up to the top of the Great Wall and jumped, using the air to land us safely on the iceberg.
After the city was out of sight, Mandy and Georgia taught the rest of us how to make air bubbles that would float us to Earth Nation. The people with practice managed to do it first. Me and Madison the youngest of the group were the last to make it.

9 Hours Later, we were at the edge of the Earth Nation. We set up camp in a grove of apple trees next to a pond. After we set up camp, Louise, Charlotte, Isabel and Georgia were put on hunting/gathering duty, Madison, Mandy and Jackie on water duty and me on fire/cooking duty. I collected firewood and stones and made a fire.
I wedged some branches in next to the fire and got out the cooking pot that was in the supplies that Edmund had given us. I hung it over the fire and Mandy and Jackie filled it up with water. I sliced up carrots and made a soup for us. We shared the crude bowls and utensils.
“ Ari, you’re on cooking duty from now on. This is delicious!” said Mandy. Everyone hurriedly agreed. Conversation turned onto what to do next.
“ We should head to the Northern Air Temple. It’s the closest Air Temple. We’ll tell them who we are and what happened to us,” said Charlotte.
“ We should get there within 5 hours of flying,” estimated Jackie, looking at a map.
“ First sleep. We’ll stock up on food and then fly,” I said, lying on my bedroll. I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
Mandy shook me awake in the morning and we cleaned up. I filled some bottles with water and took 5 apples for food during the flight. When everyone was ready, we took off and started flying towards the Northern Air Temple. As I flew closer towards it, I got more and more nervous.

I hadn’t seen my family in 8 years. Who said they would even recognize me? Would they mistake me for Melanie at first? Were they still alive? I took in a deep breath and relaxed. Everything was going to be fine. We landed at noon and ate lunch. I handed out a slice of bread to everyone and Madison brought back fresh pears and strawberries.

The Northern Air Temple was large with Airbenders flying in from everywhere. “ What do you think they’re doing?” I asked Mandy.

“ I don’t know, Ari. We better check it out,” said Mandy. We walked across the bridge and hid in the back of the courtyard where everyone was gathered. I looked ahead on the podium and saw some familiar faces: one the highest seat was Grandpa, looking a lot older than I remembered him.
On his left was Grandma, then his younger son, my Uncle Walter, his wife, Maria and their kids, Catherine and Mark. Dad sat on Grandpa’s right, with Mom next to him, then Melanie and Joseph. A chair stood empty. The chair where I was supposed to sit in.
“ Mandy, look! It’s Dad, Mom, Melanie and Joseph,” I whispered excitedly to her. The baby and this 8-year-old boy were almost unrecognizable. His hair was darker than mine and I knew he had the exact same eyes like me. But there was something about the face that reminded me of the baby whose image I’d kept in my mind after all these years. Mandy squeezed my hand and smiled.
“ We are here to crown Crown Prince Theodore Alfred the II and Princess Kaya as the new Air King and Queen on the orders of King Alfred Joseph the I. He will be succeeded by his son, Prince Joseph the III, and the Princesses, Melanie and Arianna, God rest her soul,” announced a man standing by them.
I looked at Melanie and felt like I was staring in a mirror. The face, color of hair was just like mine. I knew instantly that we were the same height and size. I watched as my father was crowned and felt pride for him.

I looked at Joseph again and saw him staring right at me with confusion on his face. Uh oh! I looked away and whispered to Madison,” I’ll be right back.” She nodded and I walked quickly away. The city was eerie and quiet. Without life. The Water Tribe had been full of life with the kids laughing, the ladies gossiping and the ordering around of me and everyone else. I heard cheers coming from behind me and I quickly walked forward towards a large temple.

It was made of marble and the roof leaned on columns. On a plaque were written the words: Temple of The Avatar. So this was one of the many Avatar Temples around the world. I remembered my mom and dad taking me and Melanie there every Sunday to pray.

I heard music playing and sounds of people having a good time from behind me. I tugged up my hood of my jacket and walked up to the doors. They were closed for some reason which I found weird.

“ Hello, child. What are you doing here?” asked a voice from behind me. I spun around and found an old man, standing behind me. He was wearing a white robe with a symbol on it: the symbol of the Avatar. He was obviously a Monk of the Avatar.
I bowed respectfully and said,” I’m just looking, sir. I haven’t seen an Avatar Temple since I was a little girl.”
“ Yet you are not very old even now. How old are you?” he asked, returning the bow.
“ Thirt... Fourteen, sir,” I answered, confidently.
“ Your birthday must have been not that long ago,” he answered.
“ It was yesterday,” I admitted.
“ So you are a candidate of the Avatar?” he asked.
“ I’m not exactly sure. Is it true that the Avatar wasn’t found? That they might not have even been reincarnated?” I asked.
“ If you’d taken the Test, you’d know better than I would but the rumors have been saying yes to both of those. But I don’t believe the second and there is still hope. Princess Arianna was born on the same day you were and you know what happened to her,” said the old man.
“ Kidnapped by her grandfather, right?” I asked, my blood turning to ice at the mention of my name.
“ Correct. Now, for proper introductions, my name is Filius,” he said, extending his hand out to me.
“ Hello, Filius. I’m Ari,” I answered, shaking it.
“ Would you like a cup of tea? I think you need some food because I can tell you’ve had quite a story,” he asked.
“ How did you...?” I asked.
“ You’re wearing a Water Tribe cloak, you look exhausted, half worked to death and your hands are bruised and have blisters,” he answered. “ Even a half-blind old man can sense that your life has been difficult. So about that tea?” I nodded and he beckoned me towards the back to the Temple.
His apartments were simple and quaint but they were homey and comfortable.
“ So, Ari? Is your situation child abuse? Bad parents? Or something else?” he asked, pouring me a cup of tea. I took a sip and thought for a second.
“ Yeah, a lot of child abuse but not from my parents. I haven’t seen them or my sister or brother since I was little. Mine is a ‘ special’ case, I guess,” I answered.
“ From whom?” he asked.
“ It’s a long story,” I answered, trying to avoid the question.
“ What about your parents? We can find them,” he said.
“ I know where they are. I saw them five minutes ago for the first time in a long time. It’s just I’m not ready. Do you understand that? I don’t know if they’ll even remember me or understand how I’ve changed because of HIM,” I answered, wrapping my hand in a fist and hitting the table.
“ Are you one of the poor girls who was kidnapped and taken to the Northern Water Tribe?” he asked. I nodded.
“ The rest of the girls are going to wonder where I am. I need to go. Thank you for the tea,” I said.
“ Wait. The princess.... is she still alive?” he asked.
“ Are you sure you want to know?” I asked, hesitantly.
“ Yes. That girl might as well be the Avatar!” he said, firmly.
“ Put two and two together, Filius. Goodbye, Filius,” I answered.

I ran out quickly into the parade. The girls were waiting where I’d left them.
“ You were away for a while!” said Madison.
“ Long story. Let’s go!” I answered.
“ Wait.... wait.... wait! What about your folks?” said Mandy.
“ Mandy, we haven’t seen our parents in eight years. They gave up hope of ever seeing us again 2 years ago! Now because everyone else failed the Avatar Test, I’m probably the stinking Avatar and I DON’T EVEN KNOW MY BIRTH ELEMENT CUZ OF MY LOVING ‘ GRAMPS’. Now can we go?” I hissed through my teeth.
“ She’s right. We all need to learn Airbending. Ari had just started lessons when we were all ‘napped and we all can’t remember a single move cuz of him. Then we can do loving reunions with our families. But, honestly, I’m kinda pissed at my folks. They all gave up hope and because of that, 12 of the original 20 are gone, bye-bye, in a better place. WE barely survived and it’s because of kind-hearted Edmund, we actually escaped. Otherwise, we’d all be dead,” said Charlotte.
“ That’s because they were out of resources, most likely. And we’d probably would have gotten out sooner or later. Ari could go all Avatar State on her grandpa and kick his butt,” said Mandy, smiling at me.
“ Who are you?” asked a voice behind us. We turned around and I went pale. Dark-blonde hair and gray-blue eyes. It was Joseph.
“ Melanie?” he said in surprise. “ Wait... you’re not Melanie!!”
“ You’re right. My name isn’t Melanie, it’s Ari. What’s yours?” I asked. No point in freaking him out.
“ It’s William,” he lied.
“ You’re a pretty bad liar. I’m going to take a wild guess. How about Joseph?” I said, smiling. His eyes went wide in surprise.
“ I’ll take that as a yes,” I answered.
“ Ari, we should go. Your Highness, you might want to get back to your palace,” said Mandy, grabbing my arm and dragging me away.
“ So, what’s the plan? We can’t just ask anyone: Hey, can you teach us Airbending?” asked Louise.
“ I can, for one. There’s a ton of people in this city who can and will if you’d just ask,” said a familiar voice from above us. We looked up and saw a hooded figure in a white robe with the Avatar symbol on it.
“ Filius?” I said, uncertainly because I couldn’t see their face and I wasn’t sure that old men would or should go climbing up on roofs.
“ Correct, joven princesa,” he answered, his voice taking on a weird accent as he pronounced the last words.
“ Um... Filius, is it? What do ‘ joven princesa’ exactly mean?” asked Charlotte.
“ Young princess, Charlotte but I’m not sure how I know that,” I answered.
“ You mean you don’t remember me, princesa. I know you were young when you were taken but I thought that you would have at least remembered me,” he answered, jumping off the roof and lightly landing on the balls of his feet.
I remembered his face, a lot younger-looking, saying to me,” Bend your wrist, joven princesa and you’ll do it.”
“ You were my Airbending teacher!” I gasped in realization.
“ Again, princesa, correct. Now, why don’t all of you come inside to the Avatar Temple and I’ll introduce you to some Air Kingdom food that you obviously haven’t had in a while and you can tell me about the last eight years,” he said.

In the main hall, we spread out mats and I helped him sit down as the others set out the food. I sat down next to Mandy and him and we all introduced each other.

“ I’m Mandy, that’s Madison, Charlotte, Louise, Georgia, Isabel, Jackie and you know already know Ari,” said Mandy, setting down a bowl of rice in front of us. A fragrant smell came out of a large bowl and remembering the apples, I cut them with a knife and laid them on a plate. We took off the cloaks for the first time in a whole day and Filius looked at us all with interest.

“ Out of 20 girls, only 8 survived. How?” he asked.

“ Easy, exhaustion, illness, not enough food, beatings for Airbending, not enough water. The last one was weird because the whole city was made of ice,” I answered, serving him some stew and then Mandy, Madison, everyone else then my bowl. Then were more than enough for everyone left in the pot. Filius handed me the rice and I nodded thank you. I spooned rice on my plate and handed it to Mandy.

“ So, what have we missed over the last eight years? I know that Dad was crowned. I saw that today. But what else?” I asked Filius.

“ The Eastern Air Temple was completely destroyed by your grandfather’s troops three years ago. Some of the refugees came here to find a new home and the Northern Air Temple really expanded. Your family comes down here every year to mourn for you girls. We’ve attacked many times and the palace was raided but we could never find you. Your father has been trying to make a plan to attack the Northern Water Tribe but he can’t find a way in, undetected,” said Filius.

“ We remember those attacks. We were locked in this room that had no way in or out except this trapdoor that they put a rug over,” said Jackie, taking a apple slice.

“ Ari, you have a gift with food,” said Madison, tasting the stew.

“ You made this!” said Filius, looking at me.

“ Weird, Mandy was the cook’s assistant but I’m the better cook,” I said, elbowing her in the ribs. Everyone laughed.

“ I hate kitchens. It was boiling hot and chaotic in there,” complained Mandy. We all laughed.

“ I would have switched. Being in a hot kitchen is a lot better than standing next to a river in the freezing cold, washing stuff. I always got a cold from it,” I answered.

“ Yes, but Cook was brutal with her ladle. I can’t tell you how many servants and me got hit, unsuspectingly, by that ladle. She was a force of discipline and fright,” said Mandy back. We laughed again.

“ So everyone was brutal there,” asked Filius.

“ No, Edmund was sweet. He always got us what we needed. New clothes, more food, thicker blankets in the winter. Also, Cook always made each of us a cupcake on our birthdays,” said Madison.

“ The food was okay... once you got over the weird ingredients. I have had enough of seafood,” I said, shuddering.

“ I’ve missed fruit so much like mangoes, apples, bananas and oranges. It was too cold up there for it to grow,” said Louise, biting into an apple slice.

“ So, you worked for your livings there. But I’m surprised you did too. I’d thought you’d be living in the palace under heavy guard, of course,” said Filius, looking at me.

“ He didn’t know which one of us was Arianna. We nicknamed her Ari and made her my little sister. He never suspected a thing and we all protected each other but I wish that more of us could have survived,” said Mandy, hugging me closely.

“ Didn’t you try to escape?” asked Filius.

“ Yes, once but we got captured and punished. We didn’t try again. Airbending was forbidden so there’s no way that any of us have mastered it and I’m seventeen!” said Mandy.

“ Poor Elizabeth. She was only four when we were all taken and was five when she died,” I said sadly.

“ Filius! Water Tribe warriors have entered the city. We have to open the doors so that the public can get in,” said a middle-aged monk, running in. He stopped as he saw us.

“ Alfred. We can’t. Only the Avatar can open or close those doors. Wait a minute...” said Filius, looking at me.

“ We don’t know, for sure, who’s the Avatar, Filius. The Test didn’t work and the only candidate who didn’t take it is...” said Alfred.

“ Right here. What should I do?” I asked.

“ You’re a candidate?” said Alfred.

“ Yes. My 14th birthday was two days ago. Now what should I do?” I asked.

“ We were all a little busy two days ago,” explained Mandy as Alfred’s eyes popped, seeing our Water Tribe clothing.

“ Can you get them some Air cloaks to cover them so the public doesn’t massacre her when she opens the doors?” asked Filius.

Alfred nodded and ran out again. I helped Filius up as he explained what to do,” You simply open the doors.... Ow! My back!.... and yell for everyone to run in the Air Temple. We’ll lock and bar the other entries inside.”

Alfred tossed us each a cloak which I wrapped around myself and fastened. The blue of the Water Tribe clothes were nowhere to be seen.

“ But, beware, if you’re not the Avatar, the doors will stun you and turn you into a piece of bacon the moment you touch them. You’re actually doing the Avatar Test, you know. So no pressure,” said Alfred.

“ Thank you for that, Captain Postive,” I snapped at him, standing in front of the doors.

“ Only all the monks in this Temple can open and close them simultaneously and since there’s six who are all over the city, we don’t have the time to get them,” said Alfred.

They were really big doors. Way too big and heavy for a skinny, weak girl of fourteen to open. I took a deep breath and placed my hand on the doors and pushed, waiting for the sting of the floor to hit me. Nothing. The doors moved easily, creaking a little bit and allowing the sun’s rays to light the dim Temple’s insides.

It was horrible outside. Women and children ran, screaming everywhere as familiar Water Tribe uniforms came, sending water everywhere.

I raised my voice and yelled,” Over here! Come on! Get into the Temple!” A women with four children saw me and ran, stumbling over dead bodies in the street. She fell and I made up my mind immediately. I ran towards her with Mandy screaming at me and helped her up. I took her baby and the hand of one of her children and together we ran.

I helped her inside the Temple and handed her back her baby.

“ God bless you, child. I thought these doors were closed for a minute but I must have been hallucinating or something,” she said, breathing heavily.

“ You’re safe now. I’ll get you some blankets for you and your children,” I said, helping her sit down.

“ Miss.... are you the Avatar? I saw you open those heavy doors all by yourself. Mama told me once that only the Avatar or all of the monks can open or close them,” said the oldest girl, around nine.

“ You’re a smart girl, aren’t you? So I’ll let you in on a little secret. I have no idea. My name is Ari, by the way. What’s yours?” I asked.

“ Madeline,” she answered, holding her little brother close to herself.

“ Do you take care of your little brother and sister whenever you can?” I asked. She nodded.

“ Do you see that girl over there? Talking to the monks. She reminds me a lot of you. Eight years ago, I was completely alone. I’d been taken away from my family and my friends. She helped me and became my big sister. I owe her a big debt because she helped me survive in what I thought was the worst place in the world. She loves me like a little sister and I’ve been thinking of her as my family for the last eight years.
Family and friends is more important than anything else in the world because they will always help you and never turn their backs on you. So remember that, little one,” I said, ruffling her hair. She giggled. I walked away to find blankets to hand out to everyone.
When I came back, the room had filled up with the old, injured, sick, children and women. We could hear the battle cries outside and the room trembled. I started to pass out blankets, one per person. Mandy followed my lead and soon all the girls and monks were helping.
Madeline smiled at me as I handed her a bowl of my stew. I’d started making more stew in the biggest pot that I could find. People were smiling at me and laughing as they talked. The monks had closed the doors an hour ago. There was no way that the Water Tribe would enter here and damaging a Avatar Temple was a big crime.
I looked at the big statue of Avatar Matilda, the last Airbender Avatar before me. I was fourteen years old and I hadn’t even mastered Airbending yet. I remembered the statue from when I was little. I’d always been looking at it because it looked familiar.
I walked over and pressed my hand on it and concentrated. A flash happened before my eyes. A tall woman with wavy blonde hair was ordering people around and a flash of a nearly-completed Temple that looked just like the one I was standing in.
“ Ari. Are you okay?” asked a voice.
“ Huh,” I said, confused, trying to sort through the visions.
“ Ari!” shouted a voice. I looked over at Mandy and smiled.
“ Fine. I’m just confused about something,” I said.
“ What happened? You’ve been standing here for five minutes!” said Mandy, concern in her voice.
“ I think I saw Avatar Matilda.... building this Temple. There’s a very strong connection to her with this Temple,” I said, shaking my head to get out the dizziness.
“ You saw a past Avatar.... by closing your eyes and leaning on a statue?” said Mandy, disbelief in her voice.
“ I know what I saw. It was just flashes of a memory. Remember the old story that Avatars can talk to their past selves for help. I think she’s trying to tell me something,” I said.
“ Yea, but that’s just a story,” said Mandy.
“ No, it isn’t. All stories have a grain of truth in them. The Avatar is the bridge between this world and the Spirit World. He or pardon, She can explore the past to discover the truth behind all the lies. They are also the only person who can master all four elements,” said Filius, walking over.
“ Yeah, but...”
“ Don’t ‘but’. Just accept it. There are some forces in the world like the Avatar or the weather that we will never understand and there is no point in trying to figure it out,” said Filius.

“ Right. I am a force that should not be tampered with,” I said, elbowing Mandy. Her eyebrow went up and she rolled her eyes, handing a bowl of stew to a little girl.

“ Did they make it here?” I asked Filius.

“ No, unfortunately not and from our scouts, the whole city has been taken. One of them reported that he’s looking for them and for you,” said Filius.

“ Me Avatar or me,” I lowered my voice,” Princess.”

“ Most likely, both,” he answered. “ Also, the monks are having a meeting and you should be there as the Avatar.” I nodded and followed him.

The room was smaller with the other five monks sitting on cushions. I sat down, keeping my eyes fixed on Filius.

“ Filius, what is that girl doing here? She’s not a monk!” said the youngest monk who looked around 18.

“ Marcus, hold your tongue. That ‘ girl’ is the Avatar. May I present Avatar Ari? If you’re wondering how the doors got open, she opened them,” said Filius.

Marcus narrowed his eyes at me in total disbelief. “ She’s Water Tribe! She has on Water Tribe clothes! I can’t believe she fooled you!”

“ I’m half-Water Tribe, half-Air Kingdom. I was born in the Southern Air Tribe after my twin. Filius knew me when I was little. He was my Airbending teacher. But I haven’t mastered Air yet,” I answered.

“ You were one of the girls who were taken,” said another monk, looking thunderstruck. I nodded.

“ There were twenty of us in the beginning. Only 8 survived. That so-called king caused the deaths of twelve innocent girls. But it was all him. One of his advisors helped us escape. Gave us maps, foods, cloaks so that we could finally come home, to our families and lives. The whole Water Tribe isn’t responsible for one man’s bad decisions,” I said, remembering Edmund and his kind act.
“ So, does anyone know how to evacuate the refugees?” said Filius.
“ What about the secret escape tunnels down the mountain?” asked Marcus.
“ That’s a good idea. Does anyone know the entrance to it?” I asked. Everyone shook their heads.
“ Only the Royal Family knows where it is,” said Filius, looking at me.
“ This is the first thing I’ve heard of secret tunnels,” I said, shrugging. Marcus’ eyes narrowed in confusion.
“ So, the only way to get these people to safety is the Royal Family and they’re currently missing! Anyone else got another idea?” said another monk.
“ Why don’t we just fly out? It’s so obvious that the Water Tribe won’t be expecting us to do it. We can sneak out the back doors quietly and just fly away in the night. No one looks up anyway and the darkness of the night will hide us. We can go to another Air Temple. Maybe the Eastern. It was destroyed so they won’t be expecting us to go there,” I answered.
“ Arianna, you are a genius. We do have a store of unused gliders here, in case some people don’t have any. So you and your friends can choose one for yourselves and we’ll give you some new clothes. We have some here also,” he said, eyeing my blue dress.
“ Thank you!” I smiled at him. The dress I was wearing wasn’t right for an Air Temple. It was too stiff and thick since it was made for the coldness of the north. I found a storage room where I could change and barred it with a door so no one could come in and surprise me.
The clothes were a gray, long-sleeved shirt, a light purple tunic to go over it, gray leggings and a gray, sturdy belt with a small pouch connected to it. I tucked Mom’s necklace under my shirt and put the money that Edmund had given us in it with a pear for later hunger. I swung the cloak around me and walked back into the sanctuary.

Mandy and the others looked relieved that they had changed out of their Water Tribe clothes and into Air Kingdom clothes. Mandy had let out her hair from its bun and was tying it behind her. I let my hair out of my braid and let it tumble down my back in messy curls.
I got a comb from Louise and started combing out the locks before she started working on my hair. Louise loved styling hair and she was good at it. I handed her the brush and she started combing faster. She brushed the top half of my hair and started braiding it. Then she brushed the rest and did a little bit of patting down and putting the hair where she wanted it.
“ Here, you go!” she said, handing me a mirror. I smiled as I saw myself.
“ Thanks, Louise,” I said, giving her a hug. Mandy handed me a bowl of stew and a piece of bread and I ripped off a piece and dipped it into the stew. The bread was crispy and well-made. The stew was warm and filling. After I was done, I curled up, drawing the blanket around me and using my arm as a pillow, fell asleep.
“ Ari!” The shout was loud. I felt something shake me hard and then felt something sharp and hard hit me in the back. My eyes flew open.
“ Ow....” I groaned, trying to remember where I was. Everything hit me at once. “What’s going on?” I said, my eyes adjusting to the darkness and the light from the candles.
“ We’re escaping! Come on!” said Mandy, tugging me up. I stumbled on my feet and grabbed my pack and tied it to my back. I took my glider and felt for the chain of my necklace to make sure it was there.
Filius led the way out and the monks were everywhere, making sure everyone got through. At the edge of the city, we opened our gliders and launched ourselves into the sky. It was as amazing as I remembered. The view was worth getting up in the middle of the night. We flew and flew and the landscape changed until we landed and just laid down, too tired to make a fire or set up a camp.
I woke up at the crack of dawn. Not wanting to wake anyone up, I silently jumped over the sleeping bodies and into the forest. I started gathering branches and rocks to make a fire and then came back and set it up. After 2 minutes, we had a nice, roaring fire going. I set up the iron posts and hung the pot over the fire.
I picked up two buckets and started looking around for food and a water source. I found a clean freshwater pond and lots of apple, pear and fig trees. I filled one bucket with fruit and another with water. Back and forth I walked until the pot was full and we had two extra buckets full of water for drinking.
I peeled two potatoes and cut them and popped them into the pot. I cut up some carrots and threw in some herbs. People started waking up. Mandy smiled and looked at the boiling soup.
“ What’s that?” she asked.
“ Potato and Carrot Soup and for sides, apples, figs and pears. Help me peel and cut them up?” I asked.
“ I’ll watch the soup and cut everything up. You better wash up!” she answered. I led the people to the pond to wash and comb our hair. I undid the loose braid and started combing through the tangled hair. Matilda smiled at me and waved and I smiled back, waving.
I tied back my hair and washed my face, scrubbing at the dirt that had developed over sleeping on the ground. At the campsite, I served everyone who was awake before sitting down and serving myself. Filius sat down next to me and held out his bowl for seconds. I spooned in a good amount.
“ How many people do we have here?” I asked.
“ Forty-five women and sixty-nine children, not including the monks. All the men fought and were either captured or were killed,” said Filius.
“ I hope they’ll be okay,” I said, mournfully.
“ They also captured or killed 96 women and 105 children, including your family. Nut our spies reported that they are still searching for them so they might have escaped through the secret tunnels. We’ll keep a lookout for them,” said Filius, patting my arm.
“ I hope they’ll be okay,” I said, staring into my bowl of stew. I set it down, my appetite gone.
“ Eat. You need your strength. Today, I’ll resume the Airbending lessons after we find shelter. Supposedly, there are inter-connecting caves around here. If we find one, then we’ll set up camp and I’ll teach you, the girls and all the young Airbenders. We’ll start from the beginning with you girls,” said Filius, handing it back to me.
I dug in my spoon and took a bite. Then my hunger came back and I started eating a little faster. I finished my bowl and spooned in seconds. After I was done, I packed up my blanket and said to Filius,” I’m going to look around for a town. So that we can get some tents and bedrolls to shelter us. Plus, food,” I added.
He nodded and I walked away. I remembered seeing a town before we landed so I climbed up a tree and looked around. Then I walked in the direction of it. The town was full of Earth Kingdom people with children laughing, playing a game that was with Earthbending and a ball.
I found a stand that sold bows and arrows. We needed something more than fruit like a plump rabbit, I reckoned.
I looked over the bows and chose one that wasn’t too heavy or too light. I took 2 quivers full of arrows when the shopkeeper came out, saw me and said, “ No! I do not sell to Air Nation scum!” He snatched back the bow and arrows from my hands.
“ Please. I can pay with money,” I pleaded, taking out 2 silvers. His eyes glistened.
“ Very well. But I’d get out of here. Water Nation soliders came, asking if any Air Nation people had come here. They offered a large amount of money for a girl of your description....” I clamped my hand over his mouth.
“ Please. Don’t tell them. They attacked the Northern Air Temple and took hundreds prisoner. The ones who escaped, including me, are injured and trying to battle shock. We need help so I wanted to buy a bow so we can get meat for the little children. The only men we have are the Avatar Monks. Swear by the Avatar that you won’t tell them that I was here,” I pleaded, releasing my hand.
“ The Avatar is gone,” he spat at me, taking back the bow.
“ She was taken with the girls who were kidnapped by the Water Tribe. But she’s back and with our group. Please...” I gave him the puppy eyes and his face softened.
“ I swear by the Avatar that I won’t say anything. Get out of here as fast as you can. You have to move. I won’t tell but the others might already have. Go!” he handed me the bow and arrows and waved away the money.
“ There! That’s the Air Nation Girl!” said a voice. I looked back and saw an Earth Kingdom man point at me with 3 soldiers dressed in Water Tribe clothes. Uh oh! I saw a bunch of tiles on the roof where they were standing. I sent out a wind and down the tiles went.
“ Thank you for your time! Bye...” I said, out of breath. I started running as fast as I can. The trees breezed by me as I ran and found the camp.
“ Okay.... We need to get out of here. The Water Tribe has alerted all the Earth Kingdom villages around here and offered a huge reward for any of us. Now is the time to MOVE, MOVE, MOVE.”

Everyone scrambled up and started to pack up camp. I opened up my glider and suddenly, sensed something. I lifted my hands and the water in the pots started to shake and came up and hardened into ice. Then something hit the ice, cracking it.
“ Uh....” I looked at Filius for an explanation. His mouth was wide open in shock.
“ Apparently, you’re a natural at Waterbending?” he said, trying to convince me though his voice sounded unconvinced.
“ Let’s go!” I said as the ice cracked again. I could see figures through the ice. The water melted and swirled around us. I sent it up and shakily threw it at them. I tossed my glider in the air and leapt on. Filius was right behind me and we flew as fast as we could towards the mountains. We crossed the mountains and landed in the valley in front of a cave.
I walked inside, holding out a torch and saw that this cave had three chambers. Filius directed everyone to go inside the final chamber.
I sat down and started making a fire for warmth. When I was done, I saw women smoothing long sticks and pounding stones with a stone to make a sharp point for hunting spears. Children were fetching water and women were weaving baskets and teaching their children how to make them.
I Bended the water into the cauldron to make peppermint tea with leaves that some kids found. I dumped the tea into the water and picked up the half-done basket that I’d been working on. I bent the sticks in place and Madeline came over with a few kids.
“ Is it true you’re the Avatar?” asked one of the younger.
“ Apparently. I was able to open the doors at the Temple and well, I can Waterbend. But my mother is a Waterbender so...” I left it off.
“ You look a lot like Princess Melanie. Except your hair’s curly and the eyes also,” said another girl.
I laughed. “ I would hope so. She’s my twin. I haven’t talked to her for eight years. I haven’t talked to any of my family in eight years. Just saw them at the coronation,” I said, staring into my basket.
“ How did you get taken?” asked Madeline.
“ My dad told me to run and hide. I’d been with my mom before the attacks started. I ran into my room and hid in the wardrobe. Some Water Nation soldiers found me before long and they managed to get out of the Temple. I blacked out when they got out and woke up in a closed up cart. There were nineteen other girls. We made a plan to not tell the Water Tribe King which one of us was the Princess and Mandy became my big sister. She’s taken care of me all these years. She helped me survive,” I said, bending the sticks a little quicker.
“ That was smart for you guys,” said Madeline.
“ Well, every action has consequences. We were forced to be slaves. The lucky ones were maids for the nobility or kitchen maids. They got to stay inside in the warmth. Me and a few others had to wash the clothes in the freezing cold river. There wasn’t always a lot of food for all of us or even water. You can’t drink ice so many of us would drink from the river. But there were a few kind-hearted people. On our birthdays, the cook made us cupcakes as a present. Edmund, an advisor to my grandfather, helped us escape. We would be still stuck there, missing grass and the sun and freedom,” I said, finishing.
“ Can you show us a little Waterbending?” asking a girl.
“ I don’t know. I can’t control it,” I said. “ But this tea is obviously done. Who wants some?”
All the kids raised their hands. They pulled out their cups and I Bended the tea into each one. Their eyes grew wide. I ruffled the hair of one and laughed for the first time in a long time. Everyone came up and I spooned in tea. They bowed and said,” Thank you!”
I sipped on a cup and finished my basket. I washed my bloody hands and asked,” Filius? Can you watch the fire? I’m going hunting and gathering.” He nodded and I pulled on the bow and arrows. I remembered learning how to shoot when I was little. Now was the time to see if I remembered everything.
I ran into the woods and quietly moved, jumping from tree to tree. I spotted a rabbit and slipped an arrow, aimed and shot. The arrow punched into the rabbit and I jumped down.
“ Yes!” I picked up the dead rabbit, cut out my arrow and cleaned it on the grass. At the end of my hunting trip, I had 3 rabbits and a deer. I picked raspberries and apples and carried my hunt of the day to the cave.
“ Woah!” said Filius, staring at me with all my catch.
“ Apparently, I’m a good hunter. Now, let’s make dinner!”

Soon, the deer and rabbits were steaming on the fire. I cut up the apples and carrots that people had brought from the woods.

A few women were helping set up the dinner table with using mats all over the ground and blankets as cushions to set on.

Filius waved me over. I asked Martha and her daughter, Daphne to watch the meat. I grabbed my glider and walked over.

“ Airbending lessons! Come on!” he said, clapping his hands. The class was of 85 kids and the eight of us girls.

“ Alright!” he said. I learned how to make a mini tornado and how to control the wind currents around me.

Then was the dueling. Filius set me up with Madison. She started circling the air currents around her and shot them at me. I projected a Air bubble that protected me.

I opened up my glider and sent a wave of air at her. Her eyes widened in fright as she hit the wave and hit the wall.

“ Alright. Practice time’s over,” said Filius.

The children had stocked up on berries and one of the women was making roasting the deer and the last rabbit. They’d also created more bows and arrows and were teaching themselves to shoot by doing it at the trees.

I collected more water for the pots and found more firewood for the fire. In the caves, I stacked the wood near the fire and set the buckets by the other full water buckets. A woman called Jessica had found spices like cinnamon, salt, sugar and others. I sprinkled spice over the roasted deer and then she started carving the meat into fair portions for everyone. Some kids had also found nuts and tonight we ate roasted nuts and meat with coffee.

I lay down next to Mandy and closed my eyes. We could survive and stay hidden from the Water Tribe for a while. We could survive this war.

I woke up in the morning and yawned. I could see a flicker of light through the cave and guessed it was dawn. I got up and quietly tiptoed through the sleeping bodies to the entrance of the cave. The river was quiet and warm. I slipped under the warm water and started scrubbing away the dirt and sweat of the last few days. I undid the falling away braid and scrubbed my hair, getting all the dirt, grime and sweat that was lodged in my hair. I let it hung down my back until it dried.

Back in the cave, I restarted the fire and toasted the remains of last night’s dinner. People started waking up and rushing outside to do their morning things.

“ Hello, Arianna. How was your sleep?” asked Gloria, a seventy-year-old woman who was very agile and strong for her age. She’d been taking care of four of her grandchildren when the Water Tribe had attacked. She hadn’t seen her husband, children and other eight grandchildren since. She guessed they were either dead or captured.

“ Pretty good. How about you and Matthew, Amanda, Joshua and Luka?” I asked.

“ They slept good and so did I. They’re getting washed up at the river and I’m guessing you took a bath before anyone was awake,” she said, eyeing my slightly wet clothes and hair.

“ Yes. I needed a good wash. And so did these clothes. I’m used to doing it. Just not in a warm river. The rivers at the North Pole are REALLY cold. But you did what you had to do, to stay warm and clean,” I answered, handing her a leg and some nuts.

“ Yes. I’ve heard of those cold rivers from your mother. She was relieved to get away from that snow and ice and into the grass, trees and warmth of the Earth Kingdom,” said Gloria, stroking my hand.

“ Now, sweetie, I’ll pass out the food and you can take the children out berry-picking and to the meadow to weave blankets and baskets. How about that?” she asked.

“ Do we have any thread?” I asked.

“ Someone picked up eighteen baskets full of weaving materials and I know you can find branches in the forest,” said Gloria, pointing to a stack of materials.

And that’s how I came into a meadow with a crown of flowers in my hair and teaching the kids how to weave baskets and blankets, even the boys. Then when a few were done, I sent some boys out to pick berries at the nearby raspberry bushes that were in sight.

When the kids complained, I told them,” Make two baskets and two blankets each and then you can go pick berries.”

They started weaving faster and when all were done, I sent them picking berries while I stacked up the blankets and extra baskets and kept weaving blankets for the elderly who needed a few more blankets to help with their aching bones. Plus, maybe soon everyone could have their own to make it into a pillow.

I weaved three more blankets and then brought the kids back in the cave with the baskets full of berries and more blankets. I passed them out to the elderly and then to the monks who were all reaching their old years except one.

Then I passed the remaining ones to the people farthest away from the fire at night. I started cutting up carrots and other vegetables to make into a stew. Then I turned pork into meatballs and tossed them in.

I started weaving another blanket as I watched the soup. When it was done, I tasted some and started serving it out. We could survive like this. Surviving with our skills and off the land. Maybe one day we’d make it to an Air Temple... if we could last out this war. If everyone could.

Three weeks later, we were flourishing. We’d put up tents and some of us had managed to find some spinning wheels and find some stray sheep. We’d sheared them and started teaching the kids how to spin it into wool to make into blankets and more tents.

We’d also make spears and a lot of women had improved their aim. We had organized ourselves with three fires with tents all around them. It was five people to a tent which was pretty good.

We had stocked enough berries and water to last out a while and had enough meat to feed all of us for a week. I’d frozen the meat so it won’t rot.

I turned over the deer that was roasting on the fire that I was charge of. We’d divided the responsibilities of the camp. I was one of the people in charge of hunting and one of the five cooks of the five campfires. Each campfire had one cook. We’d voted on the best cooks in the camp and I had been nominated and voted on.

Everyone was in charge of weaving their own extra blankets and tents. Some women were in charge of spinning more wool and the seamstresses made more clothes for people who’s clothes were too threadbare or didn’t have thick enough clothes for the winter.

Someone had already spun the eight of us girls thicker clothes since it was becoming chilly. I heated up the fire with throwing more firewood inside. The only element that I had trouble with was Fire. Earth and Water came naturally to me. Fire was the only one that I couldn’t Bend. Filius had explained to me that every Avatar had trouble with one element that was completely opposite of their personalities.

Since Fire represented hotheadedness and passion, I was very different. I thought things through. I was a think-first-then-act kind of person. Eight years on the Water Tribe had taught me control and to hide my emotions so people didn’t know what I was up to.

Firebenders were completely different. They just did. They didn’t think of plans: what to do, where to go, how to blend in. They just stormed in and did. But they’d been smart to stay out of this war.

Me and Melanie had grown up with the Fire Lord’s children: Sasha, Morto, and Sapphire. Me, Sasha, and Melanie had been best friends when we were little. I wondered if Sasha even remembered me now. Eight years was a long time.

All of a sudden, the ground started to shake. Tents fell down from the flimsy sticks that held them up and the baskets of fruit tipped over. The water from the water baskets suddenly lifted up unnaturally and flew towards us. Waterbending.
I jumped up and ran towards Madeline who was in the way of one of the water. I stepped in front of her, protecting her with my body. The water hit my body and froze around me.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move or even blink. I could only watch as Water Tribe soldiers and Earth Kingdom soldiers stamped in. There was screaming and chaos and more people were frozen, cased in ice like I was.
I felt blackness overtake me. I was dying, I knew immediately and there was nothing I could do. I felt the ice melt into water and I fell on the ground, gasping for breath.
“ Tie them up! Including her! She lasted in the ice for five minutes and survived. I want to talk to her!” said a loud voice.
I felt someone grasp my wrists and tie something coarse and hard around them tightly. I groaned loudly in pain. I felt someone pick me up and we started moving.
“ Take the food they have. We need it for our soldiers,” said another voice. It’s our food, ours! I wanted to yell but my tongue felt heavy and useless. I gave in to the darkness and was unconscious quickly.
When I woke up, I felt like I was rocking back and forth. I recognized the sensation immediately and groaned. I was on a ship... again! I got up, rubbing my sore wrists and tried to look for a door where I was in. Nothing. Not even a window. I was completely sealed in.

I tried to find a crack in the wall or an outline of a door. In the corner, I found one but I couldn’t open it and neither could Airbending. The air ducts were too small for me to climb through so I was officially stuck here. Great.
A small slot opened by the outline of the door and a tray was slid in. The outline of the slot was so small that I doubted that my hand could get through. There was no way I was getting out of here anytime soon.
On the tray was some simple rations like the ones I’d eaten for eight years: a glass of water and a few slices of hard bread. I thought hungrily about the deer I’d been roasting before. Bet that they were eating that upstairs while they gave us what they’d been starving on for weeks.
I ate slowly, tearing off small chunks of bread to satisfy me and to save some for later. I slid the remaining pieces of bread in my pocket as the door opened and a man walked in.
“ So, you’re the girl who survived the ice? My name is Chief Koroyaki. I’m the chief of the Southern Water Tribe,” said the man. He was old, around the age of my father with the air and confidence around him that he thought he was the best person in the world and deserved to rule it. I hated snobs like him.
I kept my mouth wisely shut or I would have been calling him a few names that he would have strangled me for. He raised an eyebrow.
“ No name or anything. Do you have one, little girl?” he said, leaning down. His breath smelled like deer and unwashed socks.
“ Call me ‘little girl’ again and I’ll show you the view of the floor. At least then, I don’t have to smell your bad breath,” I said, raising my eyes to his. His eyes bulged and a vein on his forehead started pulsing.
“ Well, you have a bad mouth. We might need to wash it out,” he said.
“ Or you have bad ears. Then you might need to get a hearing aid,” I spat back. That only made him laugh.
“ Come with a walk with me, whatever-your-name-is. You interest me,” he said, offering his hand to help me up. I frowned, not trusting him.
“ Or... you could stay in here for three weeks,” he offered. I took his hand and he pulled me up.
“ So... what’s your name, child?” he asked.
“ Ari,” I answered simply.
“ Ari. It’s a pretty name. You may call me Nathan,” he said, taking my arm as we walked out of the prison cell.
“ That deer? Did you cook it?” he asked.
“ And hunt it. It took me three hours to get it so that all of us could feel full for once but you all ate it,” I said, glaring at him.
“ I’m sorry. We could not resist. We’ve been living on those hard rations for weeks,” he said.
“ And I’ve been living on them for the last eight years. It isn’t as bad as you’d think,” I answered.
“ Why would you have been living on them for eight years? You must have grown up in an Air Temple,” he asked. I avoided answering the question.

“ So, let me guess, we’re on the way to the Southern Water Tribe,” I said, staring out on the water.
“ How would you know that?” he asked.
“ You’re from the Southern Water Tribe. This ship is shaped differently than a Northern Water Tribe. There are many similarities but the hull is different and made out of a different material than the Northern Water Tribe,” I answered.
“ You’re very observant but how would you have had the chance to study a Northern Tribe ship? They guard their ships like they were their babies. You wouldn’t have been able to get close enough,” said Nathan.
“ I grew up in the Northern Water Tribe for eight years as a slave. You’d be surprised how much a slave can see things. You see them but they don’t see you,” I answered.
“ You were one of those twenty girls, weren’t you?” said Nathan.
“ Yes, yes, I was. But only eight of us survived up there. I hope more of us survive this time. I hope more than 1/4 of us survive this time. Otherwise, the Air Kingdom is dead,” I said, sadly.
“ How old are you?” he asked.
“ Fourteen,” I answered.
“ You’re very mature for a fourteen-year-old. I guess you’ve seen and experienced things that required you to grow up fast,” he said.
“ When I was six, I saw a four-year-old girl beaten to death for Airbending. For trying to cool down her soup. Since then, I’ve had to grow up fast. I never got my childhood back when the Water Tribe captured us,” I answered.
“ We won’t separate families. Families deserve to stay together,” he said.
“ Are you sure you haven’t already separated them? All of our men are either dead, injured or captured. I haven’t found my family yet. When I came back into the city, I saw them briefly but then the attacks started. I will never see my family again. My parents, my brother and sister. They’re gone. I don’t know if they’re dead or alive. If they’re dead, that means I have a lot of responsibility to take over as my father’s daughter and my mother’s daughter,” I asked.
“ You’re half Water Tribe, aren’t you?” said Nathan.
“ My mother was from the Northern Water Tribe,” I answered.
“ So, when you were up at the North Pole, why didn’t you go to your mother’s relatives and ask for protection?” he asked.
“ Because that was the last thing I wanted to do,” I answered.
He looked confused and then changed the subject:” So if you want to give everyone a full meal, I suggest that you work with the cook and cook meals.”
“ And why would I do that?” I asked.
“ You can cook fresh meals. Spend more time outside your jail cell and get fresh food to your friends,” he answered. I thought quickly and nodded my head.
“ Good. I’ll take you to the ship kitchen. You can meet the cook and start working,” he said.
The ship’s kitchen was huge with people running around everywhere. Guys cut up carrots or crushed berries to make into jam. I think I knew where those berries came from. One of our rabbits was roasting on the hearth.
“ Al, this is Ari. Ari, this is Cook Albert or Al,” said Nathan. The cook, who was mixing something in the pot, turned around and looked up and down at me.
“ Air Kingdom girl... bah,” he said, turning back around.
“ Thanks for not judging me... sir,” I said, not bothering to hold back all the hatred that I had right there.
“ Ari is the one who made that deer. Hunted and cooked it herself. I recruited her for the kitchen. If you play nice, she’ll make it again,” said Nathan.
“ Hey! I never said that,” I said. The cook looked at me with a level of distaste.
“ That deer had a master’s touch. She’s a child. She didn’t make that deer. She’s lying,” said the cook.
“ Are you sure? Ask any person who was there. I hunted that deer, I killed it and I cooked it. I’m good at cooking. So you can bug off and start learning some respect, buzzo,” I answered.
Nathan hid a grin behind his hand. “ I’ll leave you two alone. Who knows we’ll eat good tonight?”
“ Okay... little girl. Let’s see what you’ve got. There’s a pot. Make a soup or a stew for lunch. Then we’ll see how good you are or if you’re just playing with Mommy’s apron,” he said.
“ My mother never cooked. She didn’t have the skill of cooking,” I answered, looking him square in the eye.
“ Who did it then? Your big sister?” he asked.
“ The only big sister I have is my twin... and she was like my mom. Had an interest in cooking but the reason why we had so many fires. I stayed away from the kitchen as a young child,” I answered.
“ You have a twin? I had a lesser twin myself. Who’s the lesser twin? You or your sister?” he asked.
“ I.... don’t know. I haven’t spoken to her in eight years,” I answered. His eyebrows went up.
“ I was one of the girls who were taken eight years ago. I’m not thrilled to be going back to the frozen glaciers,” I added, throwing some wood into the fire to heat it up. I took the pot out and washed it throughly.
“ Smart girl to wash it beforehand. What are you going to make?” he asked.
“ Pork Meatball Soup, my favorite,” I answered. His eyes bulged.
“ That’s a Water Tribe delicacy. How do you know that recipe?” he asked.
“ My mom’s Water Tribe. She taught me the recipe when I was little. It was one of the times the kitchen DIDN’T blow up,” I answered, finding some pork in the cupboard. I filled the pot with water then ground it and shaped it into meatballs. I threw the meatballs into the boiling water and added carrots and other veggies.
Soon, a delicious smell was coming out of the cauldron. Chef Al’s eyes glinted and his stomach rumbled.
“ I’ll have to taste it, just to make sure it’s good for the soldiers to eat,” he said.
“ Sure. Or you’re hungry. But I’m not an unkind person. Here,” I said, spooning some into a bowl and handing him a spoon.
He raised his eyebrows and bowed his head in my direction. “ Looks like I misinterpreted you, Ari. You aren’t a clueless little apprentice. You just have a personality that doesn’t like anyone to just step on you and walk away,” he said. He took his first bite and his eyes widened in surprise.
“ No. It’s more like I’m a survivor. I managed to survive the worst place that I could have ever been and it’s made me stronger. Like that saying, ‘ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ That happened to me as well,” I said.
“ You’re a natural. I’ve never seen such untapped potential in a single person. If you listen to me.... and keep your mouth shut, I’ll teach you all I know,” he said, eating more quickly.
“ I don’t know. I’d love to but I have this other responsibility. One that’s really important. I’m already behind but I guess I can learn from you,” I answered.
“ Once we get to the Southern Water Tribe, you will be a major aspect of the kitchen,” said Chef Al.
“ Thank you, sir. But I’ll must rather be a helper. I don’t like attention. Plus, there are much more experienced women on board who also can help. I’ll be fine washing clothes and getting water,” I answered.
“ With your gift? You can’t be out washing clothes and getting water for someone!” he said.
“ But someone else will if I don’t. If an old woman has to do it, the cold will do her in. I’m young. My body can fight the cold and disease. But some of my people are old and fragile. They’ll survive better inside with the fires and warmth. If I save a life with washing clothes and being exposed to the elements, then I’m happy to do it,” I answered.
“ You love your people. I respect you even more for that. You show proper respect for the elderly and your Nation by helping. So I will give you something that will give you hope. Your Princesses and Princes are onboard.... Well, except Arianna, wherever she is,” said Chef Al.
“ What? Princesses Melanie and Catherine and Princes Joseph and Mark? They’re onboard. Where?” I asked.
“ One of the holding cells in the hull. The one next to yours if I remember correctly. It’s where we keep important people,” said Al.
“ How were they captured? We were told they escaped,” I said.
“ One of the Earth villages captured them and gave them to us. We also nearly got Princess Arianna or the Avatar. But she escaped,” said Al.
“ So there’s still hope. What about the King, his wife and Prince Walter and Princess Maria?” I asked.
“ Taken up to the Northern Tribe. Can’t believe our King would separate those poor kids from their parents,” he said.
“ Don’t worry. He’s done it before. To 20 families. Now twelve families will never see their daughters again,” I answered, serving out portions of soup into bowls. A guy with brown hair started to help me and smiled at me when I looked at him.
“ This is Alex, Nathan’s son,” said Al. Alex was hot with silky brown hair that fell into his eyes and large blue eyes with long black eyelashes. He was muscular and a hint of a blush rushed into his cheeks as I looked at him.

I smiled at him and spooned soup into the bowls a little faster. I set up the trays for my people. Apparently, there were six people to jail cell so I spooned in soup to a tiny pot and put six bowls on the tray with six spoons. Then I put half a loaf of bread and six glasses with a jug of water.

“ So you’re an Air Kingdom girl. Is it true you can fly?” asked Alex.

“ Is it true Water Tribe people are cannibals?” I said with fake horror.

“ You’re pretty cute when you’re feisty. It was a simple question,” he said.

“ So was mine. Yes, Air Kingdom people can fly... if you’re a Bender. So, are you a Bender?” I asked.

“ Yes. And I’m pretty sure I’m not a cannibal,” he answered. I smiled at him and finished setting up the trays. A man with a cart came by and collected the trays.

“ I need to go. Bathroom,” I blushed to show my embarrassment and walked quickly out with the cart. I helped him slide in the trays to the cells.

When I saw a bathroom, I went in quickly and, when I was done,wandered back into the kitchen. Alex was gone. Chef Al handed me a clean apron and assigned me to cutting up more vegetables. When I was done, he handed me the heavy pot full of leftover soup and a gigantic spoon.

“ Go and serve the soldiers. Jackson, help her and take her to the mess hall,” said Al.

After serving the soldiers, I was taken back to my cell with a tray of food for me to eat.

Every day, I was released out of my cell and under close watch, worked from dawn to dusk in the kitchen. At dusk, I was given a tray of food and escorted back to my cell. They definitely weren’t taken any chances that I would escape or get to talk to my people or sister, brother and cousins.

This went on for two weeks until we reached the Southern Water Tribe. The architecture was completely different than from the Northern Water Tribe. The North Pole had gigantic buildings and canals everywhere. The South Pole was smaller buildings everywhere, surrounding a gigantic palace with a gigantic wall surrounding the buildings.

We were herded out the ship like cattle with soldiers surrounding us. Children cried in their mother’s arms from the sudden bitter cold. Filius saw me and tried to get towards me. I took a step towards him and felt someone’s hand grab my arm. I looked around to the owner of the hand.

It was Al. He shook his head quickly and said, “You can catch up with them later.” I nodded and stayed next to him. Two girls and two boys were herded out, completely surrounded by soldiers.

Mark was sixteen, two years older than me and Melanie if I remembered correctly. He had blonde hair but it was darker than the average Airbender. His eyes were stormy gray, the exact eyes of his dad that my father also shared and that had been passed down to Melanie.

Catherine was thirteen, born 9 months after me and Melanie. Her eyes were green, like her mother’s and she had the same dark blonde hair like her brother. Aunt Maria’s mother had been from the Earth Kingdom so Maria had green eyes and auburn hair.

Melanie stood next to Catherine, holding Joseph's hand. It was creepy how similar we were. I didn’t understand how we’d ever gotten used to it. Nathan came up to them and bowed respectfully. They bowed back and they were led into the palace.

“ Creepy. For a second, I thought that princess was you. You all look too similar with your light hair and grey eyes,” Al said.

“ Weird. But we’re used to it. It’s like here as well. You all have dark hair, skin and blue eyes. Earth Kingdom people have black hair and green eyes. Fire Nation has red hair and amber or hazel eyes. It depends where you come from,” I answered.

“ Still, from the way Alex keeps staring at you and from looking at the other Air Nation girls, you are a very beautiful Airbender,” said Al.

“ I wouldn’t know. I’ve spent too much time away from them,” I answered.

“ Were you mistreated at the North Pole?” he asked.

“ Yes... and no. We were forced to become slaves at young ages: to collect water, cook food, be ladies’ maids, make fires. When we arrived, the oldest was nine, the youngest was four. I was six at the time but after a year, I was the youngest still alive. We were brutally punished when we did things wrong, weren’t quick enough to respond, or even Airbended. That’s how Elizabeth died at age four. She Airbended a tiny tornedo because her food was too hot. She was whipped and died a week later. The Healers were ordered to do nothing. She could have survived and grown up into a strong, beautiful Airbender but that choice was taken away from her. Like the eleven others.

There was never enough food or even water. We dehydrated quickly and had to do the hardest tasks with empty bellies. Some tried to steal food and some succeeded but others didn’t. That’s how Lily died. Stole a crust of bread because her friend was weakened from not enough food. A assistant saw her and reported her.

But there were nice people. A man who helped us get away. The cook who was always kind to us. Helped us by sneaking more food and baking cupcakes for our birthdays.”

“ You’ve had a hard life obviously,” he answered.

“ I’ve watched people younger than me starve and die. I’ve had my fill of death and losing the people I love,” I answered, keeping my face hard. Al chose not to say anymore.
We were taken into the palace and given our jobs. I was immediately made a scullery maid. My ‘ room’ was the pantry, next to the warm fire. I dropped my small bag of possessions on the cot before climbing up the stairs to start my work.

Immediately, I was sent for wood and given the task of starting a fire. After changing into a blue dress, a cloak with a hood and a clean but threadbare apron, I was given the task of taking a pot of soup and bowls and a loaf of bread to my family.
My nerves fired up as I walked up the flight of stairs up to the North Tower of the palace. The door was barred so I lifted it up and carried the tray into the room. As I carried the tray and set it on the table, I talked to the four people trying to escape out the open door,” You won’t make it past the courtyard.”
“ How did you see us? Your back is turned!” asked a voice that sounded strangely familiar.
“ I’m not a complete idiot and I am a expert on escaping. Now, I suggest eating, Your Highnesses. You need to keep up your strength,” I answered, keeping my head bowed as I walked out of the room.
“ Stop.... You remind me of someone,” said another feminine voice.
“ No idea who I’d remind you of, Your Highness. Now, I have chores. Goodbye,” I answered, a little too quickly for my liking.
I felt a hand grab mine as I took a step forward. It pulled me back and before the four of them. I kept my head bowed and was thankful for the hood covering my hair.
“ Your name please!” said Mark.
“ Sorry... classified information,” I answered and tried to push past them. Melanie suddenly turned pale as I looked up at her.
“ Mel... are you alright?” asked Catherine.
“ I... I thought..” she stammered.
“ Are you alright?” asked Mark, helping her sit down at a chair.
When I looked around, I saw their apartment was really nicely furnished. A table was by the locked and barred small window. There were four small beds and carpets and trunks to hold clothing and possessions.
I started to slide towards the door. “ Don’t move!” came a yell. I went faster and felt the air slam me back into the wall. I heard a loud Crunch! from where I hit the ice and I felt my necklace swing out of the dress and hit me in the face.
“ S-She looks j-just like m-me!” said a voice a little far away. I heard footsteps come towards me and I groaned in pain. Something trickled down my face. I wiped it away and opened my eyes to see what it was.
Dark red blood stained my hand. I was bleeding hard. I felt a hand grab my shoulder and lift me up into a sitting position. I groaned again and lifted my hand to my face to block out the fuzziness.
I closed my eyes and reopened them, trying to blink away the fuzziness. I felt something fall against my back and a scream.
My vision cleared and I was looking into 4 scared but concerned faces.
“ Ow... That’s why you do NOT throw or Airbend someone into an ice wall. It’s dangerous,” I muttered.
“ That’s Ari. She still has the same personality and sarcasm,” I heard someone say.
“ Sarcasm, definitely. Personality, I don’t think so. What’s up, cuzs and sis?” I said, cracking open an eye.
Melanie squealed and leapt into my arms. Mark and Catherine looked at us, smiling.
“ I missed you so much. Losing your twin is like losing a part of yourself,” she said.
“ I missed you too. Who else completely understands me? Wait.... me!” I said, hugging her back.
Melanie smiled through her tears.
“ Where have you been? How did you get away? How did you end up here?” Melanie asked.
“ Northern Water Tribe. Escaped with help from a Water Tribe guy. Um.... got captured with the rest of the survivors from when they attacked the Northern Air Temple,” I answered.
“ You were there?” said Catherine.
“ Just in time for the coronation. I spent most of the time with Filius and the Avatar Temple. Then they attacked and I helped get women and children inside the Temple. We managed to get off the mountain a few days later,” I answered.
“ How did we miss you?” said Mark.
“ Um... we were in the back. We wore blue cloaks but Joseph actually saw me. He thought I was you,” I answered.
“ Who is she?” asked Joseph, looking curiously at me.
“ Joey, this is Arianna, my twin. Remember Mom told you how Grandpa attacked and took her with some other girls?” said Melanie. Joseph nodded.
“ Yea, if twenty girls are ‘some’?” I mumbled.
Joseph looked at me with wide eyes.
“ Why didn’t you try to get away?” he asked.
“ Oh, we did. But it isn’t that easy when you’re barely able to Airbend and stuck on a floating piece of ice like we are now, Joseph.”
“ It’s Joey, J-O-E-Y. Not Joseph,” he answered.
“ Ok, Joey. Then it’s Ari for me, A-R-I,” I said, ruffling his hair.
“ So, how many people were with you?” asked Mark.
“ Around ninety. They’re working around the palace,” I answered.
“ What about you?” asked Catherine.
“ I’m a decent cook and they like my cooking but I refused the position of cook for scullery maid. I made that soup that I brought in. You should eat it. It’s pretty good if I’ll say so myself,” I said, pointing at the tray on the table.
Joey sprang up, grabbed a bowl, and spooned in a portion of soup.
“ It’s Meatball Soup! My favorite!” he said.
“ You can cook?” said Catherine in disbelief.
“ I tried a few weeks back and apparently, I’m a natural. And to think that I spent most of my childhood avoiding the kitchen and explosions,” I said, looking at Melanie.
She went red.
“ I need to go. I’ve got to eat my own lunch but I’ll try to come with the dinner tray, ok?” I said, hugging the four of them.
“ Bye,” they said as I walked out the door and barred it.
I ran down the stairs and put up my hood. In the kitchen, I grabbed a bowl, spooned in a good portion and scrambled into the pantry. Sitting down on my cot, I took the water from my cup and Bended it onto my face and the sore places on my skin.
My mother had been a Healer. When I was little, she’d healed all my bruises, blisters, scratched knees and other injuries. I felt the familiar sensation of the healing water and the room flickered with a strange blue light.
For the rest of the day, I worked at dusting all the scrolls and books in the Great Library. The Great Library was a gigantic place with staircases and bookshelves, reaching the high glass ceiling, over pouring with books and scrolls. I absentmindedly dusted a shelf and sent scrolls to the ground.
They spilled open on the ice-cold ground, showing diagrams of a man in a blue robe Bending Water and of the stances with words on the sides. I picked up the scrolls and returned all but one to the shelf. I hid the other one in my pouch that I had tied around my waist.
When the bell rung four times, I helped Al cook dinner for the entire Water Tribe. There were fifteen cooks and tons of assistants in the kitchen. The head chef was Head Chef Johann. He was a beefy man with a bad temper and a tendency to hit unsuspecting assistants and cooks with his ladle.
After cutting up tomatoes and potatoes, I grabbed a bread roll and went into my cot, taking a well-deserved break. I needed to find a way to learn Waterbending without anyone finding out, I thought, leaning against the warm wall.
First, I needed a large source of water. Not a problem. Second, I needed the perfect place so that no one could hear or see me. Third, when could I do it? The only free time I had was during meal times, one break per day and sleeping time and I needed all three desperately.
If I could somehow sneak out tonight and find a place where no one could see me or hear me teaching myself how to Waterbend and keep on borrowing Waterbending scrolls and watch the Bending teachers, I’d master Waterbending in a few years.
Plus, I knew I’d be stuck here for a while. It took me and seven other girls eight years to escape last time. How was I going to get out of here with 98 people?
We’d need a miracle.
I Bended the water out of a nearby cup and Bended it around my fingers, making it jump up and do all sorts of tricks. I let it dance across my hands as I thought. We were 98 people without gliders, food or supplies but that hadn’t stopped the eight of us last time. There must be more than one way out of here.
Then the answer came to me. If we could sneak out of the castle and out to the outer wall on a cloudy night, we could just take a boat and leave. We could abandon it once we got to the Earth Kingdom and just fly to one of the Air Temples.
We could get out of here.

I bit into the roll and felt crumbs fall on my lap. After finishing the roll, I swept the crumbs off my face and leaned back, closing my eyes.
“ ARI!!” Stamp. Stamp.” Get your lazy bum up here!” My eyes flew open as I heard three more stamps on the trapdoor. Great. I won’t be able to fall asleep.
At nightfall, I grabbed a thick cloak and crept past the guards with the precious scroll pressed close to my body. I went past the glacier and found a hidden spot to practice. I layed down my cloak and spread it out as I put the precious scroll on it.
I looked at the first move and eyed the stances. I went into the first stance, drawing the water into my hands as drawn then the second one until I’d gone through all of them.
The next move was definitely harder. It took me thirty minutes to be able to get the first stance right and an hour was up when I’d finally mastered it with plenty of swearing and yelling and frustration involved.
I snuck back in the Tribe and into my pantry. I hid the scroll. Tomorrow was Sunday, our day off. I’d spend the morning in the Avatar Temple, praying and maybe practice a bit of Waterbending.
I fell asleep, staring at the fire. I woke up to someone shaking me. “ Al?” I groaned.
“ It’s 8am. I thought you wanted to go to service,” Al said.
“ Oh, right. Thanks. When does the service start?”
“ 9am. The Temple is close in the center of town. You can’t miss it. Everyone will be going in,” said Al.
“ Thanks, Al. That’s going to be really helpful,” I said, giving him a hug. He went pink.
“ You’re a good kid, Ari. Be careful though.”
The town was big and I managed to get into the Temple and into a back seat. I kept on the heavy cloak that I was wearing over my work uniform. I didn’t have anything else to wear. They’d taken and thrown away our Air Kingdom outfits.
“ Can we sit here?” asked a voice. I turned around, seeing a mother with a young girl. I nodded.
The girl sat down to me. She whispered something into her mother’s ears.
“ Would you mind taking off the hood? My daughter is a little disturbed,” the lady asked. I raised my eyebrows at such rudeness.
“ People usually have something to hide when they cover their faces but I’ll take it off but I hope you won’t be prejudiced against me because of my appearance.”
She was confused. I threw down the hood and brought my hair out.
“ You’re Air Kingdom,” she said.
“ Half. The Air Kingdom just shows more,” I answered, looking at the little girl.
“ What’s your name?” she asked.
“ Ari. What about you?”
“ Tasha. Why is your hair like that?” she asked, fingering a curl.
“ The color or the curliness?” I asked.
“ Both!” she exclaimed.
“ Where I’m from, we don’t have brown hair like yours and blue eyes like the sky. We have gray eyes like the dark thunder clouds that come to pelt the earth with soft rain and blonde hair like the sun that we spend every minute in, flying all over the Earth Kingdom where they don’t have ice and constant snow.
We have grass, soft green tufts of it that are covered in snow to help them survive the harsh weathers. The sun is warm on our skin and we can do a lot of great games when gravity can’t control you.
The curliness is the exact opposite of your straight hair. After all, Earth Kingdom people have black hair and green eyes from the earth and Fire Nation have red hair, freckles and golden eyes to resemble the flames that burn inside them, inside their hearts.
But we are all still people and I have spend more time in a Water Tribe than in my own home, missing the grass, the smells and my family who I can only remember in dark memories,” I said, taking her hand and tracing the lines there. She laughed and she traced mine.
The service started and Tasha burrowed herself into my body. I put my arm around her and the mother smiled at me as the Monks of the Avatar raised a bowl of Water in front of one of my past lives.
“ May the new Avatar find teachers quickly and master the elements quickly even though of this war and may he or she gain wisdom through her experiences and the experiences of her past lives who will come to them for wisdom,” prayed the Monk in front.
I saw Nathan and Alex praying together in the front. After the service was over, I saw Alex come towards me. I slipped away from Tasha and threw the cloak over my hair. I walked as quickly as I could from the Temple and blended into the masses of people. I looked back and saw Alex scanning the crowds. I hurried on, keeping the cloak tightly around me.
Once I was at my secret place, I checked on the top for anyone coming. There was no one for miles around. I hopped down to the bottom and laid out the scroll to practice.
I worked on the next two moves and then decided it was getting late. I was starving and exhausted. I rolled up the scroll and hid it in my pouch and wrapped the cloak around me.

The kitchen was warm and I grabbed a bowl, filled it with soup that was simmering on the counter and grabbed a roll.
“ Look who’s back! What have you been doing all day?” asked Al.
I shrugged. “ Exploring.”
“ Snooping more likely.”
“ You call it snooping, I call it natural curiosity for how the world turns.”
“ Alex! What a surprise! You never come down to the kitchens anymore! Why are you down here?” asked Al, stepping on my foot. I took a purposeful sneeze, bouncing me and Al up to the rafters.
No matter what they say, revenge is sweet. I jumped off the rafters and landed safely on the ground.
“ Ari!! Get me down!” Al yelled, hugging the rafter, his voice quivering with fear. Everyone was laughing.
“ You know... I don’t think I will,” I answered with a large smile on my face.
“ ARI!!! HELP!!!” he bellowed.
“ First, say the word that starts with an s and ends with y,” I said, crossing my arms.
“ What? Sexy?” he asked.
“ Hah hah. I wouldn’t joke around if I were you. Your hands might just start perspicating and then slip, down goes Al!” I answered.
“ I’m sorry for stepping on your foot. Can you get me down?” he begged.
“ Let go. That’ll get you down pretty fast,” I answered. He clinged on tighter.
“ I’ll catch you, idiot. I’m an Airbender. I DO know what I’m doing,” I answered, rolling my eyes.
He gulped and let go. I blew and the wind caught and gently set him down.
“ That was pretty cool but I’d prefer to stay on the ground,” he answered.
“ And yet we’re not. We’re on a floating piece of ICE!!!” I answered.
I felt someone pull me on my arm. “ I need to talk to you.”
I turned my head. Alex.
“ Alex... I need to work. Please, not now,” I lied. Today was my day off but he didn’t know that.
“ It’s your day off.” Oh... Maybe he did know that. “ Please. Just one minute,” he pleaded, looking at me with round blue eyes. I opened my mouth to say ‘ No’ but he gave me one more pretty-please look and I nodded.
He pulled me into an empty room and shut the room. I got extremely nervous.
“ What’s this about, Alex? I need to go soon and make dinner for you and everyone else,” I pleaded. He came forward and cupped my chin with his hand.
I moved backwards into the wall. He came forward and I lowered my head, feeling uncomfortable. His hand came underneath my chin and pushed up. His eyes were directly in front of mine. I was positive that he could hear my racing heart.
“ I remember the first time I saw you almost three weeks ago. You were so different from the other girls I’ve known and you had those eyes, those defying eyes which had so much pain and sadness in them. They caused me to watch you as much as I could and to fall in love with you. I couldn’t stand it anymore so I tried not to see you anymore but the less I saw you, the more I thought about you and your eyes.
When I saw the other Air Nation people, I noticed that you were prettier than them but also different. You showed that you had lived a life of hardship and strife and you were so strong.
I guess what I’m trying to say is...” He pressed his mouth against mine and my body jumped up in shock. One of his hands came behind my back and one behind my head. His lips pressed more and more into mine and mine opened without me realizing it.
He broke the kiss after a minute.” Alex... I-I need to go,” I told him.
“ Not until you give me a chance, just one chance.”
“ Alex, we’re from two different worlds. I’m a slave here and I know you don’t believe that but think about how they treat me and my people. They’ve enslaved us, don’t even pay us for what we do, what we’re forced to do. I know what happens to people who speak out. I’ve lived in a Water Tribe for 8 years and I hoped when I escaped that I would stay out of one for the rest of my life,” I answered.
“ Ari... please. Just one chance,” he begged me with wide blue eyes. I tried to force my way past him. He grabbed me tightly around the waist and when I screamed, his hand clamped over my mouth. I struggled against his hold.
“ Stop fighting,” he whispered into my ear. I struggled more against him and kicked him in the shin. He yelled and released me. I ran as fast as I could without using Airbending. I’d always been nimble and fast so I outran him. I ducked into a corridor and behind the first door I saw. I hid inside the room so he wouldn’t find me. I hoped he wouldn’t find me. I had a responsibility to my people and to the world and I had no time for boys.
Being the Avatar and a princess is ruining my life, I thought. No, just being from the Air Nation ruined my life, I corrected. I found Mandy later, helping in the hospital and told her everything what had happened.
“ I thought this might happen soon. I was fourteen or fifteen when the men start to notice me in the Northern Water Tribe and you are so much prettier than any of the Water Tribe girls. You have to be careful. Don’t let anyone force you into an uncomfortable situation. If they do, kick them in there. It really hurts them if you do and you have enough time to get away. Start learning how to defend yourself from men and practice your Bending, all of it. It’ll help you make a quick comeback. Keep out of sight, especially tomorrow...” advised Mandy.
“ Why?” I asked, confused.
“ Your grandfather will be her.... tomorrow,” she said. Uh oh..

I took the tray of food that night to Melanie, Joey, Catherine and Mark to tell them the news.
“ Ari!” Melanie squealed as I opened the door.
“ Where were you this morning? There was someone called Mandy who said she knew you,” said Mark, patting my head.
“ Today’s my day off. I went to the Temple to pray. And yeah, Mandy and I were up north together. She took care of me and protected me by pretending I was her sister. Over time, she became like a real sister to me,” I said.

Melanie’s eyes fell and I laughed. “ Mel, are you jealous of someone you barely know?” I asked.

She went red and mumbled, “ No!”

“ Melie, you’ve always been my twin. I knew you as well as myself when we were little but when I really needed help, Mandy was there and I know that it wasn’t your fault. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time but when I was terrified out of my wits, she helped me and became my older sister. I go to her always for advice like today. She told me some news which is why I’m here. Mel, HE’S coming,” I told her. She paled.

“ Grandpa? Mom’s dad?” she whispered. I nodded and everyone went pale.

“ He’s here for something obviously. But what?” asked Catherine.

“ Can’t be me. He doesn’t know I’m here. Last time I checked, the last he saw/heard of me was in the Earth Kingdom a few months ago,” I said, thinking back.

“ Maybe he’s bringing Mom and Dad to see us!” said Joey, excited.

“ Maybe. But I wouldn’t get TOO excited, Joey. He might have left them at the Northern Water Tribe. But it would be nice to see them for the first time in...” I trailed off.

“ When did you last see them?” asked Joey, cuddling up to me.

“ The day you were born. Around 8 years ago.”

“ What happened?” he asked, his big blue eyes looking at me widely.

“ That’s a story for another day. I need to go. I’m going to see if everyone here is fine, if they have enough blankets and food,” I said, hugging him goodbye. Melanie hugged me and then Catherine. Mark hung back awkwardly.

“ Too macho to hug me goodbye, Mark? You haven’t changed a bit,” I teased. He smiled and messed up my hair.

“ Bye. Maybe you guys will be let out of here tomorrow. I know how it feels to be locked up in a room. Well, bye,” I said.

I learned from Filius that they did have enough blankets and warm enough clothing but food was a problem.

“ I’ll sneak some food here tomorrow. I’ll see what I can take and I can ask if I can make some hot soup for you guys because you look like you’re starving to death.” Filius looked thin and was coughing hard and the children were skinny with their ribs showing.

“ You’re a good girl, Arianna. You’ve got a warm and caring heart,” he said.

“ We’re going to need to get out of here quickly. You’ll die quickly if you’re exposed so much to the cold,” I said, worried.

“ I’ll be fine...” lied Filius.

“ No, you’re not... You’re shaking... AND your forehead is hot. I think you have a fever. Go to the hospital wing. Tell them you’re a Monk of the Avatar and that you have a fever. No... wait...I’ll go with you!” I told him.

“ No! You have to do something more important. Go to the Temple and ask the Monks if they would do a favor from their old friend, Filius and take in our elderly and children. Plus a few women are pregnant who shouldn’t be in the bitter cold. DON’T tell them you’re..” He lowered his voice. “...the Avatar. We shouldn’t go broadcasting that yet. I’ll tell them when I’m sure we’re completely alone. Now GO! I’ll ask one of the women to take me over to the hospital and have them check me out.” he said.

“ Filius... wait! You should know. The Water King is coming tomorrow. The sooner we get the elderly and the children out of here, the better. Then he doesn’t have them in his wicked claws,” I said, fuming.

“ Yes. We have to do the move tonight. Come back with the answer as soon as possible and the women will have them pack up their belongings and you can take them to the Temple,” said Filius.

I nodded and left quickly as he announced the news to everyone. The streets were cold and I had my cloak up. I knocked at a back door of the Temple.

The door opened and a face peered out. “ Child, what are you doing here?” he asked.

“ I have a message for this Temple’s Monks from Avatar Monk Filius. Can I come in, please?” I asked.

He nodded and let me in. The Monks were quickly assembled and I finally threw off my hood.

“ Monk Filius sent me with a message, asking if you would take the elderly, pregnant, sick and children of the Air Nation that are currently in this Water Tribe here and give them shelter. They can’t be in the cold because they’ll quickly die and they’ll be malnourished if they continue to work. Monk Filius wants them to come there tonight because your King comes tomorrow and we want them as far away as possible from his grasp,” I said.

“ Filius is a good friend of ours and he must be desperate to send you with this message but why are you here? And not him?” asked one of the Monks.

“ I asked him to go to the hospital because he has a fever. And he decided to tell the people his decision and that I was here to ask,” I explained quickly.

“ Why you? Why not a trusted friend or family member?” asked one of the monks.

“ I am a trusted friend. I’ve known him since I was five years old. So... do you have an answer for me?” I asked.

“ Why should we do it? The Air People are no concern of ours,” said the youngest Monks who was about sixteen. He was too young to be a Monk so I guessed he’d be an apprentice.

“ Joshua, shh! All people are people and we are sworn by our oaths to help all. And remember, Joshua, that you are only an apprentice and that the Avatar was born an Airbender,” said the oldest Monk, glaring at him. I managed to suppress a smirk at Joshua.

“ I think we should help these people. We do have a responsibility to give help to those who come and ask for it. The Spirits and the Avatar would be angry at us if we slighted her people. What do you think, Hano,” said another monk.

Yea. The Avatar aka ME would be really pissed off if you said no, I thought in my head.

“ I completely agree. Tell Monk Filius that we accept and will take these people in. What’s your name, child?” said Hano, the oldest Monk. Joshua grimaced at me.

“ Ari, sir,” I answered.

“ Ari? I’ve never heard a name like that before. How old are you?”

“ I’m fourteen and I’ve never heard the name Hano before now,” I said.

“ What are you doing up here in the Southern Water Tribe?” asked Joshua.
I glared at him and answered through my teeth,” It’s not like I had a say in the matter. I’d rather be somewhere warm and sunny but apparently destiny wants me to be in a freezing pit where not a ray of sun comes through the thick clouds.”
He went red with embarrassment. The other Monks laughed at him.
“ Don’t underestimate females, boy. They can be extremely sarcastic and hotheaded when they want to be. Here and in the Air Nation, it seems,” Hano said.
“ Who else is going to get respect out of stubborn, simple-minded boys?” I answered.
He went redder. “ I’m not simple-minded or stubborn!” he said.
“ Yes, you are. You just proved it to everyone here by fighting my statement.”
“ Women are extremely tricky, boy. They like to toy with men’s affections. Isn’t that right, Ari?” said another Monk, patting my knee and indicating that I should sit down.
“ No. Where I lived for a while, I tried not to draw attention to myself. Too many girls who were my friends were... abused by men,” I said in a quiet voice.
Joshua looked shocked. “ You were raped in your home?”
“ Joshua!” said the Monk next to him, swatting him on the head.
“ No! We don’t do that where I’m from. Or at least I think so. It’s been too many years since I’ve talked to my parents, since I’ve seen the place where I grew up... with my sister.” I choked back tears.
“ You were one of the girls who were taken. Aren’t you?” said Hano, hugging me.
“ Yes... and I was one of the survivors. Your king has no idea what he’s done to me, what he’s done to all of us who are still alive. The worst thing about being a survivor is that you remember. People don’t understand how it’s like unless they’ve gone through the same thing.”
“ Were you raped?” asked Joshua curiously.
“ No. I was the only one who wasn’t. Unless you count Elizabeth. But then she didn’t get a chance at life,” I sighed.
“ How old were you?” asked Hano.
“ Six. I remember that day perfectly. Most likely because I’ve clung to it for my whole life to keep my sanity,” I whispered.
They looked confused.
“ My brother was born that day. I clung to the memory because I was terrified that if I forgot that one day, I’d forget I even had a brother... or a family,” I whispered.
“ No child should ever have to go through that.”
I shrugged. “ What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
He chuckled. “ Thanks for the talk but I should go. I have to tell Filius and help him make plans to get all the elderly and children here,” I said, flicking my hood up after I stood up.
I delivered the news to Filius and we made plans for midnight. We helped the children and mothers by saying that they would come and see them when they could and they could spend their whole free day in the Temple with their kids.
I was kept up all night awake with the thoughts of seeing Mom and Dad again. I hadn’t talked to them in 8 years. I felt around my neck for the necklace and thought: I love you, Mom and Dad. Maybe we’ll be together soon.
I heard a chime and counted. It was five minutes to midnight. Time to go.
Getting the kids and elderly out of the palace was NOT easy but in the city, we moved a lot quicker... but not much since there were babies and children we had to carry and the elderly were also slow.

I heard someone fall and was in their side immediately. It was an old woman with gray hair and bright gray eyes. I remembered her name was Dana.

“ Thank you, Princess,” said Dana.

“ Please. Just call me Ari. Is everyone here?” I called out quietly. They nodded. We were at the Temple. I knocked at the back door and Joshua opened it.

“ Come on in,” he said, smiling at me. I frowned. He’d changed from a sulky boy to a cheerful happy guy.
“ What happened to you?!” I muttered.
There was a big room where a lot of cots had been set up with pillows and blankets. The Monks were sitting on cushions with the biggest pot of stew I’d ever seen between them.
“ Welcome, poor people. Choose a cot and come here for some stew,” said Hano welcomely.
“ Thank you, Monks for helping me. I should be going back to the kitchen before anyone realizes that I’m gone. I’ll be back as soon as possible with as much food as I can get from the kitchen for you,” I said, looking at the tired and weary faces of the children and the elderly.
“ You should stay here with us, Ari. You look exhausted,” said Hano.
I shook my head.
“ My siblings and cousins are prisoners there. As soon as I can get them out, then I’ll come.”
“ Ari, be careful,” said a familiar voice. It was Madeline.
“ I’ll be fine, Madeline. Take care of your siblings and all of you, don’t go outside the Temple. I don’t think that will be the best idea. Once I get Melanie, Joseph, Catherine and Mark, I’ll come back and stay with you guys. Ok?” I said, giving her a hug. She nodded.
“ Thank you, Princess. You should get back to the palace before anyone realizes that you’re missing though and connects our disappearance with yours,” said an elderly lady, the one I’d helped up in the alley.
I nodded and said my goodbyes before heading out the back door. I found Joshua blocking the way.
Before I could say ‘ Get out of my way’, he said,” I heard what that old woman called you. She called you Princess. Who are you, Ari? Is that even your real name?”
My eyes widened and I gulped. “ Joshua, I really don’t have the time for this. Let’s talk about this at a different time.”
“ No. You’re going to explain to me why she called you ‘ Princess’, Ari. Or, help the heavens....” His eyes widened as he put two and two together.
“ Princess...Ari... Ari is short for Arianna, isn’t it?” he accused.
“ Yes,” I answered after taking a huge breath.
“ What are you doing here?” he asked.
“ Um.... I got captured in Earth Kingdom territory. Is it really that hard to figure that out?” I asked.
“ No... why haven’t you escaped already? I thought a princess’ neck was too valuable to be in enemy territory,” he accused.
“ Then you don’t know a thing about me and my life. I’ve spent more time washing clothes than being on a throne and with my family. I’ve been a slave for eight years. I only spent six years being with my family.”
“ Why didn’t you tell him?” he asked.
“ Air People love freedom. Air represents freedom. Look at my siblings and my cousins. They’re trapped in a tower. They haven’t left that tower since they got here. I would know. I bring them food and water. I didn’t want that life plus if I’d told, he would have killed all the surviving girls because they were the survivors. Survivors tell their stories. The dead can’t tell because they’re dead. If saving a few lives means scrubbing clothes and not getting enough to eat then by hell, I’ll do it. Now GET OUT OF MY WAY!”
I pushed past him and ran towards the door. I grabbed the doorknob and tried to open the door. It was locked.
I felt hands grab my upper arms and I twisted around and kneed Joshua in his groin. He groaned and I kicked open the door and ran for it.
I managed to make it back into the palace and kitchen undetected and I sank down on my cot, mentally and physically exhausted.

The next morning, the kitchen was in a uproar with them trying to finish all the food in time. I was given an apron and told to help make the food. I managed to roll a bread roll into my pocket without anyone seeing so that I could have breakfast.
Then I got the news: all the Water Tribe people would sit and eat while all the Air Kingdom people would serve the Water Tribe people ( and probably not get a bite to eat). I was just happy that they hadn’t figured out that all the old people and the kids were missing.
When the kitchen was empty, I managed to fill three pouches full of food and hide it near my cot. I’d deliver it tonight to the Temple.
As the kitchen filled up, I gave everyone a plate of food to carry and told them not to touch it. Then we carried it downstairs and set one plate down for each table. In the Royal Table, Melanie, Joey, Catherine and Mark were tense with excitement. I gave them a smile as I passed by but made sure that no one could see me and Mel side by side. That would have been too much to explain. Plus she had straight hair while mine was curly so they’d think they were losing their mind.
I stood in the hallway, watching the feast. No one could see me or hear me and that was how I liked it. There was a fanfare and Grandpa walked in, followed by Mom, Dad, Aunt Maria and Uncle Walter who were surrounded by guards. Joey stood up and ran to Mom, hugging her tightly while crying in joy.
A few tears ran down my face while the people sitting down faces read ‘ Guilty as Hell’. Mom and Dad hugged Joey and Mel tightly while crying and Aunt Maria and Uncle Walter cried while hugging Catherine and Mark.
I felt an arm around my shoulders, drawing me in. Mandy.
“ We’ll be with our families soon, Ari. We’ll have our own happy reunions,” promised Mandy.
“ Thank you, Mandy,” I said suddenly.
“ For what?” she asked.
“ For protecting me, for caring about me, for saving my life by saying I was your little sister eight years ago. I wish every day that that part of our lives had never happened but I slightly regret it because then I would have never found you or have this bond with you, Madison, Jackie, Louise, Isabel, Charlotte and Georgia. I would have never had two big sisters looking out for me,” I said, hugging her tightly.
“ That man deserves to be hanged for his crimes,” said Mandy, coldly, looking at Grandpa while he ate all the food I’d been working on for two days but had never gotten to taste.
“ Yes, he does...” I agreed quietly and silently watched. I brought out the roll I’d snatched and broke it in two: one for me and one for Mandy.
After breakfast, Grandpa ordered everyone into the courtyard for a talk. That included the Air People. We stood in our own group, separate from the Water Tribe people, surrounded by guards and squished together like we were cattle.
“ Your Majesty, for eight years, I haven’t seen my daughter, Arianna. I’d like to know now where she is!” said Dad, an unmistakable sarcastic tone in his voice as he pronounced the first two words.
Mandy looked at me with admiration in her eyes and I knew what she was thinking: Woah. Your dad is amazing! He isn’t scared at all! AND he’s still looking for you. Even though it’s been eight years!
I whispered in her ear: “ I was Daddy’s little girl. Of course, he’s still looking for me!”
“ King Matthias, I have no idea where your precious little girl is. But believe me once I find her, you’ll see her again once my body is floating in the deep blue.”
That can be arranged, I thought bitterly. Mandy gripped my hand and smiled as I looked at her.
“ I want to see my twin. I haven’t seen Arianna since I was six years old. I barely remember her, thanks to you,” lied Melanie, her voice full of scorn.

Her hair was in full blaze in the sunlight. I caught Mom’s eyes searching through the crowd of the Air People. She knows I’m here, I thought suddenly.

But how could she? She hasn’t seen me in eight years. All she knows is that I look like Melanie except my hair and eyes are different. That’s not much of a lead.

I payed attention to Dad’s and Grandpa’s fight and felt someone’s eyes on me. I looked at Mom and she was staring at me with tears flowing down her cheeks. I smiled at her and mouthed,” Hi, Mom.”

She smiled back at me and looked suddenly years younger. “ Don’t tell them yet,” I mouthed. She nodded slightly and I looked back at Dad. They were fighting with words more intensively.

I looked at Mandy and we slipped away silently. I brought the pouches to the Temple who were delighted to see them.

“ Thank you, Princess Arianna,” said Hano when I brought him a roll to eat.

“ Joshua told you, didn’t he?” I accused.

“ Of course. The Monks don’t keep secrets from each other. And I knew there was something special about you, Arianna. Your royal blood shows through your kindness and generosity. You’ve been raised well. Your mother would be proud of your pure heart which shows through your beauty,” said Hano and then he bit into the roll. He patted the space next to him.
“ You know then who I am,” I asked.
“ About you being the lost Princess?” said Hano confused.
“ No. I thought Filius would have told you already. Never mind. It’s not important.”
“ That you’re the Avatar,” he stated blankly.
“ How’d...?” I asked confused.
“ On Sunday, I knew the Avatar had set foot inside the Temple and yesterday, when you set foot again, the Temple told us Monks. We just chose not to tell you so we wouldn’t worry you. How many elements have you mastered?”
“ None. We weren’t allowed to practice our Airbending in the North. Girls who did were beaten and died. We prized our lives more than using an ability that would endanger our lives. So we didn’t practice and we didn’t learn. I’ve been secretly practicing here though, Water and Air. I found some Waterbending scrolls and I’ve been using them to master Water,” I answered truthfully.
He looked a little speechless.
“ That’s good news and bad news as well. But I’m glad the new Avatar has such a strong personality even if she is a bit too stubborn,” he said.
I shrugged. “ It’s my personality. It’s what I was born what, it’s what life molded me into. Deal with it.”
There was a hint of a smile on Hano’s face.
“ You are an interesting girl, Arianna,” he said.
“ Ari...” I corrected. He looked confused.
“ It’s a nickname. My parents called me Ari when I was little. Eight years ago, when I lost everything, I needed a new name so I picked Ari. My grandfather never knew about the nickname and he hasn’t still figured it out,” I continued.
I looked at the clock. “ I need to go. Just like earlier, I need to have my own happy reunion with my parents. I’ll try to come back tomorrow. Goodbye.”
Before he could say bye, I was gone. The kitchen was busy when I got back. After a scolding from Al, I cooked a larger meal for the eight captives that was my family, got the plateware and silverware for it and got directions to the apartments where they were staying together.
I walked through the hallways, avoiding the Water Tribe people who were happy and were also obviously celebrating. When I got to the door, I took a huge calming breath and knocked as I unlocked and unbarred the door.
“ She is alive and there she is! Ari!!” Melanie said, squealing and ran to give me a hug.
When Mel let go, I looked at a scene that seemed like people had been fighting. Right now, four adult faces were looked dumbfounded while four others were smug.
“ Oh... Uncle Walter, I think I’d recognize my twin. She’s the identical copy of me so it’d be impossible not to recognize her,” said Mel, putting her arm around me and showing our faces to everyone to show we were twins.
A grin broke out on my face. “ I think you’re rubbing off on me,” I told.
“ I know I’m rubbing off on you,” answered Mel.
“ Ari...” said Mom, rushing forward and hugging me tightly.
“ Hi, Mom,” I said, putting my arms around her. I felt tears drip onto me and realized Mom was crying.
Mel was looking proudly at the sight of me and Mom and her eyes were shining with unshed tears. Dad was looking thunderstruck at me.
Mom saw the chain and pulled it out.
“ My necklace... the last thing I ever gave you...” She gasped.
“ I held onto it but made sure Grandpa never saw it. That would have been like putting a I’M-ARIANNA hat on,” I told her, looking at her.
We released each other and Dad came closer.
“ Arianna, my little girl.” He hugged me closely and I felt tears slide down my cheeks.
“ Daddy...” I whimpered slightly.
Catherine had her arms around her mom and dad while Mark smiled at me.
“ Well, it’s been a while, Arianna. How you’ve been?” asked Uncle Walter, winking at me.
“ Fine. By the way, Dad, congrats on becoming king,” I told him.
“ I wish you could have seen it...” he said.
“ I did. The closest Air Temple when we escaped was the Northern Air Temple so we stopped there and saw your coronation,” I answered.
“ How? Where...?”
“ I was in the back wearing blue. The eight of us were. Joey kept staring at me,” I admitted.
“ I saw them. They looked exhausted and hungry. I was going to go to them after the coronation and give them some food and beds to rest in during the night but all of a sudden, they disappeared,” said Aunt Maria, speaking up.
I smiled at her gratefully. “ We managed to find shelter in the Temple with Filius. When the attacks started, we helped people into the Temple and managed to close the doors. They send out some spies that revealed you’d gotten out with the tunnels in the mountain. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember where they were exactly. It’s been too long since you showed me them. So we stayed in the Temple a few days and managed to escape off the mountain and managed to survive in the wilderness for a few days. Then they found us and fought us. I didn’t do a lot of fighting to be fair because I was one of the first to be frozen solid. Not a fun feeling, not being able to breathe. We landed here on this dump--Sorry, Mom but I’ve had enough of ice and cold-- a few weeks ago,” I shivered. I rubbed my arms up and down, trying to feel a flicker of warmth in my frozen hands.
“ Well...” We heard unmistakable footsteps.
“ I need to go. I’ll be back tonight with some more food. Bye.”
I was out the door before they could say bye and down the hallway. I peeked back and saw Grandfather, surrounded by guards, going into the room. I was that close to being caught!!

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