It was almost time. Almost time for what
every Fire Faction kid eagerly awaits in their life.
This year the competition was rather low, definitely one of the worst recruiting class the Fire Faction had ever had.
All the better for me, I guess. If it were like last years', or the "dream decade" back in the 90's, things probably would have been a bit harder for me, so I can't really complain.
I was lying on my straw bed, thinking.
Everything that has happened in my life until this point. Sure, not much really happens in 15 years, as most people would probably say, but to a 15 year old, it's quite the opposite.
The first day I can remember was back when I was 5, and I bended for the first time. It scared me to death, really. I was angry at my mom for not letting me play with my best friend. She thought he was a bad influence on me, which he was, but I, for one didn't really know what "influence" meant at the time, but I knew what bad meant, and I was totally against that.
I was having such a big tantrum that she put me in my room and blocked the exit with a chair so I couldn't get out. All I could do was sit on my bed and pout. The pouting got to such a level I started punching my bed. Then I jumped up and started punching the air, and that's when it happened. Punched the hardest I had ever punched at that point in my life, and a tiny flame escaped from my fist. I had learned about fire just the day before, so I kind of expected it to hurt, but it didn't. I barely felt anything. It boggled my little 5 year old brain so much that after contemplating what had happened for what seemed like an hour, I just gave up, plopped my thumb into my mouth and went to sleep.
"Best day of my life," I say to myself, chuckling.
I lay on my bed looking up at the wooden ceiling for a few more minutes until my mother called me for dinner.
"Henry, dinner's ready!" She yelled from downstairs.
"Ok, coming!" I yelled back and headed downstairs.
Our house was big for two people. I Asked my mom about that once.
"I like the space, and I got a good deal on it." She told me. For some reason, her answer didn't feel very reassuring at all, and I couldn't figure out why. Up until now I haven't really cared much, anyway.
She wasn't my maternal mother, which is surprising to some since we are the only two black people in the whole of Territory 8. My mom says she found me on the street one night when I was around 3 years old. I had Fire Faction clothes on and was alone, so she picked me up and took me home.
I guess I'm grateful for that, considering I could've died or been killed out there by myself. And hey, look at me now. I was raised well, I looked fine, and I wasn't poor. Couldn't have really asked for much more than that.
"Ready for the big day tomorrow?" She asked as I sat down.
"Yeah," I answer. Honestly, I wasn't, but I couldn't admit that to her because she could take me out of the recruiting class completely if she wanted to, and I would spend the rest of my life working in as a fisherman or a farmboy or something. Not an eventful life. If you get past the 2nd initiation, you are guaranteed a home in District 1 and an easy life, which is really the goal for everyone but the District 1 kids.
I looked up at her and noticed she was staring at me with sad eyes.
"What's up?" I asked her, putting down my spoonful of chicken soup (a traditional Fire Faction food).
"Well..." She trailed off, and sighed, "it will be lonely here without you around to make messes." She said, adding a joke at the end to try to lighten the mood.
I felt bad for her. I was the only one she had, and once I was gone, she'd be alone like she was before she picked me off the street that day. All of a sudden, I didn't want to leave.
But once I thought it all over again, that thought left my mind as quick as it entered it.
"Don't worry, mom, you' ll be fine without me," I said. That was really all I could think of saying.
"I know," she said looking at her bowl and then up at me. She must have noticed my awkward look, because she immediately changed the subject.
"Do you think you'll make it past the first initiation?" She asked.
"The first initiation or the District Tournament?" I asked.
"Both," she said.
"Well, the District Tournament shouldn't be very hard, considering my competition," I say. I never really thought about the First Initiation, much less if I would pass it. It's impossible for me to say, really. You never know what kind of recruits the other Districts have. Ok, you almost never know. District 1 always has the best. Since it is the richest District of all the 8, the kids there don't have to spend their time after school working on farms and fishing and whatnot. They can do whatever they want. So what do they do? Train. Long and hard, every day. They train to pass the first, second, and third initiations and enter the final competition deciding who will fight in the League of Factions, the biggest competition of the world.
Basically the League of Factions all started when the Faction leaders had a meeting. It was the normal, everyday meeting, until the Earth Faction leader got pissed to such a point, that he was ready to declare war on the other factions. The other Faction leaders were smart enough (thank God) to know that war would be devastating, and there was a chance everyone would wipe out everyone and the world would end. So the Air Faction leader proposed a less violent solution. An annual event showcasing the 4 best benders (2 guys and 2 girls) from each faction in a team death match. The last team or person standing wins. The competitors have to be under 17 years of age, and the way the competitors are chosen are completly up to the Factions. Pretty simple rules. Traditionally, this competition has been dominated by Earth and Air competitors. Why? Well Air benders can create tornados and suffocate their victims; Earth benders can pick up rocks and drop them on people. Fire benders, on the other hand, can shoot fire out of their hands, which unfortunately can't do much against tornados and earthquakes. Half of the time, water benders dont have a good source of water, so they aren't very effective. The 90's was the best decade for the Fire Faction. Won 4 of the tournaments, the most in that decade. Air won 3, Earth 2, and Water 1. Overall, this thing had been going on for 24 years. Air is leading with 11 wins, Earth has 7 (won the last three) Fire has 4 (all in the 90's), and Water has 3.
I'm pretty confident I will pass the first initiation, considering I am one of the best athletes and Fire benders in the whole district. Unfortunately, I am in the weakest District, so I really don't know how good I am compared to kids in the other Districts.
"I'm pretty sure I'll pass it," I tell my mom. I can tell she hopes I won't so I'm forced to come back home, but that's not an option in my book. If I don't pass it, what else is there to live for? It's like taking a life test. If I pass it, I'll have something to live for. If I fail, I might as well be dead.
We finish dinner in silence. My mom looks like she needs comfort, but I'm not the kind of person to do that. My problem is, I'm terrible with words. I've never been good with them, always mixing them up especially when I'm reading out-loud in front of a class. I sound like an idiot, so you can probably guess how I sound when I try to make people feel better. I usually end up insulting them somehow.
So I get up, clear my plate and hers, wash them, dry them, and put them away. I then tell her I was going out and would be back before the sun set.
"Are you sure that's a good idea? I know about all those kids out there taunting you, and I don't want you getting hurt," my mother says.
She knows about that? Dang it. I hope she doesn't know why.
"Don't worry, I'll be fine," I reassure her and leave the house.
It is a great Friday evening. Not a cloud in the March sky. It must have been about 75 degrees with a slight breeze. It sure is hard to think of better weather than that. I take a deep breath, closing my eyes and letting my sense of smell take over. The smell of smoke was eminent. Very much so, actually, but what would you expect in the Fire Faction? I could faintly smell the oak trees that surround the whole faction, isolating us from the rest. Apparently someone planted all those trees, which probably took a heck of a long time. I can't imagine doing that, really. I would actually rather not imagine, given the Fire Faction is the biggest of the 4, and twice the size of the Water Faction. Honestly, I would expect the biggest faction to be the dominating power in the League of Nations, but obviously, that is not the case. And with size comes poverty. My district may be the last, but we are not the worst off. We're the second worst off, and the margin between us and the worst is very large. District Six is a terrible place to live. I've seen it once on a field trip. That's right, seen it, not been in it. Why? For one, the sickness in the district is devastating. They lose a quarter of their population every year to fatal sicknesses alone. They lose another quarter to murders. The crime that goes on there is almost unfathomable. Apparently every night rival gangs take to the streets and go into all-out fire bending war. I can't imagine how traumatizing it must be living there, especially for families unaffiliated in the gang business, knowing that they are always in danger. Anyone could randomly barge into their house and kill them all, with no real motive and no good reason. Imagine what it must be like for young kids and their parents. Kids around the ages of 7 and 8 understand they aren't safe, and their parents do everything they can to keep them safe, but often, that isn't enough. You can't keep kids in the house 24/7. It's almost impossible. And on top of that, they have to go to school. They HAVE to go to school. It's mandatory in that district, and that is when most kids are kidnaped and/or killed. Sometimes I wonder if District 6's government even cares, because they don't seem to be doing anything about it. And it's not like the good families can move from the District. It is illegal to leave your District. It isn't even legal to cross the border without the governments consent. it's just all so stupid.
I faintly smell baked bread, and my mouth begins to water. Sure, maybe I just ate, but it's impossible to not take the opportunity to have baked bread, especially when it's from the market.
I start making my way down the dirt path leading to the town center, which was about 15 minutes away from my house, which was the furthest building from the town center. We kind of lived in the woods, which was nice because it was quiet and peaceful, but boring at times because there was no one living close to us, so we didn't really know anyone at all. I went to school every Monday-Friday, but I still didn't make any real friends. My mom says it's because I'm not very sociable, which is true, but even the very unsociable nerds in school still have friends. I think it's because I'm the only black kid in the district. I know some people in the district are racist. I've experienced it before. People give me nasty looks, don't answer me when I try talking to them, even calling me some names at times. I try to not to take it personally, and not tell my mom. If she heard about any of this, she would explode. She has asked me if anybody has acted racist towards me, and I've said no. She's outwardly expressed her hatred for it, telling me stories about what happened to her and her parents. From the stories she told me, it seemed to be a lot worse back when she was a kid than now. Good thing, because I wouldn't have been able to hold my temper like she could. Lets just say, there would be a lot of broken noses and angry parents.
I keep making my way to town. I could tell I was getting close because I was passing more houses and the distinct aroma of the market were getting stronger. I passed a group of guys playing FireBall. I watched them as I passed. They were about my age, and they stunk. It was actually stressful for me to watch. Their fire blasts were weak, and they were slow as molasses. I could have played by myself against them all and kicked their butts.
Just then, one of them noticed me. Unfortunately, that person wasn't someone I was hoping to see until the District Tournament. His name was Buddy Ross, and he hated me. And I hated him. The first time I remember relating to him at all was two years ago. It was lunch time, and I was innocently taking my tray of food to a table, when I slipped, and my tray went flying right into his face. I apologized immediately, because it really was an accident. He didn't responded as understandingly as I expected him to.
"You know what, I'm sick and tired of you messing with me!" He yelled. I had the not faintest idea of what he was talking about, for I hadn't really noticed him in my life before that.
"Uh... What do you mean?" I asked him, puzzled. The whole lunchroom was quiet at this point and listening intently.
"Don't act stupid! You know what I mean!" he yelled, squeezing soup out of his hair.
"I really don't," I answered calmly. He was getting really angry now. He balled his hands into fists and lit them. I was surprised at this, and tried to talk some sense into him.
"Come on, man, you don't want to start a fight," I said, backing away slowly. I hadn't really practiced fire bending at that point of my life, so I really wasn't looking for a fight.
"You scared?" He taunted, stepping towards me.
"No," I say, "I just don't want to embarrass you in front of all your friends."
"You think you can beat me?" He smiled, stepping closer. I was really scared now, and wondered were the lunch monitors were.
"Yeah, duh," I lie.
"Well, let's go," he says, raising his fire covered hands. Didn't have much of a choice now. If I ran, I would be the coward of the school, and I really didn't want that since I was already the only black person in the school. So, reluctantly, I raised my fists. He looked at me up and down and laughed.
"Are you going to fight with fire, or your bare fists?" He asked, or more mocked.
"Either one, I'll still beat you," I say. Now that I think about it, i'm realizing how stupid I was. Acting all cocky and confident, which is bad enough, and on top of that, I wasn't confident at all. I was scared to death. Reluctantly, I lit my fists. It took me a bit of doing to light them, since I had just learned how to do it. He smiled and approached me. I backed up, even though I knew that was the worst thing to do because my weight was shifted back, not forwards, meaning my blasts wouldn't pack much of a punch. After a little while of him advancing on me and me retreating from him, he made the first move. He thrust a fire ball at me, and thank God I was fast, or I would've had a much harder time dodging his attacks. He then shot with his left and I dodged right. We went on like that for awhile, then he stopped. Then he lit the tips of his fists, and I knew exactly what he was going to do. He gave up shooting, and transitioned to hand to hand combat. He couldn't have made my life any easier. If there was one thing I was good at, it was fighting without fire. I was on the strong side naturally, so I could put a lot behind my punches. I didn't bother lighting my fists because I knew I had him beat. He threw a right handed punch, exactly what I had anticipated. I ducked under it and punched him hard in the gut. He keeled over and fell to the ground, gasping for air. The crowd gasped too. I stared at him for a second, then started walking away.
"Hey... Get back here... I'm not... Finished with you," Buddy wheezed in between breaths.
"I'm finished with you," I said and kept walking until I had left the lunchroom. Once I was out of sight, I exhaled and slid to the ground. I couldn't believe I had done that, but what choice did I have? I was not about to back out of that. Thinking back on it, I think I did the right thing. It gave me confidence.
This was the first time I had seen Buddy outside of school. He just stared at me, for about half a minute, and I stared back.
Then I realized I was in trouble.
I could tell by just looking at him that he wanted revenge, and what better time than now to get it? Not only that, but he had 9 other friends to back him up. I debated what I should do. I knew I could outrun them, so that was a good option. I knew I couldn't fight all of them, so it depended on what Buddy chose to do. If he went solo, I could easily beat him. If he called on his friends for help, I would be screwed.
"Hey, guys, look what the wind blew in," Buddy called, never losing eye contact with me. They all turned to me. This was not looking good.
"'Sup?" I ask casually.
"Don't "sup" us," Buddy says, "what are you doing here?" Well, he sure wasn't acting friendly, so I wasn't about to either.
"None of your business," I say, starting to continue down the road.
"Hey, where do you think you're going?" He asked, starting to move towards me.
"None of your business," I repeat, quickening my step.
"You aren't going anywhere till I'm done with you," he says, now jogging towards me. His friends followed suit. They all looked ready for a fight.
Now it was time to run.
I knew I had to time it perfectly. I had to let him catch up and get very close to me. So I slowed my pace and waited for him to come within five feet of me. Once he did, I lit my fist quietly and unnoticed by Buddy. The second I felt his fingers touch the back of my neck I made my move. I intensified the fire on my fist and flung my arm back, connecting with his right cheek.
He bellowed in pain, and I bolted.
I knew they were after me. I didn't even have to look back. Their steps were heavy, and they were all yelling. I knew they wouldn't catch me, but I didn't know how far I'd have to run for them to give up. They were obviously looking for a fight, so they wouldn't give up very quickly. I was only 5 minutes from town. If I got there, it would be pretty easy to shake them. Hopefully I'd be far enough ahead to just hide behind a corner.
I checked over my shoulder to be sure of where they were. Now that I think about it, that may have saved my life because I wouldn't have known there was a fireball heading straight for the back of my head. Thankfully, I had just enough time to duck. I swear that thing grazed my hair, too. I could feel the intense heat of it as it blazed by.
So now I had another thing I had to think about. They could kill me with their fireblasts, especially if one of them hit the back of my head. If your head catches on fire, you are doomed. I don't think I need to explain why.
So I got lucky the first time. The second time didn't go as well as it could've. Before I had time to regain my composure, someone else had thrusted another blast out of their hands, and this one was headed straight for my back.
I saw it coming for me like it was in slow motion. I could feel myself veering to the right in an attempt to evade the blast, but I was too late. It hit me square in the back, and I was on fire.
I didn't panic. The first thing you do when you're ignited is remind yourself not to panic. The second thing you do is drop and roll, which was exactly what I did. After a couple of quick rolls, the fire was completely out and I was not dead.
I struggled to my feat, grimacing at the pain on my back. They were basically on top of me now, and I had no escape. It was time to fight.
I lit my arms and kept them on my sides. I didn't want to make the first move.
There were only 4 of them, meaning the other five probably stayed back to help Buddy. I guess that helped my chances a bit, even though I didn't have much of a chance in the first place. They all lit their fists and spread out, ending up surrounding me. This was not looking good. I noticed one of them make eye contact with one of the guys behind me and nod. That was pretty stupid of him, because now I knew what was about to happen. I felt the guy behind me advance on me, but I acted unaware that he was making a move until the last second. Once he was close enough, I crouched down and swung my right leg around my body and took his legs out.
He fell to the ground with a thud and I quickly pinned him. I could've killed him right there and then, but the other 3 wouldn't have been very happy about that. Even if they weren't there, I probably wouldn't have killed him anyway. I just can't imagine taking a human life. It wouldn't matter who I killed or what circumstances I was under when I did it, I would still feel guilty about it.
So I had him pinned. Great! Now what? I couldn't kill him, and I wasn't about to let him go.
I noticed the others were still standing around. They looked like they were debating what to do next. Unfortunately, so was I.
I was still unsure of what to do when I noticed something strange. The guy I had pinned was taking a really deep breath. I had been feeling his breaths before this, and they were what I would expect from someone pinned. Forced and short. So why was he taking such a deep breath?
The moment he reached the height of his inhalation, I realized what he was doing.
My adrenaline spiked and I jerked my head back just in time to avoid the eruption of fire blasting out of his mouth.
Just like that, my life could've ended. If it weren't for the quick thinking and the adrenalin rush, I would've been thrashing around on the ground, life being sucked out of my face and drained from the rest of my body, and before I knew it, I would be discovering what happens after death.
Well, once that brush with death passed, the other 3 seemed to wake up. One of them ripped me off the fire-breather and threw me to the ground, pinning both of my arms. Another one jumped on my legs and pinned them to ground.
So in less than 5 seconds, I had gone from the pinner to the pinned. And as if that wasn't bad enough, another one rested his heavy foot on my chest, forcing me to put a lot of effort into one breath. And if you've ever fire-bended before, you would known that fire-bending comes from breathing. The bigger the breath, the stronger the blast. So if you can't inhale with ease, your fire-blasts aren't going to be very damaging. With that said, they basically took away my bending and I was powerless.
Now the big question was, are they going to kill me?
"We are going to torture you. To death? Possibly. Right now, we don't even know. But if you die, you die." The one who had his abnormally heavy foot on my chest said. So I guess that answered my question.
"Hm, where should we start? How about the fingers?" The same one said, smiling, "hey, Joe, you're the one he pinned. Want to start us off?
"It would be my utmost pleasure," Joe answered crossly while shaking dirt off his pants.
I couldn't free myself. They may have been slow, but they sure weren't weak.
Joe approached me slowly and lit his pointer finger. I cringed as his finger closed in on my hand.
It was hopeless. How could I possibly get out of this? The answer to that question came at quite possibly the most opportune moment my life.
"What's going on?" A female voice inquired, causing Joe to stop a centimeter away from my pinky finger. There was silence for a couple of seconds. They all seemed to be staring in awe at whoever the person intruding was. I craned my neck in an attempt to get a look at the person, but one of the guys pinning me forced my head back into it's original position (which hurt like heck, by the way).
"None of your business," Joe answered finally.
"You're torturing a human being. I think that should be everyone's business." she replied firmly. She definitely didn't sound like a woman. She sounded 14 or 15.
There was more silence. Joe seems to be a slow thinker.
"Just get out of here," Joe said firmly, "we don't want any trouble, and I doubt you do either."
"Let him go, and there won't be any trouble," she said back. She sure was acting tough, and I hoped she could back it up.
"Are you threatening us?" He asked, obviously having a good time.
"Yes. Let him go, or else," she threatened.
"Or else what?" Joe asked, still in a joking manner.
"I'll hurt you all," she said, sounding confident.
They all started laughing hysterically. I felt the weight on my chest lighten and the grip on my arms and legs loosen. I saw my chance, and I took it.
I kicked the guy holding my legs in the gut and fire punched the guy holding my arms in the face. All of a sudden I was free, and thirsty for revenge. I rolled away from the guy who had his foot on my chest and got on my feet in pain because my back was still burnt and I had been lying on it. I shot a fire blast at the dude I kicked in the gut to keep him on the ground. The guy I had punched wasn't about to get up soon. It looked like I knocked him out cold.
So now it was even. 2 vs 2. Well, at least I hoped it was even. I had no idea who this girl was or if she could actually fight. I took a quick look a her and took in her features. She was 2 or 3 inches shorter than me, meaning she was about 5'7. She had long, blond hair that she let flow loose. She had blue eyes, and a pretty face. She was the perfect model. My heart actually skipped a beat while I studied her because I had never seen anyone that good looking in the whole territory. That bothered me. I had never seen her before. Never in my life. But every kid in the Fire Faction is required to go to the official Faction school. But I had never seen her before.
I realized I had been spacing for a few seconds, just staring at her. I snapped out of it embarrassed and began to look away, when I noticed she was staring at me with wide eyes, trying to get my attention. Once she saw she had it, she flashed her eyes to the right and then back to me. I kept staring at her, confused. She did it a couple times more when I realized she was signaling for me to run.
I didn't want to run. I wanted to pound their butts.
I shook my head and focused my attention on the other two guys I didn't knock out. They were both kneeling on the ground attempting to wake the other two up.
"Hey," I said, trying to sound threatening, "you guys gonna fight, or what?" I lit my fists. They didn't look too excited about fighting at all. I'm not surprised, though. They've seen me beat Buddy twice, without much competition, and on top of that, I just knocked out two of their friends. They both came to their feet and sized us up. I did the same. The first one looked to be about my age and on the skinny side; he was also an inch or so taller than me. The other one looked older than me by maybe a year. He was really tall, maybe 6'4. He was built, too. Other than Buddy, he looked to be the only other competition I had in the territory.
They looked me up and down, then checked the girl out. The older one smiled when he sized her up. He obviously didn't think she was any competition. Unfortunately, neither did I. She just looked like your normal, Fire Faction girl. Except she looked better than any I had ever seen. But that aside, she didn't look like she was about to do any sort of damage.
The older one lit his fists and began to advance, but then paused. He then looked at the other guy, and nodded. They seemed to have something up their sleeves. I had literally no idea how the skinny one had any idea what the older one was thinking. They just looked at each other.
The skinny dude lit his arms and they both started to advance. I got into an athletic position and intensified the fire on my fists. My adrenaline was flowing, and I was pumped, but I knew not to make the first move. Rule one of any fight: Do not make the first move. The counter-attack is proven to be the most affective of all types of attacks, mainly because the enemy is at his most vulnerable right after he strikes at you.
They both advanced on me. Wonderful. A double-team. They must really think the girl can't do a thing.
Right when they were almost on top of me, they did something unexpected.
They both charged the girl.
© Copyright 2016 Steve Aboagye. All rights reserved.
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