You are five years old when you discover you can earthbend. Your father was a bender and you remember the swift purpose of the soil moving through his fingers. You remember the rocks springing from the ground that kept the plants from growing. You remember, too, although you try to forget, when he was too ill to move the earth, an emptiness you didn’t yet understand.
Your mother promises you she is thrilled but you sense that’s not the entire truth. When you are old enough, she finds you a teacher, an old woman from the next village over who knew your father. A few years into your training she tells your mother in confidence (you listen through the wall of your bedroom as they take tea in the kitchen) that you can go farther than your small farm. You know your mother’s mouth forms a straight-across line although you cannot see it. The air is sticky-thick with summer and you cannot breathe for the excitement.
Republic City is larger than anything you might have tried to imagine, and dirty and noisy and crowded. At night you stay awake and learn it - there is so little earth here, not of the kind you know, and you wonder. There is a jar of soil you took from the farm and though you think yourself silly and sentimental it’s place by your window comforts you.
It happens on a completely ordinary night. On one of your walks, you see them stop a mugging. Two little boys, one of them is a firebender who tries to help but they push him out of the way to safety. When it’s over, the older boy grabs tight to his brother and nods before they run off, a look of understanding between him and the tall woman with sharp eyes who must be the captain. She lets them go.
The next morning you go to the station and learn her name, and what you have to do, and how much you might regret it. Metalbending has always seemed like a fable to you, but here it is, as real and attainable as anything. As different as anything you have ever known. Suddenly you belong here. You have a purpose, liquid silver coursing through you and growing just as another kind of earth once did.
For your first promotion Lin takes you out for drinks and you tell her, flushed and elated, that you can’t imagine ever doing anything else.
The police scanner plays incessantly, until the words you hear start to mean nothing, you start to write letters and don’t finish them. In your dreams you are swinging from wires and you are a child helping your father plant vegetables and you have made your first boulder move - connected and whole and entirely fake, you sleep as much as you can.
Lin is your first visitor, or the first you let in.
“There’s a lot you can do to protect this city, even now,” she says. “I hope you know that.”
Suddenly you feel very selfish.
“I’m sorry,” Lin says, and you know she means it.
You ask her to leave.