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A Pact of Ice and Fire

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As an acquaintance to the Avatar, Natsuki Subaru himself was exceedingly, overwhelmingly normal.


Out of the four elemental nations, he belonged to none. While a claim could be made that his ancestors once belonged with a specific affiliation, it was long gone by the time he himself was born. As such, even his clothing was not of the colours one would usually adorn themselves with, instead made of a mix of orange and black. But Subaru was quite proud of it, going as far to consider it his own family emblem. And rather than plain, this get-up often made him stick out, despite being no one of particular inheritance, ability, nor power. If he had any importance at all, it would be his connection with Reinhard van Astrea, or better known as the current generation’s Avatar. He was everything Subaru wasn’t: talented, hard-working, and strict with a strong sense of moral code. Reinhard, with bright red hair and shining blue eyes, was the proud fire nation’s greatest accomplishment. Subaru, meanwhile, was just a random kid who happened to be raised in the same village.


But it was fine. As a non-bender, Subaru was free from expectations and responsibility, something he viewed as a hassle in itself. While Reinhard was stuck with the role of keeping peace and maintaining order, Subaru was free to do whatever he wished. Being a non-bender in an overwhelmingly bender-central society was special in its own right.
Socially, however, it didn't help that he was a non-bender. It only severed his ties with civilization even further. After his parents passed away, as a wandering traveller with no particular destination, he was carefree, thoughtless, and optimistic. After all, one of the perks that came with having no familial relation was the lack of any sort of responsibility. That was how he had lived for most of his life, even as he came upon the bustling capital city of Lugunica.


It was there that his comfortable life, free of burden, officially ended.

 


 

 

Having stumbled upon this urban centre, Subaru had no prior preparations. As he lived similar to a backpack hiker, it would be natural to assume his lack of personal belongings. In fact, he was so pathetic that aside from the very clothes on his back, he held nothing else, save for some petty pocket money, a bag of half-eaten snacks, and a rare grooved coin he found while wandering the roads on the merchant highway.


Yet of course he would be the one to encounter three thugs in a back-alley.


Granted, it would be Subaru's fault that he wandered in here in the first place. It should've been common sense number one that in big cities, small and cramped areas with little surveillance and noise were to be avoided. But Subaru was without a sense of self-preservation, and evidently, he would pay the price. The thugs glared at him, eyeing up and down to see if anything worth money was on his person. They were hesitant, and Subaru felt that. After all, amongst the citizens clad in red, he was the only one of a different colour.

As a fire nation capital, Lugunica was swarmed with fire benders, and fire nation citizens. Quite a nationalistic bunch, they were, openly flaunting their homeland to any tourists, visitors, or immigrants. When Subaru first arrived, it was quite an intimidating sight. However, he also quickly realized it to be a good thing - when people are too distracted on the good, they often disregard and ignore other aspects. As such, Subaru was able to navigate the streets without too many wide-eyed fire nation citizens asking him questions regarding his upbringing.


The thugs in front of him however, have fully noticed his presence.


“Can’t we talk this out?” Subaru’s voice cracked nervously. That was never a good start. Backing away from the dark alley, his feet scraped against the ground.


“If you want to get out of this alive, then you’d do well to cough up everything you’ve got!” The short one called out threateningly. Although he tried his best to sound intimidating, his squeaky voice undermined his efforts. The fact that he had a bowl cut and looked like a mushroom didn’t help much, either.


Still, letting one’s guard down just because of appearances would be idiotic, even more so for Subaru. After all, it was unclear whether any of the thugs were benders. No matter how wimpy they appeared to be, if any single one of them held the power of the elements at their fingertips, Subaru was at their mercy.


On the flip side, the thugs seemed to be wary of Subaru for the exact same reason.


“I don’t have anything on me,” Subaru started again, hoping to stall time for as long as he can. “See?” Brandishing his empty pockets, he mustered an unconvincing smile.


The middle thug, with outlandish blue hair and slanted eyes, growled. He was the stereotypical punk teen who strayed from societal norms to appear “edgy”. Subaru hated those types, mostly because he once was the same way, although not going as far to rob innocent citizens. But the overly chuuni way he used to speak, he shuddered from just recalling the memory. “Shut up and give us your money!”


A metallic shiink sounded out from behind the blue-haired youth, and then, a bright reflection. It was a blade. Two, in fact, one he held in each hand. They were curved, half-moon blades, reminiscent of ones that water-tribe pirates often carried. So, he wasn’t a bender, after all.


Weapons were a rare sight. Almost never carried by benders themselves, they were seen as crude and inefficient. In the rarest circumstances, they were collected for their fine craftsmanship and price, never for practical combat use. In military situations, ballistas, cannons, and even bows were preferred, never close-range types. After all, by the time a sword could reach someone’s neck, they would’ve already been blasted to bits by the opponent’s fire. Of course, that didn’t mean that such weapons were useless. In fact, Subaru was a firm believer in using any tools that was available. They were still widely distributed for the sake of self-defense and bearing arms. Even bending cannot last forever in the face of limited stamina.


But even so, it was safe to assume that whoever carried such weaponry, only carried them because they haven’t got anything else better. If so, then maybe blindly bluffing his way through was possible.


“A non-bender, huh?” Subaru tried to smirk. “And you’re trying to mug someone? That’s pretty brave of you. Don’t you know what I can do?”


The thugs took a step back. “You’re.. You’re a bender?!” Mushroom-head stuttered.


So the initial assumption of them being non-benders was correct after all.


Good. I still have a chance! Make them nervous. Resolve this without it turning violent.


“Isn’t almost everyone?” Subaru bragged half-heartedly. He spread his hands out in a grand gesture, as if displaying his prowess. Despite having nothing else, his false bravado at least put his opponents on edge. “If you don’t want to get hurt, back off.”


He glared as best he could, which didn’t take a lot of effort. Unfortunately or fortunately, he was born with harsh eyes, which seemed to be angry with anything he gazed upon.


“Shut up. He’s bluffing.” The blue-haired boy analyzed. “Even if he is a bender. He’s probably a weak one. Strong benders wouldn’t be hanging around these dingy places.”


“Oi, oi,” Subaru reasoned. “You shouldn’t make generalizations like that, you know? What if I want to be here? Like… You know, collecting rare coins? You would be surprised at what people drop from their pockets whe-”


“Quit stalling.” The buff thug, who had kept silent all this time, finally opened his mouth. It was a sign that Subaru was pushing his luck. “You’re not a bender, are you? You would’ve blasted us with whatever element already if you were.”


Out of all three thugs, Subaru would not have expected the muscular one to make such a clever observation. He supposed that no matter where he went, stereotypes were to be broken. Still, it was a jarring sight, to see the other two, who in Subaru’s mind, were much more cunning and intelligent, nodding along at the buff thug’s realization, as if his statement had been an epiphany.


Subaru swallowed. The odds were not in his favour, and he was running out of things to say.


Guess I’m getting the shit kicked out of me today.


“Out of the way! Out of the way!”


A new voice cried out. It belonged to a young girl, her voice still cracking, high-pitch. Her silhouette zoomed past, just barely enough for Subaru to catch a glimpse. It was a sight to behold: she ran faster than the wind, and at one point, it seemed as if she ran perpendicular to the walls on either side, narrowing avoiding kicking Subaru’s head off.


Light clothing, red scarf, and a blessed affinity with the wind, everything about her screamed airbender.


“Sorry about that!” She voiced her trailing after-thought as she never even turned her head to look at Subaru.


“Hey!” Subaru shouted after her. “Can’t you help me a little bit? I’m kind of in a pinch here!” It was shameful to ask for help from someone far younger than him, who was a girl, in fact. But Subaru recognized his incompetence and came to terms with it a long time ago. And admittedly, the girl was far more skilled in air-bending that he was at almost anything in his own life.


She paused momentarily, her hair still almost drifting in the wind, defying gravity. In fact, her entire body seemed weightless, even as she stood there. Her scarf floated upwards, and her short jacket billowed lightly despite having no outward force propelling it. Subaru realized that it must’ve been her airbending at work, enveloping her being to make her faster and more agile. How lucky.


“Ah, sorry, bro,” She smiled sheepishly, as she analyzed the situation behind her. Her endearing choice of words certainly didn’t fit with her actions. She mocked a slight salute. “I’m in a pretty big hurry. Good luck with whatever you’re dealing with!” With that, she vanished behind a corner, the wind carrying her faster than any ride.


“And I thought airbenders were supposed to be philanthropists,” Subaru muttered, clicking his teeth together in a dissatisfied tsk.
The three thugs stood paralyzed at the sudden turn of events, but they were quickly regaining their bearings. It was clear now that Subaru was as powerless as he looked, and no outside help was coming. To the thugs, Subaru was an easy catch.


Mustering a facade, he held up his arms menacingly. At least he could go out in dignity. Maybe he could even land a couple of punches, if he was optimistic.


One second went by. Nothing happened. Subaru’s eyes were barely open, so he couldn’t see how far away the thugs were from him. He didn’t want to witness the way the thugs would rip him apart just moments later.


How should I pay for the medical bills later…? Aren’t they super expensive in big cities like these? Ahh, I hope only a couple of my ribs get fractured. Wait. One of them had swords. Won’t I die from just one measly stab? Should I really be worried about money when my life is on the line here??


“That’s enough.”


Another voice rang through amongst the silence. It was too fair to belong to any man, and it was more mature than the little airbender’s. So this was a newcomer. Subaru’s eyes carefully opened, and he saw that the thugs, who were just centimeters away from reaching him, have also paused, their heads turned away from Subaru. They seemed just as bewildered as he was.


“Please return what you’ve stole. If you do, I won’t escalate this matter any further. Please, it’s very important to me.”


Her voice was charming, to say the very least. It rang out clearly, softly, and was a nice switch from the crude and squeaky voice the airbender held. It had a soothing effect, almost, calming Subaru’s mind despite the predicament he was in. Nevertheless, he was saved, if only temporarily. Seeing the thugs’ attention on the girl as well, he daringly stretched his neck outwards, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.


She was absolutely beautiful. Long, glowing silver hair, flowing down all the way to her hips, finishing neatly in a little knot. Flower ornaments decorated the top of her head, only adding points to her charm. Blue clothing surrounded her, indicating her affiliation with the water tribe. Of course she should belong to that. It seemed the natural order of the universe, for such a girl to be associated with peaceful waters. The way she was dressed, it was almost as if she was royalty. Instantly, Subaru recognized her to be someone important. Exactly who, he would not know, but he had the common sense to know her social status, at least.


“What are you talking about?” The mushroom head piped up. “We didn’t steal anything!”


“Stop lying,” the girl replied almost instantaneously, brimming with absolute confidence. “Just be good and return them. I won’t bother you any further.”


“If anyone stole anything, it was that little girl who just flew by a second ago. Go after her! We’ve got nothing to do with you.” The tough one added helpfully. Twice now, have their attempts to mug Subaru gone interrupted by a third-party. Surely they were becoming annoyed. Even Subaru himself was becoming impatient. He considered quietly slipping away, but with the blue-haired thug constantly looking back at him every few seconds, that became improbable.


The silver-haired girl scrutinized the scene. When it became clear that the thugs were speaking the honest truth, she faltered.
“What? No way. Did I just… make a mistake? Puck was right, after all... Gosh. Alright.” Her features suddenly softened, and instead of an important, official figure, she now gave off the aura of a mere young girl, as air-headed as they come.


Realizing now that her priorities laid elsewhere, she sprinted across the alleyway, paying no heed to the young man in trouble. A strange sense of deja vu flitted across Subaru’s mind. How pathetic. This would be the second time in just one hour that he was abandoned by two girls.


He heard the thugs in front of him sigh audibly. However, he could only swallow in anxiety. Now, there really was nothing to stand in the way of Subaru finally being robbed.


But her footsteps stopped.


“Even so, I cannot let this situation go.” She said again, her face illuminated by the sun as she stepped out onto the alleyway exit. She had turned back at the last second, standing defiantly against the three thugs. She had her right hand stretched out towards them. Then-
Icicles the size of barrels blasted themselves into the alleyway. They seem to have come from behind her as they zoomed by. They expertly navigated themselves, targeting the thugs and narrowly missing Subaru. They shone like diamonds against the darkness of the alley, melting back to water as soon as they hit. It was an excellent display of the waterbending craft. The thugs themselves were speechless, as they got the air beaten out of them. They fell to the ground, gasping.


Subaru regained his footing instantly, now free of the thugs’ constant threat. He turned towards his saviour. After all, his first impression to her must have been that of a useless wimp, and he was determined to change that at all costs. He staggered towards her. “Thank you! You have no idea how bad of a day this has been for me, an-”


Before Subaru could finish his sentence, an icicle had also hit him square in the chest. The impact was far greater than he anticipated, and he fell back, choking on his own spit. How incomprehensible. His eyesight turned fuzzy, as his consciousness began to black out. Was he so weak that just one hit was enough to render him incapable?


Although, the bigger question was, why would the silver-haired beauty attack him when she had just saved him mere seconds earlier? But she seemed just as confused and distressed as he was, as she began running up to him. However, another icicle firmly planted itself in the ground between Subaru and her, establishing the barrier clearly.


“Puck!” Subaru heard her vaguely shout. Her voice was exasperated, and while Subaru saw that she stood a mere two meters away, her voice felt like it was underwater, reverberating against the alleyway walls. His eyelids fluttered once again as he tried to remain awake.


Is Puck a waterbending move? He thought. Despite having attended school, he dropped out at an early age, and as such, never learned the fundamentals and techniques behind the elements as well as the principles of bending. It would never bear fruit for Subaru on a physical level, but now, perhaps it would have come in handy on a theoretical perspective.


“Don’t come near her.”


Another voice yet again. How many new faces was Subaru going to see in just one day?


“Stop!” The girl yelled. Her voice was fainter this time.


Just before his consciousness gave way completely, he saw another figure. The bright light from the morning sun blinded his figure as he stood facing the alley, but he was short compared to the girl, and even more so compared to Subaru himself. Yet, he exuded a terrifying aura impossible to explain. It was clear who had shot those icicles.


Bearing similar silver-hair, the golden-eyed youth launched one more icicle into Subaru’s back. It didn’t pierce him, thankfully, but it was the last thing he saw before everything turned to black.