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The Dancing Flower

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Fire was a beautiful thing. A blooming, dancing flower of varying reds, oranges, and yellows. At the age of three, the first born princess of the Northern Water Tribe knew of the red dancing flower that bloomed in the palace fireplace and lit the halls from the torches mounted out of her reach. Though her name meant North, she set her sights on the gifts of the South, on the benders of her favorite flower that she had never seen before, but heard of in tales.

Fire was a warm thing. It breathed Agni’s warmth into the arctic winters of the North. Its healing warmth leached into the Great Hall during the weekly Tribal Dinner. Its intoxicating scent lured her during the Long Night when Tui blesses her people with a months-long twilight. Naturally, she loves these few months where her Mother Spirit gives her children the gift of excess energy. The Chief does not like that his oldest daughter, his only little bender, goes a little insane every year during the seemingly eternal night. His first northern princess sits out passed bedtime, despite being only four and needing the rest to grow, and stares up at Tui’s soft blue light. She speaks to the moon spirit at times and at others is silent. During the day hours of the Long Night, if she’s been outside longer than two hours, she sits in front of the fire, too close for Arnook's comfort, and watches the flames eat up the wood and wriggle upwards. She speaks to the fire, too, telling Agni though the indoor pyre about her adventures with Tui and her watery counterpart, La.

Fire was an artful thing. That blooming, dancing flower apparently had the talent to teach his little North the art of ballet. Of course, she asked her father for real lessons when she decided Agni couldn’t teach her how to dance like the fire, as she was not his flaming child, but instead Tui’s healing one. And so, the Chief asked the best dancing instructor in the Tribe to join Yagoda and Pakku -- both masters and teacher, the former instructing the art of healing and the latter lecturing on world history, strategy, and anything else a princess would need to know (including waterbending fighting styles in secret) -- in teaching his eldest daughter. His North Star was a fast learner and by five, was dancing by the fire in an almost-pointe, water streaming to follow her graceful movements.

Fire was an envious thing, the Chief once told his daughters. His youngest, his little moon, his Yue, with starlight hair and a blessing from Tui herself, had pitched a fit over her older sister bending. In her words, “it isn’t fair, daddy, Kita always does better with dancing because she always has a dance partner. It’s just not fair!” Arnook had heaved a heavy sigh and brought both little girls on either knee and told them a story. A story of the envy that fire could hold for others and the envy that the people of the Fire Nation held for all other peoples. He told them the story of two brothers (“not of blood, my little oceans, but just as close.”) that loved each other just as his daughters did. Until one grew resentful and allowed his greed to control him. His hate grew over the years and he eventually killed his brother so he could begin the Hundred Year War. Yue was crying by the end and swearing vehemently that she’d never hate Kita enough to hurt her, only enough to yell sometimes. Kita had rubbed at her sniffling nose, nodded sadly, and agreed that she’d never, ever hate her baby sister for as long as she lived.

Fire is an angry thing. It does not like to be touched his North tells his Moon one evening after Yue reached for her sister’s favorite flower. His silver haired princess cried after the flames licked up her palm, biting an angry red burn on her four year old palm. Kita had soothed her in a way the Chief and his wife were never able to and dipped her slightly bigger hand into a bucket. The ball of water she pulled from the bucket had engulfed Yue’s hand and glowed a soft blue, healing the mark from her little sister’s hand in seconds. “You mustn’t touch it, Moon. Agni’s babies don’t like to be touched and they get mad and bite you if you do. I didn’t know until Tui told me and La showed me how to fix it.” Arnook had realized that day that his eldest daughter had been healing before Yagoda started teaching her, that she’d gone to the oasis and spoken to the spirits and was answered.

Fire is a dangerous thing. Kita learned long ago that her favorite flower was angry and its bite was painful, but it wasn’t until she was six years old that she realized it was dangerous, that "Agni had made a mistake in blessing his people." Her father’s words had rung in her head the day the black snow fell. She’d heard of the black snow from the elders, who had heard from their fathers the Day of Black Snow, when the Fire Nation failed to invade their icy fortress in the early days of the war. Their raids had never reached mainland until that summer day, when the Long Day was in full swing and Tui’s light hadn’t graced the land in a month. Their benders were low on energy. They rise with the moon, but with the sun up for a full month, they could barely hold the firebenders back. The invaders breached the palace, set on taking the Chief prisoner, but instead learned for his wife that he was out fighting. She refused to give her children away, the Fire Nation not knowing how many children she had or whether they were male or female certainly helped. But with a burst of flame, Kita watched helplessly as a firebender struck her mother down from where she hid under her parents’ bed. She had stuffed her little sister in her mother’s dresser before finding her own hiding spot. The bender had heard Kita cry out, scared her mother would never wake from where she lay unmoving on the floor. Rough hands had snatched her right from her hiding place, so hot they nearly burned her through her parka, and stole her away. Agni’s people, his children, locked her in a cage and burned her through the bars, that dancing flower slithering out of their fingers to bite her and leave pain behind. There was never enough water to heal herself.

Fire was her beautiful, dancing, blooming flower. Now it was the snake that coiled around her arms and constricted scars into her skin. Now it was the cloying, mesmerizing siren that taunted her dreams and called her back to the water.