Book 1: Fire-Chapter 1
With a start, he was awake. His body was slicked with sweat, beads of the salty liquid running down his skin and dripping onto the earth beneath him. The grass was soft and lush, and the air was filled with that certain salty humidity that made the man guess that he was near a coast. He tried to sit up, but the motion almost made him vomit. Slowing himself, he tried again.
Once he was sitting upright, he turned his head to view more of his surroundings. Nothing particularly interesting, but to the man, everything he saw was invaluable. The dirt was dark and rich, with the plants especially lush. The rocks with black and porous. And when he looked up, the mountain beside him wasn't just a mountain, but a volcano. The man made sure to note all of this, taking a sticky note pad and pen out of his jacket pockets.
When he was sure he could stand without getting vertigo, he eased himself up and stretched, feeling his bones pop. He scanned the horizon and spotted a dock near the waters. Where there was a dock, usually there were people. At the very least, there'd be something to give him more information.
He wobbled down the hill, trying his best to not fall. Feeling this weak was strange, something he hadn't experienced in several years. Not since he was small and helpless. He managed to get to a path, where the ground was much easier to stand on. He breathed out, wiping sweat from his brow.
"Hello?" He called, cupping his hands around his mouth. So far he hadn't seen any sign of there being a colony here, but he couldn't be sure. It wasn't the US, he was sure of that. So Hawaii was out.
No response. He treaded onwards, down the hill. The constant lapping of the waves was pleasant, but not reassuring.
"Hello?" He called again, raising his voice.
At least this time he got an answer. A young girl, no older than 7, with Eastern Asian features ran around a large boulder, dressed in a red and gold smock. Her eyes matched the gold from her dress, strikingly so.
He smiled at her, going from tall and intimidating to sweet and harmless with just a simple expression. The girl approached him carefully, observing him like he was unlike anything she'd ever seen before.
"It's okay, I won't hurt you." He said soothingly. He had no intention of doing so.
The girl responded with a slew of sounds that sounded vaguely like Japanese. The man stared at her for only a moment before recovering. Of course, there'd been a very big possibility he was in a place they didn't speak English.
He'd bent down on one knee and pointed to the boulder then her. She seemed to get the general gist, as she grabbed his hand and dragged him to a hut that was hidden from where he had been.
A man with a long graying beard to match his hair was sitting on the porch, making something. The girl let go of the lost man's hand and ran towards what the man assumed to be her father. She hugged her father and spoke quickly in the strange language, occasionally looking at the lost man.
Her father got up and approached him, inspecting him the same way she did. He spoke slowly to the lost man, enunciating each syllable as if that'd make the English-speaker understand. It didn't.
The native looked surprised at the man's reaction, like not speaking their language was uncommon. The man pointed at himself and slowly said,
The stranger repeated it, but the word sounded wrong to him, like that combination of syllables shouldn't exist. He then pointed to himself.
Wang looked at Alfred as if he thought those syllables were as wrong sounding as "Wang" was to him. Reluctantly he sounded it out. "Arfled?"
It was close enough. Alfred nodded and pointed at the girl. "Who?"
Wang blinked in confusion, but it seemed the girl got it. She smiled and pointed at herself. "Rika."
That wasn't too hard of a name. "Rika." He liked the way it sounded. The girl smiled so brightly she could've blinded him. Alfred laughed. Even with the language barrier, he could understand her.
He peeled off his jacket and wrapped around his waist, the heat becoming too much for him. The girl looked at him and said more gibberish. Alfred just shrugged, unable to understand. The girl seemed to take that as an answer, as she ran inside the shack. She came back out carrying an animal skin with a leather cord around it.
Alfred felt a wave of nostalgia. That looked like a canteen he'd owned back in his youth. Rika gave him the skin, which was, as he guessed, filled with water. It felt so nice to drink water that he finished the entire skin. The girl giggled and spoke to her father. Wang glanced at Alfred and sighed with a smile. He coaxed Alfred towards the house.
Inside their hut, Alfred was seated on a handmade chair in front of a table. Wang prepped dinner while little Rika babbled to Alfred in her language. Alfred was warmed by their hospitality. A sweet, simple family living on a beautiful island. It was like something from a fairytale.
Rika decided to run off to another room, leaving Alfred and Wang alone. Wang sliced the vegetables carefully, precision in every cut. Alfred decided to fill the silence with a song. But what to sing? Definitely, something that had an easy rhythm. He decided on an old favorite of his.
"I've been working on the railroad
All the livelong day
I've been working on the railroad
Just to pass the time away
Can't you hear the whistle blowing
Rise up so early in the morn
Can't you hear the whistle blowing
Dinah, blow your horn
Dinah won't you blow
Dinah won't you blow
Dinah, won't you blow your horn
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow,
Dinah, won't you blow your horn
Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah
Someone's in the kitchen I know
Someone's in the kitchen with Dinah
Strumming on the old banjo
Fee fie fiddle eell o
Fee fie fiddle eell o
Fee fie fiddle eell o
Strumming on the old banjo."
Rika returned when he was reaching the second verse, holding two dolls that resembled corn husk dolls. She didn't start playing with them until he was done with her song. She stared at him in wonder, her golden irises full of childish happiness. She tried singing the song, but it sounded all warbled. Alfred shook his head.
"I've been." He said clearly.
"I'rve beehn." She repeated.
"All the live"
"Arle zhe live."
She beamed and repeated her new sentence carefully. "I'rve beehn whurting ohn zhe railload arle zhe live lonhg day."
Alfred nodded. Her English was shaky, but her memory was fantastic. She sang the song while playing with her dolls. Alfred tapped his fingers to the beat. The duo continued their performance until Wang set the bowls of soup in front of them. It smelled delicious, especially to Alfred's empty stomach. He waited until his host started eating first, however, so he wouldn't do something to disrespect him or his culture.
It turned out that nothing needed to be done, be it was always good to err on the side of caution. He sipped the soup from the bowl, copying his host. The broth was light and salty, filled with strange vegetables Alfred had never seen. The meat was different as well, tasting like a mix of rabbit and pork. He ate it all.
By the time they finished eating, the sun was setting on the horizon. Alfred wasn't going to ask for more hospitality from these people if he didn't have to, but they insisted(through many gestures) that he stay the night. As far as he could figure, something good was happening soon.
Alfred agreed to stay.
It wasn't the next day. Or the day after that. Or the next week. Every night it seemed that something was coming, but every morning Alfred saw nothing. Wang and Rika practically adopted him, even going so far as to build him his own room in the house. While Wang worked outside on his garden or the house, Rika and Alfred taught each other their languages.
Alfred struggled with her language a lot more than she did his, which perplexed him. He was born with an affinity for languages, but it seemed to be working against him now. He'd forget words from the previous day. He messed up on pronunciation. He felt clumsy while learning.
Meanwhile, Rika was proving to be a prodigy. Her pronunciation was better than most non-native speakers, and her language was precise for how little she knew. Alfred found himself wanting to give up learning her language altogether and just teach her English, but he stayed with his commitment.
Today was 16 days after he'd arrived. Rika woke him up by flopping on him and giggling.
"Morning!" She chirped. She bounced on Al's stomach, which did not feel great for the young man.
"I want to lealn!" She exclaimed. Of course, she wanted to learn. Alfred figured out a few days after they'd met that while Rika was intelligent for her age, she didn't get much of a chance to learn. Alfred arriving was like getting Christmas-level presents on a regular old Monday to her. And who was he to deny her knowledge?
He started with English, wanting to build up enough of a vocabulary for her to understand other topics. They practiced writing in the sand. And as a special treat, Alfred taught her a song every night.
Today's lesson was Useful Phrases
"Stop." He stated. He then rolled a round stone on the sand and waited for it to stop moving. Once it had, he repeated the word. "Stop."
Rika seemed to understand. She drew a rain cloud and then a regular cloud. "Stop. No water."
Alfred nodded with pride. "Go." He said as he moved the rock again. He then pointed as the tide started receding. "Go."
This continued as the sun reached its peak in the sky, the duo creating a way for them to understand each other.
Alfred laid back on the sand and pretended to sleep, closing his eyes. "Sleep."
She mimicked him, first saying the word in her own language and then English. Al sat up and wiped the sweat from his skin. His glasses and jacket were inside his "room", safely tucked away where they wouldn't be destroyed. Rika tilted her head. "What wrohng?"
Alfred patted his stomach. "Hungry."
She nodded. "I hungly."
Alfred corrected her. "I'm hungry too."
She repeated it before standing and pulling on his hand. "Go!"
Alfred nodded at her correct use and followed her inside. Wang was out for the day, exploring the island for resources. Alfred dug inside their stores and found a good amount of ingredients to make a decent lunch.
Rika watched dutifully as he chopped the vegetables and dried meat. Alfred slowed enough for her to see his movements before handing her the knife. He guided her hand and slowly, she cut an entire fruit resembling a mix between a bell pepper and a strawberry. She looked at him, eyes sparkling.
He let her cut the rest(with his help of course) and when it was all done, he slid the chopped ingredients onto a metal sheet. He transferred the sheet to a fire pit outside, where the coals were kept glowing day and night. Carefully, he cooked the vegetables and meat together, gently stirring the mix so none would fall into the fire. It smelt good. He used two blocks of wood carved for holding the plate and brought it out of the fire and inside. While he and Rika ate, his mind drifted elsewhere.
What was going on back home? He was stranded, and after many tries with his cell phone, he'd figured he had no reception. The internet didn't even load. He hoped his job was doing fine without his management. Sure, not many people even knew he worked there, but his job was crucial to the business.
While lost in his thoughts, Rika happily eat the strange meal Alfred made. Ever since he arrived, she didn't feel lonely. Papa got to explore. Rika was glad, and secretly, she wished Alfred would never leave.
As she stuffed a piece of chicken-snake in her mouth, she heard a familiar horn from the ocean. She got up and ran outside, and there it was. The ship. Alfred followed her outside and stared at the ship.
He looked happy, confused, and even a little scared. Rika hugged him so he would feel better. It worked because he smiled once she did. Good thinking Rika.
He muttered something in his language, words too complicated for Rika to understand fully. She caught a few words, like "What" and "here". She felt frustrated she couldn't tell him.
The ship got closer to shore, water hitting the sides of the vessel. It was smaller than the last one but still massive. Before she could do anything, Alfred ran down the mountain towards the beach. Rika tried to follow, but Alfred was too fast. She tripped and fell, rolling down the grass and into a clump of bushes.
She got quite a few scrapes and cuts, but she couldn't cry. Alfred got cut once and he didn't cry. She was a big girl.
She stood wobbly and carefully took the same path, now knowing to avoid her previous mistake. When she reached the dock, the ship was already tethering itself to the poles. Alfred looked up at the ship, and Rika was surprised that she couldn't read his face.
"Bad." He muttered. "Thisses bad."
She understood the "bad", but not really. Why was the ship bad? They helped her and papa. And they would probably help Alfred too.
The boat made a hissing-grinding noise as a plank fell from above. The first to walk down was none other than Prince Zuko himself. Rika bowed respectfully as her Papa taught her. Alfred just stood, watching.
Prince Zuko ignored Rika, which, in all honesty, was a good thing. She didn't want to make him mad. He was a firebender. He just stared at Alfred.
"Who are you?" He asked scarily. Alfred stayed silent, unable to understand. Rika got to her feet and tried to translate to Alfred.
Alfred looked down at her. His eyes were grateful and something else. He answered slowly in her language.
"I am Alfred."
Rika was so proud. His pronunciation was great! Prince Zuko didn't look happy at all though.
"Do you not understand me? Are you deaf?"
Rika couldn't translate. She didn't know how to say that to Alfred. Alfred stayed quiet. The Prince scowled and tried speaking in a strange way. Rika was confused. It sounded completely different from English, but apparently Alfred knew it. He responded in the same language. The Prince didn't that angry anymore, but he did look confused.
This made Rika wonder who Alfred was even more.
The boy from the boat was no older than 16, but the intensity in his eyes matched that of someone wrongly convicted and condemned. The scar that marred the right side of his face was red and raw-looking, despite Alfred knowing it had to be a few years old.
He spoke in the same language as Rika and Wang, but Alfred could feel the authority dripping off every jumble of sounds. Obviously he had some power, as little Rika bowed to him with no question. Alfred stood his ground. He wouldn't bow until he knew who he was bowing for.
The boy stared at him and asked him what sounded like a question, but Alfred could not answer. Luckily, Rika could.
"Who you?" Rika translated. Alfred thought about his answer but chose a simple approach.
"I am Alfred." He said in the native tongue. The boy watched him before saying something else. Alfred didn't understand, and by the look on Rika's face, she couldn't translate. The boy scowled at him.
"Do you understand this?" He asked in Japanese. Alfred was surprised. He recognized this language, and luckily, knew how to speak it.
"Yes, I do. Who are you?" He asked this as formally as possible, trying to not anger the boy. He might be young, but that didn't exactly mean he didn't have power.
"I am Prince Zuko of the Fire Nation. What about you?"
Alfred frowned. A prince. He didn't like monarchies for various reasons, but he didn't know enough about this "Fire Nation" to form a reasonable opinion. He responded the same way as before. "I am Alfred."
The Prince looked lost. "What nation are you from?"
Alfred could see Rika walking away in his peripheral vision, but didn't look her way. He needed to keep his focus on Zuko.
"The US of A. Where am I currently?"
The Prince blinked. "Ash Island. I've never heard of the US of A. If I show you a map, can you point it out?"
Alfred could see confusion was plaguing both of their minds. It was like they were still speaking two different languages. Maybe he was more familiar with the name America? Alfred couldn't figure it out. "Sure."
The Prince turned swiftly and walked up the gangplank without even looking back. Alfred followed with an eye roll. Damn royals.
The ship was hot and smelly inside, stinking of body odors Alfred wished he had Febreeze for. It seemed to be completely metal, but Alfred couldn't tell what type. Probably steel. The prince walked down the corridors with the same confidence as someone who was giving a house tour, familiar with every doorway and turn. Alfred would've explored every room if he could, but for now, he'd respect the prince's property. He vaguely wondered if "The Fire Nation" was a nickname for a country that he was unaware of, like how Japan was "The Land of the Rising Sun".
The prince went inside a room. It was large and filled with chests overflowing with papers. On the wall hung a tapestry, simple and striking. It was red with a black flame insignia weaved into the fibers. Below it was a table with a map stretched across its surface. The prince gestured at it impatiently. "Well?"
Alfred studied the map. He expected it to be a map of the Pacific, or maybe the world, but this map was very, very different.
It was hand-drawn, stylistically matching many maps made before globalization was the norm. The landmasses had little detail other than being colored seemingly at random. The landmasses were unfamiliar. There was no title or label, or even a year. No key was anywhere on the map.
In short, Alfred was lost. He scratched his head. "I really don't know. What is this map even of?"
The prince grew annoyed. "The world, you idiot! How do you not know where your home is when you know how to speak High Court?"
Alfred was taken aback by this boy's rudeness. He was what, 14? "I'm sorry if your map is crappier than elephant dung. Stupid kid."
Apparently the Prince not only was snotty but also had anger issues. His face scrunched up with fury and he punched straight at Alfred. Alfred, having been in more than his fair share of fights, ducked.
What he hadn't expected was the freaking flame that shot out of the kid's hand. Alfred had ducked low enough that he wasn't hurt, but if he'd been a little higher...
To put it nicely, Alfred would not be happy. The boy didn't give up after one punch either, because of course not. He roundhouse kicked at Alfred, and with his new knowledge of the boy's supernatural affinity for fire, Alfred jumped away. Another flame.
Alfred scrambled for the exit, trying to get out of such a tight area. Normally he didn't run from fights, but this was different. He was sorely underprepared. It was almost as bad as bringing a water balloon to a gunfight.
The prince chased after him down the halls. Alfred ran down random corridors, hoping they would lead outside. It was just his luck that they ended up in the boiler room. How'd he even get lower on the ship?
This room was, if even possible, hotter than the rooms above. Alfred was sweating through his shirt, but he had no time to take it off. Mr. Hot Head shot two more flame-charged punches at Alfred, which he ducked. Alfred scanned for any place to run. Nowhere. Damnit.
The prince smirked. "You're trapped, Alfred."
Alfred smirked. "Not quite." He kicked the prince's legs, sending him falling. Alfred ran, leaving the angry prince behind. Now where to go? Off the boat would be too dangerous. They could hurt Rika and Wang. He'd hide inside.
He ran through the boiler room and into a storage closet. He held his breath, hiding behind a barrel of salty-smelling meat. The room was dark and dry, relatively cool compared to the rest of the ship. He heard the prince's footsteps go by the room and he gave a small sigh of relief. He sat there, waiting, for what seemed like forever. Eventually, he fell asleep, lost to the world of dreams.
He had no idea what awaited him.
Hey y'all, it's me!
I know I haven't been active in ages, but I felt a lack of inspiration for all my stories and couldn't think of anything to write. With school and writer's block, I didn't make time for myself to relax and write, but now I am. I'm hoping to finish this story, so please, if you have even a little time, comment where you laughed, cried, or reacted in another manner. If you see a mistake, let me know! I want this to be enjoyable. And finally, please, if you enjoy the story I've created, please leave a kudos. It means a lot to me. I read every single review.
I really hope for the best!