A new start, again. Usually people were more than happy when they could start over, but Floor wasn’t most people. One of a kind, that’s the least that could be said about the teenager. Long brown hair and a beautiful smile, impressive tattoos and muscles – those where just a few of Floor’s characteristics. The old Floor anyway. Today, she got a new start, so it was time to re-invent herself. She’d already gotten rid of the necklace she’d worn for years and put on the leather jacket she had bought earlier that day. The young woman that smiled back at her from the mirror looked confident and strong. A girl that knew what she wanted and was not to be messed with. Someone who seemed ready for the real world, someone Floor wanted to switch places with.
Floor could only wish she was as confident and ready as the woman in the mirror. The truth was that she was scared, just like she was with every new start – but this was different. She was not only scared of the failure she might face, there also was the unknown, the pressure to succeed, and her biggest fear waiting around every corner. The upcoming year would be a long one, and if she didn’t manage to grow a spine, it would be even longer.
Growing a spine started with doing the one thing she’d been postponing all day. There was no way around it, she had to decorate her room if she didn’t want to sleep on the ground that night. Her muscles already started aching at the thought of dragging her furniture into her room. Several boxes were waiting for her downstairs, filled with memories of other parts of the city. Republic City had been her home for nearly 19 years, almost her entire life, but it didn’t feel like that at all.
Every time she and her parents moved –or ‘made a new start’, as she called it– they just moved to another part of Republic City. A city so big that every time they moved, it felt like moving to another part of the world. The people were different, the houses were different, even the air smelled differently.
Eventually, it took Floor almost half an hour to get everything to her room. By now, she’d put together her interior so many times she knew how to do it by heart, and it wasn’t long before the room was ready to be decorated. A smile crawled on Floor’s lips as she opened the first box. It was the heaviest box and she knew exactly what was in there, yet it always made her happy to see the contents. Rocks of all sizes and colors from all the different places she’d been, like pieces of a puzzle. If one would put the rocks in the right order and knew the memories attached to them, they got the entire story of her life. A life that was never destined to be normal.
Carefully, Floor placed the rocks on the windowsill and watched them collect the warmth of the last rays of sun before moving on to the next box. One by one pieces of element-neutral clothes found their spot in the closet and pictures were placed on her nightstand. The leather bracelet that Floor found at the bottom of the box was a nice surprise. She’d been sure she’d lost it, but now it was safely placed around her wrist again. For almost 3 years they had been separated and Floor promised herself to never go so long without her lucky bracelet again.
The first item in the next box was also a surprise. The red piece of fabric was unfamiliar to her, but as soon as she pulled it out, she immediately recognized it. The symbol of the Fire Nation smiled at her as she held the flag in front of her. Floor wasn’t sure yet if it was a smile to mock her or to welcome her, but it definitely managed to make her uneasy. A little note was attached to the flag and she sighed as she recognized her father’s handwriting.
Floor dropped the flag on her bed and avoided the empty boxes on her way out. The stairway cracked as she ran downstairs, announcing her arrival to her parents already.
‘Where are you going?’ her mother asked as Floor walked straight towards the door.
‘Out, exploring the streets.’
‘Floor, be careful.’
Floor turned around as she heard the softness of her mother’s voice. A small smile was forced on her lips, but her mother’s eyes spoke the truth. She was serious, she was worried, and she had every right to be. She was right, Floor had to be careful not to lose herself.
The air outside was still warm, so it was no surprise that the streets weren’t empty yet. Talking, laughing, drinking – everything people do on a typical beautiful evening. Of course there also were playing kids whose laughter echoed between the houses, but a knot tied itself tightly around Floor’s stomach when she saw them. They were playing with fire. Literally.
‘Hey, hey! You should be careful with that!’ the two kids looked at Floor at the sound of her voice. The fire they’d been shooting from their limbs disappeared along with their laughter. ‘Fire is dangerous, you shouldn’t play with it.’
‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ one of the kids shouted back defiantly. ‘We’re benders, we know what we are doing!’
‘Yeah! You’re just jealous!’
Their shouts were followed by laughter again as they went on with their game. The kids ignored Floor and her advice, as if she wasn’t really there and nothing had happened. They had no idea of how wrong they were. They were young, they had no idea of the power of the element they were playing with. Even Floor, who was at least 10 years older than them, wasn’t familiar yet with its power.
With a sigh, Floor opened her hand and watched a flame grow in her hand. It warmed her face for a second, warmed the blood that ran through her veins. Then she closed her hand again. These kids had no idea what they were talking about.
One thing Floor absolutely hated about moving were the neighbors. No, she didn’t hate the neighbors themselves – she hated how her parents acted around them. They always wore those way too friendly smiles and today, they had woken her up to do the same. Floor could have sworn she felt her bed shaking when her father threw open the door of her room. Her sleep was brutally interrupted, but she was anything but awake. And definitely not in the mood to meet new neighbors. Luckily she wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
Across from Floor sat a couple that seemed to be around the same age as her own parents. Their children, two girls of about 18 and 16, seemed just as uninterested as her. The only good thing about this. She wasn’t interrogated, or forced into awkward conversations where she had to pretend she cared. She just had to sip her tea and nod every now and then. The girls in front of her did exactly the same – when they weren’t staring at her arms, that was. Floor knew the tattoos were eye catchers, but the continuous staring of the youngest girl was getting uncomfortable.
At first, Floor had just stared back. The girl seemed small for her age. She had an admittedly cute smile and piercing blue eyes, but it was her sister that caught Floor’s attention. Her name was Charlotte, if she remembered it right –‘Charlie for friends’. Her hair was as red as fire, the freckles on her face just a shade lighter. Everything about the girl seemed to yell ‘FIRE NATION’ and Floor decided she had to be what the perfect firebender looked like. A beautiful smile underneath flame-filled eyes and a skin that seemed to be on fire.
After a few minutes, Floor realized she was now the one who was staring, and Charlotte had noticed too. The girl just smiled before looking down and taking a sip of her tea. Meeting the neighbors had never been this awkward before. Floor just wanted to disappear.
‘Eh, mom?’ Charlotte carefully asked, breaking the uncomfortable silence between the three girls. ‘Is it okay if Merel and I show Floor around? I’m sure she wants to see the area.’
‘Oh, that’s a wonderful idea. Yes, of course you can go but-’
‘Yes, mom, we’ll be careful.’
Charlotte stood and her sister followed after finishing her tea. Floor decided to just leave her drink, she wasn’t interested in burning her tongue on the hot beverage. Outside, it was a lot warmer than it had been inside. It almost felt as if they got slapped in the face by the heat as they closed the door behind them.
‘Thank god you got us out of there!’ Merel said as she high fived her sister.
Charlotte also held up her hand for Floor, but she didn’t return the gesture. She just stared at the redhead’s palm, at the tattooed flame that almost seemed real. There was only one explanation for that kind of tattoo.
‘You’re a fire bender.’
‘Correction,’ Charlotte smiled ‘I’m a firebending master. Now are you going to high five me or not?’
Eventually Floor returned the gesture and she was surprised when their hands touched. Charlotte’s skin was so warm, as if the girl herself was a living flame.
‘You seem surprised, never seen a fire bender before?’ Charlotte asked.
‘I have, just not someone who seemed so proud to announce they are a fire bender, or a master in your case.’
‘It’s not my fault that a group of idiots had a stupid idea. I didn’t attack the Earth Kingdom, nor did my parents. So yes, I am proud to be a fire bender.’
Charlotte’s words were followed by a demonstration of her power. Floor had never seen such a powerful flame as the one that was shot into the air right in front of her. With a few simple movements of her hands Charlotte changed the directions of the flame. From one powerful line of fire it changed into an elegant swirl that settled around Floor’s body. Not once did the fire touch her, but its heat was intimidating enough. Floor felt unable to breathe, the warmth of the fire around her made her feel claustrophobic. Images of destroying fire flashed in front of her eyes, and then it was over. The heat disappeared with the flames as Charlotte lowered her hands.
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.’
‘You have to teach me,’ Floor breathed. ‘You have to teach me how to do that.’
‘The swirl? It’s not that hard, even Merel can do it with her water.’
‘Hey, I taught you that!’ the younger sister said indignantly.
‘No, you have to teach me how to bend fire,’ Floor interrupted the oncoming sibling fight.
‘You… do know that’s impossible, right?’ Charlotte carefully asked. ‘You’re either born a bender or not. I cannot teach you to bend.’
Floor simply answered with creating a small flame in her hand. The fire was insecure and weak, a perfect reflection of how Floor felt.
‘I am a bender,’ Floor said. ‘But I’m not trained. I need to be trained, that’s why we moved here. My parents left everything behind so I could learn how to bend fire. I want you to teach me.’
Charlotte looked at her with confusion written all over her face, but Floor was sure. Charlotte was around her own age, she was good and for some reason Floor trusted her. Maybe it was because of the swirl that was so powerful and elegant at the same time. Dangerous, yet protecting her against everything else. Maybe it was Charlotte’s smile or the fact that this girl was basically made of fire. Floor was certain. It had to be Charlotte.
‘Alright,’ the redhead eventually sighed. ‘I’ll do it, I’ll try to train you. But I can’t promise anything, you’ll be my first student.’
‘You won’t regret it.’
Floor smiled as the words left her mouth, but her heart was racing in her chest. She would do her best for Charlotte, but she also feared that she herself was going to regret this the most.
Floor had never seen a place that showed the power of fire so clearly as this one. The few blades of grass left were painted grey by ashes. The ground was black and the scent of fire had permanently settled in the air. If other benders besides fire benders also practiced here, there was no evidence of it.
Charlotte knew this area like the back of her hand. Her entire body was shining with confidence as she stood in front of Floor. She was wearing the traditional clothing of the Fire Nation, which made the image of her being a living flame even stronger. The girl was more than ready, but Floor was the complete opposite.
Even though she was able to bend the element, fire was her biggest enemy. She avoided it as much as possible, but now the time had come to turn that around. She wasn’t going to run from it anymore, she was going to face it – and then possibly break down in tears. Charlotte had promised her they would start easy, but Floor didn’t believe there was such a thing as easy fire.
‘Alright, show me your flame again,’ Charlotte smiled.
Floor did as she was told. She opened her hand and created a small flame. This she could handle, just a little flame that she would almost dare to call cute. Secretly she’d even named the little flame Felix, and Felix was the only fire Floor liked.
‘Okay, not bad,’ Charlotte interrupted her thoughts. ‘Now focus on the warmth of the fire, feel it flowing through your veins. Make the flame bigger, become one with it.’
The redhead’s words sounded so easy, but actually doing it was a lot harder. Floor tried to give Felix all her attention, she tried to feel him in every part of her body. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She tried to imagine Felix and her becoming one, how he sunk through her skin and ran through her veins. Her hand grew warmer and she opened her eyes as Charlotte’s excited voice sounded. Felix had grown. He was bigger and brighter, gave more warmth than ever before. He almost looked dangerous.
‘Yes, great! Now stretch your arm forward and push it away from you .’
Once again Floor did as she was told. Completely focused on the flame in her hand she stretched her arm and pushed the energy away. She prepared herself for a big uncontrolled fire, but the flame was just a sigh of the original one. Disappointed, Floor lowered her arm again and looked at her hand.
‘Don’t be disappointed,’ Charlotte said encouragingly as she placed her hand of Floor’s shoulder. ‘It was your first time, and you managed to make it move a bit. Don’t worry about it, just try again. Try to put all your energy into it.’
Once again Floor took a deep breath and raised her arm. Felix seemed to smile at her as he appeared again, this time immediately bigger and stronger. As she stretched her arm again, she got the same result, but Charlotte kept motivating her. She gave instructions, even cheered for her, but it had no effect on Floor’s fire. After trying for 20 times, Floor gave up.
‘I know it’s hard,’ Charlotte said. ‘But you can’t give up, you’re doing great! You have the muscles and the power, I know you can do it, I believe in you. Maybe try to run towards that pole and do it while running.’
For a second Floor looked at her with a risen eyebrow, but she decided not to question her teacher. She welcomed Felix again in her hand and started running towards the other side of the field. She stretched her arm and sent the energy forward. Once, twice, three times, and then she reached the pole Charlotte had send her to. The fire was never more than just a flame.
‘Is that what you call running?!’ Charlotte shouted from the other side of the field. With a smile the redhead sprinted across the field, appearing next to Floor within a few seconds. Easily she opened her hand and shot a flame to the place where they had just been standing. ‘Come on, again! I’ll help you.’
Floor wondered what surprise Charlotte had for her this time, but she got her answer as soon as she started running. It was a surprise she wasn’t happy with at all. Heat followed her, it chased her, and eventually fire appeared next to her. Floor’s breath got stuck in her chest as she realized what Charlotte was doing, which happened at the exact moment she stretched her arm. The flame that shot from her hand died as it reached the wall on the other side of the field. Her hand was burning, her heart was racing and her throat hurt from the scream that sounded. Floor immediately sunk through her knees and wrapped her hand in her shirt, tears stinging in her eyes as the pain grew. Charlotte and Merel, who had been watching from the side, came running towards her and kneeled at her side. Carefully, Charlotte took Floor’s hand and slightly gasped as she saw the burned flesh.
‘Don’t worry, I got it.’
With a fast motion Merel opened the bottle of water she carried around her waist and guided the water towards Floor’s burned hand. The cold water felt great, but the tingling that followed was even better. The water seemed to glow as soon as it touched Floor’s skin and slowly, the pain faded. In awe with what had just happened Floor looked at her hand after Merel had guided the water back into the bottle. The burn was healed, the pain was gone.
‘I have never seen someone burn their own hand with bending.’
Charlotte’s whisper pulled Floor from her thoughts and she looked at the redhead in anger.
‘Don’t you ever dare to do that again,’ Floor hissed, her heart still racing in her chest and the tears rolling over her cheeks. Not from pain, but just from the shock.
‘Are you… are you scared?’
Floor could only nod. There were no words to describe how she felt about fire. She was scared to death, she hated it, and at the same time it was such a huge part of her.
‘Please, don’t shoot fire at me again until I tell you I’m ready for it.’
‘No, of course not,’ Charlotte assured her as she slowly pulled Floor up. ‘Come on, that was enough for today. You need to go home now and tomorrow we’ll start over, slowly.’
Floor weakly smiled to thank her teacher. She felt how the sisters walked close to her on both her sides, ready to support her in case she needed it. They cared, they really cared about her, but it still would be an awfully long training until she mastered the art of fire bending.
The sound of a twig cracking underneath a heavy foot rang through the night in the quiet village. The inhabitants of the village were all asleep, but the group of men that entered the village were wide awake. They were on a mission, and nothing or no one would stop them. The sleeping village was soon turned into a war zone. Children were crying as they were pulled from their beds or their mother’s arms. Houses were set on fire and people lost their lives as they fought back. What once was a peaceful village of earth benders and their families, was now just a ruin of burned houses and crying people. The village and it inhabitants were scarred for life.
Floor woke up with her heart racing in her chest and her pajamas soaked with sweat. Several seconds passed before Floor realized what had just happened and she let herself fall back on the mattress. It was just the dream again. She had seen the same thing happen in her sleep over and over again. Every time the same village was attacked by the same group of fire benders. She knew exactly when a child would start to cry, when the first house was set on fire. The look on the face of one of the kids when it was pulled out of its mother’s arms had haunted Floor for months before she had accepted there was nothing she could do for the child.
Floor knew sleeping would not be an option for the next hour. The images of fire would keep waking her up. There was only one way to fight fire: with even more fire. Floor had been training with Charlotte for a few months now. There was progress, the most obvious one being her fear for fire. The element still wasn’t a close friend, but she dared to face it now. She was on her way to completely mastering her fire, but it was a long road and the end of it was still far away. Too far for Floor’s liking.
Without making a single sound, she traded her soaked pajamas for fresh clothes and left her room. Sneaking through the house without waking her father was no option. Luckily, the window was big enough and without much trouble she safely landed on both feet on the street. The moon lit the empty street, exactly what she needed. She didn’t want any neighbors to tell her parents about her nightly trips. It wasn’t the first time Floor sneaked out to go practicing, so she had no trouble finding the field in the dark. She smiled when she reached it; everything was so much more beautiful in the moonlight. It looked so peaceful, as if the element of destruction had never been there.
Floor took a deep breath as she stood in the middle of the field. She felt the energy flowing through her body, the energy she would soon turn into fire. For more than a minute she just stood there. Breathing, meditating, analyzing the energy. When Floor felt she was ready, she opened her eyes again. With deadly precision, she moved her hands and played with the powerful flame Felix had become. He was growing with her, went on this journey with her that made both of them stronger.
Floor knew how important the basics were, so she never skipped doing her kata during practice. Simple movements with elegantly flowing fire followed each other, before she moved on to the next set. More powerful moves that demanded a lot more concentration. Sweat started forming on her temples, not only from the exercise but also from the heat. That was one of the reasons Floor preferred practicing at night. It was cooler and the fire’s power wasn’t as strong as it was during the day.
A loud sigh escaped her when one of the movements didn’t turn out as planned. She had been working on the technique for over a week, but barely seemed to improve. No matter how hard she tried, this move refused to come out properly
Floor’s reaction as she heard a voice behind her was pure instinct. She dug her feet into the ground and she turned around. The contact with the earth made her feel confident and with a fast motion she lifted her arms. The ground rose, lifted the person behind her and trapped them in a tight grip of earth. Floor wasn’t sure if she was surprised to see Charlotte, but she freed her as soon as she recognized her teacher.
‘You really should stop scaring me,’ Floor mumbled.
‘You… You earth bended…’
‘Yes,’ Floor immediately interrupted. ‘The Avatar, that’s me.’
‘Why didn’t you say anything? I mean, you’re supposed to be dead.’
‘That’s exactly why I didn’t say anything. I’ve been hiding my entire life. The world cannot know about me until I’m fully trained.’
‘Fully trained? You’re an earth bender, fire is only your second element. The world needs you.’
‘No, you’re wrong,’ Floor said as she sat down.
Charlotte followed her example and grabbed a few branches lying next to her. She threw them in front of her and created a small campfire to keep them warm. For a few seconds, Floor just stared at the fire, then she sighed and turned her back to Charlotte. With one hand, she pulled her hair to the side and revealed the tattoos in her neck. The symbols of Earth, Water and Air.
‘I already know the other elements,’ Floor said before turning around again. ‘My parents and I have been doing everything to stay under the radar. I learned the elements in the opposite order, and we moved every time I mastered an element. I would always pretend to be a bender of just one element and find a teacher, just like I did with you. I told you I’m a bender, not that I’m a fire bender. You saw my flame and you just assumed I was just like you.’
‘But how are you still alive? A group of fire benders killed every child in the Earth Kingdom to-’
‘To kill the Avatar and force them to be reborn into the Fire Nation, I know,’ Floor whispered. ‘My parents were already living in Republic City when Ba Sing Se was attacked. As soon as they found out what was happening they moved and started their secret life. At first just because they didn’t want to lose their child, but it turned out to be destiny. I’ve never actually seen the attacks, but I often dream about them. That’s why I’ve always been scared of fire.’
‘But, now you’re not anymore,’ Charlotte smiled as she placed her hand of Floor’s back. ‘You’re doing great, Floor. You will be an amazing Avatar, and I’m honored to be your teacher. I believe in you, and your secret is safe with me.’
Floor returned her attention to the little fire in front of them. She might not be scared of the fire anymore, but she was scared of what followed after the fire. The world was waiting for her, and she didn’t know if she’d ever be ready for that.
This was the moment Floor had been working for during the last months. Her parents, Merel, and the full moon had come out to watch her. Just looking at them gave Floor more courage, and she would need all the confidence she could get. It was no coincidence that there was a full moon this night. Not only had Charlotte chosen this moment because she knew how much Floor liked the night, the power of fire benders was also weakened during the night. Floor had to prove herself with her firebending powers at their weakest.
In these last few months, Floor had become friends with the fire within her. She’d learned to understand it and how there was no evil in the soul of the element. It was the person that controlled the fire that decided if the element was good or evil. Floor was determined to only use it for good, and now the time had come to prove she could do it. It was time to seal her friendship with fire.
Floor knew she had to be calm and focused, but her heart was racing in her chest. Charlotte’s smile was so confident, as if she already knew how this duel was going to end. Floor had seen her teacher’s skills. The redhead was very powerful, and Floor feared she hadn’t even seen all of it yet. No one should be allowed to fight their teacher, not even as a test. It was not that she was scared that Charlotte would hurt her, not at all, she would trust her with her life if necessary. The only thing Floor feared might get hurt was her confidence.
‘Alright, are you ready?’ Charlotte smiled.
‘I… think so.’
‘Hey, you don’t have to be scared. I’m not going to hurt you and I know what you’re capable of. I should be the scared one here, and yet there’s a smile on my face.’
With the mentioned smile Charlotte stood in front of her and raised her hands into the traditional start position for an agni kai. She waited for Floor to do the same, and then the battle started.
There was so much to focus on. Her feet, her hands, her breath, the energy within her, her opponent… But most of all, there were the other elements. This was a test of fire bending; using any of her other skills would mean immediate failure.
The fight started off easy. Charlotte used simple attacks that were easy to avoid and left space for Floor to attack. Adrenaline buzzed through her veins after the first flame she shot at her teacher, making the energy even more present in her body. It wasn’t long before the heat rose and more dangerous moves were used, but Floor was ready. Gasps sounded from the side of the field every time fire was shot towards the Avatar. Floor’s parents had never seen her train with fire and for a split second she regretted not preparing them for this. It was just a brief moment that she thought of them, and then she had to focus on her opponent again.
Charlotte was no longer going easy on her. There was no time between the redhead’s attacks that gave Floor the chance to strike back. She had to create her chances, block her teacher’s attacks and use them against herself. Floor tried to do exactly what she was taught, but it took several attempts before she finally succeeded to strike back. Sweat was running down her back as she surrounded herself with the fire both she and Charlotte had created. She used it as a shield while running towards her teacher, at the same time collecting every spark of fire she could find in her body. One last attack and then it would be over.
A shout sounded as the entire field was lit. Every part of Floor’s body was burning as she released the energy and turned it into the most powerful flame she’d ever created. Felix seemed to smile at her, as if he was proud of how far they had come together, and then he crashed against the wall at the other side of the field. Floor and Charlotte, who hadn’t been anywhere near the last flame, looked at each other while their chests were still rising and falling at a fast pace. She had meant not to hit her teacher. Floor only had to prove that she could finish the fight, show how powerful her last attack could be, but not towards another bender.
For a few very long seconds the field was quiet. The few people in the audience held their breath, while the breathing of the two battlers was all that was audible. Then Charlotte bowed forward with a smile before she looked up at Floor again.
‘You have passed your test, Avatar Floor.’
‘Yes!’ Floor shouted while jumping in the air before she remembered it was not an appropriate reaction. ‘Eh, I mean… Thank you, master Charlotte.’
Merel and Floor’s parents joined them on the field and one by one they pulled her into a hug. Never before had she felt so happy and she didn’t care that people were hugging her. She even hugged them back, and the hug with Charlotte lasted just that little bit longer.
‘Honey, we’re so proud of you,’ Floor’s father said. ‘But your mother is very tired.’
‘Oh, sure, I understand. Do you mind if I stay here a bit longer?’
‘Of course not, but be careful on your way home.’
‘Mom, I’m a trained Avatar now, I can take care of myself.’
With a smile, Floor watched her parents disappear in the dark, dragging Merel with them. According to them it was irresponsible for such a young girl to be outside at this hour, even if she was with a firebending master and the Avatar herself. The silence and peace returned to the field but Floor didn’t mind. Slowly the adrenaline wore off and she finally felt how tired she actually was, but there was one thing she still had to do before she could go to bed.
‘Thank you so much,’ Floor said when she and Charlotte’s were the only ones left under the full moon. ‘I never thought this moment would ever happen, that I would ever get over my fear for fire.’
‘I have always believed in you, Floor.’
‘Because you’re the Avatar!’ Charlotte laughed ‘And also…’
With a smile, Charlotte placed a hand on Floor’s shoulder. She stood on her tiptoes before leaning in and softly pressing her lips to Floor’s. The kiss only lasted a few seconds, but it instantly woke the fire in the Avatar’s body.
‘Is that also because I’m the Avatar?’ Floor breathed after Charlotte pulled back.
‘No, that’s because you’re Floor.’
Once again, fire blazed inside Floor when Charlotte pressed their lips together, and this time Floor kissed back. Earth, water, fire and air all seemed to spread through her body, mixed with something else. Just when Floor thought she had mastered all the elements, Charlotte introduced her to a new one. The element of Love.