Chapter 1: Sunset
"It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time before all this happened when we were just normal kids, and everyone was happy. I refuse to let the memory of what this place once was fade. I can still see it all, in my memory, the fruit trees are green and teeming with fresh mangos with winged lemurs hanging from their branches, young air benders are training in the courtyards under the watchful eye of their guardians, and sky bison are soaring all around, that’s how it was supposed to be, how it used to be… before… that day. " – Hotaru Inouye100 Years Ago: August 24th, 1 BGDoragonzu (An Island in the South-Eastern Fire Nation)Hotaru Inouye’s large, dark blue eyes burst open, she sprang to an upright sitting position in her large, four-poster bed, having instinctively grabbed and unsheathed her sword from its display hooks above her bed. Silently pushing the red silk blanket to the side, holding her sword at the ready, she got up and moved towards the door on the right side of the room. She heard a creaking sound coming from somewhere further down the hallway, sliding the door open, she made her way towards the source of the sound. “Aang? Is that you? I knew you’d show up eventually…” She said, but there was no answer. Aang would have answered her. She stiffened. There it was again, a solitary creaking footstep. “Who are you?” She asked, but still, the intruder didn’t answer. She could just make out the shape of someone slightly shorter than herself coming toward her. Her grip tightened on the hilt of her sword as she prepared to defend herself if necessary. “Show yourself!” She demanded. “I’m warning you!“Hotaru, calm down. It’s me.” Said a familiar voice. Then a small flame burst to life, seemingly in midair, until a young fire bender with a stocky build and a wide, round, face came into view. “K-Kuzon?” Hotaru stammered. “What are you doing? It’s late! You can’t just break into someone’s house and sneak around in the dark! I almost attacked you just now!”“I know. I’m sorry for scaring you but; I need your help. Something terrible is about to happen, and I can’t stop it on my own. You’re the only one in the Fire Nation I can trust with this Hotaru.” Kuzon replied. “What are you talking about?” She pressed. “I heard my Dad and Grandpa talking earlier. My dad said that the Fire Lord has given him orders. They’re planning to attack the Air Temples, and Dad’s been assigned to lead the assault on the Southern Temple.” Kuzon admitted. Hotaru’s eyes were the size of melons, her jaw dropped, seemingly to the floor. Every hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Then, seeing the expression on her friend’s face, she pushed away her initial shock. “Kuzon,” Hotaru began softly, “you’re not responsible for his actions.” He wouldn’t meet her eye, his fists were balled so tight Hotaru was surprised he wasn’t bleeding yet, and his carotid artery was pulsating rapidly. She couldn’t blame him. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have your own father not only participate in but lead an attack on your best friend’s home. “But what am I supposed to do? I know Aang isn’t there but-but what about Monk Gyatso and the others?! They’ll all be killed! I can’t just sit back and watch, but I can’t fight them all on my own either. I’m just one kid!” Kuzon’s voice was raised in both pitch and volume and Hotaru could hear an undercurrent of anguish beneath the fear. She grabbed him at his shoulders and pulled him into a tight embrace. “Calm down. Listen to me. You won’t have to fight them alone, and we’re not going to let them get away with it. Understand me? You came to me for help, and you have it. We’ll put a stop to this, somehow…” After a few minutes, his breathing and heartbeat slowed and steadied back into their usual pace, and his panicked expression was replaced by a determined glare, barely visible as Hotaru’s eyes adjusted to the darkness. “I’m sorry I freaked out. What do we do?” “That’s more like it,” Hotaru replied with a reassuring smile. “When is this supposed to happen?” She asked. “On the day of the Great Comet.” “That’s only three days from now.” “No one is coming within sight of the Air Temples until then, but Dad’s fleet is leaving tomorrow morning. They’re taking those new, coal-powered steamships, that’s the fasted way to get everyone into position, and the quicker and closer to the attack they actually move in, the less likely it is that the Air Nomads will figure out what’s going on. Dad told Grandpa that their goal is to trap them and so that none can escape, and then,” Kuzon paused, his eyes flashed with panic once more but only for a second, he gulped hard, swallowing his terror at what he was about to reveal, “Kill them all.”“They can’t possibly expect to move fast enough. Even with the comet and the steamships, they’ll be seen before they get there. Maybe it won’t be soon enough for everyone to escape, but some of them definitely will.” Hotaru protested. “They’ll surround the island and then, when the Great Comet appears, the fire benders will come at the temple from all sides. That way anyone who manages to escape the building risks getting caught by the ships.” “Ok, but what about the others? Did they say anything about plans to attack the airbenders who live outside of the temples, like in Feng Zhi?” “Not specifically, but Dad did say that the ultimate goal is to completely wipe out the Air Nomads. To do that he’d have to attack the valley, and the foothills of the mountains around the Southern, Northern, and Eastern temples wouldn’t he?” “Yes, and even then there’d be those who weren’t home at the time. Ok, ok… looks like our only chance is to warn everyone.” Hotaru replied, pushing past Kuzon and practically running down the stairs. He followed. She paused in front of one particular room on the main floor. “Koji! Get up! I need you!” Kuzon heard rustling behind the door before it slid open revealing Hotaru’s only remaining vassal, a boy her own age whose family had served hers for generations. He stood there looking bleary-eyed and confused with his burgundy servant’s robes and chin-length dark hair looking uncharacteristically messy. “What’s going on?” He replied sleepily. “Pack at least two weeks' worth of supplies and get Taiyo ready, and step on it. Kuzon and I have a long flight ahead of us.” Hotaru replied. Koji was clearly confused; but, likely out of respect for his young mistress, he didn’t ask. He simply nodded and did as he was told. Satisfied, Hotaru turned her attention back to Kuzon. “We’ll never reach the Northern or Eastern temples in time, I’m going to send them each a warning via messenger hawk.” She explained as she ran over to her writing desk and used her own fire bending to light the oil lamp while taking out a piece of parchment and fumbling around for her paperweights.” “Good plan except, aren’t we risking the navy intercepting your messages?” “Not likely,” Hotaru replied as she started writing. “The rest of the family might be gone, but the Inouye family name still carries some weight. They wouldn’t dare open private documents bearing my family’s seal.” Then, once she had finished two copies of her warning, she rolled each one up and tied a red ribbon around it. She then heated a small tray of wax, pressed, used a small metal tool to place a small amount on top of each of the knots, and pressed her family seal into the tiny mounds of wax, flattening each one into the image of a dragon circling around the character for ‘courage’. Kuzon followed her as she went outside to an enclosure full of a half-dozen messenger hawks, hook out two, gave each one a copy of the message, and sent them flying to the north and the east. “What now?” He asked. “How fast can you go home, get supplies, and back here?” She asked. “Um, a couple of hours, I know I can be back before sunrise. Why?” “Because it’s best if we leave while it’s still dark. We’ll take my dragon. We’ll go to Feng Zhi first, then continue north to the Western Temple, once we’ve done that, we’ll double back toward the Southern Temple. With any luck at all, we’ll reach the Southern Temple the night before the attack.” She explained. “The navy is in for a surprise. They won’t get away with this, now go, and get back here as fast as you can.” Kuzon nodded and set off back in the direction he’d come from. While Kuzon was gone, Hotaru made her own preparations, putting on a fire-proof, dragonhide bodysuit under her black yukata and fingering her thick, black, elbow-length hair into a thick braid, making two smaller braids out of the shorter sections on each side, and slipping her sword through her belt. By the time he returned, Hotaru was waiting in the back garden, standing beside a dark gray dragon with flecks of red, a gift from her fire bending master. Kuzon had only ever had one run-in with dragons before, and ultimately, it hadn’t gone that well. He stood there in armor with shoulder spikes shaped like dragon teeth, and still, it took all his resolve to not show fear as he approached the beast. “Um, Hotaru, do we have to take Taiyo?” He asked tentatively.Hotaru nodded. “Don’t be a baby. This is the fastest way, even faster than a sky bison. Besides, as long as you’re not a poacher and you don’t mean me, or any of the people Taiyo knows I care about any harm, he won’t hurt you. Hurry up. It’s nearly sunrise. We’ve got a long flight ahead of us.” “If you say so,” Kuzon replied, climbing into the dragon’s saddle behind Hotaru. “Alright Taiyo, time to go,” Hotaru said a second later. Immediately, the dragon spread his massive wings and pushed off the ground into the sky. They were off.