When you're up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it's vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!
From "See it Through" by Edgar Guest
* * *
The dull grey sky hung overhead as Kassi raced down the streets of Republic City, dodging pedestrians and anything else that got in her way. Crap, crap, crap, she thought. I’m going to be late. Usually she didn’t mind walking ten blocks to her job, but today she regretted it. Why did her family have to take the car to Pro-bending that morning? She was still five blocks away and it was already twelve on the dot.
Well, I’ll just have to run faster. Hopefully the Ziangs won’t mind if I'm a few minutes slow. She upped her speed, darting across a side street and down another block before turning a corner sharply. Without warning, she ran into someone, knocking them over. A tower of brown boxes rained to the ground around them.
“My cabbages!” the man cried. He looked around at all the boxes in horror, then at Kassi with anger written all over his face.
“I am so sorry, sir,” Kassi said earnestly. She started grabbing boxes, stacking them into a neat pile. The skinny man in front of her watched furiously, his whole face getting red. “Watch where you’re going!” he exclaimed when she finished. “These are prize-worthy cabbages! You will pay for what you’ve done!” He snatched the stack of boxes from Kassi’s hands and marched down the street. Kassi watched his retreating figure, noticing the Cabbage Corps symbol on the back of the man’s shirt.
I thought Cabbage Corps was a car-making industry, she thought. That has to be the strangest encounter I’ve had since moving here.
Looking around, Kassi saw that the mishap had taken another five minutes. She continued down the streets, a little slower this time. She couldn’t afford to stop again. However, it was only a few minutes before she did. Coming down the street was an older couple that frequented the Central Tea Shop where she worked.
“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Long,” Kassi said politely. “Did you have tea already?”
Mrs. Long frowned. “No, dear. It’s awfully strange but the tea shop is closed today! And for the first time in history that I can remember.” She looked at Kassi sympathetically; she knew how much Kassi loved the job. “I don’t know what’s going on with the Ziangs.”
The Central Tea Shop was closed? Mrs. Long had to be mistaken – maybe her age was finally getting to her. “Um, thanks,” Kassi said quickly. She took off in the direction of the shop. She was close now; in a few moments its tall golden spires came into view.
Without hesitation, Kassi ran up the steps into the shop. “Sorry I’m late,” she called as she entered. Then she froze; the shop was empty. Usually there were lots of people sitting around at the various tables, chatting and sipping their tea, but there was no one anywhere. All the booths were vacant.
“Mrs. Ziang?” Kassi called. She tried to come up with reasons why this would be happening. Maybe they were just opening the shop later today…or perhaps they were concocting a special tea? Neither idea seemed very convincing and Kassi had the sickening feeling that something was very, very wrong. She walked across the wood floor to the back room, opening the door slowly. “Mrs. Ziang?” She spotted the middle-aged woman hovering over a pot of boiling water. “Why isn’t anyone here?”
“Hello, Kasumi.” Mrs. Ziang came over and wrapped Kassi in a tight embrace before pulling away. She looked unusually tired and kind of sad. “No one’s here because we’re closed today.” Kassi paused for a moment in confusion. “But…you’re never closed. Why now?” Kassi had hoped to finish work today so that her two-week-long project to repaint the shop could finally be complete. “I can still paint your bedroom, right?”
“That’s the problem. I’m afraid my poor Zaro is ill. He’s in bed right now…it’s better if he’s not disturbed and I don’t want you to get sick as well. The shop will open once he’s better.”
Kassi sighed. The Central Tea Shop was where she felt most at home in this horrible city. It was one of the few places that reminded her of Kyoshi Island, where she had lived most of her life. With her father constantly out of the house and her mother still on the island, seriously ill, the Ziangs had become her second parents. And now Mr. Ziang was sick? What if he had the same illness that her mother did? She couldn’t afford to lose another parent.
Stop, Kassi. You’re talking like she’s gone already. Mom is going to get better. Kassi shoved the fear out of her mind, determined to be strong. Avoiding Mrs. Ziang’s sympathetic face, her eyes slid to the pot boiling on the stove. Usually there would be up to five pots going, enough to make tea for a horde of people. Now the lonely kettle was just another reminder of how wrong the day was.
“Kassi.” Mrs. Ziang’s unusually commanding voice made Kassi look up sharply. “Mr. Ziang is going to be okay. He’s just a little sick and he’ll get better soon. It’s nothing you need to worry about,” she said sincerely. “Now go home and enjoy your day off.”
“Thanks, Mrs. Ziang.” The woman always knew exactly what to say; Kassi felt much better knowing that Mr. Ziang would be fine. After giving Mrs. Ziang a quick hug, she left the restaurant.
Kassi took her time getting home. She wasn’t in a hurry; usually she spent her whole afternoon at the shop, so she had several hours of free time on her hands. What could she do? When she reached her home, a small townhouse a few blocks from Republic City Park, she still had no plan for the afternoon.
After going inside, Kassi ditched her shoes by the front door and headed up the stairs. She entered her room and dropped onto her bed, giving her a great view of the myriad Pro-bending posters covering the walls. Kassi had the misfortune of sharing a room with her sister, an avid fan of all things bending. Photographs and news clippings of the famous Fire Ferrets dotted the room, along with a mix of Bandits, White Wolves, Tiger Sharks, and Black Iguanas. If Kassi was going to pick a team, she’d prefer the Green Unagi – the earthbender was a boy from Kyoshi Island.
Kassi’s eyes drew to a photograph in the corner of the room half-covered by a huge poster of Avatar Korra’s angry face. It was Kassi and her mother in full Kyoshi Warrior getup, playing around with metal fans. She remembered the day perfectly; it was one of the last pleasant memories she had of her mother before she got sick. Being a Kyoshi Warrior was what Kassi’s mother had passed down to her – her only link to life before Republic City.
Suddenly, Kassi knew what she was going to do with her extra time. She was going to honor her mother by continuing her Kyoshi training. Usually she only did it on weekends but she was in the mood for some practice. Kassi changed quickly, throwing on her green kimono. She piled all the armor into a bag – she didn’t want to look totally ridiculous as she walked through the streets of Republic City.
Kassi swung the bag onto her shoulder. Before she left the room, she stopped at the full-length mirror by her door. Although her reflection was marred by scratches and dents (the thing used to be her sister’s, after all), she smiled at what she saw: a strong young woman with high standards and good values.
Standing there brought back memories. Suddenly she remembered when she first got her uniform and learned what being a Kyoshi Warrior was really about.
“Kassi, I have something for you.”
Kassi looked up from the fan she was playing with. Did her mom finally buy the sword she saw in the smith’s shop? When she saw what was in her mother’s hands, she grinned. Even better! “Mom, you got me warrior clothes!”
“The Kyoshi Warrior’s uniform is very important,” her mother began. “When we wear it, we are covering ourselves with our values. You must act like it when you put it on.”
Kassi nodded and took the pile of clothing from her mother carefully. It looked just like the uniform she saw the other warriors wear during practice and while on duty.
“The green color of the fabric represents strength and balance. A Kyoshi Warrior must be in harmony with the world around her and take strength from it. The gold insignia symbolizes the honor of a warrior’s heart while the silk threads represent the bravery that flows through our veins.”
Strength, balance, honor, bravery. All were important values to the Kyoshi Warrior. It’s what they stood for and it was what Kassi was standing for now as she wore the uniform. I am a warrior, Kassi reminded herself. No matter where she was, no matter what happened in Republic City, she was a Kyoshi Warrior at heart – nothing else. With that thought, she left her house.
The sky was cloudy but bright as Kassi headed for the park. She gazed up at the sky, a smile growing on her face as she recognized the Metalbending Police Force blimps floating across the sky. Seeing the familiar shapes gave her a feeling of comfort and safety. The police were honorable followers of the law, the real heroes of this chaotic city. If Kassi had earthbending, that’s where she’d be – dealing justice to the criminals that deserved it.
A Kyoshi Warrior must be in harmony with the world around her. Kassi looked around in an attempt to harmonize with the city landscape – if that were even possible. People bustled around her like bees, their voices blending into a loud drone. Her eyes drew to a tall boy who stood out against the ground in his Water Tribe getup. When their eyes met she smiled and quickly looked away towards the park. It was in sight now: a beautiful scene of natural beauty and peace, the perfect picture.
And then everything shattered. The usually firm ground was shaking, lurching beneath her feet like the angry Unagi. The world tipped sideways and forwards and down until Kassi was utterly lost and confused. The sound of explosions filled her ears and with horror she realized that this was not like the harmless pranks her siblings pulled on her when she was practicing her balance.
This was something deeply and completely wrong. Ashes clouded her visions and loud blasts and a discord of human cries filled her ears. A deafening explosion drew her eyes up and she gasped in horror at what she could see through the smoke. One of the police blimps she had just been admiring was half-shredded, billows of smoke rising into the sky as the once-mighty aircraft began sinking down towards the ground a few blocks away.
The explosions slowed down before disappearing completely and for a moment, there was silence. No one moved or said a word. Kassi took in the broken city around her, realizing that she couldn’t harmonize with the world. There was no world left here.
Noise began. It started out as a dull murmur, the shock slowly wearing off. Then people began running and shouting and screaming, calling the names of loved ones and friends. Kassi still stood still, unwilling to move. Unable to move. Someone shoved past her, almost knocking her off her feet. Ears still ringing, Kassi stumbled forward. She noticed that the Water Tribe guy was standing near her, looking just as horrified as she felt.
People were running in all directions now, pushing past each other without apology. Kassi had already been bumped several times and it was only going to get worse. The streets were getting dangerous. Everyone was scrambling for their satomobiles and their homes; Republic City had become a recipe for disaster. Kassi began walking, scanning the area for any sign of trouble. However it didn't take long before trouble came to her.
"Please, help me! I lost my son!" A desperate voice rose over the pandemonium. Kassi looked around in alarm, horrified at the thought of a little boy alone on the streets.