Girl out of place.
A diamond in the rough.
Home is everywhere, but nowhere.
An original poem by Fruipit
Sprinting around a dark corner, the young thief jumped over a small child and quickly ducked into an empty tea house, smiling as the adrenaline coursed through her body. Blinking the sweat from her eyes, she strained her ears, desperate to hear something to tell her that her pursuers had either gone in the wrong direction, or given up completely. It was unfortunate that she couldn't hear much aside from her own heart, still pumping that delicious hormone through her limbs.
Standing up, ignoring the screaming in her legs, she stole through the abandoned building, her prize clasped firmly but gently in her fingers, its heat burning through the cloth covering it. She could smell it, the sweet aroma of the freshly baked loaf wafting through her nostrils, and she allowed a small smile to momentarily grace her features. The long digits tapped incessantly as she arrived at the edge of the Main Street, before jumping into the crowd and slowly, carefully, making her way towards her destination.
All this time, the girl watched, keeping an eye out for the men dressed in metal that would certainly have her head this time. Grinning wolfishly, she slipped into a group of young men unnoticed, and began making her way down the street with them. The sun peeked out from behind the dull clouds, making her hold the cooling bread a little closer to her stomach.
Slipping out of the group, the girl snuck a glance sideways before ducking into an alley. Tapping on a beaten door, many pieces of wood patched over it - thtnk-th-th-thtnk - she took another look over her shoulder. The metalbenders were wandering the street, but they hadn't caught sight of her yet.
"Come on..." she muttered to herself, tossing the bread from hand to hand. Finally, the door swung open and she pushed her way inside the dark room. There was silence as the two people tried to guess who the other was in the half-light of a flickering candle, placed almost pointlessly at the other end of the room. She knew the point, though, and hoped that the other person recognised her voice.
"I have food," she announced, closing her eyes as the gloom became too much. Suddenly, she felt a warmth on her face and re-opened them.
"Jia." The high voice of a child not yet reaching puberty cried out her name, and she glared in the light of the fire in his palm.
"Yao. What took you so long to answer the door?" she growled, eyebrows furrowed.
"Because," he shot back, standing up to the taller woman. "You almost led the fuzz here. They're still hanging around the market, looking for you. You better go talk to Shouxi. He wanted to have a word with you." With that remark, Yao turned on his small heel and marched away. Jia shot an obscene gesture at his retreating back, and walked off towards the other end of the abandoned house, walking deftly around the concealed booby traps, and ignoring the obvious duds.
"Shouxi!" she called, unable to keep the irritation from her voice. Freaking, know-it-all, big bosses, she seethed. He wants to talk to me, but can't even come out and greet me...
Turning off from the gloomy hallway, she walked past the kitchen, placing the bread on the top shelf of the pantry. It was her shelf, and the rest of the rats knew better than to mess with her food. They could all beg for it from the market; she had to take it.
Rounding another corner into a well-lit living room, the fire in the hearth brightening up the singly, solitary figure in the centre but sending sharp shadows dancing along the walls.
The sound of his voice sent shivers down her spine, and she turned to the man who had spoken.
"Shouxi," she said sharply, with a rough tilt of her head. "Yao said you wanted to see me?"
"Ah, yes..." Shouxi stood up and moved towards Jia. She glared up at him, her mis-matched eyes meeting his own soft green ones. He raised a calloused hand, and swept her bangs above her thick lashes.
"Now, remind me again; how old are you, Jia?" he asked quietly, smoothly, still running his hand along her face.
"You know how old I am," she retorted, bearing her teeth in a gruesome smile.
"Ah, seventeen. Old enough to be working for me, and yet, you refuse. Why is that? Is my hospitality not enough? After all, how are we to maintain our cover if I only have little street rats. Customers want entertainment, see." Shouxi spread his arms in a placating gesture that only served to intimidate Jia further.
"You don't want people who can't bend in the organisation, Shouxi," she bit out, straightening her back.
"That doesn't apply to you though, does it, little Miss Earthbender?"
She bit her lip and glanced away. She heard Shouxi sigh, and turn around.
"Ah well. It's too late anyway," he said with a wave of his hand.
"What do you mean?" she demanded, chills creeping up her spine.
"Just what I said. It's too late."
Shouxi turned from her and sat back down. "Goodbye, Jia. Don't come back."
Jia's mismatched eyes widened, and she whipped around, staring down the hall. "Oh, f-"
Her outcry was cut off as a loud explosion sounded from the front door. She caught sight of the grey metal of the Republic City Metalbenders, slivers of light bouncing off the policed element. Without sparing another moment, she was off, ducking through the dreary house out the back door. She could here Shouxi laughing behind her as she slammed the door, sprinting as fast as she could towards the bay.
Panting heavily, she cut behind the police department. She couldn't hear any yelling, and felt her heartbeat rise with the thrill of the chase. She was playing with fate, coming this close, but she needed the rush. And access to the rich district, as her stomach reminded her. First on the agenda; get a new disguise.
Continuing on her way, no longer running now the danger had passed, Jia made her way through the rich district. She watched as several pompous fools wasted their money on a fake charm. She waved at the seller, who gave her a knowing wink. Sighing, she realised that she wouldn't be able to get food today, not from here. Not if the area had already been claimed; it just wasn't done.
Groaning at the prospect of another hungry day, Jia kept walking; it was possible she could steal a few fish from the docks. Even if seafood wasn't her favourite, she knew it would fill her up.
The scent of the sea hit her nose first, followed by the stench of fresh fish. Grimacing, curling up her nose, Jia walked out onto the docks. She watched for a moment the workers (mostly shirtless) working on the dry dock. She loved the firebenders who took advantage of their warmer body heat to show off while other people had to huddle up. Looking down at her scarred hands, she wished that they had the power to conjure the elusive flame.
Suddenly aware of how long she had been standing in the one spot, Jia quickly moved into the shadow of the buildings surrounding the dock. Eyes darting, she slowly made her way towards the group of burley teenagers. Licking her lips, it wasn't the rugged features or glistening pectorals that excited her; it was the rather large haul of fish they were currently dividing amongst themselves. Of course, they didn't need to know that.
"Hey, boys," she grinned, slinking up towards them. The grin fell as they ignored her. One shot her a look, before they glanced across the bay. She looked from the corner of her eye, frowning slightly as she saw someone watching her. Eyes flicking back to the firebender, she noticed with a smile that he had become distracted by one of his friends, and, with practised movements, slunk a hand into a barrel and pulled out one of the slimy fish. Grimacing, she turned quickly and began walking along the edge of the bay. Taking a bite of the fish (tuna, and still fresh), she quickly ate the lot. Glancing behind her, she saw the firebenders talking to a metalbender, and, grinning impishly, Jia ducked her head and fell in behind a large group of well-dressed girls. She managed to wander perhaps two metres before a loud splash caught the attention of most people on the dock. The same person who had been watching her had slipped into the water, and she couldn't disguise the snort that escaped her.
Serves him right, she thought, sending a grin towards the girls, who had only just noticed her. Sliding down an alleyway, she shot one more look at the boy, who was still floundering but preparing to pull himself up. Glancing around, she noticed the officers had stopped to laugh at him, and she turned away from the scene.
Looking across at the little makeshift homes spread across Republic City's underbelly, Jia couldn't stop the little bubble of anticipation welling up in her stomach, before shivering as a breeze twirled through the air. She had never been on her own before, and while the prospect intrigued her, she knew that without shelter, the coming winter would be difficult. Crossing her arms, Jia flung herself to the ground. She should be happy. She was old enough to have a family, to have an actual life that didn't revolve around sneaking and stealing.
Ahh, but you had a family, didn't you?
Growling, Jia clapped her hands to her ears. She didn't want to think about it!
You deserve to feel guilty; it was your fault, wasn't it?
"Urgh!" she cried out, jumping up and running from the small street. She had to get out of there. She needed some peace.
Making her way towards the park, the ground suddenly lurched, and she fell forward onto the ground.
"That's not- that's..." Standing up slowly, she looked around. No-one else seemed to have noticed. Taking a breath, she kept her head lowered. An unfamiliar feeling was building up in her gut; she had to get to the park. The tall buildings pressing down on her gave little comfort, and as another tremor shuddered through the city the unfamiliar wish to cry suddenly pressed upon her. Stumbling along as though drunk, the noise that accompanied the quakes was lost to her as she ran towards the park. She couldn't smell the acrid stench of fire as buildings lit, and no longer could she feel the earth screaming out from under her as it was rent apart. The sensations were lost to her as finally she identified the strange feeling that had been building up in her chest. It was complete and utter, heart-stopping terror...