Kenta was small for his age, but possessed a certain tenacity that caused more trouble for him then he deserved. Though he was short and frail he had a gift for fire bending. Because of his size he was often overlooked by the instructors who favored a mix of physical might and bending abilities. The Nation frowned on any sign of weakness from its people and Kenta’s size was a sign of inferiority. The Instructors kept him out of advanced teachings, even though he had bested all of the students in that class. The students retaliated by holding him down and burning obscene gestures into his skin. Shortly after that Kenta left the school. His parents didn’t mind and used it as an excuse to throw their son out of the house.
Kenta walked along the street with his friend Himi. They talked of great fire benders and struck dramatic poses bending an imaginary fire. Distracted by their day dreams and play they walked right into an old blind woman.
“Please young man spare a coin for an old woman?”
Himi looked at her filthy rags and gnarled hands and pulled away in disgust. But Kenta took pity on her. He knew what it was like to be looked over without mercy.
“I don’t have much Honored Grandmother, but what I do have is yours.” he said with a bow. Himi looked shocked as Kenta emptied his purse into her hand. It wasn’t much. Barely enough to buy two meals.
“Bless your pure heart my boy. I heard you speak of great Fire Benders. The greatest of all lives down the river. Burns cover his body from the power he’s embraced. When you see him do not scream.” she squeezed his hand and left.
“I don’t know who’s crazier that old lady or you for giving her all your money.” Himi said.
“Do you think there really is a great fire bender down there?” Kenta asked.
“Now I know you’re crazy. When was the last time you saw a great bender with burns? That’s part of the skill not getting burned.” he shook his head and made a mocking face at Kenta.
“You’re probably right. I guess I’ll have to catch my dinner tonight. You want to go fishing with me?”
“Nah, I have a delivery to make for Santo. I’ll catch up with you afterwards though.”
“Okay, I’ll catch some for you.”
That afternoon Kenta walked further down river than he had before. When he saw the makeshift camps he realized he was well outside the city bounds. It would be dark soon and he hadn’t even started to fish. He wondered if he should head back. This far downriver wasn’t a safe place alone. Two men in dingy clothes eyed him closely as they walked toward him on the river path. They unnerved him, but kept walking. Don’t be a coward, he thought, just catch some fish and go.
Dusk settled in before Kenta had even caught his first fish. By the time he had caught four it was well into the evening. He grabbed a willow branch and twisted leaves around the end to make a torch. From out of the darkness two men emerged. The same pair from earlier, only now they held daggers.
“Give us the fish and your money.”
“I have no money.” he said as he tossed the fish to them.
“No money. Then what have you got in the coin purse?”
“It’s empty. I gave all my coins to an old lady.”
“Well lets just have a look!”
The two men charged at him and knocked him to the ground. They turned his purse inside out and pulled at his clothes.
“Where are you hiding your money boy? Tell us or I’ll kill you.”
Before he could answer another robbed figure stepped into the moonlight.
“You best get out of here and mind your business, if you know what’s good for you.” one of the thieves said.
With the flick of his wrist the robbed figure shot the most brilliant and precise beam of fire Kenta had ever seen. The lead thief screamed as it burned a hole through his hand causing him to drop the dagger.
“Get that bastard!”
The other thief charged slashing with his dagger. Before it could make contact a glowing disk of fire appeared. It melted the dagger and the hand that carried it. The thief screamed in agony and dropped to his knees. The robed mans shirt turned to ash and flaked away where the disk of fire had protected him. The mans chest was covered in burns, Kenta’s eyes widened with hope.
“Thank you.” he said as he stood up.
The man nodded and turned to leave.
“Wait. I have never seen anything like what you just did. Will you teach me?”
“The price of what you learn is great.” he said.
“I’ll pay it. I want to be a great Fire Bender more than anything in the whole world.”
“So people will respect me.”
“That isn’t a good reason.”
“Because when I bend fire it’s the only time I feel whole. Sometimes when I bend it’s like the flame is alive and it accepts me. It’s the only thing that ever has.”
“To be a great bender you must also accept the flame. Are you willing to do this?” he pulled back his hood. The man had no hair. The baldness a result of horrible burns that had melted the flesh of his head and part of his face. The melted skin held an unnatural glow. Kenta gasped.
“I am willing to accept the flame.” he said.
“Then I will teach you.”
* * *
Kenta had practiced with Bukuro for the past two months. He was so dedicated he had rarely seen Himi. It seemed it had been to long as Himi sought him out down river.
“Kenta!” Himi waved as he called to his friend.
Kenta paused his Flowing Lava movement and waved to Himi.
“Bukuro may I go and see my friend.”
“Of course friendship is a blessing.” Bukuro continued his movements as he spoke. Kenta bowed and ran up to his friend.
“Himi it’s great to see you it’s been too long.”
Himi smiled and Kenta noticed a burn on his chin. It was about the size of a fist and looked severe.
“What happened to your face?”
Himi tucked his chin in. “Those jerks from school. It’s nothing I can’t handle. How’s training going?”
Kenta was angry. Himi couldn’t bend, the others had no right to attack him like that. He swallowed his rage.
“Going great! I’m more powerful than before and Master Bukuro says I have a fire guru in me. Do you want to see something incredible?”
Kenta moved his hands in a series of fluid arcs and dives. His breathing deepened and soon a little ball of fire danced in his right hand. He flattened his hand and spread his finger. The fire thinned out and covered his hand like a glove. Kenta curled his fingers a few times and then made a tight fist. The flame burned brighter and retracted into his fist. When he opened his hand the flame had taken the shape of a flower. Kenta flipped his hand and shot the flame against a wall of rocks. It exploded over them and extinguished in the blast.
“Whoa. Flower Power.” Himi said with awe. “I’ve never seen anyone control fire like that.”
Kenta looked proud.
“Do you want to go into the city for lunch? I have a few coins.” Himi asked.
“Yeah that would be great. I haven’t had much besides fish, and what little veggies we can forage, in a while. A city meal would be delicious.”
On the walk to the city the two friends talked endlessly about childish concerns and dreams. Kenta shared tales of his training and of the night he met Bukuro. “Oh I almost forgot to tell you the coolest part.”
“What’s that?” Himi asked.
“Master Bukuro has an ancient sun scroll.”
“It’s true. It has some heavy movements in it to. I’ve been practicing this one called the Sun God. It’s the most powerful of all movements. I almost blew up when I first tried it. You create so much power and energy. The heat is so intense that I almost lost it.”
“That doesn’t sound safe Kenta. Maybe you should wait on that one. Not even the Masters at your old school practiced the movements from ancient scrolls.”
“That should tell how skilled those ‘masters’ were.” Kenta shook his head and thought of the day he would show them all just what he was capable of.
When they got to the restaurant Himi stopped. “Lets go to another one.”
“But Reiko’s is our favorite.” Kenta said. Then he noticed the kids from school. They were pointing at them and laughing. One of the boys rubbed his chin where they had burned Himi and they all laughed.
“No.” Kenta said. ” They don’t get to push us around anymore.”
“That’s easy for you to say you can control fire better than any of them. I can’t even bend. And I’m the one who still stays in the city.”
Himi looked worried and upset. But all Kenta could think about was using his new skills to teach them a lesson and show them they should never pick on Himi again.
“Don’t worry Himi. If they try something we’ll just leave.”
Himi looked doubtful, but followed his friend inside.
They had just sat down when the boys flung a pea at them. Followed by a cry of “What smells like river trash!” and loud obnoxious laughter. The waitress was clearly tense when she came over. “Do you boys have money to pay for your meals?”
Himi pulled out his coins and placed them on the table.
“That should be enough for two kebabs and soup.” he said.
“We are out of kebabs and soup. You cannot afford anything else on the menu.”
The table of kids laughed and mocked them. Kenta grew more and more furious. He stood up from the table in a fury.
“You’re just saying that because of those idiots! You have plenty of kebabs and soup.”
“Kenta it’s okay let’s just go.” Himi said.
“No! I’ve had enough of them acting like they’re better then us and ruining our lives. They aren’t better. They’re rotten and SUCK AT BENDING.”
“You need to leave now. You’re spoiling other people’s meals.” the waitress said.
“We’ll go when we’ve had or Kebabs and soup.” Kenta said and sat back down with his arms crossed.
“Then I have no choice but to have you thrown out. Sudon!”
From the back of the kitchen a big meaty cook emerged. He was a giant compared to Kenta and Himi.
“What is it?” Sudon said
“This boy is refusing to leave. He’s being a nuisance and ruining our guests meals.”
“Okay boy time to go.” Sudon said as he leaned over the table and gave a threatening glance to Kenta. Kenta said nothing, he just matched Sudon’s stare.
“Let’s chance to walkout on your own two feet.” Kenta didn’t move. Fear froze Himi in his seat.
“Fine have it your way.” Sudon tried to grab Kenta but a burst of flame struck his hand and he pulled back in pain.
“A goddamn fire bending river rat!” Sudon cried. He pulled a large knife from his apron. “You’ll pay for that you filthy bastard.” he swung and Kenta brought up his hand burning with a white-hot fire. He caught the blade and it melted in his hand. The burning metal dripped onto the cooks foot and he yelled in pain.
The kids from the school had rushed over to his table and encircled him. They began shooting blasts of fire at him. The waitress screamed and ran for cover as the cook scurried back. Flames exploded and burst windows. The other guests fled knocking over tables as they scrambled for the door.
Kenta was easily diverting the flames and grabbed Himi’s hand. “We have to get outside. Go now!” Himi ran and Kenta stopped the blasts of fire from hitting him.
“You’re even more pathetic then I remembered.” Kenta called to the ring leader before turning to run out of the building.
The students chased after him and Kenta knew he would have to make his point fast before the city guards arrived. The students lined up to face him.
“You’re the pathetic one you tiny little river rat. And today were going to fry you good!” the leader shot a big blast of fire at Kenta. He motioned with his hands and took control of the flame. It stopped just short of hitting Kenta. The leader still thinking he was in control tried to fuel the fire more and press it toward Kenta. But it only grew bigger. With out warning two arms of fire shot forth from the flame and grabbed the leader’s hand forcing them into a fist. Kenta’s own hands curled just like the flames and as he pushed them down the fire roared and burned the leaders flesh. He screamed in pain and Kenta held his stance as sweat ran down his forehead. He sensed the heat of someone charging him from behind. With a quick turn he blasted the guard away with a burst of fire.
The leader of the students curled up on the ground screaming in pain. His flunkies looked on him in horror. “You’re in for it now river rat, his mom is the Constable!”
Kenta barely heard him as he concentrated on dealing with the guards. They weren’t just better trained than the boys, they were also trained in taking down benders. He dodged their fire easily, but twice they came close to binding his feet or hands. The more he dodged the more of them seemed to show up until they overwhelmed him. They bound his hands and feet and sat him on the ground. He felt great pride when one of them said, “He’s a tough little bastard ain’t he?”
Kenta realized Himi was gone. He thought he must have run off once he got outside, a smart move. From behind him he heard a women yell, “Where is he?” “Constable Etzuko the boy who burned your son’s hands is over there.”
He heard heavy foot steps, then a heavy boot kicked him to the ground. Several more kicks landed on his side and head. Blood spilled from his moth and he felt dizzy. A cruel hand yanked on his hair pulling his head up to see the Constable’s face filled with fury.
“You filthy bastard! You’ll die for what you’ve done.” She dragged him across the cobbled ground by his hair and kicked him onto his side so he could see her son.
“Look what you did! It will be the last thing you ever do.”
Kenta saw the kids hands. They were nothing more than charred balls of flesh. His forearms had burned to just below his elbow. “He’ll never bend again.” she said with disgust and pulled Kenta up by his hair. Two of the guards put the boy onto a makeshift stretcher. “Will he live?” Kenta asked.
“Yes.” said Constable Etzuko, “But you will not.”
* * *
Kenta heard her threat but it didn’t sink in until he saw the brutal injury he inflicted on the boy. The Constable dragged him by the hair into the center of the cobbled street. Kenta kicked and twisted to loose her grip, but only caused himself further pain.
“Please stop!” he cried. “It wasn’t my fault I was only defending myself! Don’t do this!”
The Constable yanked his head up high and turned to face the gathering crowd.
“When you defy the guards. When you break the laws of the city. When you try to kill a member of the city’s Order death is your reward!”
The crowd cheered as the constable raised her hand. Kenta struggled and screamed for mercy.
The Constable and several guards began to move in unison. As they completed the dragon stance a huge ball of fire formed before them and with their final push the fireball shot forward with a crackling whoosh. It stopped before it was even halfway to Kenta. He looked up when it did not hit him. In front of him was Master Bukuro. He had captured the fireball and had turned it into a seven headed dragon. A crackling roar came from their jaws of fire snapping at the guard’s and the Constable.
“This is too far for a foolish fight amongst children. Your boys outnumbered my pupil, his death would be an injustice.”
“Bukuro.” the Constable said with malice in her tone. The guards took a fearful step back.
“You are teaching this boy?”
“Yes, but some of what he did he has not learned from me.”
Constable Etzuko was angry, but not foolish. Bukuro was a legend among the Masters she didn’t like their chances even if the Masters of the city were backing her.
“Take your pupil. But if he ever enters the city again he will die. Do we understand?”
“Yes Constable Etzuko we understand and thank you for your compassion.”
They walked in silence until they were outside of the city and down the river road.
“You read the Scroll of the Sun God.”
Kenta did not answer. He walked with his head down and shoulders slumped.
“You are a foolish boy to practice such a dangerous skill. One wrong breath and you could burn yourself alive. I doubt you will stop practicing no matter what I say. So I will instruct you. The scroll does not tell all there is to know about the Sun God.”
Kenta looked up surprised that Master Bukuro was not mad at him.
“I thought you would be furious with me and that you would no longer train me.”
“I have no love for the city. Most of the scars I have are from their Masters after branding me a heretic for my practice. I would have stepped in even if you hadn’t been my pupil. That boy though, he did not deserve the punishment you gave him.”
“I know. Once I captured their fire it was exhilarating. I’ve never been in control of so much power before. I lost myself in it.”
“It is strong Kenta. You must be stronger.”
Weeks passed and Kenta learned to control his powers and expand them. In one sparring match he had actually bested Master Bukuro. Kenta felt great and had settled into his life of training and fishing, the banishment from the city a distant memory. One day while Kenta was fishing upstream he over heard two travelers talking.
“It would be far to morbid, leaving was the right thing to do he is just a boy.”
“Still to see the Masters use their powers at his execution would be amazing! We would witness one of the greatest sights in history. And the boy had it coming he tried to kill the Constable’s son. You saw, the poor kid lost his hands!”
Kenta was shocked. He foolishly hoped it was not Himi they spoke of.
“Excuse me sirs, do you know who this boy is that will be executed?”
“Yes, his name is Himi he is a devious criminal and a powerful fire bender. A threat to the whole city.”
“Have they executed him?” Kenta said tugging on the mans arm.
“Not yet. They plan to at dusk.” he pulled his arm back from Kenta.
Kenta looked at the sky, if he ran he might be able to make it. He left his pole and gear and sprinted for the city.
* * *
Kenta ran until his lungs felt like they would burst, and then he ran some more.
He couldn’t lose Himi not like this. He never thought they would hold him responsible, he couldn’t even bend. He didn’t even fight! They, the city, had taken so much from him. It had tried to crush his spirit and ruin his life. It had humiliated him and hurt him. He wouldn’t let it take his friend. He dug deeper and his legs kicked higher and faster.
When he reached the entrance to the city it was practically empty. Everyone was at the execution. He could hear the clamor of the crowd coming from the center of town. It’s not too late.
He ran down the cobbled street and the crowd fell silent, but he didn’t notice. All he heard was his own voice saying “I’m going to make it.” Then the buildings glowed an eerie red and a hot gale blew through the city. “Nooooo!” Kenta cried. I was so close, it can’t be! he thought. But when he pushed his way through the crowd he saw the body of his friend Himi on his knees and tied to a stake. His whole body charred. His charcoaled face set in agony. The stake burned to cinder in the middle. It snapped and fell on Himi smashing him to dust. The crowd cheered.
Burning tears ran down Kenta’s face. He broke through from crowd and ran to the ashes of his friend. “I’m so sorry Himi.”
“River rat!” the cold voice of the Constable called from behind him. “You were warned about returning to the city. Don’t cry, you’ll soon be with your friend.”
Kenta legs moved into the sun god stance. His hands followed.
“You may have bested a few youths, but you’re no match for the city masters.”
Kenta turned his eyes were burning with rage. Tears fell from his face and sizzled on the hot street.
“You monsters. He couldn’t even bend.” He felt the Sun God’s power swirling inside him. Flames began to flick and crackle forth from his body.
“Masters kill this criminal quickly!” the Constable ordered.
They sent flame and lighting blazing at Kenta. He deflected their attacks and used their fire as his own.
“It’s to late for that.” Kenta said as flames flickered from his mouth. With one movement the Masters burned alive. Kenta’s arms became great tentacles of fire. They lashed out and consumed all they struck. The fire spread to his chest burning away his clothes and flesh. It consumed his head and legs until he became a being wholly of fire, the Sun God.
The Constable watched in horror as her city fell. Her people burned to ash. The Sun God roared above her. He towered now the size of a giant. She screamed for mercy, but was given none. The Sun God clutched her in his giant hand of fire, and he watched as she screamed, and burst, and burned.
“Kenta! You must stop this!” Master Bukuro called. “This is not who you are.”
The Sun God turned and saw the scattered ashes and buildings engulfed in flames. He smoldered to the size of Kenta. His face became more human.
“I can’t control it.”
“You can Kenta. Together we can find away. Trust me. Trust yourself.”
From behind him Kenta sensed a guard calling up fire. He spun around the Sun God burning within him. He turned the blazing flame back on the guard and turned him to ash. Bukuro grabbed him by the shoulder and the Sun God sent a volley of fire with the wave of a hand. The blast knocked Bukuro back and left his skin smoldering from the heat. Kenta once again took control.
“I’m so sorry. I never wanted any of this.”
“It’s okay we can–”
“No it’s not okay!” he looked up at the fading sun. “It will never be okay. I know what must be done.”
He once more gave into the Sun God and exploded into the air. Rocketing into the sky and over the horizon.
Bukuro jumped to his feet and ran after him, but Kenta was gone. He climbed to the top of a building and saw the Sun God flying toward the sun. He lost track of his light as dipped below the horizon. A moment later there was a bright flash across the sky that illuminated the world. The Sun God had returned to his kingdom.