Chapter 9: Goodbye
"A goodbye isn't painful unless you're never going to say hello again." -Author Unknown
I could only stare at him in complete and utter shock. My father…?
The eyes that I have shined merrily at me from a dark face I can barely recall. "Rana!" He greeted me warmly, picking me up and swinging me about with strong arms. I giggled as he held me with love. "My little waterbender," He teased.
"I love you, dad!" I squealed gleefully.
A smile broke onto that blurry face. "And I love you," He returned. "You'll always be my little girl."
My whole body became numb as I clenched the side of the stone bench. "How?" I began to whisper. "How…?"
Katsu looked at me with a tense face. "You told me his name," He explained casually. "It wasn't too hard to have his name found in the prison registrar."
I could see him…my father…
But the price would be…
"Rana?" He said in a hushed tone. I looked at his pale, yellow eyes that analyzed me impatiently.
"Why?" I implored him bitterly. "Why are you doing this?" Katsu raised a hand and touched my cheek. I did not move.
"Because," He replied lightly. "I know what it is like to lose someone."
"You're going to help me save him," I said applaud. "Who would have guessed you, Fire Nation, would do such a thing."
Katsu's face darkened as he dropped his hand back down to his side. "No, I'm not," He refuted evenly. "It is one thing to take you to see him, but another to break him free. It's impossible, Rana! Doing such a thing would mean my end."
I stood up too my feet, now enticed by the beautiful lure of anger, one of the only things I seemed capable of feeling now. "What do you expect me to do?" I shrieked. "Say hi dad, how are you, and leave him there to rot? They took him when I was seven years old! All this time he has been there! In prison…alone…and he, all of my people, have done nothing to deserve this! What is wrong with you people?"
Katsu was on his feet by this time with a face taken over by fury. "Don't pin this on me!" He yelled back. "I'm doing what I can! This war is not my fault! It has been going on since before I was even born!"
I laughed darkly. "No wonder your wife died," I spat. "She probably couldn't bare your lies!"
Katsu raised a hand up in the air and I flinched, expecting his hand to fall. His eyes were crazy as his body shook as his hand fell back to his side. "Don't talk about her," He threatened savagely. "You know nothing about her."
My knees trembled. I had gone a step too far and knew it. "Akane told me after she died you devoted yourself to the military, that you never came home for too long," I accused him wildly. It was too late to take it back now. "Before, she said, you were in the navy as everyone was, but after, that was all you had. Tell me, did all the deaths you caused make you feel better?"
Katsu turned away from me and started to march away. His back was imposing as he stormed away. "I guess war and hatred is what your people only feel!" I shouted at his retreat. I knew that to not entirely to be true now, but he had to hurt! I was hurting! All these years, all the death and pain…the loss…how dare they hurt me! How could they take everyone I loved and destroy it! I hate them! "The deaths of hundreds of innocent people and ruined lives are what you crave!"
He stopped immediately at where he stood and turned around violently. There was only burning fire in his eyes as he glared at me from only feet away. My heartbeat was rapid and my face flushed. "You know nothing, Rana," He growled menacingly. "You think you know everything because you grew up in a place of war?" He made a scoffing noise of mockery. "There are so many different types of pain. Have you ever loved someone with all of your being to have them stolen away from you? Your parents? What is the pain of losing a parent compared to that of losing your child? No parent should bury their child!"
"Takao was only a child, but your soldiers killed him," I replied coldly. His short speech…he thought his pain was worse than mine? All of my people, my very culture, are being destroyed…annihilated by his people! "The day my mother died…" I paused and pushed away the heavy feeling of guilt. "That day my little brother died as a soldier set fire to the tent. That soldier…he stood there and listened to the wails of my little brother as he died! Have you watched someone die when you could have helped them, but you were too afraid to do anything!?"
Katsu looked at me for a long moment. The crazy look in his eyes slowly started to ebb away, but the vehemence on his face still remained. "No," He answered me icily. "I haven't."
He had looked happy in that painting with her…so long ago…had I ever been happy like that? Before…before the war had come to my people…
I was outside of my home, not a tent than, but a proper building made of ice and snow. Hotaka, my childhood playmate before the days of the war, threw a snowball at me. I laughed as he missed and went to make my own snowball. My father lifted me up into his arms from behind me, making me shriek with laughter. Hotaka hurled another snowball at the two of us.
"How can you leave Hotaka alone?" My petite mother accused, coming out from our home. "I guess I will have to side with him!" She teased smiling. My mother joined Hotaka as we all fought in ferocious snow battle that ended with all in laughter….
"I was happy once," I confessed at the thought of that memory while stubbornly blinking away unshed tears. Something on Katsu's face changed as he took the several step towards me to close the gap between us. I did not step away as he took me into his arms, giving me a solid hug. Lately he had been touching more than he had before he had left.
"I was too once," He admitted with his chest rumbling where my head lay against it. His heartbeat was like a battle drum, loud and strong with every beat. "But that does not mean you cannot be again."
I looked up at him in confusion. What was that supposed to mean? Katsu suddenly released me from his arms and took a step away from me. "Do you wish to see your father?" He asked forwardly, "Still knowing the conditions?"
I looked up at the patch of blue sky above me and let out a deep breath. "Yes," I uttered.
…Dad…I was going to see him…
Katsu nodded his head. "Alright," He responded calmly. "We will be leaving tomorrow."
That night as I slept my dreams were filled with fragments of childhood memories, but only one stood out the clearest. The day they had stolen my father from me…
It was before the raids had even started, back when our city and people had been one in the Southern Water Tribe. Back when…there had been no fear…
I was playing outside with Hotaka and several other children around our age. There was only childhood laughter and the usual sounds of the city. The sky had been bright that day with only a white sky overhead from the clouds. Suddenly there had been snow falling that was not snow, it was black…like a sign of evil…
The children and I had stopped to marvel over the black snow, not realizing it was soot and what it meant. In the future, children would know what that would mean. Children are quick learners after all. Suddenly we heard the sounds of the snow cracking and grinding! The northern wall that faced the sea was visible from where we all stood. Several giant ships of iron had come crashing through it with flags with the symbol of the Fire Nation. I stood there in childhood horror and confusion as the fronts of the ship opened and soldiers poured out.
The air was filled with screaming and yelling. Our waterbenders went at them head on. The sounds of the fighting enticed the air. I watched fascinated as fire went against water. That was the first time I had seen a firebender in my life.
Hotaka was pulling me by the sleeve. "Rana," He pleaded. "C'mon!"
"Why?" I turned to him. "Why are they attacking us?"
"I don't know!" He replied hurriedly. Hotaka's eyes were afraid and his small face determined as he looked at me. How old was I? Seven… "But we got to hide!"
I nodded as he pulled me along. Somehow my body did not want to move on its own. There was a familiar shape I saw battling several of the firebenders in the distance. Dad! My heart burst proudly for he was beating them! That would show them!
There was a net that caught him, like the ones we use to catch fish. They were pulling him away, towards the ship as he struggled.
"Dad!" I cried horrified. I went to run after him, but Hotaka held onto me steadfast.
"No, Rana!" He urged me. "They'll hurt you!"
I cried and cried as Hotaka pulled me away to hide in a house. The battle only lasted for minutes before it was over, but so much destruction was left in its wake. That day was the last day I had known peace…and happiness…
The next day I left with Katsu, finding out there was an alcove at the bottom of the cliffs behind his home with a discreet dock. If I had known this before, my escape attempts might have prevailed. We left on a small vessel that was only meant for short distances with Katsu piloting it. It felt good to be in the ocean as it rocked the small boat back and forth. The day was a cloudy day with only a gray smog above us. I wore a dark robe over the fine, red clothing I had come accustomed to wearing. Katsu sat across from me with a similar dark robe on over his clothes. "Rana?" He called out.
I looked at him.
"You must promise," He said. "You must promise me. That is your end of the bargain."
…To never go home…Kanna…Hotaka…
…All of my people…
If I promised…I could never go back….
"I promise," I said faintly. Had I truly just said that? I looked away from him to stare at the ocean. Not another word was said for hours and I did not look at him.
We came to another island soon enough. It had only been hours to travel there. The islands in the Fire Nation are close together I supposed. There was another private dock and an entrance underneath a cliffside that led us up into the ominous building one could see from the ocean. We entered the prison from its very bowls. Katsu and I had the hoods of our cloaks up, covering our faces. He had spoken to several guards and I heard the clinking of coins being exchanged as they spoke in low voices. I did not really pay attention for I was in some sort of phase. I could not believe it…I was going to see my father!
When we entered on a metal ramp way, I gasped at what I saw. There were a dozens of prisoners for the room was massive with different levels of metal ramp ways. On each level, the prisoners were held in metal cages that hung in the air like animals! All of them looked like gaunt ghosts of the former themselves. My people!
A scream was ready to jump fourth from my lips, but Katsu's hand covered my mouth as his other went around my shoulders. He kept me walking. "Close your eyes," He ordered quietly. For the one of the first times, I followed his order with no protests.
Several minutes passed as I heard the sounds of the prisoners, but it was mostly a depressing silence. Only the sounds of our feet echoing on the metal ramp way. "Here," Katsu said in my ear. He released his hold on covering my mouth. In front of me was another one of the cages. A man with long, straggled hair that covered his face sat leaning against the bars in one corner. I held the railing before me tightly. He was dressed in torn up clothing that was grimy from years of usage. The place stank of unwashed skin. Yet his clothing, as all of the prisoners was, were blue…the same clothes they had been stolen in.
"What do you want?" The man in the corner demanded weakly. He did not move from where he was. "Have you come mock me? Go ahead!" The man went on with a sneer. "Nothing you do matters!"
"Dad…" I said weakly. It was all I was capable of saying as my throat was so tight. My chest ached as I looked at him. His head went up with interest as he looked at me. His long hair covered his face so I could not see his expression. Katsu was behind me, giving me several feet of privacy. He must have been keeping an eye out, always on the guard.
My father let out a harsh bark that turned into a brittle cough. I winced. "You're not my daughter," He refuted. "What kind of sick joke are you playing at? You Fire Nation, even you women…"
"Look at me!" I interrupted him, sliding the hood off of my face.
He sat up in his corner and slowly crawled over the bars. He was several feet in the air away from me. I could see his eyes, my eyes, looking at me in disbelief from his curtain of matted hair. "Impossible," He breathed, "How can this be? Another dream…"
"No," I told him sadly, "They came for me too, but..." I paused as I looked over at Katsu, but not meeting his eyes. I could not believe my next words. "He saved me from the prisons," I admitted heavily.
My father's eyes were dangerous as he looked at Katsu. Katsu looked at him for a moment and nodded, before looking away. "He…is your…?" My father spat.
"Yes," I answered, "It's a long story…"
"You married him? One of them?" My father raged on shocked.
"Rana," Katsu said. I looked back over at him. "We don't have long." I nodded and turned back to my father.
"It wasn't by choice!" I snapped. My father halted and his eyes still shined with fire.
"Of course," He murmured. "You do what you have to. Have you come to rescue me than?"
I bowed my head.
"Ah, yes…the Fire Nation man can't do it," He mocked coldly. Where was the man I barely remembered? The man filled with warmth and love? The prisons…they had stolen him away long ago…
"Rana…" He went on, his voice became softer. "At least you are alive and not here." His eyes went to Katsu. "You!" He called. "Take care of her. If she went back, they would only come again and again…" I did not look back at Katsu at his words. My father brushed aside his long hair, showing the memory of a face I had once known. He had been handsome once, but now it was sunken in and destroyed from long scars running down one side of his face. The marks of a whip…My hand went to my lips to keep any sounds of horror from escaping. "Rana, is your mother?" He began to ask. I shook my head. I could say those words to him! He slammed a fist onto the metal ground beside him, holding in any sounds of grief.
"Rana!" Katsu called. "I'm sorry, but…"
"I know," I said without looking back. "Dad?" I said quietly.
"Kill me," He said in a dead voice. His face looked back up at me with tears freely falling down his ruined face. "Just kill me. I would rather have you do it than them. I am slowly dying here and your mother waits for me…"
I knew death to be better than the prisons. Had I not sworn that to myself once I would rather die first?
"Rana…" He pleaded quietly. He stretched his hand through the bars and I reached out to touch his hand. My fingertips barely touched his own. "I love you," He whispered, "But please, help me…"
I nodded and looked back towards Katsu. His face was dark, but he handed me a small knife that he pulled out from his robe. He handed it to me silently. I turned back towards my father, stretching out my hand with the knife in it…
His hand reached out and grasped it weakly from my own.
"Now go," He ordered. "And don't look back."
"Dad!" I called out panicked in a quiet voice. "I'm sorry!"
He paused, holding the knife in his hand fondly as if it were his pet or child. "It's not your fault," He told me with eyes that looked at me with love, the way they had been once before. "Now go and don't worry. I will see you again one day."
I bowed my head and tried to hold back… "I love you," I bubbled out hysterically.
"I know," He murmured. "Now go before they get you too!"
I felt Katsu's arm surround me as we walked away. All of the other prisoners' eyes were on us. I saw one woman from a cage overhead staring at me with familiar eyes. …Hama?...
Then I heard the sounds of the other prisoners yelling…He had…He had….
Katsu pulled my hood over my face as I let out the first wail. I could stop the tears as they came as I cried wildly. "Rana…" He began to say, but instead he picked me up into his arms like a child and walked swiftly. Katsu pushed my face into his shoulder as I cried to muffle my wailing.