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“I will not marry someone who expects me to spend my entire day serving him and his needs!” Kanna snaps, pulling her parka off. The heat of her anger, coupled with the fur-lined walls and the constant fire burning in her home, are almost too much to bear. The movement causes her bun to come loose, sitting messily at the base of her neck.

Sighing, her mother comes up behind her and begins to fix Kanna’s hair. “You’ve always been so strong willed, just like your father. He was only fifteen when he tamed a fully grown polar bear dog, you know. Just about your age.”

Kanna groans, dropping her chin to her chest, but it transforms into a pained hiss when Tanana pulls her head back up by the hair. “Mother, you’ve told me this story a million times. I don’t need another reminder.”

“Clearly you do,” Tanana says shortly, pulling on Kanna’s bun one last time. She pushes on Kanna’s shoulders gently until she’s kneeling on the buffalo yak skin covering the icy floor, then sits in front of her. “Your father was only fifteen, and he hadn’t yet gone on his Hunt, because his father died before he was born and he had no uncles. It was very difficult for Kato, growing up without any men to look up to. His warrior training was no different. He asked his master to take him on the Hunt, but his master refused. He asked his neighbor to take him on the Hunt, and was denied again. It seemed as though Kato had asked every man in the Northern Water tribe to take him on his Hunt, and still was unable to find someone to go with him.

“Well, you know your father has never been one to let anything stop him. Following the tradition of the Hunt, he stole away in the middle of the night with only the things he could carry on his back, and set out into the wilderness for a week to see what he could bring back for his family. It was only his second night when a polar bear dog stumbled into his camp, and tried to attack him. It caught your father by surprise, and if it had been at its full strength it definitely would have killed him. But the polar bear dog was wounded. He dove at Kato, but his front paw was so mangled that he couldn’t make it two steps without falling to the ground.

“Any other man would have killed that polar bear dog and brought it back to the Tribe, declared his Hunt a success, and had a dozen girls lining up at his door the next day. But not your father. You see, your father saw himself in that polar bear dog. Lonely, upset, hurt. Your father was a strong young man, but he was emotionally damaged from having been ignored by the men in the Tribe for his entire life. And so, instead of killing the polar bear dog, he gave him a spot by his fire and a meal for the night. He wrapped himself in his sleeping bag and prayed to Tui that he would be protected through the night. When he woke up the next day, the polar bear dog was gone.

“But he had left a trail, and instead of continuing his Hunt your father followed the polar bear dog until the animal couldn’t walk anymore. The poor thing was lying in the snow, his paw held close to his body, and he looked to be on the brink of the spirit world. Your father didn’t know what to do. On the one hand, he could strike down the polar bear dog and return from his Hunt victorious, but on the other, it wouldn’t be a true Hunt if he killed an animal so close to death already. No, your father realized that the true challenge would be nursing this polar bear dog back to health. And that’s exactly what he did. He made a splint out of his own extra clothes and firewood, and set out to helping the creature. When he first approached it, the polar bear dog tried to bite him, and wouldn’t let Kato anywhere near his paw. But, being the smart man he is, Kato used his own meager supply of food to distract the polar bear dog, and while the animal was eating, your father tended to his wound.

“Neither man nor animal moved that day, and when your father set up camp that day, it was with an empty stomach. The polar bear dog didn’t hurt him, but when the morning came, the animal was gone, half a tiger seal in its place. Your father knew it was a form of payment from the creature, and so he set to curing it and ate as much as his stomach could handle before moving on for the day. His Hunt was almost over, and he had nothing to show for it. So he went on his way, only to find himself tracking the movements of the very same polar bear dog he thought he had finished all his business with the night before. Kato wasn’t sure why, but he felt drawn to the beast. You know our Tribe has a history of turmoil with the polar bear dogs—they’ve terrorized our village for generations, now, breaking into our homes and our food stores. And yet your father kept following this one.

“Three weeks passed by, with no word from Kato or his family as to whether he was okay or not. By the fourth week, his mother had come to terms with her son’s death, and was planning to put his spirit to rest, when a huge commotion broke at the wall of the city. Another polar bear dog was trying to force his way in. But when your grandmother went to see what was going on, she didn’t find just a polar bear dog. She found your father riding it, looking like twice the man he did when he left. Kato had always struggled with facial hair, you know, and yet there he was with a full beard, his warrior’s wolf tail much longer than she remembered it being.

“The Tribe tried to get him to kill the polar bear dog, but your father refused. They were companions, now, and no one could tear them apart.”

Kanna looked up at her mother. “What happened during those four weeks?” she asks quietly.

Tanana shrugs, a cryptic smile gracing her features. “No one knows. Your father won’t even tell me, and we’ve been married for almost twenty years now. But both he and that polar bear dog transformed for the better during those weeks, and now your father has a best friend not even I can compete with.”

“She’s right, you know,” they hear, and turn to find Kato standing in the doorway to the house, the infamous polar bear dog sticking his head through the window. Kato moves further into the room, pulling his own parka off and picking Kanna’s up off the floor. He places them both on a chair. Sitting by Kanna, he reaches out and gives Tanana’s cheek a quick caress. “Kota and I are inseparable. If your mother ever tried to make me choose, I’d pick Kota every time.”

Laughing, Tanana shakes her head and rises to her feet. “I have to get dinner started, but why don’t you finish the story, oh great polar bear dog tamer?”

Kato beams up at her, gaze following her out of the room. He sighs, then turns back to Kanna. “That’s a joke. If I had to choose, I would choose your mother every time. But Kota is my best friend, although it didn’t come easy.” He pauses, taking a closer look at Kanna. “You’re upset about that boy Pakku, aren’t you?” Something must show on her face, because Kato bursts into laughter. “Oh, Tanana, you have told the wrong side of that story. Look,” he turns more fully to face Kanna. “You are not me in this story. I know your mother, and I know the parallels she was trying to make, but she couldn’t be more off. You aren’t me; you’re the polar bear dog. That boy Pakku is me, not because we’re the same but because we both seek to tame a creature that is much stronger than we’re meant to handle. If Kota had not needed me, he would have killed me that first night. You do not need Pakku, and I do not see you bowing to his every whim the way I know he would have you do.”

“So I’m the animal in this story?” Kanna asks, lip curling. “Figures.”

“Not in a bad way, my dear,” he says, brushing some of her hair aside. “You have the strongest personality of any young woman I know, much too strong for that boy Pakku to handle for even a week. You’re a polar bear dog because you’re strong willed, and a boy like him would seek to tame you. Even to this day Kota won’t allow a saddle on him, but I can still climb on his back and direct him to a destination. I know for a fact you wouldn’t let Pakku do even that.” He sighs. “I agreed with his parents that the two of you would be well suited because I thought he was what you wanted, but every day now you come home with a new burden over your future, and I see his parents weren’t completely upfront about his personality or his beliefs with either of us, were they?”

Kanna shakes her head. “No, I don’t believe so. When we first met he was sweet, and kind, and now all he does is talk about how he likes his crab steamed and not boiled, and how I should fold his parkas this way and not that way because that’s how his mother does it. I can’t believe he was able to trick me like this.”

Arms crossing, Kato humphs . “I think it was less about him tricking you and more about him growing more expectant of you now. He’s expecting you to open up to each other about your expectations coming into the marriage. The courting period is over; now it’s time for you to get serious.”

Time to get serious? Kanna thinks. All she and Pakku have done is take walks around the city, eat dinner with each other’s families, and the one time she sat in on his graduation from his waterbending training. They’ve never had more than shallow conversations with each other, superfluous things about their favorite holidays and whether they should leave on the outskirts of the city or near the center. Kanna wants to live on the outskirts, close to her parents. Pakku thinks they should live near the center considering he’s expected to become a soldier soon.

“You know, Pakku isn’t the only man in the Tribe who will speak to you this way; the other young men here all have the same mindset,” Kato says carefully. “But I hear our sister Tribe in the South is much less rigid in their ways. Not completely, but a substantial amount. Enough so that you will probably be able to fold your parkas however you like without criticism.” He pulls a dried sea prune out of his pocket, tossing it to Kota. “I’d hate to see my only daughter go, but I would hate it more to see her own home stifle her spirit until it’s unrecognizable.”

Kanna gapes at her father. “You’re not saying…”

Kato leans forward and drops a kiss on her forehead. “I’m not saying anything. I’m merely pointing out a significant cultural difference between ourselves and our sister Tribe. What you do with that information is up to you. Now, let me go check on your mother.”

-

“Yugoda, would you ever leave the Tribe?” Kanna asks the next day, watching as her friend heals a small cut on one of her sisters. “I mean, would you ever leave the North?”

Yugoda looks over to her curiously. “Not really. I just think of how hot I get in the summer and imagine how much worse it must be in the Earth Kingdom or the Fire Nation. Why? Are you and Pakku thinking of places to visit for your honeymoon?”

Kanna shakes her head, looking out towards the horizon. “Not yet. I was just wondering.” She smoothes her features into a smile, turning back to her friend. “Show me how you did that, again. I like the glow.”

-

Women of the Northern Water Tribe don’t get a Hunt, Kanna knows this. But she also knows that destiny is something you must carve for yourself. Life in the Northern Water Tribe would never have been what she wanted, what she needed. A life lived under the thumb of a waterbender is not her destiny. And if she has to shape every last inch of it herself, then she will see to it that her life is a life well-lived. Women of the Northern Water Tribe don’t get a Hunt, but Kanna will go on one anyway.

She does as her father did, sneaking away in the dead of night. She leaves no note, doesn’t bother with farewells. Her family will know where she’s gone, and her friends, well. They will have to settle with what their minds come up with. And Pakku will have to settle for a girl who doesn’t mind being ordered around and kept in a cage. Although that may make him even happier than Kanna ever could have.

The boat she climbs onto is set to leave for the Earth Kingdom at dawn. She hides in one of the supply closets, one filled with enough cobwebs from arctic spiders that she knows it hasn’t been checked in a while, and probably won’t be for even longer. And she waits. Kanna doesn’t move for at least a week, relieving herself in a small box and forcing herself to deal with it. And then she stays still until hours after the boat has stopped rocking, until they hit land so hard she falls off her uncomfortable perch.

When she stumbles her way onto the deck, blinking in the harsh sunlight, the men all gape at her. Some of them try to wrangle her back into the supply closet until they go back home, but she pulls out her father’s whale tooth machete and simply stares them down. They know her, the daughter of the man who tamed the only polar bear dog to live in the Tribe. They know she isn’t to be messed with.

So they let her go. Kanna climbs off the ship with the world at her feet, learning what hard, solid earth feels like under her feet for the first time. It startles her, how similar earth and ice feel, but it only urges her forward. Kato had conveniently left a satchel full of Water Tribe money in her room the day before she left, and she had packed enough food to last her at least two weeks, though judging by her map it should take much longer to reach the Southern Water Tribe.

No matter. The Southern Water Tribe shouldn’t have to be her only destination. The entire world sits at her feet; why should her focus be a chunk of ice all the way on the other side?

Kanna asks a local merchant where they are, and when he points them out on the map, she realizes she’s only a day’s journey from Ba Sing Se. As much as she would love to visit the great city, she’s heard her father’s stories about their lies and the way they treat those who are less fortunate. They’ve built walls not only to keep the enemy out, but to keep the people in their place. Kanna has no interest in yet another city that chooses its people's destiny, rather than letting them choose for themselves.

So instead Kanna asks the merchant if she knows anyone who can give her a ride through the Earth Kingdom, as far as they’re willing to take her. He points out a possible path she can take, tells her that as long as she is able to point this path out to other traders and travelers they should be willing to help her. And, of course, as long as she can pay.

“Do Earth Kingdom merchants take Water Tribe money?” she asks, and the first bit of fear sparks in her chest, but it’s doused just as quickly when the man nods.

“Of course,” he says. “Most merchants who travel regularly tend not to be picky, considering they trade with all sorts of folk. Although it wouldn’t hurt to try to have some of that exchanged. I could do it for you, if you like.”

Kanna bites her lip. She has no knowledge on the different values of currency from other nations. What if he tries to cheat her? But he reads her expression, and places a kind hand on her shoulder.

“If you’re worried about me stealing your money, I promise you I have nothing to gain from it,” he assures her. “I trade with the Water Tribe men once a month. Leaving myself with so much Water Tribe money would be pointless. Come, I’ll teach you the exchange rate while we’re at it.”

And he leads her inside the shop and does just that. He pulls a dusty scroll onto the shop counter, shows her the exchange rate between the currency of all three nations. He even shows her what the exchange rate used to be for the Air Nomads, despite them no longer being around to trade with. Their money was always worth less, the shopkeeper says, because the Air Nomads rarely traded with the rest of the world anyway.

So, with her suggested route penned onto her map, and a nice handful of Earth Kingdom coins, Kanna sets off to find the next traveller, one who will take her in vaguely the right direction. The traveller comes in the form of a young man, maybe her age, and his sister, almost a decade older, who have two ostrich horses to pull their wagon along. They offer to let her ride in the back, with the rest of their merchandise, so long as she doesn’t steal anything. They don’t seem too worried about her, though, so she laughs off the suggestion.

The boy spends most of the ride hanging over the back of his seat asking Kanna questions.

“What’s a Water Tribe girl like you doing travelling through the Earth Kingdom all alone?” he asks. Kanna shrugs, a small smile on her face, but says nothing. “Okay. Do you know where you’re going?” She nods. He squints. “Are you a mute?”

His sister smacks him, not taking her eyes off the road in front of them. “Li , would you shut up? Some people just don’t want to answer the million questions being asked them by some strange kid.” She turns to Kanna briefly. “Ignore him. He’s always asking too many questions anyway.”

Laughing, Kanna shrugs it off. The rest of the ride is spent in quiet, until they stop in a small town on the brink of the desert. They let her know they’ll be turning around from there, and once again she’s left on her own. Kanna spends a night in the local inn, but doesn’t want to delay her trip by too long. Pakku is a determined young man, and she knows he’s likely to be following her. Or trying to, at least. If she wants to be out of his reach for the rest of his life, she has to make it to the Southern Water Tribe.

Her journey takes weeks. Travelling by foot (and cart, and ostrich horse, and komodo rhino, on one spectacular occasion) takes much longer than she expected it to. The city in the North was huge, the surrounding villages seeming like a city block in comparison, and the vast Northern tundra had always seemed endless to her. And where there wasn’t ice, there was water. Any direction Kanna looked in would always result in varying shades of blue, whether it was the chilly blue of the snow or the deep blue of the ocean, but the Earth Kingdom is impossibly bigger than she could have ever imagined.

Growing up in a single city, one begins to wonder if there really is any world beyond its borders. When Kanna was a child, she remembers laughing at anyone who dared suggest there was anywhere on the planet that wasn’t always freezing cold, a place where the sun would consistently rise and set every day, no matter the time of year. Experiencing actual days gives her a sort of dizziness for the first few days of her journey, and Kanna begins to wonder how she could have ever survived a midnight sun, or months of endless darkness, without going mad.

She visits a huge canyon named the Great Divide, and experiences what it’s like to go a day without eating a single thing for the first time. Even during the harshest winters, the city was always able to scrounge up even the smallest of meals for everyone, and having a polar bear dog sleep in your living room means you never go hungry. The canyon guide is a man only a few years younger than she is, which shocks her.

“My father leads every other group through,” he explains, effortlessly extending the path in front of them. “It’s safer, with smaller groups, and faster. The less people you have to look after, the more you can focus on the bending.” He punctuates his sentence by collapsing the very path they crossed. Shrugging at Kanna’s confused expression, he continues. “Our focus isn’t just getting people across the canyon safely; it’s getting them across to whatever refuge they’re seeking. Most of our groups are escaping something, usually the Fire Nation, and the best way to slow anyone down is to ruin the path they would take.” He gives her a knowing look.

Pakku’s image comes into Kanna’s head, almost as if the canyon guide himself had called it forward. “Wow,” Kanna says. “I guess I didn’t really think about that. But isn’t it dangerous for you to cross alone as often as you do? I mean, you’re still a kid, no offense.”

The canyon guide laughs. “I mean, maybe it’s dangerous for a city kid like you, but I was raised in this canyon. As soon as my parents realized I was an earthbender, my dad started taking me on his trips so I could learn the way of the land. Here, it’s not just about carving the easiest path possible. It’s about respecting the land around you while you carve it to fit your needs, and continuing to respect it by setting it back to the way it was before. When you’re raised in your element, you learn to understand that the danger it presents is only a danger to those who don’t respect the nature they’re inhabiting. Like, you’re from the North, right? So you don’t just go out into the ocean without the proper knowledge of how to navigate the seas, right?”

Kanna shakes her head, hair loops swishing against her face. “Most men aren’t allowed on the water until they turn fourteen, and even then you have to pass the Hunt. But all their education before that consists of learning how to tie knots and read maps, not to mention the boys start helping to build the boats when they turn ten.”

“There you go,” the canyon guide says, nodding. “It’s all about giving the world around you the space to breathe while you make your way through. The world was here long before we were, and it’ll be here long after. Even this earth we’re stepping on right now is centuries old compared to you and me.”

After the Great Divide, she makes it to the city of Omashu. The architecture of the city is so amazing, so beautiful, Kanna doesn’t even hesitate to spend the night. She spends most of her day there exploring the city, trying the vibrant looking fruits and vegetables they have. One merchant convinces her to try a fruit called a lychee. It’s a daunting looking thing, with bumpy red skin, but when he shows her how to peel it, it reveals a juicy white center. When she bites into it, the tartness of it makes her mouth pucker for a second, but the sweetness soon follows.

“If you think lychees are good, wait till you try geminite,” says a man nearby. He leans against another cart, a strange purple robe sitting around his shoulders and a headdress with two long feathers sitting on his head. Two guards stand a respectable distance away from him. Kanna gapes. “Oh, don’t worry about them,” the old man says. He pulls a crystal from inside his robe, which Kanna wrinkles her nose at. “Don’t worry about that, either, I’ve got pockets.” To prove his statement, he throws his robes open to reveal the inside. Kanna flinches away, throwing a hand up to cover her eyes, but the merchants around her merely laugh.

When she lowers her hand, she finds the inside of his robes lined with pockets, each bulging with more of the glowing crystals. Placing a hand over her racing heart, Kanna laughs weakly. In only a few moments, everyone around her is chewing happily on the geminite, and she tentatively accepts a small piece from the man. He’s no older than her father, in his early thirties, and yet when they speak, he makes the same jokes she’s come to expect from the younger men of her tribe. The much younger men.

As the sun is starting to set, he squints at her. “Do you enjoy thrills?”

Kanna hesitates, unsure of how to answer.

The man shrugs, unbothered. “If you do, you should try the delivery system. Or, as I like to call it, the world’s greatest super slide. One of the many feats of Omashu, although one of the few I can’t steal the credit for.” He winks, and Kanna smiles appeasingly.

As soon as he’s gone, Kanna turns to the merchant who gave her the lychees. “Um. I will take one bag of the lychees, please.” She gnaws on her lip, staring after the strange man in the robes. “And, uh, if you know anything about what he meant when he mentioned the delivery system with the slide, that would be great, too.”

The slide, it turns out, is absolutely terrifying, and Kanna decides to stop taking advice from strange old men she meets on the street. Instead, she takes advice from strange men she meets in the swamp.

“How did you get lost?” one of the younger men asks, handing her a giant fly-looking thing on a stick. His hair sits like a bowl around his head, shaggy and unkempt. He’s even younger than the canyon guide, barely hitting Kanna’s shoulder when they stand. She holds the stick up in front of her, grimacing.

“I noticed my map doesn’t mark different landscapes when I hit the Great Divide a few weeks ago,” she answers, picking the wings off the bug. “I was going to stick to the coast, but the roads led me inland instead, and when I tried to make my own way I ended up in here.”

The boy hums, playing with a vine by his foot. Kanna frowns, not seeing how he could be moving it without touching it. The vine bounces to an invisible tune, the end of it lifting up into the air and swaying like a branch in the wind. Sensing her stare, the boy looks over and laughs.

“I figured out how to bend the water inside the plants,” the boy says. “Living surrounded by so much of it, you begin to realize water is life. So long as something’s living, there’s water in it. It really helps when I have fishing duty. Don’t even have to make a net, I can just bend the vines to herd the fish where I want them.”

Kanna frowns. “If you have fish, then why am I eating a bug?”

As an apology, the boy packs her extra fish for the rest of her journey. It won’t keep long enough to see her to the South Pole, but it will definitely help her on the night’s she gets extra hungry. After the swamp, Kanna is able to make it to the coast, where a young fisherman in a familiar blue, barely older than she is, is happy enough to take her further South on his boat. Kanna grins, asks him if he can take her all the way to her sister Tribe, but he explains that, despite the coloring of his clothes, he and his people are still Earth Kingdom. He won’t be able to take her all the way, but since his home island is only a day’s journey from the South Pole, Kanna doesn’t mind. While they’re on his boat, she has to pull her parka back on, and the chill makes her blood run quicker.

She’s almost there. She’s almost free.

They land at Kyoshi Island, a small fishing village named after the penultimate Avatar. A statue of the Avatar stands tall and proud at the center of the village, and it makes Kanna wonder how it must feel to be so proud of something as a collective group, rather than just on your own. Her father is proud of his polar bear dog, her mother is proud of her embroidery, her former betrothed is proud of his waterbending. The Tribe is proud of their amazing architecture and enriched culture, but the architecture is a direct result of waterbending, and their culture is something that has been around since long before Kanna’s parents were even conceived.

To have something in common with all your people, such as an Avatar physically creating the island you live on with the force of her own power? That’s something Kanna has never experienced.

The fisherman gives her a small tour of the island, then takes her to his home, where his wife is undressing from an elaborate uniform, her face painted in stark white with bold red on her eyes and lips. When he introduces them, he refers to his wife as a Kyoshi Warrior.

“We follow in Kyoshi’s footsteps,” she explains, “to protect our island, and our way of life, but to protect and empower women especially. We have young girls and women from all over seek us out in order to join our ranks.” She gives Kanna an understanding look. “You could absolutely stay, if you wanted. No one will force you to marry, or to wait around on them hand and foot. You could live out the rest of your life on our island as a Kyoshi Warrior.”

Kanna smiles, ducking her head. “I truly appreciate the offer, but…” she shrugs. “I miss my people. I miss the food, the weather, the month-long days and nights. As much as I would love to stay and train with you, I’m not actually a fighter. Not physically, at least.”

She spends the night there. In the morning, the fisherman offers her his own small canoe. It’s made for him, taller than she is by far, and so she’s able to sit comfortably with enough space to lie down when she needs a rest. He shows her the compass on the front of the canoe, which should take her directly to the South Pole, and with her map, she should be able to land directly at the shore of the Southern Water Tribe. Kanna’s so close, she can practically taste the sea prune soup already.

It’s a long journey, and a cold one. Where she had been sweating ridiculously the entire time she’d been in the Earth Kingdom, unused to the heat, now she’s realizing just how cold the Poles are. The South feels colder than her home, actually, making her shiver in a way she never has before. She layers two blankets over her parka, pulls up her hood, and settles with her map in front of her.

Roughly a day later, Kanna’s landed on the shore of a grand city, one that isn’t nearly as large as the North. There’s a large wall surrounding the city made of hard packed ice. Kanna pulls the canoe in, feet soaking immediately in the freezing water. As soon as she touches dry ice (she’s hesitant to call it land) horns begin to sound out. Much like in the North, a group of waterbenders open a section in the wall, and then half a dozen men are pouring out, weapons in hand, yelling all sorts of directions at her. Their accent is similar to that of the North, enough so that it washes a wave of homesickness over her, but she stops, raising her hands.

“My name is Kanna of the Northern Water Tribe,” she calls as the men near her. “I’m simply here to seek refuge.”

The men closest to her stop roughly six feet away, weapons still raised. “Are you a spy?” their leader demands. He wears a helmet shaped like an arctic wolf’s wead, it’s gaping maw sitting right above his brow. It’s been hastily thrown on, crooked where it’s placed on his head.

“What?” Kanna frowns. “No, of course not. I left the North to start a new life, here. I heard—”

“We don’t care what you heard,” says the same man. “You have no business being here. Get back in your boat and leave.”

The men around him bristle, looking uncomfortable. “Suto,” says a younger man, “if she’s seeking refuge we should at least hear her out. Take her to the Elders and see what they say.”

The leader, Suto, frowns, but nods. He pulls his spear in so it’s tip isn’t pointing at Kanna anymore, and jerks his chin at her canoe. “What’s in there?”

“Just my pack,” she says. “I have one pack, but I pulled two blankets out of it when I got too cold. There’s a machete in there, but it was only meant to be protection for my journey. I have no intention to use it on you.”

They search the canoe, confiscating her machete. Kanna is forced to leave her canoe behind unmoored, the back half sitting in the water still, and she can already tell it’s going to float away at the first opportunity. She’s led, surrounded by the soldiers, to the biggest igloo in the city, its shape domed rather than square like the buildings back home.

It seems as though the Elders were already meeting. The chief sits at the head of the room on a low dais, his wife sat next to him. It piques Kanna’s interest; back home, the chief’s wife always sat just behind him, rather than directly beside him. Perhaps this Tribe truly is less rigid. Either way, no one seems particularly happy to see her. She’s forced to stand at the back of the room while the Elders discuss this year’s hunting season. Apparently the penguins, so abundant, have not yet returned from their migration, which leaves them wondering how many animals will not return for the rest of the season.

Once they’ve reached an agreement to postpone the issue until further notice, the chief turns to Kanna. She bows, introducing herself, and tells her story. By the end, everyone is staring at her, and even the soldier who had been so ready to attack her seems to pity her now. The room is silent for an agonizing amount of time, Kanna standing frozen in the center, until finally someone speaks.

“You were trapped,” says the chief’s wife. “And you’ve come to us seeking freedom. Of course we will accept you, Kanna of the Northern Water Tribe. As your brothers and sisters, it is our duty to help you in any way we can. You shall spend the night in mine and my husband’s house, until we can find more suitable accommodation for you. Should your family or anyone else from our sister Tribe attempt to come here in search of you, we will not deny you sanctuary.” She stands, and bows deeply. “We welcome you, Kanna.”

Without hesitation, everyone follows suit, standing and bowing to her. Even the chief. The shock and relief of it bring tears to Kanna’s eyes. The fear of rejection is just now hitting her. What would she have done had they turned her away? Or worse, if they had held her until Pakku came looking for her, and then turned her over? Eyes blurry with tears, Kanna nods, bowing in return.

“Thank you,” she says, voice hoarse. “Thank you so much.”

-

Kanna realizes that she fits in at the Southern Water Tribe very easily. She doesn’t get strange or disapproving looks when she’s less than polite to a man, she isn’t expected to do everything for the chief simply because she’s a woman, and she’s allowed to watch the waterbenders train without being yelled at. It’s also a pleasant surprise to see that the women who are waterbenders are allowed to learn combative waterbending, and aren’t holed into the healing style like the women in the North are. In fact, the best waterbender in the entire Tribe is a young woman named Hama, and the entire Tribe is more than pleased to let it be known.

The only thing is that she misses her family more than anything. On the colder nights, she misses sneaking into Kota’s room to cuddle with him. She begins to miss some of her favorite foods, since most of their ingredients don’t grow in the South’s much less forgiving climate and terrain. But, at the end of each day, Kanna thanks Tui and La both for allowing her a safe journey here, and for granting her the acceptance of the Tribe.

On the anniversary of her first year there, Kanna pulls out the betrothal necklace Pakku carved for her. It's simple, with the water symbol known by everyone carved onto the small piece of rock, but Kanna had thought it beautiful when he first handed it to her. She still does. She can't help but wonder how Pakku is doing now. Did he ever go after her? Did he ever marry? Will he have children, little waterbenders as strong as he? And when her mind wanders to what her life might have looked like had she stayed home and married him. Much more restricting than it is now, for sure. Still, she can't help but feel a stab of regret for leaving the way she did. Sneaking out in the middle of the night, not even leaving a note. She didn't even say goodbye to Yugoda, and they've been friends since they were toddlers.

The feeling of regret doesn't last long. A life with Pakku would have been stifling. He wouldn't have listened to her, wouldn't have given her the freedom her own father allowed her. She knows this. But now, Kanna is able to live the life she wants, with a man who won't expect her to keep her head down and her mouth shut.

Now, Kanna is finally, finally free.