A Short Story by Cackling Shadow
A brief origin story for Yakone from The Legend of Korra, since his origins were never explored on the show.
My name is Yakone. I was born in prison to a water-bender by the light of a full moon, or so I’ve been told. I never knew my parents, but the other prisoners told me that they had both been good water-benders. My life consisted of trying to survive until I was five years old. I think I was five…
I woke up in the middle of the night; it was a full moon. I liked it when the moon was full; it always felt so soothing, I guess because I was a water-bender. The cage next to mine belonged to a lady who never talked but always looked sad when she looked at me. She was awake. I squinted, why was she raising her hand? Then I noticed the rat. I didn’t mind the rats, they never bit me like they did some people, but I would never forget that particular rat.
The rat stood up. The lady moved her hand and the rat danced. I searched for a word through my extremely limited vocabulary (took all of five seconds) and then I whispered, “Ben-ding?”
I would have asked her how she was doing that, but I didn’t know the words. She looked up at me with a terrifying smile, so similar to the one I would wear later in life, and uttered two words that would change my life forever, “Blood-bending.”
She told me her name was Hama, and that she was a water-bender from the southern water tribe, just like my parents. That didn’t matter much to me, possibly because I didn’t understand most of what she was saying, but I decided not to tell her that. She secretly taught me what she could by night when the guards were all asleep, she taught me some words, and told me about the South Pole, and why we were there in prison. It was kind of hard because I didn’t know many words, but Hama found ways to teach me, and soon I knew many words and was able to talk.
We didn’t have any real water, so that put a limit on what water-bending she could show me, but Hama figured out that we could use our sweat as a substitute, so I was able to learn some. I didn’t understand most of what she said, but I got the gist of it and slowly but surely started learning. I remember my first laugh. Hama had just shown me how to make a little sphere of water. Hama told me I was a good student and that she was sorry I had been born in here where I couldn’t have a proper teacher. That little bit of praise meant the world to me.
After a few weeks, Hama told me that she was getting out of there, and she would take me with her. The day of the next full moon, the guards decided it would be fun to beat me senseless. They did that to some of the other prisoners fairly regular, especially if they were in a bad mood, or a good mood for that matter. I guess I should have seen my turn coming. Hama yelled at them to stop, but they didn’t. When I woke up the next day, my wounds were healed, but Hama was gone.
Normally I might bear a bit of a grudge at her for taking me with her, like she had said she would, but all things considered, I think what she gave me more than made up for it.
After Hama escaped, the guards kept us all tied up day and night no matter what, but especially during the full moon. I kept trying and trying to water-bend, but I couldn’t with my arms tied behind my back and my wrists chained together. One night I got so angry trying to free my arms to bend that I just screamed. I knew it wouldn’t help, how could screaming break chains?
Spit flew everywhere and as the guards rushed in, I stopped screaming and pretended to sleep instinctively. It was never good to attract the guards’ attention. When they left, I breathed a sigh of relief and the spit on the bars froze.
My eyes widened and I panted a breath of cold that steamed in the dry air. I started chuckling, my breath coming out in puffs of cold; maybe I wasn’t so helpless after all. I breathed again, willing the water into liquid state like Hama had shown me. The ice melted. I grinned and blew again, willing the water into a sphere. It swirled, but wouldn’t rise. I concentrated and tried again. I concentrated so hard I forgot to breathe. Suddenly it rose and swirled into shape.
The surprise broke my concentration and the water fell. I lunged after it but it was gone. I growled, then spat on my foot to keep it from flowing away and concentrated again. It took a few minutes, but eventually it rose into shape again. I grinned, savoring my triumph, and it collapsed. I exhaled angrily and tried again.
Over the next month, I kept trying and eventually got to where I could make a sphere of water reliably. I couldn’t move it anywhere, but it would form and rise when I wanted it to. The night of the full moon, I tried to blood bend a passing rat. The rat looked at me, but didn’t respond. I tried to control that rat all night, but couldn’t. I kept trying though. I tried every full moon for a year, gradually increasing my water-bending control every night in between.
By the night I finally succeeded in making that dang rat stand up, I could coat the bars of my cage in ice, melt the ice and juggle little spheres of water without moving anything but my fingers, which were tied behind my back. I didn’t even really need to move my fingers; it was just useful for coordination.
I concentrated on the rat just as I always had; suddenly it twitched, shivered, and stood up. I grinned and made the rat do a little dance. I enjoyed my power over the rat for a minute, and then I had it start chewing the ropes that were holding my arms together at the elbows, and behind my back, knowing that if I could just get my hands free I could escape. By dawn, my squeaky little assistant had gnawed the ropes down to mere threads. I let the rat go at dawn; it had served me well. When the guard threw my food at me that morning and laughed at me as I tried to eat without my hands, I glared at him out the corner of my eye, you’re next.
The guard shuddered just like the rat had and looked at me, almost as if he had felt the hatred in my glare. I pretended not to notice, but my mind was racing at the sight of that twitch; could I blood-bend without a full moon? I left a scrap of food, knowing it would attract a rat that night. When night fell, sure enough, a rat came scampering into my cage.
I looked out through the window just to make sure the moon wasn’t full. I looked at the rat and concentrated as I hadn’t since the first time I tried bending without my hands. The rat froze, then squeaked in pain and stood halfway up. Then I couldn’t hold it anymore and it scampered away in fright. I grinned, and started laughing quietly, thinking to myself, Oh Hama, if only you could see me now.
A month and a half later, there was no moon, but that didn’t matter to me anymore. I grinned as the night guard walked past, and stopped as I caught him with my bending. He turned, pulled out the key and unlocked my cell door with jerky movements. I ripped apart the rope holding my arms behind my back, the same one my first blood-bending had reduced to mere threads. I pulled my arms under my legs around to my front, stood up and made the guard unchain me.
I smiled and put the chains on him before blood-bending him into the cage. “See how you like it.” I snarled as I kicked the door shut. I ran out of the cell block, and straight into a room full of guards. As they turned to look at me and leapt to their feet, I employed a few of the choicer phrases I had picked up from one of the more foul-mouthed guards before they bludgeoned me into unconsciousness.
I don’t know what they were planning to do with me after that. I woke up being dragged through a stone hallway with huge windows all down one side. I didn’t move my head, but I looked around in wonder, only two guards and there was so much water in the air? I knew it had to either be a trap, or a golden opportunity. I wasn’t thinking in words at that point, I hadn’t really learned that many and hadn’t had much use for them in the prison.
I looked up at the guards; they had the slightly vacant expressions I had learned to associate with people not paying attention. I looked at the ground and grinned, this was too easy. I splayed my fingers and stopped them both with blood bending. I stood up, jerked my arms loose, and threw them both out one of the windows with my bending. They screamed on the way down. I chuckled, too easy.
Then I looked around in wonder and inhaled a breath of humid air, water! Water everywhere! I caught an area of water filled air and condensed it into a sphere of water. Then on an impulse, I dumped it on myself, savoring the cool wetness. I heard voices coming and hurriedly flattened myself behind a pillar.
A gaggle of people walked past me, a man, a woman, and seven girls of varying ages who looked so much alike that even I could tell they had to be sisters. They walked on past without even noticing me, talking away absentmindedly
I thought about blood bending them, but I had never tried to control that many before. Then the littlest girl paused and turned to look at me. I have no idea how she knew I was there, but I knew that if she screamed, I was doomed. With a sudden surge of certainty, I knew I could have knocked her and all the rest of them out right there with a snap of my fingers (something else Hama had taught me), but something about her gave me pause.
Upon reflection, I guess it was because she looked so harmless, or maybe that she was pretty. Either way, I knew I didn’t want to hurt her. She wasn’t like the guards. I held a finger up to my lips in a gesture for quiet and smiled at her, hoping she would understand. If all else failed I could blood-bend them.
She looked at the man and woman who were still walking on, completely oblivious, her parents I realize now, then she smiled and looked back at me. She nodded, and held a finger up to her lips, still smiling. Then she turned, and walked on like nothing had happened. I smiled; it was a very good day to me.
I waited until they were around the corner and then I ran across to the window. I looked down. It was a long drop, but Hama had told me that lots of water benders could make ice slides. I grinned and felt for the water around me, once again marveling at the sheer amount of water in the air. I concentrated and an ice slide formed. It took way more out of me than my blood bending, so as I slid down my slide, I decided to stick with blood bending from then on.
I hit the ground running and ran right out the gate which was wide open. I heard someone shouting at me, but I kept running; good things never followed shouting. I ran and ran. I ran all the way to the outskirts of town before I stopped. I paused, panting and looked up. I was next to a cart full of green leafy things that I later learned to be cabbages.
They looked really good, so I looked up at the young guy who had been pushing the cart, knowing I was too tired to blood-bend him and take one. I was too tired and weak to even ask for one. I must have looked mighty pitiful, because he stopped, looked at me, looked at his cabbages, back at me, and then he gave me a cabbage. “Thanks.” I managed to whisper, my voice a hoarse rasp from running and lack of use. The cabbage merchant smiled and told me, “Not my cabbages.” Then he walked away whistling merrily, taking his cart with him, leaving me to enjoy my cabbage.
I never saw Hama again, or the little girl, but I did buy a cabbage mobile later in life in memory of that cabbage merchant, and that first cabbage. That cabbage was the best meal I had ever had, because it didn’t taste like cabbage, it tasted like freedom.