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Previously on The Avatar Rhythm
|"Hotaru gave an understanding nod as he began to leave. This wasn't the same sort of teacher she had had before. Somehow, that was a good thing. He was quiet, but focused. She did have an enormous responsibility to live up to in Ba Sing Se. This was the right man to guide her. She stretched out her hands, her mind, her soul, she felt the air around her, the water by her side, the fire within her heart and the earth that she was kneeling on. She reached out with her spirit, and just for a second, knew she was going to leave this city victorious."|
|— From Survivors|
|"Meanwhile, almost exactly above the duo, hundreds of feet into the sky, was Artos, Takumi's sky bison, carrying him and Asaki across the gigantic Earth Kingdom horizons. They had been been flying for days at a time, only stopping to stack up on supplies when they ran out."|
|— From Survivors|
|"Surviving was harder than they expected. Looking farther down the map, Shirou spotted another dot farther south, which was marked "Argil Village" in Shinji's messy handwriting. The dot lay in between a river and the southern portion of a small mountain range, and it looked as if the duo still had a bit of hiking in front of them if they wanted to ever get there."|
|— From Survivors|
|The Peak of Power|
May 26, 2012
This is Chapter 39 in The Avatar Rhythm Series
Hotaru had just woken up, and she was already strolling down the streets of the Upper Ring of Ba Sing Se. The sun was barely even over the horizon line, but as much as it was tiresome to be awake this early, it was also very pretty, watching the golden sunlight rise and shine off the metal structures and shimmering ponds of the city. It surprised her, she had never seen this before and had been living in Ba Sing Se for a while now - always waking up late. It just went to show how lazy she had been recently.
Now Hotaru was glad she had gotten up before dawn. Early in the morning, the air was still crisp, and the gentle breeze still kept a feeling of newness. While quiet, the morning's quietness had a calm touch to it that she seemed to appreciate. Everything was refreshing, and the young Avatar wanted nothing more.
There, only a couple yards away, was a large rectangular building with a flat roof. On the outside of its walls were withered paintings of badgermoles.
"This is it," Hotaru said to herself. She walked over to the door, and looked at the sign hanging from above. It read, "Ba Sing Se Royal Dojo". She walked in through two large wooden doors, and was amazed at the sight inside.
Beneath a high ceiling was a huge field of stone. Belts and medals hung on the walls, and a few morning trainers were jumping around the stone floor with their students, flinging rocks at each other.
Feeling a bit out of place, Hotaru looked around for Daiki, her new master. He stood in a long black and green tunic tunic, arms folded, watching a burly man hover a huge slab of stone over his head. Giving him a wave, she caught his attention, and after saying a quick word to his student, Daiki walked over.
"Good morning, Avatar," he said. "It's a nice place here, isn't it?"
Hotaru gave him a nod.
"Would you like to begin now?"
Hotaru gave him another nod.
Daiki looked at her. "I don't have many strict rules, but I do like a "Yes sir" or "Yes master" instead of a nod in here."
He smiled. "Very good. Now then, to start off, how much to you know about bending earth?"
"Not much," Hotaru said. "I've never bent the element before."
"That's fine. We'll just start at the very beginning." He flew a round rock from the floor, and handed it to Hotaru. "I want you to balance this on the back of your hand for as long as you can."
"You mean, like, floating it?" she asked. "I think I need to start on a lower level."
"No earthbending is required for the is exercise," Daiki stated calmly. "All I want is for the rock to rest on your hand and for it to stay there."
Hotaru shrugged her shoulders and placed the rock on the back of her hand. It wasn't that hard to keep there.
"What do you feel?"
Hotaru looked up. "The... uh... earth against my skin?"
He chuckled. "That's correct, but it was a complete guess, wasn't it? Tell me more."
"Do you just feel the part of the rock that your skin is touching?"
Hotaru concentrated. "Yes."
"You have to feel every side of the earth in which you touch, even if you aren't touching them."
"Wait," she said. "So I should feel every side of the rock I touch? That's - can you do that?"
Daiki smiled. "I can feel the whole floor that I stand on, and the footsteps of the students training on the other side of the dojo. The most skilled earthbenders are able to sense and react to the whole surface of the planet. All the rock is connected, isn't?"
"The whole planet?" Hotaru asked in amazement. "Like feeling what is walking in mountains in the far corners of the land, or even in the Fire Nation? Who's skilled enough to do that?"
"You are, my dear," her instructor stated. "At least, when you fully become the Avatar, you will be."
"I'll be able to feel everything... When do we get to learn that? It isn't for a while, is it?"
"Let's focus on the stone on your hand for now, alright?"
Miles eastward, Shirou and Shinji stepped out of the run down Lightwood Motel, clean and ready to travel the next steps to Argil Village.
The town they had rested in lay in a small dirt field halfway up a mountain cliff, and had served them well for the past two days.
"When do we get going?" Shinji asked. slipping on his backpack and stretchring his back. "It's just up these cliffs, isn't it?"
Shirou nodded. "The sooner the better." He walked up to a town bulletin board, ripped off a map, and headed towards the craggy hillside ahead of him.
"I've never seen a mountain like this," Shinji said, grabbing onto a crevice in a rock face and pulling himself over onto a rough ledge. "It's got rocks everywhere, spiky and stuff."
He was right. The mountains they climbed had jagged rocks jutting out everywhere, sometimes dropping off into deep ravines or stopping at huge rock faces with no footholds. It was a dangerous place.
"I need to stop for water," Shirou said.
"Already? We've been hiking for twenty minutes." He paused. "Fine."
Shinji took out his canteen and passed it to Shirou, who took a gulp, letting little droplets dribble down his chin.
"Don't drink of all it."
Shirou screwed the cap back on and handed it back to his friend. Taking it and stuffing it in the back pocket of his pack, Shinji's eyed suddenly widened, and fright covered his face.
"What do you see?"
"I swear," he paused, thinking over what he was about to say, "Don't go thinking I"m a fool, but I swear I just saw a shadow move a couple yards down this trail. By the craggy cliff place."
"You sure it wasn't just an animal, or-"
"Lets get going."
Miles above, Artos flew beside the clouds, lowering slowly.
"Argil Village is less than a mile away," Takumi shouted from the back of his bison, peering down at what he could of the earth below. "We'll have to land sooner or later!"
Asaki sat at the top of the bison's head. "Alright," she said, hoping that Shirou and Shinji would be there when they arrived. She turned around. "How do I make him go down?"
Takumi looked at her. "Uh, well," he mumbled, trying to make eye contact. "Well..."
"Are you alright?"
"Oh, yeah." He snapped out of it. "Come on Artos!" he shouted. "Get ready to land! That's my boy!" His bison listened and obeyed eagerly, lowering and breaking through the cloud barrier.
Both of them gasped in awe at the sight below. A whole city and port by the riverside, carved out of the mountain rock and built of clay, with people bustling in the streets. Argil Village.
"Down, boy!" Takumi shouted. "Land by the mountains!"
The huge fluffy animal swooped down and across the sky and slowed down, landing on fairly flat slate of rock overlooking the city. The quick landing made Asaki fall back a little, but Takumi quickly leaned over and caught her before she fell. They laughed, both in different mindsets.
Jumping off the bison, Takumi landed and peered around. "They must have a place to stay somewhere around here."
"Isn't finding Shirou our first priority?"
"Shirou and Shinji? Oh right. Yes, I think so."
Back in the Ba Sing Se Royal Dojo, Daiki and Hotaru were standing around a table in the back of the large training area. On it, a stone bowl was set and filled with water.
"Here is our next lesson," Daiki said. "All I want you to do is bend what is on the table."
"Are you talking about the stone bowl, or the water inside it?" Hotaru asked.
Daiki chuckled. "If you can bend the bowl, go ahead. If you can't right now, how about you try the water?"
Hesitant of some sort of trick or trap, she paused before testing out what was inside, and after registering it was just regular old water, lifted it her open hands, formed it into a ball, and spun the sphere of liquid around while lifting it up and down in the air. Once the trick was over, she put it back in the bowl.
"Very good," Daiki commented. "Now, I want you to do the exact same thing, except I need to add a bit of a challenge this time." He pulled a heavy-looking pouch from his belt and poured a bit of dirt and gravel from it into the water. "Go ahead and try."
Hotaru tried spreading out her palms into the air again like usual, but the water just rippled. She sensed something different than ever before. This time, she wasn't bending just regular old water, but a combination of water and earth together. She turned her open hands into fists and this time, put a little more oomph into the rise and flex of her arms. The mixture formed into a ball just like the other did, and although maybe not as quickly, still spun around and hovered. "Done," she said triumphantly, putting the water back. "Now what?"
Daiki poured his whole bag of dirt and gravel into the bowl this time, and after a bit of stirring, formed a thick mud. "This is the last challenge before moving on to throwing rocks."
Hotaru nodded confidently, and flung her fists into the air as hard as she could, trying to use moves of earthbending she had seen before in the path that she would waterbend.
They looked down at the bowl.
"I think I might have seen it wiggle a little." She got a questionable look from Daiki and added, "Just a little."
"Try again. And this time, don't focus on the fact that you're about to bend earth. Because I haven't taught you how to do that yet, and you won't get anything done. Bend the water that is in there, as you are very good at that. This exercise is only here to show you the feel and mindset needed to keep earth in the air, using the moves you are great at in waterbending."
"Okay." Hotaru opened her mind, and reached out towards the mud, sensing every little drop of water within the mixture. Rising her hands out in the circular motion of her regular waterbending, she breathed calmly, and watched as almost all the mud in the ball slowly ascended in the air, some bits dripping and crumbling, but in the whole all still shaped into a hovering sphere. She dropped it after a couple seconds, panting.
"How did it feel?"
"Exceptional," Hotaru said. "I've never really bent something... How should I say this? I've never really bent something purely solid, and that mud wasn't purely solid, but I could feel all the little bits and pieces of solid earth inside it and it was just..."
"Now don't get all tangled up in your words," Daiki said.
"It felt really cool."
"Are you ready to try moving stones?"
Hotaru smiled. "Definitely."
In the lobby of Argil Village's Clay Ridge Inn, Takumi and Asaki were waiting by the front desk as an older man checked files from his drawers.
"What did you say his name was again?" the man asked in a rough agitated voice.
"Shirou," Asaki said in a slow voice for the fifth time to him that day. "He's from the Water Tribe. And if you have anyone named Shinji, whose Fire Nation, that would also help."
"Hmm... I do have someone named Chin, from Ba Sing Se. Does that help?"
"That's not who we're looking for."
The man shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry folks, but that's all we have. Your friends haven't stopped by here anytime recently."
"Are you sure there aren't any more places to stay in this town?" Takumi asked him.
"Have you checked that big hotel by the river?"
"Yes, we checked there," Asaki answered, disgruntled. "We told you that already."
"Then I'm useless to you," the man said, relieved. "They probably haven't came to Argil yet."
They paused for a second, and Takumi looked at Asaki. "It's getting late. How about we just rent a room? We'll keep looking tomorrow."
The man behind the front desk looked up. "We have a good two bedroom place down the left hall. Only three gold coins coins."
Asaki nodded. "We'll take it."
As she bent over to grab her turtle seal leather wallet, her hand brushed up against Takumi's.
He didn't move.
Apparently not noticing, Asaki put down three dirty coins down on the front desk, in exchange for the room key. "Thank you very much," she said in an annoyed tone. Snatching the key, she walked down the hall, and Takumi followed.
Meanwhile, Shirou and Shinji kept climbing the harsh mountain cliffs towards Argil Village. One jagged foothold after another, they were currently scaling a huge rocky face with nothing to hold them back if they fell. And they were already at least a hundred feet up in the air already.
Clinging on to the same big crack in the wall, Shirou and Shinji were at a place where they could get a little rest on there feet.
"Remember when we had to climb up that cliff at Nun Gate?" Shinji shouted, chuckling into the howling alpine winds. "And we thought that was hard - Ha!"
Shirou smiled, trying to keep steady. "That was fun. And I saved your life? Remember that? Lets keep going. I don't want to have to do it again."
They nodded to each other, and continued up the cliff. There was only around ten feet left of it to go, and Shirou made it up fairly quickly, Shinji a bit after due to a large gash to his shoulder he ripped open on the rocks.
Standing up finally, the duo looked up, and saw that the jagged peak of the mountain wasn't very far up the gravel path.
"It's just that far," Shirou reassured his friend, who was wiped from the climb.
They half-walked, half-crawled their way up to the rocky summit, where Shinji rolled over and lied on his back, exhausted.
Shirou chuckled, and explored the peak. There were a few berry bushes around some craggy pillars jutting out from the mountain, and then he spotted a shine on the stone ground. Bending over, he examined a metal plaque in the rock. "Hey, I found a marker over here!" Shirou said. "It says Mount Sierra on it, elevation of thirty four hundred feet."
"Cool," Shinji muttered from afar.
Shirou put his finger down to touch it, but as soon as his finger made contact with the metal, the marker lit up bright red as he yelped and startling heat singed his finger. "That couldn't have been natural," he muttered, wiping his finger on his shirt, looking around.
"What happened?" Shinji asked faintly.
Looking around, Shirou caught the sound of dead bushes rustling from down the path. Panic struck him. "Shinji, look out!"
Suddenly, his companion leapt up from his rest, and just as he did an intense stream of flames spun towards the area, exploding exactly where he was laying down ten seconds beforehand.
"Who goes there?!" Shirou called out, running towards his friend, seeing if he was alright. He drew his sword.
Suddenly, in a flash of fire, three people dressed in all black jumped out from a large group of bushes, and swung out, one shooting a flash of lightning, one a wave of water and ice, an the final a howling gale of wind. As the smoke cleared and Shirou and Shinji looked out from behind the rock pillars they were hiding behind, they looked and gasped in sight of three of the Quadrination Bandits, Zhena, Kyong, and Anil, dressed in their regular uniforms.
"We found you, cursed one," Kyong said in his deep voice. "You barely escaped us and The Chancellor at the North Pole. You should consider yourself lucky for that much. However, don't get reassured that you will survive this ongoing battle. The Chancellor's magic far outnumbers yours and he was able to track you using his energybending until you had almost reached the tip of the Earth Kingdom.
"By then," Anil added, "It didn't matter. He is recovering and recharging after that battle in the ice. We were called to find you, and then we can bring you back to him, where he will finish you."
Shirou looked around. "Where is the earthbender?"
"Gephel wasn't so lucky in the North Pole," said Zhena, looking around at her partners. "I think it's time to avenge our Gephel for what your armies did to him, don't you think, boys?"
Suddenly, they sprang into action. Shirou dodged a solid spear of ice from Kyong, who leapt forwards afterwards, and pushed both of them over with a wave of water. Shirou tried getting up, but the waterbending bandit kept pinning him down, reusing the water he carried, picking it back up every time it splashed down as a puddle. Rolling around, he drew out sword, and thrust the hilt at the bottom of Kyong's jaw when he leaned over to strike again. Off guard, it let a chance for Shirou to draw his sword, but as he prepared to strike, the sight of a lightning bolt from Zhena instinctively made him drop his metal blade that the electricity was conducted towards, escaping a deathly shock. Without a weapon, Shirou was defenseless against the broken-jawed Kyong, who slurred and spit out a battle cry before flinging a wave of water to Shirou's chest, and freezing it and him to the rocky floor. Using the time he had, Kyong covered his hand in the puddle in the ground and used the last water he had to put around his chin, healing the broken bones inside.
"That's better," he said. Picking up the fallen sword, Kyong readied to slice down into Shirou's pinned down heart, but before he was able to, Shinji came towards them, shot an array of sparks that melted the block of ice holding him down, and Shirou rolled out of the way, watching Kyong slam his sword down at the rock below, which stuck in and left him immobilized for a second. Shinji leapt towards him, shot a colossal burst of fire at his chest, and he could only manage to get enough water from around him to leave a huge blast of smoke and steam that left him unconscious.
There was little time to waste. Shirou dug his sword out of the ground, and cut a huge slice in the air in front of Anil, causing him to jump back. Thrusting forward with all his might, he was glad to have Shinji block a huge jet of fire from Zhena, and he quickly moved away, walking and battling with Anil at the same time. Suddenly, he felt his foot lose balance, and looked behind him at a deep ravine that he couldn't see from where they were before.
"Don't look down!" Anil cackled, shooting a tornado of winds at full force towards Shirou. He only barely dodged it, still whirling around, losing footing, but luckily fell onto a lower ledge only a few feet down. He took his sword and threw it at Anil, buying a few seconds he used to scale and roll back up onto the peak. Picking up his blade, he jabbed at the airbender, once, twice, and again, every time he lost footing, Anil shot a gust at his feet that nearly swept him off the deep cliff beside them. Swinging his sword straight down at Anil, who this time caught his breath right as the blade was coming down at him, ducking and rolling with the last of his energy, inches away from the seemingly bottomless ravine. Shirou knew he could take him out now, but Shinji was more important. Looking over, he saw his friend standing some yards away, Kyong still down and Zhena seemed to have been knocked out too. This was his only opportunity.
"Shinji! Run!" he called out in fright. He seemed to hesitate, but Shirou gave him a stern look, and he turned around and sprinted away from the unconscious bandits.
"Oh, no you don't!" Anil spat out, rolling to his feet and beginning to chase after him.
Shirou had a second of time to react. Anil was far faster than Shinji, and in less than a minute he would have caught up to him. He had to do this for his friend. Saving Shinji lots of precious time to escape, Shirou flung himself from his perch, body slamming straight into Anil, who was running at full speed, and their powerful collision caused them both to fall over and roll straight off the side of the deep mountain ravine, both of them plummeting into the darkness below.
Hotaru was tired from a long first day at the dojo. She didn't get anything substantial to rise with earthbending, but she still felt very accomplished. sitting down on a pile of clay bricks, she said, "It's almost sunset. I've been working since early morning."
"You did good," said Daiki. "You can leave in a moment, but I do want to discuss something with you."
"As we went over when we first met, I will be doing more for you them teaching you earthbending. For learning all the elements aren't the only steps to becoming a fully realized Avatar."
"There is more to teach about becoming the Avatar, the Avatar's role, and the Avatar's duty to the world. I cannot teach this to you, as I have never been the Avatar before. However, I can guide you to someone who has."
"You know someone whose been the Avatar before?"
"Your past life, Avatar Mikio, is available for you at any time. And I know how you can contact him. You see, there is a place in the mountains above Ba Sing Se, an Avatar Temple where all the Avatars from the Earth Kingdom are left and their spirits are awake. This place is in a fortress known as the Northeastern Earth Mound. Next week, I am hoping for you to visit there. I think it will be eye-opening for you, in more ways than one."
"What will I learn there, exactly?" Hotaru asked.
"What secrets Avatar Mikio has in store for you - I don't know, however, I do know that Avatars traditionally learn to master the Avatar State in this section of there training - your most mighty and most vulnerable state. The Avatar State is your peak of power, and only Avatar Mikio can teach you how to properly balance in that enhanced mode of yours."
"As long as you can guide me there, I'm good to go."
Daiki looked at her. "One more thing - you'll be traveling there alone."
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