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|B2 Chapter Nine: Pai Sho|
The greatest lie we tell ourselves is the lie of security, Nanaki. We become so desperate in our search for inner peace that we convince ourselves we are safe even when we are in the most danger. We allow our senses to become dulled when the evidence that our station is dire is placed right in front of them. You are the Avatar. For you, there is no safety.
With a sudden sucking in of her breath, Nanaki came awake. She sat up in the dark, her eyes darting this way and that as if trying to penetrate the thick darkness and find some enemy lurking there. She heard nothing and saw nothing, but the Dream Voice's words still resonated in her head. At last she understood the nagging sensation of her brain, of what had been bothering her all day. She rolled over onto her side, switched the light on, and slid out of the bed.
She gathered the quilt into her hands and looked hard at it, then pulled it off the bed completely. She placed her palms down on the mattress and pushed down firmly. The bed sprang back, refusing to yield to her touch. She crossed to the closet and went through all the clothes, holding them up against her chest and looking at herself in the mirror. Her suspicions were confirmed, and she was at once angry and frightened. The mattress was firm, just as she liked it. It was made with a quilt rather than sheets, just as she liked her bed at home. All of the clothes fit perfectly. All little details she had never revealed to her host.
Kachi Himaru knew everything about her. Right down to her measurements.
She quickly dressed, then went to the door of the penthouse. She crept quietly down the stairs that lead to the corporate building proper and found a door at the bottom of the landing. She tried the door handle, and found it was locked from the other side. At that instant, Nanaki realized she wasn't a guest. She was a prisoner.
She returned to her bedroom and picked up the phone, dialing her home phone number. Putting the receiver to her ear she heard only a dead line, so she tried the number again. Met with silence a second time, she punched the 0 button. The line was picked up immediately.
She scowled, but tried to keep her voice calm. "I'm sorry to bother you, but I think there's something wrong with my phone. I had a bad dream about my dad and I wanted to call him but the phone doesn't seem to want to work."
The voice on the other end was soothing and placid.
"Oh yes. Mister Himaru gave strict orders that you were not to be disturbed, so he disconnected any lines entering or exiting the building from the penthouse. I am truly sorry for the inconvenience."
"So how come I can call you?" She asked, unable to prevent the testiness from coating her tongue.
"In case you needed something, of course."
"I need to call my dad," she hissed.
The voice never missed a beat.
"I'm sorry Avatar. I will place a request with security to have your line reconnected within the next 48 hours. In the meantime, may I make the call for you and relay a message?"
Nanaki blew her cheeks out and lifted her hand to pinch the bridge of her nose, completely unaware that she was mimicking the gesture she had seen Jinora do as a signal of frustration countless times.
"No, that's fine. Thank you though. Sleep good when you go."
"Thank you, Avatar. Please rest well."
She hung up.
Nanaki sat on the edge of the bed, thinking. If she was a prisoner, then there could be no hope of Jinora and the others arriving tomorrow. Himaru wouldn't have even gotten in touch with them. Nanaki realized she was alone in this mess, a mess she had gotten herself into. But she resolved not to let self-pity lead her down a road to ruin. She got up from the bed and went out onto the roof, feeling glad of the cold breeze on her skin. She leaned on the edge of the balustrade and comforted herself with the shining lights of Ba Sing Se. Glancing down, she saw that there was a large group coagulated around the front of the building. When she saw the signs denouncing the company she ducked back down swiftly, hoping none of them had looked up and seen her there.
Unbelievers. Why did it always have to be them?
She started to wonder if they knew she was here. If they knew she was here, then Jinora knew she was here. She stood up slowly and peeked over the edge of the roof at the demonstrators a hundred feet below. She read the signs, and learned that the group was protesting the company's support of her. There were no signs denouncing her herself. So they didn't know that she was there, right over their heads.
But, never-the-less, Nanaki smiled. They would soon. If mister Kachi Himaru wanted a game of Pai Sho, she'd give him a game he'd never forget.
Nanaki was still awake, sitting in the front room reading when she heard the downstairs door open and close. Presently Himaru and Chai entered the room, the older man carrying a pair of covered trays. When they came in Nanaki put on her best smile, stood, and bowed.
"Good morning, Mr. Himaru," she said, cheerily.
"Good morning Avatar Nanaki," Himaru beamed back, setting both trays on the low table. "I brought you your breakfast and, if you have no objections, I thought I might join you."
"Oh no, that'd be great," she said.
They sat down across from each other. Breakfast was a wonderful affair. Scrambled pighen eggs with diced sweet peppers, fat dumplings stuffed with a ham of some kind and a mildly spicy yellow sauce, a small bowl of mixed berries, and the most delicious jasmine tea Nanaki had ever tasted. The two made small talk as they ate, Chai standing nearby and watching with indifference.
"How did you sleep?" Hirmaru asked.
Nanaki entertained no illusion that her interaction with the operator had not been reported, so she wisely chose to keep up her cover story.
"Not very well," she said. "I had a bad dream about my dad."
"Oh I'm very sorry to hear that. Once your friends arrive, perhaps we could arrange for your father to come visit as well. Unfortunately, I will not be able to spend any time with you for the next few days. I have to go to Gaoling on business," Himaru said.
Nanaki absorbed this information and put on a disappointed face, making some comment about how she would miss the kind old man. She looked up at him, innocent and trusting.
"Will you be safe with all those Unbelievers outside?"
The question seemed to pock-mark Himaru with genuine surprise. He looked up at Chai in astonishment, then sighed. His shoulders slumped when he looked back at Nanaki.
"I had been hoping you wouldn't notice them. I'm sorry if they've upset you," he said.
"Do they know I'm here?" Nanaki asked.
Himaru shook his head. "No. I and my company have a long-standing policy of total support for the Avatar. That's what they're protesting. I would never have brought you here if there was any way they could realize that you were under my personal care."
Nanaki stood from the table and bowed.
"Please have a very safe journey," she said.
"She called," The second Jintaro saw the group of tired people on his doorstep. He invited them in, and Jinora wasted no time in entering.
"From where?" She asked.
"I don't know. She didn't say anything, but I'm sure it was her."
"Does that mean she's somewhere nearby?" Yi asked.
"It just might," Jinora said. She crossed to the living room floor and sat down, laying her glider gently across her lap. She balled her hands into her fists and pressed her knuckles together, then closed her eyes.
"What are you doing?" Jintaro demanded. "My daughter is out there somewhere and you're meditating?"
Jinora smiled, but didn't open her eyes.
"I'm asking for help, Mr. Jintaro. The same way I discovered Nanaki was in the fire temple in Crescent City," Jinora said, and fell silent.
Jintaro started and turned to look at Guo. Only then did he notice the tall decorated Fire Nation officer bringing up the rear of the group, and the smallish woman and two small girls behind him.
"Fire Nation? She was in the Fire Nation?" He sputtered. "You promised me you'd call."
"We didn't have time," Guo said, and apologized for it. He then proceeded to detail the attack on Yi and Akytreu, the events at the Fire Temple, and how Kozin was now Nanaki's firebending teacher. Jintaro grew alternating infuriated, chagrined, horrified, and relieved when he learned all his daughter had gone through. His expression softened, and he smiled.
"She really is the Avatar, isn't she?" He asked.
"She really is," Jinora said, getting to her feet behind him, "and I know exactly where she is. Come along children, we have no time to lose. Our enemy has a name."
She pushed past the group, and Jintaro fell into step beside her.
"I'm going too," he said.
She smiled. "I would have dragged you if you had refused."
Nanaki put her plan into action the moment Himaru and Chai closed the living room door behind them. She sped out through the glass doors leading to the roof and to the edge, where she looked down at the chanting mob of protesters. When she saw a plethora of news-Satos and reporters there she thanked every Avatar that have ever existed for her good fortune. She leaned far out over the balustrade, drew her fist back, and fired off half a dozen tiny fireballs down into the crowd.
Pandemonium ensued. The mob broke and scrambled for cover as the fireballs fell among them, hissing out of existence before they could actually reach anyone to do any harm, and every face turned upward to see the Avatar herself leaning way out over the edge of the roof's balustrade, waving both hands high in the air.
"Get me out of here!" She screamed at them.
Pandemonium became a riot. The news crews begin feeding live, cameras zooming in on Nanaki as reporters lost their breath announcing to the world that the Avatar was alive and standing on the roof of Himarutech building. The Unbelievers went into a frenzy, rushing the doors of the building and exploding into the lobby, demanding the Avatar be turned over. Only the quick thinking security detail with their cattle prods kept the mob from massing into the elevators and swarming up the escalators.
Himaru was halfway back to his office before he became aware of the commotion. He stood one level above the building's lobby, looking down at the chaos below as screams for the Avatar bounced off the walls like rabid dogs fighting over a bloody piece of meat. When some Unbelievers saw him, they bellowed the words traitor and other--much less pleasant--epithets at him.
Chai was uncharacteristically disconcerted. "She let them see her? Why would she do that?"
Turning to look at her employer she was surprised to see that the old man was visibly impressed.
"Because she figured me out, and drew attention to herself by attacking the one group she knew would stop at nothing to drag her out of hiding." After a moment of introspection, he smiled a genuine smile. "Clever girl."
"What do you want to do, sir?"
"Call a press conference, Miss Chai, immediately. And have Mr. Po meet me in the girl's room."
Nanaki was ready the moment the door opened and Himaru stepped in. Standing in the living room she shifted her weight backwards, turning her side to him whilst she cocked her right leg and extended her left behind her. She crossed one fist over her chest and cocked the second over her head.
"There's no earth here for you to bend, Avatar," Himaru said gently.
"Let me go," she demanded.
He shook his head. "Alas, I cannot." He stepped slightly to one side, and the sumo bulk of Po squeezed itself into the room.
Nanaki's eyes went wide in fear, then moved slowly to Himaru in dawning horror.
"It was you," she said. "You attacked Air Temple Island."
Himaru made a slight bow. "I did."
"Why? All those people...you killed all those people!"
Himaru placed his hands behind his back, and Nanaki saw the incredible transformation that came over him. She saw only a shark where a gentle man had been a second before, a cold and hard man unwilling to concede anything to anyone. Kachi Himaru had revealed his true self, and he began to speak.
"When I was a boy some friends of mine and I were brutally attacked by a spirit. Two of my friends did not survive. I developed an intense hate and fear of the spirits, and I was not the only one. As I grew older I heard of more such attacks on innocent people, and I began to understand what was happening. The spirits were not our allies, or our beneficiaries. They were our conquerors.
"I came to realize the truth when studying the Avatar. It was your predecessor, Avatar Korra, that threw open the twin portals to the Spirit World and ushered in an era where the spirits could begin their conquest. You no doubt know that Avatar Korra never truly thoroughly explained her reasons for doing such a thing, but the evidence was there for everyone to see. She was leading her armies into battle, a battle to demoralize and subjugate the human race."
"That's not true. You're insane!" Nanaki squeaked.
Himaru regarded her coldly. "Insanity is the inability to know right from wrong, and I am fully capable of making that discernment. When Avatar Korra died, the spirits doubled and even tripled their efforts. But they had underestimated us, our human spirit proved to be much more formidable than they had anticipated. And so, in desperation, they returned their General to the world in the person of you. Avatar Nanaki."
Nanaki tried to think of something, anything to say. She had nothing.
"Haven't you ever wondered why it took you so long to reincarnate? You chose not to because you didn't expect the army to fail."
"No," Nanaki said, shaking her head. "That's not true at all."
"I'm afraid it is, even if you don't yet know it. But I have no doubt that you would remember your purpose if you were to ever become a fully realized Avatar. You see, history has shown on multiple occasions that the Avatar does not exist to keep balance in the world and maintain the peace between the four nations. The Avatar exists to enslave humanity, to keep us mild and docile. You are a weapon to keep us in line, Avatar Nanaki. That is why I must destroy you. Once I send your broken spirit back to the Spirit World as a warning shot, I shall finish the job by destroying the Spirit World itself. Humanity cannot and will not be conquered."
Faster than Nanaki could react, Po darted forward and struck her in the side of the head. Nanaki spun completely around before dropping to the soft carpet, unconscious.
Flashbulbs from countless cameras fired at the same time, throwing the already bright morning into a stark blitz of dancing flashes. Television cameras were hoisted onto shoulders, and microphones pointed when Himaru took his place at the podium erected at the entrance to the building 38 minutes later. The assembled Unbelievers began their vitriolic chanting again but were quickly brought to order by Himarutech security agents. The man himself lifted both hands for silence, and his gesture was obeyed.
"The Avatar has asked me to extend her deepest apologies for attacking those that dissent against her," he said. "She is still reeling from the events of Air Temple Island last week and acted rashly and out of anger."
"Why isn't the Avatar out here saying all this herself?" One of the reporters called out.
"For obvious reasons," Himaru said, sweeping a hand toward the knot of Unbelievers. They responded promptly by jeering and shouting unrepeatable slogans.
"How long has the Avatar been at Himarutech?" Another reporter shouted.
Himaru smiled. "Two days. I was in Crescent City on business and by the sheerest stroke of luck happened upon the Avatar. I offered her my protection and shelter, and she honored me by accepting."
"Why not tell these good people the truth, mister Himaru?" a strong woman's voice called out. "Lying does not become you."
The crowd turned as one and parted into a wide wedge. Team Avatar, with Jinora at their head, approached the podium. Jinora stood tall and proud, locking eyes with Himaru. Silence muffled the crowd as swiftly as if someone had stolen their voices.
"We know who you are, and we know what you've done. We know you are responsible for the attack on Air Temple Island. We know that you organized the Fists of the Avatar to sour public opinion against her. And we know you have been keeping Nanaki prisoner," she said.
The crowd reacted instantly. There were jeers, cries of denial, and exclamations of surprise. Everyone turned to look at the person standing next to them. But in a matter of seconds every single voice had been silenced, the crowd anxious to see how this would play out.
Himaru narrowed his eyes.
"Those are very serious, not to mention absurd, accusations," he said, quietly. "If, as you seem to be suggesting, I wanted the Avatar dead she wouldn't have been waving at the crowd from my roof."
Jinora tilted her head slightly. "I believe she was signalling for help, sir. We know the truth about you. You stand exposed."
Every head swung back toward Himaru.
Hirmaru clicked his tongue with a visible display of disappointment.
"As the self-proclaimed protector of the Avatar I had expected better of you, miss Chu. While I was ensuring the Avatar was fed, sheltered, and protected you were nowhere to be found," he said.
Some people in the crowd shouted their agreement.
Jinora smiled mildly. "Here we are now. If I am wrong, I will publicly apologize. If you will be so kind as to bring Nanaki out to us, we'll be on our way."
"Certainly," Himaru said at once, and turned toward the doors.
"And Commander Kozin will accompany you," Jinora finished.
Kozin stepped forward as Himaru stopped and turned around.
"That won't be necessary," Himaru said.
"Oh I think it will," Jinora replied.
The two squared off again with intense eye contact, both exerting their formidable wills against the other.
It was precisely at that instant that the underground parking garage of Himarutech exploded, throwing everyone to the ground.
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