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|B2 Chapter One: Scattered|
"Where is she? Where is my daughter? It's been a week since she disappeared! Why aren't you people doing more to find her?"
Jintaro slammed the side of his fist onto the table top so hard that the cups of tea situated there overturned, their contents forming small estuaries of pale green. Jinora took up a handful of napkins and began to dab up the mess.
"I assure you, Mr. Jintaro, we are doing everything within our power to find the Avatar," she said mildly. "That's why we're here. Can you think of any place Nannie would go if she were in trouble? Friends she might turn to?"
"Like she's the Avatar," Otoshi scoffed. He looked to his father for solidarity and was surprised to see that not only were the three adults seated around the kitchen table-Jinora, Guo, and Kah-Pa-looking at him with disdain but Jintaro looking at him with open fury. Otoshi scrunched down in his chair and snapped his mouth shut.
Jintaro looked down at his hands. "I don't know where Nanaki spent her free time. I don't know about her other friends. Yi was the only one she ever brought home."
"She didn't have any," Otoshi put in again, this time trying for a helpful tone. He was ignored.
Jinora, strained from her exertion at the Island, had lost consciousness mere seconds after seeing Yakkara fleeing with the children on her back, and had not come to until the Republic City authority was swarming the island. All of the Unbelievers had been rounded up, save their leader. Since then the adults and many volunteers had scoured Republic City and Ba Sing Se for Nanaki and her friends, to no avail. She was beginning to become desperate. Even though she knew that Akytreu and Yi were with Nanaki, there was no telling where they had gone or if they were still safe. But she wasn't yet willing to reveal that to the Avatar's father. She looked at Guo and Kah-Pa for something further to say.
Guo stepped in. "How did the Unbelievers know where to find the Avatar?"
Jintaro, hearing the edge in the earthbending master's voice, looked up sharply.
"I have no idea. Are you accusing me of something?"
Both men got to their feet.
"Nobody knew that Nanaki was staying at the tea house except you," Guo roared. "They were shooting at my daughter!"
"They were shooting at mine too," Jintaro volcanoed back, and in seconds all three men were howling in rage at each other.
Otoshi, his face white, got up from the table and walked hurriedly out the back door. Jinora watched him with a mounting suspicion. She had seen the stamp of fear that he had been to slow to conceal. She turned back to the fuming men and wrapped her staff on the edge of the table.
"Gentlemen, please! This is a very trying time and if we are going to have any measure of success we must be a unit. Our duty now is to finding the children, so stop acting like some."
All three men subdued and quieted at her tone. Jinora stood, thanked Jintaro for the tea, and moved toward the front door. Jintaro walked them out. Jinora started down the steps when Jintaro called to her.
"What can I do to help?"
She turned and looked at him. "Go through her things. Her diary, notebooks, letters. See you can find anything that might suggest where she might be. Telephone us if you find anything. I promise you we'll do the same. There is one thing you should know, Mr. Jintaro. When we were attacked that night it was Nanaki, and Nanaki alone, whom saved all of our lives. You should be incredibly proud of her. She deserves it." She turned to keep going down the steps.
She turned and looked at Jintaro again. Guo and Kah-Pa did the same.
"Please bring my daughter home safely," Jintaro said.
"That's exactly what I intend to do."
Five minutes later, the three adults piled into Guo's car. Guo didn't start the engine right away.
"So that's that. We've exhausted every avenue. They aren't at any of Yi's hangouts and none of Yi's other friends have heard from her. What now?"
Jinora was mulling her thoughts over, fiddling with the dark and cold suspicion stabbing into her heart.
"I believe the boy has been feeding the Unbelievers information of the Avatar's whereabouts," she said, and explained the expression she had seen on his face. Guo bristled.
"That little fat bastard," he said, and moved to get out of the car. Jinora caught his arm.
"No," she said. "Right now, it would only spark a confrontation with the father. And I very sincerely believe that Otoshi had no idea the kind of danger he would be putting Nanaki in. What's done is done."
"Even if you're right," Kah-Pa said from the back seat, "how would he know that she was on Air Temple Island?"
Jinora mulled that over in silence for a moment.
"Nanaki is a very conscientious girl," she said finally. "It's not beyond the realm of possibility that at some point during her stay on the Island she telephoned her father to tell him that she was all right, and where she was, even if she thought he might not care to hear it. And if her brother took the call..." She let the sentence go to speak for itself.
"I'm going to break that kid," Guo fumed.
"Let it go," Jinora said. "Our energies should be focused entirely on locating the children."
They sat in silence for a long moment. Suddenly, Kah-Pa learned forward from the back seat and looked at Jinora.
"What about Yuhzu?"
Jinora blinked in surprise and then chuckled softly.
"Yuhzu, of course," she said. "Oh Jinora, you old crab-fly. Why didn't I think of that?"
"Yuhzu?" Guo asked, clearly confused.
"My cousin," Kah-Pa explained. "She lives in Crescent City. She and 'Treu don't get along, not since that incident with my Aunt Ikki but he might think to go to her. I don't think Yuhzu would turn him away if he was in trouble. Especially if he was protecting the Avatar."
Guo nodded. "Crescent City it is."
He turned the Satoshimobile over, and the engine coughed and sputtered. Then died. It refused to start again until Guo had rubbed the dashboard for several seconds, crooning words of love and admiration to the vehicle. Soon they were on their way.
"There's someone else I'd like to see," Jinora said suddenly. Both men glanced at her.
Lu Taising was on cloud nine and three-quarters. Ever since he had had his tight round behind handed to him by the Avatar, he had been abandoned. His followers had all deserted him. He'd gotten no visitors, no calls, not even so much as a get out of jail soon card. So when one of the Dai Li informed him that he had a visitor, his mousetrap of a mind had launched into action. All he had to do was flash a sterling smile, turn on the charm, and inside of a day Ba Sing Se prison would be crowded with protesters demanding his release. He'd be the Big Man again! He was very smug when he was lead into the visiting room, and slicked his hair back with one hand.
When he saw just who his visitor actually was, his smugness vanished. He exploded from the chair with a squawk. The Dai Li guard took him by the shoulder and slammed him back down into the seat again.
"I didn't have anything to do with that," Taising blubbed as Jinora took the seat across the table from him. "I been in here the whole time! No messages in or out. Ask anyone." He thrust a finger at his guard. "Ask him! He knows!"
"Be at ease, Mr. Taising. I'm not here to make accusations. I'm here because I need your help."
Taising was instantly on his guard.
"My help." It wasn't a question.
"Yes," Jinora said. "What is the name of the man who lead the attack on Air Temple Island?" She described the huge figure she had seen.
Taising smirked and sat back in his chair. "You honestly expect me to rat out my followers?"
"Is it you they follow still?"
His smirk melted like snow under a spring sun. Jinora leaned toward him.
"On the day that you were arrested, do you know what Nanaki told me? She saw you being taken by the Dai Li and she said to me, 'It wasn't him. He didn't want to do it, the other man made him. He's not a bad person.' She said that about you, Mr. Taising. I believe her."
Taising stared at her for a moment, then put his face into the crook of his arm. Jinora looked at the guard. "May we have a few minutes?"
The Dai Li nodded and stepped quietly from the room but continued to watch through the window from the room beyond. Taising lifted his head up and put his hands into it.
"I never wanted this," he said softly. "I never even considered it. I just wanted my time in the spotlight, you know? I never wanted to see the little girl get hurt. Please believe me."
"I do. Who is he, Mr. Taising?"
"His name is Po. He's a thug, real lower case. I don't know where he got his hands on that kind of firepower. He doesn't have the resources or contacts to get that kind of hardware. He's just this guy, you know?"
Jinora was afraid of that. She had, of course, been harboring a suspicion that someone was pulling the strings behind the black curtain, and she felt a chill now that those suspicions were confirmed. Only someone very powerful could have been able to obtain the arms and armor that Po and his minions were using. And that someone powerful wanted the Avatar dead.
"Who told you that the Avatar was staying at my tea shop, Mr. Taising?"
"Her brother," he said at once, without hesitation.
Jinora nodded and got to her feet. Seeing her, the Dai Li returned and helped her to stand.
"Thank you Mr. Taising," she said. "You've been very helpful."
"Will you do me a favor?" He asked, looking at her hopefully.
"If I can."
He stood up and bowed deeply from the waist.
"Please..please tell the Avatar I'm sorry. I'm really very sorry."
"She'll be very happy to hear that."
The men were waiting for her by the car. She said nothing as she got in, and didn't speak until they were well on their way.
"Gentlemen, we have a very serious problem."
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