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|B2 Chapter Seven: Kozin|
"What do you think they want?" Yi asked, leaning dangerously out over the railing to look down at the tanks and troops far below.
She, like the others, were all clustered together, all of them likewise looking down. Three hundred feet below a single uniformed officer stood in the middle of the road near the door, looking up at them. He hadn't moved for hours.
"They want me," Nanaki said, a note of sadness in her tone. She looked at Jinora. "Do you think they're Unbelievers?"
Jinora shook her head.
"I don't," she said. "Though I can't imagine what they want here. Even if it was an investigation of what happened in town, the military wouldn't get involved."
Nanaki came to a quick decision.
"I'm going to go talk to them," she said, and she turned to do just that.
Kah-Pa grabbed her arm. "That might not be a good idea, Avatar."
"I can't spend all my time hiding," Nanaki said, gently extricating herself. "I have to know what this is about."
"But I'm coming with you," the old woman said, "and you'd better let me do the talking."
Commander Kozin was the picture of a ranking Fire Nation officer. He was tall and broad shouldered, his square face and dimpled chin decidedly handsome, his sideburns perfectly cut and trimmed to emphasize his features. His entire body, subject to the rigors of intensive regular exercise, was flattered by his black and gold uniform rather than his body flattering the uniform. He stood rigid and unyielding, the very symbol of Fire Nation authority as he watched a bent, elderly female Air Nomad and a small, pretty teenage girl emerge from the doors of the Temple and make their way toward him.
Yet for all of his posture and the inflexibility of his face, Kozin was a man whom was under an extreme amount of turbulent duress inside. He didn't want to be here, he didn't agree with his superiors' orders. Harassing children and the elderly was below the dignity of a career military man, especially if one of those children was the Avatar. Kozin had a wife and two daughters of his own. Nen, the eldest, was just at that age where she couldn't decide if she wanted Daddy around or never wanted to leave his side. Maiu, the youngest, looked at him as though he was her own personal superhero and he loved them both so terribly that it hurt. Somewhere out there was another father, a father forced to watch his daughter be vilified as a criminal. A daughter whom should be celebrated.
Kozin didn't for one iota of time believe anything those idiot civilians were saying about the Avatar. He didn't believe she was some sort of political mastermind, organizing and directing a group like the Fists. He certainly gave no credence to those Unbelievers that had been picked up, armed to the teeth, and wailing that the Avatar had defeated them with bloodbending. And even if she had, what of it? What was she expected to do, stand there and let those animals slaughter her? If having bloodbending used on them was the price they paid for attacking the Avatar, it was too cheap.
But Kozin was not a man that argued the orders given to him. In a way, he could understand the Fire Lord's edict. Riots and violence erupting all over the Fire Nation as Fists battled Unbelievers, rumors of bloodbending, public outcry demanding action. The Fire Lord would be jeopardizing his own position if he ignored what his public wanted. So here Kozin stood, nodding his head once in respect and greeting as the Air Nomad woman stood in front of him, taking in the measure of him, the troops behind him, and the squat, heavy tanks ringing the exterior boundaries of the Fire Sage Temple.
"Commander Kozin," the Air Nomad said, lifting his name and rank from the shield emblazoned on his breastplate, "what is your purpose here?"
"Ma'am," he said respectfully. He paused for a beat before continuing, his gaze going to the girl. "On the authority and order of Fire Lord Olazar I and my men are here to take the Avatar, Nanaki Jintaro, into custody."
Nanaki frowned. "May I ask what the charges are?"
"Inciting riots, threatening the peace, and using an illegal bending technique on Fire Nation citizens," he said.
The Avatar gaped at him, and the old woman's eyebrows went up. The Air Nomad regarding him thoughtfully for several long moments as she leaned tiredly on her staff.
"Are you aware, Commander," she said finally, "that, and I presume you mean the incident at Crescent City, those citizens are Unbelievers. Unbelievers that were armed and intent on doing serious harm if not outright killing two of the Avatar's companions. Those companions happen to be a seventeen year old boy and his fifteen year old girlfriend."
Kozin's jaw tightened. Those bastards.
"I am aware that they are Unbelievers, yes," he said.
The old woman nodded.
"Then I hope you are also aware that we have ten witnesses, all of them sworn by an oath of honor and loyalty to the Avatar to speak only the truth, whom can and are willing to testify that the Avatar was in the temple on the night in question and nowhere near Crescent City. In addition, Nanaki has only just begun her training in firebending. She has no knowledge whatsoever of how to waterbend, and certainly cannot bloodbend."
This was good news to Kozin. If he didn't have such rigid control over himself, he would have smiled. Instead, he nodded once curtly.
"I was not aware. I presume you mean the Fire Sages. Their statements will be taken."
"Now what's this about inciting riots?" The Air Nomad asked.
The question surprised Kozin. He quickly detailed the activities of the Fists of the Avatar. As he spoke his eyes, trained for observation as they were, saw a look of incredulity creep over the Avatar's face, whilst the Air Nomad's expression drew darker. It was clear to him that neither the Avatar or her retainer had any notion of the organization. He began to wonder exactly what forces and events were swirling around the Avatar and he felt himself growing fascinated.
"You don't know about any of that," he ventured. Nanaki shook her head.
"No," she said. "I didn't know anything like that was happening. I never told anyone to do anything like that."
She was so frank, so in earnest, that Kozin allowed his mask of professionalism to slip aside for just one second, just enough time to show the girl that in her she had an ally.
"I believe you," he said.
Nanaki was too agitated to pick up on Kozin's subtle show of support, but Jinora wasn't. She regarded the Commander for a moment before quietly instructing Nanaki to go back into the temple. When the Avatar had gone, she turned to Kozin again. "I understand you have your orders," she said.
Kozin nodded. "I do. If the Avatar isn't willing to surrender peacefully, we are authorized to take her by force."
"Someone is playing a very dangerous game with the Avatar's life, Commander. I can't allow her to be placed in any situation that could jeopardize her safety, even the custody of the Fire Nation military. If you cannot find some way to countermand your orders, do understand this: You will attempt to take the Avatar, and we will attempt to prevent that."
Kozin had no idea who this old woman was but he, as a man of authority himself, recognized authority when he saw it and more that that: power. This old woman wasn't just a retainer, she was a bodyguard, and more than a bodyguard she was a commander herself; and one whom had sworn her life to the Avatar. He bowed deeply at the waist, and they parted company.
Once the old woman had gone inside he looked up at the half-dozen faces looking down at him and wondered if risking his men's lives facing the Avatar would be worth it. As he juggled his plight in his mind, one sentence kept running rampant there: The Avatar defeated the Fire Nation before. Time flows like a river, and history repeats.
"What's going to happen?" Nanaki asked, looking over the railing again as the sun climbed higher into the sky. She was afraid she already knew the answer, but Guo verbalized it for her.
"They're going to attack," he said.
Jinora nodded. "I fear that will be the case."
Nanaki turned away from the railing and put her face in her hands.
"I don't want them to. I don't want anyone getting hurt," she said.
"There's no hope that won't happen," Kah-Pa said. "You're not thinking of turning yourself over, are you?"
Nanaki looked up, and saw that every single one of her friends, and the Fire Sages, were all staring at her. Of course she had been, but now that she was standing under the spotlight she was ashamed to admit it. She looked away.
"Out of the question," Jinora said, firmly.
Nanaki squatted, holding her hands in her head. She desperately tried to think of some way to prevent this battle from happening.
Even in the most relaxing depths of meditation, Kozin's spine was as straight, rigid, and unyielding as the man himself. Anyone seeing him now, draped in a lightweight gold silk robe and sitting cross legged in front of a low table lined with candles while a framed photograph of his wife and daughters smiled down at him from the wall just beyond, would have no idea that only just under his serene exterior a war was being raged.
On the one hand, the Imperial War Machine stood poised to do something it hadn't done since the fall of the wretched Ozai-to take direct, hostile action against the Avatar. Despite the miasma of accusations that the Avatar was using bloodbending and the murderous rampages of The Fists claiming to act under her direct orders, the outrage of the other kingdoms against the Fire Nation would be immediate, and extreme. Sanctions would be imposed, business contracts would be severed, and dozens if not hundreds of lawsuits would be filed by both the public and private sectors on the Avatar's behalf. The Fire Lord's choice to send the military out to collect a small girl, rather than the local police force, meant that he was dangling his foot over a white hot platypusbear trap, and Kozin knew it. He felt it inconceivable that Fire Lord Olozar knew it too.
However, if Kozin trusted his instincts, and in 43 years they had never steered him wrong, then the Avatar was innocent. The fear that has road-mapped itself across her face, the bewilderment that forced her hands to wring, and the tears in her eyes were not things that could be faked to a trained observer. The Avatar was no bloodbender, and not the head of a quasi-assassination army. She was guilty only of being the victim of powerful forces clearly trying to get her out of the picture. But Kozin couldn't go all the way to the Capitol without his quarry, or without undeniable evidence of being justified in letting her go. To do so would bring ramifications instant and irreparable.
He would lose his position and his commission, surrendering his career before he could catch his breath long enough to explain his reasoning. The potential of legal charges as a traitor would be certain, the Fire Lord would need someone to throw to the ravening crowds demanding the Avatar's head. His reputation would be gone. His title and wealth would be vaporized. His honor would be obliterated. And it wouldn't end with him.
His beautiful wife, still as breathtaking now than she was the day he first saw her eighteen long years ago, would be shattered and broken. The children would find themselves bereft, confused and frightened. Homelessness, travail, and tribulation would settle over them like a smothering cloak. He could not allow that to happen.
A slight rise in the ambient temperature of the room, so subtle that none but an alert Master firebender would notice it, brought Kozin to the awareness that he was no longer alone in the room. He expanded his consciousness and scanned the heat signature of the second individual and recognized it, a process of less than a nanosecond.
"Yes Lieutenant?" He asked, neither opening his eyes nor turning.
"The men are awaiting your orders, sir."
Kozin opened his eyes and looked up at the photograph of his family.
"We'll give the Avatar a final night to surrender," he said. "If she hasn't by nine AM tomorrow morning, we breach."
Two hours before dawn a tear stained Yi, with Akytreu right behind her, burst into Jinora's room and startled the old woman awake.
"I went to wake up Nannie for breakfast before her training," Yi sobbed, "she and Yakkara are gone!"
It took less than a minute for Fire Sage Gan to cave under the pressure of Jinora's interrogation and admit that yes, the Avatar had come to him asking for ways out of the temple and he had lead her to the tunnel that lead to the heart of Crescent City. When asked how long ago she had left, Gan admitted it had been four or five hours ago. Plenty of time for her to get to the city.
Kozin, however, was not so easily crumpled by Jinora's anger. He examined the tunnel Nanaki had used, he listened to Gan reiterate the explanation the old Sage had given Jinora, and he convinced himself that no attempt was being made to deceive him. When Jinora had called on him to explain the situation, he had insisted on hearing and seeing everything for himself.
Good for her, he thought to himself, but nothing showed on his expression. He turned from the entrance to the concealed tunnel and put his hands behind his back, looking at each of the faces of the adults and the children. No doubt of it, only Gan looked guilty. The Avatar truly had sneaked out, not telling anyone else her plans.
"Do you have any idea the position this puts me in?" He asked Jinora quietly.
"Not really," Jinora said. "While it is noble for her to elude us all in the hope of ensuring that we don't fight each other, Commander, the plan was...not well thought out. She has enemies everywhere, as you know."
"I'm not her enemy," Kozin said.
"Not be choice," Jinora shot back, just as mildly but with a sting in it.
"I could take you all in as accomplices," Kozin said.
The others watched this quiet battle of will with wide eyes.
"You could," Jinora said. "But in so doing you would be doing the Avatar irrepressible harm. Allow me to introduce Guo, her earthbending teacher. Tu'uri, her waterbending teacher. My nephew Kah-Pa, Nanaki's best friend Yi, and her boyfriend and my great-nephew Akytreu. We are the Avatar's friends and companions, and her mentors. I am Jinora, her airbending teacher and her spiritual guide."
Kozin reflexively bent at the waist in a bow on hearing Jinora's name.
"I didn't know," he said. "Forgive me."
"For which part?" Jinora asked him, but she was smiling.
He straightened again. "I won't detain you any further."
He turned to go. Jinora brought him to a halt by calling him by his title. He turned back to her, respectfully.
Jinora regarded him shrewdly.
"It occurs to me we can help each other," she said. "You will, I presume, have a great deal of explaining to do to the Fire Lord. The Fire Sages, and myself, will come with you and explain. In turn, you will ensure that my company, this very day, can get swift passage back to Ba Sing Se."
"Why Ba Sing Se?" Yi interrupted. "Nannie's in Crescent City. I'm not leaving her here."
Guo put a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "If you were in another nation and you were in trouble, where would you go?"
Yi thought it over, then brightened.
"I'd go home," she squeaked.
Jinora smiled at the two. "Exactly."
She looked back at the patient Kozin and continued.
"In addition, Commander, the Avatar has mastered her firebending basics but has no one to teach her the advanced skill sets. I have no doubt at all that she would be honored to call you sifu Kozin."
Kozin was taken aback by the offer. "Ma'am?"
Jinora smiled wider, greatly amused by finally having gotten the officer to show some emotion.
"Oh you're not an emotional void after all," she quipped. She grew sober again. "I will not allow anyone to teach the Avatar unless I know for a fact that her teacher is the person of the very highest quality and honor. You, Commander, have showed yours. The highest caliber."
Kozin was touched, but once again his facade didn't crack.
"I'll have to discuss it with my superiors, and arrange for a leave. But I must first talk with my wife. We have children to consider and I don't know that she'll appreciate me being away from them for a few seasons."
"Bring them along! An extended vacation in Ba Sing Se! Your children will be delighted when it begins to snow."
And then, Kozin did smile.
Nanaki was exhausted. She hadn't slept or eaten all night, but rather than ride on Yakkara she was walking slowly along beside her animal guide, taking comfort in the way the great zebratiger's fur felt under the hand she had laid on Yakkara's side, and the way the solid muscles there rippled with each step.
"We'll be at the docks soon," she said to Yakkara, "and then just a short boat ride and we'll be back in Ba Sing Se where we belong."
A beetle-black Satolimosene cruised by her, then put the breaks on. The car came to a complete stop. Suddenly wart, Nanaki leaned closer to Yakkara and tried to pass the vehicle by. As she did, the rear passenger side window rolled down. "I must be dreaming. Avatar Nanaki!"
The voice was so soothing, like powdered marble, and so friendly as well as painted with the accent of the Earth Kingdom that Nanaki stopped and looked at the man peering out at her. His was a very handsome, narrow face with laugh lines around his startling stone colored eyes. His full head of hair and Fu Manchu mustache were as white as the suit he wore. Nanaki thought he looked familiar somehow.
"Um, hi?" Nanaki said, uncertainly.
"You shouldn't be out here alone. This is a very dangerous time for you," the man said, his tone slightly scolding.
"I'm not alone, I have Yakkara," Nanaki said, perhaps a bit more testily than she meant. But the man took it in stride, smiling.
"And what a fine animal companion, too. Avatar Nanaki, I am a very wealthy man from Ba Sing Se, your own home city. I have a private plane nearby, and a very private penthouse. Let me take you home. I can protect you until all this business is taken care of?"
Nanaki was suspicious. What she didn't see was the way Yakkara lowered her head, her eyes narrowing to dangerous slits and her black lips pulling away from her twin rows of sharp teeth, a clear warning to the gentleman.
"Why would you do that?" Nanaki asked, her suspicion growing.
"Because I believe in you," the refined gentleman said. "I am not an Unbeliever, or a supporter of them and I do not believe that you have anything at all to do with The Fists of the Avatar. You look lost, and homesick, and more that that. You look frightened, Avatar Nanaki. Please let me help you. Once we're home I'll send word to your friends. I promise."
Nanaki found herself liking, and even trusting, this man though she couldn't say why and though she knew she should know better. She frowned, then turned and took Yakkara's huge head in her hands. She kissed over the zebratiger's muzzle and stroked it.
"It's okay, Yakkara," she said. "Just follow the car." Yakkara purred.
Nanaki got into the car, she shortly it moved off. Yakkara watched it for a moment, then turned and began racing back toward the Fire Temple at full speed.
Inside the limo, the refined gentleman lifted Nanaki's hand and kissed it. Nanaki smiled, charmed.
"I don't even know your name. Thank you so much for helping me," she said. The refined man smiled.
"My name is Himaru. It is truly, truly an honor to meet you face to face, Avatar Nanaki."
Nanaki smiled and settled back into the warm, comfortable seat. She had a feeling that everything was finally going to get better, and she fell fast asleep.
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