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October 27, 2014
The deep, calming chants of the Sages' morning prayers fill the Temple grounds as the sun's first light creep over the horizon. In a tiny room provided by the Temple Sages, Jaro lies awake on his uncomfortable cot staring at the ceiling and listening to the soothing sound hymns. He has had a restless night, full of anxiety and excitement in anticipation for today. Only a week has passed but it has felt like a lifetime for this day to come...the day the Avatar is revealed.
The Sages made no mention of what he and the other Hopefuls were in store for or for how long it would take. Jaro only knows that they are the third batch of Hopefuls to be tested. He can't help but realize that more than thirty of the most promising sixteen year-old earth benders in the world were picked before him and none of them were the Avatar.
Maybe I'm not the Avatar? Jaro thinks to himself, and a tiny wave of relief washes over him.
Sitting up in his simple cot, Jaro tiredly looks around the bare room to see his older brother still asleep. However, Boff is awake and upright sitting on the edge of his cot. He too has had a restless night.
Jaro stretches his arms out and lets out a big yawn. "Yawwwwn...Morning."
Boff, leaning forward and hands folded as if he were praying, looks up and smiles. "You ready?"
Jaro need not say any words because both of them know what that answer is. Jaro smiles extra wide and nods.
At mid morning, the Temple gong rings throughout the entire complex calling all the Hopefuls to the courtyard. The Hopefuls gather at the base of the Temple steps while their escorts hover back observing. Everyone waits in extremely excited silence. No one knows what the Sages are looking for or what the tests are. A situation like this has only arisen a couple times in the hundreds of cycles of the Avatars.
The Earth Sage that came to Yedintzvo to find Jaro, emerges from the Temple and stands at the top of the stairs. With him and lining the Temple entrance are eleven other Sages, of which only six originate from the Earth Temple, while two representatives from each other three elements' temples, water, fire, and air, have arrived to aid in the process.
The Earth Sage's grizzly voice breaks the silence of the complex. "It is time to see if one of you is the Avatar. Behind us, inside the Temple, we have several tests that you will perform one Hopeful at a time. There will be no outside distractions, and no one to support you. Only yourself."
All the Hopefuls look at each other in curiosity of what these tests are. Jaro swallows in fear of the degree of possible danger these tests could have.
The Sage continues. "If no Avatar is revealed today, then we will try again tomorrow...Now, who is first?"
The man from Ba Sing Se who rode in the carriage with the brothers speaks up. "My son is." Putting a hand on the shoulder of his son, the young man's head drops. All eyes are the Ba Sing Se Hopeful as he struggles to show bravery and nervously marches up the stairs and into the Temple. The Sages enter in after him and the doors close behind them with a loud, wooden thud.
Jaro stares at the Temple doors as if trying to see through them. Boff breaks his concentration. "So now what? We wait?"
Jaro shrugs his shoulders. "I guess."
Almost immediately the doors open up and the Ba Sing Se boy emerges, head down. His father can't help but speak up at the speed that the tests took. "That's it? Are you the Avatar?" His son shakes his head. Jaro notices the hint of a smile from the young man as if he were glad that his father is disappointed.
The Temple Sage emerges and announces to everyone, "He is not the Avatar."
The Ba Sing Se man speaks out in disbelief. "Well, how do you know? Did you even perform your tests?"
The Sage angrily looks down upon the Ba Sing Se man with a stare that would make small children cry, but he does not answer to him. "Next."
A Taku girl silently steps forward from the crowd. She makes her way up the steps confidently with shoulders squared and her chin up. Everyone watches every step carefully as if afraid at any moment she would transform into the Avatar State. She bows to the Temple Sage at the top of the stairs before entering the Temple, and again the doors slam with a thud.
Minutes go by and not a word is spoken by anyone in the courtyard. Everyone's eyes fixed upon the doors of the Temple. A half hour of waiting and the doors finally open. The girl comes out as confident looking as she did walking in. Jaro thinks to himself, so she must be the Avatar then.
His thought is wrong as the Temple Sage announces, "She is not the Avatar...Next."
Jaro looks over to Boff. "Well, there's no point in waiting." He then steps forward and begins making his way up the stairs. Every step he takes gets heavier and heavier as his nerves grow and grow. The Earth Sage stares at him straight in the eyes as he nears. The inside of the Temple awaits him, but then a great horn stops him in his tracks; the same horn blast from the day before.
Jaro can hear the Sage's angry growl as everyone turns to see the source of the horn riding through the Temple Gates. The Ba Sing Se soldier, his ostrich-horse stamping the ground with its great clawed feet and rearing its head, announces, "Qin of Ba Sing Se approaches!"
About half the Hopefuls and their escorts are excited about the news. The other half, along with the Sages, is quite the opposite. Through the gates, a hundred soldiers march in led by the standard of Ba Sing Se. Interspersed amongst the ranks of soldiers are important officials of Ba Sing Se riding their own steeds. At the end of the procession, the King himself, Qin, rides through the gate waving at the Hopefuls.
Qin, wearing his plain green robes, makes his way up to the Hopefuls and dismounts his ostrich-horse laden in green and gold. He smiles at everyone and bows when he can as he makes his way to where the Sages stand. "Greetings! You shouldn't have started without me! I'd kill myself if I missed the revelation of the Avatar! Hahaha!"
Jaro can hear the Sage mutter to himself, "If only..."
It is clearly obvious that all of the Sages are not pleased at the rude interruption and unexpected arrival of the King. The Sage, holding back his anger, tells the King, "The Hopefuls are being tested as we speak, so if you do not mind, Your Grace." The King rubs his hands together at the thought of trials being done on the Hopefuls.
"Oooh, Excellent!...If you don't mind me asking, why not have a small tournament? The Avatar is supposed to be a powerful bender, are they not? Let us observe the bending prowess of the Hopefuls."
Jaro can see that the Sage wants to tell the King no, but the Sage knows that it is not wise to disagree with this King. So, the Sage holds his tongue and bows out.
Qin smiles snidely at the Sage. "It's settled then.-" Qin turns to the crowd at the base of the stairs looking up to him. "Avatar Hopefuls! We shall observe your bending abilities in a friendly tournament. You each shall pair off and you will have a bending duel."
Jaro still stands at the mouth of the Temple doors when the announcement is made. Before he has a chance to even think about what is happening, the King grabs him by the arm and pulls him front and center. "Our first volunteer!" Jaro's eyes widen in disbelief as he tries to say no but the King's insisting flattens any chance. "Who shall he face?"
The father of the Ba Sing Se boy is all too happy to speak up. "I volunteer my son, my King." The Ba Sing Se boy's heart drops as he was starting to lighten up at the fact that he wasn't the Avatar and his father would get off his back.
The King smiles. "Good! Our first match!"
Jaro stands facing the Ba Sing Be boy in the center of the Temple complex. The royal guards used their earth bending to create a makeshift arena with four foot high walls bounding around Jaro and his opponent in a large oval shape. Everyone else has taken places outside the walls on the porch steps of the various building within the complex. Kharum, looks on from behind his brother's position, knowing that he can't help him but wishing so much that he could.
Palms sweaty, hands shaking, knees buckling...Jaro frantically plans his attacks. Okay, okay. What do I open up with? Simple shot of earth. No, he'd be expecting that...would he? Would I?...Man, what would Kharum do? And then it hits him. The time when he snuck into the woods to watch his brother and grandfather train.
Jaro takes his stance, inhaling through his nose and exhaling slowly out his mouth. Widening his feet apart and winding his arms back, he emulates Kharum's movement from his memory. He can feel the power course through his body as it goes from his heart to the tips of his fingers and to the bottom of his feet. Then a second feeling, pouring from his head and racing to catch up to the initial surge. It is heavier and holds him back.
"BEGIN!" A loud voice from one of the soldiers breaks the silence.
With all his might, Jaro steps forward slamming his foot into the ground. A boulder, about the size of his head, explodes up from the ground hovering in front of him. He then punches the boulder letting out a loud grunt as his knuckles contact the rocky surface. The boulder flies straight at the Ba Sing Se boy with lightning speed as all the energy he puts into the punch causes him to fall backward after making contact.
Jaro's opponent is too slow to react and gets nailed straight in the chest knocking the wind out of him. Jaro can't believe it worked. Without even realizing it, he breaks out into a dance in celebration. He ends his celebratory dance by fist pumping the air and smiling at Kharum. However, Kharum is not sharing in his moment. Kharum instead is pointing his finger at Jaro to turn around.
Jaro curiously turns to see what his brother is pointing at only to find a massive boulder, twice the size of him, flying at him. Like the Ba Sing Se boy, Jaro is too slow to react and he is completely pummeled by the boulder.
The world goes black.
"Kanulak, we are war." An Omashu general stands before the Water Tribesman, Kanulak, looking over a map of the Earth Kingdoms. The other generals in the giant war tent concur. "There is no time for us to wait."
Kanulak, a middle-aged man of the Southern Water Tribe, is known more for his spiritual side than his physicality. He dons the samurai armor of the Taku warriors and a blue arrow tattooed on his shaved head.
Rubbing his hand over his chin, Kanulak contemplates the war, but not just the war being fought in the Earth Kingdoms but of a spiritual war. "Listen to me men of the Earth Kingdoms. There is something greater than this war's victory at stake. We mustn't make rash decisions else we fall into the hands of the true enemy."
A Taku Daimyo steps forward to Kanulak and looks him square in the eyes. "And who is this enemy? I would like to know before I hold my men back from protecting their homeland from both Ba Sing Se and the Sun Warriors." Everyone in the tent murmurs and nods in agreement.
Kanulak does not sugar coat his answer and speaks plainly. "The first Avatar, Wan, lived in a time where the spirit world and the physical world were one. Spirits interacted with people and people interacted with the spirits. Well, two of the greatest spirits were the Spirit of Light and the Spirit of Darkness. Every ten thousand years, Raava and Vaatu they were called, would battle for control of the world. If Raava would win, then the world would be in a state of Light for the next ten thousand years. And if Vaatu won...let's just say you don't want him to win.
Fortunately for us, Raava defeated Vaatu by fusing herself with Wan and thus Wan became the Avatar. Raava is the reason an Avatar exists, and, like every Avatar before me, Raava and I are one."
The Daimyo, puzzled, questions Kanulak. "I'm not much of a spiritual man but if I am to believe you...if Ba Sing Se is not our enemy and this Vaatu was defeated, then who is the enemy?"
Kanulak replies, "That's just it. Vaatu was never truly defeated because he was imprisoned within the spirit world...And I believe Vaatu is trying to find a way to escape his prison."
The tent is silent as everyone tries to contemplate these words. None of the men truly understand the gravity of the situation or even grasp what Kanulak is saying.
Kanulak continues. "Listen, we all want peace in the world, yes? Well there are those who wish to see the world consumed in chaos. This war we're fighting is bringing nothing but darkness to the world and the agents of Vaatu are behind this entire war. I just know it."
"Hey...You alright?" Kharum's voice soothes Jaro back into consciousness. "Easy now."
Jaro opens his eyes ever so slowly. Regaining more and more of his consciousness by the second, Jaro realizes he is laying on the floor of the Temple interior.
All the Sages are gathered around him along with the other Hopefuls and the King.
Jaro's voice is weak when he speaks to his brother. "Hey Kharum...did I win?" Jaro cracks a smile.
Kharum smiles at his brother knowing that Jaro is alright. "In a way..."
Jaro still unmoving replies, "What do you mean?"
Kharum places a hand on his brother's shoulder. "You're the Avatar."
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