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09 SEP 2015
While Korra's spiritual training was the clear priority, Tenzin was also keenly aware that Korra was now able to airbend as well. Therefore, he also intended to continue in earnest her airbending training, in parallel to their efforts to help her connect with her spiritual self. Tenzin expected that now that she had overcome the block that had hindered her efforts in airbending, her progress in that particular area of her training should be very rapid. He hoped that this would help to lift her spirits, and that would hopefully make his task a little easier.
So on one fine day not long after her return to Republic City, Korra made her way to the sprawling temple courtyard to find that her old nemesis awaited her: The airbending gates, which gave her so much trouble when she first began her airbending training what seemed like a lifetime ago.
There was no sign of the kids, but Tenzin stood near the gates, awaiting her.
"These again, huh?" Korra asked exasperatedly, and Tenzin nodded.
- "As I'm sure you know, this is an integral part of an airbender's training. So we will begin by seeing how you do with them." Then he fired a blast of air that set the gates spinning rapidly. Korra paid next to no attention to the gates themselves, instead carefully observing Tenzin's movements. "I know," continued Tenzin, "that you had made a great deal of progress with this particular exercise. So it shouldn't be too difficult for you."
Finally, she turned her attention to the gates. She had cleared this exercise several times before, but it had been quite some time since the last time. Still, she should be able to do it. She took a deep, steadying breath, and slowly started walking towards them, gradually accelerating until she slipped past the gates at a run, moving swiftly through until she cleared the middle of the circle...
As she slipped through, she misstepped, and one of the gates slammed into her ankle, nearly throwing her off her feet. Then one smacked her across the face, and one in the back, until she was thrown out the far end, landing heavily and rolling across the hard flagstone courtyard.
She swore under her breath. Her ankle hurt like hell, but when she stood slowly, it took her weight. Good - nothing broken.
Tenzin was frowning. He was surprised to see Korra have difficulty with the gates, given that the last time they had practiced this exercise, she had cleared it with little effort.
"Well, that was a good start," he said slowly as Korra walked around the contraption, and she glared at him. After a moment, she took off again, just as quickly but more carefully this time, and managed to slide through without another hit, though there were a couple of very near misses.
She sat down on a low stone wall as the gates slowed and stilled. After a few minutes, she stood and precisely replicating Tenzin's earlier move, set the gates moving again - perhaps a little too fast, she realized. She waited a minute or two, and slipped in again. She misstepped again and one of the gates hit her in the arm, but she recovered instantly, avoiding a second impact by a hair, and cleared the gates with no further incident. Korra's stubbornness, which would so often prove a source of frustration to Tenzin, served her in good stead. She went through the gates again, and again, until finally she was clearing them perfectly. By the time they stopped, she had done so eight times consecutively, going through effortlessly and clearing them perfectly each time.
"Excellent," Tenzin said when Korra finally sat down after going through the gates for the final time, sounding impressed. Korra herself collapsed on the same low wall, sighing wearily, but her expression smugly satisfied. "Now, I think we can continue with the next step of your training. What I plan to do is..."
Exactly what Tenzin intended, they never found out. Because at that moment, they both heard a great deal of commotion as Meelo, riding an air scooter, tore around the side of the building, followed closely by Ikki. Jinora followed some distance behind on an air scooter of her own.
The three stopped as they neared their father. "Hey, Korra! Are you training? Is it going well? Did you get smacked around by the airbending gates again?" Ikki said rapidly, and Korra laughed.
- "Hi, Yes, sort of, and yes," Korra replied with a wry sort of smile. "But I still got the better of 'em in the end. What're you kids up to?"
- "We're racing air scooters," Ikki replied. "Wanna race with us?"
- "Ikki..." Tenzin started, frowning. "Korra is training. We don't have time to play games."
- "Well, air scooter's an airbending move, isn't it?" Korra interjected, standing as she did so. "That counts."
- "Yeah," Ikki piped up. "Besides, grandpa invented it, right?"
Korra's head whipped around and she looked at Tenzin, her expression surprised. "Aang invented the air scooter? I never knew that," she said, before turning back towards the kids.
- "Yeah," Ikki said, and the rapidly-spinning ball of air disappeared as she stood. Behind her, Meelo and Jinora did likewise. Meelo sat down on the floor, while Jinora remained standing. "I'll show you! What you do, is you form a ball of air, like this." Ikki demonstrated, and Korra replicated her motions. It took several tries before Korra was able to get the hang of it and generate a stable, dense sphere of rapidly rotating air, which she held in her hands.
"Okay, has to be a little bigger..." Ikki continued, and Korra, concentrating, increased the size of the sphere she held incrementally until it was almost as wide as her outstretched arms.
"There you go!" Ikki said cheerfully. "And then you just kind of have to hold it down, and jump on!" Ikki again demonstrated, lowering the sphere to ground level and then jumping over and on top of it, standing perfectly still. "Like this! See? It's pretty easy."
Eager to try, Korra attempted to replicate the move. She lowered the ball of air slowly, and then jumped over and on top of it. However, she was almost instantly sent spinning and swiftly thrown off, landing on her back a few feet away as the ball of compressed air dissipated.
- "Ow..." she said slowly as she lay on the ground, while Ikki and Meelo laughed loudly. Even Jinora looked like she was trying not to laugh, and not very successfully. The only one besides Korra herself who did not appear amused was Tenzin.
- "Ha, ha, ha. Really funny," Korra said as she dragged herself to her feet and stalked back towards the little group, sounding as upset as she looked. Tenzin shook his head. But he realized that this was after all a good way to reinforce what he had been teaching them, and especially with Korra.
- "Korra, remember what I have told you about the importance of balance. The air scooter is an excellent example," he lectured, prompting Korra to look at him with a half-surprised, half-annoyed expression.
Tenzin took a few steps forward until he stood next to Ikki, who still stood atop her own air scooter. "Because of the fact that the air is spinning so rapidly, the most important thing is to ensure that your stance is correct and properly balanced atop it – look at Ikki carefully."
Still frowning irritably, Korra looked carefully at Ikki, and then switched her attention to Jinora as the older girl demonstrated the technique again, followed by Meelo. Korra watched carefully the stance they assumed and the way they sat...balanced on one foot.
- "Like a spinning top," Korra commented as she realized what she'd been doing wrong.
- "Exactly," Tenzin assented with a nod. "Now, why don't you try again."
Korra immediately recreated the large sphere of fast-rotating air and lowered it, then reattempted to complete the maneuver. She wasn't quite quick enough and was once again thrown off, though she managed to use a quick burst of airbending to right herself and landed on her feet.
Korra grumbled as she stubbornly made another attempt. It took a few more tries before she succeeded in attaining the correct stance quickly enough, and crouched balanced on one foot atop the rapidly-spinning sphere of air.
- "All right!" Ikki cheered, and Korra grinned. Actually moving took some more practice but it was substantially easier than generating the scooter had been, and soon Korra was tearing off after the airbender kids, across the courtyard and all over the island, narrowly missing Pema at one point as they all sped past the main temple building.
Tenzin sighed wearily, shaking his head. "Well, it is progress. Of a sort," he mused, and permitted himself a thin, satisfied smile.
The days went by, and Korra's mastery of airbending increased in leaps and bounds. Unfortunately, she had not made nearly as much progress in the other aspects of her training, and was growing increasingly frustrated.
She tried to remember what had been going through her mind when, while she was Tarrlok's prisoner, she had been able to meditate and achieve the tenuous connection with Aang that had allowed her to see his memories - memories that had allowed her to identify Tarrlok as Yakone's son. In hindsight, she realized that Aang had been trying to warn her about not only Tarrlok, but probably about Amon as well.
But try as she might, she had been unable to recapture that connection. And the more time passed, the more she began to feel like she might never be able to do so. That she would never be able to connect with Aang, or regain her bending.
Tenzin could see what was happening, and it worried him. Not just because Korra's mounting frustration was, in his view, hindering her progress, nor because it was also starting to affect her airbending. He was worried because Korra was as much family to him as were his own children, and he hated to see her suffer so much.
He was at a loss as to what to do to help her. He sat in the deep, comfortable chair in his study, which had been his father's, and looked around at the artifacts that surrounded him. So many of them were relics of the Air Nomads or objects that had belonged to his father, the previous Avatar. There was the bison whistle Aang had bought during the War; his airbender staff, which stood on a rack on the back wall next to Tenzin's own; a pendant belonging to the renowned guru Laghima, whose achievements had made him a legend among the Air Nomads; and numerous other artifacts, many of them priceless relics dating back to before the Hundred-Year War.
He looked out the window and saw that it was nighttime, but he could not sleep. He knew that Pema had long since retired to their shared quarters with baby Rohan, and that his other children had likewise gone to sleep. But he stood, and left his study to head outside.
As he had expected, he found Korra still awake, sitting cross-legged on the terrace outside of the temple.
"You know I can hear you," Korra said flatly, without turning around.
Tenzin took a few steps forward. "Are you all right?" He asked, concern evident in his tone.
Korra shook her head, before replying. "Can't sleep. No nightmares, but...I guess I've got a lot on my mind."
Tenzin didn't speak, yet. Korra sat in silence, but after a while, she continued. "I'm worried, Tenzin. This...I feel like I'm not getting anywhere. We've been at it since we got back to Republic City, but I feel like I haven't made any progress. I get brief flashes sometimes when I'm sleeping, but I can't ever make any sense of it."
- "Korra," Tenzin started gently, "I understand it's frustrating. But being aware of and connecting with the spiritual realm is a complex business, and it sometimes takes years for one to attain that kind of mastery."
- "I don't have years, Tenzin!" Korra exclaimed frantically, turning towards him. Tenzin saw the worry in her face, the doubt, the fear. It only compounded his own concerns about the difficulty of the task they faced.
- "I know, Korra," Tenzin replied, holding up his hands. He took a few steps forward, and sat down next to her. "Believe me, I know. But it has not been very long, and even in that time, I believe that we - that you have made progress, despite what you might feel."
- "You're not just saying that to make me feel better, are you?" Korra asked despondently.
Tenzin shook his head. "No, I do genuinely think that we have made progress. And with time, I think we will get there as long as we don't lose hope. Don't let yourself get frustrated, and keep trying. And I will keep helping you to the best I can."
- "I am trying!" Korra exclaimed. "I'm doing the best I can, but it's not enough! And what if it doesn't work? This spiritual thing, trying to connect with Aang - it's my only chance now, the only hope I have left. But what if even that can't fix what Amon did to me?"
She was on the verge of tears now, and hung her head. "I'm supposed to be the Avatar, 'Master of all four elements', and I can't even bend!" she continued desolately. "The Avatar is supposed to be the bridge between us and the spirits, to bring balance to the world. How am I supposed to do that all that when I'm this weak?
- "Korra," Tenzin said patiently, almost paternally, "I understand you're worried, and you're upset - what you're going through is something that no one should ever have to go through. But you are not broken, and you are not weak. And you cannot let what happened to you define how you perceive yourself, because it is not who you are."
Korra sniffed, wiping her eyes on her wristband. She opened her mouth to reply, but Tenzin held up a hand and her retort went unspoken. "You are someone who is strong and resilient. Stubborn, even," Tenzin said, and Korra laughed.
- "The spirits know that's true," she admitted.
- "That's right. But that's a part of who you are, and nothing - not even this - can change that," Tenzin continued. "As for your spiritual connection to Aang - to your own past lives - I am confident that we will find a way, and I will help you. I believe in you, Korra. But you have to believe in yourself."
- "Thanks Tenzin," Korra said hesitantly. She wasn't as certain as Tenzin was, but she felt a little better. Whether or not he was right, and there was a way to get her bending back, at least she could count on his help to try.
After a while, Tenzin stood up again and took a few steps back towards the edge of the wide terrace. "Korra," he started to say, "there is something that I want to show you."
Puzzled, she stood up slowly and turned around. Tenzin stood a few paces away, holding in his hand a long, slender cylindrical object.
- "Is that an airbender staff?" She asked. Tenzin nodded, before holding the long object out towards her.
Slowly, almost reluctantly, she took the staff in one hand and hefted it carefully, getting a feel for its weight and balance. She had seen, but never handled an airbender staff before. The kids - especially Jinora - were already familiar with them, and she had seen them flying them around the island, always under the watchful eye of their father. And yet, even though it was the first time she'd even held one it felt comfortable in her grip, and somehow intimately familiar.
She twirled the staff in a quick circle at her side, and then found and activated the mechanism that deployed two pairs of wings - one larger, near the front, and one smaller, near the back - and matching handles and footholds. Instantly she realized there was something special about it. The wings were shaped like those of a bat rather than the traditional fan shape, and even in the dim moonlight she could tell the fabric that stretched across the wings' slender framework was blue.
"It's...different from the ones I saw the kids using," she said wonderingly.
- "You are correct, it is different from the traditional staff used by the Air Nomads," Tenzin said with a nod. "This particular staff was made for my father, Avatar Aang, by a good friend of his during the Hundred-Year War, after his original staff was lost."
- "This was Aang's?" Korra asked. She triggered the glider's mechanism again and the wings and handles collapsed inwards into the staff's cylindrical body.
- "Yes. He used it through the end of the War, and afterwards, until he passed away. Ever since, it has been here, at Air Temple Island, where it has been carefully kept in pristine working order," Tenzin continued. He paused, looking gravely at the dark-haired teenager, before continuing. "I would like you to have it."
At Tenzin's words, Korra's jaw went slack and she nearly dropped the staff, though she managed to keep a grip on it.
- "Me?" she asked incredulously, "You want me to..."
-"Yes," Tenzin said, "I do. I believe that you have earned it, and there is no one else to whom I would rather entrust it. After all, it was yours once before."
Korra chuckled dryly at the comment, but she felt moved by the trust Tenzin had showed her, how much the gesture meant to both of them. She carefully leaned the staff against a nearby tree, and then she hugged her mentor.
"Thank you," she said gratefully, and then when she stepped back, she bowed formally. "I promise I will take good care of it."
- "I know you will," Tenzin said paternally as he looked at her. "You should also take good care of yourself - it's late, and you should go to sleep. We'll start training with the staff tomorrow."
- "Thanks again, Tenzin," Korra said, before hefting the staff over her shoulder. Tenzin smiled, then turned and headed back towards his quarters, while Korra, again twirling the staff, did likewise.
"This used to be Aang's," Korra muttered to herself as she slipped into bed, glancing at the slender staff where it leaned against her wall. A thought occurred to her. "Maybe..."
She shook her head, putting off thinking about it until the following day. And she drifted slowly off, her mind free of concerns for the first time in a long time...
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