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|Chapter Eight: Avatar, Unchained|
"I won't do it," Taising said suddenly, shattering the silence of the limo's back seat. "I won't off a little kid."
He half turned, glaring at the massive figure of Po sitting beside him as if daring the other man to defy his authority. Po did.
"If you don't," he said, "your entire organization will turn on you. Do you think they'd hesitate to toss you out of a window?"
Sullen, Taising looked out of the rear window at the cavalcade of vehicles following his car. How had it come to this? This isn't what he wanted. He'd only wanted to make a name for himself, to create a legacy. Never in his wildest dreams had he considered that such a legacy might end up costing a fifteen year old girl her life.
"I'll do it," Po said.
Miss Chu's Tea Shop was silent, and almost dark. The huge bright yellow ideograms on the window allowed for consternation but did not allow for admittance. They simply said: 'Out of Business.' The curtains over the window were drawn, but light from inside still seeped out.
Inside, Jinora finished placing the last of her expensive crockery, neatly bound in padding and wrapping, into the last box. She straightened, one hand on the small of her back. Despite the fact that her quest to find the Avatar was now finished and she could devote her remaining years to teaching Nanaki, Jinora felt a twang of regret that she had to leave this shop behind. Twenty years of calling a place home is not an easy thing to walk away from, even when one doesn't need to be there any more. Behind her, she could hear Yi chatting away.
Yi and Nanaki had come along to help Jinora pack, but at the moment they were taking a break with a last cup of tea. Yi placed a photograph on the table in front of Nanaki. It was an old one, the yellow-brown kind they used to take fifty or so years ago. As Nanaki looked at the three smiling figures, Yi pointed to each one in turn.
"That's my grandpa Bolin. He was a mover star," Yi said. "And this is my great-uncle Mako." She tapped the figure in the center of the photo. "And this is you, when you were Avatar Korra."
Nanaki looked into the deep, bright eyes of the woman staring at her from the photo. The dark skin that marked her as Water Tribe, the fox-tails at each temple, the cocky grin. There was nothing familiar about the face. Nothing at all. She frowned.
A soft knock resounded on the glass door of the shop. Jinora turned to answer it, and the door came in to meet her instead. All three women made cries of alarm, Nanaki and Yi leaping to their feet.
Seven men entered the tea shop. All of them wore tight slacks, polished shoes, and white long sleeve shirts, save the last man. The last man wore a fine charcoal grey three piece suit. Jinora, Nanaki, and Yi recognized him immediately.
Li Taising. The leader of the Unbelievers.
Even as Taising opened his mouth to speak, Jinora was moving. She snatched up her windstaff from the counter and leaped into the air, spinning her body like a top. She landed in a crouch, smacking her staff against the ground. The air reacted violently, vacuuming toward her in a rush and then blasting outward. All seven of the invaders, except the really huge bull elephant of a man right behind Taising, was taken off their feet and thrown bodily into the walls.
"Nanaki, run," Jinora screamed.
Nanaki needed no further urging. She was already moving toward the open door, Yi right beside her. The huge man moved to intercept them, spreading his arms wide. Yi darted ahead of Nanaki and shot her fists out rapidly, her hands closed with the knuckles of her index fingers extended into the Fore-Knuckle Fist position. Pop pop pop went Yi's hands, and Po felt his whole body go numb. He went down face first. Nanaki vaulted over him and shot out into the street. Yi moved to follow but was grabbed from behind. Instantly she slammed her head backward, feeling a satisfying crunch of bone and a curse as she was let go. But then a second assailant filled her vision. A fist was driven hard into her stomach and she collapsed to all fours, the breath taken from her. As she struggled against her body's unwillingness to breathe, she heard Taising screaming for his men to forget this fight and grab the girl.
Nanaki darted out into the street and right into a group of at least a dozen more Unbelievers. She skidded to a stop in surprise, and they blinked stupidly at her. Then she spun on her heel and was pelting in the other direction. Her flight shook the mob from their befuddlement and, with a roar, they gave chase. The air hissed around her, hot, and was filled with an odd dull popping sound. When her brain whispered at her that she was being shot at, she flew into a blind panic and turned into the first alley she came upon. The mob followed.
Inside the tea shop, Yi felt the bear trap of a grip on her arm and she was hauled to her feet. It was Jinora. The old woman peered briefly into Yi's face to ascertain that the teen wasn't badly injured, then pushed her toward the door.
"Come on, Yi. Nanaki needs us."
They both started running.
So dire was Nanaki's panic, so intense her flight response, that she simply failed to register anything that was happening around her. That's why she made no effort to duck around the old man in the alley emptying a bucket of dirty water. Instead she rammed right into him, her flight instantly arrested when she and the man both went down hard in a tangle of flailing limbs.
The collision restored Nanaki's senses. She clutched her head and rose to all fours, aware that the old man was yelling something at her, aware that she was out of breath, aware that she was in pain. Aware that the old man's screaming had suddenly stopped. She looked up.
The Unbelievers were all around her. They were forming a half-circle around her, blocking off all avenue of escape. With a wail, she gained her feet and pressed herself back against the wall. She looked into the faces of the men and women around her, hoping to see some mercy there, some pity. She saw none.
The crowd parted, and Taising stepped through the ring. He brushed his lapels and looked down at her. There was a silver plated, heavy pistol in his hand. Nanaki began to cry.
"Sorry," is all Taising said, aiming the weapon at her. And then...he hesitated.
Through her tears, through her sobbing whimpers begging him not to hurt her, Nanaki saw it. It was there on his face for one split second. Horror. Pure horror, it was the only way she could think of later to describe it. The look of a man realizing that he is about to do something that he never wanted to do, something that would haunt him for the rest of his life. She saw in that brief instant that she had a chance.
But then Po took the gun out of Taising's hand and trained the weapon on the terrified girl. Nanaki squeezed her eyes shut.
"The boss never gets his hands dirty," the huge man said for the benefit of Taising's followers, and he fired.
And three things happened at exactly the same moment.
The bullet left the chamber. The walls of the buildings on each side of the alley way began to pull toward the girl, and Nanaki's eyes snapped open.
They were glowing a brilliant, dazzling white.
Faster than the bullet could move, the walls and the ground spat chunks of rock that slammed around Nanaki's body, encasing her head to toe in thick layers of brick and concrete. The bullet pinged off harmlessly. The rock armor fell away like dust particles in the next second, and The Avatar faced her attackers.
Nanaki's hair had come loose from its buns and swirled in the air around her. The tresses were also radiant with that blinding, pure light and said light was also emanating from each fingernail on her hands.
The Unbelievers all stared in shock at what they were seeing, trying to comprehend, trying to understand. Nanaki gave them no chance. She lunged forward into a deep Bow Stance, thrusting both arms out with her wrists together and palms out.
Jinora and Yi reached the mouth of the alley just at that moment. Had they been a mere second sooner they too would have been caught in the massive vortex of air that machine-gunned bodies out into the street. Unbelievers flew in every direction, crashing into cars; through windows, and thudding into solid walls. Jinora and Yi gasped in astonishment. Taising came out last, yelling as he rolled end over end into the middle of the street.
Nanaki stepped out of the alley. Her eyes. fingernails, and hair were still emitting their brilliance. Her face a mask of pure fury, she slowly turned her head to look at Jinora and Yi. The two stared back, Nanaki's visage thrown back at her from their eyes.
Across the street, two Unbelievers got to their feet. They glanced at each other, nodded, and went into a snapping, quick form. Each of them released a titanic fireball that cannoned toward the girl with the glowing eyes. Nanaki twisted her upper body to one side, allowing one fireball to pass barely an inch from her. Fluidly she snapped in the other direction, allowing the second fireball to pass her by. She swung both of her arms back and then forward, her body dropping into a Horse Stance and both of her hands set into an Eagle-Claw style fist.
The fireballs reversed course. Without a single loss of speed they arced back on themselves and exploded from the alley on either side of Nanaki. Both comets found their targets, the men that had thrown them, and sent both men to the ground screaming.
Taising, struck dumb with terror, scrambled to his feet and began sprinting down the street, right into oncoming traffic. Satomobiles swerved left and right to avoid him, their horns screaming in rage. The drivers of several lost control and cars jumped the curb, ending up smashing into walls or shop windows. The commotion attracted Nanaki's attention.
She stepped onto the sidewalk and twisted. Her right leg wove around to behind her left leg whilst at the exact same moment she snapped both arms straight up, then out to either side, then at an angle with one down in front of her and one behind her.
As Taising ran, manhole covers in the street detonated skyward. Dark, smelly, sludgy water surged all around him and he screamed again, coils and loops and whorls of liquid oscillating around him like living things. The water coils snapped closed on their prey, lifted him, and slammed him bodily onto the pavement. Taising didn't get up.
And then it was over. Just like that. The glow faded from Nanaki's eyes and hair and she pitched forward, half-dazed. Jinora caught her, then looked out over the scene. It was chaos. Cars overturned and crashed, the groaning fight-less forms of Unbelievers littering the street and sidewalks, a column of water shooting up from a broken hydrant.
"Wow," Yi said, awestruck.
Nanaki stirred. "Jinora? What happened?"
Jinora smiled, once again unable to stop the tears coming to her eyes and concoursing down her wrinkled cheeks. She drew Nanaki close into a warm, protective hug.
"You've put everyone's doubts to rest," she said softly. "You have been missed, Avatar."
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