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|Chapter Six: Earthbending|
March 11, 2014
"Protests and protest marches have been taking place all over Ba Sing Se, and we have learned that the Unbelievers Movement has also been gaining traction in the Fire Nation Capitol and in Republic City," the newscaster said, his face betraying not emotion but his eyes fevered with excitement.
The scene metamorphosed from the speaker to a moving image of a furious Jintaro, his face-and nothing else-stuck out from the crack in the front door of the Jintaro home. He was wincing against the machine-gun burst of flashbulbs popping off in his face and roaring to be heard above the incessant questions being hurled his way by the score of reporters crowding in. "No, I don't know where Nanaki is, she doesn't live here any more. No, I have no opinion about the Unbelievers. Now get off my lawn and leave me and my son alone!" And he slammed the door shut.
The news caster returned to image. "So far, nobody seems to know where the Avatar has gone, and it's not known when, or if, she will make her traditional public announcement."
Yi made a disgruntled noise and reached up to flick the television set off. Then she turned to look at Nanaki, as did Jinora. The tea shop was closed now, the lights turned down low and the brackish orange-green light from the street lamp just outside the doors spilling in over lonely tables wearing crowns of overturned chairs. Nanaki had been motionless and silent as she had watched the news report, and now that only the blank grey face of the television was all that was left of it she wordlessly resumed her sweepining of the floor.
Yi frowned. "It doesn't mean anything, Nannie," she said. "Those guys don't know what they're talking about. Don't let it get to you."
"It doesn't," Nanaki said, seemingly truly unmoved by what she had just seen. But she didn't elaborate.
Jinora took a sip from her tea cup.
"The news makes a good point though, sweetheart," she said gently to Nanaki, "you will at some point have to make a statement to the press. Since Avatar Korra started the tradition of regular announcements, people have come to expect it."
"I'm not Avatar Korra," Nanaki said, a bit testily. "I'm still not convinced I'm the Avatar at all."
Jinora chose not to press the issue. The last thing she needed right now was to push an insecure Nanaki too close to the brink of rebellion. She was saved by having to comment any further by the sound of a key in the lock of the front door. The two girls and one old woman turned their heads in unison to look at the man coming in. Guo was taller than he was broad, but his body was cut with definition that hinted at years of dedicated regular fitness routines. He was decidedly handsome, with high cheekbones and a narrow face, with long hair and eyes that seemed to burn with perpetual fire.
"Hi Daddy," Yi said, surprised. "What are you doing here?"
Guo grunted in response, giving his only child a quick, one armed snug before he turned to look down at Nanaki. He stared hard at her, soon making the small girl start to squirm with anxiety.
"I never would have guessed," was all he said.
Nanaki, frowning, turned to look at Jinora. Jinora smiled.
"I found you the best earthbending teacher I could, Avatar Nanaki," she said. "Since you've known Yi and her father for so long, it seemed appropriate that your first teacher should be someone you're comfortable with."
Nanaki was surprised. She looked back at Guo and, all manners, bowed to him from the waist before speaking. "I didn't know you were an earthbending master, sir," she said. "May I ask who your teacher was?"
Guo had a seat next to Jinora, sighing audibly as his back popped loudly. He winked at the elderly lady and poured himself a cup of tea.
"You," he said by way of answer.
Nanaki blinked in surprise. Jinora saw the confusion painting itself over the small girl's face and filled in the gaps. "Guo was initially taught by his father. When his father passed on, his training was finished by Avatar Korra."
Yi started to laugh. "That's just weird."
Guo turned to Jinora. "Might want to get her out of sight. There's a band of Unbelievers headed this way, I saw them as I got out of the car."
Without being asked to, Nanaki handed the broom to Yi and ducked down behind the bar. A few scant moments later the Unbelievers, a knot of about three men and two women, passed by chanting. Two of them happened to look inside the tea shop, saw nothing of interest, and looked elsewhere. When they had passed, Nanaki stepped out from behind the counter.
"I hate this," she said, flatly.
Jinora reached out to stroke her hair. "I know you do," she said, soothingly.
Ninaki ducked away from the outstretched hand.
"Please don't patronize me, Jinora," she said. "A week ago I was just a normal kid with normal friends going to a normal school. Now everyone thinks I'm the Avatar, and I'm reduced to hiding behind counters and in hot attic bedrooms." Seeing the hurt on Jinora's face, Nanaki wilted a little and frowned, softening her tone.
"I'm sorry," she said. "But this can't go on. Eventually someone will see me, and find out I'm here. Then what do I do? I can't go home."
"She has a point," Guo said, matter of factly.
Yi brightened. "Why can't she come stay with us? We have plenty of room, and the back yard would be perfect for her training."
The two adults looked at each other, considering.
Jinora and Guo sat in the small kitchen of the family home, watching Nanaki and Yi taking their lunch out in the backyard. Yi, as always, was talking animatedly while chopsticking fried rice balls into her mouth. Nanaki was only picking at her food.
Jinora thought she understood how Nanaki must be feeling. She herself was no stranger to having a quiet, placid life suddenly turned over on its head, where one day everything was fine and the next day people were screaming, and dying. Though she never admitted it, Jinora still had nightmares about some of the things she had witnessed in her tenth year. Suddenly she was aware of Guo staring hard at her, and understood that he had said something that had ricocheted off of the wall of her thoughts.
"I'm sorry?" she said.
Guo grunted. "I said, it's hard for me to believe that warhorse Korra could be reincarnated into that little bowl of jelly."
"Nanaki has had a very troubled, loveless childhood. Being frightened is all she knows."
"Are you sure you have the right girl?"
Both of them looked out to the two girls again. Nanaki happened to glance their way and saw them both regarding her. She offered them a feeble smile and turned her attention back on Yi.
Jinora smiled again. "As sure as anything as I've ever been. Nanaki is the Avatar."
Guo make a sound that was indecipherable.
"Without her connection to her past lives, she'll never be able to enter the Avatar-State," he said.
Jinora's smile slowly relinquished itself. She sighed softly.
"I know," she said. "But let's pray that her era as the Avatar will be peaceful enough that she never has to."
After dinner, when the palette of the sky was covering its blues with its violets and deep pinks and the fireflies were beginning to dance around the mulberry bushes, Nanaki faced her first earthbending lesson. She did so nervous and unsure, her hands coming together to wring without her being aware of it.
She glanced over to the bench by the back door, the slab of heavy stone occupied by Jinora and Yi. Jinora gave her such a warm, encouraging smile that Nanaki was able to remember to breathe and looked at Guo. The man, now her teacher, was clad in the traditional, centuries old garb of the master earthbender.
Guo dropped down into a horse stance, with both fists tucked against his hips.
"The essence of earthbending, Avatar Nanaki, is endurance. To earthbend, one must be solid, and sure, and patient. A rock will stand in one place for hundreds of years. Nobody asks that much of us, but to master earthbending you must be ready to. Take your stance."
Nanaki obeyed, getting into a Horse Stance also. Guo looked her over, noting something that caused his eyes to narrow slightly. He crossed his left arm across his chest and elevated her right arm, elbow cocked, over his head. Nanaki mimicked the gesture.
"Good," he said. "Now, step. Will the rock to move."
Guo stepped forward sharply, snapping both arms together. One of the large rocks in the garden, nearly as tall as Nanaki herself, obediently slide ten feet apparently of its own accord. Nanaki watched. When Guo gestured at her, she squared her shoulders, breathed out, and stepped forward sharply.
The rock didn't move.
Guo drilled the girl for the next half an hour, sending the rock all over the garden. But every time Nanaki tried, the rock refused to budge. It concerned the master earthbender, but what concerned him more was Nanaki's apparently apathy whenever her attempt failed. She wasn't becoming angry, or frustrated, or distraught. She just didn't seem to care. Guo looked at Jinora. The two adults locked eyes, and Guo decided to try a different tactic.
"That's enough," he said, as Nanaki went through the form once more and, once more, the rock didn't budge. "I think we've made a mistake."
Nanaki blinked up at him in surprise. "What?"
Guo folded his arms, regarding her coldly.
"If you were the Avatar, the rocks all over the garden would be jumping for joy every time you looked at them. But you're obviously not an earthbender, and I don't think you're the Avatar."
Nanaki looked relieved.
"Thank you. Finally, someone understands," she said.
Guo sniffed lightly, still looking coldly at her.
"Yeah," he said, "No way some little puddle like you could be the Avatar."
The hostility in his tone caught Nanaki by surprise. She blinked again.
"You don't have to be mean about it," she said.
"No?" He asked. "You waste everyone's time, you make a poor old lady think you're someone you're not, and you go around telling people you're the Avatar so you can feel better about yourself."
Nanaki was shocked. She stared at Guo in horror. Tears swam to her eyes. Over on the bench, Yi opened her mouth to rebuke her father angrily, but Jinora shushed her with a nudge.
"I didn't tell anyone anything. I've been telling everyone I'm not the Avatar!" Nanaki said, growing angry as well as hurt.
Guo grunted and leaned toward her slightly.
"You know what I think?" He asked her. "I think your dad has always been right about you."
It hit just the right cord. Nanaki blossomed with fury, and the entire garden reacted. For a split second, just for a brief moment, Guo saw how her snapped her weight to her back leg; saw how her fists snapped back to her waist. Then the entire garden exploded.
Pillars of earth shot skyward, one of them right under Guo's feet and sent him rocketing. The stone wall surrounding the property rippled as if it has suddenly liquified, and then collapsed. Rocks large and small shot in every direction. Even the stone bench Jinora and Yi were sitting on buckled and broke, spilling them both to the ground. The earth rocked, shaking angrily.
Nanaki stared around herself, horrified by what she had unleashed. Yi hopped to her feet, staring at her friend in shock, then remembered herself and helped Jinora get up. Guo, landing neatly on his feet, looked around and surveyed the rubble of what had once been his garden. He looked at Nanaki.
Nanaki began to cry. Moved, Guo took her into his arms.
"I'm sorry," he said to her, gently. "I'm sorry for what I said. I had to do something to provoke you. I didn't mean any of it. Forgive me...Avatar Nanaki."
Guo sat the hot cup down in front of Jinora, then joined her at the table. It was late, with both girls upstairs asleep and one single light burning to give the two adults light.
"I didn't imagine it," Guo said. "When she took her first stance, and when she lost her temper. Her stance, her form, her technique. Flawless. That girl's been a skilled earthbender this whole time. She's been trained."
Jinora thanked Guo for the tea, and took a sip. She nodded at his conviction.
"I had suspected that was the case," she said.
He frowned. "Why would she lie about something like that?"
Jinora rubbed an eye tiredly, then pinched the bridge of her nose.
"That would be her father's doing," she said. The dislike was evident in her voice.
Guo looked toward the stairs and lowered his voice as though fearing the sleeping girls would hear him anyway.
"What happened that her father would send her to training and then refuse to allow her to bend?" He asked.
Jinora had no answer. Upstairs, Nanaki grimaced in her sleep and wriggled. Yi woke briefly, and looked into Nanaki's face. She brushed the girl's hair away from her forehead, took her into her arms, and kissed her cheek.
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