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|Chapter Ten: Air Temple Island|
When Nanaki walked down the gangplank of the ferry and stepped onto the single dock that stuck out like a rigid finger from Air Temple Island, she was disconcerted to see two dozen Air Acolytes lined up neatly in a row, awaiting her. Each man, there were no women, was dressed in a black jacket and slacks with silver insignia on the back. Each man, to a one, went down on one knee and bowed their head as Nanaki walked between them. She glanced nervously to either side as she moved along the dock, made uncomfortable not only by the bowing but also that each of them men seemed unwilling to speak to her. She wanted to ask who was in charge, or who she should go see, or even where to go but the Acolytes seemed to expect she would know this already. So instead of stopping, she just kept walking.
Leaving the docks she found herself strolling along a narrow, white paved path that bisected the island and lead upward on a gentle incline. The trees on either side of the bath were exploding with summer colors of green, cut with bright pink and white blossoms. A breeze came up off of the ocean, slicing through the already intense heat of the midsummer morning and offering refreshment that was heavy with the aroma of salt. At the end of the path Nanaki stepped into the courtyard of the temple. It was circular in formation, made of the same white stones that path was. A row of short, narrow buildings stood on either side of the courtyard, and at the far end she could see what looked like a stable of some kind. There was nobody in sight. Nanaki took a few hesitant steps forward and called out a greeting. Only the sweet melodies of birds answered her.
Wondering what she should do now, Nanaki began walking toward the stables. The shade there looked very inviting and as it was she didn't feel that it would be proper to approach one of the buildings and knock. As she crossed toward the stables, something came out to meet her. It was a zebratiger. Nanaki froze.
The animal stood taller at the shoulder than she stood high, its sleek and muscular body pantined with white fur cut with jagged black stripes. With lowered head and raised haunches, the massive cat regarded the small girl with intense curiosity. It looked as though it would pounce. Nanaki glanced to either side of her, wondering if she would have the opportunity to make it to one of the side buildings before the animal had her. She looked back at the zebratiger and much to her surprise the cat laid down flat on its belly, still watching her, and began to purr.
Slowly, Nanaki approached it and took the great head of the animal into her hands. The cat continued purring, and gently bumped its forehead against her. She smiled and began stroking her hands through the incredibly soft fur.
"Hi kitty," she said, softly. "At least you're here to meet me. You know something? This place feels really familiar."
"That's understandable. It was your home for a very long time. It still is."
The man's voice, soft as it was, startled her. Nanaki whipped around and found that she had been joined in the courtyard by an Air Nomad. The man was roughly fifty, with a smooth bald head and clean-shaven cheeks. The bright blue arrows of the Master stood out on his forehead in the sunlight. Seeing that he had startled her, he made a formal bow.
"I'm sorry," the man said. "I didn't mean to scare you."
Nanaki nodded slowly. "That's okay. What did you mean, though?"
The Air Nomad smiled.
"You lived here when you were Avatar Korra. You are still most welcome, and I am truly honored to be in your presence."
Nanaki was made uncomfortable again. For a reason she didn't understand-maybe it was the gentleness in his tone or the kindness in his eyes-Nanaki found herself opening up to him.
"I don't know how to be the Avatar," she said. She looked around again. "I don't even know why I'm here."
"Everything happens for a reason," the Nomad said. "As for not knowing how to be the Avatar, I can't imagine anyone would. But if anyone can help you learn, my aunt can."
Nanaki studied the Nomad for a moment before smiling. "You're Jinora's nephew." He smiled and bowed again.
"I am," he said. "My name is Kah-Pa. Aunt Jinora's brother Meelo was my father. I'm very glad you came here, Avatar Nanaki. Are you hungry? We're just about to have breakfast."
Nanaki smiled once more, gratefully.
In an unremarkable warehouse on the edge of Ba Sing Se, Po curled his hands into fists and flexed every muscle he had. The black armor he wore, form fitting mesh with solid plates over each of the major muscle groups, constricted with the movement then expanded when he relaxed. He held his right arm out and turned his palm up. He reached back to the heel of his hand with his fingertips and depressed the trigger hidden inside the glove. A huge gout of flame roared furiously out from his wrist. With a grunt, he looked at both his hands.
"How is it?" Chai asked, bridging one svelte leg over the other. She was seated at a small card table nearby, calmly sipping tea as she watched the giant man experiment.
Po nodded. "Works," was all he said.
Chai tilted her head. "Fiber mesh weave with bullet and fire resistant plates. Built in flamethrower with a fuel supply good for ten shots, essentially making you a firebender. The helmet has built in hi-range radio capacity and night vision amplification. It also looks very good on you."
Po didn't acknowledge the off-handed compliment. He turned to look at the woman. "So who are we working for?" He asked. "Why does he want the Avatar taken out so badly?"
Chai took a sip of tea before answering.
"If our employer chooses to introduce himself, he will. Until such time all that need be understood is that he is a very powerful man with a great deal of influence in Ba Sing Se. He is quite proud of our nation's accomplishments and sees the Avatar as a threat to his intention to ensure the human race's survival and the well-being of the entire Earth Kingdom. More than that I am forbidden to say."
Po didn't ask for more. Turning about, he flexed again and practiced his aim with the suit's built in flame throwers.
"How many of these do we have? I'm not a bender but there are a few men in my organization who are."
Chai took note of Po's assertion of leadership and didn't argue it. Lu Taising was old news. The Unbelievers belonged to Po now. She allowed the ghost of a smile to touch her lips.
"Six," she said. "Only six. So choose the men who will wear them carefully. And remember, the Avatar is not to be killed until she is in the Avatar-State."
Chai looked at him critically. "When she's glowing."
"Copy. Why is that so important?"
Chai set down her tea cup and cocked her head slightly.
"Your organization set out to destroy the child without researching anything about the Avatar?" She asked. "Most disconcerting. For your edification, when the Avatar enters the Avatar-State, she is in perfect harmony with the energies of the universe. If the Avatar is killed while in this state, that harmony is shattered. The cycle of the Avatar will come to an end, and there will be no further reincarnations. This is what our employer wishes. Is all clear now?"
"Clear," Po said, and shot another tongue of flame across the room. The target dummy he was aiming at caught flame instantly and was consumed.
Nanaki spent the remainder of the day all but fused to Kah-Pa's side. She was given an extensive tour of the island, and was introduced to every individual Air Acolyte. She was also introduced to the three other resident Air Nomads, boys her near to her own age and none of which had yet earned their tattoos. Being unused to any sort of recognition, she was made very uncomfortable with all the bows and statements of respect she received. She didn't like it, but didn't verbalize her distaste.
Kah-Pa told her how his father, Meelo, when a very young man had traveled to the Northern Water Tribe. There Meelo took a very appreciative notice of a girl his own age, named Afasi. In two years time they were married, and a year after that Kah-Pa came into the world. Kah-Pa was raised in the Tribe until his father passed. Meelo had asked him to return to Air Temple Island and keep the Air Nomad tradition alive. Kah-Pa had readily agreed, and brought his family to the Island.
Nanaki also took note of the fact that everywhere she and Kah-Pa went, the zebratiger followed. The big cat, whose name she learned was Yakkara, seemed to have adopted the Avatar as her own cub. Nanaki was very comforted by Yakkara- indeed by everyone on the island that she met- and for the first time in two months she felt truly safe.
At lunch she sat down in the main house with Kah-Pa, and met his family. His wife Tu'uri was a strikingly beautiful woman from the Northern Water Tribe and a water bending master. When Tu'uri understood that Nanaki hadn't found a teacher for that particular element she, in her soft-spoken way, asked permission to be allowed to be Nanaki's tutor. Nanaki gratefully accepted.
Akytreu was the couples' son, a young man of seventeen with a smile that could melt a steel door. Akytreu was jovial, generous in his insistence that Nanaki eat her fill, and took charge in ordering that Nanaki be given one of the better rooms on the house's second floor and saw that the room would lack for nothing. Nanaki liked him immediately. When she asked if he was a bender, he replied that he was not and Nanaki felt sorry for him because he announced his inability with a great deal of regret. She understood his shame on a level deeper than he realized.
Shortly before dinner time, Nanaki was sitting on the ground in the courtyard. Yakkara lay perpendicular to her, his massive head in her lap. She was stroking the cat's brow when she heard a familiar voice shrieking her name.
Surprised, she looked up to see Yi sprinting at her. She wriggled out from under Yakkara's head and stood up. A second later Yi slammed into her in a crushing hug with nearly took the Avatar off of her feet.
"We were so worried!" Yi scolded. "We woke up and you weren't in your bed and we all had coronaries and we went to your house and your dad said he had no idea where you were and then Kah-Pa called and we were all so relieved why did you leave what were you thinking?"
Nanaki just stared at Yi under the verbal assault. Over her best friend's shoulder Nanaki saw Jinora, her arm being held to support her by Guo, Kah-Pa, and Akytreu coming off of the path and into the courtyard.
"What are you all doing here?" Nanaki asked, bewildered.
Guo looked at her with something akin to disdain.
"Running away is no excuse to skip your training," he said.
Jinora smiled, taking Nanaki's face in her hands and looking the girl over to assure herself that the Avatar wasn't hurt.
"We're your teachers, guides, and friends, Nanaki. Wherever you go, we're going to follow."
Nanaki felt tears come to her eyes. Impulsively, she threw her arms around Jinora and hugged her.
Jinora chuckled and patted her back.
"Oh I see you've met Yakkara," Jinora said, looking calmly at the cat and Yi, who was cautiously approaching the giant animal with one hand held out to pet. "That's...interesting."
"Why?" Nanaki asked.
"Because she normally eats people," Jinora said. Yi, poker-faced, slid slowly away from the lounging zebratiger.
Kah-Pa smiled. "Let's all go inside for some cold drinks and hot dinner."
Everyone agreed. Nanaki took Jinora's hand as they all entered the house.
"Oh it's very good to be home," Jinora said.
After the sun had gone down and the blazing lights of Republic City battled the stars in the night sky for dominance, Nanaki stole away from the group and went to the periphery of the temple, Yakkara following. Once she got to the edge of the courtyard she relaxed against the short iron railing and looked out over the Bay at the statue of Avatar Aang. The statue was also brilliantly lit, the trio of spotlights aiming up at the metal sculpture doing a phenomenal job of throwing the statue into brilliant prominence against the backdrop of the city.
Nanaki didn't know how long she stood there but soon realized that Jinora was standing next to her, also admiring the statue. When the old woman saw that Nanaki had finally noticed her she smiled.
"Avatar Aang cut a very handsome figure, didn't he? Even as a teenager."
"Did you know him?" Nanaki asked.
"No," Jinora said, an undercurrent of sadness in her tone. "He died many years before I was born. But there have been many times when I wish that I could have."
Nanaki looked at the statue again.
"They say that Avatar Aang was one of the greatest Avatars who ever lived," she said. "How am I expected to live up to that?"
"You aren't," Jinora said immediately. "The only person you are expected to live up to is you."
Nanaki was silent, mulling over her next question and choosing her worlds carefully.
"Why did the Avatar..I..wait so long to reincarnate? Even if you take into account that we just didn't know there's still six years missing. What if what people say is true? What if the world doesn't need the Avatar any more, and I knew that. Maybe that's why."
Jinora smiled, her tone comforting.
"If that were true you wouldn't be here now. The problem with the world today is that people have come to believe that science and spirituality are mutually exclusive. The truth is, they are not. You can't really have one without having the other. That's why you're here, Nanaki. Even with all the magnificent technology and understanding of the world that we have now, the world still needs the Avatar."
Nanaki wasn't convinced. She gripped the smooth cold surface of the railing and sighed.
"What am I supposed to do, Jinora?"
Jinora looped an arm around Nanaki's shoulder.
"You do what the Avatar has always done, sweetheart. You keep the peace between the four nations. That's all that anyone has a right to expect from you."
Nanaki leaned against Jinora's side and took great comfort in the old woman's embrace. Yakkara yawned and laid his head down behind them. Together, the Avatar and the Avatar's Spiritual Guide looked out over the Bay, watching ships sailing in to the bright city slowly as the statue of Avatar Aang kept vigil.
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