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|Chapter Twelve: Escape|
In the deepest hours of the night a small shipping frigate slowly closed to a stop less than a mile from Air Temple Island. The craft had no lights on and no markings. It kept just enough distance that the lights of the temple worked against the sentries on duty, preventing them from making out the tiny dark shape out in the water. Shapes in black slipped over the sides of the craft on ropes, descending down into the calm depths with nary a splash to give away their positions. The shapes began swimming toward the island.
It was the shouting that brought Nanaki and Yi awake at the same time, both girls sitting up sharply in bed and looking at each other in bewilderment. It was the gunfire that caused icebergs to form over their hearts. While Nanaki sat where she was, paralyzed, Yi launched from the bed and sprinted to the window. She threw the shutters open and leaned out, looking over the courtyard down below. What she saw robbed her of her ability to speak.
The courtyard was swarming with what must have been four dozen people. Some were engaged in peeling off wet suits while those whom already had were engaging the Acolytes in martial maneuvers or opening fire at them with pistols. The Acolytes were responding in force, some of them bending so that bursts of fire, hurtling rocks, or tendrils of water swarmed around the courtyard. Yi saw one of the Acolytes fall under a maelstrom of bullet fire.
The door crashed in behind her and she spun to see her father.
"Get the Avatar to safety," he said. "We're under attack."
Then he was gone, sprinting down the hallway. Yi ran to the bed and grabbed Nanaki's arm. The Avatar was already in tears, shaking her head in furious denial. Yi, not aware that she was crying too, pulled on her savagely.
"Nannie come on," she yelled. Nanaki fell out of bed.
The two girls dressed quickly and left the room, running side by side toward the front door. There they met Jinora. The old airbender was herself preparing to enter the courtyard and spread her arms wide when she saw the girls.
"No no," Jinora said. "Out the back way. Not into the courtyard." She spun them both around, swatted their butts to get them moving, and raced outside. Nanaki and Yi looked at each other, then ran out after her.
Outside, it was pure chaos. The attackers, whomever they might be, were gaining the upper hand thanks to seven men clad head to do in some manner of body armor. Six of these men were fighting with both expert martial maneuvers mixed with blasts of fire from their wrists. The seventh man, a mountain walking, was simply grabbing Acolytes and tossing them bodily to each side. Flames raced along the eaves of nearby buildings, turning the structures into pyres.
Nanaki and Yi ducked out the door and sprinted to a large rock on the fringes of the courtyard. There they hid, watching. They saw Guo drop into a deep stance and throw his right hand out, his index finger erected as he snapped his left hand back to his waist. The ground of the courtyard reacted at once, am earth wave rolling out and taking a dozen attackers off their feet. Guo then launched into motion, spinning his body around and whipping his leg up and around. His heel smashed into the ground, and several pillars of stone exploded upward to launch more foes high into the air. Kah-Pa appeared right behind him, cocking his leg and then lashing it out in a beautifully executed front kick that sent his own attacker sprawling. More of the antagonists converged on them. The two men looked at each other and each nodded. Guo and Kah-Pa spun to face each other. Guo grabbed the smaller man by the wrists and spun him. Kah-Pa brought both legs up to his chest and then kicked out as he was spun, sending out a solid wave of air that scattered their attackers.
Jinora was no less majestic to watch. Finding herself surrounded by enemies she displayed an agility that seriously belied her advanced years. She whirled in place, spinning her glider around her waist. She snapped her arm round and clapped the glider up under her arm. The resulting detonation of wind lifted every enemy around her off their feet and catapulted them backwards.
Despite these heroic acts, the attackers were winning. Martial arts was no match for bullets, and Acolytes were dropping lifeless to the ground one after the other. When guns were trained on Guo and Kah-Pa the master earthbender only narrowly saved them both by throwing his hands into the air, a wall of solid stone coming up between the two men and their assailants just narrowly.
Yi turned to Nanaki.
"We need the Avatar-State," she said.
"I don't know how!" Nanaki said, sobbing.
Yi looked out from behind the rock again. She was just in time to see the huge man burst through the rock wall and wrap an octopus of a hand around her father's face. The man picked Guo up off the ground and slammed his other fist into the earthbender's gut several times.
"Daddy!" Yi shrieked. The armored man's head snapped toward her. She ducked behind the rock again. She spun toward Nanaki and was shocked to discover that her friend was not crying any more. Her expression was cold, lifeless. She was standing up. She grabbed Nanaki's hand.
"What are you doing?"
"What I should," Nanaki said softly, and stepped out from behind the rock.
Instantly she was spotted. Not just by the big man, but by dozens of the attackers. They began converging on her at once. The big man stayed where he was over the prone forms of Guo and Kah-Pa. He leveled a rifle at her.
"Come on, baby," Po said. "Let's see that glow."
Nanaki took a deep breath. Dimly she was aware of the men running at her, of Yi shrieking at her, and of Jinora also racing toward her with a look of horror. She closed her eyes. Calmly, as if time had ceased to exist for her, Nanaki lifted both arms out to either side of herself. Then she snapped backwards, throwing her weight to her back leg. She threw both hands back to her waist and then slid her right foot forward. Her weight flowed through the stance as she snapped her wrists, one palm facing the sky and the other palm facing her opposite forearm.
The entire courtyard rocked. It rose on its center and then smashed out in less time it takes to blink. Every single man and woman except Nanaki was thrown to the ground by the violent tremor. Nanaki didn't pause. She shifted her stance, her body swiveling to the left. Facing twenty of her fallen enemies she brought both fists back to her hips and stepped over her left foot with her right foot. She followed through, spinning completely around and throwing her leg in a circular wheel kick. When her foot hit the ground the tiles on the rooftops nearby rocketed down. The Unbelievers were struck down from two sides at once, the tiles smashing into them and fragmenting at frightening speeds.
Jinora boosted herself up on one elbow and looked at Nanaki in a mixture of equal parts surprise and admiration.
"Bending." The old woman whispered. "Oh Nanaki, your mother would be so proud."
Yi screamed as several of the attackers aimed guns at the Avatar. At the same moment, the huge man with the rifle bellowed at them to hold their fire. It seemed to make no difference to Nanaki. She half-turned in the other direction, to face them openly. In one flawless, fluid motion she dropped her body low, cocking her left leg and extending her right one. She rotated both arms in a circle around herself, then thrust them both out with both of her palms facing down.
With a multitude of yells and shouts, every single man was sucked down into the ground up to their shoulders. The watery earth then solidified once more. Nanaki released her breath, bringing her palms up to her chest level and then lowering them to her abdomen. She opened her eyes and looked at the huge man, the only one left standing, from under her eyebrows.
Po was suddenly afraid. In less than eight seconds this one tiny girl had wiped out his entire contingency. He wasn't about to see what she had in store for him, glow or not. The Boss could bitch all he wanted. Po was taking the shot now. He hefted the rifle. Sighting through the rifle's scope he placed the cross-hairs directly between Nanaki's eyes. His finger tightened on the trigger, and 1800 pounds of savage, angry zebratiger slammed into his side and launched him entirely across the courtyard into one of the burning buildings.
Akytreu, seated atop Yakkara, wheeled the cat and sent her in a full speed run toward Nanaki. As they approached the boy knelt with his arm up, grabbed Nanaki around the waist, and yanked her off her feet and up behind him. Not a breath had gone by when Yi leaped onto the cat's back directly behind Nanaki. Yakkara kept going, racing out of the courtyard and down the hillside until she splashed into the ocean and began swimming powerfully toward Republic City.
The three teenagers turned to look back. Air Temple Island was burning. Flames threw explosive parties everywhere they could see, while three tubes of black smoke stretched up into the sky.
"Jinora," Nanaki wailed, starting to cry all over again.
Yi looked at Akytreu.
"What do we do now?" she asked.
Akytreu's face was stone. He didn't answer Yi, but he knew exactly what must be done. Yakkara kept swimming.
Jintaro woke up with the coming of dawn and stretched. He left his bed and pounded a fist on Otoshi's door to wake his sleeping son, then he went downstairs for a much needed cup of tea.
After securing the hot beverage he flipped the television on. He stared at the image of a burning Air Temple Island, the words BREAKING NEWS flashing on the screen under the live shot. The news anchor was in a state of visible agitation.
"...is believed that the anti-Avatar group called the Unbelievers are responsible for the attack. At this time there are twenty confirmed dead. Nobody knows where the Avatar is, or even if she's still alive."
The tea cup dropped from Jintaro's fingers and shattered on the hardwood floor.
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