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9 July 2012
The Second Round
The teams gather to discuss the events of round one and how to work towards round two, while old friends meet up and Shiro hosts an interview.
Back to normal writing format for this chapter. Shiro-dominated narration resumes in chapter four.
Fans got up from their seats to head to the arena's concession stands. All sorts of foods were being sold - from popcorn to fire flakes to ice cream and so many others from all about the various nations. They would spring for their favorites, dishing out the yuans despite the apparent overpricing of some materials.
The players retreated to their locker rooms to go over what had happened in the first round and prepare for round two, being permitted ten minutes before it started.
Mantia came down from his watching post and grabbed some water from a nearby fountain. A couple of fans passed by and even exchanged some idle conversation with the referee, some of them remembering him from his old days in the Republic City Police Force. He expressed that he showed no contempt to the Metalbending Police Force despite the fact that they made the RCPD essentially obsolete.
In the broadcast booth, Shiro Shinobi brought his listeners out of the commercial break with his upbeat tone, still feeling the excitement from round one's thrilling conclusion. "Hello again, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome back to Wulong Memorial Arena and the first intermission of the inaugural pro-bending match! Round one was an amazing barnburner, as the Aardvark Sloths picked up a thrilling last-second victory! Waterbender Kuska came from her zone three and used a water blast to knock the Winged Lemurs' waterbender Halak out of the ring, allowing the Sloths to seize victory! They lead one round to nothing, but there is still plenty of time to go! The two teams I'm sure will have a lot to discuss in the locker room over these next several minutes. Folks, right now I am awaiting Mr. Tao, the sport's strategy creator, to join me in the booth for an exclusive interview."
Inside the Avatar's suite, Kya and Bumi rose from their chairs, made of soft, red cushiony material. "Mom, Dad, Bumi and I are going to get something to eat," Kya told their parents.
"Kya, are you two sure you don't want to wait for the chefs to bring us dinner?" Katara asked her daughter.
"We'll be fine, mom," the waterbender replied. "Besides, you know we want to get our hands on more normal food once in a while."
Katara nodded. "All right, you two. Just be careful, the press will no doubt be surrounding you."
"Mother, really?" Her son again asked. "Come on, we're in our thirties now. I'm pretty sure we know how to handle some press coverage."
"A mother always looks out for her kids, no matter what the age," the old waterbending master simply replied. "Go on, you two."
The siblings left the booth and made their way towards the arena concourse. Meanwhile, the aging couple remained in their seats.
"Did you like that, honey?" Katara queried her husband.
"It makes me wish we were younger again," Aang answered his wife. "They all looked like they were enjoying the competition quite well. I didn't like the headshot, but, it seems like all is well. Things are going over superbly, and so far, no disturbances, which is even better."
"I don't think anyone would dare try anything with Toph, Lin and the rest of the metalbenders patrolling the stands the way they are," Katara replied.
As Katara mentioned the police monitoring the arena, Aang looked around to see the multitude of officers around. To think that this was not much was a crazy but true thought; it was a common sight to see these officers roaming the streets. "Isn't it amazing how far metalbending has come since Toph started with just three students at her academy," the Avatar then mused.
"Amazing, isn't it?" Another voice then said as the door opened.
The old couple then turned to see two familiar figures. One was an older woman, more or less their age. Short, grey hair formed around her head, while the rest of her body, besides her face, was protected in armor of metal. Her eyes appeared to be glazed over in a cover of light green, indicating apparent blindness. On her left, a younger woman with black hair, similar to the elder at her right, and brighter green eyes, along with the same armor, greeted them with a smile. She appeared to be around age thirty.
"Toph! Lin!" Katara exclaimed.
"Hello, Katara. Hello, Aang," the aging Toph replied. "Great to see you two here."
"It's great to see you too, Toph," Aang replied. "And Lin...amazing how much you've grown since you were a young one. You are certainly the spitting image of your mother."
"Mother taught me well," Lin replied. "Like her, it's great to see you both as well."
The Avatar and his wife then rose to embrace the Beifongs, the two families showing their long-standing friendship was still strong, even after so many years. After a couple of moments, they separated.
"So, Aang, I heard that your health could have prohibited you from coming," Toph began. "I guess you got over it?"
The old Avatar nodded. "Yes, thankfully by a good bit. I checked with the doctors this morning, and they cleared me to come to the arena. It was going to be tough for me to avoid it, regardless...the commissioner wanted me to speak tonight."
"Speaking of health," Katara asked, "Toph, how are you doing? The last time we spoke with you, you said you were quite sore."
"My legs still ache every so often," the blind officer replied. "It certainly happens, even to the best of us, I suppose. Being now in my early sixties, still doing a good bit of running around...I figure it might be Lin's time soon."
"Now mother," Lin said. "I told you, you should stay with this until it's definitively time to stand down. You're still capable."
"That's sweet of you, Lin," her mother answered, "but, I certainly do have faith in you. I'm sixty-two and I'm not getting any younger. Sometimes part of being an effective leader is knowing when to step aside."
"I know that feeling," Aang added. "As you know, Tenzin will be taking over my spot on the United Republic Council at the end of the year. I wish I could assist you more in warding off the crime wave, Toph, but my mobility is failing, and I have certainly lost a good bit of my own effectiveness."
"Now come on hun," the Avatar's wife said, placing her hands on his shoulders. "Just a few weeks ago, you shut down those Red Monsoon operatives pretty quickly. You still moved a good bit."
"Did you ever find out why your health seems to be failing so quickly?" Lin queried the Avatar.
"Yes, a few weeks ago, Lin," Aang answered. "The nasty side effect of being stuck in an iceberg for a hundred years, apparently. All the local spiritual gurus seemed to agree, even going through my meditations and past Avatars. I have technically lived 162 years, which isn't too bad in chronological terms...but biologically, I'm going to likely be one of the youngest Avatars ever. Even younger than Roku."
The Beifongs shook their heads. "It's a shame, ol' Twinkletoes," Toph began. "You are going to be gone before the rest of us, you think?"
"That's not helping us!" Katara snapped. "It's a day we certainly all fear, but we need not discuss it!"
"I apologize, Katara," Toph replied. "I certainly don't look forward to the day either. Aang, all I can say to you is to just continue living out every day. You certainly have staked yourself to a wonderful family these past forty years. Live every day out like it's your last. Your kids, your beautiful wife, all of us as well. We'll all be here with you...and I'll still be here to call you Twinkletoes," she finished with a laugh.
"Fifty years haven't changed you at all Toph," Aang remarked. "Don't worry...I am not thinking about my last day too much...though I had a tough moment after I gave my speech."
Katara placed her arms around her aging husband. "But we got you through it, didn't we? No matter what, Aang...we'll stick by your side. Especially me." She turned Aang's head around and kissed him affectionately.
"Remember when you thought that was gross?" Toph asked her daughter. "Not just those two, but even your father and I."
"Mother," Lin replied. "Why must you continue to hash memories of my childhood? Though you are right. You and Dad certainly were tight."
Katara and Aang stepped out of their moment and turned to the Beifongs. "Oh yes, Toph," the waterbender said. "I remember you and--"
"Chief Beifong! Lieutenant Beifong!" A police officer said. "The match is resuming in five minutes."
"Well, that's our signal to get going," Lin told them. "Take care, you two."
"Stick around a bit after the match if you can," Katara said. "We can talk more if you are interested."
"We'd love to, Sweetness," Toph replied, "But I am going to have to get right back to police headquarters after the match and catch up, as will Lin. I apologize."
"Then we'll have to get back together again someday," Katara added. "I'm sure you can find time to meet up within your busy schedule."
"We'll try," the police chief answered. "For now, as Lin said, take care."
"Farewell for now, and the same to the both of you," the Avatar replied. Each of the families then gave bows of respect, which was followed by the departure of the Beifongs.
Around the arena, fans discussed the events of round one amongst themselves, buzzing about the last-second move used by Kuska which stole the round for the Aardvark Sloths.
"She trained under Katara," a fan said to someone nearby. "It's no wonder that she was able to pull such a move."
"Other than that," another fan added, "the Sloths looked a bit nervous at times. I think they're going to need to do better. The Winged Lemurs are going to come out buzzing in round two."
"Wouldn't be surprised if the Lemurs' chemistry carries them to a win when all is said and done," a third fan replied. "They lost on more of a fluke; they're more close-knit than the Aardvark Sloths."
"I don't know," the first fan answered. "The Aardvark Sloths may have known each other for less time, but they work very well together. Although that doesn't necessarily guarantee a victory, I just believe the Lemurs' advantage in chemistry is a bit overrated. The Sloths have good chemistry themselves."
"We'll see," the third fan replied. "But I at least fully expect the Winged Lemurs to take round two."
"I agree," the second fan answered. "I would be shocked if the Sloths go up two-nil."
"Shao Fung need to take more charge," the third fan continued. "It seemed like he was not doing as much fighting as his teammates. I wonder if they will call him out on it in the locker room."
"Calling out your team captain takes a lot of guts," the first fan resumed. "Especially for a team as close-knit as the Winged Lemurs."
"They'd get past it," the second fan answered. "That team? They'll be fine."
Returning to the ring and going across the blue side would bring one to the Aardvark Sloths' locker room. The team was still abuzz over what they had just done in the opening round.
No one was happier with themselves than Kuska; the sixteen-year-old had executed an unbelievable knockout of Halak in the dying seconds of the round, improbably putting her team ahead.
"I told you had it in you!" Gatsu said to her teammate. "You see? That came right from Master Katara, didn't it?"
"Well," Kuska began, "She did tell me that if backed into a corner, it was a move that could quickly throw your enemies off. I just never expected it to make contact with Halak, let alone knock him out of the ring."
"But it did," the firebender replied, placing her arm around the waterbender's shoulders. "You had nothing to worry about. I told you you were awesome, Kuska! You only demonstrated it more."
Kuska giggled softly. "You're quite filled with compliments, Gatsu."
"Yes, yes, Kuska is indeed awesome," Sagashi said. "Now then, let's keep it all settled here. That was certainly an incredible win in round one, but, we have to stay focused. It takes more than one round to win a match - heck, we still need to go through all three. One wrong move and we lose the match, you two know what. We won the round, but, we can't expect to win at the last second like that every time."
"Why worry, Sagashi?" Gatsu wondered. "As long as we win, we win!"
"Look," the earthbending captain began. "We can't dig ourselves into late holes! You can't always expect to be down for two minutes and fifty-five seconds and rely on that last, powerful move to win the round. We've got to fight better consistently through the whole round."
Kuska nodded slightly, though Gatsu seemed a bit weary of his captain's attitude.
"If I know anything about anyone on that team, it's Miaka," Sagashi continued. "Having been his fellow student for some time, I know he does not want to give up any fight at all. In training spars, Miaka always fought to the last moment, even when he was on the edge. Our instructor always liked that about him. Although Shao Fung is the Lemurs' captain, I have no doubt that Miaka is doing plenty of 'rallying the troops' as we speak. With him there, there's even less doubt that they'll come out firing in round two."
"Don't forget the fact that we beat them with five seconds left!" Gatsu said. "Oh man, they're probably so ticked, they'll blow themselves out within the first thirty seconds of the round!"
"Not a chance," Sagashi said. "Another thing I know Miaka for is that he doesn't 'blow up', if you will. He'll even keep Shao Fung in check. He goes right by our old instructor's lessons there - 'Fighting in anger is a sign that you're giving up.' And Shao, also being taught by some of the firebending masters around here, like you were, Gatsu...he probably has the same instinct. They can also both help Halak keep his attitude under control; he's probably the most upset of all."
Kuska gulped nervously. If they come out reasonably harder...no doubt they'll gun for me...
"With all that said," the earthbender resumed, "Let's go over the plan for round two. First things first, we need to get off to a better start. We fell back first and walked into that early hole I just mentioned. Getting the first strike is important to keeping our momentum going. What I was thinking is to divide and turn more to hand signals. It will make it tougher for the Lemurs to hit us all backwards at the same time our understand our strategy."
"Moving separately?" Kuska asked. "Sagashi, I'm not sure if I'm comfortable with that."
"Kuska," Sagashi began. "I know you're nervous, and would prefer to keep close, but, this strategy will benefit us all. It will keep the Winged Lemurs guessing and force one-on-one battles, which I know we can win. It only takes one solid hit to get our momentum going. On the contrary, if we keep close, they get one good hit on us and we'll all be back a zone."
The waterbender sighed nervously. She had already felt disconnected during round one, and, despite her win, knew it couldn't always happen, like Sagashi mentioned.
"Have faith in yourself," Sagashi urged his teammate. "All you need is good faith, Kuska. Continuing...we need to keep working the corners. We had them drawn back when we worked them into a corner. Their failures in the corner tests really stuck out. But, as for us, drawing back to when we lost the momentum and almost the round...no more bad penalties. Watch where you stand within the zones; Kuska, that was not a good penalty you took late. It's those silly things that can mess up everything we worked for...and in this case, it almost did. It's all that we need to really succeed in this match."
"What if any of us slip into danger? You preach separation, but, we also need to look our for another," Gatsu wondered.
"Just because I ask for separation, doesn't mean you shouldn't break it when needed," the captain answered. "Don't worry about defending a teammate at all, never let one slip off the ring under your watch. Most importantly...don't be nervous! It's all basic stuff I'm talking here."
The team then got up and met each other for a huddle. "Once again, I need an 'Aardvark Sloths' on three. One, two, three..."
The teammates then separated and stood near the edge of the locker room, awaiting for their signal to return to the ring for round two. Kuska stayed close to the other two, still feeling some nerves but also some assurance that they would be there for her if needed.
Across the ring, changing from the blue side to red, was the Winged Lemurs' locker room. The environment indicated a sickened team, still at a loss over what had happened in round one. They had found themselves just seconds away from a first round win; instead, they now were in a near-must-win situation. Losing round two did not mean they would lose the match, but, such a hole against a toughed Aardvark Sloth team would be asking for a lot.
Halak made his way back to the locker room on a motorized platform. As soon as he stepped off, he threw his helmet against the wall, to the shock and worry of his teammates. He then proceeded to yell, "What the spirits is wrong with me!"
"Calm down!" Miaka urged his teammate. "It was just one round, Halak."
"If you break that helmet, you know you owe for it," Shao Fung reminded the waterbender. "Commissioner Jashi won't tolerate physical abuse of this equipment. Take a breath, Halak! I know you're frustrated, but Miaka is right, we can't let one round destroy us. The match is far from over."
Halak gritted his teeth before final sitting down on a bench. He then looked down to the floor, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Slowly, his anger began to recede, though he still felt disappointment for what had happened at the end of round one. I let myself get beat by that little girl...she was so far back...how...
"All right, let's focus, you two!" Shao Fung commanded his teammates. "As I just said, this is far from the end of the match. Does it stink to lose round one? Yes, it does. But we haven't lost the match yet. We don't even need to win round two to win. However, we don't want to be in a two to nothing hole, because with the way the Aardvark Sloths look, trying to score a knockout is going to be very difficult. We've got to get them on their toes and seize this round to make round three a winner-take-all. We've practiced this situation for a while, so, let's go back over what we need to do."
Halak finally looked up at his captain, rubbing his forehead clear of sweat and taking a drink of water from a small bottle. Miaka remained at focus, a hand on his teammate's shoulder in an attempt to keep him assured after the difficult defeat.
"I will admit," Shao Fung resumed. "I should have worked us with the corners a little bit more than we did. Unfortunately, the time for practice there is done." The captain rubbed his head a bit uncomfortably. Man, if my father found out about this, he'd have me. Getting into 'corners' has been our whole life. "So, all we can do for now is stay away from the corners as best as we can. For that, we will need teamwork. The second one of us sees a teammate slip into a corner - it doesn't matter what you are doing - push them out of it! Working into a corner only means disaster. Believe me...I've seen it happen far too many times...but you all know what that means, and I needn't say it again."
The two teammates nodded. They knew full well of Shao Fung's family history; a history too-well known amongst many other citizens of the world. However, they agreed to keep it a secret; after all, Republic City had become Shao Fung's family's last escape from the scandal-ridden world of politics.
"Anyhow," the Lemurs' captain resumed. "To start the round, let's stay a little closer-knit. No more than one earth coin separating one from the other. We need to communicate better. Some of our communication in the round was a bit sloppy, and that hurt us at the midway point. Once we got ourselves rejointed, we got the Sloths to the edge of defeat. They're not going to get that lucky again. Listen to me and listen to me good: Once we start hitting them and driving them back - keep...going! Not even a split-second of breath. Don't blink...we know far too well what just happened. We have to come right out and seize the momentum of this round and force them to defense! Don't let up if you've got one of them in your grip."
"Trust me," Miaka said, "I won't give up anything." He thought about his older brother and how he was still miles away, training with the United Forces, and he remembered how he swore, the day when Tengak left, that he would never give up any fight and join his brother someday.
"Halak," Shao Fung then addressed the waterbender. "Listen, round one...it's over. We lost, and that's all in the past. Nothing can be done now. You're still to stick with Kuska. She may have a bit of confidence now, you need to remove it. You can do this, man. I have faith in you."
"How?" Halak wondered. "I cost us the first round."
"I've had faith in both of you since the day we hooked up in the park," the firebender answered. "You're one heck of a bender, and you've rebounded from a lot."
Halak sighed sadly.
"Mommy, where's daddy!?" The young waterbender wondered, tears dripping down his face. "What did they do with him!?"
His mother walked up to him and cupped his cheeks in her hands. "Halak, sweetie...your father...just know that he's safe now. Those bad men won't hurt him anymore. The spirits will keep him safe now." His mother wrapped him into her arms . "You're safe now..."
"The Red Monsoons never quit," one of the metalbending officers muttered. "They lost their leader...and yet they continue to strike. It's like they're fighting for Yakone."
"Yet another family destroyed," another officer said, turning to the mother and son. "We need to bring the Monsoons down before we see this sight again."
Halak simply cried into his mother's arms, his father now long gone. The question was...how was he to avenge his father?
The waterbender pulled out a small necklace from his gym bag. The charm was a photo, that being of him at age six, alongside his mother and father. He teared up a bit. "Dad...please...show me through this difficult time. I know you're still watching..."
"I'm sure, right now," Miaka began, "Your dad would want you to be alert and ready instead of beating yourself up. He's proud of you, no matter how well you do in this match. Stay with us, and give it your all."
"Exactly," Shao Fung replied. "No one said this would be easy, Halak. You'll do this. I know you'll help us win this match and get us started on the right foot."
Halak nodded and put his necklace away. "I'll do the best I can."
"Win or lose," Shao Fung said, "Giving it our all is important. Huddle up."
The teammates made their way to the center of the locker room, and did as their captain said. "All right...let's stick with this match. One round won't break us. We've been through a lot to make it here, and it's all us right now. Like I said, forget round one, it's over. Let's remind them who the Winged Lemurs are and pick off the next round. Comeback on three. Ready? One...two...three..."
The huddle then broke and the team made their way to the edge, standing and waiting for their signal to return to the ring.
Halak looked around the arena and saw his mom and managed to catch the sight of his mother and younger sister, who were on the Lemurs' side of the ring, in the middle of zone three. Halak's mother smiled at him as if to say, "I'm proud of you, Halak, and I know you can do this." Halak's little sister gave him a wave and yelled his name. "Halak! We love you, big bro! Win the match!" The waterbender gave an appreciative smile and waved at his family.
"As we close in on the start of round two," Shiro Shinobi announced over the radio, "We now get a chance to speak with pro-bending co-founder and writer of the strategy book, Mr. Tao! Good evening sir, we appreciate you for joining us tonight, this monumental night for the sport of the pro-bending!"
"Well, this being the most important night for the sport since its approval, I had to be here," Mr. Tao replied. "Good to be here, Mr. Shinobi."
"Why don't you tell the folks of this fine city a little about this strategy book?" Shiro inquired his guest.
"The book is entitled: Pro-Bending: Setting Up Your Road to a Championship," Tao began. "It's not a large book, but within comes everything a team can do physically and mentally to help them win a match. Call it a playbook if you will; I outline some setups and formats for team to employ - however, strategy can be subjective based on their opposition. For example, if a team is facing off against another team that prefers a lighter offense and running out the clock for their wins, there's a strategy for a team to combat it. Same if you're dealing with a team that comes out firing and doesn't stand down."
"How about the mental aspect of the game?" The announcer then asked. "Want to overview that for us?"
"Basically," the strategist said, "The keys I outline for a player's mental strategy, for one, forget about the crowd. You know, on a night like this and then eventually when the championships roll around, you're going to get crowds like this. Just remember that it's only your team versus the other team. Get the audience out of mind and fight. Another one is that you should make sure you're mentally prepared before the match, and I outline some tips and tricks for teams to do before the match starts or before other rounds in certain situations. One thing I like is meditating - in my opinion, it's the best way to clear your mind, and I definitely take note of that in my book."
"How about any additional tips during a match?" Shiro asked.
"Well, Shiro, as I said - I do have those strategies I have to take on for specific formats and whatnot," Tao answered. "I also add in the things to avoid, like getting caught in corners, turning to 'clock-watching' when you pick up a lead, basic stuff like that. There's not too much else to note, really."
"Your book certainly does encompass a lot of in-match info," the commentator stated. "How about the rest of the season?"
"I do give teams ways to plan out a season's worth of play," the author replied. "Basically, how to align their practices, how to deal with internal problems, and keeping the strategy the best they can. I don't focus as much on an entire season as I do an individual match, Shiro. Not to mention, more strategy goes out the window come championship time - when you're dealing with elite teams who have been around all year, you need to retool things there, mostly physically of course. Just going with the same strategy is a losing technique - opponents who study that all year will wipe a team out easily."
"Well, we thank you very much for talking about your book, Mr. Tao," Shiro said. "With this said, how do you think the teams fared in round one, and what would need to change for them?"
"You're certainly welcome," Tao replied. "As for tonight's match, I think both teams did well in round one, but they each missed a couple key points I outlined. With the Winged Lemurs, they got stuck in the corner a couple of times. As you know, I have tests for the teams within my book - and when it comes to corner situations, the Lemurs did not perform well in a couple test matches there and it carried over here. Their main key is to avoid the corners if they want to win round two. As for the Aardvark Sloths - a nice win there, but they too struggled on some aspects. Another thing I touch on in the book is the first thirty seconds of any round when it comes to setting the stage. The Sloths struggled mightily - two of their benders lost a zone within those thirty seconds. Sure enough, their third bender lost out another fifteen seconds later. That was my main problem with how they performed in the first round - if they want to win this match, they can't be falling behind that quick. In essence, their main key to victory is a faster start."
"Unfortunately, Mr. Tao, we are about out of time with round two bearing down on us," Shiro then informed his guest. "Once again, we thank you for being here with us this evening, discussing your book and even tonight's match with us. Enjoy the remainder of your evening, sir."
"It was all my pleasure," Tao replied, getting up and shaking his interviewer's hand. "You're welcome, Mr. Shinobi." The strategist then left the booth and began making his way toward his seating.
"That was Mr. Tao, the author of pro-bending's strategy book! Folks, if you want your own copy of Pro-Bending: Setting Up Your Road to a Championship, travel on down to the Wan Shi Tong Book Store in the Tui and La District. It only costs ten yuans, and if you are interested in joining this spectacle, it is well-worth the cost. Now then, round two will be coming up on the other side of this word from our sponsors. The Aardvark Sloths lead one to nothing. This is Shiro Shinobi telling you to stay with us here on Republic City Radio One!"
- "They would spring for their favorites, dishing out the yuans despite the apparent overpricing of some materials" is a reference to most American professional sports venues charging expensive prices for food and drinks.
- The Red Monsoons were never dug into, but it is the author's belief that Yakone came from the group, based off theories read on Tumblr, and the Monsoons still remain active as they are involved in triad wars.
For the collective works of the author, go here.