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Emblem of the Outlaw


Three: Water



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Battle Looms Over Their Heads Like a Guillotine

Ever wonder why one never sees a rock atop the water?

Smoke billowed from the center of the Southern Water Tribe. Several women and children were gathered around the fire, trying to warm themselves until the men came back from the hunt. Over the horizon, a group of figures came into sight. Spears over their shoulders, the men of the tribe came back while dragging several large animal carcasses behind them. And staggering nearby was a younger man: a figure who stood out from the rest with his lighter skin and bright green eyes as they neared. His body was hunched over, and of the men he was the only one who showed his fatigue from the six hour hunt.

Upon entering the Water Tribe, Ishio immediately collapsed by the fire and began panting. Hiraoka approached him and placed his hand on his hip while smiling sarcastically. "Come now, Avatar. It's time for your training."

"Time for my training?" Ishio asked in an exasperated tone. "I have blisters on my blisters..." He continued to whine about his pains, but after one sentence Hiraoka simply tuned him out and waited until the teenager stopped for breath. It was understandable that Ishio would be this tired—most people outside the Southern Water Tribe domesticated animals and simply bred and slaughtered those animals for food. But this small tribe kept tradition, and thus kept their extremely long hunting sessions to provide food for their families.

"Well, if you want to learn the next element it's now or never." The Waterbender interjected at a brief pause in Ishio's incessant complaints. Without giving the Avatar a chance to launch into another rant, Hiraoka began to walk away while waving over his shoulder. Ishio sputtered a few unintelligible grumbles—most likely curses—as he rose and quickened his pace to keep up with his Waterbending master.

"Waterbending is just like the water," Hiraoka began just as Ishio caught up with him on the edge of an iceberg. Precariously, he approached the edge of the ice and spread his feet into a solid, yet relaxed, stance. In much less relaxed manner, Ishio stood to the side of the Waterbending master.

The water churned gently as Hiraoka moved his arm in gentle circles above the surface. One could see each muscle in the Waterbender's arm flex lightly as he pinched his fingers and drew his arm upwards, with the water following. He stepped to the left, and extended both arms outwards to stretch the water into a thin strand. "Watch my movements: notice how each one is an extension of the other. They are all connected and flow, just like the water." Suddenly, Hiraoka spun around and his strand of water formed a sharp whip. Before Ishio could react, he lashed the water against the Avatar's forehead.

"Gah!" Ishio staggered backwards and almost slipped on the ice. His hands angrily shot upwards and began rubbing the small red spot between his eyes. To his surprise, the water stung more than a burn. It wasn't even frozen, but it felt like it could pierce flesh.

"Come now," Hiraoka leaned back arrogantly and smiled maliciously, "you didn't expect this to be a walk through the daisies, now did you?"

Words evaded the Avatar as he stood in a stunned daze. The silence prompted Hiraoka to continue, "I've never taught anyone Earthbending, but from our hunt I can tell you've never had to work for anything in your life. I only have a week or so to teach you. Which means," it didn't seem possible, but Hiraoka's smile widened as he continued, "this is going to be the hardest week of your life."

"You've got to be kidding..."

"Now follow me," Hiraoka turned back to the water and resumed his stance. Ishio once more stood next to him, and tried to mimic the stance. Before he knew what happened, his body tumbled into the ice water. His skin prickled with the cold, and his face showed an expression of pure shock as he realized his air was limited. Wildly, Ishio swung his arms and legs to try and reach the surface, but to no avail. The water was so cold that his muscles were numb. As if to scream, he opened his mouth. But the attempt only stole away what little air he had. His lungs began to seize with asphyxiation, and the light began to fade...

His body felt like it was being lifted. Water still surrounded him, but he was moving. Then he was above water. Hiraoka was using his bending to save him from the depths of the icy arctic ocean. Ishio felt a pang of relief—until he realized that his Waterbending master was the one who pushed him into the water in the first place. After all, Ishio did not have poor balance, and there was a sudden strike to his leg as he fell. The bubble of water holding Ishio was released about five feet above the ice; the Avatar hit the ground hard and immediately began coughing up the liquid filling his lungs.

"You can't swim?" The Waterbender asked in a genuinely puzzled voice.

This question prompted an angry glare from Ishio once sweet air filled his chest once more. "Of course I can't swim! I'm from the Earth Kingdom!"

"There are beaches in the Earth Kingdom, and islands too."

"I've never needed to swim, okay? And I bloody well don't need to be drowned by my teacher, either."

"I think you do." Upon Ishio's visible alarm at this remark, Hiraoka elaborated, "Come. Before you can learn the bending art, you need to learn how to swim."

Just as suddenly as his training had begun and Ishio had been pushed into the ocean, he found himself standing next to a medium-sized hole in the ice near the Southern Water Tribe. Hiraoka had only allowed him to garb himself in his undergarments, and so the Avatar stood shivering while glaring at his teacher's warm furs with envy.

"So the fate of the world is left in the hands of a boy who hasn't even grown his chest hairs yet?" Hiraoka laughed as he poked fun at the Avatar. The cold kept Ishio from retorting, but his gaze told Hiraoka to get on with whatever point he was trying to make. "Each child in the Southern Water Tribe learns how to swim, and it only makes sense that your training would begin here."

Ishio did not move. Silence followed, broken only by the Avatar's constant chattering teeth. "Do you want to jump in or shall I push you again?" Hiraoka inquired.

Legs shaking, Ishio neared the edge of the water and practically fell in again. His skin met with the icy fluid once more, but this time he instantly began to wildly flail his arms and legs to keep himself from sinking. "Don't flail like that! Regulate your breathing! Move your arms slowly and gently, and move your feet with them." Ishio's 'swimming' changed so little after his master's advice that it hardly seemed he was trying at all.

In response, Hiraoka began to wave his arms out in front of him. "Like this! Stop flailing like a captured beast!" For a moment, Ishio imitated the arm gesture. But as the cold water reached his chin, he resumed thrashing. "You idiot! Waterbending is not about wildly moving your limbs, it's about fluid connected motions! Just like the water itself, and just like swimming!"

His mind went back to those months spent with his friends in Team Avatar, and he recalled Frost's bending. Even with her hard, stabbing ice bullets, she had always seemed to move almost like a dancer. Carefully, his arms sunk under water and began to move, steadying himself as his legs followed. It took a few moments, but Ishio steadied himself into a controlled position. "Now move!"

"What?" Feeling quite successful about his current achievement, Ishio was taken aback by the fact that this was not Hiraoka's ultimate goal in teaching Ishio to swim.

"Move," Hiraoka repeated. "Just move your arms like this," he bent his back over and began to swing his arms over his head, one directly after each other in a steady stroke, "and then kick your legs to follow. Keep your face in the water and breathe every now and again, like this," adding to his strokes, Hiraoka tilted his head sideways every couple of strokes and made a very obvious breathing sound, something along the lines of "AH-byuh" each time.

Ishio continued to tread water rather than trying to imitate Hiraoka's nebulous directions. But the Waterbender gave Ishio a glare that said, "follow what I'm doing or I'll drown you," and thus Ishio turned onto his stomach and tried to follow. When his face met the water, panic almost overcame him again. It seemed counterintuitive to be purposefully putting his head in the water, but it was what Hiraoka wanted. He let his feet float up to the surface, and for a moment he lay face down in the water like a corpse. Then, his legs began to spastically kick while his arms copied Hiraoka's strokes.

"AH-byuh," as he lifted his arm in one stroke, Ishio breathed exactly as Hiraoka had in the demonstration. From the corner of his eye, he could see his Waterbending teacher nod with approval.

"Keep going, do some laps." Though Ishio followed Hiraoka's instructions, his poor swimming form made it exceedingly difficult to move with any sort of speed. Despite how quickly his arms and legs moved, his progress was limited to about five feet for every ten strokes. But the Waterbending teacher knew better than to push the Avatar too much more—even if he had never had to work before, he was learning swimming for the first time and it was not wise to push him as much as Hiraoka would push a Southern Water Tribe boy Ishio's age.

"Okay, I think we're ready to continue training." After Ishio had done some painfully slow laps around the hole in the ice, Hiraoka decided that he had made his point.

"I can... Keep going..." Ishio responded in his breaths. Despite Hiraoka allowing him to stop, the Avatar continued in those slow but wild laps around the water.

Interesting, Hiraoka thought. Maybe he's more dedicated then I thought. From out of the water, Hiraoka could see Ishio's skin turn blue from the cold water. He's definitely stupider. He decided as Ishio's movements began to slow and the cold began to overtake him.

Using his bending, Hiraoka pulled Ishio from the water and dropped him onto the ice. "Our training is complete for today. Tomorrow, we'll get up at dawn to hunt and resume training after."

In his trembling, Ishio's head twitched in a nod. Hiraoka lightly grabbed Ishio's arm and wrapped it around his neck to support the Avatar as they returned to the tribe.

Once more Ishio was wrapped in furs as he sat before the fire and tried to warm himself up. Hiraoka and a few others were there as well, watching Ishio's every muscle movement as if he were an animal in a zoo. "So Hiraoka," Ishio began after he had warmed himself, "are you the tribe chief here, or something?"

The Waterbending master laughed, "What makes you say that?"

"Well, everyone around here looks at you like you're some sort of god and follows your every order."

"Well, I suppose that's a dead giveaway then. Yes, I am the tribal chief."

"And you have a wife and son, too?"

"You're just full of questions, aren't you, Avatar? I have a wife and a daughter, actually." Hiraoka folded his arms thoughtfully. "I remember when I first met Nana.. I travelled across the world to deliver a special package to the Northern Water Tribe only to drop it into the ocean when I saw her pass."

Ishio watched Hiraoka intently as the Waterbender thought about his love. The hard façade Ishio had known in their training today fell away, and he saw a man who was truly in love, and just like anyone else. "Our daughter, Katara, was born just three months ago. She looks exactly like her mother...

"But I'm probably boring you." Hiraoka stood and stretched. "We have an early morning tomorrow, you should get some rest."

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