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"…And now we're expecting our eleventh child!"
Brek and Berani smiled as they pretended to be interested in a loudmouthed couple's life story. From the moment they boarded the commercial ship, the Avatar and his girlfriend were trapped at a table with two people who felt the need to share every moment of their marriage. When they finally stopped, Brek could hear the sweet, calming music coming from the radio on their table.
"I love this song!" blurted Brek, desperately trying to change the subject. Suddenly, the woman's face erupted in a massive grin.
"Our wedding dance was to this song! Did I tell you about our wedding night? There were people and flowers and foods and songs and… people… and flowers!"
"You don't say?"
"Brek," Berani cut in, "I think we're here!" The four people gawked through the ship's wide windows at the breathtaking metropolis they were approaching- Republic City.
The radio turned to static before the captain made an announcement. "Attention passengers, we will be docking shortly. Please have all of your things ready as we wish to disembark as quickly and efficiently as possible. Also as a reminder, keep any young children close at all times for safety. Thank you and I hope you enjoy your time at Republic City: The world's brightest beacon of hope!"
Back in Kekuatan, Kani had told Brek about a world-famous Waterbender living in the city. Supposedly, he was the best known bender of the last element, the best known teacher as well. He also sat in the United Republic Council's seat reserved for the representative of the Northern Water Tribe's first district. The North Pole once was only represented by one person, but the Equal Representation Act expanded the council to 100 members, including ones from Ba Sing Se, Omashu, each Air Temple, the South Western Earth Kingdom farmlands, Ember Island, and the Foggy Swamp Tribe.
The city was beautiful, but its magnificence couldn't distract Brek from his worries of home. As the ship docked, the people of his kingdom rioted in the streets for democracy, and King Flek came down on the rebels with an iron fist, exterminating the non-bending among them. He fret particularly for his brother, Batu, who had been arrested after refusing to aide the military in unjustly deporting non-benders from their town. On top of that, he had know idea where Kaeta and Zola were.
Berani, noticing her troubled boyfriend, forced a smile. "All we can do now is make sure you learn Waterbending. After that, you'll be much more ready to confront both Flek and Onjing."
The Avatar nodded. "Do you still have directions to Councilman Keric's gym?"
"Right here," she shuffled through her bag and withdrew a complicated map.
"Alright. Let's go get Pumi from the cargo department."
The dock workers were speedy in unloading the vessel, tossing small boxes down a line and carrying heavy ones with cool machines. It wasn't long before two terrified men pushed a wheeled cage with an angry armadillo lion anxious to be released.
"Pumi!" Berani and Brek rushed to their furry friend and embraced him, only to be licked by his gigantic tongue. Without delay, the two travelers mounted the animal and took off, Brek steering and Berani behind him trying to decipher Kani's directions.
"Okay now turn left, no wait right! Sorry. Actually, it was left. Or maybe we should've gone left a while ago and we'd be there… or straight. Ummm past the noodle place…. Do you see a noodle place? Hey, look at that funny monkey! Those guys looked like Kaeta and Zola for a moment. Oh yeah, left I think. Maybe we should ask for-"
"We're here!" Brek had managed to find their way to the gym despite Berani's uselessness.
Berani's face was red out of embarrassment, but she was happy to arrive nonetheless. "I've never seen a stranger looking building, but at least we found it."
"Yeah, no thanks to you."
"I DIDN'T SEE YOU TRYING TO READ THE MAP!"
Before Brek could respond to Berani's outburst, a third voice joined the conversation. "Why all the yelling? You two look like you just lost a million yuans."
The couple stared curiously at the young man who had walked up behind him. Brek cleared his throat "Councilman Keric?"
"Just got back from a vote, actually. Now there's a law to keep people like you from asking dumb questions like that."
The Avatar forced a fake chuckle in response to Keric's dry sense of humor. "Your Honor, I know how busy you must be as a Councilman and manager of this gym-"
"And full-time inspector of apartments belonging to females."
"Right… I traveled a long way to see if I could learn Waterbending from you, sir."
"I don't just offer private lessons to any kid who comes to my doorstep, buddy."
Brek lowered his head in disappointment.
"But, I can probably make an exception for the Avatar."
"How did you know?" Both Brek and Berani were shocked.
"Let's see. You're wearing Earth Kingdom apparel yet you wish to learn Waterbending, the Avatar is known to travel on an armadillo lion, and his girlfriend is said to carry a katana around. Nice blade, by the way."
Berani grinned. "Why thank you!" She didn't realize that her blade was sheathed and that Keric was once again being sarcastic.
"So you'll teach me?"
"Why not? Nice voice crack, though. That's a really intimidating feature for an Avatar to have." Keric slyly made his way up marble stairs to the door of his gym and opened the door, signaling for the other two to follow him. They had the same thought, He's a jerk, but he's also the best.
"I'm sure you've heard about the recent tragedies in this town," Keric started in the building's lobby. "With the Administrator's assassination, trouble with one of the bending triads downtown, and two mysterious people in cloaks tearing up the city, the Council is in its knees with work. That means I won't be able to spend all my time with you."
"I understand sir."
"Good. Whenever I'm not around you can train with some of the more advanced members. In fact there's this new guy about your age… What's his name? Kepa? Katta? Keada? K-"
"Oh hi Councilman!" To Berani and Brek's utter astonishment, Kaeta was there in the same room.
"Kaeta!" The Waterbender turned and noticed his two friends before leaping at them with a hug.
"You guys made it! You're okay!"
"We sure are," explained Brek. "What happened to you?"
"Zola and I went to the Southern Water Tribe where I met my grandfather for the first time, and now we're here! Oh! We met a few cannibals on the way."
Berani was too excited to care about his odd story. "Well we went back to Kekuatan. Our village is completely destroyed, and soldiers had the entire thing under heavy watch."
"Is everyone okay?"
"More than okay. We led a revolution, and the military was expunged. We also know that King Flek is in with the Isha."
"Speaking of the Isha… they're here too?"
"What?" Brek couldn't believe his ears. "How is that possible?"
"I know Onjing is. I assume the rest are too."
"Where is he?"
"He's been pretty quiet since he killed some administrator last week. Zola and I found a way to have the police search everywhere in the vicinity of Republic City for him."
"Then it looks like they've done a good job so far," noted Berani. "Brek, the police can handle it for now. They're one of the most elite forces in the world. What you need to do is focus on Waterbending."
Kaeta smiled. "If you want to learn Waterbendig, you came to the right place." He led his friends across a bridge over the pond inside the lobby. At ten feet interims were ornate tile platforms and on each stood someone peacefully practicing basic water manipulation. A mother and her young daughter playfully passed a blob of water back and forth, and an older man entrapped a fish inside a bubble before evaporating the water and letting it fall back into the pond. The trio then passed a rooms marked "Healing Room" with giggling women inside, "Weight Room" with grunting men inside and "Steam Room" with someone screaming in pain inside. Kaeta shook his head. "Burnt himself with the steam again, did he?"
The tour continued to a massive room with three pools. In the center of the first pool was a sizable platform.
"That there is where we practice close-range combat," began Kaeta, "Benders can use the water surrounding the platform or the water located under a metal grate that goes across the circle's diameter. Pretty good practice for pro-benders."
The second pool had a series of metal walkways that gave it the appearance of a labyrinth from a bird's-eye-view.
"That one is used for pretty much the same thing but without a platform."
The third pool was the one Brek found to be the most interesting. It had a series of platforms at different heights and the depth varied. At certain spots were holes that spout jets of water at random, and large, full buckets hang over it ready to spill onto the trainers below.
"You wanna see more?"
Brek was awestruck. "Show… me… everything."
"Hold it just a second, Avatar." Keric had entered the room silently and was wearing clothes much different to what he was wearing earlier. It looked like a padded uniform, and he held a helmet in his left hand. "If I'm going to train you, you better be good at the three elements you already know." Brek agreed, and Keric led to the outer part of his impressive establishment. The courtyard had all kinds of hoops, ropes, training dummies, and a metal circle that caught Brek's attention. "Get on," Keric ordered.
Avatar Brek complied as Keric signaled to Kaeta, who pressed a button on a nearby wall. The ground shook, and the circle began to elevate.
"You know Avatar, I used to be quite the Pro-bender when I wasn't much older than you."
"That would explain the uniform."
"This small arena," continued Keric without acknowledging Brek's comment, "resembles a tie-breaker scenario. Of course, in a real match, we'd be bending the same elements, but this time, I'll let you stay with Earth and Fire."
Keric smiled devilishly. "You're gonna need 'em."
Like a bullet, Keric shot a lightning-fast water whip at Brek's left shoulder. As the Avatar felt the sting, another stream hit his right ankle, and as flipped over as he tripped awkwardly, he was blasted in the back and tossed off the raised arena. He stumbled on the ground below, but resolved to keep fighting. While there was a ladder available, Brek launched himself back onto the platform with an Earth column, where a rock disc soon popped into the air in front of him. With a grunt, he fired it straight for Keric's chest at the other end of the circle.
"Please." The councilman scoffed as he simply sidestepped to avoid the blow. Then he ducked, dodging another one. Soon after he need only spread his legs to escape the third attack. The discs paused. "Your stance is too sold! Typical Earthbender… Have the other masters taught you nothing?"
Brek took this taunt as a challenge and began dancing around his side of the circle, sending blasts of fire in sets of three. Keric didn't break a sweat as he cheerfully got out of each blasts' way. "Nope. Not a chance. Not even close. Nuh-uh. No! So close! I think I felt heat that time!" Seeing Brek's anger, he said another thing, pretending to mutter to himself. "So aggressive, and his attacks are coming right for me in a straight line! No creativity with his attacks! I wonder how he does on defense." The Waterbending master commenced with a series of blows, and Brek was ready. He learned from Ayala to be ready to change directions when meeting resistance. When a jet of water came his way, he adjusted his pattern of motion.
"Very good. At least your Airbending teacher got it right." Keric decided to end the match by tossing Brek up in a vertical line with a water pump, running to his die, and kicking him off the stage. "You've got the form of the other three elements down, Avatar. Now all you need is the third." After he joined Brek on the ground, he elaborated. "You know how stay firm, you can blast fire at me all day, and you can avoid my attacks by flipping through the air. What you need to learn is how to dodge a blow by intercepting it and hurling it back at your opponent. This concept of using one's force against them is the key to Waterbending. Water is the element of change, and you must change the path of a single stream of water."
"Looks like I'm in for another series of elemental lessons."
"You are, but my next offer should sound more appealing."
"You have some moves, Avatar. How would you like to sign up for the pro-bending tournament coming up. I'd join myself but I'm a politician now and-"
"I'll do it! Me, Kaeta, and Zola."
"Huh?" Kaeta approached the other two. "Did I hear my name?"
"We're gonna be pro-benders."
The Lower Ring of Ba Sing Se is in ruins. Buildings are crumbled, fires ravage several parts of the area, and the streets smell of corpses. One of the poorest communities in the Earth Kingdom has seen one of its bloodiest days since the War of Chin the Conqueror. To the utter vexation of its citizens, the massacre had been brought about by the city's own military, under the iron fist of the notorious Earth King Flek. The brutal ruler had threatened to bring down his hammer of cruelty upon his own people, but had not displayed such barbarity until the early morning, when he ordered his troops to crack down on innocent people. His major influence was his overwhelming paranoia and fear that one day the people of the Lower Ring would rise up in an attempt to dismantle the monarchy and replace it with a Democratic Republic. This time, his suspicious were correct, as the majority of the people planned to revolt two days later, but would never have the chance. Today, will be remembered in infamy as the day the King put a major setback, and possibly a stop, to any hopes of a Democratic Revolution. Because of this, and because of the deaths of my wife and children, I have decided to rid myself of this terrible world. With my knife, I free myself from this reign of terror. Goodbye mortal world.
The previous passage was found by an Earth Kingdom officer shortly after he ordered the execution of several men, women, and children. The commander was known for his complete lack of emotion, but this testament to the horrors of what his army had done affected him in such a way that he had to excuse himself to weep in private. When he was ready, he marched to the Earth King's palace.
"Your Highness, the Lower Ring has been liquidated as a class, per your orders."
"Good. You've done well Lee."
"Sir, the spirit of revolution can never be quashed. The hope of the people is too strong."
"Nonsense. Our forces are stronger."
Lee shook his ahead. "To be frank, that is a major miscalculation."
"I don't like your tone. Remember who your talking to."
The officer's voice became much more solemn. "I am very aware of who you are, and so are the people. In no time at all, the people of this Kingdom will drag you through the streets and establish a new era on this continent."
Flek became irritated and stood up from his throne. "These are words of treason! Guards, take this disgrace away to be killed. I want a boulder crushing his bones in the next hour!"
Two Bao Hu Zhe agents bore straight faces as the followed the king orders and placed Lee's hands in metal restrainers.
"You can silence me, but you'll never silence the revolution! Down with tyranny! Down with Earth King Flek!"
After those words, the man was knocked unconscious.
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