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Book 1: Earth
|"In your soul are all your past lives, including Kuruk, and their knowledge"|
|— The forest spirit Manava to Kyoshi|
The dawn sunlight was dappled onto the grass by dense trees and whimsy clouds. The sounds of the woods – buzzes and chirrups – seemed to dance with the breeze through the branches and thickets. It was a perfect Spring morning. Kyoshi had eaten her portion of the loaf and had finally found a groove on Jin Jin's back that was comfy enough to ride on. Momzen was whistling as he lead the shirshu through the woods and Bako seemed to sit completely still. He was a strange boy, Kyoshi thought, undeniably handsome but strange. Momzen was nowhere near as reserved as Bako, and for that Kyoshi found him to be great company. Tori's claws tightened on Kyoshi's lap as Jin Jin climbed over a fallen log.
"What could've happened here?" Bako muttered, finally looking up.
"What do you mean? It's a fallen log," Momzen grunted, straining to touch the log with the tip of his shoe and almost falling off.
"I mean who could've done it?"
"It was probably just a storm," Kyoshi laughingly replied. "You're always so suspicious." Bako sat up straight upon hearing this.
"Suspicious? Is it not alright to be a bit suspicious if you've just escaped from the Earth State's most secure prison as a fugitive?" he argued, anger and frustration reeling in the depths of his voice. There was a pause, filled only by the woodland noise and Jin Jin's constant snuffling.
"That'd call for a celebration," Momzen chuckled raucously. Kyoshi began to laugh with him and, soon enough, Bako joined in too.
They continued through the woods, heading south to the East Lake, and avoided as many paths as possible. Before crossing any path, the kids would check for travellers or Dai Li agents and then scurry across into the vegetation that sheltered them so well from the harmful eye. After a day of travelling the sun was beginning to lose its noon intensity and the kids set up their campsite – a fireplace and two cloth sleeping bags, when preparing for Lake Laogai Bako did not pack for Momzen. They then went and scouted the surroundings for any hidden buildings or trails and, in the middle of shady bower a few metres from the site, Momzen discovered a shrine.
"Hey, come look at this," Momzen said as he jogged to the small structure. The shrine was of a small ape-like figure dressed in leaves and roots. The grey stone was overgrown with moss and below the main bust was an inscription that read: 'Manava of Sing Se Woods. Protector and mother of the trees.' Bako knelt down and took a portion from his bread loaf and placed it on the mantle of the shrine.
"Manava, please accept this offering," he whispered softly. It was the first time Kyoshi had heard Bako speak with such sincerity. "In return, we ask of you protection from any harm that may come from your woods." Momzen knelt down too, and offered part of his loaf.
"Thank you for listening to our prayers," Momzen said before the two boys left solemnly. Kyoshi could not believe what she was seeing. She had no idea that these two were so spiritual. She looked back at the shrine and portions of food that were left to rot. What a waste, a waste of food and time. Momzen and Bako stopped and Bako turned around to speak but was shocked to discover that Kyoshi was on the ground, eating the offerings made to Manava.
"Kyoshi! What are you doing?" he screamed, taking the other portion out of her hand and returning it to the shrine.
"It's going to waste! The bull ants will get it!" Kyoshi said through her mouthful.
"Manava will get it!" Momzen replied.
"Oh, please. You guys believe in all that?" Kyoshi smiled, hoping the boys would come clean and say it was all a practical joke.
"Of course!" Bako hissed. "You of all people should know not to take an offering from a spirit." Kyoshi stopped.
"What? What do you mean?" she asked, getting up off the damp ground.
"You're the Avatar. You know, the most spiritual person in the world?" Bako explained.
"The Avatar is the bridge between the Spirit World and our world," Momzen said as if it were common knowledge. Kyoshi was dumbstruck. She never knew the Avatar was so spiritual. Something, some small punch from inside, was telling her she was not good enough. But she ignored the punch and turned back to the shrine; its ancient, mossy surface not looking the slightest bit enticing. It seemed so futile to bother praying and offering, she had never received any proof of there being any spirits and now, now she was told she was practically a spirit herself.
"Really?" was all she could say. "All that 'Spirit World' and 'gods' stuff is true?"
"Yes," Bako smiled.
"Have you guys had any proof of this?" she asked, still sceptical of the whole thing.
"Well – no," Bako said as he looked down at the ground, embarrassed. "But it's true."
"And, you, Momzen? You've seen a spirit before?" Momzen's eyes widened and he turned to look if there was anyone behind him.
"Oh. Me? Well, there was this one time back at my village and – no," he replied, trying to make a joke to cover his humiliation.
"Well then I guess we'll never know," Kyoshi said, smiling with victory.
"It is true! All our lives we've been told about the spirits and how the Avatar can talk to them!" Bako argued. "I know we can't prove it, but you can. Just try talking to Manava." There was a pause as Bako stared at Kyoshi, his green eyes begging for her to try.
"Fine," she spat finally. "But it's not going to work."
"Sceptic," Momzen muttered under his breath as Kyoshi sat herself in front of the shrine.
"So. I just – what do I do?" she said, feeling ridiculous for doing this.
"Like you're meditating," Bako told her, putting her hands into a special form. Kyoshi closed her eyes and began 'meditating.' She had no clue what she was doing, and sighed loudly at the triviality of it all. She could here the buzzing and tweeting, the whistling wind and the swaying leaves and creaking wood – it was all too loud.
"Just, try and focus," Momzen suggested. Focus on what? Kyoshi sighed again and sat up straight. Again the noise filled her head and she could picture exactly what was in front of her. Then she pictured Bako and Momzen. They were accepting the fact that they were wrong and they were apologising to Kyoshi for their stubbornness. Kyoshi smiled at what she was imagining.
"Is it working?" Momzen whispered to Bako.
"I think so," Bako replied. "That'd pretty good of her to pick it up this fast." In hearing that, Kyoshi took a defiant breath in and concentrated once more – she did not want to look foolish in front of her friends. She tried to focus, and waited for something to happen. Some sort of fuzzy feeling or bright colour but nothing happened. Irritated, she took another breath and focused once more. Again, nothing happened. It was a complete waste of her time. Kyoshi grew furious at the pointlessness of sitting in the dirt and got up.
"Nothing's happening!" she screamed, making for the campsite.
"You've just got to be patient," Bako reassured her, following at a safe distance from behind.
"I was patient!" Kyoshi replied heatedly. "It's no use!" They got back to the campsite, where a startled Jin Jin was staring intently at the group.
"It's just a complete waste of time! I can't do it!" she screamed into Bako's face.
"You've got to give it some time!" Bako replied just as angrily. "Why are you always so quick to make up your mind?"
"Um, can you guys keep it down, we're – we're sort to fugitives remember," Momzen squeaked through his lip, his thick brown eyebrows raised. Kyoshi kicked her sleeping bag and sat down to face away from the boys.
The sun finally, after a seemingly endless afternoon of complete quiet, settled under the horizon and nightfall arrived. The night was warm and through dinner not a word was said. They cleaned their bowls in silence and went to bed in silence. Kyoshi felt bad for how she behaved, how she lost her temper with them. It was not their fault she couldn't talk to the spirit, it was hers. That punch returned to her that night, stabbing at her brain endlessly. It reminded her of how useless she was. She was the Avatar, yet she could not earthbend, and could not meditate. That night, before her heavy eyelids closed over, Kyoshi prayed to something – a spirit or Manava. She asked them to show themselves, to let her know she could do it. She hated not being able to do something right. Soon enough she fell to sleep, disappointment and bitterness compiling in the side of her gut, as the moon's glow slowly faded out of sight.
Kyoshi's eyes were heavy and her head a bit dazed. It was early morning and small slithers of orange were painted across the dark sky. At the opposite side of the campsite was, as Kyoshi could make out, a large pile of bushes that was not previously there. Was it the Dai Li? Had they been found? Immediately she got up and started at the thing, seeing it more clearly. It was a large body covered in leaves with furry paws. Its face was made of wood and resembled an ape's. Kyoshi gasped from awe. It was Manava. The spirit, and thus all spirits, was existent. They were real. Kyoshi could not believe it. It was like her prayers were answered. She got up and tiptoed to the stirring beast, making sure not to step on any twigs or leaves to scare it away.
"Manava?" she said meekly, staring intently into the wooden eyes. Manava nodded and went to step up. Her leafy dress was caught in the log she was sitting on and it tore off, revealing Momzen's legs and torso.
"I was just...going to go for a swim," Manava said nervously, sounding a lot like the firebender.
"Momzen!" Kyoshi shouted.
"I'm sorry!" Momzen replied, taking off his wooden mask. "I just thought if I dressed up as Manava, you'd, you know, feel better."
"So you think I can't do it?" she said, waking Bako and the animals with her booming voice.
"Well, no, I just – I was just trying to help," Momzen squeaked, looking down at his feet.
"I can't believe this," Kyoshi muttered to herself. She moved over the log and away from the campsite.
"I just want to be alone," Kyoshi interrupted Momzen. She walked through the vegetation, the morning sunlight shining down on the world as if to come and laugh at her. Kyoshi felt terrible. For a moment she believed she was doing something right, for a moment she believed in the spirits. But now she was angry and upset and felt inadequate. Once she arrived at the shrine of Manava, she knelt down onto the dewy ground and began to weep. She hated crying, it showed to people that she was week. But since she was alone, she let the warm tears roll down her face as she questioned her capabilities as the Avatar. As much as she was urging to do well as the 'bridge', pangs of homesickness had been digging through her the entire time. She missed Hiaga and Nit. And she wished the Earth State were aiming towards peacekeeping rather than conquering. She wished everything had stayed perfect and amazing, rather than scary and utterly hopeless. She wanted to build a bridge, to be able to deal with all the pressures and stresses – the situation was way out of her league. War and balance and spirits and bending. It was all too much for her.
Kyoshi wiped the tears from her face, the evidence of her discomfort and doubt, and took a deep breath. She was in too deep to wade back, and to stop swimming. Things don't always go to plan she told herself. One has to adapt to change. She knew as the Avatar, she had to adapt to change, to grow from it. She recounted what had happened – Gao Lin, Nero, earthbending, Lake Laogai – and what had to happen – earthbending, the other three elements, stopping the State War and spirituality. In her head Kyoshi made a list of things to do and she told herself to follow this list no matter what. She knew she would stray from it at times, but right now, in her abyss of misery, Kyoshi knew that the only way to look at her situation was rationally. She could not afford to wallow in pity, she had to think forward and persevere. She could never give up. Not even if she was trapped in a prison, or missing her home, or failing to connect with the spirits. With that in mind she moved herself into a seating position, her legs crossed and relaxed.
She decided to try again, have another go at meditation – for she knew that it was her duty. She closed her eyes and focused on not focusing. Realising this was not the proper way to lose focus; she took a breath and exhaled slowly – stopping herself from looking into it further. Her arms became heavy and the rise and fall of her chest was soothing to her aching eyes and head. A soft tingle wafted over her body like a gentle zephyr and she opened her eyes. From afar, in between the leaves and trees Kyoshi could see something. A face of sorts, a mask. It was looking at her, studying her through the rays of building sunlight.
"Who are you?" Kyoshi spoke defiantly as she got up. The same tingling rushed over her body and she realised she was no longer in her body. At her feet was the meditating girl with tear stains on her cheeks. Her emerald eyes lit up with awe and happiness and a gleaming smile stretched out across her face. Her contentment was almost painful to her. Kyoshi looked at her hand with wonderment, which was almost transparent. From the bushes emerged the figure that was staring at her. It was dressed in large, green leaves that acted like a dress and carried its bulky, silverback body on four massive paws. Though its face was made of wood – its nose and mouth chiselled smoothly – its eyes were of a deep brown and seemed to possess a great amount of wisdom. Kyoshi stood absolutely still at the sight of it. Even though she was buzzing with gladness and stupefaction inside, the unwieldy spirit intimidated her.
"Avatar Kyoshi," Manava began as she circled the girl, sniffing her with her large wooden nose. Kyoshi could feel the warm air billow over her skin.
"Manava," Kyoshi whispered to herself with widened eyes.
"Yes. I am," Manava said, sitting down on the ground. Her voice was soothing and deep, like a compassionate mother. "Congratulations on your meditation, I thought you'd give up."
"No, Manava. Never," Kyoshi replied instantly so as to not displease the spirit. Manava looked at her cheekily.
"Well. I was. But I realised that I had to keep trying," Kyoshi continued, saying her epiphany out loud made her feel better too. "I was considering going home, back to Gao Lin, but...that wouldn't be fair to the world. Or to my friends."
"Or to yourself," Manava said. "I know these days seem rough but this is just a hump." The ape-like spirit possessed ethereal knowledge. Her poetic words were comforting to Kyoshi.
"Like the caterpillar going over the root of a tree. Eventually it shall be crossed. All it takes is perseverance." Kyoshi smiled at the motherly spirit. She relished the fact that she was meeting with Manava, and the fact that there was actually a Spirit World. It proved she was the Avatar.
"Manava, it's so hard being the Avatar though, especially in the Earth State. I need some advice on what to do or where to go."
"That knowledge I do not know, so cannot give. Only Kuruk knows those answers," Manava replied.
"Kuruk? The past Avatar?" Kyoshi asked. She remembered Hiaga telling her about that man – his 'go with the flow' attitude.
"Kuruk is dead, Manava. There is no way to talk to him," Kyoshi told the spirit.
"The Avatar is a reincarnation. In your soul are all your past lives, including Kuruk, and their knowledge. If you look deep enough inside yourself, you will find the answers you seek," Manava explained as she began to bumble back to her shrine.
"Wait. I only just managed to get to you. How will I ever get to Kuruk," Kyoshi asked, holding out an arm pleading for her to stay.
"Meditation is focusing on nothing. Once all sound goes, you will know," Manava told her, before fading away into the sunlit shrubbery. Kyoshi was left confused and amazed. Part of herself applauded her efforts and was giddy with satisfaction, while another part knew that contacting Kuruk would be a bigger task than contacting Manava, and she dreaded not being able to do it. She sat down into the meditative position again and closed her eyes. She could hear the whistles of birds and the wind. The leaves crashed like thunder and branches swayed loudly. As hard as she tried, Kyoshi could not get the noise to stop. She tried to listen to one noise at a time, to individually cease one at a time. Her head began to spin with all the sounds of the woods and soon each sound was drowned out by an indistinguishable buzz. Kyoshi flinched from its piercing sounds and soon, the ringing and buzzing faded away and Kyoshi could hear nothing, not even her own breathing. She even said 'Wow' to herself but that, too, possessed no sound in her mind. It was like her brain was incapable of processing sound, like the world and her mind had both been muted, and it was pure bliss. Pure, soundless, relaxing bliss.
Meanwhile Momzen and Bako sat at the campsite feeling guilty about how they treated Kyoshi.
"Do you think she's still angry?" Momzen asked as he stuffed the last roll of fur into his bag.
"I'm not sure," Bako replied flatly. "She's got a temper." Momzen felt bad for what he had done. He had good intentions, but he realised they way he carried it didn't carry his intentions the best as it could. A rustling came from a nearby bush and Momzen got up.
"Kyoshi?" he said hopefully to the bush, stepping forward.
"Stop," Bako instructed him. His expression was solemn and concentrated and he was fixed on his spot on the ground. Momzen knew from Bako's posture that something was wrong. Suddenly a chain flew from out the bushes and around Jin Jin's legs, causing her to scream and fall to the floor. The girl and boy Nero had hired appeared from the branches onto the floor and the girl, whose face was covered in an unnerving smile and intense blue eyes, kicked and spear of flame at the ground.
"Where's Kyoshi?" she said with a powerful voice, as Momzen twisted his hand and jumped backwards – breaking the fiery attack.
"Who are you?" Bako demanded as he kicked away a mass of water that the boy produced.
"My name is Astrid and this is my counterpart Mitinari," the girl replied as she jumped up onto a branch. She took the fallen strands of hair in front of her eyes and ran them back to pin them down. Bako kicked Mitinari -the fat, silent boy – away and Momzen produced a flame on his hand.
"What do you want?" he asked, punching forward and allowing the flame to project towards her. Astrid jumped up and landed on the flame as it fizzled into nothing and she laughed.
"Nero sent me. He wants his Avatar back," she explained. She jumped back down and, for Bako and Momzen, the next few moments seemed to go by instantly. It could have been the fear or the heart rate, or both. Astrid charged towards Momzen, firing a barrage of flames his direction, and he had to protect himself by punching them away, forced backwards by each blow. Bako took his swords out and lashed at the boy, who held Bako's arms in a swirling cylinder of water and threw him backwards onto the ground. Momzen tensed his left leg, and leant back on it, kicking a flare with his right. Astrid flipped sideways with great poise and took hold of his fire and blasted it back at him with a menacing grunt. Bako tripped Mitinari down and ran to Jin Jin, but Mitinari grabbed his leg with a tentacle-like movement of water and froze it so he could not move.
"Momzen, find Kyoshi!" Bako screamed, fright and nervousness scratching at his throat. He did not want it to be over so soon. He was only just beginning to think the world was going to change. Momzen began to the bushes, moving his legs as fast as he could. He too, was starting to feel hopeful about the consequences of the State War. He was thinking that he could avenge his parents' but now, it seemed too good to be true. He took a look over his shoulder to see the scary girl chasing after him. She was beautiful – jet black hair, striking blue eyes and perfect red lips. It was a shame she was hunting him down. He closed his eyes, held his breath, and tried running faster. He screamed out to try and get Kyoshi – wherever she was – to hear that they were in dire neep of help.
Kyoshi loved the soundlessness. She opened her eyes and could see she was still in the woods, however, a fog had appeared. From it Kuruk came – wearing a blue cloak lined with white fur. His pants were of the same colour and his leather shoes seemed immensely worn. On his head was his helmet; a wolf's head and parts of his hair were braided. His shaggy hair, tired eyes and unruly stubble provoked a feeling of adventure in Kyoshi, and she felt instantly attached to him.
"Kuruk?" Kyoshi said, her cheeks turning rosy from his handsomeness.
"Avatar Kyoshi. It is a pleasure to finally meet you," he smiled at the shy girl.
"I was wondering if you could-
"Teach you how to be the Avatar?" Kuruk intercepted. "I'm afraid it's not that easy. Becoming the Avatar is part past knowledge and part self discovery."
"I know. But. I'm in a bad situation right now, I don't have much time for self discovery," Kyoshi replied a bit defensively. "I don't even have an earthbending teacher."
"I know. And I'm sorry for leaving you with such a colossal situation. I should have been more defiant in my orders," Kuruk told her, his dirt-coloured eyes showing flashes of regret and guilt. "If I have learnt anything it is that as the Avatar you have to make bold decisions. Sometimes the greatest things you do will be the ones you have the most apprehension doing." Kyoshi listened intently to his advice.
"I can show you your earthbending teacher," he said before producing a body from the mist. Kyoshi's eyes widened as she studied the man's back. His grey hair was thinning and he wore a green vest over a white shirt. Kyoshi went around to study his face, but as much as followed over the figure's shoulder, only the back of the man could be seen.
"I'm sorry, Kyoshi," Kuruk continued. "I can't show you too much – it is part self discovery." Kyoshi understood the man's words, and took it as truth and nodded. The figure dispersed back into the fog and Kuruk's eyebrows turned, curves of worry and unease shaping his face.
"Is something wrong?" Kyoshi asked.
"It's your friends," Kuruk replied sternly. "They're in danger."
"Danger?" Kyoshi was taken back. "What type of danger?"
"Bounty hunters. Probably hired by Nero." Kyoshi made for her camp and could see her friends tied up by Astrid and Mitinari. She could see Jin Jin screaming at the villainous pair but she could not hear the shirshu's cries, nor could she do anything to stop them. She tried pushing aside the contained girl but fell through her as if she was not solid.
"We have to help them! I have to get back!" Kyoshi told Kuruk as tried again to knock down the girl.
"They're strong Kyoshi. They were outnumbered but they managed to succeed. What could you do on your own?" he said.
"I don't know, but I have to do something! They've risked everything for me!" Kyoshi said as she rammed her fist on the man's chest. Kuruk took her hands and cradled them in his leathery fingers.
"It's good to see you've got your values straight. If I can give any advice it is to not take those who love you for granted," he smiled as Kyoshi held back a frightened and agitated tear. "I can help. But only momentarily." Kyoshi looked up at Kuruk – though it was the first time she met him, she felt a connection to him as if he were a long lost friend or a second father, a mentor.
"Nero ordered me to bring the Avatar back alive," Astrid smirked at Bako with extreme proximity to his face. Her smile was sickening and her eyes twinkled with ferocity.
"But he said nothing about you what to do with you two." Mitinari huffed a laugh and it was airy and meek.
"How could you?" Momzen shouted. "How could you betray your state?" Astrid turned and scowled at him.
"I have not betrayed my state!" she hissed, her pointed nose almost touching his. "My state is the Earth State. And I shall never betray them! I'll ask this once more or you can watch me skin your beast, where is the Avatar?" Bako craned his neck and managed to see Momzen; who was now suddenly fearful for his friend's life.
"No!" Momzen said with a gasp. "I'll tell you." He lowered his head in defeat and Bako had to look away from the weak-minded boy. Astrid turned from Jin Jin and a glisten in her blue eyes displayed victory and some twisted form of happiness. Momzen looked up at her and opened his mouth – he hated himself for doing so.
"I'm right here," Kyoshi said, appearing at the path. Mitinari's beady eyes flitted and Astrid took a stance.
"I don't think you stand a chance," Astrid said as Mitinari bended some water from a satchel.
"I don't think you know who exactly you're up against," Kyoshi said confidently, joyously anticipating the soon-to-be triumph.
"Avatar Kyoshi. Known to the Earth State as 'the Avatar that cannot bend.' I like our odds," Astrid teased. Kyoshi did not like those words, it reiterated her uselessness to her, but she kept her confidence and stood tall.
"What about Avatar Kuruk?" she smiled as a ghostly figure of Kuruk flew over her, a cloudy wind spreading through the vegetation in his wake. Astrid was immobile with astonishment as Kuruk moved two columns of water and instantly froze it over the bounty hunters. Kyoshi sliced the ropes that bound her friends with her golden boots and hugged them with great force.
"I knew you could do it," Bako whispered into her ear. She blushed as Jin Jin nuzzled her to get on.
"Come on guys, we got to go!" Momzen said on top of Jin Jin with Tori on his shoulder squawking bravely. They hoped on and began to the path.
"Thank you!" Kyoshi shouted to the fading Kuruk as they distanced themselves from the campsite.
"If you ever need me, just look inside yourself," he replied before fading away. Kyoshi smiled – she was immensely grateful that Kuruk put his spirit into the mortal world, a dangerous thing for a spirit to do. She was also proud of her achievement. She laughed at herself – it was funny how yesterday not one bone in her body believed in the existence of spirits, but the next day she had contacted a spirit and the past Avatar. She held tight onto Momzen's taught stomach, embracing the friend and wanting never to let go. Though she knew life was going to hard as the Avatar, with friends like Momzen, Bako, Tori, Jin Jin and now Kuruk, Kyoshi knew the challenges that lay ahead would be made that little bit easier.
For the collective works of the author, go here.