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|Stirrings, Part 1: Pranks and Privileges|
Stirrings, Part 2
This is the second chapter of. It takes place a year after " ".
Monk Gian is punished for Tao's misdemeanor; Pika learns something extraordinary.
Pranks - Northern Air Temple
"Monk Gian, why do you have to go to the Council so early?" "This is an important meeting, Tao." "But it's early." Gian glanced out the window, and, noting that the sun had barely peaked the horizon, turned back to Tao. "I'll tell Sister Cai that you're still here," Gian told the sleepy Airbender. "She'll look after you if you want to sleep." Tao narrowed his eyes groggily, then he nodded and flopped back into his cot; he started snoring almost as soon as his head hit the pillow. Monk Gian smiled slightly as he left the small cottage and made his way to the next home. He knocked gently on the door, which was opened a moment later by a sleepy-looking girl with untidy hair. "Good morning, Monk Gian," she said politely, stifling a yawn. "Do you want me to get Sister Cai?" "Yes please, Luyang," Gian replied. Before the girl could retreat back inside to search for her guardian, he added, "I hope I didn't wake you." "Huh?" Luyang said, her red-rimmed eyes wide. "No, of course not." "You're not a good liar, Luyang," Gian said guiltily. The girl shrugged and looked over her shoulder and yelled, "Sister Cai! Monk Gian is here to see you!" Footsteps sounded from within the small house, and Luyang backed up away from the door to allow a tall, middle-aged nun to take her place. She, much like her ward, appeared disheveled and tired, but she smiled when she saw Gian. "Oh, hello, Gian," said Sister Cai cheerfully. "Don't you have a Council meeting?" "Yes, I do," said Gian, "but Tao is still asleep and I don't want him left unsupervised. Do you think you could look after him?" "Of course," replied Cai graciously. "Now go; you don't want to be late to your meeting." "You're right," said Gian. He turned away and started to make his way to the main courtyard of the Northern Air Temple, but at the last minute, he glanced back and waved at Cai, who was already making her way to watch over Tao. As Gian walked towards the Council's meeting chamber, he couldn't help but feel slightly relieved that Tao would have someone looking out for him. He was still young (only ten), but he frequently found ways to get himself into trouble, especially with children older and bigger than himself. In fact, he had once squabbled with Luyang, who was four years elder than he, over a moon peach.
The sun rose steadily as Gian approached the chamber. He scanned the nearby courtyard and saw a few early risers, most of whom appeared quite tired. A young woman rubbed her tattooed forehead as she yawned, and a boy sitting beside her was gazing vacantly into space. Gian smiled, fond of his home, as he entered the Council's meeting area through a small stone archway. "Good morning, all," he announced cheerily as he caught sight of his four fellow monks and nuns. He pushed his worries of Tao from his head. "You're late," the disapproving voice of the Head Monk said. "Please sit. We have much to discuss." "My apologies," said Gian, feeling his face flush with heat as he sat with the others. He always felt uncomfortable among these laureate Airbenders, all older than he and none of whom seemed to approve of him.
Tao walked to the central temple alone; he carried a small, yet heavy, tote, and he had trouble keeping a mischievous grin from his face. Then, he caught sight of his best friend, Yang, approaching him. "Hey, Tao, what's that?" Yang queried when he met Tao in the road. He peered at Tao's backpack. "This, my friend, is the key to one girl's heart," Tao said, his eyebrows raised in an attempt to be smooth. "So what does this 'key' look like?" Yang wondered. Tao gritted his teeth, irritated that Yang was so sharp. He would've much preferred to go about his plan without his friend's questions. He jerked his head in the direction of a short arch, a place that they could talk without being overheard. When they were beneath the overhang, Tao opened his bag to reveal numerous sealed sacks filled to the brim. "So what're those and why are they the key to some girl's heart?" Yang asked. "These are stink bombs of my very own design," Tao replied, unable to keep the pride from his voice. "They're stuffed with pureed onions and bison, uh, leavings." Yang gingerly picked one up and sniffed it, instantly wrinkling his nose in distaste. "How the heck is this going to impress what's-her-face?" "Well, girls like bad boys, right?" Then, without waiting for a response, Tao continued, "I'm going to drop these into the Council of Elders' meeting chamber; I'll be in trouble, sure, but I'll become notorious and everyone will want to know me!" "That's a stretch, Tao," Yang said skeptically. "Won't Monk Gian be angry with you? After all, he'll be one of the victims." "Yeah, he will, but that's a sacrifice I need to make," Tao stated confidently. His cunning smile returned, but this time it seemed even more out of place on his youthful face. He sealed his bag and resumed his walk, this time with Yang beside him. "So who is this girl, anyway?" Yang inquired. Tao flushed instantly. "It's my neighbor, Luyang," he responded. "That girl you always fight with?" Yang said, surprised. Tao nodded. "We won't be fighting again after today, Yang," he said cheerfully. However, he didn't notice the open cynicism on Yang's face.
"A new homeless shelter was completed in Taku just last month," Sister Mei Li, the Airbending instructor for the youngest Nomads, stated happily. "It was built with supplies bought from the revenue we made from this year's fruit pie sales." "There's even better news," a monk, Yuan, said. "Many Air Nomads were born this year at both this temple and the Eastern temple." "Yes," said the Head Monk thoughtfully. "Our nation seems to be thriving, especially with the births of more and more children." "Why are you worried?" wondered Sister Mei Li, understanding flooding her face. "Is it because there may be too many of us?" "I fear that the two Air Temples are becoming overpopulated," commented the Head Monk. "When our number increases, we have more trouble feeding ourselves, and when we live in limited space with no room to expand, sanitation will be a problem." "That is true," said Monk Gian. "We need to expand," said a gruff, bushy-mustached monk named Cao. "Some of our number can settle somewhere uninhabited," said the Head Monk. "There's no need to encroach on the land of another nation." The other four councilors nodded in agreement, then the Head Monk changed the subject. "It has been nine years since Avatar Wei Long passed away," he said, his voice implicating thought. "So?" wondered Monk Gian. "He was from the Eastern Air Temple; the next Avatar has been born into the Water Tribe." "Yes," said the Head, "but we are still unaware of their identity. Traditionally, by the time the Avatar is five, we hear of them. Perhaps the Water Tribe has failed to identify them precisely?" "Should we loan them the Avatar Relics?" asked Sister Mei Li. "No," said the Head Monk. "By now, the Avatar will be nine years of age, and they will be suspicious if they were asked to choose from the toys, which is ordinarily done while the Avatar is still a toddler. Besides, the Water Tribe has its own method of locating their Avatar." "I suppose you're right," said Mei Li. Then, something plummeted from a high window; it burst once it made impact on the floor, and a terrible stench quickly filled the room.
The monks and nun coughed as pellet after pellet rained down on them. The chamber seemed to be filled with a foul-smelling haze, which was slow to disperse even as the little refuse-filled baggies stopped falling. Gian glanced around, noting that his fellow Council members were covered in bison leavings and something else mushy and white. He imagined that he appeared no different. "What in the Spirit World happened?" Sister Mei Li questioned, apparently in shock. Then: "Tao!" yelled Monk Gian, no doubt that his ward was the perpetrator penetrating his mind. As expected, the young Airbender nimbly climbed down the column, lightly landing on his feet in front of his smelly and dripping guardian and the other four Elders, all of whom appeared livid. Tao carried a large, empty sack, likely formerly filled with his now-exhausted supply of stink bombs. To Gian's utmost disappointment, he didn't look remotely ashamed of himself; in fact, he actually seemed proud. He approached them with his head held obscenely high, obviously with full disregard and contempt to the Council of Elders. "What was the meaning of this, Tao?" queried the Head Monk furiously. "It was only for a bit of fun," said Tao, a false expression of regret on his face. Gian wished he could pummel the youth, but he satisfied himself by clenching his fists. "A bit of fun?" repeated the Head Monk. "Well, if that's your idea of fun, then you can have some more by cleaning up the mess you made." Tao shrugged nonchalantly, as if he didn't care. He said guiltily, "I do deserve your punishment, Head Monk." The expressions of the other three monks and the nun were all of shock and anger at Tao's words. Why, that little manipulating. . . Gian thought angrily. "Now leave our sight," commanded the Head Monk, pointing to the chamber door for emphasis. Tao nodded and turned to leave. Then, the Head Monk glared at Gian. "You should learn to control your ward, Monk Gian." "I didn't know about this!" Gian protested as Mei Li, Yuan, and Cao eyed him furiously as well. "Well, you're responsible for his upbringing," said Monk Cao. "If it's anyone's fault, it's yours." "What?!" exclaimed Monk Gian. Then, he saw sense in his words. "I understand," he stated reluctantly. "I suggest that you be suspended from the Council of Elders for a month," said the Head Monk. "If young Tao's behavior does not improve during that time, your suspension will be extended." "That is fair," Gian assented gloomily. He bowed his head, feeling as ashamed as Tao should've been. "We will not replace you for the upcoming summit," added the Head Monk, "but we four will still attend. Your punishment is effective immediately." "Yes, of course," said Gian, and he too turned to leave, although unlike Tao, he was completely and utterly miserable.
As Tao walked out of the chamber with his empty bag, he grinned. "Now all I have to do is wait for word to spread," he said to himself confidently. "When Luyang asks me about it, I can confirm it, and she'll be swooning in my arms!"
Privileges - North Pole
"There, I ate six more bites of sea prunes, Gran-gran. Can I go play ice-ball with Meeko now?" Pika looked up from her own breakfast of stewed sea prunes to see her granddaughter push her bowl away from herself. She glanced into the bowl, noting that just over half of the original contents had been consumed. She worriedly said to Maya, "Sweetie, you haven't been eating well lately. Are you all right?" Maya, who had just stood to depart, shook her head, although she seemed to avoid eye contact. "I'm fine, Gran-gran," she said. "Are you sure you're not sick?" "No, Gran-gran," Maya replied in exasperation. "You worry too much." She turned towards the door, her pace rapid. Then, understanding dawned on Pika. "I know what today is," she told Maya. "It's the anniversary, isn't it?" Maya spun on her heel, and Pika could see the tears that immediately welled in her eyes. She sprinted back to her grandmother and embraced her, sobs racking her small body. "Oh, sweetie, don't cry," Pika said in what she hoped was a comforting voice. However, her own eyes were no longer dry. She began to cry silently along with her granddaughter. "I can't help it, Gran-gran," Maya gasped between sobs. "I miss them so much!" "I know, Maya, I do too." "Why did they have to die in that flood?" Maya asked, finally looking up at Pika's face. "I don't know," Pika responded. "It was their time, I'm afraid." "Well, it came too soon!" Maya announced, suddenly furious. She let go of Pika and turned once more. "I'm going to play ice-ball with Meeko now." "Maya, you're in no condition to play games," said Pika. "I'll feel better then, Gran-gran," Maya retorted without visually acknowledging her grandmother. She slid open the door and walked out into the cold polar air, leaving Pika feeling at a loss. Three years ago to the day, a flood had struck the Water Tribe. A freak hurricane south of the North Pole had triggered a storm surge, which had swept several of the small outlying tribal villages away. Many drowned and went missing, including both of Maya's parents and her small brother. Since then, Maya would become cold and distant sporadically, forever emotionally inconsistent. Her mood was most stable when she was practicing her Healing or even when she spent time with Meeko, her best friend.
It was several hours since Maya had stormed out when Pika heard a gentle knock on the door. A soft voice followed the rap. "Sifu Pika, are you home?" "Oh, yes, I'm coming," answered Pika as she opened the door to see none other than Kida, the principle Waterbending master of the Water Tribe. "Sorry to trouble you, Sifu Pika"— "Did something happen to Maya?" Pika interrupted. "I told her not to leave. . ." "Oh, no, she's fine," reassured Sifu Kida. "She should still be playing ice-ball with my son." "Oh, that's good," said Pika awkwardly. "Then what is it?" "Chief Luka and I would like to see you immediately," he replied. "What's so urgent?" wondered Pika. Snidely, she added, "I thought women weren't usually involved in government matters." Kida rolled his eyes. "This isn't a tribal issue per se, Sifu Pika," he commented. "You'll find out if you accompany me." "Fine, I'm coming," Pika reluctantly assented. Kida stepped back from the doorway as Pika grabbed her coat. She followed him outside, closing her door behind her.
"Can you really not tell me anything?" Pika asked Kida as they passed over a canal. A man in a canoe waved to them as they walked. Kida acknowledged him with a nod, but to Pika he said, "The chief told me that he would like to tell you himself." Pika sighed. "All right," she complied, and, within moments, they were before the palace at the very center of the tribal city. Chief Luka stood alone in the frozen courtyard in front. "You asked to see me, Chief Luka?" Pika inquired of the Water Tribe chief once she had approached him. "Well, yes," said Luka. He stroked his gray-bearded chin thoughtfully, as if choosing his words. "It's about your granddaughter, I'm afraid." Pika inhaled through her nose slowly, wondering whether she should be worried or angry. "What happened?" she queried anxiously. "Nothing has happened, exactly, Sifu Pika," said the chief. "Enough with the evasive answers!" Pika exclaimed, suddenly frustrated. "Give it to me straight." "All right," said Luka. "We can't keep it from her guardian, so Sifu Kida and I made the decision to tell you." "You're granddaughter is. . ." Kida began, hesitating. "She's the Avatar," finished Luka. Pika stared at the chief, then switched her gaze to the Waterbending master. Both men had complacent frowns on their faces. "Are you sure, Chief Luka?" Pika asked, utterly shocked with this revelation. "Yes, I'm positive," said Luka. "The Spirit Oasis was filled with a white light at the very moment of her birth." "But. . ." Pika didn't know what she should be feeling. Her granddaughter—her Maya—was the Avatar, but what did that mean for either of them? "I can see that you're surprised, Sifu Pika," said Kida. "That's perfectly understandable." "What happens now?" Pika finally said after several moments of silence. "Well, nothing," said Chief Luka. "Life will be as usual for young Maya; she'll be told of her identity on her sixteenth birthday, as tradition dictates. You'll have to continue to feign ignorance, though." "Will she be placed in a Waterbending class?" "Of course not," said Sifu Kida. "She's a girl; she can't learn Waterbending!" "But if she's the Avatar"— "Pika, traditions don't change, no matter the reason," said the chief in a slightly regretful voice. "If she joins a Waterbending class, she'll be out of place. Many of our fellow tribesmen and women will wonder why a little girl is learning to Waterbend, and we certainly can't tell them or Maya that she's the Avatar so soon." "Since you're so fixated on tradition, Chief Luka, shouldn't you know that the Avatar must learn their own native element before mastering the other three?" Pika stated this in a steely voice; she disliked that her granddaughter would be deprived of an essential skill. "She will, of course," said Kida. "It has been decided that she will join the beginner's group on the day after she's told of her status." "With all due respect, Chief Luka and Sifu Kida," said Pika in a tone of forced patience, "but won't she fall behind if she is forced to wait?" "Yes, she will," said Luka. "It's unfortunate, but the Avatar is as bound to tradition as everyone else, especially since she's still unrecognized. Besides, Avatars are particularly skilled at bending, are they not? She'll learn quickly enough." "Chief Luka, please consider that the world will not wait for its Avatar," contradicted Pika. "Should a problem arise that requires the Avatar's attention, it won't wait until she has gone through all the necessary training. Something could happen anytime." "I'm sorry, Pika, but this discussion is over," said Luka mildly. "Your granddaughter may be the Avatar, but she will continue to be treated as any ordinary Water Tribe girl until she too is aware of her position." Pika gritted her teeth, grudgingly acknowledging that the two patriarchs were immovable. "Fine," she said, "but when you two chauvinist pigs realize that the world depends more on the Avatar than this tribe does on its pathetic sexist traditions, I'll be ready to accept whatever excuses you give me." With that, the Healer stomped away without sparing a backwards glance at the dumbstruck gazes of her nation's leader and his right-hand man.
Pika almost instantly regretted her harsh words. At first, though, she had been delirious and drunk with elation at sharing her opinion, but upon further thought, she had recognized her impulsiveness. Had she not been a well-known and respected member of the tribe, she would've been punished for her insolence; even so, Chief Luka and Sifu Kida would not take her furious statement too kindly. For now, however, she had a much more pressing issue with which to deal, but as she walked in the direction of her home, she stopped short, catching sight of a small crowd of young men and women gathered in front of a building, all of them looking up at the roof, where a young woman stood giving an impassioned speech. Pika then recognized Kiki, the newlywed, eighteen-year-old daughter of Sifu Kida, and one of her all-time favorite students. Curious, she stood at the back of the mob to listen. "Fellow Water Tribesmen and women," she was saying, "for so long, we have been told how to live our lives! Our lives, which are no one's but our own! Why should someone else dictate our choices and force us to take one road over the other?" Kiki paused, allowing cheers to break out in the rapt crowd. "Why should we be told whom to marry? Why, if you are gifted with Waterbending, are you commanded to learn to fight, if you are a man, or pushed to learn to Heal, if you are a woman? Why can't you choose which to learn for yourself?" Pika found herself nodding in agreement with Kiki's words. Why couldn't those born with Waterbending choose their own path? "Furthermore, why are we woman stomped on in our society? We are at the whim of our fathers during childhood and at the beck and call of our husbands after marriage. Why can't this change? Why must we continue to be inferior to the opposite sex?" "Yeah!" a random female bystander yelled. "You go, Kiki!" another burst out. "What more, why will Chief Luka not address these social ills of ours?" Kiki continued as if she wasn't interrupted. "Is it because women are below his notice? Well, we can show him that some of our fellow tribesmen are disgruntled as well! So why will he not at least listen to them? Is it because he's our chief, chosen by the divine rights given to his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, and he is not obligated to rule for the sake of his subordinates? In that case, Chief Luka is not fit to be our chief!" Pika half-expected the compliant and cheering audience to fall silent at Kiki's latest cry, but to her utmost surprise, they applauded and whooped even louder. Were they even aware of the implications of Kiki's words? Did they know that Kiki's statements against the chief were blasphemous and could earn her several long years in prison, as well as a lifetime of humiliation for herself and her entire family? Kiki, however, didn't seem to care, as she resumed her speech: "A leader should be susceptible to the whims of their people! He or she should be in a vulnerable position that enables us, their people, to replace them should we believe them insufficient. We should choose our chief, and we should have that chief be a capable leader, one that will listen to us and do whatever it takes to make us happy, because if we're unsatisfied, he will be as well!" Pika backed away from the cheering crowd, worried that a riot might break out. She then proceeded on her walk home, as if nothing had happened, but she couldn't help thinking about the prospects of which Kiki spoke. If a more reasonable figure was the chief, then he would surely allow Maya to learn Waterbending in order to become a fully-fledged Avatar at a quicker pace. Maya, too, would be pleased, as she was eager for those lessons. Pika then promised herself and Maya silently that she would do whatever it took to allow Maya to practice original Waterbending, even if it meant sneaking around behind Chief Luka's back.