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Book 1: Earth
Year – 295 BC, Gao Lin Province.
“Kyoshi! The order for table three is going cold!” Hiaga shouted from his window.
“Sorry, Hiaga! I’ll be right on it!” Kyoshi said as she juggled a teapot, some menus and many teacups in her arms. Noises and smells came from every direction and Kyoshi was finding it difficult to keep up with everyone. Hiaga’s teahouse was the best in the province – the only in the province, really. It hade jade coloured walls and many tables, chairs and booths filled the tiny space. Aromas of jasmine, cloves and cardamon constantly wafted from the kitchen. Kyoshi had known Hiaga almost her entire life and The Smelly Cup was a staple part of her life too.
Gao Lin Province was situated in the dry prairies of the central mainland – just south of the great city of Omashu – and was one of the richest, most flourishing provinces in the Earth State’s outer region. Many educated provincials and government workers were taught at Gao Lin’s school and many great earthbending soldiers came from the province. It was situated in an important trading route too, so the province was never short of money and supplies. Gao Lin was also well known for its bending tournament. Every so often Earth State officials would come to the tournament to scout any strong or talented earth benders. The winner of the tournament would then get a scholarship to Ba Sing Se where they would further their training in earthbending with the armies. Ba Sing Se was a fairly new city, built around 298 BC, and was the capital of the Earth State. It had replaced Omashu and the former capital was now a sister city to Ba Sing Se, located near the western coast – a forefront in the State War.
Kyoshi finally managed to serve everyone, collecting a meagre tip from her impatient customers, and went back inside to clean up. Kyoshi worked at The Smelly Cup every day. Her father, who was off fighting in the State War, left her with Hiaga and she had been raised to serve customers all her life. She never went to Gao Lin School and so never left Gao Lin. For her, the days went by torturously slow.
“Don’t worry, Kyoshi. I’ll get the dishes today. Good job keeping your cool.”
“Thanks Hiaga. It was pretty crazy today,” Kyoshi said as she took off her apron.
“Well we’re getting a large influx of people wanting to watch the tournament, it’s only going to get busier from here on,” Hiaga laughed. The tournament, Kyoshi read from flyers, was on in a week or so and she had seen many earthbenders training extensively in the past week.“Oh. Great.” Kyoshi hung up her apron and went out the back door and onto the fence. Balancing along the top she sprinted down the length of the fence and onto a roof. From here she jumped to the next house and the next with perfect ease, her long green dress not once tripping her up. Kyoshi was a very good athlete. She was strong yet lean and even well respected among the earthbenders. She sat against a roof ornament, a stone lion or a tiger, and looked out upon the prairie. A small breeze gently flapped her dirty dress about. The harsh sunlight stabbed every dry, thorny bush and right at the far end of the horizon she could see a mountain range. She had never been to those mountains but deeply desired to know how they looked like, what or who lived there. Kyoshi was very passionate about exploration. She wanted to explore the caves and forests and swim the seas and climb the cliffs. There was nothing more she wanted than to see the world. Often she felt that joining the army would be a good idea, from what news they got the Earth State seemed to go everywhere and do good deeds to the world. She knew her father was doing good for the Earth State. Many stories came back to the province of how cruel the other State’s were and of their dark reasons for expansion. Kyoshi, however, did not fear the other States and did not hate them but rather was indifferent. She set herself aside from the topic because she knew nothing of the other States. The whole idea of war and expansion to her seemed unusual; she didn’t know how she felt about it all.
Kyoshi jumped off the roof onto the dusty ground and made for the prairie, following the main road to the north.The heat and the light were invigorating. At some point she decided to go off the cleared road and into the dust covered thickets. She pushed her way through the thorny grasses and prickly bushes until the vegetation became sparser and continued to go north towards the mountain range. She had no idea what she was doing, or was going to do, nor any idea why she was doing it. She just was. In Gao Lin province you soon run out of ideas of things to do – especially if you’re not an earthbender. Many days Kyoshi found herself staring out into the distance or watching the earthbenders train, other days she trained herself, perfecting her stances and her fighting style.
Kyoshi, though she’d never admit it, was bored with Gao Lin. She had trained herself to the point where she needed a teacher for further perfection and she desired most of all, to bend. To watch all the earthbenders in the prairie haul large slabs of stone from the ground with a move of an arm made Kyoshi immensely jealous. Even hearing of other bending disciplines like firebending or airbending, immediately she wanted to know more – even if the practise of such disciplines in the Earth State was highly illegal.
“Kyoshi! What are you doing?” came a voice from behind her. She turned around to see Nit travelling along a flat piece of earth. Nit was one of Hiaga’s friends, much younger than Hiaga and much thinner too. He was very scrawny and infamously known in Gao Lin as the weakest earthbender ever. His blue overalls were covered in dirt, probably from falling over.
““I’m just going for a walk,” Kyoshi replied. Although good friends with Nit and with nobody around, she felt embarrassed to be seen with him.
“You’re going a bit far don’t you think? If you stay out until sundown you could come across some Crowhoppers.” Crowhoppers were large grasshopper like animals with scattered patches of black feathers and a large beak. They were vicious and always hungry.
““I can take them,” Kyoshi said, impatiently speeding up her walk.
“Well, ok,” Nit replied a bit worried. “I’ll come with you just in case.”
““Nit, we’ll just go back then.” Kyoshi stopped. She was furious but was trying not to show it.
“Ok.” The two of them headed back south to the province and, in a bid to vent some frustration, Kyoshi picked up a stone and hurled it as far as possible, shouting loudly. Then there was silence. Nit, continuing to hover on his stone slate, scratched his nail nervously.
“Did I do something wrong, Kyoshi?” he asked softly. Kyoshi sighed heavily.
“No. Nit. It’s just… I’m sorry.”
““That’s fine. Sometimes I just want to shout out too and do some damage, you know, when everyone teases me. It gets tough being an outsider, doesn’t it?” There was another silence. Suddenly Kyoshi did not feel so angry but more so sympathetic towards Nit. They were both in the same situation; she, the only non-bender of her age in Gao Lin and him, such a bad earthbender he could practically be a non-bender.
Suddenly a buzzing came from where Kyoshi’s stone had landed and from the bushes emerged a Crowhopper. It screeched at the two with an immense rage.
“Did you hit the big fella?” Nit squeaked into Kyoshi’s ear.
“I don’t want to find out,” replied Kyoshi. The Crowhopper jumped up into the air and the two made for the road. Blinded by fear, their hearing blocked by the screeches of the Crowhopper, Nit and Kyoshi ran onto and over the road and into the depths of the province’s corn crop. The harvest towered over them like a golden canopy.
““Do you know where the road is?” Nit asked, shaking. Kyoshi looked around.
“No idea.” Surrounding them entirely was the labyrinth of corn and above they could hear the Crowhopper’s angry cries.
“What do you say we do?”
“I don’t know. We’ve got to get rid of that Crowhopper. It’s huge,” Kyoshi panted.
“The biggest I’ve ever seen.” Kyoshi moved over to a corn plant and raised her boot. Bringing her foot back down with a swipe, the golden blade on the back of her boot cut cleanly through the stem. She picked the entire plant up and tried to move it about, finding it difficult due to the height of the plant.
“Hey! Over here you dumb thing!” Kyoshi shouted as she jumped up and down and moved the plant around. From above, the Crowhopper noticed the singular plant moving and swooped in quickly. Corn and leaves and stems flew everywhere as the Crowhopper’s large beak and flailing wings broke everything in sight. It was chaos. Dirt and dust was spat everywhere and the two had to avoid chunky stems and flying corns.
“Now!” Kyoshi got onto the Crowhopper with one, seemingly easy jump and tried to hold its beak down. The animal struggled and squirmed and continued to throw debris everywhere.
“Nit, earthbend! Fire some rocks at it!” Kyoshi shouted as the Crowhopper opened its beak and snapped at her hands. It jumped up and began flying. Kyoshi held on tighter as Nit, cowering in the crop, shouted gibberish. She tried to direct the animal but that only angered it further.
“Ok, ok! It’s just! What if I hit you?” Nit squawked with terror.
“Just do it!” Nit took a stance and, with a swift outward move of an arm, propelled a small chuck of rock from the ground towards the Crowhopper and missed. He tried again and again but the Crowhopper’s erratic flying proved too hard a target.
“You’re going to have to use a bigger rock!” Kyoshi shouted as her grip began to loosen.
“No! It’s too dangerous!” Nit shouted almost man-like.
“Nit! Come on, hurry! I’m slipping!” Kyoshi replied quickly almost fearful. Nit locked his knees and pressed his feet onto the ground. With a grunt he produced a large slab from in front and slowly raised it above him. He slowly took back both arms and with a look of incredible worry, pushed his arms forward, allowing the earth to soar through the air and hit the Crowhopper. Kyoshi screamed and fell through the crop and the Crowhopper soon got up and flew away.
“Kyoshi! I’m so sorry! Are you alright?” Nit said once he found her among the dense crop. Her head was ringing from the blow but she was, nevertheless, fairly unscathed.
“Nit. You did it. That was some impressive bending,” Kyoshi croaked. Nit smiled down at her and then helped her up off a bed of corn. They found their way out of the crop and headed back to the province gates. Kyoshi, although hurt and a bit in shock, was satisfied with her day and hoped that one day she could again wrestle a Crowhopper or perhaps something bigger and more exotic in some far off land.
“I’m sorry for snapping at you before, Nit,” Kyoshi said once they got to the gates.
“No problem. I get irritating some times,” Nit laughed.
“That slab you were riding on earlier, that was cool too. Where’d you learn that?”
“Oh that?” Nit blushed. “I just made it up and taught myself.”
“You really shouldn’t put yourself down. You’re better than you think,” Kyoshi told Nit, genuinely impressed.
“You too, Kyoshi. Just because you can’t bend doesn’t mean you can’t do something great. You should enter in the tournament.”
“Nit’s right,” Hiaga said through a mouthful of food. “You’re one of the best fighters I’ve seen, you could definitely beat some of those earthbenders.” Nit nodded into his bowl.
“No. I wouldn’t stand a chance against any bender,” Kyoshi told them. She had told her self countless times that she wasn’t adequate as a fighter whereas Hiaga had told her countless times that she was better than everybody else. Hiaga was like a second father to Kyoshi. He was very short and eggplant-like in shape. He had tired eyes, a thin, long moustache and his skin always seemed sweaty from all his tea making. Hiaga was definitely one of Kyoshi’s closest friends. Like her, he too was not an earthbender and they relished that fact together. Dinner was always Kyoshi’s favourite time because the three of them could relax and talk endlessly into the night. Hiaga tried to make something different every night, but the meal always consisted of rice and broth.
Nit coughed on his bean shoots and Hiaga pounded his back.
“I really think you should do it. Just to at least see how far you can get,” Nit mumbled.
“I don’t know,” Kyoshi replied. She looked up at the moon and watched the steam from their meal rise up into the sky.
“Nit, have you told Hiaga your new earthbending trick?” Kyoshi said abruptly, trying to change the subject.
“I agree with Nit,” Hiaga grumbled. He took a sip of his tea and continued, “Unless you’re scared of getting hurt.”
“I’m not scared of getting hurt, Hiaga,” Kyoshi replied almost immediately to her defence.
“ Well it seems that way. You’ve got nothing to lose. But, hey, if you’re scared, Kyoshi, that’s fine,” Hiaga smiled into his cup without Kyoshi noticing.
“I’m not scared.”
“Then what’s stopping you?” Nit said trying very hard to hide a smile and so instead filled his mouth with rice.
“Well, it’s just,” Kyoshi seemed lost for words.
“Nit. Don’t pressure Kyoshi. If she’s scared of competing, that’s fine. Everyone is scared of something.”
“I’m not scared! I’ll go sign up now, just to show you!” Kyoshi shouted as she stood up. She left the room with her dishes leaving Hiaga and Nit looking at each other. They paused until they were certain Kyoshi had left and then burst out laughing.
The morning air was crisp and Kyoshi had been training all week for this morning. She tightened her boots, the blades of which were sharpened the night before. She loved her boots. On the back and front were golden blades – they were her father’s. She put on her golden arm braces, pulled on her gloves and punched her pillow. She took a red ribbon and tied her hair back the usual way, leaving a fringe to sit over with long columns of chestnut hair falling past her shoulders. The sun came in through her window and she could see the dust in the air. There was a strange feeling in her gut. She wanted to win.
“Like a real fighter,” Hiaga said from the doorway.
“Do you think I’ll do well?” Kyoshi said. Hiaga came up to her and embraced her.
“I’ve watched you train since you were ten. You were made to win this,” he said softly. “Make your father proud.”
“What if I lose?” Kyoshi said, holding back a tear – the subject of her father was a tender one.
“What if? He’d be proud to know that you did your best,” Hiaga comforted. They parted as Kyoshi headed backstage to the arena.
“Welcome to the Gao Lin Fighter’s Tournament where Gao Lin’s best fighters battle it out for a scholarship in the one, the only Ba Sing Se,” the announcer explained through cheers and clamours. “Can we honour today the soldiers of the Earth State who are devoting themselves to better the world for the four States. May we pray that our opposition will one day join our heroic and harmonious efforts. Spirits, hear our call.”
“Spirits, hear our call,” the audience replied in unison.
“Also, I would like to honour Admiral Nero who will be scouting this week’s tournament and congratulate his efforts in the State War thus far. And without further adieu, let the games begin!” An uproar of cheering filled the arena and soon enough the battles began. Kyoshi waited anxiously backstage for her turn, going over in her mind the proper techniques. A man approached her and introduced himself as a tournament co-ordinator.
“Are you Kyoshi?”
“You’re up next. If you could just come with me,” the man said. Kyoshi got up and followed him down a narrow tunnel.
“May I ask who I am up against?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know that information. Just wait here, now.” Kyoshi waited at the end of the corridor and a fair while later the man pulled down a wall of rock opening to the arena. The arena was bigger than Kyoshi had expected. Surrounding the entire arena was an audience that stretched so high the top audience members seemed like ants. In the centre was a tower-like structure with a field painted on the top and below was water. The sight of the arena sparked feelings of excitement inside Kyoshi’s soul. All the training she had done, all the work she had thought was done for no reason, it would finally pay off. This was where she was meant to be. This was what she had been training for her entire life she told herself.
“On the blue side we have Kyoshi Koto who – what? It seems here, she is not a bender. Well, Kyoshi, I wish you the best of luck in this battle because…well because you’re up against Junko,” the announcer spoke. From the other side of the arena emerged a tall, muscular man, topless with a menacing face.
“Junko is known for his extreme strength and ruthless fighting style. Play safe and may the best fighter win!” the announcer said from some unknown place. The man bended some earth from beneath Kyoshi and moved her to the arena.
“The first person to fall off or call quits loses. Good luck,” he said as Kyoshi got off the platform, stunned and terrified. The crowd seemed to make endless noise and she was certain there were some laughs directed to her.
“What? Seriously? I can’t face up against this guy! He’s too good!” Kyoshi shouted to the audience, angst and self-doubt darkening the light that was her confidence.
“Well…Does that mean you forfeit?” the announcer replied.
“No but…can’t you just change the person? Can’t I go up against a different person?” Kyoshi begged, fright and desperation starting to come out in her voice.
“I’m sorry. We can’t do that,” the announcer said. “It’s fight or forfeit.”
“Do it,” Admiral Nero interrupted. “You haven’t even tried yet. You could surprise yourself.” Kyoshi looked up at the admiral, his amber eyes staring into hers. Did he have faith in her?
“Show us what you can do,” he continued with a smirk. With a small spark of confidence inspired in her, Kyoshi turned to face her opponent.
“It’s funny,” Junko started, “I don’t feeling bad about hitting a girl.” And with that, Junko pulled a large wall of rock from the ground and pushed it to Kyoshi with great speed. She managed to dodge the fire, feeling its force blow against her body. The speed of the shot was alarming. Junko did the same and this time Kyoshi elegantly jumped over the projectile. Junko repeated and once Kyoshi landed she felt the force of the earth push her back. She tried to push the wall back but Junko’s bending was too great. She found herself teetering on the edge of the arena and could see pebbles falling far into the water.
“Could this be the end already?” the announcer said. Kyoshi did not want it to be over. She was determined to fight, to prove to the crowd and to herself that she was a good fighter. She hoisted herself over the wall and took a stance.
“You’ll have to do better than that to finish me,” she said with confidence as she gave Junko a smile. The audience cheered hysterically and Junko fired another wall, this time shouting through gritted teeth. It came to her at great speed but she was able to jump high enough to get over it and land with no stumble. Another wall came immediately after. Kyoshi kept her cool, put her arms in front of her face and the wall broke on contact, rubble and dust falling to the crowd. Kyoshi, in a locked position, skidded back a few feet then brushed off the blow and smiled back.
“Hm, better than I expected.”“I bet,” Kyoshi chuckled. She charged forward with great poise, not uttering a word, as Junko produced a barrage of rocky walls towards her. Each time Kyoshi held her arms in front and the walls crashed seemingly easily, allowing her to move forward. Junko’s figure was slowly getting bigger and bigger, Kyoshi was get closer each time and with each step she could feel her conviction growing. Finally she got close enough to kick Junko in the chest with the side of her boot, sending him flying to the edge of the arena.
“ And Kyoshi has made an incredible comeback!” the announcer had to shout over cheers and applause. Junko got back up and wiped the dirt off his face. In a bout of rage he created a wave of rubble and washed it to Kyoshi’s direction. She tensed the muscles in her leg and jumped high, putting one leg on the wave and pushing herself high up into the air. Here everything seemed to become slow and the space became silent. It was taking all of Kyoshi’s concentration to manoeuvre herself so carefully at this height. She arched her back to flip backwards, stretched out her arms and found a hold on the scaffolding on the ceiling. With her legs outstretched and her arms taking secure holds of the metal, she was able to comfortably take refuge and collect herself. The fight was a euphoric experience. She wanted to be here forever.
“You’re like a little monkey,” Junko laughed. His deep voice able to be heard from such a height. He took a position on the ground and turned his feet clockwise, maintaining a forward face. He made one sweeping, scooping position, moved forward with a single jump and summoned a great drill-shaped portion from the arena. He span in the air to gain momentum and hurled the giant figure towards Kyoshi. Before she had time to think, the spire of the projectile seemed to glide so effortlessly through the metal beams and suddenly Kyoshi was falling. She took a hold of the pinnacle, or what was left of it, and kicked it, mid air. Continuing to fall, she managed to turn the chunk of rock around and with one final kick she forced it downwards. It hit the arena with a great boom and exploded in a cloud of dust and rubble. Kyoshi landed on the arena with one hand on the floor, helping to relieve the shock. Once the dust settled and the audience realised both players were still standing, mumbles and rabbles echoed through the dome. Nero focused himself now, he started to find such power in a non-bender interesting.
“I’m not going down that easily,” Kyoshi said with confidence as she stood up straight. “Is that the best you’ve got?” she teased. Junko screamed at her and fired rocks but she merely kicked them off with her boots, slicing through them with the golden spurs.
“Come on, Junko. I thought you were renowned for your ‘extreme strength,’” she said snidely. Junko began walking to her and she held her ground.
“No more running away?” Junko said in monotone.
“No more running away,” Kyoshi replied, raising her fists. She felt a certain confidence she had never felt before, the arena and the adrenalin – the whole atmosphere was exultant to her. Junko stood still and raised an arm. His hand was open, not a usual earthbending position. Kyoshi waited for his attack but nothing happened. She kept calm and continued to wait. The expression on Junko’s face was deeply disturbing, his sweaty hair fell over his beady, dark eyes and he began laughing softly – his smile curling to reach his ears. Suddenly he closed his hand and Kyoshi fell. The immediacy sucked the breath from her as she felt the earth open up and tighten around her body. She was now shoulder-deep in solid earth. She could almost start crying from the pain and terror. A sudden change in emotion sent her into shock.
“Frightened now, little girl?” Junko uttered under his smile. He pulled Kyoshi further into the earth, as her neck became covered her lungs could expand no further. A tear fell to her face as she started to panic. She became overcome with dizziness and shock and suddenly lost control of her entire body. A large plume of dust filled the entire arena and the audience gasped in confusion. Kyoshi surfaced from the dust in a vortex of rubble with her eyes glowing. Nero’s face tightened and the corners of his mouth twitched. The girl seemed to glide over to Junko who was frozen still with astonishment. The dust parted to reveal a large crater in the centre of the arena from which Kyoshi escaped. She moved the rubble from around her to surround Junko, lifted the giant man from the ground and simply dropped him into the water. She then fell to the ground herself, exhausted and dazed, the audience cheering profusely. She rubbed her eyes. Had she won? How could she?
“Could it be?” the announcer said without his usual charisma. “Is this girl…the Avatar?” The Avatar. Those two words repeated in Kyoshi’s mind. It was impossible. She would’ve figured it out. She would’ve bended before. It was impossible. She got up to see the crowd strewn with proud and crying faces. Beside her was Admiral Nero. He did not say a thing but instead bowed to her. She laughed, she was certain she was dreaming. Surely this was just an apparition and she was unconscious in the medical ward. A burning sensation flickered in her heart. Somehow it seemed right, the entire crowd bowing, tears of salvation, respect.
“Kyoshi of Gao Lin Province. It is an honour to be in the presence of our Avatar,” Nero spoke so warmly. The crowd fell silent.
“You do not know how great we feel to have you with us.”
“I…I’m the Avatar?” Kyoshi whispered to him.
“You were just in the Avatar State so, I presume so. You may not know it, or believe it. But you are,” Nero smiled. His amber eyes were comforting and trustworthy. Kyoshi turned to the crowd and smiled at them. In return she got a roaring cry that echoed through her body. She could feel their support and love vibrate through every part of her body.
“Avatar Kyoshi, return with me to Ba Sing Se. There we will train you in earthbending and there you will become ready to end the State War,” Nero said for everyone to hear, “forever!” Again the audience cried hysterically. Kyoshi was speechless. A chance to travel the world, a chance to bend! There she was thinking she was a non-bender. She nodded to Nero and lunged onto him, hugging him tightly. She had no idea what was going on or what was going to happen, but she loved it. She knew she had to take the opportunity. The opportunity of a lifetime.
Hiaga poured some tea into a cup. It was cinnamon and honey tea, his staple, and he handed to Kyoshi. She looked into the red liquid and smelt the aromas. She thought to herself whether she’d ever smell that scent again. Nit came down with her bags and placed them at the door.
“Nit, I was going to get them myself,” Kyoshi laughed.
“Oh, no. You shouldn’t lift a finger, Avatar Kyoshi. I’ll handle everything,” Nit replied shyly, avoiding eye contact.
“If I knew you were the Avatar, I would’ve given you a raise,” Hiaga said flatly. Kyoshi looked at him, puzzled. They were speaking to her differently.
“Hey, listen. Just because I’m…yeah-
“The Avatar?” Nit reminded her.
“Yeah,” Kyoshi said, a bit shaken by the word. “You guys shouldn’t be treating me differently. I’m still one of the boys, right? I’m the same Kyoshi. Right?” Kyoshi began tearing up. Never before had she cried so much in one day. She felt so stupid doing it but so many emotions had overcome her in one day it was impossible to act properly.
“Of course,” Hiaga replied with his smooth, wise voice. “I suppose the Avatar was always within you. You have always been kind, compassionate and strong; a beautiful person with a beautiful soul, Kyoshi. I guess it was only necessary for you to be the Avatar. This would definitely make your father proud. Your mother too.” Kyoshi looked into Hiaga’s watery, brown eyes. They always calmed her down.
“Thanks.” Hiaga kissed her gently on the cheek and turned.
“I need to prepare my teas for tomorrow but I’ll definitely be out when you’re going.” Hiaga left through the back door to his tea shed and Kyoshi was left with Nit. Nit stood awkwardly in the room.
“Nit, what are doing?”
“What do you mean, what am I doing? I’m doing nothing.”
“You’re being weird.”
“I’m not being weird,” Nit defended, standing up straight.
“Is it because I’m the Avatar,” Kyoshi smiled. There was a pause until Nit gave in.
“Here I was saying you were a talented non-bender and then you turn out to be the Avatar,” Nit said quickly. “It seems so stupid on my behalf.”
“It shows you had faith in me,” Kyoshi said.
“Here I was thinking I had one thing that set me apart from all your talent…” Nit sulked.
“Nit. I can’t even earthbend. I’m probably the worst Avatar in Avatar history,” Kyoshi joked. “You’re just as special as me, Nit. You took down the biggest Crowhopper ever, remember?”
“I’m still the same person,” Kyoshi brushed her hair behind her ear. “We’re still best friends, right?”
“Of course. You’re the best person I know…I’m just…I’m going to miss you, you know, Kyoshi,” Nit said softly, tears forming in his eyes. Kyoshi jumped onto Nit.
“I’m going to miss you too, Nit,” Kyoshi said and again, she started to cry.
“Jeez, for the Avatar you certainly cry a lot.” The two laughed and finished their tea. It wasn’t until late at night that Nero picked her up. She said her last goodbyes to her two friends, taking at least an entire hour, cried once more and entered the carriage. It was a large, hollowed out piece of earth and other carts for Nero’s men accompanied it from behind. There was a room for both Nero and Kyoshi separated by stone. On top the carriage were earthbenders who moved the carriage with their earthbending, and along the travel they swapped with each other to have a break. Kyoshi stuck her head out of the window as she waved goodbye to Hiaga and Nit. They slowly got smaller and smaller and soon enough, so did Gao Lin Province.
She felt a deep throbbing in her heart, she knew she would miss Gao Lin – the dry weather, the endless prairies, the tea and the sounds of shifting earth. She’d miss Hiaga and Nit and the Crowhoppers. She stayed up the entire night, watching the landscapes as they drove by; the mountain ranges she longed to see. As the flat landscape soaked up the silver sheets of moonlight, Kyoshi soaked up the day, the immensity of it. She felt so proud of herself. The stars in the sky shone delicately as she stuck her head out. She knew being the Avatar would be life changing. It would not be easy. But these duties and responsibilities floated to the back of her mind as she thought what Ba Sing Se would be like, and how fun learning earthbending would be. She pondered what people she’d meet and the sights she’d see. The idea of war, however, constantly loomed in the back of her mind. It seemed to cause some unease along her trip but nevertheless she enjoyed every part of the travel to Ba Sing Se and could barely sleep, her dreams of travelling, of bending, and even of being the Avatar, were becoming a reality
“The Gaan Mountains, I think,” Nero started from behind her, “are one of the unknown beauties of the Earth State. It’s strange how something so great can go unnoticed for so long.” He smiled at her, obviously relating his statement to her situation. Kyoshi very much admired Nero. He possessed a wise and just air to him and his neat golden robes only pronounced such an air. His face was trimmed and Kyoshi was always kept entertained by the stories he told her. The way he spoke was always so proper that one felt comfortable and safe in his presence.
“Is this your first time in the Gaan Mountains?” Kyoshi asked, throwing the pip into the brook.
“I came here once as a child with my father. But it’s all changed now. With the State War, some people have become brutalised. I hear there are lots of savages and thieves about nowadays,” Nero explained.
“Brutalised? How can that happen when these people are so far away from everything?”
“Oh, you know, word of mouth, I suppose. The things they hear about the Earth State are all untrue,” Nero reassured as he bended a rock out from the water and threw it into the bushes. Kyoshi worried about being the Avatar. She knew hardly anything about the State War, the politics and ethics behind it. She knew that the Earth State were trying hard to bring peace to the four States, but that the oppositions were being stubborn and she knew for a fact that her father was one of the soldiers recruited in bringing peace to the world. Other than that, this trip seemed like a holiday to her.
“You’re troubled by all the strife going on around you, aren’t you Avatar Kyoshi?” Nero asked. Kyoshi still found it difficult to respond to the term Avatar.
“Well, yes,” she replied. “It’s just…I have no idea what’s going on or what I’m supposed to do.” Nero smiled at her and his white teeth and red lips seemed to calm her down.
“Girl, you have nothing to worry about. As the Earth State Avatar all you have to do is work alongside the Earth King and I in fulfilling our duties. With your help, soon enough the State War will be over.” Kyoshi smiled back at him. Those words gave her solace. As long as she was in the capable hands of Nero, the tasks that lay ahead of her would be easy.
“You’ll be managing politics and economics within the Earth State, Kyoshi. No killing, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Nero added. Kyoshi huffed.
“That’s good. Though, I don’t know anything about politics, Admiral Nero.”
“You’ll be taught everything you need to know once we get to Ba Sing Se,” Nero explained.
“Why not stop at Oma-” Kyoshi stopped in her tracks as an arrow flew past her head and into a nearby tree, forcing a flake of bark to splinter off.
“Don’t move,” Nero uttered, his calm and complacent tone replaced with austerity as he held a hand up. Kyoshi felt her heart rate rise and she knew instantly that there were thieves about. A whistling sound came from the side of her and a thin arrow came from the scrub. She jumped up and instantaneously held up her arm brace and the arrow lost its velocity and fell to the ground. A thin yet muscular man jumped down from the canopy and revealed himself. His face was hidden under a broad-rimmed straw hat. From what Kyoshi could make out, he had patchy stubble. The man had bandages wrapped around his arms, in his mouth was a long reed and on his back was a satchel filled with sharp arrows. He had a bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. Kyoshi could tell from his landing that the man had great gymnastic ability.
“You don’t recognise me?” the man grunted through a looming smirk.
“I don’t usually bother myself with the likes of you,” Nero replied, tenors of heroism reverberating through his voice.
“I guess you’re not from these parts,” the man said, raising a jagged eyebrow. “The name’s Gisgo, the most feared man in Monshiton.” Kyoshi recognised the face. She remembered seeing wanted posters of his face around the market strip in Monshiton.
“Yeah, I think I know you,” Kyoshi told Gisgo, summoning up as much danger in her voice as possible.
“Lucky girl, you are, then,” Gisgo teased. Nero stirred on his spot.
“You guys looks like some wealthy folk, hand over your money and I’ll consider leaving.”
“Pathetic thief, you’re outnumbered. I have earthbenders at the top of the hill, twenty or so,” Nero told him.
“Outnumbered, maybe so,” Gisgo raised his head to reveal a scar across his face. “But you’re outmatched.” He quickly put his arrow in position and fired. Kyoshi kicked high enough to stop it from travelling and caught the flimsy arrow. Gisgo fired another and afterwards jumped onto a branch, avoiding Nero’s attack. Kyoshi barely avoided the arrow, a single strand of hair being sliced off. Nero, moving his arms and locking his fingers, and moving forward stiffly used pillars of earth to capture Gisgo. Squirming in the confines of the stone, Gisgo muttered, “I was so close.”
“I suggest you ask, next time, who you’re up against. You don’t want to commit any treachery towards the Earth State, do you?” Nero smiled, still in fighting position just in case.
“What do you mean?”
“Admiral Nero,” Nero said, bowing. Gisgo’s eyes widened and his face became white with dread. Nero signalled to Kyoshi and the two went back up the hill.
“Hey. Hey! You’re not going to just leave me here?” Gisgo shouted at them. They ignored him and continued walking.
“Hey! Hey!” Kyoshi could hear Gisgo screaming, the voice slowly fading. She was very impressed by Nero’s bending abilities and battling discipline but unfortunately never witnessed it again. Their travels had no other dangers and Kyoshi saw many places and towns throughout the rest of the journey. At one point she caught a glimpse of the mighty Omashu from her window and momentarily smelt the salty air of the western coast and then later on she experienced the immeasurable heat and red waves of the mainland desert, staying in her carriage for the most part to avoid direct sunlight. They soon returned to prairies and grasslands and cooler temperatures and by now Kyoshi was eagerly awaiting to see Ba Sing Se.
Nero sat himself in Kyoshi’s room within the carriage.
“Now, Kyoshi,” he started. “We will soon be arriving in Ba Sing Se.”
“Can I see?” Kyoshi said as she moved to the window. The carriage slowed and Kyoshi looked out to see a chasm. At the bottom were workers and surrounding the work site were thousands of giant stone blocks.
“What’s happening here?”
“We’re building another wall, for extra protection. Ba Sing Sa will soon be known as the impenetrable city,” Nero explained.
“Avatar Kyoshi, I think it would be best if you sit down. We need to discuss some things.” Kyoshi sat herself down. She dared not to disobey Nero, for she respected him very much.
“The Earth King is very busy with the State War at a very crucial point for the Earth State. I fear you will not be able to see him for a few days,” Nero explained, smiling every so often to reassure the girl.
“For these few days we won’t get you to do much. We will allow time for you to settle in and soak up the atmosphere. I guarantee, you will love it here. We will also begin your earthbending training.”
“I can’t wait to start bending,” Kyoshi replied warmly. “I’ve wanted to bend all my life. Now bending all four-
“No,” Nero interrupted. “Sorry, Kyoshi, but you’ll only be earthbending.” Kyoshi was taken back. His words seemed cold.
“But…isn’t it the Avatar’s duty to learn all four?” she asked.
“It is no duty, Avatar. It is just a traditional view of the Avatar. Think, too, of the social implications you’ll have on the morale of your people when they see you bending the other elements,” Nero told her. “Once the State War is over and peace is achieved, I’m sure we can get you to learn the other elements then.” Kyoshi was confused. She had always known the Avatar to know all bending disciplines but as Nero said, it was a common viewpoint and not necessarily a duty – and she felt it true that it would bring concerns among the Earth State. She decided to accept Nero’s doings, he knew what was best for the Earth State, what was best for the world. From the window Kyoshi saw some houses and people.
“Are we here?” she said excitedly, getting up from her seat to have a better look. Nero intercepted her vision and closed the curtain.
“Hold on, Kyoshi. We’ll be there soon,” Nero said with a giant smile. Soon after the carriage halted and Kyoshi was able to exit. The sky was grey and the air smelt old and stale. There were many guards surrounding her, she could barely see. She tried to have a look at where she’d come from but the numbers of guards made it impossible. She could, however, make out some rooves; their wood seemed worn and rustic. The guards escorted her forwards to an incredible wall. It rose so high that Kyoshi would fall over in order to see its top. The earth moved from below her and began rising. The assemblage of guards, Nero and Kyoshi began moving upwards. From the height Kyoshi was hoping to have a look back at the ground but, again, the guards proved to obscure her vision.
“Avatar Kyoshi,” Nero said, his robes swaying majestically in the wind, “welcome to Ba Sing Se.” Kyoshi smiled at him and then, as the platform reached the top of the gargantuan wall, Kyoshi could lay her eyes on the magnificent Earth State capital.
The wall encircled the land below, like a cookie-cutter on dough. Inside the circle were many houses and buildings and in the centre was a large, glorious castle; dark red in colour with a golden roof. The houses were clean and white and their rooves were green and golden. It was the nicest city Kyoshi had ever seen. It seemed so pristine and apt and stately. She was escorted to Ba Sing Se train station and quickly put on a train carriage very similar to her previous carriage. It began moving and Kyoshi noticed many tracks built around the circumference of the city, slowly descending to reach the ground.
“What do you think?” Nero asked.
“I think…I don’t know what to think. It’s amazing!” Kyoshi said, knees on the seat and looking out the window.
“It’s a very nice place.”
“Nice? It is beautiful.”
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