|More from Aritiane||Action||PG-13 (13 and above)||Positive||A few times a month|
July 12, 2012
"People usually choose indirect actions, which are the worst of all the possible actions," the Guru said, "and that's because no one is able to be completely good or completely evil."
Bolatu, The Dialogues of Guru Pathik
Form does not differ from the void. But it is desperately trying to exist.
Night and darkness. Silence and anticipation. There was no wind; all the leaves on the trees in the park nearby were still as they seemed to wait for what would happen. The sky, dark and frightened. Stars hidden behind clouds. Yellow moon, quavering in suspense. Even the city was quiet; no vehicles on roads, no people on pavements. Moreover, most of the neighbours turned off the lights in their houses, so distant skyscrapers on the horizon were the only sources of light.
However, the street was not empty. Not entirely.
A cat showed up on the sidewalk; its ginger fur set itself apart from the darkness around. A few steps forward. Gracefully. Slowly. Idly. Now a break for a while... The supper — which had included two inexperienced snotty mice — had been delicious; the cat's belly was full and its opinion about the world — highly positive. Taking a casual evening walk and minding its own business, it passed by some buildings and meowed once or twice. After that, it stopped several meters further and looked around curiously. A shadow. Yes, that was definitely a shadow — a human one. It walked out of a single house, which stood in a somewhat distance apart from the other residences, and then vanished, moving towards the park.
The cat sniffed the air.
It smelled like fear. Bitter, sharp fear.
The cat was about to continue walking, when another phantom showed up at the end of the street. It was getting close very quickly, its steps pliable and determined. Finally, the cat gained a full view. It was a man, tall and rather old, wearing a fair robe, clearly visible in the night. As he approached, the cat saw a blue tattoo on his bald head. He headed for the distant house the previous shadow had left, and when he reached it a few seconds later, he went in.
The animal came closer. It was a very serious cat, of course, but also a really curious one. If you know such stuff, you are the best informed cat in the neighbourhood. And in most cases that means a stomach full of food when you fall asleep. Mice, for instance. And you don't get to know stuff if you don't risk; it's so simple. Hence, the cat sat down on a sill beside a window, listened in and waited.
"No!" someone shouted. "You won't take him!"
Noises. A table being tipped over. Then several punches, mixed with screams. And at the end, surprisingly, a sound of smashed rocks. The cat, taken aback, exposed its head over the window to look what had happened. There were two men in the room; a loosely hanging bulb was illuminating their shapes. The first — the tall, old one with a beard — stood still; the second was trying to free himself furiously, subdued by shackles onto his arms and legs. They had been made of stones, which had pierced the wooden floor as if they had been magically summoned.
"Tell me where he is."
"I told you I wouldn't hurt him."
"You wouldn't? So, you two would play with toys?"
"Is he still in the city?"
A stubborn silence fell.
"Don't make me do it," the man in a robe whispered.
A few seconds passed. No words being said — fear hidden behind confidence — then suddenly shackles tightened, and a sound of crushing body parts came after. The prisoner screamed.
"It's not a pleasure for me, too," the bender said quietly. "But you're not giving me a choice."
"You will have to kill me, then. None of us has a choice."
"It has to be done. I understand your concerns, but..."
"YOU?! You... understand? My concerns? He's my son!"
"You have to tell me where you had hidden him. I have to know. High risks are at stake."
Straining to move, the prisoner spat at him but missed. "I don't care about you or your risks."
Shackles tightened once again, and the imprisoned man's shout repeated. The bender looked away.
"Go on," the cuffed man groaned and laughed an intermittent chuckle of a madman. "Do it harder. You said yourself... high stakes... and stuff. This or... or you don't have the guts, eh?"
The bender made no move. Soon after, he took a heavily rooted stance, did a complicated set of motions, making rocks disappear in the ground, and released the man, who fell to the floor, breathing hard. Having done so, the man in a robe left the house, still silent. He intended to walk away, but stopped several steps further and turned around — he had heard a single meow. It was the ginger cat, which was still sitting on the window. He reached out a hand to stroke its fur, smiling encouragingly.
Scared, the cat ran away.
The bender stood immobile for a few moments — his face covered in darkness — and walked away.
"Do it again."
Consecutive rays of light were climbing on the steep slopes of Air Temple Island. She felt them on her skin, as well as their heat, the energy that flowed later through her veins. The cool waters of Yue Bay called her with a continuous splash of waves among hundreds of ships. And earth beneath her... so hard and steady she would gladly force it to obey her will and bend. But the air — the air did not want to yield. She eventually made it to cooperate, but it wasn't it, she felt it.
"I already did that move a thousand times," Korra snapped. "Can't we move on?"
Tenzin sighed. "It is not a matter of amount. It is a matter of value."
"I hate it when you talk proverbs," Korra rolled her eyes. "It's not a Council meeting."
"You are as sloppy as a badgermole," said Tenzin calmly. "No proverbs this time."
They were at the airbending training area, located on the upper portion of the island. Korra was trying to master new bending motions she had previously learnt, while Tenzin was sitting in front of her in the lotus position, meditating with his eyes closed.
Korra peeked at him, dispirited. "You're not even looking."
"I happen to be an airbending master, Korra. I can feel every gust of wind is the vicinity. In fact, I do not have to look at you to know what you are doing, but if it makes you feel better, I will. Now, repeat the set. Please."
She granted his wish. Her task was to perform a chain of manoeuvres supported by appropriate pushes of wind. To do so, she had to not only manipulate the air, but also change the rhythm of her own moves — and perhaps, moves of the enemy, too. That's impossible, she thought. I require a stance to bend, otherwise I'll be easily tipped over. Tenzin kept repeating that the trick is to let go of one's need to control, but her control need appeared to be not so into letting anything go.
"I don't think it's any better. Maybe I can't do it," she snarled.
"There is nothing to do. And there is nothing to think. You know it. Moreover, you did it. We both saw you at the pro-bending arena. You simply have to make an airbending sequence out of it, control your moves and make them more thoughtful than intuitive. Do not force it."
"You know what I've just heard? Pro-bending, blah blah, some airbending stuff. Look, when do I get to own a glider? Or practice some air punches? That's the thing! I knocked out Bolin in practice yesterday. He never knew what hit him!"
"I must admit," The airbender's voice became unusually soft and friendly; Korra knew what that meant. He used that voice only when he was about to lie. "Your technique is somewhat... unique, but I believe we should stick to the basics. The Avatar has to know how to do it the old fashioned way, too."
"Oh, there's always some Avatar State to show everyone how to do it the ancient way," she grinned. "Aang could kick a few butts, you know."
"My father didn't kick butts", he frowned. "Moreover, the Avatar State is a defence mechanism. You'd better not be in need to use it." Tenzin paused. "I think it is enough for today, Korra. You are dismissed."
"I have an important meeting to attend. You know yourself that the situation in the city is not stable yet."
The morning was full of light and fresh air. Korra left the training site, glancing at Republic City, its vague harbours and a huddle of buildings at the shore. She still remembered the view of dark plumes all over the city, after Amon and his Equalists had bombed the streets with their airships. But now — now one could say that the sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. However, Korra knew that it wasn't true. The city was steaming as the tension between benders and non-benders seemed to grow. Amon might have been a liar, but his case outlived his words.
Korra had intended to go to sky bison caves, when she heard a burst of joyful laughter coming from the meditation pavilion. Curious, she changed her mind and went there.
"—so he told me there's no chance I will do it, and guess what I answered to him... yes, that's right, I was all like 'mate, hold my tin and learn carefully... WAAAAAAA-HOOOOOOO!'"
Both Meelo and Ikki had their mouths wide open. "Awesoooome!"
"I guess Tenzin wouldn't be happy to find out about you making jokes in his little peaceful corner, would he?" grinned Korra, entering the gazebo.
"Avatar Korra!" Bumi smiled. "Why don't you join us in this certainly immoral act of destroying harmony of this sacred temple?" he gave her his most innocent look. "I—"
But Ikki interrupted him, firing away at Korra. "Why did you finish you airbending practice earlier? Have you made any progress? When did you wake up? And could you teach me some energybending? Please, please, please very much."
"Yeah, Korra, did you and daddy get angry again?" asked Meelo.
"In order of asking — yes, no, at the dawn, unfortunately not, we didn't. At least not today."
"What have my ears heard? My brother, angry?" Bumi made a face. "It would be unusual for him."
"I may swear he got a little angry when he had found out about your date with Lin a week ago," said Korra, coughing meaningfully. Ikki and Meelo giggled.
Bumi laughed out loud. "Oooh, you got me! That was a clean shot, Avatar. I must admit, Bumi's scathing wit got deflected this time. You are learning well, young one." He gave a respectful bow.
"By the way, where's Jinora?" Korra realised the absence of the oldest kid in the Temple.
"She's with Pema, helping her with Rohan."
"Yeah, I should have thought of that. Sounds like her," admitted Korra. "Listen guys, I'd love to stay and chat but I have to feed Naga. See you soon."
"Damn!" Bumi gave her a disappointed look and then winked. "I wanted to hear a story about your great victory upon Amon's devilish forces...! Nevertheless, farewell. Kids, say goodbye to the Avatar, or otherwise she will... permanently and utterly.... tickle you to death!" And he launched a massive attack of tingling sensations on Ikki and Meelo.
Amused, Korra shook her head, looking at them playing, and went away.
The air in the animal caves was a lot cooler than it had been outside, and reminded her of familiar temperature in the South Pole. Naga was there, outside of her snug place in the corner, wandering among sky bisons, which were lying idly on the ground. When she saw Korra, she gaily ran into her and started to lick her face, while they were rolling on the surface of the cave. Korra started to ruffle the polar bear dog's fur.
And everything was all right.
"Asami. You look beautiful as always," Tenzin greeted her, after they had met at the outskirts of the city.
"Hello, Tenzin." She smiled delightfully. "You're as gallant as only a Councilman can be."
"We shall proceed. I will explain the details to you in a second."
She had already been aware of Tenzin's habit to walk while discussing important business. He was saying that it was helping him to keep his mind clear and to form a bond with interlocutors. Truth be told, Asami figured out soon that the trick was that people were more keen to agree with you while performing physical effort. A similar but slightly different rule had been in force during her father's famous business dinners in their mansion, she recalled. He used to invite his trade partners over for a meal, so it'd have been easier to make tradeoffs the had not previously wanted to agree for. Tenzin had a purpose to do likewise; he might appear casual about it, but she was not naive.
"The upcoming conversation may diverge from what you are used to," continued Tenzin as they were marching. "Mohandas is not just an ordinary man. And he definitely will not be as diplomatic as Council members were."
The other day Tenzin had introduced her to the Council during a backstage meeting. She had spent time shaking hands and exchanging polite remarks, while the airbender had been complimenting her "extraordinary" virtues and wits. The Fire Nation Councilwoman had even recalled Asami being at Tarrlok's gala last year, hence they had had to talk about her fabulous dress she had been wearing that evening. They were chatting for an hour. Tenzin never explained what he intended to achieve by doing so, and although the whole meeting seemed pointless, she had her thoughts.
"I think I can handle him."
"Oh, do you?" Tenzin smiled mysteriously. "We shall see."
Republic City seemed pulsing life as they were walking through its crowded streets. Asami was surrounded with fishermen, many of whom were holding boxes of silvery fish they had caught earlier, and kids playing around, running, screaming, and their mothers, who were trying to maintain control of them, and peddlers recommending their merchandise loudly, and cars on the street, and people on the sidewalk. She and Tenzin were going upstream; most of the mob headed towards the street market, placed on the other end of the road. Soon after, the airbender changed direction and led her into an alley that was less occupied.
Tenzin reopened the topic. "As you may know, Mohandas is the leader of the poorest non-benders of our city, and demonstrates strong tendencies towards the philosophy of equality. Amon might be dead, his ragged body pulled out of the ocean, but as time has passed, the seed he planted has overgrown expectations of many. You know yourself that the Council has been under continuous political siege since the anti-bending revolution. But at least nobody is trying to kill us. For the time being."
"Not being killed seems nice enough to me."
"If it was the only thing..." Tenzin sighed. "Non-benders grew strong, and now, when they are not bombing the city, the Council is obliged to listen to their words. They want a guarantee that their interests will be protected. Which is, in other words, their own Councilman."
"And that Mohandas is a candidate?"
"Many would like him to be. But he is reluctant." Tenzin looked at her. "And this is what we are going to make use of. I have my own candidate, and we will have to persuade Mohandas to support my option."
"Why should we care about him?" she asked. "I mean, the poorest have not been a significant factor in politics."
He glimpsed at her curiously. Those were some strong words.
"It does not matter. Currently, they are. And they must be tamed; otherwise violence will be caused. Thankfully, Mohandas uses a tactic of non-cooperation to achieve what he thinks is best for his people, but not everyone does so. As you remember, a division of the United Forces is still in the city in order to settle down the situation. Although it does not help to calm people down, the rest of the Council demand its presence. However, Mohandas has managed to apply pressure to us nevertheless. He has ordered non-benders to refuse to work if they were oppressed by benders in any way. The economy of the city falters. He is influential."
"Why am I going to meet him?"
"You have a perceptive eye," he answered, smiling. "I am curious of your opinion."
They stopped nearby a small house. As they were approaching, Asami noticed a thin man in airbender clothes, who was apparently waiting for them.
Tenzin introduced him. "Asami, meet Koeni. Koeni, meet Asami." They shook hands.
"I don't recall the name." Asami smiled at him warmly. "And I haven't seen you on the island."
He shrugged. "That's probably because I'm new there. I arrived a few weeks ago."
"But he has already made it to become my assistant," said Tenzin. "He is a bright boy." The bright boy grinned. But his eyes, she recognized, seemed very tired. "Enough flattering; we have a meeting to attend to."
The airbender knocked twice and, not waiting for an answer, came in. Asami was surprised to see him do so; he was always very polite and restrained. But Koeni didn't seem taken aback, so she decided to say nothing and go in.
The house was empty. Not only free of people, but almost literally empty; there were no chairs or tables, no furniture but an old pallet, and no household goods, walls alone. However, Asami noticed something hidden under the bed, a phonograph or just a small box, she was not sure. On their left — an entry to another room, mayhap a bathroom; and a door curtain in front of them. Cloth strings flapped when someone else entered the alcove. A woman. Her eyes red from crying, she seemed surprised and scared to see them. She peeked at Tenzin's tattoos and quickly passed the visitors on her way to the exit.
Silent, Tenzin passed the curtain and went out. Asami and Koeni followed.
They moved on to a tiny garden.
"Her husband fell into a coma yesterday." A small man was sitting in a meditating position, his back exposed to them. "Have you asked her why she had cried, Councilman?"
The airbender scowled. "I have not."
"You care too little for ordinary people and their problems. Which is typical for a monk, I'd say." He snorted bitterly. "You'd kill for an earthly detachment, forgetting that the commoners are actually very attached to their little unimportant lives."
"You are free to think so, Mohandas. But the fact I am here disproves it."
"The fact you're here proves they're an important factor in your game."
"Game of what?"
"Survival." The little man turned around. His hair short and receding, he was obviously balding. A pair of rounded glasses was lying on his hook nose. "I see you brought guests."
"You have already met my assistant, Koeni. And that—"
"—that's the girl we were talking about." Mohandas looked her over. "She seems rather surprised to find this out. Haven't you told her, Tenzin?"
Tenzin squinted at Asami, encouraging her to stand up for herself. She put herself together immediately — her face relaxed again — and answered. "I admit it was a surprise. But a pleasant one."
"Right." Mohandas rolled his eyes. He paused for a moment and started to stare at Koeni as he'd like to examine his soul. "So, Councilman," he said after a while, "what do you want this time? I'm no politician. I'm afraid I can give you nothing you desire."
"That is not entirely true. And you know that."
"I speak to the poorest. You should speak to the richest in order to get what you want."
"They listen to you, too."
"If you really think I can make the girl a member of the Council, you're a fool," he snarled. "Although you're free to believe so."
Asami was in shock but she did not say anything. Koeni gave her a curious look.
Tenzin, however, showed no sign of giving up whatsoever. "You are too humble, Mohandas. You once paralyzed the whole city, when you had had non-benders working at the power plant stop producing the energy. I would appreciate your support. At least speak with her. You will see yourself."
The little man sighed and turned to Asami. "You look like a doll, girl."
"I do", Asami agreed. She felt that it wasn't a flattery and she should not object. "You look like a saint."
"I wasn't born this morning, Miss Sato," he said, but his face relented. Asami noticed that he recalled her name. "Do you think your friend knows what he's doing?"
She went silent for a second. "I hope so."
"You hope so..." he repeated slowly. "Me too." A pause. "I'll think about it, Tenzin. Now leave me, please."
Being in the empty room once again, Asami poked the airbender. "Was it all true?"
"As far as I know, Mohandas never lies." Tenzin smiled at her.
"You should've told me."
"It would have changed nothing. Mohandas trusts only true and honest hearts. I did not want to risk."
"Risk what? That I will become haughty?"
"No. I would rather he believed that I am the manipulative politician here. He likes to fight; not physically, of course, it would negate his philosophy of non-violence. But I wanted him to pick me as the enemy, not you."
Asami didn't comment, and they left the house.
Councilwoman Sato, she thought. Sounds neat.
One, two. A rock disc flew swiftly through the air. A dodge. Three, four. Two quick attacks. Five, six. Remember to hold the guard. Seven, eight. A combo; first some firebending distraction, then a disc into the opponent's legs to make them lose their balance. But it was only a dummy, so it didn't. Nine, ten. Maintain the breath; control the pulse.
"I miss Air Temple Island," sighed Bolin, wiping sweat from his forehead.
"You know we couldn't have stayed there any longer." Mako was dogged. Bolin had started to fuss in the morning and continued to do so up to the practice, but his brother's answer didn't change a bit. "It'd be an abuse of their hospitality."
"Korra wanted us to stay."
"I meant Tenzin, Bolin. It's his home. Besides, the decision is made. Let's not dwell on it."
Bolin rolled his eyes, and shot a quick disc into the net. "You made it. Without even asking."
"Let's not dwell on it," repeated Mako like a broken record. He soon continued to practice his firebending.
Of course, thought Bolin angrily. Because you have no arguments but your stupid pride.
One, two; an instant shot. They had come back to the arena a week ago. Korra had told them several times they could stay, but Mako refused to agree, saying that a new season was upon them and they had to practice if they wanted to be in the finals again. Three, four; the net fluttered twice. But Bollin knew; it'd been bollocks. Korra had been disappointed but eventually accepted Mako's decision. Five, six; a dodge, and remember about the footwork. Like we couldn't train on the island! Bolin frowned at his thoughts and started to mock his brother. No, no, Korra, that's impossible, because, you know, we have to struggle in this little room again for no apparent reason. And I'm Mako being Mako, so yeah, deal with it. Seven, eight; once again, a furious combo.
Nine, ten. He's always like this, and I'm sick of it.
"I'm going out."
Discs went into the net with great power, crashing into the wall.
"What?" Mako seemed surprised. "Where? It's getting late. And we haven't finished yet."
"Oh, you know." Bolin smiled acidly at the door. "Let's not dwell on it."
And he left, leaving his brother scowling.
The night was falling quickly in Republic City. The waters of Yue Bay shimmered in the sundown; all the barges and ships were returning to harbours, leaving the island and the Avatar Aang's memorial alone in the sea. But the downtown wasn't really into going to sleep. From a distance it was speckled with a thousand of lights; Bolin remembered its view when they had lived on Air Temple Island. All those skyscrapers, relentless in protruding to the sky... And of course the arena, which was shining like a giant light bulb thanks to the golden facade. On his left and right, however, poorer districts went nearly all black. Bolin sat on the pier in front of the stadium and started to look into the water. His reflection was quivering as waves were slowly moving towards the shore.
Hello, Bolin. He wanted to greet himself, but instead he smoothed his hair down. You look handsome as always. But tell me, what do you really want?
As one could suspect, the mirrored Bolin didn't answer.
Do you want to know how I write Phantoms? If you like the fanon, you might want to check my blog out. With every new episode, I write a post about my writing techniques and a lot of backstage decisions I had to make. I believe you'll like it!
For the collective works of the author, go here.