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|The Master's Way|
The Master's Way
A few weeks passed since they arrived at the Southern Air Temple. Sai had continued his firebending training with Sozu as his teacher. Now that he could actually practice with real fire, Sai proved to be quite talented at the art. His impulsive nature complimented firebending perfectly, according to Jinora. The airbenders slowly got used to the Avatar living at the Southern Air Temple again, the first one since Avatar Aang left 215 years ago.
The teachings of Suke Serizawa had sunk in, but with visual reference, Sai could see where his flaws were. Sozu proved a formidable teacher, stern yet justified. He was able to pinpoint Sai's mistakes, and they worked together like a well-oiled machine. "Again!"
"Come on man, I've been practicing this sequence all day! Haven't you got something else?"
-"Yes I do, but you're not ready. What you need to do, is improve the moments at which you draw your breath. Inhale during the blast, exhale any leftover air in between."
"That's a very specific thing, don't you think?"
-"I overheard your first lesson. Don't you remember the first thing my father taught you?"
"Firebending is not in the muscles, it's in the breath."
Sozu pointed an approving finger at him. "Bingo. So why do you always use brute strength?"
Sai sighed. "It's leftover from earthbending. That's why I always anchor myself before doing anything. That just comes natural to me. I've been doing that all my life, it's not something I can just unlearn in a couple of weeks."
-"Fair enough, but the only way to get it right is my way." He thought for a moment. "Do you trust me?"
"Of course I do."
-"Good." Without any warning, Sozu spun around his axis, sweeping his foot along the ground, launching a blazing arc at Sai's feet. Sai got the idea, and with a single short blast from his hand kept his feet from being burned. But before Sai could attack himself, Sozu launched a stream of fire at Sai, which he could only block by splitting the stream around him. The Avatar shot a low kick along the ground, forcing the firebender to break his attack in order to dodge. This gave Sai the initiative again, and he quickly launched a few jabs. Sozu effortlessly deflected them, and forced Sai to keep moving. He rolled, and Sozu heard him take a deep breath, and got ready. When Sai ended up back on his feet, he shot a massive stream of fire, and Sozu did the same. The streams met in the middle, creating a wall of fire. They kept it going for several seconds before they were both forced to stop it due to fatigue. Sozu brought his hands back in front of him, and slowly exhaled.
-"That's the way it's done, Sai!"
"What do you mean?"
-"That last move! A move like that can only come from the breath. If it had been in the muscles, I could have easily won that one."
"Wait, you weren't holding back?"
Sozu smiled. "No, I really wasn't. This is what I was hoping to achieve with this little duel. Forcing you to let go of your earthbending principles and think like a firebender. And I am very pleased to tell you, that if you keeping doing just that, you have the potential to be the most powerful firebender in the world."
Sai couldn't help the grin appearing on his face. "Thank you, Master Sozu."
Sozu nodded, and they bowed to each other, it being the custom in the Fire Nation.
"Come on. I want to see how Yang is fairing in her airbending training. It's gonna be me up there soon, so I might as well get me a little bit of a head start."
Sozu agreed, and they went to the front courtyard, where the airbenders were training. Sai always liked watching them. There was a grace and an elegance with which they moved, preformed their moves, and everything. Sai and Sozu were on the balcony, overlooking the courtyard as they spotted Yang in the middle.
At first, Jinora wasn't too pleased. Her style of airbending was very aggressive and direct, not unlikely, given that she had mostly learned from firebenders and spent the past five years fending for herself. It hadn't taken the master long to recognize Korra's initial style in Yang, and slowly managed to talk her around.
Upon closer assessment, Yang actually had mastered most of the traditional thirty-six tiers of airbending, they just needed some polishing up.
She was put in a group a couple of years older than her, because her rough life had battle-hardened her, even if she didn't fully realize that.
-"Hold that ball right there, Yang. That's perfect!" Jinora believed in a softer approach to teaching than both Sozu and his father, for better and for worse. "Now knock those pins down!"
Ten pins, at the far end of the courtyard, in a triangle formation. The trick was to knock them all over with one move. Yang gently brought the ball over her head, before sending it on its way, hitting nine out of ten pins. So close, yet so far away.
She turned around to face Jinora, and spotted Sai overlooking the session. She waved a small gesture in his direction and Jinora looked up as well. "Care to join us, Avatar Sai?"
"I'm good. Short break from firebending."
-"Speaking of which, we should get back to work. Plenty to do." Sozu might have been a little bit of a killjoy, but he wasn't wrong.
They spent most of the afternoon doing the firebending exercises, And Sai noticed that it was a little bit easier when he wasn't referring back to his earthbending as a frame of reference. Properly tired and properly content, they went back to the dining hall, where a good, vegetarian meal had been prepared for them.
-"I can't wait to get back to low ground," Sozu complained.
Juji couldn't help but laugh. "You mean you can't wait to get back to eating steak?"
-"Lighten up, the Air Nomads have been vegetarians for thousands of years, and they never starved to death."
Sai was surprised. "You've been taking history classes?"
She nodded. "Well, you three are always busy practicing bending, and watching from the sidelines becomes boring after a while. So I decided I might as well take a look into the Air Nation's culture. It's actually very interesting."
-"I'll take your word for it, sis. Now let's get eating!"
Juji let out a tiresome sigh at her brother's callous response. "You have always been an uncultured swine." Juji also began eating, as the last of them.
After dinner, they retreated to "their" living room again, and Sai opened up.
"Listen Sozu, I think it's time for me to start with my airbending training. I know I haven't fully mastered firebending, but time is of the essence here."
He nodded approvingly. "I understand. But while I do think you have made big steps over the past few weeks, you have still got a long way to go. Even so, it's your call, and I'll respect it."
The rest of the evening was a lot lighter, and Yang and Sozu went to bed early, leaving Sai and Juji by the fire. They immediately cuddled together, something they didn't usually have the time or privacy for.
"I do miss this," Sai said, with a sigh.
-"Me too. But you know, it's not like we don't have our reasons. Busy times."
"Yeah. But I'm still worried. One day, the Dai Li will have had enough of waiting and they'll attack this place again, treaty or no treaty."
-"How come? They wouldn't want to instigate a war, you think?"
He did say anything, which got Juji even more worried. "You think they want war?"
"Well, before I left Republic City, the Chief of Police told me that people high up the food chain in the Earth Kingdom still see the Republic as their land, stolen from them by Avatar Aang. That, and Captain Lee has something personal against me. I don't know what, but I don't like it."
-"Wow... I... I don't really know what to make of that. But if they do, why haven't they made a move yet? We've been here for nearly a month and nothing has happened yet."
"I don't know. But the longer we are here, the more time they have to prepare for whatever they are going to do."
-"You want to get away from this place? Opal Beifong said it, this is probably the safest building in the world right now. Even if the Dai Li would have the guts to mount an incursion into this place, what makes you think they could?"
"They found us in the middle of the mountains, I think they could figure something out."
-"Fair enough. Still, it's not just the four of us anymore. You have a very decent handle on two elements now and we have an army of airbenders backing us. That would be one hell of a fight, given what we did to them in the mountains."
"Yeah. I guess so." Sai ran his hand through Juji's short hair. "But enough politics and worrying. How are you doing? Air Nomad culture still interesting?"
-"Oh, you know, keeps one busy. I hate to admit it, but I'm starting to agree with Sozu more and more."
-"Meat! I miss the food from Ember Island. I miss it all." Juji started trembling a little bit in Sai's arms.
"It's all right. It's a big change for you, and I think you are doing great. This was what I meant when I said that getting into a little trouble would be good for you."
She smiled eyes a little wet. "I'm having a hard time believing you wanted me to make a mad dash across two continents on the run from a bunch of killer earthbenders."
"Well, can't argue with results, you know?"
Despite a touch of homesickness, she laughed at his comment. "You're right. But we should be off to bed. You'll need the sleep if you're going to start airbending tomorrow."
He slowly closed his eyes. "I know. But there is one more thing we need to do before we go."
Sai reached into his inner pocket, and pulled out the pack of cigarettes of the Dai Li. There was one left. Juji was amazed. "You have had that for three weeks, and you never told us?!"
He shrugged. "Oh, you know, just waiting for the right moment. This is the absolute last one." He put it in his lips, and decided to light it with the firebending move Sozu taught him: The Matchhead. Juji was surprised at this. "He actually taught you that?"
"Yeah, we made a deal when we went to the Fire Temple on the solstice. If I would kick his ass, he would teach me this as soon as I got the hang of this whole firebending thing. I showed him all corners of the island, so he kept his end of the up as well."
-"I remember that alright. He was back and blue when you came back. I got the shock of my life."
"Still, it worked. He held his own fantastic against the Dai Li."
-"That's true. Settle on "can't argue with results"?"
Sai laughed. "Let's." He threw the empty pack on the fire, and Juji threw the finished butt on there as well. Sai closed his eyes, took a deep breath and let the fire flare up brighter and hotter than it had been, before letting it die down.
Juji stood up and pulled Sai on his feet. "Come on, past time for bed."
The next morning, Sai went to Jinora early. She seemed pleased to see him. "Sai, how can I help you?"
"I had a short discussion with Sozu last night, and we think it's best that I start my airbending training. I have a lot of ground to make up, don't I?"
She smiled. "Yes you do. Come with me, you need to get started right away."
For the collective works of the author, go here.