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Air. Water. Earth. Fire.
Long ago, there lived humans with the unique abilities to control the elements. Those who possessed the mystical gene were known as benders. The most powerful of all benders was the Avatar, master of all four elements. But everything changed; over time, the benders died out, and their art was lost.
Hundreds of years passed, and the benders became but a legend. Even the Avatar faded into a mere myth. Nobody believed in the benders anymore. But not all has been lost to time. I believe . . . because I met the Avatar.
The Beginning of an End
"It's time for you to take over the responsibility of keeping peace and balance in the world."
"Happy birthday, Jenny!"
I stood on the porch step, arms held forth to present a gift-wrapped parcel. A smile bent her lips and lifted the cheeks below her sparkling eyes to form a welcoming countenance, all framed by a cascade of hair as black as a raven's feathers.
"Thanks!" said she, receiving the box and setting it aside. "You're early."
"Well, I'm glad. I want to show you something. Come on!"
Before I could respond she had me by the wrist. She led me down the front walk, paused to let a school bus meander by like a massive myriapod, and then dragged me across the street. She tramped across the lush midsummer grass of the park, passing the playground and coming to a halt in the shade of an oak tree.
I slapped my hands to my cheeks, jaw falling open. I gasped, long and deep. And I said: "It's amazing! It's--it's--a tree!" I frowned. "Seriously now, what are you showing me?"
"Just watch." She unslung a canteen from her shoulder and set it upright on the ground.
"You're going to water the tree?"
"No." She kneeled down beside the canteen and unscrewed the lid, smiling eagerly.
"I know that face," I said gravely. "You're going to drown an anthill."
She struggled against a grin to form the word, "No."
"What then?" I kneeled on the opposite side of the canteen.
She flicked the lid aside. She threw a glance over each shoulder, searching the surrounding area to ensure she wasn't being watched. I raised an eyebrow. She raised her hands, spreading them out with palms downward and fingers dangling, as if she were about to play piano or raise the dead.
I was watching, but seeing nothing. I was searching so intently for whatever it was she was showing me that, at first, I thought it was a trick of the light, or that my bespectacled eyes were playing tricks on me. But it was no optical illusion. This time I gawked genuinely. The water was flowing out through the neck of the canteen, straight upward. Slowly it climbed higher and higher, like a waterspout, but in slow motion. And then it halted above our heads to hover in midair.
I could hardly speak. With a swallow, I succeeded to choke out, "How in the world--?"
"Cool, huh?" she whispered. "Watch this."
The water began to swirl in the air, whirling and twirling until it became a constantly spinning ring. She clenched a hand. The ring exploded, showering water upon us--water that didn't touch us. Each drop halted just above our heads, floating there as if time had frozen.
"Your dad didn't pursue a repeal on the law of gravity, did he?"
The water merged into a single blob and then trickled back down into the canteen, not a drop out of place. Casting her eyes about again, she replaced the lid and threw the strap over her neck.
"Well?" she asked eagerly. "What do you think?"
It took a few minutes and a dash of cold water in my face for me to regain consciousness, far the less articulacy.
Laughing at me, she said, "I think I'll take that as a compliment."
"Take it as what you want. In dreamland everything is open to perception."
"You're not dreaming, Jacob."
"Tell that to the water nymph that lives in your canteen."
"That wasn't a nymph. I was controlling the water."
"Oh, so you're a witch. I hope you won't take it personally, but I'll have to burn you now. Tradition, you know. Well, somewhere, it is. So I figure, why mess with it?"
Jenny snapped her fingers. "You get the kindling," as a small flame sprang up on her thumbnail.
"Oh, you can cast fire spells, too. Anything else I should know?"
The flame grew into a ball of fire, which she tossed back and forth from hand to hand before snuffing it with a clap. "I can control wind and earth, too. But fire comes easiest."
"Whatever. This is still all just a dream. Although, usually, in my dreams, I'm surrounded by dancing tubas, and fleeing my adoring fans."
"Indeed. They dance, too. Ballerinas. They sure know how to twirl."
Jenny rolled her eyes at my wit--or lack thereof--and otherwise ignored it as she insisted, "But this isn't a dream. This is real. I can control the elements."
"Ridiculous. It can't be. I've known you nearly half your life, and you've never shown signs of being a witch."
"Oh, no? What about the time we were in the tree, and I fell out? I landed without getting hurt."
"Freak breeze, that's all! You were wearing baggy clothes that day."
"What about the time I blew my birthday cake across the table into your face?"
"It was all the helium from blowing up those balloons."
"And the time I buried the slide with sand when you had your back turned for only a moment?"
In one fluid movement, Jenny opened the canteen and manipulated the water out and into my face. "Do you still think this is a dream?"
Spitting out a mouthful of water, I said, "It's raining outside, and the ceiling over my bed is leaking. That's all."
To this, she responded by punching me in the shoulder.
"Ouch!" I protested.
"My cat stepped on me."
Jenny closed her eyes with a sigh. "Jacob, do you remember the time the grill fell into the pool?"
"And on top of me." My voice faltered. "I'll never forget that."
"And it sank to the bottom, pinning you there." I nodded; she went on, "And then that sudden current of water lifted the grill off you so you could swim away."
"That was--that was--"
"That was me."
I searched for words, but found none. Leaning back on my hands, I said, "It's incredible, Jenny. It's incredible! How can this be real?"
"I wish I knew." She shook her head perplexedly. "But it is. Somehow--somehow I can bend the elements to my will."
"Why didn't you ever tell me this?"
She looked away. "I'm sorry. I--I've never told anyone, before now. I never really understood it myself. Even now, I don't really know how it's possible. But I could never do it on purpose before. Not very well, at least. Not until today."
"Today? What's changed?"
"I don't know." She shrugged. "But somehow, I have greater control all of a sudden. Before today I never could have done what I just did with the water."
"Okay, so magical powers increase on a witch's twelfth birthday."
"I'm not a witch."
"Oh, so you're a warlock. What else haven't you told me?"
"I'm a bender."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm not a witch. I'm a bender. This power--it's called bending."
"And how do you know this?"
Her shoulders rose and fell. "I can't explain it. I just . . . know."
"You just know," I echoed. "Could this get any weirder?"
"It could, boy. It could."
Jenny and I started. Looking up, we saw a tall middle-aged man standing over us. A trim and polished mustache adorned the lip of his rigidly stoic face. He wore a very formal suit of a dark pinstripe, which I would have thought would be insufferable in the heat of a summer day. His voice was soft and smooth but harsh.
"Good afternoon," said Jenny, rising. I stood up beside her. "I--don't think we've met?"
"I'm new in town," the man confessed. "But we know one another better than you think."
Jenny stared warily at the man. "I--don't understand. Who are you?"
"That's not what matters here. What is relevant is that I know who you are. Or, shall we say, what you are."
Jenny stiffened. "You mean--you saw?"
The man nodded. "I did. But I've known for far longer than that." He tucked a hand in one pocket. "You see, I have been looking for you for quite some time. And now, at last, here you are."
Jenny stared. "You've been looking for--me?"
"You possess a unique talent. In fact, you possess far more potential than you realize, Avatar."
Jenny's eyes widened. "You know that I'm--? But how?"
"How?" I echoed. "How about What? What's an Avatar? And why do you know you are one?"
Again was the response, "I just do." Then the man spoke again.
"The Avatar is the most powerful bender of all. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much anymore, now that she's the last bender alive. A pity, that."
"I'm so confused!" Jenny cried. "What does it mean that I'm the Avatar? Why do I have these powers?"
A slight curve came to his lips. "You might as well know in your last moments."
Surprise and fear rippled in my chest, but I suppressed it with anger. "And when's that to be, huh?" I growled, taking a step forward. "I'll have you know that I'm a--I'm a--well, never mind me. I'll have you know that Jenny here's a blue belt!"
I felt thick, sinewy hands seize me by the arms. Jenny let out a sharp protest as another man grabbed her. In addition to the two brutes holding us, one man and two women sneaked up from the rear. All five faces were shadowed by hockey masks.
Struggling against her captor's grip, Jenny snipped at the mustached man, "What's going on? Why are you doing this?"
"I told you we would meet again," said he. "But I have plans laid, Avatar, plans with which I cannot allow you to interfere."
"What are you talking about?" Jenny spat. "I've never met you before in my life!"
"Not in your life, my dear, no. But in a past life of yours, we have met. In several past lives, in fact."
Jenny ceased her struggles. "Past lives--of mine?"
"You are the Avatar, and as such, you are a part of a reincarnation cycle. Even though your predecessor died with the benders, I knew that the Avatar would be reborn eventually. It was to be expected, I suppose, that it would be the start of this century, of all centuries."
"I'm just some reincarnation?" asked Jenny. "Of some person who died hundreds of years ago?"
"Many persons, actually."
"This is madness!" I interrupted. "Jenny's not a bunch of ancient dead people!"
"Not precisely. But I wouldn't expect a mere human such as yourself to understand."
I pulled against the viselike grip. "I'll show you a mere human!"
Before my captor could react, I slammed my foot down on his and threw my skull back against his mask. His grip loosened enough that I could wrest my arm free and elbow him in the stomach before delivering a clumsy, though no less effective for that, roundhouse kick. He toppled. I regained my balance. Next I locked my large hands around the man holding Jenny, peeling him away from her. She spun round and snapped, "Duck!"
I fell flat in time for her to form a sphere of flame in her hands. In rapid succession she pitched the ball at one of the masked hooligans, formed another, threw it at the next, created a third, and knocked back the last.
Meanwhile I contended with he who had been holding Jenny. With my superior fighting skill, I felled him; in other words, he stumbled over a tree root and I sent him sprawling with a strong kick to the rear. Now Jenny grabbed me by the collar and dragged me unceremoniously away with the simple instruction, "Run!"
And so we did. But even as we turned tail and fled, the mustached man issued a simple, calm, "Catch them."
His five pawns rose instantly and gave chase. I had to slow my gait to match Jenny's, though it meant allowing our pursuers to gain distance as we crossed the park field.
"This way!" said Jenny.
I retorted, "Haven't you led me into enough trouble?"
Jenny and I crossed the silent street and darted up a driveway and around a house. We broke through a wall of bushes into the next yard, swerving to narrowly avoid a screened-in pool. A young girl screamed from the water when our pursuers decimated the hedge line. Onward through the subsequent yards we dodged past lawn equipment, swing sets, fire pits, an angry dachshund, and a boy with a toy dart-gun.
At the end of the block I began to cross the street, but Jenny pulled me across the intersection instead. We rounded the house and vaulted the rear fence. On the other side we landed in a garden, narrowly avoiding the growing vegetables. A grayed man looked up from his cultivation, yelling as we ran past, "Hey, youngsters! You watch your step! You nearly crushed--"
Before he could finish, the five thugs hurdled over the fence and galloped through his yard, trampling his patch.
The gardener tore at his hair and screamed, "My cabbages!"
And still we were chased persistently through the neighborhood. Jenny and I were beginning to tire.
"Follow my lead!" I instructed.
"What's your plan?"
"Just trust me!" I panted. "Out of the two of us--I'm the only one who hasn't--nearly gotten us killed!"
We flung ourselves over another fence. The moment we landed I grabbed Jenny's arm and pulled her back into the dense bushes on the other side. Our pursuers sailed over our heads and ran on into the next yard.
We hid there in the shadows of the shrubs until our breathing slowed and the sounds of the mustached man's minions faded into the distance. Only then did Jenny dare to speak.
"Who do you think that man was?"
"Obviously someone with a grudge against you."
"But why? Do you think--" She hesitated. "Do you think it could be true that we've met in a past life?"
"Absurd," I objected. "He was probably just some guy who hated you because you hit the winning home run in a softball game and crushed his daughter's team." I stood up and put a hand atop the fence. "Come on. Let's get back to your house before those guys come looking for us again."
But when we clambered over the wooden pickets, my heart leaped into my throat.
"Hello again, Avatar." An icy smile bent mustached lips. "Did you really think you could escape me so easily? I have been waiting a long time for the moment to execute my plans. I cannot allow you to be a distraction when the day comes."
"I have no idea what you're talking about!" said Jenny shrilly. "What do you want from me?"
"Your life." The man reached into an inner pocket and withdrew a metallic object that glistened in the sunshine. It was a pistol. "These modern weapons are so crude," he observed, raising the muzzle toward Jenny and pulling back the hammer. "But they're effective."
In spite of a "Jacob! Don't!" from Jenny, I stepped between her and the gun. She tried to push me out of the way, but I grabbed her arms and held her behind me.
"You said yourself that she's part of some reincarnation continuity," I taunted. "If you kill her, she'll just be reborn and come back to kick your butt!"
"I am sorry to say that is true." He frowned. "But you won't."
Bang. The sound exploded in my ears even as the pain exploded in my chest. I could hear Jenny's screams, but they were distant. The stoic face of the mustached man swam before my eyes. Jenny caught me as I collapsed, and slowly laid me down in the grass.
Indistinctly I saw the gun directed at Jenny. I heard a smooth voice say, "You asked what it means to be the Avatar. I'll tell you. It means you were destined to defeat me. It means that you were destined to fail. It means that you will die."
Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith
Edited by My Name is Nuile, Aug 12 2012 - 09:18 PM.