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The Last Avatar

An epic Fan fiction

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#1 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa
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Posted Aug 12 2012 - 09:14 PM

The Last

Avatar

~ * ~

ENIM SAPIENTIA

~ * ~

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.

Chapter One

The Beginning of an End

"It's time for you to take over the responsibility of keeping peace and balance in the world."

- Katara

"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.""Only fashionably.""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."Watch!"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.""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?""Uh--sandstorm?"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."Real pain!""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."

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Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith :smilemirunu:


Edited by My Name is Nuile, Aug 12 2012 - 09:18 PM.

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#2 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa
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Posted Aug 20 2012 - 11:53 AM

Chapter Two

Saved

"Never give up without a fight."

- From the inscription on General Iroh's souvenir dagger

I was ready to wake up from my dream. But apparently gunshots didn't work as effectively as pinches.Jenny turned her face away from the gun to look down at me. She stared at me in shock and horror. "Jacob--I'm so sorry." And she closed her eyes."Good-bye, Avatar," hissed the man with the mustache. "It ends here."Jenny's eyes snapped open. They burned with an intense blue glow. She sprang away from me, and where she landed a pillar of fire erupted, lifting her far above our heads.The mustached man tutted and uplifted the gun toward her. "I was hoping it would be a little more challenging than this," he sighed.But before he could pull the trigger a second time, there was a screech, and a small brown-and-black shape collided with his extended arm. He cried out, dropping the gun as the shape hissed and wriggled, clinging to his sleeve. Finally he dislodged the shape and threw it off his arm.Above, Jenny still hovered, eyes glowing. Now she thrust forth her hands, and fire streamed from her fingertips. The jet struck the mustached man head-on. He went flying. I heard splintering wood, an abrupt rip, and a splash. Vaguely I saw the brown-and-black shape streak across the lawn in pursuit.The pillar of flame lowered downward, to dissipate entirely as Jenny's feet touched the ground and her eyes lost their unearthly glow. She fell onto her hands and knees in the grass with a gasp."What--what just happened?" she moaned."Well," I wheezed, "you showed me your magic, we were chased by an unfriendly hockey team, I was shot, you turned into a dragon, the guy with the mustache got attacked by a--""Shot!" Jenny repeated, as if she had forgotten and suddenly remembered. She scrambled to my side, putting a hand gingerly over my wound. "No--no! This is all my fault! You shouldn't have--That bullet was meant for me!"I forced a smile in spite of the pain that throbbed in my chest with every beat of my heart. "Finders keepers."A heard a high, thin voice, choked with the gravel of age. "He's gone. Vanished. Again."Jenny and I looked up. An old man minced rapidly across the yard toward us. With no hair atop his head and his wrinkled face shrouded by a long white beard, he looked like a monk. But in a large trench coat, he looked more like detective Monk."Oh--please!" Jenny pleaded. "Help him! He's been shot! Call 911!"The old man stood over me. Gazing sadly down at me, he shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry. There is nothing I can do. It's too late.""No!" cried Jenny. "It can't be!""But you can save him, Avatar.""What? Me?" Jenny looked up into the man's face. "How? Please--I'll do whatever I can! Tell me how!""You know how. You have done it many times.""What are you talking about? Done what?""Bend the water from your canteen into your hands. Then press it to the wound.""How will water help?""Just do it."Jenny obeyed. She opened the canteen and conjured the water from it. "Now what?""Heal him.""But how?""Calm your mind. You must relieve yourself of tension. Do not rush yourself.""Yeah, no hurry, Jenny. Take your time. It's not like I'm dying, or anything.""Be silent, if you wish to live," the man growled. To Jenny, he continued, "Look inside, and you will remember."Jenny closed her eyes and slowly inhaled, and exhaled. Then she pressed her hands to my chest. I winced as the water touched my wound. For an instant, it stung; then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another glow, and my wound began to numb. The pain ebbed away. It felt as if a hole in my body was being filled--which was probably exactly what was happening. When, moments later, she helped me to sit up, there was nothing left but a round tear in my shirt. The blood had been washed away, and the skin was unbroken and smooth. Even my acne had been cleared."You're all right!" Jenny exulted, pulling me into a tight hug."Thanks to you.""I thought that you were--""Not me. Luckily, my heart was still in my throat, so the bullet missed."Jenny looked up at the second mysterious man in dire need of a shave we had seen that day. "Thank you so much!""I did nothing. It was you who healed him.""Well," I proposed, "now that we're all happy and healed and out of imminent life-threatening peril, how about an explanation? For starters, who for the love of Mike are you?"The man stroked his beard and said slowly, "My name is Wuqing.""Bless you.""But the Avatar knows me better by a different name."Jenny groaned. "But I've never met you before in my life! Why do random people keep saying they know me?""My name, as you are familiar with it, is Thomas.""I don't know any--"Her words were cut off by a sharp gasp as the man before us faded into thin air, as if he had been only a mirage. In his place stood a cat, a tabby of brown and black pelt, whom I recognized as none other than Jenny's own pet. At last I was convinced it was all just a dream."Tommy?" Jenny stared in disbelief. "But--how--?"In my dreams, it has never surprised me when animals start talking or calling me Kevin. I just shrugged my shoulders as the cat emitted a long, high mew; somewhere between its throat and our ears, the sound transfigured into English. "I was sent to you and your family to watch over, guide and protect the Avatar. We knew that, after your return, it was only a matter of time before you were hunted down.""By the mustache-guy," I surmised.The cat nodded. "Precisely.""But who sent you?" asked Jenny. "What are you?""I was sent here from the Spirit World."I said, "Oh, so you're a ghost, to boot.""Indeed.""But that doesn't explain who that man with the mustache was, or why he wants to kill me, or what it means that I'm the Avatar!"The cat beckoned with his tail. "There is much I must tell you. But this is not the place. Come with me." He turned and bounded away across the yard, pausing with raised paw for us to follow.Jenny stood up. She began to follow, then turned to look at me. "So--are you coming with us?" She added, "You don't have to. I mean--obviously, there's someone out to--to kill me. This will be dangerous."I climbed to my feet after her. "You trusted me enough to show me your secret. I won't let you down. After all, you'll need me to keep you out of trouble." I shrugged. "And if I get shot again, you can always splash more water on me."She smiled and ran to catch up to Wuqing. I followed, though with less enthusiasm."Great!" I murmured to myself. "To recapitulate: I found out that my friend is a witch; we got chased by an angry hockey team and a crazy guy with a mustache and a gun who shot me; Jenny went pyromaniac; and finally, we were saved by a werecat ghost who taught her to heal me. And now he's taking us to his secret catcave, or maybe the Spirit World, or maybe a retirement home. " I sighed. "My life was far less complicated an hour ago."

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Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith :smilemirunu:


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When I know I can't live without a pen and paper, when I know writing is as necessary to me as breathing . . .

 

tumblr_meb7408mTy1r4ejnio1_1280.gif

 

I know I am ready to start my voyage.

 

A Musing Author . . . Want to read my books?


#3 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa
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Posted Sep 03 2012 - 07:36 PM

Chapter Three

Legends

"I'm the avatar! You gotta deal with it!"

- Korra

The White Lotus Kwoon was an establishment on the outskirts of downtown, a school of the Chinese martial arts. From the front window I had always found it difficult to believe that there could be a room in the back of a sufficient size for training. But the reception room's diminutiveness of size, as I now learned, allowed for a larger space beyond. Wuqing transformed into a human in the rear alley to unlock the door, leading us into a long, though still rather narrow, chamber. A stairwell led on to a second floor above, allowing for further training space.At the foot of this stood a girl, one foot still on the last step. She was of an age somewhere between, by my estimate, Jenny and myself; fifteen or sixteen, I thought, maybe even my own age. She pulled auburn strands of hair out of her face to regard us with curiosity."Which one?" she asked, walking over to us.Said Wuqing, "The young lady."The girl looked Jenny up and down. "So you're the Avatar? I was expecting someone . . . well, older."Jenny took a step closer. They were equal in height, inch for inch. "Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you. You look pretty young yourself, for a spirit."Wuqing interrupted. "She is no spirit. This is Tobi, my assistant and my star pupil. Tobi, this is Jenny, and this is Jacob." With this introduction, he shuffled over to a corner and began peeling back the mat."Nice to meet you," said Tobi, extending her hand to Jenny, who received it with a shake. Turning to me, Tobi went on, "And--you are?""Jacob, bulletproof vest," putting forth a hand.Tobi arched an eyebrow. Jenny explained, "He's just a friend."She nodded, and the three of us followed Wuqing to the corner, where he had exposed a patch of bare wood flooring. Jenny's and my confusion became surprise when the bearded man depressed a brick in the wall and a seamlessly blended trap door fell open to reveal a ladder leading down into blackness."Secret door," I breathed. "I admit, I'm a fan of the secret door."Wuqing descended first, followed by Jenny and myself, and finally Tobi, who pulled the mat down over the opening and closed the door above, leaving us in utter darkness. I felt my way downward rung by rung, and I'm proud to say that I only stepped on Jenny's head once. Her hands . . . well, that's a different matter.I heard feet on stone, and there came a glow from near below us. Wuqing had reached the bottom and turned on a light. Grateful for the illumination, Jenny and I quickened our pace. A short, narrow corridor at the base of the ladder led on into another room. I shielded my eyes from the sudden brightness; when my pupils had contracted, I surveyed the chamber in awe.It was as large as a football field, and twice as wide. The majority of the stone floor was adorned with chalk markings, designating areas for various training. At the far end of the chamber tables and chairs were clustered, strewn with papers, books, writing utensils, and other objects. But what interested me most was that which lined every foot of the walls, floor to ceiling, all round the room: bookshelves, teeming with their titular contents."There's a secret kung fu training room and library beneath the dojo?" I gasped. "Don't tell me there's an Italian anarchist outfit beneath the pizza parlor next door. And what about the bridal shop? Does the Matchmakers' Cult meet in the basement?"Wuqing led us to the tables at the far end. "Lift your feet, please," said Tobi, "don't shuffle. I just redrew the marks this morning."I looked back at the wake of scuffed chalk behind me. "Um--right. I'll do that."Wuqing gestured us to chairs around the center table, while he circumnavigated the room, gathering as he went an armful of books and scrolls. I idly reached for a tome resting on the table that caught my eye. Suddenly Wuqing's voice screeched, "Don't touch that!"I looked over my shoulder. He wasn't even watching. His senses were--well, cat-like. I shuddered. It felt like I was being watched even when his back was turned.Wuqing continued, "These books are ancient." Look who's talking, I observed silently. Sir, I added respectfully. "They are very delicate.""Do you have any ancient novels?""Quite a few.""The Tale of Genji?""The original manuscript, in fact, written by Murasaki Shikibu herself.""You're kidding!" I gasped. "I didn't think it still existed!""That's what the dim-witted fools of the world believe."I blinked, wondering if I had been insulted or if the whole world had.Wuqing at last completed his circuit and halted at our table. Tobi helped him clear space, but when I moved to lend a hand, Wuqing hissed, "Don't touch that!" I withdrew my hand. When the table had been disburdened, it was sprinkled afresh with literary items."I have spent years collecting these texts. Some I have obtained from ancient tombs and temples; most I obtained from the Knowledge Spirit's own library, though not without difficulty. I have gathered them all so that all the information you may need in your quest, Avatar, is here.""Information," I said hungrily, leaning forward. "That's exactly what we want.""With all this information," said Wuqing, sifting through his bookstacks, "I find it difficult to choose where to begin.""Begin with me!" Jenny pleaded. "The Avatar! Who am I?"He nodded. "Very well." He rolled a long scroll onto the table. It spread from his hands, coming to a rest before Jenny and myself.I observed, "It looks like a genealogy.""Of a sort. It is, in fact, a record of the Reincarnation Cycle. Here"--he touched the top of the scroll, where was depicted a man more unshaven than any man I had ever met--"is the original Avatar, most powerful of them all. And the cycle has progressed on through the ages, up until the most recent." He pointed to the bottom of the scroll, at a mass of muscle buried in which I distinguished eyes and other facial features. "Though the surroundings and conditions of the Avatar have changed over time--and with these, the Avatar's methods--their role has always been the same. The Avatar is keeper of balance, forger of ways, guardian of truth, protector of life, champion of all. That is what it means to be the Avatar. That is what you are, Jenny.""Hey, wait," said I, as Wuqing began furling the scroll. "There's more to it." I touched the end and unrolled it further to reveal a round, youthful face with black hair and a wide smile."Wow!" Jenny breathed. "It's--me! But--but how old is this? How can I be on it?""The Avatar is timeless," said Wuqing, as if it explained all, though it explained nothing."That's the end of the scroll. Why am I the last?"Wuqing ignored the question. As he rewound the scroll, he went on, "The Avatar is the only bender capable of controlling all four elements. This is their greatest gift, and their greatest responsibility. It is what empowers them to accomplish their duties. But control is not something that comes naturally. Mastering the elements is a task that requires hard work, dedication, and patience.""But why could I control the elements so well today? I've never been able to do that before.""Today is your twelfth birthday, is it not? On the twelfth of August? In the two thousand and twelfth year? It is no coincidence that Koh found you on this day. But the strength this day brought you will not last. You will need to train to maintain it.""You mean that now, on top of training for my black belt, I'm going to have to spend my spare time learning to bend for years?""I only wish it were that simple."Wuqing leafed through the pages of a thick tome until he arrived at the page he sought, then laid it open before us with a thud that reverberated throughout the large chamber. To the left were rows of Asian characters I was incapable of identifying. To the right was an illustration of a nightmarish creature with the gray body of a caterpillar, its mouth closed around the neck of a man, leaving nothing visible but the face. This was brightly painted and wore--though one would expect something more alike to Edvard Munch's The Scream--an unnaturally dull, lifeless expression.The guardian spirit explained, "This is Koh, a spirit known as the Face-Stealer. He robs mortals of their--""Visages?" I suggested."Precisely. And he keeps them to wear for himself."As I looked closer at the picture, I realized that the creature was not eating a head, but that the head was its own; that was not, indeed, its mouth, rather a giant eye socket."You're asking me to believe that this--this--this Jabberwocky exists?" I shook my head. "Nonsense!"The man faded before my eyes. The cat that now stood on the table mewed simply, "Yes.""Oh. Right.""But what does this have to do with me?" asked Jenny.A long beard hovered in the air above the dimming cat. I blinked, and there was Wuqing in human form. "Koh has faced"--I silently marveled at the pun--"the Avatar before. You have met him in past lives. And you have met him today.""The man with the mustache!"He nodded. "Yes. You also met a small number of his victims.""Victims?" I repeated. "You mean--those masks covered their--their--" I choked on the words. "Their lack of faces?""But why did he try to kill me?""An eye for an eye," said Wuqing. "The Avatar once tried to slay the Face-Stealer. And he very nearly succeeded. Koh knows that you are the only one who can interfere with his plans. He cannot afford to allow that.""What are his plans?"Wuqing's head swiveled from side to side. "I cannot say. But I can tell you this much: Koh is out for revenge. And he will stop at nothing to achieve it."He folded his arms and cleared his throat. Jenny and I listened attentively. Here at last we were getting to the juicy stuff."Koh is one of the oldest of all spirits. In an eon long forgotten, when the Earth was very young, it was his duty to watch over the Mortal World. He soon lost interest in the affairs of humankind. He did not care about their doings. But he had a ravenous hunger for their spirits. And he fed relentlessly."You have seen what becomes of his victims. He steals their faces, but it is worse than that. Their faces become his, but so do their bodies. Their trapped spirits become his slaves. They are alive, and they cannot die. He bends their wills. They become mindless, empty husks."When the King of the Spirit World found out what Koh was doing, he was furious. Koh was banished to the dark realms of the Spirit World. His powers reduced, he could only cross to the Mortal World twice a year, on the longest and shortest days. But for all that, he continued his Face-Stealing among the living every chance he had."He soon grew famished. His lust would not satisfy with these sparse feedings. He desired the Earth to be his again. And so he rebelled. He attempted to conquer the Spirit World."His endeavor failed. His efforts were quelled. But this time, his sentence was not so light. This time, he was banished to the Mortal World."The Mortal World strips him of his powers. Between solstices, he is as a mortal. But on these days he has the power to take on his true form and resume his Face-Stealing. He has the power to gather more minions, and to assume the form of one. And then he is again powerless until the next solstice."I do not know precisely what his schemes are, or when he will execute them. But he is cunning and ruthless. If I know Koh, he has learned from his failure. Even in his weakened state, I fear that he has been building strength to a fearsome crescendo. Whatever he is up to, dire jeopardy may impend both the Spirit and Mortal Worlds."Which means you may not have years to train. You may not even have much more than four months. The winter solstice is in little over one hundred days, and I doubt if Koh will wait any longer than that to strike."So Jenny has four months to master four elements before she has to fight the caterpillar spirit and save the world. Can we go back to the part where we were wondering what in the name of all that is sensible was going on?""There is some good news.""You're one of those silver lining types, aren't you?""There is another ability the Avatar possesses, one which is quicker and more powerful than mastering the four elements. Learning to control this ability will by difficult and arduous, but it may be your only chance to stop Koh in time. It will grant you full control over all the elements at will, for it will connect you to the Avatars of the past and give you all their strength and knowledge."Jenny's eyes widened. "Is that what happened earlier when I torched Koh? It felt like my mind was being overrun by many others, and that they were taking control of my body."Wuqing nodded. "This was the Avatar State. I can teach you how to master it. But we must begin at once."

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Edited by My Name is Nuile, Sep 12 2012 - 12:56 PM.

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#4 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Sep 05 2012 - 05:58 PM

Chapter Four

The Avatar State

"In order to master the Avatar State, you must master all the chakras."

- Guru Pathik

"So what do you think?"Wuqing and Tobi had shuffled away to stow the books they did not need and to prepare the training room, leaving Jenny and I alone. Immediately she had turned and posed to me this inquiry. My answer was this:"I still think I'm dreaming.""Jacob, I'm serious.""Then I'll be serious. I think it's all mad! But it doesn't matter what I think. I don't think there's much of a choice. But the important thing is what you think.""I think you're right.""Then I think we're agreed.""I think so.""Good. All this thinking is giving me a headache.""But Jacob--" Jenny hesitated. "You still don't have to--I mean, I'll understand if you don't want to--"I silenced her with a hand on her shoulder. "But I do have to--at the very least, because I want to. You're my friend, and I won't let you down. Besides, our parents would murder me a collective four times over if I let you do it alone.""Our parents! What are they going to think of all this?""You think we should tell them?""Don't you?""I guess you're right. Let's tell them. And maybe they'll give us neighboring cells in the sanitorium.""I can prove it with my bending.""And make our parents think they have lost their minds. And they probably will lose them, whether from shock or worry. Safest, I think, to keep it a secret for the time being.""I guess you're right."I leaned closer. "So how are you feeling about all this?"She clutched her head. "Excited. Frightened. Bewildered. Confused. I'm feeling so much--I just don't know what to feel, or to think."I nodded. "I know the feeling. I feel the same right now. But I realize that it's no use to fret. The winds of destiny have caught our sails and are taking us in a new direction. We just have to cope with it. So we will.""I guess you're right.""I know I am. You'll leave Koh flat on all his stolen faces."She smiled at me. "Thanks."I shrugged. "We're a team, you and I--along with your pet ghost and little Miss Jackie Chan. We're Team Avatar!" I paused, considering. I repeated it, slowly mulling it over with each syllable. "Team Avatar. No, that's a rotten name. I can come up with something better. Tyro Team? Sells us a bit short, that. The Koh-Kicking Klub? Spelled with a third K, of course." In response to the droopy-lidded glare Jenny was returning, I said, "I'll think on it. I'll come up with something.""It is time to begin, Jenny."Jenny hopped up from her chair. I followed her across the chamber to where Wuqing and Tobi waited inside a large circle that encompassed two smaller circles. Wuqing took a cross-legged position within one of them. He indicated the other, and Jenny seated herself."Before we begin," said the spirit, "it is necessary that you understand. All the Avatars who have passed before you are a part of you, and yet they are not. They reside in the Spirit World, but they are still one with you. The Avatar State is the result of allowing all your past lives to enter your body simultaneously. All their powers become yours, and their skills become natural to you. At this point you are no longer yourself, but truly the Avatar. Your mind is no longer yours. It is incredibly powerful, but also incredibly dangerous. Unrestrained, everyone around you is at risk, both foe--and friend." His eyes rested briefly on me before he went on, "The Avatar State is a natural defense. It is triggered by adrenaline. It is ruled entirely by instinct. But it is possible to trigger it at will, and to rule it yourself. And I will teach you how to do this.Almost hesitantly, he added, "But--there is--a disadvantage to the Avatar State. For all its strength and formidability it leaves you exposed. If you are killed in the Avatar State, it is not you who will die. The death will be the Avatar's. There will be no reincarnation.""Okay," said Jenny. "Don't die. I think I can remember that."Wuqing continued, "To master the Avatar State is no easy task. It will take great strength of mind, will, body and spirit. The four elements of qi, if you will. Controlling your ability will require mental exertion, force of will, physical endurance, and unbreakable spirit. But before these are needed the cosmic energy within you must flow. As adrenaline triggers the Avatar State, so does cosmic energy. Jenny, do you know what a chakra is?""Um--that's a kind of baboon, isn't it?"I suppressed a laugh as Wuqing shook his head patiently and said, "No. A chakra is a pool of energy, and there are seven within the body. Alone, the chakras provide energy for different things. But when allowed to flow together, the seven chakras become one; a river of energy. Before they can do this, each of the seven pools--the chakras--must be unlocked."I interrupted, "Let me guess. We have to circumnavigate the globe, traveling from ancient temple to ancient temple, gathering the seven magical keys that unlock these chocolates.""The energy within our bodies is not physical, but spiritual. The keys are inside us. The chakras can only be unlocked through meditation. You must search deep inside yourself for the key and use it to unlock each chakra. It requires mental assertion of the spirit. It will not be easy. But I believe in your ability to succeed, Avatar.""Are we going to start meditating now, then?""For the moment, we will have a brief session. You are not yet ready for the process of unlocking your chakras. First I must train you to meditate." He beckoned to Tobi and I, then folded his hands and closed his eyes. "Join us, both of you. Meditation is beneficial to all."We obeyed, sitting cross-legged outside the circle."Calm your body," Wuqing began. "Calm your mind. Breathe in through your nostrils, and let it out through the mouth. Slower. Do it again. In through the nostrils--out through the mouth. Breathe in fresh air--breathe out the old. Slowly. Let the air sweep away all thoughts. Let it flow through you like energy. Clear your mind.""That shouldn't be hard for Jacob," Jenny murmured."It wasn't hard to release you from my mind," I retorted.Wuqing hushed us. "Breathe in through the nostrils--out through the mouth. Breathe in--breathe out. In--out. Clear your mind. Nothing exists outside this circle.""I'm not in the circle," I objected."Shut up."Rude spirit, I thought. Then it occurred to me that I wasn't supposed to be thinking. I then wondered how it was possible to force oneself not to think, before I realized that thinking about not thinking would get me nowhere. Then a fly buzzed in my ear, and I was reminded of the scene from Karate Kid when the sensei caught the fly with chopsticks. I attempted to try with a hand, and missed. I tried again with both hands. The clap resounded through the chamber like a clap of thunder. Flushing, I opened one eye. I could have sworn that Wuqing's hair was fluffier, and that his back was slightly arched."In," Wuqing growled, "out. In--out. In--out. Exclude the world from your mind. Expel all thoughts. Relax."My mind began to empty and dull. I realized how tired I was after all that had happened that day. The stone floor was soothingly cool. Wuqing's monotonic instructions droned slowly, steadily. Beneath my eyelids it was comfortably dark.The next thing I knew, I was being roughly shaken, and I heard Jenny's voice. "Wake up! Jacob, come on, wake up!""Stop the tubas!" I moaned. "Turn off the fans!"She shook harder. "Wake up! We're done meditating!""Five more minutes," I pleaded."No, wake up now! You won't want to miss this! Wuqing's going to teach me to bend!"

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Edited by My Name is Nuile, Sep 12 2012 - 12:57 PM.

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#5 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Oct 19 2012 - 11:08 AM

Chapter Five

Fire

"But fire brings only destruction and pain. It forces those of us burdened with its care to walk a razor's edge between humanity and savagery."

- Jeong Jeong

"We will begin with your natural element."Wuqing led our little group to a triad of small, round tables. Perched upon one of them was a candle and, upon another, was piled a stack of papers."Fire," he said. "Light the candle."Jenny raised her eyebrows. "Light the candle."Wuqing nodded. "Light the candle.""That's it?""Light the candle," he repeated.Shrugging, Jenny snapped her fingers. A tongue of flame sprang up on her thumb, and she tipped it into the candle, igniting the wick."That'll come in handy," I quipped. "In battle, you can just light a candle, and--and--ah--" I searched my mind for candle-related witticisms, but my repertoire was surprisingly limited. "Wow. I've got nothing."Wuqing withdrew from the depths of his trench coat a second candle, slightly larger than the first. He placed it on the second table. "Now light this one."Jenny conformed, this time with a little more flourish. She formed a fireball in her hands and pitched it at an angle that it whizzed over the top of the candle, lighting the wick in passing. It flew upward to explode against the ceiling in a burst of sparks. The flames subsided into puffs of spoke that quickly dissipated, leaving only a slight scorch mark on the stone."Very good." Wuqing reached again into his coat and pulled out yet another candle, this as long and as thick as his forearm. He hefted it onto the third table, atop the pile of papers. "Light this one."Jenny formed another fireball. "Easy.""Ah, but this time, I want you not only to light the wick, but melt the whole candle.""Okay." Jenny lifted the fireball above her head."Oh, and be careful. Don't set fire to the papers--they are older even than I."The fireball burst in Jenny's hands."Fire is fast and ferocious. It is impulsive and merciless. Unbridled, it can wreak unspeakable damage. It is too easy to lose oneself in the heat of emotion and to do things we regret. Fire fuels this audacity. If you let it, it will control you. That is why it is vital that you remain its master. Tame the fire. Do not let it carry you away. But at the same time, you must keep it hot and strong. Melt the candle."Jenny brushed cinders out of her hair and took a deep breath. "O-okay. I can do that."Small flames sprang onto the tips of her fingers. She held her hand over the candle, letting the heat warm the wax. A minute passed. Drips oozed down the sides. Two minutes passed. A puddle began to form in the center. Five minutes passed, and the uppermost reaches of the candle had liquefied. Slowly but surely, it was melting--mostly slowly. She had hardly melted a quarter of the candle before I began to doze on my feet. The pleasing aroma of hot wax, the gentle flicker of the candle had the same lulling affect as Wuqing's voice. My head drooped; I jerked awake, only for my head to slide again off my shoulders.Jenny was getting impatient. She let out a frustrated growl, and her fire flared suddenly. The wick, which she had bent out of the way, ignited. Amidst the flames of her fingers, however, she didn't notice. It escaped even my diligent observation--for a moment. But only a moment.I opened my jaws wide, and nobody can prove it wasn't to call out a warning. But before I found the words, the charred tip of the wick crumpled. The still-glowing cinders rained down upon the papers. Before Jenny knew it, they had kindled.In a trice she had the water out of her canteen to douse the flames, but it was too late. The damage was done. The papers had acquired large black blemishes, and she had failed her task."I am so sorry, Mr. Wuqing! I didn't mean to--"The old man held up a hand. "It is of no consequence. It is not easy to tame fire. I did not expect you to succeed on your first try. You did well.""But your papers!"Wuqing shrugged. "Newspapers. I found them lying in the alley out back.""But you said--""Well, I lied." He smiled beneath his beard. "Come. Let us do something easier. Breathing exercises and practicing a few forms will relax us both and help you learn more about firebending."While Jenny learned how to breathe, Tobi and I took chairs at the far end of the chamber to watch. I asked her, "How is it Wuqing knows so much about bending? Is he a bender?""Only in mind. He's studied the arts as well as any bender--or so he says."I turned suddenly to her. "So what's your story? How did you get involved with this?""I came to the White Lotus Kwoon to learn kung fu. That's all I wanted, and all I expected. But over the years, Wuqing was impressed by abilities, somehow. He said I had a natural gift for martial arts. I became his prize pupil, and he gave me a summer job teaching classes for younger students. Then, a few years ago--he just told me. He told me everything.""But why?"She shook her head. "I never knew. Maybe he thought I would be helpful to him as an assistant, and I suppose I have been. But I guess he saw something in me that I didn't see myself.""He saw the pebbles of destiny lying beneath the surface of the pond of truth."Tobi laughed. "Something like that. Of course, I found it hard to believe him at first. I didn't, at all. I thought he was mad. But it's hard to argue with a guy who transforms into a cat right before your eyes.""Yeah, I can sympathize with that."She cocked her head at me. "So tell me about you and the Avatar. That was the one detail Wuqing was always tight-lipped about: the current Avatar herself. And I don't have any idea how you come into this.""Well, you know how it goes. One minute you're expecting to spend the day at your best friend's birthday party, the next, you're being chased by a faceless hockey team captained by a caterpillar ghost who eats faces. That's life.""But start a little farther back. Who is Jenny, and how do you know her?""Well," I began, sitting back, "Jenny's been a friend for years. I don't know how long, really. I don't remember the day we first met. I just remember--her. And it's as simple as that. We're both homeschoolers, and that commonality has helped keep our families as well as us close."Jenny's--well, she's Jenny. I can't think of much more to say about her than that. She's spirited, energetic--she's athletic and strong. She's kind, and friendly, and she has a great sense of humor. Although mine is better. But don't tell her I said that. But there you have it. She's Jenny. She was never a hero. I suppose she probably has it in her--but heroes are born of circumstances. Until now, she hasn't had those circumstances.""So you think she can do it?""I know she'll be a great Avatar. She'll rise to the challenge. She'll gripe and complain about it, and drive herself nuts trying to wrap her head around the whole thing. But she'll do it.""It's good to know you believe in her. When Wuqing told me about the Avatar, all he said was that he was her pet cat. Well, disguised as it. I expected some old woman as wrinkly as he is, not--not--well!" She waved a hand at Jenny. "She's so--young. I admit that I was disappointed, and doubtful. But you and Wuqing see what I can't.""Don't underestimate Jenny. There's more to her than meets the eye.""I'll take your word for it.""You'll see it soon enough."She changed the subject. "So what happened today?"I began to recount the events of the day up until the point Jenny and I had entered the kwoon. When I had finished, we lapsed into silence to watch Jenny and Wuqing. The latter was slowly demonstrating a form halfway between a galloping horse and a dying goose.He was saying, "Fire strikes swiftly, and without hesitation. Do not falter. But where the fire will not, you must make it. Try it."Jenny breathed slowly. Then she trotted forward a few steps, arms extended like wings, and twirled. Her hands became alight, and she swung them in mirror figure eights. She ended with a clap, which sent a small spurt of flame before her.The old man nodded. "Excellent. Already, you have improved."Jenny put a fist against her palm and bowed. "Thank you, Master." She hesitated, then added, "But if I may, sir--shouldn't I be training to master the Avatar State, rather than learning to bend? You said I didn't have time for it.""I said you did not have the time to master the four elements," Wuqing corrected. "But you must not preoccupy yourself with the Avatar State to the full exclusion of everything else. If you cannot bend, you will not live long enough to activate the State. Besides, you have been training to master the Avatar State. The four elements of qi correspond with the four natural elements. Fire is fueled by spirit; fire is spirit. However, I must warn you: never allow anger to fuel your firebending. It is an emotion as difficult to control as fire itself, and together, they will carry you away."Jenny nodded. "Yes, Master." She bounced on her heels. "What now?"Wuqing smiled. "Now, go home. You have done well for one night. Return to your homes, and the families who are likely wondering where you have disappeared to." His eyes sparkled with a sudden feline mischief. "Your parents will not be happy. I fear you will have a time of it giving them explanations. But I will call them and do what I can. I will till them what has happened--though I believe it would be best if I leave out a few details here and there. Tomorrow, however, return, bright and early. Be ready to continue training for the Avatar State, and to learn the basics of airbending."

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Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith :smilemirunu:


Edited by My Name is Nuile, Oct 19 2012 - 11:08 AM.

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#6 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Oct 21 2012 - 06:51 PM

Chapter Six

A Late-night Warning

"Do you really want to fight me?"

- Azula

I was at home, finally laying my head gently on my pillow and pulling the bedclothes over my shoulders, when I heard the phone ring from the next room. With a groan, I waited. It rang a second time. Everybody else was probably asleep by now. At any rate, I was the closest, and after the day I had gone through, I wasn't about to be lax in my vigilance. If it was a wrong number, well, then I could put the phone through the garbage disposal.I stumbled to the phone and, having forgotten by glasses by my bedside, squinted at the numbers. It was Jenny.I pressed a button and said, "I hope your house is on fire, because otherwise--no, I hope it's better than that, because you should be able to just bend it out.""Jacob? Is that you?""No. He's my next-door neighbor. I'm the other guy who knows you can bend.""What? I can hardly hear you!""So can I. Oh, wait. I'm holding the phone upside-down. Okay. What's going on?""How quickly can you get over here?"That was an odd question. But it had been an odd day. Maybe the tooth fairy had come calling."Fifteen minutes. Ten if I don't bother to change and run fast. Five if I throw myself out the window right now.""Make it three minutes." Her voice was tense and wavering.Now I was concerned. "Jenny, what's wrong?""It's Koh." She audibly gulped over the line. "He's at the front door."I didn't hesitate a moment after that. I can't even recall whether I hung up the phone or not before I flung myself out the back door and barreled across the lawn and through the neighbor's yard. Without my spectacles, I stumbled half-blind through the night, grateful for the light of the moon. I doubt if it was any more than three minutes before I found myself panting outside the side door at her house, knocking in a gentle frenzy. The door opened on Jenny and she quickly pulled me inside."Did anyone see you?""Not--as far--as I--know.""Did you see anyone?"I shook my head."I have no idea if he's alone or not.""I--doubt--it.""So what do we do?" she cried in an undertone. "What do we do?""Did you--wake your--parents?""Are you nuts? So Koh can steal their faces?""It's not--a solstice," I reminded her."Then he'll shoot them, or his faceless minions will strangle them, or--" She broke off, shaking her head. "This isn't any everyday burglar. I can't put my family in danger. I'm the Avatar. This is my job.""You're only an Avatar--in training!""But I am the Avatar. I have to deal with Koh.""You didn't seem--to mind waking me.""I had to have someone! You're the only one who knows!""What about your cat?""I don't know! He never came home tonight.""Then we'll just have to face Koh.""But that's mad!""What else can we do? He's liable to shatter a window, which will only cause new problems."Jenny closed her eyes and swallowed hard. She said only, "Okay."Silently she led me to the front door. I reached for the handle first."Let the bulletproof vest lead the way," I whispered.But she put herself between the door and me. "No. This time the Avatar leads.""Very well." As she took the doorhandle and took a deep breath, I added, "Don't worry. I've got your back.""I'm more worried about my front," passing a hand over her face.She flung the door open and stepped out onto the porch. Koh took a step back, taken momentarily by surprise as we advanced. Then he smiled."Ah, the Avatar at last. I was worried you would leave me waiting out here all night.""What do you want, Koh?" Jenny snarled."Calm yourself." Koh put his hands in his pockets and rolled on, "This time I come to you in peace. I bear no ill will for the afternoon's regrettable events. I merely wish to extend to you a friendly warning." Through squinted eyes I saw his smile broaden. It was self-satisfied and dry, and only as warm as ice. "This is a dangerous game, Avatar, and not one you want to play. If you do not keep yourself at a safe distance, things might happen. Bystanders could be harmed. None of us want any accidents on our hands, do we?""What are you asking?" said Jenny. "You want me to stand by and let you carry on with whatever schemes you're planning?""I assure you, Avatar, you do not want to make the same mistakes as you have in the past."I jeered, "It's you who made the mistakes, Koh.""That is what separates the Avatar from me. I learn from my errors. On the other hand, you, Avatar, never learn. Life after life after life, you make the same mistakes. Allow me, then, to drill some sense into that thick skull, if I can. If you do not back down, conflict will be inevitable. And when two opposing forces collide . . . there are consequences." Instead of continuing, he paused, surveying the face of the house before him. "What a lovely house. So charmingly homey. It is a comfortable little recess in a pocket of the world.""You leave my family alone!" Jenny hissed.Koh ignored her. "It has all the trappings of peace and tranquility. Like a meadow, before the storm hits. But then nature's forces clash, and their battle becomes a hurricane. It rages across the meadow, tearing up the trees with its winds, and drowning the grass with its rain. It leaves behind it a desolate landscape, empty of life." He sighed. "Is that what you want, Avatar? Do you really want to see this house--all these houses--crushed in the wake of battle?"Jenny hesitated. I burst out, "But that's what you're going to do anyway!"He frowned. "Don't tell me what it is I intend, mortal. You could not possibly understand what it is I want." But then he regarded me with curiosity. "You're the boy I shot this morning. I never forget a face. Tell me: did it hurt? Had you ever felt anything like it? Was it the pain of imminent death?""Not thanks to Jenny," I replied pointedly."But a bullet is a mere pebble piercing your body. Imagine, then, how much worse it would feel to have your face ripped from its place. Imagine how unendurable would be the pain of living in a constant state of imminent death. Imagine your face my own, your spirit bent to my will." His eyes roved again to Jenny. "Think about it, Avatar. It would be very unpleasant; for you, for your friends, for your loved ones. What a price . . . what a dear price it would be to pay, and all because you did not turn back. But it is not too late yet."Jenny was silent. She hung her head. Surely, she couldn't be buying this?Koh went on, "And what good would it all be, anyway? You, a mere child, with no bending training, could not possibly hope to stand in my way. You would be a nuisance to me, nothing more. You cannot win. It would all be in vain. You must see that. But if you step aside, nobody need get hurt.""I--I can't," Jenny murmured."Come now. You must see that you have no choice."Jenny's head snapped up. She spat, "You're right! There's only one choice! I will stop you!"Koh's eyes narrowed. "You will try, Avatar . . . but you are not the first to fail."He was about to continue when a mew interrupted him. And then there was Wuqing, standing between Jenny and Koh.The Face-Stealer's smile returned. "Wuqing. It has been too long.""I think it is time for you to leave," was the old man's only response."Very well. I said all I meant to say. And I have my answer." He turned with a slight sigh. "A pity. But know, Avatar, that this is not as I wanted it to be. You have forced my hand.""Now," Wuqing added.And Koh walked away into the darkness. His last words to Jenny, cast over his shoulder from the end of the front walk, were these: "I wonder what your family would think. How would they feel if they knew you were so willing to sign away their lives?"

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#7 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Oct 25 2012 - 09:43 PM

Chapter Seven

Air and Water

"To master the bending disciplines, you must first master discipline itself."

- Jeong Jeong

"Air is the most constant of elements. It is around us, and it is within us. You breathe it, you swim through it. Its bounds are only those known by your imagination. If you open your mind, you will not be limited even by the sky."

Today, a large portion of the training room was occupied by a labyrinth constructed of padded wood panels. I stood with Wuqing and Jenny at the entrance. Tobi was absent, probably at home getting a well-deserved rest after a long night's handiwork."But," asked Jenny, "what does the maze have to do with air, Master?"I suggested, "You have to bend the air to carry the scent of the cheese at the end to you. Then you just follow it."Though Jenny cast me a vaguely amused, but mostly exasperated, glare, Wuqing said, "Actually, your friend is not far wrong.""Hey," I went on, "if there's cheese, I'll go through the maze.""There is no cheese. There is one entrance, and one exit. This creates a single path for the air to follow, beginning to end. You must flow with the currents of air, and follow them to the end."Jenny nodded. "Okay. Sounds easy enough.""But you have to do it blindfolded.""I was afraid there was a catch."When the spirit had wrapped a strip of cloth around Jenny's head, covering her eyes, he turned her to face the maze entrance and gave her a gentle push. "Breathe the air. Feel the air. Sense the currents. Follow them to the other side."We watched as she started timidly forward, step by step. She took deep breaths resembling Wuqing's meditation technique. I wondered if she detected the air flow through an inner, perhaps almost instinctive feeling, or if she physically sensed it as it swept past her skin or disturbed her hairs, almost as a cat does with its whiskers. At the thought, I cast a glance at Wuqing out of the corner of my eye, wondering if his beard worked that way.Jenny had nearly reached the first turn when, as far as I could tell, she felt it too soon. For she veered suddenly to the side, ramming headlong into the wall.I called, "Come on, Jenny! If guinea pigs can do it, you can! Just follow the smell of the cheese!"Jenny gave a shove in my direction, which propelled a current of air that nearly knocked me off my feet.When she had disappeared around the corner, Wuqing led me around the outside of the maze to the end, where we waited. And waited. And waited. And admired dust motes. Dull thuds and an occasional grunt of frustration from within the maze afforded us a periodical progress report. At one point, Wuqing sat down to meditate. Out of curiosity, I stepped to the bookcase to scan the shelves. A copy of Water Margin caught my eye. But as I reached out to take it gingerly in my hands, what should I hear but a gravelly, "Don't touch that!""Oh, come on!" I complained. "I'm the Avatar's friend! She's too busy training to do all the research. I should that while she's busy!""You're still not touching my collection."Suddenly Jenny cried out, "Not another dead end!""Don't think of it as a dead end," I encouraged, "but a deceased finish.""When I get out of here--"Wuqing observed, "Do not see it as a wall, but as another opportunity.""Another opportunity? Okay, then I'll take it."Before the spirit responded, there came the sound of rushing air, and Jenny appeared above the maze. For a moment, she hovered, as the momentum of her leap yielded to gravity. Then she landed lightly atop one of the walls. The moment she had gained balance, she sprang to the next wall, then to the next, and on to the next, until she leaped free of the outer wall and half-crashed, half-alighted on the ground."There! I'm out!" she declared."You used your mind and your airbending to come at your task from a different angle. Excellent work." Wuqing nodded his approval, rising. "Now, let us meditate."

~ * ~

The night passed uneventfully, and I slept through the hours I didn't spend trying to wake myself from my dream. At the White Lotus Kwoon the next day, Jenny's mentor and his assistant awaited us with a target erected at the end of the room, where the tables had been parted to provide it a large girth. Oddly, a string stretched from a peg at its center, to a wooden post standing near the chamber entrance. At the foot of the latter sat a basin full of water."Tightrope walking!" I cried, clapping my hands and bouncing up and down with sarcastic giddiness.Wuqing had learned to ignore me by this time. "Water is the element of willpower." Most people do. "Like the ocean, it pushes and pulls." When they get used to me. "You must work with it while maintaining control over it." And realize that half of what I say isn't worth listening to, anyway. "Hit the target.""Um--I'll try." Jenny coaxed the water out of the bowl, and then launched a stream. It missed by an approximate rod, leaving nothing but a long, wet trail."Try again."She obeyed. This time, the water flew off in the other direction."I think you got a drop on the target that time," I remarked. She splashed me."You must concentrate. Center your mind on your target. Focus your energy upon it. Will the water to strike it. Bend the water along the string. Keep it constant, keep it composed, and keep it true to its aim. First, practice. Try it slowly."Tobi and I seated ourselves to watch. Jenny made her first attempt, which popped like a water balloon halfway along the string. Her second attempt veered off course. Two more failures were followed by a vent of frustration in the form a powerful jet of water that just missed the target enough to strike me full on and bowl me over, chair and all. And I was behind her."Water," I moaned. "Can't we go back to air? I wouldn't mind being blasted by wind." Jenny replied with a gust of just that. The chair rolled, leaving me flat on my face."I take that back," I commented to the cold, and oh so very hard, stone."Calm yourself, Jenny," instructed Wuqing. "Water is only turbulent when necessary. A river runs smooth and steady, and does not become a rapid until circumstances call it to. Be patient. Do not hasten yourself. You have all the time you need."The floor was too fresh in my memory--indeed, I was still picking myself up--for me to voice my comments regarding just how limited her time actually was. That very deadline, in itself, aided to subdue my wit."You can do it, Jenny! Just focus!" I called instead. "Do that breathing thing, and keep your eye on the--splash." I might, I reflected, have quit while I was ahead there.But Jenny tried again. Very slowly she conducted the water forward along the string, spiraling the stream around it like a snake coiling along a branch. She took her time. She took her sweet time. But the stream wound its way to the end at last and struck its mark."Excellent! Excellent!" Wuqing beamed. "Now do it again."

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Edited by My Name is Nuile, Oct 26 2012 - 09:36 PM.

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#8 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Oct 26 2012 - 12:56 PM

Chapter Eight

Earth

"Earth is the element of substance."- Iroh

"Earth is firm and unyielding. It simultaneously protects and defends. It is the element of body. You must be conscious of yourself in your entirety, from each strand of hair to each toe. Feel the ground beneath your feet as an extension of that entirety. Be ever mindful of yourself, your surroundings, and your place in them."Jenny was blindfolded again. Her task this morning was to spar with Tobi, who was not blindfolded. I thought it would be entertaining. Wuqing thought it would teach Jenny to feel rather than see her opponent, to sense the vibrations in the earth. As it turned out, we were both equally correct.They stepped into one of the arenas chalked off on the floor. Tobi advanced first, slowly; while Jenny stood stock still, waiting."That's right," said Wuqing. "Wait for your opponent to make the first move! They who strike first do not always strike last. Anticipate their attack, and use it against them."Tobi put her feet down lightly as she inched ever nearer to Jenny. She was only a few feet away when Jenny jerked her head up suddenly. She stomped on the stone and the earth beneath Tobi rippled, upsetting her balance. Now Jenny advanced. But before she could react, Tobi was back on her feet, and she knocked Jenny back with a carefully measured kick to the stomach. Jenny retaliated with a second ripple, but this time Tobi was ready to dodge.Jenny waited again, unmoving as Tobi slowly crept around behind her. Jenny whipped around, swinging an arm wildly in Tobi's direction. Tobi caught the blow easily and rejoined with a kick to her opponent's shoulder."Do not yield to your opponent's strength! Stand against it, and use it against them!"Jenny applied the advice quickly. With a tap of her toes she raised the floor beneath Tobi a few inches, just enough to topple her. Jenny moved to plant a foot on her opposition's stomach, but Tobi rolled aside and the foot fell on bare floor.Tobi was up again in a moment, but Jenny was ready. She played helpless until Tobi came at her. Then she took her opponent's arm over her shoulder and flipped Tobi. She took the fall with practiced ease. Jenny slid her foot across the floor, causing a ruffle in the stone that sent Tobi rolling. Without missing a beat Jenny continued the onslaught. Even when Tobi moved aside to avoid the rippling floor, Jenny adjusted her aim and caught her opponent again, pushing her far beyond the limits of the drawn arena.Wuqing's thin voice echoed through the chamber. "Enough. That's enough for today. Avatar, excellent work."Jenny discontinued her attack and removed the blindfold as Tobi stood. The two shook hands."Not bad," commented Tobi, "not bad at all.""You did the best you could," Jenny replied with good-natured sarcasm. "I am the Avatar, after all.""And now," said Wuqing, "let us relax."He and Jenny converged in the meditation circle, while Tobi and I sat outside its boundaries, forming a rough diamond pattern between the four of us.Wuqing issued the usual instructions. "Breathe in through the nose--out through the mouth. Let the energy within you flow peacefully, carrying away your disruptive thoughts."I carried out the directions, successfully emptying my mind and calming my body. This time, and for the first time, I did not fall asleep. Wuqing ended the session with a deep sigh and the following pronouncement:"That is enough. Jenny, I congratulate you on your speed in learning these fundamental bending skills. Meditation, too, is an art, and not as simple as it may seem. You have taken to it proficiently. Tomorrow we will begin unlocking your chakras." He transfigured into a cat and padded toward the exit, mewing over his shoulder, "Good day!" ~ * ~We had squared matters with our parents on the pretense of taking self-defense classes, which wasn't altogether a pretense, being more or less true, the more on Jenny's part, the less on mine. My explanation was an interest in the martial arts; while Jenny claimed a desire for diversity, a change from the Korean martial arts.So it was that we waited in the front room of the White Lotus Kwoon for Jenny's parents to pick us up. The clock on the wall had an irksomely loud tick, almost like a heartbeat, which steadily drove me nuts even though I was hiding nothing beneath the floor more than the knowledge of a secret training room.The sun was at the point in the sky that it poured its rays heavily through the front windows, blinding me to the point that I had to close my eyes against it. With nothing but spots dancing amidst the darkness beneath my eyelids, the ticking of the clock seemed to become louder. Before it could overwhelm me completely, I broke the not-so-silent silence."Looking forward to chucking rocks tomorrow?"Jenny didn't answer for a moment. Then I sensed her giver herself a shake in her chair and say, "What?""Forget it. It was a bad pun, anyway. Are you all right?""Yeah. I was just--thinking.""I don't have a penny on me, but would you accept a paper clip distorted into the shape of Abraham Lincoln?""It's a deal." I withdrew the article and began bending the thin metal into shape, while Jenny went on, "I was just wondering--if I can learn to master the Avatar State in time--will it be enough? Will I really be able to stop Koh?""It's only natural that you're afraid of him. Well, come to think of it, there's nothing about him or that pertains to him that could be called natural. But fear, anyway, that's natural. Of course you don't believe that you're strong enough. Of course you believe that you stand no chance against an evil spirit bent on revenge. Of course you believe he'll kill you. Of course--""Thanks, Jacob, I appreciate the encouragement!""My point is that it's only natural to fear. But what you have to remember is that fear is an emotion, and emotions are entirely irrational. There can be rationality tied into them--as, for example, in the case of a rational fear. But this isn't. This is an entirely irrational fear; a groundless one.""That doesn't make me feel any better.""Of course it doesn't. Rationality can't dispel fear. But for what it's worth, you are strong enough. You can face Koh, and win. You're the Avatar.""That's right--the Avatar is strong enough. She can defeat Koh. But can I?""Jenny--Wuqing believes in the Avatar. Tobi believes in the Avatar. But you know what? I don't. I still think it's all a dream, a lot of nonsense and mumbo-jumbo. But whether I'm awake or not, it doesn't change what I believe in. The Avatar? Phooey! I believe in you."I paused, but not long enough to allow Jenny to respond. Placing the paper clip in her hand, I said, "Here you go. The spitting image of ol' Abe!""Close enough. At least, what he looks like by now."And we laughed.

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Edited by My Name is Nuile, Oct 26 2012 - 09:35 PM.

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#9 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Oct 26 2012 - 09:27 PM

Chapter Nine

The Seven Chakras

"Chakras, chakras, everybody loves chakras!"- Guru Pathik

The subsequent morning found us, bright and early, not at the kwoon itself, but in a field across the street. Wuqing and Tobi were stretching, and assuming kung fu forms in slow motion. They paused their tai chi as we approached."Good morning, Avatar Jenny, Jacob. Join us. Then we shall meditate."We returned greetings and assents, and began following them in their movements. I confess to total inexperience in the martial arts and a general lack of physical coordination, which would account for any losses of balance, clumsy stances, discrepancy of movement, or muscles trembling under the strain of trying to perform a kick with all the speed of a tortoise.It rather surprised me that, as leisurely as tai chi appeared, I was panting before we had finished. When first we sat in a circle and began our deep breathing, my inhalations were longer than the others', and my expirations shorter.Before we were sitting long in silence, Jenny said, "I feel like everyone's watching us.""Probably because they are," I murmured, opening one eye to a slit. Indeed, it seemed that we were being observed by each and every passerby. Even the players on the shuffleboard court regarded us curiously between shuffles."Remember," Wuqing murmured, "they do not exist. There is nothing outside this circle.""But I can sense they're watching. It's almost like their looking disrupts the energy.""Does it make you feel uncomfortable?""A little.""Does it embarrass you?""I guess so.""Embarrassment is a form of fear. It is one of the most irrational. You are afraid of what these people might think. You are afraid of appearing foolish. But these people are not judging you. It is human nature to observe, especially that which is unusual. They study you in an effort to understand, out of mere curiosity. What they do, even what they think, is no concern of yours. Let go of your fear."The word brought to mind my conversation with Jenny. She had greater worries weighing on her mind than pertained to onlookers."Let go of your fear," Wuqing repeated. "It has no place within you. Hurl it into the river of energy and let it float away."We were all quiet for some minutes, wrapped up in our own thoughts. It occurred to me that greater worries were exactly what Wuqing was referring to. I mentally applied the method to a long list of fears: I watched spiders, lima beans and flamingos carried away on a stream. Lightning, pain; these were harder to drown.A vision crept into my mind. I saw a man with a mustache, a gun's muzzle grinning from his hand. It blazed. I crumpled. I watched helplessly as the man's body faded into a long, black, segmented tail. The legs around his face were as sharp as claws. Jenny's eyes flashed blue, and flames burst forth around her. But then the bewhiskered face disappeared, the mouth opened wide. I heard Jenny scream. Her eyes lost their glow. She collapsed. The fire dissipated. When I looked at Jenny, I wanted to cry out, but it caught in my throat. Her face was gone.My eyelids flew open, and I swallowed hard. It was all in my mind, I knew. But somehow, the image was too large to fit in the little stream of energy.Wuqing opened his eyes as suddenly as I had. His gaze met mine, and for a moment, I caught a glimpse of something, a tacit communication--an expression of compassion? pity? regret?--but then it was gone. He turned to Jenny and said, "Do you feel better now?"I, for one, did not. But Jenny answered, "Yes. I--I did what you said. I saw my fears float away. And it felt good."Wuqing smiled. I could hear it in his voice as he said, "Congratulations. You have unlocked your earth chakra."

~ * ~

The next day Wuqing explained the nature of the water chakra. Where the earth chakra's character was survival, the water's was pleasure; where the earth chakra was blocked by fear, the water was blocked by guilt.Through slitted eye I observed Jenny, wondering fleetingly what guilt plagued her thoughts. Closing my vision in darkness, I considered my own regrets.I spread out my sins before my mind. Some were so small that I was surprised I remembered them. Some were so great I wished that I could forget them.Fits over the most trivial matters came to mind, alongside arguments with siblings or parents. I recall pocketing a tawdry office decoration and being made to return it, and a kind secretary permitting me to keep it. But these were the mere juvenile impulses of a child. I had learned my lessons at little cost.But the memory of a friend of former status being unnecessarily rude to a young girl surfaced in my mind. I might have done something, but instead she went home in tears. I had lacked the courage to act.I squirmed with discomfort, remembering who that girl was. Guilt, as I found, is hard to let go of when one is guilty.Jenny breathed a deep breath, and Wuqing complimented her success. I was glad I was not the Avatar, because I had failed.

~ * ~

The fire chakra pertained to willpower, its negative being shame. Wuqing advised Jenny not to blame herself for what cannot be helped.For myself, I wondered what was the difference between guilt and shame. The conclusion, after some little contemplation, at which I arrived was such that guilt is relative to repentance, a remorse felt for misconduct; while shame refers to a repining over mistakes.So I thought of that for which I held myself accountable, even when I was not, or not entirely. I thought of ruined meals and broken--well, everything, from dishes to light bulbs, from windows to a fire hydrant. I thought of insults that had slipped off my tongue without ever the chance to be retracted. I thought of the time I had sprained my sister's foot by stepping on it. I thought of the lawnmower's meal of Internet cables under my negligent guidance.I thought of Jenny, and the perils of friendship. I thought of the natural missteps I had taken along its course, and those which had been far less natural. But they were errors, all, amended.Indeed, I realized, no matter how badly something might be broken in the blunders of human hands, nothing is irreparable. Spilled milk should not be wept over, but cleaned up.If I had had a chakra, I think it would have been unlocked, and a good few minutes before Jenny announced, "I can feel it this time. I did it."

~ * ~

"The air chakra deals with love," Wuqing explained. "It is blocked by grief. Summon to mind all your loss. Feel the pain of all your woes. Count your grievances. Then let them all go. Things we lose have a way of coming back to us. Though a flower may die, it will bud and bloom anew. Count your blessings, and let them overpower your grief."This was the first meditation which presented to me no difficulty. I had lost no loved ones, save a grandfather I had lost at such a young age that I could hardly remember him. As far back as my memory reached, I had only lost one pet, but I had come to terms with her passing on to a better place. Friends in my life, as in all, had come and gone, but I had never lost those nearest and dearest. I opened an eye to look at Jenny. Not, at least, never to be regained. I knew very well that wilted flowers grow back.And I did not need to meditate to know that the blessings of my life outweighed the banes. Despite the everyday complaints we all have, deep within our hearts are held our thanksgivings, even when we don't take notice of them. But it is one of my rules in life that, no matter how bad things may seem, no matter what adversities I may face, I don't lose sight of my blessings. Grief was one thing I was capable of countering.I regarded the others. Wuqing and Tobi appeared calm, but with knitted brow and deep frown, it seemed Jenny did not find this chakra as easy as I.I asked myself then what griefs might oppress Jenny's soul, but I could give myself no answer. Her immediate family was wholly intact, and as far as I knew so were her extended relations.I can't quite explain how my next thought entered my mind. Perhaps it was that consideration of Jenny's family. But it was at this moment when I recalled Koh's words: How would your family feel if they knew you were so willing to sign away their lives?Somehow, I did not think Koh was a bluffer. Somewhere in his arsenal, no doubt, he had a topnotch poker face; however, I did not think he had been using it. To him, Jenny's family would be as nothing to his ends. He would go to far greater lengths than murdering half a dozen people--worse, even, then stealing their faces.I could not help, hard as I tried, but to imagine the ground littered with the featureless bodies of Jenny's parents, her siblings, my own, and the bodies of countless others. It was a cold, cruel scene, one I was not eager to witness firsthand.And I wondered: if Koh killed or stole the faces of Jenny's family--or of my own . . . could I so easily release my grief then?While I had regressed to the earth chakra, Jenny had been working away at her air chakra. But it was Wuqing who murmured, "Good work, Jenny."Jenny's eyelids lifted to stare at the grass. "Thank you--master."

~ * ~

The nature of the next chakra was truth; opposed, not surprisingly, by lies."The kinds of lies you tell yourself. The truth hurts, but it also heals. Better, always, to know the truth than to live in ignorance. Do not withhold the facts, even from yourself. You cannot change that which is set in stone. You can only accept it."I was not sure insisting to myself, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that I was devilishly handsome, was quite the variety of fib Jenny's spirit trainer had in mind. Therefore, I did not think that admitting my looks were only moderately exceptional would have unlocked any chakras.I dug deeper. Perhaps I truly was, in some ways, conceited. I conceded the point. And it was so, I decided, that I was not as strong as I made myself out to be. But--was it true that I wasn't as brave as I thought?I asked myself: if circumstances called for it, could I stand up to Koh again? If Jenny needed my help--if the world, somehow, needed my help--could I do it? Taking a bullet was one thing. Forfeiting my soul to a caterpillar demon was something else again. Did I have the courage I told myself I had? I found that I did not know the answer. I only hoped that, when the time was right, I would find it.An even more dangerous question occurred to me. If it did happen that I was called upon to face Koh, if Jenny did need my aid, would I be able to? What, after all, could I do to stop him? I was no Avatar. I was merely me.I shook away the thoughts and occupied my mind, instead, with considering Jenny's case. It was my guess that the chief lie she was overcoming was her incapability. The truth, which I hoped she was realizing, was that she had the strength to accomplish the task before her, if only she would see it and use it. In a way, that's what she was doing. The Avatar State itself was a kind of metaphor: by searching herself she would find the inner strength she already had, which would grant her the success she needed.Could she find it in time? I knew she could--but would she admit it to herself?

~ * ~

Insight and illusion were two of the more obscure polar attributes of the chakras.Wuqing commented, "Insight means to look beyond superficial appearances. Human beings are naturally blinded by illusion, but it is not hard to see things for what they are. Do not allow yourself to be fooled."I had been operating all along under the idea that this whole Avatar business was an illusion; but I don't think I had ever truly believed that. If anything, I had been lying to myself. I was a day late on this one.But perhaps I was not far off. If insight meant to see through illusion, then maybe the illusion here was the preconceived notion that something like the Avatar could not exist. In our day-to-day lives, we humans tend to be distracted by trivialities. The commonplace becomes reality to our unperceiving minds. If anything was an illusion, it was what we refer to as "reality." There is a force in the universe far greater than that which can be plainly seen. But it is there to be seen--if we only look.I wondered what it felt like, unlocking a chakra. Indigestion, maybe? I made a note to ask Jenny. At that moment, she was still meditating.

~ * ~

Wuqing summoned us that same night to meditate upon the next chakra beneath the stars.After we had calmed and cleared our minds, Wuqing announced, "The seventh and final chakra. The last pathway to open, and the energy will flow freely throughout your body, and the Avatar State will be yours to command. You are getting ever closer, Jenny, to mastering it."This chakra deals with pure cosmic energy. Worldly attachments lock it. Think of what bonds you to this world--think of the things, of the people you care about. And then let them go--let the pure cosmic energy flow into your body and take place of them.""Let--let go of them? Of my family, and friends?" I opened an eye to see Jenny staring at Wuqing, horror-struck. "But I can't! How could I?""It is only right that you love and care for them. I would expect nothing less of you--as you. But as the Avatar, in the Avatar State, you are no longer yourself. You must detach yourself entirely from negative emotions, and from the world itself. You may fear and grieve and love at all other times, but you have to learn to release yourself entirely. The Avatar State is ruled by emotion; therefore, you must rule emotion."Jenny nodded and took a deep breath. I was leaving this one up to her; I could meditate and ponder as much as I wanted, but I hadn't the slightest idea what cosmic energy was.And so I sat in silence, watching Jenny. The seconds rolled into minutes, which by and by became an hour. I slapped idly at a mosquito, wondering how Jenny could stand becoming a feeding ground for the vermin. Helpfully, I slapped one on her arm. She slapped me back. There's gratitude for you."Well, well, well!" Without warning, a voice broke the peace, calm and quiet, yet strikingly fierce and loud in the silence of the night. "I expected that you would be training, but I did not think you would be meditating. If this is how you intend to meddle in my schemes--by sitting in circles and contemplating the mysteries of the universe--proceed by all means. I apologize for interrupting."All eyes were open, all eyes turned. It was Koh, and he had brought his evil hockey team for a rematch. But this time, they came bare-faced--and I mean that in the most literal sense that could be applied to the term. Their heads, perched upon their shoulders like naked light bulbs, might have been comical if they had not been so macabre."Nothing to say?" observed Koh. "And I thought witty retorts were a staple of the Avatar. But hold your peace, if you prefer. I makes no difference to me."He made a quick motion with one hand and four of his minions stepped forward. They raised their hands. It was then, a moment before they attacked, that I realized with a jolt of shock the horrible truth. These were no ordinary men and women whose faces Koh had stolen.The hands of one burst into flame, another levitated a thick chunk of turf. One drew a wave from the nearby fountain, the fourth created a whirlwind about herself. Others stepped up behind them, armed, too, with the elements.These were benders. These were skilled, experienced benders. These were opponents Jenny was not ready to fight.

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Edited by My Name is Nuile, Oct 26 2012 - 09:34 PM.

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#10 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Nov 02 2012 - 08:58 PM

Chapter Ten

Rematch

"It's not going to be much of a match."- Azula

The benders brandished their elements threateningly, but none made an immediate move to attack. This allowed Jenny the time to make the first move.She sprang forward and raised her hands. In swift succession she formed fireballs in each hand and hurled them at the wall of faceless benders. The firebenders deflected, the waterbenders doused the flames, the airbenders dodged. But one struck an earthbender square in the head, knocking him and all his muscle off his feet.Jenny flinched. "They--they can't feel that, can they?""No," Wuqing responded quickly, "but now's not the time to worry about that. Watch out!"Jenny looked up in time to see a barrage of icicle spikes descending on her. She swept her arm into the air, creating an umbrella of flame. The ice melted and fell as rain into the fire with a series of hisses. But then the umbrella was gone, dispersed by a rush of wind. Jenny ducked a flying rock, which missed my own head by inches. The next instant a powerful gust sent me sprawling.Jenny brought her foot down, and a boulder popped up from the earth before her. She kicked it like a soccer ball, and it rolled at Koh's minions. They parted and it rolled harmlessly between them."Enough!" Wuqing roared. He stepped forward, standing firm as a jet of water meant for Jenny struck him in the chest. He cast over his shoulder at the rest of us, "Run! Now!""But what about--""Run!"And then suddenly Wuqing was gone. Flickering into visibility in his place stood a massive lion, its jaws parted to bare its teeth. Muscles rippled beneath its golden pelt. Its mane ruffled as it shook its head, a deep growl rumbling in its throat. In the same moment he crouched and sprang. With each step of his mighty paws he tore lumps of sod from the earth. The benders scattered as he tore into their ranks, batting them aside like dolls. I noticed he kept his claws sheathed.We watched in awe. I was the first to recover myself. "Come on!" I urged Jenny and Tobi, grabbing them by the wrists and leading them away. We ran across the field, across the street. But waiting at the dojo door stood a line of faceless pawns. We turned and ran toward the alley. Rounding the corner, we ran straight into more of them. Coming toward us along the sidewalk, pursuing us across the street--we were surrounded.I flung myself at the nearest of them, dealing a one-two punch to his face. The feeling of the bare, unnaturally smooth skin against my fist nauseated me. But without a face to strike, it was vain. The man retaliated, with more effective results. I staggered, straightened, went for him again. I hit him in the neck, thumped him twice hard in the stomach. He fell.Now two more had me by the arms. Nearby, Tobi and Jenny were similarly occupied; though I only wished I had their martial art skills or, better, the ability to bend. As it was, all I had was brute strength and superior intelligence. Against assailants with arms as thick as tree trunks, I opted for the latter.I pulled my feet off the ground. The two thugs reeled with my sudden weight and bashed skulls. Freed, I scrambled to my feet and greeted a faceless woman, who responded rather rudely by throwing a splash of ice-cold water in my face.At least, it was water when she splashed it, but as it connected with my face it froze solid. It felt as if I had plunged my head into a midwinter pool.I felt a foot against my back. Pain shot up my spine. A fist collided with my chest, another with my stomach. My mind dull with the cold, I kicked out, observing faintly that it hit something hard that toppled. With my luck, it was probably a commemorative statue, or a police officer.The ice before my eyes began to glow with an orange hue. I felt a hand on my shoulder. Warmth began to creep into face, growing into a searing heat. The ice dissolved and I saw Jenny, who paused to cast white-hot sparks at one of Koh's men before saying to me, "This way!" and taking off along the alley."Last time you said that," I protested, "I got shot!""Shut up!""And I told you as much beforehand! I said, 'you're going to get me into trouble!' And what did you do? You got me into trouble! It was a premonition!""That doesn't make you psychic; I always get you into trouble!""Then it was a deduction!""Which way?" This was Tobi's contribution to the conversation when we paused at a junction in the alley. "We could get into the kwoon by the back door.""Do you have a key?" asked Jenny.Tobi patted her pockets. She stamped her foot. "Not with me.""Benders at six o' clock," I warned. "Come on!"We took once more to our heels. The streets were nearly deserted--unless the horde of bulb-headed freaks chasing us qualifies, which I daresay it does. Besides them, and us, there were only a few passersby present to turn and flee at the sight of the bending. I pitied the 911 operators on duty that night.There were a small number of refuges near at hand; most of the shops were closed for the night, and it seemed hardly sporting to interrupt any romantic dinners by bursting into a restaurant to search in vain for a hiding-place. The police station was within running distance and we were coming up on the court house, but we were running away from the former and I don't think settling Jenny's score with Koh on a legal playing field crossed any of our minds. Instead, we opted for a parking garage. Leaping through the window we crossed the lot, passed the ramp, and ducked behind a dumpster. Suddenly a candlelit cafe seemed far more welcoming.It was some moments before our pursuers charged past. I wondered fleetingly how hiding was actually of any benefit, when Koh's minions had no eyes from which to hide. Perhaps he controlled them via some sort of psychic echolocation. There was a disturbing idea.Tobi intruded upon my thoughts by whispering, "What now?""Home," I suggested. "Jenny's, or mine. They're not far."But Jenny shook her head. "No. What's the point? They'll just burn the houses down. We would only be putting everyone in danger.""Then where--""I don't know!" Jenny hissed. She clutched her head. "I don't know! There's nowhere we can go! Koh's--he's not going to give up. No matter what. There's nowhere I can run that he won't follow. Where can I hide that he won't find me?" Hugging her knees, she rocked back and forth. "What else can I do?""Else than what?" But Jenny had a peculiarly communicative silence. Without a word she could say almost anything. And she told me very clearly what she meant. "No!" I objected, "no! Jenny, you can't! You're not ready!""I have no other choice, Jacob!" she shot back. "Koh has me cornered! This game of cat and mouse has to end!""Jenny, you can't!"Tobi's questioning expression cleared. "You're not thinking of challenging the Face-Stealer now, are you?"But Jenny was no longer listening. Her eyes were closed. I could see that every muscle in her body was straining. Her teeth were gritted. As I watched, her lips curved into a grimace. She appeared to be in pain."Jenny--" I began.Her eyes snapped open. They burned blue. She stood up. With a single burst of flame she flung the dumpster across the parking lot and stepped out into the open. When she spoke, her voice was layered over countless others of discordant pitches and tones, as if a whole crowd were saying in perfect unison:"Koh, this ends now!"

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#11 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Nov 03 2012 - 07:36 PM

Chapter Eleven

Koh Scores

"If a fish lives its whole life in this river, does he know the river's destiny? No! Only that it runs on and on out of his control. He may follow where it flows, but he cannot see the end. He cannot imagine the ocean."

- Jeong Jeong

The Avatar rocketed back to the field on jets of fire. Tobi and I followed as best we could on foot. When we arrived, far behind, we found the field empty. It was lifeless and silent. There were no signs of the battle that had been fought here. The burning grass had been doused, the churned earth somehow repaired, the grass replaced. The only sounds to be heard were the singing of cicadas, the gentle gurgle of the fountain, the distant rumblings of cars.Evidently Jenny had, finding the field as we saw it now, gone on ahead to search for Koh. Tobi and I exchanged glances. It's easy enough to say now that we knew, even then, that she would not find him. At the time, however, it was probably no more than a doubt. The question that did impress itself upon us both, however, was this: where was Wuqing?And so we waited. Tobi mediated, while I paced. Not ten minutes had passed before she gave it up and joined me in my agitated dance.Soon the sky ignited with fire. The Avatar was back. No sooner did she appear in the sky above us than she lowered herself out of it. The descent was faster, perhaps, than she had intended, and she stumbled as she landed. The flames dispersed around her. The blue faded from her eyes. She was Jenny again.She didn't mention Koh. Neither did we. We only asked, "Any sign of Wuqing?"She didn't answer, only shaking her head.She swallowed. "What do you think happened to him?"Tobi and I were wordless. Luckily, we didn't have to answer. A cough interrupted us, and a weak, quiet voice called out, "Avatar? Is that you?"Jenny's voice softened with relief. "Wuqing! Where are you?"There was a rustling of branches. We turned to see Tommy padding out of a bush toward us. He wasn't a pretty sight. He moved slowly, with one paw held aloft, balancing on three legs, though he limped upon one of them. His fur was torn and tangled and adorned with scorch marks. The tip of one ear dangled in loose shreds, and his tail was bent at an awkward angle. Jenny gasped and rushed to his side immediately. Tobi kneeled beside them. I stood over the little group."Tommy--Wuqing!" Jenny cried. "Are you okay?"He hesitated. Then he said, "Avatar. Will you listen to me?"She nodded obediently."You will have to continue your training without me.""Why?" It was a foolish question. Really, it was a sob more than anything else."Tobi will have to undertake to instruct you in bending.""I've read up on the arts, like you wanted me to, Master," said Tobi with quaking voice."I know you have. I have faith in your abilities. But teaching"--he coughed--"teaching--" he broke off as the cough shook his whole body, long and violent. At last it subsided with a final shudder. "Teaching you to truly master the Avatar State is more than I could do, anyway," he wheezed. "You will have to find another master for that.""Who?" asked Jenny. "Where will I find him?"Wuqing raised a paw feebly. He pressed it against Jenny's lowered head. "Inside. To master the Avatar State, you must call upon one of your past lives." He coughed again. His next words were a whisper that none of us made out."Who?" Jenny pressed. "Who?"Wuqing's every word was strained, but he poured into them all the force he could muster. "You must call upon the first Avatar to truly master the ability, who succeeded in doing so only through disciplined training. She can best teach you what you need to learn. You must look within yourself and find Avatar Korra. She will train you.""Yes, Master." As Wuqing coughed again, she added, "Please--please, don't--""It is not a choice I am free to make. Life and death is an endless circle. I have gone fully around it. Do not grieve for me.""But you're a spirit! How can you--" she choked, unable to finish."That does not make me invincible. Neither is Koh. As my time has come, so, soon, will his." He paused. Then, "And Jenny . . . promise me something.""Anything, Master.""Remember what I have told you. To master the Avatar State--to master bending--you must master yourself.""If anyone can, she can, Master Wuqing," I assured him."I promise, Master," said Jenny. "And--" she added, "and I swear, too, that I'll stop Koh. I won't give up--and no matter what, I won't fail. He'll be stopped. I promise."Wuqing nodded. I could have sworn that the fixed frown of a cat's lips became a smile then upon his face. He took one more breath, deep and shivering, and became still.Tobi began crying. I admired Jenny for the silent sobs that shook her. I sat between the two, putting an arm around the shoulder of each. And I wept with them over the fading image of Wuqing's feline body.I watched Jenny, who was soundlessly repeating, "I promise. I promise. I promise."

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#12 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Nov 04 2012 - 02:55 PM

Chapter Twelve

Jenny Finds Herself

"You must gain balance within yourself before you can bring balance to the world."

- Guru Pathik

The next day, bright and early, we met as usual at the White Lotus. Everything was much the same as always, except that it all felt empty and lifeless. Wuqing was the physical representation of all the paranormality that had transpired during the previous two weeks. His voice was the voice of bending and Avatar wisdom. Without him, it all changed. It became less tangible; and yet more real, grounded as it now was in a human being: Tobi.She had suggested that Jenny take a few days to rest, but the offer had been firmly refused. And so there we were, not after twenty-four whole hours had passed since Koh's attack, to continue the Avatar's tutelage.After an exchange of greetings, Tobi began awkwardly, "I don't really know where to start. Wuqing left me with a little knowledge and plenty of resources--but no plan.""Well," Jenny suggested helpfully, "Wuqing said to train with Korra. So I start there.""But it's not that simple, unless you know how to contact spirits. You've never spoken with your past lives, have you?""Afraid not.""I spoke to my future self, once," I said. "I wrote a letter and mailed it to myself. When it came back, it was a message from my past self. But I guess that's not really beneficial in the present situation."Jenny rolled her eyes. "Not really!""Although," I added, "it could be metaphorically beneficial." They questioned me silently, and I went on, "See, it sort of shows that time is nonexistent. It's nothing but a figment of the human mind. If I can break the supposed barrier with nothing more than a pencil and paper and the U.S. Mail, then it's clearly not hard.""I'm--having trouble--figuring out if that makes any sense," Jenny stammered."Wuqing would have said it better." I quickly covered up the tactless remark by going on, in my best imitation of the spirit's voice, "Time is immaterial. All that exists, exists within you. Look inside to find the key that unlocks the past, present, and future."There was a pause. Jenny was regarding me as if I had grown another head. For all I knew, I had; weirder things had happened of late.Tobi said, "You know, I think he's right--in a roundabout, enigmatic kind of way."That's what I'm here for!"Tobi went on, "I remember reading that the Avatars of the past dwell in the Spirit World, but also inside the Avatar. It's like they're one, but they're not. Entering the Avatar State lets them all in, but it's more like letting them surface. Maybe you can do that with just one.""So--if I just look inside myself--I'll find them? I'll find Korra?""Maybe. It's worth a try.""There's just one problem. Letting the past Avatars enter me is exactly what Korra needs to train me to do. If I reach her, then I can already do what she needs to teach me--and if I can't, then she can't teach me."Tobi shook her head, tossing her chestnut hair. "It's not quite like that. Letting the Avatars into your mind isn't the same as controlling them. Wuqing said that the Avatar State is ruled by instinct, but that you can rule it yourself. That's what Korra will teach you to do.""But Jenny already did that," I pointed out. "Last night, she entered the Avatar State, by her own will."Jenny bit her lip. "But I wasn't in control. I think it's like Tobi said; I only let them in. It was easy to do that in the heat of the situation. But they were still controlling me."Tobi nodded. "So what you need to do is to let just Korra into your mind.""And how do I do that?"I grinned. "Silly little Jenny! You should know that by now." I assumed Wuqing's voice again. "To discover yourself, you must look within."Jenny groaned. "Meditation," she grumbled. "I hate meditating."This hatred notwithstanding, Jenny seated herself in the usual meditation ring, in the center, between the two inner circles.Meanwhile, Tobi beckoned me to one of the chalk arenas. "We need to start your training now," said she."My training? What is there to teach a well-rounded perfection such as myself?""You can't fight," she answered bluntly."I can too fight! I held my own against Koh's men last night.""You wouldn't have for long if Jenny hadn't saved you.""Benders don't count. They cheat. Just because I can't bend doesn't mean I'm defenseless. You can't bend, either!""But I know how to fight.""So do I!"Suddenly Tobi came at me. I felt her hands grip my arm and her foot strike the back of my leg, and the next thing I knew I was on my back. With a dry smile, she pulled me to my feet. "You can't fight," she repeated.I sighed. "I submit myself humbly to your teachings.""I'm new at defending myself against benders, too," Tobi confessed. "But Wuqing taught me the technique. He says--he used to say--that limitations exist only in our minds. The way for a non-bender to stand up to a bender is to level the playing field.""And how does one do that?" I inquired."By taking away their bending.""Wow!" I breathed. "That's possible? You can do that? Just--take it away?""It can't be done permanently, not by regular humans like us, at least. But you can stop their bending temporarily, and leave them practically defenseless. It's called qiblocking.""It's not some sort of incantation thing with elaborate gestures or something, is it?""Elaborate gestures--in a way," she replied slowly. "They're more generally called punches.""It can't be that simple. I landed quite a few punches, and as far as I noticed, they could still bend.""Well, it isn't quite that simple.""Stop being so mysterious, girl! Out with it!""It's all about pressure points." She poked my elbow. I felt a slight twinge. Inch by inch, she worked her fingers up to my shoulder, and then pressed gently on my neck. I flinched. "The body is weak in the right places. These vulnerable spots can be bruised easily. A bender's qi has to be bruised in the same way."She punched by arm swiftly in three places. Pain surged through my arm and ebbed just as suddenly. My arm hung numb and limp from my shoulder. With my other hand I poked it. I couldn't feel anything, only a tingle in my shoulder as it swung. It was as if the arm belonged to someone else."That's amazing!" I gasped. "And this stops bending?""Only in that arm. So they can still use their other arm, or even their legs. It's effective, as you can see, on regular humans, but there's a better way to qiblock a bender throughout the body.""I could use some quiet," Jenny complained. "Everything you say echoes in here!""Can you show me how to qiblock Jenny?" I whispered."I heard that!"Amused, Tobi said, "I'll show you more later. Let's give her a chance to meditate."We joined Jenny, sitting cross-legged, outside the circle as always. We practiced the breathing Wuqing had taught us. By now it had become very easy, even for me, to clear my mind and calm my body. I cannot say how much time it was which passed before Jenny broke the silence."Korra," she murmured. Her lips hung on each syllable. "Korra. Is--is that you?"I opened my eyes. There was a second body inside the circle, taking Wuqing's usual place. At first she appeared ghostly transparent, as if she were glowing vapor. Then lines and contours of her body sharpened, and her dulled colors became vivid.The face beneath her hair was younger than her gray hair suggested, as if by sheer force of will she had kept it from wrinkling. I could see enough force in her vigorous eyes and set jaw to intimidate any crow's foot. She reminded me, in a way, of a much older Jenny.She wore a sky-blue caftan with a fur shawl draped over her shoulders, navy and trimmed with white. A matching overskirt hung from her waist to her knees, or would have if she had been standing."Avatar Korra?" Jenny asked tentatively.The woman nodded. When she spoke it was with a voice deep and firm, cracked by many years of living, and probably many years of yelling. "You need to learn to master the Avatar State, Jenny. I'm here to teach you. If you thought unlocking your chakras or learning to bend was hard, you were wrong. Now comes the real Avatar training. So we're not going to waste any time. Let's get down to business."

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#13 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Nov 05 2012 - 01:05 PM

Chapter Thirteen

Bitter Work

"While it is always best to believe in one's self, a little help from others can be a great blessing."

- Iroh

"Air, water, earth, fire. The Avatar is the combination of all the elements. Mind, will, body, spirit. The Avatar State requires the disciplines of all the elements. Focus your mind, force will over emotion, use all the strength in your body, draw the qi from your spirit. Let the cosmic energy, the energy of all the past Avatars, flow through you." Korra barked, "Try it again!"Jenny was standing rigid, every muscle in her body straining. She looked like someone trying to convince herself she could fly like superman with enough effort. She had been doing this every day for the past week, exhausting herself, thus far to no avail."I am trying!" Jenny protested. "I have been trying!""But you're not trying hard enough!""I'm doing all I can! It's just so hard to focus on everything I'm supposed to focus on at once!""Everything is a singular word. It's one entity. It's only one thing to concentrate on.""That doesn't make any sense!" Jenny cried.Korra sighed. "Come on. We'll give it a rest for today. Let's meditate.""No! I'm sick of meditating, and I'm sick of trying to let a bunch of dead people into my mind and control them! I'm going home!""Do what you want, but be back here--" But before Korra could finish, she vanished. Jenny had shut her out of her mind, sending her back to the Spirit World. She stormed away, her steps resounding within the chamber until she disappeared into the hall, and then I heard the metallic song of the ladder as she climbed the rungs."I had better go, too," I said to Tobi, with whom I had been sparring. Over the past week I had become quite capable with the basic qiblocking attacks; but though Tobi had demonstrated it to me several times over, and even Korra had given me a few pointers, I was still struggling with the advanced ability of blocking qi from the whole body all at once."I'm sorry I about Jenny," I added over my shoulder, halfway to the exit. "You just have to understand how hard this must be on her."Tobi nodded. "Hurry and catch up with her."Without another word, I did just that. I met Jenny in the reception room, halting her by the wrist before she flew out the door.I opened my mouth to speak, but before I could so much as utter a sound, she hissed, "Not now! I'm not in the mood to listen!""But I only wanted to say--""I know exactly what you're going to say! You're going to say, 'You can do it, Jenny! I believe in you!'" Her voice was an unflattering mockery of my own. "But did you ever think that maybe I can't, Jacob? Maybe I was never meant to be the Avatar; maybe this whole thing is one big mistake! I can hardly bend to save my life, and I'm as far from controlling the Avatar State as I am from walking to the moon! The winter solstice is only a few months away, and even if I had a thousand years to train, I could never be strong enough to defeat Koh! It's hopeless, can't you see that? It's absolutely hopeless! You were going to tell me that Koh won't stand a chance against me--but it's me who won't stand a chance against him!""But Jenny, I--""You were going to say that I have no choice but to be the Avatar, but I'm just not! You were going to say that I can live up to my destiny, but I can't! You were going to say the world needs me, but it seems to me it's done pretty well over the past few centuries, without any Avatar! You--you were going to tell me that I have what it takes, that I am the Avatar, and I don't need to worry--but it's all a lie. I'm no hero."It was almost a sob, but only almost. Jenny, as usual, kept her tone well in check. She wasn't even shouting. Instead, she imbued each word with a quiet rage."But I wasn't going to say any of that," I returned calmly, slowly. "I was only going to tell you that I know without a doubt that Wuqing would be proud of you."Jenny froze. Her jaw moved up and down, as if she were chewing over the words to utter next or trying to swallow the ones she had been planning. For a moment she stood there, uncertain, staring at her feet.Then she whipped around, yanked open the door, and disappeared.But I knew she would be back tomorrow.

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#14 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Nov 06 2012 - 05:27 PM

Chapter Fourteen

Avatar Training

"Whole seasons are spent

Mastering the form, the style

None call it easy"

- Madame Macmu-Ling

When Jenny summoned Korra the following morning, the latter said, "Okay. Let's get started."Jenny began awkwardly, "Look--I'm sorry I--"But Korra staunched her with a hand. "You don't have to say anything. Trust me, if Tenzin--my airbending master--were here, he would laugh. What goes around comes around. But still, you are a more patient, dedicated student than I ever was. In your face, Tenzin." She smiled. "So come on. Try again. Focus your mind. Force of will, strength of body, power of spirit. Release all your emotion. Let the cosmic energy flow through your body."As Jenny tried yet again to accomplish this, Korra offered to practice my qiblocking on her. I accepted."But be warned," she said as we entered the arena, "I will defend myself."I suppose I should have taken her initial words more literally, for the moment her mouth closed on her last words she hurled a cloud of fire at me. I narrowly dodged to the side in time. I batted at my smoldering sleeve while Korra raised her foot and kicked more fire at me. I embraced the age-old method of duck, cover and roll. It actually worked. By the time the flames had dispersed and Korra could see again, I was ready.I popped up right in front of her face. She pulled back a blazing fist, but a sharp blow to her wrist quelled it. I ducked a roundhouse and swerve around to her good arm. Three jabs and the qi was blocked.She dropped into a squat, swung out one leg, and swept the ground with fire. I jumped in time to evade the attack, but not the breath of air she blew at me. I was flung back, landing hard on the stone.With a groan, I rose. Korra gave me a hand, pulled me to my feet. "You did well. Tobi is a worthy teacher."Tobi and I bowed. With a nod to us both Korra turned and rejoined Jenny."Good job." Tobi offered her own congratulations. "Do you want to spar with me now?""No thanks. I thought today I'd rest, offer Jenny my moral support, and make faces at her while her eyes are closed."Tobi giggled, and we walked over to stand beside Korra.Jenny was breathing heavily. Her eyelids were so tight, I was afraid she was compressing her eyeballs. Her whole body seemed to be shaking with the effort."Do you think you should tell her to relax?" I asked Korra, but she hushed me.Instead, I said encouragingly to Jenny, "Remember, it's just like Wuqing said. To master the Avatar State, master yourself." I wasn't sure whether she was listening, or if she even heard me, but I went on, "And the easiest way to do that is to allow it to happen. Submit to your own will."Minutes passed, and it appeared Jenny had taken no heed of me. Becoming bored, my mind began to crowd with mischievous ways I could entertain myself when my victim was so focused she would have no idea I was doing. I observed dully, "Jenny, your shoelaces are untied. Oh, and I tied them together. And I might have made some rather unruly knots in your hair. I won't admit I did, but I might have. Oh yeah, and you remember about a month ago, when that ball struck you in the back of your head, and I insisted it was your brother? Well, I lied. That was me. And then there was the time--"I paused. Jenny was no longer breathing. She had become still. Her muscles had relaxed.I took a step forward. "J-jenny?"She opened her eyes and cried, "Of course I knew that was you!"I staggered back in surprise, tripping over my own feet. Jenny laughed. Then she cast an apologetic glance at her instructor."I'm--I'm sorry, Avatar Korra."Tobi and I gaped. Korra suppressed a smile. "Well, you did your best, didn't you?"All in an instant, the ancient Avatar drew the water from a cooler in the corner and slid her foot to create a boulder before herself. Simultaneously she propelled these, a spurt of fire, and a blast of wind at Jenny.Jenny flinched and cried out, raising her hands to cover her face. As she did so, it all stopped a few feet in front of her. It remained suspended in midair until Jenny looked up and lowered her arms. The water fell harmlessly on the floor, the boulder crumbled, the fire vanished, and the air currents calmed.She blinked her glowing eyes. Blue shone around each word as she gasped, in her own voice, "What was that? How did I do it?"Korra beamed. "Congratulations, Avatar Jenny. You just entered the Avatar State. My work here is done."

~ * ~

If you have ever worked to learn something in your life--which, unless you live under a rock, no doubt you have; and even then there must be a lot of skills involved with living under said stone that you must learn--then I am sure you know that one success does not mastership make. Yet, when once one has accomplished something, and therefore knows how to do it, doing it again can be a far less daunting task than some might think, if not as easy as others might think.But the next day, Jenny found herself incapable of reentering the Avatar State. The day thereafter she succeeded not once again, but twice more, which made it, in a way, a solid three-for-three.As the days passed, Jenny found that operating the Avatar State, after she had entered it and imposed her will upon it, was far easier than anything else had been. After putting her mind in control it was easy to maintain, allowing her full, unhindered access to the skill and knowledge of all her past lives.Korra kept coming back for the remainder of the week. At the end of this period of time, when Jenny had turned on and off the Avatar State a near dozen times, Korra at last announced her job complete."You have made amazing progress, Jenny," were some of her parting words. "You've taken to the Avatar State like none before you. Keep practicing, and you can soon call yourself master."Jenny bowed. "Thank you, Avatar Korra.""You've made me proud. But I'm just another Avatar. Your job is to make the world proud. Go to it, Jenny."With that said, she closed her eyes and faded, returning to the Spirit World of her own will.That same day, Jenny, Tobi and I gathered around one of the tables at the end of the chamber to discuss plans. The general consensus was that all we could do was to wait. If Koh showed any of his faces, Jenny would wipe him out the moment he did. If he lay low until the next solstice, which we expected he would, then we could but be prepared for whatever that day might bring.I need hardly go into detail regarding the months that ensued. Jenny continued to train, and so did I. She learned the basic forms and skills of the four bending arts, and I became an accomplished qiblocker. The "qichoke," as Tobi called it--canceling all the qi in a bender's body at once--eluded me for many weeks, though as December was rearing its wintry head I strangled Jenny, figuratively, for the first time. She strangled me, literally, in return.In combat, now, we were well matched. I could evade her bending defenses long enough to weave my way nearer until I could begin my qiblocking takedown. Who would win each time was as back-and-forth as a game of ping pong. But if Jenny could activate the Avatar State in time--and as time passed, she did this with a much greater frequency--I was toast, or drowned, or a pancake, or winded in more than one sense of the word. Which one merely depended upon which element she happened to choose.As the holidays passed, we found ourselves less able to enjoy them than usual. Halloween was the worst. One set of triplets walked the streets in a black caterpillar costume, which I found particularly unamusing.Thanksgiving brought unusually philosophical reflections on all we truly had to be thankful for. Call it potential doom, call it our eyes opened to the things we always see but take for granted; both are accurate.Yuletide decorating was especially nostalgic. But they failed to inspire within me the old excitement, the old magic. The ornaments lacked their usual cheer, imbued instead with a somber elegance tainted with dread.But most important, every day spent in that sun-bathed park became something more precious than the last. The trees became more beautiful; all that mattered was seeing how many we could climb, or how high we could climb them. Every minute to run, playing this game or another, became all the more valuable. Relaxing to talk afterward was bliss. We savored all the precious laughter.Because in the backs of our three minds, one thought loomed over it all: each day, every moment spent with our families and friends . . . could be our last.

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#15 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Nov 07 2012 - 10:38 AM

Chapter Fifteen

On the First Day of Christmas . . .

"You have the power to end it here and stop what you're doing."

- Avatar Aang

Training, that fourteenth day of December, was less spirited, more urgent, than usual. It was depressed, and almost desperate. Even I was having difficult keeping an upbeat attitude, and my jokes were worse than usual."I've seen better firebending from a turkey!"In my defense, it made more sense in proper context. Thanksgiving had had its own excitements that year."That's enough for today, I think," Tobi panted. "Great work. Both of you. You've learned quickly, and you've learned a lot. Wuqing would be proud.""Of us all," I added, returning a smile.Jenny had her back to us. She was staring vaguely into space. "One week," she murmured somewhat shakily. "Seven more days.""But on the upside, only twelve more days until Christmas!"Tobi frowned at me. But I could hear a slight smile in Jenny's voice when she said, "Maybe. Just maybe. Or maybe not."I stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. "Jenny." She half-turned. "This is what we've been training for. We are ready. If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, Koh's as good as dead." I paused. I think I heard Tobi's hand strike her forehead. "Um--bad choice of words. But you know what I mean. Koh's as good as French toast. Except, he's not French."Tobi appeared on Jenny's other side. "What he's trying to say is, you're the Avatar. This is your destiny. And we all know you can do it. You're the only one in doubt.""I know. But I'm the one who counts, aren't I? I don't mean it that way, but I'm the one who has to stop Koh. Like, say, what if--""There are no what-ifs," I interrupted. "No maybes, ands, or buts. Seven days from now, whatever happens, you'll deal with it. But you won't have to do it alone. We'll do it together. We're a team." I pumped a fist. "We're the Face-Saving Squad!"They stared. I frowned. "Come on, guys. You're ruining the moment. How about a Face-Saving Squad cheer? Or a group hug?""'The Face-Saving Squad?'" Jenny echoed. "Four months, and that's the best you could come up with?""Well--I had lots of other ideas," I said evasively. "There's a week yet. I can come up with something better.""Promise me one thing, Jacob.""Of course. What is it?""Whatever you do, don't embarrass me in front of Koh."

~ * ~

"Jacob. . . ."I bolted upright in my bed."Jacob. . . ."A chill swept up my spine. I knew that voice. But I had not heard it for months. I almost didn't recognize it.Throwing off the covers, I threw my bare feet to the cold floor and tiptoed to the window. I pulled a slit in the blinds, and looked out. Though the figure I saw standing in the moonlight was only a confirmation of what I had already realized, I still gasped.I didn't linger for more than a moment. I launched myself out of my bedroom and navigated to the back door. I considered calling Jenny, but decided against it, for the moment. If I had only dreamed what I had seen, Jenny would kill me. And even if I was still dreaming, the prospect of being murdered by the Jenny of my subconscious mind was no more pleasant.And thus it was that I, alone, shuffled out into the freezing night air, shivering less, I thought, for the cold than for nerves. I didn't have to search for him. He was waiting immediately outside, and he was no illusion. I nearly turned right around to go back inside and call Jenny, but I didn't. I almost wish I had."Is--is that you?" I gasped. My breath hung in the air, turned silver by the moonbeams, like a miniature Milky Way hovering in front of my face. "But how can you be? How are you alive, Wuqing?"He stroked his long beard, and said, "I am a spirit. I was not alive to die, and so I am still not alive.""Whatever you call it, I thought you--faded?""Appearances," Wuqing murmured, "can be deceiving.""But what are you doing here? Why come to me?""I wished to visit you so that I could deliver a warning."My jaw began to chatter. "W-warn me? Ab-b-bout w-what?""About the danger you are in. The danger you, and the Avatar, will soon face. Koh is stronger than you think. Stronger than I allowed myself to think. He can't be stopped. The Avatar can't win. You have no choice.""W-what are--what are you s-saying?""You can fight . . . and you will die. Or you can submit and live. There's no other way. There's no hope."And he smiled. But it wasn't Wuqing's smile. It was a smile icier than the air around us. I stumbled backward in shock, though logically I should have realized it already."K-k-koh!"Wuqing disappeared, and the mustached face materialized. "Come now, I expected you to be a little faster than that.""B-but h-how?"Koh moved closer. Before I could react, I felt his fingers around my neck. "The solstice is getting nearer. Or hadn't you noticed? I'm getting stronger, each day. And when that day comes, whatever it takes, the Avatar will not stand in my way." He tilted his head. "I could probably steal your face right now, if I wished it. But that would be a pity, would it not? You can be of more use to me as you are. I need you." And he released me.I swallowed hard, gritted my teeth, and hissed, "There's nothing I'll do to help you!""Now, now, surely you will listen to my generous offer before you refuse? All I want is for you to convince the Avatar to give up the battle.""Are you mad?"Koh's smile only grew wider. "Now think, for a moment. Why do you want me to be stopped so badly, anyway? What will it accomplish? If you challenge me, you will die, you, and the Avatar, and that other friend of yours, and all your families. Now am I really worth all that?""To save the world is worthy enough for me.""But it is as I said before: the mortal world is no concern of mine. Of course, I may continue to feed upon a face every now and then. But if your little friend, the Avatar, promises to remain out of my way--I can offer you and your families absolute impunity.""But at what cost?" I shot back."Oh, naturally there may be a little destruction left in the wake of my conquest. People may die, it's true. But people die every day, Jacob. Life always ends in death. There's nothing you can do to stop that. Stopping me won't change anything. So you see, it's not really me you're fighting. I am but a symbol of what you fear. What you hate. I am death; I am evil. I am chaos and destruction. But I am nothing. I am only a spirit, far from home. I only want to return to the Spirit World. I only want to get my revenge. What does any of that have to do with you? Why continue a battle when you know you will lose? Why stop me when you have nothing to gain by it?""It has nothing to do with me. But it's the Avatar's duty.""And why is that? Because some old ghost told her so? What makes her the Avatar? Just because she can throw a little fire and churn a little earth, that makes her some great and powerful hero who has to protect the world, does it? No. You listen to me. Call me evil, if you will. Call me a villain. But I'm just one villain. Even the Avatar cannot purge the world of evil all alone. Is it worth dying just to try and stop me?""One person may not be able to purify the world, that's true. Avatar or no Avatar, it's Jenny's duty, as it is my duty, as it is every person's duty, to do what's right. If I won't, why would anyone else? If I say, 'I'll let someone else do it,' so will everyone, and then who will? I can only do so much, but I can only do as much as I can, and hope that it will cause a chain reaction to bring about a greater effect.""Don't be a fool. Don't sacrifice all you hold dear for an ideal. Will you watch as I rip Jenny's face from her body, and say to yourself, 'I might have stopped this'? Will you perish alongside her in your little battle for nobility when it all could have been avoided if you had just convinced her to stay home on the solstice? That's all I'm asking. That's all I want. Is that really so much to ask of you?" He waved a hand and turned. "You just think about it. You'll see that I'm right. Just ensure that you do so . . . in time."He vanished. He didn't walk away; he just faded into nothing, like Korra, like Wuqing. But unlike them, I knew he would be back. And that day was only a week away.I returned to my bed and buried myself in the blanket before I caught my death of cold. Although, I asked myself, what was one week, more or less?

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#16 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Nov 09 2012 - 10:39 AM

Chapter Sixteen

Uncertainty

"Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel, you can't always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving you will come to a better place."

- Iroh

I said little during training as the days dragged slowly by, bringing us steadily closer to the solstice. Tobi and Jenny, I think, accounted it to the apprehension we were all feeling. They made an extra effort to maintain a cheerful atmosphere, though I cannot say it did me much good. Koh's words pressed too heavily upon my mind. I was not even certain whether I should tell Jenny about it or not.It was late afternoon on the twentieth that I reached a comparatively decisive conclusion. Jenny and I had parted with Tobi, none of us quite sure what to say."Good-bye," Tobi had said, a word selection that seemed emphatically deliberate. "It's been an honor to train with you, and it will be an honor to join you tomorrow, whatever happens."Jenny bowed. "It's been an honor learning from you."I copied her. "Yeah. It's--it's been great.""Tomorrow, then," had been Tobi's last words. "Bright and early. We'll be waiting for Koh."Upstairs, Jenny and I now waited in silence. I hesitated for some few minutes before I at last spoke."Hey--uh--Jenny? I-I've been thinking.""It's an intelligent way to pass the time."But I didn't smile. She cocked her head at me as I went on, "What is it that we're fighting for, exactly?"She screwed up her face in surprise. "What are we fighting for? What do you mean?"I said, "Think of all the risks we're taking. Think of the price we might have to pay. Is it worth it? Is it really worth it?"She stared at me. "What are you saying? Of course it's worth it! We have to stop Koh. We can't let him harm any innocent people. We may be the only defense standing between him and his revenge on the Spirit World.""Do you really believe that? He tried to take over the Spirit World once. But the King defeated him. Koh was banished, without our help. Surely he will be again.""But Wuqing said Koh's been growing in power. He's been planning and plotting and recruiting forces. Yes, the King will stop him--but what if we're that chosen line of defense? If it's our destiny, we can't turn our back on it.""You mean you, Jenny," I snapped. "You're the Avatar. Maybe it is your destiny. Maybe you are the last line of defense. But I'm just me. I can't fight Koh. I can't watch you face him and lose."Jenny nodded slowly. "I'm scared, too. But I still have a job to do. If I try, I might lose. I guess that is true. But if I don't try, we're all doomed."I said nothing, so she continued:"Even if we fail--even if we die--we'll have done something worthwhile. Because whatever happens, we'll have stood up for our beliefs, and for what is right." She paused and looked at me. "Jacob, tell me. You're not the Avatar. It's not your duty to fight this battle. So why have you followed it so far?""Well--" I thought a moment. "Because of duty, like you said. You're my friend, and I couldn't let you down.""But it was more than that, wasn't it? You couldn't let the world down. You found yourself in a position to either help, or to turn away. So you said, 'I'll do what I can.' I may be the Avatar, and you may be just a regular human being, but that doesn't make it any less your destiny than mine to do what's right. You're a part of this for a reason."I smiled faintly. "You sound like me.""Well, you're a pretty wise guy. In more than one way." She elbowed me. "I've only been saying exactly what you've been saying all along. The winds of fate are carrying us toward destiny, or however you put it. You said we have to cope with it. But we'll do more than that. At the risk of sounding even more like you, we'll--we'll--""Excel," I offered."We'll transcend," she finished. "We're a team--you, and me, and Tobi, and even Wuqing still. And behind us we have all the Avatars." A smile sneaked its way onto her lips. "We're the Face-Saving Squad!""You were right," I sighed; "that's a stupid name."She laughed. "One more day. You can do better."And for some minutes we were quiet. Then Jenny asked, without warning, "You will be there tomorrow, won't you?"I pursed my lips. "I don't know," I said at length. "I--I don't know."She looked at her hands. "But you'll figure it out. You just think about it." And she left it at that. With a shudder I remembered Koh saying the same thing. I thought of his further words: You'll see that I'm right.Yet there had been none of the same presumption in Jenny's voice. She had not been insistent or falsely preachy. She had been nothing but sincere.

~ * ~

At home that evening I shunned the world from between the covers of a good book, and turning to the computer I found solace in writing my own world. I lost myself in the aromas and warmth of preparing a hot meal. And then I meditated.I thought about what Koh had said. And I thought about what Jenny had said. And I knew that Jenny had been right, and that I had been a fool to listen to Koh.The things I had said came crowding back into my mind.It's no use to fret.You'll leave Koh flat on all his stolen faces.We're Team Avatar!It's only natural to fear, but this is a groundless one.You are strong enough.You can face Koh, and win.You're the Avatar.Jenny's destiny was to face Koh. And when I asked myself what my destiny was, I didn't need to ask twice.I made my choice.There was no choice to be made.The sun was long gone and the clouded moon cast the night into a silvery gloom. I was not sure Jenny would be awake, but there again I doubted if she would sleep that night.So I called.I heard her voice on the other end."Jacob?"She sounded surprised. And—concerned?"Hello, Jenny. I just called to tell you--that I've been thinking about what you said today. And I've decided that whatever happens tomorrow, I'll be behind you every step of the way.""Thanks. I didn't doubt it. I'm glad, but"--she faltered--"you don't need to be there tomorrow.""Of course I do.""No, I mean, you really don't. I--was just about to call you." "Call me? What for?" "Koh's out in the field. And it looks like he's brought an army."

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#17 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

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Posted Nov 10 2012 - 11:12 AM

Chapter Seventeen

Face-Off

"You must show no fear. You musn't show any emotion at all."

- Avatar Roku

An army. An army. It was the only thought running through my head while my feet were running through the night. As if Koh wasn't bad enough, we had a whole army of his face-bereft minions to deal with. Could they all be benders? Probably not, but I didn't see that it made much difference. How could even the Avatar, with nothing but two teenagers behind her, combat such odds? All my worries returned to me tenfold.I was turning along a street, still a good two blocks away from the park, when I saw them. Stretching even this far stood a sea of bodies, men and women, tall and short, bulky and thin. It was like an orchard full of ripe melons. My jaw fell open and my eyes bulged. Jenny had not been exaggerating in her estimation.I didn't stop to stare for longer than a moment. From there, as fast as my legs could carry me, I took the long way round. The streets here were empty, as in a sane world they should be. It seemed Koh and his forces had lined up at the end of the field opposite Jenny's house, and there they were waiting, their numbers so great they spilled out along the side streets.I arrived, out of breath, at the rear of Jenny's house, where I found her waiting in the backyard.Leaning on my knees for support, I panted, "Did--you--call Tobi?"Jenny nodded. "She's on her way.""What now--then?""Now we confront Koh.""But--but--but--""It's time, Jacob. He's finally decided to show himself, and I'm not going to back down." She rose from her seat in the grass. "Just remember. He's called the Face-Stealer for a reason. You can't show any emotion. I think that's probably why Wuqing had you and Tobi join us in chakra meditation. You have to master your feelings, like he said. Koh will probably be occupied with me." She swallowed audibly. "But guard yourself."I bobbed my head. Straightening up, I asked, "Are you ready for this?"She clenched her fists in front of her. "Yes. I am.""Good. Neither am I."Crossing the street, I took slow breaths to calm myself. I cleared my mind, as if we were only meditating as we had with Wuqing all those weeks ago. Show no fear, I reminded myself. Show no guilt or shame, don't lie, don't be distract by illusion, don't show attachment. Show no emotion. I had trouble seeing how all seven chakras had any bearing on the matter at hand, but I ran through the list as a precaution.We passed the playground, stepped under the arch created by two oaks, and strode forth into the field. I kept repeating to myself "show no emotion, show no emotion." Around me there was a deathly hush. My ears rang with the silence.Koh waited at the head of his army. He wore his familiar mustached face and that same suit. Though he appeared nothing more than a man, he emanated a quiet intimidation. His stoic eyes glared a calm malignance."Avatar!" he greeted. "So you decided to meet me, after all! I am sorry to see it. Yet I would have been disappointed had you done anything else.""That's right, Koh," Jenny called calmly. "I'm here. How do you feel on your last night?""I feel"--he breathed in and grinned viperishly--"powerful. More so than I have ever felt before. You don't realize it, do you? You cannot see that this is more than just any regular solstice." He looked up at the full moon, dulled behind the darkening clouds. "This is so much more. Tomorrow is the twenty-first day of the twelfth month of the year two-thousand and twelve."Twelve--twenty-one--twelve. Of all the emotions I had prepared myself to suppress, the sudden urge to laugh senselessly was not one of them, but I quelled it anyway."I have been waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Tomorrow at last the day will finally arrive. The most powerful solstice of all time. There has never been one like it since the beginning of the world, nor will there ever be. Centuries of biding my time, building strength and resources, culminate on the morrow. I have been planning for far too long to let the likes of you stand in my way. Why, you are but mere children. Is this really a battle you wish to fight?"Jenny lifted her chin. "It is.""I will make the offer to let you turn back in peace only once more.""Don't bother.""I was afraid it would have to be this way. But so be it." He began to pace before the front ranks of his soldiers. "It's important you know that once we have concluded our business here, I will find the most creative of endings for your family, Avatar . . . and for yours, Jacob. And"--he looked up--"for yours, Miss Tobi."Jenny and I turned in time to see Tobi as she joined us. She made no expression, either verbal or facial, merely nodded to each of us and met Koh's gaze.Koh halted. "I have always wanted to acquire the face of an Avatar for my collection. And now, at last, I shall. What an achievement it will be to preface my greatest victory."Jenny closed her eyes. Her body became rigid. "You won't have my face, Koh. You won't harm my family. You won't harm anyone ever again. Because tonight--you will die."Koh seemed amused. "And who is to kill me? You?""No." Jenny lifted her eyelids on a sharp blue glow. "By the Avatar. All of them."There was a flash. I felt a drop on my head. I heard a clap of thunder. Looking up, I saw black clouds gathering above.Maybe it was that which made me turn around. Maybe I felt, in a way, the presence. Whatever the reason, when I looked over my shoulder I gasped. With my back to Koh I could not help but display my surprise.Immediately behind us stood Korra. At her side I recognized a hulking mass of muscle as Jenny's predecessor. On her other side a bald middle-aged man with an arrow tattooed across his head smiled at me. Behind them in triangle formation ranged all their forebears, each and every one of Jenny's past lives.The rain began to fall harder. When I revolved to face Koh, his only display of feeling was to slit his eyes.I leaned closer to Jenny to whisper, "I've got it.""Got what?""A name. I've got a name for us, now. We're the Avatar Battalion."Koh stepped closer. "Are you ready, Avatar?" His body started to flicker. "Are you prepared to face your nightmares?"And then the mustached man's body was gone. Now Koh took on his true form, a myriapodous, legged serpent in all its fearsomeness. His forces surged forth like the ocean waves breaching the shoreline.Jenny ran out to meet Koh. She launched fireballs at him, which hissed in the growing rain. He curled his body and they glanced harmlessly off his thick hide.I raised an arm over my head. "Come on! The battle has begun! Avatar Battalion--attack!"

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Edited by My Name is Nuile, Nov 12 2012 - 11:57 AM.

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#18 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa
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Posted Nov 11 2012 - 01:56 PM

Chapter Eighteen

Vengeance Unleashed

"The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can tough the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginningless time, darkness thrives in the void, but always yields to purifying light."

- The Lion Turtle

The sky opened its floodgates in earnest. The rain fell in a torrent, sizzling and steaming in the fire that erupted from Jenny's hands. Koh was running rapid circles around her, the attacks hardly staggering him.She turned instead to water. She gathered the rain on the ground around her, propelling it at Koh in a wave that washed under him and froze solid, trapping each and every one of his legs."Is that all you can do, Avatar?" he jeered. "I can fight fire with fire."The caterpillar faded. At the center of the patch of ice there now stood a man arrayed in heavy battle armor, with spiked shoulder pads and helmet. He raised a hand and fire spewed out at Jenny. Surprised, she stumbled back, narrowly deflecting the flames with a blast of air.She retaliated with a bombardment of boulders, lifting them into the air and then kicking them at her foe. Koh knocked some aside with fireballs, dodging others. When he found an opening he launched another jet of fire. Jenny doused it with the rainwater and hurled icicle daggers. Koh raised a wall of flame. Jenny cut it down with a billow of earth, knocking the spirit off his feet.When he stood up again, he had become a young woman, her wet blonde hair plastered to her shoulders. The arms she lifted were lean and strong. Two pillars of stone rose on either side of her, tipped, and dove at Jenny.The Avatar propelled herself into the air on a shaft of flame. The stone pillars cut through its base, causing her to fall. As she came down, fire burst from her feet, descending upon Koh.When he emerged from the blaze, he was a hairy man dressed in animal pelts. The rain around him froze in midair. Before Jenny was even on her feet again he hurled the frozen spikes at her.Jenny clapped her hands, creating a current of air that parted the barrage, diverting the spikes to either side of her. She made a wave of earth and swept it at Koh. He surfed out of the way and created a curved ice ramp that brought him to jenny. He flung streams of water at her, which she knocked aside with her hands. One appeared to break through her defenses, but she caught it narrowly before it struck her body and shot it back. Koh collided head-on with the full force of the spout and fell.Next he assumed the form of an elderly woman in brightly colored robes. She blew a gust of air at Jenny that sent her sprawling.The woman launched herself over Jenny's head, landing lightly beside her. Wind rushed from her hands, buffeting Jenny and keeping her pinned down. She couldn't breathe. Koh was suffocating her.Jenny fought against it. She ignited her leg and slid it in a semicircle, trying to trip Koh. He jumped over the flames, only to be thrown back by a solid splash from Jenny.Meanwhile, Jenny's forces, Tobi and I in the lead, had met Koh's. The Avatars and faceless benders lit the night with fire and shook the earth beneath our feet, making good use of the rain and wind.I cut into the enemy ranks, throwing qiblocking strikes left and right and left again. One agile woman dodged my fists and kicked me in the stomach. I staggered, but I had managed to catch hold of her leg. From there it was easy to topple her and stifle her qi.I felt arms around my neck, and my aggressor felt an elbow in his stomach. I twisted my body, seized the smooth head, and levered the man over my shoulder.Another turned to me and held up his hand like a crossing guard. I knew if I stood still I'd get more than a ticket. I ducked a belch of fire, somersaulted out of the way of another, and stood up beside him. He swung a flaring fist. I blocked with my arm and qiblocked with my knuckles.Two mounds of earth swallowed up my feet. I turned to see an earthbender heft a rock over his head. Before he could throw it, however, his arms went loose and the boulder fell and cracked on his head. He collapsed, revealing Tobi standing behind him.As the stone around my feet crumbled, I said, "Thanks. I owe you one."And still the duel raged between Jenny and Koh. He had resumed his hairy waterbending body and was lashing at her with hydraulic tentacles. She was cutting them back with airbending slices or firebending blasts. She deflected two simultaneously and threw a current of air that bowled him over. Jenny gathered the water from his tentacles and washed it over him and froze it solid.The ice glowed a deep red. It shattered. In his spiked armor Koh heaved a massive ball of flame at Jenny.She raised her arms to defend herself, but it was too fast. It struck her full on, throwing her back. Koh advanced, shooting smaller fireballs with a ruthless rapidity. Jenny pitched well-aimed blocks of stone to extinguish them. When she was back on her feet she stamped them hard into the ground, creating a powerful ripple that Koh barely managed to spring over. He slid down into the crater she had created, showering fire down on her head. Jenny created a dome of earth over herself.The firebender disappeared and Koh was the young earthbender. In her body he smashed through the dome of earth.A geyser exploded from within it, lifting her high up into the air before dropping her hard in the grass.On rockets of flame Jenny rose up and descended on the young woman. But suddenly she was gone, and the gray-haired matron was there. A rush of air blew Jenny off course, and she landed clumsily far from her target.I was distracted by a circle of thugs around me. They were beating me back and forth between them, tossing me as if I were a doll. I felt bruises swelling all over my body, and the rain stung a gash in my forehead.One of the bald-faced men swung to punch me, but I caught it in my fist. With the other hand I struck two blows to his arm and then to a nerve in his neck, and he crumpled. Two of the others grabbed me from the sides, and a third from behind. I allowed them to carry all my weight, using my legs to kick out at the one in back of me. He fell and I landed firmly on the others' feet. They released me in their pain, and I qiblocked them simultaneously.Nearby I observed Tobi grappling with a man twice her size. He had her wrists in a grip of iron. I wove through the throng to her side and punched the man's arm. His arm fell numbly, and Tobi made use of her free hand to jab a pressure point in his neck and send him over with a kick to the chest."Thanks," she said."I owed it to you." I looked over her shoulder. "Duck, by the way."She obeyed, and I hurled an uppercut to his jaw. His rippling chin went up and I delivered a felling punch to his throat."Jump!" Tobi warned, and without bothering to ask "How high?" I was in the air. She swung a leg under me, tripping an earthbender with stone boxing gloves behind me.I extended a hand. "Not bad."She shook it. "Not bad yourself."She pointed over my shoulder. "Fire bender.""Give me your other hand."She obeyed, and I swung her like a discus, letting go to fling her up. I ducked a stream of fire as she arced over it, twisting in the air to land at the bender's side. She delivered a quick qichoke, and he was down.An air current tripped me, and before I could move there was a foot on my back. I don't know what the bender was planning, but whatever it was, he was knocked off my back by a stone hurled by a white-faced woman with a pair of fans.I scrambled to my feet in time to duck down again to avoid a splash from a waterbending woman. I sprang forward, dodging another gush. I swerved through her attacks to her side. But before I could block her qi, she encased my arm in ice. I tipped under the weight, stumbled, but managed to left my leg and kick her away.A firm hand gripped my shoulder, and I turned to see a lamp stand with a naked light bulb towering over me. He drew back a fist. I turned, swinging my frozen arm to shatter the ice against his chest. He collapsed.In the center of the field the battle was heating up between Jenny and Koh. In firebending regalia the Face-Stealer was battering Jenny with a constant jet of flame. Jenny was countering with a stream of water that met the fire between them creating a shroud of vapor over them. They were rendered invisible, nothing to be seen but the occasional orange flash, until the cloud cleared.When it did, Koh had become an earthbender again. They were at it tooth and nail now. Koh slung a boulder that Jenny kicked aside. She caused a ripple in the earth. Koh shapeshifted into the waterbender and surfed his way over the ripple and toward Jenny, sweeping her off her feet in his wave. But with a blast of air it exploded, tossing Koh into the air. As he came down he was the airbender, slowing his fall with a cushioning wind. When he found the ground her staggered Jenny with gust after gust of air.She tried to parry the attacks, but they came too swiftly. She stumbled back until she was up against the trunk of one of the oaks. Koh shapeshifted into the water earthbender and propelled a slab of earth at Jenny. She blew herself up into the safety of the tree branches, which shook when the slab struck. In the next instant Jenny hurtled out of the tree toward Koh.He raised a wall to defend himself, but Jenny hit it with such force that it fell on top of him. He broke his way through with a blast of fire and emerged as the ancient soldier. He and Jenny were at such close quarters that she elbowed aside his fist when he tried to throw a fireball, and he grabbed her wrist when she tried to gather a water whip.His image dimmed and strengthened as that of the golden-haired woman. She slapped her foot down in the grass, raising a column of earth where she stood. But Jenny grasped her firmly by the arms. The earthbender lost her balance at Jenny's pull, and she fell to Avatar’s feet.Her face became buried in a tangle of facial hair. The waterbender splashed Jenny in the face and froze it, encasing her head in ice. Koh took advantage to climb to his feet and assume the body of the airbender. Jenny put her hands to her face and melted the ice with an instantaneous flare of fire. Before she could move, Koh was right in front of her. He pressed his hand over her mouth and nose. Jenny's eyes bulged as he began to bend the air right out of her lungs.She thrust her knee into his stomach. He buckled, releasing her face. She prostrated him with a rush of wind. He rolled over. The gray hair on his head turned into a horned helmet. He spewed fire, and Jenny stepped back out of the way. She sprang into the air to evade a sweeping billow of flame.When she landed, she heaved the earth beneath Koh, pitching him to her side. But when he fell at her feet, he vanished entirely.I was in the process of qiblocking a particularly aggressive waterbender when it happened. I wasn't looking behind me until I felt a hand seize my collar and pull, twitching my head back. I stared up into Koh's faint, icy smile.The world faded and then reappeared. When it did, I was out in the center of the field. I heard Jenny say my name from nearby, but I was transfixed by Koh in his true form, still gripping my collar, the masked face of the firebender glaring down at me with Koh's usual lack of expression."Are you ready to see," he said coldly, "just how much pain I can make you feel?"He leaned closer, putting his face inches from mine. All at once, the mandibles encaging his face sunk into my flesh, sharp as razors. I could not help but grimace and cry out."Pain!" Koh exulted. "Such a delicious emotion!""Jacob! No!"Koh retracted his mandibles and turned to Jenny. I turned, too. We both saw the wide eyes, the open mouth."Fear," Koh murmured dryly. "All the better."He crawled over to Jenny, moving in a tight circle around her, leaving me lying in the grass to watch. The terror on Jenny's face only grew."And now, Avatar--you are mine." The face vanished, leaving an empty hole in its place, a gaping abyss, ready to consume Jenny's emotion.It started as if her face were evaporating, fading into a steam that Koh breathed into his parted jaws. The glow of her eyes began to dull. The skin paled, her lips lost any color at all. Her face was dissolving, while a mirrored image was appearing on Koh's.Suddenly Jenny's eyes shone brighter. Koh's copy of her face seemed surprised as it melted back onto Jenny's head.Behind her, all the Avatars of the past had lined up at her back. I spectated in silent amazement as, one by one, they vaporized into Koh's mouth. Each after the other, faster and faster, until they had all been eaten by the Face-Stealer.Someone was screaming. Until the last of the Avatars disappeared, I didn't realize that it was Koh. His body was bloated and convulsing uncontrollably. He looked like a balloon filled to bursting point.A scar of lightning rent the sky. A deafening rumble of thunder drowned Koh's cries. And then, he stopped moving altogether. He fell onto his side. The eye where the face of his choice appeared was closed. And slowly, he faded.The rain was lessening. Around us, the fighting had already stopped. Where had stood Koh's army of faceless minions now stood a small crowd of men and women, gazing about them with expressions of confusion and shock. Most of them, chiefly the benders, had vanished; the dead had passed on. Now the living, their faces restored, dispersed.Jenny sat up. She appeared dazed, but otherwise unharmed. Even as she gasped and hurried to my side, I closed my eyes with a smile on my face.And meanwhile, Koh was dead. The battle had been won. The Avatar had confronted her greatest challenge, and had emerged victorious. And we were all alive to tell the tale. All would be well; as soon as Jenny whipped out some of that magic water and healed my searing wounds. . . .

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Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith :smilemirunu:


Edited by My Name is Nuile, Nov 12 2012 - 11:57 AM.

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#19 Offline Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa

Nuile the Paracosmic Tulpa
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Posted Nov 12 2012 - 12:01 PM

Epilogue

Endless Circle

But when I opened my eyes, I wasn't in the field. I was staring at one of the whitest, most uninteresting ceilings I had ever stared at in my life.I was in a hospital bed. When I tried to move, my torso protested against the pain. I groaned."Oh! You're awake!" It was Jenny. Her smile appeared over my bed on one side, while Tobi approached on the other. "How are you feeling?""As if I were a pincushion," I complained. "How long have I been unconscious?""All night, all morning, and most of the afternoon.""Why didn't you heal me?"Jenny looked away. "I--I couldn't.""Why not? You've done it before.""No. The Avatar did it before.""But you are the--"Jenny shook her head. "Not anymore.""What do you mean?"Jenny sat on the edge of the bed. "See--well--Koh wanted my face, right? And he was taking it. I couldn't fight it. I can't describe how it felt. It was horrible." She paused to shudder, then proceeded, "So I realized there was only one thing I could do. Give him my face. All of them. You saw what happened, didn't you? I could feel it: each and every one of the Avatars, passing through me, and into him, to--to kill him from the inside. And they--they died in the process. The Avatars sacrificed themselves to slay Koh."A silence followed. I could hardly believe my ears. As suddenly as it had come, then, it had gone."You mean--it's over?" I stammered. "It's all over?"Jenny nodded. "The Avatar is dead. I'm just--me, now.""That's why you were at the end of the genealogy," I realized. "Because you were the last Avatar. And you know what? Wuqing; I think he knew, all along."Tobi cleared her throat. "I--uh--I have a confession to make. Wuqing did know. And I knew, too."Jenny looked across the bed at her. "Then why didn't you tell me?"Tobi frowned. "I promised Wuqing I wouldn't. He didn't want you to know. He didn't want you to have to bear the burden of that knowledge. But I don't think even he expected that it would turn out quite the way it did. I know I thought that it meant you would--" She broke off with a nervous shrug of her shoulders. "I'm just glad that it worked out this way.""I'm not," I moaned. "I wish you could have healed me before killing yourself, Jenny.""I had more important things on my mind at the time."I sighed. "Fair enough. I can take it, for the team. Though I guess we can't call ourselves the Avatar Battalion, or even Team Avatar now. Tyro Team still fits, though."I cried out as something heavy landed on my chest, pressing hard on me at four very painful points. Jenny dragged it off of me with a scolding, "Tommy! Don't do that!"When the pain ebbed, I wiped the tears from my wide eyes to stare at the cat. "Tommy?" I echoed. "But--but he--"Jenny nodded eagerly, cuddling her pet joyously. "Isn't it great? We found him in the park last night!""But--but he--" I repeated emphatically.Tobi explained. "It's not Wuqing. Well--not exactly, at least. It's kind of like how the Avatar died, but Jenny didn't."Wuqing's last words came to my mind. I repeated them: "Life and death is an endless circle." I smiled. "It's just as he said. Even though the Avatar and Wuqing are dead, their spirits live on, in a way. This isn't the end. It's only the beginning.""And now things will go back to normal," said Jenny. "We'll have a time of it explaining to our parents what we were doing at the park in the middle of the night and how you got hurt, of course. But after that--" Her voice trailed away with a small laugh."It's a shame, you know," I sighed. "It'll be disappointing to wake up from this dream. It's the best one I ever had. I'll be sure to tell you all about it when I wake up, Jenny. I'm sorry to say you don't exist outside it, Tobi. All things considered, I almost wish it had all been real, after all." I moved to fold my hands behind my head, wincing in the process. My eyes bleared with the pain. Through gritted teeth I added, "But only almost!"

~ * ~ ~ * ~

Legends are funny things. For thousands of years they have been sources of wisdom and entertainment. They can be tools, or even a trade. Legends are a part of who we are, whether as a part of our cultures, our families, or our daily lives. Myths are embellishments of the truth, and that's what makes them so timelessly endearing, even when we don't believe in them anymore.Take the Avatar, for instance. Surely that doesn't exist. And what about humans with the abilities to control the elements? Or shapeshifting spirits? A face-stealing phantom? These are mere dreams.But one thing you'll find in a legend that you'll also find in the waking world: a hero. Heroes exist, in all shapes and sizes, of all varieties and calibers. Heroes are real. And I know . . . because I've met one.

"It looks like this is the end."

- Sokka

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Sincerely, Nuile: Lunatic Wordsmith :smilemirunu:


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When I know I can't live without a pen and paper, when I know writing is as necessary to me as breathing . . .

 

tumblr_meb7408mTy1r4ejnio1_1280.gif

 

I know I am ready to start my voyage.

 

A Musing Author . . . Want to read my books?





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