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|Toughest of Lessons|
September 30, 2017
Toughest of Lessons
For about the hundredth time that day, Yoriko let out a swift exhale and the fire in her chi illuminated her body with a refreshing coat of warmth. It was the second that she had given herself in that minute alone. Like with most native firebenders, that was one of the first techniques that she was ever instructed in for her art. But she had never used it so much in such a short span of time. Yoriko had gotten more accustomed to the icy climate of the Northern Water Tribe since the day she arrived several months prior. But the cold continued to nibble at her skin, and she would never genuinely be able to call this foreign nation home, no matter how long she was there.
As the Avatar, nowhere could truly be her home in the sense that other human beings had one. Even the Fire Nation or Republic City were not places she could allow herself attachment to. Comforts would be scarce, and never was that more true than it was at the present moment. Now that she had warmed her freezing body, Yoriko waved her arms around like a sea squid and pushed a stream of nearly solid snow from the ground, which flowed as easily as if it were plain liquid water that she bent.
"The target is that way," Yoriko's dragon Liung reminded her as she flew by. Like her human, Liung was now staring in the direction of Moro Kenshi, Yoriko's waterbending instructor.
"Thank you," the young Avatar quipped, sarcastic. "I have eyes." But like the dragon, she had seen that her attack had missed its target. In fact, Moro had barely needed to dodge in order to avoid it.
"Maybe a few more years of training and you won't miss anymore," Liung said.
"Now you're breaking my concentration," said Yoriko. Almost in response, she was at that moment doused with a water whip, washing away all of the warmth she had exhaled on herself earlier and leaving her bare and exposed to the frigid Arctic winds. Avatar Yoriko shivered as the full frigid force of the environment swept onto her. So cold it was that she could not imagine this being better than falling into one of the icy ponds that lined the landscape. Frantically the girl breathed and breathed repeatedly to heat her body up once again – twice a second, three times a second, four times a second – but it was no use anymore.
The cold had won.
By the time that Yoriko rubbed the droplets from her eyes and parted the strands of hair that dangled in front of her face, her teacher was no longer thirty feet away. Though she had not seen Moro walking, the waterbending instructor was now right in front of her. "Yoriko, you should have had your guard up for that last attack."
"It wasn't my fault," she pleaded. "I was trying to concentrate like you said, but-"
"There is always something that will try to distract you or throw off your concentration," said Moro Kenshi, who did not allow the Avatar-in-training to finish. "Point is, you let it."
"Sorry." Moro's disappointment had done the impossible and made the coldest of waters even colder.
"Every Avatar struggles with one element in their training," Moro went on, still stern but a bit more supportive. "As your native element is fire, waterbending is its opposite."
"The water has a mind of its own," said Yoriko. "It wouldn't listen to me like the other elements did."
"At first that was true," Moro admitted. "But you've come a long way since you first came to the North Pole. Just be patient with yourself and don't allow your concentration to falter again."
"I haven't mastered this level yet."
"Yes you have, Yoriko. I know you can do this because you have the talent and you've put in the practice. Something else must be holding you back, whatever it is. Remember, water is the element of change and all the elements are truly one. If you master the other elements, you can master water." With that, Moro spun her arms and bent the water off of her pupil into a thin sheet which promptly splattered to the ground.
Yoriko had suddenly found herself dry again. No more need to warm herself. "Earth doesn't change," said Yoriko. "Why can't I start learning that?"
"Because you have not finished learning waterbending yet," said Moro. "And yes, earth is more stubborn and unchanging than water, but the four elements all comprise the same cosmos, which means they are one even when they appear to contradict each other. If you're going to regain control over your uncontrollable Avatar State, you'll have to try looking at things in a new way. Someday you'll understand."
"I'm sick of hearing that."
Moro pursed her lips. "You're exhausted, Yoriko. Go now, and come back tomorrow. Same time, same place."
The sun began dipping itself beneath the horizon while the young Avatar's legs tried to force themselves to sleep. Yoriko dragged them and the rest of her body through every step, one at a time. She had just over an hour to rest and recuperate before Sukan would call her to supper.
"Well, that was exhilarating," Liung swooped down beside Yoriko once more. "Can we go for a ride now? I scouted out a good area along the coast this morning."
"Not tonight," Yoriko said flatly. "I have to have dinner, and then I have to get up early tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," said Liung. "Let me guess...do you have more training to do?"
"Of course. That is the reason I came to the Northern Water Tribe, to learn waterbending."
"Training, training, training," Liung pouted. "When do you get to the fun part of being the Avatar?"
Yoriko raised an eyebrow. "Fun part? There is no fun part. The Avatar is the guardian of the world and the balance that allows it to exist in harmony."
"Twelve year-olds don't talk like that," said Liung. "You're repeating something one of your teachers lectured you about at some point or another."
Yoriko did have to admit it sounded like a quote from a textbook. "All the same, I have to rest and recuperate before heading home." It had indeed been a long day of training, and the sunlight had nearly completely dimmed in the sky. Soon the only light to go by would be from indoor candles from surrounding buildings and houses. And the stars overlooking everything from a distant – ever-present, all-knowing but never-talking.
In fact, Yoriko's energy was so low that it took nearly an hour for her to make it back to her room, wash up and change for dinner with Sukan. As always, Sukan was maternal and welcoming in providing the comforts of a good home. That night, they would be dining on fresh sea otter which Sukan had taken upon herself to hunt during the afternoon while her adoptive daughter was training with Master Moro.
"I didn't see you come in from a nighttime ride," said Sukan.
Yoriko shrugged. "Didn't feel like it."
"Most days you and Liung seem inseparable. How was your waterbending training today?" Sukan asked while lifting her first bite up with her chopsticks.
Yoriko had not chosen her first bite yet, and was still twirling her chopsticks about the sea otter stew aimlessly. "It was alright. Still tough."
"I'm sure you'll learn it in time, Honey," Sukan reassured through a mouthful. "You're the Avatar, and the Avatar always does in the end."
"That's what Master Moro says. She gives long talks about how concentration is important and water is the element of change, but none of that ever seems to help when I'm out there practicing and trying to fight."
Echoing her daughter, Sukan set aside her chopsticks for the time being. "Master Moro means well, child. Each Avatar struggles with their opposite element. Is that all it is for you or is something else bothering you?"
Breaking eye contact, Yoriko stared toward the icy window and the moonlit sky which lay beyond. "Water may be the element of change, but sometimes I don't know if I can change with it." The Avatar Spirit had indeed changed, as the Avatar State and its connection to past lives was out of control. No past Avatar before Yoriko had ever been forced to deal with that before. An Avatar was supposed to be a protector, not a threat.
"What do you mean?" Sukan pressed, knowing there was more to what the girl was saying.
"I don't know," said Yoriko. "Forget it." With that, she picked up her chopsticks again and slowly began shoveling up bites of the sea otter stew.
Sukan, on the other hand, would not give up so easily. "I notice that you're tired all the time these days, even in the morning. Are you training at night, too?"
"No..." Her voice shook, and the shame of how childish she might sound gave way. "I've been having nightmares again. The day my birth parents were killed." The three of them had been walking home on the streets of Republic City when someone horrible did the deed right in front of her. Yoriko would have been next, had Officer Sukan not shown up.
Sukan rushed over and wrapped her arms around the Avatar-in-training. "It's okay."
"It's not. How can I be strong enough if the world is counting on me if these memories won't let me go?"
"It was horrible what happened that day," Sukan said, with tears of her own forming in her eyes now. "But life goes on for the rest of us." Since she was neither bending master, nor spiritual guru, Sukan would spare any speech about how death was a natural part of life. Nevertheless, she was someone no less essential for Avatar Yoriko. Avatar or not, Avatar Yoriko was also simply Yoriko.
Yoriko's sobs slowed down and her shaking stopped.
"Yoriko..." said Sukan. "I'm very proud of the young woman you're becoming." She did not say the Avatar, as there were no shortage of people who saw the Avatar instead of the person. "I know they would be, too."
"Thanks Mom," Yoriko said, rubbing her eyes again and allowing herself the luxury of a smile now. "Is it alright if I take a quick ride with Liung before dinner? You can come, too! The view from the sky will be amazing."
Sukan nodded. "I think that I will stay here, but thank you for the offer. I'll still be here when you return."
- This one-shot is dedicated to a great friend and fellow user, her most recent fanon chapter. Mage has left a mark on our lives for a long time to come. , whose untimely passing this past summer left many of us mourning. He was a great guy and a smart guy who I am honored to have known. It was a moving experience to be able to write this with his fan-created characters, which I am still grateful to him for letting me do. I hope that this one-shot lives up to his expectations of me. Our mutual friend also left a nice statement on
- Although I publish this now as a tribute to him, this one-shot was not originally meant to be so. We talked about doing an exchange where we each wrote one-shots in each other's fanon worlds about the main characters. Since I enjoy bending lessons and the first book of was just finished and the second one only just started, I wanted to do something centered around a bending lesson that might plausibly have taken place off-screen. Bending lessons I've always found good opportunities to simultaneously develop characters in other ways and explore them further by what they struggle with and how they react to it. When I was given the news, I was initially conflicted about going through with this, but with some reworking, I made the end of the day about getting over the loss of family members instead of the next step in her Avatar journey. With the editing done, this experience was complete.
- Mage did not write his DSV one-shot, but he told me during our planning that he intended to center it around Ratana taking part in some battle prior to the Siege of Ba Sing Se.
- The title is a wordplay on Earliest of Lessons, the first chapter of my series.
For the collective works of the author, go here.