Lessons: Part I
I don't know what I can do for you. I mean, I'm sorry…
What do you mean you don't know? I want you, you silly man.
No you don't.
I've made peace with the fact you two love each other and not me. So why come back now?
Because…she's never there. Every day she's carried away to some other thing, and I can't remember the last time she was home.
So then that's all I am? Something to keep you company, like a plush platypus bear?
No, that isn't it at all.
Then go bring her home. You're too…too damn stubborn to just let someone take her away from you! That's why she loves you in the first place! That's why I loved you in the first place!
Light poured into the room where Tong was sleeping, interrupting his dream. A very vivid dream as far as sound, almost as if it were someone's memory. But no visual accompanied that sound, as if the conversation was being held while wearing a blindfold. But given the sheer amount of spirits he was in contact with, it could have been anyone's.
His eyes fully opened, taking in the full view of the room that he had only barely glimpsed before collapsing into a heap on the bed. It was all starting to flood back. The sheer mass of press that asked where the hell he came from and how he was able to foil a terrorist sabotage of the Fire Nation 5th fleet. Demands that he speak with the Firelord herself over what the press was dubbing selfless heroism. Something about a ceremony for him and his two friends to receive the Burning Chalice, which was apparently a major honor the Fire Nation awarded to non-citizens. And of course, this hotel room, which was presumably much nicer than wherever the fairly frugal Shing had booked for them to stay. The red drapes kept the sun from completely covering his face, and the fairly large bed was like a marshmallow. That probably explained why it was so easy for him to fall asleep for close to an entire day.
"I haven't been that out of it since those college all-nighters," he mused aloud to no one in particular. Looking around, first at the clock that read 8:00am, then the rest of the room, he realized that he was alone, unlike some of those nights. Presumably his friends were all given different rooms. Having no idea of what to do, Tong reached for a remote control by the bedside table when a loud knock interrupted him.
"Coming!" he shouted groggily as he arose from the bed to open the door, silently hoping that it was room service with an order of griddlecakes and sky fowl eggs.
"Tong is it?" a female voice asked as he opened the door.
"Yeah, who are…"
Looking up, Tong's words went blank as he took in the sight in front of him. A woman, a fairly large woman standing 6'3 by his estimates, looked down at the room's occupant. Her height was accented by the noticeable, although not exaggerated muscles present on her frame, with her figure complimented by a red T-shirt and long jeans. Her pale skin seemed to make her size even more notable in comparison to the 5'10 Tong.
"Forgive the choice of clothes, I didn't want to cause a scene. I'm Leena, Fire Nation Intelligence. We need to talk."
"As much as I don't mind a pretty girl coming to my door," Tong began, trying to maintain an air of suave (and coming off fairly awkwardly doing so) can I at least get breakfast first?"
Leena nodded at his request. "Go get changed. I know a place."
You can't keep going out every time that stupid phone rings! You have your own life to live!
You don't think I want to? If it were up to me, I would stay here, just the two of us, for a month. I want to make up for all that lost time. But if I do, the public crapstorm that he'll start will make us both miserable.
Forget him! And forget being the Avatar! Even if it's just for a few days! He doesn't get to tell you how to live your life!
…You're right. He won't.
The sound of an old pop song rang from the phone, rousing Kushina from her slumber. The odd dream she had faded into the distance, replaced by a sense of confusion. She remembered the terrorists on the carrier, fighting alongside Tong, being rescued, the press, and finally being put up in a really nice hotel.
There was a decent amount she wanted to talk to the man about. Most notably, whatever quest he was on, and where he was going next. Of course, she couldn't go with him; she had a job to…
The cell phone continued to ring as she realized who was most likely on the other end. Hurriedly, she picked it up.
Oh my goodness, Kushina! You're alright! I saw you all over the news!
"Mr. Dairou! I'm so sorry, I meant to call you but…"
I knew we were interviewing a talented engineer, but I didn't realize we were going to be interviewing a national hero!
You saved Capital City from the New Ozai Society along with your boyfriend…
"He's not my boyfriend," Kushina interrupted. Of course that had to be the first thing out of her mouth, and not asking if everyone knew what she had done.
Sorry, but you've been all over the news. The picture of you and your friend waving from the deck of Shield of the Firelord has gone viral. You're supposed to receive the Burning Chalice with your two friends when the festival concludes tomorrow!
"I'm aware," she answered, the questioning and accolades returning to her memory. "Look, Mr. Dariou, I still want to talk to you about that job opening. Are we still on for that interview with the rest of your department?"
…Come to my office. We have a lot to discuss.
You dare strike a public servant?
I'll do more than just 'strike' you if you don't get out of my house!
This isn't your house; it's the Avatar's house. And she is needed! You are an obstruction, nothing more!
I get it. You don't like people of my, what, orientation? Is that the word everyone is using? Then again, I'm sure you've said a lot worse. Well guess what? I don't like you much either. And I will NOT let you run her ragged for every little thing so you can take photos and build your portfolio to run for president! Do you understand me?
Tell me, how is Tomorrow Technologies running? I must admit that I did admire your ability to create a new company and make it such a commercial powerhouse a mere five years after losing your old one, but what makes you think I won't do to it what I did to Future Industries?
There's another "strike" to think about. Now get out of my house. NOW!
The continued knocking on the door was becoming too frequent and too difficult to ignore. Shing stared at the door, really not wanting to get up and answer it. It was so rare that he was on what could be considered a honest-to-goodness day off that he wanted to savor every second in bed, odd dreams aside.
Groaning heavily, he opened the door, revealing a man he recognized from the other day. A man in Air bender tattoos who began bowing feverishly.
"The master Air bender! I've been looking everywhere for you!"
"You," Shing began, his memories of the day at the arena flooding back to him, "You're that clown from the arena! How dare you wear the tattoos of a Master Air Bender!"
"But I am a master. I am the self taught Awng!"
"The only thing you're a master of is making an idiot of yourself!" Shing shot back. "Now what do you want?"
"I want you to teach me your style of Air bending!"
This took Shing by surprise, as he offered a short "Teach you?"
"I saw how you defeated Fire Blade, and I was in shock! I'll pay you anything you want! But I must know how you were able to do that!"
With no sign of his friends, and nothing to really do that morning, Shing nodded, grabbing his phone and staff. It was that or stay in bed and watch TV. "Where do you want to do this?"
"My gym. I own a small gym in town where I teach Air bending. We won't be interrupted there."
"Oh please be joking…" Shing muttered to himself before following the overeager student.
The diner that Leena had taken Tong too seemed fairly busy, with movie posters over the walls and clients more interested in their breakfast and coffee than the amazon speaking with the Earth Kingdom man. Below two posters, one of Knight Sabers and the other of Nuktuk: The Return, the pair sat, Tong more interested in the griddlecakes and eggs than the scenery.
"This is really good," he remarked between bites and pouring fairly liberal amounts of syrup on the cakes. "Where did you find this place?"
"It's on the way to work," Leena answered. "Besides, the owners know I'm a regular. No one will stare at us unless you yell or make a scene.
Tong offered a smirk to the woman that drove him over. "Staring?"
"Like I've seen you do since we sat down, but I'm fairly used to it at this point. Tell me Mr. Mao, do you like tall women?"
Tong quickly fumbled in an attempt to change the subject. "I appreciate the meal," he began in earnest, "But why does Fire Nation Intelligence want to speak with me? And why you?"
"Little old me?" Leena asked, giggling as she did so. "I have a degree in written language and criminal justice. It was a natural fit. As for meeting you instead of some stuffy old guy, let's just say everyone thought you'd be more agreeable to speaking with me than some bored bureaucrat."
"Can't fault that," Tong remarked, having another bite of the eggs. "But why send anyone?"
"I thought that would be obvious," Leena replied, leaning over the table and her omelet to get a closer look at her companion. For his part, Tong blushed slightly, but kept his eyes on her face.
"Ok, and that is?"
"We share a common enemy. I've done my homework on you, Tong Mao. Let's face it, the press narrative of the Earth bender tourist that just happened to be in the right place at the right time wasn't completely accurate, now was it?"
Tong said nothing, but nodded.
"The same people who killed your father also have been weaponizing spirits to use against the Fire Nation. Maybe we can help each other."
"I would appreciate help, but I'm no one's attack polar bear dog," Tong answered.
The woman offered a smile, before leaning over further, going into Tong's ear. He panicked slightly until she whispered something that took him completely off guard.
"Don't be that way. You should want to restore the balance, Avatar Tong."
"DON'T!" Tong shouted, only for the other diner-goers to stare at him. Breathing heavily, he sighed and sat back down, Leena titling her head slightly as she smiled.
"I didn't mean to hit a nerve. In case you're wondering, your friend Maeda did point your issues out to us when we questioned him, but your other secret? That was all me.
"Is this blackmail?" Leena quickly shook her head.
"We should be friends. What's the old saying, 'you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours'? We both want the same thing, and I really do want to help you. Then again, it might take you a bit longer to scratch my back…"
"OK, what do you want me to do?" Tong asked, trying to avoid blushing again.
"Good!" she responded with a grin. "I knew we could work things out. You see, an island in one of the corners of Fire Nation territory has a facility that's owned by Avatar Affairs, and the man in charge is a spirit speaker. I'm sure you can put two and two together, especially with people on the island having gone missing and reports of stone creatures walking the grounds. Whatever he's doing there is a crime not only against spirits, but possibly a precursor to something horrible."
"So you want me to go in there?"
"Not alone," Leena replied. "I'd come with you."
"Why do you need me in the first place?"
"Because we can't send Fire Nation agents to an Avatar Affairs building without causing a major international incident. You on the other hand, have both the skills and lack of a connection to get things done, Mr. Spirit Speaker."
"And what do I get in return?" Tong asked, sipping a glass of orange juice as he did so.
"Fire Nation Intelligence pointing out the people that were around your father's lab the day he died, as well as a list of assassins and mercenaries with connections to Avatar Korra. Oh, and one less jerk doing horrible things to spirits. There's a reason Mr. Maeda was so willing to talk to us. He knew that we could help you in a way he couldn't."
He had been pretty much forced into the situation, but Leena was right about two things. Namely, the Fire Nation and he shared a common enemy in the Avatar's cronies and supporters, and the help of a major government's intelligence agency would be exactly what he needed to crack this case wide open. With a sigh, he nodded in approval to Leena's offer.
"So, when do we leave?"
"After the ceremony. I just know we're gonna have a lot of fun working together, you and I. Oh, wait, that reminds me," she continued, grabbing his hand as she headed for the door, leaving some money for the bill before she left.
"What? Where are we going?"
"The tailor, silly!" Leena answered as she opened the door. "You're going to be accepting an award from the Firelord! We can't have you do that in a hoodie! And trust me, you do not want to offend the Firelord. Don't worry, I know someone that's going to make you look amazing! Then we need you to do some rehearsals…
"Tailor? Rehearsals?" Tong asked confused. "What happened to that request?"
"How many students do you have?" Shing asked, as he looked around at the "gym". Gym was probably too generous a term, as it was little more than a storefront with mats on the ground and an office in the back. There were no tools to teach Air bending, but there were a large variety of staffs and other weapons off to the side. The office itself had two bookshelves with a wide variety of literature on the combat arts, everything from The Simpleton's Guide to Nation's Combat to Airbending: The Last Great Master. Shing reasoned that at least he had plenty of reading material. On one of the walls was a flat panel television hooked up to a disc player, and next to that was a library of discs. Shing figured he was a big mover enthusiast or was watching video of other practitioners for ideas.
"Twenty, Master Shing. I believe that I'm the foremost authority on Air Bending in Capital City."
A twitch formed in Shing's eye as he heard that. "And what is your experience?"
"Well, primarily Wind Razor corr…"
"Well yes! Air Razor is a truly superior style of Air Bending! The correspondence tapes were quite adamant about that! It's a shame what happened to Grandmaster Yuza, killed by his own jealousy. Luckily his students have moved the art away from that one indiscretion. It's like Master Zeed said, we have to focus on the art, not the person."
"Yes, you see, Grandmaster Yuza was quite aware that people couldn't go to Republic City to travel with him, so what he did was create a correspondence course! You study the basic 36 lessons and then film yourself executing the techniques, which the masters in Repbulic City review! If you pass, you receive a basic certification and then order more advanced lessons! My mastery is verified by Grandmaster Yuza in that certificate over there!"
The Air Nomad breathed deeply, doing his absolute best not to go into a tirade right then and there. "You are aware that I am trained in classical Air Bending, right?"
"Well yes," Awng replied, "and I believe that you are aware of things that my more modernized training might have skipped over. Granted, my style is superior, but I believe there's much we can teach each other."
Shing again had to restrain himself from referring to said 'modernized' training as 'half-assed' but held his tongue. "OK, then show me what your stance looks like."
"Stance? You want to spar?"
"No, I want to see how you stand. We can fix it if we do that."
With a fairly patronizing look on his face, Awng took the stance he was taught. His feet looked heavy, and his hands were raised above his head in the shape of claws. It was less the stance of the actual Wind Razor masters and more a poor imitation of one. And as far as regular Air Nomad fighting stances went, he was far too high up and narrow to be effective at delivering air currents towards anything, which would explain his lack of grace.
"OK, I need you to move your legs further apart, and open your hands."
"Why? Is this how I can defeat Fire Blade?"
"No," Shing responded, taking a classical Air bending stance. "This is the basic stance of an Air Bender. You're light on your feet, swift, and able to redirect your opponent, not meet them head on with brute force.
"But the correspondence tapes…"
"Are you going to trust a recording or an actual expert?" Shing asked, his voice clearly showing that his patience was at an end.
"I'm going to trust my own expertise!" Awng shot back defensively. "It was a mistake to bring you here! All you've done is mock my kind offer!"
Shing's own experience with teaching was fairly minimal, mostly acting as an assistant to the senior most instructors. And usually, those who were at the Air Temple were fairly open minded about what was taught. However, he remembered a few times when students were unruly or openly defiant, instructors would invite them to either demonstrate their 'superior' skillsets or their mastery of what was being taught, and humble the student into being more accepting of the lesson.
And this guy needed some major humbling.
"I'll demonstrate my skill to you directly!" Awng continued, assuming his own stance. "Let us spar, and see who is truly correct!"
"I could have stayed at the hotel and watched TV, but I was nice enough to come out here and help you. Well, if it's a fight you want, it's a fight you'll get!"
The elevator leading to the fifth floor of Tomorrow Technologies was surprisingly empty that day. Perhaps a lot of employees had the day off, or perhaps they were busy elsewhere. Kushina was unaware. What she was aware of was that Mr. Dariou wanted to see her after all the craziness from two days prior, which hopefully meant they were going to extend a formal job offer.
After getting off the elevator and passing by a secretary, Kushina found herself in a conference room, which was empty save the suited executive with slight traces of gray hair among his black head of hair, and a portrait of a beautiful woman with a relaxed grin.
"Our founder," the man began, "would undoubtedly appreciate your heroism. Please sit."
Despite being relatively uncomfortable with being called a hero, Kushina sat down, nodding. "Where are the others? I was told that I would be meeting with multiple people."
"The situation has changed since midweek," Dairou answered. "Then again, we're used to changing situations here, ever since our founding from the ashes of the old Future Industries."
Kushina had to resist the urge to roll her eyes at the executive's self-promotion. She was focused on a more important question.
"What has changed?"
"What has changed? Well, given the situation, I'm not sure if I can hire you as an engineer."