Lessons: Part II
"With all due respect," Kushina began, breathing deeply as she took in the news, "hiring a national hero should make me more qualified, not less!"
Dariou nodded. "I agree. Which is why we want you to come on as a brand representative, not an engineer. At least not right now."
The last statement caused Kushina's shock and anger to be replaced with a clear sense of confusion. "Come again?"
"Someone coming for an interview who took their time to save potentially millions from a hijacked aircraft carrier, with the skill to pilot a mecha tank as she single-handedly…"
"Not single," Kushina replied. "I had help."
"Saved the Fire Nation from disaster", Dariou concluded. "You would be an IDEAL brand representative. Going from nation to nation, advertising our civilian products, doing occasional PR, it'd be perfect. In fact, your friend, the one you were on the carrier with? I think we might hire him as a bodyguard for you."
The confusion only grew greater for Kushina as her employer explained the role. "This is a lot to take in."
"You'd be well compensated of course," Dariou added. "And when your initial tour of publicity was done, we would assuredly have a place for you as an engineer"
"This is almost too generous," Kushina replied. "Why all this for me?"
"Because, much like our founder before us," Dariou began before whispering in Kushina's ear "I will support the true Avatar in any way I can. There are those among our order that are still loyal to the cycle."
Dariou said nothing, but offered a smile. "I've drawn up a contract listing the terms and conditions. Believe me, you'll be well compensated as a brand representative and we won't stiff you as an engineer either. Travel and lodging will be covered of course. All you need to do is go to the approved places to promote our products, and let us know what our competitors are up to if you see them. Very simple, right?"
She had been shanghaied. At no point in her life did she see herself as a spokeswoman, model, or anything of the sort. Not even as a kid when some of the little girls were pretending to be princesses. She had always preferred playing racer, competing in the Ember Island Grand Prix or the Misty Palms Run in her custom built race car.
But considering just how generous the terms of the offer were, the fact that she needed a job, and the issues with trouble finding her, it made no sense to turn it down.
"Where do I sign?"
"Right here. Then we need to get you fitted for that ceremony at week's end, so both you and the brand can put their best foot forward. You'll be a shining example of the employees at this company. And in front of the Firelord, no less! Then we'll give you a schedule, some products that you'll need to speak about to potential buyers…"
As Dariou listed her immediate responsibilities, Kushina thought about asking if she needed to wear heels for the ceremony, but thought better of it. Still, it wasn't all bad. After all, these were the good guys, right? This was just a...detour.
Awng, arms raised, wasted no time with any sort of setups or distractions. He charged Shing head on, hands raised to claw through his opponent so that he would show the self-proclaimed Wind Razor master some respect. He was so focused on attacking that he was completely unprepared for the wind gust assisted tackle that took him to the ground, followed by Shing applying the same armlock that caused Takada to submit at the arena prior.
"AHHH! I GIVE UP!"
"That's how I beat the Fire Blade guy," Shing replied, standing up. "The grappling techniques that Grandmaster Ikki added to Air bending. A novice like you is so focused on the destructive power of bending that you fail to see its other applications, like increasing your speed, evasiveness, and defense. Now, can we try this again?"
"CHEATER!" was all Awng replied with before going for a weapon in a barrel off the mat, two sticks held together by a piece of reinforced rope. Quickly, he began spinning the sticks on the rope as he looked on at his opponent.
"Grappling technique is for fools and cowards!" Awng shouted aloud. "Our tapes did teach about anti-grappling, and they mentioned that Ikki was such a horrible Air bender that she had to resort to trickery to do anything of use! Now that I know you're using Ikki's stupidity, I won't fall for it again!"
And that's the basic attack from mount.
That looks dumb. Can't we just push them away with wind? Not touch them?
Wind, like any force, needs direction. This allows you to direct the force much more accurately against a single opponent.
Why not just hit them? Ikki didn't sound very smart when she made this up.
Why indeed. Ask her yourself.
So, this is Zhen's son? He gets the streak from your side of the family.
And here I always credited his wife. Well Shing, if you want, tell Ikki herself what you think of her grappling technique.
I give! Please! I give up!
Well, what do you think now? Little hellion.
C…can you teach me that? That was so cool!
Now, Ikki has retired from teaching. She was here to visit.
Oh come now Rohan. I'm your OLDER sister remember? I'll retire when I'm good and ready. And I think I have enough left in me to train one last master of Air bender style grappling.
You say that now But I take teaching very seriously. Don't think for one second I'll go easy on you!
Shing had to give Awng credit for something. He was very good at pressing the Air Nomad's buttons. Still, even a layman with a weapon could be dangerous.
"Do you…know Ikki?
"I just know what the other masters say, and we all consider her a joke!" Awng boasted. "I thought it was common knowledge!"
The last insult caused Shing to grit his teeth, full anger on display. "I was taught personally by that 'joke.' And she's ten thousand times the Air bender you'll ever be!"
"My apologies, but that would explain why you come across so...poorly."
Again, Awng started twirling his sticks like mad, using their movements to shoot off air currents. Shing countered by moving out of the way and using a kick assisted gust to take him off his feet, with a hard punch landing not to the face, but rather his opponent's midsection, knocking the wind out of him. To finish him off, Shing placed a ball of air around the grounded Awng, causing him to struggle to breathe for a few moments before he released the hold.
"Are we done?! If I want to be insulted I'll just go home and have Grandmaster Rohan look over my form. And I won't let some self-proclaimed expert insult Ikki! Do you understand me?!"
Despite the blows to his body and the lack of oxygen, Awng attempted to stand up. "I will not admit defeat…to an…ow, inferior style!"
"Would your students?"
"You're not just hurting yourself," Shing began as he looked on at the defeated 'master'. "You're also teaching your students incorrect technique, and when they need it, and they do something wrong, and they get hurt, or worse, who's to blame?"
"But I'm not wrong."
"You have two choices," Shing began. "Give up this whole Air Bending thing and go back to whatever it was you did before you sent away for that correspondence course, or actually go learn from an accredited master. Because this?" he continued pointing at the roof, "I won't allow."
"You won't allow it? What do you plan to do, bring your friends to raze this gym to the ground?"
Shing laughed. "No, just discredit you and make your students realize they're learning from a fraud. We will drag your name through the mud so deeply when it's done you'll need an ocean to clean it off!"
Awng said nothing, but for the first time, his response wasn't anger, but what appeared to be regret.
"If you're willing to learn correctly, then go to the sky bison preserve by the docks. The owner runs trips to Republic City. I can offer you a recommendation to learn at Air Temple Island. As a student. Not a master. You'll be required to have those tattoos removed or at the very least covered so no one sees them, lest you insult every genuine master there."
"I'll book a flight!" Awng replied. "Go to the temple and learn…"
"No. You take the sky bison or you don't get a recommendation. And then they'll never let you in, not after the disgrace you've bought to the Air Nation. Not after the garbage you've said. You so much as blow out a candle and I'll have you so shamed you never show your face outside that office!"
"You can't tell me how to be a master!" Awng shouted, lunging forward before a well-timed foot sweep put him flat on his back.
"You're not a master! You're very comfortable, and that's your problem!" Shing answered. "You're content to stay here, learn about Air bending in the most convenient manner available, and then declare yourself a master? And then you have the nerve to insult true masters like Ikki? The only thing you've mastered is how to throw money at people for accolades!"
Grabbing some items he left on a desk, Shing walked out the door, turning to face the owner one last time.
"My offer stands. But only if you want to do this the right way. If you do, there's a sky bison ready to take you to Air Temple Island. Everything else is up to you."
He left, clutching his head, figuring his friends were actually enjoying their days off.
Fire Nation Robes? "Too traditional," she said.
Air Nomad clothes? "Too casual," she remarked.
A military style uniform? "Sends the wrong message. You're a citizen that stood up to help others, not a soldier."
"I love it! But I think it's best saved for another occasion."
"Where did you get that dress?!" Tong shouted, as Leena stood next to him in what appeared to be a wedding gown of all things, leaning over the shorter man. This made it official. She was deliberately trying to mess with him. He hadn't seen someone act like this since the cheerleaders back in high school. In the Fire Nation. Were all Fire Nation women either bubbly airheads or cold scheming masterminds? There was no in-between?
"I think it'd look good for you when you find someone, but this is an award ceremony."
"So, the gray business suit then?"
"Yeah, try that on again. It really establishes a look of respect."
Rofu washed his face and his hands earnestly; making sure every detail of his appearance was perfect. He knew that in the end, it wasn't going to matter much. Looking on at the monitor in his office, the Water Tribe man breathed deeply.
"Honored Petals," Rofu began, kneeling. "Forgive my failure," he began, nearly tearing up when he said the words. "I didn't know this would happen. But I assure, this setback is temporary at best."
You are on line with the senior-most command structure of White Lotus. Everyone is witnessing your groveling. Show some dignity.
"O…of course Dragon," Rofu answered, standing up. The next voice was nowhere near as sympathetic.
You have one chance to explain why you should be forgiven for bungling such a complex operation. One you claimed that you could handle with ease.
And using my resources without asking! Funaki was part of my…
Hold your tongue Han. We are aware of his allotment of resources. And question his methods. Despite all of those, Rofu, you not only have no ships to show for your effort, but you also have this insult!
The screen cut to showing the cover of a news website, namely the Specialist, as he was known, and a woman both waving on the deck of an aircraft carrier, presumably to their rescuers.
"Him. I was unaware that he was there, but we know where to…"
He's now considered a hero by the Fire Nation! You did not account for this, or for his ability to deal with the spirits you said were going to be the answer to all our problems! All you've done is given him a new ally and potentially opened our plans to scrutiny! Until everything is finalized and we are ready to march, we are vulnerable!
"Give me another chance. OK, I failed to account for one silly error, but now that I know what the issue is, it clearly won't happen again! In fact, I've spent the last day working on a new plan to seize the carrier when it's back out to sea, and it should only require a minimum of resources. With your approval, I would like to carry out this plan."
What will make this different? Why should we trust you?
"You are aware of my expertise in organization and planning, considering everything I've done for this organization. Not to mention, even in failure, the only captured agent that is aware of us is Funaki, and not only will he not talk, he is likely blinded to the bigger picture. We are safe. Therefore, striking again is simple, easy, and above all, prompt. My plan will succeed without issue, I promise you. Failure only has hardened my resolve."
No fear showed in his voice. He was confident that his speech, coupled with his past accolades, would make this simple enough. Soon he would back to planning and this whole incident could be put in the past where it belonged.
It is…an admirable plan, but we will be going in a different direction. You are dismissed.
The last thing Rofu felt was something sharp go into the back of his head before everything went black. He never heard the last words from the monitor in his office.
Good work Observer. Now clean up the mess.
The bar in the Grand Capital hotel was much like the rest of the accommodations, very high scale. So when he sat down after finally being dismissed for the day, Tong found himself on a rather comfortable stool, with soft jazz music playing over speakers.
"What can I get you?"
"You have lemon shandy?"
"Yeah, we have that."
"Get me a pint."
Tong nodded in thanks, then slumped over the bar table, exhausted from the hours of rehearsing his reactions. The Fire Nation, in particular Leena, wanted to make sure that everything was perfect for the ceremony. That included finally deciding on a suit, getting everything custom fitted, then rehearsing everything he had to do when finally presented with the Burning Chalice. His sole relief was that he was not expected to perform a speech.
The bartender returned with the slightly yellowish liquid, a combination of lemonade and ale, as he reached over for it. Before he drank it, a woman sat next to him asking for a drink order.
"May I have a strawberry cocktail please?"
He looked over at the familiar voice, and saw Kushina, appearing utterly exhausted. "Long day?" he asked.
"I have a job," she remarked. "And so do you actually. This is the result."
Before she could explain, a familiar face, no longer bothering to cover his arrow tattoos with his cap, sat down next to the pair, looking like he had a headache.
"Cactus juice. Leave the bottle."
Soon enough, the bartender bought Shing a glass filled with cactus juice, and the others looking on at him. All three chuckled at the absurdity of where they were in their lives before raising their drinks.
"To Fire Nation hospitality", Tong began.
"And new opportunities," Kushina continued.
"And life's lessons," Shing concluded.
The trio smiled, before each having their drinks. As they settled in to relax, a fourth presence entered into the bar.
"Tong! There were some things you needed to sign for to clear the suit." Smiling, the tall woman looked down at the 5'7 Air bender with a curious grin. "Who's your friend?"
"Tong, who's this? And why does she look like she's going to eat me?"
If Chanming comes back again, call it in and we'll make sure he's…occupied. No one's going to interrupt your vacation.
You really are the best.
Yeah, you have no idea how much I need this.
I do what I can.
No, she's right. You are the best. The best friend two girls could possibly ask for.
Well, see you later!
The man's eyes saw his two friends walk out the door, presumably to whatever fancy place they were going to spend the next two weeks. He turned to the office in his house and sat down at the desk, a bottle and glass next to it. He looked on at the various pictures of his friends; his comrades in arms, and his brother's wedding to the love of his life. He sighed as he filled the glass with the contents of the bottle.
I am the best friend. That's all I am.
That's all I'll ever be.