Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, the Last Airbender, or the Legend of Korra.
Paragon of Korra
Chapter 52: Teachers and students
Arashi walked into the training ground, ready for any kind of ambush. That was probably a little high-strung of him but he didn't care. He was a shinobi about to be trained. Who knows what that could mean? At least when Rock Lee first trained him he gave him warning about what would happen to him.
He looked around the training ground, trying to find his new teacher. The training ground was nothing special. It looked just like any other of the training grounds around Konoha, albeit with less trees around. There was also no stream of any kind flowing through. It just looked like a big grass meadow. Simplistic but he kept his guard. Nothing was that simplistic.
Jūgo wasn't that hard to be found. He was standing in the middle of the meadow, waiting patiently. "Hello, Arashi," he said in greeting. "Please come over here."
The dyed redhead did as he was told. "Good morning," he told the old man, "uh, Lord Jūgo."
He waved it off. "Please, there's no need to refer to me as a lord. I am just a shinobi, like you."
"Not like you exactly."
"And how's that?" he asked.
Arashi looked at him in disbelief. "He's not serious, is he?" The guy had to know why they weren't the same. But he looked down at him with a patient expression. He was clearly waiting to hear why they were different.
The Genin was unsure and a little more than worried. "Is this some kind of lesson he wants to teach me?" If it was, just how was he supposed to answer? After learning who he was, Arashi did a quick read-up on Jūgo when he got back to Konoha. So he knew the general idea of the Snake Sannin, he just didn't know the specifics. Did the man want the specifics or the general idea?
Well, he would have to go with what he had and hope that was enough. "You are the second Snake Sannin," he began. "You are one of the reasons why the village was able to survive in the war." He paused when a question came to his mind. "I have wondered about something."
"What would that be?"
"Why there wasn't a second team of Sannin." He had read about the first team, Tsunade, Jiraiya, Orochimaru. But they had been the only team. The closest thing to a second team had been Jūgo and Sakura during the last war but there had been no Toad Sannin.
Jūgo was impressed by the kid for asking that question. But he wasn't about to give away the answer. "You would have to ask your grandfather," he told him.
"Kinda hard to do when he's on the other side of the world," the kid said. There was a hint of bitterness in his voice.
"I was led to believe that he had a phone." He had heard about how Arashi had called his grandfather at the hospital and proceeded to shout at him. Apparently it was a floor up and down. It was slightly impressive.
"Yeah, he's got a telephone, not a cell phone. And knowing him, he's probably out of the apartment and won't be coming back for a while."
Again, the bitterness was there. It was clear that he had an opinion about his grandfather that wasn't always good. "You talk as if you'd expect it to happen."
Arashi laughed shortly. "You try living with the guy and…" He stopped and realized what was happening. He gave the man a suspicious look. "Are you being a shrink?"
"No, I'm asking questions. You're answering them with more information you should give out. You need to learn how to control that urge," he told the kid.
He might've had a point there but Arashi didn't like to have it pointed out for him. "Alright, fine," he said quickly. "Can we get to why I came here? You're going to train me, right?"
"Not right away," Jūgo replied. "First, I'm going to test you." He clasped his hands together.
The earth groan slightly as it vanished around Arashi's feet. He only had a second to look down and realize what happened before gravity took over. "WWWWWWWHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAHHHH!" he screamed as he fell into the hole. Two seconds later, he landed on hard dirt. He got back up to his feet and looked up at the hole. "Hey! What the hell is this?!" he shouted up.
His would-be teacher appeared over the hole. "This is your test," he said. "I've made a series of tunnels underground. What you have to do is find the way out of those tunnels using the key."
"That, you'll have to find for yourself. Now, don't worry about the air running out, I'm not that cruel. There have been several holes poked through the ground so that you can breathe. You have eight hours to find that key and get out." He clasped his hands again. "Good luck." The hole shrank until it was barely the size of a button. It left the faintest amount of light, if that.
Arashi took in his surroundings. The tunnel he was in allowed him to stand up a little but that could change. He was standing in the crossroads between four tunnels, none of which he could see the end of. "Alright, Arashi, don't panic," he told himself. "You just have to find the key and get out. Should be simple, right?"
"Was that a snake?" He looked up at the hole. "Hey, are there snakes in here!?" He got no reply.
"I had to say that."
(Location: Northern Air Temple)
Tenzin was trying to teach his new Airbenders about one of the famous Airbenders but it didn't look like it was going through. With the exception of one person, everyone looked like they wish they were somewhere else. Not even having the lecture outside in the fresh air didn't seem to do anything. But still, he kept telling them. "His pupils pleaded with their master to eat something, but he refused, just like he had each day during summer. Instead he meditated and got his nourishment from the universe. So when Tang Xu completed the ninety-seventh day of his historic fast on which island?"
His one attentive student shot his hand right up into the air. "Oooh! Oooh!"
"Anyone besides Otaku, who already studied this in his acolyte training?" he added.
"Ooh, ooh, ooh!"
"And is answering every question," he finished.
"Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!" Finally, the master looked at him. He took it to mean answer, "Whaletail Island."
"That is correct. Again. Now, on day ninety-eight…" The students suddenly broke out in laughter as they looked at the back. Tenzin looked at what was causing the interruption and frowned instantly.
Bumi had put Bum-ju on his head and pulled his robe up so they could only see the spirit's head. He did a little dancing number and said in a high voice, "Greetings, air people. I come seeking boring stories to take back to the Spirit World." Bum-ju flew out of the shirt, making him fall to the ground. Everyone laughed some more.
Even Jinora, who was sitting the closest to her father, was laughing. He glared at her and she stopped quickly. "This is getting nowhere," he thought to himself. He would have to come up with something else.
That gave him the entire of showing them flying a sky bison. He took Oogi into the air and showed them a few maneuvers. They were astounded by what they saw and were eager to do it themselves. "That is incredible!" said Kai once the bison had landed. His nose was still healing and was bandaged. "When do we get to fly around on our own sky bison like that?"
"Only after many years of practice and intense training," Tenzin answered as he walked back to them, getting groans in the process. "Besides, we don't have enough bison here for all of you."
"What about those?" he asked, pointing out over the balcony. Everyone rushed to the balcony to see what he was pointing. It was bison flying by. "It's a whole herd of bisons."
"Actually, the plural of bison is bison," their master told them all. If they were going to be Airbenders, they had to know the difference of that.
They didn't listen. They were too busy starting at the bison herd like they were a new zoo attraction. "Can we ride those?" Kai asked him.
"No, that's a wild herd. It would take many years to tame them. Now, let's get back to our lessons."
Suddenly there was a shout of "Dad!" from up above. They all looked up and saw two bison flying towards them. Pema, Kya, Ikki, and Meelo were riding in the saddles. We brought you more Airbenders!" Meelo shouted down to his father.
As soon as the bison landed, the new Airbenders started to leave. Tenzin tried to remain in control of the situation. "Okay, everyone is dismissed. We'll pick this up…tomorrow," he ended with a defeated sigh. They weren't listening. He approached his wife and sister. "How is everything in the city?" he asked Pema. Rohan peeked out from the pack she carried him on her back.
"Well, we had a little scare but everything is okay," Pema said. "Zaheer infiltrated the air temple."
"What! Is everyone all right?" He looked back at the disappearing students, about to call Bumi back.
Kya was quick to intervene. "Everyone's fine. Yue and I fought with him, but he got away. And he stole some old necklace that had something to do with ... Guru ... Lak ... shmir."
To someone else, that would've sounded like gibberish. But Tenzin was both an Airbending master and her brother. He knew what she was saying. "Guru Laghima?"
"Right," she said, drawing it out. "You know I can never keep all those gurus straight. There were like a million of them. Remember that long, boring story about that guy who never ate?
"Yes…I remember." He had trust tried teaching it. How couldn't he remember?
An Air Acolyte came over to them. "Avatar Korra is calling on the temple's radio," he informed Tenzin.
He went to the radio room and took the microphone in hand. "Are you all right?" he asked instantly. "Where are you?"
"With Beifong's sister in Zaofu," Korra answered on the other side. "We're totally safe, unless we get caught in another fight between Su and Lin."
He was surprised by that. "Lin and Gāng willingly took you to their sister?" He knew all too well about what happened between the three of them. Lin would rather have cut off her own foot instead of going to Zaofu and Gāng would've committed suicide to do the same. Had something changed?
"Not exactly," she said, making it sound like he had to be there to understand. "We got a call about an Airbender and it turned out to be Su's daughter Opal. She'll be headed your way soon."
Excitement grabbed hold of him at that news. "Really?" he asked. "That's wonderful!"
The next voice that spoke was Bolin's, surprisingly. "She is wonderful, and pretty, and so smart, and she smells like flowers…" Tenzin was getting annoyed by the interruption. When the Earthbender fell silent, he assumed that other people were getting annoyed too. He was proven right when he heard, "Sorry. Bolin, out."
"How's the training going?" Korra asked.
"Not so well, I'm afraid," Tenzin told her. "No one seems to be interested in the hard work of becoming part of the Air Nation."
"You need to give yourself a break. Let Jinora and the kids help you out, and what about Bumi?" she suggested. "He was a naval commander, maybe he has some ideas about how you get people motivated."
"Bumi?!" he repeated, alarmed at the idea. "He's my worst student." It also didn't help that the both of them knew that he didn't want to be here to train. Up until he left, he had been insistent that Korra taking away his Airbending.
"Yeah, but he loves to organize people. If you ask him for help, you can trick him into taking more responsibility by making him think the whole thing with his idea."
"That actually sounds like a good plan. You're turning into a pretty wise Avatar after all."
"Conflict resolution, that's what I do."
Kai and Jinora were watching all the bison fly around the lake down below. "We should go down there," Kai told her. "I want to fly one of those bisons."
"I don't know," Jinora said unsure. "We might get in trouble." All she had to do was look at Kai's broken nose to remember what happened the last time he had gotten into trouble.
"Come on? Let's have some fun. We'll be back before anyone realizes we're gone."
She still didn't think it was a good idea, but she also didn't think that they would get into too much trouble if they went down. After all, they were just going to fly with the bison, maybe even ride one. It wasn't like they were going to steal something. "I guess it would be all right," she said with a smile.
They stood up on the ledge and opened up their gliders. With a single jump, they were off and flying down to the lake. Jinora always loved the feeling of flying. The caress of the wind on her skin, the sounds of her flying muffling everything else, looking down at the ground and seeing just how small it was, this was what made her glad she was an Airbender. She glanced over at Kai and saw that he felt the same way, even more so since he was still new to glider flying.
He glanced over her way and grinned. She felt her cheeks blush and looked away. "What was that about?" she asked herself. Was this the same thing back when she first met him? Maybe it was.
"Look!" Kai called out, "Baby bisons." She looked down and saw a trio of calves playing with each other close to the lake. "How come they're on the ground?"
She knew why and told him. "Air bison calves can't fly after a week or two after they're born. So the entire herd will stay near the ground, near the valley."
He angled his glider for a downward flight. "Let's go see the babies." Now that they were talking about them, he really wanted to get in close.
"Be careful," she tried to warn him. "The mothers are very protective."
He landed close to the calves and folded his glider close. He approached them, watching them curiously. One of the calves came forward to him. He held out his hand to pet its head. "Aww, look how cute!" he said. The calf replied by licking him clear across the face, making him laugh.
It was a cute scene but Jinora saw something he didn't and became concerned. "Kai, get out of there!" she shouted down at him.
He wondered briefly what she was talking about, and then he heard the low rumbling of a growl behind him. He turned around and saw a fully grown bison staring him down. One of its horns had been broken off, which showed that it was a veteran in combat. It pawed the ground, signaling to all who knew that it was going to charge.
He wanted to move. He should've moved. But the sight of an angry mother bison had completely paralyzed him. His legs just wouldn't move even when the bison started charging right at him. His life was only saved when Jinora swooped down and grabbed him. They flew right past the mother and out of the danger zone.
As soon as they landed, he looked at her with complete amazement. "Wow, you really saved me down there. You know, you're an incredible Airbender," he told her.
She had fallen to her knees when she landed so she had to look up at him. "Well, I've been training for a long time," she said.
"Then, why don't you have tattoos like an Airbending master?"
"My dad says I'm not a master yet."
He sat down next to her. "You can do everything your dad can. Plus, you have all these spirit-y powers. If anyone's a master, you are." She blushed at the praise but also thought that he might have a point. Perhaps she should ask her father.
It wasn't just one snake Arashi had to contend with in the tunnels, but several. And they weren't uniform sizes either. They could've ranged from being as small as his hand to being big enough to fill the tunnel. He didn't know if they were poisonous or not but he wasn't going to let them bite him to find out.
He scrambled through the tunnels, trying to find the way out. The tunnels looked the same everywhere he looked. "Gah, how do I figure this out?" he asked himself. One tunnel looked the same as the others.
He froze at that sound, the only warning that he got. He looked around quickly to find the snake. It didn't seem to be in sight. "Where are you?" he asked, still looking around.
That sounded louder and coming from his left. He turned and saw two yellow eyes looking back at him. That was all he had before the snake charged at him. He threw himself into a different tunnel and watched the snake go right by. He picked himself off the tunnel ground and looked around the edge.
The snake continued on the path, unhindered. They did that, always. He had been in here for what he thought was an hour and he was beginning to figure them out. "Okay, it's gone. Keep looking."
"What the?" he asked, spinning around and finding another snake looking at him. This one was bigger than the last one. "Oh give me a break!" The snake seemed to take that as a challenge. It charged at him and he threw himself into another tunnel.
But this snake pulled a new trick: it turned the corner with him. He had to keep running until he found another tunnel and threw himself into it. The snake continued past the tunnel like it hadn't seen it. But Arashi had his doubts.
He looked out the tunnel at the disappearing snake. "Why did it ignore this tunnel when it made the first turn?" he asked. It couldn't have been because it didn't see the tunnel. These snakes were in here before he was. They had to know the layout.
They were playing with him. That had to be it. They were playing around with him. Why? To make it more fun for them? "I've got to get out of here." But how was he going to do that? Jūgo said something about a key but he hadn't seen anything that looked like a key around. Well, there was nothing he could do about it. He would have to keep looking.
He turned back into the tunnel and went forward. Something blocked his foot and he promptly began to fall forward. His hands reached out and grabbed the tunnel walls, stopping the fall. "I did not sign up for this!" he shouted in silence, readjusting himself back up.
He looked down and saw something faint in the ground. It looked almost buried. Strange, the rest of the tunnels were smooth. Sure there were dips in some of them that could make him fall if he wasn't paying attention but nothing that would hit his foot. He bent down and pulled at the object.
It was stuck only so firmly in the ground. He pulled out a kunai and started digging around it, plying loose the dirt. It came free and he put the kunai away. He held a scroll in his hand. That was as far as he could make out. He didn't see any kind of writing on it, not in this light. "I need find some better light to read this," he said to himself. Next time, he was bringing a light.
He put the scroll away in his coat. He couldn't worry about it. He had to focus on finding that key. But he paused as his fingers left the scroll. He looked back down at it. What if this was the key? Could this be the way out for him? If it was, how could he use it?
"Question for another time," he said as he quickly started looking around for the nearby snake. Would there be no end to this?
Tsukiko was walking down the street when she heard, "Hey, Tsukiko, wait up!" She looked back and saw Hiro running towards her.
He stopped by her side. He wasn't panting when he stopped. It showed just how much training he had gone through alongside her. "What's up, Hiro?"
He fell in beside her. "Where's Arashi?" he asked without preamble.
"Dunno, he went off to train this morning."
"And you didn't go with him?"
She frowned at him for the implied remark. "We're not joined at the hip, Hiro."
"Never said that you were," he replied. "But you guys have been running together each morning."
"We already did that."
"Did you win?"
She glared at him for bringing that up. "You know full well that I didn't."
He couldn't help but laugh at the irritation in her voice. "You've never beaten him and yet, you keep racing after him. Why?"
"For morning snoozes," she declared. That was the reason she kept going.
Hiro knew she had been rather infamous for her morning snoozes. But that had been before Arashi came into their lives. Now, he was certain that she hadn't slept in once. "When was the last time you had one of your morning snoozes?" he asked her.
She opened her mouth to answer but stopped. She racked her brain for a number but couldn't come with anything. "I can't remember." Oddly enough, it wasn't as horrifying as she thought it might be.
"Maybe you're finally getting over the need for sleeping in." He thought for a moment as they made a turn on the corner. "Actually, now that I think about it, you were usually the first one up when we went to Daigo."
"So?" That didn't mean anything to her. They had been right behind her in waking up and she was fairly certain Rin-sensei had been up before any of them.
"It shows that you no longer doze in bed."
She scoffed. "We were on a mission, Hiro. Rin would've killed me if I dozed."
"Possibly true," he said.
"What do you mean, possibly true?" Her voice threatened to rise up so she forced herself to hiss that at him.
"I'm just saying that maybe you no longer have the urge to have morning snoozes."
It did seem plausible but she didn't want to believe it. She had started racing Arashi for the right to sleep in again. That was the whole reason. For her not wanting to sleep in any more would've defeated the purpose of racing, wouldn't it? "Or maybe," a little voice whispered in her mind, "You've done it so you can stay close to Arashi."
She shut that down fast. Racing Arashi in the morning didn't mean…that. They were kids. It was completely different. "Can we talk about something else?" she asked Hiro. "This is getting pointless."
"Alright, fine." He wasn't going to keep arguing about it. It didn't matter. "So, who did Arashi go train with?"
She frowned as she went through the morning. Arashi had come back from the front door and quickly changed into clothes. He said something when he headed out of the house but it was fast and she hadn't been paying attention. What was it that he had said? He was training with whom? "I think it was Jūgo." That did sound like what her dyed redhead of a teammate said.
Hiro sidestepped a market stand and came back around with a shocked expression. "Jūgo?" he repeated.
"Yeah, that's what I think he said."
"Whoa, the Snake Sannin training our teammate," the Hyūga said with a voice full of awed wonder. "I didn't think that would happen."
"Well it did, I guess."
A thought came to him. "You think he's going to get the Snakes themselves?" If he was being trained by the Snake Sannin it seemed plausible that he would get a chance to sign his name in the summoning contract.
She shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah, it could happen." She stopped when she realized what that meant. "Damn it."
Hiro stopped by her side. "What?" he asked her, concerned.
"He's going to have a big advantage over us if he does get those snakes."
Her childish words almost made him laugh. The only reason that he didn't was because she sounded so serious. He considered her words and what it meant. "Well, I guess that means we're going to have to match him."
"And just how are we going to do that? Get the Slugs and Toads for ourselves?"
It was a rhetorical question filled heavily with sarcasm but it did make him think about it. "You know something, Tsukiko. You might be onto something."
(Location: Northern Air Temple)
It was late in the afternoon and Bumi was regaling a few of the newbies with a story. They were enjoying and he was enjoying telling it. "And so, we bring the net down on the head pirate, and he looks around real sad and says, 'I knew I should have followed my dreams and become a dentist.'"
Yung laughed at that, the same with the others. "How come you grow up to be so cool, while Tenzin became such a stick-in-the-mud?" he asked, glaring at the mention of his teacher.
There were several ways he could've answered that. They didn't need to know about the family history. So he went with the basic answer. "Well, I guess cool is something you're born with."
Of course, that's when his brother walked out into the courtyard and saw them. "Bumi, can I talk to you?" he called out.
The youngsters left as he approached and Bumi frowned. "Let me guess, you want to criticize me for something?" That seemed like something he would do.
"Actually, I need your help."
"Oh yeah?" he asked, "With what?" He feigned disinterest but was paying attention. It was a trick he picked up from June when she was dealing with potential customers. It helped a lot.
"I don't think I'm doing well with the new Airbenders, and everyone knows you're a natural leader." Tenzin looked like it actually hurt him to admit that.
"True, I did win the Admiral Tung Natural Leadership Award, twice." And it was no easy feat winning that reward once.
His brother clearly had a hard time believing him but didn't say anything about that. Instead he said, "What would you do if you were in charge? Help me be more like you."
"I'd love to. Do you want it the way the military did it or Sifu June?"
"The military," he said instantly. He had never seen the old Air Paragon train his brother but he had heard the stories. And he just knew that those were the few stories Bumi didn't exaggerate. If they tried using those tactics, the new Airbenders would run screaming.
"Alright then," he said, standing up and taking a military pose. "You've got to use military discipline to whip these troops into shape. The only way to deal with new recruits is to break them down so you can build them back up. Rule with an iron fist. Show them who the master is," he told his brother, holding a clenched fist in front of his eyes.
Tenzin looked at the fist and then at him. "Thanks for the insight."
"My pleasure," he said. He always ready to help Tenzin. Spirits only knew that he needed it.
The next morning, just as the sun was starting to crack the horizon, Tenzin marched over to the recruit dormitories with a very long trumpet in hand. He pushed the door open, took one deep breath, and blew the horn as hard as he could. He also enhanced it with Airbending too. The note he blew was so loud and piercing it made them kick their bedsheets up into the air.
The note died down and they all looked at who woke them up. "Dawn patrol!" Tenzin told them all loudly, "Everyone up!"
Bumi got out of the bed and looked at his brother with bleary eyes. "What are you doing? It's barely light out."
"I'm taking your advice. I'm going to break you down and build you back up!"
He just stared in disbelief. "He can't be serious."
"Now get moving recruit!"
"He's serious." Bumi could only sigh in regret. He shouldn't have talked like that in front of Tenzin. Of course his little brother would take it to heart.
The dawn patrol was a hike. Of course, saying that it was a hike was like saying that water was wet. It was a complete understatement. What Tenzin made them do was an Air Nomad hike. That meant they didn't just walk. They climbed cliff sides to reach the top of mountains. It was easy for a practiced Airbender and Tenzin and Jinora showed just that, hopping from small step to step like goat dogs. Everyone else was forced to actually climb the cliffs without any kind of protection.
When they reached the top, everyone, with the exception of two, was already exhausted and panting. It also didn't help they were hungry and cold. While Jinora didn't say anything, her father did. "Nothing like a ten mile hike first thing in the morning," he proclaimed, making it sound like they had just done a walk in the park.
Everyone else was busy trying to get warmth back into their bodies. "Don't these robes come in a warm bison fur version?" Yung asked him. It seemed like the perfect idea right then and there.
Of course, Tenzin was there was to ruin his idea. "No!" he barked, "Of course not."
While Yung scowled at him, Bumi tried to get back to his feet. But he was still too tired and promptly fell back down to the ground again. "If it weren't so cold, I'd go right back to sleep," he proclaimed. He wasn't the only one who felt like that. Other Airbenders were falling to the ground, trying to reclaim some kind of sleep.
"Then, this is the perfect time to learn meditation and proper breathing technique," his brother said as he turned to face the temple, far in the distance. "Airbenders are able to warm themselves only with their breathing." He sat down, his legs automatically folding into the proper position. "Everyone get into the lotus position. Ah, this is so much more refreshing than sleeping."
While the rest of them reluctantly followed his example, Bumi crawled forward towards him. "You know when I said that thing about an iron fist—" he whispered.
"Hush!" his brother shushed him, "Meditation time. Focus." His eyes were closed so he didn't see his brother slink back to the others.
Kai watched the older man coming back. "This can't be happening," he silently pleaded.
"It's happening," Bumi replied just as silently. There was nothing they could do about it.
Once they were done with the meditation, they hiked back to the temple. It was just as draining as the first one. They had a quick breakfast before Tenzin took them outside to one of the training yards. Bumi saw the yard filled with standing poles and had a bad feeling about it all. "Can we go back to bed now?" he asked his brother, hoping he would say yes.
They had no such luck. Tenzin was still rearing to go. "Now that we're refreshed and loose from our hike and meditation," he told them all, "it's time for a balancing exercise." Without even looking back, he jumped into the air and landed on a post, using a single leg. The other leg was bent upwards, something he made look easy. "The key is to maintain your heaven and earth connection." He pulled out a feather and bent it to float in his hand. He looked at peace, completely confident in what he was doing. "Now you try."
The new Airbenders climbed the poles and tried to do what he did but they failed. The only consideration he gave them was he didn't make them all go at the same time. But he stood at the edge of the yard, yelling at them like he was a drill sergeant. "Back up your posts!" he shouted. "It's not hard if you concentrate."
"It's easy for you to say," Bumi thought to himself as he struggled to keep himself balanced and the feather floating. Thanks to his training with June, he was looking the best out of all of them. But his sifu had never trained him like this.
He felt his balance start to go and tried to compensate. But it was too late. He landed on the ground with a hard thud. He wanted to stay there on the ground but Tenzin was over him before he could even relax. "Get back up!" his brother shouted at him. "What's the matter, you can't handle it, soldier?"
Bumi had a single thought in his mind as he glared up at his brother. "I hate you so much right now." But he couldn't blame anyone else but himself. He was the one who fed the idea into Tenzin's head. So he slid away and went back to the poles.
Jinora watched this all with a worried expression. "Don't you think you're a little hard on them?" she asked her father.
"Don't worry, they can take it," he told her. "You'll see." He saw what was happening with Otaku and promptly said, "Ignore the lemurs digging in your ears. Concentrate on your breathing and, you won't even know they're there!" Of course, that didn't stop Otaku from falling down.
Once they were finally done with the posts, the sun was up in the sky and shining down its morning light. Tenzin took them to another courtyard. He had Daw sit down in front of him and quickly filled his hair with shaving solution. As he shaved away Daw's hair, he explained the reasoning for it to them all. "When the head is shaved, an Airbender is able to feel the wind around him. It is both humbling and freeing."
Kai was bored. He looked over at Jinora and remembered what they did yesterday. He went over to her silently and whispered, "Hey, you want to sneak away and check on the baby bisons?"
"Shhh," she told him quickly, "You should be paying attention." He was surprised by that. He would've thought she wanted to get out of here too. He shrugged his shoulders and went back to the lesson.
As soon as he was done shaving, Tenzin wiped off Daw's head so it shined. "All right, who's next?" he asked the rest of them.
Yung threw his hand up into the air fast. "I'm not sure I want to shave my head."
"That's fine, shaving your head is a personal choice."
"Wait, what?" asked a shocked Daw, still feeling the baldness of his head. He thought that everyone would be getting a haircut, not that he would be used as an experiment!
"Anyone else?" asked Tenzin, ignoring him. Everyone shook their heads in unison. "Fine! Then we can get to our next training exercise: obstacle course." They all groaned at that. Were they ever going to get a chance to breathe?
Jinora felt their plight and took their side. She went to her father's side while they walked off. "You're pushing too hard," she told him. "Maybe we should give them a break." They looked like they needed.
"Jinora, I have this under control," he replied shortly. He walked off, not seeing the glare she painted on his back.
The obstacle course was a tried and true method of the Air Nomads to test how well their young were doing in Airbending. Tenzin remembered going through it himself. But while he could sympathize with what his students were going through, he couldn't let it show. He had to keep his iron fist. "Concentrate!" he shouted down at them as they ran the course. "Remember, Airbenders move like the wind."
One of his students made her way through the bells, moving like he had taught her. Not a single bell touched her. She came out the other side and took a moment to look back. Unfortunately for her, that was the same moment she was stuck in the head by a watermelon, knocking her down to the mud below. She climbed back up to the wooden stage and looked at where the watermelon had come from. It was Meelo and Ikki working an air-powered cannon. She would pour in the watermelons and he would fire them out with his Airbending. It was clear to all the students that he was enjoying his duty.
She tried to run again, reaching a rope line obstacle. Otaku was upside down and holding for dear life on it. She tried crossing but got hit by another watermelon. Kai, on the other hand, had no trouble racing across the rope, even if it meant sending Otaku down into the mud. "Sorry!" he quickly shouted back.
Tenzin watched Kai as he ran up to the next level and the next obstacle. "Stay light on your feet, and you'll never feel the stinging rash cactus," he shouted down for advice.
Kai took those words to heart. He leapt into the cacti and for the pole in front of him. He didn't stay there. He jumped from pole to pole, never staying for more than a second. There were others on the poles, all trying to make sure they didn't fall down. But they weren't moving. He couldn't stop for them. He had to keep moving. But he had been so focused on getting ahead he didn't bother to check in front of him. He crashed into Yung and they both fell into the cacti. It hurt.
In spite of all those obstacles, everyone managed to make it to the end. All except one. Tenzin looked down at his brother, still clinging to the cliff side. "Everyone is waiting for you, Bumi," he called down. "If you don't make it over the next thirty seconds, they'll all have to run through the course again!"
Those words spurred the Airbenders to call out encouragement to the man. "You can do it, Bumi! Come on!" they shouted.
"I thought I was done with this kind of crap!" Bumi bemoaned as he looked at the next ledge. The last time he faced something like this was back in boot, when he was young. He looked at the next ledge. It was just right there. "Come on, Bumi. You can do it!" He leapt for the ledge and grabbed hold. But his grip was weak. He couldn't hold it.
He slipped off and fell down, hitting the mud. It splashed him hard to get it all over his uniform. He stayed there for a moment and in that moment, Tenzin shouted down, "Get back up the wall, recruit! You're letting your fellow Airbenders down."
Anger burned through him as he stood up. "I'm finished!" he shouted back up. "I've never wanted to be an Airbender and I'm too old to be back in boot camp. Count me out!" He waded out of the mud and out of the obstacle course.
Tenzin was furious. This had been his idea and he was just giving up? "Fine, quit! We don't need your attitude in the new Air Nation."
"Master Tenzin," said a mud-covered Daw, "when do we get to go home and visit our families?"
He whirled around and threw a look him. "Go home? You just got here." But it prompted more responses.
"When's dinner? I'm starving."
"Can I change out of my robe now? It's itchy."
"This is just as bad as the Earth Queen's prison."
His temper snapped at it all. "I'm tired of all this complaining! Jinora, take over!" he ordered.
She was confused but then hopeful. "Does this mean I'm the master now?" she asked him.
"Yes, just lead them through some basic exercises."
She thought of this as a good opportunity and pushed it a little further. "Well, since I'm a master, when do you think I can get my tattoos?
He whirled around and demanded, "What brought this on?"
"I was just talking to Kai, and he was asking me, so—"
"Kai!" he shouted, drowning her out. "What does he know about when you should get tattoos?" He pointed an accusing finger at the kid, who was now trying to hide behind Yung. "The answer is 'no'! You're just a little girl."
At hearing those two words, she lost her temper. "I'm not a little girl anymore," she shouted at him. "I can Airbend just as well as you. I know everything about our culture and history, and I have a stronger connection with the spirits that you ever will. Lead your own class!" she told him as she stormed off.
He watched his eldest daughter walk off. Before going after her, he looked back. "Ikki, Meelo, you're up," he told them both. "Just lead them through the Bagua circle."
If he had known about Meelo's training tactics back on Air Temple Island, Tenzin would never have let his son take command. But he was too busy to even notice the evil grin on Meelo's face as he leapt in front of the new Airbenders. "Look to your left! Look to your right!" he ordered and they obeyed. "One of those people will not make it out of here alive."
"Are you serious, Hiro?" Tsukiko asked as they both faced the targets. They were practicing their kunai and shuriken.
"About what?" he asked back, readying his swing.
She frowned. "You know what I'm talking about."
"Could you refresh me?"
"Hiro!" she snapped. "You're not Arashi, stop trying to rile me up!"
"Sorry, couldn't help it."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Are you serious?"
"Yeah, I'm serious. If we want to match Arashi, we're going to have to get the other summons."
She threw her shuriken. It landed off-center. "That's going to be trouble."
His kunai landed low. "How do you think that?"
"We know the Slugs are with my grandmother, but where are the Toads?"
He paused. She did have a point. The last person who held the Toads was Arashi's grandfather and Jiraiya the Toad Sannin. History had painted it clear that the former had washed his hands of them. But since Jiraiya had died, he was technically the successor. "Do you think that he held onto the contract and told no one?" he offered up as a suggestion.
She gave a quick thought but quickly dismissed it. "I think that Konoha would've demanded it back if he had it and didn't leave it with them."
"Would he have cared? Besides, the scroll's not technically the property of the village. They could've demanded all they wanted and never would've gotten it."
"So what we have the Slugs in the village." That much they knew.
He nodded. "That we do. You want them?"
She threw another shuriken and watched it land closer to the center. "Why are you asking me?"
"They belong to your grandmother."
That might be true but she didn't think anything about it. "No thanks, you can have them."
He looked over at her. "Just like that?" he asked.
"Yeah, just like that."
"You're not even going to think about it?"
"No," she said with a shake of her head.
"Wow. Just wow."
She heard the tone in his voice and she didn't like it. She wasn't being inconsiderate or anything. But his voice was making her seem like she was. "For your information, Hiro, I have thought about it."
He threw his hands up defensively, an old habit from his days in the Academy. "Whoa now, I didn't say anything."
"It was your tone. You thought I was being selfish or something for saying no so fast."
That was true but not for the reason she thought of. "Actually, I thought it was because you didn't like slugs in general."
That was also true but it wasn't the reason she didn't want the Slugs. "Whoever has the Slugs is usually the healer in the group. And we both know that I am not a healer. If anything, you're the one who's the most healer-like."
"Thanks, I think." He wasn't sure if that was a backhanded comment or not.
She heard the doubt in his voice. "I mean it, Hiro. Out of the three of us, you're the one who makes sure we've got the right medical equipment. You look out for us if you think we're sick, and you're the one who has no problems being the hospital. I would be willing to be you money that if you got some experience and time, my grandmother would take you on her apprentice."
He hadn't really thought about it like that. He had just looked out for them because they were his teammates and they were his. But the more he thought about it, the more he saw that she did have a point. Both she and Arashi couldn't wait to get out of the hospital whenever they had to go in but he was always a little intrigued about what happened in there. Watching the nurses and the doctors go about their business, saving people, make them better, fascinated him. "You really think that could happen?" he asked Tsukiko.
"You'd have to find out but I believe it could."
"So that would leave you with the Toads then, huh?"
She shrugged nonchalantly. "Guess so," she told him. "We'd have to find them first, of course."
"What's this 'we' stuff?" He paused in mid-swing and laughed. "I just realized something."
"You getting the Toads makes you seem more like Naruto Uzumaki then before. It's a little funny."
She didn't laugh with him because she didn't think it was funny. She knew that they had talked about her being compared to the man when he was pranking the village. But for her, it was confirmed when he snuck into her room and signed her books. She tried to be nonchalant about it. "I'm not concerned about that. What I am concerned about is the location of the Toads." If she wanted to match Arashi, she would have to find them.
Hiro thought of the simplest answer. "You could always get in contact with Naruto and asked him where it is."
"What a great idea," she said with the fullest amount of sarcasm. "Tell me, do you have his number? Did you get it when I wasn't looking?"
He ignored the sarcasm because he had a valid point to his suggestion. "I don't, but Arashi does."
She fumbled her shuriken at those words. He was right. Their teammate did have the number for his grandfather. It was possible to call him and ask him. "Well…I guess it's a thought."
"Something to ask Arashi, right?" he prodded her.
She nodded slowly as she picked up her shuriken. "Yeah, something to ask him about," she agreed. It made her wonder how her teammate was doing in his training.
Arashi was really beginning to hate all the hissing. It was all around him and it quickly became nonstop. It didn't matter if there was a snake or not nearby. The hissing just stayed there, burrowing into his ear and not leaving.
"Ignore the hissing, Arashi," he told himself as he hid in one of the smaller tunnels. It was easier said than done. Still he had to block them out so he could focus on the scroll he had picked up. This was one of the better-lit tunnels, which wasn't much. His stomach rumbled with hunger. He didn't know if it was because of the fear or if it was near lunch. Just how long had he been down here?
He ignored that question and opened up the scroll. There was writing on the inside, he could see that in the light. The ink looked a little funny. It didn't look exactly black. He looked at the writing and saw that they were names, along with fingerprints down below. "Why are there fingerprints down here?" he wondered.
That was louder before. He looked to his right. Deeper in the tunnels, there was a snake. He turned and lunged for opening but there was another snake waiting for him, lunging for him. "Oh come on!" he silently protested.
The fangs were an inch away from his face before he dropped to the ground. The snake went overhead but there was still that first snake to deal with. He could hear it coming up from behind. He turned left and ran for it, clutching the scroll close to his chest.
The hissing stayed in his ears no matter how fast he ran for it. He couldn't look back. If he looked back, they would catch him. He would be dead. He didn't want to be dead. "Run!" his mind shouted at him. "Run! Run! Run! RUN!" He ran as best he could, in that cramped system of tunnels.
(Location: Northern Air Temple)
Kai carefully approached Jinora as she looked at the bison from a ledge. "Sorry what I've said got you into trouble with your dad," he apologized. In hindsight, it did kinda feel like his fault.
"It's not your fault." She turned around, pressing her back against the ledge. She folded her arms and declared, "He just can't believe that I'm grown up now and I don't need him telling me what to do like one of his recruits."
He glanced down at the lake below. "I know something that'll cheer you up."
She glanced over at him. "What?"
"The bisons," he answered.
She looked down again and smiled. "You're right."
They wasted no time getting down off the temple. But when they reached the nesting grounds and landed, she saw something surprising: the place was completely empty. "Where did all the spirits go?" she asked.
Kai had a better question. "Where are the babies?"
She looked around but didn't see them either. It was odd. They had seen the babies yesterday. She felt something on her back suddenly. It dragged her down to the ground with a scream. "What's going on?" she asked in a panic.
Kai turned her way and saw a man with a net gun in hand in the trees. One quick blast of air knocked him down. Kai tried to go Jinora but the earth suddenly shut up in front of him. "What the…Earthbenders?" He turned around. Two more men were there, armed with net guns too. One fired before he could get clear and ended up being tangled in the net.
The men took the nets and dragged them away. Kai and Jinora tried to notice where it was they were going. But it was a difficult task since the men weren't gentle in dragging them. They felt every rock and root on the way and each time it knocked off their perception of things.
They were dragged to a camp some distance away from the nesting grounds and out of sight of the temple. They were dropped against the side of a truck and left there. The men gathered around a man sitting at the camp fire. "What are these kids doing in my camp?" he asked without turning around. Jinora didn't know who it was but he was wearing a cape made out of bison fur. That was enough for her to hate him.
"We caught them sneaking around," one of the men answered. "Thought they might tell someone we're here."
"They're the new Airbenders. Must be living up in the temple," he remarked. He stood up and turned around. "Hurry up and gather the rest of the gang and let's get out of here before someone comes looking for these kids. I'll take them to Ba Sing Se, with the rest of the fresh meat."
Both Kai and Jinora stared at the big man with wide eyes of fear. Jinora could guess what they were planning to do with the two of them. Kai knew what they were going to do. "Not again," he promised. "I'm not going to serve the Earth Queen again!"
Tenzin was trying to meditate in his room but it was hard considering all the things happening. "Tattoos," he muttered to himself, "How could she think? Focus. Breathe. Bumi ruins everything. Inhale. Focus." He just had to breathe.
In and out.
In and out.
Pema came into the room. She saw her husband tried to meditate. "Taking a little break from teaching?" she asked, coming over to sit down beside him.
Hearing her question made him stop what he was trying to do. He opened his eyes and looked at her. "I've failed. Bumi quit, the rest of the Airbenders want to go home. Can't they see that I'm trying to rebuild an entire culture?" It wasn't an easy thing to do.
She understood him but she also understood what the others were going through. "You know, just because these people can Airbend, it doesn't automatically make them Air Nomads."
"Tell me about it."
"I remembered when I moved down my parents' house to become an Air Acolyte. That first night I was so scared and lonely and the bed was so hard."
"It's actually better for your back." She scowled at him. He recognized his mistake and quickly said, "Sorry."
"The point is: I really wanted to be there, but it still took time for me to adjust to feel like I was a part of it all. The people are probably feeling the same way. You have to be patient."
He understood what she was saying. It made sense. It also made him realize something. "Now I know how Korra feels when I'm talking to her. Thank you, Pema," he told his wife, kissing her on the cheek. He stood up and left the room. He had to go find his brother.
He found him out in one of the courtyards, talking to some of the other Airbenders. He walked over and said, "Bumi, I want to apologize for losing my patience."
His brother just folded his arms and said, "I'm not talking to you," before walking away.
He stared in surprise. Surprise quickly turned into irritation. "Hey! Get back here," he shouted at his brother's back. Nothing of the sort happened. He sighed in defeat and looked at the other Airbenders. "Where's Jinora?"
Yung said, "I saw her fly off on her glider with her boyfriend."
"What? Her boyfriend?" he repeated, narrowing his eyes in suspicion. There was only one person he knew that fit that description. "Kai!" he said as he marched off.
The bison rustlers threw both humans and bison into the cages. Jinora shared her cage with a calf. It was a cramped space but she didn't care about that. "How can you steal these bison?" she demanded of the leader when he was close. "They're endangered."
"That's why they're worth so much," he said without any shame. "The Earth Queen and her fancy friends pay big money for bison steaks and other rare meats. I even heard she ate her dad's pet bear."
She sneered at him. "You're disgusting." He just smirked and walked away. She kept sneering. She didn't want to believe him but from what she had heard about the Earth Queen, it was possible she could've done that.
Kai was already trying to find a way out. He couldn't see one. The bars were reinforced steel and too close together for him to slip his hands through to pick the lock. Besides, he also didn't have his lock pick. So he saw only one way to get them out of there and it was Jinora. "Hey, do that spirit beaming thing you did to find me," he told her. "Go to the temple for help."
"I can't," she said, curling up into a ball. "I'm all cramped in here and I need quiet and time to focus." An idea came to her. "But, maybe I can send a message." She closed her eyes and reached out to the spirits. "Spirits, I need your help." A small spirit appeared in front of her. It flew quietly to her shoulder. She whispered, "Go find Bum-Ju, tell him we're in trouble." It flew through the bars and out into the open sky. She hoped it would reach the temple.
Arashi had no idea how long he had been down in these tunnels now. What he did know that the number of times he had run from the snakes was now in the double digits, closing in on triple. The snakes were getting more and more difficult to evade or hide from. If this kept up, he had no doubt that he was going to end up dead. He had to get out.
How he was supposed to do that, he had no idea. "Kami I could use some help here!" he prayed. He had been praying for the past two hours but nothing had happened. He was going to have to figure this out on his own.
He opened the scroll once more. He was going to have to read fast. The snakes seemed to know whenever he opened the scroll. Before he could even read it decently, they would attack him. He finally figured it out. He was going to have to speed read. He cracked open the scroll and started reading.
He looked at all the words in the scroll and realized something, something he hadn't been able to realize before due to all the snakes. The words weren't just words. They were names. The first one was Orochimaru, the second was Jūgo. "Holy shit," he realized. This wasn't just any scroll. It was the summoning contract for the Snakes!
"If I wrote my name in this, I could probably get control over the snakes." Once that happened, he would have an easier time finding the way out. There was a blank space right next to Jūgo's name. He could write it there.
But then he realized something: he didn't have a pen. He didn't have any kind of writing utensil on him. He didn't think that he would need one for training. "What can I use?" he asked, checking the surrounding area for something, anything that could be used to write. He also needed something that could be used as an ink substance.
But there was nothing at all. The only thing he had on him was his kunai and shuriken. He was woefully unprepared. "What the hell am I supposed to do?" If he couldn't get anything to write in the scroll, he was going to be food for snakes.
And there was that sound again. It plagued him through the tunnels. He looked around but didn't see any snakes. That didn't mean they weren't there. He pulled out a kunai for protection. It wouldn't do much maybe delay his end for a couple of seconds. But then an idea came to him. He looked at the kunai, then at his hand and fingers, and then at the scroll.
"I could use my blood as the ink, my fingers to write it." It probably wasn't the best idea that he had but he was running out of time and getting desperate. With no hesitation, he sliced open his palm. The pain was right there, like a sharp fire emitting through the wound, making him hiss. He closed his fingers around the wound, making sure they were properly coated. He pulled them back and they glistened with red blood.
He had to act quickly. He traced the blood on his fingers across the scroll. Droplets dripped out from the ends but that didn't matter. He finished his name. Nothing happened. "Did I do something wrong?" He looked at the other names in the scrolls. They had fingerprints down below.
The snakes were getting closer. He folded his hand again and let his fingertips be soaked in blood. He pressed the fingers into the paper, making sure they would stick. After a couple of seconds, he pulled them away. Now there were five red fingerprints right underneath his name. If he did it right, he should have control of the snakes.
Then he realized a crucial mistake. This was a jutsu. It had to be. It was a jutsu that he didn't know the handseals to! "Great, now what?" he demanded. The snakes were going to find him soon and he didn't have enough energy in his bones to keep this going.
Something grabbed his foot and pulled hard. "What the AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!?" he shouted as he was dragged to somewhere.
Tsukiko spent a good deal of the day training with Hiro. How odd was it that even when Rin-sensei wasn't there to train them, they would train themselves? Maybe it was all them becoming actual shinobi and less like children. Maybe it was because they didn't go to the Exams and realized they had to step up their game. Whatever the reason was, they were still training.
And while they trained, they talked and she wondered. She wondered about the Toad summoning contract. Where was it? She was tempted to go to the Hokage building and ask her dad. But it was the middle of the day and she knew he didn't like it when his family came in unannounced asking trivial questions. No, right now the people to ask would be her grandparents. Surely they had to know.
But it was also an idea that had flaws. One of those flaws came to her as she reached out to knock on their door. Her grandparents didn't really talk about their former teammate, not unless he was somehow brought up in the conversation. But that happened so rarely Tsukiko could count on the number of times for that on a single hand. No one asked them directly about him or what he had done.
She stood at the door, hesitating. She could feel sweat starting to coat her hands. "Kami take it, Tsukiko, you're here, aren't you?" she asked herself. "You've come over to their house countless times." True but none of those times had been about Naruto Uzumaki. "Just knock on the door."
She reached out and knocked. The door opened and her grandfather was there. "Hello, Tsukiko."
"Hello, Jiji. Can I come in?"
"Of course," he told her, pushing the door open a little more. "We're just sitting down for lunch. Would you like some?"
"No thanks. I already ate." She had shared lunch with Hiro after training. She was pretty full. She walked into the house, going right for the kitchen.
She found her grandmother at the table. Sakura looked up from the scroll she was reading and smiled. "Tsuki," she said.
"Oba," she said back, going over and hugging her. They all sat down. Tsukiko waited a little, letting them eat, before daring to ask the question. It felt harder to do, now that she was there. But she still had to say it. "Can I ask you two a question?"
Sakura nodded. "Of course, dear," she told her granddaughter.
"Do you know where the summoning contract for the Toads is?"
The question, sounding so innocent when asked like that, made both her grandparents freeze in place. Sasuke was the first to put his food down and look at her. His eyes were serious as he asked, "Why do you want know that, Tsukiko?"
It was probably for the best if she started from the beginning. "Do you guys know that Jūgo came over to our house this morning?"
"Mito told us about it soon afterwards, yes."
That was good but a bit vague. "Did she tell you why he was there?"
"He came asking for Arashi," Sakura told her, showing that they did know. "Is that what's this is all about? Are you jealous, Tsukiko?"
She shook her head. "No, nothing like that," she replied.
"Oh? You don't want the Snakes?"
"No, not really," she answered honestly. "I didn't really give it much thought until today. Hiro and I got talking when we were training and I said if Jūgo was going to take Arashi as his apprentice, he would have a big advantage over us. Hiro said that we would have to find advantages that would match him."
They could see where this conversation had gone. "So naturally, you thought about the Slugs and the Toads," Sasuke said.
She nodded. "Yeah, that's what happened."
"Why the Toads?" asked her grandmother.
It wasn't a question she had been expecting. "Huh?"
"You heard me, Tsuki. Why the Toads?" she said again.
"Uh, well…" She found herself at a loss. Seeing her grandmother look so serious, it felt like she had to choose her next words very carefully. But it was her grandmother. Surely she didn't have to be that serious? She tried to think of something but that uncertainty hung around her like a little dark cloud. Finally she couldn't take it anymore and asked, "Is there a wrong answer to this question? It feels like it."
Sakura lost the intent look on her face at those words. She shared a look with her husband and both smiled. "No, Tsukiko, there is no wrong answer to the question."
Their granddaughter breathed in relief, actually sagging down in her chair. "Thank you for that. I was getting nervous."
"But the question still remains the same: why the Toads?"
She thought about it some more. It didn't take her long since she knew what she wasn't saying. "Oba, is this because I didn't come asking about the Slugs?"
"Oh. Well, if we're being honest, I never thought myself to be the right person for the Slugs. I don't think any less of them," she quickly added in case her words might've implied something that wasn't true. "I just don't think they would want me."
"And how's that?" asked Sasuke. There was a slightly amused smile on his lips as he ate his food slowly.
She looked at him. He had to have known. He had seen her grow up. "I'm a fighter, not a healer."
"Ah, I see," he said, sounding completely obvious. He looked over at his wife. "She does have a point."
"I'm aware of that, Sasuke," she said dryly. She knew it quite well.
He looked back at their granddaughter. "So you thought about the Toads next."
She nodded but saw how her grandmother was looking. "Oba, I think that Hiro is the one more suitable for the Slugs," she told her quickly.
It got her attention. "Hiro?" she repeated, like she was testing the name with her voice.
"Yeah," Tsukiko said with a nod. "He's the one who's the most like a healer out of the three of us. He would need some training but I'm sure that he would be just fine."
Sakura thought about it some more. She had seen the three of them train together. Hiro was the one who kept his eyes out for any kind of injury they might get. His attacks were quick and precise. If he wasn't a Hyūga, she would've said that they were almost surgical. Still, seeing him as her successor was food for thought. Tsukiko was looking at her with a hopeful expression. She didn't need to ask her granddaughter what exactly she was thinking in that moment. "It is something to consider, dear," she told her. "I will think on it."
"Okay." Tsukiko could take that offer. Even though she hoped that Hiro would be accepted, she didn't think that it would happen right away. Right now, that was good.
"Tsukiko," Sasuke said, getting her attention again. "The Toads would want someone who can be a hard hitter, someone who's not afraid to get into the fight and stay there."
That was her. She was usually the one who would charge right into a fight and make it up from there. It could've driven Arashi and Hiro crazy and it did, at first. But then they decided to just go with it and make it as they went too. "That's me," she declared.
"You sure?" he asked her again.
She nodded. "Yeah, I'm always the one who wants to get into the fight. I can hold my own in the middle of a battle and I can also back up my teammates too." Rin-sensei had made sure that they could do that and she never gave up on it. Nowadays, Tsukiko was glad that she had.
Her grandparents looked at each other. "She does fit what they want," Sakura said.
"She does," her husband agreed.
Tsukiko's hope rose with that confirmation. "So you guys know where the contract is?"
"Not really," Sakura said.
If she had been standing up, she might've fallen to her face. Instead, she let her head droop. "Really, guys?" she asked them, giving a look. "You couldn't have led with that?"
Sasuke smiled at her. "We could've." He didn't say anything else.
She looked past that to focus on what was really important. "So you don't know where it is."
"We know that it is in the village, but that's it."
"Then it could be anywhere."
They both nodded. "Yes," Sakura agreed. "So if you want to find it, you'd better start looking." Tsukiko didn't say anything to that. She stood up from the table, said her goodbyes, and walked out of their house. Sakura waited until she heard the door slam shut and then looked at Sasuke. "How long do you think it'll take her?"
He looked at the door, thinking about his granddaughter. They knew where the Toad contract was. But they weren't going to make it easy for her. "It depends on where she looks first."
"You don't doubt she'll find it."
She smiled. "No, I don't doubt. She'll find it." If there was one thing she had learned about Uchihas, it was that they could be quite stubborn. The only other person she knew who could've matched that stubbornness was Naruto. Tsukiko would find it.
(Location: Northern Air Temple)
If any strangers had come across Bumi, they might've found it a bit weird he was talking to a spirit. Not even the other Airbenders knew he could do that. It was why he was keeping his argument with Bum-Ju. "No, I don't think I should apologize," he told the spirit. "Tenzin just wants to boss everybody around. I'm too old for that." His spirit friend responded back at him with a chittering noise. It made him scowl. "Well, let's face it. I'm just not cut out to be an Airbender!" Bum-Ju wasn't having any of it, still making a chittering sound and flicking its paws at him. "Well, that's your opinion," he said, looking away. "And you know I never wanted to be an Airbender in the first place."
Seeing how the argument wasn't going to go anywhere (especially since it knew how stubborn his human could be), Bum-Ju settled down for a nap. But it heard the urgent chirping of another spirit and looked up to see one come flying down to land beside it.
Bumi watched the two spirits chirp at each other, wondering what was going on. He got his answer when Bum-Ju leapt into his lap and pushed against his shoulder, chirping just as urgently. He could only understand parts of what Bum-Ju was saying, but it was enough to make him worry. "Wait, Jinora sent this spirit?" He grabbed Bum-Ju and held the spirit up high. "Is she in trouble?"
Bum-Ju and the spirit took off. He followed and quickly took the lead, running for the other Airbenders. They were being trained under Meelo's guidance. "Jinora's in trouble," he told them all as he came to a stop before them. "We have to go get her."
They all stopped what they were doing to look at him. "How do you know?" asked Yung.
"Bum-Ju's friend told me."
Otaku was surprised by that. "You're able to communicate with the spirits?"
"More or less, I get the gist," he replied. That wasn't important. "Let's go."
Daw wasn't too sure about that. Ever since things had gotten tougher with the training, he was more hesitant about doing things they shouldn't. "Shouldn't Master Tenzin be dealing with this?" he asked. "I don't want to get into trouble"
"Master Tenzin isn't here. It's up to us. Ikki and Meelo, grab some bison." Bumi was aware that he was slipping back into his old military days but at this point, he really didn't care about that. "Airbenders, move out!"
All of the Airbenders were able to fit onto two bison. They flew after Bum-Ju and the spirit, going away from the temple and into the wilds around them. When the spirits started flying downward, Bumi had them fly the bison down too. He saw the light of a campfire and knew they were close. They landed on the top of a cliff nearby.
Bumi motioned for the other Airbenders to stay low while he crawled towards the edge with a telescope. He looked down at the camp and took in all the details. "Bison rustlers," he spat in disgust at the sight of them. "They've got Kai and Jinora locked in crates. Looks like they're getting ready to leave, we'll have to move fast," he told the Airbenders.
Daw was still unsure about it all. "I don't know if I'm ready to get in a fight with some bison rustlers. I can tell without that telescope that they're mean-looking." And he had always been the kid who beaten up.
He looked at him and then "Listen, this is what we've been training for."
"We haven't been training that long."
"That's not important now. Remembered how we persevered together on that obstacle course?
"You actually quit," Otaku reminded him.
He could see how Tenzin could get with this kid. "Well, I'm not quitting now. I know we've had a tough time, me more than anyone, but we're Airbenders, and there aren't many of us so we've got to stick together. They've got two of our own in cages out there, and we're not leaving until we bring them home." The Republic military didn't leave him to rot when he had been captured. He wasn't going to let that happen to anyone else.
While he spoke, the Airbenders could feel the importance of his words wash over them. They found themselves standing up, listening more closely to his words and wanting to do something. Meelo summed it perfect when he said, "Leave no Airbender behind!"
Kai waited for his moment. He had managed to bend up a couple of twigs from the ground. He was going to use them as a lockpick. When the rustler manning the cage turned around and walked off, he made his move. He poked his hands through the bars and angled them to the lock. "In. Down. And twist," he talked to himself, working the lock.
The cage sprang open. Both he and the calf came tumbling out. He grabbed the truck and swung over to Jinora. He moved for the lock but she told him, "Free the bison first."
He felt a rough hand grab him, pulling him away. It was the rustler guarding the cage. "Hey! What are you doing out?" he demanded.
Kai responded by twisting over his arm and sending him flying with Airbending. The rustler crashed into another by the fire. It got the attention of the other rustlers but it was also a signal for the Airbenders lying in wait. They charged right in.
They didn't make any kind of battle cry when they charged into battle but they were uncoordinated and made no effort to silence their feet. The rustlers saw them coming and prepared for battle. The Airbenders blasted air at them. They bent the earth up into slabs of rock for shields.
Kai tried to attack from the back. The lead rustler felt the air coming thanks to his cape. He twisted low, avoiding the blast, and bent the earth to jut out. It struck Kai in the side, knocking him down to the ground. "Ow," he thought, lying there dazed.
The Airbenders didn't let up their assault. If they started to flag, they stopped for a moment and began again. They didn't have a lot of training but what they did learn was never to flag at the same time. They were able to keep the combined blasts constant. It pinned the three Earthbenders in place.
Daw kept his blast going, focused on breaking the slabs. He was so focused he didn't hear the net-gun being fired behind him. But he did feel the air, rushing past his head. It tickled up the back of his head. He remembered what Tenzin had said. He turned around and saw the net coming at him. He bent low, outside the net, and blasted the rustler down to the ground.
The lead rustler came out of cover and divided the Airbenders in half with a rock column. They scattered, getting out of the way. "That makes things easier," he thought to himself.
What he hadn't been counting on was Meelo. The little Airbender came up over the column like it was nothing, riding an air scooter with a determined look. He landed right in front of the leader. Before any earth could touch him, he bounced back up into the air and knocked the grown man down.
Meelo looked down at his handiwork with pride. "Hah, take that!" he mentally crowed. The other Earthbenders were so stunned, they didn't react quickly enough. When Ikki carried over two Airbenders on a scooter, they were able to take down the rustlers easily.
"We got them now!" Bumi silently declared. He let out a rumbling war cry and the Airbenders charged through the camp.
The leader saw that business was over. Now was the time to leave. It was a good thing he didn't have that much loyalty to his crew. He trusted them to do their job, not to watch his back. So he had no qualms about turning around and running for the truck without them.
Jinora didn't need to wonder what he was doing. As soon as she felt the truck started, she looked back and shouted, "Kai!"
He got back to his feet just in time to see the truck set off. His world tinged red. "Get back here!" he shouted, grabbing his glider staff and taking off after them.
Tenzin flew through the air atop Oogi. He had spent the entire afternoon looking for Jinora and Kai with no success. Normally, he would've been fuming mad about that. But instead, it gave him time to think. Maybe Jinora did have a point. Maybe she was ready for the tattoos. After all, she was the one who helped Korra get into the Spirit World. But there was also the fact that she had left Korra alone in the Spirit World and caught captured. She might be ready but there was also room for her to grow some more.
He couldn't decide. "At times like this, I could use Lord Naruto," he thought to himself. "I'm sure he would know what to tell me." He paused and shook his head. He didn't need to ask Naruto, not when he could practically hear the old man. The truth was, even if it was a little childish, he didn't want to have his children be masters so young. He had gotten his tattoos when he was sixteen years old.
The airspace was suddenly troubling when three full grown bison flew down past Oogi. Tenzin held onto the reins so he wouldn't fall and watched the bison. They shouldn't have been this agitated while flying. They flew down to the ground, to a truck driving fast. "What's going on down there?" he wondered.
A glider appeared right behind the truck, obviously chasing after it. Then he heard Jinora's voice crying, "Kai! Help!"
He looked again at the truck. He saw his girl locked in a cage with a bison calf. Confusion was quickly replaced concerned anger. His daughter was in danger! "I'm coming Jinora."
Meanwhile, Kai was the closest to the truck. As he got closer, he drifted off to the driver's side, right up to the window. As soon as he saw the rustler, he closed the glider and latched onto the truck. He kicked through the window with the air, knocking the man down. He felt the truck swerve side to the side and looked at the wheel. "What do I do?"
The rustler took that moment of hesitation to grab him and thrown down to the seat. He got back into the driver's seat and buckled up. He kept the kid pinned to the seat, sneering at him. "Stupid kid," he thought to himself. He had no right interfering with his business.
He was so busy keeping the kid down, he didn't look out at the window until he had to. So when he saw adult bison around the truck, one of which had a grown man riding it, all he could say was, "What the—?"
He couldn't finish the question because that was when Tenzin rammed Oogi into the truck. He didn't expect that. His grip on Kai loosened and the kid was able to get leap onto Oogi. The third bison landed in front of the truck, looking angry. With a single turn, it swiped hard with its tail, blasting the truck with air.
The rustler screamed as he was sent flying out of the front window. His body came alive with pain as it rolled across the ground. He finally stopped rolling and saw angry bison looking down at him. It was not a good thing. As soon as he saw the Airbenders hop down and coming towards him, he decided that a different tactic was needed. "You got me. I give up."
Kai wouldn't have it. Not after this guy had done. He blasted the rustler back at the truck, slamming him against the iron front. "You think you can kidnap Jinora, and all these baby bisons?!" he demanded. The rustler couldn't answer him. He wasn't waiting for a reply. He bent the rustler up into the air and slammed him down against the truck once more.
He would've done more if Tenzin hadn't stopped him. "Kai, that's enough!" the Airbending master said, grabbing his staff and holding it in place. "An Airbender never attacks a defenseless opponent." He glanced down at the rustler and then at Kai. He smiled. "But that was very good technique."
Arashi landed flat on his butt, utterly confused. "What the…? Where am I?" He quickly looked around and saw that he was back in the training ground. The sun was now shining at a different spot, lowering into the west. It gave the training ground a different view.
"Enjoy yourself?" asked Jūgo from behind.
He quickly turned around and looked at him. Like the training ground, he seemed different. Arashi could still see the old homeless man he first met in the village. But there was also something different about him. The kid had known that he was an experience man but it was only now that he seemed to fully understand what that meant. Standing in front of him was a man who could easily beat him as he could kill him.
Still, he was a little peeved about the experience he just went through. So he got up to his feet and stared him straight in the eyes. "What the hell was that all about?" he demanded right away.
Jūgo remained calm. "It was a test."
"A test?" he repeated. It couldn't have been that simple. "That wasn't a test. That was a fight for my life!"
"Which can be called a test," he said back. "You were forced to act, react, and make decisions with barely time to think. And you came out of it successfully."
Arashi got that, he did. He just wished that it had happened somehow else. "Did it have to be snakes like that?" he asked. It probably sounded childish but at that point he didn't care.
"You were training with me. Were you not expecting the snakes?"
He shook his head. "I was expecting the snakes, just not like that."
"You should've. What you just experienced was what life is for snakes, relatively."
"What does that mean, relatively?"
"I had to make some changes, for both groups. But you dealt with the snakes, were forced to think like a snake."
"I would say more like a mouse that didn't want to be eaten," he commented. It certainly felt like it to him.
"Did you survive?" asked Jūgo, eyes boring down into him.
"Of course I survived. I'm standing right here." He gestured all around him so his point would be clear.
"Then you're not a mouse. You are a snake."
The opportunity was too great to pass up. He looked down at himself and then at the old man in front of him. "Sorry, but I'm not seeing any scales or tails on me." He saw the hand moving to hit him. He quickly ducked under but still got a sting on the head for his jest.
"Be serious," Jūgo ordered him, bringing the hand back down. "This is not a joking matter."
He got back. "You're the one who said I was a snake."
"Not actually, you know that." He sighed in the way old people sighed when dealing with younger and impatient people. "You're not much of a snake right now, but you will become one. A snake does not strike immediately, it waits. It waits for the right moment, that moment when they cause the most damage or even death to they hunt. They lay wait, giving one warning if they see fit. For you to be that snake, you will be trained to keep in control, to wait and see what happens. You will think, you will plan, and then you will act."
As he listened, Arashi felt something inside him start to emerge. He didn't know what it was exactly but it made him stand up straighter, putting his shoulders back. The more he listened, the more he understood. He felt responsibility inside him. What the Snake Sannin was telling him was also an offer. "Are you taking me on as your apprentice?" he dared to ask.
"Wow. Um, okay, wasn't really suspecting that."
"Were you expecting anything less when you came to train under me?"
"I wasn't expecting to be trained like that," he thought to himself. But that was a bush already beaten and he wasn't going to say that out loud. Instead he said, "I don't know what I was going to be getting into."
"Now, you do."
He certainly did. "So, what does this mean?" he asked Jūgo.
The old Sannin didn't look confused or puzzled by his question. He asked, "How do you mean?" with a calm and waiting express.
"Am I going to be your student exclusively? Do I stay away from Rin-sensei and the others?"
He smiled to himself. "An excellent question," he noted with approval. "What will you say if I tell you yes?"
Arashi steeled himself. He was probably about to do something stupid. "I would refuse what you offer. I'm not going to walk away from my friends just because I was offered something that they weren't. It wouldn't be right to ignore them."
"I didn't say you would ignore them."
"It's the same principal. They're my friends and I'm theirs. I won't turn my back on them."
He smiled openly. "Good, I wouldn't have it any other way."
Arashi wasn't surprised like he probably thought the old man wanted him to be. He just breathed in relief. "I'm glad to hear that. So I'll still be with them then?" He wanted to be sure that it was the truth and his leg wasn't being pulled.
"Yes, you will. In fact, it is the fact that you are friends that the wheels are being turned right now."
He frowned. What was that about? Was the old man being mysterious on purpose or just to have a laugh at him? There was one way to find that out. "What does that mean?" he dared to ask, hoping that he would get an actual answer.
Jūgo looked at him and smiled mysteriously. "Did you think that you would be the only one who would get a summoning contract? Your teammates will get their own, rather soon I expect."
"Is he predicting the future?" It sounded like that to the dyed redhead. He spoke with a confidence that came with absolute surety. Maybe Arashi would have to check in with his teammates once he walked off this training ground. But thinking about it also brought his mind back to the summoning contract. "Can I ask a question?"
"How did you pull me out of those tunnels? You had no idea where I was." All he had seen down there were snakes, snakes, and more snakes. Then again, maybe he was watching from the snakes themselves, if that was possible.
"Once I knew you had written your name in the scroll, I was able to pull you out with a simple reverse summoning."
"You can do that?"
He held out his hand and waited silently. Arashi waited too. He wasn't sure what was going on. He looked down at the hand and then at him. "Does he want something?" he wondered. Then he realized the truth and felt a little stupid. Of course he wanted something. He wanted something in particular. He looked down at his other hand, still holding the scroll.
He gave it back. "This is more than just a scroll. It is what links us to the snakes. I hold the contract and I know when someone new has signed their name into it. As soon as I knew you had written your name, I reverse summoned you. It's as simple as that."
"Probably not so simple," Arashi thought to himself. He kept that to himself. "So, now what?" he asked. How did they go from here?
"Now, if I call you, you will come and train with me. Until then, you will train and work with your team." Arashi opened his mouth but he kept speaking. "I will know whether you're on a mission or not."
He closed his mouth. "How did you know I was going to ask that?"
"I would've asked the same." He gestured towards the village. "Go on, Arashi, go back to the village. You could probably use a good shower. I will let you know when I will train you next."
He didn't need any more prompting than that. He also didn't need to look at himself to know that he was covered in dirt and mud, maybe even caked in it. He turned around and started for the exit. When he was about to leave, he glanced back. Jūgo was already gone. The dyed redhead didn't ask how he did that. He was a shinobi. It was part of their job description. That and he really wanted to get that shower. He turned back and kept heading for the village.
(Location: Northern Air Temple)
They had gathered up all the bison rustlers while the afternoon turned into evening. As poetic justice, they had put them into the cages they had imprisoned the calves in. Bumi looked down at the rustler he was locking in the cage. "Maybe you boys haven't heard, but there's some new Airbenders on these parts," he declared. "And you never mess with an Airbender's bison." They turned around and walked away, leaving the rustlers to think about what they did.
Tenzin walked over to Bumi so they could talk. He passed Daw who was telling others, "Without my shaved head, I'd never could have dodged that net. I really felt it coming at me. You guys should totally get shaved."
He smiled to himself. That was the point of being shaved. He met Bumi and told him, "I'm proud of you. Your connection with the spirits, natural leadership, you remind me of Dad."
Bumi looked over at the others and then at him. "Can we talk a little more privately?" he asked. "They don't need to hear what I've got to say."
"Of course," his brother agreed. They walked off a little so the camp was seen in the distance. No one noticed them leaving and wouldn't think to look this far away. "Well?"
He said, "I'm sorry I've been causing you so much trouble. We both know that I've never wanted this. It's just…"
"What?" Tenzin asked.
"When we were kids, I was always hopeful that I would get Airbending and I would follow after Dad. But then Kya got her Waterbending and you got your Airbending, I got nothing. I felt left out and I was jealous. When Sifu June came to take me as her apprentice, I was happy to agree. I felt like I was getting away from Dad's shadow and be a part of the Air Nomads in my own way."
He looked down at his hand and made a little gust. "And then I got Airbending. Now it feels like all I've done, what I've trained to become for the Air Nomads, it's been wiped off like it doesn't matter." He looked at his brother, meaning every word he said. "I know you want me to be an Airbender, Tenzin. I understand. But I've been the Paragon of the Air Nomads for too long to be an Airbender."
Tenzin didn't protest as he before. Now he knew why Bumi wanted to get rid of his Airbending. He had never thought about the years he had trained to become the Air Paragon, the pride he took in being it. It wouldn't be right for him to push his brother to becoming an Airbender if he didn't want it, not any more. "I understand," he told Bumi. "I won't force you. The next time we see Korra, if you still want it, I won't protest if you want your Bending removed."
He smiled. "Thanks."
He started to turn back but Tenzin stopped him. "Bumi," he said, putting his hand on his brother's shoulder. "I always considered you a part of the Air Nomads." Bumi smiled in thanks.
The two of them walked back into camp. Ikki and Meelo were playing around with the calves while Jinora and Kai were snuggling against the mother bison. Kai smiled as Jinora laughed from getting a big lick. "They're so friendly now,"
"The bison are the original Airbenders," Tenzin explained to him. "They recognize their own kind."
He walked over to his daughter and knelt down to her eye level. Jinora hugged him instantly. "I'm sorry for running off," she apologized.
"I'm just lucky no one's hurt."
They broke the hug to look each other in the eyes. "But I also realized that perhaps I was too harsh on you."
That hope came back to her as she looked at her father. "Does that mean I can get my Airbender tattoos?"
"It's hard for me to believe that my little girl is grown up enough to have her tattoos. I'll promise I'll think about it. Fair enough?" he asked.
"Yeah," she agreed.
"Jinora, look," Kai called to her. "They're flying!"
Both father and daughter looked at the bison calves started to float upwards. The looks of surprise they had as they struggle to stay airborne, swinging their feet aimlessly, could've been funny. But Tenzin saw something else in it. It was another symbol of how things were changing. "I guess everyone is growing up," he remarked, watching the bison go higher into the air.
Author's note: Thank you for all the reviews you've sent me.
The ball has started rolling downhill. The training to be Sannin for Arashi, Hiro, and Tsukiko has started. As I've probably stated before, I'm making Arashi less like his grandfather and giving him the snakes. Some reviewers have remarked that all I would have to do is change Arashi's name to Boruto. My defense: I started working on this story before he came out.
I don't know how Orochimaru was tested by the Snakes. But I'd be willing to bet it was something like that. Now I have to figure out how Hiro's going to get the Slugs. Maybe I should have him go through a full course meal with them and not break a single decorum in the process. Might sound easy, but he would probably be eating Slug food. I'll have to think on it some more. If anyone has an idea, let me know.
I'll see you all next chapter!