Agni Kai: Role Model
The quickening dots of brilliant snow flourished around the small home. A shivering teenage Noatok and his younger brother, Tarrlok, sat side by side next to the fire that illuminated the crystalline walls, trying to escape the cold weather outside. Air filled with snow and ice blew through the open holes in the igloo, chilling the two to the bone. It had been the worst blizzard in memory, and its effects were devastating. For the solid week the people of the Northern Water Tribe had to stay inside their barely warm enough houses. Brave enough water benders would selflessly patrol around the neighborhood and try to remove the thickening snow that threatened to trap the residents. However, they were only able to venture out into the cold in high noon, when the sun's heat slowed the pressure of snow. So, the humble village was covered in a shimmering blanket of ice most of the time, a beautiful yet deadly portrait. The two brothers had been glued to the only heat in the room, barely moving, even to retrieve food for their hollow bellies. Usually, it was Noatok, the older and far more responsible sibling that tiptoed across the cold floor to the strips of meat that hung above the brewing pot. Always growing colder every second he was away from the fire, he would dance from foot to foot and tightly cross his arms, waiting for the meat to cook and boil. Their father and mother had made one of their routine journeys to the main Northern Water Tribe city, leaving Noatok in charge. Both boys were extremely worried for their parents, well at least one of them. Although Tarrlok hadn't grown old enough to experience true hatred for his abusive father, Noatok had despised Yakone since he forced the brothers to bloodbend the previous summer. Memories of helpless animals whimpering in pain as Noatok bloodbended, flooded his mind. Shaking his guilt away, he focused on his anger toward his father and how he hated him that summer. Even before that! Noatok thought, remembering when his father had found out he was a natural waterbender and had forced him in all conditions of weather to practice bending. Snapping out of his dark memories, he snatched the meat out of the boiling pot with the two planks of wood and placed the two juicy pieces of deer gently in the pouch of his tunic. Knowing that every second the meat was losing heat, he raced back to his brother and flipped a piece to him.
"That's all? But I want more! I'm hungry…" Tarrlok complained, his ten year old emotions getting the better of him.
He looked disapprovingly at the chunk and pouted back up at his brother, who sat quietly, not even paying attention to his brother's whining. When Tarrlok persisted in determination to not eat until more food was presented, Noatok rolled his eyes and sighed.
"If you want more, you can go and hunt!" He snapped. "We're already running low as it is."
Tarrlok crossed his arms and gave a childish humph, but eventually, he nibbled at the meat. At first, he noticed it was cold and was about to ask Noatok to heat it up for him again, but one look from his brother silenced him. He then took a great bite and smiled, with puffed cheeks, at his brother, who snorted in response. The two then went into fits of laughter, and Noatok began madly tickling his sibling, who cried in protest in his unending laughter. Noatok released his squirming brother and they both chuckled softly and sighed. Noatok glanced through one of the air holes and noticed the darkening shadows.
"Ok, time for bed," he instructed, but was surprised to see the little boy was already fast asleep, curling in fire's warmth.
Noatok smiled lovingly at his brother and was grateful to know he wasn't alone in this world. He shrugged out of one layer of clothing and placed it gently over his brother's sleeping form, which burrowed into the extra heat. Noatok got up and sauntered to the wood pile and threw more branches into the dimming fire. The fire crackled with new fuel and the room was instantly heated. He joined his brother in front of the fire and brought a blanket around his shoulders, gazing reflectively into the dancing flames. He had not noticed that he had fallen asleep. As the two lay sleeping, the wind calmed its constant howling, the snow slowed lazily and then altogether stopped. The blizzard was over, and the night sky revealed a canopy of twinkling lights. A crescent moon encased the brightest stars in a mythical embrace, shining over the two brothers who leaned against each other. It was a scene of immense love and compassion, one that was so alien to the household. However, in the dead of night, footsteps pattered up to the igloo where the two brothers slept. Instantly awaking to the noise, Noatok slowly shifted away from his unconscious brother. He crept to the entryway and breathed slowly in and out. Curious to see who would be coming to his home at this hour, he looked out one of the holes. It was almost pitch black outside, save the moon's light and he could only make out the faint lines of two figures approaching slowly. Presuming they were water benders clearing the snow around their house, he turned away, and went to put more wood in the fire. The door flung open, ushering in a deathly cold breeze which swirled and circulated throughout the entire room. The flames of the fire flickered, but remained. The icy air bit at Noatok's cheeks and his eyes watered and widened, fear filled him and he whirled around to the door. Two figures stepped into the room. Ones he recognized, and he breathed a sigh of relief.
"Mother? Father?" he asked cautiously, raising an eyebrow.
His mother swung immediately to him and ran to hold him in her arms. The room became lighter and less cold now that his mother was there to love him.
"Oh, Noatok!" she said. "I've missed you! Have you been taking care of your brother?"
He returned his mother's quick embrace, and she quickly ran to Tarrlok and shook him awake. The sleepy child slowly opened his heavy lids and looked at the person who disturbed his rest. Noticing it was his beloved mother, a giant grin stretched across his dazed features.
She laughed and held him to her chest, smoothing his hair and giving him a kiss on the cheek. Noatok looked on enviously at the loving scene. Yet, he could not delve into those emotions any longer for a much darker presence made itself known to him. He sighed and turned around to face the figure.
"Hello, father," he said quietly, avoiding Yakone's piercing gaze. "I hope your trip went well."
Grunting angrily, his father pushed his son out of the way and surveyed the room, scouting for imperfections. He sniffed the air, and whirled on his son. Recognizing the fading scent of meat, Yakone had found a scapegoat.
"Have you been cooking my meat!?"
Noatok gulped and nodded.
"Well-um- it was the only thing left to eat, sir," Noatok responded nervously.
His father growled viciously and his face reddened.
"It took my weeks to hunt that!" he yelled. "Are you saying I'm not providing enough for you, boy?"
"No, sir, I just—"he began to say, but was met with a stinging slap across the face, and fell to floor.
As usual, his mother looked on but did nothing, fearing for her own safety. She had not been able to save Noatok but she desperately wanted to protect Tarrlok from the anger of her husband. Noatok's face swelled and a deep red mark hung next to his lips, a slash of blood ran from the corner of his mouth. Usually, Noatok would have taken this abuse, believing that if he didn't, his father would take his rage out on his mother and brother, however, his rage had broken boiling point and his emotions were getting the best of him. His calculated, composed face snapped into a glare of pure rage and anguish. His father smiled, pleased that he would be able to relieve some of his aggressions on his son.
"I don't think I like that face, boy," Yakone snarled, and immediately raised his fingers in a menacing pose.
Noatok recognized this positioning of fingers, and knew Yakone was preparing to bloodbend his son. Frightened and angry, Noatok reached inside his father's body and pulled at the strings of nerves and tendons, thus twisting his father's arm behind his back and causing him to scream in pain. Noatok went further. He chilled the blood surrounding Yakone's organs and popped blood vessels. Noatok went even further, looking for ways to permanently damage, if not kill, his father. He made his way to Yakone's heart, in an attempt to save himself, his father tried to bloodbend back, which Noatok intercepted and flicked away, a smile growing on his face, as he wrapped his father's own limbs in demented ways. He grew closer to the pumping blood of Yakone's heart, which was now working fast, blood rapidly going in and out in and out. Noatok desperately wanted to end it all right there, all the abuse, the anger, the torment. His brother and mother watched in horror, and finally after realizing how dangerous Noatok was becoming, his mother shot up from her frozen state of panic and pulled on Noatok's sleeve and dragged him down to the floor, disrupting his concentration and ending Yakone's torment.
"Stop!" his mother yelled, pulling her son to her.
Now that Yakone was alive and probably twice as angry, Noatok closed his eyes, knowing the beatings would be the worst tonight, and he prepared his skin for the bruises and his brain for the psychological trauma. However, Yakone responded much worse, and Republic City would pay for the decision the once most wanted man made that night. Although Yakone's voice was ragged and he coughed and wheezed while trying to stand back up, he was able to give his judgment.
"You worthless brat, you could have killed me!" he screeched out. "Since you no longer show me any respect, it will be beaten into you. I challenge you to an Agni Kai at sunrise, tomorrow."
The family was shell shocked. He couldn't be serious. Noatok's legs shook as his father approached him and smiled gruesomely at his eldest son.
"For the mean time, as punishment for bloodbending me," his father stated. "You cannot sleep under my roof tonight. Get out."
Noatok's eyes widened and he stared in disbelief at his father, who grinned murderously back. He opened his mouth to protest, but found no air came to him. He looked for guidance at his mother, who was just as disturbed as he was. His eyes found his younger's brother and both looked incredibly frightened. For once, his mother interfered.
"Yakone…" she cooed, trying to calm his emotions.
She placed a cool hand on his shoulder and stared unwavering at the monster she married. He snapped his eyes to her, and she backed away in fear. She left the room, her shoulders slumped. Noatok glared at her back. It's just as much her fault as it is his. Yakone then returned his glance to Noatok who stood shaking with anger and fear, his eyes overflowing with tears of hate. He turned toward his father and for a split second, relinquished his rage and pleaded for mercy.
"I'm sorry!" he yelled. "Dad, forgive me! I'll never disobey you again!"
He grabbed onto his father's coat and burrowed his face into the warm furs, his tears staining the clothes. His father pushed him away savagely, and growled, unimpressed.
"Too late." He stated plainly and grabbed Noatok by the scruff of his thin jacket, opened the door, threw his son into the snow, and slammed the door shut.
Only dressed in one layer, Noatok shivered immediately, feeling the biting, snapping air spike his body. He was covered in snow and the water was sinking and freezing into his skin. Knowing if he was to survive at all he had to find shelter. He ran blindly in a random direction and luckily stumbled upon a stable where a polar-bear dog was sleeping. He crept into the structure, tiptoed around the mass of snoring fur and looked for a reasonable place to rest. A large pile of hay sat in the corner and he glided to it, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the scratchy surface.