The rickety old wagon pulled up to the gates of Gaoling, the aging ostrich-horse drawing it pawing the ground nervously. The guard glanced absently at the person driving the cart - a man from the Water Tribe, to judge by his clothes and appearance. "State your name and business," he declared.

A short young woman with long brown hair leaned out of the cart. A green headband with the symbol for 'Harmony' covered her forehead, while the rest of her clothing was bright yellows and oranges, covered with images of birds and flying animals. "Salutations! Pin Yo Yi and Yi Yo Pin's Traveling Thrilling Wonder Show!" She grinned at him. "I am Pin Yo Yi!"

An equally short, rather pale young man leaned out on the other side. "And I am her associate Yi Yo Pin," he declared brightly, tapping the massive wide-brimmed straw hat he wore, his bright orange and scarlet sleeve fluttering in the breeze.

The guard looked at the pair. "So… are you two… related… or something?"

"No, sir, we are not!" declared Pin Yo Yi. She grinned broadly. "Our similar names are a highly amusing coincidence which we have chosen to highlight in the name of our show!"

"We think it's an excellent gimmick," explained Yi Yo Pin.

Pin Yo Yi nodded at that. "It draws attention to our thrilling, wondrous performance!"

"Full of thrills and wonders!" explained Yi Yo Pin.

"And a dancing lemur!" said Pin Yo Yi.

Yi Yo Pin nodded, and clapped his hands together. "That's your cue, Kuku!"

A little flying lemur popped out of the cart, flapped around and then landed on the cart driver's head, spreading its wings like a cape. It then began to dance around.

Pin Yo Yi cheered. "Go, Kuku! Go! YAAAAAY!"

The guard gave the cart driver a glance of sympathy, then looked at the two entertainers. "So… what exactly IS your act? Aside from the entire… dancing lemur…"

"We are acrobats," said Pin Yo Yi with a flourish.

"We are magicians," said Yi Yo Pin at the same time, and with a flourish of his own.

The guard stared at them, clearly skeptical. "So… which is it? Are you acrobats, or magicians?"

The pair shared a sly smile. "Yes," they declared together. Suddenly, Pin Yo Yi and Yi Yo Pin leapt from the wagon, landing gracefully on the ground. They bowed, and then vaulted simultaneously over the cart. They grabbed each other's hands as they passed, and twirled around in the air before once again landing easily on the ground. Gesturing at each other, they each clasped their hands together, and then pulled them apart. In Pin Yo Yi's was a bright orange lily-in Yi Yo Pin's was a dark red rose. The pair tossed their flowers into the air, and then leapt up after them. When they came down again, each now bore the other's flower, which they were sniffing deeply. The pair then turned, and tossed a pair of scarves at each other, which they deftly grabbed. The scarves unfurled into a banner that read 'Applaud If Astonished.' The two performers gave a deep bow.

The guard nodded and clapped, impressed despite himself. He looked at the cart driver, who still had little Kuku dancing on his head. "And you?"

The driver looked at him blearily. "They need someone to drive the cart, and count the money. That's my job. And that's it."

"And Kuku's still dancing!" cooed Pin Yo Yi, as she furled up the banner. "What a trooper!"

Yi Yo Pin clapped enthusiastically.

The guard turned and opened the gate. "Well - I'll give you guys credit - it looks like you have one great act."

"You should see our REAL tricks!" declared Yi Yo Pin as he got back in the cart.

"We cross a wire over the highest part of town - and we dance on it!" said Pin Yo Yi.

"While spinning plates," added Yi Yo Pin.

"And yodeling," finished up Pin Yo Yi. Kuku leapt onto her lap. "Oooh, there's a good little lemur. Yes, you are! Yes you are!"

The guard watched as the cart entered the city, and made a mental note to try and catch the performance.

The cart driver glanced at his two passengers. "Pin Yo Yi and Yi Yo Pin? Laatya, what were you thinking?"

The young woman shrugged and fiddled with Kuku's ears. "I thought they sounded appropriately dramatic!"

The driver frowned. "We are just lucky he didn't stop the cart, and turn us away. Possibly even arrest us."

"It was fun!" declared Laatya. She turned to the young man who'd been calling himself 'Yi Yo Pin'. "Wasn't it, Kaizen?"

Kaizen nodded. "You know I'm all about fun." He scratched fitfully at the collar of his shirt. "Well, that and spiritual enlightenment. And that was most assuredly fun!" He clapped his hands together. "The best part was all that practice paid off! We performed the act perfectly!"

Laatya waved her hands cheerfully "Yay!" Kuku imitated his mistress

The driver shook his head. "I don't want to know how many hours you two wasted learning all that."

"Sixteen!" announced Laatya

The driver gave a frustrated growl. "I said…" He sighed and shook his head. "Never mind. Just remember, we are trying to AVOID attracting notice this time." He stopped the cart for a moment, and turned back to look at the pair fixedly. "Avoid, you two. Avoid."

Kaizen crossed his arms. "Relax, Indrik. I'm certain we can operate with discretion and subtlety."

"Look, look! Kuku and I are dancing!" said Laatya, tugging on the lemur's arms.

Indrik turned away, and groaned. With weary resignation, he started the cart again.

"Oh, don't worry!" said Laatya. "I have a good feeling about this town!"

"Laatya, you've had good feelings about every town we've visited," said Indrik grimly. "Including the ones where we left fleeing angry mobs." He shuddered. "Actually no. Especially the ones were we left fleeing angry mobs."

"Consider it from another point of view, Indrik," said Laatya cheerfully. "Something good always happens to us. Before all the screaming, and the yelling, and the people trying to hit us with sharp objects, there is always a moment of joy. So those feelings were always justified on some level. There is good in almost anything, if you know where to look for it."

"Words to live by," said Kaizen.

Indrik nodded, and bit his lips nervously. "Yeah. That's… deep. The Avatar is going to love you two." He ruefully shook his head.





Kyoshi chewed her pickled pear fitfully and stared at the 'Astounding Two-headed Pig-Deer', trying to decide if the second head were real or not. "So how are you liking the great big world outside Koi Valley, kid?" asked Kato, leaning on a nearby stall.

"My twenty-first birthday is coming up in a few months," said Kyoshi, glancing at her uncle wearily. "I'm the Third Warrior, who your brother himself commended for my actions against those pirates. I'm a head taller than you. And you still call me 'kid'."

Kato shrugged. "What can I say? No matter what happens or how many years go by, to me you'll always be the little girl who used to run around the village, splashing in mud puddles, and screaming at the top of her lungs, convincing all her neighbors that she was half-mad..."

The tall Koi Valley Warrior woman slouched forward with a sigh. "You are so lucky we're kin."

"Oh, I wouldn't call that luck," said Kato with a smile. "We're from Koi Valley - everyone there's kin to some degree or another."

Kyoshi rolled her eyes. "Well, then you're lucky you married my aunt."

"Extremely lucky, a fact that I daily thank the Spirits for," agreed Kato. "Anyway, you didn't answer my original question. What does Warrior Kyoshi think of the world outside Koi Valley?"

Kyoshi stepped over a bit of garbage. "Noisy, smelly, and less impressive than it imagines." She shrugged. "Really, I can't wait to be home."

Kaede approached. "Hey, you two. Enjoying the Gaoling Spring Festival?"

Kato gestured to Kyoshi with a sweeping wave of his hand. "Your niece finds it an unimpressive foul din."

"That's not what I said," noted Kyoshi with a frown.

"It's surprisingly close," replied Kato, putting an arm around his wife.

Kaede returned the favor. "Well, aren't you the little sourpuss?" she said to Kyoshi, smiling.

"I think you mean 'the great big sourpuss'," pointed out Kato.

"Good call, dear," laughed Kaede.

Kyoshi glared at the pair. "Look, I didn't say I hated it. It's just… not all that fantastic." She gestured to the stalls, filled with jars. "It looks like its mostly an excuse to make money for the Beifongs by unloading a lot of cheap wine and pickles…"

Kato snorted. "And what's wrong with pickles? I seem to remember a certain someone gorging herself on pickled fruit two nights in a row on the trip up here…"

Kyoshi gripped her stomach and looked vaguely queasy. "Please don't remind me about that."

"Anyway, you're being too dismissive," declared Kaede with a wave. "There's so much to do here! You can look at the animals! Or the crafts! Watch the Earthbending matches! Catch up on what's happening in the world outside Koi Valley…"

"Let me guess," said Kyoshi, "people are fighting for stupid reasons? Chin and the Lord of Waves are still going around terrorizing people? Times are hard?" She frowned. "I don't need to leave home to learn that 'yup, everything is still screwed-up'. I can pretty much guess."

Her rather dumbfounded uncle and aunt were still looking for a suitable reply for that when the herald standing in the center of the square began to speak. "We are pleased to announce that Lord Chin, the Great Earth-Shaking Master has defeated another army lead by the bloodthirsty Gong Wa, sent by the Tyrant of Ba Sing Se in a futile effort to destroy Chin's Spirit-Mandated rule, and that his success has forced the vicious Sima Ye to retreat from the Kolau Mountains! A thousand thanks that our nation is protected by a ruler as far-sighted and able as Lord Chin the Mighty, whose Bending shakes the very pillars of Earth!"

Quite a few people in the crowd turned to cheer. The Koi Valley Warriors were not among them. The Valley's Society of Warriors had after all been created by the 22nd Earth King, pledged to protect his lands and fight his battles, and its modern day descendents liked to think they remained faithful to this vow in the reign of the 42nd Earth King. True, the Koi Valley Warriors hadn't actually been called on to do any fighting in the King's battles since the 24th Earth King - true, the miniature in their Imperial Shrine was supposedly one of the 39th Earth King, all requests to the capital for a new one having either not reached it, or been ignored. (And in fact, a close inspection of the miniature revealed it was actually one of noted opera performer Yun Lan Fat in his signature role of Mighty Tigerdillo King. Which begged the question when had they lost the actual miniature of that Earth King, as Yun Lan Fat had been dead for over thirty years.)

But these things were ephemeral to the Koi Valley Warriors - the Kings of Ba Sing Se had created them to serve and asked for their loyalty, and the Warriors gave it to them, even if it appeared that the Kings were no longer aware they existed. Listening to people praising and cheering the deeds of a man who boasted he was going to topple the Kings of Ba Sing Se from their hereditary throne…

Well, it grated.

"Just two years ago," said Kaede quietly, "that man was praising Gong Wa and Sima Ze as the 'great defenders of our land from the predations of the rebel bandit chief, Chin the Wicked'."

"Can't blame the Beifongs for following the way the wind's blowing," said Kato. "They've got a city to rule, after all…"

The herald waited for the cheers and applause to die down. "In celebration of his momentous victory, the Great Earth-Shaking Master is pleased to announce that he is increasing his reward for information that leads to the discovery of the Avatar to sixty gold pieces, while any individual bringing Lord Chin the Avatar in the flesh will be granted six hundred gold pieces, and the honorary title 'Great and Revered Friend of the Earth Kingdom'."

Kaede chuckled cynically. "Gee wonder what that's about?"

"Maybe he just wants to give the Avatar a stern talking to," said Kyoshi, placing her hands on her hips. "I know I would. If he were here in front of me, I'd say, 'You're the Avatar! Fix things!'" she proclaimed, emphasizing it with a wagging finger.

"And of course," said Kato, "he'd listen because who could withstand the mighty Kyoshi of Koi Valley?"

Kyoshi nodded. "Pretty much."

Kaede shook her head. "Well, at least your ego matches the rest of you," she noted.

The trio made their way through the stalls. "Hey, it's not like I'd threaten him," said Kyoshi. "Just… you know… nudge him in the right direction."

"Right. Nudge." Kato suppressed a snort. "This is just like when I caught you pretending to fight Chin when you were fourteen."

"It is NOT!" said Kyoshi.

"'Beware, Chin!" declared Kato in a high voice. "'Your reign of terror is over!'"

Kyoshi winced and covered her face with her hand. "Shut UP!"

"'I, Kyoshi the Brave, shall be your doom!'" continued Kato.

Kyoshi glanced at her aunt. "Why did you marry him?"

"Oh, he makes me laugh," said Kaede. "Also he fills out a uniform very nicely."

"Secret Tunnel," sang a minstrel on a street corner. "Secret Tunnel! Through the mountain - Secret Tunnel!" His performance had acquired a small audience in the form of a young man and woman wearing rather bright, gaudy clothing, which the young man had decided to top off with a very large straw cap for some strange reason. The pair were swaying so enthusiastically to the tune that the Koi Valley Warriors wound up giving them a wide berth.

"Tourists," muttered Kaede, with a rueful shake of her head.

"At least they're enjoying themselves here," noted Kato. "As opposed to a certain giant grump."

"Just let it die, you two," seethed Kyoshi.

"Hey, look at the pretty ladies from Koi Valley," said a burly looking man across the street, a sledgehammer on his belt. "You girls going to adjust your makeup?"

The trio paused for a moment and waved their left arms in unison. The burly man toppled off-balance as the ground at his feet tilted. "Our Warrior's Face Paint is perfect," said Kato. "Though my wife and niece shall take your comments on their appearance as a compliment." The man got back on his feet, his hand going to his hammer. The three Warriors swiftly wheeled around, taking a fighting stance. The man regarded them for a moment, let his hammer go, and backed away.

"Do you guys think that maybe - just maybe - it's time for the Warriors to… update our uniforms?" suggested Kyoshi.

Kato and Kaede both frowned. "It's not our fault everyone else abandoned the proper ways," said Kato severely. "And that is no reason to give them up."

Kaede nodded. "Right. Koi Valley does not abandon what has served it well. And if random jerks don't like it, we will destroy them."

The three stopped before a booth, and turned to face the street once again. "Your store is once again secure, sir!" proclaimed Kaede. "My apologies for having left you unguarded."

The handsome, sleepy-eyed young man sitting at the counter regarded the three Warriors with quiet amusement. "And amazingly, no robbery, assault, or act of mass banditry occurred in the fifteen minutes you were gone."

Kaede sighed. "You know we're just trying to keep your father happy, Tatsuya. He's an important man, and when he says up the security, we up it. Even if it means sending out a third of the Warriors…"

"Which would be more impressive if we didn't number in the single digits," muttered Kato. His wife and niece glared at him. "But still very impressive!" He turned to Tatsuya. "And it's not like your father is worried over nothing," he added. "Bandits and pirates are getting worse. You remember last year…"

"Where we were 'raided' - and I use the term loosely - by a bunch of desperate, starving men on the run from the Lord of Waves?" said Tatsuya. "Who, I recall, we handily beat back."

"Just because they were desperate and starving doesn't mean they weren't dangerous," said Kaede. She frowned. "In fact, I'd say it suggests the opposite."

"That's not what I meant, Kaede," said Tatsuya. "My point is Koi Valley's hardly a major target. Honestly, I'm half convinced that upping the guards might actually increase the risk of being robbed by convincing people there's something worth robbing…" He looked at Kyoshi apologetically. "Not that I mind having you guys around, but I'd rather it was as people, instead of an armed escort."

"So… how are the sales going?" asked Kyoshi, in the hope of changing the subject.

"I've managed to keep us all in wine and honey for another year," replied the young merchant. He gestured to a collection of jewelry to his side. "I've even managed to sell a bit of my woodwork and scrimshaw pieces."

Kyoshi beamed. "Well, that's great, Tatsuya."

Tatsuya smiled back at her. "You know, I saw some lovely Fire Nation silverwork for sale down the way. And some remarkable miniatures I was hoping to examine."

"And you just happen to need a skilled bodyguard?" Kyoshi declared, leaning forward to look him in the eye.

"More, I'd like to go look at it with you," Tatsuya replied earnestly.

Kyoshi was thankful that the makeup covered her blush somewhat as her aunt and uncle laughed gently. "Ummm… well, sure… if that's what… you'd like… I'll go to… keep an eye on you."

Tatsuya gave a deep bow. "Excellent!" He turned to a short figure slumbering on a chair nearby, and shook it gently. "Michiyo can watch the shop for a moment." The figure gave a grunt. Tatsuya increased his shaking mildly. "Michiyo. Sister of mine."

The young woman stirred fitfully, emerging from her cocoon of disheveled auburn hair. Opening her eyes, she glared at her brother. "What?" she stated at length.

"Kyoshi and I are checking out those shops I mentioned to you earlier," answered Tatsuya, as he picked up his walking stick. "I'd like you to watch the shop." Michiyo glared at her brother, mumbling to herself. "Thanks," said Tatsuya, gracefully vaulting over the stall's counter. Michiyo grumbled to herself as Kyoshi took Tatsuya's hand.

Kaede smiled as the pair walked away. "They are such a cute couple," she said.

Kato nodded. "Mmm-hmmm."

Michiyo scowled and blew a stray lock of hair out of her face.

"So what do you think?" asked Tatsuya, holding up a fine silver necklace.

Kyoshi lightly toyed with the bracelet of red wooden beads she wore on her left wrist. "You know I prefer your work, Tatsuya," she answered.

"You're flattering me," said the young merchant, putting the necklace down. "A woman like you should be in silver and gold."

"Now you're flattering me." Kyoshi raised her sleeve and gestured to her insignia. "Anyway, I have the gold part covered."

Tatsuya stepped forward, and looked up into her eyes. "I suppose you do."

Kyoshi was about to lean forward when she felt a tugging at her side. "Excuse me, good sir," came a soft voice, "but I was wondering if you indeed are an Earthbender as your garb suggests?" Kyoshi turned to see a short young girl with long brown hair, dressed in a somewhat outlandish costume of bright orange and yellow, with images of songbirds and flying lemurs sewed into it. For a moment, Kyoshi considered ignoring the question, but the girl was staring at her so intently with her big, grey eyes that the Earthbender relented.

"Yes," answered Kyoshi. "But I'm a woman."

The girl gave an embarrassed gasp, and idly scratched at the green headband she wore. "Oh, a thousand apologies, good lady. I fear I was misled by a combination of your garb and your immense stature." She looked Kyoshi up and down. "May I state you are the tallest woman I have ever seen?" She suddenly darted her tiny foot forward, comparing it to Kyoshi's. "My goodness! Your feet are enormous!"

Kyoshi took a deep breath as she reminded herself that she would likely get into trouble if she Earthbent this girl into a wall, and regarded her inquisitor. "Were you raised in seclusion," she asked, voice dripping with sarcasm, "and thus have next to no idea how to act in public?"

The girl gave another excited gasp and started jumping up and down. "Oh my! You are so magnificently perceptive! That is my condition precisely!" She gave an excited squeal, then turned around and waved frantically. "Ohhh! Associates! You must meet this woman! She is not only an Earthbender, but possesses skills of incredible insight! She correctly guessed the manner of my upbringing!" Kyoshi turned to Tatsuya, nonplussed. He gave her a baffled shrug.

As a short young man with a wide-brimmed straw hat and a lemur on his shoulder crossed the street, Kyoshi realized that the pair were the over-excited tourists from earlier. Kyoshi winced and wondered how she'd offended the Spirits. "Hail and well met!" said the young man. "I do hope my associate's enthusiasm has not displeased you." He bowed. "A Koi Valley Warrior, am I correct?"

Kyoshi nodded. "On the nose." She turned away, smiling. "Did the clothing give it away?"

The young man - actually, on closer inspection, she'd lean towards calling him a 'boy' - nodded, his lemur flying over to the girl. "Indeed. That is the Classical Era garb of an Earthbending Warrior, now only worn by four groups in the Earth Kingdom; the Imperial Guards of the Avatar Shrine and the Royal Guards of Taka, both on state occasions; Koi Valley Warriors; and opera performers. Given your gender, the distances involved, and the fact that there is no opera troupe near…"

"Yes, yes, yes," said Kyoshi with a frustrated sigh. "I get it. An astonishing deduction on your part." She looked at him seriously. "I'm guessing you get out about as often as your…" She turned to the girl, who was now running around in a circle, chasing the lemur. "…Associate."

The boy chuckled. "We have both lived fairly… cloistered lives, in many respects." He smiled brightly. "Still, we are also enjoying our first real taste of the world! The wind at our backs! The road ahead of us! A thousand glorious sights!" The flying lemur landed on his hat, tipping it forward so it covered his eyes. He and the girl began waving their hands to get it off.

"Bad Kuku! Bad!" said the girl. "Daddy needs to see!"

"Okay, you two," came a calm, weary voice. "What did I say about needing to stick together and…" A lanky man in blue and white clothing with a scruffy brown beard strolled up to the group, his expression a mixture of resignation and quiet desperation. "Not bothering people," he finished. He looked at Kyoshi and Tatsuya. "I am so, so sorry."

"It's all right," said Tatsuya.

Kyoshi narrowed her eyes at the apparently oblivious young pair. "Right. It's not your fault." She leaned forward and looked significantly at the young man and woman, hoping to get the point across.

The point missed by a significant margin. "This woman is an Earthbender! A most perceptive Earthbender! From Koi Valley!" said the girl, with a wave of her hand.

The man nodded, and began to rub his temples. "Very… very nice." He turned and gestured down the street. "You know I saw some amazing knick-knacks over that way. Exceptionally shiny ones."

The young pair began to fidget nervously, as the boy adjusted his hat so that he could see again. They looked back and forth between Kyoshi and the stalls the man was pointing to, then after a moment's thought, darted off towards the stalls, the girl squealing all the way.

The man took a deep breath. "Again, sorry about that. They are a handful sometimes." He shrugged. "Sometimes I think wild hog-monkeys would be easier to handle. Nobody yells when you put them in cages."

Kyoshi crossed her arms, as she watched the pair start rooting through the knick-knacks. "Let me guess - they're a couple of wealthy spoiled brats out for the first time in the real world, and you've been hired to protect them?"

The man thought it over. "That's… pretty much it."

"Well, at least they're enjoying themselves," said Tatsuya, watching the two enthusiastically toss their prospective purchases back and forth.

The man gave a tired nod. "Yeah. Yeah. They're blithe spirits." He offered the pair his hand. "I'm Indrik. Water Tribe." He raised an eyebrow. "Northern Water Tribe. The not-crazy ones. In case you were wondering."

Tatsuya shook it. "Tatsuya of Koi Valley. Kind of odd to see one of you this far south…"

"It's a long, tedious story that I'd rather not get into now," said Indrik, shaking Kyoshi's hand.

"Warrior Kyoshi, also of Koi Valley," she stated. She cracked a smile. "Does the story involve pirates?"

Indrik frowned. "Oddly enough it does. Also, quite a few voracious animals, a spate of angry mobs, and a great deal of bad weather."

"Doesn't sound that tedious," noted Tatsuya.

"You didn't live through it," answered Indrik. He sighed. "These days, I'm mostly just hoping to get back home. Alive, and in one piece."

Kyoshi glanced down the street, and clicked her tongue. "Your creepy charges are staring at me again."

Indrik turned and saw the pair glancing at Kyoshi, giggling to each other. "Oh, monkeyfeathers," he muttered. "Look, I better go keep an eye on them. You've gotten a sample of what happens when I don't." With a bow, he jogged off down the street.

Tatsuya and Kyoshi looked at one another for a long time. "What extraordinarily weird people," Kyoshi finally stated.

Tatsuya twirled his walking stick lightly in his hands, and nodded.

"Well, nice going you two," said Indrik to Kaizen and Laatya as he hurried them away from the stall, their arms full of knick-knacks. "You've managed to convince those nice people from Koi Valley that you are a pair of freakish weirdoes." He considered adding that he thought those nice people had the right of it, but decided against it.

"Indrik," said Laatya quietly, "don't you realize who that Earthbender was?" She leaned towards him, and whispered, "That was the Avatar!"

Indrik nodded. "Right. And I'm Fire Lord Zairen, and you're Fire Lord Raiza, and Kuku…" He stared at the lemur for a moment. "He's the great Fire Spirit, here to bid us make peace for the good of the nation." Kuku stared at Indrik and chirped.

"That would be neat," said Laatya. "But we are not. However, that Earthbender IS the Avatar."

"You ARE serious?" muttered Indrik tiredly.

Kaizen nodded. "While I am not so certain as Laatya, I do think it likely. Her aura is exceedingly promising."

Indrik winced. "Aura-reading" was a bit of lunacy that had begun with the Fire Sages, and been transmitted, as such things usually were, to the Air Nomads. Its devotees swore that those who learnt to read "auras" could come to possess a preternatural discernment of the moods and mystical affiliations of others-its detractors insisted that it just allowed gullible idiots to convince themselves they possessed a magical ability to know things about others.

Indrik found the fact that Kaizen and Laatya were among its aficionados… not surprising

"Well, that's… great," muttered Indrik. "In that case, assuming your guess is right, you've managed to convince the Avatar that you're a pair of freakish weirdoes." He sighed. "Can you at least understand why I'm not thrilled about that?"

"It's not a guess," said Kaizen. "She fits every one of the portents we have discovered on our journey. She looks to be the right age. The signs definitely point to her being the Avatar. And if we are right, that means our search is at an end." He smiled brightly. "After only ten months! A new record!"

"Yeah, ten months, and oh, yes, twenty years," said Indrik. "Don't think they'll be putting this one in the record scrolls, guys."

Kaizen glanced at Indrik, his face taking on that set look Indrik knew so well. "Well, they don't have to. The important thing is - the Avatar is found. The restoration of the balance can begin."

"Because that's what the Avatar does," said Indrik, the bitter sarcasm welling up despite his efforts to stop it. "Fixes everything."

Kaizen frowned. "It is what the Avatar can do, Indrik. Not what the Avatar invariably will do." He gently grabbed the older man's arm. "It is my hope that this new Avatar will heal many rifts. Including the one in your heart, my friend."

Indrik pulled away. "Yeah. Peachy." He gave his arm a fitful shake. "Thanks for the kind thoughts. Look, I'll get the spearhead, we can run the test, and see…" He looked at Laatya. "You seem quiet all of a sudden."

Laatya nodded. "Aside from my joy at meeting the Avatar, I'm worried about Ipsi and Shun." She sniffled. "I think this is the longest our little babies have been without us." She sniffled. "Poor dears."

Indrik rubbed his temples. "Yeah. Your poor… little babies. Your poor, gigantic, slobbering little babies."

Laatya smiled at him. "They love you too, Indrik."

"And demonstrate with loads, and loads of slobber," said Indrik with a grimace. "Anyway, don't worry - they'll be fine. We will finish up our business here, and we will go back to them, and I will return that cart and ostrich-horse to the farmer, and I will get my deposit back, and everything will be fine!" He looked at Laatya and Kaizen pointedly. "FINE!"

Laatya, Kaizen, and Kuku all nodded in agreement, with Kuku even chirping his assent.

"...practicing my Warrior's stance under a tree while a cool breeze swept over me, instead of being accosted by a pair of freakish weirdoes in public and having to endure highly irritating conversation!" ranted Kyoshi as she walked down the lane.

"You really should let the matter rest, Kyoshi," said Tatsuya. "After all - it's not like you can somehow have that conversation... unhappen. Consider it- one of the best parts of travel. Seeing new and interesting sights."

Kyoshi snorted. "I'd say those two are proof that one person's 'interesting' is another person's 'annoying'."

Tatsuya shrugged. "It's all in one's perception."

Kyoshi rolled her eyes. "Right. Is that another bit of wisdom you picked up at the feet of your kooky master?" She looked at him pointedly. "Wait, don't answer that. I believe we were in the middle of something before Ms. 'Raised In A Box' interrupted us."

"Were we?" said Tatsuya, turning towards her.

"Yes, we were," said Kyoshi, placing her hands on his shoulders, and leaning forward.

Tatsuya got on his tiptoes and kissed her.

When the kiss ended, he smiled at Kyoshi. "Every time this happens," said Tatsuya, "you make me the happiest man in Koi Valley."

"We're not in Koi Valley," noted Kyoshi.

"A mere detail," said Tatsuya, with a wave of his hand.

"Besides," she said, with a wry smile, "it's not like I had a lot of choice. You're the only guy I know who's anywhere near my height. Anyone else would have to get a ladder."

"Lots of them would consider it worth it, Kyoshi," said Tatsuya.

The Warrior turned away. "Again with the flattery," she said cheerfully. "I'll say this for you, Tatsuya - you have a smooth tongue."

"And you would know," he said.

Kyoshi nudged him gently in the ribs. "Enough of that. Don't make me regret liking you."

Tatsuya bowed. "The lady's wish is my command."

Kyoshi was considering what to say to that, when something caught her interest. "…Men of might," shouted the white-haired barker. "Smashing rocks together! That is what you shall see in our Earthbending matches! Can anyone defeat MORI, THE MAN-MOUNTAIN? Whose Earthbending shall prove SUPREME?"

"Hmmm." Kyoshi glanced at Tatsuya. "What was that you were saying about my wishes being commands?"

Tatsuya frowned. "You really want to see those guys throwing rocks at each other, don't you?"

"Hey!" said Kyoshi. "Earthbending is not just about tossing rocks around! It is an art of making the landscape both your defense and your offense, about subtly probing for weakness, and then exploiting it with a perfectly timed attack!" She nodded. "And rock-hurling also, of course. Won't deny it's a big part of it. A big, extremely fun part of it." She fidgeted. "Yep. I love to hurl me some rocks."

"And watching others do it will let you enjoy that vicariously?" asked Tatsuya.

"I might pick up a few good tricks," said Kyoshi. "I'm kind of worried about… plateauing. I mean, I can already beat everyone in Koi Valley. Seeing how they fight in the big wide world might… well, keep me from getting rusty."

Tatsuya nodded. "But mostly, you just want to see them throw rocks at each other, right?"

Kyoshi pouted and gave him the doe-eyes. "Please?"

Tatsuya sighed. "You know I can't resist the doe-eyes," he noted as he began to walk towards the barker.

Kyoshi nodded. "They are the most potent weapon in my arsenal of feminine wiles." She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. "Thanks."

"Brother!" came a loud shout. Tatsuya and Kyoshi turned to see a young woman in simple green shift tugging on the sleeve a similarly garbed young man. "Don't do this!"

"I have to, Li Sun!" announced the young man portentously. "The honor of the Sun dojo is at stake! Would you have the spirits of our ancestors look upon us in shame?"

"But it is all the money we have!" said Li Sun, continuing to cling anxiously to her brother.

"Let go, woman!" shouted the young man. "This is a matter of honor! Of men! Do you wish our family dojo to vanish?"

"But brother!" wailed Li Sun.

Kyoshi glanced at Tatsuya. "And that little twerp swore there wasn't an opera troupe in town."

"Thanks for getting us all tickets," said Kato, as the group headed to the Earthbending Match.

"Ehh, only thing I could do," answered Tatsuya with a shrug. "Consider it payment for putting up with me and my bratty kid sister on this trip."

Michiyo glared at him, and then mumbled something inaudible.

Kyoshi tugged his sleeve. "Hey, would you look at that? It's those weirdoes from earlier!" Tatsuya turned to see the boy and girl in middle of what appeared to be an acrobatic act. The boy was balancing on one leg while holding a chair, on which the girl was performing a one-armed handstand. Suddenly, the pair tossed something to the ground. There was a brief puff of smoke - when it cleared the boy and girl had changed positions.

"They're actually pretty good," noted Tatsuya. He nudged his sister lightly with his walking stick. "Look at that, Michiyo," he said, as the girl tossed the chair away, and the boy managed a midair somersault that ended with him landing gracefully on the girl's shoulders.

Michiyo shrugged, and glanced back at her brother. "Eh." Tatsuya sighed, and then tossed a coin to Indrik, who was sitting nearby holding a hat filled with money.

Kaede looked at her niece. "I thought you said they were rich tourists."

"Apparently, they're rich tourists who do professional acrobatics on the side," answered Kyoshi.

"Out of the way, folks!" came a loud voice. "Important person coming through!" The line to the Earthbending match moved to the side.

Kyoshi turned to give whoever was causing the disturbance a piece of her mind, only to have Kato grab her shoulder lightly. "Careful." He gestured to a lantern-jawed man with a rather smug look, flanked by two armed guards. His clothing was rich robes, embroidered with what was probably gold - however it seemed rather wrinkled and disheveled, as if its owner did not take all that good care of it. Prominent among the various symbols on the robe was a flying boar. Kato raised an eyebrow. "That's Qing Beifong - Prefect Gao's brother. He's a drunk, and a bully." A frown came to her uncle's face. "He also serves as local magistrate. So not someone you want to cross."

Kyoshi snarled to herself as Magistrate Beifong made his way to the front of the line. "Honorable Qing Beifong," said the show's barker, bowing low. "A pleasure to have you here as always! Will you be taking your usual booth?"

"Send some wine up there, Ukita, with someone to pour it," said Qing with a laugh, as he walked into the arena.

"Is he as much a jerk as he seems?" asked Kyoshi.

"Worse, actually," muttered Kaede. She placed a hand on her niece's shoulder. "Don't let it bother you too much, dear. It's just the way things are, some times."

Kyoshi took a deep breath. "Yeah, I know. Still stinks." She smiled. "Buy, hey - Earthbending! Wooo! This is going to be great!"

Kyoshi leaned back in her chair, scowling. "This is so awful," she muttered.

"Yeah," said Tatsuya, wincing. "I'm not even a Bender, and I can tell this is a put-on."

In the arena below, Mori the Man-Mountain - who really more resembled a large ball of fat than a mountain - was facing his latest opponent, the Koi Valley Warriors' 'friend' from earlier with a sledgehammer. The match seemed to mostly consist of lots grunting at each other, followed by amateurish bending attacks that never actually seemed to land on the people they were supposedly aimed at.

Not that this mattered to the Man-Mountain's opponents, who had a tendency to flop down on the ground when a boulder landed in their rough vicinity, as Hammer Guy was presently demonstrating.

Kato glanced at Kyoshi. "So… learning anything, kid?"

"The limits of human gullibility," muttered Kyoshi. She shook her head. "This… how can they keep a farce like this running?"

Ukita marched into the center of the ring. "Another victory for the fearsome MAN-MOUNTAIN!" He looked over the crowd. "Can any stand against his fearsome might? Does any among the audience care to pit themselves against the epitome of Earthbending?" Ukita produced a sack of coins. "Fifty in silver to the Bender who can last ten minutes against him! Five HUNDRED to the one who can defeat him!" Ukita bowed. "A slight stake will, of course, be needed to try your luck - or should I say 'skill'?"

"Oh," said Kyoshi. "That's how."

Kaede sighed. "Let's see what poor rube bites," she said sadly.

"I shall try it!" came a loud voice. "I, Sanguro Sun, will prove the power of the Sun family Earthbending school by pitting myself against your so-called champion."

Tatsuya rolled his eyes. "Ahh. It's dojo boy."

Kyoshi winced. "Oh, this will be painful."

"Brother! No!" said Li Sun, tugging on her brother's sleeve.

"Enough," said Sanguro, pulling his arm away. He walked proudly to the ring, and tossed a small bag of coins at Ukita, who grabbed it quickly, then moved out of the way. Sanguro took his fighting stance. "All right, Man-Mountain!" shouted the young Earthbender. "Prepare to see what the Sun style can do!" Ukita blew a horn, starting the match. With a flex of his arms, he sent two rocks hurtling at Mori.

The 'Man-Mountain' caught them easily, with a speed and skill he'd hardly been displaying before.

"Wow," said Kato flatly. "Didn't see that one coming."

Sanguro dodged the boulders as Mori tossed them back at him. With a roll and kick, he produced a tall pillar of earth that he launched at his opponent. The Man-Mountain stiffened his stance and caught the pillar. The edges of it fell to dust, leaving Mori holding a very large boulder that he hurled at Sanguro. It struck the young Earthbender straight on, sending him toppling. As Sanguro fell, Mori struck him from the side with another rock, then had a large block rise from the floor. Sanguro smashed against it. His sister gave a startled cry. With a moan, the young man rose unsteadily.

Kyoshi frowned. "This…" She shook her head. "This is just cruel. They're already taking his money - do they have to take everything else as they do it?" She bit her lip. "Who could enjoy watching this?"

Tatsuya gestured to Qing Beifong, who was seated in a box, sipping wine and chuckling to himself. As he finished a bowl, he handed it to the pretty woman at his side, who refilled it.

Kyoshi glared at the oblivious magistrate. "All right. That one figures."

In the ring, Sanguro was launching another desperate attack at the approaching form of Mori, who side-stepped it, then grabbed his opponent and tossed him to the ground. The hulking man pressed his foot into Sanguro's chest. "You finished yet?" Mori said, with hateful glee.

Sanguro squirmed desperately, trying to break free. Mori raised his fist and prepared to strike.

"NOOOO!" Li Sun stood up and rushed down to the arena. "I… he gives in! He's finished!"

Sanguro winced and shut his eyes. "Sister…"

Li Sun took a fighting stance. "I - I will defend the honor of the Sun dojo!" She took a deep breath, and tried to look intimidating. "Well? Do you accept my challenge?"

Ukita stepped back into the ring. "Ahh, young miss," he said pleasantly. "While the Man-Mountain would be more than happy to accept your challenge, a stake must be offered to hold a match." He smiled. "Arena rules."

Li Sun bit her lip. "I… I don't have any money…"

"Oh, my," said Ukita, clicking his tongue. "Such a shame. I guess the family honor will simply have to take this blow."

The young woman shut her eyes. "I… I'll give you the deed to our dojo if you win. Okay?"

Ukita grinned. "That sounds excellent. Shall we… shake on it?" he declared, bringing his hand forward.

"No, you will NOT!" The pair turned to the arena's seats to see the speaker.

Kato pulled at Kyoshi's side. "Sit down, kid. Everyone's looking at us."

Kyoshi knocked her uncle's hand away. "This is sick," she proclaimed. She walked down towards the ring, and pointed at Ukita. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You and your partners aren't warriors - you're lousy conmen, running a cruel stupid scheme on desperate, gullible people." She gestured to Sanguro. "I admit, I wasn't necessarily averse to this moron learning a lesson."

"Hey," groaned Sanguro.

"Shut up, I'm defending you," declared Kyoshi, as she hopped into the ring. "But that's not what you did. You tricked him into thinking he had a chance against you, and then you tortured and humiliated him. And you made him pay you to do it. And now you're going to do the same thing to his sister - and not because she thinks she can win, but because she didn't want to see you hurting her brother. " She shook her head. "Only you won't. Because I won't let you." She took a fighting stance. "If anyone's fighting your 'Man-Mountain', it'll be me."

Kaede buried her face in her hands. "Oh, Suki is going to kill us."

Kato patted his wife's back. "Now, now, dear. You don't know that. She might just… maim us."

Ukita scowled at Kyoshi. "And why should my arena even accept the challenge of some Koi Valley hick?"

Kyoshi gestured to her insignia. "This is gold. That cover your stake?"

Ukita looked her over, scratching his chin. "By itself - no." He gave a knowing smirk. "But your entire uniform might cover it."

Kyoshi nodded. "Sounds like a deal."

"Very well." Ukita chuckled and turned away. "I'll let you keep it until after the fight. Don't want you to embarrass yourself too much during it."

"Gee, thanks," said Kyoshi with a slight sneer. "How remarkably chivalrous of you."

The Man-Mountain got into his fighting stance, leering at Kyoshi. "I think I'm gonna like this fight," he said.

"Hey, you can dream," replied Kyoshi, regarding him steadily as she loosened up in preparation for the match.

Li Sun, who was dragging her brother out of the ring, glanced at the Koi Valley Warrior. "Thank you," she said.

"Don't thank me yet," said Kyoshi. "The fight hasn't even begun."

Ukita blew his horn. Kyoshi swiftly raised her arms over her head, and dragged her right foot over the ground, then drew them all back in.

Mori gave a shout, as the ground he was standing on became fluid. The 'Man-Mountain' swiftly sunk into it, until he was buried in it up to his neck. Kyoshi grinned and walked towards her opponent. "You finished yet?" she asked, resting one oversized boot on his face.

"Hey! Hey! No fair!" howled Mori.

"It's a perfectly legitimate Earthbending move," said Kyoshi. "One any real Earthbender would know enough about to defend themselves from." She stretched her arms, and yawned. "Of course, it's pretty - tricky. Requires a lot of precision. It'd be very easy for me to just - crush you if my concentration were to break." She scratched herself idly. "Like if I had to hold it for - oh, ten minutes or so."

Mori gulped. "I submit! I submit!"

Kyoshi turned and walked towards Ukita. "Looks like I'll be keeping my uniform," she said, yanking the bag of coins out of his hands. As she left the ring, she tossed the bag to the Suns. "Now, you can thank me." She returned to the others.

Michiyo stared at her in awe. "That was cool!" she said.

As Kyoshi and the others left the arena, Ukita glanced at Magistrate Beifong. Qing finished his wine, and nodded.

Kyoshi smiled to herself as they reached the street.

"You could have at least kept some of the money," said Kaede, watching the Suns head away.

"Beating those bullies was its own reward," answered Kyoshi. She laughed. "Did you see the Man-Mountain's face?"

Kato tapped his niece on the shoulder. "Yes. Right now."

Kyoshi turned to see Mori and Ukita walking out onto the street. "I bet you thought you were pretty clever, running that scam," said Ukita.

Kyoshi frowned and took her fighting stance. "I think you two have taken a few too many blows to the head over the years. You apparently have me confused with you." She raised one fist. "That's a very good reason to avoid any trouble."

Ukita and Mori both took fighting stances of their own. "Oh, it's too late to avoid that, child," said Ukita. "I don't let people get away with humiliating me."

"Like you're in any position to do anything," said Kyoshi with a snort. "You know how good I am."

Kaede coughed. "Umm… Kyoshi…?"

"What…?" began Kyoshi, glancing to her aunt, only to see two of Mori's earlier opponents standing on the opposite side of the street. "Oh." She glared at Ukita. "Come on. It's only fo-five guys. Si-Seven weak opponents against three Koi Valley Warriors is no contest."

Kato, already in his fighting stance, sighed. "Do you understand why we didn't want you starting something, kid?"

"Look, ni-ten opponents isn't such a big deal," declared Kyoshi, frowning, as people she'd thought were audience members joined the mob. She glanced at two men who began to twirl chains around menacingly. "We can win this. Just because there's four-fifteen of them is no reason to lose heart."

Tatsuya looked at her, as he calmly twirled his walking stick around until rested it ready in his hands. "Do you listen to yourself when you say these things?"

Kyoshi shook her head. "No. That would make me dwell on them. Bad for confidence."

"What's this?" came a familiar voice.

Kaede took a deep, relieved breath. "Magistrate Beifong," she began. "These men have acco-"

"We are simply attempting to discipline these unruly rustics," said Ukita, "who just committed a brazen assault on my business, which you yourself witnessed."

Qing Beifong nodded. "Why, so I did." He glanced at Tatsuya and Michiyo. "The merchants are, of course, innocent bystanders, dragged in by their brutish guards' lack of respect for ordered society, and may, as a result, leave."

Tatsuya glared at the magistrate, his hands tightening on his walking stick. "If His Honor doesn't mind, we'd rather stay here." Michiyo stuck her tongue out at Qing.

The magistrate shrugged. "Your decision." He walked away, followed by his guards. "Have a good time disciplining these hoodlums, Ukita. The order in our city rests on law-abiding citizens such as yourself."

Kyoshi cupped a hand to her mouth. "You are scum, Qing Beifong! Do you hear me? SCUM!"

"Disrespecting a magistrate is a punishable offense," said Qing calmly, retreating into the distance.

"I am so sorry for this," muttered Kyoshi as the rocks came at them.

Kaede frowned. "Defensive pose first. Apologies later."

The Koi Valley Warriors raised a shell of stone to block the attack.

Indrik glanced at Kaizen. "So - shouldn't we… do something?"

Kaizen calmly leaned against the wall. "If we have to, we will."

Indrik watched as the crowd of Earthbenders and fighters closed in on Kyoshi and the others. "That… seems a bit cold."

"I believe you are the one who wanted us to avoid notice," replied Kaizen. He tapped his chin. "You seemed quite insistent on it, as I recall."

Indrik glared at the younger man. "I hate it when you get all devious on me."

Laatya placed a hand on Indrik's side. "She'll be fine. She's the Avatar. Even if you don't think she is."

"I never said that I di…" began Indrik.

Laatya wrinkled her nose. "Pfft. You thought it. Very loudly."

Indrik stared at her for a moment. "You can't read thoughts, Laatya." She smiled at him. "You can't read thoughts." She continued to smile. Indrik turned in the opposite direction, shut his eyes, and began to hum very loudly.

Kyoshi smashed the rock coming at her with a well-placed blow, then sent the fragments hurtling back towards her opponent. She was preparing to rush the poor man, when her aunt raised an arm. "Tight formation," said Kaede. "We act and fight as a unit. That is how we're going to get out of this." Kyoshi frowned, and settled for throwing the man off-balance by raising the ground behind him.

The Earthbender with a hammer rushed at the knot of Koi Valley Warriors from the side, raising a boulder to strike. Tatsuya turned, hitting him cleanly in the chest with his walking stick, then following that up with blows to the head and sides. As the man began to reel, Tatsuya swiftly tripped him.

"You know," said Kyoshi, "this is exactly why I keep telling you to actually carry a sword around. So that there's an actual point to learning sword-fighting."

Tatsuya snorted. "And I keep telling you, Kyoshi - if you carry a sword around, then every idiot who carries a sword around challenges you to fights, and drawing contests, and all these other pointless duels…"

Kyoshi sighed. "Right, right, right…"

"It's horrible way to live," continued Tatsuya. "So like Sifu says - only carry a blade when you mean to use it…"

Kyoshi rolled her eyes. "Got it, got it, got it…"

"The true warrior is a man of peace," he continued.

"Yes, yes, I know," said Kyoshi.

"Stop the love chatter," said Kaede.

Kato nodded. "Right. It may be cute, but it's also distracting. In a situation like this, you have to maintain a catlike awareness of what it going on, as I am-" Suddenly, Kato fell to the ground, a pair of bolas wrapped round his legs.

Kaede turned and launched a rock at the man who'd thrown them, only to be knocked down by a boulder thrown by Mori. Kyoshi and Tatsuya turned to face the closing circle of their foes. "Miyuchi, when we charge forward, you run," said Tatsuya. "Don't look back. Just run."

"I -" began his sister.

"No arguing," said Kyoshi.

"By the way, Kyoshi," said Tatsuya, reading his walking stick, "if we get out of this alive, will you marry me?"

Kyoshi blinked. "You're asking me this - NOW?"

"Might not get a second chance," answered Tatsuya.

"Would 'I'll consider it' be an acceptable answer?" asked Kyoshi.

"Of course," said Tatsuya with a nod. "Not trying to pressure you or anything. Just getting my intentions out there, while I can."

"Fair enough." Kyoshi gave a cry and rushed forward, kicking a massive stone at Mori. The Earthbender attempted to block it, but failed, toppling to the ground as it rammed into him. Ukita raised a boulder and hurled it at Kyoshi, who danced out of the way - only to fall off-balance when a chain wrapped around her legs. As a second chain wrapped around her waist, pinning her arms, Kyoshi watched as Ukita produced a very large earthen spike about where her head would land. She saw Tatsuya, struggling with a large man with a sword, staring at her in horror…

And then she felt something - happen inside her.

"Okay, NOW we do something," snapped Indrik.

Kaizen regarded the scene, and shook his head. "No," he replied.

"What are YOU…?" began Indrik, only to stop as he saw the stone spike placed before Kyoshi fall to pieces. As the chains broke, apparently having been scorched apart, a glowing light engulfed the Earthbender, who seemingly floated upright. Turning to her assailants, she waved her hands, sending the two men flying with a gust of wind.

Indrik stared in amazement, and noticed idly that Kaizen and Laatya were relaxing from what were, in fact, combat stances. He wondered when they'd gotten into them.

Many of her opponents were already throwing down their weapons, if they had them, and fleeing. Those few who remained were being downed by rockslides and fire bursts. Finally, she turned to Utika. The aging Earthbender began to back nervously away, only for Kyoshi to send him hurtling into the wall of his own arena. As her last opponent fell, the glow surrounding Kyoshi flickered and faded. The young Earthbender fell to her knees.

Kaizen nodded. "Now we do something." The trio walked forward together.

Kyoshi lay on the ground, trying to catch her breath. She felt enervated, as if she'd poured herself out doing… whatever that was, and now had to wait to refill. Her arms and legs were limp as noodles, her head was pounding, and her stomach was suggesting that it wouldn't mind emptying itself, if she was so inclined. "Kyoshi," came Tatsuya's voice. "Are… are you all right? Wha-what just happened?"

Kyoshi tried to say that she was asking those very questions, but all that would out of her mouth were gasps. As Tatsuya helped her to her feet, she saw her aunt and uncle both staring at her in wonder as they slowly stood up. And then she saw them-the boy and the girl and Indrik, all approaching her.

"Hail to you, Avatar!" said the boy, removing his straw hat and revealing a head that was shaved completely bald. "The Temples of Fire salute you!" As he said this, the hat came alight, quickly reduced into a little ball of flame that he tossed from hand to hand.

"Hail to you, Avatar!" said the girl, letting her bandanna fall, revealing a blue arrow that was tattooed to her forehead. "The Temples of Air salute you!" At this she waved her hand, producing a small swirling vortex of wind.

Indrik glanced at the pair. "Do I have to say it?" They nodded. "Fine," said Indrik, wearily, popping open a water skin he kept at his side. "Hail to you, Avatar. The Temples of Water salute you." A small blob of water emerged from the skin, and floated up to his hand, where it spun round and round.

"What was lost is now found!" the three Benders proclaimed together. (Though Indrik was, on close examination, speaking a beat behind the others.) "Master of the Four Elements! Bridge to the Spirit World! Keeper of the Balance! The line of Avatars endures! Let us help her on her way!"

" - his… her way," finished up Indrik, rolling his eyes. "Right. Got that done with."

Kaede and Kato stared at the trio. "What… what are talking about?" spat out Kaede. "I… are you saying Kyoshi is…?" She shook her head. "This is impossible! She's MY NIECE! Not the Avatar!"

The boy bowed. "I must respectfully differ. While she is certainly your niece, she is also the Avatar."

"Look," said Kyoshi weakly. "I… my aunt's right. I don't know what happened here, but - I'm not the Avatar. I'm only twenty!"

"Precisely the age the Avatar would be," proclaimed the girl.

"I'm from Koi Valley!" Kyoshi declared.

"That is immaterial," said the boy. "Wherever they are born, the Avatar is the Avatar."

"Who are you people?" snapped Kato.

"Something tells me they aren't tourists or acrobats," noted Tatsuya wryly.

"Actually, they kind of are," said Indrik. "But I guess proper introductions are in order." He gestured to the boy. "Baldy here is Fire Sage Kaizen. If he seems a bit young, that's because he is. Youngest Fire Sage on record."

Kaizen bowed. "I am honored to be at your service, Avatar."

Indrik gestured to the girl. "Miss Arrowhead is Laatya of the Western Air Temple, an Airbending Master."

"Like myself, the youngest on record," added Kaizen.

Laatya smiled at Kyoshi. "Grace and good fortune to you, Avatar."

"And I'm… pretty much who I said I was earlier," said Indrik. "Indrik of the Northern Water Tribe, Third Assistant Sub-Acolyte of the North Pole Avatar Temple." The Koi Valley folk all stared at him for a moment. "Yes," he said with a sigh, "it's a real title."

"So," said Tatsuya, "you're a Waterbending master…"

"Nope. Just a Waterbender," answered Indrik.

"But advanced for your age," suggested Kaede.

"No, not really," said Indrik. "Just a pretty normal Waterbending guy." He nervously rubbed his hands together. "I just bend water. Nothing too fancy about that." He looked at Kaede and Kato pointedly. "I mean you two - you're Earthbenders. And fancy uniforms aside, I'm betting you consider yourselves pretty normal, as Earthbenders go."

"Well…" began Kato.

"No reason to be vain, hon," said Kaede. "That's pretty much us. A couple of pretty normal Eathbenders." She sighed. "In fancy uniforms."

"And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that," declared Indrik, placing a hand on their shoulders. "We can't all be prodigies and Avatars. The world needs regular Benders to keep it going. Also the fancy uniforms are quite nice." The flying lemur fluttered onto his head, and chittered. "Yes, I was just getting to you." Indrik pointed to the creature. "Also this is Kuku, Laatya's pet lemur, who some of you have already met. He just follows us around, and eats things. Apparently, it's adorable."

"Ummm, hi," said Tatsuya waving at the little creature. Kuku waved back.

"All right," said Kyoshi, with a slight groan. "Assuming we believe what you say - and I'm going to give it try, because weird as it is, it isn't weirder than this whole situation - what are you doing here?"

"Avatar Kyoshi," answered Kaizen, "tradition mandates the Four Nations work as one to discover the new Avatar on the death of the old one. In this case… complications have lead to the search being… delayed. And… being rather more… limited than the norm." He smiled and laughed. "And yet we found you. Truly, destiny has guided our footsteps."

"By 'complications'" said Tatsuya, "you mean the wars. And the pirates. And things of a similar nature."

"Don't forget the malignant spirits!" added Laatya.

"I think the last bit covered them," said Tatsuya.

"To answer your question, yes, among other factors," said Kaizen. "It's really a long, complicated story that we will relate at some… more convenient time."

"Perhaps in the cells of our local jail," said Qing Beifong. Kyoshi turned to see him, standing at the edge of the street, surrounded by guards, one of whom was a thin man wielding a very large halberd, whose elaborate armor was decorated with the symbol of a flying boar. The magistrate gave her a rakish smile. "I have to admit, I am surprised. After the fight started, it occurred to me that Ukita and his boys might need some help, so I went to my little brother, and had him bring his city guards. No sooner do I return than I discover we have stumbled upon the Avatar." He shrugged. "On the whole, a lucky day."

The man with the halberd stepped forward and waved it menacingly. "Captain Er Beifong demands you surrender immediately."

"Who?" muttered Kyoshi.

"Me," answered the man, pointing to himself. "I am Captain Er Beifong of the Gaoling City Guard. Fear my might!" He twirled his halberd around in what was supposed to be a display of martial prowess, though this was blunted when he dropped the weapon mid-twirl.

Qing winced as his little brother scrambled to recover his weapon. "We do have a lot of guards. Enough to make coming with us a very wise choice."

"Hey!" said Er. "They should also fear my might! I'm scary and stuff!"

"We are not having this discussion now, Er," said Qing, rubbing his forehead.

Laatya and Kaizen stepped in front of the others. "Don't worry!" said the Airbender. "We'll handle this!"

"Pin Yo Yi and Yi Yo Pin!" shouted one of the guards. "Why?"

"We must confess to a falsehood!" declared Kaizen.

"We are not the harmless professional entertainers we presented ourselves as!" said Laatya. "But servants of the Temples of Air and Fire! And we will not let you arrest the Avatar!"

Qing glanced at his brother. "We are going to have to talk about your hiring practices," he said gesturing to the guard who was nervously gulping.

"Hey, I don't tell you how to do your job!" snapped Er. He stepped forward, readying his halberd.

The two benders stood between the guards and the others. For quite some time.

Kyoshi coughed. "Umm… aren't you going to do… something?"

"We are doing something," answered Kaizen.

Kyoshi stared at him. "I meant… shooting fire at people. Or something."

Kaizen blinked. "Shoot fire… at people? I think there's something of a misunderstanding here."

The Koi Valley residents glanced confusedly among themselves, as Indrik rolled his eyes. "Ummm, no," said Kaede. "You're a Firebender…"

"Yes, a Fire Sage," replied Kaizen. "A pacifist priest, dedicated to the use of Firebending for spiritual enlightenment and other peaceful purposes."

"So you learn how to shoot fire, to NOT use it on people," said Kyoshi flatly, staring at Kaizen in disbelief.

"Exactly!" answered Kaizen with a nod.

"I told you she was extraordinarily perceptive," said Laatya cheerfully.

Indrik coughed. "Yeah, I recommend you all start running. Now."

Kyoshi pulled away from Tatsuya. "Right."

"Kyoshi, are you sure…" began Tatsuya.

"I'm fine!" she said forcefully, wobbling a little as she started to run.

Er Beifong raised his halberd. "Men! ADVANCE!"

Kaizen shifted slightly. And the air before him burst into light.

Authors Notes:

First off, sorry for the wait. A combination of other projects and Book 2 of Korra making certain changes in my planned storyline necessary wound up putting this one on the backburner. I hope that it has been worth the wait-or failing that, doesn't leave you feeling completely cheated. If you can say this, then I consider my work not a complete waste of time.

Obviously, this Kyoshi seems a great deal more goofy than the figure whom Aang encounters in his meditations, but then the Aang Korra meets is a far cry from the goofy kid we all remember. The important thing to my mind is remembering that she will grow.

And once again, all characters not created by me are the intellectual property of Michael Dante DiMartino and Brian Konietzko.