Title: Of Spirits and Nomads
Author: fangirltothefullest (Tashi)
Rating: T [[For some swear words and darker themes ]]
Words in this chapter: 3,366
Summary: Rogue metalbenders have been kidnapping people and causing havoc. But when Team Avatar tries to stop them, Bolin is captured! Now, it’s up to Korra and her team to rescue him and discover the dark secrets the Nomads hidden in the mountains are keeping, and what they plan to do to Bolin, now that they have him alone……
Part 4: Attack and Betrayal
The hot springs were FABULOUS. Bolin didn’t even realize just how tight his muscles were until he slid into the hot water and felt himself melt like butter. “Well you look happy.” Li Chen stood about ten feet away, within the pagoda’s doorway, the screen pulled back. “I’ll send someone to call for you when dinner is ready.” He added, and turned. “You just relax and enjoy the waters okay?”
Bolin, water up to just under his nose, nodded and bubbled out a soft, “Okay~” He leaned back and closed his eyes, the wind blowing gently and coolly past his face in soft whispers. Everything was so quiet here… so nice and gentle and calming. He wished he could share this moment with Korra…. Let her see the stars he could see when he opened his eyes. No city lights to block it, no smoke and smog clouding up overhead…. just beautiful, clear skies speaking of daydreamed stories long ago. He missed her. He missed Mako too. Mako could relax here…. Bolin was positive he would finally feel safe and at ease if he had been here. Sighing, Bolin remembered that Mako was always worrying.
“I wish I could leave now and come back, but that would be rude…..” He sighed. He had been here for days already, but then he was unconscious, and being looked after by Li Chen. How could he leave after that? How could he up and disappear after they helped him? After they rescued him from the metalbenders and had showed him so many wonderful things? The goatelk were soft and Bolin, though a bit afraid of heights, had enjoyed the experience of riding on the animal’s back over the mountains.
And oh the mountains! He could feel the earth everywhere around him! Feel the dirt, the rocks, and the solid ground stretching for miles and miles below him when he took the time to think on it. The mountains were an earthbender’s paradise! Well… he could live without being so high up, but the view was worth it.
“I’d bring Korra to see the pools, and Mako to see the kitchen so he could watch them making the food, I think he’d like that, don’t you Pabu?” And Bolin’ eyes snapped open. His bestest friend in the whole world, other than Mako, other than Korra, and other than Asami…. the only one he talked to about personal things, was gone. Left at Republic City where Mako was probably worried sick about him. “After this feast tonight… “He muttered. “I’m going to have to go back home. I miss them too much.” He chuckled sadly to no one at all. It had been seriously nice just talking to Li Chen all by himself. For once he was the only one getting attention, and he was being treated as a particularly special person.
For once, Bolin was not just Mako’s brother, not just Korra’s friend, not just the silly one of Team Avatar, and not just the Fire Ferret’s Captain. He was Bolin. He was the one Li Chen showed things, the one that was the special guest, and the one appreciated. “But…” He muttered, feeling better due to his own self-optimism, I’m going to have to thank Li Chen. He’s been really nice to me!” He decided, arms pushing under his head. He smiled softly and stared at the sky again.
Suddenly, Bolin’s eyes snapped open. Something…. was wrong. He scanned around the hot springs, enclosed with a tall gate to keep privacy to the occupants within, but nothing out of the ordinary could be seen. The hot springs were stacked in descending shelves like a warm staircase, several waterfalling into the others like the one Bolin was sitting in, and they carried further on either side of Bolin for about seven more circular pools. No one else was there with him, leaving the earthbender alone.
And he listened. Water dripping and splashing from the other pools could be heard, but nothing else. Even the crickets were absolutely silent. An eerie feeling swept over him, and he shrank back further, closer to the small waterfall from the pool up above him.
The misty fog that the heat created, shimmered in the lantern light, the moon not yet risen even though evening had passed and night had set about an hour ago. His heart rate escalated, his breathing picking up speed. Why was he so scared? He could feel fear, but he did not know why, and shimmering glimpses kept flashing just out of sight before his eyes, making him turn and gasp. He looked left, nothing, right, nothing, up, nothing, no matter where he turned, his eyes could not catch sight of the glimmer!
“W-who are you?!” He demanded, and with a gasp of fear. Quick as a wink, he tumbled into the waters, feeling many hands grip his arms, legs, and pressing a hand over his mouth, pulling him under. “MMNPH!!!” He struggled, panicking. The arms shimmered and glowed, and around him in the bubbled, heated waters, he could see them: glowing yellow and white faces, their eyes gone, their faces terrified in soundless screams.
‘You will pay for what you have done, you will pay! You will join us, you will suffer, you will not get away with what you have done!!!’
Bolin scrambled, kicking and struggling, but he could feel himself weakening, could feel them pressing him to the bottom of the hot spring’s floor, and the water rushing up beneath him, forcing his breath from him. He felt like falling asleep….. that would be nice, wouldn’t it….?
No, but what about Mako! What about Korra and Pabu and Asami?! Eyes shooting open, he pressed his palms down to the ground, forcing the earth to obey and pushing him out of the water. He gasped and choked, scrambling onto the grassy dirt and away from the pool. Through hazy eyes, he could see them- the spirits, hovering and disappearing away from him as he sucked in gasps of needed air, his lungs pained with every forcibly huge gasp.
‘No… no you as well…. you will too….. you will be soon, so, so soon….. run…. run from it before it comes for you… before it gets you…..!!!’
He struggled to get up, struggled to stand and bolt out of there, but he was too tired and weak from all that struggling. Uselessly, he slumped against the ground, still trying to crawl away, but suddenly more hands were on him, gentle and worried, but he swatted the man way anyways. “No, no, get off!”
“Bolin!” When he looked up, he saw blue-green eyes and a worried look.
“Li Chen!” he exclaimed. “I- there were these ghost things, and they tried to kill me!” Tossing a towel over him to dry him off, Li Chen stood.
The nomad looked around and scanned the area, eyes like a cat. He looked angry and protectively helped him stand. “Come on- hurry inside. They cannot touch you in there.” He insisted, pulling him and helping him hobble forward. Once the screen door was shut, Bolin collapsed again out of tired shock.
“W-what were they?” He asked as the other scanned the outside with narrowed eyes. “They are ancient spirits….. very powerful, and very dangerous. They try and harm those whom they catch alone. I apologize, Bolin. Having you here today distracted me from that fact. Had I recalled their initial hatred and desire to kill, I would not have left you alone. Are you all right?”
The earthbender gently rubbed his neck and nodded sheepishly, looking up at him with wide, fearful eyes. “Thanks.” He said. “I think they would have come back to get me if you hadn’t showed up.”
The other nodded and tossed him another towel. “Dry off. Your clothes are being washed.” He handed him a soft looking set of orange, red and black robes. “Wear this in the meantime.” He turned and stared at the screen, not looking. Bolin took the clothes and dressed, reveling in the cool fabric after the hot water of the springs. Though he looked back at Li Chen, and felt a little more at ease, the sense of fear was still there. The spirits might be watching- what if Li Chen was wrong, and they could get into the building? He didn’t want to die in his sleep! He tapped the other’s shoulder and when he turned, Bolin nodded gently.
“Oh don’t worry Bolin, I’ll take good care of you!” He assured, gently ruffling his hair. He must have only been a few years older than Bolin… maybe Mako’s age, or a couple years older, and the subtle gesture as the other left the room gave him the impression of his brother. Mako used to do that… well, he still did that, and admittedly, it helped calm his nerves better than just the presence of the other.
“Wait up-” He suddenly realized Li Chen was ahead of him quite a ways. “Hey! Wait!” He did not want to be alone at this point, too terrified of what he had just experienced. He couldn’t be alone… what if they came back?! He didn’t know how to fight off spirits!
When he caught up to Li Chen, the monk said, “We’re heading to the dining hall for the feast now- do you think you can wait while we set up the table?”
“Well, I can help, if you need it.” He offered, but the other shook his head.
“You just relax at the head of the table as we set up.” He assured, and walked off past the large room to some other room beyond.
But once at the table, Bolin didn’t have a CLUE how to behave…. he just sat there sheepishly as they set up forks and knives and all sorts of fancy dishes and napkins. He had no idea which fork to use first, no idea how he should sit or if he should talk or keep quiet. He thanked EVERYBODY that set ANYTHING down in front of him, but he felt he was being obnoxious by a certain point and became deathly silent. Grand parties still freaked out his nerves. He wanted to be polite and proper, but what the hell did he know about being at an extremely posh and civilized dinner party? Even the one he had went to for Korra had shattered his nerves when dignitaries started trying to talk with them. He might be good at hiding the fact that he was about to explode of the desire to not mess up for Korra and his brother’s sake, but he couldn’t hold it forever. Having Korra there- just seeing her, helped steady him, but at this point, he was on his own and clueless.
When Li Chen sat down across from him, he sank in his seat and his face grew bright red, scanning everyone as they set their napkins in their laps and began to just eat. Wait, were they really not going to be so precise about everything? Still, they seemed to know what to do and he had to watch carefully. When Li Chen caught him doing that, he stood and said, “Bolin, you are our guest- there is no need for you to stand on ceremony. We are the ones here to impress you, not the other way around. You may eat however you wish. Should you bid we all sit on the floor and eat like wolfdogs, then that is what we’ll do!” He laughed and Bolin’s face became redder.
“Nono… that’s fine….” He said quietly, shaking his hands in front of him, back and forth in a waving manner.
Li Chen continued to stand and Bolin looked around the table at the other monks as they ate. They were all different- some had shaved heads, others did not, but they were all lacking in the arrow on their heads Korra had told him that Aang had tattooed. Apparently all higher monks did? What? Were these guys just not that high up on the enlightenment scale, or was it because they were a different branch or something?
“Attention everyone.” Li Chen was saying, and Bolin took the opportunity to begin piling food on his plate. He WAS a growing boy after all. “Long ago, legends spoke of the four elements and how they related to the earth and nations, the spirit world, and the nomads. Today, through study and careful practice, we have found their tales to be truth.” He looked back at Bolin, (who was currently slurping noodles) and continued. “So let us tell our guest of what we have found.” He raised his glass, and people who were serving the food came around and poured drinks for everyone. “It is said that the elements climb a ladder that follows the chakras of one’s own body. Chakras are points of energy within every living thing, that allows us to bend. If the chakras are closed or severed, a person cannot bend. The lowest of these chakras, is the earth Chakra, based at the spine. It is the chakra of survival, and is corrupted by fear.”
Bolin looked up, curious. Was that true…?
“This Chakra point marks the beginning of a spiraling ladder used to the path of enlightenment, but to reach this path, one must first cast aside the lower chakras, to ascend.” He continued. “Surpassing the earth chakra, one reaches the water chakra, then past that, one reaches the fire chakra, only to ascend that and finally achieve the highest of the chakra elements, the air chakra, situated at the heart.” His hand went to his heart, pausing a moment to allow the others at the table to copy his motion. “Any chakras beyond that, and you would be energybending. You see Bolin, here at the Xiugen Mountain temple, we have a saying.”
The other monks and nomads all locked their gazes on him and Bolin suddenly felt put on the spot.
“Live not by our roots
live not by our breath
live not by the ocean,
But live by our crest
If thoughts be our breath,
and light be our air,
let water be forgotten,
and earth be cast from there.”
Their chanting was eerie, and Bolin gulped. “That’s spooky stuff…” he muttered.
“You see Bolin, we have been through a lot on our little mountaintop…” Li Chen sighed and sat down, his food untouched as he laced his fingers together. “And after many hardships, we finally found it- the path to true enlightenment. You see, as benders, Air is the highest on the ladder, and therefore already the closest to enlightenment as one can start out as.”
Bolin took another bite, swallowed, and said, “So you’re saying that as an airbender, you’re already more enlightened than me?” s he took another bight. He thought a second after that. “I guess that makes sense, since the whole chakra thing.”
“Exactly. And here at our temple, we’ve found that those with chakras beneath the air chakra, are more susceptible to dark thoughts and bad practices. People who firebend are angry, ill-tempered, often impulsive and hot-headed.”
“Can’t argue there…” Bolin muttered, recalling how Mako could throw the worst fits, but he was usually so level-headed.
“Those of the water chakra, who waterbend, are often prone to never rethinking their opinions. They cannot change their own desires and are often prone to keeping bad habits they have formed, unwilling to see their flaws.”
He thought of Korra…. even though she was the avatar, she was a waterbender first…… Hmm… well, was unaware of things she was bad at sometimes, and she was very stubborn, so maybe that made a little sense….
“And lastly, those of the earth chakra, earthbenders, are the lowest of the low.” Li Chen spoke gently, almost pitying Bolin. “I’m so sorry Bolin, but…. earthbenders move mountains on impulse- they cast aside the repercussions of their actions, and do not think of outcomes. They are too caught up in the physicality of the world and are blind to what is around them. They are impulsive in the worst way-” Bolin stopped eating, Li Chen’s words stinging where it hurt most. earthbending was all he had that marked him as special compared to Mako…..
“They cause avalanches…. they cause rockslides…. they rip apart the earth beneath their feet to create huge monumental arcs of destructive power-”
“That’s not true-”
“They tear up streets, and shift islands, disrupting the world around them and not even thinking about the consequences or the cleanup.”
“But-” Bolin’s heart raced. The last time he earthbent to stop the metalbenders, he didn’t think, he just acted….
“They take and do not give back.” Again Li Chen was standing and watching him, his eyes a bright, penetrating blue. “Water can crash and drown, but what waterbender can level an entire city if they desired? Earthbenders can rip out the earth so strongly it will cause waves or repercussions to hit cities far beyond your own, that destroy thousands of miles away and hurt the innocent!”
“N-no- stop it-” Bolin stood and backed up, pushing his seat. He scanned the room, the other nomads glaring daggers at him, their eyes solidly focused on him and him alone. “I- I haven’t hurt anyone!”
“Do you EVER clean up the mess you leave?!” Li Chen’s words were harsh and cruel, shouted and jabbed directly at him. Around the table, the others stood, and Bolin could finally see them- the rogues he was kidnapped by in their masked uniforms, standing at every entrance, appearing out of nowhere. “Have you ever checked to see if a rock you tossed damaged someone’s eyes? Broke a rib? Killed someone?! Fire burns, it is untamable, but firebenders know this and try to keep it contained! Waterbenders can drown, they know this, and they use their bending in a sparing manner! Earthbenders are impulsive, brash, uncaring, unkind, foolish, reckless, and brainless! They destroy and lave it for the others to pick up!”
His stomach churned in knots, and he took another step back, feeling trapped and accused. He tore up those runways once- who fixed it?! He left it there! He built that hideout for Korra before he was kidnapped, and who took it down? He didn’t even think about that! “No, it’s not true, I didn’t mean it- I was going to help, I just- I-”
But it was too late, and he knew it. Without another thought, he panicked and turned, bringing up the earth beneath them to give himself some space, and pushed through the rock walls of the temple, running. He couldn’t be bad guy! He- it wasn’t his fault he was a bender! He was born that way! “Mako!” He called, knowing he wasn’t there as he stumbled down the stairs and didn’t look back. He could hear them coming- he could hear them right there behind him, and he could hear the wires hurling at him!
He lifted stones and tossed them behind, again, suddenly realizing how reckless that was and how destructive. He would never put it back- he-
“Ahk!” Again he felt wires wrap around his throat and pull him back, his arms and legs trapped soon after. “Ahk- L-Li-Ch-” The nomad walked towards him and looked at him without sorrow, without pity and with the scariest, darkest look he had ever seen the nomad give. “Earthbending scum like you don’t deserve to live, Bolin, don’t you know that? Don’t you understand?” He pushed him over as the others kept him tied up. “The path to enlightenment requires us to rid the world of the lower element benders. You must understand that his is the way. Once we have rid you of your chakra, there will be balance to the world. The Air will rise again, and to do that you must agree to die for our cause.”
His vision was dimming again, and he choked out a soft, “I tr’sted you-” and narrowed his eyes. “Nev’r- I’ll n’v’r die f’r you-”
“A foolish mistake.” He stood again as Bolin was lifted. “Take him to the dungeon.”
[ To be continued… ]