Looks like it's going to be a triple update! Feel like I'm on a roll :)
"Nikel, I'm back!" I called, dumping the weddell seal on the packed floor of our igloo.
"Did you catch anything?" Nikel, a portly woman with snow white hair and a face full of wrinkles, frowned as she walked into the main room. "Only one seal? That'll hardy be enough for-"
"And a dozen fish," I thrust my line of silvery fish from my sack. The fish had been easy compared to the seal, at least. If I could water bend, though…
Nikel nodded curtly before returning to her dishes. Setting the fish on the sturdy wooden table at the center of the main room, I knelt on the floor and took my mittens off to get to work. Its fur would be a good bargaining chip at market, and the meat might last us for a few days with a couple pounds to sell at market. Glancing around to check for observers, I puffed a breath of fire over the seal and… yes! New record, three seconds of constant fire.
"You better not be fire bending again, Kano," Nikel warned. I flinched, willing the temperature to drop back to normal faster. Now that the skin felt suppler, I carefully started working it off the seal. I sighed softly as I worked. Nikel always made it sound like it was taboo to be a fire bender here. Sure, no one else fire bended, but that didn't mean it was wrong… right? I shook my head, more stubborn locks of hair falling out of my braided bun. Stupid hair.
A few hours later I finally set aside my cleaning knife, wiping the small thin blade against an old rag. "Can I go to my lessons now, Ma'am?" I asked, hoping that for once I would make it on time.
After a moment, Nikel sighed, "Yes, yes, fine. Go to your useless lessons. What would anyone gain from attacking us?" she grumbled.
Grinning, I scrambled for the door, snatching my spear and hunting knife. Yes! Finally, freedom. Jogging to the training grounds, I nodded and waved to people passing.
"Kano! It's good to see you again, how are you and ole Nikel doing? She finally let you off in time?"
I turned, smiling as Naka and her toddler, Nya, made to walk – well, waddle in Nya's case – with me. "It's good to see you, too. We're doing alright, just brought in a nice catch for the week. Even got a weddell!"
"That's wonderful, hun! Well, we won't keep you. Good luck with training!"
"Thank you," I replied, waggling my fingers as Nya pouted at leaving so soon. The little tyke could be so cute when she felt like it. Could certainly be a ball of sass, though. Picking up my pace, I just barely made it to the training grounds – just a flat, patted down stretch of snow and ice – just as Kuno called for warm-ups to begin.
"Kano! Glad you could join us today. Old Nikel let you off the hook?" Mirth twinkled in the chief's son's steel grey eyes as he demonstrated the proper stretches. I simply nodded and joined the other boys and water benders. Huh, usually they got separate training. "Today, you'll be pairing into teams of 2-3, each having a bender. Amaka, who will be joining us in a few minutes, and I will be showing benders how to work with soldiers and vice versa."
"I still don't see why we have to train like this, Kuno." Everyone rolled their eyes at that voice. Annuk always complained about everything, especially training. The little prat thought that just because he was a bender made him better than everyone else. Didn't help that he technically was at the top of his class. Still, if the rumors were true, the Fire Nation just attacked the Air Nation. Who would be next?
Kuno just ignored his comment as he explained the basics of how team dynamics would shift, especially if either division wasn't fully trained. Annuk kept grumbling, and a few people groaned as Kuno went over our basic training, again. I had to admit, we did learn that two years ago when we started. Didn't the benders know this stuff already? With a start, I noticed them paying rapt attention. Just what were the bending masters teaching these kids?
Soon Amaka slid in with a swoosh of ice, just as Kuno wrapped up his mini lecture. "Always one for a dramatic entrance, eh?" Kuno quirked an eyebrow at the older man.
Amaka huffed, "Well, it's not hard to upstage someone as positively boring as you. Now, as you non-benders probably realize by now, you have been taught largely different material than benders. Benders, feel free to take a nap, as this should be review from your first year.
"Now, first rule of bending. Control your emotions or they will control you. Water isn't as volatile as fire or even air, but it can react just as quickly to out of control emotions. If you see a bender getting out of control, even for a split second, it could cost lives. You need to snap them out of it and, if that doesn't work, get non-benders away. Close enough to support, but out of range of any stray attacks…"
I listened carefully, nodding as some of Amaka's points hit home. Fire certainly responded to my emotions like a bird to fish, but I already had figured out most of his tips for controlling my emotions. Breathing, focusing on sending the power somewhere else… After a few minutes of Amaka's rambling, Nuko interrupted to section us into our groups. Everyone moved to stand with friends, but Nuko stopped them.
"This is not about seeing how well you work with bender and non-bender friends. This is about adapting your fighting style and rhythm to fit benders you don't know." Those who had friends in the other group groaned, grumbling about how unfair this was. I just shrugged. One of the benefits of being a loner, I suppose. Nuko rattled off several names, seemingly in random order before I realized he was pairing highly skilled with less skilled and working his way to the middle ground of both groups. Frowning slightly, I ran down the list of people in our group and who had already been called. Nika would probably be paired with- yup, an inexperienced bender. Next would be an experienced bender with… Naka? Okay, a little different, but still in the same skill range as I thought. I fell into the middle category, so I should get someone of about equal skill level.
"Kano, Kao, and Kaele," Nuko called out. Okay, two benders. Thinking through the numbers, I realized the last two groups following me would need two as well. Since when did benders outnumber non-benders here? Shaking my head, I went to stand with a boy and girl. This would be an interesting afternoon. At least I didn't show up late again.
"I'm Kao, and this is Kaele," the bright blue-eyed boy said. I nodded, figuring they knew my name from the grouping. "We're about mediocre for our group, so let's just see how this goes, okay?"
Dropping my gear beside my cot, I collapsed into the small pile of furs. Snuggling into their warmth, I groaned as my arms and ribs protested at the slight movement. I thought bended water would be squishy like a penguin, but boy was I wrong. A few misplaced water whips from my water benders and from other groups nearly got me sent home. First day, disaster. I could only hope tomorrow would be better. More drills, maybe with only a handful of benders instead of the full troop. Either way, it would be another long day.