Hoshi, age 10, and Tao, age 7, laid whimpering side-by-side on their mats while Pona’s shrewd eyes picked out their numerous bruises and cuts. As she worked with her pure healing water to clean the “boo-boos” and speed up their healing, she smirked, saying “You boys need to stop picking fights with the neighbor-girls. You know they can beat you up.” Tao stuck out his tongue at her, but she just kept laughing, and he said “We wouldn’t lose every time if Hoshi would bend anything bigger than a pebble at them, but he won’t because he’s got a cru- ow! Don’t kick me!”
Hoshi had turned red, and kicked his brother before he could finish, but Pona knew what was going on. “That Mia is very cute, Hoshi,” she said, smiling more kindly this time, “But why do you insist on going over there to have earthbending fights, instead of just, well, talking to her?” His brother answered before he could, “Because he’s a scaredycat! I told him, Pona, I told him that she would think he’s a wuss if he kept fighting so badly, but he wouldn’t listen. No no, every time, he lets them overpower us, I can’t take them both on alone, and we lose. It’s embarrassing!” Her only response was “Shh! Let your brother talk, Tao.” But Hoshi was looking glum, and finally said “He’s right, Pona, I am a scaredycat. I keep thinking that if I go over to try and talk, she won’t like me, and that if I win one of our fights, she’ll think I’m mean for hurting her… What should I do?”
By this point, their healing was basically done, and Pona was wrapping bandages around the larger wounds, as even though her healing could speed up the process, they would still take time to fully heal, and she didn’t want them to get infected. She thought about Hoshi’s question as she wrapped, and answered when she finally pulled them both to their feet. “Okay, think about it this way,” she said, “You don’t know what she’ll do until she does it, but if you do nothing you know she won’t know you’re interested, so you really have nothing to lose by trying. You’re obviously both interested in earthbending, so why not talk to her about that? You probably know just as much as she does, even though you’ve been holding back for your fights, and you might even impress her with what you can really do. Sound good?” The older boy was smiling broadly, and immediately ran out of the room and back towards Mia’s house, yelling out “Thanks, Pona!” as he went. She just laughed a little, and turned back to Tao.
“What about you?” she asked, her quizzical smirk back in place, “Are there any girls that have caught your eye, Tao?” He shook his head no, but then his own smirk surfaced, and he looked up at her with puppy-dog eyes. “Only you, Pona,” he said, and gave her a big hug. “Aww, aren’t you cute,” she said, with liberal sarcasm, “But now you have to go study, child. You know that your arithmetic tutor will be here in a few minutes, and how much he values you as a student.” He faked sadness at having to go, but couldn’t help from giggling at that last remark. The arithmetic tutor was a rather old, mostly deaf, somewhat senile man, prone to strange ramblings and forgetting who exactly Tao was.
With Tao cheerfully bounding up the stairs, Hoshi probably already talking to Mia, and neither planning to do any more fighting today, Pona saw that her work was done, and decided to go for a nice, relaxing walk around the Upper Ring. A beautiful place, full of large houses, gardens, ponds, flowers, and no one seemed to walk around it anymore. Everyone was bustling around in their little “automobiles”, going from point A to point B, never quite enjoying the view as much as they did before. She sighed a little at the thought, and tied her emergency water skin to her belt. Just as she told the butler of her walk, and that if needed she would be in the gardens, her employers burst in the front door, visibly distraught. Usually full of poise, the lady Zaomei was weak, and sobbing quietly in her husband’s arms.
Immediately confused, Pona and the butler rushed up to them and asked what was wrong. “Our son,” the master began, but his voice caught in his throat, and he had to start again. “They found Tuen dead in the street about an hour ago,” he said shakily. “The police say that it seems to be similar to all of the other murders…” But he couldn’t continue. Tears welled up in his eyes, and the butler lead them both upstairs, snapping at the cook to bring two cups of the best tea she had. The healer was left dumbfounded. Tuen had been like a little brother to her, and she had never lost a sibling before. She went back into her room, sat down on the bed, and cried, like a child. It felt like she had never been so sad in her life. He wasn’t really her brother, of course, but because the children were all boys, they all three saw her as a big sister, and she reciprocated. Slowly, her sadness turned to anger. She was angry at the police, for not catching the killer before he took Tuen, she was angry at the killer, simply for existing, and with this anger she swore that she would avenge Tuen’s death, as well as the deaths of all the rest. The murderer would be brought to justice, one way or another. She thought of the dangerous waterbending technique she had recently discovered, her nerve strike, and knew that she had thought of it for this very purpose, without realizing it. Fate had prepared her for combat, and she would start with the lowest of the low: the slums. She had a few connections through an orphanage in the “Lower South Side” of Ba Sing Se, and with their help, her manhunt would begin.