"Did you see the way our teacher stared at you when you answered that question about the invasion on the Day of Black Sun?" My closest friend, Haiyang, asks me as I take a sip from the water fountain on the school courtyard. "I'd bet twenty yuans that she's just dying for Conference Day so that she can meet the all-mighty Avatar!"
"Ugh, don't say 'Avatar' like that," I groan. I stand upright and step to the side so that Haiyang can drink from the fountain. "There's no reason to emphasize his position. He's my dad and—."
"And what, Bumi?" Haiyang interrupts. "And nothing else? Nope. You've got to face it, bro. Avatar Aang might be your dad, but to everyone else he's the most powerful man in the entire world."
"Yet his firstborn son is a pathetic nonbender."
I turn in the direction of the voice and, upon seeing who the voice belongs to, narrow my eyes. "Hello, Hiroto," I greet him, crossing my arms over my chest and shooting him a sharp look. I don't attempt to hide the contempt in my voice as I also greet his two cronies, Kesuk and Tairu, who are on his right and left, respectively.
"Avatar Aang might be able to control all four elements, but he clearly can't control who his children are. If he could, this one wouldn't exist," Hiroto sneers, gesturing towards me.
"Yeah, whatever," I growl. I grab Haiyang's wrist and jerk my head to my right. "Come on, man, let's get out of here," I say, remembering what Dad always tells me: avoid conflict by removing yourself from the situation.
"Hey! Where do you think you're going?" barks Tairu. He stomps his foot on the ground, encasing my ankles in rocks so that it's impossible for me to continue walking.
"Hey!" I cry. "You're not allowed to bend on the courtyard!"
"Oh, don't be jealous, Bumi," Tairu smirks. He flicks his wrist slightly and the rocks around my ankles fall away, freeing me.
I shake my head, attempting to quell the anger rising within me, and start walking away again — but before I can take a second step away from the trio, Kesuk draws the water from the fountain into a miniature water whip and smacks me upside the head.
I rest a hand on the back of my head where the water smacked me and glare at them. "What do you want?" I snarl.
"I want you to tell me something, Bumi." A small smile appears on Hiroto's face as he raises one eyebrow at me. "Does your father try to teach you how to get through the spinning gates, too, or does he just consider that — and you — a waste of his precious time?"
I answer him with nothing but a glare.
If you cannot avoid throwing a punch, at least try to avoid throwing the first punch.
The words of my ever-wise father swim around in my mind, and I decide against starting a fight with these idiots. "I'll have you know I've mastered the spinning gates, Hiroto."
He shoots me a dubious look. "Oh?" He glances at his two friends, smirks, and then returns his attention to me. "What good does that do you, Bumi? I'm curious. What good does mastering a classic airbending training exercise do you, a nonbender?"
"Why don't you come find out, if you're so curious?" I dare, jumping into a defensive position. I hold my fists close together in front of my chest, protecting my center, and glare at him again.
"What are you doing, Bumi?" Haiyang whispers, looking nervously from me to the trio.
"He's acting stupid and challenging a bender," Hiroto answers, shaking his head. "Come on, Bumi, have your sparring matches with Kya taught you nothing about your inadequacy?"
"She's only eight," I reveal, lowering my defenses slightly. "I don't spar with her."
"Are you afraid of losing to an eight-year-old?" he asks, laughing. "You should be. She's been more powerful than you since the moment she learned she can bend." He shoots me a sharp look. "You're going to regret challenging me, Bumi."
He shoots a fire blast at me, which I dodge with ease — but since there's so little distance between us, it singes the edge of my sleeve. I glance down at it to check the damage and, seeing that it's minimal, ignore it. "Come on, don't tell me that's all you've got, hothead," I taunt.
I watch Hiroto as his eyes narrow and as he aims a barrage of quick fire jabs at me, which I am able to dodge thanks to all those lessons involving the spinning gates back at home.
Hiroto stares at me, a bit surprised that I was able to dodge all of his fire jabs, and I take advantage of his surprise and start inching closer to him. I start to go on the offensive, but just as I go to attack, he jumps up to avoid my punch and kicks his leg out, releasing a large stream of fire. I'm forced to duck and shield my face with my arms, but as I quiver on the ground a water whip smacks Hiroto in the face and then grabs hold of his wrist, directing the flame stemming from it in the direction opposite me.
"You need to cool off," Haiyang growls. He sends a wave crashing over Hiroto, leaving him drenched, and then holds out his hand and pulls me up. "You alright, Bumi?" he asks me.
"Yeah." I glance at Hiroto, who's standing a couple of feet away, fuming. "Thanks," I add.
He gives me a quick nod and gets back into position, ready to help me defend myself.
"Hey, Kesuk, take care of the one that likes to splash people, will you?" Hiroto growls.
Kesuk smashes his fist into his open palm and smiles. "Gladly," he smiles, drawing the water from the fountain out and turning the wave into a barrage of ice spears that he directs at Haiyang. He uses his own skill to turn the ice spears into a shield, then starts breaking pieces of the shield off and sends them flying towards Kesuk.
"While they splash each other, let's get back to business." Hiroto sends a fire bomb my way. I dodge it and take a step towards him, observing him closely as I do so to find a weakness in his form so that I can exploit it and go on the offensive.
When I raise my foot to take another step, he encases my ankle in a fire whip and trips me — and while I'm on the ground, Tairu traps me in an earth shelter. I attempt to free myself, only to decide a moment later that any effort to do so would be futile.
I glare at Tairu, who's standing with his arms crossed over his chest, smirking at me, and then direct my attention towards Hiroto. As he approaches me, a sneer on his lips, fire daggers appear at his fists. I turn my head to the side and close my eyes to give myself some meager protection from the heat of the flame as he holds one dagger up to me, refusing to hang my head. I will not concede defeat because I am not giving up. I refuse to give up… even though I know I'm beat.
As the flame stemming from Hiroto's fist starts searing the skin on my neck, a savior appears. "Hiroto!" she shouts. "You know the rule — no bending in the courtyard! And Tairu, release Bumi immediately!"
As Hiroto takes a step backwards, Tairu collapses the earth shelter into pebbles and Haiyang immediately lets the water at his hands fall to a puddle at his feet. Kesuk does the same.
"You four, go to the headmaster's office — now!" The teacher commands, her voice authoritative and thundering.
Haiyang starts to protest, then decides against it. He closes his mouth and falls into line behind the three bullies. I shoot him an apologetic look, but he just shrugs and turns around again to glare at the back of Kesuk's head.
"Are you alright, Bumi?"
"Yes, ma'am, I'm alright," I answer, dusting off my clothes and massaging the part of my neck that Hiroto's fire had started to burn. It hurts a bit, but other than that and the small amount of damage to my sleeve, I've escaped unscathed.
"Well, what's say you go to the infirmary and get checked out anyway?" she suggests, laying a hand delicately on my shoulder.
I just shrug out of her hold and turn to go inside without another word to her.