For his third test, Bumi didn't mince words to try to confuse them with double meanings.
He jabbed his gem-covered ring finger at Mark.
"I challenge you to a duel, Mark. It's your final test. Prove yourself to me, and you can be my student!"
"Wait…what?" Mark stammered. "I just started earth bending. There's no way I can beat you."
"If you're too afraid to face me, then I don't know what you're doing here?" Bumi said with an upturned nose. "I have masters benders begging to spar, children of major and minor nobles, and even relatives of the royalty of Ba Sing Se. I have little reason to accommodate fresh-faced benders who are unsure of themselves."
Aaron watched Mark open his mouth hinge open and shut as he worked over Bumi's words before finally snapping to Aaron. "You said you were going to test both of us. He can fight alongside me, too, right?"
Bumi's looked over from Mark to Aaron, assessing him. All the Airbender wanted to do was to be done with the challenge. He had no love for Mark, but the mission came first.
"He'll fight," Aaron declared, "but I'll fight with him."
"Oh?" Bumi's wrinkly lips turned in vague amusement. "And why should I allow that."
"I've only been teaching him for a month or two now. He's hardly your match," Mark said. "If the fight is to assess what he could become, it would be more fitting if you got a first-hand look at the real thing."
Bumi scoffed. "You're hardly a master. I reckon you're hardly better than the boy."
"If it makes no difference, then let me fight," Aaron said. The entire world seemed to still as both benders stared at each other…Sokka offered no poorly timed joke, and sweat rolled off Mark's face as he waited for an answer.
"If you insist," Bumi finally said with a huff. "You can both come at me. It'll hardly make a difference."
It wasn't long before they both squared off. The very air was thick with heat as Aaron stared down the man, certain he could not defeat him.
When Bumi shrugged his robes off, he was a terror unleashed. His frame was lean yet packed with muscle, and even the slight hunch in his back made him feel like an even larger threat.
Aaron saw only weakness in his casual stance, but he knew they all hid traps.
"How do you want to do this?" Mark whispered over to Aaron, and for a long second, he had no answer. His muscles cramped up in anticipation of the pain, the humiliation, but he didn't let himself dwell too long in those thoughts. 'I've faced worse,' he chanted in his head.
"You hang back and let me handle him just like last time," Aaron said. "Weave in and out when you get the chance. Your job is to keep us in the fight for as long as possible."
"I can do that," Mark nodded. Seeing Mark toughen up, Aaron's confidence became more concrete. Each time he looked at the boy, he had to remind himself that Mark was not Igi, but he allowed himself to dream for a moment.
All his confidence evaporated when King Bumi made his first move.
With a stamp of his feet, he raised nearly half of the arena floor and punched it forward. Two boulders the size of houses barreled towards them.
Aaron's eyes bulged at the absolute ridiculousness as he manipulated the air around him to reduce the air resistance around him and Mark. He shot out a powerful gust that propelled Mark to the side and himself backwards just before the boulders flattened them.
Ducking into a roll and coming up in a sprint, he closed the distance between himself and Bumi, firing rapid gusts of air at him. King Bumi laughed and erected a wall of stone with a casual stamp of his feet before sending a section to obstruct him.
Aaron dug deep and leapt over the wall with all his strength and air manipulation, only to find no one behind the wall. Behind him, he heard a yelp, Bumi had popped out in front of Mark and was sending chunk after chunk of sharp, jagged rocks that had Mark leaping, ducking, and crawling. Anything he managed to send shattered with a casual flex of Bumi's palm and sent back with a wave.
"Come on, don't tell me that's everything you have," Bumi cackled.
Aaron's heart pounded so hard he could only hear static. Suddenly, he was in that glade training Igi again, and the Fire Nation found him. What little sound bled through came across as Igi's distorted voice, not Mark's.
Aaron didn't remember using Chi-flow to enhance his movement as he zipped to Bumi, but the King wanted no interruptions. With a toothy smile, the wall he'd sent at Aaron shuddered, then came tumbling back almost too late for the Airbender to notice.
The two screaming chunks of stone followed heartbeats later, and it was only Aaron's superhuman flexibility and danger sense that allowed him to vault over the encirclement in time.
As soon as he came to his feet, Aaron charged the Earth King, and the momentary shift in attention was what Mark needed to get more creative with his attacks. He encased his fists in rock as he worked through the katas of the Feather fist Martial style.
Bumi ducked and waved through it all, all while he kept an eye on Aaron. The Airbender leapt off his feet and sent three thick Chi-infused air streams at the Earth king, who erected a wall to tank the blasts and tossed Mark Aaron's way before he could follow up with a Force palm.
They fell in a tangle of limbs, and the pain snapped Aaron out of his Chi-infused frenzy. The sound of Igi's voice chased away the last of the haze, and Aaron found his mind winding down until he remembered he was talking to Mark now, not Igi.
"Well, there goes our game plan," Mark groaned as he rubbed his head. "We stand no chance. He's clearly toying with us… I don't see how we can beat him."
"Don't say that," Aaron growled, shrugging him off. "Don't you dare think of quitting on me. Not after everything, Mark. Show me you deserve this, that I am not just wasting my time."
Mark locked eyes with Aaron and rose to his feet. "I will."
"Good," Aaron said, gripping his shoulder as the rage poured out of him.
Even if it cost him an arm, he would not fail again.
"Square up!" he commanded, and Mark fell into the traditional feather fist stance while Aaron tapped into his deep chi pool to attempt a technique he knew would hurt him as much it would the King.
His eyes turned blood red, his veins engorged as his blood and chi flow sped up, and he felt so connected to the air he felt he could command it with his will alone, and so he did.
He exploded forward, kicking up a dust storm as he rocketed toward King Bumi. With each step, he could feel strength bleed from him.
The technique was reserved for benders with more experience manipulating Chi and larger and deeper reserves, but at that moment, Aaron damned it all.
It'd been loss after loss since that day Igi died, and even when he won, he still lost.
A small part of him begged caution-- warned him that he was overreacting, that he could find a way forward even if the King rejected Mark, but he ached too bad he didn't care.
Strength leaked from his muscles with each step, replaced by a bone-chilling chill that nearly shut him down. Yet, he did not flinch, nor did he let himself break stride.
He closed in on the King, who had taken a strong stance, all mirth gone from his ageing features. Aaron felt a fading hint of pride at the King's seriousness and opened up his fight with the legend with the largest wind blade he'd ever made. It exploded from the flat of his hand like a cannon.
He followed up with a spin that opened into a diagonal slash, and a third blade rose with his high kick.
Bumi raised the thickest wall Aaron had seen the King make so far. It cracked when the first blade hit and exploded when the second and third collided. Banishing the dust with a wave, Bumi shifted the very earth under his feet to dodge a powerful gust that Aaron had unleashed during the explosion.
The King went on the offensive. He shifted his foot, and a spike shot out from the ground under Aaron, which he vaulted over as he sensed the ground beneath him move. He shot out with another gust and flipped forward, but the King was already looking down at him from a raised wall.
His lips turned with a victorious smirk as he raised his hand, and two large wall sections broke off. With a rapid flurry of his hands, stone bits half as large as Igi's head rapidly fired into the arena, shredding stone and kicking up dust. Aaron heard Mark yelp in panic as he dove underground, and ignored the fear he felt rising within.
He couldn't spare the energy. He dove, juked, twisted, and air bent away chunks of rock as he tried to close the gap between them. The King's face was beginning to twist into a frown as sweat dripped down his brow, but Aaron knew he would give in before Bumi did.
Already he felt his lungs were on fire and were as heavy as lead. And just before he came upon the wall, he felt his strength finally guttering. With all the strength he had left, he wove his thickest wind blade and struck upwards with a flip transitioning into a high kick.
Aaron saw the King slam his two floating boulders together to mount some form of defence, but he never caught the end of the interaction. He was unconscious before he even touched the ground.
"Oh shit, Oh shit, Oh shit."
Mark's entire body shivered with fear as the titanic battle raged overhead. He'd severely underestimated how dangerous the ATLA world was, especially when everybody played for keeps.
The Avatar shows downplayed just how outrageously broken the benders were. Earthbenders could one-shot you with a well-placed stone throw, earth and water nation soldiers wore fire-resistant uniforms because fire was lethal as fuck, and there were Airbender assassins, apparently.
This alternate universe was not what he signed up for. To make matters worse, he was certain the Fire nation was more aggressive. How the fuck was he going to last the entire year?
He thought he was gaming the system when he'd chosen ATLA world as his starting world for the Transmigrator tournaments. The god that welcomed him upon death had pitched it as every battle junkie's wet dream.
A system that allowed you to reach godhood, endless worlds to explore, and fights that spanned aeons. And all he had to do was kill some loser. He was a gamer. He could win. Now he regretted not choosing some slice-of-life universe to ease him into things.
Mark was sure he'd be dead without Aaron. He'd lucked out when he reincarnated in this body. Aaron was an assassin Airbender with a bleeding heart and was bound by duty to protect the Avatar's party, which he was sorta-kinda part of.
But Mark was no fool. He knew Aaron didn't like him. The dude never talked about it, but he knew he blamed him for the death of his former disciple. And to be fair, he was guilty. But Aaron tolerated him because they shared a mutual goal for now…
That might change someday, and he didn't think current or future him could handle that, given how much power he'd just seen Aaron flip around.
But his ever-increasing status and skill gave him some confidence.
Despite being a black belt at the passive-aggressive shit, Aaron was still fairly honourable. After this duel, which he was confident, they'd win, he'd have delivered him to the most powerful bending teachers in the world.
Mark bet he would weasel the secrets of Chi-bending from Aaron or his masters eventually. And if he was powerful enough, he might throw them a bone and help them with their mission…or whatever, as long as it didn't delay him from travelling to the next world.
Peeking his head over the short wall he'd erected, Mark caught a glimpse at the ongoing battle, and his jaw hinged and shut at the absurdity of it all. But he watched and waited as instructed, but everything was a blur.
Just to be extra sure, he got into the feather fist stance and bounced on his feet, waiting and listening.
At some point, he felt himself tap into the earth momentarily as he observed the flow of battle.
(One with the Earth has reached Beginner V)
Blinking, he ignored the notification, even as it shot pure dopamine up his veins. He was tempted to check his status, but he kept his eyes and attention on the fight.
At some point, he saw Aaron whip up the air, unleashing the largest Wind blade he'd ever seen his moody instructor make, and he didn't hesitate. He pulled a chunk of rock with a step, compressed it in a small flash of inspiration, and fired it as soon as he saw Bumi's boulder crumble from the impact.
Subskill Created: Earth Compression I
The stone took King Bumi in the chest, and he stumbled back dazed, so Mark followed up with a solid right and left jab that ripped stones from the ground, the first of which caught him. A raised hand dismissed the second projectile, and Mark stretched his hand out in herculean effort and pulled the ground underneath the Earth King, destabilizing him, but it was not enough to trip the man. Mark ripped out one last stone chunk and hurled it with all the strength and malice he could muster.
That was enough to bring the old man to the floor.
(You have defeated King Bumi. 200% XP rewarded, x3 learning speed for one week (does not stack with x2 learning card), 2 pieces of the design paper for a Wingsuit. You have levelled x 2. Earned 2 stat points)
Mark whooped when he saw the notification.
He eagerly pulled up his status to see what had changed, and his grin grew wider at what he saw
Class: Earthbender (150% increase in learning speed and effectiveness of all Earth bending skills and sub-skills)
Subclass: Locked (Available in the next world.)
Body: 10 (0.4)
Health: 145 ((Body x 10)
Chi: 150/220 ((Body x 10) + (Mind x 10 ))
Undistributed Stat points (2)
Stat points earned via training: Lvl 2 (0/3)
Feather fist (Beginner VII): Martial Form of the New Air Nation. It relies heavily on circular movements ending with sudden devastating strikes and quick evasive movements. 7% increase in damage eff.
Chi Breathing (incomplete LV 0) A forbidden bending technique that channels life energy itself. It draws in energy from all that is living to fuel its techniques, multiplying the user's physical and bending prowess beyond its natural limits.
Earth bending (Beginner) LV XX) You are at the beginning of your Earth bending journey. (Can crudely manipulate earth 1-10 meters around you and lift earth equal to your body weight.)
20% increase in durability.
Earth ender constitution (passive) LV II: Grants 0.2 flat increase to strength and constitution per level until lv 50, 1 stat point from lv 50-80, and 2 from lv 80-100.
One with the Earth (Beginner v) Sense vibrations by rooting yourself to the earth and listening. The skill drastically improves Earth bending accuracy and speed by 100%. Grants 0.1 to Mind and Body per level until level 40. 1 stat point from lv 50-80, and 2 from lv 80-100.
Gamer's body: Fully restore health and stamina after 6 hours of rest, increased Stamina/ Chi recovery.
Reincarnation boon: To be selected at lv 50
All in all, he was looking pretty good. He might've fibbed a bit…or a lot about how his system was set up. But what kind of newb gave up everything to a potential enemy.
"He's not waking up," a voice called out, tearing Mark away from his thoughts. It was Katara's. She was fussing over Aaron's unconscious body.
"Holy fuck!" Mark swore as he ran towards them. Aaron couldn't die. He was carrying him through the game.
I've been down these past few days, and I missed the upload schedule yesterday. Don't worry, I fully plan to upload on Friday.
Anyways, tell me what you think in the comments.