Carlos is pushed.
Not out of any malice, just a bending mishap, a mistimed pillar of stone jutting out at a different angle and faster speed than originally meant. It shunts him up and, thankfully, away from the nearby cliffside. But that means he is flung towards the ocean instead.
That’s not was he’s worried about–even though he can’t swim, there are a number of water benders in attendance that can easily wash him ashore–what’s worrying is what he can’t see: the invisible barrier surrounding the Isle, preventing people from leaving.
Carlos doesn’t know what the barrier will do to someone vaulted at it at high speed. He’s not even sure how it works–something to do with the Fairy Godmother’s spiritual ability to energy bend–will it just act like an invisible wall? Or is it more proactive than that–decidedly, dangerously, disastrously so?
He can see the wide-eyed dismay on everyone’s faces, his friends’ determined expressions. Jay and Evie have both shifted into bending stances–Jay trying to correct the other earth bender’s mistake by turning the shore into a grasping arm, and Evie sending a wave inland to prevent Carlos’ collision. Meanwhile, Mal is shooting towards him like a rocket, blasts of fire emitting from her hands and feet, trying to reach him first.
Their efforts won’t work.
Time seems to be slipping too fast–he’s falling closer and closer to the edge–and, impossibly, slowing. All these thoughts and observations are hurtling through his mind like he is towards the barrier.
Carlos is pushed–sent flying through the air–and, somehow, goes beyond the barrier.
Avatars are, by definition, capable of mastering all four elements. That does not mean that they can master or even access each element’s subspecialties. There is no rhyme or reason as to which skills an Avatar might gain–whether it’s a matter wanting to learn or some hidden incapability–it has nothing to do with an Avatar’s original element, either.
The previous Avatar, Merlin, had originally been an earth bender. He had been able to metal bend and, despite the clashing elemental alignment, had also been quite skilled at spiritual projection which is an air subspecialty. But he had never been able to master healing, had found blood bending to be distasteful, and while he could technically generate lightning, it would be inaccurate to say he controlled it, much less mastered it.
Mal, as the next Avatar in line, is still young, her powers yet untested; it is too early to say which talents she may learn and master. But Avatars have a tendency to counterbalance their predecessors–in personality, yes, but also in ability. To Mal, lightning comes as easy to her as fire, while Jay’s lessons in metal bending continues to elude her. She hasn’t tried healing, but the rats and vermin of the Isle provide ample targets for her experiments in blood bending.
With all that in mind, what might be deduced about her potential in energy bending?
Carlos goes beyond the barrier.
At first, nobody notices because nothing happens–Carlos keeps falling. There’s no real demarcation of where the barrier is, no corresponding physical wall or visible markers of where to stop. It’s a feeling mostly, according to the water benders who yearn for the sea: sudden onset nausea and weakness and dizziness that only increases the further from the island one tries to go. Not even Uri has gone past the point of the lightheadedness edging into unconsciousness–you can’t bend if you’re not awake, after all, and even water benders can drown.
And so, at first, because Carlos doesn’t show these effects, nobody notices he goes beyond the barrier. They think, maybe they misjudged the distance, maybe it’s farther out to sea than they remember, a difference in high and low tides.
Until Mal, flying too fast to feel her own encroaching symptoms, suddenly stops. The steady flames bursting from her hands and feet disappearing between one instant and the next, all momentum taken from her, so that she drops like a rock. She has the presence of mind to cushion her fall, water bending so that the waves carry her down instead of just slamming into it from height, but for some reason that is a struggle. Absolutely exhausting.
She can’t swim.
Thankfully, from her place on the shore, Evie notices and quickly creates a small ice floe for Mal to rest on. She lets the other water benders tow it to shore because she is still focussed on Carlos who is still in danger from his own lack of swimming ability.
Evie raises a spout of water to catch him, gently lowering him to sea level, before creating yet another ice floe which she pulls back. Carlos still shows no symptoms, even when he crosses back over the barrier.
Already, their fellow islanders are talking amongst themselves; trying to make sense of what they just witnessed and what it might mean.
“Maybe it’s because he’s not a bender,” someone suggests, but that is immediately shot down. Plenty of non-benders have tried to leave–none of them have succeeded.
“What if it’s intent? Or lack of it–he didn’t mean to go so far, after all,” someone else says, which is met with considering noises.
“How does energy bending work?” another person asks.
Another answers, “How should I know–I’m not an air bender.”
For a tiny, eternal moment, everyone falls into silence, considering:
Carlos–an air bender?
A/N: I missed this series 😀
I’ve also numbered it for easier reading (though I do have a part one and part two to 3/? because they are both very short and I’ll probably consolidate them when I transfer this series to ao3).
So regarding elemental subspecialties, according to the Avatar wiki energy bending is a separate “element” altogether (or, rather, predating the four elements) but I kind of feel like it has too much in common with air’s subspecialty of spirit projection for them to be separate? So… yeah. I think it’s essentially just really advanced spirit projection and thus an air subspecialty which is why Fairy Godmother can do it even though in the show we only ever see Avatars (and lion turtles) do it.