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|Amon a Boat|
"Lol amon a boat, get it?"
Tarrlok and Amon are on a boat. Tarrlok reflects upon his past.
"Let's go. We can run away from him. Forever."
He was standing in the snow, a vague and indeterminate outline, like a faded photograph, and I strained to see him clearly. But I could not, it was as if white grain engulfing him; that was the snow. I saw a mittened hand outstretched, reaching for me. Cold eyes. An fading form. That's all.
"Run away? But... "
The snow raged around us, a thousand snowflakes, a thousand possibilities buffeted me and I shrank before them. "But... what about Mom?" I cried, wringing my hands, "We can't just leave her."
The snow rested on his frozen face and gilded his eyelashes with ice. His face seemed covered by a mask of snow.
And he told me that our father was right, I was a weakling. And perhaps it's true, I was. Maybe I still am. Maybe that's not a bad thing. And then he was gone. That was the last time I saw him. And it was that last haunting moment when he disappeared into the snow that stayed with me all those years. And for a long time, whenever I tried to remember his face, or picture his image in my mind, I could not: I could only see his ghostly figure fading away through a screen of snow. I could remember his actions, I could remember the times we spent together, but his face was blanked out, filtered through a screen of snow.
And now? I cannot keep it straight in my head: the boy I once knew: the man I now see. Are they the same? Are they different? All instantiations of him begin to mix together. Who is he? Innocent child, withdrawn youth, mysterious, sinister man? I don't know.
I know that day I felt only despair and desperation and I cried into the storming flurries for my brother.
"Noatak!?" I yelled, "Don't leave! Please! Noatak!"
But he left anyway.
No one ever listened to me then.
I am on a boat.
Above me is a brooding sky which hides behind shifting grey clouds that roll into the grey horizon and reflect the still grey sea. And there grey and grey unites; grey sky and grey sea united into one, the world is equal. Nothing moves. It all seems still. The boat is my whole world. My brother stands in the front and steers with imperceptible movements and the wind whips my hair and sea-spray and brine onto my face and it is cold. I look around and it is like we haven't moved at all, though we leave a rippling trail it seems to go on into eternity, but it is as if it has always been there, and we have always been together, me and him, my brother and I.
I breathe in. The sea is flat and clear, like ice, profoundly still and profoundly dark, like the twilight winter of the north. I am sitting in the back of the boat. Next to me the cold metallic motor rests. The wind rushes loudly by my freezing ears.
How odd it is to be together with him. Perhaps it was always meant to be this way. We are mirrors of each other. Just like the somber sea now reflects a dolorous sky. Like sky and sea, apart, but never touching. We lived our lives in parallel, only to finally and fatally intersect. But in the end the sky and the sea is simply the same thing: a dismal grey sheet that does not end and cloaks the earth in ominous shadows.
I cannot see his face. His broad back is facing me and his clothes flap in the wind.
"The two of us, together again," he says, and I think he is smiling, perhaps sincerely, "there's nothing we can't do!" Did he believe it? Did he believe in me? Had I finally proven myself to him? Or maybe he was tired of being alone, on a path doomed to loneliness. I was also tired.
How strange to be here together with him, my brother who had died in the snow. He is facing away toward the horizon, all I see is his back. I thought I would be the city's saviour. They said he was their saviour. A dream which died. But you know, saviours don't die. They rest in the earth for a little while, then in a few days they rise again; resurrected from the grave. We can have a new beginning. We can become what we always wanted to be. And what do we want?
The boat flies across the water like an arrow. The sea is calm and still like ice. I remember the ice back home, the endless crystal tundra which sparkled in the light and we ran across hand in hand.
And now we flew across the blank water, to create a new future, just like the old times.
I remember when we were young.
"There is an old saying," my father mused, his eyes closed. He waved his hands nonchalantly in the air, like the conductor of some brilliant orchestra, "Man is a wolf to man."
I never forgot that phrase.
"And why do they say that, I wonder?" he continued, "Hm? It is because humans and wolves, are so very similar."
I didn't want to watch, yet I couldn't help but watch. It was horrifying and it was beautiful, like a tragedy. And so as my father directed his own tragic play I watched with eerie fascination, and the wolves danced a strange saraband in the snow, whimpering as they pirouetted against their will and preformed a coda with their tails.
"One wolf," Father continued, his body swaying in an invisible meter known only to him, "is always stronger than the rest. Why that one particular wolf, I don't know. But it's destiny. One wolf is stronger, faster, smarter and better. And it is that wolf who leads the pack."
He gestured with one hand and one wolf was moved forward and played a small concerto at his conductors command, leaping with staccato jumps toward one final grand jeté.
"See, the alpha. He is the leader of the pack. Without him, the pack is weak. They are lost. Does he not look strong? Does he not look majestic? Ha! Look at him cower!"
And my fathers voice began to swell in triumph.
"You see, my children" my father cried, emphasising strongly, "We are stronger than even the wolves. You see that even the strongest wolf, the alpha, is nothing to me. And so is the world, the world is nothing beneath our power. Do not forget sons, that you are the alphas. You will subject the world to your control. You are my sons, and you will be the strongest."
And he was waving his hands majestically in the air and directed the grand finale.
Then with one final bow the wolves were released, and they scattered, fleeing across the icy surface.
"They say that man is a wolf to man. But some people disagree." My father paused, and he smiled, his eyes narrowed with a wolfish gleam.
"They say that that's unfair to wolfs."
He turned around and walked away.
"Never forget that, my sons."
He was there when I awoke.
I breathed in sharply as I came to and peered through my hair, which had come loose, at this strange man whom they called Amon. Amon, their saviour, leader of the Equalists, who I had made my enemy, and who was, perhaps, my brother, resurrected from the snow. And indeed his face was white as a gravestone and blank like the winter, like the last image of my brother, coated in the raging storm. But no, it was not his real face, it was only a mask, and I could not imagine what he looked like beneath.
But he had escaped my bloodbending, and I had felt in that terrible moment my pulse go erratic and heavy, just like then. Could it be? Could it be? He stared at me behind that mask with imperious eyes and I knew it was true. My brother had always hid behind a mask; a mask of disinterest, a mask of cold distance, and he had peered out at me with icy eyes. And so he did now.
"Y..you...How?" I whispered hoarsely, "How did you survive?"
But he did not answer me. He was looking down at me, his smooth white mask gleaming like a moon from beneath his hood. He spoke, with his distant, far off voice.
"Did you enjoy it, councilman Tarrlok?"
I coughed. My throat was dry. He gave me a cup of water. I could not bend the water.
But he interrupted me, speaking in a low, ironic kind of voice.
"Yes, Councilor, you thought you were somebody, because you could bend. And now who are you? You thought that bending makes you powerful, didn't you? The world is controlled by those who are the strong, by the benders, who oppress those who cannot help themselves."
"...Yes," I whispered, "...Except... Perhaps I did enjoy it. But as for bending, well..."
And it was that moment when it really struck me, and I chuckled dryly.
"Well," I continued, "that really doesn't matter anymore, does it?"
And I laughed helplessly, pathetically.
And he seemed amused with my laughter, and I think he must have smiled beneath his mask, or maybe smirked, for he remarked wryly, "No, bending is no longer a concern for you."
And I continued to laugh even though it was really nothing to laugh about, for now I had really lost everything. But sometimes the line between comedy and tragedy is remarkably thin, and if I wasn't so firmly convinced my life was a tragedy, it would have been nothing but a farce. But I stopped laughing. What I was to say next was serious.
"But really, it's not about bending, is it?" I said, "It's about... control, grabbing something in your hand and knowing you have power over it, complete power. That you are the stronger one. Isn't it? And you don't need bending for that."
"So maybe you do understand, " he said, giving me a cursory glance, "There is indeed something stronger than bending."
And looking me up and down he pronounced, "So maybe you aren't a weakling anymore."
"No," I said.
I thought, no, I was like a wolf.
I remember the good old days.
When we were young, the world was beautiful, a pure world of crisp clean snow that was smooth and flat, without any blemishes upon its pristine surface. The snow floated down and erased all inequalities and the world was like a clean blank sheet, and we could write anything we wanted on it.
When I was a child the snowdrifts were like mountains. After a heavy snowfall we'd march out into the snow and I'd sink in, engulfed by the great white expanse, and Noatak would pull me out and walk carefully forward, packing down the snow with his boots, and I would follow faithfully in his footprints, to avoid being swallowed by the snow.
We would journey across this empty boundless world, enjoying the crunch of snow beneath our boots, the freezing dampness which soaked our mittens as we scooped up mighty handfuls of snow and peered at the bright crystals, trying to see the individual snowflakes, which melted away into our mittens. We would fall into the snow and roll, enjoying the pure pleasure of living, looking up at the clean blue sky marked by icy glaciers, enjoying the press of snow against my back, enjoying even the shivering sensation of the occasional piece of ice which crept through my clothes and melted against my bare skin.
And so we ran laughing together, mittened hand in mittened hand, dressed identically in our blue furry parkas, like twins, my brother and I, across this smooth white world. We would join up with the other children and play childish little games, throwing snow at each other, building mighty fortresses, laughing merrily and playing make-belief.
We sat across from each other, both cross-legged on the ground, two similar figures nearly touching, yet separated by the metal bars of prison, or perhaps inverted.
His mask hung like the moon in the darkness, and he sat, silent, draped beneath his cloak, hidden beneath his mask. But who are you? I wondered. But I knew, didn't I, that it was him, it was my brother?
"Do you remember when we were children?"
He asked me this all of a sudden.
"Yes," I said, "Those were the good times."
We used to play war back then, but so innocently, so naively, it was all so joyful and fun.
I remember when I was around 10 years old.
"Oh, back from your hunting trip, are you?" they said to me.
"Yes," I replied, "What did I miss?"
"Oh, this and that," they said, plucking a single tune out of the medley that I missed.
"Can I play?" I asked.
"Sure," they replied, "Only, since you were gone, Amaruq took your part."
"I'll be something else then."
And so I joined their game. We divided into two. I became a worker in the little snow factory which industriously created bricks, then together we piled it up into a great and mighty fortress, so strong and great that when we stepped back grinning to admire our handiwork we were cast into a shadow. How great! How grand! Then we became warriors, then came the great battle, the great adventure, the eternal, exciting conflict which marked my childhood years.
We tossed snow at each other; it exploded like confetti over our heads. Amaruq the scout would dart daringly into enemy lines and bring back information; we would huddle together and plot our next move. Honour and glory was on the stake. My blood rushed with excitement. We hid behind our line, then came the final charge, our last stand, the last glorious moment which would determine everything.
Onwards! Onwards we charged! Buffeted by enemy fire, snowballs to the right of us! Snowballs to the left of us!
My breath was catching in my throat, I breathed heavily, grinning with exhilaration as I dodged the sheet of snowballs which was burying my friends. But I would persevere, to glory! I would be their saviour!
"Aaaaackk! I'm hit!" cried Nanook, and in the corner of my eye I saw him drop down dramatically into the snow, but there was no time, I had to keep going.
One by one they fell, it was up to me, I had to win, for my country, for my people, for my own selfish desire.
I felt the snowball come, I knew that it would hit me, I acted fast. With a swift movement of my arms, I bent it away; it turned to ice and flew to their fort, breaching their defense.
We all ran in, wooping and yelling, we overran them, victory was ours!
I was happy then. I was happy to be alive and to be a child, and to be beneath the blue sky and golden sun with all the children congratulating me. The world was clear and beautiful, and despite everything, if it could have lasted forever I could have been content.
I climbed to the top of their fort in order to plant our flag, and that is when I noticed him.
Feeling that I was being watched, I looked behind me, still smiling, and there, alone on a far off glacier, I could see him. How could I see him, when he was so far away? I don't know. But I did.
He was sitting, as he was often want to do, alone in an isle of solitude, staring out into profundities of the turbulent sea. But now he glanced at me sitting in all the splendour of his high and lofty principles, judging me, or so it seemed.
I saw what you did, he seemed to say, you used your bending to win, and isn't that unfair?
But perhaps I imagined it. I could never figure out what he thought, there alone above the sea.
Those were the good times.
When we were young, the world was beautiful, a pure world of crisp clean snow that was smooth and flat, without any blemishes on its pristine surface. The snow floated down and erased all inequalities and the world was a clean blank sheet.
But then you grow older, and the snow begins to melt. And slowly this flat pristine world morphs into ugly uneven shapes, revealing beneath its surface the terrible mortal world of mud and grime which you never knew existed.
And so what do you do? You either rise above it - or you become it, and turn into nothing but grime.
He raised his arms, and I rose into the air.
I blinked slowly, painfully, looking at him, unable to tear my eyes away from him, unable to do anything, apart from him. Snow whirled through the sky without control, bend by an invisible wind and my blood whirled through my body, bent by an unseeable force. I writhed in the air as my heart pounded erratically and the blood rushed sluggishly through my veins, fast and then slow. My head pounded, my pulse was heavy, light, abnormal, frenetic, bizarre, painful, indescribable. It rushed to my head and the world faded in and out but through the darkness I could always see his face, cold and careless, as he bent my blood.
Moonlight pooled into the derelict attic but I could not see the moon; only the white moon-like mask that floated ethereally in the darkness, slowing moving towards me, as if to eclipse me. My hands shook. I didn't understand. He was under my control and yet he moved.
"What?!" I whispered, horrified, "What are you?"
He moved towards me calmly, evenly. Who was this man? He spoke.
"I am the solution."
And then he touched me. My blood froze. In a single instant my heart pounded out of control and the blood rushed sluggishly through my veins, fast and then slow. My head pounded, my pulse was heavy, light, abnormal, frenetic, bizarre, painful, indescribable. The world faded away; but through the darkness I could always see his face, cold and careless.
Just like old times.
We sat across from each other, both cross-legged on the ground, two similar figures nearly touching, yet separated by the metal bars of prison, or perhaps inverted.
"What if..." he said thoughtfully, "What if bending had never existed? What if we had never been waterbenders. Do you think..."
He was staring at me intensely, and suddenly he gripped the bars, drawing himself close to me, too close, and I could see his eyes, blue as water, like a pool of memories.
"Imagine if there'd been no bending. Do you think we'd still be a family? A normal family?"
I did not know. So I did not answer. And slowly as the moment disappeared, he composed himself, let go of his grip and slipped his hands away and renewed his frigid gaze from beneath that blank white mask.
"So you see," he said, and his voice was calm and distant again, like a voice on a radio. "If it wasn't for bending, all that pain could have been averted. All our pain, all our suffering. Now do you understand what I'm trying to do?"
"Noatak, how can I -"
"No, not Noatak," he interrupted. His voice started cool and measured, "Do you understand? You must understand. Our father may have given us our names and our lives, but it is up to us to reject them. You see that now I am stronger than he ever was."
"Stronger? No, Noatak, can you see yourself?" I cried, "You aren't better than him, you're just like him."
And so was I.
He stood with one sudden fluid movement. "Like him?" he said, and stared at me imperiously, coldly, "No, never. So you don't understand. Fine. Stay here. We don't need you. The benders will perish. And no one will have to suffer like we did ever again."
"Noatak," I called. He was about to leave. He faded away into the shadows and disappeared into the floors below.
"Please don't go," I said, like some ancient fading echo, "Please, Noatak."
But he was gone.
I should have left with him then. For my sake or his sake? I haven't figured that out yet. Could I have saved him? Or do I think he could have saved me, saved me from what I became? He had always protected me. Perhaps I was the last link to his humanity. And when he left, it broke for both of us.
Because after that, we were alone. It's a terrible thing to be alone. When you are alone, you are free. No laws can hold a lonely man. They make the law.
And so we found ourselves alone in that blank empty snow, with no choice but to step forward onto the frictionless ice, set off into spectacular motion, forging a terrible unchecked future.
He came back one other time, before that final day, and he explained to me what had become of him.
"I made my way out of the North Pole. Like so many refugees with nowhere to go, I made my way to Ba Sing Se. People speak so grandly about the walls of Ba Sing Se, they are so proud of them, but this is only from the people who live at the top of the city, and indeed the walls truly do look grand as you look down from your lofty summit. But I would rip them down if I could. Because all I found there was corruption and vice; it was a viper's nest, a den of sin.
The walls of Ba Sing Se are too high; they cast too great a shadow. And in the darkness of the walls lurks a terrible oppression, and the city is covered in the shroud of inequality.
It was in the shadows that they lived; a wrong word was spoken and hands fly out to silence you; the rocks turned alive and smother you. It was the benders who were in control of that city. That is when I clearly realized for the first time that the benders will always be in control. Because they are powerful. They monopolize power. They monopolize control.
I had a friend there, the first true friend I ever had. He could not bend. But he was brave and strong and most importantly he believed in truth. He would fight to uncover the truth, to bring what was hidden to light. I admired him for it. He dared to question the government one day. And then the next he disappeared. I never saw him again. The earth had engulfed him. He above all was innocent: he had never harmed anyone, he was not a fighter, or a bender. But the benders took him. They killed him.
I could not stand that place any longer, and having no particular ties to bind me there, I left. But I could not escape the corruption. You must realize, councilman, the deep corruption which binds this world together. Do you not?
In the Fire Nation as well as the Water Tribe, the aristocracy is the benders. The Fire Lord is an unbroken line of mighty benders; the daughter of the chief of the Water Tribe is now the Avatar. They monopolize the power of the entire world. Patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, bender and non-bender, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stand in constant opposition to one another, carrying on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight which shall end either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes. It is the benders who receive honours, who are favored, who get the jobs, who have the power. They are the ones who control this world, and they will continue to exploit the masses, and they will continue, until with one last rattling breath the common class will perish against their cruelty.
"Unless," I added, somewhat sardonically, "you destroy the benders first, I suppose."
"To achieve equality," he replied serenely, "one must both raise up valleys and demolish mountains."
"And what kind of human has the power to arbitrate over human life in that way?"
"Ah," he said, "I do."
His masked gleamed eerily from behind his hood.
"For I am their saviour."
A faint memory rose up.
The music swung lazily through the golden halls. I stood in a sea of colour. Red, green, blue and grey. Purple, orange and brown. Like gems upon a diadem. My crown of power.
I strolled through the mansion and greeted all the guests. They smiled at me and bowed, like puppets, all these great important people. And I was going to be their saviour.
There is in nature strange symmetries, strange patterns that are repeated over and over again and which we cannot escape.
What happened to him, I do not know. But he reappeared without his mask. He was exposed, like I was.
"Leave with me now," he said, "We have a second chance. We can start over, together."
In the darkness he appeared like a vague and indeterminate outline, framed in the prison door like a photograph. He reached out his hand for me. And I looked at him, and his mask was gone and I saw his face and I remembered now. And in a moment I saw things clearly, and I saw him for who he was. "Please," he pleaded, "you're all I have left in the world."
This time, I followed him.
I am on a boat.
The waves and sky are equal; the brooding grey clouds hang over a silent grey sea, and grey and grey meets at the horizon and each oddly reflect each other. The clouds roll like ocean waves and the sea shimmers like a gloss over dark mysterious depths.
"The two of us, together again," he says, "there's nothing we can't do!"
I reply: "Yes, Noatak."
"Noatak," he muses. "I had almost forgotten the sound of my own name."
The boat flies across the water as if fleeing, but I know we can flee no longer. We tried so hard to run away from our father, we each in our own ways tried to escape him by becoming something else, and so we put on masks and pretended. But now the masks fall away; we see each other for who we really are, for what we have become. There is no more hiding anymore. And I won't run anymore.
I see his back now, his clothes flapping in the wind. I can't see his face. I never could. It doesn't matter anymore. I know now who he is. Who I am. I pick up the glove.
They say that whenever the Avatar dies, they are reborn into another person. Perhaps it is the same with all people. Perhaps death is only a new beginning. Or maybe it is nothingness, and we are simply reunited with that grey abyss. But I hope we will be born again, for Noatak's sake. We will become children again, innocent and good. Let us have a new family, a new legacy.
But for now, it's time to put an end to this sad story.
"It will be just like the good old times." And suddenly, the world explodes.
New growth cannot exist without first the destruction of the old.
- Guru Laghima
(he lived four thousand years ago)
(you've probably never heard of him)<br
So I was going to write this for a fanonbending contest a while back but I didn't finish it in time. And now here it is!
For the collective works of the author, go here.